Summary: The Raid goes wrong when Tully is struck down by an unforseen hazard and Troy and Hitch are captured by Dietrich. With the unlikely help from an old Arab friend, Moffitt is the only one left to rescue all of his unit mates.
Category: Rat Patrol
Genre: WWII Drama
Word Count: 9357
“Jack Moffitt? Is that you Jackie?”
The question came from an Arab man who was robed from head to toe in white. So white, in fact, that it made him look angelic. Black eyes peered out from the shade of his headdress, which was crowned with an ornate silver headband.
“Yes. Yes it’s me.” Moffitt said as if he were a schoolboy again.
“And how does this fine day find you, my dear, dear Jackie?”
“I am well. Very well!” Moffitt answered as his smile beamed from ear-to-ear.
He walked briskly toward his old friend and reached out to greet Prince Abdullah with a tanned hand.
“What brings you and your friends to my humble home?”
“Well actually, we were in the neighborhood.”
“In the neighborhood? And this means…?” The Prince said unsure of Moffitt’s lingo.
“Sorry. It’s just an English expression. It means near by – in the area.”
“I remembered working in this neighborhood several years ago with my father. I recognized that rock formation and hoped you and your family would still be here. I’m so glad to see that you are well.”
“Oh yes. I am well. Very well.”
“Has the war been as inconvenient for you as it has been for me, Your Highness?”
“Not at all – not at all. We are a peaceful people. We have no reason to fight. The Germans and Italians have left us alone so far. And Feisel too. We did get a visit from Rommel several months ago now. Very nice gentleman.”
“Jolly good.” Moffitt answered somewhat suspiciously.
“No Jackie, I can say that we have had no troubles. We live here as if there were no war at all.”
“Well, that’s splendid.” There was a short pause. “Oh I’m sorry. Where are my manners.” Moffitt interrupted himself.
Troy stood behind Moffitt during the entire conversation. He smiled politely. Hitch sat in his jeep and looked on. Tully stood on the back of his jeep leaning both forearms on the 50lb. machine gun that was mounted in between the front seats. They grinned congenially too and looked on with great interest.
“This is Sergeant Sam Troy. And the man in the red hat is Private Mark Hitchcock. And the man on top over there is Private Tully Pettigrew.” Moffitt pointed as he introduced his patrol mates. “This is my unit. We are affectionately known as the Rat Patrol by our German friends and … Rommel the gentleman.” Moffitt explained with a satirical smirk.
Troy shook the Prince’s hand as Hitch tipped his hat and Tully gave a casual, two-fingered salute.
“Will you stay for the mid day meal? There is plenty for you and your friends. We must talk about old times. We have some great memories to discuss!” The Prince urged.
Moffitt looked back at Troy for his approval. Moffitt raised his eyebrows in begging fashion. It was as if he was a child in a toy store trying to bribe his mother into a gift with a mere pout. Troy looked at his watch and nodded and only then did Moffitt accept Prince Abdullah’s gracious invitation.
“We’d love to. That is most kind of you. Most kind.” Moffitt gushed.
With a swipe of Troy’s hand, Hitch and Tully jumped to the sand and joined Moffitt, Troy and Prince Abdullah. The rest of the tribe that numbered about 40 welcomed them. The small children scrambled around the soldiers, touching the weapons that hung from their belts. It made Hitch and Tully chuckle.
“Jackie?” Troy whispered to Moffitt.
“Yes. Jackie. I was nineteen. The old man simply loved me.” Moffitt grinned back.
The men entered the Prince’s tent. It was nice and cool. The Rat Patrol sat around the food that was placed on platters in the center of the tent. It looked invitingly tasty. This was a real treat. Prince Abdullah’s three daughters, his son, his two wives, the tribe’s holy man and the tribe’s Medicine Man joined them.
They feasted on roasted antelope, cheese, bread, figs, wine and a type of potato that none of the Rat Patrol recognized. Everything was delicious. Moffitt, Troy, Tully and Hitch stuffed themselves with the encouragement of the Prince of course.
“More! More! Eat! We have plenty. Eat!”
“No thank you. No more. I’m as stuffed as a Thanksgiving turkey.” Tully said while holding his stomach with both hands.
“Thanksgiving?” Prince Abdullah questioned inquisitively.
Moffitt leaned over to him while looking at his comrades and quipped out of the side of his mouth, “It’s an American observance. Any excuse to roast a turkey will do.”
The Prince looked over at the soldiers.
“I see.” Prince Abdullah hummed and then paused in confusion. “What is a turkey?”
They all laughed and Moffitt continued to explain the concept of Thanksgiving. He got some details mixed up and was quickly corrected by Hitch who kept up with the conversation but was absolutely enamored with the Prince’s daughters. All three of them.
The Princess’ had their eyes on Hitch too. He always caught the glances of admiring women. It must have been the blonde hair and blue eyes, not to mention the impish charm of him.
“What brings you to this part of Libya, Jackie?”
“We’re on a mission to capture a German General. General Kurtz. Our intelligence has discovered his where abouts. He’s at a camp not seventy kilometers from here actually. He’s been particularly nasty – not playing by the rules. It makes us Brits quite upset.”
“Oh I see. I would offer help, but I will not allow my people to engage in this horror.” Prince Abdullah said as he filled his guests cups with more wine.
“We completely understand, Your Highness. The longer you can stay out of this the better off you’ll be.” Troy agreed.
Troy looked around at his men and gave the signal that the party was over. They all stood at the same time and said their good-byes and thank-you’s.
“Can I offer you and your men a bed for the night?” Prince Abdullah asked.
“Thank you, but no. We’ve a job to do and we’d better get a move on before we lose all the day’s light.” Moffitt answered as he looked around at each of his comrades expecting agreement.
