Seyss rose at dawn, showered, and dressed in one of the fresh uniforms he'd taken from room 421 of the Frankfurt Grand. The walk to the mess hall was like a stroll down memory lane. Images of morning formation flooded his mind. He dismissed them outright. Nostalgia had no claim on his time today. Instead of herring, sausage, and hardrolls, he took eggs, bacon, and toast. The talk at the breakfast table was confined to one subject: Truman's visit to Berlin. The flag raising was set for twelve o'clock at the former Air Defense headquarters. On his way to the ceremony, the President would pass the length of the East-West axis in review of the Second Armored division. From the excited talk, Seyss gathered that practically every American soldier in Berlin would participate either in the parade or the ceremony. As would the cream of the American high command. Patton, Bradley, even Eisenhower, himself, were slated to attend.
It was, Seyss decided, the rarest of opportunities.
Newly confident, he crossed the parade ground and walked into the motor pool. A broad smile and a stiff bribe got him an MP's Harley-Davidson WLA, complete with windscreen, siren, saddlebags and a rifle bucket (unfortunately empty). The mechanic was sorry he didn't have anything speedier. Everything else had been dragged out for the parade.
With a few hours before his meeting with Herr Doctor Schmundt in Wannsee, Seyss decided to make a tour of the capital. He was anxious to see how Berlin had fared, and more importantly, to discover the disposition of occupying troops in the different parts of the city. At Yalta, Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill divided Berlin into three sectors. The Russians took the east, the British the northwest, and the Americans the south and southwest. After the war ended, the French crowed about wanting a piece for themselves, so the Brits carved a chunk from their sector and handed it over. Germany had become a cake, with all the victors claiming a piece.
Leaving Lichterfelde, he motored north toward Charlottenberg, patrolling the East-West Axis from the Victory Column to the Brandenburg Gate to view the preparations for the parade. Armored vehicles of every sort lined both sides of the eight-lane road. Tanks, half-tracks, self-propelled guns. He stopped long enough to gape at the carcass of the Reichstag – still smoldering two months after its destruction- and the remains of the Adlon Hotel. Beneath the Quadriga, a crew of GIs was busily erecting a large wooden placard.
You are now leaving the American Sector, read the sign, with the message repeated in French, Russian and, lastly, German.
From the Brandenburg Gate, he motored west, following the contours of the River Spree. More than half of Germany's electrical industry had been located within Berlin's city limits and the waterway was a vital commercial artery. A few barges cut through calm green waters. Those heading east flew Russian flags and were loaded with machinery: boilers, presses, an endless assortment of steel plate. He wondered where reparations ended and theft began.
He sped past the giant Siemens factory – so big it was called Siemens City – and had a look at the AEG works in Henningsdorf. He checked out others, too: Telefunken, Lorenz, Bosch. Their premises had been stripped. A few pieces of scrap lay scattered across the barren factory floors. Nothing more. He sped by Rheinmetall-Borsig, Maybach, and Auto-Union, the firms responsible for manufacturing the Reich's tanks and heavy artillery. Empty. Henschel, Dornier, Focke-Wulf – the mainstays of the aircraft industry: concrete husks all; nary a screw rolling on the floor.
The sight of the naked factories validated Egon Bach and the Circle of Fire's every worry concerning the Allies' intentions for Germany. They were hell-bent on stripping the Reich of every last vestige of her industrial might. An agrarian state wasn't far away.
Nearing the edge of town, Seyss found himself gripping the handlebars more tightly, sitting higher in the seat. The candy-striped pole blocked the street ahead. One hundred meters further on stood the Glienickes Bridge, the only one of three crossings open from which Russian-controlled Potsdam could be reached from Berlin. An American transport – " a deuce and a half" in their streetwise vernacular – had just pulled up to the border. Eager to observe the relations between these reluctant partners, Seyss cut his speed and shunted the bike onto the sidewalk. Russian sentries in pea green smocks stormed over the truck like ants to their queen. One yelled for the tailgate to be opened. The American driver shouted an order and his troops poured out. Immediately, they formed a line and began unloading large cardboard cartons. Seyss was close enough to read the boxes. Evian. Eau Minerale. Drinking water. Probably provisions for the Presidential party.
The Russian officer spent a long time counting and recounting the boxes, tallying the total against a sheet on his clipboard. Finished, he blew a whistle and the American soldiers formed a single file line. Each held out his dog tag as the Russian officer passed by. It was clear they'd been through the whole routine before; equally clear they didn't enjoy it.
As he turned the motorcycle around and headed north to Wannsee, Seyss remembered something Egon Bach had said during their meeting at Villa Ludwig.How long before the flame of democracy ignites the cradle of communism?
Soon, Seyss whispered. Very soon.
