PACT WITH THE DEVIL

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CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Ross stood near one end of the room beside Colonel Bradshaw. Near the door, at the room’s other end, Harrison handed mimeographed sheets to each man as he entered. Once inside, the men talked among themselves while separating into two groups. One, mostly officers, and the other primarily enlisted men. After everyone entered, Harrison ordered the group to attention.

Bradshaw stepped forward. “At ease. In fact, why don’t you all just have a seat here on the floor for now? I am sorry about the lack of furniture, but as you can see, we haven’t finished with the construction here. I am Colonel Lionel Bradshaw, the Chief Prosecutor for what has been come to be called the Doctors’ trials. The sheets we gave you as you came in, summarize the case. You men will gather the evidence to indict and try these individuals. It is a heinous case, and we expect to be going for the death penalty.”

He turned to Ross. “This is Captain James Ross. He’s a former New York Detective and is the Chief Investigator for this unit. He will continue with your training and direct your activities. Sergeant Beau Harrison, whom you met as you came in the door, is his adjutant. I will turn this briefing over to them. They have my complete confidence. If you have concerns or questions, direct them to Captain Ross or his Sergeant. Welcome to Nuremberg.”

After Bradshaw exited, Ross and Harrison ran the morning’s training session, covering the procedures the men would follow in gathering evidence. Harrison separated the men into investigative teams before the lunch break with instructions to return this afternoon to meet with Major Worth to learn the procedure for the file room. Ross arrived in his office to find a note directing him to report to Bradshaw’s office at the break.

Outside Bradshaw’s office, his clerk grumbling under his breath ignored Ross as he tossed items from his desk into a box. As Bradshaw’s office stood open, Ross entered. Except for the desk and chair, they had stripped the room bare. No evidence of its occupant, down to Bradshaw’s wall hangings, remained.

As Ross returned to the outer office, the clerk paused in his packing. “You are to go to General Taylor’s office. The old man is out of here.”

“What’s going on?”

“All I know is that one of Butler’s thugs came in with an envelope. Gave it to the old man, then escorted him out of the building. I’m headed stateside. Leave this afternoon.”

After leaving Bradshaw’s office, Ross followed a labyrinth of hallways still under construction to the Chief Prosecutor’s office. As he entered General Taylor’s outer office, he came face to face with Butler and Mundt.

Butler smiled like a kid who had success raiding the cookie jar. “Captain Ross! I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance yet to come down to your office. It seems I get pulled in too many directions at once. I must come down though soon for a chat.”

Mundt smirked at his side. “We hired your portrait painter. I hope that does not delay the thoughtful gift he was doing for your parents. Good day, Captain.”

As he trailed the pair with his eyes, an icy chill ran down his spine. A feeling he had not experienced since combat ended.

When he knocked at the open doorway, A handsome man with wavy brown hair and his full-dress uniform jacket bore a General’s silver stars on its shoulders, glanced up. At Ross’s knock, he beckoned him inside.

Ross snapped to attention before the desk and saluted. “Captain Ross reporting as ordered.”

“At ease, Captain.” After returning Ross’s salute, he beckoned Ross to one of two vacant chairs before his desk. “I am pleased to meet you. Colonel Bradshaw and Colonel Butler both speak highly of you.”

“Thank you, sir.” As if seated at attention, Ross sat silent, wondering what might come next.

“You will be on your own until Colonel Bradshaw’s replacement arrives, but he assured me you have the situation well in hand. His departure will not impede the case’s progress.”

“May I ask where Colonel Bradshaw went?”

“Yes, back to the States. He should be back in time to run for that office he wants. I am sure he will be an asset to his electorate.”

“I assumed he would be here for the entire case, sir.”

“Plans change.” Taylor’s eyes narrowed as he studied Ross’s face. “I don’t have a lot of time to spend with you today. We had a brief recess in the trial today, so I thought I would get with you as soon as I could.”

“How is that trial going, sir?”

“That asshole Goering is running us ragged. Off his drugs, his mind cleared. He grabs the floor and is a constant distraction. If it weren’t for Speer’s cooperation, we would be in a corner.”

“So, I am to continue preparing for the Doctors’ trial?”

“Yes, and if there is anything you need, let me know. Get these new investigators up to speed and performing. My main concern is that if we don’t move quickly and efficiently, we’ll get pressured to drop this whole thing and let these bastards get away with what they did.”

“Yes, sir. Anything else?”

“Yes. Stay clear of Butler. He is the flavor of the month. He appears to have a free hand, and I can’t afford to lose any more people right now.”

After being dismissed, Ross made his way back to his office, where Harrison waited.

“Major Worth is reviewing file access with them,” Harrison began, “Furniture arrived during lunch. When they finish, they can spend the rest of the day arranging their offices. I grabbed you a sandwich at the PX downstairs. It’s on your desk.

He told Harrison about Bradshaw’s abrupt departure and his meeting with Taylor.

“The scuttlebutt I got at lunch said Bradshaw raised a stink with the old man about Butler and the Kraut. He comes in this morning, and they gave him an offer he couldn’t turn down to go home and begin his political campaign. Seems even a friend of Truman’s promised to campaign for him this fall for District Attorney. Also, he left an address here for you to send along his portrait when Zwolf gets it done.”

