The door slammed and Ingrid rushed from the bathroom.
"Devlin, I have some wonderful news. You'll never guess what…"
He stood in the doorway, dressed in the uniform of an American officer, blue folder tucked under one arm. His face was harder than she remembered, shorn of youth's innocent disguise. His cheeks were hollow. His jaw thicker, more resolute. New lines advanced from the corners of his eyes. He was the only man the war had made more handsome.
"The uniform," said Erich Seyss, touching the lapel of his jacket. "Strange, I know. I'm still getting used to it myself. It's the only way to get around town without too many questions."
Ingrid stared at him for a few seconds, not knowing what to say. Her skill at making conversation had fled, along with the air from her lungs and, for a moment, she couldn't decide how to deport herself: whether to act the maiden betrayed, the resourceful mother, or the secret accomplice come to aid in his capture.
He decided for her. Closing the door, he crossed the short distance between them and took her in his arms. He stroked her hair, and for a few seconds, her heart fluttered as it had six years ago. Here he was then, the long lost object of her adoration. The man whose actions had shredded her every belief in herself. The source of her strength and her misery. The father of her only child.
She held him for as long as it took to realize she no longer loved him, then let him go. "Hello, Erich."
She raised a hand to his cheek, wanting to touch him. It was a reflex; a remembrance of an intimacy lost. And she stopped herself just shy of his burnished skin.
Seyss looked her up and down, nodding his head. "Now I know I wasn't a fool to let you ruin my career."
Ingrid broke from his embrace and walked to the vanity, needing the distance to make sense of his words. "I beg your pardon?"
"I came back for you," he said, following her every step. "Two years ago, it was, in March. We'd lost Stalingrad. Everyone knew the war was over. It was just a question of when. Suddenly, I decided that you were more important than the party or some bureaucrat's idiotic rules. I didn't have a pass, but I left anyway. I took a sleeper to Munich, then drove to Sonnenbrucke. You were gone. To a friend's somewhere for the week."
"But I was married. Surely you knew."
"Of course," he answered, standing at her shoulder like a stubborn suitor. "Foolish of me, but I thought I could lure you away."
Ingrid stood preternaturally still, her eyes fastening upon every detail of the apartment's hard-won cleanliness. The floor she'd mopped with a moth-eaten sweater, the furniture she'd polished with a lace dress, the duvet plumped up after airing for an hour. Her surprise was not rooted in disappointment or regret. Not for an instant did she ask herself "what if". She was captured, instead, by her immunity to his words. And at that moment, she realized she was truly free of him.
"No one told me."
"Only Herbert knew." Seyss smirked. "Glad to know someone can keep their oaths."
He laid a hand on her shoulder and turned her around so they were standing close to one another. Uncomfortably close, by Ingrid's reckoning. Smiling mawkishly, he took her hands in his. "Ever since, I've wondered what would have happened if I'd arrived a day earlier. I've asked myself the same question again and again."
"It's in the past, Erich. We're different people now."
"Would you have divorced Wilimovsky? Would you have married me?"
Ingrid tried to avert her eyes, but couldn't. His unwavering gaze didn't belong to a spurned lover, but a betrayed commander. It was his pride, not his heart, that had been wounded. "No."
"And now that he's dead?"
Finally, she looked away, her eyes coming to rest on their intertwined hands. "For the longest time after you left, I kept track of your whereabouts. I'd call my brothers and ask if they'd seen you, if you were safe. Sometimes I swear I wanted to hear that you'd been killed. The hardest thing I ever did was to stop caring for you."
She pulled her hands free. "It's too late for apologies, Erich. Six years. These days, that's a lifetime."
"When did you stop?"
"When did you stop caring?"
"I don't know," she said. "What does it matter?"
Grasping her arms, he gave her a violent jolt. "When?"
She stared at him before answering, keenly aware that despite his lovelorn words he was not here to pay a social call. "Long before you 'ruined your career for me', I didn't have the strength to hate you anymore."
Turning her shoulders, she forced herself from his embrace. She was frightened by his coarse behavior. Never had he been pushy or demonstrative. If anything, he was the opposite. Cool to the point of indifference. Sachlichkeit, he called it, and when she used to say it was just a soldier's ruse to get out of an argument, he'd simply smile at her and give a shake of his blond head.
A queer expression crossed Seyss's face, a rare current of indecision, and for a moment his lips moved as if he were going to ask her something. But just as suddenly, his hesitation vanished. Pivoting, he walked to the window, and right away she saw that his bearing had changed. The spine had stiffened. The shoulders fallen back. He was the soldier again, the time for reminiscences done and discarded. And she knew she'd been right to feel afraid when he'd first walked through her door.
