Fevered Mind

Part 10

Craig pushed the covers back and carefully eased his injured leg out with a small grimace at the pain. He sat up. So far so good. There was no dizziness and the light-headedness wasn't so bad. That was a major improvement. He was supposed to be taking it easy; Nurse Terry's orders. He snorted. He'd been down too long as it was.

Slowly he stood, reaching for the cane that leaned against the night table. It had to be one of Actor's, not that the con man had brought it to him. Chief had come in with it one day with no explanation.

His jaw firmly set, he limped into the bathroom. Exchanging the support of the cane for the sink, he looked at his reflection in the mirror. As he always did when he had these bouts of fever, he'd lost weight; his face looked thinner and his skin looked grayish. Maybe it was the power of suggestion, but his skin seemed to have a faint yellowish tinge to it. He ran cold water into the basin and splashed it liberally over his face, shoulders and chest; he needed the shock of the cold water to break the stupor that seemed to surround his brain like cotton wool. He used the towel vigorously to reinforce the sloughing of torpidity.

Back in his room, Garrison hobbled over to his armoire and reached inside to retrieve and toss a pair of uniform trousers and a long-sleeved matching shirt onto the bed. He got underwear from the drawer and lifted his belt from the hook. Returning to the bed, he sat down to begin the slow task of getting dressed.

Actor. The man worried him. Craig was still afraid the Italian would 'scarper', in Goniff's terms, even though Terry had tried to assure him that was not the case. Maybe she thought she knew, but nobody ever really knew what the con man would do. Craig needed to talk to his second; make things right with the older man. In his pajamas, in his room, Craig would start out at a disadvantage he could not afford, especially with what he decided to say. His decision, what he had decided to say, was a gamble, but it was a gamble he had to take.

Fully dressed now, Garrison went back into the bathroom and ran a comb through his hair. He looked in the mirror again at the dark circles and the haunted eyes in the pale, gaunt face that confronted him. His reflection looked older than his years. With fierce determination, Craig picked up the cane and walked out to the top of the stairs. He paused, took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and started down, ignoring the pain in the wounded thigh.

Everyone in the common room looked up at his entrance. The men were in their usual places. Kelly was in the chair by the window. Terry and Chris were mending clothes on the half of the table not occupied by Casino's and Goniff's cards.

Terry frowned. "Craig, what do you think you're doing?"

"I have things that need to be taken care of," he said abruptly. "I can't waste my time laying around up there."

He paused in front of the doorway to his office and fixed the confidence man with a stern look. "Actor." He nodded curtly at his office, turning the handle and opening the door. It was an order, not an invitation.

Garrison was aware of the sharp looks thrown at him by everyone except the man he had summoned. He saw Terry start to rise from her chair. He pinned his sister with a hard glare.

"Terry, this is none of your business," he said firmly. "Go back to what you were doing."

Christine put a hand on her sister's arm and tugged her back into her chair. The look in Terry's eyes went from venomous to pleading. Garrison ignored her.

Actor placed his pipe in his ashtray and rose from his chair. He followed the lieutenant into his office without a glance at anyone else.

"Bloody 'ell," breathed Goniff. "I thought he was over this."

"Don't look like it," replied Casino.

"Actor can take care of himself," said a soft voice from the window sill.

"Yeah, but will he?" asked Kelly, fully aware of what had previously happened on the mission.

Terry remained silent, picking up her needle and the garment she was working on, her mind in turmoil, her face without expression.

GGG

"Shut the door," ordered Garrison in a less harsh tone.

Actor closed it and stood facing the room. The lieutenant motioned for him to have a seat in front of the desk. The con man sat down, crossing his long legs with the illusion of unconcern.

