A crack of light showed beneath her door. Inside her apartment a radio was playing. Lovers” music — soft strings and low crooning, appropriate for the night. A party? Was, this how Americans behaved in the presence of danger? He stood alone on the tiny landing and looked at his watch. It was almost two. He knocked and after a few moments the volume was turned down. He heard her voice.
“Who is it?”
A second or two elapsed, then there was a clatter of bolts and chains, and the door opened. She said: “You’re very funny,” but her smile was a false one, pasted on for his benefit. In her dark eyes exhaustion showed, and also — was it? — fear? He bent to kiss her, his hands resting lightly on her waist, and immediately felt a pricking of desire. My God, he thought, she’s turning me into a sixteen-year-old …
Somewhere in the apartment: a footstep. He looked up. Over her shoulder, a man loomed in the doorway of the bathroom. He was a couple of years younger than March: brown brogues, sports jacket, a bow tie, a white jersey pulled on casually over a business shirt. Charlie stiffened in March’s embrace and gently broke free of him. “You remember Henry Nightingale?”
He straightened, feeling awkward. “Of course. The bar in Potsdamer Strasse.”
Neither man made a move towards the other. The American’s face was a mask.
March stared at Nightingale and said softly: “What’s going on here, Charlie?”
She stood on tiptoe and whispered in his ear. “Don’t say anything. Not here. Something’s happened.’Then, loudly: “Isn’t this interesting, the three of us?” She took March’s arm and guided him towards the bathroom. “I think you should come into my parlour.”
In the bathroom, Nightingale assumed a proprietorial air. He turned on the cold water taps above the basin and the bath, increased the volume of the radio. The programme had changed. Now the clapboard walls vibrated to the strains of “German jazz” — a watery syncopation, officially approved, from which all traces of “Negroid influences” had been erased. When he had arranged everything to his satisfaction, Nightingale perched on the edge of the bath. March sat next to him. Charlie squatted on the floor.
She opened the meeting: “I told Henry about my visitor the other morning. The one you had the fight with. He thinks the Gestapo may have planted a bug.”
Nightingale gave an amiable grin. “Afraid that’s the way your country works, Herr Sturmbannfuhrer.”
“I’m sure — a wise precaution.”
Perhaps he isn’t younger than me, thought March. The American had thick blond hair, blond eyelashes, a ski-tan. His teeth were absurdly regular- strips of enamel, gleaming white. Not many one-pot meals in his childhood, no watery potato soups or sawdust sausages in that complexion. His boyish looks embraced all ages from twenty-five to fifty.
For a few moments nobody spoke. Euro-pap filled the silence. Charlie said to March: “I know you told me not to speak to anyone. But I had to. Now you have to trust Henry and Henry has to trust you. Believe me, there’s no other way.”
“And, naturally, we both have to trust you.”
“Oh come on…”
“All right.” He held up his hands in a gesture of surrender.
Next to her, balanced on top of the lavatory, was the latest in American portable tape recorders. Trailing from one of its sockets was a cable, at the end of which, instead of a microphone, was a small suction cup.
“Listen,” she said. “You’ll understand.” She leaned across and pressed a switch. The spools of tape began to revolve.
“The same procedure as before, Fraulein, if you please.”
There was a click, followed by a buzz.
She pressed another switch, stopping the tape. “That was the first call. You said he’d ring. I was waiting for him.” She was triumphant. “It’s Martin Luther.”
This was a crazy business, the craziest he had ever known, like picking your way through a haunted house in the Tiergarten fun fair. No sooner did you plant your feet on solid ground than the floorboards gave way beneath you. You rounded a corner and a madman rushed out. Then you stepped back and found that all the time you had been looking at yourself in a distorting mirror.
March said: “What time was that?”
Eleven forty-five: forty minutes after the discovery of the body on the railway tracks. He thought of the exultant look on Globus’s face, and he smiled.
Nightingale said: “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing. I’ll explain. What happened next?”
“Exactly as before. I went over to the telephone box and five minutes later he rang again.”
