Summary: Moffitt wakes up in Dietrich's camp not quite himself.
Challenge: A childhood memory.
Author's Note: Thanks to my betas Sue and Sandy for their sharp eyes and critical comments. A special thanks to Judith for showing me how the story could be made better. The result is almost a completely different story than what they beta'd. Whether it's better, that's left for others to decide.
Disclaimer: The Rat Patrol and all related characters belong to Mirisch-Rich Productions, Tom Gries Productions, and United Artists Television; this is an original story that doesn't intend to infringe on their copyright. Constructive feedback--the positive and negative kind--is welcome and encouraged.
Copyright: April 2006
The That's What Are Friends For Raid
by Syl Francis
The day dawned clear, bright and sunny. Just like most of the previous days since Dietrich had set foot on this god-forsaken desert. How he had loved bright, sunny Saturday afternoons back home in Germany. Then he and his younger brother Karl would have hurried to the riverbank, pitched their clothes, and enjoyed a swim in the river's cool, refreshing water.
Those days were as far removed from North Africa as the river was. He sighed. Even with the day barely begun and inside the relative cool of the camp infirmary, Dietrich was already hot and sweaty, his shirt sticking to his back. Ignoring his discomfort, he addressed the red-faced SS captain with as much civility as he could muster.
"Unless, Hauptsturmfuhrer Braun, you have written orders that specifically remand custody to you," Dietrich said, "I am afraid that the prisoner will remain in the custody of the Wehrmacht. According to Doctor Shafer--" He glanced over at the doctor who nodded in acknowledgement. "--Sergeant Moffitt is not fit to be transferred at the moment. However, if and when he is physically able to travel, he will be transported to the nearest--"
"Never mind all that, Hauptmann Dietrich!" Braun interrupted, making a sharp motion with his hand. "Rest assured, if it is a set of written orders you wish, it is a set of written orders that you will receive. Headquarters is but two days drive from here. As I must return there on business, I shall leave shortly. While there, I will procure those written orders."
"You do that, Hauptsturmfuhrer Braun. It will save us all a bit of trouble. Good day."
Braun turned on his heel and headed out of the infirmary in a fit of Prussian pique. Dietrich just managed to hold back the scowl that threatened to darken his otherwise pleasant features. Facing Dr. Shafer, he raised a single eyebrow.
The doctor nodded in response. "My thoughts exactly."
"Has the prisoner regained consciousness yet, Herr Doctor?"
A crash from the other side of the partition spurred them to action. The doctor hurriedly pushed through the makeshift curtains only to stop in the middle of the tiny space.
Not expecting the doctor to halt so suddenly, Dietrich almost ran into him from behind, but recovered quickly. The prisoner was nowhere to be seen. Adrenaline pumping, Dietrich remained outwardly calm and unholstered his pistol.
"Let us not play games, Sergeant," Dietrich said, addressing the partitioned cubicle at large in a measured voice. "You are in no condition to go anywhere." As he spoke, the Wehrmacht captain moved around the small space with catlike stealth, his weapon ready. Coming around the small cot, he immediately brought up the Luger and aimed it unwaveringly at his intended target.
However, Dietrich was not prepared for the frightened, cowering figure that lay huddled against the cot, as if somehow seeking the protection offered by that meager cover. Nonplussed, Dietrich slowly relaxed his stance, and nodding to the doctor, holstered his pistol.
On the floor, the man Dietrich knew as Sergeant Moffitt of the Rat Patrol, a man who had reputedly undergone SS interrogation on more than one occasion without breaking, was cowering in fear. He was almost wild-eyed with fright, much as a cornered animal...or a frightened child, perhaps?
Why had he thought that? Dietrich wondered.
"Doctor Schafer...was ist denn los?" Dietrich asked. About to ask another question, he stopped when Schafer held his hand up for quiet.
Very gently, Schafer approached the patient. He placed a hand on Moffitt's shoulder and murmured something only he could hear. At the doctor's touch, Moffitt shuddered in terror.
To Dietrich's utter shock, the commando threw his arms around the doctor and broke down in sobs.
"I want my father!" Moffitt cried. "Where's my father?"
Over Moffitt's dark head, Schafer looked helplessly up at Dietrich, clearly at a loss.
"Your father?" Dietrich repeated. "Really, Sergeant...that is a very strange request at the very least--" Again, at Shafer's upheld hand, Dietrich stopped what he was about to say.
"Tell me...who is your father?" Shafer asked gently. "We cannot contact him unless we know who he is."
The doctor's words finally registered, and Moffitt, blinking and hiccupping, wiped his nose inelegantly on his sleeve.
Dietrich winced slightly at this uncharacteristic action but kept his counsel. Outwardly, he appeared patient while the doctor assisted Moffitt back onto the cot. Inwardly, he wondered what new trick the British sergeant had up his sleeve.
Shafer took out a penlight and ran a cursory exam, making noncommittal grunting sounds. He re-examined the bandaged head, probing gently with his fingertips. At Moffitt's involuntary gasp, he apologized almost absentmindedly.
"You have quite a nasty bump on you head, Sergeant," Shafer murmured. "It would be foolish to try to escape just yet."
"Escape?" Moffitt looked blank. "I don't understand...?"
"Of course, you do not--" Dietrich began, only to be interrupted again by Shafer.
"You were about to tell us who your father is," the doctor reminded Moffitt, continuing his methodical poking and prodding.
Nodding, Moffitt swallowed, looking from Shafer to Dietrich, his eyes involuntarily sliding down to the holstered weapon. "Why...everybody knows my father. He's Professor John Moffitt, the head of antiquities at the University of Munich. I'm here in North Africa for the summer, helping out on his latest dig."
"Do you really expect us to believe that you are here on your summer break from school helping out your father--?" Dietrich began but was interrupted.
"I may not yet be twelve," Moffitt retorted, "but I speak and read several languages already. Father entrusted me with the Isis mural." This last he added proudly, just as a look of pain flitted suddenly across his face. "But the chamber caved in...started falling all round me. I remember Yuusuf yelling that he was trapped! I was about to go back for him, when I heard father shouting my name. And then I woke up here. The chamber and the Isis mural--it's been destroyed, isn't it? And Yuusuf...did he make it?" He shook his head. "It's all my fault! Don't you see...? Everything that's happened, it's my fault."
Moffitt turned stricken eyes on Dietrich who gave him a disdainful look. "Really, sergeant. I find this all quite fascinating."
"Don't call me that," Moffitt grumbled. "My name's Jack. Jack Moffitt."
"I know who you are," Dietrich said. Shaking his head, he added sardonically, "Come now...Jack. Do you actually expect me to believe that you are 'not yet twelve'?"
"I know I'm a little tall for my age, but I'll be twelve April next," Moffitt said. Then narrowing his eyes, he added defiantly, "When I tell my father that you pointed a gun at me, he'll see that you're reported to your superiors."
Before Dietrich could respond, Dr. Shafer gestured that he wanted to speak to him outside. "Hauptmann Dietrich?"
Glaring at Moffitt, Dietrich warned. "You stay put. Understand?" At the Englishman's reluctant nod, Dietrich followed Shafer outside.
"Herr Hauptmann, what if I were to tell you that I believe him?" Shafer wasted no time in preliminaries.
"Doctor, you jest," Dietrich protested. "Pretending amnesia is an old prisoner's trick."