Troy, Hitch and Tully walked back to their respective jeeps and sat and waited for Moffitt. Tully chewed on a matchstick, Troy lit a cigarette and Hitch gazed at the princess’ who gazed right back.
“It was so good seeing you again, Jackie. I hope it will not be the last time. You are always welcome here with my people.”
“I know Your Highness. I always feel welcome.”
“And when you see your father again, tell him I think of him often.”
“I shall do that.”
Moffitt embraced the Prince and walked over to the jeeps and got in.
“Jackie?” Tully queried with a smirk as he started the engine. Moffitt looked over at the sun soaked private and shrugged. He released a bashful smile but said nothing. Tully let loose with a quiet chuckle. Moffitt did not look back as the four men pulled out. He knew he would see the Prince again – he’d make a point of it.
With an hour of rough travel under their belts, the Rat Patrol moved across the rocky terrain. None of them spoke about the pleasant time they had just spent with the Prince. They weren’t even thinking about their mission. All four men seemed in a dream world of his own. On long, boring drives like this, they’d drift off to places where there was no war. Memories would creep into their brains – remembrances of home – good times and bad.
Troy thought about a girl he knew in Chicago. He had been seeing a lot of her before the war broke out. He thought that she was the one. Emily. She entered his mind often. He missed her. Troy wondered what his life would have been like if the call to arms hadn’t come and he’d gone ahead and married her. Would he have a house by now? Maybe he’d be working for a newspaper or an advertising agency? Would he have become a father? Many thoughts swirled in his brain. Then a hard knock snapped him out of it and he was back in the desert on a dangerous mission.
He immediately scanned ahead for any sign of the enemy. He had no idea how long he’d been daydreaming and looked over at Hitch to see if he’d noticed Troy’s absence. He hadn’t.
Hitch was in a time capsule of his own. He was thinking about the time when he was ten and spent the summer at his Aunt May’s farm. It was the best summer he’d ever had.
The afternoons he spent with his cousins Jim and Andrea swimming in the river, tending the chickens and running through the fields just for the hell of it. They constantly ran, he thought. He didn’t go anywhere unless he ran. His Aunt May died that winter. The farm was sold and long hot days on the farm were suddenly a thing of the past.
Hitch became aware of Troy’s eyes on him and he too awoke from his memories. He looked over at Troy and smiled but Troy had turned his attention back to the desert.
Tully and Moffitt followed Troy and Hitch closely. The ground was so rough they could not move very fast. It was boring as hell. They moved along like trail horses: just following the tail in front of them. There was nothing to concentrate on.
Moffitt had been haunted by the death of his younger brother in recent weeks. Tristan had been killed in an air raid in London. His brother’s face kept appearing to Moffitt. The sergeant never mentioned his feelings to his unit. Not even to Tully who had become a confidant of late. Moffitt had no time to grieve and used this as an excuse for the haunting. Guilt. Fear. Sadness. He was finding it hard to place the feelings that plagued him. He began to well up. The despair came in waves. He let a tear fall down his cheek and rest in the side of his mouth and then he quickly wiped it away covertly.
Cairo filled Tully’s mind. All the three-day passes he’d wasted in a drunken stupor. All the women he’d had, even though soldiers were warned time-and-time again not to engage in romance of any kind. Tully had dodged the VD bullet more times than he could count. Everyone thought Hitch was the womanizer of the bunch, but it was Tully that was the real Casanova.
He didn’t think he would like Cairo. It was so different from what he was used to. The camels and donkeys in the streets – the Pyramids at Giza, the customs and the dress were all new to him. But, he found the place fascinating. Then there was the night he and Hitch were arrested by the MP’s for taking four days instead of three. He caught himself chortling just thinking about it.
“Tully!” Moffitt yelled over the engines. “I can see dunes up ahead. Finally out of these rocks.”
“Yeah.” Tully said as escapades in Cairo dissipated.
The two jeeps approached the dunes and then over them onto flatness that seemed to spread out to the end of the earth. Moffitt always said that the desert was like a lady – that it put on a new face everyday. And today, within forty minutes, it had put on three. Or were they simply disguises.
Troy motioned Tully to drive up along side Hitch and him. The two jeeps halted with a screech of the brakes.
“We’ve got a problem.”
“What’s the matter?” Moffitt inquired.
“The camp is on these flats. How are we going to approach without being seen? HQ says it’s surrounded by a minefield too.” Troy explained as he lit a cigarette nonchalantly.
He thought much more clearly with the benefit of a butt.
“Well, we’ll have to go in on foot.” Moffitt said. “How far ahead is it?”
Tully and Hitch groaned uncharacteristically like children who were forced to get out of bed on a school day in February. They rarely complained about the decisions of their sergeants. But the thought of walking the desert, carrying supplies and water was extremely unappealing.
Troy pulled open the map again and traced the path they had just traveled with his forefinger.
“Prince Abdullah is about there,” he pointed “and now, we’re right about here.”
“That means the German camp is approximately 6.5kms from here.” Moffitt quipped as he squinted up at the sun. “How delightful!”
“Just smashing!” Hitch mumbled sarcastically.
“Let’s get some supplies together. Hitch! Camouflage the jeeps and disable the guns.” Troy ordered.
“Right Sarge.” The boyish private said as he began the chore before Troy even finished talking.
The men topped up the water bottles that hung from their utility belts. Then they loaded up with machine guns and ammo and began their trek. Hitch stuffed a piece of bubble gum in his mouth and offered Tully a piece. Tully took the bright pink square, unwrapped it and threw it in his mouth.
“It’s a beautiful day for a stroll wouldn’t you say lads?” Moffitt said impishly as he looked back at the dunes getting smaller and smaller. Troy, Hitch and Tully ignored his stab at lightening the moment and trudged forward toward the camp and General Kurtz.
