Declare, p.19
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       Declare, p.19

           Tim Powers
 
Page 19

 

  To wear the belt would be to voluntarily participate in this filthy old business. . . which, really, he had started to do when he had begun tapping out his wireless signals in the insistent, pulse-hopping rhythm.

  Recognition, he thought bleakly as he pulled the belt out of his pocket and slung it around his waist; and perhaps some awful sort of protection, by God knew what means, from God knew what threat.

  He sprinted through the rain to catch up with her, and after tapping her on the shoulder he pointed to the ankh buckle cinched at his waist. She gave him a broad, relieved smile, and they walked back to the apartment arm-in-arm.

  The radio behaved normally that night, and once again Moscow did not respond.

  Chapter Six

  PARIS, 1941

  There was a Door to which I found no Key: There was a Veil past which I could not see: Some little Talk a while of ME and THEE There seemed, and then no more of THEE and ME.

  - Omar Khayyam, The Rubaiyat, Edward J. FitzGerald translation

  On the last day of 1941 Centre sent orders that both Hale and Elena were to report in person to Moscow immediately, and that the ETC network was to be retired.

  Radio contact with Moscow Centre had been reestablished for a month by that time, and right away Elena had been ordered to take over half of the radio duties, while at the same time resuming her job of meeting the furtive couriers and sources. And at the end it was Elena who deciphered the summons order-probably only moments before the Gestapo broke down the front door of the latest of the Rive Gauche pensions in which she and Hale had been renting rooms.

  Moscow Centre had not come back on the air until November 29. During the two weeks preceding that, Elena had got work as a typist at the Simex offices in the Lido building on the the Champs-elysees, while Hale had developed a rudimentary network among the unemployed and alcoholic clochards.

  Neither of them had accomplished much in that interlude.

  Though she was given only innocuous clerical work to do, Elena had learned that Simex was the main procurement firm working for the German occupation authorities-Simex executives were allowed free access to Wehrmacht installations, and the Abwehr actually consulted Simex engineers on secret German construction projects, and of course the company had a sophisticated radio system-and she guessed that Simex, and its sister corporation Simexco, in Brussels, were the perfect hermetic Soviet network she had speculated about to Hale, the intelligence source that was so secure and omniscient that Centre could afford to, and therefore arguably would be shrewd to, give the Gestapo the delusive satisfaction of rolling up all the other networks. Elena had begun carrying her little automatic pistol with her in her purse after she had deduced that, and Hale had known it was for killing herself if she should be captured, lest her conclusions should be wrung out of her by Gestapo interrogators.

  And Hale had become a drinking companion of the ragged old riverside clochards. Their language was a mix of French and something that might have been Gypsy Romany, but he picked it up quickly, and his custom of always bringing a bottle of grappa or burgundy to their makeshift bridge shelters endeared him to them. Among them he felt as though he had drifted into a lower order of secret service-they were largely indifferent to last year's shift in government, and the only secrets they had were their modest thefts of food and clothing and liquor, and the locations of the best pools along the riverbanks for catching trout. But they flew kites with pinwheels on them on moonless nights, and somehow always knew to reel the kites down when a formation of German planes was within half an hour of passing overhead; and one morning in the middle of November one of them told Hale, as he passed him a bottle in the shade under the Pont St. -Michel, "They were stopped at Vyasma, the boche were, that's a hundred and sixty kilometers west of Moscow-the weather's better right now, no rain to turn the roads into mud, and today their trucks and tanks are moving east again-tanks move better than trucks through mud, being on tracks instead of wheels, though all their provisions are in the trucks-but the rain and snow will be back on them within a day or two, and they know it; they're all reading Caulaincourt's Memoires, about Napoleon's failed siege in 1812. " The old man could have had no way of knowing any of this-unless, as the clochards claimed, their kites sometimes gave them true dreams-but Hale would have been tempted to encipher it and send it as unconfirmed rumor anyway, if Moscow had been on the air then.

