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A Silent Cry

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A Silent Cry
By JJJunky

 

Allied Headquarters,
ETO - London

Normally, as soon as he entered General Worth's office, Danko would try to perceive the older man's mood. It helped him to gauge the danger level of the coming mission. If the air felt oppressive, the mission would be extremely hazardous, generally resulting with a loss of life. If the air seemed to vibrate, it meant the mission was unduly important, more important than the lives of the twelve men who were sent to execute it.

This time, however, the atmosphere was light and easy. Wondering why this unusual circumstance should put him on his guard, Danko came to attention and saluted. "You wanted to see me, General?"

The austere lips curved into a smile. "I have another job for you, Lieutenant."

"I didn't think I was here for a social call," Danko muttered to himself.

"What was that, Lieutenant?" The smile disappeared. Worth's eyes narrowed as he suspiciously regarded his subordinate.

"Nothing, sir," Danko hastily replied. "The General seems unusually happy today, sir."

Rising to his feet, Worth rounded his desk. Coming to a halt next to the younger man, he said, "I am. For once, I have an easy mission for you."

"The men will be glad to hear that, General," said Danko, his words belying the suspicion he felt.

"We've just received word that Professor Sneevliet is in hiding in Amsterdam," explained Worth. "We had thought he was dead or captured by the Germans. Your mission is to see that he isn't."

Danko thoughtfully regarded his superior. "Does that mean you'd rather see him dead than captured if we can't accomplish our mission?"

"The knowledge the Professor possesses could shorten," Worth paused a moment, then amended, "possibly even end this war, depending on which side has the benefits of his knowledge."

"I understand, sir," nodded Danko, hoping circumstances wouldn't force him to end the man's life rather than liberate it.

Unfolding a slip of paper, Worth handed it to Danko. "This is the address of the people who are hiding the Professor, Mr. and Mrs. Brandes. Memorize it, then burn it. Your transport leaves tonight."

"Yes, sir." As he acknowledged the order, Danko felt the air become oppressive. Fear constricted his throat, the kind of fear he usually only experienced just before going into battle. Why did he wish he could disobey orders and refuse this mission? Compared to many of the others they had successfully completed, it seemed relatively easy - if nothing went wrong. Unfortunately, it seemed their missions often had a tendency to go wrong.

 

Amsterdam, Netherlands

As he walked down the Marnixstraat to the address he had memorized, Danko surreptitiously studied the positions of each of his men. LeBec walked beside him, with Embry only a few steps behind. Cutter and Vern were across the street at the fruit market, while Feke and Leeds were reading newspapers by the bus stop. Walking slowly toward his superior, Farrell gave a slight nod of his head - the "all clear" signal.

With LeBec and Embry practically on his heels, Danko quickly climbed the steep staircase of the canal house. Forcing himself not to glance around, he knocked three times, paused, knocked once, then, after a quick count of five, knocked twice more. He was surprised when the door was opened by a petite, blond woman with a baby in her arms.

Her face remained expressionless, only her eyes showed her fear. "Kan iku helpen?"

Danko carefully spoke the code phrase he had been given. In English the words weren't difficult, but in Dutch, they had a tendency to make him tongue-tied. "We are here to pick up that special package your husband promised us."

The look of relief was clearly visible. In almost accent-free English, the young woman offered, "Please come inside. I am Lientje. My husband is not here, but I can help you."

The three men walked briskly into a small room; its only contents a threadbare sofa, a chair, and an almost empty bookcase. The door had barely closed behind them when the street erupted with sound. Trucks thundered down the avenue, the screeching of their tires mingling with the screams of the people.

Fear had returned to Lientje's eyes, but her voice was calm as she ordered, "Quickly, you must hide."

Danko reluctantly followed the woman into the kitchen. "I have men outside."

"You can not help them," Lientje emotionlessly explained.

"But what's going on?" Danko stubbornly refused to follow LeBec and Embry into the small room skillfully hidden behind the cupboard.

