Let No Good Deed …
Sometime ago Arnie wrote a birthday story called Trials of a Hurt Comfort Fan. It started out all serious …. and good. It ended up funny and enjoyable but I could not forget the serious part so with her permission I have added to it. Thanks Arnie, for the starting point and the permission.
"How's he doing?" Garrison leaned over Actor's shoulder and gazed down at the fevered face of the youngest member of his team.
"Not good." Actor frowned. The fever was being particularly stubborn. Twice now, he had thought it had broken only to have it spike again in the evening.
"Actor, is there any chance...?"
"No." The tall Italian got to his feet and moved away so that their talking wouldn't disturb the ailing man. "If we try to move him, we could lose him. Apart from the blood loss from that bullet wound, he's extremely feverish. The infection is too close and could spread to his lung. We have to break the fever before we can move him, and even then we'll have to be careful." He looked into the frustrated face of his leader and added, "At least we're on the Swiss border. It's unlikely that anyone will look for us here."
Garrison looked over to where the other two members of his team were keeping watch by the tumbled down section of wall. Casino and Goniff looked cold. In fact, they were all cold apart from Chief, who was tossing and turning in the grip of delirium. He nodded. There was nothing else they could do except wait it out and hope that Chief's strength would get him through this.
A moan dragged their attention back to the pile of coats that was covering Chief, and they rushed back as he pushed the coats aside and tried to sit up.
"Chief! Lie still!" Actor pushed the man flat and covered him up again, although the patient struggled weakly against his hand.
"Warden!" Chief's voice rasped in his throat, even as his breath seemed to tear through his chest.
"It's all right, Chief. I'm here." Garrison looked down at the younger man's face, the fever staining his cheeks bright red.
One anguished hand grabbed his wrist. "Not … Safe." Chief demanded hoarsely.
"Yes, you're safe. Don't worry. We're all safe." Garrison's voice was soothing as he tried to keep Chief covered up.
"No...no...we're not." The coats were pushed aside again as Chief struggled, gasping. "He's here."
"Destine. I saw'm." Chief's face contorted in pain as he clutched the side of his chest and tried to take a breath. "Was talkin' …. talkin' t'a Kraut. That's when he shot me." He sagged back gasping.
The two men exchanged glances. Destine was in prison in England, wasn't he? Had Chief's fevered mind made it all up, or had he seen someone and thought it was Destine? Had their contact shot him? He had been pretty upset when Garrison had insisted they not wait until morning. Had it been a set up?
Garrison decided they had better be sure. If he was in the clear then Chief was delirious. If he wasn't, they could not risk leaving a traitor in place. The problem was that the contact was miles back.
The mission had been a success until the getaway. Their contact, Richard Gaston, had provided a car which Chief was to use as their getaway vehicle. He had also planned their job for the next day. Preferring the cover of darkness they had gone into the town hall where the Germans had set up their headquarters, that night. Actor had kept the guard busy while the others had entered through a bathroom window. With Goniff keeping watch, Casino opened the safe and Garrison filmed the documents. Their exit was flawless until they were leaving the building. Shots were fired as they ran to the car. Chief pulled away before the doors were even closed and with some pretty wild driving, had eventually managed to get far enough ahead that he lost their pursuers. They had then ditched the car and stolen a truck. Hours later and almost out of gas they had stopped in a bombed out village to get their bearings. That was when he had told Garrison he was hit. The others had gotten out of the truck to stretch but Chief just sat. When Garrison opened the driver's door he could see that Chief's coat was bloody from the shoulder almost to his waist on his left side. On closer examination they found the bullet had hit him in the chest just below and ahead of his arm pit. The immediate fear was that it had penetrated his lung but his breathing, other than being shallow and fast seemed to be fine.
They carried him inside one of the more or less intact buildings where Actor checked the wound. It didn't seem to be bleeding badly but Actor knew the bullet had to come out. Casino rigged up a bench and Actor and Garrison helped Chief sit while they took his coat off. They then eased him down on to his side. Casino balled Chief's coat and slipped it under his head for a pillow.
"Goniff, you didn't happen to snatch any booze did you?" asked Garrison.
"Warden!" protested the pick pocket. "I wouldn't steal nothin' from… Oh, you need some for Chiefy." He moved over to his wounded companion and crouched down beside him. "I'm sorry. If I'd a known, I would a .. you know…. But the Warden and even you 're always tellin' me not to."
"It's OK Goniff. I was just asking," said Garrison gently. "How about some water. See if you can find any."
