Based on the ABC
Television Series: Combat!
Fan Fiction Take-off on the Episode "A Distant Drum"
Copyright 1999 by Terry Pierce
Do Not Reprint or Distribute Without the Author’s Permission. All Rights Reserved.
"Caje…" Kirby finally managed to gasp while straining to force air into his lungs. His throat was on fire and his eyes were watering now. Just how long had they been running anyway? Twenty minutes? Thirty? He knew he couldn’t keep up this pace much longer.
It was one thing to run for your life but another thing entirely to lose it in the process.
He could just make out his partner, a blur of khaki, through the trees ahead of him. Didn’t that crazy Cajun ever tire? Kirby struggled to maintain his footing on the rough undergrowth and tried to duck the branches that were slapping at him as he passed by. He wished they could slow down a little; maybe he’d be able to keep going. Besides, weren’t they making a hell of a racket through here?
He tried to get his partner’s attention again, balancing his desire to be heard with his need to maintain some semblance of security. "Caje…Caje!"
Kirby coughed and surrendered, his legs grinding to a halt, his arms lowering the thousand pound weight his BAR had become. Trembling, he reached for a nearby tree to support himself and keep his legs from giving way entirely beneath him. Krauts…always making life miserable and now this.
Finally the lead soldier seemed to hear him, and relieved, Kirby lowered himself to the ground. It would take a few minutes to catch his breath. And he wanted to ask Caje what the guy thought he was doing. After all, it wasn't as if killing themselves this way was much of an improvement over letting the Krauts do the job for them.
Up ahead, Caje slowed, looked back, then also stopped, ducking into a nearby stand of trees. His own breathing ragged, he inventoried his surroundings. He could hear the rumble of artillery in the distance and briefly wondered who was getting it now. The smell of decaying vegetation mingling with smoke from the earlier shelling here was something else he noted, and he was grateful they hadn’t arrived in this sector any sooner. Getting caught in another barrage would've been the last thing they needed. Caje continued to peer at the landscape until he was satisfied they were out of immediate danger, then he turned his attention to the man behind him.
Kirby had secured himself behind a screen of weeds at the foot of an oak tree, and Caje began to work his way along the uneven stretch of ground separating them. Clutching his M1 and moving in a crouch, he stepped gingerly over the fallen branches and rotting logs strewn everywhere, amazed that he and Kirby had managed to get this far without either of them breaking an ankle.
He also wondered whether they'd finally lost that Kraut patrol the two of them had run into farther back. It'd been a hell of a surprise to stumble across the Germans at the base of the ridge he and Kirby had been using as a vantage point to scout for signs of Lieutenant Hanley. In fact, if it hadn’t been for one of the Krauts yelling that he’d spotted Americans, they might've blundered right into the middle of the enemy.
Caje shook his head, disturbed that he'd let his guard down. He should've seen the Krauts long before they’d opened up. And he’d been indecisive once they had, allowing them to start a couple men down the tree line opposite the clearing. That had effectively cut off a retreat back the way he and Kirby had come, leaving them with little choice but to go with the alternative course they’d set.
Caje silently chided himself for not following Saunders’ orders. They'd been taking a lot of chances the sarge would've never approved of - that is, approved of his men taking them. Caje might’ve smiled as he recalled the chance Saunders himself had taken earlier to get to the lieutenant, but he’d seen the price the sergeant had nearly paid for it as well.
Now, Caje supposed, he and Kirby would have a price of their own to pay.
He paused again to listen for any sound that might yield warning or information, but the trees maintained their silent vigil and nothing stirred. That is, nothing but Kirby. Caje could hear him moving around in the brush just ahead. Continuing on, Caje stepped into the weeds and dropped onto the ground opposite him.
"Are you nuts?" Kirby exclaimed, breathing heavily and flushed with the exertion of their sprint. "You’re gonna kill me, I swear. If we keep this up, I’ll drop dead for sure!"
"Sure you will." Caje slipped off his helmet and swiped at his forehead with a sleeve, wondering whether to exchange time for a cigarette.
"You don’t believe me?" Kirby’s face screwed up in the familiar look of disgust he reserved for everyone he suspected of being put on earth to make his life miserable. "Huh. Maybe runnin’ full speed across this here country is your idea of a good time, but it ain’t mine. I like to take things a little easier."
Caje studied the soldier sprawled across from him, then wordlessly handed him his canteen.
Kirby up-ended it for a drink and wiped his mouth with the back of a grimy hand. "What’s the big rush, anyway? Those Krauts are five miles back by now."
"Yeah, they’re back, but so what?" Caje suddenly felt tired and decided to take a minute for that cigarette after all. He reached for his rumpled pack, shook one out, and put it to his lips. "Look, you heard what the sergeant said. We’ve got to get to that rendezvous point on the double." He held up his lighter, thumbed the wheel, and took a deep drag as the flame flared up.
Seeming to think out loud he continued, "But even if we did almost get our heads shot off back there, so what? And even if things would’ve been a lot easier if we could’ve crossed that clearing again, who cares? And even if we do have to take a longer, messier route now to catch up with our outfit, what difference does it make?" He paused to rub at one of his eyes, then finished, "I think your ‘We-can-get-there-by-going-up-this-way-can’t-we?’ plan is working out just great."
Kirby looked genuinely hurt by this. "I thought you said I was a genius. What happened to all that?"
"Aw, shut up." Caje took another pull on his cigarette, absently scratched at his damp hair, and slid his helmet back on. Looking at Kirby’s sweat-soaked face, he fished in his jacket for a handkerchief. "Here. Before you put the cap back on that thing, why don’t you wet this and cool yourself off with it? You look terrible."
Kirby accepted the cloth gratefully. "Y’know, Caje, it ain't like it was a bad plan or nothin'. Those Krauts just have a way of messin’ everything up."
"Well, that’s their job. I guess that’s why the sarge is always trying to get guys like us to do what he says. Like they keep telling us, ‘There’s a war on.’"
"Yeah, 'There’s a war on.’" Kirby looked sour before going on to change the subject. "What do you think happened to the lieutenant, anyway? A guy in the shape he was in sure couldn’t have gotten very far on his own."
Kirby quieted as he recalled the scene he’d witnessed earlier when Hanley had been cut down in the shelling that had caught them all off guard. Saunders had almost gotten himself killed in it, too. Hell, it was a wonder any of them had managed to survive the morning.
