Fritz was becoming a little edgy. The time on his watch was clicking toward six-thirty and he looked at the truck from Stalag 13, still parked directly in front of the entrance to the radio station. It still had not moved. Fritz stared at it hard, as if trying to force it to move with his eyes. Just roll down the street a little, just so I can see the doorway...
The truck remained. Nobody was moving it.
Fritz sighed, glanced at his watch again and looked at Emery.
"Now?" Emery asked.
Fritz looked back at the truck. "Now."
"We don't know what's going on, on the other side of the truck."
"We'll find out when we get there." Fritz moved to stand up from the booth. He removed the appropriate amount of marks, plus tip and left it on the table. "Come..."
Emery stood up and followed Fritz out of the Bierstube. Fritz paused beneath a street lamp to light a cigarette and stood for a moment on the sidewalk, looking around in both directions of the street. The evening was pulling a dark shadow over the street. The sun was gone behind the buildings in the western horizon. Only a little tint of blue remained in the sky, sprinkled with a few of the night's first stars. At the left end of the radio station building, one of his men signaled to him. Everything was clear. At the right end of the radio station, another signal. Everything was clear.
Fritz took a long drag on the cigarette and blew a string of smoke out to the right. This was his reply signal. He and Emery would move in now.
As they started to cross the street, another signal went between the left and right flanks of the radio station. Next, Hochstetter's staff car, which along with the other staff cars had been left unattended on the side street, pulled away from the curb and went down around the block, coming back up on the right side of the radio station building. It slowed and stopped at the corner, the sentry driving it watching Fritz and Emery. With the truck from the Stalag blocking the place where the bakery truck was supposed to go, the sentry figured to use Hochstetter's car to carry the two replaced guards around to the backside of the building to join with the others.
The Stalag truck at least was providing the same amount of cover from the traffic on the street as the bakery truck would have. Fritz was appreciative of that at least.
"Guten Abend," he said as he and Emery approached. "Lovely evening."
Fritz was sure he and Emery looked imposing enough in their Gestapo uniforms, as the two guards who didn't look any older than twenty, came to immediate attention. Good prompt soldiers, Fritz thought. Coming to direct attention. The two guards responded and raised their arms in salute. "Guten Abend, Oberstleutnant. Heil Hitler."
Fritz and Emery never saluted. Instead they grabbed at the two arms that were out straight and sucker punched the two young guards. The two guards were hit again and were relieved of their rifles. Hochstetter's staff car now came around the corner and pulled up in front of the truck from Stalag 13.
With rifles in hand, Fritz and Emery both savagely knocked the two guards unconscious with the butt ends of the rifles. They then slung the rifles over their backs and dragged the unconscious guards across the sidewalk to the waiting staff car. The sentry was waiting with the back door open and he helped to load the two guards into the car, pulling and dragging them in. Once completed, the sentry shut the back door of the car and Fritz and Emery walked back to the front entrance of the radio station. Hochstetter's staff car drove away from the curb, unhurried, and turned the corner. The two guards would be moved from the car to the bakery truck in the alley.
Fritz and Emery came to stand at the entrance way, straightening their uniforms and trying to breathe normally. The each looked around. It appeared they had caused little attention from anyone on the street. They glanced at each other and nodded. A job well done. So far...
Düsseldorf Radio Station
Miller led the band through a halfhearted rehearsal. To anyone else the band sounded pretty good. But Miller could hear beyond the music. The kids were nervous and admittedly, he was too. Hogan said everything was going to start moving at 8 o'clock, but just what exactly was going to happen? And what was going to happen when the transmitter malfunctioned? And more than that, what the hell was going to happen once they were all out of the radio station?
Playing music passed the time, but didn't answer any of the questions. And Miller couldn't stop to ask the Colonel for much detail, not with all the extra ears in the room that might hear. Much the same way the young musicians had collectively put their trust in Miller, the Major would have to put his trust in Colonel Hogan...and the higher authority of the Lord.
At seven-thirty, Miller suspended the rehearsal. Next would be the longest thirty minutes he had ever had to wait through. Carter and Newkirk successfully spoiled the photographer's last five chances at getting a photograph. Once he ran out of flashbulbs, the photographer left to get more, figuring to try again during the actual broadcast.