Craig opened the bottom drawer of his desk and took out the bottle of whiskey and a shot glass. He filled the glass with the hard liquor and set it in front of Actor. The man made no move to touch it. God, Craig wanted a drink badly, Dutch courage, but knew he couldn't have one. Instead, he turned and walked over to the back window, leaning his outstretched left arm on the sill and leaning on his right hand on the cane, taking some of the weight off his sore leg. There was silence behind him. He didn't quite know how to say what he knew he had to say, so, staring sightlessly out of the window, he just started.

"Casino told me what happened on the mission. The things I did and how I acted toward you." He paused fleetingly. "It didn't make sense to me. But I've had lots of time now to try to figure out why my mind would come up with something so – contradictory to what I actually think." This was difficult, but then, he'd expected it to be, and he didn't want Actor to interrupt until he'd said his piece. He pushed on. "I thought back to the psychology classes we took at the Point. They taught us the deranged mind will come up with the worst case scenario and make it seem real. I never thought that you had been killed, I guess because all of us tend to think you're invincible. No, the worst thing to me would be you taking off or, worse yet, going over to the other side." Garrison felt his voice breaking so he paused to gather himself, staring out the window, but still seeing nothing beyond the speech he had prepared in his mind. His voice was firm as he continued, "I never wanted to admit to you how much I depend on you, on your wisdom, your knowledge, your abilities . . . your support and friendship." A short pause and then the young officer moved bravely on. "Without you all this time, we'd all either be dead or in prison camps somewhere. Your ability to work a con and play German officers so well has been what has kept this group together and alive. Without you, I couldn't do even half this job." He paused again, suddenly aware of the tears starting to run down his face. Determined to finish, he lifted his chin and made his voice firm and solid. "You cutting and running or turning to the other side, that's the worst possible nightmare my delirium could come up with. It felt like betrayal."

"Warden . . .," Actor said quietly.

Craig shook his head briefly. Making his voice harsh, he said, "That's all. Get out."

Garrison did not turn around. He listened to the older man get up, pause and then quietly let himself out of the office, shutting the door behind him.

Craig bit his lips between his teeth, tears now sliding freely down his cheeks. Physically and emotionally drained, he remained at the window, struggling to get himself under control. He had said his piece, but found himself with no more reassurance about his working and non-working relationship with Actor than he had before this meeting. The ball was now in the con man's ballpark. How would the Italian react? Would they still be able to work together and how well? Had he done enough to restore the older man's confidence in himself and his leadership?

Finally, pulling himself together, he turned around. His eyes were drawn of their own volition to the chair in front of his desk, but then moved quickly to the desk itself. The empty shot glass sat atop his desk, next to a large, folded, pristine white handkerchief.

GGG

Actor paused outside the closed door to the office, acutely aware of the faces turned toward him in expectation. Terry's face was expressionless, but her eyes held concern. She looked from him to the closed door and back again. When he said nothing, she started to get up.

"Laisse-le," said Actor. He wanted this conversation to be private and did not know just how much Italian Casino could understand, despite the little he spoke.

"Are you all right?" asked Terry, also in French.

Actor nodded.

"Is he all right?" she asked.

Actor nodded again. "He needs some time alone for right now. We both do."

"Are you two all right with each other now?" Terry had to ask.

"I believe so," replied the confidence man.

She nodded and settled back down in her chair. Actor walked past his chair, picking up his pipe and tobacco, and closed himself in the library. Without a word, Terry went back to her mending.

"So what was that all about?" asked Casino in exasperation.

"Nothing,"

"If it was nothin', then how come it wasn't in English?" asked the safecracker in frustration.

"Because the conversation was between Actor and myself only, all right?" shot back Terry. "When we want you to know what we say to each other, we'll tell you. The same with him and Craig." Her green eyes flashed.

Christine lay a hand on her sister's arm. "Easy," she said barely above a whisper.

Green eyes exchanged a look with green eyes. Terry nodded. She threw the shirt she was mending onto the table, pushed her chair back and got up, disappearing around the stairs toward the kitchen. A moment later, they heard the back door slam shut.