As the Rat Patrol got closer to the German camp they got closer and closer to the ground. The terrain was so flat that even the smallest bump on the horizon could be detected from afar. The heat waves provided some cover but The Rat Patrol was not going to take any chances.
“The map shows the mine field just up ahead.” Troy whispered, afraid of being discovered.
“We are going to have to rake it. Tully, give me your knife. We’ll have to belly up from here.”
“My knife, Sarge.” Tully said with a sheepish smile. “I’ll rake.”
“Sure. Be my guest.” Troy answered back more than happy to pass off the job.
The four men got down on their belly’s with Tully in the lead, Troy at his feet, Moffitt at Troy’s feet and Hitch bringing up the rear. They looked like a human centipede.
Tully poked the sand for any sign of hardness with the blade of the bayonet. He uncovered one mine and disabled it and then another. The three men waited patiently as the private wormed his way through the field disarming mine after mine. Their approach was slow, but the snail’s pace couldn’t be helped. With dusk settling upon them like a mauve coloured blanket, they moved closer and closer to the enemy camp.
Darkness quickly took over provided the unit with complete cover as Tully continued the search like a blind man feeling his way along a busy street. They were in the middle of the minefield now and had no chose but to get through it. Then, as the Patrol saw an end in sight, Tully stopped abruptly and broke the silence with a cry of pain. The sudden agony was blinding.
Tully didn’t see it. He didn’t even hear it. All he felt was excruciating discomfort. His elbow felt like someone had taken a blowtorch to it and he yelped. He sounded like a wounded animal and it pierced the Sahara night. Troy threw himself on top of Tully and grabbed his mouth to muffle any more sound as all four men laid there as still as possible.
Moffitt peaked to see if Tully’s screams had alarmed the centuries that surrounded the camp. Several guards looked out toward them bewildered. The quartet held their collective breaths. When silence returned, the guards lost interest assuming the sound was an animal. They chatted briefly and dispersed. Moffitt released a lung full of air.
“Asp. Sarge. It’s right there. Don’t move.” Hitch whispered as calmly as he could but his heart was beating so hard he feared the sound would alert the German guards again. “Don’t – even – breath.”
Tully’s eyes filled with tears from holding back. He had never felt such pain. Troy, was now face-to-face with the viper, and as he stared eye-to-eye with it, he slowly wormed himself and Tully away from it. Hitch and Moffitt moved backward too and the snake backed off and slithered away into the darkness more fearful than fierce.
They moved back over the same trail they had just raked for themselves. Tully’s breath was fast and short and he held his elbow so tight the knuckles of his hand were white. They shuffled half crouched, all holding Tully up while pushing him forward. When they were out of sight and earshot of the German camp, Tully threw himself to the ground and rolled into the fetal position and rocked himself like a baby.
“Tully! Listen!” Troy growled.
But Tully could not hear him.
“TULLY! Listen to me!”
But, all Tully wanted to do was shout the pain away. Troy grabbed him by the shoulders and cuffed him to get his attention. Moffitt and Hitch crouched to try and give aid, but Tully was in shock.
“Look. You’ve got to stay calm. The faster your heart beats, the faster the poison will go through you.” Troy said, nose-to-nose with his private. “Do you understand? Tully!” Troy shook him. “Do you understand me? Now breathe easy. Take it easy now. That’s it. Easy.”
As Troy talked, Tully’s body stopped convulsing and his chest took in longer and deeper gulps of air. He stared into Troy’s eyes trying to draw calm from them. Hitch filled Tully’s mouth with water and Moffitt started to rip Tully’s shirtsleeve so he could open the wound and extract as much venom as he could. He took Tully’s knife and cut into the fang marks. Troy and Hitch held him down as more pain filled Tully’s senses. His eyes widened. But Moffitt had to ignore his discomfort. There was no time to waste. Asps were very poisonous. The Rat Patrol knew it, and the sooner they did the deed the better off Tully would be. Blood oozed from the puncture wounds as Moffitt sucked and spit.
Moffitt tied a tourniquet around Tully’s bicep, and bandaged the sticky mess. By that time, Tully had stopped struggling and lay on the cool sand in semi-consciousness. Sweat rolled off his forehead, his lips were dry and cracked, and his breathing became small. The toxin had started its journey, and Tully was in for the ride of his life.
“I’m taking him back to Prince Abdullah.” Moffitt told Troy. “His Medicine Man can help. We’re too far from any hospital.”
“Go!” Troy ordered as he helped Tully to his feet. Moffitt helped Tully too, as Hitch uncovered one of the jeeps and rearmed the fifty.
“Me and Hitch are going back to get General Kurtz. When we’ve got him, we’ll meet you at Abdullah’s.”
When Moffitt finally got Tully back to the jeeps, he Tully in the passenger seat of the jeep. His head bobbed, then flopped back as he groaned with fever. He was still holding the snakebite, afraid to let go. He was unaware of his surroundings now and did not know that Troy and Hitch were continuing with the mission. He did not know that he was on his way back to Prince Abdullah’s and at this pointed he didn’t care.
When Moffitt got into the jeep, Tully’s body fell against him and Moffitt had to support him as he drove off over the dunes and back toward the rocks. It would be a dangerous passage. Moffitt drove on sheer adrenaline, which made the ride even more rough, but he knew the sooner he got Tully to the Medicine Man, the more likely Tully’s survival.
When they reached the Princes’ tiny village, Tully was unconscious and Moffitt realized that the sound of the jeep had alarmed the tribe. Lanterns were lit, and lazy heads appeared out of the flaps of their tents.
“Yes. It’s me Your Highness. I need your help. An asp has bitten one of my men. He’s very sick!”