  Hale missed the vinous company of the eerie old men when he had to resume his all-night radio duties at the end of November; he had been listening as usual on the 49-meter bandwidth on the night of the twenty-ninth, and after all this time of dead air he had been hugely startled when Centre's signal had abruptly started chattering in his earphones, in fact completing a sentence that had been interrupted six weeks earlier. And in spite of her Party stoicism he could tell that Elena was unhappy to be ordered to take half of the radio work in addition to her old duties, and to quit the Simex job. The six weeks of radio silence from Moscow had been a vacation, and this new pace was more strenuous than early October's had been, with even more hours spent at the telegraph key and the perilously live, oscillating transmitter.

  By Christmas both Hale and Elena had been short-tempered and absentminded from lack of sleep, frequently hungover and hungry, and clumsy in darkness and dazzled by daylight. Hale had begun meeting some of Elena's contacts in her stead-wearily trudging to the meeting places, speaking the password phrases she gave him and pocketing the illegal reports to take back to whatever garret they were occupying on that day, and begin enciphering the texts-and any sluggish thought he gave to the Abwehr direction-finders was by this time in fatalistic terms of when rather than if. Hale's only remaining goal was a cold determination to somehow get Elena away when the inevitable arrest occurred.

  At noon on the last day of the year, Hale was hurrying back to the pension at which they'd been staying for the last two nights; he had been to a boulangerie by the ruins of the Roman Arena off the Rue Monge, and he was carrying baguettes and a terrine of goose liver pate wrapped in newspapers. Elena was sending on that morning, and she would be hungry when she could finally take off the earphones and switch off the set's power. There had been no snow yet in Paris that year, but cold winds and rain had set the two miserable young spies to stuffing papers and scraps of cloth into the gaps between the window frames, and huddling together in coats and scarves during the few hours when they both had time to sleep, and now the cold wind at his back made Hale trot along more quickly.

  As always, he glanced quickly around at the pedestrians in front of the boardinghouse-and his frail attention was caught by the odd sight of a man whose briefcase was connected to his ear by a thin wire.

  Direction-finding was done with trucks, Hale believed; it needed heavy machinery and big rotating aerial rings. Not yet suspicious, he nevertheless glanced at the nearest vehicle, a grocer's lorry that was even now driving up onto the curb and squeaking to a halt, and though the men levering open the doors and climbing out were dressed in grimy coveralls, the license plate bore only two letters: WL. Hale's face and hands stung with sudden heat even in the instant before he remembered what Elena had told him they stood for.

  Wehrmacht Luftwaffe.

  Hale didn't change his half-running pace, nor glance again at the men or the lorry; he ran on, past the alley on the far side of the boardinghouse, and tapped up the brick steps of the next house on the street, pushed open the front door and stepped inside. To the woman in the warm hallway who started to object he said, "Food, eat," as he thrust his package at her; then he was pounding away up the carpeted stairs.

  The stairs appeared to end at the fourth floor, with no roof access that Hale could instantly see, so he kicked open a door on the side of the hall facing his pension and hurried past a couple of scared-looking children to the tall window in the far wall. He unlatched it and pushed it open, popping old rust deposits and shaking black dust down from the top edges,
and the cold air billowed the curtains around him as he leaned out. Down on the street to his left he could see the back end of the Wehrmacht Luftwaffe truck, still rocking on its springs.

  The slanted shingled roof of the pension was a couple of yards below him and straight ahead, but separated from this building by the alley he had passed; and the alley appeared to be about ten feet wide.

  For a moment he could vividly imagine leaping across that gap, colliding hard and uselessly with the pension's gritty brick wall about six feet below the roof edge, and then spinning through thirty feet of cold, rushing air to abruptly snap his bones and rupture his guts against the unyielding paving stones so far below; broken teeth, wet white bone torn through his trouser fabric, split flesh torn wider open as the rough hands of Gestapo men hauled him to his feet. . .

  But Elena was crouched not far below the shingles of the gable roof that he could see so clearly; he could even see the aerial and earth wires strung out across the sloping main roof to the gutter over the street. Hale could almost see her, her pale forehead no doubt creased in a frown of concentration as she tapped at the key, her auburn hair falling around her narrow face, her brave little automatic pistol probably within easy reach. . .

  Breathing in whimpers through clenched teeth, Hale ran back to the room's door and braced himself against that wall; then he pushed away from it hard enough to crack the plaster, took two running steps across the floor and launched himself at the airy gap that was the open window. One foot shoved back against the windowsill with all the power in his torso, and then he was flying through the cold air, one hand clawed out in front of him.

