PACT WITH THE DEVIL

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CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

“So, the lead investigator is this fellow Ross?” The young dark-haired man seated across from General Taylor asked as he read from a file before him.

Taylor nodded. “Good man. Former New York policeman. Excellent record. Bradshaw, the man you’re replacing, promoted him recently to Major.”

“He and his Sergeant trained the investigators.” The man held up the sheet. “And put together this indictment checklist?”

“He claims he used input from my staff, but my people feel he gave them too much credit.”

“And the investigators are reviewing the defendant’s files now?”

“As we speak. Last I talked to Ross, he said the case looks like a sure thing. Seems these people kept such meticulous records that they might not need witnesses.”

A knock on the door interrupted them. Taylor’s Sergeant entered. “Major Worth’s here.”

“Send him in.”

After Worth slipped around the Sergeant, he glanced toward the man seated before Taylor. The General rose, beckoned to Worth. “Jim, this is Major Worth. He runs the file room.” He nodded to the man who stood, extended his hand. “Jim McHaney.”

“Jim is our new chief prosecutor in the Doctors’ trial.”

Worth smiled as he shook McHaney’s hand. “Pleasure.”

“The Major and his crew have all the records you need. I would appreciate it if you could show him around your lair after we meet with Major Ross.”

“Uh, Major Ross?”

“That’s right.”

Worth tugged on his collar. “Then you’ve not heard.”

“Heard what?”

“Colonel Butler’s people padlocked Ross’s office door.”

“Butler?”

Worth nodded.

Taylor snatched up his desk phone. “Goddammit.”

*****

Rudi trudged at Justine’s side, lugging the food sack. “What games should we play at my birthday party?”

She grinned, tousled his hair. “What games do you enjoy?”

“Pin the tail on the donkey.”

“I can bring paper home from the office. Can you draw the donkey and the tails?”

He nodded. “I can use Wilma’s colored grease pencils. Louise can help.”

“What else do you like to do on your birthday?”

“Last year, I played football with my friends in the morning.”

“You mention friends. Have you seen any of them when you check your house?”

“No. They might all be in the camps.”

“And your message remains on the wall.”

Rudi shrugged. “It keeps washing off.”

“Have you checked the message boards also?”

“I’ve seen messages about neighbors, but nothing from my mother or my father.”

“I will ask my boss and the women at my office. Perhaps they might know some children we could invite. Would that be okay?”

“I suppose.”

His sad tone made her frown. She steered the conversation back to things the boy enjoyed. “You like football?”

“It’s fantastic. I play wing. Loved dribbling the ball down the field.”

“Dribbling?”

Rudi grinned, strutted. “Yes, you move the ball with your feet while you run. I was a starter for the school team.”

“That must take a great deal of skill.” Her comment lit up Rudi’s eyes. “Perhaps you might show me sometime.”

His grin vanished. “I don’t have a football.”

Attempting to raise his mood again, she continued. “After you played football at your last birthday, then what?”

Rudi glanced up, grinned. “After that, we came home, ate cake, and opened presents.”

Justine sighed. Presents. Of course. What child didn’t love toys and things on these special occasions? With everything else, she had not considered them. But what in this barren city? Perhaps Ross might find something suitable for a boy at the PX. A football, yes. Perfect.

Ross. Images of Mundt tied to the chair flashed through her mind. She shuddered as she considered what might happen with Ross at this moment as well. She muttered a soft prayer for Ari’s success as they climbed the stairs to her apartment.

*****

As Butler rushed into his office suite, Foster, his Sergeant, stopped him in the waiting area. “Sir, there’s a guy here asking for you.”

Seated near Foster’s desk, a man he had never seen before glanced up and smiled. He rose, doffed his cap, exposing tightly curled black hair trimmed to within a half-inch of his head. Behind his wire-rimmed glasses, his hazel-blue eyes had a mischievous twinkle. “Colonel Butler or Herr Fisher?” Ari’s grin spread. “Or like in Switzerland. There you called yourself Smith.”