Ross then told Harrison about meeting Butler and Mundt.

“So Mundt says Zwolf’s working for them now. Wonder what that means. The same deal he was on before?”

“For his sake, I hope not. We can ask him about it when he comes in next time.”

Harrison held up Justine’s gun. “Also, while you were out, that MP Sergeant stopped by with your Walther. Offered to replace the shells you guys used to dispatch those assholes. Apparently, you did them a real favor.” As he passed Ross the gun, he winked. “Funny, I don’t remember you having this before.”

“It’s Justine’s.”

Harrison grinned. “And since Germans aren’t allowed guns, you claimed it to keep her outta trouble.”

“Noble character that I am.”

“The way she shoots, you better hang on to it for your own protection.”

“I noticed you came in a little late this morning. You also seemed a little stiff.”

“Well, Gretchen, you know that blond that works with Justine? She talked me into taking her out dancing last night. That gal really knows how to cut a rug, ran me ragged.”

“Oh? I thought she might have wanted some help with her plumbing. I heard her mention to Justine that she was having some problems with that.”

Harrison frowned. “Huh, that’s strange. Her place doesn’t have running water. All her water comes from the pump down the street. Hell, she even has to use an outhouse in the back of the building. Helluva mess. You have to take a club with you to chase away the rats before you use it. Maybe you misunderstood her. Her English ain’t that good.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.”

“So, what happened with the kid? He outta the hospital?”

“Yeah, he and his sister are stayin’ with Justine and her landlady. Seems the boy is quite the scrounging expert, and the old lady thinks they can give her a hand around the place, getting it cleaned and fixed up.”

“That’s gonna really cramp your style. My dad used to send me and my brother into town whenever he wanted to do business with my mom, you know. Around here, there’s nowhere to send `em.”

“Remember, Sergeant, you are still under orders to not have those kinds of thoughts about the young lady and me.”

Harrison chuckled. “Yeah, I remember. Guess I was thinking out loud.”

“Sergeant, as I recall, you told me once that thinking was above your pay grade. That was officer work. Your job was just to do what you were told.”

“What?”

“Yeah. Remember when that machine gun had us pinned down while that Tiger came at us?”

“And you asked me what I thought we should do?”

Images flashed through Ross’s mind as they spoke. Bullets whizzing over their heads as the ground shuddered from the tank’s treads. Ross frowned. “Yeah, that time.”

“Yeah, I remember what I said. Just my luck, you would find it convenient to remember stuff I used to train you.”

“Can’t have it both ways.”

A knock at the door interrupted their conversation. Outside the door, Zwolf clutched his derby while glancing over his shoulder as if checking for pursuers.

Harrison beckoned him inside. “We didn’t expect you until tomorrow. By the way, congratulations on your new job. You got an emergency?”

“Please, they instructed me to not talk to anyone in the building besides the people upstairs about my work.” Zwolf remained in the hallway, still glancing behind him. “Willi wants you to meet him in an hour at the same place as last time. He will explain.”

Finished, Zwolf turned on his heel before scurrying down the hall then up the stairs.

“Shit, I wonder what that’s all about.” Harrison scratched his head as he closed the door. “Little guy acted like the Devil was after him.”

Ross shook his head. “It must be Butler again. What the hell can that man be up to?”

Ross told Harrison about meeting Butler on the plane back to the States. Then Butler’s man outside the building where the murder occurred in New York.

Harrison rubbed his chin. “He said Willi can explain. If you meet up with him like he asks, we might find out.”

*****

As Ross opened the diner’s door, the aroma of herbed lamb stew drifted out. The fragrance reminded him of his mother’s cooking as she prepared the Passover Feast. Since he neglected to write since his visit home, he vowed to write a brief letter tonight. Should he mention Justine? When he left, his mother seemed on a mission to find a suitable girl for him to settle down with.

“James, you wait too long, and all the nice girls will be gone,” his mother had admonished him more than once. “Besides, you get a reputation waiting too long. They won’t take you seriously. Just consider you some ‘Nancy Boy’ hiding in the closet. You don’t want one who would accept that. You need a strong one who will give me lots of grandchildren.”

He chuckled as he thought what his mother would say about this gun-toting little Fraulein. Not exactly New York Jewish Princess material. He heard somewhere that men sought brides like their mother. He had seen his mother angry. Thank God she never had a gun. Perhaps they had been correct. But at least Justine could stand up to his mother.

Grim-faced, Willi rose as Ross approached. “Captain, I am glad Zwolf delivered my message.” Willi snapped his fingers to summon the old woman waiting on tables. “Zwolf is anxious. I feared that might prevent him from finding you. I am having a lamb stew. It is excellent.”

After ordering coffee from the woman, Ross turned to Willi. “Anxious? Seemed scared shitless. What’s going on?”

“Do you remember that man you had me follow at the camp?”

“Yes, Mundt. What about him?”

“Zwolf works for him.”

“Doing what?”

