Training Part 1
It was utter chaos in the base hospital at Archbury. The entrance hall was filled with men in aviator battle dress stained black with blood, theirs or their comrades. The corridors were lined with stretchers and gurneys, barely leaving room for the staff and the seemingly endless influx of casualties being brought in from the field to get through. The air was noisy with the voices of doctors and nurses as they triaged and gave orders. Garrison found himself pressed up against a bit of olive drab wall as the medics and orderlies shoved through carrying stretcher after stretcher of wounded men from the planes that had landed after he and the men had arrived. All around him were the groans and moans of the injured and the reek of blood and burned flesh. He had caught a glimpse of Col. Gallagher moving amongst his men, head wrapped in a bloody bandage, so Craig knew Joe had not been spared either. Concerned with his men, Garrison was missing two of them in this madness. He didn't know where Chief was, but at least Casino was with him. Craig inched his way down the wall toward the room he had been told Actor was in. In the initial insanity, they had been separated from the confidence man.
Outside, Goniff manned the door, doing what little he could to help. It seemed like an endless procession of ambulances, opening their doors to emit men carrying stretchers of injured and coming back with empty stretchers stained with blood, to return to the field for more. Jeeps pulled up haphazardly with the walking wounded.
Chief, left arm in a sling, made it out of the chaos with the help of Casino. The two uninjured cons sat him on a wooden bench, out of harm's way.
"Actor?" asked the younger man in concern.
"Haven't seen him yet," Casino shook his head and went back to the door.
"You okay, Chiefy?" asked Goniff. He scurried back to hold his door open for another stretcher.
"Yeah, I'm okay," said the Indian.
Casino picked up a cap that had fallen from one of the stretchers and tossed it next to the Indian on the bench. He ran a hand through his hair and looked out over the base toward the landing field. Plumes of black smoke were interspersed by plumes of white showing where the fire brigade was pouring water on some of the wrecked B-17s.
"Jeez, Man, this is bad," he shook his head and looked at Goniff. "The Krauts musta been waitin' for 'em."
The blond Cockney looked old and tired. There was no levity in his expression now and his voice was low. "Bloody 'ell, Casino. Maybe we shoulda just gone straight to the Mansion."
Casino opened the door for medics with another empty stained stretcher that was being carried out. "Naw, Chief might have been okay, but I think Actor needed to be taken care of. He lost a lot of blood."
"You figure the Warden called Terry to warn her?" asked Goniff. "This isn't som'thin' I'd want to spring on 'er."
Casino shook his head, "I don't know." He looked through the window in the door at the crowded mess inside. "I ain't goin' back in there to try to find a phone." He looked at Goniff. "And I don't have any Brit money for a pay phone. That girl's tough. She can handle it."
Garrison had made his way to the door of the treatment room where Actor was and let himself inside. He faced the white-coated back of a doctor who was working on the injured Italian. A nurse stood to the left with a metal stand of instruments between her and the physician.
Actor turned his head to look with dark circled pain-filled eyes and clenched jaws beneath an abraded forehead at his commanding officer. Craig nodded to him in support. Apparently the local anesthetic had not numbed the ten inch long knife wound on Actor's hip and groin before the suturing started. Garrison stifled a wince of empathy.
The doctor turned, pulling his gloves off and tossing them on the stand the nurse was moving away. "He's sutured. That's all I can do for you right now, Lieutenant. You'll have to get him out of here. As you can see, we just don't have the room to keep him. If you want, you can bring him back late tomorrow and maybe I will have time to check it again."
"Thank you, Major," said Garrison as the man pushed past him and out the door.
Craig turned back to his man on the gurney and stepped forward to help the nurse trying to pull Actor's slit shorts and pants back up. "I have him," he said to the woman.
She nodded and bundled up the dirty instruments in the cloth wrap they had come in, hurrying out the door. Craig didn't even try to tuck the bloody shirt tails in, just buttoning up the fly and buckling the belt.
"Can you walk?" Craig grabbed the man's right arm and helped him sit up on the edge of the gurney.
"Do I have an alternative?" asked the Italian dryly.
