The drive to Camp 8 took two hours, a steady climb through fields of summer corn and rolling hills laced with tumbling brooks. The afternoon sky was a pale blue, scratched with hazy cumulus. Few cars traveled the narrow country roads but traffic was heavy nonetheless. Dozens of push carts freighted with all manner of household items – chairs, dressers, mirrors, and, of course, clothing – trudged along both sides of the highway. Each was accompanied by a shabby flock of women and children, sometimes even a man. Some were Germans returning to their homes, others foreigners shoved about by war's merciless tide. The estimates out of Washington said that over six million of these displaced persons were on the move across German The flotsam of Hitler's folly.
Judge kept his eyes on the road. Unwilling to admit Honey, or himself, how Seyss had gotten the drop on him he remained silent. Large divots had been clawed from the pavement by the treads of angry tanks and the Jeep's incessant jarring down and out of these furrows wracked his already sore frame. After an hour, he grew numb from it, seeing his persistent discomfort as a hair shirt of his own tailoring. How Francis would welcome his kid brother's newly discovered piety! The irony brought a grudging smile to Judge's lips.
Occasionally, the Jeep sped by an abandoned Sherman tank, half-track, or six-ton truck parked at an odd angle, half on, half off the road. In the pell-mell drive to capture enemy territory, the vehicles had been abandoned where they'd broken down.
At ten o' clock sharp, they reached the gates to Prisoner of War Enclosure 8. A spit-shined corporal, M-1 carbine slung over a shoulder, pointed the way to the command post. Honey brought the vehicle to a halt outside a stone and pine cabin that reminded Judge of the low rent place in the Catskills where he'd stayed on his honeymoon. His wife had called it Grossinger's without the class. It was the first salvo in their battle over the direction of his career, but he'd been too young, too much in love, to notice.
A few hundred German soldiers milled around the playing field across the compound from the CP. Their tunics were filthy, their faces gaunt. Most huddled in small groups sharing a common cigarette. From their ranks drifted the smothering stink of dirt and sweat.
Entering the CP, Judge and Honey were met by the camp commander.
"Morning gentlemen," said Colonel William Miller. "I've been so looking forward to seeing you. Come with me." He was shorter than Judge, bald and bespectacled, with the hint of a drinker's belly. He had analytical brown eyes, a wispy moustache and a pasty complexion that testified to a longtime love affair with his desk. A parson's son, thought Judge; a strong[?] conformer enjoying his first chance to whip those of the faith into line.
Miller whisked them toward a pair of chairs set before his desk. "Please sit down. Make yourself at home."
Judge took a last look at his notes and smiled graciously before beginning his questioning. The primary investigator's report had been succinct if unenlightening, consisting of a description of the crime scene and an unimaginative recounting of the escape. No effort had been made, however, to ascertain how Seyss had obtained the murder weapon, appropriately an SS officer's dagger, or how he had managed to traipse across three hundred yards of open space unseen.
"Colonel Miller," he began, "we're not interested in Colonel Janks's illicit activities. Whatever worries you may have about that matter, please put them to rest. We're here to talk about how Erich Seyss managed to get out of this camp. Do you have any idea how he got his hands on the dagger?"
"No idea," Miller declared gravely, his eyes shifting like a pendulum between Judge and Honey.
"Was Seyss allowed out of the camp at any time?"
Judge offered Honey a resigned glance. Monosyllabic responses were ideal under cross examination, but Miller was a friendly witness – at least in theory. "Areany prisoners allowed out of the camp at any time?"
"Most leave every day. We organize work details to help out in Garmisch. Some of the prisoners work on farms, getting the harvest in. Others help out in the kitchens of hotels and restaurants in town, washing dishes, sweeping the floor. I can provide you a list of the establishments. Menial jobs, mind you, and the prisoners are under constant guard. A detachment of soldiers accompanies every group."
Now they were getting somewhere. "How many?"
"Two or three GIs for each crew of ten prisoners."
Honey chuckled. "Excuse me for saying so, Colonel, but isn't that like a couple of hens guarding a pack of foxes?"
Miller colored, but to his credit did not respond.
"But Seyss never left?" Judge took up the questioning.
"Major Seyss was a class one war criminal, awaiting transfer to an appropriate holding facility. He was confined to the camp at all times. Besides, he was under medical supervision. He was in no condition to work."
"Just to escape, eh?" added Honey.
Judge went on before Miller could protest. Honey was, after all, a non-com, and had no business speaking to an officer so disrespectfully. "And how are the prisoners searched when they return to camp?"
"They're patted down."
"Patted down?" brayed Honey, and this time Judge silenced him with a reproachful look. It was clear that anyone could have smuggled in a dagger. Work crews outside the camp for eight to ten hours a day supervised by a couple of post-adolescent GIs. Judge was surprised the prisoners weren't equipped with an entire arsenal by now steak knives to begin with. "When you mention Seyss's medical condition, you are referring to the bullet that took out his spleen?"