March raised his hand to his brow. “Don’t tell me you dragged that machine all the way across the street?”
“Damn it, I needed some proof!” She glared at him. “I knew what I was doing. Look.” She stood to demonstrate. The deck hangs from this shoulder strap. The whole thing fits under my coat. The wire runs down my sleeve. I attach the suction cup to the receiver, like this. Easy. It was dark. Nobody could have seen a thing.”
Nightingale, the professional diplomat, cut in smoothly: “Never mind how you got the tape, Charlie, or whether you should have got it.” He said to March: “May I suggest we simply let her play it?”
Charlie pushed a button. There was a fumbling noise, greatly magnified — the sound of her attaching the microphone to the telephone — and then:
“We have not much time. I am a friend of Stuckart.”
An elderly voice, but not frail. A voice with the sarcastic, sing-song quality of the native Berliner. He spoke exactly as March had expected. Then Charlie’s voice, in her good German:
“Tell me what you want.”
“Stuckart is dead.”
“I know. I found him.”
A long pause. On the tape, in the background, March could hear a station announcement. Luther must have used the distraction caused by the discovery of the body to make a phone call from the Gotenland platform.
Charlie whispered: “He went so quiet, I thought I’d frightened him away.”
March shook his head. “I told you. You’re his only hope.”
The conversation on the tape resumed.
“You know who I am?”
Wearily: “You say: What do I want? What do you think I want? Asylum in your country.”
“Tell me where you are.”
“I can pay.”
“I have information. Certain facts.”
“Tell me where you are. I’ll come and fetch you. We’ll go to the Embassy.”
“Too soon. Not yet.”
“Tomorrow morning. Listen to me. Nine o’clock. The Great Hall. Central steps. Have you got that?”
“Bring someone from the Embassy. But you must be there as well.”
“How do we recognise you?”
A laugh. “No. / shall recognise you, show myself when I am satisfied.” Pause. “Stuckart said you were young and pretty.” Pause. “That was Stuckart all over.” Pause. “Wear something that stands out.”
“I have a coat. Bright blue.”
“Pretty girl in blue. It is good. Until the morning, Fraulein.”
The clatter of the tape machine being switched off.
“Play it again,” said March.
She rewound the tape, stopped it, pressed PLAY. March looked away, watched the rusty water swirling down the plughole, as Luther’s voice mingled with the reedy sound of a single clarinet. “Pretty girl in blue…” When they had heard it through for the second time, Charlie reached over and turned off the machine.
“After he hung up, I came over here and dropped off the tape. Then I went back to the telephone box and tried to call you. You weren’t there. So I called Henry. What else could I do? He says he wants someone from the Embassy.”
“Got me out of bed/ said Nightingale. He yawned and stretched, revealing an expanse of pale, hairless leg. “What I don’t understand is why he didn’t just let Charlie pick him up and bring him straight to the Embassy tonight.”
“You heard him,” said March. Tonight is too soon. He daren’t show himself. He has to wait until the morning. By then the Gestapo’s search for him will probably have been called off.”
Charlie frowned. “I don’t understand…”
The reason you couldn’t reach me two hours ago was because I was on my way to the Gotenland marshalling yards, where the Gestapo were hugging themselves with joy that they had finally discovered Luther’s body.”
That can’t be.”
“No. It can’t.” March pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head. It was hard to keep his mind clear. “My guess is Luther’s been hiding in the rail yard for the past four days, ever since he got back from Switzerland, trying to work out some way of contacting you.”
“But how did he survive all that time?”
March shrugged. “He had money, remember. Perhaps he picked out some drifter he thought he could trust, paid him to bring him food and drink; warm clothes, maybe. Until he had his plan.”
Nightingale said: “And what was his plan, Sturmbann-fuhrer?”
