"I need to speak with General Patton now!" Judge said for the second time, his frustration bound and balled into a tight fist. "It cannot wait. I repeat, it's a matter of grave importance."
It was eleven o' clock at night and he was standing inside the headquarters of the 705thField Artillery battalion in what used to be the Rathaus, or city hall, of Griesheim, a quaint hamlet twenty miles south of Frankfurt. Three hours he'd been driving, anxious to put as much distance as possible between himself and his "last known whereabouts." Satisfied that he and Ingrid were for the time being safe, he'd stopped at the first spot where he could contact the one man who might put an end to this nightmarish situation.
"Major, I don't doubt you for a minute," came the reply. "But the general is in Berlin visiting Ike and the President. All communications to him are routed through Third Army HQ. Anything you want him to hear, you'll have to tell me. I'll pass along the news first thing in the morning."
Judge held the phone away from his ear, biting his lower lip to keep from shouting. It hurt trying to be polite. "Excuse me, but may I ask with whom I'm speaking?"
"Colonel Paul Harkins," came the gruff voice, the emphasis very definitely on colonel.
"Excuse me, Colonel, I should have told you that this is a matter pertaining to the ongoing search for Erich Seyss. General Patton asked me to contact him no matter what the time if I had any news. Once he hears what I have to tell him, I am certain he will applaud your initiative in allowing me to give him the news personally."
Harkins's laugh felt like a slap in the face. "Nice try, Major. Listen, if it's about that brouhaha in Wiesbaden a couple nights back, let me put you through to General Everett's staff. That's his bailiwick. What's the big deal, anyway? I thought Seyss was dead."
Suddenly, Judge found his patience had abandoned him and his powers of persuasion, as well. "Imust speak to Patton."
A tired sigh smothered the line. "Okay, Major, that's it for tonight. You're wearing me out."
"You're wearing me out, too, mac!"
Judge hung up before Harkins could have the satisfaction. For a second he stood still, staring at the dead receiver as if it were the mitt that had dropped the game winning ball. A pimply clerk sat at a table marked "reception", a few feet away. At every mention of Patton's name, he'd twitched as if given a couple of hundred volts. Now, he was staring at Judge with wide eyes, as if Judge were the general himself. So much for keeping a low profile.
"Everything all right, Private?"
"Yes sir," replied the clerk, buttoning up his jaw. "Everything's fine."
"Carry on, then."Jesus, thought Judge.I sound like a goddamn soldier.
Fatigue slumping his shoulders, he walked from the foyer. It was still too soon for a widespread search to have been initiated on any kind of official basis. But his presence had been noted and come tomorrow, should someone ask – as he knew someone would – it would be reported.
He'd spent most of the drive explaining the happenings of the past week to Ingrid – Seyss's escape from Camp 8, the blown arrest at Lindenstrasse, meeting von Luck, Bauer, the debacle at the armory. Everything. Yet, even as he'd recounted the events, he'd sifted through them, scrutinizing each carefully before positioning them like pieces of jigsaw puzzle.
It was clear that members of the American military were intent on concealing evidence that Erich Seyss had not been killed at the armory in Wiesbaden, (hence, that he was very much alive). Someone had suffocated Oliver von Luck. If he were to believe the unfortunate Herr Volkmann, someone who had been awarded the Silver Star. Someone had tried to kill Ingrid and himself, and was clever enough to disguise the murder as the work of the German partisans known as "werewolves". Working his way backwards, Judge could therefore assume that this same group – this clique – had purposely kicked on the klieg lights in an effort to aid Seyss's escape. No doubt the flashlights blinking out morse code belonged to them, too.
And, if Judge had retained any of his skills as a detective, he could take Bauer's confession to indicate that Seyss was not going to Babelsberg, but to Potsdam, and that his trip had nothing to do with rescuing Egon Bach's mislaid engineering drawings.
But here, he came to a halt. He had marshaled his evidence. He had presented his facts in a logical manner. He could envisage the crime itself. Yet the most crucial component of any prosecution was missing: motive.
Why were members of the American military assisting a fugitive SS officer and the scion of Germany's most powerful industrial family carry out a heinous scheme whose fruition would ensure only personal heartbreak, national mourning and political instability?
Outside, the night air was warm and humid, smelling of honeysuckle and cut grass. A cluster of clouds scudded past a swollen moon while a transport buzzed overhead. The Jeep was parked in the forecourt of the Rathaus. Ingrid sat in the passenger seat smoking, her hair mussed like a bramble by the steady wind.
