"Jeeze! This is nuts!" Casino grumbled. "I don't see why you wanna waste time on doin' this when I could just go ahead and do the job ten times fa…, faahtht…!" And with one explosive sneeze he sent a geyser of flour into the air.
"Gesundheit." Garrison mumbled as he watched a mantle of white form over the shoulders and arms of his green jacket as the ersatz snow began to settle. "That's why, Casino."
All of the men had been sick. Casino was just the latest casualty.
Goniff was the first to go down, and Casino blamed it on his close relationship with Eddie. The little cat burglar protested as he coughed, sneezed and sweated his way through five days of wretchedness, that if being around Eddie did him under it should be Casino laid up with him, not Chiefy who'd taken to his bed two days behind Goniff, because Casino spent way more time down with Mrs. Reid's bunch of 'ankle biters' than he could ever manage with Eddie. Casino just laughed back at him and told him, with a superior air, that was exactly why he wasn't sick, because of his exposure to a bigger variety of 'crud'. He told him it worked, 'sort a like all those shots they give us back before we come over here.'
Goniff just blew his nose and told him was 'crackers.'
The next one to fall by the wayside was Actor.
Goniff got through his bout without too much in the way of whinging. Which was a surprise, given his personality… But then he did have Mrs. Marley fussing over him when she was in to do her chores around the place, and she managed to do that three out of the six days he was sick. Chief just toughed it out, relying on his stoic nature, and a little leftover coddling from Mrs. Marley…. But Actor? Well, Actor was a royal pain. Every step of the way. No amount of pillow plumping, homemade soup, or tea…which, in desperation, they changed to hot brandy as they searched for some way to put him out of their misery… seemed to make a dent in his suffering. Goniff and Chief were inclined to give him a pass for it because he'd borne the lion's share of their care, at least when Mrs. Marley wasn't around. But Casino wouldn't give him an inch. He didn't have any empathy because he hadn't been sick, so he didn't pull any punches when it came time to render an opinion on the con man's reaction to having a 'lousy little cold, for cryin' out loud? They way you'r carryin' on, you'd give Camille a run for her money!"
Actor refused to believe Casino even understood the reference, until the group's safe cracking expert gave him chapter and verse on the movie, even quoting a few of Garbo and Taylor's lines from the dramatic final scene. He then went on to compare the movie to the death scene from the opera "La Boheme, humming a few bars from the final aria…, just for good measure.
Casino was more than willing to take credit for their continental con artist leaving his bed a full day sooner than either Goniff or Chief. He claimed it was 'on account a the shock a findin' out somebody other than him knows somethin' for a change!'
They'd been bumped from one mission, and Garrison had gone over solo for a few days during the two weeks the three men were sick. As soon as everyone was finally upright, though, they had to be sent out again. They were currently hold up in the wreckage of an old foundry, somewhere in France.
Garrison swatted at the flour that marred his jacket, but only succeeded in leaving handprints along the arms and shoulders of the garment and raising another cloud of fine flour that caused him to cough. He opted for giving the favored article of clothing a quick shake to put things right, and slipped it off and stepped over into the far corner to accomplish the task. When he came back to the work area they'd set up his jacket was fairly clean, but his face and hair still looked like he'd been out overnight in a hard frost. Actor wordlessly handed him a damp cloth and went back to smoking his pipe.
Casino watched the cleanup routine, grousing the whole time. "I still say it'd be faster if I did it."
"And have you blow black powder all over everything?" the Warden said through his toweling off. "Casino, we may not have enough of the stuff as it is." Garrison finally gave up and tossed the cloth aside and stepped back to the other side of the bench. "You'll put the mockup together over on your side of the table, and I'll mirror what you're doing with the real stuff over here. Now show me that again… I want one more run through before we do it for real."
Given the nature of their work this assignment wasn't all that complicated. They were to gain access to a set of plans in a factory and swipe them, then blow the place on the way out. It would have been a 'piece a cake' as Casino liked to say, except for the part about them not being able to use their combination safecracker-explosives specialist on the job. Just about the time his feet hit the ground in France, Casino started developing symptoms of the 'lousy little cold' that he'd sworn he was immune to. He was well into the fever-aches-sneezing stage of the malady and the Warden wasn't about to risk him out on the job. They couldn't afford to wait out the six or seven days it would take for him the beat this thing either, hence the impromptu lesson in manufacturing one of Casino's signature explosive devices.
