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Authors: Hammond Innes

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BOOK: The Angry Mountain
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As we reached the landing he said, “I hear,
pane,
that you have trouble with the S.N.B. to-day?” His greedy little eyes peered up at me. I wanted to punch his face. I knew what he wanted. He wanted money. “You go to hell!” I said.

I couldn't get his face in focus, but I knew he was leering up at me. “Perhaps I go to the police.”

“You can go to the devil for all I care,” I mumbled.

He opened the door of my room and helped me inside. I tried to shake him off and fell on to the bed. He shut the door and came over to me. “Also I hear
pan
Tu
č
ek is
escaped. Perhaps his visit to you is more important than the fifty kronen you give me, eh?” He was standing beside the bed, looking down at me.

“Get the hell out of here, you little crook,” I shouted at him.

“But,
pane
, consider for a moment, please. If I tell the police what I know it will be very bad for
pane
.”

I didn't care any more. As long as I didn't have to see Reece I didn't mind. “Go to the police,” I said wearily. “It doesn't matter. Go and tell them what you know.” I saw the baffled, frustrated look on his face and that was the last thing I remember. Whether I passed out or just fell asleep I don't know. All I know is that I woke fully clothed and very cold to find myself sprawled on my bed in the dark. It was then just after one-thirty. I undressed and got into bed.

In the morning I felt frightful. Also I was scared. Everything is much simpler when you're drunk. Perhaps it is because the urge to live is less. At any rate, in the sober grey light of day I knew that I'd rather face Reece in Milan than be held here in Pilsen by the Czech police. I'd been a fool to refuse the porter money. I dressed quickly and went down to find him. But he'd already gone. I was in a panic then lest he'd gone to the police. I tried to steady myself with cups of black coffee and cigarettes. But my hands were trembling and clammy and I knew that I was waiting all the time for my name to be called, waiting to go out and find the man with the sandy eyelashes standing by the reception desk.

But my name wasn't called and in the end I got up and went out to pay my bill. As soon as I looked in my wallet I knew why the police hadn't come for me. Most of my money was gone—all the pound notes and lire. The little swine had left me just enough kronen to pay my bill.

I got my bags down and took a
drožka
out to the airport. I was sweating and my head was swimming as I went towards the passenger clearing office. I searched the faces of the men standing around the room. Several of them seemed to
be watching me. I reached the desk and presented my passport. The same clerk was on duty there. He waved the passport aside with a little smile and made some crack about there being no reception committee for me this morning. I got a paper and sat waiting for my flight to be called. I tried to read, but the print hurt my eyes and I couldn't concentrate. I watched the main entrance, suspicious of every man who came in without any baggage.

The flight was called at eleven-fifteen. I walked out to the plane with four other passengers. As we queued up to enter the aircraft my heart was in my mouth. An attendant was checking the names of the passengers. Beside him stood a man in a grey trilby. I was certain he was from the S.N.B. At last my turn came. “Name, please?”

“Farrell.” My mouth felt dry. The man in the grey trilby looked at me with cold, hostile eyes. The attendant made a tick against my name. I hesitated. The man in the trilby made no move. My leg seemed more awkward than usual as I negotiated the three steps of the ladder. I found a seat well up towards the front of the fuselage and slumped into it. I was sweating and I wiped my face and my hands with my handkerchief.

I got my paper out then and pretended to read. The crew came in and went through to the cockpit. The connecting door slid to. I sat there waiting. I could feel the draught from the open door of the fuselage blowing on my back. Would they never close it? The suspense was frightful. To get so far…. The devil of it was that I knew this was just the sort of cat-and-mouse game they loved. It was all part of the softening-up process.

The port engine turned over and started into life. Then the starboard engine. The door to the cockpit slid back and one of the crew looked in and ordered us to fix our safety belts. Now was the moment they'd come for me. I heard a sudden movement by the entrance door. I couldn't control myself any longer. I swung round in my seat. To my amazement the
steps had been taken away. The door shut with a clang and was closed on the inside. The engines roared and we began to taxi out to the runway.