As soon as the word asp left the sergeant’s lips, several of the men ran to help Moffitt and they scooped Tully up and rushed him into the tent where the Medicine Man lived. Tully’s head dangled between his shoulders and his mouth hung wide open. His eyes were tightly closed. His arm had swelled to twice its size and was so white it looked like uncooked sausage.
“What has happened?” The Medicine Man asked as he directed the men to place Tully on a rug surrounded by cushions.
“Asp!” Moffitt said out of breath. His heart was still pounding.
“I see.” The Man knelt to examine Tully. “Leave us. I will tend to your friend.”
All left the tent but Moffitt, who stood over the Medicine Man and Tully.
“Leave us.” The Man said again, and Moffitt let out a few more labored breaths, licked his lips and swallowed. He turned and walked out of the tent.
Troy and Hitch had created a trench with their bodies, leading to the German camp where General Kurtz was. They had successfully racked the minefield with Tully’s knife. It had taken them much longer then they thought. It was 0100 and the camp was quiet and still. They would have to pass four guards that casually walked the perimeter of the settlement.
Troy and Hitch had always worked well together. As a matter of fact, the team had become telepathic with one another. They knew what to do in just about every situation and the fact that they did not need to speak to communicate became a tremendous advantage in defeating the enemy. They had been sent on this mission pretty much blind. All they knew was where the camp was; it was up to them to find the target. The two soldiers skillfully eluded the sentries and proceeded into the camp. They crouched behind one of the small tents that housed German soldiers and continued on tent-by-tent until they found the officers quarters and hopefully General Kurtz.
“Sssss.” Troy hissed softly to get Hitchs’ attention. Hitch turned and made eye contact.
Troy motioned with his head that this was the tent. He could feel it. He had no way of knowing where General Kurtz was for sure; he just had to go by his gut instinct. His gut had never let him down before, so Troy trusted it and this was the tent.
When Troy slipped under the cloth from the backside, he was hit with a wall of blackness and all he could hear was breathing. The low even breath of a man asleep. As Troy’s eyes began to grow accustomed to the darkness, he could make out a uniform hanging from the post that ran down the center of the tent. He could see a German officer’s hat on the side table that stood next to the cot that cradled the man. It had the unmistakable markings of a General. Troy couldn’t help smiling to himself on yet another correct hunch. He also saw an officer’s knife and boots so spit and polish that even Troy was impressed. Keeping boots shiny in the desert was quite a feat.
Troy moved slowly, on his haunches toward the General and quietly pulled out a cloth and a bottle of ether from the breast pocket of his jacket. He poured the ether onto the cloth and held it over the General’s mouth and nose. The man never even knew what hit him. Troy sat the General up and flung him over his shoulder like a skilled firefighter.
“Hitch.” Troy whispered into the back of the tent. “Hitch?” But there was no answer. “Hitch!” Troy said louder. The General was a dead weight and getting heavier by the moment.
“Is this the man you are looking for Sergeant Troy?” Troy whipped around as Hauptmann Dietrich struck a match to light the lantern. The glow of it lit Dietrich’s carved features giving him the appearance of a Halloween skull. The guards held up Hitch but he was unconscious. They let go of him and he fell to the ground splashing sand and dust when he landed. He landed facedown in the dirt.
“Put the General down please.” Dietrich ordered calmly. “Gently Sergeant Troy. Gently.”
Troy dropped his machine gun and placed the General back on his cot and into a laid out position.
“Thank you so much for returning the General to his bed. I’m sure when he wakes up he will be most grateful.” Dietrich quipped.
“No problem.” Troy answered as he looked down at Hitch.
“Please come this way and I will show you to your quarters for the evening. I’m sure you and the private will be comfortable there.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less from you Dietrich.”
The guards began to pick up Hitch but Troy pushed them away. He picked up the dazed private and flung him over his shoulder as he had General Kurtz and walked out of the tent with the Hauptmann following close behind.
Moffitt and Prince Abdullah sat outside the Medicine Man’s tent in front of the fire. One of Prince Abdullah’s daughters brought Moffitt a plate of bread and cheese and a cup of water and a cup of wine.
“Thank you. Thank you very much.”
“How did this happen Jackie?” Abdullah asked.
“We were crawling up to the German camp. It was getting dark. Tully was raking the sand for mines and it just came out of nowhere. I didn’t really know what had happened until we got back to the dunes for cover. Just bad luck. That’s all it is. Bad luck.”
“And where are your other men?”
“They went back to get General Kurtz. Finish the mission. They should be back here by morning… I hope.” Moffitt said with a defeated tone.
“Back here! You bring him back here? Why? Why here Jackie? You know I want nothing to do with this. Why?”
“I’m sorry. There was no time. Your Medicine Man was the only one I could think of that could help Tully. There was no time to set up another rendezvous point.” The sergeant paused. “I’m sorry.” He repeated with melancholy.
Moffitt took a bite of the cheese but was only being polite. He was not hungry and far too tired to chew. He looked over at the tent where Tully was, then got up and walked over and looked inside. He had to know what was happening. It was his duty as Tully’s sergeant but it was also the anthropologist in him. He had to see what the Medicine Man was doing and how he was going to make Tully survive the poison of the viper.
Tully’s eyes were still closed but he was semi-conscious with fever raging through his body. His face was red and wet with sweat and he rolled his head from side-to-side. He groaned quietly. Tully had transcended to another world. His arm was still swollen and the wound had been covered with a poultice. He was talking a mile a minute.
“Sarge? Don’t! My arm. Sarge? Don’t let him cut off my arm. Sarge? Sarge!” Tully whispered through the fog of delirium.
“May I come in?” Moffitt asked the Medicine Man respectfully.
He did not turn to acknowledge the question but waved Moffitt to Tully’s bedside.
“How is he?” Moffitt inquired as he placed his hand on Tully’s forehead and gave him words of encouragement.
“He is very sick. He is a very sick man.”
