The Mark of the Corpsman



Doc grabbed Littlejohn's arm, steadying him, as two German guards jostled them forward along the sparsely lit corridor. The taller man groaned as he righted himself and moved ahead, helped by the medic. Doc glanced up at his companion, worried about the swelling in his face; Littlejohn needed a doctor right then, maybe even a hospital. Gravel had pelted his entire face, and his eyes had turned to swollen, reddened slits afterwards. And to make things worse, the big man's arm had bled right through his jacket sleeve. Now, Littlejohn could barely stand, let alone walk. The medic turned his attention back to the hallway before them. It reminded him of the P.O.W. train that the two men had taken on the way there. A long passage, interspersed with closed doors, each leading to some unknown eventuality, stretched on ahead of him. Doc had no idea which of those doors the Krauts wanted him to take Littlejohn to, but the thought of having to go inside one of those rooms scared him. Who knew what waited on the other side?

"Vorvärts!" snapped a dry-throated voice behind him. "Nummer vier. Schnell!" The guard waved a Schmeisser, ordering the two men on.

Doc turned towards the German, a worried frown on his face. "Careful! This man's hurt!" He saw a jagged scar running down the man's left cheek all the way to his upper lip, making his hostile sneer look even more sinister.

The Americans stumbled on, unable to understand the sentrys words, and finally plunked themselves in front of a door at the very end of the hall.

"Doc," Littlejohn groaned. A long sigh escaped his lips. "I could use some morphine."

"Take it easy, Littlejohn. I can't do anythin' now. We'll get you a doctor."

"Ruhig! Silence!" yelled the German behind them.

Littlejohn's left arm fell to his side, reddened and useless. Pain seared through it when he tried to lift it back up. He lowered his head, grimacing. "Lousy son of a bitch," he muttered under his breath. Slowly, he grasped his wrist and tucked the hand up inside his uniform shirt.

Doc frowned as he glanced at Littlejohns face. The bandage he'd put still covered the eyes, but a lot of blood had seeped out of the gauze between the shoulder and the bent elbow. It had been clean just a short while earlier. He needed to put in a new one. Damn! The medical bag was gone. The Krauts had taken it away, along with Docs belt and helmet. The medic placed a supporting hand underneath Littlejohn's elbow; it was all the help he could give his patient.

The door in front of them opened, and Doc saw a large, well-lit room with tall windows along two walls.

"Die Gefangener sollen herein kommen," ordered a man standing behind a massive oak desk. A Gestapo captain, according to his insignias.

The medic helped his companion shuffle over to a pair of wooden chairs placed in the middle of the room. His heart raced as he watched the German captains eyes wander from his unshaven face to Littlejohn's. The officer pursed his lips in disgust at the sight of the bloodied bandage covering Littlejohns arm. Doc gripped him more tightly, fearing that the Kraut would find the big, wounded American to be a useless burden on his soldiers and order him shot. "Stop it! Start thinkin' straight! …Sarge wouldn't say that!" Doc shook himself back to some kind of sense. He must be getting tired and damned scared to be drifting into such thinking.

Silently, the German captain strode over to them. He squared himself in front of Littlejohn with his hands behind his back. "You were arrested far from your lines, private," he declared. "So tell me. What is your unit? And how many men were there with you?"

Littlejohn answered with silence, his mouth set in defiance.

"I think I know what your mission was in that sector. But please humor me. Will you state it openly?"

When Littlejohn refused to speak, the captain gestured at the guard beside him. The soldiers rifle slammed against Littlejohns bandaged shoulder. The tall man sucked in a breath, lowering his head, and clutched his arm again. He pressed it against his chest and stifled a groan, willing the pain to subside.

The captain turned his attention to the other prisoner, studying him. Finally, his gaze rested on the red cross on Doc's armband. Gingerly, the officer stepped before the medic and lifted the dog tags hanging from his neck. "You wear the brassard of the Corpsman, he stated, reading the inscription. “You have medical training?"

"I ain't a doctor. Just a medic."

The German indicated Littlejohn. "This man has been wounded. He should have medical attention. Why have you not given him this care?"

"Well, I want to. But your men took away my bag, Captain." Doc stared at the German, worry set into his features, and grimaced as a low-pitched groan escaped from Littlejohn. "Look. This man's in pain. You've got to send him to a hospital. I can't do a thing for him here."

"Remain silent, medic. You will speak only to answer questions. That is all." The captain stepped over to the desk and picked up a cigarette box lying on the corner. Then, he extracted a long, black holder from his jacket and inserted a cigarette in it. "You are spies," he stated in a matter-of-fact voice.

"What?" Doc protested, glancing at Littlejohn. "No, we're not. We're just...." A cloud of smoke wafted across the captain's face. Doc stopped talking. Why should he try to explain? The Kraut wasn't listening anyway.

"You were arrested near Lorraine," the captain continued calmly. "Our men tell us that a letter was found in your possession. This paper was concealed in your medical trousse."

"That's not true. We weren't arrested. I was takin' this man back to an aid station when we were captured. I only had my bag and my...." He gasped audibly as a guard next to him grabbed his shoulder and shoved him backwards. Doc landed on the hard surface of the wooden chair, receiving a brutal jolt up his spine.

Littlejohn, left unsupported, almost stumbled to his knees. Still, the big man made a sudden move towards the guard, his hand raised.

"It's okay, Littlejohn!" Doc exclaimed, worried that his friend might try a fool thing like jumping the Kraut. He reached out to steady the wounded soldier. "I'm fine, now. Just take it easy. You're in no shape to… " His words stuck inside his throat when a pair of German rifles dug into his back beneath his shoulder blades. Jeez! They were about to kill him. Whether he talked or not didn't make any difference. He was going to die right there if the captain decided it. Clenching his jaws to control his clattering teeth, Doc sat back on the chair.

For a hot, interesting moment, he imagined Sarge, Lieutenant Hanley and the rest of the squad bursting into the room, swinging their weapons up at the Krauts and opening up. Boy! Sarge sure would take care of them all in a hurry! He'd be free and able to go back to his lines, then. But Doc just sat back quietly and sighed. He really was tired, thinking like that. Sarge wasn't likely to be there anytime soon. "Look," he told the captain, staring straight at him. "I don't know anything about any letter. I'm not a spy. Sir, my medical bag was taken away on the train by some of your men. I ain't seen it since."

The medic reached out to help ease Littlejohn onto the chair beside him. The tall man remained silent during this, merely facing their captor with blazing eyes. Doc felt him shudder slightly. That arm of his was getting worse. Littlejohn needed morphine. He needed a doctor.

"Well, naturally we have it!" the German chortled. "We are not stupid." The officer paced before them, his thin face seething with impatience. "Amerikaner. You have a limited number or rights as soldiers in our custody," he said, his eyes narrowing, "but none whatsoever as spies. So. As I said. You are both under arrest."

"The Krauts found it," Doc thought, swallowing. He was deep in muck. He knew it.

He gulped as he remembered an old woman on the train stashing a folded paper in his bag, saying it was a letter to her son in the Resistance. He'd been so damned busy tending to Littlejohn that he hadn't even protested. The thing must have been written in French. He had no idea what it said.

The rifle barrels dug roughly into his back. His mouth went dry, thinking a bullet would rip through his chest any moment. "Are you going to let this man see a doctor?"he rasped.

The Gestapo officer strode over to a nearby table and took a carafe filled with brown liquor. Silently, he poured some into a crystal glass. "We are temporarily short of medical staff," he said. "An unfortunate situation, is it not?" He brought the glass to his lips.

"Then let me have my stuff back, Captain. My friend's hurt. I'll do what I can."

"Ah. I am happy to hear this," the captain said, swirling the glass. He nodded at the band on Doc's left arm. "I will explain. Since our doctors are momentarily absent, you will be required to perform Arbeit, work, for us. Your trousse will be returned to you when it is time."

"Work?" Doc could scarcely believe his ears. His heart drummed hard enough to knock out his chest wall. "You mean medic's work, Captain? You got some wounded?" Hed once heard that the Germans, despite having their own medics, sometimes forced American prisoners to assist with medical work. Well, he'd assist them. It beat getting shot as a spy. And if it got Littlejohn to a hospital, he might get help, too. Wordlessly, he nodded at the captain.

"You will perform work that our doctors are unable to do at present. So long as you obey, you will be of use to us, Amerikanische Doktor, and both of you will remain here. If you refuse..." He gulped down the last of the liquor and showed Doc the empty glass. "You will collaborate. Yes?"

Doc just nodded again, ignoring Littlejohn's puzzled expression. He'd gotten the message clearly.

Very quickly, the prisoners were ordered to stand and leave the room.

The hallway stretched on before them again, filled with the echoes of clattering boot steps, shouted orders, distant cries wailing out. As they exited the building and crossed a wide central courtyard, Doc saw extensive bomb damage to the fortress along one side. Several sentries above them stared at the two Americans as they walked towards a row of cellblocks located at the rear. He helped Littlejohn walk up to an iron gate. Over it, Doc read: "FRAUEN SEKTION".

Once back inside, the prisoners came to a narrow room with a few metal cots along a wall. Familiar hospital smells pervaded the air, clogging their lungs. Ether, sweat ...blood. Each cot held several bandaged men. Ghost-white faces turned in the medic's direction as the prisoners entered, but most of the patients kept their eyes closed.

