Judge's first impression of Sergeant Willy Fischer was that he looked the way a tank driver should: short and wiry, with a shock of black hair and a pack mule's stubborn glare. Fischer had spent the war attached to the First SS Panzer Division. From December 1944 through May of that year, he had served under Erich Seyss. He was being detained at the camp for his participation in the Malmedy massacre, though on a lesser charge than his commanding officer. On Judge's orders, he'd been removed from the camp population the previous afternoon and confined to an empty larder in the supply shack what passed for the" cooler" at POW Camp 8. Since then he'd been fed a warm dinner and an American breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, and bacon. No explanation had been given for his confinement. Judge wanted him confused.
"_Guten Morgen_," Judge said loudly, doing his best impression of a German officer. "I'm sorry we couldn't find a bed for you, but at least you had something to eat."
"Good morning to you." Brushing the dust from his uniform, Fischer took a step toward Judge. His dark eyes raced over the uniform, trying to ascertain who exactly this man was. Judge saved him the trouble, introducing himself as an inspector with the military police and saying he needed his assistance with an important case. "It concerns your former commanding officer."
"I'm sorry but he's not here any longer," Fischer said wryly. "I believe he checked out a few days ago."
"Know where he went?"
"Baden Baden, if I'm not mistaken. He usually goes this time of year to take the cure."
Despite himself, Judge laughed. He hadn't expected a man who'd spent three years trapped in an iron sarcophagus to have a sense of humor. A clerk shuffled into the room with a school chair in each hand. When he'd left, Judge shut the door and gestured for the prisoner to take a seat. "Cigarette?"
"_Ja. Danke_." Judge tossed him a pack of Lucky Strikes, then handed him his Zippo lighter. He wasn't sure how exactly to handle Fischer. What point was there in threatening a man who'd survived the war only to face the gallows? The man would cooperate only if he felt it would benefit him. "Where's your family?"
Fischer remained silent for a long while, smoking his cigarette and staring at his inquisitor. Judge imagined he was asking himself how far to go, examining his conscience for signs he'd suffered enough as it was. Finally, he said, "Frankfurt."
"Does your wife know you're here?" "I've written to her." Fischer shrugged as if to say he didn't have much faith that the letters were being delivered.
"Give me her address. I'll make sure they have enough ration stamps, someplace warm to sleep." "What? No Hershey bars and stockings?"
Judge played the jolly good fellow. "How could I forget? I'll throw them in, too."
"You're a generous man. A pack of cigarettes, a couple of decent meals and the word of an American officer that he will look after my family. "Fischer pursed his lips as if appraising the offer, while a bemused expression tightened his features. He stood and tossed the lighter to Judge. "Seyss is gone. Leave him."
"I'm afraid I can't do that."
Fischer pointed an accusing finger at his interrogator. "Do you know what the Ivans do to members of the SS when they catch them? They take a bayonet and insert it…" He left off. "Forget it. I don't talk about the man who saved my life."
And you, Judge wanted to say.What did you do to the Russians when you caught them? Shoot them, starve them, send them to a factory to work until they dropped dead of exhaustion. Three million Russian soldiers had perished under German captivity. But if Judge was seething, he did not let his anger show.
"You didn't fight the war to end up in prison for the rest of your life. Help me find Seyss and I'll see the courts go easy on you."
Fischer scoffed and retreated to a dark corner of the room.
"Tell me how you helped him get out of the camp."
"Helped him?" Fischer laughed to himself. "No one helps the major."
"The time for heroes if over," Judge said crossly. "It' s time to think about yourself. Your family. Tell me where Erich Seyss is."
Fischer ambled back to his chair and sat down. After a last drag, he threw his cigarette on the floor, then ran a filthy hand over his mouth. "I am a German soldier," he said, answering a question only he had heard.
Judge met his hard gaze. "The war is over."
Fischer shook his head, then dropped his eyes to the floor. "Too bad, eh?"
Judge stood outside the larder, his back to the wall, willing himself to maintain his composure. An hour of questioning and cajoling hadn't gotten him anywhere. What upset him was not Fischer's flippant cynicism but his own misreading of the prisoner. His years in law enforcement had taught him that there was no honor among thieves. His mistake had been to assume a defeated soldier would act in the same manner as a captured criminal. He had not reckoned on the inculcated loyalty of the German military. Unless he could convince the second POW that Seyss had wronged him, he'd have no chance in securing the man's cooperation.
Honey stood next to him, arms crossed, eyes too insistent by half. "There's another way to make Fritz talk."