"No one talks to Patton except his aide-de-camp," said Judge, his heels crunching in the gravel drive.
"Call someone else," she ordered. "Bradley, he's one of your heroes, isn't he? Why not try Eisenhower, himself?"
"There is no one else. At least, no one I know."
"Find someone!" Ingrid looked away, as if wanting no more uttered on the subject.
"Didn't you hear me?" he fired back. "I don't know anyone else. I'm an attorney, not a soldier. I'm supposed to be in Luxembourg questioning Hermann Goering, not rushing across the German countryside with my tail between my legs."
"Well go, then," said Ingrid, waving him off with a brush of her hand. "Go to the great Herr Reichsmarschall. And be sure to tell him that Papa's standing invitation to visit us at Sonnenbrucke is canceled. I'll be fine on my own."
"No, you won't," said Judge, rushing to the Jeep. "You will not be fine on your own. Close your eyes and look at those nurses. That was supposed to be us."
Ingrid stared into his eyes, her features frozen into a mask of fear and hate and resentment. In her gaze, Judge saw his own fear, his own hate, his own resentment, not only of the mounting desperation of their plight, but of her, of Ingrid Bach, blonde doyenne of Berlin and New York, frequenter of the Sherry Netherland Hotel – "the Sherry, darling", platinum princess born to a world which he'd always disdained. How dare she address him like he was one of her servants! What would she ask for next? Her mink stole and lace gloves? Judge shuddered with frustration, but said nothing. He recognized the enmity she'd aroused for what it was: the flip side of his growing attraction to her. Guilty desire's ugly twin.
Judge stalked up the drive, the shifting gravel denying his anger a sufficiently dramatic exit. No one talks to Patton except his aide-de-camp, he'd told Ingrid. What about Patton's wife? What about when gracious Miss Bea gave Georgie a jingle? Did he tell her to get lost, too? Judge frowned. Crusty old bastard probably did, if the scuttlebutt going around Bad Toelz had anything to it. Word was Patton had himself a little number on the side, some distant family relation thirty years his junior he'd been screwing since he was stationed in Hawaii in the thirties. Her name was Jean Gordon, and apparently, just last May, he'd spent a few days closeted with her in London. VE Day, indeed! Judge bet the randy old goat wouldn't let a call from her slip by.
"Come here," he called to Ingrid. "I need your help."
"Come here!" He offered a hand to help her from the Jeep. "You want to talk to Patton?"
"Me?" She eyed his hand, not moving a muscle. "Do I look like his aide-de-camp?"
"For your sake, I hope not, but do as I say and you might get to say a few words to the great man himself."
Ingrid might have been glued to the seat. "I have no interest in speaking to Patton, Eisenhower, Truman or any other American for that matter."
Judge supposed he should be flattered to be included in such august company. "I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. Get over here, now!"
Ingrid shot him a dark glance, but responded to the edge of his voice. Lifting her slender legs, she jumped from the Jeep. Judge explained his plan as he escorted her inside battalion headquarters. Ordering the adolescent clerk to get him an open line, he dialed the number for Flint Kaserne. When the operator answered, he asked to be put through to Patton's staff.
"Office of the Military Governor."
Recognizing Harkins's sandpaper baritone, he thrust the phone at Ingrid. "Go on," he whispered.
"Hello?" she said tentatively. Her English accent had crossed the Atlantic, docking at Oyster Bay. "I'd like to speak with General Patton."
"I'm sorry, ma'am. I'm afraid he's not in right now."
"Yes, yes, I know. He's in Berlin. I wouldn't dare bother him, but it's quite important that we speak. My name is Jean Gordon. Perhaps the general has mentioned me?" Ingrid shot Judge a frightened glance. He smiled tightly and gave her a thumbs up.
"Yes, Miss Gordon. Colonel Paul Harkins here. How are you tonight?"
"I'd be better Colonel, if I could talk to George…" Ingrid paused, before correcting herself, "I mean General Patton. I'm in a bit of a state, actually."
Harkins responded with requisite aplomb. "I'm terribly sorry, Miss Gordon, but the general left me express orders that he's not to be disturbed. He's dining with President Truman and General Eisenhower this evening. That's quite an event, even for him."
