Summary: This is that missing scene that takes place immediately after Hitch collapses out of the jeep and before the scenes in the tent. All series dialogue is in italics.
Category: Rat Patrol
Genre: WWII Drama
Word Count: 4942
“Hitch…Hitch.” Troy shouted, sliding off the hood of Tully’s jeep, all thoughts of the dead British General slumped in the passenger seat forgotten in the face of his driver and friend lying supine on the desert floor.
“How is he?” Tully demanded, joining Troy on the opposite side of Hitch’s body.
“I don’t know.” Troy replied, seemingly oblivious to pool of blood he was kneeling in and that continued to grow under Hitch’s arm. “Get back on the jeep, Tully; keep watch. We aren’t that far away from that German convoy.”
Tully rolled the match stick between his teeth as he looked from his injured friend to the distant heat haze and smoke billowing from the pipeline they had just destroyed. “Krauts will be too busy worrying about the fire to follow us,” he stated as he watched Moffat drop to his knees, medical kit in hand.
“They aren’t the only convoy out here,” Troy snapped, his worry mounting by the minute as Hitch remained unconscious. Troy looked up into the hooded eyes of his teammate and his voice softened. “I’m worried too Tully, but getting jumped by a German patrol isn’t going to help us or Hitch. Keep a lookout, will you?”
Tully drew in a deep breath, watched Moffat cut away the sleeve of Hitch’s shirt and nodded, silently turning back to climb up on his jeep and do as ordered. He was damn sure nobody was going to sneak up on them while the sergeants worked on his friend.
“Moffat?” Troy asked quietly, aware that Tully had moved off to carry out his orders.
“The bullet is still in there, Troy,” Moffat replied without looking up, his eyes fixed on trying to stop the bleeding. “Looks like the bullet has nicked the artery. I’m actually surprised he managed to get this far without collapsing.”
“Can you take it out?” Troy demanded.
“I think so, but not here.” Moffat looked around at the expanse of open desert. “We are too exposed here. We need to get into those low hills.” Moffat inclined his head in the direction of the distance hills, “Find some cover and shade for Hitch.”
“Will it be safe moving him like this?” Troy asked worriedly.
“Safer than trying to do it here, I’ll wager.” Moffat nodded, sitting back on his heels, satisfied that the bleeding had slowed enough to make moving possible.
Troy stood, shading his eyes as he surveyed the desert around them. “Tully, see anything?”
“Nothing, Sarge. How’s Hitch?” Tully asked from his place behind the 50 caliber.
“Holding on. Bullet’s still in his arm. Moffat wants to move to those hills before he takes it out.”
“Is it safe to move him like that?” Tully took a quick glance to where Hitch still lay, where he had collapsed out of the jeep, the large pool of blood drying in the desert heat.
“Moffat seems to think it is. It’s only a couple of miles to those hills. Hopefully we can find some cover and shade. Hold up for a day or two until Hitch can travel. Moffat will travel with me and Hitch.”
“What about the General, Sarge?” Tully asked climbing into the driver’s seat and glancing at the dead British officer beside him.
Troy sighed. “We bury him up there somewhere. No chance of us returning him to the base now.”
Tully sat and watched as Troy and Moffat carefully lifted Hitch from the ground and carried him to the passenger seat of his jeep where they gently deposited him. Troy supported his inert form while Moffat climbed into the back. Once settled, Moffat placed his hand on Hitch’s uninjured shoulder to support him and waited for Troy to climb behind the wheel. “Take it slow, Troy,” Moffat cautioned as the other started the engine.
They were hidden in a gully that offered protection from the wind that had sprung up and from German eyes. A few gnarled trees that somehow still had a tenuous grip on life offered meager shade to the members of the Rat Patrol waiting impatiently for Hitch to regain consciousness. Removing the bullet had proved fairly straight forward for Moffat once they had found a suitable hiding place. Stopping the bleeding had proved a little more difficult, though, but now that too was under control, although Moffat had cautioned them that any movement over the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours could see a resumption of the bleeding and they may not be lucky enough to get it under control again. That had sobered the men’s mood. They and Hitch weren’t out of the woods yet, not by a long shot.
