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А Б В Г Д Е Ж З И Й К Л М Н О П Р С Т У Ф Х Ц Ч Ш Щ Э Ю Я


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Chapter 44

The Grunewald was a picture of controlled chaos.

A dozen trucks had arrived before them, a restless, belching column of iron and steel parked beside a grass beam deep in Berlin's largest park. Engines growling, they disgorged their human cargo. The passengers, most of whom like Judge – or rather, Karl Dietrich- were former German soldiers in transit to their homes, fled from the trucks and milled about a dirt clearing, huddled gray figures drifting in and out of the thickening dusk. Judge estimated their number to be three hundred, maybe more. It was too dark to tell. He wondered why everyone was hanging around, why they weren't legging their way through the surrounding forest back to home and family. A second glance supplied him the answer. A cordon of soldiers ringed the clearing, every man carrying a rifle at port arms.

Concerned, Judge looked closer. A dozen GIs walked among the Germans. They carried flashlights and billy clubs, the batons to lift suspicious chins and the lights to rake unshaven faces. They were singling out the bigger men; not the tall ones so much as the ones with some meat on their bones. Most had dark hair and a certain wideness of beam and for a terrifying moment, Judge thought they were looking for him. Word had spread that he'd passed himself off as a kraut, he told himself. He'd been an idiot to think he could get by unnoticed. The GIs prodded the larger men toward a fenced-in pen that Judge only then saw a hundred meters down the road. A few Germans resisted and the prodding turned nasty in a hurry. Shouts of pain and anger erupted from every corner of the clearing. The word "arbeitspartei" was uttered and Judge relaxed a notch.

It wasn't a manhunt. It was an impress gang.

Ducking inside the truck, he kept a tight hold on Ingrid's hand as the other passengers jostled past and jumped from the tailgate. A mild panic overtook him, a dreary mix of self-pity and anger. He didn't have to worry about being captured, just being stuck in a work gang.

The shouting grew louder as scuffles began to break out all over. A whistle shrieked and many of the GIs abandoned the cordon to join the foray. Ten seconds later, the clearing had devolved into a tangled braid of khaki, green and gray. Judge figured that if he and Ingrid could slip along the side of their truck, then slide in front of its hood, they could make it across the road and into the impenetrable dark of the forest beyond. He explained the situation to Ingrid, then whispered, "Stay close. No matter what you do, don't leave me."

Judge threw a leg over the tailgate and jumped to the ground. Lifting a hand, he helped Ingrid down. Five feet away, a guard remained as immobile as a statue. Judge stepped toward him, asking in clumsy English, "What's going on?"

"We need some men to build us a decent HQ," answered the guard, his jaw moving under the helmet's lip and nothing else. "You krauts are stupid not to cooperate. Where else you gonna get three squares a day? Move along, now."

But Judge had no intention of "moving along", at least not to any work camp. He turned to his right and advanced along the side of the truck. He kept his eyes on the ground, his step purposeful but not hurried. If I don't see them, they won't see me: motto of a delinquent's youth. He shot a glance over the hood. It was less than twenty yards to the woods, closer than he'd thought. He slinked past the cabin, then the wheel well, clutching Ingrid's hand as he cut between the trucks.

Just then, a billy club landed hard on his shoulder and he knew he didn't have a chance. "_Halten-sie sofort_!"

Judge turned to face a jug-eared sergeant backed by two privates. For another second, he considered fleeing. He told himself to drop Ingrid's hand and run like hell. A dash into the inky anonymity of the forest. One look at the grin animating the privates' eager faces robbed him of the notion. Try it, they were daring him. We need the exercise.

"Namen?" the sergeant asked. He was a pudgy kid with a dimpled chin, red hair and, of course, the jug ears. He spoke decent German.

"Dietrich," responded Judge.

"And her?"

"My wife."

"Where do you live?"

"Schopenhauerstrasse eighty-three," said Ingrid. "It's not far from here."

The sergeant chewed on the answer, his eyes taking a long walk up and down Ingrid's physique. Judge looked at her, too: a momentary glance that confirmed just how mismatched the two of them were. She was dressed in her navy cashmere cardigan, a white shirt and flannel slacks; he, in the torn and stinking garments of a railway-dwelling mendicant. Even after a twelve hour journey her hair was in the finest order, her cheeks clean, her smile freshly pressed. As for him, he didn't need a mirror to confirm the worst. His hair was two days greasy and curling like an untamed vine. His beard, all nettles and bramble. His fingernails were black with grime, but when he rubbed them along his pant leg, they came away white with a coating of fine dust. DDT sprayed to kill head and body lice. What a pair they made: the princess and the pauper.

"Come with me," said the sergeant. He led them up the road a hundred yards to a series of blowsy command tents pitched in a line on the forest's cusp. He pulled back a flap and showed the two of them to a trestle table set in the far corner, then addressed himself to a corporal who stood consulting a city map of Berlin that hung on the wall" Anything happening in Wannsee tonight?"

The corporal ran his hand along the multi-colored street map, as if gleaning information from its waxed surface. "No, Sarge. All quiet."

The sergeant motioned them to sit. "My name's Mahoney," he said, switching back to German. "Military Police. I don't know when you left Berlin but it isn't the same place it used to be. I'm not talking about combat damage. Wannsee got through pretty much intact, so you caught a good piece of luck, there. What I mean to say is that this town is a scary place at night. You do not want to be out after dark." He poked a finger at Ingrid. "Especially you, ma'am."

Ingrid shot Judge a glance and shook his head imperceptibly. "You're very kind to warn us, Sergeant," she said, "but we really must be going. My mother is quite ill. I'm afraid it's question of hours rather than days."

