Declare

9,045
07.03.2019

He wasn't eager to speak, either. He could still vividly recall the heavy inertia of the dagger-ankh in his right hand, and in his mind he saw again the whirlwind bowing to one side and then the other as he had swung the ankh back and forth. And the thing had heard him, had responded, when he had called to it the old challenge from his dreams. He knew that soon he might discount these recollections, but he could not do that yet, and the realization that he had seen the supernatural tonight kept him chilly and shaking even in the warm, sauerkraut-scented air of the candlelit restaurant.

The old waiter brought over a tray with four glasses on it, and Hale and Elena each took a glass and gulped it at the same instant, without looking at each other. Then for a minute or so Hale just stared down at his plate and chewed his ham and eggs and black bread, and carefully sipped his second glass of brandy.

Figures in dripping macintoshes entered by ones and twos through the street door, and soon Hale could hear the phrases "Brandenburger Tor"-as well as "boot" and "Teufel," boat and devil-in the louder conversations from the other tables.

But no one was sitting close to them, and he needed to at least refer to the events of the evening, so he leaned forward-Elena looked up at him warily, and after a moment's hesitation he said in French, "We wound up wrecking the monster's boat."

She didn't stop frowning, but a nervous smile kinked her swelling mouth, and in spite of her white hair she looked very young. "That's right," she said in a low voice. "It wasn't still on the truck, at the end."

Hale took a deep breath. "The thing in the sky-" he began.

"Don't speak of it!" She shook her head and then took a noisy sip of brandy, wincing at the alcohol on her cut lip. "We will speak of worldly things only. Claude-Cassagnac-he would not have told you about the Shihab meteor-bullet, if he had thought we might survive."

Hale sighed. "Well, the meteor-bullet didn't work, in any case."

"No," she said bleakly, "it did-not-work." She looked straight into his eyes then, and suddenly he felt the warmth of the brandy. Her voice when she spoke again, though, was brisk. "And on the same assumption he told you that we are working for the French DGSS. I would venture to declare," she went on, using the French infinitive declarer, "that you are working for the British secret service now…?"

Hale opened his mouth, hesitated, and then said, "Yes." The abrupt question, coming from her, had caught him off-guard. We will speak of worldly things only. He knew that Theodora would have expected him to live his cover-deny any SIS connection and talk about his work in fertilizer manufacture-but this was Elena! And France was an ally. Nevertheless he could feel himself blushing at having so instantly broken his cover, and he bolted the rest of his second glass of brandy and glanced around for the waiter.

"Duplication," she said, "parallel sections, secrets within secrets. That arrogant man, Kim-we know he is an SIS section head, but he didn't know you had been sent here. It is informative to know that the SIS was aware of the action tonight, and had two men independently observing. They have not held it against you, the work you did for the GRU in Paris?"

Again Hale opened his mouth without speaking, and he felt his face getting hotter. "-No," he said. The waiter had walked up to the table, and Hale hastily ordered four more brandies. The old man nodded and walked away without picking up the four emptied glasses.

Elena's frown had deepened. "Ah, you were working for the British secret service even then. You were-a double."

Hale was stung by the tone of accusation. "You work for the French now," he protested. "Against the…the Party." Which you once described to me as your husband, he thought sourly. He wanted to ask her what had happened when she obeyed the summons to Moscow in January of 1942, but while he was trying to phrase the question, she spoke again.

"I work for them honestly," she said, "as I worked then for the Party-honestly."

Hale remembered her leaving the Philippe St.-Simon passport in a dubok for him, but that had been too gallant an act, and too beneficial to himself, for him to raise it now as an objection. "You would not now do undercover work for the DGSS?" he asked instead.

"I would. My loyalties have changed."

"Mine have not."

She leaned forward and gripped his hand in her cold fist. "But it was-you and me, do you understand? I was sincere."

The four fresh brandies arrived then, and with his free hand Hale dug out two packs of cigarettes to pay for them. When the waiter had again retreated, Hale said, "I was sincere too, where it was you and me. Hell, I was sincere in the work, that must have been obvious. Russia and England were allies against Germany."

