No Honour Among Thieves (by Modocgal)

 

Summary:   A chance meeting between Goniff and an old acquaintance lead to serious consequences for Garrison and Chief and trouble for the rest of the team.
Category:  Garrison’s Gorillas
Genre:  WWII Drama
Rated G
Word Count 42,525


 

Chapter 1

“Alright you lot, hurry it up,” Garrison ordered as he stood leaning on his cane on the footpath in front of the Lazy Dog and ushered Goniff, Casino and Actor into the back seat of the Packard Chief was driving.

“’Ey Warden, ‘ow’s the ankle?” Goniff asked as he hopped into the backseat, followed by a grumbling Casino and finally Actor.

“It’s fine thank you Goniff.  A couple more days and I’ll be rid of this cane.”

“Don’t see why we couldn’t have just one more to celebrate,” Casino grumbled.  “You know, to celebrate your return to duty.”

“I was never off duty Casino.” Garrison pointed out as he slipped into the front seat beside Chief, motioning with a nod of his head that they were ready to return to the mansion.

“So I take it we are now on full alert again Craig?” Actor asked as he attempted to squeeze his large frame into the small space left by the other two occupants of the back seat.

“Yes we are Actor, do you have a problem with that.”  Garrison asked as Chief pulled the car back into the light traffic and headed out of London.

*****

“I don’t believe it,” Jimmy Fender muttered as he pulled his boss into the shadows of the alley way that ran alongside the Lazy Dog.

“Don’t believe what?” Richard Bird snapped as he shook off the hand on his arm, annoyed that he had been stopped by his second.

“Goniff,” Jimmy supplied as he pointed to the disappearing car.

“Who is Goniff?” Bird demanded.

“The little blond guy who got into the Packard.  Last I heard he was in prison somewhere in America.  He was one of the best pick pockets and second storey men in this country before he and his mum went to live with some Aunt of his in America.  I wonder what he’s doing back here and with a US Army Lieutenant.”

“Well he didn’t look like army to me nor did any of the others.  Second storey man you say? I wonder?” Bird stood in contemplative thought for a moment before he turned into the street and headed for the doors of the Lazy Dog. “Come on.” He snapped as he pushed open the door, allowing the smells of smoke and liquor to seep out into the street.

“What are we doing here,” Jimmy asked as he hurried to catch up with his boss.

“Making some enquiries.  It always pays to know who your competition is.” Bird replied as he approached the lone barmaid standing behind the bar rinsing glasses.  “Sally me love,” Bird purred as he stepped up to the bar.  “How’s business these days?”

“Fine Richard,” Sally replied warily as she watched the man settle onto the seat in front of her.  “What can I get you?”

“Just some information this time love.  Those men that just left, who were they?”

“Why do you want to know Richard?” Sally asked suspiciously.

“Because I like to know who’s muscling in on my territory.  Now answer the question.” Bird’s hand snaked out and grabbed Sally’s wrist giving it a sharp twist, causing the girl to whimper in pain.

“Don’t know who they are, honest.  They’ve never been in here before.” Sally replied.

“Names? Did they mention any names?” Bird demanded.

“Not really, only nicknames.”

Bird growled.  “What names?”

“The blond was called Goniff, the short dark one was Casino and the tall one was Actor.”

Bird was quickly losing patience with the lack of information and shook Sally’s wrist.  “What about the army guy and the other dark one?”

“They just called the Army guy Lieutenant.  There were only four of them.  I don’t know about any other guy.  I swear.”  Sally cowered as Bird stared at her before releasing her wrist with a shove.

“See, that wasn’t so hard was it Sally love?”  Bird stood and strode quickly to the door, followed closely by Jimmy.

“What are you thinking Richard?” Jimmy asked as he followed his boss down the street.

“That I need to know who those men are and what they’re doing here.”

“How are you going to find that out?” Jimmy questioned as he opened the door of the waiting car for his boss.

“I have my informants Jimmy, don’t you worry about that.” Bird replied, as possibilities swirled in his head.  “Take me home Tiny.” Bird ordered.

Bird picked up his phone and dialed the number he had memorized. It was after five so his brother should be home and playing happy families with his missus and their kid.  Bird paused for a moment, there wasn’t much for him to smile about anymore but the one thing that did make him smile was his niece, Matilda.

“Hello,” answered a male voice on the other end of the phone.

“Percival, how are you brother?” Bird queried.

“What do you want Richard?” Percival demanded.  “I’ve told you not to ring me here.”

“Now is that anyway to speak to your older brother, Percival?”

“It’s the only way I’m going to speak to you.” Percival snapped.

“Now, now Percy, how are Kathleen and dear Matilda? What is she now, five years old?”

“They’re fine and Matilda is six, now if that’s all you wanted to know.” Percy began…

“That’s good to hear Percy and if you want them to stay that way you’ll do as I say. I want to know who the following men are and what they’re doing here.”

“I won’t help you Richard.” Percy warned.

“You will if you value your family.  Their names are Goniff, Actor and Casino.  They were with some US Army Lieutenant and there is a fifth one as well but I don’t know his name.  You have twenty four hours.  I’ll ring you tomorrow night and you had better have the information or else.” Bird hung up the phone not waiting for a reply from his brother and leaned back in his chair.  He would never hurt Tilly, she was the one bright spark in his family but as for Kathleen, it would be a pleasure to get rid of that snotty nosed sister in law if he could.  Always looking down her nose at him, thinking she was so much better because her father had money.  Richard snorted.  Well all their money hadn’t done them any good in this war.

Jimmy Fender was just on his way to see his boss when the phone rang.  He answered it apprehensively.  There weren’t too many people who knew the number to this house.  “Hello.” Jimmy listened for a moment.  “Wait a minute and I’ll get him.”  Jimmy hurried down the hall and knocked on his boss’s door, waiting until he heard a grumbled acknowledgment to enter.  He poked his head around the door.  “Percy’s on the phone.”

“Is he now?  I must say that was fast work, even for him.”  Richard strode to the phone.  “Percy, what an unexpected surprise.” Richard grinned as he listened to his brother’s empty threats.  “Enough of the dramatics Percy.  Tell me what you found out.” Richard demanded, tiring quickly of the other’s histrionics.  Richard’s smile widened as he listened to Percy’s information.  “Well, well, well.  How interesting.  Now here is what I want you to do next Percy.”  Richard scowled darkly as the voice on the other end of the line ranted.  “Finished Percy? I don’t think so.  You owe me six years of my life and I intend to collect every minute of it from your lousy hide.  Do you hear me Percy?  Now listen up.”  Richard slammed the handset down on the receiver when he had finished giving his brother his next set of orders.    “Jimmy,” Richard yelled, waiting until his second ducked back into the hallway.  “Make sure there is plenty of gas in the car tomorrow.  We’re going for a drive in the country.”

“Sure thing Boss,” Jimmy responded as the other man disappeared back into his room.

*****

Goniff had just returned to their corner table with four pints when the door to the Doves opened and two men walked in.  They paused on the stoop for a moment to take in their surroundings before moving down the steps and heading for the bar.

“Wonder who they are?” Casino muttered as he watched the two men order a pint each from the barman.

“They look like trouble,” Chief observed as a soft click could be head from under the table.

“Put that away Chief,” Actor ordered quietly.  “We promised the Warden we wouldn’t start anything remember?”

“Not going to start anything Actor but I’ll finish it if I have to.” Chief replied.

Goniff turned around to see who had caught his team mate’s attention.  “Blimey, I don’t believe it.” Goniff grinned as he rose to his feet and made to step towards the bar.

“Goniff,” Actor hissed urgently.

“It’s alright Actor I know them, or at least the smaller one.  Wonder what they’re doing ‘ere.”

“Come back here you dumb Limey.” Casino ordered to the pickpockets back.

“This isn’t going to end well.” Chief warned, straightening in his seat as he watched the little Englishmen approach the two men.

“Jimmy, Jimmy Fender.” Goniff greeted; slapping the man on the back.  “’Ow are you mate?  What brings you to this neck of the woods then?”

“Goniff,” Jimmy greeted, shaking the offered hand.  “I thought you were in America.  What are you doing back here?  Your Mum’s alright isn’t she?” Jimmy asked carefully.

“Yeah, she’s fine.  She and Aunt Mollie are both well.  Me…” Goniff shrugged “Got into a bit of trouble over there, came ‘ere for a change of scenery you could say.”  Goniff looked at the silent man next to Jimmy.

“Sorry Goniff,” Jimmy apologized.  “This is my boss Richard Bird.  Boss, Goniff.”

“Goniff, it is a pleasure to meet you.  Jimmy here has told me a lot about you.”  Richard didn’t offer his hand and his face remained impartial as he spoke.

Goniff swallowed.  “Mister Bird,” he acknowledged, not sure what else to say.

“Those your friends over there?” Jimmy asked breaking the awkward silence.

“Ah yeah, come and meet them.”  Goniff hurried back to their table, not looking to see if the two men were following or not.  It was the fact that Actor was looking up that told him that the men were behind him.

“This is an old mate from the east side, “Goniff announced to the table, his voice showing relief at being back with his team.  “Jimmy Fender,” Goniff pointed to the smaller man, “and Richard Bird.”

Bird pulled up a chair from the next table and sat down.  “Save the introductions. I know who or should I say what you all are.  So shall we get down to business?”

“And what business exactly would that be Dicky?” Actor asked nochantly.

Bird studied the tall conman silently for a moment.  “Do I know you?”

Actor shook his head.  “We have never met but I know who and what you are also and we have no business to discuss with you.”

Bird bristled at the obvious dismissal and looked at the stony faces around him.  These were hard men, all of them with the exception perhaps of Goniff but then he reconsidered that thought.  The Englishman would have to be hard to run with these three men and their Lieutenant.   “There’s a quarter million pounds at stake.”

Actor rose from his chair.  “As I have already stated, we are not interested.” Actor indicated that Goniff should step away from the table.  He followed and then turned back to watch as Casino also rose from his chair.

“See ya later babe,” Casino smirked as he stepped past Actor and climbed the stairs where he turned back to cover the room.

Chief remained seated, coolly observing the two men, daring them to try and stop the team from leaving.  Finally he rose lithely to his feet, snapping shut his blade.  He turned away, nodding to Actor who still remained standing behind the men.  He and Goniff joined Casino on the stairs and waited for Actor before they all left the Doves.

Bird was far from amused at their refusal to listen to him but at the same time he was impressed by the men’s silent teamwork. He reviewed the information his brother had given him.  Actor was a high class confidence man and he only went after high class marks.  He was arrogant and self appreciating, but he was also the second in command to their Lieutenant and it now appeared also the spokesperson for the rest of the cons.  Bird knew he may appear suave and sophisticated but he was also a very, very dangerous man to cross.  Word on the street had it that Goniff could lift the crown jewels of the Queen Mother’s head without her realizing it.  He could also climb anything with or without a rope.  His main problem was that he was too trusting and too free and easy with his mouth, which made him the weak link in the group but also the one with the skills he needed for the coming heist.  Casino had a well earned reputation in the States as a safe cracker, another skill he was in need of since Light Fingers McCoy lost his fingers in an unfortunate accident with a safe door. Unfortunately the man was a loud mouth with a quick temper and didn’t know how to follow orders, preferring to do things his way or not at all.  The Indian, Chief was the only one who didn’t bringing anything to his current caper.  He didn’t need a getaway man or a silent killer.

Somehow he would have to separate him and the damn Lieutenant from the other three men.

*****

“Blimey Actor, you could ‘ave at least listened to what Dicky ‘ad to say.  I mean it’s not like we don’t lift things when we’re on the missions, and a quarter of a million pounds isn’t anything to sniff about. Besides you don’t cross Dicky if you want to keep breathing.” Goniff stated as they drove back to the mansion.

“Great so now you’re telling us not only do we have to worry about the bloody Krauts, we’ve got to worry about the English underworld as well.  Some friends you’ve got there Goniff,” Casino growled.

Actor sighed as he listened to the grumbling coming from the back seat of the jeep.  “Goniff, if I thought for one minute that there was a chance that we would actually see any of that quarter million I would have listened but I know exactly who and what Bird is. He hasn’t gotten where he is by allowing any competition on his turf and we are definitely competition.”

“So why did ‘Ee want to talk to us?” Goniff asked.

“Obviously we have the skills he needs to pull off the job.” Actor replied.

“But there are plenty of other pickpockets and safecrackers in England.” Goniff pointed out. “Not to mention conmen and wheelmen.”

“Yes but they aren’t teams used to working together.  They don’t know how each other works and he can’t just get rid of all his hires or no one will work for him.” Actor answered.

“That’s just bloody typical,” Casino fumed.  “Even the crims in this country think we’re expendable.”

“Do you think he’ll take no for answer Actor?” Chief asked as he steered the jeep through the gates of the mansion.

“I doubt it.  He always gets what he wants, one way or another and right now it appears he wants us.”

“So we turn the tables on him. Do the heist and keep the goods for ourselves.” Casino suggested.  “He’s not likely to try and pull off a heist or bump us off on an army base.”

“Except that we’re not always on the base, unless of course you want to remain at the mansion for the remainder of the war Casino.” Actor replied with a smile.

“At least the broads would be safe.” Chief laughed as he came to a stop at the steps leading up to the front door of the mansion.

“Yeah well at least I don’t have any trouble getting the broads.” Casino snapped.

“The question is gentlemen,” Actor interrupted.  “What do we do about it?”

“Tell the Warden.  He’ll know what to do.” Chief suggested.

“Nah, I say we just ignore him.  It’s not like we’re going to be around for much no longer anyway, not with the Warden off crutches. You can bet the brass won’t wait too long to send us on another mission. When he can’t get a hold of us, he’ll give up.” Casino added.

Goniff shook his head. “I’m with Chiefy, Casino.  You don’t just ignore Dicky, not if you know what’s good for you and ‘Ee never just gives up, not when ‘Ee wants something and ‘Ee wants us.  The Warden’ll figure something out to get him off our backs.”

“What do you think we should do Actor?” Chief asked opening the heavy front door.

“I will have to think on it.” Actor replied thoughtfully.

“Yeah well whatever we decide, there ain’t nothing we can do tonight.” Casino replied as they climbed the stairs to their rooms.

*****

Never one to let a good drop go to waste, Richard Bird finished his drink in silent thought before pushing his chair back and standing abruptly.

“Where are we going boss?” Jimmy asked as he began to rise.

“Sit down and finish your drink Jimmy,” Bird ordered.  “I’m just going to make a call.”

Jimmy shrugged as he watched his boss head to the bar, throw several coins on the counter top and receive the phone in exchange.  He could tell that the call wasn’t a happy one, watching the scowl and hard lines on the other man’s face.  Jimmy sighed when the handset was slammed down on the receiver before Bird stalked back to the table.

“Get the car,” Bird ordered as Jimmy swallowed the last of his ale and rose hurriedly to his feet.

*****

The next morning found the four cons lounging in different poses around the library.  Chief was in his usual spot, camped out in the large bay window, eyes closed and breathing slow and shallow. Actor had given up his customary spot in the leather arm chair by the fireplace for the small writing desk in the corner.  Goniff was flipping through a thick tome of Birds of the World and Casino was throwing a deck of discarded cards onto a pile in the middle of the coffee table.

“Goniff,” Actor warned, not bothering to lift his head from the notes he was penning on a sheet of writing paper.  “That is a very expensive and rare book.  Take a little care with how you handle it please.”

“What the hell are you reading a book on birds for anyway?” Casino muttered as he threw his last card on the pile in front of him.

“Ey did you know that the Southern Cassowary from Australia is the largest member of the cassowary family and is the second ‘eaviest bird on earth? It can weigh up to one ‘undred and ninety pounds, and it can kill a man with one kick?” Goniff stated absently.

“Just what does that have to do with what’s going on here you dumb Limey?” Casino snapped.

Goniff shrugged, closing the book gently. “Nothing.  I was just saying…”

The door to the library opened and Garrison stepped in, resplendent in his service dress uniform. “I’ve got a meeting in London.  Won’t be back till later tonight.  Try and stay out of trouble will you.”

Casino looked up from where he was shuffling the deck of cards.  “That mean we’ve got a mission?”

“Probably but I won’t know until I get there.” Garrison turned back to the door.

“I’ll drive you.” Chief unfurled himself from the window.

“There’s no need thanks Chief.  I can drive myself.”

Chief shrugged.  “You’ve just got off crutches.  There’s no point in over using that ankle now if we do have a mission.”

“Chief is right Craig.  Rest it while you can. You can’t afford for the ankle to fail under pressure.”  Actor cautioned.

Garrison sighed.  “Alright come on.”  He stood aside and allowed Chief to lead the way out of the mansion.

“Do you think ‘Ee’ll tell the Warden?” Goniff asked hopefully.

*****

Bird listened to the voice on the other end of the phone, a distorted smile darkening his countenance as the latest information was conveyed.  He hung up the phone.  “Jimmy, round up the boys, got a little job for you.”

*****

Garrison cast another sidelong glance at his silent wheelman and sighed.  “Alright Chief, what’s with the silent treatment? It’s going to be a long drive into London if we’re not going to talk.”

Chief remained silent, eyes fixed on the road ahead.

“Come on Chief, it can’t be that bad.” Garrison cajoled.

Another mile was traveled before Chief finally spoke. “We might be in trouble.”

Garrison pursed his lips and waited for the rest and then sighed when no further words were spoken from the reticent Indian.  “Who might be in trouble Chief? You and I?” Garrison cast an eye along the road but saw nothing that could be a threat.  “Or you and the rest of the guys?”

Another mile passed before Chief replied.  “Me and the others.”

“Alright Chief.  Just tell me what the hell is going on.  I can’t help if I don’t know.”

Chief chanced a quick glance at Garrison before returning his eyes to the road.  “Last night while we were at the Doves, Goniff ran into an old friend.”

Garrison groaned.  “What did he do?”

“Nothing, none of us did.  I swear Warden.”

“I believe you Chief. So what happened?  Why do you think you’re in trouble?”

Chief sighed. “This friend of Goniff’s, he runs with some racketeer by the name of Richard Dicky Bird.”

Garrison shook his head.  “Never heard of him.”

“Neither had we, or at least Casino and I hadn’t.  Actor knew who he was and so did Goniff.  He wanted us to do a job for him, but he didn’t say what.”

Garrison groaned.

“We didn’t take him up on the offer,” Chief quickly confirmed.  “Actor wanted no part of him and told him so. Then we left and went back to the mansion.”

“Alright, so what’s the problem? It sounds to me like you guys handled it well.”

Chief steered around the hair pin bend before replying.  “Goniff said he was real bad news.  Doesn’t give up when he wants something and he wants us.”

“And you think he’s going to come after all of you again?” Garrison asked.

“Yeah.”

Garrison was silent for a few minutes.  “Once this next mission is over, we’ll all sit down and work out what to do about Mister Bird.  Maybe he’ll give up if he can’t get in contact with any of you.”

“That’s what Casino said.” Chief concentrated on steering the jeep around the next two bends.  The trees grew close to the edge of the road on his left, making it difficult to see any upcoming intersections.

“Look out Chief.” Garrison yelled.

*****

Chapter 2

“How much longer do we have to sit in this damn van?” Tiny Samson moaned as he attempted unsuccessfully to stretch cramped muscles.

“Until we get what we came for.” Jimmy snapped irritably.  Two hours in the van with the two heavies was more than he could stand.  They had their uses; however cognitive thought wasn’t one of them.

“So what do we need this Army Lieutenant for anyway?”  Charlie Grogin asked.  “I mean he’s not likely to want to help us rob a bank, now is he?”

Jimmy sighed.  “What the boss wants him for is none of your concern Charlie.  All we have to do is deliver him, unhurt to the boss.”

“That ain’t no fun.  If we can’t hurt him what did you need us for?” Tiny complained, loudly cracking the fingers of his right hand.

A flash of movement a mile down the road caught Jimmy’s attention and he lifted the binoculars to his eyes.  It was too far away to discern facial features of the driver but he could tell that it was an army jeep coming towards them.  “Get ready, this could be our quarry.”  Jimmy felt the van shake as the engine roared to life.  “Well, well, well.  What have we here?”  Jimmy smiled as he saw who was driving the jeep.  That would make things a lot easier.  “Remember don’t hurt the Lieutenant but you can do what you like with the other guy, short of killing him.”

Charlie measured the distance as the jeep traveled towards them.  It wasn’t his first hit and run and he knew exactly when and where to hit the on coming jeep to cause enough damage to stall its progress without doing too much harm to the occupants.  The van roared out of the country lane, hitting the jeep just behind the driver’s seat as their quarry frantically spun the wheel to the right.  The force of the van and the driver’s evasive maneuver was enough to run the jeep off the road and into a low hedge on the right of the road.  A small flock of birds in a nearby tree took flight as the sound of metal on metal and snapping branches filled the air.

*****

Chief didn’t need Garrison’s yelled warning.  He could see the van heading directly for them as he frantically pulled the steering wheel hard to the right and planted his foot on the accelerator in an attempt to avoid the crash.   He caught a glimpse of Garrison bracing for the impact as the jeep careened into the hedge.  The hard right turn and the sudden stop wrenched the steering wheel out of Chief’s hands.  With nothing to brace against Chief was flung chest first into the steering wheel before he rebounded back into the back of the seat unconscious.

Garrison tensed leg and arm muscles against the dash and floor of the jeep as it hit the hedge head on, but he couldn’t control the gasp of pain as his so recently healed ankle protested this latest round of abuse.  From the corner of his eye he saw Chief hit and rebound off the steering wheel, slumping unconscious beside him.  Garrison reached out a hand and shook Chief gently, calling his name urgently as rough hands pulled him from the wrecked jeep and pushed him towards the van.  “What are you doing?  Chief needs help.” Garrison swung around to go back to Chief but was confronted with a gun pointing directly at his chest.

“Don’t worry about him Lieutenant, my men will take care of him.  All you need to do is get into the van.”  Jimmy pressed the gun to Garrison’s chest forcing him to take a step back.

Garrison ignored the threat and stood his ground watching helplessly as Chief was dragged from the jeep by the two heavies and dumped on the ground.  The larger of the two men toed Chief in the ribs. “Aw Charlie, he doesn’t want to play.”

“Well then wake him up Tiny.” Charlie grinned as Tiny drew back his foot and landed a hard kick to Chief’s ribs eliciting a groan of pain from the Indian.

“See Tiny you only had to be more persuasive.” Charlie watched as Tiny kicked again, this time flipping Chief over onto his stomach.

Garrison stepped forward but was stopped by the gun pressed to his chest. “For God’s sake, make them stop before they kill him.”  He ground out between gritted teeth.

“Don’t worry Lieutenant they have orders not to kill him, yet.” Jimmy replied absently as he watched the two heavies work over the unconscious Indian.

Charlie bent down and pulled the right sleeve of Chief’s jacket back revealing the wrist sheath and blade. “Well, what have we here?” He grinned as he released the blade.  “I could use one of these.” Charlie pocketed the blade.  “Come on Tiny, there’s no fun in this if you can’t hear him yelling.  Might as well dump him in the van and get out of here before someone comes along. You know the boss won’t like it if we get seen.”

“Maybe when he wakes up I can have some fun then?” Tiny whined as he bent down and picked up one arm as Charlie grabbed the other.

“We’ll have plenty of time later on Tiny, don’t you worry about that.  The boss won’t let these two live once the jobs done.” Charlie replied as the two men dra**********ed Chief to the van and threw him in the back.

Garrison quickly followed, climbing in and rushing to where Chief lay in a crumpled heap in the corner.  He wasn’t even aware that Jimmy had climbed in after him or that they were moving as he carefully straightened out Chief’s body and began checking him for injuries.  After running his hands over Chief’s arms and legs and finding no obvious signs of injury, Garrison turned his attention to the Indian’s head and chest.

Jimmy lent back against the back door of the van and watched as Garrison carefully checked the con for injuries. He wondered idly if Bird would take such care if he were injured, probably not he thought bitterly.

Chief moaned softly when Garrison’s fingers brushed across his injured ribs.  Garrison pushed harder, feeling several ribs give under his fingers as Chief tried to pull away from the painful pressure.

“Easy Chief,” Garrison whispered, leaning over Chief, “you’ve broken some ribs.”

“Hurts.” Chief moaned. “Hard to…breathe.”

Garrison shifted to sit on the floor of the van with his back leaning against the side wall.  Carefully he eased Chief up to a sitting position and rested him back against his chest, relieved when the Indian didn’t pull away from him.  Garrison glared at Jimmy who seemed to have a look of envy on his face.  “Who are you? What do you want with us? Chief needs to go to the hospital now?”

Jimmy shrugged. “No hospital.  He won’t need one soon anyway.”

“You won’t get away with this. I have an important meeting in London. When I don’t show up they’ll be looking for us.”

“Won’t matter if they do because they won’t find you.” Jimmy stated.

The van hit a pothole causing Chief to gasp in pain.  Garrison returned his attention to his wheelman, ignoring Jimmy who watched the interaction between the two men with a growing sense of trepidation.  He was beginning to think that just maybe Dicky had bitten off more than he could chew. Not only was the boss taking on a group of experienced cons he was also taking on the army. If the rest of the cons had as much respect for the Lieutenant as the man seemed to have for this one, then they could all be in trouble.  To be honest he didn’t really see how Dicky’s plan to force the other cons to pull the job was going to work anyway.  Maybe, just maybe it was time to get out of the game for good, but that would require money. Money he didn’t have unless the Lieutenant’s cons pulled off the next job.

The van lurched to a sudden stop, throwing the occupants in the back against the sides.  Caught unawares, Garrison wasn’t able to prevent Chief from hitting the side of the van when he slipped from his arms.  He quickly gathered Chief in his arms again, as the Indian tried to take short gasping breaths between the moans of pain. “I’ve got you Chief,” Garrison said as the van started forward once more, only to stop again.

The back doors were thrown open by the two heavies.  “Alright, get them out.” Jimmy ordered the two men who eagerly complied, grabbing Chief from Garrison’s grip and pulling him roughly across the van floor.

