The American Military Hospital stood on a broad hilltop at the southern edge of Heidelberg. Formerly known as theUniversitatspital, the building was squat and rectangular, a beige three storey brick plopped down in the midst of a verdant forest. As dusk surrendered to night, the sky blushed a faint azure. Few lights burned in the windows. A shortfall of coal was forecast for the coming winter. Even hospitals had been ordered to cut their use of electricity.
Judge brought the Jeep to a halt under theporte cochere extending from the hospital's main entrance. A steady stream of nurses, doctors, soldiers, and visitors trickled in and out of the door. He checked over his shoulder for the tail car that had never materialized, then scanned the parking lot to the far side of the building. A dozen army vehicles were scattered haphazardly across the wide space, suggesting they'd arrived at different hours during the day. Thus comforted, he climbed from the Jeep.
"We'll make this quick," he said, offering Ingrid his hand to help her from the Jeep.
Inside he presented himself to the information desk and asked if Colonel Stanley Mullins was anywhere in the hospital. The reply came that Mullins had returned to the Provost Marshal's office in Bad Toelz. Judge was relieved at the news. He didn't relish confronting his former precinct commander with his suspicions of impropriety. Who had arranged for Judge to pick up von Luck? Mullins would ask. Who had seen to it that his transfer to the Third Army was extended by twenty-four hours? Who was it that just last night spent an hour teaching his former charge the rudiments of driving an automobile? Judge could hear the insulted voice, decrying his complicity. "Are you completely daft, lad? D'ya think I'd lift you up with one hand, only to knock you down with the other?"
And in truth, Judge was disposed to believe him. With every passing hour, the Silver Star assumed a greater role in his deliberations. Not only was the award uncommon, but most of the men who'd received it had already shipped out of Europe. Decorated combat vets had first dibs on spots back to the USA. The fact was Darren Honey was one of the few soldiers so decorated still in Germany. In court, Judge would present the ribbon as irrefutable evidence.
After stating his business, he was told to wait until an orderly arrived to show him to the morgue. He'd barely taken a seat next to Ingrid Bach when a thin young man dressed in a white lab coat limped out of the elevator and waved at them as if they were long lost buddies. "Good evening, sir," he announced in passable English. "I am Dieter. Please come with."
Dieter was nineteen with shaggy brown hair and a survivor's all-weather smile. The Americans had taken his leg at Omaha Beach, he explained, and given him a new one in Frankfurt, just three weeks ago. No hard feelings, okay? Even Ingrid Bach smiled at his unsinkable good cheer.
"You want to see what body?" he asked, as the three descended in a cramped elevator.
"Seyss," said Judge, speaking German. "He was brought in Sunday morning with the Americans who were killed in Wiesbaden."
Dieter grimaced. "Bad business, eh? Like the war all over again." He showed Ingrid and Judge into the same tiled viewing room where yesterday nine gurneys had been lined against the wall. "Wait here. I'll be right back."
The room was empty, except for some metal tables placed in each corner and the large operating light that hung from the ceiling. One sniff made Judge's sinuses burn. He'd forgotten how overpowering the odor was. Placing a hand under Ingrid's elbow, he said, "It will be very quick. All I need is a nod, yes."Or no, he thought.
"I understand," she said.
Dieter returned five minutes later, a confused look on his face. "Seyss was here, sure. But it says he was sent for cremation today."
"Today?" Judge robbed Dieter's hands of a sheaf of papers. The top page held an order transferring body 9358 Sturmbannfuhrer Erich Seyss to the crematorium. The order was signed Colonel Joseph Gregorio, Chief of Hospital Administration, and countersigned by General Hadley Everett. "Has the body already been disposed of?"