A gray-haired officer in a white coat approached. "You are an American medical corpsman? We much need your assistance. You will stay. But your companion will have to go to prisoner's quarters now." He gestured at two guards. "Soldat!"he called out. "Nimm den grosse Gefangener. Bring ihn durch zum anderen Schlafsaal."

"Jawohl, Herr Hauptman." They came up beside Littlejohn and took his arms.

"Hey! Couldn't you just leave 'im...?" Doc began to protest, wanting to remain with him, then swallowed his words as a rifle began to push Littlejohn away. The tall man stumbled towards a door at the left, away from his companion. Doc saw him clutch his wounded arm, his face paper-white and drenched beneath his woolen cap.

Littlejohn paused in front of the doorway to catch his breath and turned towards Doc, his features set. The Kraut guards shoved their weapons into his chest, ordering him to cross it. Sighing, Littlejohn complied, and his massive head almost banged against the frame.

The gray-haired German stood before Doc, taking out a folded pair of glasses from his coat. "He will go with other prisoners. You. Komm. You assist."

"This is a hospital?" Doc asked, surveying the narrow room. The men in the cots sniffled and coughed .

"I show you the plasma box,"the doctor continued. "You replace all empty bottles where needed. Also change bandages, count the number of dead. This you will do, yes?"

A German soldier poked his head through a far door, gesturing excitedly at the doctor. The gray-haired man hurried out after him, leaving the medic alone with the armed soldier.

Doc delved into the box and extracted a glass container scribbled with German codes. He scanned the room, noting several bottles that needed to be changed. He strode over to the first cot and set the new bottle in place, examining the prone patient in it.

Beside the next cot hung a bottle bearing similar markings to the one in his hand. He frowned, seeing a lifeless man lying on it. A waxy, pallid face surrounded purple-colored lips. That body made one dead to be counted. No need to put in a new bottle. The man next to him on the cot also lay quite rigid, with a waxen face and dark blue lips. He'd died the same way as the first one, it seemed. Doc bent over each of them, checking their pulse to make sure. He found none. But the first dead man sure didn't look that badly injured; a bandage covered his shoulder, and that was all.

Another glance at the plasma bottles of each patient showed identical code markings. He stared at the label on the one in his hand. They were the same as that one. Two men had died receiving plasma from that same shipment hed just taken it from. Doc could see no injuries on either of them to explain their deaths. He stared at the guard beside him.

The Kraut tood a step closer, raising his weapon. "Du! Los!"

"No!" Doc replied, frowning.

His gaze wandered over to the next bed, finding an identical bottle above that one. The patient in it also lay lifeless with the same white face and dark lips. Those three deaths looked suspiciously like poisonings to him. The German medics might have been too busy to notice anything. They looked shorthanded anyway. He had to warn them. "Come here!" he said, stepping over to the shipment box. The guards followed.

He pointed at the lifeless patients. "Those men are dead. Look, have this stuff checked out. I think it's bad. Contaminated." He put the bottle underneath his nose and sniffed it, making an exagerated grimace in the hope of getting his meaning across to him. "Bad!"

"Fär doch fort! Arbeite!" A rifle came up against Docs chest as the sentry with the scarred face drew closer, sneering along with his companion, ordering him to go on.

Doc showed them the bottle, ignoring the fear welling up in his throat. "I know your doctor's busy but try to get him in here. He'll understand." Still, he had to try and make them understand somehow. But the guard with the long scar just kept on sneering at him. Doc fought down the panic; they weren't getting the message.

A German orderly appeared at the door. He frowned, surveying the scene. "Was ist los?"

One of the guards answered and chuckled along with the other German.

"Can't any of you speak English?" Doc continued, urgently. "Listen to me! Try to get your doctor in here!" They just had to catch on that he was trying to help. Frustration welled in him, overshadowing his fear. The language barrier was going to cost lives! "You can't give this plasma. You have to throw it out! Look at those men. They're all dead because of this stuff...” All of a sudden, the thought of Littlejohn being hooked up to that poison seemed a real possibility. Doc clasped the edge of the box and shook it. "Don't give this to anybody!"

"Arbeite, Doktor!" The Kraut with the scarred face slammed his rifle into Doc's armband, making him gasp.

No way was Littlejohn or anybody else getting this. Gulping, Doc shoved the box off of its table. It crashed to the ground, scattering broken glass and liquid contents all across the floor.

Something hit Doc in the back of the head. His vision blurred and his heart stopped, for what seemed like a long time, as the room spun and then disappeared. He stumbled sideways and landed on his knees, feeling sick. He reached out instinctively to steady himself, and gasped as the ball of his hand settled on razor-sharp glass. German soldiers grabbed him and pulled him back up. He stood, wobbling, before the soldiers, trying to focus through the pain in his head. The floor beneath him became liquid, as if it would swallow him up. He strained hard to stop the room from swirling so much.

A face appeared before him. He recognized the man in the white coat, looking damned angry. Relief at destroying the poison mixed with terror over what the Germans would do about it.

Doc blinked, unable to make out the German medic's tirade and tried to shake his head. He couldn't do it; it would rip apart. His vision blurred again. Clutching his bleeding hand, he tried once more to explain. "Look. When your other doctor gets here, you'll understand! That plasma's bad. It's got to...."

A flash of lightning overcame him. The whole world went white. His knees buckled, and he crumbled to the ground. Dizzily, he felt himself being gripped by strong hands and dragged off. What had happened to him? He couldn't remember. Images of Caje and of Sarge appeared before his eyes. His squad buddies were standing along a road, smiling. He waved and headed towards them. "No, that's not right." he realized, dimly. The scene changed; Caje was lying in a ditch, hissing with pain and holding onto a bleeding thigh. Doc was desperately trying to put pressure on the flowing wound, worried about arterial damage, telling the Cajun to take it easy. A groan escaped Doc's lips. That was impossible too. It had happened weeks ago…

The tips of his boots dragged against the ground. His head felt like an exploding balloon. A thought formed in his mind."Don't give that poison to Littlejohn!"

He was lifted to a standing position. To his surprise, he remained vertical. Then, he realized that two Krauts were keeping him up.

Before he knew it, Doc saw a stocky woman in dark clothes step before him from the shadows and look at him with a hard eye. She led them to a far door and shoved it open with a loud creak. It was cell no. 21 and Doc entered it, pushed inside by a Kraut guard's rifle. Hoarse chuckles echoed from the hallway behind him as the door clanged shut again, plunging Doc into darkness.

***

"Have you Schmerz? Huh... pain?"

Littlejohn shook his head. He was gonna say "no" to every damned question, no matter what. The stench in the room almost turned his stomach, despite his hunger. He heard coughs and moans and grunts all around him. Suddenly, the bandage on his face came away and a light shone into his eyes, making him squint. He distinguished a youngish-looking man staring into his face. Littlejohn sucked in his breath as rough hands removed the bandage on his arm, stared at the injury, and placed a new one.

An orderly holding a plasma bottle glanced tiredly at the wounded American. So, this one lost some blood and got some gravel in his face. What did he care? Why were his superiors ordering him to use supplies on prisoners, anyway? This was the last of the bottles, and he had a million things to occupy his time right then. No plasma for the big one. "Nächste!" he snapped, waving a guard over to Littlejohn.

The sentry took him to a cell and sat him down next to a wall. He heard a heavy metal door squeak shut a minute later. Littlejohn stayed where he was, feeling as if his arm would fall off. It weighed a ton! The new bandage squeezed his bicep painfully. The wound must have swelled up. He didn't dare remove the gauze and check. He blinked, trying to peer at the darkness. His whole face burned. An artillery shell exploding right in front of you will do that.

"Vous êtes Americain?" said a voice next to him.

"Yeah. I'm an American."

"Are you alone?"

"In here, yeah." Littlejohn stopped talking. He'd already said way too much to this stranger. He felt so tired he could drop. He kept his thoughts on Doc. Why'd they keep him away? What were they going to do to him? He didn't know what the heck was going on with the medic, and it scared him.

***

Doc dropped to his knees, feeling as if his legs had turned to rubber. Something was in there with him; he thought he'd heard rats in the corner. He hated rats. Once, when he was six years old, he had left a half-eaten sandwich on the floor of his closet, behind some shoes. Some time later, the sight of a huge rat in there, dry crust in its paws, had startled him to death when he'd gone in to fetch his train set. Doc shuddered at the sudden memory.

The drumming in his ears started beating even faster. He had to get away from those things! He tried to stand, and he winced as he put some weight on his injured hand.

"Qui est là?" whispered a woman's voice near the far wall.

Doc sat back, startled. His heart raced; he squinted, trying to see who had spoken. It was a woman in there, not a rat like he'd first thought. He wondered, confusedly, if those women might be dangerous.

"What'd you say, m'am?" Nausea overtook him. His head hurt so badly! The word "concussion" came fuzzily to his mind.

"Un homme! T'as endendu ça?" another woman added.

"Tais-toi!" exclaimed yet another. "Ne dis rien! Sûr, c'est un boche!"