"Yes...a very old trick," Shafer agreed. "That is why I believe him. It is such an old trick, everybody knows its likelihood of working is practically nil. And Sergeant Moffitt is no fool."
Dietrich nodded in agreement. "No...I have always found him a worthy and dangerous adversary." He looked thoughtful. "But what could cause a grown man to suddenly believe that he is a child of 'not quite twelve'?"
The doctor shrugged. "There are new treatments where therapists use a procedure called 'age regression.' In it the patient is placed in a deep state of hypnosis and then regressed back to his or her childhood." He warmed to his subject. "Oftentimes, a childhood trauma is discovered that is directly related to a present day psychosis--"
"I am well aware of the procedure, Herr Doctor. However, as you and I both know, Sergeant Moffitt has not been hypnotized, so what explains his present state?"
Shafer threw up his hands in frustration. "Who can say, Hauptmann Dietrich? We know so little about the brain and how it functions that in some cases we do little better than a witch doctor." At Dietrich's look of frustration, Shafer hastily added, "But I believe that this loss of memory is directly linked to that head wound. His brain has suffered a severe trauma from a blow to the back of the head. Remember, he was unconscious for almost twenty-four hours after he was brought in." He looked thoughtful. "It is interesting that the last memory he recalls is one in which he perhaps suffered yet another head trauma--when the ceiling at his father's archeological dig caved in on him." With a shake of the head, Shafer shrugged expansively. "Other than that, Herr Hauptmann, your guess is as good as mine."
Dietrich glared at the man for a long moment. He thought of Sergeant Moffitt. The Englishman's desert knowledge and facility with languages were assets that Dietrich was determined to remove from the Rat Patrol. His first inclination had been to ship him directly to a prisoner of war camp as soon as he was able to travel. However, if the sergeant was indeed suffering from amnesia, there was no telling when he would be medically fit for the journey.
"Doctor, what if I force the issue by having him see his own reflection? Wouldn't that put a lie to this whole 'amnesia' business? At least to his pretending that he is only twelve years old?"
Shafer shook his head. "If the amnesia or psychosis or whatever you wish to call it is real, being confronted with the truth might do the patient more harm than good." He crossed his arms and assumed a disapproving stance. "I for one am against it, Herr Hauptmann."
Dietrich considered the doctor's words, weighing his options. At last, he turned toward the tent opening, and squaring his shoulders, headed back in.
Dietrich drew back the makeshift curtains that isolated Moffitt from the rest of the infirmary's patients. He stood awhile, studying the British sergeant. Moffitt lay curled up on his cot, hugging himself, his knees close to his chest. He sniffled and was about to wipe his nose on his sleeve again when Dietrich held a snow-white handkerchief in front of him. Chagrinned, Moffitt took it and blew his nose.
"Thank you," he said, holding out the handkerchief to return it.
"Keep it," Dietrich said with a small wave of his hand.
"Thank you, sir," Moffitt mumbled, sitting up. As he did so, he appeared somewhat woozy but made no complaint. Instead, he kept his eyes lowered, except for an occasional glance at Dietrich's sidearm.
Dietrich's eyes narrowed. Was Moffitt even now thinking on how to overpower him and take his weapon? Deliberately, Dietrich pulled up a chair and straddled it, sitting down. He crossed his arms on the back of the chair and rested his chin on them.
"Jack...May I call you Jack?" At Moffitt's nod, Dietrich continued. "I am sorry that I held a gun on you. Will you accept my apologies?"
Looking up, Moffitt met the man's eyes and finally nodded; however, he said nothing, instead maintaining a watchful eye.
"Jack, will you answer a few questions?"
"Only if you answer mine first."
"Very well, I shall try," Dietrich agreed.
"When are you going to let me see my father?" Moffitt demanded. "He must be worried sick by now!"
Dietrich shook his head and held his hands up at him. "Nein! No, my young friend. Your father came by while you were still unconscious. He wanted to take you with him and was bitterly disappointed when our doctor would not clear you for travel."
"Did he return to the dig? It can't be far from here."
"I'm sorry, Jack, but your father was called away unexpectedly to Cairo--"
"Cairo?" Moffitt exclaimed. The way he said it, Cairo seemed to be practically on the other side of the world.
"Apparently, the Cairo Museum has some interest in your father's project," Dietrich explained. He was amazed at his ability to lie so easily.
Moffitt nodded at the truth in that. "Yes...the dig is a joint venture between the Cairo Museum and the University of Munich where my father teaches." Abruptly, his expression changed to one of profound sadness, and he appeared to be fighting off tears.
"Come, come," Dietrich said sternly. "We'll have none of that."
Moffitt turned away from Dietrich wanting to be left alone.
"I'm not leaving, Jack, so you might as well tell me what is bothering you."
"There's nothing wrong," Moffitt said, his voice trembling slightly. "I'll be all right. Please, can't you leave me alone?"
"No, Jack, I'm afraid not. You see, your father asked me to look after you. He knew that he was going to be called away for several days, and he did not want to have to worry about you, too."
Moffitt whirled on Dietrich. "You're lying! You didn't even know who I was nor who my father was until just a few minutes ago. If I hadn't told you--!"
"I'm afraid that's not true, Jack," Dietrich said quietly. "You were unconscious when you were first brought in. We were afraid that there might be permanent brain damage. We are, of course, all elated that there does not appear to be any. I pretended not to know you or your father in order to get you to think clearly and focus on a specific problem. Does that make sense?"
Giving Dietrich's explanation some thought, Moffitt nodded and smiled wryly. "Oh, dear...and here I am raising a silly fuss. I should be thanking you, instead, for looking out for me while father is away. I'll try not to be a nuisance."
Moffitt's smile then became genuine, lighting his eyes from within.
As Dietrich watched, the smile transformed the man before him into a boy of eleven. The pure innocence of the smile caught the desert warrior off guard. Later, he admitted to himself that this was the moment that Sergeant Moffitt gained the upper hand.
"May I go to the loo?"
"Excuse me?" Dietrich asked.
"The W.C.," Moffitt explained patiently. "I really need to go."
"I believe the doctor left strict orders that you remain in bed," Dietrich said stiffly. "The bedpan is underneath the--"
"You either help me to the loo," Moffitt said, arms crossed, "or you help me change the sheets. Personally, I prefer the former."
Dietrich pressed his lips together in annoyance. Now I am to be a latrine escort officer? What comes next? Mess sergeant?
"By the way, what's for dinner?" Moffitt asked guilelessly.
Dietrich rolled his eyes. Helping him to his feet, he had the boy (no, the sergeant, he amended) lean on him for support. As they approached the latrines, Dietrich deliberately steered Moffitt toward the outside lavatories where his men washed and shaved every morning. A row of shaving mirrors offered the two men multiple images of themselves as they passed by.
Moffitt walked up to one and deliberately stared at his reflection. He brought his hand up and tentatively felt behind his head, wincing as he touched a tender spot. "It's the size of goose egg," he said proudly. "Wait'll father sees it!"
As Moffitt had made his way to the mirror, Dietrich had taken a deliberate step back. He did not know what to expect. Would Moffitt ask why the face that stared back at him was that of an adult male and not a boy? Or how an eleven-year-old boy stood well over six feet? (Tall for his age, my foot, Dietrich groused.)