Grossen Wannsee 42 was a stern Tudor mansion set far back from the street on a heavily wooded lot in the southwestern corner of Berlin. Tall iron gates circled the estate. A sprawling lawn cradled the house, sloping in the rear to the Wannsee itself, a calm expanse of water formed by an outcropping of the River Havel. Beds of tulips lined the red brick drive and strands of bougainvillea enveloped the trellis. It was every inch the province of one of Germany's industrial titans. And that included the spit-polished black Hosch roadster parked before the front entry.
Seyss gave the house a last glance, then goosed the motorcycle down the shadowy lane. It had turned into a fine day. The air was cool, dampened by a morning shower. The sun hung at forty degrees, blanching the eastern sky. Breathing deeply, he enjoyed a surge of vitality, an invigorating shiver that made him see everything that much clearer.Berliner Luft, he thought sarcastically. The Berlin air. Citizens of the capital never missed a chance to boast about the restorative qualities of their city's air. It was a crock of horse shit, really.
Turning into a grassy lot, he brought the bike to a halt and climbed from the saddle. A few steps brought him to the crest of a gentle knoll. He ducked through a clump of bushes and was rewarded with an unobstructed view of the house. He checked his watch: 9:30. Half an hour remained until his meeting with Schmundt. Enough time to scout the neighborhood and make sure no welcoming party had convened without his knowing.
The neighborhood was quiet. No traffic essayed the winding road. An elderly couple ambled from their home and Seyss waved a modest "hello", the humble victor. The couple were less reserved. Shouting "Good Morning!" in their best English, they greeted him with smiles meant for their richest relations. Two more innocents who'd abhorred Hitler and welcomed the Americans as liberators. Seyss smiled back, wanting to shoot them. Instead, he offered the woman his arm, and speaking to her in exquisitely fractured German, escorted her down the lane until they were well past his destination. A few nimble glances over her shoulder revealed nothing untoward. Schmundt's house was quiet as the grave.
At five minutes past ten, Seyss hopped the fence at the rear corner of the property and dashed toward the faux English monstrosity. Shimmying a gutter pipe to a second floor balcony, he pried open a window and slid into a partially furnished bedroom that stank of urine. The Russians had been here, too. Yet, no sooner had he opened the bedroom door and ventured a neck into the hallway, than a voice called from below.
"I'm in the salon, Erich. Do come down." Seyss grimaced at the familiar nasal voice. Egon Bach.
The two men faced each other across an empty room, separated only by their mutual dislike. The furniture had been carted away and the carpets torn out, leaving the floorboards exposed. Traces of blood smeared the eggshell walls.
"Finally, I see the real you," said Egon. "The adept at masquerade. The star of the costume ball. You always did look wonderful in a uniform. I'm jealous."
Every time he saw Egon Bach, Seyss needed a second or two to get used to the puny fellow. The narrow shoulders, the marble-thick glasses, the inquisitive head two sizes too large for his body. He was a tortoise without his shell.
"Gone. Taken away with the furniture. I don't know and you shouldn't worry." Egon approached Seyss and clapped his hands on the taller man's shoulders. "What's wrong, Erich? You don't trust me, anymore? No calls from Heidelberg. Not a word from Frankfurt. I would have thought a 'thank you' was in order."
The touch of Egon's hands reminded him all over how much he despised the Jew: the presumptuous manner, the cocksure voice coupled with that sickening little swagger.
"For what? Pulling me from the frying pan or throwing me into the fire? Your address in Frankfurt wasn't worth a damn. The Amis had rolled up the entire neighborhood. Your friends were nowhere to be found. Or were they with Schmundt? Your 'Circle of Fire' seems to be shrinking daily. I doubt your father had the same problems."
At the mention of his father, Egon colored a fierce red and dropped his arms to his sides. "If you'd called from Bauer's as agreed, we'd have had none of these worries. You have no idea the effort we expended to pull you out of that armory."
Seyss bowed theatrically. "Forgive my ingratitude. Next time, if you're going to send a man to help me out of a pinch, at least have him give me a lift. It was a day's walk to Frankfurt."
"We may have friends, but we have to move carefully. Others are watching." Egon stalked across the barren room and glanced out of the window. "By the way, I've seen to it that the families of Steiner and Biederman will be taken care of. I thought you'd be glad to know. Officer looking after his men and all that."
"So it was Bauer who ratted us out?" Seyss roared at the irony. "I knew it! Another of your recruits."
"Bauer?" smirked Egon. "You believe Heinz Bauer sold you out to the Amis? Oh, you are the arrogant one, Erich. I will grant you that. Bravo!" He clapped his hands with unbridled insolence, chuckling softly. "No, I'm afraid you have only yourself to blame for what happened in Wiesbaden. Whatever possessed you to deal with a man like Otto Kirch? You might as well have gone straight to Eisenhower."
