Chapter 12

Saxophone

BY NICHOLAS ROYLE

The answers were those he had feared. It was practically impossible to obtain the necessary visas on behalf of another without leaving the country and engaging in dangerous, belligerent activities. Not that this came into conflict with his principles, for he had none. But it was hazardous. The pirate squads that roamed the purgatory of Yugoslavia were susceptible to incendiary attacks from both Eastern and Western forces. Hungarian troops patrolled in small units armed to the teeth with thermite grenades; and the American planes dropped napalm, because they were confident the casualties would be mostlyEastern, say 70 percent or so.

Ha?ek crawled back down the constricted steel-walled passageways he'd been forced to use to get to the visa information bureau. At a junction of three passages he stopped, rested his damaged back against the wall, and flexed his fingers, effortlessly twisting them into a breathless run up and down the keys he imagined to be there.

He emerged near the main square of old Tirana, facing one of Stalin's many decapitated statues. Four ragged figures huddled round a flickering screen under a corrugated shelter to his left. Two of them were smoking, impossible since inhalation and exhalation were beyond their capabilities, but old habits die hard. A third man lifted a bottle to his disfigured mouth and poured alcohol down his throat; again, a useless act given the absence of thirst and physical sensation. These men were not necessarily new here; some creatures had been here for months and still indulged their former desires out of habit rather than need.

Ha?ek had to see about joining one of the squads conducting sorties across the border and as far north as Belgrade. For this he had to get to the Shkodra region of the city, and to get there he needed transportation. There was no public transport, so he had to get his hands on some kind of vehicle.

"Three hundred lek," the old Albanian told him.

"Three hundred! You're joking!" He looked aghast at the clapped-out old three-wheeler. "That wouldn't get me to Durres, never mind Shkodra."

"It's a good vehicle. Three hundred lek. Very good price. Look elsewhere if you wish."

Ha?ek knew Kadare had him; there was nowhere else to go. The old man had a virtual monopoly in the city and therefore in the country, for the city had expanded to such an extent that the two were now the same.

"Two hundred," Ha?ek tried.

"Three hundred," was the reply, no hesitation. "The tank is full. The battery charged."

He drove most of the way one-handed. His left hand mimed the lower notes of "These Foolish Things" while the fingers of his right hand tapped out the high notes on the steering wheel. The sky appeared briefly between concrete walls and rusting iron roofs. Literally thousands of people were wandering about; war casualties, their Albanian hosts, and some of the American and European refugees who had fled the war and got in before visa controls were introduced.

The farther north he went, the more iron and steel dominated the ramshackle architecture at the expense of concrete and rough stone. The dead were everywhere, walking from one construction to another, visible also through gaps in the walls, sitting watching television and playing games.

Shkodra was close, just beyond lay Yugoslavia and his only chance of obtaining visas for Barton. She was waiting in West Berlin, checking every day at the replication unit where the documents would come through if Ha?ek was successful.

"Why do you want to join a squad?" they asked him, with some suspicion.

He'd decided against honesty. It would only create extra difficulties.

"I want something to do. I'm bored of the games."

"So it would be just a game for you?"

"No. Far from it. It's how we make our country rich. It's serious business." They just stared at him. "I want to be useful."

They knew he was lying. The dead never did anything for the good of anyone else - unless by accident. They acted purely out of self-interest. Slaves to instinct. But it seemed he'd said the right words.

"There's a squad leaving tonight, one man short. The fourth member finally lost all power of movement today. Sulphur mustard gas. Killed him some weeks ago, but left him able to move. Until today."

The man took out a small map of the vicinity and began drawing on it. "Look. This is where you should meet them."

It was like a gulch between two massive skeletal blocks of rough concrete apartments, built in the early days of the war when the first casualties were arriving by boat and pushing inland. The lights were purplish and glimmering. An ex-Yugoslav army jeep lurched up the rough road, throwing its two occupants about inside.

"Why did you want to join us?" asked the driver, a Russian called Varnov, who had been so badly burned he had no skin left apparent on his body. He wore a loose-fitting, torn-and-patched military uniform actually from the old Albanian armed services. He and Jensen, a tall, strong Danish woman with strange, mauve eyes and close-cropped, dyed-black hair, had picked up Ha?ek and another group member, Vollmer, a dark-skinned German, and were now jostling northwards minutes from the border.

