home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add



Chapter 47

It was raining when Judge left Ingrid's apartment the next morning. The sky huddled low, a gray umbrella leaking fat drops that tasted like dirt and gasoline. Bilgewater, he thought, from the bottom of a sinking ship. He walked down Eichstrasse to the first main thoroughfare and turned right, heading west. Ingrid's apartment was in the Mitte district of Berlin, on the western edge of the Russian zone. The area was a wreck, a maze of crumbling matchboxes. One building stood for every two knocked down. The place brought to mind a middleweight journeyman beaten to within an inch of his life and hanging on only by dumb tenacity.

He continued a block or two, then ducked under the striped awning of a stubborn grocer. The stalls were bare of fruits and vegetables. The shelves had a dozen cans of beans, corned beef and sweet potatoes. All American. Still, the grocer stood behind the counter, apron secured around his sizeable girth, hair a pomade lake, offering his customers a smile meant for a better day. Judge nodded and turned his attention back to the street.

No cars traversed the wide boulevard. No trucks. No motorcycles. In fact, he couldn't see a motorized vehicle of any size or shape. The only thing moving at seven o'clock Wednesday morning were horses and pedestrians and both were hauling wagons and litters piled high with debris. He'd stepped back in time. It was 1900 and his mother was due to leave on the SS Bremerhaven sailing from Hamburg for New York on the morning tide.

The rain stopped and Judge ventured out into the street, craning his neck in either direction. Not good, he thought to himself. How could he expect to get around Berlin without a car. A streetcar passed, trundling along at a jolly five miles per hour. He could walk faster. A squad of Red Army soldiers shuffled by and in his nervousness, he waved hello to them. Slowly, the city came to life. A Jeep zoomed past, then a truck with a red star painted on its hood. Another Jeep, another truck. This went on for five minutes, interrupted only by the hacking cough of some ancient German sedans jury-rigged to run off a wood-burning fire. Two motorbikes zipped by in close succession, hardly more than beat up Schwinns with scrappy little motors bolted to their chassis. But Judge couldn't care less about the size of their engines. Anything that could get him around the city at a decent rate was okay by him. His scavenger's eye fell instead to the twin black saddlebags hanging over the bike's rear wheel. Emblazoned in gold were a huntsman's circular horn and the initials DBP.Deutsche Bundespost. The German Postal Authority.

Judge had his answer.

A last motorbike was parked in the courtyard behind the stalwart stone premises of the Berlin Mitte Post Office. It looked even older and more beat up than the others, its tires bald, more than a few spokes bent, broken, or missing. The gas tank was dented and the seat ripped, so that even from his position twenty yards away, he could see a spring or two protruding. Still, the bike had a license plate affixed to its front tire guard and the requisite black saddlebags;

Judge hid himself in a recessed doorway halfway up the alley leading to the post office and for ten minutes watched the postmen come and go. From the scant activity, it was clear mail service was only just being restored. He considered bribing a carrier for his bike or simply asking for a ride, but discarded both possibilities without real consideration. He needed the bike and he needed it now, without argument, discussion, or disagreement. Like it or not, there was only one surefire way. "The strong arm stuff," Spanner Mullins liked to say, and for once, he didn't disagree.

Running back to the street, he wrestled a sturdy stretch of two by four free from a pile of debris. He returned to his spot just as an engine sprang to life. A glance revealed the courier to be an elderly man dressed in an army sergeant's field gray tunic. Taking a breath, Judge gripped the plank in his hand like a Louisville slugger and brought it to rest on his right shoulder. And as the cycle crossed the threshold of his vision, he stepped into the alley and swung for the bleachers.

It was another man who struck the mailman; a stranger who chucked him off the bike and gave him a swift kick in the gut for good measure. Better the postman concentrate on regaining his wind than giving chase.

Climbing onto the bike, Judge tested the throttle with a few tentative strokes. The chassis might be gone to crap, but the feisty engine growled magnificently. He steered the bike onto Blumenstrasse, accelerating wildly until the Post Office was far behind him. He had the criminal's high going the fast-beating heart, the clarity of vision, the sense of invincibility- and God help any man who tried to stop him.