Kelly slowly uncrossed his legs and pushed himself up out of the chair he was sprawled in. He walked behind Crystal, touching her shoulder in passing. She nodded.

"So why is everything such a damn secret?" asked the safecracker belligerently.

"Well, maybe they need to work things out themselves without your input," suggested Chris.

"Well, that ain't good enough, Baby Girl," said Casino rising from his chair.

"Why don't you sit down, Casino, and shut up," said a quiet deadly voice from the window.

"Yeah, you gonna make me, Injun?" asked Casino snottily.

"Casino, sit – down!" ordered Christine. "If you're going to start a fight, then I'm going to let Chief take you down and I am going to stitch your mouth shut." She brandished a long needle attached by thread to a torn singlet. "Can we please have some peace and quiet? Not everything is your business you know."

"Sit down, Mate, and deal the cards," said Goniff, quietly trying to help keep the bigger man from escalating things into a fight that would do none of them any good.

Casino looked around the room. He was outnumbered, not that it usually stopped him, but he sat down and picked up the deck of cards, shuffling them and dealing them out.

Kelly walked out the back door and looked around for his sister. She wasn't visible so he walked over to the gazebo. Terry was sitting on the edge of the seat, leaning back against the lattice wall. She looked up with a weariness that was born of little sleep, lots of tension, and the worry of trying to take care of things with Craig and Actor both.

The old teenager stepped inside and pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and shook one out to her. Terry accepted it and let him light it for her.

"When did you start smoking?" she asked with concern.

"I don't know, a couple months ago," he shrugged. "I found out they come in handy for bartering on the Continent. I had them, I just started smoking them."

"You're too young," said Terry without much conviction.

"Why? Craig started when he was eleven. You smoke."

"I'm trying to stop," said Terry, pausing to take a soothing puff and blow the smoke straight up.

"You need a break," remarked Kelly, taking a seat beside her. "Why don't you get out of here for a bit? Go to your flat for the night. Chris and I can handle things."

Terry glanced at him. They probably could handle things. Craig was getting better. She believed Actor's 'I believe so' to her inquiry of his relationship with her older brother. It was tempting to walk away right now. Craig didn't need her. Actor probably never really did need her. Kelly was watching her. Slowly her corners of her mouth turned up in an ever widening smile.

"For a kid, you come up with some darn good ideas sometimes."

"I quit being a kid a long time ago," said Kelly somewhat regretfully.

Terry's smile faded and she rubbed his knee. "Yeah, I think you did."

G

Terry waited until after supper to casually walk out to the foyer, pick up her purse and her jacket from the coat tree and head for the door.

"Goin' somewhere, Love?" asked Goniff cheerfully, hiding his worry.

The other three men looked up.

"Yeah," replied Terry. "Somewhere quiet."

The eyes of three convicts and one sibling focused accusingly on the safecracker.

"You don't gotta go on my account," he said sullenly.

She didn't look at him. "Yeah, I do gotta go," she parroted back at him. She stopped with her hand on the door knob and softened her voice some. "I just need some time to myself, I'll be back tomorrow."

She dared not look at any of them, especially Actor. She knew he didn't need her or anybody else for that matter, but she still felt as though she were deserting her friend. Well, they'd both get over it. She opened the door and went out, closing it gently, and bounded down the steps. She felt like a kid sneaking out of school, or what she thought it should feel like, considering she had been home schooled. The MG called to her and she climbed in behind the wheel. Unlike Actor, she took off with a leap forward.

The flat was wonderfully silent. The blackout drapes had been left closed so she was able to flip on the lights. There was a faint hint of the smell of pipe smoke. She went into her bedroom and stopped. The bed had been made and her slippers lay neatly together on the rag rug. Terry pulled the covers back. No nightgown. So, she went to the armoire. Her nightgown was hanging from a clothes hook. Good grief, the man had cleaned up after her. She shed her clothes and slipped the gown over her head. It was still early, but she just wanted to bury herself in the nothingness of sleep, so she went out and turned the lights out in the living room and climbed into bed, turning out the lamp on the night stand.