"Ma'am?" Doc whispered. "Don't worry. I won't hurt you. I'm an American. A medic. Can you understand?" He stopped speaking, catching his breath, and gingerly placed his good hand on the back of his head, feeling the swelling there. The light pressure from his fingers rang a loud bell inside his ears. "Concussion," he concluded. "Maybe even a skull fracture." He must have been slugged damned hard. He tried, unsuccessfully, to remember what had happened to him.

A ray of faint light, shining through a barred window above, showed a series of slim, pale faces staring at him from the far side of the cell. They all sat in a row, bunched together. As Docs eyes adjusted to the darkness, he made out five or six of them.

The last thing he could remember was the Gestapo captain standing in front of him, telling him hed assist the Germans. He'd been sent in here to do it? For what? This wasn't a hospital, and those women were civilians. Nobody had even given him back his medical bag. What was he supposed to do there, anyway?

Docs hand hurt, just as much as his head did. He examined it, frowning. Blood flowed from a deep cut, and something was lodged inside the wound, sending sharp jabs all through his hand. He had no way to take it out. He kept up pressure on it despite the pain, wondering how he had cut it. And he wondered where the Germans had taken Littlejohn. Just when was it he'd last seen him? What was going to happen to the big guy?

One of the women, wearing a dark-colored dress, crawled over to him. She had long, dark hair and looked very thin. Doc guessed her to be about twenty. "You are American?" she asked. "A prisoner, yes? Not come to liberate us, then?"

"No, ma'am. I'm sorry." He felt relieved to know one of them spoke English. "I'm just a medic. The Germans brought me here. I don't know why, ma'am."

"C'est pas la Libération?" another voice asked. "Mais, les bombes!"

"Non. C'est juste un docteur," answered the first one. Her eyes rested on his hand. "You are holding your arm. Are you hurt?"

"I'll be alright. It's just a cut."

The woman returned to the others and talked quietly with them in very fast French for a while.

They were holding a meeting, Doc realized. It probably had to do with him. He looked around the small cell. Finally, he crawled over to a corner of the darkened room and propped himself against a wall.

After a minute, the woman returned to his side, holding out a piece of cloth. "For your hand," she explained. "This is precious to us. We hide it from the boches."

Doc took it, expecting it to be a bandage. He unfolded the cloth and found needles, thread and a pair of nail scissors tucked inside. It was a small sewing kit. Yes, he could use this. "Thank you, ma'am." Using the instruments, he removed the fragment from his hand and held it up in the faint light, recognizing a shard of glass. He thought he remembered holding a bottle filled with clear liquid poison and wanting to throw it down, panicking at the thought of being forced to take it with him somewhere. The image faded. He tried to grasp it again. It seemed important, somehow. But he couldn't even tell if that had been real event or not. His brain just refused to function.

He heard one of the women in the group sobbing quietly.

"Papa, maman..., morts. Chère Marie.... Tous morts..." she muttered.

The women huddled around the sobbing one. Their words, whispered in the dark, came to Doc's ears. He hadn't gotten their meaning, but boy; he knew the word "mort". He'd seen, up close, exactly what it meant too damned often since coming to France. Dead. Death. He sighed. Couldn't the one who spoke English tell him what was wrong? Doc rubbed his eyes, trying to calm down the hooves stomping inside his head. He wondered again if his skull was fractured, and how his head would feel like if it were.

Using a piece of the offered cloth, Doc wrapped his injured hand and then sat quietly in the night hours. He kept seeing an image of his friend's massive head going beneath a doorframe. The thought made Doc clench his eyes shut. He wondered, for the dozenth time, where the Krauts had taken Littlejohn. The big guy was all alone somewhere. Would the Krauts even have any use to keep him alive?

Doc had heard one of the women utter the word "boche", a while back. Maybe they believed he'd been planted in their cell to spy on them. The Kraut captain had even accused him of being a spy. He sighed, looking at his wounded hand. Before the war, he'd only been able to find the dull job of grocery clerk, putting cans up on shelves, pricing boxes, bagging items at the checkout. Now, he could tell anyone around that he was a working army medic. No one knew that, as a boy, he'd often crouched behind the old stove, watching his mamma cook while he pretended she was "The Indians", secure in the childish knowledge that she didn't suspect he was there. "Spying's no game over here," he reminded himself grimly. "You get tortured and shot for that."

A voice spoke up, interrupting his thoughts. "Docteur? Can you come here? Help us, please."

"What, ma'am?" He crept across the darkened cell and reached the inmates along the opposite wall. He sat there, staring at a half-dozen pale figures. Doc had no idea what they expected him to do.

"My name is Béatrice,"the woman said. She turned to the others. "Allez. Écartez-vous de là."

The women moved back, letting Doc see one tiny figure sitting at the edge of a mat, her arms over her chest. Her head was bent forward, showing a closely cropped skull of dark hair.

Doc raised her chin with his good hand and tried to make out her face. "What's wrong with you, miss?"

Vacant eyes looked up at him.

"She does not speak English. Her name is Lydie. It is her ankle. She cannot stand on it. I think it is ...fracturée?

"You mean broken? Well, let me see." Gingerly, he took the woman's foot and examined the ankle. "No. I don't think so. It's just a little stiff." He could make out a knee and thigh as thin as a cane. "She should get up and walk around some. Move a little bit. She's just gonna waste away sittin' like that." Doc nodded at the woman's head. She was the only one of the group to have been shorn. "Why'd the Krauts cut off all her hair?"

"That, she did herself." Béatrice answered. "She told us. One day, the boches came to her village like loosened dogs. She was arrested with her family. A traitor had denounced them. A boche major separated her from her parents, and he brought her to his house in a car. She was very beautiful, and the major, he told her to go to clean herself at the bath and wait for him. He said he will return when she was ready. She did as she was told. But before that boche arrived, she found a small knife and destroyed her long curls. She left nothing. When he entered, the major said 'Go away! You are a monster! Let me see you no more!'"

"I understand," he replied, putting her ankle down. "It's lucky she's still alive."

"Yes. She was brought on train to this prison and not killed, as she had feared. But all her family are dead save for a sister, who is called Sylvette. Sylvette is in a cell just below us since yesterday."

"Excuse me, ma'am. How can you know that? Did somebody tell you?"

The woman took a wooden spoon, showing it to him. "With the téléphone."

"Telephone!" Doc looked at her, incredulous. "You all can talk with that thing?"

"Yes. It is a very useful tool for speaking to each other. We communicate. Find out where our friends are."

Doc rubbed him chin, understanding dawning on him. "Can you find one of mine with it? He's very tall, and he's wounded right now. He got shrapnel in his face and his arm. I don't know where he is."

Without a word, Béatrice took the spoon and rapped it softly against the wall four times. Similar sounds echoed from the other side. Then, she tapped once. Another sound answered it. The woman repeated the gesture again, paused, and then hit the instrument against the wall in rapid succession. "We wait now," she explained when she'd finished. "Perhaps your friend is in the new hospital nearby. We learned that a bomb destroyed the main hospital a short time ago. Many boches and also prisoners were killed by an explosion there."

Doc remembered the words he'd heard earlier, about doctors being absent. "So that's what that captain meant!"

"When that part of the building was destroyed, the women's section here was taken for use as their hospital. They removed all of us who were kept there and locked us in here. We have not seen daylight since."

"I don't get it. Why'd anybody want to bomb this place, anyway? Thought this was just a prison."

"The boches certainly have important reserves here. Munitions perhaps, or war plans. I do not know what. To protect them, they have placed here many French prisoners."

"You mean you people are being used as shields, is that it?"

"Such is the way of cowards, is it not? Our armies continue to strike against the boches even though we are here. Let them. I'm afraid, but if my own death would mean less time of war, then I would not regret it."

A series of sounds echoed in the next cell in rapid bursts. Béatrice placed her ear to the wall and listed to them for what seemed like a long time. To Doc they all sounded like a bunch of clanking noises. When silence returned, she used the spoon to rap against the wall a few more times. "I am thanking them," she explained. "To be polite is best, is it not? Your friend. His name is Little...john? He is kept in prisoner's section of hospital nearby. He is wounded, but alive."

Doc let out a long sigh, relieved to hear the news of his companion.

***

"Littlejohn? Is this what you are called?" The man beside him put down his wooden instrument.

"So? What about it?"

"That is a colorful name. My name is Gérard Houdon. Yes. I am an old man. And a prisoner."

"How come?"

"My son killed a member of the Wehrmacht. For that, they arrested us both. I tell you about the boche. They fill conquered people with promises of glory and victory. All lies to better fool the young and impressionable. One day, I watched Frenchmen enter the homes and businesses of their neighbors and destroy them. I shouted when I saw this. Asked them to stop. Why should this be done unto someone they have known for a long time and called friend? But these young traitors ordered us to stay aside and not intervene. It is not our concern, it seems. Me? I love only beauty and lively colors. So I tried to take my son far away. I wished to begin a new life, forget this war and spend quiet days painting all I see around me."

"You paint? Like, pictures? Wow. I tried to paint a heifer once. It turned out pretty good, my folks said."

"Yes." The man glanced at Littlejohn. "You cannot see, can you? Here. Let me paint for you now the room that we are in."

"Okay."

***

A low-pitched moan cut through the cell.

"Docteur," Béatrice muttered quietly. "Please come here. There is something else. I must tell you." She took his arm and led him nearer to the group to show him a white-faced young woman sitting against the wall, trying to keep out of view.