However, Moffitt made no comment, almost as if what he saw was not what was actually there, but what he expected to see, something reflected only in his mind.
Or only pretended to be, Dietrich added silently. He rolled his eyes. This whole "amnesia" business was beginning to give him a headache.
They made it to the latrines and back without incident. However, the doctor's stern expression as he waited outside the infirmary did not bode well for either Jack or Dietrich.
"And just what is the meaning of this?" Shafer demanded. "I thought I left instructions that the patient was to remain in bed."
"Oh, you did, Doctor," Moffitt replied with a smile. "But I'm afraid that nature had other ideas."
"Is that so? Well, next time use the bedpan. That is why it is under your cot, so that you do not need to make these Herculean treks to the latrines, located--"
"Located beyond the Pillars of Hercules?" Moffitt asked eagerly. At the doctor's blank look, he shrugged in embarrassment. "It's a game Father and I play. We try to make exaggerated comparisons between silly everyday problems and mythological references."
"I see," the doctor said. "I think."
"Give it up, Doctor Shafer," Dietrich's dry voice broke in. "When it comes to antiquities, I'm afraid that our guest far surpasses any meager knowledge that you and I may have." As they passed the doctor, Dietrich asked, "Tell me, Jack...do you play chess?"
"Oh, rather!" Jack said eagerly. "Father and I try to have a go each night before we turn in."
"Good. Join me after dinner tonight," Dietrich said, "for 'a go.'"
The tossing and turning coming from the cot on the other side of the tent awoke Dietrich. He sat up, throwing back his covers. He reached down precisely where he had left his boots overnight within easy reach. He was about to don them and cross over to where Moffitt was mumbling in his sleep, when Moffitt shot up in bed, a low gasp escaping his lips.
A soft moonbeam had broken through the tent's narrow opening, partially bathing the opposite cot and its occupant in an otherworldly sheen. Moffitt was hunched over on his cot, his breathing rapid. Dietrich silently observed him from the shadows for several seconds.
"What is it?" he finally asked. "Bad dream?"
Moffitt ran a hand across his face and nodded, only to shake his head. "I'm not sure...it's all rather vague now."
"Why don't you try to remember? It might help you go back to sleep."
Moffitt took a deep breath and then exhaled it slowly. Shrugging as if unsure where to begin, he said, "I remember being in the Temple of Isis, then I was in the middle of a battle." He looked askance at Dietrich. "You were there, too, sir."
Dietrich tensed at Moffitt's words.
The Englishman must have sensed it because he cocked his head to one side. "What is it, sir?"
Attempting to assume a relaxed pose, Dietrich gave him a small smile. "Nothing. Please...go on."
Moffitt shivered suddenly, but not from the cold of the desert night. He shook his head as if wanting to forget the nightmare that had haunted his dreams. At last he began to speak, first in a low voice, then with growing strength...
"The dream was all so vivid in spots. Not so much in others...It began ordinarily enough. Father bestowed me with the care and translation of the Isis mural. Although, he didn't tell me how I was to manage such a task." Moffitt grinned ruefully. "That, I'm afraid, was my problem to solve.
"The next thing I know, I was following Yuusuf along the twists and turns of the tunnels that led to the forbidden chambers."
"Yuusuf?" Dietrich asked.
"The son of the site foreman. He's a bit older than I am."
"I see. Why were you following him?"
Moffitt shrugged. "Father had warned us to stay out of there--said it wasn't safe, not properly shored. But Yuusuf said there was something he wanted to show me. Something he knew I'd want to see." Moffitt closed his eyes in self-reproach. "It was stupid of me. I should've listened to father." He drew his knees up to his chin and hugged them to him, staring off into space.
Moffitt did not answer for a long time, but finally, resumed his narrative.
"As we went farther in, the only light we had to go by were a couple of torches that we'd snitched from the main chamber. They cast a kind of eerie glow on the mural-covered walls." Moffitt smiled suddenly. "You should've been there...the candlelight was just enough to reveal more wonderful paintings of Isis and Osiris, her husband." Pausing, he added in a conspiratorial tone, "He's also her brother." He shook his head and shuddered at the idea. "Anyway, you could just make out the barest hints of brilliant reds, blues, and gold--! All as if they'd just been painted."
Dietrich listened with half an ear. He was more interested in Moffitt's eagerness as he described the scene he had beheld. The narrative had just the right touch of innocent, awe-struck wonder one might expect from a boy as opposed to a grown man. And yet, Dietrich was well aware of Moffitt's deep interest in antiquities. Who was to say that such childlike admiration was reserved only for children?
Moffitt explained how the mural told the tale of the husband and wife gods who taught mankind how to plant seeds on the fertile plains left behind by the Nile's yearly floods. It showed Isis and Osiris teaching their followers how to sow the grain, thresh it into flour, and then bake the flour into bread. The mural also depicted the two gods showing the Egyptians how to make wine from grapes and beer from barley.
"We stood side by side, studying the mural's intricacies," Moffitt said. Then a bit hesitantly continued, "Yuusuf pointed out a particularly interesting harvest scene, and as he did, he put his arm around my shoulders."
Moffitt paused uncomfortably.
"I hadn't thought anything strange about it. Father always did the same thing when he wanted me to look at something especially curious." He turned troubled eyes to Dietrich. "Yuusuf said he was my friend. I don't have many friends at school. And he's older--like the boys in the upper forms--you know, the ones who never see you except to tease you." Moffitt dropped his eyes and said nothing further.
Moffitt was struggling with the memory, whether because he could not remember or because he did not want to remember. "I don't know...it's all so blurry--"
"What happened?" Dietrich's voice was a shade sharper.
Moffitt slumped over slightly. "He began to run his hands all over me..." His eyes moved restlessly, looking anywhere except at Dietrich. Swallowing he whispered, "He-he kissed me--like a chap would kiss a girl, full in the mouth. I hit him with my fists and tried to get away, but he was stronger and bigger than me."
By now Moffitt's arms were tightly wrapped around himself, and he was rocking back and forth in place. When he spoke again, his voice was tinged with anger and hurt.
"I wanted him to stop! I told him to leave me alone, but he laughed and said something frightful...that he knew a man who paid money for boys--white boys." Moffitt was clearly shaking now. "He said he could get more money if were blond, but that my eyes were unusual enough that maybe he wouldn't lose too much money in the deal." Moffitt covered his face as if to hide the shame. "I told him he was crazy that my father was just outside and that he'd see him locked away, but he laughed. He said he'd taken care of my father, had him called away on some ruse." Moffitt's breathing was coming in ragged gasps.
"I kicked him in the shins and managed to slip away. I remember running and stumbling in the dark. I'd dropped the torch earlier when Yuusuf first started to...anyway, he was right behind me, yelling threats of the awful things he'd do to me before he sold me into slavery. I don't know how far along I'd gone because it was so dark in the tunnels, but I think I was maybe about halfway to the exit when the floor started to rumble, and the walls began to shake. Yuusuf shouted behind me. I think he was calling for help. He said he was trapped. I wanted to ignore him...maybe it was a trick. I was frightened, but I couldn't leave him, even after everything he'd said and done."
Dietrich listened, struggling with his own black anger. If what Moffitt was recounting were true, then he had barely escaped from the clutches of the worst kind of slaver, the kind who dealt in the selling and buying of young boys. He wondered at the deep sense of honor that could possibly have moved the boy to go back and attempt to rescue such a despicable man.
