1The Cave Affair Raid
El Berin, Libya: 0900
Allied Expeditionary Force Headquarters
Sergeant Sam Troy was irritated as yet another weekend pass was cut short. Over the last two weeks the rat patrol had hit three German convoys, found the assigned ammunition dump, blew it up and then, to top off the experience, almost had the entire patrol captured by Dietrich. Now he was headed to the patrol's temporary quarters to retrieve the rest of the rats to receive yet another set of orders.
The patrol arrived in El Berin early on Thursday afternoon, debriefed and were given the go-ahead for their long-earned rest. By the evening, Moffitt took off to visit friends in town and the two privates headed to a bar where the younger GI's liked to hang out for beer and women. Troy unexpectedly bumped into Vixen and invited her to dinner and drinks. He hadn't seen her since the night Moffitt officially joined the patrol a month ago, and they enjoyed themselves swapping stories of recent events.
It was when he'd been coming back from his all night date with Vixen, that a red-faced messenger from the major's office caught up to him and sharply informed him that he and his men were to report to Major Andrews at 0930.
So now, instead of heading to the mess hall like he'd planned, he was returning to the adobe-style house that the rats had been officially assigned to for the duration of their reassignment. The house was simple with two rooms; he and Moffitt had set their cots in the room at the back of the house, Tully and Hitch the front. It was in the front room that he found the two privates sitting on their bunks, looking suspiciously like they had just come through the door themselves.
"Mornin' Sarge," Tully managed to get out without slurring his words too badly. Hitch was sitting on his cot with red lipstick on his face and a silly grin.
"Great, just what I don't need: you two to show up at the major's office hungover. Where's Moffitt?" Both men shrugged their shoulders. "Get cleaned up and meet me there; if Moffitt shows, up drag him along." Troy turned on his heel and went back out the door, then made his way to the major's office.
He reported to Major Andrews' aide, Lieutenant Locke. The lieutenant instructed him to sit and casually mentioned that the major was on the phone. It left him time to wonder again about what could be so important that their well-deserved weekend pass would be cut short. They'd been through a lot the last few weeks and the rest was needed. Both privates were getting punchy from lack of sleep and if he had to admit it, so were he and Moffitt. The four were looking forward to sleeping on sheets and eating food that didn't come from a tin, yet still managed to taste like cardboard. The men would grumble but, in the end, would jump to do the duty they were ordered to do.
"The major will see you now." As Locke ushered him into the office, Troy observed that it was more stifling in the tiny room than it had been in the annex; even the one overworked fan sitting on the file cabinet didn't create enough breeze to get some air.
"Sergeant Troy, at ease and have a seat," Major Andrews said as he placed a map of North Africa over the papers scattered on the room's sole piece of large furniture; a desk. "Are you feeling alright? You look like you have a touch of heatstroke."
"Nossir, I was in a hurry to get here."
"Well, let's get started then," Andrews dug through the pile of debris on the desk and handed him a flimsy black and white portrait. "Your assignment is to find Michaela Mercer. This is the latest photo from Intelligence."
"Why Major?" he asked, not bothering to look up as he studied the picture with a frown.
"First, let me tell you that Miss Mercer is a cousin of Moffitt's, on his father's side, and she apparently has knowledge that will be helpful to you. Intelligence has told me what this assignment is about, but I can't tell you at this time. You will be briefed, after locating her, as to the specific mission you'll be working on. We've been hearing that Jerry wants her; something about knowing the area, being close to people. This mission is for you to get to her before Jerry does. So after you locate her, radio in and you'll be given new orders. Any questions, Sergeant?"
"Sir, does Intelligence know where she is?" Troy continued to gaze at the picture. Michaela, Moffitt's cousin? How could she know more about this country than Moffitt?
"No, they don't," Andrews said wryly. "That's your job." The major glanced at the map but before Troy could begin to protest, Moffitt stepped into the room, slightly out of breath.
"Sergeant Moffitt, glad you could finally join us."
"Sorry sir, I came as soon as I received word."