"I'm sure it is, Colonel Harkins, but…" Ingrid sighed, adding a note of desperation to her voice, "not as big as the news I have for him."
"Oh?" Harkins's voice dropped a notch.
"News about a delivery we're both expecting. Something due seven months from now." Judge cringed as Ingrid delivered the coup de grace. "February twenty-second to be exact."
To his credit, Harkins answered in a flash, surprise nowhere in his amiable tone. "Well, Miss Gordon, in that case I'm sure the general wouldn't mind if I passed you along to him. He's at the Bristol Hotel on the Kurfurstendam. The Kaiser's suite." Harkins rattled off a number and a second later Ingrid said "good night" and hung up the phone.
"Well?" she asked, her cocksure grin answering her own question.
Judge wasn't sure whether to be elated or aghast. All he knew was that by noon tomorrow every Tom, Dick and Harry at Flint Kaserne would be gossiping that come February, Georgie Patton was going to have himself an eight pound, diaper-wetting, bundle of joy. "My compliments. You were meant for the stage."
"That's me, the next Zarah Leander."
Ingrid rolled her eyes. "Irene Dunne."
"Naw," said Judge, "You've got her beat by a mile."And Hayworth and Grable, too, he added silently. He clicked the receiver and dialed the number Harkins had given. To be safe, he returned the phone to Ingrid and had her ask the hotel operator for Patton's room. The phone picked up before a single ring had been completed.
"General Patton's suite." The voice was smooth and cultured.
Judge put his hand to Ingrid's ear and whispered, "That's Meeks, Patton's valet."
"Good evening, Meeks," said Ingrid, not missing a beat. "It's me, Jean. Dare I ask if my favorite general is about?"
"One moment, Miss Gordon."
Patton came on the line a second later. "Jean, darling. You don't know how nice it is to hear your voice."
Judge accepted the phone from Ingrid. "Excuse me, sir, but this is Devlin Judge, not Miss Gordon."
"What thehell?" barked Patton. There was a pause and he yelled something at Meeks, then came back on the line. "Listen here, you son of a syphilitic whore, you think you can-"
Judge interrupted the invective midstream. "General, it is imperative we speak. Erich Seyss is still alive."
"I don't give a good goddamn if Hitler himself is still alive," yelled Patton, " and selling pencils in Times Square. I will not tolerate a pipsqueak intruding on my private affairs. It's nearly midnight, you arrogant-"
"General, again I apologize, but Seyss is alive and he's heading to Potsdam."
Patton calmed long enough for Judge to imagine him clad in his black and gold Army bathrobe, a cigar tucked in the corner of his mouth, then said, "Good Christ, man, what are you going on about? Everett informed me yesterday morning that Seyss was dead. I told Ike myself."
"He's mistaken, sir. Seyss's former fiancée herself confirmed that his body was not among the corpses." Judge continued speaking, eagerly recounting what he'd learned from Heinz Bauer.
"Potsdam," spat Patton. "What the hell's he want in Potsdam?"
Judge hesitated a moment, fearing to give voice to his suspicions. "The Big Three are there," he said, finally.
"Sir, I believe Seyss has gone there as an assassin."
"An assassin? Explain yourself."
Judge didn't answer for a few seconds. His first thought had been that Seyss was going after Stalin. After all, he'd been shot by Russians at the end of the war and the Soviets had occupied a great chunk of German territory. Why else the uniforms, the sniper's rifle, and the Russian six by six, if not to get close to "Uncle Joe"? But somehow Judge didn't figure revenge as Seyss's modus operandi. What good would it do his country to kill Stalin? Would it get the Red Army out of Berlin, or out of what had once been the Greater German Reich for that matter? Just the opposite. Kill Stalin and the Red Army would exact a terrible price. Hundreds of thousands of Germans were being held prisoner in Russian camps. Kill Stalin and Seyss would be signing his comrades' death warrant.
But if it made little sense to kill Stalin, what could be said for killing Truman or Churchill? Their deaths would only make the terms of the occupation more onerous. Yon Luck's words still haunted him:he's a Brandenburger. He's trained to become one of the enemy. Which one, dammit? Judge asked himself.The British or the Americans? And so he answered both.
"Sir, I believe he intends to kill Prime Minister Churchill and President Truman."
"Truman, you say?" asked Patton. "Tonight at dinner, Mr President graciously informed me that my uniform had more stars than the Missouri night. I won the war for him and all he cares about is how I dress."
