Harry Turtledove

Coup d'Etat

Chapter 1

Manila harbor was a mess. Pete McGill hadn’t expected it to be anything else. And the fierce Philippine sun beat down on him even though it was January. The past few years, he’d served in Peking and Shanghai. He was used to winter blowing straight down from Siberia. This muggy tropical heat, by contrast, seemed like too much of a good thing.

He still wasn’t as steady on his pins as he wished he were, either. The bomb in Shanghai that killed his ladylove came much too close to finishing him, too. The docs here did as good a job of patching him up as they could, and he’d had time to heal. All the same, an ankle ached and a shoulder twinged every time he took a step. His face was set in a permanent grimace, not least so nobody would notice him wincing and try to send him back to the hospital.

Or maybe no one would bother any which way. It looked to Pete as if they’d take anybody with a pulse right now. A fireboat played streams of water on a burning barge. Whatever was going up didn’t seem to care. Black, greasy, stinking smoke rose high into the sky.

That wasn’t the only fire burning around here, either-nowhere close. Pete coughed harder than he usually did after his first morning cigarette. Jap bombing raids had hit the airports and the harbor hard. Now the only question was when the slant-eyed little monkeys would try to land an invasion force. Pete was sure it wouldn’t be long.

Maybe all the smoke here would keep them from bombing accurately. Maybe…

“Out of the fucking way, Corporal, goddammit!” somebody bellowed behind Pete.

“Sorry.” He sidestepped as fast as he could, which wasn’t very. A petty officer went back to yelling at the Filipino gun crew manhandling an antiaircraft gun into place. The swab jockey must have served here for a while, because he was as fluently profane in Tagalog as he was in English.

Pete picked his way through the chaos toward the light cruiser Boise. The U.S. Asiatic Fleet wasn’t very big. This part of the world was too close to Japanese waters for the USA to risk much around here. Chances were that meant the Philippines would fall, something the Marine tried hard not to think about.

Bomb fragments scarred and dented the Boise ’s metalwork, but she hadn’t taken any direct hits. If-no, when-Japanese planes came back… with luck, she wouldn’t be here. Exhaust from her funnels meant she could get going in a hurry. She could, and she probably would.

But she hadn’t yet. Mooring lines and a gangplank still tethered her to the wharf. Ignoring the pain in his leg, Pete strode up the gangplank and saluted the fresh-faced ensign standing at the far end of it. “Permission to come aboard, sir?” he asked the officer of the deck.

After returning the salute, the kid asked, “And you are…?”

“Corporal Peter McGill, sir, reporting as ordered.”

The ensign checked the papers in the clipboard he carried in his left hand. “McGill… Yes, here you are.” He made a checkmark with a mechanical pencil he pulled from his breast pocket. The United States might be at war, but that didn’t mean you didn’t have to dot every i and cross every t. Not yet it didn’t, anyhow. Once the sacred checkmark went into place, the youngster unbent enough to add, “Permission granted.”

“Thank you, sir.” As soon as Pete set foot on the ship, he turned and saluted the Stars and Stripes at the stern. The flag fluttered in the warm, moist breeze.

“Dalrymple!” the ensign called. As if by magic, a tall, redheaded able seaman appeared beside him. “Take Corporal, uh, McGill to the Marines’ quarters. We’ll let them decide how best to use him.” As if catching himself at that, he asked Pete, “You can serve a five-inch gun, can’t you?”

“Oh, yes, sir,” Pete answered at once. Marines aboard battleships and cruisers often manned the big ships’ secondary armament. The Boise fought other ships with half a dozen long six-inch guns mounted in three turrets. The stubbier five-inchers and a variety of smaller, quick-firing weapons tried to keep planes off her.

When they weren’t serving the secondary armament, shipboard Marines also did duty as constables. Pete didn’t look forward to that. He wanted to fight Japs, not his own countrymen. Along with everything Hirohito’s bastards had done to him, he had Vera to pay them back for, too. A million slanties might be enough for that. Two would definitely be better, though.

“Come on with me, Corporal. I’ll show you where you can stow your duffel and all,” Dalrymple said.

“I’m coming,” Pete said. The sailor took long, quick steps. Keeping up with him made Pete’s ankle whimper, but he took no notice of it.

He knew about where he’d be going, but not exactly. He’d served aboard two destroyers and a battleship before going to Peking, but never a cruiser. Steps between decks might almost have been ladders: the treads were that narrow and steep. He managed to stay close to Dalrymple, anyhow.

Two corporals and two sergeants were playing pinochle in the cramped bunkroom to which the able seaman led him. They glanced up with no particular interest or liking. But one of the two-stripers looked vaguely familiar. “You’re Joe Orsatti, aren’t you?” Pete said.

“Yeah.” The other guy’s swarthy face scrunched up as he eyed Pete in a new way. “We were in the Brooks together, weren’t we? Sorry, Mac, but screw me if I remember your handle.” His New York City accent might have been even more clotted than Pete’s.

“McGill,” Pete said, and stuck out his hand. Orsatti reached for it. Their trial of strength was a push, or near enough. Pete chucked his duffel onto a top bunk. He wasn’t surprised to run into somebody with whom he’d served before. The Marines were a small club, and noncoms in the Corps a smaller one.

Orsatti introduced Pete to the other card players. They switched from pinochle to poker. Pete lost a little, won a little, lost a little more. He was down five bucks when the general-quarters klaxon hooted. He hadn’t heard that noise in years, but it still raised his hackles.

“What do I do? Where do I go?” he asked as they all sprang to their feet. “You guys are the only ones I’ve seen.”

“C’mon with me,” Orsatti said. “Our shell jerker’s got a bad back. I bet you can feed us ammo faster’n him.”

Pete hadn’t said anything about his own injuries. He didn’t say anything now, either. Instead, he followed Orsatti to a portside five-inch gun.

“Step aside, Jonesy,” Orsatti snapped to the private standing next to the ammunition hoist. “We got a new guy here who ain’t gonna keel over on us.”

“I’m okay, goddammit,” Jonesy said.

“Move,” Orsatti told him, and the other Marine moved. Such was the power of two stripes.

Pete grabbed a shell and handed it to the loader. How much did it weigh? Fifty pounds? Seventy-five? He wasn’t in anything like good hard shape. He’d have to do the best he could-that was all. He could hear planes overhead. The more they could knock down or scare off, the better.

The gun roared. The smaller antiaircraft guns were already stuttering out destruction. He seized the next shell and passed it on. Sweat was already springing out. Only dead men didn’t sweat like pigs in the Philippines.

A plane with big red meatballs on the wings and fuselage plummeted into the harbor, trailing smoke and fire. The blast as its bombs exploded staggered Pete; water they kicked up drenched him. And a glistening metal fragment tore out Jonesy’s throat. His cheers turned to horrible gobbling noises. He clutched at his neck with both hands, but blood sprayed and gushed all the same. His hands relaxed. He slumped to the deck. He couldn’t hope to live, not with his head half cut off.

More bombs whistled down. In spite of blast and whining, screeching fragments-in spite of almost literally being scared shitless-Pete went on feeding the five-inch gun. Maybe the intense antiaircraft fire from the Boise did scare off some Japs. Maybe the light cruiser was just lucky. Any which way, she picked up a few new dents and dings, but no more. Some of the other gun crews also had men down, wounded or as dead as Jonesy. All the same, she remained a going concern.

Her skipper decided it was time for her to get going, too. As soon as the Japanese bombers droned off to the west-back toward Jap-owned Formosa, Pete supposed-he ordered the lines cast off and the gangplank raised. Then he took her out of the harbor as fast as she would go. Nobody aboard had a bad word or, Pete was sure, a bad thought about that. If she stayed where she was, odds were she wouldn’t stay lucky a third time. All the old boring jokes about sitting ducks applied.

And Pete had more new buddies than Joe Orsatti. Go through a fight with a gun crew and you were all pals if you survived it. Jonesy-his first name was Elijah-went into the Pacific shrouded in cloth and weighed down by shell casings, along with half a dozen other dead men. The Boise raced south at upwards of thirty knots, looking for… Pete didn’t exactly know what. Whatever it proved to be, he hoped he’d come out the other side again.

JANUARY 20, 1941, was a miserable, frigid day in Philadelphia. Sleet made the roads anywhere from dangerous to impossible. Ice clung to power lines, too, and its weight brought some of them down. Peggy Druce wouldn’t have wanted to be without electricity in this weather. If you didn’t use coal, if you had an oil-fired furnace that depended on a pump, losing power meant that before long you’d start chopping up your furniture and burning it so you didn’t freeze to death.

Washington lay less than a hundred miles south, but it was conveniently on the other side of the cold front. Lowell Thomas assured his nationwide radio audience that it was in the forties, with clouds moving in front of the sun every now and then but no rain and certainly no sleet. Peggy, who hadn’t seen the sun since last Friday, was bright green with envy.

“We are here on this historic occasion to observe the third inauguration of President Roosevelt,” Thomas said in his ringing, sonorous tones. “This is, of course, the first time in the history of the United States that a President will be inaugurated for a third term. And, with the nation plunged into war little more than a week ago through the Empire of Japan’s unprovoked attacks on Hawaii and the Philippines, the President surely has a lot on his mind.”

Peggy wished Herb were sitting there beside her listening to the ceremony, too. Things weren’t so easy between them as they had been before she got back from Europe. She wished like hell some of what had happened there hadn’t happened. Those wishes did as much, or as little, good as ever. Still, she would have enjoyed what were sure to be his sarcastic comments about the ceremony farther south.

But her husband had taken the Packard in to his law office regardless of the slick, icy roads. He hadn’t called with tales of accidents, and neither had the police or a hospital, so Peggy supposed he’d made it downtown in one piece.

He was bound to have the radio on if he wasn’t with a client, and maybe if he was. Herb was always somebody who kept up with the news. Till Peggy got stuck in war-torn Europe, she’d wondered whether that had any point. She didn’t any more.

Lowell Thomas dropped his voice a little: “Ladies and gentlemen, Chief Justice Hughes will administer the oath of office to President Roosevelt. With his robes and his white beard, the Chief Justice looks most distinguished, most distinguished indeed. He also gave the President the oath at his two previous inaugurations.”

Only a few old men wore beards in these modern times. Well, Charles Evans Hughes was pushing eighty. He’d probably grown his before the turn of the century, decided he liked it, and kept it ever since. He’d come as close as a bad Republican turnout in California to unseating Woodrow Wilson in 1916. The world would be a different place if he had. Peggy wasn’t sure how, but she was sure it would be.

“Are you ready to take the oath, Mr. President?” Hughes sounded younger than he was, even if rumor said he would step down from the Court before too long.

“I am, Mr. Chief Justice.” No one who’d ever heard FDR’s jaunty voice could mistake it.

“Repeat after me, then,” Hughes said.

And the President-the third-term President-did: “I, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

“Congratulations, Mr. President,” the Chief Justice said.

“They are shaking hands,” Lowell Thomas said quietly.

In the background, applause rose like the sound of surging surf. “Thank you very much,” Roosevelt said, and then again, a moment later, “Thank you.”

“He is holding up his hands to still the clapping,” Thomas noted. But the clapping didn’t want to still. Back in 1933, FDR’d said we had nothing to fear but fear itself. Well, we had other things to fear now, starting with Japanese planes and carriers and battleships and soldiers.

“Thank you,” Roosevelt said once more. Slowly, the applause ebbed. Very slowly: it was as if people didn’t want the President to go on, because if he did they would have to look out across the sea at the big, dangerous world. Into something approaching quiet, FDR continued, “Believe me, I do thank you, from the bottom of my heart. What greater honor can any man claim than the continued confidence of the American people?”

That drew more applause and cheers. Now, though, they quickly died away. “I am going to tell you the plain truth,” Roosevelt said, “and the plain truth is, things could be better. When I ran for reelection promising not to send American boys off to fight in a foreign war, I meant every word of it.”

Peggy coughed as she inhaled cigarette smoke. Nobody in the United States played a deeper political game than FDR. When he started going on about what a plain, simple fellow he was, that was the time to hold on to your wallet.

“But we have had war delivered to us no matter how little we want it.” The President let anger rise in his voice. “And our freedom is threatened not only in the Far East. Whoever wins the great European struggle, liberty will be the loser.”

He was bound to be right about that. Whether Hitler beat Stalin or the other way around, the winner would be big trouble for the rest of the world. Right now, with France and England trailing along in his wake because he’d pulled German troops out of France, the Nazi seemed to have the edge on the Red. But there could be more big switches after the one Daladier and Chamberlain had pulled. Nobody would know under which shell the pea lurked till all the sliding around stopped.

Some people suspected Roosevelt’s intentions, too. “No European war!” a man yelled, loud enough for Lowell Thomas’ microphone to pick it up.

Hitler hadn’t declared war on the United States. If he did, it would hurt his palsy-walsy relationship with the last two surviving Western European democracies. It wouldn’t do the Third Reich any good, either. Peggy’d spent much more time in Nazi Germany than she ever wanted. The Germans didn’t understand how strong the USA could be. But even the Fuhrer seemed to want to take things one step at a time.

“I do not intend to get us involved in a European war,” Roosevelt said firmly-so firmly, in fact, that Peggy got that wallet-clutching urge again. Did that yell come from a shill? Then the President proceeded to hedge: “I did not intend to get us involved in war against Japan, either. The only things I know for certain now are that the road ahead will be long and hard and dangerous, and that the United States of America will emerge triumphant at the end of that road.”

He got another hand then. Peggy remembered that, back in the days of ancient Rome, people used to keep track of how many times the Senate applauded the Emperor when he addressed it. She didn’t know how she knew that, but she did. Maybe Herb told her once upon a time-they’d rammed a big dose of Latin down his throat in high school and college. Somebody needed to keep track of the ovations in Washington today.

“We are going to become the arsenal of democracy, as I said in my Fireside Chat not long ago,” the President continued. “We must be strong enough to defeat the enemy in the Far East and to ensure that no enemy anywhere in the world can possibly defeat us.”

Yet again, people clapped and cheered. How many of those people had the faintest idea what war was like? Oh, some of the men would have gone Over There a generation before. They’d seen the elephant, as their grandfathers would have said in Civil War days. Most of FDR’s audience, though, didn’t really have any idea of what he was talking about.

Peggy did. She’d watched the Nazis storm into Czechoslovakia and promptly start tormenting Jews. She’d watched them march off freighters and into Copenhagen, ruining her chances to get back to the States for a while. She’d huddled against their bombs-and, while she was stuck in Germany, against English bombs, too, and maybe even against French and Russian bombs as well.

So she knew as much about what war was like these days as anyone who hadn’t carried a rifle could. Some people cheering Roosevelt would find out just that way. And others would learn when young men they loved came back maimed or didn’t come back at all. Would they still be cheering then?

The truly scary thing was, all the anguish and agony Roosevelt wouldn’t talk about in an inaugural address were going to be needed. The horror Peggy had seen and gone through in Europe made her much too sure of that.

Sarah Goldman eyed the clerk behind the barred window in the Munster Rathaus with nothing but dismay. She’d never faced this fellow before. It wasn’t that he was gray-haired and had a hook where his left hand should have been. No one young and healthy would have sat behind that window. Young, healthy German men wore Feldgrau these days, not a baggy brown suit that reeked of mothballs.

But a button gleamed on the clerk’s left lapel. It wasn’t the ordinary swastika button that proved somebody belonged to the Nazi party. No: The gold rim on this button showed that the clerk was one of the first 100,000 Party members. He’d been a Nazi long before Hitler came to power, in other words. He’d like Jews even less than most National Socialists.

“You wish?” he said as Sarah came to the head of the queue. He sounded polite enough for the moment. Well, why not? She was a pretty girl-not beautiful, but pretty. And, with her light brown hair, hazel eyes, and fair skin, she didn’t look especially Jewish.

“I need…” She had to nerve herself to speak louder than a whisper. “I need to arrange the paperwork for my wedding.” There. She’d said it, and loud enough for him to hear it, too.

“You should be happy when you do that, dear.” The clerk might be graying and mutilated, but he noticed a pretty girl, all right. Behind the reading glasses that magnified them, his own pale eyes seemed enormous as he studied her. He held out his good hand. “Let me have your identity booklet, and we’ll begin.”

“All right,” Sarah said as she took the indispensable document out of her purse. It wasn’t all right, and it wasn’t going to be.

He held the document down with the hook and opened it with the fingers of his meat hand. He was no slower or clumsier than someone who hadn’t got hurt. How many years of practice and repetition lay behind him?

“Oh,” he said in a voice suddenly colder than the nasty weather outside. Of course the booklet bore the big stamp that said Jude. The Nazis had made all German Jews take the first names Moses or Sarah. Since Sarah already owned the one required for women, she’d briefly confused the bureaucracy. She didn’t confuse the clerk now. She just irritated him, or more likely disgusted him. He shook his head. “ You wish to… marry?”

“Yes, sir,” she said. Staying polite wouldn’t hurt, though it might not help, either. “It’s not against the law for two Jews to marry each other, sir.”

That was true-after a fashion. Law for Jews in Germany these days was whatever the Nazis said it was. Jews weren’t even German citizens any more. They were only residents, forced to become strangers in what most of them still thought of as their Vaterland.

“Well…” the clerk said ominously. He pushed back his chair and stood up. He was shorter than Sarah expected; the chair let him look down on the people he was supposed to serve. Shaking his head, he went on, “I must consult with my supervisor.”

The stout middle-aged woman behind Sarah in line groaned. “What’s eating him?” she said.

Sarah only shrugged. She knew, all right, but she didn’t think telling would do her any good. She waited as patiently as she could for the clerk to return. The woman and the people in the queue behind her grumbled louder and louder. Anything that made him leave his post obviously sprang from a plot to throw sand in the system’s gear train.

He came back after three or four minutes that seemed like an hour. With him came another functionary, this one a little older, who also wore an alter Kampfer ’s gold-rimmed Party button on his lapel. The newcomer eyed Sarah as if he’d have to clean her off the bottom of his shoe.

“ You want to get married?” he said, his voice full of even more revolted disbelief than his subordinate’s had held.

“Yes, sir,” Sarah repeated. Whatever she thought of him, she carefully didn’t show.

“And your intended is also of Hebraic blood?”

“That’s right.” Sarah supposed her family had some Aryans in the woodpile. Isidor Bruck looked like what everybody’s idea of looking Jewish looked like. He came by it honestly-so did his father and mother and younger brother.

“What is his name?” the senior bureaucrat asked. She gave it. The senior man sneered. “No, that is not correct. He is Moses Isidor Bruck, and will be so listed in our records.”

“Sorry,” said Sarah, who was anything but. She was mad at herself. She’d just been thinking about the forced name change, but she’d forgotten to use it. Nobody remembered… except people like the ones on the other side of the window.

“I see by your documents that you are twenty years old,” the senior man said. “And what is the age of the other Hebrew?” It was as if he couldn’t even bear to say the word Jew.

“He’s, uh, twenty-two,” Sarah answered.

“Why is he not here to speak for himself?” the bureaucrat demanded.

“He’s working, sir. He’s a baker, like his father.” Bakers never starved. When rations for most German Jews were so miserable, that wasn’t the smallest consideration in the world.

“Mrmp.” The functionary was anything but impressed. He scribbled a note on a form, then glared out through the bars that made him look like a caged animal. But he and his kind were the ones who kept Jews in the enormous cage they’d made of the Third Reich. “And what is your father’s occupation?”

“He’s a laborer,” Sarah said, as steadily as she could. “He used to be a university professor when Jews could still do that.” Both Nazi bureaucrats scowled. To wipe those nasty expressions off their faces, Sarah added, “He’s a wounded war veteran, too. Wounded and decorated.”

Benjamin Goldman’s Iron Cross Second Class and his limp did matter. Nazi laws mandated better treatment for Jews who’d fought at the front and their families. Not good treatment-nowhere near good treatment-but better.

Sarah almost told the clerk and his boss that her father and brother tried to volunteer for the Wehrmacht this time around. But she didn’t want to remind them she was related to Saul Goldman, who was wanted for smashing in a labor gang boss’ head after the other fellow hit him and rode him for being a Jew once too often. On the lam, Saul had stolen papers or got his hands on a forged set, so he was in the army now even though the Nazis didn’t know it. The less they thought about him these days, the better Sarah liked it.

Both men with gold-rimmed Party badges went right on looking unhappy. No matter what Nazi laws said about Jewish frontline veterans, a Jew with a medal and a wound was plainly just another kike to them. “Laborer,” the senior fellow said, and he wrote that down, too.

“When will Isidor-uh, Moses Isidor-and I hear about getting official permission to marry, sir?” Sarah asked. This wasn’t her first trip to the Rathaus. Official policy made everything as difficult as possible for Jews. Marriage was definitely included. The Nazis wished there were no more Jews in Germany (or anywhere else, come to that). No wonder they weren’t enthusiastic about anything that threatened to produce more people they hated.

“When?” the functionary echoed. “When we decide you will, that’s when.”

“All right.” Sarah fought down a sigh. She didn’t want to give the Nazis the satisfaction of knowing they’d annoyed her. They might be pretty sure, but she didn’t aim to show them. She was her father’s daughter-no doubt about it. She even managed a smile of sorts as she said “Thank you very much” and left the window.

“Well! About time!” said the stout gal who’d waited behind her. The woman started pouring out her tale of woe to the bureaucrats. Sarah didn’t hang around to find out how she fared. Any Jew in Germany had plenty of worries of her own.

Theo Hossbach supposed he should have been happy that the Wehrmacht and its Polish, Slovakian, Hungarian, English, and French allies hadn’t lost more ground to the Red Army during this brutal winter. After all, a headlong retreat would have made it more likely for something bad to have happened to the Panzer II in which he served as radioman.

But bad things could happen to the Panzer II all too easily any which way. The lightly armed, lightly armored three-man machines weren’t obsolescent any more. They were obsolete, and everybody who had anything to do with them knew as much. They soldiered on regardless. A veteran crew, which his panzer certainly had, could still get good use from one. And any panzer at all made infantry very unhappy.

Besides, there were still nowhere near enough modern Panzer IIIs and IVs to go around. When the best weren’t available, the rest had to do what they could.

What Theo’s company was doing now was protecting a stretch of front that ran from a village to a small town closer to Smolensk than to Minsk. Just exactly where the village and town lay, Theo wasn’t so sure. A good atlas might have shown him, but he didn’t have one. What difference did it make, anyhow?

All he really knew was, the front had gone back and forth a good many times. Lately, it seemed to have gone back more often than it had gone forth. The Ivans were marvelous at slipping companies, sometimes even battalions or regiments, of infantry in white snowsuits behind the German lines and raising hell with them. They weren’t so good at taking advantage of the trouble they caused-which was a lucky thing for everybody who had to fight them.

Theo still wore the black coveralls of a panzer crewman. They looked smart and didn’t show grease stains. No doubt that was why the powers that be had chosen them. But odds were a man in black coveralls running toward a hiding place through the snow wouldn’t live to get there.

“Got a cigarette, Theo?” Adalbert Stoss asked.

“Here.” Theo passed the driver a tobacco pouch. He doled out the fixings for a smoke more readily than he parted with words. Adi tore off a strip from a Russian newspaper none of the panzer men could read. He sprinkled tobacco from the pouch (taken off a dead Ivan) onto the cheap pulp paper, rolled the cigarette, and lit it-he did have matches.

“Ahh,” he said after the first drag, exhaling a mixture of smoke and fog-it was well below freezing. “Much obliged.” He returned the pouch. Unlike a lot of soldiers Theo knew, Adi didn’t steal everything that wasn’t nailed down. His family must have raised him the right way… which didn’t necessarily make him the ideal man for life in the field.

On the other hand, if anybody in a black coverall could make it to shelter running through the snow, Adi could. He was the best footballer Theo had ever seen except for a handful of professionals-and he was in their league. He was fast and strong and agile. And he was smart, which only added to his other gifts. With a sergeant’s pips, or even a corporal’s, he would have made a fine panzer commander.

I should be jealous, Theo thought. He’d been in the war from the very beginning. Adi hadn’t. But Theo knew he would be a disaster trying to command a panzer. He was the kind of fellow other people didn’t notice, which suited him fine. Give orders? Talk all the time? No thanks!

Sergeant Hermann Witt, who did command the panzer, had machine-made cigarettes of his own. Theo preferred the captured stuff. It might not be especially good, but by God it was strong. Everything that came out of Germany these days was adulterated-well, everything but the ammo, anyhow. The cigarettes that got issued along with rations tasted of hay and horseshit. The coffee was ersatz. People said the war bread had sawdust in it as a stretcher. Theo didn’t know if he believed that. People also said the war bread was better than it had been in the last fight. Theo didn’t know if he believed that, either. If the last generation had it worse than this, no wonder they threw the Kaiser out.

The Nazis said Germany got stabbed in the back in 1918. Well, the Nazis said all kinds of things. Theo took them no more seriously than he had to. Since he said next to nothing himself, he wasn’t likely to get in trouble on account of that.

He glanced over at Adi. Stoss smoked as intently as he did everything else. By all the signs, he didn’t take the Nazis very seriously, either. And chances were he had better reasons not to than even Theo’s.

No sooner there than gone. Theo didn’t want to think about Stoss’ reasons. He didn’t want to, and so he didn’t. No matter how little use he had for the Nazis, he’d learned a thing or three since the Fuhrer came to power. He wasn’t even consciously aware that he had, which meant nothing at all. Ideas, thoughts, went into little armored compartments. When he wasn’t actively dealing with them, they might as well not have been there. No one else would ever notice them. More often than not, he didn’t notice them himself.

Somebody who lived in a free country wouldn’t have to think that way. Theo understood as much. But, since he couldn’t do anything about it, he kept his mouth shut. Come to that, he kept it shut as much as he could.

Even though he didn’t love the Nazis, he did love the Vaterland. And, regardless of what he thought of the current German regime, it had placed him-along with millions of other young German men-in a position where his country’s enemies would kill him if he didn’t fight hard.

That was underscored when mortar bombs started dropping near the panzer crewmen. Russian rifles barked. “Urra!” the Ivans roared. “Urra! Urra!” They sounded like fierce wild animals. Their officers fed them vodka before sending them into action. It dulled their fear-and their common sense.

Theo’s first instinct when the mortar rounds came in was to hit the dirt. His next instinct was to get inside the panzer. That was the better notion. He’d be at a little more risk while he was upright and running, but the machine’s armored sides would protect him against fragments and small-arms fire.

Sergeant Witt and Adi Stoss also sprinted for the Panzer II. Other men in black coveralls dashed toward their machines, too. A couple of them didn’t make it. Those coveralls and their blood bright against the snow reproduced the German national colors. A bullet sparked off Theo’s panzer just a few centimeters from his head. He dove through the hatch behind the turret and slammed it shut. A Schmeisser hung on two brackets above his radio set. If somebody started climbing up onto the panzer, he’d open a hatch and start shooting. Otherwise, the submachine gun was there more to ease his mind than for any other reason.

“Start it up!” Witt screamed at Adi. The order made sense-a panzer that was just sitting there was a panzer waiting for a Molotov cocktail. Theo didn’t want to think about burning gasoline dripping into the fighting compartment and setting things ablaze in here.

But would the beast start? In a Russian winter, that was always an interesting question and often a terrifying one. The self-starter ground. Maybe Adi would have to get out and crank the engine to life-assuming he didn’t get shot to death before he could. Maybe even cranking wouldn’t get it going. German lubricants weren’t made for this hideous weather. Sometimes crews kept a fire burning through the night under the engine compartment to keep the engine warm enough to turn over in the morning.

Adi tried it again. This time, to Theo’s amazed delight, the grinding noise turned into a full-throated roar as the engine fired up after all. “Forward!” Witt said, and the driver put the Panzer II into gear. Forward it went. Back against the fireproof-he hoped-bulkhead that separated the fighting compartment from the engine, Theo started to warm up. Heat came through slowly, but it came.

Witt could traverse the turret by muscle power even if the gearing froze up. He could, and he did, spraying machine-gun fire and occasional rounds from the 20mm cannon at the oncoming Ivans. A few more bullets spanged off the panzer’s steel hide, but bullets didn’t bother it. Anything worse than a bullet would, but…

“They’re running!” the panzer commander exclaimed. In the Russians’ fine felt boots, Theo would have run, too. If they had no armor of their own in the neighborhood, they were helpless against panzers. A little German victory. This time. For the moment. How to turn that into something more lasting, Theo had no idea. Did anyone else, from Hitler on down?

Chapter 2

Alistair Walsh had spent his whole adult life in the British Army-which, unlike the Navy and the Air Force, wasn’t Royal. The former sergeant sometimes wondered why not. His best guess, based on long experience, was that no King of England in his right mind wanted to lend his regal title to such a buggered-up outfit.

Almost as soon as Walsh got to France the first time, in the summer of 1918, he stopped a German bullet. The Kaiser’s men had pushed as far as they could then, and soon started getting pushed instead. Walsh was back at the front before the Armistice. He saw enough action to decide he liked soldiering. He certainly liked it better than going back to Wales and grubbing out coal for the rest of his life, which was his other choice when the war ended. He managed to stay in the Army while it hemorrhaged men after peace came.

And he went to France again, this time as a staff sergeant rather than a raw private, when things heated up once more in 1938. Regardless of rank, he knew-he’d had it proved to him-he wasn’t bulletproof. He’d fought in Belgium, and then in France as the Allied armies fell back under the weight of the new German assault. Once they managed to keep the Nazis from sweeping around behind Paris and winning the campaign fast-Wilhelm’s old pipe dream, even if Hitler came equipped with a different mustache-he got shipped off to Norway as part of the Anglo-French expeditionary force that tried to stop the Wehrmacht there.

“That’s when my trouble really started,” he muttered under his breath. A dumpy woman coming the other way on the London sidewalk gave him a funny look. He didn’t care. It wasn’t as if he were wrong.

The Anglo-French force couldn’t stop the Germans. Air power outdid sea power, even if the Royal Navy was Royal. Walsh counted himself lucky for getting out of Namsos before it fell. Plenty of soldiers hadn’t. A Stuka attacked the destroyer that carried him home after sneaking into the harbor under cover of the long northern winter night, but the ship survived to make it back to Dundee.

He’d been on leave, riding a hired bicycle through the Scottish countryside, when… That was when his troubles really started. He’d seen, and recognized, a Messerschmitt Bf-110, a long-range German fighter, buzzing along above Scotland. He’d watched somebody bail out and come down in a field not far from the narrow lane he was traveling.

Why he had to be the one to meet Rudolf Hess and take the Nazi big shot back to the authorities, he’d never worked out. It wasn’t proof of God’s love for him. He was too bloody sure of that. If anything, it was proof the Almighty really and truly had it in for him.

Because Hess was carrying a proposal from Hitler to Chamberlain and Daladier. The Germans were willing to withdraw from France (though not from the Low Countries or Scandinavia, and certainly not from Czechoslovakia, which was what the war was supposed to be about) in exchange for Anglo-French support of the war in the East, the war Germany and Poland were fighting against Stalin.

And Chamberlain and Daladier made the deal. Neither of them had wanted to fight the Fuhrer. They’d even gone to Munich to hand him Czechoslovakia on a silver platter. But he wouldn’t take it peacefully, not after a Czech nationalist took a revolver into Germany and plugged Konrad Henlein, the leader of the Germans in the Sudetenland.

It wasn’t as if Stalin were a nice guy himself. As soon as he saw that Hitler wasn’t sweeping all before him in the West, he demanded a chunk of northeastern Poland from Marshal Smigly-Ridz-a chunk that included the city of Wilno, which not only Poland and the Soviet Union but also Lithuania claimed.

Proud as any Pole, Smigly-Ridz said no. So Stalin invaded. He did not too well for much too long, but finally outweighed the Poles in the area by enough to be on the point of grabbing Wilno. But before he could, Marshal Smigly-Ridz asked Hitler for help. No one ever had to ask Hitler twice about whether he wanted to fight Bolsheviks. That bought him the two-front war from which the existence of Poland had shielded him up till then, but he didn’t care.

Chances were Chamberlain and Daladier preferred fighting Bolsheviks to going after the Nazis. Hitler gave them the bait, and they gulped it with greedy jaws. As Hess had bailed out of the Bf-110, the Fuhrer bailed out of his war in the West. With the Low Countries and Denmark and Norway firmly under his thumb, he had England and France on his side once their leaders pulled the big switch. He might be a vicious weasel, but he was a damned clever vicious weasel.

Some Englishmen couldn’t stomach what their Prime Minister had done. Walsh was one of them, not that anybody cared tuppence about what a staff sergeant thought. But Winston Churchill was another. He hated Hitler and Hess and everything they stood for. He thundered about what an enormous betrayal the big switch was… till he walked in front of a Bentley allegedly driven by a drunk.

No one but Chamberlain and his claque knew whether Churchill’s untimely demise was an accident or something else altogether. No one knew, but plenty of people suspected. Alistair Walsh, not surprisingly, was one of them. He couldn’t stand the idea of fighting alongside the bastards in Feldgrau and coal-scuttle helmets who’d come so close to killing him so often. And he couldn’t stand the idea of fighting for a government that might well have murdered its most vehement and most eloquent critic.

They let him resign from the service. He was far from the only man who couldn’t abide the big switch. Plenty of veterans found themselves unable to make it. But, because he’d seen that parachute open up there in Scotland, he’d acquired better political connections than most of the rest. Churchill might be dead, but other, mostly younger, Conservatives still resisted the government’s move. (It wasn’t Chamberlain’s government any more. Chamberlain was dead, of bowel cancer. But Sir Horace Wilson, his successor, was more ruthless than he had been-and even more obsequious to the Nazis.)

When Walsh casually glanced back over his shoulder, then, he really wasn’t so casual as all that. A nondescript little man was following him, and not disguising it as well as he should have. Someone from Scotland Yard, probably. The police were the government’s hounds. Military Intelligence was split. Some people followed orders no matter what. Others couldn’t stand the notion of being on the same side as the Gestapo.

Walsh rounded a corner and quickly stepped into a chemist’s shop. As the aproned gentleman behind the counter asked “How may I help you, sir?”, the sergeant peered out through the window set into the shop’s front door.

Sure enough, the shadow mooched around the corner. Sure enough, he stopped right in front of the chemist’s to try to work out where Walsh had gone. He came to the proper conclusion-just as Walsh threw the door open and almost hit him in the face with it. The shadow showed admirable reflexes in jumping back. The way his right hand darted under his jacket showed he probably had a pistol in a shoulder holster.

At the moment, Walsh didn’t care. He knew he would later, but he didn’t now. That gave him a startling moral advantage. “Sod off,” he growled. “The more grief your lot gives me, the more trouble I’ll give you. Have you got that?”

“I’m sure I haven’t the least idea what you mean, sir.” The shadow gave a good game try at innocence.

Walsh laughed in his face. “My left one,” he jeered. “You tell Sir Horace to leave me alone. Tell him to leave all of my mob alone. We can make him just as sorry as Adolf can-he’d best believe it, too. Tell him plain, do you hear me?”

He had the satisfaction of watching color drain from the other man’s face. “I don’t speak to the likes of the PM,” the shadow gasped.

“I’ll wager that’s the truth, any road,” Walsh said brutally. “But you talk to somebody who does talk to him, right?” Without waiting for an answer, he went on, “Tell him it’s still a free country, and it’ll go right on being one, too. We aren’t bloody Fritzes. We don’t put up with his kind of nonsense. Think you can remember that?”

“Oh, I’ll remember.” The shadow regained spirit. “And I’ll lay you’ll remember, too-only you won’t be so happy about it. The cheek!” He did walk off then, which surprised Walsh. Was someone else following the follower, and Walsh as well?

If someone was, he wasn’t blatant enough to give himself away. As luck or irony would have it, Walsh hadn’t been going anywhere or intending to meet anyone who would have interested either the shadow or his superiors, up to and including Horace Wilson, in the slightest. He hadn’t tried to tell that to the man he’d confronted. He knew it would have done him no good. England remained nominally free. But its people were starting to learn totalitarian lessons, and one of the first of those was that nobody believed you when you said you were doing something altogether innocent. And the more you insisted on it, the worse off you ended up.

Hans-Ulrich Rudel eyed his Ju-87 like a parent looking at a child just out of surgery. The groundcrew men who’d performed the operation seemed proud of themselves. “There you go, sir,” said the Luftwaffe corporal who’d bossed the crew. “Now you can take off and land your Stuka no matter how shitty the weather gets.”

“Well… maybe,” Hans-Ulrich answered. As far as he was concerned, that maintenance sergeant had just showed why he stayed on the ground.

Not that the fellow didn’t have a point. Putting skis on the Ju-87 in place of wheels let the dive bomber take off and land in conditions it couldn’t normally handle. The Ivans did that kind of thing all the time. If any flyers in the world were used to coping with vicious winters, the men of the Red Air Force were the ones. And Stukas’ fixed undercarriages made the conversion easier than it would have been on planes with retractable landing gear.

Even so, anybody who tried to take off or land in the middle of one of these screaming blizzards would crash and burn. You did want to be able to see when you were getting airborne or coming down. Mistakes at the beginning or end of a flight wrote off almost as many planes as enemy fighters and flak.

Sergeant Albert Dieselhorst ambled up. The radioman and rear gunner considered the skis with enthusiasm hidden amazingly well. His gaze traveled from them to the panzer-busting 37mm gun pods mounted under the wings. “Happy day,” he said. “We’ll be even less aerodynamic than we were already.”

Rudel winced. Those heavy, bulky gun pods did up the drag and make the Ju-87 slower and less maneuverable than it was without them. All the same, the pilot answered, “Take an even strain, Albert. She couldn’t get out of her own way even before they bolted on the skis.”

“Sir!” The groundcrew corporal sounded hurt. Hans-Ulrich half expected him to clap a hand to his heart like an affronted maiden in a bad melodrama.

“Hell, he’s right,” Dieselhorst said. “We count more on our armor than on our guns and our speed-ha! there’s a laugh! — to get us through when we’re in a jam.”

He wore the Iron Cross First Class on his left breast pocket. Rudel wore the Knight’s Cross on a ribbon around his neck. A lowly groundcrew corporal with only the ribbon for the Iron Cross Second Class-a decoration that, in this war, you had to work hard not to win-hooked to a tunic button couldn’t very well argue with either one of them.

Two days later, the weather was good enough for flying. The Stuka’s big Junkers Jumo engine fired up right away when the groundcrew men cranked it and spun the prop. They had a mechanical starter mounted on a truck chassis, but nothing they did would make the truck motor turn over. Muscle power and bad language sufficed. A minister’s son, Hans-Ulrich rarely swore and almost never drank. If not for that Ritterkreuz and all it said about his nerve, he would have been even more a white crow to his comrades than he already was.

Snow and the skis smoothed out the dirt airstrip’s bumps and potholes better than the wheels had. But Rudel quickly found Sergeant Dieselhorst had made a shrewd guess. The Ju-87 flew like a garbage truck with wings. If any Russian fighter found him, even one of the obsolete biplanes the Ivans kept flying, he and Albert were in a world of trouble.

Snowy fields, bare-branched birches with bark almost white as snow, pines and firs and spruces all snow-dappled… The Russian landscape in winter. The sun never climbed far above the southern horizon, not in these latitudes. Because it stayed so low, it cast long shadows. The Reds were better at camouflage than even the thorough Germans dreamt of being, but not for all their ingenuity could they hide shadows. Neither whitewashing them nor draping them with netting did Stalin’s men the least bit of good.

Hans-Ulrich might not have noticed the Russian panzers moving up to the front. They were well whitewashed, and Soviet soldiers trotted in their wake with whisks made from branches to smooth out their tracks so those didn’t show up from the air. They did a pretty good job of that, too. Rudel might not have seen the tracks. Shadows, though… Shadows he saw.

He gave Dieselhorst the number of panzers he observed and their approximate position. The radioman with the rear-facing machine-gun mount relayed the news to the Germans on the ground. Hans-Ulrich added, “You can tell them I’m attacking, too.” He tipped the Stuka into a dive.

Acceleration pressed him against the armored back of his seat. He wondered if the skis would act as small airfoils and change the plane’s performance, but they didn’t seem to. The groundcrew men hadn’t touched the Jericho trumpets mounted in the landing-gear struts. The screaming sirens terrorized the Russian foot soldiers, who ran every which way like ants from a disturbed nest.

Panzers couldn’t scatter like that-and, inside those clattering hulls, even the wail from the Jericho trumpets took a while to register. The machines quickly swelled from specks to toys to the real thing. Rudel’s finger came down on the firing button. Each 37mm gun bellowed and spat flame.

Recoil from those monsters slowed the Stuka even better than dive brakes. Hans-Ulrich yanked back hard on the stick. Things went red in front of his eyes as the Ju-87 pulled out of the dive. If you weren’t paying attention, you could fly a dive bomber straight into the ground. Several Germans in the Legion Kondor had done it in Spain. Stukas got autopilots after that, but the men who flew them unanimously hated the gadgets. Hans-Ulrich had had groundcrew men disable his, and he was far from the only pilot who had.

“You got the bastard!” Sergeant Dieselhorst’s voice through the speaking tube was like sounding brass. “Engine’s on fire, crew’s bailing out.”

“Good.” Rudel couldn’t see behind him, so he had to rely on the radioman’s reports. Experience in France and here had taught him to aim for the engine compartment. Almost any panzer’s armor was thinnest on the decking there. He manhandled the Stuka into a climbing turn. “Let’s see if we can kill another one, or maybe more than one.”

The pillar of greasy black smoke rising from the rear of the panzer he’d struck told him it wouldn’t be going anywhere any more. He nodded to himself in somber satisfaction. He’d killed a lot of enemy armor with the big guns. He must have killed a lot of enemy panzer crewmen, too, but he tried not to dwell on that.

After he’d gained enough altitude, he chose another whitewashed Russian panzer and tipped the Stuka into a new dive. Again, the Jericho trumpets howled. This time, though, they didn’t take the Ivans on the ground by surprise. Hans-Ulrich had a low opinion of Russian brains, but not of Russian balls. The Reds opened up on the Stuka with their small arms. The commander of Rudel’s new target vehicle fired a burst from the turret with a submachine gun.

All that might have made the Ivans happier, but did them no good. You couldn’t shoot accurately at a dive bomber from the ground-it was going too fast. Even if you got lucky and hit it, the engine and the compartment that housed the two crewmen were armored against rifle-caliber bullets.

Blam! Blam! The Stuka’s big guns thundered again, at almost the same instant. Hans-Ulrich pulled out of the dive. He brought his fist down on his thigh in triumph when Sergeant Dieselhorst reported that he’d nailed another one. “Aim to go after number three?” Dieselhorst asked.

“Why not?” Rudel said. “Hardly any Russian panzers carry radios. They won’t call fighters after us.”

“Some do, so you hope they won’t,” the veteran underofficer replied.

That was nothing but the truth. Hans-Ulrich didn’t want to meet fighters, not in his ungainly machine. He got more ground fire in this dive than he had before. At least one lucky round clanged into the Stuka, but it did no harm. And when the 37mm guns belched fire once more, they wrecked another Soviet panzer.

Part of Rudel wanted to go after a fourth Russian machine, but common sense told him that was a bad idea. Sooner or later, fighters blazoned with the red star would show up around here. The best thing he could do was to be somewhere else when they did. He hauled the Stuka’s nose around and flew off to the west.

Ivan Kuchkov counted himself lucky to be alive. He was a short, squat, brawny Russian peasant. The authorities had yanked him off the collective farm where he grew up and put him in the bomb bay of an SB-2 medium bomber. Short, squat, and brawny were ideal qualifications for a bombardier. Smart wasn’t, and nobody, including Ivan himself, had ever claimed he was.

He hadn’t tried to keep track of how many missions he’d flown, for instance. He just knew there’d been a lot of them. He also knew that, if you flew a lot of missions against the Nazis, you were waiting for the law of averages to catch up with you.

And it did. The Tupolev bomber had got hit and caught fire on the way back from a run into German-held Byelorussia. Kuchkov bailed out. He didn’t think either the pilot or the copilot and bomb-aimer made it. He’d flown with Sergei Yaroslavsky ever since they “volunteered” to aid Czechoslovakia against Fascist invaders when the war was new. Unless his brain was totally fucked, he wouldn’t be flying with the lieutenant any more.

He wasn’t sure he’d be flying at all. Red Army men rescued him and got him away from the Germans after he landed. The first lieutenant commanding the company didn’t want to give him back to the Red Air Force. Lieutenant Pavel Obolensky recognized a hard-nosed son of a bitch when he saw one. Obolensky wanted Kuchkov fighting for him.

“The air force? Faggots fight in the air force,” the lieutenant declared. “You’re a real man, right? Real men belong in the Red Army!”

That was nonsense, as Kuchkov had reason to know. “I bet my bombs killed more Fascists than all the fuckers in your cocksucking regiment, sir,” he said. He wasn’t being deliberately disrespectful. He just spoke mat, the obscenity-laced underworld and underground dialect of Russian, as naturally as he breathed. He almost didn’t know how not to swear.

Luckily for him, Lieutenant Obolensky, like Yaroslavsky, recognized as much and didn’t come down on him on account of his foul mouth. “Maybe they did,” the infantry officer said. “But fuck your mother if we don’t get to watch the cunts die when we nail ’em.” Like most Russians, he could use mat, too, even if he didn’t make a habit of it the way Kuchkov did.

“You’ve got something there,” Ivan admitted. He thought it over, then nodded. “Why the hell not?” Remembering such manners as he owned, he saluted. “Uh, sir.”

For the moment, the Red Air Force probably thought he was as dead as the rest of the SB-2’s crew. That made turning into a foot soldier easier. One of these days, his proper service would figure out that he’d kept breathing after all. That was likely to complicate his life. But it wasn’t as if he’d deserted, and he’d never been one to borrow trouble. Plenty came along on its own, thank you very much.

Such calculations had nothing to do with his choice. Along with being short and squat and strong, he was dark and ugly and uncommonly hairy. In the Red Air Force, they called him the Chimp. He hated it. Anyone who came right out and used the nickname to his face, he did his best to deck, and his best was goddamn good. But he knew people called him Chimp behind his back. Maybe joining up with a bunch of strangers would let him escape it.

He might be rugged as a boulder, but he was curiously naive. He could get away from the nickname he despised for about twenty minutes-half an hour, tops. As soon as anybody with even a little imagination got a look at him, he was as sure to be tagged Chimp (or maybe King Kong) as a redhead was to get stuck with Red or Rusty.

Lieutenant Obolensky was making calculations of his own. The main one was that Sergeant Kuchkov would be worth eight or ten ordinary guys in a fight. At least. And so the lieutenant grinned when Kuchkov didn’t make a fuss about staying in the air force.

“Ochen khorosho!” Obolensky exclaimed. As far as he was concerned, it was very good indeed. “Let’s get you kitted out.”

Ivan’s fur-lined flight suit gave him better cold-weather gear than most of his new comrades enjoyed. Thanks to Obolensky, though, he got a white snow smock to put over it. He also got a tunic with collar tabs in infantry crimson rather than air force blue. And he got a submachine gun to replace the Tokarev pistol he carried as a personal weapon. He didn’t ditch the pistol, though. You never could tell when an extra weapon would come in handy.

He’d maintained the machine guns in the SB-2’s dorsal and belly turrets. Next to them, the PPD-34 might have been a kiddy toy. It was plainer and uglier than the Nazis’ Schmeisser, but it had a seventy-one-round drum magazine. That made it heavier than a Schmeisser, but so what? It kept firing a lot longer, too. He knew he’d have to clean the magazine even more often than the weapon itself, which boasted a chromed barrel and chamber. Dirt could foul the clockwork mechanism that fed cartridges into the PPD. A jam was more likely to prove fatal than just embarrassing. No jams, then.

Ivan shifted the three metal triangles that marked his rank from old collar tabs to new. Lieutenant Obolensky gave him a squad right away-infantry units took more than their share of casualties, and Obolensky had had a corporal who barely needed to shave running it. The junior-very junior-noncom didn’t resent losing the position he hadn’t held long. Lucky for him, too; if he had, Kuchkov would have whaled the piss out of him.

One advantage of air force life was sleeping out of artillery range of the enemy, sometimes even in a real cot in a heated barracks. Nothing like that here. There weren’t even tents. You wore as many clothes as you could, rolled yourself in a blanket (if you had a blanket) as if you were a cigar and it the wrapper, and either you slept or you didn’t.

The soldiers in Ivan’s new squad eyed him warily, wondering how he’d cope with living rough. No one came out and said anything about it to him. Not all the infantrymen could read and write, but ignorance didn’t make them stupid. If they pissed him off, he’d make them sorry. He had the look of somebody who wouldn’t worry about regulations when he did it, either.

Three days after parachuting down into the Red Army, he led his squad out on patrol. He picked a skinny little nervous Jew called Avram as point man. Somebody like that was liable to jump at shadows, but he wouldn’t happily amble into a Nazi trap.

Even with his fur-and-leather flying togs on under the snow smock, Ivan was miserably cold. In wool greatcoats, the ordinary Red Army men would be even colder. But, from everything everybody said, the Germans would be colder yet. Russians made jokes about Winter Fritz. Ivan hoped all the jokes were true.

A private trotted back to him. “There’s a field up ahead, and a village out past it,” the fellow reported. “Avram says the Germans are holed up in the houses.”

“Oh, he does, does he?” Ivan still didn’t know how far he could rely on Avram-or anyone else in the squad, come to that. “I’ll fucking see for myself.”

“Be careful going forward, he says,” the private told him. “A sniper in the village can hit you if he sees you.”

“Right.” Kuchkov wasn’t sure if the Zhid was only warning him or trying to find out if he was yellow. He didn’t know all the ground-pounders’ tricks yet. He did know enough to keep his head down and to stay behind trees as much as he could. He made it out to Avram without getting shot at. The point man sprawled behind a stout pine. “So? Nazi cocksuckers in the village?” Ivan asked him.

“ Da, Comrade Sergeant.” Avram nodded. “If you want to look-carefully-you’ll spot them.”

Only his eyes showing under the snow smock, Ivan peered out from behind the pine. The Germans in the village weren’t being nearly so cautious. “They’re fucking there, all right,” he agreed. “Scoot back to the lieutenant. Tell him where the cunts are at. Tell him we can take ’em-bet your ass we can-if the machine gun and mortar help keep our dicks up.”

After another nod, Avram silently disappeared. He made a good point man. Half an hour later, Lieutenant Obolensky crawled up to check things out for himself. The mortar crew and machine gunners set up not far away. Ivan smiled wolfishly. Obolensky didn’t think he had the vapors or was showing off, then. Outstanding.

Other men from the company took places near the edge of the woods. They’d be ready to go forward as soon as they got the word. The lieutenant put a hand on Kuchkov’s shoulder. “You’re right,” he whispered. “We can take them. And we will.”

Soldiers swigged from their hundred-gram vodka rations, borrowing bravery for the fight ahead. Kuchkov drank, too, because he liked to drink. The mortar dropped bombs on the village. The machine gun sprayed death toward it. Obolensky’s brass officer’s whistle squealed like a shoat losing its nuts to the knife. “Forward!” he yelled.

“Urra!” the Russian soldiers roared as they swarmed out of the woods. A few rifle shots answered them, but no machine gun. Either the Germans didn’t have one there or the mortar’d knocked their crew out of action. Ivan pounded forward with the rest. Till he got a lot closer, the PPD was just a weight in his hands.

He never did have to fire it. The Nazis put up only a token resistance. Then they got the hell out of there. A bullet broke one Red Army man’s arm. Another fellow lost the bottom half of his left ear and bled all over his snow smock. The Nazis left two dead men behind. How many casualties they took with them, Ivan couldn’t guess.

The village came back into Soviet hands-not that any peasants remained in it. It had been a dreary little place even before the Germans overran it. Kuchkov didn’t care. He’d proved himself in front of his men. That, he cared about.

Vaclav Jezek found himself even more isolated in Spain than he had been in France. The Czech hadn’t imagined such a thing possible, but there you were. The Spanish Republic might have been the most isolated country, or half a country, in the world. When England and France forgot about fighting Fascism and turned on the Bolsheviks instead, they made a point of forgetting about their erstwhile Iberian ally.

Great Powers had the luxury of doing such things whenever they pleased. Jezek didn’t. He’d battled the Nazis ever since the day they jumped Czechoslovakia. Instead of surrendering after the Germans overran Bohemia and Moravia and Father Tiso led Slovakia into Fascist-backed “independence,” he crossed the border into Poland and let himself be interned.

The Russians hadn’t jumped the Poles then, so Poland remained neutral. Czech soldiers were allowed-even unofficially encouraged-to go to Romania (likewise neutral in those days) and from there by sea to France to take service with the Czechoslovak government-in-exile. Vaclav did all that. His thinking, and the government-in-exile’s, was that keeping the Nazis from conquering France was his own country’s best and perhaps only hope for eventual resurrection.

That best hope looked none too good. The Czech lands (and Tiso’s puppet Slovakia) remained under the Reich ’s muscular thumb. Which was not to say Corporal Vaclav Jezek hadn’t done the Germans as much harm as one man could. From a poilu who’d never need it any more, he’d acquired an antitank rifle: a godawful heavy weapon that kicked like a jackass but could drive a thumb-sized armor-piercing bullet right through the hardened steel plating on a German light tank or armored car.

He also discovered that the antitank rifle made a great sniper’s piece. It shot far and fast and flat. After he mounted a telescopic sight on it, he could pick off a man more than two kilometers away: not always, but often enough to be useful. At half that range, he’d blow off a Nazi’s head with nearly every round.

His countrymen and allies loved him-till the French suddenly turned into Hitler’s allies instead. Just as suddenly, the Czechoslovak government-in-exile and its little army became embarrassments. France somehow did find the courtesy not to intern the men who’d given their blood to help keep her free. She let those of them who so desired cross the Pyrenees to Republican Spain instead.

In France, Sergeant Benjamin Halevy, a French Jew with parents from Prague, had interpreted for the refugee soldiers. Now he was a refugee himself, having no more stomach for fighting on the Fuhrer ’s side than did the stubborn Czechs.

Someone fluent in French like Halevy could follow a word of Spanish here and there, the same way a Czech could understand bits of Russian. Vaclav had learned just enough French to swear with. The only foreign language he really spoke was German. That was of no more use to him here than it had been in France. It was the enemy’s tongue in the Spanish Republic as it had been on the northern side of the mountains, but fewer people in these parts understood it… and most of the ones who did backed Marshal Sanjurjo’s Fascists, not the Republic.

Most, but not all. The fighters from the International Brigades had come to Spain to lay their lives on the line to halt the advance of Hitler and Mussolini’s malignant ideology. Some were from America, some from England, but more from Central and Eastern Europe. An awful lot of them could speak German or Yiddish, even if they were no more native speakers than Vaclav.

By what amounted to a miracle in this bureaucratic age, the powers that be in the Republic realized as much. Instead of sending the Czechs to some threatened border region (and all the Republic’s borders except the one with France were threatened), the Spaniards grouped them with the Internationals defending Madrid.

The Internationals were Red, Red, Red. Vaclav couldn’t have cared less. Just like him, they killed Fascists. They didn’t seem to worry about anything else but a soldier’s universals: ammo, food, tobacco, and pussy. Nobody tried to make him bow down toward Moscow five times a day.

They appreciated the antitank rifle and what he could do with it. “We have a few of those ourselves, but we never thought of using them for sniping,” said a fellow who called himself Spartacus. It was a nom de guerre; he spoke German with a throaty Hungarian accent.

Vaclav loved Magyars hardly more than Germans. He had to remind himself he and Spartacus were on the same side. “It works,” he said. He wasn’t about to let anybody take the man-tall monster away from him.

But that wasn’t what Spartacus had in mind. “I bet it does. That’s the idea,” he said. “Why don’t you start thinning the herd of Fascist officers?” His thin, dark mustache made his smile even nastier than it would have been otherwise.

“I can do that. As a matter of fact, I’ve been doing it, in France and here,” Vaclav said. No one here would have paid much attention to what he’d been up to. That was what you got for being a newcomer, especially if you had language troubles.

“All right. Good. Very good.” The Hungarian International seemed on the stupid side to Vaclav, to say nothing of overbearing. Most Magyars seemed that way to most Czechs. Magyars weren’t as bad as Germans, but they were a devil of a long way from good… if you eyed them from a Czech’s perspective, anyhow.

How Czechs seemed to Magyars was another question altogether-not one Vaclav had ever thought to ask himself, and not one he was likely to ask himself, either.

His biggest complaint was one he hadn’t expected to have in sunny Spain: the trenches northwest of Madrid got as cold as a German tax collector’s heart. Sunny Spain was, even in wintertime. But the central plateau lay some distance above sea level, and the winds seemed to blow straight through him. He’d been warmer up near the Franco-Belgian border.

As long as he didn’t shiver while he pulled the trigger, though, he could do his job. If anything, it was easier here than it had been in France. However much he despised the Germans, he couldn’t deny that they made sensible soldiers. Officers didn’t look much different from their men. Sometimes they’d even turn their shoulder straps upside down to make it harder for a sniper to spy their rank badges.

Marshal Sanjurjo’s soldiers weren’t like that. A man in those ranks who was somebody wanted to show that he was somebody. He prominently displayed the gold stars that set him off from the common, vulgar mob. And he often wore a uniform of newer, finer cloth and better cut than the ragged, faded yellowish khaki the ordinary Fascist soldiers had to put up with.

All of which made it much easier for Vaclav to spot enemy officers. An aristocrat in a neatly pressed uniform, his stars of rank glittering under the bright Spanish sun, sometimes had a moment to look absurdly amazed when he made the acquaintance of one of the antitank rifle’s fat slugs.

More often, the Fascist bastard just fell over. Vaclav wasn’t fussy; nobody gave out style points.

Chapter 3

Sergeant Luc Harcourt shivered as he led his squad into the Russian village. That wasn’t fear; the village lay several hundred kilometers behind the line, and was unlikely to have holdouts in it. No, Luc was just cold. French greatcoats and other winter gear weren’t made for weather like this.

If not for the felt boots he wore over his own clodhoppers, he would have been colder yet. He’d stripped them off a dead Russian, and they were lifesavers. The Ivans had to deal with this crap every year, poor bastards, and they knew how.

He’d noticed that German soldiers wore valenki whenever they could get hold of them, too. That left him obscurely amused. So the Master Race didn’t know everything there was to know about winter warfare, either? Well, good!

Daladier might declare that France and Germany were allies against the Bolsheviks now. Luc might have taken a train trip through the Reich so he could get at the Red Army. But before that he’d spent two years shooting at the Nazis and trying like hell to hide when they shot back. Some Boche had shot his father during the last war. No matter what fucking Daladier declared, Luc didn’t love the Germans. No, sir, not even close.

A lot of Russian villages the Germans and their allies had overrun were empty. The locals had cleared out instead of sticking around to see what occupation would be like. Luc sympathized. Plenty of Frenchmen and — women had fled when the Germans invaded, too. And there were lots of Jews in these parts. If he were a Jew, he wouldn’t have stayed under German rule for anything.

Not everyone had run away from this place, though. A few men and women came out of their battered shacks to eye the soldiers trudging down the main street-an unpaved track with some of the dirty snow trampled into the frozen ground. All the Russians, regardless of sex, had valenki. Luc thought they were foolish to put the overboots on display. Some of his men were liable to steal them right off their feet.

A fellow with a graying, stubbly beard wore a wool scarf, a sheepskin cap and jacket, and baggy wool pants stuffed into the tops of his valenki. He surprised Luc by asking, “You’re Frenchmen, aren’t you?” in fluent French.

“That’s right,” the sergeant answered. “Where did you learn our language?”

The Ivan smiled a sweet, sad smile. “Once upon a time, I studied medicine. I learned French then. I learned German, too.” The smile got sadder still. “I used to think I was a cultured fellow.”

“Well, what the devil are you doing here?” Luc asked. This miserable village was as far from culture as anything could get.

“Tending my garden,” the Russian said, as Candide might have done. He went on, “What I grow in my own plot, I get to keep and sell. The state takes what we grow on our collective lands, of course. And I still do what I can when someone gets hurt or comes down sick.”

“Why aren’t you a doctor in some big city?” Luc inquired.

“The council of workers and peasants was going to send me to a labor camp for being an intellectual,” the Russian answered, as calmly as if he were talking about someone else. “But they decided I could work out my antiproletarian prejudices here on the kolkhoz instead. I’ve been here since 1922.”

“Well, now we’ve come to set you free.” Luc trotted out the propaganda line the Germans had fed their new allies to see what this cultured Russian would make of it.

By the way the fellow looked at him, he might have pissed in the baptismal font-except the building that had been a church before the Revolution was currently a barn. “If you’d come here in 1923, I would have welcomed you with open arms,” the Russian said. “So would almost everyone else. But now? No. We’ve spent a generation building up and getting used to the new ways of doing things. You want to tear down everything we’ve managed to do and tell us to start over one more time. We would rather fight for General Secretary Stalin than go through that again.”

He didn’t make fighting for Stalin sound like a good choice-only like a better choice than starting from scratch. Chuckling, Luc said, “Maybe I ought to shoot you now, then, to keep you from making trouble later on.”

“It could be that you should.” The Russian wasn’t joking. “I see that, because you are French, some shreds of civilization still cling to you. The Nazis would not talk like that. They would just start shooting and burning. It has happened here in the Soviet Union many times already. No doubt it will happen many more.”

Luc wanted to tell him that was all a pack of lies: nothing but garbage served up by the propaganda cooks in Moscow. He wanted to, yes, but the words stuck in his throat. After all, the Germans had invaded his country twice since 1914. They weren’t gentle occupiers either time. From all he’d heard, they were more brutal now than they had been a generation earlier. Why would he expect them to be gentle here in the East, then?

Uneasily, he said, “International law gives them the right to be hard on francs-tireurs.” If you picked up a rifle without being a soldier, any army in the world that caught you would give you a blindfold and-if you were lucky-a cigarette and then fill you full of holes.

Of course, the Germans took hostages if francs-tireurs troubled them. They murdered them by dozens or scores to remind the people they were fighting not to get frisky. Here in the East, they probably executed hostages by the hundreds. Would such frightfulness intimidate the Russians or only make them hate harder?

Looking into the doctor-turned-peasant’s pale eyes, Luc didn’t like the answer he thought he saw. “Keep your nose clean, or you’ll be sorry,” he said, his voice rougher than he’d intended.

“Oh, but of course, Monsieur,” the Russian said, his tone so transparently false that Luc wondered whether he should plug him right there.

A Nazi would have. The Ivan understood as much. So did Luc. It was the biggest part of what stayed his hand. He didn’t have his men camp inside the village, as he’d intended when they approached it. Instead, he led them on for another kilometer. They were grumbling by the time he finally let them stop.

He didn’t feel like listening to them. “Put a sock in it, you clowns,” he said. “We go to sleep in one of those houses, we’ll wake up with our throats cut.”

“We’ll freeze here in the middle of nowhere,” one of the poilus retorted. “Is that so much better?”

“We won’t freeze. We’ll just be cold. There’s a difference,” Luc said. He knew what the men would be saying about him-that he wouldn’t feel it because his heart was already cold. He’d said the same kind of thing about his sergeant back in the days before he wore any hash marks on his sleeve.

Sergeant Demange was Second Lieutenant Demange now. A veteran noncom from the last war, Demange didn’t want to be an officer. But the know-it-alls above him kept getting shot, and he finally won a promotion whether he liked it or not. The way he chain-smoked Gitanes said he didn’t. Or maybe not-he’d smoked like a chimney as a sergeant, too.

Luc told him about the French-speaking Russian back in the village. “You should have scragged the asshole,” said Demange, who had very little use for his fellow man. “It would’ve given the rest of the shitheads back there something to stew on.”

“The Gestapo would be proud of you, sir.” More than two years of serving Demange had earned Luc the right to speak his mind.

Up to a point. “Fuck you,” Demange answered evenly. “Fuck the Ivans, too. You want to make sure they don’t cause trouble, you’ve got to boot ’em in the balls. Oh, yeah-and fuck the Gestapo. Fuck ’em up the ass, except the ones who like it that way.”

“Merde alors!” Admiration filled Luc’s voice. “You hate everybody, don’t you?”

“Close enough,” Demange said. “With most of the bastards you run into, it just saves time.” He was looking at-looking through-Luc right then.

If that wasn’t a hint, Luc had never run into one. “Don’t worry, sir. Everybody loves you, too,” he said. Sketching a salute, he went back to his squad. Behind him, the reluctant officer chuckled.

In the middle of the night, the Russians dropped a swarm of mortar bombs on the village… and on the poilus who’d paused there for the night. Several soldiers got hurt. Luc’s squad was far enough from the buildings that nothing came down on them.

He didn’t point that out to the men he led. If he had, they would have figured he was blowing his own horn. If they figured it out for themselves, though, they’d see what a clever fellow he really was. Back in his days as a sergeant, Demange would have played it the same way. Luc had learned more from him than he would ever admit, even-maybe especially-to himself.

The hacked-up boards the Landsers fed into the fire came from a house a Russian shell had knocked flat. The gobbets of meat they toasted over the flames came from a horse that had hauled a 105mm howitzer till another shell broke its leg. Willi Dernen had shot it to put it out of its misery. He’d long since lost track of how many enemy soldiers he’d killed or wounded, but he couldn’t stand to see or listen to an animal suffer.

He took a bite. The meat was half charred, half raw. It was also gluey and gamy. It was horsemeat, in other words. It wasn’t the first time he’d had it, and he was sure it wouldn’t be the last. He turned to his fellow Gefreiter — senior private-and said, “I’ve probably eaten enough horse to let them enter me in next year’s Berlin steeplechase.”

Adam Pfaff shook his head. “Not fucking likely, Willi. I’ve eaten plenty of pussy, but nobody’s gonna put me in a goddamn cat show.” While Willi was still digesting that, so to speak, his buddy added, “Besides, have you taken a look at yourself lately? You’re no three-year-old, believe me, and no thoroughbred, either.”

“Oh, yeah? And you are?” Willi said. They grinned at each other. Like the rest of the men in their section-like the rest of the German Frontschweine in Russia-they were scrawny and filthy and badly shaven. A crawly itch under Willi’s whitewashed Stahlhelm said he was lousy again, too. One of these days, he’d get deloused. And he’d stay clean till the next time he went through a Russian village. Say, half an hour after he left the delousing station. Then he’d have company once more.

“Who’s got some tobacco he can spare?” Corporal Arno Baatz asked.

Willi had a nice little sack of makhorka — Russian tobacco, cheap and nasty but strong-in a trouser pocket. He would have bet Adam Pfaff had a similar stash. Adam knew what was what about keeping himself supplied. Neither Gefreiter said a word. Willi had had to put up with Awful Arno since the war started. Adam was much newer to the regiment, but he’d rapidly learned the Unteroffizier made a piss-poor substitute for a human being.

“Here you go, Corporal.” A private named Sigi Herzog gave Baatz a cigarette. Willi had already pegged him for a suckup. One more suspicion confirmed.

“Good.” Awful Arno didn’t bother thanking Sigi. He took such tribute as no less than his due. Another reason to despise him, as far as Willi was concerned: one more to add to a long list. Were Baatz a gutless wonder, everything would have been perfect-and the company would have had a perfectly good excuse for shipping him back behind the lines where he could annoy people without risking lives. But he actually made a decent combat soldier. It was everything else about him that Willi-and anyone else who got stuck serving under him-couldn’t stand.

He lit the cigarette and sucked in smoke. His plump cheeks hollowed. How any German on the Eastern Front stayed plump was beyond Willi, but Awful Arno managed. He shaved more often than most Landsers bothered to, but he was still plenty whiskery right this minute.

After blowing out a stream of smoke and fog, he let loose with a blast of hot air, straight from the Propaganda Ministry: “As soon as the weather gets even a little better, we’ll roll up the Ivans like a pair of socks.”

That he believed-and, worse, parroted-such bullshit was also on the list of reasons why he’d got his nickname. Willi rolled his eyes. Adam Pfaff rounded on Sigi. “What did you put in that smoke you gave him, man? Has to be better than tobacco, that’s for sure. If you’ve got more, give me some, too.”

Baatz sent him an unfriendly look: about the only kind the corporal kept in stock. “So what are you saying, Pfaff? Are you saying we won’t roll up the Reds?” he asked. “That sounds like defeatism to me.”

Defeatism could get you tangled up with the SS, the last thing anybody in his right mind wanted. Pfaff shook his head. “Don’t talk more like a jackass than you can help, Corporal. Anybody who’s seen me in action knows I’m no defeatist. Is that so or isn’t it?”

“If you make other soldiers not want to fight their hardest, that’s defeatism, too,” Baatz said stubbornly. “And you’d better remember I’m not too big a jackass to know it.”

Pfaff didn’t back down. “Nobody here’s gonna run home to Mutti on account of anything I come out with. And we all know we’d better fight hard, or else the Russians’ll cut off our cocks and shove ’em in our mouths.”

“Do they really do that shit?” asked a kid who’d come up to the front only a few days earlier. His uniform wasn’t so patched and faded as the ones the other Landsers wore. But for that, there wasn’t much to choose between him and the rest.

“They sure do,” Pfaff replied. Awful Arno nodded-they agreed on that much, anyhow.

Willi nodded, too. He’d seen it for himself, however much he wished he hadn’t. “You don’t want to let the Ivans take you prisoner,” he said. “Save a last round for yourself. Maybe the guys they do that to are already dead, but you don’t want to find out for yourself, do you?”

“So what do we do with the Russians we capture?” the new fish asked.