"Something to do," Ha?ek replied without turning his gaze from the mountains. Even here the city climbed the slopes in iron and steel and prefabricated units, on which the endless lights shone thickly. The sky was spiderweb-bed with reception aerials and radar warning systems. The defenses had so far proved impenetrable to military forces, though in fact little was known about the country outside of its own and Yugoslavia's borders.

They had no trouble at the frontier, thanks to the agreement between the two states. Yugoslavia conducted corrupt arms deals for money and was living with both East and West, while Albania persisted in isolationism. But since many native Albanians had joined their leadership in accepting the Greek Orthodox Church's offer to possess and settle on Corfu, the people of Albania - the dispossessed, the exiled, and in the greatest numbers, the dead -  often crossed to Yugoslavia to enjoy a share of that country's opportunities for exploitation.

Which was what Ha?ek was doing now. Varnov's squad would cruise until they found living people who would be especially vulnerable to their particular form of attack. They were entering the outskirts of Titograd, where there was no shortage of black-market traders - the people with whom the squad would eventually do business - but their numbers were constantly multiplying as more flowed into the country, so that even with the death squads targeting them, they were not significantly depleted.

Smoke issued from a side street and a vehicle exited under its cover so suddenly that the squad's jeep had to veer sharply to the right to avoid a collision.

The first they knew was a guttural scream from the German, Vollmer, sitting in the back on Ha?ek's left. Two spikes of a grappling hook pinned him to the jeep's bodywork, one through the shoulder, the other through his forehead and skull. A chain taut from the stem of the hook disappeared into the smoke, stretching to the other vehicle, still hidden but tracking the jeep. A second hook thudded into the hood and dragged the jeep off course. Varnov attempted to regain control, but the aggressor appeared to their left and smashed heavily into the side of the jeep. This set the jeep back on its original course, and as Ha?ek cut through the chain of the rear hook, and Jensen, in the passenger seat, worked at the front hook, Varnov regained power in his steering. Having done so, using the element of surprise, he jerked the wheel to the left and the nose of the jeep careened into the front right side of the other vehicle, a Hungarian armored car. Ha?ek and Vollmer, who had freed himself from the hook, opened fire on the Hungarian unit. A grenade bounced off their own bonnet and exploded away to the right. Jensen engaged her weapon and delivered a sustained volley of automatic fire across the gap between the two vehicles. Although the side of the car was visible, its occupants were not. They were still active, however, shooting sporadically and with no great accuracy, though one bullet did tear through Ha?ek's upper arm, missing the muscle by millimeters.

Varnov passed something back to Vollmer, saying: "Use it. I can't aim while driving." Vollmer had a look; it was a thermite grenade. But before he had a chance to lob it over, his whole body jerked backwards, pivoting at the neck. Ha?ek twisted his head around. A man had jumped from the other car and was riding on the back bumper, holding onto a garrote around Vollmer's neck. The man's face trailed off halfway down: nose, mouth, and chin were gone, wiped out in some former conflict. Just tatters of flesh were left in front of his top vertebrae, which Ha?ek saw through the space where his throat should have been. Clearly the man was one of their own people, not a Hungarian soldier; but once engaged in hostilities, it was hard to let go. He freed one of his hands, took a pistol from his belt, and fired at Ha?ek. The Czech was thrown to the floor of the jeep with the force of the shot, which had lodged under his shoulder blade. He grunted, not with pain but with displeasure at being so unceremoniously floored by a man from the same side. He took aim with his own gun, but his stream of bullets hit air. The wire had sliced right through Vollmer's neck and spine, and the faceless attacker fell away, clutching the German's head. Meanwhile, Jensen had retrieved the grenade and skillfully threw it high so that it dropped in the armored car and exploded on impact. The thermite flashed brilliantly, silhouetting the remaining three dead men as they carbonated and were swiftly destroyed.

The men in the armored car had certainly been pirates, just like Varnov, Vollmer, Jensen, and Ha?ek, looking for the same thing but ending up mistaking the jeep's crew for some of their living, breathing targets. Now the three had to press on, without Vollmer; the remainder of his body still sat uselessly alongside Ha?ek.

Jensen and Varnov wouldn't think Ha?ek's reasons for being there were any different from theirs: to plunder the living for their special booty, which in Yugoslavia was easily exchanged either for straight cash or for the technological hardware and luxury goods the new Albanians depended on.

