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Chapter 32

Judge's room at the American Military Hospital in Heidelberg was small and sterile, a ten by ten cubicle with an iron bed, a free-standing armoire, and a night table decorated by an electric fan and a pitcher of water. A brittle light filtered through rain-streaked windows, casting a jaundiced pall across the peeling linoleum floor. A single set of footsteps drifted from the hallway then faded, leaving only the rale and whoosh of the pernickety fan and the patter of raindrops pelting the window. Judge's vigilant ear sized upon the noises and mistook them for a familiar and terrible sound. In his half-sleep, he was transported to another hospital room, this one in Brooklyn, not Heidelberg, and he saw a younger version of himself standing next to a monstrous metal box someone had cheerfully decided to call an "iron lung". His son was inside the box, lying on his back so that only his head protruded beyond a heavy plastic and rubber collar. The rushed intake of breath, the labored wheezing that had brought father to son's side, belonged to him, or rather to the machine that breathed for him air pressure taking the place of paralyzed muscles, forcing the four year-old's lungs to expand and contract.

Judge reached out to touch his boy. He could see him so clearly: the frightened eyes, the rosy cheeks, the indomitable smile. He just wanted to hold his hand.

Ryan turned his head and, as their eyes met, Judge trembled for he knew his son was alive.

"Daddy."

Judge woke, bolting upright as the memory of his boy slipped away from him like sand through his fingers. He remained still for a few seconds, caught in the neverland between dream and reality. A few more breaths and he wasn't sure he'd seen him at all.

Judge rested for another minute then took inventory of his injuries. His cheekbone was swollen, tender as a ripe tomato. One tooth was lost. His shoulder was bruised and his hands scraped and raw. But nothing compared to the knot on the back of his head and the jackhammer it powered, drilling deep inside his skull.

Hoping for a moment's respite, Judge closed his eyes. But instead of darkness and calm, he saw the explosion all over again- the white-hot flash that slapped his eyes, the rolling ball of fire, the instantaneous thunderclap. Somewhere in there, he'd been tossed off the armory roof like a rag doll and fallen twenty feet to the ground below. What happened after that to him, and to those inside the armory he didn't know.

In the hallway, a new pair of footsteps approached, steady as a drumbeat, then stopped abruptly. A firm hand rapped on his door.

"Come in," called Judge in a bluff voice that made his head throb.

The door opened and a patch of salt and pepper hair peaked around it. Next came the water blue eyes and the sharp nose. "The lad awakes," chimed Spanner Mullins, as he walked into the room. "You've been asleep since they brought you in here. Sixteen hours by my count. Let me have a look at you, then."

Judge offered a weak smile. Not counting his ex-wife, Mullins was the closest thing to a relative he had. How was that for a sad thought? "I'm okay," he said. "Just cuts and bruises."

Mullins looked him up and down as if eyeing Friday's piece of fish. "Not bad considering the plunge you took onto an asphalt deck."

Judge didn't want a shoulder to cry on. Only one issue concerned him. "Did we get him?"

Mullins ignored the question, pointing to Judge's cheek and grimacing. " Are you in much pain?"

Judge sat up straighter. For a second, his head swelled and the pounding trebled. Just as quickly it died off. He could move, but only slowly. "_Did we get him_?"

Mullins laid a meaty hand on his shoulder and gave a kindly squeeze. "We did, lad. Gone to his maker has Mr Seyss, along with two of his closest friends. May they dance in hell with the devil himself."

Judge asked Mullins for a glass of water and took a short drink. As the water trickled down his throat and into his stomach, he waited for it to ignite some flame of jubilation, some rush of relief and joy coupled with an adrenaline-fuelled arrogance that once again he'd succeeded. But those emotions were nowhere present. Seyss's death was a hollow victory, late in coming and paid for dearly.

"He hadthree men with him last night. Which one made it through?"

"Bauer, the fat one," said Mullins. "He managed to drag himself out before the grenades went off."

Bauer was the factory worker in whose home Seyss had shacked up. Judge could still hear Seyss yelling his name and, a moment later, exposing himself to a withering fire in an effort to save him. There had to be some bond between the two men. What might link a factory worker and a field grade officer, though, he didn't know. "How bad is he?"

"Ruptured eardrums and soiled nappies. He's in the prisoner's ward downstairs."

"Anyone talk to him yet?"

"About what?" Mullins sounded genuinely surprised, but then his practiced ignorance had always been a source of pride. Judge set down the glass of water, too tired to push him on it. "Just tell me one thing: who turned on the kliegs? I never gave the command."

"It was an accident. One of our boys heard the voices. He thought Rizzo was in trouble. Got excited. You know how these things happen."

Yeah, Judge said, he knew, but in fact he wasn't so sure. Flipping on those lights wasn't like pulling a trigger. A nervous finger wouldn't do it. No, by God, you had to take hold of that switch in your fist and tug it from ten o'clock to two o'clock. And what idiot tossed in the grenades? Everyone knew that the armory was chock full of ammunition. Rizzo had made a point of it before agreeing to go in, joking that no one had better toss a lit cigarette his way. Judge didn't want to think about who had taken a couple shots at him. Something about three strikes.