Dieter snatched the papers back from Judge. Smiling, he peeled off the top sheet and read from the page below it. "Pursuant to order no.691 issued by the United States Army of Occupation, Military Government of Bad Wurtemberg, Mandatory Conservation of Coal, effective 15 July 1945, all non-urgent uses of coal are to be hereby discontinued." He thumbed to the next page, taking up mid-sentence, "Therefore all bodies sent for cremation shall be transferred to section D, graves registration, for immediate burial."
Judge was growing impatient. "Do you still have the body?" he demanded.
Dieter shrunk an inch. "Sure, just in a different place. I only came to tell you it would be a while." He shot a glance at Ingrid. "Americans – always in such a hurry."
He returned five minutes later, his entrance presaged by a stubborn caster in need of oil. Having rolled the gurney to the center of the room, he took hold of the white sheet with both hands. "Tell me when you are ready."
Judge stepped forward, stopping a foot from the gurney. Ingrid Bach took her place at his shoulder. She clutched his hand, and said yes. Dieter removed the sheet. In preparation of cremation, the body had been stripped of clothing. It lay naked, its skin a translucent blue. The wound to the head was crusted and black, a malignant crater.
"It's not him," said Ingrid Bach, after hardly a second had passed.
Judge stammered, "How could you-"
"It's not him, damn it! Put back the bloody sheet!"
Dieter hastened to comply.
"But you didn't even look at his face," Judge protested when they'd left the morgue.
She spun to face him, addressing him her most venomous glare. "I didn't have to, Major. He was my lover. Don't you think I'd know?"
And turning, she rushed down the hall.
Dusk had turned to evening when they returned to the Jeep. The air had grown cool. Judge grabbed his travel bag from the back seat and took out a khaki windbreaker bare of rank or insignia. Ingrid slipped a white cardigan from her bag and placed it over her shoulders. One glance told him it was cashmere. If she needed money so badly, the first thing she should do was sell her wardrobe.
Settling into the driver's seat, he turned on the ignition. For once, the engine fired smoothly, starting on the first try. Illuminating the headlights, he slid the gearshift into first and guided the Jeep off the hospital grounds. He shifted to second. Usually it was a tricky affair, but this time the gearshift advanced easily, like a hot knife through butter. He was finally getting the hang of it.
"I suppose you're disappointed?" Ingrid asked, as they pulled out of the parking lot. She had folded her arms across her stomach and he could see she was shivering slightly. The body had shaken her more than she wanted him to know.
"On the contrary. I never believed it was Seyss to begin with."
He shook his head, offering an apologetic smile. "I can't tell you anything more. I can only say that you've been a tremendous help."
"I suppose I should be grateful," she replied, her tone caustic and insincere. "Finally, a chance to help the victors. Or would 'collaborate' be the more appropriate term?"
Judge ignored her sarcasm, granting her the right to be upset. "It's more important than you think."
"Is it now? To what? The army or your career?" Not expecting an answer – or Judge suspected, not wanting one she plied on. "That was a dirty trick to play. I'm still trying to figure out your reasoning. Help me, would you? Did you think if I knew you had doubts it was Erich, I'd try to convince you otherwise?"
"I just wanted to gauge your reaction. That's all."
"You thought I might lie to protect him. Just like at that squalid little roadhouse the other night, quietly asking me more questions about Erich, as if we were sharing confidences. You were trying to catch me out on something. After all, I'm a Bach. I can't be trusted. No, no, don't say anything, Major. I remember the look of disgust on your face I when you met my father."
"I had to be sure," he retorted. "I didn't have any other choice."
Ingrid looked away, laughing dryly. "Another one just following orders."
"That's enough!" Judge slammed the base of his palm against the steering wheel, causing Ingrid to jump in her seat. He let go an exasperated sigh, feeling his neck flush hot, even as he was robbed of further words. It was impossible to pick the truth from the residue of her anger. Not knowing where to begin, he concentrated on the road and kept quiet.
