Chapter 9

“Good day, Fräuleins,” the customs inspector said.

The interior of the customs station at the border crossing between Switzerland and Bavaria looked bigger than it was because there were so few people in it, and it was perishing cold anyway, with that dank, dark penetrating North European winter evening chill that Luz had always detested with a cat’s loathing. Evidently the Germans still weren’t wasting coal on heating, however great their recent victories. The chill had a sad, tired scent to it too, though that might be her imagination.

“Papers, please. Baggage over there.”

Luz hid a reminiscent smile; hearing Bavarian dialect always reminded her of her girlhood, and he’d just said do drüm for over there.

She tipped the porters a few pfennigs for putting the trunk up on the table. Neither of them was actually a German at all; she’d have said Polish, or even Russians from the way they mutilated danke, gnädige Frau by rote and doffed their shapeless caps and bowed, and also from the fact that they were young men and not crippled and yet not in uniform, if you didn’t count some bundled-up rags that might be Russian khaki. Besides their ragged clothes and grime both looked hungry and underweight, too, but then most people in Germany did two and a half years into the Great War, unless they were in the military, were black-marketeers, were very rich, or were among the considerable minority who grew nearly all their own food.

“Open the trunk and the hand luggage and hatboxes for examination, if you please.”

When a German bureaucrat said “please” like that, the temperature always seemed to drop several degrees all on its own and you felt an unspoken barked-out sofort, a word that meant immediately with overtones of or else if used by a functionary or superior.

A little before the war a seedy down-and-out grifter named Voigt who’d dressed up in a secondhand Army officer’s uniform from a pawnshop had commandeered an entire town in Prussia, thrown the mayor in jail, and absconded with the municipal funds, and had gotten away with it until he switched to civilian gear because it simply hadn’t occurred to anyone to disobey or question him…

“Your destination within the empire and the purpose of your visit, please,” the inspector said, going over their passports and visas and making a note of everything on a form.

“Yes, Mr. Officially, traveling Berlin-like we will be,” Ciara said in her rather eccentric German, and smiled at the customs officer as his face went blank, his eyes narrowed in thought, and his lips moved, trying to parse what she’d just said after he worked his way through the accent to the syntax.

She may have been exaggerating it a bit or saying the first thing in her head, like that Irish writer who wrote The Dubliners has his characters do. Her German isn’t quite that bad anymore. Though Customs men hear every way of butchering their native tongue imaginable.

The German official was middle-aged, was built like a fireplug, had a face like a suspicious squint-eyed boot, wore an odd uniform that included a leather shako with a bill, and looked as if he’d rarely smiled since puberty himself.

Except possibly at things like watching a cripple fall under a train. But even so he’s a bit staggered by my querida’s turquoise eyes and innocent charm.

Luz’s own lips turned up a little in rueful approval; her partner wasn’t acting, exactly, but she was learning to use her natural affect under conscious direction.

She’s going to be formidable if she stays in this line of work, she thought. Not in my style, but in her own. And scientific espionage is certainly a promising field!

“Education in Germany has the famous for its great advancement is in years and years been,” Ciara went on.

Which remained quite true even with the extra misplaced past-tense verbs; before the war people had come from all over the world to study any number of subjects here, including thousands of Americans. Every second Progressive thinker back home had fond memories of first supping on economic historicism or Hegel at Tübingen or Jena, not to mention the technical schools, which made the present falling-out all the more bitter.

“Your methods we will study for making of our own country’s great advantages and advancements to childrens and of into special girls and that is to coming across the sea to Germany from República de Chile we why are.”

And in this case, her German is naturally odd, which is perfect for a foreigner.

Letting Ciara take the lead and pretending not to understand the conversation let Luz keep an eye out all around. That really wasn’t necessary this time, since the only other people with them were four Italians here to buy electrical generators and a pair of nondescript types from a Swiss ball-bearing firm muttering to each other in Schwiizertüütsch so thick that even someone who knew the related Bavarian form couldn’t follow. But good habits kept you alive.