"The Germans are making what you Americans would call a 'round-up'," Lientje impatiently replied. "They block off a street and go from house to house searching for Jews and political prisoners, anyone that will help them make their quota. Now quickly, go inside and do not make a sound."

The cupboard had barely slid back into place when there was a loud banging at the front entrance. Danko listened, his nerves taut as Lientje opened the door. There were no words of greeting, only the fearful sound of heavy boots echoing in from the living room. It didn't take the soldiers long to search the barren room before entering the kitchen, boots clicking eerily on the tile floor. Danko felt rather than saw LeBec and Embry tense for action. Pots clattered as they were throw from the shelves, even some of those from the cupboard behind which they hid.

Just when Danko was sure he could stand the suspense no longer, the destruction ceased and he heard the boots pound up the stairs. Wiping the perspiration from his brow, he listened to the sounds of the search grow distant. Slightly relieved, he finally glanced around the cramped, little room. There were four other people, beside him and his men, hiding in a space only large enough to comfortably hold three. No one complained or appeared unduly distressed by the addition of three more bodies.

Resting his head back against the wall, Danko tried not to imagine what could be happening to his men outside. They were unarmed, as a precaution in case they were stopped and searched. Yet, even if they had not been virtually defenseless, they could do nothing. Too many innocent lives were in the line of fire.

The search seemed to last forever. The number of occupants made the small space extremely warm. Having had no rest the night before, Danko found himself falling into a light sleep. He jerked nervously awake when the cupboard door was suddenly thrown open.

"You can come out now." Dull sunlight softly framed Lientje's tired face.

His muscles cramped from the long period of inactivity, Danko jealously noted how spry the younger men were as they followed him out. Ever gallant, LeBec and Embry assisted the four elderly people who had shared their confinement. A noise from the room above their heads made Danko forget his aching muscles. "Somebody's still upstairs."

"Ja," Lientje quietly replied, "my other onderduikers are also coming out of hiding."

Surprised at the young woman's nonchalance, Danko asked, "How many people are you protecting?"

"Twelve at the moment. That's a few more than we have food ration tickets for, but no one is complaining."

Danko could only marvel at the courage of the young couple. They were risking their lives, sometimes for people they didn't even know. They sheltered them, somehow fed them, and, in at least one instance, helped them to escape - while constantly living under the threat of discovery.

The same coded knock Danko had tapped out, banged loudly from the front door. For the first time, Lientje showed the strain of the past hour. She jumped slightly, her arms reflexively tightening around her baby.

"It's all right," soothed Danko, "one of my men knew the code."

Quickly crossing the room, Danko stayed carefully hidden behind the door as he opened it just wide enough to allow Cutter, Farrell, and Vern to slip inside. His glance strayed expectantly outside before he closed the door.

"Where are Feke and Leeds?" asked LeBec.

"The Krauts took 'em," Cutter angrily replied. "There wasn't anything we could do."

Distress marred Farrell's handsome, young face. "They were dragging people from their homes, old people, children - even babies - and throwing them on trucks."

"Why did they take Feke and Leeds and not you chaps as well?" asked a confused Embry. "Thanks to Leeds, we all have the same type of ID cards."

Cutter shook his head. "The owner of the market hid me and Vern in the cellar. Why they didn't take Farrell, I can't explain."

"Were your other men dark-haired?" inquired Lientje.

Confusion marking his rugged features, Cutter nodded. "Yeah."

"That is why," said Lientje, shifting her sleeping baby from one arm to the other. "If they even suspect you are Jewish, the Germans will arrest you."

"But they had papers," LeBec protested.

Lientje sneered. "That does not matter to the Germans. They will act as though the papers are forged."

"Well, at least in this instance, they'll be right," Embry sardonically noted.

Finally understanding the apprehension he had felt in Worth's office, Danko asked, "Where will the Germans take them?"

"Probably the Naarden Fortress," replied Lientje.