"Okay, Sergeant," Andrews turned to leave the room, "I'll let Troy fill you in on the mission."
Moffitt blinked at the major's abrupt exit and managed to catch his breath as he turned to look at Troy. "What's this all about?"
Troy was stuck on how he was going to break this to Moffitt without revealing his involvement with his teammate's cousin. It was bad enough having a woman on a mission in the first place; perhaps the whole meeting had been arranged to exclude Moffitt from the briefing? It would certainly explain the major's hasty exit. He took a deep breath, "Well, it seems Intel wants us to find a woman. Afterwards we'll be briefed on what to do with her."
"A woman?" Moffitt echoed, sounding amazed that HQ would come up with a plan like this.
"Yeah, a woman, but not just any woman," Troy handed the photo to Moffitt. "Your cousin."
"Michaela? Why her?"
Moffitt sounded astonished and he'd had the same look on his face when he had found out that Troy and Vixen had been seeing each other. "Yes, her knowledge of the area and the people. Apparently, Intel wants her with us before the Germans get to her," Troy said with a resigned sigh. "So where do we begin looking for her?"
"That is a good question." Moffitt walked over to the major's desk and spotted the map. "Father said she was touring Egypt working on a research paper, doing whatever work she can get from the Museum of Cairo. She could be anywhere, but... we do have friends in Al Aqubar. She may have gone there." Moffitt pointed out the town to Troy. "See, it's well over mid-way between Cairo and El Berin. I remember there are some caves in this area. Might be one that is suitable to hide in." Moffitt was moving his finger around the map, "I found it, in this area, not too far from Al Aqubar."
All Troy could think of was the last time he and Michaela were together. Their last night before he was taken prisoner of war. Spending the day at the beach, swimming, a picnic and a supper for two in her hotel room, he tightened his hands into fists and looked up from the map to meet Moffitt's eyes, "The notes on these maps say the town was taken over by the Germans two days ago." Troy slapped his hand on the desk but before Moffitt could form an appropriate response, Hitch and Tully entered the room.
"What's up, Sarge?" Tully questioned, with ever-present matchstick in his mouth.
"New mission," he said, showing them Michaela's photo, "to find this woman."
Hitch took the photo from Troy's outstretched hand, a grin spreading across his face, "This is going to be a good assignment."
"Hold it kid; the girl is Moffitt's cousin. Now get to supply and stock up on food and ammo."
Hitch nodded and gave the photo back to Troy. He placed it in his pocket.
As Hitch and Tully made their way out of the office, Troy turned back to Moffitt. His fellow sergeant was still looking at the maps, stress and worry etched onto his face. He had to disagree with Hitch: this wasn't going to be a good assignment.
After traveling five hours over rough terrain, Moffitt held his hand up to indicate the jeeps to halt. The path they were on was more of a trail than a road and the area directly in front of them had dried desert brush scattered around the base of a hill. Sand dunes were to the right as they approached the cave.
Moffitt looked over Tully to Troy, "We're here. I'll go in and check it out."
He walked over to a large opening in the hill and went inside. Using his torch, he lit the way through a wide tunnel and made a mental note that the tunnel was large enough to drive the jeeps in with no problem. Near the end of the tunnel he came into a large chamber. Streams of light came down through narrow openings, giving some natural light to the large chamber. Moffitt observed an opening on the wall to his right and could hear the sound of water, in the next chamber he could see there was a water basin.
Standing in the middle of the chamber, he shook his head at a past memory of him and Michaela, exploring a cave such as this. They were pretending, looking for a long lost artifact. Moffitt thought back to his father's last post; it said she was in North Africa and was expected to be in Cairo. So what could she be doing this far west? Cairo was the safest place to be at this time. It would be the first question he would ask her; if they found her.
He walked back outside to tell the others about the cave. "Looks clear. It's big enough to hide the jeeps inside and it has a source of fresh water," he informed them with a grin.