As Terry settled on her side in the bed, her nose picked up the masculine scent of Actor that remained on her pillow. Oh, no. She didn't need this. She reared up, flipped the pillow over and pounded it with her fist before throwing herself back down on it. She lay still for a second. Okay, it had been pleasant. She sat up again and flipped the pillow back over, this time not beating it into submission, and snuggled down, taking a long sniff that ended with a smile. The smile faded. Oh, boy, was she in trouble. Pushing that thought aside, she snuggled into the pillow even more and reached up to pull the other pillow down to hug it to her.

GGGGG

With Terry's return to the Mansion the next morning, things began to resume a normal, albeit noisy routine. Christine and Kelly, relieved to see their oldest brother acting like a rational human being again, took their leave and returned to London.

That afternoon, Garrison limped to the door of his office, leaning on the cane. He surveyed his men, who had become quiet at his appearance. "Debrief," he said with his usual authority.

Four faces frowned at him.

"About what?" asked Casino, "we ain't been anywhere?"

"I've been more than adequately filled in on my objectionable behavior," said Craig, "but you seem to have neglected to tell me the details of the mission itself that I so eloquently put in my typed report to Gen. Hammond. So, Gentlemen, if you will join me in my office?"

Not giving them a chance to object further, he turned and walked back in with the expectation they would follow. And follow they did, taking their usual seats in their usual manner. Craig took his seat at the head of the table, facing Actor on the other end. The officer let his gaze travel slowly around the table.

"First order of business," he began, steeling himself. "I owe you all an apology and my thanks."

Three of the four faces looked at him startled, while the hazel eyes opposite him watched from an inscrutable expression.

"Aw, don't sweat it, Babe," said Casino, a bit uncomfortably.

"Weren't like it were your fault now, was it?" chirped Goniff.

"You'd'a done the same for us, Warden," added Chief. "And you have."

Garrison nodded, "Well, I owe you just the same for putting up with me and completing the mission." He ran the backs of his fingers lightly over the yellow-green bruise he still sported on his left chin, fixing the volatile safecracker with a pointed look. "That's two I owe you now, Casino. The first time, I told you to let Goniff do it next time."

Casino pulled a face and shook his head. "It wouldn't'a had the same effect."

"My point exactly," replied Garrison, with a rueful smile. Now he looked directly at his second across the table. "Actor. Maybe you would care to enlighten me on how I pulled this mission off ? I'm sure there were a few changes in the plan."

Actor smiled with smug self-satisfaction. "Just a mere tweaking."

"Well, tell me how it was tweaked. . ."

GGG

The next morning, the phone rang and Garrison answered it from his office. After a short conversation, he went to the door and watched his sister dumping ashtrays into a small trash can. The men were already trying to stave off boredom in each one's individual fashion.

"Terry," said Garrison, waiting for her to look up. "That was Maj. Kaiser on the phone. He wants me to come to the base hospital for a checkup. You want to drive?"

Terry straightened and frowned. "Actually, Craig, I think you should take Actor. He's the one who came up with the idea for the medicine and he's the one who has been working with Doc Kaiser on it."

Craig gave his sister a sharp look at her apparent relinquishing of control to the confidence man. With a mental shrug, he turned to the Italian who was watching from his chair. "Actor?" It was more of a request than an order.

The older man smiled. "I would be happy to take you to your appointment, Lieutenant." He glanced at the girl who had gone back to her chores, aware of what she was pulling, then back to the officer. Their telepathic abilities were still intact. "Teresa," said Actor wryly, "I believe three of us can fit in the Packard, if you would care to accompany us. You have done your share in this little endeavor with experimental medicine."

Terry looked to her brother for his reaction. He nodded. She shrugged as if she didn't care one way or another, even though both men knew she wanted very much to come along.