“Producing identity papers as he did in the camp.”

“Is Mundt arranging escape for his former comrades?”

“No, Zwolf says the Americans provide his instructions.”

“Great. That’ll give him a regular income.”

“He is not getting paid. Zwolf came to the camp with that bunch of SS from the death camp. Remember?”

“Yeah, real bastards.”

Willi nodded. “They had been on the run from the Russians. Einsatzgruppen.”

“Those death squads they used on the Eastern Front?”

“Yes, Mundt has Zwolf’s record from the camp listing him as being taken prisoner as a member of that squad. Unless he works only for Mundt, he will turn the records over to the Russians. They will demand his delivery to them.”

“Shit. They’ll execute him without so much as a trial. Only the lucky ones get shot or hanged.”

“That is why Zwolf is, as you say, scared shitless.”

“I’ll straighten that out with Butler. He knew about all that crap, and he can straighten out Mundt and his boss. Plus, he can’t just make Zwolf work for nothing. The regs say he, just like any other German working for the Army, has to be paid. We’re not Nazis.”

Willi said nothing, merely shrugged.

“I haven’t met Fisher yet, but he’s connected with Butler. Hell, Butler might be his boss. It might be something this Fisher cooked up on his own or some a Mundt’s crap. Let me snoop around myself. Can’t hurt to try.”

“There is more. Mundt was at the trucking company. Fisher wants supplies brought to that house where I delivered the prisoners.”

“You mean for the guys sitting out in the woods partying?”

“I do not know if the same men are there, but it is the same house. It would also fit with what I overheard when I delivered them. The first delivery is tonight.”

“I thought you said Werner refused to work with them anymore.”

“Business is very competitive right now. He can’t turn down the work.”

“But he knows about what they tried with you. Right?”

“Yes, but he thinks now it is different. They are allowing him to bring his own armed guard, and it is for weekly deliveries. Also, just to be safe, I am to follow. Provide a rearguard for this first trip.”

“But they wanted to kill you.”

Willi’s eyes shifted around the room. He leaned close. “They won’t know I am around unless they try to pull something on Werner. If they do, I come in from behind.”

He then explained about their plan.

“Jesus! Sounds like a damned gangster movie.”

“I suggested this as a precaution. Werner believes he will have no problems, though.”

“I remember you said that one you took to that place worked you over in the camp. Maybe I can pull his file. I might figure out from there what this is about.”

“Yes. I did not know his name, though, but that is the one.”

“Harrison will. He interrogated the guy. Any headway in finding your family?”

“No, I drive by where the house stood and check the message boards. When I get the chance, I also go to the DP camps. I found my daughter’s teacher in one camp, and she said that the day they destroyed my house, the children were at school, but she never saw them after that.”

“Lunch is on me.” Ross placed several bills on the table as he stood. “Take care tonight. Don’t take any chances with these guys. It all sounds shaky.”

Willi smiled. “Don’t worry. I didn’t make it through the war and the rest to get killed over a bunch of groceries and booze.”

*****

At the cabin’s turnoff, Willi drove past before stopping about two hundred meters down on a side road. As he emerged from the truck’s cab, he checked the Walther set in his shoulder holster before moving to the truck bed. After drawing back the tarp in the truck’s bed, Willi retrieved the Schmeizer. Before slinging the Schmeizer over his shoulder, he jacked a round into the firing chamber. With the Panzerfaust in one hand, Willi trotted back up the road before ducking into the forest. Inside the brush, he followed a path paralleling the main road to the side road leading to the cabin.

Paused in the shadows, he scanned the opposite roadside, bathed in the faint moonlight. A lone sentry with his back turned to Willi, gazed down the main road.

A low hedgerow ran from Willi’s hiding place to the next tree stand, forcing Willi to crawl through the snow to maintain his cover. As he crawled, he peered ahead, searching for additional guards, but saw none. After entering the next tree clump, he stood.

Already his hands and legs chilled from the snow that melted in his crawl. He hoped that his vigil would be short or frostbite might neutralize his hands.

The surrounding forest silent, the animals must have burrowed for the night to escape the cold. Hopefully, none hid in the trail waiting to be flushed by his crawling.

At the edge of the clearing surrounding the house, Willi paused, peered around a tree. In the light streaming from the cabin windows, Werner and Bert lugged boxes inside. Music and laughter drifted through the open door. No other guards stood outside, nor did he see any other vehicles.

After several trips, Bert stepped out, clutching a bottle, grinning. Perched inside the cab, he lit a cigarette, then drank from the bottle. Werner emerged with the tall man who called himself the Major. The two chatted as Werner walked to the truck. After Werner started the engine, the man waved to Werner and returned to the house.

With the roar of Werner’s truck drowning out surrounding sound, Willi trotted back the way he came. Sheltered from the first sentry’s sight by the vehicle, he did not need to crawl when he arrived at the hedge. Instead, he rushed down the path to his truck without hindrance.

Relieved that Werner had been right about the trip’s safety, he returned the submachine gun and Panzerfaust to the truck’s bed. As he started the engine, he recalled his first trip here. Why had they been so desperate to keep that trip secret?

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