Craig draped a nearby blanket around the con man for warmth. He had known better than to bring Actor into the hospital wearing the SS tunic. There had been nothing to be done about the rest of the clothing. He pulled Actor's left arm around his shoulders and grabbed the man's belt from behind. The Italian stood up with a grimace, unable to bear full weight on his left leg. With Actor limping badly and leaning heavily on the officer, they made their way into the crowded hall and aimed for the outside door.
Casino watched through the window in the door. Even slightly stooped, the Italian's height made him visible over the heads of the people filling the hall. He was moving slowly and not well.
"Hey, Limey, go get the car. I'm gonna help the Warden with Actor. They're comin' out."
Goniff sprinted for where the Packard had been left parked when they had begun this lousy mission. Chief took his place at the door, watching through the window as Casino bulldozed his way through the wheelchairs and carts to get to their teammate.
The safecracker adjusted the blanket before he grasped Actor's right wrist and pulled it over his shoulder, grabbing a handful of belt beside Garrison's hand.
"Come on, Beautiful. Let's get you outta here," said Casino. He looked at the sea of people in front of them. "Comin' through!" he hollered.
For once, Garrison was happy to have the bullish man with him. None of them were in uniform so even the lowly rank of First Lieutenant was of no help. They all had on French peasant clothes with tight pants and pullover shirts with the exception of Actor. Craig did not know if the looks the con man was drawing was because of the blood or the German riding pants atop the shiny black boots with the once white shirt.
"Hey, Warden," said Casino around the tall man, "they get him fixed?"
Worry and lack of sleep made Craig see that question in a humorous way. He couldn't help grinning and returned with, "Judging by where that knife cut goes, I don't think I'd word it that way." It earned him a chuckle from Casino and a look of umbrage from the Italian. "He's stitched is all. Where's Chief?"
"Outside," replied Casino. "They got his arm wrapped and in a sling."
The three reached the door and it opened for them. Chief and Actor exchanged glances at the sites of their injuries. Chief looked up at the pale face of the older man and shook his head. They all looked up as the Packard skirted an ambulance and parked on the small patch of grass in front of the hospital entrance. Goniff jumped out and started opening doors.
Terry had been awakened in the early morning dawn by the sound of a heavy aircraft with faulty engines coming in lower than usual over the mansion. She jumped out of bed and threw on her clothes as the sounds of more aircraft grew in the distance.
Sprinting down the front steps, she stood in the courtyard and, through a pair of Craig's binoculars, watched the Flying Fortresses limp back to base in a straggling uneven disorder that had nothing to do with formation. They were low enough she could see the gaping holes in wings, bodies, and tails and the propellers that were missing or not turning. Thick black smoke trailed from the damaged wings. In morbid fascination, she stayed outside, watching, until no more planes went over.
Finally, she trudged slowly back into the house, sending a prayer that Joe Gallagher was okay. She sent up another prayer for her brother and the men, who were three days late in returning from their mission. She hated when there was no word from G-2. It made her edgy and scared.
It was a little after nine when the horn sounded in the drive warning of injured. Terry dropped her book on the ottoman and leapt out of Actor's chair to sprint to the door. She watched the Packard come to a stop close to the base of the steps. The driver's door opened and Craig got out. He hurried around the front of the car and opened the front passenger door, then the back passenger door. Chief carefully got out of the front, left arm in a sling. He stayed where he was, watching the back of the car.
Goniff got out and made way for Craig to bend over into the car. Garrison got an arm under Actor's right arm and helped the man out. Casino was right behind Actor, with a hand on his back for support. Both men took one of the Italian's arms around their shoulders and tried to take as much of his weight as they could. Chief and Goniff stood out of the way and watched with frowns. Terry had her face schooled not to react to the sight in front of her. The bloody shirttail covered the top of Actor's pants, but there was blood down to the left knee.
Terry held the door open as the three sidled carefully inside. They paused at the base of the stairs for Actor to catch his breath. Terry took charge.
"Goniff, get the bed open and put towels on it. Let's get him upstairs. Craig, get his clothes off and get him on the bed. What is it I'm dealing with?"
"Knife wound," said Craig. "It's stitched, but it isn't dressed and hasn't been cleaned."
