They all knew the man who had invited them to this anonymous Paris conference room. They had all seen him perform as the Amazing Adonini, and some had been fortunate enough to study under him or to otherwise know him in his offstage life as Ernst Adler. The thinning white hair, the white goatee, the deep lines that put his mouth in parentheses, all were to be expected of a man in his seventies. What no one had anticipated was the hint of fever in his faded blue eyes, the slump of his shoulders, the faint tremor in his long, thin fingers.
“Gentlemen—and lady—thank you all for being here,” he said, in English that still held the brittleness of his native German. “I know that it was a sacrifice for many of you to come on such short notice. I have one additional favor to ask before we proceed. You have all taken the Magician’s Oath, and I must insist that everything I tell you today be held under that covenant. If you do not feel you can comply, I must ask you to excuse yourselves now.”
The twelve magicians at the table all nodded or spoke their assent, and Adler relaxed visibly. “Paco,” he said, “would you get the lights?”
Paco, under the name of Francisco de Sevilla, was Spain’s greatest magician. His black hair was still lustrous in his fifties, though his waistline had suffered from his success. As Paco stood up, Adler switched on the magic lantern that sat in front of him. Paco flicked off the bank of switches by the door, and the room went dark save for the glowing cone of light from the projector.
Adler inserted a glass slide and a man’s face appeared on the wall at the front of the room. The face was middle-aged and the eyes smoldered with anger. A dark forelock fell across the man’s forehead and a toothbrush mustache sprouted from his upper lip.
“I assume,” Adler said, “that most of you know this man. President Hindenburg appointed him Chancellor of my country a year ago this past January, and since then he has ruthlessly extended his power by any and all means available to him.”
In a quieter voice, he said, “Because illusions are our craft, we magicians are less susceptible than most to the claims of spiritualists and occultists. Yet I must tell you what I have seen with my own eyes. This man Hitler is evil, evil in a sense that approaches the absolute, even the supernatural.
“To be more specific, he combines a homicidal rage and bitterness with a personal charisma that is terrifying to behold. He believes he has been wronged, both personally and politically. Because of what the German people have suffered, from the savagery of the Versailles Treaty, which sought to punish us for all the sins of the Great War, to the runaway inflation that recently bankrupted our entire nation, many have come to accept his vision of themselves as victims.
“He has made no secret of his intentions. Under the pretense of Lebensraum—’breathing room’—he plans to rearm Germany and forcibly advance its borders to the east, which will likely precipitate another global war. And I believe that he must be taken literally when he says that he means to murder the entire Jewish population of Europe.”
“Preposterous.” The booming voice came from Hermes, an upper-class and well fed Englishman in his late thirties. “Herr Hitler has performed an economic miracle in Germany. This nonsense about mass extermination is mere rabble rousing. We’re speaking of millions of people, here. It’s not even possible, let alone financially tenable.”
The ensuing silence was both long and uncomfortable. Hermes broke it himself by demanding, “What do you mean to do, assassinate him? In violation of every principle of our brotherhood?”
“No, sir,” Adler said. “I do not intend violence of any kind. For one thing, it would only make a martyr of him. For another, I myself am morally opposed to it.” He cleared his throat. “However. I do propose political intercession in the affairs of a sovereign state, which you, among others, may feel is an inappropriate use of our skills. If that is the case, I would excuse you from further discussions, with sincere assurances of no ill will on my part.”
Again the room was silent, except for the faint humming of the magic lantern. Finally Hermes got to his feet. “A long way for a damned waste of time,” he said, cramming on his hat as he made for the door.
“I should also mention,” Adler said, “that what I am about to propose is assuredly dangerous. The odds of success are poor and there is a significant chance of physical harm or even death. I am old enough not to care, especially when I consider the millions of lives at stake, however, many of you have barely begun your adult lives, let alone your careers. I am not asking for commitment at this point, but anyone who is not willing to consider that sacrifice, or anyone who has other reservations, is welcome to depart now, with my thanks for listening this far.”
Two more men quietly rose and left the room.
When the door closed, a woman’s voice spoke up. “If you’re not going to assassinate him, what then do you propose to do?” She spoke English, as they all did, although hers had an American accent. She was dark-haired and shapely, and as the Great Belinda she was one of the few women to headline in a field where her sex was generally consigned to the role of assistant.
“Ah, Cora, that is indeed the question, is it not?” Adler changed the slide in the lantern. The new photograph showed a long line of soldiers in similar light colored shirts, some in matching trousers, others in darker jodhpurs. They wore fatigue caps and marched in tight formation. The camera had caught them with right arms held high in salute and left legs thrust forward in mid-goose-step.
“Germany today is a police state with three different kinds of police,” Adler said, “which is at least two too many. The first were the Sturmabteilung or SA, the stormtroopers, also known as the Brownshirts. Hitler recruited them to attack dissenters at early Nazi rallies.” The next slide showed a man with a round, heavily scarred face, graying hair and mustache, and a warm smile. “Ernst Röhm, commander of the SA, wants to sidestep the restrictions on the size of the German Army by expanding the SA. The regular army, the Reichswehr, understandably feel threatened by this. Also they are concerned about the fanaticism of the Brownshirts, who are known to viciously attack bystanders who fail to give the Hitler salute. They burn down Jewish businesses and turn Communist rallies into street brawls. They are common thugs and bullies.
“Röhm is also well known to be homosexual. This was not a problem in the past, although it is becoming one now as the country turns increasingly prudish, reflecting the pathologically repressed sexuality of Hitler himself.
“So that is one tension, between the Reichswehr and the SA.”
His next slide showed a man in a solid black uniform, his face obscured by a high peaked cap. “Next we have the Schutzstaffel, the dreaded SS, originally an elite paramilitary group within the SA that was charged with guarding Hitler. They are now completely independent, and pledge their loyalty to Hitler alone.” The shadow of Adler’s finger extended into the light to point out the twin lightning bolts on the lapel of the uniform. “Note the runes. I will have more to say about that in a minute.”
He changed the slide again. “Under this man, the SS grew until it now fills the role of both internal security and public police for the entire country.” The face on the wall might have belonged to a stereotypical accountant: weak chin, round glasses, receding hairline, an even smaller version of Hitler’s miniature mustache. “He is a former chicken farmer named Heinrich Himmler, and we will return to him shortly as well. For the moment, note one more tension, which is that the SA feel that the SS have undermined their power.
“Finally we have the Geheime Staatspolizei, the Gestapo for short, the Secret State Police, the creation of Hermann Göring.” The next slide showed Göring to be dashing, in a small-eyed, barrel-chested sort of way, with the breast of his expensive, tailored uniform plastered with medals. “The Gestapo have taken the tactics of terror and intimidation that the SA and SS developed and turned them into high art. Göring created the Gestapo out of the Prussian police on his own whim. Just last month, after numerous clashes of jurisdiction, Hitler took them away and put them under Himmler’s command. Göring was not pleased, nor were many of his officers.”
The next image showed a heavy man with stiff, brush-cut white hair, a skeptical expression, and a mustache with huge curves at the ends. “Technically Hitler is only Chancellor, which makes him subordinate to this man, Paul von Hindenburg, President of Germany. Hindenburg appointed Hitler to his current position, though Hitler had not performed that well at the polls, and there is evidence that Hindenburg now regrets his decision. Unfortunately he is old, getting weaker by the day, and is not expected to live out the year.”
Adler took a sip of water and shifted in his chair. “In short, we stand at a crossroads, a unique moment in history. Hitler’s three most powerful subordinates all despise each other and are maneuvering for position. The man who put Hitler in power is looking for a reason to remove him. Hitler is at this moment more vulnerable than he has ever been, or likely will be again. Left alone, he will doubtless move to consolidate his power, and do so in a ruthless and violent way. We must act quickly to take advantage.”
He placed the slide of the chicken farmer in the machine once more. “Luckily for us, Himmler is the Achilles Heel of the Third Reich. Although he is ruthless, well organized, and absolutely loyal to Hitler, he is also…a believer. He believes in visitors from outer space, a hollow Earth, the magical power of runes, mental telepathy, resurrection of the dead, and the superiority of the Aryan race, among other delusions.”
The next slide showed an engraving of a castle as seen from the air. The walls formed a narrow triangle, the long sides intersecting in a large, circular tower. “This is Wewelsburg Castle, in the Westphalia district of Prussia. It is Himmler’s headquarters, which he intends to restore as a sort of Black Camelot, complete with a Round Table. He sees himself as a pagan, Teutonic King Arthur on a mystical quest.
“And that, my friends,” Adler said, “will be his undoing. And Hitler’s as well.”
Outside the hotel, Cora watched as Paco, Robertini, and Gideon got into separate taxis and sped away. The sun was setting and the rainy spring afternoon turned from gray to black.
“Do you have time for a coffee?” Adler asked.
“Certainly,” Cora said.
They found an outdoor table under an awning where no one could overhear them. “Five of us,” Adler said. “More than I had feared. Fewer than I had hoped.”
“Against the five of us,” Cora said, “what chance does Nazi Germany have?”
Adler smiled with little conviction. “I thought Gideon’s ideas for the endgame very clever.”
“Clever, yes, but also very strange. Like these French Surrealists. If I may say so, Gideon himself seems strange, perhaps even a little…unstable.”
“Perhaps. I have heard stories. However, he is a brilliant mimic and we need him. And who among us is without his idiosyncrasies?”
“I suppose,” Cora said. She would also keep a watchful eye, for very different reasons, on the escape artist Robertini. He was just the sort of very physical, very intense, very serious man that she was attracted to, and there was no room for such feelings in their undertaking.
“Speaking of idiosyncrasies,” she said, “this will cost you a fortune. Can you really afford it?”
“I am older than I ever imagined I would be. I have no family. What else am I to do with my money? Tell me, have you heard of this man Gandhi, in India?”
“I’ve heard the name. I know little about him.”
“He is trying to better the lives of the peasant class, and I think he means ultimately to end British rule there. He said something to the effect that violence may appear to do good in the short term, yet in the long term it can only do evil. I have spent many sleepless hours thinking about Germany in that light. To fight the Nazis on their own terms would plunge the world into a frenzy of violence that would surpass even the Great War. I asked myself what the alternative could be, and this is the result. Like the fable about putting the bell on the cat, once I had come up with the idea, there was no one else to put it into action.
“But what of you, Cora? Paco has good reason to fear Fascism—it is a constant threat in his own country. Gideon and Robertini are both Jewish. But you, my dear…I am more grateful than I can say for your commitment, although I do not understand why you are willing to take the risk.”
Cora considered for a moment, then said, “Compared to your idealism, this may seem rather petty. Back in Brooklyn, when I was in high school, my best friend was Jewish. Her name was Rebeccah, and I always thought she was beautiful. She herself, however, hated her nose, which had a bend in it, like a tiny eagle’s beak. She thought it made her look Jewish. For her sixteenth birthday the only thing she wanted was plastic surgery, and her parents reluctantly gave in. Except the surgery had complications, two small perforations in the septum that they were unable to repair. After the surgery, whenever she breathed through her nose, there was a whistling noise. From shame, she always breathed through her mouth, and even then you could sometimes hear it. She began to avoid her friends, me included, no matter how hard I tried. The last time I talked to her parents, they said she wanted no contact with anyone from her past.
“All I can tell you is that the memory of Rebeccah has haunted me ever since. What is the power of this hatred that can infect its own victims? That can turn a person against her own beauty and cause her to mutilate herself? It might surprise you to know that I have also experienced prejudice, for being a woman in a man’s profession, for daring to think for myself and manage my own affairs. And now that I have lines around my eyes and a body that is feeling the effects of thirty-eight years of gravity, I am considered old and of no further use.”
“I assure you, you are more beautiful than ever…” Adler said. Cora waved away his objections.
“You’re kind, and I digress. The point is that men like Hitler, whose currency is hatred, do nothing but poison minds and destroy lives. Even as indirectly as they did Rebeccah’s.”
Adler nodded. “When you deliberately appeal to the worst in human nature, human nature sinks to meet you. Which reminds me, when was the last time you were in Germany?”
“Two years ago. Has it changed so much?”
“Berlin especially. You had best prepare yourself for a shock.”
“Well, then,” Cora smiled. “We shall have to change it back again.”
Since he had been old enough to read, Robert Sándor had idolized the Great Houdini. For his twelfth birthday, his father had taken him to Budapest to see Houdini perform the effect he called “the upside down,” his famous Chinese Water Torture Cell escape. From that night on, Robert began to introduce himself as Robertini the Magnificent, to the endless amusement of his friends.
Like Houdini, Robert was Hungarian, Jewish, small for his age, and fiercely competitive. With his father’s help, he found an after-school job with the local locksmith in Kesztolc, and on weekends he hitchhiked to Budapest to loiter in Hungary’s only magic shop. He spent the rest of his time practicing, initially on all the locks in the house, then on all the locks in the village. He never succumbed to the temptation to take anything, and became a local legend when, after accidentally setting off the alarm in the town bank, he took the time to secure the doors before he fled. Everyone knew who was responsible, though he left no evidence, and his father gently suggested that he might want to be more careful in future. Before he finished secondary school he had obtained a booking with a vaudeville company and, with his father’s reluctant permission, he left home for good.
Robert was on tour in England on the night in late 1933 when the Greenshirts of the Hungarian National Socialist Agricultural Laborers’ and Workers’ Party outlined a Star of David in petrol in the field next to his parents’ house and set fire to it. The fire spread to the house and his parents and youngest sister were killed. By the time the news reached Robert and he was able to return to Kesztolc, their bodies were already in the ground and Robert’s heart had become a small, cold thing.
Now it was Sunday, 27 May, 1934, and Robert and Paco stood outside the Swiss Wing of the Hofburg Palace, in the exact geographical center of Vienna. They occupied a lop-sided courtyard thirty meters on a side, surrounded by four-story-high white walls that offered only a single narrow passage as an exit. A perfect place, Robert thought, to be trapped like rats.
In Adler’s grand plan, this was Phase 1, and he had not asked much of Robert: merely to rob the Weltliche Schatzkammer, the Secular Treasury of the Austrian Empire, containing the crown jewels of the Hapsburgs, among other priceless treasures. Not to mention the fact that he had to do it in broad daylight without being detected or even suspected.
Robert’s own plan had taken shape over three days. He’d spent those days wandering through the interlocking white plastered rooms wearing a series of disguises, pretending to stare into the two-meter-high, glass-fronted mahogany cases filled with gold and precious stones and carvings and ceramics, while in reality figuring out the elaborate alarm system, the walking patterns of the guards, the size and make of the various locks.
He had not shown undue interest in the item labeled Heilige Lanze, the Holy Lance, located near the Imperial Crown.
The lance point—it had no shaft—was leaf-shaped, 35 centimeters long, and five centimeters across at its widest point. It was formed largely of iron that had oxidized centuries before into a dark brown, with the exception of a sleeve of gold that wrapped the middle third of its length. Inscribed on the sleeve were the words “Lancea et clavus domini,” lance and nail of God, referring to the belief that the sleeve enclosed a nail from the Crucifixion. It was a complex construction, the outer blades bound to a central shaft with wire, the shaft eventually expanding at the bottom to a socket that would fit a wooden pole.
Adler had insisted that a mere replica of the lance would not be convincing enough, and that the best counterfeit his fabricators could manage would only deceive from a distance. His first requirement, therefore, was the putative original.
Robert checked his watch. It read 3:25. He smiled at Paco who, like him, was anonymous in white coveralls, and said, “It’s time.”
Paco’s return smile was forced. “Can I change my mind?” he asked. His German was accented but passable. “This is clearly insane, what we’re doing.”
“I see you haven’t forgotten that confidence is everything,” Robert said. “Come on, let’s get started.”
Robert, whose German was fluent, carried the clipboard. He led Paco through a wooden archway the color of dried blood, topped with the coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire, an eagle with elevated wings.
Robert walked straight to Room 11, where the Imperial Regalia were kept, and approached the nearer of the two guards. The boy was scarcely over his teenage spots, clearly uncomfortable in his red blazer and white turtleneck sweater as he towered 30 centimeters over Robert.
“Who’s in charge here?” Robert asked in a bored, mildly irritable tone. “We’re supposed to perform an inspection of the alarms.”
“What, now?” the boy asked.
“Yes, now,” Robert said. “Half an hour ago, in fact.”
The boy caught the eye of the guard at the other end of the long room and tilted his head. The other guard nodded. On his first visit, Robert had quickly determined that only one of the two guards in each hall could leave his post at any given time.
The boy took them to a small office where a paunchy, white-haired man wrote laboriously in an oversized ledger. He had a cigarette in one hand, for which there appeared to be no room in his overflowing ashtray.
“Dieter,” the boy said, “these men are here to look at the alarms.”
Dieter did not look up. “Not now.”
“Sorry for the inconvenience,” Robert said. “I’m afraid our instructions require us to—”
“Perhaps you didn’t hear me.”
“With all due respect,” Robert said, “I believe your supervisor is Herr Grauerholz, who in turn reports to the Antiquities Committee. If you would call the number on this work order, I think you might prevent Herr Grauerholz from himself getting a call that he might find most upsetting.”
The color went out of Dieter’s red cheeks and he glanced up briefly before snatching the clipboard and making the call. Robert was able to hear Adler’s voice on the other end, screaming. When there was a momentary pause, Dieter said, “Jawohl, mein herr,” then the screaming resumed. Finally Dieter was able to say, “Right away, mein herr,” and hang up. The hand that put the earpiece back on the hook trembled slightly.
Dieter looked at the boy. “Give them what they want and get them out of here.”
Robert repressed a smile. “If you could just sign here on the order?”
The boy, now all jangled nerves, took them to the alarm box. “I don’t have the key. Perhaps Dieter…”
Robert briefly flashed his hotel key. “I have the master.” He palmed it as he turned toward the box, replaced it with a pick, and had the gray metal box open in two seconds.
“Er, will there be anything else?” the boy asked.
“Your name?” Robert demanded.
Robert sniffed. “Peter. We will call you if we need you.”
Five minutes later Robert felt as much as heard a hush go through the museum, followed by the murmur of excited voices, all repeating the same phrase: “Mein Gott, der Führer!”
Gideon had made his reputation with a unique combination of comedy and sleight of hand. His innate gift for imitation had earned him several playground beatings as a child in Minneapolis until he’d learned to defuse the anger of his victims by discovering a coin in an ear or a chosen card in a deck. By the time he’d graduated to impersonating Charlie Chaplin and W. C. Fields, he was also juggling, producing doves, and performing two dozen different cigarette tricks.
He understood that there was something not quite right with him. The urge to mock would take him at inopportune moments, driving away everyone who attempted to get close. At first he’d believed that someone would eventually care enough to see past his defenses. Now there were times when he scarcely remembered the name he’d been given at his Brit Milah. He was only Gideon now, and Gideon was so many faces and voices that no one would ever pin him down again.
He did not consider himself a hero—the opposite, in fact. He had volunteered only because it was the Amazing Adonini who asked, a man who was spoken of in the same breath as Hermann and Keller and Blackstone and Thurston, a man whose recognition and respect Gideon craved.
Gideon made up for his barely adequate German with a repertoire of flawless regional accents. It came down to how you held your mouth and tongue. Impressions amounted to the same thing on a larger scale. Once you spotted the trick of posture, the gesture, the rest was easy.
The key to Hitler was his ungainliness, his discomfort inside his own body, his inability to find something to occupy his hands. Then the madman inside would ignite and he would forget his body entirely. Gideon had been doing Hitler for over a year now, since the man had been made Chancellor, so he had the wig, nose, mustache, and trench coat already. He even had a pair of thin glass scleral lenses to turn his brown eyes to the clear blue of Hitler’s, although for the current purpose they would have been overkill.