"Okay; Tully, Hitch, get those jeeps inside while I take a look around, then erase our tracks." Troy climbed up the side of the hill by a large boulder and scanned the surrounding terrain. It was a good vantage point and they would know if the Germans tried to sneak up on them in the daytime. Hitch and Tully made short work of clearing the trail of the tracks by using their feet and pieces of dried scrub brush.
He climbed down and went inside the cave. Moffitt was right, Troy could see that it was big, and was surprised by the amount of light coming into the cave, even as the sun was setting. They would be able to hide out here for a long time. Tully lit a couple of lanterns to provide more light in the main chamber, while Hitch set up an area in the center of the main chamber to cook. A small fire was made with dried brush from outside the cave, ; they would be able to warm up some rations and make a pot of coffee. Troy watched the smoke from the fire drift up to the ceiling and disappear through the holes, he hoped it would not be seen and bring the Germans down on them.
While the privates continued their tasks, Moffitt explained how the natural chimney formed: "The holes in the ceiling are called fissures, made from a steady stream of water running down through the sandstone. When the water stopped, the sandstone dried and fractured, leaving the fissures," Moffitt narrated enthusiastically as he gestured upwards towards one of the larger fissures to show patches of visible sky.
Troy nodded his head, "Yeah, interesting, what about the smoke being seen outside?"
Moffitt reassured him that maybe with the twist and turns of some the fissures, the smoke may not make it out to be seen. Moffitt went on to tell him that the dry brush along with the TNT they were using would not produce enough smoke. Hitch finally called to the two sergeants that the food was ready.
As they finished their meal, Moffitt spoke up. "Maurice and Marie Duvoe, a French couple my father knows, own a café called Le Morrell. If anybody knows if Michaela is in the area, they will." For your sake kid, you better be there.
Troy inhaled on his cigarette, "I'm coming with you. You're going to need someone to watch your back. Okay, let's get some shut eye. Hitch, you take first watch, then me, Moffitt, and Tully."
He put his cigarette out and laid down on his bedroll. As much as he was looking forward to seeing Michaela again, he was worried about Moffitt finding out their history. Chances were fair that Moffitt wouldn't mind-he might even be amused-but there was always a chance that things could turn awkward. It was a complication that Troy didn't need: especially since he already had an odd feeling the 'mission' wasn't going to go the way HQ wanted it.
Michaela slipped into the town unnoticed; the guard at the gate was busy harassing a goat herder for
leaving town after dark. Trying hard not to be seen after curfew herself, she darted between doorways, moving down the alley, stopping only at the end to check if anyone was following. She had hoped to be back in town before eight o'clock, but that defintely wasn't going to happen. It was already nine o'clock, at least the moon was not in its full phase, so it was easy not to be seen.
A few more meters and she would be safe. She crossed the narrow street into the next alley unseen and the familiar smell of tobacco and stale beer met her as she slipped into the side door of Le Morrell. She started to move towards the stairs that led to her apartment but her luck unfortunately had run out.
"And just where have you been, chèrie?"
Michaela stopped and turned to face Marie, the co-owner of Le Morrell, who was standing in the doorway of the kitchen with her arms crossed over her chest, shaking her head in a familiar expression of disbelief.
"You were due back two hours ago. Maurice was about to go look for you." Marie stepped towards her.
"Marie, please don't be upset. Sardie was telling me stories of Ancient Egypt and I lost track of time."
"Oh, chèrie, I am not mad, just worried. With all the Boche in the area, I fear for your safety. A pretty girl like you would not have a chance against one of those pigs."
Michaela closed the distance to the concerned woman and gave her a hug. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to worry you and Maurice."
Clicking her tongue, Marie released her, "Have you eaten? Of course not, you never do when you are running around. Let's get something for you." Marie grabbed hold of Michaela's shoulders, turned her around and pushed her through the doorway. In the kitchen, Maurice stood at the stove cleaning up from the supper rush. Maurice was ample in size with a heart to match while Marie was small and slender. For all their difference in size and personality, Michaela had always considered them a well-matched pair and she hoped to someday have a marriage like theirs.
