Judge followed Honey toward the house, his stride lengthening to a jog, then a run. He bolted up the steps through the front door, and reaching the foyer, slammed into his driver's back.
"Slow down," cautioned Honey, pointing to the absent flooring. "You don't want to end up down there."
Judge stepped to the edge of the white-tiled foyer. Large bites had been torn from the wooden floor, revealing a latticework of spars none more than six inches across. Here and there, the ceiling of the basement was visible. Mostly, though, he could only see darkness and wonder how far it was to the cellar floor. He cast an ear upward, straining to catch a footfall.
"Go to the back door and don't let anyone by," he ordered Honey, flicking the pistol toward a dim corridor leading to the rear of the house. "Odds are whoever you saw up there is a squatter, someone looking for a place to stay, maybe scrounge some firewood. Let's talk to him. I doubt it's Seyss, but who knows, maybe he's seen him around, maybe he knew him before the war. Understood?"
Honey nodded enthusiastically, not believing a word. "Got it."
"And Sergeant," Judge added, his voice tighter than expected. "Go easy with that firearm."
"Yessir." Honey offered a smile, but his voice was absent its friendly tone. "But I'll thank you not to tell me how to handle my pistol." Sliding by Judge, he mounted a spar and walked nimbly toward the rear of the house.
Judge followed a second later, finding the going more difficult. The narrow beam looked like a tightrope. Below him, stars of light reflected off puddles dampening the basement floor. He guessed the distance to be twenty feet. A long, hard fall onto concrete. Eyes glued to the spar, arms flung to either side of him, he proceeded, moving faster as his confidence grew. Reaching the stairs, he took off at a devilish clip. A single flight betrayed his poor condition. He'd given up cigarettes five years ago, but his lungs felt tired and unfit. Too many all-nighters stoked by coffee, chops, and a bourbon constitutional.
He paused on the first floor landing to suck down some air and listen for footsteps. Nothing. He stood for a moment, poised to set off, arm cocked, pistol brushing his cheek. Six years after he'd turned in his shield, the gun fit in his palm snug as a preacher's bible. Hammer cocked, safety off. It was all coming back to him.
Charging up the second flight of stairs, he enjoyed a sudden spurt of adrenaline. This is what he had loved about being a policeman: the cornering of a suspect, the apprehension of a fugitive, the cathartic rush of delivering a guilty soul into the legal system. Too often, though, the arrests didn't translate into convictions. Charges were dropped for lack of evidence. A two-bit hoodlum skipped bail. A lazy prosecutor bungled the case. Judge couldn't stand seeing his work undone, so he became an attorney.
He climbed the final flight of stairs slowly, letting his breath come back to him. A dusky corridor greeted his arrival on the top floor. He picked out a voice humming softly in the room down the hallway to his right. He dropped the.45 to his side, his finger caressing the trigger's smooth slope, the weapon's strangely animate heft promising retribution, if not justice. A masculine form flitted across the doorway, then disappeared from view without glancing in his direction. A silhouette backlit by the morning sun. Strange, thought Judge. He'd pounded up the stairs like a wounded bull elephant. Why wasn't the guy curious who else was in the building?
Abandoning any pretence of stealth, he took the hallway in three long strides and crossed the threshold into a sunfilled room. A harsh morning glare hit him squarely in the eyes, forcing him to squint. A legion of dust stirred in the air. The room reeked of charred wood and mildewed paint.
The man stood at the far wall, a thin strap stretched between his hands, concerned for all the world with measuring a gaping hole cited high between the two windows. He wore baggy gray trousers and a blue workman's coat, a dark rally cap pulled low over his forehead. Horn rimmed spectacles obscured his eyes. He was still humming.
"_Hдnde auf dem Kopf_," Judge shouted. "Hands on your head. Turn around slowly."
The man jumped at the sound of Judge's voice, spinning rapidly, doing as he was told. When he saw the pistol pointed at him, he jumped again. "Please," he blurted. "I'm a friend."