Moffat sat in the passenger seat of their jeep contemplating what he had just been forced to do. It was never easy dealing with an injury, especially a bullet wound, even more so when one was a hundred miles behind enemy lines and with no quick return to base imminent in the foreseeable future and the injury was to a friend, a good friend. The surgery to remove the bullet from Hitch’s upper arm and then the battle to stop the bleeding had taken more out of Moffat than he liked to admit, and he had found the need to take some time for himself, regain his center of balance so to speak before he rejoined the fight to save Hitch’s life. Hitch had always been there for him, fighting alongside him, rescuing him from one of his daring missions or crusades when needed, and he was damned if would allow his friend to die from a bullet wound to the arm. But it wasn’t just him Hitch had saved with his daredevil driving and never give up spirit. They all owed their lives to Hitch, more than once, more times than any of them would care to remember, he wagered.
Troy was restless; that was why he was lying on the ridge overlooking the gully and the desert beyond. He didn’t like just sitting around and waiting, especially when it was one of his men injured and he could do nothing to help them. Had he made the right decision, going after the pipeline, he wondered, instead of following his original orders? No doubt the destruction of the pipeline would put a serious dent in the German war machine but at what price? Too high a price, he thought angrily. A British General was dead and Hitch… Troy sighed; if Moffat hadn’t been able to stop the bleeding when he had, they may well have been digging two graves in the shade of the trees instead of one. They still might be, he reminded himself soberly, if they were forced from their present position before Hitch’s arm had had enough time to even begin the healing process.
Troy lifted the binoculars to his eyes once again, searching the heat hazed terrain for signs of an enemy approach. Until they were safely back at HQ and with Hitch in the hands of trained medical staff, it would be his job to protect his men. Moffat and Tully were both far too important to Hitch’s survival to have them on guard duty. In his present condition, Hitch was helpless and it would take both the other men to get him into the jeep and away from here. They had their orders. Take off and don’t stop until they reached Allied lines. He would hold the enemy off long enough for them to get a good head start and then he would follow. Foolproof plan, as far as he was concerned.
Tully sat beside his friend in the dubious shade offered by the few forlorn trees they had found. They were getting low on water but still that didn’t stop him from wetting the cloth he held in his hands and gently wiping it over the sweat-beaded face and bare chest of his best friend. As far as he was concerned, Hitch could have all his share of the water if it meant the man would still be alive and well for the next mission the army saw fit to send them on. “I swear, Hitch, you’re a magnet for a bullet.”
Tully paused in his ministrations, his thumb gently tracing the edges of the scar where Hitch had been shot with an arrow, of all things, during their raid on a German ammunition dump. The Arab Sheik’s begrudging help and final sacrifice had seen them all safely escape and complete the mission. Tully sighed, returning to his task of battling the fever that had taken over his friend’s body. Moffat said it wasn’t bad yet and if they could keep it down, at the very least he should be alright until they reached their lines in a couple of days. A big if, he thought, considering their present position and the heat rising from the desert floor. Another slosh of water onto the now dry cloth and Tully began wiping down Hitch’s arms — well, the one not wrapped in white bandages anyway.
Tully paused again, coming across the scar that represented the bullet hole in the arm he was currently holding. Compliments of their run in with Colonel Becker and his aide. That time they had nearly lost Troy and not to any bullet, which, while bad enough, was at least acceptable, considering their line of work, but to a damn Court Martial, when Becker had lied as to who he was. It had only been due to their daring raid in which an injured Hitch had taken part that had seen Troy exonerated of all charges.