Moffitt was continuing his narrative. "I started back, but the tunnel was too unstable. I'd only taken a few steps, when the ceiling collapsed in front of me, trapping Yuusuf. I don't know...I must've screamed or something because from somewhere, I thought I heard father calling me. I thought Father hadn't been fooled by Yuusuf, after all, and I started toward the sound of his voice..."
Moffitt stopped here, confused. He shook his head as if unsure how to proceed.
"I can't really explain what happened next," he said tentatively. "I was heading toward my father, but a piece of ceiling struck me and everything went black..." He paused, perplexed. Looking at Dietrich he shrugged. "Here's where things started getting just a little odd," he said by way of introduction. "In the dream, everything suddenly changed. The three thousand year old Isis mural was gone, and I was outside in the bright, desert sun. There were explosions everywhere, and there were men screaming. I gagged at a sickly smell in the air like that of burning flesh..."
Dietrich winced knowing that particular smell only too well. Then as Moffitt continued his narrative, Dietrich unconsciously sat a little forward on his cot. Moffitt was recounting something else that Dietrich knew only too well, the recent ambush and destruction of the latest fuel convoy.
As Moffitt related what he saw in his dream, Dietrich could again hear the fifty-caliber machineguns that the Rat Patrol favored, their ear-splitting rat-tat-tat the staccato herald of the deadly message they carried.
Moffitt told him of an intense man wearing an Australian bush hat who fired a deadly spray of bullets at a column of vehicles. He described the pyrotechnic plume to which one of the trucks transformed itself after a well-placed grenade. This was soon followed by another grenade thrown at a vehicle that had turned tail and was trying to escape the carnage. This resulted in still another explosion.
Moffitt paused in his narrative, and then locking gazes with Dietrich, spoke softly. "I don't understand, sir. I saw you clearly. You stood at the head of the column and were yelling at the men to take evasive action."
When Dietrich did not comment, Moffitt continued half to himself. "The canvas cover of one of the stalled trucks was suddenly lifted and another machinegun opened up. Somehow I knew that they were firing at me, but I managed to avoid the new danger. An explosion went off behind me and slammed me forward, lifting me bodily. I saw the desert spin crazily below me, and next I know, I'm waking here in your quarters, sir."
"Hans..." Dietrich said. "Call me 'Hans.' After all, we are now friends, are we not?"
Moffitt looked a bit doubtful and hugged his knees even tighter. "I don't know if father would approve." He shook his head. "Father's a stickler for children addressing adults respectfully. Being on a first name basis with a grownup, especially a military officer, might not sit well with him."
Dietrich nodded, although he personally believed that Moffitt's subconscious might just be rebelling at the idea of being on such familiar terms with him.
"Oh, I'm sure your father will understand," Dietrich said. He stood and crossed the tent, his intent eyes holding Moffitt. "Tell me more about this dream, Jack."
Dietrich studied the British sergeant, alert for any sign of prevarication. As he listened, however, he saw with relief that the more dangerous adult self had not replaced the little boy that had awakened in the infirmary.
As he watched Moffitt, Dietrich could not help but be reminded of his own little brother Karl. He recognized much of the same mannerisms--the same animated cast to the face, the hands that seemed unable to remain still for more than few seconds as the boy explained what he had seen.
Dietrich grinned inwardly as he noticed the tousled locks of dark hair that escaped the gauze bandage round Moffitt's head, falling haphazardly in any and all manner of direction. The boy Jack Moffitt was a typical eleven-year-old who cared little about his appearance as he concentrated on whatever laid claim to his interests.
Dietrich had to blink a few times before he realized that Moffitt was waiting expectantly for a reply.
"Excuse me? I'm sorry, would you repeat what you said?"
Moffitt sighed the universal sigh of all children who feel that grownups never really listen to them, despite their claims otherwise. "Did father say anything at all about the temple or Yuusuf? Were they able to get him out? Is he all right, sir? Um, I mean, Hans?"
Dietrich looked away, amazed still that the boy could show concern for someone who had so obviously wanted to hurt him. He was beginning to dislike lying to the boy. Despite his best efforts to remind himself that the "boy" sitting across from him was a dangerous soldier and member of the hated Rat Patrol, Dietrich was growing to see him as a little lost boy who missed his father.
"No, Jack," he said with a slight shake of the head. "He made no mention of either, only that he had to go to Cairo immediately, and that I look out for you until such time as he could return or send for you."
Jack nodded sadly. "I understand, sir...I mean, Hans."
A call from outside the tent interrupted them. "Herr Hauptmann!" It was Dietrich's aide-de-camp.
"Yes?" Dietrich replied.
"Sir, a message has just arrived from headquarters."
Dietrich nodded at Moffitt and excused himself. Stepping out into the cool desert night, the officer felt an inexplicable sense of unease course through him. He held out his hand for the message. "Thank you," he murmured, reading its contents. The unease that he had experienced a moment earlier seemed to wash over his entire body. Dietrich shivered at the note's implication.
"Sir? Do you have a response?" The aide addressed his superior officer with quiet respect.
"Yes...send the following: Message acknowledged. Awaiting further instructions."
The aide clicked his heels and saluted. Executing a perfect about face, he headed back to the communications tent.
Dietrich read the message again:
TO: HAUPTMANN HANS DIETRICH
CMDR, A-31ST RGMT/21ST PNZ DIV
BY ORDER OF GENERALLEUTNANT GEORG VON BISMARCK, CMDR 21ST PANZER DIV., PRISONER SERGEANT JACK MOFFITT WILL BE PREPARED FOR TRANSFER TO SS ON ARRIVAL YOUR LOCATION AND TRANSPORTED TO HQS FOR INTERROGATION.
ALBERT KRAUSE, OBERST
CMDR 31ST RGMT/21ST PNZ DIV
The message was dated that day. Dietrich crumpled the missive in sudden anger. Sergeant Moffitt was a prisoner of the Wehrmacht--taken in battle and in uniform. Admittedly Moffitt was a very dangerous prisoner, but nevertheless, he was a soldier who should be afforded all the rights under the Geneva Convention.
Dietrich had no doubt that should the roles be reversed, Moffitt would ensure that he be treated as humanely and fairly as possible under the rules of war. Once again, his own side was making a lie out of everything that he held dear about honor and duty.
"Honor!" He almost spat the word out. Sighing, he murmured, "And my duty...!" Swearing under his breath, he thought of the little boy that Moffitt had once been and by a strange twist of fate was once again. A boy that had been betrayed by someone whom he had thought of as friend, and who now felt abandoned by his father.
That boy would not understand what was happening when the SS interrogators started working on him. Worse, he would feel that he had been betrayed yet again by someone else who claimed to be his friend.
Dietrich shook his head in an effort to look at the facts coldly and dispassionately:
One, Sergeant Moffitt was a British commando and not subject to the Geneva Convention.
Two, Hitler himself had issued the Commando Order, stating all commandos captured in the field would be summarily executed on the spot, whether they tried to surrender or not.
Three, getting rid of Moffitt would handicap the Rat Patrol's desert operation, perhaps permanently.
Four, it would be a definite feather in Dietrich's cap and possibly lead to a promotion.