Ciara sounds as if she picked up German from someone whose parents were Bavarian or Upper Austrian peasants but who spoke something else most of the time, and then refined it by reading a lot of books in Hochdeutsch… and that’s the exact truth, and perfectly plausible for a third-generation member of an emigrant colony in southern Chile, though it actually happened in South Boston. Someday I’ll have to talk to her auntie Colleen and Auntie Colleen’s special friend Auntie Treinel and find out how they happened to meet.

Ciara’s innocent looks and his occasional twitch of the lips at some strange construction didn’t stop the customs man from examining every document carefully and opening all their baggage, but at least he didn’t throw things out on the table for them to put back themselves. When he’d finished he even touched his cap and addressed them as gnädiges Fräuleins, gracious misses, and hoped they’d enjoy their stay in Germany, while plying his rubber stamp with a will.

There was little enough for sale on the platform as the porters manhandled their baggage back, though in peacetime the boarded-up kiosk had probably dispensed coffee and the lavish pastries the locals—with good reason, as she remembered—adored. A thin insistent drizzle mixed with slush was blowing in under the overhang, but Luz managed to pick up a set of newspapers before they reboarded their sleeper car on the overnight Lucerne-Berlin express. Newspapers were something Germany had in profusion, even in wartime; unlike most European countries but rather like the United States, the press wasn’t totally dominated by the national capital.

The Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, the Berliner Tageblatt, the Münchner Neueste Nachrichten, and the semi-official Kreuzzeitung between them would give you a fair glimpse of how the world looked through German eyes… or at least as much of it as Colonel Nikolai wanted German eyes to see, since Abteilung IIIb had picked up press censorship in its jackdaw’s-nest of powers back in 1915. Aside from keeping up for its own sake, fairly soon they’d be impersonating Germans and you had to be able to carry on a general conversation without appearing suspiciously ignorant of what the papers were saying.

“Good work with playing that customs man, querida,” Luz said.

They settled back into their compartment and the train gave that shrill European whistle before chuffing back into motion for the nonstop journey to Berlin, winding at modest speed through a hilly landscape of forest and narrow ribbons of pasture and scattered villages and farms. A few lights came on, dim flickers seen through the water-streaked window; it wasn’t quite sundown yet, but darkness came early this time of year. Not even the most northerly parts of the continental United States… or the continental United States as it had been until it included Canada… had nights as long as this.

The weather wasn’t affecting her mood as much as it was her tropically reared companion, and Ciara was smiling as she spoke:

“He was acting very gruff, but he was just an old grandpa-bear underneath, I could see that, fond of his pipe and a mug of beer and children and dogs underfoot before the fire of an evening. Maybe a canary fancier, like Auntie Treinel! There was a magazine about them on the shelf behind him. Auntie Treinel reads those.”

Luz blinked as she remembered the inspector’s mean piggy little eyes, but said nothing. It was certainly possible she’d gotten a bit too jaundiced about people in general; but then, secret agents working for the Black Chamber usually didn’t see folk at their best. It had been very perceptive to notice the magazine, too.

The cars of the overnight train from Switzerland to Berlin still bore the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits blue-and-gold livery with the two lions on either side of an ornate letter W, the firm that nearly monopolized high-quality sleepers and restaurant cars on the Continent. She’d recognized that from before the war, but the ticket agent in Lucerne had said that its assets had been acquired—

For which read stolen, more or less, Luz thought with ironic amusement. To the victors, the spoils.

—by a new joint German-Austrian concern, Middle Europe Rail and Dining Cars, or Mitropa for short. They’d also been, behind a stiff reserve, very pleased to sell the two tickets. Most of Germany’s railways were very crowded and very slow these days; this express was slightly less slow and not crowded at all, with the way international trade and travel had slowed with the war and then suddenly fallen off a cliff after the horror-gas bombings. They’d pick up again, but it was lucky that nobody had gotten around to cutting back trains like this yet.