The kids in the band talked quietly amongst themselves, Hogan and his men were quiet as they watched Burkhalter, who was talking now with the higher ranking Ministry officials, and they watched Hochstetter, who was watching them. Reigels and Anna were in the control room, in discussion with the engineer.
Miller sat by himself at the base of the bandstand, smoking a cigarette and observing what was going on. He didn't turn to look when Ahren came and sat down beside him.
"You should have tried to escape last night," Ahren said softly.
Miller snorted softly, tapping his ashes into the ash tray. "I didn't have the opportunity," he replied.
Ahren was quiet for a moment. Finally, he couldn't hold back any more. He had to ask. "Is somebody going to try to rescue you?" he whispered.
Miller looked at the young boy, surprised by the question. He was sure the boy was wondering how it was that nothing would happen to them when they didn't play any music. But Miller knew he couldn't risk admitting anything. Not now. Not until they were all safe. He gave a slight shrug. "I don't know."
Ahren was quiet again, but he never took his eyes off the bandleader. The young German was trying to figure out if there really was going to be an escape. Miller by the same token, avoided Ahren's gaze and instead looked at the cigarette he held between his fingers.
"They won't like what you're planning to do for the broadcast..." Ahren said. "If we don't play music, we will all be punished..." the boy's voice went soft. "You will not be able to escape then. Nobody will be able to save you...or any of us."
Miller looked at the cigarette a moment longer and then raised his eyes to Ahren. The young German saw something in them that made him pause. Miller knew something and for a brief moment he revealed the playing card. Defeat? No....no, he was not accepting defeat. They would not be punished. Somehow they would be saved.
Miller dropped his gaze, revealing no more. However, he spoke softly. "Somebody," he said, "will save us..." He looked back at Ahren, this time looking for the young German's understanding and, most importantly, his trust.
He would have it. But he also saw the questions that came through Ahren's eyes. How? When? Who?...
"Herr Miller...?" Ahren started.
Miller shook his head. He'd already said too much.
"Do the other's know this?" Ahren asked quietly.
"No...and I don't even know for sure. But there is a chance." Miller looked at Ahren. "That's all I know, that there's a chance..."
Ahren looked at the American Major. The curiosity was just too much. "The prisoners?"
"No. Ahren, don't ask any questions, I've already told you more than I should have." The Major's tone wasn't scolding, but it was uneasy. And the uneasiness startled Ahren.
There was a chance.... Ahren wondered why Miller didn't tell all of them about this. But as soon as Ahren pondered the question he came up with his own answer. It was too risky, especially where the Gestapo and the Propaganda Ministry had questioned all of them after each rehearsal. Ahren was fairly sure that none of the boys would have implicated the Major, but there was enough of a seed of doubt to prevent the Major from revealing too much. Especially with Hans, Josef and Adler in the HJ. Part of being in the HJ was reporting things and any of the boys could have been easily persuaded or manipulated to tell the Gestapo everything...
But they wouldn't....would they? He knew Hans wouldn't, but it had been months since Ahren had last seen Josef and Adler. He was beginning to the understand the Major's dilemma. He also understood the urgency for secrecy and would honor that.
"I will say nothing to anyone, Herr Miller..." Ahren said. "That is a promise."
Miller looked at Ahren. He nodded. He could only hope that Ahren kept that promise, as there were ten lives depending on it.
At a few minutes to eight, the loudspeaker system outside the radio station announced that a special broadcast would be coming up. Fritz looked at his watch. Things looked to be moving on schedule. He nodded to Emery.
"Guten Abend," Anna said into the microphone in the middle of the studio. "Tonight, we have a special broadcast for the youth of Germany along with a very special guest, Major Glenn Miller of the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Command, United States Army. But first, some music. Major Miller..."
Miller raised his hands up, ready to cue the band. The players readied their instruments and Miller waited for the cue from Reigels. When it came, and Miller directed the band to play, the most horrendous sound filled the small studio.
