Wolf's Trap

Chapter 4 : like a chained wolf

Like a Chained Wolf

It hadn’t even been an hour that he’d been chained to those bars, without much freedom of movement, and he was already bored to death. Most of the prisoners had left the area, going back into the barracks or busying themselves in other parts of the camp. They had no doubt thought, and rightly so, that their companion would prefer solitude to having to put up with the looks and indiscreet conversations. That the Germans viewed them as animals, they were used to. But the humiliation took on a much more bitter taste when it had to do with friends and brothers in arms.

Newkirk was grateful to them. To stay planted there without an audience was much less disagreeable. Except, without any activity around him, he was really beginning to find that the time passed slowly. Even the Krauts had disappeared, with the exception of the guard who watched over him and the one who guarded the entry of the cooler. And as luck would have it, the window he was chained to opened onto an empty cell. He would naturally have preferred an unobstructed view of the Gestapo’s activities. Of course, he had to find a way to inform Colonel Hogan about what he had seen in there. If they didn’t move quickly, the Gestapo would be gone before they would be able to do anything at all. And the mission would be a failure.

Blimey, how bored he was! If he could only get a cigarette… Why had he slipped them into his pants pocket like that? They were impossible to get at.

“Hey!” he called to his jailer. “Hey!” he tried again without any more success; the German turned his back, completely ignoring him.

“I’m escaping!”

The German soldier turned around immediately, training his rifle on the Englishman who, still attached to the window, gave him a cocky smile.

“Eine cigarette, bitte?” Newkirk asked, unconcerned about the rifle that was still pointed in his direction.

The German emitted a grumble that seemed to include one or two curses before lowering his weapon, checked that his superior wasn’t in the area, and approached the prisoner. He offered a cigarette to the Englishman, supposing that he would now leave him in peace, and returned to his post.

“Danke,” Newkirk thanked him before inhaling a large puff of nicotine and regretting it as soon as he had. The barely-touched cigarette fell onto the ground, its owner overcome with a violent coughing fit. He had almost succeeded in forgetting the pain in his throat until the burning from the passage of the smoke in his trachea reminded him of it. Coughing only made matters worse. And he couldn’t stop.

The German guard threw him an annoyed look. Not only to watch him suffocate, but to have to put up with a prisoner who was a little too noisy. Charming. If Newkirk hadn’t been attached, he would have jammed the cigarette down his throat, to let him see how he liked the feeling.

He had never been so happy to see Schultz. Our rather, he had never been so happy to see Schultz carrying a glass of water.

“Halt!” the Gestapo soldier stopped him.

“The commandant ordered me to bring the prisoner some water,” he justified himself.

The guard thought for a moment, and then, throwing a glance in the direction of the prisoner whose cough still refused to be calmed, he acquiesced and allowed Schultz to approach the Englishman.

The German sergeant, who got along with the prisoners almost as well as he did with the other guards, was far from approving of what the general had done. But he had neither the rank nor the courage to protest. All he could do was to help Newkirk drink, as his metal bonds prevented him from holding the glass. Anyway, with that cough, he would have surely spilled half of it.

The water had the desired effect, reducing the burning in his throat, finally permitting the air to find a pathway to his lungs.

“Thanks, Schultzie. Remind me to let you win next time at poker.”

“Oh, that would be cheating!” the sergeant exclaimed, just for the principle of the thing, before adding, “It’s true that I need a little bit of money to buy this purse for my wife… her birthday is coming up.”

“Done! And, Schultzie…”

“Ja?”

The idea of using Schultz to pass a message along to the colonel crossed the Englishman’s mind. But with the other Kraut guard and the screwball general roaming around, he couldn’t allow himself to make the slightest error. Most of all, the German sergeant risked a lot. He would have to find another way.

“Thanks again for the water.”

“Bitte,” Schultz smiled before leaving him alone but for the company of his chain and his bars.

