"The flag that we are to raise today over the capital of a defeated Germany has been raised in Rome, North Africa and Paris," declared President Harry S. Truman from the steps of the Air Defense building. "It is the same flag that was flying over the White House when Pearl Harbor was bombed nearly four years ago, and one day, soon, it will fly over Tokyo. This flag symbolizes our nation's hopes for a better world, a peaceful world, a world in which all people will have an opportunity to enjoy the good things in life and not just a few at the top."
Seyss was only half-listening to the words. It was bad enough having to stomach your own country's propaganda; just plain nauseating trying to swallow someone else's. Inching forward through the crowd of American soldiers, he was more concerned with the men on the stairs than what they had to say. Truman was a particularly unimposing figure. Standing before the microphone, straw hat in hand, he wore a light summer suit, wire-rimmed spectacles and two-tone shoes that would do a salesman proud. Behind him and to his right stood Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, and, finally, George Patton.A true friend of Germany, Egon had said. A regimental band was off to the left, brass horns held at the ready.
Seyss kept his chin raised, his eyes glazed over with that proper mix of rapture, respect, and naiveté that the Americans reserved for their President. A few hundred soldiers had assembled for the flag raising and together with Seyss they had bunched themselves into the modest courtyard. Look at their faces. Such hope. Such faith. Such trust. How was it that their war had taught them the opposite of his?
Step by step, ever so slowly, Seyss neared the President. He was careful not to jostle. Never did he push. If the men around him were aware of his movement, they didn't mind it. A bead of sweat fell from the brim of his cap, stinging his eye. He glanced up. The sun was at its highest, not a cloud to deflect its powerful rays, the day hot and sticky. Still, it was more than the heat causing him to perspire.
Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he lifted his cap and wiped his brow. He had the itchy neck, the twitching muscles, the flighty stomach, that came with the proximity to action. Twenty feet away, Truman droned on and on. Standing on his tiptoes, Seyss sighted a clear line of fire. The.45 rode high against his hip. The Browning he'd taken from Egon scratched the small of his back. Were he to draw his pistol and fire, he'd get off three shots, four at most. He'd kill the President, and if he were lucky, Eisenhower. But then what? The Horsch was parked three blocks away. A cordon of military police surrounding the gathering and a dozen heroes-in-waiting tugged at his elbow. He wouldn't get far.
"We are not fighting for conquest," Truman was saying. "There is not one piece of territory or one thing of a monetary nature that we want out of this war. We want peace and prosperity for the world as a whole. We want to see the time come when we can do the things in peace that we have been able to do in war."
Truman stepped from the microphone and the crowd of soldiers broke into an enthusiastic cheer. Behind them, a hundred Berliners had gathered. With dismay, Seyss noted that the locals were as fervent in their applause as the Americans. They'd clapped the same way when Hitler announced the re-taking of the Rhineland and the Anschluss with Austria. When Paris fell, they'd gone absolutely crazy.
The cheering grew and grew, causing Seyss to wince with discomfort. Now was the time to act. The noise of gunfire would be swallowed by the boisterous harangue. He'd have a second more to get off an extra shot or two. In the ensuring confusion, he might even escape.
Still, there remained the bigger question: would killing Truman, or even Eisenhower, "make the cauldron boil", as Egon demanded? Would it spark a war between the Ivans and the Yanks – a conflict grave enough to bring in Germany on the allied side? Of course not. Egon had been right all along. A Russian must be seen to kill the President. A Russian must kill Churchill, too. A Principal for modern times; Berlin had replaced the Balkans as the powder keg of Europe.
Seyss's own eyes had borne out the Circle of Fire's most outrageous claims. Day after day, Germany was being stripped of her machinery, her industry, her very means of survival. Two weeks after the Russians had moved out of western Berlin, their barges still traveled the Havel and the Spree laden with disassembled machinery. The Americans were doing nothing to stop them. Hell, they were probably doing the same with their share of the pie.
In a few months, a few years, a decade at most, the Amis would be gone, leaving Stalin and his monstrous hordes poised from Danzig to the Danube. And when the Russians advanced, how was an agrarian state to stop them? With a commando force of Holsteins and heifers?
No, Seyss decided, he wouldn't waste his life killing Truman alone. Why write a footnote to history, when he could write an entire chapter.
Just then the orchestra burst into the Star Spangled Banner and the crowd surged forward. All voices joined as one, heads tilted back as the flag was raised over the new headquarters of the United States Occupational Government of Berlin. God bless America!