Like fingernails on a chalk board, the sudden explosion of instruments playing off key notes, screeching and out of sync, was so traumatic sounding that even the Major cringed inwardly. Hogan was crashing out an erratic drum beat while LeBeau banged the piano keys like an artist possessed and having no recognizable melody. Kinch's base line was all over the map. Meanwhile, the brass instruments were like a pack of shrieking wolves, while the reeds just moaned and wailed like wounded animals. The sound was so hideous it was amusing. Newkirk and Carter, who were supposed to be adding some terrible singing to the mix, couldn't get themselves to do much. They were too busy trying not to laugh.
The amused bandleader turned to see what kind of effect the noise was having on the assembled guests. He found it was hitting the mark. People covered their ears while the Ministry officials were animated in the control room, telling the engineer to cut the live feed for a recording. He did but that didn't spare the people in the studio, who still had to endure the Dying Wolves Overture.
Reigels scrambled out of the control room and made a beeline for the band. "Stop!"
Miller saw him coming and having heard enough himself he signaled the band to stop. He found himself really having to work to keep a straight face as he turned to Reigels. "Something wrong?"
Reigels was clearly flustered. "Major Miller, that is not what we've heard this band playing in rehearsal for the past three days!"
"You're right. It's not." Miller paused as Anna came up beside the Ministry captain. "Seeing as you were so kind to say that American swing music was noise I'd thought I'd give ya some." He paused, holding back a smile. "You didn't like it?"
"I have heard drunken fools play better than that!"
"Then perhaps you should have got drunken fools for your broadcast, Kapitän"
Reigels was quite frosted by this. He drew in a sharp breath. "There will be severe consequences for this insubordination, Herr Major..."
Miller raised an eyebrow, as if to say oh really?
Hogan stepped down from the drum kit. "What's the matter, Major? They not like the selection?"
"That's too bad," Hogan said. He looked at Reigels and Anna. "We practiced especially hard on that lil' number too..."
Miller had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing. Reigels saw this and glared at the band leader. "This is an outrage!" he said before turning on his boot heel. Anna looked at Miller.
"You will regret you've done this, Herr Major," she said. She turned and followed Reigels.
Miller turned toward the band, finally letting the smile break open. "Oh I'm not going to regret that one bit..." The kids too were grinning and trying to hold back snickers. Before Reigels and Anna got to the studio door, it suddenly burst open and five masked Gestapo guards came marching in.
"Achtung!" the lead one spoke up. All five had guns drawn and one of the guards immediately persuaded Reigels and Anna to the side of the studio.
"What is this?" Reigels asked, surprised.
The kids in the band were all looking too and the grins and snickers ceased. Miller made eye contact with Hans and Ahren and gestured with his hands for the kids to stay calm.
None of the guards spoke immediately. Another guard went to the door that led to the control room, opened it and stood in the open door way, with gun drawn and keeping an eye on the engineer, the other two Ministry officials and Major Hochstetter, who was clearly livid by what he was seeing.
"What is going on here?!" he demanded.
"Silence!" the lead Gestapo man said.
A third guard waved for Hogan and the heroes to be separated from the rest of the band. The prisoners from Stalag 13 stepped away from the bandstand were gathered in a group in a corner of the studio.
Miller kept an eye on the band members, making sure to look at each one individually, gesturing to them to stay calm. He could tell the sight of masked Gestapo men was not a comforting sight for any of these kids, but the kids looked at him and gave slight nods. They would follow the Major.
The lead Gestapo man, which was Fritz, stepped before Major Miller and pointed his rifle in a persuading manner. He had to make this look good. "Herr Major...if you and your band here would come with us please..."
Miller eyed the gun. "And if I refuse?"
"Then everyone in this room will be shot."
"You drive a hard bargain. Where are you taking us?"
"You will know when you get there." Fritz waved the gun. "Let's go..."
"Where are you taking him?" Hogan demanded.
"That is none of your concern," the Gestapo man that was watching over the heroes said.
Miller looked at the band and nodded for them to gather up their instruments. "Herr Miller," Hans said quietly. "What is happening?"