"Five, you would not be able to live with yourself should you do this," he muttered. Swearing under his breath, he entered the tent and called softly, "Jack? Are you awake?"
"Yes, sir. I can't sleep."
Dietrich made his way to the cot where the Englishman lay. "Jack...I have decided to take you to your father. Would you like that--?" But before he could finish, he was bowled over by a very excited eleven-year-old boy in a grown man's body. A very fit, muscular body Dietrich realized as Moffitt unexpectedly launched himself on top of him. Moffitt threw his arms around the hapless officer's neck and was even now enthusiastically hugging the life out of him.
"Oh, Hans! Thank you ever so much! I knew you were my friend!"
Dietrich allowed himself to be so abused for a few more seconds, letting the boy get the excitement out of his system. Finally, clearing his throat, he managed to gently extricate himself from Moffitt's crushing embrace.
"When, Hans? Oh, tell me, please? When do we leave?" It looked like Moffitt was about to hurl himself on Dietrich again, but the officer put a restraining hand on the Englishman's shoulder.
"At first light," Dietrich said in answer to the boy's question. He checked his watch. "That is three hours from now. Perhaps you should try to get some sleep?"
"Oh, I'm ever too excited to sleep now! Please...can't I stay up with you?"
Dietrich smiled. "Of course. I could use the company, but I'm afraid that it will not be very exciting for you. I have several reports that I must finish before we head out in the morning. These will keep me occupied for the next few hours."
"Oh, that's all right. I always help father with his reports to the University of Munich." Jack laughed in boyish delight. "He says that I can read ancient Egyptian better than he can. And my Latin and ancient Greek are very good, too."
"Tell me, Jack...how did a boy of eleven ever acquire such a skill with so many languages?"
Jack shrugged. "I don't know...I just always could. Mother says that when I was a baby, Father used to read the Iliad out loud to me--in ancient Greek, no less--in order to put me to sleep." He smiled at the memory. "She says that I had the last laugh though because when I was around one or so, the first word I spoke was 'Hector.'"
Dietrich grinned at the mention of the hero of the city of Troy. "I just bet that went over well."
Jack blushed. "Actually, Mother says that once Father got over the shock, he bragged about it all over the faculty offices." The corners of his mouth turned up in a familiar smile. "I'd sit on his lap as he read aloud from Homer and other ancient works. Before long I was mimicking the words." Shrugging, Jack looked pensive. "I don't really know when I first understood what the words meant, but it seems as if I always did."
"I suppose you are a bit of an anomaly, Jack." Dietrich said. "A mere boy who can read ancient Greek, a feat many scholars rarely achieve. Somehow I do not believe that there are many more around quite like you." Which is why I intend to keep you out of the SS' hands.
"I suppose..." Jack said somewhat pensively.
Dietrich caught the tone. "What is it?"
Jack shrugged. "I don't know. It's not easy making friends. You get pegged as a showoff or a brain, and then the other chaps want nothing to do with you. It gets a little lonely at school sometimes."
"I see...I'm sorry to hear that, Jack," Dietrich said sympathetically. English public schools, what they called their elite private schools, were known for their hazing practices. "But may I say something?"
"You will find that being yourself is the most important thing that you can ever do. Never allow yourself to compromise your beliefs or interests in order to be accepted by others. Because if they were indeed your friends they would accept you as you are, and not expect you change for them."
Jack sighed. "You sound just like Father. That's what he always says."
"Really?" Dietrich felt oddly pleased at the comment.
"You just don't understand...some of the boys in the upper forms can be really cruel. They like to bully the younger boys, even the littlest ones." He shook his head. "But they mostly like to pick on the so-called 'brains.'"
Jack nodded. "Like me. Sometimes it's easier to just keep a low profile."
"I think I understand, Jack. But will you make me a promise?"
Jack looked at him. "I'll try."
"Promise me that you will not let those bullies change who you are." Dietrich sighed. "The world is full of bullies, Jack. It is up to people like you and me to stand up to them, no matter what." As Dietrich spoke, he realized that whatever advice he was giving the boy was years too late. As he considered his own words, he knew that he had said them more for himself than the boy.
"I don't know if can, Hans," Jack said doubtfully. "It's easy to promise while I'm out here in the desert, but when I get back to school...things just don't seem quite so clear anymore."
"Just think about it," Dietrich said. "Promise me that you will at least give it further thought."
Jack nodded. "I promise." He yawned widely.
"Good. Now get some sleep, or you will be useless tomorrow."
"Yes, sir." Jack nodded blearily. As his eyes closed, he added, "Thank you for being my friend, Hans. I've never had a real friend before...it's nice."
Feeling as if the boy had punched him in the stomach, Dietrich replied quietly, "Sleep well, Jack."
Moffitt's eyes jerked open. Dietrich moved away as soon he saw that the Englishman had awakened.
"Time to get up. Here, get dressed." Dietrich tossed him a clean set of khakis--Moffitt's own, freshly laundered. "We leave in thirty minutes." Dietrich nodded toward the small field table on which he had been writing reports the previous evening. It now held a covered tray. "Breakfast. Eat up." He said this last over his shoulder as he stepped outside.
Dietrich walked to the motor pool to ensure that the vehicles for the trip were being made ready. He saw with satisfaction that the NCO in charge of the detail had everything in order. Next, he walked the perimeter to check the various guard posts. His subordinates had already reported that all was well, but Dietrich still preferred to check things for himself. Sometimes he spotted things that an inexperienced lieutenant did not.
Finally, satisfied that his camp's security was in order and that it would be in relative safe hands during his absence, he headed back to his tent. Entering, he saw that Moffitt was just licking the last morsels of his breakfast off his fork.
"It's time," he said.
"I'm ready." Moffitt stood to his full height. He was dressed in his uniform, sans cravat and beret, presenting his usual formidable appearance.
At Dietrich's appraising look, Moffitt hesitated. He looked down to see if he had dressed properly. "Do I look all right, Hans? These were the clothes you gave me."
Dietrich nodded, a faraway look in his eyes. "Yes, Jack...you look fine. Just fine. Those are the clothes you were wearing when you were brought here. I had them cleaned for you. Come, we must go." Without further word, he turned on his heel, and Moffitt followed him outside into the dawn.
A staff car with its engine running waited in the middle of the camp. An escort vehicle, a half-track, would trail them. Moffitt seemed to find the vehicle quite fascinating, for he stood a long moment staring at the swivel-mounted machinegun in the open hatch.
Dietrich saw him suddenly hold his hand up to his head and sway as if from an attack of vertigo. Dietrich was about to go to him when Moffitt seemed to recover. As he watched, Moffitt continued slowly to the staff car...
As Jack made it to the car, he thought of the odd sensations that he had just experienced. It was so strange because for the barest instant, he could have sworn that he had seen himself behind a similar weapon, firing at a vehicle such as the half-track that stood before him.
He thought of telling Dietrich, but seeing the stiff set of his friend's neck and shoulders, Jack decided that this was not the right time. There was no sense giving Dietrich another reason to worry. Instead, he headed straight for the staff car and leaned against it, waiting for Dietrich to finish giving his second-in-command any final orders.
Finally, Dietrich started toward him. Jack gave him a warm smile and felt pleased when Dietrich gave him a small one in return. At the thought that he was finally going to Cairo to see his father, Jack fairly glowed with happiness.
