They waited for the medicine to take effect and while they waited they watched and listened. All of them knew what to listen for now, all of them took a turn with the headphones clamped over their ears. Waiting to hear, praying to hear, anything that would prove the Warden's message was being passed along. The second part of the mission hinged on that. Until that message went out they didn't have any official reason to know Garrison was imprisoned there. Until that message went out there was no excuse for Actor to arrive, dressed in his finery, and demand the kommandant turn the Lieutenant over to him. And regardless of their prayers they didn't hear anything about the Warden or his information as they sat up on their hill and watched and listened and waited.
It took another twenty-four hours for Actor's fever to break back far enough to allow him to think and plan. He told them he needed to go into the town that lay nearby; he needed to gather information on both the installation where the Warden was being held and the man commanding it. Goniff and Casino continued the surveillance and Chief was dispatched to drive Actor in and be there in case there was trouble and he needed help. The con man objected but he was no match for his three determined teammates.
When they returned several hours later Actor had the plan in his head, he just had to convince the others to go along with him. Prepared for an argument, especially with Casino, he was surprised to find all of them more than willing to follow his lead.
"You sure this little con a yours'll get that bastard shot?" was Casino's only question.
"When do we go?" Chief asked.
"Right now if you all know what you are supposed to do."
It didn't take them long to gather the rest of the supplies they needed and get ready. They were masters at it. In under an hour a large German staff car pulled up to the gate of the compound. Actor and Casino were dressed as SS officers; Chief and Goniff as simple soldiers. The con man was at his arrogant best and got them through the gate with no trouble. The guard sent word ahead and a simpering lackey was waiting for them on the steps of the command building. The men formed up behind their second-in-command and were escorted to the kommandant's office.
Actor's methods were basic. He arrived in the office ahead of their fawning guide, giving the post commander no warning, no way to get ready for them. As soon as he pushed through the door he was hurling orders and insults. From the intelligence he'd been able to gather in town he knew those under his command despised the officer facing him. It was only a matter of minutes before those who had been abused by their kommandant turned on him and were beginning to do the con man's bidding.
"Bringen Sie dem Gefangenen." Actor snapped the order at the soldier who'd escorted them to the office. When the man hesitated briefly and, falling back on his training, looked to his commander for leave to go he got a shouted "Sofort!" to help him make up his mind to move. As soon as the guard started for the door Actor turned on Goniff and Chief. "Gehen Sie mit ihnen. Sprechen Sie mit keinem."
He'd gone over the plan with them rehearsed them in the car until they knew their parts. They took off as soon as they heard their cue to get moving. He didn't really need to tell them not to speak to anyone; they wouldn't have been able to anyway.
Actor and Casino were left listening to the kommandant as he protested his innocence. The Italian con man turned on him, his hand rested on the leather holster at his waist. "Es kann einen Verräter in diesem Zimmer geben."
At the word 'traitor' the staff members present in the office shifted subtly, stepping a little closer to the two SS officers. They faced their disbelieving commander and more than one hand found its way to the side arms they all wore.
It was all Goniff could do to keep the shock off his face when they pulled the Warden out. Chief did a better job of it. He knew. He'd spent time in the box in Prior's prison. Still, it took every bit of his control to maintain that detached, disinterested look and to just let the Kraut guards manhandle Garrison across the compound and into the office where the others waited.
When they got back the atmosphere had definitely changed. The Germans had their weapons drawn…every one of them pointed at the kommandant. It was going just like Actor said it would. All they had to do now was get out with the Warden.
Actor's eyes narrowed and the muscle at the angle of his jaw twitched as he clenched his teeth but years of practice allowed him to master his features instantly. Anyone observing him would have thought the look was one of revulsion rather than concern. Casino wasn't as accomplished; he was mad, and it showed. He started forward without thinking and in the next second when he came to his senses he covered by pacing a circuit of the office. He directed his scowl at the camp commandant when he returned to his original position and was pleased to see the man had broken out in a sweat.
Taking a swaggering step forward Actor approached the prisoner who hung between his two guards. "What is your name?" he demanded.
Garrison never moved; he seemed insensible of his surroundings. The fingers of his left hand curled into the hair at the top of the Warden's head and the group's second pulled up with a jerk so he could peer into his face. "I have asked you a question! What is your name?" he shouted again. Garrison's bruised swollen lids moved but his eyes were dull, clouded. His cracked lips moved slightly but there was no sound.
Actor released his hold. "Take him to the car," he said with disgust.
