Category: Garrison’s Gorillas
Genre: WWII Drama
Word Count: 31,148
“I’m telling you something’s gone wrong,” Casino complained as he paced across the small clearing they’d settled in, to wait for Garrison and Chief’s return from meeting their contact. “And another thing,” Casino turned and glared at the two men sitting quietly on the trunk of a fallen tree watching his agitated pacing, “this mission stinks. What the hell are we doing here? An agent may have been compromised, a list of names of resistance operatives maybe in German hands; the Germans maybe moving heavy artillery into the area. If you ask me, there’s just a few too many maybe’s in this mission and who the hell is this General Wilbur? How come we haven’t heard of him before? This smells like a set up and we’re the pigeons in the pie.”
“E’s right, Actor, this mission don’t sound right and now the Warden and Chiefy are late back. What we going to do about it, Actor?” Goniff asked.
Actor studied the two men from under furrowed brows. He had the same misgivings as the rest of the team, including Garrison and Chief but there was nothing any of them could do about it. They had been ordered to complete this mission, however suspect it may seem and by a general no less. A general that as Casino had so rightly pointed out none of them had ever heard of before, including Colonel Thomas.
“I agree, Casino, but we are here now and here is where we will stay until this mission is completed.”
“If you agree, then why the hell aren’t we out looking for the Warden and Chief? They said an hour; it’s been two and half.” Casino stormed over to the two seated men, towering above the lounging Italian, hands on hips.
“You know as well as I do, Casino, that making contact with the resistance is not always as simple a matter as standing on a street corner in London or meeting at the local pub. There are many variables with meeting in the middle of a foreign, war-torn country.”
“You’re damn right there are! Like they ran into a Kraut patrol maybe.”
“Blimey, if that were the case, we would a ‘eard the shooting, wouldn’t we?”
Casino threw up his hands in disgust. “They’ve been gone two and half hours, you stupid Limey. They could be miles away from here. We wouldn’t hear a damn thing.”
Actor rose to his feet and stared off between the trees through which the two missing men had disappeared. “Casino is right, we wouldn’t hear shooting. This area of the southern Pyrenees is very beautifully country, but it is also very rugged and wild with many mountains and gorges and cliff faces that would muffle or distort the sounds of gun fire. It is also an area in which it would be very easy to get lost in.”
“Come on, Actor, you don’t believe that for a moment. Chiefy don’t get lost. Where’d you say we were again?”
“Southern Pyrenees, Goniff.”
“What’d the ruddy Krauts want with this place anyway?”
“My guess, if the information is correct…”
“And that’s one hell of a big if, if you ask me.”
Actor ignored Casino’s outburst, “…would be that they may be considering a push into Spain from here.”
“Thought the damn Krauts were losing the war.”
“This war is not yet over, Goniff. A quick unexpected offensive into Spain, and they have another country of not so willing volunteers prepared to do anything to keep the homeland safe.”
“Cor, blimey. We could be here forever.”
“No, Goniff, only as long as it takes you to pick up that back pack.”
“We going after the Warden and Chiefy then?” Goniff asked as he jumped up from his seat. “About bloody time.”
“Indeed we are.”
Chief blinked open his eyes and stared blearily at the green canopy towering over him. Sure of nothing other than the blinding pain in his shoulder and side Chief closed his eyes again and tried to concentrate on what had happened and where he was.
“Hey Warden, we’ve been walking for an hour. Shouldn’t we have come across this contact by now? This whole mission smells like a set up, you know that don’t you?”
Garrison stopped and looked up the path they were following, more an animal track than anything else as it wound its way up the side of the heavily forested hill they were traversing. From where they stood they looked out on the countryside below as it sloped away from the path in a series of gullies that ended on the floor of the valley. The hill rose above them on the right, covered in towering Plantain trees, their boughs as thick as their trunks and hidden in a thick canopy of broad green leaves.
“I know it seems like that, Chief, but the information received from this area has always been reliable, even if a little vague at times. There’s no reason to believe this time is any different.”
Garrison silently studied the man with him. He had a lot of faith in Chief’s succinct grasp of any situation they faced, not to mention the boy’s gut feelings which had proved to be more than correct too many times to count. Garrison inclined his head to the waiting man. “Alright Chief, I’ll tell you what. We’ll give it another fifteen minutes. Should be at the top of this hill by then. If we haven’t met our contact by then we’ll turn back and rejoin the others. Deal?”
Chief nodded, keeping his eyes firmly focused on the trees surrounding them, the hairs on the back of his neck giving warning that they were been watched. “Warden,” Chief hissed urgently.
Garrison turned to look at Chief but quickly spun back toward the trees as a heavily French accented voice speaking English floated across the path. “Man and woman riding through the woods.”
“Side-saddle,” Garrison replied carefully. “Leclerc?”
“Oui, Lieutenant Garrison.”
“Yes.” Garrison replied staring uneasily towards the trees, aware of Chief releasing his switchblade and moving slightly to his left behind him. “Show yourself, Leclerc.”
“But of course Lieutenant.”
Garrison stiffened, as the knot of unease that had begun to tighten in his stomach with Chief’s earlier words and his own misgivings about the mission took on a stranglehold as their contact stepped from behind the trunk of one of the many large trees that dotted the hillside, brandishing a gun aimed unerringly at his chest.
“There’s no need for the gun, Leclerc.”
“Perhaps, Lieutenant, I am a better judge of that. Now please, drop your guns, both of you and move away from them.”
Garrison stood his ground, confident that Chief could read the situation and would follow any lead he made. He watched the man in front of them intently. Leclerc was a large man, larger than Actor, broad shouldered and heavy set, but surprisingly light on his feet. Almost as light and quiet as Chief. Not the type of man one would choose to tangle with in a brawl. “Not until you tell me what this is all about. You were the one that contacted London and set up this meeting. I’ve given you the correct counter sign, you know who I am.”
“Oh I do not doubt who you are Lieutenant, or your companion…Monsieur Chief.” Leclerc stopped speaking, a small smile that did not reach the dark glinting eyes, playing across his features as he let his words sink in. “But perhaps I was not the one to set up this meeting, as you put it. Perhaps I am merely, how shall we say, a means, to an end. A very well paid means. Now…” Leclerc tightened his grip on the trigger, his gun arcing slowly between Garrison and Chief, “drop the guns or I will be forced to shoot one of you…and out here…well…there is no doctor as you can see.”
Garrison was seething. It had been a set up, and like a blind fool, he’d walked right into it. Not prepared to believe what his gut was telling him, what his men were telling him. Not prepared to believe that the Army would betray them. “Who put you up to this?” He demanded, taking a step forward.
“Enough talking. You will find out soon enough, drop the guns now.”
“Warden?” Chief asked warily. “You’re not gonna listen to him are you?”
Garrison kept his eyes firmly settled on the man in front of him, not giving Chief any indication that he had heard him. If they gave up their guns, they were sitting ducks; if they didn’t, he had no doubts that Leclerc would be dead but so would at least one of them. Whoever was behind this appeared to have a beef of some sort with him and Chief and he wanted to find out why. Why they had been sent on this mission to occupied France when it could have been handled back in England. “You won’t get away with this, you know. Even if you kill or capture us, the rest of my team will track you down.”
“You are wasting time, Lieutenant. You will put down your guns and come with me. As for your team,” Leclerc shrugged, “they are of little consequence to me. They will not find you, even should they remain here until the war ends. And should they stay, they would be classed as deserters, no? Another means to an end, that is all.”
Garrison sucked in a deep breath. So it wasn’t just he and Chief who were the targets; it was the whole team and he didn’t need to be Einstein to guess why. They were cons, pure and simple. And there was no shortage of Army officers who would like nothing more than to see this particular group fail. It was so simple: get rid of him, and the team would have no leader and he couldn’t see any of them working for another CO. If they refused to co-operate, they would be shipped stateside and right back to the pens they came out of. But it was more than that; he and Chief had been targeted specifically, which meant that it had to be somebody from their pasts. The others were just along as collateral damage. They needed answers and they weren’t going to get them facing off against the Frenchman on the side of hill outside Toulouse. He just hoped Chief knew what he wanted done.
“Alright Leclerc, have it your way. Chief, drop the gun.”
“Warden.” Chief cried out as he tried sitting up, but the pain in his body drove him back to the ground. His vision darkened dangerously as he fought desperately to stay conscience. He lay still, able to do no more than pant for breath until the pain subsided to a near manageable level. “Dumb move, Indian,” he chastised himself silently. Chief eyed the dark canopy high above his head. The leaves swayed gently in the breeze, allowing glimpses of grey sky and mottled light to filter down to his position. They had landed in the pre dawn darkness. He and the Warden had left the others in the small clearing at the foot of the path before following it as arranged. They’d been on it about an hour before they met Leclerc. He estimated he’d been out at least an hour or more, which should mean the other guys would be out looking for them by now, regardless of orders. He had to find the rest of team, warn them and then find the Warden and the treacherous Frenchman. Casino was really going to have a field day with this one; they’d never hear the end of all the ‘I told you so’s’ and he really didn’t care if it meant they found the Warden, caught the bastard who had set them up and made it back to England alive.
It was time to take inventory of his injuries. Chief drew in a slow deep breath until the pain flared in his right side. Ok, ribs, definitely bruised, possibly cracked, probably broken. He remembered the shot, remembered the searing pain as the bullet sliced through his left shoulder; remembered the loud pop as he hit the ground on the side of the slope. Dislocated or broken it didn’t matter which, his arm was useless. He moved each leg slowly; pleased to find that neither showed signs of any pain nor did his right arm when he gingerly tested it. At least he was mobile, if he could get himself back up to the path. And that in itself was a sobering thought. What had stopped him from falling to his death? The path followed the side of the hill; the side of the path where he had fallen was an almost sheer drop off into the gully below.
Carefully Chief turned his head and looked back from where he had fallen. He estimated he was no more than maybe fifteen or twenty feet from the top of the path. He turned his head to the left, biting back a groan as pain raced through his injured shoulder. The shoulder that rested against the thick round trunk of a fallen tree. He closed his eyes and sent a prayer of thanks to the gods of his people for his fortunate escape. Another few feet either way and…
Chief rolled to his right and carefully pushed himself to his knees. He remained bent doubled, gasping for breath as fire raced through his body. When the fire dulled to a slow ember he began the painstaking task of crawling his way, inch by agonizing inch up the slope and to the relative safety of the path. Chief groaned and blinked his eyes open. He was laying face down in the dirt. How long had he been there? How much more time had passed since Leclerc had taken the Warden? He slowly rolled onto his side and got his knees underneath him. He was back on the path; he didn’t even remember pulling himself over the edge. He groped forward with his right hand trying to find a purchase on the smooth track when he felt it. He squinted through pain filled eyes as his hand closed around the handle of his open switchblade. He hadn’t even realized it was missing until this moment. Chief pushed himself to his feet, swaying precariously until he managed to get his balance then he started off back down the path in a drunken stagger in search of the rest of the team.
Even as he gave the order and threw himself and his gun to the right, Garrison knew he had misread the situation horribly. He had enough time as the shot rang out to turn his head to see Chief moving to his left and then been flung backwards and over the edge of the track they were on. He heard the crash of the body as it hit the ground out of his sight and then nothing.
Garrison startled awake with a groan. His head hurt, the pounding in it keeping time with his wildly beating heart. “Oh Chief, I’m sorry.” He had hoped their moves would momentarily confuse Leclerc and give Chief enough time to throw his blade but he realized in the moment he gave the order that Leclerc was expecting it. He shut his eyes with the realization that he had just ordered Chief to his death.
Opening his eyes again, Garrison stared around the dimly lit room. Pushing himself to a sitting position on the cot he had been laying on he took stock of his body and his surroundings. Beside the pounding headache he seemed to be uninjured. That he decided was his captives first and last mistake. He swore to himself that if he did nothing else, Leclerc would pay for what he had done to Chief.
The room although large, was sparsely furnished. A table and two chairs stood in the middle upon an old rug that had been thrown on the earth packed floor. An old dresser and cupboard stood against one wall and a sink and hand pump stood against the other, not far from what appeared to be the door and only exit. It took him a moment before he realized that the light in the room came from a single little bulb in the centre of the ceiling. There were no windows in the room which meant he was probably in either a cave or underground in a cellar. Garrison got to his feet, swaying slightly as he was hit with a dizzy spell. He hadn’t even seen Leclerc move; too intent in watching Chief, until he felt something crash into the back of his head, probably the gun butt and everything went black.
Garrison took a step forward and stopped abruptly. His hands were free but looking down he discovered one leg now carried a shackle with the chain disappearing under the cot. He jerked angrily at the chain but felt no movement in it. Kneeling down he followed it to its end, a solid block of concrete set into the wall. Curtailing his temper and urge to lash out at whatever was around him Garrison regained his feet and tested the limits of his movement. He could reach the table, on which sat an empty plate and battered tin mug and the nearest chair but not the far end of the table and the chair opposite. He could also reach the sink and pump but not the door beyond. The dresser and cupboard on the other side of the room were definitely out of bounds.
“Leclerc,” Garrison shouted into the silence. “Damn you, Leclerc, answer me.”
The three men trudged warily along the path in the early morning silence. Even Goniff had given up his incessant prattle the further they went without finding any trace of Garrison or Chief. Actor called a halt and waited for the other two men to come along side him. “We’ll take five minutes then move on.”
“We ain’t gonna find them, are we, Actor?” Goniff whined as he threw his back pack on the ground and rummaged for the canister of water.
“Course we’ll find them, Limey,” Casino growled, “even if it takes us the rest of the war.”
“I fear that may be precisely what somebody wants us to do.”
“Ow’s that? Whad’ya talking about, Actor?”
Actor shrugged. “If the Warden and Chief had successfully met the contact, we should have met them coming back down the path. We waited two and half hours at the clearing and we’ve been travelling near enough to an hour now and there is still no sign of them, ANY kind of sign,” Actor stressed. “We could be out here for weeks looking for them. The Army expects us to make the rendezvous site tomorrow night with whatever information we have been able to discover, and if we miss the deadline, what will they think?”
“Well, that’s easy, mate; we ran into trouble.”
“Or we plain ran,” Casino grunted, seeing where the Italian’s thoughts were leading him.
Actor nodded. “Or we go back without them and tell the army the mission failed.”
“Aw, come on, Actor, we ain’t leaving the Warden and Chiefy out here, are we?” Goniff pleaded.
“Either way you look at it, we’re screwed. That’s what you’re saying, isn’t it, Actor?”
“What are you blokes talking about?”
“Jesus Limey, you silly bastard, do we have to spell it out for you? We stay out here searching till hell knows when, they think we’re AWOL. We get caught by some other team or an Army unit, we go back to the stir. We go back without the Lieutenant, we go back to the bloody stir.”
“Bleeding ‘ell, then we better go find the Warden and Chiefy right quick. They’ll believe the Warden, they will, they ‘ave….”
“Sshh, somebody’s coming, into the trees,” Casino ordered urgently.
The three men disappeared into the trees beside the path, guns drawn and waited for whomever or whatever was making the slow scuffing noise to appear. The noise stopped and they waited. In the silence, they heard a soft gasp and grunt and then the scuffling started up again. Actor was the furthest up the path and he peered around the trunk he was hiding behind as the figure of a man staggered into view. “Dear God,” he muttered as he stepped in front of the swaying man. “Chief,” he called softly.
Chief stopped and squinted up at the figure in front of him for a moment before he recognized who it was standing in his way. “Ac…tor.”
Actor barely had time to discard his gun before Chief’s knees buckled and he fell against the Italian’s chest with a groan. Goniff and Casino had stepped onto the path at the Italian’s soft call and watched helplessly as he lowered the Indian to the ground.”
“Cor, is he alright, Actor? He don’t look any too good,” Goniff stated as he tried to peer of the tall Italian’s shoulder.”
“Of course, he’s not alright, you bloody idiot,” Casino shouted as he dropped beside the two men on the ground.
“Enough,” Actor demanded harshly. “Put a lid on it both of you. Goniff, keep watch up the trail; we don’t need any surprises coming that way. Casino, pull out the medical supplies and let’s see what we’ve got.”
“You’ll be fine, Chiefy,” Goniff whispered as he moved up the path to keep guard. “You’ve gotta be ok.”
“Well, Actor?” Casino demanded as he shifted uneasily in the dirt beside the injured Indian. “I ain’t never seen him look this bad before.”
Actor ignored the safe-cracker’s demands as he ran his hands over Chief’s body, looking for and discovering the various injuries.
“He’s been shot.”
“I can damn well see that. What else?”
“The left shoulder is dislocated, and there are several broken ribs on the right; other than that, it is mostly bruising. We’ll set the shoulder first. That will undoubtedly start the bleeding again, and then we can attend to the bullet wound and his ribs. Casino, move in behind him and hold him steady.”
With more care than one usually expected to see from the fiery safe-cracker, Casino gently eased Chief up off the ground and rested the limp man against his chest. “How do you reckon he got so banged up and why the hell isn’t the Warden with him?”
Both men grimaced and Chief groaned loudly but didn’t waken as Actor manipulated the shoulder back into position with a loud pop. “I don’t know. We’ll just have to wait for Chief to come around to tell us. This wound isn’t too bad, although he has lost a fair amount of blood. It looks to have cut a furrow across the top of his shoulder and not actually penetrated through it.”
Actor washed out the wound with water from one of the canisters, sprinkled sulphur powder over it and tightly bandaged a covering over it. “Lean him forward and I’ll wrap those broken ribs. There’s not much…”
“Actor…” Casino whispered urgently, starring at his bloody hand.
“What now, Casino?” Actor didn’t look up from his rummaging in the medical supplies until a bloody hand was shoved under his nose. He froze for a second before looking into Casino’s worried eyes. “Where’s it coming from,” he demanded.
“His back, God dammit.”
“Lean him against me and then move around here and take my place so I can get a look at it.”
The two men carefully changed places not wanting to jostle Chief any more than necessary.
“Well?” Casino asked impatiently.
Actor sat back on his heels with a sigh. “It’s a deep gash,” he replied as he began cleaning it out.
“Well at least it’s not a bullet wound,” Casino muttered.
“But just as dangerous, Casino. It’s deep, it’s bled a lot and it looks to be becoming infected. Hopefully the sulphur will be enough until we can find a doctor or return to England. Now hold him while I wrap this and his ribs, then we had better move off this path and back into the trees until Chief comes around and can tell us what happened.”
