The sound of his name was almost enough to bring Moffitt back to his senses. He groaned. For a moment, he wished that the blackness would engulf him again. Reality was decidedly painful.
Moffitt dragged himself out from under what proved to be a body and to his feet. Hand instinctively going to hold the mess that was his left shoulder, he looked to the window.
Troy's face was there.
"Troy!" Moffitt managed, feeling warm blood pulse through his fingers in time with his thankfully still beating heart.
"Moffitt. Get yourself in a little trouble?''
"Seems so, doesn't it?''
There was something that he needed to tell Troy, Moffitt realized, but for the life him he wasn't sure what. Extremely disoriented, he shook his head to clear it. "Dietrich is on his way. He must have gotten loose somehow. He spoke to Greuber. Grueber knows . . . ''
Moffitt tried to say something else but found that his mouth had gone so dry that he couldn't utter another word. He started to try again before Troy stopped him.
"Well," said Troy, "what Greuber knows really doesn't matter too much now, does it?"
Moffitt looked down at the body on the floor. There was a neat, if large, hole in the corpse's back, like the center of a bull's eye in an ever widening circle of crimson blood. It was the mark of someone with very good aim and a Colt .45.
"Suppose that solves that, then?'' Moffitt managed to focus on Troy.
"I'd say so.''
"Thank you, Troy.''
"No problem.'' Troy's eyes went to Moffitt's shoulder and then to his face. "You okay, Moffitt? You don't look so good."
"Just fine,'' Moffitt lied. He actually thought that he might be sick, but there seemed to be little point in sharing that.
"If you say so, Moffitt." Troy turned to look behind him as another explosion ripped through the air. Then he looked back to Moffitt. "Hitch and Tully just pulled out in the trucks with all the rest of the prisoners. It's time for us to move out of here, too. Can you make it to the Kubelwagon? It's still parked out front." Troy grinned. "I'll even drive.''
"Such courteous service, how could I refuse?'' Steadying himself against the desk, Moffitt grimaced. "I'll meet you out front shortly. Only one last thing to take care of."
Troy narrowed his eyes. "Get out here, Moffitt!'' he ordered. "Or I'll come in there and get you.''
"There's something that I really must do,'' Moffitt insisted. "Won't be a moment. Troy.''
Looking thoroughly put out, Troy finally nodded.
"Fine. But shake it, will you, Moffitt?'' he said. "I'd like to get out of here before Dietrich shows up and gets mad about what you've done to his uniform."
When they arrived at the camp it was on fire, burning brightly in the desert night.
Bader had driven the American jeep through what remained of the front gate and brought it to a halt in front of the commandant's office. Dietrich jumped out of the vehicle before it had quite rolled to a stop.
Two at a time, he took the steps into the building. "Hauptmann Greuber?" Dietrich yelled.
Not surprisingly, there was no answer.
The door to the commandant's office was ajar and Dietrich pushed through it, his borrowed side arm drawn. Bader had ended up right behind him, but when Dietrich saw the scene inside, he stopped short, blocking the boy from entering the room.
Dietrich wondered how many dead men Bader had seen so far in his young life. However few it had been so far, that there would be at least one more added into the total that night. A man was lying face down on the floor. Dietrich looked back at Bader, raised his eyebrows in warning, and then went into the room to confirm what he already knew.
Rolling the body over, Dietrich checked its vitals and its identification disk. Predictably, he confirmed that the man was Hauptmann Greuber. Also predictably, the man was dead. Dietrich let the corpse fall back over, hiding the man's face.
He straightened up and looked at Bader with some concern. Other than being paler than normal, the boy seemed mostly fine. Of that, Dietrich was glad. He didn't relish the idea of either having to deal with Bader fainting or getting sick. The day had been trying enough.
Sighing, Dietrich helped himself to one of Greuber's cigarettes. Leaning on the desk, he smoked quietly as he watched most of the buildings in the compound burn. In the dull firelight, Dietrich could see the dark shadows on the ground that he knew to be the bodies of the camp's guards. He started to count them.
When he reached a dozen, he stopped.
He and Bader had been lucky in the aftermath of their altercation with the Rat Patrol. The Englander had even been thoughtful enough to leave them water and other supplies that would allow them to survive until someone found them. When the supply convey had found them later in the afternoon, neither Dietrich nor Bader had been much the worse for wear. Greuber and his guards had not been so lucky.
Dietrich wanted to make sure that Bader learned a lesson that night and if he had to use Greuber's misfortune to teach it, then so be it. Dietrich stubbed out the cigarette and looked at Bader. "So, do you still think that the Rat Patrol is useless without their leader?"