Danko crossed to a window facing the canal. His hand ached with the urge to pull the curtain back and look outside. A move he knew would be dangerous, not only to himself, but to every person in the house. "Can you take me there?"

"Yes," Lientje hesitantly agreed, "let me get a jacket for the baby."

A look of horror on his face, Farrell protested, "You're not taking her out there, are you?"

"It will be safer for us if I do," the young woman calmly stated. "There are still some Germans who respect a mother with her child."

Danko felt the same fear that Farrell did, but he said nothing. He had already seen the lengths these people were willing to go to save their people and their country. Who was he to say the way they accomplished their goals was right or wrong?

Pulling his hat down low over his eyes, he ordered, "The rest of you wait here 'til I get back."

Even as he walked slowly out the door and down the street, Danko knew their quest would be in vain. The Krauts had spent the last several years becoming proficient at abducting people, interrogating them, and then disposing of them in the most efficient methods available. There was no reason to believe they would perform any differently now.

 

Naarden Fortress, Amsterdam

Pushed roughly off the truck, almost into his friend's arms, Feke finally found the perfect opportunity to whisper a warning, "Whatever you do, Leeds, don't let them know you're an American."

Disengaging himself, Feke noted the quick wink, Leeds' way of acknowledging the advice. The normally twinkling eyes were dulled with fear, but the lips still managed a brave smile. Feke's responding smile was only a little less forced. His papers identified him as a German businessman. The Hungarian knew his proficiency with the language made his chances of release good. Leeds' prospects, on the other hand, were not so encouraging. Not only did he look Jewish, he couldn't speak a word of Dutch, which would immediately falsify his ID.

Strongly tempted to suggest that Leeds pretend to be an escaped American airman, Feke quickly changed his mind. If the Germans even suspected the presence of the underground on the street where they were picked up, every man, woman, and child on it would suffer the fate now threatening them.

"Schneller, schneller, schneller!"

Reluctantly, Feke followed the guard's order and stepped up his pace. As he drew closer to the entrance, he noticed that those with yellow stars sewn to their clothing were being directed back toward the trucks. Only he and Leeds from their own transport were allowed inside the fortress.

Pushed into a small room, Feke's glance quickly scanned the other six occupants. Sitting against the hard stone wall, or stretched across the wet, muddy floor, signs of abuse were clearly visible on the gaunt bodies, even in the dim light from the narrow window. Feke recoiled from the stench. Choking back the bile filling his throat, he turned, needing his friend's reassurance and support. But he found only fear when he realized Leeds was no longer with him.

 

Marnixstraat, Amsterdam

Every step of the long walk home, Danko prayed for inspiration. There had to be some way to rescue the two men. At a time when he needed them most, the skills that had made him the leader of the Dirty Dozen seemed to have deserted him. The closer they came to Lientje's home, the slower he walked. At the bottom of the steep staircase, his thoughts turned to the men anxiously waiting inside. Would they accept what had to be?

Lientje already had the door open by the time Danko climbed the last step. Taking a deep breath, he squared his shoulders and reluctantly entered the empty room. The lock had barely clicked into place before he found himself surrounded.

"Did you see Leeds or Feke?" asked Vern.

His southern accent more pronounced, Cutter demanded, "What's the plan, Lieutenant?"

"There is no plan," Danko firmly stated. "Leeds and Feke are on their own. The Naarden Fortress is impregnable. There's no way to get them out."

"You mean we're going to leave them?" The disbelief in Vern's voice was clearly audible.

Danko nodded. "That's exactly what I mean."

"Would it be so impenetrable if it were the professor who needed rescuing, instead of two cons?" Lebec's icy tones broke through the protests Danko's announcement had precipitated.

"Stow it, Lebec," ordered Cutter.

"Your lieutenant is right," said Lientje. Taking off the baby's hat and sweater, she quickly discarded her own shabby coat before facing the angry men. "Every day, people disappear and we never see them again. Every day, you know you could be the next one to disappear. We can not help ourselves any more than you can help your friends."