"It's okay, Hans. Just follow me. You boys are going to be all right. I promise..."
Hans nodded and told the others quietly to follow the Major and that they would be okay.
"Quiet," Fritz said. He gestured with the gun. "Schnell."
The band members had gathered their instruments and stood. Fritz pointed to one of the other men, Emery, who waited at the door of the studio. The band members walked to the door quietly. Miller paused a moment and looked at Colonel Hogan and the heroes standing in the corner. He couldn't say anything, not thank you, not goodbye, not anything. All he could do was give a nod, silently expressing his gratitude. He then turned back and walked to the door of the studio.
Fritz waited a few moments, giving time for Miller and the band to be escorted out of the building. He then nodded to the guard that was watching the heroes, who stepped backwards, keeping his sights on the heroes but moving for the door way. The other guards moved away from their positions as well and they were soon making a quick exit out the door with Fritz remaining for a moment.
"The Gestapo thanks you for your cooperation everyone..." He was then gone.
"BAH!!" Hochstetter shouted, running out of the control room. The other two Ministry officials came out as well.
"Major Hochstetter," Reigels said, coming up to the Gestapo Major. "I hope you have an explanation for this!"
"I don't! But I will find out--"
Hochstetter was cut off by the deafening boom of the dynamite going off on the roof.
"What was that?" Klink said.
"Air raid?" Schultz wondered.
The screaming sound of metal could be heard as the transmitter tower went crashing down on the roof and suddenly the power was cut inside the building, putting the studio into darkness and creating a mad dash for everyone to get out. Carter took the opportunity and pulled the magnesium pencil from his bomber jacket. He never set the timer on the pencil, not knowing when he would have the chance to get rid of it. So instead now, he just pulled the wire to trigger the detonator and he tossed the pencil into the empty control room, near the engineer's panel.
In the time Fritz had paused, Miller and the kids had been hustled out of the building and into the truck that the kids had been transported back and forth in. The remaining fake guards came running out of the building and they climbed into the truck, pulling the tarps down on the back, concealing those who were traveling inside. Fritz hollered to the driver to go and the truck pulled away into the street, just as the explosion occurred sending the transmitter tower crashing down across the roof of the building.
Major Miller peered out the back tarp just before the truck turned a corner. The roof of the radio station was lit up like a fireplace, the remains of the tower hanging over the edge and broken pieces, dangling with their own small flames, reached to the sidewalk in vain. Colonel Hogan hadn't been kidding when he said it would horribly malfunction.
"Boy, talk about a barn burner," Carter said once everyone was outside. Schultz corralled everyone near the truck they had rode in on while chaos was starting to creep in elsewhere. Inside the radio station, Carter's magnesium pencil was doing its job, igniting a fire and catching on to whatever it could that would burn on the engineer's control board. As fate would have it, Reigels had left the three broken pieces of Miller's recording on the board itself and once the fire reached it there would be no telling that the recording ever existed.
Outside, Hochstetter was shouting orders to anybody that would listen to him. First was to get a fire brigade to the radio station, second was to find out what happened to his guards. Reigels then turned to Klink and Schultz and told them to take the POW's back to their camp.
"Nein!" Hochstetter said. "They are to stay here and be questioned! When I find out what happened and who is responsible, heads will roll!"
"The only head I see rolling so far, Major, is yours!" Reigels shot back.
"BAH! You are all under arrest! Nobody is leaving until I say so. The entire town of Düsseldorf will be surrounded with a ring of steel!" Hochstetter then looked at Colonel Hogan with an especially vicious expression. "Major Miller will not get out with his life!"
Black uniformed men blanketed the town of Düsseldorf. Doors were knocked on...and kicked down, buildings were checked, and people were questioned. Warehouses and barns were especially checked and staked out. Roadblocks were put up. But the Underground was one step ahead. The destruction of the radio station had provided just enough of a hold up for Hochstetter that Fritz was able to slip out of the town before the roadblocks went up. And with the dark of night as their cover, the truck made it's way to a farmstead several miles outside of town and set way back from the road. The massive doors on the large barn were wide open and the truck rumbled up the dirt drive and straight into the barn. The lights on the truck were shut off and the doors were immediately closed, plunging the barn into a temporary black depth.