The three men sat protectively around the fourth as he slept fitfully on the makeshift bed of leaves and jackets they had laid down for him.
“E is gonna be alright, ain’t he, Actor? I mean a couple of broken ribs and a bung shoulder won’t keep Chiefy down for long.”
Actor sighed. “It is not the ribs and bung shoulder that will be the problem, Goniff. The bullet wound and the gash in his back have bled freely for a long period of time and both are slightly infected. He’s lost a lot of blood and he is showing the beginnings of a fever. I’ve done all I can for him out here. He’s going to need more medical care than I can give him, sooner rather than later.”
“Blimey, it don’t sound good,” Goniff muttered as he lapsed into silence.
Chief opened his eyes slowly, unsure of where he was, yet not feeling as though he were in any immediate danger. He let his gaze wandering around his surroundings until it fell upon the man sitting several feet from him. Actor.
“Warden,” Chief rasped as he struggled to sit up, before he was gently pushed back down.
“Easy Chief, you’re safe. Just lie still before you aggravate your injuries.” Actor assured him calmly.
“Warden…Leclerc.” Chief swallowed. He felt hot; his throat was dry and knew he had the makings of fever.
“Ere Chiefy, drink this,” Goniff said passing a cup of water to Actor, who carefully lifted Chief’s head so that he could swallow without choking.
Chief sighed gratefully as the cool water eased the fire in his throat.
Casino couldn’t contain his patience any longer. “What the hell happened? Where’s the Warden?”
“The Warden, Leclerc.”
“Did the Germans capture them, Chief?” Actor asked quietly.
Chief shook his head as he tried to push himself to a sitting position once more. “No, Leclerc,” he gasped as he allowed himself to be lowered back to the ground again. He grabbed Actor’s arm. “Leclerc, set us up, shot me.”
“Bloody ‘ell. This just keeps getting better and better, it does.”
“Shut up Goniff, you lousy Limey,” Casino raged. “Where’d he take the Warden, Indian?”
Chief glared at Casino but he didn’t have the strength to fight the smaller Italian. “Don’t know. I went over the side…fell about fifteen…twenty feet. They were gone went I got back to the top.”
Casino closed his eyes and drew in a deep breath, imagine the pain the Indian must have been in climbing back up to the path and getting as far as he did. “Aw hell. Sorry, Chief. Should’nta gone off at you like that.”
“We gotta…” Chief groaned as he was forced to lie down for the third time. “We gotta get after them…Leclerc was paid…to get rid of me…and the Warden.”
“Why just you and Garrison, Chief? What about the rest of us.” Actor probed gently as he wet a handkerchief and wiped the sweat from Chief’s face.
“You were just…a means to an end, he said.”
“So I was right,” Actor mused. “Did he give any indication of who was behind it Chief.”
“None. Actor, please.” Chief gripped Actor’s arm tightly in his good hand. “We gotta find them.”
“You need to rest, Chief; you’ve got serious injuries.”
“No. I can make it…just help me up…I got here, didn’t I?” Chief glared belligerently at Actor. “We gotta go now…before it’s too late.”
“He’s right, Actor, and you know it. We have to find the Warden before he and Leclerc get too far ahead of us. Otherwise, all our gooses will be cooked.”
Actor turned his back on the waiting men. He knew Chief and Casino were right; they did need to get after the Warden as soon as possible. He also knew that moving Chief now wasn’t in the man’s best interests, but it appeared, neither was staying here if Chief was continually going to fight him for his feet. He was only going to get a lot worse before he got better, if he got better, he thought bitterly. But neither could he watch Chief grow weaker knowing he hadn’t done all he could while he could to find the Warden. Actor sighed; he was in a no win situation and he knew it. Well, if they were going after Garrison, it would be on his terms. He turned back to face the three men. “Alright, we’ll go. Casino, help Chief.”
“No, I don’t need any help.”
“This will not be debated, Chief,” Actor retorted hotly. “If we are to leave now, which is against my better judgment, you will allow Casino to help you without complaint. Otherwise we will stay here until such time as I think you are strong enough to travel. Do I make myself clear?”
Chief glared at the tall Italian before tiredly nodding his head silently.
Actor and Casino carefully lifted Chief to his feet, desperately trying to ignore the Indians gasps of pain. “Chief, you sure about this?” Casino asked in concern.
“Yeah,” Chief gritted.
Goniff hefted Casino’s backpack and rifle as Actor took the lead. He waited as Casino steadied Chief with a firm grip on the Indian’s arm that was hooked over his right shoulder and the left bunched tightly in the man’s belt to avoid the injured ribs and gash. Not until they had moved off after Actor did he take up the rear position as they moved back onto the path.
Garrison had spent several unproductive hours searching his memory for anybody in his and Chief’s pasts who could possibly have enough influence and money to bank roll an operation in a foreign country, let alone an occupied foreign country in the middle of a damn war. Granted he didn’t have much to work with. It had only been six months now since he had pulled Chief and the others out the cells they had been residing in. “Dammit,” Garrison cursed as his fist slammed into the cot he was lying on. It made no damn sense at all. Sure the cons had managed to piss off a long line of army personnel, and some pretty high ranking personnel at that, but the success of the missions they undertook always seemed to clear the slate. And all the officers were career soldiers like himself; they wouldn’t jeopardize their careers for this type of revenge.
It was unlikely to have been instigated by anybody in Germany, Italy or even France. Most of those capable of devising and carrying out such a plan were dead or residing in Gestapo prisons. No, this hadn’t originated on the continent, of that he was sure.
Garrison shook his head in frustration. Somebody wanted him out of the way, but obviously un-injured so they could get at the cons, or more specifically Chief. He’d never really considered when he pulled them out of the prisons, of the possibility that someone would seek retribution on one of them for past altercations in the middle of a bloody war. Of course there were any number of pub owners throughout London who would be glad to see the backs of his four men, not to mention a few MP’s and the odd husband or two. Garrison ran his hand through his hair. This was getting him nowhere.
It seemed the only unknown factor was this General Wilbur, but that didn’t seem plausible either. Until yesterday morning, neither he nor his team had ever heard of the general, let alone met him. Garrison sighed. You didn’t become a general overnight. Wilbur was a career soldier, and he guessed close to retirement age, sitting out the war in a nice safe office behind the lines. There were a lot of army brass doing the exact same thing and he supposed that he would end up in the same position at the end of his career too, if he got out of this alive, he thought.
Garrison was so pre-occupied with his thoughts that he didn’t hear the door to his prison open or Leclerc enter until the Frenchman spoke. “It will not do you to think so heavily, Lieutenant. Such a mistake could get you killed, could it not?”
Garrison’s head snapped up and he lunged to his feet, fists balled tightly at his sides. “Tell me who is behind this and why, or so help me….”
“You will what, Lieutenant? Beat me, kill me. Your threats are empty. You cannot hurt me.”
“You can’t keep me here. My men will find me or the resistance will hear about it.”
“The resistance, pah” Leclerc spat on the floor. “The resistance, they are weak washer women; they can do nothing. I will keep you here as long as necessary. Nobody will find you until it is time for you to be found. Now I suggest you eat. There will be no more food until tomorrow when I get back.” Leclerc indicated the bowl of food and slices of bread on the table.
“Get back from where? Where are you going?” Garrison demanded.
“Ah so many questions, Lieutenant. You Americans are so nosey, no? Where I go is no concern of yours…yet.” Leclerc turned on his heels and left the room.
Garrison’s fist slammed into the table, making the plate and bread slices jump. “God dammit,” he cursed, glaring disdainfully at the food. He turned back to the cot and then thought better of it. He hadn’t eaten since leaving London and he was hungry. And he realized that making himself sick through not eating would not help him get out of there. Grudgingly, he returned to the table and sat at the chair. At least the bread was fresh and the stew, whatever it was, was hot and not half bad to taste either.
“Come on, Chief, you’ve gotta rest for a minute,” Casino pleaded in the ear of the silent man he was all but holding up. “You know you can’t go much further like this.”
“I’m alright. Don’t need to rest.”
“Yeah, sure you are, Indian, and I’m the king of England,” Casino muttered as he adjusted his hold on the other mans belt. They’d been travelling for almost an hour. The first twenty or so minutes had been fine with Chief holding his own but since then Casino had been taking more and more of his weight while trying to ignore the stifled groans and grunts from the injured man.
“We gotta keep moving…gotta find the Warden,” Chief breathed out through firmly clenched teeth.
“Five minutes won’t make a difference, Geronimo,” Casino growled.
“Names not Geronimo,” Chief hissed as he tried ineffectually to pull away from Casino’s grip.
“Alright, take it easy, Indian,” Casino muttered as he re-adjusted his grip yet again. “Dammit. That’s it, we’re stopping.” Casino stated firmly as he felt Chief falter beside him, but the decision was taking out of his hands before he could call a halt to Actor.
Goniff worriedly watched the two men ahead of him. He couldn’t help but notice the way Chief was leaning more heavily on Casino with each step. He knew Casino was trying to talk Chiefy into stopping but it didn’t look as though he was having much luck. They all knew that with the Warden missing Chief wouldn’t stop the search until it killed him, which by the look of things was a distinct possibility. When he saw Chief falter, he took matters into his own hands. If Chief wouldn’t stop for himself then he’d bloody well have to stop for the others.
“’Ey Actor, come on man, give us break. We been traipsing along this bleeding path for an hour now. It ain’t easy carrying two back packs and a couple of guns, you know. I need a break. Besides I’m hungry,” Goniff called as he slumped to the path, not giving Actor the barest opportunity to object.
Actor spun around, ready to counter Goniff’s winging but it only took him a moment to see what was really going on behind him. Goniff was staring pointedly at Chief who was swaying precariously beside Casino now that all forward movement had stopped. He berated himself silently. He should have realized that Chief would not ask for a break but would continue the pursuit until he collapsed. “You’re always hungry, Goniff,” Actor replied with a slight nod of understanding towards the little English man. “Very well, we will stop for ten minutes. It will give me time to check your injuries, Chief.”
“They’re fine, don’t need looking at,” Chief grumbled half-heartedly as Casino carefully lowered him to a sitting position on the track. Chief took a couple of shallow breaths and dropped his head onto his pulled up knees as a wave of dizziness hit him.
“Here, Chiefy, drink this mate.” Goniff thrust a half cup of water into the man’s shaking hands. Once he was sure Chief wouldn’t drop the cup he returned to rummaging through his backpack for biscuits to chew on.
Actor waited until Chief had drunk the water and then gently pushed him forward so he could get a look at the wound in his back. Actor sighed. “Chief, how long has this been bleeding for?” he asked quietly.
Chief shrugged. “Don’t know, a while I guess.”
“Of all the stupid…” Casino exploded. “Why the hell didn’t you say something? All that stupid Indian crap you go on with about working through the pain isn’t going to do you much good if you bleed to death and what the hell were we supposed to tell the Warden when we find him? Huh?”
“That’s enough, Casino, it’s not helping. Now hold Chief while I get this bleeding stopped,” Actor directed firmly.
Chief didn’t have the strength to retaliate against the safe cracker’s tirade, not that it mattered anyway. The Warden already thought he was dead. “Warden already thinks I’m dead,” Chief mumbled softly.
“Yeah, well, you’re not yet and that’s the way it’s going to stay. I ain’t dragging your sorry carcass all over France. You got that, Indian?” Casino demanded.
Actor and Goniff shared a knowing smile over the top of Chief’s bowed head. Despite the bluster, the men knew that the little Italian cared for Chief, just as much as they did; he just had a funny way of showing it.
“That’s all I can do for you now, Chief. The shoulder’s looking alright; it’s the gash in your back that’s the problem. Next time you feel it bleeding, you say something, do you understand? Like Casino said, you’re not dead and we want to keep it that way. I for one do not want to have to tell the Lieutenant that you survived the attack only to bleed to death looking for him.”
Chief sighed heavily but nodded his head in agreement. Thanks…Actor.”
Actor rested a hand on Chief’s shoulder. “We’ll find him, Chief, don’t worry. Now rest for a few minutes more then we’ll move out.”
“And where do you think you will be moving out to, Monsieur?”
Startled, the three men spun towards the voice, only to be confronted by seven heavily armed men. Chief lifted his head off his knees and stared blearily at the men now surrounding them before collapsing to his side.
“Chiefy?” Goniff called as he reached out to his friend.
A small stout man in his late forties stepped forward from the group and addressed a silent Actor. “You are American, oui? What are you doing here? We were not informed that you would be coming.”
Actor studied the man before him; he was obviously French and the leader of this group. Chief hadn’t reacted angrily towards the man in the bare seconds he had been conscious, so Actor prayed that this was not Leclerc. He chastised himself for not thinking to ask Chief what Leclerc looked like.
“Come now, Monsieur, we heard you speaking; we know you are Americans and your man there seems to be badly injured. We have shelter and can help you with him.”
Actor glanced down at Chief who was now resting in Goniff’s lap. He couldn’t deny that Chief needed help urgently and so did they if they only cared to admit it. Actor nodded. “Yes, we are Americans,” Actor replied, ignoring Casino’s growled warning.
“Very good, Monsieur. What are you doing here?”
“Dammit, Actor, don’t you…”
“Casino, be quiet will you. Monsieur…” Actor raised an eyebrow in question to the man before him.
“I am Jean-Paul, Monsieur.”
Actor nodded in acknowledgment of the man’s name before turning to Casino with a warning glare, “They have already heard us speaking, Casino, and if you hadn’t yet noticed we are out gunned at the moment and Monsieur Jean-Paul is correct, we need help for Chief.”
“A wise man, Monsieur.”
“You are with the resistance in this area, Jean-Paul?” Actor asked.
“Oui, I am the leader in these parts. Why were we not informed that you were coming, Monsieur Actor?”
“That’s because we were sold down the river,” Casino growled.
“Monsieur, I am sorry but I do not understand these words.”
“Enough, Casino,” Actor warned. “It is a term, Jean-Paul, and a long story, but my first concern is Chief. Can you get a doctor for him?”
“Oui, that can easily be arranged. Pierre and Marcel will carry your man…”
“Now wait just one damn second here.” Casino stepped threateningly in front of the two as they moved forward. “Nobody touches him but me.”
“Monsieur please, you have carried his burden for long enough. It is time to allow my men to take over. They will not hurt him, of this I promise you. Our camp is not far and there is food and places for you to rest where you will be safe.”
“Casino, let them help Chief. You need the rest and it will be easier on Chief if two are carrying him. Besides it’s the only choice we have at the moment.”
Casino glared at Actor before nodding reluctantly, “But I’m going to be right beside them.” He stated as he grabbed his rifle from Goniff.
Goniff bent down to pick up the two back packs but stopped as another hand reached down and took them from him. Goniff straightened and with a shrug headed up the path after the others. Who was he to object if someone else wanted to do the heavy work instead?
An hour later saw the team settled into the resistance camp and with a hot meal under their belts. The three mobile members sat around the open fire nursing battered mugs of coffee while Chief slept peacefully on a pallet in the cave behind them, his wounds and injuries ably attended to by Claudette and her father Francois.
“This is certainly some set up you have here, Jean-Paul,” Actor commented as he leaned back against a tree stump and puffed on his pipe.
“Oui, Actor, we are fortunate to have these caves. There are many such gullies as these but this is the only one to have such an extensive cave formation. The Germans have tried many times to search these mountains and have failed every time.
“I can see why. I have visited this area many times in the past but not even I imagined this existed.” Actor waved an arm encompassing the small clearing and caves nestled into one end of the hidden gully.
Jean-Paul nodded, “There is much to be discovered in the Pyrenees. I have lived in these hills all my life and I still have not found all their secrets.”
Actor watched as Claudette and Francois joined them at the fire. “I must thank you for attending to Chief, Francois. I am afraid my meager medical supplies and training would not have sustained him for much longer.”
“Ah, do not sell yourself short, Actor; you did well to tend him as you did. He will make a full recovery but it will take time for those ribs and the shoulder to heal. I was able to remove the small pieces of debris from his back. The infection should not be a problem now but he will be weak for sometime and should really be in a hospital in his own country, not in a damp cave.”
“That’s bloody good news, that is. Chiefy weren’t looking so good before, ‘E wasn’t,” Goniff rambled in relief before another thought came to him. “Ay, ‘ow come you live out here instead of in the village then? Not that we’re not grateful that you were here mind. Chiefy sure needed the help. But don’t the people in the village need you too?” Goniff asked curiously.
“Oui, my friend, they do but the Germans, they demanded my attention for the silliest little things and would barge in whether I was with a patient or not. I could not take it anymore and so I joined this group. If the people in the village need my services, they know how to reach me and I visit after dark every two or three days.”
“Yeah, well, it was just lucky for Chief you were here,” Casino acknowledged suspiciously.
“Do you not worry that someone will betray your whereabouts to the Germans, Francois?” Actor enquired.
“Non, the people are loyal to the resistance in this area and will not betray us. We have lived in this area for generations. They do not like to see what the Germans have done to this country and its people.”
“Yeah, well not, everybody feels that way, doc.”
“Casino,” Actor warned.
“Now Actor,” Jean-Paul interceded. “Perhaps you will tell me what brings you here and why we were not advised of your coming.” Jean-Paul leaned over and refilled his cup from the pot resting at the edge of the fire while he waited for the Italian to respond.
“One of you knew we were coming; in fact, he set it up, shot Geronimo in there and kidnapped the Warden. You’ve got a traitor in your midst,” Casino growled as he got to his feet and stalked towards the cave where Chief slept.”
“Casino, I’m not going to warn you again,” Actor threatened.
“Yeah well, you be nice to them if you want, but I’ve had a gutful.” With that, Casino entered the cave.
“I’m sorry, Jean-Paul. Casino can be quite ill-tempered at times and especially when one of us is injured.”
“He cares for the young man in the cave?”
“Blimey. Don’t let old Casino hear you say that. He’ll knock your ruddy head off. Casino don’t like to show ‘e cares, that’s why ‘e’s always so gruff,” Goniff replied.
“But Casino is right, Jean-Paul; it would seem you have a traitor within the camp,” Actor interrupted, bringing the talk back to the original topic.
“Monsieur Actor, I realize you have been under a great deal of stress in the last few hours but I will not sit here and listen to you accuse any of my men of being a traitor. I suggest you tell me now, what this is all about.”