Charlie grinned as Chief cried out in pain at the rough handling.  “Listen Tiny, sounds like you’ll get your wish to play with our guest after all.”

Tiny grinned as he pulled Chief harder across the van floor, eliciting another pained cry from the injured man.

“Save it for later Tiny,” Jimmy snapped, disgusted at the big man’s penchant for causing suffering.  “The boss wants us back at the house as soon as possible. You can have your fun after the job is done.”

Tiny scowled, picking up Chief and carrying him into the storage room at the back of the abandoned warehouse, dumping him in a heap on the floor. Garrison was pushed through the door by Charlie and then the door was slammed shut and bolted from the outside leaving the two men in darkness.

*****

Actor heard the phone ringing in Garrison’s office as he walked past.  Quickly opening the door he rushed to the desk and lifted the handset from the receiver.  “Hello,” he answered in a deep cultured voice.

“Is that you Actor? It’s Major Richards here.  Has Garrison left yet?”

Actor arched an eyebrow at the rushed words he was hearing and snapped his fingers at Goniff as the pickpocket walked past.  “Yes Major Richards it is Actor speaking.” Get Casino, Actor mouthed to Goniff.  “Lieutenant Garrison and Chief left four hours ago for the meeting Sir.”

“I see.”

Actor had a bad feeling at the way this conversation was going.  “What’s wrong Major?” he queried as Goniff and Casino joined him in the Warden’s office.

“Garrison never showed for the meeting, Actor.” Richards replied quietly.

Actor paused, “Perhaps the jeep has broken down somewhere.  I can’t imagine there would be much traffic on the roads this time of day on Sunday, Sir.  Would you like us to follow their route from here? See if we can’t find them.”  Actor listened to Richards’s agreement and his suggestion that he would send some men from London and also contact the local hospitals, just in case. Actor nodded in understanding and confirmed they would leave immediately before hanging up the phone.

“What’s going on Actor?” Casino demanded, studying the worried countenance of the conman.

“It seems that Chief and the Warden never made it to London. We are to start the search from here and follow their route and the Major is sending men from his end as well.  He is also going to check the local hospitals in case there has been an accident.”

“Blimey,” Goniff muttered as the three men hurried from the office.

*****

Richard Bird slammed the handset down on the receiver in anger.  That was the third time in the last two hours that the dialed number had rung out.

“Maybe they were sent on a mission.” Jimmy offered tentatively from his place against the hallway wall.

“Don’t be stupid Jimmy.  The army wouldn’t send them anywhere without that damn Lieutenant or the other one.”

“Well then they might have gone to ground then.” Jimmy suggested.

Richard shook his head. “No, no my guess is that they are out looking for our guests. Somehow they already know that they are missing. ”

“Maybe the army told them.  That Lieutenant was supposed to be going to a meeting.” Jimmy pointed out.

“Don’t be ridiculous, the army isn’t going to confer with a bunch of criminals.  No, there has to be another answer.” Bird snapped.

“Well maybe Goniff still has some contacts here and they told him.”

“And how would they know unless you or one of those two idiots told them?” Bird cursed the apparent downturn in his plans.

*****

Major Richards lent back in his chair and contemplated the three cons from Garrison’s team and the information they had supplied.  “So the jeep is a right off?”

“Yes Sir.” Actor agreed solemnly. They had left immediately after he had finished his call with the major and driven just over half way to London before they had come across the wrecked jeep. Not long after their arrival at the scene the men sent by the major also arrived. A thorough search of the area had provided no clues to what had rammed the jeep or where the two missing men were.  “The jeep was hit with some force on the left side, just behind the driver’s seat. You can see where Chief swerved sharply to the right to try and avoid the crash. Whatever it was that hit them, pushed them off the road and into the hedge.  Casino found where the other vehicle was waiting to intercept them.  There were fresh cigarette butts and tire marks in the dirt where the vehicle took off at speed.”

“So you think it was deliberate and not just an accident?” Richards asked.

“Yes Sir, we do.  There were enough breaks in the trees for Chief to have seen the vehicle travelling on the other road but he didn’t, which means it must have been hidden from Chief’s view until it was too late for him to avoid the collision.”

Richards sighed. “And there was no sign of either Garrison or Chief?”

“No Sir.  But if it’s any consolation, there was no sign of blood either, which would indicate injuries.” Actor offered up the thought even though he didn’t really believe what he was saying. If one or both of them weren’t injured then they wouldn’t have allowed themselves to be taken and would have been waiting for rescue or they would have walked to the nearest house for assistance.

“But who would want to kidnap Garrison and Chief and for what?  It wasn’t as if they were carrying important documents or have information useful to anyone in this country.” Richards replied in frustration.

“Maybe the ruddy Krauts kidnapped them.  I mean we go over there and do the same thing to their people.” Goniff suggested.

“Don’t be stupid Limey.” Casino snapped.  “There ain’t no damn Krauts.”

“And why not?” Goniff asked hotly.  “The Allies aren’t the only ones with special units you know. If we can get into Germany and France and wherever else we get sent then I’m sure Jerry can get into this country too.”

“Goniff does have a point Casino.” Richards interrupted, “And Garrison would be a valuable prize to the Reich.”

Actor remained quiet, ignoring the heated discussion going on around him as he thought on who would have had the audacity to kidnap two men, one of them an army officer, in broad daylight.  Actor sighed. He feared Goniff wasn’t too far off the mark, only they weren’t Germans they were looking for.  “I think we need to look closer to home than the German army.”

“You know who did this Actor?” Richards asked in surprise.

“Not precisely Major Richards but I do have an idea as to who might be behind it and unfortunately why.”

Richards waited impatiently for Actor to continue. He had a man, no… two men, to find. “Well?” he demanded.

Actor looked at his two team mates. “I believe we should have a talk with Dicky Bird.”

Casino groaned, Goniff gasped and Richards looked confusedly between the three men.  “Who is Dicky Bird?”

“Richard Dicky Bird, Sir, is a British career criminal.” Actor began as Casino and Goniff nodded in agreement.

“And what does a career criminal want with Garrison?” Richards asked.

“Nothing Sir, Craig is merely an end to get to us. He wants us.” Actor nodded to Casino and Goniff, “and perhaps Chief.”

Richards sighed heavily.  “I think you had better start at the beginning and tell me exactly what is going on Actor.”

*****

Garrison stood still, allowing his eyes to grow accustomed to the darkness of the room. The room was a mix of patches of deep blackness and lighter shadows thanks to several cracks in the outer wall that allowed in thin rays of light. From what he had seen on entering the room, it wasn’t much more than a glorified box maybe eight by twelve feet and like the warehouse was abandoned and empty. He could hear Chief’s laboured breathing in the far corner of the room and the receding sound of an engine, indicating that their captives had left the area. Garrison reached out and tried the door despite the fact that he knew it was bolted shut.  Sighing, he moved carefully across the small space, stepping in a puddle of water as he made his way to the corner where Chief lay groaning with each gasped breath.

“Chief,” Garrison called softly as he crouched beside the injured man, touching his shoulder lightly.

“Where?” Chief wheezed loudly.

“An abandoned warehouse somewhere on the outskirts of London would be my guess.” Garrison replied as he deftly checked Chief’s ribs for more damage.

Chief tried to pull away from the pressure of Garrison’s hands but the movement sent a fiery eruption of pain spearing through his chest.  The pain was overwhelming and he could feel himself sinking into the velvety blackness caressing the edges of his consciousness.

“Easy Chief. I know it hurts but I need to find out how much more damage your ribs have taken,” Garrison cursed Chief’s sharp intake of breath as another rib shifted under his hands.  “You need to stay still Chief; you’ve got three maybe four broken ribs.”

Despite the pain and Garrison’s warning Chief tried to push himself to a sitting position only to slump back into Garrison’s arms with a loud gasp.  “G…got to…get out of…here.”

Garrison shook his head, despite the fact that Chief couldn’t see the movement in the darkness. “There is no way out at the moment Chief.  We’re stuck here until the others can find us.”

“What do they…want with us?” Chief had a nagging feeling that he knew both the who and why but in his present condition he couldn’t seemed to be able to get his thoughts connected.

“I don’t know Chief.  I don’t even know who has us.” Garrison admitted quietly.  “Try and get some rest; save your strength in case we get a chance to escape.”

Chief didn’t reply but Garrison felt him slump further into his arms as he sat on the cold floor of the warehouse. Garrison sighed as he felt Chief shiver. The weather was inclement and the warehouse damp, draughty and cold.  He just hoped the rest of the team could find them before Chief’s condition deteriorated further.

*****

“So Actor what makes you think Bird is going to call you?”  Casino asked from his place slumped in the chair beside Garrison’s desk. The discussion in Richards’ office had been long and heated but eventually Actor had gotten his way and the cons were now waiting for a call from Bird while Richards tried to discover who had tipped Bird off as to Garrison and Chief’s movements.  Casino snorted quietly. Of course Richards had not wanted to believe that one of his staff was supplying information to the ‘enemy’ so to speak. “Maybe he just needed Chief for his heist.”

Actor lent back in Garrison’s chair and puffed on his pipe.  “It’s possible but I doubt it.  The offer was made to all of us. And as Goniff has pointed out what Bird wants, Bird gets, anyway he can.”

“So you think he’s kidnapped the Warden and Chief so we’ll do the job for him?” Casino cursed.

Actor nodded, “that would be my guess.”

“But ‘ow did he capture them? There ain’t no better fighters than Chiefy and the Warden.”

“The jeep’s a right off Goniff.  They were hit hard and hit that hedge hard.” Actor explained.  “My guess is one or both of them are injured and we all know they wouldn’t jeopardize the others safety to fight or make a break for freedom.”

Casino glared at Actor.  “You didn’t tell Richards that.”

Actor shrugged.  “That information was irrelevant to the conversation.”

“So what do we do when ‘Ee rings Actor?” Goniff asked.

“Play along with him. Find out what the job is and hope that Richards comes up with an informant before we have to actually carry out the job.”

“Still don’t see why we can’t just do the job, take down Bird and keep the proceeds.” Casino grumbled.

“Because I am sure Bird will have given orders that Garrison and Chief are to be killed as soon as the job is completed.  We can’t take that chance Casino.  We need to play this out long enough to locate and rescue them first.”

“Why would ‘Ee kill Chiefy, Actor?  “Ee needs Chiefy to drive.” Goniff pointed out.

“Does he Goniff?  It would seem that he already has a driver, considering the wrecked jeep.”

“Bloody ‘ell.  Chiefy’s in trouble then.”

“Yeah and so are we.” Growled Casino.  “You can bet your bottom dollar that if the Warden gets snuffed, the brass’ll blame us and then we’ll be sent straight back to the States if they don’t shoot us first.”

“They wouldn’t blame us, would they Actor? I mean we didn’t ask Dicky for a job, ‘Ee offered us one.”

Actor shrugged, “Casino is right, Goniff. Our fault or not, the army will blame us and we will no doubt be sent back to the States.”

“But the Major; ‘Ee’ll back us. ‘Ee’ll tell them it wasn’t our fault.”

“Goniff, it is unlikely that the army will listen any better to Major Richards than they will to us.”

The shrill ringing of the telephone perched on one corner of Garrison’s desk brought the discussion to an abrupt halt.  The three men stared mutely at the device as it continued its raucous music.

“Don’t you think you should answer it Actor?” Goniff questioned cautiously.

*****

Chapter 3

Richards glared darkly at the man standing stiffly at attention in front of his desk.  “Do you have any idea what you have done Corporal?”

“Yes Sir, I do have some idea Sir.  Richard is my brother Sir, but…” Percival Bird hung his head dejectedly “…I had no choice Sir.” Percival lifted his head, straightened his shoulders and stared at a point on the wall behind Major Richards.  “Richard threatened Kathleen and Tilly, Sir. He said if I wanted them to stay healthy I had to help him.” Percival looked squarely at Richards.  “I couldn’t let anything happen to them Sir.”

Richards sighed, he might not be a father but he understood his Corporal’s desire to protect his family.  God knows he would do anything to protect his sister and her children, his niece and nephews. “Alright Corporal, sit down and tell me everything that you told your brother.”

Percival slumped into the chair in front of the desk with a heavy sigh.  “What about Kathleen and Tilly, Sir.  If Richard discovers that I have spoken to you…”

“They will be protected and the only way Richard will find out about this discussion is if you tell him.” Richards declared. “Now, what exactly did your brother want and what did you tell him?”

Richards laced his fingers and then rested his chin on his joined hands as he contemplated all that his Corporal had told him.  “Do you have any idea where your brother could be holding Garrison and Chief, or what the job is he wants them to do?”

Percival shook his head. “No Sir. Richard has a number of hide away houses and warehouse throughout London. They could be in any of a dozen different places and as for the job.” Percival shrugged, “my brother has his finger in just about everything going.”

Richards sighed.  “Can you find out where my men are Corporal?”

“No Sir.  I’m not a part of Richard’s organization.  Not since…I don’t have any contacts … nobody would trust me enough to tell me.”

“And why is that Corporal? What aren’t you telling me?” Richards snapped.

Percival rubbed his hands over his face.  “I … I had to make a choice.  Seven years ago.  My brother or my wife and unborn child.  I chose the latter.  Richard blames me for the time he spent in jail.  This demand for information is his way of getting payback Sir.  Once a snitch, always a snitch.  Ask Garrison’s men Sir.  They’ll tell you the same thing.”

*****

Actor reached forward and lifted the handset off the cradle, slowly bringing the earpiece to his ear.  “Hello.” He answered politely. He listened to the voice on the other end of the line, nodding to Casino and Goniff, confirming their unasked question as to the identity of the caller.

“We were out. Had I known you were going to call I would have made every effort to be here.”

Casino snickered.

“And what makes you think we have changed our minds?” Actor asked.

Goniff fidgeted in his seat.

“I can assure you Mister Bird; I have no idea as to what you are alluding.”

Casino groaned.

“How do I know that you are telling the truth when you say you have Lieutenant Garrison and Chief?  They are not men to be taken easily.”

“They alright?” Goniff asked sitting on the edge of his seat.

Actor glared at the pickpocket, indicating he should keep quiet with a wave of his hand.

Goniff ducked his head as Casino slapped him from behind, earning a second glare from Actor for his troubles as well.

“If you have hurt them…” Actor left the warning hanging.

Casino stood abruptly and began pacing across the office.

“Not unless you tell me what it is we are supposed to steal for you.” Actor snapped before leaning back in the chair. “Because we do not do a job before first casing the building we are going to break into.” Actor grabbed a pen and paper and quickly wrote down the details relayed to him.  “What time? We’ll be there.” He hung the handset back on the cradle and looked at the two agitated men on the other side of desk.

“Has he got them? Did he say how they are? What do we have to nick?” Goniff rattled off the questions without taking a breath.

Actor lit a match and placed it against the tobacco in his pipe, drawing in a long breath before allowing the smoke to curl around the stem and his lips.  “Yes he has them but he won’t say in what condition they are.”

“One of them has to be injured.” Casino growled.  “They’d never have allowed themselves to be caught like this.”

Actor nodded, “And I fear that it is Chief and quiet seriously.”

“What makes you say that Actor?” Goniff asked worriedly.

“Bird indicated that if we wanted the Warden back alive we had to do what he said or he would kill him.”

“He’s bluffing.” Casino snorted. “Even he isn’t stupid enough to top an army officer.”

“Bluff or not Casino, he has us over a barrel and there is nothing we can do about it except play along if we want Craig and Chief back alive.”

“If Chiefy is still even alive.” Goniff mumbled.

Actor shrugged.  “Bird said so and I believe that is true at the moment or Craig would have found a way out by now.”

“Well there ain’t nothing we can do about them for the moment;” Casino stated, “so what is this job he wants us to do?”

*****

Richards watched the door to his office silently close before scrubbing tiredly at his face. Damn, he thought.  What a bloody mess this was.  Not only had this Richard Bird character put two of his men at risk but he had also jeopardized a very important mission that could cost the lives of a number of resistance members as well.  He fingered the list of Bird’s known properties that Percival had given him.  Hopefully Garrison and Chief were been held at one of them. The problem was going to be finding suitable men and who were trustworthy to checkout each of the premises without arousing suspicion.  At any other time Richards would have called on Garrison and his team for such a job but they were now the ones in trouble and sentiments against the Gorillas ran high in some quarters of the army. Richards sighed as he reached forward and picked up the phone.  He might as well check in with Actor, see if the conman had any better news than he himself had to offer. “Actor?”

“Major Richards,” Actor replied calmly, “Any news about the snitch?”

Richards snorted in response, eliciting a raised eyebrow that he would never see. “The snitch was Richard Birds younger brother Percival who is a Corporal here at headquarters.  It seems that Richard threatened Percival’s wife and young daughter unless he gave him the information he wanted.

“I see,” Actor replied thoughtfully, his anger towards the man tempered somewhat at the news that a woman and young girl had been threatened.

“What’d he say?” Casino demanded.

“Does he know where Garrison and Chief are been held?” Actor asked ignoring Casino’s dark glare.

“I’m afraid not Actor,” Richards replied solemnly, “However Percival did give me a list of properties that his brother owns.  I’m just not sure how to go about checking them or who to trust.” Richards admitted quietly.

“I can take care of that Major Richards.  A gentleman will be around later this afternoon to collect the list, but Major; you are to ask no questions of him.  Is that understood?”

“Under the present circumstances, do I have a choice?” Richards snapped.

“No you don’t.” Actor replied.

“What about you Actor,” Richards decided to change the subject, “Has Bird contacted you yet?”

“Yes, about ten minutes ago.  He has confirmed what we believed that he is holding Garrison and Chief.  He has been trying to contact us for the past four hours or so and wasn’t very happy that we weren’t here.  I didn’t let on that we already knew the two men were missing, but Major, I believe Chief may be injured.  Bird kept iterating that unless we pulled this job for him we wouldn’t see Craig alive again. He made no mention of Chief.”

“Do you think Chief is already dead, Actor?” Richards asked quietly.

“No Sir. If he were then Craig would have escaped by now and there would no doubt be a trail of dead men across London.”

Richards nodded before realizing the other man couldn’t see his agreement.  “Yes, I do believe you are right about that Actor.  Has Bird told you what he wants you to steal?”

“Jewels and cash among other things.  Apparently a wealthy industrialist and his wife have recently arrived in the country from Austria with a considerable amount of valuable assets that they do not want to fall into German hands.  They are staying on one of the garden estates in London.”

“When do you have to do this job?” Richards asked hesitantly.

“We are to meet Bird later today, after we have cased the property, but it is not a job that can be done in five minutes.  That at least will give us sometime to locate Chief and Garrison, hopefully before we are required to provide Bird with our talents.”

“Alright,” Richards decided, “I’ll leave those details to you Actor, but I expect to be kept in the loop at all times.  In the meantime I will wait for your man to arrive and hope he can come up with something before this whole mess blows up in all our faces.”

“The mission Sir, that Craig was to be briefed on.  How long do we have before it becomes unviable?” Actor asked.

“Forty-eight hours Actor.  That’s all the time we have.” Richards disconnected the call at his end, leaving Actor to stare silently at the black handset in his hand.

*****

Garrison startled awake when Chief’s body was wracked by a hacking cough.  The man shivered uncontrollably in his arms, soft moans and coughs emanating from the slack mouth.  The warehouse was damp and cold and Garrison was under no illusions that he needed to get Chief out of there and into a hospital as soon as possible. “Easy Chief,” he whispered drawing the injured man higher up his chest in an effort to ease the laboured breathing.

“War…den?” Chief gasped breathlessly.  “W…where?”

“Don’t talk Chief,” Garrison cautioned as Chief coughed weakly in his arms.  “We’re in a warehouse somewhere in London.  The doors the only way out and its bolted from the other side. Looks like we’re stuck here until the others find us.” Garrison frowned in worry, realizing he had already had this conversation with Chief several hours ago.

Chief shivered, moaning as the movement caused pain to flare through his injured chest.  “C…cold.”

“Hang on Chief,” Garrison leant forward, wincing at the groan his movement had caused the injured man.  Garrison struggled out of his dress jacket, grimacing in disgust as his shirted back came into contact with the damp wall behind him.  He draped the jacket across Chief’s chest and shoulders, tucking it as best he could around the Indian.  “Better?” he asked quietly.

Chief nodded.  “You…’ll…need…it.”

“No I won’t Chief; well be out of here before you know it.  Now just rest.”

Chief nodded and lapsed into silence.  Garrison sighed as he felt Chief settle against him. None of it made any sense.  Why kidnap Chief and himself or work Chief over like they had, unless… Garrison groaned as he recalled his conversation with Chief in the jeep prior to the accident.  Accident my foot, they had been waiting for them but how?

“It’s…Bird.”  The words were so soft that Garrison nearly didn’t hear them.  “Re…cog…nized…Jim…my from the…pub.”

“When did you recognize him Chief?” Garrison asked, not that it really mattered.  Knowing the information any earlier wasn’t going to stop what had happened.

“In…the van. Sorry…should…a…”

“Not your fault Chief and there was nothing you could do, nothing either of us could do,” Garrison admitted bitterly.

Chief coughed, “How…”

“…Did they know where we’d be?” Garrison finished the sentence to Chief’s slight nod.

“I don’t know but you can bet that Actor and the others know by now that Bird has us and they’ll be looking for us.”

“The…job?”

“Most likely.  You guys said no so he had to find some way to make you do it.”

“Sor…ry.”

“Apology not needed Chief, now try and sleep.”

*****

Actor filled Casino and Goniff in on his conversation with Richards before ushering them from the room.  As soon as the door closed behind the two cons he picked up the phone again and dialed a number, waiting impatiently for the phone to stop ringing at the other end.  “Charles,” Actor spoke without preamble.  “You are to go to the Army Headquarters in London and ask for a Major Richards.  He will ask no questions but will give you a list of properties belonging to Richard Bird.  I need you to check each one out. There are two men missing.  One is Lieutenant Garrison and the other one is Chief.  If you can safely rescue them, please do so.  If not, relay their whereabouts to me immediately.  You will be well reimbursed for your troubles, I promise you.”  Actor waited only long enough for an acknowledgment of his orders before he hung up the phone.  Next he rummaged through Garrison’s desk draws until he found the item he was searching for.  Checking that it was in good working order, he pocketed it and then left the room, hurrying to meet up with Casino and Goniff who had gone to ready the Packard for the coming trip back into London.

“So Actor, any chance we can nick this loot and keep it for ourselves?” Goniff asked hopefully.  “I mean all the trouble Dicky’s gone to to get us to do this job, it’d be a pity to disappoint ‘im.”

“Are you stupid Limey?” Casino demanded. “This job ain’t worth it, not with the Warden and Geronimo as the bait.”

“I guess I ‘adn’t thought of it like that,” Goniff admitted, “But it would be nice to get one over on Dicky.  Show ‘im ‘Ee can’t get ‘is own way all the time.”

“Don’t worry Goniff,” Actor interrupted, “if all goes to plan old Dicky will have a lot more to worry about than getting his own way.”

Casino eyed the tall conman from the driver’s seat. “You’ve got a plan, don’t you? Care to fill us in on it?”

Actor was quiet for a moment as he put his thoughts into order.  “I have some ideas, yes.  Currently I have a reliable friend out searching the list of properties that Bird owns in the hope of finding Garrison and Chief.  What he finds will determine our next move.  In the meantime we will have a look at this estate for ourselves and then meet with Bird, see what he has to say.  After that I will decide the best course of action.”

“That’s it.” Casino snapped.

“It is all we can do until we have more information Casino.  It will do no good confronting Bird if we don’t have Garrison and Chief.  Any confrontation could well sign their death warrants and Bird isn’t a man who likes to bluff.”

“So why do you reckon he needs us in the first place? Surely he has his own men who could break into this estate.” Casino huffed.

“Don’t know about Actor and me, but I know why ‘Ee wants you Casino.” Goniff supplied.  ‘Is safecracker Light Fingers McCoy had a little accident a while ago.  Lost ’is fingers when a safe door was slammed shut on them in a bad caper.”

“And no doubt I am to be the diversion with this Industrialist while you gain entry for yourself and Casino,” Actor nodded as another piece of the puzzle fell into place.

“So we’re supposed to pull a con, like we do on the Continent, there’s gotta be more to it than that.” Casino added suspiciously.

“For once Casino I have to agree with you.” Actor confirmed.  “What if this Industrialist has brought more with him than just jewels and money? What if he has valuable war secrets that could be sold on the black-market?”

“Blimey, never thought we’d be pulling a caper like this ‘ere.” Goniff stated.

“Well if we do Goniff, it will be for the right reasons and not because some English racketeer has coerced our assistance.” Actor replied.

“Well what do you think Actor?” Casino asked as he passed the binoculars to Goniff so the little pickpocket could get a look at the estate they were supposed to break into.”

“I wish Chiefy were ‘ere,” Goniff interrupted.  “’Ee’s real good at seeing problems and with the security systems.”

“A point that Bird seems to have overlooked.” Actor agreed dryly.  “We will have to see if Bird has any floor plans for the estate.  And I will have to come up with some reasons to have two aides with me.”

Goniff groaned, “Let me guess, I’m the driver and Casino’s the…’ey Actor, what’s Casino going to be then?”

“I’m sure I’ll think of something suitable,” Actor smirked as he rose to his feet and headed back to the parked Packard.  “In the mean time we had better get going if we want to make the meeting with Bird.”

*****

Richards wasn’t sure what to expect when Actor told him that he would send a man to retrieve the list of properties but he was sure it certainly wasn’t the dapper little Englishman in the bowler hat and carrying a walking cane who appeared at his door, announced only that he had been sent by Actor and left not a minute after arriving with the required list tucked safely into the inside pocket of his suit coat.  Richards sighed, who, where and how came to mind but he had a feeling he would never get an answer to any of those questions and did it really matter if the man was successful in his endeavours.  There was nothing left for him to do for now but to wait for either the mysterious Englishman or Actor to contact him with news on the whereabouts of the two missing men.

