Drawn up on the runways of the Flughafen Hermann Goring, shimmering through the haze of fuel, was the new generation of passenger jets: the blue and white Boeings of Pan-American, the red, white and black swastika-decked Junkers of Lufthansa.
Berlin has two airports. The old Tempelhof aerodrome near the city centre handles short-haul, internal flights. International traffic passes through Hermann Goring in the north-western suburbs. The new terminal buildings are long, low edifices of marble and glass, designed — of course — by Speer. Outside the arrivals hall stands a statue of Hanna Reitsch, Germany’s leading aviatrix, made of melted-down Spitfires and Lancasters. She scans the sky for intruders. A sign behind her says WELCOME TO BERLIN, CAPITAL OF THE GREATER GERMAN REICH, in five languages.
March paid the taxi driver, tipped him, and walked up the ramp towards the automatic doors. The air here was cold and man-made: drenched with aviation fuel, torn by the screams of throttling engines. Then the doors opened, hissed shut behind him, and suddenly he was in the sound-proofed bubble of the departure terminal.
“Lufthansa flight 401 to New York. Passengers are requested to make their way to gate number eight for boarding…”
“Final call for Lufthansa flight 014 to Theoderichshafen. Passengers…”
March went first to the Lufthansa sales desk to pick up his ticket, then to the check-in where his passport was scrutinised carefully by a blonde with “Gina” pinned to her left breast, a swastika badge in her lapel.
“Does the Herr Sturmbannfuhrer wish to check in any luggage?”
“No thank you. I have only this.” He patted his small suitcase.
She returned his passport with his boarding card folded inside it. Accompanying this act was a smile as bright and cheerless as neon.
“Boarding in thirty minutes. Have a good flight, Herr Sturmbannfuhrer.”
Thank you, Gina.”
“You are welcome.”
They were bowing like a pair of Japanese businessmen. Air travel was a new world to March, a strange land with its own impenetrable rituals.
He followed the signs to the lavatory, selected the cubicle furthest from the wash-basins, locked the door, opened the suitcase, took out the leather hold-all. Then he sat down and tugged off his boots. White light gleamed on chrome and tile.
When he had stripped to his shorts, he put the boots and his uniform into the hold-all, stuffed his Luger into the middle of the bag, zipped it up and locked it.
Five minutes later he emerged from the cubicle transformed. In a light grey suit, white shirt, pale blue tie and soft brown shoes, the Aryan Superman had turned back into a normal citizen. He could see the transformation reflected in people’s eyes. No more frightened glances. The attendant at the left-luggage area where he deposited the hold-all was surly. He handed March the ticket.
“Don’t lose it. If you do, don’t bother coming back.” He jerked his head to the sign behind him: “Warning! Items returned on production of ticket only!”
At the passport control zone March lingered, noting the security. Barrier one: checking of boarding cards, unobtainable without the proper visa. Barrier two: re-checking of the visas themselves. Three members of the Zollgrenzschutz, the border protection police, were stationed on either side of the entrance, carrying submachine guns. The elderly man in front of March was scrutinised with particular care, the customs officer speaking to someone on the telephone before waving him through. They were still looking for Luther.
When March’s turn came, he saw how his passport baffled the customs man. An SS-Sturmbannfuhrer with only a twenty-four-hour visa? The normal signals of rank and privilege, usually so clear, were too confused to read. Curiosity and servility warred in the customs man’s face. Servility, as usual, won.
“Enjoy your journey, Herr Sturmbannfuhrer.”
On the other side of the barrier, March resumed his study of airport security. All luggage was scanned by X-ray. He was frisked, then asked to open his case. Each item was inspected — the sponge bag unzipped, the shaving foam uncapped and sniffed. The guards worked with the care of men who knew that, if an aircraft was lost to hijackers or to a terrorist bomb during their watch, they would spend the next five years in a KZ.
Finally he was clear of the checks. He patted his inside pocket to make sure Stuckart’s letter was still there, turned the little brass key over in his other hand. Then he went to the bar and had a large whisky and a cigarette.
He boarded the Junkers ten minutes before take-off.
It was the day’s last flight from Berlin to Zurich and the cabin was full of businessmen and bankers in dark three-piece suits reading pink financial newspapers. March had a seat next to the window. The place beside his was empty. He stowed his suitcase in a compartment above his head, settled back and closed his eyes. Inside the plane, a Bach cantata was playing. Outside, the engines started. They climbed the scale, from hum to brittle whine, one coming in after another like a chorus. The aircraft jolted slightly and began to move.
For thirty-three hours out of the past thirty-six March had been awake. Now the music bathed him, the vibrations lulled him. He slept.
He missed the safety demonstration. The take-off barely penetrated his dreams. Nor did he notice the person slip into the seat beside him.
Not until they were cruising at 10,000 metres and the pilot was informing them that they were passing over Leipzig did he open his eyes. The stewardess was leaning towards him, asking him if he wanted a drink. He started to say “A whisky”, but was too distracted to finish his reply. Sitting next to him, pretending to read a magazine, was Charlotte Maguire.
The Rhine slid beneath them, a wide curve of molten metal in the dying sun. March had never see it from the air. “Dear Fatherland, no danger thine: Firm stands thy watch along the Rhine.” Lines from his childhood, hammered out on an untuned piano in a draughty gymnasium. Who had written them? He could not remember.
