Declare, p.13
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       Declare, p.13

           Tim Powers
 
Page 13

 

  "Oh. " He was numb-this seemed like suicide.

  "But don't worry too much. We have watchers, and they will warn us if the Abwehr vehicles come within a few blocks of us-their trucks always have a meter-wide circular aerial swiveling on the roof, for direction-finding to locate black transmitters, as they call our sets. And even if the Abwehr should manage to get very close, their standard procedure when the radio source is in a block of houses is to cut off the current to each house in turn and note which house loses its lights in the same moment that the radio stops sending; and your radio is wired to the current of the house next door. " She smiled. "If you should lose power in your heater circuit and fall off the air, and we see police breaking into that house, we'll know it is time to relocate. "

  "I hope they're in the habit of leaving some lights on all night, next door," said Hale, "just so that the Abwehr will clearly see which place to hit. " His eyes were stinging with lack of sleep, and the wine was a weight on the top of his slightly bobbing head. His brain wanted a rest from translating and composing French sentences.

  "We keep a light on in the foyer of this house. Now I must go to Paris to meet a cut-out, who will relay messages between me and one of the parallel networks," she said, "and-"

  "Aren't we in Paris?"

  "We're on the ile St. -Louis. Louisiens say they are going to Paris when they cross one of the bridges. You are a Louisien now. But I must go meet an ignorant message carrier, who doesn't know what I look like and who will ideally assume that I'm only a cut-out myself. It may take time to make contact, with possible fallbacks. You can sleep on the sofa here for a few hours. "

  "That does sound splendid," sighed Hale, glancing at the sofa and looking forward to forgetting all these distressing concerns for a while.

  She reached across the table and shook his shoulder. "Don't sleep yet. Listen with your full attention, comrade. I am your contact with Moscow Centre, and my code name is the Latin phrase 'Et Cetera'-remember it. ETC is our group's radio call-sign, though if we are fortunate you will meet none of the others. You or I or both of us may have to relocate from time to time, at a moment's notice-I've only been here for a week, and might be somewhere else tomorrow-and if you lose contact with me for more than three days and have no access to a wireless set, you must go to some unoccupied country, Switzerland probably, and get in contact with the Soviet military attache there. Are you following this?"

  "If I lose track of you, I go to the military attache in Switzerland," Hale recited. He could not imagine how he would get to Switzerland, if the need should arise.

  "You must see the attache personally, alone, and if anyone else tries to deflect you, you must threaten them with reprisals from the NKVD; that's the Soviet secret police, the threat should scare them if you deliver it in a mild voice. Don't show your passport to anyone, not even the attache-give all of them only your code name, which is 'Lot'-and get the attache to send a message to Moscow saying that Lot has lost contact with ETC and needs to get in touch with the director. The attache will let you wait there until a reply comes, with instructions for you. What's your code name?"

  " Lot. "

  "And my code name?"

  "Et Salinae. " He shook his head. "Et Cetera. "

  "That was Latin-and salina is 'salt mine' in Spanish, probably the same. You were thinking of Lot 's wife, who was changed to a pillar of salt, in the Book of Genesis. "

  Hale was embarrassed, for the name Lot had put him in mind of the Biblical Lot, and so he probably had been thinking of this girl in terms of Lot's wife. But what business did a young Communist have knowing Bible stories?

  She had stood up, and now she crossed to the hat stand by the door and pulled her black sweater back on. "Just you work at being worth your salary"-the French word was salaire-"to the Party. You will be paid a hundred and fifty United States dollars a month, plus justifiable expenses. The Red Army never pays in any other currency-"

  Hale had stood up too and started for the sofa, but now he paused. "The Red Army? I thought we were working for the Comintern. "

  She bit her lip. "No, we are working for the secret service of the Red Army-Razvedupr, or GRU, both terms are short for Glavnoe Razvedyvatelnoe Upravlenie-the Chief Intelligence Administration. "

  "Oh. " I should have known, he thought, that Theodora wouldn't have gone to all this trouble just to set me spying on the Communist International.

  From her pocket she dug out a brass key and tossed it to him. "That is a duplicate key to this apartment. You are to use it only in an emergency having to do with our Party work, understand?"

  "Yes," he said humbly.