*****

Casino parked the Packard by the curb in front of the Lazy Dog and got out of the drivers seat, quickly followed by Actor and Goniff. “Now remember, let me do the talking.” Actor advised. “We don’t want to arouse Birds suspicions or make him angry enough to retaliate against Craig and Chief.  We need to allow my man time to check out all the properties.”

“About that,” Casino asked, “Just who is this man of yours?”

Actor shook his head, “Nobody you need worry about Casino. Just know that he is trustworthy and has never let me down in the past.”

“Yeah well he had better be Actor,” Casino warned as he pushed past the conman and opened the door to the Lazy Dog.

Actor slipped his hand into the pocket of his jacket and fumbled with the object he had placed in the pocket earlier, satisfied when he felt a slight vibration for a moment.  He stepped into the dim, smoke filled interior, allowing his eyes time to adjust to the light before crossing the floor to where he could see Richard Bird and Jimmy Fender waiting for them in a booth.  Flanked by Casino and Goniff, Actor came to stop several feet from the booth and eyed the two muscle men, the ones no doubt that had kidnapped Garrison and Chief, standing behind the English racketeer.

“Bird,” Actor acknowledged without preamble or attempting to sit down.

“Actor, please,” Bird smiled, indicating that the conman at least should sit.  “I am so glad that you have changed your mind and wish to join my little venture.”

“We have changed nothing Bird,” Actor replied, “You have merely forced our hand at present.  So tell me, how do we know that you actually have the Lieutenant and Chief and that they are indeed still alive?”

Bird shrugged, “You have my word on the matter is all you need to know, although why you would even care about some army brat and an Indian is beyond me.  Both seem to be well out of your league, the Indian particularly.”

“They both have their uses, I can assure you, now exactly what is it you want and when do we get our men back?”

“I like a man who comes straight to the point.” Bird exclaimed with a smile that quickly dissipated as he leant forward on the table.  “What I want is for you to retrieve a bounty of jewelry and cash from the estate you cased this afternoon and then the two men will be returned to you.”

“And how do you propose we do that exactly?” Actor enquired.  “You are holding our security man.  Chief takes care of the security systems and any unwanted witnesses for us.”

“The Indian?” Bird demanded.  “He is nothing but a wheelman.”

Actor shrugged apologetically. “What can I say? Your information is inaccurate. That was perhaps true at the start but he proved to be quite adept at disarming both security systems and guards. He is also the one who cases the jobs, works out the logistics and obtains the necessary equipment. We work as a team or not at all.” Actor hoped he wasn’t pushing it but if he could get Bird to release Chief, they may well have a chance at following and releasing Garrison as well.

Bird glared darkly at some point beyond Actor’s head for a full minute before turning back to focus on the tall conman.  Was this a con he was trying to pull or was the damn Indian more than what Percy had led him to believe? Not that there was anything the Indian could to do to help, not after Tiny had worked him over.

For his part Actor sat patiently waiting for Bird’s decision, his face an unreadable blank.  It would do them no good to give away the worry and turmoil that he felt in regards to the two missing men. If this didn’t work they would have to rely solely on Charles ability to locate the men for them. Actor’s stomach dropped at the glint in the racketeer’s eye.

Bird shrugged, “Ah well, that is too bad to hear as I believe the man is, shall we say, temporarily incapacitated, so it would seem that you will just have to do the job without him.”

Actor remained impassive despite his churning stomach as he studied the man before him.  “What do you mean by incapacitated?”

Bird smirked, “I believe he was injured in the accident.”

Casino growled and moved forward, only to be stopped by Actor’s raised arm.

“In that case it will take us an extra twenty four hours to pull off the job as we will have to sort out the security measures.”

Bird stood, followed by Fender.  “Twenty four hours or you won’t see your men again.”

Actor slipped his hand into his pocket, withdrawing it a moment later, to rest beside the one on the table.

“What the hell Actor,” Casino snarled as he dropped into Bird’s vacated seat.

“What did you think you could achieve by attacking Bird, Casino?  Other than have him retaliate against Chief and Garrison. At least this way we have bought them and us some more time.”

“Yeah well what makes you think Geronimo has that much time?  He has to be bad hurt for him and the Warden to have allowed themselves to have been captured.  Did you even bother to think of that?”

“Of course I have Casino,” Actor snapped irritably, “and I’m just as worried about them as you and Goniff are but provoking Bird is not going to help the situation.”

“Come on mates, this isn’t ‘elping either.” Goniff proclaimed quietly, nervously watching the standoff between the two Italians.

*****

Chapter 4

Charles deftly held the large black umbrella over his head to repel the light shower of rain as he leaned heavily on his walking cane.  It never ceased to amaze him at the amount of assistance one could garner from the usually suspicious slums community just by the use of a walking cane.  Unfortunately the assistance garnered wasn’t always as helpful as one would have hoped.  So far, he had made polite enquiries at four houses as to the whereabouts of a dear old friend who he was sure had lived at the address.  Two of the houses were rented out to families obviously living in fear but from what or more likely who he wasn’t sure, although he could guess; one was unattended and the other was nothing more than a shell thanks to a German bomb.  Charles stepped around the rubble lying in the road and continued his slow, painful journey back to his car.  One needed to keep up appearances, even in this desolate landscape for one never knew who may be watching.  He kept a careful watch on his rear vision mirror and took a circuitous route home just in case he had collected a tail along his journey but as far as he could tell, and he was very good at what he did, no one was following him.  With the houses accounted for, Charles turned his attention to the task of searching the warehouses as he sat in his small lounge room. He could not hope to employ his earlier tactic of looking up an old friend in the warehouse district unless he was searching for a tramp.  Charles thought for a moment, nodded in silent agreement and rose swiftly from the comfortable chair he had been sitting on.  He didn’t have much time.

*****

Actor nodded, allowing his tense body to relax and Casino blew out a heavy breath.  “You are correct Goniff, this is not helping. Let us retire to my apartment.  I need to make a phone call and then we will decide our next course of action.”

The drive from the Lazy Dog to Actor’s London apartment was made in silence.  Each man deep in contemplation with his thoughts. Bird had at least confirmed he was holding their missing team members and that Chief was injured but the information provided little comfort, only more worries.  Casino thumped the steering wheel of the Packard hard with his right fist as soon as he had brought the big car to a stop.  “Dammit, this is getting us no where.” He cursed angrily.

“And neither is breaking your ruddy fist on the steering wheel mate.” Goniff counseled cautiously.

Actor said nothing as he unlocked the front security door to the apartment block and ushered the two men in ahead of them.  “Take the stairs to the third floor,” he instructed as he turned back to ensure the door was locked behind him.

“You just had to buy on the top floor, didn’t you Actor?” Casino grumbled as he led the way up the staircase.

“I thought you would ‘ave bought one of them apartments with a lift in it Actor,” Goniff agreed.  “I wouldn’t want to be carrying my girl up and down ‘ere too many times.”

“I do not carry girls up and down the stairs thank you Goniff. In fact I do not bring visitors here at all.  Should I need a place for a dalliance, I much prefer the Savoy.”

“So what do ya keep this place for then?” Casino snapped as Actor directed him to stop at the door directly across from the third floor landing.

Actor shrugged.  “It is where I come when I want some quiet time alone.”

Casino guffawed. “So you mean all those trips into London, not all of them were to meet up with a broad.  Some were for time out.”

Actor sighed as he placed his keys on the side board next to the door.  “I do not meet broads, thank you Casino.” He turned to look at his two team mates who were standing in the middle of his living room, gaping at their surroundings.

“Blimey,” Goniff gasped as he stared at the fine furnishings and expensive over stuffed leather couches scattered throughout the large room.  He made to move towards the window but Actor stopped him with a warning.

“We do not need to advertise where we are Goniff.  Stay away from the windows.” Actor ordered.

“Hey Actor, can I borrow this place and bring a broad here next time we’re in London?”

“No you cannot Casino.”  Actor sat down at the table set in one corner of the room and pulled out the small device he had slipped into his pocket back at the mansion.

“What’s that mate?” Goniff asked as he took a chair beside the conman.

“Evidence,” Actor replied as he rewound the tape and pressed play.

 “Bird,”

 “Actor, please,”

 “I am so glad that you have changed your mind and wish to join my little venture.”

“We have changed nothing Bird. You have merely forced our hand at present.  So tell me, how do we know that you actually have the Lieutenant and Chief and that they are indeed still alive?”

“You have my word on the matter is all you need to know, although why you would even care about some army brat and an Indian is beyond me.  Both seem to be well out of your league, the Indian particularly.”

“They both have their uses, I can assure you, now exactly what is it you want and when do we get our men back?”

“I like a man who comes straight to the point. What I want is for you to retrieve a bounty of jewelry and cash from the estate you cased this afternoon and then the two men will be returned to you.”

“And how do you propose we do that exactly? You are holding our security man.  Chief takes care of the security systems and any unwanted witnesses for us.”

“The Indian? He is nothing but a wheelman.”

“What can I say? Your information is inaccurate. That was perhaps true at the start but he proved to be quite adept at disarming both security systems and guards. He is also the one who cases the jobs, works out the logistics and obtains the necessary equipment. We work as a team or not at all.”   

 “Ah well, that is too bad to hear as I believe the man is, shall we say, temporarily incapacitated, so it would seem that you will just have to do the job without him.”

 “What do you mean by incapacitated?”

 “I believe he was injured in the accident.”

 “In that case it will take us an extra twenty four hours to pull off the job as we will have to sort out the security measures.”

 “Twenty four hours or you won’t see your men again.”

 

“Blimey, you taped ‘im.” Goniff whispered in awe.

Actor nodded. “We needed conclusive proof that he was behind Craig and Chief’s kidnapping and he was coercing us into carrying out the heist in return for their lives.”

“And what good is that going to do us?” Casino asked.

“Well, if we can find Craig and Chief within the next twenty four hours, then we can take this to the police and Major Richards and they can have Bird and his gang arrested.”

“Aw mate, I don’t know.” Goniff shook his head.  “Bird ‘as more than one crooked bobby on ‘is payroll.  “Ee’ll be out before we know it and then ‘Ee’ll be out for our blood.  “Ee don’t like it when “Ee gets dobbed in.”

“That may well be true of the constabulary Goniff, but you forget he kidnapped a Lieutenant in the US Army as well.  That could be classed as treason and we know what the punishment for treason is don’t we?” Actor smiled.

“Blimey,” Goniff’s eyes lit up. “You mean there’s a real chance that we can get rid of Dicky Bird and his gang for good?”

Actor nodded. “That’s what I’m hoping for Goniff.”  Actor stood, “Now if you’ll excuse me for a minute I need to make a phone call.  “You’ll find some supplies in the kitchen if you’re hungry. I won’t be long.” He turned away from the two cons and walked quickly down a short hall, entering and closing a door to a room at the end of it.

*****

Charles nodded in satisfaction as he observed his appearance in the full length mirror that adorned one door of his wardrobe.  He very much doubted that even his own dear departed mother would be able to recognize who he was.  He had certainly out done himself this time. The phone rang just as he was closing the door to his bedroom.  He allowed it to ring for the obligatory six rings before answering it. “Hello.”

“Charles, any luck yet?” Actor enquired hopefully.

“Sorry Actor, the houses proved to be dead ends.  One was bombed, two are rented to families and the other was unattended.  I was just on my way out to check out the warehouses.  Give me a few more hours and I will contact you with my findings.”

“We need to find them within the next twenty four hours Charles.  Bird has confirmed that Chief at the very least is injured.”

“Then I had better get started.  I take it you are staying at the number three apartment.”

“Yes.”

Actor hung up from Charles and then dialed Major Richards’ office, waiting impatiently for the call to be put through to the major. “

“Actor, what do you have for me? Have you found Garrison and Chief?” Major Richards asked as soon as the handset was at his ear.

“No we haven’t found them yet.  My man has checked out the houses on the list without success and is currently out searching the warehouses.  What I do have however is documented proof in Bird’s own voice confirming that he kidnapped the Warden and Chief and is holding them as leverage against us completing the heist.  He also confirmed that Chief is injured as we feared but he wouldn’t say how badly.

“I see,” Richards replied thoughtfully.  “How long before you have to carry out this job Actor?”

“Twenty four hours Sir.  I was able to convince him that we would need more time now that he had kidnapped our security man.”

“What security man?” Richards asked perplexed.

“Chief, Sir.  I told Bird, Chief was our security man and we couldn’t work without him.  I was hoping he would agree to release him and we could follow and find out where the Warden was been held also.”

“But he didn’t agree?”

“No Sir.”

“So what happens if you can’t find them by the deadline Actor?”

“We will have to do the job but Major Richards I believe we should continue even if we have the others.”

“And why is that?” Richards asked suspiciously.

“I feel there may be more to this industrialist than just jewels and money.”

“Like what?”

“War secrets or documents.  They would be valuable commodities on the black market.”

Richards remained silent and thoughtful for a minute.  It could just be a ruse to steal some jewelry and money but somehow he didn’t think so.  He was aware of the unwritten agreement the cons had with Garrison that they wouldn’t steal on English soil or if they did they would return the stolen goods to their rightful owners.  “Do you know anything about this industrialist Actor?”

“Not yet Sir.  He is living on an estate in Eaton Square. We will be heading out there soon to make enquiries and draw up some plans.”

“Alright Actor, find out what you can and let me know before you pull anything, unless it is to free Garrison and Chief.  Is that understood?”

“Yes Sir.” Actor sat back in his chair and contemplated his next move.  Eaton Square was quite a prosperous and influential area of London, even in a time of war.  In fact Neville Chamberlain, the former British Prime Minister had lived not five houses down from their objective a mere seven years prior. A contented smile appeared on Actor’s face as he reached for the phone once again. If anybody was to know who the Austrian Industrialist was it would be Lady Elizabeth Covington.

*****

The shadowy figured staggered drunkenly against the side of the warehouse, the sound of the empty spirit bottle shattering on the broken pavement loud in the still evening air. The last rays of the watery afternoon sun were just sinking below the horizon.  It had taken Charles longer than expected to discount the other seven warehouses owned by Bird, but finally this was the last one and the one furthest from London.  And the only one not on the original list.  An old acquaintance he had run into at one of the other warehouses had given him directions to this one. Getting here without the use of the car had been problematic as people tended to believe what they saw when confronted by a homeless drunk asking for a ride.  Eventually though a farmer on his way out of London had agreed to give him a lift, provided he sat in the back of the truck with his two slobbering dogs.  Charles shivered, he wasn’t a dog person, in fact he wasn’t an animal person and the two dogs seemed to know it if their growls were anything to go by but in the circumstances beggars couldn’t be choosers and he had submitted to sitting in the truck with the animals if it would get him to where he wanted to go.

This warehouse looked as derelict and deserted as all those before it as Charles cautiously made his way around the outside of the building, returning to the only entry and exit point, the front doors; or maybe not.  Charles eyed the new padlock on the doors with a growing sense of anticipation and excitement.  Why would anybody want to place a new padlock on a deserted warehouse on the outskirts of London unless they had something to hide, like two men? Charles listened intently at the door for any noise coming from within.  Satisfied that the place was, at the very least devoid of guards, he set to work on the padlock with a set of lock picks, sighing in relief when the locking mechanism released and the padlock sprang open.  Slipping carefully inside, Charles waited to be verbally challenged, or worse, only to be greeted with silence, save for the wind whistling through the broken windows set high in the walls.  Charles pulled out his small flashlight and let the thin beam dance across the floor and walls of the warehouse as he wandered around the interior.  Except for the heavy bolt on a door at the far end, the warehouse was  completely empty. Silently he made his way to the door, the wall into which it was set making up one of the three sides of what appeared to be a windowless office or perhaps a storage room, the forth side been the outer wall of the warehouse.  Charles listened to the quiet behind the door for several minutes before cautiously sliding the bolt back.

*****

Garrison wasn’t sure how much time had elapsed since Chief had passed out in his arms again.  All he was aware of was that it was getting darker outside because the shadows inside were steadily growing and he was chilled to the bone.  Chief hadn’t moved in his arms for sometime now and he didn’t think that was a good sign, although he wasn’t even sure if he would feel any movement, his arms and in fact his entire body felt numb.  Carefully he rested his hand lightly on the Indian’s chest, sighing in relief when he felt the shallow rise and fall, indicating that Chief was at the very least still breathing.

The muffled sound of something breaking somewhere outside the building came to Garrison’s ears and he lifted his head but only silence remained.  Just when he thought his mind was playing tricks on him a new sound that brought with it both hope and fear was heard, much closer this time.  Garrison waited, more alert now that he realized that someone was prowling around the warehouse.  He gently shook Chief’s shoulder, eliciting a soft moan from the injured man.  “Chief, we have company,” Garrison whispered, receiving a slight nod of understanding.  Both men tensed, neither really now in any condition to protect the other and waited for what was to come next.

They heard the bolt on the door to their prison slide back, they saw the door swing open and then a bright light blinded both of them as it arced around the room.

“My apologies gentleman,” A cultured English voice said as the light beam moved away from their faces and hurried footsteps crossed the small room.  “Lieutenant Garrison and Chief I presume? Actor sent me but we must hurry as I fear it won’t be too long before Bird’s heavies return to have some more fun.”

“Who are you?” Garrison asked as the man, who looked more like a street urchin rather than the English gentleman the voice conveyed, squatted beside them.

“That is not important, what is important is getting you both out of here and quickly.” Charles sighed, taking in the appearances of both men. It was obvious that Chief was not going anywhere in haste. “Damn Bird and his bloody warehouses,” Charles snapped.  “I do not have a car; it wouldn’t have fitted well with my current appearance so we will have to carry your man Lieutenant.  Are you up for that?”

“If it means getting out of here, wherever here is, then yes.  As far as I can tell Chief has at least four broken ribs.  Bird’s heavies worked him over well after we crashed the jeep.”

Charles nodded, “Yes, I am afraid they do have a penchant for that sort of thing.  We are in an old warehouse at the back of the rail yards in Catford so getting to further assistance will be difficult but not impossible.   Come Lieutenant, lets get you on your feet and then we can both assist Chief.”

“Chief, you with me?” Garrison asked, waiting for a reply before he tried to move.

Chief nodded, “Yeah.”

“Alright, I’m going to slip out from under you, lay you down for a minute then we’ll get you up. Sorry but it’s going to hurt.”

Chief nodded against the firm chest supporting him.  “Let’s just…get…out of…here…Warden.”

“Lieutenant, allow me to hold Chief while you slip out from behind.” Charles supported Chief’s shoulders as Garrison struggled out from behind.   He was so cold and numb that it seemed his body didn’t want to co-operate with his mind but finally he was clear of Chief.

Chief couldn’t control the loud groan that escaped his tightly clenched lips as he felt Garrison and their rescuer ease him slowly to the ground.

“Slow breaths Chief,” Garrison cautioned as he climbed stiffly to his feet, using the wall for support.  He tried taking a step forward only to grunt loudly as pain shot through his recovering ankle, causing him to stumble.  “Damn,” he cursed as Charles steadied him with an outstretched hand.

“Lieutenant, are you injured?” Charles asked worriedly as he continued to support Garrison.

“What…hap…pened?” Chief gasped.

Garrison gritted his teeth and put his weight on his injured ankle finding that this time the pain was at least bearable.  “Must have twisted my ankle in the accident again.  Didn’t notice it earlier.”

“Can you walk Lieutenant?” Charles asked, wondering how he was to get two injured men to safety without transport.

“Well enough to get out of here,” Garrison replied, “and the name’s Craig.”

“Mine is Charles, although you didn’t hear that.”

Garrison snorted. He wondered if he would ever get the full story of Charles out of his number two. Probably not, he thought sadly because it had to be some story.

Charles squatted beside Chief as Garrison bent down on his other side.  “Ready to go home Chief?” Garrison asked quietly as the two men carefully lifted the Indian to his feet, holding him steady as he gasped in pain and struggled to get his breathing under control.

With Chief supported between them, the three men exited the warehouse, pausing only long enough to re-bolt and padlock the two doors.  As Charles pointed out, there was no reason to advertise the fact that the prisoners had already flown the coop. Those extra few minutes it would take to unlock the doors could mean the difference between freedom and death for the three men.

*****

“Well?” Casino demanded around a mouthful of bread as Actor returned to his lounge room.  “They find the Warden and Geronimo yet?”

“Not yet Casino.”

“So what did your friend ‘ave to say Actor?” Goniff asked between bites of the sandwich he had made.

“The houses were all a dead end and he was just about to check out the warehouses when I rang him.  He said to give him a few hours.”

“You really think you can trust him Actor?”

“Yes Casino, I do.”

“What about the major? Did you speak to ‘im too?”

“I did Goniff and he has agreed that even if we locate Garrison and Chief before the job deadline, we are to continue and see what else this Industrialist might be hiding.”

“Blimey, a caper on our own turf.  That’s a turn up for the books.  Do we get to keep the proceeds Actor?”  Goniff asked excitedly.

Actor shrugged, “I didn’t ask…”

“You what?” Casino shouted.

“…but I’m sure that if not all the proceeds were handed over, no one would be the wiser.” Actor finished, ignoring Casino’s outburst.

“So who is this Industrialist anyway?” Casino asked.

“I don’t know yet.  I am waiting on a call with that information.”

“Another snitch? Just how do you know so many in this country?”

Actor laughed, “I would not call the Lady Covington a snitch, was I you Casino.”

Goniff almost choked on his sandwich, “Lady Covington? The Lady Covington?”

Actor eyed the pickpocket suspiciously.  “Do you know her Goniff?”

Goniff shook his head, “Only by reputation.  I never nicked anything good enough for ‘er to fence.”

Casino spluttered.  “The dame’s a fence and a lady. Now that’s a broad I’d like to meet.”

“Well don’t get your hopes up Casino, because it is very unlikely that that will happen.” Actor advised as the phone rang in the other room.

“So Goniff,” Casino asked as Actor hurried to answer the phone, “How’d the lady become a fence or is that a fence become a lady?”

Goniff shrugged, “not really sure mate.  I think she was always a lady, born with the title she was.”

“Yeah, and…?”

“Don’t know.  There are so many stories, no one knows the real truth except for ‘er of course.”

“What sort of stories.” Casino growled impatiently. “Getting information from you’s just as hard as it is from the damn Indian.”

Goniff shrugged, “What can I say? Some say she was bored with the high life and became a fence on a dare.  Others say it was an old boyfriend what got ‘er into the business.  Then there’s the story that she married into it although I think that ‘usband is dead.  Killed in a caper gone wrong.  But she never fences more than one or two items a year and then only items worth a bit more than a few quid and she’s good at it.  The Bobby’s ‘ave never been able to catch ‘er or prove what she’s doing.”

Actor hurried down the hall, aware that he had set the cat among the pigeons, or in this case pigeon.  Poor Goniff, he was going to have his hands full fending off Casino’s enquiries regarding Lady Covington, although he did wonder just how much the pickpocket really knew about Elizabeth’s circumstances.

“Hello,” Actor smiled when he heard the voice on the other end of the line.  “Elizabeth, that was quick work, even for you.”

Elizabeth laughed lightly, not in the least offended.  “You know me Actor, darling, I never walk when I can run.”

“Indeed I do.  I take it you have the information I requested.” Actor became serious once again.

“But of course.  The new tenants of number forty four Eaton Square are Johannes and Katharina Metternich from Austria.  He ran a small newspaper in Graz before he fled the country and she is of Jewish decent.”

“No wonder they fled the country.” Actor mused.  “But how did he manage to get into England.  Austria is an ally of Germany.”

“His mother was English and he has a sister living here.  It is also rumoured that he is a distant cousin of a former Austrian Prince who, would you believe also lived at the same address over a hundred years ago when he was exiled from Austria for several years.”

“A family home perhaps?” Actor queried.  “Do you know who the sister is, Elizabeth?”

“As far as I know the sister has never been named. I know the current owners of the house, the Garvers, have lived there for twenty five years but are currently staying with relatives in the country.  It could just be coincidence.”

“It is possible but I doubt it.  Have you met them at all, Elizabeth?”

“No. They moved in about six weeks ago and seem to keep pretty much to themselves.  I’ve only seen him out a couple of times and never her.”

“I wonder how Bird latched onto them so quickly then?”

Elizabeth laughed, “Probably the same way that I did.  It is amazing how a few nips of brandy can loosen a tongue, and that was my own maid.  You should know that all the servants gossip amongst themselves.  Why they know more about the aristocracy than we can ever hope to have knowledge of.”

“Mmmm.  Elizabeth, do you happen to know an English pickpocket by the name of Goniff, by any chance?”

“Rodney? What on earth are you asking about him for Actor?  The last I heard he was in America.”

“So you do know him?” Actor asked in surprised.

“Of course I do, everybody knows Goniff and his mum, although I haven’t seen or spoken to him for almost fifteen years now. I doubt that he even remembers his Aunt Lizzie, as he called me. He was just a little thing, all blond curls when I met him. She ran the books here before she left for the States.  I won as much as I lost from her but she was always fair and honest, for a bookie.  Why do you ask?”

“No reason; I have heard the name a few times, that is all.  Well thank you Elizabeth for your help. We will have to get together soon.”

“I’d like that Actor.”

Actor laughed, “You may but I think Charles may have something to say about it.”

“And when has that ever stopped you before darling?” Elizabeth husked softly.

“I do have some principals you know.”

Actor replaced the phone and lent back in his chair.  Aunt Lizzie, he mused with a soft chuckle.  Casino was going to have a field day with this information.

*****

Chapter 5

Garrison was limping badly and Chief was coughing uncontrollably by the time the three men made it across the rail yards and to the buildings that housed the workshops.  Charles and Garrison carefully lowered Chief onto a bench at the side of one of the buildings.

“You had better sit down too Craig,” Charles suggested amiably, “While I go and see if I can find us some form of transport.  It doesn’t look as though either of you are in any shape to go further on foot.”

Garrison nodded tiredly as he sat down beside Chief.  “Where are you going to get transport around here?”