Approaching a sharp turn, he downshifted the vehicle into second, cowing his desire to keep a foot on the brake just in case. His growing confidence behind the wheel, however, did little to allay the pool of anxiety welling in his stomach. Anyone keeping tabs on his movements would by now have learned that he had visited Dachau, and upon being apprised of von Luck's death, proclaimed his intention to return to HQ Military Government Bavaria. How long would it take until they grew worried about his failure to show up at Bad Toelz? This evening? Tomorrow? Or had they already? Once they made the discovery, he had little doubt their first call would be to the guard detachment at Sonnenbrucke to inquire if one Major Devlin Judge had come to visit Ingrid Bach.
The implications of Ingrid's confirmation that the body did not belong to Seyss were only now beginning to take root. So far, only one thing was clear: until his superior officers could be made to believe that Seyss was still on the loose and take proper action, Ingrid Bach's life was in danger.
Rounding a curve, Judge braked hard, confronted by a string of flares sizzling in the center of the road. At their head, a Jeep was parked horizontally across the road. A lone soldier waved a flashlight, signaling for him to stop.
"Excuse me, sir, but we've got a bad accident down the hill a ways. Had to close the road until we get it cleared up." The soldier shone the flashlight down an asphalt lane veering from the main street. "If you'll follow that route, you'll come into town at Wilhelmplatz. Take you an extra five minutes."
Judge stared at the sparkling flares, the short-lived arc of the red and gold embers setting off an internal alarm. "What happened?"
"A six by six flipped onto its side and collided with an ambulance coming up the hill. The driver said he was trying to dodge some DPs coming out of the forest. This part of the country's crawling with 'em."
"Was anyone hurt?" Ingrid asked, concern etched on her face.
"I'm not sure, ma'am. Let's hope nothing more than a few bruises and some jangled nerves."
Judge returned the man's salute. "Thanks for the information."
"No problem, Major. Have a good night."
Judge eyed the soldier warily, but the GI was already walking past him, giving the same news to the nurses in the Jeep behind them. A moment later, the four women pulled up to Judge's bumper. The two in the back were throwing sweaters over their white uniforms, madly freeing bobby pins from their hair; the gal driving, rushing to apply a fresh coat of lipstick. Four girls headed out for a night on the town. None looked over twenty.
Hearing their infectious giggles, Judge dismissed his worry and accelerated down the hill. The road curved gradually to the right then descended steeply into a ravine. The forest encroached on the road, forming a canopy over their heads that blocked out the night sky. He glanced to his I right, catching only Ingrid Bach's mute profile and the evanescent sheen of her platinum hair.
"Okay, I apologize for not sharing my doubts with you. What do you expect? I'm a lawyer. I'm trained not to trust people."
"Especially the family of war criminals, right?"
Now it was Judge's turn to get angry. "Look, you wanted an apology, you got it. I can't change whose blood runs in your veins. Or that you almost married the guy I'm looking for. If you're curious whether it makes me a little uncertain, you're right, it does. You're a smart woman. How wouldyou react?"
To her credit, Ingrid pondered the question, vitriol replaced by deliberation. Tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, she said, 'Tm quite aware what you think of us. I've read the counts against my father. I've seen some of the testimony against him. You can't know what it is like to learn that the man you've adored and admired your entire life is some kind of monster. Frankly, I still can't quite comprehend it."
"You didn't know what went on in his factories? No idea at all?"
Ingrid shook her head slowly and he could see she was still answering her own charges. "I'm afraid armor plate and proximity fuses aren't a particular interest of mine. I've hardly been out of the mountains for the past three years. But to answer your question, Major, no I wouldn't have told you either. That doesn't make your actions right, though. If I sound at all contrite, it's because I wasn't completely honest with you earlier when you asked if I'd had any contact with Erich." She shrugged and did a fair imitation of his flat midtown drawl. "What do you expect? I'm a German. I'm trained not to trust Americans."
Judge laughed and the tension between them was broken. He was careful not to push her to talk. If she had something to say, he'd give her own good time to say it.
"The day we met you told me Erich had escaped from a camp for war criminals. What had he done?"
