home | login | register | DMCA | contacts | help | donate |      

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


my bookshelf | genres | recommend | rating of books | rating of authors | reviews | new | | collections | | | add



Chapter 54

Seyss was in.

A grand foyer greeted him, squeaky wooden floors waxed to an immaculate shine, rich yellow walls, and a gargantuan crystal chandelier bathing the circular hall in an unflattering light. The entry was packed with security men: the Americans in their double-breasted summer suits, Brits sweating in wool serge, and, of course, his fellow members of the Russian secret police, the NKYD, dressed to a man in identical boxy gray suits.

Arms behind his back, lips pursed in polite but stoic greeting, Seyss crossed the foyer. He nodded his hellos and received a few in return. No brows were raised in suspicion. No one questioned his function. No one even asked his name. His mere presence at Ringstrasse 2 bespoke his right to be there.

Behind him were two police checkpoints, a long chat with the head of perimeter security, Gregor Vlassik, and a cordon of Cossack cavalrymen, spit-shined boots and gleaming sabers on proud display. Farther back was Colonel Klimt, who could be found at this instant lying naked in the dirt with a lead slug in his temple. It had been a clean shot, barrel pressed to skin, so as not to risk bloodying the uniform. Rushing to change into Klimt's pea green smock and jodhpurs, he'd been thrown back to his days as a recruit at the academy in Bad Toelz. Inspections were often held in the middle of the night and these spur of the moment affairs became known as "masquerade balls". The cadets were lined up naked in front of their beds then ordered to dress for a specific activity a full gear march, a formal company banquet, even a football match. The first two cadets properly attired were permitted to go back to bed. The rest went at it again and again, until at dawn, the last two standing were ordered to run ten kilometers in full combat dress.

The door closed behind him and he caught the hum of a party in progress, like the drone of distant bombers. A corridor ran the width of the house. A red carpet softened the tread of his cavalry boots, candle sconces lit the way. Seyss moved purposefully through the hall, his foreknowledge of the house's layout, its security measures, easing his anxieties, and lending his step a confident, unimpeachable gait.

He knew, for example, that Vlassik had an office at the west end of the hall, and that next to it was the radio room. He also knew that there was only a single water closet on the ground floor, so that during the evening guests in need would have occasion to traipse upstairs in search of another. What interested him most, however, lay at the end of the hall: the formal dining room, where tonight the three leaders of the Western world were gathered to celebrate the defeat, rape, and pillage of the Greater German Reich.

Ahead, the French doors to the dining room swung open, spitting out a tuxedo-cladmaitre d'. Spotting Seyss, the man raised an inquiring finger and rushed over.

"No uniforms!" he hissed under his breath. "Thevozhd has expressly requested that all officers not invited to the formal dinner parties remain in the service area. Comrade, this way." Seyss stood rock-still, appraising the officious man with an insolent gaze. A feeling of utter invincibility had come over him. He was no longer Erich Seyss. No longer a German officer impersonating a Russian officer. He was the colonel, himself. He was Ivan Truchin, hero of Stalingrad, and no one, not even theVozhd or, supreme leader, as Stalin liked to call himself would be permitted to show him disrespect.

"Very well," he answered a moment later, his dignity satisfied. "Lead the way."

The kitchen was a hive of activity. Waiters, chefs, sauciers, sous-chefs, patissiers all scurrying this way and that. Two broad tables ran the length of the room. On them were a dizzying array of dishes. Smoked herring, white fish, fruit, vegetables, cold duck. A giant tureen of caviar four feet across sat half eaten near the trash, a veritable mountain of the precious black roe. The second course was being served: a lovely borscht with dollops of sour cream. An enticing aroma wafted from the ovens: roasted venison. Stacked in the corner were crates of liquor: red wine, white wine, cognac, champagne. It was more food and drink than the average Russian would see in a lifetime.

And supervising it all, the meddlesome prick who'd shepherded him into the kitchen.

Seyss pulled aside a passing waiter, pointing at thematre d'. "Who is that?"

"You mean comrade Pushkin?"

"Pushkin the author?"

The waiter laughed, then realizing he was laughing at a colonel of the secret police, frowned. "No, sir, Dimitri Pushkin, thematre d'hotel of the Restaurant Georgia in Moscow; Comrade Stalin's favorite."