The veterans squatting by the fire eyed one another. Nobody said anything for a little while. At last, Willi answered, “Well, sometimes we send ’em back to a camp like good little boys, the way we would have in the West.” We would have most of the time in the West, anyway, he thought. The French and English weren’t perfect about sticking to the Geneva Convention, either. Aloud, he went on, “Sometimes, though…” He shrugged. “It’s a rough old war. I don’t know what else to tell you.”

“If we catch commissars or Jews, we do for them right away,” Awful Arno said. “Pigdogs like that don’t deserve to live.”

Not every commissar or Jewish Red Army man died right away. The Wehrmacht kept some alive for questioning. The ones who did live for a while probably wound up envying their comrades who perished on the spot. German interrogators weren’t likely to be gentler than their Soviet opposite numbers.

The kid chewed on that for a few seconds. Then he asked, “If we treat them rough, doesn’t that give them an excuse to do the same to us?”

Arno Baatz laughed at him. “You want to spout the Golden Rule, sonny, you should put on a chaplain’s frock coat before you start.”

He waited for the other men who’d been through the mill to laugh with him. Sigi Herzog did, but he was the only one. Awful Arno scowled at the others. Willi stonily stared back at him. The kid had a point of sorts.

But only of sorts. “Look, when this fight is over, either we’ll be left standing or the damn Russians will,” Willi said. “You fight a war like that, and who has room to be a gentleman?”

“Isn’t that what the Geneva Convention’s for?” the new fish asked. “To keep things clean on both sides, I mean?”

Awful Arno laughed some more-a mean, nasty laugh. “Didn’t they tell you anything before they shipped your sorry ass up here? Yeah, that’s what the Geneva Convention’s all about. When we fought the Tommies and the frogs, we played by the rules, and so did they. But you know what? The fucking Bolsheviks never signed the fucking Convention! ”

“Oh,” the kid said in a small voice. And that was about the size of it. There were no formal rules in the fight between the Third Reich and the Soviet Union. They could go at it however they pleased. They could, and they did. The kid made one more try: “If we told Stalin we’d follow the Convention whether we have to or not, wouldn’t he almost have to do the same?”

Baatz laughed one more time. However little Willi wanted to, he found himself laughing along. It was either laugh or weep, and laughing hurt-a little-less. “Stalin doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do,” Awful Arno said. “What he wants to do now is kill all the Germans he can.”

He was right about that. Of course, Hitler didn’t have to do anything he didn’t want to, either, and what he wanted to do was kill carload lots of Russians. Which left the soldiers in Feldgrau or khaki stuck in the middle between them in one hell of a rough spot.

Like I didn’t know that already, Willi thought. His bayonet got most of its use as a belt knife. He hacked off another hunk of horsemeat with it. Then he skewered the meat and held it over the fire. At least his belly would be full, anyhow.

Chaim Weinberg liked having the Czech holdouts around. They might not be Marxist-Leninists the way he and most of the Internationals were, but they were good, solid men. The American Jew had nothing against Spaniards. He wouldn’t have come to Spain to fight for the Republic if he had.

Spaniards-Spaniards on both sides, dammit-were extravagantly brave. They put up with shortages and fuckups with good humor he could only admire, because he sure couldn’t imitate it. But they were flighty. They were temperamental. They could be cruel for the fun of it (he’d never got used to bullfighting). And they liked to talk. Jesus H. Christ, did they ever!

It wasn’t as if he didn’t enjoy the sound of his own voice. He did. He argued and converted and preached the Red faith with as much zeal as any friar taking on the latest jungle tribe who knew not the word of God. But when it came to passion, Chaim had to admit the Spaniards had him beat.

He’d fallen hard for La Martellita, a Party organizer in battered Madrid. He would have said (hell, he did say, to anyone who would listen) he’d fallen in love with her. The emotion involved, though, sprang from an organ south of his heart. She was tiny. She was stacked. She was gorgeous, in the blue-black-haired, high-cheekboned, flashing-eyed Spanish way. She had what he couldn’t help thinking of as a blowjob mouth. And the way she painted it said she knew as much, too.

She wouldn’t look at him for the longest time. It wasn’t that he was no movie star himself, even if he was no movie star himself. He was not too tall, kind of dumpy, and looked as Jewish as he was. But what really bothered her was that he wasn’t ideologically pure enough. He had the American gift, or curse, of thinking for himself, not blindly swallowing the latest twist in the Party line out of Moscow.

He got into her bed by the oldest, most time-tested method in the world: he waited till she got smashed, went back to her place with her, and had his fun while she was too loaded to care-almost too loaded to notice. She was anything but delighted to discover him next to her the next morning, and her lethal hangover had only a little to do with it. But he’d tended to the hangover and sweet-talked her till she let him back in bed fully conscious; he owned the memory forever.

Then she found out she was pregnant.

She could have got rid of it easily enough. The Republic had probably the most progressive social policies in the world. But she didn’t want to. Maybe a strict Catholic upbringing still lurked in the unexamined basement of her soul. No, she wanted her little surprise to carry a proper surname.

And so Chaim found himself a married man. He felt like Brer Rabbit in the briar patch. La Martellita-her revolutionary name meant The Little Hammer, and suited her all too well-promised she’d divorce him after the baby was born. Divorce was even easier here than abortion. And, unlike abortion, it didn’t trouble her tender conscience.

In the meantime… It could have been a white marriage, like one between a fairy and a dyke wearing masks for the sake of the world’s good opinion. La Martellita, though, was as thorough in marriage as she was in everything else. And she had discovered that Chaim wasn’t half bad in the sack. It surprised her, as it had quite a few other women before her.

“I may not be pretty, but by God I can screw,” he said, not without pride.

“You may be able to screw, but by God you’re not pretty,” La Martellita answered, not without truth.

Despite such devastating candor from his more-or-less beloved, he went back into Madrid from the front as often as he could. And he returned to the front less and less worried that she hoped he would stop something up there so she could give the baby a name as a respectable widow and not have to go on worrying about the messy details that went into marriage.

Little by little, the Republicans were driving the Nationalists back from the northwestern edge of Madrid. There’d been months of bitter fighting over the corpse of the university. Now those battered buildings lay several kilometers behind the line. Pretty soon, most of Madrid would be out of artillery range for Marshal Sanjurjo’s thugs.

Mike Carroll had served in the Abraham Lincoln Battalion for as long as Chaim had. Mike was tall and fair and lean and handsome. Chaim should have hated him on sight. Instead, they’d been buddies since the moment they met. Like so many buddies, they sassed each other all the time.

“You’re the only Abe Lincoln who doesn’t want us to advance any more,” Mike said one chilly morning, a certain gleam in his eye.

“My ass!” Chaim retorted. “The fuck that supposed to mean?”

“Means the farther the front goes from the city, the tougher the time you have getting back there and getting your end wet,” Carroll answered.

Chaim suggested that one way he could achieve such an objective was by having his comrade-in-arms perform an unnatural act on him. Said comrade-in-arms made reference to his mother, and also to the possibly relevant body parts of a ewe. Chaim surmised that the ewe might be diseased due to earlier intimate acquaintance with said comrade-in-arms. If they both hadn’t been laughing their heads off, they would have tried to murder each other.

After the filthy jokes ran thin, Chaim said, “Seriously, man, we better push the Fascists back as far as we can. I’ve got the bad feeling this summer won’t be a hell of a lot of fun.”

“Amazing, Sherlock!” Mike said. “What leads you to this deduction?”

“Ah, cut the crap. You know as well as I do,” Chaim answered.

“We aren’t licked yet,” Mike said, which wasn’t a ringing denial.

Everybody on the Republican side knew what was wrong. As in a sickroom where the patient still seemed strong but was plainly sinking, no one wanted to talk about it. Now that England and France were backing Hitler’s push against Stalin, Republican Spain was definitely the girl they’d left behind. The Republic was lucky to have got those Czechs, and the handful of French Jews who’d come with them. Not many more soldiers would make it over the Pyrenees.

Not many more supplies would, either. France and England didn’t want to sell to the Republic any more. Stalin did, but he had his own war to worry about and a swarm of enemies between him and Spain. Meanwhile, nobody was stopping the Fuhrer and the Duce from shipping Marshal Sanjurjo all kinds of goodies.

“Maybe FDR will come through,” Mike said.

“And rain makes applesauce,” Chaim returned. “I’ll believe that when I see it.”

America was at war with Japan, not with Germany. Roosevelt hadn’t even tried to get a declaration of war against Germany through Congress. Had he tried, he would have failed. The USA had been selling billions in weapons to the so-called Western democracies… till the big switch. After that, FDR pulled the plug. The munitions makers might have found a market in Spain to take up some of the slack-if the new war against Japan hadn’t got them going full speed ahead again.

Chaim paused to scratch. Why wasn’t it too cold for bugs in the trenches? Because they lived on nice, warm people-that was why. “Even if we are fucked, we’ve lasted three years longer than anybody thought we could,” he said. “The government was going to take the Internationals out of the line, remember, ’cause we’d done all we could do. Or we thought so, anyway, till Hitler jumped on the Czechs and all of a sudden England and France liked the Republic again.”

“And now they don’t any more, and we’re fucked again,” Carroll said. “Till the roulette wheel stops on a new square, we are. I wish Hitler would’ve declared war on America. That would have fried his fish for him.”

“Boy, you got that straight,” Chaim said. “Can you imagine all the shit that’d pour into Spain then?” He imagined it with the dreamy, half-hopeless awe a starving prospector gave to striking the mother lode.

“In the meantime…” Carroll poked him in the ribs. “In the meantime, you’ve got your little cutie back in town. If she doesn’t give you something to fight for, you’ve got to be dead.”

Chaim would no more have called La Martellita a little cutie than he would have hung the same handle on a 155mm shell. It wasn’t obvious which was more dangerous, or more explosive. Still, some guys did talk about weapons that way, even if he didn’t. His features softened for a reason different, if related.

“I’m gonna have a kid. A half-Spanish kid, a kid who’s gonna live here in the country we end up making,” he said softly, his eyes dreamy and far away. “That, now, that gives me somethin’ to fuckin’ fight for.”

Some German propaganda sheets lay next to the bubbling samovar when Anastas Mouradian walked into the Red Air Force officers’ meeting room. He could tell what they were right away. For one thing, even by Soviet standards, the paper they were printed on was amazingly cheap and cruddy. For another, the font the Nazis had chosen looked like something from before the last war.

The Armenian bomber pilot wondered why they’d picked something so outdated. Maybe they didn’t have any more modern type. Or maybe, since the alphabet wasn’t their own, they were just style-blind. It wasn’t the alphabet Stas had grown up with, either, but he saw it all the time. Couldn’t Hitler’s clowns have found a defector to fill them in on their own stupidity?

Most likely, they hadn’t even gone looking. Germans were so convinced of their own superiority, they often didn’t bother asking advice from anyone else. Sometimes they paid for their arrogance, too.

He picked up one of the sheets. A misspelled word and some bad grammar leaped out at him. The Nazis were trying to persuade non-Russians in the USSR to go over to them. You thought the tiranny of the Tsars was bad. Stalin’s is even worser! the flier said. No, no one would take you seriously if you stuck your foot in your mouth as soon as you opened it.

A Russian pilot paused at the samovar to pour himself a glass of tea. He chuckled when he saw what Mouradian was looking at. “So, Stas, you going to fly your plane over to a Hitlerite airstrip?” he inquired.

He was joking. Stas knew that perfectly well. All the same, the Armenian set down the propaganda sheet as if it burned his fingers. “Not me!” he declared, sincerity ringing in his voice. “Only thing I’ll give them is a thousand kilos of high explosive!”

The trouble with jokes was, you never could tell who was listening to the answers. Stas had no reason to think Boris there belonged to the NKVD or informed on his fellow officers. He had no reason to think that about any of the other flyers sitting down with tea and hard rolls and fatty pork sausages and papirosi, either.

But he couldn’t afford to joke back with the Russians, because there was always the chance… He didn’t care to see the Lubyanka, the NKVD headquarters in Moscow, from the inside. He didn’t want to go to a labor camp in Turkmenistan or Siberia just on account of a misunderstood joke. He didn’t want to go to a place like that at all, but especially not for such a stupid reason.

And so, remarking, “This stinking thing wouldn’t even make a good asswipe,” he poured himself a glass of tea, too, and walked away from the table without a backward glance at the propaganda sheet.

His copilot came in a few minutes later. Ivan Kulkaanen also picked up one of the sheets. After a quick glance, he put it down again. “Fascist bullshit!” he said loudly, and got himself some tea and a roll.

It was Fascist bullshit-no possible doubt about that. With better propaganda, the Nazis might have had more chance of prying people away from the Soviet regime. Not everyone in the USSR loved it; not even close. If you had to choose between Stalin and his henchmen on the one hand and people who turned out crap like that on the other, though, you turned into a Soviet patriot almost by default.

Lieutenant Colonel Tomashevsky came in. The squadron commander waved to his men, telling them not to bother to jump up and salute. Discipline in the Soviet armed forces had tightened up since the war started. Leaders had discovered that, while a revolutionary military sounded good, a hierarchical one performed better. They’d found the same thing in Spain. They’d rediscovered it after the French Revolution. No doubt Spartacus, that Soviet hero, had had to learn the lesson, too.

After snagging tea and breakfast, Tomashevsky said, “Looks like we’ll fly today, Comrades.” He sat down. By the way he shoveled sausage into his chowlock, action didn’t leave him too nervous to eat. Anastas Mouradian felt the same way. He wanted some ballast in there when he went up. Some people worked differently. They’d puke or get the runs if they went into combat with a full stomach. They weren’t cowards. They just came equipped with anxious insides.

“What’s our target, Comrade Colonel?” someone asked.

“There’s an enemy concentration east of Vitebsk,” Tomashevsky said. “Mostly Englishmen and the French, Intelligence says.” His lip curled in fine contempt. “If they want to play these games, we have to show them the price. And if we smash them up before they get to the front, that’s one thing less for the Red Army to worry about.”

Groundcrew men were bombing up the Pe-2s and making sure their machine guns had full belts when Mouradian and Kulkaanen went to their plane. Some of the bombs had slogans chalked on the casings: For Stalin! and Death to Fascists! and the like. The only way the enemy would find out about one of those was if the bomb proved a dud. But the groundcrews did that kind of thing all the time. It made them happy and didn’t hurt anything, so why not?

Fyodor Mechnikov profanely directed bomb stowage. The blocky sergeant reminded Stas a lot of Ivan Kuchkov, with whom he’d served before getting promoted away. He wasn’t quite so hairy or quite so ugly, and he didn’t have quite such a foul mouth, but he came close on all three counts.

“We’ll give ’em hell, right?” he said to Stas.

The Armenian nodded gravely. “That isn’t borscht we’re dropping on them.”

“Borscht.” The bombardier didn’t need long to decide what he thought of that. “You’re weird… sir.”

“It could be,” Mouradian agreed. “It probably is, in fact. But as long as I get the plane there and back, as long as we deliver the load, what difference does it make?”

“When you put it that way, not fucking much,” Mechnikov allowed.

Flying the Pe-2 was a pleasure. It had so much speed and maneuverability, people called it the fighting bomber. Of course, they’d said the same thing about the SB-2, the plane Stas had learned on, only a few years earlier. The state of the art had passed the SB-2 by. One of these days, the Pe-2 would also grow obsolescent. But it hadn’t happened yet.

“If we’re gong after the English and French, we won’t have to worry so much about 109s, will we?” Kulkaanen asked as they reached cruising altitude.

“I hope not,” Stas said sincerely. Calling a Pe-2 a fighting bomber meant it had a chance against a Messerschmitt. A good chance? Well, no. From what he’d heard, English fighters were about as good as the 109, French machines not quite. Neither country had swarms of them in these parts, the way the Nazis did.

The squadron droned on toward the west. A few antiaircraft guns fired at them as they crossed the front. Russian? German? Both? No one got hit, so it didn’t matter. Somewhere down there in the snow…

“Approaching the target.” Tomashevsky’s voice echoed in Stas’ earphones. The pilot wondered how he could tell. Then he saw fairly well camouflaged tents below-and antiaircraft fire abruptly picked up.

“Let ’em go, Fedya!” he called to the bombardier through the speaking tube.

Away they went. All at once, the bomber grew nimbler. It needed to, for English Hurricanes-Mouradian thought they were Hurricanes-tore into the formation less than a minute after the Pe-2s turned for home. Tracers scored deadly, fiery lines across the sky. Two bombers spun earthward, one after the other. A Hurricane went down, too, flames licking back from the dead engine toward the cockpit.

Stas didn’t see a parachute open there. He didn’t look very hard, either. He was too busy throwing his plane around the sky, trying to keep any Hurricanes from getting on his tail. Mechnikov fired a burst from the belly machine gun. No answering storm of lead tore into the Pe-2, so maybe he scared off the enemy. Or maybe he was shooting at nothing. Stas didn’t care. As long as he got away, he didn’t care about anything else.

Chapter 4

Julius Lemp swept the horizon with his Zeiss binoculars. Ratings up on the U-30’s conning tower scanned all segments of the sky. The Baltic was a damned narrow sea. You had to stay alert every second you were on the surface. Trouble would land on top of you with both feet if you didn’t.

Estonia lay to the south, Finland to the north. Under Marshal Mannerheim, Finland was neutral or even friendly to the Reich. Estonia would have liked to be. Stalin didn’t give the little country the choice. The Reds still resented losing the Baltic states when the Russian Empire fell apart. (They resented losing Finland, too, but they weren’t in such a good position to do anything about that.)

When the Soviet Union sneezed, Estonia came down with the sniffles. When Stalin said Do something! his little neighbor did it. Otherwise, especially in troubled times like these, the Red Army would march in.

As a matter of fact, the Red Army-and the Red Air Force and Red Navy — had marched in. That was why Lemp cast an especially wary eye toward the south. But things could have been worse. Estonia still remained independent in name. Stalin had promised that his forces would leave once the emergency was over. Even an idiot knew Stalin’s pledges were worth their weight in gold, but at least he’d bothered to make this one.

Lithuania was as much a German sphere as Estonia was a Russian. Hitler had reannexed Memel, and the Lithuanians seemed pathetically eager to cede it to him. He might have grabbed the whole country if they hadn’t. Like Stalin, he swore up and down that the Wehrmacht would pull out after he’d won the war. Lemp chuckled nastily. Once a guy got it in, he always promised he’d pull out.

“What’s funny, Skipper?” one of the ratings asked. The field glasses never left his eyes; his steady scan of the sky never faltered. Lemp told him. He laughed.

So did the rest of the sailors up there. “You used that line, too, did you?” another one said.

“Who, me?” Lemp answered in a voice brimming with innocence. More goatish laughter erupted. Aboard the Kriegsmarine’s surface ships, Prussian discipline was alive and thriving. Everything was bright metal and fresh paint and sharp trouser creases and smooth shaves and “Zu befehl, mein Herr!”

U-boats weren’t like that. By the nature of things, they couldn’t be. No one wasted precious fresh water on shaving. Like his men, Lemp wore a scraggly growth of face fungus. His uniform was as grimy and smelly as theirs were. The only thing that distinguished his from theirs was the white cover on his service cap; theirs were all navy blue. He’d taken the stiffening wire out of the crown, as every U-boat skipper did: one more silent swipe at spit and polish.

The sun glinted off the sea to the south and threw dazzling reflections into his face. It stood higher in the sky than it had in the depths of winter-not that anybody who had to sail the Baltic in that season saw it very often. But the wind still blew down from the north-straight off the North Pole, by the feel of it. Despite a heavy peacoat and quilted trousers, Lemp shivered.

One of the ratings stiffened. He pointed southeast. “Smoke on the horizon!”

Lemp’s binoculars swung that way. Yes, the dark smudge was there-low and hard to make out, but there, sure as hell. And smoke, in these waters, could come only from a Russian ship. “Good job, Anton. I’ll see it goes into your file,” the skipper said. Then he called down the hatch to the exec, who had the helm: “Change course to 135. All ahead full. Anton spied the smoke.”

“Changing course to 135, Skipper.” Klaus Hammerstein’s voice floated up from below. He was a good officer. He’d get promoted away from the U-30 into a boat of his own before too long. When he was the Old Man himself, he could let more of his good nature show. He’d have an exec to do the dirty work for him then, instead of his doing it for someone else. Lemp heard him call the setting change back to the engine room. The U-boat’s diesels throbbed harder. The Type VIIA could make sixteen knots on the surface. That would be plenty to run down a freighter. If Anton had found an enemy warship…

I’ll worry about that later, Lemp told himself. He did not hold the Red Navy in high regard. Yes, the Ivans were brave. But he’d spent most of the time since the war started facing off against the Royal Navy out in the North Sea and the Atlantic. Those were the best surface sailors in the world. Better than their opposite numbers in the Kriegsmarine? He nodded to himself. They were the men from whom the Germans-and everybody else-tried to learn their craft. Set against competition like that, the Russians didn’t come close to measuring up.

He went to the big, pier-mounted binoculars on the conning tower. They had a narrow field of view, but more magnification and far more light grasp than the ones he and the ratings wore on straps around their necks. And now he wasn’t scanning for things that might be there. Something was, and he knew just where to look for it.

Distant waves leaped toward him. So did that smoke smudge, not quite so low on the horizon now as the U-boat hurried toward it. Before long, he got what he was waiting for: both the U-30 and the enemy ship rose on swells at the same time. He didn’t get to study that lean shark shape for very long, but he didn’t need long, either.

“Destroyer,” he said crisply.

He glanced at his own boat’s exhaust. There wasn’t that much to see. Diesels ran cleaner than turbines, and his engines were smaller than the ones powering the Soviet ship. An outstanding lookout might spot his smoke or, now, the U-boat’s silhouette against the sky. But how many outstanding lookouts did the Red Navy boast? Not many. And not many German officers were better equipped to judge that than he was.

So he waited, and waited, and waited some more as the gap closed. Only when he figured any halfway-awake fellow with binoculars was liable to see the U-30 did he order the ratings below. As usual, he was the last man off the conning tower. As he dogged the hatch behind him, he ordered, “Take her down to Schnorkel depth and raise the periscope.”

“ Schnorkel depth. Aye aye,” Hammerstein said. The snort let the diesels breathe under water. It gave the boat better performance than she had on her electric motors… as long as she didn’t dive deep. The Dutch had invented the gadget, but more and more German U-boats used it these days.

Also, of course, the Schnorkel ’s stovepipe tube and the skinnier one that housed the periscope were a lot harder to spot than the U-30’s hull would have been. Lemp peered through the ’scope and tried to work out the destroyer’s speed, course, and distance.

“Have we got a shot?” the exec asked.

“I… think so,” Lemp said slowly. “They have no idea we’re around. They’re strolling along at eight knots, tops.” That was about a quarter of the destroyer’s full speed. “We’re within four kilometers now. We can close some more, too.”

He fed the course and speed information to Hammerstein, who had a kind of glorified slide rule that helped him calculate the torpedo settings. Regulations said the skipper’s Zentrale was to be closed off from the rest of the boat. Like most skippers, Lemp ignored that reg. Easier just to call orders forward than to shout through the voice tube.

They closed to just over two kilometers. That was still a longish shot, but it was as good as they were likely to get. Any closer and somebody on the Russian destroyer was liable to wake up and spoil things. A ship like that could show them her heels easy as you please… or make an attack run instead, which wouldn’t be any fun.

Lemp ordered a spread of three torpedoes. One by one, at his shout of “Los!”, the eels sprang away from the U-30. Seawater gurgled into the boat’s forward ballast tanks to make up for the several tonnes of weight now vanished and to keep the trim level.

The stopwatch’s hand seemed to crawl around the dial with maddening slowness. Lemp looked from it to the periscope’s eyepiece again and again. The destroyer made sudden smoke and started to turn… too late. The first eel caught her up near the bow, one of the others not far from the stern. Both explosions rumbled through the U-30. As badly broken as a dog hit by a car, the destroyer went down fast.

“They got a signal off, dammit,” the radio operator said, emerging from his tiny sanctum.

“Change course to 270,” Lemp said. “We’ll stay at Schnorkel depth. Let’s see their planes spot us then.”

“Right you are, Skipper. I am changing course to 270.” The exec swung the U-30 back toward the west, the direction from which the boat had come. A rare smile spread across his face. “The lords will be extra happy we’ve made a kill, eh?”

“Think so, do you?” Lemp smiled, too. The most junior crewmen-the lords, in U-boat crews’ jargon-bedded down in the torpedo room. As long as it was full of eels, some of them slept on top of torpedoes. Once the reloads went into the tubes, they’d have more room to place their bedrolls and sling their hammocks. To them, that had to outweigh sinking a Soviet destroyer. It didn’t for Julius Lemp, but he knew how they felt all the same.

Sergeant Hideki Fujita was busy counting logs. The count had to come out perfect for every unit at Pingfan under his command. If it didn’t, somebody would catch hell. Oh, the logs would, of course, but they counted for nothing in a Japanese soldier’s view of things. The person who would catch hell if the count screwed up was the man in charge-Fujita himself.

He glowered at the logs as he counted them. The maruta stood at stiff attention, their faces as expressionless as they could make them. They, or most of them, wanted the count to come out right, too. Until the Japanese authorities were satisfied, the prisoners of war wouldn’t get fed.

That simple truth should have nipped all escape attempts in the bud. If somebody got out of one of the barbed-wire enclosures, nobody who stayed behind would get anything to eat. The maruta didn’t get that much to eat as things were. They would have got even less if the bacteriologists of Unit 731 didn’t need reasonably healthy subjects for some experiments.

In spite of themselves, the maruta shivered. Pingfan was a little south of Harbin, but only a little. Winters in Manchukuo were nothing to sneeze at-unless you got influenza or pneumonia or any of the other illnesses you could catch all by yourself in cold weather.

Fujita felt the chill himself, and he wore a fur cap with earflaps, a double-breasted greatcoat with a fur collar and a thick lining, heavy mittens, and valenki he’d taken off a dead Russian in the forests on the far side of the Ussuri. The maruta — Red Army men in this enclosure-had only their ordinary service uniforms.

They also had more than cold weather to worry about. To the Japanese bacteriologists, they were nothing but guinea pigs to be used up as needed. That the Japanese called them something like logs showed what they thought of them. Brave soldiers, proper soldiers, wouldn’t have let themselves get captured. Proper officers wouldn’t have surrendered, not when they were defending a place as vital to their country as Vladivostok.

(The other useful thing about calling a POW a log, of course, was that you didn’t have to think of him as a human being once you started doing it. Japanese soldiers-and scientists, too-had trouble thinking of prisoners as human beings like themselves anyhow. By surrendering, you threw away your manhood, your self: your honor, in essence. Who could possibly care what happened to you afterwards? But tagging the POWs at Pingfan maruta made that dehumanizing process all but official.)

One of the privates helping Fujita with the count-doing most of the actual work, in other words-came up to him and stood at attention, waiting to be noticed. After a delay designed to remind the soldier he was only a private, Fujita deigned to nod. “Yes?”

“Please excuse me, Sergeant- san, but I make the count out to be a hundred and seventy-four.”

“Does that include the two bodies?” Fujita pointed toward the corpses lying in front of the Russians’ neat ranks. You had to show your dead. How else could the guards be sure they hadn’t run off to join the Chinese bandits bedeviling Manchukuo and to spread wild, lying rumors about what went on at Pingfan?

“ Hai, Sergeant- san.” The private nodded eagerly. The other new conscript with Fujita hustled up a moment later and reported the same figure. They’d gone down opposite sides of the prisoners’ ranks, so they couldn’t have put their heads together to come up with it.

It also matched the number of men this compound should hold, taking the deaths yesterday into account. Fujita knew that-he kept track of such things-but he checked the figure on the paper stuck in his clipboard even so. He couldn’t afford to be wrong, not on something this important. Yes, 174. Nobody’d run off in the night, not here.

He raked the Red Army men in the front row with his eyes. They were only prisoners, after all. They deserved no better. “Khorosho!” he shouted. His accent was terrible, but he didn’t care. It was up to the round-eyed barbarians to be grateful that he’d wasted any time to learn a few words of their stupid, ugly language.

“ Arigato gozaimasu, Sergeant- san!” the Russians chorused. Naturally, they had to thank him for finding their numbers acceptable. They reached as one for the mess tins on their belts-if they had belts-and trooped off to the kitchen for their meager morning meal.

Fujita pointed to the scrawny dead bodies. “Have these disposed of when the maruta come back,” he told the privates.

“Yes, Sergeant- san!” one of them said, while the other went, “Of course, Sergeant — san! ” Fujita had taken his lumps while he was a private. Now he could hand them out. These fellows had to keep him sweet, as he’d had to suck up to his sergeant before. That was how the system worked.

Later that day, a microbiologist came up to him. “Sir!” Fujita said, stiffening to rigor mortis-like attention. “What do you need, sir?” Whatever it was, Fujita would get it for him or die trying. His orders were that a scientist’s white lab coat was as good as an officer’s collar tabs. If somebody wearing one gave him orders, he had to follow them.

An officer would knock you around at the slightest suspicion of reluctance. The scientists were friendlier than that, or maybe just more naive. Dr. Tsuruo Yamamura was a nice guy. Sometimes he even said please when he told people what to do, a courtesy no officer would ever show. He did it now: “We have a new shipment of maruta coming in by train this afternoon. Please take a squad of guards and meet them at half past three, then take them to the new compound-is it number twenty-seven?”

“Yes, sir. Compound twenty-seven.” Fujita tore off a parade-ground salute.

“Be gentle with them unless they try to escape,” Yamamura said. “They are important to the war effort.”

“Yes, sir!” the sergeant repeated. But then he risked a questioning “Sir?” He wasn’t used to orders like the ones he’d just got.

Dr. Yamamura was willing, even eager, to explain, where an officer would have either snarled or hauled off and belted Fujita for his gall. “These are American Marines captured in Peking and Shanghai,” the bacteriologist said. “Their reactions to our experiments will help show how Americans and Englishmen differ from Chinese and Japanese, and will let us make more effective weapons to use against them.”

“I see,” Fujita said slowly. He’d talked to more than a few soldiers who’d served in one or another of the major Chinese cities. From what they said, American Marines were very bad news: big, tough, clever fighters who backed away from nobody. If they were as tough as all that, though, why did they let themselves be taken prisoner instead of killing themselves or making their foes finish them?

That wasn’t a sergeant’s worry. Being at the railroad siding with a squad well before 3:30 was. Fujita made sure he and his men were in place. The train down from Harbin, naturally, ran late. That also wasn’t his worry-or anything close to a surprise.

More than a hundred Americans stumbled off the train when it finally showed up. They’d been packed in like rice grains jammed into a sack. Close to half of them wore dirty bandages that showed they’d been wounded. They jabbered in incomprehensible English.

Shouts and gestures with bayoneted rifles got them moving in the right direction. Most of the time, the Japanese soldiers would have clouted some of them with rifle butts to speed things along. But Fujita had spelled out Dr. Yamamura’s orders, so his men took it easy.

Compound 27 had a barracks hall with a central stove inside the barbed wire. The prisoners wouldn’t be too crowded. They could recover from whatever they’d gone through on the train. Fujita thought they were almost living in a hotel. By the way his men rolled their eyes, they also figured the Americans had it soft. But they were only soldiers. The officers and scientists set over them didn’t care a sen’s worth what they thought.

Somewhere or other, Adam Pfaff had got his hands on a pair of field glasses. They were such an obviously useful thing for an infantryman to have, not even Awful Arno complained about them. And Baatz complained about everything. He’d sure pissed and moaned about the gray paint Pfaff had slapped on his rifle’s woodwork. Somehow, though, the nonregulation Mauser hadn’t made the world come to an end or handed the war to the Ivans on a silver platter. Baatz was used to the piece by now. Willi Dernen wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d started ordering other people to paint theirs the same way.

Had Willi owned binoculars, he would have used them for something practical, like ogling girls getting into or out of clothes from ranges where they couldn’t catch him at it. His buddy didn’t do that-or, if Pfaff did, he didn’t brag about it or share the field glasses when he spotted something juicy the way most guys would have. Instead, when he wasn’t using them to search out male Ivans with rifles, he pointed them up into the sky. He tended to mumble to himself when he did that.

“What do you see up there? Bombers?” Willi asked one evening at sunset when he caught Pfaff doing it. He didn’t hear aircraft engines, but that might not signify. Sometimes the Ivans flew so high, you couldn’t hear them. And spotting planes against the darkening sky was a bitch. Again, binoculars would clearly come in handy.

But the other Gefreiter shook his head without lowering the field glasses. “Heavenly bodies,” he answered.

That made Willi think of naked women again. He wasn’t as big a cockhound as some of the guys, but he wasn’t a priest, either. Nowhere close. He looked up into the sky himself. He didn’t see any naked girls up there, only the first-quarter moon and a growing number of stars. He said so.

This time, Pfaff did lower the binoculars. He shook his head again in some annoyance. “Not that kind of heavenly bodies,” he said. It wasn’t that he had anything against women, either.

“Well, what, then?” Willi inquired. He was getting annoyed himself.

“If you really want to know, I was looking at the moon.”

Willi eyed it himself. There it was, up in the sky. It looked like half a coin. The straight line that ran from top to bottom wasn’t quite straight. It seemed ever so slightly chewed, which made it different from the rest of the moon’s outline. It still wasn’t very exciting, or even interesting. Again, Willi didn’t hesitate to say so.

Pfaff handed him the field glasses. “Have a look through these. You know how to adjust them for your eyes?”

“Oh, sure. I’ve used ’em before.” Willi aimed at the moon. It wasn’t very far out of focus even before he carefully twisted each eyepiece in turn to sharpen things up. His buddy’s vision couldn’t have been too different from his own. But once he got the image as clear as he could… “Wow,” he breathed, hardly even realizing he was making a noise.

“It’s something, isn’t it?” Pfaff spoke with quiet pride, as if, instead of Galileo, he were the first one ever to see the heavens close up.

That pride was wasted on Willi, who didn’t even hear him. The moon hung there, seeming close enough to reach out and touch if he took one hand away from the field glasses. It wasn’t just a light in the sky any more. It was a world, a world out there in space. The faint gray patches you could make out with the naked eye (and Willi didn’t so much as think of naked women, the truest proof of how fascinated he was) swelled into plains that had to be hundreds of kilometers across. Craters pocked them and filled the brighter, whiter areas of the moon.

Shadows stretched across the craters closest to the straight line. The others, under higher sunlight, showed less contrast. “What made them?” Willi asked. “Volcanoes?”

Adam Pfaff understood what he was talking about right away. “Nobody knows for sure. We’ve never been there, after all,” he answered. “But that’s one of the best guesses.”

“Wow,” Willi said again, staring and staring.

“You see the three craters, one above the next, near the sunrise line-the terminator, they call it?” Pfaff said.

Willi peered again, then nodded. “I see ’em.”

“They’re called Ptolemaeus, Alphonsus, and Azrachel.”

“All the shit on the moon has names?” That had never occurred to Willi before. You could make maps of what was up there, the same as you could down here. It really was another world.

“You think they look impressive through these, you should see ’em through a telescope,” Pfaff said. “Back home, I’ve got an eight-centimeter refractor. It’s little and pretty cheap, but it’ll let you magnify a hundred times, not just seven. Then you can really start to get an idea of how much there is to see.”

Willi tried to imagine the moon appearing that much bigger and closer than it did even through binoculars. He felt himself failing. After you’d started playing with yourself, you could try to imagine what a girl would be like, but you wouldn’t know what counted till one let you get lucky.

“What else can you show me here?” he asked.

“Well, you see those two bright stars close together, a little west of the moon?” Pfaff asked. Willi nodded once more. One of them was the brightest star in the sky; the other, the more easterly one, was fainter and more yellow. His friend went on, “You can take a look at them if you want. The bright one is Jupiter. Maybe you’ll see a couple of its moons if you hold the binoculars real steady. The other one’s Saturn.”

“Rings!” Willi exclaimed, remembering from school.

“Rings,” Adam agreed, “only the binoculars won’t show them. Through a telescope, they’ve got to be the most beautiful thing in the sky. You think they can’t possibly be real.”

If they were more beautiful than the magnified moon, Willi wished he had a telescope. Through the field glasses… The stars stayed stars. They looked brighter and you could see more of them, but they didn’t get bigger. Jupiter and Saturn did. Jupiter especially showed a tiny disk. It probably wasn’t even a quarter as wide as the moon through the naked eye, but it was there.

And, sure as hell, it had two little stars dancing attendance on it. That was interesting-not so glorious as the moon, but interesting all the same. “What else is there?” Willi’d ignored the heavens as long as he’d been alive. Now he wanted to look at everything at once.

Adam Pfaff pointed to the left of the moon this time. “See those faint stars in what looks like mist? You can’t make ’em out real well because the moon’s so close, but they’re there.” Following his finger, Willi spied what he was talking about. Pfaff said, “That’s the Pleiades. They look different through the field glasses.”

“Different how?” Willi asked. Pfaff didn’t enlighten him, so he turned the binoculars that way. He whistled softly. Had someone taken a bag of diamonds-along with the odd sapphire and ruby-and spilled them on velvet of the deepest blue imaginable, a blue only a whisper from black, he might have made an inferior copy of what Willi saw. Jewels don’t shine by their own light. The stars of the Pleiades did. Even more than with the moon, the naked eye gave no hint of what hid in plain sight.

“Hey, what are you clowns up to?” Arno Baatz’s grating voice made Willi yank down the binoculars, as if the corporal had caught him with dirty pictures. Baatz brayed on: “Trying to freeze your stupid dicks off? You don’t have to try real hard, not here you don’t.”

Willi had forgotten he was cold. Out in the open in the middle of a Russian winter, that would do for a miracle till a real one came along. “We’re just looking at the moon and stuff through my field glasses,” Pfaff said. “Want to see?”

“Nahh.” Awful Arno laughed at the idea. That saddened Willi without surprising him. “I got better things to do with my time, I do,” the corporal added. Willi almost asked him what they were, but held his tongue instead. If Baatz didn’t want to know, Willi didn’t want to tell him.

In the Red Air Force, political officers were like epaulets on a uniform: they were decorative, but you didn’t need them. Most of them had sense enough to know it, too. If a politruk tried to countermand a squadron commander’s orders, the arrogant fool would be ignored if he was lucky. If he wasn’t so lucky, he might leave a bomber without a parachute from several thousand meters up. Any half-clever officer could cook up paperwork explaining the unfortunate accident. It wasn’t as if the jerk it happened to would be there to give him the lie.

Ivan Kuchkov soon found out things in the Red Army were different. Political officers here took the job of indoctrinating the men seriously. They preached Communism the way priests preached religion. And, like priests, they thought what they were doing was important.

They also expected everybody else to think it was important. When a politruk started gabbing, he expected all the soldiers within range of his yappy voice to pay close attention. Ivan soon mastered the art of seeming to listen while his mind roamed free. He didn’t take long to realize he wasn’t the only one.

Lieutenant Vasiliev went on and on about the benefits of Party membership. The most important one for most Red Army men was that their families were sure to get word if they fell on the field. Unlike the Nazis, Soviet soldiers wore no identity disks. The government kept only loose track of them; they were interchangeable, expendable parts. But Communist Party members were part of the elite. They mattered to the state, so it monitored them more closely than ordinary fighters.

That might have been a selling point for most soldiers, but not for Ivan. His mother was dead. He couldn’t stand his brother or sister. And if he ever saw his old man again, he’d smack him in the snoot to pay him back for all the beatings he’d dished out when Ivan was a kid. Or he’d try, anyhow. His father was a sneaky weasel, and might get in the first lick himself.

So all that recruiting crap went in one ear and out the other. But sometimes Vasiliev went on about other stuff, too. One morning after breakfast-black bread, sausage, and tea, plus whatever the soldiers could scrounge from the countryside-he gathered the company together in the woods and spoke in portentous tones: “Romania has declared war against the Rodina.”

Back when the war was new, Kuchkov’s SB-2 had flown across Romanian airspace so Soviet “volunteers” could reach Czechoslovakia to fight the Fascists. That aid wasn’t enough. They’d had to get the hell out of there again a month later. But they’d tried, which was more than anybody else could say. Now…

Now the politruk went on, “Marshal Antonescu shows he always was a Fascist at heart. He thinks the Nazis and their lackeys are a better bet than the USSR. But our heroic soldiers, our brave workers and peasants, will show him what a big mistake he has made. This widens the war. Now it stretches from the Baltic to the Black Sea. Have the Nazis got enough men for such an enormous fight? No! Can Romania hope to fight the Red Army by herself? No again! We will push forward through her and tear into the Hitlerites’ soft underbelly!”

He waited for applause. He got some. The men had learned he shut up sooner if they cheered. “Fuck the Romanians!” Ivan called. “Bugger ’em with a pine cone!” He took the Germans seriously. They were too good at their trade for anything less. But the Romanians? They had to be worse humpties than the Poles. The Poles, at least, were brave. Nobody’d ever said that about the Romanians.

Lieutenant Vasiliev beamed at him. “There’s the Soviet fighting spirit! Are you a Party member, Sergeant?”

“No, Comrade Lieutenant.” Kuchkov wished he’d kept his big mouth shut. You didn’t want to draw their notice. They’d dump garbage on your head if you did.

“Would you like me to begin your paperwork for you? It’s easy enough to arrange.”

“However you please, Comrade Lieutenant.” Ivan wanted to become a Communist almost as much as he wanted to shit through his ears. But you couldn’t just tell the sons of bitches no. Then you’d go on a list. People who landed on those lists had bad things happen to them.

“You’re Kuchkov, right? Yes, of course you are.” Vasiliev had the politician’s knack for matching names and faces. Well, most of the time; with a self-deprecating chuckle, he added, “Please remind me of your name and patronymic.”

“Ivan Ivanovich, sir.”

“Can’t get much plainer than that, can you?” The politruk smiled as he wrote it down. “Me, I’m Arsen Feofanovich, so I’m at the other end of things.” Kuchkov nodded. Both Vasiliev and his father had uncommon first names, all right. But the lieutenant made a mistake if he thought Kuchkov might care.

The Germans started shelling the forest where the company sheltered. Digging proper foxholes in ground frozen stone hard was a bitch. And the Nazis had come up with an evil trick (one the Red Army also used, though Ivan didn’t worry about that): they set their fuses to maximum sensitivity, so most shells went off as soon as they touched branches overhead. Then the bursts sprayed sharp fragments of hot metal down on the men huddled below.

It was Ivan’s first real time under shellfire. He couldn’t shoot back, any more than he could when his bomber drew the unwelcome attention of antiaircraft guns. All he could do was stay low and try to dig himself in, though his entrenching tool took only pathetic little bites of dirt.

Something hissed in the snow a few centimeters from his hand: a shard of brass that could have skewered him as easily as not. “Fuck your mothers!” he yelled, though of course the Nazis serving those distant 105s couldn’t hear him. “I hope your dicks rot off!”

He also hoped one of those nasty fragments would wound Lieutenant Vasiliev. He didn’t want Vasiliev dead, just hurt enough to forget about putting him up for Party membership. If the politruk spent a few weeks in the hospital and then got sent to a different unit, that would do fine.

Other soldiers swore, too, to let out their fear. And wounded men shrieked and wailed. The unhurt soldiers closest to them did what they could to relieve their comrades’ agony. Too often, that wasn’t much. Slapping a wound dressing on a leg ripped from knee to crotch was sending a baby boy to do a man’s job.

Ivan wondered whether the Germans would follow up the shelling with an infantry attack. Russians laughed at Winter Fritz, yeah. Propaganda posters showed scrawny, shivering Nazi soldiers with icicles dangling from the ends of their long, pointed noses. That didn’t match what Kuchkov had seen. Yes, wide-tracked Russian tanks had the edge on German machines in the snow. The German foot soldiers around here seemed to know what they were doing, though. Some of their gear was improvised or stolen from the locals, but it wasn’t bad.

And yes, sentries shouted in alarm. Submachine guns stuttered out death. Far more Red Army soldiers carried them than any other nation’s troops. They didn’t have a rifle’s range, true, or a rifle’s stopping power. But they were cheap and easy to make, and they spat a lot of lead. Inside a couple of hundred meters, a company of men with submachine guns would massacre a company of riflemen.

The Germans, by contrast, made sure almost every squad included a light machine gun. That was another way to get firepower in carload lots. German MG-34s were far more portable than their Soviet equivalents. Ivan hadn’t been a foot soldier long, but he already hated them.

Snatching up his own PPD, he ran for the edge of the woods. Shells kept falling, but you did what you had to do. The artillery might get him. If the Nazis made it in among the trees, he was a dead man for sure.

As soon as he saw figures in whitewashed coal-scuttle helmets running toward him, he threw himself down behind a tree and started shooting. The Nazis were pros. They flattened out. Most of them had snow smocks or bedsheets for camouflage, though a few wore only their field-gray greatcoats and stood out like lumps of coal.

Two Germans served an MG-34. Ivan burned through most of his big drum magazine before he took them out, but he made damn sure he did. Without that monster supporting them, the Fritzes lost enthusiasm for the attack across open ground. Sullenly, in good order, they drew back. Ivan’s sigh of relief filled the air in front of him with fog. His number wasn’t up… this time.

Chapter 5

Benjamin Halevy had all the answers. He was a Frenchman and a Jew, so he sure thought he did, anyhow. “Marshal Sanjurjo inspects the Madrid front every so often,” he said. “The Nationalists still don’t realize everything your elephant gun can do. Put a round through his giblets at a kilometer and a half and watch the assholes on the other side thrash like a chicken after it gets one in the neck from the farmer’s wife.”

“You make it sound so easy.” Vaclav Jezek eyed his cigarette with distaste. Spanish tobacco was even harsher than French. Every drag sandpapered his throat. The only thing worse would be no tobacco at all. This was a misfortune. That would be a catastrophe.

“You’ve done it before,” Halevy said. “You just have to be in the right place at the right time, that’s all.”

“You make it sound so easy,” Jezek repeated, even more dryly than before. Like so many things, sniping had to look simple to people who didn’t do it. The positioning, the concealment, the waiting, the shot… Everything had to go perfectly, or you wasted a bullet. More likely, you never got your shot off. Or else some canny bastard on the other side, somebody who was better or luckier than you were at that particular moment, blew out the side of your head.

“Well, think about it,” the Jew told him. “I’m starting to get connections, and sometimes they hear things from the other side. If you punch Sanjurjo’s ticket, the Republic will pin so many medals on you, you’ll look like a Fascist general.”

“I think I’d rather get laid,” Vaclav said. Halevy laughed. Vaclav sent him a sour stare. “And how are you getting connections? You don’t speak Spanish.”

“No, but if people here speak any foreign language, they speak French.” Halevy made it sound natural and easy.

It probably was, for him. Vaclav grunted, pinched out the cigarette’s coal, and stowed the little butt in a tobacco pouch. Waste not, want not. A Jew would land on his feet anywhere-even in Spain, evidently.

Somebody on the other side fired a rifle. The bullet whined high over the Republican line. It would come down somewhere, but long odds it would hurt anybody when it did. A lot of shots fired in war were like that. You wanted to get the other guys, but you didn’t want them to get you. So you fired without sticking your head up to see what you were doing. You made them keep their heads down, anyway.

More often than not, the Czechs and Internationals holding this stretch of the line would have ignored such a wild round. But guys here must have been jumpy, because two rifles in quick succession answered the Fascist shot.

That spooked Sanjurjo’s men. Vaclav couldn’t imagine what they were thinking. That the veterans on the other side would swarm out of the trenches and charge them? They had to be nuts to believe anything like that.

Nuts or not, more of them fired back. Bullets started snapping past, much closer to the trenches. You didn’t want to stick your head up over the parapet, or you’d stop one with your nose. Halevy chambered a round in his rifle. “I didn’t much want a firefight, but…” He shrugged. War wasn’t about what you wanted. It was about what you got stuck with.

Along with the antitank rifle, Vaclav carried a pistol to defend himself at close range. The big piece was no good for work like that. Neither weapon was much use in a fight like this. Machine guns on both sides started yammering. Vaclav realized what a long way from home he was. But he didn’t want to be back in Prague, not with the Nazis’ swastika flying over it.

Mortar bombs whispered when they came down. The first couple burst a few bays over from the sniper and the Jewish sergeant. Vaclav had dug a bombproof into the forward edge of the trench, with some help from Halevy. They’d reinforced it with bits and pieces of wood scavenged here, there, and everywhere. Both men dove into it now.

If a mortar round burst right behind them, even the bombproof wouldn’t help. Vaclav wished such thoughts wouldn’t cross his mind. They just made this business even more horrible than it would be otherwise.

“What if they try to rush us?” Halevy yelled through the din.

“What if they do?” Vaclav returned. “The machine guns will slaughter them, that’s what.” The machine guns had heavily protected nests. Even a direct hit from a mortar bomb might not take one out. An ordinary soldier who got up on the firing step, though, was asking to get murdered.

Before the war started, Jezek had figured Jews for cowards. He’d got over that. The ones in the Czechoslovakian army hated Hitler even more than Czechs did, which was saying something. They made up a disproportionate number of the men who served under the government-in-exile. And Benjamin Halevy held up his end of the bargain as well as anyone could want.

Vaclav still didn’t like Jews. He saw no reason why he should. But he wasn’t dumb enough to disbelieve what he saw with his own eyes. Jews weren’t yellow, or no more yellow than anybody else.

Little by little, the firefight ebbed. There was no particular reason for that, any more than there had been for its start. Combat wasn’t always rational. Not even a goddamn German General Staff officer with a volume of Clausewitz under his arm could deny that.

Wounded men moaned or shrieked, depending on how badly they were hurt. Off in the distance, the same sounds rose from the Nationalists’ positions. Suffering had a universal language.

Stretcher-bearers hustled wounded Republican fighters to aid stations behind the lines. If the men got there alive, they had a pretty good chance to stay that way. To his surprise, Vaclav had discovered that they knew far more about giving blood transfusions in the field here than they had in either Czechoslovakia or France.

He crawled out of the bombproof and dusted himself off. The stink of shit hung in the air. Maybe it came from men killed on the spot, maybe from men scared past endurance. He’d fouled himself a time or two. He wasn’t proud of it-who would be? But he wasn’t anywhere near so ashamed as he had been when it happened. He wasn’t the only one it had happened to-nowhere near, in fact. It was just one of those things.

Sergeant Halevy came out, too. “Such fun,” he said.

“Fun,” Vaclav echoed in a hollow voice. “Right.”

“If Sanjurjo were watching the football game right now-” Halevy said.

“Then what?” Vaclav broke in. “I’d have to spot him. I’d have to know he was there to spot in the first place. He’d have to be somewhere the rifle could reach. I’d have to be somewhere I could shoot from. And I’d have to hit him when I did. Snipers never talk about all the times they miss, you know. So why don’t you give it a rest, huh?”

“All right,” Halevy said. “But Sanjurjo does come right up to the front line to see what’s going on. Whatever else you can say about the miserable fat turd, he’s no coward.”

“Oh, joy,” Jezek answered. Men who hadn’t seen action always figured the miserable turds on the other side wouldn’t show courage. But he’d seen that the Nazis were as brave as Czechs or Frenchmen or Tommies. No one here in Spain had ever accused the Nationalists of lacking balls. Brains, yes, but brains weren’t the same thing. Not even close.

“I’m just telling you it’s not impossible you’ll get a shot at him, that’s all.” Halevy wouldn’t leave it alone.

“And I’m just telling you it’s not impossible monkeys’ll fly out my ass next time I fart, but I’m not gonna wait around till they do,” Jezek retorted irritably.

He couldn’t faze the Jew. “With all the singe we’ve both eaten, it wouldn’t surprise me one damn bit,” Halevy said. Singe was what the French called the tinned beef they got from Argentina. It meant monkey meat. Vaclav had never eaten real monkey, so he couldn’t say how much singe tasted like it. He was sure nobody in his right mind would eat the stuff if he didn’t have to.

He did say, “That Spam the Americans ship over is a hell of a lot better.”

“You’re right.” Halevy grinned and made as if to lick his chops. “It sure is.”

“It’s pork,” Vaclav reminded him, not without malice.

“You’re right,” Halevy agreed once more. “It sure is.” Vaclav thought that over, then shrugged. He wasn’t a perfect Christian. Why should he expect the French sergeant to make a perfect Jew?

Surabaya, on the north coast of Java, was even hotter and muggier than Manila. Pete McGill hadn’t dreamt any place could be, hell included, but there you were. And here he was, with the Boise, thanking the Lord the Japs hadn’t sunk the light cruiser before she got here.

Joe Orsatti had an answer for the weather. Joe Orsatti, Pete was discovering, had an answer for everything. Sometimes he had a good one; sometimes he was full of crap. But the other Marine always liked to hear himself talk.

“We’re on the other side of the Equator now,” he said. “So it’s summer here, not winter. No wonder it’s so fucking sticky.”

“We aren’t more than a long piss on the other side of the Equator,” Pete pointed out. “Looks to me like it’d be this way all the fuckin’ time here.”

“Maybe that’s what makes the local wogs so jumpy,” Orsatti said. “Shit, if I had to live in a steam bath the goddamn year around, you can bet your sorry ass I’d be mean, too.”

“Who says you aren’t?” Pete thought that was one of Joe’s crappy answers.

The Javanese didn’t look a whole lot different from Filipinos, at least to American eyes. They were small and slight and brown. When they talked among themselves, their jibber-jabber sounded pretty much the same as the Filipinos’, too.

But a lot of Filipinos knew English, and some of the ones who didn’t knew Spanish instead. If a Javanese spoke any European language, he spoke Dutch. And, to Pete’s way of thinking, that was a big part of the problem right there.

When the United States took the Philippines from Spain, it was with the notion that eventually the islands would turn into a country of their own. (That was how Pete had heard it, anyway. Americans tended to forget they’d fought a nasty little war against Filipinos who wanted a country of their own right away.)

Holland, by contrast, didn’t want to turn the Dutch East Indies loose. As long as Dutch forces in the Indies were strong enough to squash revolts, the locals put up with being ruled by a little country halfway around the world. They might not like it, but they put up with it.

Now, suddenly, all that was tottering. The Japs were on the way. They weren’t white men. They were little and kind of brown themselves. They’d made the Boise bail out of Manila Bay like a cat running from a big, mean dog. They had troops on the ground in the Philippines now. And they were heading this way, because they were desperately hungry for the oil and tin and rubber the Dutch East Indies and British Malaya had in such abundance.

And it didn’t look as if the Dutch-or the Americans, or the British, or the Australians-would be able to stop them. Against what Japan could throw into the fight, the white powers didn’t have enough troops or ships or planes, and what they did have wasn’t good enough.

Pete could see that. He wouldn’t have been in Surabaya if the Americans could have hung on in Manila. If he could see it, didn’t it stand to reason the Javanese could, too? If they figured the Japs were going to set them free or take them over, why did they have to kowtow to white men any more?

How many of them listened to Japanese propaganda on the radio every chance they got? How many were quietly helping the invaders? Pete had no way to know stuff like that. He did know the Boise ’s skipper had put even the harborside dives off limits for the ship’s crew. They were officially judged unsafe, and not just because the local joy girls would give you the clap. The Dutch, who were supposed to run this town, wouldn’t go through the streets in groups smaller than squadsized. If they did, they were much too likely to get their heads smashed with a brick or their throats slit.

A plane buzzed over the Boise: a Dutch fighter with fixed landing gear. Everybody said the Japs built junk. Everybody said that, yeah, but they’d sure done a number on the U.S. Army Air Force in the Philippines. The Dutch plane looked hotter than an Army Peashooter, but not by one whole hell of a lot.

Joe Orsatti eyed the Dutch plane, too, and the orange triangles under the wings. “A Fokker,” he remarked.

“A mother-Fokker,” Pete agreed.

Orsatti sent him a pained look. “Har-de-har-har. Y’oughta take it on the road.”

“I did,” McGill answered. “What do you think I’m doing here?”

“Funny again-like a truss.”

“I know,” Pete said. “But I’d sure rather see those triangles than the big old Jap meatballs.”

“Better get used to it,” Orsatti said. “Five wins you ten we ain’t gonna stick around here real long. We’re useless here. We gotta get up farther north if we’re gonna keep the Japs from landing, y’know what I’m saying?”

“Uh-huh,” Pete replied, not altogether happily. “Talk about sticking your head in the tiger’s mouth…”

“Gonna be a shitass excuse for a fleet, all right,” the other Marine said. “Us, a coupla our destroyers, some Dutch tin cans, that limey light cruiser… Should be fun, getting all of us dancing to the same tune.”

Pete hadn’t thought about that. He’d been away from ships too long before he found himself back aboard the Boise. Trying to get skippers from three countries to act in concert? “Fun. Right.” One thing for sure: the Japs wouldn’t have that problem.

They might have others. Pete could hope so. If they didn’t, the allies here were in a lot of trouble. Pete had seen enough of the Japanese in China to have more respect for them than a lot of higher-ranking Americans did. They might not be white men, but they were sturdy and tough. And they were proud of not being white, the same way a lot of Americans and Englishmen-and, evidently, Dutchmen-were proud because they were.

Perhaps because Orsatti had had a lot of shipboard duty, his feel for what the fleet at Surabaya would do next was pretty good. They headed north two days later. Pete wondered if word had come in that Japanese landing forces were on the way. No one said so-but then, nobody ever told the guys who would do the fighting and dying any more than they absolutely had to know. Sometimes not even that.

Then the destroyers steamed away and left the light cruisers behind. “Something’s goin’ on,” Orsatti opined.

“You oughta be a detective-a private dick, like,” Pete told him, which won another dirty look. They were practicing at the five-inch gun, uneasily aware that the practice could turn real any second. Lookouts constantly eyed the skies. Planes that appeared out in the middle of the ocean would be Japanese. Did the enemy fleet have carriers along? They’d struck at Hawaii, but that hadn’t gone so well as they would have liked. Manila, unfortunately, proved a different story.

Night fell. The gun crews were on watch and watch, so Pete’s sleep got ruined. He gulped hot coffee to keep his eyes open. He wasn’t the only one. Drinking java near Java was… almost funny.

The Boise sliced through the Java Sea, kicking up a phosphorescent bow wave and wake. If any Japanese subs were in the neighborhood… With any luck at all, we’re going too fast for ’em, Pete thought, yawning. He wasn’t used to sack time chopped into little bits. Yeah, it had been too long.

“Our destroyers are in contact with enemy warships and transports off Borneo,” the intercom blared in harsh, metallic tones. “They are making torpedo runs at the transports.”

Pete waited to hear reports of Jap freighters blown to smithereens, and he wasn’t the only one. But the intercom stayed quiet after that. Little by little, he realized the silence wasn’t a good sign. So did the other leathernecks on the gun crew. Their high spirits faded.

The sun came up within a few minutes of 0600, as it always did in these waters. A plane buzzed down out of the north to look over the allied fleet. Orders came to fire at it. All the antiaircraft guns on the Boise roared together. The bursts didn’t come close to reaching the plane. It saw what it wanted to see and flew away. And nobody said another word about the destroyers and what they might be doing-or what might have been done to them. Pete kept his mouth shut along with everyone else. But he knew damn well that wasn’t a good sign.

A horse slogged up a road pulling a panje wagon after it. The wagon had tall wheels and an almost boat-shaped bottom. Russian peasants had-and needed-plenty of experience building wagons that could plow through even the thickest mud.

Thaw’s early this year, Ivan Kuchkov thought. More freezes would probably come, but little by little the winter snowfall would melt and soak into the ground. For the next four to six weeks, nobody would go anywhere very fast. No one in his right mind would order any major actions during the rasputitsa, because action just bogged down in the mud.

The Poles knew as much about the rasputitsa, the mud time, as their Russian neighbors. The Germans had fought in the East last year and during the last war, so they knew something. Ivan had heard they knew enough to steal as many panje wagons as they could, anyhow. Their trucks got stuck in the muck just like everybody else’s.

What the Germans’ French and English lackeys knew… Kuchkov’s lips skinned back from his teeth in a nasty grin. He suspected the Red Army would teach them a few lessons. He also suspected they wouldn’t enjoy the instruction. The few schoolmasters Kuchkov had known used a switch to make sure their teaching sank in. The Red Army had a bigger switch than even the meanest, most brutal village schoolmaster, and could swing it harder.

Lieutenant Obolensky squelched up. Kuchkov pretended not to see him. It was at least possible that Obolensky needed to talk to somebody else in the squad. Avram, maybe; the nervous little Jew had his fingers in a million different pies. Ivan wouldn’t have been surprised if he was NKVD.

But no. Obolensky looked around till he spotted Kuchkov. “Come here a moment, Sergeant,” he said.

“I serve the Soviet Union, Comrade Lieutenant!” That was never the wrong answer. Kuchkov added a salute. The mud tried to suck off his boots as he made his way over to the junior officer. When he got there, he stood and waited. Let Obolensky show his cards.

The lieutenant also waited, but he was the one who spoke first: “What shape is your squad in, Sergeant?” Ivan smiled to himself. Obolensky was an educated guy, a city guy-his attitude, his accent, his very way of standing all said as much. No way in hell he could outstubborn or outwait a man from a village where the creek was the only running water… when it wasn’t frozen, anyhow.

“Well, sir, we’re kinda fucked. We lost three guys taking that last village from those Nazi dicks.” No, Ivan neither knew nor cared what was regular Russian and what was mat. “We got one back-cocksucking bullet only grazed the bitch, y’know? And we got a replacement, but the pussy’s so green we’d be better off without him. So yeah, we’re fucked.”

To his surprise, Lieutenant Obolensky smiled. “You sound just like every other sergeant in charge of a squad. Maybe the Red Air Force isn’t so different from the Red Army after all.”

Kuchkov was convinced the Red Air Force was a damn sight better than the Red Army. No one would ever have accused him of being bright, but he had enough animal cunning to know saying so would only get him in deeper. Deeper in what? He didn’t know that, either, and he wasn’t interested in finding out. He waited some more. Maybe Obolensky would go away and pick some other squad for whatever shitty job he had in mind.

Maybe pigs had wings. Not around here, though. The lieutenant pointed west, toward-no past-the birch and pine woods over there. “You know the Fascists are set up in the fields beyond the trees.”

“Uh-huh.” Kuchkov only nodded. The Germans had dug in as well as they could while the ground was frozen. Now they had to be shoring up their trenches with boards and sticks and twigs and straw and anything else they could grab. The mud would ooze through anyway. It sure did here.

“Our battalion has orders to shift them,” Obolensky said.

“Happy fucking day, sir!” Kuchkov said. “The whoremongers’ll have machine guns set up and waiting for us.” German machine guns scared the piss out of him, and he wasn’t ashamed to admit it.

“We have orders,” Obolensky repeated in a voice like doom. “This company is on the right wing. I am going to place your squad as the last feather on the wing. You will try to outflank the Nazi position and roll it up.”

“What? With one little piss-dribble of a squad?” Ivan burst out. Obolensky just looked at him. He made himself nod and salute. Sometimes you got stuck with it. And things could have been worse. He’d feared the lieutenant would send his squad in ahead of everybody else. If that wasn’t suicide… then this might be.

He gave his men the news. “Oh, boy,” Avram said, and then, “Gevalt.” Talking like a German was liable to get him killed, but sometimes he did it anyway. He took off his submachine gun’s drum magazine and started cleaning the works. Anything he could keep from going wrong, he would. The trouble was, you couldn’t keep everything from going wrong.

They sneaked through the woods during the night. As black began to yield to gray, Ivan and everybody else gulped a hundred grams of vodka. It made him fierce. It also made him even more what-the-fuck than he had been before.

There was supposed to be an artillery barrage before the attack went in. Red Army artillery was usually reliable. Not today. A few mortar rounds woke up the Fritzes without hurting them much. They started yelling. A machine gun and a few rifles fired at nothing.

“Gevalt,” Avram said again. Kuchkov’s mouth was dry. The Nazis would be waiting now. No chance in hell to catch them by surprise. Kilometers back of the line, some fat Russian colonel was probably eating out his secretary’s twat instead of telling the 105s to get busy.

No help for it. Yelling “Urra!”, the battalion burst out of the woods and rushed the German trenches. Some men wore snow smocks; some didn’t. Some smocks were clean and white; some weren’t. With slushy snow dappling the mud, the mixture camouflaged the Russians as well as any more rigid scheme would have.

The Germans opened up on them, of course. Facing machine-gun fire, camouflage hardly mattered. Either a bullet got you or it didn’t. All luck, either way. Something tugged at Kuchkov’s left sleeve. When he looked down, he found the leather of his flying suit had a new rip. But he didn’t hurt and he wasn’t bleeding, so he ran on.

A potato-masher grenade flew out of the forwardmost German trench, and then another one. Ivan dove for the mud. His tunic would never camouflage him against snow again, but all the fragments went over him and none into him. He yanked the pin from his own egg grenade and chucked it at the Germans from his knees. Then he scrambled up and dashed forward again.

Despite the grenade, a German in a whitewashed helmet popped up and fired a Mauser at him from point-blank range. As often happened in the rage and terror of combat, the Fritz missed. Kuchkov gave him a burst from the PPD before he could work the bolt for his next shot. It was like spraying a hose-you didn’t have to be a sniper to get two or three hits. The German toppled with a groan, his tunic front all over blood.

“Come on!” Ivan yelled to his men still on their feet. “Let’s clean out these motherfucking cunts!” He jumped down into the zigzagging Nazi trench. Grenades and submachine guns were the right tools for the job.

A German dropped his rifle and threw up his hands. “Kamerad!” he squealed, terror on his face. Kuchkov gave him a burst, too. Considering what happened to prisoners, he might have done the fellow a favor. Chances were he would have shot him anyway, though.

The Fritzes had been thinner on the ground than he expected. They pulled back in good order. What was left of the Red Army battalion began looting the corpses left behind in their trenches. The Russians had taken a devil of a lot of casualties themselves to win this hectare of blood and mud. Was it worth them? Kuchkov had no idea. He was busy spreading meat paste from a dead German’s tinfoil tube onto a chunk of black bread. If the bastards eat like this all the time, no wonder they’re so fucking tough, he thought, and squeezed the tube for more.

When Samuel Goldman came home from his laborer’s job, unusual excitement lit his gray-stubbled face. (No one in Germany had enough soap, and Jews’ rations were smaller than Aryans’. He didn’t shave very often.) “What’s up, Father?” Sarah asked. “Something is-I can see it in your eyes.”

“You’re right,” he said. “They’ve finally gone and arrested the Bishop of Munster. The Gestapo took him away in an armored car.”

“Oh. Oh, my,” Sarah said. “He’s been asking for it, hasn’t he?”

“Just a little bit,” Father answered. “I knew him-not well, but I knew him-back in the days when knowing a Jew didn’t destroy someone’s reputation. Clemens August von Galen is a proud, stiff-necked man.”

“With a name like that, he’s an aristocrat, too,” Sarah said.

“Right again,” her father agreed. “He’s not the kind to be happy when a jumped-up shoe salesman or whatever tells him what to do. You can hear that in every sermon he preaches-well, every sermon that doesn’t have to do with foreign policy, I mean.”

Sarah nodded. Hardly a German had ever had a good word to say for the vengeful Treaty of Versailles. She hadn’t herself, back when she was a kid before the Nazis took over. Yes, she’d partly been parroting her parents, but even so…

Maybe Bishop von Galen could forgive the war, which was designed not least to give Germany her proper place once more. But he couldn’t forgive the Nazis for confiscating church buildings, for expelling members of religious orders from the Reich, or for their program of what they called mercy killings. He said so, loudly, from the pulpit. After RAF planes bombed Munster, he delivered a sermon on loving one’s enemies.

Not a word of that, of course, got into the local newspapers. Radio broadcasts kept quiet about it, too. The regime controlled every official news source. It got around all the same. People who heard Bishop von Galen speak spread word of what he said. People who heard them spread it wider. Everyone in town knew the bishop and the Nazis were on a collision course.

“What will happen now?” Sarah asked.

“They’ll keep him in jail, or else they’ll kill him,” Father said. “I don’t think they’ll kill him right away. They have other ways to put the screws to him. He has a brother-Franz, I think his name is. The Gestapo ’s already grabbed other priests from the diocese.”

“Did they hope Bishop von Galen would take a hint?” Sarah inquired.

Samuel Goldman beamed at her. He might be tired, but he was also proud. “How did you get so grown-up when I wasn’t looking?” he said. Sarah made a rude noise. Her father laughed but went on, “Yes, I’m sure they did hope he’d do that. But if he were the kind of man who took those hints, he wouldn’t be the kind of man who preached those sermons.”

That made sense to Sarah. Father usually made sense to her, except for his hopeless, unrequited love affair with being a real German. She found the only question she could think of that really mattered: “What happens next? Do people let the Nazis get away with it?”

“I don’t know. I don’t think anyone else does, either,” he said slowly. “But I’ll tell you this: we heard they’d arrested von Galen about an hour before quitting time, and the whole labor gang was furious. Not just Catholics. Everyone. The men were cussing out the Gestapo like you wouldn’t believe. When I was walking home”-Jews couldn’t use buses or trams-“I heard more people up in arms about it, too.”

“What will they do? Rally in front of the Rathaus?” Sarah laughed at the idea. “That would just give the blackshirts the chance to arrest all of them at once.”

“You might be surprised,” her father said. “The Catholic Church still has some clout, and it’s always been more leery of the Nazis than most Protestant churches were. No ‘German Christians’ among the Catholics, or not many, anyhow.” He screwed up his face.

