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Chapter 51

"_Raus! Raus!_"

Devlin Judge charged across the room, brandishing a heavy lead pipe. He yelled for Ingrid to get out of the apartment but she stood as if frozen. His ruse had brought them a few seconds, no more, and it was only through speed and surprise that they could take advantage of them.

Seyss dashed from the bathroom, a look of incomprehension heating to anger, then resolve. His hand rose sharply and he brought the muzzle of the Colt to bear. Before he could fire, Ingrid was upon him, hands working to free the pistol from his grasp. Judge leapt onto the coffee table and launched himself at the German. The gun bucked once, twice. The noise was excruciatingly loud, clotting his ears with an unbearable ringing. Gunpowder from the muzzle blast scalded his cheek and the next instant he collided with Seyss, his head butting the German in the ribs. The momentum of flight propelled both men into the wall. With a thud, they landed in a confused heap.

Judge cleared his left forearm and pinned Seyss to the ground. Staring into his callous, confident face, he suffered every bitter emotion of the past ten days. His humiliation at being bested at Lindenstrasse, his frustration at allowing Seyss to escape from the armory, and his unspoken anger and the will to revenge on behalf of his brother, Francis Xavier. These feelings and a hundred more for which he had no name came to an instant, uncontrollable head inside him. Cocking his free arm, he delivered two quick downward jabs. The first blow connected solidly with Seyss's cheek. The second glanced off his chin and scraped the floor, causing Judge to lose his balance. And in that instant Seyss's fist erupted like a coiled spring, a freight train on a vertical track catching his jaw square on. Judge's sight darkened and his vision collapsed to a narrow band of light, grainy and unfocused. He tumbled to the floor and his head struck something hard and uneven. Stunned, he thrust his hand behind him and his fingers danced across the cool metal of Seyss's pistol. The discovery and its concomitant prospect of revenge most sweet enlivened him.

Scrambling to his feet, Judge noted with dismay that Seyss had risen, too, and was propelling Ingrid toward the door. Judge took aim at the plane of Seyss's back. The trigger caressed his finger like lips to his ear, begging him to fire. He hesitated. A shot at such close range might easily pass through Seyss and kill Ingrid, too. He yelled for the two to stop, but even as he spoke, Seyss twirled, shunting Ingrid in front of him. He had another gun in his hand and as Judge threw himself behind the sofa, it exploded. The bullet struck the wall behind him, misting the air with vaporized concrete. Ingrid screamed, and when he lifted his head, the apartment was empty.

Judge ran to the door and popped his head into the hallway. Two more shots came his way but neither was close. Seyss was buying time, executing a retreating action to the Horsch with Ingrid, a flesh and blood shield. Judge slid down the stairs, his back to the wall. He was desperate to stop Seyss, but prudence forced him to pause at the top of each landing, to advance inch by inch until he could be certain the next flight was clear.

Reaching the street, he wasn't surprised to see that Seyss had trundled Ingrid into the black roadster. She was half inside the sports car, her flailing arms providing a scrappy if ineffective resistance. Seyss jabbed the pistol into her ribs, hard enough to make Judge wince. He shouted for her to calm down, to do as he said, and she stopped fighting. He shoved her head into the tight compartment and climbed in beside her.

Twenty yards separated Judge from the car. Twenty yards from the woman he cared for and the man he wanted to kill. Keeping his body hidden inside the building's entry, he released the cartridge and ran a thumb over the bullets. Five shells plus one in the snout. He imagined himself bursting from the protection of the building and blasting his way to the car, saw the spent brass casings spitting from the Colt as he emptied the gun into Seyss's torso. It was craziness. Seyss would take him the moment he showed himself. An idea came to him. The tires, he thought. Shoot the goddamned tires!

Arm extended, Judge peeked from the building. A young couple walking hand in hand interrupted his line of fire. Seeing his pistol, they turned and fled down the street. Just then, the Horsch's engine spat brusquely and caught. Judge stepped from his hide and began firing. One, two, three shots. All misses. The Horsch screeched from the sidewalk, shuddering as it executed a one hundred and eighty degree turn. Judge ran after it, firing wildly at the tires, praying no strays would violate the gas tank. He didn't dare risk a shot at the tightly bunched silhouette inside the cockpit. Suddenly, he heard a fat bang, louder even than the gunshots and the left rear tire exploded. Ingrid felt rather than heard the tire blow. It was as if someone had kicked the car, knocking a leg out from under it. The Horsch veered left and Erich flung both hands onto the wheel to correct the vehicle's course, letting the gun fall onto the floorboard at his feet. Spotting her moment, Ingrid sprung. Her ribs were very sore where he'd prodded her with the pistol, but she managed to twist and lunge across the armrests and make a grab for the wheel. Clutching the circle of polished wood, she yanked it right and held on for dear life. The car lurched into the curb, bounced off, then climbed onto the sidewalk. Seyss rose in his seat and delivered a vicious elbow to her chest. Crying out, she released the wheel and fell against the door. He thrust the wheel to the left, but by then it was too late. Traveling at forty miles per hour, the Horsch struck an elderly man, then careered through the plywood of an electrical goods store. Ingrid brought both arms in front of her face, wanting to scream but finding fear had lodged her cry deep in her throat. It didn't matter. By then, the world was screaming for her – the splintered wood breaking upon the car, the furious engine howling in protest, the tires seeking purchase on the slick cement, and above it all, Erich yelling for the car to stop, stop, stop. Sliding across the deserted showroom, the Horsch slammed snout-first into the back wall and came to an abrupt halt.