Judge looked her up and down, admiring her willingness to stare truth in the face. "For one, he ordered the murder of a hundred unarmed American soldiers. They were prisoners. They'd given up their weapons. He herded them into a field and ordered his machine gunners to open up on them. When they were done, he walked the field himself. Anyone he found alive, he finished with his pistol. 17 December 1944. Malmedy, Belgium."
Ingrid's face remained passive, her sole conceit to the news a sudden twitching of the eyes that vanished as quickly as it had come. "So, then, it's not because he killed an American officer in escaping that you want him so badly?"
"No," said Judge, adding silently,it's for a lot more than that.
Ingrid bowed her head and it sounded as if she were laughing at herself. Judge wondered how it must feel to learn that those closest to you, the men you'd hugged and missed – and in Seyss's case – made love to, were devoid of conscience, that their every positive quality was stained by a hideous darkness.
"What will happen now?"
"Nothing's changed," he said, though, of course, everything had. "We'll keep looking until we find him."
Suddenly, Ingrid looked up, her eyes once again inquiring, full of fight. "And there's no chance you might be mistaken?"
"I'm afraid not."
Ingrid sighed. "No, I suppose not." She composed herself for a moment, gathering in her knees and sitting straighter in her seat. When she talked, it was in a casual, unhurried manner. They might have been discussing a long lost mutual friend. "I kept track of Erich for a couple of years through Egon. The two had some dealings with each other during the early part of the war, and every now and then I'd hear a word about him. Erich was Himmler's adjutant, helping the larger industrialkonzerns procure foreign contract labor."
"You mean slave labor."
"Yes. Slave labor." The words were barely a whisper and she swallowed hard after saying them. "Erich worked with the Military Production Board, parceling out workers to the plants deemed most vital. I never really thought about what he was doing. It sounded so official, so routine. He was just a soldier carrying out his government's instructions. Now I realize he was sending men and women from the camps in the east to our factories."
"Yes, he was."
"Earlier today when you asked if Erich and Egon had something in common, there was something I forgot to tell you. Actually, I only thought of it later, but by then I'd decided I didn't like you, and you could go to hell. They were both SS men, our Egon and Erich."
"But I thought Egon wasn't a soldier."
"He wasn't, but he was a member of the Allgemeine SS. They were businessmen and politicians, bureaucrats, too, close to Himmler, all very much involved in its various campaigns."
The Allgemeine SS. Judge shivered. Von Luck had mentioned the organization himself.Kameraden.
"He never came and visited me, though," Ingrid went on. "I wasn't lying when I told you I hadn't seen him for six years. The last I heard, Egon said he'd been transferred to the East. That was in 1943, right after Stalingrad."
Judge kept his eyes focused on the road, while his mind bore in on Seyss. Where had he gone after escaping from the armory? Had he been injured? Might he have given up his plan to go to Berlin? Finding no answers, Judge hashed out his own quandary, figuring how to proceed if he wanted to catch Seyss.
He considered contacting Mullins, but discounted the idea. It wasn't Mullins he couldn't trust, but the men around him, the countless staff officers who implemented his orders and had access to the information that crossed his desk. He'd have to go higher. He considered approaching Hadley Everett, Patton's dapper G-2, head of intelligence for the Third Army, and, in principle, Sergeant Darren Honey's commanding officer. He saw Everett's signature ordering Seyss's body to be cremated and decided against speaking to him. There was only one man whose military record placed him beyond reproach.
He would go to "Blood and Guts" himself.
In the passenger seat, Ingrid Bach was working to light a cigarette. Cupping the lighter in her hand, she flicked the flywheel, again and again. She wasn't having such an easy go of it this time. Catching his gaze, she said, "Too windy."