Goniff skirted around her and took the stairs two at a time. Terry looked around at the Indian, standing back from the rest of them.
"Chief?" Terry asked.
"I'm okay. It's stitched and dressed," he replied.
"Okay." Terry edged around Craig and ran up the stairs.
The three other men started up the stairs. There wasn't room for all three of them abreast, so Garrison dropped behind and kept steadying hands on the con man's back as Casino helped his teammate up, one step at a time.
Terry hurried into the Italian's bathroom and started the hot water, retrieving a basin from the cupboard. Goniff had the bedclothes pulled to the foot of the bed and was laying towels atop the bottom sheet. Terry pulled out an aid kit and went back into the bedroom, laying it on the night table. She stepped back out of the way as the men entered the room. The pale, closed look on the con man's face worried her.
"Wot now, Terry?" asked Goniff.
"Get the basin full of hot water," she replied.
Terry slipped around the men, leaving them to get the big man undressed, and hurried downstairs to retrieve the morphine from the locked medicine chest; having the notion the man just might accept it this time. She ran back upstairs, getting the kit with the syringe from her bathroom.
Chief stepped back from the doorway where he was watching the proceedings, to allow her back in. She paused and laid a hand on his good arm.
"You sure you're okay? You need pain medicine?"
"I'm fine," said Chief. "Just take care of him. He got cut worse than me."
Craig and Casino had removed Actor's shirt and had the pants down to the top of the black boots. Craig reached for the shorts, but the con man shook his head.
"Leave it!" barked Actor in pain and frustration. "Just get me down!"
The two men sat him on the edge of the bed. Casino took his shoulders and Garrison his legs and swung him around to lie on his back atop the towels. Craig pulled the boots off, followed by the pants, with Casino holding the leg on the injured side to keep the pull off the wound. Craig moved up and placed a hand on the con man's upper arm, looking down at his second in worry.
"I'm sorry," apologized Actor for his earlier gruffness to the lieutenant.
Craig gave a small smile and squeezed his arm in support. Garrison looked up and backed out of the way as his sister approached.
"Water and towels are on the chair," pointed out Goniff.
"Thanks, Love," said Terry absently.
She looked down at the blood soaked shorts with the long slit. She was afraid to see what was under it. At least it had been stitched, but there obviously had been no time to clean up the mess.
"Okay, all of you out," she said firmly. "Let me take care of him."
The three men headed for the door. Craig hung back a little, turning back to his sister.
"I have to get this information to London, now," he said tiredly.
Terry frowned and walked up to him, taking in the bloodshot eyes and dark circled lower lids that matched those of the man on the bed. She gripped his lower arm.
"You listen to me, Brother," she said firmly and seriously. "I don't want you trying to drive back here afterwards. I can't deal with scraping you out of a bar ditch somewhere. Go stay at Chris's and get some rest before you try to drive back. We'll be okay here."
Garrison nodded. "Take care of them for me," he said quietly.
"You know I will," said Terry with a small smile.
She waited until the door closed behind her brother before turning back to Actor with an encouraging smile. "Made a mess of yourself again," she observed in Italian.
"Si," agreed the con man tightly.
She came to stand beside him, looking at his drawn face. "You're getting morphine this time," she said with firmness.
He nodded in acceptance. "Only a partial dose," he cautioned. "I don't think I can handle an entire dose right now."
Terry nodded. She moved up to the night table and opened the syringe kit. The little bottle of alcohol was removed and opened, a cotton ball was wet with the astringent and left resting atop the open bottle. Actor's head turned to watch her assemble the syringe, snap the top off the morphine vial and draw up a partial amount in the syringe. She held the syringe up, flicked it and worked the plunger to get the air bubble out of the needle and turned back to him. Actor held his arm out. Terry swabbed the inside of his elbow with the alcohol and bent over his arm.
"Good thing you have ropes for veins," she said.
His only reaction was a twitch of his cheek as the needle slid deftly into the vein. He watched Terry put the syringe back on top of the kit before she came back to look down at the destroyed shorts.
"You will probably have to cut them off," said Actor, a slight thickness to his voice. The morphine rush was working.
