Training Part 13
They dragged into the house, cold, wet, and miserable. The mansion was silent and empty, cold and musty smelling. There seemed to be a collective groan from the group. Goniff, ever trying to be optimistic, headed for the kitchen. A minute later, he was back shaking his head. The men went back into the kitchen and pulled bread, butter, and little bit of jam from the refrigerator. Though hungry, they were too tired to heat up the stove and make eggs and bacon. With a mixture of resignation, disappointment and sullenness, the cons ate what was there and went upstairs to their beds.
Garrison went into his office and shut the door, taking a seat behind his desk. He leaned an elbow on the desktop and ran fingers through his hair before resting his forehead in his hand. It had been three long weeks since Terry had gone to London. It amazed him how the morale around the Mansion had gone straight to hell without her presence. He was about to the point of finding her and begging her to return. If he couldn't convince her, then he would have to requisition a corporal or sergeant-major to take over the household duties. When they were fresh out of prison, the men weren't used to the luxury of having someone feed them and take care of their everyday needs. Terry had gotten them used to that. Now it was difficult for all of them, himself included, to go back to the old ways. He would also have to push more training exercises on them to keep them tired and less inclined to fight one another.
That evening, they debriefed in Garrison's office after a meager meal of fried Spam and potatoes with pullet eggs from the hen house, something they would have had for breakfast any other time. It did not improve the men's moods any. Craig looked around at his men. Goniff was to his immediate left, toying with a pencil, unsmiling and quiet. A sullen Casino was sprawled in the chair beside the Cockney. At the end of the table, legs crossed over the corner, was an equally sullen Italian. Chief was on Garrison's right, feet crossed on the table next to Actor's legs.
Garrison was determined to maintain his military bearing. It was like the first couple months with the cons fresh out of prison. "All right, transport in?"
"Why do we hafta keep jumpin' outta airplanes?" demanded Casino.
"It's faster than walkin', Mate."
"Funny, Goniff," shot back Casino. "They almost killed us with all that flak. Nothing like droppin' us in the middle of a bunch of Krauts. And Geronimo almost walked us straight into a patrol."
Chief's feet flew off the table and the front legs of his chair hit the floor with a bang as the young man surged to his feet and came partway across the table at the safecracker. "I got us outta there. You think you can do better, you take the point next time, Man."
"That's enough!" ordered Garrison. "Chief, sit down! Casino, put a lid on it!"
"You asked, Warden," said the safecracker, having to get the last word in.
Craig turned his attention to his confidence man. "Okay, Actor, what exactly happened in there?"
The Italian turned angry eyes across the length of the table. "What happened, Lieutenant, is they sent an insufficiently trained SOE agent with us. I don't know who had the brilliant notion that woman could run a con . . . All she had going for her were her looks and she could speak German. The game plan changed when the Field Marshal walked in. She could not handle a change in con. In fact she was shaking so badly, I was afraid she was going to speak English at any moment." He was angry at himself for not being able to contain the situation and angry at having to work with inferior operatives. "If Teresa had been with me, she would have made the transition with no problem and we would not have had to shoot our way out of there. The next time we might as well dress Goniff as a woman and put him on my arm. It couldn't be any worse."
"And wot's that supposed to mean?" demanded the Englishman angrily, not understanding if he had just been insulted or not.
"All right! Enough!" barked Garrison in frustrated anger.
Chief lost his temper. "Is it, Warden? When's it gonna be enough? When we're all dead? We had a good con woman. Actor taught her for cryin' out loud. And at the very least, we woulda had somethin' decent to eat."
Garrison glared at the four men. "You worked without Terry for six months before she arrived. She didn't go on all the missions. You should be able to work without her again."
Casino snorted. "I swear, Warden, I'd do the dishes for a month if it would get her tuh come back."
"I bet Actor could talk 'er into it," said Goniff hopefully.
"I don't even know where she is," said the con man dryly. "And I doubt she would come back at my request."
"You know where she is, Warden?" asked Chief.
Garrison looked at the four faces watching him. The atmosphere had turned from highly charged to hopeful. "No, I don't," he replied. "If I could get her back, we'd have to take her on missions again," he warned them. Personally, right now, he'd agree to that. It was amazing how used to, no spoiled, they had become having her there for them.
"Hey, Warden, I promise not to blow her up again," said Casino earnestly.
"She was a very good partner on the cons," added Actor.
"I won't drop 'er off the bloody roof," promised Goniff.
I'm outnumbered, thought Garrison, with a sense of relief. He looked at the youngest member, who seemed to be getting a handle on his temper.
Chief shrugged. "We'd look out for her. Try tuh be better than before."