Her mind flashbacked to the first time she met Maurice and Marie. They'd been hired by Uncle John to do the cooking at one of their first digs along the Nile. He'd met the couple while touring France on a break from the university: they talked about North Africa and found they had the same interests in the history of Egypt. Never having any children of her own, Marie often made special treats for Michaela and Jack. To them, the couple were the grandpa and grandma they no longer had. The couple made two expeditions in North Africa with Professor Moffitt and had eventually decided to stay in Al Aqubar to open the small café.
Marie began to fill a tray with food, "Here, chèrie, Maurice made potato soup today. Now go and eat, allez-vous."
Michaela went up the narrow staircase to her apartment, pushed open the door with her foot and looked around, letting her eyes become accustomed to the darkness. The bed, which doubled as a sofa in the daytime, was shoved against the wall and in the center of the room was her table that saw more service as a writing desk.
Setting the food on her table, she went to the window and pulled the curtain shut before turning on the light. She'd be dammed if that Major Schmidt tried to spy on her again. He was always leering at her and forever turning up when she was out with the children. His aide, Lieutenant Gruber was just as bad, only he'd get too close to her, which made her very uncomfortable, and he always smelled like onions.
Before she left Cairo, she'd written to Uncle John, telling him that a lead on her thesis was near Al Aqubar, and she'd stay with his friends, the Duvoe's. She inhaled the smell of the soup, it only made her realize how hungry she really was. Finishing her soup, she pushed the tray to the side and reached for her journal. Finding her eyes were too heavy to read a word she had wrote that afternoon while the old man told his stories, she put it down and went over to the bed. The café was busy with German soldiers, the laughter drifted up the stairs, despite the noise, Michaela soon fell asleep.
He'd been awake for awhile but it was the smell of coffee that prompted Troy to abandon his bedroll to sniff out the source of the smell.
"Hey, Sarge, how'd you sleep?" Hitch asked as he continued to get breakfast ready by opening tins of biscuts and jam.
"Like a rock," he said, reaching for the cup that Hitch held out to him and taking an eager sip, "Thanks, Moffitt, how soon before we go into Al Aqubar?'' He'd hoped that he didn't sound too anxious. Troy thought again about why they needed to find Michaela. He'd bet his hat that Moffitt spent last night doing the same. There had to be more to it, but what?
"We'll leave right after breakfast," Moffitt replied as he sketched something into a battered leather journal.
Tully entered the main chamber and poured himself a cup of coffee. "All's quiet out there. There was a German patrol as the sun was coming up. They turned west."
"Good, eat up and get some sack time. Hitch, guard the entrance, no going up top." He received two nods and walked over to the jeep with Moffitt.
"Sure would like to know why both the Allies and Germans want your cousin," he said and jumped into the passenger's side. "We do have you."
"Maybe there's more. Michaela was born here and her parents did a lot of traveling and research in North Africa."
"What kind of research?" Troy questioned Moffitt, to keep up the appearance that he didn't know her.
"My father's sister, Olivia worked for the Museum of Cairo and wrote papers on Ancient Egypt. Much of it was passed down to Michaela. I have heard that Hitler believes that anything that will give strenght and power to help him win the war, he wants. Might be something there."
"Just goes to show you what a mad man he is. How can something made years ago help him now?"
"I wouldn't be so quick to judge the Ancients. Father has done research on such matters and that is what Aunt Olivia was researching on. Even if we can not see it or feel it now, doesn't mean it is not real or important."
Troy shrugged his shoulders, lit a cigerette and turned to watch Moffitt check the map to see how near they dare get close to Al Aqubar in the jeep and if there was a place close by to hide it in.
As Michaela opened the window's drapes she went over in her head the lesson plan for the day. She knew the children were excited as she was about today's lesson. The town was coming to life as merchants opened their stalls and children chased one another. What spoiled the picture were the German soldiers walking in the street below. She hurriedly went into the bathroom and put on khaki slacks and a white blouse.
"Marie, need help with breakfast?" as she headed down the stairs.
