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Chapter 53

The room was oppressively small, six by eight, windowless, its sole decoration a three-legged stool, a naked bulb dangling from the ceiling and the ripe and all pervasive stink of ruptured plumbing. Judge paced its length, holding his cuffed hands to his chest, a forsaken pilgrim beseeching the Almighty. His knees were scabbing; so were his elbows. His cheek tingled as a thousand grains of gunpowder worked their way from his dermis. His head throbbed from the malicious vim of an eager MP. But his physical discomfort was more blessing than curse, an oft-repeating canticle keeping his mind alert, focused. To acknowledge the pain, to moan, even to grimace, was to admit defeat. No, he whispered under his breath. Seyss won't make it.

Hope, he realized, had become his last weapon.

They'd been locked up at 3:45 and he wasn't sure how much time had passed since. An hour. Two. Maybe more. With no watch and no means of seeing the outside world, he had only his thirst to keep the time. A little while ago, a guard had thrown in a mess kit with some chipped beef on toast – "shit on the shingle". Neither he nor Ingrid had touched it.

A welter of voices in the surrounding rooms captured his attention. Judge stopped his zealot's pacing as the door swung open. A late afternoon's glare flooded the room forcing him to squint to make out the formidable silhouette filling the doorway.

"There's my boy. Got himself all banged up again. Look at you. No better than Jerry, himself, and smelling just as bad." Whatever surprise Judge felt at seeing Spanner Mullins was outweighed by his relief.

"He's here, Spanner. He's in Berlin."

"So I gathered, lad. So I gathered." Mullins stepped into the room, patting a hand softly against the air in a motion for his former charge to keep quiet. Under his breath, he added, "You can give me the details when we're alone.

"And you," he said, once more the bluff copper, addressing Ingrid, "Miss Bach, I take it? Greetings, ma'am. Just you relax. Everything will be fine. I'll have you both out of here presently."

"Thank you. That's very kind." Ingrid hauled herself to her feet and Judge could see the worry melt from her face. Mullins was just the dulcet-voiced, big-boned authority her imagination had called on to set the record straight.

In the space of ten minutes, he'd ordered the cuffs off Judge, signed for their release, and gotten them a drink of water and a bologna sandwich. Outside the district garrison, he shepherded them into a four-door Buick, its flat black paint speaking of police rather than military use.

"The Excelsior," Judge called from the rear seat. "He'll be there at seven."

"How do you know?" Mullins queried.

"It's my fault," said Ingrid. "I was terribly weak. He only-"

"Just get us the hell there," Judge cut in, keyed up by his unexpected release. "I'll explain on the way."

"The Excelsior, Tom," Mullins told his driver, a buzz-cut, bullet-headed sergeant even bigger than he was. "You've got exactly fourteen minutes to get us there."

"Be there in ten," ordered Judge.

Tom turned to give Judge and Ingrid his best knucklehead's grin. "Yessir."

The Buick navigated the streets at an uneven clip, nowhere as fast as Judge would have liked. For every open avenue, there was an alley clogged with debris. For every headlong sprint, a stomach churning deceleration. The sun was beginning its descent, its unobstructed rays spraying burnt vehicles and crushed buildings with a gilded edge, setting eddies of dust asparkle and lending the beleaguered city, if only for a few minutes, a golden patina.

Judge tried the window, but found it wouldn't go down. The doors were probably locked, too. A cop's car, what did he expect? Settling into his seat, he pictured himself flying into the bar of the Excelsior Hotel, getting the drop on Seyss. But the fantasy lacked an ending. He couldn't decide whether to shoot him on sight or go for the arrest.

"Now, lad," said Mullins, swiveling to drape an arm over the top of the seat. "Mind telling me how you got here? George Patton's got half the United States army looking for you."

Judge sat forward. "Only way I could figure. I got myself dressed up as a German and gave myself up. Three hours later I was on a transport to Berlin. I should ask you the same question."