"He saw the camp doctor daily. A local physician from Garmisch named Peter Hansen. It's army policy to use natives whenever possible. Naturally, we were quite interested ourselves in speaking with Dr Hansen. Unfortunately, he's no longer at home."
Judge made no comment, choosing to conceal his disappointment in a quest for further details. "And was Hansen a member of the German military?"
"Yes sir, I believe he served in the army."
Honey tapped Judge's arm. "A full-blooded Nazi no doubt.
Judge shifted his attention to Miller. "Was he, in fact, a member of the Nazi party?"
Miller stared into his lap and coughed. "Yes sir, I believe he was."
Seeking clarification, Judge raised a hand. "I thought General Eisenhower had outlawed the employment of former Nazis in any capacity? Isn't that the basis of our de-Nazification program?"
"General Patton thinks differently," Miller retorted. "He's encouraged us to use whoever's available. He said being a Nazi is no different than being a Republican or a Democrat."
Judge wanted to shout, "What?" but out of respect for his ribs, kept his outrage in check. "One more question: was Dr Hansen searched upon arriving at the camp each day?"
Miller retained his strict posture. "No sir."
"You outrank me, Colonel. A 'sir' isn't necessary."
Miller flushed, but Judge saved him from his embarrassment, suggesting that they retrace the prisoner's steps the night of the escape. Mercifully, Honey kept quiet.
Outside, Miller led Judge and Honey around the back of the command post to a trail running alongside the north fence. They passed one barracks after another, stopping at the fourth down the line.
"We count them at morning and at dusk," explained Miller. "Seyss was assigned a spot in this barracks – F." He pointed to the cream stone building with a riding crop. "Private McDonough reported seeing Seyss at five minutes before bed check. Seyss said he was on his way to the latrine. McDonough confirms seeing him enter. He'd been given a pass from Dr Hansen allowing him use of the facilities at any time. His kidneys were also badly damaged."
"Dr Hansen said so?" ventured Honey, a smirk lurking close behind his lips.
The three men were standing at the entry to Barracks F.
"So he left from here," said Judge. "He went to the latrine, then made his way to the kitchen," his outstretched arm pointed to a stable, fifty yards to their right, then rotated counterclockwise ninety degrees, stopping at a stained pine building two hundred yards further on, "where he killed Colonel Janks and Vlassov, mounted Vlassov's wagon and drove through the gate."
Judge walked to the center of the road that bisected the camp and turned in a full circle. Against a backdrop of green meadows rolling to snow-capped peaks, he counted eleven watchtowers rimming the perimeter of the camp. He continued to the latrine where again he stopped and turned round, as if taking his bearings. His gaze skimmed the grass, tracing the path Erich Seyss had taken to the kitchen. He began walking. Every few steps he paused to look to his right and left, checking if one of the watchtowers had a clear view of him. When he reached the supply shed at the rear of the kitchen, he raised his hands in the air and exclaimed, "I give up, Colonel! Seyss was in the direct line of sight of at least three watchtowers the entire way. Would you care to explain to me how a prisoner could cross such a wide distance without being seen, or as I would have hoped, detailed, questioned and returned to his bed?"
"It was a moonless night," Miller countered defensively. "We've spoken with the soldiers manning those towers. They didn't see a thing. We certainly don't keep the compound lit after dark."
"No, no," said Judge, irascible because of his discomfort. "I don't buy it. Either he didn't come this way or he wasn't dressed like his buddies. Or… " and here he stopped and fixed Miller with his most hawkish gaze, "…he had help on the inside."
The accusation hung between the men for several seconds, ripe with unpleasant implications. Then Miller stepped forward. "We did find something odd a few days ago," he offered sheepishly. "Maybe you'd care to take a-"
"Please, Colonel, yes, we'd like to see it." Miller shuffled of to his office and returned carrying what appeared to be an olive-drab mixing bowl. "This turned up behind the shed."
Honey plucked the rounded object from Miller's hands, swept off his cap and fitted it to his own head. "It' s a helmet, for Christsakes. What did he use – a soccerball?"
"Yes," Miller stuttered, "but we don't know if it belonged to Seyss or if he used it during the-"
"Give it here, Sergeant," ordered Judge. Handling the 'helmet', he scraped away some of the paint, revealing oblong strips of rough brown leather. "For argument's sake, I'll just assume he was wearing fatigues as well."
Judge stalked past Miller to the porch where Janks and Vlassov had been murdered. The gates to the camp stood sixty feet away, no farther than the distance from pitcher's mound to home plate. Approaching them, he craned his neck to take in the guard towers crowding either side. Two soldiers manned each parapet. Judge's eyes, however, were drawn to the perforated snout of the.30 caliber machine gun, and next to it, the bald countenance of a klieg light. He lowered his gaze to the gates themselves and the sentries walking back and forth before them. Ten to one, these kids were itching to give their guns a workout. Had Seyss been stopped that night, he would have been cut to ribbons.
The man we're after is a gambler, he thought. Brave, daring, and more than a little reckless. But then Judge had learned that firsthand that morning.
Turning, he tossed the ball to Miller. "I'm ready to interview the prisoners now."