General Frank Savage, commander of the 918th bombardment group, sat at his desk and watched Colonel Joe Gallagher pace across the room, venting his anger from the morning's flight to his superior.
"And then," Gallagher said, coming to a stop in front of Savage's desk, "to top it all, engine number three started to run hot again." The angry man shot Savage a glare that implied that he thought his engine troubles resulted from the general himself.
"But you got there and back, and the hit was over 80%," Savage stated firmly, totally pushing aside the other man's anger and concentrating on the facts that were written upon the paper that he held in front of him. "And with any luck, we won't have to go back again."
"You believe that?" Gallagher asked, his tone indicating just what he thought of that comment.
"Colonel," Savage patiently explained in a tired voice, "virtually all the planes out there are suffering from exactly the same problems as yours." As he spoke, he stood and made his way towards the ever-present pot of coffee. "Even the Piccadilly Lily's engines were running hot this morning, unfortunately it's a fact of life at the moment." He lifted the pot and offered it towards Gallagher, who shook his head. Savage was just about to continue talking as he poured the coffee, only to have a few drops trickle out of the pot into the cup. Slamming the pot down, he yelled, "Komanski!"
Technical Sergeant Komanski stuck his head around the door. "Yes sir?" he asked, coming fully into the room as Savage motioned him forward. He shot Gallagher a quick look and noted the other's anger with a slight frown.
"The pot's empty," Savage stated, holding the offending item upside down to prove his point.
Komanski frowned at the tone that his commanding officer used, and headed across the room to take the pot from him to refill. "Sorry sir, I... er, I guess I just got caught up in the...." He came to a stammering stop and looked at his commanding officer as Savage reached out and touched his arm.
"No, Sandy... I'm the one who should be apologising. You've been on your feet just as long as I have, and it's not your fault that the coffee pot's empty."
Komanski shot Gallagher another look before he turned back to General Savage. Not sure how to answer, he took the pot instead, saying, "I'll be back in a minute." So saying, he fled from the room.
Silence descended until Gallagher heaved a deep sigh and sank down into one of the chairs. "I guess I owe you an apology too," he admitted sheepishly. "But it would be nice to get some new planes in here once in a while. Just once I would like to get to target without having to nurse the plane there and back."
Savage suppressed a smile as he recalled saying the same words to Pinewood just that morning. "Don't worry... they're on order, or so I've been promised." Reaching over his desk, he picked up his cigarette packet and offered Gallagher one, who accepted it with good ease, his anger now gone.
"Pinewood also said that we were due for a stand-down," Savage said, his tone mild, wanting to help his younger friend understand, yet knowing that Gallagher's fears did not stem from his concern for his own safety, as Savage would have once suspected. The days of Gallagher only caring for number one had long since gone. Now he was a valued member of the team and, while he did still have the ability to rub people up the wrong way - one of them primarily being Komanski, who believed that Colonel Gallagher rode Savage too hard about the way he handled the command - Savage had to give him credit... he really did care about the men who flew with and about him.
Gallagher reached up and rubbed tiredly at his eyes; they had been up since three that morning. "We could sure use a few days off," he commented with deep feeling.
"A few days, maybe," Savage teased. "Pinewood's not that generous."
Gallagher smiled as he accepted the truth of the other's statement. "I can dream, can't I?" he added with his own now-relaxed smile.
"Saw the Leper Colony got pretty shot up today." Frank Savage knew that was the main reason for Gallagher's anger. "Anyone seriously injured?"
Gallagher felt the smile slip from his face as he answered tightly, "Johnson and Marker got hit pretty bad, but Doc Kaiser said they will pull through. Eden was pretty good in the left seat - kept his cool well. Give him another flight or two and you should be able to move him across to his own plane."
"That's one piece of good news; we need all the pilots we can get..." Savage paused at the slight tap upon the door.
Komanski appeared, carrying the freshly brewed pot. "Coffee, sir," he stated as he moved across the room. The aroma of the rich drink filled the room and the two men unconsciously took a deeper breath.
Savage moved out of Komanski's way as he walked across the room toward the heater where the coffee pot usually sat. As the young technical sergeant drew even with the general, the air was shattered by a shot and one of the window panes burst inward as the bullet penetrated into the room.
Komanski was caught in a half-turned position by the bullet and sent spinning into Savage, who in turn was knocked into Gallagher. The coffee pot flew into the air, but thankfully landed a few feet away from the sprawled men.
"Sandy!" Savage cried out in sudden fear as the body laying upon him became deathly still. Then, realising with relief that the sergeant had just slipped into unconsciousness, he gently began to disengage himself.
The door to the office burst open and Harvey Stovall, the ground exec, charged in, his hastily found gun at the ready. "Get Dr Kaiser, Harvey," Savage ordered harshly. "Sandy's been shot." Gently he rested the injured man back upon the floor.
"Here, sir," Gallagher said, holding out a large handkerchief. Taking it without comment, Savage balled it up and pressed it against the bleeding wound in the sergeant's shoulder.
"Can you see anything?" Savage asked Gallagher, who had carefully made his way over to the shattered window and was cautiously peering out, trying to see where the shot had come from.
The other man slowly shook his head. "No sir, there's too many people out there now. It looks as if the shot attracted quite a few of them." Even as he spoke, both men could hear the shouts and calls of officers calling the men to order, and both knew that the base would have been shut off by now.
Savage's concerns were dragged back to the handsome youth who lay under his hands as Komanski groaned and began to fight his way back to consciousness. "Sandy... Sandy..." Frank advised, "take it easy... Doc Kaiser's on his way."
Komanski's eyes flickered open, and he frowned as he wondered where he was. He winced at the bright light and strange feeling as his vision slowly twisted and tilted before him. He tried to move, suddenly afraid of his prone angle and numb feeling in his upper body, but Savage placed a restraining hand upon his uninjured shoulder and held him still. "Don't move," the general ordered firmly, before adding, as if understanding the boy's concerns, "You've been shot, but the bleeding's under control."
"What happened?" the dazed technical sergeant asked, licking at dry lips and wondering why his voice sounded so weak. He found it difficult to take in the general's words; had the man just said he'd been shot?
"You've been shot - looks like we have a sniper on the base," Savage repeated, knowing that Komanski was a hairsbreadth away from sinking into shock, then he winced as the boy tried and failed to suppress a groan of pure pain.
"Great," Sandy gasped, fighting against the returning feeling. "And I thought all I had to worry about was the flak and the German fighter pilots," the injured man commented with little humour.
The door to the office burst open and Dr Kaiser finally appeared. Within minutes he had brushed General Savage roughly aside, applied a pressure bandage and whisked Komanski away to his hospital.
After the doctor and medical personnel had left the general's office, an air of stunned silence remained. The attack had happened so quickly, and it seemed all the more brutal because the men had believed themselves safe on their own base.
Savage looked up to see Harvey hovering by the door. "Come in, Harvey," Frank said, unconsciously keeping out of the way of the window.
"The base has been closed up tight as a drum, sir, and the MPs are doing a thorough search," Major Stovall stated firmly, coming further into the room.
Savage lit another cigarette before asking, "Do you think they will find anything?"
"I don't know, sir," Harvey answered honestly. "Do you want me to contact G2 for you?"
Savage considered the request and knew from experience that if he didn't contact them, then they would be in contact with him before the day was out. Throwing the lighter down upon the desk, he snapped, "Yes, I guess you'd better." He felt an unreasonable anger towards the sniper: as if they didn't have enough to contend with, now they had to close the base up tighter than a clam and everybody would again be under suspicion of being a traitor or spy. As Stovall moved out of the room, Savage asked, "See if you can get hold of Colonel Reed - he's been on the base before and I'd much rather deal with someone I know."
"I guess this means that you're going to be followed everywhere by MPs again," Gallagher stated with sympathy, remembering the last time the general's life had been under threat from a German spy sent to kill him.
Savage rubbed at the headache that was beginning to form behind his eyes. "Let's hope they catch this person before I go totally insane."
Gallagher smiled sourly at the other's words; he knew that last time a twenty-four hour guard had been placed upon the general and it had nearly driven him to distraction, having the men always about him.
Savage angrily stubbed out his cigarette in his ashtray, saying, "I'm going to the hospital, you can contact me there if I'm needed."
"I'll walk over with you," Gallagher said almost casually, moving to open the door for the other man.
Savage paused fractionally before snapping back at the other man, "I think I can make it safely across the road to the hospital on my own, Colonel." He was keenly aware that there was no love lost between Gallagher and Komanski.
"Sir," Gallagher said, coming to attention as he always did when he suspected that Savage thought ill of him. "Komanski and I might have our differences, but that does not mean that I'm not concerned when he's hurt."
Frank realised that he had once again misjudged the young man who stood before him, and to show his apology he gripped the stiff shoulder and gave it a gentle shake. "Don't let Komanski hear you say that, bearding you is one of his favourite pastimes."
Gallagher relaxed and smiled warmly at the other man. "I know," he admitted as he followed the general from the office.
Komanski was in surgery for an hour and a half; during that time, the expected MPs turned up beside General Savage. He glared at the men and indicated that they were to wait further down the hall. They saluted smartly and took up their positions at either end of the hospital corridor.
Gallagher had decided to wait with the general, and watched with growing concern as Savage smoked his way through the packet of cigarettes that he had with him. "What the hell's taking so long?" Savage groused at one stage, pausing during his seemingly endless trek from one part of the hallway to another.
