Splinters

Chapter 1

Note: There is strong reference to the episode 20 Gallons to Kill. I didn't write the episode and get no monetary gain from it. Just injecting a tiny bit of canon as background to the story.

Garrison sat on a rock behind some tall reedy plants close to the water's edge, schmeisser on his knee, ears and eyes attuned to their surroundings though he thought they might actually have made a clean getaway. The sun was hot, but a cool breeze offset some of the heat. A dragonfly, wings iridescent, chose the end of the gun barrel as a perch for a brief respite before taking off in search of whatever it was dragonflies searched for. The reeds swayed slightly in the breeze and the surface of the water rippled quietly.

Craig looked around, not seeing anything suspicious. What he did see were his men sprawled on the ground, resting muscles and joints made weary by the long and fast hike away from the radar station they had left in ruins. This had turned into the mother of all missions. They had gone to a party in Istanbul, gotten microfilm of some important documents, passed the microfilm on to the Resistance and tried to take a nice leisurely flight home. The leisurely flight had ended abruptly over Yugoslavia when their plane was hit by flak and they were forced to jump. From there it had been a learning experience for Garrison. They had been accosted by locals and he had learned Actor understood Yugoslavian along with all his many other linguistic capabilities. Was there any language the blasted Italian didn't know, he wondered in silent admiration? Oh, well, all the better for them. With no fuel for transportation out of the German infested area, he had learned from Casino how to construct a still and that potato alcohol was a great substitute for benzene. After finally gaining cooperation from the locals, who wanted their hides as much as the Germans did, rescuing some of the village men from a firing squad, and liberating a tank, well, he just couldn't pass up the radar station that had alerted the enemy to their plane and resulted in its destruction. With Casino at the controls of the tank, they had faded off into the sunset like a Saturday matinee Western . . . until they ran out of alcohol, of course, and then they were back hoofing it to friendly territory.

Casino, the resident expert driver of tanks and tractors, was lying on his back, knees bent up, breathing heavily, for once too tired for a cigarette. Goniff was on his side close to his friend. Chief was hunkered down further up the trail, ears and eyes alert.

It was the oldest member of the team Garrison was concerned about. Actor was lying on his back, head under the meager shade of a tree. His breathing was visibly labored. Usually the con man showed no effects of the enforced marches through the countryside and was to be found beside Garrison, plotting their next move. Maybe Craig was pushing them too hard. He tended to forget the Italian was ten years older than he, and they had been on the move, mostly afoot, for four and a half days.

"I 'ate to ask this, Warden," whispered Goniff, "but 'ow much farther?"

"About another five miles," whispered Garrison back to him.

"Oh, blimey, Warden, I'm bushed!" the Englishman whined quietly.

True to form, Casino began complaining. "Yuh just had to blow up that radar station, didn't you? You coulda let the flyboys bomb it."

"It would have had them spotted and intercepted before they could have dropped a single bomb," said Garrison patiently.

"Besides," added Chief in a whisper, "he got to blow something up."

"Yeah, I guess."

Goniff too had noticed the confidence man's fatigue. "'Ey, you okay? You ain't saying anything."

"I simply have nothing to add to this conversation," said the con man haughtily.

"That's a new one," remarked Casino snidely.

"Knock it off, Casino," said Garrison out of habit.

The lieutenant would have liked to have rested longer, but they could not take the chance of staying in one place for more than a few minutes. They had crossed into northern Italy, still a German and Fascist stronghold. Without any kind of papers or safe contacts, Garrison had opted for a longer route, keeping them in the foothills of the Italian Alps for greater cover. At least Italian was the confidence man's native language and that had been of help a couple times now. It was still five miles to the safe house the small group of charcoal burner partisans had given them directions to. Hopefully this one would at least have a roof. The nights were still close to freezing. Craig estimated it would be another day and a half until they reached the town close to the French border where he had contacts that could help them get back to England.

"Okay," said Garrison. "Move out."

With stifled groans, the five men hauled themselves to their feet and got into their usual file, with the exception that Garrison hung back with Actor, who usually took the rear. He wanted to keep an eye on his second without his second realizing that was what he was doing. Fat chance.

"Have you been in this area before?" asked the lieutenant in a hushed voice.

"Usually farther up into the mountains," replied the con man. "I used to ski up there. I would not go any farther north," advised Actor. "The terrain becomes more rugged and more difficult to traverse."

"Maybe we can steal a car for part of the ways tomorrow," said Garrison.

"We can only hope," replied the Italian with a grin.

The older man seemed to have recovered and was moving easily and able to speak in full sentences without seeming short of breath. It made Garrison a little less worried.

GGGGG

"I'm still worried!"

Major Richards looked across the map table at the young woman who had invaded his office, albeit with his permission.