So did Sarah. So-called German Christians believed Nazi ideals were compatible with those of Jesus. As far as she could see, that was well on the way toward being like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland, who made a habit of believing two impossible things every day before breakfast. But German Christians dominated most Protestant denominations these days. Didn’t you also believe in impossibilities if you thought you could tell the Nazis no and get away with it?

“Where’s your mother?” Samuel Goldman asked. “Now I’ll have to tell the story twice.”

“She’s out shopping.” Sarah’s voice was sour. Jews could only do it at the very end of the day, when everyone else had already had the chance to pick over the little in the stores. Sarah added, “I was peeling potatoes when I heard you come in.”

Her father sighed. “Bad food, and not enough of it.” He flipped his hand up and down. “It’s not your fault. I know it’s not. You and mother do everything anyone could with what the Reich lets us have.”

“That’s not enough, either.”

“If it were, the Reich wouldn’t let us have it,” Father said.

He paused then. Sarah could read his mind. He was looking for the best-or worst-way to make a pun about how the Reich really wanted to let them have it. He did things like that. But before he could this time, the front door opened behind him. He looked absurdly affronted as he half turned on his good leg, as if Mother had squashed his line on purpose.

Hanna Goldman hadn’t, of course. Her little two-wheeled collapsible wire shopping cart was almost as empty as it had been when she set out. Some sorry turnips, some insect-nibbled greens… That kind of stuff might have done for fattening hogs. People just got thinner on it, as Sarah had sad reason to know.

But Mother’s jade-green eyes snapped with excitement. “They’ve arrested Bishop von Galen!” she exclaimed.

“We knew that.” By the deflationary way Father said it, he was miffed he hadn’t got to make his horrible pun.

Mother refused to be deflated. “Did you know there’s a great big crowd out in front of the cathedral? Did you know they’re yelling at the police and the blackshirts, and throwing things at them, too?”

“Der Herr Gott im Himmel!” Father burst out. Sarah felt the same way. Germans mostly didn’t do such things. She’d heard that, when machine guns opened up on demonstrators in the mad Berlin of 1919, the crowd fled across a park to escape the deadly fire-but people obeyed the KEEP OFF THE GRASS! signs while they ran for their lives.

“It’s true. I saw the edges of it. I got away from there as fast as I could afterward,” Mother said. “I didn’t want to wait till the blackshirts started shooting-and I didn’t want to give them any reason to arrest a Jew, either.”

“If each of us would have tried to take one of those pigdogs with him when they came for him…” For a moment, Father looked and sounded young and ferocious, the way he would have in the trenches in the last war. But then he sighed and shook his head and went back to his familiar self. “The Nazis wouldn’t care. They’d thank us for handing them an excuse to murder us all.”

“They can’t murder everyone out by the cathedral,” Mother said.

Distant gunfire seemed to give her the lie. Even more faintly, Sarah heard screams and shrieks and shouts. She supposed they’d been going on before, but she hadn’t been able to make them out. She could now. People made more noise when bullets snarled past-or when they struck home.

“They’ll blame the Communists for this,” Father predicted.

“There aren’t many Catholic Communists,” Sarah pointed out.

“They won’t care,” Samuel Goldman said. “Outside agitators, they’ll call them, and they’ll say von Galen was working with them.” He spread his callused hands. “I mean, otherwise they’d have to blame themselves, and what are the odds of that?”

Chapter 6

Coming back into port should have been a relief for Julius Lemp and the rest of the U-30’s crew. Most of the time, it was. Coming back meant they’d made it through another patrol. RAF bombs wouldn’t sink them. Russian shells wouldn’t tear through the U-boat’s thin steel hide and send it to the bottom. Slow-crawling crabs wouldn’t pick out Lemp’s bulging dead eyes with their claws… this time.

The men could shave their beards. They could take proper showers. They could eat food that didn’t come out of tins. They could go into town and drink and pick up barmaids and brawl. They could walk off by themselves, without someone else always at their elbow. Or they could lie on real mattresses and sleep and sleep.

It was wonderful. Most of the time.

Every once in a while, politics got in the way. And politics, in the Reich, turned bloody in a hurry. They’d just come back in to Wilhelmshaven when the generals tried to topple the Fuhrer. You didn’t want to hear machine-gun fire at the edge of the base, especially when you weren’t sure who was shooting at whom or why.

Now they were in Kiel-at the edge of the Baltic rather than the North Sea-and politics was rearing its ugly head again. Everyone should have been proud of them for sinking the destroyer and two Soviet freighters on their latest patrol. If Lemp’s superiors were, they had a gift for hiding their enthusiasm.

“ Ja, ja. Well done, I am sure,” said the graying Kapitan zur See who heard Lemp’s first report. The bare bulb above the senior officer’s desk gleamed off the four gold stripes on his cuffs. He scribbled a note or two, but only a note or two. “No doubt your log gives the full details.”

If he wasn’t a distracted man, Lemp had never seen one. “Yes, sir,” he said.

The captain looked up and seemed surprised to find him still there. “Do you require something else, uh, Lemp?” He had to remind himself who the squirt in front of him was. Considering some of the things that had happened to Lemp, he didn’t know whether to be relieved or alarmed-for better and for worse, he hadn’t had the kind of career that lent itself to obscurity.

“Require? No, sir. Of course not, sir.” Lemp lied with great sincerity, as a junior sometimes had to do with a superior. “But if it’s not too much trouble, sir, I would like to have some idea of what’s going on.”

He might have stuck the Kapitan zur See with a pin. “What makes you think anything out of the ordinary is going on?” the older man demanded. Lemp didn’t answer; he didn’t think that needed an answer. The four-striper’s sigh said he really didn’t, either. He lit a cigarette. It was only stalling, and he and Lemp both knew it. His sigh sent a stream of smoke up toward the lightbulb. “Tell me, Lemp-what is your religion?”

“My religion, sir?” The U-boat skipper would have been more surprised had the captain asked him which position he most fancied in bed, but not much more surprised. “I’m a Lutheran, sir, but I haven’t been to church in a while.”

The senior officer blew out more smoke, this time in obvious relief. “Well, I could say the same thing. As a matter of fact, I did say the same thing to my own superiors the other day.”

Lemp had to remind himself that even an exalted Kapitan zur See had men to whom he needed to answer. “Why on earth did they ask you, sir?” he said, in lieu of Why on earth are you asking me?

A brief spark in the captain’s gray eyes said he also heard the question behind the question. “There are certain… advantages to being away at sea, tending to the Reich ’s business,” he replied. “You won’t have heard that the Catholics are, mm, well, some of them are, mm, unhappy about the way things are going.”

“Sir?” Lemp said, this time in lieu of What the devil are you talking about?

“It’s the Bishop of Munster’s fault,” the four-striper said. He sounded like a man trying to convince himself. Or that could have been Lemp’s imagination, but he didn’t think so. The answer also explained next to nothing. The Kapitan zur See must have realized as much. He stubbed out the cigarette with a quick, savage motion. “He spoke out against the Fuhrer ’s policy. From the pulpit. Repeatedly. And so the security services decided they had no choice but to take him into custody.”

“I… see,” Lemp said slowly. You needed nerve to do something like that. You needed to have your head examined, was what you really needed.

“There are… demonstrations of unhappiness about this here and there in the Vaterland,” the Kapitan zur See said. “This is why I asked you, you understand.”

“Aber naturlich,” Lemp said, which seemed safe enough. Demonstrations of unhappiness? What was going on in Germany? Was the whole country bubbling like a pot of stew forgotten on the stove? He wouldn’t have been surprised. You couldn’t just go arresting bishops. These weren’t the Middle Ages, after all. But the blackshirts didn’t seem to care. They were Hitler’s hounds. Do something they didn’t like and they’d bite.

“So that’s where we are. That’s why passes into town are limited,” the Kapitan zur See said. Schleswig-Holstein had been Danish till a lifetime before, and was solidly Lutheran. Even so… “The less trouble we stir up, the better for everyone.”

“The men won’t like being restricted to base, sir,” Lemp said. As the other officer had to know, that was an understatement.

“Yes? And so?” The Kapitan zur See sent him a hooded look. “They aren’t the only crew here, you know.”

“Jawohl, mein Herr.” Lemp knew a losing fight when he saw one. “I’ll tell them what they need to understand.” He rose, saluted, and got out of the four-striper’s office as fast as he could.

By the time he returned to the barracks, the U-30’s crew had already found that next to none of them would be able to go into town. They weren’t happy about it, which was putting things mildly. “What, the shitheads don’t think we deserve to blow off steam? They can blow it out their assholes, is what they can do.” That was Paul, the helmsman-a chief petty officer, and as steady a man as Lemp had ever known. If he was within shouting distance of mutiny, the rest of the submariners had to be even closer.

Lemp spread his hands in what looked like apology, even though U-boat skippers weren’t in the habit of apologizing to their men. “There’s nothing I can do about it, friends,” he said. “It’s politics, is what it is.” He summarized what the Kapitan zur See had told him. He wouldn’t have been surprised if the senior officer didn’t want ratings to know such things. Well, too damn bad for him if he didn’t.

Some of the sailors, naturally, were Catholics. Some were convinced Nazis. The largest number cared little for religion or politics. “So this bullshit is what’s keeping us confined to base?” one of them said. “That’s nothing but Quatsch. If we want to get into fights, we’ve got better things to brawl about than some stupid, loudmouthed bishop.”

“Do we?” another sailor said. “The government shouldn’t tell us how to be religious. They fought wars about that back in the old days.”

“A bishop’s got no business telling government what to do, either,” the first man retorted. “They fought wars about that in the old days, too.” By the way the two ratings glared at each other, they were both ready to square off on the spot. By the way their friends shifted toward one or the other, everybody knew which side of the fence he stood on.

“That will be enough of that,” Lemp said sternly. “As you were, all of you.” For a bad couple of seconds, he didn’t think they’d listen to him. That was the worst feeling an officer could get. Obedience sprang from consent, no matter how much the military tried to conceal that. When men stopped listening to their leaders… You got the end of 1918 all over again. No German in his right mind wanted to repeat that long fall into chaos.

But then one of the ratings said, “Ah, fuck it. It’s got nothing to do with crewmates.” After a moment, the other man nodded. Tension left the barracks hall like water leaving a dive chamber when a U-boat surfaced. The rating went on, “If we can’t go into town, the least they could do would be to bring some broads onto the base and set up a brothel here.” All the sailors nodded in unison to that.

It seemed like a good idea to Julius Lemp, too. “I’ll see what I can do,” he promised, and headed back toward the Kapitan zur See ’s office. A few girls, even homely ones who smelled of onions, would go a long way toward making sure the men remembered what they were supposed to be doing and why. They’d also go a long way toward making sure the men remembered their superiors cared about them. And that would help them remember what they should be doing and why, too.

Some of the streets in Bialystok had trees growing alongside them. The locals bragged about their tree-lined boulevards, and said they made Bialystok just like Paris. Only a bunch of provincial Poles and Jews could imagine that a Polish provincial town was anything like Paris, but try and tell them that.

Hans-Ulrich Rudel didn’t. For one thing, life was too short. For another, he’d never been to Paris himself. He’d bombed the place when the Wehrmacht fought its way to the suburbs, but that wasn’t the same thing. He’d promised himself leave in the French capital after it fell, but it didn’t.

So here he was two years later, on leave in Bialystok instead. At the moment, the trees were bare-branched, even skeletal. But the leaf buds were starting to swell. Spring was on the way. Before long, Bialystok would be green again, even if not Parisian.

Signs on shops and eateries were in incomprehensible Polish and just as incomprehensible Yiddish. The one had the right alphabet but alien words, the other pretty much familiar words in an alien script. Both added up to gibberish for him.

But he’d come here before, often enough to know where he was going from the train station. If he had got lost, spoken Yiddish made far more sense to him than the written kind, and Bialystok was full of Jews. He could have asked one of them. These days, the town also had its share of chain dogs-German Feldgendarmerie, their gorgets of office hung around their necks from chains. He was glad he didn’t need to talk to them. The less he had to do with them, the better.

A drunk Pole reeled out of a tavern. That would have been a cliche, except the Pole, in a uniform of dark, greenish khaki, was arm in arm with an equally plastered German in Feldgrau. They were both murdering the same tune, each in his own language. Drunken Germans weren’t such a cliche, which didn’t mean Hans-Ulrich hadn’t seen his share of them and then some.

As a matter of fact, he was heading for a tavern himself, though not this one. Another block up from the station, half a block over… He nodded to himself. He recognized the Polish sign out front, even if it made no sense to him. He walked in. The place smelled of tobacco and sweat and beer and fried food-and stale piss from the jakes out back.

Poles and Germans drank together here, too. So did Jews and Germans, which would have been unimaginable back in the Reich. The Poles didn’t like their Jews, but they didn’t hit them with the same legal restrictions the Germans did. Maybe they couldn’t; one person in ten in Poland was a Jew, only one in a hundred in Germany. Wehrmacht personnel here had orders to conform to local customs and laws.

A short, swarthy barmaid sidled up to Hans-Ulrich. She spoke in throaty Yiddish: “You may as well sit down, not that the boss’ll make a zloty off you if you keep on drinking tea.”

“Hello, Sofia. Won’t you at least tell me you’re glad to see me?” Rudel didn’t grab her or kiss her in public. She didn’t like that. Did she go with other men while he was in the East fighting the war? If she did, he’d never heard about it. The way things were these days, that would do.

“I’m at least glad to see you,” she answered, deadpan. She wasn’t exactly a Jew; she had a Polish father, which in the Reich ’s classification scheme made her a Mischling first class. But she thought of herself as Jewish, and she was snippy like a Jew. Back in Germany, Hans-Ulrich would have endangered his career by having anything to do with her. He could get away with it here-could, and did.

She took him to a corner and brought him a glass of tea. She found his teetotaling as funny as most of his service comrades did. She was also as nervous about seeing a German-and a Nazi Party member at that-as he was about going with a Jewess. In bed, everything was fine. The rest of the time… Hans-Ulrich sometimes thought they came from different planets, not just different countries.

Sofia was well informed about his planet, though. Along with the sweet, milkless tea, she gave him a mocking grin. “So even the Catholics in Germany say Hitler can’t get away with some of the stuff he’s trying to pull?” she said.

As a Lutheran minister’s son, his opinion of Catholics had never been high. “A lot of that is just enemy propaganda,” he said. None of it had come over the German radio or appeared in any army or Luftwaffe newspaper. That didn’t mean he hadn’t heard a few things, or more than a few. It did mean he wasn’t obliged to believe them-not officially, and not when Sofia tried to rub his nose in them.

She quirked a dark eyebrow. “Well, if you say so,” she answered, which meant she wasn’t obliged to believe him, either. She went on, “The big switch was good for something, anyhow. I got a card from my mother the other day, from Palestine.”

While England and Germany were at war, mail from Palestine-a British League of Nations mandate-didn’t travel to Poland because it was friendly to Germany. Now that England had joined the crusade against Bolshevism, things moved more freely. “There’s rather more to it than that, you know,” he said stiffly. He often was more literal-minded than might have been good for him. Sofia enjoyed getting under his skin. As if having a mother who felt strongly enough about being Jewish to go to Palestine after the Pole she’d married (a drunkard, if you listened to Sofia) walked out weren’t enough!

“If you say so,” Sofia repeated. Big things-like who would win the war-meant little to her. Or, if they did, she wouldn’t let on. A small thing-like getting a card from her mother after a long silence-counted for more.

“I think you’re trying to drive me crazy,” Hans-Ulrich said.

“It would be a short drive,” she retorted, which made him regret-not for the first time-getting into a battle of words with her. He was a good flyer, not such a great talker. But everybody knew Jews were born talking, and in that Sofia took after her mother. Rudel assumed as much, anyhow, without even thinking about it.

He tried to change the subject: “What time do you get off today?”

“Why? What have you got in mind?” She didn’t just answer a question with another question. She answered one with two.

“Whatever you want, of course,” Hans-Ulrich said. Bialystok’s nightlife consisted of a few movie houses, a dance hall or two, and a Yiddish theater. Even with trees lining the streets, Paris it was not.

Sofia laughed raucously. “Whatever you want, you mean. And what else does a man ever want?”

Rudel’s ears heated. “Well, what if I do? If I didn’t, you’d think I was sleeping with somebody else, and you’d give me trouble on account of that.”

“I wouldn’t give you trouble. I’d drop you like a grenade. No-I’d throw you like a grenade.” She cocked her head to one side. “You mean you don’t visit the officers’ whorehouse? I’m sure they’ve set one up somewhere not far from you. They always do things like that, don’t they?”

As a matter of fact, they did. An officers’ brothel-and one for other ranks-operated in a village a couple of kilometers from the airstrip. Hans-Ulrich knew Sergeant Dieselhorst had visited the one for enlisted men. He hadn’t called at the officers’ establishment. That gave his fellow flyers one more reason to think he was strange, though they knew about Sofia and didn’t think he was a fairy.

“The girls there would just be doing it because they were doing it,” he said slowly, trying to put what he thought into words. “They wouldn’t be doing it because they wanted to do it with me.”

And I do? He waited for the barmaid’s jeers. Rather to his surprise, it didn’t come. She eyed him as if she were seeing him for the first time. “That matters to you?”

“Yes, it matters to me.” He was in his midtwenties. He often risked his life several times a day. He gave Sofia a crooked grin. “Well, most of the time, anyhow.”

He wondered if she’d get mad. Instead, he startled a laugh out of her. “You’d better watch yourself. If you aren’t careful, you’ll make me think you’re honest.”

Hans-Ulrich prided himself on his honesty-he was a pastor’s son. He started to get angry, then realized she was teasing him. “You…” he said, more or less fondly.

She grinned at him, altogether unrepentant. “Did you expect anything different?” Before he could answer, the soldiers at another table yelled for her to fetch them another round of drinks. She fluttered her fingers at him and hurried away. Hans-Ulrich realized she never had told him when she got off. How much tea would he soak up before she finally did? He wasn’t even that fond of tea. But he was fond of Sofia, and so he waited and ordered glass after glass.

Alistair Walsh’s principal use to the Conservative conspirators against Sir Horace Wilson’s alliance with the Reich was that he knew soldiers. Some of them had put on the uniform after the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, but he’d worn it for more than twenty years-for his whole adult life, till his political unreliability led him to resign from the service and led the army to accept his resignation.

So he knew soldiers in ways the toffs didn’t. And he also knew soldiers-literally. At one time or another between the wars, he’d served under most of England’s prominent and high-ranking officers. Senior officers tended to remember senior noncoms. Those long-serving veterans were the army’s backbone. They counted for more in the scheme of things than lieutenants and captains and sometimes even majors because they knew all the things the junior officers were just learning-and more besides, especially if you listened to them.

And Walsh could do things in an unofficial capacity that would have raised eyebrows-to say nothing of hackles-had an MP gone about them. If the conspirators talked to a general, for instance, Sir Horace and his none too merry men would naturally suspect them of skullduggery. The Prime Minister and his henchmen would be right, too.

But if Alistair Walsh called on General Archibald Wavell-well, so what? He was only an out-to-pasture underofficer. For all Scotland Yard could prove, he was asking for a job, or maybe a loan.

That was also true for all General Wavell knew. He might not have had any idea of the company Walsh was keeping these days. He did know who Walsh was, though, and did agree to meet him at General Staff headquarters. In baggy civilian tweeds, Walsh felt dreadfully out of place in that sanctum of creased khaki, gleaming brass tunic buttons, shoulder straps, and swarms of the red collar tabs that showed officers of colonel’s rank and above. In uniform himself, he would have had to salute till his shoulder ached. As things were, his arm kept twitching as he fought down the conditioned reflex again and again.

Wavell was an erect, thin-faced man in his early fifties. “I can give you fifteen minutes, Walsh,” he said as he closed his office door to let them talk privately. Scotland Yard might be able to plant microphones in many different places, Walsh judged, but not here.

“Thank you, sir,” the ex-serviceman said. “I appreciate it, and so do my friends.”

One of Wavell’s bushy eyebrows rose an eighth of an inch. “Your… friends?” He let the word hang in the air. By the look on his face, he might have taken a bite of fish that was slightly off.

“Yes, sir,” Walsh said stolidly. “You may or may not have heard I was the bloke who had the bad luck to bring in Rudolf Hess after he parachuted from his Messerschmitt 110.”

“Were you, now?” The general’s gaze sharpened. “Yes, that’s right. You were. I remember seeing the report, now you remind me of it.

And so?”

“And so I wish I’d had a pistol with me and plugged him instead,” Walsh answered. “Then maybe we wouldn’t be in bed with Hitler now. My friends”-he deliberately reused the word-“still wish we weren’t.”

Wavell snorted. “They aren’t the only ones, I’m sure.” But he checked himself. “It’s up to the politicians to set policy, of course. The military’s here to back their play when the usual peacetime methods fail.”

“Invading Russia, sir?” Walsh said. “Isn’t that going a bit far?”

“If your friends are of the pink persuasion, Walsh, I don’t think we have much more to say to each other.” Twenty degrees of frost crisped up Wavell’s voice.

“They’re Tories almost to a man. Churchill was one of them, till he met that Bentley,” Walsh replied. Winston Churchill hated the idea of helping Hitler, not that Neville Chamberlain cared a farthing what Churchill thought. People still wondered whether the rich young man behind the wheel of the auto that ran Churchill down was truly as drunk as the bobbies claimed.

“That was a bad business,” Wavell said quietly, so he might have been one of those wondering people. He studied Walsh. “So you’re in with that lot, are you? No, they’re not pinks, no doubt of that.”

“I am, sir. It seems the best way to honor Churchill’s memory-and, to my mind, he was dead right about the Nazis.” Walsh hadn’t used the phrase with malice aforethought. But he quite fancied it once it was out of his mouth. “Dead right,” he repeated.

“I can’t imagine what you or your friends expect me to do about it, though,” Wavell said. “This isn’t Argentina or Brazil or one of those places. The army doesn’t interfere in politics here. It would be unthinkable.”

Walsh just sat there and waited. If General Wavell was talking about it, he was thinking about it. What he was thinking about it… Walsh would discover in due course.

The general glanced at his wristwatch. “Well,” he said with forced briskness, “I’m afraid I’ve given you all the time I can spare at present. There is a war on, you know, and someone does have to run it, or at any rate to try.”

“Certainly, sir.” Walsh got to his feet. “Is there anything you’d particularly like me to tell my friends?”

“Tell them… Tell them they don’t know what they’re playing at, dammit.”

“I think they do, sir. I think it’s the Prime Minister and his lot who’ve gone off the rails, not these other fellows.”

“You can say that. You’ve taken off the uniform. No, I don’t hold it against you-no denying you had your reasons,” Wavell said. “But I still wear it. If I were to speak in the same fashion, or to act in addition to speaking, it would be treason, nothing less.”

“General, I don’t know anything about that,” said Walsh, who knew far more about it than he’d dreamt he would before he watched that lone parachutist descend on the Scottish field. Taking a deep breath, he continued, “I do know we can’t go on the way we’re going. It would ruin the country forever. Anything would be better, anything at all. Or do you think I’m wrong?”

“I think-” Wavell broke off, shaking his head like a horse pestered by gnats. “I think you’d best go, Walsh, is what I think. And deliver my message to your associates.”

Walsh did, at a pub not far from Parliament. They kept no favorite table: that would have made it too easy for Scotland Yard, or perhaps the PM’s less savory associates, to arrange to listen in. Walsh didn’t think they could bug every table in the place. The noise from the rest of the crowd-more politicos, solicitors, newspapermen, and other such riffraff-drowned out the conspirators’ conversations. He hoped like blazes it did, anyhow.

Ronald Cartland slammed his pint mug down on the tabletop in disgust when Walsh finished. It wasn’t empty; some best bitter slashed out. “Good Lord!” the MP exclaimed. “The man has no more spine than an eclair! One of you, Walsh, is worth a thousand of him.”

Cartland had volunteered for service when the war broke out, and fought in France as a subaltern. That, to Walsh’s mind, gave his opinions weight and made his praise doubly warming. But Walsh thought his dismissal of General Wavell was premature. “I don’t know about that, sir,” he said. “He didn’t have the military police arrest me for treason, the way he might have done. He didn’t even chuck me out of his office. He listened to me. He may not be ready to move yet, but he doesn’t half fancy the way things are heading.”

“Who in his right mind would?” said Bobbity Cranford, another leader of the anti-alliance crowd. “But if he listened to you, old man, he’d better watch out for Bentleys the next time he crosses the road.”

That produced a considerable silence around the table. Walsh broke it by loudly calling to a barmaid to fill up his pint again. He needed the fresh mug. Cranford had reminded him they weren’t playing a game here, nor was the government. If it felt itself seriously threatened, it would lash out. Anyone who didn’t believe that had only to remember Winston Churchill.

Luc Harcourt unslung his rifle and carried it instead of leaving it on his shoulder. His regiment was heading up to the front again, and he wanted to be ready if they ran into any Russians. Besides, fronts here were far more porous than they’d been in France. Some enemy soldiers were bound to have leaked through what was supposed to be the line.

His boots squelched as he tramped up the road, but only a little. The mud didn’t try to pull off his footgear, as it would have a couple of weeks earlier. Pretty soon, both sides would be able to start moving again. There were prospects Luc relished more.

Up ahead, Lieutenant Demange was singing obscene lyrics to the tune of a peasant song about spring. Luc had known Demange since before the shooting started. Not many others from the old company survived, and even fewer in one piece. Knowing Demange as he did, Luc also knew those foul verses were a way for the reluctantly promoted officer to hide his own nerves about what lay ahead.

Anyone who didn’t know Demange so well would assume he owned no nerves. Luc had, for a long time. But underneath the chrome-steel salaud lay a human being. A nasty human being, but even so, Luc thought.

One thing Demange didn’t believe in was taking needless chances; a soldier had to take too many that were necessary. He carried a rifle instead of the more usual and less useful officer’s pistol. And he carried it, like Luc. He was ready for anything. And things needed to be ready for him.

“Halt! Who goes there?” a sentry called in nervous, German-accented French. “Give the countersign!”

“Your mother on a pogo stick,” Demange snarled. He might be here, but he still despised the Boches.

“Qu’est-ce-que vous dites?” the sentry said: a reasonable enough question. He added, “Give the countersign, or I fire!”

Demange did, which confirmed Luc’s thought about not taking chances he didn’t have to. The German passed him and the men he led. Well, why not? They were doing some of Hitler’s work so the rest of the Fritzes wouldn’t have to.

The trench system was well enough organized and shored up to show the lines hadn’t moved much for a while. What with the way Russia turned to mud soup as the snow melted, the lines couldn’t very well move.

Which didn’t mean the Reds were asleep behind their rusting barbed wire. The regiment hadn’t been in place for half an hour before an Ivan with a megaphone shouted at them in much better French than the German sentry spoke: “Here they are again-Colonel Eluard’s little darlings.”

How did the bastard know? Luc wouldn’t have thought any of the handful of Russian peasants he’d seen had paid the least attention to the Frenchmen tramping up to the front. He really wouldn’t have thought they could tell one regiment from another. And he really wouldn’t have thought that, even if they could, they’d be able to pass the word on to their countrymen so fast.

That only went to show how much he knew. With noxious good cheer, the French-speaking Russian went on, “Now that you’re back, we should welcome you the way you deserve!”

“Jump for the bombproofs, boys!” Demange shouted, a good twenty seconds before mortar bombs started raining down on the trenches.

His instincts saved lives. Luc had already curled up in a place where fragments couldn’t get him when the shooting started. But not everybody was so lucky. Machine guns and German artillery kept the Russians at bay. Stretcher-bearers hauled off the wounded Frenchmen.

“Those fucking stovepipes are bad news,” Demange said, lighting one more in his endless chain of Gitanes.

“How did the Russians know who we were?” Luc asked.

“How doesn’t matter. But they knew, all right. That jeering prick… He sounded just like a captain I served under in the last war. That asshole stopped a 77-or maybe it was a 105-with his face. Hardly enough left of him to bury. I hope the same thing happens to this son of a bitch, too.”

“He was just the mouthpiece,” Luc said. “It’s the ones who told him what to say who need killing.”

“They all need killing,” Demange said. “And they think we all need killing. And if everybody gets his way, nobody’ll be left when this stupid war’s done, and you know what? The world’ll be a better place after that. For a little while, till the cats or the rats learn how to lie.”

“Heh,” Luc said uneasily, not at all sure the older man was kidding. He decided to change the subject: “What are we going to do now?”

“I don’t know about you, but I’m going to shore up these works the best way I know how.” Demange stopped, an evil smile lighting up his face. He shook his head. “No. Fuck that. I’m an officer now, right? I’m going to have a bunch of sorry-ass privates shore this shit up for me.”

“Sounds good, Lieutenant.” Luc grinned. With a sergeant’s hash marks on his sleeve, he wouldn’t have to thicken up the calluses on his palm with an entrenching tool so much, either.

“And then,” Demange went on, “and then, what I’m going to do is sit right here on my ass and not move a centimeter forward till some cocksucker in a fancy kepi makes me do it.”

“That sounds good, too,” Luc agreed. “But what about the crusade against Bolshevism?”

“What afuckingbout it?” Demange retorted. “I’m here, aren’t I? You’re here, aren’t you? As much as you’re ever anywhere, I mean.”

“I love you, too, sir,” Luc put in.

Demange ignored him, not for the first time and no doubt not for the last. The veteran went on, “We’ve both shot Russians. If they come at us again-no, when they do-we’ll shoot some more of them so they don’t shoot us. I’ll do whatever I’ve got to do to stay alive. But if you think I’m enough of a jackass to give a fart about any of that political horseshit, you’re even dumber than I give you credit for.”

“Mmp.” Luc left that right there. He looked up and down the trenches. No one was paying special attention to him and Demange, except perhaps to see what kind of nasty orders the lieutenant and sergeant doled out next and who’d get stuck with them. Lowering his voice, Luc continued, “Some of the guys in the ranks are still Reds, you know. They didn’t come close to weeding all of ’em out before they sent us east.”

“Oh, sure.” Lieutenant Demange nodded. “But so what? Most of ’em’ll shoot Ivans to keep from getting killed themselves, and that’s all they’ve really got to do. A few of ’em’ll desert.”

“A few of them have already deserted,” Luc pointed out.

“Uh-huh.” Demange nodded again. “And you know what? I bet the fucking Russians ate ’em without salt. We’re only here because Daladier’s got his head up his ass. Those miserable Russkis, they’re here on account of the Nazis and Poles and us, we’re in their country. It makes all the fucking difference in the world. Even a sorry turd like you didn’t fight too bad when the Fritzes invaded France.”

“That’s the nicest thing you ever said about me.” Luc tried to sound sarcastic. He did less well than he would have liked, mostly because he meant it. That was about the nicest thing Demange had ever said about him.

“Yeah, well, you didn’t know your ass from your elbow when you started out. But you were luckier than most of the other poor stupid new fish: the Nazis didn’t nail you or blow you up right away, so you got the chance to learn,” Demange said. “By now, you know what you’re doing. One more time, you’d be even dumber than I figure you for if you didn’t.”

“Thanks a bunch,” Luc said, deflated. He’d been cut and scratched and bruised, but he never did get badly hurt. Was that all it took to make a good soldier? Staying in one piece long enough to learn the ropes? The more he thought about it, the likelier it seemed.

Even a good soldier, though, had to stay lucky all the time. Things had to keep missing him. Superiors had to steer clear of idiotic orders that put him in a place where things couldn’t help hitting. Otherwise, he’d go down and thrash and scream just as loud as any clodhopper fresh out of training. He knew that, too.

Chapter 7

Colonel Otto Griehl commanded the panzer regiment of which Theo Hossbach was a small and none too vital part. Theo didn’t think the regimental commander was such a bad guy. Had the colonel known as much, that doubtless would have warmed the cockles of his heart, whatever the hell those were. But even if Griehl wasn’t such a bad guy, he did like to hear himself talk.

“Men, we’ve been stuck in the mud too damn long,” he declared to the troopers in black coveralls with the silver panzer Totenkopf on their collar patches. “Now we can move around again, so we’re going to go out and give the Ivans what-for.”

Some of the assembled panzer troopers clapped their hands. Adi Stoss leaned close to Theo and muttered, “Who’s this we he keeps going on about? Him and his tapeworm?”

Theo snickered. He might not think Griehl was a bad guy, but that didn’t mean he took authority any more seriously than he had to. Contemplating the exalted colonel’s equally exalted tapeworm was as good a cure for that as he could imagine, and better than most.

Hermann Witt clucked in reproof-mild reproof, but reproof even so. “Griehl comes forward with the rest of us,” he said.

“Ja, ja,” Adi said. Theo nodded. It was true enough. In a panzer regiment, company commanders and the regimental CO did lead machines of their own, and did advance with-sometimes ahead of-everybody else. They didn’t inflict their wisdom on the troops from kilometers behind the line, the way high-ranking officers had in the last war.

Well, Witt was a sergeant himself, and a panzer commander. Being a small-scale leader had to give him more sympathy for the worries of a large-scale one. Theo had no urge to tell anybody else what to do. He also had no desire whatsoever to have other people tell him what to do.

He wasn’t an ideal fit for the Wehrmacht, then. Ideal fit or not, here he was. He glanced over at Adalbert Stoss. Adi wasn’t such a great fit, either. He might not mind giving other people orders, but he was even less thrilled about taking them than Theo. To Theo, other people were equals, and equals had no business telling other equals what to do. As far as Adi was concerned, other people were idiots until they proved otherwise.

He wouldn’t have deferred to Sergeant Witt if Witt hadn’t shown he knew what he was doing. That was part of the trouble he’d had with the previous panzer commander. The rest of that trouble, though, had been more on the order of two rams banging heads in the springtime. Heinz Naumann wouldn’t do any more head-banging. He lay somewhere to the west, under a cross unless the Russians had desecrated his grave.

Woolgathering meant Theo’d missed some of the colonel’s harangue. He wouldn’t lose any sleep over that. As he started paying attention again, Griehl was saying, “-will surround Smolensk in a ring of steel and fire. Along with our brave allies, we’ll smash the Russians inside that ring.”

He got some more applause. Theo marveled that he could talk like that with a straight face. The English and French were here, but didn’t want to be. The Poles were more enthusiastic, but short of everything bigger than a machine gun. The less said about the Magyars and the Slovaks, the better. Anyway, they were farther south. Theo didn’t know what to think of the Romanians, but the way they’d gone belly-up in the last war didn’t make him figure Stalin’s teeth were chattering.

“I know you’ll serve the Reich well. I know you’ll serve the Volk well. And I know you’ll serve the Fuhrer well.” Colonel Griehl’s arm shot up and out in the Party salute. “ Heil Hitler! ”

“ Heil Hitler! ” The panzer men echoed the shout and the salute. Since the failed Putsch against the Fuhrer, it was supposed to have replaced the traditional military salute. And so it had-where anyone you didn’t trust could see you saluting. Theo muttered something wordless to himself. What was one more mask among the many he already wore?

He scrambled up into his familiar place behind the Panzer II’s turret, away from the world and its cares-except, of course, when it started screaming at him through the radio earphones. The fighting compartment smelled of metal and leather and sweat and exhaust and smokeless powder. It smelled like home to Theo, even if home was thinly armored, too lightly armed, and rapidly becoming obsolete.

From the turret, Witt said, “One of these days before too long, we’ll get ourselves a Panzer III instead.”

“God, I hope so!” Adi Stoss exclaimed as he started the engine. Theo wasn’t so sure he did. Yes, a Panzer III had thicker armor, a better cannon, and a bow machine gun to go with the one in the turret. But it also had a loader and a gunner in the turret along with the commander (the radioman handled that bow gun). Was getting to know two new people scarier than attacking the Ivans in this old crate? To Theo, that seemed too close to call.

They didn’t have the new panzer yet. No matter what Sergeant Witt said, reports that they’d get one soon were only scuttlebutt. With a good crew-which this machine did have-a Panzer II could still do the job. Stoss put the beast in gear. They not only could do the job, they damn well had to.

Witt rode with his head and shoulders out of the turret. Any panzer commander would do that when he wasn’t in combat. You could see a lot more that way; unlike the III and some French and English machines, the Panzer II had only a hatch, not a cupola. There was talk that new IIs would come with them, but that didn’t do this one any good.

A good panzer commander would stay head-and-shoulders out of the machine even in action. The vision ports in the turret just weren’t an adequate substitute. Witt did. Heinz Naumann had, too. That was how he’d stopped something. No one could fault Naumann’s guts: not even Adi, who’d hated them.

“There are some Frenchmen,” Adi said over the Maybach engine’s rattling growl and the squeak and clank of the caterpillar treads. “They’re by the side of the road, trying to get their trucks going again.”

“Surprise!” Sour amusement filled Hermann Witt’s voice. Russian roads went from bad to worse. Road maps showed as paved were either rutted dirt tracks or, more often, not there at all. Theo didn’t know who’d made the maps. Some fool who believed Soviet propaganda, probably. He did know that Western European soft-skinned vehicles made to run on asphalt or concrete fell to pieces trying to deal with Russian potholes and mud and engine-abrading dust. German trucks broke down as fast as their French and English counterparts.

In spite of his earphones, Theo started hearing gunfire. The Ivans knew when things could get rolling. They did what they could to stop their foes from pushing deeper into Russia. Witt ducked into the turret, but only to grab his Schmeisser. Then he popped up again like a jack-in-the-box.

“Infantry reporting enemy panzers in the woods ahead,” someone said on the radio. Theo relayed the message to Sergeant Witt.

“Oh, they are, are they?” Now Witt sounded almost gay. “Well, that’s what we’re here for, right?” Theo didn’t answer. He had no idea why he was here. He only knew he was, and that he wanted to go on being here. Philosophy in the back of a panzer? Witt would never understand.

Then half a dozen people started screeching in Theo’s earphones at the same time. “Oh, my God!” Hermann Witt exclaimed, while Adi Stoss yelled, “What a fucking monster!” One of the people on the radio said something about the biggest panzer he’d ever seen, so Theo decided it wasn’t King Kong coming out of the woods after all.

Which didn’t mean it wasn’t dangerous. Witt fired several 20mm rounds at the Russian machine. He slapped in another ten-round clip and fired some more.

“They just bounce off!” he said in horror. Beauty wouldn’t kill the Red beast, and maybe nothing else would, either. Witt came out with something even more horrified-and horrifying: “Dodge like hell, Adi! He’s aiming at us!”

Adi did his best to comply. Russian panzer gunners were often lousy, especially against moving targets. Often, but not always. Wham! Clanng! The hit almost threw Theo out of his seat. The round didn’t get through into the fighting compartment, but the Panzer II slewed sideways and stopped.

“Out! Out fast!” Adi shouted. “He knocked a track off! If he hits us again-”

He didn’t go on, or need to. Theo grabbed his Schmeisser and bailed out. The other two panzer crewmen left through his hatch, which exposed them to less enemy fire than their own. They huddled in the lee of the disabled panzer.

“I don’t know about you guys, but I feel like a deshelled snail,” Adi said.

Theo nodded. He did, too. He peered around the damaged Panzer II. He wanted a glimpse of the machine that did the dirty work. It was a monster. It seemed twice the size of the light German panzer, and mounted a gun that looked like a piece of field artillery. The cannon belched flame. Wham! Clanng! Another Panzer II exploded into fire. That crew had no prayer of getting away. Theo shuddered. Roasting inside your shell was even worse than coming out of it.

“Moscow speaking.” By the self-important way the words came out of the radio, the whole city might have been talking through the speaker, not just an announcer holed up in a studio somewhere. Or so it seemed to Anastas Mouradian, anyhow. He didn’t share the conceit with his fellow flyers. They already thought he was strange. He didn’t want to give them any more reasons.

“Red Army forces have struck more and more heavy blows against the Fascist and reactionary invaders west and south of Smolensk,” the newsreader went on. “The enemy’s tanks continue to show themselves unable to face in the field the latest products of Soviet engineering.”

Radio Moscow gave forth with great steaming piles of propaganda. Anyone with an ear to hear-which Mouradian certainly owned-knew that. Here, though, as best he could tell, the announcer meant every word. The new heavy tanks named for General Kliment Voroshilov were bigger and tougher than anything the Nazis or their friends built. Facing Panzer IIs-even Panzer IIIs-a KV-1 was like a bear against a pack of yapping dogs. But the KV-1s came in ever-growing packs, too.

“Farther south,” the radio newsman went on, “the soldiers of the glorious Red Army are being welcomed as liberators in Bessarabia, which the Romanians stole while reactionary forces attempted to strangle the infant Soviet Union in its cradle.”

That sounded impressive. Mouradian wasn’t old enough to remember much about the Russian Revolution and its aftermath. He remembered that Armenia had been independent for a little while, and then part of a bigger Trans-Caucasian Soviet Socialist Republic. Then, after the Whites and their foreign allies were beaten, Moscow reasserted its authority over the region. No, he didn’t remember all the political details. What he mostly remembered was going hungry all the time.

Anyone who’d lived through the Revolution had memories like that. If you were a Ukrainian, you had several sets of them, and you were probably lucky to be alive. Rumors said lots of Ukrainians welcomed German and Polish soldiers the way the radio reported the Bessarabians were welcoming the Red Army. The louder and more stridently Radio Moscow denied those rumors, the more Stas believed them.

“Unrest in England against the government’s unnatural alliance with the Hitlerite barbarians continues to grow,” the newsreader said. “Police have been uncommonly brutal in suppressing demonstrations against Prime Minister Wilson.”

He went on to talk about ever-swelling Soviet war production. Plan after plan was overfulfilled, quota after quota exceeded. Stas wondered if he was the only flyer listening who thought about what would happen if people demonstrated against Stalin in Red Square. The NKVD, which was commonly brutal, would be uncommonly so for something like that. Would captured protesters be killed out of hand or sent to the gulags so they had more time to think about what reckless fools they’d been? An interesting question. Either way, the poor devils wouldn’t like the answer.

There was war news in the Pacific, too. Mouradian couldn’t make much of it, not least because the announcer kept stumbling over unfamiliar place names. He gathered that Japan was advancing and everyone else falling back. Having served for a while in the Far East, Mouradian knew only too well that the Japanese were no bargain. Now the rest of the world was discovering the same thing.

Germany and her friends were no bargain, either. Japan could annoy and gnaw at the Soviet Union, and had done exactly that. But thousands of kilometers separated her from the USSR’s vitals. If Hitler paraded through Moscow in a Mercedes, could Stalin keep up the fight from Sverdlovsk or Kuibishev or some other town on the far side of the Urals? Mouradian had his doubts. He suspected Stalin did, too.

Which meant the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union would move heaven and earth to keep the Nazis out of Moscow and as far from the USSR’s capital as he could. It also meant Mouradian moved through the heavens toward Mogilev, which had recently fallen to the invaders. Along with him in the Pe-2 moved a thousand kilos’ worth of bombs. Stalin wouldn’t care that a stubborn Armenian was flying. The explosives, though, the explosives would matter to the director of the Soviet state.

The squadron’s target was the railroad yard. Maybe withdrawing Soviet troops hadn’t torn it up well enough. Maybe enemy railroad men had got it back in operation faster than the Russians figured they could. Keeping trains from going through Mogilev would help defend Smolensk, and Smolensk was Moscow’s most important shield.

Fires and plumes of greasy black smoke from burning tanks marked the front between Mogilev and Smolensk. Not all the burning armor came out of enemy factories. Soviet light tanks were still depressingly easy to kill. And even the KV-1s could go up in flames. Maybe some German Panzer III got lucky, or maybe the foe had a field gun in a good place.

In the Pe-2’s cockpit, Ivan Kulkaanen turned to Mouradian and said, “The stinking Fascists aren’t having it all their own way, anyhow.”

“No, they aren’t,” Stas agreed. Yes, that was true. But he would have felt obliged to agree even if the Nazis were driving the Red Army back headlong. Disagreeing with something like that would have been defeatism. England might tolerate such disagreement in wartime-or, if the morning news held any truth, might not. The Soviet Union never had and never would.

A few antiaircraft shells burst near the formation of Pe-2s. Stas didn’t see any planes catch fire or go down. That was good news. They flew on. Once they got past the front, things quieted down. It often worked out that way. If the Germans didn’t also have plenty of antiaircraft guns in and around Mogilev, though, Stas would be happily surprised.

After a while, he didn’t just hear the engines’ drone. It became a part of him, so that his toenails, his muscles, his spine, and his spleen all vibrated to the same rhythm. The oxygen-enriched air tasted of rubber and leather.

Kulkaanen pointed through the armor-glass windshield. A city lay ahead. Unless the squadron had really buggered up its navigation, that had to be Mogilev. They’d dive to make the attack more accurate. Pe-2s weren’t Stukas; they didn’t stand on their noses to deliver ordnance. (They could also fly rings around the clumsy German bombers.) But they did have dive brakes, and used them on attack runs.

That also brought them down closer to the flak gunners on the ground. Stas tried not to dwell on such things as the slotted flaps lowered and grabbed air. “Be ready,” he called to Fyodor Mechnikov back in the narrow bomb bay.

“What the hell else am I gonna be-sir?” the bombardier answered through the speaking tube. Behind goggles and oxygen mask, Mouradian grinned. Sure as the devil, it was almost like flying with Ivan Kuchkov again.

The Germans did have guns waiting for the Soviet bombers. Stas wished he were more astonished. Yes, they’d protect the railroad yards. And yes, they’d probably got a few minutes’ warning. Unlike Russians, Germans knew what to do with a few minutes’ warning, too.

Had he flown through heavier flak? He supposed he must have, but he couldn’t remember offhand just when. Something tore half the left wing off the Pe-2 diving next to his. The stricken bomber spun out of control. The crew had no chance to bail out.

“Now!” Stas yelled through the speaking tube. As soon as the bombs fell free, he leveled out and scooted away at full throttle and low altitude. Any Messerschmitt pilot who wanted to run him down was welcome to try. He turned back toward Soviet-held territory. The railroad yard, or something in its neighborhood, had taken one mighty thorough pounding.

Of course, the bombs also came down on the heads of the people who still lived in Mogilev. Stas’ superiors thought they’d do more harm to the enemy than to Soviet citizens. He had to hope they were right.

Spring was in the air outside Madrid… spring and the stink of shit and garbage and unburied bodies, and the occasional bullet or shell fragment. But when things started turning green, when the birds came back from the south, Chaim Weinberg was less inclined to be critical.

Mike Carroll gave him a peculiar look when he started going on about birdsong. “Chirp, chirp,” the other Abe Lincoln said. “Hot diggety dog.”

“It’s pretty,” Chaim insisted. “And it doesn’t sound the same here as it does in the States.”

“What? The fuckin’ birdth thpeak Thpanish?” Mike put on a sarcastic Castilian lisp.

“No, but there’s different ones here,” Chaim said. He was going to get pissed off if his buddy couldn’t see what he saw, couldn’t hear what he heard. He could feel it coming like a rash.

“Sparrows. Pigeons. Starlings. Crows. Stop the fucking presses. Call Walter fucking Winchell.” Mike was tall and slim and blond and handsome, none of which adjectives applied to Chaim. At the moment, the other American was also a royal pain in the ass.

“Only reason there’s pigeons and sparrows-these kindsa sparrows-and cocksucking starlings in the USA is that they’re imports,” Chaim said. “And the crows here aren’t the same as crows on the other side of the ocean. They’ve got bigger beaks, and they make different noises.”

“ You’d notice the stupid beaks,” Mike said.

“Your mother,” Chaim said without heat. Had somebody who wasn’t his friend made even an indirect crack about his own very Jewish beak, he would have rearranged the guy’s face for him. From Mike, though, he’d take it.

“How’s your wife?” the other Yank asked with a leer.

Chaim shrugged. “She’s back in the city, doing what she’s doing. And I’m here, doing what I’m doing.” That he’d made it with La Martellita struck him as a marvel. That she’d been willing to tie the knot for the sake of giving their accidental kid a last name was whatever came one step up from a marvel.

Mike tried to pinch off a hangnail with the other hand’s thumb and forefinger. “Doesn’t sound like the recipe for living happily ever after, y’know?”

“Yeah, yeah.” Chaim would rather have talked about birds. He hadn’t even started in on the hoopoe’s aerial ballet.

“What’ll you do when she dumps you after Junior comes out?” Mike found the sixty-four dollar question, all right.

All Chaim could do was shrug again. “Get drunk, I guess. Shoot some Fascists. What else is there to do?” Like Mike, he assumed she’d dump him once the baby was born. He also assumed the war in Spain would still be going on this fall. The way things looked right now, the war in Spain was liable to go on forever.

“Aren’t you tired of going hungry over there?” The enormous voice came from a microphone and speaker in Marshal Sanjurjo’s lines. “Come over to our side. We’ll give you a big bowl of mutton stew!”

Before, the Fascists had tempted Republican soldiers with chicken stew. Maybe they’d hired a new chef. More likely, they’d just put a new liar on the payroll. Chaim had captured Nationalist troops. They were every bit as skinny and miserable as the guys on his own side.

“Baa!” he bleated at the propaganda message. “Baa!”

Mike Carroll joined in. “Baa!” he yelled, even louder than Chaim. “Baa! Baa!”

“Mutton stew! Delicious mutton stew!” blared from the speaker.

“Baa!” This time, half a dozen Abe Lincolns bleated back. Before long, the whole stretch of Republican line northwest of Madrid was going “Baa! Baa! Baa!” in ragged chorus.

“Now look what you went and started,” Mike said. Chaim grinned. He was proud of himself.

Marshal Sanjurjo’s men didn’t think it was funny. Fascists, in Chaim’s experience, had all had their sense of humor surgically removed when they were very small. They had nasty ways of making their unhappiness known, too. Machine guns rattled. Mortar bombs whispered down. Even a battery of old German 77s well behind the line started up.

Naturally, the Internationals and the Czechs and the Spanish Republican soldiers in that stretch of the line fired back. “ Now look what you went and started,” Mike Carroll repeated, this time in an altogether different tone of voice.

A bullet cracked not far enough above Chaim’s head. He ducked automatically. “The fucking Battle of the Mutton Stew,” he said.

It was a joke, and then again it wasn’t. Bleating at the silly propaganda set off the shooting, sure. No matter what set it off, though, men on both sides were getting killed and maimed. He could hear wounded men screaming, all because he’d decided to make a noise like a sheep.

He didn’t want anything like that on his conscience. He told himself they would have got hit anyway. Himself told him he was full of it. Himself had a point, too. He’d been in Spain a long time. He’d seen how random war was. This guy bought a plot the day after he came into the line. That guy went without a scratch for years. Why? If it was anything more than God’s crapshoot, Chaim couldn’t imagine what. And, when he remembered not to, he didn’t even believe in God.

After both sides hauled their wounded away for whatever help the docs could give them, the Fascist announcer started going on about mutton stew again. He had a script, and he had his orders. This stretch of line was going to get so many repetitions. Then he’d go inflict himself somewhere else.

“Fuck you!” Chaim screamed, almost as loud without the loudspeaker as the announcer was with it. If he heard about mutton stew one more time, he’d snap. Or maybe he already had. “Fuck you up the ass! Fuck your mother! And fuck the sheep your fucking mutton stew comes from, too!”

That produced scattered cheers from the Internationals. He thought the only reason it just produced scattered cheers was that they didn’t want to risk starting up the firefight again. And, to his amazement and delight, it also produced a few scattered cheers from the Nationalist trenches. Those had to come from men sure they were off by themselves so nobody could rat on them.

Mike heard the cheers from Sanjurjo’s side, too. “Wow, man,” he said. “You really struck a nerve there.”

“Bet your ass I did,” Chaim replied. “When’s the last time you figure one of those poor sorry dingleberries even smelled mutton stew, let alone tasted any? That clown with the mike probably drives them even crazier than he drives me.”

Carroll sent him a speculative stare. “Oh, I wouldn’t say that.”

The next day, Brigadier Kossuth summoned Chaim to his headquarters behind the lines. Like La Martellita, the Internationals’ CO used a nom de guerre, though he was a Magyar like his namesake. “I hear you’ve been running your mouth again,” he said in German. He was old enough to have learned it in the dead Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Thanks to Yiddish, Chaim could follow German. “Afraid so,” he admitted cheerfully.

Yiddish didn’t faze the brigadier. “Why?” he asked with a glower that would have turned a basilisk to stone.

But nobody’s glower was going to make Chaim quake in his drafty boots. He’d been through way too much for that. “Because I got sick and tired of all that crap about mutton stew,” he said.

Kossuth eyed him the way a chameleon eyes a fly just before its tongue flicks out. “Are all Americans as deranged as you?” he asked with what sounded like clinical detachment and probably masked fury.

“Some of us are even worse,” Chaim said: he wouldn’t let the country down.

“Oh, I doubt that.” Kossuth knew what he was up against, all right. “And you managed to knock up that human hand grenade, too… Tell me, if you would: how does one man find so much trouble?”

“I volunteered for it,” Chaim answered. “I could have stayed back in the States.”

“Everyone might have been better off if you had. Including you,” Kossuth said.

“Spain wouldn’t.” Pride rang in Chaim’s voice.

That basilisk-petrifying glower again. When Chaim refused to wilt under it, the Magyar brigadier sighed. “Anything is possible-but nothing is likely.” He jerked a thumb toward the tent flap. “Now get out.” Whistling, Chaim got.

Peggy Druce was getting the urge to travel again. After her adventures and misadventures in war-torn Europe, she would have bet she’d be content-hell, be overjoyed-to stay in Philadelphia the rest of her days. But things didn’t work out like that. After so long living by her wits and by what she could browbeat out of unhappy officials, ordinary life seemed Boring with a capital B.

She didn’t put it that way to her husband. It would have hurt Herb’s feelings, which was the last thing she wanted to do. Then again, she didn’t need to say much to him. It wasn’t as if he didn’t know how she ticked. One morning at breakfast, he set down his coffee cup and said, “You ought to do something for the war effort, you know?”

“Like what?” she said. It wasn’t as if the suggestion came out of the blue. She’d been thinking along those lines herself.

Herb was a jump ahead of her, though. “Well, you’ve seen a lot of stuff other people haven’t,” he answered. “You ought to go around and tell them what a mess Europe is. Some of these chowderheads are still mad ’cause FDR won’t let ’em sell stuff over there any more.”

“Too bad for them,” she said. She’d been all for sending England and France everything but the kitchen sink when they were fighting the Nazis. Now that they were fighting on the Nazis’ side, she was as ready to say to hell with them as FDR seemed to be. But swarms of people who’d made big stacks of cash by shipping them this, that, and the other thing were jumping up and down and bawling like a three-year-old throwing a tantrum.

Herb chuckled. “You know how to win friends and influence people, you do.”

“I looked at that stupid book when it was new,” Peggy said. “I wouldn’t waste my money on it. It was a bunch of hooey, nothing else but.”

“Maybe so, but the guy who wrote it’s laughing all the way to the bank,” her husband answered. “I’d like to have a quarter of what he raked in from the son of a gun.”

That was bound to be true, no matter how unfortunate Peggy thought it was. She’d never been one to stay gloomy long, though. If she were, her time in Europe would have driven her nuts. She brightened as a new thought came. “A lot of the big shots who want to go on doing business with Europe will be making even more money pretty soon by selling the government what it needs to fight the Japs.”

“There you go.” Herb made silent clapping motions. “Now you’ve got your text. You can go and preach it all over the place, like St. Paul.”

“I don’t want to preach in St. Paul,” Peggy said with malice aforethought. “If there’s a duller town anywhere in the world, I don’t know where.”

Herb eyed her through a veil of cigarette smoke. “When you start making cracks like that, you need to get out of the house, all right, and PDQ, too.”

But getting out of the house wasn’t so simple. The government had clamped down on travel. Tires and gasoline were rationed. That made sense, since you couldn’t win a modern war without rubber and petroleum. It was still a pain. And, if she was going to head out on what amounted to the campaign trail, she was damned if she wanted to spend her own money-or even Herb’s-to do it. It wasn’t that she couldn’t afford to; it was the principle of the thing. So she told herself, anyhow.

She rapidly discovered she didn’t have to. To most Philadelphia Main Line families, Roosevelt was and always would be That Man in the White House. Philadelphia Democrats fell all over themselves to get help from someone in that group who didn’t see him that way. Train fare? Yes, ma’am! Hotel bills? Expenses? Yes, ma’am!

They asked her if she wanted a speech writer. She looked at them as if they’d asked if she wanted a positive Wassermann. “I can talk for myself, thanks,” she said coolly. “If you don’t believe me, ask my husband. Or ask Hitler. I got him to do what I wanted, and I was speaking German then. I’m better in English.”

She’d never heard so many stammered apologies in her life. They were just suggesting… They didn’t mean to hurt her feelings… To show they didn’t, they upped her expenses.

When she told Herb that, he guffawed. “Squeeze ’em for all they’re worth,” he said. “They’ve got more moolah than they know what to do with, and most of it doesn’t exactly belong to anybody, so they can throw it around.”

No matter how much money the Philadelphia Democrats had, they didn’t send her very far on her first run-only to York, on the west side of the Susquehanna. She didn’t blame them for that. If she turned out to be a dud, they’d want to know at minimum expense.

York sat in the valley formed by Codorus Creek. It was a medium-sized town: 50,000 people, or maybe a few more. It had been a brick-making center, and many of the older neighborhoods were one brick home or apartment house after another. The public buildings and the many Gothic churches were of red brick with white trim, as if they’d come from early nineteenth-century England.

The local women’s club had arranged for her to speak at the First Presbyterian Church, a few blocks east of Continental Square. It was another Gothic brick building, built in 1789 and rebuilt in 1860. For variety’s sake, perhaps, its brickwork was painted gray; the renovation added brownstone and wood trim. Loretta Conway, the woman who picked her up at the station, told her the graveyard next to the church held the remains of James Smith, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

“That’s nice,” Peggy said.

Her nonchalance flustered the woman from York, but only for a moment. Then Mrs. Conway turned pink. “I forgot you’re from Philly,” she said. “You’ve got more Revolutionary War stuff there than you know what to do with, don’t you?”

“Pretty much,” Peggy answered. She knew York had some, too, and she was ready to be a good sport if Loretta wanted to show it off, but the other woman didn’t. Instead, she talked-very sensibly (which meant her views matched Peggy’s)-about the need to knock the snot out of the Japs and to keep Hitler from getting too big for his britches. She had a twenty-year-old son who’d just volunteered for the Marines. That brought the war home for her in a way Peggy hadn’t felt since Herb got back from Over There in 1919.

“Maybe you should give the speech,” Peggy said.

“Forget it,” Loretta answered. “I go up in front of more than four or five people, I freeze up like a block of ice.”

Peggy laughed. “Okay. You aren’t the only one, heaven knows. But whatever else they say about me, I’m not shy.”

She got her chance to prove it a little later. The church wasn’t packed, but it came close. The minister, a white-haired man named Ruppelt, introduced her. “Here is a lady who can talk about the world situation because she’s seen more of it than most people, Mrs. Peggy Druce.”

She got polite applause as she stepped up to the lectern. “Thank you, Reverend Ruppelt,” she said. “A lot of what I saw, I wish I never did. But that’s the point about war, isn’t it? That’s what’s happening to our boys in the Philippines right now. If the Japs had been a little luckier, it might be happening in Hawaii, too. So we’ve got some work we need to take care of. If Hirohito thinks Japan can do whatever it wants in the Pacific, FDR’s going to show him things don’t work that way.”

More applause, and more enthusiastic. Peggy warmed to her task: “When I finally did get to England, a customs man there said, ‘Welcome to freedom.’ I was glad to hear it, too. But what’s freedom worth if you use yours to take away somebody else’s? Isn’t that what England’s doing in Russia right now? Didn’t she learn better right here in Pennsylvania in 1776? And how can you expect to stay friends with us if you’re friends with Hitler, too?”

If she’d been talking with Herb, she would have said in bed with Hitler. She almost did here. She thought her husband would have been proud of her because she showed restraint. You didn’t talk about sex in church.

And she didn’t need to. The raucous clapping that followed showed people got the message even when she kept it clean. The ones with minds that ran in the same gutter as hers could gloss in bed with Hitler for themselves. The others… were dull, but they were here, too.

They cheered-some of them stood up-when Peggy got done. They bought bonds. They contributed to the Democrats. And they made sure she’d be on the road a lot from now on.

Chapter 8

Before coming to Pingfan, Hideki Fujita had never had anything to do with Americans. The only white men he’d dealt with were the Russians who’d tried to kill him in Mongolia and Siberia, and the Russian prisoners on whom the Japanese microbiologists and biochemists experimented here.

You had to watch yourself with Russians. They were tough, and they were sneaky. If they saw an opening, they would grab it in a heartbeat. But as long as you made sure they recognized they couldn’t get away with anything, they grew docile enough.

Pingfan held tens of thousands of Russians. Most of the men who’d surrendered around Vladivostok were marched here afterwards. Not all of them made it here-nowhere close. Fujita had been one of the soldiers herding them along. He knew how many fell by the wayside. He also knew how fast the Japanese scientists were using them up. Still, the experimental station had plenty left.

Americans… Americans were different. They were different all kinds of ways. There weren’t very many of them. The U.S. Marines had had only small garrisons in Peking and Shanghai. A lot of the Marines in both places had made the Japanese kill them after war broke out between the two countries. Despite being insanely outnumbered, they’d killed a lot of Japanese, too. You had to respect men like that.

In the end, though, some of the Marines did surrender. Perhaps to pay them back for the fight their comrades put up, they got shipped straight to Pingfan. The Japanese scientists were excited to have them. American POWs let them try to tailor germ-warfare weapons against Anglo-Saxons in particular.

Which was fine-for the scientists. Fujita and his soldiers had to ride herd on the Americans in the meantime. They had to keep them from making trouble, and they had to keep them from escaping. And Fujita didn’t need long to figure out that Americans were born troublemakers.

Russians would escape if you gave them half a chance, too. And Chinese! No one in his right mind would trust Chinese to stay where they belonged unless you kept your eye on them every second-and they knew you were keeping your eye on them every second. Then they couldn’t behave better.

But the Americans played games with the system that Fujita wouldn’t have believed if they hadn’t been messing around with him. The essential feature in controlling them was the count. They stood in ranks of ten, which made it easy for the guards to know exactly how many of them there were on any given morning or evening.

Or it should have made things easy. Somehow the Marines managed to convince the Japanese that there were three more of them than there were supposed to be. How? Fujita didn’t know. Obviously, they were moving around in the ranks, but not where anybody could catch them at it.

He’d already worked out that one of the chief nuisances was a big, burly fellow named Szulc. The American didn’t understand Japanese, of course. He didn’t understand Chinese, either-Senior Private Hayashi was a smart fellow, and knew quite a bit.

“I am very sorry, Sergeant- san, but I think he really is ignorant and not faking,” Hayashi reported to Fujita.

“How could he be?” Fujita asked irritably-everything about Szulc irritated him. “These Marines serve in China for years. They must learn some of the language while they’re there.”

“It seems not, Sergeant- san. Please excuse me, but it does.” Hayashi didn’t want Fujita working off that irritation on him.

Fujita growled like an angry tiger. A sergeant could do pretty much as he pleased with-and to-the men under him. But thumping Hayashi wouldn’t tell him how the Americans were pulling off their stupid stunt. Neither would thumping Szulc, if nobody could understand him when he yelled as he got thumped.

Sudden inspiration struck. Fujita snapped his fingers in delight. “Some of our scientists went to the university in America, neh? They’ll know English, and they’ll be able to talk to this Szulc.” He couldn’t even pronounce the round-eyed devil’s name. In his mouth, it came out something like Shurutzu.

“That’s right! They will!” Hayashi said. When a sergeant came up with a halfway decent idea, of course a senior private sounded enthusiastic.

“Good. Glad you think so, too.” Fujita pointed to Hayashi. “So you get one of the scientists to find out how the Americans are doing whatever they’re doing. It’s gone on for four days now. That’s too stinking long.”

“Me? Why me?” Shinjiro Hayashi yipped, but his heart wasn’t in it.

“You’re the educated fellow,” Fujita answered remorselessly, as Hayashi must have known he would. “So go use some of your education for a change.” Fujita himself felt like an idiot whenever he had to talk to one of the microbiologists. That, no doubt, was a feeling they did nothing to discourage.

Sighing as if to say he didn’t think life was fair, Hayashi went off to do as he was told-a definite good point in a subordinate. Fujita already knew life wasn’t fair. He’d had his nose rubbed in it again and again before he made sergeant. Life wasn’t fair now, either, but most of the time he found himself on the other end of the stick for a change.

Hayashi eventually came back with a man who wore spectacles and a white lab coat as if they were extensions of his skin-the way, say, Fujita wore a uniform. “Here is Dr. Doi, Sergeant- san,” Hayashi said. “He will ask Szulc the questions you need.”

“Good.” Fujita bowed deeply to Doi, inferior to superior. “Thank you very much for your help, sir.”

“You are welcome. I am glad to assist. I am also glad for the chance to practice my English. When you do not speak a language for a while, it gets rusty.”

Armed guards brought Szulc over to the compound. He towered over them. He’d be a rough customer in a fight. But who wanted to fight a man who’d thrown away his honor by surrendering? To Dr. Doi, Fujita said, “Please ask him how the Americans are making the count come out wrong.”

Doi spoke English. Fujita could hear that he sounded slow and uncertain. Szulc’s reply was a quick bass rumble that couldn’t have sounded more different from the Japanese scientist’s reedy tenor if it had burst from the throat of a buffalo. Dr. Doi frowned. “He says he does not understand what I say.”

Fujita frowned, too, ominously. “Is that likely?”

“No one will ever think I am an American, but he should be able to follow me,” Doi answered.

That was about what Fujita had expected. “All right, then,” he said, and nodded to one of Szulc’s guards. The man gave Szulc one in the side of the head with his rifle butt. Szulc yelled and staggered, but he didn’t fall over. He didn’t dab at the blood running down his cheek and chin, either. He did give Fujita a hate-filled glare. Fujita cared nothing for that. “Please ask your question again, Doi- san. Please also tell him he’ll get worse if he keeps playing the fool.”

More English from the bacteriologist. Whatever Szulc said this time, it was different from before. It seemed less scornful. A rifle butt to the side of the head would do that, as Fujita had reason to know. “He says he understands now, but he knows nothing about how the count is disarranged,” Doi reported.

“That’s funny, but not funny enough to laugh about,” Fujita said. “Tell him this, very plainly-the next time the count is out of order, we’ll kill enough Americans to set it right.”

“That would waste an important resource,” Dr. Doi protested in Japanese.

“Please tell him anyhow, sir. Let him and the others think we will do it. That will make them behave themselves. I can hope so, anyhow.”

“Ah. All right. I understand.” Doi returned to English. Szulc studied Fujita, as if sniffing for a bluff. Fujita gave back his stoniest stare. On his own, he certainly would kill POWs who complicated his life. Why not? It wasn’t as if prisoners of war were human beings any more. They were just… maruta. Szulc muttered something. Doi said, “He will take word of this back to camp, even though-he claims-he knows nothing of the scheme.”

“He claims, hai.” Fujita gestured to the guards. “Take him back.”

As usual, Fujita had two different men run the count that evening before supper. One reported the proper number of Americans, the other one Marine too few. Fujita lost his temper. He had all the Americans lie down so they couldn’t move without being instantly noticed. He used gestures to explain to them that they’d get shot if they were noticed. This time, the count came out three men light.

“Zakennayo!” Fujita shouted. “How long ago did they get away, and how big a start on us do they have?”

Those were both good questions. He had an answer for neither. Big, strong white men should have been conspicuous around Pingfan. Were the locals sheltering them from the Japanese? Another good question. Fujita wasn’t sure he had an answer for that one, either, but he could make a pretty good guess.

“We need to report this,” Senior Private Hayashi said regretfully.

“I know,” Fujita answered, more regretfully still. They’d catch it for allowing an escape, and catch it again for not noticing right away. But they couldn’t cover it up. Somebody’d blab. Even the American Marines might, to get their guards in trouble. “Zakennayo!” he yelled again, even louder this time.

Out of the frying pan, into the fire. That was how Peggy Druce thought of it, anyway. As soon as the people in Philadelphia discovered she really could stir folks up about the war, they sent her out to do it again and again.

After York, Lancaster. Red Roses instead of White. When she made that crack in Lancaster, somebody told her the two towns’ bush-league baseball teams actually did refight the War of the Roses every time they took the field against each other. She laughed, but later she wondered why. That showed more of a sense of history than was common in the United States.

Not in Europe. They had a sense of history there, all right. Everybody could give you all the reasons for the past 900-or sometimes 1,900-years that showed why he deserved to kick his neighbor in the teeth with a steel-toed jackboot. And his neighbor had reasons just as numerous and just as ancient for kicking him.

And the Japanese were responding to something ancient, too. For hundreds of years, Europeans and Americans had lorded it over the proud, ancient, weak empires in Asia. They’d had the warships and the guns and the military doctrine that let them do it. They’d had the arrogance that let them do it, too. What was that sign in the Shanghai park supposed to say? NO DOGS OR CHINSESE, that was it. Maybe the sign really was, or had been, there. Maybe it was just a story. Either way, it showed an attitude that was definitely there.

Now the Japs had licked the Russians twice. So they thought they were strong enough to swing the bat against the white men’s first team. The United States was going to have to throw a high hard one right at Hirohito’s head to convince them they weren’t ready for the big leagues yet.

Or maybe they were. The war news coming out of the Pacific was uniformly lousy. The Philippines were falling. A bomb from a Japanese plane was said to have blown General MacArthur into dog food. The Japs claimed that at the tops of their lungs. The USA said nothing one way or the other. Peggy’s time in Europe had made her sensitive to the nuances of propaganda. You didn’t talk about what you didn’t like.