"The doc knows what he's doing," Gallagher advised gently, knowing the guilt that Savage must be feeling - after all, the boy had taken a bullet meant for him.
Major Stovall appeared, asking with concern, "Any news?" Savage shook his head and glared at a passing nurse, who quickened her step to disappear into a room down the hall. He didn't see the look of concern that passed between the colonel and the major.
Stovall cleared his throat and began, keeping his tone strictly military and impersonal, "I've been in contact with G2. They're sending Colonel Reed down; he should be here," he glanced at his watch, "in about two hours. The base is closed to all non-personnel, and those who were on base at the time of the shooting are being questioned, sir."
"Has the weapon been found?" Savage asked, turning to look at the major for the first time.
Harvey pressed his lips together before he answered slowly, "No sir... not yet, but there is a full search in progress for it, and I will report as soon as I've any further news."
As Harvey finished speaking, Dr Kaiser came out of the theatre and walked slowly towards them. He had spent most of the afternoon in surgery, and had only just finished with the wounded from the day's mission when he had been called to General Savage's office.
"How is he, Doc?" Frank asked, his tone sharp with concern for his young technical sergeant.
Kaiser pulled his theatre cap off and rubbed at his hair, wishing he could rub away his aching tiredness so easily. "He's strong... should make it.... Might be a week or two before you get him back in the air, though."
Savage let out an audible sigh of relief, then - opening his mouth to comment - he paused as Sandy was wheeled out of the theatre and down the corridor towards them. "Are you putting him in one of the main wards?" Frank asked, a frown appearing upon his handsome face.
A blank look filtered across Kaiser's tired face as he answered, slightly baffled by the other man's question, "Yes... well, I was going to put him into intensive care..." seeing the look this earned him, he continued hurriedly, "just for tonight... as a precaution - the bullet grazed pretty close to a main artery."
"Would it be possible for you to have him put into a private room? One on his own?" Savage asked, watching as the trolley was wheeled past him. While Komanski was as pale as the sheet that lay across him, he did look as if he was just deeply asleep, and Frank realised with a start that they had been very lucky not to lose the lad.
"I suppose I could, but it will mean assigning a nurse to sit with him all night," Kaiser said with a hint of confusion filling his voice. He, like the others, was not sure about the reasoning behind Savage's request.
Savage, hearing the baffled tone, explained dryly, "We're all assuming that the bullet was meant for me..." He paused slightly before he finished, "What if it had been meant for Sandy?" He reached up and wiped a stray lock of hair from his eyes.
"Why would anyone want to shoot a technical sergeant?" Gallagher asked with some disbelief, his expression informing Frank just what he thought of that idea.
"I'm not sure," Savage said, trying to explain his feelings to the others, "but I was in clear view in front of that window for quite a while before the sniper shot, and Sandy had only just come into the room."
"That's stretching it a bit, isn't it, Frank?" Stovall commented, not sure if he agreed with the general's reasoning. "I mean... we don't know who the sniper is or how long he'd been there. He might have only just got himself into position." He paused and shrugged his shoulders, continuing, "I'm sorry, sir, but I have to agree with Colonel Gallagher. Why shoot a technical sergeant? Why take the risk? It just doesn't make sense."
"Alright," Savage admitted sharply, not liking having his concerns dismissed so lightly. "I might be wrong," he conceded, before he added firmly, "but it would put my mind at rest to know that Komanski is in a room on his own - with a guard on the door." The last was an order - the three men surrounding him could hear it and none of them was going to disobey the general; the steel glint in his eyes warned them that to do so would be dangerous.
After a short, strained pause, Kaiser said in a quiet tone, "I'll arrange for the nurse and a private room," before moving off after the trolley that had disappeared into a ward further down the corridor.
Seeing the uneasy looks the other two men were giving him, Savage argued, "Look, I know how it seems, but... I can't explain it, it's just a gut feeling.... Humour me...." He paused, then added, "After all, I'm still the commander of this base."
Neither man had an answer to that and, with a final nod of his head, Savage turned and marched from the hospital. He paused slightly as the two MPs hastened to take up their positions near him, then - with a shake of his head - he continued out the door.
The next week slipped by without incident. General Savage flew the missions with a good success rate and patiently put up with the MPs' presence as they diligently followed him about the base. Colonel Reed of G2 once more went over the records of all the personnel on the base - and the civilians who had access to it - with a fine-toothed comb, searching and questioning anyone who fell under his suspicions, but to no avail. Meanwhile, Sergeant Komanski slowly recovered from his injury.
Dr Kaiser looked up from the pile of paper scattered upon his desk to find General Savage leaning against the door jamb. Before he could reach his feet and salute his commanding officer, the man in question walked further into the room, removing his hat and waving the older man back to his seat.
"How's Sandy doing?" Frank asked, taking the seat opposite the doctor. He had been up since four on a mission and had just attended the disappointing debriefing, coming directly from the meeting instead of changing out of his flight gear. He looked tired, drawn, and in need of a few nights' uninterrupted sleep.
"As well as can be expected," Kaiser answered cautiously, hiding the fact that Komanski was not healing as fast as he should be - the injury had been a particularly nasty one and the loss of blood, even though he was attended to quickly, was high.
Savage shook out a cigarette from his ever-present packet and lit it before demanding, "And what the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"It means, sir," Kaiser said carefully, looking at the pen he held in his hand, "that a body can only take so much, and the more it gets run down, the longer it's going to take to heal." Both men knew that he was talking about the terrible strain that was placed upon the young men who flew on the missions over Germany.
Savage glared at the man who sat before him, his temper wanting to override his rational thought. Silence ruled for a few moments before Savage cleared his throat and commented, "I guess we're all getting near to the edge."
Kaiser drew a long, deep breath. Slowly letting it out, he agreed, "Yes, war has a habit of doing that to you." He finished with a slight smile, "Sandy is doing all right, all things considered. He's a strong lad; he's already bugging me about getting out of here." Seeing the look this earned him, he stated firmly, "This afternoon - if all goes well and he does as he's told and rests up in his quarters." Kaiser considered telling the general that he was only allowing it to prevent the technical sergeant from going AWOL from the hospital, but seeing the determined glint in Savage's eye and knowing that Komanski would be doing exactly as he was told, he decided against it.
Suddenly Savage closed his eyes and wiped a slightly shaking hand over his tired face. During the past week he seemed to have aged, not just because of the shooting of his young friend, for which he still felt responsible, but also for the continuing daily missions that he had led over that time.
"You know," Kaiser continued, seeing reaction starting to set in upon the other man's features and misinterpreting the reason behind it, "it's not your fault he got shot. He was, unfortunately, in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Frank waved aside the other man's words of comfort and stated, "I know that in here..." he tapped at his forehead, "but I still get a gut-wrenching feeling every time I remember him spinning into me. The blood...." He stopped, knowing that to explain further would only get the doctor even more concerned.
Kaiser, knowing that Savage trod a very thin line of guilt every time he sent young men up to fly mission, decided not to delve too deeply into that quagmire. Instead, he asked, "Any news?"
Savage gave himself a mental shake before answering, "Not yet; Colonel Reed's been fine-combing the camp for the last week and still nothing. We haven't found the weapon..." he stopped and gave Kaiser a small smile as he added with a shake of his head, "and - believe me - Reed's looked everywhere."
"I know," Kaiser commented dryly. "They turned my hospital upside down two days ago looking for it. It took me a whole day to get it right again."
Savage began to apologise, but the doctor brushed his words aside by saying, "Forget it, Frank... I want whoever did this caught as much as you do."
Rubbing at his face, Savage agreed, "Yes, but unless something happens soon or the man makes a mistake, we may never find out who did it and I may spend the rest of the war being followed about by MPs." Frank looked so disgruntled by that thought that Kaiser had to smile.
"By the way, have you told Sandy?" Kaiser raised an eyebrow, continuing, "I mean about that MP following him around for the rest of the war?"
"That's not fair, Major, and you know it." There was a flash of the old Savage behind the man's eyes and he glared at the doctor who sat before him.
Kaiser had the decency to look shamefaced at his words and apologised by saying, "I know it's for his own good, but you know as well as I do that once Sandy's up and about he'll not take too kindly to having his style cramped by a burly MP."
Rising, Savage stubbed out his cigarette firmly and stated - although Kaiser did wonder if he was trying to convince the doctor or himself - "You just let me worry about that. Now, is there enough time for me to visit him today before you release him, or shall I leave it until he's back in his quarters?"
Kaiser was tempted to lie to Savage and tell him to go to his quarters to get some rest instead, but he knew that if Frank left he would only go back to his office and try to catch up on the ever-present paperwork. At least if he was sitting down talking to Sandy he would be resting... of sorts. "No, he's driving the nurses mad about getting out, so see if you can take his mind off it for a while. I've still got this paperwork to get through before I do the rounds and release him."
Savage gave the man a sympathetic smile before he headed toward the door. As he rested his hand upon the handle, he turned back to Kaiser who remained seated behind the desk and said, "Thanks, Doc."
Kaiser looked up at the words, just in time to see General Savage slip from the room. With a sigh, he picked his pen up and began to sign the reports in front of him. He knew that Frank had been thanking him for more than the time he had spent talking to him, or the information he had given him.