"Ah."

Seyss followed the waiter to the service door and watched him deliver his tray of steaming borscht. Stalin, Truman and Churchill were seated at the same table, separated from one another by their closest advisors. Churchill looked sullen and morose, more interested in devouring the monstrous whisky in his hand than chatting with his dinner partners. Truman and Stalin were deep in conversation, clearly enjoying each other's company. Stalin banged his good hand on the table and Truman tossed his head back, cackling. Bottles were produced. Vodka for the American. White wine for Stalin. A toast was made.Nastrovya!

Seyss didn't know who he hated worse. Truman for being so weak. Or Stalin for being so strong.

There was not a single security officer inside the dining room. Just the eight round tables, each seating between seven and ten guests, all male. Twenty-five feet separated Seyss from the head table. Truman was seated sideways to him and Churchill at the far side, facing him. Seyss's problem was obvious: there were too many bodies in his line of fire. He couldn't nail two head shots at this distance. Not with any certainty.

Or maybe he was looking for excuses.

For the first time, he wondered if he'd been naive to factor escape into his plans.

Dismissing the notion, Seyss resumed his study of the room. A grand piano was set off to one side, its lid raised. Apparently, there was to be entertainment. Four sets of brocaded French doors gave onto a flagstone terrace, and beyond that a broad lawn sloping to the banks of the river Havel. Another look around the place convinced him. He needed his targets outside.

Retreating from the doorway, Seyss walked the length of the kitchen searching for the exit to the terrace. A chef was pulling the venison from the oven, basting it in its own warm juices. Pots boiling to overflow were eased from the stove, steaming string beans poured into a sieve. A flurry of pops spoke of wine being corked and decanted. Sliding past this well rehearsed chaos, Seyss noticed his heart beating faster, his stomach growing flighty. A bead of sweat escaped his brow and traced a slow course across his forehead. His earlier sang-froid was nowhere to be found. He smiled at his sudden distress, recognizing the familiar sensation. Nerves. It was always this way before a race.

He found the back door in an alcove past the pantry. Standing next to it were two men and two women, all clad in evening dress, talking brightly to one another. The women were typical Bolshies: fat, ugly and in need of a good wash. Both held violins to their ears, plucking the strings, bowing a few notes, tuning their instruments. Their conversation halted the moment they saw Seyss.

But Colonel Truchin was in an ebullient mood. Mixing among them, he opened the door and tucked his head outside. The sky had darkened to a dusky azure. The temperature was pleasant; not a cloud to be seen. He smiled, relaxing a notch.

"A beautiful evening, yes?"

The musicians responded merrily. "Wonderful. Gorgeous. A pity not to play al fresco."

Seyss inclined his head at the suggestion. "Yes," he agreed. "A pity."

The best ideas were always the simplest.

Judge sat in the front of the Jeep, hand on the windscreen, leaning to the right so that his head captured the brunt of the passing wind. He kept his eyes open, allowing them to tear. He'd decided he preferred a moist, unfocused landscape to the stark and desolate one Darren Honey had just revealed.

Darren Honey, captain attached to the Office of Strategic Services.

The OSS had known about Patton for the last three months his growing psychosis, his hatred of the Russians, his admiration for all things German. Judge had come along at the right time, the investigation into Seyss's escape a perfect medium to insert an agent into Patton's command. No one had any idea at the beginning that Seyss would be linked to Patton so directly. They'd only wanted to see to what extent Patton abetted or interfered with the investigation. Serendipity, Bill Donovan had called it. To paraphrase a famous general, he'd rather be lucky than good.

Judge thought there was more but Honey wasn't talking, except to say he was sorry for allowing Mullins to beat him to thegemeindehaus in Wedding. Just as well, though. It saved them from having to deal with Mullins later.

They'd crossed the Glienickes Bridge five minutes ago. Officially they were now in Potsdam. The road rose and fell, carving its way through sparsely forested foothills. Russian soldiers lined their path like a green picket fence. And though it was high summer and the trees sagging with leaves, there was a smokiness to the air, the spicy scent of smothered embers and burning wood that made him think it fall.

Honey's field telephone gargled and he held it to his ear. A voice spat out some words in a foreign language. Honey answered back in the same tongue.