By the same token, the American papers weren’t saying much about the way Japan was overrunning Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. You heard occasional stories about how heroic the handful of American ships in the area were. If you paid close attention and checked a map, you notice that fewer and fewer U.S. Navy vessels got mentioned by name. Even the survivors were reported as being heroic farther and farther south.

But how many people checked that closely? How many Americans knew off the tops of their heads whether Borneo was south of Java or the other way around? Peggy hadn’t, not till she looked, and she’d traveled a lot more than most folks. Timor? Sumbawa? Cerami? They sounded like the noises your stomach made after you ate bratwurst and sauerkraut. (At least it wasn’t Liberty Cabbage in this war. Then again, Germany still remained officially neutral toward the USA.)

Peggy didn’t blame the administration for minimizing failures and playing up whatever small successes it could find. If she had, she wouldn’t have gone to Reading, to Easton, to Scranton, to Altoona, to Williamsport… You did what you needed to do, and you tried not to tell too many lies while you were doing it. If you couldn’t help telling a lie, you tried not to make it a whopper.

She stuck to the principles she hoped the administration was also using. It worked. She got big hands everywhere she went. War bond sales at her rallies were bigger yet. So were contributions to the Democratic Party. An election was coming next year, after all. It seemed as if an election was always coming next year. If it wasn’t, it was coming this year instead.

The one place she didn’t go was Pittsburgh. The world had a North Pole and a South Pole. Pennsylvania, by contrast, had an East Pole and a West Pole. Philadelphia was bigger and older and richer and snootier than Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh was tougher and grittier-and if you didn’t believe it, all you had to do was ask anybody who came from there. Pittsburgh prided itself on coal and steel the way Philadelphia bragged about the Main Line. If Chicago hadn’t called itself the City of the Big Shoulders, Pittsburgh would have.

And so, even though Pittsburgh was a more reliably Democratic town than Philadelphia, Peggy wasn’t welcome there. She got an invitation from Wheeling, West Virginia, so she traveled through Pittsburgh going and coming back, but she didn’t get off the train there.

She also went to Erie. Pennsylvania’s only Great Lakes port, Erie cared nothing for either Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. It might have turned its back on both of them. It was a low, spacious city, with only one fourteen-story skyscraper projecting above the three- and four-story business buildings in the center of town.

She made her speech. It went over as well in Erie as it had anywhere else. It might even have gone better there than most places. A plump, prosperous fellow who sold real estate came up to her after she was done and spoke in tones of wonder: “I don’t recollect the last time Philadelphia remembered we were alive, much less did anything about it.”

“We’re all one state. We’re all one country. If a war doesn’t remind us of that, what will?” Peggy said.

“Well, I don’t know. My guess was that nothing would,” the real-estate man answered.

After he went away, a weather-beaten woman in her late sixties came up to Peggy and introduced herself as Matilda Jenkins. The name was as ordinary as she was. “You spoke very well,” she said, her voice almost painfully genteel. “No wonder you impressed my son so much.”

“Your son?” Peggy didn’t remember meeting anybody named Jenkins at one of her earlier rallies. But that might not prove anything; she didn’t have a pol’s photographic memory for names and faces.

“Yes, of course,” Mrs. Jenkins said-she wore a thin, plain gold band on the ring finger of her left hand. “My son Constantine, at the American embassy in Berlin. He thought you were the cat’s pajamas, he did.”

“Oh!” Peggy blurted. She felt herself blushing. She had no idea when she’d last done that. Now that she looked, she saw the resemblance. But the suave embassy undersecretary-so suave, she’d guessed he was queer-seemed more than an ocean removed from this mousy woman clinging so hard to lower-middle-class respectability. Something more than Oh! seemed called for. Peggy tried again: “How about that? He helped me a lot.” The second part was true, the first usually safe.

Matilda Jenkins beamed. “He said you knew what you wanted and how to go about getting it. Just listening to you, I can see that. He said you were mighty sweet, too. Constantine usually knows what he’s talking about, all right.”

“How about that?” Peggy repeated, this time through clenched teeth. Exactly how much about her had Constantine Jenkins told his mother? He wouldn’t have bragged about… that, would he? Not to his mother!

“He said you had such a good time at the opera and afterwards,” Mrs. Jenkins went on, oblivious-Peggy sure hoped she was oblivious, anyhow. After the opera in Berlin… What Herb didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him-she hoped. Matilda Jenkins kept burbling: “Such a pleasure to get the chance to meet you. I never dreamt I would.”

“How about that?” Peggy said one more time, wondering how soon she could get the hell out of Erie.

Colonel Steinbrenner looked at the Stuka pilots in his squadron. Hans-Ulrich Rudel looked around at them, too. Not many faces were left from the ones he’d seen when the balloon went up in Czechoslovakia. He’d been shot down once himself, and thanked heaven he’d been able to bail out. Too many of his former comrades hadn’t been so lucky.

“Things are heating up again,” Steinbrenner said. “Our infantry and armor can move forward now that the roads are drying. They need air support.” He grinned wryly. “We have a chance to give it to them, too, because the runways are drying.”

Rudel chuckled, though it wasn’t as if the squadron CO were kidding. Planes flying off forward airstrips had to deal with mud just like panzers and trucks and foot soldiers. There were times when nobody could deal with it. At times like those, the Ju-87s stayed on the ground.

At times like those, he always wished he could hop on a train and go back to Sofia in Bialystok. If he couldn’t do the Reich any good at the moment, why shouldn’t he enjoy himself instead? Unfortunately, Luftwaffe higher-ups disapproved of such little jaunts. As far as they were concerned, it would always turn thirty Celsius tomorrow-day after at the latest-and the deep Russian mud would magically dry up so the flyers could get back to walloping the snot out of the Reds.

Well, it had finally happened, or enough of it had. It wasn’t thirty Celsius-it probably wasn’t even twenty-and the mud hadn’t cleared up by magic. But it wasn’t twenty below any more, and neither was it pouring rain. The Stukas could get back to walloping the Ivans.

After lighting a papiros — German quartermasters weren’t too proud to dole out captured stocks of smokes-Steinbrenner went on, “The Russians tried to knock us back from our bridgehead in the direction of Smolensk during the winter, but they couldn’t bring it off. So we-and our allies-are going to keep pushing that way. Once Smolensk falls, I suspect it will be time to start thinking about Moscow.”

Moscow! Driving Stalin out of his lair, taking the lair away from him? No wonder an excited hum rose from the flyers. Napoleon had taken Moscow away from Tsar Alexander, but he hadn’t had much joy afterwards. He couldn’t fight a winter campaign, not in weather like what they got here he couldn’t. The Wehrmacht had already proved it could.

“Questions?” Steinbrenner asked. He pointed toward a pilot who raised his hand. “What’s on your mind, Helmut?”

Helmut Bauer was big and blond and broad-shouldered; he seemed almost too wide to fit inside a Stuka cockpit. But fit he did, and he flew with nearly as much reckless enthusiasm as Hans-Ulrich himself. Now he asked, “Colonel, with Romania in the war, what happens when things down south get screwed up?”

“You’re assuming they will,” the squadron commander said, his voice dry.

“Damn straight I am… sir,” Bauer agreed. “I know what the Romanians’ve got. It isn’t much, and they aren’t what you’d call eager to use it, either.”

Heads bobbed up and down, Rudel’s among them. He didn’t care for having Polish allies. You couldn’t say the Poles lacked guts, but most of their equipment was junk. The Romanians mostly used junk, too, and precious few Germans had ever figured them for heroes. Hans-Ulrich sure didn’t.

Even more dryly than before, Steinbrenner answered, “There may just be a few German soldiers along with the Romanians, to help remind them how to play the game and why they’re playing it.”

The flyers chuckled. Hans-Ulrich knew why the Romanians were playing the game: the Fuhrer had promised them the Black Sea port of Odessa and the adjoining lands on the far bank of the Dniester. If nothing else could get somebody moving, good old greed would often turn the trick.

“I do understand that, sir,” Bauer said. “But still… The Ukraine’s a hell of a big place, if you know what I mean. I hope we’ll have enough men and equipment in place to bite off the chunks we need-and to keep the Ivans from bunching up down there and biting our flank.”

“Helmut, if they decide to move the squadron down to the Ukraine to support our men and the Romanians, you can’t do anything about it, and neither can I,” Colonel Steinbrenner said. “I’m sure you’ll be able to find yourself another lady friend, though.”

More chuckles from the pilots, and a snicker or two to go with them. “Oh, so am I,” Bauer said, unmistakable complacency filling his voice. Hans-Ulrich wasn’t nearly so sure he could find another girl he liked as much as Sofia.

You’ll be safer if you find one who isn’t half a Jew, he told himself. The SD didn’t like such liaisons. Neither did the National Socialist Leadership Officer standing at Steinbrenner’s elbow. Building a case against someone who wore the Knight’s Cross and who wasn’t shy about saying he backed the Fuhrer wouldn’t be easy, but it wouldn’t necessarily be impossible, either. Nothing was impossible if somebody important enough decided to build a case.

“Can we get on with the war we are fighting, not the one we may be fighting some day?” Steinbrenner asked. Nobody told him no, so he did: “The Ivans have a concentration in front of Studenets, southwest of Smolensk. Our forces are in the neighborhood, and so are the French. If we bomb the enemy’s infantry and shoot up his panzers, word will get back to Paris that the froggies would be smart not to think about changing horses again. So we’ll do that, gentlemen, if it’s all right with you.” Again, nobody told him no. He nodded briskly. “We take off in forty-five minutes.”

And they did, the first Ju-87 kicking up dust from the unpaved strip and climbing into the air right on time. Hans-Ulrich pushed back his leather flying glove and the sleeve to his fur-lined flight suit to check his watch and make sure. “Ready, Albert?” he called through the speaking tube.

“Not me,” Sergeant Dieselhorst answered. “I’m still soaking in the bathtub, and after I get out I’ll go pick flowers so I keep on smelling nice and sweet.”

Hans-Ulrich snorted. Dieselhorst did deadpan even better than Colonel Steinbrenner. When his Stuka’s turn came, he goosed the throttle. The Ju-87 rattled down the runway, then sedately got airborne. The weight and drag from the underwing gun pods made the ungainly plane even more so.

“Studenets,” Rudel repeated to the rear gunner, as if they hadn’t gone over it before takeoff.

“Gesundheit,” Dieselhorst said, so it was going to be one of those missions.

Messerschmitt Bf-109s clustered around the Stukas. The 109s had plenty of other things to do; dive bombers got escorts only when the Luftwaffe feared the Red Air Force had fighters of its own in the neighborhood. And the Reds did: blunt-nosed, stumpy Polikarpov Po-16 monoplanes. They were a long step slower than the Messerschmitts, but they could have made mincemeat out of the lumbering Ju-87s had the bombers had no friends. As things were, one of them tumbled to the ground, trailing smoke. Two more made halfhearted runs at the Stukas and then peeled off. The rest decided to go somewhere else, to some place where misfortunes like 109s never happened.

After that, the Stukas worked over the Ivans’ positions in front of Studenets with only ground fire to worry about. That wasn’t negligible, however much Hans-Ulrich wished it were. One Ju-87 took a direct hit from a flak shell and never pulled out of its dive, exploding in a fireball when it hit the ground. You had to ignore such things and do your job.

Rudel did. He shot up four panzers. A couple of rounds of small-arms fire clanged into the plane, but none of the instruments showed any damage. The panzers were all ordinary Soviet models. He didn’t see any of the KV-1 mastodons that made German panzer men break out in a cold sweat. What you didn’t find, you couldn’t kill.

Which, given Russian camouflage methods, might or might not mean something. But he’d done what he could. Having done it, he flew off to the west again. Studenets looked as if it would fall soon.

Sullenly, the Red Army pulled out of Studenets. The Wehrmacht moved into the town from straight out of the west, the French expeditionary force from the southwest. Luc Harcourt saw a couple of men in khaki uniforms trotting away in the distance. He raised his rifle to his shoulder and fired at them. One of the men ran faster. The other, a smarter fellow, dove behind a battered wall and thus out of sight.

He wished he still commanded a machine-gun team, as he had when he was still a corporal. But that was beneath a sergeant’s dignity. Dignity or no, a burst from the Hotchkiss and those Ivans wouldn’t have got away.

If they were Ivans. The range had been long. He might have seen Feldgrau through the sights, not faded Soviet khaki. He wasn’t the only French soldier who thought of the same thing at the same time. With a sly chuckle, one of his men said, “Wouldn’t it have been a shame if those cochons were really Boches instead of Russians?”

“Oh, but of course, Jacques. That would have been a real pity.” Luc could only have sounded more sardonic had he been Lieutenant Demange. Demange was somewhere not far away; Luc could hear him swearing at somebody in the company.

Jacques laughed out loud. “A pity you didn’t hit ’em, you mean?”

“I didn’t say that. You did.” Now Luc did his best to seem severe, though Jacques was right-scragging a couple of Fritzes “by accident” wouldn’t have broken his heart. But he also had his reasons for sounding the way he did: “And watch what falls out of your big, fat gob, all right? The Germans are in town, too, remember, and more of those cocksuckers know French than you’d figure.”

“I’m not afraid of them.” Jacques was all nineteen-year-old bluster.

“Then you’re an even bigger con than I give you credit for, and that’s saying something. I sure am,” Luc answered. Jacques’ eyes widened. Luc didn’t care. He’d been through enough to admit fear without fearing to seem a coward. And it wasn’t as if he were lying. Anybody who didn’t fear Germans with weapons in their hands hadn’t seen enough to know which end was up.

The Boches were in town, too. Like the French, they were cleaning out the last few Red Army holdouts. Mausers banged off to the north. Their reports sounded harsher than those of French MAS-36s. Luc thought so, anyhow. There definitely was a difference, whether it lay in harshness or what.

And then an MG-34 opened up. That fierce snarl still gave him the willies, even if his country and the Nazis had the same enemy nowadays. The German machine gun fired so much faster than a Hotchkiss-and faster than anything the English or the Russians made-that you couldn’t possibly mistake its malignant roar for anything else. The noise went hand in hand with agony and maiming and limb-sprawled death.

Jacques was a new conscript. He’d never had to glue himself to the ground like a slug while MG-34 bullets kicked up dry leaves and slammed into tree trunks and spanged off stones, all the while trying to let the air out of his precious, irreplaceable self. He didn’t get how very deadly that German toy was. You dumb, lucky fuck, Luc thought scornfully.

As the firing around here eased off, Russian civilians started coming up from their cellars and showing themselves. A plump, apple-cheeked babushka in a head scarf smiled, showing a mouthful of startling gold teeth. “Amis!” she said, which startled Luc again. He didn’t care about making friends with her. Her granddaughter, now, if she had one…

Not all the people emerging from cellars and from under the bed and from wherever the hell else in Studenets were Russians. Some were Jews, the men dark and bearded and hook-nosed in long black coats, the women just as swarthy in scarves of their own and in even longer black dresses.

The Russians looked relieved to be alive. The Jews looked relieved to be alive and even more relieved to be in a part of town the French had overrun. Like the babushka, they said, “Amis!” And they said “Kameraden!” and much else in Yiddish and in more standard German. Luc understood little of that, but some of the French soldiers here would follow more. As he’d told Luc, many Germans could parler francais- and probably just as many Frenchmen could Deutsch sprechen.

An old Jew with a beard down to the second button of his shirtfront handed Luc a bottle that sloshed. “Here. You take. You like,” he said in broken French. “Me, I have nephew in Paris. He drive taxi.” He mimed steering motions.

Luc did take the bottle. He did like it, too. He’d expected vodka, potent but next to flavorless. But no. He got plum brandy, fiery and sweet at the same time. He gave Jacques a quick nip, then went looking for Demange. The lieutenant would make him sorry if he didn’t share a prize like this.

Lieutenant Demange had men going through a warren of little shops for holdouts. They seemed to be flushing out nothing but unarmed Jews. Demange cradled a Soviet PPD submachine gun. It was ugly, but good for killing lots of people in a hurry-quite a bit like the veteran himself. The inevitable Gitane in the corner of his mouth twitched when he saw Luc’s offering. “What have you got there?”

“Jew with a white beard gave it to me.” Luc held out the bottle.

Demange took it and drank. A slow smile spread across his skinny, ratlike face. “Heyyy! That’s the straight shit, all right. Let’s hear it for the kike.”

“Yeah. Let’s hear it,” Luc said, not quite comfortably. He thought there were a couple of Jews among the men Demange commanded. But Demange wasn’t an anti-Semite, or not particularly. The race he despised was the human race.

He passed the bottle back to Luc, who killed it and tossed it in the rubble. Two stiff knocks of brandy didn’t get him drunk. They did mean he eyed the wreckage that was Studenets with a slightly less jaundiced eye.

Demange pointed toward where the center of town ought to be. “Bring a few guys with you. We’d better make contact with the Nazis. Long as everything stays nice and official, the chance for some dumb fucking accident goes down.”

“Happy day,” Luc said, his enthusiasm distinctly tempered. It wasn’t that Demange was wrong, because he wasn’t. But Luc wanted to pretend France was at war with the Russians, and there weren’t any Germans around for hundreds of kilometers. They’d come closer to killing him than the Ivans ever had, and he’d sure done for his share of them… Muttering, he shambled off to obey.

He muttered even more when he saw that the Germans in the town square didn’t belong to the Wehrmacht. They came from the Waffen-SS: they wore the SS runes on the right side of their helmets and on the right collar patch of each man’s tunic. They looked like tough assholes; the few times he’d faced Wafen- SS troops, they’d fought like tough assholes, too. He still would rather have shot at them than at the Ivans.

A few more SS men herded some Jews into the square. One of the Jews might have been brother to the guy who’d given Luc plum brandy. Laughing, an SS sergeant drew his Luger and raised it to the back of the Jew’s head.

Maybe he just meant to scare the graybeard. Maybe. Luc didn’t wait to find out. He had his rifle pointed at the SS noncom’s belly button in nothing flat. “Halt!” he yelled. He didn’t speak much German, but he had that one down solid.

Slowly, his mouth dropping open in disbelief, the SS man lowered the pistol. An SS officer spoke in badly accented French: “But this foolishness is. We are allies, n’est-ce pas? And these are only Jews.”

Other SS men looked as ready to fight their “allies” as Luc was to plug that sergeant. Lieutenant Demange dove behind some shattered masonry. He shouted in German probably as lousy as the SS officer’s French. Then he translated for Luc: “I told ’em I’d give ’em the whole fucking drum of ammo if they didn’t leave the damn Hebes alone.”

The Waffen — SS officer quivered with outrage. “Tell me your name,” he snarled at Demange. “I shall to your superiors report you.”

“Fuck off and die,” the lieutenant replied auf Deutsch, not breaking cover. Luc got that fine. Demange said something else in German, then repeated it in French: “You want to report us for stopping a murder, you’ll be at war with every Frenchman in Russia by this time tomorrow.”

Luc nodded. So did the poilus he’d brought along. The SS man swore in his own language, but he let the Jews go. And nobody reported the confrontation to anybody’s superiors.

Chapter 9

The major standing by Alistair Walsh murmured to himself: “ ‘If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly.’ ”

“What’s that, sir?” Walsh kept looking across the street toward what had to be England’s most famous address.

“That”-the major’s handsome face set in disapproving lines at Walsh’s ignorance, and very likely at his accent, too — “ that is Shakespeare. Macbeth, to be precise.” He was the sort who’d set great stock in precision. Yes, the Army needed that kind of man… which didn’t mean the bloke would have a great pack of friends.

“We ought to move a bit, not let ourselves be seen staring at the place,” Walsh said. He didn’t think he himself was important in the grand scheme of things: not in the other side’s calculations, at any rate. He didn’t know what kind of reports they had about the major. He didn’t even know the man’s name. What you didn’t know, you couldn’t tell, no matter how clever-or cruel-the questioner.

Absently, the major nodded. “Quite,” he said, and started mooching down the street. Sighing, Walsh went along. The major was bound to be very good at… well, at whatever he was good at. Whatever that might be, it wasn’t acting. He might have drawn more notice with a battery-powered signboard featuring flashing electric lamps. On the other hand, he also might not have.

Walsh didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary about the guards in front of the famous address. Of course, if the other side was on the job, he wouldn’t. But if the other side were on the job, he wouldn’t have been strolling along with the officer.

He did some murmuring of his own: “Gunpowder.”

“Oh, we’ve got better toys than that these days,” the major said.

“I meant the Gunpowder Plot, sir. Guy Fawkes’ Day.”

“Well, don’t equivocate, then,” the major snapped. “Say what you mean.”

“Yes, sir,” Walsh replied with dour precision. Since he was nominally a civilian, he couldn’t salute, even sarcastically, but he had to remind his twitchy arm of that. “What I mean, sir, is that if we bugger this up little tykes a hundred years from now will take lessons about the Second World War Traitors and get browned off because they’ve got to memorize our names.”

“Little tykes a hundred years from now will take lessons about the Second World War Traitors regardless.” The major spoke with gloomy certainty. “The only question left is which list of names they’ll have to memorize.”

Walsh grunted. That was much too likely to be true. A nice-looking blonde came up the street past him. Of itself, his head swiveled so he could check her hip action, too. The little things in life went on no matter how grandiose the big things were. A blackbird on a rooftop opened its yellow beak and poured out springtime song. It hopped into the air and flew off, right over Walsh and the major.

The officer ducked away. Walsh eyed him sympathetically. He must have had a rugged war if a thrush could remind him of a grenade or a shell fragment. The ribbon for the Military Medal on his chest did nothing to argue against that. But then the major said, “Ought to be a bounty on those bloody things. Did you ever try to clean bird shit off your cap visor?”

“Er-no.” Walsh’s sympathy evaporated.

“Stinking nuisance,” the major said, before returning to the business at hand: “I’m told you know something of this business. What do you think of our chances for success?”

Do I know something of this business? Walsh wondered. He’d planned and led attacks on strongpoints in urban settings-no doubt of that. It made him more of an expert than most people, even probably more of an expert than most soldiers. He pursed his lips, weighing what he’d seen. “So long as we do keep the advantage of surprise, chances look tolerably good to me. If they’re waiting for us when we make the attempt…”

“We’re ruined for fair, then,” the major finished for him, which wasn’t how Walsh would have gone on. Again, though, that didn’t make him wrong.

A boy on a street corner was waving the Times of London and bawling out the latest war headlines. The British Expeditionary Force and the rest of the Nazis’ allies were advancing deeper into Russia. In Malaya and Burma, the Japanese kept pushing imperial troops back. Even Singapore, said to be the strongest fortress in the world, might come under attack soon.

“Strange business,” the major said, walking past without buying a paper.

“How’s that, sir?”

“Well, the bleeding Japs are supposed to be Hitler’s chums. But we’re supposed to be Hitler’s chums, too, and we’re at war with Japan. And the Russians are Hitler’s deadly enemies, but they’ve already had their war with Japan, so they’re neutral now. And the USA and Japan are fighting, but Russian ships can cross the Pacific free as so many fish, load up on guns in American ports, and haul all that stuff back to Russia to fire it off against the Nazis-and us.”

When you thought of it like that, it was enough to make your head swim. Walsh found one problem: “How many ships in the Pacific have the Russians got left now that Vladivostok’s fallen?”

“They have some yet. And there’s a road connection-not a good one, but it’s there-between Magadan and what the Russians still hold of the Trans-Siberian Railway. No, the real question is, how much can they bring in whilst the harbor at Magadan’s not iced up?”

Walsh had never heard of Magadan. He had no idea where in Siberia it lay, or, for that matter, whether the major was simply inventing it to bolster his argument. The officer ducked into a pub. Walsh followed. A pint of bitter made him stop caring whether Magadan was real.

Beer, steak-and-kidney pie, more beer… A French estaminet couldn’t hold a candle to a proper pub. Two wars’ worth of experience on the other side of the Channel and years of diligent experimenting in his own country left Walsh as sure of that as made no difference. The major wasn’t the best drinking companion he’d ever had, but also wasn’t the worst.

It was dark by the time Walsh went back to his little furnished room. London’s lights were on again. With Germany friendly, the need for a blackout disappeared. Sometimes conveniences came at too high a price. Walsh thought so, anyhow. The Prime Minister would have disagreed. Walsh reckoned disagreeing with Sir Horace Wilson sure to put him in the right.

Because of the beer he’d taken on board, the knock at the door took longer to rouse him than it might have. He lurched off the bed-which doubled as a sofa in daylight hours-ready to give whoever was out there a piece of his mind. But the two somber men in trenchcoats hadn’t the slightest interest in listening to him.

“You’re Alistair Walsh-is that right?” one of them said.

“What if I am?” Walsh answered indignantly. “Who wants to know?”

Both men produced Scotland Yard identity cards. “You’re under arrest,” said the one who did the talking. “Come along with us-quietly, if you please.”

Ice and fire chased each other along Walsh’s spine. “The devil I will,” he blustered. “Show me your warrant.”

With startling speed, the copper or detective or whatever he was produced a pistol: a. 455 Webley and Scott Mark VI, a great man-killing brute of a revolver, the same weapon British officers carried into battle. “Here’s all the warrant we need, mate. Let out a peep and I’ll blow a hole in you they could throw a cat through.”

The other Scotland Yard man spoke up for the first time: “Don’t tempt us, either. Shooting’s better than a damned traitor deserves.”

“I’m no traitor!” Walsh said, wondering how many MPs and Army officers were being scooped up in the same net.

Both men in the hallway laughed-two of the nastiest laughs he’d ever heard. “Now tell us another one,” said the fellow with the Webley and Scott. “No-tell your stories at headquarters. Get moving, right now. This is your first, last, and only chance.” He gestured toward the stairway with the pistol.

Numbly, Walsh got moving. The Fritzes had almost captured him a couple of times. He’d counted himself lucky to escape that fate. Now his own countrymen had him by the ballocks. Better if the Nazis had got him. At least they were enemies, and honest enough about that at the time. These bastards imagined they were patriots. It only went to show how crazy and useless a thing an imagination could be.

Pete McGill hadn’t thought of Australia as a tropical country. When he was on shipboard duty, before he got posted to China, he’d put in at Sydney and Melbourne and Perth. They weren’t half bad-they kind of reminded him of Southern California. He’d never been to Darwin before.

Here he was in Darwin now. It wasn’t the Dutch East Indies-it wasn’t right on the Equator. No, it lay all of twelve degrees south. That made a difference. As far as Pete was concerned, it didn’t make nearly enough.

He was just glad he’d got here in one piece, and that the Boise had got here under her own power. Most of the ships and sailors who’d fought the Japs with the American light cruiser farther north weren’t so lucky. The Dutch East Indies were falling, if they hadn’t already fallen. All that oil, all that rubber, all that tin… They lay in Japanese hands now.

How long the Boise would be able to keep running under her own power-and how long she’d stay in one piece herself-he had no idea. Japanese bombers called on Darwin night after night. They were, not to put too fine a point on it, knocking the crap out of the place. Darwin was just a little town at the edge of nowhere. The Japs seemed intent on knocking it over the edge.

And so Pete wasn’t astonished when the Boise steamed out of the harbor one evening just when the sun was going down. If one of those bombers with the meatballs on the wings got lucky, the light cruiser wouldn’t go anywhere again, except to the bottom. So she was getting out while the getting was good.

It seemed that way to him, anyhow. Joe Orsatti was much less happy about it. “I’m sick of running from those shitass little yellow monkeys,” he groused as the Marines manned the five-inch guns in case an enemy plane or a sub or even an arrogantly aggressive destroyer spotted the Boise.

“Who isn’t?” Pete agreed. They hurried east. Scuttlebutt said they were bound for New Zealand, and ultimately for Hawaii. Pete hoped the scuttlebutt was true. He wouldn’t be sure till they made it through the Torres Strait. If they kept heading east after that, New Zealand it would be. If they swung more to the south, paralleling Australia’s coast, they were liable to be bound for Melbourne or Sydney. He understood that the Aussies needed to keep up the fight. But so did America, and he wanted to help. He figured he owed the Japs more than Orsatti did.

The other leatherneck warmed to his theme: “I’m a white man, God damn it to hell. Those lousy slant-eyed cocksuckers got no business pushing me around.”

Plenty of Marines in Peking and Shanghai had felt the same way. Pete wondered how his buddies were doing these days. He wondered how many of them were still alive. Not for the first time, guilt stabbed at him because he wasn’t up there sharing their fate, whatever it turned out to be. He couldn’t do anything about that, of course, but his impotence made him feel worse, not better.

He’d had some of that white man’s arrogance himself, but only some. “I saw a lot of the Japs in China,” he said slowly. “They’re just as sure they’re hot shit in a gold goblet as we are.”

“Yeah, but they’re really nothin’ but cold diarrhea in a Dixie cup,” Orsatti replied, which got a laugh from everybody in the gun crew, including Pete. He went on, “You wait and see. We’ll make ’em wish they never took us on. We get the whole fleet together at Pearl, then we sail west and bash ’em.” His voice went all dreamy. “The Big Fuckin’ Pacific Battle. It’ll make Jutland look like a couple of kids playin’ with toy boats in the bathtub.”

“There you go,” Pete said. There weren’t many sailors or Marines who didn’t daydream about the Big Fuckin’ Pacific Battle. Anybody with a brain in his head had seen that the USA would tangle with Japan one of these days. Why else had both sides built all those battlewagons and carriers and cruisers and destroyers and subs, if not to get ready for the day? So we’d put all of ours together, they’d put all of theirs together, and then both sides would bash heads. And the winner would go forward, while the loser… What about the loser?

He’d get what losers always got. T.S., Eliot.

Without warning, the Boise heeled to port, as hard as she could. A split second later, klaxons hooted. “Torpedo attack!” The shout burst from the loudspeakers’ iron throats. “We are under torpedo attack!”

They’d gone to battle stations as soon as the ship left port. Pete stood by the open ammunition locker, ready to pass shells to the loader. He couldn’t do anything else except wait and worry and hope like hell he wouldn’t get his ankles broken when the Jap fish slammed into the cruiser.

“There’s the wake!” Orsatti said hoarsely.

Sure as hell, a phosphorescent line arrowed through the tropical sea, seeming to run straight for the Boise ’s vitals. Now-how many fish had the Japanese sub launched? Holy crap! Here came another one, much too soon after the first. It sped along on a track almost identical to the other.

Could the Boise dodge them? She was sure as hell trying. Smoke spurted from her stacks as the engines roared up to emergency full. Machine gunners opened fire on the torpedoes, trying to detonate them before they could hit… if they were going to hit.

“Hail, Mary, full of grace…” Orsatti rattled off the prayer. The hand in his pocket was probably working a rosary. Pete wished he could pray that way. He’d seen how it made people feel better. But he’d never got the habit when he was a kid, and talking to God now only made him feel like a phony.

He tried the next best thing, saying, “I think the bastards are gonna slide on by us.” The Boise had turned into the torpedoes’ paths, and was running along them in the opposite direction-straight toward the sub that had turned them loose. If that sub was still surfaced, it would be mighty sorry mighty fast. Pete peered forward. He saw nothing that looked like a periscope or a conning tower, but how much did that say?

Bow on, the Boise also offered torpedoes the smallest possible target. They did slide past, both to port. One seemed close enough for Pete to spit on. He refrained. No grinding, rending crash told of a cruiser-submarine collision. The Boise threw a few depth charges into the warm, dark water. The deck shook under Pete’s feet as they burst one by one. The ocean boiled above the bursts.

“I wish I thought we were really after those assholes,” Joe Orsatti said. “Way it feels, though, is we’re just makin’ ’em keep their heads down.”

“Fine by me.” Pete profanely embellished that. “All we’re doing now is getting out of town any which way. So we’ll go, and they can give somebody else a hard time next week.”

The other Marine grunted. “Yeah, you got somethin’ there. I didn’t look at it from that angle. Maybe you’re smarter’n you act most of the time.”

“Ahh, up yours,” Pete said without heat. “Besides, if I’m so goddamn smart, what am I doing here?”

That drew another laugh from everybody at the gun. “Well, if I remember straight, your other choice was staying in Manila,” Orsatti answered. “Like I said a minute ago, maybe you ain’t so dumb after all.”

Pete wondered what he would have done if he hadn’t come aboard the Boise. He didn’t need to wonder long. He would have picked up a Springfield, found a tin hat that came close to fitting, and joined the Americans and Filipinos trying to hold off the Japanese invaders. From the reports trickling out of the Philippines, the defenders were losing ground day by day.

Well, the Boise and the handful of other American ships in the western Pacific hadn’t done much to slow down the Japanese attacks on Malaya or the Dutch East Indies, either. Here on the cruiser, though, he wasn’t shivering with malaria. He had plenty of chow. It might not be great, but it wasn’t terrible, either. He wouldn’t come down with amoebic dysentery if he ate it or drank water that wasn’t heavily chlorinated. If you wanted to fight a war in comfort, a ship was the place to do it-unless you got hit, of course. Getting hit was bad news no matter where or how it happened.

It wouldn’t happen right this minute. That sub lurked somewhere deep in the sea, with luck damaged by the ash cans the Boise threw at it. Any which way, the cruiser would be long gone before the sub surfaced again. And then…? New Zealand and Hawaii? Sydney or Melbourne? In a way, which choice hardly mattered. They both meant that, sooner or later, the Japs would get another chance at the Boise and everybody she carried.

To say that the Spanish Republic wasn’t rich only proved what a poor, inadequate thing language could be sometimes. Vaclav Jezek had heard that the Republic had sent all its gold to Russia for safekeeping (and, incidentally, to buy weapons). Giving Stalin your gold reserves struck him as the exact equivalent of handing a fox the keys to your chicken coop. He might be here fighting for the Republic, but he had scant use for Stalin.

Because the Republic was chronically broke, soldiers’ pay chronically ran late. He didn’t much care about that; he had little to spend money on but cigarettes and booze, and he usually found enough in his pockets for those. Before long, the Spaniards doled out rank insignia so their people would know who was who and what was what among the Czechs. Vaclav got two gold cloth stripes with red borders.

“Is the mark of a brigada,” the fellow who gave it to him said in German with a Spanish accent strong enough to make it almost incomprehensible to Jezek. “A sergeant, they say in this language.”

“But I’m only a corporal,” Vaclav answered, also in German.

“People from European armies, we promote one grade,” the Spaniard said. “You have combat experience soldiers from Spain do not.” His face clouded. “The Fascists, they also this do with the men of the Legion Kondor.”

“Oh, terrific,” Vaclav said, fortunately in Czech. Gaining a privilege because a pack of Nazis also enjoyed it was the last thing he wanted. But he damn well did have combat experience the locals lacked. And, if his pay went up to match the Spanish rank, he’d get more money even if they stiffed him now and then. So he managed to compose himself when he returned to German: “Danke schon.”

“Bitte,” the Spaniard answered, and showed himself a true student of Kultur by clicking his heels German-style. Vaclav didn’t tell him any Czech despised that nonsense as a reminder of the not-quite-dead-enough Austro-Hungarian past. The fellow doubtless meant well. Then again, when you thought about which road was paved with good intentions…

Because Benjamin Halevy was already a sergeant, the Spaniards made him into a second lieutenant. He took it for a joke, which made Vaclav think better of him. “I sure as hell never would have turned into an officer if I’d stayed in France!” the Jew exclaimed.

“Maybe if you’d gone to Russia and done something brave, the Germans would have given you a battlefield promotion,” Vaclav suggested with a sly grin.

Halevy told him what he could do with any battlefield promotion won from the Nazis. It sounded uncomfortable, especially if Vaclav tried to do it sideways, as the other man urged. When the Czech said so, he found Halevy remarkably unsympathetic.

By the time the Spaniards got through, none of the Czechs had a grade lower than PFC, and most of them were at least corporals. It might matter when they dealt with the locals. Their relative ranks remained unchanged, so for their own purposes the promotions gave some merriment but otherwise might as well not have happened.

More serious business for Vaclav was picking off any of Marshal Sanjurjo’s officers who came within range of his elephant gun. The Nationalists made his murderous work easier by prominently displaying their rank badges and medals. “Stupid,” he said, after potting a fellow he thought was a colonel. “They’d be a lot safer if they showed off less.”

“But they’d be less macho,” Halevy told him.

“Less what?” Vaclav hadn’t run into the Spanish word before.

“ Macho. It means being tough for the sake of being tough. It means, if you’ve got a big cock, you wear a codpiece so it looks even bigger. It’s like elk growing antlers every spring so they can bang heads with other elk.”

“Elk can’t help growing antlers every spring,” Vaclav protested.

“Spaniards, or a lot of Spaniards, can’t help showing how macho they are,” Halevy said with a shrug.

“If they had any brains, they could,” Jezek said. “That colonel would still be breathing if he’d worn a private’s tunic and kept his medals in the boxes they came in. The way he was strutting around with all those gold stars and ribbons, he might as well have written SHOOT ME! across his chest in big red letters.”

“If they had any brains, Vaclav, how many of them would be officers in a Fascist army?” Benjamin Halevy asked.

Vaclav pondered that. “Well, you’ve got something there,” he admitted.

The next day, the Spanish papers that came out from Madrid had big headlines. The only problem was, Vaclav had no idea what those headlines said. Spanish was even more a closed book to him than French had been.

Halevy, who read French like the native he was, could make a stab at written Spanish, just as a native Czech speaker would recognize some written Polish words and might be able to extract sense from a Polish newspaper story. “Something’s going on in England,” the Jew reported. “Somebody-the army, I think-doesn’t like the way the government’s jumped into bed with the Nazis, and they’re trying to do something about it.”

“And?” Vaclav said. “Don’t cocktease, goddammit! Are they winning? Are they losing? Will England tell Hitler where to head in? That’d be something, wouldn’t it?” He imagined the Royal Navy and the RAF pounding the hell out of German-held Europe again.

“I don’t know ‘and,’ ” Halevy replied in an unwontedly small voice. “Either the paper doesn’t say or my Spanish is too crappy for me to figure it out. Maybe they’re hanging traitors from lampposts. Or maybe the traitors are still running things and they’re translating ‘Deutschland uber Alles’ into English right now.”

“Give me that goddamn thing.” Jezek snatched the newspaper out of Halevy’s hand. As usual, the Czechs and the men from the International Brigade held adjoining stretches of the Republican line. The Republic naturally grouped its best fighters together. And the Czech didn’t take long to find somebody who could read Spanish and speak German.

“It just says there’s unrest in England,” the International told him. By the way the man pronounced his r’s, Vaclav guessed he was a Magyar. Had they met anywhere but in Spain, they probably would have quarreled-Hungary had sat on Slovakia for centuries, and mistrusted Czechs for wanting to help Slovaks. Here, they both had bigger things to worry about.

“Who’s winning?” Vaclav asked, as he had with Halevy.

The Magyar spread his hands. “We’ll have to wait and see,” he said. “The guy who wrote this doesn’t know. He’s trying to hide that so he won’t look dumb, but he doesn’t.”

Vaclav made a disgusted noise down deep in his throat. “Sounds like a newspaperman, all right.”

“It sure does.” The Magyar studied him. The fellow had green eyes, high cheekbones, and an arrogant blade of a nose. He looked the way Vaclav would have expected a Magyar to look, in other words. And he sounded faintly surprised when he added, “You’re not such a fool, are you?”

For a Czech, he might have meant. To Magyars, Slovaks were nothing but bumpkins, and Czechs were a lot like Slovaks, so… Vaclav thought Slovaks were bumpkins, too, and Fascist-loving bumpkins at that, but he knew Magyars were dead wrong about Czechs. How did he know? By being a Czech himself, of course.

“Well, I try,” he said dryly.

“Heh,” the Magyar said. He tapped the paper with his left hand. The little finger was missing its last joint. “Thanks for bringing this. I hadn’t seen it yet. If England really is having second thoughts, that could be big.”

“What do you think the odds are?”

“Either she’ll change her mind or she won’t. Right now, you can toss a coin,” the Magyar answered. Grimacing, Vaclav nodded. If you tried to guess when you didn’t know enough, you were bound to end up looking like an idiot. The Magyar declined that dubious honor. Declining made sense. Vaclav still knew what he hoped.

Theo Hossbach didn’t like any SS men, as a general working rule. He disliked the Waffen — SS less than the other branches, though. Men who joined the SS intending to fight foreign foes took more risks than the ones who joined to hit prisoners who couldn’t fight back.

These bastards were still bastards. Unlike their comrades in the Black Corps, they were brave bastards. He’d seen that in France. Waffen- SS units there went straight at obstacles the Wehrmacht would have tried to outflank or would have ignored altogether. Sometimes taking a position was more expensive than it was worth.

So it seemed to the Wehrmacht, anyhow. So it certainly seemed to Theo. The SS men looked at things differently. Sometimes they bulled through where the Wehrmacht would have hesitated, perhaps not least because the enemy often thought they wouldn’t be crazy enough to attack here. Sometimes they got slaughtered for their trouble.

Not that Theo necessarily thought slaughtering SS men a bad idea… He did disapprove of waste, though. Even when the SS broke through, its butcher’s bill was higher than the Wehrmacht ’s would have been.

Right now, Theo and Adi Stoss and Hermann Witt were messing with their Panzer III’s transmission, trying to figure out which gear in the train didn’t want to mesh and whether they had or could get their hands on a replacement. “The Ivans don’t worry about shit like this,” Adi said. “Their drivers have a mallet next to their seat. When a gear doesn’t want to engage, they give the stick a good whack. That makes the son of a bitch behave.”

“You’re making that up,” Sergeant Witt said. “I know the Russians can be rude and crude with their equipment, but that’s over the line even for them.”

Lothar Eckhardt, the panzer’s gunner, and Kurt Poske, the loader, watched without saying much. They were both new men, much less experienced than the three veterans. Theo wished it were a new Panzer III, but no. Somebody else got the new machines. This one was a hand-me-down, not so old and beat-up as the Panzer II that was now being cannibalized for spare parts if its carcass had been brought in and quietly rusting if it hadn’t.

Adi raised his right hand with the first two fingers raised and crooked, as if he were swearing an oath in court. “Honest to God, Sergeant. I’ve seen the damn things with my own eyes.”

“Me, too.” Theo rarely contributed to the conversation, but a fact was a fact-and this one cost him only a couple of words.

“Well, fuck me,” Witt said mildly. Heinz Naumann wouldn’t have let his juniors get away with disagreeing with him, even when they were right-maybe especially when they were. Theo missed Naumann not a bit, and suspected Adi missed him even less than that. Seeing that a fact was a fact even when it wasn’t his fact was one of the many things that made Witt a better panzer commander than Naumann had ever dreamt of being.

Adi pounced with a wrench. Three minutes later, he held the culprit in the palm of his hand. “Will you look at that?” he said. “One tooth gone, and another one going. No wonder things were getting sticky.”

“No wonder at all,” Witt agreed. “Have we got a new one we can swap in?”

“I’m pretty sure we don’t,” Adi said.

Witt nodded unhappily. “I’m pretty sure you’re right.” He tossed the toothed steel disk to Eckhardt. “Go on back to the maintenance section and get a replacement. Check it out before you take it, too. Don’t let ’em give you one that’s had new teeth welded on. They’ll tell you it’s just as good, but that’s a bunch of crap.”

The kid looked shocked. He was very fair, and couldn’t have been above nineteen-he hardly needed to shave. “They’d try to dump defective stuff on us?”

“Listen to me.” Witt spoke with great conviction. “You know the Russians are the enemy, right? But your own side will screw you just as hard if you give ’em half a chance. Go on, now. Scoot.”

Theo wondered if Witt would ask Adi or him to go along with Eckhardt. But the sergeant didn’t. The new guys had to learn the ropes. Whenever you had the chance, you broke them in a little at a time. Trouble was, a fast-moving campaign-which this one had become, now that the mud was dry-didn’t always give you chances like that.

Witt pulled out a pack of Junos and offered everybody else a smoke. “We may as well take ten,” he said. “We sure aren’t going anywhere till he comes back with that gear.”

New green grass was pushing up through the dirt and through the gray-yellow dead growth from the year before. Theo sat down and sucked in smoke. Not far away, a skylark sang sweetly. The clear trilled notes couldn’t drown out the distant rumble of artillery, though. Theo cocked his head to one side, listening to the guns. Ours, he decided, and relaxed fractionally.

Another panzer crew was working on their machine at the far edge of the field. Resting infantrymen sprawled in clumps between the two panzers. They all wore SS runes on helmets and collar patches. They were eating or smoking or passing around water bottles that probably didn’t hold water. Some of them lay with their eyes closed, grabbing a little sleep while they could.

They were doing all the things Wehrmacht foot soldiers would have done, in other words. Theo still looked at them differently. Anybody could end up in the Army. He had, for instance. So had Adi Stoss. You had to volunteer for the Waffen — SS, and you wouldn’t do that unless you were a convinced Nazi. They wouldn’t take you unless they were sure you were a convinced Nazi, either, so that worked both ways.

One of the guys propped up on an elbow maybe ten meters away bummed a chunk of black bread from his buddy and squeezed butter onto it from a tinfoil tube. Theo’s stomach rumbled. He told it to shut up. It didn’t want to listen.

“Can you believe those stupid goddamn Frenchmen?” the trooper asked after he swallowed a heroic bite of bread.

“Jesus Christ, but that was chickenshit! For twenty pfennigs, I would’ve blown the fuckin’ froggies a new asshole with my Schmeisser,” answered the other man from the Waffen — SS. Theo’s stomach rumbled again. Once more, he told it to keep quiet. It might not want to listen, but all of a sudden he did.

The first fellow who wore the runes couldn’t have looked more disgusted had he tried for a week. “Once we finish with the Ivans, we’re gonna have to do for the froggies, all right,” he said. “It’s a hell of a note when we can’t give the Hebes what they deserve on account of our so-called friends don’t like it.” He spat in the dirt.

“Damn straight,” his friend agreed. “ Damn straight. This whole stupid, stinking war, it’s about Reds and kikes. If the Frenchmen can’t see that, tough shit for them, that’s all I’ve got to say.”

“Amen!” the first trooper said, as if in church. “The Fuhrer ’s gonna bring things around to the way they’re supposed to be, even if he’s got to wipe out all the goddamn Jews to do it.” The other fellow with the SS collar tab nodded, then started cleaning his submachine gun.

Ever so casually, Theo’s gaze swung toward Adi Stoss. He wouldn’t have been surprised to find Adi hopping mad, or else sizzling inside and trying to pretend he wasn’t. But the panzer driver lay on his back, his hands clasped behind his head, staring up at the clouds drifting across the watery blue sky. If he’d paid any attention to what the infantrymen were saying, he gave no sign.

Lothar Eckhardt came back with the gear. He anxiously showed it to Sergeant Witt. “Is it all right?” he quavered. No doubt he was imagining bread and water, if not a blindfold and a last cigarette at dawn, if the answer was no.

The panzer commander carefully inspected the part. If it wasn’t all right, he would go back to the maintenance section and give those clowns a piece of his mind. But he nodded. “Looks good. They knew they couldn’t pull a fast one on you, so they didn’t even try.”

“Wow!” Eckhardt breathed.

“Now you and Kurt are going to install the son of a bitch,” Witt said. “The more you know about keeping your panzer running on your own, the better off you’ll be. One of these days, you’ll run into trouble where you can’t go off to the mechanics.”

Eckhardt and Poske both gulped. “I’m not sure we know how to do that, Sergeant,” the loader said, which could only mean We have no idea how to do that.

Witt chuckled; he understood at least as well as Theo. “Adi and I will coach you,” he said. “It isn’t black magic. It isn’t even real hard, as long as you don’t mind getting your hands dirty. And you’d damn well better not. Now come on, both of you.” He led them back to the waiting Panzer III.

Chapter 10

Going back to Madrid was nothing new for Chaim Weinberg. Going back to Madrid with money in his pocket was. He was carrying the proverbial elephant-choking roll. He’d played a lot of poker since coming to Spain. (He’d played a lot of poker before he came to Spain, too, which didn’t hurt.) When luck and skill came together… He shook his head in wonder. He’d never known a night when luck and skill came together like the night before.

Fins, sawbucks, pound notes, fivers… It was just about all good money, not asswipes like pesetas and francs. Poker, after all, was serious business. It brought out the hard currency.

On rattled the ancient, beat-up French truck. Chaim tried to listen for aircraft noises over the engine’s farting and the rattle of stones off the undercarriage. Of course a Nationalist bomber or a Legion Kondor Messerschmitt would pick this exact moment to target this ratty truck…

But none did. Brakes squealing-hell, brakes shrieking-the truck shuddered to a stop. “Raus!” the driver yelled. He wasn’t a German. He was an Estonian, or something like that. But he knew Raus! was something everybody in the back of the truck would get. And everybody did. Out scrambled the soldiers. The Spanish kid who hopped down just in front of Chaim mimed rubbing at his abused kidneys. Chaim chuckled and nodded.

He looked around. As always, Madrid saddened and awed him at the same time. You could kill tens of thousands of people if you bombed the crap out of a big city. Everyone between the wars had seen that clearly. The heavy-duty thinkers hadn’t understood just how big a big city was, though. With the worst will in the world, bombers couldn’t smash all of one.

And bombing a city didn’t cow the people it failed to kill. Instead, it really pissed them off. The heavy-duty thinkers missed that one, too-missed it by a mile. They underestimated the proletariat’s resilience (and the bourgeoisie’s, though Chaim had no great use for the bourgeoisie, either).

So Madrid looked like hell. Streets were cratered. Buildings had chunks bitten out of them. There were mounds of rubble that had been buildings in happier times. Window glass was a prodigy; whenever Chaim caught a glimpse of some, his head started to whip around, as if toward a pretty girl.

Communist Party headquarters, where his own particular pretty girl worked, had taken a pounding. Naturally, the Nationalists wanted to knock it flat. But you couldn’t hit one building in particular with high-altitude bombing-one more place where the theorists had it wrong. And enough antiaircraft guns surrounded the place to make even the most fanatical Stuka pilot think twice before tipping his plane into a dive.

Men from one of the gun crews waved to Chaim as he walked into the building. They recognized him by now. “You lucky so-and-so!” one of them called-they knew who La Martellita was, too. Chaim laughed and waved back.

If his Spanish ladylove was glad to see him, she hid it very well. “What are you doing here?” she snapped when she looked up from the report she was working on. Chaim couldn’t read Spanish upside down. He wondered what the report was about, and how many people would wind up in trouble because of it. Party reports always landed people in trouble-that was what they were for. He counted himself lucky that none of La Martellita’s reports had had his name in them.

“What am I here for? I’ll show you, babe.” Chaim reached into one of his front pockets and extracted the roll. (He wasn’t dumb enough to carry it in a hip pocket, where it practically begged to get stolen.) He started peeling off greenbacks and British banknotes and laying them on the desk one after another. “Here you go. These are for you-and for the kid, claro.”

He startled her, enough so she couldn’t keep from showing it. “Where did you get all this?” she asked, as if sure he couldn’t have come by it honestly.

I earned it by oppressing the working class. Communist or not, Chaim made that kind of joke without even thinking about it. But he did have to think about it to translate it into Spanish. And thinking about it, this time, made him decide not to translate it. La Martellita wouldn’t appreciate it.

That should have warned that they weren’t destined for many long and happy years together. But she was stunning, she tasted good, and she felt even better. Infatuation had blinded plenty before him. It wasn’t likely to stop after he ran aground, either.

Instead of joking, he said, “Cards,” and let it go at that.

She was counting the money and, he supposed, turning the count into pesetas. “You don’t win like this all the time,” she said accurately.

“ Querida, nobody wins like this all the time. Nobody who doesn’t cheat, anyhow,” Chaim answered, also accurately. “But at least I have the sense to use the money. I’m not going to waste it, and I didn’t lose it all again as fast as I won it.”

“You didn’t gamble the sun away before morning,” La Martellita said.

It sounded like a proverb, but it wasn’t one Chaim had heard before. “The sun?” he echoed.

“One of the conquistadores in Peru got a big golden sun disk as his share of the loot from the Incas. He lost it at dice before the real sun came up,” La Martellita explained.

“Gotcha.” Chaim knew plenty of guys like that. Spaniards weren’t the only ones who came down with gambling fever. Oh, no-not even close.

She looked from the cash on the desk in front of her to him and back again. “You didn’t waste it or lose it again,” she agreed slowly. “You brought it to me. Why?”

“Why do you think?” He knew he sounded irritable, but he couldn’t help it. “Because I want to take care of the baby the best way I can. And because I love you.” Speaking Spanish imperfectly meant he had to say what was on his mind: he couldn’t beat around the bush, as he might have in English.

Saying what was on his mind didn’t necessarily help him, though. By the look on La Martellita’s face, she was on the point of laughing in his. She didn’t-quite-do that. She did say, “The more fool you. The people’s cause matters more than any personal attachments.”

“Really?” he said. “What is the people’s cause, if it isn’t to make people happy with other people?”

“It has nothing to do with love,” La Martellita insisted.

“What a pity!” Chaim answered.?Que lastima! sounded much more pitiful to him than its English equivalent did.

A slow flush heated her olive-skinned face. She tossed her head in annoyance, as if that could make the blush go away. She might have wanted to tell him where to head in, but she didn’t quite do that, either, not with all the money he’d given her still sitting on top of her desk. Her elegant nostrils flared. “You enjoy being as difficult as you can,” she accused.

“I’m sure Marshal Sanjurjo’s soldiers agree with you,” he said. “They probably talk about it a lot down in hell.”

“None of this would have happened if I hadn’t got drunk that one night.” Was she reminding him or herself?

“You can’t pretend it didn’t happen, though.” With a certain sardonic relish, Chaim added, “It’s part of the historical dialectic now, after all.”

Those gull-winged nostrils flared again, wider this time. “And I suppose you’ll tell me it’s part of the historical dialectic that I should sleep with you some more because you thought to bring me this money. Well, I’ll tell you right now that the historical dialectic hasn’t made me your puta.”

Chaim had been thinking about saying something like that if he could find a way to do it that wasn’t quite so blunt. Since she’d forestalled him, all he said was, “The historical dialectic did turn you into my wife.”

“Si,” La Martellita answered. That wasn’t delight filling her voice, no matter how much Chaim wished it would have been.

“I am trying to take care of you, and take care of our child, the way a husband ought to,” he said. “I’m doing my best.”

“Si,” she said again, a little more warmly this time. “Maybe- maybe — I’ll do the things a wife ought to do, as long as you don’t try to make me do them.”

That kind of reply should have made him bang his head against the wall. Coming from La Martellita, who was mercury fulminate in a sweetly curved wrapper, it made a weird kind of sense. “Whatever you say,” Chaim told her, which only proved him a born optimist.

Alistair Walsh had spent some time in the stockade, and in civilian jails as well. Boys will be boys, and soldier boys will be soldier boys. Sometimes the police, military or otherwise, showed up before the tavern brawl finished. He’d never hurt anybody badly in those little dustups, and he’d never spent long behind bars.

Things were different this time. And he liked none of the differences. If they jugged you for rearranging a bloke’s face after he tried to smash a pint mug over your head, you knew what you’d done and you knew how long you’d stay jugged on account of it.

If they jugged you for treason, though… In that case, they were making up the rules as they went along. He’d asked for a solicitor. They didn’t laugh in his face, but they didn’t give him one, either. They might as well not have heard him.

But when they asked him questions, they expected answers. Oh, yes! No one asked you questions after a barroom brawl, except maybe Why were you such a bloody idiot? Here, they wanted to know everybody he’d ever met, what all those people had said in the past six months, and what he’d said to them. They weren’t just building a case against him. He was a minnow. They were trying to use him to hook the big fish.

They weren’t fussy about how they went at it, either. Bright lights, lack of sleep… “No wonder you back the buggers who threw in with the Nazis,” he told one of them. “The SS must have taught you all its tricks.”

That won him a slap in the face. They didn’t bring out the thumbscrews and the hot skewers. He wondered why not. Some lingering memory of the days when they were decent coppers? It seemed too much to hope for.

They told him all the other traitors were in cells, too. They told him the others were singing like canaries. They told him half a dozen people had named him as one of the earliest and most deeply involved plotters. “Then you don’t need me to tell you anything more, do you?” he said.

He got another wallop in the chops for that. When his ears stopped ringing, one of the detectives-if that was what they were-said, “You can make it easier on yourself if you give us what you know.”

“If you think I’m a traitor, you won’t go easy on me any road,” Walsh said. He might be sore. He might be half drunk with sleepiness. No matter what he was, that seemed obvious to him.

The interrogators muttered amongst themselves. Things didn’t seem to be going the way they wanted. One of them gave him another whack. “Talk, damn you!” the bastard bellowed. Blood salty on his tongue, Walsh rattled off his name, former rank, and pay number. The Scotland Yard man glowered. “You aren’t in the Army any more, and you aren’t a prisoner of war, either.”

“Then give me a solicitor,” Walsh said yet again. He got another slap for his trouble. He also got frogmarched back to his cell. He counted that a victory of sorts. He’d made them change plans.

Which was worth… what? Anything? They didn’t let him see newspapers, of course. They also didn’t let him listen to the BBC. That they still held him and went on knocking him around argued that Sir Horace Wilson remained Prime Minister, and that England remained allied to Hitler.

If they decided he was too big a nuisance-or if they decided he didn’t know anything they had to learn-they might just knock him over the head and get rid of his body. They went on and on about traitors, but they were at least as far outside the law as any traitors could be.

They fed him slop, and precious little of it. He’d eaten more and better in the trenches. He couldn’t think of anything worse to say about prison rations.

Then one day they opened his cell at an unexpected time. Alarm ran through him even before one of them pointed a service revolver at his head. Any jailbird quickly learns that breaks in routine aren’t intended for his benefit. “Come on, you,” the pistol packer snarled.

“Where? Why?” Walsh asked.

“Shut up. Get moving. You waste my time, it’s the last dumb thing you’ll ever do.” The fellow from Scotland Yard seemed to be trying to sound like an American tough guy in the movies. Only his accent spoiled the effect.

Something rattled outside. If that wasn’t a machine gun, Walsh had never heard one. And if that was a machine gun… Walsh held out his hand. “Here, you’d better give me that,” he said, as if to a little boy. “You don’t want the soldiers to catch you carrying it.”

“Soldiers? What soldiers? I’m not afraid of no bleeding soldiers.” The copper kept talking tough. The wobble in his voice gave him away. Outside, the machine gun brayed again.

“You’ll be doing the bleeding any minute now,” Walsh said. “Come on, hand over your toy. What do you think it can do against the kind of firepower the Army’s got, anyway?” Something blew up, a lot closer than the stuttering machine gun. Helpfully, Walsh explained: “That’s a Mills bomb-a hand grenade, if you like. They’re going to get in here. They won’t like it if they catch you with a weapon in your hand.”

Glumly, the copper handed him the Webley and Scott. Two other Scotland Yard men, moving with slow caution, laid their pistols on the ground. Walsh was tempted to plug each of them in turn after he scooped up the weapons. Not without regret, he refrained.

Pounding feet announced the arrival of soldiers. No one not in the military stomped with that percussive rhythm. “Over here!” Walsh called. “I’ve got ’em!”

Some of the men carried rifles with fixed bayonets. One of the bayonets dripped blood. A police official must have made a fatal mistake. At the soldiers’ head was the major with whom Walsh had examined 10 Downing Street. He cradled a Tommy gun as gently as if it were a baby. “Hullo, old man,” he said. “We’re in the driving seat now. First job of this sort in upwards of two hundred and fifty years, but we’ve brought it off.”

“That’s-” one of the Scotland Yard men began. The Tommy gun’s muzzle swung in his direction. He went pale as skimmed milk. Whatever his detailed opinion was, he kept it to himself. He wasn’t a complete fool, then. Walsh had had his doubts.

“Elections soon,” the major went on. “We’ll let the people have their say about what we’ve done. If they’re daft enough to want to go along with the Nazis…” He rolled his eyes to show what he thought of that. “But in the meanwhile, our troops in Russia are ordered to hold in place against anyone-anyone at all-who attacks them. We’ll get them out of there quick as we can.”

“But what if old Adolf goes after them hammer and tongs?” Walsh knew he sounded worried, and well he might-he had more than a few friends fighting in Russia. “They’re hostages to the Fritzes, you might say.”

“It’s possible, but I don’t believe it’s likely. Hitler would have to be raving mad to do anything like that. He’d be handing Stalin four prime divisions on a silver platter, eh?” the major replied.

That made perfect sense. Walsh wondered why hearing it didn’t reassure him more. Probably because, when dealing with Hitler, the most perfectly sensible things turned out to be nonsense after all as often as not. Changing the subject looked like a good idea: “Where are Sir Horace and the Cabinet?”

“They’re safe. None of them tried anything foolish.” The major answered without giving details, which didn’t surprise Walsh.

The Scotland Yard man who’d handed over his pistol worked up the nerve to ask, “What does the King think of all this?”

“One of the reasons Edward’s off in Bermuda is, he was too pally by half with Adolf and Musso,” the major said. “As soon as General Wavell brought his Majesty word the government had, ah, changed, King George knighted him on the spot. And Queen Elizabeth, God bless her, kissed him.”

All the captured coppers seemed to shrink in on themselves. They’d been following orders, and they’d been just as sure they were following the path of righteousness. Almost everyone was. Walsh supposed even Hitler didn’t face the mirror when he shaved each morning and think Today I’ll go out and do something really evil. But if enough others thought that was what he was doing… Well, in that case England got the most abrupt change of government since James II bailed out one jump ahead of the incoming William and Mary. And a good thing, too, he thought, or else they would have hanged me.

Lieutenant Colonel Tomashevsky looked out at the assembled Soviet flyers in his squadron. “Today we bomb west of Chernigov,” he said. “Our targets are the German and Hungarian troops in the area, not-I repeat, not-the English expeditionary force. The English have seen reason. They are no longer hostile to the workers and peasants of the Soviet Union… which means Hitler’s Fascist hyenas and the jackals who follow them are now hostile to the English.”

If a quarter of what the Soviet radio and newspapers were saying was true-always an interesting question, as Anastas Mouradian had reason to know-the Nazis were doing their level best to smash the English expeditionary force for presuming to change sides. And, as any Soviet citizen had reason to know, the Nazis’ level best was liable to be entirely too good.

“Do not-I repeat, do not-bomb English positions,” Tomashevsky went on. “English soldiers are crossing the Soviet lines. They will be repatriated so they can rejoin the struggle against Fascism. English troops will mark their positions with Union Jacks spread out on the ground.”

All sorts of interesting questions occurred to Stas on account of that. The Union Jacks might ward off Soviet bombers, but they’d surely attract the Luftwaffe. Which worried the English more? And how would those soldiers get back to their homeland? By sea from Murmansk or Arkhangelsk, running the U-boat gantlet? Or would they go down through Persia and take ship there… again, running the U-boat gantlet?

“Questions?” Tomashevsky asked.

Stas’ hand went up. Tomashevsky pointed to him. The Armenian didn’t ask any of those questions. He knew he wouldn’t get an answer for them. No, the one he did ask was purely practical: “Excuse me, comrade Colonel, but what do we do if we suspect the Germans are setting out Union Jacks to keep us from bombing them?”

“Bomb those positions,” the squadron commander answered. “But you’d better be right if you do. Our superiors will not be happy if they hear reports from the English that the Red Air Force attacked them.”

You’ll end up in the gulag if you bomb Englishmen. Mouradian had no trouble working out the underlying meaning there. By the looks on the faces of the men around him, neither did they.

When he and his bomb-aimer went out to their Pe-2, the young Karelian said, “We’ll have to be careful about what we hit.” He wanted to make sure Stas got it.

“Yes, I figured that out, thanks,” Mouradian answered dryly. Ivan Kulkaanen nodded back. His expression remained serious, and he seemed not the least bit embarrassed. Staying out of the gulag was important business, at least as important as fighting the foreign invaders.

Sergeant Mechnikov greeted his superiors with, “So it’s back to bombing the Nazis, is it? Well, the bombs don’t care whose heads they fall on.” Plainly, he didn’t care whose heads he dropped them on. And why should he? His work stayed the same no matter who the enemy was.

One of the crews had FOR STALIN! painted on its Pe-2’s fuselage in big red letters, right behind the Soviet star. Did that make them more likely to be reckoned politically reliable? Or did it just make them more likely to get shot down? If it made both more likely, did the one protect more than the other endangered?

Soviet life was full of interesting questions.

The Pe-2 jounced down the unpaved runway and climbed into the air. “A lot more power than the old SB-2,” Stas remarked as he leveled off.

“Well, I should hope so!” Kulkaanen exclaimed.

“It was a hot plane once upon a time,” Mouradian said. “One of these days, this beast will be just as obsolete.”

“Oh, sure,” the bomb-aimer said. “That’s the way things work.” He took it for granted. If his narrow, New Soviet Man-style soul held any room for nostalgia, he wouldn’t be so weak as to show it.

I’m supposed to be a New Soviet Man, too, Stas thought. For some reason, the indoctrination hadn’t taken with him, the way a smallpox vaccination sometimes didn’t. He wondered what had gone wrong in his case. Maybe it was just that he was an Armenian. He wasn’t so good at swallowing things whole as most Russians were… although plenty of his countrymen were, or at least seemed to be, ideal New Soviet Men and Women.

A few badly aimed rounds of antiaircraft fire came up at them as they droned southwest. They were still over terrain the Red Army held. Some New Soviet Men down below feared they belonged to the Luftwaffe. That made those nervous gunners New Soviet Idiots, but it happened on almost every mission.

Sergeant Mechnikov expressed his opinion of the antiaircraft crews through the speaking tube. The Chimp couldn’t have put it better. Mouradian wondered how-and whether-Kuchkov was doing these days.

What should have been the front was mostly confusion. English troops were crossing the Soviet line. Red Army men were rushing in to take their places and tear a hole in the enemy position. The Germans were doing their damnedest not to let any of that happen.

Bombs burst among the English positions. Stas looked around, wondering whether some of his squadronmates were dropping too soon. But those bombs didn’t come from Soviet planes. The Luftwaffe had bombers in the neighborhood, too: Mouradian spotted two stacked V’s of Do-17s.

The Flying Pencils were unmistakable, and not just because of the yellow band the Nazis painted on the fuselages of their Ostfront aircraft. No one else built bombers with such skinny bodies. Even the Germans used that Flying Pencil nickname for their Dorniers.

No matter how slim the Do-17s were, they didn’t perform much better than the USSR’s obsolescent SB-2s. Stas’ current mount could fly rings around them. The Pe-2 was pretty skinny, too, since it was originally intended as a heavy fighter. And so… Stas swung the Pe-2 into a sharp right turn.

“What the-?” Kulkaanen exclaimed.

“I’m going to get after those Germans,” Stas answered.

A moment later, another startled question came from his radio earphones. He gave the squadron CO the same answer. Several silent seconds followed as Lieutenant Colonel Tomashevsky considered it. At last, he said, “Our mission is to keep the Fascists from harassing the English now that they’ve come to their senses. You’re doing that. Good luck.”

“Spasibo,” Stas said dryly. He noticed that none of the other pilots was peeling off to attack the Dorniers. That made his own job harder. It also made his Russian comrades as imaginative as so many oysters. He chuckled sourly. Tell me something I didn’t already know, he thought.

One of the things he did already know was which Flying Pencil he wanted: the last and highest in the second V. That was the fellow least able to protect himself, and also the one whose buddies could help him least.

The Do-17’s pilot and crew didn’t notice him till he was almost close enough to open up. Only one machine gun at the back of the cockpit would bear on him. He had two forward-firing machine guns, and two 20mm cannon to go with them. As tracers whipped past the Pe-2, he watched chunks fly off the German bomber’s wing. Flame licked, caught, spread. The Dornier went into a spin the pilot hadn’t a prayer of controlling.

Kulkaanen whooped. “Good shooting!” he yelled.

“Thanks.” Stas wanted more German planes. But the Flying Pencil he’d attacked must have radioed a warning to its friends before it went down. The rest of the Do-17s dove for the deck as fast as they would go. He might have caught them had he chased them. Then again, 109s might be on the way to give them a hand. A Pe-2 could give a good account of itself against a Messerschmitt, but it wasn’t something you wanted to try unless you had no choice.

He did have a choice, and made it-he flew back toward the rest of the Soviet bombers. He also had a mission to fulfill. Even though he’d shot down the German plane, he still needed to do that. Orders were, and always would be, orders.

To say Hideki Fujita was not a happy man was to prove the power of understatement. He’d got demoted to corporal for letting the three Americans escape from Pingfan, and he’d got a hell of a beating besides. Then, when neither Japanese nor Manchukuan patrols managed to stumble across the white men on the loose, he got another beating, this one worse than the first.

Adding insult to injury-literally-he remained on watch at the Americans’ compound. His superiors left him in no doubt about what would happen to him if any more Yankees got away. That would be the last mistake he was ever allowed to make.

Self-preservation made him tighten things up even more than was usual at Pingfan. The Americans’ compound ran by the clock, as if it were a factory cranking out Fords. Any prisoner in there who was late for a roll call or a lineup or even slow in bowing to a Japanese guard got pounded on with fists and boots and rifle butts.

Fujita would have done worse than that to them had the scientist-officers who ran Pingfan not made it plain they needed the Americans in relatively good shape. That disgusted him. He couldn’t even wallop the Yankees as hard as his own people had walloped him-some of his bruises were a long time fading. Where was the fairness in that?

