A persistent rapping on the bedroom door roused him from his slumber.
"Herr Seyss, it is time to wake. You are to dress and come to the salon at once."
"Sofort," Seyss answered, his voice immediately clear. Right away.
Lifting his head from the down pillow, he squinted into the darkness and willed the room into focus. Slowly, reluctantly, it obliged: the armoire where he'd hung his clothing; the night table where a basin of water had been set for him to wash; the damask curtains drawn to block out the morning light. And with it, memories of the night before.
Free from the camp, he'd abandoned the wagon and headed into the forest. His destination was a logging road that ran along the crest of the mountain – a two-mile run uphill. His exhilaration at being free wore off after the first incline, leaving his legs trembling and his lungs afire. Hardly his nation's greatest hope. To stoke his resolve, he seized on his shame at having nearly botched the escape, but over the last half mile, that too faded. Anger carried him over the crest of the mountain, his ire at the pitiful condition he'd been left in by Janks and Vlassov and the entire Allied war machine.
He spotted the Mercedes right off, tucked in a copse of birch trees so that only its chrome snout was visible. A pair of headlamps flashed once and two men dressed in formal business attire climbed from the cabin. "Hurry, Herr Sturmbannfuhrer," one whispered. "Into the trunk. The Olympicstrasse is only clear until eleven p.m."
Nearing them, Seyss took a closer look at the car: a 1936 Mercedes touring sedan, black with spoke hubcaps, whitewall tires, and on its mesh grill, a crimson badge displaying the letter B in ornate white Gothic script – the symbol of Bach Industries: Germany's largest armaments manufacturer. He'd thought he recognized it; now he was sure. He'd ridden in this very car a hundred times before the war.
At last, he knew who had summoned him. Only one further question remained: why?
That had been six hours ago.
Seyss walked to the night table and splashed water in his face, then on his chest and neck. Drying himself, he crossed the room to open the curtains. Sunshine flooded the bedroom. He unlatched the window and a wave of hot air swept over him. It was not six in the morning, but six in the evening. He had slept eighteen hours without waking.
Three sets of clothing hung inside the armoire. He chose a pair of tan trousers and a white shirt. Putting them on, he stared at his body in the mirror. His face and forearms were colored a rich mountain brown but the rest of him was ghostly pale. The scar from the Russian's bullet had left an ugly pink weal four inches long above his waist. He could count his ribs easily. His arms, though, had kept their tone.
Once, he'd done thirty-seven pull ups to win a battalion fitness contest. He was less pleased with his posture. A late-opening parachute had compressed three vertebrae in his spine and left him slightly askew, tilted an inch or so to the left. His hair had turned nearly white in the mountain sun but his face was too slim, shadowed by the haunted scowl he'd seen on so many other soldiers and sworn never to adopt himself. Once women had found him handsome. They'd told him he had a kind mouth and soulful eyes. Moving closer to the mirror, he struggled to find a hint of the compassion they'd seen. He couldn't.
After buttoning his shirt, he grabbed a loden blazer and gave himself a final looking over. His shock was immediate and overwhelming. Staring back at him was a civilian. A man who would never again don his country's uniform. A man who had lost the war. Cheeks scrubbed, hair combed, clothes just so, he looked more like a country squire than an escapee from an American prison camp. The thought came to him that he was betraying the comrades he'd left eighty miles away in a barbed-wire pen. He dismissed it. Any man who'd suffered even a little of war knew never to question his luck. Good fortune was like a weekend pass: never too soon coming and always too soon gone. Besides, Seyss didn't imagine he'd be taking a vacation anytime soon.
The drawing room of the Villa Ludwig hadn't changed since the war began. Louis XV sofas upholstered in burgundy chintz crowded every wall. The Bosendorfer grand, ever polished as if for that evening's performance, shared its corner with an immortal Phoenician palm. And sagging from the walls hung the same succession of dreary landscapes by Caspar Friedrich. A mausoleum for the living, observed Seyss, as he entered the marble-floored chamber.
"Erich, so wonderful to see you," declared Egon Bach, rising from a wing-backed chair. "Sleep the great healer? You're looking fit, all things considered."
Every large family has its runt and Egon Bach, youngest of the seven Bach children, claimed the title. He was very short and very thin and his cropped brown hair, cut a full inch above the ear, spoke volumes about his love of all things fascist. It was his vision, however, that had kept him from active service. His tortoiseshell spectacles carried lenses so thick his obsidian eyes stared at you from the end of a drunken corridor. But Seyss had never heard him complain about his physical shortcomings. Instead, Egon had joined the family business and used his position as sole heir in the executive suite to bring him the glory a battlefield never would. Whatever enmity he'd felt at being left out of the match he'd channeled into his work. Last Seyss heard, he'd been appointed to the firm's executive board, the youngest member by thirty years.