Judge shook his head and walked toward the second larder. "I know."
Corporal Peter Dietsch sat crouched in the corner of the barren room, clasped hands protecting his mouth as if at any moment it might betray him of its own volition. Like Fischer, Dietsch had served under Seyss's command in the Ardennes and later in Russia and Austria. Like Fischer, he had been member of a tank squad; his occupational specialty that of gunner. But Dietsch had not volunteered for the Waffen SS. He'd been transferred into the First SS Panzer division from a Wehrmacht replacement battalion in November 1944. A conscript. Judge could only pray that Dietsch's loyalties didn't run as deep as Fischer's.
"_Good morning_," he began, speaking German, of course, but casually this time. No more baying like a Prussian bloodhound. "Enjoy your breakfast?"
Dietsch eyed him warily before standing up and saying thank you very much, he had indeed. He was a tall, gangly boy, nineteen according to hissoldbuch. His blond hair was shorn to the scalp, his nose too big for his face, and his chin too small. He was the runt who took his beatings and didn't complain.
Judge explained why he was there. He wanted to know if Dietsch could shed some light on Seyss's escape or if he knew where Seyss had gone. Dietsch vehemently denied any knowledge of the escape or of his whereabouts, then launched himself into an impassioned defense of the heroic soldier. It was the same crap that Fischer had spewed, but Judge let him have his say. He wanted to give Dietsch plenty of chances to convince himself of his loyalty.
"I have a hard time listening to you speak so highly of the man who got you into this trouble," said Judge, when the boy finally stopped speaking. "If it weren't for Seyss ordering you to open fire on one hundred unarmed American soldiers, you wouldn't be sitting here looking at a hangman's rope."
"When attacking there is no time to take prisoners," answered Dietsch. "The Fuhrer himself issued the orders."
"So Hitler was with you in Malmedy? Because if he wasn't, I'm afraid it's your commanding officer who is responsible for giving you that order."
"Of course Hitler wasn't there," retorted Dietsch.
"That's right. It was Seyss who ordered you to pull the trigger. It was Seyss who turned you from an honorable soldier into a cold blooded murderer."
Dietsch lowered his eyes. "Yes. Fine. It was Seyss. So what? What do you want anyway?"
Judge leaned forward and put a comforting hand on the boy's knee. "For you to talk to me. Help me learn how Seyss got out of here. Tell me where he went."
Dietsch glanced up. His blue eyes had gone glassy, shedding the defiance they'd harbored only a moment before. Judge could see that not only did he know something but that he was going to talk. The tension in the room vanished, as noticeable as an abrupt drop in atmospheric pressure. Instead of pressing, though, he sat back and let the boy come to him. He wouldn't repeat his mistake with Fischer. He took out another pack of cigarettes and put it on the floor between them. After a moment, Dietsch bent over and picked it up. "You mind?"
Dietsch fumbled with the pack, taking an eternity to get the cigarette into his mouth. He smoked like the schoolboy he should have been, puffing earnestly, staring at the skeins of smoke rising in front of his big nose as if he were contemplating Kant'sCritique of Pure Reason. And just when Judge's patience was deserting him, he spoke. "I want out," he said. "My wife is eight months pregnant. I must see her. At least a visit."
Judge almost felt sorry for him. The kid would talk himself into a phone call if he let him go on. "Forty-eight hours," he said. "A two day pass to visit your wife and you'll be accompanied by a guard at all times – if you have information that can help me."
Dietsch laughed. "I didn't know he'd made it until yesterday evening. I asked myself why else they would throw me in the cooler?"
"Tell me everything."
"Forty-eight hours?" Judge nodded.
Dietsch shot him a glance that asked if he could trust him, then sighed and began speaking. "We thought he was crazy at first. I mean the Major was so proud about how he was going to face the Americans and admit to his actions. He used to quote von Luck: 'Victory forgives all, defeat nothing.' The next day, he said he was getting out; that the Fatherland needed him.Kameraden, he said. One last race for Germany and all that."
"He said that? 'One last race'?"
"Yes." Dietsch brightened. "He was very famous when I was a child, you know? Hitler, himself, nicknamed him 'the White Lion' before his race against the Negro Americans in Berlin."
"He lost," Judge cut in. He wasn't interested in the glorification of his brother's murderer. "You were saying?"
"The Major told us he needed the baize from a billiard table," said Dietsch. "Fischer and I work some days at the Post Hotel. He knew they had a game room. It was easy to remove, actually. Some of the men made a ruckus in the kitchen while we stripped the table."
