A Border Redemption (Chapter IV)

A Western Novelette

Part 2 of the Border Trilogy

Chapter IV

 

La Voyant Ranch

Creed was dreaming he was soaring above the earth like the great eagle. The world entire lay below him like a painting that was alive and breathing. Colors were vibrant and the world was pulsating with the very rhythm of existence. Time moved around him in a blur and when he looked below he recognized his own ranch. Creed could see horses, cattle, he even saw Grissom mending a fence. “Look deeper” the voice said. Suddenly Creeds vision became different. He could see underneath the ground, into the dark nether places, deep within the earth. Below the ranch flowed a black river. It was as wide as the Rio Grande and swift as the Colorado. “What is this?” Creed asked. There was no response. The last thing Creed saw before waking up was the great black river flowing under the ground for thousands of miles, circling the earth many times over. As Creed awoke from the dream, he raised up out of bed and walked to the door of the bunk house. He walked out into the cool, pre-dawn morning. The sky was still dark but on the horizon that beautiful assortment of purple and red ribbons of color was beginning to bleed through the curtain of night. He went over and sat down. “What did I just see?” He asked himself. An hour passed and soon Grissom was up making coffee. “How long you been sittin’ out here by yourself?” Grissom asked, slightly perturbed. “For a while.” Creed answered. “Not smart Creed. You know we got people wanting us dead, right?” Grissom shook his head at Creed as he went inside to fetch the coffee pot. As Grissom poured two thick black cups of coffee, the image of the underground black river went through Creed’s mind again. “Say you ever seen a black river that runs underground?” Creed asked. Grissom smiled at the question. “You serious? A black river?” Creed shot Grissom a serious glance. “There is a black river running underneath our feet right now.” Grissom smirked at the remark. “What in the hell are you talking about Creed? You been sipping on Tick’s laudanum or something?” Grissom smirked. “No, I dreamed it about two hours ago.” Creed replied, still looking at Grissom seriously.  The smirk immediately disappeared from Grissom’s face. Grissom had known Creed long enough to know that his dreams were nothing to take lightly. Grissom pondered the question for a moment. Suddenly, as if snake bit, he jumped up from the table. “If this is what I think it is, we should be able to find some evidence around here somewhere. C’mon!” Creed smiled as he recognized the fire in Grissom’s belly. He jumped up and followed Grissom out the door. As they threw their saddles on their horses, Creed hollered “Where are we going?” Grissom smiled widely. “When we find what I think we are going to find all your questions will be answered kid, I promise!”

Marshall Knowles Office

Marshall Knowles was deep in reflective thought when Sarah and Eve Patterson stormed into his office. “Marshall, we need to talk!” Knowles had known Sarah Patterson long enough to know by her tone she was not in a good mood. “What’s going on Sarah?” was all Knowles could get out before Sarah verbally unloaded on him. “We just came from the widow Prescott’s house and you will not believe the rumors she has been hearing about how her husband died!” Knowles blood ran cold and his bowels suddenly felt loose. “What rumors?” Knowles replied sheepishly. “Rumors that John Randolph either killed J.T. or had him killed and then blamed it on those renegade apaches, you know anything about that?” Sarah stared at Knowles, waiting on an answer. Knowles’ mind raced and his heart pounded. Marshall Prescott may have been cut out for this corrupt business, but he sure wasn’t. He had known most of the families in Shafter all his life. How could he look them in the eye and lie to them? As Knowles searched for the right words, tears formed in his eyes. “Oh God, you do know something.” Sarah gasped, holding her had up to her mouth in disbelief. Eve stood up. “Marshall Knowles did John Randolph have Marshall Prescott killed? We demand to know!” Knowles looked up at Eve, his eyes red and swollen. “Please sit down Eve and keep your voice down.” Knowles whispered in a hushed tone. “What we are discussing could get us all killed.” Knowles got up and pulled the shade down on the large window facing the street and locked the door. “What I am about to tell you has to stay strictly between us for now, is that understood?” Both Sarah and Eve shook their heads that they understood. “Yes, Randolph did Kill Marshall Prescott and blame it on the renegade indians. But that is only half the story. The reason he killed him is because he failed to kill all of Creed’s outfit in the ambush at Preacher’s Gulch. Now there are two witnesses who can testify to attempted murder.” Sarah and Eve’s mouth dropped open and their eyes became big as saucers.

“But why? Why would Randolph want Creed and his outfit dead?” Eve asked. “It has something to do with that land Creed bought, from what I understand John Lewis was supposed to hold that Land for Mr. Randolph to buy but instead sold it to Creed.” Knowles replied, blowing his nose on a handkerchief. “Have you talked to John Lewis about this to find out about the land?” Sarah asked. “Can’t find him. He most likely left town when all this kicked off, and I cannot blame him. Randolph does not tolerate people who make mistakes.” Knowles gave Sarah and Eve a look of disgust. “You said Randolph failed to kill all of Creed’s outfit, who are the two witnesses?” Eve asked. “His mexican foreman, Rojo and a creole negro called Tick.” Knowles replied. “There’s more bad news.” Knowles continued. “Randolph has hired a group of killers led by a man named R.T. Newton to kill Creed and the other men. They arrived in town the other day.” Sarah took a deep breath and shook her head in disbelief as Eve reached over and squeezed her hand.”So I guess the question is what do you intend to do about all this Marshall?” Eve asked. Knowles stood up, adjusted his gun belt and hat. “I intend to stop John Randolph.” Eve looked at her mother for a long moment, nodded and then looked up at Knowles. “Well since I am guessing there is nobody crazy enough to join you in standing up to his ‘highness’ John Randolph, you can count us both in to help you.” Knowles smiled at the gesture. “Thanks Eve, but I don’t want anymore innocent people getting hurt.” “What? You think because we are both women we cannot shoot a gun? We both got trigger fingers Marshall!” Eve’s eyes flashed with anger. “Whoa! I am not gonna step into that argument! OK Eve, you and your mom can help. But First things first. We get out to Creed’s ranch and warn him about what’s going on.” Eve and Sarah both jumped up and prepared to leave as Knowles went over to the gun rack and got three carbines and a shotgun. Handing two of the carbines to Eve and Sarah he then reached under his desk and grabbed a large saddle bag full of ammunition and revolvers. “I see you have been preparing for this.” Eve asked Knowles as they walked out the door. “Been thinking about nothing else all day.” Knowles replied.

Randolph Estate

“I have had a man watching that ranch since yesterday. He says this indian boy, the mexican, the nigger and another white man are all holed up in the bunk house. You give the order and we can take care of all of them.” R.T. Newton spat tobacco juice into one of Randolph’s manicured flowerbeds. Randolph grimaced at Newton’s coarse manners. “Any sign of the land man, John Lewis?” Randolph asked. “No sir. No sign at all. His office and house are empty and nobody in town knows where he is at.” “Son-of-a-bitch!” Randolph spat in frustration. After pacing a few more times around the patio Randolph spun around to face Newton. “To make this look legal and not to draw too much attention from town, you are gonna need Marshall Knowles to accompany you out there, that way when the shooting starts you have the law on your side.” Newton laughed loudly at the remark. “Funny how the law works isn’t it Randolph? Law and Order always going to the highest bidder.” Randolph dismissed the remark with a smirk. “Stop by his office on the way out there, he will be expecting you.” Randolph walked over to the patio table and opened a satchel. Reaching inside he took out a large stack of banded hundred-dollar bills. “Here is the five thousand I promised. When this is all over, ride straight out-of-town. Do not come back out here, understood?” Newton shook his head. “Pleasure doing business with you Mr. Randolph.” As Newton tipped his hat, Randolph smirked and waved is hand, as if he were a king dismissing a lowly subject.

La Voyant Ranch

After riding only a few hundred yards from the bunk house, Grissom and Creed found what they were looking for. Creed watched in amazement as Grissom wrapped a handkerchief around a stick, dipped it into the black puddle of thick goo on the ground and then lit the torch with two matches. As the flame began to burn brightly, Grissom smiled. “That my apache friend is Oil! Liquid Gold!” Creed’s eyes got wide. He had heard about oil being found in Texas. Just two years prior at a place called Spindletop near Beaumont, a huge gusher had been discovered. “A Black River underground! I’ll be damned!” Creed exclaimed smiling. Grissom threw down the small torch and stomped it out. “You do realize this explains why Randolph was trying to have us all killed, right?” Grissom squinted up at Creed on horseback. “Yeah, there is damn fortune right underneath our feet.” Creed replied. Suddenly Grissom’s ear perked up. “Riders…Coming this way.” Grissom jumped back on his horse and him and Creed raced back to the bunk house. By the time they had dismounted and took up positions with their rifles, Knowles, Sarah and Eve could be seen riding up. “I don’t like this kid. Could be a trick.” Grissom remarked, aiming down the rifle. “Steady Grissom, let’ see what is on their minds…” Creed replied. Knowles stopped twenty yards from the bunk house and waved a white handkerchief. “We come in peace. We all just want to talk.” Knowles yelled out. “That fine Marshall, but just to be safe, how about you surrender all your guns.” Grissom responded. Knowles nodded and offered the small arsenal he and Sarah were carrying. Grissom’s eyes widened at the amount of firepower. “My God Knowles, what were you expecting? The Battle of the Alamo?” Grissom remarked as he picked up some of the guns and started carrying them inside. “Let’s all go inside out of the heat.” Creed said, helping Sarah and Eve down from their buggy. As Creed opened the door, Eve gave him a smile. Creed smiled back and felt himself blush. After everybody was seated, Rojo sat up in bed across the room to hear the conversation also. Grissom retrieved a bottle of rye from the cabinet and six glasses. and poured everybody a drink. Knowles talked for over twenty minutes explaining everything he had told Sarah and Eve about Randolph, Marshall Prescott and R.T. Newton. As he talked, Grissom and Creed just looked at one another shaking their heads. “What is it?” Knowles asked excitedly. Creed proceeded to fill in the blanks concerning the oil they had discovered and how John Lewis was on his way to Austin with a ledger containing evidence that, when combined with the testimony of Tick and Rojo, could put Randolph in prison for a very long time.

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Five hundred yards away from the bunk house on a small ridge, Taylor, Newton’s sharpshooter, was camped out watching the ranch through a pair of binoculars. He watched a negro water, feed and then curry comb the horses that had just rode in. Taylor heard riders approaching from behind and as he drew his pistol he saw Newton’s familiar black stud, followed by the others. “Please tell me a wagon with two women in it and Marshall Knowles arrived a short while ago.” Newton said as he dismounted. “You got it boss, how did you know?”  Taylor asked, arching an eyebrow. “The tracks are as plain as day coming from town. What else is going on down there?” Newton replied, spitting tobacco juice. “Not much. The negro is up and around. He is down there taking care of the horses right now, the rest are in the bunk house.” Taylor replied, handing the binoculars to Newton. As Newton watched Tick, a smile formed over his yellow teeth. “You think you can take him from this distance?” Newton asked. “Not a problem boss. What about the others?” Taylor replied. “Me and the boys will stage up in that stand of trees yonder.” Newton pointed below. “As soon as we hear you shoot, we attack. Your job will then be to cover us. Anybody steps out of that bunk house, put a hole through them, understood?”Newton replied, mounting his horse. “What about the lawman and the two women?” Taylor asked concerned. Newton paused looking down at the bunk house for a long second. “Casualties of War.” Newton replied coldly. Taylor stood looking dumbfounded as Newton and the other two men rode down into the trees, the dust from the horses swirling up around him.

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Tick had just finished forking some hay for the horses and was about to go up to the bunk house for a drink when something hit him in the stomach, almost like a hornet sting. Reaching down to investigate, his hand immediately filled with dark oozing blood. As his brain was registering that he had just been shot and not stung, Tick looked up to see three riders, several hundred yards out, firing carbines and pistols. “Son-of-a-bitch!” Tick yelled as he drew his revolver. He managed to get off two aimed shots before someone grabbed him from behind. “Come on you crazy bastard!” Grissom exclaimed. Tick continued firing his pistol as Grissom dragged him up the steps and into the house, slamming the solid wooden door behind them. Creed and Knowles were already returning fire with rifles through the two front windows, with Rojo manning the single back window. The windows had instead of glass, double reinforced wood shutters with cross-shaped shooting slits, which allowed the shooter to fire left to right and up and down. It was an age-old design found in forts all over the southwest. As Grissom dragged Tick to the kitchen table, Sarah and Eve jumped into action and quickly cleared the cups and dishes away. “Eve get me a pail of water and as many clean bandages as you can find!” Sarah yelled above the gunfire. After Grissom had helped Tick onto the table, he quickly ran to the window where Creed was at and began returning fire with his carbine. “I count three, you see anyone back there Rojo?” Creed asked. “Nada.” Rojo yelled back. “They are taking cover in the barn.” Knowles yelled. “Shoot their horses.” Creed commanded. The sound of the horses bodies dropping to the ground could be heard as each men put a bullet into heads, painlessly dispatching them. Sarah and Eve rolled Tick over to see if there was exit wound. Finding a hole about the size of an acorn dangerously close to his spine, they gently laid him back down. “The bullet went clean through.” Sarah yelled out. “Can you stop the bleeding?” Grissom yelled back, reloading his rifle. “I am gonna try.” Sarah responded as she began packing the wound. Tick’s face had grown gaunt and very pale. “I’m really thirsty.” Tick said, hoarsely. Eve gently gave Tick a drink of water. After he finished the cup, Tick smiled and tried to put on his standard charm. “I gotta tell you, if getting shot get’s me cared for by pretty women like you, I gotta think about getting shot more often.” Tick winked at Eve and Sarah and then grimaced as a wave of pain hit him. “Let’s move him over to one of the beds.” Sarah suggested. Rojo came over and helped Sarah and Eve move Tick to his bunk. He then went over and retrieved a bottle of laudanum from the cabinet. “Give him some of this, maybe it will shut him up.” Rojo gave Tick his rough smile, patted his hand and then resumed his post at the back window. As Sarah gave Tick a spoonful of the opiate she noticed a tear roll down Rojo’s cheek and heard him whisper a prayer in Spanish and cross himself as he kept watch outside.

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During the night, Newton and his two men made their way out of the back of the barn and back to the ridge on foot where Taylor was set up. “Those crazy bastards shot our horses.” Pike said as they walked into camp exhausted. “Nothin’ crazy about that. Indian tactics. Take away your enemies mobility and you have a better chance of killing him.” Taylor replied as he cleared a place for the men to sit down and poured them each cups of coffee, “Looks like you gut-shot that nigger Taylor. Getting rusty or what?” Newton asked Taylor with a smirk as he sat down.”The drop on that aught-six load was more than I expected at this range, won’t happen again.” Taylor re-assured Newton with eye contact. “So what’s the plan Boss?” Jackson asked, lighting a cigarette with a brand from the fire. Newton smiled and opened up a saddle bag he had left at the camp. Pulling out two bundles of brown wax paper, he tore them open to reveal two cords of dynamite. “I brought this in the event we could get all the rats hemmed up and it looks like we have. Before dawn we will attack again and use the dynamite and this job will be over.” Newton carefully placed the dynamite back in the paper and the saddle bag. Taylor shook his head in disbelief. This whole job was spinning out of control fast.

To Be Continued…

A Border Redemption (Chapter III)

A Western Novelette

Part 2 of the Border Trilogy

 III.

The Randolph Estate

Marshall Prescott had been waiting in the parlor for over an hour. Twisting his hat in hand like a nervous child on the first day of school, he was running through several scripts in his mind that would attempt to explain the events of the last twenty-four hours. Prescott knew from long experience that Randolph did not take bad news, nor worse yet, failures, well. Suddenly, Prescott was jolted out of his dread by Randolph’s booming voice as he walked in. “What the hell was so important you had to ride out here to my house?” Randolph walked over to the bar and poured himself a drink, glancing at Prescott with a look of disgust. “Well sir, it appears the posse I dispatched to apprehend La Voyant’s outfit has been massacred by a group of renegade indians.” Prescott prepared himself for Randolph to fly into a blind rage. “And what of La Voyant’s outfit, were they killed also in this massacre?” Randolph asked. “Well sir, it appears the posse managed to kill the ten men La Voyant’s outfit was attempting to bring over, but Grissom, the Mexican and the creole nigger were not among the dead.” Prescott was now gripping his hat so tight his knuckles had turned white. Randolph spun around quickly to face Prescott. “These renegade indians, you think they were working with the boy?” Randolph asked, his face red and flushed. “No sir. It appears to be the band that escaped off the Mescalero Reservation last month. The US Army at Fort Sumner has been dispatched as well as the Texas Rangers.” Prescott replied. “So these red niggers just up and decided to attack our posse, huh? Are you stupid Prescott? One or all of them damn apaches are kin to that indian boy somehow.” Randolph replied. “Well sir they took all the posse’s horses and weapons but there is no sign they went to the La Voyant Ranch.” Randolph took a drink and then turned around and looked out the window. “So these three from the boy’s outfit, where are they now? Back at his half-ass ranch on my land” Randolph asked. “We believe so sir.” Prescott replied. “Well Prescott, you need to get another posse together and go over there and finish off these pieces of shit before they run off to the Federal Marshal in Austin claiming we tried to kill them.” Randolph spat out his words in frustration. Prescott swallowed hard at the suggestion. He could not believe what he was hearing. “Mr. Randolph I just cannot go and attack these men on their own property without just cause, that would draw more attention than we need. We need to stick to our original plan and ambush them on the road. That way we can claim bandits or indians killed them.” Prescott replied with a small glimmer of pride in his eye that he actually stood up to the mighty John Randolph.

