Based on the Combat! episode “The Long Way Home” written by Ed Lakso
Story Copyright 2003 by Terry Pierce
This story was written for the Purple Hearts 2003 Labor Day challenge. It’s an attempt to explain why Caje was tied during his interrogation (when Saunders, Doc, Kirby, and Littlejohn presumably weren’t tied for theirs) and why the interrogations seemed to be pretty brief “this guy’s not gonna talk either so we might as well let him go” sessions.
Steiner followed Tietzl to the steps of the small cottage, paused, and turned around. Schumann continued to shove the prisoner up the path. The American’s eyes flashed with anger each time the guard laid a hand on him, and Steiner smiled. The man didn’t like being pushed.
It would be a pleasure to interrogate him. Surely his screams would be effective on the stubborn American sergeant. After all, even a compassionate German commander couldn’t be expected to cooperate to save the likes of the grocery clerk.
Steiner pulled off his gloves and wondered what the prisoner would look like, groveling for mercy. Most of them did, sooner or later. But as Steiner appraised the man – his inferior coloring, his obvious ethnicity, the deep scar beneath his lower lip - he noticed the Ami suddenly look scornful as he glanced at the flowerpots lining the cottage’s picture window.
Steiner’s smile vanished. How dare an untermenchen sneer at the tastes of a ranking officer in the Fuehrer's SS! He would be taught a measure of respect even if it took time away from questioning him.
Schumann prodded the American by and pushed him up onto the porch. The prisoner wheeled around angrily, but Schumann brandished his rifle. As the American disappeared into the cottage, Steiner slapped his gloves against his thigh, turned smartly, and marched up the steps.
He loved his work; truly he did.
He passed through the door of the house and saw Brummel standing in his customary spot by the fireplace. Good, Steiner thought. The lieutenant was ready to assist him. Steiner stepped around Tietzl and Schumann, both busy corralling the American in the center of the small parlor. Settling himself comfortably behind his desk, Steiner studied the captive, wondering how best to question him.
Should he begin with threats? Or a false promise that cooperation would bring about a stay of execution?
Steiner decided neither tack would work. The prisoner, his hands clenched into fists, was glaring at him. Obviously, no matter what was said, the man had no intention of cooperating.
Well, then he would be taught some manners first.
Steiner ordered Tietzl to remove the prisoner’s beret. Tietzl yanked it off him. The American snarled, and Schumann shoved him closer to the desk. Coal-black hair spilled into the prisoner’s hate-filled eyes and he suddenly looked dangerous.
A chill ran up Steiner’s spine, but he leaned back in his chair, laced his fingers together, and looked at ease. The prisoner was outnumbered four to one and thoroughly at his mercy. What could he possibly…
The American suddenly dove for him. Hands quicker than Steiner could have imagined clamped around his neck. Steiner squawked and fell off his chair, pulling the American, much stronger than he looked, over the desk and nearly down on top of him. Schumann and Tietzl jumped on the prisoner, shouting in alarm and hauling him backward. Brummel rushed to his commander’s aid as the guards wrestled the American to the floor.
“You fools!” Steiner coughed and gasped, trying to climb back into his chair. “You should have tied him!” He allowed Brummel to help him up and then struggled to loosen his collar. “He knows he’s going to die, so he has nothing to lose by attacking me!”
It was his own fault the prisoner knew his fate, but Steiner firmly believed in blaming others for his mistakes.
Looking pale, Brummel tried to help him unbutton his tunic.
Steiner slapped the lieutenant’s hands away. “Get off me, you oaf! Do your job!”
Brummel hurried to the other room and returned with a coil of rope. He tossed it to the guards, shouting at them to tie the prisoner. They yanked the struggling American’s hands behind him and, sitting on his legs and back, bound his wrists together. Then hauling him to his feet, they pulled him toward a chair Brummel was placing in front of the desk.