“Don’t worry; I’m sure something useful will present itself to me.”  Charles frowned as he watched the two men. Chief’s coughing had subsided into a harsh wheeze and he was slumped against Garrison’s right shoulder.  Garrison looked tired and drawn and pain flicked across his face. He watched the Lieutenant close his eyes and rest his head back against the wall with a sigh.  “I won’t be long.  Will you be alright here until I get back Craig?” Charles questioned worriedly.

Garrison opened his eyes and nodded.  “We’ll be fine.”

Charles doubted the statement but nodded his acceptance before heading off in search of some suitable transport.  He hadn’t gone far before he heard the sounds of an engine coming towards him.  He ducked into the shadows of a nearby building and watched as an old brown van headed across the yards and towards the warehouse they had just left.  Charles smiled as a plan began to formulate in his mind.  He wouldn’t have much time once the men realized their captives had escaped.  Carefully he made his way back across the yards, coming up on the warehouse behind the van.  He watched with a shaking head as the smaller of the two men patted down his pockets, looking for the key to the padlock.  For a moment Charles thought they were going to return to the van but then the man yelled in triumph as he produced the key.

Charles waited until the two men entered the warehouse, leaving the unlocked padlock, complete with key, swinging from the latch before he slipped from his hiding place, gently closing and then padlocking the door behind them.  He was relying on the dark of the warehouse and the evening gloom to cover the closed door. He hurried back to the van, pulling open the driver’s door.  He slipped into the seat and burst out laughing.  The keys were still in the ignition! Charles started the van, slipped it into gear and drove back across the yards, pulling up beside the workshop where he had left Garrison and Chief.

Garrison was on his feet; precariously trying to protect Chief who lay slumped over on the bench.  “Where did you get that?”

“This is compliments of the great man himself,” Charles replied, trying to ignore Garrison’s glare.  When the man remained unmoving Charles relented.  “Bird sent his two heavies to collect you or maybe just to work Chief over again.  I locked them in the warehouse so we don’t have much time.”

“Then we had better get out of here.” Garrison limped to where Chief still lay slumped on the bench.  “Chief,” Garrison shook his wheelman’s shoulder, “Come on Chief, we have a ride.”

“Tired.”

“I know you are but it won’t be much longer and you’ll be in the hospital.” Garrison and Charles pulled Chief to his feet, wincing in sympathy when the Indian gasped in pain and carried him to the back of the van, carefully placing him on the hard floor. “Where to Craig?” Charles asked as he watched the Lieutenant settle in beside his injured man.

“Chief needs a hospital.  Head for the Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital in London. I can get a hold of Major Richards and Actor from there.”

*****

Actor sat staring at the phone, cursing its silence yet dreading the news that it could deliver.  He checked his watch and sighed.  It was still too early for Charles to have checked out all the warehouses.  He debated whether to wait for Charles call or to ring Major Richards and update him with the information that Elizabeth had given him. Actor reached for the phone, he was too frustrated with the lack of developments to sit idle for too long.  “Major Richards.” Actor acknowledge when the other man answered the phone.

“Actor, do you have news about Garrison and Chief?”

“I’m afraid not Sir, but I do have some information on our Austrian Industrialist.  His name is Johannes Metternich; he owned a newspaper in Graz and only arrived in England six weeks ago. His mother was English and he has a sister living here in England, also his wife is Jewish which is probably why he gained entry into England. It is also rumoured that he is a distant relation to a Prince Metternich who lived at the same address nearly a hundred years ago.”

“Royalty? And Bird is already on to him.” Richards muttered.  “What do you think he’s hiding that a man like Bird would be after Actor?”

“Besides cash and jewels and possibly the odd painting or two, I would say he came across information valuable to either the Allies or the Germans and marketable in certain circles.”

“The black market?”

“Yes Sir.”

“We need to find that information Actor.  If this Metternich has had a falling out with the Reich the information could prove invaluable to us.”

“That is if it even exists, Sir.  This is all conjecture on our part at the moment.”

“When isn’t it conjecture Actor?  How many times have you and others gone on a mission because there maybe something to the information we have received?”

“So we have permission to proceed with the job Major Richards?” Actor asked.

“Yes but preferably after we get Garrison and Chief back Actor. Keep me informed of any new developments.  I’ll stay here at the office until I hear from you again,” Richards said before disconnecting the call.

Actor sat staring at the phone for long minutes before rising to his feet and returning to the lounge and Casino and Goniff.

“Any news, Actor?” Goniff asked as the tall Italian entered.

“Not about Garrison or Chief, but I do have some information on our mysterious Industrialist and Major Richards has approved our request to continue with this mission but preferable after we get the others back.”

“So we’re going to break into that fancy house after all.” Casino asked.

“Yes.  The Industrialist is a Johannes Metternich.  He ran a newspaper in Graz before fleeing Austria.”

“But ‘ow did ‘Ee get ‘ere? I mean Austria and Germany are allies and I can’t see old Winston let ‘im into the country.” Goniff stated.

“His mother was English and his sister still lives here and his wife is Jewish.”

“And you think he’s hiding some documents that the brass wants?” Casino asked, not really caring how the man got into the country.

Actor nodded.  “It is possible and the Major wants us to go in and retrieve what we can.”

“So what about Dicky? Isn’t ‘Ee after the same documents?” Goniff questioned.

“I don’t think Bird knows anymore than the rest of us about what Metternich brought with him.  If we have to we tell him there was only cash and jewels in the safe, but I’m hoping we won’t have to tell him anything.  Now if we’re going to do this job, you two had better get another good look at that estate before it gets dark.”

“And just what are you going to be doing?” Casino demanded.

“I need to stay here incase there are anymore phone calls this evening.”

“Of course you do,” Casino grumbled as he and Goniff made their way to the door.

*****

Darkness had fallen when Charles brought the van to a stop outside the dimly lit front steps of the military hospital.  He jumped from the cab and hurried around to the back door, ignoring the orders from the sentry on duty to move the van.

“Didn’t you hear me you damn tramp?” Growled the guard, grabbing Charles arm and spinning him away from the back door.  “This is a military hospital; we don’t take your kind here.”

“Attention.” Garrison snapped at the Corporal as he climbed from the back of the van.  “I’m Lieutenant Garrison, US Army and I have an injured man here.  Now get me a couple of orderlies and a stretcher.”

The corporal eyed Garrison suspiciously; taking in the man’s disheveled appearance and lack of any army insignia even though he was wearing regulation army pants.

“That was an order Corporal.” Garrison limped forward.  “Or would you rather explain to Major Richards how one of his men was refused treatment and died of his injuries.”

“No Sir,” the Corporal replied, gritting his teeth as he automatically responded with the usual proprietary accorded to an officer, despite the lack of proof that the man was who he said he was.

“Now, Corporal.” Garrison’s voice held the presence of one used to being obeyed and the corporal snapped a salute before he hurried to carry out his order.

By the time the Corporal returned with two orderlies, a stretcher and a doctor sporting Captain’s bars under his white coat, Garrison had donned his dress jacket with its insignia in full view and he and Charles were supporting an unconscious Chief by the back door of the van.

The doctor barely glanced at the tramp helping to hold up the injured man, his focus solely rested on the Lieutenant.  “Craig, Craig Garrison?” he asked tentatively.

Garrison lifted his head at the sound of his name and stared at the speaker for a moment before a smile appeared on his face. “Peter Chambers.  What are you doing over here? The last I heard you’d been offered some fancy post at a hospital in Washington.”

Peter shrugged, “Duty called.  I felt my talents could be better served over here. Now what happened?”

“Chief is one of my men.  We were on our way into London when we were run off the road and kidnapped.  Chief hit the steering wheel of the jeep hard in the crash and then one of our kidnappers worked him over with his fists and boots.  The only thing I know for sure is that he has some broken ribs.”

Peter indicated that the orderlies should bring the stretcher over and place it on the ground. “How long ago was this?” he asked as he supervised Chief’s transfer to the stretcher.

“This morning.” Garrison replied worriedly.  “He’s been unconscious most of the time but when he wakes up he coughs and wheezes.”

Peter gave orders to the orderlies to take Chief straight through to emergency “We’ll take care of him Craig. You look like you could use a hot meal and a few hours sleep yourself. Why don’t you come back in the morning?”

Charles, who had been standing quietly to the side of the van as the two men talked, now spoke up.  “The Lieutenant is injured also Captain.”

Chambers turned in surprise at the cultured English voice coming from the tramp.  He eyed the man in the dirty clothes suspiciously for a moment before turning his attention back to Garrison.  His friend looked drawn and pale, understandable under the circumstances and then he saw it.  The quick flash of pain as he shifted his weight.

“His ankle, Captain, but I doubt he would have told you that.” Charles nodded at Garrison’s glare. “I’ll find a safe place to hide the van from prying eyes.  We wouldn’t want word to get out too soon about your escape.”

“Come on Craig,” Peter said as he pulled Garrison’s arm over his shoulder, surprised and a little concerned at the amount of weight he was now supporting.

Garrison sighed but accepted the assistance, not that he had much choice in the matter.  He limped up the first couple of steps and then stopped, turning back to Charles as the man started up the engine of the van.  “Thank you Charles, for everything.”

Charles nodded.  “I’ll let Actor know where you are.”

Garrison watched the van pull away.  He owed the man a debt for both his and Chief’s lives.

“I don’t suppose I’ll get an answer if I ask, will I Craig?” Peter asked as they resumed their trek up the steps.

“I’m afraid not Peter.” Garrison replied, wondering the same thing himself.

*****

Charles drove the van down to the warehouse district of London.  What better place to hide it, he thought, than right under Bird’s nose.  He drove through the backstreets, hoping to avoid as many people as possible, not that there were many still out and about at this time on a Sunday evening.  He headed towards a partially bombed out warehouse owned by Bird.  The back and one side had collapsed along with most of the roof but the front wall and part of the adjoining sidewall remained standing with the roof slanted down towards the floor.  There was just enough room to drive the van in under the fallen roof, effectively hiding it from casual observation.  Charles turned off the engine and pocketed the keys just in case someone else came across it and decided to steal it for themselves, not that they couldn’t just hot wire it as he had intended to do.  Still there was no sense in making it easy for anyone, including Bird, or advertising the fact that Bird’s plans had gone astray any earlier than necessary.

Charles checked the street from the safety of the shadows before venturing out on to it with a staggering gait.  If anyone saw him coming from the warehouse he hoped they would just assume he was a drunk in search of another drink.  Sighing heavily, he wrapped the thin coat he wore tightly across his chest to keep out the rising night chill and commenced the hour long walk home.

*****

Actor checked his watch again, it was after seven o’clock.  He should have heard from Charles by now and he feared that something may have happened to the intrepid Englishman.  Casino and Goniff had returned an hour ago after watching the estate for several hours.  As he thought, they would not be able to gain access to the estate from one of the other properties for a number of varying reasons, dogs been high at the top of the list along with an over abundance of people in the vicinity as well as the lack of satisfactory cover.  Actor sighed; it was never this difficult to gain access to their targets on the continent.  He was just about to go in search of his two team mates when the phone on his desk rang.  Tentatively he reached forward to answer it just as Casino and Goniff rushed into the room. “Hello.”

“I have them.” Charles replied. “They’re at Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital.”

Actor sighed, “How are they?”

“Did ‘Ee find them?” Goniff asked anxiously as Actor listened intently to the reply to his question, nodding his head in understanding.

“Thank you for all your help and I’ll let you know how they are.” Actor hung up the phone and smiled at the two men impatiently waiting for news, in front of him.

“Are they alright?” Casino demanded.

“They’re at the Military Hospital here in London.  The Warden seems to have aggravated his ankle again…”

“And what about Chiefy?” Goniff asked.

“I don’t know. He was unconscious when they got there; broken ribs and possible internal injuries.  We won’t know more until we get there.”

“We going to the hospital?  What about Bird? He’ll know we have them if he has a tail on us and we turn up at the hospital.” Casino warned.

“I’ll ring Major Richards.  With Craig and Chief safe he can pick up Bird…”

*****

Garrison stopped hobbling beside Peter, forcing the other man to a halt.  “Peter, this is important, I need to use a phone immediately.”

“Craig…”

“Please, five minutes.  I need to ring Major Richards.  I have important information for him.”

Peter sighed, “In my office, five minutes and then I’m coming for you and stay off that ankle.” He warned as he supported Garrison to his office and then settled him in the chair behind his desk.  “I’ll check on Chief and be right back.”

“Thanks Peter.” Garrison replied, already dialing Richards’ number as the other man closed the door behind him.

“Sir, its Garrison,” Garrison spoke as soon as he heard Richards voice answer the call. “Fine Sir, a little banged up…  Not good, broken ribs at the very least…  Yes Sir, we’re at the Q A military hospital… No I haven’t spoken to Actor yet, our rescuer said he would contact him Sir…It was a man by the name of Bird, Sir.  Two of his men are locked in an abandoned warehouse at the rail yards in Catford…Thank you Sir, I’ll see you then.”  Garrison hung up the phone as the door opened and Peter entered pushing a wheelchair.

“Finished?” Peter enquired with a raised eyebrow.

“Yes.  How’s Chief?” Garrison asked worriedly.

“He’s a very lucky young man.  Four broken ribs; sever bruising to his chest, a mild concussion and some whiplash.  There was also an indication of some internal bleeding but it seems to have stopped on its own.  He is still unconscious and we’re monitoring him closely.  Now it’s your turn Craig.” Peter announced, pushing the chair up to the desk.

*****

Actor reached for the phone once more, dialing Major Richards’ office.  He realized the hour was getting late, but the man had promised to wait for his call. “…We’ll wait until after Bird has been arrested before we head to the hospital.” Actor held up his hand.  “Major Richards, Craig and Chief are safe…you already know, Craig rang you.  Have you heard how they are?…Yes, that is all I know also.  Where?…Catford. You’ve already sent men to pick up Bird’s two heavies.   Sir, if I arrange a meeting with Bird at the Lazy Dog can you organize for the MP’s to pick him up as well? Between the evidence I have and what Craig and Chief will be able to tell you, it should be enough to have him charged with kidnapped and treason…As much as we would like to go directly to the hospital Sir, we’ll wait until after Bird has been arrested. We don’t want to alert him to their escape…A number?  999 281918…Thank you Sir.”  Actor disconnected the call to a babble of questions.

“Well what did he say?  Did he speak to the Warden?” Casino demanded.

“Where were they? ‘Ow did your mate find them? ’Ow are they? When are we going to see them?” Goniff drew in a breath.

Actor held up a hand and closed his eyes for a moment before opening them again to look at the two men before him.  As much as Casino pretended, he really was an open book and Actor could see the worry in his eyes and Goniff was just…Goniff, always worried about the well being of the rest of the team.  He began ticking points off on his finger as he spoke.  “Major Richards is organizing for MP’s to arrest Bird at a meeting with us at the Lazy Dog and his two heavies should be about to meet the same fate. Craig rang him from the hospital, but wasn’t able to talk for long.  They were being held in a warehouse in Catford.  I don’t have any details on how they were found.  Craig has reinjured his ankle and there is no news on Chief yet.  As soon as Bird is in custody.” Actor lowered his hand and glared at the men.  “Any more questions?”

Goniff shook his head, “I reckon that about covers it for now, Actor.  What about you Casino? You got any more questions?”

“Plenty.”

“Well they will have to wait.” Actor intervened.  “We need to arrange a meeting with Bird and come up with a plan to get onto that Estate.”

*****

Despite the late hour, Major Richards strode quickly down the corridor to the room Garrison and Chief were sharing. The Doctor he had spoken to had turned out to be an old friend of Garrison’s from their West Point days and had organized a private room for them. The news on the two men’s conditions had been better than he had expected even though it would be at least a month before Chief would be fit for another mission and Garrison was out for another seven to ten days as well.  Richards carefully opened the door, not wanting to waken the two men if they were sleeping. There were two beds in the room but only one was currently occupied.  Richards shook his head, not really surprised to see Garrison sitting in the chair beside Chief’s bed instead of been in his own. Chief lay asleep, propped up by pillows, his chest heavily bandaged and a dark bruise standing out stark against the paleness of his face.

Garrison lifted his head from where it rested on his chest when he heard the door open and saw Major Richards walk in, although he said nothing in way of greeting to the man.

“Lieutenant, I believe that bed was meant for you to be sleeping in.” Richards announced as he stopped at the foot of Chief’s bed and surveyed his two injured men.  He could hear the painful wheeze to Chief’s breathing and see the dark bruises that peeked out from the top of the bandages. From Chief, Richards let his eyes rove over Garrison, taking in the bandage wrapped ankle resting on a couple of pillows on the floor and the gaunt, exhausted look on his Lieutenant’s face.

“I will Sir, as soon as Chief wakes up or Actor gets here.  He’ll be confused when he wakes and I don’t want him to think he’s alone.” Garrison shrugged tiredly. “He doesn’t like hospitals at the best of times, but especially when he’s the patient. Besides, he’s in no shape to protect himself at the moment.”

“And you are?” Richards asked pointedly. “Lieutenant your bed is next to his.  You can hardly say he is alone.”

“What about Bird, Sir?” Garrison changed the subject, ignoring Richards’ suggestion.

Richards sighed, realizing that Garrison wouldn’t rest until Chief was conscious and Bird was in custody. “Actor is arranging a meeting as we speak and I have organized for the MP’s to be there to arrest him.  He won’t get away with this Craig, I promise.  Between yours and Chief’s statements and Actor’s evidence we will have enough to charge him with treason.  You don’t just kidnap a United States Army Lieutenant in a time of war and expect to get away with it.”

“What I don’t understand is how he knew where we’d be. I didn’t even know of the meeting until that morning.”

“His brother is a corporal here at head quarters.  Bird threatened his sister-in-law and young niece if his brother didn’t help him.” Richards looked guiltily at Garrison.  “I told Percival to ring and advise you of the meeting.”

“You weren’t to know Sir.  I didn’t find out about Bird approaching my men until Chief told me on the way into London.  I thought we could deal with it once we got back from the mission.” Garrison looked up. “What about the mission Sir?”

“Don’t worry about it Craig. I have already briefed another team for it.  You and your men have a more important mission here in London, as soon as Bird is out of the picture.”

“A mission here in London, Sir.” Garrison queried tiredly.

“Yes but there is no need to concern yourself with the details at the moment.  Time enough tomorrow.  Now I want you to get into that bed where you belong and I’ll sit with Chief until Actor and the others arrive.”

“I’m fine Sir.”

“That isn’t a suggestion Lieutenant, its an order.”  Richards replied sternly.

*****

Goniff and Casino listened expectantly as Actor made arrangements with Bird to meet at the Lazy Dog in a half hour.

“He bought it then.” Casino smirked as Actor hung up the phone and nodded in reply.

“I can’t wait to see ‘is face when they arrest ‘im.” Goniff added gleefully as they followed Actor out the door of his apartment.

*****

Chapter 6

 

“Hey Charlie; where did they go?” Tiny asked as he stared at the empty room where their two captives should have been.

Charlie pushed the taller man out of the way and peered into the gloomy storeroom.  “They’ve escaped you idiot.”

“But how? The door was bolted from the outside.” Tiny said scratching his head in contemplation.

“They obviously had help.” Charlie turned around and noticed the lack of light coming through the doorway.  “Tiny did you close the door on the way in?”

“You came in after me, remember?” Tiny responded absently, “Who do you think helped them?  I was looking forward to playing with that Indian some more. I’ve never had a real live red Indian before.”

“The same person who closed the damn door.” Charlie replied sharply. “Come on, we need to get out of here now.”  Charlie hurried across the warehouse floor to the door cursing when he found it wouldn’t open.  “See if you can find something to jimmy it open with Tiny.”

“Huh? Jimmy isn’t here Charlie.” Tiny mumbled in confusion.

“Never mind,” Charlie brushed past Tiny and made a circuit of the empty warehouse, returning to the door and only exit in frustration.  He shook the door violently cursing Bird’s orders to replace the old rusted lock with the new one.  They were locked in.

*****

Casino pulled the Packard to a stop in front of the Lazy Dog.  A small chink of light escaped one corner of the heavy blackout curtains on the front window, announcing that even though it was several hours past closing time someone was still in attendance on the premises.  The three men climbed out of the Packard and cast searching glances along both sides of the street.  A soldier showing sergeants stripes and the black and white armband of the Military Police stepped from the shadows of the alley, nodded at Actor and then beckoned three more men to step forward.

Actor looked at his two team mates.  “Ready?”

“Lets just get this over with,” Casino growled “And then we can get to the hospital.”

“I’m with you mate,” Goniff agreed.

Actor nodded and stepped up to the door of the Lazy Dog unsurprised to find it locked.  He tapped sharply on the glass pane and waited for the door to be opened. Sally opened the door and stepped back nervously as the seven men entered.  Actor raised an eyebrow and she nodded towards the booth closest to the bar.  She waited until the men had passed and then hurried out the front door, disappearing gratefully into the night.

Actor strode purposely up to the booth where Bird and Fender were hurriedly rising to their feet, hands going to their guns. He was relieved to see that the two heavies weren’t with them and he hoped that meant that the two men had already been picked up by the MP’s.

“What’s the meaning of this Actor?” Bird snarled pointing his gun at the tall conman as the men surrounded him, firearms held ready.

“We came to tell you that we are not interested in your job offer Bird.” Actor announced, not in the least intimidated by Bird’s armed threat. “And to arrest you.”

Bird stared at the impassive faces of the men and then laughed harshly.  “Oh that’s good Actor, that’s very good, you’re going to arrest me.  Did you hear that Jimmy?  The pretty conman here’s going to arrest me…”

“I heard him boss,” Jimmy replied nervously, his heart pounding in his chest.  Somehow the game was up.  The tall conman had the upper hand and knew it. He could read it in the man’s posture.  Which probably explained why Tiny and Charlie never came back from the warehouse.

“…Well let me tell you, Mister Actor,” Bird threatened Actor with the gun, “this little stunt just cost you the lives of that damn Lieutenant and the Indian.”

Actor drew in a deep breath and stared unblinkingly at Bird.  “Did you hear that Sergeant?  He just threatened the life of a United States Army officer.”

“I sure did Sir,” the sergeant replied menacingly as he stepped forward. “Mister Richard Bird you and your accomplice James Fender are under arrest. Drop the weapons or we will shoot, Sir.”

Bird stared in disbelief as Jimmy dropped his gun on the table.  “You can’t arrest me, you’re not the police and I’m not in the army.”

“We’ve got news for you babe…” Casino began only to be silenced by Actor.

“You might not be in the army Bird but when you kidnapped a ranking officer in the course of his duty it became army business.  Sergeant…”

“I want my lawyer, now.” Bird demanded belligerently, allowing his gun to drop onto the table alongside Jimmy’s.

“You’ll get him, eventually,” Actor replied as the sergeant pulled Bird’s hands behind his back and handcuffed him. Another MP came forward and cuffed Jimmy in the same manner.

“Yeah, maybe when the war is over,” Casino grinned evilly.

“I still have your men,” Bird tried one last bluff.

“Do you really think we would put their lives in jeopardy Bird? We recovered Lieutenant Garrison and Chief some hours ago.” Actor turned on his heel and headed for the door, closely followed by Casino and Goniff.

“You won’t get away with this Actor, do you hear me?” Bird called angrily.  “I’ll be out before you know it and then I’ll come after you.”

Casino paused in the doorway and looked back at Bird.  “You can try Bird, and I hope to hell you do, because we’ll be waiting.”

*****

“What are we going to do Charlie?” Tiny whined as he watched Charlie pace in front of the locked door.

“I’d be more worried about what the boss is going to do when he hears his prisoners have escaped.” Charlie snapped irritably.

“But that weren’t our fault.  I mean Jimmy was the one who locked the warehouse.”  Tiny lamented.  “How come he doesn’t get into trouble?”

“And it was still locked when we got here you idiot.”  Charlie lifted his head and listened before grabbing Tiny’s arm and dragging him back to the storeroom.  “Come on you idiot, someone’s out there.  Maybe if we hide in here they may think it’s empty.”

“But Charlie, they can let us out.” Tiny protested even though he allowed himself to be dragged along by Charlie.

Charlie pushed Tiny into the storeroom and pulled the door closed behind him.  “Be quiet,” he whispered as he heard the front door open with a bang accompanied with shouts to come out with their hands up.

The two men held their breaths as heavy footsteps drew closer to their hiding place.  The door flew open, light beams arced through the dim interior, coming to rest on the two cowering heavies in the far corner.  The sounds of cocking rifles and shouted commands to drop the gun filled the small room.  Charlie sighed heavily, he wasn’t smart, more used to using his brawn rather than his brains but he was smart enough to know they were cornered with no way out except through a hail of lead if he didn’t do what they ordered.  With a shrug, Charlie placed the gun on the ground and then lifted his hands up in a sign of surrender.

*****

The three men padded silently into the room, having been given permission to visit despite the late hour, coming to a stop at the foot of the two occupied beds.   Major Richards looked up from his place beside Chief’s bed and watched with interest, the solemn glances and undisguised worry that passed between the three cons as they surveyed the damage done to the sleeping occupants.

“Blimey, I didn’t expect Chiefy to look exactly chipper, considering what ‘appened to ‘im,” Goniff whispered, as he stared at the white bandage that circled the Indian’s chest, “but the Warden don’t look any better than Chiefy.”

Actor studied both men, his eyes narrowing as he took in the bandages, bruises and uneven breathing rattling in Chief’s chest.  He turned worried eyes on the Major.  “What did the doctor have to say?” he asked quietly.

“I know it doesn’t seem like it at the moment but they are both going to be alright.” Richards began softly, gaining the attention of the three men.  “Of course it will be some weeks before Chief will be up for another mission. He has four broken ribs, sever bruising to his chest, a mild concussion and whiplash. There was also some minor internal bleeding but it seems to have stopped.”

“Has he regained consciousness yet?” Actor asked.

This time Richards smiled.  “Yes, thank God.  About a half hour ago but only for a minute or two.” Richards thought back on the one track conversation he had with Chief.