Switzerland in general had reminded her of a wolverine trapped in a cave with a bear—not exactly terrified, but taking things seriously and keeping its backside to a corner while showing its teeth. Under a shell of bravado, the Italians had been in a pitiful funk, cursing their decision to desert the Central Powers in 1914 and hoping against hope that God, fate, or the United States would rescue them, or that Germany’s rulers would forgive and forget… which was about as likely as brotherly love from a crocodile.

The Swiss hotel had done up a traveling basket for them that included a big thermos of hot chocolate, creamy and sweet. Luz unscrewed the top and poured them both a cup, a skill that took some practice on a moving train. They sat side by side on the fold-down bed they’d be sharing—they’d stripped the blankets off the other on the opposite side of the compartment and added them to this—and sipped gratefully. The electric light was working, but Mitropa wasn’t wasting much fuel on heating their trains, and the hot liquid steamed even more than their breath. They’d both kept on their fur hats and overcoats for the same reason, hers of sealskin with a mink collar, Ciara’s of lamb’s-fur, both French but authentically several years old, and both well-lined. The way the metal cups heated up made them pleasant to hold and allowed them to shed their gloves.

“Let’s see…” Luz said.

She unfolded the Kreuzzeitung with its Iron Cross in the center of the top line—that had given the paper its name, since it was technically the New Prussian Newspaper, the new referring to 1848.

¡Quién lo diría! Germany has been officially renamed—it’s not just the Deutsches Kaiserreich, the German Empire, anymore!”

Ciara’s brows went up, and Luz read on: “It’s the Großesdeutsches Kaiserreich now. The Empire of Greater Germany. In celebration of the Dutch and Flemings coming home to their Germanic kin, not to mention a few other things picked up in the process of breaking the Iron Ring of Encirclement fastened around the blameless nation by the wicked Entente, on whom God’s just punishment has fallen.”

“God uses Zeppelins full of poison gas?” Ciara said; the dry tone had a little of Luz in it.

“Apparently. The coming home was done with a pistol stuck up the nose to ensure the new members’ enthusiasm, but… así son las cosas, eh? Perhaps the Empire of Greater Germany should replace ‘Hail to Thee in Victor’s Crown’ with a new Greater German anthem, one with a chorus that goes: ‘Our Boot Is on Your Throat Today! Hoch! Hoch!’”

Ciara giggled and then frowned: “Isn’t Reich the word for empireKaiserreich… Emperor’s Empire? Empire of the Emperor? Emperor-ish Empire?”

Reich is… sort of realm, empire, domain; it’s got a broader meaning than empire does in English. Kaiserreich is specific, realm ruled by an emperor. That ought to give the All-Highest something to think about besides the loss of his British relatives, not that he actually rules much now beyond what uniform to wear on any given day and whether to have white wine or red.”

Oddly enough, I believe the stories about his fainting when he heard about the British royals being killed, Luz thought as Ciara nodded the way she did when committing a new fact to memory.

He always loved and hated them at the same time and wanted them to take him seriously, starting with his grandmamma Victoria… no, probably with his English mother and the way she rejected him because of his damaged arm… the fleets of battleships and the uniforms covered in medals and the silver helmets with big golden eagles on top and those worthless colonies he spent so much blood and money on were all for that… but I don’t think he ever really wanted them dead. A silly little man. But now he’s the prisoner and puppet of the generals, and they aren’t silly at all.

“And there’s to be a new king of Georgia—the one in the Caucasus, not our Georgia,” Luz noted dryly, reading on to the next article. “The younger son of the king of Saxony’s getting the throne—Friedrich Christian of the House of Wettin. Albert Leopold Friedrich Christian Sylvester Anno Macarius in full.”

“To be fair, sure and they’re probably thankful to get him,” Ciara noted. “Since the Turks are the other choice, and with what’s happened… is happening… to the Armenians…”

Ciara shuddered with a queasy expression, and Luz nodded with a grimace, remembering photos of tumbled, naked skeletal bodies in huge windrows a mile long. She was less tenderhearted about strangers than her lover, but even by the ever-lower standards of the Great War the aftermath in the wake of the triumphant Turkish onrush across Armenia proper and toward the Caspian was grisly. Though she suspected it was just the first case of many to come.

