The clock on the wall read ten past nine as Judge entered the prisoner's ward later that night. A lone MP sat outside the door, dozing. Judge tapped him on the shoulder and flashed his identification. "I need some time alone with my prisoner. Why don't you grab a cup of coffee?"
The guard checked the face on the ID against the banged up man in uniform standing in front of him. Raising a hand to his mouth, he masked a deep yawn. "Sure thing, Major. His ankle's cuffed to the bed. Need the keys?"
"Why not?" Judge winked. "Maybe we'll take a walk."
The MP knew what that meant. With hooded eyes, he handed over a small pair of keys, then bustled down the hallway.
Judge pushed open the swinging doors and entered the ward. Beds ran up and down either wall. All were empty but one, mattresses rolled up to expose rusting iron lattices. The room wore the melancholy smile of a summer camp boarded up for the winter. In the farthest corner, a heavyset man with cropped dark hair and no discernible neck slouched on his bed, reading a newspaper. Printed in large boldface print, the headline read: BIG THREE TO MEET AT POTSDAM TOMORROW.
The first postwar conference was set to open tomorrow at five p.m. Truman, Churchill, and Stalin would meet near Berlin to decide the political future of Germany and the European continent. Reparations would be set, borders drawn, elections scheduled in countries returned to their native inhabitants. Mostly though, the Allied leaders would discuss what measures to take to prevent Germany from ever waging war again. They'd failed at Versailles in 1919. From the harsh measures being bandied about in the press, Judge did not think they'd fail again.
"So, you've come to get me out of here?" said Bauer, lowering the paper and offering a dingy smile. "You're late."
"Sorry," answered Judge, dismissing the jest. "Wrong man. I'm the guy who was looking for your friend, Major Seyss. I understand you identified his body this morning."
Bauer shrugged noncommittally, as if to say that was his business, now leave him alone. Judge knew better than to press him. Under no circumstance could he suggest that he harbored doubts whether Seyss was, in fact, dead. "You're a lucky man. Seyss, Biederman, Steiner, all dead. You're the sole survivor."
Bauer leaned closer, squinting his eyes. "Now I recognize you. I saw you in the armory, standing up on top of the crates yelling like John Wayne. By the way, you're a lousy shot."
"I don't have much practice. Even as a cop, I wasn't very good. A guy had to be very close for me to hit him. About as close to me as you are."
"Is that a threat?" Judge returned the same noncommittal shrug. Normally, he'd spend some time asking Bauer a string of easy questions, getting him accustomed to saying "yes", building a rapport between them, but tonight he didn't have time for any games. He unlocked the German's cuffs, then took out a pack of Lucky Strikes and offered him a cigarette. He hadn't met a German yet who didn't smoke. "Mind telling me what Seyss planned to do with all that Russian equipment? Why the guns and uniforms? Where you boys were headed in that truck?"
Bauer kept his gaze on his feet, not saying a word. He smoked like a survivor, keeping the cigarette burning until the embers singed his callused fingertips.
"Look," said Judge, "the game is over. Whatever you fellows had planned is not going to happen. I'd appreciate your cooperation. It'll go easier on you if you tell me the truth."
Bauer grunted, clearly contemptuous of Judge's supplication, but he said nothing.
"Let's go back a step, shall we? How did Seyss find you? You're a factory worker, not a soldier. Did you know him before the war? Are you related somehow? I saw how he tried to save you. I'd be hard pressed to do the same for my own brother. Or, what, did he just show up on your doorstep and suggest you hop on down to the armory and buy some machine guns, maybe pick up a couple of bratwurst on the way?"
At that, Bauer's eyes rose to his, but still he didn't speak.
Judge let a minute pass, the German's silence goading him, provoking a swell of anger. He wasn't mad at Bauer so much as disgusted with everything he'd witnessed since coming to Germany. The bombed out cities, the deplorable living conditions, the pauper-thin population, the horror of Dachau, the degradation not only of the German people but of the Americans as well. Janks starving his prisoners to line his own pockets, Carswell plugging Krauts to satisfy his bloodlust, and somewhere tied up in it all, Ingrid Bach, fallen princess of Sonnenbrucke selling herself to look after her family. Somehow, he managed to keep the growing rage from his voice.
"Only three questions concern me: where were you going? What were you planning on doing when you got there? And, who put you up to it? Rather, who put Seyss up to it?"
Bauer smirked. "That's four questions."
Judge punched him hard in the eye, toppling Bauer over the side of the bed. His fist stung and he saw that he'd split a knuckle. Though upset, he hadn't considered hitting Bauer until that moment. It had just seemed like the necessary thing to do, and for once, no antiquated notions of propriety braked the impulse. Strangely, guilt figured nowhere in his emotions. Instead, he felt both happy and clever, as if he just discovered an easier way to complete a tiresome job and it came to him that he'd been foolish not to have sweated Fischer and Dietsch back at Camp 8. And that Germany was no place for the Marquis of Queensbury.
Picking up Bauer by the scruff of his collar, he settled him on the mattress. "One, where were you going? Two: what were you planning on doing when you arrived? Three: who put Seyss up to it?"
Bauer's lips moved, maybe a word escaped. For a moment, he looked as if he were truly lost, unable to tell up from down, but just as quickly his jaw set and his face took on the same combative look.
