"Welcome to Andrews Barracks," shouted a bulky figure moving along the column of idling trucks. "Officers gather to the right and stay put. We'll get you inside, assign you a billet pronto, so you can get to bed before midnight. You Bettys who work for a living, grab your gear and come with me. We've got a few of our finest tents set up and awaiting your inspection."
Seyss slung his duffel bag over a shoulder and jumped from the rear of the transport. He followed the officer in front of him, moving to the right as instructed, crossing the pavement to a fringe of grass and waiting there. He was curious to discover exactly where in Berlin Andrews Barracks was located. A canopy covered the truck's rear bay, and as night fell, he'd been robbed of the chance to spot familiar landmarks. About thirty minutes ago, he thought he'd glimpsed some water, but that was no help. Lakes and canals crisscrossed the entire city. All he knew was that he was somewhere in the American sector, that is, in the southwest part of town. The lack of large buildings and the few cluster of trees still standing made him guess a residential district, either Steglitz or Zehlendorf.
Dropping his duffel, Seyss walked in a small circle. The corroded silhouettes of bomb-fractured buildings and burnt homes hovered in the distance like ghosts beyond the pale. The air stank of smoke and sewage and rang with the frenetic rattle of soldiers on the move. Behind him a mountain of rubble shimmered in the moonlight like a medieval cairn. To the south, he caught the flicker of an open fire, then another. He felt as if he were in Carthage after it had been sacked. But instead of sadness, he felt pride.
"We lost," he whispered, "but dammit we gave them a fight."
Up and down the road, men continued to pour from the transports, a khaki stream disappearing into the darkening sapphire sky. The convoy of thirty-odd trucks, Jeeps and armored personnel carriers had left Frankfurt at eleven that morning. Their cargo, an "E-detachment" of soldiers-cum-administrators sent to implement the rudiments of civic government in the crushed German capital. Seyss had bullied his way into their ranks, posing as an errant public affairs officer attached to Secretary of War Henry Stimson's party who'd missed his ride to Berlin two days earlier. The Secretary promised leniency so long as he arrived before the commencement of the second plenary session, set for ten a.m. tomorrow at the Cecilienhof in Potsdam. No one questioned his story. Nor did they ask for his papers. If he wanted to go to Berlin, they were glad to have him. There were too few Americans there as it was.
A few minutes later, the same loud-mouthed soldier reemerged from the dusk, requesting the officers pick up their campaign bags and follow him. Seyss complied, happy to be on the move. His legs were stiff from the long ride. Twelve hours to cover three hundred miles. The small group walked down a dirt path lined with white-washed stones, then cut through the range of rubble mountains. A large placard set to the right of the path proclaimed, " Andrews Barracks. Gross Lichterfelde, Berlin. Established 6 July 1945. Second Armored Division, First Airborne Army." Beyond it loomed a campus of imperious gray buildings arrayed on three sides of a parade ground. He recognized them surely as he would his home. Fifty meters ahead rose the proud halls of the Lichterfelde Kaserne, home to the SS Leibstandardte Adolf Hitler. Sight of his first posting as an officer nine years before.
A squad of military policemen stood in a semi-circle next to the sign, and as Seyss passed, one shone his flashlight directly in his face. Seyss squinted, waving away the light. "Watch that, will you?"
"Mind taking off your cap, sir?"
Seyss took another step before stopping. "Excuse me?"
"Your cap, sir," the voice barked again. "Take it off."
Seyss paused, and turned slowly. The six military policemen had assumed a distinctly menacing posture. One stepped forward from their ranks, a short barrel-chested man with a Slav's heavy brow and the same truncated speech. "You. You're the man hitched a ride from Frankfurt? That right?"
"Yes," Seyss answered, smiling now. "That's right. Is there a problem?"
"Over here, sir. Now." The squat MP unsnapped his holster, withdrew his pistol and held it at port arms.
This is it, thought Seyss.It was a trap all along. They opened up the bag and I walked right on in. Retracing his steps, he brought himself to a halt in front of the Slav. Surprisingly, he felt no dread at the prospect of being captured, just a resigned fatigue. He brushed the cap from his head and stood there, arms thrust out in a gesture of bemused ignorance.Go ahead, he dared them.Cuff me or shoot me. Just make up your mind quickly because in a second I'm going to draw my own gun and then none of us will have any choices.
"Captain Daniel Gavin. Public Affairs." It was the name of a man he'd killed in the Ardennes on Christmas day and he wore his dog tags around his neck to prove it.
"Let me see a copy of your G-three, sir."
What a G-3 was, Seyss had no idea. Shaking his head, he said the usual crap about this being some kind of mix-up. His voice sounded far away. He wished he had something clever to add, some joke or aside that would lighten the air and show that this whole thing was a mistake. For the first time in his life, his mind was a blank. He'd exhausted his store of bullshit.
"Your G-three, Captain Gavin. Your personnel records. And a copy of your orders. Please, sir. Now."
"Yeah, yeah. I've got it right here." Seyss dropped to a knee, unzipped his duffel and ventured a hand inside. His fingers traveled over his SS-issue buck knife – a souvenir, should anyone ask – then perused the folds of the clothing he'd stolen from Frankfurt. The MPs had formed a tight circle around him. Six beams lit his every move, and in their hollow light he found his fighting voice.