Shaking off the memory, Kirby dragged the cloth over his face and began to tie it loosely around his neck with a "D’ya mind?"
"No, I don’t care." Caje scrubbed out his cigarette. "And I don’t know any better than you what could’ve happened to him. Maybe some GI found him; maybe the Krauts got him. Who knows?" Getting on his knees to peer over the surrounding vegetation, he added, "But we’d better get going. Sarge is really going to let us have it this time."
Kirby gathered up his BAR and handed the canteen back to Caje. "Yeah," he said, grimacing. "I know. Let’s go."
The two soldiers rose, raising their weapons as they stepped out of their hiding place. Free of the weeds, they scanned the sky past the trees to get their bearings. Caje tapped Kirby on the shoulder and pointed out the direction to take, then nodded to let him know to move out ahead.
Kirby set off at a brisk but more reasonable pace, and Caje matched his partner’s stride, a few yards behind. As they made their way along, both men constantly scanned the landscape, searching for signs of Krauts. Trees, twisted and still smoking after their pounding by the artillery, greeted them at intervals, but enough of the woods remained unscathed to offer adequate cover.
As time went on and they pushed deeper into the forest, the soldiers encountered thick patches of brambles that clawed at their arms and legs. Plenty of debris littered the forest floor too, gradually slowing their progress. Both men worked their way around stumps, over rocks, and through several small gullies. More than once, Kirby suddenly shifted direction and dodged some larger obstacle before veering back to his original course. Eventually he stopped altogether, backtracked a few feet, and signaled Caje for a conference.
As Kirby dropped from view behind a screen of briars, Caje increased his speed to catch up to him. Casting a last furtive glance around, he too slid into the thicket.
"What is it?" he panted at his lead man.
Kirby didn’t answer right away but held up a hand to convey ‘wait-a-minute’ as he wrestled to get his breathing under control. Caje saw the toll the underbrush was taking on his companion and knew pretty much what the guy’s report would be. Kirby’s face and hands were criss-crossed in a pattern of thin scratches, some dressed in blood, and his clothes were littered with thorns and thistles.
Caje suspected his own appearance probably mirrored his partner’s. Balancing on his heels, Caje could feel something poking viciously into his back. He turned in an effort to push away the offending branch but mostly managed to expose his face to another barrage of sticks and twigs. Annoyed, he supposed he should be grateful the shrubs were providing cover, but he couldn’t help wondering if Kirby could’ve found a better place to talk.
Kirby, recovered enough to give a report, shook his head. "It’s no good, Caje. It’s just too damn thick." He paused for another breath and continued, "You see that mess over there?" He gestured vaguely to his left. "We can’t get through that. It might as well be barbed wire. We’re gonna have to try somethin’ else." He twisted to adjust himself and the BAR and winced as more branches poked at him.
Caje rubbed his jaw and silently calculated their options. He knew that if they continued on their present course, they’d lose so much time they’d miss their rendezvous. But if they doubled back the way they’d come, they’d have to re-cover so much ground they’d get the same result. Besides, that Kraut patrol could still be behind them somewhere. The last thing they needed to do was to run into it again.
He looked at his watch and noted it was getting awfully late. Saunders was probably wondering where they were by now and, not having a lot of patience with stupidity, wasn’t likely to be too understanding about what they’d been up to. Caje knew that if he and Kirby didn’t come up with a plan pretty soon, the Krauts were going to be the least of their worries.
Drawing himself up to see past the thicket, he wondered if there was some other route they could take. Maybe they could alter their course and find a less dense area of the woods to travel through or even stumble onto a path. Then again, trying that might only end up a bigger waste of time. Besides, if they moved out into the open, they’d be more exposed to enemy observation. And with only the two of them…
Caje wished more and more that Saunders were around so that it would be the sergeant’s problem to figure out what to do. As it was, he and Kirby had only managed to get themselves into a helluva bind. How they were supposed to get out of it was anybody’s guess.
Well, anybody’s except Kirby’s. He was too busy grumbling about their less-than-ideal circumstances to come up with a way out of them. Caje supposed some things never changed.
"Wouldja just look at this?" Kirby muttered, exasperated. He raked up a pant leg to reveal a couple of ticks that had managed to secure a hold on the flesh underneath. Grasping a particularly large specimen between thumb and forefinger, he tugged at the insect until it came loose. "Rotten, lousy, stinkin’ bugs…"
Distracted, Caje allowed a smile to play at the corners of his lips. "Well, you should’ve kept your pants in your boots." He glanced at his own ankles to be sure they were still secure.
"Thanks for the bulletin there, pal," Kirby snorted. He continued to extract the ticks, pausing just long enough to squash each one in a merciless pinch. When he finished, he carelessly wiped his hands on the front of his jacket and began to work his pants back into his boot tops.
Suddenly, his eyes widened at an unpleasant thought. "Do you think there’re chiggers in here?" He scrambled up onto his haunches and peered intently into the weeds beneath him. "Geez, I’ll bet there’re all kinds of rotten things crawlin’ around in these woods!"
Punctuating the remark, a rifle shot rang out. Kirby flinched just as Caje slammed into him, toppling him off his heels backward and into the brambles behind. Stunned and with the breath knocked out of him, Kirby blinked, then tried frantically to get his head down, untangle himself from Caje, and retrieve his heavy weapon all at once.
"Caje," he grunted. "Caje, I can’t…" He strained and heaved against the other man’s dead weight. "I can’t get my rifle up. I can’t…get off!"
He set a hand against the unresponsive man’s shoulder and pushed. Caje didn't react to that either, and Kirby knew they were in real trouble. He quickly worked to extract himself fully from under the scout and silently cursed the lack of room to maneuver.
Clawing for his BAR, Kirby tried to hoist it into some kind of tenable position. Before he could even make a guess as to where to aim it, a Schmeisser opened up and several more rifles joined in the melee. Bullets whined uncomfortably close, and bits of bark and branches torn loose from nearby trees stung his face and neck. Kirby ducked his head lower and fervently wished he could get a make on the enemy position. He hated being such an easy target, with only bushes between himself and a hitch with Graves Registration.
The firestorm continued for another few seconds, then stopped. A loud commanding voice spoke rapidly in German. Kirby didn’t understand the language but recognized enough of it to know that his immediate surrender was being demanded.