“War…den?” “Easy Chief, you’re safe, in the hospital.” “Where’s…the Warden?”  “Lay back Chief, you need to stay still, you’ve got broken ribs.” “The Warden?” “He’s sleeping in the bed beside you.” “Is he…alright?” “Better than you. Banged up his ankle and exhausted.” “He go…ing to be…alright?” “He’s going to be fine and so are you provided you lie back down again and follow the doctor’s orders.” “He was more worried about Garrison than himself.”

“That’s Chiefy for you.” Goniff agreed happily.

“What about the Warden?” Casino demanded from his place at the foot of Garrison’s bed.

“Banged up his ankle again and exhausted. He’s out of action for another ten days though.” Richards rose from his chair and indicated that Actor should follow him out of the room.  “We won’t be long.”

Casino plopped down into the chair Richards vacated while Goniff carried the chair from the far side of Garrison’s bed and placed it between the two beds and facing Casino.

“Don’t worry Major, me and Casino will watch over them for you.”

Richards shook his head as he closed the door to the room.  “Are you all like that?”

Actor raised an eyebrow. “Like what?”

“Like that.” Richards waved a hand at the closed door. “When I came in here, Garrison was sitting beside Chief’s bed, insisting that he was staying in that chair until Chief woke up.  Then later when Chief finally regained consciousness, all he wanted to do was get to Garrison.  I had a devil of a time keeping him in that bed until he passed out again.  And now Goniff is playing the mother hen, although in his case it’s not surprising. I suppose next you’ll tell me that Casino has mothering instincts too.”

“Why are you so surprised Major? Both Goniff and Casino were brought up by loving mothers in a family environment, as was Craig.  Despite what they may have done in their later lives, they do still know how to care and especially when one of their own is injured and in need of protection.  They don’t trust easily anymore but those that they do trust they will protect with their own lives if necessary.”

“And what about you Actor? Are you a mother hen as well?”  Richards smirked at the tall conman’s raised eyebrow.

“I’m sure you didn’t pull me out of the room to ask about our mothering capabilities Sir.”

“No, no of course you’re right.” Richards sighed; secretly he enjoyed baiting the tall Italian. It was always interesting to see how much the man would reveal of himself. “Were there any problems with Bird?”

“None Sir.”  Actor smiled, “He even managed to incriminate himself further and in front of the Sergeant. What about the two men that Charles left at the warehouse? Were they captured also?”

Richards nodded, “The MP’s picked them up a half an hour ago without any trouble.”

“Well let’s just hope that the charges stick, Sir.”

“Oh they will Actor; I’ll make damn sure of it.” Richards promised.

“And what of Bird’s brother and his family?”

Richard’s sighed, “I don’t know yet Actor.  I wanted to speak about that with Garrison before I make a final decision.  I know he should be dishonourably discharged, but there were extenuating circumstances.”

Actor nodded in understanding. “The wife and young daughter.  You can’t blame the man for wanting to protect his family.”

“And especially from a man like Richard Bird.” Richards shook his head.  “His own family.”

“It just goes to show that blood isn’t always thicker than water.” Actor supplied.

“A bit like that saying ‘honour among thieves,’ Actor.”

“That is not always the case Sir.”

“So what have you planned regarding the mission we spoke of?” Richards asked, changing the subject and getting down to busy.

“To be honest Sir, not a lot.  We had other more pressing matters to consider and I want to speak to Craig before we settle on a final plan.”

“’Ay Actor,” Goniff stuck his head around the corner of the door; “The Warden’s awake and wants to talk to you.”

“I’ll be right there,” Actor acknowledged before turning back to Richards.

“You go on Actor.  It’s about time I got forty winks anyway.  I’ll catch up with you in the morning.”

Actor nodded.  “Thank you Sir.”

Richards waved a hand in acknowledgement as he strode down the corridor.

Actor watched the major until he disappeared around the corner of the corridor before he turned back and re-entered the room, stepping up to Garrison’s bed.  “Craig, how are you feeling?”

“I’m fine,” Garrison rasped tiredly, choosing to ignore the smirks and rolled eyes of his three conscious men as his eyes strayed to the fourth sleeping in the next bed.  “What did they say about Chief? Has he been awake yet?”

“Chief is going to be fine Craig.  Richards said he was awake a little while before we arrived and asking after you.”

Garrison visibly relaxed at the words. “What happened with Bird and what have you decided to do about Metternich?”

“Bird, Jimmy and their two heavies are all in army custody and if Richards is to be believed they are going to be there for a very long time.”

“Good. Now what about this job Richards wants you to pull at the Metternich place?  What ideas have you come up with so far?”

“I must admit, not a lot.  We have had other more pressing concerns to worry about but what I do know is that it is not going to be as easy as our continental cons getting onto the estate.”

“Yeah, I don’t reckon we can just go and lift some British uniforms like we do Kraut ones and pretend we’re SS or something.” Goniff added.

“The British don’t have SS you dumb limey.” Casino growled.

Garrison rubbed tiredly at his eyes, “Alright that’s enough you two, Chief doesn’t need to be woken up.  I think what we all need is a good nights sleep.  Tomorrow will be soon enough to tackle the problem of getting onto the estate.”

“Yeah, sorry Warden.  Say sorry Casino.”

“What for? You’re the one that started it.”

“And I’m the one finishing it.  Out now.” Garrison ordered.

“Say ‘ello to Chiefy for us Warden, tell ‘im we’ll see ‘im in the morning.” Goniff said as Casino grabbed his arm and dragged him to the door.

“Will you shut up before he decides to throw us in the stockade.” Casino warned.

“Aw the Warden wouldn’t do that to us Casino,” Goniff stated as the door closed behind them.

“They’re just relieved that you and Chief are going to be alright Craig. We were all worried not knowing what had happened to you both.”

“I know Actor and I’m grateful for what you and they did for us but…”

“They can be trying at times.  Tell me about it.” Actor opened the door.  “I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Actor,” Garrison waited until the conman turned back to look at him. “Charles?”

Actor arched an eyebrow and smiled knowingly before turning back to the door.

“I didn’t think so,” Garrison muttered disgustedly as the door closed on the silent Italian.

 

*****

Chapter 7

“Be quiet.” Actor ordered harshly as he followed Goniff and Casino down the corridor to Chief and Garrison’s room.  “Major Richards may have cleared the way for us to come in early but that doesn’t mean you two have to behave like a couple of drunks after a night at the Doves.  This is a hospital remember and there are a lot of sick and injured people in here trying to rest, including Chief.”

“Yeah sorry Actor,” Goniff mumbled contritely, “Guess we got carried away, but we’re just ‘appy that Chief and the Warden are going to be alright.”

“Speak for yourself, you dumb limey,” Casino growled.

“What, you mean you’re not ‘appy they’re going to be alright, Casino?” Goniff asked.

“Of course I am. What I don’t like is you including me in your excuses when you get into trouble.” Casino growled

“Me? You were making just as much noise as I was and Actor was speaking to both of us, ain’t that right Actor?”

Actor sighed, why him, he wondered, halting outside the private room housing the last two members of their team. “We have a mission,” he hissed in way of reply before quietly opening the door and stepping into the room closely followed by Goniff and Casino.

“’Ay Chiefy,” Goniff bounded across the room when he saw both men sitting up in bed, awake and looking towards the door.  “’Ow you feeling? You look a lot better than you did last night mate.  Does it ‘urt much, your ribs I mean? You ‘ad us worried when we couldn’t find you. You alright Warden?”

“Take a breath Goniff,” Chief laughed a breathless laugh as the little Englishman shut his mouth in response to the Indian’s order.

“He been like this all night Actor?” Garrison queried, having heard his conman’s aggrieved groan.

“And all morning.” Actor sighed.  “It’s a wonder we weren’t thrown out before we got past the reception desk.”

“’Ay you can’t blame a man for being ‘appy ’is mates are alright.” Goniff whined.

“Yeah,” Casino growled, “But you don’t have to go on and on and on about it neither.”

“Alright, that’s enough,” Garrison ordered before Goniff could retaliate. “How did you manage to get in here so early anyway?  Visiting hours aren’t until the afternoon.”

“Major Richards cleared it with the doctor, a friend of yours I believe.” Actor looked enquiringly at Garrison.

Garrison nodded, “Peter, we were at the Point together, but that still doesn’t explain the early visit.”

“We need to discuss ideas for this latest mission. The Major doesn’t want any possible information to fall into the wrong hands.  He’s worried that if Bird was looking to pull a job on the Metternich’s, others might be too.” Actor explained, pulling up a chair and sitting down between the two beds.  “How are you feeling Chief?”

“I’m fine.” Chief hitched trying to take a deeper breath than his injured chest would allow.

“Yeah, sure you are mate,” Goniff muttered.

Casino snorted, “And I’m the monkey’s uncle.”

“Alright, let’s focus here,” Garrison snapped, “You two,” Garrison glared at the safecracker and pickpocket, “Try and keep any unhelpful comments to yourselves and Chief,” Garrison turned a malevolent eye on his wheelman, “Get some rest.”

“Perhaps we should come back later,” Actor suggested, watching Chief’s struggles to stay awake and the flashes of pain in the dark eyes with every breath the man took.

“No…stay…this is…important.  I’ll rest.”  Chief sank back into the pillows supporting him and closed his eyes.  To be honest, he didn’t have much choice in the matter anyway.  His body seemed to be determined to get its own way, despite what his mind wanted.

The four men watched Chief as he fell into an uneasy sleep, pain lines creasing the furrowed brow with each breath.

“’E really going to be alright Warden?” Goniff asked quietly.

Garrison nodded, “With more time than a few hours sleep he will be.”

“And what about your ankle Craig?” Actor studied Garrison carefully as the other shifted uncomfortably under his glare.

Garrison shrugged. “Nothing serious, I just put a bit too much pressure on it when we crashed.  I’ll be fine in a few days.”

“Or ten.” Actor corrected.  “The Major has already informed me of the doctor’s orders. I believe it was rest for another seven to ten days.” Actor smiled knowingly, ignoring Garrison’s defiant glare.  “I promised the Major that you would follow the doctor’s orders to the letter.”

“So, you going to tell us how they got the drop on you and Geronimo?”

“They didn’t exactly get the drop on us Casino.  They were waiting for us on a blind bend in the road; we didn’t see them until it was too late.  Chief tried to avoid them but they hit the jeep just behind his seat.  He lost control, hit the hedge.  He was injured then, hit the steering wheel hard.” Garrison paused and looked over at the sleeping man for a moment. “They didn’t care that he was already unconscious.  They pulled us out of the jeep; two of them worked Chief over, just for fun while the other one held a gun on me.”

“There was nothing you could have done Craig, except get yourself and Chief shot.” Actor interrupted, seeing the guilt in the blue eyes that had wandered back to their wheelman.

“I should have done something Actor.  I thought they were going to kill him.  It was me they wanted and he was the one to get punished for it.”

“Like you could have done anything with a bum ankle.” Casino scoffed.

“No Warden,” Goniff shook his head, “It was us Bird wanted.  You and Chiefy were just the bait.”

“Yeah, dead bait.” Casino growled.  “Even if we did the job for Dicky, he wasn’t going to let either of you go.”

“Bird is no longer our concern.  He and his men are in the hands of the army now.  What we have to worry about is getting into that estate.” Actor reminded them.

“Have you come up with any ideas?” Garrison asked, relieved to be changing the subject.

Just listening to Chief struggling to breathe heightened his guilt and he didn’t need anymore reminders of what he saw as his inadequacies.

“Not a ruddy one. I mean we can’t pretend to be SS or nothing like we usually do.” Goniff complained.

Actor nodded, “And I doubt that posing as maintenance men will work.  Too many innocent people would be affected if we were to cut off the water or lines.”

“Yeah and it’s not like we’re going to get invited to no fancy party neither.” Casino added.  “Which means we’re back to square one; no way in.”

“No Casino, there is always a way in.  We just haven’t found it yet.” Actor corrected.

“Why don’t the army just knock on ‘is door and ask ‘im to ‘and over whatever it is ‘E’s got.” Goniff asked.

“Because they don’t know that he has any information to give Goniff.” Actor replied patiently.  “The army didn’t even know about him until Bird tried to coerce us.”

Garrison had remained silent, listening to the ideas being thrown around by his men. While each idea on its own lacked merit, two of them together formed the seed of a possible plan in Garrison’s mind and a slow smile began to spread across his face.

“’Ay Warden,” Goniff called, having caught sight of the smile.  “You got a plan?”

“No Goniff, you and Casino have a plan, of sorts.”

“What’s that supposed to mean, exactly?” Casino questioned warily.

Garrison looked at each of his men in turn, shrugging nonchalantly. “We knock on the door and invite ourselves in for a party.”

“We what?” Casino snapped. “And just like that they’ll let us in, complete strangers. Babe, are you sure you didn’t hit your head when Bird’s goons had you?”

Actor’s dark eyes glowed as he saw the possibilities.  He stood suddenly and headed for the door, he needed to make a phone call.

“Ay Actor, where are you going mate?” Goniff called.

“Not all of us will be strangers,” Was all the answer the tall Italian gave as the door closed behind him.

Casino groaned. “Now what’s he got planned?”

“Well what ever it is, I’m sure one of us,” Goniff looked meaningfully at Casino, “isn’t going to like it.”

“Why is it always us?” Casino muttered in disgust.

“Because we’re the brawn mate; and not the brains.” Goniff replied.

“Yeah well, Geronimo there ain’t no brains either and he never ends up on Actor’s receiving end or hadn’t you noticed.”

Goniff shrugged.  “Who’d you rather have watching your back? Me or Chiefy?”

Casino sighed, “You’ve got a point there, but he sure as hell won’t be watching any of our backs on this caper.”

“We’re in England Casino.  What could possibly go wrong?” Goniff stated blithely.

*****

“I’m your what?” Goniff squeaked as his eyes flittered from a too smug Actor to a smiling Lady Covington.

“It’s the perfect cover, don’t you see, Cherub?” Elizabeth Covington ignored Goniff’s choked gasp and Casino’s loud guffaws as she continued explaining hers and Actor’s plan to gain access to the Metternich estate.  “I mean I can hardly pass off Actor or Casino as my nephew.  For one thing the hair colouring is all wrong.” Elizabeth brushed a stray strand of blonde hair tinged with the first signs of grey from her face as if to confirm that statement. “And their accents are wrong too. The Lieutenant may have our colouring and the limp but again it will be too hard to explain why an Englishman would have such a strong American accent.  And poor Chief, well you can’t really expect him to crawl from his sick bed and pretend to be my nephew, now can you?” Elizabeth smiled warmly as she delivered what she considered was the coup de grace. “Besides, you could almost say we are related.  Do you remember what you used to call me, Rodney love? Oh you were so cute with all those curls.  How is your dear mother? I won quite the booty from your mother. Honest as the day is long, she was.”

“Ch…ch…cherub!” Goniff spluttered as he stared in wide eyed wonder at the tall, dignified Englishwoman sitting between the two hospital beds, extolling all the reasons why he was the perfect choice to be her nephew.  “Aunt Lizzie? Ruddy ‘ell.”

“Aunt Lizzie,” Casino repeated as he looked from the stunned pickpocket to the poised woman in the chair. He had to hand it to Actor; the conman had really pulled one out of the hat this time.

“Oh wonderful, you do remember me.” Elizabeth smiled warmly at the furiously blushing pickpocket.

“So Actor,” Garrison broke in before the conversation drifted too far from the matter at hand, not that he wasn’t amused to watch Goniff’s reaction to Aunt Lizzie. “Let me get this straight, Lady Covington…”

“Please Lieutenant, call me Elizabeth.”

Garrison nodded, “Elizabeth and her husband…”

“Charles, I didn’t mention his name did I?”

Garrison raised an eyebrow as he and Casino swung around to stare at Actor.  “Charles, as in the Charles who rescued us? Lord Charles Covington?”

“Oh yes, but Charles doesn’t like to be called Lord anymore than I like the title Lady, unless of course business requires such formality.”

“This just gets better and better.” Casino stated as Garrison shook his head in bemusement.

“Perhaps I should explain it Craig, it will probably take less time.” Actor offered.

“I doubt it but go right ahead Actor.” Garrison agreed dourly.

“It is very simple really and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier…”

“Just get on with it will you Actor.” Casino groused.

“…Elizabeth, Charles and their nephew, Rodney, will pay a visit to the Metternich’s offering a welcoming gift and afternoon tea…”

“But what if they don’t let us in?” Goniff asked.

“They will.  Propriety calls for them to be gracious hosts, especially in the face of a Lord and Lady visiting, even if they don’t want to.” Actor explained.

“Alright so they do let us in, but what about you and Casino.  ‘Ow do we get you both in to the ‘ouse?”

“That will be easy.  Casino will be your nurse and I will be the driver…”

“My nurse, what do I need a bleeding nurse for?”

“Yeah and what do I know about nursing?”

Actor groaned.  “Lieutenant?”

“Don’t look at me Actor, this is your plan.”

Actor sighed heavily. “Stop asking questions and I will tell you both. Alright. Goniff you have been seriously injured in the war and are staying with your Aunt and Uncle to recuperate.   Your injuries will require the use of a wheel chair.  To assist you, your Aunt has hired a nurse, Casino.  In order to get the wheel chair up the front steps, Casino and I as the driver will have to carry you.  That gets all of us into the house.  From there I will proceed to the kitchens for my refreshment, to act as a distraction for the staff and hopefully to garner some useful information while you partake of refreshments in the sitting room.”

“Still don’t see how all that is going to get us to the second floor and the safe.” Casino stated grumpily.

“They do say patience is a virtue Casino.” Actor snapped before continuing.  “Goniff will have a ‘turn’ which will require the use of a bed.  You and I will carry him upstairs and to a room.  Once there you will proceed to the master bedroom and the safe while I keep watch.”

“What am I supposed to do while you and Casino are doing your thing?” Goniff asked.

Actor shrugged, “Nothing except moan if someone comes past.”

“’Ow will I know that?”

Actor inhaled deeply through his nose.  “I will call out, asking if everything is alright.”

“Oh, alright.”

“Won’t they contact the police once they discover the loot missing from the safe?” Chief asked quietly, joining the conversation for the first time and alerting everyone to the fact that he was awake. “It’ll be pretty obvious who took it.”

Actor turned and looked in surprise at their wheelman. “Chief, I didn’t realize that you were awake. How are you feeling now?”

Chief shrugged gingerly, aware that any movement caused the pain in his chest to flare.  “Being awake for a while; just didn’t have anything to say.  Besides it was more interesting listening to Casino and Goniff squawking like a couple of chicks over the last worm.”

“Who’s squawking you damn Indian?” Casino retorted.

“Alright, can it, all of you,” Garrison warned, “But Chief does have a point Actor.”

“Indeed, if we were taking the contents, but we aren’t.”

“Why the hell not?” Casino demanded.

“Watch your language Casino,” Garrison ordered. “There is a Lady present or have you forgotten?”

“Don’t worry about me Lieutenant,” Elizabeth responded.  “Casino can’t say anything that I haven’t heard before or used myself, for that matter.” She added dryly.

“Even so, he can still keep a civil tongue in his head.” Garrison threw Casino a warning glare, indicating that he wouldn’t tolerate any further outbursts from the safecracker.

“Yeah, sorry Lady Covington,” Casino mumbled, “But he…” Casino scowled darkly at Actor, “Said we could keep some of the loot from the job and now he tells us we ain’t taking any of it and I want to know why.”

“Simply because it is as Chief says.  If Metternich finds anything missing from the safe he will know immediately who has taken it and we don’t want the police asking a lot of awkward questions of Elizabeth and Charles.”

“That’s just great.” Casino muttered.

“So when do you plan on pulling this caper Actor?” Goniff asked pensively.

“Tomorrow afternoon should give us enough time to prepare.” Actor mused. “What do you think Elizabeth?”

Elizabeth nodded, standing and collecting her bag and gloves from where she had placed them at her feet.  “Yes that should be ample time. I will have my cook prepare some cakes and a welcoming gift. Now I should really be going.  Rodney love, it was wonderful seeing you again.  Perhaps when this caper is over we can get together and talk about old times, not that you will probably remember much of it, you were so young.” Elizabeth laughed lightly at the blush that appeared on Goniff’s cheeks. “Actor.”

Actor nodded in response to Elizabeth’s farewell.

“Rodney love,” Casino snickered, after the door closed behind Elizabeth. “And what else did she call you? Cherub. That was it, cherub.”

“Aw, leave it be will you Casino?” Goniff turned pleading eyes to Garrison and Actor. “Warden, Actor, tell ‘im to stop will you?”

Garrison sighed and rubbed tiredly at his face.  Despite the nights sleep he still felt as though he had run a long distance marathon and all up hill. “Casino, for everybody’s peace and quite, not to mention my sanity, put a sock in it will you?”

“But Warden…” Casino began only to be cut off by a warning glare from Garrison.

“’Ay Actor, just what are my injuries anyway?” Goniff asked in an effort to side track Casino from his current train of thought. “I ‘ope you don’t intend to mar this ‘andsome face and what was that about a wheelchair?”

Actor shrugged, “We need some excuse to obtain entrance to the estate and carrying a wheelchair will gain us that entrance.  You cannot wheel it up the stairs and there is no ramp.  If you were on crutches there would be no need for Casino and I to be inside the house.”

“Makes sense,” Goniff agreed, “But what exactly is wrong with me? You aren’t planning to cut off me leg are you?”

“More like your damn head you dumb limey,” Casino muttered.

“Oi, I ‘eard that.”

Actor sighed, “No Goniff; that would hardly be wise.  You have sustained shrapnel wounds in your back; that have caused some temporary paralysis.”

“Blimey.  Can that ‘appen? The temporary paralysis, I mean.”  Goniff asked as he absently rubbed at his legs.

“Yes Goniff, more times than you would believe.” Actor stated.

“That doesn’t leave me much time,” Garrison mused as he pushed the bed sheets off his legs.

“Time for…what do you think you’re doing?” Actor demanded as Garrison swung his legs over the side of the bed.

“What does it look like I’m doing Actor?” Garrison retorted.  “We have plans to make and…”

“Which we can do here.  There is no reason for you to go anywhere Craig.”  Actor replied. “We can manage this mission without you.  You need to rest, give that ankle time to heal.”

Garrison glared darkly at his conman. “You’ve never been on a mission without me.”

“Well technically we aren’t going on a mission,” Goniff stated, “I mean we aren’t leaving the country so we aren’t really going anywhere.”

“And besides,” Casino added his own two cents worth, “You could say we were on a mission when we were looking for you and Geronimo and you sure as hell weren’t with us then either.”

Actor raised an appraising eyebrow, “Strangely they do both have a point Craig.  This is not a mission to infiltrate an SS stronghold in Germany.  We are simply going to visit some new neighbours and do a bit of snooping, as it were.”

Before Garrison could respond Chief voiced a question of his own.  “What about me? What am I supposed to do?”

“Blimey, them two is just like one of them old gramophone records, what’s got a scratch on it.  They just keep going over the same bit again and again.”

Actor sighed although he was unsurprised that both injured men would want to take part in the coming mission.  “Aptly put Goniff,” Actor agreed before turning his attention to the two men in the beds.  “As for the both of you, you will follow the doctor’s orders which I believe are to sleep and recover.”

“But you might need me to drive the car” Chief objected tiredly.

“I think we can manage to negotiate a few hundred yards without your assistance Chief and I highly doubt that we will need to make a quick get away under fire.”

“You never know” Chief mumbled, falling back to sleep.

 

*****

Chapter 8

Actor stepped back and appraised Goniff critically, finally nodding in satisfaction.  “That will do.” He announced with a nod of his head.

“You always do beautiful work Actor,” Elizabeth praised, taking in the transformation of the little pick pocket into that of her injured nephew.

“Looks very authentic Actor,” Charles agreed.  “You know you could get a job as a make-up artist after the war.  Any good theatre company would eagerly take you on.”

Casino snorted, “I could just see beautiful here with his hands all over the company but he wouldn’t be applying make-up, that’s for sure.”

“That was quite un-called for Casino.” Actor snapped in annoyance.

“Yeah, yeah.” Casino shrugged.

“Come on mate, got a mirror? Let me look.” Goniff asked nervously, accepting a small hand mirror from Elizabeth. “Blimey,” he muttered, craning his neck one way and then the other, carefully touching the ‘fading bruises’ on his temple and cheek with the one hand he had free.  The other being strapped tightly to his chest.  “If I didn’t know, I’d swear these were real.  But couldn’t you ‘ave got a better chair? This one is ruddy uncomfortable, or at least some nice soft cushions.”

“Just be grateful that you don’t have to use one for real Goniff?” Actor replied.

“Wouldn’t matter if he did,” Casino smirked.  “He wouldn’t feel it anyway.”

“Aw mate, that’s cruel that is.  Those poor buggers what ‘ave to use one wouldn’t like to ‘ear you talking like that.”

“Well said Goniff.”  Actor agreed.  “You certainly are in fine form today Casino.  Any particular reason?”

“Lets just get on with it.” Casino muttered stalking to the door.

“Alright Goniff, you know what you have to do?” Actor asked.

“Yeah, play the part of the wounded hero.” Goniff replied, rising to his feet.

Actor sighed. “Just remember that you are paralyzed. That means that you can’t move you legs.”

“I know what it means Actor. I ain’t bleeding stupid you know.” Goniff snapped, walking to the door.

“Could have fooled me.” Casino snickered.  “You’re supposed to be paralyzed, you dumb limey, so why are you walking?”

Goniff stopped walking and stared at Casino. “I…well it isn’t…I mean…the caper ‘asn’t started yet.” He replied lamely.

Casino snorted.  “And you just ended it before it could.  I’m telling you now, this ain’t going to work.  He can’t even get it right sitting in a damn chair.”

Actor swung around and glared at Casino.  “Alright Casino, just what is your problem? How dare you carry on like this in front of Elizabeth and Charles.  They have invited us into their home, agreed to help with this mission.  Charles risked his life to search for Craig and Chief.  And you repay them like this, with snide and derogatory comments.”