As a matter of fact…

She scanned down in the Kreuzzeitung. A certain Birinci Ferik—which meant General—Halil had ridden his horse into the Caspian and proclaimed it all to be part of the Türk Yurdu, the exclusive national home of the Turks, and he was the uncle of Enver Pasha, Turkey’s younger, better-looking version of Ludendorff.

Which probably meant nothing good for anyone ethnically or religiously inconvenient who was thoughtless enough to clutter up the National Home.

Pointless to dwell on that now, Luz thought, and went on a little more lightly:

“That’s the… let’s see, Georgia, Finland, Courland… the third new throne just lately. Things are moving quickly! The fourth, if you count Bernhard of Lippe—Bernhard Kasimir Wilhelm Friedrich Gustav Heinrich Eduard, ¡Dios mío! how these hochadel collect names—getting to be the new Grand Duke of Wallonia. All of them completely independent, if you don’t count the treaties giving Germany permanent control of their central banks, foreign policy, tariffs, trade, railways, postal systems, telegraphs, telephones, law courts, armies, and police. Plus German military bases, and unlimited rights of transit and handing all their important mines and industries over to German cartels and nice stiff annual contributions to pay for the privilege of it all.”

“Well, if you’re going to get upset at trifles and quibble over every little thing…” Ciara said, and they both laughed.

The only reason Germany wasn’t annexing all those areas directly was because they didn’t want to give them seats in the Reichstagand Bundesrat, or their residents the rights of actual German Germans.

Then Ciara went on, looking at her own paper: “It says here that the bread, potato, and coal rations are to be increased by one-fifth. And oh… the headline’s Land Won by German Swords to Be Tilled by German Plows… it also says that after the war, all honorably discharged veterans will be able to claim a farm of one hundred hectares if they settle on it and live there… they have to be married, too… a hundred hectares is two hundred fifty acres, or a tiny bit less. That’s for privates, more according to higher rank. They’re calling it Häuser für Helden.”

Which meant homes for heroes.

“Rather like the Homestead Act after the Civil War, or our Veterans Settlement Grants in the irrigation districts now,” Luz said. “They’re letting ordinary people know winning doesn’t just mean new thrones for the hochadel.”

“Two hundred fifty acres… that would be quite a good-sized farm in America! Bigger than most, in fact. It’s very big here, isn’t it?” Ciara said.

“That’s… huge, by German standards,” Luz said, her brows going up as she thought.

She checked and found the same announcement in the Kreuzzeitung. It was right after one offering German coal miners well-paid positions, free four-bedroom houses on half-acre lots and lavish benefits as supervisors in something called the Donets Basin Coal Cartel, to be managed by the emissaries of the Oberschlesisches Kohlenkartell in the new General Government of the Ukraine. Which was a new term too, apparently now a subdivision of OberOst, the military government of the eastern territories.

She nodded and explained: “In Germany ten hectares is substantial and five is adequate.”

“That’s about the same as the grounds around your house back in Santa Barbara.”

Our house, but yes,” Luz said, and Ciara chuckled and laid her head on her shoulder.

Luz went on: “And there are millions of German peasants scratching out a living on one or two hectares each and whatever work they can scrounge up on the side. Not to mention plenty of villagers here who’ve no land at all and live by day labor on other’s farms, or rent a plot.”

“So a hundred is wealth, then?”

“A gentleman farmer’s property,” she agreed.

“Someone who has hands to help in the fields and a maid in the house, putting meat on the table there every day?” Ciara asked.

“Exactly. There are Junker estates with only a little more,” Luz said. “Probably a lot of peasants and their sons are feeling very happy about this, so it means… oh, at least tens of millions of hectares total.”

