Reflections and Resolutions
Reflections POV: Goniff
The silence in the car was deafening in itself. Every man in the car was wrapped up in his own thoughts. They pulled up in front of what passed for home at present. As they got out, three went inside, one started in, then changed his mind.
The gloomy night suited his mood right now. He decided to walk down the Roman Road to walk off the gloom. Maybe he’ll find some mates from the old days at the pub. He needed some cheer right now.
As he walked, memories of the old days came back. He grinned as someone took advantage of an inattentive lorry driver as they pinched some things out of the back. He watched critically as some of the up and coming teens practiced their pickpocket skills on the unsuspecting. He shook his head. They had a long way to go to make it to the professional leagues! As he looked around, he noticed Hackney hadn’t gone untouched from the Blitz. That didn’t help his mood any.
He came to the old, familiar local. Just as he was about to go in, he heard a homely voice shout, “’ey, Goniff, mate; good to see you now!” He turned and grinned to see a woman about fifteen years or so older than him rush toward him, carrier bags in hand.
“Sally! Stingo Sally, what a sight! ‘ere let me give you an ‘and!” He took one of her bags and offered her his arm.
“Your Mum always taught you right! You’re always a gentleman.” They made their way to a corner table. He ordered two pints and turned to Sally. “Look at you in uniform. I wouldn’t have thought that of you! Mum and Molly must be proud, they must!”
He gave a crooked, slightly embarrassed grin. “They ain’t seen me in the uniform. The government made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and that’s ‘ow I’m here and in the uniform. I told Mum in letters and she was chuffed.” The grin faded to heavier thoughts as the beers arrived.
“Now something’s amiss, I can tell. You can’t ‘ide anything from Old Sally; you never could. Out with it, lad!”
“Now, Sally, I want to know how it is with you and your family. You’re like another aunt to me.”
“Things don’t change much. First flat got taken out in one of the Blitz attacks. Salvaged everything I could and got another flat with the council’s help. Manage to salvage bits like usual to sell from what people don’t want. Same old this, same old that. Now, lad, think of me as that Auntie. Talk to your Auntie Sals.”
He started to tell her about the Warden, about the others, but mostly about the Warden. He told her about he was the last to leave a firefight to make sure the men in his team were safe. He told her about giving him a hard time, teasing him that he was trying to win the war by himself and his team. He then got very serious, telling her about the time he could have stood down from a mission and let them face a suicide mission, but he was going to stand or fall with his men.
“Sals, on that mission, he was the one that got shot! And after everything he went through and we weren’t always good watching his back, he pulled us together to complete the other half of the mission. Now ‘e’s in the stockade for something he didn’t and couldn’t do! We tried to spring him, but he wouldn’t have none of it! Don’t know why we bothered,” he said bitterly. “’e can speak French and German. He knows so many of the people on the continent, he could be free as a bird there and still fight the Jerries! Me, I can just come back ‘ere, Actor can go to Italy, Casino to New York. Chiefy might have problems but I think he’d make it.”
“Goniff, from what you told me, he couldn’t do nothing different,” Goniff looked up in surprise. “He is a man who can only live one way, and that’s straight and honest. He didn’t grow up in Hackney, dodging this and that. You can flit ‘ere and there and that’s you. I don’t think you could come back to the same old life here. This Warden of yours has changed you and you don’t know it. ‘e can’t live looking over his shoulder. ‘as he got family? What would it do to him to leave them behind and on the run? Even now, you’re upset as much FOR ‘im as angry with him for not going with you lot. I’ll bet he’s worrying about you lot as we talk.”
“Yeah, he was asking us to turn ourselves in. Said the Army might give us a break.”
“That’s the kind of man he is, that’s why you care.”
“I should just blind off now and be done with it.”
“You can’t do that. I said; you’ve changed.”
“Oh, no, you have. I wouldn’t trust you around anything shiny or if I were a mark of yours, I’d wouldn’t have bus fare to get home. But there is something that has changed. Good or bad, it’s for you to decide,” she said with a grin. “But give your Auntie Sals a kiss and be off with you. I’ll keep you, your friends, and your Warden in my thoughts. And give my love to your Mum and Molly.”
