Liesel sniffled, scrubbing at her eyes as she ran down the hall. The smoke stung her throat, torturing her breathing.
As soon as the guard had left their cell, she began inching towards the door. She knew that if she could find the nice men, they would help her to save Papa, but first she had to get away. The cot she was stitting on had very squeaky springs, so she could only move a tiny bit at a time, and only when the bad man or Papa was talking so their voices would cover the sound.
Papa's voice echoed in her mind, repeating the last words she had heard him say. "Vhat you say is true… If, of course, you can catch zem."
When he said that, she was at the edge of the bed. She held her breath when he paused and then shut her eyes tightly, trying to be quiet as she slid to the floor. Papa said 'catch' at the same moment that her feet hit the concrete, and she landed softly enough that his word drowned out the soft thump of her shoes. Still clutching her pillow, she tip-toed toward the doorway, and after taking another look at Papa, she crept out into the hall.
Because of the smoke she could barely see, but she followed the sound of running footsteps towards the only exit she knew of; the stairs. Less than a minute later a loud *bang* came from the direction of the cell. She jumped at the noise, hugging her pillow tightly. She hoped that the bad man was just trying to scare Papa with the noise. She started running in the same direction as the other footsteps, but froze when the sound of more gunfire ripped through the smoke.
Newkirk was taking the stairs two at a time when they heard a gunshot ring out from Von Schimmel's cell. He knew that the agent had most likely just been executed, but he didn't have much time to think about that, because soon afterwards, the guards started shooting at the stairs. Even though he couldn't see a thing, he could hear Carter's footfalls a few steps above him, so he was fairly sure that the other man hadn't been hit. Suddenly Carter grunted, stumbling. Newkirk happened to be reaching for the railing at that very moment, but by a happy accident he caught hold of Carter's arm instead and helped the American regain his balance.
The Brit shook his head, continuing up the stairs without letting go of Carter's arm, all but dragging the other man along. "Blimey! 'Urry up, mate. Hell of a time ta be trippin' over your own feet…" He kept his voice relatively low, not wanting to advertise their location.
Carter frowned, grimacing as he tried to keep up. He moved his hand, shaking Newkirk's forearm since he knew the other man couldn't see his face. "I'm hit." He coughed quietly, leaning on Newkirk as they kept climbing.
Newkirk's blood ran cold. He pulled Carter's arm across his shoulders and wrapped a hand around the younger man's back. "Alright, mate. 'Ow bad?"
Carter shook his head. "Dunno. Its my leg…" He hoped that they were nearly at the top of the stairs, because he wasn't sure if he could keep climbing for much longer.
Newkirk sighed, relieved that his friend hadn't been hit anywhere vital, but still worried about how much this new development would slow them down. "Bloody charming. Lets just try to get back to camp." He grunted, squinting into the smoke. "Wilson'll fix ya up."
The Englishman felt Carter nod against his shoulder and tried to hurry up the stairs, but a feeling a doom settled over Newkirk when a searing pain exploded in his side. He gasped, trying to blink the stars from his vision. Once they had cleared, Newkirk gingerly put a hand to the area, and felt a wet spot spreading on his uniform. "Double bloody charming," he grumbled, pressing his hand over the wound and hissing slightly. "I'm startin' ta think we might be in a spot of trouble, mate."
Carter groaned. "Heck, not you too?"
"Think its just a graze…" He winced, coughing a little. Newkirk was leaning his elbow on the railing as they climbed, so when he felt it end, he knew that they had reached the main floor.
The smoke thinned as they moved away from the stairs, Carter limping badly and leaning on Newkirk, who kept a hand pressed to his side.
Carter veered off to the left, forcing Newkirk to follow him, and they both ended up resting their backs against a wall. The American closed his eyes, sighing. "I gotta rest…"
Newkirk shook his head, taking a moment to look down at his bloody palm. "'Fraid we can't, chum. Our only chance is if we can get to the truck before they find us."
Carter nodded, his pulse speeding up when he heard footfalls on the stairs. He looked down at his torn trouser leg and tried putting some weight on it. Bare moments later, he gritted his teeth and his face went pale, so he shifted back to leaning heavily on Newkirk. He coughed a little, letting his shoulders slouch. "Don't know how fast I can go, though."
Newkirk flashed him a half-hearted grin. "Just try, mate. Think of the story we'll 'ave ta tell the guv'nor when 'e gets back." They pushed off of the wall, heading for the main door, their truck, and relative safety.