Judge wondered how it could be windier driving twenty-five miles an hour on a country road than sixty miles an hour on the autobahn. Instinctively, he extended a hand to check for the windscreen, but it was down. Someone had lowered it while they were inside the hospital. Having driven all day in the open air, wind buffeting him from right and left, he hadn't noticed the soft breeze tickling his face.
The discovery that someone had tampered with his vehicle rekindled the suspicious buzz that had soured his gut since leaving Dachau this morning. Darting a glance over his shoulder, he spotted the Jeep full of nurses rounding a bend. Everything okay back there. But why wasn't there any traffic approaching from the opposite direction? He should have checked the accident itself. And if traffic was officially diverted, why hadn't an MP been directing traffic instead of a regular GI? Something else struck Judge as odd; something the soldier had said:No problem, Major. Have a good night. Judge's rank insignia were covered by his windbreaker. There were no oak leaves pinned to the epaulets of his jacket. How could the man have known he was a major?
Judge leaned forward in his seat, squinting his eyes to make out the contours of the road beyond the headlight's wash. The route had narrowed considerably. The canopy of leaves and branches hovered close above their heads, an impenetrable dark mass. He felt like Ichabod Crane galloping pell mell down Sleepy Hollow. The nose of the Jeep disappeared as the vehicle sped down a rolling dip. Judge's stomach rose to his gullet. Ingrid let loose a yelp of surprise. The road flattened and in the instant before the Jeep passed between two massive oaks, he saw it. A sparkle of silver at eye level. The word "werewolf" bulleted through his mind. At the same instant he saw that no angle iron rose from the bumper, and it came to him that this was not his Jeep. He grabbed Ingrid's head and shoved it into his lap, then fell on top of her. The whisper of razor sharp metal stung his ear. The Jeep veered right, its tires digging into the shingly verge. Forcing himself upright, he grasped the wheel and returned the Jeep to the center of the road.
The Jeep behind him. The nurses!
Judge pressed both of his feet onto the brake and rammed his fist onto the horn.
"What is it?" Ingrid shouted, hands clutching the dashboard.
But Judge had no time to answer. Even before the Jeep skidded to a halt, he jumped from his seat and ran back along the road, thrashing his arms in the air, yelling for the nurses to stop. Down came the Jeep, barreling over the dip, its headlights bobbing then diving as the road steepened. Over the engine's whine, he could hear the nurses yelp with surprise, their young voices a giddy mixture of fear and excitement.
"Get down," he yelled, knowing they could not hear him, sensing the Jeep accelerate even as it should be slowing. He prayed that an angle iron was welded to their front bumper, but usually only those vehicles used by military personnel carried such protection. The beams hit him in the eye and he heard the engine rev.
Then he heard a stifled cry, two heavy thuds, and the jeep careered dangerously left, crashing head-on into the intractable trunk of a hundred year-old oak.
He walked now, his step sobered by what he knew he would discover. Ingrid Bach arrived at his side, breathing heavily, eyes wide with fright. Two of the nurses had been expelled from the Jeep and lay in the road, their bodies twisted unnaturally. The wire had hit both below the eyes, snapping their necks even as it slashed through their noses deep into the skull and lifted them forcibly out of the Jeep. Judge guessed they had been sitting in the back seat. The two in the front had suffered a quicker death. Both were slumped against the dashboard, headless, blood pumping from their necks like water from a hydrant.
Ingrid fell to a knee, her scream dying stillborn in her throat, then buried her face in the lee of her arm.
Judge tore his eyes from the grotesque panorama, helping Ingrid to her feet and rushing her to the Jeep. Whoever had strung the wire might well be waiting nearby to insure their job was carried to fruition. He implored Ingrid to hurry, but she was half frozen with shock. With every step, he expected to hear the whiplash crack of a bullet fired in their direction.
"What is it?" Ingrid asked him, when they were back in the Jeep. "What's going on?"
But Judge was not ready to give an answer. Either to himself or Ingrid Bach.
Slamming the gearshift into first, he stepped on the accelerator and drove the Jeep up the hill.