"No! Stay where you are!" the base commander countermanded. "Major, I demand…."
Actor turned on his heel and faced the German officer across the desk. "Demand? You demand? You who have a valuable prisoner who you failed to report instead of transferring him as you are required to do? You who have kept what he has told you to yourself rather than forwarding it on so that our intelligence could evaluate and confirm it and then make use of it? You demand? No, captain, I demand. I demand to know how long you have been working for the enemies of the Third Reich?!" Actor glanced over his shoulder at the guards that still stood supporting their prisoner. "Take him out!"
Chief and Goniff trailed the soldiers as they made their way out of the office and down the hall and then on through the doors that opened onto the compound. They could still hear angry voices coming from the building behind them. Just as they reached the staff car a single shot rang out. The two guards came to a halt, their backs stiff, but they didn't turn. Behind them the two cons shared a worried glance, after a few moments Chief unshouldered the rifle he carried and gently prodded the man in front of him in the back with the barrel. The procession silently started forward again. Goniff quickened his step and opened the door of the car and the Germans shoved Garrison in the backseat before they executed a crisp about-face and left.
Goniff slid into the back next to the Warden; Chief took his position behind the wheel. At the sound of gunfire soldiers had converged on the administration building. They counted at least half a dozen men going in, weapons drawn, ready for trouble. They watched a steady flow of soldiers make their way to the building. All of them had weapons; all of them appeared ready to use them. The soldiers formed up around the structure, a squad covering every side, every door. The two men watched as the sentry at the entrance closed and barred the gates.
"What d' we do?" Goniff asked anxiously from the back.
Fifteen long minutes later the door finally opened and Casino stepped through. He turned and held the door. Chief started the car and put it in gear. After another stomach churning delay Actor appeared on the broad steps, there were two German soldiers flanking him but they were quickly dispatched with an irritated wave of his hand. The first man headed for the patrols that had their guns trained on the party standing at the entrance to their headquarters; the second raced across the compound towards the gates. The con artist beckoned them with a raised chin and stood adjusting his gloves as the car moved forward. When the vehicle rolled to a stop Casino opened the door and allowed Actor to settle himself comfortably on the front seat before he took a position behind him, next to their prisoner.
As they approached the gate to the compound swung open. Actor didn't acknowledge the stiff armed salutes of the soldiers as they passed. Chief guided the large car onto the road and gently accelerated away from the facility. All of them remained sitting face forward; no one paid the slightest heed to the prisoner who was slumped against Goniff in the back. The vehicle maintained its sedate pace until it rounded a curve several hundred yards from the gate.
Actor turned in the seat cursing his decision to ride in front. "How is he?"
"Burnin' up." Both men in back answered as they carefully worked to pull the Warden around to lay across the seat. "Man, his heart's really racin'," Casino added.
Goniff stretched his hand down into the shadows at the floor and retrieved a canteen. He opened it but before he could offer it to the Warden he was halted by a warning.
"No, Goniff. That will be too much. His body won't be able to absorb it." Actor reached into his pocket for a pristine handkerchief. At the muted snap of his gloved fingers the pick pocket handed over the container of water and the con man used it to saturate the fabric. "Here," he handed the sodden cloth into the back. "Let him have this."
He squeezed a couple of drops into Garrison's mouth and then rested the water soaked material over his caked cracked lips. Nothing happened. The Warden seemed indifferent to the offering when the cockney expected he'd be disparate for it. He'd just looked up to say so when the Lieutenant's body seemed to jerk and he swallowed spasmodically. Goniff waited but it didn't happen again. He retrieved the cloth and squeezed it; slowly guiding the precious water drop by drop into Garrison's mouth.
"Blimey! Who got killed back there?"
"The camp kommandant." Actor answered.
"Who done the killin'?" Chief asked.
"His second-in-command," the con man supplied. "I gave him and field promotion and put him in charge."
"Now see," Casino said as he soaked his own handkerchief and laid it over Garrison's eyes. "That's why you aways gotta be good to the help."
Chief checked on the activity in back with a glance in the mirror. "He know we got him?"
Casino raised his right hand; the Warden's fist curled around the safecrackers first two fingers. A relieved smile lit Casino's face. "Yeah. He knows."
"The other man?" The words were barely audible. Actor leaned in until his ear hovered over the Warden's lips. "You got him out… Where is he?"
"There was no other man." Actor told him again. As soon as he had been able to speak the quest for this man had started. A delusion brought on by the Lieutenant's dehydration and high fever the group's medic surmised and even though his condition was improving slowly his fixation persisted. "No other prisoners were being held there."
