Declare, p.34
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       Declare, p.34

           Tim Powers
 
Page 34

 

  Theodora was leaning against the driver's-side window frame and breathing a sour smell of coffee at him. "Your passport and travel order are solid," the older man said. "You've got nothing to worry about at the checkpoints. Now on the autobahn?-remember, don't stop, and don't take any less than two hours covering the hundred miles-the guards at the first checkpoint will radio ahead, and if you go too fast you'll be in trouble. If you break down, stay by the car, and you're not allowed to go more than fifteen feet off the pavement in any case. If you haven't arrived in Berlin in four hours, I'll hear from my SHAEF chum, and I'll-send someone looking for you, if possible. " The gravel crunched as Theodora stepped back. "Gute Fahrt," he said dryly.

  It was German for Have a good trip. "Oh, the same to you," said Hale, letting out the clutch and then steering the car toward the road that led to the border. The sky was blue behind the smokeless factory chimneys, with only a few clouds mounting in the east.

  As Theodora had predicted, Hale had no difficulties with the border checkpoint guards. They waved him to a halt with submachine guns, but when he had got out of the car and gone into their shack, they simply wrote down his name and stamped his American travel orders. "Okay," one of them said in English, pulling the lever that lifted the bar outside.

  The autobahn beyond was a wide, two-lane highway, and the cherry and pine and birch trees on either side were soon a blur of varying shades of green as Hale shifted up to the prescribed eighty kilometers per hour. Long stretches of the median between the eastbound and westbound lanes had been cemented over, but it wasn't until Hale noticed heavy black skid-marks on one stretch of it that he realized that these paved expanses had been the makeshift, last-resort airstrips of the Third Reich.

  German-language signs stood on posts on the roadside shoulder and hung from the overpasses, but they all appeared to be pro-Soviet propaganda-ONE BERLIN, and AMERICANS GO HOME, and one in English: ORDER THE INVESTIGATORS OF WAR TO PUT A STOP TO!

  Hear hear, thought Hale.

  At the Gleinecker Bridge over the Havel, in the southwest suburbs of Berlin, he slowed for the second Soviet checkpoint and braked to a stop while two guards pointed submachine guns at the grille of his car; but the soldier in the guard shack had clearly been expecting Hale, and only glanced at his papers before waving the bar up. Nevertheless Hale felt by now like a visitor to a high-security prison, nervous about doing anything that might make it hard to get out again.

  Directly ahead was a stark black-on-white sign announcing the border of the United States Sector, and it was with relief that Hale put the car into first gear and drove toward it. The American soldiers wore khaki uniforms with white helmets and belts and holsters, and one of them waved Hale to a shed like a toll booth.

  "Where you headed, Mr. Conway?" he asked after looking at Hale's travel order and handing it back through the rolled-down window.

  "I'm supposed to-" Hale's voice was hoarse, and he cleared his throat before trying again. "I'm supposed to meet a Hubert Flannery, of the SHAEF, at the U. S. Sector Headquarters. " SHAEF was the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force.

  "That's on the Zehlendorf, straight ahead and turn left on Onkel Tom Strasse, no joke. Don't turn right at all, and if you go more than six miles, stop, you've missed it. Don't drive around the city without looking at a map-most of the streets lead into the Soviet Sector. They're not all barricaded and patrolled, and if you drift across with any incriminating items on you, like a newspaper or money, you'll have a very bad time getting back out. Enjoy your stay. "

  "Jesus. You too. "

  Many of the brick buildings he drove slowly past were hollowed and roofless and missing walls, with stairs leading nowhere anymore and windows that opened on the sky from any angle. The center lanes of the streets were clear pavement, but where gutters and sidewalks must once have been were shoulder-high piles of broken masonry, from which old women were picking up bricks two at a time and loading them into horse-drawn wagons. Hale was careful to watch his odometer and to avoid any right turns, and he wondered if Elena, who had disappeared into the world that crowded so close here, was still alive.

  Flannery was a big, red-faced man who smelled of juniper berries; and when he closed the door to his office after Hale had stepped inside, he intensified the juniper smell by pouring Gordon's gin into two fragile china teacups, one of which had not been dry.

  "Drink up," he said cheerfully. "Mithridates principle, right? Accustom yourself to the poison in advance, and after that nobody can harm you with it. "

  Hale nodded and drank half of the cup in one gulp.