His blood ran cold and he realized that he’d have to make a decision on the double. It was just too bad it was one he’d have to make alone and with such lousy options to choose from. On top of not having Caje’s firepower, he didn’t have any decent protection. How was he supposed to put up some resistance without only getting the two of them killed? Even the Krauts had it figured he didn’t stand a chance.
Still, he hated the idea of putting down his weapon and giving in to these creeps. Kirby glanced at Caje and remembered the days they’d both spent in Steiner’s camp the last time they’d surrendered. The poor guy had wound up face down in the dirt there too, after getting a pretty good dose of Kraut hospitality then.
As if in response to Kirby’s thoughts, Caje moaned and began to stir. His eyes remained closed, but his face contorted in pain and he seemed to be attempting to draw his legs up underneath himself. His breathing erupted into uneven gasps, and Kirby realized Caje was regaining consciousness.
"Caje," he said as loudly as he dared. "Caje, I don’t know what to do, but it looks pretty bad." He rested a hand on Caje’s forehead a moment, then tugged loose the handkerchief at his own throat.
Caje groaned, louder now. Wracked by a series of shallow coughs, he hunched forward, and Kirby caught sight of the bloody hole in the upper right side of the back of the soldier’s jacket. If there’d been any doubts about what course of action to take before, they disappeared now. Kirby decided he’d let the Krauts take them captive. There was no way he could defend their position without eventually taking a Kraut grenade from behind. And maybe by surrendering, Caje would get the help he needed. It wasn’t a great plan, Kirby admitted to himself, but it was the best he could come up with on such short notice.
Resolved, he steeled himself and shouted into the silence, "I surrender! Nicht…uh, nicht…don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!" He raised the handkerchief and waved it vigorously back and forth.
"Kir…Kirby," Caje gasped. He crooked his left arm and began struggling to raise himself. Blinking his eyes open, he strained to focus on something, anything. "Wha…what…" He coughed again and grimaced in pain. Trying to sit up, he couldn’t get his right arm to cooperate and support his weight. With more determination than ability, Caje finally managed to heft himself into a sort of sitting position, although he was listing ominously to the right.
"Hey…hey, take it easy there, buddy," Kirby said as he put out a hand to steady him.
Kirby saw the blood on the front of Caje’s jacket and wished they hadn’t used up the stuff in their first aid kits when they’d patched up a couple of dogfaces they’d found instead of Hanley a little while ago. Now Caje needed a bandage. Kirby continued to wave the handkerchief and wondered if the Krauts would let him use it as a dressing.
"What…what are you doing?" Caje rasped. "What…happened?" He shifted his weight to straighten himself but overcorrected and nearly toppled in the other direction. An obliging shrub caught him, sparing him another fall.
"We surrender!" Kirby called out again, straining to see the Germans past the thicket. He lowered his voice and said, "Just take it easy. We’ll be all right. I got things figured out."
Caje tried to steady himself to look into his friend’s face. "You…do?"
Caje shuddered in another spasm of pain and rivulets of sweat coursed down his face. "Tha…that’s just great," he managed through clenched teeth.
Kirby decided Caje was probably entitled, so he let the remark go. Instead he concentrated on keeping the handkerchief aloft as he cautiously began to rise. He stood and, tensing, allowed his assailants to get a clear view of him. Then hearing nothing, he hesitated before stooping to loop an arm around Caje’s lower back.
"I think the Krauts want you on your feet," he said.
Caje struggled to comprehend this. "My feet." He moved his left hand up to the opposite shoulder. It was wet there. And sticky. "I’m shot."
"I know that," Kirby said with forced calm as he began the process of hoisting him into a standing position. Shouting once more that he and Caje wanted to surrender, Kirby lowered his right arm and hooked it under Caje’s left. He threw his weight into it and strained to lift the scout high enough to allow him to get his feet under himself - only, Caje wasn’t managing too well. Fighting not to drop him, Kirby grunted that he needed some help.
Caje, confused and becoming dizzy, concentrated and obediently forced his legs to straighten enough to, more or less, support his weight.
Panting, Kirby next maneuvered himself around to his partner’s left side and, switching arms behind Caje’s back, wrapped the wobbly man’s left arm around his own neck. Unsteady and grateful he wasn’t working with Littlejohn, Kirby allowed Caje to sag against him.
"There," Kirby puffed, turning his head to get a look at his friend. "You see? You’re gonna be okay."
Caje didn’t expend the energy to respond. He only leaned forward, a shock of perspiration-slicked hair hanging into eyes now squeezed shut. Most of the color had drained from his face, and Kirby could feel him trembling. Without knowing how the Germans might react to any unexpected movement, Kirby hoped Caje wouldn’t pass out again. If they both were to fall suddenly, it could be disastrous.
Kirby turned his attention to the woods and could make out nine figures cautiously approaching. The Krauts must’ve finally been satisfied their orders would be followed. He felt raw bitterness rising in this throat and considered reaching for his BAR to mow down the lot of them. But knowing it would only be suicide, he merely gripped Caje tighter and attempted to steady him.
"The Krauts are gettin’ close, Caje. But don’t let ‘em get to you. They’re nothin’ we can’t get away from just as soon as we get you fixed up." Kirby knew he sounded more confident than he actually felt.
Caje opened his eyes and tried to spot Germans but the landscape was a shifting blur. He squinted and blinked, attempting to clear his vision, with little success.
"I feel sick," he mumbled thickly. "Want to…want to sit down." He shuddered and moved his free hand toward his stomach.
"No!" Kirby blurted, panicked that Caje might actually try to lower himself. If he did, he’d only get the two of them killed. Kirby shifted his weight to hike him even higher, then tried his best to soothe him. "No, you don’t wanna do that. Just take a couple of deep breaths and you’ll be all right. C’mon, Caje…you gotta hang in there, buddy."
Caje convulsed and, groaning helplessly, struggled to comply with Kirby’s directions and encouragement.
"Yeah…yeah, that’s it. That’s right. Just take it easy. Deep breaths…nice and slow. You can do it. You’re doin’ fine."
Somehow Caje managed to relax, and Kirby anxiously turned his attention back to the Germans.
They’d come in close now, and he could see with some small satisfaction that the Krauts had also apparently been having a rough time of it in the woods. Bits of leaves and branches clung to their uniforms, and one man had an impressive scratch along his jaw line. They kept their weapons leveled at the thicket, and another of them, a tall, dark-haired sergeant with an impassive expression spoke, saying "Kommen Sie hier!" He motioned with his Schmeisser, and Kirby knew that he and Caje were being told to step forward.