Bader blinked, wide eyed at the carnage and destruction around him. He said nothing.
Dietrich felt impatient. "Well, Bader?''
Bader looked at Greuber's body. "No, Herr Hauptmann," he said slowly. "Even one or two of them alone seem to be as dangerous as the four together."
"Promise me, Bader? That you will not ever forget that?" Dietrich glared at his lieutenant when he did not respond. "Promise me!''
"Yes, sir! I promise, Herr Hauptmann,'' Bader said, solemnly.
"Good.'' Dietrich winced as the fabric of his borrowed uniform blouse pulled across his sun blistered shoulders. "It will save your life one day." Potentially, with having to rely upon Bader as his second, Dietrich knew that the life that he saved might just be his own.
Bader pointed at the crimson handprints on the wall by the door.
Dietrich moved to the doorway to look for himself. The prints continued at regular intervals down the hallway, leading out of the building.
"One of them was injured apparently. This blood is still fresh." Bader touched the bloody evidence and rubbed his fingers together.
Dietrich spanned his hand against the print. The hand that had made it was relatively the same size as his. He would wager that the owner of the hand would wear roughly the same size of uniform as he did. In addition to the bloody hand prints mapping the walls, there was quite a bit of blood to be seen, both in puddles and drops. Dietrich knew with certainty that not all of it Greuber's. Some of it, at least, was likely Jack Moffitt's. But as gruesome as the scene was, instinctually Dietrich knew that Moffitt was still alive.
The Englander had more lives than a cat. Troy and his men all did, damn them.
Dietrich looked again at Greuber's body and at wound that had taken the man's life. There was no doubt on Dietrich's mind that Greuber had been killed almost instantly by the very expertly placed bullet. Dietrich's eyes wandered again to the large open window that looked out into the compound.
"I would say that Greuber shot Sergeant Moffitt and then Sergeant Troy shot Greuber in the back," Dietrich surmised.
Shrugging, Bader nodded. "Sounds like a good theory, sir."
"Yes.'' Not that it mattered now, but Dietrich could almost picture the scene that led to Greuber's death in his head as if he had been there. He supposed that was the value in knowing one's enemy.
Bader's voice interrupted Dietrich's train of thought. "Should we go after the Rat Patrol, Herr Hauptmann? We might still be able to catch them."
While the idea was tempting, Dietrich shook his head. It would be nearly impossible to find Troy and his men in the darkness, not to mention dangerous. And as if Troy wasn't deadly enough normally, he would be as protective as a mother bear if one of his men was wounded.
Dietrich admitted to himself that he wasn't feeling particularly suicidal. Enough men had already died at the hands of the Rat Patrol. There was no reason to risk putting Bader's name, or even his own, on that list. At least not that night. It would wait. If there was one thing of which Dietrich was certain, it was that he was positive that they would all run into each other again soon enough. The passing of another day was not going to make any difference in the grand scheme of a much longer war.
"No, Bader. We will check the camp for survivors and damage. It will likely take most of the night. I will make a full report of what has happened to our superiors. We will just stay here," Dietrich said.
"Very good, sir. I will take a look around this building and then move out to investigate the rest of the camp.'' Bader shook his head. "Something tells me that I am not going to be finding and any remaining prisoners. Nor many survivors.''
Unfortunately, Dietrich had to agree. "Go on then, Bader.''
"Yes, sir, Herr Hauptmann!''
Alone, Dietrich shuffled through the papers that were scattered around Greuber's desk. He selected the most interesting looking one and began reading it. It dealt with several complaints and sanctions that had been levied against the camp. The report included multiple entries on the abuse of the prisoners. The offenses detailed varied from withholding food and medical care to far worse things.
All of them in violation with Wehrmacht standards, not to mention the Geneva Convention.
Dietrich rubbed his head. Why would the Wehrmacht he wondered, considering the rumors that even he had heard, put a man like Greuber in charge of a POW camp? He would expect that of the Gestapo, who seemed to actively celebrate men predisposed to cruelty, or of even the idiot SS. He did not expect it of his own branch of the military. As he continued to read the report, it only served to underline his question.
Dietrich looked again to Greuber's body. The Rat Patrol had obviously done the Wehrmacht a favor. They would have shot Greuber themselves when they had become aware of what he had just learned. Dietrich admitted that he might have been tempted to do it himself.
Dietrich was glad to put down the report. He needed to read it no more as the prisoners had not only been liberated as POWs but also from the sick madness of Greuber. "Yes, Bader, what is it?"