“Can you save him?”
“I will try.” The Medicine Man said. “I will try my best.”
Moffitt noticed a pot of boiling water that contained rags and beside it, small decorative bowls filled with spices and twigs and teas. The Medicine Man took pinches of each in different combinations and sprinkled them into the mixture and ladled the hot liquid over the poultice that surrounded the snakebite. When he did Tully winced and Moffitt did the same in sympathy. Steam rose for the bandage. The Medicine Man forced Tully to drink a concoction of blended herb tea mixed with a ground up root. The drink smelled like rotting wood.
The tent was filled with scented smoke and candles were everywhere. There were idols and statues of gods spotted throughout the tent too, and Moffitt could not help thinking of the witch doctor he had met while in Nigeria. As a child he had accompanying his father there. This scene was similar.
“Does that extract the venom?” Moffitt asked inquisitively fascinated by the proceedings.
“Sarge! Sarge!” Tully yelled.
“It’s alright Tully. I’m here. You’ll be fine.” Moffitt said calmly in as soothing a manner as he could. Tully opened his eyes and locked them with Moffitt’s. The sergeant’s eyes sparkled in the candlelight like raw emeralds. Tully’s eyes were as black as charcoal.
“He’s gonna cut off my arm Sarge. Don’t … don’t let him cut off my arm!” Tully said desperately in between gasps. Tears fell down the side of his face.
“No he’s not. He’s just trying to make you feel better. He’s trying to get you over this fever.”
“No. He said. He said he was going to cut it off. God. Don’t let him cut off my arm Sarge!”
Tully grabbed Moffitt’s shirt and pulled him closer. The sergeant was surprised at how much strength Tully still had.
“Did you say that?” Moffitt turned to ask the Medicine Man. But he did not answer him. “Did you. Did you tell him that you were going to cut off his arm.” Moffitt was insistent.
There was a pause.
“Yes, Jackie… I may have to.”
Hitch opened his eyes to find Troy looking straight at him. He shook his head clear of fuzz and sat up with a jolt. Then he grabbed the back of his neck and rubbed it hard and moaned.
“That hurt.” He said dryly.
“I’m sure.” Troy chuckled. “You’ve been out for hours.”
“What happened? Where are we?”
“Dietrich is trying to spoil our party again. I hate it when he does that.” Now it was Hitch’s turn to chuckle.
“It’s 0700. We’ve got to get out of here before Dietrich moves the camp.”
“What about the General?” Hitch asked.
“I’m afraid he’s our last priority now. We’re going to have to let him go.”
“How do you think Tully is?”
“Well, why don’t we find out.” Troy said with a mischievous tone and a devilish smile.
He moved to the front of the tent and peeked through the slit that was illuminated by the desert sun. It stung his eyes and turned them from stone gray to aqua. There were two guards on each side of the flap but that was all. A piece of cake Troy thought. But, it was too easy. Dietrich was not that dumb. So Troy walked to the back of the enclosure and lifted the cloth of the tent at the sand. There was no one there.
“There’s only two guards.” Troy informed Hitch suspiciously.
“Well, what are we waiting for?” Hitch sounded eager.
“Hold it. It’s too easy. Especially with the General here. Dietrich is setting us up.”
“For what Sarge? He’s got us.”
“Let’s wait him out. We’ll wait till tonight.”
“What if he moves camp today?” Hitch asked.
“Then we’ll just have to play it by ear.”
Troy decided to take advantage of the situation and he sprawled out on his narrow cot and lit a cigarette. Hitch continued to rub the back of his neck and closed his eyes to nap.
“Sarge.” Hitch broke the silence after making himself comfortable.
“Do you think Tully’s still… well do you think he made it?”
Troy didn’t answer Hitch. He was afraid to. His men were his first priority and losing one would be a personal failure. He had become so fond of Moffitt, Tully and Hitch and he was as protective as a mother bear over them. He was trying to keep a positive attitude about the whole snakebite incident, but he knew it was serious. Troy knew that most men did not survive the bite from an asp, but if anyone could, it was Tully. That was how Troy would deal with it until he found out the outcome.
Troy and Hitchs’ nap did not last long as they were awakened by a visit from Hauptmann Dietrich. He entered the tent with General Kurtz. The General was a distinguished and impressive fellow, who stood with perfect posture. Troy looked up at him and from that angle he resembled Troy’s father. It startled him.
Troy rose slowly and stood to face the General. He saluted respectfully. Both Dietrich and Kurtz returned the gesture. Hitch stood too.
“Hans has been telling me that you tried to kidnap me last night Sergeant Troy.” Kurtz paused and took a few steps closer to Troy.
“And your first name sergeant?” Kurtz asked.
Troy looked puzzled at the question but answered cautiously.
“So what is your reason for kidnapping me Samuel?”
“It’s highly classified sir.” Troy’s tone was short and cold.
“Oh, I’m sure your superiors won’t mind you telling me.”
Troy did not reply but looked over the General with heightened suspicion.
“And you young man?” Kurtz said to Hitch. “What is your given name?”
Hitch looked over at Troy confused. Why was this man so intent on being on a first name basis? Hitch looked for approval from Troy. The sergeant nodded.
“Ahhh. I have a nephew named Mark.” The general continued with the small talk then paused and turned his attention back to Troy.
“Again I ask you Samuel. What was your reason for kidnapping me? I’m curious. Why me in particular?”
“Sergeant Sam Troy. US Army. Serial number 732….” Troy began to recite.
“This is disappointing, Samuel. Very disappointing.” The general interrupted him. “I thought we were becoming friends.”
Dietrich stood slightly behind the general with his hands behind his back. He clenched his jaw and flexed rhythmically. His head tilted downward and his eyes looked up at Troy from underneath the rim of his hat.