Oil lamps were lit by the few underground agents who had been waiting in the barn. The tarps on the back of the truck were lifted and the Gestapo dressed underground agents moved quickly, spilling out of the truck and then assisting the kids and Major Miller out. The kids were separated from the Major and huddled to one side of the barn by two of the underground agents. All of the underground operatives kept their black face masks on, and the ones that had been waiting in the barn also wore coverings over their faces, as none of them knew if all of the kids would be going along on this trip. If some reason any of the kids balked at going, the underground could not afford recognition.
The exception to this was Major Miller. The lead Gestapo dressed agent walked Miller to the other side of the barn, away from the kids, and with his back facing the direction of the kids, he pulled his mask down a little bit.
"Major Miller, I can now introduce myself to you. My name is Brandeis Fritz. I will see to it that you return to England safely."
Miller nodded. "Thank you."
"We will not be here for long. Once Emery and Claus determine how many of the young men will be going back with you, things are going to move very quickly. I can not guarantee that this will be the most comfortable trip for you, however."
"Don't worry about that. Whatever you have to do, do it. Whatever you want me to do, just tell me."
"I'm glad you say that," Fritz said with a smile. "Because I'm going to need you to trade your uniform there....."
Miller made a face, recalling the last time he had traded for the Gestapo uniform.
"...for civilian clothes." Fritz smiled.
"Oh..." Miller chuckled. "All right then."
Hans nodded and looked at one of the non-Gestapo dressed agents, nodding and motioning with his hand. The other agent came over with a duffel bag in hand. He handed it to Hans who turned it over to Miller. "There's a tool room at the end here." Fritz pointed. "Once you've changed, put your uniform in this bag."
"What are you going to do with it?"
"We'll have to destroy it. We don't want to leave behind any traces of you that the Germans can pick up. Before we leave here, we'll burn it."
"Oh." Miller paused and looked down at the uniform he wore. "Well, I suppose seeing as I've been wearing it for a week, burning it is probably the best thing you can do to it."
Meanwhile, the kids were finding out what was going on from the other two underground agents. Neither of them removed their face masks and the first one spoke directly to the point.
"Listen," he said. "Major Miller is being taken to England. If any of you wish to go with him, you may. If you do not, we will leave you somewhere near town to be picked up. Keep in mind you will more than likely be picked up by the Gestapo and will be asked questions. I'm sure I don't have to remind any of you how charming the Gestapo can be..."
The boys were silent, some exchanging glances with one another. Some of them looked like they would go, a couple of them seemed hesitant.
"Mein mudder..." Josef said suddenly.
Hans and Adler looked at Josef and then at the Underground agent. "How much time do we have?" Hans asked, in German.
"Five...maybe ten minutes. We will be moving very quickly."
"Adler and I will talk with the others. Those that don't want to go we will prepare them as best we can for what may happen."
The Underground agent nodded. He looked at his partner and nodded. The two stepped away from the kids and walked to the other side of the truck.
Hans and Adler turned to Josef.
"I would go," he said, "but my mother, my younger sisters...I can not leave them. Not if the Gestapo might question them too, or punish them for my escaping." He paused. "I wish I could have them come with me..."
"The Underground will not be able to make the time," Adler said.
Hans shook his head. "Maybe not this time...but they will at another time." He glanced at Josef. "I will stay behind with him. My family too I would not want to see be punished for my escape. We can tell the Gestapo we jumped from the truck to escape, especially if we believe it was Gestapo that kidnapped us to begin with. They'll believe that, we're all delinquents to begin with, so naturally we would try to escape from the Gestapo."
Adler gave a small smile. "That's true. Once they tell you it was the Underground however, they will question you."
"We don't know anything. Which is true, we didn't know of any of this until they put us into the truck." Hans paused. "I wonder who's idea it was to take us all along anyway?" His tone was genuine in wonderment.
"Probably the Underground..." Adler said. "To make it look good. Take Herr Miller, take the band too."
Hans nodded. "It is an unexpected, but wonderful opportunity...but I'm afraid Josef and I have one thing that keeps us here."