"Walk slowly toward me," said Judge. "Now!" It was the first time he'd spoken German since arriving and the crisp, officious words settled him to his task.
"My name is Licht," the man said, his tremulous voice pitched high. "I am with the city building authority. Bureau five, section A. I'm attached to Colonel Allen's office." He smiled weakly, then lifted a hand from his head to gesture at the flaking walls. "The whole thing will have to come down, you know. Fire, shelling, Christ, even the joists are kaput. Dry rot, I'd say. Bet the fools living here didn't even know. It will never do for an officer's club."
But Judge wasn't listening. His attention was riveted on the man's face, and his hands, too, lest he make any sudden move.
"Shut up and take off your cap. Drop it to your side."
Licht hesitated a moment before complying. The cap dropped like a rock to the floor, and to Judge's anxious ear, it made about as much noise. A shock of black hair fell across Licht's brow. He brushed it back and stood straighter, venturing a nervous smile. Judge studied his features, careful not to lose eye contact as he drew the photo of Erich Seyss from his breast pocket. Holding it level with the snout of his pistol, he compared one face to the other. The animal who had ordered his brother's death to the frightened building inspector standing ten feet away. Chin. Lips. Nose. All were more or less the same, but he couldn't be sure.
"Now your glasses. Take them off and get away from the window."
Licht took a defiant step forward, fear hardening to obduracy. "I won't go anywhere until you put that gun down. I've already told you who I am. If you'd like to see my papers, I'll be happy to oblige. The war's been over two months. It is time for this nonsense to stop." And as he spoke an interesting thing occurred. The sun crept an inch higher on the yardarm and a shaft of light caught Mr Licht of the Munich Building Authority, Bureau five, section A, squarely in the face, piercing the lenses of his spectacles and firing the luminous blue eyes poised behind them.
Judge had never before seen eyes that color.
"Please take off your glasses," he repeated.
His voice was calm, quiet even, but his heart was racing full throttle. Slipping the photo of Seyss into his pocket, he took a step to the rear, wanting to guard a safe distance between them. He had him. Sturmbannfuhrer Erich Siegfried Seyss. Germany's White Lion. Francis Xavier Judge's killer.
Staring at this man, a feeling unlike anything he'd experienced took possession of him. His neck flushed, his stomach hardened, and he had an urgent need to blink very rapidly, not to drive away tears, but to ease the crescendo of hatred bursting in his ears. He was no longer looking at Licht, the building inspector, but at Seyss, the SS Major who enjoyed burying his boot in the back of wounded Americans as a prelude to firing a bullet into their brains.
"Take off your glasses!" he shouted, his calm a distant memory.
Seyss shrugged, then removed the black frames, folding them and sliding them into his jacket. "If you wish."
Judge stared into his face. He had no illusions about getting some measure of the man, of fathoming even for an instant what powered this unfeeling beast. He only wanted to read his expression when he emptied his entire clip into his gut and left a string of bullet holes across his torso mimicking the wounds that had killed Francis.
"Major Judge, everything hunky dory up there?" Honey's voice, vaulting from the ground floor, surprised him. Seyss's eyes flicked toward the hallway and Judge gripped the pistol harder, expecting the SS man to leap at him.
Yes, you murderous bastard, there are two of us. This is the end of the line.
But Seyss did not move. If anything, he looked more relaxed than before, as if Honey were exactly the person he'd been waiting for. Inside, though, Judge knew he was sweating.
Lowering the pistol so that the barrel was aimed at Seyss's chest, he ratcheted his finger a notch. The trigger passed its first safety, and in the silence that had enveloped the room, the click was audible. His arm tensed reflexively, muscles readying to arrest the pistol's violent kick. He heard Mullins whispering to him, "This is Germany, lad. There isn't any law." Patton barking, "Don't bring me the sonuvabitch. Just kill him."
