PACT WITH THE DEVIL

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CHAPTER THIRTY

Seated at his desk, Ari buried his face in his hands. The end of a long trying day. The room dark, except for the desk lamp’s illumination. When Lowe entered, the shaft of light streaming through the opened door prompted him to glance up. “You look as if the world is coming apart.”

Ari leaned back, beckoned Lowe inside. “It’s those Nakam people. They did it.”

“What? What have they done?”

“They poisoned prisoners at Langwasser.”

“Poisoned? How?”

“Put arsenic in the bread delivered to the camp.”

“Mein Gott!”

“Reports suggest thousands inside the camp were affected.”

“Granted, they are all butchers, but we must have a return to law.” Lowe shook his head. “How many died?”

Ari shrugged. “It is uncertain.”

“Arsenic in the bread?”

“Yes.”

“While I am not a medical person, I understand arsenic takes large doses to kill.”

“Or it must be given several times.”

Lowe’s eyebrows arched. “Perhaps it will not be as bad as we fear.”

“They won’t have a chance to repeat. The Constabulary discovered the compromised bakery and new security procedures are in place. Is Fraulein Rothstein all right?”

Lowe shrugged. “She is worried about her Amis.”

“What?”

Lowe described his discussion with her earlier. When he finished, Ari scowled. “And Ross considers the people involved dangerous?”

“She said they attempted to murder an informer Ross works with. But that makes no sense.”

“Why not?”

“What does a war crimes investigator need of an informant?”

“Abraham, my friend, as I said before, the less you know about this, the better. But thank you for bringing me the information. It has been most helpful.”

Lowe rolled his eyes, rose. “You will do something?”

“I will do my best. On your way out, send Pyotr in.”

After Lowe left, Ari’s driver, Pyotr, entered. After closing the door behind him, he turned to Ari. “We’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest.”

“But once again, this might work to our advantage.”

“What do we need to do?”

“First, make sure the watchers at Fraulein Rothstein’s are armed.”

Pyotr cocked an eyebrow. “You’re expecting trouble?”

“At this point, anything is likely. Also, I want the American followed.”

“Protect him too?”

“I believe what he does benefits us. So, yes. But tell our people to be careful. He is already in danger, but what he works on might net us even more American friends.”

“Like money in the bank.”

Ari nodded. “If he succeeds and survives.”

*****

Before entering the cafe, Ross glanced over his shoulder. Harrison followed his glance. “You spot somethin’?”

“It’s hard to explain. Probably paranoid.”

Harrison nodded. “I got the same feelin’ too. Like how it feels approachin’ a pillbox ya hope’s empty.”

“Yeah, like that.”

“It’s that buzz that comes in combat zones. Been a while since I felt it, but it’s back.”

“Must be that. I guess when you’re in it for a while, it seems normal.”

“My platoon Sergeant in Africa used to say, just cause you’re paranoid, don’t mean they ain’t out to get ya.”

As he opened the cafe door, Ross nodded. “Let’s hope we stay ahead of `em.”

Inside, they scanned the room. Willi, seated near the back, rose, beckoned them to his table.

As he seated himself, Harrison surveyed the room while Ross shook Willi’s hand. “Zwolf insisted you needed to see me.”

After Ross and Willi seated themselves, Ross leaned close. “Are there any strangers here this evening?”

Willi’s brow furrowed as he scanned the room. The only other customers, two men engaged in conversation, appeared to take no interest in them. “I am unfamiliar with the two in the corner, but they were here when I arrived.”

“Butler’s bunch discovered we know about the guys in the woods.”

Willi’s jaw dropped. “What?”

Ross told him about the contact with Ari. The discovery of the two files on the one man. “Has anything changed at the trucking company?”

Willi’s brow furrowed. “A guy I never saw before took Bert’s place on the delivery last week.”

“Bert?”

“Werner’s brother-in-law. He usually rides guard for that delivery.”

“A new guy?”

“Big muscular fellow. Looked too well-nourished to be a German.”

Ross frowned. “You never saw him before?”

“No, and it seemed odd.”

“In what way?”

“He gave Werner orders. His German also was accented. I got the impression he might have been Russian.”

Ross turned to Harrison. “A scout?”

Harrison nodded.

“There’s more.”

Both Ross and Harrison turned to Willi. “More?”

“Besides the regular supplies. Werner is to deliver prostitutes with the next trip.”

Harrison chuckled, but Ross frowned. “Why would that be important?”