“Are you sure you have nothing more to say to me sergeant?” Kurtz asked quietly.
“Sergeant Sam Troy. US Army. Serial…” Troy continued.
Kurtz cut Troy’s recital short with a swift slap across the face. Hitch flinched – the strike surprised him. After Troy had gathered his wits he slowly made eye contact again with the General. The veins in his neck were pulsing with boiling blood and his heart was beating in his throat. The rage he felt was difficult to control, but he did not want to let the General know that the slap had any affect. Troy could feel Hitchs’ eyes on him. He didn’t like being humiliated in front of one of his men so he did not acknowledge the private but stayed riveted to the Kurtz’s chiseled face.
“Alright, alright. You are to be commended for your loyalties.” Kurtz paused again and took a few more steps closer to Troy and Hitch. Troy didn’t move a muscle. He stood up straight and clenched his fists ready for what ever came next.
“Take this man.” Kurtz ordered as he pointed at the private.
Hitch looked like a deer in the headlights and he turned to Troy again for guidance. Dietrich remained silent.
“Wait a minute! Where are you taking him?” Troy demanded.
“Dieter Kurtz. General of the Third Reich – Afrika Korps. Serial number 972993.” There was yet another pause.
“Middle initial M.” Kurtz mocked.
The sentries took Hitch by each arm and escorted him from the tent. He fought unsuccessfully to free himself from their grasp. General Kurtz followed but Dietrich stayed behind for the last word. He waited to begin.
“Unfortunately Sergeant Troy…. Sam, you have just sentenced your young soldier to several hours of … how shall I put it … intense interrogation. You have only yourself to blame.”
A perfect print of the General’s hand had formed on Troy’s cheek. His stony blue eyes carved a path of anger into Dietrich’s face. It was the glare of hatred. Dietrich returned the stare and locked it in place as he turned his body toward the exit of the tent. Then he turned his focus in the direction he walked and disappeared into the bright sliver of sunlight.
Troy was finally free to expel his fury and punched the pole that supported the tent with everything he had. He took off his hat and threw it to the ground but could find nothing else to take out his anger. It frustrated him – so he let his rage sound.
“Dietrich – you bastard!!!”
Moffitt had not left Tully’s side for fear that the Medicine Man might do something drastic. Moffitt was regretting bringing Tully back here and planned to take him to the nearest British Field Hospital. But that was a full day’s drive from here. At this point, he felt he had no choice but to stay and see Tully through.
Tully seemed more comfortable and calm this morning, but Moffitt was afraid that Tully was closer to death instead of farther away from it. He feared the private maybe failing and that the viper was going to win.
Moffitt was also concerned that Troy and Hitch had not yet returned and feared that the mission was not a success. He would have to return to search for them and help get them out of any trouble they might be in.
Without any more thought, Moffitt clenched Tully’s shirt by the chest with his fists and pulled him into a sitting position. Tully’s head flopped forward into the nape of Moffitt’s neck. Moffitt flung the private’s limp body over his shoulder and held his dangling legs tightly with his right arm. He turned and took Tully out into the daylight. It was hot. So hot, that Moffitt felt as if he was entering a blast furnace.
“Where are you taking your man?” the Medicine Man questioned as he walked toward his quarters with the morning meal. He was surprised to see Moffitt leaving.
“I’m taking him to a British Field Hospital. I won’t let you take his arm. I know the doctors can save him.” Moffitt said stubbornly as he headed for the jeep.
“He will not live. He cannot make such a journey.”
“He cannot live without his arm either.” Moffitt continued to the vehicle with the Medicine Man following slightly behind him shuffling to keep up with Moffitt’s determined pace.
“Many men lose a limb in war.”
“Not one of my men.” Moffitt retorted firmly.
By this time the activities had alerted the rest of the tribe and Prince Abdullah caught up with Moffitt to ask where he was going.
“To a Field Hospital. I’ll get Tully there by this evening.”
“If you think that is best Jackie.”
“I do.” Moffitt was insistent.
When Moffitt reached the jeep, he sat Tully on the sand leaning him against the tire. Moffitt prepared a make shift gurney in the back of the jeep and with Prince Abdullah’s help placed Tully gingerly into the jeep. Tully was still under the asp’s spell and was not aware of his next trek.
“I hope that the young man will be well.”
“I hope so too. I’m sorry to have put you out. Thank your Medicine Man for me. I do appreciate all he’s done. I’ll return by tomorrow.”
“Why must you return?”
“Troy and Hitch. I’ll have to search for them. They should have been here hours ago. I’m afraid they may have been captured.”
Moffitt smiled at Prince Abdullah fondly and then tore out of the camp, leaving a cloud of dust in his wake. The Medicine Man watched the jeep until it was out of sight, then turned, lowered his head and walked back to his tent.
Sweat poured down the temples of Sergeant Troy. It was not just the heat that caused the wetness but the sheer rage he felt. Several hours had passed and there was no sign of Hitch. He felt helpless and his mother bear instinct reared its head. The fact that he had been separated from his wingman not only made him anxious but vulnerable as well.
“I have brought you some breakfast Sergeant Troy.” Dietrich appeared through the entrance of the tent and interrupted Troy’s despondency.
“Where’s Hitch? What have you done with him?” was Troy’s immediate response.
“He has been indisposed.”
“If you touch one hair on that kid’s head I’ll …”
“You’ll what sergeant? I assure you that you are in no position to make threats.”
The flap of the tent opened and the sentries threw Hitch onto the sand at Troy’s feet. His eyes were black and his nose spewed a thick steam of blood. He was unconscious and lay on his back, his shirt was open and torn and his glasses were shattered. There was a gash over his right eyebrow that needed stitching and Troy could see bruises on Hitchs’ ribcage. His teeth were pink with a filmy coating of blood and his wrists showed the marks of a rope. Troy lunged at Dietrich but was restrained by the guards. His heart was like a drum in his chest and his face was flush with lividity.
