The lobby of the Bristol Hotel was an oasis of shade and calm. Ivory linoleum floor, black marble counters, and a ceiling fan spinning fast enough to rustle the leaves of the Egyptian palms that stood in every corner. Ingrid presented herself to the concierge and asked if any of the reporters covering the conference in Potsdam were guests of the hotel, and if so, where she might find them. The question was hardly a shot in the dark. Only two hotels were open for business in the American sector, the Bristol and the Excelsior. Judge had promised her the reporters would be at one of them. The concierge directed a hand toward the dining room. " A few are presently lunching, Madam."
Ingrid thanked him and walked in the direction he had pointed. Instead of entering the dining room, however, she continued to the women's loo. Her hair was mussed, her face sweaty, her shoes speckled with dust. Standing in front of the mirror, she tried to repair the damage, but her palsied hands only made it worse. Sit down, she ordered herself.Relax. She smiled, and the smile was like the first crack in a pane of glass. She could feel the fissure splintering inside of her, its veins shooting off in every direction. It was only a matter of time until she shattered.
The trip to the hotel had left her a wreck. She'd seen plenty of bombed-out houses, streets cratered from one end to the other, even entire city blocks razed to the ground. But nothing compared to the marsh of ruins through which she now walked. It was a bog of char and decay and rubble. Block after block blackened and leveled. Streets buckled open. Torn sewers spitting effluent. She'd felt as if she were descending into a nightmare one step at a time. And everywhere, people: old men hauling wheelbarrows loaded with wood and pipe; women carrying buckets of water; mothers pushing perambulators crammed with their worldly possessions, leading their children by the hand; other children – whole packs of them – wandering on their own. All of them gaunt, dirty and forlorn. A festival of the damned.
Stranger still- what really drove her batty – was the quiet. Berlin was nothing if not noisy: an exuberant symphony of horns and bells and shouts and squawks. Where had it gone? The silence that accompanied the squalor was unnatural. Walking, she would lift herself onto the balls of her feet, as if straining to catch a remark. All she heard was thetap-tap-tap of theTrümmerfrauen: forlorn women chipping away a lifetime of mortar from an eternity of brick.
But all of it was bearable until she came upon the horse.
It was on the Ku'damm, just past Kranzler's. A bulldozer had been by to clear the boulevard, plowing drifts of mortar and stone onto the sidewalks. Every twenty meters someone had carved a passageway to cross the street and it was through one of these crumbling couloirs that she'd spotted it. The animal lay still on the ground, surrounded by a small crowd. A wagon loaded with brick rested a few feet behind. The horse was terribly thin, stained black by its own sweat. Its fetlocks were tapered yet muscular, more jumper than draught horse. A lovingly braided mane hung limply on its neck. Obviously, the beauty had dropped from exhaustion.
Ingrid's first instinct was to rush toward it, though she knew she could do little to aid the poor creature. Before she could reach the circle of onlookers, a man cried "Achtung!" and she heard a ghastly whinny as something heavy and not quite sharp struck the horse. Another blow cut short the animal's cry.
There followed another thwack, and another. And a moment later, the horse's rear haunch was handed through the crowd, passing from one person to the next, before being laid atop the wagon. A stream of blood curled between her feet, beckoning to her like an accusing finger.
"Saw!" cried the brusque voice, and she'd fled.
Brushing an errant strand of hair from her face, Ingrid leaned close to the mirror as if proximity to her reflection would help her sort out her feelings. She decided she'd been foolish to accompany Devlin Judge to Berlin. To abandon her children to join in another man's crusade. Already, she'd forgotten why she'd come. Was it to redeem her inaction during the war? Or to satisfy her long-simmering and silently fought feud with Erich Seyss. No one left Ingrid Bach until she said so! Was it this then- her desire to be loved, to be attended to, to be found attractive – that had hastened her departure? Or robbed of a man's presence for so long, had she mistaken Judge's attention for something more lasting?
The arrival of Judge onto her mental stage softened her damning tirade and for a few moments she comforted herself with memories of their night together. But soon, her unsated guilt demanded that Judge, too, be accounted for and dismissed. What could he feel for her? She, the daughter of a war criminal, the lover of the man who had killed his brother? She was a whore who showed her breasts for a few days' meals, a harlot who danced on a general's arm to win his good favor. She still didn't know what might have happened had she not seen Judge Saturday night at Jake's Joint. It was a question she refused to answer.
Whatever her intentions, she knew her motivations were ultimately selfish. By accompanying Judge, she'd cast herself as victim – of love, of war, it didn't really matter – and again absolved herself of her responsibilities. To her country, her family, and ultimately, to her herself.
When would she finally summon the courage to stand alone?