Garrison shook his head. "You guys were very good about looking out for her. None of it was your fault." Damn it, he wanted her back too, even though she was a pain in the rear at times. "Okay, I'll make some calls and see if I can track her down." He looked at his second. "You willing to talk to her? She probably won't give me the time of day," admitted Garrison.
"She isn't going to listen to me, Warden," said the Italian with certainty. "But I will back you up if you think it will help."
"Yeah, if you can find her," said Casino grumpily. He pushed away from the table and trudged out of the room.
The other cons followed in his wake, quiet and depressed. Garrison watched them. The morale was going down the tubes. They were coming together like a well oiled team, but the return to an empty house was demoralizing for them and himself too he had to admit. He hadn't realized how important Terry had become to the guys, but he should have. They had said themselves she was one of the few people who did not treat them like scum. Craig locked himself in his office. He looked at his watch and decided to make the call now.
Twenty minutes later, Gen. William Garrison, awakened from a not too sound sleep, answered the phone. "I assume this is a business call and not for pleasure at this hour," said the general wryly.
"No this is business, Sir," said Craig. "It isn't pleasure."
"What is it, Son?" asked the general.
"Do you know where Terry is?" asked Craig. "I need to talk to her."
"I know where she is," admitted Garrison. "And you can't talk to her."
"I really need to talk to her. Where is she . . . Sir." Craig was used to getting the run around from his father, but he wasn't up for it right now.
"Where she is is classified information. And you are not on a need to know basis." The older Garrison wasn't above jerking his eldest son's chain a bit.
"Classified?" said Craig in disbelief. "She's my sister for crying out loud."
"I am aware of that," said Garrison. "I did have a little something to do with that fact, if you recall."
"Yes, Sir," said Craig, holding his temper. He knew if he lost his temper he wouldn't get anything from the old man.
Garrison knew his son was about to eat crow. It was good for the boy, make him less cocky. "What do you need her for?"
"We would like her to come back," said Craig.
"As an active part of the team?" asked the general.
"If that's what it takes," agreed Craig. He wondered about that. "Dad, how can she go out with us? She shouldn't be able to do what we do. Terry's not regular army."
"And your convicts are?" The general laughed cynically. "The only one of your bunch who is regular army is you, Son, and even you are bordering on overstepping that status."
"So how do I go about getting her back?" asked Craig wearily.
"That is entirely up to her. If she wishes to rejoin your group after she is through with what she is engaged in, it will be allowed. But it is her choice."
"And how soon will she be done doing whatever it is she is doing?" asked Craig.
"That I do not know," answered the elder Garrison truthfully. It might be sooner than any of them would think. Apparently, the girl was giving her group a run for its money. She seemed to have picked up some unusual capabilities from her association with the convicts. "But, Son," cautioned Garrison, "if she does rejoin you, for your, my and the army's sake, could you try not to antagonize her too much?"
"I will try, Sir," said Craig, "but it's usually the other way around."
Gen. Garrison chuckled. "She does take after your mother's side of the family." He paused, making Craig wait. "I will see that she is informed of the need to meet with you. The rest will be up to you."
"Thank you, Sir," said Craig. He hated to ask his father for intervention of any kind, but figured that was what it would take to deal with Terry.
When the elder Garrison had hung up his phone and turned the bedside light out, he remained awake, laying on his back, and contemplated his middle daughter. General Garrison was given daily updates on his daughter's progress in training. He was a little surprised at some of the reports, but then not really surprised as much as proud. Terry had a mind like a bear trap. She picked things up quickly and well. Apparently she had learned more than a few things from her brother and his hoods. She was reportedly teaching her class and instructors a thing or two. Her training was going to take a shorter time than even he had expected. If Craig didn't want the girl back with him after this, then his son wasn't as smart as the general thought he was.
Was Garrison happy two of his girls and his youngest son were over in a war zone? Not particularly, but they had been raised in a military family and had grown up in a life of isolation and hard work; man's work for the girls. None of his daughters had cotton candy between their ears. Times were changing and he expected the military would have to change too. A good portion of the SOE and the Resistance was made up of women. Those women were doing a damn good job too. When they were working on the Continent, they didn't have the 'good ole boy' mindset to worry about. He had heard rumors of one female Resistance leader calmly walking into a roomful of SS officers, tossing a couple grenades, and walking out.
Though the older man could see the writing on the wall, it was still difficult to accept women were doing Special Forces work and flying bombers and fighter planes in transportation roles. Max Gallagher had told him Kit was at the base during an air raid. She had run out onto the field with the rest of the men and unbeknownst to Joe, had flown a B-17 out of harm's way with a crew of two nurses and three orderlies. Joe had thrown her off the base after that one. It was only a matter of time before women were accepted into the branches of the military and into combat positions. He hoped he was retired and out of it by then.
