Willi pulled the scarf covering his face higher as he neared the Judas gate in the massive garage door. Another rendezvous tonight on the deserted roads outside town lay ahead. He hoped his luck avoiding hijackers continued. As he reached for the door latch, it opened. Willi stepped back as he viewed the man’s face emerging from inside. The same man Ross had him follow at the camp. With his fedora pulled down low, he gave Willi a quick glance before passing on without a word or sign of recognition.
Before stepping inside, Willi trailed the man with his eyes. What could this man want with Werner or the trucking company?
Inside the warehouse, Willi trudged up the stairs to where lights glowed from the office windows.
As he entered, he slipped off his gloves, pulled down his scarf, and scanned the room. In the reception area, Werner’s daughter hunched over her desk. “What was that man doing here?”
“I have no idea.” She continued working without glancing up. “He spoke with father in his office.”
As he knocked on Werner’s door, a drawer slammed inside.
Willi’s entrance prompted Werner to glance up he poured liquor from a bottle into a glass on his desk. “Ah, it’s you.”
“You had a visitor?”
“He works for the man who arranged the delivery of those men to that cabin.”
“No. A Herr Fisher. He wants to hire us again.”
“I thought you said no more jobs with them.”
“This is different. Instead of people, they want us to bring food and other supplies. Also, it is more than one trip. They want a weekly delivery, and they paid for two months in advance, and I can bring a guard.”
Werner held out a sheet. “It’s here on this map.”
After studying the sheet, Willi set it aside. “Are you sure you can trust Fisher and his new man?”
“Well, I will be armed, and I can take Bert along with his Schmeizer. Since they want more than one trip, it should be safe. They probably just wanted to keep the location of that other house secret.”
“If this map is correct, that is the same place. The man in charge promised to let them party. They would need supplying. When do you make the first trip?”
“Perhaps I should follow you up there, just in case.”
Werner said nothing as if pondering Willi’s suggestion. Finally, he stood. Pulling keys from his pocket, he unlocked a cabinet from which he removed a Panzerfaust. Examined the large cone warhead protruding from the barrel. After checking the safety, he handed it to Willi. “Have you any experience with one of these?”
Willi grinned as he examined the hand-held rocket launcher. “I can slip in behind you on foot. Then if there are problems, I would be behind them.” He hefted the weapon. “This would surely give them something to worry about.”
Werner nodded. “I also have an extra Schmeizer.”
Ross’s palms sweat as he stood before Bradshaw.
“At ease, Ross,” Bradshaw motioned to the vacant chair before his desk as he held up the sheet he studied. “I’ve seen the written report, Captain. What happened?”
Ross removed his overseas cap as he dropped into the chair. After making sure the boy got treated and giving his statement, there had been no time to shower or change before he reported. Unshaven, Ross figured he looked like he had been on an all-night bender. He sighed as he ran his fingers through his greasy hair.
“I gave one of the file clerks a ride to her apartment last night. Shortly after we arrived, four boys attacked these children and her landlady. I used my sidearm to stop the attack.”
Bradshaw tapped the sheet. “It says here that the woman also fired a gun.”
“Yes sir, I gave her the Walther I carry as a spare, and she used it.”
“So, both guns were yours?”
“The report says three died from gunshots. While after being shot, someone stabbed the fourth with a bayonet found at the scene.”
“The boy stabbed him. His sister said something about how the four attackers had killed an old couple the children lived with.”
“The boy you took to the hospital?”
“Yes sir, apparently the attackers stabbed him before we intervened. They also shot at the children, but missed.”
“I never saw combat, Captain. Don’t know what I would have done in your place. I see the Military Police Officer filed no charges against you or the young woman. How is the boy?”
“He needed a pint of blood. He was still unconscious when I left, but they expect him to recover. Young and strong, but malnourished.”
“As are all the Germans, except for the crooks.” Bradshaw leaned back. “Well, I see no cause to recommend any discipline in your case. Almost sounds like you deserve a medal. I will hold a case briefing in the morning for your investigation team.”