“He needed someone to take his place› to convince the Gestapo he was dead.” Was he talking too loudly? The Americans” paranoia was contagious. He leaned forward and said softly: “Yesterday, when it was dark, he must have killed a man. A man of roughly his age and build. Got him drunk, knocked him out — I don’t know how he did it -dressed him in his clothes, gave him his wallet, his passport, his watch. Then he put him under a goods train, with his hands and head on the rails. Stayed with him to make sure he didn’t move until the wheels went over him. He’s trying to buy himself some time. He’s gambling that by nine o’clock this morning, the Berlin Polizei will have stopped looking for him. A fair bet, I would say.”
“Jesus Christ.” Nightingale looked from March to Charlie and back again. “And this is the man I’m supposed to take in to the Embassy?”
“Oh, it gets better than that.” From the inside pocket of his tunic, March produced the documents from the archive. “On the twentieth of January 1942, Martin Luther was one of fourteen men summoned to attend a special conference at the headquarters of Interpol in Wannsee. Since the end of the war, six of those men have been murdered, four have committed suicide, one has died in an accident, two have supposedly died of natural causes. Today only Luther is left alive. A freak of statistics, you would agree?” He handed Nightingale the papers. “As you will see, the conference was called by Reinhard Heydrich to discuss the final solution of the Jewish question in Europe. My guess is Luther wants to make you an offer: a new life in America in exchange for documentary proof of what happened to the Jews.”
The water ran. The music ended. An announcer’s silky voice whispered in the bathroom: “And now, for you night-lovers everywhere, Peter Kreuder and his orchestra with their version of I’m in Heaven…”
Without looking at him, Charlie held out her hand. March took it. She laced her fingers into his and squeezed, hard. Good, he thought, she should be afraid. Her grip tightened. Their hands were linked like parachutists in free fall. Nightingale had his head hunched over the documents and was murmuring “Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ” over and over again.
“We have a problem here,” said Nightingale. “I’ll be frank with you both. Charlie, this is off the record.” He was talking so quietly they had to strain to hear. “Three days ago, the President of the United States, for whatever reason, announced he was going to visit this Godforsaken country. At which point, twenty years of American foreign policy was turned upside down. Now this guy Luther, in theory -if what you say is true — could turn it upside down again, all in the space of seventy-two hours.”
Charlie said: “Then at least it would end the week the right way up.”
“That’s a cheap crack.”
He said this in English. March stared at him. “What are you saying, Mister Nightingale?”
“I’m saying, Sturmbannfuhrer, that I’m going to have to talk to Ambassador Lindbergh and Ambassador Lindbergh is going to have to talk to Washington. And my hunch is they’re both going to want a lot more proof than this—” he tossed the photocopies on to the floor “—before they open the Embassy gates to a man you say is probably a common murderer.”
“But Luther is offering you the proof.”
“So you say. But I don’t think Washington will want to risk all the progress that’s been made on detente this week just because of your…theories.”
Now Charlie was on her feet. “This is insane. If Luther doesn’t go straight with you to the Embassy, he’ll be captured and killed.”
“Sorry, Charlie. I can’t do that.” He appealed to her. “Come on! I can’t take in every old Nazi who wants to defect. Not without authorisation. Especially not with things as they are.”
“I don’t believe what I’m hearing.” She had her hands on her hips and was staring at the floor, shaking her head.
“Just think it through for a minute.” He was almost pleading. “This Luther character seeks asylum. The Germans say: hand him over, he’s just killed a man. We say: no, because he’s going to tell us what you bastards did to the Jews in the war. What will that do for the summit? No -Charlie — don’t just look away. Think. Kennedy put on ten points in the polls overnight on Wednesday. How’s the White House going to react if we drop this on them?” For a second time, Nightingale glimpsed the implications; for a second time he shuddered. “Jesus Christ, Charlie, what have you got yourself mixed up in here?”
The Americans argued back and forth for another ten minutes, then March said quietly: “Aren’t you overlooking something, Mister Nightingale?”
Nightingale switched his attention reluctantly from Charlie. “Probably. You’re the policeman. You tell me.”
“It seems to me that all of us — you, me, the Gestapo — we all keep underestimating good Party Comrade Luther. Remember what he said to Charlie about the nine o’clock meeting: "you must be there as well".”