The prisoner saw what they intended to do and began fighting again. Twisting and kicking, he nearly got himself free. Brummel rushed in and grabbed the man by his collar to pull him forward. As Brummel and Schumann forced the American into the chair, Tietzl tied him to it. Brummel made sure the knots were secure and, hoping everything was satisfactory, returned to the fireplace.
Steiner did indeed feel safer, and finished putting everything back on his desk he reached for a cigarette. Placing it between his lips, he smiled magnanimously. “You don’t mind if I smoke, do you?”
The prisoner glowered at him but was no threat now. As long as he was tethered to the chair he was completely helpless.
The thought of it stoked Steiner’s sadism. He nodded at Schumann who pulled his rifle off his back and smashed its butt into the prisoner’s right shoulder. The American jerked upright, his face going white.
Steiner chuckled. “When I ask a question, I expect an answer.”
The prisoner said nothing, panting for air.
Steiner nodded at Schumann again, and the American received another blow. He shuddered inside the ropes and gasped, “Paul LeMay. Private, First Class. Serial Number 1019698.”
“It’s very nice to meet you, Private LeMay.” Steiner exhaled a cloud of smoke. “We should get better acquainted. Perhaps you would like to tell me who your higher superiors are?”
LeMay didn’t answer the question, and Steiner waved at Tietzl.
Tietzl aimed his rifle at LeMay’s left shoulder, and again the prisoner gasped in pain.
“Your higher superiors,” Steiner repeated, leaning forward and rolling his cigarette between neatly manicured fingertips, “who are they?”
LeMay looked away, clenching his teeth.
Steiner no longer signaled his men. They knew the routine. They were also friends of Dieter Horst’s, the guard that LeMay had attacked and knocked unconscious last night. Tietzl slammed his rifle into LeMay’s ribs, and Schumann delivered a blow to his stomach.
LeMay doubled up, the ropes cutting into his chest. Still, he remained silent except for his harsh breathing, and Brummel suggested trying something else.
“Maybe we should do what we did to the grocery clerk?”
Steiner knew Brummel was referring to a technique that would cause terrible pain in LeMay’s neck and shoulders. It was virtually guaranteed to produce results. Steiner took another drag on his cigarette, tapped it over an ornate porcelain ashtray decorated with a gold eagle and swastika, and nodded.
Brummel got behind LeMay, grabbed him by his hair, and yanked his head back. As LeMay strained against the ropes, Brummel forced the American’s head lower and lower, bowing him over the back of the chair. The muscles in LeMay’s neck stood out, his arms shook, and his face turned red, but incredibly he kept quiet.
Steiner knew the grocery clerk had been shrieking in agony long before this. If Brummel forced LeMay any lower it could break the man’s neck. Impatient, he waved Brummel off.
Brummel nodded and released LeMay but immediately struck him, hitting his throat.
LeMay coughed and gagged, sucking air through his teeth, as he struggled to sit up.
“What report did your sergeant radio in to his superiors the other night?” Brummel demanded.
LeMay didn’t answer and the lieutenant backhanded him.
“Did you see anything to report while reconnoitering our lines?”
LeMay uttered something in French, but neither Brummel nor Steiner understood the phrase. When LeMay grinned around bloody teeth, Steiner realized it had been an insult. He barked at Brummel to return to the fireplace and Schumann and Tietzl to resume beating the American. As their rifle blows rained down on the prisoner, Steiner stubbed out his cigarette, rose, and stomped to the window.
He looked past imported lace curtains to see Sergeant Saunders outside, still scratching out the grave he’d been ordered to dig. Saunders worked tirelessly under the hot summer sun, neither his injuries nor a lack of sleep seeming to have much of an effect on him. And without any screams coming from the cottage, it appeared he would never be demoralized.
But if he weren’t demoralized, how would his men be?
Steiner frowned, becoming angrier. LeMay was obviously as obstinate as his commander. And Saunders had endured nearly eight hours of interrogation without crying out or divulging anything. If LeMay were to do the same thing, he would not only bolster the prisoners’ solidarity but make it impossible to phone a satisfactory report in to headquarters.