“Yes. Those additional investigators, I promised. They’ll arrive this afternoon.” Bradshaw rose. Strode to their office’s floor plan tacked on the wall. “The remodeling continues.” He pointed to a spot on the floor plan. “but I want you to gather them in this area tomorrow at 0800.” As he turned back to Ross, his eyes narrowed. “Also, my chief investigator needs to be a senior officer. I requested your promotion to Major and am confident it will be approved soon.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“None needed. We have a lot of work ahead. These new people need a lot of training on the job. If it comes from a senior officer, they will listen better. Plus, it will give you some clout in dealing with other offices we might need in putting these assholes away.” Bradshaw nodded. “Unless you have anything else.”
Taking the hint, Ross stood, saluted, and exited the office.
Downstairs, he passed his office, going straight to the file room to check on Justine. Major Worth’s jaw dropped as Ross approached. “Are you all right, Captain?”
“Yes, sir.” Ross rubbed the stubble on his chin. “Just had a run-in with some looters last night. Had to spend the night filling out reports with the MPs. Have the files requested by my Sergeant been taken to our office this morning?”
“Justine is getting them ready as we speak. I can urge her to hurry.”
“Oh, that won’t be necessary. I just figured I could save you all a trip. Just have her bring them up when they’re ready.”
Inside his office, Harrison read from a folder with his feet propped up on the desk. He glanced up, wide-eyed, as Ross entered. “You know it’s possible to wear it out if you use it too much, sir.”
He grinned as he tossed the file down on his desk and leaned back with his hands behind his head. “You might at least shave before the Colonel sees you. Otherwise, he might withdraw that request he made for your promotion.”
Ross shoved Harrison’s feet off the desk before dropping into his own chair. “For once, I’m ahead a the Sergeant’s grapevine.” Ross shared the evening’s events except for the part about being out of uniform.
When he finished, Harrison shook his head. “Teenagers, huh? I knew the streets around here were rough, but not that bad.”
At that moment, Justine and Gretchen chatting in German entered carrying boxes filled with files. As Gretchen chattered, Justine blushed as they set their loads on Harrison’s desk.
Gretchen placed her hands on her hips. As she continued talking in German, she shook her finger at Justine. “Well, your Captain might have a nice butt.” She batted her eyes at Harrison. “But I’ll bet the Sergeant here has a nice schwanz.”
Justine rolled her eyes. “Is that all you think about? What about personality and sensitivity?”
“To hell with the sensitivity, my pipes need a good reaming, and I would bet he could do it.”
Harrison cocked his head, frowned. “What’re you girls jabbering about this early in the morning?”
Justine turned to him. “Well, don’t blush, she says you have nice kind eyes.” She glared at Gretchen, then glanced at Ross and gasped as he chuckled and shook his head.
Harrison treated Gretchen to a warm smile. “Well, she has nice eyes too.” His eyes traveled up and down her figure. “In fact, I think everything about her is nice.”
“Why don’t you and I step out into the hall and let these two talk?” Ross opened the door for Justine. As soon as he closed the door, she embraced him.
After stepping back, she stroked his cheek. “You are so scratchy, did they not let you shave?”
He shook his head. “After makin’ sure, the boy was okay, had to give a statement. Bet that MP Sergeant got real sick of me.”
“I was so worried after they took you away.”
“I was fine. Spent most of the night sitting by the boy’s bed, writing reports about what went on.”
“How is he?”
“When I left, he was still unconscious. They found a nurse to watch him that speaks German and promised to call me when he comes around. How’s his sister?
“She seems all right. Mostly worried about her brother. The landlady was watching her when I left, and they seemed to have a good time.”
“Well, tell her I’ll keep an eye on him until he’s released.” Ross shook his head. “After that? I don’t know.”
“Wilma, that’s my landlady, and I want them to remain with us until we find them a place more suitable. Oh, by the way, his name is Rudi.”
“Okay, I’ll tell the boy when I can.” Ross kissed her. “So, Gretchen thinks I have a nice butt, but the Sergeant has nice eyes.”
She gave him a playful punch. “You are truly awful.”
The color rose in her cheeks. She scowled, shook her finger in his face. “You are a naughty boy. I never knew you spoke German till you spoke with Louise.”