“He knew this would be your reaction. Don’t forget he had worked at the Foreign Ministry. With a summit coming, he guessed the Americans might want to throw him straight back to the Gestapo. Otherwise, why did he not simply take a taxi from the airport to the Embassy on Monday night? That’s why he wanted to involve a journalist. As a witness.” March stooped and picked up the documents. “Forgive me, as a mere policeman I do not understand the workings of the American press. But Charlie has her story now, does she not? She has Stuckart’s death, the Swiss bank account, these papers, her tape-recording of Luther…” He turned to her. The fact that the American government chooses not to give Luther asylum, but abandons him to the Gestapo — won’t that just make it even more attractive to the degenerate US media?”
Charlie said: “You bet.”
Nightingale had started to look desperate again. “Hey. Come on, Charlie. All that was off the record. I never said I agreed with any of it. There are plenty of us at the Embassy who don’t think Kennedy should come here. At all. Period.” He fiddled with his bow-tie. “But this situation — it’s as tricky as hell.”
Eventually they reached an agreement. Nightingale would meet Charlie on the steps of the Great Hall at five minutes to nine. Assuming Luther turned up, they would hustle him quickly into a car which March would drive. Nightingale would listen to Luther’s story and decide on the basis of what he heard whether to take him to the Embassy. He would not tell the Ambassador, Washington, or anyone else what he was planning to do. Once they were inside the Embassy compound, it would be up to what he called “higher authorities” to decide Luther’s fate — but they would have to act in the knowledge that Charlie had the whole story, and would print it. Charlie was confident the State Department would not dare turn Luther away.
Exactly how they would smuggle him out of Germany was another matter.
“We have methods,” said Nightingale. “We have handled defectors before. But I’m not discussing it. Not in front of an SS officer. However trustworthy.” It was Charlie, he said, whom he was most worried about. “You’re going to come under a lot of pressure to keep your mouth shut.”
“I can handle it.”
“Don’t be so sure. Kennedy’s people-they fight dirty. All right. Let’s suppose Luther has got something. Let’s say it stirs everybody up — speeches in Congress, demonstrations, editorials — this is election year, remember? So suddenly the White House is in trouble over the summit. What do you think they’re going to do?”
“I can handle it.”
They’re going to tip a truckful of shit over your head, Charlie, and over this old Nazi of yours. They’ll say: what’s he got that’s new? The same old story we’ve heard for twenty years, plus a few documents, probably forged by the communists. Kennedy’11 go on TV and he’ll say: ‘My fellow Americans, ask yourselves: why has all this come up now? In whose interest is it to disrupt the summit?’ ” Nightingale leaned close to her, his face a few centimetres from hers. “First off, they’ll put Hoover and the FBI on to it. Know any left-wingers, Charlie? Any Jewish militants? Slept with any? Because, sure as hell, they’ll find a few who say you have, whether you’ve ever met them or not.”
“Screw you, Nightingale.” She shoved him away with her fist. “Screw you.”
Nightingale really was in love with her, thought March. Lost in love, hopeless in love. And she knew it, and she played on it. He remembered that first night he saw them together in the bar: how she had shrugged off his restraining hand. Tonight: how he had looked at March when he saw him kissing her; how he had absorbed her temper, watching her with his moony eyes. In Zurich, her whisper: “You asked if he was my lover …He’d like to be…”
And now, on her doorstep, in his raincoat: hovering, uncertain, reluctant to leave them behind together, then finally disappearing into the night.
He would be there to meet Luther tomorrow, thought March, if only to make sure she was safe.
After the American had gone they lay side by side on her narrow bed. For a long time neither spoke. The street lights cast long shadows, the window frame slanted across the ceiling like cell bars. In the slight breeze the curtains trembled. Once, there were the sounds of shouts and car doors slamming — revellers returning from watching the fireworks.
They listened to the voices fade along the street, then March whispered: “Last night on the telephone — you said you had found something.”
She touched his hand, climbed off the bed. In the sitting room he could hear her rummaging among the heaps of paper. She returned half a minute later carrying a large coffee-table book. “I bought this on the way back from the airport.” She sat on the edge of the bed, switched on the lamp, turned the pages. “There.” She handed March the open book.
