Declare, p.35
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       Declare, p.35

           Tim Powers
 
Page 35

 

  Hale's forehead was suddenly damp. The intrusive thought and the apparent dislocation reminded him of the night when Elena and he had inadvertently walked to the end of the ile de la Cite, in Paris. He leaned against the broken stone wall now and rubbed his eyes until rainbows churned across his retinas, and when he blinked out at the pillars again, he was seeing them properly overlapped and receding in perspective. The storm clouds in the east had moved in to cover half the sky. A breeze sighed across the square, and Hale exhaled sharply at the oily metallic smell on it.

  A couple of old men in homburg hats had shuffled up to the wall beside which Hale stood, and one of them now said sympathetically to him, in German, "Soviet diesel oil, that smell is. " Hale saw that he was wearing a necktie and a high, threadbare collar under his overcoat, and he knew that these must be native Berliners.

  The other old man was staring out at the square. "Easy enough to bury that Slav-push him into that hole he's on the edge of. " He snickered. "You could bury the Russian bear in that hole. "

  His companion pointed at the crane on the western side of the square. "And there's a crane to hoist the bear in with. "

  "Easier to just shoot a dozen or so more immigrants," said the first man, "and pile them in. Pave right over them. " He smiled at Hale. "Right?"

  But Hale had had enough of Germans and Russians. He simply shook his head and blundered away, back toward the Western sectors.

  By the end of the day Hale had seen actual excavations going on in only two places.

  One was in the Soviet Sector. Before crossing the momentous lanes of the Koniggratzer Strasse he had nervously checked his pockets several times to make sure that he carried no money at all, but in fact the Soviet soldiers had not stopped him as he walked across; and at the end of a ruined block in that sector he had found Russian workmen digging a hole in front the shell-pocked neoclassical façade of what must have been a government building. Hale blinked curiously up at the four floors of glassless windows, and then noticed a tall, scarred brass plaque on the inset wall at the top of the steps-on it, below an eagle-and-swastika bas-relief, were the raised letters PRASIDIALKANZLE DES FuHRERS UND REICHSKANZLERS. This gutted ruin was Hitler's Chancellery.

  No Soviet soldiers were in evidence, and dozens of people were wandering in and out of the doorless Chancellery portal and leaning out of the gaping upstairs windows to shout to companions, or crossing the sidewalk to climb up on the black cement roof of what Hale gathered was the very bunker where Hitler had reportedly killed himself less than two months earlier. Among the spectators, "rucksack" and native Berliners mingled with foreign soldiers and civilians who might have been foreign press correspondents.

  The workmen had broken away the pavement and were spading up gravelly dirt at a spot halfway between the Chancellery steps and the bunker, and one of the native Berliners placidly told Hale that it was on that spot that the bodies of Hitler and Eva Braun had been burned.

  A slim, dark-eyed Arab-looking woman in a black sari appeared at first to be listening intently to the dignified old German, but when she caught Hale's glance she made a clicking sound with her tongue and rocked her head toward the dark Chancellery doorway-and the breath stopped in Hale's throat, for in that instant the motion had seemed to be an explicit sexual invitation. But the echoing halls of the building were full of sightseers, and Hale assured himself that he must have misread her gesture.

  He had glanced away from her, awkwardly-and when after a few moments of listening to the old man's droning he furtively looked at her again, she was still staring hungrily at him, and fingering her necklace. Hale stared at the necklace instead of into her eyes, and he registered the fact that the it was a string of dozens or even hundreds of gold rings.

  He stumbled away from the crowd without speaking or looking at her again, back down the rubbled streets toward the American Sector, feeling tiny under the vast gray sky. And when he had got to the Koniggratzer Strasse and had strode halfway across the four broad lanes, two of the Soviet soldiers blocked his way and stopped him. They squinted hard at his passport and searched his pockets and even smelled his breath, as though suspecting that he might be drunk-but after they had grudgingly let him proceed to the western side he still felt trapped, and he kept remembering having glanced back at the dark woman, after having walked a good fifty paces up the street away from the bunker and the Chancellery and the morbid crowd: she had been staring after him, and she must even have followed him at least a little way, for she had appeared to be bigger, taller, than the other people back there.