They weren't in it for the general good, but because personal instinct drove them on. And if a man had twelve televisions, he probably wouldn't be able to watch them all at the same time, so his neighbor could take one almost without him noticing. In a land where the people had so few desires, they were well served by what was basically an anarchic system. All aspirations concurred.

Apart from a few exceptions. Ha?ek being one. He'd been creative in his life, a man of music. The memories of it haunted him. Even now his fingers were playing "Anthropology" on the butt and barrel of his submachine gun as the jeep rattled on.

They drove through another area of fires, keeping especially vigilant regarding the thick clouds of low smoke.

Hella Elizabeth Barton scanned the street behind her before turning into Gothaerstrasse. Her suspicion was not unfounded; she'd been under surveillance for some weeks now, ever since meeting and forming an attachment to Trefzger. A vociferous opponent of chemical and bacteriological weapons since before the war started, he had been a marked man, officially, for years; branded a communist, a pacifist, an anarchist, and generally a headcase, but a dangerous one, he lived under the constant watchful eye of military and civil authorities in West Berlin.

In the last few days, though, he had gone into hiding, and Barton had been doing her best to conceal her movements. Making love by candlelight was preferable to sex by torchlight, which they had endured in Trefzger's old apartment, as the duty officers in the street and the building opposite played their torches constantly over his curtained windows.

Barton ducked through the basement window and felt her way around the decaying walls of the room to the door at the far side. She worked the locks and shut the door behind her. Down the steps, dripping moss and fungus, and through another locked door at the bottom. She was in the derelict U-bahn tunnel - commissioned, built, and never used - and had to feel her way again. She always expected a train to come scraping along the rusted rails, but one never did, nor ever would.

Six knocks brought Trefzger to the door. He hustled her in before saying hello.

"You're getting very jumpy these days, Detlef," she reproached him.

"I should go and live in Albania," he replied, "where your Ha?ek is."

"He's not my Ha?ek. And anyway, Berlin is the perfect place. Your work would never reach anyone from down there."

"Of course it would," he said. "They have excellent communications. Probably the best in the world." He looked at her. "Let's go in."

Later, when they were lying on a deep rug and she was running a hand through his long blond hair, he asked: "How was your day at the replication unit?"

"You talk as if I work there," she said. "I only waited an hour. Nothing came through. No documents, no messages. Any day now though, I should think."

"He must really want you, Hella."

"No, I don't think so. I think he just wants something from me. Wants to use me. Same old story."

"You know," Trefzger said, sitting up, "you shouldn't pretend to be so cynical. I can see you still feel for him underneath."

"You're jealous," she said, gently scratching his back.

He laid a hand on her thigh. "No, I'm not jealous. You'll grow tired of me one day like you did of him."

"He died in a chemical attack a year ago."

"You left him long before that, Hella. Seven or eight years before. He no longer excited you, just as one day I will no longer excite you."

"That's not true." She sat up fully and threaded her hand around his waist, allowing it to drop to his crotch. "You excite me. He never did."

Trefzger knew it wasn't true, but rather than being a lie, it was a sort of code. He turned and kneeled between her legs. She drew his head closer and they kissed. He kissed her chin, her neck, her shoulders, and her breasts, gently biting. She threw her head back and tried to control her breathing. She opened her eyes to see if that would help. There was Detlef's desk, his computer, the monitor screen a pattern of green symbols. Papers, books, pens, pencils... It was no good, the catalog of mundanity could not distract her body. She trembled as he sucked at her breast and as she distinctly felt the pulsing of his blood between her thighs. Wheezing now, she ignored the pain and hitched her legs up a little.

"All right?" he asked her.

"Yes," between gasps for air.

"Your asthma?"

"Yes. Come on."

He didn't move, so she moved up farther, opened wider, and eased down onto his penis. He responded, thrusting up, and she yelped, then wheezed. Her breathing was a harsh rasp, but she urged him on, quicker still and harder. He came suddenly and she rode higher, then fell back, away, breathing quickly and noisily.

"Here." Trefzger had reached for her insufflator. She pressed and inhaled, twice.

"It's ridiculous," she said, between gulping for air. "You're meant... to grow out of it... I'm getting... worse every day. A doctor... the other day... told me if I didn't have this stuff..." indicating the drug, "and I had a severe attack... it could be serious."