This was going to be a very long day.

oOo

“We have to find a way to contact Newkirk and keep the Gestapo from leaving the camp before we can complete the mission.”

“To immobilize the trucks wouldn’t be too difficult,” Lebeau figured; seated, along with the other members of the team, in Colonel Hogan’s office.

“It’s possible, yes. Easy, I don’t think so. But I’d like to be able to confirm the contents of the shipment to London before going any further. The British seem to have some idea and obviously, they’ve preferred to keep it to themselves. Only I’d prefer to be up to date before doing anything. Going into a mission blind never turns out well…”

“You think London could have been mistaken about the target?” Kinch asked.

“I doubt it, but better safe than sorry,” Hogan responded.

“That’s not like you, Colonel.”

“What’s not like me, Carter? We always have a plan.”

“Carter’s right,” Lebeau added. “To take so many precautions, that’s losing time.”

“Louis, losing time is always better than losing our lives. This General Eberhart… the smallest mistake on our part and there won’t even be a firing squad.”

“Seen from that angle,” Lebeau agreed. He had seen the German general’s reaction when Newkirk had provoked him. The man was crazy. The colonel was right to use extra caution, but it would be necessary to play it close.

“And delaying their departure, we’re waiting on that too?” Carter wanted to know. “I can place a small bomb underneath and boom!” He mimed the explosion with his hands under the uneasy gaze of his companions.

“I said we had to be careful, Carter, not that we had to make them think the camp is being liberated by the Allies…”

Whatever, thought the colonel, an idea beginning to develop in his mind.

Returning to the main room of Barracks 2, Hogan and his men realized that Captain Lackey had left the tunnel and was currently playing cards with two British soldiers.

“Captain, you should stay down below. It’s really not a good time.”

Lackey turned his head in Hogan’s direction, giving him a smile.

“I thought perhaps I could help you with the mission from London, given that it’s cost me my airplane.”

“Any help would be welcome,” the American colonel agreed. “Do you have any special skills? We already have a cook, a radio specialist, an explosives expert and a pickpocket.”

The Brit frowned before muttering, as if to himself but sufficiently loud for all the men in the barracks to hear:

“Not necessary to point out which one is the pickpocket… by the way, where is the cockney?”

The subtext was hardly dissipated by the RAF captain’s detached tone. Hogan didn’t say anything in spite of the questioning looks that his men were throwing his way, content to respond as politely as possible. Which was, in the end, more aggressive than polite.

“You only have to take a look outside.”

Discreetly, the captain opened the window to look out at the camp. It didn’t take him long to spy Newkirk; the Englishman was the only prisoner present in the compound, and he couldn’t resist a smile of satisfaction as he asked, “What could he have done to wind up like that? Break into the commandant’s safe?”

“He’s already done that. Several times,” replied Carter, who couldn’t seem to understand how that might pose a problem. After all, Newkirk’s talents had saved them more than once.

“He obeyed an order,” Hogan clarified, without giving any additional details.

The captain threw him a questioning look but didn’t add anything, his attention turning anew towards the chained corporal.

“Was singing part of that order?” he asked finally.

“What?” Hogan was taken aback by the question and approached the window. And actually, his corporal was actually in the process of singing. More and more loudly, the absence of any noise in the compound allowing the prisoners in the barracks to clearly hear the words. French! At least, almost. The accent wasn’t all that accurate.

« C'est la p'tite femme de Paris
Qui, gracieuse et coquette,
Met d' l'amour dans tous les esprits
Et fait tourner toutes les têtes
Oui ! Mais quand un cœur est pris
Par la p'tite femme qui passe
De Montmart' à Montparnasse
C'est une petite femme de Paris

Frédérique

Isabelle

Louise

et

Marie

C'est la p'tite femme de Paris
Qui, gracieuse et coquette,
Met d' l'amour dans tous les esprits
Et fait tourner toutes les têtes
Oui ! Mais quand un cœur est pris
Par la p'tite femme qui passe
De Montmart' à Montparnasse
C'est une petite femme de Paris

Noëlle

Odette

Madeleine

et

Suzette »

“What are you doing, Louis?”