"I am aware of that," he said wryly.

The Commando officer watched the auburn-haired woman reach for his pack of cigarettes, take one out and light it with the lighter that was on the table beside it. He had seen her smoke a cigarette once. In the span of an hour, she had just consumed four of his Lucky Strikes. He watched her study the map as she blew smoke away from him and wondered if she expected a sign to pop up saying this was where the guerrilla unit was.

"One day late, no problem," said Terry. "Two days late – eh – not a problem yet. It's been five days and no word."

"What would you like me to do?" asked Richards patiently. "We have nothing in the area along the flight path they were taking."

I know," said Terry wearily. "I'm sorry, Kevin. I can't stand sitting on my hands and doing nothing. I do not make a good hausfrau."

That was for certain, thought Richards with amusement. When Lt. Garrison had contacted him a few weeks ago, requesting his sister be reinstated on his team of convicts, the older officer had been guiltily relieved. He liked Terry Garrison and thought, from what he had read of the reports on her progress in Scotland; she could turn into a good operative. She might yet. However, she was a handful, and patience was not one of her strong points.

"Terry," said Richards with more patience than he normally had, "go home, sit on your hands, and wait. I will call you as soon as I hear anything."

Terry took in a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh with a reluctant nod. "Okay." She looked up at the officer. "Thanks, Kevin."

He nodded. "Give them more time," he advised. "It's a long walk from Turkey to France."

G

Terry didn't go home and sit on her hands. Instead she went on into Brandonshire to the Blue Fox. Kit Gallagher looked up from restocking the bottles on the back shelves and frowned at the worried look on her friend's face.

"No word?" she asked.

"No," said Terry unhappily. "Is Shiv here?"

"Yeah."

The flame-haired girl reached behind and under the bar to ring the buzzer that went to the basement. A couple minutes later, Jake Bradford emerged from the curtains to the back storage room. He took in Terry's countenance.

"Not good, huh?" he asked sympathetically.

"Nothing yet," admitted Terry. She eyed him speculatively. "I figure they probably went down somewhere in Yugoslavia. You got any contacts there?"

Shiv snorted. "Are you kidding? It's too far away. It's a solid German stronghold. And the natives aren't too friendly. And no, I'm not sending you in there."

"It was a thought," she said without much conviction.

Terry hiked a hip up on what was becoming known as Actor's seat. Kit poured her a Coca Cola and added a healthy shot of dark rum to it. Terry took a long swig and sighed again. Shiv walked up and put an arm around her, giving her a hug.

"Craig's a tough nut," said the man, knowing from experience. "He'll get out of there."

"Sure," said Terry with a forced smile, leaning into him for a moment.

He'll get out she thought, if they hadn't gone down with the plane, gotten shot up as they parachuted, been captured by the Krauts, or shot by the locals. And it wasn't just her brother she was worried about.

GGGGG

Garrison and the three men remained hidden in the trees overlooking the small farm that was supposed to be their safe house. Chief was scouting the perimeter, looking for signs of a trap or evidence of German occupation. Fifteen minutes later, the Indian returned.

"Looks clear, Warden," said Chief in a whisper.

A second later, his head snapped around to look at the house. An elderly man, bent and shuffling had emerged, carrying two pails, and was headed for the barn. Garrison and Actor exchanged silent looks. They waited until the man had entered the barn, then Actor affected a slightly stooped posture and headed across the yard toward the barn. He did not look like the aristocratic man he was. The clothes he had obtained and substituted for the German uniform he had been wearing were old, mismatched, and two sizes too small for his large frame, making him appear to be a displaced beggar.

The other men spread out behind trees, weapons ready, eyes searching for trouble. The con man paused at the slightly open barn door and glanced quickly around before easing into the barn.

Garrison waited with well hidden anxiety. The first contact was always dangerous. He had total faith in Actor, but that didn't mean something couldn't go wrong. After an eternity of five minutes, the con man appeared at the door and gave a slow nod. Garrison motioned Goniff to go first, followed by Casino and then Chief as each reached the barn safely. Garrison eased in last, pulling the tall door closed behind him.

The barn was good sized, clearly intended to house more than the two bony dairy cows that were in stalls. It had the typical barn smell that had Goniff wrinkling his nose and that Garrison was used to. The farmer stood next to one of the stalls with Actor beside him. The confidence man had dropped his façade and was standing with his normal height and bearing. Craig approached the two men. The farmer might have been fifty or eighty. His skin was weathered and wrinkled, clothing worn and frayed, caked dried mud appearing to be the only thing holding his boots together. Cautious dark eyes surveyed him under thick bushy graying eyebrows.

"Lt. Garrison, this is il signor' Angelo," introduced Actor with the casualness of old friends. The crooked grin appeared. "He says we may stay in his barn tonight. There are plenty of blankets and his wife will provide us with a hot supper."