“I’m gonna kill you!!” Troy grunted through his teeth. “Dietrich, I swear, I’m ….”
“Please, please sergeant. Do not humiliate yourself. There is nowhere for you to go. The war is over for you, so please cooperate.” Dietrich walked around Troy and looked down at Hitch. Troy was still held by the two guards.
“I must say, that you should be proud of your young private. He did not utter a word. You Americans are a stubborn breed. I was most impressed. And for your information – the General has left the camp because after all, where there are two Rats there are two more Rats not far away.” Dietrich continued. “So, you have until noon to reconsider the General’s question of why he was the chosen one, so to speak. He is waiting patiently in the comfort of his villa. He is a very curious man and a very impatient one.”
Troy never took his eyes off Dietrich. His shirt was now drenched with perspiration, and he was breathing like a bull elephant trying without much success to keep a cool head.
“Let him go.” Dietrich ordered the guards, and he left Troy to tend to Hitch.
No more words were spoken between the two men and Dietrich left the tent quietly with the sentries left standing guard at the entrance of the tent.
“Hitch!” Troy lifted the private’s head and built up a pile of sand on which to rest it. There was absolutely nothing in the tent except the two cots, not even water. So, Troy ripped the sleeve from his shirt and used it to wipe Hitch’s face. He held the cloth firmly on the cut above the private’s eye and put pressure on it to stop the bleeding. When Troy did this Hitch awoke with a start and tried to pull himself away from the pain that Troy was inflicting.
“Aaah. STOP!” Hitch winced. “I’m OK Sarge.”
“No you’re not. Hold still.”
Troy continued to give aid and made Hitch as comfortable as possible. He looked at his watch. It was 09:14. He looked around the tent helplessly and then yelled at the guards for water. They were decent enough to provide a bucket.
The desert just before dawn was a haunting place. Silent and cold, it made Moffitt feel like he was the only man left in the universe. He was running on nothing more than British muscle and guts. The dunes carved a jagged slice out of the sky that was the colour of blue velvet. Billions of stars looked down on him.
He’d just dropped Tully at the hospital, explained what had happened, refueled, gave Tully one last pat on the shoulder for good measure and then tore off again into the black chasm of the Sahara.
The journey back to Abdullah’s filled Moffitt’s mind with plans of rescue and escape. How could he get to Troy and Hitch? Where exactly were they? Were they even still alive? Was he the only one left of the unit? Mounds of disconnected thoughts flooded his exhausted brain. He wondered if he’d seen the last of Tully and even started composing a letter to Tully’s mother in Kentucky informing her of her son’s death.
It was still dark when Moffitt pulled into Prince Abdullah’s camp. He had not slept in 46 hours and he was starting to feel euphoric from lack of rest. The jeep squeaked to a halt and Moffitt sat there trying to regain some form of energy. He was still sitting there when he was awoken by one of the tribe’s young children. The boy had hopped onto the jeep and was fondling the 50 lb machine gun.
“Don’t touch that!” Moffitt barked.
The child jumped and scurried off the jeep like a squirrel from a tree. Moffitt then dragged himself out of the vehicle and walked slowly toward Prince Abdullah’s tent. The Prince came out to greet him.
“Your Highness. I need your help desperately.” Moffitt begged and then he sighed to reiterate.
“My friends need your help desperately.” Then he paused looking at the Prince with sagging eyelids .
“I know that the war is not your fight. But, we are old friends. You and my father are like my brothers.” Moffitt stared sincerely into the Prince’s face and continued his plea. “We must confront the Germans at their camp and ask them to release Troy and Hitchcock. They will listen to you. They need the support and sympathy of the desert tribes. We can reach them on horseback with the rest of your men. The Germans do not want to fight the Arabs. Please. I am asking you as a friend. I’m humbly asking you to help us.”
Prince Abdullah looked around at the people of his village. They had all gathered and heard Moffitt’s appeal. The men of the tribe appeared eager to face the Germans and were nodding their approval. The Prince looked back at Moffitt and nodded as well.
“We will be honoured to help you Jackie. We will peacefully enter the German camp and ask them to release your men.”
“Thank you. Thank you ever so much. All of you!” Moffitt’s voice reached a crescendo as he looked over the crowd in appreciation.
“We will dress you in robes. The Germans need not know that a British soldier is among us.”
“How can I ever repay you Your Highness?”
“There is no need Jackie. You and your father have helped me many times in the past and it is now time for me to repay you.”
Moffitt placed his hand on the Prince’s shoulder and smiled gratefully.
“Come. We will change your clothes and find you a horse to ride.”
The Prince then asked the rest of his men to prepare their mounts and ready themselves for the task at hand. All immediately sprung into action and the small village bustled with activity. The sun was burning toward midday and it wouldn’t be long until they would begin their journey to the German camp.
Twenty-six men including Moffitt and Prince Abdullah mounted up and headed toward the German encampment. Moffitt knew the way. He just hoped the camp was still there and that Troy and Hitch had not been moved to a prison installation. If that had happened, Moffitt would never see his comrades again. It would be like finding a flea amongst a herd of camels.
Just as dusk began to fall, they reached the edge of the minefield. They were silhouetted by the painted sunset. The German sentries were shocked to see them but they made radio contact with Dietrich who gave the word to let them pass. They were shown the way through the bomb filled sand. The colourful tribesman moved gracefully to the Officer’s tents – their horses energetic and high-stepping. Dietrich stood waiting to greet them. Moffitt was surprised to see his nemesis and covered his face so he would not be recognized.
“We are here on a mission of peace.” Prince Abdullah spoke clearly and firmly.
“And what is it you seek, Your Highness?” Dietrich asked suspiciously.