On the other hand, those scientist-officers didn’t take him inside the enormous walled-off facility that was Pingfan’s beating heart. He didn’t know what happened to the maruta who went in there, not in any detail. He wasn’t interested in finding out, either. And, unless you were a scientist yourself, once you went behind those high walls, you didn’t come out again: not alive, anyhow.

For a little while, he’d feared he’d infuriated the authorities enough to make them decide to turn him into a maruta. Next to that fate, a couple of beatings didn’t seem so bad.

The sergeant soon set over him, a bruiser named Toshiyaki Wakamatsu, made him remember all the reasons he’d despised sergeants before becoming one himself. Wakamatsu was loudmouthed and brutal. He fawned on officers but wouldn’t listen to anyone of rank lower than his own.

Was I like that? Fujita wondered. He hoped not, but feared he might have been. He couldn’t ask the enlisted men from his squad. They’d never give him a straight answer, any more than he would give one to Wakamatsu. Giving straight answers was a most un-Japanese thing to do. You told your superiors what you thought they wanted to hear. If they had any sense, they knew how to interpret what you said. If they didn’t, their heads swelled up with all the praise you lavished on them.

Sergeant Wakamatsu had his own way of dealing with the Americans. He couldn’t talk to them, any more than Fujita had been able to. Fujita had learned that some of the Americans knew scraps of Chinese. Senior Private Hayashi spoke Chinese fluently. Fujita said not a word of that to the man now holding down his place. Neither did Hayashi. His silence made the demoted noncom feel good. The clever senior private still felt loyal to him-or at least didn’t want to do the blowhard who’d taken his slot any favors.

Instead of talking to the Americans, Wakamatsu gestured to show what he wanted. When the prisoners didn’t catch on fast enough to suit him, he clouted them. That helped him less than he’d seemed to think it would.

“Bakatare! Bakayaro!” he roared at the Yanks. Had he really expected them to cooperate? If he had, he was an idiot himself, even if he called them by that name. Prisoners might have lost their honor simply by letting themselves be captured, but they didn’t go out of their way to help their captors. Anyone with a gram of sense should have been able to see that.

Since Sergeant Wakamatsu couldn’t… Fujita did his best to stay out of the sergeant’s way. His new superior was setting himself up to crash and burn. Fujita didn’t want to catch fire when Wakamatsu did. He hardly cared if the authorities gave him back his old collar tabs.

He kept an eye on the American named Herman Szulc. Wakamatsu still hadn’t figured out that Szulc was a leading troublemaker. And Szulc had a buddy, a smaller fellow called Max Weinstein. One look at that fellow and anyone with a suspicious mind would hear alarm bells.

Weinstein knew some Chinese. Fujita had heard him jabbering with the laborers who did the work around Pingfan that the Japanese didn’t care to do for themselves. Sergeant Wakamatsu must have heard him, too. Did Wakamatsu take any special notice? Fujita was convinced Wakamatsu wouldn’t have noticed his own cock if he didn’t need to piss through it now and then.

“What is the American saying?” Fujita asked Senior Private Hayashi.

“When I’ve heard him, he’s been trying to get extra food from the Chinese,” the conscripted student answered.

“What do you suppose he’s talking about with them when you’re not around to hear?” Fujita persisted.

“Please excuse me, Sergeant- san — I mean, Corporal- san — but how am I supposed to know that?” Hayashi sounded and looked as exasperated as an inferior could afford to do when responding to a superior’s stupid question.

But Fujita still didn’t think it was so very stupid. “Come on. Use your fancy brains,” he snapped. “Is the American a Red? Have the Chinese Reds infiltrated our labor force?”

The Japanese often worried more about Communists in China than they did about the forces that followed Chiang Kai-shek’s government. The Communists were sneakier than the regular Chinese forces, and they made more trouble. They were committed to what they did in ways the regular Chinese forces couldn’t approach.

All the same, Senior Private Hayashi replied, “How can an American be a Red? The Yankees hate Communists almost as much as we do.”

“Maybe,” Fujita replied, in tones that declared he didn’t believe it for a minute. And he had his reasons, too: “In that case, how come they’re cheering when England stops helping Germany and starts helping the miserable, stinking Russians again?” He knew exactly how he felt about the Russians. How else could he feel, considering the too many times they’d come too close to killing him?

To his surprise, Senior Private Hayashi had a comeback. “I think it’s because Hitler scares Roosevelt, Corporal- san,” he said. “Hitler scares just about everybody. He would scare us, too, if he weren’t on the far side of the world.”

“Nothing scares Japan,” Fujita declared.

“Of course, Corporal- san.” Hayashi might have been humoring a boy who was too little to know he’d come out with something silly.

“Nothing does, dammit,” the nettled Fujita said. “If anything scared us, would we have beaten the Red Army? If anything scared us, would we go to war against America and England at the same time as we’re fighting in China?”

Hayashi pursed his lips, as if wondering how much he might safely say. He and Fujita had served side by side in Mongolia and Siberia before coming to Pingfan. Even so, he chose his words with obvious care: “I hope it doesn’t happen that we bit off more than we can chew.”

“Don’t be silly! The Navy is kicking the crap out of the American fleet,” Fujita said. “The Yanks are on the run. The Philippines are falling. If the Americans want a war with us, they’ll have to fight their way through islands that belong to us. Honto? ”

“Honto,” Hayashi said, because it was true. Somehow, though, even his agreement sounded dubious.

Fujita didn’t push it. He’d lost face as well as rank; he didn’t want to antagonize someone who still seemed to respect him. He went back to what they’d been talking about before: “Do pay attention to that Weinstein. If he starts talking to the Chinamen about anything but food-”

“Shall I tell Sergeant Wakamatsu?” Hayashi broke in.

“Oh, yes. Of course. That’s just what you should do.” No one could claim Fujita hadn’t given the proper response. If his tone didn’t match his words… well, how could you report something like that? He and Hayashi both smiled. Yes, they understood each other, all right.

Chapter 11

Bam! Bam! Bam! A battery of German 88mm antiaircraft guns thundered away at the Russian bombers high overhead. Willi Dernen watched puffs of black smoke appear among the planes. None of them caught fire and fell out of the sky, though. How many thousands of meters up there were they? However many it was, they didn’t make easy targets.

Even though the gunners kept missing, Willi waved to them as he trudged past their position. He liked having 88s around. They might have been designed as flak guns, but the high mucky-mucks had made sure they could do other tricks, too. They had armor-piercing rounds in their inventory, for instance. And a high-velocity AP round from an 88 could make even a KV-1 say uncle, when the huge Soviet panzers laughed at almost every other weapon in the German inventory.

“Come on, Dernen! Get it in gear!” Arno Baatz barked.

“Jawohl, Herr Unteroffizier!” Willi answered, as abjectly as if Awful Arno were a field marshal, not a lousy corporal. He did get it in gear, too-for half a dozen paces. As soon as Baatz started yapping at someone else, Willi slowed down again. He hadn’t figured it would take long, and it didn’t.

“Naughty, naughty,” Adam Pfaff said in a prison-yard whisper Awful Arno would never hear.

“Ahh, your mother.” Willi’s reply was no louder. They both chuckled as they marched on. Hating the noncoms set over you was as old and as universal as soldiering. Willi was sure the Ivans’ privates couldn’t stand their corporals and sergeants, either. He would have bet the Japanese and the Amis felt the same way. Caesar’s legionaries must have felt the same way, too. So did King David’s warriors, chances were.

When Willi told that to Pfaff, his buddy snorted. “Who cares what David’s guys thought?” said the Landser with the gray Mauser. “They were nothing but a bunch of kikes.”

Willi laughed, but nervously. He eyed Pfaff from under the beetling brim of his Stahlhelm. Was Pfaff joking, or did he mean that? Willi had no enormous use for Jews, but he didn’t get all hot and bothered about them. He figured the Nazis’ hot air was just that and no more. Most of the soldiers in his outfit seemed to feel the same way.

Most, but not all. Some Landsers took all the hot air as seriously as SS men would. And some of these Russian villages and towns were chock full of Jews. He’d watched some bad things happen. He hadn’t joined in, but he also hadn’t tried to stop anything or report anybody. Reporting, he knew instinctively, was a waste of time at best, and might land him in trouble. Better to look the other way.

So far as he knew, Pfaff hadn’t killed kikes for the fun of it or soaked a Jew’s beard in oil and set it on fire or done anything else along those lines. So far as he knew, his buddy hadn’t gang-raped any Jewish-or Russian-women, either. But that was only so far as he knew. One of the things he knew for sure was that he didn’t know very far.

Artillery shells howled past overhead. Those weren’t from the 88s: they were 105s, searching for the Russians on the ground. And it didn’t sound as if any of them would fall dangerously short. You were just as maimed if your own side’s shell blew off your leg as you were when the enemy did it to you.

MG-34s rattled, off to the northeast. Slower-firing Russian machine guns answered. Willi’s stomach knotted, the way it always did when he got close to places where he could get hurt. He unslung his rifle and made sure he had a cartridge in the chamber. “Ready to have some fun?” he asked.

“Aber naturlich!” Adam Pfaff said, as gaily as if he were a girl Willi had invited to dance. But this was the Totentanz, and not everyone would get up after the drumbeat of death stopped.

“Let’s go! Forward! We’ll give the Untermenschen the hiding they’ve got coming to them!” Awful Arno shouted. He was a true believer in all the stuff Dr. Goebbels cranked out, sure as hell. But then he said the magic words: “Follow me!”

He might be-as far as Willi was concerned, he had to be-the biggest unwiped asshole in the history of the world. If only he were yellow, that would have made the perfect finish for his personality, such as it was: a maraschino cherry on a bowl of ice cream, so to speak. But, whatever else you could say about Arno Baatz, you couldn’t call him a coward. He was as brave as anyone could want a soldier to be, and then a little more besides.

And anyone who yelled “Follow me!” commonly found men who would follow. A noncom or officer laying his own life on the line got Landsers to do the same. Even colonels and generals led from the front in this war. People who’d gone through the mill the last time talked about how their superiors stayed kilometers behind the line and ordered them to their doom. No more.

Those MG-34s were firing from hastily dug foxholes, not from a regular trench line. With the front so fluid, there was no regular trench line. Soldiers in Feldgrau crouched in other foxholes and sprawled behind scrapes that might or might not stop a bullet. Some of them got up and advanced with the newly arrived units. Others stayed right where they were. They did lay down supporting fire for the troops moving forward. Willi gave them… some… credit for that.

A bullet cracked past his head. He threw himself flat and wriggled forward on his belly through grass tall enough to hide him from the Russians-as long as he didn’t do anything stupid like sticking his butt in the air, anyhow. Every so often, he’d go up on one knee, fire, and then flatten out again. Nobody was tracking his movements, anyhow: the proof of which was, he didn’t get killed when he popped up.

He wondered how the Russians used this stretch of ground when no one was fighting over it. Did they graze sheep or cattle or horses on it? Or did it just lie here not doing anything? Germany didn’t have much land like that, but Russia seemed full of it. The country was so goddamn big that, even though it had a lot of people, it didn’t have nearly enough to use all these vast sweeps of ground. This one might have been forgotten-or, for all Willi knew, maybe no one had ever paid enough heed to it to begin with for anybody to forget it now.

The direction from which enemy fire came told him which way to crawl. The grass smelled all green and growing. A rich scent rose from the black earth, too. Willi might be a city boy, but his nose said the Ivans were missing a bet by not raising wheat or beets or something right here.

Then that nose of his almost ran into the snub nose of a Red Army soldier crawling through the grass toward the German positions. Both men yelped in horror. Neither had had the slightest idea the other was there till the sea of grass parted and they nearly banged heads.

Willi tried to aim his Mauser at the Russian. The Ivan had a rifle, too, but jerked his hand away from it as if it were red-hot. “Kamerad!” he bleated, and “Freund!” After that, he gabbled out a stream of Russian, of which Willi understood not a word.

He could have murdered the Red Army man in cold blood. He had no doubt Awful Arno would have plugged the Ivan without a second thought, or even a first one. But the guy was trying to surrender. Willi supposed he was, anyhow. The Russian didn’t say boo when Willi grabbed his rifle. Then Willi frisked him-he didn’t want to send the guy on his way and end up catching a grenade. Like the English, the Russians used round bombs. They held less explosive than a German potato-masher, but you could throw them farther. Willi confiscated the three on the Ivan’s belt, and his sheathed bayonet, too.

He found the soldier’s identity book. It had a photograph of the guy and a bunch of writing in an alphabet that was just squiggles to Willi. He handed it back to the Ivan. Why not? It wasn’t any use to him. He jerked his thumb toward the southwest, the direction from which the German advance was coming.

The Russian gave forth with what Willi guessed were thanks. He was pretty sure spasibo meant danke, anyhow. “Go on,” Willi said roughly, hoping he hadn’t missed any lethal hardware-or that, if he had, the dirty, scared-looking, sorry son of a bitch in khaki wasn’t inclined to use it.

Off Ivan went. What happened to him afterwards, Willi never knew. He cared very little. The guy didn’t double back on him or have a spare grenade Willi’d missed. That, Willi cared about. He crawled on. The Landsers behind the line could send the Russian to a POW camp. Or they could shoot him, if they decided they’d sooner do that. It wasn’t Willi’s worry. The Red Army men still ahead were.

Out through the Kiel Canal. The abrupt change in the U-30’s motion would have told Julius Lemp when they got out into open water even if he’d been below. But he was up on the U-boat’s conning tower. As soon as the North Sea waves started slapping the boat, she began rolling in the way he’d found so familiar for so long.

One of the ratings up there with him didn’t take the new motion for granted like the skipper. “Fuck me,” the sailor said, gulping. “I’d forgotten how rough it gets out on the open sea.”

“If you’ve got to puke, Hans, don’t puke into the wind,” Lemp advised. “The idea is to get rid of what ails you, not to wear it.”

“Right.” Hans gulped again.

“If you can’t keep scanning, I’ll send you below with a bucket and call up somebody who can,” Lemp said. “Now that England’s turned her coat, we’ve got to worry about the Royal Navy and the RAF again. They aren’t half-assed like the Russians. Give them even a piece of a chance and they’ll sink us.”

“I’ll stay, Skipper,” Hans said quickly. Lemp would have said the same thing in his unhappy place. Up here, the fresh air fought seasickness. Down inside the reeking pressure hull, the boat’s rolling would have a potent, pungent ally.

All the same, Lemp knew he would have to watch Hans as well as the horizon. He hadn’t been joking. Anyone inefficient up here would have to go. You might get away with taking chances against the sloppy Slavs. Against the English? A good thing everyone had a will on file.

Diesels thrumming through the soles of Lemp’s shoes, the U-30 made fifteen knots on a course a little west of due north. The boat would round Norway’s southwestern bulge and then follow the country’s coastline farther north and east. Too many Tommies on the Ostfront had made their way through Soviet lines. The easiest, fastest way to bring them back to England would be to ship them out of Arkhangelsk or Murmansk.

The Fuhrer didn’t want them to come home-and who could blame him? Sooner or later, probably sooner, they’d get back into the war against the Reich. Better to send the freighters or liners carrying them to the bottom. Then Germany wouldn’t need to worry about them any more.

“Perfidious Albion,” Lemp muttered. His breath smoked. Spring might be here, but the North Sea was damned if it wanted to admit it.

“What’s that, Skipper?” Hans asked.

“Nothing. Just swearing at the damned limeys.”

“They’re a pain, all right,” the rating agreed.

“How’s your insides?”

“Not too bad, as long as I don’t think about ’em. Maybe I’ll cuss England out, too.”

Somebody-whether it was Hans or not, Lemp didn’t know-gave back a meal inside the hull before they put in at Namsos on their way north. That made the stink in there worse, but not by so much as an outsider might have expected. It wasn’t the first time somebody’d heaved in the boat, and an overturned bucket meant the nasty stuff had got into the bilgewater. Once that happened, a stench would stay with the U-30 as long as the boat lasted.

The Kriegsmarine had started to fit Namsos out as a U-boat base after the town fell. Then, with the war against England and France suddenly forgotten, the work was forgotten, too. Now the war-or part of it, anyway-was on again, and so was the work.

Namsos probably hadn’t been an exciting place before the Wehrmacht took it away from its defenders. It was a real mess now. German crews with torches went about carving up the English warships and freighters that had gone down in shallow water trying to resupply and evacuate the town. The steel would be useful; whatever could be salvaged intact, even more so.

Namsos itself could have used cutting up and salvaging, too. Bombing and artillery meant hardly a building didn’t have a chunk or two bitten out of it. Lemp saw only a few Norwegians. Most of them looked sullen. If they were delighted to have come under German occupation, they hid it very well.

Two or three men wore the uniform of the Nasjonal Samling, the Norwegian equivalent of the German NSDAP. The head of the NS, a former officer named Vidkun Quisling, helped the Germans govern Norway. The only problem was that his party, unlike the Nazis, enjoyed next to no popular support. German bodyguards accompanied the NS men walking through the harbor.

The head of the base, a Kapitan zur See named Waldemar Bohme, was blunt when he discussed the issue with Lemp as fresh food went into the U-30. “Anybody who doesn’t belong to the

NS figures anybody who does is a traitor,” Bohme said gloomily. “And nobody belongs to the NS.”

Lemp glanced toward one of the uniformed Norwegians. It wasn’t quite a German uniform, but it was in the same general style. “He does,” the U-boat skipper remarked.

“There are a handful of them,” Bohme agreed. “It would almost be easier if there weren’t any. Then we wouldn’t have to waste our own men keeping the rest of the Norwegians from murdering these… people.” Had he known Lemp better, he might have called the NS officials worse. But you never could tell who might report you. Staying innocuous was safer.

“Quisling must have some support,” Lemp said.

“Some, ja.” Bohme still sounded glum. “The Nasjonal Samling got less than two percent of the vote in 1936, down from a hair over two percent in 1933. And as soon as the fighting started here, half their members-more than half-bailed out and picked up rifles and tried to shoot us.”

Shrewdly, Lemp said, “But now that the fighting’s over and we won, going along with us will look like a good idea to some people.”

“That has happened-a little,” Bohme admitted. “Most of the squareheads would still sooner spit on us, though.”

“As long as we can get on with the war, what difference does it make?” Lemp said.

“With England back in it, who knows?” Captain Bohme seemed determined to look at the cloud, not the silver lining. “Now the Norwegians won’t have to be Reds to have somebody who’ll help give us trouble.”

“I’m sure you’ll manage, sir,” Lemp said, by which he meant I’m damn glad it’s your worry and none of mine. The wry quirk of one of Bohme’s bushy gray eyebrows meant he understood that all too well.

Narvik, north of the Arctic Circle, was a smaller, even more battered base than Namsos. Because it was so inaccessible except by sea, it had stayed in Allied hands longer than the country farther south. Without the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, the place would have been uninhabitable. And without the last gasps of the current from the far southwest, Murmansk and Arkhangelsk would have stayed frozen up the year around, and Lemp’s mission would have had no point.

But up toward the Barents Sea the U-30 went. It wasn’t summer yet, but daylight stretched and stretched in these latitudes. Lemp had heard about the white nights of St. Petersburg-Leningrad, these days. He was ten degrees of latitude north of St. Petersburg now. The sun set in the far, far northwest and soon rose again in the far, far northeast. While it ducked below the horizon, twilight never got dark enough to show any but the brightest stars.

That meant the U-30’s crew had to stay alert around the clock. A rating might spot a troopship at any hour of the day or suppositious night. On the other hand, an English plane, or a Russian one, might come across the U-boat at any time.

Or nothing might happen. No matter how long it stayed light, the ocean was vast. Troopships full of Tommies might slip past unseen. For all Lemp knew, there were no troopships full of Tommies. The Kriegsmarine brass had plenty of bright ideas that didn’t pan out.

A whale spouted a couple of hundred meters to port. The great beast wasn’t that much smaller than the U-boat. Lemp watched it with awe from the conning tower. It paid the U-30 no heed. That suited Lemp fine. A collision with a whale would be like a truck hitting an elephant on the Autobahn — except the truck wouldn’t sink afterwards.

He cruised his assigned area, awaiting new orders from Berlin-or even from Namsos. In due course, new orders came. Once decoded, they read, Continue current assignment. Lemp was anything but thrilled-as if his superiors cared. Continue he did.

Luc Harcourt had just got a fire going on the floor of a half-wrecked peasant hut when a private stuck his head through a hole in the wall and said, “Excuse me, Sergeant, but could I please talk to you for a little while?”

Sighing, Luc asked, “What d’you want, Charles?” Whatever it was, it would be trouble. Whenever a private asked that question in that tone of voice, it had to be trouble. Maybe Charles’ father was desperately ill, and he wanted compassionate leave. Right now, of course. Maybe his girlfriend was two-timing him, and he needed a shoulder to cry on or permission to go back to France and whale the stuffing out of the loose, stupid bitch. Or maybe…

“What are we doing here, Sergeant?” Charles couldn’t have been more than nineteen. His voice still cracked sometimes. He was trying to grow a mustache, but only looked as if he had dirt on his upper lip.

After hacking the top off a ration tin with his bayonet, Luc heated monkey meat over the flames. “What do you mean, what are we doing here? Do I look like a priest, to answer a question like that?”

He sounded even more like Sergeant-now Lieutenant-Demange than he realized. Almost everything he knew about soldiering, and about dealing with inferiors in the army, he’d learned from the veteran. Demange’s sarcasm had rubbed off on him, too.

Charles flushed. “I don’t mean it like that, Sergeant. I mean, what are we doing here in Russia? The Englishmen packed it in. Why can’t we?”

As far as Luc was concerned, that was a damn good question. He gave the only reply he could: “When Daladier wants us to quit, we will. Till then, you’d better fight. You think the Ivans won’t cut your dick off, you’d better think again.”

“It isn’t fair,” Charles whined.

“Since when is life fair?” Yes, Luc sounded like Demange.

“You can joke all you want,” Charles said, which, since Luc was a sergeant, was true enough. “But we’re liable to get killed for no reason at all, and that isn’t funny.” His nostrils twitched as if he were an angry rabbit.

As a matter of fact, he was wrong. Luc had seen both enemies and friends die in ways idiotically ridiculous enough to make him laugh like a jackass. Anyone who’d been up at the front for a while could say the same thing. Most of the laughter sprang from relief that you were still alive to giggle.

But that wasn’t the point. The savory aroma-if you got hungry enough-of sizzling bully beef distracted Luc, but he answered, “I don’t know what you want me to do about it. If you think I’m going to cross over to the Russians’ lines, you’re even crazier than I give you credit for.”

“They put out all those safe-conducts.” Charles displayed one. Sure as hell, it promised that the bearer would be treated well if he deserted.

“It’s written in good French-better than the ones the Boches used to throw around,” Luc said. “But so what?”

“See? You call them Boches, too! And now they’re on our side-I mean, we’re on theirs-even though we still hate them and even though we almost started shooting at them on account of what they did to those Jews.” Charles’ nostrils quivered some more. “Wouldn’t you rather fight against them than for them? Five gets you ten they’re still doing that horrible shit to Jews, only in places where we can’t catch ’em at it.”

He was no Jew himself; Luc was sure of that. And Luc hadn’t thought he was a Red, either. As a matter of fact, Luc still didn’t think so. But the question was a lot harder to deal with when Charles put it that way. Slowly, Luc said, “The Russians aren’t nice people, either. Don’t forget that for a minute. So many Russians and Ukrainians and whatnot wouldn’t fall all over themselves to help the fucking Nazis if they liked Stalin. Right?”

Most reluctantly, Charles nodded. “I guess so.”

“Other thing to remember is, the Russians never signed the Geneva Convention. Even the Germans did that,” Luc went on. “So who gives a rat’s ass what that safe-conduct says? Once the Reds have you, they can do whatever they damn well please. Nobody’s gonna stop ’em. The Red Cross never gets a look inside their POW camps-if they bother keeping POWs alive long enough to put ’em in camps. You understand what I’m saying?”

“You’re saying you like Hitler better than Stalin.” Charles might have been accusing him of picking his nose and eating the boogers.

“No! No, God damn it to hell! I’m saying I can’t stand either one of those shitheads, and you can’t trust either one of them.” Luc paused to take the tin off the fire. The monkey meat was as ready as it ever would be. His stomach growled gratefully when he stuffed a mouthful into his chowlock. After a gulp an anaconda might have used to engulf a half-grown tapir, he resumed: “It’s like I told you before. I don’t set our foreign policy, and neither do you. We go where they tell us and we do what they tell us to do there. And if we don’t, our own side’ll make it rougher on us than the Nazis and Reds put together.”

Artillery rumbled, not far enough away. Charles gestured in that direction, asking, “How?”

“They can jail you. They can shoot you, too. And they can make life hell on earth for your kinfolk. If your brother keeps getting fired; if your son, when you have a son, ends up in a crappy school and blames you for it… They remember. It’s how they stay on top-remembering. And paying back.”

His words made the youngster-three or four years younger than he was now-recoil in horror. “They wouldn’t do anything like that! They couldn’t get away with it!”

“My ass they couldn’t.” Luc scooped more hot bully beef out of the tin.

“You’re no help at all, dammit.” Charles stomped away from the hut in dudgeon as high as a corpse four days gone.

Luc finished the tin of monkey meat. Then he hunted up Lieutenant Demange. He recounted the conversation with Charles, adding, “You’d better tighten up the sentries, sir. He’s liable not to be the only one who’ll try and go over to the other side.”

“Yeah, chances are you’re right.” Demange shifted his Gitane to one side of his mouth and spat in disgust out of the other. “That stupid fucking Russian asswipe of a safe-conduct! Jesus God, the clowns like Charles are smart enough to see that their own government lies to them every chance it gets, so how come they aren’t smart enough to see all the other governments’re full of bullshit, too?”

“Beats me.” It seemed as obvious as an axiom of geometry to Luc. Had he thought that way before the war broke out? He had trouble remembering. He didn’t believe he had-he hadn’t worried much about politics at all then. So what, though? Lies and incompetence hadn’t come close to sinking France then. Things looked different these days.

Charles didn’t try to desert. Luc dared hope he’d put the fear of God into him. A couple of nights later, though, two other poilus did slip away. Lieutenant Demange swore in furious disgust.

Supplies came up in horse-drawn wagons. Both French and German trucks literally fell to bits when they had to deal with what were alleged to be Soviet roads. Horses didn’t break down, and wagons were easier to repair than motor vehicles. As long as Luc kept getting ammo and food, he didn’t care how.

With the Germans on their left flank and Hungarians to their right, the French pushed forward. Fighting well was the best way to improve your chances of staying alive. Luc didn’t have anything in particular against the Russians, the way he’d had against the Wehrmacht men when they tried to overrun his country. He shot at them anyhow, to keep them from shooting at him.

And, before long, the advancing French troops came upon a fresh grave in the woods with an Adrian helmet for a tombstone. They dug it up. In it lay one of the deserters. He hadn’t stopped a mistaken bullet. The Ivans had sported with him for a long time before they let him die. The French soldiers quickly buried him again.

“Where’s your safe-conduct?” Luc asked Charles. “Feel like using it now?”

“No, Sergeant,” the kid answered in a very small voice. As if on the training ground, Luc snapped, “What was that? I can’t hear you!”

“No, Sergeant,” Charles said again, rather louder this time.

“All right, then.” Luc let it go. He didn’t need to worry that Charles would skedaddle, not after the youngster saw what was left of that other damn fool. The Russians would have drawn more deserters had they treated people who went over to them well. But if they wanted to play the game the other way, they’d soon discover the French could, too.

Ivan Kuchkov patted the round drum that held his PPD’s ammunition with almost the same delight he would have used to pat a barmaid’s round backside. He never wanted to have anything to do with an infantry rifle again. You didn’t need to aim a PPD. You just pointed it and fired. If one bullet didn’t do for a Fascist, the next would, or the one after that.

A Nazi with a Mauser could hit him from much farther away than he could hit the Fritz with his submachine gun. In the kind of fighting they were doing, in woods and villages and towns, that seldom mattered. You mostly didn’t see your enemy till he was right on top of you. Then you needed to kill him in a hurry. The PPD was made with just that in mind.

His outfit kept falling back toward Smolensk. It infuriated him. He wanted to drive the Germans west, not to dance to their tune. The Red Army counterattacked whenever officers thought they saw a chance-or whenever orders came down from above. Sometimes the Russians gained a little ground. Even when they did, they rarely held it long.

He wasn’t sure about the name of the village where they were fighting now. It might have been called Old Pigshit, a handle it would have kept for centuries. Or it might have been rechristened something like Leninsk after the glorious Soviet Revolution. Either way, it was a stench in the nostrils-and a lot like the miserable hole in the ground where Ivan had grown up.

One way in which it differed from that particular hole in the ground was the broad expanse of grainfields and meadows to the north, south, and west. “Couldn’t be better country for panzers,” said Lieutenant Vasiliev. Ivan was convinced the political officer fucked pigs, but even a pigfucker got it right every once in a while.

About half the villagers had been rash enough to stick around instead of hightailing it to the east. Maybe they thought the Red Army would push the Nazis back, in which case they were optimists. Or maybe they thought things would get better once the Nazis took over, in which case they were really optimists.

Any which way, the politruk took charge of them. He set them digging deep, wide ditches across their fields and meadows, not so much to stop tanks as to channel their movements toward antitank guns.

A peasant with a gray mustache had the nerve to complain: “How the devil can we farm after we tear up the land like this?”

Lieutenant Vasiliev drew his Tokarev automatic from the leather holster on his belt. He held it up to the peasant’s head and pulled the trigger. The report was harsh, flat, undramatic. The peasant fell over. He kicked a few times and lay still. Blood puddled under him. A wrinkled woman in a headscarf shrieked.

“Any other questions?” the politruk asked pleasantly, reholstering the pistol. Vast silence, but for the woman’s sobs. The politruk nodded. “All right, then. Get back to work.”

And they did-all of them, including the babushka who’d just lost her husband. Sometimes life could be very simple.

Some of the soldiers dug alongside them. Others turned the village into a strongpoint. Field fortification was a Russian art. Maskirovka- camouflage-was another. Making buildings into places that were much stronger than they looked combined the two.

They got less done than Ivan wished they would have. German artillery started probing early in the afternoon. Not even the politruk ’s pistol could keep the muzhiks working after that. They ran for the trees, more afraid of the big shells bursting-and with reason. Artillery was the great butcher. Everything else was an afterthought beside it.

The soldiers stolidly labored on. Every so often, they flattened out in the antitank ditches when incoming shells sounded close. After the shelling moved on for a while, they stood up again, brushed themselves off, and went back to digging. A few shells hit in the ditches. A man or two walking around above ground got wounded by fragments.

Scouts fell back toward Old Pigshit or whatever it was, skirmishing as they came. “Stupid Germans aren’t far behind us,” one of them said as he jumped into a trench close to Ivan. Nemtsi, the Russian word for Germans, meant tongue-tied ones or mumblers; it went well with the notion of stupidity. The scout lit a papiros.

“Let me have one of those fuckers, will you?” Ivan said. The scout glanced his way, saw he was a sergeant, and gave him a smoke. Kuchkov had expected no less. After a couple of drags, he asked, “Have they got tanks along?”

“I saw some,” the scout answered. He carried a PPD, too. A Red Army soldier was more inclined to believe in firepower than in God.

“They would, the clapped-out cunts,” Ivan muttered. One of the scout’s eyebrows twitched. All soldiers swore, but Ivan was in a class by himself. He found another question: “Are their peckers up?”

“Why not? They’re advancing,” the scout said bleakly.

Ivan glanced over his shoulder. Maybe a company of KV-1s would clank forward and save the day like the warriors who whipped the Teutonic Knights in Alexander Nevsky. Now there was a flick for you! And maybe green monkeys will fly out of my ass, too, Ivan thought, mocking himself. Life wasn’t like a movie. Tanks didn’t show up from nowhere just because you needed them like anything. And wasn’t that a goddamn shame?

German soldiers appeared in the distance. Field-gray blended in about as well as khaki, but the Nazis’ black helmets stood out on the horizon. The Germans had tanks along: three Czech machines, either captured or newly built in conquered factories. They were better than Panzer Is and IIs, not so good as IIIs: about like any Soviet tanks this side of the KV-1.

Cautiously, the tanks with the white-edged black crosses on them advanced. Foot soldiers loped between them. A Soviet mortar started thumping. Earth fountained up as the bombs hit. The Nazi infantrymen dove for cover. One of them was blasted off his feet. Ivan didn’t think he’d get up again.

A tank crew thought about crossing a ditch, but the obstruction proved too wide and too deep. The machine came straight toward the village, then, as the defenders had planned. A hidden antitank gun opened up on it. The gunners needed several shots before they scored a hit, but the tank stopped and began to burn when they did.

That told the other enemy tanks where the gun was, though. They shelled it into silence, then rolled forward with greater confidence. Another antitank gun knocked one of them out in nothing flat. The last tank scuttled back out of range.

Red Army men with rifles fired at their German counterparts. A machine gun in a tavern opened up on the Fritzes, too. The Germans hit the dirt and started digging foxholes. They were veteran troops. They weren’t about to make things easy for their foes.

“Well, we’ve stopped ’em,” the scout said. Neither he nor Ivan had fired a shot. The Fascists hadn’t drawn close enough to turn their submachine guns deadly.

“For now, yeah. Right here, yeah,” Ivan said. The Red Army could usually stop the Germans right here, and for now. Then, somehow, they’d break through a little later somewhere else, and stopping them right here for now wouldn’t matter any more. You’d have to retreat, or else they’d close the ring behind you and grind you to pieces at their leisure.

Lieutenant Obolensky and the politruk wanted to make the Germans fight a regular battle for Old Pigshit. Unfortunately, the officers in charge of the advancing Nazis had too much sense to bang their heads into a stone wall. They were like water; they slid around obstructions. Before long, their 105s started pounding the Red Army men who held the woods a few kilometers south of the village. Ivan could follow the fighting to the south by ear. The Russians in the woods gave way. The Germans pushed through. That meant Old Pigshit would start flying the swastika pretty soon.

Maybe the place would have held if troops from here had helped the handful of Russians in those woods. Maybe not, but maybe. No one thought to weaken the strongpoint, though. And so, instead of weakening it, the company had to abandon it.

They retreated in good order. They’d be ready to fight again somewhere else before long. The Soviet Union was vast. It could afford to trade space for time. But you couldn’t win a war with endless retreats… could you?

Chapter 12

Something in the mail for you, dear.” Sarah Goldman’s mother handed her an envelope.

“For me?” Sarah couldn’t remember the last time she’d got a letter. It wasn’t as if Saul could write, after all. Not having any idea where her brother was, she had to hope he was all right.

This was no letter. The envelope bore an appallingly official eagle holding a circled swastika in its claws. The eagle’s tiny printed eye caught and held hers, as if commanding her to obedience. One of the things that made the Nazis so scary was the attention they gave even such picayune details: German thoroughness run mad and in power.

“You’d better open it,” Mother said.

“I suppose so,” Sarah agreed insincerely. Attention from the Reich was the last thing she or any Jew wanted. The best you could hope for, most times, was to be overlooked.

But the envelope in her hand wouldn’t go away if she didn’t open it. Whatever the Nazis were telling her they would do, they would do whether she read about it first or not. Better to know ahead of time. Well, it might be, anyhow.

A reluctant fingernail slid under the flap. The envelope opened easily-almost too easily. Even mucilage was of an inferior grade these days. She unfolded the notice inside and read it.

“Nu?” Hanna Goldman asked. “If you open your mouth any wider, a bug will fly in, or maybe a bird.”

Sarah hadn’t noticed her jaw drop. She wasn’t surprised it had, though. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been so astonished. She held up the document as if it were a bream she’d just hauled out of a creek. “It’s-” She had to try twice to get the words out: “It’s my permission to get married. They’ve-they’ve approved it.”

She’d shivered in line more than once, waiting to duel with the Nazi bureaucrats at the Munster Rathaus. Back then, her breath had smoked. She’d worn her shabby old coat, which didn’t do nearly enough to hold out winter. Nevertheless, she’d wear it again when frost came back. A Jew’s meager clothing ration wouldn’t stretch to getting her another one.

No need for a coat now. Spring burgeoned outside. Birdsong sweetened the air. Grass was green. Flowers bloomed in perfumed rainbow profusion. Butterflies flitted from one to another to another. Bees buzzed. The sun blazed down from a blue, blue sky dotted with friendly little white clouds.

Mother rushed up and hugged her. “Oh, sweetheart, that’s wonderful! You see? Even they couldn’t say no in the end.” If she didn’t want to name the Nazis, who could blame her?

“Took them long enough to say yes,” Sarah answered tartly.

“They’re… what they are,” her mother said. Sarah couldn’t imagine a worse thing to say about Germany’s masters. Mother went on, “It doesn’t matter any more, though. You have their permission. They can’t take it away again.”

Of course they could, if they decided they wanted to. But even Sarah saw no reason that they should. She smiled a secret smile. It was a good thing permission had come when it did. She wasn’t in a family way, but not because of lack of effort. She and Isidor spun the roulette wheel every time they lay down together-rubber was a war material, too important for much to be allotted to prophylactics. They also made some of sheep’s gut, but so few that Jews had no chance of getting their hands on any.

You could do other things in bed besides that. You could, and they did. But the other things, however good they felt, also felt like substitutes. Ersatz filled life in Germany. How could anybody not want the original here? If you took a chance-well, fine, you took a chance.

Her mother’s smile, seen from a few centimeters away, seemed uncommonly soft and tender. “Grandchildren,” Hanna Goldman murmured. Did she know she might have had one sooner than she would have wished? If she did, she’d never said anything about it. That was as much discretion as a daughter could hope for.

Sarah wasn’t sure she wanted babies, not in this day and age. Hostages to fortune… Were truer words ever spoken? Was this world, and this particular part of the world, a fit place for bringing up little Jews? Not likely! But that coin had two sides. If you didn’t want children, if you decided to let things end with you, the Nazis won by default. They wouldn’t hate Jews any more if they had no Jews left to hate.

She hadn’t talked about any of that with Isidor. They’d worried about her getting pregnant before they could marry, not afterwards. All the same, she had a good notion of how she’d feel. He was more down-to-earth about such things than she was. Like her father, she pondered and worried before she acted. Isidor just went ahead. Chances were he’d go ahead with a family, too, and then see if he could get it through the war in one piece.

“We’ll have to see if we can knock a doorway between your room and the one that used to be Saul’s,” Mother said. “The two of you could almost have your own little flat then.”

Almost was the word, all right. They’d still have to share the kitchen and the bathroom with her parents. Even so, she quickly said, “We’ll manage, whether we can knock the door through or not.” Isidor already lived in a flat with his folks. There’d be no room for Sarah-which didn’t stop new in-laws from moving in when they had no other choice. Here, for once, they did.

Like any choice, this one had its downside, too. Mother said, “It’s a shame he’ll have to go across town every day to get to work.”

“He’s got a bicycle,” Sarah said. With all private cars vanished from the streets except those belonging to doctors, and with Jews banned from buses and trams, a bike was the best way to get around. Aside from shank’s mare and possibly roller skates, a bike was about the only way to get around.

Hanna Goldman rolled her eyes nonetheless. “If you want to call it that,” she said. Isidor’s bicycle had to be older than he was. It had been a cheap rattletrap when it was new, and neither he nor any of the people who’d used it before him had kept it up very well. In happier times, anyone in his right mind would have been ashamed to be seen riding such a rickety contraption.

Permission to wed still in her hand, Sarah made herself look on the bright side. “No one will want to steal it.”

Mother laughed, but answered, “You never can tell these days.” And that, sadly, was also true. Because so many people had so little, and because they could legitimately buy even less, a lot of them took what they needed or what they wanted-or whatever caught their eye-when they saw the chance. Anything not nailed down was liable to disappear… and anybody with a claw hammer was liable to draw out the nails and steal them, too.

Sarah knew all that perfectly well. She couldn’t even say she’d never pilfered; what else were Jews going to do when they got even less than Aryans? She could say, “I still think that bicycle’s pretty safe,” and mean it. Her mother didn’t try to tell her she was wrong, either.

Her father kissed her when he got home. Then he fell asleep in his chair before supper. He woke up enough to eat another meager, unexciting meal. After that, he fell asleep in the chair again. When Mother and Sarah went upstairs to bed, he staggered along with them like a man coming out from under the ether cone.

Sarah sank deeply into sleep herself. When you were hungry all the time, it was easy. And sleep’s anesthetic meant you didn’t feel how hungry you were. If only she could have slept all the time… till the wedding, anyhow.

She didn’t get to sleep all night tonight. Some time after midnight, Munster’s air-raid sirens began to wail. Sarah thought it was-thought it had to be-a drill, one more example of Nazi thoroughness run amok. Since Jews weren’t allowed to use public shelters, anyway, she stayed under the blankets till flat, harsh thuds outside and windows rattling in their frames told her the RAF had come back to Germany and was playing for keeps again.

Calling to one another, she and her parents (who’d also stayed in bed as long as they could) stumbled down the stairs and huddled under the dining-room table: the best protection they had. Engines droned overhead. Flak guns barked.

After an hour or so, the raiders went away. Nothing came down too close to the house. Sarah hoped the Brucks had come through all right, too. She’d have to get over there and see, if Isidor didn’t-maybe couldn’t-get over here first.

As Father creakily crawled out from under the table, he said, “Well, I won’t go short of work for a while. Happy day!” Filling in bomb craters was a long way from lecturing about the coming of the barbarians at the end of ancient history. Or maybe it wasn’t. Who but barbarians would set things up so a university professor could live only as a road-gang laborer? Sarah chewed on that while she went upstairs. Along with the raid, it kept her from getting any more rest till dawn.

Pearl Harbor. Honolulu. When Pete McGill got back to Hawaii-got back on American soil for the first time in much too long-he found he had a third stripe waiting for him. Making corporal wasn’t that hard. Sergeant… Sergeant meant you’d been a leatherneck for a while. Well, he damn well had.

Repair crews swarmed over Pearl like ants on sandwiches forgotten after a picnic. The Japs’ attack had done more damage than U.S. authorities were letting on to the folks back home. He was amazed their carriers could have got near the place, but they damn well had.

Two carriers and a couple of battlewagons had been badly damaged. And a heavy cruiser charging out of the channel to go after the enemy fleet had taken a torpedo amidships from a lurking Japanese submarine and gone down with almost all hands. That sure hadn’t made the evening news.

A couple of bombs had started fires in the vast fuel dumps alongside the harbor. One of those still sent greasy black smoke up into the sky. How many gazillions of barrels or gallons or whatever of fuel oil had burned? How badly would that screw up American operations in the Pacific? God surely knew, and maybe the brass here and back in D.C. Even as a newly minted sergeant, Pete McGill hadn’t the faintest idea.

He took the streetcar into Honolulu when he got a seventy-two-hour pass. Promotions didn’t happen every day. He’d blow a lot of the pay bump he hadn’t seen yet buying drinks for the other Marines from the Boise and getting his ashes hauled. He mourned Vera. He missed her, too, more than he’d ever missed anybody. He really had loved her, as well as an American Marine could love a White Russian taxi dancer. But she was dead, dammit, and he was here in Hawaii without having even seen a woman since Manila. It wouldn’t be the same as it had been with her; he wondered if anything would ever be that good again. But it was still pretty fine when you bought it from a hooker who would rather have been doing her nails than you.

Honolulu felt funny. It always did, whether you were coming from the U.S. mainland or the Orient. It was neither the one nor the other, and seemed pulled both ways at once. It was crawling with soldiers and sailors and Marines. Most of the signs were in English, and most of the English you heard on the street had one familiar American accent or another.

But most of the faces that didn’t belong to military personnel had narrow eyes, high cheekbones, low noses, and golden skin. Japs, Chinamen, Filipinos, Koreans… More Japs than any other group, white people included. A leatherneck on leave didn’t go into the neighborhoods where they lived. Japanese restaurants, Japanese movie houses, Buddhist temples, even Japanese Christian churches for converts and the children of converts…

Pete saw none of that, though he knew it was there. On the mainland, they were shoving Japs into internment camps in case they felt more loyalty to Tojo than to FDR. They couldn’t do that here, even if the authorities might want to. Too goddamn many Japs in Hawaii; the place would grind to a halt without them. And nobody’d actually proved they were giving Tokyo a hand.

So a Jap bartender poured Pete a scotch on the rocks and congratulated him on his promotion. It was crappy scotch, but hey, there was a war on. And it could still get you smashed. Next to that, everything else ran a distant second.

Before long, they headed off to another joint, one Joe Orsatti knew. The Hibiscus Blossom was closer to Hotel Street, Honolulu’s main drag for joy bought and sold. It was a rowdier place than the one they’d just left. Barmaids in short, tight skirts and halter tops fetched drinks. The one who took care of Pete and his pals was also a Jap. If only her eyes were blue, she would have looked like a Siamese cat.

Orsatti patted her on the ass after she brought the second round of drinks. She glared at him. “Don’t handle the merchandise, Mac,” she snapped in tones not far removed from Hoboken or Long Island.

The Marine leered back. “If it’s merchandise, sweetheart, how much are you peddling it for?”

“More moolah than you’ve got, Charlie, however much that is,” she retorted. Somebody at another table waved to her. Off she went. The way she moved, a football referee would have flagged her for backfield in motion.

Orsatti sighed as he watched. “If she’s playing Mata Hari for old Hirohito, I bet she hears all kinds of good shit.”

“Listen to her talk without looking at her and you’d bet she’s never even heard of fuckin’ Hirohito,” Pete answered. “For all we know, she hasn’t.”

“Fat chance,” Orsatti said. Pete didn’t argue with him; he was bound to be right. The other Marine went on, “ ’sides, I like looking at her. For a slanty-eyed gal, she’s pretty goddamn cute.”

Pete wouldn’t have bothered with the qualifier. But then, he’d had his long tour in China. Even though he’d ended up falling for a blue-eyed blonde, it wasn’t because he didn’t like the way Asian women looked. They took a little getting used to, but so did beer and scotch and cigarettes and other good stuff. Orsatti had never drawn duty in Peking or Shanghai. Oriental girls still seemed exotic to him.

When the barmaid came back with another round, he tried to pick her up again, this time a little more smoothly. He still wouldn’t have given Gregory Peck or Cary Grant anything to worry about. And he struck out like a high-school kid flailing against Bob Feller.

“Well, hell. Let’s get outa here,” he said after she wiggled off once more, as if it were the Hibiscus Blossom’s fault he had bad luck and worse technique.

They wound up on Hotel Street, as Pete had known they would. Bars, strip joints, whorehouses masquerading as hotels-anything the horny heart could desire was there for the taking-if you had the jack.

Naturally, military men packed the street. So did MPs and Shore Patrolmen. Pete had his pass checked three times inside of fifteen minutes. Since it was legit, he didn’t mind showing it. Somebody who was there without proper authorization swung on the Shore Patrolman who asked for his papers. That wasn’t exactly Phi Beta Kappa. The SP and his buddies drastically revised the jerk’s phrenology with their billy clubs. Then they slung him into a paddy wagon. It hauled him off to the brig.

“Man, if you want to fight, don’t fight those assholes,” Pete said. “More expensive than it’s worth.”

“That sorry SOB was screwed any which way,” one of his friends said. “Soon as they found out he was AWOL, he was gonna catch it.”

“Yeah, but he didn’t have to bleed, too.” Pete was a practical man.

“Sometimes you just feel like brawling and you don’t care who,” the friend said.

“Well, sure.” It wasn’t that Pete had never walked into a bar looking for a fight. It wasn’t that he’d never found one, either. “But even so…” When you took on the SPs, your movie wouldn’t have a happy ending.

His night did, at one of the joyhouses along Hotel Street. If the blonde he chose looked a little like Vera, he didn’t consciously think about that till later on. Polly wasn’t from Russia by way of Harbin; she told him she came from Fargo, North Dakota.

“So why’d you end up in Hawaii, then?” Pete asked. They had time for a Chesterfield afterwards; having been away from women for so long, he’d come in a hurry. Maybe he’d rise again fast enough for another go. He hoped so. In the meantime…

She laughed. “You go where the customers are at, Jack. In my line of work, this here is the Promised Land. And besides, if you was ever in Fargo through the winter, you’d get the hell outa there like your pants was on fire.”

“That makes sense,” he agreed. Honolulu was bound to have better weather than some pissant burg in North Dakota. Honolulu had better weather than anywhere, possibly including heaven. He stubbed out his cigarette. “How’s about you go down on me for a little while? Then I think I can do it again.”

“How’s about you give me another fin first?” For somebody from Fargo, she imitated his Bronx accent pretty well. Of course, he wouldn’t be da foist guy she evah hoid who talked liked dat.

He pulled an engraved portrait of Abe Lincoln out of his billfold. She stashed it in the nightstand next to the bed in the bare little room. They went on from there.

Alistair Walsh felt like a new man with the uniform back on. He shook his head when that thought crossed his mind. It wasn’t quite right. He felt like his old self again, was what he felt like. He’d felt like a new man in civvies, and he hadn’t fancied the way the new man felt-not a farthing’s worth, he hadn’t.

But he’d left the army out of shame at Neville Chamberlain’s bargain with Hitler, and out of suspicion that the Bentley that ran down Winston Churchill after Churchill loudly and eloquently denounced the deal wasn’t driven by a drunk, but by someone who knew just what he was about.

England’s new government was still looking into that, as it was looking into a great many things its predecessor had done under Chamberlain’s lead, and then under Sir Horace Wilson’s. But one thing that didn’t need looking into was the bargain with Hitler. That went straight into the dustbin. The war was on again.

The former government had put a lot of soldiers out to pasture: men who, like Walsh, couldn’t stomach the big switch, and whom the civilians who’d made the switch couldn’t trust to stay loyal. That was funny, if you liked.

George VI had gone on the BBC, saying the change in government and the change in policy had his blessing. In a separate address of her own, his wife had done the same. Walsh had read somewhere that Hitler called Queen Elizabeth the most dangerous woman in Europe. Considering the source, there was a compliment to be proud of.

No matter what the King and Queen said, the putsch had horrified many, many Britons. The Army hadn’t shot Sir Horace, the way Walsh was convinced the collaborating polecat deserved. Instead, it put him into what some higher up with an unfortunately bureaucratic turn of phrase called “preventive detention.”

If only Walsh knew what the detention was supposed to prevent. It didn’t prevent Horace Wilson from getting endless complaints out and seeing them printed in the Times and the other papers that had fawned on him while he was PM. The Army didn’t come down on the papers for printing that self-serving drivel, either. The generals running the country bent over backward to show they didn’t intend to abridge free speech or any other fundamental rights.

“Meaning no disrespect to you, sir, but it’s bloody ridiculous,” Walsh complained to Ronald Cartland. “The buggers we ousted were more tyrannical than we dare be.”

Cartland nodded and waved to a barmaid for another whiskey: they sat in the pub near the Houses of Parliament where they’d done so much conspiring. “No great surprise there,” the MP said-no, the captain, because he was back in uniform, too. “No matter how odious Sir Horace’s government was, it was constitutionally legitimate. That meant it could do all sorts of outrageous things and get away with them. Because we are extraconstitutional, we have to be much more scrupulous or everyone will start wailing that we’re worse than Hitler. Ironic, what?”

“Oh, perhaps a trifle,” Walsh allowed. He smiled at the barmaid. “Let me have another pint, too, would you, dear?” She was young enough to be his daughter, but he was old enough that a girl young enough to be his daughter could look delicious to him.

Which, sadly, wasn’t the same as saying he was likely to look delicious to her. “Another pint. Okey-doke,” she said in a pseudo-American accent she must have picked up at the cinema. For all the warmth in her voice, he might have been a post-a thirsty post, but a post nonetheless.

He sighed. He was getting to the age where, if he wanted a young, pretty girl to make him happy, he had to lay silver on the dresser beforehand. That was an even bigger shame than any of the troubles related to the change of government.

She brought the pint of bitter and went off without a second glance-at him, anyhow. Ronald Cartland, she noticed. Well, he was younger and of higher rank and therefore probably richer-and better-looking. If you were going to complain about every little thing…

“The real danger of our position is that we’ve damaged all the principles this country’s run on the past two hundred years and more,” Cartland said. “Anyone who tries to overthrow us will have as much right to do so as we did to throw out Sir Horace-which is to say, none.”

“We may not have had the right, but we had justice, by God,” Walsh said. “If we didn’t, what was I doing in a cell when I’d committed no crime?”

“You’d plotted treason, old man. And the people with whom you’d plotted it brought it off, too,” Cartland answered with justifiable pride, since he was one of those people.

“Next interesting question is, what does old Adolf do now that the RAF’s in the air again?” Walsh said.

“No. The question is, what can he do?” the officer replied. “He’s got the Luftwaffe heavily committed against the Russians. How much can he take away and turn against us?”

“He could have the Frenchmen do his dirty work for him. They’ve got plenty of planes left at home.” Alistair Walsh had crossed the Channel in two wars to help pull French chestnuts out of the fire. Familiarity with England’s nearest neighbor did not warm to liking or trust.

Cartland looked horrified. “Daladier would never do that!.. I don’t think. We aren’t at war with France. God willing, we never shall be.”

“We’re at war with the Fritzes. France is on their side in Russia. The froggies don’t look like giving up the fight there. If we’re at war with them and France is on their side…”

“We aren’t speaking about axioms of geometry. I hope like blazes we aren’t, any road.” Cartland still sounded worried. Maybe the nasty possibility hadn’t crossed his mind. Walsh hoped it had occurred to someone in charge of running England these days.

He thought of something else. “Is anybody listening to us? We were certain the PM’s people were before we threw out the rascals. Are they still?”

“No.” This time, Cartland sounded sure. He also sounded more than a little relieved he could sound sure. “We were certain-and we were damned well right. Some changes have been made at Scotland Yard. Yes, indeed, they have. In case it makes you feel any better, the blokes who jugged you and grilled you afterwards have got their walking papers.”

Draining his pint, Walsh considered that. “As a matter of fact, sir, it does make me feel better. I’d sooner see the buggers behind bars themselves, because they were playing fast and loose with the law, but we were, too, so what the deuce? If they’re scrounging dog-ends from the gutter and cadging pennies off their betters, I’m happy enough, by God.”

He knew he was stretching things. Bastards like that didn’t have to fall back on begging, no matter how much you wished they would. Not all of their friends in high places had fallen foul of the new regime. The ones who’d kept their noses clean would give the sacked coppers a hand. You never could tell-they might need their services again one day.

If the new military government looked like losing the war it had restarted, those quiet, powerful men might need the ex-coppers’ services again quite soon.

That thought came back to Alistair Walsh with painful force two nights later. London’s air-raid sirens began to scream. The blackout had been reimposed, but it was still spotty. Too many folks didn’t care to believe the war had picked up again. The Luftwaffe bombers wouldn’t have had much trouble finding the English capital.

Walsh stumbled to a Tube station in the more-or-less dark. It was packed with frightened people, and smelled as bad as some trenches he’d known. Up above ground, antiaircraft guns thundered. Searchlights would try to pin enemy planes in their beams for the guns. Tethered barrage balloons would make the Nazis fly high and, with luck, drop inaccurately.

Drop they did. Big explosions mingled with the guns’ shorter, sharper reports. Once or twice, the ground shook under Walsh as he lay on a straw pallet and tried without much luck to sleep. People around him-not all of them women-squealed. Those hits weren’t close, but he didn’t blame the Londoners for panic and inexperience.

He went back to his room after the all-clear sounded. Fire engines clanged toward blazes that scarred chunks of the horizon with orange and gold. None of the fires was close, or likely to trouble him. His room had no damage. He promptly fell asleep once more.

In the morning, the BBC claimed thirty-one German bombers shot down by guns and night fighters. That seemed like a lot to Walsh. But then, his own side wasn’t immune to the attractions of propaganda. Or maybe they were telling the truth. Stranger things had happened… hadn’t they?

Vaclav Jezek was gloomily certain he would never learn any Spanish. If a man had grown up speaking Czech, the sounds and vocabulary of this new language were too strange to stick on his tongue or in his memory. And finding a Spaniard who knew any Czech made the loaves and fishes seem a minor miracle.

When he got leave and went into Madrid, he did find some Spaniards who knew a bit of German. His own accent wasn’t perfect-nowhere close. The locals wanted to impose the staccato rhythms of their own speech on the alien tongue. They weren’t used to making noises in the back of the throat, either. Comprehension was always an adventure.

He could get drinks. The word for wine didn’t change much from one language to another. The Spaniards used some horrible lisping word for beer, though most barkeeps understood Bier. But Spanish beer wasn’t worth drinking, not if you had a Czech’s standards. So he mostly stuck to wine or hard stuff.

He could get laid, too. Brothels were easy to find and not too expensive. Unlike Czech whores, a lot of girls in the Republic seemed proud of what they did. They even had a union. So another soldier on leave told Vaclav, anyway. He thought that was the funniest thing he’d ever heard, but the International swore up and down it was true. So maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t.

“They going to strike for a raise in pay?” he asked the other guy.

“Better working hours, too. And maybe softer mattresses,” the International said. His German was better than Jezek’s. He was a Dutchman named Jan, though, and got pissed off if anybody took him for a German.

They went on to invent other demands striking prostitutes might make. Those got sillier and lewder the longer they went on. Of course, they drank more and more while they were at it, too. Vaclav wondered if he’d remember any of it when he sobered up.

The way his head felt the next morning, he wished he didn’t remember his name, let alone last night’s foolishness. Strong coffee-the Spaniards didn’t fool around when they brewed the stuff-and the hair of the dog that bit him helped bring him back to life. Aspirins were hard to come by here, but a bit of brandy took the edge off his headache.

Jan looked more bedraggled yet. He bore down harder on the brandy and went easy on coffee. After a while, he started reviving, too. “I hurt myself,” he said mournfully.

“Red wine will do it to you, all right,” Vaclav agreed.

“Isn’t that the sad and sorry truth?” Jan said.

Of course, bullets and bombs and shell fragments would also do it to you, and they wouldn’t give you any fun while they did. No wonder Vaclav and so many other soldiers drank and screwed as if there were no tomorrow whenever they got the chance. For too many of them, there would be no tomorrow, and they knew it, whether in the head or, more often, in the belly and the balls.

Vaclav was anything but thrilled about going back into the line when his leave ended. He was even less thrilled when he got there. Spanish spring packed the punch of Central European summer. The sun blazed down out of a sky a brighter, less washed-out blue than you ever saw in Prague. Dust was everywhere. It even smelled baked. And the stink of dead flesh seemed nastier than he’d ever known before. Meat spoiled in nothing flat in weather like this.

When Vaclav complained about the reek, Benjamin Halevy said, “You notice it more because you got away from it for a while, you lucky son of a bitch.”

“Ahh, your mother,” Jezek replied without rancor. “That’s part of it, but I don’t think that’s all. The heat really does make everything smell worse. And how much hotter will it get in the summertime?”

“We’ll find out,” the Jew said. “The Internationals talk about salt tablets and heatstroke.”

“Some of that’s probably just bullshit to make us turn green.” Vaclav wished he’d phrased it differently. The way he made it sound, some of what the Internationals said probably wasn’t bullshit. Well, they’d been here longer than he had. Chances were they knew what they were talking about, dammit.

Shouldering his antitank rifle convinced him the monster had got heavier while he was on leave. He couldn’t blame that on the warm Spanish spring. Pretty soon, though, he got used to listing to the right whenever he slung the rifle on his shoulder.

He started looking for targets well behind the Nationalists’ lines. He blew the head off some bigwig just getting out of a Mercedes. Remembering what Halevy had said a while earlier, he hoped it was Marshal Sanjurjo, but evidently not. The Republic didn’t claim Sanjurjo’s scalp, and the Nationalists didn’t go into mourning-or hysterics-because they’d lost him.

They did try to pay back the Czechs and the Internationals. Artillery and mortar fire rained down on their positions. The bastards might have been saying You want to play that way, we’ll make you sorry. In fact, that had to be exactly what they were saying.

A lot of the artillery rounds were duds, which saved some lives. Vaclav had noticed that a lot of the rounds the Republicans fired were duds, too. Which meant… what? That Spanish munitions factories weren’t everything they might have been? Evidently.

Vaclav was a careful, thorough sniper. He didn’t let himself fall into routines. He didn’t keep coming back to the same hideouts day after day. Snipers who made stupid mistakes like that didn’t last long. When deciding to go right or left along the line, he’d toss a coin and do what it told him. If he didn’t know what he’d do till he did it, the shitheads trying to slaughter him couldn’t outguess him.

He potted another Nationalist officer a few days later. It was a hell of a long shot, going on two kilometers. He was proud as hell when he watched the fellow grab at himself and slowly crumple. The Nationalist seemed much closer through the telescopic sight, but not that close.

Everybody on his own side congratulated him when he reported the kill. Only later, when he drank some Spanish peach brandy with Benjamin Halevy, did he think about what he’d actually done. “Mother of God!” he said. “Everyone thinks I’m the best thing since sausage because I can murder people farther away than the other guys can.”

The Jew looked at him. His eyes were bottle-green. “You just figured this out?”

“Nooo.” Vaclav let the word stretch. “But it kind of hit me more than it usually does.”

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, maybe that was the son of a bitch who ordered the artillery barrage after you nailed the last big shot,” Halevy said. “Even if he wasn’t, he was no friend of ours. You think he’d worry if he’d just shot you?”

“Who knows? Who knows anything these days?” Vaclav said. Maybe the brandy was hitting him harder than he’d thought it would. Or maybe he was looking at what he really did in the war, something few front-line soldiers could ever be comfortable trying. “This is a fuck of a way to decide who gets to do what.”

“What would you rather do? Roll the dice?” Halevy said. “Suppose the other guy doesn’t go along with losing? Then what? You bash the asshole over the head with a rock, that’s what.”

That was what, all right. Force had a brute simplicity nothing else could match. If the other guy was dead, he couldn’t stop you. If he feared you’d kill him, he wouldn’t have the nerve to try to stop you. “How does that make us any better than wildcats and wolverines?” Vaclav asked.

Halevy reached out and tapped the antitank rifle’s long barrel with the first two fingers of his right hand. “Wildcats and wolverines have to get close to do their dirty work,” he said. “We’re civilized. We can kill from a long way off.”

“Lucky us.” Vaclav’s voice sounded hollow, even to himself. He picked up the brandy bottle and tilted it back. Sometimes not thinking was better. Nice, civilized brandy took care of that, all right.

Chapter 13

Once upon a time, Hans-Ulrich Rudel counted every mission he flew. That didn’t last long. As soon as the German wheel behind Paris failed-as it had in 1914-it became obvious the war would be long. In a long war, you’d keep going till you got killed or till your side finally won, whichever came first. Why keep track of how often you went up, then?

He and Sergeant Dieselhorst were up again now, hunting Red panzers somewhere west of Smolensk. Down below, shellbursts and fires marked the front and the region west of it, the region through which the Wehrmacht had just advanced. The Russians were brave and determined; that much had been obvious from the start of the campaign against them. What had also been obvious was that neither Soviet soldiers nor-especially-their officers were skilled fighting men.

The trouble with that was, the Ivans could learn. The longer they stayed in the ring, the more likely they would. And Russia was a big place. Hans-Ulrich had known as much going in-known in his head, anyhow. One glance at a map told you how enormous Russia was. But you had to fly over it, you had to come hundreds of kilometers through it and realize how many more hundreds you still needed to go, you had to see the swarms of foot soldiers and panzers and, well, everything the commissars could throw at you, before you began to feel the enormousness of the place.

You also had to wonder whether Germany was taking on more than she could handle. The Kaiser’s armies had smashed the Ivans again and again. They’d knocked the Reds out of the war. But they hadn’t conquered Russia, beaten her and occupied her and held her down. Could the Fuhrer ’s forces manage that now?

If we can’t, what are we doing here? What am I doing here? Rudel wondered. But he knew what he was doing: looking for panzers, KV-1s by choice. The Landsers had a devil of a time knocking out those monsters. A strike from the air could do it.

Hans-Ulrich saw Russian panzers down below. A heartbeat later, he saw a biplane fighter pop out of a cloud and buzz straight at him. If it was a biplane, it just about had to be Russian. Had he entertained any lingering doubts, the muzzle flashes from its twin machine guns would have given him a hint.

“We’re under attack!” he shouted to Sergeant Dieselhorst, who of course faced the other way. “It’s a Chato!” The name came from the war in Spain, and meant flat-nosed. Chatos were officially obsolescent, which didn’t make this one any less dangerous to him. It was faster than his Stuka, tough, and far more maneuverable. Which meant… It meant he was in trouble, dammit.

“What are you going to do?” Dieselhorst asked.

Instead of answering, Hans-Ulrich did it: his right index finger came down hard on the firing button that worked the 37mm guns under the Ju-87’s wings. He’d shot down a French fighter with them, and a Russian job more modern than this one. The Chato was almost on top of him by then. Maybe he’d get lucky one more time.

And damned if he didn’t. As recoil staggered the Stuka in the sky, one of the armor-piercing rounds smashed into the enemy fighter’s flat nose-the front of the engine cowling. It probably plowed all the way through the engine, and maybe through the pilot, too. Instantly a mass of flame, the Chato tumbled toward the ground.

“I got him!” If Hans-Ulrich sounded surprised, it was only because he was. As he had in France and earlier here, he’d mostly been trying to scare off the enemy with the 37mms’ ferocious muzzle flashes. Hitting him was an unexpected bonus.

“Way to go! You’re more than halfway to making ace,” Sergeant Dieselhorst said. They both laughed. And well they might have. A Stuka, especially a Stuka burdened with the heavy panzer-busting guns, was a most unlikely candidate for an ace’s mount.

That Russian was stupid, Rudel thought. If he’d attacked from behind, especially from below, the Stuka would have been as near defenseless as made no difference. But he’d decided to rush straight in, and he’d walked into a haymaker. War seldom forgave mistakes. The Ivan would never make another one. That was for sure. Hans-Ulrich hoped the AP round had killed him. Going down trapped in a flaming crate was a fate he didn’t wish even on his enemies.

His own heart still hammered in his chest. Combat grabbed you by the throat in an instant. It was much slower letting go.

It wasn’t as if he and Dieselhorst were out of danger for this mission, either. Those panzers down below hadn’t gone away. If he didn’t do for them, they’d do for some of his countrymen. He swung the Stuka’s wing over and tipped the plane into a dive.

He thought a small sigh came through the speaking tube. Did Dieselhorst think they’d done their duty for the day by shooting down the fighter? Hans-Ulrich didn’t ask him. He was the pilot; responsibility for what they did lay with him. Besides, he might have been wrong.

Those were KV-1s, all right. Even from a good height, they were noticeably bigger than the other Russian panzers-and noticeably bigger than even the biggest German machines. Embarrassing that the Slavic Untermenschen could come up with such formidable monsters.

As he had when the Chato filled his windscreen, he hit the firing button. A split second later, he pulled back hard on the stick, yanking the Stuka out of its dive.

“You got him!” Sergeant Dieselhorst yelled jubilantly. “He’s burning like a crazy son of a bitch!”

How many men inside the panzer? Five, if it was crewed like the larger German models. They were probably burning inside the chassis. Hans-Ulrich felt less sympathy for them than he had for the Chato ’s luckless pilot. The flyer had been a member of his guild, even if he was on the wrong side. These guys? Maybe somebody down on the ground would waste time feeling sorry for them. Rudel didn’t. He climbed again to attack another KV-1.

As he dove this time, big muzzle flashes greeted him from the ground. Black puffs of smoke appeared around the Stuka. “Jesus fucking Christ!” Dieselhorst said. “They brought their flak up toward the front with them.”

The blasphemy made Hans-Ulrich frown, but all he said was, “I noticed, thanks.” Some Soviet officer had had a rush of brains to the head. If the Germans were going to attack your armor from the air, why not try your best to shoot them down while they were doing it?

Blam! Blam! The 37mm guns thundered again. He mashed the throttle down, clawing for altitude as hard as he could. Sergeant Dieselhorst’s whoops told him he’d hit another panzer. That didn’t make him as happy as it might have. He felt as if the Stuka were just hanging in the air, waiting for the Ivans to bite chunks off it.

And they did. Fragments tore into the back of the fuselage. “You all right, Albert?” he called.

“Ja,” Dieselhorst answered. “We’ve lost some of the tail assembly, though. Does she still answer?”

Rudel cautiously tried the controls. The plane responded-more slowly than he would have wanted, but it did. The airflow felt rougher than it should have, too. He made up his mind-he wasn’t going to take on any more Russian panzers today. He wasn’t going to take on any more Russian flak guns, either, not if he could help it. He turned southwest: the shortest way back to his own side’s lines.

“Good thing this beast can take it,” Dieselhorst said fondly.

“It sure is,” Hans-Ulrich agreed, but then he added, “Don’t jinx it, Albert. We aren’t back yet.” If another Chato dove on them, he didn’t know what he’d do. No, as a matter of fact, he did know. He’d crash, that was what.

He drew small-arms fire crossing the line, nothing worse. Some of the small-arms fire came from the Landsers down there. He took the Lord’s name in vain himself, something he did only when badly provoked.

The controls got mushier. Dieselhorst said, “I’m looking back at it, and it won’t hold together much longer.” He didn’t sound so fond any more.

“Right.” Hans-Ulrich had been afraid of that. Time to set her down, then. No airstrips in the neighborhood, but there was a reasonably straight dirt road, one luckily without a column of German panzers or trucks rumbling along it. The landing was rough, but it was a landing, not a crash. He brought the Stuka to a halt and shoved back his section of the canopy. They always said any landing you could walk away from was a good one. By God, they were right!