The feeling of relief that flooded through me was like the sudden plunge into unconsciousness. There was a pleasurable chill feeling along my spine and the back of my eyes were moist. I don't remember taking off. I felt too dazed. I only know that the roar of the engines changed suddenly to a steady purr and the seat was pressed hard against the base of my spine. Automatically I fumbled at the locking device of my safety belt, only to find that I'd never fastened it. Through the window at my side all Pilsen was spread out below me, tilted at an angle as we banked. I could see the onion-shaped dome of the water tower of Pilsen Brewery and the miles of sidings alongside the big factories. Through belching smoke I caught a glimpse of the Tu
č
ek steel works. Then Pilsen vanished beneath the plane as we straightened on to our course.

My sense of relief was short-lived. There was still Prague and Vienna. At each of these stops they could arrest me. But nobody disturbed me or even asked for my papers, and as we rose into the clear sunlight over Vienna with the snow-capped gleam of the Alps ahead I lay back in my seat, relaxed for the first time in two days. I was the right side of the Iron Curtain. They couldn't touch me now. I slept then and didn't wake until we were in Italy.

The plane skirted the foothills of the Dolomites and then we were on the edge of the Po Valley headed west towards Milan. I began to think of what lay ahead, of my meeting with Reece. It was odd that it should be at Milan, so close to Lake Como. It was there, at the Villa d'Este, that I had last seen him.

It had been in April, 1945, that he and Shirer had escaped. And it was that little swine of a doctor who was so like Shirer who'd fixed it for them. He'd helped them to escape and then he'd blown his brains out.

The mere thought of him brought the sweat prickling out on my forehead. Giovanni Sansevino—
il dottore
, they'd called him. I could hear the orderly's voice saying, “Il dottore is coming to see you this morning, Signor Capitano.” How often had I heard that, and always with a sly relish? The orderly—the one with the wart on his nose who was called Luigi—he'd liked pain. “Il dottore is coming to see you.” He'd stay in the ward after that, watching me out of his unnaturally pale eyes, watching me as I lay sweating, wondering whether it was to be one of the doctor's little social visits as he called them or another operation.

Staring out through the window of the plane to the serrated edge of the Alps, it wasn't my reflected face that I saw in the perspex, but the doctor's face. I could remember it so clearly. It didn't seem possible that he'd been dead over five years. It wasn't an unpleasant face at all. Except for the moustache, it might have been Shirer's face, and I'd liked Shirer. It was a round, rather chubby face, very blue about the jowls with a broad forehead and an olive complexion below the black sheen of his hair. Only the eyes weren't right somehow. They were too close together, too small. He hid them behind dark glasses. But when he was operating he abandoned the glasses and I could remember staring up into those small, dark pupils and seeing the strange, sadistic excitement that stirred in them as his hands touched my skin, caressing with beastly enjoyment the flesh he was going to cut away. His breath would come then in quick, sharp pants as though he were caressing a woman and his tongue would flick over his lips.

Sitting there in the plane I felt my muscles contracting as I relived the touch of those hands. It wasn't difficult for me to recall the feel of them. My trouble had been to forget. Too often I'd wakened in the night screaming, with all my body tense, forcing myself to realise that my left leg was no longer there, that it had gone in shreds down the drains of the Villa d'Este, and that the touch of those hands, which
I could still feel even on waking, was just a trick of nerve threads that had been severed long ago.

It is extraordinary how nerves can recall touch in such detail. The slow, stroking movement of the tips of his long, sensitive fingers was indelibly fixed on the nerve record of my brain. The man had been a fine surgeon and his fingers had been clever and strong. Yet somehow in their touch they had managed to convey a subtle enjoyment of pain. He must have done hundreds of operations, and all the time I felt he had been patiently waiting for the moment when I should be delivered to him and he could demonstrate his skill to the patient by operating without an anaesthetic.