  "Oh, you're bound for immortality," Flannery said. "So Jimmie says your cover is fertilizers-chemistry and agriculture. I'll make an appointment for you with Sandy Bennett, that's Sanford Bennett on our agricultural staff. He's safely out of town until after the weekend, and tomorrow I'll erase it from his calendar, but for these twenty-four hours you can mention the appointment and his secretary will back you up. Your boss was already onto her today to get some fly-spray. And say you intend to talk to Fred Cavanaugh-he's in charge of repatriation and refugees. You can claim to want to hire Displaced Persons from the Fluchtlingstelle refugee center at Marienfelde, it's in this sector. "

  "Good Lord, I don't want forced labor!"

  "For the fertilizer factory you're not even going to start up, right-live your cover. It'd be seen as a mercy, though, if you wanted Soviets who've been German prisoners of war. We've been repatriating them, by force-we had a crowd of Russian soldiers who were captured by the Germans in '42, and we had to tear-gas 'em to get them into the eastbound train cars to go back home. Eleven of them actually managed to kill themselves, rather than return. I gather Moscow doesn't look kindly on Communists who've been too long in the West, even if the time was spent in prison camps. "

  Again Hale thought of Elena. The gin was suddenly as sour as varnish in his mouth, and he put the teacup down on the desk.

  "You're going to be walking around?" asked Flannery.

  Hale nodded. "I-expect so. "

  "Here. " Flannery crossed to a closet, and after unlocking a padlock on a hasp he opened the closet door and handed Hale two cartons of Chesterfield cigarettes. "Easiest thing is don't carry money at all. A pack of cigarettes is worth, very roughly, five dollars, clean currency anywhere in the city. As a favor to Jimmie Theodora, the United States will part with some smokes-but if you need actual cash, I can't requisition that. I assume you didn't bring much down the hole-but you'll get any you need from the British Sector HQ on the Kurfursten Damm, right? You've even got your boss here to authorize it. "

  This was the second time Flannery had referred to Hale's "boss. " Hale tried to think of a way to get Flannery to say who he was talking about, then just asked, "Who do you mean by my boss?"

  "Philby, Kim Philby. Visiting SIS dignitary. He was through here today talking to our OSS brass about what's to become of Berlin. "

  Hale nodded, and he didn't change his expression or pause in tucking the cigarette cartons into the inside pockets of his coat. "Oh sure, the Section Nine man," he said, making sure to speak carelessly. "I'm SOE-only vaguely connected. But yes, I can touch the HQ for cash. "

  After thanking Flannery, and then discussing the bleak local restaurant situation for a few minutes to take the closing emphasis away from the name Philby, Hale walked down the stairs to the street.

  Hale realized that Berlin must be the current stop on Philby's good-will tour of liberated European capitals. But why in God's name did the man have to be in Berlin on this particular day?

  Hale left the pistol under the car seat in the U. S. Sector HQ parking lot when he set out into the city's streets to reconnoiter.

  For pedestrians the sector divisions of the city appeared to have little meaning-Hale saw men in Soviet uniforms mingling with American soldiers at the sidewalk tables along the Kurfursten Damm, where the only drinks available seemed to be
imitation orange juice and ersatz coffee; and electric streetcars with their broken windows covered by wooden panels clattered down tracks in the center of the street, their step rails jammed with passengers whose bags and suitcases clearly marked them as fugitives from the east. Hale soon gathered that the local civilian population was sharply divided between native Berliners and "rucksack" Berliners, and the local traffic policemen-oddly medieval-looking figures in coal-scuttle hats and short-sleeved dark tunics over long-sleeved baggy white shirts-kept trying to rout the shabby immigrants away from the once-elegant cafe tables.

  When Hale ventured to walk east-past the sawed-off tree stumps and the ruined pavilions of the Tiergarten, to the unmarked Soviet border that was understood to run down the broad lanes of the Koniggratzer Strasse-he found that the Soviet police were a good deal harsher.