Judge had lost Seyss. One second he had him, the next the crowd was driving forward and he was gone, one uniform among hundreds. Shoving his way through a mass of Germans, Judge neared the line of GIs meant to keep the citizens of Berlin a safe distance from their American masters. He shuffled to the right and stood on his toes, keeping his eyes pinned to the spot where, up until a moment ago, Seyss had been standing. A news camera set on an elevated tripod blocked his view. He shuffled to the left and met the fierce gaze of a military policeman. Damning his luck, Judge lowered his head and retreated into the recesses of the crowd.
It had been near impossible to keep up with Seyss on the way to the ceremony. A two-stroke motorbike was no match for a twelve-cylinder Horsch, and several times Judge had lost sight of him altogether. Only Seyss's arrogance had saved him. The unmistakable black silhouette provided sharp contrast to the dull and ruined cityscape, standing out clearly from a quarter mile or more. And in those anxious seconds when the Horsch's sleek profile was no longer in view, Judge steeled himself to act at the earliest instance.
Frantically, he'd asked himself what he could do. Shoot Seyss? He didn't have a gun. Stab him? He didn't have a knife. All he had was his bare hands and his will. But that, he determined, was enough. The sight of a filthy kraut grappling with an American officer would bring soldiers running in a hurry and give Judge ample opportunity to declare in his best Brooklyn accent that Seyss was an imposter, an escaped Nazi war criminal intent on harming the President of the United States. It was an accusation no one could lightly dismiss.
But when Judge had arrived at Kronprinzenallee, Seyss was already walking from his parked car, and in seconds he had disappeared into the ranks of the gathered soldiers.
Abruptly, the ceremony ended. The flag fluttered in a light breeze atop the Air Defense Command. The orchestra played a Souza march. The assembled dignitaries shook hands with one another and slowly made their way from the podium. A hive of officers swarmed at the base of the steps, waiting to greet the President and the former Supreme Allied Commander. Despite his average height, Truman was easily visible. His pale straw hat stood in marked contrast both in color and shape to the olive military covers. An easy target. Apoplectic, Judge cut through the crowd moving in a course parallel to Truman's. He thought feverishly of what kind of diversion he could create. Something that would alert the President to the danger he was in. All he could think of was to yell what he shouted at an opposing pitcher when he'd struck out Snyder and Viola: "Get lost, you bum." He looked around for something to throw. A bump on the head would hasten his departure, that's for sure. He found nothing. Naturally, the grounds had been cleared of debris for the ceremony.
By now, a picket of soldiers had formed around the President. Truman's automobile drew up and he climbed in, followed by Ike and Omar Bradley, the two ranking generals present. Watching the sedan pull away, Judge breathed easier. Only Patton remained on the podium. His stiff posture belied some interior strain, either physical or mental. Judge eyed him thinking,You sonuvabitch. You're helping Seyss. You're a part of this.
An officer mounted the podium and addressed himself to Patton. He stood toe to toe with the General, shaking his hand exuberantly. Patton colored visibly and looked in either direction, but the officer did not release his hand. Only as he leaned forward to whisper something in Patton's ear did Judge catch the tan skin, the arrogant jaw, and the flashing blue eyes.
"General, I believe it's time we finally met."
"The pleasure's all mine, Captain. Did you serve under my command?"
"You might say that. Actually, I'm serving under it now."
"Then you're off limits, son. My Third Army doesn't grant R amp;R in Berlin. What unit are you with?"
"A very special one. We call ourselves the 'Circle of Fire'. My name is Seyss. Erich Seyss. Once I was a major."
George Patton flinched, his normally ruddy mien flushing an exquisite plum. It wasn't often a major could make the equivalent of a field marshal squirm and Seyss was enjoying the moment immensely. He leaned closer to Patton, whispering in his hear. "I wanted to thank you personally for the dossier on Terminal. I wouldn't have a chance without it. But it's hardly enough. Not if I'm to do a proper job and get out in one piece."
"Spit it out, man," Patton said through clenched teeth. "You've got your credentials, what else is it you need?"
"Be at the entry of the Cecilienhof tomorrow at eleven. Keep yourself visible. I'll be accompanying you into the main hall, and if things go as planned, out again as well." When Patton didn't answer, he added, "Otherwise, I can't promise what will happen to the dossier. It might be hard to explain why a man supposedly under supervised custody got his hands on such sensitive material."
"Egon Bach is indispensable to the rebuilding of Germany," blustered Patton.
"You mean hewas." Seyss smiled, and before Patton could ask him what he meant, fired off a salute. "I look forward to seeing you tomorrow morning at eleven. Good day, General. It was an honor. Truly."
Returning to the car, Seyss focused his mind on the task at hand. Tomorrow morning at ten he'd report to the Bristol Hotel for a ride out to Potsdam. He'd need some civilian clothes before then and some time to study Egon's dossier. For all the information the papers gave him, it couldn't begin to give him a picture of the set-up of the place. The placement of security guards, who sat where, where the leaders lunched, the layout of the Cecilienhof itself. All that he must learn for himself.