“I’m sorry, Jean-Paul, I did not mean to offend. Allied Intelligence received word two nights ago from an operative in this area that there was a list of names of local resistance leaders in German hands and also that the Germans may have been moving heavy artillery into the area. We plus our Lieutenant were sent in to make contact with the operative, locate the list of names and confirm the Germans movements.”
“Your Lieutenant?” Jean-Paul questioned. “Actor, I do not understand. Is this not all of you?” Jean-Paul waved his hand in the direction of the cave where Casino and Chief were and then to Goniff opposite him. “And who are the Warden and Ger, Ger…”
“Geronimo. That’s Casino’s nickname for Chiefy in the cave, and the Warden is our nickname for the Lieutenant,” Goniff supplied helpfully. “You see…”
“There are five of us, Jean-Paul.” Actor replied, throwing a warning scowl at Goniff to keep his mouth closed. “Lieutenant Garrison and Chief went to meet the contact. The contact shot Chief and left him for dead and kidnapped the Lieutenant. We were looking for the Lieutenant when you found us.”
“I can assure you, Monsieur Actor, we did not send any such message to London. There has been no unusual activity from the Germans in this area for some time now. What is the name of this operative? What does he look like?” Jean-Paul demanded.
“I’m afraid I don’t know what he looks like — Chief hasn’t told us — but his name is Leclerc.”
“Leclerc,” Jean-Paul spat the name out as though it burnt his tongue.
“You know him?” Actor asked, sitting up with interest as he heard the venom in the resistance leader’s voice.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this, I ‘ave,” Goniff whined on the other side of the fire.
Jean-Paul ignored the small Englander, his thoughts focused firmly on the French traitor who had once sat at his table as a friend and fellow countryman. “Oui, I know him, we all do, and you are right he is a filthy traitor to his family, to the village and to his country.”
“Do you know where he is or where he might have taken the Lieutenant?”
“Of this, I have no idea. I have had nothing to do with Leclerc since the war began.” Jean-Paul paused. “But perhaps there is someone here who may. I will check and have news for you come morning. For now, Actor, I suggest that you and your men get some rest. There is no point in you continuing your search until you know where to look.” Jean-Paul stood, nodded to Actor and Goniff and then moved to meet several of his men.
Actor and Goniff watched as the resistance leader spoke quickly with his men before hurrying across the clearing and disappearing into the caves on the other side. “Blimey, Actor, Casino’s not going to like this and I don’t think old Chiefy’s gonna be any too pleased either.”
“Whether we or they like it or not, Goniff, Jean-Paul is correct. Without information, we could spend weeks searching for Garrison and not find him or Leclerc. Think of it as another con. We always get as much information as possible before a mission.”
“Except this bleeding time.”
“Yes, except this time,” Actor confirmed. “Well, we best get in there and tell Casino and Chief what is happening.”
“We?” Goniff yelped. “I tell you what, Actor, you go on in there and fill in the lads and I’ll stand watch out ‘ere. We always set a guard when we’re on a mission.”
“And you are volunteering to take that watch, Goniff?” Actor asked, not bothering to hide his chuckle.
“Well yeah. Safer out ‘ere than in there once Casino and Chief ‘ear we aren’t going after the Warden right away.”
Actor chuckled again at the second-story man’s reluctance to enter the cave and face the two waiting men. Although, he had to admit the next few minutes wouldn’t be pleasant. Still, the rest would do Chief good, if only he could convince him of that fact. “Come on, Goniff, we have plans to make, so the sooner we get this over and done with the better.”
“We’re what?” Casino yelled, not waiting for Actor to finish his explanation.
“Keep your voice down, Casino. We don’t want to wake Chief,” Actor reprimanded harshly but the damage had already been done.
The loud yell startled Chief awake with a violent jerk, switchblade firmly grasped in his hand as he tried to sit up.
“Easy, Chiefy,” Goniff said as he pushed against the Indian’s good shoulder and pressed him back onto the pallet he’d been sleeping on. “It’s just old Casino letting off steam. Nothing for you to worry about, mate.”
“What happened?” Chief asked groggily as he lay back with a groan. “Where are we?” Chief looked around his surroundings in confusion.
“The resistance found us, remember, when we was resting on the track. They brought us ‘ere. They ‘ave a doctor, they do and ‘e fixed you right up, ‘e did. You’ll be good as new before you know it.”
Chief stared blankly at Goniff for several seconds before a fuzzy picture of men and guns came to mind. “How long have we been here?”
“Couple of hours. You feeling hungry, mate? I think there’s still some stew warming by the fire. I’ll go get you some.”
Chief shook his head. “Don’t want any food, Goniff. Gotta get after the Warden.” Chief tried to rise again but he was no match for the little Englander’s strength in his present condition.
“That’s just what I was saying, Indian,” Casino raged. “But lord high and mighty here,” Casino thrust a thumb in Actors direction, “says we gotta wait for the Frenchies to get us some information.”
“That’ll be too late, Actor.” Chief pushed himself up again and was surprised to find Goniff giving him a hand. He nodded in appreciation but kept his eyes on Actor. “The Warden could be dead by then,” Chief pleaded.
“And he could already be dead, Chief. We have to consider that possibility. Leclerc had no qualms about shooting you and leaving you for dead. There is no reason to believe that he won’t do the same to Garrison. Jean-Paul, the resistance leader, believes there is someone here who may know where Leclerc maybe hiding. When we have that information, we will make our plans. Until then you need to rest. You’re not doing yourself, us or the Warden any favours by not resting while you have the chance. We’re going to need you, Chief; the Warden’s going to need you.”
Chief held Actor’s gaze for several long seconds before nodding. Truth be told, he felt lousy; he doubted he’d last five seconds on his feet at present, but he wasn’t about to admit that to the others. Chief sighed as he let Goniff lower him back to the pallet. Moments later the dark eyes closed as Chief succumbed to his body’s wishes for sleep.
“What the hell…” Casino started as he turned on Actor, only to have his arm roughly grabbed by the tall Italian and dragged towards the entrance of the cave.
Goniff watched the two Italians for a moment before turning back to Chief, carefully pulling the blanket up to the injured man’s shoulders. He patted the uninjured shoulder gently. “We’ll find him, matey. Don’t you worry about that.” Goniff turned away from the bed and slowly followed the arguing Italians out of the cave.
“Let go of me damn you, Actor,” Casino snarled as he wrenched his arm out of Actor’s grip.
“Then keep your voice down,” Actor demanded.
“Then you tell me what the hell that was all about in there. You know as well as I do Geronimo’s in no shape to be helping himself let alone us. You’re gonna get him killed.”
“What do you take me for, Casino? I have no intentions of allowing Chief to join us in searching for the Lieutenant but I’d like to see you try and tell him he couldn’t come. Look what happened on the track. If he thinks he’s coming, he’ll at least co-operate with us and rest.”
“Why don’t we just radio London and get them to send a sub for him?” Goniff asked.
“I had thought of that, Goniff, but we don’t know if Leclerc is acting alone or there is somebody pulling his strings. Remember, whatever is going on, it directly concerns both Chief and Garrison. If we send Chief back alone, we could be sending him into trouble he is unfit to deal with,” Actor pointed out.
“So we tell London what’s going on,” Casino offered.
Actor sighed. “Are you not listening, Casino? Who in London do you want me to tell? London sent us on this mission. We don’t know who we can trust, at least not until we find Garrison.”
“Blimey Actor, you don’t think Colonel Thomas set us up, do you? I know he don’t like us much, but the Lieutenant…what with him been an Army man and all.”
“No, Goniff, I don’t believe Colonel Thomas has anything to do with this. He may not appreciate us for who we are but he certainly appreciates us for what we do. I do not believe he would knowingly risk this team or the Lieutenant,” Actor replied
“So where does that leave us?” Casino demanded. “If it ain’t Thomas then it must be that General, what’s his name? Wilbur, that’s it. He must have set us up.”
“But that don’t make no sense, Casino. Why’d he wanta go and do something like that. He don’t know Warden and Chiefy. They said they ain’t ‘eard of him before.”
“Just because they don’t know him, Goniff, doesn’t necessarily mean that they haven’t crossed paths before,” Actor replied.
“Oh come on, Actor.” Casino grumbled. “The Warden and Chief only met six months ago; hell, we all only met six months ago. How the hell could they have both crossed paths with this General? The Warden I could understand, them both been in the Army but not the Indian. He came straight outta stir the same as the rest of us.”
Actor sighed heavily. “I did not say I had the answers, Casino. It is all mere speculation until such time as we can find the Lieutenant. Perhaps he will have more information to share with us.”
“If he’s still alive, you mean,” Casino growled.
Garrison heard the door open but chose not to acknowledge the presence of the man who had entered his prison. Instead he remained lying on his bed staring blankly at the roof.
After standing in the lengthening silence for several minutes, Leclerc’s patience ran out and he decided to goad the Lieutenant into responding to his presence. He enjoyed watching the man’s futile attempts to discover who was behind his captivity and why. “What, Lieutenant, no angry outbursts or threats this morning? Surely you have questions for me,” Leclerc teased. “Do you not want to know who is behind your captivity and the death of your comrade?”
Garrison sucked in a sharp breath at the callous mention of Chief’s death but he was determined not to give Leclerc any satisfaction by responding to the man’s taunts. Instead he contented himself with the thought that the rest of his team would be out looking for him, despite his orders for them to return to London should something happen to him. They were yet to follow one of his orders and he didn’t expect this time to be any different. Garrison turned his head and stared coldly at Leclerc before returning to stare at the roof again.
“Ah, you disappoint me, Lieutenant. I thought you cared more about the men under your command, even if they are only — how do you say? — cons,” Leclerc jeered. “But perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps they are expendable, oui?”
Garrison clenched his jaw tightly. He just had to bide his time until the others arrived and then Leclerc would find out exactly how expendable HE was. Garrison tensed his muscles as Leclerc moved towards him.
Leclerc stared at the prone man. “You Americans are all so loyal, even to lost causes. Your men have left, Lieutenant. They met up with the resistance yesterday. They will be on their way back to London tonight, without you, Lieutenant. How does that make you feel, Lieutenant?”
Garrison turned his head, ignoring Leclerc completely, not allowing the man to see the relief flood his eyes at the news but his heart and mind were racing. Whoever was behind this didn’t know his cons as well as they thought they did. If Actor had made contact with the resistance, then all he had to do was hold his temper until help arrived. Leclerc had made it obviously clear yesterday that he had no love of the resistance and if the resistance felt the same way about this man, then it was only a matter of time now.
Leclerc’s eyes narrowed as he watched the subtle change that came over the other man’s posture. The tenseness had lightened with the knowledge that his men were returning to London without him. Suddenly it seemed to Leclerc that the Lieutenant had gone on the offensive and he couldn’t understand how that had happened. Leclerc slowly backed away from the man, a feeling growing in his belly that all was not as it was supposed to be. He needed time to think, to make new plans. He wasn’t a stupid man; the power he had held over the Lieutenant had just shifted significantly out of his grasp. Leclerc froze for a moment as Garrison turned back to stare at him, a glint of anticipation shining in the blue eyes.
Garrison watched as the door to his prison closed behind the Frenchman. He sighed deeply; it wouldn’t be too long now before his men…remaining men, he thought bitterly, found him. Chief’s death would be avenged. Leclerc and the man behind it would pay, if not by his hand then by one of the others. None of them would let the Indian’s death go lightly. Despite the fighting, they were a close knit team, closer than many Army units he had seen. Their circumstances had thrown the four men together as a unit and he just hoped they could find it in themselves to pull together now and finish this mission.
Garrison shut his eyes, he needed to remember.
Garrison had enough time as the shot rang out to turn his head to see Chief moving to his left and then being flung backwards and over the edge of the track they were on. He heard the crash of the body as it hit the ground out of his sight and then nothing.
This was his penance to bear for all of his life.
Actor stared down at their young scout as he slept fitfully on the pallet, sweat gleaming on the fevered face. The hope that had risen in the men at the doctor’s words yesterday had died during the night when Chief’s fevered spiked. Francois had apologized profusely but there was little more he could do in the hills of Toulouse for the injured man. The wound in Chief’s back was infected again which meant there was still debris imbedded in the wound that he could not see. All they could do now was treat the fever and pray they found Garrison before it was too late for Chief. The early morning discussion had been fast and furious as both Casino and Goniff had ganged up on him demanding London be notified of Chief’s urgent need of rescue. Rightly or wrongly, he had stood by his earlier decision not to send Chief home to what could be a death sentence if whom ever was behind this got to Chief before they made it back to London. At least here, Actor rationalized privately, Chief would be among friends if the inevitable happened. And if it did, then that would be his cross alone to bear.
“‘Ay Actor, you coming, mate? Jean-Paul has news for us about Leclerc. We could ‘ave the Warden back in an hour, then we can ‘ave Chiefy safely back in London before we know it,” Goniff prodded gently from the cave entrance. Goniff reached out and grabbed Actor’s arm as he passed. “Casino’ll come around, mate. ‘ E just don’t like bein’ helpless.”
Actor nodded. “And what about you, Goniff? Do you agree with my decision?”
Goniff shrugged. “I don’t like seeing Chief like that, Actor, ‘E needs to be in hospital, ‘e does, and we all know it.”
“But I don’t want ‘im to go back to London on ‘is own until we sort this mess out. ‘E couldn’t fight ‘is way outta a brown paper bag the shape ‘e’s in right now.”
Actor nodded. “Thank you, Goniff, for your honesty. Well, we had best not keep Casino and Jean-Paul waiting.”
Goniff watched Actor leave then turned his attention to Chief, who was tossing restlessly in his sleep. “’Ang on, Chiefy, you gotta ‘ang on.”
“What have you for us, Jean-Paul?” Actor asked as he joined the resistance leader and an angrily pacing Casino by the fire.
“As I said last night, Actor, Leclerc is well known in these parts. His family has lived in the village and the hills of Toulouse for generations, in fact since the Napoleonic War, as have many of the families in this area.”
“We don’t need a damn history lesson,” Casino growled, “Just tell us where Leclerc is dammit.”
“Shut the hell up, Actor.”
“Come on, mates. This isn’t ‘elping anybody and especially not Chief.” Goniff glared at Casino. “Just let Jean-Paul tell us what ‘e knows.”
Casino returned Goniff’s glare with one of his own but refrained from retorting to the Limey’s rebuff. Instead he stood his ground with his arms folded tightly across his chest.
Jean-Paul watched the by-play between the men. He could not blame the men for their anger. The worry over the one in the cave and the one still missing was clearly obvious to anyone who cared to look and he could understand and feel their frustration at what they believed were avoidable delays. “Leclerc’s family owned several properties in the village and here in the hills. Nobody had seen Leclerc for several years until two nights ago when he appeared at Maurice’s house asking for the key to their family home.”
“So why didn’t Maurice tell you Leclerc was back” Casino demanded.
“Maurice has much difficulty in moving around, Monsieur. He lost both his legs when Germany invaded France. He must wait for someone to check on him each day.”
“Sorry,” Casino muttered.
“What is Maurice relationship with Leclerc, Jean-Paul?” Actor asked.
“Maurice is Leclerc’s brother-in-law. Leclerc was married to Maurice youngest sister Celeste.”
“Was?” Actor queried.
“Oui, Celeste died six almost seven years ago. After her death, Leclerc changed. It was as if a stranger lived amongst us. He turned away from his family, his friends and lost the love of his daughter. If Celeste’s passing was bad, Marie’s betrayal was worse.”
“Blimey, what happened?” Goniff asked.
“She ran away with a tourist not long before war was declared.” Jean-Paul eyed the three men surrounding him. “An American tourist. I do not blame her; living with Leclerc must have been intolerable. She saw her opportunity to escape,” Jean-Paul shrugged, “and she took it.”
“Blimey, that explains why ‘e don’t like Americans then.”
“Do you know where he is at present, Jean-Paul?” Actor asked.
“We know where he is not, Actor, and that is in the village. My men have scoured the village since yesterday afternoon.”
“What about the properties here in the hills?” Casino demanded
“Both are in ruins, uninhabitable. Leclerc burnt both to the ground after Marie left.”
“So in other words, we’ve got nothing, zippo,” Casino raged.
“Not quite, Monsieur; we believe that Leclerc may be hiding himself and your Lieutenant in the ruins of the old monastery no more than an hour from here. It was built during the revolution and was used by the monks to hide revolutionaries in its underground catacombs.”
Casino ignored Actor’s restraining hand as he stepped up to the resistance leader. “Then why the hell didn’t we search it last night?”
“Because it is not safe to venture into the ruins in the dark. Many of the catacombs have collapsed, the entrances covered by weeds. I will not endanger my men needlessly, Monsieur, and for a man who may or may not even be there.”
“We appreciate your help, Jean-Paul,” Actor spoke quickly before Casino could come up with another fiery retort, “and I understand you not wanting to endanger the lives of your men, but we would like to investigate these ruins.”
“Of course, Actor. My men are preparing to take you there now.”
“‘Ow come you think this Leclerc and the Warden are there?”
“My men found several snares in the area last night. Snares that we did not set.”
“Anybody in the village could have set those snares,” Casino pointed out.
“Oui, that is true but unlikely. The villagers do not venture into the hills, not since the Germans came. It is safer for everyone that way and we provide enough fresh meat that they have no need to hunt.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” Casino questioned as he checked the rounds in his gun. “Let’s go and get the Warden.”
Actor paused as he was about to follow the resistance and his two team members to look towards the cave that Chief was sleeping in.
“Do not worry about your friend, Actor; Claudette and Francois will take good care of him, I promise. Now come we must go.”
Actor stood behind the trunk of one of the large trees that surrounded the ruins of the old monastery. Looking at the ruins he could understand why Jean-Paul had not wanted to risk the lives of his men at night. With the exception of the heavy wooden front doors and arched portal, only crumbling sections of wall remained. A few broken wooden roof beams jutted haphazardly into the early morning sun, all heavily covered in vines. In another time, Actor would have enjoyed roaming these ruins, just as he had those of Rome, imagining life as it would have been centuries before but now he had a more urgent need to discover what was hidden within the none existent walls. Casino sidled up beside Actor and nodded silently.
“How does it look?” Actor asked as scanned the area in front of him.
“Like a damn ruins, what did you expect.”
Actor shot an exasperated glare Casino’s way.
“It’s all quiet. If anybody’s here they have to be underground somewhere. How are we going to find the entrance? That place is totally overgrown with weeds; can’t see the ground for stepping on it.”