There was long pause as Randolph pondered the situation. Suddenly, in a flash, Randolph spun around, and with Prescott’s face frozen in disbelief,  drew a small Colt pistol from his pocket and fired at a distance of less than six feet. The small thirty-two caliber round hit Prescott in the upper neck, tearing apart flesh, bone and artery, sending blood spurting halfway across the room like a fountain. Prescott dropped down to his knees, his left hand clutching at his neck and his right hand still trying to draw the gun on his hip. Calmly, Randolph walked over and at point-blank range, shot Prescott square in the head. The impact of the blast scorched the bone and threw Prescott’s head back in a violent whip. Like a limp dish rag, his body crumpled to the floor. Prescott’s eyes were wide and almost cross, a ghastly look of confusion and horror fixed on his face. The smell of scorched flesh and bone permeated the parlor so much that Randolph had to waft away the smoke and odor for fear of gagging. Randolph kneeled down and unbuckled Prescott’s gun belt, placing the rig on a table. He then reached down and unpinned the gold star from his shirt and placed it on the table beside the gun.”You are officially relieved of your duties.” Randolph mumbled with a smirk on his face. Randolph  then walked outside and got the attention of two of his goons. “I need one of you to dispose of that lump of shit in my parlor. Burn it, do not bury it, you understand? I also need one of you to go to the telegraph office and have this message sent.” Randolph handed the man a folded slip of paper. “After that, go and fetch Deputy Knowles, tell him to come straight out here, as it is a matter of supreme importance regarding the Marshall. You understand me?” Both men responded with a “Yes-sir” and headed in separate directions. The telegram Randolph sent had been written the previous night and was to be sent in lieu of Prescott’s failure. It read:

From: John Randolph, Shafter, Texas

To: R.T. Newton, Tombstone, Arizona

Mr. Newton I have a job for you and your crew in Shafter.

Please come in person to discuss details.

Enclosed is $1,000 cash for your trip and trouble.

The money is yours regardless if you take the job or not.

Upon completion of job there will be a bonus of $5,000.

Regards,

John Randolph

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 The La Voyant Ranch

The next morning as Tick and Rojo recuperated in their bunks, Grissom and Creed began work on the main house. Around noon time, Creed spotted a lone rider approaching. Grabbing their carbines Creed and Grissom both walked down to the barn and waited. As the man got closer, Creed recognized him as John Lewis, the Land Office Owner. “Hello! I am unarmed and come in peace!” Lewis yelled as he put his hands in the air, smiling. Creed and Grissom both waved and smiled back and lowered their rifles. “Come on inside the bunk house Mr. Lewis. Got sum’ coffee brewed.” Creed hollered back. “Stick around for this” Creed told Grissom. Grissom nodded and headed inside. As Lewis walked into the bunk house, he noticed Rojo and Tick in their bunks. “What happened to your two men?” Lewis asked concerned as he sat down at the table. “They were wounded in an ambush at Preachers Gulch.” Creed replied, pouring Lewis a cup of coffee. “Oh Yes, I heard about that. Those damn renegade indians are really causing a lot of trouble, I suppose we should be grateful your men survived..” Lewis replied, sipping at his coffee. Hearing this, Creed and Grissom quickly looked at each other. “What exactly did you hear Mr. Lewis?” Grissom asked, moving closer. “James Redding, the Telegraph Operator told me that one of Randolph’s men told him a group of renegade indians massacred around twenty-five cowboys at Preachers Gulch. He said a majority of the men were Mr. Randolphs and the others were hired men out of Mexico he thinks. Why, did you hear something different?” Lewis asked, a quizzical look on his face. Creed and Grissom’s face both got two shades of dark red. “That lying son-of-a-bitch!” Creed exclaimed, jumping up from the table and pacing the room. “Randolph had a group of fifteen hired killers set to ambush Rojo and Tick as they returned from Mexico with ten men who hired on to help build the ranch. That group of “renegade indians” was led by my uncle, Spotted Rabbit, who SAVED Rojo and Tick just in time before they were slaughtered by those hired killers.” Creed explained with fervor. Lewis sat at the table shaking his head, trying to absorb the news. “I knew Randolph was trying to take this land from you. That is the reason I rode out here, But I had no ideal he was going to go this far!” Lewis exclaimed, throwing up his hands. “You say this Telegraph Operator was told about the news of the ambush by one of Randolph’s goons? Well, it all makes sense. Randolph used my uncle and his band as scapegoats to cover up his botched ambush.” Creed explained, sitting back down. “You said the reason you rode out here was that you knew Randolph was going to try to take this land from us, what did you mean by that Mr. Lewis?” Grissom asked pointedly. Lewis reached into his jacket pocket and placed a folded leather-bound black ledger on the table. “For the last twenty years I have been in charge of every shady, illegal land deal Randolph has been a part of. And unbeknownst to him, I also recorded every dollar of extortion, bribe and kickback money that changed hands. With this ledger gentleman, you can put John Randolph in prison for a very long time.” Lewis replied.

“Prison is too good for that piece of goat shit.” Tick weakly hollered from his bunk across the room, taking a big swig of laudanum. “The only way we can tie Randolph to the ambush and murders is the testimony of Tick and Rojo.” Lewis replied, looking at Creed and Grissom. “Somebody is going to have to contact the Federal Marshall in Austin directly.” Grissom replied. “Why not just telegraph them?” Rojo suggested from across the room. “Because James Redding, the Telegraph Operator is on Randolph’s payroll, and any information he is told goes directly to Randolph.” Lewis replied. Creed paced the room, thinking.  “The only thing to do then is to take the ledger directly to the Federal Marshall’s office in Austin, Mr. Lewis.” Creed said, looking at Lewis intently. “Why me? Why not you or Grissom?” Lewis replied, shrinking in his chair. “Because Me and Grissom need to stay here to protect Tick and Rojo. As you said, they are the only living witnesses to his crime, so he is definitely going to try to kill them, and me in the process if he can.” Creed answered boldly. Lewis sat there silent for a few minutes, contemplating the situation. Grissom walked over and placed his hand on Lewis’ shoulder.”You said yourself you are tired of Randolph running rough-shod over the people of this town, including you, Mr. Lewis, this is your chance to stop him.” Creed walked over and placed three hundred dollars on the table.” This will cover your round-trip stage fare plus hotel and food.” Lewis stood up from the table. He looked at Creed and Grissom for a long moment, then over to Rojo and Tick in their beds. He reached down and picked up the money and placed it in his pocket. “Do you own a revolver or pistol, Mr. Lewis?” Grissom asked. “Ugh, No, never had the need for one.” Lewis replied. “Well, now you do sir. We are dealing with dangerous men, and you have to be prepared to defend yourself.” Grissom handed Lewis a Smith and Wesson M&P Model .38 Caliber revolver with a four-inch barrel and a box of shells. “You can keep this in your jacket pocket without having to wear a holster.” Grissom added. “The gun holds six rounds, but the hammer rest on an empty chamber for safety.” Grissom showed Lewis, breaking open the cylinder. Lewis nodded and pocketed the gun and ammunition. The three men walked outside to Lewis’ horse. “I will have to ride to Fort Davis to catch the Stage. I will go by my place and pack a few things and head out. If I ride hard, I can get there tonight and catch the first stage in the morning. If all goes well in Austin, you should be hearing from me within a week, hopefully with a dozen federal marshalls in tow!” Lewis extended his hand to Grissom and Creed, who both shook it.”Please let the Federal Marshall know my uncle had nothing to do with the ambush at Preachers Gulch.” Creed reminded Lewis. “I will be sure too.” Lewis replied. “Be Careful Mr. Lewis, there is a lot riding on this trip!” Grissom said smiling. “I will. You two be careful and protect those men in there! Right now they are more valuable than silver or gold!” Lewis spurred his horse and took off for town, a trail of dust swirling up into the noonday sun. “What do you think his odds are?” Creed asked Grissom, squinting into the bright sun. “Right now kid, he is our only hope at stopping this bastard so I gotta believe his odds are good.” Grissom replied, spitting brown tobacco juice into the dirt.

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The Randolph Estate

“Congratulations Marshall Knowles! I know you will make the town of Shafter proud with your service!” John Randolph smiled as he shook hands with the newly promoted Marshall while a local newspaperman snapped their picture, the bulb flash blinding both of them temporarily. Afterwards, Randolph walked over and slipped a hundred-dollar bill in the newspaperman’s vest. “And make sure to include something about Marshall Prescott being killed by that band of renegade indians, OK Bill?” Randolph shook hands with the newspaperman as the man nodded and winked that he understood. “Come on out to the back patio Marshall and have a drink.” Randolph said waving his hand to Knowles. As Knowles followed Randolph through the house, he noticed a group of cleaning ladies in the parlor scrubbing the floors. That must have been where he killed Marshall Prescott. Knowles thought to himself, his stomach suddenly getting nauseous. “Knowles come on over here and sit down.” Randolph motioned from the patio table. “Now that you are Marshall, I am gonna be leaning more heavily on you to get things done.” Knowles nodded and tried to hide the fear that was welling up inside him, turning his stomach inside out. What the hell had he gotten himself into! “Now as you know your former boss let me down in taking care of this indian boy and his friends squatting on my land.” Randolph eyed Knowles for his reaction. Knowles just nodded. He knew what Randolph was implying. After the failed ambush, the two living witnesses, Rojo and Tick, had to be silenced. Knowles did not say it, but one thing had always bothered him since this all started. Why was Randolph so concerned about this particular piece of land? What made it so special?  “To help speed up the process of taking care of this problem I have called in R.T. Newton and his boys, I assume you have heard of Newton?” Randolph smirked as he looked at Knowles for his reaction. Anybody in Law Enforcement had heard of R.T Newton. He had made a name for himself as a mercenary, a gun-hand for hire working for rich ranchers and railroad tycoons. “Yes sir I’ve heard of him” Knowles said. “Good. Then you know he is more than capable of handling this band of misfits. Just stay out of his way and let him work.” Randolph lit a cigar and exhaled the grey smoke. Knowles stood and shook hands with Randolph. “If that will be all Mr. Randolph, I better get back into town and see about hiring me a couple new deputies.” Randolph stood also. “By all means Marshall and by the way, I will be increasing your salary to two hundred dollars a month and your deputies to seventy-five. I want you all to know how much I appreciate your hard work.” Randolph smiled as he chomped down on his cigar. “Thank you sir.” Knowles tipped his hat and turned around and left. As he was riding away from the estate Knowles felt used. He realized that this was the moment he could either become just another Randolph stooge or stand-up and do something. Regardless of the money and perks, he did not want to end up like Prescott and become a by-line in a fictitious newspaper story. He had to do something, and fast.

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The Palace Hotel, Shafter TX

R.T. Newton and his three associates checked into their rooms at the Palace Hotel John Randolph had reserved and paid for in advance. “How long will you be staying with us Mr. Newton?” the clerk asked smiling. “That is to be determined young man, but let’s just say a week for now.” The clerk handed the men the keys and snapped for the bellhop to get their luggage. “That’s not needed, we can handle our own bags.” one of the men said gruffly. “OK Gentleman you are all set, here are your keys.” As the clerk handed Newton the keys he took stock of the man he had heard so much about over the years. He stood close to six-foot with coal-black hair and a neatly trimmed handlebar mustache to match. He was lean for a man his age, the familiar paunch belly was absent and in its stead was lean muscle that made his arms and legs appear like braided steel cables. His hands were the hands of a working man, large and scarred, with dislocated knuckles from many a bar-room brawl. He was dressed impeccably, with a tailored gun-metal grey suit, low-cut Wellington boots and being a native of Mississippi, an elegant black string tie. Newton did not wear a traditional gun belt like most hired guns of the day. Instead, he wore a shoulder rig with a Colt Semi-Automatic .38 Caliber handgun. Always a careful man, Newton also kept a back-up gun, a custom-made Colt 1903 Hammerless in a pocket holster and a .22 caliber derringer in his boot. As the clerk watched Newton ascend the stairs, he also took stock of the men following him. None of them really stood out, they were all about the same height and weight and dressed basically the same. Each of them in custom tailored dark suits with tan dusters. All of them wore tie down gun belts. As each man entered their room, they took care to set down their bags gently. Each of them carried an assortment of small arms including rifles, shotguns, revolvers and pistols. One of the men who went by the name Taylor and fancied himself a sharpshooter had one of the new 1903 Springfield Rifles with a telescopic sight. It was said this rifle with the right man behind the trigger could kill a man from over five hundred yards away. Taylor intended to put that theory to the test.

Later that night, the front desk clerk, a man named Peters, stepped outside for a cigarette and met the young bellhop leaning against one of the stone columns in front of the hotel, loafing as usual. After bumming a smoke, the bellhop’s curiosity got the best of him. “So tell me Mr. Peters, who was that old man and them three guys that checked in earlier? You acted like you were kind of scared of them…” Peters smiled at the remark. “Yeah if you knew who they were son, you would have been scared too…” The young bellhop’s eyes got big and excited. “So tell me!” Peters rolled his eyes and relented. “His name is R.T. Newton. He’s a mercenary. A Gun-Hand. Some say he has killed upwards of thirty men, maybe more.” The clerk exhaled the cigarette smoke into the cool night air. The bellhop laughed in excitement. “Hot Damn! I knew there was something about that old man! What about the other men, who are they?” Peters took a moment to answer. He could hear the piano playing at the saloon at the end of the street and men talking loudly. “Those men are Newton’s ‘associates’. In a word: Killers, just like him. Some of them are ex-army, some of them outlaws. All of them are dangerous.” Peters took one last drag of his cigarette. “Wow. I cannot wait to tell my friends about this!” The bellhop gushed. Peters shook his head at the young boy’s foolishness and crushed out his cigarette with his foot. As he was about to turn around and go back inside he caught movement out of the corner of his eye. Suddenly out of the darkness in the alley beside the hotel, a man appeared. It was one of Newton’s killers. Peters froze. “Good evening sir.” the bellhop said startled. The man said nothing as he ambled up the hotel steps. Peters moved aside to allow him to pass but the man stopped before entering the hotel. Being so close, Peters could smell the whiskey on his breath. He also got a good look at him. He was young, around twenty-five or so. He was unshaven and grizzled and had a nasty scar across his neck. As Peters was examining him, the man suddenly turned to face the bellhop. “You’d best keep your goddamn mouth shut about Mr. Newton kid. He don’t like people who gossip…” The man slurred his words slightly as he stared at the kid with coal-black eyes. The bellhop’s face went white. “Uh, yes sir, no problem.” the boy squeaked. Satisfied he had made his point, the man turned back around to make his way to his room. As he got to the stairs the man stopped and smiled. In a low voice he said “You were right Mr. Hotel clerk.” Peters walked over closer, straining to hear. “I’m sorry sir? Right about what?” The man turned and in the blink of an eye and in one smooth motion, with the simultaneous sound of iron clearing leather and the hammer being cocked, drew his revolver and pointed it right at Peters head. “I am one dangerous son-of-a-bitch!” The man eyes were wide and crazy, like a feral animal. His crooked smile revealing yellow and black teeth.  Peters felt his bowels and bladder release and all the blood drain from his face. Suddenly the world went black and he crumpled to the floor in a pool of his own piss and shit. Smiling broadly, The man holstered his gun and made his way drunkenly up the stairs. The bellhop just stood there staring with his mouth agape and his eyes wide, scared to even move or make a sound.

To Be Continued…

A Border Redemption (Chapter II)

A Western Novelette

(Part 2 of the Border Trilogy)

II.

Patterson Farm, A Few Miles Outside Shafter

After finishing his third helping of beef stew, Creed pushed himself away from the table, full as a tick. “Ma’am that was the best meal I have ever had, thank you!” Sarah Patterson smiled as she cleared the dinner plates and carried them over to the sink. “Well I hope you saved room for coffee and apple pie!” Sarah asked smiling.  Eve sat across from Creed, doing her best not to stare, but her mother noticed right away. “Eve, Honey would you please help me with the pie and coffee?” The question broke Eve out of her hypnotic trance and she jumped up. As the women were busy, Creed got up from the table and walked into the living room.The home was a modest one story ranch style four bedroom with a large den area, dining room and kitchen. Creed walked over to the mantle above the fireplace and admired the pictures sitting there. One of them showed a man with Mrs. Patterson and small child in front of some type of construction.”That is my late husband, Thomas, with Eve and me. It was taken while we were building this house.” Sarah said as she came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron. Eve followed her, bringing in a coffee platter with three plates of Apple pie. “How do you like your coffee Mr. Le Voyant?” Eve asked as she sat the platter down on the coffee table. “Black is fine.” Creed replied smiling as he tried to not be so obvious in admiring her. Sarah smiled as she recognized the magnetism between her daughter and Creed. “Please have a seat Mr. La Voyant.” Sarah asked. “Please, call me Creed.” Creed asked as he sat down, trying to be as casual as he could.  “How and when did your husband pass if you don’t mind me asking ma’am?” Creed asked, trying to be delicate. “Thomas died in a mining accident six years ago.” Sarah replied, picking up the picture and dusting it off with the towel. “John Randolph had my father killed.” Eve said flatly. Creed noticed Sarah give Eve an exasperated look, but Eve ignored her. “My father started his own mine without John Randolph as his partner and Randolph killed him for it” The bitterness in Eve’s voice was readily apparent. “We don’t know that for sure Eve!” Sarah replied sadly, placing the picture back on the mantle. Creed felt the uncomfortable silence in the room but his curiosity was piqued. “Please forgive me for prying, but if you had proof Randolph killed your father, why didn’t you go to the law?” Eve walked over and took a plate of apple pie and a fork and sat down next to Creed. “Randolph owns everything in this town, including peoples loyalty. The last man that tried to speak out against Randolph had his store bankrupted and was run out-of-town as a debtor.” Sarah replied, looking out the window. “Creed, I am begging you, stay out of the mining business and stick to cattle, it is much healthier in the long run.” Sarah looked over at Creed, her eyes wet with tears. Creed took a deep breath. He could not believe what he was hearing. Eve got up and took the picture of her father down off the mantle and handed it to Creed. “My mother spoke those exact same words to our father six years ago.” Sarah let out a gasp and began to sob uncontrollably. “I Know! I know! It is all just too much!” Sarah exclaimed as she ran into the back bedroom and slammed the door. Creed’s mind was spinning and his heart awash with emotion. He had been led here not by happenstance he believed, but by fate, to a family who was suffering from the injustice of powerful and corrupt men. As Creed shifted his gaze from the picture to Eve’s dark eyes, suddenly time stood still and he was transported into a great whirlwind. Up above him, in the vortex, a dark cloud burst and thunder rolled so loud it was deafening. The whirlwind sat him down on cracking earth in the midst of a powerful earthquake. There in the midst of it all, in the pouring rain and the lightning flashes, Creed saw his father, dressed in ceremonial garb, beside him stood his unborn sister. She spoke Apache, but the thunder was so loud, Creed could not make out the words. He moved closer to hear, her dark eyes a flame that illuminated her entire face like a candle does in a dark room. When he got close enough the words carried on the wind and echoed in his ear, as if in a large canyon: “John Randolph must be stopped, he is a blight upon the lives of these good people…” Creed awoke several minutes later on the floor to Eve and Sarah gently shaking him. “Are you alright Creed? You fainted and were mumbling something in a strange language.” Creed quickly got up off the floor and brushed himself off. He was embarrassed beyond belief.. “I am so sorry for that! Thank you for the meal Mrs. Patterson, I must be on my way…” And before the women could say another word, Creed was out the door and on his horse, riding hard for town.