Casino slumped into the nearest chair and dropped his head into his hands. He took a deep breath before lifting his head to look at the group in front of him.  “I’m sorry.  I just want this caper over with.  The Warden was right, we’ve never gone on a caper without him before and it feels wrong.”

“We’ve been split up before, mate.” Goniff said sitting on the arm of chair next to Casino.

“Yeah but he’s always been with the team doing the caper, not left behind…”

“He has not been left behind Casino, just think of him as merely carrying out another part of the same mission.” Actor suggested.

“Yeah right and what about Geronimo then? No matter who goes on one of these stupid missions, the Indian is always there to watch our backs.”

“What about that time Chiefy got shot, busted ‘is leg and we went on that mission with the Duchess, without ‘im.” Goniff pointed out. . “Or the time I pretended to be that Redmond fellow.  Chiefy was in the ‘ospital that time too.”

“That was different, we…” Casino began, refusing to be diverted from his dark thoughts.

“It is no different Casino,” Actor stated calmly, “Except that this time we are in England and we are hardly likely to need Chief’s type of back-up for this mission.”

“Yeah well, he needed it two days ago, in England. Or have you forgotten that little fact?” Casino snapped. “Or the fact that he nearly died because he had no back-up and is now lying in a hospital bed, busted up, along with the Warden.”

“Blimey mate, don’t let the Warden ‘ear you say that. ‘E was there too. Don’t think ‘E’d like to be referred to as no back-up.”

“Casino, I don’t know what to say to make this any easier for you.” Actor admitted.

“Yeah well I do.  We wait until the Warden and Geronimo are back on their feet.  Bird is out of the picture so what’s the damn hurry?”

“We would if we could Casino but we can’t take the chance on anyone else getting wind of what Metternich might be hiding.” Actor explained.

“And that’s another thing I don’t like.  We don’t even know if he has anything.  The damn Indian could have got busted up for nothing. We’ve got less intelligence for this caper than we’ve ever had for anything we’ve ever pulled off over there. It smells babe, and I don’t like it.”

******

“Hey Warden, you awake?” Chief called quietly.

Garrison sat up and looked over at Chief. “Yeah, do you need something Chief?”

“No.” Chief lay back against the pillows and stared at the ceiling.

Garrison waited patiently for Chief to speak what was on his mind.  He knew from past experience that the more you pushed, the less likely Chief was to talk.

Finally Chief broke the silence.  “It don’t feel right!”

“What doesn’t feel right Chief?” Garrison asked, a hint of concern in his voice.  He couldn’t be sure what Chief was alluding to but he fervently hoped that it wasn’t his physical wellbeing.

Garrison waited again as another long drawn out silence ensured, only broken by the uneven breathing of his room mate.  Getting worried, Garrison swung his legs over the side of the bed.  “Chief, are you in pain, do you need the doctor?”

“What?” Chief shook his head in surprise.  “No, I’m fine Warden.”

“Are you sure?” Garrison pushed, watching for any overt signs of discomfort from the other man.

“Yeah,” Chief offered a half smile, hoping to alleviate Garrison’s concern. He sighed in frustration, annoyed with himself that he couldn’t come out and just say what was on his mind.  “The others, Casino, Actor, Goniff.”

“What about them Chief?” Sometimes Garrison felt like he was pulling hen’s teeth, when speaking with his wheelman.  After all this time working together, Chief’s continued reticence to talk openly with him was frustrating, to say the least.

“It’s wrong, them going alone on this mission without us.” Chief let out a relieved breath.

“I know Chief, but they’re not really alone.  They have Charles and Elizabeth with them.”

“It’s not the same.” Chief stated.

“No its not, but Chief, after what Charles did for us; finding and rescuing us from Bird’s men, I think the team is in good hands and the mission is pretty straight forward. I don’t think they have to worry about the SS or the Gestapo this time.” Garrison replied with a smile.

“You really think that Warden? That they’re in good hands? I saw you yesterday. You wanted to go with them.”

Garrison shrugged.  “Let’s just say old habits die hard, but I feel sure that they are in good hands.  Actor doesn’t trust lightly, you know that, but he does trust Charles and Elizabeth.  As far as I’m concerned Charles proved himself to me when he rescued us. And I seem to remember you wanting to know what you were going to be doing too. You wanted to be a part of it just as much as I did.”

“Yeah, well somebody has to watch their backs.” Chief nodded, “It’s just that I feel helpless just lying here waiting, not knowing what’s happening.  It’s different over there; we usually don’t have time to worry, not really.”  Chief tensed, allowing a soft moan to escape his pressed lips.

Garrison noticed the sudden tightness in Chief’s posture.

“Guess…I wouldn’t be much use to them…anyway.”

“Chief?” Garrison asked worriedly.

Chief tensed again as pain flared in his chest. “It hurts to move.” he admitted softly.

“Chief, look at me,” Garrison ordered, waiting impatiently for the Indian to turn his head and look at him.  Chief sighed before complying with the order, finally allowing Garrison to see the squint lines around the dark eyes.  “Do you want some more pain relief?” Garrison asked.

Chief stubbornly shook his head.  “I don’t want anymore morphine.”

“Just because you don’t want it Chief, doesn’t mean you don’t need it.  It’s only been two days. After what happened, the injuries you sustained, it’s normal to need help for a few days.”

Chief turned back to staring at the ceiling.  “Don’t feel safe – when I’m on it.  Can’t protect us. Makes me forget what’s real and what isn’t.”

Garrison stood on his good leg and hopped to the chair beside Chief’s bed, lowering himself into it with a heavy sigh.  “Chief,” he said, placing his hand on the other’s forearm and squeezing gently.  “You don’t have to protect us, its over.  Bird and his men are in Army custody. They can’t hurt us again.”

Chief tensed at the grip on his arm before forcing himself to relax. “There’ll be others.  Don’t want to fail again.”

Garrison shook his head, perplexed.  “I don’t follow Chief.  What others? And more importantly, what failure?”

Chief shrugged, wincing when the movement caused a stab of pain in his chest. “There’s always…someone else. We’re crims remember Warden. There’s always someone…looking for our talents.”

“Have you or the team been approached before Chief?” Garrison asked worriedly, surprised that he had never thought of the possibility that the local criminal population would try to hire his men.  He hadn’t contemplated it happening before Bird and he doubted the army had either and more to his chagrin; he hadn’t given it a moments thought since their rescue. Would another crime boss consider trying to hire his men in the future? He doubted it. Not after what happened to Bird but it was worth discussing the matter with Actor and perhaps even Charles.  There had to be some way of protecting his men from future approaches. “I don’t think anybody would be stupid enough to try it Chief, not after what happened to Bird and his men.  That should be warning enough to keep their hands off you guys.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Chief agreed half heartedly.

Garrison sighed.  “If it will make you feel any better, I’ll speak to Actor; see if there is some way of putting the word out on the street that you’re all off limits.  Now, what did you mean when you said you didn’t want to fail again, Chief?” Garrison waited, and then sighed when the stony silence continued. He shouldn’t have been surprised when he didn’t receive a response to his question but he had thought that Chief was finally beginning to feel comfortable in confiding with him.

“Chief, talk to me please.” Garrison rubbed tiredly at his face; he could feel a headache building behind his eyes.  “I can’t help you, if you won’t talk to me.”

“Don’t need any help.” Chief muttered.

“Well I think you do.” Garrison stated firmly.

“You shouldn’t be in here.”

Garrison frowned, taken aback by the softly spoken words.  “If you want me to get another room Chief, I can.” Garrison said.

Chief shook his head and tried to push himself into a sitting position only to collapse back against the pillows with a loud groan. “No…didn’t mean…it like…that.”

“Take it easy Chief, slow breaths.” Garrison waited until Chief had his breathing under control and the tightness in his posture had eased “Then what did you mean?”

“You shouldn’t be back in the hospital.  It’s my fault you’re injured again.  I should have seen the truck, avoided the accident.” Chief admitted softly.  “I let us get caught.”

Garrison stared at Chief, trying to comprehend what the man was saying, but unfortunately the words were crystal clear. “Chief, this…” Garrison pointed to his strapped ankle, “…is not your fault.  How could you possibly see what I couldn’t?  I was sitting beside you and I didn’t see the truck until it was on top of us either.  You did everything you could to avoid us being hit and it nearly cost you your life.” Garrison paused, “If that’s how you feel, then you must blame me for the beating those two men gave you, because I just stood there and let it happen.”

Chief tried to sit up again but slumped back against the pillows with a grunt of pain. “No,” he gasped. “You…he had a gun…on you.”

“Easy Chief,” Garrison cautioned, “Slow breaths, in and out. That’s it… Feel better?” Garrison asked as the Indian got his breathing back under control.

Chief nodded with a sigh.  “You couldn’t have stopped them Warden…not without getting shot.

Garrison nodded.  “Agreed! Just like you couldn’t stop the van from hitting us.  Me being in here isn’t anymore your fault, than Bird’s men beating you was mine.  All the fault lies with Bird and his men.”

The nurse entering their room interrupted the conversation.  She smiled at both men as she carried out her duties, checking blood pressure and temperatures.  “Hmm, still a little warm I see,” she commented after removing the thermometer from Chief’s mouth.  “How are you feeling, otherwise?” she asked, making notes on Chief’s chart.

“Fine,” Chief replied.

“Chief.” Garrison growled, looking at the nurse when Chief didn’t respond.  “He’s in pain.”

The nurse nodded, “I have another shot of morphine right here.”

“I don’t want it.” Chief grumbled.

“You might not want it love,” The nurse said kindly, “But the doctor ordered it and if you want to get out of here sooner rather than later you will take it.  There’s no shame in admitting you need some pain relief. You need to let your body rest comfortably for it to heal.”

“Listen to her Chief,” Garrison urged.

“Fine,” Chief replied with a sigh, closing his eyes when he felt the prick of the needle in his arm.  He allowed his body to relax into the pillows as the tightness in his chest abated.

The Warden and the damn doctor might be right, he thought, but he still didn’t have to like it.

“There you go love; that should make you a bit more comfortable.  You should try and get some sleep now and let the medication work.  I’ll be back later to check on you.” The nurse turned to Garrison.  “Lieutenant is there anything I can get you?”

“No, I’m fine thank you nurse.” Garrison smiled his gratitude to the nurse for not listening to Chief’s objections.

“Alright then, I’ll see you both when I bring lunch around. You should take my advice too Lieutenant and get some rest as well – on the bed – with your leg up.” The nurse smiled knowingly at Garrison before leaving the room.

Garrison studied Chief for a minute, noting the more relaxed posture and closed eyes now that the pain relief was working. He shook his head at the stubbornness of the man where his own health was concerned.  Sighing tiredly, Garrison recalled their conversation prior to the nurse’s arrival.  He wasn’t sure whether he had gotten through to Chief or not but there was little else he could say or do to make the man understand. The best thing now was to allow Chief time to think on what had been said and to come to his own acceptance of what was, to himself anyway, the obvious conclusion – he wasn’t at fault for any of it.  Suddenly feeling exhausted, Garrison stretched and yawned.

“You should get some rest too Warden,” Chief slurred.

“Yes, I think I might at that.” Garrison agreed, pushing himself to his feet and hopping the couple of steps to his bed. He sat on the edge of the bed and carefully swung his injured leg up and onto the pillows it had been resting on early.

“Hey Warden,” Chief called softly, “How do you think the caper’s going?”

“I think it’s too early but they’ll be fine.  We’re in England.  What can go wrong?”

“A lot,” Chief mumbled as the medication pulled him into sleep.

*****

Chapter 9

“So Cesare,” Goniff began but stopped at Actor’s loud groan.  “What? That is the name you’re using isn’t it? You don’t expect me to call you Actor do you? Or ‘im…” Goniff pointed a finger at Casino, “…Casino.  I think Rudolph’s a lovely name.”

“It’s Rudy you damn Limey.”

“Ah, ah Rudy, remember I’m Rodney.”

“You’ll have a busted jaw if you keep this up.” Casino threatened.

“What did you want to know…Rodney?” Actor asked hoping to avoid another argument between the two cons.

“Oh right…’ow am I supposed to get out of the car if I can’t walk.” Goniff asked as they pulled out of Charles and Elizabeth’s driveway for the short drive to the Metternich estate.  “I mean, wouldn’t it ‘ave been easier just to push me there in the wheelchair?”

“You will allow Casino…Rudy and I to lift you out of the car and place you in the wheelchair, Goniff. Lord and Lady Covington do not walk anywhere.  They are always driven.” Actor explained as he turned into the Metternich estate.  “Anything else you want to ask?” Actor guided the big car to a stop at the foot of the steps leading to the front door of the mansion.

“Even if I did ‘ave any questions, I reckon it’s too late now to ask them.” Goniff replied as he stared out the window.  The house was much the same as the one they had just left but somehow this one looked far more imposing.

“Alright, now remember Goniff, wait fifteen minutes and then have a turn. Casino and I will carry you up the stairs while Charles and Elizabeth keep our hosts entertained.” Actor reminded the little Englishman as he opened his door.

“This turn,” Goniff asked as Actor opened the back door of the car, “’ow exactly does it work again?”

“Jeez, you dumb limey, haven’t you listened to anything that was said to you.” Casino demanded.

“I listened,” Goniff defended, “but I just want to make sure I get it right.”

“You’re not trying to win an Academy Award you know, just moan a bit and pass out.” Casino growled whilst getting out of the car.

“You will do splendidly Rodney love,” Elizabeth said, accepting Actor’s hand as he helped her from the car.

Actor shook his head.  “Please don’t encourage them Elizabeth.” Actor moved to the back of the car and opened the trunk, lifting out the wheelchair that Goniff would use and wheeled it to Goniff’s side of the car.  “Ready Goniff?” Actor asked as he reached in and slid Goniff closer to the door.  He nodded at Casino and the two men lifted the pick pocket out of the car and placed him in the chair.

Elizabeth came around the back of the car and spread a tartan blanket over Goniff’s legs, nodding in satisfaction as she ran a critical eye of her ‘wounded nephew’.  “Perfect.”

Charles took Elizabeth by the arm and then stood back to watch as Actor and Casino picked up the wheelchair and carried it up the six steps to the front porch of the mansion.  “How much did you eat last night?” Casino grunted as his side of the chair thudded onto the polished wooden boards of the porch. Actor returned to the car and retrieved the basket that Elizabeth’s maid had packed for them.  He climbed the stairs once more and knocked loudly on the heavy wooden front door.

“Maybe there ain’t anybody ‘ome,” Goniff whispered when nobody immediately came to the door.

“Or maybe they’re hiding the evidence.” Casino growled.

Actor raised his hand to knock once again but the door was opened by a diminutive woman dressed in the traditional long black skirt, white blouse and white apron of a maid.

“Can I ‘elp you?” She asked in a heavy cockney accent.

“Please inform Mister and Misses Metternich that the Lord and Lady Covington and their nephew have come to pay a visit.” Actor replied haughtily.

The maid opened the door fully and stood aside to allow the visitors entrance.  “Follow me,” she said walking across the large entry hall to a door on the left of the ornate staircase.  “Please wait in ‘ere and I’ll inform the lady of the ‘ouse that you are ‘ere.”  She waited until the group had entered the room before she closed the door behind them.

*****

“Well Frankie?” Harry McCoy demanded as soon as the heavily built muscle man slid into the seat beside him. Frankie Sneddon grinned; a rare sight and it piqued McCoy’s interest. “What did you see?”

“Well the dame’s home I guess and got visitors.  Didn’t see the dame but the maid let the visitors in and they haven’t come out yet.”  Frankie chuckled.

“Alright Frankie, what’s so funny?  I haven’t seen you this happy since you beat little Willie Green to a pulp in the fourth grade.” McCoy stated.

“You’ll never guess who her visitors are.” Frankie chortled.

McCoy sighed.  As much as he found Frankie’s glee amusing, it was information he wanted.  “I’m not in the mood for guessing games Frankie. Just tell me.”

“Her ladyship, herself and Charlie and that little pick pocket Goniff.  You remember him don’t you boss?  He did a couple of jobs with us a few years ago.  Funny though, he was in a wheelchair and all bandaged up.  There were a couple of others with them but I haven’t seen them before.”

McCoy scowled, “So Bird’s information must be correct then.  Why else would Lady Muck be poking around?  Those other two with them must be the ones Bird tried to recruit.”

“Maybe they’re just visiting boss.  You know, been neighbourly and like.” Frankie suggested.

“Don’t be ridiculous Frankie.  Lady Muck doesn’t just go visiting, not unless there is something in it for her.  Go and get the boys Frankie, we’re going to join the party.”

*****

“Well that was easy.” Goniff stated eyeing all the brightly coloured trinkets displayed on the mantel above the large stone fire place.

“Yeah, too damn easy if you ask me.” Casino grumbled.

“Well nobody asked you Casino…” Actor hissed, “…and Goniff, eyes off. We can’t afford to arouse suspicion.”

“Aw Actor, you can’t blame a guy for looking.  You do it all the time.”

Before Actor could reply the door opened again and the maid who had shown them in to the room returned.  “The Lady Metternich will be pleased to see you in the conservatory.  Follow me.” The maid turned on her heel and walked down the hall, past the staircase, three closed doors and then turned left, entering a large fully glassed room that looked out on the immaculately mown back lawn with its border of hedge roses.  A tall elegantly dressed women rose from an armchair facing the lawn and came towards them.  Actor went to move forward and take the woman’s hand before he remembered what his position was in this caper and forced himself to remain still.  ‘If only,’ he thought as he studied the beauty walking towards them.  Fine chiseled features, milk and honey complexion, blond hair delicately braided and wound into a bun, blues eyes, the colour of the deepest sky, long graceful neck…

“Lady Covington, it is an honour to have you visit us.” Katharina Metternich said as she offered her hand in greeting before turning to Charles, “And of course you too, Lord Covington.”

“Please there is no need to stand on ceremony.  My name is Elizabeth and my husband is Charles and this is my nephew Rodney.” Elizabeth made the introductions.

“And my name is Katharina.”

“I hope you don’t mind us dropping in un-announced but I thought it was time that we officially met and welcomed you to our country.  My cook has prepared some afternoon tea for us.  If your maid would kindly show Cesare where to take it.” Elizabeth suggested.

“I don’t mind at all Elizabeth.  Actually I am very grateful you have come for a visit. If I have to watch the grass grow on the back lawn for one more minute, I think I shall go insane. Doris, please show these gentlemen to the kitchens and inform my husband that we have guests.” Katharina ordered.

“If you don’t mind Katharina, my nephew requires the assistance of his nurse at all times.  Cesare, you are dismissed.  We will call you when we are ready to leave.”

“Of course Lady Covington,” Actor bowed slightly and followed the maid, Doris, from the room.

Katharina allowed her eyes to follow the retreating back of the Covington’s tall driver before turning her attention back to her guests with a soft sigh.  She studied the young man hunched uncomfortably in the wheelchair. His right arm was strapped tightly to his chest and a blanket covered his legs, despite the warm afternoon.  She could just make out the fading bruises on his face. “How is it that you were injured?”

Goniff swallowed, looking worriedly to Aunt Lizzie. What was he supposed to say? They hadn’t discussed how he was supposed to have been hurt and what did he know about war injuries anyway? Probably more than most if truth be told but still…  He wondered if it was too soon to have that ‘turn’ Actor told him about.

“Rodney was very brave, a hero, really.” Elizabeth began, “Of course he doesn’t like to talk about it, modest to a fault.  It happened while he was home on leave. He’s in the air force you know. It was after one of those horrid bombing raids the Germans make.  Of course he volunteered to help search for those unfortunates trapped in the rubble of their homes.  He was rescuing two dear little children when an unexploded bomb exploded in the house next door.  He protected the children with his body when the roof collapsed on them.”

“Oh my,” Katharina commented.

“It was nothing; anybody would ‘ave done the same thing.” Goniff replied solemnly.

Casino, who was standing behind Katharina, rolled his eyes and shook his head in disbelief at what he was hearing.  He wanted so badly to comment on Elizabeth’s tale but a stern glance from Charles forced him to swallow his words, which produced a chocked cough from the safe cracker.

“This war is such a waste of lives,” Katharina sighed sadly, “I am so grateful that we are no longer in Austria.  What the Germans have done to our homeland and its people…and to think we are allies in Hitler’s madness.” She smiled wanly.  “I am sorry; I should not be airing my views like that.  My husband is always warning me that I should be careful about what and too whom I speak.”

“You don’t have to worry about us Katharina,” Elizabeth replied kindly, “And I doubt that your views are any different from those of any of my countrymen and indeed the rest of the world.”

“It would seem you have been regaling our visitors with your ideologies again, my dear.”

Casino and Charles spun quickly on boot heels as the new voice joined the discussion, warily watching as the tall blue eyed blonde entered the room and moved lithely to stand beside Katharina, placing a chaste kiss on her cheek before turning his attention to the assembled guests. “Doris will be in shortly with our afternoon tea.” Katharina smiled lovingly at her husband before making the introductions.

“Please excuse my tardiness in joining you Lady Covington,” Johannes began, bowing slightly and accepting the gloved hand in greeting.  “But I’m afraid once I start writing one of my articles, I seem to loose all track of time.”

“No apologies are needed Johannes,” Elizabeth smiled, retaking her seat as Katharina and Johannes sat on the couch opposite her. “After all we did arrive un-announced.”

Charles sat down next to Elizabeth. “You mentioned writing an article? I didn’t realize you were a writer Johannes.  Are you writing for one of the papers here in England?”

Johannes laughed derisively, “I am an Austrian, Charles, and an ally of Hitler according to your war machine.  I live in this country only by the grace of my wife, who is Jewish by birth and my mother who was English. No paper in England would dare to print any of my articles.  I write of my experiences and of those around me so that, when this war is over and I and Katharina can safely return to our homeland I can print my articles in my paper in Graz.” Johannes turned to Goniff, “Perhaps Rodney you would agree to tell me your story sometime.”

“Me…I…aw…you don’t really want to ‘ear about me…do you?” Goniff stammered nervously.

Casino cleared his throat loudly and glared pointedly at Goniff, making it quite clear to the pickpocket that it was time to go to work.

“I mean…I…” Goniff twisted sharply in his chair, gasping loudly as he forced his body to go rigid. His hands gripped the arms of the chair until his knuckles showed white and he made little gagging noises in his throat.

Elizabeth was instantly on her feet calling Rodney’s name and then Rudy’s.  She turned pleading eyes on their hosts, “Please he needs to lie down immediately.  Cesare…Cesare come quickly,” she called in a high pitched, flustered voice.

“Come my dear,” Charles cajoled softly as he steered Elizabeth away from Goniff.  “Let Rudy do his work.  I’m sure Rodney will be fine.”

Casino rolled his eyes as he glared menacingly at Goniff who still had his face scrunched up as though he were in pain and was making little panting sounds; he had no idea what he was supposed to do.  Actor hadn’t given him a role description for this job.  He sighed and thought quickly to the last time one of them, himself he realized with a start, had been injured on a job. He had made similar panting sounds because he’d cracked a couple of ribs.  What had Actor and Garrison said? Breathe slowly. They had coached him until his breathing had evened out.  Casino nodded. “Slow down your breathing Roddy.  Listen to my voice, in…out…in…out…That’s it, you’re doing fine.” Casino turned to the Metternich’s.  “Is there somewhere where he can lie down so that I can work on his back for a half hour?”

“What about on the settee here,” Johannes suggested pointing to where he and Katharina had just been seated.

Casino shook his head.  “I need somewhere flat, with room to move and privacy.  A bed would be better.”

“You can use the guestroom upstairs.” Katharina said.  “It’s the second door on the right at the top of the stairs.  But how will you get him up there?”

“You called Lady Covington?” Actor asked as he entered the room.

“Yes please Cesare, help Rudy carry Rodney up the stairs.  He has had another one of those turns.”

“Of course Lady Covington.” Actor turned and followed behind Casino who was pushing Goniff’s chair towards the stairs.

Elizabeth watched the three men disappear out the door before she turned back to the Metternich’s and sat down, favouring them with a wane smile.

“Aren’t you going to see if your nephew is alright Elizabeth?” Katharina asked.

Elizabeth smiled and shook her head.  “As much as I would like to, dear Rodney is a very private person and he hates to be seen by anybody in his weakened condition.  And the things that Rudy does for him, well…”

“I understand.  Do these turns happen often?” Johannes asked.

“At first they were a daily occurrence, but now only if he moves too quickly. Even so they are horrible to watch.  I don’t know what we would do without Rudy.  He has been a godsend to us since Rodney came home from the hospital.”

*****

“Jeez you dumb limey, what was with all the gagging? You’re just lucky I remembered what the Warden and beautiful here told me when I busted my ribs.” Casino groused as he closed the door to the bedroom.

“Well I ‘ad to make it look believable didn’t I Actor?” Goniff defended as he stood up and stretched stiffened muscles.  “Cor’ I’m glad I don’t have to use one of those things all the time.  Damn uncomfortable, they are.  “Ay Casino shouldn’t you be doing your thing with the safe?”

Casino shook his head in exasperation. “We gotta give Elizabeth and Charlie time to settle our hosts first, right Actor?”

Actor sighed heavily – why him? – He thought.  “Charles, his name is Charles, Casino.  Please refrain from calling him, especially to his face.”

“Or what?” Casino asked belligerently.

“You may find you don’t like his reply.  Now, enough time has past, you had better find that safe and make it quick.”  Actor opened the bedroom door to raised voices coming from the floor below.

*****

Harry McCoy ignored the two men who slid silently into the back seat of the car he and Frankie Sneddon were waiting in. The long moments of silence were finally broken with the creak of leather when Harry turned to regard his two men.  “You know what to do?”

Fitzy Granger nodded earnestly, cracking his knuckles as he spoke.  “Sure do boss.  Frankie makes sure the little ladies stay nice and quiet while me and George take care of the muscle and you convince Prince Charming to open his safe and hand over all his valuables.”

“Just make sure you keep your wits about you and don’t let any of those men in there get the drop on you. If they are the same ones Bird tried to hire, then they are extremely dangerous and not to be taken lightly.”