Steiner whirled and ordered Teitzl and Schumann to stop. LeMay sagged against the ropes binding him to the chair. Crossing the room, Steiner picked up his riding crop. He would have LeMay untied and stripped to the waist, to be beaten with it. A tiring method of persuasion, true, but one that rarely failed to loosen prisoners’ tongues.
The thought of LeMay free of the ropes, though, suddenly made Steiner nervous. What if Schumann and Tietzl couldn’t hold onto him? Steiner remembered the feel of LeMay’s hands around his neck and had second thoughts. This time LeMay could grab one of the guards’ guns and…
Maybe untying him wasn’t such a good idea.
Steiner ordered Teitzl out of the way, strode toward LeMay, and snapped the riding crop against the prisoner’s arm to get his attention. There had to be some other way to defeat him. As LeMay struggled to sit up, his hair and face dripping with sweat, Steiner slid the whip under the prisoner’s chin to force his head back. He looked into LeMay’s eyes and saw resentment there.
Resentment, yes…and even better, now there was some fear!
Excitement surged through Steiner. LeMay was defeated already! He was a coward who put on a good show but, like Sergeant Ackers and his men, was easily intimidated. If LeMay didn’t talk soon, at least he’d wail just as pathetically.
Steiner pulled the riding crop out from beneath LeMay’s chin, walked toward a map fastened to the wall, and took a seat beneath it. In a confident tone, he said, “We’ll try a different line of questioning since you don’t seem to know who your commanders are. You can tell me about your unit. It’s the 361st Infantry Division, isn’t it?”
LeMay shut his eyes, Schumann clubbed him, and the American groaned.
Steiner relished the sound of it. “Before your capture, how much of your regiment was deployed in the Lorelle Valley?”
LeMay looked at the floor and Schumann swung his rifle. Again LeMay groaned, but Steiner wanted something more satisfactory. He waited impatiently for the prisoner to recover and tapped the riding crop noisily against his knee. Then he leaned back in his seat and lifted the whip to point it at the center of the map.
“What was your strength in this sector?” He gave LeMay choices. “Company? Battalion?”
LeMay dropped his gaze again and didn’t give him an answer.
Brummel interjected, “The prisoner who got away…he was from your group. Did he have any information?”
LeMay swallowed and blinked before lifting his head to stare at the wall behind the desk.
Steiner had had enough. The American would cooperate. He shifted himself forward in his chair and said ominously, “You struck one of my men.”
LeMay shuddered, his breathing erratic.
“You will die for it.”
LeMay’s jaw muscles twitched.
Steiner got up and walked toward him. He saw LeMay lower his head, watching his approach - and the riding crop - from the corners of his eyes. Pleased at this, Steiner paused at the desk and said, “I’ll give you a choice - you may die mercifully or slowly.” He made a show of bringing up the whip to point it at another map lying on the desktop. “Now, your strength in this sector?”
LeMay raised his head, seemed to gather himself, and said defiantly in a halting voice, “My name is Paul LeMay.”
Steiner’s face darkened.
“My rank is Private, First Class.”
Steiner began trembling with rage.
“My serial number is 10…”
Steiner sliced the air with the riding crop and slashed LeMay’s face.
LeMay twisted in pain, but he stifled a cry. Furious, Steiner shouted a command. Tietzl and Schumann hustled forward to untie the prisoner.
As they pulled him from the chair and dragged him away, LeMay pressed a hand to the ugly welt on his cheek and looked back, surprised he was through being questioned. But Steiner knew the interrogation would come to nothing. LeMay would only continue to make a fool of him, just as Saunders had. And Steiner had to get something he could report to his superiors out of one of the Americans quickly.
Or face unpleasant consequences himself.
He tried to compose himself, turned around, and walked stiffly past Brummel. Moving into the other room of the cottage, he approached the still form lying quietly on the bed. The sight of his earlier handiwork cheered him. Weak, spineless, this American posed no threat.