THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING.
“Welcome to Switzerland” muttered March. He wound down the window a few centimetres, and the cloud of blue smoke was plucked into the chilly air.
Zurich was more beautiful than he had expected. Its centre reminded him of Hamburg. Old buildings clustered around the edge of the wide lake. Trams in a livery of green and white rattled along the front, past well-lit shops and cafes. The driver was listening to the Voice of America. In Berlin it was a blur of static; here, it was clear. “I wanna hold your hand,” sang a youthful English voice. “I wanna hold your ha-a-and!” A thousand teenage girls screamed.
The Baur au Lac was a street’s-width from the lake. March paid the taxi driver in Reichsmarks — every country on the continent accepted Reichsmarks, it was Europe’s common currency — and went inside. It was as luxurious as Nebe had promised. His room cost him half a month’s salary. “A fine place for a condemned man to spend a night…” As he signed the register he glimpsed a flash of blue at the door, swiftly followed by the fawn raincoats. I am like a movie star, thought March, as he caught the elevator. Everywhere I go, I have two detectives and a brunette in tow.
He spread a map of the city on the bed and sat down beside it, sinking into the spongy mattress. He had so little time. The broad expanse of the Zurich See thrust up into the complex of streets, like a blue blade. According to his Kripo file, Hermann Zaugg had a place on See Strasse. March found it. See Strasse ran alongside the eastern shore of the lake, about four kilometres south of the hotel.
Someone tapped softly on the door. A man’s voice called his name.
Now what? He strode across the room, flung open the door. A waiter was in the corridor, holding a tray. He looked startled.
“Sorry, sir. With the compliments of the lady in room 277, sir.”
“Yes. Of course.” March stood aside to let him through. The waiter came in hesitantly, as if he thought March might hit him. He set down the tray, lingered fractionally for a tip and then, when none was forthcoming, left. March locked the door behind him.
On the table was a bottle of Glenfiddich, with a one-word note. “Detente?”
He stood at the window, his tie loosened, sipping the malt whisky, looking out across the Zurich See. Traceries of yellow lanterns were strung around the black water; on the surface, pinpricks of red, green and white bobbed and winked. He lit yet another cigarette, his millionth of the week.
People were laughing in the drive beneath his window. A light moved across the lake. No Great Hall, no marching bands, no uniforms. For the first time in — what was it? — a year, at least — he was away from the iron and granite of Berlin. So. He held up his glass and studied the pale liquid. There were other lives, other cities.
He noticed, along with the bottle, that she had ordered two glasses.
He sat down on the edge of the bed and looked at the telephone. He drummed his fingers on the little table.
She had a habit of thrusting her hands deep into her pockets and standing with her head on one side, half-smiling. On the plane, he remembered, she had been wearing a red wool dress with a leather belt. She had good legs, in black stockings. And when she was angry or amused, which was most of the time, she would flick at the hair behind her ear.
The laughter outside drifted away.
“Where have you been the past twenty years?” Her contemptuous question to him in Stuckart’s apartment.
She knew so much. She danced around him.
“The millions of Jews who vanished in the war…”
He turned her note over in his fingers, poured himself another drink and lay back on the bed. Ten minutes later he lifted the receiver and spoke to the operator.
They met in the lobby, beneath the fronds of a luxuriant palm. In the opposite corner a string quartet scraped its way through a selection from Die Fledermaus.
March said: The Scotch is very good.”
“A peace offering.”
“Accepted. Thank you.” He glanced across at the elderly cellist. Her stout legs were held wide apart, as if she were milking a cow. “God knows why I should trust you.”
“God knows why I should trust you.”
“Ground rules,” he said firmly. “One: no more lies. Two: we do what I say, whether you want to or not. Three: you show me what you plan to print, and if I ask you not to write something, you take it out. Agreed?”
“It’s a deal.” She smiled and offered him her hand. He took it. She had a cool, firm grip. For the first time he noticed she had a man’s watch around her wrist.
“What changed your mind?” she asked.
He released her hand. “Are you ready to go out?” She was still wearing the red dress.
“Do you have a notebook?”
She tapped her coat pocket. “Never travel without one.”
“Nor do I. Good. Let’s go.”
Switzerland was a cluster of lights in a great darkness, enemies all around it: Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany north and east. Its survival was a source of wonder: “the Swiss miracle”, they called it.
Luxembourg had become Moselland, Alsace-Lorraine was Westmark; Austria was Ostmark. As for Czechoslovakia — that bastard child of Versailles had dwindled to the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia — vanished from the map. In the East, the German Empire was carved four ways into the Reichskommissariats Ostland, Ukraine, Caucasus, Muscovy.
In the West, twelve nations — Portugal, Spain, France, Ireland, Great Britain, Belgium, Holland, Italy, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland — had been corralled by Germany, under the Treaty of Rome, into a European trading bloc. German was the official second language in all schools. People drove German cars, listened to German radios, watched German televisions, worked in German-owned factories, moaned about the behaviour of German tourists in German-dominated holiday resorts, while German teams won every international sporting competition except cricket, which only the English played.