"The Russians found one of their men in a drainage ditch not far from Ringstrasse. Dead." Honey hesitated, then added, "His uniform was missing."

Ingrid shot forward from the back seat. "Quick. You must ring the President. Call Stalin. Warn them Erich is here."

Honey spoke a few more words into the receiver, then set it down. "Taken care of."

"That's it?" Judge asked. "Where are the sirens? Why isn't every one of these soldiers picking up his gear and moving his ass to Stalin's place?"

"Taken care of," Honey repeated and Judge knew he was no longer in charge.

They passed through two checkpoints, stopping each time for ten excruciating minutes as Honey's papers were meticulously scrutinized and phone calls were made up the chain of command. Judge asked for a pistol and Honey shook his head. One hothead with a gun running around Stalin's residence was enough. Judge was only there in case they couldn't find Seyss. Same went for Ingrid. They were the only two who knew his face close up.

The road had assumed a long, steady curve and the Havel was visible in the cuts between the homes, a calm blue expanse framed by sloping grass shores. Cresting a rise, they came upon a black Mercedes parked on the side of the road. Honey braked hard and pulled the Jeep over. A man was already running toward them, pale and thin with lank dark hair and a drooping mustache. He was dressed in a gray suit and carried a bundle of clothing under one arm.

"For you, Major Judge, please to put on. Quickly." He handed over a blue blazer and white shirt, then ran back to the black sedan.

"Do as he says," ordered Honey. "And hurry up about it." Putting the Jeep into first gear he followed the Mercedes up the hill.

"Who was it?" asked Judge, slipping on the clean dress shirt and blazer.

"A friend."

"But he's Russian," Ingrid protested.

"I hope so," Honey retorted. "I don't know how else you expect to slip into a state dinner given by Marshal Stalin."

Judge was as curious as Ingrid about the man's identity, wondering why the hell he knew his name.A friend. He had a good idea what that meant. "Who was it?" he asked again, and this time held Honey's gaze until he answered.

"Vlassik. General Gregor Vlassik. Head of compound security during Marshal's stay. It's his neck if anything happens. Like I said, a friend."

They pulled back onto the road and followed the Mercedes for three minutes. Two Ringstrasse was a gated stucco mansion painted the color of rust, mansard roof and dormer windows. Truman's bodyguard was parked on the main road, a bevy of G-men in pin-stripes and fedoras toting Thompson submachine guns. Churchill's escort was more discreet, lounging in a half-dozen Bentleys. Vlassik waved off a brace of sentries and both cars coasted through the open gates, parking in a covered court to the left of the front door. The Russian was out of the Mercedes in a flash, ushering his three guests into the service entrance. From the moment he stepped inside, it was apparent something was wrong. The mansion was deadly quiet, the kitchen half deserted. Vlassik rushed to a lone waiter who sat smoking a cigarette, perusing a Moscow newspaper.

"Where is everyone?" Though he spoke Russian, the gist of his question was obvious.

The waiter shrugged, pointing toward the rear of the houses with his cigarette. "Outside on the terrace. I believe they are performing some Tchaikovsky. Perhaps the Violin Concerto in D minor."

Judge grabbed Vlassik's sleeve. "I take it Tchaikovsky on the terrace wasn't part of the program."

Vlassik blanched and shook his head. "No, comrade, it was not."

Judge turned to Honey, hand extended, palm open. "Give me a goddamned gun and give it to me right now."

Vlassik beat him to the punch, drawing a heavy revolver from his boot and slapping it into Judge's hand. "A Smith and Wesson thirty-eight. Standard police issue,nyet? If you are to see this man, Seyss, please to kill him."

Judge flicked open the cylinder, checked for rounds, then slapped it home. "You've got my word."

The musicians were really quite good, though Seyss would have preferred something more somber for the occasion, Beethoven's "Erotica", for example. The piano had been rolled outside and the two female violinists stood next to it, bowing vigorously, swooning in time to the pianist's dramatic runs.

A few words to Pushkin, regarding Stalin's ire that the American President found the dining room too smoky, and the anxious little muscovite had moved like the wind to reorganize the musical entertainment. No wonder he presided over the best restaurant in Moscow. He knew the first rule of catering: the guest comes first. Though, Seyss added somewhat sympathetically, after this evening, Pushkin could probably forget about returning to his post at the Restaurant Georgia. If he returned to Moscow, at all, it would be in a pine box.