"What's wrong with her, miss?"

"She would not wish me to tell you, but there is a baby coming," Béatrice answered

"Baby?" Doc exclaimed, dumfounded. "You mean, this lady here. She's in labor right now? Ma'am, you should have said something before!" He kneeled in front her, examining her. She seemed so young and her body, so slim. What baby were they talking about? Doc shook his head. "She can't be pregnant!"

The frail-looking woman sucked in her breath and grasped the folds of her dress, her face white.

Doc placed his hand on her stomach, finally understanding the situation. "A corset," he said. "She's concealin' herself underneath it, ain't she ma'am? Why don't they just take her to a hospital if she's about to have a baby, instead of leavin' her here?"

"When the boches know of it, they will take the baby away. So she hides her condition. Our guard knows of this. She is kind and has tried to help us. But the birth is not going well."

"Yeah. I bet it isn't." Doc examined the sobbing woman more closely, placing comforting hand on her arm. He wasn't sure what else to do. He shuddered; he'd never delivered a baby before. "She ain't helping it along, is she? Is there something wrong with her? Is it coming too soon?"

"Her name is Madeleine. She is twenty-one years old, a schoolteacher. Her husband is in the Résistance. When she was arrested, she was found to possess his revolver. She will die for it. The boches are only waiting for this baby to be born in order to execute her. So she does what she can to survive longer, non?" Béatrice replied.

"Well, I know she's scared, but all she's gonna do is make herself worse. Maybe even the baby, too."

The pregnant woman shook off the medic's hand and pushed him away.

"Now, take it easy, ma'am." Doc spoke in the gentlest tone he could muster, hoping it might reassure the woman even if she didn't understand what he said. "I know you don't want any help at all, but you'll be fine, I promise. That baby's coming. You can't do nothin' about it now." Poor kid looked so scared fighting him off like that, he figured it didn't matter what he said to her. She wasn't about to cooperate and hurry things along. He could see her straining hard to breathe. That corset had to come off. "It'll be all right. You'll do fine."

"Non! Laisses-moi!" she cried, looking defiantly at him. She shook her head, her eyes riveted to his face.

Béatrice stroked the girl's face, trying to soother her. "Mado. Ça va aller. Respires bien." She turned to Doc, nodding slightly. "Now. Please try it." She helped him untie the woman's dress from the back, and both of them started to pull out the tightly drawn laces.

"Until now," Béatrice explained, "Madeleine has refused our pleas to let us remove this."

"Progress at last."

Doc sucked in his breath at seeing her ribs sticking out so visibly. The girl was just skin and bones. "She's lookin' pretty hungry," he said. "What are the Germans giving you all to eat, miss?"

"With each day, the guards bring bad coffee, dirty water to drink, sometimes some porridge with raisins or a bowl of soup. That is on good days, when we are not in punishment."

Jeez! No wonder they all looked so frail! Shaking his head, he reached into his jacket pocket to extract a small piece of chocolate. The Krauts had missed taking it from him that morning. Deftly, he handed it to Béatrice. "That's all the food I have, miss. Give it to her later. She needs it more than I do."

He remembered Krauts coming up on him as he led Littlejohn along a trail. One of them opened his jacket, almost yanking it off him in his rough search, and fishing out his ration box. The German had stuffed his prize inside his own kaki uniform with a satisfied smile.

"Would you get water if you have some and the cloth thing you had before?" he asked. "That sewing kit?" It was precious little, but it would have to do.

"If I can be of use to you, I try to will help. Once, my father came home shot in the shoulder, and I tended him. That way, I learned how to treat battle wounds."

"Yeah, well, join the club."

Doc took the folded piece of material again. He flinched as another pained cry came from the young girl. Removing that corset was starting to have some effect after all. Her face gleamed in the moonlight.

He had only heard a single word out of the pregnant woman since he'd come in the cell. Her eyes had turned as empty as his pockets. He put on a reassuring smile. "Ma'am? How're we doin' now?" He placed his hand on her stomach again, trying to feel some kind of hardness, or bulging, or something to tell him what was going on. Her baby was probably dead. It wasn't moving. "I don't even have my bag,” he told Béatrice. “I can't do anything if she starts to hemorrhage. How long's she been like this?"

"Two or three days."

He let out an audible sigh. "She should go to the hospital."

"I know."

A strong wave of contractions gripped the pregnant woman, and she cried out.

Doc felt sick with helpless worry as he watched her face shine with sweat and her stomach heave with frightening suddenness. He was panting harder than that pregnant woman, he realized. He brought a bowl of water to her lips, and then he swallowed a long mouthful from it himself. He poured several drops onto his hands to cleanse them. It would be his last. The rest he was keeping for the mother. "And for the baby if it comes out alive," came a faint afterthought.

As suddenly as it had begun, the contraction eased. Madeleine slumped against the wall, staring emptily at Doc. Her shoulders trembled.

"It will be dawn soon," Béatrice told him quietly. "There will be air raids. Always, they come just before dawn."

"Boy, that's all we need now!" Doc replied. He'd put all thoughts of those things out of his mind. Now, they flooded back. Images of Littlejohn, barely able to stand, flashed in his mind. The big lug would be helpless if he got caught in an air raid.

As another contraction gripped the pregnant woman, she closed her eyes and held her breath. Worried, Doc squeezed her hand. "Would you tell her to breathe slow and regular, miss? Not hold it in like that?" he asked Béatrice. Something was real wrong. He knew it. Three days of this and no baby had come yet!

Loud sirens rang to life in the fortress, almost making Doc jump out of his skin. Béatrice had been right; bombers could be heard in the distance, their drone getting ever louder. He knew the Germans were hearing it, too. Boots clattered in the hallway as guards rushed by, shouts echoed in the distance. Suddenly, a gunshot rang out. Everyone in the cell stared at one another. One woman sprang up and rattled the bars on the door, screaming for their captors to let them out. "Venez vite! Sortez-nous d'ici! On va mourir!" Others huddled together in a tight group and started to mutter prayers.

"Hé!" With a sarcastic tone, one of the women enjoined the one at the door to calm down. "Ferme-la, Alice! Ça fera des boches de moins!"

Doc gestured towards the screaming woman. "Please tell her to take it easy, miss. She can't do nothin' by panicking now."

"Yes, you are right," Béatrice answered. "She complains all the time. About everything. There is always one like that in every group, do you not find?

Doc was about to answer that he knew one himself when Madeleine let out a soft groan and reached out to grab his hand.

The building shook as a bomb hit the earth somewhere nearby, making everyone flinch.

Madeleine grasped her friend's hand, her face white around dark, panic-filled eyes. Her body stiffened again. She doubled over, catching her breath, and let out a piercing scream. The baby was coming right now, Doc realized. "Lie still, ma'am. Would you tell her, please? It's time." He could see the top of a dark head, just a little bit of it. The walls around their cell shook as another explosion rocked the prison. "Have you got something, a sheet, miss?"

Gripping the hands of her companions, the young woman delivered a small, warm, unmoving infant boy into Doc's trembling hands. Its tiny, scrunched-up face gleamed in the moonlight. The babys legs unfolded, looking no bigger than his grandpas pipe. He bundled it instantly into a torn frock given to him by Béatrice, leaving its face free. Its eyes and mouth stayed closed. Doc hesitated, wondering what to do. He finally shook the infant delicately and turned its head down, trying to get it to breathe. He wasn't sure that it would. That babe was so small, and it was staying quiet an awfully long time. Using the nail scissors, he cut its life cord and then fastened it with a length of thread. "Come on, now. Move, you little thing! Move!" He clung to it, watching intently for any sign of life.

A thunderous explosion shook the walls of the building again, infernally close this time. The window above them rattled loudly and cracked apart. That bomb must have hit right inside the prison. Worried, Doc gripped the inert infant.

Suddenly, the tiny form opened its mouth as air rushed into its lungs. It struggled feebly against the cloth. The faint sounds coming from the baby must be a cry, Doc guessed. The newborn was breathing, kicking and fighting for its life as hard as any soldier. He hugged it against his chest. "Can you tell her it's a boy, miss?"

Béatrice held out a hand to touch the small head. "C'est un garçon, Mado! Il est très beau."

"...I guess I should say congratulations," Doc added, hoping it was the right thing do. "Here. Go right ahead. Take him." Doc hugged the little bundle a last time. He wasn't sure the woman would even want it. Still, he placed the infant against on her chest, flinching as distant crashing sounds came to his ears.

"Please. May I?" Béatrice asked, reaching for the canteen. Quietly, she deposited the sewing kit in its place.

Doc answered by backing away and allowing the Frenchwomen to come near his young patient. He guessed they all wanted to have a look at the baby while it was still in there.

"Au nom du Père, Du Fils et du Saint-Esprit, je te baptise...." They prayed in whispered voices.

He settled against a far wall and watched them perform their homemade baptism. He'd always thought of birth as a miracle, but what he'd just witnessed was something else. That tiny child fought hard to come into this world. It waged a battle to live as bloody as any he'd seen, and it still hadn't won yet. "That woman needs to go to a hospital," he repeated when their ceremony was over. "Give that little baby a chance. The Krauts are gonna find out about this. She can't hide it forever."

Alice crept over and sat down beside him. "Madeleine will die now," she said, matter-of-factly.