“Who are you?”

“Captain Ari Shapiro from his Majesty’s Eighth Army.”

“The what?”

“You have heard of the Jewish Brigade?”

Butler nodded. “You have business here?”

Ari glanced around. “Perhaps it might be best to discuss this in private.”

As he led Ari to his office, Butler called over his shoulder. “See that we’re not disturbed.”

Inside his office, Butler beckoned to the vacant chair before his desk. “I hope this is important. Lot’s happening right now.”

As Ari closed the door and seated himself, he cocked an eyebrow. “Well, perhaps, I can help.”

“Help?”

“I understand you had some difficulties with the Russians.”

“What the hell are talking about?”

Ari shrugged. “I’m sorry. Possibly I misunderstood.”

“Misunderstood? Who?”

“Like everyone, we have our sources. Not every Russian is an ardent Communist.”

“What the hell country do you represent? The British?”

Butler’s stomach churned as he imagined what General Donovan might do if he discovered the British knew about their operation. He wondered what hell-hole he might find himself assigned to next. But Butler sold the brass on this project. He would be the one asked to fall on his sword.

“Unfortunately, we have no country yet. But if the Mandate holds perhaps soon.”

Butler scowled. “You mean Palestine?”

“That is where most of my people are, yes.”

“And this source claimed we had problems with the Russians?”

“Missing prisoners.”

“What the hell business is it of yours?”

“I am on detached service. Here to liaise with the Tribunal.”

Butler scowled. “What the hell does that mean?”

“Because of what happened in the camps, our people have a special interest in making sure the perpetrators receive proper justice.”

“Some contend your people are dispensing their own justice.”

Ari shrugged. “I hear the same things, but my work is to make sure those captured are dealt with according to civilized laws. Such a thing might ensure we are treated likewise in the future.”

“But what has that to do with my unit?”

“The allies are making deals with war criminals. Technicians, scientists. People they believe can further their aims.”

Butler shrugged.

“For instance, General Gehlen and other prominent Nazis are working for US Army intelligence.”

“These are things arranged by people with much greater clout than myself.”

Ari scoffed. “In your own office, you employ a former death camp commander because of his counterintelligence background.”

“Is that why you’re here? To complain about Mundt?”

Ari shrugged. “Intelligence is a dirty business.”

“Then, why are you here?”

“When prisoners are removed from Langwasser, it concerns us. Especially if they might escape justice.”

Silent, Butler scowled.

“The migration to Kranesburg castle is not a well-kept secret. But the people who arranged for this group to leave Langwasser did not deliver them to the castle. Instead, they stashed them in the forest outside of town while negotiating a transfer to the Russians. That gave us concern. Compelled us to view this more closely.”

Butler moved his hands beneath the desk. Desperate to conceal the trembling that accompanied the sinking feeling that his career, no, his world might soon crumble with this man’s next words.

“Right now, there is a raging black market. For the right price, one might purchase anything. Tires, food, liquor. Technology that could substantially alter world power.”

Butler shifted in his chair.

“Even among ranking officers in your army, there are those willing to sell their souls for a place in the market.”

“And your point?”

“While not profiting myself, I am here to make you a deal.”

Butler bolted upright in his chair. “I beg your pardon. I don’t like your tone.”

“My tone?”

“I’m here doing my country’s duty. You make me sound like some crook?”

Ari rolled his eyes. “As the great Bard said in Macbeth. Methinks the lady protests too much.”

“What are you wanting? Money to keep silent about our operation?”

“No, I merely desire justice.”

“What do you mean?”

“I understand you detained a person unjustly. That, in seeking to expose your scheme, he came close to interfering in it.”

Butler massaged his forehead. “You mean Captain Ross.”

Ari’s eyebrow arched. “No, Major Ross. While all your records have yet to reflect this promotion, that is his current rank. I want him released.”

“The man’s a Russian agent.”

“Is that what you told your superiors? Perhaps to cover your ineptness?

“Now, see here.”

