The cable car door opened.
“Ladies first,” Hartmann smiled.
He held his Mauser in his right hand, gesturing her forward with his left. Artemisia stepped forward obligingly. She was wearing a trouser suit underneath her coat. A dress was simply not to be considered for either this location or the kind of work that they expected to undertake. She turned to her left and walked into the sky tram station as if on a skiing holiday. They were in a modern looking vestibule built from steel and glass. Over to their right was a control centre for operating the cable cars, a duplicate of the one down below. Ahead of them there were two guards standing in front of a door that she presumed led into Mephistopheles’ lair. They both wore dark uniforms decorated with red flashes. One was holding an M1 Thompson submachine gun, but the nozzle was pointed down towards the floor. The other stood with his thumbs shoved into his belt and his feet apart. A holster hung from the same belt. His head tilted to one side. Neither of them looked particularly welcoming.
“You people lost?” The guard with the thumbs in his belt demanded to know. His tone was harsh, dismissive even.
“Ciao, mio caro,” Artemisia replied with another cold smile. “We have come to see the Devil himself!”
“He ain’t expecting visitors tonight, lady, I can tell you that.” The guard shook his head as if he were talking to someone of limited intelligence. “I don’t know why those guys down there let you up here, but you just as well better turn round and go back down ‘cos you ain’t going no further, capeesh?”
“Capisco molto bene grazie.” The muffler suppressed the two shots, but not the sound of the guards’ bodies falling onto the tiled floor.
“If they are all going to be this easy to kill then we will be finished in no time.” Hartmann observed.
Together, they passed through the door and down a short corridor that led into a large antechamber. Bare mountain rock was evident in the walls and part of the ceiling. The architect had obviously decided to bring nature into the living space. To the left, an opaque glass wall rose. Clear windows were placed at the top to allow natural light to enter during the day. There were strong Art Deco themes to be seen everywhere.
“It looks impressive!” Hartmann conceded.
“Can you imagine the kind of wealth necessary to create this place?” She stepped further into the room, turning and looking upwards as she progressed.
“I don’t waste my time day-dreaming.” He said dismissively.
“But I, being poor, have only my dreams.” She glanced at him, that suggestive smile on her lips. “Poor, that is, in comparison to the fortune that was spent to achieve all of this.”
“It doesn't look like that good a job was done to me. The building work appears quite shoddy in places!”
“Really, Hartmann, you are not jealous are you? This is a fine lair for a devil to hide out in!”
“Much good it’s going to do him.”
“I wish I shared your confidence. I can’t help feeling that we have walked into a trap.” She raised her hand to the side of her mouth and called. “Richiamo il diavolo. Vieni a salutare! I summon the devil, come and greet us!”
“Good evening!” A responding salutation boomed out unexpectedly.
The face of a devil appeared on a far wall. It laughed and the sound of the cachinnation echoed around them. The lighting within the room turned to red also, flashing chaotically. The image of the face jumped from wall to wall, dancing around, each appearance giving rise to another roar of demonic humour. To their right and high up, just below the vaulted ceiling, a large pane of glass was illuminated red. A silhouette took shape, that of a man with horns, the bouncing devil’s head disappeared.
“I am Mephistopheles, welcome to my Hell!”
“There goes the element of surprise!”
“Prendere il tiro!” She snapped at the German. “Take the shot!”
Hartman swung the Mauser up and pushed the stock into his shoulder. He sighted the window. Confident that he had the silhouette in his aim, he squeezed the trigger. The gun barked in automatic mode. Three volleys hit the glass. Each time it kicked in his hand and each time he brought it back to the window. Mephistopheles laughed in a suitably devilish manner. The window was pock-marked where the bullets had struck it, but clearly, it was too dense to be shattered by small-arms fire.
“It was worth the effort,” Artemisia asserted when Hartmann gave her a quizzical glance. She removed the silencer from her gun.
“You’ve had your chance, now let me take mine. I have a legion of devils to oppose you and they are armed with weapons the like of which you have never even dreamed of!”
An alarm deafened them. The light went out in the window above and the figure of their adversary disappeared. Also, the white light in the room flashed back on for an instant, but was then replaced by a vibrant red illumination that flashed in a stroboscopic fashion. The effect was designed to be confusing and it succeeded.
“I think I had better reload.” Hartmann said grimly.
“I think they know we’re here.” Frasier observed.
“It may be better if we split up.”
“Why?” He looked surprised at the suggestion.
“Like the others, you want the arsenal, don’t you?”
“And you don’t?”
“Stopping Mephistopheles is my priority.”
“Sure it is!”
“He could launch his missiles at any moment; he has to be stopped first.” Hunter insisted.
“Okay, I get what you’re saying, Doc, but the others, they’re after the arsenal as well.”
“It should be a secondary concern, but I agree, they’re agents of the Abwehr and the SIM, getting their hands on any of Mephistopheles’ advanced technology would be de...