"It was Kirch?"
"How else did you think the Octopus stayed in business?"
"I imagined the same way as you."
Egon ignored the jibe and Seyss knew it was only so he could inflict one of his own. "Kirch was on the phone to the Americans five minutes after you left him. They found a Herr Lenz in Mannheim who was only too eager to reveal your whereabouts. Unfortunately, Bauer made it out of Wiesbaden alive. It would have been better for all of us if there were no survivors."
Egon paused long enough for Seyss to wonder if he was meant to be included. "So Bauer talked?"
"Against his will. I understand he had a long conversation with the American investigator who planned that charming soiree."
"Judge?" Seyss spat out the name like a dose of poison.
Egon shook his head reprovingly, while clucking his tongue. "Tell me, have you spoken to Ingrid, lately? I understand she's gone missing. Last seen with the same Major Judge at the American hospital in Heidelberg. She was happy to confirm that your body wasn't among those in the morgue. He's been screaming about it to his superiors, but so far we've managed to keep things quiet. He's disappeared, as well. Officially absent without leave as of Monday evening."
Seyss wasn't sure what was being implied. "And?"
"'And?'" Egon threw his hands in the air. "What do you think, you beautiful idiot? He knows. He was a fucking detective in New York City. Two nights back, he called Patton raving about how you were still alive and on your way here to rid the world of Truman and Churchill. Patton's issued a warrant for his arrest on some trumped-up charge, but sooner than later Judge is going to find someone who believes him."
"You said he'd disappeared. Is there any reason to think he's headed to Berlin?"
"We don't know, and that's the only reason we're having this conversation."
Seyss caught the veiled threat and added it to his store of hate for the odious runt. "Nonsense," he said. "No way he could get here."
"You're here," said Egon. "I'm here. Frankly, I'm a bit surprised Major Judge hasn't joined the two of us for our little chat." Plucking his glasses from his nose, he began cleaning the lenses with a handkerchief. "Aren't you the least bit curious why this man is sticking to you like shit to a boot heel? You've nearly killed him twice. Any other policeman would have considered his duty fulfilled long ago."
Seyss was pacing the room. "If you've something to say, spit it out."
"You killed his older brother at Malmedy – the war crime the Americans had you in the cooler for. When Judge learned you'd escaped, he had himself transferred to Patton's Third Army so that he could personally find you."
Seyss took in the information without emotion. If Egon expected him to be frightened he was sorely mistaken. Judge was an amateur. He had only to recall their encounter at Lindenstrasse to confirm his opinion. Brave, perhaps, but nevertheless an amateur. "Is that what you came up here to tell me?"
"I've come," Egon said, "because we no longer have the luxury of time. Originally we'd thought you'd have a week, eight days, to do the magic that made you such a hero. Unfortunately, that's no longer the case.
"Oh? Tell me then, Egon, what is the case?"
Egon marched over to the fireplace and picked up a blue folder resting on the mantle. "Read this. Everything you need to know is inside."
Seyss raised a skeptical brow and accepted the folder. An American eagle was emblazoned on its cover, the words "Top Secret" and 'Terminal" stamped above it. He lifted the cover. The first memo was addressed to General George S. Patton, Jr.
"Patton gave you this?"
Egon grinned triumphantly. "A true friend of Germany."
Of course, thought Seyss. Who else could have ordered the Olympicstrasse cleared of traffic for a few hours? What better source to procure an authenticpersilschein?
The first dossier contained information about the conference and its participants. Included were a detailed schedule of the daily plenary sessions, names of the Americans attending and their British and Soviet counterparts, a map of Babelsberg marked with the locations of the homes where Truman, Churchill and Stalin would be residing, and a second map marked with the route Truman would take from the "Little White House" at Kaiserstrasse 2 to the Cecilienhof in Potsdam some ten kilometers away.
The second dossier concerned security measures. Names of the secret service officers assigned to the presidential detail. Military policemen seconded to the presidential security detachment. A proposed duty roster.
The third dossier contained similar information for Winston Churchill and, more interesting to Seyss, for Stalin, himself. Seyss recognized the name of the Russian General commanding the NKYD regulars dispatched to guard the town of Potsdam. Mikhail Kissin, nicknamed, " the Tiger".
The last held mostly mundane information – menus for each day's meals, a list of radio frequencies for daily transmissions to Washington, and finally, an urgent note stating that due to a lack of potable water in Babelsberg one hundred cases of French drinking water would be flown in each morning to Gatow Airport.
Seyss re-read the final notice, seeing in his mind's eye a stack of cartons piled high beside an American supply truck and the words "_Evian. Eau Minerale_", stenciled upon them. Egon Bach had struck gold.
"This is good, Egon. Very good. But it will only be of use once I'm in Potsdam. Have you been by the border? Stalin has it zipped up tight."
