Declare, p.12
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       Declare, p.12

           Tim Powers
 
Page 12

 

  He learned to file and tin a soldering iron, and where to use a metallic flux and where to use a non-conducting rosin flux in connecting wire splices; and he learned how to rewire the heater circuit of a direct current radio set so that it would work off alternating current, and what socket and vacuum valve needed to be changed, and how to avoid getting squealing and dead spots from the more sensitive cathode valve. At various points on the roofs of the barn and the barracks-like farmhouse he practiced setting up a Herz off-center-fed aerial, stringing the enameled wire at maximum angles to existing power lines or house wiring to avoid picking up accidental induction currents, and using ceramic coffee creamers and Coca-Cola bottles as makeshift insulators.

  But mainly he learned the dit-and-dah characters of the International Morse code, concentrating on the numbers rather than the letters.

  And he learned to use one-time pads. These were tiny books whose flimsy pages were nothing but columns of random four-digit numbers; given a practice sentence to encipher, he would assign a number to each letter of it-usually just 1 for A, 2 for B, and so on-and then after having written the message out in this pedestrian substitution-cipher he would add to each of the numbers one of the numbers from the one-time pad, taking them in order off the pad page from left to right. None of the one-time pad's numbers was so high that the addition of any two-digit number would make it a five-digit number. When he tapped out the resulting code groups, his partner on the other side of the table would copy the numbers and then use a duplicate one-time pad to subtract the pad's numbers and derive the original substitution-cipher message, and then quickly convert that all the way back into letters. Immediately after sending and copying, both copies of the used one-time pad page would be formally burned or eaten.

  Accuracy was more important than speed here, and the students were constantly warned against the danger of losing their place on the flimsy pages, or turning two pages at once, as this would put the signal out of correspondence with the receiver's deciphering, and the message would be lost in gibberish. Oddly, the instructors sometimes called such nonsense results les parasites too.

  His photograph was taken at the end of the first week, and when he left the Norfolk farm he was given a Swiss passport in the name of LeClos, with his picture in it. He was driven in a closed van down to Gravesend, where it turned out that LeClos was listed as a passenger aboard a Portuguese merchantman bound for still-neutral Lisbon.

  At the dock he nearly bolted-he had not been abroad since the uncomprehending age of two, and now he was apparently expected to enter some Nazi-occupied country, pretending to be a Comintern spy. A British prison seemed infinitely preferable. . . until he remembered his haggard mother taking him to the ship-like rooftop building in Whitehall Court. These are the people who got us home from Cairo. . . And they're the King's men. They deserve our obedience. And he remembered his resolve at seeing the ruins around St. Paul 's. . .

  In the end, with the aid of some whisky provided by one of his sympathetic escorts, he had got aboard the ship.

  Immediately on his arrival in Lisbon, after having spent the four-day voyage mostly secluded in his cabin with a stack of ragged old Belgian newspapers, he was met on the dock by a Soviet agent carrying an orange and taken to a crowded hotel across town near the Sintra Airdrome; Hale surrendered the LeClos passport and was given a Vichy-government French passport in the name of one Philippe St. -Simon, who was a cork buyer for a Paris-based company called Simex and who had airline tickets to Paris on the next weekly flights of both Air France and Luft-Hansa. As St. -Simon, bewildered and disoriented and wearing a secondhand European business suit, Hale had wound up taking the Air France flight at midnight on the thirtieth of September-and she had met him in the chilly dawn of the first day of October in the terminal at Orly Airport.

  With no luggage besides a briefcase full of assorted cork washers and gaskets, and a thoroughly stamped passport that indicated a business traveler who had been checked and cleared many times before, Hale had been passed through Paris Customs without a second glance. His mouth had been dry and his ears ringing with the knowledge that he was all alone in an enemy-occupied foreign country now, and the loudspeaker announcements in flat, German-accented French had seemed to batter at him physically, but he had managed to keep a steady, distracted frown on his face and to answer the routine questions in relaxed French-though the interior of his head had been echoing with unvoiced, astonished British curses.

