by Christopher Marcus
Previously: Private Javier Gonzales’ career in the 5th Overseas Regiment of volunteers from Latin America was over before it began. He was captured and tortured by Communist partisans, whilst on his way to the NATO/Soviet front line - currently frozen along the Pyrenees. As it quickly becomes apparent to the partisans that Javier has no valuable information, his interrogator decides to simply … kill him
Date: 7 September 1946, morning
Location: The Northern Pyrenees, Spain
The interrogator flinched when the next volley of gunfire crackled from somewhere outside – somewhere nearer than a moment ago. But he just looked at his hunting knife again, with that odd glint in his pale eyes:
“Well, where do you want to cut this one? ” he asked … the knife. “The throat, like that filthy corporal?”
Javier felt icy needles fill his blood. But suddenly the door was flung open. Another man – slightly older, more weathered – burst in:
“Alonso! Vamos! Los Alemanes vienen!”
The one called Alonso still looked questioningly at his knife, then at Javier.
“What about the traitor?” he murmured, sounding like he was coming out of daze.
“Don’t question our Russian comrades, you idiot – just get your big fat ass out of here, and bring him, too.”
“No … ” Alonso murmured again.
Javier had only a split-second to feel the odd, overwhelming relief that comes with being told that you’ll probably survive for a few minutes more -- then Alonso hit him directly in the face with a knotted fist.
The last thing he heard Alonso grumble was: “So, traitor – they did not forget about you after all.”
Javier almost blacked out - but not quite. He was paralyzed by the blow to his head, yes, but he could still sense what was going on around him. Alonso cut the remaining ropes and threw Javier to the floor, twisting his arm and whirling some of the spare rope around both of Javier’s wrists. Then he picked up Javier and flung him over his shoulder like he was a puppet. It all took less than a minute.
The dawn light outside was gray. A thick mist hung between the tall fir trees. But the sudden shift from ink-black torture room to daylight hurt Javier’s eyes nonetheless; the mountain cold stung in the face; there was the smell of tree resin and diesel oil. Javier was shaken more fully to his senses when Alonso dropped him hard on the open bed of a farmer-truck that looked like it was already old when the First World War was on. Then he heard someone call out:
“ - Gonzales! - You’re alive!”
Half a day or so ago, Javier had not thought he would be happy to ever hear Miguel’s gruff voice again. The big Cuban was lying on his side in the back of the truck bed with Dominic – the Haitian – beside him. Both were tied on their hands and legs. Dominic was bleeding from his mouth and pretty much everywhere else on his face and seemed barely conscious. Miguel had several nasty bruises as well, but at least there was no doubt he was alive.
Javier had only just regained his full ability to see clearly, when the first thing he looked into was the hideously staring white eyes of corporal Espinoza. There was a deep gaping wound in the corporal’s throat and a pool of sticky half-dried blood all over the planks of the truck bed. Then Alonso jumped onto the bed, and immediately began heaving Espinoza’s corpse out over the open rear.
“You - you get rid of him for us!” Alonso shouted over his back and Javier now saw and old man – much older than Pablo – come out of another door of what appeared to be a small wooden cabin: His former prison. The old man was accompanied by a young boy and a young girl – not much more than teens. The boy and the girl grabbed Corporal Espinoza’s corpse just as a bullet whizzed over Javier’s head and splintered against the metal back of the driver’s cab.
“What about Manuel and Francisco?” yelled Alonso, just as Pablo tore open the door to the cab.
“Their sacrifice will be remembered,” said Pablo and glanced quickly back up into the woods. “We agreed they would signal us if there was trouble and - ”
“ - And now we are sitting ducks. Let’s drive!” somebody inside the driver’s cab called out.
While this exchange between Alonso and Pablo went on, the old man walked unsteadily to the rear of the truck, seemingly oblivious to the shots that were now crackling even louder - from somewhere further up the forested slope on which the small cabin was nestled. Javier tried to see, but the pine trees stood too close. Then the old man obscured his field of vision. He just stood there, looking at Javier and the other prisoners. While Alonso was distracted, Javier made a quick decision.