Savage returned the salute of the MP stationed outside Komanski's room and then stuck his head round the door to see if the technical sergeant was asleep.
Sandy looked up as the door opened and broke into a wide smile when he saw the general. "I sure hope you've come to bust me out of here?" he questioned, waving the other man into the room and indicating the chair by the bed.
"Sorry, Sandy," Frank returned, spreading his hands. "I tried... but Doc Kaiser was having none of it until he does his rounds."
Sandy looked suitably crestfallen before he added bravely, "Well, it was worth a try." Then, "How did the mission go today?" The next half-hour was spent with General Savage bringing Komanski up to date with the day's mission.
"Sounds like a hard one," Sandy commented as the general finished, an apprehensive lilt to his voice. The technical sergeant hated the Piccadilly Lily going up without him.
"The debriefing reports are looking good, so hopefully we'll be able to move on to something else..." Savage paused, lighting a cigarette before he continued, "although we've been promised a few days' down time."
"Didn't they promise us some down time last week?" Sandy asked, frowning as he remembered the scuttle-butt rumour from the week before that had not been kept.
"Well, to tell the truth, the weather is closing in, so it's a fair bet that we will get it this week," Frank commented, before he took a long drag on his cigarette and crossed his legs as he considered how to broach the subject of the MP with his technical sergeant. "Sandy..." he finally began.
The injured man, noting the tone of voice, looked up to meet the other's eyes. "Sir?" he asked when Frank paused, knowing that whatever the general had to say could not be easy for him if he was having to search so hard for the words.
"As you know, Colonel Reed from G2 is here because of the shooting. He's been going over the files, trying to find out who shot you."
"Has the gun been found?" Komanski asked, fidgeting with his bandage - talking about his injury always made him feel uncomfortable.
Savage, meanwhile, resisted the urge the slap his hand away, saying instead, "No, although he has turned the base upside down looking for it." Frank suddenly remembered Reed's request of that morning. "By the way, he wants to have another chat with you."
"Me, sir?" Sandy questioned, stopping his fidgeting. The last interview with the G2 officer had not been easy - the man seemed convinced that Komanski knew who had shot him and, for some perverse reason, was not telling him. "I've already told him everything I could... I never saw who fired the shot, sir."
Savage had to suppress a smile; he, too, had undergone one of Reed's intense questioning sessions and could well understand Komanski's concerns. "He's not saying that you did. He just has a few more questions."
"I'll answer any questions that Colonel Reed has," Komanski replied stiffly, then - realising that this was the opening that he had been waiting for - he continued, "Sir, about that MP stationed outside the door?"
"I'm afraid that you're going to have to put up with him for a short while longer," Savage stated firmly, glad that the conversation had taken this particular turn.
"Sir," Komanski said, sitting up straighter in his bed, ready to protest his indignation and anger at the situation.
Savage held up his hand, stopping Sandy before he could get into full swing. "This is not open for discussion, Sergeant. Until the person responsible for the shooting is caught, then both you and I are going to have to put up with the MPs, and that's final."
Komanski opened his mouth to protest, not at all pleased with the prospect of MPs following him about the base, then - seeing the glare smouldering just beneath the surface of the other man's eyes and knowing that the general was under increasing pressure - he realised that he could not add to the weight already resting upon the man's shoulders. "All right," he said begrudgingly, "but I want it understood that I'm only doing this under protest."
No, Komanski," Savage said, settling easily back in the chair. Now that it was obvious that Sandy wasn't going to buck too much about having the MP tail, he could afford to let down his guard a bit. "You're doing it because I'm ordering you to."
Sandy grimaced at his commander's words and added with a slight smile of his own, "That too, of course."
The conversation then turned to a safer subject and, fifteen minutes later, General Savage took his leave. As he stood, he finished, "And don't think just because you're getting out of here that you can sneak back into the office. Dr Kaiser has already given Harvey strict instructions not to allow you in the office until Tuesday, and then to only allow you to do a few hours a day until further notice."
"The rate this is going, I'll have forgotten how to be a technical sergeant by the time I get back into the Lily, sir," Sandy muttered with disgust as the other man left the room.
General Savage looked up from his desk and realised that the light had faded too much for him to be able to read the report in front of him. With a sigh, he got up and drew the curtains before turning on the light. As he did so, a noise from the outer office caught his attention and he opened the door to see Komanski just beginning to sit at his desk. "What are you doing here?" he snapped, totally ignoring the MP assigned to Komanski who stood by the outer door, just as he ignored his own who was standing by the filing cabinet.
The technical sergeant gave a guilty start before confessing, "I thought you'd gone, sir."
"I thought Dr Kaiser told you to rest?"
"General," Komanski almost whined, "I'm going crazy just sitting and laying about. I feel like a fraud," he finished with the air of one greatly wronged.
"So you wait until you think everybody's left for the day and then sneak in here to do some work..." Savage paused before he added sarcastically, "And what do you think Major Stovall will think when he comes in in the morning and finds the work done?" He motioned for Sandy to enter his office and, by glance alone, directed the MPs to remain in the outer room. "Elves, perhaps?" he continued, closing the door.
Komanski took up a position before the desk and stood to attention. Savage spent a few minutes looking at the man before him. He could not really be angry with the young man, mainly because he had been in the same position when he'd been injured.
"Oh for Pete's sake, sit down, Sandy," Frank finally said, moving back behind his desk. "If you're going to stay, you might as well help me out here." He motioned towards the pile of paperwork that lay across his desk.
The young man looked at the general and smiled broadly. "Yes sir," he said with relief.
They continued to work in silence for the next hour or so, until Savage glanced up and saw the sergeant fighting back a yawn. Now that he took the time, he could clearly see the drained, pale features of the man who sat before him and knew that he was pushing his recovery. Firmly putting down his pen, General Savage stretched back in the chair. Yawning deeply, he commented, "Man, I think that I'm just about ready for bed." He let his chair slump to the ground with a bang as he stood up. "Come on, Sandy, let's call it a night. I'm beat."
"Sir," Komanski said, again fighting back a yawn. "I guess Dr Kaiser was right about it taking a few weeks to get back to full power," he said as he rubbed at his injured shoulder.
"Giving you much trouble?" Savage asked as they headed towards the door. He paused to turn the light off and then followed the MPs out of the building, just behind Komanski.
"Nah... not really. I mean, I've had worse on a mission," Sandy said with a grimace.
"Well, with any luck you could be back flying by the end of next week," Frank said, pausing to drag in a deep breath of crisp, fresh night air. It was now past midnight on the camp and the stars were in clear view. He suppressed a slight shudder as he realised that the Germans would be bombing London on such a clear night as this.
"Did Dr Kaiser say so?" Komanski asked. "I mean, he's been pretty close-mouthed about it all," he went on as they walked slowly across the compound towards their quarters.
Savage opened his mouth to tell Sandy just what Kaiser had said when a shifting of shadow caught his eye. Without thinking, he threw himself forward and tumbled Komanski to the ground as a barrage of shots rung out, narrowly missing the fallen men.
The next few minutes were a jumble of chaos as the MPs drew their weapons and began to fire in the direction of the shots, and Savage drew his own gun and held it at the ready. Komanski stayed where he had fallen, knowing that if he moved he might distract the fighting going on above him.
"Stop... stop..." General Savage shouted as more people began to come upon the scene, awoken by the sound of firing. "Sandy are you alright?" he asked, bending down to check on the technical sergeant.
"I'm fine, really," Komanski said, pushing away the offered hand and climbing shakily to his knees. None of the four had yet risen to their feet, and they continued to crouch and kneel upon the ground until more support had arrived and the area was being searched.
Colonel Reed arrived upon the scene, along with Kaiser, Stovall and Gallagher.
"Anyone hurt?" Kaiser asked, giving the other three men a quick glance over before he knelt beside Komanski and started checking him out.
"No," Sandy said, trying to wriggle out from under the doctor's knowing hands. "I'm just down here because the general threw me here," he stated indignantly as he was stopped from rising any further.
"It was just reaction," Savage said, standing up and brushing himself down. He looked down at Komanski fending off the doctor, and smiled before he turned serious and looked towards Reed. "Well?" he asked, his voice sharp.
"We've got a gun this time," Reed said, coming up to the group clustered about the general and Komanski. "And some blood on the side of the building."
"Then the gunman's been wounded?" Savage stated, doing a slow turn as if he could spy the man in the night.
"Well, it's difficult to say; we're searching the area as best we can with torches," Reed commented, also turning but looking over toward the area where the gun was found, watching as the lights danced about looking for more evidence. "It will be better in the morning - we should be able to get a clearer idea of what exactly happened... maybe where the gunman went."
"How's Komanski?" Savage asked as the young technical sergeant was slowly helped to his feet.
"No permanent damage done, I think," Kaiser said, holding a steadying hand under the elbow of the man in question. "But to be on the safe side, I want him to report to the hospital in the morning." He held up a hand as Sandy began to protest. "That was an order, Sergeant."
"Yes sir," Komanski said, roughly pushing back hair from his eyes.
"If the man's been injured, surely he should be easy to find," Gallagher said, pushing himself to the middle of the circle. "Why not turn the camp upside down tonight?" he asked of Reed.