He and Cora had arrived half an hour early and sat in the parking area outside the museum in awkward conversation. Though she was ten years older than Gideon, she had an unrepentant sensuality and self-confidence that he found most alluring. He sensed that Cora did not particularly like him, and he knew she resented his request that she wear a low-cut dress so as to provide the maximum possible distraction. Her reluctance notwithstanding, she had in fact done a remarkable job in that area, such that Gideon’s own distraction was doubtless making her discomfort worse. Even the blonde wig and heavy makeup she’d affected as a disguise added to her—unfortunately false—air of availability.
Finally Cora glanced at her watch and let out a sigh of relief. Gideon verified that it was 3:35 and they got out of the car.
“Anyone who knows the first thing about Hitler,” Cora said, through a falsely radiant smile, “knows that he would never be seen in public with a woman whose tits were hanging out.”
As they strolled arm in arm past the vast, curving neoclassical façade of the Neue Berg section of the palace, people gaped at them in astonishment.
“Well, whoever they think we are,” Gideon said, “we seem to be having the desired effect.”
They wound their way through the maze of passageways and courtyards to the Swiss Wing, where they simply stood in the sunlight and pretended to converse while Gideon stared at Cora with a wolfish Hitlerian grin. A crowd quickly gathered in the portico outside the Secular Treasury, making only a halfhearted attempt not to stare. Although Austria had not yet joined the Reich, Hitler had been born here, had invented himself right here in Vienna, and curiosity about him was boundless.
Gideon let his gaze drift over the faces in the doorway. Still no sign of Paco. Suddenly the enormity of the risk overwhelmed him. If things went wrong inside, armed guards would descend in swarms, Gideon’s disguise would be penetrated in seconds, and all four of them would be arrested and asked questions they could not answer. A drop of sweat trailed into Gideon’s right eye and he realized that he was speaking nonsense that only sounded like German. Cora raised one eyebrow, as if concerned that he might fall apart at any moment.
He wondered if her fears were justified.
Robert flipped the switch that disabled all the alarms. A red light flashed on the panel and his heartbeat sped up to match.
He nodded to Paco, whose job it was now to help spread the Führer rumor and then get himself into a position to make eye contact with Gideon.
Robert returned to Room 11. The older guard had joined the throng at the entrance while Peter remained on watch, standing directly in front of the cabinet that held the Lance. He shifted from one foot to the other as if he needed the toilet, gazing longingly toward the front entrance.
“Go ahead,” Robert told him. “I’ll watch things here.”
“If Dieter found out, I’d lose my job.”
“Take a quick look. No one will ever know. When will you get another chance like this?”
The boy hesitated, torn between irresistible forces. Robert jerked his head toward the entrance and smiled. The boy melted. “Just for a second, then,” he said, and bolted.
A second was all Robert needed. He picked the lock on the case, opened the glass front, took out the Lance, replaced it with a replica from his pocket, and had it locked again in virtually a single motion. By the time Peter re-entered the hall, Robert was at the far end, tapping one of the cabinets with a middle finger in the way the doctor at the clinic had tapped on Robert’s chest when he’d had the influenza as a boy.
Peter was radiant. “Is it all right? Did Dieter…”
“No,” Robert said. “All is well.”
He made his own way to the front. Paco stood in the crowd at the doorway, looking into the museum. Robert nodded to him, and Paco in turn nodded to Gideon. Robert caught a glimpse of Cora in her costume and had to force himself to look away, a slow smile spreading across his face. He switched the alarms back on and then, for spite, made one more trip to Dieter’s office.
“Everything is working,” Robert said. “Sign here.”
Dieter grunted and signed.
Dieter signed again. Robert resisted a diabolical urge to keep going and tucked the clipboard under his arm.
“What’s all the commotion out there?” Dieter asked.
“I don’t know,” Robert said. “Perhaps a clown doing tricks for the children?”
That night at Vienna’s Westbahnhof railway station, Robert paused at a news kiosk. He set his worn leather satchel on the concrete floor and reached for a copy of the Neue Freie Presse.
An older man in a broad-brimmed fedora appeared beside him and placed an identical satchel next to his. “Gruss Gott, mein herr,” the man said. Robert glanced at Adler, nodded, and looked away. Adler purchased a packet of Atikah cigarettes, picked up Robert’s satchel, and disappeared into the crowd.
The day after the Weltliche Schatzkammer robbery, Adler settled on his final target. And so, he thought, begins Phase 2.
He had been a month in the central German hamlet of Neuenbeken, a long way from any major cities, but only 30 kilometers from Wewelsburg Castle. It was a small enough village for everyone to know everyone else and for strangers to attract suspicion.
His cover identity was Ernst Ackermann, newly retired dock worker from Hamburg, living on a hectare of gently rolling forest land outside town, arriving by bicycle in the warm summer mornings at the library or the greengrocer’s or at the café for leisurely conversation. With his hair cut close to his skull, his goatee shaved, a pair of foam rubber pads in his gums, and an artificial scar across the top of his nose, the likelihood was small that anyone would recognize him as the Amazing Adonini. Instead the locals thought him a good sort, if perhaps a bit dim. If anyone cared to look further, they would find a complete set of impeccably forged documents for Ackermann in the appropriate government agencies.
His target, Rudi, was the 11-year-old son of Mayor Glöckner. Rudi was solitary and melancholic, given to long walks in the woods carrying a copy of The Sorrows of Young Werther.
The spring had been the driest in memory, part of a world-wide drought that was turning the American West into a wilderness of dust. The heat even permeated the forest, and the fallen leaves and pine needles crackled with Rudi’s every step, making him easy to follow. He was sitting under a beech tree, reading, when Adler appeared before him.
The boy started and dropped the book.
Adler smiled, held up a single cautionary finger, and wordlessly took a gold sovereign from his shirt pocket. He tossed the coin into his mouth, swallowed it with comic difficulty, then pulled it out of his right ear. Looking puzzled, he then removed a duplicate from his left ear.
Maintaining his distance and his smile, Adler wiggled one of the coins so that the sun, directly overhead, flashed repeatedly into the boy’s eyes. “Listen to my voice,” Adler said, “and my voice only.”
Cora had always loved Berlin. In daylight, as she strolled past the fashionable shops on the Kurfürstendamm, it seemed unchanged. The sidewalks thronged with tourists and well-off locals, all overdressed and in high spirits. The streetcars clanged and the architecture dazzled the eye, from the majesty of the Brandenburg Gate to the onion domes of the New Synagogue to the elegant Bauhaus apartments of Maeckeritzstrasse.
It was at night that the difference became inescapable. A few of the most famous clubs and cabarets remained open: Werner Fink still satirized the government at Die Katakombe; the Residenz-Casino, the “Resi,” still offered telephones and pneumatic tubes at the tables so that strangers could send gifts and invitations to each other; the Haus Vaterland still contained five stories of themed restaurants, musicians, and cinema, with a giant dance floor under its lighted dome.
What was missing was the sex.
The Eldorado, famous for its transvestites, where Cora had seen Marlene Dietrich perform; the Hummingbird, the Silhouette, and the Adonis-Lounge; the Café Dorian Grey, the Mikado Bar, the Auluka Lounge, the Monocle-Bar, the Zauberflote, and on and on and on, all of them closed under Göring’s orders, part of his mission to crush Berlin’s wild, decadent, anarchistic, anti-Nazi spirit.
It was true that the great sexual license of Berlin had amounted, in the end, to the freedom of rich tourists to rent the bodies of the nouveau pauvre and use them as playgrounds for their erotic fantasies. There had always been a desperate quality to the revelry, embodied most tragically by Anita Berber, the stunning, androgynous, voracious nude dancer whose appetite for sex, cocaine, morphine, chloroform, ether, and alcohol left her dead of old age at 29.
And yet, and yet…so many had found liberation there, including her friend Kurt, who had come to Berlin from the Bavarian countryside at age 16 and discovered the beautiful woman inside him, and found the lovers of both sexes who adored that beauty. Or Fritzi and Franzi, the two girls who never slept with anyone but each other, who had transformed themselves into mirror images, with their tuxedos and pasted-on mustaches and boy’s haircuts parted on opposite sides, Fritzi with a monocle in her right eye, Franzi with a monocle in her left. And there were the things that Cora herself had done that shocked her now to remember, even as they gave her a wistful smile. She had spent so much of her life in the single-minded pursuit of her career that Berlin’s frank and easygoing sensuality had seduced her before she knew it.
She started at the Resi, making no effort to disguise herself. A glass of overpriced champagne, a slow stroll through the tables, and then she moved on. At each of her old haunts she let herself be seen, and seen to be scanning the faces around her. Finally she returned to her hotel, exhausted and dispirited, as the sun rose.
On the third night, she made a final stop at the Kleist Casino, where the dim lights, tiny crowded tables, and dark red walls were as tawdry as she remembered. Almost immediately she saw a man in his fifties, handsome and dark haired, dressed as always in his black suit, like a mortician. Poor, sad Michael, who had been Kurt’s lover for 27 days and never stopped pining for him. He was so happy to see Cora that he burst into tears.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s just that seeing you brings back those days, which I miss so much.” She squeezed herself into a chair at his table and he clutched her hand feverishly.
“I saw,” she said. “So many of the old places are gone.”
Michael shook his head sadly. “If it were only the cabarets and the newspapers I would not care so much. Starting one year ago, they began to round up the Jews, the gypsies, the communists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the schwulen like me, and send us to the Konzentrationslager, the KZ. For Berlin it is in Oranienburg, but there are others. Esterwegen, Dachau. Nobody knows how many people they have.”
“Oh, no. Not Kurt…?”
“No, not Kurt. Not yet. But we live in fear now, every day.”
“Can you get word to him? I need to see him. It’s very important.”
“If you were anyone else I would tell you I don’t know where he is. For you…I will try.”
A farmer had found Rudi wandering, terrified, in the road at the edge of town. Rudi said that he had fallen while climbing a hill and had struck his head a glancing blow on a rock. When he woke up, he said, he was completely blind.
The doctor was summoned but no physiological cause was found. There was no bruise, though Rudi reacted in pain when the doctor touched his temple. Mayor Glöckner personally took him to the hospital in Dusseldorf, where a baffled intern suggested that perhaps the blindness might be “hysterical” in nature.
The owner of the village café, whose name was Kuefer, had taken to having the occasional cup of tea with Adler. Rudi had been blind for four days when Keufer finally mentioned the incident.
It was Friday, 8 June, and they were sitting at an outdoor table, though the sun had not yet driven away the last of the morning chill. Kuefer, who affected a beret and a walrus mustache, grew damp around the eyes as he talked. Adler listened sympathetically and let him go on for some time about the anguish of the boy’s mother, the desperation of the father, the sense of terrible injustice that had gripped the entire village. All the while he put on a show of increasing discomfort.
“Well,” Kuefer said, “we can discuss something else. I can see that this is making you uneasy.”
“No, it’s not that, it’s…”
Adler shook his head. “No, never mind, it’s too ridiculous.”
“I hate to even mention it, because I don’t believe in such things myself. I used to be a bit of a gambler, a card player. One night a couple of years ago this fellow from India was losing badly, and was badly drunk besides. He had no money left and offered to put this sort of large metal talisman on the table to cover his bet. ‘It’s magic,’ he said, very serious. The thing was very strange looking, old rusty iron and a collar of gold. At that point the hand was down to just him and me, and I had already won a good deal of his money, so I agreed. He lost, of course, and I probably would have thrown it away and not given it further thought except for two things.”
Adler paused, waiting to set the hook.
“Yes?” Kuefer said. “What things?”
“Well, first of all, when I touched it, I felt…I don’t know how to describe it. A sense of power. Almost an electrical charge.”
“And the other thing?”
“The look on his face when he lost it. There was sadness, yet there was also…relief. As if a great burden had been lifted from him. We both left the game at that point, and he taught me how to work it.”
Kuefer leaned forward in his chair. “And did you? Work it?”
“No,” Adler said. “As I say, I don’t really believe in such things. Besides…”
“Yes? Gott im Himmel, man, tell the story.”
“Well, the Indian shipped out the next day. And I heard, later, that there was a terrible storm soon after the ship left Hamburg, and that he was washed overboard and drowned. So I decided that even if it was real, maybe it was best to leave it alone.”
“But you think it could cure Rudi’s blindness?”
“The doctors say Rudi’s condition might be in his mind. So as long as Rudi believes the thing has power, maybe that would be enough. But it’s probably a foolish idea.”
Kuefer leaned back in his chair, chewing on a fingernail. “I think it’s a very good idea. Do you honestly believe there’s a danger to you from using it?”
Adler shrugged. “This seems harmless enough. And the cause certainly justifies the risk. I know I’m only a stranger here, but I would like to be of service if I can.”
“Oh, I know you’re all right,” Kuefer said. “I pride myself as a judge of character. I’ll talk to the Glöckners. Come back here tomorrow morning with this ‘talisman’ and we shall see.”
For two days Cora kept up her search. On the third day the telephone woke her at 11 a.m. and Michael’s gloomy voice said, “Tonight go to the same place at the same time we met. Yes?”
“Yes,” Cora said, and Michael hung up immediately.
She spent a long time choosing her clothes and applying her makeup, remembering Kurt’s acid tongue. He had always been elegant, whether dressed as a man or a woman, and he expected the same of everyone else.
Yet when she saw him that night in the Kleist Casino, she hardly recognized him. He wore a white shirt, khaki pants, and sleeveless sweater, the bourgeois uniform. His hair was short on the sides, longish on top, parted on the right—a haircut not unlike Hitler’s. He stood up as soon as he saw her and hugged her fiercely. “How beautiful you look,” he whispered.
She held his face in her hands. The fire of his wit still burned in his eyes, but like an abused animal, he couldn’t hold her gaze. “And you,” she said, “look so very different.”
“Yes,” he said bitterly. “I am very männlich now.”
He was alone—poor Michael had apparently failed to get himself included. When Cora reached for a chair, Kurt said, “Let’s walk.”
Even at two in the morning, the Kleistrasse hummed with traffic, the westbound cars partially obscured by the trees in the median. They passed hotel after hotel, then turned north toward the Tiergarten, Berlin’s version of Central Park, a kilometer or so away. Cora’s attempts to reminisce the way she had with Michael only made Kurt withdraw. “It makes you unhappy, thinking of the past?” she asked.
“No, on the contrary. I cannot believe I was so lucky to have been the age I was and to have been in this place. Never before in history has there been such a time for men such as I, and there may never be such a time again. It was like Camelot in the legends, one glorious moment surrounded by darkness. I would not have missed it for the entire world.”
“But it ended so soon.”
“Moments pass,” he said quietly, “even the most glorious. All you ever have of anything is memories, whether of your first love or the words you just spoke. There is no ‘now,’ only, always, the past.”
Cora felt a sudden shock of grief, as if the years of her happiness had only that moment fled from her, never to return. Kurt’s despair was contagious. She felt bereft and alone. “And the future?” she asked.
Kurt showed her a tight-lipped smile. “Here comes the future now.”
Cora looked up to see five drunken SAs in brown shirts and jack boots stagger down the sidewalk toward them. Kurt seized her upper arm and dragged her up against the nearest shop front to make room. As the men passed in a haze of beer fumes, Kurt raised his right arm in the Hitler salute. One of the Nazis slowed, staring at Kurt as if he sensed something out of kilter. Kurt kept his gaze focused in the middle distance and his arm extended until the man shook his head and moved on.
“One night,” Kurt said, “a friend of mine gave a gang of them das Zeigen des Vogels, you know, the middle finger. They beat him so badly that he was in the hospital for a month, and they gave me a solid thrashing too, for being with him.”
“They’re animals,” Cora said. “I don’t know how people put up with them.”
“Who’s going to stop them?”
They walked on in silence. In the distance Cora saw the greater darkness of the Tiergarten. Finally she said, “What if you could change things?”
“What, get rid of the Nazis? You are going to loan me maybe your magic wand? ‘Hey, presto!’”
“I’m serious. What if there were a way?”
“If I truly believed it possible? I would do anything.”
“Do you still have your political connections? There must be some kind of organized opposition to…” She trailed off, suddenly afraid to pronounce Hitler’s name. “To the ruling party.” It’s affecting even me, she thought.
Kurt lit a cigarette and shook his head. “You’re too late, by more than a year. As soon as Hitler came to power, he outlawed all of the left wing parties, from the Communists to the Social Democrats. Ernst Thälmann, our Presidential candidate, was arrested a year ago March. He’s still waiting for a trial he will never get. Clara Zetkin, our great theorist, died in exile last June. Ernst Toller, the great playwright and organizer, is in exile too. Hitler is ruthless and utterly efficient. It was like 1919 again, when they murdered Kurt Eisner, Rosa Luxemburg, and Gustav Landauer within two months of each other.”
“You knew Toller, didn’t you? You were friends?”
“Friends only, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“If you can get a message to him, tell him he must return to Berlin. He must be here on the night of the summer solstice. That would be a week from next Wednesday, the twentieth of June.”
“What happens then?”
“I can’t tell you. But you must be there too, and everyone you know. And here’s what you must do…”
On Saturday, Adler arrived at the café early, to find Kuefer already waiting for him. “No improvement, then?” Adler asked.
“None. It’s a measure of their desperation, I suppose, that they were eager for you to see the boy. I’ve brought my car. We can have tea later. If you are successful, perhaps we will have schnapps.”
“I make no promises…”
“Understood, understood. Let us be off.”
The Glöckner house was two stories, half-timbered, perhaps hundreds of years old, lovingly and expensively maintained. Inside, the wood floors shone with polish where they weren’t covered by Oriental carpets. The furniture was new and comfortable, the ceilings high. Mayor Glöckner, who had let them in, said, “Herr Ackermann is here, Rudi.”
The boy had already risen from the couch, sightless eyes staring straight in front of him, hands half-raised defensively, a look of fear and longing on his face. His mother stood beside him, wearing a nearly identical expression.
“Hello, Rudi,” Adler said.
Rudi gave no indication that he recognized Adler’s voice. “Good day, sir.”
Rudi’s mother half-heartedly asked, “Can I get you something to drink? Tea or coffee?”
“No, thank you,” Adler said. “I am only here to try to help.”
Mayor Glöckner tugged nervously at the fingers of his right hand. “So…how does this work?”
Adler shrugged apologetically. “I hope Herr Kuefer made it clear that I am in the dark about all this. I have never used this…thing…before, so we must figure it out together.”
From the look that the Glöckners exchanged, it was clear that Kuefer had erred on the side of optimism.
Adler crossed to a low wooden table in front of the couch, piled with magazines and neatly folded newspapers. He took a canvas bag out of his jacket pocket and set it on the table. “Sit down, Rudi,” he said gently, “and try to relax.”
Rudi sat. His muscles stood out like tent poles stretching canvas.
“Would you draw the curtains, please?” Adler said. “And turn off the lights?”
The summer sun was strong enough that the room was still illuminated. Adler drew out the spear point in such a way that the muted sunlight glinted off the gold collar. The Glöckners gasped.
“As I understand it,” Adler said, “this is an instrument for focusing and amplifying the will.” Adler was using his own will to modulate his voice and gestures, to keep them simple and ordinary and not arouse suspicions of theatricality. “So I think we should all do that now. We must focus our wills on the thought of Rudi being able to see again.”
Adler let them all stand in silence, concentrating, for half a minute, then he asked, “Rudi, do you feel anything?”
“No. Maybe. I don’t think so.”
“We must try again. There were words one was supposed to say. Let me see if I can remember…ah, yes. Yes, I have it. Jantar Mantar Jadu Mantar.”
A moment later, the Mayor said, “Anything, Rudi?”
“Jantar, Mantar, Jadu Mantar!” Adler said.