Adler nodded. He looked at the other band members. "Is there anyone else who wishes to remain behind?"
No one spoke, but six heads all turned from side to side. They would go with Miller. Adler nodded at this and looked at the swastika arm band on his HJ uniform. He grabbed a hold of it and yanked it off, dropping it to the floor of the barn. Then, with a savage boot, stomped it into the dirt. The kids laughed and then each took turns stomping on it, turning the arm band into a dirt stained and nearly mutilated piece of red, white and black cloth. Even Hans and Josef took their turns trampling the arm band. Having had to swear an allegiance to National Socialism and the Fuehrer out of fear and intimidation, the young musicians indulged in the moment where they could freely express their true opinion of the Nazi Party and each stomp of their feet made it perfectly clear.
Wondering what the commotion was all about, the two Underground agents came over to see what was going on. The kids stopped what they were doing and jumped back from the arm band, looking at the Underground agents. The two agents looked at the scuffed and torn swastika on the floor and then looked at the kids. Although their faces were still hidden behind the black masks, their eyes held mirth.
"I take it you boys have all decided to go with the Major?" one of the agents said.
"All but two," Hans said. "Josef and I will not be going. Our families...."
The agent nodded, the mirth in his eyes now sobered.
Major Miller emerged from the tool room, dressed in a dark suit with a black overcoat. His military crush cap was replaced with a dark grey fedora hat. What had been left of his kit that was in the pockets of his uniform were now in the deep pockets of the black overcoat he wore. He held the duffle bag with his Army uniform, in hand. One of the Underground agents walked up to him and gestured for the bag. Miller handed it to him and the agent stepped away.
Fritz then came up to the Major, the black face covering back in place. He paused a moment to give Miller the once over and then reached into his uniform coat and pulled out a photograph. He looked at it, looked at the Major again and sighed. "They'll spot you a mile away."
Miller gestured to the photograph. Fritz handed it to him. The photograph was of Miller, in civilian attire taken at least three or four years previous.
"It is expected they will circulate your civilian and military photos. Getting you out of the uniform is easy...disguising you more than that will take some effort." Fritz accepted the photo back from Miller. "We will work on that."
Another agent came up to Fritz. "We are just about ready."
"Are all of the boys going?"
"Nein. Two will be staying behind because of their families."
Fritz paused and nodded soberly. "They show much honor and courage to do so." Fritz looked at the agent. "How much longer?"
"Just a few minutes. One of the HJ boys is discarding his uniform for civilian clothes."
"Very well. Place his uniform with the Major's and we will destroy them together."
"Ja." The agent walked away.
Fritz looked back at the Major. "We are almost ready. Emery tells me that all but two of the boys will be going back with you. The two that are staying are doing so for their families."
"Who?" Miller asked. Fritz merely looked toward the other side of the barn. The boys that were making the trip were gathered together. Separated away from them were two, Hans and Josef. They in turn were watching him. Miller glanced at Fritz. "Excuse me."
Miller headed toward the two boys, removing his hat. The two stood up a little straighter, coming to attention at the approaching adult both out of habit, and out of genuine respect for Major Miller. The two youngsters tried to look brave, and their expressions were pretty good, but Miller could tell there was a natural fear behind the bravado. Their eyes betrayed them.
Hans drew in a deep breath. "Herr Miller..."
"I was just told," he replied. He hesitated a moment, trying to find the words. "You're doing the right thing, to stay behind."
"We would rather go," Hans said truthfully. "But more than that we would want to bring our families, what is left of them, with us."
"I know. I hope that one day you can. Better yet, I hope the day will come soon where you can stay here without fear, instead of wanting to flee."
Hans nodded. "So do we." He turned to Josef and translated what Miller had said.
"It will come. It will come soon, I am sure."
"It will come soon," Hans said softly. He hesitated a moment, wanting to say more but he knew they had no time. He put his hand out to the Major. "Good bye, Herr Miller...good luck."
Miller grasped the young boy's hand. "Auf Wiedersehen, Hans. Be careful..."