"We will," the other colonel replied sharply, stung by the other's words and inflection that he was not doing enough to find the would-be killer, then he paused and added dryly, "Although I think most of the camp is now here, anyway."
Savage turned at his words and noted that the area had become very crowded. "All right," he shouted the order, "everybody except those needed here are to go back to their quarters and await further orders."
There was some murmuring and grumbling, but slowly the area began to clear and only a few remained after a short while. "I want Komanski found a bed in the officers' quarters tonight," Savage said, totally ignoring the man's vocal protest.
"I've a spare bed in my room, sir," Gallagher said quietly. He didn't bother to mention that it had been occupied the night before by another pilot. Everyone there knew the score and pointedly ignored the obvious upon occasion.
"Fine, that'll do. Sandy..." Savage snapped sharply, as the protest got louder. "Don't - for tonight... just humour me... all right?"
As much as Komanski would have liked to argue with the general, he knew that it would be a fight he would lose. "Yes sir," he said begrudgingly, knowing that Savage's protectiveness came from his genuine concern for his technical sergeant.
"Good," Savage said, reaching out and squeezing the uninjured shoulder. "Now, go with Colonel Gallagher." He paused, then added in deadly seriousness, "And take two MPs with you."
He watched until the men had moved out of sight, then turning back to Reed, he ordered in a firm tone, "I want every single man on this base checked before morning for any sign of injury."
"I've already got that under control," Reed said, holding out the weapon that had been found for Savage's inspection as he continued, "Unfortunately, the gun won't be able to tell us much... it's standard issue, and the number is missing."
"How many men have we got on leave at the moment?" General Savage asked, turning to Major Stovall as he spoke.
"At least half the base," Stovall said, resisting the urge to wipe at his tired eyes; he had been fast asleep when the noise of gunfire had woken him. "I mean," he added by way of explanation, "it's not often that we get a chance for three-day passes to be issued. There is a list in the office, though... I can get it if you want." At the general's nod, he moved across the yard and entered the command centre.
"The guards at the main gate have been informed and doubled for the night. No one will be allowed in or out without first checking with us," Reed continued, his mind moving ahead as he considered all his options. He reached up and scratched at his eyebrow. "This just doesn't make sense," he muttered under his breath as he did a slow turn. "I mean, why attack now? Whoever it is must have had ample time to attack you during the past week, why now when you had two MPs guarding you?"
"Maybe it's what I said in the beginning," Savage suggested, then - seeing the confused look this earned him - he explained, "What if it's not me he was after... but Komanski? He's been in the hospital all week and this might have been the man's first opportunity to attack him since he's been released."
Reed opened his mouth to comment, then closed it again before asking, "Why would anyone be interested in shooting a technical sergeant?"
"I don't know, but..." Savage said, slowly turning the gun over to look at it, "someone has a reason, and twice he's failed. I think that, come morning, we are going to have a very long, very serious talk with Sergeant Komanski."
Reed looked at the tall, handsome man who stood before him. He had a lot of respect for General Savage, and it was never more clear than at this moment. "We'll get whoever is doing this, sir," he said, knowing that if the general got hold of the would-be killer, he wouldn't like to bet on the man's chances of surviving.
"I know we will, Colonel... you can count on that." Savage dropped the gun back into Reed's open hand and continued, while walking across the compound, "I'll be in my office going over the list of men on leave. Join me there once you've finished." With that, he turned and traced Major Stovall's footsteps into the operation building.
Komanski slowly followed Gallagher into his quarters, pausing at the door to give the room a quick glance. This was the first time he had been inside an officer's quarters and he was not surprised to find that, apart from the fact that the room was smaller and held only two beds as opposed to his larger hut that held eight beds, it was just as bare and cold as his own.
"That's your bed," Gallagher said, pointing to the one near the corner of the room as he entered. He walked over to the one comfortable chair and picked up the book he had been reading when the shooting had started. He had tossed it onto the floor when he had rushed from the room to see what the noise had been about.
Komanski noted with a frown that the bed indicated was away from the window. He wondered briefly if it really was the spare bed, or if the colonel was only placing him there because of its distance from the window. Gingerly, he sat down upon it and tested it for comfort - he was ironically pleased to note that it was just as uncomfortable as his own.
"You'd better try and get some sleep," Gallagher said, moving and placing the book upon the one set of drawers that rested in the room. "I get the feeling that both General Savage and Colonel Reed will want to talk to you in the morning."
"Do you think they'll find him?" Komanski asked, his tone touched with just a hint of forced companionship. He was not used to speaking to Gallagher... usually he just stood by and listened while the colonel made some complaint against him - either not obeying an order, or not doing it by the book.
"If he's been injured, he won't he able to hide the wound... and the whole camp will be on the lookout for him now," Gallagher said, bending and removing his shoes.
Komanski watched the colonel for a few moments before he took the hint and began to get ready for bed. After the light had been turned out, he lay awake for a long while going over in his mind the events of the past week, trying to find some reason behind the attacks on both the general and himself. With a sigh of frustration, he realised that until the man was caught and questioned, they would never know the reason behind his actions.
Komanski awoke with a start, that was swiftly followed by a gasp of raw pain as he had twisted up out of the bed with the tail end of his dream.
"You alright?" Gallagher asked from the next bed. Light suddenly filled the room and Sandy slumped back and gasped, his hand coming to rest upon his injured shoulder to lightly cover his wound.
"Yeah," he returned. "Just a dream," he added, knowing that Gallagher would never go back to sleep if he thought he wasn't getting a full answer.
"Does your shoulder hurt?"
Komanski shot a look toward the other bed and was surprised to note that the colonel was leaning up and looking at him with concern reflected in his eyes. The injured man swallowed before he answered, "Just a bit... I caught it when I went down."
"Do you want me to get Doc Kaiser?"
"No..." Sandy snapped, before he repeated in a softer tone, "no... it's alright, it just aches."
"I've got some painkillers if you want?"
Komanski considered the offer before he nodded his head in grateful acceptance. "Yeah, if you don't mind," he added, watching as the other man rose and dug out the pain pills.
Gallagher poured a glass of water from the beaker that rested upon the drawers and, moving to Sandy's bedside, held out the tablets. The technical sergeant swallowed them and nodded his thanks. Joe waited for a few moments until Komanski had settled back before he replaced the glass and returned to his own bed.
"Do you think the MPs are still out there?" Komanski asked a few moments later.
Gallagher looked over and noted the blanket twisted up in the other's hands. "I should think so... the general would have their guts if they weren't there when he retired." As he spoke, he wondered what was going on in the other's mind. He knew that Komanski was not a stranger to fear, and yet he didn't think that the younger man was afraid for himself. "Do you have any idea why anyone would want to kill you?" Joe found himself asking, as he leant up in his bed and watched Sandy as he considered his answer.
"No," he finally admitted. "It's been going around and around in my mind - ever since the general first suggested it - and yet," he paused, his frustration evident in his tone, "I can't think of any reason why someone... a spy... whoever... would want to kill me."
"Maybe you saw something?" Joe prompted.
Komanski considered the other's words before he shook his head. "I've been over the last few days before I got shot, and nothing out of the ordinary happened. I never left the base - went on the mission, spent my spare time in the office, went to the bar in the evening... usual routine."
"Maybe it was something that wasn't out of the ordinary. Did you see, say..." Gallagher stopped, not sure what he really wanted to say, "maybe... two people talking who wouldn't normally be seen together?"
Komanski lay for a short while considering the other's suggestion and realised with a start that he had begun to fall asleep. The painkillers were working and the tiredness of his body was starting to catch up with him. "I don't think so," he finally said, not hearing the slurred tone in his own voice.
Gallagher looked up sharply and noted the drooping eyes and the pale complexion as the other man fought to stay awake. "Don't worry about it, Sandy," he said, pulling his own blanket up further about his shoulders; this country was so damned cold. "It'll wait till morning," he spoke about his own yawn.
Komanski thought about a reply, but was asleep before he could voice it.
Komanski slowly climbed towards wakefulness to the sound of two men talking in hushed tones.
"Well, Doctor Gallagher," Dr Kaiser hissed, dripping sarcasm, "if he needed painkillers during the night, then you should have called me."
"I didn't think... I had a couple spare and he went right back off to sleep," Gallagher shot back in his own defence.
"Those tablets you gave him were meant for you," retorted Kaiser, now in full flow, "and if you didn't intend to take them, then you should have returned them to the dispensary."
"What the hell is going on here?" entered a third voice. Komanski blinked open his eyes as he recognised his general's voice.
"Sorry, General Savage," Kaiser said, his tone becoming more reasonable with the appearance of the camp commander.
"Komanski woke up in the night and I gave him a couple of painkillers," Gallagher explained. "I didn't think it would do any harm," he finished lamely.
"Komanski are you awake?" Savage asked, moving further into the room and coming to stand beside the injured man's bed.
Komanski considered ignoring the general and staying sleepy and warm under the blankets, but old habits were hard to break and he gently pulled the sheet down, saying, "Sleeping with those two is not an easy feat, sir."
Savage gave the two men in question a knowing glance and both had the decency to look shame-faced. "How are you feeling?" the general went on.
Komanski considered the question before answering. If he were honest, he felt more rested than he had in a long while. "Not too bad, actually," he answered.
"Do you feel up to talking with Colonel Reed and myself this morning?" Savage asked, drawing the doctor into the discussion by motioning him forward.