“Well, well,” Willi Dernen said. “What have we here?” But he knew what they had there: a scope-sighted sniping Mauser with a bolt that bent down so a man could work it without interfering with the sight.

“If you want it, it’s yours,” the quartermaster sergeant said. “I remember you used one in France for a while.”

“Uh-huh.” Willi nodded. Unfortunately, that hadn’t lasted long. The Oberfeldwebel who was teaching him how to pot enemies at long range got his own head blown off by a sniper from the other side. Awful Arno was only too eager to reel Willi back to ordinary duty.

“So I figured, since I got my hands on it, I’d give it to somebody who knew what to do with it.” The quartermaster sergeant didn’t say how he’d got his hands on it. Maybe he’d won it at skat. Maybe it had fallen off a truck-or maybe he’d swiped it from one that stopped at his depot. Any which way, he held it out to Willi now.

And Willi took it. “Thanks.” He raised it to his shoulder and peered through the sight. Yes, his hand still remembered where to go to find the bent bolt. Might be embarrassing-could be fatally embarrassing-if he reached out and missed. He asked, “Have you got any of the fancy ammo that’s supposed to go with a piece like this?”

“A couple of boxes.” The middle-aged supply sergeant handed those over, too. “God knows if I’ll be able to get hold of more, though. Save this shit for when you really need it. Use the regular rounds most of the time.”

“Gotcha. Will do,” Willi said. Snipers’ rifles weren’t just ordinary Mausers with a funny bolt and a sight slapped on. They were generally better made, better finished, and more accurate. Firing rounds of equally special manufacture, they gave a marksman a decent chance to kill a man at a kilometer and a half. At ordinary ranges in ordinary fighting, though, ordinary ammunition would do.

The sergeant eyed Willi. “You and the guy who runs your squad don’t exactly get along, do you? Will he let you use that rifle the way you’re supposed to?”

He did have a good memory, all right. Willi shrugged. “Who knows what Awful Arno will do next? Half the time, I don’t think he does.”

“Yeah, he isn’t long on brains, is he?” the quartermaster sergeant said. That made Willi laugh out loud, the way unexpectedly finding someone else who thinks like you often will.

Predictably, Corporal Baatz gave him the fishy stare when he ambled back up to the front. “Where’d you get that?” he demanded, as if he suspected Willi had stolen the rifle. He probably did.

But Willi answered with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: “Quartermaster sergeant issued it to me.”

“Sure he did. Now tell me another one,” Awful Arno said.

“So help me.” Willi raised his right hand in the German oath-taking gesture. “You think I’m a liar, go ask him yourself.”

Baatz paused, his little piggy eyes narrowing further. “You think you can bluff me into believing your bullshit,” he said at last. “Well, I’m here to tell you I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday. I will ask him, and then I’ll pin your ears back for bullshitting me. You can kiss that chickenshit pip on your sleeve good-bye! The likes of you a Gefreiter? Ha!” He stomped away.

Adam Pfaff looked up from cleaning his own gray-painted Mauser. “Where did you get the fancy piece?” he inquired.

Willi grinned at him. “You’ll find out.”

Fifteen minutes later, Awful Arno came back, his face a thundercloud. It wasn’t the first time he’d made somebody under his command out to be a liar and wound up with egg on his face. Knowing him, it wouldn’t be the last, either.

He said not another word about the scope-sighted rifle. Instead, he reamed out a new replacement who hadn’t done a single thing that Willi could see. That was Arno Baatz, through and through. He wouldn’t blame himself for picking the wrong time to call a bluff. Oh, no. He’d take it out on somebody else, somebody who couldn’t hit back. Schoolyards were full of bullies just like him. Unfortunately, so was the army.

“Be damned,” Pfaff said as he stowed his cleaning kit. “The supply sergeant really did issue it to you?”

“He really did. And if Awful Arno doesn’t like it, too bad.” Willi kept his voice down. Baatz had rabbit ears, damn him. Even as things were, his head whipped around. Yes, he knew when his name was taken in vain. That was perhaps his lone resemblance to God. But he couldn’t pick out the soldier who’d used the nickname he hated. It wasn’t as if Willi were the only candidate.

After 105s pounded the Russian positions in front of them, the Germans moved forward again. The artillery fire hadn’t squashed the Ivans. It never did. They dug like animals, and popped out of their holes as soon as the shelling stopped. Rifles and machine pistols, machine guns and mortars, greeted the Wehrmacht.

Willi soon got the chance to try out the new Mauser. He knocked over a Russian at about 800 meters. It wouldn’t have been an impossible shot for an ordinary rifle, but it would have been a damn good one. With the sight and the silky-smooth action on this baby, it felt routine.

That Ivan must have been an officer, and one the Reds didn’t want to lose. They tried to avenge themselves by smashing the Germans with artillery. The Russians were brave, but they made crappy tacticians. A lot of the time, they used guns to do what brains couldn’t.

Huddling in a scrape he kept deepening every time he got the chance, Willi wished the Russians were smarter. Then they wouldn’t use so much brute force. He hung on to the rifle in case the Reds followed up their barrage with a counterattack. Right now, that didn’t feel likely. They were just trying to murder as many Landsers as they could.

When the shelling let up, Willi heard wounded men screaming and wailing. He winced and bit his lip. Under pressure like this, what kind of soldier he was hardly mattered. If a shell came down on his hole, he was a dead or wounded soldier. He couldn’t do anything about it one way or the other. A kid just out of basic training cowering in another foxhole might live where he died. Fool luck, nothing else but. It hardly seemed fair.

He’d had thoughts like that ever since the war started. He was still here. Of course, so was Awful Arno. If that didn’t prove how basically unfair the world was…

Willi might not have been able to do anything about the Russian artillery on his own, but the Wehrmacht could. A Fieseler Storch buzzed over the battleground, scouting out the Ivans’ positions. The German army co-op plane could take off and land on next to no ground at all. It was ridiculously maneuverable. It could even hover like a kestrel in a strong headwind.

And it could let an observer see what he needed to see. Not long after the Storch flew off-by all signs undamaged despite the storm of small-arms fire the Ivans threw at it-a squadron of Stukas worked over the Russian batteries. One of the Stukas got hit during its dive and didn’t pull out. A column of black, greasy smoke marked the end of the plane and its crewmen.

The others did what dive-bombers were supposed to do. A 500kg bomb would knock any artillery piece ass over teakettle. And what it did to the poor sorry bastards serving the gun…

Had they not been doing their damnedest to blow him into cat’s-meat, Willi might have spent more sympathy on the Ivans. Then again, he might not. He hated all artillerymen, no matter where they came from. They murdered honest foot soldiers without needing to worry about getting shot themselves. Dive-bombers were just what they deserved. The only reason he put up with German artillerymen at all was that they sometimes helped the Stukas keep the other side’s gunners anxious.

Whistles squealed. Officers shouted, “Follow me!” Willi and the rest of the ground-pounders did. For once, everything was easy. The Russians who didn’t surrender ran away. He cherished the feeling. He knew too well he wasn’t likely to meet it again any time soon.

Out between the Nationalist trenches and the ones the Republicans held, somebody had lain dead for too long. Or maybe it was a donkey or a horse, but Chaim Weinberg didn’t think so. Their stink was different from a dead man’s. He couldn’t have said exactly how it was different, but it was.

The wind blew from the northwest, so there was no escaping the horrible reek. He wished he could turn off his nose. Weren’t you supposed to start ignoring bad smells after a while? Everybody said so, but old Everybody’d never had to contend with a stench from hell like this one.

All the Abe Lincolns in the trench bitched about it. They all said someone ought to go out into no-man’s-land, find the dead soldier or donkey or whatever it was, and shovel some dirt over it. Nobody volunteered for the job, though, not even at night. Odds were the Nationalists knew exactly where the heap of corruption lay and had a sniper just waiting to pot any enterprising International who tried to clean up the mess.

“It ain’t fair,” Chaim groused. “They don’t even have to smell it most of the time. Cocksuckers just sit around and let us suffer.”

“And so?” Mike Carroll said.

“So fuck it.” Chaim lit a Gitane. That was fighting one stench with another, but harsh tobacco improved on dead meat. He supposed it did, anyhow. Mike looked wistful. Chaim doled out a cigarette. He wouldn’t have if the other American had suggested that he go out there and scoop dirt over the corpse. Mike hadn’t-quite. So he earned a smoke for himself.

Cigarettes were too soon gone. The death stench endured. Where were vultures when you really needed them? People talked about smells so bad they would gag a vulture. Chaim had always believed that was nothing but talk-if vultures weren’t made for rotten meat, what were they made for? But they didn’t seem to want anything to do with whatever that was out there.

“You know what’s crazy?” Mike said.

“Besides you, you mean?” Chaim returned. “ Nu? What?”

“Funny man. Ha, ha,” Mike said patiently. Then he went back to what had been on his mind before: “What’s funny is, we’re only like forty-five minutes by car away from Madrid. And we’ve got to put up with this shit all the time.”

“Front was a lot closer than forty-five minutes from Madrid when we got here. Hell, the front then was fuckin’ in Madrid. We’re the ones who pushed it back,” Chaim said, not without pride. He looked up and down the trench. Too many long-familiar faces he didn’t see. “Those of us who’re left, anyway.”

“Ain’t it the truth?” Mike Carroll took a flask off his belt, raised it-not high enough to let a sniper see him-and said, “Absent friends,” before drinking. He handed it to Chaim.

“Absent friends,” Chaim echoed, adding, “Thanks,” before he drank, too. It was Spanish brandy, snarly-strong. The Spaniards called it cognac, but that was a libel on the genuine good stuff. Chaim coughed as he gave back the flask. “Shit’ll put hair on your chest.”

“Like you don’t have enough already,” Mike said. Chaim knew he had more than the other American; they’d bathed in creeks side by side often enough. He wondered if not having so much bothered Mike. If it did, he picked dumb-ass things to worry about. He was tall and slim and blond and handsome. Not being any of those things sure as hell got under Chaim’s skin.

But I’m the one who’s laying La Martellita, dammit, Chaim thought. When she feels like it. When she can stand me. Even with the qualifications, that came as close to heaven as a good secular Marxist-Leninist expected to get. As far as Chaim was concerned, laying La Martellita was as close to heaven as Pius XII was likely to get. And, if Pius XII got a look at La Martellita, Chaim figured the Pope would agree with him. Unless his Holiness liked chorus boys, he would, and maybe even then. La Martellita was plenty to make any fag ever born want to try switch-hitting.

The front was only forty-five minutes from Madrid, and Madrid was only forty-five minutes from the front. Supplies came up with ease-when there were supplies, anyway. The Republican forces had been hungry for foreign munitions since France and England jumped into bed with Hitler and jumped on Stalin’s back. Spanish factories did what they could, but the ammo they made was junk. Cartridges misfired or jammed. Shells too often didn’t burst. If you had Mexican or French or German rounds (those, these days, came only from Nationalist corpses), you saved them for when you really needed them.

And so Chaim was surprised and delighted when trucks brought case after case of French cartridges up from the capital. “Where’d these come from?” he asked a driver. “They find ’em in a warehouse they forgot about or something?”

“No se, Senor.” A Spanish shrug was a much more dignified production than its French equivalent. “They loaded them into my truck. They told me to take them to the fighting men. This I have done.” Anything beyond what he’d done, he plainly considered none of his business.

Mike said, “The crates don’t look weathered, like they would if they’d been sitting in a warehouse or something. And the brass on the rounds is shiny, too. Stuff seems new.”

“It does, doesn’t it?” Chaim scratched his head with almost the determination he would have given to pursuing a louse. “But that’s crazy. Why would the froggies send us fresh ammo when they’ve gone Fascist, or close enough?”

“Beats me,” Mike answered cheerfully. “You know what, though? I don’t care. I’m gonna shoot it at Sanjurjo’s boys, and I’ll hit more of ’em with it than I would with the Spanish crap we’ve been using.”

“You got that right,” Chaim said. But he was someone who cared about why. He always had been. He wouldn’t have been a Marxist-Leninist-and he wouldn’t have been in Spain-if he weren’t.

He hunted up a French International he knew. Denis was older than he was: a Great War veteran. The Frenchman drank too much, but he was a good fellow to have around when things got tough. He also shared Chaim’s relentless itch to know. And, since he was a Frenchman, Chaim hoped he’d got word of which way the wind blew in his native land.

Chaim spoke no French. Denis knew no English; his German was limited to obscenities and the kinds of commands you might give to prisoners. He and Chaim stumbled along in Spanish. Neither was perfectly fluent, and each had an accent that sometimes puzzled the other, but they managed.

“How much do you want to bet even the War Ministry doesn’t know what’s going on with the ammo?” Denis said. “Maybe the Spaniards spread some money around and loosened things up-unofficially, of course.”

“Oh, of course.” Chaim fought dry with dry. “But the Republic is always broke. Where did it get the money?”

Denis spread his hands. They looked a lot like Chaim’s: the nails were short and ragged, and the callused palms had dirt ground into them. “I don’t know mierda like that. Maybe they got their gold back from the Russians.”

“Sure. Maybe they did.” Chaim exchanged a knowing look with Denis. Now that Stalin had the Republic’s gold reserves-to protect them and to pay for war supplies-how likely was he to send them back? No matter how good a Marxist-Leninist Chaim was, he didn’t believe it for a minute.

The cynical glint in Denis’ eye said he didn’t, either. But he didn’t come out with anything like that, not out loud. Talking too much could land you in more trouble than you ever wanted to see.

In musing tones, Denis said, “I wonder how happy the fucking Nazis would be if they knew France was juicing their little friends’ worst enemies here.”

“They’d be enchanted,” Chaim answered with a sly grin. “Just enchanted.” Encantar — the verb to enchant — bore an obvious resemblance in Spanish to cantar, to sing. After a beat, Chaim realized the relationship to a singing word was there in English, too, but it wasn’t so plain in his native tongue.

“Fuck ’em all, enchanted or not,” Denis said. “If Daladier’d ever spit Hitler’s cock out of his mouth…” He shook his head. “Too much to hope for.”

“Any which way, we’ve still got these cartridges,” Chaim said. No matter who, at whatever level in the French chain of command, had turned a blind eye, the crates were here. They wouldn’t go to waste, either.

As Peggy Druce crisscrossed Pennsylvania and made forays into other states to promote the war effort, she found herself facing an odd fact: the fight might be on, but it didn’t seem to make much difference.

For one thing, it was so far away. Two thousand miles from Pennsylvania to the Pacific. Another two thousand from the Pacific to Hawaii. And another two or three thousand miles after that to where the guns were actually going off. Hitler’s fight against Stalin was closer than FDR’s battle with Tojo and Hirohito.

And, for another, it hadn’t affected the country much. Grocery stores were still full of unrationed food. Most gasoline went to the military, and you couldn’t get new tires for love or money. That turned the Sunday-afternoon drive into a thing of the past, but it was about as far as restrictions went. It was more than enough to make people piss and moan as if complaining were going out of style.

Peggy thought they were nuts. Of course, she’d seen Germany. One look at what went on there would have been plenty to make the grumblers turn up their toes. No gas at all for any civilians but doctors. No tires, either-in fact, the Germans took tires and batteries from civilian vehicles so the Wehrmacht could use them. Rationed clothing. All the new stuff was shoddy, or else made of cheap synthetic fibers. And the food… Next to no fruit. Precious little meat. Milk for kids and expectant mothers only. Lots of potatoes and turnips and cabbage and black bread. Awful cigarettes, and even worse ersatz coffee.

The Germans bitched about it. Not even the SS could stop that. But bitching was all they did. They let off steam, and then they went back to the serious business of conquering their neighbors.

By the way a lot of Americans carried on, they wanted to string Roosevelt up from the nearest lamppost. “He said he wouldn’t get us into a war, and then he went and did!” If Peggy’d heard that once, she’d heard it a thousand times. It was commonly followed by, “Who the devil cares what goes on way the devil over there across the ocean?”

“You’d be singing a different tune if the Japs had hit Pearl Harbor as hard as they wanted to,” she would answer.

“If, if, if,” the naysayers said. “Who gives a darn about might-have-beens? It didn’t happen, so what are you jumping up and down about it for?”

What would really have got Pennsylania’s attention was a war closer to home. Had Hitler declared war on the USA… But he hadn’t. He had warned that German U-boats would go after American ships in the Atlantic now that England was fighting him again, but that was as far as he’d gone. He seemed to be telling Roosevelt, If you want to declare war on me, go right ahead. Be my guest.

Peggy had a picture of FDR doing that. Right next to it, she had a picture of Congress refusing to ratify the declaration. The Japs had started shooting at the same time as they declared war on America. That didn’t leave anybody much choice. Hitler, for once, seemed content to let his opponents make the first move.

And, because he did, he confused American politics. (That plenty of people wanted to see Stalin, roasted, on a platter with an apple in his mouth sure didn’t hurt.) “Why are folks so blind?” Peggy asked when she got back to Philadelphia after one of her politicking swings.

Herb looked at her. “ ‘No one in this world, so far as I know, has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people,’ ” he quoted with obvious relish.

“Is that Barnum?” Peggy asked.

“Nope.” Herb paused to light a cigarette. “Old Phineas Taylor said ‘There’s a sucker born every minute.’ Same sentiment, different words. The other one’s from Henry Louis instead.”

“Oh. Mencken,” Peggy said with faint-or maybe not so faint-distaste. “Back in the day, I used to think he was the cleverest man alive.”

“That’s okay, sweetie. So did he,” her husband said.

Peggy snorted and went on, “But he started wearing thin when he went after Roosevelt like a stray dog chasing a car. And he’s one of the jerks who stand up and whinny when they play Deutschland uber Alles.” She shuddered. Whenever the Nazis announced a victory on the radio, they preceded it with the German national anthem and the Horst Wessel Lied, the Party’s song.

“He always has been. He left the Baltimore Sun for a while during the last war because he liked the Kaiser too well,” Herb said.

“Did he? I didn’t remember that,” Peggy confessed. “The other funny thing is, how come two of the snottiest so-and-sos the country’s ever seen both went by initials instead of their names?”

“Well, I kind of sympathize with Barnum,” Herb said. “If I got stuck with Phineas, I wouldn’t want the world to know about it, either. But there’s nothing wrong with Mencken’s monicker. Maybe he just needed a short waddayacallit.”

“Byline,” Peggy said.

“Yeah. One of them.” Herb nodded. “You’re right, though. It’s funny.”

“Looking back at things, the Kaiser wasn’t such a bad guy,” Peggy said. She watched Herb bristle, as she’d known he would. After all, he’d put on khaki and gone Over There to settle Wilhelm’s hash a generation earlier. All the same, she stuck out her chin and went on, “Well, he wasn’t, darn it. Compared to Hitler, he was a regular Rotarian, honest to God.”

“Compared to Hitler, Stalin’s a Rotarian, for crying out loud,” Herb said. “Unless you’re a Rotarian yourself, I mean.”

“Or unless you’re Mencken,” Peggy put in.

“Or unless you’re Mencken,” her husband agreed. “Of course, he doesn’t like Jews much, either. One more reason for him to root for the Nazis against the Reds.”

“I know Mencken doesn’t like Jews, but I don’t think he has any idea how much Hitler hates them,” Peggy said slowly. “You know who the luckiest people in the world are? All the Jews in Poland.”

Herb blinked. “How do you figure that?”

“Poland’s on Hitler’s side. If it weren’t, he’d be murdering the Jews there. I mean murdering, no two ways about it. The Poles don’t love Jews, either, but they don’t want to see them dead. Not like that, anyhow.”

Herb took a last drag on the cigarette, stubbed it out in a brass ashtray on the end table by his chair, and lit another one. A thin, straight whisper of smoke rose from the ashtray till he noticed and did a proper job of killing the butt. In a low, troubled voice, he said, “You see stories buried at the bottom of page nine in the paper: pieces where the Russians claim the Germans are massacring Jews.”

“Uh-huh. You do. You don’t see a heck of a lot of stories where the Germans deny it, either,” Peggy said.

“I know.” Herb smoked the new cigarette in quick, fierce puffs. “I’d always thought it was because claims like that weren’t even worth denying, know what I mean? Now I wonder.”

“I’ve wondered all along,” said Peggy, who’d seen the fun the Nazis had with Jews ever since the day they invaded Czechoslovakia. She’d done more than wonder, in fact. She’d believed every word.

“We should do something about that,” Herb said.

“Toss me your cigarettes, will you?” Peggy said, liking him very much. He was the best kind of American. Show him something wrong and he wanted to set it right. The only trouble was, Europe didn’t work that way. So much history piled up on the hatreds there that sometimes pinning the blame was impossible after all this time. Which didn’t stop people from slaughtering one another in carload lots to try to drown an ancient slight in blood.

Good American tobacco helped her not think about any of that for a little while. Maybe, if all the Europeans and the Japs were this prosperous, they wouldn’t want to smash in their neighbors’ skulls with pickaxes any more.

Or maybe they would, but they’d choose a fancier grade of pickaxe to do their dirty work. That struck Peggy as much too likely. She shook her head. The more you looked at this old world, the more fouled up it seemed to be. And she hadn’t even started drinking yet.

Chapter 14

Theo Hossbach knew the way to Smolensk. Whenever his Panzer III and the other machines in the regiment turned toward the Soviet stronghold, the Ivans fought twice as hard as they did the rest of the time. And, considering how much trouble they made any time at all…

He didn’t think the old Panzer II in which he’d gone through so much with Hermann Witt and Adi Stoss would have survived this campaign. No sooner had that gone through his head than he laughed at himself. Of course the old panzer wouldn’t have survived the campaign. It damn well hadn’t.

So now he’d had to get used to two new crewmen. All things considered, he would have been happier charging a Red Army machine gun with a Luger. The Russians could only kill him. They wouldn’t want to try to get to know him.

He had new duties, too, but that wasn’t so bad. Now he sat up front in the panzer, next to Adi, with the radio set between them. He could see out. He needed to see out, because he was in charge of the bow machine gun as well as the radio. He could use them both at once if he had to, controlling the gun with a padded mount that accommodated his forehead.

Getting used to two new people’s habits seemed much harder. Kurt Poske liked to sing and whistle to himself. Sometimes the loader didn’t even realize he was doing it. Theo wanted to reach back and smash his kneecap with a wrench. It might have been better had Poske managed to stay on key. On the other hand, it might not. He still would have been there.

Lothar Eckhardt, by contrast, cracked his knuckles. Everybody probably did that once in a while, but the gunner did it all the time. It sounded like gunfire coming from behind Theo. He could have come up with a million noises he would rather have heard.

A Panzer II’s turret had room for only one man. Sergeant Witt had had to command the panzer and load and fire the cannon and the coaxial machine gun. That left him as busy as a one-armed paper hanger with the hives, but he did it for a long time. He didn’t need to any more, not with this bigger, more modern machine. But everything seemed to come with a price.

Driver and bow gunner/radioman could talk to each other without their crewmates’ hearing. They could, but mostly they didn’t. Theo didn’t talk much no matter what. Adi made more noise, but he respected his comrade’s peculiarities. That was one of the things that made soldiering beside him a pleasure.

As they rattled along one morning, Theo found a question escaping him: “You all right with the new guys?”

Adi glanced over in surprise. A sentence from Theo was like a couple of chapters from anybody else. “Ja,” he answered, pitching his voice so it wouldn’t carry back to the turret. “Pretty much. We’d all be dead by now if they didn’t shoot straight.”

He had that right, no two ways about it. Eckhardt had been a pretty good gunner before he got this slot. The Reich ’s training centers took care of that. And Sergeant Witt, with his own wealth of experience, made the kid better than he had been. Except for singing and whistling, Poske did all right in action, too. Loader was the most junior position in the five-man crew.

None of that had much to do with what Theo meant, though. He tried again: “They give you a hard time?”

“Nah.” Stoss shook his head. “No worse than usual. Nothing a guy can’t handle, know what I mean?”

Theo nodded. Even the usual kind of ragging could rub a man raw. If Heinz Naumann, the guy who commanded the old Panzer II before Sergeant Witt, hadn’t got killed, he and Adi would have fought it out. Theo was sure of that. He was also pretty sure Adi would have done for the late sergeant. Lucky it didn’t happen-lucky for everybody but Naumann.

One more question formed in Theo’s head. He didn’t ask it. Like a cat, he had a very clear sense of limits.

An authoritative voice spoke into his earphones: “Look for Ivans ahead, map square Red-6.”

“Red-6. I hear you,” Theo responded, and relayed the news to Witt.

A brief pause followed. No doubt the panzer commander was checking his maps. German maps of Russia weren’t nearly so good as the people who printed them thought, but you did the best you could with what you had. Profanity followed the pause. “Now they tell us,” Witt said. “We’re already in square Red-fucking-6.”

As if on cue, machine-gun bullets clattered off the right side of the Panzer III’s hull. If not for the hardened steel, some of them would have punctured Theo. They sounded like pebbles tossed onto a corrugated-iron roof-but not enough like that. Pebbles on an iron roof might startle, but they wouldn’t scare the piss out of you.

Though he had a vision port over there, he didn’t want to open it. That might have let in a bullet or two, and he would rather have dealt with angry wasps. Wasps only made you wish you were dead. The Russians used old-fashioned, heavy, water-cooled machine guns, like the German Maxim from the last war. They weren’t very portable, which didn’t mean they wouldn’t chew holes in you once they did get set up.

“Panzer halt!” Sergeant Witt ordered, and Adi Stoss hit the brakes. The turret slewed sideways. Witt gave crisp commands. Eckhardt fired-once, twice. Shell casings clattered at the bottom of the fighting compartment. The stink of cordite filled the panzer. Witt grunted in satisfaction. “Forward again, Adi,” he said, and traversed the turret so it faced the front once more.

That machine gun wouldn’t bother anyone else. Theo still wondered how many other Ivans lurked over to the right. German foot soldiers would find out-probably the hard way. No trees off in that direction, so there probably weren’t any Red Army panzers lurking there. He could hope not, anyhow. He could-and he did.

He peered out through his forward vision port. That one boasted thick armor glass, like the stuff in a Stuka’s windshield. It also had a steel shutter to keep the glass from getting nicked when bullets started flying. Scars and divots on the armor glass said the shutter didn’t always get used. You needed to know what was going on… didn’t you?

Back in the Panzer II, Theo had never known what was going on, or no more than the radio and his crewmates told him. Now he could see out. Monkey curiosity made him keep doing it, too, though as often as not he couldn’t change anything. He could, and did, tell himself it was line of duty. He had the machine gun, after all. But a lot of the time he was just nosy.

He stiffened in dismay at the same time as Adi let out a horrified yip: “Fucking Ivans!” Where the devil did they come from? One second nothing, the next a swarm of riflemen springing from the ground like the warriors old what’s-his-name, the Greek, got when he sowed the dragon’s teeth.

Well, Theo had some dragon’s teeth of his own. The bow machine gun chattered, spitting brass out of the side of its mouth. The turret machine gun hammered away, too. The Russian infantrymen went down in waves like threshed barley. But the ones who didn’t get shot kept coming. They were brave, too, damn them.

And they wouldn’t just have rifles. Some of them would carry Molotov cocktails. Theo didn’t want to think about blazing gasoline dripping into the panzer-no, not even a little bit. So many things that would catch fire, from paint to explosives to precious flesh. They’d have grenades. One of those through a hatch could ruin your day. Or bigger charges would blow off a track. A stuck panzer was like a hamstrung bull waiting to be slaughtered.

Firing short, steady bursts wasn’t easy. He wanted to burn out the MG-34’s barrel so he could kill as many Russians as fast as he could. Discipline held, though. In its own harsh way, Wehrmacht training was a marvel.

So was whatever the Ivans did to their men. Theo was sure he would have run away. The Russians stolidly kept coming… till two Stukas screamed down out of the sky and landed big bombs on them, close enough to the Panzer III to make it try to rear. That did the trick. Not even the Reds could take a dive-bombing in stride. The handful still on their feet-none near the panzer-skedaddled.

Adi laughed shakily. “All in a day’s work,” he said.

“Aber naturlich,” Theo answered.

After refueling and resupplying at Narvik, which the Kriegsmarine had quickly fitted out as a bare-bones U-boat base, Julius Lemp took the U-30 back up to the Barents Sea. He understood why the navy wanted to use the little town; it lay pretty close to the Barents Sea itself.

As far as he was concerned, that ended its advantages. The U-boat had got what it needed at Narvik. His men hadn’t. They couldn’t drink and screw and blow off steam there. A U-boat base without a brothel! What was the world coming to? There was a club for sailors, but it seemed a halfhearted affair, with bad, watery beer and not enough of it. No wonder the ratings grumbled when they put to sea again. In their shoes, Lemp would have grumbled, too. He would have grumbled in his own shoes, except a skipper had no one aboard to grumble to.

He intended to take care of that when he got back to the Reich. He didn’t want to put anything in writing, but some of his superiors would get an earful.

The one good thing was, his men were too busy to complain as much as they would have with more time on their hands. Here up past 70° north latitude, the sun stayed above the horizon most of the summer. Perpetual daylight kept everybody hopping all the time. You never knew when you might spot a British convoy bound for Murmansk or Arkhangelsk-or when it might spot you. Prowling Russian seaplanes were another danger. Lemp had met one of those in the Baltic. He didn’t care to repeat the experience.

Topside watches took all the concentration a man had. You couldn’t stretch people out past two hours. With unending daylight to face, ratings who’d never stood a topside watch before got the chance to try it. Lemp got the chance to worry that they might miss something an old hand wouldn’t have. He gulped bicarbonate of soda to soothe an acid stomach, wondering why he’d ever wanted to become a naval officer.

Navigation also got… interesting. The compass deflection was enormous. Accurate sun shoots became vitally important. With no stars in the sky, the sun was the only clue to direction they had. None of the manuals talked about times like this-U-boat men hadn’t needed to worry about them in the last war. That was another discussion Lemp wanted to have with his superiors.

And, even in summer, the ocean was bitterly cold. Without the Gulf Stream, it would have been colder yet. Without the Gulf Stream, Murmansk and Arkhangelsk-and likely Narvik as well-would have been as icebound as Antarctica. Then I wouldn’t have to come up here, Lemp thought. That wouldn’t be so bad.

Black-and-white auks and puffins and murres bobbed on the sea, now and then diving after fish or taking off with small, hard-working wings. They weren’t quite penguins, but they came close enough to satisfy anybody this side of a relentless nitpicker.

The Kriegsmarine sent out a coded message that a convoy had sailed from Aberdeen, bound for one Russian port or the other. Lemp admired the British sailors’ courage and decided his own superiors weren’t the only ones with problems. That convoy would have to face not only U-boats but also land-based planes from Norway. Talk about running the gantlet…

Sure enough, the planes soon found the convoy. Not only did they raid-they also shadowed, relaying its position, its course, its speed. Diesels thrumming through the soles of his shoes, Lemp brought the U-30 southwest to block its path.

He had to be careful. Destroyers or corvettes would be escorting the convoy. On the surface, they could sink him. And he wouldn’t be able to submerge, then come back up later and escape under cover of darkness. Here there was no darkness.

So he made sure he had men who knew what they were doing up on the conning tower when the U-30 neared the advancing convoy. That convoy had already taken damage-he didn’t know how much. U-boats transmitted only when they had to, to keep the enemy from using their signals to work out where they were.

One thing he was sure of: the freighters in the convoy would make more smoke than the U-30 did. He’d find the British ships before they knew he was around. After that was when things would get interesting.

The sun skimmed low above the northern horizon when one of the ratings spotted the smoke from the enemy. Lemp changed course so he could attack with the sun at his back. The harder he could make things for the English, the happier he would be-and the better his chances of doing it again soon.

Up went the Schnorkel ’s stovepipe. By now, Lemp took the gadget for granted. More and more of the Kriegsmarine ’s U-boats used it these days. It wasn’t a punishment any more. It was a tool of war, one he’d come to rely on.

But the Royal Navy had its own tools of war. Sharp, almost musical pings echoed through the U-30’s hull after the boat went to Schnorkel depth. “What the fuck is that?” Gunter Beilharz asked, reaching under his Stahlhelm to scratch his head.

“They have an echo locater,” Lemp answered. “It’s mentioned in my latest briefing reports. It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than anything they used before.”

Beilharz eyed him in something approaching horror. “They can get range and bearing from the echoes?”

“That’s the idea,” Lemp allowed. “Their toy isn’t everything it ought to be, though.”

“It had better not be,” the Schnorkel officer said. “If they can find us whenever they please, they’ll sit on top of us and drop ash cans till we either cave in or have to come up and fight it out on the surface.”

A U-boat that got into a surface engagement with a warship designed to fight up there was dead meat. Everybody knew it. Lemp would have been happier not to get the reminder. And he would have been much happier if the periscope hadn’t shown him a Royal Navy corvette speeding his way with a bone in her teeth. That damned echo locater did work.

He didn’t want to take on a warship. He could sink her with an eel before she got close enough to hurt him. He could… if he was good enough, and if he was lucky enough, and if he felt like telling the other English warships where he was. Ping! Ping! With that miserable gadget, they already had a pretty good notion.

But then other noises came through the U-30’s steel hull: the unmistakable heavy crump! of a torpedo exploding, and after that the sound of a ship breaking up. That dreadful creaking and crackling made any man who went to sea flinch.

It also made the Royal Navy corvette spin through as tight a turn as she could make and dash back toward the vessels she was shepherding. Half a dozen men inside the U-30 gave forth with various profane variations on What’s going on?

“Well, I don’t know for sure,” Lemp answered, “but unless they’re sinking their own ships I’d say we aren’t the only U-boat in the neighborhood.” An elk struggling through deep snow would draw a pack of wolves. A convoy crossing dangerous waters might draw a pack of submarines.

Another torpedo slammed into a freighter. This ship, by the sound of it, didn’t break up right away. Maybe the sailors would have a chance to make the boats and get picked up. For their sake, Lemp hoped so. The poor devils wouldn’t last long bobbing in the Barents Sea.

Those two hits made the enemy forget all about Lemp’s boat. The escorting warships were hellbent on hunting down the wolf that had already bitten them. With the Schnorkel, getting into range of a fat freighter belching coal smoke was almost unfairly easy. She even obligingly zigzagged to present her flank.

“Torpedo one — los!.. Torpedo two — los!” Lemp commanded as soon as he had the shot lined up. Twin wet whooshes meant the eels were on their way. Both hit. One was a dud; it thunked off the coal-burner’s flank. But the other eel tore a hole in her stern before Lemp really started swearing. She soon began to settle in the water.

By then, Lemp and the helmsman had swung the U-30 toward another target, this one a bit more than a kilometer off. A longish shot, but he launched only one torpedo: he saved the last one in the forward tubes for self-defense. Reloading was a slow, sweaty job, and his boat wouldn’t stay forgotten now that he’d announced himself.

Cheers echoed through the U-boat when the eel struck home. As soon as it did, Lemp pulled away from the convoy. The snort let him go twice as fast underwater as he could have without it. And you had to sense when you shouldn’t get greedy. There would be plenty of other chances-provided he didn’t throw himself away on this one.

Had Corporal Hideki Fujita stood any straighter and stiffer, anyone seeing him would have thought he’d been carved from wood. But would a sculptor have included a saluting mechanism of such mechanical perfection?

“Requesting permission to speak to you, Captain- san!” Fujita said, his voice an emotionless rasp.

Captain Masanori Ikejiri returned the salute. “Hai? Nan desu-ka?” He could have just told Fujita to dry up and blow away. That he asked him what it was instead showed he didn’t despise the very ground on which the demoted noncom walked. That was something, anyway. It was more than most of Fujita’s superiors seemed willing to admit.

“Please excuse me, sir, but I am not useful here now that my bungling has made me lose face.” If Fujita was going to grovel, he’d grovel as hard as he could. No sense to half measures, not here, not now. And he was sure groveling was his only chance to escape this humiliating situation-unless he killed himself, of course. That was always a possibility, but he didn’t want to die, not yet. “Let me serve the Empire somewhere else in some different way. Please, sir, let me go forth with my rifle and kill the Empire’s enemies.”

Ikejiri eyed him. If the captain wasn’t from a noble family, Fujita would have been amazed. He had the air of effortless ease and style plenty of people tried to imitate, but rarely with much luck. You needed to be born to it, to take it for granted, to bring it off as you should.

He also had any Japanese officer’s uncompromising attitude. “If you fail, you must take the consequences,” he said coolly.

“Yes, sir. But here at this place I don’t have much chance to make up for failing,” Fujita replied. “Put me in front of the enemy, Captain- san, and I’ll show the Emperor what I can do.”

“There are more kinds of courage, Corporal, than the one it takes to charge a machine-gun position,” Ikejiri said.

“Captain- san?” All Fujita really heard was his new, reduced rank. Corporal was a grade a man should hold on the way up to something better. Holding it again, on the way down from something better, burned like lye.

“You have to be brave, don’t you, to do your job in spite of any trouble you had?” the captain said. “Yes, other people will know what happened. But your duties here at Pingfan are still important.”

“Sir, I want to kill something!” Fujita blurted desperately. “Even the maruta laugh at me.”

“Hard to be laughed at by a log,” Ikejiri said in musing tones. “Can’t you make them afraid to open their mouths while you’re close enough to hear them?”

“Oh, yes, sir. And I do.” Fujita’s hands folded into reminiscent fists. “But the sons of assfucked whores go on laughing at me behind my back. I know they do.” You couldn’t pound a man into the ground for an amused glint in his eye, even if the man was also a log. American maruta were too scarce and too valuable to let guards smash them around for the fun of it. Some of the bacteriologists’ experiments required subjects in good condition. Prisoners at Pingfan often got plenty to eat because of that, not the starvation rations men base enough to surrender deserved.

“Hmm.” Captain Ikejiri rubbed his chin. “We don’t usually give men back to the ordinary military once they get stationed here. They know too many things that are nobody else’s business.”

“I wouldn’t blab, sir! By the Emperor, I’d never say a word! Not a peep!” Fujita had been proud of knowing things about Japan’s war effort that not many people knew-even if, as a noncom off a farm, he didn’t understand much about the scientific details. Now he would gladly have forgotten everything.

In another army, Ikejiri might have mentioned the risk of his getting captured. To do so here would have been an unbearable insult. The captain knew Fujita would rather die.

Again, he could have just told Fujita to shut up and do as he was told. Fujita had been more than half expecting that. Maybe he would have obeyed. Maybe he would have obeyed for a while and then blown his brains out. Even he wasn’t sure. And if he wasn’t, how could Captain Ikejiri be?

Rubbing his chin again, the officer said, “How would you like to get away from this encampment for a while, Corporal?”

“Doing what, sir?”

“You know we are making weapons here-weapons to use against the Chinese and the Americans and anyone else who stands in the way of the Co-Prosperity Sphere.”

“Oh, yes, sir.” Fujita nodded, remembering the ride deep into the country to test the germ bomb on the Russian maruta. Relief filled him. He’d feared Ikejiri would give him something worthless, something useless, to do. But finding out how to kill Chinese in carload lots sounded important.

“All right, then.” Captain Ikejiri spoke quickly now, with the air of a man who’d come to a decision. “You may do that. We have air bases that deliver special weapons where they are needed. I will transfer you to one of those.”

“Thank you, sir! Oh, thank you!” Fujita said, all but jumping for joy. With any luck at all, the people who served on that air base wouldn’t know what kind of bakayaro he’d been here. One thing sure: he wouldn’t have prisoners laughing at him any more.

“Maybe you shouldn’t thank me just yet.” Masanori Ikejiri’s voice was dry. “You will be going into more danger than you’re likely to face here. Make sure your rifle is clean and well oiled.”

“It is, sir!” Fujita assured him. “All I have to do is throw a few things in my duffel and I’m ready to leave.” He’d been eager to come to Pingfan. Now he was even more eager to get away.

“Don’t get too excited-it won’t happen quite so fast.” The captain’s voice stayed dry. “We have to go through the proper channels, and the paperwork will take a while. But I’ll put in the transfer right away.”

Something in his tone said right away meant as soon as you quit bothering me. For a wonder, Fujita realized as much. He wanted to grab the officer’s hand and kiss it. For another wonder, he had sense enough to see that wouldn’t do him any good. He saluted again-a salute extravagant enough to come out of a movie and to make a drill sergeant snarl curses at him. He figured Captain Ikejiri had earned this one.

The only person he told about the upcoming transfer was Senior Private Hayashi. They’d served together for a long time, and Hayashi had, or at least showed, more sympathy than most soldiers. “Good luck,” he said. “I hope the fellow who takes your slot isn’t too big a chucklehead.”

“Why should you worry?” Fujita said with a wry grin. “After all, you’ve had enough practice putting up with me.”

“You aren’t bad. You’ve never been bad,” Hayashi said. “You beat us when we’d earned it, but not just for the sake of showing us what a big cock you’ve got. What more could a private want from a noncom?” By the way he said it, wanting even that much-or that little-was an exercise in optimism.

And so it was. Back before Fujita got promoted, plenty of brutal corporals and sergeants thumped him for no better reason than that their rank gave them the right. That was how things worked in the Japanese army. Fujita couldn’t imagine things working any other way.

Getting the transfer took longer than he thought it should. Only fear that Captain Ikejiri would rescind it if Fujita bothered him kept the corporal from asking what had gone wrong. He made himself wait. He couldn’t think of many tougher things he’d done as a soldier.

At last, the precious form came through. With it came a note that said a truck would take him to Harbin. Once there, he would ride the train and then… well, it got complicated then. He’d end up in Yunnan Province, or maybe in Burma, depending on how things went before he arrived. He couldn’t have found Yunnan on a map to save his life. He wasn’t so sure about Burma, either.

He didn’t care. He could go to the other end of the world for all the difference that made to him. More than half of him hoped he would. If nobody knew him when he finally arrived, wherever that was, wonderful. What more than a fresh start could a man down on his luck hope for?

They pinned the Order of the Red Star on Anastas Mouradian for shooting down a Flying Pencil. He wished winning the medal would have meant more to him. What it did mean boiled down to two things. First, he’d taken a chance and lived through it. And, second, the authorities might cut him a little more slack with the medal than they would have if he hadn’t won it.

Sadly, he understood he couldn’t count on the second one to hold true. If the NKVD decided he was a nuisance, he’d end up in a gulag or dead as fast as the Chekists could arrange it. If they only wondered, the medal might make them give him the benefit of the doubt.

Well, it might.

With the war not going so well, he needed any good-luck charm he could grab. The powers that be in the Soviet Union were like bad-tempered children. When they didn’t get their way, they threw tantrums. Bad-tempered children smashed toys, or maybe dishes. Bad-tempered Soviet commissars and their flunkies smashed people instead.

Mouradian didn’t worry about his own side more than he did about the Germans. Hitler’s minions were actively trying to kill him. The NKVD wasn’t. He didn’t think it was, anyhow.

Still, he couldn’t help noting that, in a perfect world, he wouldn’t have had to worry about his own side at all. What? This world was imperfect? What a surprise! What a disappointment!

If this were the perfect world, or even a better world, the Nazis and their parasites wouldn’t be closing in on Smolensk. But they were, despite the Soviet armed forces’ best-certainly most fervent-efforts to stop them. Radio Moscow tried its hardest to deny that. These days, though, Luftwaffe bombers could reach the USSR’s capital. Once, they’d knocked Radio Moscow off the air for several hours. Only once, but Stas didn’t take it for a good sign.

And, if this were the perfect world, or even a better one, the Soviet move against Romania would have bothered the Fascists more. A blow against their soft underbelly… Only the underbelly turned out not to be so soft. These days, the fighting wasn’t in eastern Romania. It was in the western Ukraine. No doubt because it was, Radio Moscow mentioned it as seldom as possible.

So Stas relied on things he heard unofficially. You couldn’t always rely on such things. Then again, you couldn’t always rely on Radio Moscow, either, though saying so, or even lifting an eyebrow at the wrong time, could cost you your life. Unofficially, some Ukrainians were greeting the Nazis as liberators, giving them bread and salt and strewing flowers in the path of their armored personnel carriers.

Unofficially, things in the Ukraine had been very bad before the war. Soviet authorities were bound and determined to liquidate the kulak class. And well they might have been-the richer peasants hadn’t cared to give up their land and flocks and tools and join collective farms. The authorities broke them. Nobody knew how many Ukrainians died-starved or shot-in the collectivization process. Or, if anyone did know, he wasn’t talking.

If some of the survivors didn’t act like good Soviet citizens now, whose fault was that? Theirs, of course, or it would be if the USSR won. Then they’d look down the barrel of another round of retribution. In the meantime, maybe they were getting some of their own back.

Stas did wonder how much. He also heard unofficial things about how the Germans behaved in Soviet territory. Some of those things were hard to believe. If the Nazis acted that way in the Ukraine, they’d wear out their welcome in a hurry. Maybe they wouldn’t be so stupid down there.

Or maybe they would. Stas wouldn’t have been surprised. It wasn’t as if Stalin hadn’t acted like a bloodthirsty monster enforcing his will there.

The Armenian flyer sighed after he got back to his tent. He was alone there-it was safe enough. As safe as anything could be these days, anyhow. No, when Stalin behaved like a bloodthirsty monster, he wasn’t acting. He was showing what he really was. And so was Hitler.

Which one made the worse bloodthirsty monster? Stas was damned if he knew. The English had had an affair with Hitler and decided they would rather dance with Stalin. The French, by contrast, stayed in bed with the Nazis. So did the Poles… but they would have slept with Stalin had Hitler jumped them first.

Stas almost welcomed the next mission. Wasn’t a clean chance of getting killed better than the muddy ocean of doubts that had filled his thoughts lately? He could make himself believe it… right up till the moment when shell fragments slammed into the Pe-2. As soon as that happened, he discovered how much he wanted to live.

The engines still sounded all right. There was no fire. He gave the instrument panel a quick, frightened once-over. The fuel gauge stayed steady. So did oil pressure. He cautiously tried the controls. All seemed in working order. “Bozhemoi!” he said-with feeling. “I didn’t think we’d be that lucky.”

Another German antiaircraft shell burst close to the bomber. The Pe-2 staggered in the air, but no more clangs or rattles warned of another hit.

Ivan Kulkaanen frowned. He fiddled with his earphones. His frown deepened. “Radio’s out,” he reported.

No one was talking in Stas’ earphones at the moment, either. Was that because no one was talking or because nobody could get through? Mouradian did some fiddling of his own. Then he eyed the set’s dials. He hadn’t done that before-he’d had more urgent things to worry about. Sure enough, every needle lay dead against its peg.

“Well, it could be worse,” he said. “We can get back without a radio, and they’ll slap in another one or splice the cut wires or do whatever else needs doing.”

“Sure.” Kulkaanen nodded. “Nobody can order us to do anything stupid now, either.”

“No one would ever do anything like that.” Virtue overflowing filled Mouradian’s voice. He and the young blond Karelian in the other seat exchanged amused looks. Of course their superiors were always wise and careful. Of course.

No one would warn them if Messerschmitts attacked the squadron, either. Stas spent the rest of the flight wishing for eyes in the back of his head. Wishing failed to produce them. He got back to the airstrip anyhow, and put the Pe-2 in the hands of the repair crews.

He hadn’t been down long before the squadron commander summoned him. Saluting, he said, “I serve the Soviet Union!”

“Do you?” Lieutenant Colonel Tomashevsky growled. “Then why didn’t you move up in the formation when I ordered you to, dammit?”

“Sir, I never heard that order.” Mouradian explained what had happened, finishing, “You can check with the groundcrew men. They’ll tell you I’m not making any of this up.”

Tomashevsky eyed him. “I won’t check. But if I ever find out you were lying, you’re dead. No demotions. No camps. No punishment details. Dead.” He spoke without melodrama. Stas might have wished to hear some. That would have left him less than sure the squadron commander meant it. As things were, he had no room for doubt.

Tomashevsky kept looking at him, waiting for him to say something, willing him to say something. So he did: “Sir, if I ever lie, it won’t be about anything where you can catch me.”

“I should hope not,” the senior officer said. “You’d have to be stupid to do something like that. Dark-haired men aren’t stupid. They have other things wrong with them, but they aren’t stupid.”

Russians often lumped Armenians and Georgians and Jews together that way. Stas mildly resented it. So did most Armenians and Georgians and, he supposed, even Jews. With a crooked smile, he answered, “Sir, I didn’t come here to pick your pocket. I came here to blow up Germans.”

“Always a worthy cause,” Tomashevsky agreed dryly. “But if a pocket walks by begging to be picked, will you hold back?”

“Maybe not,” Stas admitted. “But then, would you?” For a moment, he feared he’d cut too close to the bone. But the squadron commander laughed and waved him away. Away he went, before Tomashevsky could change his mind.

Chapter 15

This was the biggest damn fleet Pete McGill had ever seen. If it wasn’t the biggest damn fleet in the history of the world, that sure wasn’t from lack of effort on the U.S. Navy’s part.

It stretched from horizon to horizon. Pete was sure it stretched over the horizon. The destroyers and cruisers and battlewagons and carriers stayed well separated from one another to make sure the Japs couldn’t do too much in any one spot.

That didn’t worry Pete. “If I was that cocksucker Tojo, I’d be shaking in my boots right now,” he declared.

“Got that right, Ace,” Joe Orsatti agreed. The gun chief waved expansively. “All the firepower we’re bringing to the dance, we won’t just lick the fucking Jap navy. We’ll sink their lousy islands, too.”

“There you go!” Pete liked the sound of that.

Planes from the combat air patrol droned overhead. The American fleet hadn’t come far from Oahu yet, but the brass already knew the Japs liked playing with naval air power. The fighters up there were F-4 Wildcats. The Japanese Zero was supposed to be hot shit. It was hot shit; Pete had seen as much in the Philippines. But he had confidence in good old American know-how. If the Wildcat couldn’t mop the floor with the Jap fighter, something was badly wrong somewhere.

And if the American fleet couldn’t mop the floor with the Japanese navy, something was badly wrong somewhere, too. Pete didn’t know the details of the attack plan. Such things were not for Marine sergeants to worry about. Like most of the tens of thousands of other men in the fleet, he did grasp the basic idea. They’d steam west till they ran into the slant-eyed sons of bitches steaming east. Then they’d knock the living snot out of them and clear their garrisons off all the Pacific islands they infested. What could be simpler?

A pair of albatrosses scudded past the Boise. Their wingspan didn’t seem much smaller than a Wildcat’s. Pointing to them, Orsatti asked, “Ever shoot the shit with a guy who was stationed on Midway?”

“I don’t think so,” Pete answered. “How come?”

“That’s where the gooney birds lay their eggs, like. When it’s mating season or whatever the hell they call it, there’s thousands of ’em.”

“Must be something. They’re amazing in the air.”

Orsatti grinned. “You sure as hell never talked with no Midway Marine. Yeah, the gooneys are great while they’re flying. But you know what? Their landing gear’s shot to shit. They come gliding in, they put down their feet-and they crash land every fuckin’ time. Ass over teakettle like you wouldn’t believe. They’re just lucky they don’t carry avgas, on account of they’d burn like mad bastards if they did.”

“This isn’t BS?” Pete was wary of getting his leg pulled.

“Honest to God truth.” The gun chief held up his right hand. “So help me Hannah, it is. Like something out of a Disney cartoon, only it’s the genuine article.”

“I wouldn’t mind seeing that for myself.” Pete paused, considering. “Well, if seeing it didn’t mean going to Midway. Holy Christ, man-talk about the ass end of nowhere.”

“There is that,” Orsatti said. “But it’s probably why the gooney birds go ooh-la-la there. I mean, who’s gonna bother ’em? Till we got there, there wasn’t anything to bother ’em.”

“I guess.” Till that moment, Pete hadn’t worried about where albatrosses went to make whoopee. For all he knew, they checked into hotels like everybody else. But thinking about Midway made him think about other islands, too. “I wish like hell the Japs hadn’t grabbed Wake and Guam.”

“Guam was gonna catch it. That was in the cards. Look at a map-it’s the meat in a Jap-island sandwich,” Orsatti said. “Wake… Yeah, Wake’s a bitch. They hit it when we were still jumping up and down from the raid on Pearl. So now it’s their forward outpost instead of ours.”

“Uh-huh. That’s what worries me. You gotta figure the slopes’re flying planes outa there now,” Pete said. “So what happens when they spot us? They let the rest of the Buddhaheads know, right?”

“Listen to your Uncle Joe,” Orsatti said seriously. “First thing is, the Wildcats aren’t just flying over us. They’re out ahead of us, too. So they may knock down the Jap snoops before any word gets back. But even if they don’t, so what? We want to do for the Japanese navy, right?”

“Well, sure, when you put it that way,” McGill replied. “Only I don’t like it when they know what we’re up to while we go in blind.”

“Won’t matter when the shooting starts.” Orsatti spoke with serene confidence.

If Admiral Kimmel, the man in charge of the American fleet, shared that confidence, he didn’t let it go to his head. Men on the Boise got called to battle stations at all hours of the day and night, and it was bound to be the same on every other ship. Pete’s heart pounded whenever he ran to the gun. Would this be the time it wasn’t a drill? Or this? Or…?

News crackled out of the intercom: “It is reported that an enemy reconnaissance seaplane has been attacked and shot down. It is not known whether the personnel were able to signal that American aircraft were in the vicinity.”

If the Japs hadn’t been able to radio a warning… The Pacific was a big place, the biggest place in the whole world. An airplane alone on the ocean was far smaller by comparison than a single mosquito buzzing around an elephant. So many things could go wrong. A plane that didn’t come back wouldn’t necessarily be blamed on enemy action.

Necessarily. That was an interesting word, wasn’t it?

Then a Japanese sub fired a torpedo at one of the destroyers out ahead of the fleet. The torpedo missed. The destroyer did its damnedest to sink the submarine. It also failed. But the cat was out of the bag.

Were American submarines prowling way the hell off to the west? If they spotted the oncoming Japanese fleet, would they send back a warning? Would they try to thin out the herd, so to speak? The answer to the first question was obviously yes. To the second… The fewer warships flying the Rising Sun Pete had to worry about, the happier he’d be.

First things first, though. The first thing the fleet had to worry about was reclaiming Wake Island. Admiral Kimmel approached the flyspeck on the map by night. His ships ringed it when the sun came up. As soon as the Japs in the garrison spotted them, they opened up with field artillery.

Big guns answered them. So did dive-bombers flying off the carriers. In spite of all the hell coming down on their heads, the Japanese managed to get a few planes of their own into the air. As Pete had seen in Manila, their dive-bombers looked old-fashioned. Like German Stukas, they had fixed landing gear.

Also like Stukas, they could be deadly if they got a chance-or even half a chance. One of them swooped down on a heavy cruiser that was in the same task force as the Boise. Curtains of antiaircraft fire rose above the big ship. As far as the enemy pilot was concerned, they might as well not have been there. If something got him, it would get him. He didn’t seem to care one way or the other. And he dropped his bomb from no more than fifty feet above the cruiser’s stacks.

Something did get him as he roared away just above the waves. His plane cartwheeled into the Pacific. He wouldn’t have had anywhere to land on Wake, anyhow. But he made the Americans pay an enormous price for shooting him down. That bomb must have reached one of the cruiser’s magazines, because the ship’s whole bow blew off. What was left sank hideously fast.

The Boise hurried over to help pick survivors from the water. There weren’t many. Most of them were hurt. All seemed stunned. “I’m handing Dave a shell, an’ next thing I know he ain’t there no more an’ I’m in the drink,” one guy said, which seemed to sum it up for everybody.

Clumsy landing barges waddled toward Wake. Jap shells fell among them. One scored a direct hit. Bodies flew through the air as the barge sank. Most of the men were bound to be Marines like Pete. All the same, he wished he were riding in one of those barges. Landing on enemy-held beaches was what leathernecks were for. A sailor could do the job he had now. He could imagine nothing worse to say about it.

“Hey, Harcourt! Yeah, I’m talking to you. Get your sorry ass over here.”

That rasp always made Luc wonder what he’d done wrong now-no, what he’d got caught doing wrong now. It always made him feel he was a private just out of basic, and Sergeant Demange had nabbed him with his hand in the cookie jar. No matter that he was a sergeant himself now, and Demange an officer. The old feeling didn’t go away. Luc didn’t suppose it ever would.

“What do you need, sir?” Luc almost called Demange Sergeant. It wouldn’t have been the first time. Habit died hard.

“C’mere, I said, dammit.” The cigarette in the corner of Demange’s mouth twitched as he talked. Luc wondered if he kept that Gitane there even when he got laid. It wouldn’t have surprised the younger man one bit. Demange gestured peremptorily. “Walk with me.”

“Whatever you want, sweetheart,” Luc said. Demange didn’t rise to the bait. He just stomped away from the French encampment. Luc’s legs were longer, but he had to hustle to keep up. The air smelled of dust. No human habitations lay anywhere near. Luc had never dreamt how vast Russia was. The last Frenchmen who’d got this deep into the country marched with Napoleon. He hoped he’d come out better than they did.

He still carried his rifle. Demange had one, too, along with an officer’s sidearm. You didn’t want to let the Ivans catch you, no matter how enticing their safe-conducts seemed to jerks. The front was supposed to lie a few kilometers off to the northeast, but one thing you could always count on was Russian infiltrators.

“What’s up?” Luc asked after a little while.

“Keep walking,” Demange answered. “I don’t want any of those cons to hear this.” He spat out the latest Gitane’s mortal remains, ground them under his bootheel, and lit a fresh one.

“Am I in trouble?”

“No more than any of the rest of us.” Lieutenant Demange paused to blow out a stream of smoke, then hurried on. “Some crazy shit is going on, that’s all, and I want to talk to somebody about it. You’ve got your head on pretty straight, and you don’t run your mouth when you aren’t supposed to.”

“Gee, thanks.” Luc’s sardonic tone couldn’t hide how pleased he was. He would rather have got that kind of praise from Demange than to have won a medal and brushed cheeks with General Weygand. To Weygand, he would be just another poilu. Demange knew him well enough for his judgment to mean something.

“Any time, kid.” Demange paused and looked back. No, none of the other French soldiers would overhear them now.

Off in the distance, artillery rumbled. German guns, Luc thought, recognizing the reports. He was glad those 105s would come down on the Ivans’ heads, not on his. Of course, the Red Army had plenty of artillery of its own, but getting shelled by the Boches still struck him as the definitive experience.

“So what’s the crazy shit?” He tried to keep his voice as casual as he could.

“It’s political, that’s what.” Demange couldn’t have sounded more disgusted if he were talking about syphilis. “You’re not one of those crazy Reds, or I wouldn’t say boo to you. But you don’t wish you were wearing a German helmet, either.”

“I should hope not! Those fuckers are heavy.” Luc had handled them plenty of times, dealing with dead or captured Fritzes. He preferred the lighter Adrian helmet he had on right this minute. But that was beside the point. “What do you mean, political?”

“If you had your druthers, who would you rather fight, Hitler or Stalin?”

“If I had my druthers?” Luc echoed. Demange nodded. Luc spoke without the least hesitation: “If I had my druthers, sir, I’d take off this uniform and burn it. Then I’d go home and try and forget everything that’s happened to me the past going on three years.”

“ Salaud! You don’t get that many druthers. The Nazi or the Communist? Who’s in your sights first?”

He was serious. Seeing him serious made Luc think it over harder than he’d expected to. At last, he said, “The Germans live right next door. That makes them trouble no matter who’s in charge in Berlin. When it’s a cochon like Hitler… I mean, Stalin’s no bargain, either, but he’s way the hell over here. The Boches are the ones who can really do us in.”

“There you go! I knew you weren’t as dumb as you look,” Lieutenant Demange said-praising with faint damn, certainly, but praising even so. “That’s how it looks to me, too.”

“But so what, Lieutenant? Here we are in the middle of Russia. If we don’t go after the Ivans, they’ll sure kill us.”

Demange got rid of another dead Gitane. This time, he gave Luc one after lighting up himself-another sign he was pleased. “Suppose a little bird told you they’re quietly working on stretching the Maginot Line from the Belgian border all the way to the Channel?”

“Where’d you hear that?” Luc asked. If Demange met a little bird, he’d clean it and pluck it and roast it, preferably stuffed with mushrooms.

“Never mind where. What you don’t know, nobody can squeeze out of you.” Demange might have been talking about interrogation by the enemy, not by his own side. He went on, “What you do need to know is, this isn’t somebody who talks out his asshole. Or I don’t think so, anyway.”

“Huh,” Luc said, and then, “What do the Germans say about that?” One of the big reasons the Nazis had invaded France by way of the Low Countries was that they hadn’t wanted to bang their heads against the works of the Maginot Line. France had figured Holland and Belgium and Luxembourg would make shield enough. Now that France knew better…

“If the Germans know what we’re up to, they haven’t said anything about it,” the veteran replied. “That’s what I hear.”

“Huh,” Luc said again, more thoughtfully this time. “Why aren’t they screaming their fool heads off? Quiet Nazis? It sounds unnatural.”

Demange rewarded him with a twisted grin. “It does, doesn’t it? Here’s the best answer I can give you: I don’t know why. If I was Hitler, me, I’d be having kittens.”

“Yeah, me, too,” Luc agreed. If somebody who showed he’d gone over to your side by sending several divisions to help you fight your other enemies suddenly started strengthening his border against you, you had to have something wrong with you if you didn’t wonder why. Didn’t you?

Luc looked around. Yes, he was glad none of the other soldiers could overhear them. “So what happens now? Do we cross over to the Russians’ side of the line the way the Tommies did? Or do we wait till somebody counts three and then turn our guns on the Boches? I mean, I wouldn’t mind, but…”

“What happens now? We keep on doing what we’ve been doing till somebody with clout tells us to do something else. Then we fucking well do that instead.” Demange paused, considering. “And you never heard word one about this crap from me, understand? Try and say anything different and you won’t live to enjoy it.”

“I’m no rat,” Luc said, genuinely affronted.

“Yeah, yeah. I know that. I wouldn’t’ve said anything at all if I thought you were,” Lieutenant Demange replied. “But this is dynamite. You’ve got to remember it’s dynamite. Otherwise you’ll get your hands blown off, and you’ll be standing there bleeding and wondering what the hell happened to you.”

A Russian machine gun opened up, not close enough to worry about. A few seconds later, a French machine gun answered. Maybe the diplomats were doing mysterious things behind the scenes. The men who fought and died were still fighting and dying.

Demange listened to the dueling murder mills with his head cocked to one side and that wry grin still on his face. “It’s all merde, you know,” he said. “Every goddamn bit of it.”

“Uh-huh.” Luc nodded. All he wanted was to keep from getting ground between the gears. He’d managed so far. Another Russian machine gun started firing. Pretty soon, the artillery would join in. How long could he stay lucky?

Be careful what you ask for. You may get it. Hideki Fujita must have heard that before he requested a transfer away from Pingfan. Sadly, though, it hadn’t stuck. And Captain Ikejiri had wasted no time in ridding the bacteriological-warfare unit of someone who’d screwed up.

When Fujita heard he was being transferred to Yunnan province, he’d assumed he would travel down through China to wherever the devil Yunnan was. As things turned out, the province lay in the far, far south, on the border with Burma. He couldn’t simply hop on a train and go there, because Japanese control in China stopped well north of the area.

No, things weren’t that simple. The train took him from Harbin to Shanghai. From there, he took a ship to Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, newly seized from the British, he had to wait two days for a plane to Hanoi, newly taken from the French. After another flight, he landed at the airport in Mandalay: Burma, too, had belonged to England till the war got rolling. Then he took the train up to Myitkyina, near the Chinese border.

The train trip was an adventure all by itself. Even before the fighting started, the line must have been an afterthought of empire. During combat, English soldiers had sabotaged it here and there. And the Japanese broom of conquest hadn’t come close to sweeping clean. Englishmen with rifles and mortars still roamed the countryside. So did Burmese bandits. Fujita fired out the window several times. He wasn’t always sure at whom he was shooting. He didn’t much care, either. Nobody who was shooting at him was likely to be friendly.

Myitkyina lay in the middle of steaming jungle. Snow-capped mountains corrugated the horizon to the east and north. Signs at the train station were written in characters he couldn’t read. He grabbed the first Japanese soldier he saw and asked-almost begged-to be taken to the local army headquarters.

Since the soldier he grabbed was only a private, the fellow couldn’t tell him to get lost. He didn’t look happy, though. “Well, come on, then,” he said gruffly. Four other Japanese soldiers who’d got off the train with Fujita eagerly followed. They seemed just as lost and confused as he was.

Not surprisingly, the functionaries who made Southern Army go had claimed the best hotel in town. It was a fourth-rate copy of a third-rate hotel in a second-rate city in some happier English colonial possession. Getting shelled in the conquest did nothing to improve it. The clerks there rapidly dealt with the other newly arrived Japanese soldiers. Each of those men had a slot, and they fit him into it. No one seemed to have any idea what to do with Fujita.

“From the Kwangtung Army? From Manchukuo? To here?” A senior sergeant shook his head in disbelief. “ Eee! Someone’s played a dirty trick on you, Corporal, or maybe on us.”

“You don’t have any records that show where I’m supposed to go?” Fujita asked.

“You might as well have fallen from the moon. For all I know, you did.” The sergeant seemed to think he was a funny fellow.

“But that’s crazy.” If Fujita sounded desperate, it was only because he was. They not only didn’t have a slot for him, they didn’t even have a board with slots to find out where he fit. And here he was, lucky not to have got killed before he made it to this miserable place. He’d thought Captain Ikejiri was doing him a favor. Ikejiri must have hated his guts.

“Well, let’s try a different angle,” the sergeant said. “What did you do when you were in Manchukuo?”

Before Fujita could answer, several more soldiers from the train found their way to the hotel. The military bureaucrat dealt with them and seemed to forget about Fujita. The other soldiers were easy. He wasn’t. And he had to be careful about what he said. “Well, before I got here I served in Colonel Ishii’s unit,” he replied when the senior sergeant had time for him once more.

“Zakennayo!” that worthy exclaimed. “Who in blazes is Colonel Ishii? What does his damned unit do-besides sending people all over the Co-Prosperity Sphere, I mean?”

Fujita wondered how he should answer that. He feared he shouldn’t answer it at all. He also feared he would end up in trouble if he didn’t. But when the senior sergeant shouted Colonel Ishii’s name, a skinny little superior private with glasses pricked up his ears. “Please excuse me, Sergeant- san…” he said, and drew the noncom off to one side. They talked together in low voices for a couple of minutes.

“Oh,” the senior sergeant said loudly. “He’s with those people?” He turned back to Fujita. “Why didn’t you say you were with those people?”

Again, Fujita didn’t have to answer because the bespectacled senior private did some more urgent murmuring. The senior sergeant threw his hands in the air. He made as if to clout the younger man, who flinched.

Frightening someone seemed to make the sergeant feel better. Fujita knew that feeling. “Security!” the sergeant said, as if it were the filthiest word he knew. Maybe it was. He glowered at Fujita. “If you don’t tell us what you’re good for, how can we send you where you need to go?”

“If I do tell you, I violate the orders I got to keep that work secret,” Fujita answered unhappily.

“Bah!” The senior sergeant sounded disgusted. “Go to Yanai, then.” He pointed at the senior private. “He’ll write you orders to get you out there.”

Out where? Fujita wondered. Well, he’d find out.

And so he did. Superior Private Yanai wrote out the orders, saying, “This will take you out to Unit 113, in the 56th Infantry Division. There’s a shed next to the train station. You get your transport there.”

“A shed? Next to the train station?” Fujita knew he sounded dismayed-or maybe furious. A kilometer back to where he’d just come from, in this heat and humidity? He wasn’t looking forward to that.

“ Shigata ga nai, Corporal. I’m sorry.” Yanai spread his hands in what looked like real sympathy. Whether it was or not, he was right: it couldn’t be helped. Wearily, Fujita slung his rifle over his shoulder and trudged away from the hotel. Unfamiliar gaudy birds chirped in the bushes.

The shed smelled like a barn. Both soldiers on duty there were drunk. Fujita had to shout at them to discover what they called transport: a creaking ox cart. They were in charge of a dozen or so carts, with the oxen to haul them hither and yon. The oxen no doubt explained the smell. The first driver the men in charge of the shed hunted up had no idea where Unit 113 was stationed. They swore at him, but he insisted he’d never been there.

Things had been ragged out on Manchukuo’s border with Soviet-backed Mongolia. Here, they would have had to shape up to seem ragged. This was the raw edge of conquest. That Japanese soldiers ruled here near Burma’s Chinese frontier should have been inspiring. That the soldiers actually at the frontier were less than the shining lights of the Japanese Army shouldn’t have been surprising. Fujita had traveled too far too fast to stay tolerant. He screamed at the stablemen. One of them was a corporal, too. He didn’t care. If the other fellow felt like fighting, he intended to maim him for life.

He was almost disappointed when the other corporal quailed instead. Even a drunk could tell he had murder in his eyes. And the next driver the stablemen hunted up did know about Unit 113. “I’ve been there before,” he said. “I can find it again.” He eyed Fujita. “Keep your piece handy while we go, though. You might want to fix your bayonet, too. Things can get pretty hairy around here.”

“I found out about that on the way up.” Fujita unsheathed the bayonet and snapped it into place under his Arisaka’s muzzle.

He could have walked to Unit 113 as fast as the ox cart brought him there. He would have had to work harder, though. The trail they followed wasn’t much wider than the cart. Anything or anyone might have burst out of the jungle before Fujita or the driver could do anything about it. The oxen took their own sweet time splashing across streams.

It was almost sunset when they reached the clearing that held Unit 113. No fancy compound here-nothing but tents. No officer of rank higher than captain, either. And nobody, from that captain down to the almost toothless old Burmese woman who cooked for the unit, had the slightest idea that Fujita was coming or what to do with him now that he was here.