Yet even in the crystalline delirium of theft, part of him knew he'd hit rock bottom. Brawling with General Carswell at Jake's Joint, beating up Bauer, and now, committing what amounted to armed robbery. He'd been on a downward spiral since setting foot in the country and now he'd reached his final refuge: the lawless and wholly unrepentant landscape of his youth.

It was necessary, a rational voice preached.You didn't have any other choice.

Stow it, his old self answered. The time for arguing was long gone.

At the next street, Judge veered left and didn't slow until he'd reached the Unter den Linden. Ingrid had drawn a crude map of Berlin in the cloak of dust that layered her vanity. If he ever got lost, all he had to do was motor north or south depending upon where he was in the city and he would hit the grand boulevard which in the western part of town was called the East- West Axis, and in the east, (past the Brandenburg Gate) became the Unter den Linden. Once on this street, he could orient himself.

Little sign remained of the fabled oaks his mother used to describe so fondly. The few standing were nothing but charred stumps. Passing beneath the Brandenburg gate, Judge slowed the motorbike to a crawl. A hundred yards away sprawled the Reichstag. The massive building had been at the center of the fight for Berlin and it had paid the hangman his wages. A gargantuan web of twisted steel and crumbled walls erupted from a rubble island an entire city block in length. Ahead lay the East-West Axis, eight lanes across, and on either side, the Tiergarten, Berlin's Central Park, a sprawling lot denuded of all vegetation. A mile along, the Victory column rose from the center of the boulevard, a soaring iron pillar one hundred feet tall fashioned from sword and cannon captured by the first Kaiser at Sedan in 1870 and topped by a statue of Samothrace, Goddess of Victory. Four flags flew from its summit: the French Tricolor, the Union Jack, the Stars and Stripes and the Hammer and Sickle. American tanks, self-propelled guns and artillery were drawing up on either side of the street, cannons to the fore. He had little question about Truman's route.

Driving, Judge began to check the faces of the men he passed. He was looking for a particular pair of eyes, brazen, too confident by half, a hard-stamped jaw, and a cruel mouth. But if he knew the face he was looking for, he didn't know the nationality. Russian, German, Hungarian, British? No, he decided. None of the above.

Seyss needed to move about freely through Berlin. He required a maximum of freedom that was accorded only one person these days: an American soldier. An officer, to be sure. For his grand finale, Seyss wouldn't have it any other way.

Judge steered the bike left at the Victory column, but soon found himself disoriented. Pulling over to the sidewalk, he waved down a neatly dressed gentleman the only one around with a clean shirt, pressed trousers and hair combed with a parting. In his best colloquial German, he explained he was new in the city and that he needed directions to Wannsee. The man didn't question his story and obliged gladly, going so far as to quiz Judge afterward on the route. When Judge had passed the impromptu exam, he asked whether the man had any idea where the American President was expected later that day.

"_Ja, naturlich_," came the enthusiastic reply. "The Air Defense building on Kronprinzenalle. Just around the corner. All their greatest generals will be there. Patton, Bradley, even Eisenhower, himself. It was on Radio Berlin yesterday evening."

Judge scooted forward a foot, the bike's scrappy engine sputtering in time to his own agitated heart. The entire high command present at one occasion. He had little doubt Seyss would attend.

Confident now that he possessed at least a rudimentary idea of the cityscape, Judge set out to find three addresses. The first belonged to Rosenheim, Alfred Bach's urban oasis, the others to close friends of the Bach family with whom Ingrid had proposed they might stay, the Gesslers and the Schmundts.

The western section of Berlin had escaped the war with only minor damage. Some houses were in disrepair. Shutters hung askew. Lawns grew untended, while whole faades screamed for a fresh coat of paint. The majority, however, appeared in good enough shape: narrow Wilhemine rowhouses fronted by gardens of roses and petunias and surrounded by quaint brick walls.

