Judge gripped the steering wheel with both hands, ten o'clock and two o' clock, like Mullins had showed him in the hospital parking lot. One foot held the accelerator to the floor, the other rested above the brake, just in case. He'd been driving for six hours, a midnight run on the famed German autobahn. The four-lane highway was nearly deserted, the world's straightest river with a surface to skate across. He'd passed Karlsruhe, Stuttgart, and Augsburg, seeing only unlit exit signs and stunted silhouettes, and now he was nearing his destination.
"Pick up von Luck. Bring him straight back and the secret's between us," Mullins had said, in response to Judge's entreaty that Seyss's body be positively identified. Bauer's statement had raised enough questions to trouble even Mullins's rule-bound conscience. "I'll get Georgie Patton to extend your transfer by twenty-four hours. Then it's straight back to Paris with you and we'll pick up any loose straws."
Judge knew of two people who could look at what remained of the body on gurney number three and say with any certainty whether or not it was Erich Seyss. Of them, only von Luck could provide insight into Seyss's actual intentions, and in doing so, validate Judge's suspicions.
Neither Mullins nor Judge believed Seyss would venture into Soviet-held territory for something so pedestrian as engineering drawings. The first thing a police officer learns is that there is no such thing as coincidence.
As for Honey and his reasons for interrogating Heinz Bauer, Judge could only guess. Maybe he'd received orders from CIC to grill Bauer. Maybe he'd done it on his own, hoping to prove his mettle and wrangle himself a promotion. Whatever the reason, Judge was puzzled why he'd given Bauer the order to keep quiet. Certainly, Honey knew that Judge wouldn't leave without questioning him. Either he hadn't expected him to use his fists to get the information or there was someone else he didn't want Bauer to speak with.
Eyeing the speedometer, Judge kept the Jeep traveling at a constant sixty-five miles per hour. Driving wasn't as difficult as he had imagined. A few turns around the hospital courtyard with Mullins in the passenger seat screaming "brake, clutch, shift, gas", and he'd been ready to go.
A sliver of daylight appeared directly ahead, cutting the horizon in two. The sliver widened into a band, then lost its borders as the cloudless sky was suffused with a warm orange glow. Heralding the dawn's arrival, a prickly cross wind picked up from the north, freighting the air with the rich smells of land under cultivation. He breathed deeply, his eyes watering at the loamy scent and its promise of rebirth and renewal. And slowly, a new sense of confidence took root inside him and grew.
The Jeep sped past a large sign reading "Munich-Nerd", letters of white offset against a deep blue background. Judge followed it off the tree-lined autobahn and into the city's torn-up streets. Maneuvering the Jeep was more difficult now, a clumsy ballet of gas and clutch, one hand welded to the wheel, the other to the stick shift. Piles of splintered wood and serrated masonry twenty feet high choked the roads. He steered crazily around them. On the sidewalks, clutches of women huddled around smaller mountains of red brick, chipping away mortar and lattice so that they could be used to rebuild their city.Trümmerfrauen, they were called. Rubble women.
Judge searched for signs leading to Dachau. Despite the abject destruction, no important intersection was naked of arrows pointing the direction to towns in the vicinity. He turned left, then right, entering the village that gave the notorious camp its name. It was market day. Vendors bustled across the town square, erecting stalls for their corn and beets and potatoes. He stayed on the main road another ten minutes and found himself traveling a familiar country lane. More familiar, still, was the rank scent souring the air. He did not slow the Jeep as he passed through Dachau's gates.
A sentry stood guard at the base of the stairs leading to the camp headquarters. Judge announced his business and was immediately ushered into the camp commander's office. A short, stiff-backed officer dressed in fatigues shook his hand, giving his name as Captain Timothy Vandermel. "Follow me, Major. The CO is waiting for you in the emergency ward."
Vandermel led Judge across the camp. Behind fifteen foot fences topped with razor-sharp concertina wire stood row upon row of low-slung barracks. Hundreds of slack figures wandered the dirt infield between them. Many still wore the blue and white striped uniform issued them at Auschwitz, Belsen, Sachsenhausen. Men sat around open fires, smoking, talking in agitated voices. Women tended laundry over salvaged oil drums. Children let out loose high pitched screams of joy as they chased one another here and there.