“Demons take it,” the captain said at last. “You’re really from Unit 731?” He might have been a skinny little would-be wrestler talking about someone from a famous sumo dojo.

“Yes, sir. I really am,” Fujita said.

“How about that? I’m sure you’ll do a lot of good here, then, with all the things you’re bound to know. For now, get some rice, pour some of the old gal’s stew over it, and find somewhere to unroll your blanket or sling your hammock. We’ve got a lot going on here. I’m sure you’ll fit right in.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir.” Fujita knew better than to argue with an officer. He also knew better than to ask the Burmese woman what all went into the stew. It didn’t taste half bad, even if it was spicier than he fancied. Better not to wonder where the meat came from. He’d had stews like that before. As long as it filled him up, he wouldn’t complain.

La Martellita looked daggers at Chaim Weinberg. If this was the kind of love wives were supposed to show husbands, he sure didn’t want to see how she’d act when she was pissed off at him. (As a matter of fact, he had seen that, and more often than he wanted.)

Her hands cupped her bulging belly. “You did this to me!” she screeched, more or less accurately.

They were walking along a street in Madrid. La Martellita didn’t care. She let him have it any which way. Other people within earshot turned to listen. Street theater was the best, and cheapest, entertainment in town. It was a hell of a lot more interesting than the crap either the Republicans or the Nationalists put on the radio.

Chaim knew about street theater. Growing up in New York City’s Lower East Side, he couldn’t very well not know about it. But he enjoyed watching and listening to other people more than being watched and listened to.

“Take it easy, Magdalena,” he said, trying to soothe his inamorata till they got to some place where she could scream at him in something resembling privacy.

“And don’t call me by that name!” she told him, still at top volume. “Don’t you dare call me by that name! You’ve got no business knowing that name! I’m the Little Hammer! Do you hear me?”

“ Si, Magdalena,” Chaim answered easily. If she was going to work like a Stakhanovite to piss him off, the least he could do was return the disfavor.

She said something so incandescent that a little old woman with a face like a Roman bust that was starting to crumble crossed herself. In the aggressively anticlerical Spanish Republic, that was shock indeed. Someone might denounce you for showing you believed.

As for Chaim, he understood most of what his very pregnant sweetheart called him. He would have murdered any man who said a quarter of that to him, and not a jury in the world would have convicted him, either. Plenty of Spaniards would have decked a woman who talked to them like that. (Some would have got a shiv in the ribs after decking them, too. Spain was a lively country.)

He’d already proved he was a soft American-and no one who tried belting La Martellita would have had joy of it afterwards. So, instead of making a fist and playing the goon, he gave her his blandest, stupidest smile. “?Que?” he said sweetly.

She started to explode. Then she saw he was waiting for that. She sent him a glare acid enough to etch glass. Instead of shrieking, she asked, “Are you playing games with me?” in a deadly quiet voice.

“You’re the one who’s been playing all the games,” Chaim answered. “Yes, you’re going to have a baby. I didn’t rape you. I did marry you. What else do you want from me?”

Unfortunately, he knew what else she wanted. She wanted him not to be so short and stumpy. She wanted him to have a handsomer face. He wouldn’t have minded a handsomer face himself, but he was stuck with the mug he’d been issued. His looks weren’t the real problem, though. Even his being Jewish wasn’t the real problem, though in a way it came closer. The real problem was, he wasn’t a good enough Communist to suit her.

Maybe that had something to do with his being Jewish. It sure as hell had something to do with his being American. He was so used to thinking for himself, he did it without thinking, so to speak. La Martellita was made for knocking unorthodoxy flat. She would have been great in the Inquisition-she had the full measure of Spanish zeal. If he’d really wanted to hurt her, he would have told her so.

“You didn’t rape me,” she agreed, and well she might-any man who tried to have his way with her without her consent would leave his cojones behind. “But I wasn’t sober when you did me, either.”

“Neither was I, the first time,” Chaim said, which was at least partly true. “But we both were the next morning.”

“There wouldn’t have been a next morning if there hadn’t been a first night.”

Chaim sighed. That was also true, dammit. He spread his hands. “All we can do now is try and make the best of it. Yelling at me all the time doesn’t help. It just gives me a headache.”

“I don’t yell at you all the time,” La Martellita said. “When you’re up at the front, I can’t.”

“No, all they can do up there is kill me,” Chaim said. She looked at him in incomprehension. It wasn’t his Spanish, either; he’d said what he meant. But she didn’t get it.

She was beautiful. She was dangerous. The combination was irresistible to Chaim, much as a tiger’s terrible beauty had to be to a beast-tamer. One split second of inattention, one tiny mistake with the chair, and you’d be lying on the ground in the middle of the center ring bleeding your life out, and all the marks in the bleachers would go Oooh! Life with La Martellita was a lot like that.

Too much like that? For what had to be the first time, Chaim wondered. Yes, she was beautiful. Yes, she was dangerous. Yes, the combination was intoxicating. But, when you got right down to it, how bright was she really?

Intoxicated, Chaim had never stopped to worry about it. He’d never stopped to think it might matter. Not thinking was most unusual for him, and telling testimony to just how head over heels he was about her. Most of the time, he thought convulsively, propulsively, continuously. If he hadn’t turned Red, he would have made a yeshiva-bukher to be remembered for generations. If he thought about La Martellita instead of remembering what touching her felt like…

“Why are you looking at me like that?” she asked.

“Like what?” Chaim feared he knew like what, but he didn’t want to acknowledge it, even-especially-to himself. For a while, you imagine that something broken will put itself back together by magic. But magic is in desperately short supply in the material world.

“Like the way you’re looking at me, that’s like what.” It was obvious to La Martellita. “Like I just died or something.”

“No, not you,” Chaim said sadly. He’d never imagined himself a prophet, but he could see the future all too clearly now. It was a future where he didn’t see the son or daughter swelling in La Martellita’s belly. It was a future where he didn’t see her, either, and probably one where she told the child nothing but bad things about its father. He’d just watched his love die, and he had no idea what he could do about it.

“What, then?” she demanded. It wasn’t obvious to her. He could see why not, too. She’d never been in love with him. If he’d thought she was, it was only because he’d made her reflect what he most wanted to see.

He could tell her. What difference would it make? Not much, which was part of the problem. But, like a wounded soldier who won’t look to see how badly he’s hit, Chaim didn’t want to bring out the fatal words. He said “Never mind” instead, hoping against hope the wound wasn’t mortal after all.

Chapter 16

Nothing in Central Europe or France had braced Vaclav Jezek for summer outside Madrid. Dust. Blazing sun. Air that sucked moisture from your body like a vampire. The only thing that hadn’t changed was the stink of death. That stayed the same everywhere. It was bound to be the same in hell, assuming this battlefield wasn’t one of Satan’s ritzier suburbs.

Vaclav wasn’t the only one to feel the heat, either. Several of his countrymen got carried off the field with sunstroke. He heard later that one of them had died.

Through it all, Benjamin Halevy went about his business as calmly as if it were an April day in Paris or Prague. He might have been made of metal. Whatever he was made of, the savage Spanish heat couldn’t melt him.

“Why aren’t you baked like the rest of us?” Vaclav snarled. The weather left him short-tempered, too.

“It’s hot,” Halevy said. “But my people came out of the desert, remember. I guess the memory of it’s still in my bones.”

He sounded serious. As Jezek had seen, though, he often sounded that way when he was anything but. “Desert, my ass,” the sniper said.

“Well, if your ass seems cooler than the rest of you, maybe it came out of the desert, too.” Halevy eyed him. “Have to say you don’t look like you’ve got any Jews in the woodpile.”

What first sprang to Vaclav’s mind was something about Halevy’s mother. But he could see for himself how Halevy would parry that. You didn’t want to get into a manure fight with a guy who ran a fertilizer factory. Halevy thought faster and nastier than he did, and that was all there was to it. Instead of being bitchy, Jezek asked, “Have you heard anything about when Marshal Sanjurjo will inspect the trenches again?” He waved toward the Nationalist lines, taking care not to raise any part of his arm above parapet level.

Benjamin Halevy grinned crookedly. “I’ve finally sucked you in, huh? You want him?”

“Bet your sweatless ass I do,” Vaclav answered, and the Jew laughed out loud. Undeterred, Vaclav continued, “If I pot the fat old bastard, they’ll pin a medal on me. They’ll promote me, so I get some extra pay for real and more besides in promises. They’ll send me back to Madrid and let me drink and fuck as much as I want. Maybe they’ll even pay for the spree. So, yeah, if Sanjurjo shows up, I’ll punch his ticket for him.”

“You’ve got all kinds of good reasons,” Halevy allowed. “And, on top of it, it might even help the war effort.”

“That, too,” Vaclav agreed. The damned Jew started laughing again. Vaclav couldn’t see why. If it had provoked him enough, he might have taken a swing at his buddy. Halevy was an officer now, so that could have been a capital crime. Worrying about it wasn’t what held Vaclav back. The sensible concern that he’d wake up in the bottom of the trench with a sore jaw and maybe a couple of broken teeth had much more to do with it.

Instead of decking the Jew, Jezek lugged his antitank rifle down the line and spied on the Nationalist positions. The enemy soldiers carried on in plain sight of him. He could have killed some of them, but to what end? They’d tighten up and get more wary. That was the last thing he wanted.

Almost the last thing… A Spanish sharpshooter had hunted him for a little while. The would-be marksman was now of concern only to his next of kin. It wasn’t that he hadn’t been brave. It wasn’t even that he hadn’t been a good shot. But he must have got what he knew about concealment out of some badly translated manual from the last war. The Nationalists wore German-style helmets, which made them familiar-looking enemies. Those helmets were pretty good. But they wouldn’t stop an ordinary bullet, let alone the fat ones Vaclav used. That sniper got only one lesson in the art, a very final one.

There were steel loopholes along the line from which Vaclav could inspect the enemy’s trenches. As was his habit, he stayed away from them. An ordinary soldier couldn’t put a bullet through one except by luck, and from what he’d seen Spanish soldiers were often less than ordinary. But you never could tell. The Nationalists might have a few real experts. Or they might talk to their Italian allies or to the Germans of the Legion Kondor. For someone who knew what he was doing, a loophole was a challenge, not something too tough to bother with.

He crossed into the trenches the International Brigades held. They greeted him in several languages, some of which he understood. A-probable-Magyar spoke in German: “Haven’t seen any elephants around here for a long time.”

“I keep snapping my fingers-that’s why,” Vaclav answered in the same language. The International made a horrible face. Vaclav trudged on down the line.

The Americans in the Abe Lincoln Battalion (or maybe it was a brigade; even they didn’t seem sure) had more trouble talking to him than most of the other Internationals. They knew English, and some of them had picked up enough Spanish to get by. Neither of those did him much good, and they were unlikely to speak any other tongue.

One exception was-surprise! — a Jew from New York City. Chaim understood Vaclav’s German, and Vaclav usually managed to cope with his Yiddish. The Abe Lincoln didn’t look very happy right now.

“What’s up?” Vaclav asked.

“My girl and me-it’s gonna go down the drain.” Chaim mimed a little whirlpool in case Vaclav didn’t get it.

But he did. “It’s gonna go down the drain?” he echoed. “It hasn’t happened yet? Maybe it won’t.”

“It’s gonna,” Chaim repeated gloomily. “Some stuff you see coming way ahead of time. You can’t stop it, not unless you’re Superman. Maybe not even if you are.”

“Not unless you’re who?” Vaclav asked.

“Superman. Ubermensch, it’d be in German, but the English doesn’t make you sound like a fucking Nazi. The guy’s a comic-book hero. Lemme show you-a buddy sent me a couple from the States, and they honest to God got here, would you believe it? They’re pretty good.” Chaim rummaged in his pack till he grunted in victory and pulled out a gaudily printed comic book.

The text was in English, of course. Vaclav knew even less English than Spanish-he could get beer and some food in Spanish now, and was starting to be able to swear when he didn’t get them fast enough to suit him. But there wasn’t a whole lot of text, anyway. The pictures carried the action, and pictures were a universal language. For what he couldn’t get from them, Chaim made an enthusiastic translator and explainer.

“See, Metropolis is pretty much like New York City,” the American Jew said. “Not exactly, but pretty much. I’m from New York City, so I should know, right?”

“New York City is like that?” Vaclav pointed to one of the panels. Superman was rescuing a scantily clad girl with one hand and picking up an enormous locomotive in the other. The bad guys’ Tommy-gun bullets ricocheted off his chest as if he were armored like a tank.

“Well, not exactly.” Chaim sounded a little embarrassed. “But the look of the place-the skyscrapers and the cars and the clothes and all-that’s pretty close. And the newspaper office where Superman works when he’s being Clark Kent, that looks like a newspaper office. I mean, it’s bigger and cleaner than a real one-I’ve been in ’em, so I know-but it’s got the idea right, anyway.”

Vaclav had been in a newspaper office in Prague. It was tiny and airless and dark, housed in some building left over from the eighteenth century. It smelled of ink and beer and tobacco and unwashed people. How it turned out a newspaper every day, God only knew; the editor plainly had no idea. Next to that, even a rougher version of what the comic book showed seemed very much like heaven.

“America must be a strange place,” Vaclav said.

“Man, you got no idea,” Chaim answered.

“If you lived there, why did you come here?”

“For freedom. For adventure. For love.” The Jew’s face twisted. “And I got ’em all, and they ain’t worth shit. Women are crazy, you know? You can’t live with ’em and you sure as hell can’t live without ’em.”

Not much originality there, but great feeling. Carefully, Vaclav said, “You aren’t the first guy who ever found this out.”

“I guess not, but that don’t make it hurt any less,” Chaim replied, and Vaclav found himself without a comeback for that.

Willi Dernen sewed his pip onto a patch with a chevron, then sewed the chevron onto the left sleeve of his uniform tunic. Not just a Gefreiter — an Obergefreiter. The promotion gods had smiled on him again, presumably because he’d stayed lucky enough not to stop anything. He was a very senior private indeed.

He found it obvious that, if and when a bullet finally found Arno Baatz, he could step right up and do Awful Arno’s job better than Arno did himself. Corporal Baatz, unsurprisingly, held a different opinion. “You think you’re such hot shit, don’t you?” Baatz said. “Well, puff and blow all you want. They won’t make you an Unteroffizier if you live to be a million.”

Blow me, Arno, Willi thought. Aloud, he said, “How about that?” It was a pretty safe phrase any old time.

“Well, they won’t, dammit,” Awful Arno insisted. “You have to go to noncoms’ school to learn to do all the stuff an Unteroffizier has to do. It takes weeks. You’d never hack it-no way in hell.”

As far as Willi was concerned, if Awful Arno had made it through noncoms’ training school, anything this side of Hans the counting horse could probably do the same. Telling him as much was a great temptation. Regretfully, Willi held back. Life was too short… he supposed.

So all he said was, “I notice you’re wearing your shoulder straps upside down so the Ivans don’t spot the pips on them.”

“I should hope I am,” Baatz said importantly. “Most noncoms do, you know. The Reds understand that we’re what makes the army tick. They’d sooner shoot a corporal than a private any old day.”

Willi had never dreamt he would sympathize with the Red Army, but all of a sudden he did. Again, letting Baatz know everything on his mind struck him as less than a good idea. He hoped he sounded patient as he answered, “I understand that. But my pip’s on my sleeve, where I can’t hide it. And the chevron only makes it stand out more.”

“Shall I cry for you?” Awful Arno said, and Willi sympathized with the Russian sharpshooters more than ever. Luckily not understanding that, Baatz went on, “Anyway, you’ve only got it on one side. From the right, the Russians will just figure you’re an ordinary, miserable, no-account private.”

“Wunderbar,” Willi said. At least Baatz hadn’t added instead of an ordinary, miserable, no-account Obergefreiter. He was probably thinking it, though, the same way Willi was having unexpected kind thoughts about the Ivans.

No matter what he thought about them, they didn’t love the Wehrmacht. Several batteries of 105s opened up on the German positions southwest of Smolensk. Willi and Corporal Baatz both dove for a foxhole. It was big enough to hold the two of them, though Willi would have bet Baatz was no happier about being cheek-to-cheek with him than he was smelling Awful Arno’s stale sweat.

If a shell came down on top of them, they’d both head for the Pearly Gates at the same instant. Willi looked forward to passing through while demons with pointy pitchforks dragged the Unteroffizier down to a warmer place. He would cherish the look on Baatz’s face, damned if he wouldn’t. That was an un-Christian thought; he knew as much. Knowing and caring were two different beasts.

Somebody a couple of hundred meters away shrieked for an aid man. That sobered Willi. No, he didn’t want a 105 round to come down on them after all, not when he had no guarantee of dying instantly. He’d seen too many slow, anguish-filled ways of passing to want to experiment. Baatz’s cheese-pale face said he wasn’t thrilled about what was going on, either.

“Damn Russians have too many guns,” Baatz yelled through the din.

“Too right they do!” Willi agreed with great feeling.

And then things got worse. He hadn’t dreamt they could. Something screamed down out of the sky, trailing a tail of fire. No, not one something, but dozens of them spread through a square kilometer or so, all screaming the way Willi’d imagined Arno Baatz’s damned soul doing. And then, over no more than a few seconds, they all slammed into the ground and they all exploded.

“Gott im Himmel!” Willi shouted, as loud as he could. He hadn’t a prayer of hearing himself. Awful Arno’s lips were moving, too, but Willi couldn’t hear him, either. He had trouble breathing, and tasted blood when he coughed to try to clear his ears. He suspected he was lucky-if he was lucky-the blast hadn’t finished him altogether.

He looked around. The Russian rockets-he supposed they couldn’t be anything else-had left the ground a smoking moonscape. Bodies and pieces of bodies lay scattered at random across it. And the German soldiers who survived were panicking like a bunch of Dutchmen suddenly up against panzers.

Mouths wide open to let out cries of terror Willi couldn’t hear, Landsers raced toward the rear. Some still carried their rifles or machine guns. Others had thrown them away so they could run faster-or else just forgotten all about them. Here and there, officers and Feldwebels tried to stem the tide. They had as much luck as King Canute.

Willi might not have heard those frightened yells, but even his battered ears caught the rising screams in the air to the northeast. “Oh, no! Not again!” he wailed, and curled up in a ball like a pillbug.

The second rocket salvo caught too many panicked Germans out in the open. Between shattering blasts and scything shards, a man standing up without shelter didn’t have a chance. Side by side with Willi, Arno Baatz also tried to squeeze himself into as small a space as he could. Willi could read his lips as he howled, “Make it stop, Jesus! Make it stop!”

Jesus, unfortunately, wasn’t in charge of that. The Soviet high command was. The rockets didn’t come again. But a wave of Red Army foot soldiers surged out of their trenches and swarmed toward the battered German line. Willi supposed they were yelling “Urra!” — they always did when they charged. He sure as hell couldn’t hear them, though.

If they got close enough, they would kill him. No matter how blast-stunned he was, he could see that. His fine new sniper’s Mauser found its way to his shoulder without his quite realizing how it got there. He could hear the report, and the kick helped bring him back to himself. An Ivan fell over. Willi swung the rifle a little to the left. He potted another Russian.

Arno Baatz uncoiled and started shooting, too. So did other Landsers here and there. The rockets hadn’t taken out or terrorized everybody. But that khaki Russian wave kept coming. There weren’t enough Germans left to stop it, and wouldn’t have been even if the discombobulated ones were still able to fight.

Willi could see that. Could Awful Arno, or would he get sticky? Mouthing exaggeratedly, Willi shouted, “We’ve got to get out of here!”

“What?” Baatz mouthed back. Willi repeated himself. The corporal’s eyes showed white all around the iris. Baatz bit his lip. Then he nodded.

They both scrambled out of the foxhole and staggered toward the rear-toward a place where, God willing, things like this didn’t happen. They weren’t the only ones, either. Something in Willi’s chest loosened when he saw Adam Pfaff. He first recognized his buddy by his rifle’s gray paint job. Pfaff himself was too filthy to put a name to. Willi guessed he was no cleaner himself.

Pfaff waved. A Russian bullet cracked past, between him and Willi. They both ducked. Pfaff said something. Willi held a cupped hand to his ear to show he couldn’t hear. Pfaff mimed shock, horror, and disbelief. Then he turned and fired a couple of shots to slow down the oncoming Ivans. That struck Willi as a brilliant idea. He did the same thing himself. Corporal Baatz also sent a round their way. Arno might be awful, but he did have balls.

Then a chattering machine gun really slowed the Russians. Cannon shells burst among them, too. Panzers to the rescue-and Willi hadn’t even realized they were around till they started firing. He wondered if his hearing would ever come back. Or had the rockets scrambled it for good?

Right this minute, he didn’t care. It looked as if he might get out of here pretty much in one piece. Next to that, nothing else mattered.

Ivan Kuchkov had never gone to the Ukraine before. Now that he was here, he wouldn’t have minded getting the devil out. The locals talked funny. A lot of them were anti-Soviet, and hardly bothered to hide it. They seemed to be waiting for the Nazis to run the Red Army out of their neighborhood. As far as Kuchkov was concerned, they could all go…

For once, he and the politruk were on the same side. “Show traitors no mercy!” Lieutenant Vasiliev said furiously. “Think what they’ll do to you if they get half a chance. And don’t give it to them!”

The men listening to the political officer nodded. By their wide eyes, some seemed not to have had any such notions on their own. Were they really so wet behind the ears? Kuchkov feared they were. Milk-fed, too damn many of them. If you didn’t learn to watch out for yourself, you could bet somebody would jump on you. With both feet, too. In hobnailed boots.

And Vasiliev added, “One thing you don’t need to worry about. The victory of the glorious Soviet Union over the debased and degenerate jackals who nibble at her is certain. Certain, I tell you!”

Was it? As far as Kuchkov was concerned, the only certain thing was that, sooner or later, somebody would screw you. Or sooner and later, more likely. And, if victory was so bloody certain, why had his division been shipped south to try to slow down the Nazis here? And how come all the fighting these days was on Soviet soil? Shouldn’t things be moving the other way?

“Questions?” the politruk added.

One of the reasons he asked was to see what kind of questions he got, and from whom. Kuchkov kept his right arm down by his side. What kind of idiot were you if you gave them extra rope to hang you with? They could build a case against you out of nothing if they wanted to. It was a million times worse if they really had something. The Germans would kill you. But so would the people you were supposed to be fighting for.

That had to be why so many Ukrainians were ready to raise a hand in the Nazi salute. Ivan Kuchkov grunted to himself. Well, at least now it made sense. He knew he still had to plug the worthless bastards without hesitation if he thought they had anything to do with the Feldgrau boys.

There were Romanians in the neighborhood, too, but he didn’t worry about them. The Poles farther north hadn’t had as much fancy equipment as the Germans, but they meant it when they fought you, and that counted for more. Marshal Antonescu’s swarthy soldiers? Nah. The only reason they were here was that they’d get it in the neck if they tried to bail out. You did have to be careful not to mistake them for your own guys, because they wore khaki, too. But their uniforms had a different cut, and they used funny helmets, easy to recognize since they were so long fore and aft.

The Germans were the trouble, though, and the Ukrainians, and his own superiors. Fuck it, he thought. Nobody’s done for me yet.

He and half a platoon of soldiers cautiously entered a village the next day, not long after sunup. The peasants stared at them with expressionless faces. Ivan didn’t quite point his submachine gun at a guy with a cloth cap and a big, bushy white mustache. “How you doing, Grandpa?” he said. “Seen any Fritzes around here?”

Grandpa came back with a paragraph of Ukrainian. For all the good it did Kuchkov, it might as well have been Portuguese. He glanced at his own men to see if any of them made sense of it. Some Russian dialects were closer than his to the crap they spoke down here. A private said, “I think he says there haven’t been any around.”

That was what Ivan thought the old geezer’d said, too, but he hadn’t been even close to sure. He nodded-unpleasantly. “Search the houses, boys. We find any Nazi propaganda shit, we’ll clean out this whole whore of a place.” He rather looked forward to it.

One of the Ukrainian women screeched like a cat after a door got slammed on its tail. Grandpa put his head together with some of the other old farts. Only a couple of young men here. Maybe the rest were in the Red Army. Or maybe they’d run off to join the Hitlerite swine. You never could tell.

All at once, though, Grandpa spoke Russian an ordinary human being could understand: “Pavel here, he says maybe the Germans are that way, not too far.” He pointed west, then toward one of his drinking buddies. Pavel looked as if he didn’t need to be singled out.

Too bad, cocksucker, Kuchkov thought. “How do you know?” the sergeant growled. Pavel looked blank. That failed to impress Kuchkov. “How do you know, cuntface? You better sing out, ’cause you’ll be fucking sorry if you don’t.”

Pavel did: “In the fields yesterday afternoon, I saw dust from their tanks and trucks. Had to be theirs. None of yours in that direction.”

Yours should have been ours. Ivan could have nailed him for that. He would have, too, but he had bigger worries. “Just dust?” he snapped. “No soldiers?”

“Nyet,” Pavel said. “No soldiers.”

Ivan considered. If there had been Fritzes in eyeball range then, chances were his half-platoon would have had to clear them out of this pissy hole in the ground-or would have walked into an ambush, one. So chances were the local wasn’t bullshitting: not right this minute, anyhow.

“All right.” Kuchkov turned back to his men. “Georgi, you and Avram go half a kilometer out that way, see what the fuck you find. Go on. Get your sad asses moving. If you see Fritzes, Georgi, you come back and tell us. Otherwise both of you hang on there.”

Avram sent him a wounded look. Ivan pretended not to notice. Avram was a Hebe. You could count on him to fight the Germans. And he made a damn good point man, not least because he was so jumpy. If anybody could stay out there and not draw the enemy’s notice, he was the guy. Georgi was pretty good in the field, but not as good as the Jew. If the Nazis were coming up, Avram was the man to keep an eye on them.

Off they went, both glum. And well they might have been, because a Mauser barked almost as soon as they left the village. One of them-Ivan didn’t see which-fell. The other dove for cover. “We’ll fight ’em in here,” Kuchkov declared. “House to house if we have to. Misha, go back and tell the captain we need help doublemotherfucking quick. Scram!”

The Ukrainians started screeching again. They didn’t want their village smashed up. Well, how often in this lousy old world did you get what you wanted? He wanted to have a mortar team here, for instance. Wouldn’t that make the Fritzes howl!

He dashed into a tavern at the west end of the village. As soon as he did, he grabbed a bottle. This was a hell of a lot better than the Red Army’s daily hundred grams. He swigged and whistled. The vodka was better than the gasoline-tasting stuff the army issued, too.

He peered out through a knothole. Sure as hell, the Germans were coming up. Life sucked sometimes. He sucked, too, at the vodka bottle. Best thing in the world, except maybe a pretty girl’s tit. Smooth fire ran down his throat. He grabbed another bottle, just in case. In case of what? The Nazis had a Panzer II with them. Maybe he could turn the virgin bottle into a Molotov cocktail. Or maybe he’d go ahead and drink the son of a bitch.

The Panzer II sprayed the village with machine-gun bullets. Kuchkov had hoped the Fritz commanding it would be dumb enough to drive inside, but no such luck. One of his men fired at the tank from another house. The round clanged off steel, but so what? The enemy tank’s cannon fired several rounds into that house. No more rifle fire came from it. Maybe the soldier had learned his lesson. Maybe he wouldn’t need to learn any more lessons from now on.

But you couldn’t not shoot, not with the German foot soldiers advancing. They’d sure as hell shoot you. Kuchkov stuck the muzzle of his PPD-34 out through the knothole and gave them a burst. Then he threw himself flat on the rammed-earth floor.

Sure as shit, machine-gun bullets stitched through the woodwork half a meter above his head. Vodka bottles shattered noisily. “Fucking waste,” Ivan mourned.

Then he heard a noise like an accident in a machine shop-a bad accident. He put an eye up to one of the brand new holes in the wall. The Panzer II was blazing as if it had just gone to hell. The Fritzes on foot had stopped and were staring in the same horrified dismay he’d felt a moment earlier. Machine-gun bullets stitched through them from right to left. They all went down, some dead or wounded, others just sensibly hitting the dirt.

Sometimes your officers actually knew what they were doing. Sometimes you got lucky instead. A pair of brand new T-34s stopped the German advance on the village. The Nazis couldn’t do anything against the latest Soviet tanks. A Panzer II was nothing but a snack for their 76mm guns. The Fritzes who could legged it back to the west at top speed. And Ivan Kuchkov drank from his liberated vodka bottles till the newly ventilated tavern spun dizzily around him.

The Nazi official at the Munster Rathaus couldn’t have looked more disgusted if he’d found rotten, stinking fish on his supper plate and been compelled to eat it. Sarah Goldman didn’t care. If anything, she enjoyed seeing that look on his face. She wasn’t rash enough to show what she was thinking, of course.

Beside her stood Isidor Bruck. His features also stayed carefully blank. Behind him stood his parents, as Sarah’s mother and father stood behind her. Despite everything the Reich ’s bureaucracy could do to make things difficult for them, Sarah and Isidor had finally finished all their paperwork. They’d won the state’s very grudging permission to marry.

“Moses Isidor Bruck and Sarah Sarah Goldman”-the pen-pusher with the swastika armband used the first names the Nazis had forced all Jews to adopt (Sarah’s renaming with her own name never failed to make her giggle, at least inside)-“you have conformed with the requirements the Reich and the National Socialist German Workers’ Party place on marriages for persons of the Hebrew religion. You have also paid all the necessary fees to complete the process.”

Sarah somehow felt her father stir behind her. She could tell what he was thinking. It wasn’t on account of the fees, which were fat. The professor in him wanted to correct the Nazi flunky for calling the religion “Hebrew.” For a heartbeat, she feared he would. He didn’t. Odds were no Jew in the Reich would have been so rash. But she knew he wanted to.

Scowling, the official went on, “This being so, the Reich recognizes and permits the marriage.” He glanced Sarah’s way. “You are now Sarah Sarah Bruck. Your identity card and records will be altered to reflect the new situation.”

She made herself nod. She made herself hold her face straight while she did it. Beside her, Isidor nodded, too. He even smiled a little. That was more than she had in her.

She waited for the man in the armband to congratulate them. She should have known better. He seemed surprised to discover the half-dozen Jews were still standing there in front of him. With a brusque, impatient nod, he said, “That is all. You may go.” It wasn’t quite Now drop dead, but it might as well have been.

They left in a hurry, before the fellow changed his mind. Isidor pulled something out of his pocket-a thin gold band. He put it on the index finger of her right hand, the place where Jewish women traditionally wore wedding rings. She took it off and put it on the fourth finger of her left hand. Both her mother and Isidor’s kept their rings there, too. They wanted to fit in with the German majority. That wasn’t so easy when you wore a yellow star that screamed Jew! at the world.

“I love you,” Isidor said.

“I love you.” Sarah wondered if she really did. This wasn’t a fairy tale where you got married and lived happily ever after. But it was a world where you had to grab whatever happiness you could. If you didn’t, you knew you’d never see it again. She added, “Let’s go home.”

From now on, home would be the flat over the Brucks’ bakery. Her folks had made the mistake of asking for permission to put that door through between her room and Saul’s abandoned one. New construction? For Jews? Impossible! The arrangement wouldn’t be ideal, but nothing in Munster was ideal for Jews.

There should have been a reception, with music and dancing. There should have been more food than a regiment could eat, and more liquor than a division could drink. There should have been all kinds of things. There was… a loaf of bread from the bakery, and a couple of stewed rabbits Samuel Goldman had unofficially and expensively obtained from one of the other men in his labor gang. The way things had gone for Jews in Germany the past couple of years, that would do for a feast.

And there was schnapps. Somehow there was always schnapps, no matter how bad things got. It wasn’t the best schnapps, perhaps-it wasn’t the best schnapps, certainly-but it was schnapps.

Sarah drank enough to let her know she’d been drinking. She evidently drank enough to let other people know she’d been drinking, too. Isidor’s father said, “You don’t want to get too shikker, you know.”

He laughed in a peculiar, almost goatish way. To Sarah’s surprise, and to her mortification, her own father’s laugh sounded identical. Her mother, and Isidor’s, sniffed at their husbands. But then they laughed, too. Sarah stuck her nose in the air. That only made the older people laugh harder. Isidor put his arm around her, as if defending his new bride. Their parents laughed some more.

It wasn’t as if the older Goldmans and Brucks weren’t drinking with her and Isidor. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen her father’s cheeks turn pink. His hard work and bad diet usually left him sallow. Pink he was, though. And the meat he cut from the rabbits made him looked remarkably content. Sarah understood that. She had trouble remembering the last time her own belly had felt so happy.

“Well…” Puffing on a pipe charged with the same kind of nasty tobacco her own father smoked, David Bruck stretched the word out. He gathered his wife and Sarah’s father and mother by eye. “What do you say we go downstairs for a while, maybe take a little walk, hey?”

“Now why would we want to do that?” Samuel Goldman said, for all the world as if he couldn’t think of any reason. Everybody except Sarah laughed again. She was sure her cheeks weren’t just pink-they had to be on fire.

All the older people left. Isidor stared as the door closed behind them. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen my mother go out after we eat without washing dishes first,” he said.

She looked at him. “Do you want to think about your mother now?” she asked. Then she blushed again. Had that really come out of her mouth? As a matter of fact, it had.

And the way Isidor looked at her left her with no doubts his mother wasn’t the first thing on his mind. She thought she would blush one more time, but the warmth spreading through her started lower down. “Come on,” Isidor said.

When they got to the doorway to his room, he picked her up and carried her over the threshold. She squeaked. He silenced that by kissing her as he put her down. Then he shut the door behind them, even though they were alone in the flat. The door had a hook and eye to keep it from being opened from the outside. Isidor fastened that, too.

He looked on what he’d done and found it good. In very short order, he and Sarah were officially man and wife. “You’re squashing me,” she said.

“Sorry.” Isidor didn’t sound sorry. He couldn’t have sounded much happier if he’d tried. Sarah was pretty happy, too-maybe not quite so happy as she’d imagined she would be on her wedding day, but her imagination hadn’t taken into account the way things were for Jews in Germany these days.

After apologizing, Isidor rolled off her. That also made her happy. He didn’t roll far. He couldn’t, not without falling off the narrow bed. They would have to get a bigger one… somewhere, somehow, sometime.

His hand roamed her. She let it happen. Pretty soon, she started enjoying it and the other things he did. Before long, they were making things official again. Sweat beaded on Sarah’s skin. She was doing a warm thing, it was a warm summer’s day, and the room was above the ovens.

After a while, she said, “Again?” in surprise.

“Again,” Isidor answered proudly.

“What if they come back?”

“What if they do? The door’s shut. They won’t come barging in. And even if they break down the door or something, you’re my wife, right? We don’t have to sneak any more.”

He sounded like a boy with a new toy. Too much like that? Sarah wasn’t sure. She liked the new toy, too. But… three times? Things wouldn’t go well if she said no on her wedding day. She turned toward him and kissed him instead. That seemed to be the right thing to do, at least for the moment. And three times it was, even if the third round wasn’t so easy as the first two had been.

If he tried for four, she was going to tell him no. Enough was enough, and she was getting sore. He didn’t. He fell asleep instead, quite suddenly and quite deeply.

Sarah was miffed-till she fell asleep herself, even though she hadn’t expected to. When she woke up, she and Isidor were entangled almost as intimately as they had been before. Noises outside the closed door said Isidor’s parents-and, she recognized a moment later, hers as well-were back.

What do I do next? she wondered. For now, nothing seemed a good answer. Her new husband-her new husband! — was still snoring. But her life had just changed forever. Much too soon, she’d find out how.

Chapter 17

Something was wrong. Peggy Druce knew that. She also knew she was afraid she knew what it was. The complicated, inside-out reasoning should have made her laugh. Instead, it left her more afraid than ever.

Most of the time, she would have taken the bull by the horns. She had a low tolerance for bull generally, as even the Nazis came to understand. Without that low tolerance, she knew she would still be stuck in Europe. But going nose to nose with somebody you couldn’t stand was one thing. Going nose to nose with the man you loved more than anyone else in the world was something else again. Boy, was it ever!

Most of the time, Herb also spoke freely, at least when he was talking with her. He might be (might be, hell! — he was) more circumspect than she was in public, but she always got to find out what was on his mind. Or she had, till she got back from England.

Of course, if this went wrong it would blow up in her face. She knew that, too. Did she ever! And what was liable to happen if it did… What was liable to happen if it did was plenty to make her keep her big trap shut for months. Not talking about something, though, could prove as toxic as talking about it obviously was. That silent poison might be slower-acting, which didn’t mean it wasn’t there.

And so, one Thursday evening after dinner and a couple of highballs, Peggy said, “Herb, I think we need to talk.”

Her husband neatly folded his copy of the Daily News (the evening paper, so he and Peggy wouldn’t have to depend on the radio or wait for tomorrow morning’s Inquirer to keep up with what was going on), stubbed out his cigarette in the pocket of a bronze ashtray shaped like a baseball glove, and said, “What’s cookin’?”

Even though Peggy was sitting down, her knees wanted to knock. All the same, she said, “I think you know. About us.”

Herb made a small production out of firing up another Pall Mall. He held out the pack to her. She got up, took one, let him light it for her, and retreated to her chair. He dragged deeply, then blew a long stream of smoke toward the ceiling. He looked up at the smooth plaster as if watching for enemy bombers, but all there was to see was the smoke disappearing little by little.

His sigh might have come straight from Camille. “Damn,” he said without heat. “Who told you?”

“Who told me what?” Peggy echoed foolishly.

“I figured you were bound to hear sooner or later. I thought you must have already. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have said ‘We need to talk’ like that.” Herb sounded resigned, and a bit mad at himself. “Or maybe you would. Who the… Who knows? But people do gossip.”

“And what do people gossip about?” Peggy chose to rephrase that: “Why would people gossip about you?” Listening to herself, she thought she sounded resigned, too. She didn’t think she sounded mad at Herb, which was good.

He sighed again, even more deeply. He knocked ash into the bronze glove and set the cigarette down. Then, staring down at the comfortably shabby Persian rug under his slippers, he said, “You know, you were away from home a lot longer than we thought you would be when you headed for Europe.”

“I sure was,” she agreed. “What about it?”

He kept looking at the rug, which wasn’t like him. “Even then, I told myself I’d tell you if you ever asked me. Dammit, I messed around with one of the girls from the typing pool for a month or so. It didn’t mean anything, and I’m sorry I did it, but it happened.”

“You’re sorry now,” Peggy said. “What about then?”

“Then…” He looked up-he seemed to make himself look up-with a familiar crooked smile on his face. “Then I got so sick of playing with myself, I might’ve ended up in bed with somebody a lot homelier than Gladys.”

Peggy knew she couldn’t have picked Gladys out of a police lineup of clerk-typists, assuming there was such a thing. That was probably just as well. She also knew Herb had just handed her the moral advantage. If she wanted to hang on to it, she could. But she realized that was another kind of slow-acting poison. The idea was to air things out on both sides… wasn’t it? That seemed to be their only chance of getting back to where they had been.

And so she let out a sigh of her own. “Well…” she said, and then bogged down. This was even harder than she’d expected. Herb was a man, dammit. How would he take what she was about to come out with? She hadn’t got up on her high horse, but that didn’t necessarily mean he wouldn’t. If he did… she’d deal with it as best she could, that was all. “Well,” she repeated, and then made herself go on: “Well, it’s not like you were the only one.”

There. It was out. Now-would the sky fall? Herb’s eyes widened. He started to say something, then shook his head and visibly swallowed it. As she had, he tried again a moment later. He managed one word: “You?”

“ ’Fraid so, hon.” Peggy didn’t want to look at him now.

“I’ll be-” Whatever Herb would be, he didn’t want to finish it. Peggy didn’t suppose she could blame him. “How’d that happen?” he asked after a long, long pause.

“It was after the opera in Berlin. I got smashed. I thought the guy who took me was a fairy, but he turned out not to be. Not all the time, anyway.” Peggy still felt like a jerk about Constantine Jenkins, which did her no good whatsoever.

“Only the once?” Herb asked.

“Yeah,” Peggy said, and left it right there. It was true. She would gladly have told him she’d swear on a stack of Bibles, but she knew her man. That would have left him more inclined to doubt her, not less.

“How about that?” he said, more to himself than to her. He looked at his cigarette. Most of it had burned away while they were talking. So had most of Peggy’s. Herb put his out. She did the same. He started to take another one, then stuck the pack back in his pocket instead. He gathered himself. “I guess you’ve got the edge on me, ’cause I did it more than once. Not a whole lot more than once, but I did, dammit.”

“You don’t sound exactly proud of it,” Peggy said.

“Nope.” Herb eyed her. “Neither do you.”

“I was snockered,” Peggy said. “And I was dumb. I don’t want to mess around. It’s more trouble than it’s worth.”

“Amen!” Herb said, as if responding to a sermon from Father Divine. He might have had the same thought, for he added, “You can sing that in church.”

Peggy said, “Maybe now we can quit looking at each other out of the corners of our eyes, the way we have been.”

“That’d be good.” Herb lit another Pall Mall after all. Peggy made a small pleading noise, so he gave her one, too. He went on, “I wondered if you’d noticed we were doing it.”

“Uh-huh.” Peggy nodded. This felt like going to the dentist. Any minute now, the novocaine would wear off. And how much would things hurt then?

“It ought to get better now that it’s out in the sun and air,” her husband said. “As long as it stayed covered up, it was going to go bad. And there isn’t much worse than gas gangrene.” Such glancing references were as close as Herb came to talking about things he’d seen Over There.

The only thing Peggy knew about gas gangrene was that it sounded horrible. No. She knew something else: she didn’t want to think about it, not right this minute. She had something else in mind. “We ought to celebrate getting it out in the open,” she declared.

“Celebrate, huh?” Herb gave her another crooked smile. She nodded back. The smile straightened-some. “The wench grows bold,” he said.

“Damn right,” Peggy answered.

Up the stairs they went. Peggy didn’t know if it was a celebration, but it was pretty good. Better than it had been while they both kept secrets? She thought so. She hoped so. She also hoped it would keep getting better again. That was the point to all this, wasn’t it?

She also wondered if she could find some way to do Gladys a quiet bad turn, whoever the round-heeled little chippy was. And there was one more thought Herb didn’t need to know anything about.

Alistair Walsh wanted to fight the Germans. That was the point of putting on the uniform again, wasn’t it? The only trouble was, he-and the rest of the British Army-had no convenient place to do so. Land in the Low Countries or France and they’d get slaughtered. Land in France they couldn’t. England and France weren’t at war with each other-and a good thing, too, as far as Walsh was concerned. Even RAF planes avoided French airspace when they flew off to bomb Hitler’s towns.

Would French fighters really rise to try to help the Luftwaffe shoot down English bombers? If they did rise, how hard would the French pilots fight? Nobody seemed to want to find out, or to have the nerve.

“By God, your Excellency, I wish Churchill were still alive,” Walsh told Ronald Cartland in the pub near Parliament. “He’d make the froggies show whether they meant it or not.”

“Nothing halfhearted about Winston,” the MP agreed, draining his whiskey and waving to the barmaid for a reload. He was catnip to the female of the species, no two ways about it. Walsh knew she wouldn’t have come over half so fast for him. He drank whiskey or brandy or anything else he could find on the Continent. When he could get a pint of decent bitter, he liked that better.

Sooner or later, Parliament would start working again. The provisional government kept promising elections soon, and also kept pushing back the day. People were starting to grumble. Walsh worried lest creeping Chamberlainism reassert itself when the votes were finally cast. If that happened, then what? Another coup d’etat? He wouldn’t have been a bit surprised.

Cartland asked, “Did you catch Musso’s speech on the shortwave last night?”

“Afraid I didn’t,” Walsh admitted. “Wouldn’t have done me much good if I had, either. When I go to one of those restaurants with the red-and-white checked tablecloths, I can tell the dago with the pencil behind his ear I want a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. My Italian starts and stops right there.”

“Ah,” Cartland said politely. “I should have thought of that. Can’t say I ever studied it myself, not in any formal way. But I speak French and I did endless Latin, so I can muddle along after a fashion.”

I’ll bet you can, Walsh thought, without either rancor or envy. The MP would have picked up his education at some posh public school, and then at Cambridge or Oxford. Walsh often thought he’d got his own, such as it was, at a jumble sale. Considering how easily he might have spent his whole life grubbing coal out of a seam, he hadn’t done too badly for himself.

And… “So what did the bugger with the big chin say, then?”

“Called us traitors to the cause of Europe, if you can imagine the cheek.” As any aristocrat might have, Cartland seemed more affronted than anything else. “He said that, since Hitler was busy giving Stalin what-for and didn’t have time for puppies like us-”

“Puppies?” Walsh broke in. “Musso has the gall to call us puppies?” He wanted to laugh and to haul off and punch somebody, both at once. He would have felt that way if a waiter in one of those checked-tablecloth eateries had called him the same thing, too.

“He did indeed,” the MP replied, sipping from his fresh drink. “He said he’d have to go on and let us have a proper hiding himself, since Adolf was busy.”

“And then you wake up!” Alistair Walsh exclaimed. “The Fritzes, now, they’re proper soldiers, say what you will about the bleeding Fuhrer. But the Italians?” It came out of his mouth as Eye-talians, which only made his pique plainer.

“Quite.” Cartland spoke with the same frozen disgust a society matron might have used in carrying a dead rat from the drawing room by the tail.

In his mind’s eye, Walsh studied a map. The clearer the mental picture got, the more it enraged him. “He’s mad as a balloon, he is,” the Welshman said, with the air of a judge sentencing a bungling burglar. “Barking mad! How does he propose hiding us when we hardly even touch?”

“He could cause trouble for Egypt from Libya, I suppose, and for Malta from Sicily. He might even use Abyssinia and Italian Somaliland to go after British Somaliland-assuming he’s balmy enough to want British Somaliland, I should say.” Ronald Cartland, plainly, had been eyeing mental maps longer than Walsh and spreading them wider.

Walsh had never been stationed in British Somaliland. He knew several regulars who had, though. From everything he’d heard, Cartland was spot-on. Chances were not even the Somalis wanted to drive their sheep and camels through land so miserable-not that Italian Somaliland was any improvement.

He wasted no more time worrying about the Horn of Africa. Even if Mussolini’s legions there carried all before them, all they would have was the goddamn Horn of Africa. Egypt, on the other hand… “Wouldn’t be so good if the bloody Italians”-he pronounced it the same way he had before-“paraded through Alexandria or took the canal away.”

“No. It wouldn’t.” If Cartland’s laconic agreement wasn’t British understatement at its best, Walsh didn’t know what would be.

The veteran noncommissioned officer did some more considering. Ronald Cartland was better suited to the General Staff than he would be himself if he lived to be a hundred, which didn’t mean he couldn’t cope at need. His calculations were quick and, he thought, accurate. “Musso’d need more than luck to bring it off. He’d need a miracle, or as near as makes no difference.”

“I’ve heard that before from others,” Cartland said. “I like it better from you. I respect your judgment.”

“Thank you very much, sir.” Walsh suspected pleasure was making his ears turn pink. He was happier-prouder, anyhow-than he would have been had the pretty young barmaid whispered a suggestion that they go find a room together. He didn’t despise animal pleasure-far from it. But the opinion of a man he admired was a weightier business altogether.

“For what? For telling the truth?” Cartland waved his gratitude away as unnecessary.

“For thinking it is the truth.” Walsh wasn’t about to let the aristo get away with that. He was going to be grateful, dammit, and that was all there was to that.

“Have it your way, Sergeant.” Now the MP spoke in a way Walsh understood completely, like a junior officer addressing a senior noncom. Officers had rank and class on their side. Sergeants had experience and the knowledge that came with it. More often than not, that left the advantage with them. Senior officers knew what their juniors often didn’t: sergeants were more important to the army than subalterns.

“If I had my way, sir, I’d go to Egypt right now. That’s the kind of thing Mussolini would try, and I’d love to be there to help give him what he deserves,” Walsh said.

“Is that truly what you want? If it is, I daresay I can arrange it.”

Walsh felt like whooping and turning handsprings. All he did was give back a small, dignified nod. He didn’t even smile, not where Ronald Cartland could see him do it. But what was the point to having well-connected friends if you didn’t make the most of it once in a while?

“Egypt…” Cartland said in musing tones. “Have you been there before?”

“I spent a year-well, not quite-in Cairo in the Twenties.” Walsh remembered the amazing heat and the crowding and the smells, which made your nose sit up and take notice even after you’d been on a battlefield. “Not much like good old Blighty, but we need to hang on to it even so.”

“That we do. Lord knows how we’d manage without the Suez Canal,” Cartland said. “My sister and I visited once. I’ll never forget the Pyramids. That was in the Twenties, too: well before the Depression. Perhaps we were there at the same time.”

“Yes, sir. Perhaps we were.” Long odds, Walsh thought, but so what? Keeping your officers happy and interested in you was yet another skill sergeants needed to cultivate. And getting back into action would be good, even if he was only going up against the dagos.

Theo Hossbach still had trouble getting used to the radioman’s position in a Panzer III. For two and a half years, he’d stayed hidden away from the war. The radio set in a Panzer II lent itself to that. Now, all of a sudden, he could see out. He not only could, he had to. Along with the radio, he had an MG-34 to take care of.

How many Ivans had he done for by now? He’d lost track. In a way, that embarrassed him. When your occupation was something as serious as killing people, shouldn’t you remember how many you were responsible for? But to do that properly, he should have started counting as soon as the original Panzer II rolled across the frontier separating Germany and Czechoslovakia. He’d been part of a killing team since 1 October 1938, after all. The score from the obsolescent machine’s little cannon and machine gun went partly to his credit-or to his blame, depending on how you looked at things.

The only trouble was, any kind of count along those lines was impossible. Because he hadn’t been able to see out, he didn’t even know where to begin. He couldn’t very well ask Ludwig Rothe or Fritz Bittenfeld, either. They were both dead, as was Heinz Naumann.

Adi Stoss might be able to give him an approximate score for the second Panzer II, and for this newer, larger machine. Theo didn’t plan to ask him about it. If they ever did talk seriously, they had other things to hash out first. Besides, might be able to wasn’t the same as could. Theo didn’t know-he’d never asked-whether Adi was running his own tab.

And, the way things worked these days, keeping track of how many Russians you slaughtered wasn’t the only game in town, or the most important one. Making sure the Russians didn’t slaughter you had become much more urgent. Their light tanks were nothing German panzers couldn’t handle. Even in a thinly armored Panzer II, Theo hadn’t worried about them much.

But the KV-1 was a whole different kettle of cabbage. Yes, it was clumsy and slow, but it was about the size of a whale. A Panzer III, the Wehrmacht ’s main battle machine, could hurt it only by luck or from behind. Had the Ivans had more of the damned things or used them with greater skill, the KV-1s could have been even worse news than they were anyhow.

As for the T-34… It was hot inside the Panzer III, but thinking about the Reds’ newest and finest panzer made Theo shiver all the same. It had all the KV-1’s virtues-a powerful engine, thick armor, and a big gun-and, so far as he could see, none of the other beast’s vices. T-34s weren’t slow and clumsy. Anything but, in fact. And whoever’d come up with their armor scheme deserved the biggest, gaudiest medal Stalin could pin on him.

German engineers had never considered armor shape, except perhaps insofar as the simplest shapes were also the easiest to manufacture. If you needed more protection in a particular place, you made your steel plates thicker there. But all those plates were pretty much vertical. Czech, French, and English designers worked from the same basic principles. It wasn’t as if there were any other way to go about things.

Except there was. Relying on the Russians’ inborn simplicity and fondness for the brute-force approach didn’t always pay. Some Soviet designer had had a better idea-a much better idea, as a matter of fact. If you sloped your panzer’s armor at, say, a forty-five degree angle, a lot of shells that would have penetrated vertical plate ricocheted away instead. And even the ones that did dig into the armor had to go through more of it to do damage: for shots coming in from most directions, sloped plate was effectively thicker than the same amount of vertical armor would have been.

Once you saw the stuff in action-once you watched your best shots bounce off a T-34 without hurting the metal monster-the idea seemed obvious. Everything seemed obvious after you banged into it nosefirst. But if it was so goddamn obvious, how come no German engineer in a clean white lab coat had twiddled with his slide rule till he came up with it first?

The Russians were Untermenschen, weren’t they? Hitler and Goebbels loudly insisted they were. If they were Untermenschen, though, and the swastika-following Aryans were Ubermenschen, why did the Red Army have better panzers? If the Ivans just had more panzers (which they also did), that wouldn’t have been so corrosive to Nazi ideology. The USSR was a hell of a big country. Having seen more of it than he’d ever wanted to, Theo knew that right down to his toes. And he also knew the T-34-and, to a lesser degree, the KV-1 as well-made every German panzer look like a model from the year before last.

He said as much to Adi. The Panzer III’s layout put them side by side at the front of the hull. Not only that, Theo trusted Adi further than he trusted… well, just about anybody else. You couldn’t count on people to keep quiet if security forces started hurting them. Short of that, Theo was sure Adi would never betray him. He was pretty sure Sergeant Witt wouldn’t, either, but only pretty sure. The new guys who fattened up the crew? He hadn’t made up his mind about them yet. It wasn’t as if there was any hurry.

Adi nodded. “They’re mighty good, all right. Not perfect, but mighty good.”

“Not perfect? Close enough!” Theo was stung into volubility, or as close to it as he came. “The gun? The armor? Der Herr Gott im Himmel, the armor! The diesel engine, so they don’t burn the way our beasts do?”

“Ja, ja.” Adi sounded like a man indulging a little boy. That infuriated Theo till the driver went on, “The commander’s up in the turret all by himself, though, the way Hermann was with the

Panzer II. He’s got to shoot the cannon, fire the machine gun, and command the panzer. And he’s got more panzer to command than Hermann did with the II.”

“Oh.” Theo thought that over. He didn’t need long. With a sheepish shrug, he admitted, “You’re right.”

Stoss shot him a sour look. “How am I supposed to have a proper argument with you when you go and say things like that?”

“Sorry,” Theo answered. “But I’m not going to lie.”

“Too bad. We could probably keep wasting time till sundown if you did,” Adi said. “Now we’ve got to find ourselves something else to talk about instead.” Irony glinted in his dark eyes. He could come out with something like that, confident Theo wouldn’t take him seriously. Plenty of soldiers would have.

They didn’t need to look for a new topic for very long. Off to the left, at the edge of an apple orchard, a Russian machine gun snarled to malignant life. The water-cooled Russian gun was much heavier and clumsier than a modern, air-cooled MG-34. It didn’t shoot as fast, either. Once in position, though, it made a more than adequate murder mill.

“Panzer halt!” Hermann Witt’s voice traveled the speaking tube from the turret to the front of the hull.

“Halting,” Adi answered as he hit the brakes. Witt traversed the turret-smoothly and quickly, with the hydraulics. In case of battle damage, he could also use a hand wheel and gearing to crank it around. It was too big and heavy for him to wrestle it into place with handles, as he could have in a Panzer II.

The cannon spoke twice. After a moment, though, the Russian machine gun spat more defiant death at the Germans. Back in the turret, Sergeant Witt swore. Theo would have, too. He presumed the panzer commander knew what he was aiming at and had hit it. If the machine-gun crew was still in business, it was operating out of a concrete emplacement.

Witt snapped, “Armor-piercing!” The cannon fired twice more. This time, Witt grunted in satisfaction. “Got the fuckers!” he said. “Some poor, sorry shithead lugging a flamethrower won’t have to try to fry them before they puncture him instead. Forward, Adi!”

“Forward,” the driver echoed, putting the Panzer III back in gear. In a low voice-too low for Witt or either of the new guys in the turret to hear-he went on, “Who knows what all else is lurking in the trees? Our foot soldiers will find out. Oh, won’t they just!”

That same thought had occurred to Theo. He wouldn’t have said it out loud, not even quietly to a friend he trusted. There lay one of the big differences between him and Adi Stoss. They had others, of course, but the fact that Adi would speak his mind seemed the most important. It did to Theo, anyhow.

To Hans-Ulrich Rudel, the woods southwest of Smolensk looked like, well, woods. They were less manicured than a carefully maintained German forest would have been. The Ivans had so much land, they had forests coming out of their ears. They had everything coming out of their ears, from iron and coal to wood to people. That was the only possible reason they were giving the Reich so much trouble.

From 3,000 meters overhead, Hans-Ulrich wouldn’t have been able to tell that the panzers in front of the woods belonged to the Wehrmacht if some of them hadn’t draped themselves in swastika flags as an identification symbol. Even seeing the banner that united Party and Reich didn’t leave him a hundred percent sure. The Reds sometimes captured those flags and used them as shields against the Luftwaffe.

Hans-Ulrich chuckled, there alone in the cockpit. A swastika flag might keep German planes from bombing Soviet panzers. But how many of the enemy panzer outfits that used it had suffered attacks from the Red Air Force? That kind of crap happened too often even to Germans who’d carefully briefed their air support about the ruse of war they were using. Given the Russians’ slipshod procedures, they were bound to go through it even more.

“These are the right woods, aren’t they?” Rudel asked through the speaking tube. He wanted to make certain he didn’t do anything idiotic.

Sergeant Dieselhorst’s quick “You bet, sir” went a long way toward reassuring him. Dieselhorst might not respect the Fuhrer as much as he should, but he was the kind of man who went to extraordinary lengths to keep from endangering anybody on his own side. Sure enough, he went on, “The river curls behind the trees and then goes into them, just like it does on the map. For a change, the map and the landscape match up great. We’re where we ought to be, all right.”

“Good. If I put the bombs in amongst the trees, then, they’ll come down on top of the Russians,” Hans-Ulrich said. Using Stukas for a job ordinary bombers might have done wasn’t efficient. A blind man could see that. But if no ordinary bombers could be spared, bombs from Stukas were better than nothing-as long as they landed where they were supposed to.

He yanked hard on the bomb-release lever. The explosives under the Ju-87’s wings and attached to the fuselage’s midline fell away. He watched the bombs tumble down toward the treetops-but only for a moment, because Sergeant Dieselhorst’s rear-facing machine gun suddenly gave forth with a long burst. “A Rata! A fucking Rata!” Dieselhorst yelled.

The names Marshal Sanjurjo’s soldiers and their German allies had hung on Russian fighters in the Spanish Civil War stuck, even if the Germans were facing them thousands of kilometers from Spain these days. Biplane Polikarpovs were Chatos; the shape of the cowling for their radial engines made the nickname fit.

Later Polikarpov monoplanes also had flat noses, but the Spaniards and Legion Kondor flyers called them Ratas — Rats-to distinguish them from the biplane fighters. They were no match for a Bf-109. When you flew a Ju-87, though, that seemed much less comforting.

Bullets slammed into the Stuka from behind. The Rata flashed past and swung into a tight turn, obviously intending to make another pass, this time from dead ahead. No matter how grossly inferior to a 109 the Polikarpov fighter was, it could outrun and outmaneuver a dive-bomber as if the Junkers plane were nailed in place in the sky.

Rudel did everything he could. He fired bursts from his twin forward-facing 7.92mm machine guns. He tried to turn away from the ugly little monoplane with the big red stars on its green-painted fuselage. The Rata looked as if it were homemade, possibly by someone who didn’t know much about airplanes. But Hans-Ulrich might have been trying to fly a rooster against a hawk.

A bullet scarred the Stuka’s windscreen. If that hadn’t been made of thick armor glass, the round would have scarred Rudel, too, or more likely left him too dead to heal and scar. More rounds hit the armored engine compartment and the wing. Even if the engine was armored, the instrument panel screamed that the Ju-87 was losing fuel at a hideous rate and overheating even faster. Some of those rounds got home despite the protection.

The engine coughed, farted, ran smoothly for a few seconds, and then coughed again. Smoke started pouring out of it.

“You there, sir?” Sergeant Dieselhorst sounded worried, and with good reason, too.

“I’m here,” Hans-Ulrich answered. “I was hoping you were.”

“We going to have to bail out?”

“Well…” Hans-Ulrich didn’t want to say yes. German parachutes left a lot to be desired, even if merely having a parachute would have made a pilot from the last war jealous. The idea of coming down near-or maybe among-the Ivans didn’t thrill him, either. But the engine coughed one more time, then crapped out altogether. A Stuka glided better than a brick, but not a whole lot better. Sometimes the outside world answered questions for you. “Yeah, Albert, we’ve got to bail out.”

Dieselhorst tried to make light of it. “Not like we’ve never done this before, right?”

“Right.” Rudel’s voice sounded hollow, even to him. They’d been shot down once before, over France. Had the poilus caught them, they probably would have been taken prisoner. No guarantees with the Ivans, none at all.

But if they didn’t get out now, they were guaranteed dead. Pilot and rear gunner had separate sliding cockpit canopies. Maybe that wasn’t such a terrific design feature. If one of them got stuck…

They didn’t, not this time. And neither Hans-Ulrich nor Dieselhorst mashed himself to strawberry jam by hitting the tail as he scrambled free of his enclosure. Nothing left to do but fall, yank the ripcord, and hope. Later, Rudel realized he should have done some praying while all that was going on. He consoled himself by remembering he was just a trifle busy at the time.

Whump! When the chute filled with air, it felt as if a mule kicked him right in the chops. His vision grayed out for a moment. Then color and motion came back to the world.

He floated downward. Off to his left, Sergeant Dieselhorst waved to him from under another silk canopy. Hans-Ulrich waved back. He yanked on the lines to spill wind from one side of the canopy and steer himself away from the Red-infested woods. He also anxiously looked around for that Rata. Russian fighter pilots had the charming habit of machine-gunning helpless parachuting German flyers. It wasn’t sporting, but they didn’t care. To his relief, the Rata was nowhere in sight.

Russian soldiers on the ground did fire at him and Dieselhorst. A bullet thumped through the taut silk above him. If the hole turned into a tear… He’d regret that all the way down, but not afterwards. He didn’t worry about a bullet thumping through him till he’d almost reached the ground. He wondered why the devil not. Stupidity came to mind.

As the ground rushed up below him, he had to worry about his landing. He’d sprained an ankle-only luck he hadn’t broken it-the last time he came down in a chute. He didn’t want to be out of action for weeks now. He bent at the knees and at the waist, as training suggested. Another Russian bullet cracked past him, too close for comfort. Training never talked about distractions like that.

Thud! He made it. Not a pretty landing, but the moving parts all seemed to work. He cut himself free of the parachute, then grabbed for his Luger-soldiers were loping toward him. But his hand fell back: they wore Feldgrau, and helmets of a familiar shape.

Now-did they realize he was a countryman? “Good job!” one of them yelled, waving. Hans-Ulrich grinned and waved back-they did. He looked around. Albert Dieselhorst was free of his chute and on his feet, too. They’d be flying again as soon as they got a new bus.

Chapter 18

Stas Mouradian’s latest airstrip lay not far in front of Smolensk. The Germans and their allies kept coming forward, despite everything the Red Army and Air Force could do to stop them. If Smolensk fell… Stas wasn’t a member of Stavka, the Soviet General Staff, but he could see how bad that would be. Smolensk was the great bastion on the road to Moscow.

If Moscow fell, the game would be up. He could see that, too. Maybe Stalin would find refuge somewhere beyond the Urals. Having traveled the width of the USSR, Stas knew how vast the country was. But could you keep fighting with your capital gone? Would anyone follow your orders if you tried?

But that was a worry for another day, probably a worry for another year. The red flag with the gold hammer and sickle still flew over Smolensk. The swastika was still hundreds of kilometers from Moscow. That Stas could wonder what would happen if the capital fell said things weren’t going the way Soviet authorities wished they would.

It wasn’t that serious yet. Maybe it wouldn’t get that serious. But if Stalin hadn’t been greedy, if he hadn’t decided he could take Wilno away from Poland on the cheap, the war between the USSR and the Reich might well have stayed a war in name only. Till Smigly-Ridz asked Hitler for help, the Soviets and the Nazis couldn’t get at each other without violating some buffer state’s neutrality. That would have been more dangerous than it was worth.

Would it have been more dangerous than thinking that Stalin’s greed had led him into an enormous mistake? Now there was an interesting question for any Soviet citizen to contemplate! As long as you kept your mouth shut, you had a chance of staying safe (from the NKVD, anyhow; the Luftwaffe was a different story). But Mouradian had heard-as who in the Soviet Union had not? — of people arrested for no better reason than an expression some Chekist didn’t fancy. Those people went into a camp as readily as the ones brave or crazy enough to criticize the regime out loud. They came out of the camps as readily, too: which is to say, just about never.

The distant rumble of artillery distracted Stas from such gloomy reflections. He cocked his head to one side, listening. Those were Russian guns. That was good. No-it was better. He would really have had something to worry about if he heard German guns from here.

But the squadron had been flying out of this airstrip for only about a week. When the Pe-2s got here, you couldn’t hear anybody’s guns. Stas had been used to fields farther forward. He’d been used to, if not happy about, the sound of guns. Once or twice, he’d had to fly off a runway enemy artillery was suddenly able to reach. Being out of earshot of the front had felt relaxing.

Now he wasn’t any more. He wasn’t so relaxed, either.

At the edge of the airstrips, a technician wearing earphones manned a sound detector that looked like nothing so much as half a dozen enormous hearing trumpets. They could pick up approaching enemy planes at distances greater than the naked eye could reach. They could some of the time, at any rate. When everything went just right. When other noise didn’t distract or confuse the technicians.

There has to be a better way, Stas thought. If he knew what that way was, they’d pin a Hero of the Soviet Union medal on him in a flash. At a guess, it had something to do with radio. Everything modern and scientific seemed to. His guesses stopped right there. He was a pretty good pilot, but he’d never make an electrical engineer.

The technician jerked off the earphones and ran to a bell mounted on a nearby post. He rang the bell as if his life depended on it. And his life was liable to, for he shouted, “They’re coming! They’re coming!”

A kicked anthill would have shown more chaos, but not a lot more. People ran every which way. Antiaircraft gunners manned their cannons and pointed them west. The technician was pointing in that direction, but Stas couldn’t tell whether the gunners followed his lead or simply knew German planes were most likely to appear from that direction. Pilots and groundcrew men jumped into zigzagging trenches to shelter from the expected attack. Some of them had rifles. If they fired at the Luftwaffe planes, it might make them feel better. It was unlikely to do anything else.

Stas realized he was the only man just standing there. He wasn’t running. He wasn’t jumping. He wasn’t training an antiaircraft gun in the desired direction or chambering a round in his Mosin-Nagant.

Now he could hear the ominous drone of German airplane engines without the fancy sound detector. Their note was different from that of Soviet powerplants. It seemed deeper, and somehow imbued with sinister purpose. Maybe that was Stas’ imagination. On the other hand, he knew he was far from the only Soviet fighting man who imagined the same thing.

“What the hell are you doing there, you stupid fucking idiot? Growing roots like a beet?” a groundcrew sergeant shouted. “You don’t get your cock in gear, they’ll plant you, all right!”

Where the rising drone from those bombers hadn’t unfrozen Stas, the sergeant’s profanity did. That might have been because it was aimed at him personally, unlike the bomb loads that would come whistling down any second now. He sprinted toward the closest trench.

He hadn’t even got there before the antiaircraft guns started pounding away for all they were worth. He jumped in. Somebody down below caught him and steadied him. “Thanks,” he said, without noticing who.

“Any time.” Lieutenant Colonel Tomashevsky didn’t even sound sarcastic. Squadron commanders caught on the ground in a bombing raid needed to run for their life like anybody else. When they jumped into a trench, they had to hope somebody would grab them and keep them from falling on their face. It was, of course, simply an application of the Golden Rule, no matter how much scorn a good Marxist-Leninist would heap on the book from which that Rule came.

During the last war, someone had claimed there were no atheists in the trenches. Stas didn’t know if he would have gone that far. He did know he had to make a conscious effort to keep from crossing himself when the Luftwaffe bombers came overhead. You didn’t dare reveal too much. His hand twitched, but that was all it did, even when the bombs started bursting on and around the strip.

“Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy!” A man in mechanic’s coveralls was too scared to worry about what he gave away. He crossed himself again and again, as if possessed. He was only a corporal. Maybe he thought he was too small a fish for the NKVD to care about. If so, he was an optimist. Or maybe he believed none of the other frightened men in the trench with him would betray him to the NKVD. Well, he had a chance of being right about that. How good a chance? Stas wasn’t willing to risk it.

Something not far enough away blew up. “The ammunition store for one of our guns-maybe for a battery,” Lieutenant Colonel Tomashevsky said.

Mouradian nodded. That was what it had sounded like to him, too. Something else was on his mind: “Where are our fighter planes, Comrade Colonel?”

He didn’t think they could possibly be where Tomashevsky suggested. For one thing, he’d always supposed the Devil was male. But wherever they were, they weren’t here. And that was a crying shame. Of all the German bombers, only the Ju-87 had anything close to the Soviet Pe-2’s performance. The Do-17s and He-111s overhead would have been easy meat for even biplane Polikarpov fighters, let alone their monoplane cousins or the hotter, faster new MiGs. Would have been… Some of the saddest words in Russian or any other language.

At last, after doing what they’d come to do, the Germans went away. Soviet fire had brought down one of them. The shattering roar when its whole bomb load blew as it hit the ground almost shook Stas’ fillings loose. But when he stuck his head up to look around, he grimaced. For all the destruction the Nazis had worked, they hadn’t paid much of a price. Most of the buildings around the airstrip were either gone or burning. The strip itself was cratered like photos of the moon. And four columns of greasy black smoke marked Red Air Force bombers’ funeral pyres. Stas hoped none of them was his. Without revetments, it would have been worse. Even with them, it was plenty bad enough.