As Goniff hurried off Garrison turned back to Actor. He was cutting Chief's sweater with the knife the young man always carried. As he gently eased the sodden material away from the wound a little fresh blood welled to the surface. Fortunately Goniff arrived with a pail of water from a well he had found out back. As the band's leader looked on Actor poured some of the water over the wound. Hot water would have been better but they could not risk a fire. The only reaction from the patient was a slight tensing of his body. Normally they used one of Chief's knives to probe for and remove a bullet but Actor feared that using a knife so close to Chief's lung could be fatal. The entry wound was too small for Actor's finger.
Goniff finally agreed to use his baby finger. The operation took twice as long as it should have because every time Chief made a sound or flinched Goniff would stop and apologize.
It took all of Actors persuasive skills and a few threats from Garrison to get him to continue. He could not feel anything solid enough to be a bullet. It was Actor who suggested that the projectile might have ended up under one of his ribs. There was no way under their crude conditions they could remove it. They would have to leave it until they could get to a doctor. Chief had finally passed out as they were bandaging the wound. Goniff, white as a sheet, fled outside and was promptly sick. Casino, who had been on watch, came over to make sure he was all right. He paled visibly when Goniff explained what he had to do. The fever had started soon after.
Garrison hated splitting up the team but he had no choice. Chief could not be moved and he could not leave a possible traitor in place. He also had to get the film to London. To make matters worse they were miles from a town where they might steal a car or get any gas. They would have to walk.
Garrison and Actor slept for a few hours before setting out to the nearest town to check out the local Resistance. Hopefully they could get assistance and arrange a pick up. The original plan was for them to make their way to a safe house about twenty miles from the town hall. With the erratic route Chief had had to take to elude their pursuers they had ended up going in the opposite direction. Now with Chief's suggestion of a collaborator maybe it was a good thing they had not ended up there.
Casino and Goniff huddled beside their team mate. They were cold, alone with a delirious man and in enemy territory surrounded by people whose language they did not speak. In short they were miserable. Casino looked around for someone or thing to blame.
"Stupid war. Stupid mission. Warden was stupid to go along with this hair-brained mission. If the Indian hadn't got himself shot we'd be on our way home by now."
"'ay. It's not like 'e did it on purpose."
"What? What're you talking about?"
"Chiefy. 'E didn't get shot on purpose."
"Yeah, yeah, still stupid. Here we sit freezing our butts off. Bet the Warden and Actor are warm." He rubbed his arms in an attempt to warm himself. It wasn't working.
The other two were warm but only because they were walking as fast as they could. When they reached the town they were continually frustrated by their inability to locate any Resistance people. They were either very cautious or nonexistent. The help of a Doctor was out of the question when they over heard him praising Hitler. Garrison finally decided they would have to steal a car. Without Chief or even Casino's expertise I took him twenty minutes to locate and start a suitable car. They headed back to where they had carried out their mission.
Meanwhile Chief was restless again. Casino and Goniff kept covering their team mate until Goniff suggested sitting on the edges of the top coat. The injured man had struggled and then fallen still. His head continued to turn slowly from side to side. He began to mumble then one sound was repeated over and over, first as a demand then finally as a plea. Neither man could understand what was being said. Finally exhausted, Chief had fallen silent and still.
"Did ya hear that?" whispered Casino.
"Yeah," came Goniff's reply as both men scanned the area for signs of the source. There was definitely someone or something out there moving about.
Goniff wanted to tell him not to leave but Casino was gone. He kept his gun trained on the opening in the wall where Casino had disappeared and listened. He occasionally heard sounds but whether they were Casino or who or whatever was out there, he had no way of knowing. Maybe Casino had been caught. That would mean he was here alone. Maybe Casino needed his help. Maybe he should go out there and see. No, Casino told him to stay there. He crept closer to the opening, straining his eyes in an attempt to see anything.
Suddenly there was a gunshot then another and the sounds of a struggle. Goniff went out towards the sound. Casino would need his help. In the dim light he saw two men struggling but it was too dark to tell which was Casino and whether he needed help.
Goniff didn't know what to do so he said in as clear and confident tone as he could, "'old your fire."
The two figures paused for a fraction of a second then one struck the other and he went down.
"Casino?" He tried to sound confident but couldn't quite cover the worry.
