The wolfs hour, p.28
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       The Wolfs Hour, p.28
 

         Part #1 of Michael Gallatin series by Robert McCammon
Part V - The Mouse Trap Chapter 7

 

  Tosca, the tale of doomed lovers, was the presentation at the opera. The gargantuan building seemed to rise before Michael and Gaby like a sculpted stone monolith as they approached it along the avenue de L'Opera in a battered blue Citrien. Mouse was at the wheel, considerably cleaner since he'd bathed and shaved this evening. Still, his eyes were hollow and his face deeply lined, and though his hair was slicked back with pomade and he wore fresh clothes-courtesy of Camille-there was no mistaking him for a purebred gentleman. Michael, wearing a gray suit, sat in the backseat next to Gaby, who wore a dark blue dress she'd bought that afternoon on the Boulevard de la Chapelle. Its color matched her eyes, and Michael thought she was as beautiful as any woman he'd ever known.

  The sky had cleared, and the stars were out. In the polite glow of the succession of street lamps along the avenue, the Opera House-a majesty of columns, finials, and intricate carvings, the stone frontage shaded from pale gray to sea green-stood defiant of time and circumstance. Beneath its domed roof, on which stood statues of Pegasus at either end and a huge figure of apollo with a lyre at its apex, music was the ruler instead of Hitler. Cars and carriages halted at the cavernous main entrance, debarking their passengers. Michael said, "Stop here," and Mouse slid the Citrien to the curb with only a small grinding of gears. "You know what time to pick us up. " He looked at his pocket watch and couldn't help but think of the capsule within.

  "Yes," Mouse said. Camille had checked with the ticket office to find out precisely what time the third act would begin. at that time Mouse would have the car waiting in front of the opera.

  It had occurred to both Michael and Gaby that Mouse could take the car and go anywhere he pleased, and Gaby had had some bad moments about this but Michael had calmed her. Mouse would be there on time, he'd told her, because Mouse wanted to get to Berlin, and what he'd done for them already was enough to condemn him to a nice torture session with the Gestapo. So, German or not, Mouse was on their side from here on out. On the other hand, if there was really any madness in Mouse, there was no telling how and when it might show itself.

  Michael got out, came around the car, and opened the door for Gaby. He said, "Be here," and Mouse nodded and drove away. Then Michael offered Gaby his arm, and they strolled past a German soldier on horseback just like any French couple out for a night at the Opera. Except Michael wore a Luger in a holster that Camille had supplied, the pistol lying just under his left armpit, and Gaby had a very small, very sharp knife in her shiny black clutch purse. arm in arm, they crossed the avenue de L'Opera to the Opera House itself. In the huge vestibule, where gilded lamps cast a golden glow on statues of Handel, Lully, Gluck, and Rameau, Michael saw several Nazi officers with their lady friends among the crowd. He guided Gaby through the throng, up ten steps of green Swedish marble, to a second vestibule where the tickets were sold.

  They bought their tickets, two seats on the aisle near the back of the house, and continued through the building. Michael had never seen such an assembly of statues, multi-hued marble columns, gilt-edged mirrors, and chandeliers in his life; the grand staircase, a gracefully massive thing with marble balustrades, swept them up to the auditorium. Everywhere he looked there were more staircases, corridors, statues, and chandeliers. He hoped Gaby knew her way here, because in this place of art run riot even his wolf's sense of direction was stunned. at last they entered the auditorium, another marvel of space and proportion which was rapidly filling, and they were shown to their seats by an elderly attendant.

  The odors of conflicting perfumes stung Michael's nose. He noted it was chilly in the huge auditorium; due to fuel rationing, the building's boilers had been turned off. Gaby glanced casually around, noting where perhaps a dozen German officers sat with their female companions. Her gaze went up to the third of the four tiers of loges, stacked atop each other and connected by gilded balconies and fluted columns like the layers of a massive and rather gaudy cake. She found adam's loge. It was empty.

  Michael had already seen it. "Patience," he said quietly. If adam had found the note, he'd be here. If not. . . then not. He took Gaby's hand and squeezed it. "You look beautiful," he told her.

  She shrugged, uneasy with compliments. "I don't dress this way very often. "

  "Neither do I. " He wore a crisp white shirt along with his gray suit, a muted gray-and-scarlet-striped necktie, and a pearl stickpin that Camille had given him "for luck. " He glanced up at the third tier; adam still hadn't arrived, and the orchestra was tuning. a hundred things could have gone wrong, he thought. The Gestapo could have searched his coat when he got to work. The note could have fallen out. adam simply could have hung the coat up and not even looked in the pocket. No, no, he told himself. Just wait, and watch.