"DPs," said Vandermel. "More and more are pouring in every day. The Jews want the hell out of Germany and who can blame them? Most want to go to Eretz Israel, their homeland in Palestine, but the Brits won't have them. The Ukrainians can go home, but they don't want to because they're afraid Uncle Joe will shoot them. Anyone who surrendered is a coward in his book. As for the Poles, they can't go back to Poland even if they wanted to. Don't ask about the Hungarians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Latvians or Estonians. Give you one guess where they'd all like to go, the lot of them."
And we don't want them, either, Judge added silently.
Vandermel unlatched a wooden gate cut into the fence and motioned him into the hospital compound. Judge was surprised to see two MPs standing at the entrance to the ward. Before he could ask what they were doing there, a pair of officers shunted out of the screen door and onto the landing. One was tall, with a martinet's ramrod posture and a steamshovel's iron jaw. Judge recognized him from his previous visit as Colonel Sawyer, the camp commander. He was old army, a former stable mate of George Patton when the two were stationed at Fort Myer, Virginia. The other was chubby and balding, a sad sack of a guy with the caduceus pinned to his lapel. A doctor.
"Your timing is impeccable, Major," shouted Sawyer, waving him over with a hand.
Judge mounted the stairs and saluted. "How so?"
Sawyer coughed, averted his eyes, and Judge knew bad news was coming. "Your man von Luck is dead."
"What?" Judge grew immediately suspicious. "The guy was doing fine last night. What happened between then and now?"
"One of our orderlies found him this morning," said the doctor, who gave his name as Wilfred Martindale.
"I'd ordered von Luck to get cleaned up for his excursion," added Sawyer. "The old general was lying there stiff as a board. Went in his sleep." He said it grudgingly, as if von Luck had welched on a debt.
"Was he ill?" asked Judge.
"No, no," said Martindale, approaching Judge as if he were the bereaved. "That's what surprised us. His health was improving daily. He'd gained five pounds in the last week alone. Still, considering how the body had been so weakened by malnutrition, illness, and, of course, the psychological burdens of simply trying to keep one's self alive, it's amazing Mr von Luck survived as long as he did."
They were inside the ward, walking slowly between the beds, a funeral procession clad in olive and khaki. Harrowed faces peered at them from the refuge of their iron beds. The same squadron of flies that had attacked during his last visit dove from the ceiling again, marauding Judge and his escorts. He recognized Volkmann, the poor bastard who wouldn't leave his bed to go to the bathroom, and tried to muster a smile. Volkmann nodded gravely, his hunted eyes saying he'd tolerate Judge's presence for a short while, but he'd better not push it.
Von Luck's body had not yet been removed. Covered by his bedsheet, it lay meek and rigid, leaving only the shallowest outline. Judge grasped the sheet with both hands and slowly peeled it back. Death had not robbed von Luck of his patrician bearing. Chin raised, mouth ajar, he seemed to be barking out one final order.
"What's the verdict?" Judge asked, frustration getting the better of him. "Heart attack, stroke, lumbago…"
"The death certificate will list 'natural causes'," said Dr Martindale, in a tone that made clear he did not find the remark humorous.
"_Natural causes_." Judge mulled over the diagnosis, while a suspicious voice whispered in his ear,there is no such thing as a coincidence. "Mind if I take a closer look?"
Sawyer ruffled his brow. "A closer look? At what?" he chortled. "Haven't you seen a dead Nazi before?"
Judge took that as a green light. Stepping closer to the bed, he bent at the waist and placed his nose near von Luck's mouth. He sniffed for the scent of almonds but smelled nothing. He could rule out cyanide. Probing von Luck's neck with his fingers, he checked for signs of strangulation – a crushed larynx or a damaged windpipe. Both were intact. He unbuttoned von Luck's pyjamas, examining his thorax for injuries. A professionally wielded stiletto could be inserted between the ribs to pierce a man's heart, leaving a small entry wound and almost no bleeding. But von Luck's chest was clean and so was his back.
"Was von Luck taking any medication? Penicillin, maybe?"
Martindale shook his head. "He was given a tetanus vaccine three weeks ago. He took a few aspirin each day for his headaches. Other than that he was healthy. We kept him here to eat, sleep, and regain his strength."