"Good morning mon petite, Marie is not here. The widow Kari needed her this morning." Maurice placed a plate of fresh cooked eggs on the table.
"Anything serious?" Michaela asked as she sat down at the small kitchen table.
"With Kari everything is serious," Maurice laughed. "Now eat."
Michaela ate her breakfast without saying another word. Finished, she picked up her dishes and placed them in the sink.
"I have some good news for you." Maurice had his Cheshire cat face on again. "Major Schmidt left town yesterday. Headed back to Germany."
"That is good news. Any idea who'll replace him?" It would be great not having to run into him at every turn, she thought to herself.
"No one yet. Gruber will be in charge till a new commander arrives. Where do you plan on going today?"
"I'm not leaving town. I promised the children I would help them with English today," she already could hear them laughing and talking outside, waiting for her.
"Go, I will clean up here." Maurice placed a hand on her shoulder. She gave him a kiss on the cheek and went out through the front door.
The children were waiting for her, each jostled for a hug. "Okay little ones, let's go." Michaela was glad that she'd made many friends here when she visited the town with Uncle John. A few of the mothers, she'd played games with; now she was playing games with their children. Each hanging onto one another's hand, they walked to a old building that she'd turned into a place where the children could come and be out of harms way. Here she taught them English and reading.
The children all picked their spot on the rug and started singing the ABC'; their voices died down as Lieutenant Gruber walked in. "Fraulein Mercer, I suppose you have heard that Major Schmidt was ordered back to Germany. I will be in charge until his replacement arrives."
"Yes, I have heard that rumor," she replied, getting the children to settle down a bit with a stern look and putting a finger to her lips to shush them.
"Now that I am in charge, you will have to stop your little meetings here."
"Why, Lieutenant? No harm is being done here. I am only teaching the children their ABC's."
"Yes, in English." Gruber said the word 'English' like it was a disease. "They need to learn German. When Germany has taken over North Africa, everyone will be expected to speak German." Gruber walked closer to Michaela, closer than she would of liked.
"Now, if you cooperate, I might overlook these little meetings." He reached out and ran a finger along the side her face. Michaela did all she could do not to slap it away. "Do you catch my meaning Fraulein?"
"I believe I do Lieutenant. May I have some time to think on it?"
I will never cooperate with you.
"Of course, just don't take too long." Gruber clicked his heels, nodded his head in a mock bow, turned and left the building.
She was shaking so much that she sat down. She did her best to try and calm down, then sent the kids home when she realized it was a fruitless cause. She was angry: why couldn't they leave her alone? Waiting at the school for five more minutes, she thought about how much she wanted to live here, do her research, and teach the children. Michaela decided to head for home, stopping at the café window, she saw Maurice talking with two men at the bar. She went around to the alley door, slipped inside and ran up the stairs. Back in her room, she shut the door and leaned against it. Picking up the tray that held the remains of last nights supper, she threw it on the floor, then sat on her bed.
In Al Aqubar, the two sergeants looked for a way to blend in. They found it when a search of an empty house at the town's outskirts turned up some discarded robes. They looked clean and didn't smell too bad. The two put the robes on and Moffitt made sure the long head piece was on Troy right. He led the way to the center of town and no one looked as the two walked towards Le Morrell. Jack noted that the café was empty, he called out for Maurice through the open door and motioned Troy to follow him to the bar.
Maurice emerged from the kitchen, "Good day, what can I get for you?"
Moffitt pushed back his head gear enough to show his face. "Bonjour, Maurice, it is good to see you again my friend.
"Jack, what a surprise, come sit," Maurice motioned for them to sit at the bar. "What brings you here?"
"Maurice, I just didn't come to see you, I need to find Michaela. Do you know where she is?"
"At the moment, she could be anywhere." Maurice smiled and slapped him on the shoulder. ''She should be back soon. She is teaching the children English." Moffitt saw Maurice looking up past him to the window. "Jack, she is here." The three men heard the door close and someone running up the stairs, then another door closing. Maurice looked at Jack. "Something is wrong," Maurice started to move towards the curtain that separated the café from the stairway. "She looked very upset."