"But you went home and reported it all." She was still holding his hand, loosely, but she was staring down at the table.

"I'm being honest here," Hale told her, "and I promise you I did not report…you and me."

"Thank you." She shrugged, still looking down. "But there was a core of deceit. I would not have-gone to bed with you, if I had known who you were really working for."

"I-well, no, I suppose not," conceded Hale.

She sighed, and met his eyes. "I really was an atheist, you know; then, in Paris."

"I know." He had noted her exclamation Bozhe moy! tonight on the boat, and he knew that the phrase was Russian for My God!-and he had heard her reciting the Hail Mary in Spanish, and twice she had made the sign of the cross. Avoiding any mention of the events of the evening, he simply said, "And I know you are not anymore."

She squeezed his hand, and he returned the pressure. "Actually," she said, "I think I was never an atheist. But I realized it in the Lubyanka basements. They had not called me back from Paris to kill me, as it turned out, but to initiate me into the transcendent order of Soviet espionage. It involved imprisoning me in the Lubyanka, and at one point there they-seemed to kill me. Outside of the prison I had by then learned the truth about my-cherished communism; and when I seemed to die, there in the Lubyanka, I prayed to the Virgin Mary. I made a vow to her-I swore that, if she would intercede to free me, I would come back to Moscow on my fortieth birthday, and light a candle in St. Basil's Cathedral right there in Red Square, at high noon; and I promised her that I would…"

After a few seconds Hale said, "That you would-?"

Her answering smile seemed sad. "I won't tell you."

"When were you born?"

"Never mind." Then she shrugged. "Oh, but you could find it out, I'm sure-April 22, Andrew, in 1924!" She went on hastily: "But do you-imagine that you are an atheist-still?"

It wasn't God that we saw tonight, he thought. And the thing we saw-it bowed, when I waved the ankh, and it came to me when I called it.

He had been terrified, and had tried, without success, to recite the Pater Noster-but there had been immense fascination, too, and immense approachable power. And he had shot at two men, had perhaps killed them, and now he was disturbed but relieved to find that, for the moment at least, that action was in some concussed part of his memory, numb.

He knew that if he were to go to a Catholic priest in a confessional, all of this would look very ugly indeed.

Which perspective is true? he thought. Which do I want to be true?

He looked at her and shook his head. "I don't know."

She laughed fondly. "You are frank, but not honest. And I think you are a fool. But you have again blithely put yourself in mortal peril to save my life, and tomorrow morning Claude and I must fly back to Algiers to report our failure, and God knows when or if you and I may see each other again. I do love you, Andrew-d'un tumulte!-and-if you have no scruples!-I would very much like us to find a room together, on-on this fearful night." She was blushing, and Hale realized almost incredulously that she was hardly more than twenty years old. "Perhaps it will not be a sin," she said, pushing her bench back and reaching for her coat. "Cassagnac did marry us, tonight."

"Yes," Hale said unsteadily. "God, yes." His heart was thumping under his wet shirt. "Cassagnac formalized it," he added as he stood up, "but in my heart we have been married ever since our last night in Paris."

He touched one of the remaining full glasses of brandy, but then just deliberately knocked it over on the table, and with trembling hands helped Elena put on her wet coat instead.

The lower two or three floors of most Berlin residential buildings had been looted by the Red Army soldiers, but Hale and Elena found a fourth-floor suite in a rooming house near the Tempelhof Airport in the American Sector. The high ceiling was adorned with frescoes of angels and bearded saints, the tables and chairs were all black claw-footed shapes out of Gustave Dore, and the bed was an enormous old four-poster with a tapestry canopy.

Rain thrashed against the leaded-glass windows and a draft fluttered the candle flame until it eventually guttered out, and Hale and Elena weren't aware of any of it. But an hour before dawn the rain stopped, and a wind from the north rattled the window frames and opened the clouds so that moonlight silvered the old cobbled street and the gable roofs, and Hale and Elena wrapped themselves in blankets to get up and stand in the moonlight by the window, and for a little while they watched the red and green wingtip lights sweep overhead and on past them as Western airplanes descended for landings at Tempelhof.