Judge rolled up von Luck's sleeves and checked for a pinprick or light bruising, indications that an injection had recently been administered. Ten ccs of potassium chloride could kill a man in less than a minute, leaving him looking as peaceful as if he'd died in his sleep. Both arms were pale and without blemish. He scanned the neck for similar marks. Nothing.
Sawyer cleared his throat theatrically. "If you're finished, Major, we'd like to get the corpse out of the ward as soon as possible."
But Judge wouldn't be hurried. Lowering himself to one knee, he leaned over the bed and brought his face to within inches of von Luck's. Placing a thumb on the corpse's right eye, he slid back the eyelid. The eye stared at the ceiling, its fully dilated pupil obscuring the pale blue iris. Next he studied the vitreous. Barely visible were clusters of what appeared to be minuscule starfish, but were, in fact, ruptured capillaries laying just beneath the eye's surface. Conjunctival hemorrhage was the medical term. It was a phenomenon that occurred when the body was unable to take in air and the brain was robbed of the oxygen it needed to function. Four years at homicide had provided Judge with a specialized medical education.
Slowly, he cautioned himself.
He checked the other eye and found a similar discoloration.There is no such thing as coincidence.
Standing, Judge returned his gaze to the row of beds running along both walls. As if cued, all heads were turned toward him. He noticed then that every patient had the same growth of hair, about an inch, and realized that they must have all had their heads shaved for lice at the same time. Whatever had happened in here last night, they'd seen it.
"Well, goddammit," bellowed Sawyer, sending a wad of saliva arcing through the air. "Don't stand there looking like the cat that swallowed the canary. Spit it out."
Judge remained silent for a few moments longer, asking himself if it was prudent to tell Sawyer what he'd discovered. If it might assist in the investigation. He answered "no" to both questions. "You can take von Luck away. He's no use to me now."
Sawyer patted Judge on the back and told him to cheer up. The world was a better place with one less Nazi in it. Judge smiled as required, but as the implications of his discovery sank in, he found himself gripped by a new and insidious anxiety.
Who knew that he had harbored doubts about Seyss's death and that he believed von Luck could confirm or deny them? Who knew he was coming to Dachau? It came to him that if someone believed Oliver von Luck could prove the corpse on gurney three did not belong to Erich Seyss, he might also believe that Ingrid Bach could do the same.
Judge decided he must reach Ingrid Bach as quickly as possible. Only by conscious effort could he slow the pace of his footsteps.
Upon reaching the threshold of the ward, Judge felt a weak hand tug at the hem of his jacket. Somewhat annoyed, he reined in his step. It was Volkmann and he was extending his arm toward Judge in a gesture that indicated he wished to shake his hand. Judge hesitated, then gave him his grip.
"Never trust the police," Volkmann whispered, his English nearly without accent.
Judge felt a small hard-edged object being pressed into his palm. He didn't know how to respond so he said "thank you", and wished him a speedy recovery.
"Jesus," called Sawyer from the door. "He's worse than you, Doc. Talking to everyone of these savages as if he were their best friend."
"I'll be right there," said Judge. Opening his hand, he ventured a quick glance downward and saw a small rectangular red, white and blue ribbon with a burnished star in its center- the chest decoration given to winners of the Silver Star. He looked back at Volkmann hoping for further explanation, but Volkmann had turned away, his duty fulfilled.
"Headed back to Heidelberg?" Sawyer asked, when the two had reached the Jeep parked in front of the camp headquarters.
"No, I'll be heading to…" Judge paused, finding Sawyer's gaze a shade too inquisitive. "I'll be heading back to Third Army HQ at Bad Toelz. If I get my things packed in a hurry, I can catch a six o'clock plane to Paris. This investigation is finished."
Sawyer leaned against the Jeep, tapping the vertical angle iron rising from the front bumper with the palm of his hand. "You tell old Georgia that the next time we're on the polo field I'm gonna whip his rich behind, will ya?"
"It might be wise to phrase that a little nicer, but I'll pass along the message."
Climbing into the Jeep, Judge fired off a last salute, then gunned the engine. He had no intention of returning to Bad Toelz. He was headed due south, to a glittering seashell of a castle named Sonnenbrucke in the heart of the Bavarian Alps.
General Oliver von Luck had not died of natural causes.
He had been suffocated.