TEMPLEHOF AIRFIELD, BERLIN
Amazed, Ross boarded the C-69 transport, the exclusive transportation for VIPs shuttling between Europe and the States. Unsure how Sergeant Major Jackson accomplished his booking, Ross slipped around the two, and three-star Generals mixed in with the well-tailored civilians packed in the passenger area.
Not sure who the civilians must be, but the military brass deferred to them as if they might be deities. As he slipped around the packed dignitaries, he made his way to a vacant row near the craft’s tail. Since no one joined him, he lounged across both seats.
As the engine starters whined and the ground crew pushed the passenger staircase away, an olive drab Army sedan screeched to a halt next to the steps. While the stairs rolled back in place, Colonel Butler in civilian clothes emerged from the vehicle and bounded up the stairway.
Once inside, Butler shuffled down the center aisles, searching for a seat clutching a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist. With his the only vacant seat, Ross sat up and moved his things from the empty seat beside him.
“Well, Captain, this is a pleasant surprise,” Butler said as he dropped into the seat next to Ross, “Have any of those new units contacted you yet?”
“Yes, sir, I just wanted a chance to go home before I decided.” Seated next to Butler, Ross shifted in his seat. Should he stand? Salute? “Are you heading home?”
Butler shrugged. “I hope to have time to drop in on my family when I get to Washington. But I’ll not stay long.”
Ross’s discomfort ended soon after takeoff. As soon as they were allowed to unfasten their seat belts, Butler made his way up the plane’s center aisle. After tapping on the cabin’s door and entering, he remained there throughout the eighteen-hour flight to New York, not appearing again until before landing.
As Ross trailed the Colonel down the ramp, a light mist fell, making the wet tarmac glisten in the reflected airport lights. At the base of the stairs, two men waited next to a black limousine. Muscular, shoulder holsters bulged beneath their jackets, like mob enforcers Ross encountered as a New York Policeman. At the stair’s base, Butler marched to the car. As one escort trotted around the car to the driver’s seat, the other opened the car’s rear door. After Butler leaped inside, the vehicle sped off, leaving Ross and the other VIPs marching single file to the terminal.
Since a letter announcing his arrival would not have reached New York before him, he stepped into a phone booth to call. Gotta give Mom some sorta warning, he told himself as he dropped a coin into the slot. His mother answered on the second ring and gasped when he announced his arrival. Before he could say anything else, she dropped the phone and shouted for his father.
Ross’s heart warmed as he listened to his mother’s excited chatter in the background, and soon his father came on the line.
“You are here?” His father’s voice high pitched, a tone his voice took when excited. “It is after sun down, I cannot come to get you.”
“Don’t worry, Dad. It’ll be quicker if I catch a cab.”
After paying the cab driver, outside his parents’ home. The porch light came on just as he set foot on the stairs. His mother appeared in the doorway. In her black dress covered by a white apron, she clattered down the steps before she embraced him. Before Ross retrieved his suitcase, his brother, Ben raced down the steps, shook his hand, and grabbed the luggage. As Ross and his mother trailed his brother up the stairs, she clutched his arm. “What a wonderful surprise.”
Inside with the light behind him, Ross’s father appeared like a dim silhouette. But now, as he stepped into the light, Ross saw changes. A professor at New York University, the man always dressed like an Esquire fashion plate. Now he wore corduroy trousers worn at the knees and a large floppy sweater, several sizes too big. With a Yarmulke perched on his head he fidgeted with the prayer shawl draped over his shoulders. The man looked as if he aged ten years older instead of the two since Ross last saw him.
As his father embraced him, his body quaked with sobs.
“Is that the no-good galoot from the Army,” a voice roared in German from another room, “He better get in here right away before his grandfather denies him.”
“I will be right in!” Ross shouted back in German. “I hope you have been practicing your cribbage. If not, I will get my inheritance from you right now and put you in the poorhouse, so I can enjoy all your money!”