“That means two trucks. Bert also claimed that he is not to go on that trip either.”

“Two trucks?” Ross turned to Harrison. “That means they could bring in an extra truck to take the Jerries out, and the deal is done. Or the Russians are bringing in an assault team to take `em without coughin’ up the money.” He turned to Willi. “When is this next delivery?”

“Tomorrow night.”

Harrison shook his head. “Sounds like things might heat up. We might need to pick up the pace.”

Willi frowned. “What are you going to do?”

“We’re taking what we know to the Constabulary. Let them deal with Butler and his little scheme.”

“But why did you need me?”

Ross and Harrison exchanged glances. “We don’t know where the cabin is, but you do.”

“You want me to come with you? Show them where it is?”

Ross shook his head. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. But you could show us on the map.”

“Why? It would be easier if I showed them, plus it might help them believe your story.”

“I don’t know how this will work.”

Willi shrugged. “We go to the Constabulary. Share what you have and let them take it from there.”

“Let’s say instead of arresting these guys based on our report, they investigate. That will take time. The only person who knows where the cabin is beside your boss is you. Butler or this Fisher have a lot of clout somewhere, suppose his cronies decide to silence us.”

“Silence you?”

“They tried to kill you once, and the only thing savin’ you now is that they believe you’re dead.”

Willi nodded. “You think they might do that with you?”

Ross and Harrison again exchanged glances. “Not sure what they might have in store for us, but you?”

Willi leaned back. Silent, he glanced from Harrison to Ross. “I was a policeman before the war. The Nazis forced me out when I refused to join the party. Since then, other Germans and I let thugs rule our lives. I am sick of it. I want now to stand up to the bullies, take my life back.”

*****

Parked down the street from the cafe, Mundt and Butler’s aide, George, passed a coffee thermos as they waited for Harrison and Ross to emerge. “S`pose they’re stoppin’ for dinner?”

Mundt scoffed. Scanned the neighborhood. “Not exactly an area that attracts Americans.”

George shrugged. His head snapped around to the cafe as Harrison and Ross emerged with Willi trailing. “What the fuck?”

“What’s wrong?”

“That guy with `em.”

“Do you know this third man?”

“He drove the guys to the cabin. We wanted to bump him off, but your man, Werner, claimed the guy got killed by hijackers.”

“And now he is with them.”

Once their quarry’s Jeep pulled away, they slipped their car in behind. As George drove, Mundt kept his eyes focused on Ross’s Jeep ahead. “Ross has been a pain in the rump, but a Russian agent?”

Mundt scoffed. “How else to explain the list?”

“I checked the guy’s record. Ninety-day wonder. His outfit arrived two days after D-Day. While they drove the Jerries all the way outta France and into Austria, he got one promotion after another. Silver star, two bronzes. Nothin’ in his file but commendations.”

“Exactly what they do when infiltrating to the highest level.”

George shrugged. “What’s his game? If he’s a spy, why is he raisin’ a fuss about these guys we got out in the woods? Wouldn’t he want `em shipped off to the East?”

“Perhaps he plays a bigger game.”

As the Jeep before them stopped outside the local Constabulary Headquarters, they drove on past and parked. While the three from the Jeep trotted up the Constabulary’s stairs, Mundt turned in his seat to trail them up the stairs with his eyes.

Once the pair vanished inside, Mundt turned to George. “This will not please Herr Fisher.”

George studied the scene before the building in the rearview mirror. “No, shit. What do ya think they’re doin’?”

“I am guessing, but I believe they might plan on informing the Constabulary about our operation.”

“Why? Like I said if they’re Commie spies, they’d want these guys. Nettin’ em would be medals and dachas all around, right? Hell, old Joe would probably kiss `em himself.”

“In games, one makes sacrifices for a greater purpose.”

“I don’t follow.”

“In chess, you might give up a Bishop to draw out the Queen. Strategy is everything.”

*****

Jovanovich peered down at the drawing as Leonov pointed out the cabin’s features. “A dining room sits on the right of the front door, while on the left they use this as a sitting room.”

Zhukov sipped his drink, cleared his throat. The other two turned to him. “You see a problem, Colonel?”

“One guard posted at the main road?”

Leonov nodded. “That is all I saw.”

“But what if there are others hidden in the woods?”

“After we dispatch the sentry on the road, my men will sweep the woods clear before we drive to the top.”

“A battle in the woods?”

“If that is what they desire. But, as I said, there seems to be no one else on guard.”