"As long as you remember that he's recovering from a serious injury, it should be all right," Dr Kaiser said, before he added sternly, "After he's visited the hospital for an examination." Komanski opened his mouth to protest, but Kaiser forestalled him by saying, "Two painkillers is a good enough reason to have you back in hospital for a couple of days, Sergeant." The mouth snapped closed and Sandy gave the man a weak smile.
Savage threw Gallagher a smile before he waved him from the room, saying, "I'll leave Sandy in your capable hands, Doc. Can you escort him over to my office once you're finished?"
"Yeah... sure thing," Kaiser said, all his attention on his patient who was squirming under his examining hands.
General Savage had spent most of the morning going over the personnel files of those who had remained behind on base after the three-day passes had been issued. No one had yet been caught, and no one was showing any signs of injury. It was the second time he had read the files and he realised with a start that the names were starting to float in front of his eyes.
Savage looked up in surprise; he had not even heard Komanski enter. He nodded at the offered drink and held out his cup. The sergeant surged forward to fill it and the general noted with a frown that the younger man was now supporting his injured arm in a sling.
Komanski, seeing the direction of Savage's look, said, "I got rid of it yesterday." He paused, then explained, "After I left the hospital... but Doc wasn't too impressed, so he gave me another one with the order to keep it on."
"I take it that will be one order you will be obeying?"
Komanski considered the question, then nodded, with a "You bet."
Getting back to business, Savage accepted the coffee and took a grateful sip before he said, "These are the personnel files of everyone who remained on base. Take a look see if there's anything that jogs a memory." He pushed the files across the desk. "Harvey and I went over them last night, but nothing struck us."
"But then you're not the one being shot at by an unknown person," Komanski added, pulling up a chair with his good hand and settling down. "Never know... it just might give me an edge." He opened the first file. "Where's Colonel Reed?"
"Reed?" Savage said, then - remembering the G2 officer and his words of this morning - he answered, "He's checking on the gun... apparently three guns were stolen from a London armoury over a week ago. The paperwork got caught up along the line and this is the first one to surface."
"London..." Komanski repeated. "How would our would-be killer get hold of a gun that was stolen in London over a week ago?"
Savage considered Sandy's words before he shook his head. "I don't really know - Reed is going with the angle that a civilian is involved and the gun was passed that way, but so far all the records check out. But," he finished with a sigh, "that doesn't answer why the spy, traitor or whoever is trying to kill you."
"And Colonel Reed thinks that I know who this person is, but I'm not telling." The words were out before Komanski could stop them. He would have given anything to have snatched the words out of the air before Savage heard them, but the look of surprise that crossed his commander's face told Sandy that he had heard and was shocked by the bitter tone that Komanski had used.
"Sandy, Colonel Reed isn't suggesting that at all." Savage was determined to stop that train of thought before it became any more destructive. "He, like me, believes that you saw something... something that has made you a threat to the person. It might be something totally insignificant as far as you are concerned, but of the most vital importance to him. Maybe you saw him with someone - it could even have been his civilian contact - and he needs to stop you from putting what you saw together and being able to identify him."
Komanski leant back in his chair, his hand still playing with the edge of the first file he had opened. "I don't know, General, I've been over the last few days before I got shot... it's been going around in my mind so much that I'm no longer sure if I really know what happened, or if I've just imagined it."
"Well," Savage said, knowing just what the young man was saying and understanding his confusion completely, "that's what Colonel Reed and I are going to help you with," he stated with confidence.
"You're going to help me?" Komanski was unable to keep the scepticism out of his voice.
"Yes," the general replied with a slight smile. "We are going to help you... but first I need you to look at those files and see if they jog a memory. Colonel Reed should be back by three, and then we can start."
"Start what?" Sandy asked, his interest piqued. General Savage said nothing, but pointed at the files. "Right," Komanski replied, "the files."
Komanski stretched up and, lifting his uninjured hand, rubbed at his aching neck; he had been leant over the files for the past three hours without let-up. Major Stovall had popped his head around the door and invited Sandy over to the mess, but the young sergeant had slowly shaken his head, his attention fixed firmly on the paperwork in front of him.
"Here," said a familiar voice, placing a cup of freshly brewed coffee beside him. Sandy looked up and smiled. The smile nearly faltered when he realised that it was Colonel Gallagher.
"How's it going?" Joe asked, moving over to a vacant seat, supporting his own cup.
"Not too bad," Sandy said in a neutral voice.
"Harvey said that you were in here," Gallagher explained. "I met him on his way to the mess tent and, well...." The man slowly came to a stop; he couldn't very well tell the younger man that Savage had expressed a desire to have the technical sergeant accompanied at all times, and Harvey had sought him out to sit with the lad while he got some lunch.
"The MPs still out there?" Sandy asked, motioning towards the outer office.
"One still at attention by the door, the other two outside somewhere," Gallagher confirmed with a slight smile, before he added, "They do take their duty very seriously."
Komanski smiled at that and agreed, "You can say that again, I nearly had to push the guy out of the toilet earlier on this morning."
It was small talk... polite small talk, and both men knew it. Gallagher had never really taken the time to become acquainted with the technical sergeant; it was well known that he considered Komanski to be totally unable to follow orders and a real hothead, but General Savage put a lot of store by the boy's ability and opinions and he had proven himself on more missions than most of them liked to count.
"Let's hope we catch whoever it is, soon," Gallagher said, filling the awkward silence that ensued.
Komanski glanced back at the file before he asked, "Sir, would you mind if I asked you a question?"
Gallagher took a slow sip of his coffee to cover his surprise and wondered what question the young man could possibly want to ask him. Deciding that the only way to find out was to allow it, he nodded his head in agreement.
Sandy, seeing this as a sign to continue, hurried on, "Why would a spy waste his time here?" He stopped, knowing how silly the question must seem to the older man, so he hurried on, "I mean, I know that what we do here is secret, what with the targets and everything, but we never know where they are going to be until a few hours before we fly...." He paused again, before adding weakly, "It just seems like... a waste of a spy," he ended lamely.
Gallagher considered the question and knew where Sandy was coming from. It had puzzled him, until Savage had explained that any information that could be passed on about the planes, routes or targets were of the utmost important to the enemy. "You remember that spy who tried to kill Savage a while ago?" Gallagher began.
Komanski nodded; he had not actually been on the base at the time, but had got the full story upon his return. It still made him go cold when he remembered how close the barber had got to achieving his aim.
"That incident caused a real downturn in morale on the base; the entire flight was affected for quite a few missions." Gallagher was searching for the words even as he spoke them; Komanski rarely asked questions of him and he wanted the answer to be the best he could give. "The Germans are proving to be very clever at this kind of manipulation - they use our own complacency against us; our feelings that here, in this camp, we are safe, beyond their reach. But with every little snip of information that comes over the radio, it reminds us that we are not safe, not here... not anywhere... and it leads us to mistrust everyone. It's all there to undermine us - only last week they reported on the new bomb sights 918th received for the planes. It was all over the radio before we even got the last one fitted...." Gallagher stumbled to a stop and stood in sudden concern.
Komanski had frozen in sudden shock, all colour leeching from his features, his intense look passing directly through the man now standing over him.
"Komanski?" Joe snapped in alarm... the boy looked as if he was seeing a ghost. It was almost like he had slipped into a comatose state of shock.
"The new bomb sights..." Sandy said weakly, his eyes still distant as if trying to recapture a fading memory. "They arrived the evening before I was shot. I went over to Smithy in the repair shop that morning... to see when the Lily would be getting hers." He snapped his mouth shut and swallowed hard, his look finally returning to the officer who stood directly in front of him. "Smithy got really pissed at me, because I knew... I saw... he really freaked out and then he threw me out of the workshop."
Without a word Gallagher spun and, in one swift movement, pulled open the office door and ordered the hapless clerk, "Get General Savage and Colonel Reed... now!" The boy was out of the building before the colonel had finished snapping out the order. The MP, realising that something was up, stood even straighter to attention.
"Was there anyone with Sergeant Smithson?" Gallagher asked, moving back into the room, wanting to keep Komanski's thoughts on the same path until his superior arrived. It was obvious that the boy was fighting to retain a newly awakened memory.
Sandy closed his eyes, concentrating. "No... at least, I don't think so... it was pretty early, most of the tech. boys were getting their planes ready. I'd already done the Lily, but I had to get a spare part and passed the repair shop, so I thought I would just pop in...." He gave the colonel a straight-eyed look. "You would have been in briefing at the time."
"What the hell's going on here?" Savage demanded, bursting into the room, closely followed by Colonel Reed. "The clerk said it was urgent." Then, feeling the charged atmosphere, he stood still and snapped, "What?"
"I think Sandy's remembered something important, sir," Gallagher said, moving away from the boy and making room for Savage. He knelt beside the technical sergeant who was biting his lips as he dragged more of the memory to the fore, sorting out what was wrong with the image that he had in his mind. "He went to check on those new parts for the B17s the morning he was shot," Joe carried on when it became obvious that Komanski was not about to answer. "You know, the parts that were mentioned on the radio."
"The new bomb sights?" Reed questioned, moving further into the room and firmly closing the door behind him. He glanced out the window and noticed the MP standing in position just outside, feeling slightly relieved that they had taken the precaution of covering that angle of attack.