A Jeep was parked at the corner of Schopenhauerstrasse and Matterhornstrasse. Judge slowed his motorcycle, and as he passed, granted the two MPs on watch an officious nod. Instead of crossing through the intersection, though, he turned right onto Schopenhauerstrasse itself. He kept his speed down, letting the wheels dribble over the uneven cobblestones. He slowed further as he passed number 83, glancing to his right long enough to spot a steel helmet framed in the second floor window. Whether it was Honey or Mahoney waiting for him, they were being obvious about it. A second Jeep waited at the end of the block. Two more policemen in front and a field radio in back.

The family Gessler occupied a Teutonic castle shrunken to scale on the half-island Schwanenwerder. No Jeeps this time. No policemen playing at surveillance. But the lack of military presence only heightened Judge's anxiety. Spanner Mullins's first law of surveillance was to cover not just a suspect's home but the homes or gathering points of all known associates. According to Ingrid, the Gesslers had been the Bach's closest friends for more than thirty years. Jacob Gessler was her godfather. If Patton was interested enough in Judge's capture to station a squad of MPs at Rosenheim, why hadn't he put a soul here?

Judge brought the bike to a halt in front of an imposing wrought-iron gate. A black Mercedes sedan was parked in the forecourt. The car was covered with grime; its windshield a slab of mud. It hadn't been driven for a month. His eyes fell to a puddle of oil on the forecourt not far from the front door. Nearing the gate, a section of asphalt had been washed away from the driveway. The earth was still damp from the morning showers and a single set of tire tracks was clearly visible in the mud. The tracks bled onto the main road before fading a few yards further on. Had the master of the house gone for a morning drive or had his guest?

Climbing from the motorbike, Judge unbuckled a saddlebag and withdrew a few letters, then pushed open the fence and walked up the drive. The front door opened before he had a chance to knock.

"_Ja, um was geht-das_? How can I help you?" The man was short and gray-haired with a clerk's wispy mustache and a banker's distrustful gaze. Seventy if a day, but none the weaker for it. At home on a warm summer's day, he wore a three piece suit of navy serge.

"_Guten Tag_. I have a letter for your guest. Special delivery."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Personal, Herr Gessler," said Judge, guessing. "For Herr Seyss."

Gessler stepped onto the front steps and shut the door behind him. "Who are you? I don't know what you're talking about."

"A message from the Americans," Judge continued, his suspicions writing the script. "It is imperative I reach him."

Gessler's eyes opened wide. "Herr General Patton?"

Judge nodded. "Jawohl."

Gessler stepped closer, whispering in his ear. "Herr Egon has gone to meet the Sturmbannfuhrer at Schmundt's home. Grossen Wannsee twenty-four."

Schmundt, another of Ingrid's friends!

"Herr Bach is here in Berlin?"

Gessler had gone red with excitement. "But you must hurry. He left an hour ago."

Judge ran to the motorcycle, kickstarted the engine, and rode like hell for the suburb of Wannsee. It was a fifteen minute trek along the lake of the same name. Flicking his wrist, he checked his watch. 11:00.

Seyss is here. Seyss is in Berlin.

He repeated the words over and over, as if until now he hadn't quite believed his own suppositions. He crossed the S-Eahn tracks, and then a small bridge, slowing to read the street sign:Grossen Wannsee.

The single lane road wound right, then left, climbing and descending a series of rolling hills. Giant oaks lined the way, a centuries-old honor guard. Judge passed through their meandering shadows as if they were reminders of his own conscience. He'd had Seyss and let him escape. He wanted to believe he'd been frustrated by his adopted humanity, that his reflexes had been blunted by the certainty or was it just a wish? that reason must vanquish force. More likely, it was nerves. Either way, nine men and four women were dead as a result of a moment's hesitation. And his brother's killer left to run wild with no telling what devastation he might yet wreak.

Judge eased up on the throttle, stealing glances at the august homes lining the road. Number 16. Number 18. The bike sped round a corner and suddenly, he was there 24. A blue and white plaque screwed onto a moss-drenched gatepost showed the numeral in a quaint curlicued script. A car was pulling out of the driveway, a sleek black roadster, and it braked as its front tires crept onto the main road. Judge caught only a glimpse of the driver. Khaki jacket, tanned face, dark hair.

Wearing the uniform of an officer in the United States Army was Erich Siegfried Seyss.


Chapter 46 | The Runner | Chapter 48