“I am sure Jean-Paul and his men are familiar with the entrances to the various tunnels and tombs. No doubt they have used them themselves to hide in when necessary,” Actor replied absently.
“This place gives me the creeps,” Goniff whispered as he joined the two Italians. “It ain’t right that we should be hiding in places like this. Its sacrilege, it is.”
“Well, we ain’t hiding in there, you dumb Limey, but the Warden might be; now come on lets go get him.”
“Casino, do you know where the entrance is in that tangle of undergrowth?” Actor asked.
“Well no but…”
“Then I suggest we wait for Jean-Paul.”
“Come, my friends, it is time to find your Lieutenant,” Jean-Paul stated as he joined the three men. “My men will stay here and cover us.” Jean-Paul led the way to the ruins. “Follow me; do not move from the path I make. The ground is unstable. It would be very easy to fall through one of the broken tombs,” the resistance leader cautioned.
They were headed towards the rear of the monastery and what looked to be the kitchen area. All that remained standing was a large stone fire place and sitting incongruously in its middle a heavy black cauldron, several feet in diameter. “Cor, blimey will you at that
,.” Goniff whispered in disbelief. “Who’d a thought, ‘ay? What do you reckon they used it for then?”
“Cooking annoying dumb Limeys like you,” Casino growled.
“That ain’t funny, Casino,” Goniff complained. “Reminds me of one of them witch’s cauldrons, it does. You know what I mean?” Goniff looked furtively around the area half expecting to witches appear out of the ground.
“Quiet,” Actor demanded as Jean-Paul bent down and lifted a piece of vine from amongst the undergrowth, which the men quickly realized was actually a rope wrapped in vines. He nodded to Actor who quickly took up a position opposite the leader, gun held at the ready. Jean-Paul lifted the vine and the undergrowth came away from the ground revealing a trapdoor and stone steps underneath.
“Well, I’ll be,” Casino breathed. He nodded to Actor and took a position behind the con man as the Italian carefully descended the steps, coming to a halt in large dimly lit tunnel.
“Someone’s been here recently.” Casino nodded to the light hanging from the roof. “And what’s that noise?” he asked as he moved carefully down the tunnel.”
“Sounds like a generator, coming from down there.” Actor pointed further down the tunnel. “How many rooms are down here, Jean-Paul?” he asked the Frenchman who had joined them.
“Many at one time but now, only two or three that would be useable. We hid a bomber crew here for several days three months ago but have not used them since. The others have all collapsed. What is left was probably the cellars at one time, built when the monastery was first built. The rest were dug as the need arose.”
Actor nodded. “Casino, Goniff, check out where that generator is. Jean-Paul and I will search the rooms.”
The first two rooms proved disappointing with no signs of habitation in several months. The men came together in front of the last door.
“Anything?” Actor asked quietly.
“Looks like somebody’s been sleeping back there; there’s a messed up pallet and a change of clothes, couple of dirty dishes, makings for snares but not much else, at least nothing to say whose living here,” Casino whispered back. “You?”
Actor shook his head. “Nothing yet; this is the last one.” Actor turned the handle only to find the room locked. Casino pushed Actor aside and pulled a small set of picks out of his pocket. Seconds later they heard the lock release and Casino stepped back with a grin. “After you, Beautiful.”
Actor pushed the door open and cautiously stepped into the room. He caught a slight movement to his right and quickly turned that way. “Lieutenant.”
Garrison tensed on the bed, unsure of what had woken him from his light doze. He lay still, listening for the sound that had disturbed him. He was beginning to think he had imagined it, but then he heard it again. A scraping sound accompanied by a light shuffle and muted voices. At least two people were outside his room but the voices were too low to make out who they were. Carefully he rose from the bed and cast a hopeless eye around the room. There was nothing that he could possible use to protect himself against whoever was outside. He realized he should have pulled one of the slats of wood off the pallet when he first arrived. At least it would have offered him some sort of weapon, meager though it would have been. With his leg chained to wall, he was defenseless against any attack. Garrison moved to the wall by the sink. At least the door opened inwards and he would see his visitors before they saw him. He took a deep breath as the door handle turned but the door didn’t open. Locked. He let the breath out and then filled his lungs again as something rattled in the lock and the door swung open. A tall figured entered the dimly lit room and turned towards him. He didn’t need to hear the man speak to know who it was. “Actor.”
“I’ve found him, “Actor called un-necessarily as he hurried towards Garrison, the others following on his heels. “Are you alright, Lieutenant?” he asked worriedly, concerned at how pale the man looked.
“Yes, fine.” Garrison replied. “Casino, get this damn leg iron off me. How did you find me? Where’s Leclerc? Did you catch him? Chief…he…”
“Blimey, slow down Warden; we can only answer one question at a time,” Goniff interrupted.
“Come and sit down, Craig,” Actor said as he pulled Garrison towards the chair.
“Hey if you want me to take off this damn bracelet, then stand still, will you,” Casino grumbled as he followed the Warden across the floor on his knees.
Garrison sank gratefully into the chair; he hadn’t realized just how weak he felt until his men turned up. He hadn’t realized there was a fourth man in the room until the battered mug appeared before him, filled with water. “Drink this, Lieutenant,” the words were heavily French accented, “and then we will answer your questions.”
Garrison accepted the mug without question, gulping down the water in one swallow. He hadn’t realized he was so thirsty until the water appeared.
“All free, Warden,” Casino said as pushed himself to a standing position.
“Thanks, Casino.” Garrison smiled half heartedly. He looked at his three remaining men and then towards the door, expecting the fourth to come through the door telling them that it was all clear, but that wasn’t going to happen, ever again. Garrison rubbed wearily at his eyes and face before turning to Actor. “How…?” was all he could bring himself to ask.
“This is Jean-Paul, Craig,” Actor indicated the small Frenchman standing at the end of the table. “He is the resistance leader in this area. He found us yesterday while we were looking for you.”
“Jean-Paul,” Garrison acknowledged with a nod. “There is a traitor here by the name of Leclerc. Do you know him? He was our contact but it was a set up. Leclerc…” Garrison almost choked on the word, “Chief.” He sighed.
“It’s alright Lieutenant,” Actor sympathized, “We found Chief; we know what happened.”
Garrison slammed his fist into the table and glared at Actor, “You have no damn idea…”
Before Garrison could finish, loud angry French voices could be heard outside the room. Garrison’s men all spun towards the door guns held ready as a large body landed sprawled on the floor at their feet.
“Leclerc,” Garrison spat venomously as he came to his feet. He watched as Actor and Casino bent down and roughly pulled the Frenchman to his feet before depositing him the vacant chair at the end of the table. “No wait,” Garrison ordered. “Put him here,” he indicated the chair he had just vacated, as he moved around the table, “and put the leg iron on him Casino,”
“With pleasure, Warden,” Casino grinned “and I’ll make sure it’s nice and tight.” Casino snapped the leg iron closed.
Leclerc glared disdainfully at his captors. “You will get nothing from me,” he stated smugly.
“Where did you find him?” Jean-Paul demanded of the two men who had stepped into the room behind their prisoner.
“He was coming through the woods,” Luc replied with a grin. “He had been hunting, snared a couple of rabbits.” Luc held up the catch. “They will make a nice stew for tonight, oui?”
Jean-Paul nodded before turning his attention to their captive. “Hello, Leclerc.”
“Jean-Paul, it has been many years, my friend.”
“We are not friends, Leclerc; you have seen to that. You have betrayed your family, friends and country,” Jean-Paul spat.
Leclerc shrugged, “I do what I have to.”
Garrison had had enough of the pleasantries; he needed answers and he wasn’t prepared to wait any longer for them. “Who are you working for? He demanded.
Leclerc smiled. “Perhaps I am working for no one, Lieutenant. You Americans, you think you are so important. You think you can take whatever you want, without regard. You come into this country, you offer many promises and you leave us to pick up the pieces of your debauchery.”
“Ay mate, the ruddy Germans invaded your country; we’re the ones trying to send them packing,” Goniff replied indignantly.
Garrison flashed an angry glare at Goniff, silencing him. “I’m only going to ask this once more, Leclerc. Who is your contact in England? You already told me you didn’t set this meeting up on your own and you were well paid for it. So who was it?” Garrison slammed his fist into the table.
“Ah Mon Lieutenant, what will you do when I do not tell you? Your threats are empty and cannot harm me. You will do nothing; it is not in your idyllic American convention to torture. I have already achieved what was required of me; your return to England does not matter now.
Garrison dropped heavily into the chair behind him, under no allusion as to what Leclerc was referring. He closed his eyes, seeing once more the bullet that ended Chief’s life. He should have known, the entire mission felt wrong, he and Chief should have turned back when they didn’t make contact immediately. It was as much his fault as it was Leclerc’s and the man behind it for Chief’s death. Perhaps it was time to resign before his judgment resulted in him getting them all killed.
Actor had remained silent as Garrison asked his questions but now he stepped forward and placed a reassuring hand on the man’s shoulder. “Lieutenant. are you alright?” He asked worriedly as Garrison continued to sit hunched forward and un-attentive. He mentally replayed the last part of the Frenchman’s conversation with Garrison, silently berating himself as he realized what had been said, or more precisely what not had been said. Giving the slumped shoulder another squeeze he turned towards the smirking Frenchman. “You have not achieved nearly as much as you thought, Monsieur. The man you shot and left for dead — Chief — is very much alive,” he silently prayed that that was still so, “and resting at Jean-Paul’s camp.”
They had been travelling for almost thirty minutes, silently following Jean-Paul back to his camp. Leclerc had refused to provide any information as to who had paid him to kill Chief and kidnap Garrison, not that they really expected him to rat out his boss. Now Leclerc was on his way with Jean-Paul’s men to a destination unknown and an outcome unknown but highly suspected, and none of the Gorilla’s felt any sympathy for the man’s plight. After all, he had tried to kill Chief and that would not be forgotten. He was a collaborator, betraying both his own country and the allies, and such men did not live long.
Garrison turned to Actor. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I’m sorry, Craig, I tried but you wouldn’t let me finish, if you remember correctly, and then we were interrupted. It was not my intention to mislead you.”
Garrison nodded. “I guess I didn’t give you much of a chance, did I? Is he really alright?” he asked cautiously.
“I won’t lie to you; he’s not good. Broken ribs, dislocated shoulder, bullet wound to the same shoulder and a deep gash to his back. It’s the gash in his back that is causing the problems. It must have happened when he fell. It was full of dirt, leaves. I cleaned what I could on the trail and then Francois — he’s a local doctor and lives with the resistance — cleaned it again back at the camp. He thought he’d got everything but then his fever spiked early this morning and Francois can’t do anything else for him, at least not out here. We need to get him back to London as soon as possible.”
“So why the hell didn’t you contact London last night?” Garrison demanded. “At least we’d have a sub on stand by as soon as we got to the coast.”
Actor stopped and stared at Garrison for a moment. “And just who did you want me to contact, Lieutenant? Thomas, Wilbur? You tell me, who can we trust over there? Chief told us when we found him what Leclerc had said. We knew it was a set up and once Jean-Paul confirmed that it was none of his men who had contacted London with the false information, well…”
Garrison heaved in a deep sigh as he mulled over what Actor had said. Obviously they had their suspicions about who was behind it as well and it all pointed to someone in London. “Who do you think is behind it, Actor?”
“I can only see two real possibilities with enough money and contacts to set something like this up. Colonel Thomas or General Wilbur — and I don’t believe it is the Colonel. We’ve been working for him for six months now, and while he may not like us for us, he does appreciate our work and I can’t see him jeopardizing the group for revenge and that is what this is.”
“So that just leaves General Wilbur.” Garrison confirmed.
“Yes, General Wilbur.” Actor confirmed with a nod. “Do you know anything about him, Craig? Where he came from, what he did before the war? You must have run into him somewhere. What I just can’t see is what the connection is that he has to Chief unless he just doesn’t like Indians and half-breeds.”
Garrison shook his head in frustration. “I have no idea, Actor. I’ve racked my brain since this thing started and I can’t come up with an answer. As far as I can remember, I’ve never heard of this General Wilbur, let alone met the man prior to the briefing.”
“We’re missing something,” Actor muttered, more to himself than Garrison, but the Lieutenant heard it anyway.
“Dammit, don’t you think I know that,” Garrison spat as he turned on Actor.
“Come on, mates,” Goniff pushed his way between the two men. “This ain’t ‘elping anybody. Let’s just get back to Chiefy, see ‘ow ‘e’s doing and then we can figure it out,” the pickpocket offered hopefully.
“Yeah, he’s right,” Casino added. “Besides, maybe the Indian knows something about this Wilbur guy. After all, it was the damn Indian he wanted dead and, come to think of it, we never did ask Geronimo if he knew the guy. We were all to busy looking for you and Leclerc.”
“Aw come on, Casino, ‘ow’d Chiefy know someone like the General then? ‘E was in stir like the rest of us, remember, and I don’t think the General was in there with ‘im.”
Garrison stopped so suddenly that Goniff couldn’t avoid colliding with him and both men ended up in a tangle on the ground. Actor and Casino untangled the two men and helped them back to their feet.
“Blimey Lieutenant, I’m sorry,” Goniff sputtered apologetically.
“It’s alright, Goniff, not your fault,” Garrison mumbled absently, obviously lost in some far off thought.
“Lieutenant, you alright, man?” Casino asked worriedly.
Garrison turned, plastering a fake smile on his face which did nothing to relieve the tension building in the rest of the group. “Yeah, it was something Goniff said, something about Chief and prison, a memory of when I first met Chief but I can’t put my finger on it, but I know it’s something I should remember,” Garrison sighed. “Come on, the sooner we get back to Chief, the happier I’ll be.”
The group continued on in silence, all thoughts of Leclerc and his fate forgotten as the Gorillas tried to work out what the Warden couldn’t seem to remember. They had just entered the camp site when Actor hurried away from them, making a beeline for Claudette, who he had seen leaving the cave where Chief was resting, bloodied bandages in her hand. “Claudette,” he called urgently.
Claudette turned and smiled at the handsome Italian hurrying toward her. “Monsieur, Actor,” she spoke softly, “you find your friend, oui?”
“Yes we did thank you.” Actor eyed the bandages she was carrying. “Is Chief…?” He couldn’t quite finish what he was going to say.
Claudette reached out and squeezed Actor’s arm as the rest of the group joined them silently. “Your friend is just the same; Papa he opened the wound again, drained the infection out as best he could, and cleaned it again. It will give him some time but you must get him back to England soon, oui?”
Garrison paled considerably at the sight of the putrid bandages. He knew it was bad but this… He visibly pulled himself together and stepped forward. “Miss, I am Lieutenant Garrison; I’d like to see Chief now, please.”
“Of course, Lieutenant; my father is sitting with him. Monsieur Actor can show you. I must dispose of this.” Claudette smiled encouragingly as she turned away from the men.
“I’ll ‘elp you,” Goniff offered, none to eager to see Chiefy right at that moment. Besides, the Warden needed some alone time with the man and he didn’t want to intrude on what was sounding dismally like a very short reunion.
Actor and Garrison entered the cave, Casino electing to wait outside, feeling that the Warden needed to see Chief alone. “Francoise,” Actor greeted as he entered the cave, followed by Garrison. He surveyed the injured man, pleased at least to see that his condition hadn’t deteriorated while they had been gone. If anything, he detected a slight improvement in the man’s breathing.
Garrison’s heart almost stopped at the sight of Chief lying propped up by pillows on a pallet pushed against the wall. Even in the poor lighting he could see how pale the man was. Beads of sweat rolled down his face, and a fine sheen covered those parts of his upper body that weren’t wrapped in bandages. His breathing was laboured and he tossed intermittently in his fevered sleep. Taking in a deep breath, Garrison moved closer to the pallet, he could see a red stain on the bandages wrapped across the injured shoulder where the bullet had hit him. Close up, the breathing sounded even worse, a result of the broken ribs that were tightly wrapped. He was glad in away he couldn’t see the other wound in the Indian’s back hidden by the bandage wrapped around the abdomen.
“Francoise,” Actor’s voice jolted Garrison back to reality. “This is Lieutenant Garrison, our leader.”
“Lieutenant,” Francoise held out his hand, “under other circumstances…”
Garrison nodded. “How is he? What are his chances?”
Francoise sighed, “Under normal circumstances, his chances would be good. None of the injuries are life-threatening on their own but out here…” Francoise shrugged. “I have done all I can; I hope it will be enough to get him back to England. If you can arrange that quickly, he should be alright but it will take many weeks for him to recover fully.”
“And if we can’t get back to England?” Garrison asked quietly.
Francoise dropped his head, “Then I do not like his chances, Monsieur. I don’t have this penicillin that I hear much talk about and the sulphur is not strong enough to fight this infection.”
Garrison nodded curtly. “Thank you doctor.”
Francoise nodded. “It is good you are here, Lieutenant; he has been calling for you. Perhaps he will rest easier knowing you are now safe. It may make a difference.” Francoise left the two men beside the pallet and exited the cave in need of fresh air. Such a young man to be enduring what he was but that was life in war he supposed.
“I’ll check on the others,” Actor spoke quietly. “Talk to him Craig. Francoise is right; let him know you’re ok. It might just give us that break we need.” Actor turned and left the cave throwing Garrison into near silence save the harsh breathing of his scout.
Garrison sank to the cave floor, ringing out the cloth floating in the bucket of water by the pallet. He gently wiped the sweat from the pale face and torso, willing the dark eyes to open, as though his touch was all that was needed to bring Chief back to consciousness. When nothing happened, he sighed deeply. “I’m sorry Chief for getting you into this mess and I promise I’ll get you back to England…alive,” he added softly. “If it’s any consolation, Leclerc won’t be around to enjoy the payoff for this.” Garrison lapsed into silence; he never was one for talking much when he was troubled, just like the man lying before him. He wet the cloth again and wiped the seat caused by the fever from the closed face. Garrison sat for another fifteen minutes tending the injured man, with nothing more than the laboured breathing for acknowledgment of his efforts. He reached out and squeezed the good hand. “I’ll send Casino and Goniff in, Chief. I need to organize our return to England.” Garrison started to rise but sat down abruptly when the hand in his gripped his fingers tightly. “Chief?” Garrison waited as the dark headed turned slowly toward him.
Dark eyes cracked open and blinked slowly. “War…den?” The voice was scratchy and barely above a whisper.