"What? Not happy to see me?" Mullins's glassy eyes narrowed ruefully. "You're lucky I didn't let you rot in that cell and take your punishment – the strings I pulled with the General to get your transfer extended by twenty-four hours and you going AWOL on me. By the by, you can kiss your slot with the IMT goodbye. I had Justice Jackson on the phone with me this morning, didn't I. Asking all kinds of questions about why you weren't in Luxembourg at that very instant talking nice to Mr Hermann Goering."

"Stopping Seyss is a helluva lot more important than a second-rate slot on the IMT."

"If I didn't agree with you, I wouldn't be here." Mullins shot the driver a nasty glance. "Would you hurry it up, Tommy boy? We don't have all day." Then back to Judge. "I was worried when you didn't show up at Bad Toelz like you promised. When I heard the ghastly news about the girls in Heidelberg, I phoned the hospital to see if you'd been by. Why didn't you call me then, lad? It's me gets you out of the tight scrapes, remember?"

"Yeah," Judge said, "I remember." And a sliver of shame pricked at him for having distrusted the man who'd done so much to shape his life. "Does Patton know you're here?"

"Patton? Are you daft, boy?" Mullins drew his brow together in earnest disbelief. "He'll probably throw my fanny in the can straight after he gets you. No, sir, I'm here on my own. It's my ass on the line right next to yours. I came to clear both our names." What could be more typical? Mullins helping Judge to help himself. Anything to insure his career against further collateral damage.

"And you're sure he's at the Excelsior?" Mullins asked.

"You can bet on it." Judge explained about Ingrid's date with the American reporter, stating his belief that Seyss was certain to take her place to secure a ride to Potsdam. His question was not whether they would capture Seyss – they would, theyhad to – but what to do afterwards: "Seyss isn't alone in this, you know."

"Do I?" "He's being backed by Patton and by Ingrid's brother Egon. Some kind of cabal. The same people who got Seyss out of the armory, killed von Luck, and came after us in Heidelberg."

But Mullins wasn't buying it. "If it's a German you want to tie to Mr Seyss, be my guest. But don't be dragging Georgie Patton's name into this."

"He brought his own name into it. Don't go blaming me."

Judge went on to tell Mullins about his late night call to Patton, Patton's promise to bring him to Berlin, and the subsequent wolf pack sent to arrest him. But even as he explained, a part of his mind ventured off, imagining what would happen if Seyss had his way. A Russian shooting Truman and Churchill on Russian-occupied soil. It would be war for certain.

And, picturing the renewed conflagration, he finally saw where Egon Bach fit in. Faced with a superior foe, the Americans would have no choice but to call up and re-arm the German Wehrmacht. In days, Bach Industries would be back in action, spewing out bullets, artillery shells, and most importantly, at least to Egon Bach, profits. This whole thing was about greed. Greed for glory and greed for financial gain.

"Blarney," retorted Mullins. "You're talking about George Patton, not some hooligan from the Bowery. I won't hear anymore of it."

"It's not blarney," Judge shot back. "And I don't give a damn if you believe me or not. I'll take care of things from here on out."

"Enough!" roared Mullins.

Judge raised an arm to object, but caught his tongue. Sitting back, he saw that Ingrid had gone white. Instinctively, he grabbed her hand and squeezed it, offering a comforting smile. "Fine, Spanner. I don't want to argue about it. Let's get Seyss, then we'll talk about next steps."

Mullins didn't answer for a second, his all-seeing eyes fastened upon their joined hands. For a moment his face hung limp, cheeks drooping like a mainsail becalmed, and Judge saw that Mullins had grown old beyond his years. A second later, he perked up and the mouth rose into a smile. "That's more like it, lad. Let's concentrate on the matter at hand and keep our fanciful notions to ourselves."

But Judge couldn't get the look out of his mind. Surprise never sat well with Mullins.

Just then, Ingrid tapped Judge on the arm, speaking softly to him in German. "We just missed the turn to the Excelsior."

"_Bist-du sicher_?" he asked, sotto vocce. "You're sure? It's probably a detour."