He kissed on her cheek. “Thanks, Sals. You take care. I’d better get back in case the guys have come up with something.” They walked out of the pub together. They parted and he headed back. He turned around to wave, but could only see a shadow in the fog. He headed off, not lighter hearted perhaps, but he wasn’t as down. There has to be a way out of this, and maybe they will find the key. Or maybe Casino could pick the lock!
Reflections POV: Casino
The drive away from the headquarters/court martial was made in silence. As far as Casino was concerned, he wouldn’t have heard a brass band playing next to him. There were so many thoughts and emotions running through him, he just wanted out of the car, whether to scream or take his mood out on the public at large.
They arrived at their lodgings for the present. Casino paced and paced in the great room until Actor drove him out. He went out into the alley, pulled out a cigarette, and continued the pacing. The actions of the last couple of hours, the argument, his storming out with the others, and all kinds of emotions were swirling within him.
First and foremost was self-preservation. He had no intentions of going back to Leavenworth. His only chances were New York, Jersey, or maybe Chicago. He could pull a share of what Goniff had gotten from Maxie to cover transportation and stake him. He had connections, a reputation. He could pick up pretty much where he left off. Or could he? Goniff could make his way in England and Actor could do well anyplace in Europe. Chief and he were the fish out of water.
“Of all the pig-headed, stubborn people I have ever met, you take the cake, Warden!” he seethed. “You don’t know what’s ahead for you. I DO!” He knew the Warden was a tough man, hell he had to be, to be first in his class at West Point, and the injuries he sustained on missions proved it, but he had no idea of what life in Leavenworth would be like. Life? It wasn’t life, it was barely existence. It was claw, claw, claw for any little thing, especially self- preservation. Like Actor, he had the language and connections to make a life for himself on the continent. He was throwing all of that away, and for what? To spend years in that pit for something he didn’t do?
Oh yeah, the Warden was human; he could fear and bleed like anyone. To desert the men under him? No matter how inexperienced he was or the situation, that wasn’t Garrison. Still, he was a very junior officer at the time.
No, he still couldn’t and wouldn’t run. To leave men to die? No! He stood by him and the others when he could have gotten off a probable suicide mission. HE was the one wounded that day, not the others. He saw men from other units injured and caught the momentary look of pain and sympathy for others before the reality of survival and the mission took over.
He still felt a little sense of betrayal that he wouldn’t come away. They put their lives and freedom on the line for him! No one would do anything like that in Leavenworth! It was self or die. Apart from guys who were family or gang, you look after yourself first. It was something he never dreamed he would risk for a stranger, even one who dangled the carrot of a parole for him.
He went back to the memory of that suicide mission. He went back to the memory of another mission where he ran to storm a machine gun nest so his men would be safe and that “bucket of tubes” could get back to the Allies. The memories of other missions came back of him staying behind to cover the safety of those in his charge. Then another memory played back. While he was turning down their offer of escape, he was concerned about them. He tried to get them to turn themselves in to perhaps get clemency for their actions because of their service. He shook his head. The Warden would never change!
Maybe that is why he was still here instead of striking out on his own. He wasn’t the same cocky con of a year ago. He couldn’t desert the Warden but didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t understand the man willing to spend years in the pen for something he didn’t do rather than escape. He had made a comment about looking over his shoulder for years. Casino hadn’t thought about that. That was a way of life for him, dodging the cops, nothing out of the norm. Apart from dodging the Krauts on missions, Casino doubted that Garrison ever looked over his shoulder at all in his life. He couldn’t conceive of such a life. Maybe facing the verdict and sentence was just the only way Garrison could go.
He decided to seek out Actor and see if he had any ideas. As much as he teased him about being a dandy and “ladies’ man”, he knew the man could find ideas in the strangest places. As he had said to Major Richards, “No one knows what Actor is gonna do; that’s what makes him the best in the business.” Well, time to see if Actor found a rabbit to pull out of a hat; he hoped that hat had a lot of rabbits!
Reflections: POV Chief
In a few days, his world was shaken to its core. Not that it was ever what anyone would call stable, let alone secure. Survival of the day dictated his life. Friendship? Trust? That word, even the concept was totally foreign and alien to him.
He seemed he had been living a completely new life over the last year. Yes, life was still a fight for survival, but it was not him alone against a pit of animals, all fighting for survival. He was still a convict, a prisoner, but this was different. There was a clear cut enemy and there were comrades that watched his back. He almost could call them friends, but that was not a feeling he was comfortable with. Friends and trust usually ended with him being on the wrong side of a weapon or behind prison walls.