Garrison rolled his head slowly back and forth. "He was there. He was with me." He lay quietly for a few moments. "Donato Salvatore DeLuca. He has three kids." The words came haltingly. "His wife raises orchids." There was another pause before he turned and struggled to rise from the bed. "I have to go back. I have to get him…"
Actor easily barred the Warden's attempt. "There is no one to go back for." He settled Garrison back on the pillows as his strength ebbed away.
"But he was there," the Lieutenant insisted. "He helped me. I owe it…"
"We would not have left another person there. Especially someone who had helped you." Actor's voice had a commanding edge to it that caused the look on Garrison's face to change from determined to slightly unsure and confused. "You know that is true, don't you?" he continued more gently. "What did he do? How did he help you?"
The Warden seemed to puzzle over that for a moment. "He told me what to do to survive."
"But your training… You already knew what to do."
"He reminded me." Garrison insisted and winced on the words.
Actor slipped an arm in behind the pillow and raised the Lieutenant up so it would be easier for him to sip from the cup he held in his other hand. "I believe this man you remember was a construct of your imagination so that you would not have to be alone while you were in that box." The cup was withdrawn and the Warden settled back on the bed. "You survived due to your own skill and knowledge."
The look on his face was a bit dubious. "I don't know…."
"Well, I do. And you must trust me on this."
"I suppose." Garrison relented as his eyes closed.
Actor waited several moments to see if the argument would be revived for one last round as had happened in the past but the Warden slept on. He refilled the cup and adjusted the blankets before he slipped out of the room.
Casino looked up when the door opened and Actor stepped through. "He still determined to go back after his imaginary friend?"
"I am afraid so." The con man smiled. "But I believe I am beginning to win him over."
It had taken a few days for Garrison to be in good enough shape to travel. Once they made it back to England he'd spent some time in the hospital. He still hadn't been released to active duty, though the Brass had him reviewing intelligence to 'tolerance'. He'd been going over the latest batch of files for the last five hours. Actor decided he would have to speak to the Warden again about how much he could tolerate.
When he entered the Warden's office he found the younger man at the window staring off across the gardens. "Warden?" He waited at the door but Garrison didn't turn to acknowledge him. "Is anything wrong?"
"I'm not sure." Garrison turned and walked back over to his desk inviting Actor in with a lift of his chin and directing him to the extra chair with a tipped head.
Actor took his seat and waited; like Chief the Warden would tell him what he wanted him to know in his own good time.
Rather than settling down in his chair Garrison lifted a file off his desk and slowly paced back over to the window. He turned and rested his shoulder against the wall so that the sunlight fell on the pages he held in his hands. "This is a report on a potential double agent."
"For which side?"
The Warden gave a quick smile. "Ours." He folded back the first page and scanned the second. "An Italian. Seems he spent some time in the states. English is excellent. Trained as one of their commandos. Expert with explosives."
"How can he be trusted if he is in their army?" the con man asked as he started the ritual of lighting his pipe.
"He was press-ganged into service when he returned home for his mother's funeral. And he isn't in their army anymore. He deserted." Garrison tossed the papers on the desk and settled on his chair. "Seems he got fed up with being ordered to kill civilians and blow up churches."
"Well," Actor shrugged as he concentrated on getting the pipe to draw properly. "If he clears the security checks it sounds as if he would be a valuable asset." The Italian's dark head came up. "They are not sending you over to check him out, are they?"
The Lieutenant shook his head and reached out to pick up another set of papers. "Too late. He got himself killed a month ago. The report just came through."
"The group he was with got caught. He was wiring a bridge when the Germans picked him up." Garrison retrieved the original report, layered the additional pages on top and aligned the edges before he folded down the corner to keep them together. "Happened about a mile from where we were."
Actor's interest piqued. "Was he taken to the same camp?"
"Same camp; same camp kommandant."
The con artist was developing a sense of foreboding. "Does that report say exactly how he died?"
Garrison nodded his head. "He was questioned for several days and when he still refused to give up any information he was taken outside, a ligature was tied around each arm, just below his elbows. Then his hands were cut off and he was dumped into an iron box in the middle of the compound where he was allowed to bleed to death.
"There was a witness to this…."
"The man who sent this report watched it all from a hill above the camp." The Warden rose from the chair and picked up the papers. He stepped around the desk and paused to lay the file in front of his second before continuing towards the door. "The guy who died,... His name was Donato Salvatore DeLuca."