They made it through the last dry run and started on the real thing. The Warden had a steady hand and he already had some good solid experience behind him, both before the group was formed and working with them, but as they worked Casino coached him from his side of the table anyway.
'Don't tamp it down so much! You don't wanna set the stuff off right here, do ya?' And in the next step, 'Leave more cord showin', for cryin' out loud! Jeeze! You gotta leave yourself enough time t' get out a there!'
Garrison just grit his teeth and took it all in stride. He knew it was just part of Casino's nature to be critical. He also knew the man's abrasiveness tended to increase right along with his level of anxiety.
Casino certainly had enough to be anxious about… They were doing this on the fly since he'd gotten sick. If the others were lucky and only a simple lock separated them from their goal, they'd do their best to pick it, something all four of them were getting pretty good at, though they'd never match him for speed. But if it was a safe, they'd have to come up with some way to get their hands on the combination, or con, or worse yet, coerce someone into opening it up for them. If they had to take that route they'd have to make another pass at the place after coming back out to pick up uniforms and transportation. That would take time, and more time spent in the area put them all at greater risk of being discovered. If the Warden decided against a con, they'd have to blow the safe… and that would probably bring the Krauts right down on their necks before they could get out. So Casino wasn't happy, especially since he would be stuck in the background, in the dark, waiting.
"I still say I ought a come along."
"Sure Pappy. One sneeze out a you and we'd all be up in front of a Kraut firin' squad."
"Then go do your thing, Indian! Go find some weed 'r other that'll ta… ta… taahtht…!" This time when he sneezed there wasn't any blizzard, all of the supplies had already been packed away.
"Get used to it, Casino. You're staying, and we're going." Garrison turned up his wrist and checked the time. "And we're going right now." He shepherded the other three out ahead of him, but turned on the ruined threshold. "Look, relax. It's a piece of cake, right?" At Casino's scowl Garrison's lighthearted delivery dropped away. Things could go wrong, they all knew that, and he didn't like leaving Casino here alone without backup any more than the east coast con wanted them to go out a man short. "We'll be back here by ten, at the latest. I'll let you push it another hour, but if we're not here by eleven, don't hang around. You high tail it for the coordinates I showed you on the map. Got it?"
There were plans. And there were backup plans for when things went wrong. And then there were contingency plans for when things really got fouled up. They were already on a backup plan because of his damn cold. If things really went in the toilet Casino was to get out to make contact with the underground and they'd be the ones trying to get the group out of whatever kind of jam they'd gotten themselves into.
Garrison didn't wait for his agreement, just clapped him on the shoulder and disappeared out into the darkness. Casino spent a tense few moments staring after him, straining to hear or see something, while at the same time praying that he wouldn't hear or see a thing. Because if he did, it only meant that their nice, safe, hideout had been discovered, and they were all about to get themselves shot.
"What's so bloody important about these plans anyway? 'ow come we gotta risk our necks t' get 'em?" Goniff breathed in his ear as they sat watching the complex.
Since Casino wasn't along on this part of the job Goniff had taken it upon himself to keep tradition alive and question their mission. Garrison lowered the glasses and turned on his cockney pick pocket. "You know, Goniff, they don't always discuss all the reasons with me for everything we do," he told him quietly. "In fact most of the time they just hand me my orders and send me on my way."
Goniff considered that a moment, even scratching at the back of his head as he mulled it over…. "C'mon Warden, don't try and sell that."
His men hadn't been the only ones who'd fallen ill. Even though he'd been the one in France laying the groundwork for this operation another team had trained to come over to do the job. Garrison's group had been substituted in at the last minute because that unit was still laid up on medical leave back in England. They hadn't had the time for their usual in-depth orientation before they took off. "Alright, here it is…" he pivoted to face the three men gathered at his back. "The Germans are experimenting with some new, more efficient kind of carburetor. This is where they're doing most of the work on it."