“You’ve got to … got to help us …” Javier whispered – “bring word to the NATO forces that we are capt-”
Javier had instinctively assumed that the old woodsman and his children (grandchildren?) were being forced to share their cabin with the partisans. It was an assumption that was quickly put to an end when the old man spat Javier directly in the eyes:
“What if it’s not los Alemanes, Pablo? Did Manuel or Francisco signal how many there are? If there are only a few … ”
“It’s all of them,” Pablo said with grim finality and slammed the door.
The truck roared down the winding dirt that snaked from behind the wooden cabin and down the mountainside. Alonso had slumped down again on the truck bed and produced an old Mauser rifle from somewhere. It was his only weapon besides the hunting knife, which was now tucked in his belt. He fired a few shots back up towards the heavy pine trees, where the invisible enemy appeared to be firing from, but he didn’t bother to fire more than two or three times.
Javier was lying on one side near the rear of the truck bed, his back pressed against its right side which was little more than one large plank bolted in an angle to the others. His hands, however - tied behind his back - were very much out of sight from Alonso. The truck hurled through the woods and Javier hit his head on the planks and rusty bolts of the truck bed several times, but he gritted his teeth and kept working with the loose rope. Javier had rather small hands. He had always hated that. Now it would make a … vital difference.
Alonso was lying flat down, aiming over the truck bed’s open rear, trying fruitlessly to find something to shoot at. It took him one precious second to become aware that suddenly Javier had a free hand - a hand that now grabbed the partisan’s big hunting knife from his belt. And when that precious second was over and Alonso was fully ready to twist around and shoot Javier … then the knife was planted deep in his thigh.
Alonso howled in pain and almost fell out over the rear of the truck, as it took another swerve.
“Kill the bastard!!” Miguel shouted from the back, desperately worming his way towards them to help. Dominic still didn’t move.
With his free right hand Javier tore the knife out of Alonso’s thigh. Thick, dark blood spurted all over both men. It looked like he had hit a vein. Alonso clung on to the rear of the truck with one hand, trying to get a clear shot with his rifle with the other, but it was a rather difficult feat at such close range, hanging half-way over the back of a racing vintage truck.
Javier suddenly felt nauseous. The blood just kept pouring ... like a waterfall …
“You … haven’t got the … guts,” Alonso sneered while he struggled to heave himself all the way up on the truck bed again. Wounded and still hanging half-way over the rear, the big hulk of a man actually managed to hold on to the rifle and fire it with one hand, but the shot went nowhere. It was close enough to Javier’s head, though, to leave his ears ringing.
“What the fuck are you doing?! The road is almost even from here – drive, drive!!”
Pablo’s eyes narrowed. Then he felt for the first time how cold the sweat on his brow actually was.
The vintage truck had just raced around the last bend in the dirt road. From now on it should have been a more or less straight run to the village. But no more than 100 meters ahead there was another truck parked – no, it was … an armored personel carrier – an American M3, it seemed. It was placed firmly across the dirt road, making it impossible to pass ... unless they wanted to crash into the cliffs on one side or into the pine-filled ravine on the other.
But it was not an American white star that was on the side of the M3. And it was not an American G.I. who Pablo saw behind the Browning machine gun on its roof. It was a single man who wore an open camouflage jacket of indeterminable origin. The man wore a gray high-peaked cap with a black stripe.
The man aimed the machine gun slowly, leisurely. He wasn’t in any hurry.
“What are you waiting for!!” Antonio howled - “Shoot him! Shoot him!”
Even so Pablo tried to aim with his revolver, out the window, while the old truck still rushed down the gravel road towards the lone man. His last thought was of Guernica, when Pablo’s dying brother had told him take his revolver and ‘fight on’ for them. So many had died in the fascist bombing. It was at that time that Pablo knew he could no more look on from the sidelines.
Here and now Pablo felt he could see the skull on the man’s cap very clearly, just before a spray of machine gun bullets hammered through the truck’s front window.
Javier and his fellow soldiers finally get to the NATO/Soviet front, but no longer as part of their lost regiment. Welcome to the elite NATO Anti-Partisan Unit, formerly known as the … Waffen SS.
You can read Chris’ own short stories at www.shadeofthemorningsun.com"