PACT WITH THE DEVIL

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CHAPTER THREE

At city hall, a scowling Sergeant stood guard on a truck blocking Ross’s Jeep. When the man turned to face him, Ross nodded toward the vehicle. “Can you move this thing?”

As he saluted, the Sergeant’s scowl deepened. “Not without orders.”

Ross pointed to his Captain’s bars. “Okay? Then move it.”

“I meant from someone with clout.”

“You, Captain Ross?”

Ross turned to the building. A man with a Major’s gold leaf on his helmet trotted down the stairs. As the officer approached, Ross stood straighter while the Sergeant snapped to attention and saluted. “I’m Ross.”

After returning the Sergeant’s salute, the Major glared at Ross. “You got a problem with rank, Captain?”

“Sorry?”

“You didn’t salute.”

“No, saluting helps snipers pick their target. Highest rank goes first.”

The Major scanned the surroundings. “They assured me they had cleared the area.”

Ross snapped to attention, saluted. Your funeral asshole, he thought to himself. “You’re lookin’ for me?”

“You’ve got a company near the camps, right?”

“They’re helping with the prisoners.”

“Your unit’s assigned to me.”

“To you?”

The Major nodded. “We’ll follow you to the camp. After that, you are to provide security for our mission.”

“Mission? And what will that be?”

“What I tell you to do. Now let’s get goin’ we need to get this show on the road.”

*****

After rounding up his unit from the camp, they roared down the road trailing a convoy of flatbed trucks.

Sergeant Harrison, perched in the Jeep’s back, leaned forward. “We’re escorts?”

Ross shrugged.

Harrison’s eyes roamed the roadside. “If we’re escorts, what are we doin’ in the back?”

“Don’t seem worried about ambush.”

“You see that Kraut they had with `em?”

“Guess he’s leadin’ `em somewhere. Might be another camp.”

Harrison shook his head. “But there ain’t any ambulances.”

As the sun rose, the convoy halted. Ross reached for his carbine as he scanned the roadside. The only sounds the rumble of Russian artillery in the East and the vehicles idling.

After several minutes Ross turned to his driver. “Let’s go find out what’s goin’ on.”

After pulling out around the truck ahead, the Jeep traveled to the convoy’s front. Beside an abandoned guard post outside a cave, the Major talked with a man wearing a German uniform. The German pointed to the cave several times as he spoke.

As Ross stepped from the Jeep, he turned to Harrison. “Let’s go find out what this party’s about.”

As Ross and Harrison approached, a squad from the trucks pushed the guard post’s gate out of the way. The Sergeant accompanying the Major waved the vehicles forward. Dust clouds rose as the trucks roared ahead. The Major and the German turned to Ross and Harrison as they approached.

The German, his dirty tunic torn in places, turned toward the sound of Russian guns. As in town, Ross snapped a salute, which the Major acknowledged before he turned toward the rumbling in the East.

“Sounds close.”

The Major turned back to Ross. “Not over twenty miles. Should be here tomorrow.”

As the last flatbed passed, a Jeep pulled up beside them. Before boarding it, the Major turned to Ross. “No need for your men to go inside.”

“What are we here for?”

“Set up a defensive perimeter.”

“That’s it?”

“Make sure no one follows us in.”

“No one?”

“That’s right. Especially the Russians.”

“But…”

“They’re our allies?”

Ross nodded.

“For now.”

Once the Major’s Jeep disappeared inside the cave, Ross’s men piled out of their trucks. Ross stretched. No sleep since the day before yesterday. He longed to curl up inside a truck bed. But not yet.

After Harrison dispersed the unit, he joined Ross. “What the fuck’s goin’ on?”

“According to the Major, we’re to make sure no one else enters.”

Harrison tipped his helmet back on his head. Nodded towards the cave. “He say what they’re after?”

“Nope. You got any thoughts?”

“All the way through France we heard about the Nazi’s lootin’ shit. Artworks, paintings, gold. S’pose that’s what this is? Some kinda treasure horde?”

“Whatever it is, this bunch ain’t sayin’.”

“You look dead on your feet.”

Ross yawned. “How `bout the men?”

“Despite all the bouncin’ around in the trucks, guess they got some shut-eye.”

“Set `em on two-hour watches then. I’ll take the first shift. You can spell me when you get a little rest yourself.”

“That an order?”

“Damn straight. But you could rustle up some coffee first. That shit you make would wake the dead. Might help me make it through the first shift.”

*****

Tank treads rumbling jarred Ross awake. Disoriented, he sat up. The men in the next foxhole switched the machine gun’s position towards the tank’s sounds. After donning his helmet, Ross glanced skyward. The sun’s position suggested afternoon, Harrison must have let him sleep through a double shift.

Harrison dropped in beside him. “Tanks.”

“Whose?”

“LP says they’re not ours, but don’t look like any Kraut tank they’ve seen.”

As an engine roared on their right, trees on that side crashed to the ground. A lumbering khaki-colored behemoth rolled into the road beside one of their trucks. Men wearing uniforms much like theirs, except with high-topped black boots, rolled off the back of the tank. Some carried stubby burp guns like Justine’s.