Seyss stood on a fringe of lawn at the top of a gentle slope that fell away to the river bank. Behind him the forest encroached to his back. Lining the lawn from the villa to the Havel, were members of the crack division assigned to guard the residence of their supreme leader. To a man their faces were turned to the terrace, eyes watering at the romantic musings of their own Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky.

From his point of vantage, he had a clear view of the gathering. Churchill, Truman and Stalin stood shoulder to shoulder at the forefront of the assembled guests. He measured the distance to his targets as seventy feet. A chest shot with a pistol from this distance would be simple. A head shot, more difficult. A hand brushed his holster, thumb freeing the pistol guard. Using the last three fingers, he eased the revolver a centimeter or two from its well-oiled cradle. Once he drew the weapon, he would have to move fast. Aim and two shots, aim and two shots.

The cauldron must be made to boil.

It was time.

Raising his nose to the fragrant night air, he took a tentative step forward. His muscles itched. He felt loose and energetic. He saw himself down in the blocks, imagined the feel of the clay as his fingers danced over the starting line. This was the part he'd liked best, the prelude to the race, sizing up himself and the competition, his uncertainty hardening to conviction.Macht zur Sieg. The will to victory. The memory of it all made him smile. He rolled his neck to either side, breathing deeply, his eyes focusing on the targets; Truman dressed in a charcoal suit, an appreciative grin pasted to his face; Churchill in a khaki uniform, arms drawn over his chest, liking none of it. Seyss took a deep breath and swallowed hard. His mouth was dry. Suddenly he didn't want to smile anymore.

Sachlichkeit, a voice urged him, and his entire body stiffened.

One last race.

The guests had assembled on the terrace forming a large crescent around the musicians. They stood with their backs to the villa, forty men in dark suits enjoying the lively music. Judge rushed to the edge of the gathering, eyes scouring the group for the distinctive pea green of a Russian officer's uniform. He found only three or four soldiers, generals all, each above fifty.

"Shit," said Honey. "The troops are in the woods."

Dozens of Russian soldiers lined either side of the lawn, having emerged from their positions to enjoy the music. Every man shouldered a machine gun, a pistol in his belt. Many more remained partially shrouded, shadowy figures inhabiting the forest's border. Anyone of them had a clear, unobstructed shot at the Allied leaders.

Judge skirted the crowd. Harry Truman, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin stood ten feet away. Caught up in the music, they were impervious to the frantic hunt being launched around them. He saw Vlassik whispering urgently in Stalin's ear and Stalin shoo him away with an expression of grave irritation. Judge turned his eyes to the soldiers closest to the terrace, squinting to make out the features beneath their woolen caps.

"I see him."

It was Ingrid, and her voice was ice. She clutched at his arm, using her free hand to point toward a cluster of soldiers half hidden beneath the overhanging branches of a centuries old pine. "There."

Still pointing, she released Judge's arm and began to jog, then run, across the terrace.

"Erich," she yelled. "Erich, don't!"

A gunshot cracked the night air and Ingrid seemed at once to stop and rise on her tiptoes. A flower had bloomed high on her back, larger than any rose Judge had ever seen, and as she collapsed, his heart fell with her.

Seyss emerged from the shadows, sprinting, pistol extended in front of him, firing in time to his step. His cap blew from his head and Judge saw his face hard, determined, fearless.

The musicians played a few bars longer, first one violinist cutting short a bow, then the other. Finally the pianist dropped his hands from the keyboard, looking altogether mystified. The guests remained where they stood, the combined civilian and military leadership of the three most powerful countries on earth, warriors all, and not a soul among them moving.

By now, Judge was running too. Firing and running, closing the distance to the President. Honey dropped to one knee and, steadying his arm, began to blow off rounds. Somewhere in the tumult Judge could hear the spent shells tinkling from his pistol like coins from a winning slot.

Ten feet separated him from the President. One last step and he was there. Throwing himself in front of Truman, he grabbed the man's shoulders and chucked him to the ground. Then, he was falling, too, spinning in time to see Seyss's gun spit fire, feeling a sudden and terrible pain near his hip.