"I was wondering," Trefzger said, slowly, "why it should be getting worse. Then it came to me today. It's the germs. All the bacteriological stuff. Most of them are composed of tiny spores. Tularemia, anthrax, plague, all these things. They are acting as irritants. There's not enough in the air to kill, but plenty to exacerbate an asthmatic reaction. That's the case away from the most active war zones, anyway. That's why I don't think you should go down to Belgrade or Tirana."

"I have to," she said, breathing a little more easily. "He needs me. He wants to live again, and I'm the only person he's got to help him."

"You do care more about him than me." Trefzger sounded hurt.

"I don't," she shouted. "Don't you understand? He needs me for five minutes. It's not much to ask."

"You won't let me give you a child," he said bitterly. "You had one by him."

"You bastard!" She struck out, hitting him in the face. "Thanks for the memory." She stood up in a rage and stormed across to the far side of the room, where she stood for a moment, then slumped down in a corner.

Her son, whom Ha?ek had not seen since just after the birth, when she left, taking the baby boy with her, had died at the age of eight in a heavy bomb attack on Hanover.

Varnov's steel club thudded into the lieutenant's head, and the man fell with a resounding crash, taking several wooden chairs with him.

They were in Belgrade now, where they'd found themselves driving through and past endless groups of aimlessly wandering children, until they found what they wanted: a vulnerable unit of fit men. A group of American soldiers, wearing uniforms under heavy, dark coats, were completing a deal with a small party of Czechoslovakian rebels. The two groups froze on either side of the room with the pile of weapons in the middle, when Jensen broke the door down and Varnov and Ha?ek stepped through behind her. The American lieutenant pulled an automatic pistol from inside his coat and shot several times, hitting Varnov and Ha?ek, before Varnov clubbed him to the floor. Using his machine gun, Ha?ek dispatched the Czech who advanced on him, experiencing a flicker of recognition at the insignia on the rebel soldier's battledress. So, the man was a Czech, as Ha?ek himself had been, but it meant nothing; there was work to be done.

It was important to fire as little as possible, so as not to damage the vital organs, which was what they were after.

All Ha?ek, Varnov, and Jensen had to fear was an incendiary or explosive attack, something that would ravage their bodies to such an extent that they would be unusable. Also, whereas a few bullet wounds were neither here nor there, to be subjected to constant automatic gunfire could theoretically destroy them. So when the Czechs ran to the weapons and seized the flamethrowers on top of the pile, Jensen and Ha?ek hurried to disarm them. But they were not quick enough. A blond, spiky-haired Czech, no older than seventeen, operated his weapon, and Jensen, whom the youth was facing, awaited her annihilation by fire. But nothing happened. The other Czechs experienced the same problem. The Americans had sold them dud weapons. The youth grabbed a repeating rifle and aimed at the Americans. Again nothing happened.

The Americans, meanwhile, seeing their popularity dwindling, were crowding into the corner, trying to open a door that, as a precaution, the Czech leader had locked earlier.

Ha?ek and the Czech youth, armed now with a working machine gun, bore down on the frightened Americans, one of whom opened fire, unwisely choosing Ha?ek as his target. The bullets passed uselessly through the dead man, and the Czech sprayed the men in the corner with gunfire. He was stopped by Varnov, who brought his club to bear on the backs of his knees, then, as he fell, on his kneecaps. The boy screamed, dropped his gun, and fainted.

While Ha?ek checked the Americans for any sign of life, Varnov held the Czechs, and Jensen systematically slit their throats, thus preserving all their organs.

"Ha?ek," Varnov said. Ha?ek looked up. "The boxes in the jeep."

Ha?ek understood and left the room. Returning with the boxed preservation cylinders he found Varnov and Jensen already at work on the corpses. Two sets of surgical hardware lay open on the floor. Jensen replaced one instrument and took a small hacksaw. Ha?ek watched as she cut through the Czech youth's forehead and worked at his skull, being careful not to saw too quickly and damage the brain. Varnov was extricating a heart with maximum speed and mess: he had to keep wiping his scrawny hands on his coat to prevent the scalpel slipping in his grasp.