"No, it's Little Bo Peep. Of course it's me." He stood for a moment to catch his breath before bending down and hauling the prone figure up and over his shoulder. He carried him back to where they were staying. Once inside Casino turned his flashlight on their prisoner. He was young, maybe twenty years old dressed in rough peasant clothes that had seen better days. His dark hair lay across his forehead.
"What'a we do now?" asked Goniff. "Should we wake'm? What if 'e don't speak English?"
"Well we can't just let him go. He knows we're here thanks to you."
"I 'ad to do something. I couldn't just let 'im kill you," whined the smaller man.
"Whata ya mean, let him kill me? There's no way he was gonna kill me. I had him all the way."
"'Ow was I supposed to know? It's so ruddy dark out there."
Casino kept his gun trained on the prone figure as they sat and watched for him to come around since they had nothing to tie him up with.
After a few minutes of boredom Goniff got up and went to check on Chief. "Casino!" whispered Goniff urgently. His team mate looked up but remained where he could keep his gun trained on their prisoner. "Casino, Chief's gone. 'E's not 'ere." He returned with a couple of the coats and tossed one to his friend.
"Shit." Casino knew that if it was Actor or Goniff that they had to look for then the job would be easy. Just stand and listen. Finding Chief in the predawn would be impossible, wounded or not. "Shit." He repeated. One of them would have to guard their prisoner and one look for Chief. The alternative would be to kill their prisoner and both go looking. Casino had done a lot of things he didn't like or think were right but killing an unarmed defenseless man was something he could never do. It was either split up or take the man with them. He checked his watch and wondered how far a wounded Chief could get in the hour or so until daylight.
His chest was on fire and each breath was like the black smith's bellows urging the flames hotter. Every step was like a stab but he knew he had to keep moving. The gun shot had awakened him and out of fear he had got up and run. Well, more of a stumble but he had got this far. He leaned heavily against the wall trying to slow his breathing and listen. There was nothing except some rustling in the distance. He gritted his teeth, took as deep a breath as he could and began to move. The ground was uneven so he had to go slowly but eventually it leveled out. In his mind it registered that it had to be a road and being on a road could be dangerous. He headed off to the side. Suddenly the ground dipped and he fell into the darkness of the ditch and the darkness in his mind.
Casino knew he had to do something. "Alright, keep him covered, I'm gonna look for Geronimo."
"What if 'e wakes up?" asked Goniff, pointing to their prisoner.
"Just keep your gun on him. Shoot him if he tries anything." Casino knew by the look on his teammates face that he was not thrilled with this but there was no help for it. Someone had to find Chief and fast.
Goniff sat dejectedly watching his prisoner. This was not his style. He didn't belong here. He was a one man operator, a pick pocket, a second story man. He worked alone and his marks didn't know he was even there until he was long gone. He didn't use a gun. In fact he was still uncomfortable with holding and shooting a gun even after all this time with the team. Fact was, all those other times with the team he shot in self-defense or to protect the other guys. Here he was holding a gun and told to shoot an unarmed man. What if he shot him thinking he was going for a gun and instead he was getting a hankie from his pocket? What if he didn't shoot and the guy got the drop on him and shot him or Casino when he came back. He didn't like this at all. He got up and moved back a bit. If he backed up too far he might miss but then the guy couldn't grab the gun from his hand. Boy would that be embarrassing, disarmed by a wounded man who was supposed to be his prisoner.
And who was he anyway? Was he a member of the Marquis? Was he there to help them? And here Casino had beaten him up and hurt him. Goniff leaned a bit closer in the hopes that closer inspection would solve that riddle. 'Yeah, like they wear name tags'. He jumped back involuntarily at the sound of the voice that had spoken in his head. He was just a boy when during the Great War there was talk of spies coming to England. He had said he would catch them and kill them. That was when the neighborhood bully had said that to him. Goniff was the youngest and the smallest in the group and they had all laughed at him and made fun of him. He thought that was when he had started to back away from the group and go out on his own. He had become self-sufficient and though he had missed the camaraderie he did not miss the teasing or the bullying.