"Grazie, signor," said Garrison in the little Italian he remembered.

The Italian said something in his native dialect to Actor. Actor in turn, translated. "He says you are welcome. He must get his cows milked and get back to the house."

Garrison thought a moment about the response of his men, but decided he could deal with it. He held his hand out to Angelo with a gesture to take one of the pails. After an appraising look, the farmer handed one of them to the officer. Craig walked toward the second stall.

"Blimey, Warden," piped up Goniff predictably. "You know how to do that?"

"I did grow up on a ranch," replied Garrison. "Our milk didn't come in bottles from the store. It's been awhile, but I think I remember how to do it."

He pulled a short three-legged stool close to the pale brown cow, running a hand along her flank and murmuring soothing words to her.

"I don't think she understands English, Warden," cracked Casino.

Garrison ignored him, sitting down on the low seat and rolling up his shirt sleeves.

"Perhaps, when we return to England, Casino could be persuaded to fix up one of the stalls in the stable and we might obtain a dairy cow for Teresa."

Garrison turned his head slowly to look at the men. Casino, Goniff and Chief were grinning. Actor stood observing him with a serene inscrutable face, broken by the twinkle in the hazel eyes that was unseen by the others.

"No - cow," said Craig, firmly.

He turned back to the animal in front of him, adjusting his cap and leaning the side of his face against the solid warm flank and began sending streams of hot milk to squirt and ping against the inside of the pail. He had forgotten how comforting it was to lean against warm cow.

A spattering of rapid conversation erupted between the two Italians. Garrison continued what he was doing and waited for Actor to translate.

"Did he say he has gasoline?" asked Casino, understanding a word here and there of the fast Northern dialect that was different from the Sicilian he had learned at home.

"Yes," replied Actor. The con man turned to Garrison. "The Germans 'requisitioned' his truck, but he was able to bury the cans of petrol so they could not find them. He says we may dig them up and there is an old truck in the woods we might be able to get running."

Maybe things were starting to look up, thought Garrison. They had crossed northern Italy before pretending to be Romans looking for work. Hopefully it would work again.

"Okay, tonight we dig up the petrol. Tomorrow morning, early, Chief can take a look at the truck and see if he can fix it."

The dark of night found Angelo, Garrison and the cons in the midst of woods roughly a quarter of a mile from the farm buildings. A hearty supper of thick stew and fresh bread gave the men energy for the task at hand. Actor and Casino were taking their turns with two gray-handled worn shovels, digging in the dirt where Angelo had directed them. The aristocratic Italian fervently wished they had gloves as he was getting blisters and splinters on his palms and fingers from the shovel he was wielding. The safecracker had been more vocal about it until Garrison had ordered him to be quiet. It took about twenty minutes to unearth the first two Jerry cans. Once exhumed, the shovels were passed to Chief and Goniff and the first two took up the watch. After another twenty minutes, two more cans were exhumed. The holes were filled in and old leaves were scattered over the freshly disturbed dirt. The cons each took a gas can, while Garrison and Angelo took the shovels, and the group made their way back to the farm. The cans were hidden in the wood pile and the now weary men took their turns sleeping in blankets in the hay loft.

First light found them back in the woods, surveying the somewhat rusty hulk of a flatbed truck with wooden slat sides. Its axels were resting on blocks.

Chief eyed it wryly. "Ain't goin' far without wheels," he remarked.

He and Casino opened the hood and climbed up on opposite fenders. Goniff took up the first watch, disappearing into the woods and making a wide circuit around the group. Actor and Garrison stood with Angelo and watched the Indian and the safecracker testing hoses, belts and wires in the engine. Garrison was dubious of the derelict piece of junk, but if anyone could fix it it would be Chief. Actor wasn't as certain. In a low voice, he questioned their host. It resulted in a wide grin and a tap of the temple with a forefinger by Angelo, who fired off a spat of Italian. This in turn brought a wide grin from the confidence man and more Italian. Garrison watched the two, waiting impatiently for an explanation. He recognized a couple words, but not enough to understand the conversation that ensued.

Actor turned to the lieutenant. "Angelo has the battery and wheels hidden under the barn."

The officer and his second exchanged grins. Garrison walked over to the truck and looked up at his other two men.

"Can you get it running?" he asked.

Casino jumped down and wiped his hands on his trouser legs. Chief just turned his head to look at his leader.

"If I can get holda some balin' wire, a battery and wheels, should be able to," said the Indian.

"Got the last two," said Garrison. "We should be able to lay hands on the first."

"So what 're we waitin' for?" asked Casino.

They all went back to the farm and gathered the tools and parts they needed. It took the men almost an hour and a half to get the old truck running. It did not sound great, but it seemed like it would hopefully get them to the French border.