Komanski suddenly laughed as it fell into place; it sounded loud and unnatural in the silence that followed Reed's question. "It's really funny," he said, his tone low, utter disbelief colouring his voice, "but until Gall... I mean, Colonel Gallagher mentioned it, I didn't realise what I'd seen."
"All right, Sandy," Savage snapped, his impatience at the strange way the young man was acting coming to the fore. "Just take it from the top and tell it slowly, going over everything you can remember."
"It can't be him though, sir," Komanski began to argue, doubting what he had seen even as the evidence began to mount against the man in question. "He's been here longer than... longer than most of us have," he added, shaking his head and beginning to realise just how unreal it was starting to seem.
Savage stood up and rested a reassuring hand upon the younger man's shoulder. "It might be nothing, Sandy, but let us be the judge of that, all right?"
Komanski looked up at his commanding officer and nodded. Then, taking a deep breath, he began, "Scuttle-butt had passed it down the line about the new parts, and I knew from the requisition list that they had arrived late the day before. During the morning check on the Lily, I realised that I needed some more bulbs..." seeing the confused look this earned him, he explained, "for that fuel light that keeps blowing. Anyway, I was passing the repair shop on my way back to the Lily and I decided to nip in and ask Smithy how soon she would be getting her new sights. It was pretty empty in the repair shop because most of the guys were out with the planes at hard stands, going over last minute repairs." He paused and, reaching up, rubbed at the start of a headache.
"Are you all right, Sergeant?" Savage asked, slightly concerned by the pale features.
"Yes, sir," Komanski said, opening his eyes and giving the other man a quick smile. "I guess it's using the brain to think, sir." He paused, then added with a weak attempt at humour, "It's not really used to it."
"Sergeant?" Reed interrupted, slightly impatiently. "Please...."
The younger man swallowed and continued, "Smithy was over by the crates with the sights in. One of them was open... he was really piss... er... annoyed with me when I asked him about them. I put it down to my knowing about the sights, as they were meant to be, er... a secret. Anyway, he put a flea in my ear and I got out of there as soon as I could."
"But?" Savage prompted, knowing that Komanski would not have felt uneasy about the incident without reason.
"It wasn't until Colonel Gallagher told me about the radio broadcast that it fell into place, sir," Komanski said, looking at each man in turn to see if they realised what he meant. Seeing the blank looks they gave him, he sighed and repeated, "Sergeant Smithson was over by the crates, one of which was open." He spoke as if that should have enlightened them, but seeing this was only causing more confusion, he explained slowly, "I knew they were there by the requisition order that had arrived late the night before... Smithy should not have been standing beside an open crate until after Major Stovall had checked and confirmed them, breaking the factory seals on the crates himself. Then Major Stovall would give permission for them to be distributed and fitted by sending over the relevant papers, which he would have done the day that I got shot."
"Wait a minute, you're saying that Sergeant Smithson opened one of the sealed crates before he had permission to do so?" Reed put in, still not sure that he fully understood the relevance of the point.
"You know your orders, sir," Komanski offered to Savage. "Nothing gets opened or distributed until after it's been checked, and those seals are put on by the factory in the States - they do it to prove that nobody has tampered with them once they've been packed. On items of such importance as those bomb sights, only yourself and Major Stovall have the authority to open the crates and break the seals. Those are your own orders, sir."
"Sergeant Smithson should not have been in those crates," Savage agreed, knowing that Harvey always checked such important deliveries himself, especially where new plane parts were concerned. He stood and, moving over, opened the door and asked, "Harvey, bring in the file on the new sights." The man in question jumped up and, after diverting to a filing cabinet, stepped into the office, the relevant file within his grasp. He gave the four men a polite nod then turned a questioning look upon Savage, who continued, "Were any of the factory seals disturbed on those crates, Harvey?"
The major opened the file and scanned for the information. "No, sir," he finally confirmed. Lifting up a sheet of paper, he continued, "Three crates - sixteen bomb sights - were delivered; the seals were all intact when I inspected them."
"On what day did you pass them for use, Harvey?" Savage asked, never taking his eyes from the injured man who was hanging upon every word the other spoke.
More rustling of paper before the man answered. "The eighth, sir... that's the day Sandy was shot," Harvey added, looking at the men in the office and realising that something very important had just been confirmed.
"I'll have him picked up at once," Reed said, reaching for the phone.
"No... wait," Savage ordered, thinking through what he had just learned, the implications almost staggering him with its enormity. "Sandy, was there anyone else with him...? Think," he added, as the younger man began to shake his head.
"No sir, I'm sure he was alone," Komanski finally said. "I'm sorry, sir," he added, feeling as if he'd let his commander down in some way.
"Don't be silly, son. If what you're saying is correct, then we've got some major problems - both here... and in the States," Savage said, moving to sit behind his desk. "Colonel Reed," he went on, "if you pull Smithson in now, we'll never get our hands on his civilian contact - they will just slip back into the woodwork and then move on to another assignment.... No, we need a way to get them both, and - if possible - to backtrack to their people in the States. Someone must be supplying them with the seals..." He considered the full implications as he spoke.
"Smithson?" Stovall asked, still totally in the dark. Gallagher, getting the nod from Savage, drew the man to one side and quietly began to explain what had happened.
"We could put a tail on him, see who he leads us to," Reed said after a few moments of silence, but his tone relayed that he did not consider that a very fruitful option: the man would have to be very well-trained to have survived this long.
Again silence filled the office, each man lost in thought until Komanski finally cleared his throat and ventured somewhat nervously, "I could always blackmail him, sir."
"What?" Savage asked, his attention swinging back to focus on the young man who sat in the chair across from him.
Komanski licked at suddenly dry lips and repeated, "I could always blackmail him, sir." He finished weakly, "I, er... do have a bit of a reputation for, er... being a bit, er... wild, sir."
"It might work," Reed said sceptically, at the same time that Savage exploded, "No way... that man has tried to kill you on two occasions; if you go to him alone, he'll just break your neck with his bare hands and that will be the end of the matter." Savage knew he spoke the truth; the man was at least forty pounds heavier than the technical sergeant and built like an ox.
"Not if I tell him that I've left a full, written account somewhere - somewhere safe - which will be opened if anything were to happen to me," Komanski shot back, the idea becoming more firm in his mind. "He couldn't take the chance of even a hint of suspicion falling upon him... he'd have to give me what I want." He was speaking fast now, trying to sell the idea. He could see that he had Reed's full support - the man could almost taste the civilian spy, if the gleam in his eyes and the way he was licking his lips was anything to go on.
"It's too dangerous, Sandy," Savage stated firmly, wanting to put an end to that particular plan.
Sandy let out a short bark of laughter. "And you think going up in a B17 day after day is a safe way to fight this war, sir?" he snapped before sitting back, realising that his words had stepped over the bounds of their friendship. He swallowed at the dirty look that Frank threw his way, but set his lips in a determined line. He could be just as stubborn as General Savage.
"Sir," Gallagher put in, wanting to break the strained silence that spread across the room like an icy weather front. "I hate to say it, but it looks like our only chance to get the civilian spy ring."
Savage let out a deeply rooted sigh and finally asked, annoyed at the fact that he was going to lose the argument, "And what makes you think that Smithson will contact his partner, or that he will be inclined to answer his summons?"
"He'll have to," Sandy stated firmly, now sure of his plan, "if I ask for enough money and demand that it's delivered quickly, or else I'll go to you. The civilian will have to be the one to get the money together and bring it here. It's just too important to them to chance your finding out."
"And Sergeant Komanski could initially speak to Smithson in a public place, where there are a lot of people about," Reed put in, forming his side of the plan, already moving ahead to who he would have to contact to have a team waiting on the outside to swoop on the civilians involved in the spy ring.
"The mess hall?" Stovall commented, now totally up to date with what was going on and listening to the proceedings with keen interest. "Sergeant Smithson always goes there for coffee at about four - that's usually an hour before the flight gets back." He shrugged, knowing that at the moment the 918th was grounded for a few days. "It's his routine, even when we're grounded."
Sandy looked at the office clock and stated, "I could meet with him in about an hour, then."
"This needs to be thought through a bit more," Savage stated, still not liking the idea of sending the young man into such a dangerous situation. "I don't like it, Sandy - you'll be going in without any backup... we don't know that Smithson might not just lure you somewhere quiet, then kill you, taking his chances with this written report."
"Sir," Colonel Reed butted in. "With all due respect, General Savage, this is a G2 problem now and, if Sergeant Komanski is prepared and willing to help us...." He let his words hang and braced himself for the storm he knew his words would cause.
"Colonel Reed, I appreciate your words and your enthusiasm, but this is still my base and I'm still in command here." Savage spoke the words slowly and carefully, never taking his eyes from Komanski's face. "And no one... I mean no one... will act upon this matter until we've gone over every eventuality... is that understood?" Each man in the room knew that when Savage spoke in such polite terms, it was usually when he was at his most dangerous. The three men of his command glanced down, unwilling to meet the fire that burned deep within his eyes.
"Yes sir," Reed agreed, glad to have got off so lightly but still determined to do his job.
"Komanski?" Savage asked with burning politeness and a raised eyebrow.
The man in question swallowed hard before agreeing, "Yes sir."
"Now," Savage continued, "I'm not totally vetoing the idea, I just want to make sure that we're going into this with our eyes wide open and giving Sandy every opportunity of coming out alive." His words brought home to the man in question just how dangerous his requested task would be.