Laughter roared from the other room. As his father released his embrace, he swiped a tear from his eye. Taking Ross’s hand his father led him to the next room. There a man with thinning gray hair rose, cane in hand spread his arms to offer a hug. After releasing Ross, the old man peered at him through wire-rimmed glasses, a tear in his eyes. “You think you are a hotshot now at cribbage?” His grandfather nodded to Ross’s father. “A little game on the Sabbath, shouldn’t break the rules, eh?” With a weak smile his father shook his head.
Later, seated at the kitchen table with his family, Ross bowed his head as his father recited the Kiddush. Finished with the blessing, his father salted the challah before he passed it to his younger brother seated to the old man’s right. As they ate, they continued talking in German out of respect for his grandfather as the old man still did not understand English well.
“So, what will you do now?” his father asked as he passed along the next dish.
“I’m not sure. I wanted to come home to visit before I decide.”
“You mean you are not home for good?” His mother frowned, shook her head as she passed a plate to his grandfather seated at the end of the table.
“Mom, a lot of things need to be done over there even though the war is over.”
“We just thought you might now come home. Now might be a good time to go to Law School like you planned.” His father never accepted him being a policeman. Just a pause for experience before he studied Law. Ross’s grandfather said nothing, just eyed him over his plate, recalling the police leading the pogroms in the old country. To the old man, cops could never be a friend. They talked no more about his plans, preferring to stay with safe subjects like updating him on the local gossip.
He played cribbage as promised with his grandfather before heading to his old bedroom for the night. His eyes roamed the room. A lump formed in his throat as he viewed the familiar objects sitting where he left them. His trumpet case in the corner. A baseball trophy on the dresser. While he stared at the stack of Superman comic books on the shelf, his mind drifted back to the last few weeks. The defeated Germans marching down the road. Crowded into a pen. Like the comic book character, they had not been true Supermen either.
As he changed into his pajamas, someone knocked. After buttoning his shirt, he rushed to open it. Outside his mother clutched an armload of bedclothes to her chest. “It might be chilly tonight, so I brought you some extra blankets and this comforter.”
After placing the stack at the foot of his bed, she patted her hair as if straightening it, gazed into his eyes. “Just like always, put anything you need laundered, in the hamper. I will not be washing, though, until Sunday.”
“That’s so different, Mom. We were never observant before. And now? You’ve all become Orthodox.”
“I know. As soon as you went overseas, your father has followed all the rituals. When he is not teaching his classes, he spends all his time at the synagogue with the rabbi. At first, I thought he might leave the university. Become a rabbi, but now, I believe he did it to protect you.”
“Yes, I believe he feared that if he did not lead an exemplary life, God might take you as punishment.”
He took her into his arms. “Well, I’m home safe now, so no more worries.”
“So, you might stay and go to Law school. They are making such wonderful promises for the boys coming home. Even sending them to school.”
“Like I said earlier. I need some time to think. Even if I stay in the Army, the war is over. It would be as safe there as here.”
“I hope so, but it is so good to have you here. I missed you so.” Tears glistened in her eyes. “If you are ready for bed, may I tuck you in?”
He smiled. Enjoyed this ritual with her that ended with his bar mitzvahs.
“Sure, mom, I would like that very much.”
After he climbed under the blankets, his mother spread the comforter over him. She then sat down on the edge of the bed and ran her fingers through his hair. “Thank you, James, for humoring an old woman. I won’t read you a story. What you rugged grown men may enjoy at bedtime might embarrass me.” She kissed him on the forehead, then turned out the light as she left the room.
The next morning Ross came up the back stairs to the Detective’s Squad room. As the early morning briefing just ended, plainclothes and uniformed officers packed the place. The aroma of fresh-brewed coffee, along with the buzz of conversation, filled the air as the men moved off to begin the day’s tasks. Near the back wall, a bald, heavyset man sat with his feet on the desk. His tie loosened at the neck, reading the newspaper. A steaming coffee mug set next to a giant glass ashtray. Cigar smoke billowing over the paper did its best to cancel the coffee’s aroma.
As Ross snatched the paper, the man’s jaw dropped, tumbling the stogie onto his ample stomach. As he brushed ashes from his shirt, he leaped to his feet. “Jesus, Ross!” Snatched the smoldering cigar from the desk where it ended up before extending his hand. “You out and home?”