The reporters were easy to spot. They sat gathered round a long table, six restless men in civilian garb among a placid sea of olive and khaki. They eyed her like starving dogs spotting the day's only meal. Why shouldn't they? She was the only woman in the room.
Ingrid decided that it was too crowded to approach them immediately. She didn't want to attract more notice than she had already. She asked themaitre d'hotel for a table and was shown to a banquette in the rear of the restaurant where she ordered canned ham with tomatoes and a Coca-Cola. She was very hungry. A breakfast of a hard roll and Hershey bar didn't carry one far. Her meal arrived and she ate quickly, aware that all eyes were on her. Several times she heard hoots of laughter and looked over to see the newsmen observing her unabashedly. They'd finished eating before she'd arrived and looked to have settled into a long afternoon of drink. She waited until the room had cleared then, with some trepidation, rose and crossed the floor to speak with them.
Six eager faces turned up to her in welcome.
"I was wondering if I might ask a favor of you gentlemen," she began. "I was thinking the same thing myself," one of them shot back. He was a sweaty little man with a salt and pepper goatee and the name "Rossi" on his press pass.
Ingrid smiled and let go an easy laugh that let them know she could take a joke. Oddly, the chubby man's rude remarks relaxed her. She had, after all, grown up with four brothers.
"It concerns one of the President's associates," she went on. "He's my cousin, in fact. Chip DeHaven. Are any of you acquainted with him?"
"Yeah," answered Rossi, "we're fellow members of the Harvard club, can't you tell?"
"Actually," Ingrid pointed out, "he attended Yale."
Rossi flushed as his colleagues pounded him with acerbic laughter. The man next to him – slim, gray hair and a ghost's tan – chimed in. "Excuse me, ma'am, but we saw you talking to the concierge. We couldn't help but overhearing you speaking kraut. I didn't know Carroll DeHaven had any German relations."
Ingrid damned herself for her carelessness. Judge had told her to only speak English but the journey to the hotel had left her too flustered to remember. She considered denying the fact but wanted no more made of her nationality. "Carroll DeHavenis my cousin," she said evenly, "on my mother's side, if you must know, and I'm anxious to reach him. Would any of you be going out to Potsdam this afternoon. I've a letter that I'd like delivered to him."
The lot of them shook their heads. Then Rossi jumped in, "Tell you what, sister. Come on upstairs, we cansprechen-sie a little, then you can tell me all about you and Chippie boy and Yale. You want him to get a letter, mail it!"
Ingrid shook her head, fed up with Mr Rossi's coarse behavior. She'd spent enough time chatting with the GIs guarding Papa at Sonnenbrucke to pick up some of their lingo. Finally, she'd been given an occasion to use it. Circling the table, she knelt close beside the obnoxious lout and brushed her most seductive finger along the underside of his bristly chin.
"Mr Rossi, is it?"
Ingrid flashed her eyes. "Hal…If I thought for a second that you knew the first thing about pleasing a woman, you know – how to really make her hum and purr – I just might consider it. But I can spot a limp-dicked paddywacker when I see one and I don't care to waste my time with you. Terribly sorryHal."
The table erupted in a gale of laughter. And to his credit, so did Rossi. When the commotion died down, he said, "Okay, okay, I apologize. Listen, lady, there are over two hundred of us reporters in town for the big show. Only two are allowed to attend the conference each day. The rest of us are stuck here twiddling our thumbs. I'm sorry, but if you want to talk to your cousin, you should go see Colonel Howley. He runs things in the American part of town. Frank Howley. Maybe he can help."
Ingrid thanked the table and stood to go.
"And if he can't,schatzi," Rossi shouted after her, "don't forget my offer."
The table burst out all over again in boisterous laughter.
Ingrid was passing the front desk when Rossi caught up with her.
"Hey, sister, you want that letter to get to DeHaven, maybe I can help."
She kept walking. "I doubt that."
"A few of the guys are heading out to the Little White House tonight for a small shindig. Strictly on the QT. A little poker, some booze, anything to get out of Berlin. Maybe we'll see old Chippie."
Ingrid realized she had no choice but to take the offer seriously. Stopping, she turned to face him. "Are you asking me to come with you?"
"If you can stand an hour's car ride with a classy guy like me, why not? We're leaving from the Excelsior around seven. Come by for a drink first."
"The Excelsior at seven. Deal."
Suddenly Rossi frowned, stroking his whiskers. "There's just one thing I gotta ask you."
Ingrid eyed him dubiously. "What?"
"Serious now. This letter, it's not gonna get me into any trouble?"
Ingrid smiled. "Mr Rossi, if you can get me to Potsdam, this letter of mine just might make for the biggest story of your career."
Rossi shrugged, unimpressed. "Lady, if a dame like you goes out to a party with me, that's the biggest story of my career."