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South Texas, One Mile from the Mexico Border

Grissom, Tick and Rojo returned from Mexico with ten men and a string of seven ponies. They crossed the Rio Grande and made their way through a place the locals called Preacher’s Gulch. The long, narrow canyon had high rock walls and through years of erosion, had created a natural bottleneck that had been used for ambushes for decades by both the U.S. Army and Indians. The lead rider was dozing in his saddle when the lookout for Marshall Prescott’s band of killers who liked to fancy themselves a ” law-abiding posse” spotted him. The lookout signaled to the fifteen armed men that lined the top of both sides of the canyon walls to ready themselves. When the last rider entered the canyon, all fifteen rifles barked at the same time, the gunfire echoing off the canyon walls and carrying all the way into the town of Presidio. By the time Grissom heard the crack of the rifles, he was already half way to the ground. The bastards had shot his horse in the head as it crumpled from underneath him. As he rolled away from the dead animal he reached for his Winchester carbine in the saddle scabbard. Once he had the rifle he started crawling for a set of rocks fifteen feet away. The combination of gunfire and men screaming in pain was deafening. There was so much dust being stirred up he had to crawl by feel, inching his way forward along the valley floor. Grissom came across one of the dying cowboys, a young kid, not more than nineteen. He had been shot in the stomach several times, dark black blood oozing out into the red caliche soil. The boys eyes stared straight ahead and as Grissom moved past him he heard him whisper in a hoarse voice: “Tell my daddy I am sorry.” Grissom stopped for a moment and simply said “I will” and kept moving forward, bullets impacting all around him. As he crawled he wondered if Tick and Rojo had met the same fate as that poor cowboy. Foolishly, he raised his head to try to see over the carnage of bloody horse-flesh and dead men, but it was useless, he could see nothing.  Suddenly he heard gunfire coming from the rocks ahead of him. As he inched closer, he saw Tick and Rojo returning fire with pistol and rifle. “Crawl faster you stupid son-of-a-bitch! What are you waiting for a goddamn written invitation!” Rojo yelled in his broken english. Grissom smiled at the old mexican bandit and started crawling faster. As he reached the relative safety of the rocks, Tick reached down and pulled him up. “Bon de te voir mon ami” Tick said in French, his black face shining. “Damn good to see you too Tick.” Grissom said through gritted teeth. As Tick pulled him up Grissom realized he had been grazed in the arm, the bullet creasing his bicep muscle deeply. As he tore a piece of shirt off to wrap his wound, he noticed Rojo had been shot in the thigh, and Tick in the arm, both of them bleeding badly. “We gotta staunch those wounds.” Grissom said flatly as he tore the sleeve off his shirt and began making two make-shift bandages. “It ain’t gonna matter, they are gonna send some men down here to finish us off soon.” Rojo spat, stopping to reload his revolver. Grissom ignored the old bandit and wrapped the cloth around the wound and tied it. Tick continued firing at the men above. “I think I got two so far” Tick exclaimed excitedly. Grissom wrapped his wound shaking his head at the crazy creole. Suddenly up above on the ridge a commotion could be heard. Gunshots. Several rifles at once. Shouting. Hooping. Hollering. Pistol Shots. Then Silence. “What the Hell is going on up there?” Rojo asked, a quizzical look on his face. In a few minutes, several riders leading a string pf ponies could be seen approaching from the trail above. As they approached Tick whispered “Those are Apaches, white men don’t ride like that!” “I don’t fuckin’ believe this” Grissom said throwing up his hands. “We are the only three to survive a damn bushwhack and now we are gonna get scalped for our troubles!” Rojo squinted his eyes at the indians as they approached. “Let me do the talking. Everybody put down your guns.” Rojo said quietly. Both Grissom and Tick looked at the old man like he had finally gone crazy, but did as he requested.

The five Apaches approached slowly with the bright mid-day sun at their backs. They all were riding bareback and were dressed in common cotton shirts and breeches. The lead rider wore a U.S. Calvary blue tunic with brass epaulets. Their long  jet-black hair hung loose with each of them wearing a red-head scarf. All of the men looked to be in their early twenties except the one leading, who looked to be around forty. They were all heavily armed with Winchester Repeaters or bolt-action .30 Caliber Springfield’s. “I think this is that group that escaped off the Mescalero Reservation last month. But the newspaper said they were like twenty of them, not five.” Grissom whispered. “Look up at the ridge-line Pendejo and you will see the rest…” Rojo whispered back. Grissom and Tick shaded their eyes with their hands and looked up at ridge-line to see a dozen or more apache rifles pointed at them. “Marie Mère de Dieu!” Tick exclaimed. “Nobody move and let me do all the talking.” Rojo calmly replied. The five indians stopped their horses short of the rocks where the men were sitting. Rojo began talking to the leader in Spanish. “He says his name is Spotted Rabbit and they are part of ‘The Big Water People’ band that escaped the Federal Prison Camp in New Mexico. They were going into Old Mexico when they heard all the shooting.” Rojo whispered. Rojo then followed protocol and introduced himself, then Grissom and Tick. Spotted Rabbit stared at the men for a few moments and then pointed at Tick and asked something.  “He wants to know if these men on the ridge were trying to kill us because something the black man did.” Rojo laughed, translating. Tick and Grissom both laughed at the remark. “Tell him no, these were hired killers working for John Randolph.” Grissom replied. The apache leader spurred his horse closer and spoke up.”He ask if you are the same Grissom who with a young Apache boy killed Colonel Parker two years ago at El Lugar de las aguilas.” Rojo interpreted, looking at Grissom with eyes wide in disbelief. “Tell him everything.” Grissom replied, looking at Spotted Rabbit. After a few minutes of conversation, Rojo turned around to Grissom and smiled. “You are not going to believe this, but Spotted Rabbit is Creed’s Uncle and he wants us to take him to meet him right now.”

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The La Voyant Ranch

 Creed had just finished watering his horse when he saw three riders approaching from the south-west. He quickly moved inside the bunk house where he had rifles ready and loaded. He had figured Randolph would wait until he was alone to attack. Peering out the window, waiting for the group to get closer, Creed recognized Grissom as the lead rider with Tick and Rojo trailing. Creed quickly walked outside to meet them. As Grissom got closer Creed could see that he was wounded. “What the hell happened!” Creed asked as he grabbed the reigns to stop the horse. “Bushwhack. Randolph sent a hired posse of killers to hit us at Preachers Gulch. They killed all ten of the men Rojo hired and damn near killed the three of us.” Grissom gritted his teeth as he dismounted. Tick and Rojo rode up and Creed helped both men out of the saddle. “That leg needs attention.” Creed said as he helped Rojo into the bunk house and sat him down on one of the beds. Tick followed them in slowly, his face pale and his arm in a make-shift sling. Creed began examining Rojo first. “The bullet went clean through, we just need to keep clean bandages on it till’ it mends”. He then went over and looked at Tick’s arm. “Looked liked they winged you buddy.” Creed said smiling at Tick. “Oui, Oui” Tick smiled back through gritted teeth. “The wound is infected and the bullet is still in there, we are gonna have to cut it out of ya.” Creed said, a grave look of concern on his face.  “Kid, we got something important to tell ya..” Grissom said as he limped into the kitchen. Finding a bottle of rye whiskey and four glasses, Grissom poured everybody a drink. “Grissom we don’t have time right now for drinking and stories, Tick’s arm is in bad shape, we need to find a Doctor for him…” Creed was interrupted by Grissom with a quick wave of the hand. “Listen to me kid!  I did not get to finish my story. Twenty Apache’s who escaped off the Mescalero Reservation saved us from all being massacred by Randolph’s hired thugs. The Apache leader, Spotted Rabbit, claims he is your Uncle and wants to meet you.” Grissom drained his drink and poured himself another. All the blood drained from Creed’s face and he had to sit down before he fell down. “My uncle! The only Uncle I knew was killed with my mother and father two years ago!” Creed exclaimed, looking at Grissom in amazement. Creed reached over and took the glass of rye, tilting it up and draining it with a grimace. “He said his band was called The Big Water People, if that means anything.” Grissom replied. Creed’s eyes got wide. “The Big Water People were my mother’s band, they had been moved to the reservation four years ago.” Creed got up from his chair and paced. “That explains why you did not know about him then.” Grissom replied. Creed spun around and faced Grissom as an ideal flew into his head. “If there are twenty of them, one of them will be a healer I am sure of it. Tick should not ride anymore with that wound. We need to bring them here to help him” Creed walked over to get his hat and rifle. “Where are we supposed to meet them?” Creed asked Grissom. “At Sanderson Springs at nightfall.” Grissom replied, refilling Ticks and Rojo’s glasses of whiskey. “We better get going then, Tick cannot hold-out much longer.” Creed said as he headed for the door. Grissom drained his drink and quickly followed him.

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Sanderson Springs, Texas

Sanderson Springs was a ghost town that was a good thirty minute ride from the ranch. Gold had been discovered there back in the late 1870’s but like all mining towns, when the gold played out, so did the people. Spotted Rabbit had told Grissom to meet him in one of the many abandoned mine east of town. Creed soon realized why his Uncle had chosen this location. With the United States Army, Texas Rangers and Bounty Hunters all looking for him and his band, what better place to hide than underground. As Grissom and Creed approached the entrance to the mine, they could see the faint glow of a campfire coming from inside the mine. Two apaches with rifles emerged from the darkness. Creed and Grissom dismounted and approached. One of the apaches spoke Spanish to Creed. “Spotted Rabbit just wants to see you, not the white man.” Creed nodded and turned to Grissom. “I get it kid, it’s a family thing. But don’t take too long, Tick needs help.” Creed followed one of the apaches into the mine. They walked about ten yards and found Spotted Rabbit and a few braves roasting the ham of a deer over the fire. The aromatic scent of the meat filled the dank cave. Spotted rabbit stood when he saw Creed. Creed was amazed at how tall he was. Well over six feet, with well muscled arms.”Do you still remember the apache tongue or should we talk in Spanish?” Spotted Rabbit asked with a smile. “I still remember” Creed responded in the Lipan apache dialect. Spotted Rabbit smiled as they embraced for a long moment. “The last time I saw you, you were knee-high, now look at you, your Mother would be so proud!” Spotted Rabbit smiled as a tear rolled down his cheek. “Look Uncle, I would love to take time and catch-up, and we will, but one of my men is badly in need of a healer and we cannot go into town. Can you come and help him?” Spotted Rabbit took a long look at Creed. “You have the caring heart of your Mother. Of course. Me and Little Bird will accompany you. We will need to gather some plants first.”

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The La Voyant Ranch

When they all finally reached the ranch, Tick was at death’s door. His face was pallor in color and he was drifting in and out of consciousness, mumbling like a feverish madman. Rojo, despite his bad leg wound, was up with a cool washcloth, trying to comfort him as much as he could. “He has been burning up with fever since you left.” Rojo said in a frantic voice. Spotted Rabbit reached into his saddle bag and pulled out a mortar and pestle and began grinding various herbs and plants he had collected along the way. Little Bird walked over to the fire and took out a small brand. He then lit some ghost bush and with the thick, grey smoke wafting around Tick’s body, he began chanting an apache prayer. “Give him some whiskey, we are going to have to remove the bullet.” Spotted Rabbit told Creed. Rojo, understanding the instruction, took the bottle of rye and tilted Tick’s head up so he could drink from the bottle. “Rojo you and Little Bird hold his arms. Spotted Rabbit, you hold his legs.” Creed told the men as he drew his knife. Walking over to the fire, Creed held the blade of his knife over the flame until it was glowing red-hot. He then plunged it into a pail of water by the table to cool it off. He ripped away Tick’s bloody shirt and taking a clean piece of cloth, wiped away the blood. Tick was mumbling in French, slipping in and out of consciousness, his eyes rolling back in his head. As Creed made the first cut, Tick yelled in agony, his body bucking from the pain. “Hold him still Dammitt!” Creed yelled. After another moment, Tick’s body went limp as he finally passed out into a deep sleep. Creed breathed a sigh of relief. Creed has made a deep enough incision he could finally see the bullet. Taking the point of his knife, Creed slid it under the slug and popped it out. Spotted Rabbit then took the poultice he had made from the ground up herbs and packed the wound. “Leave it uncovered tonight, but keep it moist and tomorrow wrap it in some clean bandages and change them every day.” Spotted Rabbit told Creed. “For the pain, give him a spoonful of this every few hours.” Spotted Rabbit handed Creed  three small bottles of brownish liquid. “Laudnum. We stole a crate of it from a town doctor in Carlsbad. Handy to have around if you don’t have a Doctor close-by” Creed took the bottles and put them in the cabinet by the sink. He then went over to his bunk and opened his foot-locker and took out an envelope.”I know I can never fully re-pay you for all you have done, but this will help.” Creed handed Spotted Rabbit five one hundred-dollar bills. ‘Take this money and go to Old Mexico and disappear Uncle, Please. If you stay in Texas, they will surely catch you and hang all of you.” Creeds eyes were wet with tears as Spotted Rabbit slowly took the money. The old indian smiled at Creed. “You have your mother’s giving heart, and her gift for visions too. I see it.” Electricity shot through Creed and made his hair stand on end. “Has she been guiding you?” Spotted Rabbit asked. “Yes she has. My father and my unborn sister have been too. She has told me I must stop a powerful man from hurting others. The same man that killed our ten men and almost killed Tick and Rojo.” Creed looked up at his Uncle, his eyes clear and bright. “Then you must do it.” Spotted Rabbit replied flatly. “But you still have not answered my question Uncle. Where will you go?” A look of concern flooded Creed’s face. “My path is not your path nephew, so it is not your concern. We all must be true to what we are called to do and what I have been called to do is bring war against the white man. We are tired of being under the white man’s thumb in that awful, dry place they have put us. We would rather die fighting than go on living one more day as slaves.” With that, Spotted Rabbit embraced Creed and then turned for the door. “Wait! When will I see you again Uncle?” Spotted Rabbit stopped but did not turn around. “You will see me again nephew, I promise.” And with that Spotted Rabbit and Little Bird walked out the door, mounted their horses and rode off into the dark Texas night. Creed watched them as they rode off, and somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew his Uncle was not lying to him. He would get to see him again one day. Just not in this life. just not in this world.

 To Be Continued…

A Border Redemption (Chapter I)

A Western Novelette

(Part 2 of The Border Trilogy)

mex

I. 

Northern Mexico,  10 miles from Presidio Texas, 1903

Grissom, Tick and The Boy sat under a huge red rock spiral at the mouth of a two hundred year old drainage basin. The sun had just gone down and darkness was slowly spreading over the desert. They had made a small fire where a pot of coffee brewed and as the night grew darker the crackling sparks rose into the night sky like hundreds of flaming arrows. “Well, regardless if a dream told you to go there or not kid, one thing is for damn certain, we sure as hell can’t go riding in there with the whole blooming outfit! Sixteen men, three wagons, one hundred and fifty head of cattle and  fifty head of fuckin’ stolen horses tends to draw people’s attention!” Grissom exclaimed, his face animated in the dim light. “Plus, how we gonna explain all the silver we got?” Tick interjected in his thick creole accent. The boy stared into the fire for a while, thinking, as if trying to divine an answer. “First, let me ask both of you something: Have my dreams and visions ever steered us wrong in the past?” The boy asked both men earnestly. Both men thought about that for a minute and looking at one another, both shook their heads no. “OK then,  From all I have heard, Presidio is sparsely a going concern. We won’t have any trouble getting the herd across there. The land office and bank is in Shafter, a few miles up the road. It was started when John Randolph found Silver near there over twenty some odd years ago. So us having large amounts of Silver in our saddlebags will not be seen as out of the ordinary. Me and Grissom will head to the land office tomorrow. Tick, you head back to the herd and get Rojo and the boys ready to travel. Once we have secured us some land and materials to start mining, Grissom will ride down to bring the crew up . We’ll bring the cattle and horses over in small groups after that, sound good?” The boy looked up at both men to see they understood. Tick nodded and said “Oui, Oui” in his broken Creole-French. “I only see one problem.” Grissom replied as he laid down on a blanket. “What’s that?” The boy asked, cocking an eyebrow. “When we get to that land office and the bank, they are gonna need a Christian name to put on the deed. ‘Boy’ will not suffice!” All the men laughed at the remark. “Got any ideals on what to call yourself?” asked Grissom smiling. The boy’s face went serious and he laid back on his blanket and looked up at the night sky. Memories of his murdered family flashed before him, and just like the vision of the great river he had seen a year before at the mining camp, the night sky turned into a panorama picture. The boy watched with wonder as the face of his mother holding his baby sister appeared. Then, suddenly, the outline of his father, armed with a bow, began to take shape in the night sky. Each star connected with the next in a beautiful symphony of light to form a constellation outline of his ancestors. The earth began to spin, the heavens above him getting farther and farther away, the sound of rushing water all around him. The boy began to mumble in Apache.  “Remember your Creed, Remember your Creed…” The boy rolled from side to side, his eyes wide as if he were looking into a secret, invisible place. Grissom and Tick looked at each other with concern. Was the boy having a fit? Should they get him to a Doctor? “C’est une vision” Tick hoarsely whispered. “What the hell did you say Tick?” Grissom asked as he jumped to his feet, A look of fear coming across his face as his right hand hovered over his Colt. “The boy is having a vision, don’t touch him.” Tick calmly replied, stretching out his arms to make a protective barrier “This is sum’ spooky shit…I don’t like all this indian hocus pocus.” Grissom replied, taking a few more steps back from the boy. Tick ignored the cowboy and softly chanted the twenty-third Psalm “Si je marche dans la vallée de l’ombre de la mort, je ne craindrai aucun évitement.”  And as sudden as the boy’s vision had begun, it stopped.

