Jake's Joint was a liberatedgasthof turned roadhouse situated in the rolling countryside thirty kilometers southeast of Munich. "Liberated" meant that American GIs had taken a liking to the modest restaurant and lodging place and promptly evicted the owners of forty years to claim it as their own. The only compensation given was a swift kick in the pants and the good fortune to have survived the war.
At nine o'clock on a Friday night, the airy establishment was packed to the gills with servicemen, civilians, and far too many women for them all to be American. A ten-piece band crowded onto a makeshift stage blasted swing tunes into a miasma of smoke, sweat and booze. The walls were covered with souvenirs gathered by the victorious American army, mementos transported from the boot of Italy to the beaches of Normandy for seemingly no other purpose than to decorate Jake's. A street sign posted above the entry read, "Paris 20km". A poster behind the bar cheerily proclaimed, "_Calvados du Bretagne – II fait du bien pour la madame, quand le monsieur le boit_!" Roughly translated, "Brittany Calvados Does wonders for a woman when her husband drinks it!" A cafe table complete with a umbrella advertising Cinzano sat in its own private corner.
And above it all- the buzz of drunken conversation, the roar of good-time music, the clang of plates and the clink of glasses – hung the well-lubricated hum of a victorious army. Jake's Joint was jumping.
"What are you drinking, sir?" asked Darren Honey, as he and Devlin Judge settled down at a wobbly table on the second floor landing that overlooked the dance floor.
"Give me a scotch." Judge heard the trumpeter launch into the first bars of "One O' Clock Jump" then added, "What the hell. Make it a double."
"That's more like it. We're off duty, Major. Time for some R and R."
Judge watched the Texan lope toward the bar. The kid was right. He needed to relax a little. He'd been pushing himself too hard and it was beginning to show. The trail from Garmisch to Sonnenbrucke hadn't yielded a thing. Dietsch, von Luck, Ingrid Bach, nothing they'd said was worth a damn. Four days of hitting one dead end after another. Like the kid said, "time for some R and R".
Judge loosened his tie and kicked out his legs. A few couples began dancing and little by little a space cleared for them to do their stuff. He could tell right away they were the real thing. The couples were working on their rhythm, getting to know each other before slipping into the more serious moves. A husky corporal swung his gal out, then spun her onto his back, rolling her over till she landed on her feet. She shimmied for a couple of bars then, to the delight of the crowd, slid smoothly through his legs.
Honey returned from the bar and set down four glasses of scotch. "Cheers, Major. Don't give up just yet. It's only a battle, not the war."
Judge picked up a glass and brought it to his lips. "I'm not giving up. Just figuring where we go from here."
"Half this damn country is checking their shorts for Seyss. Something will turn up."
Judge felt at once proud and embarrassed by the younger man's unbridled optimism. Once he'd had that same piss and vinegar. "Will it? And your rogue's gallery? Any word from Altman or one of his cronies?"
"'Fraid not," said Honey, "but they're looking." And when Judge sought his eyes for further explanation he glanced away, his cloying grin appearing a moment later, along with the dimestore adage to "just be patient".
Judge waved away the entreaty. Patience had never been his strong suit and with two days remaining to track down Seyss he had none to spare. He took a shot of scotch, shivering as it coasted down his throat. "What's he up to, eh Honey? You given that any thought? Can you tell me why a war criminal sure to draw the hangman's noose decides to stick around and tempt fate? He went to that house for a reason. Tell me why and I'll tell you what he's got planned."
Honey scooted his chair closer, so as not to shout. "Don't get your imagination into high gear. A lot of these soldiers stick around because they don't have anywhere else to go. They've been in Russia, France, Greece, or God knows where these past six years and the last thing they want to do is leave again. They want to stay close to whatever friends and family they've got."
"Are you calling Seyss a homebody?" Judge railed at the mention. "Didn't you hear von Luck? He doesn't live with the enemy. Hebecomes one of them. A Brandenburger, for Christsake! The man's been trained to pass himself off as the enemy. Bastard's probably sitting at the next table."
Honey shrugged, a sheepish look souring his face. "Looks like Seyss has got to you."
"Of course, he's gotten to me. The sonuvabitch killed my brother, stole the gun out of my hand, then damned near killed me. Hell, it's not just him. This whole upside down country has gotten to me." He started on his second glass of liquor, relaxing as the alcohol warmed his belly. "Don't worry, Sergeant. I'm not giving up. I'm just hoping for a change of luck."
The band launched into" Air Mail Special", one of Goodman's classics. The clarinet soared over the throbbing drums, the saxes and trombone jumping in behind them. Judge tapped his foot to the uptempo beat. Normally, the song put him in a swell mood, the straight-ahead rhythm and brass attack making him forget his problems for a few minutes. Tonight, the music and the memories of home it called up only deepened his anxiety.
Two days remained until his orders were rescinded. Forty-eight lousy hours.
He wasn't concerned about what it would mean to Francis should he fail to bring in Seyss. Or that Seyss's capture was the only way he had to apologize to his brother for his hubris. Francis would forgive him on both counts. He'd say it was the effort that counted. But then, Frankie would forgive a rummy a lifetime of boozing if he said he was sorry on his deathbed. Nor was he fearful that he might let down his country – which he took in the form of George Patton and Spanner Mullins – though the relentless achiever in him desperately wanted to satisfy them, too.
Savoring the cheap booze's fiery drizzle, Devlin Judge cast a gimlet eye on his own ambitions, his own desires, wondering if getting his hands on Seyss wasn't just a way to put his own unsettled dilemmas to rest; if Seyss was the trophy he needed to prove he was as good as the rest of the men in this place, the notch in his belt signaling another opponent dispatched. Twenty-nine without a loss.