Elena whispered in French, "I'll say it now, while it's still not immediate: Good-bye, Andrew, my love."

"I will not say it ever," he told her, leading her back away from the window.

At dawn Elena got dressed and went away to meet Cassagnac, and Hale put on his damp clothes and walked through the slanting sunlight north, back to the square by the Brandenburg Gate.

He hung well back past the western curbing of the square, by the sawed-off tree stumps on the south side of the Charlottenburg Chaussee, but he was able to see red-striped wooden barricades around the patch of wet cement that now covered the shell-crater in the pavement; and he surreptitiously made sketches from several vantage points, indicating the locations of landmarks, so that Theodora would know precisely where the anchor stone had been installed.

Of course the truck, with its flat tires and crushed roof, had been towed away during the night, and from this southern position Hale could see no evidence of lumber-or bones-up at the north end of the broad square, where he remembered the boat overturning. His head throbbed with a mild hangover as he panted in the cool morning air, and he was already beginning to wonder how much of what he seemed to recall could really, literally, have happened.

In a rubble-strewn alley he dropped the Walther pistol down the well of a broken drainage pipe-and then there was no reason to linger. During the walk southwest to the SHAEF U.S. Sector Headquarters, past gutted houses and curbside cooking fires and old women loading broken masonry into wagons, he tried to decide what report he would make to Theodora.

He reclaimed the Renault from the American lot and finally used some of his German marks to refill the petrol tank, and then he drove carefully back down the southwest segment of highway, past a brief view of green woods and the broad sunlit lakes of the Havel River, to the U.S. Sector gates and the Russian checkpoint at the outskirts of Berlin. In the Russian guard shack a taciturn Soviet soldier checked the Conway name and passport number against a posted list, then sighed and stamped the travel order. Hale got back into the idling car and drove on, out of Berlin.

Soviet military lorries passed him in both directions during the two-hour drive west, but he resisted the surprisingly strong impulse to race out of the Russian territory; and before slowing for the final checkpoint at the Helmstedt border crossing, he wiped the sweat from his face and managed to breathe deeply and slowly. A number of German diesel lorries were halted on the shoulder so that the loads could be checked, but when the checkpoint guard looked at Hale's stamped travel order, he simply waved, and the barrier was lifted.

Hale drove through, into the British Zone of conquered Germany. Abandoned brick warehouses fronted the street, and on the nearest curb stood a figure in an overcoat and a homburg hat-Hale recognized Theodora even as the figure began waving. Hale pulled over, and Theodora opened the door and climbed in, setting his hat on his lap.

"Don't talk," the gray-haired man told him shortly, "the Americans probably miked the car. Just drive straight ahead here."

Hale nodded and let out the clutch; and when the road had led them past the last outlying farmhouses of Helmstedt to shaggy green fields, Theodora said, "This will do. Pull over to the shoulder here. I'm not flying back with you, and I might not see you again in London. You'll give me your report now."

Hale nodded and steered the car onto the muddy shoulder, and when it had squeaked to a halt he rocked the shift lever into neutral and set the hand brake, and then clanked open the driver's-side door.

Theodora leaned forward, frowning. "I hope the report will be lengthy enough," he said, "to make it worthwhile turning off the damned engine."

"Oh, yes, sir, of course," said Hale, reaching back to switch off the ignition. In the sudden silence he swung his legs out of the car and straightened up; blinking over the car's roof before Theodora unfolded himself from the passenger seat, Hale looked out across what he now recognized as wheat fields. No farmer was visible, and Hale wondered if there were still working tractors here.

When Theodora had stood up straight and replaced his hat, he strode west along the shoulder, his hands clasped behind the tails of his coat and his head down to be sure of keeping his shoes out of puddles. Hale trudged along after him.

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