Judge barely made it to the side of the road before vomiting.
"You all right, chief?" Sergeant Honey called from his customary position behind the wheel of the Jeep.
Judge waved a defeated hand and raised his head to answer, but what remained of his lunch beat his words to the draw. Head bowed, he fell to one knee. Even close to the grass, the air was rank, cut with a piss-sour stench that made his skin itch and his stomach buckle. The odor of decay clawed his airways, suffocating him. He couldn't erase the smell, but he could block it. Closing his eyes, he pictured himself in his mother's kitchen, perched like a hawk above the stove waiting for her apple fritters to come out of the frying pan. Small rings of apple dipped in a honey batter, fried in cooking oil, then dusted with powdered sugar and cinnamon. As a child, he'd liked nothing better in the world, the scent most of all. The vividly rekindled memory subdued his olfactory nerves and after a few more breaths he was able to get to his feet. Aptelkuchen was what she called the dessert, and like the fetid air he was breathing, it was a uniquely German creation. The reminder of his blood heritage caused him to flush with shame.
Wiping his mouth, Judge trained his eyes on the source of the foul stench. One hundred yards down the road, a wide steel gate striped with barbed wire stood open, beckoning. Three words were inscribed above the gate:Arbeit Macht Frei. He read them and shivered. Work shall set you free.
He had arrived at Dachau.
A village of low-slung barracks greeted the two Americans as they entered the camp, long gray buildings hewn of cheap lumber. Twenty, thirty, forty…he lost count quickly. Visible to the left was a windowless blockhouse from which four red brick chimneys rose into a hazy sky. A sign next to the gate gave the camp's name. Under it was written, "Liberated 29 April 1945, Forty-fifth Infantry Division, United States Army." Judge added his own postscript. Founded 1933 as a political re-education center. Converted to a Konzentrationslager, or KZ, in 1936. He didn't know when it had begun gassing and cremating its inmates.
"Let's get this over with as quickly as possible." Honey nodded. For once, he did not smile.
The hospital ward had white walls and a warped wooden floor and stank of disinfectant and excrement. Screens had been nailed over each window but a squadron of flies buzzed in Judge's head as he walked down the aisle. A single fan hung from the ceiling, turning too slowly to do any good. Twenty iron beds lined each wall. Their occupants lay still under the sheets or sat with feet drawn under them. Shaved heads, sunken cheeks, emaciated chests that under their cotton pyjamas resembled the keel of a sailing ship. And, of course, the eyes. Unblinking, Unfaltering. Eyes that knew death as an everyday companion. At first, it was hard to tell one man from the next. Starvation had provided the patients with a startling familial resemblance.
The man seated on the cot in front of Devlin Judge appeared no different from the rest. According to intelligence records, General Oliver von Luck was fifty-one years old. He looked seventy. Gray stubble covered his scalp and chin. Everything about him was shriveled and sunken except his eyes, which were alert and sparkling and, at two o'clock this Thursday afternoon, maybe even cheerful.
"If you think I look bad now, you should have seen me a month ago," said von Luck, by way of introduction. "Down to eighty pounds, I was. It wasn't my own people who nearly killed me, it was your GIs. Hershey bars were the first real food I'd eaten in months. The sugar put me into shock. My heart, it stopped like that." He snapped a finger. "But,mein Gott, it tasted heavenly."
Judge mumbled something about being glad the general was still alive, and after giving his name and Honey's, provided von Luck with a brief explanation of the reason for their visit.
"So he came through alive?" von Luck asked. His English was impeccable.
"One can only dodge so many bullets." Von Luck's voice was tainted by a survivor's fatalism.
"I understand you knew him well." "I taught him. I coached him. I ordered him into battle. I knew him as well as one man can know another."
Judge reached into his briefcase and removed the slim file his team had put together on von Luck. Inside was a clipping from The Black Corps_, the monthly magazine of the SS, dated June 1936. It contained a photograph of von Luck standing next to Erich Seyss on a running track. The caption read: Like Father and Son. The new Germany's revered coach, Colonel Oliver von Luck, with National Champion, SS cadet Erich Seyss. The Fuhrer anticipates victory in Berlin_!
He handed von Luck the photograph and watched him study it. The general brought the picture close to his face, his eyes squinting, and for a long time didn't move. He appeared to be staring through the picture and into his own past. Finally, he laid the magazine on his lap and sighed.
"More than anything, Seyss had the desire to be great," he said. " An indomitable will. Unfortunately, there is only so much a man can will his body to do. What success he enjoyed was a tribute to his hard work."
"And yours," added Judge.
Von Luck's rebuke was immediate. "Do not try to flatter an old soldier, major."
Judge lowered his gaze to the floor, embarrassed by his mawkish behavior. The sight of von Luck and so many ambulant corpses had compelled him to a kindness more appropriate for a victim than a suspect. Von Luck may well have plotted against Hitler, but for years he had willingly served him.
"And as an officer?" Judge asked.