"I feel that I can do this, sir," Sandy stated firmly.
This time it was Savage who laughed; it was a dry, bitter bark of sound. "I'm not doubting your ability, Sergeant, just your opponent's tendency to want you dead."
Sergeant Komanski opened the door to the mess hall and glanced nervously about the darkened interior. There were a few men inside, many supporting cups of coffee, a few were playing cards over in one corner. Sandy, spying Smithson sitting on his own, pulled up his courage and entered the room, motioning the following MP off to one side. He retrieved his own cup of coffee from the ever-full tray upon the counter and made his way over to the other technical sergeant.
"Man, that guy's driving me nuts," Sandy groused, taking a seat beside the other man.
Smithson glanced up at him, then looked sourly back at his half full cup. "No news, then?" he asked, giving the MP a long, measuring look.
"Nah," Sandy replied with good humour. "Reed's running about asking questions, and Savage is driving me nuts about this and that, and I've got that bodyguard for the duration."
"It's for your own protection," Smithson retorted, turning his attention back to his lukewarm coffee.
"My protection?" snapped Sandy bitterly. "Those bozos couldn't protect a sheep in a pen. No... I can take care of myself."
Smithson laughed at that before pointing to the other's wounded arm. "Yeah, you're doing a really fine job of it, too."
Sandy pulled a face and yanked at the sling, before leaning further over the table to speak in a hushed tone. "I'm here to see that I stay alive," he commented.
"Then you're flying the wrong sort of planes, boy," Smithson shot back. Looking about, he continued in a mild tone, "I've got a plane to repair... see you later." He made to stand, but Sandy reached out his good hand and rested it lightly upon the other man's.
"I said," Sandy repeated slowly and clearly, "that I'm here to make sure that I stay alive. By that I meant that I'm here in this mess hall, not on the damned base."
"Meaning?" the other man had frozen, his lips barely moving as he asked the question.
"Let's just say that I can see a way of us sealing our friendship without either of us getting hurt any further." Sandy emphasised the words 'sealing' and 'hurt'.
Smithson considered the words for barely a few seconds before he lowered himself back into the seat and said, "You've caught my attention, friend, now - can you hold it?"
Sandy leant back and took a sip from his cup, gathering himself before answering, "I think I can, and it just might be to everyone's benefit." Komanski knew that Smithson was scanning the room; it was slow and deliberate, and he was shocked to realise that he had never noticed how observant the man was.
"Explain?" The words were curt and cold.
Swallowing, Sandy forced a smile to his face and began the sales patter that had been agreed with General Savage and Colonel Reed. "I got busted into the service, did you know that?" Receiving a shake of the head, he continued, "Yeah, either the service or jail... some choice."
"So, it's not your chosen career. You haven't done so bad at it, have you...?" Smithson shot back, his impatience becoming evident. "Savage's top turret isn't a bad place to be sitting."
Sandy laughed out loud at that. "Yeah, right - every damned fighter pilot over Germany wants to shoot his plane down, and he's taking more and more risks... I don't plan on being in it when he finally gets it."
"And where do you plan to be, Technical Sergeant Komanski?" Smithson asked, shaking out a cigarette and lighting it, not bothering to offer the other man a smoke. He watched the younger man through the smoky haze. His eyes were cold, his manner even deadlier.
"I plan to be back home... on some beach with some blonde bombshell, with another name and a fair wad of money to keep me going."
"I see," Smithson said. Picking a bit of tobacco from his lip he casually continued, "And I take it that I'm going to supply the latter part of your plan?"
Sandy smiled widely at the other man and commented with equal casualness, "See, I knew you were bright... but then you had to be, to get away with being a spy for so long."
"How much and when?" Smithson totally ignored the other man's last comment.
"Ten thousand... this evening," Sandy shot back, quite prepared to allow the other man to set the pace.
"Not possible," Smithson returned, stubbing out his cigarette.
"Well, that's just too bad. Nice knowing you; hope you like prison food." He paused before asking, as if genuinely puzzled by the question, "Do they shoot or hang spies in this country?" As he finished Sandy made to stand, but felt his arm caught and held in a vice-like grip. He had to grit his teeth to keep from crying out.
"What's to stop me from killing you the moment you're out that door?" The words were hissed, showing barely-contained anger, and Sandy knew that he'd hit a raw nerve with his last comments.
"A fully documented written report of my beliefs and suspicions that goes straight to General Savage and co, if anything should happen to me," he gritted out, fighting against the urge to wrench his elbow from the painful grip.
"Sit." It wasn't a request, and Sandy slowly lowered himself back into his chair.
"Five thousand English pounds... tonight.... It's the most we... I can get at such short notice. You'll have to make your own arrangements about exchanging it to dollars." Komanski's arm was released as Smithson spoke.
Sandy swallowed and hoped that he managed to keep the gleam of victory from his eyes; this had been the hardest part of the plan to pull off. "You get me the money, I'll worry about the rest of it. I've got a two week pass starting tomorrow." Seeing the hard look this earned him, he indicated his injured arm. "Wounded in the line of duty." He smiled at the snarl this evoked. "By the time my leave's over, I'll be long gone - they'll never be able to find me and you'll never see me again."
"True blue American boy, ain't you, Komanski?" Smithson said, the contempt clear in his voice.
"You should try riding top turret for a while, Smithy... then let's see how loyal you remain." Sandy was surprised at the ring of truth that filtered through his voice and wondered where it had come from.
It seemed to satisfy the other man, because he suddenly stood and, looking down at the young man, he asked, "Where?"
"Piccadilly Lily, at eleven," Sandy shot back the already-agreed place and time.
"And the written report?"
"Give me an address and I'll post it to you from the States," Sandy returned with growing confidence.
Smithson suddenly bent over Komanski. Leaning directly into the other man's face, he said quietly and determinedly, "You'll die if you don't... and that's a promise, Sandy." Then he was up and moving from the mess hall.
The other man just sat for a few minutes before reaching out a shaking hand and gripping the cold cup of coffee that sat in front of him. It was now up to Colonel Reed and his people to follow Smithson and see who he contacted, and who dropped the money off. Once that was known, then both the spies would be picked up. Sandy was out of it now - out of it, unless something went wrong and it was necessary for him to meet with Smithson as arranged. He waited a few more moments until his nerves regained some control, before he slowly stood and made his way from the room.
General Savage was annoyed almost beyond words. The plan had seemed almost foolproof; Sandy had acted his part to perfection and Smithson had indeed left the mess hall and made straight for a phone. He had contacted someone and, after a short, intense conversation, had returned to his duty of repairing the planes that fell under his control.
"So, what happens now?" Savage asked, keeping his voice calm; he knew that letting the others see his temper would not help the situation.
Reed looked uncomfortable. "Now I guess we let Komanski meet with Smithson and his contact at the Lily, as arranged."
"And there's no other way?" Savage felt that the plan was starting to slip from being simple to being dangerous.
"It was a possibility, General. I mean, the amount of money we're talking about is pretty high, and I would hazard a guess that the civilian contact is unwilling to just hand the money over to Smithson without proof of what he wants it for."
"So, you think he will be at the Lily tonight?" Major Stovall asked. Until now he had been silent, but Savage could tell from the expression on his face and the tone of his voice that he didn't like the idea any more than the general did. "It could be a trap," he finished. "Smithson might still take his chance of just killing Sandy outright."
"I don't think so," Reed hurried to reassure. "There's too much at stake here for them. Think about it: they've been working here successfully for over a year now - would you want to blow that for the sake of..." he paused, not sure what amount the blackmail demand had finally been set at.
"Five thousand pounds," Gallagher put in. He had contacted Komanski on the pretext of balling the younger man out and had got a report of what had happened at the mess hall.
"No..." Reed went on, "I'm convinced that Sergeant Komanski is perfectly safe as long as he goes along with the plan and doesn't blow it."
"Sandy knows what he's got to do." This was from Gallagher; it earned him a surprised look from Savage. The young colonel was not usually in the position of defending the technical sergeant.
"General," Reed continued, brushing aside the other colonel's words, "I'm sure that your sergeant is very capable, and - if we're honest - this is for the best." Seeing the look this earned him, he hurried on, "If we can capture both of the spies together, it will give us a stronger hand and less chance of losing one of them. If Sergeant Komanski makes the meet, he will be well protected... my people will see to that."
"I'd much rather have my own people there, as well," Savage commented, giving the two men under his command a straight, questioning look and pleased to note their immediate nods of agreement.
"I don't think that would be wise," Reed started to protest, but was cut short by the general.
"We either do it my way, or not at all," Savage stated firmly. "If you want, you can pick Smithson up on your way out and that will be the end of the matter."
"I don't think that higher-up will see it in such simple black and white terms, General," Reed warned, knowing that it was only a token protest. If Savage was determined to have things his way, then time was on his side and Reed didn't really have a leg to stand on.
"I'll deal with Pinetree after you've left with your prisoner," Savage commented dryly, knowing that he was on firm ground and the proof of the accusation would rest purely upon Reed's shoulders.
"As you wish, General," Reed finally acceded.
"Good," Savage returned with a slight smile, before he turned serious and continued, "Now, let's work this out and get the details to Komanski." He looked up at Gallagher and said, "I guess you're going to have to give that young man another balling out, Colonel."