"No, Judge told himself. He would not follow that route. Down there lies darkness. Down there lies the past. Interrogation rooms sour with stale sweat and spilled blood. Shattered cheekbones and broken noses that mapped the swiftest route to the truth. His own unsleeping history.
And suddenly, the tide of anger crested, reason asserting itself over revenge.
"Honey," he shouted over his shoulder. "Get up here on the double. We've got our man." Then speaking to Seyss in German: "You're very good, Seyss. But I'm afraid that wasn't a measuring tape you were using, it was your belt. You're under a-"
Seyss moved before the last word had left his mouth, springing at him as if from a starting block. Judge pulled the trigger, but Seyss was already upon him, hand locked on the gun's snout, using his leverage to wrestle it from his grip.
The gun went off, once, twice, missing its mark high and wide, the roar splintering the large room. A fist pummeled his gut and Judge doubled over, losing hold of the gun, hearing it clatter to the floor. He threw out his left arm to push Seyss away, bringing his right hand up for his chin, but the German was no longer there. A lightning hand flashed under the punch, fastening onto his tunic. Seyss ducked low, spun a half circle and clipped him over his shoulder. Judge landed on his back with a grunt and, a moment later, Seyss was on top of him, knee pinning him to the ground, grinning wildly. He scooped up the pistol with his right hand and laid the barrel squarely against his forehead.
"What the hell's going on up there?" shouted Honey. "Major, you okay? Answer back!"
Seyss placed a finger on Judge's lips and whispered, "Say yes."
"_Gehen-sie zum Teufel_. Go to hell." "Everything is fine," called Seyss, his English flawless, the accent if anything too flat. "Stay put and we'll be down in a second."
He pressed the gun harder against his forehead and Judge could see he was deciding whether or not to kill him. It would be a rash decision. Seyss needed him to get out of the house. Otherwise, he'd be locked in shoot-out with Honey. Suddenly the pressure abated and Seyss lifted him to his feet. He was very strong for a lithe man.
"Now, Major Judge, you are going to accompany me down the stairs. Be nice and you'll go home to see your lovely wife in America."
Seyss pushed Judge down the hall, holding him in check with a ferocious arm lock. Judge considered trying to warn Honey but abandoned the notion. He had to assume that Seyss hadn't fooled him. It was time to see what that Silver Star was worth.
The two men made a slow descent down the stairs. When they'd reached the second floor landing, Seyss shoved Judge against the wall and clamped a hand over his mouth. Sliding the pistol from his prisoner, he pointed it downward and fired a bullet through the floor. Before Judge could move a muscle, the pistol was back in the ribs. Seyss kept his eyes on the stairs below as the bullet's report faded. His ruse to draw Honey out failed. Not a sound came from the ground floor. No one appeared.
The two men continued down the stairs.
"So you know for the next time," Seyss said amicably, "should one of us German bastards resist, the proper procedure is to shoot him."
"I'll keep that in mind," said Judge. "Give me my gun. We'll go back upstairs and do it over again. I don't usually make the same mistake twice."
"I'm sure you don't, though I must say your uniform is a little light on ribbons. New to the game are you? If I hadn't heard you speak English, I would have taken you for a German. Or are you? Perhaps a Jew smart enough to have left before the war?"
They descended another step.
"My mother came from Berlin," he answered. "From Wedding."
Judge kept his eyes in front of him, measuring where he might tumble to give Honey a clear line of fire, or if he should simply sacrifice himself and jump. It would be easy enough. There was no banister to prevent his fall. If he had any assurance Honey would kill Seyss, he wouldn't think twice about it.
"Yes, Wedding. Of course. I should have picked up the accent. Home to the working classes. Hotbed of communism.
If you don't mind my saying, your uniform is a tad natty for a son of the revolution. What were you back on civvy street?"
Another step down.
"Hmm," Seyss intoned, as if impressed. "Does your army normally send attorneys after fugitives, or is that a privilege reserved solely for war criminals?"