  The other digging site was in the French Sector, under the Column of Victory, which had been erected to commemorate the German invasion of France in 1871 and now served as an ornate flagpole for the tricolor French flag. French soldiers with pickaxes and shovels were ostensibly trying to get at the water mains. Several Red Army soldiers were observing the work, but they certainly weren't advising.

  There might well have been other excavations going on, but Hale saw no signs of any. The rubble-choked streets to the south were as empty of life as some Roman ruin, the only signs of recent human habitation being graffiti: KAPITULIEREN? NEIN! in red paint on a bullet-pocked wall, and chalked names and destinations and messages left on the entries of bombed apartment buildings; below some of the chalked family names he saw the underlined scrawl LEBEN ALLE, meaning that all had survived, but he saw many repetitions of the single word TOT, dead.

  Hale suspected that the excavation by Hitler's bunker was where the Russians were planning to install the stone, and he was dreading the thought of crossing back into the Soviet Sector late at night; but he trudged back to the fenced-in U. S. Sector HQ parking lot and showed the guard his travel order. When the guard had waved him in, Hale walked slowly down the rows of cars to Theodora's Renault and unlocked it-and after tucking one of the cigarette cartons under the driver's seat, he unclipped the holstered German pistol from under the passenger seat and with shaking hands shoved it into his coat pocket. He clamped his elbow against his ribs to keep that side of his jacket from swinging too heavily when he walked back out of the parking lot past the American guard.

  The gray sky was darkening over the rim of the Olympic Stadium to the west, and he decided to find a restaurant so that he could put some decent food down on top of the Bratwurst that still burned in his stomach, and blunt the ringing edge of his nerves with a bit of strong drink.

  Flannery had recommended several places to eat at in the Kurfursten Damm, but had added that they were generally frequented by American and British officers; but he had also mentioned what he called "a humble imbiss" on the banks of the Spree River at the eastern point of the British Sector, by the skeletal dome of the burned-out Reichstag; he had said it was a smoky little hole, and drafty in spite of the boards over the windows, but that one could get real liquor and generally some decent sort of Happenpappen there.

  It proved to be in an old three-story stone building with rows of square windows that reminded Hale of the Bodleian Library at Oxford; but the windows at the end closest to the Reichstag hulk were black holes, and, at the nearer end, the light from the restaurant was visible from the street only as yellow streaks glowing between mis-matched boards. Hale hesitated on the chipped stone steps-the memory of the man being shot below the Brandenburg Gate this afternoon was still recent and vivid enough to twist his stomach-and just the smell of cooking onions on the cold breeze might not have decided him; but then he heard a pattering in the dark street, and felt the chill of a raindrop on his hand, and he tapped up the last two steps and pushed the door open.

  Warm air redolent of sauerkraut and roasted pork stung his chilled cheeks and twitched at his hair, and a radio was playing a nostalgic melody from the Polivtsian Dances, and with a self-conscious smirk of surrender he stepped forward into the smoky hall.

  By the light of candles in glass jars, he dimly saw a dozen diners seated at long tables below w
alls and arches of rough stone, and when a man's face was lit in laughter at one of the far tables Hale shivered with something like vertigo, for he was certain that he had seen this man before, in this very place-then a moment later he recognized him, and realized that it had been in a candlelit basement in Paris that he had met him, nearly four years ago. This was. . . Claude Cassagnac, his hair perhaps more silvery than brown now, his youthfully animated old face unchanged.

  Cassagnac had been one of the Rote Kapelle agents then, in '41-and he might be in Berlin tonight to participate in the installing of the stone. The street door had closed behind Hale, and he had turned to open it again and leave, when he heard a woman's voice, speaking French words loudly enough to be heard over Cassagnac's laughter.

  Hale didn't catch the words, but the voice vibrated in his chest like an electric shock. It was Elena's.

  With no memory of having crossed the stone floor, he was standing over their table. In the amber candlelight the creases under Elena's eyes were more visible, and Hale could see faint lines down her cheeks, but her angular face had not aged.

  Her hair, though, was now as white as salt.

  Moscow doesn't look kindly on Communists who have been too long in the West. . .