  "If we should ever meet accidentally on the street, don't acknowledge me-if I'm working I might be under surveillance, by either side. " She had her hand on the doorknob, but paused and looked back at him. "And-if we should find ourselves in a situation where the motivations and identities aren't clear-there is a code phrase which means, Things are not what they seem-trust me. It is 'Bless me. ' Have you got that?"

  "Bless me," Hale echoed.

  She nodded, and her stern manner relaxed for a moment as she grinned and made a cross in the air with her forefinger. Then she was gone, and the tall door closed behind her, and he heard her steps tapping away down the stairs. Many years later he was to learn that they had not even really been working for the Red Army, or not entirely.

  If a perfectly oscillating radio circuit is connected to an aerial, it becomes a transmitter, sending a uniform whistle out over the airwaves on its particular frequency; and if a telegraph key is wired into the leads from the high-voltage battery that maintains the oscillation, the key can break the steady carrier wave into the dots and dashes of International Morse. A receiving set tuned to a point just short of oscillation on the same frequency will pick up the stuttering whistle at great distances-as long as the Heaviside Layer isn't curling and flexing in the vagaries of les parasites.

  But it often was. On many nights, hunched under a bare lightbulb in the ammonia reek among the brooms and buckets in the custodian's closet on the roof, with sweaty earphones clamped to his head, Hale would be hearing the signal from Moscow on the 39-meter band-ETC ETC ETC-but be unable to get them to acknowledge his answering signal-KLK KLK KLK DE ETC-on the prescribed 49-meter band or any bandwidth near it. Sometimes he would get weird ghost-echo responses, old signals of his own from the day or week before, as if they had been stuck quivering in the sky until his present agitation of the airwaves had shaken them loose, distorted in their rhythms now and riding a signal as faint as an electromagnetic sigh.

  Very late on one such night in mid-October, when in fact the close-pressing blackness beyond the closet window had just begun to coalesce into jagged rooftop and chimney shapes against a receding sky, he blearily imagined that the rhythm of the parasite ghost-signal was a syncopated counterpoint to his own heartbeat, and so he impulsively began tapping out his call-sign in that same skipping, halting beat; and after only a few newly rhythmic passes he was rewarded with the clear answering signal ETC ETC OK DE KLK QRK RST 599 KN. In the international Q-code this indicated that Moscow had received his signal with perfect strength and clarity and asked him to go ahead. Hale immediately tuned his condenser to the designated working bandwidth and began tapping out the messages he had laboriously encoded with a one-time pad that afternoon:

  FROM PIERRE B-T TOTAL STRENGTH OF THE GERMAN ARMY COLON 412 DIVISIONS COMMA 21 IN FRANCE NOW PERIOD 3 DIVISIONS PREVIOUSLY SOUTH OF BORDEAUX NOW BEING SHIFTED EAST. . .

  He realized that he was able to send faster than normal when he matched his keystrokes to the quicker-tempo rhythm dancing in his head, even though it involved sometimes slapping the key on a hard double beat, and he realized that he no longer needed the metronome of his own heartbeat in order to follow it-

  . . . FROM EMIL B-T NEW GERMAN GASES COLON NITROSYL-FLUORIDE COMMA CACODYLISOCYANIDE. . .

  - he was almos
t able to hum the single line of barbaric melody that the fractured intervals seemed to hint at-

  . . . GERMAN HIGH COMMAND MOVING HEAVY COASTAL AND NAVAL GUNS TOWARD THE MOSCOW FRONT FROM KONIGSBERG AND BRESLAU IN PREPARATION FOR A PROLONGED SIEGE. . .

  - but he had to grip the edge of the table with his free hand, for the whole building seemed to be rotating with ponderous and increasing velocity, and at the back of his brain and in his spine he was sure that centrifugal force was about to tug him out of his chair. He was blinking sweat out of his eyes to keep reading the numbers he was tapping out, and then tears; the harsh castanet sound of the key seemed to be accompanied by a monstrously slow, far-subsonic pounding that he could feel in his blood, like a slow-motion giant's running footfalls across the dome of the sky.

  But he kept doggedly tapping out the code groups in the new ether-born syncopation, glad that the window was not directly in front of him and hoping that the stars were already invisible in the rising glow of dawn. At the end of his transmission he received the curt OSL NK on the Moscow bandwidth, signaling that his message had been received in its entirety and that contact was ended.

  He shuddered convulsively, and then let his face follow the shaken-loose drops of sweat down onto the desktop, and for several seconds he just panted with his lips against the wood.