She read further. “And millions of votes for the brand-new German Fatherland Party, because that’s who is sponsoring the necessary legislation in the Reichstag, not that anyone would dare vote against it—even the Social Democrats aren’t objecting much, what’s left of them. And the Fatherland Party is the generals’ creation. Well, well, well!”

“But where would they get enough land to give out to so many… oh,” Ciara said, biting her lip. “Didn’t mean to be silly. Like Cromwell and King Billy handing out Ireland to their soldiers in truth, then.”

¡Verdaderamente! Very like, but on a much, much bigger scale,” Luz said. “Europe is crowded; that’s why we think a couple of acres is a big backyard for the dog and kids to run around in, and these Europeans think it’s a small farm for a family to live off.”

“I just hope they’re counting their chickens before they’re hatched… or before they’ve cut the heads off and set the stewpot boiling,” Ciara said.

“Brr! I’m freezing!”

“Let’s get under the covers, then,” Luz said.

They hung up their day dresses and chemises and hurriedly switched into flannel pajamas and then ankle-length flannel nightshirts over those and bathrobes over all, and put on knit caps and two pair of thick wool socks each; the car might be Wagons-Lits, but it certainly wasn’t being heated to prewar standards by the new owners, though doubling the blankets and cuddling close would make them comfortable enough.

“But that gruff old uncle who looked over our papers is going to follow procedure,” Luz said, getting back to the immediate future as they shivered at the initial chill of the sheets and she poured more cocoa and continued: “Which means the clock is ticking now, because the German embassy in Argentina will forward a list of visa approvals we’re not on. It won’t have arrived yet and it’s Friday and the Foreign Office keeps banker’s hours, but we did lose three days with that storm and sometime in the next week to two weeks they’ll know there’s been an entry under forged papers.”

Ciara frowned: “We’ll be switching identities again, won’t we?”

Luz nodded as the train gave that shrill European whistle once more. She was used to Continental trains, and they weren’t as toylike as their British equivalents, but rail travel west of Russia always seemed a bit like kids playing with scale models to an American.

Ciara hadn’t really asked a question, but Luz answered anyway: “At least once, starting as soon as we get to the safe house in Berlin, querida. Well, in Spandau, Siemensstadt in particular. But Abteilung IIIb are going to realize there are ringers loose and that it’s two women of roughly our descriptions, unless they’re careless. And if there’s one thing Germans aren’t, it’s careless about details. Bells will go off.”

Ciara smiled gamely. “You always say they’re the worst spies in the world.”

“They are—when they’re dealing with foreigners on foreign ground. At home, not so much… and they’ll be looking for our faces. Are you hungry?”

“Starved! The boiler needs fuel in this cold!”

Fortunately the same wartime decline in standards that made the compartment so chilly gave them a perfect excuse for avoiding the watery soup and potato-starch bread of the dining car and keeping out of view at the same time; every passenger who could had bought food in Switzerland, where they weren’t rationing it… much… yet… and if you could afford high prices you could get something edible without being plugged into the black market.

In the way of business Luz had lived on varieties of loathsome swill from time to time—she’d crossed the Atlantic on a German U-boat, for example, which had been rather like being locked in a Chamber softening-up cell in the Black Palace at Lecumberri, only colder and wetter—and had endured plain boring fodder like Army rations and stale tortillas with dubious refritos for rather longer ones, but she saw no reason to do so when she didn’t have to.

“We won’t have to go out much, will we?” Ciara said. “Until we’ve gotten the information we need and then leave.”

“Until you’ve gotten the information, probably, mi corazón! Yes, if we’re lucky and everything goes exactly according to plan,” Luz said. “Which in my experience it never does. Let’s eat.”

Ciara grinned as she opened the basket the Grande Hôtel National had packed for them and they shook out the napkins, tucking them into the collars of their nightgowns with the blankets rucked up around them.

“This is like a picnic!” she said. “Da and Colm and I and the aunties used to picnic on the Common in Boston sometimes—the Fourth, and sometimes St. Patrick’s Day if the weather was good that spring. And even a bright March day in Boston can be near as chilly as this, so we’d bring blankets.”