“Nah, Sarge, not yet. Came here to make sure you guys saved my share of the bag.”
The Sergeant grinned, gave Ross a gentle backhanded tap on his chest. “That’s reserved for the active guys. Not the ones who took off to travel the world. Figured you already scored all that captured Nazi loot they talked about. Coffee?”
Ross chuckled. “Not sure I could stomach it after bein’ away so long. I’ve developed a more refined taste.”
“Scuse me all to hell. Just headin’ out. Canvasin’ on a murder we had last night. Wanna come along? We can reminisce.”
“Actually, I wanted to talk to the Captain?”
“Get in line. We had a real crime spree over the weekend, and he’s up to his ass in alligators.”
“Shoulda known. May as well trail along with you. See what I’ve been missin’.”
“You comin’ back?” the Sergeant asked as he slipped his suit coat on. He set his hat on his head as they made their way down the stairway to the indoor parking garage.
“I’m not sure. There’s a Police Unit forming in Germany. They’ll provide the service until the Germans get it back together or an investigative unit for the War Crimes Tribunal that I’ve been lookin’ at.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard about all the shit those Nazi bastards pulled. I hope they roast the cocksuckers.” He gave Ross a nod as they strolled to an unmarked black sedan. “Somebody needs to round those bastards up.”
“I don’t know if they’ll ever hold `em all up to the law.”
As they drove to the scene, Ross described what he’d seen in Europe. When he finished, the Sergeant removed his cigar. “So, there’s just too many of `em.”
“It’s hard to imagine. It’s like the whole country went nuts for thirteen years. And now it’s like they are regaining consciousness. There are a few that still believe in the Nazis, but most seem sorry for what happened.”
“Kinda like a drunk driver that finds out he killed someone when he gets sober.”
Parked where several uniformed officers held back traffic, the two marched to a guarded doorway.
The uniformed officer gave Ross an appraising glance while speaking to his companion. “Sergeant Hanlon, Lieutenant Murphy’s expecting you. He’s on the fourth floor.” He blocked Ross’s passage. “Is this man with you?”
“Yep, my personal consultant from the Feds.” As they climbed the stairs, Sergeant Hanlon panted from the exertion. “Guy coulda had the courtesy of getting himself snuffed on the ground floor, or at least in a place with an elevator,” Sergeant Hanlon grumbled. In his late fifty’s, the man had been Ross’s mentor. Between his smoking and his weight, Ross figured the man would never make it to retirement. Just drop dead on the job, saving the city the cost of his pension.
On the fourth floor, two men stood outside the door. A camera dangled from one man’s arm as the other gestured through the opened doorway while talking. As they arrived, the cameraman slipped inside, leaving the second blocking the entrance, his hands on his hips.
“About time you dragged your fat ass over here,” the man in the doorway growled without turning around. “They told me you were busy reading the want ads. I hoped you looked for a more suitable career.”
“Ah, Murph, you know how rush hour traffic can be,”
Murphy gave them a sideways glance. Scowled. “Ain’t it fucking typical. I’m always the last to know shit.” Murphy nodded towards the open doorway. “Go on, Ross. See if you can lead your partner through this. He’s been lost without his brain.” He tipped his fedora back on his head, tossed his hands in the air. “When am I gonna start finding out who’s on my squad?”
Hanlon shrugged as he passed Murphy. “Ross ain’t officially here. Just dropped in for a social call on his poor relatives, I guess.”
“That’s like good news and bad news. Good news is I’m not being kept in the dark about who comes and goes.” Murphy gave Ross an appraising glance. “Bad news is, I thought I finally might get a full day’s work out of you.”
Murphy turned to Ross. “You just sightseeing, or do you want to do a little work?”
“You want me to look around?”
“Why not? You always had good ideas from the first view of a scene.”
Ross stepped around Murphy into the room. A body missing half his head lay on the floor, surrounded by a large bright pool of congealed blood. The photographer moved around the body, the flash from his Speed Graphic, illuminating the room like lightning strikes.