"Won't that mean a whole lot more guards?" his point man asked. "Stiffer security measures?"
Garrison turned to address Chief's concerns. If there were additional alarms to get through, the job would fall to the young scout. "It doesn't look like it. In fact it seems like they're keeping activity around the plant to a minimum…"
"To avoid attracting any interest from our side?" Actor theorized.
"So it seems." Garrison turned his back on his men, swung the binoculars back up into place and continued to study the buildings spread out before them.
Discovery of the plant they were going to hit had been an unexpected benefit of another operation. Close surveillance had been mounted by the underground on a French mechanical engineer known to be working with the Germans. In the course of tailing him the resistance stumbled across this place. Since the Allies were interested in the kind of work the engineer was doing, and the engineer seemed to be very interested in this particular factory, the information had been forwarded.
Because of the illness plaguing his group Garrison was available when that information came in so he'd been sent over to check out the report. He 'appropriated' an SS uniform and papers and pulled a surprise inspection of the facility. He got a look at what they were doing and had a fair idea of the implications. Craig spent several days on the ground in France working with their underground contacts but they weren't set up to pull off a job like this and he couldn't manage it alone. He returned to England, made his report, and the mission was set up. After briefing the team that was picked to go in he returned to the mansion and let them get on with training for the job. Four days later, and two hours before the plane was to leave he got the call. Another man on the first team had just gone down, that left them too many men short to pull off the job. Since he'd cased the place, and his men were now in better shape, his group was elected to go.
They were told to move quickly. The underground informed them they had forty-eight hours to get what they wanted out of the factory. One of the women in the group had cultivated a 'friendship' with a guard at the facility and reported the project was nearing completion. The research had been done in France but the actual manufacturing of the device would be done deep inside Germany. Everything was about ready to be packed up and moved.
They were also told the engineer was strictly off limits. The resistance was interested in him too… Interested in seeing to it he got his pay back for being a 'collaborateur'.
Headquarters decided they needed the assistance and cooperation of members of the underground more than they needed the French engineer,… but that didn't mean they didn't want his blue prints, and the data from his research.
From the previous trip Garrison knew which part of the complex the research buildings were in. He knew which one of the buildings held the office where the engineer worked. He'd spent enough time watching the plant to have a good idea of the security precautions in place, …at least the original ones… That was the problem. They wouldn't know if there had been any changes in response to his 'inspection' until they got in there.
"Alright, just like we planned… Actor, you back Chief up while he handles the alarms. Goniff will go with me and find a way to get us inside that building. We'll give you fifteen minutes. If the system isn't down by then we'll take a shot at getting through any alarms on our own. Anything happens everyone meets back at the foundry." The Warden checked his watch again. "Anything after… midnight, go on to the next safe house, make contact with the underground and get the Hell out of here." He got murmured agreement from all of them and then sent them on their way with a quiet order to, "Take off." Craig watched the two men blend into the darkness and fought the urge to check his watch every fifteen seconds.
If Actor and Chief didn't manage to take the alarms down within those fifteen minutes the chances were good that it would be because they'd been discovered and taken prisoner. They all knew that,… just as they all knew that there would only be a brief window of time between their discovery and an increase in security measures around the plant. Garrison would have to make use of that window of opportunity to complete their assignment even if it meant leaving Actor and Chief to act as a rather effective diversion.
He was huddled in an old blanket and he'd been staring into the small fire they'd built in one of the old furnaces. Casino was seeing it all in his head… just how the job was going and what the guys were up to. They'd been out to the factory to case it, he'd seen how the place was set up so he could picture where they were, where they'd breach the fence to get on the grounds. In his head he watched them make their way to the structure where the Warden figured the plans were stashed. He willed the facility to have a simple alarm system and mentally talked Chief through setting up his bypasses. He even imagined he was sitting on his knees right next to the door as the Warden tried to pick the lock. He heard the soft clicking as the cylinder shifted… Casino's head jerked up. Only a lock didn't snap like that! That was a foot coming down on a dry twig, causing it to break!