Fitzy cracked his knuckles loudly.  “Don’t worry boss, me and George can handle anything they can dish out.”

“I wouldn’t be so presumptuous, was I you Fitzy.  You don’t want to end up in the same predicament poor old Dicky has found himself in.  Do you hear me?” McCoy warned before glancing at his watch.  “Alright Frankie lets go.  They should all be enjoying a nice cuppa about now.”

*****

Chapter 10

Doris hurried to the front door with a shake of her graying head.  Not one visitor in the past six weeks and now one would think she was a doorman at the Savoy considering the number of visitors she had greeted today.  “Can I…”  Doris squealed in surprise as she was roughly pushed aside when the four burly men entered the house. One reached out quickly, surprising her with his speed considering his size and grabbed her wrist before she could run.

“Where is everybody?” Doris stared defiantly at the man who spoke to her, gasping in pain when her wrist was cruelly squeezed.

“The boss asked you a question.”  Fitzy snarled as he shook the thin wrist menacingly.

“Now, now Fitzy,” McCoy soothed, “you’re frightening the poor wench.”

“Wench indeed,” Doris huffed in annoyance before she returned to glaring at the ‘boss.’

“Don’t get uppity with me or I’ll let Fitzy here have his way with you.  I asked you nicely where everybody was and I expect an answer.” McCoy snapped.

Doris drew in a deep breath and coolly regarded the man before her.  She had no doubt that he would pass her off to the man holding her if she did not reply.  “In the conservatory.”

“Now wasn’t that easy.” McCoy smiled menacingly.  “Lead the way.”

“Who shall I say is calling?” Doris asked as she rubbed gingerly at her wrist.

“Harry McCoy and his party,” Frankie snickered at his boss’s answer as they followed the maid down the hall, past the staircase and the three closed doors. Frankie opened each door in passing, satisfying himself that all the rooms were vacant and that they weren’t in any danger of being jumped from behind.

“Mister Harry Mc…” Doris began only to have her words cut off as a beefy hand covered her mouth.

“Harry McCoy, at your service…ah ah Charlie…now sit down and do as I tell you.” McCoy ordered from the doorway as Charles and Johannes pushed themselves to their feet. Both halting their upward progress when two guns were pointed at them.

“What is the meaning of this?” Johannes demanded as he sunk back into the couch beside his wife.

“I would have thought that was quite obvious really.  We have come to join your party…oh and to relieve you of your valuables of course.  Now where are the other men? And ah…no smart excuses Lady Covington.” McCoy added with a sneer.

Elizabeth sat up stiffly in the chair and regarded McCoy coolly.  “My nephew is upstairs with his nurse.”

McCoy snorted, “Nephew is it?”

“She might be right Boss,” Frankie added quickly, “I seem to remember something from years ago about Goniff and her been related or something like that.”

“Really?” McCoy raised an eyebrow in thought. “Fitzy, George, find them and bring them down here.  And you…” McCoy pointed to Katharina, “You go and join their Lords on the other couch.  You too.” McCoy pointed at Doris and waited for her to take a seat next to Elizabeth. “…oh and make sure Charlie sits between you two ladies.”  McCoy waited impatiently for Katharina to take her place beside Charles.  “Frankie, keep a close eye on them and if any of them move, shoot him.” McCoy ordered.

“Sure thing Boss,” Frankie agreed happily, dropping his heavy frame into one of the vacant armchairs. His eyes gleamed in hopeful anticipation as he toyed absently with his gun.

Satisfied that Frankie had the situation well in hand, McCoy turned his attention to Metternich.  “As for you, your lordship, or highness or whatever you are, you and I are going to pay your safe a little visit and you’re going to share all of your valuables with me.”

Metternich stared in some confusion at McCoy.  “I don’t understand what you mean; I have no valuables here and no idea what you are referring to.”

“You don’t, do you?” McCoy asked mildly, “Well maybe this will make you change your mind. Frankie.”

Frankie grinned. A shot rang out. Katharina screamed. Charles gasped. Metternich lurched to his feet.

“Charles?” Elizabeth demanded urgently as she felt her husband slump back against the couch.  She could see blood oozing from a wound high on his right shoulder.

Charles sucked in a shaky breath.  “I…I’m…alright.”

“And if you want him to stay that way, your Lady, I suggest you convince your friend here to give me his valuables.”

*****

Actor closed the door.  “Quickly Goniff, lie on the bed.”

“What’s going on Actor?” Goniff asked as he complied with the conman’s request.

“Unwanted visitors and two of them are headed this way.  Casino, over here.” Actor ordered as he moved to stand behind the door when it was opened and Casino took Actor’s place beside the door.

“I wish Chiefy was ‘ere now.” Goniff lamented softly as he heard the heavy tread on the stairs.

“Goniff start moaning,” Actor said as the sound of feet drew closer.  He held up one finger and pointed at Casino and then two tapping his own chest and waited for Casino’s nod of agreement.

Fitzy and George hurried up the staircase, pausing at the top of the stairs.  “Which room do you think they’re in, Fitzy?” George panted.

Fitzy shrugged as he eyed the five closed doors that lined both sides of the hallway.  “No idea.  Guess we’ll have to check each one.”

“Louder,” Actor whispered harshly as the footsteps grew closer.

Goniff squeezed his eyes shut and moaned pitifully.  The footsteps stopped outside the door. Actor waved his hand and Goniff cried out.  Casino watched the door handle turn as he and Actor readied themselves.  Goniff moaned once more and rolled off the bed as the door was thrust open.  Casino grabbed the protruding wrist holding the gun and pulled down sharply, at the same time raising his knee, grunting in satisfaction when he heard an audible snap of breaking bone and a howl of pain from the heavy as he dropped to his knees.  Before George could react to the sight of Fitzy collapsing on the floor, Actor slammed the door shut and brought his gun butt down sharply on the back of George’s head, dropping the second thug silently to the floor.  Wasting little time, Actor strode across the room to the heavy window drapes and cut a length of cord with the pocket knife he pulled from his jacket.  The sound of a shot from downstairs led haste to his movements as he quickly tied the unconscious heavy up.

“How many more are down stairs?” Casino growled, dragging Fitzy to a sitting position despite his groans of pain.

Fitzy groaned again but didn’t answer.

Casino grabbed the broken arm and squeezed. “How many?”

“T…two.”

“Who?”

“Mc…Coy…a…nd…”

“Frankie.” Goniff interjected.

“You know who they are Goniff?” Actor asked.

“Yes. I did a job with them a few years back.  They’re just as bad as old Dicky.”

“Great,” Casino muttered as he securely tied up Fitzy.

“Alright Goniff, you had better stay up here.  Casino and I should be able to handle them.  There is no sense in you blowing your cover just yet.”  Actor decided as he carefully opened the door and peered out. “Come on Casino.”

“Be careful mates.  Frankie’s trigger ‘appy.” Goniff warned as the two cons disappeared down the stairs.

“How do you want to play this?” Casino asked as they descended the stairs.

“Fast.  We don’t have time for a con.  I’ll push you through the door and then follow.  Our sudden appearance will have to be enough to get the drop on the two men.” Actor replied.

“Who do you think got shot?”

“Nobody I hope, Casino.”

*****

“Please Johannes, give them what they want.” Elizabeth pleaded.

“I would if I could Lady Covington but we do not have any valuables here.  We fled Austria with our lives and the clothes on our backs.  There is nothing of value here. This is my sister’s house; they took everything of value with them when they moved to the country.”

“He’s lying Boss, he has to be lying.” Frankie whined, cocking his gun again and pointing it once more at Charles.

“I assure you I am not lying. I don’t know who told you we had valuables but it isn’t true.”

“My husband is telling you the truth.  I am Jewish and the Germans don’t like Jews, even when they are their allies.  They began hunting down all the Jews in Graz.  We fled the country at night, minutes before they broke into our house.” Katharina’s voice caught and Charles reached out with his good hand to squeeze her arm gentle. “We have nothing left.  Our friends are gone, our home…”

“No need to explain Katharina.  Their kind wouldn’t understand what it is like to be hunted, persecuted in your own land or home.” Elizabeth stated quietly, reaching across Charles to squeeze the Austrian’s hand in compassion.

“What do we do now Boss.” Frankie asked.  “They know who we are.”

“I’m think…”

Casino stumbled into the room, lifting his gun as Frankie jumped to his feet.  Casino fired, the bullet catching the heavy in the chest and sending him toppling over the back of the chair. Johannes was quick to take advantage of the distraction and knocked the gun from McCoy’s hand as Actor entered behind Casino.  Swiftly Actor covered the distance between himself and McCoy, slamming the butt of his gun into the side of McCoy’s head dropping the man in an unceremonious heap on the floor.

“Is everyone alright?” Actor asked worriedly as he scanned the occupants of the room.  “Lord Covington?”

“Yes, yes fine, thank you Cesare.  Just a scratch.” Charles confirmed.

“Cesare, what of my nephew? Is Rodney alright?” Elizabeth asked, quickly regaining her composure and cover now that the threat had been taken care of.

“He is fine Lady Covington,” Actor answered as he assessed Charles wound himself while Casino checked on the man he had shot. Satisfied that Charles was correct in his summation – the wound was a shallow furrow across the top of the shoulder and nothing more serious – “He is lying down at the moment. Rudy?”

Casino shook his head. “Dead.”

“Where are the other two men?” Johannes asked worriedly as he took Katharina into his arms.

“Taken care of for the moment,” Actor assured them.  “We will bring them down here while you ring the police.” As much as he would have preferred to ring the army, it would be too difficult to explain.  Better in this case to have the police deal with McCoy and his men.

“Thank you Cesare, Rudy,” Elizabeth said.  “I don’t know what we would have done without your help.  Now please bring those men down. Once the police have arrived there will be nothing left for us to do here and we really must get poor Rodney and Charles home.”

Actor raised an eyebrow as he contemplated Elizabeth’s words. Was she telling him the caper was off? Elizabeth inclined her head surreptitiously before turning her attention back to Charles.

“Of course Lady Covington,” Actor acknowledged.  “Come on Rudy, I will need your help with those men up stairs.”  Actor turned and left the room followed closely by Casino.

“Doris please bring some towels and a bowl of water,” Katharina ordered. “Charles, perhaps you should lie down.”

“Please don’t concern yourself Katharina, it is nothing more than a scratch, I assure you.  Perhaps Johannes, you should restrain that fellow before he wakes up.  His belt should serve the purpose nicely and then the police should be called.”

*****

“What was all that about with Elizabeth, Actor? Did she just pull out of the caper?” Casino asked as they hurried up the stairs

“I don’t know. How fast can you open the safe?”

Casino shrugged, “Thirty seconds maybe. Why?”

“Then do it.  Elizabeth seems to think there is nothing in the safe but I want to make sure.”

“You don’t trust her?” Casino smirked.

“I trust her explicitly.  Just check the safe anyway.”

Casino entered the first door on the left while Actor continued on to the room where Goniff was waiting with McCoy’s remaining two men.

“What’s going on Actor? Everyone alright? I ‘eard shooting.” Goniff questioned, rising from the bed as soon as he saw Actor enter the room.

Actor glanced at the two men on the floor.  The one he had hit was still unconscious and the other one was moaning softly beside him. “Frankie is dead.  McCoy is unconscious and tied up and Charles has a bullet graze to his shoulder.”

Goniff swallowed. “Aunt Lizzie, is she alright?”

“She is fine Goniff.  Now you will need to stay up here for a while longer and continue with your cover.  The police have been called.  As soon as they have removed these reprobates from the premises Casino and I will be back to collect you and then we are all leaving.”

“But what about the caper?”

“It is over, Elizabeth believes there is nothing here and Casino is checking the safe as we speak.”

“And she was right,” Casino agreed stepping into the room.  “Safe’s as clean as a whistle, doesn’t appear to have been anything in it for several months.”

“’Ow could you tell?”

Casino rolled his eyes.  “The fine layer of dust was a dead giveaway.  You don’t get that with regular use.”

“Alright, then we are done here.  Goniff get under the cover and remember to stay in character if the police come up here.  Casino help me get him,” Actor pointed to the unconscious heavy, “on his feet and then lets get these two downstairs before the Metternich’s become suspicious.”

*****

“Well, well, well, what have we here then?” The tall, gangly police sergeant asked as he entered the conservatory followed by four constables.  “The Lord and Lady Covington and Harry McCoy all in the same room. Most intriguing.” The sergeant lifted the corner of the blanket that had been placed over Sneddon.  “Frankie Sneddon, no less and deceased and…” He turned to eye the last two heavies slumped on the floor, “…Michael Fitzy Fitzsimmons and George Stanford. As I live and breathe.”  The sergeant turned to look at the assembled occupants of the room.  “Who took out this lot then?” he asked eyeing Actor and Casino curiously.

Elizabeth spoke up quickly, “My nephew’s nurse Rudy was responsible for the demise of Mister Sneddon, I believe you said his name was and Johannes and my drive Cesare incapacitated Mister McCoy.”

“I see and what about the other two? And more importantly where did a nurse get a gun?”

“That would be myself and Rudy, Sergeant.” Actor replied.  “They broke into the room that we had just carried Rodney to and well I am afraid they didn’t give us any choice. They were both carrying guns.”  Actor pulled a gun from his pocket and handed it to the sergeant.  Casino shrugged but produced a second gun from the waistband of his pants.

The sergeant accepted the two guns and then handed them to one of the constables.  “I see and just who and where is this Rodney person?”

“Rodney is my nephew, Sergeant.” Elizabeth explained.  “He is recovering from serious injuries sustained in the war and needed to lie down for a half hour.”

“You seem to have an answer for everything Lady Covington…”

“Now see here Sergeant…?” Johannes paused waiting for identification.

“Mills. Sergeant Mills, sir.”

Johannes nodded. “Lady Covington and her husband are guests in my house…”

“And you are?”

“Johannes Metternich and this is my wife Katharina.” Johannes replied, placing his arm around Katharina’s waist.

“Metternich you say…you’re not British are you?  How is that you are living in this house then? I believe the Garvers’ are the rightful owners.”

“Sergeant Mills,” Charles objected, “Would your time not be better spent removing those men from the house?

“Anja Garver is my sister and they are staying with David’s relatives in the country.  They kindly offered us the use of the house when we arrived here. You can check with them if you like but I really must agree with Charles.  Don’t you think you should be more concerned with removing these men from our house, Sergeant?”

“I will be checking don’t you worry about that Mister Metternich.” Mills indicated to his constables that it was time to remove the offenders from the house.  A coroner’s wagon had been called to remove the body. “Just one more question for you though. What were they doing here? What did they hope to find?”

“Really Sergeant Mills,” Elizabeth interrupted haughtily.  “I’m sure that is patently obvious, even for you, given that that is Harry McCoy sitting on the floor. What else would he be looking for except for jewelry and money to steal?”

“But why here and when you are visiting Lady Covington?”

“Can you not think for yourself Sergeant?  This is Eaton Square after all and I do just live down the road.” Elizabeth snapped irritably.

Further discussion was interrupted by the arrival of the coroner’s wagon.  They all stood silently by and watched as the body was loaded onto the gurney and wheeled out of the house.

“Now Sergeant Mills, I really must get Charles and my nephew home.  You know where we live if you need to ask anymore questions.” Elizabeth turned her back on the Sergeant effectively dismissing the man. “Cesare please help Rudy bring Rodney downstairs and then take us all home. Charles can you walk?”

“Yes my dear, don’t worry.”

“I can have an ambulance summoned Lord Covington.” Mills belatedly offered, realizing that no medical attendance had been requested for the injured.

“That won’t be necessary thank you Sergeant, we have our own medical staff in attendance and this is only a flesh wound.” Charles replied cradling his injured arm against his chest.

*****

“What the hell is going to happen if that damn bobby recognizes Goniff, Actor?  It’s obvious he knows who Elizabeth is.” Casino asked as they hurried back up to Goniff’s room.

“We’ll just have to make sure that he doesn’t get a good look at Goniff.”

“And how do you propose we do that?” Casino demanded as they entered the bedroom.

“Goniff do you know a Sergeant Mills by any chance?”  Actor asked as Goniff threw off the bedcover and sat up.

“Mills, Mills,” Goniff thought for a moment.  “Tall, gangly chap, receding ‘airline, and a condescending attitude?  I know ‘im. Why do you ask?”

“Because he’s downstairs you dumb limey.” Casino snapped.  “Now what do we do Actor?”

“Nothing, I will simply go back down and tell Elizabeth that Goniff is still in too much pain to be moved at present.  I’m sure the Metternichs’ will agree to allow you both to stay here for an hour or so.  Then I’ll come back when the police have gone and pick you both up.”

“Great.” Casino slumped to a sitting position on the bed.  “And what happens if Mills wants to come up here and interview Goniff?”

“You are his nurse Casino. You tell him Goniff is asleep and isn’t to be disturbed. And you Goniff; get back under the covers and hide.” Actor ordered as he turned to the door.  “I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”

Actor returned downstairs noting that Mills was still waiting in the conservatory, no doubt wanting to speak to Goniff about what happened upstairs.

“Cesare, where are Rodney and Rudy?” Elizabeth enquired uneasily.

“I’m sorry Lady Covington, but Rodney is still in too much pain to be moved at present.” Actor turned to Johannes.  “Rudy has asked if it would be alright for them stay here for several more hours.  I will be back then to collect them both.”

“Yes of course it is Elizabeth,” Katharina confirmed.

“Well then I might just nip upstairs and speak with your nephew now.” Mills said.

Elizabeth caught the quick shake of Actor’s head, realizing that Goniff and Mills probably knew each other which was why he hadn’t come downstairs yet. “I’m sorry Sergeant but I cannot allow you to do that.  Rodney’s turns are quite debilitating and it will be several hours before he will be in any condition to speak to you.  You can speak to him at our house tomorrow. Now if you will excuse us, I really must get Charles home. Thank you Katharina and Johannes for your hospitality.  Perhaps you will come and join us for afternoon tea next week.”

“I would love to Elizabeth,” Katharina replied eagerly.  “Johannes, can we?”

“Of course we can my dear.” Johannes replied before turning to Mills. “Sergeant, if that is all?”

“Yes, yes of course.  I’ll be in touch if I need any thing else.” Mills replied distractedly as he followed Elizabeth and Charles to the front door.

*****

Chapter 11

“It’s almost eighteen hundred hours. They should have been here by now.”  Chief fidgeted restlessly in his bed unable to stop himself from watching the secondhand of the large wall clock positioned over the door of the room inexorably moving towards the hour.

Garrison too glared at the clock in annoyance.  What was the point of it been there he wondered?  It didn’t tell them anything other than his team was late and getting later by the minute.  “I’m sure they’re fine Chief, probably stopped at a pub for a celebratory drink or two.” Garrison tried unconvincingly, he thought if he really listened to his own voice, to alleviate Chief’s concerns.

“No Warden, something’s wrong.” Chief responded emphatically, not for a minute believing Garrison’s attempt at reassurance. “I knew I should have gone with them.” he cursed angrily.

“Chief you know as well as I do that neither you nor I was in any shape to take part in this mission.  We just have to trust that Actor, Elizabeth and Charles have matters well in hand.”

“And what if they don’t? What if they ran into trouble?” Chief demanded.

“Chief, you’re over reacting.  How much trouble can they get into going to afternoon tea in Eaton Square, London? It’s not like we’re over on the continent.  There aren’t any Germans here waiting to shoot them.” The more Garrison justified his team’s late arrival the easier it was for him to believe his own words.  After all he was right.  They weren’t on the continent, they were in England and there weren’t any German soldiers waiting behind every tree to capture or shoot them.  And they were with a Lord and Lady even if said Lord and Lady did have a somewhat dubious background…and he wondered absently which of them held the original title.

Chief raised and eyebrow in disbelief as he stared nonplused at Garrison.  “You don’t really believe that do you? This is Goniff and Casino we’re talking about.”

Garrison shrugged, “Well it’s better than the alternative.”

Chief sighed deeply, grunting in discomfort when his chest reminded him of its recent abuse. “Damn.”

“Chief are you alright?” Garrison asked worriedly.

“I’d be a lot better if the others would turn up.” Chief replied quietly.

“They’ll be here.” Garrison replied confidently, “and then we’ll both be wishing for a bit of peace and quiet by the time Goniff and Casino have finished filling us in on what happened.”

Chief smiled despite his worry at the thought of all the bickering and rebuttals from the two cons that would accompany the retelling of the mission. Once they got started the debrief could well take longer than the mission itself.

*****

“Blimey, I thought ruddy Mills would never leave,” Goniff lamented from the backseat of the car as Actor drove out the gates of the Metternich estate.

“Did he give you any trouble?” Actor asked as he steered the car through the gates of the Covington estate and around the back of the house and out of sight of prying eyes.

“Nah, but not for the lack of trying.  Metternich and his wife made sure Mills didn’t come anywhere near us.” Casino confirmed.

Goniff climbed out of the car. “For the enemy, ‘Ee’s not a bad bloke you know.”

“So what happens now Actor?” Casino asked.  “Is the caper really over? What’s the brass going to say about the lack of information?”

Actor shrugged, “What can they say Casino?  If there is no information to be had, there is no information, not unless they want us to conjure it up out of thin air.”

“So what made Elizabeth pull the pin anyway?” Casino asked entering the house through the kitchen door.

“She hasn’t divulged her reasons.  She just said they were valid and Charles agreed with her and we would find out when we visit the Warden and Chief,” Actor replied as the three men walked through the house to Elizabeth’s private sitting room.

“’Ow is Charles?” Goniff asked worriedly.

“A bit sore and stiff but otherwise he’s fine Goniff, the bullet only grazed the top of his shoulder.”

Casino opened the door to the sitting room and let the two cons enter ahead of him. Actor indicated that Goniff should sit in the chair at the table.  Once the little pick pocket was seated Actor began divesting Goniff of his disguise.

“Ah, that feels better,” Goniff mumbled, lifting and stretching his right arm to ease the stiffness that had set in with the afternoons inactivity, while Actor applied a lotion to his face and then began wiping away the traces of the bruises.  “So when do we get to see Chief and the Warden?”

“Just as soon as you are presentable Goniff.” Actor replied absently as he concentrated on cleaning away all traces of Goniff’s disguise.  “There, done.” He nodded in satisfaction.  “I’ll go and see if Charles and Elizabeth are ready and meet you at the car.”

“They coming too?” Goniff asked.

Actor nodded. “Yes.  Major Richards wishes to hear what they have to say as well and Elizabeth only wants to tell it once.”

*****

Chief pushed his dinner tray away with a disgusted grimace.  “How do they expect their patients to get better when they serve up food like that?  What I wouldn’t give for some of Goniff’s bread and cheese right now.”

Garrison eyed his own half eaten plate speculatively.  “It’s called reverse psychology Chief.  Feed us poorly in the hope we will get better quicker just to get out of here.”

“Well it’s working; I’m ready to get out of here right now.”

“Give it another day of two Chief. You have a lot of healing to do.”

“Nothing I can’t do back at the mansion Warden.  Can’t even see the trees from here or hear the birds,” Chief lamented softly.

Garrison observed Chief silently as his wheelman sank dejectedly into the pillows.  He had even given up watching the clock and commenting on the lateness of the rest of the team.  Perhaps he was right; maybe it was time to head back to the mansion.   Actor would see to it that Chief rested and took the required medication and God knows he’d had enough of the inside of the hospital room himself to last him a life time too.  “Alright Chief, I’ll see what I can arrange but I’m not making any promises.  The doctor will have the final say.”

“Thanks Warden.”

The door opening barely piqued their curiosity.  The last four times had only brought disappointment in the form of a nurse, then the doctor, followed by another nurse and finally the orderly bringing what thinly passed as dinner.

“Major Richards.” Garrison sat a little straighter in his bed as Chief stared at the Major, a knot of foreboding forming in his stomach.

“Garrison, Chief.” Richards acknowledged, taking a seat in the chair between the two beds.  “How are you both feeling?” He asked conversationally.

“Fine thank you Sir,” Garrison supplied, raising an eyebrow in query.  “But you didn’t just come here to ask how we were did you Sir? I take it you’ve heard from Actor. Is everyone alright?”

Chief sat forward gripping the bedcovers tightly in his hands.

Richards sighed.  “Well actually I did drop by to see how you were both doing but also to let you know that I have heard from Actor and they should be here within the hour.”

Garrison’s eyes narrowed.  “And everything went without a hitch?”

Richards raised an eyebrow and stared silently at Garrison for a long drawn out minute before replying.  “Well, now that you mentioned it, they did run into a little problem and it appears Charles was shot and slightly wounded.” Richards held up a hand to forestall anymore questions.  “I don’t have all the details, Charles is fine; a flesh wound I believe.  Another associate of Birds’ by the name of Harry McCoy and his men invited themselves for afternoon tea also.  It seems they were after the same things as us.”

“Did they get the information?” Garrison asked worriedly, not liking the idea that the information could now be in the hands of black-marketeers.

“Apparently, according to Elizabeth and Actor there is no information, in fact there is nothing of value at all.  That’s all I know Craig.  We’ll just have to wait until they get here to find out all the details.”

Chief snorted, “Just what was that you said about trouble and afternoon tea? I knew I should have been there.”

“And done what exactly Chief?” Garrison growled.  “Look at you, you can’t breathe without hurting and don’t deny it.  I see the grimace each time you take a deep breath.  You would have been a liability, the same as me if I’d gone.  The rest of the team didn’t need us to worry about as well.”

“Garrison’s right Chief there was nothing you could have done except perhaps get injured worse or killed in your present condition.” Richards agreed.

“I could have kept lookout; warned them of McCoy’s arrival.” Chief replied petulantly, not prepared to concede defeat just yet and acknowledge the truth of the two men’s words.

It was the loud banging outside the door that alerted the occupants of the room to the imminent arrival of more visitors.  Garrison shook his head in denial.  At the rate they were going he wouldn’t have to ask Peter for an early discharge because Peter will have kicked them out instead.