In good time, the three found themselves in an examination room at the base hospital. Garrison was sitting on the end of an exam table, clad in his pants and singlet, while the shorter, gray haired, always harried looking major peered into his eyes and felt the glands in his neck.

"Color's a little sallow," observed the physician.

"He always does that with the fever," said Terry. She was standing on one side of the door, watching with arms crossed in front of her.

Actor flanked the opposite side of the door, standing deceptively casual, also observing the examination. "I believe he might have a hint of jaundice in the sclera," remarked the team's medical man.

Kaiser looked closer at Garrison's eyes. "I concur with your findings, Mr. Borghese," he agreed. "However it doesn't seem as severe as some of the reports I have read from North Africa. You'll have to keep me informed on how well the Atabrine works as a preventative with the next bout of fever."

"Assuredly, Sir."

Kaiser stepped back, indicating with his hand that Garrison should drop his trousers. Craig stood and opened his belt and pants, pushing them down to his knees before resuming his seat on the table. The doctor removed the dressing over the leg wounds and studied them.

"Those sutures can come out," he said. "I'll have one of the nurses attend to that before you leave."

"Give me a kit and I can do it," offered Terry.

Kaiser nodded.

"So am I cleared for duty, Sir?" asked Garrison.

His two companions glared at him, Actor crossing his arms in front of himself in an unconscious mimic of the officer's sister.

"I believe the Lieutenant is a bit overzealous in his desire to return to active duty," Actor intoned, ignoring the glare he received back from Garrison."

"And a bit unrealistic also," agreed Kaiser. He fixed the lieutenant with a stern look. "Five more days, Lt. Garrison."

"Sir, Col. Hammond . . ."

Kaiser look became sterner. "I have been handling Col. Hammond since your group started visiting us. Five more days, Lieutenant."

"Yes, Sir." Garrison tried to ignore the identical satisfied smiles on the faces of his second and his sister.

G

Sutures out, leg bandaged, instructions received, and the three were on their way back to the Mansion with Actor driving, Garrison in the front passenger seat, and Terry in the back. The girl was between the men, leaning over the seat back arms crossed and elbows resting lightly on the near shoulders of both.

"Let's see, five days," she said contemplatively. "That's enough time."

"For what?" asked Craig, dreading what next might come out of his sister's mouth.

"A forty-eight hour pass to London for the guys of course," answered Terry as if he should already have thought of it. "Close your ears, Caro," she said before turning to her brother. "If Casino doesn't get some soon and settle down, I may have to strangle him." She couldn't see Actor's eyes roll.

Craig looked at his sister and shook his head. "For a minute I thought you were going to say you were going to take care of him."

"Craig!"

Actor gave a guffaw of laughter. "Warden, I should think Teresa has better taste than that."

"He just wants me all to himself," said Terry to her brother with a conspiratorial wink.

The confidence man's eyes widened. "Teresa! I am not sleeping with you!"

"I know that," grinned Terry.

"Yes, but he doesn't!"

It was at this moment that Garrison finally realized it was probably true, though he wondered for how much longer. It didn't take any stretch of imagination to know the older man was perturbed with this conversation. That thought amused the younger man, and made him decide he had better defuse the situation.

"Okay, I'll write out a forty-eight hour pass," conceded Craig. He looked back at his sister. "And I suppose you want to go along."

"Not this time, Brother. No way," denied the girl adamantly. "Look at these guys. This trip will be nothing but booze and chasing loose women."

"Excuse me?" objected Actor indignantly. "I do not 'chase loose women'."

The two Garrisons stared at the elegant man as he tried to maintain his self-righteous dignity. They were both well aware of the man's proclivity for chasing women while on missions.

"Well," hedged the Italian, aware of their scrutiny, "maybe on occasion."

The car became filled with sibling mirth and a look of frustration that ended with a smile from the con man.