Tully sighed; at this rate, he would never get Hitch’s fever down. His hands came to rest on the taut stomach and the scar that had very nearly taken Hitch’s life after shrapnel from a hand grenade had caught him in the stomach. That was just after Moffat had joined the team. Fortunately for all concerned, Moffat’s cavalier musketeer philosophy — we all go or none go — and a German field hospital saw Hitch survive that encounter too, despite a few tense moments when a mad German major proved not to be quite so mad after all.
“Come on, Hitch, you’ve beaten the odds so far; you can do it once again. You haven’t let anything get to you yet, not arrows or bullets, theirs or ours…” he muttered ruefully, thinking of the time one of their own, in order to save his own skin, had shot Hitch in the head and left him for dead in the desert. He supposed he should have thanked the German patrol that had taken Hitch with them and at least kept him alive until he was rescued, but he had been a bit busy avoiding German bullets and their own damn experimental rockets at the time. “Hell, you even managed to survive a tank and a dog, not that I wasn’t prepared to do the same, mind you, but Troy had me by the arm. I should have figured if it wasn’t me, it would have been you to go rescue the damn dog and get shot, but I sure hadn’t figured on the Sarge finishing the job for us. What was it Moffat called you both? Damn idiots — that was it.”
Tully leant back against the tree and closed his eyes with a sigh, patting Hitch’s uninjured shoulder. “Just rest, Hitch; there’ll be plenty of time to talk when you recover.”
Hitch didn’t know how he felt, didn’t know where he was and sure as hell didn’t know what had happened to him. The only thing he was sure of was that he wasn’t moving and for some reason that seemed to be the most disconcerting feeling of all, because he was sure the last thing he remembered was moving in a hurry away from an attacking German patrol. He remained still, eyes closed, outwardly appearing to be asleep, but inwardly his senses were turning on, discerning the sounds and smells around him. Smell first: the scent of antiseptic, close by — a hospital or aid station, maybe, but not enough noise to confirm that theory. He could smell sweat also — his maybe but it didn’t seem to be coming from him but again from nearby. The same could be said of the breathing — not his; he knew because he was keeping his breaths light and shallow. This was steady, not labored or gasping, more like someone was sleeping, very close to him. Beyond the immediate, no other sounds or smells came to him. although he was sure he was outdoors somewhere. The light that played across his face and closed eyes was intense, like he was in the sun, but then it would mute for just a moment, like a shadow before gaining strength again.
Careful not to move — he had a sense that it wouldn’t be in his best interests — he forced open eyes that were seemingly stuck together, clogged with the grit of heavy sleep. The light was blinding and he groaned despite himself and let his eyes snap shut of their own accord. Yet in that one bleary moment he had seen enough. A leg, clothed in the sand colored material of the desert. German perhaps but he doubted it. Knew almost with certainty that it was GI, unless of course some German had stolen his boots and was trying to trick him, but he knew it wasn’t his boot he had seen. He could feel the heat of his foot in his own boot. No this was a boot he knew nearly as well as his own, and it was attached to a leg and body that he had come to rely on for his very existence, more times than he could count. With his eyes still closed, Hitch reached out his hand the few inches needed to touch the leg beside him. “Tully” he rasped dryly, giving the leg a weak squeeze.
That one word lighted the fire in his body. He coughed, moved and cried out in pain all in one ragged breath that left him wreathing in agony. He couldn’t feel or hear the gentle hands or words that held him, pleaded with him to calm down, to breathe slowly, to stop moving. His body exhausted itself long before his mind caught up to what was happening.
“Sarge, how is he?” That was Tully’s voice, heavy with concern.
“Alright I think. You were quick enough to stop him from moving. The bleeding hasn’t started again.” Moffat. You couldn’t mistake that clipped English accent for anybody else but what bleeding was he talking about?
“Hitch, pard, can you hear me? Don’t try and move, just open your eyes for me.” Tully again, Hitch thought, what did he want? Open his eyes, yes he could do that.
It took more effort than he thought possible, but finally he managed to pry them open, to stare into the concerned face of his friend.