  When the thin girl caught his eye and nodded to him outside the Customs shed, he assumed that the Comintern was using schoolgirls as inconspicuous couriers, for she appeared to be no more than eighteen years old, if even that, and the loose gray skirt and blouse and black sweater could have been a convent school uniform. Until she spoke to him he thought she might be of Irish descent, with her auburn hair and blue eyes, but her French was animated with the full vowels and razory consonants of Spain, and when she pronounced St. -Simon it was with the back-of-the-teeth lisp of Castile.

  "Rien a declarer, Monsieur St. -Simon?" she said with a tight smile as she took his elbow and led him through the crowded terminal.

  "Uh, non," agreed Hale in a voice that was only now beginning to shake. He certainly had nothing to declare, and the infinitive verb had no significance to him beyond the concerns of Customs.

  She led him to a tiny right-hand-drive Citroen in the car park, and as soon as Hale climbed in on the left side and she pressed the starter, she said in her lively French, "If the police stop us, you are my brother, understand? We are both fair, it is believable. My name during this drive is Delphine St. -Simon. Say something quickly now, in French. "

  Nervously but smoothly, and with a sincerity that surprised him, Hale recited the first several lines of Ghelderode's Death of Doctor Faust, in which the frightened old mage complains that everything in the modern world is so false that one can blunder into one's own self in the darkness; Hale even managed to mimic her Castilian accent. "Is that good enough for our purposes, sister Delphine?" he added in Spanish, feeling all at once absurdly pleased with himself. His shirt was damp with sweat, and he had to restrain himself from giggling.

  She laughed delightedly as she clanked the car into gear and steered toward the exit. "Good! Your accent is peculiar, but not British at all. We grew up in Madrid, you and I, with our aunt Dolores. . . "

  In a few quick sentences she gave him the outline of their immediate family history. "You work for the company Simex, where I have friends working, as a buyer of Portuguese cork, which is used for engine gaskets. Simex provides most of the construction materials to the Todt Organization, which is the branch of the German occupation force involved in building barracks and fortifications. "

  The little car was roaring north in one of the right-hand lanes of a highway that passed between green forests of beech and oak, and the sun was just clearing the fringe of treetops off to his right. Hale cranked down his window to take deep breaths of the fresh air and let the chilly breeze sluice through his hair.

  "Four months ago," she went on, "you would have been sent to a special school in Moscow, to learn about things like microphotography and secret inks, and-oh, arson, and bomb construction and placement, and guns. But there is no time for any of that now. None of us ever believed that the non-aggression pact between Germany and Russia was anything more than cunning realpolitik, buying us time to prepare; and now the fascist beasts have invaded Russia, as expected, and preparation has given way to enactment. "

  Hale nodded, but he detected guilty relief in her voice, and he guessed that in fact the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact had for a while shaken her faith in the Communist cause. Hitler's invasion of Russia in June, violating and ending the pact, must have been a welcome return to virtue for devout Communists everywhere; and Hale wondered how this earnest girl's faith would survive if Stalin should again find it efficacious to align himself with fascism.

  "A Soviet network has
been in place for some time," she went on, "in Paris-perhaps several have been, unknown to one another-but apparently there is a shortage of radio sets. Certainly the Soviet military attache in Vichy fled to Moscow in June without providing a single one. The established networks are not allowed to ask the local Communist parties for help in this, as they are considered insecure; but new, parallel networks may get this help from the local parties without compromising any others. You and I are members of one such independent network. We needed a wireless telegrapher who had no local acquaintance at all, and you are what Moscow Centre has finally delivered to us. When we get to my apartment we will pack up all records of St. -Simon, and you will become someone fresh. "

  "Am I still to be a cork buyer?" asked Hale in French. "At. . . Simex?"

  "You are only that if the police stop us in the next half hour. Once we're at my apartment, you and I will forget everything about St. -Simon and his job, and Simex too, until such time as you may need to leave the country. In your new name you will be a Swiss student lying low in Paris -an embusque, a shirker of your national duty. " She glanced away from the traffic to give him a quizzical look. "Centre may ask you to pose as a homosexual. You do look like a Romantic poet, with your blond hair and cheekbones, and it would bolster your embusque status. "

  "The Romantic poets weren't homosexuals, and neither am I," said Hale in alarm, barely remembering to keep speaking French. He scowled at her. "Cheekbones or no cheekbones. "

  She was looking ahead through the windscreen and she didn't quite smile, but Hale saw a dimple appear in her cheek. "Oh, you like girls?"

