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No whisky on this flight, but coffee plenty of it, strong and black. Charlie tried to read a newspaper but fell asleep. March was too excited to rest.

He had torn a dozen blank pages from his notebook, had ripped them in half and half again. Now he had them spread out on the plastic table in front of him. On each he had written a name, a date, an incident. He reshuffled them endlessly the front to the back, the back to the middle, the middle to the beginning a cigarette dangling from his lips, smoke billowing, his head in the clouds. To the other passengers, a few of whom stole curious glances, he must have looked like a man playing a particularly demented form of patience.

JULY 1942. On the Eastern Front, the Wehrmacht has launched Operation Blue: the offensive which will eventually win Germany the war. America is taking a hammering from the Japanese. The British are bombing the Ruhr, fighting in North Africa. In Prague, Reinhard Heydrich is recovering from an assassination attempt.

So: good days for the Germans, especially those in the conquered territories. Elegant apartments, girlfriends, bribes packing cases of plunder to send back home. Corruption from high to low; from corporal to Kommissar; from alcohol to altar-pieces. Buhler, Stuckart and Luther have an especially good racket in play. Buhler requisitions art treasures in the General Government, sends them under cover to Stuckart at the Interior Ministry quite safe, for who would dare tamper with the mail of such powerful servants of the Reich? Luther smuggles the objects abroad to sell safe again, for who would dare order the head of the Foreign Ministrys German Division to open his bags? All three retire in the 1950s, rich and honoured men.

And then, in 1964: catastrophe.

March shuffled his bits of paper, shuffled them again.

On Friday, 11 April, the three conspirators gather at Buhler s villa: the first piece of evidence which suggests a panic

No. That was not right. He leafed back through his notes, to Charlies account of her conversation with Stuckart. Of course.

On Thursday, 10 April, the day before the meeting, Stuckart stands in Billow Strasse and notes the number of the telephone in the booth opposite Charlotte Maguires apartment. Armed with that, he goes to Buhlerss villa on Friday. Something so terrible threatens to overwhelm them that the three men contemplate the unthinkable: defection to the United States of America. Stuckart lays out the procedure. They cannot trust the Embassy, because Kennedy has stuffed it with appeasers. They need a direct link with Washington. Stuckart has it: Michael Maguires daughter. It is agreed. On Saturday, Stuckart telephones the girl to arrange a meeting. On Sunday, Luther flies to Switzerland: not to fetch pictures or money, which they have in abundance in Berlin, but to collect something put there in the course of three visits, between the summer of 1942 and the spring of 1943.

But already it is too late. By the time Luther has made the withdrawal, sent the signal from Zurich, landed in Berlin, Buhler and Stuckart are dead. And so he decides to disappear, taking with him whatever he removed from the vault in Zurich.

March sat back and contemplated his half-finished puzzle. It was a version of events, as valid as any other.

Charlie sighed and stirred in her sleep, twisted to rest her head on his shoulder. He kissed her hair. Today was Friday. The Fuhrertag was Monday. He had only the weekend left. Oh, my dear Fraulein Maguire, he murmured. I fear we have been looking in the wrong place.

Ladies and gentlemen, we shall shortly be beginning our descent to Flughafen Hermann Goering. Please return your seats to the upright position and fold away the tables in front of you

Carefully, so as not to wake her, March withdrew his shoulder from beneath Charlies head, gathered up his pieces of paper, and made his way, unsteadily, towards the back of the aircraft. A boy in the uniform of the Hitler Youth emerged from the lavatory and held the door open, politely. March nodded, went inside and locked it behind him. A dim light flickered.

The tiny compartment stank of stale air, endlessly recycled; of cheap soap; of faeces. He lifted the lid of the metal lavatory basin and dropped in the paper. The aircraft pitched and shook. A warning light pinged. ATTENTION! RETURN TO YOUR SEAT! The turbulence made his stomach lurch. Was this how Luther had felt, as the aircraft dropped towards Berlin? The metal was clammy to the touch. He pulled a lever and the lavatory flushed, his notes sucked from sight in a whirlpool of blue water.