Judge drew small satisfaction from the validation of his suspicions. "And you sewed it to the inside of his uniform so that when he turned it inside out he looked like a GI?" "We had to work on the fabric a little. Darken it with oil, draw on the unit insignia."
And the helmet? Where did you get the paint for that?" Dietsch laughed, encouraged by Judge's knowing the tale, "The helmet was easier. We cut the camp ball in half and covered it with paint from the tool shed. Von Luck said, 'Imitation is the bravest form of deception'."
That was the second time he'd heard the name mentioned. "Who's von Luck?"
"General von Luck, of course. The Major's trainer for the Olympic Games. A founder of the Brandenburg regiment. Seyss spoke of him like a father."
Judge made a mental note to check if this von Luck character had made it through the war. "And Vlassov? How did Seyss know about him and Janks?"
Dietsch shrugged unconvincingly. "No idea."
Judge lurched forward and grabbed Dietsch by his jacket. "Now is not the time to start lying to me."
"I imagine Dr Hansen told him. How else?"
How the hell did Hansen know? Judge wondered. According to Miller he left the camp at seven each night and didn't work at all on Sundays. Something still wasn't right. "And the knife?"
"Hansen. He could bring anything into the camp that would fit inside his medical bag. He brought the Major extra rations to help build him up. Wurst, bread, even some fruit. The Major often shared it with us."
Judge released the thin boy, giving him an easy shove toward the corner. "Where did Seyss go?"
Dietsch bent to pick up his cigarette. "He never told us. Just that he had to meetKameraden. Other SS men, people loyal to the Fatherland. I don't know who."
"Where was he meeting them?"
"I don't know."
"I don't know." Dietsch insisted.
Discerning a deceitful glint in Dietsch's eyes, Judge rose from his chair and advanced on the soldier. "Dammit, tell me!"
Dietsch cowered, fighting back tears. "I don't know!" Judge spun and kicked his chair to the ground. It was time for the strong-arm stuff. Time to call in Spanner Mullins. He imagined Mullins's voice, the Irish brogue whispering in his ear, "Either you get him to talk or I will". He thought of Seyss walking the streets of Munich a free man. He could still feel the bastard's hand in the lee of his back, giving him a shove that was meant to end his life. Judge circled the room, tensing the muscles in his arms and shoulders as he walked, clenching his fists. In the end, it always came to this. Knock out a man's front teeth and he'll confess like a drunk on the steps of St Patrick's. Like Mullins said, "Sorry, lad, there's just no other way to make sure he's telling the truth."
Looking over his shoulder, he caught sight of Honey peeking through the door. The young Texan was nodding his head, telling him it was okay to unleash a couple good ones on this feckless kid.
Suddenly, Judge rushed at the prisoner, latching his hands on his shoulders and shaking him forcefully. The urge to hit Dietsch blossomed inside him like a physical desire. He didn't know if it was the frustrations of the day or just a return to his inglorious self but, God help him, he wanted to punch this kid in the face with everything he had. This schoolboy punk who'd leveled his machine guns at men his own age, American men, and pulled the trigger.
"Dammit, Dietsch!" he yelled. "Tell me the truth."
Dietsch flinched, raising both hands to protect his face. "He wasn't stupid, you know. He knew you'd come looking for him. He wouldn't tell us anything which might jeopardize his mission. I've told you what I know. I want to see my wife. You promised."
And then he broke. Tears poured from his eyes and he sobbed, all the while sure to keep his arms about his head. "My wife. You promised." Judge broke off, his anger ebbing as he backed away. Dietsch was scared witless and fright often made a person honest. Moreover, his words had the ring of truth. A man like Seyss would never reveal his destination to his accomplices. But Judge would never truly know if he'd gotten everything out of Dietsch until he braced him. And that he wouldn't do.
Colonel Miller followed him outside the supply shack. "You didn't mean what you said about a forty-eight hour pass?"
Judge stopped in his tracks and faced the paunchy camp commander. "No, Colonel, I didn't. Keep Dietsch locked up for a month. He can leave as soon as he tells you where Seyss is. If he does, get on the horn to Sergeant Honey or myself at Bad Toelz. Are we clear on that?"
Miller saluted. "Absolutely, Major."
Honey drew Judge to one side. "Begging your pardon, sir, but we don't have a month. Today's Wednesday. We got till Sunday midnight. That's four days."
Judge bristled at the reminder. His fist clenched reflexively and he wanted to hit something, somebody, and he was thinking Honey's earnest mug would do just fine. Instead, he slapped his thigh and stalked off to the Jeep.
It wasn't enough time.