Ha?ek told them he was neither equipped nor experienced and would therefore sit out the operations. Neither replied, so he left the room. He went downstairs and sat in the jeep. There was no one around and no trace yet of any natural light in the sky. Belgrade's solid gray buildings had survived the war very well so far. Practically all were still standing. Varnov had parked the jeep between two imposing but essentially characterless examples, in juxtaposition to which Ha?ek seemed almost to come alive.

His hands molded around his remembered saxophone and his fingers warmed up on a few scales before slipping into Sonny Rollins's "St. Thomas." He played this through, then slowed down the tempo and segued into "You Don't Know What Love Is." He'd played through six more tunes, with some lengthy improvisation, by the time Varnov and Jensen appeared, heavily laden with their boxes, at the entrance to the building. They came down the steps and walked over to the jeep.

They drove northwest a little way to Zemun, where Varnov had planned to rendezvous with Larry, an American dealer. Larry, whose surname, if one existed, was known to nobody, did not discriminate on grounds of nationality: he'd accept anyone's organs, even an American's, provided he had buyers lined up. Especially an American's, in actual fact, since he often liked to pitch his sales talk with the proud boast that this was not just any old kidney, this was an Americankidney he was selling. Consequently, many of his buyers were American.

The electronically controlled gate swung open and Varnov stepped through, closely followed by Jensen and Ha?ek. Larry was waiting for them at the door, with his woollen plaid shirt and large, overhanging belly. They filed in and down a number of corridors.

The room they ended up in seemed to be the nerve center of Larry's operations. It was also his living room. A television set in the corner was tuned to American football. On the floor by the battered armchair facing the set were three cans of American beer and a dirty polystyrene food container. On the other side of the room was ranged a bank of monitors and computer terminals. One screen displayed up-to-the-minute details of relative currency changes throughout the world. Another gave the correct time in all major capital cities. Several preservation boxes stood waiting on a wooden bench.

"Well, come on, fellers," Larry said, picking his teeth. "Let's see what you got."

Larry examined the contents of the cylinders and announced he would take three kidneys, two livers, two sets of lungs, one set of testicles, and a brain.

"I hope it's an American brain," he said.

"Yes, it is," Jensen lied, holding up the cylinder containing the blond Czech youth's brain. All the Americans had received bullet wounds in the head.

"And the testicles, too?" asked Larry.

"Yes, American also," said Varnov, truthfully.

Larry explained he couldn't take the risk on the remaining viscera, since he could not predict how soon he would find more buyers. He paid them, in dollars, and returned to his chair to watch football and crack open a beer before they had even left the room.

Back in the jeep, Varnov distributed the money. Ha?ek noticed his share was slightly less and assumed this was accounted for by his nonparticipation in the eviscerations. He accepted the money - a large sum and more than sufficient for his purposes - without mentioning the discrepancy.

They returned to Belgrade, Varnov and Jensen to try to unload the unsold organs on another dealer and then to visit Petrovic, a Yugoslav, to see about subscription to a new satellite television and communications system; and Ha?ek, though the other two did not know it, to seek out Midgley, a corrupt British envoy to the Yugoslav government. There was no shortage of corrupt officials, but Midgley was the one to whom Ha?ek had an introduction.

During the short journey Ha?ek just had time to wrap his fingers around "I Found a New Baby."

Varnov drove at breakneck speed. He had expected Larry to take the lot off them, so was now in a hurry to find another approachable dealer before the end of the night. He wanted to be back inside the frontier before daybreak to minimize the risk of further attack.

It was so easy, laughably easy. The jeep screeched to a halt before a large fortified building and Varnov leapt out, saying this particular dealer might take the stuff, but then again, they'd never dealt with him before, so there was no guarantee. Ha?ek said he would try a dealer he knew of in the next street and report back. Varnov and Jensen, presumably having heard but not acknowledging his comment, disappeared into the building.

He walked east on the Bulevar Revolucije for two hundred meters, then turned up the Milana Rakica. Three blocks up he turned left and spoke into an intercom.

"So what do you need these visas for?" asked Midgley authoritatively, ushering Ha?ek through into a leatherbound-book-lined study at the rear of the apartment.

"Very civilized," Ha?ek said, looking around.

"I try," Midgley replied, looking pleased, "to maintain standards. Drink...?" He looked at Ha?ek. "Oh no, of course not. Excuse me."

"I'll have a drink. Scotch and water. I developed a taste for it in Berlin."

