A matter of life and … what’s worse than death – Episode 19

For a story that was conceived during those long boring hours flying in a steel cocoon, striving to keep away the thoughts that the plane and everyone in it could just simply disappear as planes have in the past, it has come a long way.

Whilst I have always had a fascination in what happened during the second world war, not the battles or fighting, but in the more obscure events that took place, I decided to pen my own little sidebar to what was a long and bitter war.

And, so, it continues…

 

Marina drove the truck slowly and carefully, without the benefit of headlights on a night that have become very dark when cloud cover moved in.  A good night to be out on foot, but not in a few tons of metal.

It seemed to take longer to go back to the old factory, if that was what it was, or it may have just been my imagination.  Certainly, it was rather tense in the cabin.

I wondered if what Chiara had said about not trusting me had made Marina have second thoughts of taking me back.  From where we were, I would have no idea where it was, and if she dropped me off, I could not find it again.

And that fear came true a few minutes later when she pulled off to the side of the road, near some trees, and stopped, turning off the engine.

The silence crept over us like a fog.

Such was the atmosphere I found myself whispering, “What’s wrong.”

“Lights.  Appearing briefly and disappearing.  Like someone is following us.”

She sat still for about five minutes, looking intently at the rear vision mirrors, and at times turning around to stare of the small window at the back of the cabin.

I did too, but I couldn’t see anything, nor had I, but I hadn’t thought to look in the rear vision mirrors because I thought we were safe.  How wrong I was, to assume that.  If there was one lesson I should learn from what I was doing, was that I should know what’s going on around me and that at no time could I ever believe I’m safe.  The moment I did and let my guard down, I would be dead.  I’d been told that in London, and in a relaxed moment, I’d forgotten it.  How many others had done the same and died?

A shake of her head, she got out of the truck, and quietly closed the door.  I did likewise and joined her at the rear.

“What’s happening?”

“I’m going to check back over the road, see if there’s anyone following us.  There have been too many instances of lights for it to be coincidental.”

“Since we left the church?”  In thinking that, it meant that either Chiara or Enrico may have inadvertently, or deliberately, told someone about the meeting.

I hope it’s just my imagination, but it was shortly after we left I saw the first light.”

“Could be a local farmer stumbling around at night.”

“It could, but no one is that silly to be caught out after dark.  There was a curfew, and most of us like to believe there still is.”

She looked back down the road, but all I could see was inky blackness.  The moon was still hidden by dark clouds above, and it looked like there was going to be rain.

“I’ll come with you.”

“You’d be better off staying here.  The last thing I need is a soldier stomping around in the dark.”

Thanks for the compliment, I thought.  “Then I’ll have to be quiet, and try not to stomp.”

Even in the darkness I could feel rather than see the scowl on her face.

“As you wish, but don’t get in my way, and don’t make me shoot you.”


Short and wiry, she was built for stealth and speed, unlike the bulky soldier I was.  Not that I was overfed and fat, but I was still a larger target than she was.  I could just see her outline in front of me, and she was moving very quietly.

I was trying very hard to emulate her.

Then I saw it.  A light going on briefly, then off, definitely in the direction we had just come from.

She had stopped and I nearly ran into her.

“You were right,” I said quietly.

“I was hoping I wouldn’t be.”

So had I.  The last thing we needed was trouble, trouble that would have to be eliminated.  She couldn’t have anyone else knowing about their hiding places, and meeting points.

A few minutes further along, we both heard a strange sound at the same time.

A wheel scraping against a fender?  There was no engine noise.  It became louder, then we saw what it was.  Someone riding a bicycle.  Close to the edge of the road so as to remain hidden from view because of the turns in the road, which would account for seeing the light at odd times.  At the front, there was a light that was taped to show only a thin slit of light.

I saw her look around, then take hold of a long branch that had recently fallen off one of the trees, pared it down, and then waited.  I could see what she was going to do.

When the bike came alongside, moving slowly because it was up a hill, and the rider was labouring hard, she poked the stick through the spokes of the front wheel, the rider just seeing her at the last moment, and not being able to avoid her.

The result was predictable, the rider went flying over the handlebars and crashed into the hard ground with a thud and a loud grunt.  

My role was to jump on the rider so he, or she, couldn’t escape.  Marina was right behind me and jammed a dirty rag in the persons mouth as I held them very tightly under me.

“Now what?”

This was not going to work for very long as the person under me was beginning to kick and thrash about.  In a few seconds, the gag would be spat out and the silence would be shattered.

I heard the gun before I saw it, a whooshing sound near my ear just before it hit the head of the captive, and suddenly there was no more movement or sound.

“A moment’s silence.”

We rolled the figure over, and looked at the face, just visible in the near darkness.  We had just been blessed with a shard of moonlight for a few seconds.

A man.

“You know him?” she asked.

Another look, just as the clouds shut off the light, and I thought so.

“One of the soldiers from the castle.  How would he know we were meeting at the church?”

“He might not.  Nor might he be following us, but just unlucky.”

“How so?”

“Chiara sometimes entertains men from the castle.  Part of our eyes and ears.  She was not part of the resistance when Fernando was in charge so they would just use her like any other enemy soldier would.”

“So this was a mistake.  If he doesn’t return, then they’ll get the wrong idea.”

“Unfortunately.  He has to be dealt with.”

“Killed?”

“No time to get squeamish on me.  He’s an enemy soldier.”

An enemy I preferred to be some distance away from before shooting to kill.  Up close and personal makes it so much harder.

“Come on.  Grab his shoulders.  There’s a gully over there, so we can make it look like he ran into a tree, tipped off the bike and hit his head on a rock.”

“Or a gun.”

“A few hits with a rock will fix that.  I’m sure there’s no one up there that can do autopsies on bodies.”

No, there wasn’t.  I just hoped I was not going to be the one that had to hit him.


Ten minutes later it was done.

We carried him to the gully, and at a suitable place laid the body as if it had landed off the bike and onto the rocks, where Marina picked up a large one and hit him several times with a lot of force the last making a sickening sound, and the blow that killed him.

I went back and collected the bicycle and staged it to meet the crash criteria, and then left.

For all intents and purposes, he had died falling off his bike after wandering off the road in the dark.

Both of us hoped it would not cause Chiara any trouble.

And, it was the first person I’d seen killed up close, and I doubted, in the coming days it would be the last.  It was not a sight I was going to forget in a hurry.

© Charles Heath 2019

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