His eyes compassionate, Farrell softly inquired, "How can you live like this?"

"Because the only alternative is to die." Lientje gently brushed her daughter's soft curls with her hand. "You fight back by helping others stay alive."

Danko nodded his gratitude. "And the best way we can help is by successfully completing our mission."

The faces regarding him were still unhappy, but no longer as angry. Danko understood how they felt; probably better than they did themselves. Each wanted to think he was a loner, but in the past few months, they had learned to be a team, a very efficient team. Even when they couldn't always depend on the replacements, they had learned to trust each other.

"Madam," Lebec's voice broke slightly, "what will happen to our friends?"

"If the Germans think they are spies, they will be shot," Lientje dispassionately explained. "If your friends can make believe they are who their IDs say they are, they may be released or sent to a labor camp."

"Feke won't have any trouble playing a convincing German businessman," declared Vern.

Lebec shook his head. "The minute Leeds opens his mouth he's had it. He can't speak a word of Dutch."

The fear that was always in her heart became visible on Lientje's face. "Then you must leave, quickly. As soon as the Germans discover he's an American, they'll come back here looking for his contact."

"But what about you?" protested Farrell.

"I will wait for my husband." Putting the baby on the couch, Lientje surrounded her with pillows before handing her a toy. "We must find new places to hide these people."

Farrell avoided Danko's eyes as he suggested, "Why don't you come with us back to England?"

"We cannot leave our people." Lientje shook her head. "We will find another place and start again."

"If you need us, you know how to get in touch," offered Danko.

Lientje nodded impatiently. "Ja, ja, but now you must go. We do not know how much time we have. Professor?"

One of the men Danko had shared the cupboard with stepped forward. "Lientje, I--"

"There is no more time to argue," the young woman interrupted. "You must all go, nu!"

Danko had never felt so helpless. Not only did he feel he was deserting Feke and Leeds, but Lientje and her family as well. Silently, he cursed the Army, General Worth, and Hitler for putting him in this position. Since there were no words that could truly convey his gratitude and admiration, he spoke the only two words he could in the circumstances. "Good luck."

 

Naarden Fortress, Amsterdam

Though the pain was intense, Leeds felt a certain perverse satisfaction. He had not spoken a single word since he had been picked up. This had increased his interrogators irritation, and ultimately the abuse inflicted on his body. What Leeds found almost amusing was that he couldn't have answered even if he had wanted to, since he could not understand any of the questions they were asking. Not for the first time, he wished they had spoken German back in his old neighborhood in Chicago rather than Italian.

Another blow landed below his left eye. Almost immediately, it swelled, impairing his vision. Swallowing a cry of pain, Leeds forced himself to focus his mind away from his aching body. At first, his thoughts turned to the years when he was growing up on South Halsted, but those memories were almost more painful than the fists raining blows on his body. When he was young, the one thing that had saved his sanity was his ability to disassociate himself from unpleasant surroundings. He could pretend he was swimming in Lake Michigan, or watching the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

Unfortunately, he could not chance doing that now. While it might be interesting to see the Krauts' reaction if he suddenly started cheering a Gabby Hartnett home run, it could destroy him, Feke, and maybe even that pretty young mother he had seen so briefly back on the Marnixstraat. For himself, for them, he must not speak.

Another blow to the head made his ears ring. He fought to remain conscious, knowing if he was disoriented and he woke in their presence, he might inadvertently speak. In the distorted face of the man leaning over him, he saw his father, who had beaten him at the least provocation; the face of the first cop to arrest him; the teacher, who hadn't believed him when he said he wasn't cheating; and the sergeant, who had thought him weak and tried to make him strong. For each of them, Leeds had become the person they expected him to be, burying his true self behind walls. Walls of pain, walls of fear, walls of humor, and walls of hate. The only difference between now and those other times was the uniform and the language. The intent hadn't changed: conform Dylan Leeds to their image, to their control. But he had not broken then and he would not break now.