Kirby felt a trickle of sweat slide down his spine, and he wished to hell this wasn’t happening. Just where had these guys come from, anyway? As far as he could tell, he and Caje were about as in-the-middle-of-nowhere as it was possible to be. It didn’t make sense that they would’ve been ambushed out here.
Still, no one had ever said that war always made a whole lot of sense.
Kirby felt Caje attempting to straighten and knew the guy must’ve finally caught on to the situation. The Louisianan wouldn’t let himself be dragged, helpless, before the enemy. Focusing on the Kraut who’d given the order, Caje wore a look that said he’d like to take the guy on. But there was some fear in his expression too, and Kirby realized that Caje probably hadn’t forgotten Steiner either. A Kraut like him wasn’t anyone you’d forget in a hurry.
"Los!" the sergeant snapped at them now.
Kirby and Caje struggled through the brush and stumbled forward to meet their captors. A corporal commanded the pair to halt, and the sergeant issued a series of orders. Quickly surrounded, Kirby felt rough hands wrenching him and Caje apart. Kirby heard Caje’s sharp intake of breath at this and clenched his own hands into fists.
The corporal pulled off Kirby’s helmet, yanked out and read his dog tags, and prodded him farther away from Caje. Another soldier read Caje’s dog tags, then motioned to the prisoners to put their hands on their heads. Kirby knew this would be tricky - maybe even impossible - for Caje to do and tried to see if the guy would be all right. Struck in the face for his effort, Kirby gasped and staggered backward until a German behind him rammed a rifle into his spine. The salty taste of blood found its way into his mouth, and Kirby sucked on his split lower lip while raising his hands and fighting to stay calm.
The Germans moved in a blur, and Kirby felt more hands grabbing and pulling at him. The corporal snatched away the handkerchief and stomped it underfoot. Another man yanked off Kirby’s belt and stripped him of his jacket. A third soldier shoved him and barking “Hande hoch!” pushed Kirby’s arms back up. The German behind him kicked apart Kirby’s legs and began patting him down.
Suddenly Kirby heard Caje cry out, then groan in utter misery. Overcome by anger, Kirby could no longer contain himself. "Hey! Go easy on him, you bastards! Can’t you see he’s hurt?"
The men rifling through his gear ignored him, but the sergeant moved closer, raising his Schmeisser. Kirby glowered at him, silently demanding that Caje’s handlers let up, and the German gazed steadily back. The sergeant spoke to the soldiers surrounding the wounded man, and they dutifully retreated. Giving a curt nod, the sergeant indulgently stepped backward himself.
Kirby let the breath he’d been holding slip between his teeth. His heart was pounding and he could hear his pulse in his ears, but it looked as if he was being granted permission to give Caje a hand. Almost afraid to believe it, Kirby kept his eyes on the sergeant while taking a determined step in Caje’s direction. The German nodded again, and Kirby quickly moved toward his partner.
Caje was on his knees and clutching his upper arm next to his wounded shoulder. He was clearly trying to hold the shoulder steady and shield it from further injury. The bloodstains on his shirt were expanding, and his head was bowed as he fought to control his breathing. He’d been relieved of his gear and jacket too, and it wasn’t too hard to guess that the coat being pulled off was what had probably caused him to cry out.
Kirby knelt and took hold of him. "Hey, Caje, I’m here, okay? Just take it easy and we’ll get you back on your feet."
Caje mumbled something unintelligible, and Kirby began struggling up with him again.
When they were finally standing, Kirby looked the sergeant squarely in the face and said in a terse voice, "We’re ready."
The sergeant nodded a third time and gave orders to his men. They stashed their spoils of war, and the corporal leaned into the thicket to retrieve the BAR and M1. Corralling Caje and Kirby between them, the Germans moved out.
They headed back the way they’d come, and Kirby stepped as carefully as he could to minimize the jostling that would only heighten Caje’s suffering. All the men struggled through the underbrush, then circled far around the tangled mass of trees and vines that had previously barred Caje and Kirby’s progress.
Passing the natural barrier, Kirby saw a clearing a bit farther on. Stumps and logs still lay everywhere, but at least the brambles were beginning to give way to patches of open ground.
"We’re gettin’ there, Caje," Kirby tried to assure him. "I think we’re goin’ for that clearing up ahead."
"Sei ruhig!" one of their captors barked, and Kirby received the sharp jab of a rifle between the shoulder blades.
Caje lifted his head to squint forward. The late afternoon sunlight had started filtering through the trees overhead, and he decided they might finally get out of the miserable woods. He also hoped they would stop soon. He was desperately thirsty and knew it wouldn’t be long before Kirby would have to carry him if he were to keep going to wherever it was the Krauts were taking them.
Kirby paused to hump his shoulders, and Caje felt himself being adjusted in an effort to gain him better support. The movement hurt, but Caje was grateful for Kirby’s help. He knew the Krauts could’ve decided not to bother with a wounded man and just finished him off back there. Considering that they hadn’t rendered him aid, he figured that’d probably been their plan. But Kirby had thwarted it somehow and seemed intent on shouldering the burden – literally – to keep him alive.
Caje turned his face toward him and tried his best to smile his appreciation. Kirby noticed it and nodded his acceptance of the gesture. Then Caje resumed concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other. He couldn’t allow himself to fall and make things worse than they were already.
Soon the men passed a German outpost and drew up to the edge of the clearing. On the other side, Kirby saw a white farmhouse along with a weathered barn and several smaller outbuildings clustered nearby. The compound was situated along a line of woods running parallel to the barn’s north side, bisected by a dirt road to the west. And it seemed to Kirby that at least a platoon of Krauts had to be in residence.
Again, a rifle came from behind and prodded him and Caje forward. They stepped out into the open and began to make their way toward the buildings. Their escort relaxed somewhat, and Kirby listened to the Germans talking and laughing among themselves. He supposed they’d be real big shots once they showed off the Americans they’d bagged, and once more, he tasted bitter resentment.
But his anger was mixed with anxiety. He wondered if Caje would get any doctoring once they stopped. If he didn’t, there was a pretty good chance the guy wouldn’t make it through all of this. Kirby frowned at the thought and hoped the Krauts would have enough decency to patch up a wounded prisoner. After all, it wasn’t as if a medic and a couple of dressings would put them out much.