Dietrich took another cigarette and lit it.
"I have found two guards alive, sir. They were locked in what appears to be some sort of interrogation room.'' Bader looked momentarily confused. "The presence of the room itself was very odd. It is not in keeping with how we would treat prisoners.''
By ''we,'' Dietrich knew that Bader meant the Wehrmacht. It reminded him that Bader and he had something in common, no matter how green the boy was. Bader also came from a family that had a long history and tradition of serving Germany honorably in military servcie. It also served to remind Dietrich that Greuber was a pox upon everything for which that history and tradition stood.
It was, thought Dietrich, hard to fight a gentleman's war when gentlemen were no longer the only people fighting it.
Despite the good news that anyone from the camp had survived the wrath of the Rat Patrol, Dietrich grimaced. "The men? Are they badly hurt?''
"No, not really. Beaten, but no significant or lasting injuries. They have already mostly recovered.''
"Good. They can help us to sort out the rest of the camp. What else did you find, Bader?''
"These were left by the door, on the adjutant's desk, sir.'' Bader displayed a collection of things to Dietrich: A packet of cigarettes, a revolver, a holster, a watch, a wallet, papers, and an identification disk.
Dietrich recognized them all. They were his. In spite of a truly trying day and the even worse situation into which he had walked, Dietrich smiled.
"There's a note, as well, sir," said Bader. He handed it to Dietrich. "I think that it might be for you.''
The paper was smudged with bloody fingerprints and the note was in shakily penned German:
"As promised, the return of most of your borrowed items. Uniform and auto still in use. Will return at first convenient date. –JM"
Dietrich allowed himself a moment to reflect upon exactly how remarkable Troy and his men were.
Dietrich nodded, finally satisfied. There were still gentlemen fighting the war.
"Hey there, Pam. How's he doing?''
"Sergeant Moffitt is doing very well. He's been a joy and a pleasure to have around, actually.'' The pretty nurse gave Troy a smile. ''I think that he's actually finally gotten the hang of being a patient.''
"Well, lord knows, it's about time. He's had enough practice, right?'' Troy grinned at her.
Pam's mouth narrowed. "You're one to talk, Sam. I could say the same about you. Or any one of your boys, really.''
Troy laughed. "I guess that you could. Look at this way, Pam. We're your job security.''
"Thanks to the war, my job is secure enough. Unfortunately. Speaking of which, I need to get back to work. Why don't you come to see me sometime when one you isn't half dead?''
"That's a deal,'' Troy told her. "Might have to wait until after the war, though.''
"Figures.'' Pam sighed. "Though that's probably for the best, Sergeant.''
"You're probably right, Lieutenant.'' Troy tossed off a salute to her.
Pam stuck her tongue out at him in return. Then she smiled a smile at Troy that held some promise, but unfortunately, not nearly enough.
Troy smiled back and then moved on.
He had enough frustration in his life. He hardly needed to add any more.
Troy was pleased to see Moffitt sitting up in bed with Tully attentively by his side.
Other than a bandaged shoulder, Moffitt looked mostly okay, considering. Troy let out a sigh of relief. The hit that Moffitt had taken at close range had been bad enough, if not necessarily life threatening. But with his nearly impossible to find blood type and his susceptibility to contract infections and fevers, Troy felt like he never knew how things were going to end up with Moffitt.
"Moffitt," said Troy, coming to stand at the foot of the bed. "How are you feeling?"
"Troy!'' Moffitt looked up from the book that had all of his and Tully's concentration. "On the mend, I'd say. Tully has been kind enough to keep me company while I've been laid up."
Coming around the side of the bed, Troy drew up a chair and took a seat beside of Tully. "Good." He grinned at Tully. "Glad to see you doing something useful while Hitch and I go out and get ourselves shot at."
Tully shrugged. "I'd rather be out there with you, Sarge."
"I know, Tully." Troy sighed and looked at Moffitt again. "How long before you're fit for duty again? The doc told me when we brought you in that it could be a couple of weeks, but that it was too soon to tell."
"Just a few more days, actually."
"Wow, that's a record recovery, Moffitt." Troy blinked in surprise.
"Yes. It will be." A familiar look of stubborn determination settled on Moffitt's face. "Whether the doctor agrees with it or not."
"If you say so, Moffitt." Troy grinned at him.
Whether he was just not choosing to acknowledge Troy's sarcasm or whether he had completely missed it, Moffitt merely nodded. He made a one handed notation in the book that he was holding. He showed it to Tully who also nodded.