"Well, we don't know for sure. Maybe the Krauts were just sayin' it to get her to talk. They're pretty good liars." He looked down at his injured hand, flexing the fingers above the bandage. It throbbed badly now. Funny that he hadn't felt any pain in it during the birth.

"Yes," the woman answered. "That is exactly what I have told her all this time. To keep her hopes up."

Doc's head pounded mercilessly with each beat in his chest. He sat back and rubbed his eyes. "You know, you did pretty good. What did you do before the war, miss Béatrice?"

"My family owned a small store in Caen. A grocery store. And you? What did you do?"

An explosion shook the cell again, making the door rock against its hinges. She flinched, as the shock wave made the walls vibrate all the way to the ceiling.

"Guess they're usin' this town for target practice," Doc commented, trying to ease the tension. "Boy, they're really throwin' it in." He patted her hand and nodded with a reassuring grin. "It's all right, miss," he said. "Just duck and you'll be fine." He was scared to death.

A man's voice shouted outside. "Feuer! Feuer!" Guards ran by their door, the sound of their boot soles echoing through the hallway. Then, the clink of a key sounded in the lock. A face appeared at the opened door. The woman guard with the hard eyes entered and stood before him, flanked by a soldier carrying a Schmeisser. She seemed agitated, shouting at him and pointing towards the door. "Du! Komm. Schnell!" With curt gestures, she ordered Doc to stand.

He rubbed his eyes and eased himself up tiredly.

"Wait!" Béatrice stood and turned to him. "Merci, Docteur. For helping us. Please. I wish to thank you, you have been most kind." Her arms wrapped themselves around his neck. Her face buried itself in his shoulder. He felt her breath on his face as she raised her head and softly brushed his cheek with her lips. "To be polite is best, non? Docteur, you are a very good man. I shall hope that you live through this war."

"Ouais! C'est ça. Laisses-le donc tranquille, Béa," Alice exclaimed, her tone sarcastic.

"She says to leave you alone," Béatrice said. “Always, there is a cynic."

German guards separated them roughly. "Doktor! Heraus, schnell!"

Doc took one more glance at the small group of women huddled protectively around the new mother. They might succeed in keeping her alive a little while longer. Well, the Krauts would find the baby eventually. She couldn't hide it forever.

***

Cries and shouts outside his cell made Littlejohn's heart thump wildly. All those sirens! Air raids out there now! Bombs screeching down on top of them!

Explosions roared all around. The door to their cell opened with a creak. Boots clattered at the cell entrance. Panicked, Littlejohn finally ripped off the bandage on his face. Even seeing partway was better than total blindness.

"Heraus! Kommt!" Guards shouted near his right.

"Come, Littlejohn," said the old painter.

"Wait! There was someone with me! We can't just leave him out there!"

"They are ordering evacuation. That means everyone. Please come now!"

Littlejohn stood, disoriented. How to even find the door out of there, anyway? Someone took his arm and pulled him ahead. He went along, trusting his helper. A dimly lit hallway stretched on in front of him, revealing a row of closed doors on either side. He looked at the person gripping his elbow and made out a middle-aged man in a brownish suit. An explosion rang out suddenly, much louder than before. The walls shook even more violently. Littlejohn stepped up his pace. How many of those lousy, stinking bombs had hit the place by now, anyway? Too many! Only one of those things hitting the place scared him. He just wanted to find Doc and get out of there, real fast!

"Be careful! You come to stairs!"

The shouted warning came just in time. Littlejohn felt the ground under his front foot disappear. He stumbled, flailing wildly to find his balance. He let himself land on his backside, painfully aware of the uneven terrain underneath him. Stairs! So damned easy to negotiate when you can see! Hands gripped his arms, helped him up again, and he continued his way down the steps.

***

Doc followed the guard. Outside, he felt heat and could hear shouts echoing from a distant sector of the building. The light hurt his eyes, and he squinted, peering out into the passageway. The view of it brought memories rushing back, feeling as if a hammer had cracked his head open. The poisoned plasma bottles, the dead patients, wounded Littlejohn! God, no! He couldn't have gotten some of that stuff, could he? "Wait!" Doc turned, motioning to the guard. A long, sinuous scar ran down the man's left cheek. That one, again! The medic's legs almost buckled at the sight of the man. He pleaded anyway. "Did you give any plasma to the tall…."

The Kraut shoved his Schmeisser into Doc's chest.

Another bomb hit, sending loosened stones and mortar onto their heads. Doc just had time to put his hand over his injured head to protect it. He glanced towards the cell door, wanting to help get the women out of there. The female guard had stayed behind with them, he remembered.

"Geh unten!" cried the guard, ushering Doc forward.

"But what about them? There's a fire. You've got to evacuate...."

"Los! Wir brauchen deine Hilfe!"

Doc took a step towards cell 21, defying the guard's weapon. "You don't understand. You've got to get everybody out of there!"

"Deine Hilfe. Unten!" the guard repeated, forcing Doc to step back again.

The two men went down a cracked staircase. They crept over piles of rubble and fallen beams cluttering the passage at the bottom. To their right, several German soldiers and civilians stood in line, throwing pailfuls of water at a burning doorway. The flames reached all the way to the ceiling. The tiny trickles of water being thrown weren't doing much good. That thing was going to burn itself out no matter what.

Everyone stepped back as a loud roar thundered through the room. The burning wall crumbled in a mass of heat and flames, sending burning cinders flying in all directions.

"Du. Komm hier!" the guard next to him shouted. He pushed Doc, ordering him out towards the courtyard along with the others.

Several prisoners, men and women, filed out of the cellblock behind them. German soldiers escorted them towards a row of transport trucks. All the prisoners were being evacuated from the place! Well, it was about time! Doc's heart leaped as he saw Littlejohn limp through the doorway, alive, and his left arm in a sling. They hadn't given him any transfusions, thank God!

A thin woman came out, holding a bundle of sheets in her arms. Several familiar-looking women surrounded her. The women from his cell were getting out of the place too, he realized, along with all the others. He saw Béatrice leap out of a line of prisoners and almost stumble as she grabbed Littlejohn's arm. Even from such a long way off, he saw her help the tall man walk towards the trucks.

Doc took a step in their direction.

Air raid sirens wailed, signaling another wave of bombers. Doc flinched as antiaircraft guns near the fortress opened up. Deafened by the gunfire, he couldn't hear the orders being shouted at him. As the German sentry gazed up at the sky, Doc considered bolting away and making a run for one of those trucks. He had a chance to reach it, maybe. Littlejohn was right there, behind the closest one. If he could reach the vehicle in time and climb up in the back....

The Kraut barred Doc's way. "Nein! Zurück!" he cried.

"What're you doin'? We've gotta get out of here!"

"Los!"

Doc took a step back, as ordered. A shiver ran down his spine as he realized he was being led away from trucks and back towards the main prison. He was staying, not heading out like the others. Maybe they had something special planned for him. As the guard stood before him, aiming the weapon, he saw Béatrice help Littlejohn climb up into a truck. She turned and looked at him from a distance. He waved frantically, trying to get their attention. The Kraut pushed him back. Swallowing his heart, he turned and walked back towards the prison building. He desperately hoped that she and Littlejohn had seen him and knew he was alive.

The medic entered the fortress again, the end of a Schmeisser glued to his shoulder blade. He flinched as another explosion rocked the ground around them. Crawling over rubble, the men followed the passage that he had followed with Littlejohn before. They reached the Gestapo captain's office and entered it through a bombed-out doorway.

Doc barely recognized the shambles around him from what he'd seen before. A bomb had knocked out one of the walls, leaving a gaping opening to the next room. A gray-haired man in a white coat knelt beside a fallen slab of concrete, his back to the new arrivals. He whirled around at the sound of their approach. The medic remembered the English-speaking doctor from the hospital, holding the wrist of a prone German officer.

"Gut. You have arrived," he exclaimed. "We have spent much time trying to extricate this man." He indicated the German officer. "We cannot. My corporal has been killed. Now, you will assist in evacuating him. We must be quick, but it will be difficult."

"What do you mean?"

He saw the Gestapo captain's jacket covered with plaster dust and blood. A stained sheet covered the lower part of his body. As the doctor lifted it, Doc got a look at the wounded officer's leg. A lump caught in his throat at the sight. Everything below the man's right thigh lay beneath the fallen piece of concrete. A belted tourniquet closed the circulation at the hip. Concern for this man's life replaced all fear that he'd felt of him before. He touched the officer's forehead, finding it very cold and clammy. "That doctor should get on it quick," he thought. "Time's wasting!"

Doc grabbed a flashlight beside him and shone it underneath the fallen slab. He cursed with helpless frustration as he peered into the space to examine the man's leg. Only inches separated the floor from the heavy piece. "Even if we lift that thing off 'im, it won't make any difference, will it?" he said, shaking his head. The two men exchanged a look of mutual comprehension. There was only one way to evacuate the German captain from the danger zone. And no way to save his crushed leg. The Kraut was more a prisoner in that office now than any of the inmates inside the fortress. "So many people died here 'cause of him," Doc thought.

"Doctor, I think he's gone into shock," he said.