  He had paused on the western Koniggratzer Strasse sidewalk, drawn by the smell of grilled meat to a wood-and-canvas stand selling Fleisch Bratwurst, and by the fact that he could pause there without being conspicuous. He gladly wasted a pack of Chesterfields on one sizzling sausage served on a cracker, and as he chewed small bites of the thing in the shadow of the waving uncooked sausages that fringed the stand's roof he squinted out at the broad street. On the far side, the south face of a modern nine-story office building curved around out of his sight as the Leipziger Strasse swung away to the north over there, and though half of the high office windows that he could see were boarded up, the shops under the awnings on the sidewalk level were bustling with shoppers.

  Russian soldiers with red cap-badges and purple shoulder-boards stood out in the center of the cracked boulevard pavement, mostly clustered around an eccentrically placed tobacco kiosk that Hale thought must be a disguised guard shack, but from time to time one of them would stride out to stop some figure crossing the street. The guard would look at the hapless pedestrian's papers, while dozens of others crossed in both directions unmolested, and would then invariably nod and step back to the kiosk.

  Hale was reflecting that it would be hard in this city of bomb craters to find evidence of a hole being dug for a big stone to be put into, and that he didn't have many more hours until the installation would commence-and he was considering buying another Bratwurst-when the pop of a gunshot snapped his attention back to the soldiers in the street.

  A ragged man was running north, away from a dropped bag and from a soldier who was carefully aiming a handgun at him for a second shot; Hale realized that the soldier had stepped toward the west side of the street so as to be sure of firing only back into the Soviet Sector.

  Another Soviet soldier was sprinting away from Hale north along the western Koniggratzer Strasse gutter, matching the fugitive's pace but apparently not trying to stop him. And then Hale noticed two other soldiers doing the same on the eastern side of the boulevard. Were they herding the man?

  Hale followed, jogging up the western sidewalk and just keeping the fugitive and his pursuers in sight. The cigarette cartons bounced awkwardly under his coat.

  With Hale trailing watchfully behind, the desperate procession moved quickly up the street, and now that the fugitive and his calmly jogging pursuers had moved north from the spot where the shot had been fired, many of the pedestrians clearly didn't even notice the several men running tensely past them through the sparse crowd. The buildings on either side of the boulevard were bizarrely scaffolded with their own ruin-exposed floors, sagging roof sections, and beams dangling on snagged cables-and Hale thought that this terrible pursuit seemed to be taking place in some stray hour after the end of the world.

  The fleeing man had crossed two streets without being able to run into the western sector, and now he crossed another street and was running out across the wide square in front of the towering mottled-gray pillars of the Brandenburg Gate. Soldiers up by the Reichstag ruins on the far side appeared to be simply waiting for him, though Hale saw a jeep swerve onto the square from between two of the wide-spaced pillars to cut him off from running east. Roadblocks around a tall lorry-mounted crane blocked the man from slanting west.

  Hale stamped to a halt beside a broken wall on the south side of the square and then just panted and watched the pursuit through the fringe of his disordered hair.

  The fugitive out there on the broad pavement was slowed by rubble and shell-holes, and he was shouting something at his pursuers, probably surrender-but while he was still yelling, the chilly summer afternoon air shook with the bang of a rifle shot, and the man out in the middle of the square fell to one knee, silent now.

  Hale felt cold air on his bared teeth, and realized that he was gritting them. He had never seen a man die, but he was suddenly sure that he was about to see it happen now. The very air seemed achingly tense, like a flexed pane of glass.

  The man was half-crawling, half-hopping, back east toward the temple-like gate-until another rifle shot rang out, and a plume of dust sprang from the pavement in front of him; he began struggling away north, and then for several long seconds his tiny figure, dwarfed by the hulk of the Reichstag and the battered gray Brandenburg Gate columns, was the only moving thing in the gray stone world.

  The distant toiling figure stopped at the broken edge of a wide shell-crater, perhaps considering hiding in it; but another shot hammered the air and he collapsed at the edge.

  One of the soldiers now strode out across the square to the still-feebly-moving form, and with a handgun, carefully, fired one last shot. The figure on the ground was still.

  Hale was acutely aware that there was one person less in the square now, and he thought of the Donne line, Every man's death diminishes me-but the thought finished with the unwilled phrase, except when it enhances me; and for just a moment Hale was seeing a double exposure as he stared at the pillars of the Brandenburg Gate: he was seeing the gate from where he stood, nearly end-on and not able to see between the pillars, and at the same time he was seeing it from a perspective that allowed him to look through the pillars and down the Unter den Linden boulevard on the eastern side.
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