Judge delivered a backhand to the cheek and Bauer cried out. He was surprised how quickly it was all coming back the jab to the brow, the uppercut to the jaw – everything Mullins had taught him and he'd sworn to forget. "It's silly for us to be acting this way," he went on in his sincerest voice. "I want you to take a second. Relax. Decide if we have to go on like this."
Bauer slumped a little, pondering the question. "I'm confused about who's the boss around here. Why don't you guys make up your-"
Judge slugged him in the stomach, at a spot two inches below the sternum. Bauer doubled over and fell to the floor. He lay there for a minute, looking for all the world like a fish out of water, squirming and kicking and finally sucking in great swaths of air. Judge knelt beside him, one hand on his throat. "Herr Bauer, I asked you a simple question. Either you will answer me or we will go on as before. I can assure you I have no other appointments this evening."
"Enough," croaked Bauer, pushing away Judge's hand. "I give up. I wish you Amis would make up your mind. First you tell me to keep my mouth shut and everything will go easy. Now you want to hear the whole story again."
Judge extended a hand and helped Bauer to his feet. "What's that?"
"I already told you everything. Didn't you believe me?"
"No, no, before that. Who told you to keep your mouth shut?"
"One of you. Same uniform. He didn't give me his name, either," said Bauer. "Speaks German like you."
"Was he the man who told you he'd get you out of here tonight?"
"He said nine o'clock. Is punctuality only a German trait?"
Judge let the information pass, certain it was Hadley Everett or one of his men. Right now, he was only interested in what Bauer could tell him about Seyss. "Just repeat everything you said earlier and we're square."
"_Stimmt das_?" Bauer wiped at his lip. "You're sure? Our deal still stands? Six months in the cooler, then I'm free to go?"
Judge wondered what had happened to standing trial as a black marketeer and accomplice to murder. "It stands."
Bauer stood, brushing off his pyjamas and trying hard to regain his dignity. "Babelsberg," he said.
"Babelsberg, what?" demanded Judge. The word meant nothing to him.
"That's where we were going. Babelsberg. Our Hollywood. Fritz Lang, Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich – they all made movies there. That's why we needed the truck. The guns and uniforms were to help us fit in. It's just a business matter. No concern for you."
"A business matter?" This was rich.
Bauer struggled onto the bed. "Ja. We were to drive to Babelsberg, go directly to the Herr Direktor's villa and take possession of the engineering drawings. That was all. Then we come back home."
"Two hundred miles into Russian territory for some engineering drawings?" Judge was unable to hide his skepticism. "What the hell were they for?"
"I have no idea."
"But you were willing to risk your life for them?"
"Of course," said Bauer. "Herr Bach paid me generously. Two months' salary. Five hundred Reichsmarks. Besides, he said it was of utmost importance to Germany."
"Did he?" Judge betrayed no excitement at the mention of the Bach name, but his joy was that of a man granted a last minute reprieve. "And which Herr Bach are you referring to? Alfred or Egon?"
Bauer shot him an incredulous look. "Why Herr Egon, of course. He has been running the concern for two years now."
Judge recalled Ingrid's mention of the Lex Bach, Hitler's edict granting Egon Bach complete control of Bach Industries. If Egon had been running the company for two years, why the hell hadn't the War Crimes Commission issued a warrant for his arrest? It wasn't only the factory chiefs who were being hauled before the dock. Sure, Alfried Krupp was in jail, but so were ten of his top lieutenants. The same went for the big shots at I.G. Farben, Siemens, Volkswagen, and so on.
Confused, he sat back on the iron springs and ran a hand through his hair. Wheels within wheels, Mullins would say.
"Herr Major, may I offer you a cigarette?" Bauer reached beneath his bunk and took out a crushed pack of Chesterfields. "I don't care for Lucky Strikes. Have one of mine."
"No thanks," said Judge, eyeing the wrinkled pack. "I don't smoke." Chesterfield was Honey's brand. Obeying a hunch, he said, "I see my colleague left you some of his cigarettes. Young man, blond hair, a sergeant?"
"Three stripes," said Bauer, drawing parallel lines on the sleeve of his pyjamas. "Yes, he was young. A fine Aryan."
"And he spoke German?"
It was Judge's turn to feel as if he'd been sucker punched. What the hell had Honey been doing talking to Bauer? Honey, who couldn't even get out a comprehensible "_wie gehts_?" Honey, who according to Mullins had returned to Bad Toelz early that morning?
Staring at the floor, Judge worked to regain his bearings. Bauer's copy of theStars and Stripes lay at his feet. On the front page was a photograph of President Truman on board the USSAugusta mooring in Brussels the day before and below it, another showing the burnt wreckage of the Riechstag. The place was a mess, a jungle of twisted steel and crushed concrete. 3000 Germans had died defending the place and 5000 Russians taking it. One lousy building. And for what? The city was already lost, ringed by a million Russian soldiers. He flipped the paper over and read the headline once again. "Big Three to meet at Potsdam Tomorrow."
A final mission for Germany.
And then he had it. Why Seyss wanted the weapons, the sniper's rifle, the pistols; why he needed the uniforms and the truck. And it had nothing to do with engineering drawings.
A final mission for Germany.
He whispered the words and the hairs on the back of his neck stood at attention.
"Just one more question: Babelsberg, that's near Berlin, right?"
Bauer rubbed his chin, nodding. "About twenty kilometers outside the city. Actually, it's closer to Potsdam. Just next door, in fact."