It was a reproduction, in black and white, of the painting in the Swiss bank vault. The monochrome did not do it justice. He marked the page with his finger and closed the book to read its title. The Art of Leonardo da Vinci, by Professor Arno Braun of the Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin.
“I know. I thought I recognised it. Read it.”
The Lady with the Ermine, the scholars called it. “One of the most mysterious of all Leonardo’s works.” It was believed to have been painted circa 1483-6, and “believed to show Cecilia Gallerani, the young mistress of Lodovico Sforza, ruler of Milan”. There were two published references to it: one in a poem by Bernardino Bellincioni (died 1492); the other, an ambiguous remark about an “immature” portrait, written by Cecilia Gallerani herself in a letter dated 1498. “But sadly for the student of Leonardo, the real mystery today is the painting’s whereabouts. It is known to have entered the collection of the Polish Prince Adam Czartoryski in the late eighteenth century, and was photographed in Krakau in 1932. Since then it has disappeared into what Karl von Clausewitz so eloquently called "the fog of war". All efforts by the Reich authorities to locate it have so far failed, and it must now be feared that this priceless flowering of the Italian Renaissance is lost to mankind forever.”
He closed the book. “I think, another story for you.”
“And a good one. There are only nine undisputed Leonardos in the world.” She smiled. “If I ever get out of here to write it.”
“Don’t worry. We’ll get you out.” He lay back and closed his eyes. After a few moments he heard her put down the book, then she joined him on the bed, wriggling close to him.
“And you?” she breathed in his ear. “Will you come out with me?”
“We can’t talk now. Not here.”
“Sorry. I forgot.” Her tongue tip touched his ear.
A jolt, like electricity.
Her hand rested lightly on his leg. With her fingers, she traced the inside of his thigh. He started to murmur something, but again, as in Zurich, she placed a finger to his lips.
“The object of the game is: not to make a sound.”
Later, unable to sleep himself, he listened to her: the sigh of her breath, the occasional mutter — far away and indistinct. In her dreams, she turned towards him, groaning. Her arm was flung across the pillow, shielding her face. She seemed to be fighting some private battle. He stroked the tangle of her hair, waiting until whatever demon it was had released her, then he slipped out from beneath the sheets.
The kitchen floor was cold to his naked feet. He opened a couple of cupboards. Dusty crockery and a few half-empty packets of food. The refrigerator was ancient, might have been borrowed from some institute of biology, its contents blue-furred and mottled with exotic moulds. Self-catering, it was clear, was not a priority around here. He boiled a kettle, rinsed a mug and heaped in three spoonfuls of instant coffee.
He wandered through the apartment sipping the bitter drink. In the sitting room he stood beside the window and pulled back the curtain a fraction. Billow Strasse was deserted. He could see the telephone box, dimly illuminated, and the shadows of the station entrance behind it. He let the curtain fall back.
America. The prospect had never occurred to him before. When he thought of it, his brain reached automatically for the images Doctor Goebbels had thoughtfully planted there. Jews and Negroes. Top-hatted capitalists and smokestack factories. Beggars on the streets. Striptease bars. Gangsters shooting at one another from vast automobiles. Smouldering tenements and modern jazz bands, wailing across the ghettos like police sirens. Kennedy’s toothy smile. Charlie’s dark eyes and white limbs. America.
He went into the bathroom. The walls were stained by steam clouds and splashes of soap. Bottles everywhere, and tubes, and small pots. Mysterious feminine objects of glass and plastic. It was a long time since he had seen a woman’s bathroom. It made him feel clumsy and foreign — the heavy-footed ambassador of some other species. He picked up a few things and sniffed at them, squeezed a drop of white cream on to his finger and rubbed at it with his thumb. This smell of her mingled with the others already on his hands.
He wrapped himself in a large towel and sat down on the floor to think. Three or four times before dawn he heard her shout out in her sleep — cries of real fear. Memory or prophecy? He wished he knew.