Egon reached into his jacket and handed Seyss a visitor's pass to the Cecilienhof issued in the name of Aaron Sommerfeld. "Mr Sommerfeld is a member of the US State Department's delegation to the conference. Currently, he finds himself in a hospital in Frankfurt laid up with a bad case of dysentery."
Seyss examined the pass. "It's for tomorrow."
Egon shrugged disinterestedly. He might have given him lousy seats to the symphony instead of a warrant for his death. "As I said, time is a luxury we no longer possess. You have yourself to thank."
Seyss slid the pass into his pocket. "There might be another way. Truman is visiting Berlin today to raise the flag over the headquarters of the American command. Naturally there will be a speech, a tour of the building. Eisenhower will be with him. So will your good friend, General Patton. Get me a decent rifle and I'll take all three."
Egon was shaking his head before Seyss had finished speaking. "Truman isn't enough. We must have Churchill, too. Otherwise, the Brits will talk the Americans down. As for Eisenhower, no one will care. Soldiers are supposed to die. Besides, it must be in Potsdam. It must occur under the Russian's nose if it's to mean a thing. It must appear as if Stalin had sanctioned the entire affair. The cauldron must be made to boil, understand?"
But Seyss was in no mood for understanding. "Tomorrow, Egon? Are you out of your mind? You're giving me no time to plan; no time to have a look around. It's ahimmelfahrtskommando. A one way ticket to heaven! Suicide!"
Egon kept his eyes locked on Seyss, speaking as if the words hadn't registered. "Your name will be on the list of visitors arriving from Berlin. The others are press, a few VIPs. A bus leaves from the Bristol Hotel at nine in the morning."
"And a way out?" Seyss demanded. "Have you planned that for me too?" Suddenly, he was angry. Furious. Not only at Egon but at himself. Of course, Egon hadn't planned a way out. Why should he have when Seyss, himself, hadn't expected to come out alive? But something had changed over the past few days. He'd seen that Germany would survive and the thought of his country battling back from the brink instilled in him a new desire to fight with it.
"Come, come," said Egon. "You're being dramatic. I have every faith in your ability to wangle your way out. You couldn't expect me to think of everything?"
Seyss laughed dryly. He felt as if he were stepping outside himself and looking back at a man he didn't know. A stupid man. Why should Egon Bach want him to escape? Seyss was the only man who could attach him to the murder of two world leaders. Egon couldn't afford to have a loose cannon careering across the desk of Bach Industries. He didn't give a rat's ass about Germany, only the family konzern. A strong Germany meant a healthy Bach Industries, and a healthy Bach Industries, profit for Egon Bach. His venal eye rendered Seyss's love of country a rube's delusion.
And as Seyss walked across the room and replaced the dossier on the mantelpiece, he felt a cold hand settle on his shoulder.Sachlichkeit.
"You know, Egon, you're right. I wouldn't dream of asking you for anything else. The information you've provided is top notch. The rest is up to me."
Egon smiled confidently. "I'm glad you think so."
"Come to think of it, I don't think we need ever to speak to each other again."
It was true. He had everything he needed. Moreover,he didn't want anyone left to tie him to the murder of two world leaders, either. He had no intention of being captured or killed. He was, after all, a Brandenburger.
Sensing his intentions, Egon lost the self assured grin. "Erich, don't be rash."
"I'm not, Egon. Just smart."
"This is ridiculous. Why, we're practically family." But even as he spoke, his right hand was delving inside his jacket, fumbling for an all too conspicuous bulge.
Seyss found his holster, unsnapped the leather flap, and withdrew the Colt.45, all in single fluid motion. Family? With a Jew? As he dropped the safety and tightened hi
finger on the trigger, the thought made him cringe.
"I might as well be your brother," mumbled Egon, his words coming fast and loose. He had freed his pistol from his pocket, a neat little Browning 9mm, and held it limply in front of him, his hand shaking almost as much as his voice. "Christ, I'm your boy's uncle. If that's not blood, I don't know what is."
Seyss let go the pressure on the trigger, cocking his head just the slightest. His boy's uncle? What was he talking about?
And in that instant, Egon raised the Luger and straightened his arm to fire.
Seyss's grip hardened round the Colt. Stepping forward, he depressed the trigger even as he raised the pistol. A split second passed, no more, but to Seyss it was all the time in the world. As a sprinter, he had learned to measure the world in halves of seconds, in quarters, in eighths. Somehow, he could see things more clearly when he was moving. Motion brought clarity, and clarity, understanding. Where others saw a blur, he saw an outline. Where others saw a shadow, he saw a form and could discern its intent. And so he knew he had won.
Squeezing off a round, he drilled a hole dead center in Egon Bach's forehead.
Some people had no business touching firearms.