  The houselights dimmed. The heavy red curtains parted, and Puccini's tale of Fiona Tosca began.

  as the desperate Tosca murdered her brutal tormentor with a knife at the end of act II, Michael was aware of the pressure of Gaby's grip on his hand. He glanced again at the third tier. No adam. Damn it! he thought. Well, adam knew that he was being watched. Maybe he chose, for whatever reason, not to appear tonight. act III began, a prison scene. The minutes ticked past. Gaby cast a quick look at adam's loge-and Michael felt her fingers crunch his hand.

  He knew. adam was there.

  "a man's standing in the loge," she whispered, her face close to his. He smelled the delicious apple-wine scent of her hair. "I can't tell what he looks like. "

  Michael gave it another moment. Then he glanced up and saw the sitting figure. The footlights, dimmed to a moody cast as Tosca visited her imprisoned lover Cavaradossi, glinted on the lenses of eyeglasses. "I'm going upstairs," Michael whispered. "Wait here. "

  "No. I'm coming with you. "

  "Shhhhh!" the man behind them hissed.

  "Wait here," Michael repeated. "I'll be back as soon as I can. If anything happens, I want you to get out. " Before Gaby could protest again, he leaned forward and kissed her lips. an electricity passed between them, a tingling of the nerves that connected them for a few seconds like raw wires. Then Michael stood up, walked purposefully up the aisle, and left the auditorium. Gaby stared at the stage, seeing nothing and hearing nothing, all her attention fixed on the deadly drama that was yet to be played out.

  Michael ascended a series of wide staircases. an attendant, a young man in a white jacket, black trousers, and white gloves, stood on duty on the third tier. "May I help you, pleasei" he asked as Michael approached.

  "No, thank you. I'm meeting a friend. " Michael walked past him, found the rosewood door of loge number six, and rapped quietly on it. He waited. a latch was slid back. The door opened on brass hinges.

  and there was the man called adam, his eyes wide with terror behind his glasses. "I was followed," he said, his voice reedy and trembling. "They're all over the place. "

  Michael entered the loge and closed the door behind him. He slid the latch shut. "We don't have much time. What's your messagei"

  "Wait. Just wait. " He held up a pale, long-fingered hand. "How do I know. . . you're not one of themi How do I know you're not trying to trick mei"

  "I could recite the names of people you know back in London, if that would help. I don't think it will. You'll have to trust me. If you don't, we might as well forget this and I'll swim home across the Channel. "

  "I'm sorry. It's just that. . . I don't trust anyone. Not anyone. "

  "You'll have to start right now," Michael said.

  adam sank down in a red-cushioned chair. He leaned forward and ran a shaking hand across his face. He looked emaciated, about to pass out. Onstage, Cavaradossi was being escorted from his cell to face a firing squad. "Oh, God," adam whispered. He blinked, his glasses reflecting the dank gray light. He looked up at Michael and drew a deep breath. "Theo von Frankewitz," adam began. "Do you know who that isi"

  "a sidewalk artist in Berlin. "

 
"Yes. He's. . . a friend of mine. Back in February. . . he was called to do a special job. By an SS colonel named Jerek Blok, who used to be the commandant of-"

  "Falkenhausen concentration camp, from May to December of 1943," Michael interrupted. "I've read Blok's dossier. " as little as there was of it. Mallory had gotten him the dossier on Blok; it had told him only that Jerek Blok was forty-seven years old, born into a military and aristocratic German family, and that he was a Nazi party fanatic. There had been no photograph. But now Michael felt like a raw nerve: Blok had been seen in Berlin with Harry Sandler. What was their connection, and how did the big-game hunter figure in thisi "Go on. "

  "Theo. . . was taken to an airstrip, blindfolded and flown west. He thinks that was the direction, because of how the sun felt on his face. Perhaps an artist would remember such things. anyway, Blok was with him, and there were other SS men, too. When they landed, Theo could smell the sea. He was taken to a warehouse. They kept Theo there for over two weeks, while he painted. "

  "Paintedi" Michael stood toward the rear of the loge, positioning himself so he couldn't be seen from the auditorium. "Painted whati"