“Hang on, Chief, I’ll get you some water,” Garrison replied as he released the clammy hand and reached down to fill the mug sitting beside a battered pot against the wall. He lifted the damp headed and let Chief take a couple of sips before the man turned away from the mug.
“Thanks…you…al…right?” Chief gasped, trying to keep his eyes open long enough to scrutinize the Lieutenant for injuries.
“I’m fine, Chief, really and so will you when we get you back to England.”
“I know that, Chief, but don’t you worry about it,” Garrison replied, squeezing the uninjured shoulder gently. We’ll sort it out. You just lie there and save your strength; you’re going to need it on the trip home.”
Chief nodded as his eyes shut and he slid into sleep again. Garrison waited another five minutes, sure that the breathing had improved a little in the last few minutes although it could be just wishful thinking on his part. Chief was in a bad way and they needed to get him back home as soon as possible. He was not going to allow a damn collaborator and a General with a grudge rob him of one of his men without a bloody good fight.
Garrison blinked in the afternoon sun as he exited the cave. His men were sitting around a camp fire, talking quietly and drinking what he presumed were mugs of coffee. He walked slowly up to them as a plan began to form in his head. “Casino, Goniff, go sit with Chief, will you. He was a wake for a minute or two.” He smiled tentatively as the two cons leapt to their feet, hastily throwing the remaining coffee on the ground eager to get back to their injured team mate.
Actor shook his head. “They will never change. They can’t live together nor can they live apart.”
“And I’m going to see that they don’t have to live apart. We need to get Chief out of here tonight,” Garrison said, filling one of the discarded mugs with coffee from the pot resting at the edge of flames.
Actor nodded. “Are we contacting London?” he asked curiously.
Garrison shook his head. “No, or at least not until we reach England. We can’t risk the wrong people finding out that Chief and I are still alive.”
“Then how do you propose to get Chief home?” Actor asked quietly.
“With the help of the resistance, I hope. Where is Jean-Paul? We need to make arrangements and we haven’t got much time.”
“Ok, here’s what we’re going to do,” Garrison said to his assembled men an hour later. “Jean-Paul is getting us a truck so we can move Chief safely. From here, the resistance will take us to Bordeaux where we’ll be met by another group of resistance. They’ll take us on to Archachon where we’ll meet a fishing boat. From there, we travel around the coast to Brest, change boats and travel across the channel to Portsmouth. We shouldn’t have any trouble finding suitable transport for Chief in Portsmouth. An hour later, we can have Chief in a London hospital under our protection. Any questions?”
“That’s a lot of hard travelling for Chief, Lieutenant,” Actor pointed out.
“I know Actor but we don’t have a choice,” Garrison replied.
“What about the bleeding sub?” Goniff demanded. “Why can’t we just meet it? It’d be better for Chiefy than all these changes and what’ll they think when we don’t show?”
“That we missed the rendezvous. That’s happened before so it won’t look suspicious,” Garrison replied patiently.
“But they’ll radio London, let them know we didn’t show.”
“That’s what the Warden wants, you dumb limey.” Casino growled. “Make this General think his plan worked and we’re not coming back. If we go back on the sub, he’ll know it failed and he might go to ground or he’ll be waiting for us with armed MP’s. That won’t help Geronimo in there or the Warden if this nut is still on the loose.”
“Oh. Well then…” Goniff turned back to Garrison, “‘Ow are going to prove it was this General behind it then?”
Garrison sighed. “When we get back to England, I’ll ring the Sergeant Major and have him bring me all the files for the Nevada State Prison.”
“‘Ay, that’s where Chiefy was. You think it was an inside job?” Goniff asked in amazement.
“Not quite Goniff, but close,” Garrison replied.
“Cor, blimey, you don’t reckon the General had a rellie in there do you? That’d be a bit embarrassing for ‘im wouldn’t it. Maybe Chiefy knows who he is and this General wants to get rid of Chief before he can spill the beans.” Goniff stopped and took a breath, “But what about you, Warden? Why’d he go after you? Do you know this rellie too?”
“I don’t know, Goniff,” Garrison replied in exasperation, “and we won’t know until we get back to London. Now we’ll be moving out soon, I suggest you get ready.”
“Hey Warden,” Casino called as Garrison turned away and back towards the cave. “After you get those files, what happens next?”
Garrison turned back to face his men. “If my hunch is correct, I ring Thomas and fill him in, then we set a trap of our own.” Garrison turned away and strode purposefully towards the cave watched by his men.
“About damn time,” Casino muttered. “That son of a bitch who set us up is going to pay.”
“Come on mates, times wasting. I hope they make a nice bed for Chiefy in the back of that truck. You reckon he’s going to make it?” he asked quietly.
“He’ll make it, limey, if the Warden has anything to say about it,” Casino stated.
Garrison entered the cave and stood just inside the entrance until his eyes adjusted to the dimness. He moved quietly to the foot of the pallet and watched as Francoise bathed Chief’s upper body with the wet cloth. “How is he?” he asked quietly.
“He is holding his own, Lieutenant. No worse or better than before. I will give him another shot of morphine before you leave. That should hold him until you reach the boat. I will not lie to you, Lieutenant; this trip will be very hard on him. You must work to keep his fever down. Claudette is gathering supplies for you. He is a strong young man or he would not have gotten this far but he needs proper medical attention and soon.”
“I would say, doctor, that he has being getting proper medical attention since he got here and I must thank you for that.”
“It is what I do, what I am expected to do. No thanks are necessary but they are appreciated. I wish you well, Lieutenant.”
“Well Colonel, I see your Gorillas did not make the rendezvous as planned,” General Wilbur remarked snidely as he entered the Colonel’s office without introduction. “But then what was I supposed to expect from a bunch of cons,” he sneered.
Thomas took umbrage at the sudden interruption to his work but he couldn’t allow his feelings to show in front of the General. He didn’t like the man or his attitude towards the team that had been sent out on his explicit request.
“Garrison and his team have never let me down sir. They have two more nights to make the rendezvous and I’m sure they will, and with all the information you require,” Thomas replied curtly.
Wilbur stared at Thomas; he knew the Colonel had little time for him and he didn’t care so long as his goals were achieved. “Humph, we shall see Colonel, we shall see.” Wilbur spun on his heel and stalked from the Colonel’s office without looking back.
Colonel Thomas watched the stiff- backed General leave his office without a word. Something hadn’t felt right about the General or the mission the men had been sent on but he couldn’t work out what it was. He had even gone so far as to make a few discreet enquiries regarding the General but they only confirmed that Wilbur was indeed who he said he was. He sighed; he was worried and not to proud to admit it. There had been no word from Garrison or his men since the pilot confirmed he had dropped them behind enemy lines. All he could do was pray that the team’s innate sense of self preservation would see them through this mission successfully.
“Geez Warden, I’m telling you now, I never want to go through another twenty-four hours like that again, ever.” Casino groused as they all sat stiffly in the hard hospital chairs waiting for word on Chief’s condition.
Garrison nodded tiredly in agreement. It had been one hell of a trip back once they reached Archachon. Francoise had done enough to make Chief relatively comfortable for the first part of the trip but once they hit the water, things had changed drastically for the worse. Never a good traveler by boat, the injuries coupled with the rough seas had seen them all fighting a losing battle to keep Chief still and safe in the bunk in the small crew quarters. Nausea had struck almost immediately after the boat left the safety of the little cove. His fever had spiked again, the breathing was an angry rasp and both bandages covering the wounds showed fresh blood. With the rough seas tossing them all about the cabin, they chose not to try and treat the wounds for fear that the bleeding would become uncontrollable.
The bad weather had set them back nearly two hours so they had no time other than to administer another dose of morphine to Chief in Brest before they once more found themselves in the grips of the angry sea. Crossing the channel was never a smooth ride and they were running fast to beat the encroaching dawn. The morphine may have kept Chief unconscious but it did nothing for the others, particularly Goniff who succumbed to sea sickness and Casino found himself with his hands full looking after the little pickpocket. That had left Actor and Garrison in the difficult position of tending Chief on their own. In desperation Garrison had ended up getting in the bunk with Chief to try and brace him from the worst of the swells with Actor supporting both of them.
Land fall at Plymouth had seen them all stagger onto the dock, Chief supported on a stretcher between them, and falling gratefully to their knees on terra firma. It had taken them all a few minutes to regain their breaths and their land legs before Casino was off looking for a suitable vehicle to transport them the last sixty odd miles to London and a hospital.
“You’re not going to get any argument out of me on that one, Casino.” Garrison assured the safecracker tiredly, “But it’ll be worth it when we know Chief is going to make it.”
“What’s taking them so long?” Goniff asked. “We should a ‘eard something by now shouldn’t we?”
“It hasn’t been all that long. Goniff,” Actor offered. “I’m sure someone will be out shortly to let us know how Chief is.” Actor pushed himself to his feet and stretched with a grimace. The pounding in the boats had left them all battered and bruised. He eyed the other men slumped in the chairs. Perhaps it would be a good idea if they were all checked out before they left the hospital, although he doubted that any of them would agree. “I am in need of a good strong cup of coffee. Would anyone else like one?”
“I’d love a cuppa tea mate, if you don’t mind,” Goniff replied eagerly.
“Yeah, I’ll have a coffee,” Garrison nodded.
“Make that two.” Casino added.
“And some sweet biscuits,” Goniff added hopefully. “I’m kinda hungry again.”
“I’m not surprised,” Casino grumbled. “You threw up enough food to last a week.”
“I couldn’t ‘elp that, I couldn’t. I don’t like boats and you know it.”
Garrison looked at Actor and rolled his eyes as the big Italian looked down at them with a smirk on his face.
“You better hurry up with that coffee, Actor, before I strangle one of them,” Garrison warned.
Actor returned ten minutes later to find the team surrounding another man in a white coat who could only be a doctor. He hurried forward, ignoring the coffee and tea that sloshed out of the cups. Obviously the man had only just arrived as he heard him asking for silence.
“Gentleman please, if you will just keep quiet, I’ll tell you what you need to know.”
“Knock it off,” Garrison warned. “Go ahead Doctor.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. We had to reset the shoulder. The bullet wound is clean and has been stitched. The ribs are wrapped and should heal without anymore problems.”
“What about the wound in his back?” Garrison asked warily.
“Yes well that was a little more complicated. Unfortunately, the infection was deeply seated. We had to reopen the wound again to remove several small splinters of wood. We’re leaving the wound open and draining at present and we have started him on a heavy course of penicillin to battle the infection and fever.”
“But ‘e’s gonna be alright?” Goniff asked hopefully.
“It’s too early to tell; his fever is still dangerously high. We’ll know more after the penicillin takes effect,” the doctor replied apologetically. “Now I suggest you all go home and get some rest; you all look as though you need it. Your friend is heavily sedated and won’t be awake for a good number of hours.”
“I’m sorry, Doctor, but that won’t be possible,” Garrison apologized. “We aren’t leaving Chief unprotected. One of us will be staying with him at all times until he leaves.
“Really, Lieutenant, I cannot allow that; it is against hospital policy. I assure you nothing will happen to him while he is in our care. And may I point out that this is not a military hospital you have brought him to.”
“I am aware of that, doctor, and I understand your position. I assure you Chief will be transferred to a military hospital as soon as possible but the person responsible for his injuries is still at large, and until he is caught, we will be standing guard over Chief.” Garrison declared forcefully.
The doctor studied the faces of the determined men surrounding him and finally nodded in agreement. “Alright, but only one of you in the room at a time. He needs quiet and rest. If I find any of you disturbing my patients or my nurses, I will call the police and have you removed. Is that understood?”
“I assure you, Doctor, we have no intentions of disrupting Chief’s or any other patient’s need for rest. We have all watched his suffering helplessly over the last couple of days and have no intentions of prolonging it,” Actor responded amongst nods of agreement from the other cons.
“Very well,” the doctor nodded. “A nurse will be monitoring your friend frequently over the next twenty-four hours. Try not to get in her way.” With that last piece of advice, he left the men alone.
“Alright, Casino, you stay with Chief. Goniff, you stand guard outside the door, Actor, you’re with me. We’ll relieve you both in two hours.”
“’Ay Warden, do you think I could see Chiefy for just a minute before Casino goes in?” Goniff asked hopefully.
“I would like to see him too, Lieutenant, just to assure myself, of course,” Actor added.
“Of course, Actor. Yeah, go on but don’t wake him,” Garrison agreed.
Both Actor and Goniff slipped quietly into the room and returned a minute later. “’E looks ruddy awful,” Goniff said as he came through the door. “I ‘ope that doctor knows what ‘e’s doing.”
“He is not that bad, Goniff,” Actor assured the others as Garrison pushed past him for his own visit with Chief.
“You’re up, Casino,” Garrison ordered as he exited the room. “Goniff, don’t let anyone except the doctor or nurse in there until I get back.” Garrison turned and indicated Actor should follow him down the hall. Once out of earshot of Goniff, Garrison pulled Actor to halt. “Goniff’s right; he looks awful, his breathing…”
“Has been compromised by the broken ribs and the fever. You’ve had broken ribs before; you know how painful they are to breathe. Add to that the infection he’s fighting and it’s not surprising. I’m sure once the penicillin starts doing its job, he will improve.”
“I hope you’re right, Actor” Garrison replied before he moved off down the corridor once more.
“What do you want me to do, Craig?” Actor asked as they entered the waiting room at the end of the corridor.
“Ring the mansion, explain to the Sergeant Major what has happened and ask him to bring me all the files from Nevada State.”
“Do you think that’s wise, considering you are only guessing as to who is behind this?” Actor asked.
Garrison stared at his number two in disbelief for a moment, “Do you really think the Sergeant Major is behind this?” Garrison asked incredulously.
“Well no, but…”
“Then ring him while I fill Colonel Thomas in on what has been happening.”
“I thought you were going to wait for the files,” Actor pointed out.
“I was but we need some military backing here. I can’t take the chance that that doctor won’t call in the constabulary to have us removed and leave Chief unprotected. As he pointed out, this isn’t a military hospital and I don’t have any jurisdiction here.”
“Do you think the Colonel will believe you without some sort of proof?” Actor queried as he made his way over to the phone in the corner.
“I honestly don’t know, Actor, but I think we’ve done enough for him in the past for him to at least listen to me and come down here and add some support. I’m hoping those files will hold the answer we’re looking for. At least we’ll have the files and the Colonel in the same place, without the General’s knowledge and just maybe we can work this thing out.”
“But will the Colonel go up against the General?” Actor questioned as he waited for his call to be put through to the mansion.
“Let’s hope so. Just get those files down here and I’ll speak with the Colonel. The sooner we get this sorted the better.”
“Well, Actor?” Garrison demanded as he turned back to his confidence man after getting off the phone from the Colonel.
Actor smiled. “The Sergeant Major and the files will be here within the next two hours. What about the Colonel? Did he believe what you told him?”
“Well I don’t know whether he believed me entirely but he did admit that he had his own suspicions regarding the good General.”
“Had?” Actor raised an eyebrow in curiosity.
“Yeah,” Garrison nodded, “it seems the Colonel wasn’t completely happy with mission or the General either, and he made a few discreet enquiries regarding the man himself.”
“Did he find anything useful?” Actor asked hopefully.
Garrison shook his head. “Apparently not. The General is who he says he is.”
“But that doesn’t mean that he’s not behind what happened to you and Chief.”
“That’s what I said to Thomas. He wants to get to the bottom of it too. Doesn’t like having the wool pulled over his eyes. He’s agreed to meet us here; should be arriving about the same time as the Sergeant Major. Come on,” Garrison grabbed Actor’s arm. “We should be getting back to the others and let them get some shut eye. I’ve got a feeling all hells going to break loose shortly.” Garrison pulled Actor to a stop. “When we get back, if you don’t mind, I’d like to sit with Chief for a while.”
Actor nodded in understanding. “What happened to Chief wasn’t your fault, Craig, and Chief would be the first one to agree and you know that. I’m sure Chief is blaming himself because you were captured.”
Garrison sighed. “I wish it were that simple Actor but I was in charge of the mission. I knew it stunk; I shouldn’t have agreed to go.”
“Then this General would have found another way to get to you and Chief and maybe succeeded in his plans. And the other thing you need to think about is what would have happened if you had ignored this mission and the information was correct. How many lives would have been lost had we not gone? You can’t second guess your decisions, Craig. If you start doing that, you’re going to get yourself and all of us killed.”
“Even when they’re wrong? Chief was nearly killed over there, Actor, and hell, he could still die for one of my decisions.”
“You were following orders, the same as us. We all know and accept the consequences of these missions and perhaps Chief most of all. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be here now.”
Garrison sighed. “It’s not right, Actor.”
“No, it’s not, but we have a chance to put it as right as possible.” Actor watched as Garrison carefully mulled over his words. “Come on, let’s get back to the others before Casino gets us all thrown out for flirting with the nurses.”
“Well?” Casino demanded impatiently as he watched Garrison search through the files the Sergeant Major had dropped off a half hour earlier. Unable to sit still any longer, he pushed himself to his feet and paced in front of the door to Chief’s room. Goniff pulled his stretched out legs in before the safecracker managed to trip over them and cause a riot in the hall.
“Come on, mate; give the Warden a chance to read through them, ‘E only got them a ‘alf ‘our ago.” Goniff stretched his legs out again as Casino passed before hastily pulling them back in once more with a sigh as they threatened to interfere with the path the safecracker was making in the floor.
Actor opened one eye and lazily watched as Casino spun on his heels and began to pace back towards the small group seated outside Chief’s room. The Sergeant Major had offered to sit with Chief, ostensibly while they sorted through the files he had brought from the mansion but Actor suspected the man just wanted to spend some time with the injured con himself. “Goniff is right, Casino, give the Lieutenant time to read through the files and please sit down before you have us all thrown out by that doctor for disturbing the peace.”
Casino’s retort was cut off by Garrison’s “Damn,” which drew all eyes to him.
“Have you found something, Craig?” Actor asked as he straightened up in the uncomfortable chair.
“Yes, dammit. I should have remembered this,” Garrison responded tiredly as he waved the file in his hand, the other files already discarded on the floor beside the chair.
“Well what does it say?” Casino demanded as he dropped heavily into the chair beside Garrison.
Garrison sighed. “When I was asked to take on this team,” he began, “I was given a list of twenty possible names to choose from to fill the various positions within the team.”
Actor nodded. “We know we weren’t the only ones that you spoke to when forming the team.”