 

Field Punishment Camp
Gloucester, England

Danko forced himself not to acknowledge the depression clouding the face of every man in the room. He couldn't help them. He had tried. In the two weeks since they had left Leeds and Feke behind, he had tried everything he could think of to ease their adjustment, but they had refused his overtures. Losing the two men had somehow torn the heart out of all of them. Danko had never seen them like this, not even after they had left Vern's wounded brother, Roy, with the Danish underground.

His face carefully composed, Danko ordered, "All right, listen up. We've got another mission."

LeBec, lying in his bunk, sat up. Embry, Vern, and Farrell sitting at the table playing poker, laid down their cards. There were no groans, no words of protest, just an unnerving acceptance.

Missing the banter that his announcement normally produced, Danko turned to the six men who had followed him into the barracks. "We'll be back up to full strength on this one." Pointing to the tall, lanky man at the head of the group, Danko continued, "This is Reynolds, explosives expert. Schuman and Reile here speak German, and are proficient in hand-to-hand combat."

This information earned the two men a few sharp glances, but, again, there was no verbal reaction. Not even from LeBec, who generally resented the presence of another explosives expert. Suppressing his despair, Danko moved down the line to a short, heavyset man almost twice the age of the others. "Lyons is a forger. McCormick and Faber complete our little group."

The eyes focused on Lyons were not welcoming. Danko knew they were comparing him with Leeds, and finding the older man wanting. He also knew they were worried about Lyon's physical attributes. The man's age and weight could slow them down, or maybe even get some of them killed.

"What's the job, Lieutenant?" asked Cutter.

Danko sighed, grateful for the question. "A bridge near Roen."

"What country is that?" The tone of Farrell's voice belied the interest the question seemed to indicate.

"France."

When this piece of information evinced no reaction, Danko realized that for the first time since he had been asked to head the Dirty Dozen, he questioned whether any of them would return alive.


Westerbork Transit Camp,
Netherlands

Feke collapsed on his bunk, no longer repelled by the rats and lice occupying it with him. A week in the Naarden Fortress and another in the transit camp had forced him to deny the civilized lessons of his youth. Less than two weeks, that was all it had taken to change him. What had seemed important once no longer held any interest. His most treasured possessions now were a thin crust of bread and a piece of soap no bigger than his little finger. More importantly, he had lived through another day, the greatest accomplishment of all.

"A transport has just arrived from Amsterdam."

Glancing sharply at Maas, a Dutchman who occupied the bunk across from his, Feke nodded his thanks and jumped to his feet. At first, he had wondered if he was endangering himself by making it obvious he was waiting for someone. But, he had soon learned he wasn't the only one. There was usually a large crowd clustered around processing. Like him, some were anxiously awaiting loved ones or friends; others were there to help the new arrivals; and the rest, simple curiosity.

Every time a new transport arrived, Feke prayed Leeds would be on it. It had been two weeks since they had been separated and the Hungarian had a feeling if his friend didn't arrive soon, he wouldn't be arriving at all. Logic told him Leeds had already been executed as a spy. Yet logic didn't stop his heart from racing every time he saw a man with the same build. And logic didn't keep him in his bunk when a new transport arrived.

Some of the new internees had already entered the camp by the time Feke crossed the compound. They were easy to distinguish from the other inmates as they stood uneasily by the entrance, embarrassed by their newly shorn heads. Dressed in matching overalls and clogs, it was hard to differentiate between the men and the women.

No longer self-conscious about his own hairless pate, Feke carefully studied the new arrivals. In these conditions, two weeks could almost completely change a person's appearance. Would he recognize Leeds if he saw him? Even as he asked the question, Feke found his answer. When he first tried to call out, he found he couldn't speak. His feet seemed to have turned to stone and he was surprised to see that his hands were shaking. "Leeds?"