Terry nodded. Her switchblade slipped into her hand and flicked open. She slit up the outside of the shorts on his left, and reached over him to do the same on the other side. The blade joined the syringe on the table and she pulled the chair with the basin of warm water closer. Carefully, she eased a hip onto the bed beside his thigh. Fingers slipped under the waistband of the shorts and tried to lift them up. They were stuck to his skin. Taking a cloth with warm water, she sponged from the top, peeling the material down. He painfully lifted his hips so she could pull the garment out from under him and toss it into the wastebasket.
It afforded her the first really good look she had of him. It figured the man was built like a brick outhouse. Terry focused her attention on the wound. It was a line of sutured laceration from the top of his hip bone down into dark blood matted curls. Everything below and around it was a mass of blood clots and dried iodine. Taking a cloth of warm water, she began sponging and gently washing the skin from his hip down. The laceration grew more superficial the lower it went to become a scratch without sutures that ended deep in the curls.
"How deep is it?" she asked.
Actor was slow in answering. "Deep enough. There are inner and outer sutures."
After cleansing the sutured part the best she could, she dried it, sprinkled it with sulfa powder and taped gauze over it.
"You're lucky," she remarked when she taped the dressing on the hip. "It seems to have missed anything – uh – vital."
"I don't think it missed," said Actor drolly.
Terry looked at him sharply.
"It feels like I am cut."
"About halfway down on the left."
The said appendage was still covered in dried blood. Terry got up and took the cloths and basin into the bathroom. She dumped the bloody water down the toilet, rinsed out the cloths and refilled the basin with warm water. She returned and sat back down beside him. She got a warm wet cloth and hesitated before touching him.
"I'm sorry, Actor," she said.
"Just do what you must do. It's all right," he said with forced casualness.
Terry washed the dried blood away. She found the spot and inspected it. "Yeah, you got nicked," she said. "It's not bad. I'm just going to put some ointment on it and leave it. It doesn't need stitches."
"Good," said Actor with an attempt at humor. "I would really not care to have sutures or procaine in that particular place."
Terry couldn't help but choke back a laugh. "Yeah, I'm sure I would have to peel you off the ceiling if we did." She looked at him with a smile. "Is it all right if I finish washing you up? I'd rather you didn't move around too much for a little bit."
"I would appreciate that," Actor replied drowsily. "As long as it does not bother you to do that."
Terry started washing him with a clean cloth. "You aren't the first man I've washed," she said. "Of course most of the ones in New York were still under anesthesia."
Actor closed his eyes and lay still. He did not think any woman had ever bathed him like that since his mother when he was a child. He did not count the showers and bubble baths with some of his many women as a prelude to sex. It vaguely surprised him that he was not experiencing any response to Teresa's hands.
It surprised Terry more that while she was handling that part of the man's anatomy, he had gone to sleep. That must have been good morphine. She finished cleaning him up, slipped a hand under his hip and lifted enough to tug the damp towel out from under him. He never awakened. Terry pulled the covers up and tucked them around him. She squeezed a bit of the medicated ointment onto the end of her little finger and gently applied it to the abrasion on his forehead.
After cleaning up the basin of bloody water, and the soiled towels, she let herself out into the hall. Walking the few steps across to Chief's room, she tapped lightly on the door. There was no response so she eased the door open and peeked inside. The Indian was asleep on his back in the bed, arm propped against his ribs.
Terry eased back out and retrieved two pillows from the spare bedroom. Leaving one outside Actor's door, she took the other one into Chief's room. Not wanting to startle him awake, she called his name softly. His eyes flew open.
"Sorry," she apologized. "Pick your arm up a second."
When he lifted his arm, she tucked the pillow so it would support the arm while he slept.
"Thanks," he said in appreciation.
Terry smiled. "Go back to sleep, Little Brother."
He dutifully closed his eyes.
Terry went back to Actor's room, picking up the other pillow on her way in. Moving the covers off his left leg, she tried to raise his knee up with one hand. He came partially awake and helped lift the knee with a grimace. She pushed the pillow under it so the pull would be taken off the sutures. He was asleep again by the time she got the covers back over him.
Terry took the syringe and switchblade down to the kitchen to clean. Casino and Goniff were slouched tiredly in chairs at the kitchen table when she got there, dirty plates in front of them. As she washed the parts of the syringe, she apologized.