Carter’s question made the colonel turn back around. Corporal Lebeau had grabbed the sheet of paper the card-players had been keeping track of points on, and was scribbling some letters on it, all the while listening very carefully.

“Louis?” the young American repeated.

“Shut up, Carter.” It was Kinch who gave the order, finally understanding what the cook was doing by listening to their Englishman begin the song over again.

The colonel approached the table and when Lebeau stopped writing, he slid the paper across the tabletop to read what he had written.

“This is all he said?” he wanted to know. “Films and names? That’s all he saw?”

“Oui, Colonel. I tried to teach him that song a little while ago. He’s got a great memory. Only, in the song La Petite Femme de Paris, there aren’t any names of girls. He used the first letters of those names to get the message across. Brilliant, isn’t it?”

“It’s brilliant, all right,” Hogan approved.

“Too bad that he had to massacre that poor song,” sighed the Frenchman, disappointed by Newkirk’s accent, so… Newkirk.

At that moment, the French words that floated in the air of the camp were brutally interrupted in the middle of a verse.

oOo

“I said, shut up!” the German general shouted, the barrel of his pistol placed against Newkirk’s forehead.

Newkirk could not stop a shiver. He hadn’t had the intention of getting Eberhart mad at him all over again. He had already had a chance to experience the consequences. Unfortunately, he couldn’t help himself.

“Maybe you’d like me to sing something else. I’m sorry, but I don’t know any German songs. But I’ve got a really good memory. Try me; hum a little something.”

He saw the German’s face getting red and concluded that he’d be better off not trying his luck.

“Right. I’ll stop,” he said at last.

Eberhart, who had many other things to deal with besides this Englishman, reholstered his weapon and turned around, not without a last murderous look in the prisoner’s direction. He still wanted to take up his weapon again and shoot when he heard, behind his back:

“You only had to ask nicely.”

oOo

When he realized that Eberhart was returning to his duties in the cooler, leaving the Englishman in peace, Hogan closed the window and turned toward his men.

“Captain, go back down into the tunnel, help Kinch get together some tools, shovels and picks. Kinch, before that, send Newkirk’s message to London, so we know what the Gestapo has that’s so important. Carter, you can get some explosives ready, something that’ll make a lot of noise without doing too much damage.”

“What kind of noise?”

“The kind that sounds like an air raid,” the colonel responded with a malicious smile.

“No problem, boy! Uh, Colonel. No problem, Colonel,” the young sergeant babbled, excited by the prospect of blowing up some explosives. Even fake ones. The result was the same: a big boom!

“Shovels, Colonel?” Kinch asked, looking for confirmation and eventually a few clear explanations. Clear explanations that his superior found it a pleasure to give him:

“I predict that the raid tonight is going to cause a lot of damage to the road.”

The colonel’s plan was unanimously accepted, not one of the men raising any protest. On the other hand, the only person who almost always put any plan in question was tied to a window at the moment.

Hogan waited for Lackey, Kinch and Carter to go back down into the tunnel before turning towards one of the British soldiers who continued to play cards.

“Jones?”

“Yes, Colonel?”

“The word cockney… what exactly does that mean?”

“Are you talking about Newkirk, sir?” The nod of the colonel’s head confirmed it, and he answered the question. “That’s what they call Londoners who live east of the city, in the poor neighborhoods.”

“It’s kind of an insulting term, isn’t it?”

The Englishman agreed, and then specified, “That depends on who uses it.”

“Let’s say Captain Lackey.” Hogan had already anticipated the response but he preferred to be sure of it.

Jones gave a smile mixed with disgust.

“Well, yes, it’s an insult. If I may speak freely about an officer, sir, the captain was born, as you might say, with a silver spoon in his mouth. Like most of the officers in the RAF. It's obvious that Newkirk isn't up to the captain's standards.”


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