The men made their way into a large yard situated between the house and barn. The grounds were surprisingly tidy, and Kirby wondered if the people who owned the place were still around. Flowers adorned a window box, and the grass looked freshly mown. To his left he could see the land beyond the road fell away, presenting a spectacular view of the valley spread out before it for some distance. It seemed to be quite a set-up and, except for the Krauts parked everywhere, was any guy’s dream.
The sergeant called a halt, and Kirby and Caje shuffled to a stop. Several members of the German squad again moved toward the bedraggled pair. Kirby could hear catcalls and whistles from the other Krauts in the yard, and he struggled to keep the response that welled up within him in check.
The dirty, rotten, lousy…
Caje was mostly oblivious. Although still conscious, he offered no recognition of or resistance to the soldiers who untangled him from Kirby. Except for his labored breathing, he was silent as they turned and dragged him toward the barn. Kirby made a move to follow, but the corporal blocked his path.
For a few tense moments, Kirby and the corporal glared at each other until the sergeant spoke impatiently from the steps of the house. At that, the corporal stepped aside to let Kirby pass but fell in behind as he resumed his course. Another German joined the corporal, and all three men crossed to the barn and entered its gloomy interior.
As Kirby’s eyes adjusted to the dim light, a hand took him by the arm and steered him to one of the supporting posts that ran off center down both sides of the structure. He detected the distinctive, pungent odor of livestock that had once been in residence, and loose straw crunched beneath his feet. Kirby welcomed the coolness of the room and suddenly felt exhausted.
Forced to the barn floor to sit against a post, he looked around for Caje. Kirby didn’t see him and inquired into the scout’s whereabouts. Ignoring his question, one of Kirby’s captors stood over him, pointing a rifle at his chest, while the other one retrieved a length of rope hanging on a nearby wall. Returning with the rope, the corporal knelt and pulled Kirby’s hands back around the post, then bound his wrists together, tightly securing them to the wood.
Kirby winced as the rope pressed into his flesh, and he shifted his legs in an effort to attain a more tolerable level of discomfort. He looked up into the face of the German guarding him and carefully asked for water. The Kraut made no show of understanding but continued to gaze at him with dead eyes. Kirby tried again, repeating his request with a bit more urgency the second time.
From the far side of the room a voice spoke, and the guard turned to respond. He walked beyond Kirby’s immediate field of vision into a darkened corner a short distance away. Kirby craned his neck to peer into the shadows. He could just make out several figures huddled together, one kneeling over a prone form in the straw. Low voices conferred back and forth, and frustrated, Kirby wished he knew what was going on.
The guard returned, carrying a canteen. He leaned forward and pressed it to Kirby’s lips, and Kirby gulped the precious liquid inside as fast as he could. Before Kirby could satisfy his thirst, the guard abruptly withdrew the container and moved back to the other side of the room.
The corporal still behind the post called out something to his comrades and exited the barn, into the dying light outside. The other Germans followed. Kirby waited until he was sure the Krauts were gone for good, then he attempted to make contact with Caje.
"Hey," he called out quietly. "Hey, Caje. Can you hear me?"
He received no answer.
Kirby cocked his head, straining to detect any sound that might hint at Caje’s condition, but he could hear nothing.
Silence greeted his query.
Worried, Kirby decided to try for a better view of the corner. He shifted himself again, attempting to force his hands a bit higher on the post. The corporal had done a good job with the rope though, and Kirby only managed to scrape his wrists and gain a few splinters. He finally gave up and allowed his head to rest against the rough wood behind him. It didn’t look as if he’d be going anywhere, anytime soon.
His thoughts turned to water again, and he wished he could have more of it. Water first, then something more potent to chase it with. And a cigarette would be nice.
Kirby sighed and knew it’d probably be a long time before he’d even get something to eat. He wondered idly which of the Germans who’d searched him had found and pocketed the cookies Littlejohn had shared that morning. Scowling, Kirby glumly hoped the Kraut would choke on them.
Next, his mind wandered to the guys in the squad. No doubt Sarge was already steamed about two of his men being unaccounted for. He’d want to know exactly how they’d managed to foul up his orders. And he probably wouldn’t buy anything they’d try to tell him to save their necks, either. It was a cinch he was worried sick about them too. Kirby wondered if he’d get the blame for all of this. Then he realized that was a stupid thought - of course he would.
He figured Littlejohn and Nelson were more than likely trying to keep out of Sarge’s way and wondered where all of them were. Kirby almost smiled as he realized that, for once, he’d swap places with any of them for a chance to be slogging around out there on the line somewhere. Anything would have to be better than this.
The bridge of his nose began to feel itchy, and Kirby wished he could scratch it. He tried to swing his face around to his shoulder but could only manage to rub the underside of his jaw there. Frustrated, he drew up his legs until his knees were at eye level. He tilted his face forward to scrape his nose across the rough material of his pants. Caught up in his scratching, he flinched when the barn door suddenly swung open.
Kirby straightened up to see a blond soldier – a real Aryan poster boy - troop in, carrying two sloshing buckets. The German had some cloths draped over a shoulder and wore his rifle on his back. He veered toward the dark corner the Krauts had vacated earlier and seemed preoccupied with not spilling the buckets’ contents.
An older, heavyset man dressed in civilian clothes and clutching a bulky canvas bag followed. Gray-haired and stooped, he carried himself with a dignity that seemed out of place with the setting. Kirby couldn’t quite make out the civilian’s face but guessed him to be about sixty-five years old. This had to be Monsieur Window Box. Kirby wondered if he was also Monsieur Collaborator.
The last man in line turned out to be another Kraut holding a rifle loosely in one hand. A stocky, stubble-faced redhead, he reached for a lantern hanging on a peg inside the door and pulled it down as he passed. He kicked clods of hay out of his way and, muttering what had to be curses, also moved into the corner.
Kirby craned his neck again to watch the proceedings. The redhead struck a match and lit the lantern. He placed the lantern on a shelf, grabbed a crate, and flipped it over, turning it into a makeshift table. Stepping backward, he cradled his rifle in his arms and glanced at Kirby. Muttering what sounded like more curses, he turned his attention back to the corner.
The Frenchman knelt and opened his sack. He rummaged through it with one hand and gestured with his other while he spoke to the blond near the buckets. From all the finger pointing and hand waving going on, Kirby gathered the blond didn’t understand what the old man was saying. Finally though, the German nodded and moved in closer toward the still form on the floor. In the small pool of light, Kirby could see that it was Caje, and again he pressed against his bonds, trying to improve his view.