Kuefer, fidgeting, said, “Are you sure those are the words?”
“I think so,” Adler said. “One last time. Everyone concentrate, really hard.
Rudi, whose post-hypnotic instructions had been waiting on the third repetition, blinked rapidly. “Papa…mama!” He leapt to his feet. “Papa! Mama! I can see! I can see!” He ran to his mother and threw his arms around her.
“Gott sei Dank,” Frau Glöckner whispered, as tears rolled down her face. It was not a sentiment that was encouraged under the anti-Christian, pro-pagan Nazi regime, and she glanced apologetically at her husband.
The mayor dismissed the lapse with a shake of his head and a huge smile, then shook Adler’s hand fervently. “It’s a miracle. How can we ever thank you?”
“Please,” Adler said, “it’s nothing. We must not speak of it again.”
Two weeks after the heist in Vienna, Gideon received a parcel wrapped in brown paper at his Dusseldorf rooming house. Inside was the uniform of an SS-Hauptsturmführer, more or less equivalent to the rank of Captain, complete with the red armband with the white circle and black Hakenkreuz, Hitler’s reversed swastika.
The sight of it so thrilled and terrified him that he immediately put it on and gave himself the Hitler salute in the mirror. He goose-stepped across the room and back, heels slamming into the floor, prompting his downstairs neighbor to rap on her ceiling with a broom handle.
Also in the package was a complete set of forged papers for a fictitious officer named Otto Mueller, including orders for him to report to Reichsführer-SS Himmler in person at Wewelsburg Castle.
He sat on the edge of the bed and watched the papers rattle in his trembling hands.
Paderborn was the nearest big city to Wewelsburg, and six days a week the workmen queued up outside the cathedral in the city center at 6:00 a.m. Most mornings there were forty or so of them, and they were all dressed in dark blue coveralls with Hakenkreuz armbands and an identity card from the Reichsarbeitsdienst, the “voluntary” labor service, pinned to the breast. These were the supplemental workers, taken on an as-needed basis, as opposed to the permanent work staff that lived at the castle full time.
The week before, Paco had photographed one of the identity cards with a tiny camera hidden in the palm of his hand, and then sent the picture to Adler’s fabricators. Now he had an identity card of his own, and his own blue coveralls and armband. They had arrived in a package on Friday afternoon, along with a note containing a code phrase that meant that Adler hoped to reverse Rudi’s hypnotic blindness the next day.
The clock was running.
Paco got on line at 5:45 Saturday morning. Dawn had pried open the sky in the east, letting in another hot, dusty day. Paco blended in easily enough with the other workers, a full third of whom were Untermenschen like himself: Poles, Turks, Serbs, Hungarians, Czechs. All of us good enough for manual labor, Paco thought, as long as we didn’t try to interbreed with the Herrenvolk, the master race.
A blond, hawk-faced German in his forties stood next to him in line. He looked Paco up and down and said, “Where did you come from?”
“Madrid,” Paco said affably. “But that was a few years ago.”
A Turk behind him sniggered.
The hawk face got red and Paco held up one hand. “Relax,” he said. “The Ministry sent me.” He flicked his identity card.
“The fucking Nazis don’t like surprises, that’s all,” said the hawk-faced man.
Paco picked up the hint. “Well, I don’t like the fucking Nazis, so I guess that makes us even.” The Turk laughed again.
“Nobody likes the fucking Nazis,” the hawk-faced man said. “But only an idiot says so to their faces.” He turned away, still irritable, although apparently satisfied.
Paco’s father had been a magician before him, and Paco had gotten his start by helping to fabricate his father’s illusions. The clean smell of newly planed lumber, the cool perfection of polished chrome, the flow of solder over hot copper, all these things had a certainty that Paco loved, an enduring simplicity that was the opposite of the stage performance. For Paco, being on stage was one opportunity for failure after another. Not so much the sleights—constant practice made those reliable enough. It was the force that made him nervous, the vast array of gestures and vocal cues that let you dictate a sufficiently distracted victim’s choice of card, of a number between one and ten, of a color, of any set of options you could name.
Most of the time, anyway.
If he’d had the choice, he would have been a carpenter or an electrician. However, his brothers had no aptitude for magic, and his father wanted so badly to have someone carry on the name. And so Paco, who had spent his life pleasing everyone but himself, found himself this early morning in Paderborn looking forward to a few days of honest labor with his hands.
At precisely 6:00, two long, canvas-topped trucks pulled up to the curb. Paco, having watched the ritual from the shadows of the cathedral, knew what to expect. A soldier at each of the tailgates, wearing the black uniform and the helmet with the lightning runes, checked badges, paying little or no attention to the names on the clipboard that he carried. Paco followed the hawk-faced man and stood in line for the second truck. Seven men got in ahead of him, flicking away their cigarettes before they climbed up, taking their places on the metal benches along the sides.
The soldier, little more than a boy, with full lips and sad eyes, stopped Paco with a hand on his chest. He read the name from Paco’s badge. “Bilbao?” He looked at his clipboard. “There is no Bilbao on this list.”
Confidence is everything, Robert had said. “They told me to report here this morning. They said my name would be on the list.”
“It is not on the list,” the boy soldier said. “Step out of line and stand over there.”
Paco hesitated, wondering if he should try to make a break for it.
“Oh, shut up, for fuck’s sake, Willy.” It was the hawk-faced man, from the rear of the truck. “Quit trying to act like a big bully. I can vouch for Señor Bilbao from Madrid.”
Willy blushed and gestured angrily at the truck. “Get in.”
The hawk-faced man held out his hand and pulled Paco up. As they walked, bent over, toward the front, Paco said, “Danke.”
The man snorted. “Fuck the Nazis.”
Wewelsburg was a 20-kilometer drive away, most of the distance over a fine new asphalt roadway. A large window let Paco see into the cab of the truck, and past the driver and out the windscreen. They were in rolling countryside, dotted with trees and carpeted with grass that had yellowed in the relentless drought. The land rose in waves until finally Paco saw the castle in the distance, white stone and a blue slate roof atop a high hill, as if it had sprung from one of the Grimm brothers’ fairy tales that Hitler loved so much.
The road bent and twisted in narrow switchbacks as it climbed the hill, until finally the trucks pulled up at the edge of what had once been the moat. Paco climbed out with the others. A temporary wooden bridge spanned the 10 meter deep and 30 meter wide chasm, and on the far side, a high arch opened in the gray limestone wall and led into a courtyard.
To the right, at the north end of the castle, the keep sat at the apex of the spear-point-shaped complex. It was a broad tower, two stories high, lower than the surrounding walls. The east wing, the wing that Paco faced, housed the resident workers who were digging out the moat and chipping away the plaster on the outer walls to reveal the original masonry. Their shadows moved behind small, square windows as they arose for their day’s work.
Once inside, Paco saw that the renovation of the castle itself had barely begun. Paving stones were missing in the courtyard, and grass and weeds had pushed their way through the cracks where the existing stones had buckled and shifted. A great deal of the glass in the windows of the west and south walls was broken or missing, and loose roof tiles had shattered on the ground. A plywood ramp led up to the entrance to the keep, and Paco saw piles of rubble inside.
A junior officer assigned Paco to replace windows in the west wing. As Paco gathered his tools and materials, he roughed out a mental map of the first floor: a long conference room with a massive oak table and chairs, two bathrooms with chemical toilets, two fully furnished bedrooms, a working kitchen with kerosene stoves and an electric refrigerator, the latter powered by a generator in the west tower that also powered electric lights and outlets.
Paco quickly demonstrated his competence to the officer that supervised him. For two hours he worked hard, replacing glass and sections of the wooden sashes, freeing the ballasts and sanding the casings. Then he took a bathroom break and unwound 100 meters of fine insulated wire from around his belly and transferred it to the front of his pants. Wearing a purposeful expression, he climbed the circular staircase to the deserted second floor and hid the wire behind a large, flat limestone slab in an unrestored chamber above the conference room.
At precisely 8:37 on Monday morning, Gideon stormed into the Paderborn offices of the SS and demanded a car and driver. “Why was he not sent to my hotel?” he shouted at the desk officer, a boy barely old enough to shave.
“We…I…there are no orders, sir…”
“What? Who’s in charge here?”
Within five minutes, through sheer bluster, Gideon found himself in the back seat of a Daimler-Benz G4 staff car with six wheels and a convertible top. The blood surged cold through his veins like a river through a mountain gorge.
At the castle, he ordered the driver to wait. Swatting the side of one knee-high boot with the new riding crop that he’d bought in town, he stomped across the wooden bridge and into the courtyard. He saw Paco working away in a first-floor window and was careful not to let the relief show on his face. “Hello?” he shouted.
An enlisted man peered out of a doorway.
“Heil Hitler!” Gideon said. “I am to report to the Reichsführer.”
“I’m sorry, Herr Hauptsturmführer. Herr Himmler is in Munich today.”
Gideon stretched his mouth into an icy smile. “Bureaucrats,” he sneered. “Pencil pushers. They send us here, they send us there, with no idea of what they’re doing. In my day, the Schutzstaffel were soldiers!” Gideon, all of 27, believed momentum to be more important than strict logic. “What’s your name, Sturmmann?”
“I am only a private, sir. Private Zweig.”
“Who is in charge here, Private Zweig?”
“Standartenführer Bartels is the senior officer today, sir. He’s the architect in charge of—”
“I know who Hermann Bartels is, Private!” Gideon shouted. Keep them off balance, he told himself, and they can’t turn on you. “I am not an idiot. Take me to him at once.”
Bartels was in the North Tower, the keep, in the huge round room on the ground floor. He was in his mid-thirties, chipmunk-cheeked, with round glasses. He outranked Gideon, Colonel to Captain, but did not seem overly formal. He greeted Gideon with a casual salute, raising his right hand briefly as if taking an oath.
“Otto Mueller,” Gideon said, and they shook hands.
“People need myths,” Bartels said.
He beckoned Gideon toward a diazo print on the wall, still smelling faintly of ammonia. It was an architectural drawing of the room, labeled Obergruppenführersaal, Hall of the Generals. It pictured an inner circle of arches and columns, inset a meter or so from the outside walls, and a curious design inlaid at the exact center of the floor. The design was a bit like a 12-armed swastika, with the arms turning back into radials at the ends.
“The Black Sun,” Bartels said as he pointed to the symbol. “The Reichsführer and I adapted it from Bavarian and Alemanni designs. It represents the spiritual light behind the material world. Verstehen Sie? This is the energy that invigorates the Aryan race. What we are building here is not merely a castle. It is a whole mythology, descended from Theosophy and sturdy enough to support our thousand-year Reich.”
“I have read Blavatsky,” Gideon said. In fact, what he had done was spend two exhausting days with a friend of Adler’s, a Munich librarian who had coached him on the various bunko artists that Hitler and Himmler subscribed to, a lengthy catalog of anti-Semites and dubious, greedy spiritualists. “Also von List and von Liebenfels. I even travelled to Istanbul after university to meet Baron Sebottendorff.”
“Really?” Gideon saw that he had Bartels’ full attention, for the small price of having lost control and departed from his script. “I should very much like to hear the details of the conversation sometime.”
“A remarkable man,” Gideon said, trying to remember something more about him than his name. “Quite remarkable indeed.”
“So. How can I help you, Herr Mueller?”
“I have been assigned here to assist in your research. I have my transfer papers here…” He showed them without actually offering them, and Bartels waved them away.
“You can give those to the Reichsführer tonight. He should be here in time for dinner. Perhaps you will join us?”
“I would be delighted,” Gideon said.
Adler was in the local bierkeller when they came for him.
It was Tuesday night, 12 June, and he was sitting at a table with Kuefer and several of Kuefer’s friends. News of the miracle on Saturday had spread through the region in what seemed like hours. Scores of the sick and deformed and injured had gathered in Adler’s front yard, beseeching his help. The sight of them, the pain and desperation in their faces, the stained and odorous bandages, the harelip, the screaming child, the amputated foot, the improvised wheelchair, all tore at his heart.
“I want to help,” he had told Kuefer, “but I can’t possibly help them all. Besides, the artifact needs time to regain its power after you use it.”
The Mayor obligingly sent his three local policemen to clear away the pilgrims. For Adler, dealing with his guilt was less easy. He reminded himself, repeatedly, of the importance of what he was trying to do.
To Kuefer and his friends, Adler was a hero. He had not paid for a meal or a drink in three days. He had remained steadfast in his refusal to take credit for Rudi’s recovery, to show off the artifact, or to talk about the future.
When the SS burst into the beer hall, the room went instantly quiet. In the lead was a lieutenant in a peaked cap with an unholstered Luger, followed by a sergeant and three privates with leveled carbines. “Ernst Ackermann!” the officer barked. He had a long, narrow face with close-set eyes, as if he were wearing a mask from some primitive culture.
Adler slowly stood up. The lieutenant gestured toward the street with his pistol barrel. “Raus!” Adler moved toward the door, hands open and waist high, and the officer yelled, “Mach schnell!”
In the street, two of the enlisted men shoved him against the outside wall of the bierkeller to frisk him brutally and thoroughly.
“Nothing, Herr Obersturmführer,” one of them said.
The lieutenant grabbed Adler by the back of the head. “Where is the Spear?”
“The Spear, the Spear, you idiot, where have you hidden it?”
“If you mean the artifact, it’s at my house—”
“You will take us to it, now!”
“Of course, of course.”
The soldiers had left their truck blocking half the street. The lieutenant pushed Adler into the front, next to the driver, and the others climbed in the rear. They drove directly to his house without asking the way, and when they arrived, the front door was ajar and all the lights on. The interior had been ransacked: clothes everywhere, cushions from the sofa and chairs scattered across the floor, bed stripped and mattress leaning against one wall. The lieutenant’s lack of reaction to the chaos told Adler that his men were responsible.
Adler picked up a screwdriver from the floor, where it had been dumped with the rest of the contents of the kitchen drawers. He pulled over a wooden chair and loosened the housing of the light fixture in the dining room. Reaching into the ceiling, he pressed the hidden button that would send a radio signal to Robert, and then he brought out the padded canvas bag.
The lieutenant grabbed the sergeant by the lapel, pointed to the hole in the ceiling, and backhanded him across the mouth. “Dummkopf!” he shouted, and shoved him away.
Adler meekly handed over the package. How long, he wondered, could any government sustain itself on an unvarying diet of violence, anger, and fear?
As if reading his mind, the lieutenant quickly checked to make sure the artifact was in the bag, then pointed to Adler and said, “Take him into the woods and shoot him.”
In his rented room in Paderborn, Robert got the signal from Adler. The SS had taken the bait. Phase 3 had begun.
He changed into dark clothes and got out the rucksack that he’d hidden in the back of his closet. He tiptoed down the service stairs and out the rear of the building.
On a straight line, it was only ten blocks to the empty and shuttered synagogue that Adler had selected. Via the alleys and vacant lots that Robert used, it was at least twice as far. The pack was heavy and the night was warm, and Robert had begun to sweat by the time he arrived at the back door of the synagogue. He quickly opened the padlock and then the regular lock and slipped inside.
A wood-paneled passageway ran behind the sanctuary, ending in stairs to the basement. Using a small electric torch, he made his way to the bottom of the steps and oriented himself. The space had been divided into classrooms, with a hall down the middle. The building above was supported by three stone arches, evenly spaced down the length of it, like the ribs in a ship, only upside-down. Adler’s experts had examined drawings of the building and assured him that sufficiently large explosions at the base of each arch, six points in all, would utterly collapse the structure.
Adler had gotten hold of a large quantity of a new explosive from the Nobel Company in Britain. It was called 808 and it was as malleable as modeling clay. Robert slipped on a pair of rubber gloves and opened a dun-colored paper cylinder. The material inside was pale green and smelled of almonds.
Standing atop a child’s desk, he carefully molded ten packages of 808 around the bricks where the leg of the arch met the foundation. He hooked up a pair of detonators and ran electrical wire to the base of the stairs. Don’t worry about using too much, Adler had told him. The bigger the explosion, the better.
He was ready to attach the second charge to the far side of the arch when a sound made him freeze.
It was the muffled cry of a child.
“Wait,” Adler said. The sergeant, who had gripped his arm, hesitated.
“Make it quick,” the lieutenant said.
Adler licked his lips. “I am a good German, a Party man. I want nothing more than for our Führer to use this weapon in his great struggle.”
“So that is why you have kept it a secret all this time and hidden it away from us? You are not persuasive.”
“If I had come to you and told you I had a magical artifact, you would not have believed me.”
“I don’t believe you now.”
At last Adler met the lieutenant’s gaze and said, “The Reichsführer, Herr Himmler, he believes. That’s why he sent you to find me.”
The mention of Himmler clearly made the lieutenant nervous.
“That is why,” Adler said gently, pitching the words just so, “you must bring me to him. I must teach him how to use it or it will be worthless to him. And he will be terribly disappointed.” Adler smiled. “You can always kill me later.”
“Escort him to the truck,” the lieutenant said angrily. “If he tries to escape, kill him instantly.”
Robert found three families, all Jews, living in the basement. Three women, two men, and seven children, all in dirty, ragged clothing, huddled together near the broken window they’d used to get inside. They were haggard and near starvation, yet defiance still blazed in the eyes of the men.
“You can’t stay here,” Robert told them. “The building is scheduled for demolition.”
The men looked away as if they couldn’t hear him. One of the women said, “Three days ago, a truck came to our building in the middle of the night to take everyone to a camp. We were the only ones who managed to get away. There is nowhere else for us to go. If they find us, they will shoot us down like dogs.”
“You will be just as dead,” Robert said, “if you stay here.”
“Who are you?” one of the men said. He looked like an overexposed photograph, his skin deathly white, his wild hair and eyes completely black.
“I am a Jew, like you.”
“How do you know the building is going to come down?” Robert hesitated, and the man stood up to confront him, looming over him. “You know because you are the one planting the explosives.” His glance shifted to the rubber gloves, the roll of wire over Robert’s shoulder.
“That doesn’t matter,” Robert said, sweating again now. “All that matters is that I know.”
“It does matter,” the man said, “because it means we have something to bargain with. If we took you to the police, maybe they would want to know what you’re doing with those explosives.”
“You already said you can’t go to the police.”
“Ah, but if we turn you in, perhaps there would be a reward. Perhaps the reward would be permission to leave the country.”
“Is that what you want?” Robert asked. Possibilities sparked in his head. “To get out of the country? Because I can get you papers.”
The refugees all looked at each other with sudden and pathetic hope.
“How?” the second man said. He was older, bearded, wearing a crocheted yarmulke.
Robert sighed. “We are going to have to trust each other. Yes, I am setting charges to blow up this building. I am part of a plot to depose Hitler, and I have access to money and resources. I have a man who can create any kind of document.”
“How can we believe you?” the first man said.
“The explosive. It’s English, experimental, unlike anything you have ever seen.”
Both men followed him to the back of the basement, where Robert had left his pack. He opened one of the packets of 808 and rolled up a piece the size of a pinhead. He set it on the concrete floor and touched a match to it. It burned furiously, filling the hallway with poisonous fumes.
The first man nodded. “Let’s talk.”
They returned to the women and children, and in five minutes they struck a deal. Robert would provide them with papers and 250 marks in cash. He would also find them another place to hide.
“Until you deliver the money and the papers,” the first man said, “I will be by your side, as close as your shadow.”
“Dov, no,” one of the women whispered. “It’s too dangerous.”
Dov gave her a severe look and she turned away. “First,” he said to Robert, “we get the others to someplace safe. Then we make a telephone call to your document man, yes? Then you can finish your business here.”
“You know this neighborhood,” Robert said. “What other empty buildings are there?”
One of the women said, “There’s the widow Schultz’s house. It’s been empty for months now.”