  His other hand clutched the iron buckle of his belt-and the air was driven out of his lungs as he folded over the narrow belt, which seemed to be following the trajectory of his jump, independent of gravity; and the rooftops and chimneys of the Latin Quarter spun around him in the instant before he crashed full-length onto the shingles of the other building.

  Impossibly, his face was in the roof edge gutter and his legs stretched up toward the roof peak. Hot blood smeared his mouth and chin and ran up his face into his hair, and there was no breath in his stunned, aching throat, but he slid himself around so that his feet were braced against the roof gutter, his skinned hands splayed out on the shingles as he furiously willed his blood to be sticky, and then he crawled rapidly to the peak of the little gable that projected out over the main roof. A stovepipe chimney jutted from the upper slope of it, and he hooked one knee around the iron cylinder as he leaned out over the street-side slope of the pension's roof and rapped his fist against the gable window glass.

  He heard it break inward. He had no breath to shout her name, so he waved the scraped palm of his hand where she would see it.

  He heard her voice through the broken pane: "Marcel?" and then he heard the window creak open. Unable to see below the end of the gable roof peak against his cheek, he clenched his fist and then opened it wide again.

  Then her hand gripped his wrist strongly, and he gripped hers, and he wrenched every muscle and cracked rib in his body as he clamped his knee around the chimney cylinder and pulled her right out of the room, through the window; through her forearm he could feel flexing and twisting as she scrambled over the windowsill to keep her balance.

  A moment later she had climbed up beside him on the roof. He was able to croak the word "Run. "

  But she got her arm under his shoulders and dragged him with her across the roof to the side away from the street, steering wide around a dusty skylight and the insulators at the mooring of a high-voltage cable. Hale pushed himself along with his feet and hands, but his vision was dissolving in rainbow glitters, and he wished she would just drop him and run away on her own.

  Another brick house abutted this one, the gutter of its roof hanging a yard over the surface of the one they were on; and when they had limped and scuffled over to it, Elena pulled Hale upright and shoved him onto the slope of the adjoining roof, then hopped up onto it herself and dragged him up the shingled incline. Hale was able to climb along beside her now, and once they had hoisted themselves over the roof peak of this house and down the other side, they were on a hidden slope, facing the canyon of a street that was not connected at all to the house they'd started from.

  She let him lie then, while she slithered down to this gutter and peered over it; after a few seconds she climbed back up to where he lay spread-eagled on his back.

  "Gestapo?" she panted.

  Close enough, and he was able to nod. His heaving chest was beginning to draw breath into his lungs, and each exhalation blew bloody spray; a few drops spotted her taut face, but she didn't blink.

  "There's a drainpipe," she said; "follow me. We've got to climb down it, or slide. Just keep your hands on it, right?"

  "Right," he croaked.

  Her face was pale as she crawled backward down the roof on her stomach, and when her legs were below the edge, she slowly let her weight go over, while her white hands clutched the gutter. She disappeared by cautious inches, but she gave him a strained smile before her head receded out of his sight.

  His pulse was roaring in his ears so that he could not tell if there was any commotion yet on the street side of their own building, or on the rooftops behind him, and as he rolled over to face the shingles and begin to slide down, scrabbling with his feet to know when he had reached the roof gutter, he became aware that he was panting in the pulse-counterpoint rhythm he had learned to use in working the telegraph key.

  Ten minutes later they were sitting at a table in a cafe in the Mouffetard Market, sipping a second couple of brandies after having gulped the first two.

  After they had shinnied and slid down the drainpipe to the street and hurried across it and through the next building to the sidewalk of a broader boulevard, Elena had looked at Hale in the gray daylight and then pulled him into a recessed shop doorway, where she lifted her sweater to wipe his face with her blouse and used her fingers to push his blond hair back into some order. His nose had stopped bleeding, and at her suggestion he reluctantly took off his own blood-spotted sweater and folded it under his arm, shivering in the chilly wind. "Now you merely look as if you got into a fight," she had told him as they resumed their deliberately leisurely walk, "and not as if you'd been dragged behind a car. "

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