The call was barely louder than a whisper, but the forger heard it. The bruised face remained impassive, but Feke could see the relief in the brown eyes. The stone holding his feet suddenly seemed to crumble, allowing Feke to cross the space separating the two men. His eyes almost blinded with tears, Feke drew his friend into a gentle embrace. The commotion made by the other arrivals gave him the opportunity to risk a whispered explanation. "I thought you were dead."

Leeds pulled away and shook his head, his bruised and bloody lips forming a slight smile.

"You have found your friend?"

One arm still circling Leeds' shoulder, Feke turned to face the woman who worked next to him dismantling the batteries. In her early sixties, the Dutch woman easily spoke the German words Feke needed to communicate. Even here, he was forced to hide behind his persona as a German businessman. "Yes, my friend has finally arrived."

"I am happy for you, but I think you better get him over to the hospital." The woman patted Feke lightly on the arm before crossing to a bewildered new internee crying near the entrance to the camp.

For the first time, Feke really looked at his friend. The bruised face was obvious, as were the mangled hands. In the two weeks since their capture, Leeds seemed to have lost a considerable amount of weight. What other damage was hidden beneath the nondescript overalls?"

Leaning close, Feke whispered, "Come on, I'll take you over to the hospital. They'll take good care of you."

A nod was the only acknowledgment. His joy turning to apprehension and fear, Feke wondered why Leeds didn't speak. Was he still fearful of detection or had the Germans made it physically impossible for him to do so?

 

Allied Headquarters,
ETO - London

Danko stood at attention as General Worth paced angrily in front of him. The stance made his wounded shoulder ache, but he had no desire to increase his superior's wrath by being anything less than militarily correct.

"It was an unmitigated disaster," snapped Worth. "You lose four men, get three wounded, including yourself, and you don't even blow the bridge."

"The men found it difficult to work with the new recruits, sir," Danko explained.

Worth shook his head. "This isn't the first time you've had old and new working together."

"It's the first time the new have outnumbered the old, though, sir."

"Lieutenant," Worth stopped his pacing and turned to face his subordinate. "Are you trying to tell me the Dirty Dozen can't cut it as a unit anymore?"

"I don't know, sir," Danko reluctantly admitted. "They knew they could trust Feke and Leeds. They don't know that about the new men."

"Is that the way they've always been with the new recruits?"

Danko nodded. "Pretty much. They say it's not worth it to make friends with the new guys, they're not around long enough."

Turning away, Worth crossed to his desk. Sitting in the chair he studied a file before asking, "How long before you're ready for action again, Lieutenant?"

"The doctor says it'll take a month to six weeks before LeBec can use his leg, sir." Curiosity and puzzlement got the better of Danko as he relaxed his stance to more closely regard his superior.

"Then that's how long you've got to make them a cohesive unit again," ordered Worth. "If you fail the next assignment, they'll all be returned to prison to finish their respective sentences."

"That's not fair, General," protested Danko. "Those men have all ready done more to win this war then most of the generals in the army."

Worth glanced sharply at his impudent lieutenant. "And maybe, just maybe, they think they've done enough, too."

"What are you getting at, sir?" Grateful that Worth had allowed his previous statement to pass unmentioned, Danko fought to contain his anger. He wouldn't be able to do his men any good from a jail cell in Marston-Tyne prison.

Rising to his feet, Worth circled the desk. "Hasn't it occurred to you those men of yours have decided they've had enough and want to quit before they end up like Feke and Leeds?"

"No, sir," Danko truthfully stated, "it hasn't. Do you think they failed on purpose?"

"I think it's a possibility. We'll find out in a month if it's a probability." Worth earnestly regarded the tired man standing in front of him. "You tell them I won't tolerate another failure, Lieutenant."

"I'll tell them, sir." Speaking more to himself than to his superior, Danko added, "But I don't think they'll care."