The German guard stepped up behind him and peered down at his wounded commander. The end of his Schmeisser brushed against Doc's back, sending a cold shiver down his spine. He wondered, briefly, if that thing had a safety on. Maybe the sight of his leader's leg was fraying the man's nerves. He wasn't holding his weapon very steady right then.

The Gestapo captain opened his eyes and turned a hate-filled stare towards Doc. "Du! Was machst du hier?" He moaned, racked by a violent spasm. Somehow, he summoned some inner strength to call out. "Feldwebel Wahl!"he screamed, raising an unsteady hand.

The doctor turned to the guard and spoke loudly to him in turn. "Nein! Machts nichts!"

Doc looked at the Germans, getting a real bad feeling about what they'd just said. They should just try to make time!

The doctor took out a syringe of morphine from a small box and injected the needle into the captain's forearm. "Bombs are still falling," he said. He gestured towards a small basin in a corner, which had somehow escaped damage, and told the medic to go wash his hands. "I must operate quickly.” He muttered something in German as he glanced at Doc's bandage. "You can assist, yes?" He opened a black leather bag, extracting a handful of scalpels and instruments, and placed them on a dark cloth.

As he took a deep breath, Doc grabbed an offered surgical mask, trying to ignore the shaking walls around him. He watched as the German doctor took an ordinary saw in his hands. That was what he'd use to remove the crushed limb. He examined the sleeping captain's face for several seconds, making sure the morphine had done its work. It wouldn't do to have the Kraut wake up now. For a second, Doc pictured that tool in his own hands. He imagined himself being forced to use it, maybe on the Sarge, and wondered if he'd have the strength to. Yes. He'd at least try, …to save a life.

The German stared at Doc, and he held up the saw. "You learn, yes?" He nodded towards the room, indicating the damage everywhere. "If we find others, this may have to be done again."

Doc nodded. Once. "Yeah. I think so." Shees! Had he been thinking out loud?

Suddenly, a thundering sound roared through the room, sending the men diving to the floor beside the desk. That blast was strong! Everything around them rumbled as if it danced to some unknown music. More blasts followed in rapid succession. Doc had never heard anything so loud as that in his life. Wooden beams and huge sections of ceiling fell on them, hitting their arms and legs. It buried them for what seemed like hours. The floor became a trampoline, dipping and rising. Doc had no idea how long the world crashed in. He just tucked his badly bruised head inside his hands, trying to protect himself from the onslaught, and prayed frantically.

The German doctor cried out. Instinctively, the medic threw himself over the gray-haired man and pulled him underneath the oak desk, out of the deadly cascade. "Lousy munitions dump!" he thought tersely. That was it! What else could have made that kind of blast?

Slowly, the sirens died away.

In the darkness, it took a few minutes for Doc to realize that the thundering he still heard was his own heart. No more sounds came to him. The bombers must have pulled out once they got their target. As he tried to get up, his head struck a hard object. He thought it might be the ceiling. Horror gripped him as he realized that he was trapped in a space barely three feet high. "It's a coffin!" he thought, shuddering. Spitting debris from his mouth, he sat and ran his hand over his right knee, feeling painful lacerations in it. He couldn't understand by what miracle he had escaped further harm.

The doctor moaned and tried to push off the oak desk. Some of its legs had snapped off, and it had crumpled onto his chest. Only his head poked out from underneath it. He cried out even more stridently as consciousness of his situation took hold. "Help me! Mein Gott! Help me!"

Reaching out in the constricting darkness, Doc ran a hand over the doctor's arm and shoulder. "Can you breathe?" he asked, even though he knew the man could. He tried frantically to move the heavy oak furniture. He pulled out all the drawers he could. He grunted with desperate effort and almost wrenched out his arms trying to shove it out of its position. Panting with weariness, he sagged to the ground and looked up at the fallen ceiling. That big, heavy desk was holding it up somehow. Several stories might be piled up on top of them. Doc had no idea how many layers had collapsed or if they'd remain stable if the desk were moved.

"Okay. Let's try this again," he said. Wiping his palms on his pants, he reached over, grabbed the German doctor and started pulling.

"Hilft mir, bitte!" another pained cry for help came from nearby.

The medic let go of the trapped doctor. Someone else was hurt, near the Gestapo captain's position. Crawling under the mound of materials, he slowly headed towards the sounds.

He saw the Kraut guard sitting beside his captain, holding his bleeding forehead. He turned to Doc, the scar on his face barely visible beneath a rivulet of blood and a cake of white plaster dust. He aimed the Schmeisser, refusing to allow the medic to examine his forehead.

"What about him?" Doc asked, indicating the Gestapo officer. Carefully, he bent over and placed his hand on the officers wrist, feeling for a pulse.

The captain was breathing very faintly in the dusty, confined air. His crushed leg still lay trapped beneath the concrete. Without an amputation, that captain would die there. No question.

Doc looked unsuccessfully for the saw. The tool could be useful to get the doctor out from under the desk, too. Something might have fallen on the saw, he couldn't be sure. He scoured the narrow range of available space along every side, trying to find an opening somewhere. A rubble-free spot that would let them all get out of there. He saw none.

"It was his damned fault…." The doctor's raspy voice startled Doc.

"What?" he asked, staring at the other man.

"He is a fool," the doctor continued. "Ordering everyone to stay when he knew there are enemy sorties every day to bomb this command post! A fool."

"Now, take it easy. Someone'll come and get us out of here. Just save your strength."

"We are Germans. It is our duty to obey commandants. Even fools." He raised his head. "Water, please."

Doc listened without understanding as the German doctor spoke to the guard. He simply guessed that the two men spoke about getting a drink of water. The Kraut finally handed Doc his canteen. The medic took it, shaking its contents to gauge the amount left in it, and brought it to the doctor's lips.

"Danke…. Yes, the French kept here have not been the only prisoners to the captain's folly," the doctor said, stopping momentarily as he swallowed. "His own soldiers could not choose to leave harm's way. I am second ranking officer and yet, my hand was tied until this happened. Today, I ordered the evacuation, as I believed I must. But it was too late. Now, we may all die."

"Well, a lot of 'em made it out in time. Sir, they're alive now because of that order," the medic commented. "But we haven't escaped," he almost added. He thought of Littlejohn, seeing him climb into the transport truck. It reassured him. The big lug got ou, at least. He had a good chance of making it. "Guess they were right about Kraut munitions, then, huh?"

"V-2 rockets. Awaiting transport in vast underground chambers..." The doctor stopped, racked by a fit of coughing. "To be used for destroying English cities. Now, we have suffered the same fate."

"We'll get out. Someone'll be here soon."

The scarred soldier waved his weapon. "Was sagen sie? Sprechen Sie nicht mehr."

"Ich befehle hier, verstanden?" the doctor retorted angrily.

The guard lowered his Schmeisser reluctantly.

"What'd he say?" Doc asked.

"That we should stop talking. But I must talk. That man's name is Wahl. A sergeant with all the qualities of a Rottweiler. Do not fear. So long as the captain remains sedated, I command here."

"Fear?" The medic somehow didn't like the sound of that too much. "Him?"

My corporal told me of your intervention in the hospital," the gray-haired man continued. "With contaminated plasma. We had lack of personnel to verify shipments. And a commandant not caring enough for his own men to provide them the best. Just now, I almost gave the captain some of that abomination without knowing. It would be only justice if he received plasma he destined for others in his service. He has done much wrong. Too much. One day, I will bring him to charges for it."

Wahl's head jerked up. "Plasma?"

Doc drank took a gulp of water from the canteen, listening to the two Germans talk in their guttural language.

A distant banging noise above interrupted his concentration. What was that? Was someone coming to help them? His heart raced at the thought. He listened intently. A second later, a stinking mix of water and gas rushed into their confines through the debris. Some conduits had ruptured, sending their icy contents into the narrow space enclosing them. It would be inundated soon. Frantically, Doc launched himself against the heavy oak desk again, trying to shove it aside. He ran his hands across the cluttered floor everywhere, desperately searching for the saw. He cursed, finding nothing.

The doctor's face convulsed with horror as the level of freezing water rose. "Hilf mir! Bitte!" He screamed, all English forgotten in his panic.

"No! Get out! Get out!" Doc realized he was screaming at the lousy, stinking water. He cupped his hands around the German doctor's face to stop him from suffocating. Already, the water reached the man's lips. With superhuman effort, Doc rammed his shoulder repeatedly into the oak desk to dislodge it and free the terrified man. Then, almost too quietly, his head went under and he stopped moving. He was dead.

The water level kept rising, reaching just below Doc's waist, then remained level. It was getting out by some means somewhere. Fissures in the floor, maybe. Doc watched it, feeling guilty. For shoving the doctor under the desk. For not trying harder to free him. That he hadn't anticipated the risk of flooding. That he wasn't strong enough to lift a fallen building.

Wahl sat at the opposite end of the space, holding the captain's head above the water, and waited for it to seep out.

The medic edged over to them and touched the Gestapo officer's face. It burned with fever and sweat, but he was still alive. "Come on, sergeant," he pleaded. "If we work together, maybe we can get out of this thing."

"Nein!" The sergeant raised his Schmeisser, his eyes blazing with fury. For a second, Doc thought that he actually did look like a guard dog near his master. He sat beside the two Germans quietly, hoping the guard would understand that he only wanted to help.