Dov shook his head. “If we broke a window, it would be noticed, not like here. And no one could get in the doors without a whole ring full of keys.”
“Perfect,” Robert said. “Shall we go?”
Shortly before midnight, they brought Adler into the castle in handcuffs and leg shackles. They marched him into a well appointed room with an Oriental carpet and heavy furniture. Three men waited for him at the table: Himmler, his chief architect Hermann Bartels, and Gideon in his SS uniform. Adler did not recognize Gideon at first, so fully did he inhabit his Otto Mueller identity, and with that recognition came a powerful boost to his confidence. He had backup plans, all of them risky, and none of them an adequate substitute for Gideon’s participation.
Himmler was already on his feet. “Obersturmführer Richter. Did you get it? Let me see.” His beady eyes were feverish, his thin lips moist and trembling.
Richter gave a full, extended-arm salute, shouted, “Heil Hitler!” and took the cloth bag from under his left arm. He carefully set it on the table in front of Himmler, bowed, then stepped away and clicked his heels.
Himmler was bewitched. Without shifting his gaze from the bag, he reached to his belt and withdrew a pair of black kid gloves. He drew them on and gently slid both hands under the parcel, lifting it an inch or two from the table, testing its weight. Then, as delicately as if he were performing surgery, he loosened the strings and slipped the artifact, wrapped in cotton batting, out of the bag. He hesitated another long moment, his tongue flicking in and out just once, like a snake’s. Slowly, carefully, he picked away the batting until the spear point was revealed.
Himmler, Bartels, and Gideon all sucked in their breath at once.
“Old man,” Himmler said to Adler, “do you have any idea what you have here?”
“Some kind of artifact,” Adler said. “That’s all I know.”
“It’s the Spear,” Himmler said. His voice dropped to a whisper. “The Spear of Destiny.”
Adler did his best to look befuddled. “What kind of spear?”
“Also known as the Spear of Longinus,” Gideon said. Bartels nodded, and Gideon puffed up with the acknowledgement. “Longinus was a Roman guard at the crucifixion of Jesus, the so-called Christ,” Gideon went on. “He pierced Jesus’s side with his spear, and blood and water ran out. Joseph of Arimathea caught the blood and water in a cup.”
“Perhaps you have heard of this cup, old man?” Himmler said. “A cup called the Holy Grail?”
“These are legends…stories…”
“You have seen its power yourself, and you call it a legend?” Himmler said. “You are even more of a fool than I thought. Do you know what is under the gold sheath? A nail from the crucifixion. If you were not so stupid, you might begin to imagine the power this ‘artifact’ holds.”
Bartels was suddenly troubled. “But…Herr Himmler…what of the lance at the Weltliche Schatzkammer?”
Himmler shrugged. “Either this fool has somehow robbed the Hofburg Palace without anyone noticing and activated an object that no one had activated before, or the lance in the museum is a forgery.”
“Unless…” Gideon said.
“What?” Himmler snapped.
“Unless this is the fake. We have yet to see it do anything with our own eyes.”
“True,” Himmler said. “We must arrange a test.”
“Understand,” Adler said, “that it is like a battery. Or so the Indian I got it from told me. He said it absorbs energy from the lines of force that connect the ancient sites on the planet. After you use it, it must recharge itself.”
“How long?” Himmler said.
“It should be charged now, I think,” Adler said. “I’m sorry, there are so many things I don’t know.”
“What else can it do besides cure blindness in adolescent boys?” Gideon said.
Richter, the long-faced lieutenant, let out an inadvertent snort of laughter, earning himself a glare from Himmler.
“Again,” Adler said, “I can only tell you what I was told.” He hesitated a fraction of a second. This was the key moment in the entire operation. The pitch of his voice, the timing, everything had to be perfect. “Transmuting elements. Making a leader invincible. Igniting stone—”
“What,” Gideon said. “You mean, blowing up buildings?”
“The Indian said the man he inherited it from once exploded a church.”
“A church?” Gideon said. “Better a synagogue.”
“Yes,” Himmler said. “A synagogue filled with Jews. I like this idea.”
“Begging your pardon,” Adler said.
“Yes, yes, what is it, you tiresome old idiot?” Himmler said.
“This spear, you will be giving it to the Führer, yes?”
“Yes, of course.”
“If your test draws too much attention, will it not detract from the Führer himself demonstrating his new power to the world?”
“Mmmm,” Bartels said. “He has a point. That schwul Röhn and that peacock Göring are forever plotting against us. If we let the Führer take the glory on this, he will put you above all the others.”
Reluctantly, Himmler nodded. “Perhaps an empty synagogue would be a better choice.”
Bartels slapped the table. “Isn’t there an old synagogue in Paderborn that we just shut down a couple of months ago? On Höhenstrasse? We were planning to level it and build a new Party headquarters there.”
“Perfect!” Himmler said.
“Remember, I make no promises,” Adler said. “I only—”
“We don’t care about your promises,” Himmler said. “Either you show us how to demolish this synagogue with your Spear or we will kill you.”
Before the previous night’s dinner with Himmler, Gideon had been literally sick with terror. He had vomited everything his stomach could find to spew out and had alternated between fever and chills. At last, sitting in a tub of hot water, smelling his own sour sweat, he confronted himself. What is it that you are so afraid of?
They will find me out, he answered himself. They will know who I am.
But how? he asked. How can they find you out if you are not Gideon any longer, and are only Otto Mueller?
At that moment everything changed. His fear melted away. He leapt to his feet, shot his right arm forward as if into Himmler’s face, and shouted, “Heil Hitler! Sieg heil!”
He had washed the last of Gideon off of himself and dressed in his uniform as if it were the outer layer of his skin, his protection against the world.
In a former life, before he was Otto Mueller, he had learned that certain people seemed to exude a kind of odorless perfume that disabled the defenses of the people around them. It made little difference what lies these people told, because anything they said would be believed, at least as long as they were present. There were many names for these people: snake oil salesmen, grifters, con men, politicians. In his former life, Otto Mueller had that power, and he was pleased to discover that he had it still. He could feel Himmler’s need for Mueller to like him, and Mueller reciprocated. This man with the accountant’s face had a fierce and devious intellect, one that found connection after connection where Mueller had never suspected them: between an early Christian sect called the Cathars—who believed that Jehovah was evil and the Catholic Church sinfully materialistic—and the Holy Grail; between the Cathars and the Aryans; between the Aryans and the highly advanced visitors from outer space now living inside the hollow earth.
In the middle of the night, Gideon had awoken in a cold sweat from a dream he could not remember. Nor could he remember many details of the dinner beyond that fact that Himmler, as Adler had warned, was truly a lunatic and that he himself, in the guise of Otto Mueller, had said things that now made Gideon cringe in shame.
Yet, in order to get up in the morning and put on his uniform and return to Wewelsburg, he once again had to surrender control to Mueller.
Mueller spent the day with Himmler and Bartels, discussing Bartels’ plans for the Reichsführerschule SS, the Reich Leaders’ School, which was to consist of a walled circular complex 860 meters in diameter, with the North Tower as its center point. Looking at Bartels’ sketches, Himmler once more went into another world.
“The Indians were the first Aryans,” he said. “They had incredible knowledge, spiritual knowledge, that they have kept hidden for centuries. You see how the outside wall of the complex makes a shape like a human skull? This road rises into it like the spine. And here, at the center, pointing upward, is the triangle of the castle, like a spear point. And it’s pointing to the pineal gland, yes? In yoga they call this the ajna chakra, and they have exercises to make the spiritual energy rise through the spine and explode there. That area is also called the Third Eye. Blavatsky called it ‘the inner spiritual eye of the seer.’”
“Yes,” Mueller enthused. “Yes, I see!”
Himmler sat back happily in his chair. “And speaking of spears, I have a surprise for you tonight.”
It was not, of course, a surprise for Gideon when the soldiers dragged Adler into the conference room. But Gideon was an unwelcome voice in Mueller’s head, an enemy of the Reich, a traitor and a Jew. He kept asserting himself, nudging the conversation toward his own ends, tricking Himmler into selecting the very site that Robert was even now wiring with explosives.
Perhaps, Mueller thought, Robert has not finished his preparations yet. Would that not be a laugh on the intruder Gideon and the other traitors, to have the hoax exposed before the Führer was compromised? “What are we waiting for?” Mueller asked. “Why don’t we have our test right now? Then we’ll know.”
“Good idea,” Himmler said. “As the proverb says, ‘What you can get in your hands tonight/Don’t put off till morning light.’” He was rising from his chair when the telephone shrilled.
Richter answered. “It’s for you, Herr Mueller,” he said. “It’s…a woman.”
Mueller felt a flash of heat in his cheeks. “Excuse me,” he muttered, and retreated to a corner with the apparatus. It could only be Cora, and the fact that she was calling it all meant something had gone wrong. “I told you never to call me here!” he whispered angrily.
“I am sorry, schatzi, but the doctor said the baby is due at six in the morning.”
The code phrase meant that Robert had been delayed and gave an estimate of when he would be ready. Before Mueller could stop him, Gideon seized control long enough to turn toward the table and repeat, “Six a.m.?” It was for Adler’s benefit, and he saw Adler register the news.
“Yes,” Cora said. “I should go to the hospital now. You told me you wanted to be there…”
“No. No, it is simply not possible. Take a taxi or call an ambulance or something.” He hung up and returned to the table. “My apologies,” he said to Himmler. “We are about to bring forth a new Aryan superman.”
“Wonderful!” Himmler said. One of Himmler’s missions was to encourage unions—marital or otherwise—that would produce offspring from good Aryan breeding stock. “Do you need to be with the mother?”
“No, my place is here.”
“Well, then. Shall we proceed?”
“A moment,” Adler said. “My thoughts, as ever, are for my Führer. Should we not get motion picture cameras to record this, so that he can see for himself if it is successful?”
“You say that the Spear can recharge itself,” Himmler said. “What’s your hurry, old man? We can repeat this experiment as many times as we want.”
“The Standartenführer,” Adler gestured at Bartels, “has mentioned the rivalry among you who are the Führer’s most trusted deputies. This is well known. People in the streets are losing their faith. They say the Führer’s days are not long. Something must be done and done soon. The summer solstice is one week from tomorrow. If the Indian is right, the Spear will be at its greatest power then, and it only makes sense that this is the time when the Führer should reveal it to the world, nicht wahr? So we have time for only this demonstration, and one more for the Führer himself.”
The summer solstice was central to the new pagan religion that Himmler and Bartels were cooking up. Mueller fumed at having to sit by and let Adler lead them around by their delusions. Even if Gideon let him, though, anything he said would expose his own complicity.
“Perhaps there is a reason,” Bartels said, “that this old man came into possession of the Spear. The Spear of Destiny, yes? Maybe it’s true that Destiny is working through him.”
“It’s two in the morning,” Himmler said. “Where would I find a film crew at this hour?”
“We could call Berlin in the morning,” Bartels said.
Himmler pouted like a petulant child. “I don’t want to wait. Call Berlin now.”
Robert’s night had been endless, and yet time was running out.
By the time that the family was safely installed in the widow Schultz’s house, it was after midnight. Then he and Dov had walked to Robert’s rooming house, where a wall-mounted telephone was available at the head of the first floor stairs. A ledger sat on a table below where tenants were to note the time and destination of their calls so that the landlady could add the charges to their weekly bills.
First he called Cora in Berlin. She was still awake and a little breathless. “You’re lucky I came home early tonight,” she said. Robert briefly wondered how it would feel to be touring the nightclubs of Berlin with Cora on his arm rather than rigging explosives under a deadline, then pushed the thought away.
“The aeroplane,” Robert said carefully, “is delayed.”
“Oh dear,” Cora said.
Dov was anxious, making as if to grab the earpiece. “Who are you talking to?”
Robert hushed him. “The new arrival time is six a.m. Do you have that?”
“I’ll make the call.” He heard a hesitation in her voice, as if she were on the verge of asking how he was.
“Thanks,” he said quietly, and hung up.
Next he woke the head of Adler’s fabrication team and described what he needed. The man was surprisingly polite. “We can cover them with a single letter under the letterhead of the Jewish Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I can have one of my people bring it to you tomorrow morning. I’ll just need all the names.”
Robert turned to Dov. “You need to give this man all of your names.”
Dov frowned. “I don’t know. This could be a trick.”
Robert’s patience was fading. “If I were going to turn you in, I could have simply taken you to a police station. I could have left you in the synagogue to be blown up. Don’t make me regret my decision.”
Dov snatched the earpiece and bent to speak into the mouthpiece. “Why do you need this?” He listened briefly, then, with a sigh, spelled out 12 names. After another pause he said, “Yes, I understand,” and handed the earpiece back to Robert.
It was after two by the time they returned to the synagogue. “Can you not trust me from here on out?” Robert said.
“Until I have the letter in my hands, I do not leave your side.”
Robert worked as quickly as he could. He had no means of knowing whether Cora had been able to get the message to Gideon, whether Gideon was in a position to slow things down, whether Adler had even been successful in forcing Himmler to choose the right target, and, if he had, when they would arrive.
Gideon himself was another issue. Cora believed Gideon was cracking up, and Robert trusted her judgment.
He set to work, finishing the most conspicuous and dangerous chore first, that of running the detonation wire along the ground, hidden by the grass and ivy, to a telephone pole, then shinnying up the pole to anchor it. Down the pole, across Höhenstrasse, up the pole on that side to pull the wire taut and anchor it there. Down that pole and behind the empty house across from the synagogue, which was the only logical place for the Nazis to set up their observation post, again burying the wire in the undergrowth. Finally, one last test of the drainpipe in back of the house, making sure that it would support his weight, all while Dov watched with patient, hooded eyes. These were all actions he had planned days before, and rehearsed since then in his imagination.
It was 4:00 a.m. when Robert finally began to set the remaining charges in the synagogue basement. He had barely begun when he heard the sound of heavy trucks in the street outside and he knew that his time had run out.
To Adler’s immense distress, Berlin informed them that a crew was already stationed in Paderborn to film the opening of a new motorway. He did what he could to drag his feet without arousing suspicion. Despite his efforts the film crew was awakened and mobilized, and two truckloads of SS troops were dispatched to the synagogue by 4:00 a.m.
By the time they arrived at 4:30, roadblocks had closed access to the street and generators were sputtering to life, powering massive banks of lights. Soldiers had evacuated the houses on either side of the synagogue and taken the inhabitants to a holding facility downtown. Other troops were going door to door, warning residents to stay indoors with their shutters closed on pain of death. Soldiers and civilians alike were told that a new explosive was being tested, with no mention of the occult nature of the experiment.
The heel-clicking Obersturmführer Richter had taken charge of the scene. “There is a deserted house directly across from the synagogue,” he told Himmler. “It has a balcony facing the street.”
Himmler turned to Adler. “How powerful will this explosion be?”
“I have no idea,” Adler said. He was praying at that moment that there would be an explosion at all.
“Will we be safe on that balcony?” He pointed a black-gloved finger at the house. It was tall and narrow, built of granite blocks, the balcony supported by the ground floor.
“I would think so,” Adler said. “Perhaps you could set up a command post in the attic?”
“I am not here to clean attics!” Himmler snapped. He turned to Richter. “Force the doors and make sure the house is truly empty. Be thorough but be quick.”
Richter saluted and trotted toward the house, shouting orders.
Adler resisted a powerful need to look at his wristwatch. He knew that no more than five minutes had passed since the last time he’d checked.
He shivered in the early morning chill. Richter had not allowed him to bring a jacket from his house, and though the days were hot, the cloudless skies sucked the heat away overnight. Himmler snapped his fingers at his orderly, who ran to their staff car and returned with a Thermos bottle of coffee. The orderly poured a steaming cup and handed it to Himmler, who took a sip and nodded. He stared at Adler over the rim and took another sip, then, to Adler’s surprise, offered him the cup. “Be careful,” he said. “It’s very hot.”
Adler drank it gratefully. He had not been prepared for how physically demanding this enterprise would prove. He was exhausted and dispirited as well, afraid that he had committed an act of colossal hubris. If in fact Robert had been unable to get the charges ready, Adler knew that he was done for. If they didn’t shoot him on the spot, they would surely torture him, and he was unsure that he could hold out long enough for the others to escape the country.
With a loud crackle, the floodlights illuminated the synagogue like midday. Did everyone, he wondered, come to the end wishing they’d done more? His wife, Greta, had miscarried twice, delivered a stillborn daughter, and finally given birth to a son who died in infancy. It had broken her and destroyed their marriage, and Adler wondered, as he had many times before, how different his life might have been if his children had lived.
He had seen the world, known many women, been cheered by hundreds and sometimes thousands of voices at a time. If this last work should be unfinished, well, the Americans had a saying: “…or die trying.”
Himmler reached for the cup and Adler returned it. “Come along, old man,” Himmler said. “Destiny calls.”
Dov unspooled the wire as Robert prepared the explosives, sweat and exhaustion blurring his vision. Finally, at the rear of synagogue, he connected the last of the interior wires to the main outside wire and they were done. He put the leftover wire and explosives in his rucksack with the detonator and eased the back door open.
He had peered out at Höhenstrasse earlier and seen the light panels and generators moving into place. Once those lights were on, there would be no escape. Their only chance was to leave immediately, straight back from the synagogue, through the yard of the house behind and into the street beyond.
“I’ll go first,” Robert said. “When I signal, run to me.”
“Don’t you have to be on the other side of the street?”
“I’ll have to take the long way.”
“I’ve got a better idea. Next time one of the soldiers comes around, we knock him out, tie him up, and put him in the basement. One of us puts on his uniform and marches the other one across the street, like he’s a prisoner.”
“No,” Robert said.
“It’s better than any idea you have.”
“There’s a hundred things wrong with it. The main one is that I’m not going to kill anyone. The man whose idea this was made us all promise. We’re going to do this without violence.”
“That’s insane. You’re going to overthrow Hitler with no violence at all?”
“That commitment is what saved you and your family. We can argue later. Right now we’re going.”
Robert crept quietly into the darkness. The grass had just sprouted a coating of dew. Ten meters, twenty. Suddenly lights swept across the house next door and Robert threw himself flat. They were headlights, from a Nazi staff car, and as it stopped, Robert glimpsed Adler and Himmler in the front seat, Gideon in the rear.
All the soldiers turned to the car and saluted. In that moment, Robert leapt to his feet, motioned to Dov, and together they raced across the yard, vaulted a low picket fence, and collapsed, breathless, in the street beyond.
Dov, grinning, said, “My heart is going to explode. I haven’t run like that since I stole apples from the market as a boy.”
Robert got to his feet and extended his hand. Dov took it and pulled himself up and Robert said, “We have to split up now. Don’t speak, don’t argue. You know it would be ten times the risk if both of us tried to get into that house across the street. It would only get both of us killed for nothing.” Robert took out his room key. “Go back to my room, get some sleep. If I don’t show up, you can take delivery of the document later this morning. You’ll find money in my room, much more than we agreed to.”
“I would be an idiot to trust you,” Dov said. He looked into Robert’s eyes for a long second, then shrugged and took the key.
As they climbed the stairs of the abandoned house, Adler checked his watch. Ten minutes to five. The coffee had warmed him, and at the same time, on top of his exhaustion and his empty stomach, it had also ratcheted up his nerves. Richter was in the lead, his oversized flashlight illuminating cobwebs and peeling paint. Adler followed, then Himmler, Gideon, Bartels, and a few enlisted men. Scurrying sounds in the walls spoke to the presence of a multitude of rats, large ones.
The stairs opened into a wide room at the front of the house, whose French doors opened onto the balcony. The massed lights outside were strong enough to reveal the dilapidation: peeling wallpaper, cracked plaster ceiling, a floor stained with rat droppings.