"The Kurfurstendamm is clear. I walked it today."

"What's that, you two?" asked Mullins, his eyes trading surprise for suspicion.

Judge released Ingrid's hand and scooted forward on his seat. "You sure we're going the right way?"

"How the hell should I know? Never set foot in this town until last night."

"I thought you flew up this morning." Mullins coughed. "Yeah, this morning. It was still dark when we landed."

"Ingrid says this isn't the way to the hotel."

"That's correct, Colonel," she said. "We should have turned on the right on the East-West Axis. It's the fastest way to the Kurfurstendamm."

Mullins glanced at his driver. "That right, Tommy? You're not getting us lost, are you?"

"No, sir. We're right on track."

And then Judge saw it. The shitty little grin that Tommy shot Mullins, as he shrugged his shoulders and said not to worry, that he knew exactly where they were headed. It was a grin reeking of complicity and disdain and, Judge thought, hate.

"What's going on, Spanner?" he asked.

"Nothing, lad. Tommy's taking us his way. Been in Berlin two weeks. Practically a native. Just sit back and relax yourself."

But there was nothing relaxing about Mullins's voice. It had taken on a servile edge, its tone smug and insincere. Judge had heard the voice a hundred times before, Mullins talking down a difficult suspect, dismissing an irksome complainant. It wasn't Mullins talking; it was the force. The power behind the shield, or in this case, the uniform.

It was Judge realized with dread dismay, Patton.

"Alright," he said, "but tell him to hurry."

He kept his voice easy, his shoulders relaxed, while inside he cursed himself for his willful ignorance. His surprise at seeing Mullins, followed upon by his impatience to get moving, had distracted him from closely scrutinizing the Provost Marshal's presence in Berlin. Christ, but the signs were obvious: his coasting through formalities to obtain Judge and Ingrid's release, the official car and driver, the gaffe about when he'd arrived. But none was more telling than the mere fact of Mullins's bodily presence.

Mullins had never disobeyed an order in his life. The thought that of his own volition, he'd defy Patton and jump a flight to Berlin was ludicrous, even if as he'd claimed he'd wanted to clear his own name. It was a leap of faith Stanley Mullins was incapable of taking.

Judge's fear came and went. His only route was to play this out to the end, try to keep a measure of dignity. He looked at his watch, returned to him when he left American custody. "Christ, it's five of."

Dropping his fingers to the door handle, he gave it a slow hitch north. Locked, as he'd thought. "Hey, Spanner, I'll need a pistol when we hit the hotel. What can you give me?"

"We've got a couple pistols in the trunk," said Tommy. "We'll pull over up ahead. Get you all fitted out. That all right, Major?"

"Yeah, that's good."

Judge nodded enthusiastically, but he knew he wasn't fooling Mullins for a second. He looked over at Ingrid, who smiled back, unaware of their predicament. He decided it was better she didn't know. Her ignorance might gain them a second or two. A glance out the rear window revealed the street to be empty save a Jeep trailing a hundred yards back. Probably Mullins's back-up.

The Buick made a sharp and sudden turn right, bouncing madly as it advanced down an alley of uptorn flagstone and brick. Shadows drenched the car and Judge saw they had driven into an abandoned courtyard, or hof. Half-wrecked buildings rose all around them; crumbling witnesses four storeys high, crying red brick.

Ingrid laid a hand on Judge's leg, sitting up abruptly, her flashing blue eyes sensing trouble. "Why have we stopped? It's nearly seven, Colonel. We must get to the hotel."

Judge gripped her hands, his eyes never leaving Mullins. "You want to tell her, Spanner?"

"Go ahead, lad. You were always the silver-tongued one."

"Colonel Mullins doesn't have any intention of helping us find Erich Seyss," he said, an iron collar keeping the sorrow and anger from his voice. "He's part of it. One of Patton's boys. Isn't that right?"

Ingrid looked from Judge to Mullins, half gasping as the words found their way home.