"Wait, let me go up," Moffitt said as he placed a hand on Maurice's arm.
"Okay, go, maybe seeing you will help,'' Maurice turned back to the bar.
"I'll go with you. If something is wrong, I need to hear it first hand," Troy said following Moffitt through the curtain and up the stairs
Outside the door Jack could hear sounds of movement before it became quiet. He opened the door and saw Michaela on the bed with her head bowed, walking over to her, he gently touched her shoulder.
Michaela looked up to see two Arab men in her room. Panicking she reach for her knapsack.
Realizing that she didn't recognize him, Jack pulled off his head gear.
"It's me, kid." She turned to face her cousin and jumped up into his arms, nearly knocking him off his feet.
"Oh, Jack it is good to see you." She continued to hang on to him.
"Hey now, tell me what's going on," as he managed to pry her arms from around his neck. It was at that moment that Michaela looked at the other man.
"Jack, who is with you?" Coming to her senses, she ran to the window to pulled the drapes shut. "Are you crazy? This town is full of Germans."
"Then we are crazy. Michaela, this is Sergeant Sam Troy."
Michaela took a good look at the other man, her eyes meeting his, she opened her mouth to say something.
Troy stuck his hand out and quickly spoke, "It's good to meet you."
Michaela took the hand with a questioning look on her face, Sam, he's alive and here.
"Jack, why are you here? Did your father send you to fetch me back home?" She kept glancing at Sam.
"No, we are here to get you, but not to go home." said Moffitt as he ran his hand through his hair and looked for support from Troy. At that point Troy stepped in.
"We were sent to find you. The Allies want you to work with us. Now that we've found you, we'll get briefed."
Michaela was confused. "Why?"
Moffitt interrupted., "Like Troy said, we'll find out once we report in that you're found."
Michaela walked back over to her bed and sat down. Jack followed and sat next to her. "Michaela, I can tell something is bothering you; what's wrong?"
"I was starting to teach the children, when Lieutenant Gruber came in. He said I could continue to teach the children, only if I taught them German." She was not going to tell him the rest.
"Ah, I have some questions and I want straight answers. What are you doing this far west, when father told you to stay near Cairo? Don't you know there is a war on?" Jack was asking the questions so fast, she could not get a word in.
She tried hard to keep her temper under control. Just great, big brother at it again; he'll never let me alone now. "Hold it, Uncle John knows I'm here and yes I know there is a war on, that's why I came here, I thought it would be safe here."
"Michaela, you would of been safer if you'd stayed in Cairo. You'll be coming with us," He he firmly told her.
"Wait a minute, don't I have a say in this?" But Michaela's question went unheard.
"I'll go down and talk with Maurice, he might know of a way to sneak her out of town."
Michaela stood up to follow him, "Jack, wait," he was already out the door.
"Michaela, look at me." Sam placed his hands on her arms, "Jack doesn't know about us. I'll have to find a way to tell him and I don't want to risk the mission if he gets upset about the news."
Michaela sat down on the bed, she thought back to their last night together. "O'Toole told me not to expect you back. I'm glad you're safe."
Jack came back into the room, "Maurice thinks it's best that she stay here."
"He's right," Troy responded. "We need to let Andrews know we found her and find out what the plan is." He put his hand up to stop Moffitt from interrupting. "Wait, hear me out. If she leaves with us, this Gruber might come after her."
Moffitt stopped and took a deep breath. "Troy, you're right," Jack gave a deep sigh, "Michaela, can you stay here at Le Morrell? Michaela-"
"Yes, Jack,*** I'll stay." She stood up to give Jack a hug.
"We have to get back to our hideout and radio in for instructions. We'll be back as soon as we know what our orders are.'' He hugged her back.
The two men left the room, at the bottom of the stairs, Troy put a hand on Moffitt. "She'll be okay, didn't you say she was like you?" Maybe that is someting I should be worrying about-If she's too like him.