  His mind scrabbled fearfully for an explanation of what had happened, and eventually came up with the reassuringly abstract phrase self-hypnosis. Fatigue and anxiety, and the irregularly repetitious action of tapping the telegraph key, had apparently-had obviously-pushed him to concoct a natural rhythm that allowed effective, spontaneous sending. The dizziness and the fear must simply have been childish reactions to the inadvertent self-hypnosis. Freud would have made short work of it.

  Finally he unplugged the set and wearily tucked it and the key and the earphones away behind a sliding panel in the wall; but instead of going downstairs to his bed he pulled open the slanted roof door and climbed out onto the scooped iron gutter between two gables. Pigeons had clattered away into the brightening sky at the squeak of the door, and the fresh river breeze was cold in Hale's lank sweat-damp hair as he leaned half-sitting against the slanted roof shingles, with his heels braced in the gutter, and stared northwest toward the still-shadowed spires of Notre-Dame Cathedral on the bigger island, the ile de la Cite. Below him in the chilly darkness he could see the channel that separated the islands, though he couldn't quite see the Pont St. -Louis that linked them like a tow rope.

  One afternoon a week ago he had walked all the way out to the northwest end of the ile de la Cite. Trudging along like an idle embusque but at the same time watching for Nazi police as he made his way up Baron Haussmann's broad, beech-lined avenues, he had avoided a couple of motards, motorcycle policemen, by ducking through a pair of open iron gates into what had proved to be the courtyard of the Palais de Justice; then, realizing with poker-faced horror that he was standing directly between the police headquarters and the courts, he had turned his steps sharply left through a driveway tunnel into a crowded parking lot surrounded on all four sides by government offices-and found himself looking upward from the roofs of the cars to the gray gothic columns and high arches of Sainte-Chapelle against the blue sky.

  He had recognized it immediately from a picture in a history book he'd studied at St. John's, and then he wondered if he might subconsciously have come this way on purpose. The towering thirteenth-century chapel had been built by St. Louis, the only canonized French king, to house the relics he had brought back from Venice during a crusade: Christ's crown of thorns, a nail from the cross, and several drops of Christ's blood. Hale was skeptical about the genuineness of the relics, and he supposed that the Catholic Church must have spirited them away to the Vatican as soon as the German Panzers had crossed the Meuse River in May of last year, and he still considered himself an agnostic, if not an outright atheist-but he had shivered at the thought that these evidences of God's redeeming death had perhaps actually reposed behind the tall stained-glass windows not twenty steps in front of him.

  He had quickly fled out through another arch to the riverfronting pavement of the the Quai des Orfevres, and hurried on northwest across the broad lanes of the island-transecting Pont-Neuf to the cobblestone lanes and chestnut-shaded groves of the narrow Square du Vert-Galant, where fishermen sat in the grass on both sides of the lane, trailing lines in the water. Standing above the sloped cement piling at the very tip of the island on that recent afternoon, it had been easy for Hale to imagine that he was at the bow of a vast stone ship pointed downriver toward the distant sea, and that the ile St. -Louis on which he lived was a barge towed behind.

  Leaning now on the roof of the house in the Rue le Regrattier with the sun coming up behind the steep shingles at his back, it occurred to him that the Seine was flowing in the direction he was looking-it was the barge that was cutting the water, and the grand ship with Notre-Dame and Sainte-Chapelle on it was just wallowing along in its wake. The thought disturbed him-and he could still see a couple of bright stars in the gray sky-and so he hurried back inside to shuffle downstairs to his bed.

  He generally met for an early twilight dinner with the girl whose code name was Et Cetera. Their favored spot was a restaurant called Quasimodo on the Quai d'Orleans around the corner from their apartment building, and she sometimes brought the concierge's big black Persian cat, who would sit in the third cane chair at their window table; the golden-eyed beast would wait, silently, through their soup and omelettes and the eventual lighting of the table candle, and its patience would be rewarded with bits of cheese at the end of the meal. The girl's cover name was Elena, and Hale thought it might be her real Christian name too, since she responded to it naturally and it fit with her Spanish accent. She never spoke of her past, and he was left helplessly thinking of her as having grown up in Madrid with her aunt Dolores, which was the cover story she had told him during the drive from Orly Airport on that first morning, when her cover name had been Delphine.

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