And always as his fingers stroked my flesh he had said, “You think I enjoy operating on you without an anaesthetic, don't you, Signor Farrell? But I am a surgeon. I like to do a good job. This is not necessary, you know. Why not be sensible? Why not tell the Gestapo what they wish to know, eh?” It had been a formula run off like a magician's stage patter. He hadn't wanted me to talk. He'd wanted me to remain silent, so that he could operate. I could tell that by the way his breath came in his gathering excitement and by the narrowing of the black pupils of his eyes. Soon it had been only the remains of a leg that he had stroked so gently, so caressingly. Then there had come a day when he had said, “There is not much left of this leg. Soon we must begin on the other one, eh?” His gentle, sibilant voice was there in the drone of the engines and I could feel the whole of my lost leg as though it was still flesh and blood and not a tin dummy.

I put a stop to my imagination, wiping the sweat from my forehead and dragging myself back to the present by leaning forward and gazing out of the window. Padua was below and beyond the starboard wing the white teeth of the Dolomites fanged a dark cloudscape. But staring at the Alps didn't blot the thought of Reece from my mind. He was there in the past, as he'd always been. And now he was ahead of me, too. When I reached Milan I'd got to face him, give him
Maxwell's message—and somehow I didn't feel I had the courage to face him. They'd brought him to the Villa d'Este with a bullet in the lung only a few hours after that last operation. They'd put him in the next bed to mine and let him find out gradually how he'd come to be picked up.

Shirer they had picked up about the same time. But he went to a P.O.W. camp. He was brought to the Villa d'Este early in 1945 after a course of poison gas treatment. It was a burning gas and they'd used him as a guinea pig, partly to make him talk, partly as an experiment. They put him in the bed on the other side of me and il dottore was put to work on him. There in the plane I could still hear his screams. I think they were worse than my own remembered screams. And all the time, through the barred window, we looked out on to the blue of Lago di Gomo, with the white villas opposite and the Swiss frontier only a few kilometres away.

Sansevino did a good job on Shirer. Within two months he was almost well again. Once the little doctor said to him, “I take trouble with you, signore, because you are so like me. I do not like to see a man who is so like myself disfigured.” The likeness was certainly extraordinary.

In April the three of us were moved to a separate ward. It was then that Sansevino first intimated that he would help them to escape. His condition was that we all three signed a statement that he had been kind and considerate to all Allied patients and that he had taken no part in German guinea-pig experiments. “The Allies will win the war now,” he had said. “And I do not wish to die because of what they force me to do here.” We had refused at first. I remembered that I had enjoyed the momentary flicker of fear I had seen in his eyes as we refused. But we'd signed the document in the end, and after that we had got better food. It was almost as though he were fattening us up. He was particularly interested in Shirer's condition, having him weighed repeatedly, examining him again and again as though he were a prize exhibit in some forthcoming show. This special treatment worried
Shirer. He was worried, too, about his resemblance to the Italian doctor. He became obsessed with the idea that it was because of this he had been brought to the Villa d'Este and he was filled with a premonition that he would never see America again.

For my part I thought it was all a part of the twisted mentality of the little doctor that he should bring these two, Reece and Shirer, to the hospital and then move us to a separate ward. It was hell for me being cooped up in that tiny room, forced into the company of the two men I had destroyed. They should have been out in the hills above Bologna organising the
partigiani
. Only the fact that my plane had been hit by ack-ack and crashed after dropping them had led to their being captured. It was hell having them for company—a worse hell than the frightful pain of those operations. Shirer had understood, I think. He wasn't a young man and he had seen a good deal of suffering in the coal mines of Pittsburgh, which was his home. The fact that he was an American Italian also probably had something to do with it—it made him more sensitive and perhaps his code wasn't so rigid.

Reece, on the other hand, was solid and unimaginative. He came from Norfolk of a long line of Puritan ancestors and for him right and wrong were as clear as white and black. Two years in Milan as an engineering student had hardened, rather than softened his outlook on life. From the day he arrived at the Villa d'Este and Sansevino explained to him how it was that he had been captured, he never spoke to me. The fact that I had been engaged to his sister made his reaction all the more violent. He didn't take Sansevino's word for it. He cross-examined me. And when he realised that it was the truth, that the third operation had finished me, then he withdrew into himself, hating me for being the cause of his not finishing the job he'd been sent out to do.

BOOK: The Angry Mountain
3.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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