“You are holding two men here. Men who are friends of this tribe. We respectfully ask that you release them.”
“I’m afraid I cannot do that. I am under orders from my superiors to detain them.”
“I ask you again to release them and this war will not spread to the desert tribes.” Abdullah said calmly. Moffitt looked around from the shelter of his headdress, looking for any sign of Troy or Hitch.
“Are you threatening me?” Dietrich inquired calmly.
Abdullah did not respond but waited instead for Dietrich to change his mind on freeing the duo. There was a long pause and the Prince decided then and there to approach the problem from a different angle.
“We know what you want. What you need.”
“And what is that?” Dietrich asked curiously.
“Water.” Abdullah paused as he now had Dietrich’s full attention. “I will give you one of our wells for the release of the Americans.”
Moffitt thrust his stare at the Prince in disbelief. He was shocked that Abdullah would part with such a prize out of friendship for him and his father. He wanted to stop him desperately but did not want to be disrespectful and diverted his stare of surprise to a glance of affection. Dietrich looked deeply into the Prince’s face for sincerity. This was a good deal.
“I will have to radio my command and see if your generous offer is acceptable.”
Dietrich then disappeared into a tent. When he was out of sight, the Prince looked over at Moffitt. The men on horseback were quiet and the Germans who looked back at them with drawn weapons were still as well. They could hear the muffled sound of the Hauptmann telling of the impending bargain. Then silence. The flap of the tent opened and Dietrich announced the verdict.
“You will direct us to the well?”
“I will.” Abdullah replied with absolute.
“You may have our prisoners.” With that statement uttered, Dietrich gave the signal to bring Troy and Hitch to the forefront.
Troy and Hitch emerged from their enclosure somewhat bewildered. Troy held his hand over his eyes to shield them from the sun. Hitch’s eyes were swollen shut, so he had no need to shade them. They staggered toward the tribe of Arabs. Troy recognized Abdullah immediately. Several men dismounted to help Hitch and they pushed him up onto a horse. He rested his head on the neck of the stallion as the tribesman pulled himself up into the saddle. Troy hopped on the back of another horse and all moved to the edge of the German camp. One man stayed behind to show the Germans the way to their newly attained waterhole. Dietrich watched them leave, positive he had gotten the better end of the bargain. He would have to capture the Rat Patrol another time. Next time, he vowed, it would be all four.
“Where’s Tully?” Troy inquired as the horse train moved slowly back to Abdullah’s village.
“I took him to a British Field Hospital.”
“The Medicine Man was going to amputate his arm. I decided that was unacceptable. So I took him to the hospital.”
“Well. How is he?”
“I don’t know. But, I think it’s time we found out.” Moffitt hesitated. “Either way.”
The tribe arrived home several hours ago. After regaining some much-needed rest, Moffitt and Troy regrouped and walked over to where Hitch was receiving aid from the Prince’s daughters and the Medicine Man. They stood and watched the patchwork.
“Moffitt?” Troy said out of the blue.
“Thanks. For uh…. Well thank you for coming back for us. I really thought it was all over this time.”
Moffitt weakly smiled at Troy. He was so tired.
“Are you OK to travel Hitch?”
“I think so Sarge.”
The private sat shirtless, on the edge of a chair. Troy crouched so he could look straight into Hitch’s black and blue face.
“Well, how many fingers am I holding up?”
“Thursday.” Hitch joked.
“Come on. You’re fine.” Troy diagnosed as he tussled the young man’s hair.
With a little help, Hitch walked to the jeep. Troy got into the driver seat of one and Moffitt the other. The tribe had gathered to say good-bye.
“How can we ever thank you Your Highness?”
“Your continued friendship is enough thanks Jackie. And when you see your father again, tell him that he is missed.”
With that, the three Rats headed to the British Hospital in hopes of finding a recovered Tully. They did not hold out much faith though, and the ride back was long, dusty and quiet.
They arrived at the hospital just after suppertime. It was a welcome sight. They knew they would sleep in a bed tonight. Troy, Moffitt and Hitch dragged themselves from their jeeps and stretched out every limb they could. Then they stood in front of the vehicles wondering where they should go first – the hospital or the morgue. All three men were absolutely debilitated with fatigue.
Troy noticed him first. Tully was sitting quietly on a chair outside one of the tents under its awning. The chair was tipped back on its rear legs, leaning against a support pole. His feet dangled off the edge of the front of the chair. He was cleaning a rifle, chewing a matchstick and totally oblivious to his surroundings. He looked well rested. Healthy as a horse actually.
“Tully!!” Hitch called out.
The sandy-haired private looked up, pushed himself forward, put down the gun and jogged toward his colleagues. He stopped short when he saw Hitch’s face.
“What the hell happened to you?” Tully asked.
“I fell.” Hitch said dryly. “Never mind me. I thought we’d come back here to bury you. How are you?”
“Well….” Troy begged the question of the sandy-haired private.
“The last time I saw you, you were at death’s door from a snakebite remember.”
“I can see that. But how? How did they do it?”
“Oh. They said the poultice probably saved my life. They want to know where it came from? The doctors said they could use that kind of medicine around here.”
Moffitt and Troy looked at each other too drained to explain. They left Tully’s question hanging in the parched air. The sergeants grabbed Hitch and helped him into the hospital. Tully helped too then sat back in his chair and returned to his previous position like the past week was just like any other. He picked up his gun and started cleaning it again. He began to whistle and Troy poked his head out of the tent in amazement. He smiled, glad to see that his unit was still intact. He went back into the tent, hopped onto a cot, placed his hands behind his head and closed his eyes.
“Troy?” Moffitt asked as he reclined on the cot next to him.
“We forgot to retrieve Kurtz.”
“Oh… we’ll get him. But not right now – I have a headache.”