Hans nodded and stepped aside. Josef then shook Miller's hand. "Auf Wiedersehen, Herr Miller. The opportunity to play for you and with you was an honor. We will never forget this. Or you."
Miller nodded. "Auf Wiedersehen, Josef."
Josef then stepped back and Hans looked at the Major. "Josef speaks what I could not a minute ago. He says the opportunity to play for you and with you was an honor. We will never forget this, or you."
"The same goes for me."
One of Fritz's men approached unobtrusively. He looked at the boys. "We must be leaving," he said gently.
Hans and Josef both nodded. They looked at Major Miller one last time, gave a final nod in good bye and followed the underground man toward the exit of the barn.
"Hans! Josef!" one of the young voices spoke up from the rest of the group. The two boys stopped and turned and Adler had stepped forward, dressed now in civilian clothes but holding his Hitler Youth uniform in hand. He paused a moment and then gave the only salute he knew, putting his arm out straight and diagonal. "Heil Freiheit (Freedom). Swing Heil..."
Hans and Josef returned the salute, their shoulders squared with pride. "Swing Heil. Heil Freiheit."
"Swing Heil," the other boys intoned, raising their arms in salute as well. "Heil Freiheit." Hans and Josef stood for a moment longer before letting their arms down and turning to follow the underground agent out of the barn.
Adler and the other boys disengaged their salutes once Hans and Josef left, but Adler stared at the shadows of the end of the barn realizing he would probably never see them again. The young boy took a deep breath, said a silent prayer for his friends safety and turned back to the group of boys. Another of the underground agents came up with the duffel bag that already held Major Miller's uniform. He held the bag open to Adler, for the boy to place his HJ uniform in.
The boy looked into the bag just as he was about to deposit his uniform. He stopped and looked at the underground agent. "Herr Miller's?"
The underground man nodded behind his black face covering. "Ja. We will destroy it, along with your uniform as well."
Adler suddenly dropped his HJ uniform to the barn floor and took a hold of the duffel bag, reaching in and pulling out the dark brown uniform jacket. The underground man, not knowing what Adler was doing, grabbed the duffel and jacket. "Nein, you can't have it."
Adler shook his head. "Nein..." He pointed to the rank pin on the shoulder of the jacket and the "US" badges on the lapels. "The insignias."
The underground man turned to Major Miller. "Herr Miller? I think he wants the pins off your jacket..."
Miller stepped up to the group and Adler turned to him, holding the jacket toward the Major and pointing to the badges on the lapels again.
"Why not?" Miller said. He took the jacket from Adler and the underground man and turned the bottom side of the lapels out, removing the "US" and eagle pins. He then turned the shoulders inside out to remove his rank pins. He handed the small brass pins to Adler who then turned to the other boys, asking who wanted one. All of them did.
"They all want one," the underground man said.
"That's what I figured," Miller replied. "And we're one short. You have something I can cut one of these buttons off with?"
The underground agent produced a small knife from his pocket and handed it to the Major. A moment later, one of the brass buttons from the jacket was removed and Miller handed it to Adler. Adler then handed it to Erik and the young trumpet player palmed the button, curling his fingers around it and holding it tight in his hand.
"There." Miller handed the jacket to the underground agent. Adler picked up his uniform from the floor and shoved it into the duffel bag. The brown jacket followed and the underground man gave a nod before hurrying away to dispose of the uniforms. Fritz and Emery then stepped up and told everyone to get back into the truck.
Each of the boys climbed into the truck, with Major Miller climbing in last. The heavy cloth tarp was dropped back down over the back of the truck and the unsettling darkness took over. The two doors of the truck were opened and shut and then the motor turned over. What sliver of light shown through the breaks in the tarp, was extinguished and the massive barn doors were opened once again. The truck jerked backwards and rolled slowly out of the barn and then turned around on the dirt drive, heading for the road.
Major Miller ventured a peek from behind the tarp. The farmhouse they were leaving had no lights on and surrounding landscape was dark, tinted only by the light of the moon. He looked toward the clear night sky, filled with stars and saw one star blinking. Home... it seemed to be saying. I will lead you home....
(End Part One....)