When the shots stopped, Liesel ran towards the stairs. She bumped into someone's leg at the bottom step but continued upwards, climbing as quickly as her tiny legs could. The smoke hurt her chest, so she buried her nose in part of the pillow, breathing through the fabric as she stumbled upwards. The smoke was thinner when she reached the top, and she looked around wildly, trying to decide where to go next. The guards' boots echoed off the stairs as they climbed behind her, rapidly coming closer, but she didn't recognize anything until she spotted the big desk. She whirled, suddenly remembering where the main doors were, and ran towards them.
Liesel struggled with one of the heavy main doors for a few seconds before noticing that the other door was slightly ajar. Just then, an angry shout from one of the bad men made her jump. "Vatch vere you are going!" Hoping that she hadn't been seen, she clutched the pillow tightly with one arm and leaned her shoulder against the door, pushing it open farther until there was enough space for her to slip through. Once outside, she leaned against the door, closing it behind herself. After all, like Mama always said, she was a good girl, and good girls don't leave doors open.
She looked around for the nice men as she descended the stone steps leading down from the main door of SS headquarters and shivered in the night air. Liesel had only been wearing a thin cotton dress when she and her father were dragged out of their home, and they didn't have time to grab jackets before being thrown into the back of a truck. Late March in Dusseldorf was cold, especially at night, and Liesel's breath formed a white mist in the chill evening. She took a step, almost tripping over part of the pillow, and saw that one corner of it trailed on the ground. She was about to lift up that corner to stop it from getting dirty when the sound of a truck starting caught her attention.
She jumped off of the last step and ran towards the truck, waving her pillow in one hand like a flag and shouting. "Mein Herren! Mein Herren!"
Newkirk and Carter turned to each other in the front seat of the borrowed truck and shared a look.
"It can't be…" The English corporal looked at the side mirror and was flabbergasted to see the little girl hurrying toward them. "It is!"
He turned to Carter, engaged the hand brake, and put his hand on the other man's arm. "Keep the motor runnin', chum."
Carter nodded at Newkirk as the other man climbed out from behind the wheel. "Go get her." He slid over to the driver's side, being careful of his hurt leg as he moved. "Maybe I can't walk too well, but I can still get us outta here." He muttered to himself, tensed his uninjured leg, and rested that foot on the brake pedal. Once he was behind the wheel, he disengaged the hand brake and watched Newkirk's reflection in the side mirror.
Liesel ran towards them, the bottom of her pillow knocking against her legs with each stride. Newkirk was just coming around the side of the truck when he heard a rifle blast. Instinctively, he drew his weapon and looked for the source of the noise, which happened to be Oberscharführer Holtz, who was standing on the steps with his rifle trained on Newkirk.
That must have been a warning shot. They want us alive… well, too bloody bad for them.
Holtz had his weapon trained on Newkirk, and within a few seconds he was joined by Schmidt. "Hender hoch. Schnell!"
Hearing that, Carter slammed the truck into reverse, manuevering it so that it was between the SS men and Newkirk.
"Thanks, mate." Newkirk smiled at him before he started looking for Liesel. "Where could she have got to?"
Carter shrugged, keeping an eye on the SS men with the truck's mirrors. "Maybe she got scared and hid…"
Newkirk interrupted him in a shaky voice. "I don't think so, mate."
A grimy pillow was lying in the street. There was a hole in it where some feathers were sticking out, and surrounding the hole was a large and growing red stain. Newkirk could see part of a small arm encircling the pillow, a dainty hand clutching at the fabric, and a small blonde head resting on the cobblestones. The supposed 'warning shot' had found its mark.
Not even thinking about the SS troopers, Newkirk ran forward and knelt beside her, checking for any signs of life. He found none.
"Blimey…" Newkirk shook his head, briefly resting a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sorry, love."
The sound of footsteps running towards the truck brought him back to himself and he glanced at the tiny blood-soaked body, gritting his teeth. "So you buggers like death? 'Ow d'you like this?" He tucked his rifle into his shoulder, sighting along the barrel, and waited for the SS men to come into view.
Carter swallowed, staring at the reflection of Liesel's dead body in the truck's mirror. He shook his head, blinked hard and then tried to get Newkirk's attention. "Buddy, lets just get outta here."