"Come on, Hans!" Jack hurriedly climbed into the staff car and turning, waved impatiently at his friend to join him. "Come on, Hans...let's shake it!"
Dietrich practically froze in place. His usually placid features became dark as storm clouds, the change in demeanor as sudden as a desert squall.
"What did you say?" Dietrich fairly roared at him.
"What?" Jack was startled by the sudden transformation. "Hans, what's the matter?"
"I asked you a question!" Dietrich said sternly. "What did you say? Just as you climbed onboard the staff car?"
"I-I don't know," Jack stammered. "'Let's go'? I-I can't remember."
"You said, 'Let's shake it!'" Dietrich said, his voice cold. "Do not try to deny it."
"Hans...I don't know what I said," Jack said helplessly. "I-I was climbing in, and all I could think of was being with Father. I got excited, y'know? I didn't mean to say anything bad--cross my heart and hope to die." Jack's hand automatically crossed his heart in the age-old childhood sign of truth and honor.
Dietrich seemed to be fighting an internal war. He did not reply, but instead continued to glare suspiciously at him.
"Please, Hans...are we still going to my father?" Jack spoke in a very small, very frightened voice.
At last Dietrich released a long breath and visibly relaxed his neck and shoulders. He nodded. "Yes, Jack. I'm sorry if I raised my voice."
"That's all right," Jack said, relieved. "Father says that oftentimes grownups raise their voices, not 'cause they mean to, but because they're under a bit of stress." Glancing in mild horror at Dietrich, he added hurriedly, "I didn't mean to say that you, Hans--!"
To his infinite relief, Dietrich smiled reassuringly. "That is quite all right, my young friend. There was no offense intended and none was taken." Dietrich nodded at the drivers of both vehicles, and then passed a hand signal at the noncom in charge of the half-track. Instantly, the gunner took his position behind the main gun, and the sergeant stood at the head of the vehicle, a sub-machinegun held at the ready.
In Jack's vehicle, another soldier sat up front with the driver, and he was also armed with a sub-machinegun. Jack wondered about all the firepower, but he knew that much of the desert was still little more than uncharted wilderness and small parties were subject to armed bandits. It was better to be prepared.
Dietrich checked his watch and cursed under his breath. He had hoped to be on the road long before now. Sighing, he sat back, knowing there was little that could be done about it.
He considered the idiocy of the plan that he had only half thought out. When the idea first came to him, he did not stop to think it through. He knew that any close examination would force him to abandon it as foolish.
Dietrich had approached the doctor in the first aid tent that night. Of course, for the doctor's own protection, Dietrich did not take him outright into his confidence.
Instead, he asked him what Sergeant Moffitt's chances were of surviving an SS interrogation in his present condition. The doctor flatly told him that under the circumstances, Moffitt would not survive. As a soldier who understood what was happening to him, Moffitt might be able to gird himself to withstand even the worst of tortures. A soldier fighting for a cause he believed in had untapped reserves of strength that he could call forth when the need arose.
However, a terrified eleven-year-old boy would not be able to withstand whatever tortures he faced. His terror would not allow him to think his problem through, and therefore, he would lose the will to survive.
Dietrich had thanked the doctor and left. Back in his quarters, he sat for a long time at his field table watching Moffitt sleep. The Englishman's tranquil expression made him appear like the innocent boy he believed himself to be.
Dietrich stood and began to pace. It would never work, he told himself. In the end the SS would take both Moffitt and him into custody. Given the SS' sick sense of humor, he did not doubt that they would be placed in adjoining cells, forced to listen to each other's screams.
The Englishman stirred in his sleep. "Father...?" He kicked off his covers, and then shivered in the cool night air, curling up in a fetal position.
Dietrich shook his head and picked up the covers. His brother Karl was always doing the same thing, he remembered. Gently, he replaced the covers over Moffitt, and hesitating only slightly, tucked them in. He was rewarded by a sad smile from the sleeping boy.
"Father...I miss you."
Dietrich swallowed around a sudden lump in his throat. Raising a fist, he stood over Moffitt and made a solemn vow.
This boy is not going to face the terrors of the SS. He will live to see his father again. This I swear on my honor as a Wehrmacht officer...!
The vow given in the night was not so simple in the light of day, though. Here I am, flying by the seat of the pants, he thought ruefully. His plan depended both on good timing and a very large helping of luck. He had informed his second-in-command that he was personally taking the prisoner to meet halfway the SS officer that was being sent from headquarters.
Dietrich would travel far enough in the appropriate direction to make it appear so, but then he would turn in a slightly different heading that would take him about one hundred kilometers in the wrong direction. There he would transmit a message in the clear that he was escorting the prisoner to the SS. He would give his location and state that he was waiting for the SS officer there.
If he knew Sergeant Troy, he and his men would not be too far away as they would have been planning some way of getting Moffitt back.
All he would have to do then is wait.
If Sergeant Troy took the bait, then he would get the return of a valuable teammate. If Troy decided that it was a trap and refused to meet him under a flag of truce, then Dietrich would be forced to turn Moffitt over to SS officer when he arrived. Dietrich figured that it was Braun whom headquarters was sending, the same SS-captain who had been so anxious to interrogate Moffitt earlier.
Dietrich looked over at the prisoner/boy in question. Moffitt was fast asleep, probably overcome with the excitement of the day and fatigue from lack of sleep.
The two-vehicle convoy was approaching a wadi about ten kilometers outside of camp, when Moffitt suddenly sat up and shouted, "Hans!"
And all hell broke loose.
Jack did not know where he was.
The hot North African sun beat relentlessly down on him. They were traveling at a dangerously high speed, but he felt the utmost confidence in the helmeted driver. To his right he saw that they were being shadowed mile for mile by a jeep that was a mirror to theirs. It was crewed by two men, each wearing a distinctive hat--one an Australian bush hat, the other a French Foreign Legion kepi.
Suddenly, his driver gunned the engine, and they were flying over the sand dunes. He held the handles of the swivel-mounted machinegun in a death grip, fighting to maintain his balance. As they landed on the downward slope of the dune, Jack made out a column of vehicles directly ahead. He felt the exhilaration of combat as the adrenaline kicked into overdrive. The hot wind burned as the jeep whipped up a backwash of sand peppering his face.
He fired as they approached the enemy column, sending out a deadly spray at a lone figure that stood at the head of the convoy. The figure held his eyes calmly, nodding acknowledgement.
Suddenly, a bright crimson stain appeared in the front of Dietrich's tunic. His friend's calm, brown eyes took on a faraway look as the light slowly went out.
Jack looked down at his hands, still holding the firing handles. "No," he whispered. "Hans...No--!"
Startled by the unexpected alarm, Dietrich shouted commands over the sudden noise of explosions and machinegun fire. If he had not fully believed Moffitt's metamorphosis from that of a grown man to a child of eleven before this, his warning shout had erased all doubts from Dietrich's mind.
Dietrich directed the driver to take evasive action. "The wadi up ahead! Head towards it!" The half-track executed a defensive move, placing itself between the staff car and the two enemy jeeps. He grabbed Moffitt and pushed him down on the floorboards. "Stay down!"
"Hans! What's happening?" Moffitt shouted. He spotted two highly mobile vehicles weaving a line of death and destruction before and behind them. The half-track suddenly went up in a massive explosion. Thankfully, a few of the men managed to jump to safety even as its ammunition and fuel ignited and set off additional explosions.