Another week and another mission later, the men were enjoying a day down; if enjoyment could describe it. Garrison had told them he was not able to contact Terry. They took it to mean he either hadn't tried or the girl was not interested in being found. Adding to the lousy mood they were in, was the disaster of the evening meal from the night before. Goniff had taken a stab at cooking a tiny roast he had found in the freezer. It had come out dry and tough as shoe leather and just as tasteless. That had sparked a fight between him and Casino that led to another fight later on between the safecracker and the Indian. Actor had tried to break it up and been punched for his effort, which ended in him decking the safecracker. Garrison had to physically break them up.
Craig was feeling a bit guilty knowing he was being sent into Norway again in another day, thus getting a reprieve from the men. There was nobody to con sit and he was pretty certain they would be in the stockade before he even reached the Norwegian coast. He wondered how long it would be before the cons settled down into their old routine before the arrival of his sister; or if they would.
Chief was in his window seat when the army car pulled up in front of the Mansion. He watched to see which Army officer would get out now. Sure thing they'd be going back in. To his surprise, the driver opened the back door and held a hand out to assist the woman getting out. Terry stood and carefully adjusted her stance before accepting the bag the driver retrieved from the trunk. Chief observed her nod her thanks to the driver and take the first few limping steps forward. She pulled herself together as the car drove off and attempted unsuccessfully to walk with a normal gait.
"She's hurt," said Chief in a low voice.
"Who?" asked Casino.
"Terry, who else?" said the Indian in exasperation.
"She's back?" asked Goniff hopefully.
"Yeah, and she's limpin'."
The men stared at the door until it opened and the woman hobbled inside, setting her bag down by the coat tree. She looked unsmilingly at the four faces staring at her.
"You okay?" Chief asked, knowing she wasn't.
"I'm okay," answered Terry.
Actor was on his feet and striding to her. Casino got up and pulled his chair around. Goniff was on his feet and Chief was standing by the window seat. Craig came out of his office and stared at his sister.
Actor tried to take her elbow, surprised when she pulled it away from him. He was even more surprised at the cool look she bestowed on him.
"I'm fine," she said coldly.
"I will be the judge of that," said the con man.
"You will keep your hands off me," said Terry firmly. "My ankle's sprained is all. I will take care of it when I get back to my flat. I don't need your help."
The con man looked at her sharply and turned back to his chair.
"Where were you and what happened?" demanded Craig.
She smiled at him almost defiantly. "They play a little rough at Achnacarry . . . as I'm sure you know."
"Training camp?" asked Garrison in disbelief.
"Didn't you go to the infirmary?" asked Casino as though she were an idiot.
"Why?" asked Craig sharply.
"Because I was the only woman in a group of twenty-five men, and I wasn't about to show any weakness," she shot back.
"Merda," muttered Actor in disgust.
"No," objected Craig. "Why were you in Scotland?"
Terry looked at him narrowly. "Well, you seem to think I'm not capable of being a working part of a team, so I went and took your training. I might be a little banged up, but I passed, fifth in the class. So I'm not perfect, but I can handle myself."
"Oh, for crying out loud, Terry," objected Craig, half in guilt, knowing he had inadvertently pushed her to this. "You are so damned stubborn."
"If you're going to start with me again, I'll just go on to my flat," Terry glared at him. "I was given a message to come talk to you, otherwise I would have gone straight to Brandonshire."
"Come into my office," invited Craig. He knew he had to be careful what he said to her from here on in.
Terry limped into the office and took a seat in front of his desk. Craig sat down on the corner of the desk facing her. He nodded toward her left foot.
"Line snapped. I fell about five feet. Tried to stay upright, but came down on the foot crooked."
"You sure it isn't broken?" asked her brother in concern.
"It's fine," said Terry icily. "Will you get to the point of this meeting? I really would like to go back to my flat and stay off it for a few days."
Garrison had tried to rehearse what he would say to her when she finally showed up. Now nothing came to mind except to say it plainly. "We want you back working with us."
This brought an astonished look of disbelief from the girl. "You're joking?"
"No," replied Garrison.
"In what capacity?" she asked suspiciously. "Housekeeper?"
"No, the same as before."
He watched Terry digest that one. She still eyed him with distrust.
"A few weeks ago, you didn't want me around," she looked at him narrowly. "Why the change of heart."
"You're part of the team now." Craig scratched the back of his head uncomfortably. "I guess I didn't realize that," he admitted.
"You want me back?"
Craig wasn't sure if she was playing cat and mouse with him or if she really didn't believe him. He would just have to swallow his pride. At least behind closed doors.