“No you weren’t,” Garrison agreed. “But I didn’t speak to everybody on the list either, only those that I thought best filled the profiles I needed.”
“So ‘ow many second-story men did you speak to then Warden?” Goniff asked.
Actor shook his head. “Not now, Goniff,” he warned before turning back to Garrison. “So what is special about that one, Craig?”
“This one,” Garrison waved the file again. “I dismissed without a second glance; in fact, I don’t even remember taking it with me when I went to Nevada State. I was a bit surprised that his name even made it to the list. The kid was wild, no discipline, a loose cannon.”
“That could be said of all of us, Lieutenant,” Actor pointed out, “so what made him different?”
Garrison shrugged. “You all did your time before release, paid your dues so to speak but this kid, he never seemed to finish a sentence, not even in juvey.”
“Somebody was buying his freedom,” Actor exclaimed, nodding in understanding.
“Some spoilt little rich kid,” Casino spat in disgust. “That kind ain’t worth a brass razoo.”
“That was my thinking too at the time and I wasn’t interested in someone who couldn’t last the distance.”
“So who is this kid, or rather his daddy?” Casino growled.
“Well I’m not entirely sure yet, but with a name like James F Wilbur Junior, I’m betting its got something to do with General Wilbur.”
“Blimey, you don’t reckon it’s his son do you, Warden? I can’t imagine ‘ed be any too pleased ‘is kid was in stir,” Goniff offered.
“Or a nephew perhaps,” Actor added thoughtfully.
“Well, what’s the next of kin say,” Casino demanded, “It should have that; we all had to provide a name, you know, in case.” Casino shrugged; he didn’t really need to elaborate on the ‘in case.’
“Mary Louise Wilbur, Aunt.”
“A dame? How the hell would a dame have the money and clout to organize what happened to you and Geronimo?” Casino demanded.
“There are many rich and influential women in the world, Casino,” Actor corrected, “But you are right, I doubt she or any of them would have the ‘clout’ to organize this. However, with the help of an army intelligence officer…” Actor trailed off.
“Ruddy hell; so what do we do about it, Warden?”
Garrison wearily pushed himself to his feet, “Well, first, Goniff, I’m going to put a call through stateside, see what I can find out about this kid from the Warden at Nevada State and then I’m going to speak to the Major when he gets here. After that, well, I haven’t thought that far a head yet.”
“Do you think Chiefy knows that Wilbur kid Warden?”
“I don’t know, Goniff; we’ll have to ask him in the morning hopefully.” Garrison left the three cons sitting quietly outside Chief’s door as he headed down to the hospital reception in the hopes of putting that call through to the United States.
Colonel Thomas marched unhappily down the corridor to the room the reception nurse indicated belonged to the injured con Chief. He had had plenty of time to think on the drive to the hospital after Lieutenant Garrison had rung and interrupted his wife’s dinner party. He paused in his march and eyed the three uninjured team members sitting slouched in chairs in front of the closed door. There was no sign of his Lieutenant and he supposed the man was sitting in the room with Chief. Garrison had already informed him that the team was standing guard over the injured man’s bed and he couldn’t find any reason to fault the decision. What a mess, he thought, as he continued his walk. He felt as though he were ‘walking the plank’ so to speak. He knew the man’s injuries were serious and there was a chance that he wouldn’t survive if the penicillin didn’t take affect soon. God help Wilbur if the con died. He doubted that a fully armed battalion would be sufficient to protect him from this particular team. “Gentlemen,” Thomas quietly greeted the three men as he came to a stop in front of them.
Actor rose to his feet. “Colonel Thomas,” he acknowledged as Goniff and Casino remained silently seated before him.
Realizing he would get nothing out of the other two cons, he returned his attention to Actor. “How is Chief doing?” he asked carefully. The reception nurse had not being able to update him on the man’s condition and he secretly dreaded the answer that could be forthcoming.
“No change at present, Colonel Thomas. The penicillin is taking longer to work than expected but the doctor is hopeful that he will pull through. At least he is no worse and that is a good thing.”
Thomas nodded in understanding. “Is Lieutenant Garrison in the room?”
“No Colonel, he went down to the reception area to try and put a call through to the Warden at Nevada State where Chief was incarcerated. You should have passed him on your way up.”
“I didn’t see him but I suppose he could have been in one of the rooms.” Thomas mused. “I take it the files arrived then and he found something of importance in them.”
Goniff looked up. “Too right, ‘e did. That ruddy General had a son or rellie in stir with Chief.”
“Goniff,” Actor warned, “watch your language please.”
Thomas held up a hand. “It’s alright, Actor, under normal circumstances I would not tolerate such disregard for a senior officer’s rank but none of this can remotely be classed as normal.” Thomas turned back to Goniff, “But can you try and keep the language to a minimum or I may change my mind.”
“Yeah, right then, Colonel, sir, sorry about that, sir. It’s been a bit trying these last few days you know.”
“Yes, I’m sure it has,” Thomas agreed.
“So what are you going to do about Wilbur?” Casino demanded as he came to his feet and glared at the Colonel belligerently.
Actor sighed in frustration. Did either of them ever listen to anything said to them about dealing with superior officers? he wondered.
Thomas glared right back at Casino until the con finally stepped back a pace. He couldn’t deny that these men were at least loyal to one another, if not the Army. If the story Garrison had told him was true, and he had no reason to doubt him, then these men had battled for two days to keep the Indian alive. It was understandable that they would be stressed and seeking, if not justice exactly, then retribution at least and he wasn’t sure whether he could provide either for these men. “I don’t know yet; that will depend on what information Lieutenant Garrison has discovered.”
“That’s not an answer.” Casino ignored Actor’s warning glare as he jabbed a finger at the Colonel’s chest.
Thomas was only prepared to take so much from these men and he had reached his limit with Casino’s jabbing. He pushed the safecracker back a pace and then stepped forward himself, invading the other mans personal space. “It is the only answer I am going to give you,” he ground out through gritted teeth. “Take it or leave it, I don’t care.”
Garrison rounded the corner at the far end of the corridor, having come up the back stairs. He took in the scene further down the corridor and cursed under his breath before hurrying forward, hoping to break the altercation between his superior officer and his con. “Can it, Casino,” he called as he reached the group. “Sit down now or so help me I’ll put you in the stockade myself.”
“‘Ey Warden…” Goniff started only to stop at the withering glare he received from Garrison.
Garrison turned to Colonel Thomas and saluted smartly despite his tiredness. “Colonel
Thomas,” he acknowledged, “I apologize if my men have been disrespectful, sir; it won’t happen again, I can assure you,” Garrison dared Casino to object. “But they are quite worried about Chief, sir.”
Thomas looked at his Lieutenant in shock. The man looked terrible, worse in fact than the rest of the cons put together. He was beginning to realize that he had yet to hear the full story of the aborted mission. “I believe your men and I have come to an understanding, Lieutenant,” he said in way of dismissing the poor behavior, “but are you alright, Lieutenant? You look as though you should be in a hospital bed beside Chief.”
“I’m fine, thank you sir; just tired,” Garrison replied straightening his slumped shoulders as he spoke.
Thomas studied Garrison for a full minute as the man stared doggedly back at him. Thomas sighed, he knew better than to force the issue of the man’s health with him. “Very well, Lieutenant, I’ll accept your assessment for the time being. Now tell me,” Thomas continued as he sank into one of the empty chairs in the corridor, “what did you learn about this inmate, Wilbur?”
Garrison looked at each of his men in turn before focusing on the Colonel once more. Nobody was going to like what he had to say next. “He’s dead, sir.”
Garrison waited patiently for a reaction to his words. Mouths moved silently as his cons and even the Colonel tried to voice a response.
“Blimey, that puts a spanner in the works, it does” Goniff stated and then lapsed back into silence.
“Colonel?” Garrison queried.
“That would be putting it mildly, Goniff,” Thomas replied before returning his attention to Garrison. “Do you know what relation this boy is to the General, Lieutenant?”
Garrison shook his head. “No sir, the body was claimed by the Aunt. There was no mention of any other relatives, Sir.”
“How’d he died Warden?” Casino asked.
“When may be a more appropriate question, Casino,” Actor added.
“The week after I sprang Chief,” Garrison replied, “and before you ask, Casino, it seems he was gambling with the wrong men in the bull pen. Owed big and couldn’t pay, caught a shiv between the ribs. That’s all the Warden would tell me.”
Casino snorted. “Now why doesn’t that surprise me? Lousy screw’s looking after his own neck. The kid paid alright, Warden, don’t you worry about that. He paid big time before he caught that shiv.”
“The question now is what do we do about it?” Actor caught all their attention with his question before he continued. “For some reason, this General Wilbur blames Chief for the boys death and, by default, you also, Craig. As long as General Wilbur is in this country and indeed still in a position of authority, he is a danger to you both.”
“So like Casino said, what do we do about it? We can’t ‘ardly march ‘im off to the stockade, now can we?” Goniff asked.
“We can if we have proof,” Thomas responded as he mulled over the bare facts as they knew them. “The problem is that we don’t have all the facts. There are too many gaps for my liking.”
“What other facts do you need?” Casino demanded. “He blames Chief and the Warden for the kid’s death and decides to get even.”
“In France,” Actor pointed out. “Why not here in England? And how did he know to contact Leclerc? Surely, it would have been easier to contact the underworld here than a collaborator in France.”
“Yes but here, Actor, there would always be the chance that word would get out, that someone would snitch. Over there,” Garrison shrugged, “whose going to believe a collaborator? On either side of the Channel.”
“One thing don’t make sense, though,” Goniff ventured, “‘Ow did Leclerc know who Chiefy was to try and kill ‘im? I mean none of us ever met the General; it was only the Warden who met ‘im.” Goniff looked around at the silent faces, “I mean Leclerc already admitted it was Chief ‘e was after. ‘Ow’d he know Chief was with the Warden?”
“Yeah, the limey’s got a point. It could have been any one of us that went with the Warden to meet Leclerc,” Casino agreed.
Thomas nodded in agreement. “That does raise and interesting point, Lieutenant. I doubt that Chief’s mug shot was sent to Leclerc.”
“Perhaps Leclerc discovered who Chief was the same way that Jean-Paul knew that we were American commandos,” Actor turned to Garrison. “What were you and Chief doing when you met Leclerc?”
“We’d stopped on the trail. Chief was pointing out that the mission didn’t feel right and I told him that we’d walk to the top of the hill. If we hadn’t found Leclerc by then, we’d return to you guys.”
“But did you use Chief’s name,” Actor pushed.
Garrison closed his eyes as he thought back on the incident.
“I know it seems like that, Chief, but the information received from this area has always been reliable, even if a little vague at times. There’s no reason to believe this time is any different.”
“Alright, Chief, I’ll tell you what. We’ll give it another fifteen minutes. Should be at the top of this hill by then. If we haven’t met our contact by then, we’ll turn back and rejoin the others. Deal?”
Garrison nodded, “Yes dammit, twice.”
“And when did Leclerc appear?” Actor probed.
“As soon as I stopped speaking, Chief hissed a warning that we weren’t alone.”
Actor nodded. “Leclerc didn’t need a picture; he only had to hear you both talking. Listen for you to call Chief by name to confirm who was with you.”
“But ‘ow’d ‘e know we wouldn’t all come?”
Casino shook his head in exasperation. “Since when do we all go to meet the contact, you dumb limey? It’s nearly always the Warden and Geronimo in there, unless the Warden don’t speak the lingo.”
“Blimey, so Leclerc was expecting Chiefy to be with the Warden and only needed ‘is name to shoot ‘im. But ‘ow’d ‘e know that anyway?”
“I told him.” Garrison sagged against the wall. “From the mission reports. Wilbur must have gotten a hold of the old reports. Casino’s right; Chief nearly always accompanies me. It would have been easy for Wilbur to figure out that it would mostly likely be Chief who would go when I met Leclerc, especially as I speak French and had no need of Actor’s language skills.”
“And Leclerc only needed to hear Chief’s name to act.” Actor turned to the Colonel, “The Lieutenant said you investigated the General after we left. When did he arrive in England, Colonel Thomas?”
“I don’t know, Actor; I don’t think I asked for that information. I was more interested in confirming that the man was who he said he was. Why?”
“This was not a spur of the moment decision. It would have taken several months of planning at least. Reading the reports and locating suitable allies both here and in France. You don’t just pluck French collaborators out of thin air.”
“We do it all the time, Actor, this spur of the moment stuff.”
“We’re cons, you dumb limey; we’re supposed to do that kind of stuff.”
“Alright, can it, Casino, Goniff. Actor’s right,” Garrison acknowledged. “This set-up has taken months to plan, which means he had to have had help from at least one person over here. Someone he knew and trusted.”
Thomas stood abruptly. “I’ll look into it as soon as I get back to base. I have some people working for me that I trust implicitly. In the meantime, stay out of sight. We still need to figure out how to make General Wilbur confess to his involvement in all of this.”
“We’ll work on that, sir,” Garrison promised as he saluted the retreating back of the Colonel. Garrison sank wearily into the chair vacated by Thomas and dropped his head into his hands.
“You alright, Warden?” Goniff asked in concern.
“Yeah fine, Goniff, just tired,” Garrison replied lifting his head to meet the steady gazes of his three men through red rimmed bleary eyes. “What?” Garrison demanded eyeing the men suspiciously.
“Nothing,” Casino growled.
Goniff turned away from the fierce glare. “Didn’t say a thing, Warden.”
Garrison glared at his number two. “Out with it, Actor.”
Actor threw a disdainful glare of his own at Casino and Goniff.
Casino shrugged. “You’re the number two, you tell him. You always like to take charge when he’s not around. Now’s your chance.”
“HE is right here, Casino,” Garrison grumbled.
“I will remember that, Casino, the next time I’m in charge,” Actor promised before turning his attention back to Garrison. “You look done in, Craig. I know Francoise never got time to give you a full examination. Why don’t you let the doctor take a look at you before you pass out and are of no help to any of us?”
“I don’t need a doctor, Actor; I’m just tired, same as the rest of you.”
“Perhaps but the rest of us weren’t knocked out for an indefinite amount of time and chained to a wall either. And you sat up with Chief through out the entire trip back to England. You could have a concussion and I know you have a headache.”
Garrison sighed. He knew Actor was probably right; he could still feel the lump where Leclerc had hit him and he did have a mild headache. His vision was a little blurred around the edges too, which could indicate a mild concussion but there was no nausea, so until such time as there was he would continue to ignore the other symptoms. “None of us got any sleep on the trip back, Actor,” Garrison chose to point out, “And none of us have had any sleep since we got here either, but if it will make you happy, if the headache gets any worse I’ll speak to the doctor in the morning. In the meantime we have to come up with a plan to get General Wilbur.”
“Why can’t we just stay ‘idden?” Goniff suggested, “You know, until this ruddy General goes back ‘ome. He already thinks we aren’t coming back. Let ’im think ‘e got what ‘e wanted and when ‘e’s gone, we can go back to war. I mean, it was Leclerc what shot Chief and ‘e’s already been taken care of.”
Casino jumped to his feet, hauling Goniff up by his shirt front. “And let him get away with what he did to the Indian and the Warden?” he raged.
“Easy, Casino,” Garrison soothed. “If I thought it would work, I might agree with Goniff myself but as soon as we go out on a mission, word will filter through to Wilbur and he’ll know that it was all a lie and Chief might not be so lucky next time.”
“So we give this General what he wants,” Actor surmised.
“Huh, what’s that mean?” Casino demanded.
Actor sighed “What has been the driving force behind the General’s plans, Casino?” Actor asked patiently.
“To kill Chiefy and the Warden,” Goniff supplied.
Actor nodded. “And to keep Chief and Craig alive, we give him Chief,” he replied matter of factly while bracing himself for the expected backlash from the rest of the team.
“We what?” Casino shouted swinging a fist at the Italian’s head. “You’ve gone to damn far this time.”
Actor easily blocked the expected punch and grabbed the fist in a vise grip, turning the arm back on Casino and making him drop to his knees.
Garrison had caught the glint in the con man’s eyes. “You have a plan, Actor?” he asked warily.
“I do,” Actor responded without releasing Casino’s arm.
“Let’s hear him out, Casino, and then if we don’t like it, you can deck him,” Garrison promised.
“This had better be good, Actor,” Casino warned as he felt the pressure on his arm loosen.
Actor waited until Casino had begrudgingly retaken his seat before he began outlining his thoughts. “The General is obviously after revenge. Once he hears that Chief isn’t dead…”
“’Ow’d he know Chief was dead?”
“I’m sure Leclerc would have radioed the success of the mission to Wilbur, Goniff,” Actor replied patiently before continuing his train of thought, “…With Chief and the Warden back in London, he is going to want to finish off what he started. He can’t be sure that Leclerc hasn’t given him away. The only way to ensure Chief’s safety is to bring the man to us.”
Casino huffed but kept quiet as Actor continued.
“It is a good bet that he doesn’t know what we look like, and even if he does, our appearances can easily be altered to lull him into a false sense of security.”
“Go on, Actor,” Garrison encouraged seeing the possibilities of where Actor was going.
“We speak to the doctor about temporarily moving Chief to a general ward.”
“And what the hell good is that going to do?” Casino demanded.
“Because we’ll take the places of the other patients,” Garrison supplied, the hint of a smile forming on his lips as he caught on to the con Actor was proposing.
“Not you, Craig; you’ll be sitting in a chair beside Chief’s bed. The General is unlikely to talk to an unconscious patient but he might talk to you. At the very least, he is going to want to know how you and Chief escaped and where we are. We will be in the other beds, feigning unconsciousness but ready to assist when the time is needed.”
“What if ‘e decides to just shoot Chiefy and be done with it?” Goniff asked worriedly.
“He won’t. Goniff. He can’t afford to make a scene; he wants us to go away quietly, and if he tries to,” Garrison vowed, “I’ll have my gun ready to take him out and I don’t care if I make a scene.” Garrison turned to Actor. “It might just work, but only provided the doctor agrees that Chief can safely be moved to another room.”
“Of course, Craig. I have no intentions of putting Chief in any more danger than he already is,” Actor assured.
Garrison nodded. “We’ll have to run it by the Colonel first and we also need to find out who else is helping Wilbur as well. Taking down Wilbur won’t do any good if we leave another player in the game. Hopefully the Colonel will have those answers for us later this morning.” Garrison stretched stiffened muscles before rising from the chair. “In the mean time, I think we should all try and get some rest. I’ll relieve the Sergeant Major for a while; I’m sure he won’t mind sitting out here and you should all head down to the waiting room and try and get some sleep while you can.”