The captain moaned and shook his head a bit. Wahl turned to his superior and spoke to him in a soothing tone. The Kraut captain closed his eyes again and drifted off.

Several minutes later, Doc noticed the water rise a little, filling the small space with a sickening smell of gas. More water must have rushed into their confines. Wahl stayed with the captain and helped him sit up. The water level rose all the way to their waist. Doc figured five or ten minutes had passed since the first flood. He wasn't sure. He prayed the water wouldn't get any higher.

"What time is it?" he asked Wahl. "We should check. See how long it takes between the floodings."

The sergeant looked at him, uncomprehending.

"Time. Uh, watch. Hours. Minutes." Doc tapped his left wrist to act out his meaning.

"Minuten?" Wahl shrugged. "Mein Uhr ist kaput." He held out his own wrist to show a web of cracks on his watch face. "Kaput, verstanden?"

"Yeah. I understand."

The captain groaned, trying to raise his head. He turned and stared around their space, taking in the fallen, wet debris. "Feldwebel!" His eyes widened with shock as he realized his predicament.

It seemed to Doc that the wounded officer was acting pretty strange. Well, he could understand that. So much pain would probably make him scream, he thought. The two Germans sat in the cold, foul-smelling water and talked in their language, shooting angry looks in his direction every few seconds.

Doc backed away and shivered as he noticed how his hand had started bleeding again. Somehow, he'd re-opened the wound; he simply couldn't keep a bandage on it in the water. It kept slipping off. A few minutes later, his heart froze when he saw the sergeant take the Schmeisser by the barrel and hand it over to the captain. "Now, what was that about," he wondered. Worried, he backed away further, expecting the weapon to swing up in his direction. No. The gun must be jammed, or else the clip was empty, because the captain popped it out and checked the interior. Doc let out a breath. Maybe that injured Kraut was planning to end his life quickly rather than suffer.

"Captain?" Doc used a gentle tone. "May...maybe you oughta hand that thing over. Somebody's gonna be down here pretty soon." He knew the Kraut was burning up and wasn't thinking straight. Hell. The man hadn't been thinking straight even before all this.

The captain glared at the medic, not recognizing him, seeing only an enemy. He was delirious. Turning to his soldier, he barked out a sentence in German.

Doc saw the sergeant nod curtly and make a move towards him, unsheathing a bayonet from his belt. Doc's heart leapt up into his throat, strangling him. Loud warning bells banged away in his brain. "Loosened dogs..." The words brushed the edge of his consciousness. "Please stay there. Don't!" Panting, he backed away.

Wahl threw himself on him, raising the weapon to strike. Doc wrapped his hands around the sergeant's wrist and pushed his arm out of the way. The bayonet flew out of his hand and plopped into the water several feet away. The two men spun frantically in the tight space, each trying to get the better of the other.

Wahl managed to pin the medic against a wall. He rammed the back of his hand hard against Doc's face, knocking his breath away.

Bright light filled Doc's vision. His senses went numb. He was about to pass out. Suddenly, he felt himself propelled sideways and shoved onto his back, below the freezing water. He tried desperately to get up and push the Kraut off; he couldn't even open his mouth. Wahl sat on top of him, holding him down. Doc's head was being forced below the water level. He groped feverishly on both sides, trying to find a rock or a stick or anything to defend himself with. Anything! His lungs burst for a breath of air! Air!

Adrenaline coursed through him, giving him renewed strength. He touched a metal instrument lying just within reach. A sharp jab coursed through his fingers as he grasped it. He didn't care. The thing felt sharp, that was all that counted. He brought it up and lodged it into Wahl's thigh. The sergeant bellowed loudly and let him go. He kept on screaming as he grabbed his bleeding leg.

Doc pushed the German aside and sat up, gasping and coughing. He could see the tip of the instrument he'd found. It turned out to be a scalpel.

Wahl sat in the freezing water beside him, looking down at his thigh. Stunned, he pulled out the scalpel and stared at it. The German sergeant tried to get on his knees, and then fell back again. The instrument dropped from his hand.

Taking advantage of his attacker's momentary shock, Doc threw himself at the spot where the Kraut's bayonet had landed and started searching for it in the water. The guard was coming to his senses again. Doc could see him from the corner of his eye, already heading his way. Dammit, where was the bayonet? It might keep that big German at bay. As least Doc could use it to defend himself, maybe give the other man something to think about. Where was it?

From his position, the Gestapo officer stared at the two men. The heavy Schmeisser waved wildly in his hands when he tried to raise it in their direction.

As Wahl jumped Doc again, a series of loud shots blasted through the narrow chamber. Doc flinched, momentarily deafened.

The German sergeant slumped down on top of him. His lifeless weight dragged the medic into the water with him. Blood gushed onto Doc's chest and over his face. He gasped, pushing Wahl to the side. The Kraut's body plopped into the water and sank out of sight. A second later, a red stain began to form at the surface where he'd fell.

Doc thought he heard clicks. He wasn't sure with all that buzzing in his ears. Jeez! Was he, himself hurt? He felt so numb, so frozen, that he couldn't tell if he'd been shot. He checked himself everywhere, searching for bullet wounds. Yes. A burning sensation seared his neck where one bullet had scratched him. Another shot had grazed his left shoulder, just above his armband. It bled quite a bit. Doc put pressure on it to staunch the flow.

A scream from the other side of the chamber startled him. He turned and stared at the Gestapo captain. The water reached the man's chest now. He just sat, delirious, trying without success to fire at him. His eyes bulged with fever and rage as held up the Schmeisser and pulled the trigger repeatedly.

"He's in pain enough to drive anybody crazy," Doc figured. The weapon only made clicking noises right now, thank God. A flash of pain seared through his left arm. Wincing, he looked down at the tear in his sleeve. Blood was flowing down onto the cloth of the armband, almost covering the red cross.

"Easy. I'm coming." Ignoring the burning in his arm, he edged over to the captain. Very carefully, he held out a trembling hand and grasped the barrel of the weapon. Then, with a single motion, he took it and flung it out into the water.

He held the Kraut up and kept him from slipping into the fetid liquid and drowning. He felt jabs against his wounded arm every few seconds as the sick man tried to fight him, and he heard the captain babble in his language. Strange words like "Kreutz" and familiar words like "Amerikaner" came from his lips. The icy water stung Doc through his jacket, and he shivered.

The water levels rose slowly. Doc worried as the man with him ranted incoherently. The Kraut had entered a deep stage of shock and hypothermia, and he didn't seem aware of his surroundings. "Come on, now," Doc cried out to the darkness. "Can't anybody be here soon and get us out of this thing?"

Looking down at the German, he noticed an ink pen in his shirt. Maybe, if it still worked, he could take it and write a message before they were both dead. On what? There was no paper. Maybe he could use the ceiling. With his good hand, he picked the pen out of the Kraut's pocket and held it up, imagining himself writing to his people. What would he say, anyway?

"Dearest ones..." Yeah, that was a pretty good beginning. "My dearest ones. I'm writing this because very soon..." He swallowed back the lump forming in his throat. Fierce determination gripped him; he was going to push on. He knew he would fight no matter what. Fight to live. Just like that tiny, newborn baby had done before. Fight to save that lousy captain, too.

***

Littlejohn winced as artillery shells hit somewhere up ahead. Shrill cries rang out from inside the truck he rode in. Gunfire and shouts outside joined it in a confusion of battle sounds. Bullets ripped a line of holes in the canvas beside him. The man sitting next to him hollered loudly and pitched forward. More shells landed all around the truck now, jarring the occupants. The truck screeched to a halt and almost flipped over. Littlejohn hit the back of his head against metal, and he threw himself down onto the floor along with the others. The flap at the back of the truck opened up. A man stepped inside, setting a stark silhouette against the daylight outside. The man approached him, cocking a rifle. It seemed to Littlejohn that he was most likely dead anyway. He stood to face the man who'd just entered. He heard a young lady next to him shoot off a loud litany to this guy in French. Boy, was she opening it up!

***

After a while, Doc couldn't remember how long it had been, he heard a feeble voice.

"Was ist… das?"

"Don't move. It'll only make it worse."

The captain was getting weaker. Doc checked his pulse. It had slowed in the last minutes. Good. He needed to stay calm in order to have a chance. Doc knew the man's kidneys and liver might not be working properly by that time. It depended on how long the two of them had been trapped. There could be a lot of potassium and lactic acid in his blood. He had learned about it in basic. Acidosis. If the captain moved or his heart raced, that stuff would get pumped through his veins even faster and kill him. He steadied the wounded German, hoping somebody got to them before it was too late. He saw the man open his eyes.

"He is dead," the German whispered.

Doc had no idea who he meant by it. "There are a lot of dead, Captain." Frustration welled up in his throat. Didn't this man know about all the death and suffering hed caused? Somebody should remind him. "You know, Captain, maybe somebody should have given you some advice when you were young. About manners and people. Maybe you oughta try to think about whether you have any regrets 'bout what you've done. And maybe ask forgiveness."

"So that dying won't feel like so bad a thing?" the captain snorted. "And you, Amerikaner. You were forced to come and help me. Is that your own regret?" The German said no more. He remained still and closed his eyes.