  "D'un tumulte," said Hale with dignity.

  "D'un tumulte!" She laughed and added, in English, "Oh my!"

  Traffic slowed and the air was fumy with automobile exhaust as they entered the city of Paris in a tangle of cars and horse-drawn carriages and bicycle traffic at the Porte de Gentilly. Hale saw a cluster of guards in tan uniforms with swastika armbands standing alertly in the back of a muddy flatbed truck by the side of the highway, and he must have flinched, because in her exotic French the girl told him, "The ones to fear, the Gestapo, aren't so obvious. " She licked her lips and nodded at the shiny black truck that was idling ahead of them. "You see the license plate? WL is Wehrmacht Luftwaffe. They, and the Gestapo and the Abwehr, are the ones who come after us, tracking our wireless transmissions with direction finders. "

  "Bloody hell," said Hale in English. After that neither of them said anything until they were on the Boulevard St. -Michel, driving past the Luxembourg Gardens; and even then she only spoke to tell him, in a subdued voice, more about their imaginary childhoods in Madrid, though according to her he was just about to abandon that identity.

  Most of the traffic on the boulevards appeared to be green military trucks with the black German cross on the hoods.

  But Hale peered up curiously at the tall nineteenth-century building fronts, and when the girl steered the car into a right turn onto the Boulevard St. -Germain and passed the open-air market at the Place Maubert, already crowded in the bright morning sunlight, he was as forcibly cheered by the plain fact of being in Paris as he would have been by a fast pint of champagne. And he couldn't repress a delighted yelp when she swung the car left and drove across a bridge over the Seine onto what was obviously a little island city in the middle of the river. She smiled and rocked her head in a gesture that acknowledged the charm of the place.

  She drove to a narrow street off the six-block Rue St. -Louis-en-ile that was the center line of the island, and after she switched off the engine Hale got out and obediently helped her lift the front end of the car and swing it toward the curb; they stepped around to the back bumper and did the same there, then returned to the front to do it again, and within a minute they had walked the tiny car crabwise until its right-side wheels were up on the curb in a gap between two old panel trucks. Not good for a fast escape, Hale thought; but perhaps a car wouldn't be much good for fleeing in anyway, in the narrow streets on this little island.

  The street was the Rue le Regrattier, and the girl's apartment was a couple of high-ceilinged rooms on the third floor of a subdivided seventeenth-century town house. The first thing she did when they were inside was to take from him every bit of paper that had to do with St. -Simon, including the passport, and give him instead a set of documents that identified him as Marcel Gruey, a Swiss student. Then, over a kitchen table breakfast of bread, garlic sausage, scallions, and a rough red wine, his hostess told him that he would have an apartment in this same building, but that he would be spending most nights in a locked custodian's closet on the roof, transmitting and receiving signals from midnight until sometimes dawn or later. "Of course a high-voltage battery is used to get oscillation of the set," she went on quickly, "but the set is equipped with a cathode-type vacuum valve heated by an alternating current for better distance reception, so you'll be using household current in the heater circuit. "

  But Hale's attention had snagged on her previous statement. "Midnight until dawn?" he said uneasily. That couldn't be right. "Are you sure? That's. . . quite a bit more air-time than I was told there would be, at the school in Norfolk. " In fact, his instructors there had told the students that uninterrupted sending for more than an hour at a time was asking for detection and arrest; the operator's job as they had described it involved a couple of scheduled evening times a week for two-way traffic, with several designated hours on other days when Moscow would be listening for possible urgent reports, and other hours when the operator would be expected to monitor the Moscow band for instructions addressed to his call-sign.

  "Since June we are at war," she reminded him, "we Communists. In war one takes outlandish risks, isn't that right? We have agents in many factories and businesses, even in the German military, and what they bring us must be transmitted fully and immediately; Moscow will be listening at your bandwidth twenty-four hours a day now. "

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