“So when do we pull this little caper off?” Casino shook his head as he watched Garrison stretch and wince and then rub his temples.
“Tonight hopefully. We don’t want to give Wilbur too much time to figure out an escape route or make a move on Chief but I’d like to give Chief as much recovery time as when can.”
The three cons nodded their heads in agreement at the last statement. The nurse had been in and out of the room all night checking on their fourth. The last time she came out, she had a smile on her face. The penicillin was finally starting to take effect and his fever was coming down. He was still unconscious, but as she pointed out to the worried men, he needed as much rest as he could get and this was just his body’s way of getting it.
“Maybe ‘e’ll wake up in a few hours you reckon?” Goniff asked hopefully.
“Maybe he will, Goniff,” Garrison replied encouragingly. “In the meantime, get some sleep. Chief’s not going to be happy if we all look as bad as he does when he wakes up.”
Garrison quietly entered the hospital room, acknowledging the broad grin on the Sergeant Major’s face. Garrison moved noiselessly across the room, coming to a stop by the bed. Carefully he reached out and felt Chief’s forehead, determined to assure himself that what the nurse had said to them was correct. He sighed in relief when he didn’t feel the raging heat that had consumed the Indian on the trip back from the continent.
“The lad looks better already, Lieutenant,” the Sergeant Major confirmed softly in his broad brogue. “Before you know it, he’ll be up and about and getting into as much mischief as the others.”
Garrison nodded. “Right now I couldn’t careless how much mischief he gets into. It’s been one hell of trip so far.”
“Ay and it’s not over yet, is it sir?”
“No it’s not. I appreciate you staying with Chief, Sergeant Major, but I’ll take over for a while. Would you mind taking the watch outside while the others get some rest? I’ll fill you in later this morning on what we are planning.”
“Be my pleasure, Lieutenant. You look like you could use a good night’s sleep yourself. He’s quieted down a lot in the last hour. You should get some sack time too.”
“I will,” Garrison assured, not noticing the Sergeant Major’s salute as he turned his attention back to Chief. Garrison lightly squeezed the man’s arm, keenly aware of Chief’s aversion to been touched. “It’s nearly over, Chief,” he whispered. “I promise.” Garrison sank into the chair beside the bed and let his head drop into his hands. This was one mission none of them would ever forget no matter how hard they tried.
“Right then lads,” the Sergeant Major announced as he left the room, “It’s off to kip for all of you and no objecting or its twenty laps of the obstacle course when we get back home.”
The Sergeant Major settled into the chair beside the door and watched the slumped shoulders of the three cons as they made their slow way down to the waiting room. Who’d a thought he’d have felt anything but contempt for these men? But somehow over the last six months, the men had grown on him, especially the youngster in the bed and he couldn’t imagine not having them in his life now. He had promised himself, after Actor had told him what had happened, that he would do all in his power to protect these men and he was now, more than ever, determined to fulfill that promise.
Colonel Thomas sat back in his chair, desperately trying to compose his features and his anger for the distasteful task of speaking with General Wilbur. He stared moodily at the open file spread across his desk, cursing loudly as he gathered the incriminating evidence his people had uncovered regarding the General’s activities. He had been true to his word, and as soon as he had returned to base, he set his people the task of finding out what the General didn’t want known. It hadn’t taken his people long to discover the information once they had an idea of where to look. What they had found forced him to make a hasty departure from his headquarters to phone Garrison from the safety of the nearby pub and away from eavesdropping ears.
It appeared that Wilbur had an entourage of followers willing to do his bidding. What Thomas wasn’t sure of was whether all the men had been placed in the positions they held by Wilbur himself prior to his arrival or it was purely dumb luck on the Army’s part. He didn’t really think it was feasible that Wilbur had planted the men himself. After all, there had been no reason until after the kid had died. All of them had been in England and held their current positions many months before Wilbur appeared. On their own, the men were well respected in their fields and he had never had cause to doubt the integrity or work ethics of any of them since taking up their respective positions, Thomas snorted, but together under the misguided views of Wilbur, they had become a dangerous group of…collaborators.
As Wilbur’s nephew, it was understandable that Charles William Winslow would follow his uncle, with or without orders. After all, Thomas mused, blood is thicker than water. He had worked in the communications section for twelve months and had access and ample opportunity to make contact with operatives on the continent.
Peter Bradbury was an Englander and came from a long line of career soldiers but a serious childhood car accident involving an escaped felon had left him with a gimpy leg and no hope of ever taking an active role in the war as had the other male members of his family in years past. Instead, he was destined to spend the war years in an office sorting and filing the records and medal earning deeds of others. He had a sharp mind and could recall and locate every record he had filed over the last eighteen months.
Patrick Ferguson and James Radcliff both came from ranching communities in Nevada, less than two hundred miles apart. And both showed a less than benevolent attitude toward cultures not their own. Ferguson had been in Mission Planning for fifteen months now and was highly regarded by both the officers and the men in the field. Radcliff had only been in London for ten months and was just one face among many deciphering the myriad amount of information gleaned from the numerous missions undertaken each week.
Each had cause to be prejudiced against Garrison’s team of cons, and it was those prejudices that had brought them to the attention of Wilbur in the first place. Thomas slammed his fist onto the top of his desk in disgust. It had been too damn easy.
A sharp knock on the office door interrupted Thomas thoughts and he drew in a heavy breath before beckoning entry. General Wilbur pushed past the young Wren secretary without a second glance and stormed into Thomas’ office. “Well Colonel, where is this famous Gorilla unit I keep hearing about? Have they made contact yet?” Wilbur demanded pompously as he glared at the man sitting behind the desk.
“Not yet, General Wilbur, Sir,” Thomas replied, giving the other man a less than sharp salute in deference of his higher rank, “But as I said yesterday they still have two more nights to make the rendezvous.”
Wilbur snorted. “Do you seriously believe, Colonel, that they will make your precious rendezvous or are you just trying to fool yourself into believing it will be so?”
Thomas clenched his jaw tightly, “It is not the first time that this team or any team for that matter, General, has missed one or even two rendezvous. It is the nature of the missions that they do not always go to plan, and as we have heard nothing to indicate otherwise from the Resistance in the area, then I believe the mission is still viable and Garrison and his men will succeed in their orders.”
“Well, I am sorry, Colonel, but I don’t share your faith in a bunch of criminals,” Wilbur sneered. “The Army had no business recruiting murderers and cut- throats and then expect them to form a trustworthy commando unit. The Army is for honest men.”
Thomas stared at the overbearing man in front of him with undisguised disgust. As far as he was concerned, the only murderer was the one directly in front of him. Perhaps if he were been honest with himself, he would agree that he had had the same misgivings about the honesty of the cons but the past six months had shown him a very different side of the men and it was a side that he was beginning to admire greatly. He didn’t stop to think as he defended the team known around the base as ‘Garrison’s Gorillas.’ “These men, General, have proven themselves time and time again. They undertake the most dangerous missions that no one else will take, and have a very high success rate, as you well know, having read Lieutenant Garrison’s old mission reports.” Thomas was pleased to see a subtle stiffening of the General’s shoulders at his pointed comment. “There are thousands of men alive today who wouldn’t be if not for the Gorilla’s unique skills. Should they survive the end of the war, and I hope to God they do, their paroles will be well deserved.”
“Paroles,” Wilbur spat. “You’re a misguided fool, Thomas. They don’t deserve paroles, and if I have anything to do with it, they will spend the remainder of their lives behind bars, even that damn Lieutenant. That is, if they even bother to return from this mission. They’re probably hiding out in the Pyrenees as we speak, hoping the war will pass them by”
Thomas was finding it increasingly difficult to not vent his anger at his superior officer and give the game away. He was discovering a new respect for the art of the con and the men who performed them as he struggled to maintain the role set out for him by Garrison. God, he just wanted to ram his fist down the throat of the arrogant general and make him choke on his own words. It was going to be a pleasure to watch this man and the men he had coerced into helping him suffer the same fate as that from which the cons had been removed. Thomas straightened in his chair, finally deciding he had had enough of the man for one day. “I can assure you, General,” Thomas stated emphatically, “that Garrison and his men will be in contact with us within the next twenty-four to forty-eight hours, sir.”
Wilbur raised an eyebrow as he studied the Colonel. He had a sudden sensation that the man knew more than what he was saying but that was impossible. He already knew that the mongrel Indian was dead and that Garrison was safely in the hands of Leclerc. That confirmation had been received two nights ago. No, Wilbur concluded, supremely confident in his reasoning, Thomas was bluffing. Let the colonel play his bluff, he thought; it would make the con sympathizer’s downfall all the sweeter. “We shall see Colonel, we shall see.” Disgusted with the Colonel’s obvious allegiance to the Gorillas, Wilbur spun on his heel and marched from the office allowing the door to slam shut behind him.
Thomas blew out a breath as the door closed with a bang behind the retreating General. That had gone marginally better than he thought it would and he had been able to maintain the role scripted for him by Garrison. The general was still none the wiser to the Gorillas return to England. The rest was now up to Garrison and his men to expose their betrayer and bring him to justice.
Thomas chuckled roughly. The general had certainly picked the wrong bunch of men to mess with this time and it would be his downfall. Very early on, Thomas himself had learnt that if you mess with one Gorilla, you mess with them all. That was what had first made him sit back at take a closer look at the unorthodox team under his command. He hadn’t believed that the team would work after the first mission; the men were all too independent, even their Lieutenant, but things changed after the second mission when Garrison had gone back to rescue Chief and the men started making a concerted effort to work as a true team. Oh, he had heard about the fights; he couldn’t not, considering he had had to bail them all out of the stockade on more than one occasion. But they never really seemed to hurt one another. It was usually the unfortunates who they tangled with who came off second best. Yes, he thought, General Wilbur was in for one hell of a ride because he had come close, too damn close to killing one of them and breaking up the team for good. The Gorillas wouldn’t allow it and neither would he.
Garrison quietly entered Chief’s room and retook his seat by the bed. The other cons were sprawled around the room in the uncomfortable chairs that they had removed from the corridor. After the doctor had informed them that Chief’s fever was now steadily dropping and he expected the man to regain consciousness with in the next couple of hours, the team had moved in over the doctor’s protests. Actor had done an excellent job of convincing the doctor that none of them would allow Chief to awaken alone again as he had done on the side of a mountain in the Pyrenees three mornings ago. After assurances from all of them that they would not disturb Chief until he was awake, the doctor had reluctantly allowed access to the hospital room and so far his men had behaved themselves.
“What’d Thomas say?” Casino asked gruffly from the other side of the bed.
“The General still thinks we are in France and not coming back. He had four other men working for him within intelligence. Thomas will have them all picked up after I make the call this afternoon.”
“Blimey, five men to get you and Chiefy,” Goniff stated. “This General sure wanted you both bad.”
“Six, if you count Leclerc,” Actor corrected.
“What does it matter how many? They didn’t succeed,” Casino growled, “and they ain’t getting another chance either.”
“Alright, can it,” Garrison hissed before the discussion became to heated and disturbed Chief’s rest. “You all know what you have to do?”
“Sure we do, Warden; we wait for the ruddy General to… ‘Ey Actor, what’s that word I want? You know the one where ‘e says ‘e did it.”
“That would be incriminate, Goniff,” Actor replied with a smile.
“Yeah that’s the one. We wait until ‘e incriminates ‘imself and then we grab ‘im.”
Garrison nodded. “Just make sure we have all the answers before you grab him, Goniff,” Garrison warned. “We need to know why he attacked Chief.”
“What if Geronimo here wakes up while the General’s here?” Casino asked.
“It shouldn’t make a difference. Knowing Chief, he won’t let on that he’s awake until he works out what is going on anyway.”
“Be easier if you just…told me now.” Chief blinked several times as he tried to focus blurry eyes on Garrison sitting beside him.
“Chief?” Garrison stood up and leant over the bed. “How are you feeling?”
“Yeah, sure you are and I’m Uncle Sam,” Casino growled.
Chief turned and stared at Casino for a moment before he blinked again. “Thirsty.”
“‘Ang on, mate,” Goniff said jumping up and grabbing the water jug from the bedside table and pouring a glass which he handed to Garrison.
Garrison lifted Chief’s head and held the glass so he wouldn’t spill it. “Just sip it, Chief; it’s been a while since you’ve had anything in your stomach and the doctor won’t like it if we make you sick.”
Too tired to object to the gentle handling, Chief nodded and took several sips of the cool water before he pulled away from the glass with a sigh and allowed Garrison to lower him back to the pillows. “Thanks. Now what’s…going on?” Chief let his tired gaze wander over the faces seated around his bed.
“It was that ruddy General what set you and the Warden up Chiefy…” Goniff began only to be cut off by Actor.
“Goniff, I think it would be best if Craig told Chief what is happening,” Actor suggested
“Oh yeah right, sorry, Warden,” Goniff apologized.
Garrison nodded to Goniff before returning his attention to Chief who was obviously struggling to keep his eyes open. “Goniff’s right, Chief. General Wilbur did set us up.”
“Why? I never…met him.” Chief mumbled.
“It’s has something to do with your time at Nevada State. Chief did you know an inmate by the name of James F Wilbur Junior?” Garrison asked.
Chief shook his head slowly. “Don’t remember…lot of inmates, he…the General’s kid?”
“We don’t know for sure but he was killed a week after I picked you up,” Garrison replied as he carefully watched the Indians face.
Chief snapped his eyes open and stared at Garrison for a moment before they slowly began to slide shut again. “And he blames me…for the kid’s death?”
Garrison gripped Chief’s arm firmly. “Maybe but you aren’t responsible, Chief. Do you hear me? Hell, you weren’t even in the country at the time.”
“’E’s right, mate,” Goniff agreed. “This General’s barmy, blaming you and the Warden for something that happened thousands of miles away.”
Chief barely nodded as he began drifting back to sleep. Garrison squeezed his arm again, “Chief, listen to me for a minute. The General will be here in a few hours. We’re setting up a con for him. We’ve got you covered; he won’t hurt you again. Trust us.”
“Trust…you.” Chief slurred as his breathing evened out and slipped back into a deep sleep.
“Do you think he’ll remember any of what we just said when he wakes again?” Casino demanded.
“Let us hope so, Casino, but even if he doesn’t, this has to end tonight,” Actor replied. “We will just have to ensure that Chief does not injure himself further if he is confronted by General Wilbur.”
“Wish we didn’t have to use Chiefy as bait Warden. ‘E might not like what ‘e ‘ears that general saying.”
“None of us like it, Goniff,” Garrison agreed, “But Actor is right. The only way to protect Chief is to give Wilbur what he wants and that is Chief. It’s your jobs,” Garrison looked pointedly at each of him men, “to make sure nothing happens to Chief.”
“We will see to it, Craig, Wilbur will get nowhere near Chief,” Actor confirmed for the three cons.
“General Wilbur, Sir,” Charles Winslow saluted as he stepped into his uncle’s office, “Uncle,” Charles continued as he hurried to the desk, “Garrison just called, from here in London, Sir; he and that Indian are at the Royal London Hospital.”
“They’re what?” Wilbur roared as he came to his feet. “Why wasn’t I informed when they left France? In fact, how did they get away from Leclerc? He sent a message saying that damn redskin was dead and he had Garrison.”
Charles Winslow took a step back. “I don’t know, Uncle; there have been no other transmissions from the Pyrenees since that one from Leclerc, Sir. I checked all the incoming transmissions myself. They must have got a ride on a fishing boat. Garrison has a lot of contacts that we don’t know about, Uncle. One of them must have got them back here.”
“What about the other three? Are they with them?” Wilbur demanded.
Charles shrugged, “I don’t know, Uncle, Garrison only mentioned himself and the Indian. But he did say the Indian was in a bad way and it was uncertain whether he would survive or not.”
Wilbur paced around his office. “You said the Royal London Hospital, Charles? Why not the military hospital? Why is Garrison at a public hospital?”
Winslow shrugged. “He just said it wasn’t safe to bring the Indian to the base hospital. He thought there might be a leak but he didn’t know who and that the information we gave was unfounded and Leclerc was a collaborator and traitor. What are we going to do now, Uncle? They suspect us.”
Wilbur turned back to his nephew, “We are not going to do anything, Charles,” he spoke calmly but under the surface he was seething. “You will return to your duties as though nothing has happened. If anyone asks, you will say you delivered the message to me as it was passed on to you. Garrison doesn’t know anything about you. Do the others know? And what about Colonel Thomas? Have you informed him?”
“Not yet, Uncle.”
“Good, then don’t say anything yet. The fewer who know they’re back the better.”
Winslow nodded. “What are you going to do, Uncle?”
“I’m going to pay Garrison and that breed a visit, then I’ll decide what action to take. Now off with you, Charles, and remember, not a word to anyone.”
Winslow saluted smartly and left the office.
Wilbur dropped heavily into his chair. Cursing angrily, he brushed all the papers on his desk onto the floor. Slumping forward, he rested his head in hands. How had Garrison and the damn mongrel breed escaped? Why hadn’t Leclerc warned him?Wilbur snorted at his stupid question. If Garrison and the breed were back in London, it meant Leclerc was dead but how much had the Frenchman revealed before he died? Wilbur stood abruptly, tipping over the chair with a crash. He strode across his office, stopping long enough to collect his jacket and hat from the stand beside the door. The outer office where his Wren receptionist usually sat was empty; the hour been well past working hours now. With the current blackout curfew in place, it was also close to the end of visiting hours at the hospital which suited him just fine. He was sure that he would be allowed in to see ‘his men’, and with only the night staff in attendance he should be able to take care of the two men, especially if the breed was as bad as Charles had said.
Wilbur signed out a jeep from the car pool, declining the offer of a driver. The less people who knew where he was headed, the better.
“Alright, listen up all of you. Wilbur should be here soon. Remember to wait for my signal before you make your move.” Garrison stared at the men in the beds of the general ward. He had to admit that Actor and the doctor had done an amazing job of transforming the team and Colonel Thomas into patients. If he hadn’t known different, he would have sworn they were all suffering from life-threatening injuries. Garrison shook his head as he eyed the Colonel in the bed opposite Actor. Thomas had certainly being an unexpected surprise when he had arrived an hour ago to inform them that Winslow had taken the bait and run straight to his Uncle without informing anyone else of the call. He had insisted in joining the team as a patient, reminding them all that the word of a Colonel would carry more weight with a court martial panel than those of a Lieutenant and a bunch of cons. Garrison smirked as he remembered the half-hearted attempts of indignant protests directed at the Colonel’s slander of his men’s good names.