Zhukov frowned. “I don’t like it. This is the American zone. The guards are most likely Americans as well. We cannot afford a major international incident.”

Leonov shrugged. “Then, pay the money.”

“We can’t. The funds are not available.”

“Not even counterfeit?”

“They expect that. So, Comrade Stalin forbid it. He stated that we either grab them or kill them. Either way, we deny the Western allies their services.”

“And the guards?”

“If you can achieve the objective without bloodshed, that would be ideal.”

Leonov turned to Jovanovich. “Can you get me a tranquilizer gun?”

“Like they use in the zoo?”

“But with darts they use on the big apes. Nothing more potent than that.”

*****

Harrison’s entry in Constabulary headquarters rated a wide-eyed nod from the Sergeant at the front desk, but Ross’s brought the man to his feet. “Can I help you, sir?”

“I need to speak with the officer in charge.”

“And you are?”

“Captain James Ross…”

Harrison cleared his throat, pointed to his own shoulder tabs.

Ross shook his head, grinned, turned back to the Sergeant. “Sorry, Sergeant. New to the rank. Major James Ross, Military Tribunal.”

The Sergeant’s brow furrowed. “I’ll inform the Captain right away.”

After the Sergeant left, Willi turned to Ross. “A promotion?”

“Yeah, today.”

“Congratulations.” Willi’s eyes roamed the room. “This was the office I worked out of before.”

“Word’s out they’re re-activatin’ the German cops.”

Willi smiled at Harrison’s comment. “I wonder if they might want an experienced hand?”

“I’d recommend ya. And if we’re successful tonight, this might guarantee your way back in.”

Willi nodded his thanks to Ross.

Harrison nudged him. “That is if you can give up the gangster life.”

“Sergeant, I am but a truck driver. Besides, you already recruited me weeks ago. It’s probably here in my file.”

The Sergeant’s return ended their discussion. “Captain Jackson will see you. Follow me.”

When all three followed, the Sergeant stopped. “All of you?”

“That’s right,” Harrison replied. “If the Captain’s office is too small, how about conference room B?”

“Conference room B?”

“That’s right, I used it while I was assigned here. Still close to the coffee pot?”

“What’s your name?”

“Harrison. Beau Harrison.”

The Sergeant nodded. “Seen your name in the files. I took your place. Why don’t you guys head on back there? I’ll tell the Captain where you are.”

Harrison led them first to the coffee urn. As his cup filled, Harrison grinned. “Best damn coffee in town. Don’t know who brews it. Might be some elf from the old days.”

After each filled a mug, he took them to the conference room. As each took their place around the table in the room’s center, a short man with slick-backed blond hair entered. His eyes narrowed as he gave Ross an appraising glance. “Major Ross?”

Ross rose, extended his hand, but the Captain stepped back, thrust his shoulders back as if coming to attention.

Ross held up his hand. “Captain, I’m new to this rank. Can we dispense with the formalities? We’ve got important information.”

Captain Jackson extended his hand. “Uh, Uh. Yes, by all means.”

His eyes lit up when he noticed Harrison. “Ah, Sergeant. Been a while.” He turned back to Ross. “He works for you now?”

Ross nodded. “And this is Willi Kneldson, he works with us as well.”

“I see. You say you have information for me?”

“We learned someone is about to sell German scientists to the Russians.”

“German scientists?” The Captain’s scowl deepened. “The Russians?”

“We’ve been monitoring the activities of a unit assigned to the Tribunal building. Let me share what we know. Then you can decide how to proceed.”

Captain Jackson’s eyelashes fluttered as he seated himself at the table. He folded his hands before him. “Okay, what have you got?”

Captain Jackson scratched his ear, scowled, as Ross finished his story. He nodded to Willi. “And you drove these men from Langwasser to the cabin?”

“Yes, I recognized one as a man interred with me after the war.”

“Willi was one of our camp guards at the time. The man he recognized took part in a forgery ring producing phony IDs for SS guys.”

Jackson’s brow furrowed as he studied Willi’s face. “You were a POW? You SS too?”

“No, what you would call a military policeman.”

The Sergeant from the front desk entered. “Sir, may I have a word?”

Jackson turned to the others. “Excuse me.”

Once Jackson left, Willi turned to Ross. “What do you think?”

“Hard tellin’. You worked with the guy before Sergeant.”

“He was with the Cav. One a Patton’s outfits before they moved him over here. Don’t put up with bullshit.”

“Think he believes us?”

“It might help if we all remember you’re a Major.”

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