Himmler threw open the French doors and leaned out over the edge of the balcony. “Who is in charge of the film crew?”
A reply rose from the street. “I am, Herr Reichsführer.”
“How much longer?”
“Only a few minutes, sir.”
Adler heard a scraping sound, followed, a second or two later, by a creak.
Himmler turned, an anxious look on his face. “What was that noise?”
“I don’t know, sir,” Richter said.
Himmler stared at Adler, searching for signs of complicity. Adler let him see only a tired old man.
“Take these men,” Himmler said to Richter, “check the attic, and have somebody walk around outside and make sure there’s nobody on the roof.”
Adler tried to slow his racing thoughts. If the noise was Robert, it meant the explosives were set. But if they caught him, the game was up. If the noise wasn’t Robert, at least Himmler was using up more time. But if Robert was not already in the building, then he was going to be too late.
“While we’re waiting,” Himmler said, “tell me what I’m supposed to do.” He had the Spear of the bag and held it tenderly in his gloved hands. “There were words you spoke over the boy. Some sort of gibberish, they said.”
“He told me it was…Guju something…”
“Gujurati?” Bartels asked.
“It’s an Indo-Aryan language,” Bartels said. “From one of the western states of India.”
Himmler was not to be distracted. “What are the words?”
“You have to be careful when saying them all together,” Adler told him. “They are words of great power. First you say Jantar, and then Mantar, and then Jadu and Mantar again.”
Bartels shook his head. “I don’t know them.”
Of course you don’t, Adler thought. They were the Indian version of “Abracadabra.” He watched Himmler’s lips move as he silently rehearsed them.
Doors slammed and boots pounded up and down stairs. Eventually an out-of-breath Richter came back into the room and saluted. “Nothing, sir. Must have been an animal, maybe a cat.”
“Very good,” Himmler said, and beckoned to Adler to follow him onto the balcony. Bartels and Gideon quietly took positions behind them. If Gideon were going to help, Adler thought, this would be a good time. If Gideon had not, in fact, already crossed over to the other side.
“Film crew?” Himmler called.
“Ready, sir,” responded the voice from below.
“Begin,” Himmler said.
“Rolling,” said the voice. “Speed.”
Himmler turned to smile at Adler. “And now here we are, old man. The moment of truth.”
Adler’s mouth was dry, his palms damp. “You must focus your will power.”
“Do I point the Spear at the building?”
“Yes, probably a good idea. However, it is not a gun. More like a magnifying glass, the way it focuses the sun’s rays to burn—”
Himmler waved a gloved hand. “Spare me the analogies.” He faced the synagogue, whose roof was at their eye level, 50 meters away. Holding the Spear in his cupped hands, he started to close his eyes.
“It’s a very solid building,” Adler said. “It will take immense will power to bring it down.”
“It will be easier if you stop interrupting me.”
“You must visualize the stone igniting, exploding—”
“Enough!” Himmler said. “Silence, old man. Focus your will too, as if your life depended on it. Which it does.” He glanced at Gideon and Bartels. “Both of you, concentrate as well.”
Adler had run out of ideas. Himmler faced the street and closed his eyes. “Jantar,” he said dramatically. “Mantar. Jadu. Mantar!”
I am a dead man, Adler thought.
Robert, free of Dov at last, made a wide circle that crossed Höhenstrasse two blocks east of the barricades that now closed it off. He walked swiftly for another block before turning toward the synagogue and breaking into a jog. He was sweating profusely in his black turtleneck. It was already 4:45 a.m. and dawn would soon put an end to the covering darkness.
The focus of the action was obvious from blocks away. Lights blazed in the street outside the synagogue and voices called back and forth over the roaring generators. Robert hesitated in the front yard of the house behind the empty house where his wires awaited him. The whole area teemed with soldiers and the time for stealth was long over. His only hope was to brazen it out.
He shrugged out of the rucksack, removed a coil of wire, and carried both in his hands as he walked confidently to the back of the empty house. Kneeling, he quickly spliced the new roll onto the end of the wire he’d laid there an hour before.
The beam of a flashlight hit him in the face like a physical blow. “You! Put up your hands and get on your feet!” An SS private pointed a leftover Mauser carbine from the Great War at Robert’s head.
Robert barely glanced at him. In gutter German he said, “Can’t you stop interrupting me? Like I told the last guy, I’m with the film crew. If I don’t get this finished, Himmler is going to have my ass.”
“You have identification?”
“Hell no, I don’t have identification. I’m a civilian. I got dragged out of bed at three in the fucking morning to do this. Go ask Himmler if you have any questions.”
The soldier, confused, looked to the street and then at Robert. “You…you wait right here!”
As soon as the soldier disappeared around the corner, Robert put the rucksack on once more. With the wire looped over one forearm, he climbed the drainpipe straight up the back of the house. He pulled himself quietly onto the slate roof and unrolled the wire behind him as he made his way to the front of the house. A broad chimney interrupted the roof there, and the space behind it was invisible from the ground. As he attached the wires to the detonator and connected the battery, he heard someone shouting orders from the room below, the words borne out through the French doors.
He had made more noise than he realized in crossing the roof. He nestled the pack and the detonator in his lap, leaned against the chimney, and slowed his breathing. It seemed that he might yet be in time.
He felt the tension go out of the muscles across his stomach, and then the full weight of his exhaustion fell on him.
In less than a second he was fast asleep.
Adler put both hands on the low wall at the front of the balcony to keep them from shaking. “Try it again. Louder this time. Put your will into your voice.”
Himmler raised one eyebrow. His face was soft, his jowls puffy, his chin weak, but the eyes, behind the round, wire-rimmed spectacles, were as cold and distant as the North Star.
“Go on,” Adler said.
Himmler faced the synagogue once again. “Jantar!” he said loudly. “Mantar! Jadu! Mantar!”
There was no sound save the grinding of the generators and, somewhere in the distance, the frightened baying of a dog.
Robert woke with a start, completely disoriented. The sky was gray in the east. He was outdoors somewhere. A voice echoed in his ears. What had it said? Mantar? What did that mean?
He shook his head, fought to clear the fog from his brain.
“I had to say it three times,” Adler said, fighting to keep the desperation out of his voice. “Maybe that’s how it works.”
“It doesn’t seem to work at all,” Himmler said.
“Perhaps we chose too big a target.”
“The power of the Spear is immense,” said Bartels.
“But it must be driven by will,” Adler said.
“What are you saying, old man?” Himmler’s voice had gone quiet and there was mayhem in his eyes. “Do you doubt my will?”
“Show me,” Adler said. “Show me your will.”
Himmler pointed the Spear at the synagogue, his stare fixed on Adler. “Jantar,” he whispered. “Mantar,” somewhat louder. “Jadu…Mantar!”
Adler felt the floor beneath him undulate a split-second before the explosion ripped the air. A shockwave knocked all four of them backward, Bartels crashing through the glass of the French doors, Gideon catching himself on the doorframe, Adler landing on his hands and buttocks. Himmler had gone down on one knee, the Spear still extended from his right hand, a broad smile cracking his dust-covered face.
Adler stood and leaned over the balcony, his heart hammering with relief and joy. The synagogue was gone. In its place was a huge, swirling dust cloud. Chunks of wood and stone still fell from where they had been thrown high into the sky. A truck had been overturned on the street below and one bank of lights had been completely demolished.
“Stupendous!” Himmler said. At least that was what Adler thought he said. He could hear only the muffled ghosts of sounds over the ringing in his ears.
In the street, soldiers cheered, the excitement of the moment overpowering their iron discipline. A cameraman panned across the devastation, then turned the lens toward the balcony. Adler backed away and let Bartels, shaking broken glass from his uniform, take his place. Himmler, forgetting himself in the moment, raised the Spear above his head in triumph.
Gideon looked like he might join them, and Adler caught his eye and gave a single, nearly imperceptible shake of his head. Gideon’s first reaction was fury, then he stepped back, his face impassive.
Adler passed through the shattered French doors into the room beyond. The soldiers there seemed as excited as those on the street, laughing and pushing their palms against their ears to try to clear them, lighting cigarettes and gesticulating.
All but Richter. Richter looked out toward where the synagogue had been, then stared at Adler and narrowed his eyes.
Trouble, Adler thought.
As soon as the last of the rubble from the blast had clattered across the roof, Robert broke the detonator down and stowed it in his pack. So far so good, although it was too early for congratulations. He put on the pack and gathered up wire as he hurried to the drainpipe and climbed down to ground level. Then he casually rolled up the wire leading to the telephone pole, pulled it loose from where it was anchored, and continued to coil it as he crossed the street, nodding casually to the camera crew as they began to tear down their equipment. As still photographers converged on the ruins, Robert got there first and recovered the wire that led from the telephone pole to the basement and added that to his roll. In the street once more, he threw the mass of wire into the bed of one of the film trucks, then walked around to where the driver, dressed in khakis and a flat cap, leaned against his door.
“Hell of a way to start the day, eh?” Robert said.
The driver pointed to his ears and said, “Ask me again when I can hear.”
They both laughed and Robert strolled away down Höhenstrasse, turned left at the barricades, and made sure he wasn’t being followed before he returned to the rooming house.
Dov had left the door unlocked and fallen asleep sitting up in the armchair. Robert quietly stripped to the waist and washed in the basin, throwing the dirty water into the alley outside his window. When he was done, he put on a clean shirt and stretched out on the bed.
Now that he was in relative safety, sleep eluded him. His thoughts were of Houdini. For the second half of his life, Houdini had tirelessly exposed spiritualists, mediums, and psychics, anyone who claimed to have supernatural powers. Robert wondered whether Houdini would have participated in this affair of the Spear, whether he would have been willing to deceive for the sake of a higher goal. He was not a man who compromised, not even with the appendicitis that killed him. Like anyone, Robert wanted to believe that his hero would have liked and admired him. Yet he also knew that both of them were too driven, too sure of themselves, too inflexible to have ever been friends.
A knock at the door made Dov leap from his chair, eyes wide and mouth open.
“Be calm,” Robert said. “It’s only the courier.”
To his relief, he was correct. The man was middle-aged and casually dressed in a white shirt and dark trousers, carrying a C4-sized envelope. Robert had him step into the room while he examined the letter, which seemed convincing enough. He turned to show it to Dov, but Dov had vanished. “Can you take something with you?” Robert asked. “You’re not likely to be stopped or searched?”
“No,” the man smiled. “We have all the permits anyone could desire.”
Robert gave him the rucksack with the detonator and leftover wire and explosives. “Be careful with it,” Robert said.
The man smiled again. “Always.” He hesitated at the door. “I know a little of what you’re doing. I…I wanted to say thank you. On behalf of all of us.”
Accustomed as Robert was to inspiring amazement, gratitude was new to him. He was embarrassed and could only nod stiffly in response.
After the man was gone, Dov slid out from under the bed and stood, dusting his clothes. “Your landlady is not much for cleanliness.”
Robert handed Dov the letter and got 250 marks from his dresser drawer. Dov read the letter over slowly, twice, then replaced it in the envelope. If Robert had been worried about dealing with more gratitude, he needn’t have bothered. “This had better work,” Dov said.
Robert handed him the money. “You have a much better chance now than when I found you. I wish you luck.”
Dov counted the money and put it in the front pocket of his tattered trousers. “We will need it.” He opened the door, looked in both directions, and was gone.
Robert sat in the armchair to get his breath. He was dizzy with fatigue. He would be able to sleep now, he was certain, but he dared not. This location was compromised, as both Dov and the courier could place him here. He splashed water on his face, packed his few belongings, and went downstairs to make excuses to the landlady, telling her he had been called to Dusseldorf for a job interview. He left her money to cover his telephone calls and was away within an hour of Dov.
A block later, in fear of passing out, he ducked into a café and ordered steak and eggs and coffee. “Keep the coffee coming,” he said.
In his first week on the job, Paco had lost ten pounds, gotten himself transferred to the resident work crew, and spent his nights installing the effects for Phase 4. When he saw Adler return from Paderborn on Wednesday morning, alive and caked with dust, with the equally dusty Himmler and Bartels all smiles, he knew that Phase 3 had, against all odds, succeeded.
Now it was up to him and Cora.
And the Führer.
Adler’s elation wore off quickly. He had not stayed up all night in many years, and he nodded off more than once on the return trip to the castle. In the courtyard he stumbled and nearly fell. “Herr Himmler,” he said, “I have done everything that you asked of me. Can I not go home now?”
Himmler laughed with what seemed genuine amusement. “As long as the Reich has need of you, this is your home.” He snapped his fingers at Richter. “Find the old man a room in the east wing. One with a door that locks from the outside. And put a guard on it.”
Adler hesitated. “Will…will the Führer be coming now?”
Himmler still had the Spear in his gloved hands, gently caressing it. “After what I saw today, I must say, one is tempted to have this power for oneself.” Adler saw him glance at Bartels and Gideon, both of whom were clearly shocked and frightened. “Relax,” Himmler said. “Naturally we will share it with the Führer.” To Adler he said, “How long will it take to ‘recharge’ itself, or whatever it is that it must do?”
“Three days, I think. That will leave four days until the solstice.”
“Saturday, then,” Himmler said. “I suspect he’ll want us to come to Munich.”
“The power is greater here,” Adler said, almost under his breath.
“What, the power of the Spear?”
“Damn you and your enigmas and your insinuations and infernal hints! Speak clearly, man!”
“I just meant,” Adler said carefully, “that you want to be sure that you get proper credit for the sacrifice you are making for his sake. Psychologically speaking, if he comes to you…”
“Now you are an expert on psychology? Like that Jew Freud?” Himmler turned to Richter and said, “Lock him up. And then we can all get some sleep.”
Being locked in his room gave Adler far too much time to think. At the same time, it kept him away from the Spear and any chance to intervene if a crisis should occur.
When he’d first come up with the plan, it had seemed crazy but possible. As hard as he’d tried to anticipate every conceivable problem, there were too many variables and eventually his imagination faltered in a future that had become nothing more than mirrors, endlessly reflecting each other. Now, in the midst of it, his mind conjured one scenario of doom after another. He was like a madman who could not stop injuring himself. How bitter it would be to come this close, only to fail.
In the long nights, he was so desperate for company that he barely resisted the temptation to open the flimsy lock on his door and find Paco and help with the preparations for Saturday. Instead he lay on his narrow cot and relieved favorite performances from his past: vanishing an elephant at the Taj Mahal, levitating Greta above the clock in Grand Central Station. But the image he returned to most was that of a dying girl in a cancer hospital, whose eyes had widened with awe as he produced a doll for her out of empty air, giving her hope for a miracle for herself that, in the end, did not come. Because that was the essence of magic: the endless need of the audience to believe that the impossible could happen, that despite reason, despite science, the chaotic universe could be brought to heel, made to sit up and lick the master’s hand.
Had he not fallen for his own illusion in believing that he had the power to change history?
The restless nights and endless days dragged by, and finally it was Saturday. Adler sat at the window from first light, and shortly after 8:00 a.m. he saw Himmler, Bartels, Gideon, and a driver climb into a staff car and drive away. Headed for Munich, he thought, and he felt the pull of despair. Why had Gideon not warned him?
He knew the answer to that, and it provided no comfort.
Thus he was giddy with relief when, an hour later, he heard the car’s engine again. He rushed to the window and saw that they had returned with an additional passenger, a short man in a business suit with an unmistakable forelock and toothbrush mustache. Adler watched them get out of the car, laughing, and cross the wooden bridge into the castle.
After that he spent an hour sitting on his cot, staring at the second hand of his wrist watch, which moved as if through mucilage. He imagined Hitler trying the Spear on his own and failing, Himmler baffled and apologetic, Hitler descending into one of his black rages.
At last the key turned in the door and it swung open to reveal Richter and two privates with carbines. “You are wanted downstairs,” Richter said. His narrow eyes radiated suspicion.
“Gladly,” Adler said. He got up slowly, feeling an old ache in his left knee.
“Search him,” Richter said to the soldiers. “Thoroughly.”
The two men shoved him against the wall and made a rough job of it. “Nothing, Herr Obersturmführer.”
Richter did not reply, merely pointed Adler toward the hall with the barrel of his Luger.
Hitler was in the conference room, Adler was relieved to see, though really it was the only suitable room that was in finished condition. With the shades drawn on the two windows that opened to the courtyard, the only light came from the fixtures overhead. Standing at the far end of the table as Adler entered were Hitler, Himmler, Bartels, and Gideon, with a handful of other officers, including Manfred von Knobbelsdorff, an older man with drooping jowls who was officially in charge of the castle in Himmler’s absence. The Spear lay on the table and the mood of the room was festive.
Adler waited for the conversation to die down and then bowed his head. “My Führer, this is the proudest moment of my life.”
“So,” Hitler said. “This is the man, eh?” His voice, somewhat high-pitched, had a restrained power that even here, in comparatively casual circumstances, split the room like the crack of a marching snare. “What’s your name?”
“Ackermann, sir. Ernst Ackermann.”
“Yesterday I saw the films,” Hitler said. “A most impressive display.”
“I never dreamed it was so powerful,” Adler said. “I had no idea.”
“Herr Himler tells me that you are a good German, that when he interviewed you about the Spear, your first thought was for your Führer.”
“It’s true, sir. I surrendered it gladly, knowing that in your hands it can unite us all, make Germany strong again, make us invincible.”
“And you don’t fear the curse? That once it leaves your possession you will die?”
“I am not afraid to die for my country,” Adler said, finding more emotion in the words than he expected.
“Good,” Hitler said. “That is very good. So tell me, Herr Ackermann. You have used the Spear to cure the blind and to demolish buildings. What else can it do?”
“I only know what the Indian told me. Transmuting elements—lead into gold, or what have you. Making you invincible in battle.” He tuned his voice to a precise, compelling frequency. “Raising the spirits of the dead…”
“What?” Hitler said. He looked stunned. “Spirits?”
“Perhaps. I don’t know.”
Himmler said, “Always he makes these evasions.”
“You can speak to someone who has died?” Hitler said.
“The artifact operates through will power,” Adler said. “It would have to be someone to whom you have a powerful emotional bond, and who feels that same bond to you, a bond that is literally stronger than death, stronger than time.”
“Show me,” Hitler said.
“You mean, right now?”
“Yes, now, you are not expected elsewhere, are you? Herr Himmler says it has rested from its exertions on Wednesday morning.”
“There are words you must say…”
“Yes, yes, Himmler has trained me, as if I were his Alsatian.” He wagged a finger as if there were a dog sitting up on its hind legs before him. “Speak, Adolf, good Adolf.” There was a peculiar quality to Hitler’s banter, as if he were both teasing and put upon at the same time. Himmler and Gideon laughed loudly at his antics, while Bartels and von Knobbelsdorff looked uneasy.
“So, I am to take the Spear in my hands, yes?” He picked it up delicately and held it in his lap. “I used to dream of holding it like this. When I lived in Vienna, I used to go to the Hofburg and stare at it. Well, at what I thought was the true Spear. And now? Should I close my eyes?”
“If it helps you to concentrate.”
“And I say the words, as I have been taught?”
“Yes, my Führer. Three times.”
“Jantar, Mantar, Jadu, Mantar,” he said softly.
Adler said, “And you must picture someone. Someone very dear to you.”
“Jantar, Mantar, Jadu, Mantar.” The words came out more forcefully and more slowly.
“Someone you long to see again with all your heart. Someone whose feeling for you is so strong that it can bring him or her across the distance between the worlds of the living and the dead.”
This time Hitler’s voice was choked with emotion. “Jantar, Mantar, Jadu, Mantar!”
The overhead lights went out.