Gallagher found it hard to suppress the smile that filtered across his lips as he answered with totally sincerity, "Well, I guess it'll be hard... but I think that I've got the experience to do that, sir."
Komanski was nervous; there was no other word to describe the stomach churning feeling he felt standing beside the Piccadilly Lily. It was five minutes to eleven and he was resisting the urge to bite at his nails. He gave the huge plane another glance over and, although he knew that men had been secreted within her bowels, he had not seen any sign of them since his arrival ten minutes ago. He was aware that General Savage and Colonel Gallagher had got into position before dusk and had spent most of the evening in her hull - he had to admire their determination... he knew exactly how cold the plane could get on a bitter night like this.
He took another deep breath and forced it from his body; someone had once told him that breathing deeply help to settle nerves... funny, all it seemed to do right now was make him feel sick.
He began to pace again, playing with the sling and fingering once more the reassuring bulk of the weapon that lay nestled within its folds.
"Sergeant," a voice called out of the darkness, causing Sandy to spin in that direction in some alarm; it was Smithson. He stayed back, just out of clear sight, and beside him Komanski could just make out the form of another person, but they, too, were effectively hidden.
"Have you got it?" Komanski asked, wanting to get this matter over with as soon as possible.
The body beside Smithson lifted a bag, indicating that the money was there, but said nothing. "But," the known spy began, "we need a little more proof that you're not lying to us about the written report."
Sandy blinked at that request, then thanked the gods that Savage had thought of that aspect and made him write out a copy of it that afternoon. "I thought you might, so I brought you a copy." As he spoke, he reached into his uniform pocket, only to be stopped by a short retort.
"Easy, Sergeant," Smithson said, moving closer and revealing the gun he held steadily upon the younger man. "I'll get it, if you don't mind."
Sandy held up his arm, allowing the other man to reach into his pocket and withdraw the papers that were hidden there. "I tried to keep it brief, but... well, there was so much to explain," Komanski said, keeping up the talk while Smithson returned to his companion and handed over the sheets of paper. "You know, it's really a nice little set-up you've got going here."
"Shut up," Smithson shot back, keeping the gun trained on the technical sergeant while his companion turned his back on them and, lighting a small touch, began to read.
"You're very good at telling stories, Sergeant," the unknown man complimented as he finished reading and folded up the pages. He slipped them into his own breast pocket and continued, "It's such a shame that you found out about Smithson, but you mention nothing about me - which is just as well, because that would have caused me serious problems." As he spoke, he withdrew a gun and fired at the man standing directly beside him. The gun must have been silenced because only the sound of a huff reached Sandy's ears, and he watched in horror as Smithson slipped to the ground without a murmur. The action was so sudden that Komanski was frozen to the spot for a moment in shock, before he gave a cry of warning and dived for the only cover of the Lily's large wheel.
The bullets pitted the ground about him, and he tried vainly to curl even further in upon himself as he fought to get his own gun out of the tangled sling. Even as it came free, he felt the bite of a bullet as it slipped white hot into his upper leg. He cried out in shock and, pointing his gun, returned the fire - but, before he fully accepted that he had been shot, it was all over. A barrage of shooting came from Savage and Gallagher, stationed within the Lily, and the murderous spy slipped to the ground with a stunned cry of his own.
Then the place was in uproar as cars sped across the tarmac and lights flooded the area. The spy was swiftly disarmed, one of the MPs on the scene kicking the weapon away from his limp grasp before kneeling to check if the man was alive. From the way he called for the doctor, it was obvious that the spy was still among the living.
"Sandy... Sandy...." The technical sergeant's attention was dragged away from the proceedings directly before him by the concerned voice that was searching for him.
"Over here, sir," he shouted, trying to move out from his hiding place, but failing miserable as his injured leg protested strongly to such a movement. Instead, he lay back upon the cold ground and groaned out loud as he tried to place his uninjured hand over the wound to stop the bleeding.
General Savage and Gallagher were suddenly beside him. "Here, let me look," the general demanded, prying the other's hand away. "Doc," he called over his shoulder to where Doctor Kaiser was leaning over the living spy. "Doc, Sandy's been hit."
"Coming," Kaiser called back, before he gave instructions to the medical personnel surrounding the other two fallen bodies. Then he was up and making his way over to them. "What the hell did you do now, Komanski?" he griped as he set the light down and took up Savage's recent position beside the hissing boy. The general had moved up to the boy's head, supporting the youth's shoulders against his own kneeling position.
"I really don't like this ground work, sir," Komanski gasped as Kaiser went to work, cutting his trousers leg to allow access to the wound. "I'm beginning to think that I'm safer up in the sky on a bombing mission," he griped, before ending it with a hiss of pain as Kaiser probed the entrance to the wound.
The doctor finally sat back on his heels and shook his head. "It's wedged in there good, son." He gave the injured man a sorrowful glance. "Looks like you're spending the night in the hospital again."
"Oh, that's just great," snapped Komanski, reviving a little now that the doctor had stopped probing the wound.
"Don't worry, Komanski - you know Kaiser's good at his job, and the nurses will be very pleased to have a real live hero in their midst," Savage said, gently supporting the boy's head as he leant up further to see what else the doctor was about to do.
"How's Smithson?" Sandy asked, leaning back into the support of his commanding officer as the world started to tilt about him, grateful for the solid comfort the contact gave him.
Kaiser shot a look over toward the other two downed men. "He's dead, but the other one's alive and should remain that way - only a superficial wound to the arm," he explained to the general, who, he knew, would want to know. Then, finishing the preparation of the injection, he added, "Let's have your arm, Sandy."
"But, sir..." protested the younger man as his good arm was lifted by Gallagher and his sleeve rolled back to reveal the skin. He winced as the injection was pushed home.
"You're going into surgery as soon as I get you back, so it's no harm to have the pre-med now," Kaiser explained, then slowed as he noticed the boy go limp in his commander's grasp. Glancing up and seeing the genuine concern written upon the other's face, he answered, "He'll be fine; the bullet's not hit anything vital. He'll be chasing the nurses about my hospital within a few days."
Savage gave the doctor a smile and commented dryly, "Knowing this lad's ability to get into trouble, that doesn't exactly fill me with comfort."
Kaiser smiled at the irony in Savage's tone before he motioned over the stretcher-bearers.
"So, we were able to pick up the entire ring?" Komanski repeated in shocked surprise.
Savage nodded his head and continued, "Yes, Reed was able to backtrack the civilian spy and found a notebook of his contacts, right back to the London break-in at the armoury, and it's even given us a lead to the spy ring in the States."
Komanski let out a little bark of pleasure. "Who'd have thought?" he commented, hitching himself up further in his hospital bed. His upper thigh was heavily bandaged and draped over a mound of pillows. He had been in hospital for two days now, and was getting pretty restless.
"How's the leg?" Gallagher asked; he had taken up a position near the end of the bed, not sure of his welcome with the young technical sergeant. This episode had taught him a lot about the younger man, and he found that he was having to re-evaluate his option of Komanski - a thought he was not sure he felt comfortable with, having been at odds with the younger man for so long.
"Not too bad," Komanski answered, unconsciously reaching out and resting his hand upon the bulky bandage. "Although Kaiser's being a pain and not letting me out of here for at least another three days." As he spoke, he turned wide eyes of pleading upon Savage.
The general held up his hands in mock defeat, before he stated quite firmly, "No way, Sandy... I might rule outside those doors, but once you're in here, you're in the capable hands of the doctor."
"Oh great," Sandy sniped, totally disgusted at his superior's lack of concern. "That two week pass was real, you know," he griped.
Savage ducked his head to hide the smile that filtered across his face. Sandy must be feeling better if he was starting to moan about his loss of leave.
"Yes," added Savage without much feeling of concern - he knew that Komanski would get his leave once he was released as fit by Doctor Kaiser, he would see to that... even if he did shudder at the thought of Sandy on the loose in London for that long a period. "I know, but," he continued with a slight smile, knowing just how the other man would react to his next words, "there is talk of giving you a medal."
"A medal?" squawked the technical sergeant, obviously embarrassed. "What do I want with a medal?"
"You earned it," Gallagher put in, wanting the boy to get the recognition he deserved for the major part he had played in capturing and breaking the spy ring.
"Great - not only do I get shot twice, lose a two week pass into London, but I've now got to wear my dress uniform and stand up in front of a load of strangers, looking like a right twit," he griped even more. "In future I think I'll keep my memories to myself... and I don't think I'll bother going to the medal ceremony, if it's all the same to you, General."
Savage threw Gallagher a quick glance, realising that Sandy was bear-baiting the colonel, and had to fight back the grin that threatened to overcome him. The colonel was standing at the bottom of the bed, bristling with indignation: in his eyes, Komanski should be proud to receive such an honour. Seeing the feral glint return to the colonel's eyes, Savage realised that the truce that had been called between the two men was about to be cancelled.
"To my knowledge," Gallagher snapped in full military flow, "you're still a member of the 8th American Air Force and, as such, you will obey orders, Technical Sergeant Komanski."
Savage leant back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest as he watched Komanski think up a suitable rebuttal to that pompous comment. With a sigh of relief, Savage realised with pleasure that things were finally getting back to normal - now all he needed was a good bombing mission to make his life complete.
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