“That’s our secret, okay? Folks speak more freely if they think they won’t be overheard. Gives me an edge.”
She poked his chest. “But still, you are naughty.”
“But you like me that way, right? We better get back before Gretchen turns Harrison into a plumber.”
Ross read from the file spread on his lap, taking notes. The boy stirred in the bed next to him, prompting him to look up. The child groaned without opening his eyes. His breathing slowed as he appeared to doze off.
Satisfied the boy remained asleep, Ross returned to the summary of crimes committed by these so-called doctors. These fiends infected people with typhus, exposed them to poison gas, and even placed camp inmates in freezing water. Recorded data as if performing some noble experiment. They murdered the mentally ill and feeble-minded, considering them worthless mouths to feed. From liberating the camps, he already knew about the callous extermination of the Jews. But this? Had these monsters one spark of human decency?
As Ross glanced up, he flinched. Silent, the boy stared at Ross.
“Are you feeling all right?” Ross asked in German. “Your sister is safe with the women who lived where you were attacked.”
The boy raised his blankets, glanced at his side.
“One of your attackers stabbed you. The Doctors here gave you blood and medicine to fight germs. When you’re stronger, I’ll take you to your sister. My name is James. You can call me Jim or Herr Ross, whichever you are comfortable with. Are you hungry or thirsty?”
The attending nurse entered, moved to the boy’s side, and placed her hand on his forehead.
“Oh good,” she said in English. “His forehead is cool.”
As she took Rudi’s pulse, Ross translated, while Rudi stared wide-eyed at the nurse.
“I believe you will live, young man.” She released his wrist. “Let’s get you some soup. The doctor needs to check your wound.”
The boy followed her with his eyes, then turned to Ross as he translated for the boy. As Rudi stretched his arms above his head, he grimaced as he retracted his arm on the wounded side.
“They sewed you up there. It will probably be sore for a while. Maybe until they take out the stitches.”
“Is expressing medical opinions consistent with your qualifications?” A man wearing a long white coat with a stethoscope hanging from his neck said in German as he approached the bed from behind Ross. “After my examination, I will give you a real opinion.”
The doctor eyed Ross as he directed the boy to roll on his side. The doctor pulled down the blanket, then carefully removed the dressing covering the wound.
“You will have a bit of scar there, young man.” The doctor ran his finger over the stitched gash on Rudi’s side. “Not deep, but long, and you bled a lot. I gave you a shot to prevent tetanus as your immunization status was unknown.”
Rudi glanced at Ross, his brow furrowed, prompting Ross to repeat what the doctor said in simpler terms and using gestures.
“Ah, yes, I am afraid my German is not good enough to make it simpler. Thank you, Captain. Also, I have little experience with children.”
The doctor resumed his questioning in German as he replaced Rudi’s bandage. “I am Doctor Wessel. So, what is your name, young man?”
The boy still said nothing but glanced at Ross.
“His name is Rudi, according to his sister.”
“Captain, I am trying to determine his mental status. Unless he is mute, please let him speak for himself. So again, young man, what is your name?”
“Rudi.” His reply, a whisper as he stared at the doctor.
“Do you have a last name, Rudy?”
Again, Rudy said nothing, just glanced at Ross, who shrugged, silent.
The doctor scoffed, turned to Ross. “You don’t know either, or are you just intimidated by my bedside manner?”
“I really know nothing about him except he has a sister, and she told me his first name, nothing else.”
“Humph!” The doctor held up two fingers. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
He then had Rudi perform simple calculations. Satisfied with Rudi’s answers, the doctor handed him a clipboard with a blank sheet of paper. “Write a note to your sister telling her how you feel.”
Rudi wrote several sentences. His handwriting neat and legible. Finished, he returned the clipboard to the doctor.
A slight smile spread on the doctor’s face as he read Rudi’s note. “Who am I?”
“Doctor Wessel.” Rudi’s voice now a normal tone.
“I will feed you some lunch. An hour after you have eaten, I will come back. If you are doing okay, then you will have to leave, as I need this bed.”
As the doctor exited, Rudi sat up and grinned. “Can we go get Louise now?”