Chief gripped the steering wheel of the old truck he was driving. This area of France had been heavily bomb over the last three weeks leaving craters and destroyed buildings scattered around the area. He wondered why this area? He could understand bombing the industrial areas and anywhere the enemy was concentrated but here? Mind you, he had seen or rather heard the bombers flying overhead at night. Guess it would be hard to see where to drop them in the dark. As much as he loved the thought of being a pilot, this would not be a part he would enjoy.
Flying. Funny how where you were in the plane, changed everything. The flight over from the States where he was chained like cargo was miserable but that last flight in a small plane where he got to sit up by the pilot was incredible. Though he didn't get to fly the plane, just being there in the cockpit, seeing the controls, seeing the view had fired his imagination. Wow. He wished he could learn to fly. He wondered if maybe someday Garrison would show him how or even let him try. That would be worth sticking around for.
Stick around for? Yeah, he was going to stick around. Originally he had no plans. Stay or take off; he didn't care. That had changed. Garrison treated him good. He had no reason to take off. Besides where would he go? Being on your own, fending for yourself was hard. He had done that, living in New York, working at shit jobs, renting dirty rooms, sharing the tiny bathroom with drunks and losers. He didn't want to go back to that. He wanted more, he wanted better. He wanted. That was the problem. He wanted better but he didn't know how to get it. You could steal what you wanted but then the cops were after you. Still not what he wanted. He had watched Actor. Actor had it all, the nice clothes, the fancy ways. As he detoured around a fallen tree he knew that he could never learn all that classy stuff. Some of the stuff like the way he talked, he was trying to learn that but the other stuff …. He had looked in a book that Actor had been reading. He shook his head. He knew the guy was a con man but there was no reason for him to sit there pretending to read those words. Garrison didn't read much. He must know how because he had read stuff that Actor had showed him. Maybe when the war was over, if he survived that is, maybe he could learn how to read better.
The smell of charred wood drifting in the open window became stronger. Mixed in with it was the smell of damp earth. He had smelled that before and he frowned as it brought back images he would rather forget. Death and pain. To dispel the images he looked around. Hell, there was death and pain here too. Over there was the skeleton of a barn, the blackened frame standing stark against the lightening sky. Must be what he smelled. Probably used to be home to cows and maybe sheep. He hoped there was no one in there when it caught fire. Was it bombed? What a waste. "Hey cowboy," he muttered under his breath, "You bombed a barn. No more enemy soldiers in there." All so pointless.
Up ahead he could see a row of trees. That was either the edge of a field or a river. As he neared the road curved and he could see the arched stone bridge spanning the river. It looked to be intact so he continued on not slackening his speed but increasing to get up the grade. Too late he saw the rubble part way up the span. The bridge had taken a hit. He slammed on the brakes for all the good it did, the truck had too much momentum. He was not going to make it and on instinct he cranked the wheel hard to the left. The commotion as the men in the back were thrown about barely registered. It looked like they were going to make it until the left wheel caught the rut at the side of the road. Over the years the rain running down the bridge had eroded trenches on either side. It was this trench that the wheel fell into, dropping the front left corner of the truck enough that all inside were thrown, this time to the left. The trucks forward momentum pulled it over onto its side. Continuing on, it slid toward the stream and slammed to a stop as the bumper hit the rocks on the riverbank.
Chief had been holding on to the steering wheel but even he had been shifted out of his seat with the sudden turn. When the truck lurched back and rolled he was thrown, slamming his head, shoulder and hip against the door. The sudden stop forced his battered body against the steering wheel and into the space between the wheel and the door.
The hiss of steam escaping from the rad caught his attention. Fire. He had to get out. He had to see about the others. He had to move carefully but he finally managed to pull himself out of the corner he was wedged in. Once he was sitting up he had to close his eyes for a minute until his vision cleared. He could not afford to pass out now. Once he could see again he tried to get up but his shoulder protested the move. Holding his arm close to his body he pushed up, pulling on the passenger door handle until he was able to release the latch but the door was too heavy. Taking a deep breath he tried again heaving up with his uninjured shoulder until he was finally able to push it up far enough that it fell the rest of the way open. He waited until his breathing slowed as he stood and looked around.
Dawn had arrived. In the new light he saw the bridge and the bank they had slid down. Looking around he saw the river flowing fast. It looked deep and fast enough to drown in. He would have to be careful, one slip and he would drop and be swept away. Back up the other way he saw the angle the truck was lying on. He was going to have a hard time getting out without slipping into the water but he had to try. The one good thing was that he could not see or smell smoke. At least that was good. Taking a deep breath, he stepped onto the steering wheel and hoisted himself up onto the door sill. The exertion was making his head throb but he had to keep going. He reached up and touched his head. He felt the wet and when he checked his hand he saw the blood. He had nothing to use for a bandage so he wiped his eyes and forehead with his arm and pushed on. Swinging his feet over the edge he lowered himself to the ground.
The bank where he landed was rocky so he made sure his footing was secure before he let go, then he climbed up the bank. Walking slowly, bracing himself against the underside of the truck, making sure not to touch the exhaust, he moved to the back. The doors were closed so he grabbed the handle, turned it and pulled but it would not budge. It was jammed.