The staff car headed in a straight line toward the wadi. They came to a screeching halt just shy of it, its entrance too narrow to allow the vehicle through it. The driver and assistant each took positions on either side of the vehicle and began firing at the elusive enemy jeeps. Dietrich seized Jack by the collar and dragged him to cover behind a line of boulders.
"Stay here!" he ordered. "Keep your head down."
"No! Hans, I'm going with you," Jack said with a shake of his head. "I can help."
"No...!" The last thing Dietrich wanted was for Moffitt to actually fire at his own friends. He felt like swearing again. He should have known that Troy would not wait for him to set his 'plan' in motion. Instead, the American had had his own ideas on how to rescue his teammate.
Dietrich held Jack by the shoulders and shook him slightly. "Under no circumstances are you to help. Do you understand? Jack...do you understand?"
Jack nodded although he clearly did not.
"I must go, Jack. Please do as I ask and stay here." About to turn away, Dietrich suddenly smiled. On impulse he placed a hand on Moffitt's shoulder and squeezed it slightly. "You are a very brave boy, Jack Moffitt. I am honored to have known you."
With that Dietrich ran at a crouch toward the staff car. As he neared it, one of the enemy jeeps came roaring in, machinegun blazing. Dietrich recognized Sergeant Troy blazing away at them. At the last moment, the jeep swung quickly away, but not before Troy flung an object toward them.
"Grenade!" Dietrich yelled, but too late. The blast took out the staff car and his two men. Also, the sudden explosion caught him and threw him to the ground.
From somewhere far away, Dietrich heard someone screaming his name...
He felt more than saw someone roughly handling him, grabbing him awkwardly by the collar and belt and physically lifting him to his feet. Blearily he opened his eyes and was just able to understand that Moffitt was helping him to semi-walk/run back to the relative safety of the wadi.
As they made it behind the protective walls of boulders and loose rock, Dietrich suddenly heard a very familiar voice over the din of battle--Troy.
They did not stop, but Dietrich took a quick look to see if he could spot his primary nemesis.
Moffitt paused, looking confused. He closed his eyes suddenly as if fighting off an attack of vertigo. Shaking his head as if to clear his head, Moffitt carefully helped Dietrich to a sitting position and crouched next to him behind the boulders.
Dietrich winced and touched the left side of his head tenderly. His fingers came away covered in blood.
"You're hurt!" Moffitt said with sudden concern. "Here, let me help you." He took out a new clean handkerchief, a present from Dietrich, and was about to minister to his wound, when a voice called him from behind.
"Moffitt! What are you doing? We gotta get outta here! Come on!"
The strange familiarity of the voice from behind him combined with his worry for his friend caused Moffitt to fall backward, almost on top of Dietrich. From his ignominious position on the ground, Moffitt looked up at the threatening figure in the Australian hat and felt the tears that he had managed to fight off for the past few days suddenly threaten again. He blinked them back with determination.
"Who--who are you?" Out of the corner of his eye, Moffitt saw that Dietrich's eyes were closed. He had apparently passed out from his injury. "He's hurt! You hurt him!" Moffitt accused. Scooting up to his friend, he placed the handkerchief on the wound and applied pressure to stem the bleeding. "Why? Why did you hurt him? He's my friend."
"Sarge! What's the holdup?" Another man ran up next to the first. He looked from Jack to the one he addressed as 'Sarge.' He appeared to be only a few years older than the eleven-year-old Jack. Like the man in the Australian hat, he too held a sub-machinegun at the ready. He wore a red kepi like the ones Jack had occasionally seen worn by French Foreign Legionnaires. But he did not sound French nor did his sergeant sound Australian.
"I'm not sure, Hitch. Keep us covered!"
The young man nodded and took up a defensive position behind one of the large rocks. "You got it, Sarge!"
The one in the Australian bush hat turned his attention back to Moffitt. "Look, I don't know what you think you're doing, but if we don't get out of here, we're gonna have half the Kraut army on our backs. Now let's shake it!"
And these last words, Moffitt started to tremble in fright. Those were the exact words that had so angered Dietrich. Who was this man?
"I don't know what you're talking about! And I'm not going with you! I don't know you, and I'm not allowed to talk to strangers."
"You're not allowed to talk to what--! Moffitt, you're not making any sense. Now are you coming or not?"
"No, I'm not!"
"Yes, you are...!" The barest whisper had come from Dietrich.
"Hans?" Moffitt's attention was immediately drawn to his friend.
"'Hans'? Since when are you on a first name basis with Dietrich?"
"Sergeant Troy...we don't have much time, so listen. Sergeant Moffitt has suffered a severe head trauma--"
"Hans, does it hurt much? Will you be all right?"
"Yes..." Dietrich said, sitting up. "I shall be quite all right. Now, be a good boy, Jack. This is grownup talk."
"Yes, sir." Moffitt scooted back on his heels and crossed his arms, looking for all the world like a petulant child.
"What the--?" Troy looked from Dietrich to Moffitt, baffled.
"Sergeant Troy, as you can see, Sergeant Moffitt is not quite himself. He believes that he is only eleven years old--"
"What? You expect me to believe that?"
"I expect you to listen! Besides, it happens to be the truth. Sergeant Troy, you must take him with you. There is an SS captain who has his sights set on interrogating the good sergeant, but in his present condition, I shudder to think of the outcome."
"No...Hans! I won't leave you!" Moffitt pleaded.
"Jack...listen to me. You must go with Sergeant Troy. He will take you to your father--"
"But he hurt you!"
"A silly misunderstanding, I assure you. Jack, Sergeant Troy is a good friend of your father's. You can trust him." Dietrich held Troy's eyes. "I know I do." Taking Jack's hand, he said, "Promise me you will do as he says."
Moffitt opened his mouth to protest, but Dietrich held up his forefinger. "Promise me."
"I promise," Moffitt said in a small voice.
Dietrich smiled. Jerking his head toward Troy, he said, "Go on, now."
Moffitt nodded reluctantly. On impulse he threw his arms around Dietrich's neck. "Hans, you're the best friend I ever had. Will I ever see you again?"
Catching Troy's look of utter disbelief, Dietrich awkwardly patted Moffitt on the back. "On that, my dear boy, you have my unwavering promise." Looking at Troy, he indicated that he take Moffitt.
"We'll radio you're position when we're at a safe distance," Troy promised. Dietrich nodded in acknowledgement.
As Troy escorted a dejected Moffitt to the jeep, Dietrich called out, "Sergeant Troy!" At the American's questioning look, Dietrich's eyes twinkled. "Take care of our boy."
Climbing onto the back of the jeep, Troy gave him a wry look. "Come on, Hitch! Let's shake it!"
The angry voices finally pierced the darkness, voices raised in argument. As the rest of his senses hastened to catch up to his hearing, Moffitt became aware of a faint throbbing from the back his head. He gently felt around the area and touched a square patch of gauze. Probing a bit more boldly, he winced slightly at the tenderness.
"Ouch!" he mouthed silently. I hope the other chap feels at least as bad.
"Hey! It's my turn! You had him all afternoon yesterday!"
Moffitt's ears perked up at the sound of the voice. Tully?
"Oh, yeah? Well, I was showing him the finer points of baseball! Besides, you had him all morning to yourself." Hitch?