"The most aggressive, certainly. The most clever?" Von Luck shook his head. "But he could bluff. He was a Brandenburger, after all."
Corporal Dietsch had mentioned that von Luck had founded something called the "Brandenburg Regiment". All traces regarding such a unit had come back negative.
"Just what is a Brandenburger?" asked Honey.
"The Brandenburg Regiment was established in 1938," said von Luck. "Our goal was to train soldiers to fight behind enemy lines. Not as commandos, mind you, though, of course, they were versed in sabotage and killing, but to actually become the enemy, to insinuate themselves into their units and cause total chaos, a disintegration of the enemy's command structure. We required three skills of our recruits: that they be fit; that they possess another language as their own – Russian, Polish, French – you can imagine which ones we found vital; and that they be bold. Any man can muster the courage to run into a hail of machine-gun bullets. That is simply adrenaline. We needed men with the requisite self-confidence to pass themselves off as members of an enemy unit for weeks, even months, at a time. Professional impostors, if you will."
Honey raised an eyebrow. "And this worked?"
Von Luck laughed with surprise. " Ask the Poles, or better yet, the Russians. Several times we managed to land a man insideStavka command in Moscow."
"Little good it did you," said Honey. "You should have left Stalin well enough alone."
But Judge had stopped listening. Part of his mind had stolen back to Lindenstrasse 21 and he found himself meeting Erich Seyss's emotionless gaze as if for the first time. Seyss had called himself Klaus Licht from bureau five, section A of the building inspector's office. Only afterward had Judge caught the twisted humor. Bureau Five, section A of the Reich Main Security Office or Sicherheitsdienst dealt with the transport of Jews from occupied territories to death camps in the east. And Seyss had traipsed through Camp 8 wearing a deflated soccer ball on his head painted to look like an American soldier's helmet. As von Luck said, a professional imposter.
"Where did Seyss fit in?"
"He was seconded from the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler to the Brandenburg Regiment in early thirty-nine. He saw duty in Poland and Holland, and, of course, in Russia. He was transferred back to the Waffen SS in late forty-one."
"And in all those places, he worked behind the lines?"
Von Luck shook his head insistently, as if Judge hadn't quite grasped the idea. "No, Major, he lived behind the lines. He became the enemy. He spoke a little Dutch, but his Russian was that of a Muscovite. As a child, he had a white Russian governess."
Judge looked away, digesting the information. His attention was drawn to a bed three down, where a swarthy man, smaller and thinner than von Luck, had risen and now stood shaking a fist in his direction. The man – he looked for all the world like a skeleton – met Judge's eye and held it, then lifted his smock, squatted, and with great deliberation shat on the floor. When he finished, he scurried back to his bed and pulled the sheets over his head.
"Ah no," moaned Honey. "Oh God."
Judge felt his eyes water as bile rose in his throat.
But von Luck was unfazed. "Pay Herr Volkmann no mind," he advised. "Many of the prisoners – excuse me, thepatients – have temporarily mislaid their manners. He's afraid that if he uses the commode, you'll steal his bed from him. Actually, he's quite civilized. An intellectual, believe it or not. Until forty-three, he was a professor of theology in Hamburg. His conscience chose an unfortunate moment to unburden itself."
Judge bit his lower lip and stared for a moment at his polished shoes. He couldn't decide whether he wanted to scream, to cry, or to wrap his hands around von Luck's fragile neck and snap it. The old Nazi was too arrogant by half. It was increasingly clear he harbored no guilt whatsoever about his role in fostering the system that destroyed men like Herr Volkmann.
Strangely, Judge sought solace in his brother's memory.
He wanted to bury his head in Francis's shoulder and ask him why, and how, and what for, and he wanted God to answer. Surely, this was equal to murder. This was the degradation of the human condition, the theft of man's dignity, his transformation into an animal, or worse, a savage. Judge had never felt so torn between his desire to believe and his instinct not to. His heart was stuck between beseeching God and cursing him. Better yet, why say anything at all? What was the point if no one was listening?
Honey's clear voice slapped him to attention. "When was the last time you spoke with Erich Seyss?"
Von Luck appraised his interrogators with hungry eyes. "I risked my life to kill Adolf Hitler. Once I'm better, I do not wish to spend what remains of it in your custody, however benevolent. If you want my help, at least tell me why I am being detained."
"You've been classified as a security suspect," said Judge, less patient now. "Just because you decided you didn't like Hitler doesn't absolve you of any crimes you might have committed earlier. Besides, you blew it. All you did was leave Hitler a little deaf in one ear and more crazy than ever. We're waiting to see if something turns up against you."
"Don't know. But seeing that you served as Canaris's deputy for four years, I wouldn't be surprised if we found something. Torturing prisoners of war. Shipping off Jews to Treblinka. Shooting political prisoners. If you acted within the confines of the rules of land engagement as prescribed by the Geneva Convention, you've got nothing to worry about."