"How did you know I would be here?"
Pulling back a lace curtain, Seyss craned his head outside and peered up and down the street. The windows were simply wooden frames, the glass blown out during the battle for the city. "I didn't, really," he said, pulling his head back into the apartment. "Egon mentioned you might be in town. He told me all about your crusade with Major Judge. Actually, I was looking for a place to go to ground for a few hours. Tell me,schatz, when is he due back?"
Ingrid approached him, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Erich, please go. I won't tell him you've been here. I give you my word."
He shot her a bemused look, as if her suggestion were ridiculous, then returned his eyes to Eichstrasse. "Soon, I take it. Or do you wear that perfume all the day long?" He sniffed at the air. "Joy. It was my favorite. I suppose I should be jealous."
Ingrid took a step back, her cheeks flushing with shame. She'd picked up apetit flaçon of the perfume at the open-air market in the Tiergarten, a token to celebrate her finding a way to visit her cousin. Now her victory was in tatters, and she had to find some means of alerting Devlin to Erich's presence.
"It's madness, Erich. Whatever you're trying to do, stop it. Just leave now. Leave the apartment. Get out of the country."
Seyss might not have heard. His only response was a dry laugh, followed by a hunching of the shoulders that signaled an increased concentration. "Where has he been all day?"
Ingrid was careful in choosing her words, wanting to be cooperative so long as it didn't endanger Devlin. "Looking for you."
"Thank God Berlin's a big city."
Seyss moved away from the window and set out on a tour of the apartment. Two strides took him to the door which he latched with a turn of his wrist. Grunting, he returned to the windows, drawing the lace curtains over each – she supposed to prevent anyone from seeing in. His last stop was the bathroom. A window above the tub led to a rusted fire escape at the rear of the building. Using both hands, he wrenched open the window, brushing away a smattering of broken glass. Taking one of the iron buckets, he set it precariously on the rail of the escape. The softest step on the escape would send it clattering to the ground three stories below.
"And when did he leave?" Seyss asked, retreating from the bathroom.
"Just after seven."
"What did you say he was wearing?"
Ingrid detested his smugness. "His uniform, of course," she said, gathering the courage to lie. "Just like yours."
Seyss had envisioned it differently. She would rush into his arms. They would hug, and in her long denied joy she would forgive his transgression. Naturally, they would fall onto the nearest bed and make love, and it would be a loud, sweaty, earthy, affair. The imaginary scene had taken place in a dozen familiar locales – Villa Ludwig, Sonnenbrucke, even here, in their lover's hideaway on Eichstrasse – and a thousand exotic ones, too. Fodder for a soldier's six years of dreams.
And like a storybook it had almost come to pass: the unexpected meeting, the hushed voices, the tender embrace as his fingers caressed her hair, still the same vixen's blonde that he'd adored. Even the mention of Judge's Christian name and the piercing note of her perfume had failed to dim his hope. She had wanted that pleasure for herself. One word and his carefully constructed palace had crumbled to the ground. "No."
Seyss sat down on the bed, motioning for Ingrid to take a seat on the couch across the room. He took out the.45, checked to see that a round was chambered, then set it beside him. Six years had passed, he sighed. People changed. Smelling her florid scent, his jaw suddenly clenched.Sachlichkeit, he ordered himself.You don't know this woman any longer.
"Schatz, I must ask you another question. No more pleasantries, okay? Very important." He waited until her eyes were fully on his. "What news did you want to tell Judge?"
Ingrid lifted her shoulders and smiled. "Nothing that concerns you. Just that the water is running again."
Seyss could still hear the expectant lilt to her voice:Devlin, I have some wonderful news. You'll never guess what. "No," he said. "That wasn't it. You were too proud of yourself. Your cheeks were glowing. What was it?"
"I've already told you. We have water again. Go check for yourself. The concierge was here before you came."
It was a game attempt, he'd give her that.
"Judge, he's here now, but one day he'll leave, and it will just be us again. Come,schatz, what were you going to tell him?"
Ingrid opened her mouth, her lips forming around some unfinished words, but said nothing. Seyss rose from the bed and knelt in front of her, placing a hand on one knee. "You were never a gifted liar. Truth was always your strong suit. It was your honesty, your exuberance, that we loved about you. So,schatz, before we go any further, let me be honest, too." And just then, he gave her leg a very firm, very carefully placed squeeze so that she sucked in her breath and whimpered. "There is nothing you know, that I cannot find out.Verstehst-du?" Biting her lip, Ingrid nodded reluctantly, and he could see a tear forming in her eye.