"I was teaching him how to rebuild a carburetor. You know...something useful?"
"Hey! Baseball's plenty useful--! Besides...he's only eleven. He should have some fun."
"Fixing engines is loads of fun. And I think you've been in the sun too long." The voices faded as they moved away from the tent opening.
Blinking his eyes open, Moffitt took in the familiar surroundings of the tent he shared with Troy. A small field table stood in the middle with two chairs on either side of it. The table's contents--a tin canister holding two pens and several pencils, a writing tablet, two ceramic mugs, and an aluminum coffeepot--were all arranged in a neat and orderly manner.
As they should be, Moffitt thought with a faint smile. After all, he had arranged them himself.
At the foot of his cot was a small field chair, his beret, scarf, and holster neatly stacked on it. Moffitt frowned. Funny...he could not remember putting them there. He shrugged it off. A tray with a pitcher of water sat on a table next to him. Wondering if he had the strength to pour himself a glass, he listened as the voices outside suddenly returned.
"And I already told you that he needs his rest," a voice Moffitt could not identify said. "I knew this wasn't a good idea. He needs to be in the infirmary--"
"Look, we're his teammates!" Tully broke in. "We have a right--"
"Tully, maybe the Doc's right." Moffitt recognized Troy's voice being uncharacteristically diplomatic for a change. "I mean, Moffitt hasn't exactly been himself lately."
The next instant the flap was flung back and a man in a white coat strode in. Troy, Hitch, and Tully followed closely at his heels.
"Can't a man get any sleep around here?" Moffitt demanded.
"Moffitt!" Troy walked up to him and thumped him lightly on the arm. "It's good to see awake again, buddy!"
"Hey, Sarge...it's good to have you back." Tully spoke shyly around the ever-present matchstick.
"Thanks, Tully...it's good to be back."
"Yeah, Doc...It's been a while." Hitch stood, smiling at the foot of the bed.
Moffitt noticed that Hitch held a baseball, glove, and bat, while Tully was idly tossing a carburetor back and forth from one hand to the other. Moffitt pointedly raised a quizzical eyebrow at them. At his inquiring look, both men suddenly looked embarrassed. Tully actually blushed.
"Uh...Doc, Tully and me...we--" Hitch stumbled.
"We...uh, we've been, well, see...there's this kid we met--" Tully also spoke awkwardly.
"Yeah...a kid," Hitch jumped in. "Well, we sort of--"
"Adopted him?" Moffitt asked.
Tully and Hitch exchanged open-mouthed stares.
"How did you--?" Hitch began.
Moffitt smiled tolerantly. "I overheard you two earlier talking about baseball and rebuilding carburetors. I must say, you two are a bit of all right taking a boy under your respective wings that way."
Troy let out a sound that somehow became an uncontrollable cough. Quickly, to hide his discomfort, he poured himself a glass of water and just managed to choke it down.
"Well, he's a pretty swell kid, Sarge," Tully said, a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
"Yeah, and he was getting to be a pretty good ballplayer, too," Hitch added a bit wistfully.
"I think I'd like to meet him," Moffitt said, intrigued.
"Uh, I don't think that's gonna be possible, Doc," Hitch said with a shake of his head. "Y'see...his old man's a little worried about the Jerry activity in the area--"
"Yeah, and he's taking little Ali and the rest of the family to Algiers," Tully added. "You know, until things get a little safer around here."
Moffitt nodded thoughtfully. "Can't say I blame him. Oh, well...it's probably for the best." He smiled at the two men who were fairly shuffling in embarrassment.
At another strange noise from Troy, Moffitt turned his eyes toward him. Troy was hurriedly downing a second glass of water. As their eyes met, Troy shrugged helplessly. Putting the glass down, he pointed at his throat and said by way of explanation, "Scratchy...I think I might be coming down with something."
Moffitt nodded. Eyes thoughtful, he looked at Hitch. "Hitch, you said that it's been awhile since I've been awake."
Before replying Hitch looked at the others first. At the doctor's nod, Hitch turned back to Moffitt. "Yeah, Doc. You were missing in action for a few days. Then we found out that you had actually been taken prisoner."
"Missing? Taken prisoner?" Moffitt looked at the others, bewildered.
"Dietrich," Troy explained succinctly. "We trailed him when he left his camp with you and surprised him about six miles out of his compound. He said the SS wanted you for interrogation."
Moffitt shook his head. "But I don't remember a thing."
"What do you remember?" The doctor asked, giving him an intense stare.
Moffitt considered the question. As he did, he was bombarded with odd, disjointed images of Isis and Osiris, of Yuusuf, and of being chased in the dark. Strangely enough, he also saw Captain Dietrich smiling at him. Suddenly feeling woozy, Moffitt closed his eyes, allowing the dizzy spell to run its course.
"That does it! I want everybody out!" The doctor's voice brooked no argument. "Sergeant Moffitt needs his rest--"
"No, doctor," Moffitt protested. "I'll be quite all right in a moment." Sighing, he opened his eyes and glanced around at the anxious faces that surrounded him. "You all look as if I'm on my death's bed," he teased. "I'm fine, I promise...cross my heart." Automatically, his hand followed suit in the time-honored childhood oath. As he did, Moffitt took on a perplexed expression. "That's funny...I haven't done that since I was a child."
The others exchanged amused, knowing looks.
Clearing his throat, Troy said, "Moffitt, you were gonna tell us the last thing you remembered."
Moffitt concentrated. Sighing, he shook his head. "The last thing I can clearly remember is attacking that fuel convoy. There was an explosion behind me. I went flying...next thing I know, I woke up here."
Hitch laughed. "Doc! That was over five days ago! Don't you remember anything else?"
Moffitt shook his head. "Should I?"
"Well, now that you and Dietrich are best buddies and all--" Hitch began slyly.
"Best buddies? Dietrich and I?" Moffitt sounded huffy. "Private Hitchcock, have you gotten a touch of too much sun?"
"Hitch!" Troy spoke sharply. "Can that kind of talk!"
Realizing that he had overstepped an invisible line, Hitch backed off.
"Sorry, Doc," Hitch said apologetically.
"Troy, what is it? What's Hitch talking about?" Moffitt looked worried.
"Look, Moffitt. According to the doctor...and others...you got a really nasty bump on the head when you got thrown from the jeep. I don't understand most of it, but you seem to have lost a few days because of it. The doctor says it's nothing to worry about. When you're ready, your memories will come back to you. Until then, just take it easy."
"Yeah, Sarge," Tully said quietly. "The doctor says that in a few days you'll be ready to go out with us again."
"How about it, Doc?" Hitch asked, grinning. "Ready to go flying across the sand dunes, firing the fifty, and knocking off a few Kraut convoys again?" Looking askance at Tully, he added, "Of course, with ol' Tully behind the wheel, who'd blame you if you weren't--"
"Okay, can it, you clowns," Troy said good-naturedly. "Like the doctor said, the poor patient needs his rest." Turning to Moffitt, he added, "Whenever you're ready to come back, Moffitt, we'll be waiting."
"So will Dietrich," Moffitt murmured. For some reason the knowledge made him feel inexplicably sad.
"Yeah...so will Dietrich," Troy agreed.
"Thanks...For coming back for me."
"No thanks needed. That's what friends are for."The End