“Easy,” Tully cautioned, seeing Hitch about to attempt speech once more. “Don’t talk for a moment; have a sip of water.”
Water, yes water; that was what he needed to slack the burn in his throat and the raging fire in his body. He watched lazily from hooded lids as Tully brought the canteen to his parched lips, felt his head lifted ever so gently and the first drops of water trickle between his lips and down his throat. But as quickly as the trickle started, it stopped, leaving him begging for me.
Seeming to understand his friend’s unvoiced pleas, Tully smiled. “In a minute, Hitch; we don’t want you getting sick. Give yourself a minute. There’s plenty more.” Not quite true, Tully knew, but this was one white lie that couldn’t hurt, not now. He was just relieved that the man in his arms was back with them, well, almost anyway.
Hitch let his eyes wander from face to face, a frown forming between his eye brows as only the same two faces kept appearing in his line of vision, where there should have been three.
“I’ll go and get Troy,” Moffat stated, rising stiffly to his feet and heading towards the ridge where he knew their leader had entrenched himself. That had been too close, he thought. Good thing Tully’s reflexes were as sharp as they were or Hitch could have undone all his good work. “Troy,” Moffat called, not stupid enough to come up unannounced on their leader. “Hitch is awake.” Moffat waited for the other man to crawl back from the edge of the ridge.
“How is he?” Troy asked blandly, not about to get his hopes up just yet, because he knew it was far too soon for a positive answer from the Brit.
Moffat shrugged, still getting his own ragged emotions under control. “How is anyone just waking after being shot?” he asked with a sigh. “He’s disoriented, in pain, weak, feverish and he nearly undid all my good work.”
Troy’s head snapped up at the last, “What happened?”
“Tully and I were both napping when he woke up,” Moffat replied apologetically, suddenly realizing that that little discretion had left Troy as the sole protection for their little troupe. He made a mental note to himself to not let that happen again. “Tully, at least, was sleeping beside him. Managed to get a hold of him before he moved too much; still, Hitch fought him for a minute but Tully was able to hang on until he passed out again. He came around pretty quickly the second time but I think he’s looking for you.”
Troy looked at the binoculars clenched in his hand. Moffat’s news, except for the fact that Hitch was awake, sounded far less positive than even he had expected and he knew his next question was anything but fair, but he had to know. “Is he going to make it this time, Jack?”
Jack Moffat sighed, looking back down into the gully. He had never being one to offer false hope in the past and he wasn’t going to start now. “Honestly, I don’t know, Sam. There’s as much against him as there is for him. All I know is that he won’t give up without a fight and neither will Tully or I.”
Troy nodded, turning to face away from Moffat. “And neither will I, Moffat.”
Moffat reached out and pulled the binoculars from Troy’s hands. “I’ll keep watch while you go and see him, and Troy…” Moffat waited until the other man had turned back to look at him, “…get some sleep while you’re down there. You won’t do any of us any good if you fall in a heap.”
“Is that an order, Sergeant?” Troy asked, straightening up.
“Yes, Sergeant, it is.” Moffat replied as he scrambled to the top of the ridge.
Troy dropped to his knees beside his driver, giving Tully a slight nod of acknowledgement. “Hitch?” he asked quietly.
Hitch blinked, forcing pained blue eyes to focus on Troy. “Hey, Sarge,” he slurred.
“Hey yourself, Hitch,” Troy smiled. “How do you feel?”
“Fine, Sarge,” Hitch replied with a wan smile, shifting slightly to ease the ache in his back.
“Easy Hitch, didn’t Moffat tell you, you had to stay still?” Troy asked placing a hand on the other’s shoulder.
“Ground’s…hard.” Hitch mumbled.
“Yeah, well, I think that’s the least of your worries at the moment.” Troy replied.
“Why don’t you go back to sleep, Hitch,” Tully suggested, “Then you won’t notice the hard bed.”
Hitch sighed, “Can’t.”
