home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add

Chapter 27

Judge's first thought was that it couldn't be Ingrid Bach. He wouldn't classify the women at Jake's Joint as prostitutes, but they weren't paragons of virtue either. War had forced on them a terrible hardship and to survive they'd decided to partner with their occupiers. Their rewards were silk stockings, Hershey bars, cigarettes, maybe even a place to stay for a couple of weeks. It was a decision born of economic necessity which was what made her appearance all the more startling. Ingrid Bach was hardly poor. The woman lived in a home the size of the Frick Museum!

Certain that he was mistaken, Judge returned his attention to her. She was applauding with the crowd, but still she stared at him. The sea-blue eyes, the sharp nose, the blonde hair now immaculately dyed and coiffed all conspired in an instant to erase his doubt. He practically expected her to march over and begin lecturing him about the poor chamois being shot on her estate. And, nothing could serve as more potent confirmation than the look of abject shame that spread like a shadow across her features, as she, too, recognized him.

Suddenly, everyone was in motion. The band eased into "Body and Soul", the crowd began dancing, and she was lost, a silver fan twirling slowly on the far side of the floor.

Judge abandoned his post at the bar and cut through the crowd. Ingrid's discernible humiliation stayed with him the entire way, lending his step an aggressive edge while resuscitating his earlier guilt. He had hardly earned the right to act as wildly irresponsibly as the men around him. He hadn't slogged over the Alps or braved withering fire at Omaha beach. He hadn't breached the Siegfried Line or fought his way across the Rhine. Hell, he hadn't even gone to boot camp. On the contrary. He'd spent the last three years dressed in gray flannel suits and Egyptian cotton shirts, eating at Toots Shors three days a week and at Schrafts the other two.

Bodies, not minds, Judge told himself. He'd been serving his country too.

Crossing the floor, he bumped into Honey cheek to cheek with achesty fraulein, then forced his way between two couples practically glued together at the waist. Ingrid Bach saw him coming and dug her head into Carswell's shoulder. Judge didn't slow for an instant. Reaching Carswell, he tapped him boldly on the shoulder.

"Excuse me, sir, but may I respectfully cut in?"

Carswell dropped Ingrid's hand and stared at Judge's sweaty brow, loosened tie, and five o'clock shadow. Obviously, he thought the man a drunk. "You may respectfully go to hell, Major."

The snap inspection gave Judge the opening he needed. In a single fluid motion, he slid in front of the general, found Ingrid's hand, and let the crowd sweep them away.

Ingrid Bach lifted herself on a toe to glance at Carswell's outraged countenance. "Very cheeky, Major. Bravo."

"You know us New Yorkers. We're not always the best mannered guys in the world, but we have heart."

"Heart? When you left yesterday afternoon, you were positively frigid. All business. I'd thought we might at least be cordial."

Judge offered a conciliatory grin. He'd go cordial a step better if it might help squeeze some info out of her about Seyss. "I was a little overwhelmed by the house and meeting your father. It's hard to figure out who you can trust in this country."

"Maybe so, Major. But it's not fair to judge an entire nation by the actions of a few."

Judge nodded, wondering with which group she lumped herself in. No doubt the former. Another innocent bystander.

The music swelled as it reached the first chorus. Judge was careful to hold Ingrid away from him, so that their bodies did not touch. She stood a few inches shorter than him, and he imagined that if she came a step closer, she'd fit nicely in his arms. This pleased him enormously. Guiltily, he wondered why.

"Known Carswell long?" he asked, curious as to their relationship.

"Me?" She smiled enthusiastically. "Yes, ages, actually. My cousin, Chip DeHaven, introduced us years ago. We're old friends."

"Chip DeHaven from the State Department? I didn't realize Carswell was from New York. I'd always taken him for a Southerner. Give him a beard and he'd look like Robert E Lee."

"No, actually, he's" Suddenly, Ingrid averted her eyes and her smile crumbled. "You've caught me in a fib. I don't know General Carswell. I haven't the foggiest where he's from. He's been asking me out for weeks. Finally, I gave in and said yes. I hope you don't think I'm" Her words trailed off as her eyes fell to the ground. "I'm very embarrassed."

"Don't be."

"Look, if you want to know why I'm here, it's the same reason as the other girls. I don't take kindly to poverty."

"But you're a Bach!"

She let go an ironic laugh. "Didn't you hear Papa this morning? We've nothing left. My brother Egon took control of the business two years ago. He convinced the Fuhrer that if Bach Industries was to pass to the next generation intact, the business as a whole must be deeded to him. Egon gave us a few hundred thousand Reichsmarks as compensation and Sonnenbrucke, of course. He thought he was being generous but the money was spent before the war had even ended. I'm lucky not to have been expelled from Sonnenbrucke. Carswell hinted it would make an excellent retreat for officers."