"Whoever it was, I hope you court-martial the dumb son of a bitch."

Mullins dropped his head. "That won't be necessary. Only the Lord can punish him now. The same explosion that knocked you off the roof killed four of our MPs. Six more were badly hurt. And that's not counting the two Seyss took care of."

"What?" Judge felt a stone tumble onto his chest. He opened his mouth, but could only gasp in disbelief. Seven men killed, six injured just to bring in one man. Counting Seyss and his ill-fated crew, it was a regular massacre.

"And Honey? Where did he get to?"

"Docs didn't know when you'd come round so he headed back to Toelz this morning. He told me to give you his congratulations." Mullins' voice cracked. "Blessed be Mary, but the whole place went up like a keg of powder."

"Dammit, Spanner, it was a keg of powder!"

Judge let his head fall to the pillow. He had only himself to blame for the debacle. He should have killed Seyss when he had the chance. Suddenly, his beliefs in the sanctity of the law and a prescribed moral order were an embarrassment somewhere between thinking the earth flat and that a man came from Adam and Eve. Closing his eyes, he offered a brief prayer to his brother, asking for forgiveness. Yet even as this thought left him, something caught in his mind, not a word, but an image a picture of a bare slab of concrete, vacant and unremarkable, except for a smudge of blood and a black Luger. And off in the distance, blinking like a miner's helmet in an abandoned shaft, a single point of light. Short. Long. Short.Dot. Dash. Dot. SOS. A crude signal for Seyss to get the hell out of there.

"Did you recover Seyss's body?" he asked Mullins.

"What's left of it."

"What do you mean 'what's left of it'?"

Mullins drew himself to attention, mindful of the suspicious note in Judge's voice. "I mean the whole place went up. Mr Seyss left behind a nasty corpse."

"You're sure it's him?"

"Bauer identified the body. Altman confirmed it, too."

"What the hell does Altman know?"

Mullins' cheeks flushed scarlet at Judge's contemptuous tone. Moving to the foot of the bed, he directed an angry finger in his former detective's direction. "Now, you listen to me, Devlin Judge. No one else came out of that armory alive. We had the building surrounded. I was at one exit, Honey the other. You positioned us there. So don't go getting any crazy ideas."

"Fine," Judge replied calmly. You didn't argue with Mullins. "But I'd like to see the body."

"I spent all morning in that bloody morgue identifying those kids. I've seen worse, but not much, and not often, thank the good Lord." Mullins ran a hand across his mouth and Judge could see that he was very upset. "If it'll make you sleep better, you can go check the body, yourself. Altman will give you the tour. He's down there now."

The morgue was located in the basement of the hospital. It was a large antiseptic room with green linoleum flooring and white tile walls. Like morgues everywhere, it smelled strongly of formaldehyde and disinfectant. A row of gurneys bearing the remains of the men killed the previous night in Wiesbaden was parked against one wall. One, two, threeJudge stopped counting the crisp white sheets. A dull ache took the place of his heart.

Altman burst through the swinging doors at the far side of the room, the same leering smile plastered to his lips. "Congratulations, Major. I'm delighted to see you in one piece."

"Thank you, Herr Altman." Judge could see the Gestapo man expected a pat on the back for having tracked down the White Lion. With Seyss dead, he'd have his promotion. That was enough. "I understand you've identified Erich Seyss."

"Actually, it was Herr Bauer who identified the body. I simply confirmed his opinion." Altman scurried to the third gurney in line against the wall. "I trust you have a strong stomach."

Judge was dressed in a hospital bathrobe and pajamas. If he got sick, at least he wouldn't be puking on his own clothes. "Strong enough. Let me see it."

Altman pulled back the sheet.

Judge glanced at the disfigured body, clenching his jaw to arrest a flight of bile. Seyss's face resembled a crushed pomegranate. "Excuse me, Mr Altman, but half of this man's skull is missing. How do you know with any certainty that it is Erich Seyss?"

Altman responded eagerly, pointing out the butchered physiognomy as he went. "We can still see the lips, some of the nose and the jaw. I suppose we could request the dental records but I'm afraid they would be a long time in coming. Besides, this is clearly the body of a man who served in the SS." Lifting the corpse's right arm, he pointed to a starshaped scar the size of a beverage coaster on its underside. "Sturmbannfuhrer Seyss's last command was on the southeastern front against Malinovsky's Ninth Army. It was common for SS men fearing imprisonment at the hands of the Russians to eliminate their blood group tattoo." He turned the arm over and pointed to a smaller scar the size of a cigarette burn, just below the shoulder. " A bullet here removes all trace of the marking."

"You're saying Seyss shot himself through the arm to remove the tattoo."

"More likely he had his sergeant shoot him. It was a common practice. One of his comrades, Herr Steiner, who served under him in the last months of the war, bears a similar scar. Would you care to see it?" Altman sounded like a head waiter asking if he'd like to try the daily special.