Angelo came back when they were through and spoke to Actor. The confidence man approached Garrison.

"He wishes me to come back to the fattoria with him. His wife has put together some things for us," said Actor in a low voice.

"Trap?" asked Garrison, suspicious because it kept them all alive.

Actor shook his head. "I don't think so. If he was going to turn us in to the Germans or the facisti he would have done it by now. They are poor people, but they will share what they have with us."

"Okay," said Craig. "I'll have Chief follow you just in case."

The con man nodded and went back over to Angelo. The two men headed off through the woods. Garrison looked at Chief and gave a silent jerk of his head for the Indian to follow Actor. Chief melted into the woods to the right of the two men.

"You will not get through the checkpoints dressed like that," warned Angelo in Italian. "Your leader is dressed good, but not you. The other two men will pass as they are."

"It was what I was able to acquire," said Actor in the same language with a shrug. He was aware the clothes were not only not to his taste, but also not in keeping with Garrison's attire.

Actor followed Angelo into the fattoria. A tired-looking middle-aged farm wife smiled welcomingly to him.

"Mia moglie," said Angelo by way of introduction.

"Signora," acknowledged Actor politely.

The woman addressed her husband with a smile. "He is a tall one." She eyed the con man's legs. "Yes, I think Ernesto's pants might fit him better than what he is wearing."

Angelo was studying Actor's frame also. "Yes, and one of my shirts should not pull so tightly across his shoulders."

A pair of pants and a chambray work shirt were draped over the back of a kitchen chair. Angelo picked them up and handed them to Actor, nodding to the storeroom. "You can change in there."

Actor accepted the clothing with a frown. "Ernesto is your son?" he asked. Angelo nodded. "Will he not be needing his pants?"

Angelo shook his head with a sad expression. "No. He died in a German work camp over the winter."

"I am very sorry," said Actor sincerely.

The woman tried to cover her sorrow by shooing at the con man with her hands. "You change. See if they fit."

Actor nodded and disappeared into the storeroom where he quickly changed. The pants were only a little short on him. The shirt fit across the shoulders with the top two buttons open, but the sleeves ended a full inch above his wrists. That was remedied by rolling the sleeves up his forearms. It was better than what he had been wearing. Finished, he stepped back into the kitchen.

With an overly bright smile hiding her grief, the woman nodded her approval. She picked up a cloth sack from the table and handed it to the con man. "Food for your journey."

Actor knew how scarce food was throughout all of Italy. "It is most kind of you, Signora, but we will be fine."

"Nonsense, young man!" said the woman. "We have more than some others. We share what we have. You take this."

Angelo nodded. Actor accepted the sack, looking at the two smiling faces.

"Tante grazie," he said.

With a quick scan of the farmyard, he slipped out the door to a female admonishment of "go safely."

Actor slipped into the woods and headed back in the direction of the others. A little ways down the path, Chief stepped up beside him.

The Indian nodded toward the bag, also aware of the different clothes. "Food?"

Actor nodded.

"Can they afford that?" questioned the young man doubtfully.

"Probably not," admitted Actor. "But to refuse would be to insult them."

"Good people," said Chief.

"Yes, very good people." Actor pulled into himself again.

G

With Actor driving the truck, Garrison in the cab with him, and the others in the back, they made their way across northern Italy, skirting around the larger towns and cities. The roads were surprisingly empty and they came across few roadblocks. These were circumvented by a longer drive down side roads.

Actor was quiet. He wasn't sure why the interaction with the Italian farm couple was affecting him so. The woman giving him her dead son's clothes to wear was having a sobering effect on the con man. He wasn't used to accepting charity and especially something that had an emotional impact on the person giving it to him. He was used to the snobbery of the privileged class, not the warmth and generosity of the contadini.

Garrison was aware of the mood his second was in and did not know the reason for it. "Something happen at the farmhouse?" he asked casually.

"No," denied Actor. "Angelo and his wife were very hospitable."

"It's amazing," remarked Craig, "how the ones who have so little are so willing to give what they have."

"Yes, it is," replied the con man.

Actor drove for several hours before allowing Chief to take over as wheelman. Garrison slid over to the middle of the front seat and the Italian got in the passenger side. In less than a mile, the con man was asleep.

The major obstacle to their travel that day was the checkpoint going into France. They were forced to abandon the truck and make their way out of Italy on foot. Stealing a car was easier now. Garrison was more familiar with the Resistance networks in that area of the France and was able to make contact, providing them with safe houses and false papers to get to Marseilles. There they were able to contact England and arrange transport to Gibraltar by sub and a plane back to England.

In all it had taken them almost two weeks to return from Istanbul when it should have taken less than a day. Garrison figured his sister was going to be a nervous wreck.