  "Bullet holes. " adam's hands were white-knuckled on the armrests. "For more than two weeks he painted bullet holes on sections of metal. The sections were obviously part of a larger structure; they still had rivets in them. and someone had already painted the metal olive green. " He looked quickly at Michael, then back to the stage. The orchestra was playing a funeral march as Cavaradossi refused a blindfold. "They had pieces of glass for Theo to paint, too. They wanted bullet holes in precise patterns, and what would look like cracks in the glass. Blok wasn't satisfied when Theo finished, and he made Theo do the glass all over again. Then they flew Theo back to Berlin, paid him a fee, and that was it. "

  "all right. So your friend painted some metal and glass. What's it meani"

  "I don't know, but it worries me. " He ran the back of his hand across his mouth. "The Germans know the invasion's coming soon. Why are they spending time painting bullet holes on green metali and there's this, too: another man came to visit the warehouse, and Blok showed him the work Theo was doing. Blok called this man Dr. Hildebrand. Do you know that namei"

  Michael shook his head. Onstage, the soldiers of the firing squad were loading their muskets.

  "Hildebrand's father created the chemical gases used by the Germans in the Great War," adam said. "Like father, like son: Hildebrand owns a chemical manufacturing company, and he's the Reich's most vocal proponent of chemical and germ warfare. If Hildebrand's working on something. . . it could be used against the invasion. "

  "I see. " Michael's stomach had knotted. If chemical gas shells were dropped on the allies during the invasion, thousands of soldiers would die. and adding to that tragedy was the stark fact that, once repulsed, the invasion of Europe might be delayed for years-time for Hitler to fortify the atlantic Wall and create a new generation of weapons. "But I don't understand where Frankewitz fits in. "

  "I don't either. Once the Gestapo found my radio and destroyed it, I was cut off from all information. But this is something that must be followed up. If not. . . " He let the sentence hang, because Michael fully understood. "Theo overheard Blok and Hildebrand talking. They mentioned a phrase twice: Eisen Faust. "

  "Iron Fist," Michael translated.

  a fist of flesh knocked at the loge's door. adam jumped in his chair. Onstage, the firing squad lifted their rifles, and the orchestra played a dirge as Cavaradossi prepared to die.

  "Monsieuri" It was the voice of the white-jacketed attendant. "a message for you. "

  Michael heard the tension in the young man's voice; the attendant was not alone. Michael knew what the message would be: an invitation from the Gestapo for a lesson in screaming. "Stand up," Michael told adam.

  adam did-and at that instant the rosewood door was broken open by a man's husky shoulder as the muskets fired onstage. Cavaradossi sagged to the stage. The noise of the gunfire had masked the sound of the door splintering. Two men, both in the dark leather overcoats of the Gestapo, were shouldering their way into the loge. The man in front had a Mauser pistol in his hand, and he was the one Michael went for first.

  Michael picked up the red-cushioned chair and smashed it across the man's head. The chair burst to pieces, and the man's face bleached white as blood spewed from his broken nose. He staggered, the gun coming up, and his finger twitched on the trigger. The bullet whined over Michael's shoulder, the noise obscured by the soprano wailing of Ninon Vallin's Tosca as she fell at Cavaradossi's corpse. Michael reached out, grasped the man's wrist and the front of his overcoat, twisted sharply, and lifted the man over his shoulder. He took a lunging step toward the gilded balcony and threw the gunman into space.

  The man shrieked, louder than Tosca had ever dreamed, as he fell fifty-two feet to the auditorium floor. For a second their voices blended in eerie harmony; then there were other screams, and the screaming spread like a contagion across the audience. The orchestra stopped in a shatter of broken notes. Onstage, valiant Ninon Vallin was desperately trying to continue her role, so close to the dramatic finale.

  But Michael was determined it was not going to be his own swan song. The second man reached into his coat; before the gun could come out, Michael slammed his fist into the man's face and followed it with a blow to the throat. Strangling around a crushed windpipe, the man fell backward and crashed against the wall. But the loge's splintered doorway filled with a new figure: a third man in a pin-striped suit, a Luger in his right hand. Behind him was a soldier with a rifle. Michael shouted to adam, "Grab on to my back!" and adam did, putting his arms under Michael's shoulders and locking his fingers together. adam was light, a hundred and thirty pounds if that; Michael saw the third man's eyes widen as he realized what was about to happen, and the Luger rose for a shot.

  Michael leaped to his right and bounded over the balcony with adam clinging to his back.

 
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