"Hey," he ventured. "Hey…what’s goin’ on over there? How’s my buddy doin’?"
The Frenchman and Germans turned to look Kirby’s way. The Frenchman seemed as though he were about to say something, but the redhead spoke first. He scowled at Kirby and with a "Halt den mund!" unceremoniously dismissed him. Turning back to the civilian, the Kraut barked an order and brandished his rifle. The old man shrugged and continued with his rummaging.
At last he seemed to locate something. He withdrew a cloudy glass bottle topped with a stopper and carefully set it on the crate. Squinting into the bag, he also extracted a couple of vials and half a dozen small tools that he placed next to the bottle. He reached to unbutton and open Caje’s bloody, olive drab shirt and, looking hesitantly at the redhead, retrieved a small knife from the kit assembled nearby. Pursing his lips, the Frenchman slid the knife under Caje’s undershirt, near his waist, and cautiously slit the clothing up to the hollow in Caje’s throat.
The old man put down the knife and signaled his assistant. The blond began tilting Caje into a sitting position. Moving to catch the collapsing soldier before he toppled over, the Frenchman held him steady with a hand clasped on each of Caje’s upper arms. Caje’s head lolled forward, and the Frenchman wrestled to keep him upright. The blond scrambled to his feet and, still at Caje’s back, leaned forward to grasp him by the arms and free the old man to continue his work.
Kirby was relieved to see Caje being handled with kid gloves this time. The Frenchman, working in tandem with the blond, slipped the wool shirt off Caje’s left shoulder and carefully brought it around the soldier’s back. Slowly pulling the shirt away from Caje’s body, the old man eased it down Caje’s right arm.
The Frenchman continued to shift in careful choreography with the blond and began to remove Caje’s undershirt. Again he lifted the shirt away from Caje’s left side but, bringing it around the scout’s back, discovered the clothing was stuck to his body by clotted blood drying around an entry wound. The Frenchman gently started working the shirt loose, and his assistant grunted with the strain of the awkward position he was holding. The old man tried to hurry, eventually getting the shirt free, but had to repeat the process of loosening it from Caje’s chest before being able to slip it off. A ragged exit wound the bullet had made near Caje’s right armpit was exposed, and the Frenchman muttered an oath at the sight.
He took hold of Caje once more in order to free the blond to spread a tablecloth in the straw behind the unconscious man. The two men lowered Caje onto it, turning him so that he was resting on his left side. Wiping his bloody hands on another piece of cloth, the Frenchman went back to rummaging in his bag.
Kirby’s arms were beginning to ache, and he leaned against the post to relieve some of the pressure on them. He also closed his eyes to allow them to rest from the strain of watching the proceedings across the room. As the Frenchman clucked to himself while working on his patient, Kirby simply listened.
The Frenchman began washing Caje’s torso, and Kirby’s thirst gnawed at him in rhythm to the dipping of the cloth in water and the sound of it being wrung out. He wondered how much worse things could get before this was all over. Sighing, he decided that was a dumb thing to think about. If his last vacation with the Krauts was anything to go by, things could get a lot worse.
The Frenchman finished giving Caje a sponge-bath, and it became quiet. Kirby felt himself dozing off, but every now and then the Frenchman would make some exclamation that would startle him awake. Eventually Kirby opened his eyes to see that the old man was leaning across Caje, swabbing something onto the wound on the scout’s back. The Frenchman pressed a folded cloth against it and, holding the pad in place, gently turned his patient so that he was facing up.
Caje mumbled something, and Kirby saw the Frenchman hesitate. The two Krauts exchanged looks, then peered at the wounded man. Caje didn’t move and said nothing else, so the old man proceeded with his operation. As the Frenchman finished doctoring and suturing the wound on Caje’s chest, Caje murmured something again, then coughed. This hurt him, and he began to move as though trying to fold in on himself. The Frenchman stretched out a hand to restrain him and the blond also held him down.
Kirby heard Caje say something louder in a hoarse voice and realized the guy was speaking in his more familiar French. Looking surprised and pleased at this, the old man answered in a soothing tone. Caje relaxed somewhat and mumbled a question. The Frenchman responded at length while popping the stopper out of the medicine bottle and swabbing its contents over the wound on Caje’s chest.
As the Frenchman continued talking, Kirby noticed the redhead holding the rifle seemed to be getting agitated. The German was shifting from side to side as his face grew darker. He suddenly brought the Mauser into line with the Frenchman and blurted out a demand for silence. The Frenchman became indignant at that and let loose with a torrent of words, punctuating them with exaggerated hand gestures and facial expressions.
The blond soldier looked at the redhead and spoke to him in a calm, reassuring voice, apparently taking up the Frenchman’s cause. Seeming to tell his associate it was all innocent enough, the blond nodded first at Caje, then at the old man. The blond pointed at his watch, swept out his hands, and raised his eyebrows. A short silence prevailed, and then the redhead, still clearly irritated, gave the Frenchman a curt nod.
Looking satisfied, the Frenchman reached for the knife he’d used to slit open Caje’s undershirt and said something to his assistant while pointing at the cloths lying nearby. The blond passed one over, and the old man cut and tore it into strips. He spoke again to Caje, and Caje listened quietly except to answer an occasional question or ask one of his own.
Ready to bandage his patient, the Frenchman directed the blond to lift Caje forward. Caje managed to help maintain himself in a sitting position, but Kirby could see the scout was ashen-faced, with dark circles under his eyes. Kirby couldn’t help wondering if Caje would be up for an escape later on. Right now he barely looked up for an ambulance ride out of here.
The old man demonstrated how he wanted the blond to hold out Caje’s right arm so they could get the bandages around the wounded man’s chest and shoulder. Lifting Caje’s left arm, the Frenchman encouraged him to hold it out as steady as he could. The Frenchman then proceeded to wrap the strips of cloth around Caje’s body to secure the pads over his wounds in place. Caje grimaced in discomfort but otherwise endured the procedure without complaint. When the Frenchman finished, he nodded at the blond, who helped lower Caje back onto the cloth on the floor.
The redhead said something that Kirby took to be a demand to know when this business would be finished. The Frenchman ignored him and addressed Caje instead. At that, the redhead apparently decided he’d had enough. He sprang forward and kicked Caje high in the left thigh. Caje made a strangled sound, rolled onto his left side, and jerked up an arm to protect his chest. At the same time, the redhead shouted a curse and lunged for the old man.