Ross squatted, glanced back at the door. “Body’s position suggests he got shot when he opened the door.” He pointed to the singed marks on the man’s shirt and face. “Close range.”
Hanlon bent over the body. “Got a name?”
“Melvin Purvis is the name on the apartment’s lease, according to the landlord.”
Ross looked up, frowning. “Seriously? The G-man? The guy who got Dillinger and the others?”
Murphy shrugged. “That’s the name the man gave.” He nodded toward the body. “But even I know that ain’t him.”
“Landlord’s on his way to see if he can make an I.D. No sign of any other papers. Not even a driver’s license.”
Ross rose, scanned the tiny apartment. The main area, a combination living room and kitchen. After flipping on a light in the side room, Ross stepped inside. A single bed made up tight, almost like a boot camp bunk, beside a four-drawer dresser. He turned as he stepped into the closet. “Do we have a time of death?”
“Based on rigor and the blood, I’m guessing sometime last night, but the M.E. will give us more, I’m sure.”
Ross shoved the hangers aside, studying the clothes. “No pictures or any other decorations. Only men’s clothes in the bedroom. Guy didn’t even have curtains, just the window shades.”
A tall, cadaverous looking man in a black suit entered, removing his hat as if entering a church.
“Excuse me, I own the building.” When Murphy stepped away from the body, the man lunged back. After taking a deep breath, as if steeling himself, he cocked his head while shuffling forward, his eyes locked on the victim. “This is not Melvin Purvis.” He massaged his forehead. “I have never seen this man in my life. I will have Mr. Purvis served with an eviction notice immediately.”
He jammed the hat back on his head as if this stranger, dead in his building, no longer deserved respect. Before he passed through the doorway, Murphy grabbed his arm. “You don’t know this man?”
“No.” He pointed at the body. “This violates our lease agreement. I am sure it has upset my other tenants. Hopefully, they will not just move out.”
“I hate to say it, but we have to upset `em some more.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“Gotta talk to `em all. Find out if they saw or heard anything unusual. Plus, they might know who he is.”
The landlord jerked away from Murphy’s grasp. Straightened his jacket. “Well, the Police Commissioner is a close personal friend. If any of my tenants complain, I will make sure he hears of it.” He sneered. “I will have someone here in the hour to clean this room out. Please see that your people have him out by then.”
“Sir, this is a crime scene. We will seal the apartment off until we conclude our investigation. I’ll arrest anyone who enters without my authorization.”
The man’s eyes bugged out, his face crimson. As he spoke, he shook his finger under Murphy’s nose “Rest assured, I will complain to the Commissioner about your high-handed methods here.”
Murphy shrugged as the man stomped from the room, slamming the door behind him. He turned to Ross. “Make you glad you won the war to protect a prick like that?”
“I guess you guys have your hands full with this one,” Ross replied as he walked to the door. “I’ll just catch the subway back. Maybe see you all tomorrow.”
After exiting the building, Ross strolled toward the nearest station. Halfway down the block, a black limousine sat at the curb. As Ross approached, the man raised a newspaper as if reading. Despite his quick movements, Ross recognized him as a thug who met Butler at the airport the night before.
After sitting in the waiting area for three hours the next day, the Captain’s assistant ushered Ross into the man’s presence. Now he couldn’t believe his ears as the man spoke.
“Of course, it is our policy to re-instate men who have served their country. Have no fear there,” the Captain continued, “All you need to do is let the duty Sergeants know when you are available to return. I am sure you will again be an asset to our Patrol Division.”
“But I was a Detective.”
“Ross, right now, there are no Detective openings. We had turnover since you left. Couldn’t leave the force shorthanded. With you boys returning, we can’t demote those men who stayed behind. As always, there are openings in Uniformed Patrol. In a few years, you’d most likely be back in Detectives.”
Ross bit back his anger. “In a few years?”
A smirk crept across the Captain’s face. “Unless we discover you inherited some bad habits from your service that might prevent such a thing, but I’m sure that won’t be the case.”
