Late in the afternoon, Wayne decided to let Leutnant Mohr off the hook for a while and requested that he and Ishihara take a rest. Leutnant Mohr left them in his own tent, with a firm suggestion that they remain there while he tended to his other duties. Wayne saw that he posted a couple of guards outside the tent as he left.
Wayne moved close to Ishihara and spoke quietly.
“We aren’t accomplishing much here.”
“I agree,” said Ishihara.
“Do you have any ideas?”
“I have some information.”
“Yes. I have been monitoring the German radio communications continuously.”
“What did you find out?”
“From the communications among middle-rank and senior officers coordinating their daily routines, I have learned that Panzer Group 3 is in fact blocked on its way to Moscow by the Soviet Red Army.”
“Didn’t we already assume that? Or is it a military secret or something?”
“It is not a secret,” said Ishihara. “The German officers have referred to it repeatedly. However, until now, I surmised that perhaps the German army had stopped from exhaustion.”
Wayne shrugged. “Did you learn anything else?”
“Yes. I overheard a couple of officers in effect saying that General Alfried Jodi has forbidden the collection and disbursement of winter clothing to German soldiers.” Ishihara looked at Wayne carefully. “This information puzzles me. It also disturbs me under the First Law.”
“That sounds weird to me, too. Why would he do that? Do you know?”
“According to the officers whom I overheard, this general fears that providing winter clothing to their soldiers would cast doubt on his guarantee that they will take Moscow before the onset of winter and spend the season safely in the city.”
“You mean he’s leaving them in the cold so they’ll be more confident of taking Moscow soon?”
“That seems to be their belief, yes.”
“That’s why they’re all freezing? Not because the German command can’t get the winter clothes-because they refuse to?”
“Yes. That is a critical reason that the German soldiers are suffering so much from the weather.”
Wayne nodded slowly. “Did you overhear anything else important?”
“No.” Ishihara lowered his voice even more. “I cannot stop thinking about the harm being done to all these men. They should all simply go home. Then no more war would take place on this front.”
“Even if they did, the Russians would chase them, wouldn’t they? And keep fighting.”
“Yes, that is what happened. As I access what limited history I have, I see also that the Nazi government is very cruel and oppressive, and that this mind-set has influenced many soldiers. The leadership is very destructive and survives on terror.”
“Not every soldier can be like that,” said Wayne. “Most of them must be ordinary people.”
“These individuals are emotionally broken past the point of taking their own initiative. The higher ranks keep their lives and positions by cooperating-following orders, no matter what they are. So do their subordinates.”
“What are we going to do?”
“I do not have precise details about this particular site in the war,” said Ishihara. “However, from the condition of the German army, I believe that the military initiative lies with the Soviet army.”
“Then you think we should go to the other side to look for MC 4?”
“Quite possibly. If he reaches the same conclusion, then he might try to stop the battle by interfering with the Soviet side in some way.”
“Okay,” said Wayne thoughtfully. “But how do we get across the front to the other side-without both sides shooting at us?”
“I propose that we continue our charade,” said Ishihara. “As agents in pursuit of an enemy spy.”
“We could offer to infiltrate the enemy. If we suggest, for instance, that MC 4 has already returned to the enemy to brief them on the information he has gathered, then it would be natural for us to follow him.”
“I see. Maybe the Germans would help us get across, at least part of the way.”
“We must be careful in presenting this idea to our hosts,” said Ishihara.
“Yeah, you’re right about that,” said Wayne. “These Nazis are still suspicious of us.”
“We cannot allow them to doubt us any more than they do already.”
“How do you want to handle this?”
“I suggest we drop hints,” said Ishihara. “Our best opportunity may lie in inducing our hosts to make this suggestion.”
“All right,” said Wayne. “Let’s get our story straight before Mohr comes back.”
“We are too late,” said Ishihara. “I hear his footsteps coming now.”
Before Wayne could reply, he heard the footsteps too. Leutnant Mohr threw back the flap of the tent. Cold wind blew inside as he stooped to enter.
“It never gets any warmer,” said Leutnant Mohr.
“That’s true,” said Wayne. “But we’ve been talking about our mission.”
Leutnant Mohr sat down, wrapping his arms around himself. “It is good to get out of the wind.”
Wayne nodded. He felt that Leutnant Mohr seemed uncomfortable with the informality. For a moment, no one spoke.
“Our spy may already have left the area,” said Ishihara, in a calm, unconcerned tone.
“Yes?” Leutnant Mohr fumbled ostentatiously at his shirt pockets for a moment, then sighed. “Do either of you have a cigarette, by any chance?”
“A what?” Wayne asked.
“We do not,” said Ishihara quickly. “I apologize. We have often been deprived during our travels.”
Leutnant Mohr nodded.
“Cigarettes are very harmful,” Ishihara added.
“So’s the Red Army.” Leutnant Mohr grinned crookedly.
“We do not know how far ahead of us the enemy spy may be,” said Ishihara.
“We think we’re pretty close behind him,” Wayne added, hoping to help Ishihara.
Leutnant Mohr nodded noncommittally. “Your fur cloaks look primitive, but I suppose they are warm.”
“Yes, that is true,” said Ishihara. “Your uniform is not really heavy enough for this Russian climate, is it? You must be very cold.”
“It is nothing.” Leutnant Mohr stiffened suddenly, shrugging. “We shall be in Moscow soon.”