Seyss snaked through the crowd, finally breaking free of it at the corner of Wilhelmstrasse and Prinz Albrechststrasse. Spotting the Horsch, he picked up his heels and walked a little quicker. It was a beautiful machine. The registration said it belonged to Karl Heinz Gessler. Now there was a name from the past. During Ingrid's time as a student at Humboldt University, the two had dined regularly at the Gesslers. The cuisine was terrible as he recalled. Nothing but overcooked sauerbraten and lumpy spatzle.
The thought of Ingrid brought back Egon's odd words: "Christ, I'm your boy's uncle." Seyss wanted to dismiss the remark as a ploy, an almost successful effort at distraction, but the words stayed with him. He wondered if Ingrid was the reason Egon had come to Berlin. Egon had stated that Judge had enlisted her help to track down her one-time fiancé. Brother and sister had never gotten along, but he'd always suspected that Egon was secretly mad about her. Maybe too mad.
More likely, it was Judge; Bauer's capture and the subsequent call to Patton giving Egon ample reason to believe the American intended to travel to Berlin. Judge! Every time he heard the American's name he felt a dread chill. Instinctively, he turned and scanned the street behind him. He saw the usual mish-mash of city folk: a pair ofTrümmerfrauen hard at work; a one-legged veteran begging; a postman fiddling with his motorbike. Nothing to worry about. Calmer, he realized he'd half expected to see the fiery-eyed American bearing down on him. Nerves.
Unlocking the Horsch, he climbed into the driver's seat and keyed the ignition. Over the velvet growl of the twelve cylinder engine, he asked himself where in Berlin he might hide if he were traveling with Ingrid Bach and two days absent without leave. The answer came at once, and he smiled. Why not have a look? He needed a quiet spot to spend the afternoon, someplace sufficiently private where he could delve into Patton's dossier without interruption. Who knew? He might find an old set of clothing.
Even better, he might find Judge.
Kneeling alongside the purloined motorbike, Judge observed Erich Seyss slide into the sleek roadster. Whatever ideas he'd harbored about jumping him and screaming bloody murder, he canned the moment he saw the German speaking to Patton. As far as Judge knew, every MP around the place might be one of Patton's henchmen. Waiting for a puff of smoke to shoot from the exhaust, Judge swung a leg over the ripped seat and kickstarted the engine. The Horsch pulled away from the curb and crept up the street. Judge allowed it a fifty yard head start, then angled the bike into the center of the road and gave chase.
The black sports car traveled north along Wilhelmstrasse, slowing to cross the Unter den Linden, then accelerating wildly when it reached the other side. Judge threaded his way through a gaggle of pedestrians, almost losing Seyss as the automobile made a sharp turn right around a devastated street comer. Opening up the throttle, Judge ducked low and cut the corner only to see Seyss turn again, this time left. Pylons of debris six feet high cluttered the road. He thanked God for the mess. One extended straightaway and Seyss would be out of sight.
Even so, Judge had to struggle to keep up. The Horsch was just too fast. Eyes tearing from the wind, he came to an abrupt and unpleasant realization. Continuing surveillance on Seyss was futile. It would be no use trying to arrest Seyss and impossible to catch him in the act. If he wanted to stop him, he had to kill him. And soon.
At some point, the two crossed into the Russian zone. Dozens of Red Army soldiers patrolled the street, but given their lackluster posture it was difficult to tell if they were on duty or off. The Horsch turned right onto a broad boulevard, teeming with horses, pushcarts and pedestrians.Blumenstrasse, read a street sign posted on a scarred brownstone. Judge recognized the name. The post office where he'd stolen the motorcycle was located somewhere along this street.
Seyss had pulled away again. Judge worked the throttle, not wanting too large a distance to grow between them. Responding to his instructions, the bike shot forward and at that instant, a pushcart piled high with fractured porcelain nosed into his path. The road was blocked. Braking madly, he threw the handlebars to the left. A grunt and the bald tires slid out from under him.
He came to rest two feet from the pushcart. His pants were torn, his knees and elbows bloodied. The bike was a wreck, front tire folded back on itself, chain broken and splayed like a three foot worm. Ignoring the half-hearted queries of passers-by, he skirted the pushcart, desperate to catch sight of the Horsch. He spotted it, a hundred yards up the road. As if in sympathy, it had stopped to allow an oncoming streetcar to pass before negotiating a sharp left turn. With a sigh of infinite frustration, he watched Erich Seyss disappear up the narrow street, a shimmering shadow under the midday sun.
Then his eye came to rest upon the striped awning of a stubborn grocer. And above it a street sign:Eichstrasse.
And then he ran.