“Why not, Hitch?” Troy asked, prepared to humor his friend until he fell asleep.
Troy and Tully shared a worried look. If Hitch was admitting to hurting, then he was far worse than they had thought. Tully searched through the medical kit until he found the box containing the morphine syrettes. He looked to Troy for permission.
“How long since the last one?”
“He hasn’t had anything since the Sarge took out the bullet,” Tully replied quietly.
Troy looked at his watched. That was six hours ago. “Go ahead; he’s well overdue. How many do we have left?”
Tully sighed. “Two. We gave one to the General and Hitch had the other one earlier. Two’s not going to be enough, is it, Sarge?”
“It will have to be, Tully.” Troy gritted his teeth. When he got back to HQ, he was going to make damn sure that both jeeps carried full medical kits in future. Given the nature of their assignments and the frequency with which one or other of them was injured, five syrettes between four men wasn’t nearly enough.
“Just relax, Hitch,” Troy heard Tully saying, “the morphine will kick in soon and then you won’t feel anything.”
“Yeah, Hitch,” Troy joined in. “Then you can go dream about some tropical island and one of those hot chicks you’re always talking about.”
“Palm trees and crystal clear water,” Hitch muttered as his eyes began to slip closed. “Hey, Sarge.” Hitch forced himself to focus on his leader. “Am I going to make it this time?”
Troy gripped Hitch’s hand firmly in his. “If Moffat, Tully and I have any say in it, you’ll be back on your feet before you know it.”
“Thanks, Sarge.” Hitch mumbled before falling back into a restless sleep.
“Don’t say it, Tully; just don’t say it.”
Sunup the following morning found the three mobile members of the patrol slumped in exhaustion around Hitch and the jeeps. Pain and fever had eventually woken Hitch from his sleep and they had spent the better part of the night talking and bathing him in an effort to keep him as comfortable as possible. Just before daybreak, Moffat had broken open one of the two remaining syrettes. Now Hitch was sleeping peacefully but for how long was anyone’s guess.
Moffat fumbled with the box and its one remaining dose of morphine. “Troy, we can’t wait much longer. I suggest we think seriously about moving out at noon.”
“But you said…”
“I know what I said and that hasn’t changed. What has changed is us. If we let Hitch go through another night like last night, then none of us will be in any condition to leave here. Look at you, and don’t deny you’re not tired because I know I am and so is Tully. None of us, even though we’d all like to think it, are superhuman. We need sleep ourselves.”
“So what are you saying, Moffat?” Troy asked, not ready to admit that the other man was right, at least not out loud.
“You and Tully get some sleep while Hitch is out. You both will need to drive. I’ll keep watch on Hitch and for any uninvited guests. I’ll wake you both in a few hours.”
“So what? You telling me you don’t need to sleep?” Troy demanded.
Moffat shook his head. “Not at all. I’ll catch forty winks in the jeep on the way back. You know it’s the only way, Troy.”
“That’s ninety miles, Moffat, a good five hours driving.” Troy pointed out unnecessarily.
“I know that, Troy.”
“What about Hitch’s arm? What if it starts bleeding again?” Tully asked.
“By then, Tully, I hope to God we are close enough to our lines that we can make a run for it,” Moffat replied quietly. “I’ll keep this until it’s time to leave; that should give him a couple of hours respite and I’ll make sure his arm is securely bound to his chest, to alleviate as much movement as possible. It’s all I can do.”
Troy looked down at Hitch. This was a decision that he wasn’t going to make on his own. Hitch’s life depended on the right one. “Tully, that’s Moffat’s view. What’s yours?” Troy looked squarely at the private.
Tully played with the match in his mouth for a moment while he gathered his thoughts. “We’ve been through a lot together, pulled each other out of the fire more than once and Hitch more times than any of us. If we stay here and he starts bleeding again, he dies. If we stay here and run out of supplies, we all die. If we head back and he starts bleeding, well, like the Sarge says, we make a run for it and we might get lucky, Hitch might get lucky. One thing I do know. I don’t want to leave Hitch out here alone in some grave like that General, buried and forgotten. If he has to die, then I say he dies on our lines. At least then he’ll get to go home.” Tully dropped his head and walked away from the two men.