  But here she was, vividly not killed after all, and not more than a hundred yards west of the Soviet Sector line. Was she still working as a Communist agent?

  Cassagnac was holding a smoldering cigarette in his left hand and looking up at Hale with polite inquiry, but he had pushed his chair back and his right hand hung loose by his side. Elena had darted her hand into her purse and then given Hale a blank look-which an instant later tensed into narrowed eyes and flexed jaw muscles.

  "Elena," Hale gasped, "I-"

  "You have mistaken the lady for someone else, my friend," said Cassagnac coldly in French. He took a drag on the cigarette and then said through exhaled smoke, "This woman is my wife, not your-Elena? Go away now. " Without looking at her, Cassagnac clearly conveyed that it was her turn to say the same.

  But she said, "Marcel!" in a wondering tone, and Cassagnac shrugged and rolled his eyes as he waved toward the bench on the other side of the table.

  "I meant to say," he sighed, "do sit down, my friend. "

  Hale yanked back the bench and collapsed onto it, never taking his eyes off of Elena. "I," he said helplessly in French, "have thought about you-I've tried to find you-"

  "Bon Dieu," said Cassagnac softly, "it is the English boy, Lot. " At least he pronounced the t this time. "Listen to me, boy-she and I are in Berlin with the French forces. We assume-"

  "Ahh!" exclaimed Hale. "Good, good. " He hoped Cassagnac was telling the truth and that Elena had freed herself from Moscow.

  Cassagnac lifted an eyebrow. "We're pleased that you approve. And we assume that you are here with the British. We do not need to have this assumption confirmed, and I'm confident that none of us would be so gauche as to discuss our histories or present tasks with one another. The past is past. You will have one drink with us, and then you will go away we know not where. You have seen that the lady is well; surely that has been your main concern, and now you can be relieved on that score. " Cassagnac waved toward the brighter-lit arch from which the aromatic smoke was billowing. "What will you have to drink?" When Hale didn't answer, Cassagnac said to the aproned old waiter who shambled up to the table, "Eine Berliner Weisse mit Schuss, bitte. "

  Hale realized that he could not ask Elena any of the questions that were clamoring in his head, nor explain anything to her, and so he just smiled at her and took hold of her free hand in both of his. Her hand was cold.

  "No, Marcel," she said firmly, pulling her hand free. "Now is now. "

  Hale closed his hands in loose fists. "You are married to him?"

  "Oui," she said, and to Hale the unconsonanted syllable had the finality of an echoing gunshot.

  Hale's drink was clanked down on the table then, and he glanced at the glass mug, then looked at it for several seconds. It appeared to contain pink beer. He sighed, and then turned to Cassagnac and made the effort to lift his eyebrows.

  "Weak beer with raspberry syrup," Cassagnac explained.

  Hale nodded, comprehending that he had been given a child's drink. For a moment he was tempted to speak the old code phrase, "Bless me!"-Things are not what they seem-trust me-just to let Elena know that he was in Berlin on covert SIS business; but a moment later he felt himself blushing, for he recognized this impulse as just a vindication of the spirit in which he'd been given the drink.

  On the table in front of Elena stood a smaller glass of some brown liquor, and he humbly reached across and picked it up. "I want to drink to your-happiness," he said, "and not with weak beer. May you-be always contented and often joyful-bueno ano, multos buenos anos-and may you never forget one who has loved you. "

  He took a sip of what proved to be brandy and set the glass back down softly. Then he picked up his mug and swallowed a mouthful of the pink beer-and it was not bad.

  "Thank you," said Elena in a level voice, but Hale saw her blink several times. From the tinny radio speakers on the other side of the room skirled a serpentine violin melody from Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade.

  And Hale remembered the night in Paris when their radio had roared with inorganic chanting, and the garret floor had been scorched by the focus of some terrible attention; afterward Elena had said, Once I would have prayed, and then had quoted a line of verse in English; and now the verse came back to him, and he recalled that it was from Francis Thompson's "The Hound of Heaven. "

  "Across the margent of the world I fled," he recited now, almost idly, since nothing he said could matter anymore here,
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
Add comment

Add comment