"The lad's correct, Miss Bach. My apologies for having allowed him to drag you into this. Your problem, Dev, is that you're always asking questions when you should be following orders. You don't know when to forget being the lawyer and remember to be a soldier."

Judge kicked at the door, once, twice, ramming his heels against the chassis. The door didn't budge. As quickly, his rage passed and he sat back.

Tommy pivoted in his seat, bringing his right arm over the banquette. He had a tough's beady eyes to go with his bullet head and crew cut, and a scuffed up Luger in his hand. But Judge's eyes weren't on the pistol. They'd found something more interesting on Tommy's uniform. A ribbon of red, white, and blue, with a star in its center, pasted on his olive tunic. The Silver Star. And clearly visible a quarter inch above it, a clean tear in the fabric where General Oliver von Luck's protesting hand had ripped it off.

"You tipped off Sawyer," said Judge. "You set out the wire for us in Heidelberg."

Mullins eyes twinkled, and he sighed, tiredly. "Alright, Tommy."

Judge threw a protective arm across Ingrid, shielding her with his body. "Jesus, Spanner, can't you even do this yourself?"

And for a split second, Judge felt removed from himself, queer and floaty, as if all of this wasn't quite happening. Staring into Mullins's ruddy face, he saw the two of them walking out of a Brooklyn courthouse in the summer of twenty-five, Patrolman Mullins and his charge, Devlin Parnell Judge; he felt the pressure of Mullins's hand the day he'd pinned his policeman's shield to his chest, and four years later when he'd exchanged it for the gold badge of a plainclothes detective.

"Why?" he asked.

Mullins dug something out of his pocket and stuck a hand over the seat. "Two reasons, if you have to know. One for each shoulder." Resting in his palm was a small jewel box displaying a pair of silver five-pointed stars. "I'm not going to have any snot-nosed punk talking down to me when I'm back stateside. The way I see it, the mayor will be more than happy to appoint a brigadier general who served under Georgie Patton commissioner of police for the five boroughs."

"You're going to help Patton start another war just to get a lousy promotion?"

Mullins colored, rising in his seat. "Look around you, lad. If it's not now, it'll be later. Why not get the job done when our boys are still here? You think Mr Stalin's going to sit still in Berlin? The Poles and the Czechs, why they're done for already. They're greedy bastards, the commies are. George Patton knows that. He's the only fellow brave enough to take steps, while we can do something about it. You were a decent fighter once. I'd thought you'd understand."

"Yeah," said Judge, shaking his head. "Your own Jimmy Sullivan."

Mullins snapped the box closed, giving Judge a doleful smile. "Sorry, lad, but you've left me no other way." And shifting in his seat, he nodded to his driver. "Alright, Tommy. Let's get it over."

"No!" shouted Judge.

A hailstorm of glass exploded into the car, a battery of gunshots blowing out the windows, spraying crystal splinters over Judge and Ingrid. One, two, three. The blistering reports came close on each other, melding into a terrific earsplitting roar. Somewhere inside the blizzard, the side of Tommy's face dissolved into a frothing red mass. Ingrid buried herself in the car leather, mouth frozen in a silent scream, blood freckling her delicate features. Mullins shouted, "What the he-" The next instant his voice died, his skull caromed from the dashboard to the window and his shoulders slumped against the door. White smoke choked the car, cordite from the spent casings.

Silence.

Rivulets of glass tinkled onto the dashboard.

Judge pulled his hands from his ears, releasing his breath. Ingrid stared at him in shock, her eyes blinking wildly. Tommy was dead. Spanner Mullins twitched, gasped, then was still.

Suddenly, the door behind Judge was flung open. A GI brandishing a smoking pistol peered into the automobile. Judge recognized the cornflower blue eyes, the shock of brown hair, the open and trusting face, but the Texan's shit-eating grin was nowhere to be seen.

"Welcome to Berlin, Major Judge," said Darren Honey. "About time I found you."


Chapter 52 | The Runner | Chapter 54