“We know what to do, Warden, stop worrying; it’ll be a piece of cake getting this rat.” Casino’s ominous growl snapped Garrison out of his thoughts.
“I feel like a ruddy mummy wrapped up in all these bandages,” Goniff complained from his bed across from where Chief was resting.
“Stop complaining, you dumb limey. Be grateful you don’t feel like Geronimo over there,” Casino hissed.
“How is Chief, Craig?” Actor asked from his corner bed.
Garrison checked on the still form in the bed behind him. The doctor had insisted on administering a sedative before they had moved Chief to this room, and none of them had been inclined to object. While he wouldn’t admit it, they had all seen the pain in his eyes the last time he had awoken in his private room. The less Chief had to do with this con the better. “He’s still sleeping.”
“Well, let us hope that he stays that way,” Actor advised, “I can’t imagine this General will have anything nice to say about Chief, and the less, he hears the better.”
The Sergeant Major stuck his head around the door. “The General just drove into the car park,” he warned. “He’ll be up here in a couple of minutes.”
“Alright Sergeant, thank you,” Garrison said.
The Sergeant nodded as he closed the door and hurried around the corner of the next corridor. Once the General entered the room, he would return to stand guard at the door, ensuring that nobody else gained access.
Garrison cast a critical eye over his men and the Colonel before returning to his seat beside Chief’s bed. He slumped into the chair and rested his bandaged head in the hand propped on the edge of the bedside table. Actor had decided that he too should look the worse for wear, and so along with the bandage wrapped around his head, he also sported a sling on his left arm which ably concealed his gun. He hoped he would have no need of it but desperate men did desperate things and the General had already proved how desperate he was to have Chief dead. Garrison was not about to take anymore chances with his men’s lives.
The steady clip of booted heels on the hard linoleum floor announced the imminent arrival of General Wilbur. Thomas rolled onto his side facing the corner of the room in the hope that Wilbur wouldn’t recognize him as he entered. The other men made quick furtive moves to get as comfortable as possible before the General entered. Garrison took a deep breath as the door began to open and dropped his head onto his chest, closing his eyes, giving the impression of sleep. He didn’t want to appear to be waiting for the General’s visit.
Wilbur pushed the door open and quickly scanned the ward; only five of the six beds were occupied. Wilbur noted but then ignored the sleeping forms of the three men in the beds closest to the door. A fourth man with half his face covered in a bandage lay in the bed in the far corner but it was the two men in the opposite corner at the end of the room that drew his attention. He paused for a moment allowing the disgust at the sight of the two men to show on his face. These were the men he held personally responsible for the death of his James. Wilbur barely gave Garrison, who was sitting in a chair beside the last bed, a second glance his eyes firmly fixed on the man in the bed. The Indian appeared to be either asleep or unconscious; clean white bandages covered his left shoulder and held the arm firmly against the chest. His chest was wrapped in bandages, and he could see the top of another bandage wrapped below the waist and partly hidden by the blanket. Wilbur clenched his fists as he moved purposely towards the bed.
Garrison waited until Wilbur was level with the empty bed beside Chief before he lifted his head and caught the General’s attention. “General Wilbur, Sir,” Garrison acknowledged wearily as he made a show of struggling to his feet to salute a superior officer. He just hoped his men weren’t watching too closely because rising to his feet had been a greater struggle than he had anticipated himself.
Wilbur pulled his gaze from Chief to stare loathingly at Garrison.
Garrison dropped heavily back into the chair, slipping his right hand into the sling. “You look surprised to see us, General,” Garrison stated, “Now why do you think that would be, General Wilbur?”
“Where is the rest of your…team?” Wilbur demanded snidely.
Garrison held the general’s gaze unwaveringly for a minute before responding. “Oh I’m sure they will turn up, General; they usually do, when you least expect them, just like a bad smell.” Garrison smiled. “I’m sure you have other questions for me General. Like how we got away from Leclerc perhaps? Or even what Leclerc told us before he died?”
Wilbur glared darkly at Garrison. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Lieutenant,” Wilbur declared. “Perhaps that head injury is more serious than what the doctor thought. It seems to have addled your brain, Lieutenant.”
Garrison snorted. “There’s nothing wrong with my brain, General. I know exactly who set us up. What I want to know, General, is why? What has Chief ever done to you to warrant his killing? You’ve never even met him. For that matter, why did you try and have me kidnapped?”
“You dare to ask me what that heathen has done?” Wilbur raged, his face turning bright red in anger. He grasped the end of the empty bed in a white knuckled grip, “My son is dead because you chose that piece of worthless filth over my son. You and he left my son in that prison to die. You were supposed to pick James for this team. I made sure his file was placed with those of the others you were going to interview. But you ignored him, a good white American boy; instead you liberated a damn stinking half-breed. That sort should all be exterminated. He should have got what he deserved but that fool Leclerc failed me. But I won’t fail this time.” Wilbur’s hate-filled glare rested on the unconscious man in the bed.
Garrison stared in dumfounded disbelief at the general. “You can’t be serious, General. You won’t get away with it, I’ll see to that,” Garrison threatened. “Chief is ten times the man your son ever was. I read his file. He was a coward, hiding behind his daddy’s shirt tails. You bailed him out of every sentence he ever received. He’s never had to stand on his own two feet. How the hell did you expect him to survive even one mission with us?”
Wilbur laughed harshly. “You don’t really think I would have let James join your band of criminals do you, Garrison? All you had to do was get him out of the prison. I could have found him a job with me.” Wilbur turned his gaze on Garrison, the pupils large and bright. “But you didn’t; instead you let him die. The damn warden at that prison was too noble; he wouldn’t accept my money so I had to find another way to get my boy out and then I heard about your team of cons. You needed a wheel man and my boy was good with cars.” Wilbur paused. “It was the only thing he was ever good at,” he said wistfully before straightening his shoulders and turning his angry gaze back to Garrison. “And you left him there and took that breed.”
As Wilbur had continued his rant, Garrison noticed his men had all silently rolled over in the beds and were watching the General with deadly intent. He shook his head as Casino began to sit up in the bed, his gun trained on the General’s back. Casino held Garrison’s warning glare for a moment before lowering himself back to the pillows but his look warned Garrison that the General was living on borrowed time.
Garrison didn’t have time to ponder Casino’s feelings towards the General because the man in question had taken a step towards the bed Chief was laying in. He chanced a quick glance at Chief and was surprised to see him suck in a sharp breath, even though the eyes remained closed and the body still. Garrison sighed; he should have been paying more attention to Chief than to the General. He wasn’t sure how long Chief had been awake or how much he had heard but he didn’t doubt for one minute that whatever Chief had heard it would be enough for the man to question his place in the team.
It took Garrison a moment and the stiffening of Chief’s body for him to realize that Wilbur was speaking again. “Do you know how my son died, Garrison?” Wilbur snarled.
“No Sir,” Garrison replied stiffly, not sure that he or Chief really needed to hear the details and especially after Casino’s veiled comments about what had likely happened.
Since coming into contact and working with the four cons, Garrison had received an abrupt education in life behind bars and it always amazed him that the four men were as level-headed and well-adjusted as they were.
“My son was a good looking boy, Garrison; he could steal the heart of any young girl he wanted.” Wilbur seemed to loose focus as his memories invaded his mind. “But in jail he was known as a ‘pretty boy’. Do you know what that means, Garrison?” Wilbur questioned softly.
Garrison cringed as he stole a glance at Chief, who now seemed to be holding his breath. He knew exactly what a ‘pretty boy’ was and how one was treated. Behind bars, Chief would have been classed as one himself; that was why the Indian caused just enough trouble to spend most of his time in solitary confinement and away from the general population. It was that behavior that had drawn Garrison to Chief in the first place — the Indian’s ability to survive against the odds. The sort of quality that was needed for the work they were to undertake on the continent.
Wilbur seemed not to have noticed that Garrison hadn’t replied to his question as he continued his rambling. “I promised James that you would take him away from the prison.” Garrison raised an eyebrow but remained silent. “He boasted to some of the inmates that he was getting out and when that didn’t happen…somehow he got caught up in a gambling ring…your team was his only chance of survival…he couldn’t pay his debts…not with money anyway…so they found another way for him to pay…they used him, Garrison, six of them. They did things to him that no man should ever have done to him. They left him in the shower to bled out but it wasn’t the knife that killed him; it was the blood loss from what they did to him first that killed him.”
Chief swallowed convulsively and with a small groan turned towards the General, his dark eyes seeing the grief, anger and hate on the other man’s face.
“You and that breed left him there to that fate, Garrison,” Wilbur continued, unaware that Chief was watching him intently, “and for that the breed has to die. You both have to pay for James death.”
Garrison allowed his gaze to flick between Wilbur and Chief, whom he now realized was wide awake and listening to all that was been said. “I’m sorry for your son’s death, General Wilbur,” and Garrison found that he truly did mean the words. A death at anytime was devastating but to have a loved one die as Wilbur’s son had was beyond comprehension. “But killing Chief and I isn’t going to bring James back to you, General, Sir,” Garrison replied almost apologetically.
Wilbur snapped to attention as Garrison’s words broke through his memories. He stared dispassionately at Garrison for a moment before he realized Chief was watching him from the bed. Wilbur gritted his teeth as he stared pure hatred at the Indian. “I lost everything when my boy died. His mother died from a broken heart years ago, when James first started getting into trouble. Thank God she never lived to see his demise. That will be my pain to bear alone until the day I die. But I’ll die happy knowing that that cur dog…” Wilbur spat at Chief, “is just as dead as my son.”
Garrison wasn’t exactly sure of what happened next; in fact, nobody in the room except for the two participants had any idea as to what took place and only one of them would be in a position to tell. Garrison’s full attention was on Chief as he tried to support the man’s writhing body in the bed. “Easy, Chief, just try and take some deep breaths for me,” Garrison pleaded as Chief gasped in agony. “Get a doctor in here now,” Garrison ordered to no one in particular.
Casino jumped to his feet from where he was squatting on the floor with the other cons and the colonel. He left the men surrounding the motionless form of the general as he hurried to the door to follow Garrison’s order. He spoke quickly to the Sergeant standing guard before hurrying back to lend his support to Garrison’s efforts to calm Chief down.
“Come on, Geronimo,” Casino urged, “listen to the Warden. Take a few deep breaths and calm down.”
“The…Gen…General?” Chief managed to gasp between breaths.
Casino glanced over his shoulder to where Wilbur lay between the two beds, Chief’s blade protruding from his chest. “Not a problem anymore, Geronimo.”
Chief visibly slumped between the two men as the doctor, responding to the sergeant’s urgent calls, hurried into the room. He went to kneel beside the general but was roughly grabbed by Casino and pulled to the bed. “Not him; he doesn’t need any more help, doc,” Casino growled menacingly. “Help Chief here; he’s the one who needs it.”
The doctor was about to protest when he caught the dangerous glint in the two able-bodied men’s eyes and he thought better of it. Instead he turned his attention to his patient who was still struggling to draw a decent breath although his erratic movements had calmed under the men’s hands. If the boy had just thrown that knife hard enough to bury it up to the hilt in another man’s chest, then he wasn’t surprised that he was in a good deal of pain, considering his previous injuries. The doctor withdrew a syringe from his pocket and injected it into Chief’s arm. Within a minute, the drug had taken effect and Chief stopped struggling, slipping into sleep. Garrison and Casino kept their hands lightly on the Indian’s shoulders until they were certain he was sleeping.
“Man, what the hell just happened,” Casino demanded as he turned back to the men on the floor. “And how the hell did Chief get his blade?”
Garrison eyed the MP’s and the Sergeant Major who stood fanned around the room for a moment before he turned his attention to the man on the floor, Chief’s knife still visible in his chest. “Colonel Thomas…” Garrison asked hesitantly as the Colonel straightened from his kneeling position beside the obviously dead general.
“Self- defense, Lieutenant,” Thomas exclaimed as he held up the General’s gun which had dropped from the lax fingers. “There will have to be a formal hearing, of course, but no charges will be laid against your man. How is Chief by the way?” he asked, the concern for the injured man evident in his voice.
“I told you all that he needed rest and quiet,” the doctor interrupted roughly as he finished his examination of his patient, “and I don’t consider this to be either of those stipulations, when I agreed to this charade.”
“My apologies, doctor,” Thomas offered, “but we didn’t expect the General to attempt to kill Chief here.”
“Yes well, Colonel, this is a public hospital, not one of your Army establishments, other patients could have been put at risk, not to mention your own man, who by the way, shows no signs of further injury despite his best efforts. What he needs is rest. If you are finished with my patient I would like to transfer him back to his room.”
“Yes of course, doctor,” Thomas agreed readily.
“We’ll ‘elp you, mate,” Goniff offered.
“My orderlies are quite capable of looking after the patient on their own, thank you very much.”
“’Ey Warden, Chiefy shouldn’t be alone in ‘is room, in case ‘e wakes up,” Goniff pleaded.
“Doctor,” Garrison stopped the doctor as he reached the door, “how long before Chief wakes up?”
“Several hours, at least Lieutenant, if not tomorrow morning,” The doctor replied before he left the room.
“Don’t worry, Goniff,” Garrison promised, “Chief won’t wake up alone. We’ll be there with him but right now we have to sort this mess out. And the first question that needs an answer is how did Chief get his knife?” Garrison looked around the assembled men, his gaze finally resting on Goniff, who was fidgeting behind Actor. “Goniff, what do you know about Chief’s knife?” Garrison probed quietly. Not that he was angry with any of them for returning it to Chief; in fact, he would be eternally grateful that one of them had or they could well be burying their youngest member but facts had to be established.
Goniff hopped from foot to foot for a moment before he took a deep breath and let out a long sigh. “I didn’t mean for the General to get killed,” he started, “but Chief was worried, said ‘e’d feel better if ‘e ‘ad his knife on ‘im, even if ‘e was asleep.”
“It’s alright, Goniff; I’m grateful you did give Chief his knife.” Garrison paused, not wanting to think of what might have happened. He certainly hadn’t seen the gun in the General’s hand and he doubted any of the other men had either.
“So what now, Warden?” Casino asked.
Thomas waved the MP’s forward and gave them orders to have the body removed to the base hospital after he retrieved the knife from Wilbur’s chest. “I’ll see this is returned to Chief in due course Lieutenant but at the moment it is evidence. I will also need to arrange for you and your men to give statements as to what happened here tonight but that can wait until tomorrow. In the meantime, I suggest you all go and keep watch over Chief.”
“Sir?” Garrison queried in surprise.
“Go on, Lieutenant; there is nothing here now that can’t wait until tomorrow. I’ll speak to the doctor about having Chief transferred to the base hospital as soon as possible. In the meantime, you are all relieved of missions.”
“Sir, what about the other men with General Wilbur?” Actor enquired.
“They have already being taken into custody Actor. You should not encounter any more problems from that quarter. Now gentlemen, if you will excuse me.” Thomas accepted Garrison’s salute and then followed the MP’s and the body from the ward.
“Blimey is that it then? Chiefy’s in the clear?”
“Looks that way, Goniff,” Garrison confirmed, “But all of you remember — keep your statements to the facts as you heard and saw them. Chief is in the clear and we want to make sure he stays that way.”
“Understood, Craig,” Actor agreed. “We will not put any more undue stress on Chief.”
Two days later found the Gorillas quietly sitting around Chief’s hospital room at the Army base, waiting for him to wake up. They had all being called before the hearing panel that morning to give evidence as to what had happened the night of General Wilbur’s death. The panel had accepted the evidence that Chief had acted in self-defense to save his and his Lieutenant’s lives and no further action would be taken. The official line was that General Wilbur had suffered a massive heartache and was unable to be saved. His body was interred at the small cemetery outside the local village.
“Hey,” Chief whispered as he blinked open his eyes, “how long have you been here? I didn’t hear you come in this time.”
“That’s because we’ve been practicing,” Goniff explained proudly.
“Nah, it’s just because you’re getting too much of the good stuff, Geronimo,” Casino stated, “and it’s making you sloppy.”
“Knock it off, Casino,” Garrison warned the safecracker. The last thing he needed was for Chief to start thinking he was losing his edge. “How are you feeling, Chief?” he asked in order to change the subject.
“About ready to get out of here,” Chief replied hopefully.
Garrison smiled. “Not so fast, Chief. The doctor said end of the week.”
“But that’s another three days,” Chief sulked.
“Chief, I’m sure the doctor knows what is best for you,” Actor suggested reasonably.
“I know, Actor; I just want to get out of here.” Chief sighed. “What happened this morning at the hearing?” Chief looked expectantly at the faces around him.
“You’re in the clear, mate,” Goniff jumped in eagerly.
Chief looked to Garrison for confirmation.
“They said it was self defense, Chief; you were saving your life and mine. It won’t be taken any further,” Garrison confirmed.
Chief settled back against the pillows with a relieved sigh and closed his eyes. He had worried that his actions would result in the team being sent back to prison.
“We’ll come back later, Chief; you get some more sleep for now,” Garrison said. His scout was still pale despite his progress and still tired easily. Another three days in the hospital sounded like a very good idea to him, but of course he wasn’t going to let Chief know that.
“Warden,” Chief called as the men began to file out of the room.
“Yes Chief,” Garrison replied as he returned to the bed.
“Just wanted to say thanks.”
“For what, Chief?” Garrison questioned.
Chief looked away from Garrison for a moment before turning back to meet his eyes. “For pulling me out of that jail. That could have been me instead of the General’s son. You saved my life.”
Garrison dropped into the chair beside the bed. “No, Chief, it was never going to be you. You had it figured out; you knew how to look after yourself in there, how to survive.”
“For a while maybe, but eventually…” Chief shook his head, “someone would have got to me just like they did James. Pretty boys never last long in stir.” Chief settled back into the pillows with a deep sigh. “Guess I need some more sleep. I’ll see you later Warden,” Chief slurred tiredly.
Garrison stood and patted Chief’s shoulder gently. “Get some rest, Chief; it’s over now.” Garrison waited until Chief’s breathing had evened out into sleep before he quietly left the room.
*** The End***