“Careful Casino,” Goniff complained as he pushed open the door to the room.

“Me?” Casino growled, “You got in my way you dumb limey. And what’s with carrying two chairs?”

“Well you don’t expect Charles to carry one do you? Not with one wing out of commission.” Goniff retorted.

“I thank you for your kind consideration Goniff but I can assure you I was quite capable of carrying my own chair, so please don’t include me in your squabble.”

“Charles, please don’t encourage them.” Actor sighed heavily.

“If you’ve all finished…” Garrison let his words hang in the air.  “Charles, are you alright?”

“This,” Charles indicated the white sling in which his arm rested, “This is nothing Craig, no more than a scratch but in order to keep the natives happy…well you know what I mean?” Charles chuckled when he heard Elizabeth cluck her tongue. “Major Richards, Chief.” He acknowledged the two men. “I must say you are looking a lot better than the last time I saw you Chief.”

“Feel it too.  Thanks for getting me and the Warden out of there.”  Chief averted his eyes, uncomfortable with being the focus of attention.

Richards cleared his throat. “Alright, if everybody is settled…” he glared at Goniff who was fidgeting with his chair, causing Casino to swat the side of the pickpocket’s head.

“What was that for?” Goniff asked, following Casino’s gaze until he met Richards glare, “Sorry Major, what was you saying?”

Richards drew in a deep breath and shook his head…” As I was saying, if we are all settled now…lets get on with this debriefing.”

“What took you so long getting here?” Chief asked suddenly, “Never heard of afternoon tea lasting till after dinner.”

“Aw mate, you don’t know the ‘alf of it.  And what’s worse is I didn’t even get afternoon tea, what with been laid up in the bed and all.  And then McCoy busting in like ‘Ee did;   not to mention ruddy Mills.  Thought ‘Ee’d never leave!  That’s why we’re late.  ‘Ee wanted to talk to me but Metternich wouldn’t let ‘im.  Good thing too.  I don’t think ‘Ee would ‘ave believed I was a war ‘ero.  ‘Ad to wait until ‘Ee got tired of waiting and left.”

“Who’s Mills?” Chief leaned forward in the bed, eager to hear the story.

“PC Mills, he’s a Sergeant now, got promoted ‘Ee did although I can’t imagine why.  ‘Ee was the one what got called in to cart McCoy away.  I don’t think ‘Ee believed that I was too sick to talk to ‘im.  “Ee kept pestering the Metternich’s after you all left to let ‘im come up to our room.  Me and ‘im had a couple of run ins before I left for America. Every time something got nicked ‘Ee’d come calling at me mum’s door.  Blamed me for everything that went wrong in ‘is neighbourhood.”

“And of course you were completely innocent.” Casino smirked.

“Course I was mate.” Goniff agreed.

Richards groaned and glared at Garrison who took the hint.  “Knock it off.  The stories can wait until we’re all back at the mansion. Just tell us what happened.”

“Better yet,” Richards interrupted, “just answer my questions. Lady Covington, Actor tells me you called off the mission.”

“That is correct Major Richards.” Elizabeth agreed without elaborating.

Richards waited and then sighed; it was obviously going to be one of those nights. “Would you mind telling us why?”

“Bird got it wrong, which really comes as no surprise.  His information has always been questionable.  I’m actually surprised he managed to last as long as he did.  The same goes for Harry McCoy. Neither of them are the brightest minds in the game.  They usually succeed because of their muscle, not their brains.”

“Elizabeth dear, I don’t really think the Major wishes to hear about Bird and McCoy’s short comings.” Charles remarked quietly.

“No, of course not, although I would love to see the look on Dicky’s face when he hears that he is in jail because of an empty safe.”  Elizabeth replied to a chorus of snickers from the men.

“Serves ‘im right after what ‘Ee did to the Warden and Chiefy,” Goniff stated smugly.

Major Richards decided it was time to get the discussion back on track before the cons degenerated it into a debacle. “Elizabeth, would you mind telling us why you believe the Metternich’s are not hiding any information.”

Elizabeth pursed her lips, allowing a small sigh to escape before she began speaking softly. “You didn’t see Katharina’s face, the sadness and fear in her eyes, the anguish and despair in her voice when she spoke of lost friends and how they barely escaped German hands with their lives and only wearing the clothes on their backs.  Allies or not, the Germans were rounding up all the Jews in their town. I believe her when she says they brought nothing with them.”

Richards sighed heavily.  “Unfortunately Elizabeth, I don’t believe that my superiors will be as content to accept your word that the Metternich’s are not hiding anything of value, just on their say so, as I am.”

“I can assure you Major,” Actor interrupted indignantly, “That Elizabeth is an astute judge of character.”

“I don’t doubt that for one minute Actor,” Richards agreed, “I am merely stating facts.”

“But what about the safe?” Goniff asked. “It was empty when Casino opened it.”

“Yeah that’s right.  That proves they were telling the truth.” Casino stated.

Richards shook his head. “Sorry gentlemen but that only proves that the safe was empty. Not that they aren’t hiding important information elsewhere in the house.”

“’Ow do you expect us to find it then? I mean we can’t just go in and ask them for it and I don’t think we can pull that last con again.”

Garrison had remained silent, content to lie back and listen to the discussion and ramblings of his men.  It was usually the unguarded ramblings that led to some of their more outrageous and successful capers, like the idea that was slowly taking shape in his mind.  “You’re right Goniff, WE can’t.” Garrison agreed, a bright gleam coming into his blue eyes, “But…”

“’Ee’s got a plan, ‘aven’t you Warden?” Goniff asked warily.

“Not a plan Goniff, but I do have a simple solution to the problem.”

“And just what would that be Lieutenant?” Richards asked skeptically.

Garrison shrugged. “You go and ask them, Sir.”

“He what?” Casino demanded.  “After all the trouble we went through, you think the Major can just waltz in there and ask if they have any information to sell?”

“No Casino, I don’t expect the Major to just waltz in there as you put it, but think about it.  We now have the perfect excuse for Major Richards to pay a legitimate visit to the Metternichs.”

“And just what excuse would that be exactly?” Richards queried.

“Yeah I’d like to know that too.” Casino added.

Instead of replying Garrison looked to where Actor was sitting beside Chief’s bed, a slow smile creeping across the conman’s face as he caught on to the latest scam.

“It just might work,” Actor agreed with a nod.

“Blimey, did I just take forty winks and miss ‘alf the conversation?” Goniff asked, looking around at the bemused faces.

“Not unless the rest of us did too, babe.” Casino grumbled, pleased to see that Charles and Elizabeth looked just as confused as the rest of them.

Richards sighed. “Perhaps one of you two would care to enlighten the rest of us as to what you are both talking about.  It is getting rather late and I for one would like to get some sleep tonight.”

Garrison shrugged. “It’s really very simple, all you have to do Major is knock on the front door and tell Metternich that McCoy has told the police that he has valuable war information hidden in the house and you have orders to either confirm or dismiss the rumours and that you need to search the house.”

“But what if Metternich won’t let ‘im in?” Goniff asked.

“He doesn’t have a choice Goniff.” Actor interrupted.  “If he objects it could be construed as confirmation that he is hiding something. If, as Elizabeth believes and they are not hiding anything, Metternich should have no objections to a search and especially if he desires to remain a guest of this country.”

“And you think it’s going to be that easy.  Just walk in and search.”

“I hope so Casino, because I’m all out of ideas if its not.” Garrison replied.

*****

Chapter 12

Chief sighed then groaned softly as he shifted uncomfortably in his customary place in the window seat of the mansion library while he watched for the army staff car to pass through the guard post at the gate.  He and Garrison may have received their release papers from the hospital but they were still confined to the mansion for another week.  Well actually, Garrison had another week of confinement before he could hope for the all clear from the doctors but for Chief, he was looking at another four weeks before he would be able to join the team on any missions.

“Are you alright Chief?” Garrison asked, placing the book he had been reading on the table beside Actor’s favourite chair, has he watched Chief lever himself up from his seat with a pained grunt.

“Yeah, just a bit stiff.” Chief mumbled quietly in reply, annoyed that he had caught Garrison’s attention.

“Still don’t see why me and Casino couldn’t go with them.” Goniff grumbled as he threw his hand of cards down on the table in disgust.

“And do what you dumb limey?” Casino countered as he raked in the cards and all the match sticks lying on the table between Goniff and himself. “How do you think we were going to explain your miraculous recovery to them?”

“I didn’t mean go in the ruddy house, we could’ve, I don’t know, stood watch or something, you know, in case anymore of Birds associates made an appearance.”

“What with half the British army parked out the front,” Casino scoffed.

“Well Actor got to go and so did Aunt Lizzie and Charles.” Goniff sighed as he looked at another useless hand of cards dealt to him by Casino.

“Actor didn’t look like Actor. Metternich will never pick him and Elizabeth and Charles are the worried neighbours going to help and make sure everything is ok.  Ain’t that right Warden?  Besides, Richards wanted somebody he could trust to read any German documents they might find…hey,” Casino yelped as Chief pinned his wrist to the table and reached over to retrieve the Queen of Hearts from his sleeve.

“Well that leaves you out, doesn’t it Casino”. Chief stated as he flipped the retrieved card onto the table.

“Cor blimey Casino, you was cheating me; that’s not a nice thing to do to your friend,” Goniff dropped his cards on the table and looked up at Chief. “How’d you know?”

Chief shook his head. “You talk too much, don’t pay attention and he’s…” pointing at Casino, “not very good at it.  A blind man could see he was cheating.”  Chief let go of Casino’s wrist and moved stiffly away from the table before the safecracker could retaliate.

“And what would you know Indian?” Casino demanded, glaring at Chief but not making a move towards the injured man.

Chief shrugged as he moved back to the window, “Enough to not have to cheat.”

“Yeah, well I don’t have to cheat either, but it’s fun, especially against the limey here.” Casino replied.

“That ain’t a very nice thing to say Casino.  I thought we was friends.” Goniff pouted.

Casino sighed, “we are, so who better than a friend to practice my skills on?”

“Well, when you put it like that, I guess I’m ‘appy to ‘elp. Hey, that means I don’t owe you nothing, if you were just practicing.  Ain’t that right Casino?” Goniff stated happily.  “If you want to keep practicing we can play some more, seeing as its’ not going to cost me anything.”

Chief snorted and Garrison shook his head.

“They’re here,” Chief stated, watching as the army staff car passed through the guard post at the gate and made its way up the curved drive.

“I wonder if they found anything.  Hey Warden, do you think they found anything.”

“I don’t know Goniff,” Garrison replied as he lifted his healing ankle from the ottoman it had been resting on, “but I’m sure we’ll find out soon.”

They heard the front door to the mansion open and close, followed by the unmistakable sounds of a pair of heels taping lightly on the tiled entrance hall, the heavy tread of a pair of army boots and the softer swish of several pairs of loafers. The library door opened, Major Richards stepped aside, allowing Elizabeth and Charles to enter ahead of him, before following himself.  Actor turned and closed the door behind them.

“Please don’t get up, Lieutenant,” Elizabeth stated when she saw Garrison starting to rise from the chair.

“Yes, stay seated Garrison,” Richards agreed, although he did throw a glare the way of the two seated cons at the table.

“Well,” demanded Goniff as soon as the newcomers were all seated.  Actor and Richards had taken seats at the table with himself and Casino while Elizabeth and Charles sat down on the couch in front of the unlit fire place. “Did you find anything?”

“Afraid not luv,” Elizabeth replied, “It was as clean as a whistle, as I suspected it would be.”

“Could you have missed something Sir?” Garrison asked, disappointed that all their troubles had been for nothing.

“See I told you I should have gone,” Casino retorted. “I can smell a safe, no matter where it’s hidden,” he continued angrily, tapping the side of his nose for good measure.

Richards chose to ignore Casino’s remark.  “Sorry Garrison. We went over the place with a fine tooth comb.  There was nothing to be found.  The Metternich’s were most cooperative; their story hadn’t changed from when Elizabeth, Charles and your men visited them a couple of days ago. “I’m satisfied they didn’t bring any documents with them.”

“They could be lying,” Casino grumbled.

“Aw leave it will ya Casino.  If Aunt Lizzie says they ain’t lying, and the Major,” Goniff added quickly, “then you weren’t going to find anything mate.”

“So what happens now Major?” Garrison asked.

“Well, the Metternich’s will be kept under close surveillance to ensure that they don’t make contact with any black marketeers and Bird will be tried under wartime laws for treason against the crown. After all he did attack and injure an army officer.” Richards replied.

“’Ow you going to keep Metternich under surveillance?  It’d look a bit obvious with a ruddy army jeep sitting out the front of the place.” Goniff stated.

“I’m sure Charles and I will have no problems fulfilling that duty.  After all we are the best suited and have all the contacts, besides Actor that is.” Elizabeth replied with a smile, acknowledging the conman with a nod of her head. “If, and I mean if, they did lie to us, they won’t be able to sell or move anything without us knowing about it.”

“What about Bird’s brother?” Chief asked quietly. “The one that passed on the information to Bird about the Warden and me!  What’s going to happen to him?”

“Hey yeah, that’s right. ‘Ee going to be court-martialed?” Goniff asked.

Richards sighed, “Well…”

“That’d be bloody right.  Typical army!  Look after their own!  We’re only cons, doesn’t matter what they do to us. Ain’t that right Major?” Casino shouted standing abruptly and knocking over the chair he had been sitting on.

“Can it Casino.” Garrison ordered before turning to look at Richards. “I’d be interested in your answer too Major, if you don’t mind.”

Richards glared at Casino before turning his attention to Garrison and Chief who had moved to stand behind Garrison’s chair. “I had hoped to discuss this in private…”

“Anything we have to discuss can be said here Major.  This affects Chief just as much as it does me.” Garrison replied.

“Very well.” Richards acquiesced.  “I was going to leave the decision up to you as to whether he was court martialed or not.  After all you were the one most affected by his actions.”

“It weren’t just the Warden, it was Chiefy too.” Goniff pointed out. “’Ee should ‘ave a say in it too.”

“Yes, I meant both of them.”

“Sure you did Major” Casino muttered.

“Look, I agree that what Percival Bird did was wrong.” Richards held up a hand and glared warningly at Casino, daring him to interrupt, before continuing, “But when faced with the prospect of losing your wife and child, a six year old child, well, I’m not sure that if I was in his shoes I wouldn’t have done the same thing as him. How would you feel if it was your family that was threatened like that Casino?” Richards asked.  “What would you do if there was no other choice; no other way around it?”

“I’d have found another solution.” Casino replied halfheartedly.  “Maybe.”

“What he did was wrong, but it ain’t right for his brother to threaten to kill his daughter either.” Chief stated.  “I’ll go along with whatever you decide Warden.”

“No Chief, we’ll decide this together.”  Garrison replied.  “Can I let you know tomorrow Major what we have decided.”

“That’s fine Garrison,” Richards said, standing.  “Well, it’s a long drive back to London, Elizabeth, Charles; if you’re ready we had better be going.  We don’t want to be caught out after curfew.”

“Yes, thank you Major,” Charles replied, standing and offering his hand to Elizabeth.

“You must come and visit when you’re in London next Rodney dear.  We have so much to catch up on.  Of course you are all welcome to come and visit, anytime.  Actor knows how to contact us.” Elizabeth stated, looking at each of the men individually.

Actor stood. “I’ll show you out.”

“So what’s it going to be babe?” Casino asked the Warden as soon as the others had left the room.  “You gonna throw the book at old Percival?  Have him court martialed?”

“When Chief and I have decided, you’ll be the first to know Casino.”  Garrison stood, picked up the cane hanging off the back of the chair and motioned for Chief to follow him.

“So what do you reckon Goniff?”  Casino asked as they watched the two men leave the room. “They gonna court martial him?”

“Nah, I don’t reckon they will, not with ‘im ‘aving a wife and kid and all. I know I’d do just about anything to save me mum and I reckon you’d do the same for your family too.”

Casino sighed. “Yeah.  Couldn’t think of anything worse than the young ones been threatened like that.  I hope old Dicky faces a firing squad for what he put us all through though.”

Actor entered the library.  “I saw Chief and the Warden heading to his office.  I presume they are going to discuss a suitable punishment for Corporal Bird.”

“We was just trying to figure out what they’d decide.  What do you reckon Actor?” Goniff asked, staring at the tall confidence man.

“Under the circumstances I am sure they will lean towards a more lenient sentence than the one Dicky will be facing.  What are you staring at Goniff?  Actor asked in exasperation.

“Metternich really didn’t recognize you Actor?” Goniff asked.

Actor smiled smugly.  “Would you have recognized me Goniff, if you didn’t know it was me, if you passed me in the street?”

“No ruddy way.” Goniff replied studying Actor carefully. “I mean the walk’s the same and you’re still the same ‘eight an all, but the red ‘air and freckles.  ‘Ow’d you do that anyway? An the beard.”  Goniff shook his head.  “Cor, blimey. You even changed your eye colour. I ‘adn’t noticed that with those thick glasses on. ‘Ow you see out of them anyway? Even your own ma wouldn’t ‘ave recognized you in that outfit.”

“A good confidence man never reveals his trade secrets Goniff,” Actor replied as he removed the heavy rimmed glasses with their thick lenses and handed them too Goniff. “I had a friend make them for me.”

Goniff studied them for a moment before putting them on.  He pulled them off in surprise and looked at Actor.  “They aren’t real, I mean, they’re glass and all but everything looks the same.”

Actor nodded as he accepted the glasses back from Goniff.  “They only need to look real Goniff.  The lens’ are made from two pieces of plain glass set into the rims.  That’s why the rims are so heavy,” Actor replied rubbing absently at the bridge of his nose where the heavy glasses had been resting.  “I still need to be able to see where I’m going and what I’m reading. Well, if you’ll excuse me I’d like to clean up and get back to my normal self again.”

“’Ee’s ruddy amazing, ‘Ee is Casino.” Goniff turned to look at Casino.  “You want to practice some more.  This time I’ll watch and see if I can see when you cheat me!”

*****

“Take a seat Chief,” Garrison said as he limped behind his desk, dropping heavily into his chair and propping the cane on the corner of the desk.  He reached down to the bottom draw and pulled out a bottle of scotch and two glasses, pouring two healthy nips and handing one to Chief. He waited as his scout made himself as comfortable as possible in the high backed chair and downed the offered drink. “I think I should invest in some better chairs, these are damned uncomfortable when you’re injured.”

Chief snorted.  “I don’t think the army is going to agree to that.”

Garrison shrugged.  “Who said anything about the army?  I’m sure Actor and Goniff have contacts that could get us some decent chairs in here. Lord knows one of us is always getting injured.”

Garrison watched as Chief’s face darkened and a frown appeared on the still pale features.  “Alright Chief; out with it,” Garrison sighed.  “You’ve been side stepping the problem long enough.  What’s got you so worked up inside?” Garrison suspected but needed to hear it before he could do anything about it.

“Nothin,” Chief replied sulkily, thumping the glass on the desk.  “I thought we were here to decide what’s going to happen to Bird.”

Garrison turned the empty glass around in his hand before placing it on the desk with a sigh and then pouring two more nips, pushing one across to Chief.  “Alright Chief, your thoughts on Bird.”

Chief shrugged. “I guess he should be court-martialed, but then you can’t blame him for wanting to protect his family from his brother.  We know just what Bird is capable of.” Chief massaged his healing ribs with a grimace. “I don’t know; I ain’t army so I guess I’ll leave it up to you.  I’ll go along with whatever you decide.”

Garrison ran a hand through his hair in frustration.  “Alright, as I see it we have four choices.  Court-martial and dishonourable discharged; a demotion back to Private with a cut in pay; a severe reprimand that goes on his record which will restrict his chances of promotion or we do nothing.”

“He’s gotta pay somehow.” Chief replied.  “No matter how you look at it he did the wrong thing and it nearly got you killed.”

“Us Chief,” Garrison replied softly.  “You would have died if Charles hadn’t found us in time.”

Chief shrugged, dropping his head and not looking at Garrison. “It’s what I deserved.  I let them get you.  I should have been watching the road better, seen the ambush. I should have told you about Bird after we got back from The Doves.  Then the army could have done something about him. I should have been with Goniff and the others when they went to Metternich’s.  Maybe Charles wouldn’t have been hurt.”

Garrison shook his head. At least now Chief was opening up to him and confirming his suspicions.  He only hoped he could make the man see reason. “Chief, look at me!” Garrison waited impatiently for the man before him to follow his instruction. He sighed in frustration when Chief continued to avoid looking at him.  “Chief, I said look at me.”

Chief sighed heavily and looked at Garrison, his eyes dark with guilt.

“Thank you.  Now answer me this Chief.  Did you seek out the racketeer Dicky Bird in the first place?”

“No but…”

“Did you suggest to him that there was possibly black market information or money and jewels to be had at the Metternich place?”

“No but…”

“Did he threaten you or any of the others at The Doves when you initially turned him down?”

“No but it didn’t feel right at the time.”

Garrison nodded.  “Did you have any idea who or what he was Chief? I know both Actor and Goniff knew him, either personally or by reputation.”

Chief shook his head, “no, I just knew he was bad news for us. I should have said something when we got back from The Doves. But then we headed down to London for the meeting.”

“Actor and Goniff could have brought it to my attention also Chief, and for that matter I’m sure Casino had the same misgivings as you but none of them said anything either. And what about me? Don’t you think I feel responsible for your injuries Chief? The only reason you were with me is because I had injured my ankle and couldn’t drive. And then I couldn’t protect you when Bird’s heavies attacked you.  I thought they were going to kill you then.” Garrison swallowed hard.

Chief’s head snapped up.  “It wasn’t your fault Warden; you got nothing to feel responsible for. I should have been watching the road better; should have expected them to try something.”

Garrison rubbed tiredly at his face with his hands.  “How Chief? Did Major Richards tell you that they were going to kidnap me?  He’s the one who ordered me to London.”

“No, of course not.”

“Alright Chief, enough is enough.  This stops now.  You weren’t responsible for me getting kidnapped or hurt; or for McCoy and his men breaking in to the Metternich property and shooting Charles. There was nothing you could have done to stop them, even if you had been there.  No matter how much I might blame myself, I have to accept that I wasn’t responsible for you getting hurt.  Major Richards isn’t responsible because he ordered me to London.  None of you had a crystal ball to see the future. Nobody expected Bird to have a contact at headquarters or to threaten his own niece and sister-in-law. The only ones responsible for what happened to us are Bird and his brother.  Now Dicky is going to be tried for war crimes and treason. We have to decide what happens to his brother. Agreed?” Garrison waited expectantly for Chief to reply.

Chief sighed.  “When you put it like that…”

“Good.  Now I think we both agree that Corporal Bird shouldn’t be court-martialed under the circumstances.” Garrison needed Chief to focus on the current conversation. “What if we ignore what he did?”

“No.  What he did was wrong, even if he thought he was doing it for the right reasons.  He could’ve gone to Major Richards.” Chief replied angrily.

“Yes he could have,” Garrison agreed, “but you know as well as I do what fear can do to a person. How it can change your perspectives and the decisions that you make. However it’s not an excuse and I agree he needs some sort of punishment.  What about a demotion and pay cut?”

Chief thought on the next option. “Things are really scarce and expensive now. How will a pay cut affect his ability to support his family? His family shouldn’t suffer for what he did.”

“Everybody is doing it tough Chief, we’re fighting a war.” Garrison pointed out.

“Yeah I know but I mean; his wife and kid are used to living on what he makes now.”

Garrison shrugged. “Better than a dishonourable discharge and no money.”

“I guess.”

“So what do you suggest? An official reprimand on his records and then life goes on?”

“At least his family won’t suffer.” Chief replied. “What do you think Major Richards will think of our decision?”

Garrison nodded.  “I’m sure Major Richards won’t be surprised by it but I doubt Actor, Goniff and Casino will be happy about it but I happen to agree with you. I’ll let Richards know in the morning.” Garrison reached across the desk and poured another measure of scotch into Chief’s glass.  “Better drink that before we tell the others of our decision.”

*****

“You’re joking, right?” Casino demanded after hearing what Garrison and Chief had decided should happen to Corporal Bird.  “After what he did to us; He nearly got you two killed and you’re just going to let him off with a slap on the wrist.  Typical army, look after yourselves and to hell with the rest of us.  Did he put you up to this Geronimo?”

“That’s enough Casino,” Garrison ordered.  “Chief and I discussed all the options and this was the best solution under the circumstances.  His brother, who was the main instigator in this little caper, will be tried for treason.  Corporal Bird has a wife and young daughter.  A dishonourable discharge or demotion will only hurt them further and…” Garrison stared pointedly at Casino, “it was Chief’s decision, not mine but I agree with it.”  Garrison looked at Actor and Goniff.  “Either of you got anything else to add?”

“Not me Warden,” Goniff replied.  “I reckon you both know what you’re doing.  It ain’t right that ‘is kid should suffer because of old Dicky.”

Garrison nodded.  “Actor?”

“You and Chief were the ones most affected by what Corporal Bird and his brother did.  Knowing that Richard Bird is unlikely to see the light of day again is enough for me.  What happened to the Corporal was always going to be your decision.  But if it helps, I agree that forcing further hardship on a young child and her mother is not in anyone’s, and least of all the army’s, best interests.”

“’ey Warden, ‘ave you told Major Richards yet.” Goniff asked. “I bet ‘Ee won’t be ‘appy with your decision.”

“No I haven’t Goniff.  It will be late when he, Elizabeth and Charles arrive back in London. I thought I’d leave it until tomorrow, but I don’t think he will be too upset, considering his early remarks on the subject.  Besides I felt like a quiet evening.” Garrison replied with a smile.  “Now I don’t know about the rest of you but I’m starving.  Shall we see what the cook has prepared for tonight’s dinner?”

***The End***

 

Author’s Note:   While Johannes and Katharina Metternich and the mother and sister are fictitious, an Austrian Prince, Prince Metternich (or Klemens Wenzel von Metternich) actually lived at No 44 Eaton Square in 1848.

 

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