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 with 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…
It was about a mile by foot to the old church. Carlo was waiting for us, and then led the way because I wasn’t sure where it was, even though I’d been there once, and hadn’t really been taking any notice.
It was enough time to ask Blinky a few questions about how things were going because he would have a better overall view of the war being involved in the operational side of things. Thompson’s group of which I was a part, only had our part in a much larger war effort involving a number of covert operations.
It wasn’t going well, not that he put it in so many words, and it looked like it was going to drag on a while longer. Beyond that, he was not saying anything more. Perhaps he didn’t know, or perhaps he thought the trees had ears.
I know, loose lips sink ships.
Carlo was indifferent, though I could see he was not happy about Leonardo not turning up so we could kill him and his men. For me, I had an awfully bad feeling we had missed something, and the end result of it was not going to be good.
And that feeling of foreboding only increased the closer we got to the church ruins.
Blinky was shocked to learn that the Germans would destroy a church and kill the priest. I guess a lot of people would be if they knew.
When we were about 50 yards from the entrance, I saw one of Blinky’s men show his face, behind a gun raised just in case we were not friends. When he saw Blinky with us, he lowered the gun and stepped out of the shadows so we could see him.
Closer again, I could see the soldier was looking quite distraught.
“What’s the matter?” Blinky asked him.
“When we got here, we went inside the church. God, it was awful. There’s a woman in there, and…”
I almost ran, and at the end, lying on the ground was a woman, with the Sergeant trying to do what he could.
Carlo bustled past and was first to her side.
“Chiara,” he said hoarsely.
Chiara? What was she doing here? How did she get here? What had happened?
I joined Carlo on the other side. She was awake but in a terrible state. Whoever inflicted punishment on her had been very brutal. The sergeant had managed to cover her broken body with the remnants of her clothes and had tried to clean away some of the blood.
She had been beaten severely and she had the sort of wounds I’d seen before, a result of both fists and weapons. Torture used to extract information, and, with a sinking feeling, I knew exactly what information Leonardo would be after.
And equally, I knew there would be no point getting to the underground hideout. All I could hope for was that some, if not all who had been taken there for their safety, had escaped. But, without forewarning…
She looked from Carlo to me.
“What happened,” I asked.
“Leonardo. I went out to collect one of the family members and ran into Leonardo and his men.
They brought me here, and…” It was spoken haltingly, as each breath, each word, brought on new and sharp pain. She was having trouble breathing, and the blood coming out her mouth told me it was possible she had broken ribs and a punctured lung.
I hoped not, but it was a forlorn hope. There was little we would be able to do for her, and moving her, and finding proper medical help was going to be almost impossible.
At the end of that first speech, I saw her shudder, and then moan as waves of pain passed through her.
The Sargent had a field medical kit and had taken out a syringe which I assumed had morphine. She was going to need it.
“This should take away the pain,” he said to no one in particular, then administered it.
For a moment I thought it had rendered her unconscious, but a minute or so later she opened her eyes again. Glassy, but there was a shred of relief in them.
“You’re going to have to move her to somewhere better than this. There’s a lot of damage, and it’s going to be difficult.” The Sargent knew he was fighting a losing battle.
I got the impression it wasn’t the worst he’d seen.
I felt her hand touch mine, and she said, softly, “Tell Martina I’m sorry.”
“I’m not the brave person she thinks I am. I couldn’t withstand the torture. I tried, I tried very hard, but I couldn’t stop myself…” Again, it was in dispersed with wheezing, breathlessness, and bouts of pain when she tried to breathe in. I almost couldn’t quite understand her, because her English was not as good as Martina’s.
It confirmed my worst fear, that Leonardo knew where Martina and the others were hiding.
I jumped up. “Blinky, stay here, do what you can for her. Carlo…”
He was up and heading for the exit. He heard, and he knew what it meant.
Blinky took my place, and said, “Go. We’ll be here when you get back.”
For a big man, Carlo was fast, and it took until we’d almost reached the underground entrance before I caught up with him.
© Charles Heath 2020