Doc didn't answer right away. Regret helping this man? What kind of a fool thing was that to ask, anyway? You don't ask someone to fill out a sheet about his life before you try to save him. Sure, he was forced down there. The image of Littlejohn came to his mind. Did he regret not bolting away to try and join his injured friend? That he'd wound up here instead, forced to help a Kraut trapped in the bombing? Well, no. He'd have come on his own if he'd known.

He held the captain's head above water, checking the man's breathing and heart rate. The Kraut's question came back to his mind. The only regret he figured he had in this war was letting hurt soldiers go and not know afterwards if they made it. He thought about it. You talk to crying soldiers, you bind their wounds real fast, you try like hell to get 'em back, you want to help them so damned much.... Then, they're gone and you never know for sure if they made it. You just believe, or else you go crazy.

The sound of a motor droned in the distance. Planes were flying overhead again. Jeez! They were sure to bury them this time. What did they want, anyway? They'd already gotten their target, or so he figured. Doc felt the captain's pulse race. The Kraut had heard it, too. More of them droned on up there now, sounding real low to the ground. Hey! Maybe airplanes werent making that sound after all. It might be somebody out there.

The ceiling shifted a bit, sending down a rain of dust and plaster.

Horrified, Doc cried out, raising his voice as much as he could, but it came out so hoarse that he wound up coughing. The gas stench constricted his throat and turned his stomach.

"Hilfe!" the captain tried to cry out in turn. "Hör zu!" He stopped and began to cough in the foul air right along with Doc.

"Take it easy, now, captain. We're gonna run out of oxygen this way."

It was true. He could feel it. Oxygen was getting rarer by the minute, and what precious quantities they had stank. Doc fumbled tiredly in the water, searching for a piece of debris to rap against the walls. He found a wooden stick. It would have to do. He cried out feebly, trying to get somebody's attention out there. He heard nothing but a motor droning in the distance.

The water began to rise faster, reaching the captain's chin. Why was it doing that?

He held the German's head up, trying to listen to the noise. The man suddenly went limp in his arms. A check of his pulse told Doc that the captain barely breathed. It didn't occur to him that he was hardly breathing, either. The German gurgled and spat as the fetid water entered his mouth. He held the German captain's head as high as he dared to keep it above water, trying to give him those extra minutes of life. Something was making the water rush faster into their confines. It wouldn't drain away fast enough this time. What was the matter? Was something different going on?

He shuddered. The water level would rise high enough to drown the captain. He wouldn't be able to do a thing about it. They might have only minutes to live. His head swam at the prospect. Exhausted, he held up the man's dead weight with cramped arms, hoping desperately to see the water level sink. Checking it, staring at it.…

A noise to his right caught his attention. He turned and saw movement near the far wall. Something dark and thin was snaking into the chamber through a space between the fallen rubble. A pipe. It spoke faintly in French. "Allo? Êtes-vous en-bas?" A man had spoken French on the other end of it! Somebody was digging them out of there.

"We're…" Doc tried to speak loud enough to be heard. "We're down here.... We're alive...." His words came out in a tired whisper. "Please hurry, there's water.... We'll drown...." He stopped, completely out of breath. Panting, he tried to get air back into his lungs and call out again. "We're drowning.... Help us…."

"Ils sont là!" Doc heard the voice again, faintly. "Remain still. There is a wall segment that we believe is safe to move. Please remain calm. We get you."

Doc took a gulp of air. "We're drowning! Quick!" He could talk no more. His voice had left him. He saw the dark pipe snake downwards and reach the water.

A siphon. Like his dad had used on the tank in the old Buick. He let out a long sigh and gripped the captain harder with numbed fingers. Was he dreaming, or did the water level drop a bit? He wasn't sure. Even if it did, it was no guarantee that the German would live. Doc waited, shivering in the darkness, feeling very tired, very scared and very, very trapped. Trapped with a dying monster. In his exhaustion, he thought that time stood still. Completely still. Completely....

A loud noise made him start. The whole cavern moved as if a giant boot had kicked it. He felt as if he were falling, as the walls and ceiling jerked sideways. The freezing water pooled up around him in clacking waves and started to go down to the level of his shoulders, then his waist. The ceiling shifted a bit further and he ducked, terrified that it was going to crush them. A crack of light opened up near the far side beyond the sagging desk, sending a warm and beautiful ray onto his face. Dark, human-shaped figures appeared in it.

A Frenchman wearing a black beret and leather vest knelt in front of him. He thought he saw Littlejohn's face appear beside the man. "It's him! He's alive!" he heard the big man say. "Come on, we gotta get him out!"

Doc coughed, trying to take the fresh air into his lungs too fast. Faces approached him in the dark. He wanted to thank those people, but the words stuck in his throat, refusing to come out through the fit. His heart raced to bursting. He just felt glad someone was there beside him. Who cared about what they were saying to him right then? Hands touched his face. More of them gripped his arms and tore him away from the German captain. Frenchmen slid his jacket from his shoulders and ripped his shirtsleeve above the wound in his arm. A world of pain overcame him. His head grew too heavy to hold up. He fought against the black curtain that was wrapping itself around him. Tried to fight the awful darkness and thank them.... Fight it....

***

He opened his eyelids and saw Littlejohn. "Howdy, Doc," the tall man asked with a worried expression. "Sure is good to see you again. How're ya feelin'?"

The wound in his arm hardly stung at all. He tried to sit and fell back onto the litter. Craning his neck, he turned to see the prison grounds for the first time since the rocket blast. Several G.I.'s walked among piles of rubble. He realized that he say in the shadow of a large truck. A rope extended from its back towards the ruined building. Many stories of solid stone lay on top of one another like pancakes. Only the cellblocks still stood erect. "Tired, I guess,” he answered tiredly. “Was I in there long?"

"A couple of hours. Felt like my whole life."

Doc nodded, examining Littlejohn. The swelling in his face had gone down, his eyes were more open, and he wore a sling on his arm.

An American strode towards them, sunlight illuminating the red cross armband on his sleeve. With a calm demeanor, the medic placed a bag at Doc's feet and knelt beside him. He checked the bandage around Doc's arm touched his forehead. He nodded reassuringly and left again.

"What happened? How'd you get back, Littlejohn?"

"Well, at first I was all the time wondering where you were. And when those raids hit, I thought we were all gonna die. The Krauts put us in trucks and took us out. Then, all hell broke loose. Mortar shells started hitting the convoy. Boy, can the French Resistance men get into the action! They got right in there with the Americans and gave those Krauts a piece of it. A couple of the trucks got taken over and separated from the rest. They saved those of us that were in 'em. I'm just sorry they didn't manage to get all the trucks outta there."

"We can only try our best, Littlejohn." He'd done his own best by shoving the German doctor under the desk. Who knew he'd get pinned by it and drown? Doc almost choked at the memory. "That captain was in there with me," he added. "Did they get him out?"

"Yeah, but I'm not sure how he's doin'." Littlejohn turned towards his right and waved. "Hey! There's somebody who might know something," he exclaimed. "That little lady there raised the worst hell I've ever seen in my life to get the French guys to come back here. She just kept at 'em forever. Even the Sarge'd be proud of her!"

Doc twisted his upper body, trying to get a look at who Littlejohn had meant. He saw a woman in a dark dress kneeling in the burnt grass a few yards away with her back to them. Several Frenchmen and American soldiers flanked her on either side. They all seemed to be looking down at someone lying on the ground. Doc couldn't distinguish who it was, but he thought it looked like the Gestapo captain.

"Good thing she did, too," Littlejohn continued. "She was the one who saw you get back inside. Wouldn't let up on you for a second, Doc. Even after we saw that over there..." Littlejohn pointed to the damaged building. "She just kept insisting that you were still under it."

The woman turned and saw them. Smiling, strode over to Littlejohn's side. For the first time, Doc saw her face in daylight. Thin, brown-haired and brown-eyed, she knelt down beside them and picked up Doc's hand in her own. A long burn scar ran down her forehead. Right now, to him, she looked like an angel bound to the earth.

"Docteur. God be thanked that you are alive."

"What about the woman who had a baby? Where is she?"

"Désolée. She could not get away. I worry very much for her. But the captain. He has lost his leg, of course, but he has a chance. You did not let him die. That was a brave thing, Docteur. A very merciful thing."

"Well, I was just doin' my job." Doc looked across at the prone captain. "I dunno. He was responsible for the whole danged mess in the first place. Miss Béatrice, I would've thought you'd be the first to throw rocks at 'im."

She shrugged. "It would serve nothing. He is barely alive. He may only stay that way long enough to see the gallows. If so, I swear to rejoice that day." She let go of Doc's hand. "On the contrary," she added. "I'm happy that it will not have been you who judged and executed him." One of the men surrounding the Gestapo captain turned and waved at her. "I will be back right away. Stay where you are, oui?"

"Man!" Littlejohn said in amazement after she had left. "Do you suppose that, maybe I could ask her out.... I mean if I don't freeze up first...."

"I know what you mean, Littlejohn," Doc answered. "Go right ahead. But right now I'm a kinda thirsty. I wouldn't mind it a bit if you found me a beer."

Both men stared at the lady bending down next to the wounded German.

"I'll see if I can scrounge one up, Doc," his companion said with a smile. "Wow. You know, when we get back to the squad, we'll have a real story to tell 'em."




Lyne Tremblay

Nov. 2000