In all this, Switzerland alone was neutral. That had not been the Fuhrer’s intention. But by the time the Wehrmacht’s planners had designed a strategy to subdue the Swiss state the stalemate of the Cold War had begun. It remained a patch of no man’s land, increasingly useful to both sides as the years went by, a place to meet and deal in secret.
“There are only three classes of citizen in Switzerland,” the Kripo’s expert had told March. “American spies, German spies, and Swiss bankers trying to get hold of their money.”
Over the past century those bankers had settled around the northern rim of the Zurich See like a rich crust; a tide-mark of money. As on Schwanenwerder, their villas presented to the world a blank face of high walls and stout gates, backed by dense screens of trees.
March leaned forward and spoke to the driver. “Slow down here”
They were quite a cavalcade by now: March and Charlie in a taxi, followed by two cars, each occupied by a Swiss policeman. Bellerive Strasse turned into See Strasse. March counted off the numbers.
“Pull over here.”
The taxi swerved up on to the kerb. The police cars overtook them; a hundred metres down the road, their brake lights glowed.
Charlie looked around. “Now what?”
“Now we take a look at the home of Doctor Hermann Zaugg.”
March paid the taxi driver, who promptly turned and set off back towards the city centre. The road was quiet.
All the villas were well-protected, but Zaugg’s — the third they came to — was a fortress. The gates were solid metal, three metres high, flanked on either side by a stone wall. A security camera scanned the entrance. March took Charlie’s arm and they strolled past, like lovers taking the air. They crossed the road and waited in a driveway on the other side. March looked at his watch. It was just after nine o’clock. Five minutes passed. He was about to suggest they leave when, with a clank and a hum of machinery, the gates began to swing open.
Charlie whispered: “Someone’s coming out.”
“No.” He nodded up the road. “Coming in.”
The limousine was big and powerful: a British car, a Bentley, finished in black. It came from the direction of the city, travelling rapidly, swerved, and swung into the drive. A chauffeur and another man in the front; in the back, a flash of silver hair — Zaugg’s, presumably. March just had time to notice how low the bodywork hung to the ground. Then, one after another, the tyres were absorbing the impact as the Bentley bounced over the kerb — whump, whump, whump, whump — and it was gone.
The gates started to close, then stopped halfway. Two men appeared from the direction of the house, walking fast.
“You!” one of them shouted. “Both of you! Stay where you are!” He strode into the road. March seized Charlie by the elbow. At that instant, one of the police cars began reversing towards them, gearbox howling. The man glanced to his right, hesitated, and retreated.
The car skidded to a halt. The window was wound down. A weary voice said: “For fuck’s sake, get in.”
March opened the back door and ushered in Charlie, then slipped in after her. The Swiss policeman executed a rapid three-point turn, and accelerated away towards the city. Zaugg’s bodyguards had already disappeared; the gates were banging shut behind them.
March twisted round to stare out of the rear window. “Are all your bankers as well-protected as that?”
“Depends who they do business with.” The policeman adjusted his mirror to look at them. He was in his late forties, with bloodshot eyes. “Are you planning any further adventures, Herr March? A brawl somewhere, perhaps? It would help if we had a little warning next time.”
“I thought you were supposed to be following us, not guarding us.”
“ "Follow and protect as necessary": those are our orders. That’s my partner in the car behind, by the way. It’s been a fucking long day. Excuse my language, Fraulein — they never said there’d be a woman involved.”
“Can you drop us back at the hotel?” asked March.
The policeman grumbled. “So now I am to add chauffeur to my list of duties?” He switched on his radio and spoke to his partner. “Panic over. We’re going back to the Baur au Lac.”
Charlie had her notebook open on her lap and was writing. “Who are these people?”
March hesitated but then thought: what does it matter? “This officer and his partner are members of the Swiss Polizei, here to ensure I don’t attempt to defect while outside the borders of the Reich. And also to ensure I return in one piece.”
“Always a pleasure, assisting our German colleagues,” grunted a voice from the front.
Charlie said: “There’s a danger you might not?”
“Jesus.” She wrote something down. He looked away. Off to their left, a couple of kilometres across the See, the lights of Zurich formed a yellow ribbon on the dark water. His breath misted the window.
Zaugg must have been returning from his office. It was late, but the burghers of Zurich worked hard for their money — twelve or fourteen hours a day was common. The banker’s house could only be reached by travelling this road, which ruled out the most effective security precaution: varying his route each night. And See Strasse, bounded on one side by the lake, and with several dozen streets leading off the other, was a security man’s nightmare. That explained something.
“Did you notice his car?” he said to Charlie. “How heavy it was, the noise its tyres made? You see those often in Berlin. That Bentley was armour-plated.” He ran his hand through his hair. Two bodyguards, a pair of prison gates, remote cameras and a bomb-proof car. What kind of banker is that?”
He could not see her face properly in the shadows, but he could feel her excitement beside him. She said: “We’ve got the letter of authorisation, remember? Whatever kind of banker he is — he’s our banker now.”