“Perhaps I should share my information with your superiors. I am certain I can find one not mesmerized by your lies.”

“So, if I don’t cooperate, you’ll spread this so-called information around to anybody who might listen.”

“If none of the Amis will listen, the French or the British might.” If not them, there are herds of journalists here desperate for stories. One that might break from the monotony of the trials.”

Butler bared his teeth, placed his hand on the desk as if preparing to pounce. “That’s blackmail.”

“I mentioned a deal.”

“A deal?”

“You release Major Ross, and I return something of value to you. I guess I should say. Someone.”

“Who?”

“Your so-called counterintelligence officer, Mundt.”

“What? You have him?”

Ari nodded. “He’s an evil man. Others in my unit will not take kindly to this, but…” Ari shrugged.

“You realize I need to discuss this with my superior.”

“Of course. To do what you have done, you needed what you call accomplices. So, run along. Discuss this with your partners in crime. But hurry. My comrades grow impatient. Mundt might meet with an accident.”

*****

A shove from the back forced Mundt to his knees. Hands cuffed behind his back, unable to break his fall, he howled as his knees hit the hard surface. Despite the sack over his head, he recognized the feel of the pistol pressed against his head. As it cocked, he shivered, waiting for the roar that would end his life.

“Most of your Christian teachings preach the importance of confession and contrition before you meet God. Reduces the time in Purgatory.” The person holding the gun pressed it harder against him, shoving him forward. “Is that what you believe, Superman?”

Constricted with fear, his throat dry, words failed, so he nodded.

“Then confess.”

Confess to what? His duty? They must mean the camps. Images of the gas chamber, the ovens, the brutality of the guards raced through his mind as he mumbled his description.

The pistol smacked against the side of his head. “I cannot understand you. Speak louder.”

“Please.”

“Please, what?”

“Talking is hard.”

The pistol tapped again. “Try harder. After all, you are the master race, eh?”

As he spoke louder, his inquisitor pulled back the gun. “That’s better.”

Finished describing the camps, Mundt shook his head. “That’s it.”

“Not hardly. What about the boys?”

“Boys?”

“The ones you kept as pets. Tossed in the ovens when they failed to satisfy you or when you tired of them.” The gun once more against his head. “Those boys.”

“What can I say?”

“Name them.”

“But they had no names. Only numbers.”

The gun tapped his skull. “Describe them. Say what you did to each. One by one.”

Mundt’s jaw trembled. “The first, a blond boy.”

“How old?”

“Twelve, thirteen. I’m not sure.”

“And?”

“I sodomized him.”

“Once?”

Mundt’s eyes filled with tears. “No, every day.”

“For how long.”

“I’m not sure. Perhaps a week. Two.”

“After that?”

“I had him gassed.”

The gun brushed his neck. “His sister claims you made his father watch.”

Mundt nodded.

“What? I didn’t hear you.”

“Yes.”

“Are you sorry?”

“What?”

“Your God wants to know if you repent. Are you sorry?”

What could he say? He did his duty. The boy’s father, a communist, needed to realize the extent of his transgression. “It was my duty.”

“Surely you realize now that it was wrong. Your God wants to hear it. Might cut down your time in Hell by a few centuries.”

“Yes. I regret it.”

The gun moved back from his head. “I will not repeat my instructions. If you pause again, I will send you straight to God. He will finish the job. So, go on. Repeat it for each one. Describe the boy, what you did to him, and beg to be forgiven.”

As instructed, Mundt continued to describe each boy he victimized in the camp. He ended each with an apology. Over and over, as if repeating Hail Mary in the rosary.

After he ranted on for what seemed forever, someone yanked off his hood. Could this be the end? He glanced up, blinked as his eyes grew accustomed to the light. His jaw dropped as he beheld the man standing before him. “Herr Fisher?”

*****

Ari glanced back at Ross, Harrison, and Willi, seated side by side in the car’s back seat.

“For your information, the men you told me about in the woods disappeared.”