Well, apart from the risk of torture and death, verdaderamente, it is like a picnic, Luz thought, and grinned back. ¡Dios mío! But this is better than doing it alone… is that selfish of me?

“Reminds me a bit of Bryn Mawr,” Luz said.

The weather did too, but traveling through it was harder than just scurrying from building to building or an occasional excursion to skate on ponds or toboggan down hills.

“Sometimes friends would get together in each other’s dormitory rooms in Denbigh Hall and sit up with biscuits and cocoa and talk the hours away and solve all the world’s problems.”

“That must have been nice,” Ciara said wistfully.

Ciara’s self-education had been better academically than what she’d have gotten at school—for one thing, nobody had been around to shame or mock her out of pursuing her technical interests, and Aunties Colleen and Treinel had helped her quite intensively, being an off-book accountant and certified high school teacher respectively—but she had missed the social side.

“I used to read stories about girls in schools and places like that, with friends and fun and adventures.”

“And you’ll have just as much fun at Stanford after the war,” Luz said. “With better weather. You should have classroom friends, and go to musical evenings and parties and dances, and cheer yourself hoarse at the Stanford-Berkeley football games—”

“Waving one of those silly little triangle flags?”

“Exactly! And play tennis and y todo ese tipo de cosas. I’ll do a few courses too, to keep you company. My spoken Japanese is fair if very rustic and I know the kanji script, and there are some courses on Japanese literature I’ve always wished I had time for. I can understand just enough of the Heike Monogatari to tantalize.”

“That’ll be wonderful! But this… this is like our own little moving cocoon, too.”

They leaned their heads together quietly for a moment, and then began unpacking the basket. There was a loaf of Zopf, braided wheat bread with a golden crust brushed with egg yolk before it was baked, cut and buttered for them and in a neatly folded waxed paper bundle sealed with a ribbon. Luz took a bite and smiled.

“We used to have this every Sunday morning at the Reichsgräfin’s school,” she said reminiscently. “With cocoa like this, too, and jam, like a finishing-school sacrament after Mass in church.”

You went to Mass fasting, of course, something they’d both been brought up to do.

“It looks like that Jewish bread… what’s it called…”

“Challah,” Luz said.

“That’s it! I’ve had that a few times. Mmmm! The crust is so crisp, and it’s so buttery and smooth!”

The supplies inside the basket included Bierschinken, a cold sausage of pickled pork, bacon, and spices with small chunks of smoked ham embedded in it, two cheeses—hard tart mouth-puckering Berner Alpkäse and soothing, creamy Vacherin Mont d’Or—and a variety of pickles and hard-boiled eggs and the like and some Italian olives. And Kartoffelsalat. American ideas of potato salad were to this as a paint-by-numbers kit was to the Mona Lisa, because these Central Europeans really knew how to handle the humble spud; for starters, the potatoes were cooked in broth rather than water, and it went on from there.

They had a bottle of a very nice red Salgesch to go with it, and then they finished by feeding each other pieces of Bündner Birnbrot, a pastry bread filled with chopped dried pears, raisins, nuts, plums, and figs all marinated in pear schnapps, spiced with coriander, cinnamon, star anise, anise seed, and cloves. Fairly soon the bites were interspersed with kisses, which went on after the dessert was gone.

“Oh! That makes me feel all lovely and swoony,” Ciara said dreamily, as Luz nibbled an earlobe. “Like a wonderful tingly tickle all over.”

“It’s nice to be appreciated,” Luz murmured. “Now, some toe-nibbling…”

Then there was a giggle and Luz felt a soft touch on the soles of her feet through the thick wool:

“But you can’t find my toes, all bundled up this way.”

“Oh, I think I can, querida,” Luz said with a promise in her voice, slowly sinking down beneath the blankets.

“But in the dark I’ll have to do a lot of exploring,” she added.

And did.