The boy lay motionless on the blanket. The silence of the night broken only by his ragged breathing and the crackling of the fire. He raised up from his blanket, a look of wonder and excitement on his face. “You alright there kid?” Grissom asked wearily, still keeping his distance. Tick handed the boy his canteen and he took a long drink and then looked up at both of them. “My name will be Creed.” the boy said flatly. A quizzical looks came across Grissom’s face. “Creed What? You gonna need a last name fer’ them bank papers and such…” Creed smiled at Tick, and Tick, in his strange French manner, smiled right back and laughed out loud. “You two sumabitches bout’ as crazy as a pinned up shit house rat, you know that!” Grissom exclaimed as he walked over to his saddle bag and retrieved a bottle of rye. “I have an ideal.” said Tick, still smiling. “Your last name can be ‘Le Voyant’, it means ‘The Seer’ or somebody who can see what the future holds. What do you think of that Creed? Fitting, no?” Creed looked up at Tick and both men had huge smiles on their faces. “That’s it! Creed Le Voyant is my new name!” Creed exclaimed. Creed jumped up like he had been snake bit and him and Tick hugged one another like long-lost brothers. “My new friend! Creed Le Voyant has been born!” Tick exclaimed, his voice echoing in the still night against the red rock walls. Creed and Tick began to both giggle hysterically as they danced a jig around the fire. Grissom meanwhile shook his head in confusion and sat down on a flat rock, away from the fire, and took a long pull from his bottle. “Well, I reckon if I die tomorrow I can say I have seen and heard it all. Five years ago I met a whore down in Durango with three tits, and now, I am about to go to Texas with a Creole who is half fuckin’ crazy and a sixteen year old apache brave with a french last name! I’ll be damned!!” Grissom exclaimed as he let out a hearty laugh and took another long drink from the bottle. Soon Creed came over and grabbed Grissom up from his seat, and as the three men joined together and danced around the fire like savages from a by-gone era, their laughter and singing echoed off the canyon walls like a primal orchestra.

The next morning the group split up as planned. Tick rode south to the herd and Creed and Grissom crossed the Rio Grande into Texas. The town of Presidio was sparse and languid in its demeanor. Like so many of its residents, the town itself seemed to stand still in the dusty vacuum of time. Having been founded by bandits and scalp hunters after the Mexican War, it consisted of only a few run down buildings, a small contingent of soldiers and a few dozen hearty souls trying to scratch a living out of the red caliche soil. But travel twenty miles north to the silver boom town of Shafter, and it was a different story altogether. As Grissom and Creed slowly let their mounts amble down main street, the sure signs of prosperity were all around. Grissom counted three saloons, two hotels, a general store, a Gunsmith, a bank, a land office, a barber shop, and a woman’s clothing store where the latest fashions from Paris and London were displayed in the window.”My God this is a sight to see!” Grissom exclaimed. They stopped in front of a saloon called “The Silver Palace” and hitched their mounts. As they prepared to walk into the saloon, two men, both wearing badges and both armed, one with a double-barreled scattergun, approached. The tallest of the two, with a greased black handlebar mustache and a Colt Peacemaker on his hip spoke up.”Howdy Gentleman. Names’ Marshall J.T. Prescott and this here is Deputy Knowles.”  Both Creed and Grissom stood silent and still as an awkward moment passed between the group. The lawman laughed. “Well, that was a helluva introduction wasn’t it Deputy!” The Deputy smiled and took two steps back, leveling the shotgun in Creed’s direction. The expression on the Marshall’s face got serious. “I’m askin’ your names.” The Marshall’s voice was tense. “Bill Potterfield” Grissom said with a witty smile. The Marshall nodded at Grissom. “Mr. Potterfield. And you kid, what’s your name?” The Marshall asked. “Creed Le Voyant” Creed replied, his face blank and self-assured. “Le Voyant? What kind of faggot name is that for a red nigger shitheel?” The Marshall smiled at his own remark, his nostrils flaring, and his eyes narrowing toward Creed. Creed returned the stare in spades, taking note not of the man’s face, but the muscles in his arms and hands, which he watched closely to see any hint of them flexing to grip the revolver on his hip. “French.” Creed replied. “French! Well My God boy, you are a faggot ain’t ya! So tell me, which way was it? was it a Frenchman raping an Apache whore, or an Apache given’ it to a French whore?” The Marshall laughed heartily, looking to his deputy to laugh along with him. Grissom grabbed Creed’s arm from behind to keep it from drawing the pistol tucked in his waistband. “We have business in this town Marshall, so if you will excuse us.” Grissom pulled Creed away from the entrance of the saloon and toward the land office across the street. “Business, huh? Well I hope you can conclude it in a hurry Mr. Potterfield, injun’s ain’t welcome in Shafter.” Creed never took his eyes off the Marshall as Grissom pulled him away. “Let it go kid.” Grissom said through gritted teeth. The Marshall watched as the two men went into the land office. across the street. “Knowles, go back to the office and start looking through the wanted posters and notices, see if any of them match our Mr. Potterfield and french injun friend here. Make sure to look for descriptions of injuns with scars on their faces to narrow it down.” Prescott said as he spit tobacco juice out into the dusty street, the red dirt sucking up the moisture almost instantly.

——————————-

Six Miles Northwest of Shafter

In the foothills of the Chinati mountains, with the sun filtering through a sparse patch of cedars, Creed and Grissom stood admiring their newly bought piece of land. “Well, kid how does it feel to own 200 acres?” Grissom asked smiling, slapping Creed on the back. “To be honest, it does not feel any different, except now I have less money.” Creed replied, looking at Grissom concerned. “Oh, don’t you worry kid, once we get a house built and some corrals, I promise you, it will look much different!” Creed smiled at the remark. Ever since Grissom had brought up the ideal of coming to Texas, Creed had dreamed of living a normal life. “We gotta put those outlaw ways behind us kid. And building this ranch is a big first step.” Grissom mounted his horse and turned a circle around Creed, pointing his horse South. “So I am gonna go down and get the boys like we talked about. And since we got the money, maybe try to find some carpenters and extra laborers to help us build this house quicker, sound good?” Grissom asked, squinting down at Creed.  “Also, Seein’ how that Sheriff is a giant mules asshole, and is just lookin’ for a reason to lock you up or hang you, I think you should camp here and stay out-of-town until I get back. I shouldn’t be more than a couple of days” Grissom gave Creed that older brother look of sternness to emphasize the point. “Fine.” Creed answered flatly, still staring out at the land. “See ya’ when you get back.”

The dust from Grissom’s departure had not yet begun to settle when Creed turned his horse toward town. Call it adolescent stupidity or just blind pride, but he could not abide bullies, and he certainly could not abide any man wearing a bought tin star thinking he was better than him because the color of his skin. He rode around the back of the town, crossing by the white steeple Church of Christ on the hill and passing through the large stockyard and barn behind the Silver Palace saloon. He hitched his horse beside the set of jakes in the alley between the saloon and a chinese laundry. He then put on an old worn brown duster he kept in his saddlebag and pulled his hat down low over his ears. Maybe he could pass for just another dusty cowboy in this get-up. He ambled down the street, passing a barber shop, post office, undertaker and a big fine building with the words “Presidio Mining Company” on top. Walking past the General Store, Creed decided he better make use of this trip and buy some supplies to make camp with for the boys coming up from Mexcio. As he made his way into the store, he overheard a woman at the front counter arguing with the clerk. “Sir, the price you had marked in the front window for this dress was four dollars last Tuesday, now a week later, the price has doubled? I just don’t understand!” The woman was nice looking, around forty Creed guessed, but the situation had her all out of sorts. “Ma’am, my prices reflect supply and demand, that dress comes from Paris, France and is not cheap.” The clerk was a smug ass and knew he had the upper-hand in the argument.

As Creed moved around the back of the store to get a better vantage point on the situation, he saw another woman, this one much younger, tucked away in the corner, out of view. She looked to be around 17 and was beautiful a woman as Creed had ever seen. She was tall for her age, almost as tall as Creed. Her long hair was the color of sun-kissed straw in late summer, her face like delicate china porcelain. Her eyes were a pale green and sharp as a hawk. She held herself like a lady of proper high society, although her homemade dress and shoes suggested otherwise. Creed could not help but stare. He watched as she nestled up to the woman at the counter. “Mother, it’s OK, I don’t need the dress…” The young girl whispered. As the impatient clerk let out an exasperated gasp, taking the dress off the counter, Creed without hesitation, stepped up. “We will take the dress and also some shoes to go with it.” Creed laid two crisp twenty-dollar bills on the counter. The older woman spoke up. “Thank You kind sir, but we surely cannot accept charity from a stranger.” she smiled politely and taking her daughter’s hand, turned to leave the store. Creed took off his hat and stepped around in front of them. “No, please ma’am, this is not charity. It is a gift.” He quickly extended his hand. “And I am not a stranger, my name is Creed Le Voyant, what might yours be?” The older woman eyed Creed suspiciously, she had never seen an indian up close before. Her manners overrode her fear and she smiled back at Creed.”Nice to meet you Mr. Le Voyant. I am Sarah Patterson and this is my Daughter, Eve.” Mrs. Patterson smiled as she lightly shook Creed’s hand. Creed nervously smiled back. He had never felt so anxious in all his life. “Here is your dress and shoes, and your change.” The clerk said from behind the counter. Creed picked up his change and the wrapped package and placed it under his arm. “Please, allow me to carry this to your carriage Mrs. Patterson.” “Thank you Mr. Le Voyant.” Creed followed the ladies outside where a one horse carriage was parked. Creed placed the package in the seat and then helped the ladies step up. Creed saw the younger girl lean over and whisper something to her mother, smiling all the time and glancing back at Creed. Mrs. Patterson nodded her head smiling. She then turned to speak to Creed. “Mr. La Voyant, would you care to join us for dinner tonight around seven at our home? It is the least we could do to show you our gratitude.” Without even thinking about a response, Creed accepted. “I would be honored ma’am, whereabouts do you live?” Mrs. Patterson smiled and pointed east. “Follow the town road east for four miles, our place is on the left, you will see a sign marked Pattersons.”  Creed nodded. “Sounds good ma’am, see you at seven.” Mrs. Patterson put on a pair of leather gloves, took hold of the reigns and spoke to the horse. “Let’s go Annie-Mae” As the carriage rolled away Creed noticed Eve look over her shoulder at him and smile. My God, Creed thought to himself, have you ever seen something so damn beautiful in all your life!

——————————————

Randolph Estate, 10 miles west of Shafter

James Lewis patiently sat in the parlor waiting to see ‘Sir” John Randolph. He had been summoned at home an hour earlier by one of Randolph’s men stating his presence was “urgently required.” Despite having just come home after a hectic day of work and not yet having his dinner, James had accepted the fact many years ago, that everybody in this town, in one way or the other, was at John Randolph’s disposal. He gazed at the pictures that lined the red cedar walls of the parlor. One of them was of his father’s building in downtown Shafter taken over 20 years ago. James smiled at the memory the picture brought back. He had inherited his father’s dying real estate business upon his death. At that time, John Randolph was just another up and coming broke miner. Like so many miners during that time, he had come to Shafter with a mule, a pick axe, the clothes on their back and a dream. He still remembers the day Randolph came into his father’s office with a deed to a small tract of land  he had won in a lucky hand of poker the previous night. Six months later Randolph struck it big on that land, finding one of the largest silver deposits in the state of Texas. Now, twenty years later, Randolph owned the town of Shafter, and every thing and everyone in it, including Lewis Real Estate.

James’ stroll down memory lane was interrupted when the butler opened the parlor doors. “Mr. Randolph will see you now in his study, please follow me sir.” James followed the butler down the elaborately decorated hallway to the study. Opening the thick double-doors, a hazy, grey-blue cloud of cigar smoke escaped. “Mr. Lewis sir.” The butler announced. “Fine, send him in.” Randolph’s gruff voice responded from deep within the room. Once inside, James’ eyes had to adjust to the dim and smoky room. The place smelled of rich Cuban tobacco, french brandy and freshly polished oak. The study was enormous. Ten foot ceilings with solid oak bookcases lining three walls. Beautiful stuffed mounts of Dall Rams, Whitetail Deer, Red Stag and even a full body mount of a large Mountain Lion were placed throughout the room. A Huge picture window overlooked a large pond with elegant white swans floating on the water. Randolph sat in a massive leather lounger resembling a King’s throne, his slippered feet propped up on a foot-stool. “Fix yourself a drink Lewis and have a seat over here.” Randolph said pointing to a chair opposite his. As James poured himself a whiskey neat and made his way over to the chair, he noticed Randolph had a large revolver in his lap. Lewis’ heart skipped two beats and he felt the blood leave his face immediately. Lewis instinctively grabbed his stomach as his bowels attempted to evacuate. “You know anything about firearms Lewis?” Randolph asked. “No Sir, not a lot.” Lewis responded as he sat down slowly, praying he had not shit himself.”This is a Mark Four British Webley Revolver. It was used in Africa fighting the Boers last year. The cartridges are enormous, .455 caliber” Lewis watched with discomfort as Randolph picked up a cartridge from the red velvet display case and placed one in the chamber. “You know what a round like that could do to a man Mr. Lewis?” Randolph asked as he closed the gun and then placed it on the coffee table between the two men. Lewis shook his head no, still feeling like he was going to throw-up or shit himself at any second. Randolph smiled as he watched Lewis grow more uncomfortable. He then stubbed out his cigar, retrieved a fresh one from the humidor on the table beside him, and lit it. Once the room was once again filled with the thick blue-grey smoke, Randolph sat back in his chair, like a contented gargoyle in his lair, relishing the palpable fear he had put into James Lewis.

John Randolph came from Scots-Irish stock, his parents coming over during the famine of 1850. Not long after landing on Ellis island, Randolph’s father. hearing there would be cheap land and opportunity in Texas, booked passage to Galveston. John was born two years later, but his mother, weak from the long trip and the birth, did not survive. Life was hard for the two immigrants. John’s father found work doing odd jobs, but never anything steady. He made excuses to the boy for their low station in life, but John knew early on his father was nothing but a worthless drunk. When John was ten, his father was killed while cheating at a small stakes poker game. Penniless and Homeless, John was taken in by the local Catholic orphanage where he stayed until he was seventeen. He soon found work at a local meat-packing plant. The pay was meager but steady. At night, after work in the saloons, John started hearing about the opportunities for finding gold and silver out West. John worked for a solid year, saving up his money and in the summer of 1871 set out for West Texas to make his fortune. Going through the school of hard knocks as a miner, John soon learned mining was a combination of backbreaking work and luck. After nine years of meager finds, John was just about to give up on his mining dream when during a random game of poker one night, he won the deed to a small tract of land near Shafter, Texas and the rest, as they say, is history. “I hear you sold two hundred acres in the Chinati foothills to a couple of drifters the other day.” Randolph’s gaze centered in on Lewis. Lewis straightened up in his chair and cleared his throat before speaking. “Yes sir, Mr. Randolph. A young injun boy with a scar on his face and a white man. They paid in cash.” Randolph got up from his chair and walked over to the large window overlooking the pond.