Judge was astonished by Patton's flippant reply. "General, it's not just Seyss I'm talking about. Members of the American military are involved as well. They killed von Luck this morning before I could question him. And they had a go at me earlier this evening. Four nurses in a Jeep behind me were killed."
"Slow down, Judge. I'm not up to date on the details. That's what I have Everett and Mullins for. Four nurses, you say, dead? Sounds to me like you've got yourself in a regular shitstorm."
Finally, Patton seemed to be taking his words to heart. "Yes sir. I certainly seem to." And uttering the words, Judge stood a little straighter, a little prouder. It was the military working its way into his system, his brush with danger a laurel to be worn and applauded. The insight turned his pride to nausea.
"Call Everett and have him get you up here," ordered Patton. "I'm not prepared to accept your line of reasoning until I hear it face to face."
Everett, again. Suddenly, he was popping up everywhere. "That's out of the question, sir. I have reason to believe he may be involved."
"Jesus Christ, Judge. You're not making this easy. Just tell me where the hell you are. I'll send my driver, Mims, to pick you up. I've trusted him with my life every goddamn day for the last three years. If what you say is true, I'll need you in Berlin pronto. You can brief Ike yourself."
Judge hesitated, but realized he had no choice. Sooner or later he was going to have to trust someone. He gave Patton his location and listened as the general read it back to him.
"Who the hell was that cooing to Meeks? That Bach woman you carted off this afternoon?"
"Yes sir," said Judge.
Patton laughed. "Christ, you've had quite some day picking up a looker in Bavaria and getting some nurses killed in Heidelberg. I'll grant you one thing, Major, you've got initiative. I like that in a man. Stay put and Mims will be with you by dawn. Everything goes as planned, you'll be up here tomorrow at noon."
"Yes sir," Judge repeated. But even as he hung up the phone, he felt a knot twist in his gut. He'd never mentioned Ingrid by name, nor had he said anything about Heidelberg.
If Patton didn't keep abreast of the details, how did he know that he'd picked up Ingrid Bach or where the nurses had been murdered? Staring at the receiver, Judge felt paralyzed by the weight of his suspicions. It was a big leap to tie Patton to von Luck's death, to the murder of four young nurses, and ultimately to Erich Seyss, himself. There might be a dozen reasons why Patton wouldn't care to admit to being acquainted with the details of the search for Seyss. Judge just couldn't think of any.
"And so? Will he help?" Ingrid stood with her hands cupped at her throat, rocking on her toes.
Judge stared into her pleading eyes, wishing he could give her the answer she deserved. "I'm not sure," he said. "We'll have to wait and see."
They stood on a grassy escarpment at the outskirts of Griesheim, their arms brushing lightly against one another, a strong breeze ruffling their backs. The Jeep was parked twenty yards behind them, nose pointed north on a rutted farm road. Their point of vantage offered an unimpeded view of the village and, with help from the half moon's shallow light, they were able to make out the Rathaus, the Reform church next door, and most importantly, either end of the two lane road that provided the village's sole entry and exit. Abruptly, the wind dropped, leaving silence and apprehension in its wake.
"How long?" asked Ingrid.
"I'm not sure," said Judge. "Maybe a few minutes. Maybe until morn-" He raised a hand for quiet and turned his ear to hone into a distant sound, much as a man might squint to sharpen his focus. A growl, the faintest of coughs, then silence. He advanced a step or two, his eyes scanning the dark. There it was again, the growl, and this time Ingrid heard it too.
"A car," she said.
"No," he corrected her. "A bunch of them. Probably Jeeps."
The sound grew steadily, crawling over the rolling terrain, alternately screaming and sighing like a sawmill's stutter. A minute passed and the stutter was replaced by a throaty hum, hungry and ominous. The Jeeps traveled the countryside with their lights doused, wolves advancing on an abandoned prey. Judge counted eight of them and knew it was no rogue operation. The vehicles sped past a hundred feet below, close enough to see the white stars emblazoned on their hoods; close enough to know it was the same military police of which he had so recently been a member.
Ingrid laid her hand on his arm and, for a moment, they watched the unholy caravan close on the Rathaus a mile away. "And now?" she asked.
But by then Judge was moving, grasping her hand and hustling her to the Jeep.
"Now?" His voice was tight, a rigid self-control holding back his fear. "Now, we're on our own."