"And if I cooperate?"
Judge suppressed a self-satisfied smile. He had him. "Then, we'll see, won't we? Please answer the question, General. When was the last time you saw Seyss?"
"A year ago in Berlin. We exchanged a few words then parted, each of us on our own separate way. Him to the front, me to Dachau. Amazing we both made it through."
"I thought he was like a son to you," said Judge. "Why no celebration? A beer at the officer's mess? Dinner and a night on the town?"
"I saw him, Major, during my interrogation in the basement of Gestapo headquarters." Von Luck smiled so that the jagged stumps of his teeth were visible. "It was where I had my dental work performed. Charming, don't you find?"
Honey squinted in revulsion. "Seyss did that?"
"Actually, the butt of his pistol. I believe it was a Walther.38. An excellent way of proving his loyalty to the Fuhrer, don't you think?"
It was indeed, thought Judge. Ask an acolyte to destroy his mentor. A son to kill his father. He should feel shocked by the tactic, but he wasn't. His time in Germany was working on him. He remembered a picture he'd come across in his researches; a photograph of an interrogation cell taken at one or another government ministry in Berlin. Naked concrete walls bleeding with damp, sturdy iron rings bolted to them at different heights. Schoolboy's chair standing in the corner. Drain set into the center of the floor, cement around it stained black. For all intents and purposes, it might have been in the basement of Gestapo headquarters.
Judge glanced at von Luck, and he was there, in the cell with him, staring down at the general as he was tied into his chair, hands bound behind him, watching him grimace as the coarse ropes were pulled tight, shaving the skin from his wrists. The cell smelled clean. Carbolic soap and lemon oil. A man entered and took up position in front of von Luck. It was Seyss. He wore his camouflage uniform, Iron Crosses neatly in place, and his muddy jackboots. His cheeks were smudged with battlefield grime. His hair was its natural blond and a lank forelock hung across his eye. He held a pistol in his hand. A Walther.38. Von Luck pleaded his innocence but Seyss paid him no mind. The pistol rose, then descended in a blur. And as Judge followed its dull gray arc, he was no longer looking at Seyss, but at himself ten years earlier as he whipped a blackjack against the neck of a suspected murderer inside the interrogation room of the mighty Twentieth precinct.
Judge blinked and the picture vanished. A second had passed, no more.
"Do you have any idea where Seyss might have gone?" he asked.
Von Luck shrugged. "You said he'd been contacted byKameraden. That would indicate fellow SS officers or members of the Allgemeine SS."
"The Allgemeine SS?"
"The civilian wing. Reserved for businessmen, politicians, and industrialists eager to demonstrate their loyalty to the Fuhrer. I have no idea what such men might have wanted with Seyss. I was an officer of the Wehrmacht, Major. I am a professional, not a fanatic."
Judge thought it amusing how defeat tempered a man. Von Luck, the promulgator of such profound military axioms as "Victory forgives all, defeat nothing," and "Imitation is the bravest form of deception". To the professional soldier, passing oneself off as the enemy was an act of cowardice. And shooting a defenseless prisoner, a crime punishable by death. How much more fanatical could a professional soldier become?
"Still, I don't envy your task," von Luck continued. "Once Seyss is committed to something – anything – he is unstoppable. Erich was never so much a Nazi as a patriot. He was fond of Houston Chamberlain: 'The ideal politics is to have none; but this non-politics must be boldly recognized and forced upon the world.' Understand that and you will understand Seyss."
Judge got the drift, if not the nuances. Shoot first, ask questions later. Not much of a clue to a man's whereabouts in a country of fifty million people. "So you've got no idea?"
Under the hospital smock, the wasted shoulders rose and fell, but von Luck's eyes held their focus. " Are you familiar with the work of Wagner?"
Judge nodded, while Honey shifted restlessly on his stool.
"Think of Erich Seyss as Parsifal unmasked. At once, a romantic and a realist. A man willing to destroy himself, as well as everything and everyone around him, to validate his principles."
"Gotterdiimmerung," said Judge.The Ring of the Nibelungen – the mention brought back memories of the family gathered round the wireless on Sunday nights, listening to Wagner broadcast live from the Met. It had been his mother's one lasting link to Germany: music. And he'd grown to love it as much as she. Brahms, Beethoven, and, of course, Wagner. His mother claimed he was the greatest German to have ever lived. She'd never mentioned he was its greatest anti-semite, too.
"Bravo, Major." Von Luck leaned forward, his bemused expression indicating he was ready to part with the information he held dear. "Did you know that Seyss deserted his post as Heinrich Himmler's adjutant to be with the woman he loved? He knew his punishment would be severe, yet he chose to go all the same. In the event, he was sentenced to twelve months with a punishment battalion on the eastern front. Only a true German would destroy his career for a woman."
"Who was she?" Judge phrased the question nonchalantly, but already his heart was beating faster.
"The richest and prettiest woman in Germany. Her name was Ingrid Bach."