Seyss saw the collision coming. Breaching one arm against the steering column, the other on the handbrake, he let the shock roll through him. He waited for a moment after the car had come to a stop, taking a deep breath, then making an inventory of his body's complaints. His forearm ached. His chest was sore (from the collision with Judge) and his ankle throbbed curiously. He hoped it wasn't broken. He raised a hand to his forehead, expecting to see blood, but it came away clean. Amazingly, the windscreen had not shattered.

He glanced at Ingrid. She was dazed and unmoving, but apparently unhurt. He remembered her ridiculous attempt at bravado, saw her grasping the wheel, tugging at it like a hellion and he grew enraged. All of this was her fault. Running a hand across the floor, he found the Browning, then turned to face her.

"I'm sorry,schatz," he said. "But really, I can't have you messing up my life any further."

Without further ado, he placed the barrel of the pistol against Ingrid's forehead and pulled the trigger.

Nothing happened.

Ejecting the cartridge, he saw he was out of bullets. Shit.

Ignoring Ingrid, Seyss tried to start the car. He turned the ignition time and time again, but after a few wounded coughs the engine died altogether. Ingrid laughed but made no move toward him. The door was frozen solid, so he pulled himself out the open window. His first steps were tentative. A sharp pain stabbed at his ankle. A sprain, nothing worse. Reaching the sidewalk, he saw Judge in full flight running up the street. He'd never make it as a sprinter, but his form wasn't bad. And with that gun he didn't need to win, a close second would do.

Seyss unbuttoned his jacket and began to jog up the road. The motion flooded his distended joint with blood and for a few steps, he thought he might faint. Lengthening his stride, he was pleased to feel the pain subside. A crowd of onlookers had gathered round the entrance to the store. Burnt out tanks and flak torn aircraft were old hat, but an American officer crashing a Horsch roadster into a neighborhood store… that was a novel sight. Judge met his eye, then broke off the chase and ran into the store. Idiot! He actually cared for the girl. Ingrid must have freed herself, for a half second later, Judge was back, re-upping his pursuit with a new vigor. Forty yards separated them. Putting additional weight on his weakened limb, Seyss was pleased to find it accept the exertion. He ran faster and the distance between them quickly grew.

And as he ran, he became aware of the curious stares thrown his way from the local gentry. It wasn't usual to see an American fleeing a German. Not in Berlin at least. Turning this observation over in his mind, Seyss discovered a neat solution to his problem. A nifty way to end this ridiculous charade once and for all.

Coming to the next corner, he turned left and headed west. Eichstrasse was practically on the border of the American zone of occupation. It was just a matter of time before he came upon an American installation. The sun shone high on the yard arm and soon he was sweating, his shirt damp and his jacket tight across his shoulders. Not wanting Judge exhausted, he slowed, allowing him to gain some ground. Judge rounded the corner a second later. He had settled into a steady stride and, though perspiring heavily, looked ready to run another five kilometers. At his shoulder was Ingrid Bach. When had she turned into such an athlete?

Remembering the pistol, Seyss stoked his tempo. He heard Judge yell "stop!", and not a second later a bullet whizzed overhead, sounding in its proximity like a drunken bumblebee. Then he saw it. A block up the road, an American flag flew from the balcony of a white stucco building- agemeindehaus or district governmental office. He smiled at the red and white stripes curling in the soft breeze. It wasn't a flag he'd ever wanted to salute, but it was one he had surrendered to willingly. Prisoners on the Eastern front couldn't expect Hershey bars, Budweisers or Lucky strikes as part of their daily regime. He stumbled purposely, wanting Judge to gain a few feet and the thought came to him that he was a fisherman and that he was reeling in a big catch foot by foot. Nearing the American flag, he yelled in his loudest voice.

"Get me some help quick. Crazy Nazi bastard's trying to kill me. Will someone get down here?"

A moment passed. No one responded and Seyss felt a chill pass through his body. It was Wednesday afternoon. Maybe like German schools, the Americans closed their doors after twelve o' clock midweek. Just as quickly, though his fears were put to rest. The doors to the stucco building burst open and four GIs peeled down stairs, each carrying an M-1 rifle.

Judge saw the American flag and smiled. He would catch Seyss. He would explain everything to the CO and that would be that. The White Lion was finished. Just a few more steps. Tucking in his chin, he ignored the fire that had engulfed his lungs three blocks back and urged his knees higher, his legs faster. Seyss had stopped running and was waving the squad of GIs in his direction, saying something about "a crazy Nazi" and "war criminals" and "a murder". In his overheated state, Judge couldn't make it all out.

"I'm an American officer," he shouted, when he was within spitting distance of the soldiers. "That man is an escaped war criminal." But he was too out of breath to make himself understood. His ragged rebuttal sounded more like, "offzer", "awrcrimnal". He sounded just like the rabid Nazi Seyss claimed he was. The GIs were all around him now, and he didn't like how they were eyeing him. Seyss stood behind them. Judge raised a hand to get a breath, staring at Seyss only ten feet away, panting "I'm an Ameri-"

A rifle butt crunched into the back of his neck and he didn't say anything else.

Chapter 50 | The Runner | Chapter 52