For a man in his fifties, John Randolph was extremely fit. At just over six feet, he was powerfully built, weighing in at close to two hundred twenty pounds. His reddish blond hair was thinning on top, but he kept a finely manicured beard which gave him a very stately, wise appearance. “They tell you what they plan to do with the land? They gonna mine it?” Randolph asked roughly, still staring out at the pond. “No sir, they did not say anything.” Lewis replied. “Marshall Prescott tells me these two fit the description of being part of that comanchero gang that massacred Colonel Parker and his outfit in Mexico couple years back.” Randolph kept his gaze at the pond outside, but all the while watching Lewis through the reflection in the glass. “Colonel Parker was a business associate of yours if I recall correctly.” Lewis kept his eyes to the floor and calmly took a drink of whiskey. “Yes. Parker was extremely effective in dealing with the indian and bandit problem.” Randolph turned around to face Lewis. “If the boy and this man were in fact involved in that mess down there, after they are convicted and hung, that property will go back up for sale, correct?” Lewis swallowed hard. He could see where this was going. “Well sir, I would suppose so. That’s really a question for a judge to decide.” Suddenly Randolph’s anger that had been simmering just below the surface since the conversation began, spilled over into the room. “Dammit Lewis! Why in the hell did you go and sell THAT piece of land? You knew I had plans to purchase that entire fucking mountain! Hell, one of my biggest mines is only 5 miles away!” spittle flew from Randolph and landed on Lewis’ face. Lewis did not dare move to wipe it off. “Well sir, Yes, I knew you had plans, but I had been waiting for over a year for you to buy, and frankly, I needed the money.” Lewis shifted in his seat to try to gain some distance from the fuming Irishman. “Money! Hell, you need money, come to me! Don’t fucking sell the most valuable real estate in the area to two no-account shitheel outlaws!” Randolph took a drink of whiskey and spun back around to look out the window. Lewis searched for something else to say but the words escaped him. “No more land sales in the Chinati Foothils John, PERIOD. That area belongs to me, regardless if I have the deed or not, understood?” Randolph was still trying to calm down as he stared out the window. Taking his cue, Lewis stood up to leave. “Yes sir, I understand.”  Randolph waved his hand as if he was shooing away a fly and the butler opened the door to show Lewis out. On his way home, Lewis wondered to himself why Randolph was so damn interested in that certain piece of land? Could it be this indian boy, this “no-account outlaw” as Randolph called him, was smarter than he appeared? John Lewis intended to find out.

 

To Be Continued…

The X-Code and the Genie (Chapter 3)

A World War II Novelette of Espionage

Part I of the OSS Trilogy

sten

III.

Setaat Safe House, 1942

Miss Celia Devereux and Captain Logan Chandler sat on the couch in the study and marvelled at the hilarious spectacle before them. Not thirty minutes prior, the tension in the room had been palpable. Each team unsure of the other’s motives and unsure of what to do next. Guns had been drawn, accusations made, and emotions running dangerously hot. But thankfully, cooler heads had prevailed and now, Toulere, as was his fashion, had taken up his role as court jester and being just shy of fall-down drunk, was on the piano leading the whole team in a terribly out of tune, but charismatic chorus of La Marseillaise with Ethan, Blakeley and Squires all arm in arm, swaying to the music. Celia reached over and took Chandler by the hand and led him into the kitchen where they both sat down at the table. “It’s too noisy in there. I just wanted to tell you I will be leaving soon. I have to meet Gruedell tonight at the Apartment.” Chandler looked over at Celia. Damn she was a beautiful woman. Her hazel eyes were soft and round. Her mouth perfectly shaped and inviting. The thought crossed his mind to kiss her, but he soon discarded it. They had a mission to both plan and execute and besides that, a man’s life hung in the balance. “I don’t know how you do it Celia, sleeping with that monster…” Chandler remarked. Celia smiled and reached into her purse. She took out the small Walther pistol and checked that it was loaded. “Every time I am with him, I have to remind myself of the reason why I am doing it.” Chandler could see a deep sorrow sweep over her face. He hesitated in proceeding further. Sometimes dredging up the past was not wise. Celia sensed his sensitivity to the subject. “It’s OK, I don’t mind. Both my parents died of typhus when I was four. I was raised by my Grandparents on a farm outside Orleans. It was an idyllic, simple, country life. My grandmother had been a teacher and she taught me science, mathematics, languages and music. My grandpa taught me everything else. He had been a soldier in the Great War, so I learned about guns, knives, boxing, hunting, you name it. He even taught me how to hot wire a car. My grandpa died of a heart attack when I was fifteen, so after that I had to help my grandmother take up the slack around the farm. When the Nazi’s invaded in 40′, my grandmother sent me to Paris to live with cousins, thinking it would be safer.

After a few months there, I made some inquiries about her and I found out she had been rounded up with the rest of the farmers in the area and sent to the camps in the east.” It took a moment for what Celia was telling Chandler to sink in. “Are you saying your family was Jewish?” Chandler asked, his mouth half-open in disbelief. “But Devereux is not a jewish name!” Chandler asked, amazed. “Oh Captain, you know when you are in the Resistance you to have at least three nom de guerre’s, right?” Celia smiled, a twinkle in her eye. “So what is your real name?” Chandler asked, smiling back. “Let’s save that for another conversation, shall we?” Celia replied, a playful tone in her voice. Celia laughed. “You have to admit Captain, the irony is just so poetically profound! Sometimes I am not sure what is the best thing about what I am doing with Gruedell. The fact that he is in love with a Jewish girl and that I am a spy with the Resistance and he is unaware! It’s hilarious, no!?” Celia laughed out loud and then lit a cigarette. “You have been full of surprises Miss Celia Devereux, that is for sure!” Chandler replied, smiling. “So tell me about Toulere and Ethan, how did you meet?” Chandler asked, lighting a cigarette of his own. “They were in the same Paris Resistance group as my cousins when I joined. When both my cousins were killed in a Gestapo raid in 41′, they became my family.” Suddenly Celia’s face became serious again. “You know we all have lost somebody in this God-awful war, but those two men in there have lost everything.” Chandler noticed tears welling up in Celia’s eyes. “Hey Celia, I’m sorry to bring all this up…” Chandler said, trying to apologize. “No, its important you know these things so you know the kind of people you are working with.” Celia said flatly, wiping the tears away quickly. “Toulere had a wife and two sons. He and dozens more of the Resistance in Paris had their families moved out of the city for safety when the Germans invaded. Somehow the Gestapo got an informant inside the group and found out the location of where the families were hiding and killed all of them. Thirty six women and children murdered in cold blood….” Celia’s eyes were wet again, staring at some distant place past the wall in the kitchen. “Son-of-a-bitch!” Chandler cursed. “And Ethan…poor Ethan. We found him in a gutter, starving, left for dead by the SD.” Celia was sobbing now. “That poor kid had to watch his entire family be slaughtered in front of him because they were Communist. So when our bosses offered all three of us a chance to come to Casablanca and work, we all jumped at the chance. Paris had become too dangerous. It is riddled with traitors and informants and has too many bad memories.” Celia suddenly looked at her watch. “Oh Shit!” She jumped up from her seat, went over to the sink and washed her face. “I’ve got to hurry or I will be late. If I am not there when he arrives, he might get suspicious. I will see you tomorrow afternoon and we will work out the plan, yes?” Celia asked as she grabbed her purse off the table. “Sure, you bet.” Chandler replied. “Au Revoir Captain.” Celia said smiling as she walked out of the kitchen. “Au Revoir Miss Devereux.” Chandler replied. “God Speed to you.”

Chandler awoke the next morning with a terrible hangover and his head feeling like a frozen pineapple. “These damn French, it happens every time…” he muttered to himself as he crawled out of bed, slipping on his trousers. He could hear the familiar clicking of the telegraph in the next room as Squires talked with London. As Chandler walked to the bathroom praying there were some aspirin in the cabinet, Squires came out of his room. “Ah, Sir, you’re up. Perfect. We just got a message from HQ. They wanted to know the status of the mission.” Chandler kept walking to the bathroom. “The status of the mission is there is no mission yet Squires, you know that. We sit down tonight with Celia and the others to plan it out.” Chandler shut the door to the bathroom as Squires tried to follow him in. “But sir, what do I tell them then?” Chandler cracked the door. “Tell them our Resistance contacts are currently busy with subversive activities, as is their mandate, and we are in a holding pattern as far as planning the mission. As soon as we have details we will let HQ know.” Chandler slammed the door this time as if to put a period on the conversation. When Chandler made his way downstairs he was surprised to find Toulere and Ethan sitting at the table eating and talking. “Good Morning Captain!” Toulere said with vigor. “Good God, I forgot about you French, you people can drink like fishes!” Ethan and Toulere laughed at the remark. “Would you like a omlette captain?” Ethan asked getting up. “No, just coffee thanks.” Chandler sat down with Toulere. “Last night was a real party, aye!” Toulere said smiling. “Yeah, I guess you could call it that.” Chandler said smiling as Ethan sat a steaming mug of black coffee in front of him. “Today, I thought we could go over weapons and explosives and tonight when Celia gets back we can go over the plan in detail.” Ethan said as he sat back down. Chandler shook his head in the affirmative as he sipped his coffee. “Sounds good. Do you have a place around here where we can shoot and not draw attention?” Chandler asked. “Wee, Toulere and me found a real nice spot about 10 miles from here, very secluded and private.” Ethan replied. “Sounds perfect, but let’s play it smart and only bring one sten and one welrod to practice with, everything else stays in the cache spot. I will gather my guys and meet you at the vehicle in half-an-hour?” Chandler asked, looking at both Toulere and Ethan. “Perfect!” Toulere said getting up from the table. “Ethan you get the guns, I’ll bring the beer!” Chandler slowly shook his head as he rubbed his temples and muttered under his breath. “Beer? You gotta be kidding. These damn French are gonna be the death of me…”

———————————

 10 Miles South of Setaat Safe House

 The small, green clearing Toulere and Ethan had chosen was a few miles off the main road in an orchard of olive trees. “You sure the man who owns this orchard won’t report us to the krauts when he hears the shooting?” Chandler asked Toulere as they drove up. “Positive Captain, he is a trusted friend of the Resistance.” Chandler nodded as he wiped his forehead with his handkerchief. He had forgotten how hot North Africa could be this time of year. It was barely Noon and already the rancid alcohol was seeping out of the pores of all the men, making it smell like a brewery. Ethan walked downrange with Squires and put up a few makeshift targets with tin cans. When they returned, Toulere began walking the men through the hardware. “For security reasons we only brought the one sten and one welrod and a little ammo to practice with. But per the Captain’s orders, here is the latest complete inventory for all weapons, explosives and gear for the mission:

  • Three 1911 .45acp Pistols and nine magazines
  • Three P-38 9mm Pistols and six magazines
  • One Luger P-08 9mm Pistol, Two magazines and uniform Flap Holster
  • One Walther PPK .32ACP Pistol, two Magazines
  • Four 9mm Welrod Suppressed Pistols
  • Four Sten 9mm sub-machine guns, twelve magazines
  • Two K-98 8mm Rifles
  • Eight MK-II American Pineapple Grenades
  • Four British Smoke Grenades
  • 7 Blocks of Comp-B Explosive with Det Wire, Pencil Detonators and Timers
  • Two-hundred rounds of .45ACP, Six hundred rounds of 9mm ammunition, fifty-rounds of 8mm, fifty rounds of .32ACP
  • Two captured Wermacht soldier uniforms with caps and boots
  • 2 Pre-loaded syringes of surgical sleeping agent
  • 2 Pre-loaded syringes of tranquilizer agent
  • 8 Cyanide pill vials

The rest of the day the men spent practicing with each of the guns. Squires was the one with the least trigger time, so all the men gave him tips they had learned in the field. “With the Sten, don’t fire a burst when one shot will do, remember, less is better!” Chandler told him. “With the welrod, I have learned to aim just a tad high if they are more than twenty feet away. Remember, if from the front, shoot them in the face, if from the back, aim for the base of the skull. Our aim is to sever the spinal cord and cut out all motor function.” Ethan told him, pointing to the appropriate areas on Toulere’s head as he explained and Toulere doing his best impression of a dead nazi all the while. Chandler looked at his watch. “Let’s head home, Celia should be back soon and we can start going over the operational plans.”

————————————

Setaat Safe House

Celia  arrived at the house around eighteen hundred and Chandler wasted no time laying out the operation that was to take place the next night. “Before I start I want to go over our escape. As most of you know, we were set to catch a French freighter in Rabat two days from now. Since the freighter’s schedule cannot be altered at our beckon call, Command has provided a London Express Transport. The landing strip designated ‘GARBO’ will be used and the plane will be on the ground at 2345.” Chandler rolled out a map of the city and surrounding area. “Garbo is here and the jail is here.” Chandler circled the two locations in red. “Celia, HQ has green lit the assassinations of Major Gruedell of the Gestapo and the double-agent at the Interior ministry, their code names are HAMMER and STAR, respectively. You are certain you can kill both of them and then link up with us at GARBO in time?” Chandler asked without looking up from the map. “Positive Captain.” Celia answered flatly. “Ok, so the assault on the jail is as follows. Guard strength is estimated at four to six. Stokes is the only prisoner so we don’t have to worry about freeing anybody else. We go in quick and quiet with the welrod’s and only go loud with the sten’s if we have no other choice. Squires and Ethan will pull security at the front while me, Toulere  and Blakeley go in and get Stokes, understood?” Everybody nodded their heads. “I am not sure what kind of shape Stokes is going to be in, so we have to be prepared to carry him out, understood?” Again everybody nodded their heads. “We leave here at 2200 tonight. Celia, we will expect you at GARBO at 2340.” Chandler looked at Celia earnestly. “I will be there Captain.” Celia replied. “You know the plane can only stay on the ground for five minutes, so if you are not there by 2350, you will be left.” Chandler looked at Celia seriously. “Understood Captain.” Celia replied again, this time giving him a playful wink. “Anybody have any questions?” Chandler asked looking around. Everybody shook their head no. Toulere raised his hand. “I vote since the mission is not until tomorrow night, and this very well may be our last night on earth, we all get drunk and have a party.” Toulere said with a smile, walking over to the piano. “I second that motion.” Ethan said laughing, going over to the bar and pouring drinks. “I think you better grant their request Captain or you may have a mutiny on your hands.” Celia said laughing as she got up to get a drink. “Can I get you something Captain?” Celia asked. “Yeah why not, Whiskey neat.” Chandler replied. Celia brought the drink over and sat beside Chandler. Both Celia and Chandler drank in silence for a few minutes as Toulere, Ethan, Squires and Blakeley blew off some steam singing at the piano. “So what are our odds Captain, honestly?” Celia asked, looking at Chandler seriously.  “I say 70/30 in our favor. We got a good group of people and surprise is on our side.” Chandler replied taking a long drink. Neither one of them spoke for several moments. Only the sound of the men’s laughter filled the room. Ethan left the room and came back with a framed picture of De Gaulle he had hidden in his room. He propped up the picture on the piano and Toulere burst into another horrific but patriotic rendition of La Marseillaise as everybody else joined in.

———————————–

323 Rue Socrates, Apartment 114, Casablanca

The next day Celia kept to her regular schedule and then around seventeen hundred headed to STAR’s apartment. Celia was amazed at how fast she remembered how to pick a lock. In under fifteen seconds she was out of the hallway and into the flat. Glancing at the clock on the wall as she entered, Celia estimated the woman would be home in ten minutes or less. The place was clean and neat. “Just like a German” Celia muttered under her breath. The woman obviously lived alone, judging from the clothes in the closet and the amount of food in the cupboards. Celia looked over the layout, trying to decide the best hiding spot. A linen closet just off the main hall would suffice she decided. Checking to ensure the welrod was loaded, she carefully slid off her shoes and then slid her body into the closet and closed the door. Five minutes passed and then Celia heard a key inside the front door lock. Celia heard footsteps and a shadow pass the door. She then heard the woman in the kitchen, keys jangling on the table, the refrigerator door opening. Celia quietly opened the closet door and slid her slim body out. Walking heel-to-toe down the small hallway, Celia slowly turned the corner into the kitchen. The woman continued to put up groceries for a few moments until she felt Celia’s presence behind her. She slowly turned around to face her. “I am glad they sent a woman to do it.” The woman’s words fell out of her mouth as Celia pressed the trigger. The pistol burped the spent gases in a “pfttttttt” sound as the nine-millimeter round entered right below her right eye, sending a spray of blood and brain matter out the back of her head painting the white and yellow cupboards behind her in a visceral red mist. The woman’s body crumpled to the floor with a light thud. Celia waited a few seconds and then loaded the welrod again. Stepping over the body, she pressed the muzzle to the womans head and shot her again. Satisfied, Celia stuck the pistol in her purse and calmly walked out of the apartment and headed to her place, four blocks away.

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12 Rue Karachi, Apartment 365, Casablanca

Celia glanced up at the clock. It was ten minutes after ten. They would be on their way to the jail right about now, she thought to herself. Celia had been waiting for the past five hours for Major Hans Gruedell, aka HAMMER, to show up. He typically arrived somewhere around ten o’clock every night, like clockwork. No matter, she was not going to panic, she thought to herself. She wanted to take her time getting ready. This was a special night. A night of reckoning. She double checked her hair and makeup in the mirror and made sure to wear the new red dress Gruedell had bought her the previous week. As she walked out of the bathroom she noticed the picture on the dresser of her dear Grandmother looking at her. Celia felt herself wanting to cry and then she noticed the pre-loaded syringe of tranquilizer and the Block of Explosive with a timer laying on the bed and the sadness she was feeling turned into a smile. She wondered if Captain Chandler would be angry with her for taking those things without permission as she loaded a fresh magazine into her Walther.