Erich Seyss was dead, he told himself. Killed in Wiesbaden three nights ago. The search for him had been called off. There was no reason for the Americans to suspect that Gavin's killer was headed to Berlin. This was all some sort of cock-up. Had to be. He took a deep breath, trying hard to decide if he wanted to die. He hadn't expected to be given the choice.
Just then, an officer broke through the circle. He was panting, out of breath. "This the man, Pavlovich?"
"Yes, sir," answered the short policeman. "This is him. Name's Gavin."
"But…but…" The officer pointed at Seyss and took a labored breath. "But, Sergeant Pavlovich, this man is a captain," he said reprovingly. "Our suspect is a major with the MPs, not the engineers. Jesus!"
The squat policeman said, "You sure, Lieutenant Jameson?"
"Didn't you take a look at the bulletin? They included a picture for numbnuts like you. Ah, shit, just forget it." Jameson extended a hand to Seyss and helped him to his feet. "Excuse me, Captain. Things are a little crazy right now. Everyone is in a tizzy about the flag raising tomorrow. President coming and all. Hope it was no inconvenience to you."
But Seyss only half heard him. His ear was still tuned to he internal chorus singing his certain doom. "I beg your pardon?"
"Barracks are down the path a ways," continued Jameson. "Sorry 'bout the mistake. Good night, sir."
"Yes, uh, good night then." Seyss swallowed hard, finding his mouth parched and his feet bolted to the ground. A second passed and he retook possession of his faculties. A flag raising, Jameson had mentioned. The President was coming. He'd been too shell-shocked to ask where and when. He would make it a point to check first thing in the morning. Bending to zip up his duffel bag, Seyss replaced his cap, then hurried off to catch the others.
He lay on a cot, staring at the ceiling of his old room. Directly above him was a door, nailed to the ceiling by some hapless recruit in a hasty bid to patch a shell hole. The room no longer smelled of camphor and linseed but mildew and rot. The same shells that had ruined the ceiling had rent tremendous chunks of cement from the walls. Given the barracks' location, it was a wonder it was standing at all.
Five hundred meters to the south ran the Teltow canal, the city's outermost ring of defense. There, in the first days of April, Marshal Chuikov had lined up all his tanks and artillery, thousands of guns in all, and for three days rained shell upon shell into the city. A quick walk through the dormitory revealed that the Russians had stripped the place bare. Nothing of use remained. Not a toilet. Not a sink. Not a faucet or a doorknob. Not a chair. Not a lamp. Not a desk or a dresser. Nothing! Even the paint appeared to have bee chipped from the walls.
Seyss turned on to his side and tucked an arm under his head. Someone had scratched the number "88" into the wall. The numeral eight stood for the eighth letter of the alphabet, H, and repeated, it meant "Heil Hitler". Alone in the dark, he whispered the words, needing to hear them spoken aloud once more.
And in that moment, the past rushed forward and grabbed him, a relentless assault of sound and vision that stirred his soul and quickened his heartbeat.
A thousand jackboots slapped the concrete in perfect cadence, their immaculate thud resonating deep in his gut.
The clipped tenor of the drill sergeant's command set him at attention, while the crisp attack of the drummer's tattoo promised him a share of his country's imminent glory.
Seyss closed his eyes, but sleep refused to come. The certainty of his capture and the shock of his reprieve had left him unbalanced. He needed to focus his thoughts on the future, not the past. It was difficult. As far back as he could recall, there was only war or the prospect of it. Even in his heyday as his nation's greatest sprinter, he'd looked forward to a career as a soldier. Now the war was lost and he was forced to consider what lay ahead, what lay beyond Potsdam. Beyond Terminal.
First thing tomorrow, he would inquire about the President's visit. If Truman was coming into Berlin, he wanted to know where and when. The opportunity might be too good to pass up.
More important was the meeting scheduled for ten o'clock in the morning at Grosse Wannsee 24. The residence of Herr Joseph Schmundt, executive vice-president of Siemens and devoted member of the Circle of Fire. Seyss wished he'd arrived a day earlier so that he'd have had adequate time to reconnoiter the site. The ambush in Wiesbaden had left him cautious. The prospect of walking into an unknown building made him antsy. Maybe it was just a runner's aversion to relying on others.
Regardless of his worries, he would have to go. He couldn't expect to make his way to Potsdam and do his job without proper information about the security measures implemented to protect the Big Three. At a minimum, he needed to know the layout of the Cecilienhof, a floorplan of the homes where each leader was staying, their daily schedules, and if possible, a rota of the guards stating when they changed shifts. Most of all, he needed a failsafe route across the Russian lines and into the conference area. Egon Bach had promised him all that and more.
Drawing solace from his lack of choice, Seyss finally let himself relax. There was a certain comfort to be found in the absence of alternatives. Resignation, some might call it. Duty, others. Seyss preferred fate. It had the added allure of predestination.
"Heil Hitler," he said again, this time silently. And falling into a deep sleep, he once more returned to the past, to an eternal moment when his life stretched promisingly before him, when his happiness lay in the wicked grin of an eighteen-year-old girl and the Fatherland teetered on the precipice of destiny.