He even had a camaraderie with some of locals at the Doves. They weren’t a bad sort over all. He almost felt more at home here in a foreign country than the land of his birth. He had a sort of acceptance from them. There were fights here and there. But those were of a friendly sort, not life and death.
Now that world that even included hope, another foreign word, was crashing down. His commander and his friend he admitted with a mental shudder was facing years in prison. In spite of the seeming evidence, he KNEW that man was innocent in his core. Cynically, he knew that didn’t matter. He and the others knew that all too well.
“Why, Warden, WHY??????????????” he said. “Why wouldn’t you let us get you away? You would be free!” In frustration and anger, he punched the wall of his room. He replayed that scene in his mind again and again. When his commander refused to take the chance of escape, he was shocked and stunned. This was a man who did not deserve to be locked away in a cage. He could survive on the continent with his contacts and languages and still carry on the fight.
He then replayed the last year in his mind: Their first mission where he stood up to a German general and pulled a con. That same mission when he took on all of them when he took on Wheeler. Their second mission when he risked his life to save him when the prison break they were planning went wrong with an inside attempt. This man risked his life again by pulling him out of a rain of bullets when he was wounded. And when they were assigned a suicide mission and he was offered a chance to stay back and live, he chose standing with his men, whether that meant life or death.
Suddenly things became clear. This was a man who could only live one way; that was with integrity and honour. He couldn’t live a lie. He couldn’t turn his back on all he had lived and sworn an oath to. That honesty and integrity were the reasons he stood by this man. He would suffer being locked away wrongfully than live a life of lies and looking over his shoulder.
Chief sighed and shrugged. Maybe Actor would have some ideas. He could find possibilities in the tiniest of details. That’s what made him so good. If they couldn’t find out what happened that night in North Africa, then he was back to life in the shadows. He did it before and could do it again. He was hoping that he could walk free and clear when the war ended, but maybe he was hoping for too much. No, the Warden would fight on until the end, and he would for the Warden’s sake too. He owed it to this man.
Reflections POV: Actor
Actor was going through page after page of records and transcripts. Even though he must have gone through them more than a dozen times, he was sure he was missing something. Smoking his pipe in the lavish great room of their hide out, he looked like a scholar, relaxed and taking his ease in reading. The background noise of pacing was beginning to grate on him though. In a rare break of self-control, he turned and glared at the pacer.
“Casino, either sit down or find some other place to pace!” he blurted. “You’re making it impossible to concentrate!” Casino looked at him with the start of a wisecrack coming out of him. Looking at Actor’s face, he decided not to test him. He gave a shrug of his shoulders and left the room. Actor just shook his head and settled back to read.
A year ago, would he be putting up with the others given an opportunity to strike out on his own? Probably not. That year seemed a lifetime ago. Even now, he was in a position none of the others could take advantage of. As an Italian and multi-lingual, he could just leave for the continent and take up a new life. He would be free to play the game again. Game. Perhaps a strange term for his life before, but that was how he treated life. Life was a con, a game, to stack his wits and cleverness against others. Besides being rewarding money-wise, it was fun to outwit those who thought themselves superior intellectually and position-wise.
Turning back to the reports, he was looking at them in a different way. This was not a game; this was a MAN’s life, freedom, and future in his eyes, mind, and hands. Looking past himself was something new. When did it start? Was it that first mission when his commander showed that he could come up with a con as good as his and could carry it off? Was it a young man in one of the other rooms on their second mission, when Garrison had been captured that pushed and pushed that they rescue him? Was it each and every mission that their commander showed he was at their side and back, probably at the cost of his career? Was it the trust he placed in him to function as a second? People placing trust in him was not something he was used to. He wasn’t playing a game this time and it was frustrating him. There had to be something he was missing in these papers!
He went back to the records of the actual night in North Africa. He then saw something that gave him an idea. With more excitement, he went through the reports again. He wanted to be sure he knew what he was going to propose. If he read his companions correctly, Chief would back the plan without batting an eyelash. Casino and Goniff were the unknowns; they would need persuasion. Self-preservation, especially after being turned down on their attempt to free him, became more important to them.