Lufthansa had stocked the toilet not with towels but with moist little paper handkerchiefs, impregnated with some sickly liquid. March wiped his face. He could feel the heat of his skin through the slippery fabric. Another vibration, like a U-boat being depth-charged. They were falling fast. He pressed his burning forehead to the cool mirror. Dive, dive, dive

She was awake, dragging a comb through her thick hair. I was beginning to think you had jumped.

Its true, the thought did enter my mind. He fastened his seatbelt. But you may be my salvation.

You say the nicest things.

I said "may be". He took her hand. Listen. Are you sure Stuckart told you he came on Thursday to check out that telephone opposite your apartment?

She thought for a moment. Yes, Im sure. I remember it made me realise: this man is serious, hes done his homework.

Thats what I think. The question is, was Stuckart acting on his own trying to set up his own private escape route -or was ringing you a course of action he had discussed with the others?

Does it matter?

Very much. Think about it. If he agreed it with the others on Friday, it means Luther may know who you are, and know the procedure for contacting you.

She pulled her hand back in surprise. But thats crazy. Hed never trust me.

Youre right, its crazy. They had dropped through one layer of cloud; beneath them was another. March could see the tip of the Great Hall poking through it, like the top of a helmet. But suppose Luther is still alive down there, what are his options? The airport is being watched. So are the docks, the railway stations, the border. He cant risk going direct to the American Embassy, not after whats happened about Kennedys visit. He cant go home. What can he do?

I dont believe it. He could have called me Tuesday or Wednesday. Or Thursday morning. Why would he wait?

But he could hear the doubt in her voice. He thought: You dont want to believe it. You thought you were clever, looking for your story in Zurich, but all the time your story might actually have been looking for you, in Berlin.

She had turned away from him, to stare through the window.

March felt suddenly deflated. In truth, he hardly knew her, despite everything. He said: The reason he would have waited is to try and find something better to do, something safer. Who knows? Maybe hes found it.

She did not answer.

They landed in Berlin, in a thin drizzle, just before two oclock. At the end of the runway, as the Junkers turned, the moisture scudded across the window, leaving threads of droplets. The swastika above the terminal building hung limp in the wet.

There were two queues at passport control: one for German and European Community nationals, one for the rest of the world.

This is where we part, said March. He had persuaded her, with some difficulty, to let him carry her case. Now he handed it back. What are you going to do?

Go back to my apartment, I guess, and wait for the telephone to ring. What about you?

I thought I would arrange myself a history lesson. She looked at him, uncomprehending. He said: Ill call you later.

Be sure you do.

A vestige of the old mistrust had returned. He could see it in her eyes, felt her searching it out in his. He wanted to say something, to reassure her. Dont worry. A deal is a deal.

She nodded. An awkward silence. Then abruptly she stood on tiptoe and brushed her cheek against his. She was gone before he could think of a response.

The line of returning Germans shuffled one at a time, in silence, into the Reich. March waited patiently with his hands clasped behind his back while his passport was scrutinised. In these last few days before the Fuhrers birthday, the border checks were always more stringent, the guards more jittery.

The eyes of the Zollgrenzschutz officer were hidden in the shade of his visor. The Herr Sturmbannfuhrer is back with three hours to spare. He drew a thick black line through the visa, scrawled Void across it, and handed the passport back. Welcome home.

In the crowded customs hall March kept a. look out for Charlie, but could not see her. Perhaps they had refused to let her back into the country. He almost hoped they had: it would be safer for her.

The Zollgrenzschutz were opening every bag. Never had he seen such security. It was chaos. The passengers milling and arguing around the mounds of clothes made the hall look Hike an Indian bazaar. He waited his turn.

It was after three by the time March reached the left-luggage area and retrieved his case. In the toilets he changed back into his uniform, folded his civilian clothes and packed them away. He checked his Luger and slipped it into his holster. As he left, he glanced at himself in the mirror. A familiar black figure.

Welcome home.

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