Alarmed, Kirby entered the fray, yelling "Why don’t you just lay off them, you jerk?"
His words had an immediate effect on the redhead. Turning to look across the room, the Kraut abruptly let go of the civilian, then threw his rifle across his back. He began striding purposefully toward the post, and Kirby knew the next few minutes were going to be unpleasant.
The blond knew it too, and scrambling up, he shouted at his partner, trying to intercept him.
Kirby stared defiantly at the redhead now charging forward. The furious Kraut’s arms shot out, and with surprising speed, he grabbed the front of Kirby’s shirt and hauled him up. Kirby felt the rope slicing into his anchored wrists, and his arms scraped against the post, but he lashed out with his left foot, aiming it for his attacker’s knees. The frustration and tension that had been building all afternoon now boiled over into a fury that lent surprising force to the kick.
The redhead yelped and dropped to the ground. Spewing obscenities and spittle, he managed to recover and dove for Kirby’s middle. Kirby threw himself to the side and avoided a full frontal assault, but was still stunned by the force of being slammed backward against the post. He gasped as his back exploded in pain, and off balance, he fell sideways. The redhead began clawing wildly for Kirby’s neck, and Kirby twisted and turned, trying desperately to avoid the Kraut’s grasping hands.
The blond jumped on his partner and struggled to drag him up off the floor while shouting something over and over again. The words eventually seemed to register on his blood-crazed companion. The redhead paused, his breathing labored, his face flushed. Shoving Kirby backward, he twisted around and pushed away the blond’s hands.
The blond continued to speak to the redhead in a rapid voice and looked to all the world like a mother scolding a wayward son. The redhead growled at him as he lurched to his feet, leaned forward to retrieve his helmet, and jammed it back onto his head. With a final kick at Kirby, the redhead pushed his way past the blond and limped back to the other side of the room.
Kirby’s eyes met the blond’s, and for a brief moment Kirby thought he caught the hint of an apology there. The German then turned away, smoothing down the front of his tunic while crossing the room to finish his other business. Kirby allowed the breath he’d been holding to escape as he pushed himself back up, using his legs as leverage. He could feel the beginning of a swell headache coming on, and he wondered how much more of this he’d be able to take. And water…when would he ever get some more damned water?
The Frenchman, now on his feet and being pushed by the redhead toward the barn door, scurried past the blond. Hugging his bag against himself, the Frenchman babbled excitedly to no one in particular. When he was almost at the door and as near to Kirby as he was liable to get, he turned his face suddenly and winked. In the next instant, the civilian and his escort were gone.
Startled, Kirby dismissed it as another of the old man’s quirks, and he focused on the corner. The blond was kneeling next to Caje and assisting him to get a drink. Kirby saw that Caje had on a faded plaid shirt unbuttoned to his waist. Surprised by the size of the thing, Kirby figured it had to have been one of the old man’s. Somehow the Frenchman must’ve slipped it on Caje when everyone else was busy at the other side of the room.
Caje signaled he’d had enough water. He eased himself back into the straw while the blond retrieved his helmet. Carrying the canteen to Kirby, the German stooped to let him get a drink too. Grateful, Kirby tilted his head back and allowed the water to flood his mouth and throat. He drank as much as he wanted, then nodded that he was satisfied. The blond withdrew the canteen and, twisting its cap back on, turned and left the barn.
Kirby sighed. He hoped there wouldn’t be any more excitement for a while. Surely he’d had more than his fair share of it for one day.
"Hey," he called over to Caje. "You gonna be okay?"
It was a few moments before Caje’s tired voice came back. "The old guy says I’ll live. What…what about you?"
"Huh!" Kirby put his patented brand of cockiness into it. "I’m doin’ just fine. You know them Krauts is nothin’ to worry about. Hell, that guy there was losin’ just a few minutes ago."
"Yeah, Kirby." Caje almost sounded amused. "Yeah…sure."
"You know, though," Kirby turned serious, "I figure they’ll probably ship us out of here pretty soon. We’d better try to make a run for it before then."
"Uh huh," Caje agreed. "The old guy said it would be some time in the morning." He paused. "So, what’s your…plan?"
Kirby thought about it and then said, "Well, I don’t have anything cooked up just yet, but I do know I sure don’t wanna go back to no lousy Kraut camp."
"Yeah, I…I’m…" Caje’s voice trailed off and he fell silent.
Kirby waited a couple of seconds, then said, "Caje?"
Caje mumbled something and Kirby strained to hear him.
Silence descended again, and Kirby knew Caje was out of it.
Kirby leaned back and closed his eyes. He supposed he’d better get some shut-eye too if he expected to be ready to try for a break tomorrow. He wondered what time it was. It had to be getting pretty late, considering how tired he felt. What he wouldn’t give to be in one of those fancy Parisian hotels right about now, lying on one of those fancy Parisian feather beds…
He slouched down as best as he could and allowed his legs to splay out in an effort to get more comfortable. It didn’t help much, but it’d have to do. His back and arms busily complained about the harsh accommodations, but Kirby ignored them and allowed his mind to wander aimlessly as a prelude to sleep. Thoughts of the day began to mingle with impressions of the more distant past, and soon exhaustion took its toll and he was out.
He wasn’t aware of it when the door opened a short time later, and the German sergeant named Austerlitz and a Private Walheim entered the room.
Walheim was carrying a lantern. After pausing to light it, he made his way over to Kirby. He leaned forward to examine Kirby’s bonds, and satisfied they were secure, he walked to the corner where Caje was lying. He looked him over too, then checked the lantern still burning on the shelf before turning to disappear into the barn’s stalls.
Austerlitz stood a few feet inside the door, waiting for Walheim’s return. Listening to him rummaging through the junk every barn seemed to accumulate, Austerlitz wondered if the guy would be able to locate the other lantern the old man had mentioned. Austerlitz reached for the pack of American cigarettes that had been his take from the day’s catch and lit one up.
As his eyes wandered around the room, they came to rest on the soldier identified by his dog tags as Kirby. Austerlitz decided the Americans could be surprisingly nervy. Rieger had reported the brawl between Kirby and Gunter a little while ago. Considering that and the challenge Kirby had made over LeMay when they’d been captured, it was obvious the gutsy Ami would have to be watched.