"Oh really?" Midgley nervously poured Scotch from a decanter and iced water from a jug. "And when were you in Berlin?"

"Eight years ago. I knew an American woman there. We drank a lot of Scotch. She moved away... Now, about the visas?"

"Of course." Midgley passed Ha?ek the tumbler of Scotch. He took the drink and waited for the other man to turn away, but he didn't, so Ha?ek tipped the contents of the glass down his throat in one go. Apparently slightly unnerved, Midgley turned and crossed to a desk. He opened a drawer, rummaged around inside, and found a pair of half-moon spectacles, which he put on, then continued his search.

Ha?ek hoped the Scotch and water had taken an undamaged route into his gut. Had it seeped out through a wound anywhere, he would be unable to feel the dampness and so would drip unawares on the Englishman's floor. It wasn't that he cared to avoid offending propriety; he just didn't want to telegraph his weaknesses to this man.

"A return transit visa, is it?" Midgley asked. A swathe of thick, black, greased hair had fallen down over his forehead. He tried to smooth it back into place.

"I only need to see her for two minutes."

"The trouble is," Midgley began, "they are in great demand and very short supply. It's mothers, you see, wanting for some morbid reason to come down and look for their dead children. Here in Belgrade, mainly. I don't know if you've noticed how few children there are in Tirana. They're mostly retained in Belgrade."

"I don't see the sense in that, when Belgrade is far more dangerous than Tirana."

"No, well, Mr. Ha?ek, that's really not your province, is it, rational thought and reasoning? So I really shouldn't worry about it, if I were you."

Midgley was clearly hiding something, but as he had so rightly pointed out, it didn't concern Ha?ek. The visas did.

"Look, Midgley, I want the visas and I want them now. I have the money you require." He took out a wad of bills. "I cannot wait any longer." He threw the money onto the desk. Midgley picked it up, flicked through the notes, and nodded.

"Yes, well, allow me just to make things look official." He took a rubber stamp, inked it, and pressed it on the small squares of paper on his blotter. In a hurry now to conclude the business, he handed the papers to Ha?ek. The Czech took them and turned to go. He paused with his hand on the door handle, as if something had occurred to him.

"I don't suppose," he began, facing Midgley again, "you possess such a thing as a saxophone?"

"That's it," she said. "That's for me. It's what I've been waiting for."

The clerk peered through large, round glasses like goggles, at the paper coming out of the machine.

"Hella Elizabeth Barton," he read out loud. "Do you have your ID?"

"I already showed it you," she said impatiently.

"Your ID," said the impassive clerk.

She searched in her pockets and finally produced the right card.

"Thank you," he said. "You may take these." He handed her the replicated visas and a detailed note from Ha?ek.

She left the replication unit and marched briskly down Franklin Strasse to Ernst-Reuter-Platz, where she boarded a U-bahn train to Hallesches Tor. She studied the visas. They authorized her to cross over the Wall to East Berlin and thence to travel through East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary to Yugoslavia. The return journey was not to begin later than twenty-four hours after the outward trip.

Referring to her map, she saw that she would probably pass through Cheb in Czechoslovakia, very close to the borders with East and West Germany, where Ha?ek, then a member of the Czech Jazz Section, had triggered the start of the war by escaping to the West. Czech guards fired after him, missed, and got two West German guards, whose colleagues retaliated. The rest was history, with Eastwood sanctioning the deployment and use of stockpiled chemical weapons, and Britain, France, Austria, and West Germany lining up behind him.

Barton's train crossed under the Wall and trundled through the ghost stations on its way to Friedrichstrasse, where she would make the official crossing.

As her train rattled across the bridge over the Danube, in its final approach to the Beograd-Dunav Station, the strange feeling that had hung over her all the way from Germany sank down, becoming increasingly palpable. In Belgrade, she was not going to find quite what she had been expecting.

Apart from this, she had been suffering from asthma since descending from the Moravian Heights, and it got worse the farther south she came. She cursed her stupidity in not having her insufflator with her at all times - she hadn't thought of it as she rushed, without going home first, from the replication unit to the Wall to start her journey. As well as the presumed effect of the spores and dust, which Trefzger had mentioned, her asthma was further aggravated by the anxiety she felt.