"Sorry, I didn't have anything ready for you."
"No problem, Babe," assured Casino.
"I made eggs and bacon," said Goniff.
"How's Beautiful?" asked Casino.
"He's asleep," said Terry filling a pan with water and placing the parts in it. "So's Chief." She set the pan on the hob and turned the gas flame on. Pulling a chair out at the end of the table, she looked at the two undamaged men. "So what happened? In a knife fight I can understand Actor getting hurt, but Chief? How'd he let them close enough to get him?"
"He couldn't throw it," said Casino, leaning back in his chair. "There was four of 'em on Actor. So Chiefy got into it."
"I don't imagine Actor would be much good in a knife fight," observed Terry.
"Oh don't knock 'im, Love," said Goniff with a grin. He took out one of 'em with his knife."
"His knife?" asked Terry in interest. "When did he start carrying a blade?"
"Chiefy gave him one about a month ago and started teachin' 'im."
"He was doin' pretty good without the shiv too," added Casino, clearly impressed. "You remember when you dumped me on the floor and tried to knock Actor's head off?"
"Yeah," said Terry warily.
"Well, he kicks like you do," said Casino.
Terry's eyebrows rose at that, then dropped into a frown. "Where the heck were you guys to be fighting like that?"
Casino chuckled. "Let's just say it wasn't one uh your better neighborhoods in Paris."
"Ah-h, Paris," said Terry getting the picture. "Now I understand."
"Glad you do," said Goniff.
Terry smiled. "That particular style of fighting originated in Paris."
"Who taught you?" asked Casino.
"Craig," replied Terry.
"An' who taught him?" Casino probed.
"Part of it he learned in Paris, and the rest in Italy from the cousins."
"Those must be some cousins you have," piped up Goniff.
Terry grinned with affectionate recollection. "Guido, Luigi, and Beppe."
Casino wondered how much information he could get out of the girl. "Good Italian names. They got a last name?"
Terry was on to him. "That's all you get, Boys. At least until after the war."
Goniff grinned, "It looks like it's gonna be a long war . . ."
"Probably," smiled Terry, not about to give the two any more information. She pushed her chair back. "You boys done eating?"
"Yeah," replied Casino. "Seein' as you ain't gonna tell us anything more."
Terry stood and picked up the dirty dishes.
"I'm knackered," said Goniff with a yawn.
The two men got up and headed for the door.
"Sleep good," said Terry.
"If you need help with Actor," said Casino. "Get me up."
"Thanks, Babe," said Terry.
She stayed in the kitchen after the men had gone upstairs. After washing the dishes, she strained the bacon grease into her grease tin to be used with the potatoes for tonight. The syringe parts were drained and left to dry. Satisfied the cons were all sleeping by now; Terry went into Craig's office and settled in his chair to call Christine in London. After a few minutes, Chris answered.
"Hey, Sister, how are you?" asked Terry.
"Fine," replied the younger girl. "What's up?"
Terry leaned back in the chair, "Do me a favor. I told Craig to hole up with you after his debrief. He is exhausted and I don't want him trying to drive back here. I think I can handle things on this end. Call me after he gets there."
"You have wounded?" asked Chris worriedly.
"Yeah," replied Terry. "Chief was cut on the arm, but it's been fixed. And a little bit deeper and I think Actor might have been gutted."
"Good heavens! He's okay though?"
"I think so," said Terry.
"And Rainey's okay?"
Terry smiled. "Chiefy's fine. It must have been a doozy of a knife fight those two were in."
"Actor was in a knife fight?" asked Chris dubiously. "He seems too sedate and aristocratic to do that."
"According to Casino, it sounds like he knows Savant," said Terry. "He still has about a ten inch cut."
"Where exactly," asked the younger girl.
Crystal chortled. "Oh, it must have been embarrassing taking care of that."
Terry took on a haughty tone, "Christine Josette Garrison, need I remind you I am a professional nurse? I can handle anything."
"And I'm sure you have . . ."
"All right, that's enough," said Terry in embarrassment. "Good bye."
Chris laughed outright. "I'll call you when Big Brother gets here."