————————————–

Gestapo Jail, 5 miles Outside Casablanca

Chandler and the rest of the men sat up the street from the jail watching. “We hope to be in and out in under six minutes. Keep the engine running and be ready to move in a hurry.” Chandler told Ethan and Squires, giving them both a serious look and a smile Chandler, Toulere and Blakeley were all dressed in black with black watch caps. Each of them wore a holster with a welrod pistol and a Sten slung across their chest. Chandler peered out the small window in the back of the van ensuring the coast was clear. The streets were empty and quiet. “Ok, let’s move”. All three men burst out of the back of the van and cleared the distance to the jail in seconds. All three men drew their welrod’s. “Toulere, you get the door.” Toulere quickly opened the door and Chandler and Blakeley went in. As they entered, a German soldier was napping at a desk, Chandler fired one round, hitting him just right of the nose, crumpling him to the floor. Chandler quickly reloaded. Another set of double doors led into the jail. Toulere tried opening them but they were locked. “Blakeley, slide over and open them.” Chandler whispered. Blakeley slid over the counter like a cat and opened the door. The three men proceeded down a small flight of steps that led down a long hallway. Chandler was in the lead and he could hear two Germans talking up ahead around a corner. He quickly threw up two fingers and then readied his pistol. As they turned the corner two soldiers were smoking and talking, Chandler shot the first one in the side of the head and Toulere the second, both of the bodies dropping on top of one another in a dull thud. Chandler reached down and patted the soldiers finding a silver key ring on one of the belts. The hallway continued for ten more feet and then dead ended at a single cell. Chandler found the key and opened the door. As the door swung open, the smell almost knocked the group down. “My God!” Toulere exclaimed putting his hand up to his face. Expecting to find a corpse, both men entered the dark cell. Chandler used his torch to search and there in the corner, next to a bucket of his own shit and vomit, lay an emaciated Lieutenant Stokes. He was covered in rags, his skin a series of blisters, cuts and sores. His hair was long and he was unshaven. Chandler gently lifted him up off the ground. Chandler noticed the bastards had cut off his right ear and now only a small hole remained. “Bout time you showed up Captain, I was seriously thinking of filing a complaint…” Stokes whispered weakly, his lips so badly chapped, they were bleeding. Chandler smiled at the remark. “Let’s get you the hell out of here Stokes.” He was so light Chandler had no problem picking him up like a child. “I’m gonna carry him to the van.” Chandler told Toulere as he slung his sten across his back and started out of the cell. Toulere ran ahead ensuring the coast was clear. As they exited the building, the streets were still empty. Blakeley met them at the back of the van, opening up the door. “Jesus Christ! Is he alive?” Blakeley whispered, his eyes wide. “Oh yeah he’s alive, even cracked a joke earlier.” Chandler responded as he gently laid Stokes in the back of the van on a blanket. “Let’s get the hell out of here.” Chandler said as everybody jumped into the van. Chandler turned around and took one last look at the jail and then hopped into the driver’s seat and sped off.

—————————————

12 Rue Karachi, Apartment 365, Casablanca

Gruedell arrived at the apartment at 2235 carrying a dozen red roses and a bottle of schnapps.  Celia was sitting at the kitchen table drinking red wine. “I was about to give up on you.” she said smiling. “I am sorry my darling, work intruded. To make it up to you, I brought you this…” Gruedell replied smiling, laying the roses and schnapps down on the table and leaning over and kissing Celia. “How beautiful, let me get a vase.” Celia got up and walked to the kitchen cupboard. Gruedell walked into the bedroom and began undressing. “I am going to take a bath. I feel filthy.” he called out. When Celia heard the bathroom door shut and the water begin to run, she walked over to her dresser and opened the drawer. She removed the welrod pistol, a roll of thick packing tape, a pair of handcuffs, a pair of leg irons, a hammer, a hacksaw and the pre-loaded tranquilizer injection. She then went into the kitchen and got a chair and brought it into the bedroom. After everything was staged, she sat on the bed and waited. After ten minutes, she had forgotten how vain and self-absorbed this son-of-a-bitch could be so she figured she better entice him to move things along. She walked over to the bathroom door and in a deep, throaty voice called out “My Darling, please hurry up, your Fräulein is so hot, moist and ready…” Celia had to choke the words out they made her so nauseous. She was so glad the charade would end tonight! Through the door, Gruedell could be heard giggling like an adolescent schoolboy. “Oh my! Well in that case, here I come!” Celia backed up away from the door and stood to the side. Gruedell burst out of the bathroom, naked like some horny wildebeest, his manhood erect and his eyes wide and lustful, the steam from the bath pouring out around him like some demon escaping from hell. Celia quickly jabbed the needle into the side of his neck and injected the dose of tranquilizer. Gruedell shrieked like a wounded animal.”You fucking bitch! What was that!” He grabbed the side of his neck and then turned toward Celia to attack. Celia raised the welrod pistol toward him. He took two steps and then his legs turned into limp spaghetti. “What the hell?” Were the only words he muttered before he collapsed, his head hitting the wood floor with a slap.

When Gruedell came to he was gagged and taped to a kitchen chair, his hands handcuffed behind his back and his feet in a pair of leg irons attached to the chair. Celia sat across from him smoking a cigarette. “How do you feel my darling?” Celia asked with contempt, smiling through the hazy smoke. Gruedell responded with a grunt through the gag, his eyes bleary and unfocused from the drugs. “I want to show you something.” Celia said getting up from her chair and bringing over a small box and some pictures. “Hey! Pay attention!” Celia slapped him hard, his head rotating to the left with spittle and blood shooting out on the floor. “This is a picture of my dear Grandmother who raised me, her name was Anna also.” Celia held the picture up in front of Gruedell’s unfocused eyes. “You nazi pigs sent her to the camps to be gassed.” Gruedell’s head bobbed as he went in and out of consciousness. Celia slapped him again. Shewas angry now. She opened up the small box and removed a yellow Star of David holding it up in front of his eyes. “And this you make us wear like branded beast.” Gruedells eyes wavered, his head still bobbing up and down. She slapped him again, this time harder. She then walked over to her desk and opened up a drawer and removed some papers. Sorting through them, she found the one she wanted and walked back over to Gruedell. “See this!” Celia held up the document in front of Grudell. His eyes struggled to read the fine print, but when he finally did, his eyes grew wide with amazement. “That’s right you nazi pig, all this time you have been in love with a jew!” Celia turned the paper around and looked at it. It was her original birth certificate, stolen from the Orleans registry and replaced with a fake one before the Nazi’s arrived. “Anna Louise Weigel, Religion: Jewish.” Celia said out loud with pride. Gruedell could be heard cursing through the gag, his eyes wide and red with anger. Suddenly something boiled up in Celia that she could not control and in a blur she picked up the hammer, grabbed his penis, stretched it out on the chair and hit the head of the penis as hard as she could. Gruedell screamed through the gag a pitiful sound, like a dog slowly dying. Blood and cartilage splattered all over Gruedell’s stomach and legs as thick blood oozed out of the wound and dripped off the chair. After a few minutes of listening to Gruedell’s suffering, Celia glanced at the clock. “Time to get this show on the road, Sturmbannfuhrer.” She picked up the Walther laying on the desk and curtly rapped Grudell across the head with the barrel. The metal split the skin down to the bone and blood sprayed on the wall. The blow knocked him unconscious again, and Celia satisfied with the silence, lit another cigarette and prepared for round two of this wonderful night of reckoning that was long overdue.

————————————-

10 miles from GARBO Airfield

Chandler did not see the Gendarmerie checkpoint until he crested the hill. “What the hell?” Chandler muttered under his breath. “That was definitely not here when we left.” Ethan exclaimed from the back. “Either they got wind of the jail break. or this is just a random security search. Ethan cover up the weapons and Stokes with that blanket, everybody else get your ID’s out.” Chandler stuck his 1911 under the seat. “If they want to search the van, we are gonna have to kill them.” Toulere spoke from the passenger seat as he did the same with his pistol. “I count two cars and five men, three of them with machine pistols, do you see the same?” Chandler asked Toulere. “I do.” Toulere responded. “Everybody be calm and let me talk.” Chandler said as they rolled up to the line of cars being checked. It only took a few moments before a Gendarmerie officer in full uniform and strutting like a peacock came up to the window. Chandler rolled down the window and spoke “Good Evening Officer.”  “Routine security check. identifications please.” The officer was a typical Vichy stooge, an SS wanna-be, trying to look and dress the part of his German masters. As Chandler handed him the ID’s, the officer shined his flashlight into the van, first looking at Toulere and then looking into the back. Chandler noticed the other four officers in a group watching. He glanced over at Toulere and then gripped his 1911 with his right hand. “Where are you coming from at such a late hour?” the officer asked. “We work construction. We had a big job and worked late today.” Chandler responded. The officer again shined the light in the back of the van. “What’s wrong with your friend back there, is he drunk?” “No, he was hurt today at work, fell off a ladder, we are just now on our way to take him home.” Chandler noticed two of the other officers start to walk over. “We are going to need to search the van.” The officer said flatly. “But sir, we have a sick man that cannot be moved.” Chandler’s voice was virtually pleading with the officers. “No matter, please step out of the…” As the officer reached to open the door, Chandler swung the pistol out of the window and shot the man point-blank in the face. In the same moment the two officer’s that were walking up drew their machine pistols and fired, the rounds piercing the windshield and engine block. Chandler ducked down in the seat while Toulere quickly exited the van, firing rapidly with his pistol while moving toward a ditch, his rounds hitting both of the officers in the legs and stomach. “Blakeley and Squires, disperse!” Chandler yelled as Ethan collapsed  on top of Stokes. The van door burst open and Blakeley and Squires, both armed with Stens, came around the van. The two remaining officers had taken position behind their cars, one-armed with a MP-40 and the other with a pistol. The wounded officers on the ground fired at Toulere in the ditch when Chandler raised up and fired through the windshield, hitting both of the officers in the chest, dropping them. One of the officers taking cover behind his car fired a burst at Chandler with the MP-40. Blakeley as he came around the van saw the man firing at Chandler and squeezed off a three-round burst with the Sten, the rounds catching the officer in the neck and head, dropping him in a wet thud. Squires broke right to engage the remaining officer behind the car. “I surrender” the officer yelled throwing his gun down and raising his hands.

Squires and Blakeley brought the officer out from behind the car with his hands raised. “Captain you OK?” Blakeley yelled. Chandler raised up from cover and peered over the dash. “Yeah, I’m OK”. “Ethan you and Stokes OK back there?”  There was no reply, only the labored breathing of Stokes, covered in Ethan’s blood, pushed his body off of him. “I think Ethan is Dead, Captain.” Stokes said weakly. Chandler reached behind him and felt for a pulse on Ethan. Nothing. “Shit!” Chandler exclaimed as he kicked the door open and got out. He walked around to the back and opened the door, pulling Ethan;s lifeless body off of Stokes. “You hit Stokes?” Chandler asked looking him over. “No, I’m fine.” Stokes responded. Chandler turned Ethan over and saw where two of the rounds fired through the windshield had caught him in the neck. Chandler closed Ethan’s eyes and then walked over to the ditch. “I think Toulere’s dead too Captain” Squires said as he walked up. Chandler knelt down and turned Toulere over. A round had caught him in the top of the head. “Yeah, he’s gone.” Chandler muttered. “What do we do with this one Captain?” Blakeley asked, looking at the Gendarmerie officer who was quietly praying.  Chandler calmly got to his feet, walked over to the officer and shot him in the back of the head. Blakeley and Squires both jumped back in shock. “Now come on and help me move Stokes to one of these cars, the van’s engine block is shot to hell.” Chandler voice was calm and even. “Captain! What the hell! That guy surrendered!” Squires exclaimed, almost crying. Chandler laughed walking back to the van “Surrendered? What the hell does that have anything to do with it? He was an enemy agent and had seen our faces, we had no choice!” Chandler said flatly. “Now come on and help me get Stokes into that car, we got a plane to catch!”

——————————

Outside Gestapo HQ, Casablanca

Major Hans Gruedell awoke from a groggy and disoriented state to a state of extreme pain for the second time in an hour, this time sitting in the driver seat of a car. His head and groin hurt and while he wanted to reach and feel either one, he realized with horror that his hands had been taped to the steering wheel. He looked over beside him and there sat Celia, smiling, smoking a cigarette. “Hello lover boy, how do you feel?” Celia asked. “What the hell have you done to me?” Gruedell asked, trying to twist his body to get his arms free. “I wouldn’t move around too much if I were you, you are in a very fragile state.” Celia replied, smiling. “I went ahead and wrapped your dick, or what was left of it, in gauze and gave you a coagulant so you would not bleed to death before we could have our little fun.” Gruedell looked at Celia trying to understand what she was talking about and then he looked down. Gruedell realized that not only was his squashed penis wrapped in a layer of gauze but also he was totally naked and taped above his crotch were two, one pound blocks of Comp B-Explosive with pencil detonators inserted with a clock timer. “OH…MY…GOD….Celia, what have you done?” Gruedell asked, his voice cracking with fear. “Well, to put it simply, I have made you into a Bomb Hans, a rather large human, dickless, bomb.” Celia smiled at how funny that sounded and finished her cigarette, throwing the butt out the window. “What do you plan to do?” Gruedell asked, his voice low, his bottom lip trembling. “Plan to do? Oh I won’t tell you that Hans, that would ruin the fun, let’s just say it is gonna be a real blast!” Celia laughed at the remark as she reached over and turned the timer to two minutes and flipped a red switch. “Now just in case you were thinking of trying to reset the timer or mess with it in anyway, I have set a secondary switch. So don’t even think about that, OK sweetums?” Celia gave Gruedell a hard, evil look and then got out of the car and walked over to the driver side and opened the door. “Celia, whatever you are thinking about doing, we can discuss…” Gruedells voice trailed off as he watched Celia reach down into the floorboard and retrieve a broom handle that had been cut to length. Suddenly, Gruedell looked up and realized the car he was in was pointed directly at the entrance to Gestapo headquarters. “Burn in hell you nazi piece of shit.” Celia said as she placed the cut broom handle on the accelerator, pinning it to the floor. The engine revved with raw, angry horsepower as Celia backed up and then popped the transmission from neutral into first gear. Gruedell shrieked like a teenage girl as the car peeled off at high-speed, it’s engine roaring like low, rolling thunder. Celia turned around and walked calmly down the sidewalk, lighting another cigarette as the car crashed into the building, a cacophony of breaking glass, twisting metal, screeching tires and loud screams of panic filled the once peaceful night. As Celia rounded the corner to her waiting car, a huge explosion lit up the Casablanca night, as shards of metal and glass and parts and pieces of dozens of Gestapo and SS officers that ran to the car to help free Hans were dispersed all over downtown in a nazi meat shower.

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GARBO Airfield

Chandler and the team arrived in time to light the  signal fires needed for the plane to land. Chandler and Blakeley got Stokes out of the back while Squires loaded up the equipment and weapons. As soon as they were on board the pilot asked Chandler how much longer he wanted to wait. “Give her two more minutes.” Chandler replied over the drone of the planes engines. As Chandler was about to pull up the ramp, he saw headlights coming. As the car got closer it stopped and out popped Celia, running flat-out for the plane. She hit the ramp and Chandler grabbed her by the hand and pulled her aboard. Once inside Chandler gave the all clear sign to the pilot and the engines could be heard revving to full power. Celia quickly glanced around the cabin and saw Stokes but did not see Toulere and Ethan. She quickly turned to ask Chandler a question, but the look in his eyes told her what she wanted to know. Chandler just shook his head, a tear forming in his eye. Celia grabbed him and hugged him tight, burying her head into his shoulder and letting out a sob. Chandler looked over and saw Stokes looking at them both, tears flowing down his cheeks as he mouthed the words “Thank You.” extending his hand. Chandler reached out and shook it, still holding Celia tight as the engines roared and the plane banked north for England.

The End

 

 

The X-Code and the Genie (Chapter 2)

A World War II Novelette of Espionage

Part 1 of the OSS Trilogy

ca

II.

 12 Miles West of Setaat, Morocco, 1942

The sound of the lumbering transport planes engines faded into the distance as the three agents landed without incident under deployed white canopies in the soft, brown desert sand of French Morocco at a quarter past 4am local time. It was a moonless night, but clear, and the millions of stars appeared as pin pricks in the thick black curtain of night. After a compass heading and a few miles of hiking, they arrived at the road to meet their contact. At 0627 as dawn was just beginning to break, Chandler saw the faint glow of headlights in the distance. All three men drew their pistols and held them behind them. The van gave the pre-arranged signal and flashed it’s headlights three times on approach. Chandler kept his pistol behind his back as the van slowly rolled up. The driver rolled down his window. Chandler asked the driver the code question to verify his identity. “Excuse me what is the name of a good French restaurant in Casablanca?”.  The driver smiled. “That would be Le Cyne Blanc monsieur. The Absolute best in French Cuisine!” Both men smiled at each other and gave a nervous laugh. “Captain Logan Chandler.” Logan reached through the window and shook hands with the driver. “Henry Toulere at your service, Captain.” The man replied. “Let’s get going shall we, I want to get back before anybody sees you.” Chandler nodded and all three men jumped into the back of the van.  Toulere was a 30-year-old Parisian that had joined the Resistance the day after the Germans invaded France. He had jet black hair and dark eyes that showed the maturity of a man twice his age. He was dressed as a construction worker and the van was full of tools and materials to contribute to the charade. Looking at Toulere’s hands, Chandler could tell right away he was a seasoned operative. He had taken the time to rough up his hands with sandpaper and smear paint on them. “The devil is always in the details.” Toulere said smiling, noticing Chandler looking at his hands. “I have all the equipment and weapons you requested at the safe house. We also have another van that you can use to commute to Casablanca.” Toulere said, looking at Chandler as he drove. “All your papers are in order, yes?” Toulere asked. “Yes, everything has been triple checked for accuracy. Our forgers are top-notch” Chandler replied. “Yes, they are top-notch because of our intel. The Germans just started using a new kind of ink on identity cards last month. Between the Gestapo and The Gendarmerie, I am not sure which one is a bigger royal pain in the ass!” Toulere responded with a laugh. “I will introduce you to the rest of the team this evening. In the meantime, best to stay out of sight in the house. Get some rest.” Toulere replied. Chandler nodded in agreement even though the adrenaline was pushing him to get cracking right away. They drove through the small farming town of Setaat, which like most of the older town’s and villages in North Africa, consisted of a town square with a public water well in the center. The outlines of the old buildings in the diffused morning light reminded Chandler of an oil painting he had seen a few years back in London. The safe house sat a few miles out-of-town on a hill which overlooked the entire area. Being there was only one road in and out, a person could stand on the front porch and see who was coming from either direction for miles. “La douceur du foyer.” Toulere said smiling as he turned off the engine. “Very nice.” Chandler replied.