"No, thank you." Judge turned from the gurney. The body appeared to match Seyss's height and weight and it was wearing the same gray flannel trousers. Still he was troubled by the profound injury to the face. And he didn't remember reading anything in Seyss's medical record about a distinguishing scar under his right arm. Maybe he was being overly suspicious. With armed soldiers posted at every exit, escape from the armory would have been impossible.

And the flashlight? Judge asked himself. Had it been one of his own men showing Seyss the way out?

Thanking Altman, he spun on his heel and crossed to the exit. But reaching the door, he pulled up suddenly. "Tell me, Altman, how many bodies did we recover from the armory?"

"Nine."

Judge turned and strode past the row of gurneys, figuring the casualties in his head. He'd seen five men killed with his own eyes: Rizzo, Biederman, Steiner, and two MPs shot by Seyss. Mullins said four more soldiers had been killed when the ammunition dump exploded. Arriving at the ninth gurney, he said, "We're one short."

"Excuse me?"

"We're missing a body."

"No, no. You're thinking of Biederman. As you recall, he was killed taking refuge behind a foot locker filled with ammunition. When the locker exploded, he simply disintegrated."

"And his boots?" challenged Judge. "Did they disintegrate, too?"

Altman parried the thrust with ease, ever guarding his solicitous tone. "Certainly not. But the armory held over five thousand uniforms, including boots, it would be difficult to identify which pair was his." He bowed ever so slightly. "Anything else, Major?"

Judge found Mullins pacing the hallway outside the morgue.

"There are only nine bodies, Spanner."

"What of it?"

"You bought Altman's line about Biederman disintegrating? I can see how a shell from a Howitzer would obliterate every trace of a man, but a hand grenade, even a few dozen bullets" Judge shrugged. "They'd just make a big mess."

"You, yourself, saw Biederman hit," said Mullins. "He fell right next to the ammo box. Whatever was inside it exploded like a Chinese firecracker. And that was before the rest of the place went up."

Judge nodded, weighing his own suspicions against the facts of record. "Has anyone checked the body's blood type against Seyss? Can we get a copy of his dental charts?"

Mullins ran a hand across the back of his neck, his brow assuming its earlier scarlet temperament. "Seven Americans died nabbing this Nazi bastard. I'm damned well not going to tell Georgie Patton that Seyss is still on the loose because you, alone, refuse to believe it. This is no time for a doubting Thomas."

"Especially since by now he's told Ike and Ike's told the President. After all Operation Tally Ho wouldn't be a success without Seyss being rounded up."

"It's got nothing to do with Tally Ho!" shouted Mullins, moving closer and clamping both hands on Judge's shoulders. "Make no mistake, Mr Seyss died inside that armory. That is his body on that gurney. Bauer said so and Altman confirmed it. Understand?"

Judge broke from his grip and began walking to the elevator.

"Ike cut you seven days to bring in Seyss and you did it in six," called Mullins, rushing to catch up. "You should be proud, boy-o. Who knows? There might even be a promotion in here somewhere for you. It's time to think of the future again. There's a flight out tomorrow at noon for Munich. We'll gather your gear at Bad Toelz and have you back in Paris by nightfall. Play your cards right and come the trials, you'll be in every newspaper round the world."

Judge slowed, regarding Mullins earnestly. A week ago, a position on the International Military Tribunal meant everything to him. Another rung up the ladder. The chance to serve his country. The opportunity to gild his professional name. Today it left him uninspired. It was another man's dream.

What had he been after? Justice or merely glory?

"Tell me, Colonel Mullins, has anyone asked Bauer what Seyss was planning to do with the Russian guns and the Red Army uniforms? Didn't Altman say they belonged to the NKVD? Why do you think Seyss wanted to pass himself off as a member of the Russian secret police?"

Corporal Dietsch's words echoed in his mind:It's some kind of mission. A final race for Germany.

Mullins winced at the questions. "I make it my business not to make it my business. Seyss is dead. Case closed. Bauer will be tried in a German court for black marketeering and as an accomplice to murder."

Judge sighed and pressed the call button. He was tempted to lower his head and call it a day. Good men had died. They had a body and an identification. He should count himself lucky to be alive. Better yet, he could return to the IMT with an even heart and put his energies back into his career.

But what is it you want? Justice or glory?

He wanted Seyss. He refused to go on building his career atop a compromised conscience.

"Okay, Seyss is dead," Judge heard himself agreeing. "But would you mind if I had a few words with Bauer? Technically, he is my prisoner."

Mullins eyed him warily. "You believe that, do you? Or are you just trying to get back on your Uncle Spanner's good side?"

"So we're on first name terms again?"

"All you had to do was nab Seyss." Mullins held open the elevator door. "You can talk to Bauer first in the morning before we pack up for Bad Toelz. What we all need now is a good night's rest."

"Amen," said Judge, yawning. But, he had no intention of going to sleep.


Chapter 31 | The Runner | Chapter 33