He was still confused by the Warden’s refusal to go along with them. Like him, his knowledge of the continent and his language skills would go a long way to survive. He could even join up with Maquis allies and carry on the fight. He could understand a little of his sense of honour, but self-preservation was uppermost in his mind.
He replayed that encounter. In spite of his troubles, the Warden was equally concerned about them. If they turned themselves in, would they be given any credit for their records in the fighting? He would like to believe yes, but the pragmatic side of him was doubtful.
He went back to that report with that possible glimmer of hope. The Warden had not and would not lose faith in them; surely that was worth the risk of what he was about to propose to the others. Perhaps this would be the biggest game he had ever played. He must have a complete plan in mind if he were to convince the others. He had a chance to reward his commander for the faith he had in him and in the others. This man stood by them, believed in them, risked his career for them, and even in the midst of his own troubles, was worried for them. It was time for him to put together the ultimate game to prove his innocence and give this man his freedom back.
Flashes of bright lights, crashing sounds almost like thunder moving the supposedly solid earth. More thunderous noises that woke him up. He sighed and rose, dressed, and sat on the edge of his bunk. He closed his eyes, hoping to get some calm and balance into his throbbing head. He got up and paced his quarters, in a line, back and forth, back and forth. He was unaware of time, until he heard the faint sounds of morning drill that echoed his own pacing. He went to the small window and stared out, seeing nothing.
The great gaping hole in his memory never stopped bothering him. A chunk of his life was blank. During that time did men die? What did he do? The thunder and crash of explosions he remembered, then nothing until he woke up in a hospital bed. He had gone forward because he had to, his life was dictating it, and his duty dictated it. He had gone forward and put that gap behind him with the self-discipline that the Point ground into him. That, and the fact that he was not a man to feel sorry for himself. Life also was moving at such a fast pace, he didn’t have the time to dwell on that gap in his life.
Another unreal part of what had become his present, was his worry and concern for those under his command and care. He was amazed yet again of the loyalty of men who most of society and even the Army considered not worth the bother. One took a risk of losing any hope of freedom by not only escaping guard, but showed up as a barrister to find out what the situation was. All of them were risking any chance of freedom by not only breaking out from their quarters, but making their own investigation. And then they took the biggest risk of all by trying to spirit him away the day before.
That encounter still tore at him. The loyalty of men who most considered to have no loyalties but to each as an individual showed that they could and had bonded as a team. More than that, they showed their loyalty and faith in HIM, as a commander and a man. The look in their faces when he turned their offer down still echoed in his mind. Shock, disbelief, anger, and even the feeling of being betrayed reflected in their faces.
The one certain thing in an uncertain world was his sense of integrity. To turn his back on all he believed in was not an option. He had always been straight with the men under his command, those in his personal life, and the way he walked the path of his life. How could he be on the run, deny who and what he was, and spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder? For him, there was no choice. He wished he could have made the others understand. He understood the lack of trust they had in authority, but he wished for their sakes they would turn themselves in. Surely their record of service might count for something. Yet, as far as they were concerned what seemed to be a certainty of his fate seemed to be more than grossly unfair and unjust.
A clanging of the door broke into his thoughts. He turned and saw the MP standing there. “Sir, you are due in court in an hour,” he said almost apologetically.
“Thank you, Sergeant, I’ll be ready.” He took a breath and put his pride and self-discipline in place. In spite of that maddening memory gap, he had the certainty he was not guilty of what he was charged. That damned gap was a chink in that certainty. He realized that the trip to court might be the last view of the world without bars for some time. He was going to face it though, as a West Point soldier should.
He was still in shock when the verdict and sentence he had expected was turned totally on its head. New evidence that exonerated him! He was half in a haze as his defender smiled and congratulated him. The reality was finally sinking in when his former company commander, the author of his trial approached. Once the truth had come out, the bitterness seemed to have been purged from him. Both men now had been freed from the darkness of that night from eighteen months earlier.
As he took another breath, one of relief and freedom this time, he put on his hat and strode out of the courtroom, tall, strong, proud, and a relaxed stride that reflected his strength and pride. His next stop was to his men, men who had never lost faith in him. In spite of the way they went about trying to free him, he had to admit he could not be prouder of a group of men. They could drive him mad at times, but he wouldn’t trade them for a company of elite soldiers. He smiled as he looked up at the mansion staircase. Soon there would be another mission to run, and more surprises from these men. He was almost looking forward to it.