"What, then did you wish to tell our friend, Devlin Judge?"
Ingrid remained silent, her knees buckled together and her arms fastened around her.
It was a pity, thought Seyss, that people were so unreasonable. He slapped her cheek and Ingrid's head caromed to the left. A little something to get her attention. Her eyes glared at him wildly, and from nowhere, she threw a punch. He deflected it, yanking her off the couch and tossing her onto the floor. The sight of her laying there angered him – he hated nothing so much as disobedience so he kicked her in the stomach.
"Darling, don't do this to yourself," he said, picking up the pistol. "Think of our boy. Would he like to see his parents fighting this way?"
Ingrid's eyes squinted in disbelief. "You knew?"
"Not until now." He offered a hand to help her up and she knocked it away. "I'm touched."
"Don't be, Erich. You just fucked me. You may be his father, but you're not his parent."
Seyss struck out blindly with his boot, catching her squarely in the sternum, lifting her a few inches off the ground. He was angry at her impudence and her courage, angry at his own predilection for sentiment. He felt no kinship because of their shared offspring. Instead, he felt disgusted and foolish, her rejection of his affection tempering his willingness to overlook her Jewish heritage.
Ingrid squirmed on the carpet for a minute, coughing, making pathetic gurgling noises. Slowly, she gathered her breath and drew herself to a sitting position. Her defiance was ebbing visibly. To make sure of it, he jumped as if to kick her again. She threw out an arm to block the feigned blow, then shrunk to the carpet, crying. Bending down, he helped her onto the couch and offered his handkerchief. It was the least a gentleman could do.
"As you were saying…"
"I'm going to Potsdam this evening," she whispered.
Ingrid cleared her throat, lifting her voice. "My cousin is a member of the Presidential delegation. Chip DeHaven. Stalin is throwing a soiree for Truman and those left behind are giving a small party at the Little White House. We're meeting at the Excelsior at seven."
Seyss nodded. The Little White House. Kaiserstrasse 2. A map in the dossier showed its location and floor plan; another, that of Stalin's villa on the Havel. He'd study both after he killed Judge. "Who invited you?"
"An American reporter. His name is Rossi."
Seyss sat next to her, placing an arm around her shoulders. "Why didn't you just tell me in the first place? So foolish of you to bring this on yourself. All to do a job the Americans should be taking care of themselves."
He pulled her close and kissed her hair. She was noticeably thinner than when he'd last seen her – cheekbones more pronounced, eyes that much larger, waist absent – but her slender figure served only to make her more alluring than she'd been. Maturity had added the final strokes to an unfinished masterpiece. Seeing she didn't resist, he kissed her again, this time on her cheek. Slipping his arm lower, he turned her waist so that she faced him more directly. "So we have a boy," he said. "Smile. Be happy his father is alive. No boy should grow up without his papa. We're together again. As it should be."
"Never," she said and he felt the venom in her words.
Tossing her shoulders, she tried to stand up but a firm arm locked around her back defeated her struggles. He slid down the couch and moved his head toward hers. Her lips were dry and chapped. Feeling her shift, he tightened his grip and placed a hand on her breast. She was always sensitive there, he recalled. He pressed his body into hers so that she might feel his attraction, then snuck in two fingers to unbutton his pants.
Just then, an iron bucket clanked and clattered down three flights of stairs.
Startled, Ingrid gasped and held him tighter. Seyss shook her loose and jumped to his feet, grabbing the pistol and running into the bathroom. The fire escape groaned as someone mounted the steps. Jutting his head out the window, he caught sight of a mop of dark hair climbing the rusted stairs. He brought the pistol to bear and cocked the hammer. It was a man and he was coming up fast, but where was the uniform Ingrid had mentioned. Seyss waited, knowing a shot would ricochet off the scaffolding. He didn't want to fire. A gunshot would bring unwelcome attention. The figure rounded the stairs. A head popped from the sea of metal slats, looking expectantly upward and Seyss was staring at the dirt-smeared face of a teenage boy.
"He paid me. He paid me," the boy was yelling, hand raised to ward off Seyss's bullet.
Seyss didn't hear him.
By then, the door to Ingrid's flat had crashed open and Devlin Judge was rushing across the room, a jagged section of pipe in hand.