"What about them?" Terry jerked her head in the direction of the common room.
"They want you back too."
"All of them?"
Craig frowned at that. "Yes, all of them."
Terry chewed on her cheek. "I don't know, Craig. I have a handler now. I'm pretty much a free agent."
"I was told it was up to you."
Terry nodded, frowning. "My coming back does not just rest on you, Brother," said Terry. "I need to speak with Actor before I say yes or no. And I don't want any input from you on this."
Craig nodded. Terry turned and went out the door. Four pair of eyes with various degrees of curiosity looked back at her. She walked up to stop in front of Actor.
"May I have a word with you in the library?" She looked at the other three cons. "In private."
"It will be private," said Garrison, leaning against the door jamb with crossed arms.
Terry turned back to Actor. He was watching her with an inscrutable look. This was not going to be easy. "Please?" she spoke softly.
The Italian said nothing, but snubbed out his cigarette and rose from his chair, motioning Teresa to precede him. She walked into the library and stood by the table waiting for him to close the door. When he had, she turned to him. He was watching her, face guarded.
Terry composed herself. "I'm going to say a few things I probably shouldn't say. But that has never stopped me before. The last time we talked, in the gazebo, I had preconceived notions. You and Craig talk together sometimes. I – I thought he had told you to convince me to quit. He knows I listen to you." She caught the minute twitch of an eyebrow. "Well, I listen to you more than I listen to him. You know what buttons to push on me. I – thought you were conning me. Now I'm not so sure." The silence was awkward. " You said . . ."
"I am aware of what I said," he interrupted sternly.
"Well, whether it was or wasn't a con, would you be willing to partner with me again on some missions?"
She didn't dare look at him. The silence stretched on, broken only by the ticking of the mantel clock.
"I – am willing," he said finally.
Terry squeezed her eyes tight shut and swallowed hard in relief. Now she could look up at him. His face was still closed. "Thank you," she said.
He didn't answer. In that moment, she knew without a doubt that what he had said in the gazebo had been true. Actor turned toward the door.
"Umm, there's something else I probably shouldn't say," Terry said.
Actor paused and turned his head to look at her.
"You have been a good friend to me," said Terry softly. "I've missed that. I've missed you. And I know you and Craig talk. I thank you for that. It's good he has a man he can talk to . . . a good man."
There was a chink in the wall. This was the second time in less than a month he had been accused of being 'a good man' by one of the Garrison girls. Actor sucked his cheek in and contemplated before saying, "It goes both ways." He walked out the door, leaving Terry to wonder if he meant Craig, or her, or both of them.
Terry watched his back. She knew it would take time and careful effort to win the man's trust again, and she was up for it.
Garrison noted his second didn't look any happier coming out of the library than when he had gone in. Terry appeared at the door and exchanged a look with her brother. She gave a small nod.
"Who do I have to contact," asked Garrison, carefully hiding his relief behind a formal military bearing.
"Major Richards," replied Terry.
Craig went into his office and started placing a call to the Commando Major. He was sure Richards was real pleased to be Terry's handler. He would probably be happy if Craig took her off his hands.
Terry, in the meantime, looked askance at Actor. He was still watching her with an unhappy expression.
"Could you – uh – look at my ankle? Please?" she asked. "It needs wrapping. It's just in my boot."
Actor rose from his chair and motioned her to sit at the gaming table. "Someone get an aide kit while I try to get her boot off."
He had wrapped the injured ankle with an elastic wrap by the time Garrison came to the door of his office.
"Major Richards wants to talk to you, Terry," said Garrison.
The young woman got up and gave the older man's shoulder a squeeze in appreciation before she hobbled into the office, one boot on, the other foot wrapped. She picked up the phone and spoke briefly, listening for a long time after. Garrison watched her. Her face betrayed nothing about what was being said.
"Yes, Sir," she finally answered. "That will be fine, Sir. Thank you, Sir." She hung up the phone and looked at her brother's questioning face. "I guess I'm yours again."
He shook his head, secretly relieved she was back, as he watched her hobble back into the common room.
"Somebody want to drive me to my flat so I can get some things?"
"You cooking dinner, Love?" asked Goniff hopefully.
This earned him three exasperated looks from the other cons and a grin from Terry. "Sure. What do you have for meat?"
"Army rations," said Casino in disgust.
"Okay," said Terry was a smile. "Does somebody want to take me to my flat and then to my favorite meat market? Actor, I need money. Craig, I need ration coupons."
The confidence man and the lieutenant exchanged looks, both aware the other was relieved at getting the girl back.
"I will take her," said Actor with exaggerated weariness.