"Sorry, mate." Newkirk didn't bother turning around. He was waiting for the two guards to come around the back of the truck. "Somethin' I gotta do."
Holtz and Schmidt never had a chance. He shot both of them, one after the other, catching both men in the chest, and then moved closer and shot them each a second time to make sure they were dead. He could hear more footsteps coming from inside the building, so Newkirk quickly but tenderly lifted Liesel's body into the back of the truck, letting his rifle hang from its shoulder strap. One she was on board, he went back to Holtz's body and unhooked a couple of grenades from the German's belt. He looked up from doing that just in time to see Captain Keitel and Kommandant Stiefer come out of the main doors, followed by a veritable flood of SS troopers. Newkirk hurried to the front of the truck but instead of climbing into the passenger side, he just stood there.
Stiefer roared "after zem!" The troopers streamed down the stairs, heading for motorcycles and other vehicles with which to give chase.
Apparently, that was just what Newkirk had been waiting for, because he pulled the pins on both grenades.
Carter's eyes went wide, realizing what the Englishman meant to do. "Newkirk, buddy, don't…"
Newkirk shook his head, muttering to Carter "we can't 'ave 'em followin' us..." before hurling the grenades at the staircase full of SS men and shouting "'Ey Fritz, got somethin' for ya."
He jumped into the truck and Carter hit the accelerator. Seconds later, they heard the grenades explode, followed by the sound of a dozen or so men yelling and screaming, some in alarm and some in pain. Newkirk tried to look back at the mess he'd caused, but Carter swerved the truck so that the other man was thrown back into his seat.
"'Ey, easy with that!"
Carter took his eyes off the road to glare at Newkirk. "You didn't have to kill them."
Newkirk screwed up his face for a second, pressing a hand to his side and wincing. "They didn't 'ave ta shoot Erik or 'is daughter, now, did they?"
Carter drove over a pothole and grimaced as the vibrations traveled painfully up his injured leg. "That doesn't make it right."
They were silent for a while before Carter's curiosity got the better of him. "Why did you put her body in the truck?" He glanced over at Newkirk and was surprised to find that the man was misty eyed.
"We'll 'ave Kinch go out with 'er tonight, after we get back." He turned in his seat, lifting up one edge of the canvas flap to take another look at her. The small body lay on the floor of the truck, still holding the pillow. Vibrations from the motion of the truck caused her form to move slightly in a grotesque parody of life. Newkirk twisted back to face the road again, unable to look at her any longer. "She can't be found in camp…"
Carter frowned, taking a turn out of town and onto the North Road, which would take them back to camp through the woods. "Yeah, but why bring her-"
Newkirk cut Carter off with a shout. "So 'er mum can bury 'er!" The shout seemed to have used up all of his anger, and after it he looked drained, closing his eyes and breathing hard. Moments later Carter swerved dangerously, and Newkirk's eyes flew open. He reached over, grabbing hold of the wheel to stop them from running off the road, and put on the hand brake.
The truck screeched to a halt on the dirt road. Carter was bent double over the wheel, nursing his leg and quietly moaning.
Newkirk sighed heavily, climbing out of the truck and walking around the front of it until he stood by Carter's door. "Alright, mate. I'm drivin' us the rest of the way."
He moved so that one of the headlights illuminated his side and tried to asses his injury. As he'd suspected, it was just a graze. The uniform had a five inch tear in it which ran across the bottom of his ribs, and when he pulled the fabric aside, he saw a shallow gash which matched the length and location of the tear.
Carter nodded and started to slide back to the passenger side without looking up. "Thanks. Holy cow… this hurts!"
Newkirk smiled a tiny bit. He'd gotten a look at Carter's leg, and it seemed like just a flesh wound. Painful, but not too serious. Carter had been able to put some weight on it, so it probably wasn't broken, and it didn't seem to be bleeding a dangerous amount.
He shook his head at the sargeant, his smile fading quickly. "It could 'ave been much worse, mate." Newkirk glanced at the back of the truck. "Much worse…"
Carter hung his head, realizing that, horrible as it was to admit to himself, they had actually got off easy. "Yeah…" He kept his eyes screwed shut and dug his fingernails into the truck's upholstery, sucking in a ragged breath but not bothering to look up at Newkirk. "I know…"
Newkirk grunted as he climbed into the driver's seat, disengaged the hand brake and sped off towards Stalag 13.