Much later they lay curled together in darkness in the warm nest of blankets, listening to the clack-clack… clack-clack… as the train swayed through the cold night.

“It’s like you’re purring again, Luz!” Ciara whispered.

“You have that effect on me,” Luz said. “Especially when you do certain things. I feel like a floating wisp of cloud now. ¡Dios mío!

After a pleasant silence Ciara shifted and said: “Luz…”

“Mmmmmh?” Luz said against the back of her neck; the tone had been serious.

“Luz, do you ever wonder what happened to Horst? After he hit me with the pistol and you shot him. I don’t remember much of that at all.”

“Mmmmh,” Luz said, shivering slightly.

Ciara had been the one who turned the IRB men and Germans against each other, but she’d been mostly half-conscious at best during the shootout in the warehouse and the pursuit through the streets of Boston with Horst and the sailors from the U-150 firing machine guns at them. Though she’d been awake enough to throw up in the backseat of the Ford Guvvie Luz had been driving.

Concussion did that to you, and getting pistol-whipped across the side of the head by a man as strong as Horst von Dückler was no joke even if she’d been dodging at the time. Though it was probably for the best that her memories were mercifully blurred; a lot of people had ended up dead in the warehouse, some Germans, more just South Boston types misguided enough to get involved with the Irish Republican Brotherhood.

Though to be fair, not even Sean McDuffy realized until the last minute that their German friends intended to destroy Boston and their homes and kill their families, not just attack the Navy Yard, Luz thought. And he’d have fought, if Horst hadn’t shot him the moment he started to hesitate.

Luz had done much of the killing before the Germans realized how they’d been played and chased her out into the night, firing Lewis guns from their trucks… one of which had been on fire. Horst had been limp at the end as his men dragged him to their surviving truck and fled, too, and though it had been dark and some distance away she thought…

Certainly he was badly wounded, I got him twice and one of those was in the face; possibly he was dying, but I won’t count on it. He’s a man with his life nailed tight to his backbone, as Uncle Teddy’s beloved frontiersmen used to say.

Despite the best efforts of the Black Chamber, the FBS, the military, various local police forces up and down the East Coast, and everyone else down to and including the Scouts, they’d never found a trace of them besides that Ford motor-truck, abandoned in southern Pennsylvania. Which actually had been found by a patrol of Boy Scouts. They might still be hiding out somewhere, but Luz’s working assumption was that they’d made a pickup appointment with a U-boat and had been back in Europe by the time she and Ciara arrived in Santa Barbara.

It just wasn’t possible to keep a close watch on that much coastline. She said—honestly—after a long moment of thought:

“I hope Horst is dead, querida. I hope that very, very much. I doubt he is, but con optimismo… there’s that word again… that’s just pessimism.”

“Do you hate him so?” she asked. “He always frightened me. Like… like a bomb. You didn’t know when he was going to go off.”

And you were jealous, though at the time you didn’t realize it yourself, Luz thought; sensing that had been one thing that convinced her Ciara wanted her, even if she didn’t know it yet.

“No… no, I don’t hate him, precisely,” Luz said. “I’m not happy that he hit you. Or that he told me… well, told Elisa Carmody, really… to shoot you because you’d become inconvenient to him. I was very angry at the time, killing angry. But that was really just… work.”

Horst and I are both as ruthless as we must be, when we must be, for our countries, she thought. Ciara knows that, but she doesn’t like to dwell on it, I think. You don’t have to dislike someone to want them dead, though that makes it more fun. It just has to be necessary for… work.

“I’m pretty sure he hates me now; I was playing him, after all, and that’s always very annoying on the receiving end, si solo un poco. And men… the way they get when you’ve wounded their pride… well…”

She shrugged. “But I respect him, respect his abilities, a great deal, and that’s why I hope he died. He’s far too able an enemy. If he’s still alive, he’s doing something, I’m sure of that, and he’ll move heaven and earth to get on our trail again. I very much hope we never see him again… but I wouldn’t bet on it.”


Copyright © 2018-2019 by S.M. Stirling