“Not if our quarry has reached it already,” said Wayne, in what he hoped was as casual a tone as Ishihara was using. “That’s what we’ve been talking about.”
“Yes?” Leutnant Mohr glanced at him, more interested.
“He may have already learned enough about German positions to brief his masters.”
“This is possible,” said Ishihara. “With the German army stationary now, the Soviet Army would gain information that will remain reliable until we move again.”
“You mean you’re too late?” Leutnant Mohr’s eyes were wide. “The Russians already know our positions?”
“Not necessarily,” said Wayne. “We may be very close behind him.”
“We believe we can stop him,” said Ishihara.
“What do you think?” Wayne looked directly into the Leutnant’s blue eyes.
“You must catch him at all costs.”
Wayne decided that Mohr was not going to take the bait directly. “We may need to chase him across the front into the city. Can you help?”
Leutnant Mohr’s back straightened. His voice became formal and cautious. “I must return you to Hauptmann Eber for that sort of question.”
“Can we cut short the process a little this time?” Wayne asked. “Instead of going to Hauptmann Eber and then the Major and then Oberst Schepke-can we just go talk to the Oberst right away?”
Leutnant Mohr shook his head tightly. “No! It is not done. I must report to my immediate superior.”
“All right.” Wayne sighed. “We certainly don’t want to get you into trouble. Take us to your Hauptmann, please.”
Leutnant Mohr nodded and led them out of the tent.
In the early evening wind, Wayne wrapped his cloak more tightly around him. The pale sun went down as he and Ishihara followed the Leutnant through the camp. As before, Hauptmann Eber took them to Major Bach, who was squatting outside his tent, warming himself over a small fire in the gathering gloom.
Hauptmann Eber spoke briefly to the Major in German. Instead of insisting immediately that they confer with Oberst Schepke, however, Major Bach listened to their argument in full. He did not bother to stand. As before, Leutnant Mohr acted as interpreter.
“I don’t know, Hauptmann,” said Major Bach slowly. The firelight played off his face, making him look mysterious in the shadows. “What do you think? If this spy has already left, then it’s too late to catch him. He will be debriefed as soon as he arrives, will he not?”
“Most likely, sir.”
“He is on foot,” said Ishihara.
“Oh? And how do you know?” Major Bach asked, turning to slightly to face him.
“As far as we know, that is the case,” said Ishihara politely. “Since he must avoid notice from our sentries, he has to be very careful in leaving the camp and maneuvering around German military lines.”
“What of it?” Major Bach spoke in a tone of complete indifference.
“He must also worry about approaching Soviet lines, to avoid being shot coming across the front.”
“He will have some sort of contact or credentials, or some identifying information.” Hauptmann Eber, apparently sensing the Major’s skeptical tone, folded his arms and glared at Ishihara. “More than you have, I might add.”
“If he is shot before he arrives, that will not matter,” said Ishihara. “He must find a way to make contact with someone on the other side before they open fire. All of this means that he must move slowly-not to mention that he has roughly twenty kilometers of open ground between the two armies to cross somehow.”
“You think he is going to walk twenty kilometers to Moscow?”
“The German infantry has walked much farther than that already.”
Major Bach nodded. “I presume you wish help in pursuing him, not just permission to leave us.”
“We feel it is worth the risk,” said Ishihara. “If he left this camp today, for instance, then we may still be able to catch him before he locates his superiors, whether or not he reaches Moscow ahead of us. Even a small amount of help would make a difference.”
Major Bach gazed quietly into the fire without speaking. Following his lead, Hauptmann Eber did the same. Leutnant Mohr watched them both, his eyes shifting between them nervously.
Wayne waited, expecting that the Major would finally abdicate responsibility after all, and take them back to Oberst Schepke.
Finally Major Bach spoke briefly over his shoulder to an aide, who hurried into a tent. Then he spoke to Wayne and Ishihara again. “I will write you a pass to leave the camp. It can be countermanded by someone of higher rank, of course, but I trust you will not trouble anyone of that sort.” He eyed them both pointedly.
“Of course,” said Wayne.
“Thank you, Major,” said Ishihara.
“You will be on your own, however. I cannot spare men or supplies to help you.”
Wayne said nothing. Crossing the front to Moscow was going to be difficult without a vehicle. He had hoped the Major would offer them some help. Since Ishihara was not debating the point, Wayne decided to keep quiet, too.
The aide brought a pen and a slip of paper to the Major. Wayne realized that Major Bach was making a decision similar to the one Oberst Schepke had made about them earlier. The Major wanted to appear cooperative, in case they were legitimate, but he did not want to give them any real help, in case they were not.
Further, Major Bach did not want to trouble his own superior about them again. After all, Oberst Schepke had accepted their story, however cautiously. Now Major Bach had apparently decided that getting rid of them in this way fell within the scope of his own authority. Once Wayne and Ishihara were gone, these officers could forget about them and focus on military matters again. Maybe most important of all in this suffering army, they would not have to feed and shelter these two noncombatants.
Major Bach handed the pass to his aide, who in turn gave it to Ishihara.
“Thank you, Major,” said Ishihara. “Surely you won’t mind if Leutnant Mohr drives us to the edge of camp.”
Major Bach stood up for the first time, his face suddenly impatient.
“We will remember your cooperation,” Wayne said quickly but calmly.
The Major hesitated, studying his face again. Then his shoulders sagged. “Of course. Leutnant Mohr?” He gestured wearily and then squatted close to the fire again.