Seyss came nearer, his runner's stride relentless, and Judge imagined he could see his finger whitening as it tensed around the trigger. All his efforts were for naught, for Francis, for Ingrid, for himself, and now for the President. The White Lion would succeed. The thought sparked him into a terrific rage, a fury that cauterized his pain and momentarily erased his worry for Ingrid.

Raising his pistol, Judge fired twice, striking Seyss in the shoulder and the thigh. He could hear the bullets impact, a dull and concise thud, could see filaments of his uniform waft into the air.

Still, Seyss's pace did not slacken.

Judge waited a moment longer, until Seyss's body filled his entire field of vision. He yelled "Stop!" and, even as another slug knocked him to the ground, squeezed off his final round.

A perfect dot appeared on Seyss cheek as a puff of pink smoke burst from the rear of his head. His step faltered, but only for an instant. Still, he ran, but his stride was looser, his mouth open, his eyes no longer focused. The gun rose in his hand, but just as quickly fell. Arms flailing, he tumbled recklessly to the ground, his pistol clattering to the flagstone.

Seyss lay a foot away from Judge. He was dead, his pale blue eyes frozen in the infinite distance.

Judge rested his head on the terrace and stared into the night sky. A single star twinkled above him. "Ingrid," he shouted, his voice sandy and weak.

He waited, begging the star and whatever force had made it for an answer.

But by now every security officer in Potsdam had descended onto the terrace. The FBI men and their machine guns were pushing their way through ranks of uniformed NKVD regulars. British agents had surrounded a wholly unperturbed Winston Churchill, who Judge heard call for" a whisky, a bloody great big one, and make it snappy". Stalin stood nearby, huddled with his top commanders.

Peering through a forest of milling legs, Judge fought for a sign of Ingrid. Then he saw her; she lay prone, her legs crossed at the ankle, her form unmoving. Clenching his stomach, he called her name through gritted teeth. "Ingrid!"

Abruptly, his view was blocked by a familiar figure kneeling at his side.

"Are you alright, young man?"

President Harry S. Truman folded his jacket into a square and placed it under Judge's head.

Judge touched a hand to his hip and it came away warm and wet. The other slug had taken him in the shoulder. Curiously, his entire body was numb. The pain, he realized, would come later. He pulled himself forward an inch or two to regain sight of Ingrid Bach.

"Keep still, son," Truman said, his earnest features were etched with concern. "We'll get a doctor here in a jif."

Suddenly Ingrid's legs twitched. General Vlassik was kneeling at her side, speaking to her. Applying a compress to her shoulder, he helped her sit up. Her face was pale, her blouse soaked through with blood, but she was alert. She was alive.

Judge closed his eyes for an instant, sure it was his Francis Xavier who had answered his prayer. "Yessir," he said.

Truman brushed his hand against Seyss's uniform. "Jesus. One of theirs. And I thought Stalin had security wrapped up damned tight."

"No," Judge protested, fighting to raise himself to an elbow. "He's not a Rus-"

A firm hand pressed him to the ground, cutting short his words. Crouching alongside the President, Darren Honey gave a discreet but unmistakable shake of the head.

"Not what?" Truman asked.

Judge looked at Honey a moment longer, then he knew. They had wanted this to happen: Honey, Vlassik, the OSS and whoever was behind it.

"Nothing," said Judge. "I wasn't sure if he was dead."

"He's dead alright, damned communist." Harry Truman glanced over his shoulder. Seeing Stalin, his jaw hardened. His eyes shot back to Judge, but he was looking right through him. "Maybe I can't trust that sonuvabitch after all."

Judge turned his head, losing himself among the tall pines that bordered the rolling lawn. No, he thought to himself,you probably can't. And maybe it's better that way. Maybe mistrust was the best form of vigilance. He remembered something he'd learned long ago in school, something about equal and opposite forces keeping the other at bay. And then he was too tired to remember much of anything.

And closing his eyes, he saw himself standing on the docks of the Brooklyn Navy Yard with Francis: two brothers with their hands locked together in farewell. Curiously, he was unable to speak, unable to offer any warning about the future, even to say goodbye, and after a moment, Francis turned and disappeared into the busy crowd, leaving him only the question in his eyes and the weight of his expectations.

But just as quickly the image faded, and Judge found himself drifting off, thinking of Ingrid and the scent of her neck and the touch of her hand on his cheek.


Chapter 53 | The Runner | Epilogue