Austerlitz savored another drag off his cigarette and then, curious, walked toward LeMay. The wounded man didn’t look as if he’d present any problem. Even after being patched up he was unusually pale - no doubt, due to loss of blood - and covered in a light sheen of perspiration. If a fever were to seriously take hold, LeMay probably wouldn’t make it through the ordeal of being put on a train bound for the Fatherland. The sergeant supposed Kirby might have some trouble dealing with that.
The noises coming from the rear of the barn ceased, and Walheim reappeared, looking triumphant. He set the lantern he’d brought into the barn on top of a barrel a dozen feet behind Kirby, then struck a match to light the one he’d found.
Austerlitz snubbed out his cigarette and made his way toward him. Walheim would have to be given careful instructions in regard to Kirby. Drawing up to the barrel, Austerlitz reached for the lantern Walheim had retrieved from the horse stall and tilted it to determine how much oil it contained. He supposed it would be adequate to make it through the night.
Turning his attention to Walheim, he gave him instructions in regard to his watch. Walheim wasn’t to assist Kirby with drinking, smoking, or anything else before making sure the Ami’s hands were still securely tied. Nor was Kirby to be physically engaged for any reason - no such foolishness as that which had happened earlier was to take place a second time. No one was to leave the barn, nor was the rope around Kirby’s wrists to be untied for any reason. Walheim would remain at his post until his relief arrived in approximately two hours. Then he’d have four hours off before he was to report back for an additional two hours’ duty.
Walheim nodded his understanding and looked around for something on which to sit as Austerlitz carried the lantern toward the door. Austerlitz located the peg by the doorway and hung the lantern on it. Then he exited the barn, leaving Walheim on his own.
Walheim unslung his rifle and lowered himself onto the overturned washtub he’d scrounged from the side of the barn. He looked at the two Americans to be sure they were still sleeping, then he slipped off his helmet. He was tired and wondered at his abysmal luck to have drawn such a rotten detail. Stromm should’ve been the one sitting here. After all, he hadn’t had to fight that ungodly forest all afternoon. Somehow it seemed the lucky bastard was always managing to find a way out of such things.
Walheim ran a hand through his hair and put his helmet back on. He supposed it couldn’t hurt to unbutton his tunic to get a bit more comfortable. Who would know except the stupid Amis? Again he glanced at each of them, wondering how they’d managed to get themselves separated from their unit and lost in the woods. He shook his head. It was truly a wonder German troops were being routed by such idiots as these.
He settled himself lower on his perch and sighed. Now he supposed the boredom would begin. Walheim tried to amuse himself for a while by removing the dirt from under his fingernails with a piece of straw. When the novelty of that wore off, he crossed his legs and examined the equipment hanging on the barn’s walls, studying things as best he could in the dim light. There was a rusted wagon wheel here, a yoke and various riggings over there, and a number of ropes, baskets, and buckets scattered everywhere in between. There were no pitchforks, scythes or other such tools though. Those had been removed earlier as a precautionary measure in order to accommodate their overnight guests.
He yawned and decided it was time for a smoke. It was too bad Kirby and LeMay hadn’t had enough cigarettes for everyone in the squad. He had to admit they were certainly superior to the ones he carried. Walheim struck a match and lit the stub of one that Austerlitz had tossed away after supper. As Walheim shook out the flame, he suddenly thought he heard something.
Drawing up his rifle, Walheim listened for the sound to be repeated. He saw Kirby move one of his legs, then give a start. Apparently, the Ami was shifting in his sleep and, still sitting up, beginning to lose his balance. That seemed to be the source of the noise. Relieved, Walheim lowered his weapon.
Then he became intrigued. After all, this little show could prove to be entertaining. He watched as Kirby leaned and then semi-consciously checked himself right before toppling over. Leaned…checked; leaned…checked. At a particularly critical moment, Kirby suddenly grunted and jerked upright. Walheim tightened his grip on his rifle and waited to see what would happen.
Kirby opened his eyes and briefly looked as if he might become fully awake, but he moved his body out farther from the post and, with some difficulty, lowered himself to the floor to lie on his side. He adjusted back and forth in an effort to find a position his arms could tolerate, then he went back to sleep.
Walheim stood and walked over to him. It was amazing that anyone could lie with their arms in such an impossible position and still manage to rest. But Walheim supposed it could be done if one were tired enough.
Or, perhaps, American. They were so strange, so disorderly and undisciplined, so bizarre and unnatural in their habits. And yet they were causing such unimaginable trouble for the Reich. Again he shook his head in disbelief before deciding he might as well take a look at LeMay since there wasn’t much else to do.
Walheim stood over him and saw the wounded man’s features did actually look as Gallic as Rieger had reported him to be. LeMay had been so scratched up, bloody, and disheveled earlier that it hadn’t been quite so obvious when they’d brought him in. A Frenchman in an American uniform. How was it possible for a nation made up of such a hodgepodge of peoples to think it could ever accomplish anything of lasting significance?
Well, LeMay wouldn’t be accomplishing anything for a while - that is, if he ever would again. Walheim knew that a prison camp wouldn’t offer ideal conditions for the Ami’s convalescence. It was liable to be a very unpleasant next couple of weeks for LeMay once he got a taste of the nursing available there.
Curious, Walheim slipped the tip of his rifle under one of the open sides of LeMay’s shirt and moved the weapon to lift the clothing away from the bandaging underneath. It didn’t make much sense that LeMay’s wounds had been doctored. Enough German soldiers were lying dead…what purpose could the enemy’s survival serve? As Walheim pondered this, his mind wandered to what it must be like to be shot. A familiar dread mixed with morbid fascination engaged his imagination, distracting him for a few seconds.
Suddenly, the hairs on the back of his neck stood up, and he jerked his rifle away from the American. Stumbling backward, Walheim turned his head to see the Ami’s face and was shocked to discover LeMay’s eyes were open and that the wounded man seemed to be studying…him!
Disoriented, Walheim pointed his rifle at LeMay in an attempt to do something - anything - while working to regain his composure. He also continued to meet LeMay’s gaze but grew more and more uncomfortable with each passing second. LeMay hadn’t moved and remained expressionless, but there was something threatening - even dangerous - in the depths of his eyes that was unnerving.
Walheim finally turned around and strode back to the washtub. He could feel anger beginning to burn deep in the pit of his stomach, and he realized that, if he could have his way, he’d put a bullet in each of the Americans and have done with it. They weren’t of useful rank or command status anyway…why waste the time and effort to put a guard over them?
Shaken and irritated, Walheim looked at his watch and dreaded what else the night might bring.