"What you guys got there?" Troy cocked his head and tried to get a good look at what they were up to.
"Oh, it's a crossword puzzle book. They're quite a lot of fun you know. Tully is becoming quite the whiz," Moffitt said.
Tully looked pleased.
Troy wondered what had brought this on. Tully hardly seemed like the crossword puzzle type.
"Don't be so skeptical, Troy," Moffitt said, obviously noticing the look on his face. "Tully is quite good. Here, let me give you an example."" Moffitt's eyes scanned down through the puzzle's clues. "All right, Tully, here's one for you: 11 down. Seven letters, third letter is a `v'." He looked expectantly at Tully. "Spear."
Tully thought for just a moment, his face the picture of concentration. "Javelin?"
"Well done, Tully!'' Moffitt nodded and wrote the answer in the blocks. Then, he handed the book to Tully who filled in a few more letters.
Moffitt looked up at Troy. "See? I told you so."
Troy shook his head. "I won't even ask how this started."
"Just a way to kill time, Sarge," said Tully. He looked at Moffitt and handed him the book and pencil again. "I liked the other book. The clues were better."
"Yes, I don't disagree. Perhaps Dietrich will send it back to us when he receives the rest of his things." Moffitt looked at Troy. "We left it in the back of the jeep when we came for you and Hitch," he explained.
"When Dietrich gets the rest of things?" Troy asked, puzzled. "Huh?''
Nodding, Moffitt shifted his position. The movement was followed by gritted teeth, a muffled moan, and a grimace. It was not lost on Troy that despite's Moffitt's earlier bravado, that the guy suddenly looked more than a little pale.
Moffitt took a moment and a deep breath before answering Troy. "Yes, you see, I promised to return all of the items that I, erm, borrowed from friend Dietrich. It seemed to be the least that I could do, considering the situation."
"What?" Troy looked from Moffitt to Tully, still not understanding.
"A gentleman always keeps his word. While I managed to leave some of Dietrich's things behind for him at the camp, there are a few items left outstanding. Car and uniform, for instance."
Troy's brow furrowed.
"There's an old German proverb," explained Moffitt, looking momentarily thoughtful before grinning wryly. "'He who borrows sells his freedom.' I'm sure that applies even if you are borrowing to gain someone's freedom."
"Maybe.'' Troy thought about it. The conclusion that he reached was the same one as always. Moffitt had odd ideas about some things.
Moffitt fell back against his pillows, his eyes suddenly looking heavy. He made a face, swallowed, and then sighed.
"Sarge? You okay?" Tully asked, taking the puzzle book and pencil from him. "Want me to call the nurse?"
Eyes fluttering closed and then suddenly open again, Moffitt managed to look fairly alert. "Just suddenly very tired. Likely just a side effect of the morphine that our lovely neighborhood angel of mercy administered not all that long ago. I'm sure that the little blue pills that she seems to favor are a contributing factor, as well.''
"You sure?'' Troy asked, looking around for Pam, just in case.
"Positive. Don't worry, Troy. It's nothing that a nap won't fix."
"If you're sure?''
Moffitt smiled. "I am.'' His eyes went closed.
With effort, Moffitt opened them once more. Troy noticed that Moffitt's gaze was even fuzzier than it had been before as the meds continued to run their course.
"I say, Troy?" Moffitt's voice was suddenly soft and dreamy.
"Yeah?" Troy answered, leaning in to make sure that he heard what Moffitt was obviously trying very hard to tell him.
"You will make sure that Dietrich's uniform is laundered and mended the best that we can before we return it to him? I made rather a mess of it, you know."
Moffitt's eyes drooped closed again.
Troy waited for him to say something else but it appeared that Moffitt had finally passed out.
Not able to resist, Troy put a hand on Moffitt's forehead. There was no evidence of a delirium causing fever.
Troy looked at Tully. "Did he have a head wound when they brought him in here? Or is he just off his rocker because Pam has him stuffed to the gills with pain meds?"
"Nah, his head is fine. He's been in and out some since I've been with him, but Moffitt knows what he's saying.'' Shrugging, Tully pulled a matchstick out of his pocket. "My pappy always said, `Never a borrower or a lender be.' Guess Moffitt agrees with him. Won't hurt to give Dietrich back his things, will it, Sarge?"
"Nah, I guess not. If it means that much to Moffitt, we'll do it." Troy paused to glance at the deceptively innocent looking sleeping Englishman. "But, I can tell you one thing."
"Yeah? What's that?"
Troy grinned. "I bet that Dietrich is going to wish that uniform still had Moffitt in it when we send it back to him."