Judge hated him the more for having a sense of humor. "Believe it or not, I used to be a policeman. Guess I'm a little rusty."
"You'll find no complaint from me." Seyss moved the snout of the gun to Judge's jaw and turned his face so he could better see him. "Now that you mention it, you look like a copper. Jaw a little too square, nose a shade too curious. You would've done well in the Gestapo. They only use their weapons once their prisoners are in custody."
"Oh? That sounds like standard SS training. Or was Malmedy a special occasion?"
Seyss smirked and shook his head, not answering, and Judge regretted not killing him when he'd had the chance.
They had reached the first floor. Seyss hustled Judge to the head of the stairs, then just as quickly backed him up, thrusting his head into the corridor behind him, looking left, then right. There was still no sign of Honey and Judge began to grow nervous wondering just what the feisty Texan had in mind. The rotting crossbeams that latticed the ground floor presented a decided problem. Once down the final flight of stairs, Seyss would have to give up his hostage. Two men couldn't tiptoe across the beams together. He hoped Honey realized the same thing. Now was the time for him to act, to bargain, to take a damn shot. Who cared if he hit Judge, at least he'd have an open target.
Abruptly, Seyss forced him to the edge of the landing, whispering in his ear, "I'm sorry, Major, but your services are no longer required. It has been a pleasure.Bon voyage." And with that he pushed his hostage off the stairs.
Judge stumbled into the void, turning as he fell, throwing out an arm towards Seyss. One hand brushed the German's trousers, catching the cut of his pocket, tearing it while tugging Seyss dangerously close to the edge. Seyss dropped to a knee, butting his palm to the wooden landing to arrest his forward momentum. His pants ripped and a pair of dog tags tumbled free. But Judge's flailing was in vain. He hung for an instant, paralyzed, then dropped to the basement.
He never made it.
With a sickening thud, he struck an exposed spar, the wind leaving him in a great rush. He'd landed in a sitting position and a fraction of a second later, his momentum plunged him down. Slipping off the beam, he threw his arms around the splintered spar and arrested his flight.
Yet even as he fell, Honey showed himself. Judge caught his shadow peaking around the salon wall, heard his voice yelling "halt!" then a dozen gunshots exploding inside the stairwell. Seyss had gotten his shoot-out, all right. Shards of plaster burst from the wall and fluttered onto Judge's head. Five seconds later the gunfire had subsided.
Honey called, "You okay?"
Hanging from the crossbeam, Judge answered, "Forget about me. Go get that sonuvabitch. Now!"
The sound of Honey's boots thumping up the stairs was his only response.
Gasping for breath, he dug his nails into the soft wood and attempted to swing his legs up to the beam. A thousand needles jabbed his abdomen, stopping his motion midway and threatening his grip on the beam. Grunting, he dropped his legs and adjusted his hands, interlocking his fingers. His muscles caught fire. A glance below provided little reassurance. He'd been wrong about it being twenty feet to the basement floor. It was twenty-five at least. He'd be lucky to survive with two broken legs.
And the thought of the failure to capture Seyss, a defeat crowned not only by his own incompetence, but by his death or injury, spurred in Judge a sudden, tireless fury. Crying out, he gave his legs a mighty swing and brought an ankle over the beam. Another grunt and he'd pulled himself flat onto the spar.
Honey appeared at the top of the steps a moment later. Seeing Judge, he ran down the stairs and helped him off the beam and to the foyer.
"He's gone. Dropped out the back window."
Judge eyed him through a veil of frustration and self-loathing. "Why didn't you go after him?"
"Didn't think I could catch him, if you want to know." Honey shot him a downcast look, as if disappointed at Judge's lack of gratitude. "Besides, you take care of your own first. There'll be another day."
"Yes, there will." Judge limped out the front door of Lindenstrasse 21, staring into the blue German sky. A spasm fired in his back and, grimacing, he swore to do everything within his power to haul in Erich Siegfried Seyss.