The house was a bone white, two-story late 19th century french colonial affair. In the front of the house they had planted several small olive trees, shrubs and flowers. Walking up to the porch, Chandler noticed a pair of mixed breed hound dogs laying in the soft, black dirt. “Our early warning system.” Toulere said, grinning as he petted both dogs. “I have prepared two rooms upstairs for you and your men Captain, follow me, I will give you the nickel tour.” Chandler and his men followed Toulere inside the house. Walking in, Chandler noticed the front door had been reinforced and two deadbolts installed. “This place was donated to us by a prominent French businessman’s family. He was killed by the Nazi’s early on in the occupation for aiding the enemy. OK, to the left is the dining room and study and to the right is the kitchen.” Toulere said, guiding the three men through the large house.”We typically have our meetings here in the kitchen or study. Our resident chef, Ethan, typically cooks dinner for us every night depending on what is going on. Come on upstairs and I will show you where you will be staying.” The four men walked up the stairs, the old wood creaking under their weight. “So, this is my room here, next room is Ethan and across the hall there is Celia, and next to her the last two rooms there are yours. Unfortunately, there is only one bathroom upstairs, it’s  at end of the hall, down there.” Toulere pointed down the hall and then opened the door to The first room and turned on the light. “Lieutenant Squires and Blakeley, this is your billet.” Chandler said matter of factly. Both men quickly moved into the room and began unpacking on the two beds.  Toulere and Chandler walked into the next room. “Did I hear you say there was a woman staying here?” Chandler asked as he unpacked his gear. “Wee, Celia Devereaux. She has been with us since the beginning in Paris. You can meet her tonight. Until then, I will leave you to get settled and get some rest. Dinner at Eight?” Toulere asked smiling. “Sounds good.” Chandler replied. “I am really glad to be helping you Captain, maybe we can make a difference, aye?” Toulere asked, extending his hand. “I sure hope so Henry, I sure hope so.” Chandler shook his hand and smiled. When Toulere left, Chandler took his boots off, set his 1911 on the side table and collapsed on the bed. The last thing he thought of before drifting off was the name of that woman Toulere had mentioned; Celia Devereaux.

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12 Rou Karachi, Apartment 365 , Casablanca

 The young woman lay in bed frustrated. She had been awoken by the bright morning light piercing its way through the window like an unwanted guest. Her lover had forgotten to close the blinds again on his way out to work this morning. “So typical of that self-centered asshole.” She thought. Huffing like a child, she threw back the covers and stomped over to the window naked and shut the blind. An opaque, comfortable dimness fell over the room. She reached into her purse and moving aside the small Walther .32 Pistol, found her gold cigarette case and lighter. Both had been a gift from her lover. Just one of many in the past few months. She reached to her neck and fondled the heart-shaped  diamond pendant he had given her two weeks ago when they drove up the coast for a weekend holiday. Lighting the slim french cigarette, she smiled as read the inscription on the cigarette case out loud: “To Anna From Hans, Always”. She really had this one wrapped around her finger she thought to herself. As she got up to go to the bathroom, she paused as she passed the dresser mirror. She admired her dark, raven hair and unusually tall frame, tossing her hair to one side, she looked at her profile and examined the curves of her thighs, the suppleness of her skin. For a brief moment she got lost in a daydream. She went back to her grandmother’s farm near Orleans where she spent her childhood after her parents both died of typhus. It was a place of refuge, a soft, green, lovely place, away from all this war, all this hate. She remembers her Grandmother waking her up in the middle of the night in 1940. She had just turned 18. The Germans had invaded France and would be here soon her Grandmother told her. She was to go to Paris to live with her cousins “until all this passed”.  “No! I want to stay with you granny!” She had cried. Suddenly, she was shook back to reality when she saw her lover’s spare uniform cap on the corner of the dresser. The Silver death’s-head Skull below the nazi eagle stared back at her mockingly. It’s black eyes as dead and lifeless as her lover’s had been the previous night.

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Setaat Safe House

Chandler suddenly awoke to several people’s laughter coming from downstairs. For a moment he was confused. He quickly grabbed his pistol and listened. His room was pitch dark, save the light coming from the hallway underneath his door. Gradually he realized where he was and what he was hearing. Getting up, he slid on his shoes, stuck the gun in his small of his back under his shirt and made his way to the bathroom where he washed his face and got himself presentable. Making his way downstairs, Chandler could tell there was quite a few people in the kitchen talking, almost all of them French. Making his way into the kitchen he saw Squires and Blakeley sitting at a table eating with Toulere. Another man and a woman were over by the stove cooking. “Ah, Captain, you are finally awake! We were wondering if you were dead up there!” Toulere said smiling. “Please have a seat and join us, are you hungry? We are having Ethan’s famous lamb stew.” Toulere asked. “Yes, starved, thank you.” Chandler replied, still a bit groggy. The woman who was over by the stove came over and brought a huge bowl of steaming stew and sat it down in front of Chandler. “Bon Appetit” The woman said smiling. “Captain Chandler, may I introduce Celia Devereaux.” Toulere said as he helped himself to more stew. Chandler stood up to shake the woman’s hand. “A Pleasure Miss Devereaux.” The woman smiled. “I just love American courtesy! You French brutes should take a lesson!” The woman gushed as she shook Chandler’s hand. Chandler was immediately taken with the woman’s beauty. She was rather tall for a French woman, at least five foot seven or eight. She had raven black hair that was drawn back into a tight pony tail and dark hazel eyes. She was wearing a powder blue dress that accentuated her athletic frame and gentle curves.  “And lest I forget, this is our resident chef and explosives expert, Ethan.” Toulere said, still eating. Chandler shook hands and greeted him, his thoughts still on this beautiful woman in front of him. “Now everybody, let’s eat, so afterwards we can drink!” Toulere exclaimed, smiling. “Spoken like a true Frenchman!” Ethan replied laughing. The rest of the room howled with laughter at the remark also. For the next ten minutes, not much was said as the group literally inhaled the pot of stew. Toulere was one of the first to finish. “Ethan, as always, that was delicious my friend. Now, on to my favorite part of the evening; Let us all retire to the study for some whiskeys and brandy!” Toulere exclaimed as got up from the table, letting out a small belch. Everybody finished up their bowls and slowly one by one, made their way into the study. Chandler was taken a back by how large the room was. In one corner sat a polished Steinway grand piano and on every wall was an eight foot tall book-case filled with hundreds of leather-bound volumes. Chandler  found a seat in a leather easy chair as Toulere handed him a whiskey and soda and then poured one for himself. Squires and Blakeley sat on the sofa, both looking full and content as ticks. Toulere soon brought them over their drinks. After a few moments, Ethan and Celia made their way in, Toulere pouring them both a brandy. With the room full, Both of them sat at the piano bench.

“So Captain, I think this would be a great time to hear your plan so we can all coordinate our efforts.” Toulere said taking a drink, “Certainly. The first order of business as you all most likely know is identifying and eliminating this Mole in the Casablanca cell. This person sold out one of our best agents, Lt. Stokes, which resulted, we believe, in the Gestapo executing him.” Chandler paused and took a drink. He noticed Celia watching him intently from across the room. “What can you tell us about this mole Captain? Henry told me you had some type of description?” Celia asked. “Yes. From a source that has been cultivated inside the Vichy Interior Ministry we know the mole is a woman, age 25 to 30, with dark hair and dark eyes. Is around five foot seven in height and goes by the code name of ‘GENIE’. We were also told she studied music in Paris, so that may be something else we can use to find her.”  Chandler replied. “That is certainly some good information Captain. I think with these details we should be able to find your mole. After all, Casablanca is not that big of a city to hide in.” Toulere replied, that infectious smile still on his face. “And what about the second part of your mission? Something about finding a Gestapo Major who had Lt. Stokes executed?” Ethan asked from behind the piano, smoking a cigarette. “Yes. Our source has told us he is most likely still in Morocco, so again, if you could use your contacts on the street to help locate him, that would be a huge help.” Chandler replied. “Of course! We will use any and all resources to help you locate this bastard mole and this German piece of shit!” Toulere exclaimed, draining his second glass of whiskey. “Celia, how about some music to lift our spirits?” Toulere exclaimed, giving her a wink from across the room. “Oui.” Celia replied. Ethan got up from the piano bench and came around the piano to refill his glass, also giving Celia a wink. Celia began playing Chopin’s Nocturne in E Flat.

The rich sound of the piano’s chords filled the study. Chandler was amazed at the acoustics of the old house, it was as if each note reverberated into the wood and came back in tune. Blakeley and Squires sat on the couch mesmerized. The potent combination of whiskey and music casting a familiar spell. Chandler even caught himself being pulled under by it all. The sheer beauty of Celia Devereaux combined with the skill in which she played was amazing. Wait. Chandler’s mind suddenly began racing. The mole has skill in music? Could that mean skill in playing the piano? Chandler’s heart began racing in time with his mind. He could feel the blood hot under his skin. Dark Hair, Five foot seven? Chandler sat up in his chair. He could feel the pistol against his back. He was tempted to slide his hand behind him and grip it, but he didn’t. Chandler made the effort to keep his face calm. He could see Toulere looking at him out of the corner of his eye. Act natural. Remember your breathing. His thoughts raced as to his next move. Should he try to warn Blakeley and Squires? He could see both of them were now half-drunk and oblivious to what was going on. The song was nearing it’s end. Chandler could feel sweat popping out of his pores on his back. He casually wiped his sweaty palms on his pants. The music stopped. Suddenly, he was jolted out of his thinking by applause in the room. Celia was standing at the piano, giving a bow and smiling. Wait, where were Toulere and Ethan? They had moved. Chandler glanced to his right and noticed Ethan behind the couch where Blakeley and Squires were sitting, both of them unaware he was behind them. Chandler could feel somebody was behind him also. He casually set down his drink to get up and turn around while at the same time moving his right hand behind him to grip his pistol. That is when he felt the cold steel barrel of a gun to his head.

“Now, Now Captain Chandler, there is no need for that.” Toulere said, reaching down and taking Chandler’s pistol. “Just sit back down and relax.” Toulere came around in front of Chandler, a P-38 Pistol levelled at him. To his right Chandler saw Ethan, armed with a Sten sub-machine gun, disarming Blakeley and Squires as well.”Well I’ll be damned!” Blakeley spoke up. “You piece of shit French turn coats!” “Lieutenant, that will be quite enough.” Chandler replied, his stony gaze levelled at Toulere standing in front of him. “OK Gentleman, that is quite enough with all the gun play, put them down.” Celia spoke as she walked over to the bar and refilled her glass of brandy. Toulere and Ethan both dropped the muzzles of their weapons. Celia came over and sat across from Chandler. She sat her drink on the side table beside her and retrieved a cigarette from her engraved gold cigarette case and lit it with her lighter. “Cigarette Captain?” Celia asked, holding the Cigarette case toward Chandler. “No thanks.” Chandler growled. “So I imagine right about now you are a tad angry and confused.” Celia said, dragging on the cigarette and exhaling the smoke. Chandler said nothing, his face growing redder by the minute. “So what should I call you, Celia or GENIE?” Chandler snapped, his eyes hot with hate. Celia, Toulere and Ethan all let out a loud laugh. “Oh my Captain, you are confused, aren’t you!?” Celia exclaimed, her face animated with concern. “You killed one of our agents you traitor bitch!” Chandler yelled, coming up out of his chair in rage. “Easy there Captain!” Toulere exclaimed, again levelling the pistol at his head. “Please Captain! Let me help clear some things up.” With that, Celia reached up with her hand and gently pushed Toulere’s pistol barrel to the floor. “Put the gun away Henry.” she said in a hoarse whisper, her voice sad and tired. “I want to show you something Captain.”

She reached over and handed Chandler her gold Cigarette case. “Captain, would you please read the inscription on that case aloud?” Chandler snapped the case away from Celia, still giving her a hard look. As Chandler’s eyes began reading the inscription, suddenly his whole countenance changed. “What does it say Captain?” Squires asked from across the room, a look of concern and confusion on his face. Chandler shook his head in disbelief. “It says To Anna from Hans, Always.” “Who the Fuck is Anna and Hans?” Blakeley exclaimed, his face red with anger. “I am Anna, Lieutenant.” Celia said as she stood up and ground out her cigarette in the ashtray on the side table. Chandler was still shaking his head in disbelief as the puzzle pieces fell together in his mind. Chandler looked up at Celia. “And Hans would he Major Hans Gruedell of the German Gestapo here in Casablanca, yes?” Chandler asked. Celia smiled as she took a drink of her brandy. “You would be correct Captain.” “Wait a fucking minute! You mean Gruedell, the same hun we are here to kill?” Blakeley exclaimed. “The very one Lieutenant.” Celia replied, still staring at Chandler. “That still does not explain how Stokes was betrayed.” Chandler asked, returning Celia’s stare. “Well Captain, before I get into that, I think you and me are gonna need another stiff drink, do you mind?” Celia offered Chandler her glass. Chandler got up from his seat and took her glass. He walked over to the bar and refilled his glass with whiskey and Celia’s with brandy, all the time Toulere watching him like a hawk. Handing the drink back to Celia Chandler sat back down. “Ok, so tell me the story Anna or Celia or whoever the fuck you are.” “First things first Captain. Your Lieutenant Stokes is alive. Gruedell did not have him killed after he transmitted that fake message. He figured he might need him for something later. He is being held in a Gestapo jail outside Casablanca.” Celia spoke matter of factly now. Her voice was Flat, with no emotion. “Bullshit.” Chandler raised his hand like he was brushing away a fly. “Our source in the Vichy Interior Ministry confirmed his death.” Chandler spat. Again, Celia, Toulere and Ethan laughed loudly in unison. “Your so-called source in the Vichy Interior Ministry is a German double-agent Captain. She is the one who betrayed Stokes and has been feeding the OSS and SOE command a bullshit supper for months.” Celia lit another cigarette. Chandler wanted to speak, to give some kind of rebuttal, but he couldn’t, he was dumbfounded.

“How do you know all this?” Squires spoke up from across the room. “I am Major Hans Gruedell’s lover, one of the most senior members of the Gestapo and Abwehr in Casablanca and have access to his mind, his conversations and paperwork, that is how I know.” Celia said flatly. “The source in the Interior Ministry was developed by one of Donovan’s top agents in Bern.” Chandler replied, still trying to shoot holes in this crazy story being presented to him. “Yes. a Mr. Dulles, correct?” Ethan spoke up this time, walking from behind the couch with the Sten gun. “Correct.” Chandler replied. “Yeah, Dulles was the target of a Disinformation program by the Abwehr. They exploited a relationship between a French diplomat Dulles was friendly with and the Diplomat’s niece working in the Interior Ministry. It took them six months, but they were successful.” Ethan laid down the Sten and got a cigarette out of his shirt pocket and lit it. “How come you did not notify HQ of this? Why are you just telling us this now!” Chandler asked angrily, his face beginning to get red again. “Think about it Captain. Your entire North African network was compromised. We were not about to transmit this information to HQ only to have it fed back to the Germans and then get hunted down like dogs and killed! No, the only way we were going to do this was face to face, with the team they sent, like we are right now, and even then, we were taking a chance that your team were part of the deception too, sent here to kill us, so you can see why we were being cautious” Celia took a final drag of her cigarette and crushed the butt. Chandler shook his head and looked at the floor. “I’ll be damned.” he said softly to himself. “It’s a classic disinformation program guys.” Chandler said looking at Squires and Blakeley. “The Germans fed us all these details about Celia down to her being a music student to further convince us she was the mole so we would kill her, no questions asked, once she was exposed!” Chandler got up and walked over to the window, still trying to absorb it all. “You started out by telling us that Lt. Stokes is alive. Do you know where he is?” Squires asked. “Not only do we know where he is, we have developed a plan to break him out.” Toulere replied smiling, walking over to the couch and sitting down, slapping Squires on the back. “And as you say in America ‘To put the cherry on top’ of all this, Celia has developed a plan to not only kill Gruedell, but also the traitor vichy bitch at the Interior Ministry. It is a two for one deal, no!” Toulere laughed hysterically at his own joke, slapping his leg.

Blakeley got up and walked over to the window with Chandler. “What do you think of all this Captain?” Chandler stared out the window blankly, as if trying to divine an answer from the darkness. “It a crazy business we are in Blakeley. It’s not black and white like they tell you in training. It’s much more complicated than that.” Chandler replied. Squires walked over and joined them, feeling as if he had to close ranks. Celia, Toulere and Ethan all sat down on the couch together, holding hands. “So, Captain Chandler. there it all is. We are offering to help break your man out of jail and in addition kill a high-ranking Gestapo officer and a German double agent who has been feeding your OSS and SOE high command a steady diet of bullshit for the past few months, what do you say?” Celia asked smiling. Chandler continued looking out the window for a moment. He then turned around and faced them, a look of concentration on his face.”First things first. Give us our fuckin’ guns back. ” Celia smiled at that and nodded for Toulere to give them their guns. “Next. Celia, you Show me you plan from start to finish. Toulere and Ethan, take Blakeley and Squires here and show them all your hardware and explosives.” Chandler walked over and extended his hand to Celia. “Do we have a deal?” Celia stood up and shook his hand with a firm grip. Chandler was again impressed at her self-confidence. “I have one question before we begin Captain.” Celia said. “What’s that?” Chandler replied. “How did your HQ in London know that the message Lt. Stokes sent was dis-information fabricated by the Germans?” Celia eyes were wide waiting for the response. “Oh that was easy, he sent the X-Code before the transmission.” Chandler replied. Celia laughed and looked at Toulere and Ethan in disbelief. “You have no ideal how much that drove the German’s crazy! Gruedell talked about it for days!” Celia exclaimed. Chandler smiled at that and fished a cigarette out of a pack in his front shirt pocket. Celia promptly lit it with her gold pencil lighter. “Well, let’s see if we can’t manage to aggravate these German sons-of-bitches a little bit more, whatta you say?” Chandler asked, looking at the whole group, his eyes gleaming with excitement. Toulere let out a wild French yell and soon the tension and anxiety were replaced by excitement and joy. Lt. Stokes was alive and Major Hans Gruedell and the lying vichy bitch were soon going to die. It was a good day for the OSS and the French Resistance.