Crossing the river was a signal that they had passed out of the Reich and into Switzerland. In the distance: mountains, grey-blue and misty; below: neat rectangular fields and dark clumps of pine forests; steep red roofs and little white churches.
When he woke she had laughed at the surprise on his face. You may be used to dealing with hardened criminals, she had said, and with the Gestapo and the SS. But you’ve never come up against the good old American press.
He had sworn, to which she had responded with a wide-eyed look, mock-innocent, like one of Max Jaeger’s daughters. An act, deliberately done badly, which made it naturally an even better act, turning his anger against him, making him part of the play.
She had then insisted on explaining everything, whether he wanted to listen or not, gesturing with a plastic tumbler of whisky. It had been easy, she said. He had told her he was flying to Zurich that night. There was only one flight. At the airport she had informed the Lufthansa desk that she was supposed to be with Sturmbannfuhrer March. She was late: could she please have the seat next to him? When they agreed, she knew he must be on board.
“And there you were, asleep,” she concluded, “like a babe.”
“And if they had said they had no passenger called March?”
“I would have come anyway.” She was impatient with his anger. “Listen, I already have most of the story. An art fraud. Two senior officials dead. A third on the run. An attempted defection. A secret Swiss bank account. At worst, alone, I’d have picked up some extra colour in Zurich. At best I might have charmed Herr Zaugg into giving me an interview.”
“I don’t doubt it.”
“Don’t look so worried, Sturmbannfuhrer- I’ll keep your name out of it.”
Zurich is only twenty kilometres south of the Rhine. They were descending quickly. March finished his Scotch and set the empty container on the stewardess’s outstretched tray.
Charlotte Maguire drained her own glass in one and placed it next to his. “We have whisky in common, Herr March, at least.” She smiled.
He turned to the window. This was her skill, he thought: to make him look stupid, a Teutonic flat-foot. First, she had failed to tell him about Stuckart’s telephone call. Then she had manoeuvred him into letting her join in his search of Stuckart’s apartment. This morning, instead of waiting for him to contact her, she had talked to the American diplomat, Nightingale, about Swiss banks. Now this. It was like having a child forever at your heels — a persistent, intelligent, embarrassing, deceitful, dangerous child. Surreptitiously he felt his pockets again, to check he still had the letter and key. She was not beyond stealing them while he was asleep.
The Junkers was coming in to land. Like a film gradually speeding up, the Swiss countryside began rushing past: a tractor in a field, a road with a few headlights in the smoky dusk, and then — one bounce, two — they were touching down.
Zurich airport was not how he had imagined it. Beyond the aircraft and hangars were wooded hillsides, with no evidence of a city. For a moment, he wondered if Globus had discovered his mission and had arranged for the plane to be diverted. Perhaps they had been set down in some remote airbase in southern Germany? But then he saw Z0RICH on the terminal building.
The instant the plane had taxied to a halt, the passengers — professional commuters, most of them — rose as one. She was on her feet, too, pulling down her case and that ridiculous blue coat. He reached past her.
She shrugged on the coat. “Where now?”
“I am going to my hotel, Fraulein. What you do is your concern.”
He managed to squeeze in front of a fat Swiss who was cramming documents into a leather attache case. The manoeuvre left her trapped some way behind him. He did not look back as they shuffled down the aisle and off the aircraft.
He walked briskly through the arrivals hall to passport control, overtaking most of the other passengers to station himself near the head of the queue. Behind him, he heard a commotion as she tried to catch up.
The Swiss border official, a serious young man with a drooping moustache, leafed through his passport.
“Business or pleasure, Herr March?”
“Business.” Definitely business.
The young man picked up the telephone, dialled three digits, turned away from March and whispered something into the receiver. He said: “Yes. Yes. Of course.” Then he hung up and returned the passport to March.
There were two of them waiting for him by the baggage carousel. He spotted them from fifty metres away: bulky figures with close-cropped hair, wearing stout black shoes and belted fawn raincoats. Policemen — they were the same the world over. He walked past them without a glance and sensed rather than saw them falling in behind him.
He went unchallenged through the green customs channel and out into the main concourse. Taxis. Where were taxis?
Clip-clop, clip-clop. Coming up behind him.
The air outside was several degrees colder than in Berlin. Clip-clop, clip-clop. He wheeled round. There she was, in her coat, clutching her case, balanced on her high heels.
“Go away, Fraulein. Do you understand me? Do you need it in writing? Go back to America and publish your stupid story. I have business to attend to.”
Without waiting for her reply, he opened the rear door of the waiting taxi, threw in his case, climbed in after it. “Baur au Lac,” he said to the driver.
They pulled out of the airport and on to the highway, heading south towards the city. The day had almost gone. Craning his neck to look out of the back window, March could see a taxi tucked in ten metres behind them, with an unmarked white Mercedes following it. Christ, what a comedy this was turning into. Globus was chasing Luther, he was chasing Globus, Charlie Maguire was chasing him, and now the Swiss police were on the tails of both of them. He lit a cigarette.
“Can’t you read?” said the driver. He pointed to a sign: