"Here he is, then, the luckiest man in Germany."
Stanley Mullins swept into the hospital room in a swirl of self-importance, taking up position at the end of Judge's bed. "I don't know if a cracked rib will get you a Purple Heart, lad, but I can surely put in a request."
Judge prodded the swath of bandages wrapped around his torso and winced. The only medal he deserved was one for monumental ineptitude. "Just get me out of here, Spanner," he said. "We need to get up to Garmisch pronto. Seyss is in Munich and the only people who might have an idea why are his buddies in that camp. The sooner we talk to them, the better."
Mullins tapped a finger to the side of his nose. "Got the scent of him, have you? There's my bloodhound. Let me have a word with the docs. They seem to think you need a few days to mend."
Judge was up on an elbow, shaking his head, before Mullins could finish his words. The typescript of his orders scrolled before him like the news wire at Times Square:Temporary duty. Seven days. To expire at midnight, Sunday 15 July. He was down to five days and he'd scared off the prey. It wasn't quite the start he'd been hoping for.
"Relax, Dev," soothed Mullins. "Word's out that Seyss is in town. We've doubled the patrols, set up two dozen roadblocks and instituted spot identification checks at random points allover the city all per your very own instructions."
The key word being "random", Judge thought, disgustedly. There was no time to get a new description of Seyss out to the troops patrolling the city. Most hadn't even had a chance to see his photograph. They'd be stopping every blond male over five feet tall. A black-haired, bespectacled six-footer would pass unnoticed, untouched, and unhindered. Still, Judge knew it was better than nothing, so he kept his complaints to himself.
Mullins motioned for him to scoot over and sat down on the bed beside him. "Before I track down the nearest sawbones, Dev, I wanted a word."
Judge sat up stiffly. "Yeah?"
"Now tell me honest, are you feeling okay?"
"I've been better, but there's no reason to keep me tied to abed."
Mullins's watery eyes brimmed with concern. "You're sure? You know my rule about sending out a man when he's less than a hundred percent. It's the only way I can look after you."
"It's a rib, Spanner. Not even broken, just cracked. But thanks for asking."
Mullins tapped a finger to his forehead. "And up here? Everything as it should be?"
"Good. Good." Mullins smiled, but something in his regard changed. His worries about Judge's well-being answered, he'd moved on to more important matters. "I don't mean to pry, lad, but what happened back there at Lindenstrasse? One second you're telling Sergeant Honey you've got your man, the next, Mr Seyss has a gun in your back, you're doing a swan dive off the stairs, and he's making his escape."
"I found him upstairs. He was unarmed, pretending to be some sort of building inspector. I called for Honey and then he…" Judge averted his eyes, praying he wasn't turning some awful shade of crimson.
"He…" Judge was robbed for words. He'd been asking himself the same question since Honey had hauled him off the rotted spar earlier that morning.What happened in there? And its unspoken corollary.Why didn't you kill him? Hearing the words issue verbatim from Mullins's lips, he flushed anew with shame and humiliation. For behind them loomed a matter of far greater import: what if his failure to shoot Seyss wasn't a question of atrophied reflex but of atrophied nerve? "Dammit, Spanner, he was just faster than I was. He jumped me and got the gun. What am I supposed to say?"
"Dev, you were in the same room with the bastard. Did you forget what he'd done to your brother?"
"Of course not," Judge retorted. "What? You expect me to shoot him on sight? Last I heard it was up to the courts to decide a man's punishment."
Mullins's inched closer, his imposing bulk every bit as threatening as Judge's stormy conscience. "It' s just that from that distance a man's body is like the broad side of a barn. How could you miss? Safety off, hammer back. A funny thing for the academy's honor graduate to forget."
"That was eighteen years ago, but if it makes you happy, I didn't forget."
"Well, then, lad, if it's not the technique, the problem must lie elsewhere." A ruddy hand fell to Judge's shoulder delivering the brunt of Mullins's exasperation. "What happened to the young thug I took off the streets? My own Jimmy Sullivan, you were. Tell me true, Dev, when you handed in your detective's shield, did you toss in your balls along with it?"
Judge knocked the arm away, while somewhere inside him a band snapped. "Go fuck yourself, Spanner."
Mullins's face colored and when he spoke his voice was barely a whisper. "You can call me Spanner once you've brought in Seyss. Until then, you'll be wise to remember your manners. It's Colonel Mullins to you."
Judge was fed up with Mullins' silly games. "Then you can tell the colonel to go fuck himself, too!"
Mullins smiled. "There's my lad. Just wanted to make sure the spirit hadn't been siphoned out of you. There's hope, yet."
The former lieutenant from Brooklyn's twentieth precinct rose and sauntered from the room, mumbling he was off to find a doctor who could sign "the lad" out. Judge dropped his head on his pillow, wondering if Mullins's words contained a grain of truth. Since coming to the hospital, he'd been replaying his confrontation with Seyss over and over. He kept seeing Seyss lunge at him, feeling that twinge of hesitation when his finger froze up, and he'd allowed the Nazi swine get the better of him.
"_What happened to the young thug I took off the street? My own Jimmy Sullivan you were._"
Judge tried without success to shake off the question. He wasn't one to dwell in the past. He didn't like recalling those days. Frankly, he had an aversion to looking back. Too many close calls, too many unexplained coincidences. It made him uncomfortable to realize how narrowly his success had been won. But the bite of Mullins's words whisked away his hesitation and transported him to his youth – to the only day that really mattered: 24 May 1926. And its memory was so sharp, so crystalline, he shivered, even as he sat sweating in his lumpy hospital bed.
It was the cry he remembered most. The old man's scream when they'd hit him with the blackjack.
Dev and the boys had been hanging around the Maryann Sweet Shop all day long, drinking egg creams and playing quarters in the back alley when the parade went by. A hundred Italian men and women dressed in their Sunday best marching down Pulaski Street – black suits, fedoras, every man a mustache, every woman a shawl – all of them gathered around a two storeypapier maché mock-up of Blessed Saint Maria Teresa Whoever carried on their shoulders.
"Look at 'em," Artie Flannagan had joked. "Just off the boat." "Not a real American among 'em," said Jack Barnes.
But it was Moochy Wills who'd encapsulated their feelings most eloquently. "Fuckin' wops!"
The escapade was Moochy's idea. Follow the patron of the society home, give him a sock to the head, and nab the money from the collection plate. The guy would be carrying a hundred easy. Italians weren't lazy like the Irish. Stupid, maybe, but not lazy.
Twenty years after the fact, Judge could still feel his initial stab of reluctance: the sharp ache in his gut, the sudden loss of breath. He'd acted up before. Ditching school, crashing speakeasies, once, even helping some wise guys unload a few dozen cases of hooch down at Sheepshead Bay in the dead of night. But this was different. This was robbery. He knew it and still he didn't say a goddamned word.
So they did it, just like Moochy said. They marched behind the parade until it dispersed. They waited outside the tinyristorante while the faithful ate and drank and raised the roof, and when the party was over, they followed II Padrone home to his apartment in Flatbush. Judge could see them all as if he were watching the scene unfold on the silver screen. Moochy, Jack, Artie, and Dev, perched on the stoop of that rundown tenement. And, of course,Il Padrone. He was an older guy, fifty and slight, wearing a silver sash around his chest decorated with a score of Italian words. Seeing the three strapping teenagers so close, he flinched, then shaking off his fear, offered a smile and a tip of the hat. "_Buona notte_," he said. Good evening.
"Yer in America," answered Moochy Wills, raising the blackjack over his head. "Learn to talk fuckin' English."
The rest happened fast. Moochy bringing down the jack on the old guy's neck, the bony hand flailing in the air, hopelessly working to defend himself. Artie and Jack, and yes, Dev, too, throwing in their best kicks, not looking where their work boots struck. Then Moochy clearing them away, wanting the guy for himself, clubbing him over and over until blood poured from his forehead and he'd collapsed to his knees. All of them laughing hysterically, shouting "Fuckin' wop!" over and over.
And that cry! It wasn't pain, not even fear. It was worse. It was disappointment. This didn't happen in America. This was why he'd left Palermo or Naples or wherever the hell he was from. That cry!
Out of nowhere, Artie Flanagan yelled, "Jesus, the cops!" The boys had been so focused on clobbering the old man, none of them had noticed the patrolman twirling his nightstick at the corner of 17thand Newkirk. He was a bear of a copper with a jaw like a steam shovel and a voice to freeze the hair on top of your head. Seeing the old man prostrate on the sidewalk, he shouted for the boys to stop right there and took off toward them with the stride of a thoroughbred. Judge remembered thinking that a big guy couldn't move that fast. It was impossible.
Moochy grabbed the money from the Italian's coat and hightailed it down the street. Artie and Jack followed. But Dev didn't budge. His legs refused to move. He stood rooted to the spot, listening to the immigrant's pathetic whining. Thing was the Italian had stopped making any noise whatsoever a minute before.
His sentence was three years at Boys' State. Two for the crime and one on top for not cooperating with the court that is, not ratting out his friends.
The arresting officer, Patrolman Stanley Mullins, presented himself to Judge's family as they left the courtroom.
"Yes, sir, you've got a bad egg, there, Mr Judge," he said, looking down from his lofty promontory." A shame he should get into this kind of trouble at so early an age."
There was nodding all around. A sob and a sniff from the ashamed mother. A cuff to the head from Dev's father. A smirk from Francis, the seminarian.
"Still, I do believe there's some good inside the boy," Mullins went on. "It takes a man to stand up for his friends. A bigger man yet to know when he's done something wrong and fess up. Aye, there's a wee vein of gold in this one. And, if you don't mind, Sir and Madam, I'd like to help you find it."
Mullins spoke to the judge and had the sentence reduced to two years' probation. For his part, Dev had "come round" to the precinct house on Wilson Avenue every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, for two years. He didn't learn a thing about police work. His duty consisted of shoveling out the stables at the rear of the station and taking boxing practice with the precinct team. The larger men beat the tar out of him. But only for so long. Young Dev had always been a quick learner.
And he had another job, too – one Mullins hadn't told his parents about. Every Monday and Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 sharp, Dev showed his face at the back door of the F amp; M Schaefer Brewing Company, engaged since the adoption of the Volstead Act in the production of root beer soda and "near beer" and for three hours, he would haul fifty-gallon barrels of their finest from vat to garage, loading them aboard Mack Bulldog trucks with side panels curiously advertising "Hoffman's Moving Services". His pay was a dollar an hour – a princely sum, even if he never saw a dime. Every cent went to a newly promoted sergeant of the watch who stashed it in a cashbox inside his desk. Nine months later, Dev and Sergeant Mullins trundled off to the home of Signor Alphonso Partenza, President of the Societa Benevolenza di Santa Maria Teresa, unemployed day worker and father of ten.
"A donation to the cause," Mullins told Signor Partenza, offering a new calfskin billfold that held the stolen sum of two hundred and sixteen dollars. "The least we could do to make your sore neck feel the wee-est bit better."
"Grazie," Partenza answered, grateful but not so trusting that he didn't count the money. This was America, after all. Not so different from Italy.
All this came back to Judge as he lay in the silent room, grimacing at the ache of his ribs, his tailbone, and most of all, his own unsettled mind.
What happened to the little thug I took off the street?
Still here, Judge answered, finding the fighting voice inside of him. Maybe a little rusty, but none the worse for it. And next time, he'd follow Seyss's advice. Shoot first and ask questions later.
A knock on the door saved him from further brooding.
Darren Honey walked into the room, helmet under one arm.
"Jeep's downstairs. Ready when you are."
Judge peeled back the sheets and with a grimace swung his legs over the side of the bed. "You reach my pal in Paris, get him working on those names?"
Honey dropped a hand into his helmet and removed a green polyethylene bag holding the dogs tags he'd retrieved from the basement of Lindenstrasse 21. "Colonel Storey said he'd contact Graves Registration pronto. It's going to take him a couple of days to figure out if these two were killed or just POWs. He said to tell you, though, that they weren't at Malmedy."
"So, what do you think Seyss was doing with those tags?"
"I don't think Seyss would risk going to his house for some souvenirs. Normally, if Fritz goes home, it's to get some money or see a girlfriend, maybe get something decent to eat. You got a closer look at him than I did. Did you see him carrying anything else?"
"No. Not a thing."
"Cheer up," continued Honey, his smile back in place. "Seyss is in Munich. He knows we're after him. Let him be the nervous one. The way I see it, it's his turn to make a mistake."
Judge colored. He couldn't tell if Honey was being rude or just tactless. Before he could say anything in his defense, Mullins returned with a physician in tow. The doctor examined him and pronounced him fit for travel. Fifteen minutes later, he and Mullins were standing outside the hospital waiting for Honey to draw the Jeep around.
"Good luck, then," said Mullins, offering a shake of his meaty paw. "If our German friends in Camp 8 don't feel like talking, remember what I taught you. You were a fairly good practitioner in your day."
"Yeah," said Judge, looking away. Your own Jimmy Sullivan. "I'll keep it in mind."
Mullins grabbed his chin and brought their faces close together. "Serious, lad. You let him go once. Now it's my name you're ruining, too."