"He must like chamois." "That's not funny, Major," she replied sternly, but beneath her schoolmarm's tone, he detected an impish humor.

They swayed with the music for several bars, growing more comfortable with one another. When the musicians went to the bridge and the tempo quickened, Judge even dared a modest spin. Ingrid responded to his direction perfectly, releasing his hand, turning beneath his outstretched arm, then returning to him with the primmest of smiles.

Judge quickly looked away, aware he was enjoying himself more than circumstances allowed. But a second later, he put his lips to her ear, speaking softly. "I asked for this dance so that I might apologize again for disturbing your father this morning. I should have taken your word about the severity of his illness. I'm sorry."

Ingrid bowed her head. "Apology accepted, but I'm still curious why you thought I'd know where Erich Seyss was?"

"Even the smartest criminals head for their wives or girlfriends when they're being pursued. Most know we're keeping an eye on their loved ones, but they can't help it. I guess they realize that eventually they're going to be caught or killed, so they're willing to risk a final goodbye." He didn't want to say he had no other place to look.

"I would have thought he'd left the country. Show up in a month or two on one of those U-boats that keep surfacing in South America."

"Not a bad guess, except that we saw him Wednesday morning in Munich."

"You saw Erich?" It was impossible not to hear the distress in her voice.

"I ran into him at his home. If things had turned out differently, I wouldn't have had occasion to visit Sonnenbrucke." He shrugged to show it was his fault that Seyss had escaped. "You wouldn't have any idea why he'd go there?"

"To see his father?" Ingrid offered. "Why do any of us go home?"

"No, the house was a wreck. Abandoned. I was just thinking that if he'd risk going there, he might risk coming to see you."

"That I doubt, Major."

"Sure he's not cuddled up in one of your bedrooms? Admiring your collection of Dresden?" Ingrid was his last connection to Seyss; only reluctantly would he give up on her.

"No, Major. He is not." Her iron gaze ended all further inquiry.

Just then, the crowd closed in around them, as if drawing a collective breath, and Judge found himself cheek to cheek with Ingrid Bach. He smiled awkwardly, trying to say this wasn't his idea, but the smile did little to slow his racing heart. To his surprise, she smiled, too, lifting her delicate chin to rest above his shoulder. The smell of her perfume, the nearness of her arctic blonde hair, the pressure of her lithe body after two years without a woman, it was too much to bear. Desire flushed his body, a fever so overwhelming as to become almost palpable. It gripped him; it suffocated him; it sent a charge of electricity racing from the balls of his feet to the roots of his hair. Unconsciously, his hands tightened their grip around her firm waist. And that wasn't the only part of him constricting with desire. With a start, he realized he was fully aroused. In "a state of sin", Francis would have said with a chuckle. Dancing closely to him, Ingrid had to have noticed. Delicately, he arched his back to ease the pressure of his body against hers, but it was impossible. The crush of dancers was simply too much.

The music slowed and the horns held the last note for several bars. Judge quickly dropped her hands and applauded. "Thank you for the turn around the floor. I enjoyed it."

Ingrid responded with graceful politesse. "The pleasure was mine. You're a fine dancer, Major."

Staring into her eyes, Judge had a desperate urge to wrap his arms around her and kiss her full on the lips. He felt his head moving towards hers, his body drawing near. Catching himself at the last moment, he averted his gaze and pulled up, instantly shamed and embarrassed by his unharnessed cupidity. "Goodnight, then," he stammered, taking a plodding step backwards.

"Goodnight," she said softly, then turned and vanished into the crowd. Judge looked around him, expecting to see Carswell plowing towards them, steam spitting from his ears. But the general was nowhere in sight. Judge hit the bar and ordered another scotch. He felt panicked, as if he'd just avoided being hit by a car. Welcoming the drink, he knocked it back in a single motion. What a mess! Deny it or not, he, a United States attorney, an officer in his country's army, was very much attracted to the daughter of one of Germany's most notorious war criminals, the one-time fiance of the man he was hunting. Part of him bowed to an onslaught of guilt, but part of him refused, and he knew it was the spell her physical presence had cast on him.Wait till tomorrow, he told himself.This whole thing will have worn off. Somehow he wasn't reassured.

Momentarily, he became aware of a commotion at the rear of the building. GIs and civilians were dashing up the stairs and forming a vibrant, boisterous throng. The crowd was congregated around the dormer windows that looked over the hardscrabble parking lot at the rear of the club. He heard shouts of "Put it down," "Go home, Fritz," and "Get out while you can."

Judge ran up the stairs and pushed his way through the crowd. He was surprised to find the mood jovial, GIs standing on their tiptoes asking each other, "what do you see?" with undisguised prurience. Maybe a fellow had been caught with afraulein in flagrante in his Jeep, he wondered, and his buddies were giving him a little ribbing.