And Stas had no idea if any bombs had come down in the trenches where men huddled. He also had no idea where the squadron would fly its next mission from. He was sure of only one thing: it wouldn’t be from here, not for a while.

Little by little, Narvik improved as a U-boat base. As far as torpedoes and diesel fuel and repair facilities went, there had never been anything wrong with it. You couldn’t take on as much fresh food there as you could at a base in Germany or even farther south in Norway. That made the ratings grumble-it made Julius Lemp grumble, too-but it wasn’t the end of the world.

But a U-boat base, a proper U-boat base, didn’t just tend to the boats. It also took care of the men who sailed them. When sailors came back from a long, uncomfortable cruise where, like as not, their lives had been in deadly danger, they wanted to blow off steam. They needed to blow off steam. They wanted good booze and bad women. Bad booze would do in a pinch, but good women were right out.

In Germany and the Low Countries, of course, there were brothels in towns full of sailors. People in those towns might not have been proud of that, but they understood it was part of the way things worked.

Norway was different. The locals didn’t even approve of drinking. Like America, the country went through a spasm of prohibition after the last war, though Norway gave up on it in 1926.

As for friendly fornication, or even fornication for hire… Narvik wasn’t a big city like the ports farther south. You couldn’t be a whore here without all of your neighbors knowing and most of them disapproving. Narvik was probably a nice place for kids to grow up (assuming they didn’t freeze to death or go berserk during a long winter night), but the town had never heard of privacy.

Drinking at clubs supported by the Kriegsmarine took the edge off the one problem. The authorities didn’t seem to know what to do about the other.

“I’ll tell you what to do, by God,” Lemp said to the base commandant after the U-30 came back from its latest cruise in the Arctic Ocean. “Bring in enough girls from Germany to keep the crews happy.”

The commandant was a commander named Robert Eichenlaub. He outranked Lemp, but the U-boat skipper was irked enough not to care. And being sure they’d never promote him again because of his earlier foul-ups gave him an odd advantage. He was free to speak his mind. Unless he got himself chucked in the brig, they couldn’t do anything to him worse than what they were already doing.

Commander Eichenlaub looked pained. “It’s not so easy as you make it sound, Lieutenant.” He bore down on Lemp’s rank, trying to put him in his place.

Lemp was in no mood to let him get away with that. “Why not, Commander?” He bore down on the commandant’s rank just as hard. “You can get volunteers in Kiel or Wilhelmshaven and ship them up. Or you can just grab some. They’re only prostitutes, for heaven’s sake.” By the way he talked about them, they might have been gaskets or valves or anything else you requisitioned from the quartermaster. That was how he thought of them, too.

“It wouldn’t work. We don’t even have female secretaries here-and if we did, they wouldn’t want to associate with the working girls,” Eichenlaub said. “Neither would the Norwegians.”

“I’ll bet some of them would,” Lemp retorted shrewdly-and lewdly.

“No doubt-but that doesn’t help us, either,” Commander Eichenlaub said.

“So you’re worried about keeping the whores comfortable and happy, then,” Lemp said.

“They may be whores, Lieutenant, but they’re also human beings,” Eichenlaub answered.

“How about worrying about keeping my men comfortable and happy, then?” Lemp snarled. “They may be U-boat sailors, Commander, but they’re also human beings, too. I’m pretty sure about most of them, anyway.”

They glared at each other. Maybe Commander Eichenlaub wasn’t sure why Lemp seemed immune to disapproval from on high, but he could see that the junior officer was. He didn’t like it, either. “I know the U-boat service takes wild men, Lemp, but you go over the line,” he said, his voice starchy with distaste.

“Why? Because I’m trying to make my men think this is a place they might want to come back to, not Dachau with polar bears?” Lemp said.

“That will be quite enough, Lieutenant Lemp. A note on this conversation will go into your file,” the commandant snapped.

Lemp left. But he left laughing, which was bound to delight Eichenlaub all the more.

The U-30’s diesels were getting an overhaul. That, the base at Narvik could handle. Lemp went out to the docks to see how things were going. He found that another U-boat had come in while he was having his useless discussion with Commander Eichenlaub. He’d known the skipper, a short-and short-tempered-fellow named Hans-Dieter Kessler, for a long time.

“Here we are. Happy day!” Kessler said. “This place is a goddamn morgue. It’s an icebox even in the summertime-it sticks us on a shelf and freezes us out of the fun.”

“What fun?” Lemp asked.

“Good point!” Kessler agreed. “They ought to do something about it. Either that or they ought to give us enough leave so we can go down to some place where they remember how to have a good time.”

Julius Lemp smiled a slow, conspiratorial smile. “Why don’t you go tell the commandant exactly what you think, Hans-Dieter?”

Kessler cocked his head to one side and studied his fellow skipper. “What? You think I fucking won’t? You think I don’t have the balls?”

“No, I think you will, and I know damn well you’ve got the balls,” Lemp answered truthfully. “And I think Commander Eichenlaub needs to know I’m not the only guy who figures his men get a raw deal every time they have to put in here. He may not want to listen to you once you get going.”

“Aha!” Kessler pounced. “So you just reamed him out, did you?”

“Who, me?” Lemp said. Kessler laughed. He headed off toward Eichenlaub’s office with purposeful strides. Of course, he had more of a career to lose than Lemp did. He’d never been so careless as to sink an American liner by mistake. The powers that be might still visit higher rank upon him.

Lemp climbed the iron ladder to the top of the U-30’s conning tower, then descended into the submarine’s hull. They’d had all the hatches open for days, airing the boat out. They’d cleaned in there as they never could at sea. And she still stank. The reeks of diesel fuel and puke and sour piss and unwashed men and stale food were in her paint, or more likely in her steel.

He liked the mechanics working on her engines. They reminded him of his own ratings: they were utterly indifferent to spit and polish, foulmouthed, and damn good at what they did.

An enormous brawl broke out that night in one of the taverns the Kriegsmarine maintained. For a while, it was touch and go whether the shore patrolmen would be able to put it down. One of them had to fire a shot in the air to make the drunken, riotous sailors pay attention to him and his comrades. Not a few men from the U-30 distinguished themselves-if that was the word-in the action.

Commander Eichenlaub wasted no time summoning Lemp back to his office. “Do you know how much damage your, your hooligans-your barbarians-have done?” the commandant snarled.

“Not to the pfennig, sir,” Lemp answered. “I do know”-expecting the summons, he’d made a point of ascertaining-“they weren’t the only U-boat’s crew in the scuffle. Are you calling in the other skippers, too?”

“Scuffle? Sweet Jesus Christ! It was about three centimeters this side of an insurrection! And never mind the other skippers. I’m talking to you.” But Eichenlaub suddenly didn’t sound so self-righteous. Lemp knew he’d made a shrewd guess.

“Yes, sir,” he said, his voice mild as boiled milk.

Eichenlaub told him he was a bad boy, and that he commanded a pack of savages. Lemp nodded, not without pride. The commandant fretted and fumed till he got it out of his system. Lemp knew it wouldn’t come to anything in the end. He saluted and left. As far as he was concerned, the unhappy sailors had made his point for him better than he could have done himself.

“It’s a boy!” Chaim Weinberg passed out cigars-harsh, twisted, coal-black cheroots, which were what he could get-to the Abe Lincolns in the trenches northwest of Madrid. The news had just come up from the city. He swigged from a flask of brandy, too, and offered it to his buddies along with the stogies.

“What are you gonna name the little bastard?” Mike Carroll asked.

“He’s no bastard. We did it by the numbers, La Martellita and me,” Chaim said.

“If you didn’t do it by the numbers, you wouldn’t’ve knocked her up,” Mike said. “And I don’t care if you and her did tie the knot. Any kid of yours is bound to be a bastard, right?”

“Ahh, your mother,” Chaim growled, and started on down the trench. He would have tried to murder a lot of guys who said anything like that. But he and Mike had been in Spain together a hell of a long time. If anybody’d earned the right to razz him, Carroll was the guy.

“Hey, wait a second!” he called after Chaim. “What are you gonna name him?”

“Carlos Federico Weinberg,” Chaim answered. “Isn’t that the goddamnedest handle you ever heard? His mother wanted to name him for Marx and Engels, and how could I tell her no?”

“Wouldn’t be easy,” Mike agreed. Unspoken in the air between them floated the thought that you’d probably get purged if you tried to tell a Party functionary she couldn’t name her son for Communism’s founding fathers. Carroll did ask, “What would you have called it if it was a girl?”

“Carla Federica.” Chaim spread his hands, as if to say What can you do? When La Martellita made up her mind, it was by God made up. Nothing this side of the end of the world would make her change it-and maybe not that, either.

“Well, mazel tov,” Mike said. Where did he pick up the Yiddish? Probably from Chaim. He found one more question before his buddy went away. “How come you don’t look happier, man?”

“Oh, I’m happy. I just didn’t tell my face about it.” As if to prove as much, Chaim took a big gulp from the flask. Then he got out of there in a hurry, before Mike could ask him anything else he didn’t want to answer.

La Martellita hadn’t married him because she loved him. No matter how drunk he got, he knew better than that. She’d married him so her kid would have a name-a curiously Catholic notion in a staunch Red, but there you were. And here Chaim was. Carlos Federico Weinberg had his name, all right.

Which meant… what? Chaim knew too goddamn well what it meant. It meant La Martellita didn’t need him for anything at all any more. Divorce had been next to impossible in pre-Republican Spain. In the parts of the country Marshal Sanjurjo ruled, it still was. In the Republic, it was easy as pie.

So Chaim figured the next piece of news he got from Madrid would be that La Martellita was dropping him like a live grenade. If she hadn’t got so drunk she needed him to get her back to her flat, if she hadn’t been so drunk she didn’t say no when things went on from there…

Ah, c’mon, you shlemiel. You knew this wasn’t gonna have a Hollywood ending even while you were shtupping her. Chaim nodded. Yeah, he’d known, all right. He just hadn’t given a rat’s ass. And he couldn’t think of any man who would have when he poised himself between her open legs, either.

So this is what you bought, dumbfuck. He nodded again, and answered his scolding self: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but now I’m doing the paying, goddammit.

Well off to the left, an enormous report rang out. Chaim nodded again, this time in mere recognition: that was the crazy Czech who went sniping with his antitank rifle. He was a pretty good guy, which didn’t mean he wasn’t meshuggeh. You had to be nuts to lug that huge, heavy hunk of almost-artillery across half of Europe. All the same, Chaim hoped he’d hit whatever he was aiming at. He also hoped the Fascist on the receiving end was at least a major.

The bastard must have been, and that Czech must have blown his reactionary head off, too. The Nationalists didn’t get their knickers in such a twist when a sniper exterminated one of their ordinary assholes. Machine guns sprayed sudden death toward the Republican positions. A moment later, Sanjurjo’s big guns started shelling the Republican trenches. The Fascists wanted payback, and they wanted it bad.

Chaim didn’t want to be part of the payback. He dove into a scrape someone had dug in the forward wall of the trench. It wasn’t a proper bombproof, but it was better than nothing. If a 105 came down right on top of it… Chaim made himself not think about that. Getting buried alive wasn’t the way he wanted to cash in his chips.

If the Nationalists followed up the shelling with an infantry attack, he was in more trouble than he knew what to do with. He didn’t have his rifle with him. He had the brandy and cigars instead. Would one of Sanjurjo’s men take a cigar in exchange for not bayoneting him? They didn’t make deals like that, sad to say.

But the Nationalists would have taken casualties in an infantry attack. They didn’t want that. They wanted to dish them out so they could avenge whichever officer the Czech had potted with his honking big rifle.

They got what they wanted, too. Wounded Abe Lincolns screamed and moaned. Some were Americans, some the Spaniards who filled out the ranks of all the International Brigades these days. All wounded men sounded pretty much the same, regardless of country or politics.

In a rational world, something like that would convince people all men were brothers. They wouldn’t try to kill one another any more. But who ever said the world was rational? And even being brothers might not make men like each other any better. Look what Cain did to Abel, after all.

Chaim shook his head. The Bible was just another book of myths and superstitions. There never were any such people as Cain and Abel. He had no trouble believing that with the top part of his mind. The part with roots down to the core of him, the part that wasn’t Marxist-Leninist, had other ideas.

If La Martellita heard about this bombardment, would she hope a shell killed him? Then she wouldn’t have to go through the paperwork of divorcing him. She could get on with her life as the widow of a heroic soldier. She could milk it for all it was worth.

After a moment, Chaim shook his head. His ladylove was no hypocrite. If she wanted him dead, she’d come right out and tell him so. She might do him in herself.

No, she just wanted to be rid of him. He hated that. And he hated the certain knowledge that he couldn’t do anything about it even more.

Almost everybody went through life wishing he could get what he most wanted. From the moment Chaim set eyes on La Martellita, she was what he most wanted. He’d got her, too, even if she was so smashed the first time he did that she hardly knew he was doing it.

And he’d made the all too common discovery that getting exactly what you wanted could hurt even worse than mooning after it forever. As long as you kept on mooning after it, you always thought it was perfect. Once you got it, you were much too likely to discover what a jerk you were for wanting it to begin with.

Beautiful women were there to be wanted, of course. To men, they often seemed to be there for no other reason. But how many of the men who actually got one stayed happy afterwards? Not many, unless Chaim missed his guess. He knew too well he wasn’t.

What were you supposed to do? Turn into a queer? Even if you could, wouldn’t you get into the same kind of stew about gorgeous guys? Besides, he wasn’t a queer. He liked women. He liked the beautiful kind better than the homely ones, too. He didn’t know anybody who didn’t. You couldn’t win. You didn’t have a chance.

The Czech with the antitank rifle fired again. Some Fascist shithead probably discovered he didn’t have a chance. Whether he laid beautiful women or homely ones, he’d be laid out now. Hasta la vista, fucker, Chaim thought.

No barrage followed. Maybe this time the sniper just blew out a corporal’s insides. If ever a movement prided itself on class consciousness, it was Sanjurjo’s, but for all the wrong reasons. Or maybe the Czech missed. Stranger things had happened. Damn right! Chaim thought. I’ve got me a kid named Carlos Federico! He swigged from the brandy flask again.

In Russia, the sky seemed wider than it did anywhere else Willi Dernen had ever seen. That might have been because the countryside seemed-and was-wider, too, but Willi wasn’t so sure about it. He wasn’t sure about anything any more. He’d been here too long and done too much, and victory still looked as far away as whatever lay under the far end of that vast Russian sky.

He had other reasons for keeping an eye on the clouds drifting across the wide sky, too. Adam Pfaff noticed him doing it as they tramped along a dirt road-once you got out of the cities, Russia had no other kind. “What’s up?” Pfaff asked. “You can’t do anything about the weather.”

“My ass, I can’t,” Willi said. “I can worry about it, and I damn well do. It’ll start pouring rain pretty soon, and all these shitty roads’ll turn to glue. Then we freeze our nuts off for the next six months. Some fun, huh?”

“Well, sure. What would you rather be doing?” Pfaff said. “Drinking and fucking. What else is there?” Willi sounded honestly surprised.

His friend considered. “Well, there’s…” Pfaff shook his head. He thought some more. “Or there’s…” Another rejection, this time with a thumbs-down. “Nah.” More thought still. He grinned ruefully. “You’re right. That’s about all there is that’s worth doing. Oh-maybe filling up on mutton stew, too.”

“There you go,” Willi said. “But we get to do this crap instead. Aren’t we lucky?”

“We’re lucky if we come through alive,” answered the man with the gray Mauser.

“Dernen!” Arno Baatz shouted. “Are you lowering Pfaff’s morale?”

“Not a bit of it, Corporal,” Willi said. “He’s lowering mine.” Beside him on the dusty road, Pfaff giggled softly.

Awful Arno didn’t. “Think you’re funny, don’t you? Well, you listen to me. Just because nobody’s made a charge stick on you yet doesn’t mean nobody will. You mark my words.”

Willi was about to tell Baatz where to put his words-sideways-when the section point man came trotting back toward the main body of men. Johann Stallinger made a good point: he was short and skinny and anxious. He nodded ahead, in the direction from which he’d just come. “Something’s in those fields,” he said. “The way the grain was moving, it’s not from the wind.”

“Are you on the rag again, Stallinger?” Awful Arno asked.

“If you don’t like the job I do, Corporal, you can put somebody else up there,” the point man answered. Whatever else he might have thought, his pale, pinched face didn’t show it.

You could watch Baatz working through it. You could, and Willi did. Arno did want to go forward. “If you’re having vapors…” he growled. But he knew Stallinger might not be. Johann was point man for a reason. If the fields were full of Russians, the section was asking to get bushwhacked. Baatz’s pudgy features cleared as he made up his mind.


“Yes, Corporal?” Gustav Braun’s face said he wished he were a thousand kilometers away from here.

“You got that big drum on your machine pistol. Let Stallinger take you up to the fields he’s having spasms about, and you shoot the whole thing off. If that doesn’t flush the Ivans, nothing will, on account of there won’t be any there,” Baatz said.

Willi blinked. The order actually made good sense. He wouldn’t have thought Awful Arno had it in him. Braun carried a Russian PPD-34 submachine gun instead of a Schmeisser. The Russian piece came with a drum that held seventy-one rounds. It took 7.62mm cartridges instead of 9mm, but the Germans had captured plenty. The big magazine made it heavy to cart around. Every once in a while, though, you needed the extra firepower. This looked to be one of those times.

Even Braun could see as much. “Right, Corporal,” was all he said. If he didn’t sound thrilled… Well, Willi wouldn’t have been thrilled with an order like that, either, no matter how much sense it made.

Stallinger did have a Schmeisser. A point man often found himself in positions where he needed to spray around a lot of lead in a hurry. He also seemed less than delighted about going back to where he’d sensed trouble, but hey, there was a war on. You did all kinds of things you weren’t delighted about.

The rest of the Landsers spread out into a loose skirmish line. Nobody told them to. No one needed to tell them. They knew what was what. Willi knew he had a round in the chamber. He knew it, but he made sure anyway. He noted the best place to dive for cover, and also the next best place.

Stallinger and Braun went forward. If the Russians had a machine gun in amongst the barley… If they had a machine gun in there, hell was out to lunch, because they could mow down the rest of the section, too.

Braun knew his business. He didn’t just squeeze off one long burst as he fired. The muzzle would have pulled up and to the right, and he would have shot over what he was trying to flush out. He fired two, three, four rounds at a time. Willi didn’t know exactly when he hit something. The Ivans might have been disciplined enough to keep quiet when they got shot. But one fellow couldn’t help making the grain around him sway in unmistakable fashion as he toppled over. Tiny in the distance, Stallinger waved urgently.

Awful Arno waved back. Get away! that meant, but giving the order was easier than following it. The Russians figured out that they weren’t going to be able to take the whole section unawares. They grabbed what they could get, and opened up on Stallinger and Braun. Both men went down. Maybe they weren’t dead, but Willi didn’t like the odds.

He was already trotting forward before Awful Arno told him to. So were the rest of the Landsers. You didn’t let the Russians take your buddies alive, not if you could help it. You didn’t even want them grabbing German corpses. They mutilated them for the fun of it, and to intimidate live Germans who came upon their handiwork.

Bullets reached out toward the advancing men in Feldgrau. One cracked past Willi, viciously close. He had to make himself keep moving by main force of will. His body, animal thing that it was, wanted to throw itself flat, or else to run. The barley still concealed the Ivans.

But not perfectly, not as he got closer to them. He spotted khaki through green going gold. When he raised his Mauser to his shoulder, the Russian showed plainly through the telescopic sight. He fired. He got a split-second glimpse of most of the man’s face contorted with pain. Then he worked the bolt, lowered the rifle, and trotted on. That enemy soldier wasn’t likely to trouble them any more.

Ambush spoiled, the rest of the Red Army men slipped off to the east. Their rear guard kept firing to make sure the Germans didn’t chase them too enthusiastically. If they wanted to retreat, Willi was ready to let them. Awful Arno kept yelling for the section to push harder.

Then he yelled again, wordlessly this time. He held his rifle in his right fist. His left arm hung uselessly, blood darkening the field-gray sleeve. “I’m hit!” he said. Disbelief filled his voice. And why not? He’d stayed lucky for going on three years-he must have thought nothing could bite him. Well, that showed how much he knew.

The Landser next to him slapped a wound bandage on his arm. “Go back, Corporal,” the fellow said. “The aid men will patch you up. Can you manage on your own, or shall we send somebody with you?”

“Send somebody.” Willi wasn’t sure he was the senior Obergefreiter, but he spoke up anyway. “He can’t handle his weapon one-handed. If we’ve bypassed any Ivans, they’ll do for him if he’s by himself.”

They took his orders. Baatz and a protector headed for the rear. Willi didn’t know what he’d do without Awful Arno to goad him on. He looked forward to finding out, though.

When the Germans got up to the point man and his comrade, they found Braun dead but Stallinger still very much alive, though down with a leg wound. More men hauled him off to the rear. They buried Braun in a shallow grave and set his helmet on it. They might have marked the grave with a bayoneted Mauser, too. The PPD-34 was too valuable. Another Landser grabbed it and brought it along.

Chapter 19

The farther south and east into the Ukraine the Germans and Romanians drove the Red Army, the more familiar things became for Ivan Kuchkov. More of the people spoke Russian, for instance. It was Ukrainian-accented Russian, with guttural h’s replacing proper g’s, but he could more or less make sense of it. Real Ukrainian hovered right at the edge of comprehensibility for him, which pissed him off.

People farther south and east here didn’t seem so ready to prick up their ears and whinny at the sound of a crappy German oompah band, either. They remembered they were Soviet citizens. Maybe the NKVD had left them too scared to forget. Kuchkov wasn’t inclined to be picky. As long as they didn’t give the Hitlerite swine a helping hand, he didn’t care why.

He wished more T-34s would come into the fight. “The Fritzes shit their drawers every time they see one of those fuckers,” he said as his section cooked this and that around a fire built from the planks of a blown-up barn. “The pussies’d all run for home if we had enough.”

His men nodded. For one thing, he was obviously right. For another, arguing with him was a losing proposition. He backed up his words with fists, knees, teeth, a knife he carried in his boot, and anything else that might come in handy. Even the politruk had quit agitating that he should join the Party. In the middle of a war, a political officer could meet an untimely end just like anybody else. And chances were the authorities would be too busy with bigger stuff to ask a whole lot of questions.

Off to the north, a Soviet machine gun fired a couple of short bursts. No German machine gun answered, so maybe the guy at the trigger was shooting at shadows. Or maybe he’d scragged a Nazi. Kuchkov hoped so.

All of his men had cocked their heads in the direction of the gunfire. When it petered out, they nodded or smiled and went back to whatever they’d been doing. So did he. That wasn’t trouble. It wasn’t trouble for his section, anyhow, which was the only kind of trouble he worried about. The smart fuckers with the fancy rank badges on their uniforms cared about how the whole front was going. This tiny piece of it was plenty for him.

One of the soldiers turned coarse tobacco from a pouch and a strip of old newspaper into a cigarette. He lit it with the tip of a burning twig. After blowing out a long, gray smoke stream, he said, “Maybe we’ll get to stay here awhile.”

“Watch your dumb cunt of a mouth, Vanya,” Kuchkov said without heat.

“Huh?” Vanya wasn’t the brightest star in the sky. But even he got it after a couple of seconds. “Oh. Sorry, Comrade Sergeant.”

“ Sorry ’s all right for me. There’s plenty of pricks who’d stick sorry right up your sorry ass, though,” Kuchkov growled, more to make the soldier remember than because he was really angry. Officers went on and on about squashing defeatism wherever it stuck up its ugly head. The NKVD squashed people it imagined to be defeatists, usually for good. If somebody here ratted on poor, slow Vanya… Kuchkov didn’t know there was an informer in his section, but he would have been surprised if there weren’t. Unlike the poor jerk with the roll-your-own, he understood instinctively how the system worked.

He had his own reasons for hoping the Red Army could hold the line in these parts, even if he wasn’t dumb enough to come out with them. There was a village maybe a kilometer and a half behind this campfire, and his eye had fallen on one of the girls there, a cute little blonde named Nina.

She’d smiled back at him, too, damned if she hadn’t. Some women liked handsome. Kuchkov didn’t have a prayer with them. He knew it. He didn’t like it, but what can a guy do about his own mug? Some women, though, some women liked strong. And with those broads he had a fighting chance. He wasn’t pretty and he wasn’t smart, but he could break any two ordinary jerks over his knee like skinny sticks.

A smile, the right kind of smile, was all it took. If he could get Nina alone, especially if he had some vodka along, he knew damn well he’d be able to slide his hand under her skirt. The war was won as soon as you did that.

But if the Germans drove the Red Army back before he got the chance, some Nazi son of a bitch with broad shoulders would end up balling her instead. That would be a waste, nothing else but.

Kuchkov tore off his own strip of Pravda. Or maybe it was Izvestia or Red Star, the Army paper. Since he couldn’t read, he didn’t care. He wiped his ass with newsprint. And he rolled smokes with it. “Let me have some of that makhorka, Vanya,” he said.

“Sure, Comrade Sergeant.” The soldier passed him the pouch. Vanya might be dim, but he was as eager to please as a dog. With deft fingers, Kuchkov formed a cigarette. He lit it the same way the other man had. He had food, he had smoke in his lungs, he might get laid before too long, the Germans seemed pretty quiet… Life could have been worse.

Since the Germans stayed quiet through the night, at sunrise the next morning he made up an excuse to go back to the village. No one asked him any questions. An ugly mug and a strong, hairy back made other people mind their own business. He knew what they called him when that back was turned. When he overheard it, he broke some heads. That worked. Let them mock, as long as they feared.

He reached the place just as the peasants were going out to their chores. Waving, he called, “Nina! Come here!” He didn’t go Come here, you bitch! For him, it was the height of suavity.

She waved back, which made his hopes-among other things-rise. “What do you need, Sergeant?”

You. But that would be for later. He pointed to a nearby stand of brushy woods he’d noticed-the best privacy you could find around here. “Let’s talk about you whipping up a big tub of stew for my guys, hey?”

“Where do I get the stuff to put in it?” she asked. The obvious answer was from your village. That would leave the people there hungry.

But he just said, “Well, we can talk about that.” He hopped over a bush and walked into the woods. Nina followed. He offered her his water bottle. “Here. Have a knock of this first, sweetie.”

Calling it a knock warned her. Her eyes didn’t cross when she swigged Red Army vodka. Calling her sweetie probably warned her, too. But she was smiling when she handed back the water bottle. “You should drink some.”

“Fucking right I should.” He titled his head back. Fire slid down his throat and exploded in his stomach like a 105. He held out the vodka. “Have some more.”

“Sure. Best way to start the day.” Nina was a Russian, all right.

“Almost the best way.” Kuchkov grabbed her. She squealed and she giggled and she made a token try at pushing him away, but then they were rolling on the ground together and kissing. When he did reach under her skirt, she laughed again and then she purred. Who ended up on top was a matter of luck. She undid his fly, sucked him for a minute to make him even harder than he was already, and impaled herself on him. His hands clutched her meaty backside while they thrashed. She had plenty to hold on to.

She threw her head back and mewled. A moment later, he grunted as joy shot through him. A moment after that, before he could decide whether to slide out or start again, German shells started landing on the Russian line and reaching back toward the village.

That made up his mind, and in a hurry. He threw Nina off him, even his rude chivalry forgotten. She let out an indignant squawk. He didn’t care. He scrambled to his feet, shoving his cock back into his pants and doing up the buttons. Then he took off on the dead run, back toward his section. Fun was fun, but killing the fucking Fascists really mattered.

He ignored the shell bursts. If one got him, it got him. None did. He wasn’t as fast as an Olympic track man getting back, but an Olympic track man didn’t run in boots and carry a submachine gun. He reached his men before the barrage stopped and the ground attack came in.

“Hold on to your dicks, boys,” he called when the artillery let up. Nina’d sure had hold of his. “We’ll slaughter the clapped-out cunts.”

They didn’t. The Germans were veterans, and didn’t assume the shelling would make their advance easy. They came cautiously, by small groups, firing and moving. Where they met strong defensive fire, they held up and started digging themselves foxholes. They weren’t going to let their officers get them killed if they could help it. If they hadn’t been Nazis, they would have been sensible men.

For a wonder, Russian tanks showed up before the Germans brought up any armor. The Fritzes retreated sullenly. Maybe I can fuck Nina again tomorrow, Kuchkov thought. You never knew till you tried.

Pete McGill passed five-inch shells as fast as he could. The Japs had more dive-bombers than Carter had little liver pills. Sweat poured down his bare back. He’d be sunburned like nobody’s business if he lived, but that was the least of his worries. He’d got way too hot and sticky to stay in his shirt.

Most of the guys at the gun wore nothing but a helmet above the waist. You needed a helmet. You needed one bad. What went up eventually came down, and lots and lots was going up. Fragments rained down all over the Pacific. You’d feel like a jerk if one of them smashed your unprotected skull-but not for long, worse luck for you.

The five-incher bellowed again. Pete heard it as if from very far away. If he had any ears at all left by the time this got done, he’d count his blessings. A shell casing clanged on the deck. Somebody kicked it out of the way to keep from tripping over it. It didn’t roll far. Too much other brass had already been kicked. Pete grabbed the next round and passed it to the loader. Into the breech it went. The gun lowered a little to bear on the dive-bomber. Blam! The cycle began anew.

The Jap plane didn’t give a damn about the Boise. It was swooping down on a heavy cruiser. Shells burst all around it, black smoke puffs soiling the clean, moist Pacific air. The pilot ignored everything but his target. He released the bomb and zoomed away bare yards above the ocean. A shell clipped his wing then. His plane broke up as it went into the drink. Fire floating on the sea was the only grave marker he’d ever get.

Too late came the hit. The bomb burst right alongside the American ship. It wasn’t a killing blow. But blast and fragments would do their worst, and their worst was no damn good. The Boise had taken blows like that, and suffered from them yet.

“One fucker won’t be back!” Joe Orsatti shouted. Everybody at the five-inch mount yelled as loud as he could. It was the only way the Marines had a prayer of making themselves heard. Even as things were, Pete might not have understood if he hadn’t read the gun chief’s lips.

“How many more have they got?” he yelled back. Orsatti didn’t answer. By the nature of things, he couldn’t know. Neither could Pete. But that was the question.

All the guys with the fat gold stripes on their sleeves who’d made up the American attack plan seemed to have missed something: the Japs had turned their mid-Pacific islands into unsinkable aircraft carriers. They had sinkable carriers, too; the Americans had sunk one. But no American carriers remained afloat, and the U.S. fleet had yet to see any Japanese naval craft at gun range. (No, that wasn’t quite true. One Jap sub incautiously surfaced near a battleship whose big guns happened to be trained its way. A few seconds later, nothing was left of that sub but paper clips.)

No twilight-of-the-gods super-Jutland here, no matter what the planners-and Pete McGill-had figured this fight would look like. No Joe Louis-Max Schmeling. Instead, the Japs were making like some superfast lightweight. Hank Armstrong on benzedrine, maybe. They jabbed and jabbed and jabbed, and when you tried to hit back they weren’t there. And they wore you down, one punch at a time.

Pete had guessed the big free-for-all would happen somewhere near the Philippines. And it might have, if the U.S. fleet had been able to get that far. But even Guam still lay far to the west. And reaching Guam would be no cure-all; the Stars and Stripes didn’t fly there any more. How many Japanese planes would come up from all their islands and attack the remains of the American force? How long before they’d be more than all the antiaircraft guns aboard the surviving ships could hope to knock down? If the admirals went on being stubborn, that day might come soon.

If it did, Pete probably wouldn’t even get a brief patch of fire on the Pacific to mark where he’d gone down. An oil slick would be about it.

He didn’t want to die. Not yet. He didn’t have nearly enough revenge for Vera. Four red rings circled his five-inch gun’s barrel, each one signifying a plane Orsatti was sure they’d killed. The rings, and the rest of the paint on the barrel, were blistered and scorched from the heat of all the shells that had gone through. It took a hell of a lot of firing to knock a plane out of the sky: way more than anybody’d figured before the war got rolling.

The Boise ’s engines picked up. Pete felt the new vibration through the soles of his shoes. The light cruiser swung into a long turn, carving a white wake into blue water. When the turn ended, she was heading east.

“Now hear this!” blared from the loudspeakers. “At the orders of the fleet’s commanding officer, we are withdrawing toward Hawaii. I say again-at the orders of the CO, the fleet is withdrawing from these waters.”

So it wasn’t just the Boise. It was everybody. Everybody who was left, anyway. Pete wasn’t even sure of the current CO’s name; Admiral Kimmel went down with the Arizona when she sank, probably figuring that was easier than having to explain failure back home.

Well, if the new guy was throwing up his hands and hightailing it back toward Pearl, his name was also likely to be mud whoever the hell he was. The Secretary of the Navy and the President would blame him for not blowing the Japs out of the water. After all, if another admiral fell on-or was pushed onto-his sword, less blame would stick to his superiors.

Then again, if the Americans kept pushing forward no matter what, it wouldn’t be long before they had nothing left to push with. Going into this war, everybody’d wondered how sea power stacked up against air power. Now that the returns were in, they didn’t look encouraging for the poor bastards in ships. It had been a running fight between airplanes all the way west across the Pacific. Now that the U.S. Navy was out of carriers, the fleet went on taking it on the chin no matter how much antiaircraft fire the ships threw up.

Pete nervously scanned the sky. Just because the fleet was on the lam, that didn’t mean the Japs would leave it alone. Kick ’em while they’re down was good advice in bar brawls and in war. If the other guy didn’t think he’d almost licked you, he wouldn’t jump on you again any time soon. Now the U.S. Navy was trying to get up off the floor and brush away the sawdust and the spilled beer.

Some of the other ships were still firing-maybe at Japanese planes, maybe at nothing. Around the Boise, it was quiet for the moment. Pete suddenly realized how very stiff and sore and weary he was. “Fuck,” he said.

Orsatti must have read his lips, because he didn’t say it very loud. The gun chief nodded. He looked like hell: unshaven, bags under his eyes, his face thin and drawn. Pete probably looked the same way, but he hadn’t seen himself any time lately. He’d been living on coffee and sandwiches and snatching sleep curled up on the deck next to the gun like a dog since… He couldn’t work out since when. It had been a while now. He knew that.

One of the other guys pulled a crumpled pack of Luckies from his dungarees and gave everybody a cigarette. Pete took his gratefully. The nicotine seemed to help a little with the haze of fatigue that dogged him. “Fuck,” he said again. This time, the rest of the crew nodded in mournful agreement.

“Didn’t never figure we’d get licked,” Orsatti said, speaking slowly and loudly. “Not by the Japs.”

Pete could have said I told you so. He’d known the Emperor’s finest were tougher than most Americans wanted to believe. He kept quiet. Sometimes being right cost more than it was worth.

But then he did say “Fuck” one more time. After another drag on the Lucky-some luck! — he amplified it: “What’s gonna happen to the poor sorry assholes stuck on the islands we took away from the slanties?”

“Maybe we’ll make pickup while we go,” Orsatti said. But he didn’t sound as if his heart was in the words. Pete could see why. If the fleet was doing its goddamnedest to get away from the Japs, would it want to stop for anything? That was asking to get worked over again.

But to leave leathernecks behind to try to hold off Hirohito’s bastards with whatever they happened to have… That was the worst kind of losing proposition. Sweet Jesus, was it ever!

Or was it, really? Wasn’t getting killed trying to take them off and then leaving them stuck for the Japs anyway worse still? An admiral was bound to think so. The admiral in charge of the fleet did think so. Pete was a Marine. For two cents’ change, he would have torn the goddamn admiral’s head off and pissed in the hole.

Married. When Sarah Goldman (no, she was Sarah Bruck now; she had to keep reminding herself she was Sarah Bruck) had thought about being married before she actually was, she hadn’t thought much about what came after she went through the ceremony. Oh, she’d thought about some of it, but you couldn’t do that all the time even when you were newlyweds and very young. She hadn’t thought about what her life would be like after the wedding.

She had expected she would eat better, and she did. The Brucks were bakers, after all. Even if they were Jews, even if the Nazis watched them three times as hard as the Aryan bakers in Munster, they found ways of making flour silently vanish from the official allocation. Some they baked into stuff they ate themselves. They traded the rest with other people who dealt in food. Nobody-nobody below the rank of General-major, anyhow-ate well in the Third Reich. But the Brucks did very well for Jews, and better than some Aryans.

Sarah hadn’t expected she would work so much harder. Isidor might have got himself a wife. His mother and father had got themselves a brand-new employee they didn’t have to pay. They made the most of it. She knew next to nothing about baking when she started sharing Isidor’s little room. They set about giving her a crash course.

To be fair, they started her on simple things, as if she were a child. She could tell time, obviously. They could trust her to open the ovens and take out the loaves after half an hour (they could also smear ointment on her hands when she burned herself doing it-it wasn’t as if they’d never got burned).

They could let her mix the various flours that went into war bread. “No, none of them is sawdust,” David Bruck assured her, amusement in his voice.

“Was there any in the last war?” she asked. “People always say there was.”

“There were things nobody talked about. The government issued them to us, and we used them. It was use them or not bake anything.” Isidor’s father no longer sounded or looked amused. “That was… a very hard time.”

“This isn’t?” Sarah’s flour-covered hand reached for but didn’t touch the six-pointed yellow star on her blouse.

David Bruck wore a star, too. He considered. “We were hungrier then, but we were happier, too. People weren’t banging on the tea kettle at us all the time because we were Jews.”

Sarah smiled. Her mother would use that homely phrase for raising a ruckus every now and then. Her father always looked pained when Mother did. It wasn’t the kind of thing Herr Doktor Professor Goldman was used to hearing, his expression said. Herr Doktor Professor Goldman was doing all kinds of things these days that he hadn’t been used to.

And so was Sarah. Besides the burns, unfamiliar work made her arms and shoulders ache. Her feet hurt because she was on them so much. She was tired all the time. She sometimes wondered if this was what she’d signed up for.

It would have been worse if she hadn’t seen that all the Brucks, Isidor included, drove themselves harder than they drove her. That made her feel silly about complaining. But she slept as if someone hit her over the head with a boulder as soon as she lay down.

When she slept. As the hours of darkness got longer, RAF bombers started showing up over Munster more often. There weren’t many of them, and they didn’t drop a lot of bombs, but they wrecked the nights when they appeared.

She and Isidor and his parents would go downstairs and huddle under the counters. It was no better than hiding under the dining-room table had been at her parents’. If a bomb knocked the building down on top of you, you’d get squashed. If one blew out a side wall, it would blow you up, too. The Aryans in the neighborhood, like the Aryans in her old neighborhood, had proper bomb shelters. Verboten for Jews, of course. Jews took their chances.

Isidor took his chances in the blackout darkness. She’d never got felt up during an air raid before. She wanted to laugh and she wanted to belt him, both at the same time. She couldn’t do either, not without giving away what he was up to.

Every couple of weeks, she and Isidor would walk over and see her folks. She enjoyed that more than she wanted to show. The Brucks talked about bakery business and neighborhood gossip and the music on the radio, and that was about it. At her own house, talk ranged all over the world and across thousands of years. She’d thought it would be the same for everybody-till she discovered it wasn’t.

Coming back to such talk felt wonderful. She said so once, while Isidor was using the toilet. Her father’s smile twisted a little. “The Brucks are nice people. They are-don’t get me wrong. But they’re not very curious, so they might not seem very exciting, either.”

“Not very curious!” she echoed, nodding. That was it, all right. That was exactly it. The Brucks knew what they knew, and they didn’t worry about anything else.

Socrates talked about people like that in the Apology. If she tried to tell Isidor so, he would look at her as if she’d suddenly started speaking ancient Greek herself. It wasn’t that knowing all the strange things she knew ever did her much practical good. But it gave her things to think about she wouldn’t have had otherwise. When she was with other people who had the same strange set of mental baggage, it also gave her things to talk about that she wouldn’t have had otherwise.

When she was with the Brucks… A flush from the bathroom said Isidor would be coming out. She put that one on the back burner.

Was this what marriage was about? Giving up part of yourself you hadn’t even been aware you had in exchange for love? She had no doubt that Isidor loved her. She loved him, too. It wasn’t that he made her abandon that part. But he didn’t have its match, so showing it to him seemed pointless.

But he had points of his own. As he sat down beside her, he said, “I heard this one from an Aryan the other day, if you can believe it. Hitler, Goebbels, and Goring are on a plane that crashes. Everybody aboard gets killed. Who is saved?”

Something in the way her father’s mouth twitched told her he already knew the joke. But all he said was, “ Nu? Who?” She was glad, because she hadn’t heard it, and she didn’t think her mother had, either.

“The German people,” Isidor answered, and exploded into laughter.

If there were microphones in the house, they were all in trouble. Sarah knew as much. She laughed anyway. So did Mother. “An Aryan told you that?” Father asked Isidor. He was also laughing, even as he went on, “Was he an SS man, seeing if he could land you in trouble because you thought it was funny?”

“No, no.” Isidor shook his head. “Not like that. It was one old guy talking to another one on the street. I heard it walking by.”

“Ach, so.” Samuel Goldman relaxed. “That should be all right, then. Nobody seems happy with the way things are going.”

“ ‘We continue the advance on the important Soviet citadel of Smolensk.’ ” Isidor amazed Sarah. She hadn’t dreamt he could imitate a self-important newsreader so well.

He surprised Sarah’s father, too. Samuel Goldman let out a sudden bray of laughter, then looked at Isidor as if he’d never really seen him before. Maybe he hadn’t. And maybe now he saw some little piece of what Sarah saw in the baker’s son.

Walking back to their little room after the visit, Isidor said, “I like talking with your mother and father. They’re… interesting.”

“Peculiar but fun?” Sarah’s voice was dry.

Isidor kicked a pebble down the sidewalk. “You said that. I didn’t.”

You sure meant it, though, Sarah thought. She cocked her head to one side-a gesture her father might have used-and asked, “Do you think I’m… interesting, too?”

This time, Isidor didn’t hesitate for a second. “Darn right I do!” He was undressing her with his eyes.

“Not like that, Dummkopf,” she said, though the eager stare warmed her. “Like my folks, I mean.”

“Oh.” To him, that seemed less important. But he nodded after a moment. “Yeah, I guess so. You… kind of think lefthanded, if you know what I mean.”

If Sarah hadn’t thought that way, she wouldn’t have. As things were, she batted her eyes at him and murmured, “You say the sweetest things.” If you couldn’t always leave them happy, sometimes confused worked almost as well.

The Ivan struggled out of his hole. Blood from a small wound to his ear dripped onto his baggy khaki tunic. He left his rifle behind and kept his hands over his head. “Freund!” he said hopefully. “Kamerad!”

Luc Harcourt’s lip curled in scorn. “You stupid sack of shit, I’m no fucking German,” he answered in his own language.

“Mon Dieu! C’est vrai! Vous-etes francais!” To Luc’s amazement, the Russian-corporal, if he was reading the rank badges the right way-spoke a French as near perfect as made no difference. The fellow went on, “The Boches were in this sector yesterday, and I did not even think to look at your uniform. A thousand apologies, Monsieur. Ten thousand!”

Sure as hell, German tanks had passed through here the day before. The French infantry was helping to clean up the pocket the armor had carved out. “If I was a Boche, odds are you’d be dead right now,” Luc said.

“Vous-avez raison,” the Russian agreed. “Once more, I thank you for your mercy.”

Luc didn’t know how long he’d stay merciful. Prisoners were a pain in the ass. But a prisoner who spoke French as if he were educated at the Sorbonne might be worth something. Intelligence sure wouldn’t have any trouble interrogating him. Luc gestured with his rifle. “Well, c’mon. Get moving.”

“But of course.” The Russian put a hand to the side of his head. Naturally, it came away bloody. “How badly am I hurt?”

“Just an ear. Those always bleed like mad bastards, but it’s only a little wound,” Luc answered with rough sympathy. Then he said, “Hang on. Take off your belt-nice and slow. Don’t do anything stupid. You can hold up your pants with one hand afterwards.”

“Oui, Monsieur.” The Ivan obeyed. The belt had several grenades on it. Only after it lay on the ground and the prisoner had straightened up again did Luc relax-a few millimeters’ worth, anyhow.

“ Now get moving,” he told the guy, and the Russian did. After a few steps, he asked, “How come you speak such good French?”

“It is the language of culture-and I am, or I was, a student of French history. Yevgeni Borisovich Novikov, at your service.” The POW made as if to bow, but didn’t follow through.

Culture. Right, Luc thought. The so-called student of French history looked like any other captured Russian: dirty, whiskery, in a baggy tunic and breeches. The splatters of blood from his ear were just accents. (But for the blood and the cut of his uniform, Luc didn’t look much different himself.)

After a few steps, he did ask what was on his mind: “If you’re so educated and everything, how come you’re only a crappy corporal and not an officer?” Why should he worry about offending a prisoner he’d never see again?

“Only a corporal?” Novikov barked bitter laughter. “For me, getting promoted was a miracle. I come from a kulak family. Do you know what kulaks are? Were, I should say-not many of us are left alive.”

“Kulaks are rich farmers, right?” Luc hoped he wasn’t confusing the Russian word with something else altogether.

But the captured, cultured corporal nodded. “Rich enough to have a few cows, anyhow. Richer than the ordinary muzhik. Richer because they worked harder than the ordinary muzhik and didn’t drink as much. Rich enough that they didn’t want to get herded into collective farms and give up more than they got. Rich enough to get called enemies of the state and go to the wall.” He grimaced. “I’m lucky to be alive, let alone a corporal.”

He might have thought that would impress Luc. And it did-but only up to a point. “Happy day, buddy,” Luc said. “Doesn’t mean you wouldn’t’ve shot me if you got the chance. I’ve been in this shit since ’38. Tell me about lucky to be alive.”

“It could be, though, that you were allowed to be a human being before the war began,” Novikov replied.

Allowed to be a human being. Luc chewed on that till he spotted Lieutenant Demange. If anyone ever stood foursquare against the notion of letting people be human beings, Demange was the man. He waved to Luc. “What the hell you got there?” he called, as if Luc had brought in some exotic animal instead of an ever so mundane POW.

“Russian who speaks French better’n you do, Lieutenant,” Luc answered sweetly.

Demange said something about Luc’s mother that he was unlikely to know from personal experience. Luc grinned; he’d got under Demange’s skin, which he didn’t manage to do every day. The lieutenant glowered at Yevgeni Novikov. “So what the fuck you got to say for yourself, prickface?”

“I am glad your sergeant here did not kill me when he could have,” Novikov told him. “I hope you will not, either.”

He knew what could happen to captured soldiers, then. Well, who didn’t? And Demange looked comically amazed. “You con!” he said to Luc. “The asshole does speak better French’n me. Better than you, too.”

“I’m not arguing,” Luc said. “The guys who question him won’t have to fuck around with German.” There were French interrogators who spoke Russian, but only a very few. But lots of Frenchmen could get along in German, and so could lots of Russians. Conducting an interrogation in French would be a luxury.

Lieutenant Demange nodded. “You’re right. I bet he speaks better French than the clowns who squeeze him, too.” He chuckled unpleasantly. “And a whole bunch of good that’ll do him. Go on and take him back, Harcourt.”

“Will do.” Luc would have taken Novikov back any which way. Any excuse to move away from the front line where people were liable to shoot at you was a good one. Now I only have to worry about shells and bombs, Luc thought with perfectly genuine relief. Had he tried to imagine that before the war, he would have decided he was nuts.

He had to give Novikov up at regimental headquarters: a scattered handful of tents any self-respecting Boy Scouts would have laughed at. They would, at least, unless a French picket plugged them before they could get close enough to laugh. The picket was invisible till he called a challenge. He’d definitely earned his merit badge in foxhole digging.

Luc didn’t know the headquarters password. A rigid Russian or German might have shot him for that. The sentry laughed at him and then passed him through. The guy could see and hear he was a Frenchman.

The officers at the HQ weren’t thrilled to see Yevgeni Novikov. One more POW-just what we don’t need, their attitude declared. Then he opened his mouth. They fell on him with glad cries after that, especially when they discovered he would sing like a skylark. They even gave Luc a cup of good burgundy-not pinard, heaven forbid; they were, after all, officers-and a pack of Gauloises as the bringer of good news.

Thus fortified, he started up to the front again. He took his own sweet time getting there. If Lieutenant Demange didn’t like it, too damn bad. But Demange wouldn’t care, not about something like this. Back when he was a sergeant, he would have taken his time returning, too. Anybody would. Who in blazes wanted to come straight to the killing zone?

That thought made Luc stop again. When you were heading to the front, any excuse was a good one. So it looked to him, at any rate. But there were a few white crows who were never happier than when they were mixing it up with the Nazis or Reds or whoever the enemy happened to be.

Most of the time, dumb cons like that didn’t last long. They got too eager, and somebody on the other side-probably some scared fuck who would rather have been in an estaminet somewhere with a barmaid in his lap-took them out. Not many people missed them once they were gone, either. They tended to get their comrades killed, too.

Every once in a while, though… By all accounts, Hitler had been that kind of ferocious loner. He’d spent just about all the last war as a runner at the front, and he’d come through with hardly a scratch. You couldn’t begin to figure the odds on that. The way it looked to Luc, God had dropped the ball there.

He laughed at himself. “Fat lot anybody can do about it now,” he said, and lit one of his new Gauloises.

Chapter 20

Instead of flying out of an airstrip in front of Smolensk, Stas Mouradian was flying out of one east of the city. That suggested that the fighting wasn’t going the way the Politburo and General Secretary Stalin had in mind.

Of course, other such hints had appeared long before this. When the war started, Stas had flown out of an airstrip in Slovakia. Slovakia lay a long way west of where he was flying from now. So did Poland. So did Byelorussia. He’d flown from airstrips in those places, too.

Looking at that progression (even if you ignored his detour to the Far East, which also hadn’t turned out well), you might start to suspect that Soviet leadership left something to be desired. As a matter of fact, Stas had started suspecting as much even in Slovakia.

He’d also suspected he’d better keep quiet about it. The enemy could kill you. So could your own side. Defeatism was a capital crime. If the Nazis shot you down, you at least had a chance of getting things over with in a hurry. Once the Chekists started in on you, they’d take their time and really make you sorry.

He wondered how long his squadron would be able to keep flying. Lately, days had been dawning with clouds massing in the northwest and drifting across the sky, covering it ever more thickly. The fall rasputitsa was coming. Airstrips, roads between towns, and everything else would turn to mud.

He also wondered why Red Air Force engineers hadn’t built more paved airfields around here. They might have given the Soviet Union a vital edge in its fight with the Fascists and their allies. Maybe the engineers had had other things to do, things they found more important. What those things might be, Stas couldn’t imagine.

Even saying there should be paved runways near Smolensk, or wondering aloud why there weren’t, was one more thing that might make the NKVD notice you. Stas knew they had a dossier on him. Well, they had a dossier on everybody. But the folder with his name on it would be thicker than most. Every so often, he couldn’t stop himself from hinting that not all the men who led the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics were grand and towering geniuses.

The squadron took off from its dirt runway and flew north and a little west toward Velizh, another town threatened by the Nazis. If the enemy swung around behind Velizh, the fortress might fall even if it wasn’t immediately overrun. The Germans had shown how good they were at biting off pockets with their armor and then using guns and infantry to chew up the Soviet forces still inside.

Lieutenant Colonel Tomashevsky stayed in the clouds as much as he could. He had to be navigating by compass and dead reckoning and perhaps a little un-Soviet prayer. All the same, Stas thought he would have flown the same way were he leading the squadron. Unlike the SB-2, the Pe-2 was no clay pigeon for the Bf-109. It was about as fast as the German fighter. But the Messerschmitt could outclimb, outdive, and outturn it. Dogfights with 109s remained a bad bet.

When Tomashevsky ordered the Red Air Force bombers down below the cloud layer, down to where they could see-and be seen-once more, Stas expected them to have to grope around for Velizh. Russia was full of fields and forests. He’d traveled all the way across it to the Far East. He knew how enormous it was, and how lucky you had to be to find anything on the first try.

“Bozhemoi!” Ivan Kulkaanen exclaimed as the last rags of mist blew away from the windscreen and the horizon stretched out to kilometers. They were right over the town their bomb loads were supposed to defend.

“I couldn’t have put it better myself,” Mouradian said. Was the squadron commander that good a navigator, or had he filled an inside straight? Stas didn’t think he could do it again, but he’d done it once, and nothing else mattered for this mission.

The war was laid out below them, as if on a situation map. Soviet trenches in front of Velizh kept the Nazis from storming in. But the Red Army had to defend long lines, and its strength was spread thin. The Germans were forming assault columns. If one of them broke through, the Soviet soldiers in the trenches would have to fall back to keep from being bypassed.

Lieutenant Colonel Tomashevsky’s static-distorted voice resounded in Stas’ earphones: “We will bomb the central Fascist column. Acknowledge.”

“Bombing the central column-plane eight acknowledging,” Mouradian replied. Other pilots also showed they’d heard. Again, Stas would have made the same choice. That German force looked thicker and more muscular than either of the other two. How would it look after a good many tonnes of high explosives came down on its head?

As a matter of fact, Tomashevsky didn’t bomb the head of the column. He released his presents several kilometers to the west. The other Pe-2s followed him in. They were supposed to bomb the same place he did. But followers never did. They didn’t want to hang around any longer than they had to. The Nazis were already throwing up fierce antiaircraft fire.

Because of all that, the Pe-2 pilots following the squadron commander didn’t drop their bombs right where he had. They bombed short-and progressively shorter as plane after plane unloaded. Stas was no more immune than anyone else. He’d seen-and been part of-the effect on every mission he’d flown.

What he’d never seen before was someone taking advantage of it. Lieutenant Colonel Tomashevsky understood ahead of time what his flyers would do. Their bombs fell ever more toward the front of the German column, and probably smashed the hell out of it. If he’d blasted the head of the column himself, most of the rest of the squadron’s bombs would have landed short. Some of them might have come down on the poor bastards defending Velizh.

Doctrine, as Stas knew, was for the squadron leader to put his bombs exactly where they belonged. Doctrine decreed that the other pilots would of course place their loads right where he had. In the Red Air Force no less than the Red Army, doctrine carried the weight of holy writ.

What Lieutenant Colonel Tomashevsky had done worked better than doctrine. It couldn’t have been an accident or an error. Stas admired the squadron commander’s cleverness. He thought it was a shame Tomashevsky wouldn’t be able to spread the improvement to other officers who led squadrons. When he submitted his report, he would have to say he’d conformed to orders in every particular. Officers who did anything else wound up explaining themselves to the NKVD, which no one in his right mind wanted to do.

“Back to base,” Tomashevsky ordered. Again, Stas acknowledged. He was never sorry for permission to get the hell out of there.

Kulkaanen peered down at the German column as Mouradian turned the Pe-2 toward the neighborhood of Smolensk once more. He shook his head in pleased surprise. “Boy, we walloped the snot out of them, didn’t we?” he said.

“We sure did,” Stas agreed dryly. Did his copilot have the slightest idea of how they’d walloped the snot out of the Nazis? If he did, he was doing his best to hide it.

That thought brought Mouradian up short. Ivan Kulkaanen might be doing his very best to conceal any surplus intelligence he owned. Maybe you would get promoted if you showed you had more on the ball than the other junior lieutenants around you. Or maybe you’d get… what was the word farmers used? Culled, that was it. A sunflower that stood taller than the others in the field almost begged for the scythe.

Marx said Communism’s doctrine should be From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs. But what if your abilities were of the sort that made your superiors nervous? You’d be sorry, that was what. Or you’d turn into a chameleon, so they’d look right at you without seeing you, or at least without noticing you were any different from the rest.

Was that what Kulkaanen was up to? Stas didn’t think so, but he hadn’t imagined even the possibility till now. And something else occurred to him. Was that something he should be doing more of himself? He knew he was brighter than most of the other pilots in the squadron. His superiors likely did, too. All of a sudden, he wondered whether that was good or dangerous.

No NKVD men waited to haul him off to a fate worse than combat when he landed the Pe-2. The Chekists had plenty of other things to worry about. If he was on their list, he hadn’t yet come to the top. Since his own side didn’t feel like killing him yet, the Germans would get another chance one day soon.

To an Englishman, Egypt, even in what should have been autumn, came with only two settings on the thermostat: too hot and much too bloody goddamn hot. Alistair Walsh donned khaki drill shorts that showed off his pale, hairy legs. Even in tropical uniform, he sweltered.

He started out wearing a solar topee: a fancy name for a pith helmet. But another veteran sergeant who’d had a go at the half-arsed desert warfare with the Eyeties set him straight about that. “Go any place where they might shoot at you and you want a proper tin hat, pal,” the other man said. “That ugly thing you’ve got on your head-”

“You mean my face?” Walsh broke in. They were pouring down pints in a makeshift sergeants’ club somewhere between Sollum, which was in Egypt, and Tobruk, which was in Italian-owned Libya. Just a big tent, actually, and the beer came from bottles, but it could have been worse.

The other sergeant laughed. “I’ve seen worse mugs. My own, for instance. But you do want a tin hat. Even if it’s already khaki, paint it again and throw sand on the paint while it’s still wet. That kills sun glare better than anything else we’ve found.”

“Nice.” Walsh nodded appreciatively. “I wouldn’t have thought of that.”

“Nor I,” his drinking partner said. “I’ve heard we nicked the notion from Musso’s boys, but I can’t swear to it.”

“Interesting. How much in earnest are they, really?”

“Well, it depends,” his new chum answered.

“It often does,” Walsh agreed, his voice dusty.

The other fellow chuckled. “And isn’t that the bloody truth? They were brave enough against the Austrians the last go-round.”

“Not exactly the first string on either side in that match,” Walsh said.

“Too true. They haven’t covered themselves with glory in Spain. By all accounts, most of them never wanted to go there, and they’ve fought that way. Here… It depends more on the unit and the officers with the Eyeties than it does with the Fritzes,” the other sergeant said.

“With the Fritzes, they always mean it,” Walsh said with feeling. “You know what you’re getting with them, same as with Navy Cuts.” In aid of which, he lit a cigarette and offered his new friend the packet.

With a nod of thanks, the other man took one. “I’m Joe Billings,” he said, and stuck out his hand.

Walsh shook it and gave his own name. “And just as much a Taffy as you’d expect from the handle,” he added. If he said it first, the other fellow couldn’t use it against him.

But Billings only nodded. “Heard it in the way you talked,” he said, and no more. By his own accent, he came from England’s industrial Midlands. He went on, “Some of the Italian regiments, they aren’t worth tuppence ha’penny. Others… Others’ll give you everything you want and more besides. For a while, I should say. They’re all short of staying power.”

“Not the men, by what you say.” Walsh was trying to put pieces together.

“Not in those outfits. Some damn fine soldiers there,” Billings said. “Rifles, machine guns, grenades, that kind of thing, one bloke’s kit is about as good as the other’s. But they’re short on artillery, they’re woefully short on tanks, and the ones they’ve got are old-fashioned junk.”

“Heh.” Walsh drained his pint. “Back in France, I would have said the same thing about ours. The Germans chased us a deal more than we chased them, and that’s the truth.”

“You aren’t fighting the Germans any more, though,” Billings said. “This is a different business.”

How different it was Walsh discovered anew when he ducked out of the tent to ease himself. A million stars blazed down on him. The Milky Way was a pearly mesh cast across black, black sky. You never saw night skies like this in England or France. Too much moisture in the air, and, till the blackouts, too many lights sullying the darkness. Oddly, the only place he’d ever known the heavens like this before was in Norway, on a few of the rare clear winter nights.

But this wasn’t Norway, either. He’d frozen his ballocks off there despite a sheepskin coat. Nights got cold here-you did want your greatcoat-but not cold like that. The wind smelled different. You didn’t breathe in ice and pine trees here. You smelled sand and dust and petrol and exhaust. English forces here were far more motorized than they had been in Norway.

Walsh sniffed again as he did up his trousers. He didn’t know what he was sniffing for. Camel shit? Something like that, he supposed. He’d seen a few camels since he got to Egypt. The natives used them. So did the English and the Italians-when they ran short of lorries. You could also eat them if you had to. Walsh hoped like hell he’d never have to. Could anything that ugly possibly taste good?

He went back into the tent. Joe Billings had bought them both fresh pints while he was outside. Pretty soon, he’d buy a round himself. They’d both be pissing all night long.

He was nursing a headache the next morning. That didn’t keep the personnel wallahs from sending him up to his new slot: senior underofficer for an infantry company. All the young lieutenants eyed him as if he were a leper. And well they might. They had the seniority of rank, but he had that of experience. They could order him around, and they didn’t have to do what he told them to do-not by military law they didn’t. But they might land in worse trouble for ignoring him than he would for ignoring them.

One of them asked him, “Did you go through it the last time around?”

“Yes, sir.” Walsh tapped his leg. “Bought part of a plot, but not the whole thing.” He grinned crookedly. “Weather’s better for it here than it is back in Blighty-I’ll tell you that. Hardly aches at all.”

The subaltern nodded. His name was Wilf Preston. He had a sunburned, wind-chapped face full of freckles, and he looked hardly old enough to have escaped from public school: his posh accent said he’d likely gone to one. He hesitated before continuing, “Speaking of Blighty, were you, ah, in London when the government, ah, changed?”

“Yes, sir,” Walsh repeated. By the way Preston asked the question, he already knew the answer. That’s… interesting, Walsh thought. My reputation goes before me. They aren’t leery just because staff sergeants are supposed to eat second lieutenants without salt.

He wasn’t used to having that kind of reputation. For the rest of his life, he would be the man who’d brought in Rudolf Hess, the man who’d known Winston Churchill, the man who’d helped topple Horace Wilson in a military coup. He might be a lowly staff sergeant, but people with far more power than lowly lieutenants would look sidelong at him from here on out. Who are your friends? they’d wonder. What can you do to me if I cross you?

If he shouted “Boo!” young Wilf Preston would probably jump right out of his skin. It was tempting-damned if it wasn’t. Instead, he pointed west and asked, “Could you tell me what Musso’s lads are up to, sir?”

“They’re just patrolling for the time being,” Preston answered with transparent relief. “So are we, mainly. They haven’t shown a great deal of push since we drove them back over the border. We have the feeling that the only reason they attacked at all was so Benito could show Adolf he was strafing us for ducking out of the alliance against Russia.”

“Pity he can’t be his own fool instead of Hitler’s,” Walsh said.

Up at the front, a mile or two from where they talked, gunfire started up. Walsh began to unsling his Lee-Enfield, but noticed Preston wasn’t getting excited. “They always open fire around this time of day,” the subaltern said. “We think they have orders to shoot off so many rounds every morning, and this is how they make their quota.”

“War shouldn’t be about work rates,” Walsh said. “If it were, all the soldiers would unionize-and likely go out on strike. Then you’d need to hire blacklegs if you wanted any killing done.”

Preston looked at him in yet another new way. “You’re quite daft, aren’t you?” he said.

“Who, me?” Walsh shrugged. “I do my best.”

Hans-ulrich Rudel woke to a soft drumming against the canvas of his tent. He was afraid he knew what that was, but he might have been wrong. He stuck his nose outside to see. Said nose, and the rest of his face, met raindrops. He didn’t take the Lord’s name in vain. Even now, he remembered he was a minister’s son. But he did say something that never would have come out of his mouth before he joined the Luftwaffe.

The rain poured down from a pewter sky. Hans-Ulrich squelched over to the mess tent. Some of the flyers in there had already started drinking. One of them raised a flask in salute to him. “Have a snort, Rudel!”

“You know I don’t do that,” Rudel answered.

“You may as well. We sure as hell aren’t going up for a while.” Peter took a long pull at the flask. Did his cheeks and nose turn redder, or was that only Hans-Ulrich’s sanctimonious imagination?

Preferring not to dwell on it, Rudel said, “It may stop. The ground may dry up again.” He didn’t believe himself, either. He’d been in Russia the autumn before. He knew what these rains were like.

So did Peter, who laughed raucously. “Go talk to a virgin, pal! This weather’s fucked us before, and it’s fucking us again.”

Since Hans-Ulrich feared he was right, he walked over to see what the field kitchen had turned out. It was a thick stew of boiled buckwheat groats-kasha, the Ivans called the stuff-and onions and carrots and bits of flesh. Pointing to one of those bits in his mess tin, Hans-Ulrich asked, “What is it?”

“Meat.” The fellow who’d ladled out the stew gave back a laconic answer.

“I figured that,” Rudel said with exaggerated patience. “But will it neigh when I bite down? Or bark? Or meow?”

“As long as it doesn’t ask you for a loan, Herr Oberleutnant, odds are you’re better off not knowing,” the cook replied.

Sighing, Rudel decided he was likely to be right. He sat down on a bench and spooned up the stew. They’d never serve it at the Adlon-although food inside the Reich was nasty these days, too. The meat had been boiled so long, he couldn’t tell what it had started out as. It tasted… meaty. He emptied the tin tray faster than he’d expected. He would have gone back for seconds if he hadn’t worried that the cook would laugh at him.

There was a strange thing. Around his neck hung the Knight’s Cross, proof that he didn’t fear anything enemy flak might do to his Stuka-or to him. Yet the thought that an enlisted man who needed a shave might mock him kept his behind glued to the planking.

Courage, and then again courage. Before the war started, he hadn’t understood that it came in different flavors. And what kind of courage was required for an Aryan holder of the Ritterkreuz to sleep with a half-Jewish barmaid? To love her? Hans-Ulrich shook his head. It wasn’t like that-quite. Even having anything to do with her, though, took bravery unlike either bearding a cook or diving on an enemy panzer. It took a certain amount of moral courage, though Rudel himself was unlikely ever to see it in that light.

Colonel Steinbrenner ducked into the mess tent. At a training base in Germany, no doubt, the flyers would have stopped shoveling in kasha and mystery meat. They would have put down the vodka jugs (no, they wouldn’t have had any vodka jugs to begin with). And they would have leaped to their feet, stiffened into attention, and saluted the squadron commander.

A couple of them nodded. One man paused in lighting a cigarette long enough to wave. The rest went on with what they were doing. Steinbrenner took that for granted. He shed his officer’s cap and scowled at the drops of water on the patent-leather brim. “Fucking wet out there,” he remarked.

“Too right it is,” said the pilot with the cigarette.

One of the men passing around the jug held it out to the colonel. He laughed, shook his head, and went over to the pot full of stew. The cook filled his mess kit. Then Steinbrenner caught Hans-Ulrich’s eye, wordlessly asking, May I sit next to you?

Hans-Ulrich nodded and did his best to look eager and inviting. Discipline at the front didn’t work the way it did in the Reich during peacetime, but you needed some mighty good reason to tell your squadron commander to get lost, and he had none.

“How’s it going?” Steinbrenner asked as he parked himself.

“In this weather, sir? It’s not going anywhere,” Rudel said.

“You’ve got that right, anyway. The Landsers’ll just have to live without air support for a while. Well, so will the Russians.” Steinbrenner dug into breakfast. He chewed thoughtfully before delivering his verdict: “I’ve had worse, but I’ve sure had better. What’s the meat?”

“Don’t know,” Hans-Ulrich admitted.

“Didn’t you ask?” Steinbrenner said.

“Yeah, but the cook said I’d be better off not finding out,” Rudel answered.

The squadron commander turned and shouted at the guy behind the cauldron: “Hey, Klaus, what did you kill before you dumped it into this slop?” He didn’t worry about the enlisted man’s precious sensibilities.

And Klaus didn’t worry about his, either. “Sir, I believe that’s your granny,” he replied. The mess tent erupted with laughter.

Colonel Steinbrenner spooned up some more meat. His jaws worked again. He shook his head. “Nah. Granny’d be tougher than this no matter how long you stewed her.” More laughter. The cook held up the ladle in salute, acknowledging the hit.

Hans-Ulrich knew he couldn’t have done anything like that. He could sass Sergeant Dieselhorst that way, and maybe a couple of the other flyers he felt comfortable with, but not a cook he didn’t care a pfennig for one way or the other. Yes, Colonel Steinbrenner was older than he was, but Rudel suddenly realized more than age and rank went into running a squadron.

He didn’t go on from there to realize Steinbrenner had asked to sit next to him for a reason. He was a gear with a worn-down tooth or two, and didn’t fit smoothly into the squadron’s mechanism. Had he realized something like that, he would have taken another step toward being ready to lead such an outfit.

“So what are you going to do now that flying gets tricky?” Steinbrenner asked him. Then the colonel shook his head once more. “Now that flying gets stuck in the mud, I should say.”

“Oh, I don’t know, sir. Maybe I’ll see if I can con a furlough out of my squadron commander,” Rudel said blandly. “Some people can drink so that weeks seem to go by in days. If you don’t drink, though, weeks stuck in the mud seem more like years.”

“Best argument for drinking I’ve heard lately,” Colonel Steinbrenner remarked. Hans-Ulrich hadn’t intended it as anything of the kind, but he could see how the older man might hear it that way-and jab him with it. Steinbrenner went on, “If you did get a furlough-by some miracle, you understand-where would you go? What would you do? And ‘Anywhere away from here’ isn’t a good enough answer.”

Now Hans-Ulrich chose his words with care: “Well, I might take a train back to Poland to get away from the war for a bit. To, ah, Bialystok.” Why deny it? Steinbrenner knew about Sofia.

He nodded. Yes, he was unsurprised. “And how’s your girlfriend there?”