Adler heard gasps of surprise in the darkness. There came a distant keening, followed by a weird, shimmering, echoing chatter, like crickets. The sound danced around the room in circles, dizzying and disorienting.
The sound faded and was replaced by a woman’s voice.
The voice was distorted, as if coming over a wireless with poor reception. At the same time it seemed to speed up and slow down, like a gramophone record with its hole off center. Yet Hitler knew it. He inhaled as if he had been struck in the solar plexus.
“Mutti?” he whispered.
Of the various forces they had used, this had been by far the easiest. Hitler’s devotion to his mother, who had died of breast cancer when he was only 18, was legendary, and he had never ceased to mourn her.
A form took shape at the opposite end of the room, ghostly, pale, and glowing, with tightly coifed light brown hair, large ears, and eyes so light that they seemed to have no color at all.
“Adolf, my wild boy, I am so proud of you. So proud of all you have done.”
“Mutti, is it really you?” Tears ran untouched down Hitler’s nose and chin.
“Yes, my son, it is really me. I cannot stay long, and I have much to tell you.”
“First, you must tell me if you are in pain.”
“No, no pain. All that ended when I crossed over. I can barely remember those last terrible days and the iodoform. But listen to me, Liebchen. This power you have now, the power of the Spear, you must use it and use it quickly. There are those near to you who conspire against you. You must go to Berlin, where they are so willful, and you must show them and the people of Germany and the world, show them all that you now have the Spear, that you are invincible.”
“Yes, Mutti, yes, I will.”
“You can trust the man who brought the Spear to you. There are others who are loyal, but you must be careful.” The last words echoed and her image began to fade. “I must go. I love you, my son.”
“Wait! Wait, don’t go!” Hitler sprang to his feet and reached for her, as if his arms could stretch across the room.
She was gone, leaving only darkness and a few seconds of eerie sound, diminishing to silence.
The overhead lights flickered and came on, revealing a devastated Hitler. He sat with his face in his hands, weeping openly, the Spear abandoned on the table. Himmler, clearly embarrassed, made shooing gestures with his hands and led everyone else out into the hall. As they filed out, Richter stayed close enough that Adler heard him breathing.
“Lock him away again,” Himmler said to Richter. “Gently. I believe the Führer will soon ask for him.”
As with all things that had interested his hero, Robert had studied spiritualism. In his twenties he had exposed a dozen or more fraudulent mediums across Europe and Great Britain, and along the way learned most of the tricks of the séance trade. With the help of the latest electrical devices that Adler’s fabricators could lay their hands on, he had designed and choreographed Klara Hitler’s apparition weeks before, working closely with Cora, and with Paco, who would install and operate the equipment. Cora had made quite an impression on him: smart, capable, uncomplaining, with a smile that hinted at some inner amusement with the whole undertaking. She was also quite beautiful, and very fit.
Robert’s only part in Phase 4 had been to bring two crates to the castle in a rented truck. The first, on Wednesday night, had contained a pair of magic lanterns, a wire recorder, and a dozen tiny speakers. The second, before dawn on Saturday, contained Cora, folded up as in her early days when the Great Adonini had sawn her in half. Both times Paco was there to take delivery, each time in front of a different guard, each of which had grudgingly signed the paper on Robert’s clipboard, directly below one of Dieter’s signatures from the Hofburg Palace.
On Saturday evening he returned for her crate, trundled her into a rented warehouse in Paderborn, and quickly removed the lid.
“Why look,” he said, in his heavily accented English. “Somebody threw away a perfectly good woman.”
She raised her arms. “Help me up, my legs are asleep.”
She was ecstatic, sweaty, speckled with wood shavings from the crate, her dirty hair tied in a knot, wearing only a loose cotton shirt and trousers. She wrapped her arms around Robert’s neck and he felt the warmth of her breath in his ear. The danger of the moment, Cora’s exhilaration, Robert’s own feelings of power and invulnerability, the smell and the touch of her, all surged in his blood. He set her gently on the floor and stepped away. “How did it go?”
“It was brilliant,” she said, massaging the backs of her knees. “If only you had been there. Hitler wanted to believe it so badly, we could have fooled him with a pasteboard marionette.”
Their laughter lasted a moment too long. Then they were neither one laughing, and he saw his own desire reflected in her eyes.
Although the urge to go to her was strong, he could not stop thinking of Adler and the work ahead. He forced himself to look elsewhere. “It’s dangerous for us to be together right now.”
“Yes,” she said. “Yes, I know.”
He nodded, hesitated. “Good luck,” he said.
He left her there to change and make her own way to her hotel. He parked the truck at the garage where he’d rented it and left the keys on the floorboards. Then he caught a streetcar downtown, where he had two shots of apple schnapps to quiet the trembling in his hands. It had been a near thing with Cora, and only his discipline had saved him. He was still not sure he’d made the right choice.
Back in his own hotel room, he took off his shirt, opened the window, and stood hoping for a breeze that did not come. The night smelled of broiled concrete.
There was a gentle knock at the door. If it was Cora, would he have the resolve to send her away? He doubted it. He crossed the room in three strides and pulled the door open.
Four men stood in the hall. Three were SA Brownshirts: two foot soldiers and a Sturmhauptführer, a captain.
The fourth man was Dov.
His lip was split, one eye blackened and swollen shut, and he seemed unable to stand without the support of the soldiers.
“Well?” the officer said to Dov.
“Yes,” Dov said. “Yes, that’s him.” He looked Robert in the eye. “You bastard, see what you’ve done?”
Adler had been in his room less than an hour before he was summoned back to the conference room. Hitler immediately dismissed the sullen Richter, and Adler found himself alone with Himmler and the Führer.
“At this moment,” Hitler said, “you are the only two men in the world that I know I can trust.” Hitler was only 45, although he might have passed for 15 years older. He had the sad, wrinkled eyes of a basset hound, and the ends of his mouth sagged deeply.
“Heinrich, my good and loyal friend, for your part in this I will raise you to the second most powerful position in Germany. I will put the SA under you so that you will control the entirety of our national security. And to you I give the responsibility of liquidating the Jews and ending the Jewish problem forever.”
And here, Adler thought, I had been on the verge of feeling a twinge of sympathy for him. How very foolish.
Himmler’s eyes shone through his round glasses. “Thank you, my Führer.”
Hitler took both of Adler’s hands into both of his own. “And you, Herr Ackermann, you brave and simple man, I owe you more than I can ever repay. You will come to Berlin with me and help me plan how best to take advantage of this miracle that has come into our lives.”
“Yes, my Führer.”
“Soon, my mother said. I must act soon.”
“Yes, sir,” Adler said. “The summer solstice is this Wednesday. I believe the power of the Spear will be at its greatest then.”
Himmler nodded along. “I agree. It makes perfect sense.”
“Very well, then,” Hitler said. “On Wednesday we will surprise the world.”
They flew to Berlin on Hitler’s personal aircraft, a big, squared off monoplane with a propeller in the nose and one on each wing. In addition to Himmler and Adler, the passengers included Bartels and Gideon in his Otto Mueller identity. Richter, Adler was relieved to see, was left behind. The pilot, a humorless man named Baur, took off from a parched and bumpy field below the castle, and little acting was required for Adler to appear terrified by the experience.
Hitler, across the aisle, laughed with his head back and his mouth wide open. “Herr Ackermann, you have nothing to fear.” He patted the breast pocket of his jacket, where the Spear made a conspicuous bulge. “I am invincible now, remember?”
“And I, my Führer, am under a curse.”
Hitler leaned toward him. “You must learn to do as I do. Only believe the parts of the legends that serve you.”
From Berlin’s Templehof Aerodrome they drove directly to the Hotel Kaiserhof in Wilhelmstrasse, a grand hotel from the previous century that occupied an entire city block. Adler had often stayed there at the height of his fame, but never with such royal treatment as he received as Hitler’s guest. By the time he finished a leisurely and long overdue bath, the concierge had personally delivered newly purchased clothes, toiletries, a dressing gown, and a hot meal, unasked and without charge.
He fell asleep the moment he stretched out on the luxurious feather mattress and slept for 12 hours, woken finally by a call from the hotel operator informing him that Herr Hitler had requested the pleasure of his company for breakfast in an hour’s time. According to Adler’s watch, that would make it 10:00 a.m., typical for the notoriously late-rising Hitler.
Hitler was already at the table when Adler entered the dining room. Also at the table were two SS bodyguards, whom Hitler neglected to introduce, and his chauffeur from the day before, Erich Kempa, a smiling young man in his twenties wearing an SS lieutenant’s uniform. Hitler was bursting with energy, jumping up to shake Adler’s hand, pointing him to a chair directly across the table from himself, waving the waiter over with his whole arm.
Adler ordered the same breakfast as the vegetarian Hitler, oatmeal with fruit, and as soon as the waiter left, Hitler leaned forward. “Tell me,” he said. “The Spear. Do you think we could make lightning shoot out of it?”
Adler scratched his chin. “I don’t see why not. If you can see it clearly in your mind, I think the Spear can make it happen.”
“Good, wonderful,” Hitler said. “Let me tell you what I’m thinking of.”
His plan was to have masons construct a massive wall at one end of the Pariser Platz, opposite the Brandenburg Gate. The wall would be painted with a huge red Communist star and a yellow Star of David. From a high stage facing it, Bartels would deliver a short lecture dealing with the history of the Grail and the Spear. Then, Hitler himself would come forward and reveal the Spear, now mounted on a staff made of birch.
“You see, this refers to the Battle of the Birch Tree, which happened at Wewelsburg Castle, according to the legends.” He winked at Adler. “This is one of the legends we like. In this battle the Army of the West, which is us, defeated the Army of the East, which is the Russians.”
Adler nodded his approval, and Hitler went on to describe how he would rouse the crowd with tales of what the Spear could do, and then finish by summoning the lightning, through the Spear, to destroy the symbols of Communism and International Jewry.
“Brilliant,” Adler said. “The lightning is perfect. The masterstroke. You will be like Thor, calling down the thunder and lightning and storms.” He softened his voice. “Your mother will be so proud of you.”
“Do you think so?”
“Absolutely,” Adler said. “There will be an audience, of course.”
“Yes, grandstands on both sides, but not too near the wall, nicht wahr, so that nobody will be hurt.”
“An orchestra, to stir the audience with music?”
“Yes, good idea. On the stage behind me.”
“You will broadcast over the wireless?”
“Why not? There is a woman, Leni Riefenstahl, who has done work for me. She is devoted to the cause, a very accomplished cineaste. We will present this at night, and she can use all of her clever lighting tricks.”
“It will be a night, my Führer,” Adler said, “that no one will ever forget.”
They took Robert and Dov to the basement of the local SA headquarters, a bare concrete cube eight meters on a side. They handcuffed Dov to a heating pipe high up on one wall, his arms stretched straight above his head. Robert noted the rather ominous drain in the center of the unfinished floor.
When they finished with Dov, the two enlisted men beat Robert for ten minutes, until their arms hung limp with exhaustion. Robert had learned from Houdini how to tense himself so that blows to the stomach couldn’t hurt him. Some of the same techniques that he used to expand and contract his body inside a strait jacket allowed him to soften or evade the worst of the blows to his head and kidneys for a time. In the end he could do little other than cover up and take the punishment. Through it all he worried about Cora. Did they have her too?
When the beating stopped, the Sturmhauptführer stood over him where he lay curled on the floor. The Sturmhauptführer was a big man, fleshy, with thick arms and a drooping gray mustache. “A neighbor reported hearing noises in an old lady’s house that was supposed to be deserted,” he said. “Then within minutes a synagogue blew up on that same street. When we came out for a look, we found this Jew—” He pointed to Dov “—trying to sneak back into the house. So we arrested them all. The others are now in the Esterwegen KZ. We haven’t decided what to do with this animal yet.
“Anyway, he led us directly to you, just as you were changing residences, it seems. We have been following you ever since. I only brought him along tonight for the pleasure of seeing him betray you in person, no thirty pieces of silver required. He tells us you were the one who set the charges that blew up the synagogue. Unless my nose deceives me, you are a Jew as well, so it doesn’t make sense that you would destroy your own place of worship. And why this should happen at the very moment that the entire neighborhood was swarming with SS fanatics, and why you should be picking up and delivering crates at the SS stronghold in Wewelsburg, and how you should be able to come up with the paper the Jew was carrying, all of this is very puzzling.”
He squatted down so that his face was less than a meter from Robert’s and Robert could smell fried onions on his breath. “I don’t like mysteries, and I intend to get to the bottom of this one. Maybe you have a good explanation, which you would care to share. If so, I will gladly listen now.”
If they had Cora, Robert thought, he would have mentioned it. And it seemed that Dov had not given away anything about the plot against Hitler. In which case, Robert had nothing to say. Once you began talking, it became harder and harder to stop.
“You don’t care to cooperate?” the Sturmhauptführer said. He straightened up and kicked Robert in the groin. The pain made him lose consciousness for a moment. “I assure you, you will.”
Cora boarded a train in Paderborn on Sunday afternoon, alighting in Magdeborg long enough to make sure she wasn’t being followed before catching the next express into Berlin.
Lulled by the rhythmic sway of the train, she recalled with some embarrassment the intensity of the desire that had swept over her in the warehouse with Robert. Two people, working closely together under conditions of high tension and emotion…it was not unreasonable that they would find themselves drawn to one another. Perhaps it was no more than that. Perhaps, when this was over, she would have the opportunity to find out.
On Monday the last pieces of the plan fell into place. She met Kurt at the Tiergarten lion cages, where he told her that Ernst Toller had returned to Berlin. Toller was in principle willing to head a provisional government, although he didn’t understand how such a thing might be possible.
“Listen to the wireless,” she told him. “Hitler will announce a major speech to take place the day after tomorrow. Wherever it is, whatever time it’s scheduled for, make sure that Toller is there and ready to speak. And all the others must be there too, and ready.”
“We will be,” he said. “And you are still not going to tell me how this is going to happen?”
Cora smiled. “It’s magic.”
After that first beating, they clothed Robert in a gray striped prison uniform and locked him in a tiny, windowless cell in the basement where he could not distinguish day from night. They of course had taken his watch. Three walls of the cell were brick and the fourth was made up of steel bars at 15 centimeter intervals. A slops bucket stood in one corner. His bunk was a wooden plank suspended on chains and devoid of any padding. The Sturmhauptführer put a guard outside the cell and told him, “I do not trust this man. Do not take your eyes off him, even when he uses the toilet. If he approaches the bars, shoot him in the knees.”
The guard changed regularly, and Robert made a surreptitious hash mark each time on the wall next to his bunk, using one of the several lock picks he had smuggled in. Every fourth shift they brought him a small loaf of dark bread and a tin cup of water. How like the Germans, he thought. In their very attempts to disorient him, they could not repress their need for order.
Assuming the shifts were two hours long, which felt right, it was Monday afternoon when the Sturmhauptführer came for him again. In all that time Robert had taken no more than catnaps, so that he could watch the guards. Not once had any of them fallen asleep or been significantly distracted. Every time Robert changed position, the barrel of the guard’s carbine followed him.
Over and over he had asked himself what Houdini would have done in his place. He felt certain the plot had not been exposed, else the Nazis would have been exerting more pressure on him. Any attempt to escape would carry tremendous risk, which he couldn’t justify at the moment.
Yet when they came for him and escorted him toward the room where they had beaten him so badly on that first night, he found himself cringing involuntarily.
The Sturmhauptführer ordered Robert chained to the wall hand and foot and then, to Robert’s surprise, sent the guards away, leaving the two of them without witnesses. As far as Robert was concerned, the chains were a mere formality, from which he could free himself in seconds. The issue was the Walther service automatic that the Sturmhauptführer kept trained carefully at the center of Robert’s chest.
“I have been asking many questions,” the Sturmhauptführer said. “It seems that Himmler was seen on the balcony overlooking the synagogue that exploded. He was waving around some shiny metal object and chanting meaningless words. It is well known that Himmler is a superstitious fool, and so I am now thinking that perhaps he does not know of your explosives. Perhaps he would be very, very interested to learn.”
Robert showed no reaction.
“Ordinarily I would be perfectly happy to discover that someone was playing tricks on the Chicken Farmer. However, this is clearly not some minor prank, and I intend to find out exactly who you are, who else is involved, and what you are up to. If all you want is to bring Himmler down, perhaps I will stand aside and let you finish your work. Or perhaps I will go to him in his castle and earn his undying gratitude. It all depends on where my greatest self-interest lies.”
Robert found it a hopeful sign that the guards were not there to overhear. As long as the Sturmhauptführer kept his knowledge to himself, Robert did not have to make a move.
“In any case,” the Sturmhauptführer said, “it is now time for you to talk. If you are silent, you leave me no other choice than to go to Himmler.”
“Please,” Robert said. They were the first words he’d spoken in two days, and he let his voice reveal his desperation and fatigue. “I am exhausted and in pain. I cannot think clearly. I need a decent meal and some uninterrupted sleep.”
The Sturmhauptführer looked at him oddly. “That voice. I know that voice.” He clapped his hands together. “You are Hungarian, yes? The escape artist, the ersatz Houdini.”
Robert, stung, said, “I am Robertini the Magnificent.”
“I saw you many years ago in Hamburg. Most impressive. But please believe me when I say that I will not hesitate to kill you if necessary.”
“I believe you, but I must have food and rest.”
“Food and rest will only give you more time to invent lies. Tell me everything and I will see that you are fed.”
“Can I at least have some water for my throat…”
“Do not test my patience any further.”
“I dare not tell you,” Robert cried. “The Führer would—”
“Already I have said too much. The Führer will kill me.”
“Talk, or the Führer will never get the chance.”
Robert sighed. “As you suspected, there is a plot against Himmler. It is the Führer behind it, testing his loyalty. He too knows of Himmler’s crazy beliefs, and so he hired me—”
“You? A Jew?”
“He is willing to use Jews for his purposes, as you know, and there is nobody better for the job. He hired me to determine whether Himmler would choose a seemingly powerful magical object over his loyalty to his Führer.”
“And you are working alone?”
If he agreed, Robert knew he would be caught in the lie. “There is one other. Inside Himmler’s organization.”
“How can you prove this outrageous story?”
“I do not know. Of course Herr Hitler would deny it if you asked him.”
“Now that you are captured, surely your little plot has failed.”
“We were moving very slowly. The next step is not until this coming weekend.”
“You are telling me that Himmler believes this object destroyed the synagogue?”
The Sturmhauptführer smiled. “He is even more of a fool than I realized.”
“Please,” Robert said. “Let me eat and sleep.”
“You had best think of a way to verify your story. And I will think about how to take advantage of this situation.” He pounded on the door and two guards entered. “Gentlemen,” he said, “allow me to present Robertini the Magnificent. In case you don’t know the name, he is an escape artist. That means you must double the guard, and change one man every hour. I want two guns pointed at him at all times. Take no chances whatsoever. Do I make myself clear?”
“Jawhol, Herr Sturmhauptführer.”
“Bring him dinner, and a mattress and a pillow.” To Robert he said, “Bon appétit. Do not forget our discussion.”
Hitler continued to treat Adler as his honored guest. On Monday morning, they drove together to the Pariser Platz to see work commence on the set for Wednesday’s performance. The vast brick plaza was marked off by lead weights anchoring string that delineated the edges of the stage, the wall, and the grandstands. Lumber and concrete blocks were being unloaded from trucks as they watched.
By that afternoon, however, when they returned, Hitler was not pleased with the progress. It was as if a demon possessed him. His face flushed, his eyes focused on the foreman with manic intensity, and he began to scream and wave his arms. This was the most important project in the history of the Reich, he said, and the foreman was sabotaging it with his laziness and stupidity and incompetence. If he needed more men, then he was to get them. If he needed to work all night, then he was to do without sleep. The work was to be done exactly as ordered and finished ahead of the deadline or the consequences would be unthinkable.