A gunshot exploded not twenty feet away and someone said, "You missed, General. Try again."

Maybe not, thought Judge, smelling the powder even before the laughter erupted. Knifing ahead, he could see the pistol's silhouette, a ribbon of smoke drifting from its muzzle.

"What's going on?" he asked a wildly grinning GI.

"General's gonna bag him a Kraut."

"What?" It was hard to hear over the raucous buzz.

"Dumb German sumbitch trying to steal a spare tire from the General's Jeep," said the GI. "Won't stop even though we're yelling at him."

Judge pushed the man aside and looked out the nearest window. In the parking lot, a man was working valiantly to pry lose the spare tire from the rear of the Jeep. He didn't seem to be taking any note of the catcalls and warnings directed his way. Or the gunfire.

Judge looked to his right. Separated by a cordon of soldiers, General Leslie Carswell steadied his arm on the window pane and fired another shot.

"Stop!" yelled Judge, even as a cheer went up. Looking out the window, he saw that the would-be thief had fallen to the ground. He wasn't dead, just wounded. Raising himself to one knee, he dragged himself across the parking lot.

"Take another crack at him, General," urged a southern voice. "Some hot lead would do the boy good."

Smiling madly, Carswell braced his arm and took aim out the window. "Just you watch, son."

"Don't shoot," shouted Judge. "Can't you see the man is injured?"

Carswell turned towards Judge's voice, and recognizing him, said, "This is a frontier, dammit, and that Kraut is gonna get himself a dose of frontier justice." He nodded at a heavyset sergeant in sweat-soaked khakis next to him, then pointed the gun at Judge. "Get that man out of here. He's a menace."

The brawny soldier rustled through the crowd, laying an arm on Judge's shoulder. "Get lost, Major."

Judge grabbed the man's tunic and delivered a solid uppercut to his chin, sending the sergeant to the floor. If this was a frontier, he'd make his own law. A corporal half his size jumped into his place and slugged Judge in the stomach, but Judge was too riled to feel anything. The kid from Brooklyn was alive and well and looking to bust anybody's mug who got in his way. He stutter-stepped, then brought his forehead down on the corporal's nose, breaking it and sending the man to the floor.

"Carswell," Judge shouted, peeling back the audience. "You don't kill a man for stealing your tire."

Carswell sneaked a peek at Judge. Hurriedly, he set his arm on the window sill, raised the gun and fired. The voice of the crowd died in time to the weapon's report. Judge spun his head and peered into the parking lot. The thief lay face down ten yards from the Jeep. He was no longer moving.

"I'll kill any fucking Nazi I like," said Carswell, holstering his pistol. "That boy was breaking curfew and stealing from a general officer. I got every right to protect the property of the United States of America. Remember, Major, this is our country now. Our laws. And our women."

Carswell pushed past him and ambled down the stairs.

Jesus, thought Judge,that prick just killed a defenseless man and he looks like he's had a game of pool and a good piss. Watching him strut to the bar, he felt a red tide flow inside him. It wasn't anger or rage, it was something beyond that, an impassioned and deeply felt desire to see justice done. To acknowledge with his fists his resolve for a better world.

Carswell didn't see the punch coming. Judge simply grabbed his shoulder, swung him around and gave him as solid a right hook as he'd ever delivered in a life of bar-room brawls, street spats, and gutter fights. Carswell spit out a tooth then dropped like a rock.

Honey materialized from the crowd, latching onto Judge's arm and dragging him toward the front door. "We have to leave immediately, Major."

"I'll take my punishment," said Judge, shaking loose Honey's arm. With a man shot in the parking lot and a three star general roughed up, the military police would be there any minute. Turning toward the bar, he spotted Ingrid Bach helping Carswell to his feet. Against his will, a flash of jealousy fired his cheeks. How could she even look at that son of a bitch? He felt as if she had rammed a knife into his gut and was slowly twisting it. He'd never learn.

"Major, the military police are already here," Honey was saying, his rubbery face even more animated than usual. "They're waiting for us out front."

"What are they waiting for? If they want to arrest me, they can come in."

"Dammit, Major, this isn't about you hitting the General you'll have to deal with that later." Honey took him physically by the shoulders and shook him. "We got him. I told you to be patient. He's in Heidelberg."

Judge felt the booze and adrenaline and the welt of his attraction to Ingrid abruptly dissipate. In their place came a nervous energy, a clear, burning excitement.

"Seyss. You're talking about Seyss? He's in Heidelberg?"

"Yessir," shouted Honey, smiling now, nodding his head vigorously. "Altman tracked him down. The White Lion is ours."

Chapter 26 | The Runner | Chapter 28