"Warden? You all right? Anyone?" There was no answer. "Yer gonna have to help me. Push on the door." There was no sound except for the crickets, the rushing water and the ticking of the cooling engine. He tried again pulling as hard as he could. Still nothing. Frantically he looked around for something, anything. He had to get in there. The guys must be hurt. He ran over and grabbed a branch that was lying along the bank and brought it back using it as a pry bar. It splintered and he flung it away in frustration. Back to the river where he looked for another branch but there was nothing. Back to the door, he took out his blade and flicked it open. If he could just release the latch. He inserted the tip of the blade and pried up, gently at first, hoping to spare the blade, then with more force until the tip snapped. Refusing to quit he repositioned the stump and tried to shift the latch. He even tried holding the knife in position and used the heel of his hand like a hammer, trying to force the lock.
It was not working. His head was aching and the blood was running into his eyes. He swiped it away but that was not working either. In frustration he sank down and leaned against the back. His stomach roiled as he put his head against the door.
"Warden. I can't get the door open. I gotta go for help but first I gotta rest for a minute." He closed his eyes.
His head ached but not from whatever was dripping. He opened his eyes but nothing made sense. Dark colours and shapes floated in front of his face. He tried to rub his eyes but when he raised his hand it encountered something hard in the way. It took him a minute but he finally decided that it was the steering wheel. He blinked several times and if he squinted he could see he was back in the truck cab. He must have crawled back in to rest. How or why was just too hard to figure out but he knew he had to get out. From the downward angle he was laying on it was difficult to lift his head and his shoulder screamed in agony. He lay back down.
Gritting his teeth against the pain he turned his head and angled it to see where it was coming from. Another drop, this time beside his mouth. His tentatively tasted it. Water. His shoulder demanded he remain still but his thirst won the battle and he forced himself to turn so the drops landed in his open mouth. He was thirsty and the drops so maddeningly slow but it was better than nothing. As he waited between drops he considered his position. It must be raining. Yes, that sound would be rain. How hard? It did not sound too hard. Maybe if it was harder then the drops would be closer together but if it was too hard then the stream level might rise enough to flood the banks and shift the truck. He knew he was going to die but to die like this; trapped in a wrecked truck in a foreign land? No, he didn't want to die here and there were the others to think about.
The realization stabbed into his heart. The others were still trapped in the back. He had to get them out. He prepared to move again as he angrily told himself that he could handle the pain if it meant the others would live. He was stronger than the pain. He could do this.
Hooking his arm through the steering wheel he pulled. It took two tries but he finally got sitting up. From there it was not too hard to get back out the way he had before though he had to stop more often to rest. He was getting tired and his head was still bleeding. He knew he must have hit his head real hard because he was dizzy, needing to hold on to the underside of the truck as he moved. Suddenly his foot struck something and he fell flat on the ground. He waited a moment before getting up. Turning to look he realized his vision was messed up. He would never have tripped over that rock otherwise.
When he reached the back doors he called out, "Warden? Anyone? Can you hear me?" A pain unassociated with his head, shoulder or hip gripped him and his throat closed. There was more than blood in his eyes now. "Please, don't be dead," he whispered. "I couldn't handle it if you were dead."
Digging deep for any remaining strength he looked around, spotted a rock and carefully moved to get it. Picking it up two-handed he moved to the back of the truck and slammed it against the handle. Again, he picked it up and slammed it. The door dinted under the assault. A third attempt and he sagged to the ground no longer having the strength to move.
Chief awoke but this time to sounds and muffled voices. His head still hurt but it was a dull ache. It took a moment before the smell penetrated and told him he was in a hospital. He had to know. Slowly he opened his eyes. Again, colours and shifting shapes appeared that finally coalesced into a face. Garrison. He was here, alive. "I was afraid you were dead."
With his vision still not one hundred percent, he missed the concern on his leaders face. It would also not register their concern about him. He did hear Garrison's answer. "No, Chief, we're all alive and so are you."
Yes they were alive, no thanks to him. He had driven them off the road and then failed to get them free. He wanted them to know he had put in the effort. "I couldn't get you out, I tried but the back door was jammed."
Fearing seeing the disappointment on Garrison's face he closed his eyes so he missed the look of confusion. "The door? You were pinned in the cab, Chief. Casino had to use the tire jack to get you out."
Chief continued on as if he didn't hear. "I tried to get it open but the branch broke, then my knife broke." He gazed wandered off into the distance. "I even tried a rock." The pauses between sentences were getting longer as the drugs pulled him back down. "I couldn't get it open." His voice sank to a whisper and his eyes closed. "I'm sorry."
Craig Garrison had watched as the youngest member of his team eased back into sleep. They had been quite concerned when they had finally managed to get him out of the cab. He had been wedged between the door and the steering wheel, deeply unconscious and bleeding heavily from a head wound. The race to the coast and their extraction had been touch and go with weather and logistics being against them but they had finally reached England and proper medical attention. Several transfusions later he had finally regained consciousness.
"So how is he? Any improvement?" asked Actor as the team's leader walked into the room the con's shared.
"Yes, he came to for a few minutes. Doctor said it was a concussion and that he should be all right in a few days."
"That is good news," he replied but then continued, concern evident in his voice. "What is wrong? Something is bothering you."
"It's probably nothing." He did not sound entirely casual.
"What is?" asked Casino.
Garrison ran a hand through his hair. "When Chief came to, he said he tried to get us out."
"Hallucination? It is not unheard of in cases of head injuries," offered Actor.
"Maybe so but he said he tried a branch and a rock. He also said he tried his knife and it broke." Garrison moved over to where Chief's possessions had been put when they returned and removed the leather wrist sheath Chief wore. They had all seen the knife the last time he had used it. Carefully he pulled out the knife and opened it. The blank looks changed when the stub of the blade snapped into position. About a third of the tip of the blade was gone.