"Hello, Egon. I apologize for keeping your father waiting."
"Don't apologize to Father," he said sprightly. "Apologize to me."
"You?" Seyss shook the smaller man's hand, finding the grip cool and clammy. "You called me down here?"
A self-satisfied smile. "I've been running the firm for a year now."
Seyss had difficulty imagining the diminutive man, two years his junior, running the behemoth that was Bach Industries. A little like Goebbels governing the Reich. "I hadn't heard your father had retired."
"He hasn't – at least not officially. The Americans have him under house arrest. The past year he's suffered a series of strokes that have left him soft. He'll be dead before fall."
Don't smile, Egon, or I'll cuff you, thought Seyss. "And how is it that you escaped the Allies' interest? They're a thorough bunch."
"Thorough, but pragmatic," answered Egon, sensing his anger, taking a wise step to the rear. "We've come to an arrangement. I've been declared necessary to the rebuilding of Germany."
"Have you? Bravo." Seyss raised an eyebrow, but decided not to delve any further into the subject. The Bachs had always managed some type of arrangement with whoever was in power. Monarchs, republicans, fascists. It came as no surprise that Egon had worked out something with the Americans. Approaching the window, Seyss peeked from the lace curtains. Fifty meters away, two American soldiers stood guard at the entry to Villa Ludwig's driveway. "Where were they when I arrived last night?"
"On duty, of course. Otherwise, I would have met you myself."
An arrangement, indeed. Enough to clear the Olympicstrasse of military police for an hour but not to rid himself of a permanent guard. Things were more complicated than Bach had let on. " And your family? How did your brothers make out?"
Egon removed his glasses and as he polished them with his tie, his defenseless eyes crossed. "Fritz was killed at Monte Cassino a year ago. Heinz was in your area, the Dnieper Bend in the Ukraine. Apparently his tank took a direct hit. It was one of ours: a Panzer IV from our Essenmetalwerke. A shame." The creep sounded more concerned about the failure of the equipment than the death of his brother. "You knew about Karl. Seven kills before he went down over the Channel."
"I'd heard, yes." The Bachs might be an arrogant bunch, but they were brave. Three of four sons lost. The Fuhrer could ask no more of any family. "My condolences."
Replacing his glasses, Egon retrieved two beers from the cherrywood side bar. "To fallen comrades."
"May their memories never be forgotten."
The Hacker-Pschorr was warm, but still Seyss's favorite, and its bitter aftertaste resuscitated memories of his time with the Bach family. In this room, he's listened to Hans Frizsche, the voice of the German DNB, announce the Anschluss with Austria, and a year later the annexation of the Sudentenland. In this room, he'd received the orders canceling his leave in August of 1939. In this room, he'd lowered himself to one knee and asked the only woman he'd ever loved to marry him. For a moment, he allowed himself to drift with the tide of his bittersweet memories. Before he could stop himself, he asked, "And Ingrid?"
"At Sonnenbrucke taking care of father." The Bachs owned homes in every corner of Germany. Each had a name. Sonnenbrucke was their palatial hunting lodge in the Hiemgauer Alps. "She always wanted to be a doctor," added Egon. "Now's her chance."
"And Wilimovsky?" Egon shook his head brusquely. "Shot down in the east a year ago. Pity for a girl to be widowed so young, though it's the boy I'm worried about. Just six." Suddenly, he froze, his voice ratcheting up a notch. "Not interested are you?"Or have you been all along?
Seyss met Egon's salacious gaze, but his thoughts were with Ingrid and the time was a crisp fall day in 1938. They had been seeing each other for a year and he had arrived that morning to spend his weekend pass at Villa Ludwig before continuing on to an infantry training course at Brunswick. Against her father's will, she had decided to study medicine. With the Jews forbidden to practice, there was a growing shortage of doctors and she was anxious to break from her family. Even now, he could see her as she fell onto the couch in that exaggerated fashion which infuriated her father, a perfectly assembled mess of platinum hair and ruby red lipstick.
"I've decided to get a flat of my own," she had said, after they'd had a cup of tea.
"What for?" he asked. "You have plenty of room here. Besides, your father won't permit it."
"I want us to be alone. You could come see me anytime you like. I'm sick of Fritz or Hilda barging in. Egon watches us through the keyhole."