Mahoney continued as if she hadn't said a word. "It's the Russians I'm talking about. They're not much for respecting our zonal boundaries. At night, they take to the streets in packs. Trophy Brigades, they call themselves. You'd think that after two months alone in this town they'd have taken everything they wanted. Unfortunately, they're after more than just loot." He offered Judge a respectful nod. "Begging your pardon, Mr Dietrich, but your wife is what they're after."

Judge began to answer, but just then a tall captain strode into the tent calling for Mahoney. The sergeant shot to his feet and faced him. "Sir?"

"Any servicemen on that transport just in? Officers?" His crackling voice was redolent of hominy grits and black-eyed peas. A son of the south.

"No, sir. Strictly krauts and a few dozen DPs. Czechs this time."

The captain walked to a bulletin board next to the map of Berlin and posted a circular bearing the photograph of a dark-haired American officer with a solid jaw and a bull neck. It was a photograph of Devlin Judge taken in Staten Island the day he'd received his commission. "Take a gander when you get a chance," he drawled. "Patton himself wants this sumbitch's balls on his plate for breakfast. Sending us some of his men to help find him. Oh, and by the way, he may be traveling in the company of a lady friend."

Mahoney saluted as the captain departed the tent, then took a long look at the picture – ten seconds, by Judge's count. " As I was saying, Herr Dietrich, you don't want to be out on the streets alone with your wife." He was looking straight at Judge, eyes wandering from his jaw to his nose to his hair. "We spend most of our days dealing with rape and murder. What I'd like you to do is stay with us tonight. Don't worry, we won't throw you on a work team. I can offer you a few blankets, a spam sandwich, and some coffee. That should do until morning. Once the sun's up, the city's a different place."

Judge sat motionless in his chair, stiller than he'd ever been before. The absurdity of his situation was too much for him to comprehend, so he decided to understand none of it.

An American disguised as a German sitting within plain sight of his own wanted poster while the non-com in charge was practically singing "On the Good Ship, Lollipop" instead of arresting him.

Keeping his eyes to the floor – if only to avoid his own accusing gaze – he replied, "I'm sorry but we'll have to take the risk."

Mahoney looked at Ingrid for support. Receiving none, he spun in his chair and asked his corporal, "Watkins, can you get these people back to Wannsee safe and sound?"

"What? Now?"

"Lickety-split, Watkins. How 'bout it?"

Judge stared hard at Mahoney, feeling a sudden fondness for the earnest soldier. He recalled a time when helping a man facing tough times was the normal thing to do. The only thing to do.

"Sorry, Sarge," said Watkins. "Everything that's not tied down has been requisitioned for the parade tomorrow."

"President's coming into town for a visit," said Mahoney, by way of explanation. Standing, he shrugged his shoulders. "You're on your own then."

He placed a supportive hand under Ingrid's arm and guided her outside. But as they approached the dirt road that separated the parade of tents from the forest, he slowed, shaking his head as if thinking twice about the matter. " Ah, what the hell? I'll drive you myself. Be my good deed for the day. Where did you say you lived?"

Ingrid cleared her throat before answering, glancing toward Judge for advice. The address she'd given Mahoney belonged to Rosenheim, the Bach family home in Wannsee, so named for its well-tended rose gardens. Rosenheim sat atop the list of spots Judge planned to reconnoiter in the morning, including residences of Bach family friends where he believed Erich Seyss might be hiding.

"Schopenhauerstrasse," Judge volunteered reluctantly. "In Wannsee."

"You can show me the way," said Mahoney. "Jump in."

Judge gave Ingrid his hand and helped her into the rear of the Jeep, then took his seat. Listening to the engine turn over, Mahoney goosing the accelerator, he had the disconcerting notion that events were spiraling out of control, that he'd committed himself to a course that could only end in disaster, and he shivered. The Jeep slowed as it approached the main road, waiting for a fleet of trucks to pass. The same convoy that had brought Judge to Berlin was headed back to Frankfurt to pick up the next batch tomorrow.

Mahoney eased the Jeep a foot closer to the road, anxious for the trucks to pass.

"Sergeant," a familiar voice shouted from somewhere behind them. "Stop right now! Do not go any further."

Recognizing the syrupy drawl, Judge spun to find Darren Honey some fifty yards away, jogging toward the Jeep. Mahoney patted him on the leg. "_Nur ein moment_." Just a second.

But Judge didn't have a second. The recollection of von Luck's stiff corpse left no doubt about Honey's intentions. Balling his fingers into a tight fist, he hit Mahoney in the jaw with a piston-like jab, then shouldered him out of the Jeep. The engine sputtered as the Jeep lost its gear. Judge slid behind the wheel before it stalled altogether, finding first gear and gunning the vehicle between the last two trucks. Ingrid yelled in time to the blaring horn, but by then they were over the grass berm and into the forest.

"What are you doing?" Ingrid shouted.

Judge couldn't waste time explaining his actions. "You know your way through here?"

"Maybe, I'm not sure," she answered, flustered.

"I need a 'yes' or a 'no'. Now!"

"Yes," she stammered.

"Then get us into the city. I don't care where. We've got to disappear."

Ingrid pulled herself into the front seat. Leaning forward against the dash, she extended an arm toward manicured walkways that lay in the headlights' crescent. "Follow these paths. They'll lead us out of the forest."

"How far?"

"Five minutes. Maybe ten."

Judge shifted his vision between the grassy landscape in front and the darkness that pursued. Just then, the first headlights appeared behind them and he knew they didn't have that long.


Chapter 43 | The Runner | Chapter 45