“Fuck. It’s the Russians.” Harrison turned to Ross. “What do we do?”

“We got a bazooka?”

“Fuck, no.”

Ross removed his white handkerchief from his pocket. “I guess I better talk to `em.”

“Keep `em covered!” At Harrison’s command, safeties down the line clicked, and rifle bolts snapped.

As Ross rose, he held both hands above his head, hoping the breeze would furl the handkerchief he stepped into the road. “We’re Americans.”

Two Russians slipped behind the tank, while another drew a bead on Ross. The tank’s turret swiveled, leaving Ross to stare down its massive barrel.

One Russian stepped forward. “You got cigarettes?”

“You got vodka?”

“Shit yes, cowboy.”

Ross turned back. “Any a you guys got smokes?”

“I got a carton a Luckies in our truck. I’ll get `em.”

The Russian grinned. After he spoke with his comrades, they lowered their weapons. One mounted the tank, tapped his gun butt on the hatch. A man emerged wearing a padded helmet. After the two spoke, the tanker disappeared, returning shortly with a bottle filled with a clear liquid. The man on the tank passed the container to the English speaker, who approached Ross grinning. “Are you General Patton?”

Ross shook his head. “Not hardly.”

“An aide, perhaps?”

“Never laid eyes on the man, why?”

Uncapping the bottle, he handed it to Ross. “We heard he might be sympathetic.”

“Sympathetic?”

“Might help free our country from these Russian assholes.”

“You’re not Russian?”

“Russian?” The man scowled. “No. Lithuanians. But we got this fine tank. Much better than yours. Patton needs us.”

After the soldier with the cigarettes gave them to Ross, he handed them to the would-be defector. Sergeant Harrison joined them. After he and Ross took a drink from the bottle, Harrison shook his head. “So, you ain’t Russians?”

“No, we volunteered for the spearhead. That way, we could find Patton. With luck, he might defeat them and get rid of Stalin. That crazy Georgian ruins everything.”

Harrison scratched his head as he peered at the tank. “How much gas you got in that thing?”

“We got filled up about an hour ago. Should be okay until sundown.”

Harrison nodded toward the road. “Well, Patton is not too far down that road. You might catch up with him by then.”

A broad grin spread on the man’s face as he spoke with his comrades. After remounting the tank, they handed down another bottle, waved as the tank sped away in the direction Harrison indicated.

*****

As the sun set, the Major’s Jeep emerged from the cave. After pulling to the roadside, the first flatbed trucks rolled out with tarps concealing their cargo. The Major dismounted and joined Ross and Harrison standing near the road’s edge.

As the first truck rolled by, the Major turned to Ross. “Any activity?”

Ross gave Harrison a quick, sidewise glance. “An element of the Russian vanguard came through.”

The Major scowled. “The Russians?” His head swiveled to the artillery rumbling in the East, then scanned the area. “Any problems?”

“No, sir. Helped them a little with directions, and they moved on. Others might move in soon, though.”

“Our work here is complete. With the Russians lurking about, I would feel more comfortable with your people stationed at both the front and rear of the column. Once we reach Mauthausen, your people can report to the area commander. We can take it from there.”

“Give us some time to form up.”

After the Major returned to his Jeep, Ross turned to Harrison. “I’ll take the first platoon as the lead escort. You bring the rest in trail.”

“Heavy weapons in back?”

Ross shrugged. “If we hit trouble, you’ll be able to come to the rescue.”

“Makes sense, but have Murph take the point Jeep.” Harrison nodded toward the flatbed. “Any ideas what’s under the tarp?”

“I’d guess a Ford sedan, rounded like that, but with the side overhang hard tellin’.”

That night as they rolled into Mauthausen, Ross’s contingent pulled over to let the flatbeds through. The Major’s Jeep pulled alongside Ross’s. “Any word from your Sergeant, Captain?”

Ross nodded. “They got the tire changed and are about fifteen minutes outside town.”

“Very good. As I said earlier, we can take it from here. When the last one arrives, your men are relieved.”

“What did we pick up from the cave?”

“All I can tell you is it might be the key to our country’s future.”

Soon the last flatbed arrived with the rest of Ross’s company escorting. As the flatbed convoy rolled out of town, Harrison joined Ross near his Jeep. “What’s next?”

“I checked with the boss at city hall. We head out in the morning. Make way for the Russians. This is theirs now.”

“Tarp came off that truck while they worked on it.”

Ross’s eyebrow rose. “Yeah?”

Harrison nodded. “Was real tense for a moment. Smitty tried to take a picture, and one a their guys threatened to take his camera.”

“So, what was it?”

Harrison leaned close. “If I tell ya, I might have to shoot ya.”

“What?”

“You got top-secret clearance?”

“Shit, Sergeant. You and I’ve seen it all. So, what was it?”

“Remember those funny lookin’ rocket planes we saw on that Kraut airfield?”

Ross nodded.

“Looked kinda like one a those.”

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