The foreman looked at the ground, tears running from his eyes. “Yes, my Führer,” he said, again and again, wringing his hands, clearly wanting nothing more in the world than for the tirade to end, and still it went on and on. Adler, standing with Kempa, the chauffeur, found himself unable to look away, as desperately as he wanted to.
At long last Hitler pivoted on one heel and stalked back to the car. Kempa ran to open the door for him, and Hitler got stiffly into the back seat and sat with his arms folded across his chest, glowering.
Kempa intercepted Adler and cautioned him, “Say nothing to him. The mood will pass in time.”
Within half an hour Hitler’s spirits began to gradually lighten, and by dinner he was smiling and joking. Adler, however, could not forget the all-consuming power of that anger and self-pity, lurking only one perceived slight away.
On Tuesday morning they revisited the site. After a full night of work under electric lights, the stage and basic shapes of the grandstands had been roughed out, and masons had begun the wall. Hitler was pleased and shook the terrified foreman’s hand.
Adler was satisfied as well, with the construction and with Hitler’s rage. He was counting on both.
Nothing, he thought, could stop them now.
Since he’d arrived in Berlin, Otto Mueller’s nights had been racked by nightmares. He saw himself beheading a live baby sparrow on a kitchen cutting board, ramming his car into a bus full of schoolchildren, strangling his own mother in her bed. Everywhere he looked in those dreams, he saw the icon of the Black Sun, the wheel of broken spokes. He saw it in the face of a clock, the steering wheel of the car, the dial of a telephone, the pattern on a china plate, the lens of a camera, the pupils of his dying mother’s eyes. He had come to fear it as much as he had come to fear sleep itself.
Each time he woke in terror, he was Gideon again for a few moments, disoriented, searching for an urgent purpose he was unable to remember, then Otto Mueller returned to drive the fear away and he would stagger from the bed and cry, “Sieg heil!” in a fierce, choked whisper, repeating it until the comfort of righteous anger settled over him and drove the doubts away.
He spent Monday with Bartels, helping him prepare his introduction for Wednesday’s unveiling of the Spear. “I must make the audience understand the importance of our heritage,” Bartels said, “including the Spear, and yet I must not give away the Führer’s surprise. I must tell a story, yet I must be brief. I must be technical, yet I must be easily understood.”
“And you will,” Mueller told him. “I know you will.”
On Tuesday Mueller accompanied Bartels as he and Hitler talked through the program for the evening. First the orchestra would play for half an hour, selections from Beethoven, Grieg, and Weber. Then Bartels would speak for ten or twelve minutes.
They paused at this point so that Hitler could read through the latest draft of Bartels’ speech. He asked for a few changes, mostly to make the references to the Spear less revealing of what was to come.
Following Bartels’ speech, the orchestra would perform Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” then Hitler himself would take the stage. As Hitler described each succeeding phase of the spectacle, his pride and excitement grew more contagious. Mueller was thrilled to be a part of it and imagined telling his grandchildren about it in some distant Aryan Eden of a future. At the same time his guts churned with the knowledge that something was terribly wrong.
On Tuesday night he did not sleep at all.
Robert could not keep waking himself for hourly guard changes, and so lost track of the time. Still, when the Sturmhauptführer sent for him, he felt sure it was Wednesday. Maybe, he thought, it’s already happening, maybe Hitler is even now addressing the nation to tell them of his wondrous Spear.
Three soldiers escorted him to the same windowless concrete room, where the Sturmhauptführer awaited him with his Walther drawn. Dov hung once again from the pipe on the wall. The soldiers shackled Robert hand and foot to a wooden chair and then left the room on the Sturmhauptführer’s orders. An unpleasant smile twisted his fleshy face.
“I have been quite busy since we last spoke,” he said. “First I asked a few discreet questions of an acquaintance I have at the Wewelsburg Castle. Then I made an excursion to the Esterwegen camp and had the opportunity to speak to this man’s wife.”
Dov thrashed in fury. “You fucking bastard! I swear I will kill you!”
The Sturmhauptführer glanced at him. “You needn’t worry. She required hardly any persuasion at all.” Turning back to Robert, he said, “To get to the point, she quoted you as saying that you were part of a plot to depose the Führer. She said you bragged about having access to money and resources, which clearly must be true, as you managed to order up these forged papers in a matter of hours.”
“I told them the story they were most likely to believe. Who could produce that document faster than the Party itself?”
“No. First of all, the document is a forgery. A good one, but still a fake. Secondly, if you were working for the Führer, you would have no reason to keep Jews alive. You would have killed them yourself or left them to die in the explosion.”
“I am not a killer,” Robert said. “And they might have tampered with the charges—”
“The man,” Dov interrupted. “The courier who brought the papers. He was not a soldier, not with the Party. He thanked this man in advance for killing Hitler.”
Not what he said, Robert thought, but it hardly mattered now.
“You see?” said the Sturmhauptführer. “Your lies are unraveling quickly now. Guards!”
The door flew open and the three soldiers rushed to attention.
“Get the car ready,” the Sturmhauptführer said. “Does anyone know where the Führer is? Is he in Munich?”
“Berlin, sir,” one soldier said. “You know, for the speech.”
“It’s all over the wireless. He is giving a speech tonight, it’s supposed to be very important. He says it will change the future of the world.”
The Sturmhauptführer nodded at Robert. “I have it now. Very clever.” He asked the soldier, “What time is the speech?”
“Nine tonight, sir.”
He looked at his watch. “It’s at least four hours to Berlin. We must hurry.”
“What about me?” Dov said. “I have helped you every way I could.”
“Yes,” the Sturmhauptführer said, with a bored expression. “The Party thanks you.” He fired a single shot into Dov’s chest, thunderously loud in the concrete room. Blood spattered the wall and floor, and Dov convulsed once before he slumped in his chains.
“Bring the car,” the Sturmhauptführer said. “Now.”
Paco arrived in Berlin on Tuesday afternoon and found a transient’s hotel near the Lehrter Bahnhof train station. He would have preferred the Adlon at the Tiergarten if anonymity had not been so much more important than comfort. With luck—a great deal of luck—everything would be over in slightly more than 24 hours. After that, if he was still alive, he promised himself all the cordon bleu meals and four star hotels his heart desired.
He collected the rental ambulance at noon on Wednesday and ran the final errands on his list. He began with a man’s dark wig and glue-on mustache from a costume shop, followed by nurses’ uniforms, two male and one female, a doctor’s white coat, and a strait jacket, all from a medical supply house near the Charité University Hospital. He treated himself to a heavy lunch at a café across from the hospital, then changed into one of the nurse’s uniforms in the bathroom.
From the hospital it was a short jaunt across the River Spree to the Pariser Platz, where he showed the appropriate passes to the guards and parked the ambulance behind the stage.
It was 3:30 on a hot summer afternoon. He put the second male nurse’s uniform into a paper bag and locked the ambulance. His rendezvous with Robert was scheduled for 6:00 at the Zoo-Aquarium shark exhibit. He would pass the time until then calming himself by looking at fish.
They trussed Robert in a dozen chains and carried him out to the open-topped Daimler staff car. He was again amazed at the doggedness of the German mind. They knew Robert could escape from any shackles they put on him, so their solution was more shackles. He picked the locks on all of them save the one around his legs even as the soldiers settled him face down on the floor of the back seat, leaving them loose around his arms and torso as if they were still fastened. Two Brownshirt soldiers sat with him, their feet resting on his back, while the Sturmhauptführer sat in front with the driver.
Despite the beating, despite the steady erosion of the plan, a part of Robert had believed himself to be in a chess match where he was the far superior player, observing move and countermove with detached confidence. That had changed the moment Dov was murdered.
He had clung to the idea that both of them would inevitably escape from the basement. Escape was his art. He didn’t blame Dov for his repeated betrayals—Dov was a husband and a father, and his priorities had nothing to do with Robert’s. And Robert had continued to believe in Adler’s dream of non-violence, as foolish as the words had sounded when he’d said them to Dov. Now that the bloodshed had started, he knew that more would come.
He had run out of options. He had to overcome and disarm the two men in the back seat before the Sturmhauptführer had time to react. Then he had to somehow disable the Sturmhauptführer and the driver and get control of the car. This would not be a matter of intellect and planning, but rather of instinct and opportunity.
He gave them an hour to relax their vigilance. Based on the sounds and smells in the air, Robert knew they were in open country, moving quickly, an occasional car whooshing past them in the opposite lane. One of the soldiers was telling a tedious story about his sister-in-law flirting with him, and Robert felt the man’s weight shift as he gestured.
Houdini had said, “My chief task has been to conquer fear.” Robert had thought he understood that, though he had never attempted Houdini’s most dangerous feats—being buried alive, or the upside down. He saw now that he had deceived himself. He wanted badly to live. He wanted to smell the sea air from the deck of a ship, to sleep under warm blankets on a winter night, to touch a woman’s lips with his fingers.
What would Houdini think of me, he wondered, lying here in a paralysis of fear?
That thought, finally, spurred him to action. He pushed himself onto his knees, the chains falling off him like raindrops from an oilskin jacket. His nerves were so tightly wound that time stopped. Both soldiers had pistols in their right hands. Robert grabbed the arm of the one on the driver’s side and slammed it backward, the pistol hitting the second soldier in the nose before it fell onto the seat.
The driver had seen him in his mirror and slammed on the brakes, throwing everyone off balance. Robert did not hesitate. With his immense upper body strength, he turned the first soldier sideways, grabbed him by the belt, and shoved him out of the moving car.
The second soldier waved his pistol in the air, disoriented and bleeding from the nose. Robert stood up on the floorboards, the deceleration pushing him against the front seat and giving him stability. He hit the second soldier on his broken nose, blinding him, and with two jerks of the man’s right arm, threw him over the side of the car as well.
There was a chance, he told himself, both guards might survive.
He snatched the pistol from the seat and turned around. The Sturmhauptführer stared at him wide-eyed as the car fishtailed toward the verge of the motorway, the driver fighting the wheel. Robert put the pistol to the Sturmhauptführer’s ear. “Both hands in the air!” he shouted over the screaming tires.
Sturmhauptführer shouted back. “You are no killer.” His right hand inched toward his holster. “I don’t believe—”
Robert pulled the trigger. Blood and brains spattered the inside of the windscreen as the car lurched to a stop and the Sturmhauptführer’s body pitched sideways across the driver’s lap.
“Put your hands up!” Robert shouted, exhilarated, scarcely able to believe himself. Houdini, he thought, couldn’t have done any better.
He must have heard a sound, because something made him turn and see, unbelievably, the second soldier charging down the motorway toward him, dragging his useless right leg after him, his face smeared with blood, his left shoulder scraped to the bone, somehow less than a dozen meters away, his pistol in front of him and flashing fire at the muzzle.
Robert felt the bullets punch into his chest and registered the last one, the killing shot through his left eye, as no more than a flash of white light and a split second of regret.
The performance was scheduled for 9 p.m., so that the climax would come in full darkness. By 8:15, when Mueller, Bartels, and Himmler arrived, crowds already filled Pariser Platz to overflowing. The air hummed with electricity, although Mueller could not feel it himself for the growing dread in his chest. Though he did not understand why, he carried a thin briefcase that contained pages of sheet music, two hypodermic syringes, and a pistol. He had no idea what they were for, only that he had been unable to leave them in his room.
As he walked toward the Brandenburg Gate, all that was visible of the bronze charioteer on top were her wings, as if the Angel of Death hovered overhead. He shuddered as he passed beneath her, and then he followed the others into the center of a plaza that had been completely transformed.
To his left, at the north end of the square, stood a three-meter-high stage large enough to hold an entire symphony orchestra. Huge swastika flags hung as backdrops. To one side of the stage a hundred SS troops milled about, and on the other side waited an equal number of Brownshirts. Beyond the soldiers on either side loomed ten-meter high grandstands, each of which was filled to its capacity of a thousand spectators. Thousands more wandered the plaza, many of them examining the wall that had been erected across the south side, blocking the view of the Hotel Adlon. The wall rose ten meters high and 15 meters long, built of concrete blocks and painted black, with a five-meter-tall red star and yellow six-pointed star in the center. Discreet signs on the pavement cautioned that the paint was still wet, and in fact the painters continued to work on the edges.
Motion picture cameras and banks of lights were positioned everywhere, and technicians had laid a track between the stage and the wall to permit a camera to travel back and forth. A severely beautiful woman in jodhpurs and a beret was apparently in charge of staging the ceremony. She moved from camera to camera to give instructions, pausing only to shake hands and chat with various high-level Nazis as they came to pay their respects. Here was Göring, even heavier than in any of the photos Mueller had seen, lumbering around in a fanciful powder-blue and white uniform of his own design. Here was Joseph Goebbels, propaganda minister, looking like an anti-Semitic cartoon with his big nose, thin lips, overbite, and dark complexion, limping on his club foot.
Mueller, Bartels, and Himmler slowly made their way to the curtain of swastika flags, where an affected little man in a monocle and pencil-line mustache identified himself as the assistant director and took them up on the stage. He pointed Mueller and Bartels to a row of folding chairs in front of the orchestra. Nearly at the front of the stage sat two chairs by themselves, behind and to the side of podium. Hitler already occupied one, and the little man led Himmler to the other.
Between them, on the plywood floor, lay a long, narrow object swathed in black velvet.
The Spear of Destiny.
The orchestra began to tune up. The background noise of the crowd slowly diminished in anticipation.
Mueller’s place was one chair away from the end of the row. In the exact center sat Ernst Ackermann, the old man who had brought the Spear to Himmler.
Bartels, to Mueller’s right, chattered away nervously, rolling and unrolling the typescript of his speech. Mueller had no idea what he was saying. Instead he kept looking from Ackermann to the Spear, listening to his own breathing as it came faster and faster. He wondered if he might be having a heart attack. Sweat ran down his face and underarms. He was dizzy and nauseated and his vision blurred.
Ackermann, he knew, had another name. A dangerous, terrifying name. As did Mueller himself. There was a conspiracy, a conspiracy against Hitler. He had to warn the Führer. But warn him of what?
He stood up, staggered, had to take hold of his chair.
“Mueller, are you all right?” Bartels asked.
Behind him, the conductor tapped his baton and the orchestra began the long, slow fade in to the first movement of Beethoven’s Ninth. The music mesmerized him. Half a minute in, the violins swelled, the horns blared, the tympani pounded. It seemed to drive the madness from his brain for the moment. He sat down again, weak and confused. He shook his head at Bartels. “All the excitement, I suppose.”
His foot encountered the briefcase under his chair. The orchestra. He had some task he was supposed to perform. Why couldn’t he remember? He opened the briefcase, hoping the sight of the music might trigger his memory.
The syringes and the pistol had disappeared.
When 6:00 came and went, then 6:15, and Robert had still not appeared, Paco felt the first stirrings of panic.
This late in the game they had no contingency plans, no means to contact each other. At 7:30 he walked to the ambulance, partly to see if anyone had left a message, partly to give his restless body something to do.
The ambulance was exactly as he’d left it, so he returned to the aquarium, listing in his head all the possible things that might have delayed Robert without putting the entire plan at risk. The list was long but brought little comfort.
At 9:00 he gave up and headed toward Pariser Platz in the softening light of dusk. He was nearly on top of the ambulance before he saw a man in an SS officer’s uniform crouching beside the driver’s door, trying to see inside.
Paco’s hesitation was brief, but fatal. The man had seen him.
“You!” the man said, and reached for his sidearm. “Halt!”
It was the last man in the entire world that Paco wanted to see: long-faced Obersturmführer Richter from the Wewelsburg Castle. The man who had arrested Adler. The man who did not believe.
Before Paco could think to run, Richter’s pistol was pointing at his belly. “Drop the package, then stand beside the ambulance and face it. Spread your legs and lean forward on your hands.”
Paco did as he was told. The man frisked him quickly and said, “What are you doing here?”
Paco answered in a low growl. “I’ve never seen you before in my life. Who are you? Why are you searching me?”
Richter shoved the barrel of his gun into Paco’s kidney, hard. “I have seen you at the castle, you are one of the workmen. The Spaniard. I knew Ackermann was a liar, but I couldn’t figure out his game. Then a friend of mine, an SA Sturmhauptführer in Paderborn, called me yesterday. He asked me a lot of questions about the explosion at the synagogue, and they confirmed every suspicion I had.”
“I have a brother in Paderborn,” Paco said desperately. “Perhaps you—”
“Shut up!” Richter shouted. “You are perpetrating a hoax, and Himmler and the Führer have walked into it with their eyes closed. Now I will see to it that their eyes are open.” He grabbed Paco by the collar, jerked him away from the ambulance, and shoved him toward the stage. “Schnell!”
The orchestra concluded with “In the Hall of the Mountain King” fromPeer Gynt, and the audience, their emotions fired by the music and the anticipation of watching their Führer speak, shouted and applauded wildly.
As the sun set, the stage lights had gradually taken over, and now Mueller sat in an island of blazing brightness. Wherever he turned his gaze he saw swastikas and black uniforms and shining boots.
Bartels said, “Wish me luck,” and shook Mueller’s hand as he stood and made his way to the front of the stage, where some local Party functionary was finishing his introduction. Bartels paused to salute both Hitler and Himmler, stepped up to the podium, adjusted his glasses, and began to read.
Behind the orchestra, at the rear of the stage, someone shouted.
Mueller began to sweat and hyperventilate again. He refused to look back, though he heard chairs shuffle behind him as members of the orchestra turned toward the disturbance.
The assistant director tugged at his sleeve. “Forgive me, Herr Hauptsturmführer. A man backstage insists that he must speak to the Führer. Obersturmführer Richter? He says that you can vouch for him.”
Indeed he could, Mueller thought. His doubts melted away. He was Hauptsturmführer Otto Mueller, and he was going to put this conspiracy to an end right now.
Cora arrived outside the Brandenburg Gate at 6:30. Kurt was already waiting for her, with Michael and a mob of what looked to be two hundred young men and women. She thought her heart might stop at the sight of them.
She took Kurt’s hands. “All of these people are yours?” she said.
He flashed an excited smile. “More will come later.”
“I haven’t seen him. He said he would be here, but…if anyone recognized him and informed the Gestapo…”
She nodded. “We’ve done what we can. The fuse is lit.”
It had been a long day. She had spent it in her hotel room, waiting for the telephone to ring. The code was simple and untraceable. The telephone would ring once, then the caller would hang up and dial again. The number of rings on the second call identified the caller and told her he was safe and in place: one for Adler, two for Gideon, three for Robert, four for Paco.
Only Adler and Paco had checked in.
Kurt’s small army spread out through the crowd. They all knew what to do and awaited her signal.
Cora kept herself near the front of the stage. Leave it to the Nazis, she thought, to know how to put on a spectacle. The entire Pariser Platz had become a film set, the basic black and white theme set off by splashes of red from the flags, while the SA uniforms provided a hint of warm earth tones. She counted at least nine different cinema cameras and it occurred to her that if things miraculously went as they were supposed to, the resulting film would make motion picture history.
She watched the grandstands fill and felt her anxiety lessen somewhat when Gideon arrived in the company of Himmler and Bartels, followed shortly by the sight of Adler taking his place on the platform. Paco and, she hoped, Robert would be behind the curtain of flags somewhere, waiting in the ambulance. She fought the urge to look for them.
Nine o’clock finally arrived. Hitler and Himmler had their places up front, and behind them sat a row of dignitaries that included Goebbels, Göring, Adler, Bartels, and Gideon. The orchestra began to play with great precision, if not abundant warmth.
As she watched, Gideon began to come apart.