She got up and went to the bathroom to see if a drink of water would improve her condition. It didn't. She looked at herself in the broken mirror and searched for the beauty she had been told was there. Yes, it was, but only to someone who saw her face and remembered what it had looked like before. They could kid themselves that the ravages of war and stress left only temporary scars. She could kid herself, in her less pessimistic moments. She swept her long hair back, tugging her fingers through the knots.

There was no soap. The water ran in rivulets away from the oil in her skin. She was at least able to poke the little bits of dirt out of the corners of her eyes.

She left the bathroom, her breathing more labored.

He waited in the room where he, Varnov, and Jensen had surprised the Americans and Czechs.

He sat on a wooden chair in the middle of the room and mimed "Just You Just Me" on the tenor saxophone he'd bought after leaving the replication unit. He'd retained enough money from the sale of the organs to cover the cost of the instrument, possibly the only one on sale in Belgrade.

He lacked only one thing now: that which Barton would give him - breath to sound the notes.

He could almost hear "Now's the Time" as he worked it out on the keys. What he didn't hear was the door opening. She was suddenly there, on the threshold, panting and wheezing with obvious pain. Behind her a small form lingered.

Ha?ek rose to his feet, placing his saxophone on the chair.

"Hella..." he said flatly. "Is it asthma?" He was incapable of expressing concern he didn't feel.

"Yes," she wheezed. "But how can you talk?"

"Just using the air that gets into the body. It's enough for speech but not enough for what I want to do... Your asthma is bad."

"Yes. It's all... the shit in the air and... and finding him... here in Belgrade..." Whereupon, she brought out from behind her a young boy, whose eyes stared dully. His face looked tight and bluish gray, suggesting death by asphyxiation. Ha?ek and the boy looked at each other, neither face registering anything.

Ha?ek spoke: "Hella, come here. You know what I want."

"No, I can't," she said.

"Hella. You don't have to worry. I just want to breathe again. You will go freely and I will never seek you out. My oath."

"I believe you, Ha?ek... but it changes nothing... I can't... The boy..."

"But I asked you to come. You came. Please. One minute. Then you can go."

"You don't understand."

"I want to breathe," he shouted. "I want to play music. Breathe into me. Kiss me!"

"No." She shook her head, as her chest continued to heave for gulps of air. "The boy, Ha?ek... Look at him... He's ours."

Ha?ek looked, saw nothing. He needed the woman's breath. Music mattered. Nothing else was important, until he actually blew a note.

"I've spent the whole day... agonizing... But if my asthma will allow me... to resurrect anyone... it must be Alex, our son."

A car drew up outside the building and doors slammed.

"I'm sorry, Ha?ek," she said, kneeling down to eye-level with the boy and taking his head in her hands. She placed her mouth over his passive lips, pinched his nostrils together, took a deep breath, and blew. Steps echoed hollowly on the stairs. She repeated the process and almost lost consciousness, so acute was her own breathing difficulty. She gave a final push and at the same time the doorway yielded two intruders, Varnov and Jensen.

Whether they'd come back for him or for fresh bodies to plunder, Ha?ek didn't know.

Barton looked up, startled then horrified. The boy fell from her grasp. Before she could reach him again, Varnov's club struck her jaw, smashing it and embedding her lower teeth into her upper gums, firmly scotching any hopes of further resuscitation.

Over by the wall, the boy twitched.

Jensen swung a spiked, macelike weapon and advanced on Ha?ek. The Czech searched his person for a weapon; he found a small knife, which he stuck out in front of him like a straw before a tornado. The mace crunched into the hand that held the knife and its swing severed the weakened wrist, carrying the hand away on its spikes like a trophy.

One instinct defeated the other, and Ha?ek grabbed the saxophone with his remaining hand. He mastered the awkward balance and brandished the instrument. Jensen made a pass and missed as Ha?ek ducked and swung low, scoring a hit and shattering the woman's tibia, but losing his improvised weapon in the process. The saxophone spun on the floor and Jensen kicked it away as she fell.

Ha?ek reached for the saxophone, but Jensen, no less formidable an opponent on the ground, had swung her mace and caught his elbow, snapping the joint and thrusting bone up through the skin.

Virtually defenseless now, Ha?ek glanced around, saw Barton desperately trying to fend off Varnov's killing blow. He saw also, in the instant before Jensen's spikes relieved him of that facility, the boy who was apparently his son, slipping otherwise unnoticed through the open doorway.

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