Casino stood where his team mate had lain. There was only one way to go so he went. With only moon and starlight that filtered through the trees he didn't have a lot to go on. He couldn't even call out the guy's name, get him to answer. Why the hell had he taken off anyway? Stupid Indian. Didn't he know enough to stay put. He would have known enough to stay where he was. He wasn't that stupid. Or was he? There had been that time when he and two others had escaped from Reform School. They had snuck into the delivery truck and hidden in the back. All went well at first and they thought they were in the clear. Then the truck had stopped and there were voices arguing. He had thought they were going to check the truck and said they should run for it. The others decided to stick it out. He had run and had gotten caught. The other two had made good on their escape and he never saw them again. He had run then just like Chief had now. Yeah but he had been just a kid then so it was different. But on the other hand he had been in his right mind too. The Indian was delirious, probably thought he was running from the cops. From what he had learned about his team mate, he had done a lot of running. That didn't make him a coward because the kid had never run from him. He had never backed down from a fight with him. He had never won but he never backed down. As long as he never pulled his knife he never would. Casino wondered why in all their fights, the kid had never pulled his knife. There had been times when the kid had to have been mad enough. Casino smiled. Fortunately the kid wanted to best him not kill him. Lucky for him. Casino also wondered how mad the kid would have to get before he did want to kill him. It didn't cross his mind that Chief's fear of being sent back to prison was what kept him from killing Casino. Speaking of mad… did the kid have any knives on him now? In his state of delirium would he try to use it on him when he tried to get him to come back? He would have to be very careful when he found him ….if he found him…
Casino could just barely make out the road. Where would he go? He listened but there was only the wind in the trees. That meant he was hiding or … walking on the road. He began to follow it. Casino continued to walk steadily while scanning all around and listening for any sound which would tell him where the man had gone. He was looking for a man walking, not laying three feet away in the ditch.
The world was all a-jumble. He was laying head down in the ditch. In his delirium, he was about 10 years old again and hearing the cries of the injured, smelling the smoke, and seeing the fire. He got painfully to his feet. He turned and stumbled back to see, in his mind, the woman he called Mother laying pinned and covered with blood in the wreckage of the train car. He knelt and tried to wake her to no avail. He tried to pull her free but she was trapped under a seat. He tried to push it off but it wouldn't budge. He looked around but there was no one there. Find help. He rose and began to stumble forward. He turned and took one last look as the derailed train car began to burn. Must go; move. Keep going. Get help. Clutching his side he finally climbed up the embankment. Go west. That was where they were heading. Follow the tracks.
Casino had not gone very far when he suddenly stopped. There was a sound. He listened. There it was again. He turned and stepped closer to the side of the road. Nothing moved. Then there it was again, a sound, footsteps. He wanted to call out his team mate's name but they had already found one other person here in the night. Was it Chief or another stranger? He would wait.
Just off to the right he heard the sound of a bird. A bird? At night? Was this a signal? Should he answer it? How? Imitate it?
Suddenly he felt the cold steel of a rifle barrel at his neck. He tensed. A hand reached around from behind and took his weapon. Then grabbing a handful of his coat at the shoulder he pulled him around to face the other way. He expected to see his captor but they had kept behind him. Always suspicious he wondered why. So he couldn't see them of course. Why? Because …. They were afraid?
He roughly pulled away and turned grabbing for his captor as he turned. He was rewarded by an armful of ..… a woman? He could not make out her features but she was obviously female. He pulled the gun away from her and not knowing what else to do he began pulling her back the way he had come.
As he neared their shelter he slowed then carefully peered around the corner. In the near blackness he thought he could make out a man lying on the floor. He used the call sound that they had developed to identify each other and was rewarded by an answering call. He pulled the woman around the corner and into the room.
Goniff placed his hand over the lens and turned on the flashlight. In the dim light he could see Casino and his captive.
"Good, you fou…That's not Chief! You brought back a skirt. Where's Chief?"
Before Casino could answer the woman lunged and almost escaped before Casino instinctively tightened his grip. She was calling to and struggling to reach the man on the ground. He released her and she fell to the ground beside the unconscious man. She stroked his face murmuring something then turned to Casino and angrily yelled something that he could not understand. He repositioned the rifle and the woman reading the threat turned back to the man whose eyes were beginning to flutter then open.
She spoke to him as she took off her jacket and placed it over him and he answered. After a short private conversation the man sat up, turned to Casino and spoke to him in French. Getting no reply he tried German. Still no reply. He looked to the woman then said very quietly, "Englis? Eh, English? Speak you English? Please?" In the dim light he didn't miss the look that passed between the two men.
"I" and he gestured to himself and the woman, "want help, we to help .. you. We help you." Not getting any response he continued but with less confidence. "You American?" He looked from one to the other. Fear clutched at his heart. Maybe they were collaborators.
Casino decided to take the chance. After all they held the guns. Noting the man's poor English he spoke slowly. "Can you get a message to the Resistance?"