"Don't be silly. You're just eighteen." He, being twenty-one, and the embodiment of wisdom.
"Almost nineteen," she replied coquettishly, tracing the looping silver script embroidered on his left forearm. LAH:Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler. "An officer assigned to the Fuhrer's bodyguard shouldn't have to ask my father every time he wants to see me."
Erich considered the dilemma. He didn't like to admit that he was a stickler for rules and regulations. Earlier in the day, they'd argued about her make-up and clothing.
Adhering to the party line, he had found himself saying that too much lipstick was un-German and that pants demeaned her femininity. He'd even declared that an SS man couldn't be seen with a "trouser woman". At that, Ingrid had broken out laughing, and after a moment, he had joined her. He knew what he had said was ridiculous, but an uncontrollable part of his nature compelled him to defend the party's philosophy. He was, above all, a good National Socialist. Truth be told, he adored her tight blouses and soft curls. The idea of spending the night alone with Ingrid Bach was overpowering.
"I think the museum quarter would be the best place to start looking, don't you?" Ingrid screamed with delight and pulled him close.
Guiding his hand to her breast, she kissed him in a very un-German fashion.
"I said, you're not still interested?" Egon repeated.
"Of course not," snapped Seyss, his attention again riveted to the here and now. He felt angry with himself for allowing his emotions free reign. Tucking in his jaw, he adopted the dry tone taught all SS officers. Sachlichkeit, it was called. The ability to view one's circumstances with rigid objectivity. "Please pass along my regards to her and the boy."
"I'll be sure to," laughed Egon, rudely. "Though I'm not certain she'll be too pleased. She never quite recovered, you know."
"It was a different time," said Seyss, answering his own accusations as well as his host's. "One had obligations."
"As a party member, I understand. As Ingrid's brother, I take a different view. You hurt her badly." Seyss finished his beer and set down the empty glass. Five minutes listening to Egon's nasal bray and he remembered how much he hated the impudent bastard. He was sick of the small talk. He'd risked his life to be here and killed two men in the process. It was time to get down to business.
"How did you find me, anyway?"
"It was easy once I realized you'd be on the Allies' list of war criminals. Still, I'd have thought you'd have learned to follow orders in your time. It was a foolish thing, killing the camp commander. He was with us, you know."
"It was necessary."
"It was rash. One more Nazi on the run means nothing to the Americans. But you had to murder an officer. Damn it, man, what were you thinking?"
Seyss tightened the muscles in his neck as his temper flared. What could Egon Bach know about the need to avenge your comrades? To cleanse your soul with the blood of your enemy? About the beauty of looking into a man's eyes as he died by your hand? The smaller man's anger fired his impatience to learn the reason why he'd been told to come to Munich. But he'd be damned if he asked.
To temper his restlessness, he clasped his hands behind his back and made a slow circuit around the room. His eyes fell to a patch of wall where a replica of Alfred Bach's golden party badge, the highest honor the Nazi party bestowed upon civilians, used to hang. In its place was a photograph of Alfred Bach with Edward YIII, the English monarch who had given up his throne to marry an American divorcee. Shocked, he took a closer look at the other pictures hanging nearby. The color photo of Adolf Hitler thanking Alfred Bach for the handmade armchair he'd been given for his fiftieth birthday had been replaced by one of the elder Bach in the company of Charles Lindbergh, the famed American flyer. Another showed Alfred Bach shaking hands with Winston Churchill, circa 1912.
"It's not wise to wear your allegiance on your sleeve," chimed Egon from across the room. "These days, it's difficult to meet anyone who voluntarily joined the party, let alone someone who actually voted our Fuhrer into power. We're a nation of amnesiacs. National Socialism is dead, Erich."
But Seyss wasn't interested in an apology for Bach's cosmetic renunciation of the party. "And Germany?"
"The Fatherland will never die. You and I won't allow it. What did Herder say about our country'sgeist – its spirit?"
"'It shall flourish so long as a single German lives,'" quoted Seyss from an ancient textbook.
"Exactly. Hurry up, then. We have a quarter of an hour until our guests arrive. I imagine you're starving." As Seyss followed Egon Bach into the hallway, he paused for a last look at the drawing room. A spray of chrysanthemums decorated a nook previously reserved for a National Socialist banner. The bronze bust of Hitler cast by Fritz Todt had been replaced by a replica of Michelangelo's David. And, of course, there was the matter of the photographs.
The room had changed.
It was Erich Seyss who hadn't.