At Ari’s announcement, Ross’s jaw dropped. “Disappeared?”

“Yes.”

“Where’d they go?”

“The prevailing theory suggests the Russians.”

Ross and Harrison exchanged glances. “They paid off Butler?”

“No, merely swooped in and took them away.”

Ross rubbed his aching shoulders as the car’s sped through the streets. “How did you find us?”

In the front passenger seat, Ari turned, passed back a bottle to Harrison. “A friend told us you might be in danger, so I had you followed.”

“You followed us. Knew where we were? What took so long?”

“We had to make certain arrangements.”

“Arrangements?”

“We couldn’t go in there and pull you out. Someone might have gotten hurt.”

“Ari, they hung us up, strip-searched us.” Ross nodded to Willi. “Knocked him around.”

“You are alive, yes? If we had attempted an assault, there might have been bloodshed. These men who captured you are our allies. It would have caused an incident.”

“Worse than handing over a bunch of Nazi scientists to the Russians?

Ari shrugged. “It is uncertain that occurred. All they told me so far is that they suspect Russians kidnapped eight German citizens. The Military Government has protested it, and, of course, the Russians denied it happened.”

After taking a long swig from the bottle, Harrison passed it to Ross. “Damn good brandy. Hit the spot.” He nodded to Ari. “Who is this guy?”

Ari grinned, shot a glance at Ross. “He doesn’t know?”

Ross passed the bottle to Willi, he turned to Harrison. “This is Captain Ari Shapiro of His Majesty’s Eighth Army.”

“Guy that set us up on this escapade? You’re British?”

Ross shook his head. “Ari’s with the Jewish Brigade.”

“Good, hate to think I owed the Limeys anything.” Harrison turned to Ross. “Jewish Brigade? This got somethin’ to do with your girlfriend?”

“Miss Rothstein is a friend of mine.”

At Ari’s declaration, Harrison shot a glance at Ross. “Sounds like I know enough.”

Willi hoisted the bottle. “Prost.” Downed a healthy swallow, tapped his chest, and belched.

Ari nodded at Willi. “And who is this fellow?”

Willi extended his hand. “Wilhelm Kneldson. Friends call me Willi.”

“You must be important as Major Ross refused to leave you behind, even though neither you nor the Sergeant had been part of our arrangement.”

“Willi put his life on the line several times to assure that war criminals did not escape justice.” Harrison nodded to Willi. “Right?”

Willi shrugged as he and Ari shook hands. “I am what the Americans call a snitch.” He waved a finger in the air. “First-class, mind you. Otherwise, I am a simple businessman.”

Ross took another drink from the bottle. “At least this cuts the chill from that damn basement. You mentioned arrangements.”

“Your captors believed you to be Russian agents.”

Harrison scowled. “Spies?”

“The list you had was very damning.”

“But I got it from you.”

Ari smirked. “That fact helped convince your Colonel Butler, Fisher, or whatever name he likes to use.”

“Butler and Fisher are the same person?”

Ari shrugged. “These intelligence people are that way. Who knows what his real name might be? But once I assured him that the names came not from the Russians. Merely Palestinians wanting to make sure these butchers did not escape justice, his wrath diminished, allowing us to make a satisfactory trade.”

Ross frowned. “A trade.”

“Be comforted that everyone agreed that you three were as valuable as one Nazi.”

“Who?”

“Mundt.”

Ross’s jaw dropped. “What?”

“Butler values his skill in counterintelligence highly. But be advised. This Butler fellow willingly consorts with nasty people for his ends.”

Ross shook his head. “But how would Russian agents have caused him problems?”

“As infiltrators. Achieve your bona fides by exposing what looked like treasonous activity.”

Ross’s jaw dropped. “Looked like? They were selling people to the Russians. Technicians and scientists, you told me about.”

Ari shrugged. “I might have been mistaken.”

“About what?”

“It is uncertain, but they assured me placing those people in the woods had been approved by persons close to your President.”

Harrison scoffed. “Not surprising. Most politicians are crooked.”

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