Instinct brought her closer to the platform, though there was nothing she could do. The crowd was packed so tightly that she scarcely had room to breathe. She pleaded with her eyes and smiled in gratitude as she squeezed herself between the ranks of SA troops and the grandstands on stage left.
The music dragged on interminably as she stood there, staring at Gideon, wishing she believed in the telepathy she had faked so many times on stage, so that she could send calming thoughts into Gideon’s head. At last the orchestra finished and Bartels took the podium, regaling the crowd with legends of German greatness, of Grails and Spears and the Black Sun that nurtured the Aryan spirit.
Then something went wrong. The musicians, hearing a sound inaudible to Cora, looked behind them, and the crowd near her began to murmur. Cora climbed onto the first level of the grandstand so that she could see over the heads of the massed SA troops, and at that moment, an SS officer pushed his way through the hanging flags and onto the stage.
He was holding a gun to Paco’s head.
Mueller, at the very back of the stage, froze at the sight of the man in the white hospital uniform. A voice in his head urged him to help the man, said that the man was a friend. Mueller was tired of voices in his head, and he smothered it with his will.
Behind the male nurse was another face he knew, Obersturmführer Richter, from Wewelsburg Castle. Mueller hurried to him. “What’s the meaning of this?”
“I must speak to the Führer immediately. He must not take the podium! There is a conspiracy. I believe they mean to kill him.”
Bartels finished his speech to applause and cheers, even as the orchestra’s string section played the ascending, vibrato notes of the opening of “Ride of the Valkyries.” Mueller felt his Aryan soul stir with pride and excitement at the sound.
“I knew it!” Mueller cried. “Those bastards! I never trusted them.”
“You must take me to the Führer now. I don’t know how much time we have left.”
“Instantly!” Mueller said. He spun on his heel and started for the front of the stage.
That was when a woman’s voice called his name. No, not his name.
Though Cora couldn’t hear the words that passed between Gideon and the officer, the body language was clear: the officer insisting, Gideon consenting, the officer relaxing, the two of them moving forward with purpose.
It fulfilled every fear she had ever held about Gideon, and explained why he had never called to check in. He had been swallowed by his role.
The two men were still far enough to the rear of the stage that few in the audience saw them. Cora had no more than a second or two to think of something before Gideon betrayed them all. It was impossible for her to get to the stage in time to stop them physically. She surrendered to the first impulse that occurred to her.
“Gideon!” she called, using her stage voice, hands cupped around her mouth. She saw him stop, shake off his reaction, start forward again. “Gideon!”
He paused, looked out at the crowd. She waved her arms to get his attention. There was utter madness in his eyes.
“Gideon!” she shouted, and then called in English, “Do Hitler!”
He froze. People on both sides of Cora turned to look at her, edging away. We are lost, she thought. All is lost.
Then, slowly, Gideon rolled his eyes, hooked his left thumb awkwardly in the front of his pants, pushed his hair down over one eye, and gave a languid, bent-arm salute, fingers pointing upward.
The officer holding the gun on Paco stared, speechless.
“Gideon!” she shouted. “Do Cary Grant!”
The left hand dropped, then rose to the left hip. His eyes narrowed and a stiff grin spread across his face until his teeth sparkled in the electric lights.
“Gideon!” she shouted. “Do Gideon!”
Like magic, Gideon found himself back in control.
Richter stared at him open-mouthed. “Have you lost your mind?”
“Au contraire,” Gideon said. Snapping the fingers of his left hand high in the air to distract Richter’s eye, he took the gun out of Richter’s right hand and tucked it into the waistband of his own pants. Otto Mueller didn’t know what had happened to the hypodermics, but Gideon, who had taken advantage of his brief moments in command of their shared body, did. He pulled one out of the breast pocket of his uniform, flicked off the cork protector with his thumb, and before Richter knew what happened, reached around and jabbed it through several layers of uniform into Richter’s buttocks and pressed home the plunger, injecting him with a massive dose of morphine diacetate.
“What have you done?” Richter said. “The Führer…”
Paco acted quickly, grabbing the tail of Richter’s uniform jacket and stuffing it into Richter’s mouth. “I think he’s having an epileptic attack,” Paco called to the assistant director, who stood at a distance, wringing his hands. “Get help!”
Already Richter’s struggles were weakening. “You okay?” Gideon asked Paco, who nodded. “Good,” Gideon said. “I have to see to the Führer.”
The Valkyries were in full flight as Gideon approached Hitler, who had already risen from his chair. It felt wonderful, Gideon thought, to be on stage again. The stage was a magical place, the only safe place, the place where Gideon reigned supreme.
“My Führer,” Gideon said, and clicked his heels.
Hitler looked mildly alarmed. “What was that commotion?”
“A crazy man,” Gideon said. “He has been restrained. All is well.”
“Only a few minutes now, eh?” Hitler said.
“Yes, sir. Good luck.” Gideon shook Hitler’s hand and, in the hidden space between his body and Hitler’s, exchanged the pistol that had been his briefcase with the one in the holster at Hitler’s side. Then he backed off two paces, threw a salute, and shouted, “Sieg heil!”
Hitler hooked his left thumb awkwardly in the front of his pants and gave a languid, bent-arm salute.
Gideon managed not to smile as he returned to his chair and took the sheet music parts out of the briefcase. The Valkyries completed their flight in a single explosive crescendo as Hitler reached the podium, sending the crowd into a frenzy. They cheered for two full minutes before Hitler finally began to speak. As always, he began in a slow, calm voice. “My German countrymen, men and women, you have heard tonight of the special destiny of the German people and the Aryan race.”
The musicians laid down their instruments and wiped their faces. Between the lingering heat of the day and the heat of the lights, the temperature on stage was withering. Gideon walked up to the conductor and handed him the pages.
“The Führer has requested that you play this at the climax of his speech.”
The conductor shook his head. “Impossible. We haven’t rehearsed it, we have had no warning…”
“It doesn’t have to be played well.”
The conductor looked at the music. “The Führer wants us to play…this?”
Gideon gestured toward the black wall. “It will make sense when the time comes, I assure you.”
The conductor nodded. “Well, it’s not like it’s difficult. We’ve all heard the tune. And I would not want to tell the Führer no.”
“Good man,” Gideon said.
He returned to his chair to wait.
Cora saw Gideon wink at her and she knew he was himself again. Moments later the SS officer’s knees mysteriously buckled and Paco helped him lie down. Cora fought her way to her previous position, nearly at the front of the stage, only to be pushed back. The SA soldiers on one side and the SS soldiers on the other began to clear a corridor between the stage and the target wall, and when the passage was formed, they linked arms to form a human barricade on either side.
Hitler’s speech heated up. “The Communists tried to stop us. The Jews tried to stop us. The inferior Slavic races tried to stop us. All of them failed. And now…now the enemies of the German people will not merely be defeated. They will be annihilated!”
Still staring straight ahead, he extended his right hand. Himmler rose, picked up the velvet-wrapped Spear, and unwrapped it in a slow, teasing pantomime that had the audience murmuring and straining to see. Finally he flung the cloth to one side. Some of the more astute members of the crowd gasped when the Spear point was revealed. The handle was freshly made, crudely planed with hand tools, rustic in the preferred style of the newly minted German traditions the Nazis were hawking. Himmler placed it into Hitler’s waiting hand and Hitler held it over his head.
“Behold!” he said. His eyes burned and spittle flew from his lips. “The Spear of Destiny! The destiny it commands is not only that of the German people, but of the entire world. What you will see tonight is only a hint of what is to come. A hint…and a warning to all the enemies of the Reich!
“And now—stand away from the wall that bears the symbols of evil. Stand clear, because in the name of the German people I call down the lightning from the clear night sky, the lightning that will destroy our enemies utterly!”
Hitler waved the Spear in a slow circle above his head, chanting, “Jantar, Mantar, Jadu, Mantar,” once, then twice. Then he pointed the Spear at the black wall and cried out, “Jantar! Mantar! Jadu! Mantar!”
She felt the collective breath of thousands of people held tight in their lungs. Long seconds passed.
Hitler, clearly surprised, shouted again, “Jantar! Mantar! Jadu! Mantar!”
Himmler was on his feet.
With desperate fury, Hitler shook the Spear and tried again. “Jantar! Mantar! Jadu! Mantar!”
Himmler grabbed for the Spear. Hitler, in incandescent rage, shoved him so hard that Himmler landed on his buttocks, a look of betrayal on his soft face. The crowd was muttering now, and Cora heard some laughter, immediately stifled.
Hitler drew his pistol and turned to Adler, who wore an expression of confusion and dismay. “Ackermann!” he shouted. “Make it work!”
Adler came forward and, with difficulty, pulled the spear point free from the staff, saying, “Perhaps the handle is interfering somehow.” He pointed it at the wall and said, “Jantar, Mantar, Jadu, Mantar.”
Hitler slapped him with his free hand, hard enough to put Adler on the floor of the stage. “Idiot!” Hitler shouted. He waved his gun in the air and looked like he might start shooting at any moment.
It was time.
Cora stood on tiptoe and shouted in German at the top of her lungs. “He’s gone mad!”
Instantly Kurt and Michael and the others, stationed throughout the crowd, picked up the cry. “Verrückt!” “The Führer has lost his mind!” The words were followed by boos and catcalls and whistles.
Years of frustration and anger began to find release. Voices all over the square were shouting now, and the SA and SS waded into the crowd, looking for perpetrators and finally laying into anyone within reach of their truncheons and rifle butts. They were vastly outnumbered and the civilians bore them to the ground.
Cora’s attention was on Hitler.
As he stood at the podium, watching the wreckage of his dream, the anger drained out of him. His face sagged and his eyes reflected only black despair.
He raised the pistol to his temple and pulled the trigger.
Gideon watched with elation as Hitler’s triumph turned to chaos.
At the front of the stage, Himmler cradled the useless Spear in his lap, muttering the incantation over and over. Göring, Goebbels, and Bartels had all managed to disappear. The crowd had descended into hysteria. Fistfights broke out everywhere between the SA and the SS, between soldiers and civilians, between fascists and social democrats, between rich and poor.
Hitler, devastated, stood as if real lightning had in fact struck him. Then he brought his pistol to his own head and fired.
It was the pistol Gideon had traded for Hitler’s, and instead of a bullet, a small black and red flag popped out of the barrel with the word BUMM! printed on it.
Hitler stared at the pistol as if willing himself to wake up. The crowd broke into laughter, great guffaws of it.
Gideon turned to the conductor and said, “Now would be good.”
The conductor, apparently, was not a Hitler supporter. He smiled and said, “My pleasure.”
He waved his baton and the orchestra, a bit hesitantly, began to play the socialist anthem, the Internationale. After a few seconds a third of the orchestra put down their instruments in disgust, but the rest simply played louder, and the crowd began to sing along.
Stand up, damned of the Earth
Stand up, prisoners of starvation
Reason thunders in its volcano
This is the eruption of the end
Gideon looked up and Paco was there, strait jacket in hand. “Ready?” Paco said.
Hitler was trembling, nearly catatonic. Gideon didn’t need the second hypodermic. They bundled him into the jacket, Gideon helped Adler to his feet, and the three of them carried the Führer down the rear stairs and into the ambulance.
As Cora made her way to the ambulance, Kurt and the others began to chant Toller’s name, and again the crowd picked it up. The ambulance’s motor was running, the blue light turning on the roof. Paco had the wheel and Adler slumped, exhausted, on the passenger seat. Hitler lay stretched out in the back, and Gideon, sitting beside him, had changed his SS uniform for nurse’s whites.
“Hurry,” Paco said, “we need to get on the road.”
“Has anyone heard from Robert?” Cora asked.
In the long, reluctant silence Paco finally shook his head, speaking for them all.
“I’m staying,” Cora said.
Adler opened his eyes. “Cora, dear, are you sure?”
“Someone should be here for Robert, in case…well, just in case. And besides, I want to see this.”
“We can’t wait, you know,” Gideon said.
“I know,” Cora said. “You go on.”
Adler said, “Thank you. I can never thank you enough.”
Cora gestured toward Pariser Platz. “You already have.”
She waited until the ambulance disappeared down the Unter den Linden, then made her way back into the rapidly thinning crowd.
Toller was on stage now, speaking into the microphones. He was a short man with a high forehead, intense eyes, and dark curly hair, combed straight back. The cameras that had survived the fighting all now pointed at him.
“I call upon President Hindenburg to declare martial law,” he said, in a ringing, theatrical voice, “to ban the National Socialist Party, and to set a date for free elections, to be held no later than one month from tonight.”
The audience was still cheering as Cora passed through the Brandenburg Gate and headed to her hotel, hoping the telephone would ring in the night: once, then three times more.
Outside Hannover, after they stopped for petrol, Gideon offered to take the wheel. Though he should have been exhausted, his energy felt limitless. Paco stretched out in the back and quickly fell into a deep sleep. Hitler, who had awoken in a fit of screaming rage an hour before, was sedated on morphine and snoring gently. Gideon had trimmed Hitler’s hair nearly to the scalp and shaved his mustache before they left Berlin.
Adler, fragile and waxen-looking, claimed he could not sleep and sat up with Gideon while he drove.
“Are you able to talk about what happened to you?” Adler asked. Gideon struggled to find words and Adler said, “You don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to.”
“No,” Gideon said, “it’s okay.” He took another minute and then said, “You know the Black Sun that Bartels was talking about? That mystical light that’s supposed to recharge the spirits of true Aryans everywhere? I think he’s not entirely wrong.”
“Don’t tell me you’ve gone mystical.”
“It’s not mystical. I’m talking about the power of hatred. It’s a force unto itself. It’s everything that Bartels said about the Black Sun. It permeates the universe, and if you’re lonely and sick and scared enough, it’s there to comfort and nourish you. And then, before you know it, it controls your entire life.”
Adler nodded and they were silent for a few kilometers. “Where do you go after this?” Adler asked at last.
“To the States, I think. Then maybe on tour. Something I know how to do. Something not frightening. What about you?”
“I hope I will be able to go back to Germany, back to my home town. I would like to be able to die there.”
Gideon glanced at him. “You’re not talking about the curse of the Spear, I hope.”
Adler smiled weakly. “The curse of living too long.”
They stopped for breakfast at 6 a.m., and Paco bought a copy of theVossische Zeitung, Berlin’s biggest daily. A banner headline read, “Hindenburg Declares Martial Law.” Paco, always keeping one eye on the ambulance and its dozing passenger, read the story aloud as they waited for their food. Hitler, Röhm, Göring, and Goebbels were all missing and assumed to have carried out some longstanding escape plan, perhaps to South America. Himmler had been placed “in protective custody.” Membership in the SA, the SS, or the Gestapo was now illegal. Hundreds had died overnight in riots, but the Reichswehr, the regular Army that Röhm had so badly wanted to supplant, was maintaining order.
When he finished reading, Paco, overwhelmed by a dozen different emotions, reached his hands across the table. Gideon gripped them, then Adler too.
Finally Adler said, “Hundreds dead.”
“Instead of millions?” Gideon said. “Instead of a second Great War? It’s a miracle.”
Paco leafed through the rest of the newspaper and stopped at a photo of a bloodstained German staff car. A prisoner en route to Berlin, the story said, had killed a guard and an SA Sturmhauptführer before being shot to death himself.
Paco handed the newspaper to Adler, who scanned the story quickly and said, “Robert.”
“Let me see,” Gideon said, and took the newspaper.
Adler’s eyes were red and tears rose in them. He excused himself and made his way toward the rear of the restaurant, where the public toilets were.
Paco stood up. Gideon put a hand on his arm and said, “Maybe you should give him a few minutes.”
“I have to call Cora,” Paco said. “She needs to know that she can stop waiting for the telephone to ring.”
In so many ways, Adler thought, they had been lucky. Berlin had never loved Hitler, had only been bullied into accepting him. Hindenburg could have died at any point in the last two months. If the SA and SS had been able to act in concert instead of flying at each other’s throats, they might have kept hold of the country for one of Hitler’s lieutenants.
Still, it was the losses that weighed on him, Robert most heavily. He knew as well as anyone that when magic appeared effortless, it was always a hard-won illusion. Yet, like Himmler, like Hitler, he had wanted to achieve his dream without paying the inevitable price.
As they crossed the border into Belgium, he finally drifted into sleep and didn’t awaken until they had arrived at the French seaside village of Saint-Valéry-en-Caux. Paco shook him gently and said, “Time to put on your white coat. Do you need a few minutes?”
“No,” Adler said. “Let’s finish it.”
It was a beautiful summer Thursday morning. Adler could smell the sea. Some unshakable remnant of compassion had made him choose this place of natural beauty, of sand dunes and fishing boats, and now he was glad that he had.
Paco and Gideon each had one of Hitler’s arms as they marched him through the doors of the asylum and up to the admitting desk. “I am Dr. Ackermann,” Adler said. “I have the papers here to commit this man.”
The orderly glanced over the paperwork. “Everything seems in order. What is this ‘delusion’ of his?”
Gideon said, “He thinks he’s Adolph Hitler.” If Gideon’s French was not as good as Adler’s, his accent was flawless, as always.
“Good timing,” the orderly said. “I hear Germany is missing theirs.” He looked Hitler up and down. “Not much of a resemblance, though.”
Gideon placed the wig on Hitler’s head and stuck on the false mustache. “He gets anxious without these.”
“A little better,” the orderly said. “He’d never fool anyone.”
“Best not to take any chances,” Gideon said. “Don’t let him start any parties.”
“In all seriousness,” Adler said, “he has a high potential for violence, against both himself and others.”
“Don’t worry,” the orderly said. “We’ll keep him on enough Phenobarbital that he won’t be able to raise his arm to salute.”
Paco drove them to the Saint-Valéry-en-Caux train station and followed them inside. Adler bought a ticket for his home town of Quedlinburg in the Harz Mountains, and Gideon bought one for Marseille. Adler shook Gideon’s hand, then embraced Paco, again overcome by emotion.
“What do you want me to do with the ambulance?” Paco said.
“You’re a magician,” Adler said, dabbing at his eyes. “Make it disappear.”
On Thursday afternoon, Cora found herself drawn to Pariser Platz. The stage and grandstands had been carted away, and men with sledgehammers pounded at Hitler’s black-painted wall.
Overnight the square had turned into a version of London’s Hyde Park Corner, with people standing on stepladders or empty crates and declaiming to handfuls of listeners. She paused in front of one who risked arrest by wearing the newly forbidden brown shirt and Hakenkreuz. “The Jews brought down our Führer,” he said, his face contorted with rage, “but he is only in hiding until we call for him to return. This martial law is no law at all, and we must resist it with all our Aryan might!”
Kurt appeared beside her. “It never ends, does it?” she asked.
“Look,” Kurt said. The three other people who had been listening had all turned and walked away. “I don’t think anyone is buying today. Let’s us go too, shall we? No point in encouraging him.”
Kurt took her arm and guided her toward the Brandenburg Gate. “Do you know,” he said, “that the Eldorado has opened again? They are giving away free drinks all day. Everyone who is anyone will be there.”
Cora stopped and faced him. “We lost someone,” Cora said. “One of us who was part of the…the illusion. He was killed yesterday, and I only found out about it this morning.”
Kurt drew her into a hug and at last she was able to cry, if only for a few seconds. Part of it was for Robert, part of it was relief at having survived, part of it was the terrible weight of knowing that whatever happened next to Germany was her responsibility.
“I am sorry for your friend,” Kurt said, when her tears had stopped on their own. He slowly let her go. “But the time to mourn him is later. Right now you must come with me, and celebrate this wonderful new world you have given us, because who knows how long it will last?”
“All right,” she said. “All right, I surrender. Will there be absinthe?”
Kurt smiled. “There will be everything.”
He took her hand, and together they walked into the golden summer afternoon.