To be Continued….

The X-Code and the Genie (Chapter 1)

A World War II Novelette of Espionage

Part 1 of the OSS Trilogy

casablanca

 I.

Casablanca, 1942, German Abwehr HQ

 Lt. Bernard E. Stokes of the Special Operations Executive or SOE, was dying of massive internal bleeding from a brutal interrogation session when his captors sat him down at a table in front of his MK III radio set. After a few minutes  Stumbannfuhrer (Major) Hans Gruedell of the Gestapo came into the room smoking a french cigarette. Gruedell was your proto-typical German officer. Slim and tall, around six feet two with sharp, angular features and sandy blonde hair.  After taking a seat across from Stokes, being careful to avoid the blood and vomit, he handed over two pieces of paper to Stokes. The first was his one time pad and signal plan copied from a silk handkerchief the Germans had found sewn into Stokes pants. It contained the times, frequencies and three-letter call signs Stokes used to communicate with his handlers at Baker Street. The second piece of paper was a message the Abwehr wanted Stokes to transmit. The Major offered Stokes a cigarette before lighting up another. Stokes declined. “Lt. Stokes let me be clear on some things before you begin to transmit that message.” The major spoke pristine English with just a hint of Bavarian. “We know your specific teams fist or style in addition to knowing your specific duress signals, so please do not insult us by trying any so-called shenanigans in trying to alert your superiors in London to our presence or I promise you the beating you just received will seem like gentle love-taps. Are we clear?” Stokes looked up at the Major through his one eye that was not swollen shut and nodded in the affirmative. “Wunderbar” the Major replied smiling while looking at his watch.”The next transmission time is at 6:32 precisely, I believe, that gives us right at five minutes, so prepare yourself Lieutenant.” Looking at the message he was about to transmit with his one good eye, several things ran through Stokes’ mind. The first was that his long-held suspicions were now confirmed. The Moroccan SOE circuit definitely had a mole in their ranks. His capture 12 hours ago was not because of bad tradecraft or even bad luck, he had been set up by somebody in their cell. This suspicion was further confirmed by what the Major had just said “We know your specific teams fist and duress signals?” How the hell could they have known that information unless it had been reported to them? The second thing was this message. It was a piece of pure disinformation from start to finish. It stated a high-ranking Abwehr agent would be in Casablanca for a highly secretive meeting three days from now and that this would present a perfect opportunity for a “snatch and grab.” This was nothing but an attempt to lure more SOE agents in for the express purpose of interrogation and torture. Stokes coughed up more blood, this time with small pieces of lung mixed in. He could feel his body wanting to shut down, but he also knew he had to warn London somehow before he died. As he prepared to transmit the message, the Major hovered over him, watching him like a hawk. Stokes suddenly became dizzy and his head flopped down on the table with a loud “Whop!” in a performance that would have made Hollywood proud. The Major panicked and quickly walked out of the room to fetch a Doctor, leaving Stokes alone. Stokes seized this moment. He quickly changed the dial to the emergency frequency and the three-letter call designator and transmitted the following one letter: ” X”. He then changed the frequency and call sign back to the original just as the Major came back in with a beady eyed and bald Nazi Doctor. The Doctor opened a small black bag and removed a syringe and promptly gave Stokes an injection and a curt slap in the face. “That should keep him alert for the next 30 minutes or so, after that he is beyond medical help. If you wanted more use out of him, you should have not let your goons beat the goose shit out of him. Heil Hitler!” The Doctor raised his hand in a quick salute and walked out. Stokes gave a faint smile hearing that, because although he knew he would be dead in the next hour, he also knew he had done his duty despite the enemies best efforts. “For King and Country…” Stokes muttered as he felt the amphetamine injection kick in and he began clicking off the message.

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London, Noresby House, 83 Baker Street (SOE HQ)

 Major Peter Reynolds, The on-duty watch officer, had just poured his second cup of tea when one of the young portly girls who monitor the North African frequencies burst into his office waving two pieces of paper frantically. Upon reading both, Reynolds immediately got up and walked to the watch safe. Slowly Turning the tumbler with the combination, he opened the thick safe door, moved the Loaded Webley Revolver to the side (a safeguard in all SOE safes) and broke out the Duty Officer Emergency Procedures (DOEP) Binder and started going down the Standard Operating Procedure list. “Get on the Phone and Wake Everybody Up.” he snapped to the girl as he walked back to his office looking at the binder.”Everybody sir?” The girl asked with a quizzical look. “If they have a pulse, wake them up” Reynolds replied curtly. Sitting down at his desk he turned to the red divider labelled “X”.

Upon receiving the pre-designated one one letter code “X” on the designated NAC (North African Circuit) trouble frequency (7133.766) and verifying the three letter call sign (XPD). Complete Circuit Penetration and Compromise of Network and Agents must be assumed. The following steps are to be taken with much haste:

  1. Contact NAC’s on following frequency: 7145.894 and three-letter designator:  VBW.
  2. Transmit ONLY the Following Code: X9
  3. Repeat this Transmission in (4 ) minute intervals for precisely One Hour (15 Transmissions Total)
  4. Receipt Code is: H9. Under Duress Receipt Code is: P9.
  5. All Agents Must Be Accounted For within 12 Hours from First Transmission.

Reynolds quickly got up from his chair and yelled for the Chief Radio Operator. A fair-haired and freckled Lt. not barely 21, came running from behind a bank of radio’s. “Follow these instructions verbatim Lieutenant, if you have any problems, come directly to me, understood?” The Major handed the boy the instructions. He could see fear in the Young Boy’s face as he scanned over the papers. “Yes Sir!” the boy replied, trying to look competent. The Major smiled at the boy’s effort. “It will be alright son, just keep focused on the task at hand and Work the Problem” The Boy nodded and ran off to his station. By that afternoon, Reynolds staff had done everything possible to warn all SOE agents in the North African Circuit of the compromise. Reynolds yawned and checked his watch. It was a quarter past 8 in the evening. Reynolds had been up for close to 30 hours straight. He could barely keep his eyes open. He seriously considered collapsing on his small office couch instead of making the 15 minute drive to his home in Epsom when his phone rang. A woman’s voice on the other end politely told him that his presence was requested at #10 Downing Street immediately. A Car had been dispatched and would be picking him up in fifteen minutes. Reynold’s drowsiness instantly disappeared. Arriving at #10 his credentials were verified by the two Armed guards outside. Upon walking in, he was greeted by an attractive young woman who led him down a hall to a heavy-set of mahogany doors. Knocking once, a gruff voice on the other side boomed “Enter!” As Reynolds was led into the room, he was immediately greeted with the smell of  thick cigar smoke and French cognac in the air. Reynold’s noticed there were three men in the room. His boss, The Minister of Economic Warfare and Head of the SOE,  Roundell Palmer, was sitting by a large window in a plush leather chair, a glass of cognac in his hand. Another man, an American, whom Reynolds did not recognize, sat beside Palmer. And in the middle of the room, Sitting on the corner of his desk, a cigar in one hand and a large sifter in the other, was the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. “Come in Major.” Churchill’s said as he got up off his desk. He met Reynolds half-way across the room and shook his hand. “So good to finally meet you.” Churchill said. His handshake was firm but Reynolds noticed his eyes were tired and full or worry. “Thank You Prime Minister.” Reynolds replied. “Can I get you a drink?” Churchill asked, making his way over to a rather large bar set up on the opposite wall. Not wanting to be the odd man out in this crowd of professional drinkers, Reynolds replied “Yes Sir, please, Whiskey and Plain Water will be fine.”  Churchill poured Reynolds drink and freshened up his own. Reynolds walked over to accept it, trying not to make it too obvious he was suspiciously eyeing the man sitting beside his boss. Churchill smiled at Reynolds. “Before we continue, Major Reynolds, I  suppose I should introduce you to our American cousin. This is Colonel William Donovan of the OSS.”

At his introduction, Donovan got up from his chair and shook the Major’s hand. He was a large man with massive hands and an infectious, irish smile. “Major, it’s a pleasure.” Donovan said. Reynolds smiled back. “Thank You Colonel. Alright, now that we have the introductions and pleasantries out-of-the-way, let’s get down to brass tacks.” Churchill said as he motioned for both men to sit down. “Minister Palmer has just briefed me on the recent unfortunate events in Casablanca.”  Churchill said as he took a seat behind his desk. Reynolds immediately went into briefing mode as was his usual custom. “Yes Prime Minister, we have taken all appropriate measures to warn not just Casablanca, but all of our North African Networks of the compromise. And what of the agent who sent the warning, Stokes, was it?” Churchill asked, his eyes dead focused on Reynolds. “We have had no further communications from Lt. Stokes Prime Minister. Unfortunately we fear he has been killed by the Gestapo.” Reynolds replied. “And the message that proceeded the warning? What do you make of it?” Churchill replied. “Well Sir, we obviously have to view it as pure fiction. It is my belief, as I have shared with Minister Palmer in my initial report, that Stokes somehow was able to transmit the warning code “X” before transmitting this message under duress, which would of course render the entire message moot.” Reynolds replied. Minister Palmer leaned forward in his chair. “The Message also confirms our long-held suspicion that we have a mole in the Casablanca cell. The Germans knew of our cell’s specific “fist”, or way of transmitting morse, in addition to knowing the specific duress signals. Those signals are routinely changed, so the only way they could have known is somebody in the network told them.” Churchill sat back in his chair, digesting the information. He drew on his cigar and the tip became a cherry red ember, then he exhaled the blue-gray smoke to form a large cloud that hovered over the four men.. He then nodded his head toward Donovan for him to take the floor. “The Prime Minister has filled me in on all the details of your problems gentleman and I think I may have a solution. The way me and my fellow associates at the OSS see the situation is that you need to do two things here to get things rolling again in Morocco, because shutting down Operations is just not an option with things set to kick off in November with Torch. The first is to flush out this mole in your network. The Second is to strike back at the Gestapo and the German intelligence apparatus for this heinous act. Would you two gents agree with that summary?” Donovan’s eyes twinkled with excitement. Both Palmer and Reynolds nodded in the affirmative. “Great. What I have in mind is an insertion of a three-man team into Casablanca via airdrop. One of mine and two of yours. I have a man specifically geared for this type of work. He trained with the newly formed Army Rangers in Northern Ireland and has been working with the Polish Resistance ever since. His name is Captain Logan Chandler.”

“Colonel, I have no problem with a mission of this type but if I may ask, what do you have in mind for striking back at the Abwehr?” Palmer asked. Donovan shot a glance over at Churchill and smiled. “Me and your Prime Minister have had a very fortunate event fall right into our laps to help you do that very thing. A French Diplomat who is now in exile here in London has a niece who works for the Vichy French Interior Ministry in Casablanca. She is a former lover of my deputy in Bern, Allen Dulles. Through some very hard work on the part of Mr. Dulles, this young woman has turned into a very valuable asset and has been feeding us treasure regarding all German activities in North Africa for two solid months now via coded letters she sends to her uncle here in London once or twice a month.” Donovan took a breath and took a long drink of his whiskey, letting the information sink in with Palmer and Reynolds. “That is some amazing stuff Colonel.” Reynolds remarked, a thin smile on his lips. “Oh, hang on to your hat, because I have not even got to the good stuff yet…” Donovan replied, looking at Churchill again with a cheshire-cat grin. Churchill smiled back and toked on his cigar. “Our French Asset can give us a profile of the Gestapo Major who had Lt. Stokes executed and has provided us with the code name and description of the mole inside the Casablanca network.”  You could have heard a pin drop inside the room at that moment. Palmer and Reynolds looked at each other dumbfounded. “So you see Gentleman, we will be sending this team in with everything, and I do mean everything, they are going to need to get your Casablanca networks up and running again and also put some serious hurt on the huns!” Churchill stood and raised his glass. “I do believe this calls for a toast gentleman.” All three men stood and raised their glasses. “Down with Hitler.” Churchill exclaimed in a loud voice, the tone somber and deep, like one of his great speeches of 1940. The sound of the three men’s voices repeating the phrase echoed loudly in unison and could be heard by everybody at #10 Downing Street that late evening in 1942.

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RAF Tempsford Airfield (SOE/OSS Staging Area) 

Captain Logan Chandler walked into Briefing Hut #2 to find the other two members of his team waiting on him. Chandler was  just over six-foot with a stout frame, nearing two hundred pounds. His Scots-Irish roots gave him his dark hair, eyes and complexion which had him mistaken often for a Frenchman. He wore “sterilized” common green GI fatigues with no name-tape or rank. On his web belt he wore a Government issue 1911 Pistol in a cut-away flap holster and Fairbairn/Sykes OSS Dagger. Both men stood as Chandler approached. The first man was a small and skinny with round wire rim glasses and resembled a book-keeper in fatigues. His locks of reddish hair added to his boyish looks. “Lt. Archie Squires, Communications and Linguist.” Squires saluted as Chandler approached. Chandler returned the salute and shook hands. “How is your German Squires?” Chandler asked. “Mein Deutsch ist sehr gut Sir, es hat einen Hauch von München Akzent Ich habe gesagt worden.” Squires responded with a huge smile. Chandler smiled back. “Very Good Squires! A Munich accent will come in very handy!” The second man was bigger, with blonde hair and light blue eyes full of mischief. “Lt. Peter Blakely, Explosives and Aviation. I can blow anything up and fly anything with wings should the need arise.” Chandler smiled at the remark. “That may come in very handy Lieutenant.” Chandler shook hands with Blakely and asked both men to be seated. Behind Chandler was an enlarged map of French Morocco plus several aerial reconnaissance photos. “This Operation has been named BLACKJACK and is being pressed forward at the very highest levels of Government, so I will not waste your time with bullshit. This is a find and kill mission, pure and simple. You have both been briefed as to the particulars, but I will go over the plan in some broad strokes. Our cover identities and documents have us listed as French laborers from Lyon. I know you both speak French but it would also be prudent to work on your Lyonese accent and also be knowledgeable of the history of Lyon in general. I would not put it past some asshole Vichy Gendarmerie or SS stooge to ask you questions if he feels suspicious.” Chandler picked up a long wooden pointer near the board. “We will be dropped in 20 miles outside Casablanca, where we will then rendezvous with a member of the French Resistance in Morocco. He will then transport us to a safe-house near the town of Settat, here.” Chandler pointed to a small red dot on the map. “Our plan as it stands right now is to stay clear of all SOE network safe-houses. As you all know, the warning signal for total compromise of the network, the X-Code, was transmitted after Lt. Stokes was captured and subsequently executed. HQ received receipt of the code by all agents in country and as of this morning we were notified they had all made it out of Morocco without incident and are en route to England as we speak” Chandler flipped the board over where several black and white head shot pictures were displayed. “OK, so on to identifying this fucking mole. Counter-Intelligence has cleared all five SOE agents working in Morocco and Algeria. The only agent that has not been cleared, is a French asset that was recruited six months ago that goes by the code-name of GENIE.”

“As you can see we have no picture and we obviously cannot wait for the agents to return to England to give us a description. Luckily, we have an ace in the hole. A source that was developed within the Vichy Interior Ministry in Casablanca has told us the mole is indeed a woman, a french national around the age of 25 to 30. Dark Hair, Dark eyes about five foot seven in height. The source also added this woman has had musical training at the Conservatoire International de Musique in Paris, so keep that in mind, it might help in identifying her. As Chandler took a break and got a drink of water, Lt. Blakeley raised his hand. “Captain what of the other target, the Gestapo Major, can the source help us find him too?” Chandler shook his head yes and picked up the pointer. “Yes. Our source has verified that this man, Major Hans Gruedell.” Chandler pointed to a photo on the board. “Was indeed the officer who had Lt. Stokes executed. Apart from that we know he has been attached to the Abwehr operations in North Africa for some time. Hitler as you all know, has severe distrust of his own Intelligence agency, so he keeps his SS and Gestapo goons close by. Concerning Gruedell’s location, we are fairly certain with some help from the local French network that we should be able to locate him. It has also been suggested by Command that if we do get the chance to kill more  than one Gestapo, SS or Abwehr oficer other than just Gruedell, we should be prepared to do so, which is where your explosives come in, Mr, Blakeley.”  Blakeley responded with a loud “Yes Sir!” “As far as our exfil plan, per SOE procedure we have worked up a primary and contingency. Our primary exfil will be a French Freighter named The Tourterelle or The Turtle Dove, she will depart Rabat one week from tomorrow at midnight. Our contingency exfil will be to steal a plane at one of the local airports. I have the name of several contacts in the French network that can help us in finding one. Being there are three of us, I hope you can fly a transport or something with three seats Blakeley. So Gentleman that is the plan in a nutshell. Any more questions?” Both men shook their heads no. “Well then I suggest we all get some rest. We are set to be wheels up in just under 12 hours if the weather holds.” Squires and Blakeley both got up and  shook hands with Chandler and left  for the barracks. Chandler lingered behind. So many thoughts raced through his mind before a mission. Had he thought of everything? Had he prepared adequately? He let out a long sigh and before walking out the door said a quick prayer. “Dear God, please don’t let me screw this one up.”

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To Be Continued…..