Troy rubbed tiredly at his eyes. He had made a promise to Hitch, that he wouldn’t die if he could help it and he was going to keep that promise to the best of his ability. “Tully, get some sleep. We move out at noon.”
Moffat nodded in agreement, relieved that the decision had been made by all of them, in their own way. He checked Hitch before he climbed to the ridge. The desert all around them was barren and desolate and he prayed that it would remain so.
“Sorry Hitch,” Moffat apologized to the pained grunt his ministrations were causing the other man. “But I need to make sure you can’t move your arm and break open that wound.”
“It’s ok…Sarge,” Hitch panted as the bandage Moffat was wrapping around his arm and chest tightened uncomfortably.
“I’m sure it’s not, but thank you, Hitch.” Moffat patted Hitch on the shoulder. “All done.” Moffat broke open the last of the morphine. “We’ll give that a few minutes to start working and then we’ll be on our way. The next time you wake up, you should be surrounded by a bevy of beautiful nurses behind our lines.”
“Now there’s a thought to keep me going,” Hitch replied, resting back into the hard seat as much as possible. He felt Troy climb into the jeep beside and turned, giving the Sarge a pale imitation of his usually bright smile.
“Ready to go home?” Troy asked, searching the pained blue eyes for any condemnation for what they were about to do.
“Yeah, and I plan to get there one way or another.”
They nearly made it; with just ten miles to go, the pressure of the bindings ruptured the wound and Hitch started losing blood. Moffat jumped into the seat behind Hitch, supporting his failing body as Troy floored the gas pedal and made a run for their lines. Tully stopped only long enough to radio in that they were coming in fast with a badly injured man before he took up the pursuit after the other jeep. They hit their lines at top speed and didn’t stop until they reached the surgical tent where a doctor and orderlies were already waiting for them. Without preamble, Hitch was lifted from the jeep and hurried into the tent, the flap closing forcefully in the faces of the three worried Rats. That had been a week ago.
Troy and Tully brought the two jeeps to a stop outside the tent where Hitch was recuperating after his latest brush with death. It had been close this time, too damn close. For the first two days after arriving, it had been touch and go as to whether Hitch would survive or not, but persistent nursing and a strong will to live had seen him pull through once again.
The three men climbed from the jeeps and entered the tent, only to come to a surprised stop when they saw Hitch lying amongst an array of colored and stripped cushions. At their entrance, Hitch turned to look at them smiling broadly.
“What’s this?” Troy asked in amusement as Moffat took a seat on the end of the cot.
Hitch smiled contentedly. “You are looking at a wounded shoulder who’s found a friend.”
“When’s he going to let you out?” Troy asked, still smiling at the latest antics of his driver. Only Hitch, he thought.
“She insists that I stay in it until my arm is better,” Hitch replied happily.
“Anything else you need?” Moffat asked with a grin. After all the pain and worry they had endured, it felt good to have this light-hearted moment with Hitch. Even if it was at their expense.
“Yes,” Hitch removed his glasses and handed them to Moffat, “would you…ah put these down. And on your way out, send her in.” Hitch closed his eyes and settled into the cushions with a smile.
Moffat inclined his head; obviously, that was their cue to leave. The three men left the tent and headed for the jeeps, just happy that Hitch was well on the road to recovery. They were just about to climb into the jeeps when a young blond nurse appeared, carrying a tray and headed for Hitch’s tent. They watched intrigued as she paused to look at them before entering the tent. The light went off and then she emerged momentarily to untie the tent flap before reentering the tent, letting the flap fall into place behind her.
The three men shared a knowing look.
“War is hell!” Troy stated as he climbed into the jeep and waited for Tully to move out before he followed.