"Oui, oui." He sounded so happy. "I know where they am. You come."
"No." Casino was not one to trust too quickly and hoped Goniff wouldn't say anything. "We have to wait for the rest of the team."
"Rest of .…." He obviously had not understood.
"Ah, oui. We wait." He looked around then brightened. "I am Louie and this is mon amie, Anette. She", he shook his head, "has no English. I learn …OK?"
"Yeah. Fine. I'm going outside to watch for the others."
"I come," said Louie starting to rise.
"No." he said sharply. "You," and he pointed at the French couple, "wait here," and he pointed to the ground. He was taking no chances at a misunderstanding. "I'll be back." He indicated to Goniff to keep his weapon ready. It didn't pay to be too trusting. He stepped outside and headed back to where he had met the French woman.
Meanwhile Actor had been unable to locate any resistance members but he managed to get them a ride to the next town. This at least brought them closer to their objective. Once there Actor entered a small inn and went to work again.
Normally Actor had a commanding presence. He would enter a room with a confidence that drew people to him. This time he mussed his hair and walked in looking tired and defeated. Garrison, who had come in a few minutes earlier and had taken a seat off to the side, marveled at the change. He was watching a true master at work.
The inn keeper was a jovial person who really cared about people so when he saw his latest customer come in and sit he recognized a troubled man. It was a slow night so after bringing him his glass of wine he lingered at the table.
"You are troubled about something. Maybe I can help?" he asked gently.
"I am sorry. It is, .. I just do not know what to do. It is such a bad situation. I should not bother you with my troubles." Somehow he managed to look even more miserable.
The waiter sat down and told him it was no bother and maybe he could help.
Taking a deep breath Actor began his tale. "It is my nephew, Louis. He is a good boy. He works hard. He is honest and loyal. I love him like my own." He looked hopefully at his companion willing him to understand. Then his face fell. "He is just not very smart. His teachers tried but eventually he left school after a few years, to work on the farm.
His mama came to me three days ago. She begged me for help. She got on her knees and cried. She loves her boy. He is such a good boy. He's just not very bright. It seems some of the local men talked him into doing something dangerous and he was caught. You see it is just Louis' way to want to please people. He went along with the men to please them and when the Germans ask him what he was doing he will tell them. He will even agree that he was doing anything just to please the Germans. They will probably shoot him as a spy."
"Such a sad state of affairs," offered the waiter sadly. Then he brightened. "Maybe you could go to the commandant and explain. Maybe you could tell him the boy is slow and that he didn't know what he was doing. Maybe he would let you take him home."
The Uncle looked up and smiled. He was pleased to have found a solution. This was something he could do. Then his face fell. "They would not believe me. Why should they? I am a French man. I am their enemy. They do not know me. They have no reason to trust me."
"Maybe there is someone they trust that could speak on his behalf," the waiter asked.
"You mean, … someone who works with the Germans?" he asked hopefully. Who would I ask? I don't know anyone who …. I did hear that a man named Gaston might … But I cannot go to him and ask. What if he isn't? I would not like to suggest he is … Do you know him? Is he …?"
Actor watched the flicker of doubt cross his mark's face. He had guessed right. Now for the tip in. "Please. I don't have much money left but what I have is yours if you just help me." Actor opened his jacket and took out the money he had placed in his jacket pocket. Then with a touch of desperation he added, "Louis is a good boy. He doesn't deserve to die. Here, take the money. Just tell me if Gaston can help me. No one will ever know."
"Monsieur Gaston is a loyal Frenchman. He would never betray his country." The inn keeper leaned forward and carefully slid the money into his lap and then to his pocket. In a whisper he said, "No one must know I told you. Monsieur Gaston is known to have some influence with the Germans. But be sure he does not know I have told you."
"Oh thank you, thank you," gushed the concerned Uncle. "No one will ever know."
"Shhhh. Someone might hear you." He nodded in Garrison's direction. "I have not seen him in here before."
"Yes, we must be careful", said Actor quietly. "Thank you again. His Mother and I both thank you." Then louder he continued. "Thank you for listening. I will just have to go ask the Commandant for Louie's life. It is the only thing I can do. Then I will beat him soundly for being so stupid as to go against the German Army.
"Bonne chance, mon ami, bonne chance."
"Merci." Actor rose and left. Garrison lingered for a time then finished his wine and left.
The two men met at the agreed place down the road. "Seems Chief was right. Now what do we do?" Actor rubbed his hands together against the cold.