It took all his strength to not slam the door behind him before he marched to the Detective Squad room. There Hanlon munched on a donut as he filled out forms. A second man from Ross’s academy class sat with his feet on Hanlon’s desk, drinking coffee while snatching a donut from the box beside Hanlon.
Hanlon glanced up at Ross’s approach. “Why you hangin’ round here instead of keeping your fine mother company,” Hanlon said, using his best Irish brogue impression. “I’m sure she’s missin’ your fine company all these years while you were out gallivanting around with all those European hussies!”
“Shit Jim, when did you get back!” The second man set his coffee cup aside as he rose. As he extended his hand, he glanced at it, then with a grin, wiped his fingers on his trousers before offering it again. “I was helpin’ Hanlon keep his weight down by stealing his donuts. Damn, it’s good to see ya.”
“You too, Butch.”
Hanlon continued with his Irish brogue as he shooed Butch away. “Why don’t you go home to your wife when the shifts over? Instead of sitting on your ass here botherin’ workin’ people.”
After picking up his donut, Butch chuckled as he strolled away.
Ross dropped into the vacated chair. He clutched the donut box, wrinkled his nose as he studied its contents, “These gut busters are gonna be the death of you.”
“Seen the Captain yet?”
“Yeah, he said there were no Detective openings, but I could return to Uniformed Patrol and promote back eventually,”
Hanlon’s eyes grew wide. “That’s not true! They made a big to-do when your buddy, Butch, got back from Italy last month before they gave him his Detective Sergeant’s slot back. Mind you, he had to take the night shift, but he always was a rogue. Gives him an excuse to stay out at night. Tells the wife it’s overtime.”
Hanlon gave him a dismissive wave. “You know what it’s like here. You need to join the Irish Athletic Club if you want to get ahead here.”
“Humph, they only accept guys from the Knights of Columbus.”
Hanlon shoved the donut box close to Ross. “Well, maybe if you partook more frequently of these donuts, people might forget about the rest of your kosherness.”
“Kosherness? Is that even a word?”
“Well, what do your people call it then?”
“Hell, if I know. I never thought much about being a Jew after I hit puberty. Family didn’t observe the traditions much, so I sort of took it for granted until I saw the camps.”
Hanlon’s brow furrowed. “Were they as bad as they say?”
“Sarge, there is no way I could describe the full horror of those places. Imagine what Hell might be like. These places were worse.”
“So, what are you gonna do”?
“Stay in the Army. At least there, I got a chance at being a cop.”
“Yeah, those things ya mentioned. Both sound better than walking a beat at night in Harlem or the Bronx.”
“Anyway. I’m surprised you’re here today. Figured Murphy would have you out beating the bushes on the murder from the other day. Solve it already?”
“Damnedest thing. I was watching the autopsy when these two heavy hitters escorted this pompous ass from the FBI in. He showed the Doc some papers. Told me to leave. The Feds were taking over the case, and they would be back to me if they had questions.”
Ross frowned. “Just like that? Usually, the Feds only come if we call, and after we do all the heavy lifting, they take the credit.”
“Yeah, it was different. They even took the body before I left.” Hanlon yawned as he scratched his side. “I’m finishin’ the paperwork after that, toss the photos in the file. All squared away in case they ask about it.”
“You think that might happen?”
Hanlon leaned close. “Whoever leased that apartment under that name was stupid or so powerful they didn’t give a fuck.”
Hanlon shrugged. “Who knows? But I have this feeling I won’t ever hear a thing about it again.”
Ross glanced at the desk. A stack of photos lay face up beneath the donut box. Moving the box aside, he examined each picture. “Did ya talk to the neighbors?” Ross held one photo up to the light.
“The ones at home when we figured the killin’ happened didn’t hear a thing. None ever saw the man who lived there, or the dead man. You see something in that picture?”
“Yeah, under his arm here, the guy has a tattoo.” Ross set the photo before Hanlon. Pointed to a spot. “That looks like the tattoos the SS guys I told you about had. It was how we spotted them.”
“You think this guy might have been some big-time Nazi on the run then?”
First Butler’s thug, then the FBI. He shrugged. “Somethin’ is goin’ on. But what?”