Going a step further, he wondered if Seyss was the answer to the contentious issue that had plagued him these last four years: that by choosing to continue his work for the US Attorney's office instead of seeking military service, he had neglected his obligations to his country. Or, to put it more colloquially, that he was a yellow-bellied careerist.
7 December 1941. A brittle, sunny afternoon in Brooklyn. Judge sitting in the living room of his third floor walkup with his boy, Ryan, four years old. The two listening to the radio, counting the minutes until the Chase-Sanborn Hour begins. Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. Judge thinking they were the funniest damn thing ever to hit the airwaves. Suddenly, the music stops; Gene Autry cut off as he warbles the refrain from "The Lonesome Cowboy". The announcer's stern voice, aquiver with righteous indignation, declaring, "This morning at eight a.m. local time, forces of the Imperial Japanese Army attacked the United States Naval base at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands." Ryan crying out in protest, "more music". Judge wrapping his arms around the boy, pulling him to his chest, asking him to hush, just for a minute. The announcer going on, "The battleship Oklahoma and two as yet unidentified vessels are reported sunk with grievous loss of life." And then the words that delivered a chill down America's spine. "President Roosevelt will address a joint session of Congress tomorrow morning at ten a.m., it is said to ask for a declaration of war."
War. It had finally come to America. Not across the Atlantic as so many had feared, but from the Pacific. A surprise attack. War!
And Judge's first thoughts, the initial gut response of a thirty-one year old rookie lawyer: a lot of guys are going to leave the office and join up for this thing.If I stay put and keep my nose to the grindstone, I can be at the top of the heap when this mess is over. The army needed "bodies, not minds", Tom Dewey had said. Who was Judge to disagree?
There it was, then.
Erich Seyss was his confession and his penance, his expiation and absolution, all tucked into a black and silver uniform with a death's head embroidered on its collar and his brother's blood on its cuff.
Happier, now, that he'd given a name to his frustration, Judge turned his ear away from himself and back to the music. The band really was very good.
"You a dancer, sir?" asked Honey.
"Me?" Coming from deep left field, the question made Judge grin. "Yeah, Sergeant, I know a step or two."
"Go on down. Plenty of dames waiting for you. Go on and 'sprechen-sie'to them. After all, it's legal now."
Earlier in the day, Ike had called a press conference to relax the rules against non-fraternization. Servicemen were free to talk to children and widows, he'd said, but should do their best to steer clear of former Nazis and "good time" girls.
"You go on," said Judge. "I'm going to stay here."
Honey stood from the table, upsetting his chair. "Don't be shy. You're divorced, remember? Won't be no one looking over your shoulder but me."
Judge read the urgency in Honey's eyes and was unable to keep a part of it from infecting him. "Go on. Maybe I'll be down in a few numbers."
Honey shook his head sorrowfully, probably thinking "old fart doesn't know what he's missing," then hurried off.
Judge scanned the dancefloor, more comfortable observing than participating. The American girls were easy to pick out. Busy smearing on lipstick or sharing secrets with a girlfriend, they huddled in circles of four or five, angora castles waiting to be stormed. Most were WAC's or secretaries sent over by the war department to help with the administration of the American zone of occupation. Thefrauleins were a different story. Scattered through the crowd in ones and twos, they moved with an overtly sexual intent. Cats on the prowl. Their eyes were rimmed with black pencil, their lips painted fire-engine red. Coy was a word they'd never heard. They wore blouses cut low and dresses slit high. They showed more curves than his wife had on their wedding night. Meeting a Joe they liked, they'd offer a frank stare, then follow it with a lingering touch on the arm, a hand draped across an olive drab shoulder. It wasn't a dance floor so much as a bazaar. The thought that these women were readily available, that they were practically asking to be bedded, aroused him.
Deciding he needed another drink, Judge made his way down the stairs and into the middle of the foray. The music grew louder, the smoke thicker, and his head lighter. He was aware of every budge, every glance, every whispered, "Hi Joe". Still, he kept his eyes lowered, ashamed to meet their direct glance. He reminded himself he was an observer not a participant, but that tired voice got drowned out in a hurry. He tried, " a gentleman doesn't act this way," and got the same results. Lifting his chin, he cast an appraising look at the young frauleins around him. He was shocked, and, if honest, titillated at their acceptance of his brazen scrutiny.
Judge found the bar and ordered a scotch, happy for a moment's respite from the melee. Yet no sooner had the drink been poured than a raven-haired girl of twenty bullied her way in beside him, took the glass full in her fist like she was grabbing a can of Schlitz, and emptied it in one long draught. She stared at him long enough for him to notice that she was very pretty, then picked up his hand and laid it on her breast. "_Kommon, Schatzi_," she said huskily, in some sort of pidgin English, "Take me your haus, Captin. You dutti Yanki bastid. Less go fickin."
A hungry hand kneaded his trousers. Judge yanked it away, scolding her in a Berliner's precise German. "That's enough, sweetheart. Go find a boy your own age. Run along now."
Watching her disappear into the crowd, Judge's hungry eye was arrested by a flash of silver. A tall, languid blonde in a satin dress danced cheek to cheek with a slack-jawed man of fifty sporting three stars on either shoulder. Judge could not see her face, but he could see the general's and recognized it immediately. Leslie Carswell, commander of the Seventh Army, whose headquarters Judge had spoken with the day before to arrange the meeting at Sonnenbrucke. The couple swayed to the music, and as the song came to an end, Carswell cocked a knee and gallantly dipped the woman in his arms.
It was then that Ingrid Bach threw back her head and looked directly at Devlin Judge.