 

Westerbork Transit Camp,
Netherlands

Turning away from the dirty battery he was dismantling, Feke coughed until his throat felt like sandpaper. The dust, caused by the work they were forced to do, fouled the air so badly it gave the workers scratchy eyes and coughing fits. This time, however, Feke knew it wasn't the foul air alone that affected him. The cough along with a severe headache and an aching back were the first symptoms of typhus. It was sweeping through the camp, sparing no one. The hospital had no more room and was turning patients away. For the last week, Leeds had lain in the bunk they shared, a high fever making it impossible for him to work. Running true to course, the disease was causing confusion in the weakened man. A confusion that Feke could see in his friend's eyes, but which never escaped the dried and cracked lips.

In the three weeks since Leeds had arrived in Westerbork, he had not spoken a word. In fact, he had not made a single sound, not even when the doctor had set his broken fingers and ribs. This silence worried Feke even more than the broken bones or the fever. It felt as though an imposter was inhabiting the tortured body of his friend. The Leeds he knew always had a snappy remark for every occasion. He wished that Leeds were here now.

As the end of the workday arrived, Feke rose to his feet and walked outside to the hole they used as a latrine. His weakened condition no longer allowed him to hold his breath, so he quickly completed his task. Even so, the stench almost overpowered him. The cough started again as he turned away to walk to the barracks.

"There's a list posted for the transport leaving tonight," said Maas as he passed, his destination obvious. "You and your friend are on it."

Feeling as though he had been punched in the stomach, Feke compassionately inquired, "How about you?"

"Yes, I am on it as well," Maas impassively replied.

"I'm sorry." Walking back to the barracks, Feke felt numb. He had said the words, but he wasn't even sure what they meant any more. So many words had become so meaningless here. Mere words could not fight the hunger, or the disease - or the fear.

Feke barely heard the crying as he moved skillfully through the camp. It was a sound that had become all too familiar, especially on Tuesdays - transport day. Finally reaching the narrow bunk he shared with Leeds, he bent down and whispered in his friend's ear, "It's time to go."

Nodding his understanding, Leeds slowly sat up. With Feke's help, he rose shakily to his feet. Leaning heavily on his friend, he carefully made his way through the milling crowd.

The routine in processing was now set in reverse. After they received the clothes they had arrived in, they found a quiet corner. Wishing he could wash, not only himself, but the dirty clothes, Feke dressed quickly. He knew Leeds would need help and the guards were not renowned for their patience.

In the fading sunlight, they walked slowly down to the train. Idly, Feke wondered what their destination would be: Mauthausen, Therisienstadt, Aushwitz? The Germans called them labor camps, but the Hungarian knew better, even though there were those who chose to believe the lie. In the long run, Feke realized, it didn't really make much difference where they went. Death would find them eventually.

Inside the cattle cars used to transport the frightened humanity, Feke discovered there was no room to sit down. In fact, there was barely enough space to stand. Ignoring the dark look from the man standing next to Leeds, he pulled his friend close, hoping his own strength would be enough to support them both.

All night they stood and waited. The sun was shining brightly through the slats when the train finally pulled out of the station. Shifting slightly to adjust to the movement, Feke felt the wooden plank beneath his left foot crack. Excited, he put his mouth next to Leeds ear. "Can you stand by yourself? I need to check something out."

Leeds answer was to pull away. Swaying with the movement of the car, he coughed into his sleeve.

With Maas' help, Feke cleared a small space around the cracked board. Though they were forced to rest frequently, the two men eventually managed to pull up enough planking to make a hole, small, but large enough to allow a man to escape.

Still sweating from his exertion, Maas glanced despairingly down at the ground rushing past. "We'll be killed if we try to escape while the train is moving and caught if we wait 'til its stops."

Rising to his feet, Feke guided Leeds to the edge of the gap. "We'll be killed for sure if we don't get off the train."

"You don't know that," protested Maas. "You don't know where we're going."

"Then let's just say I prefer to take my chances this way," Feke calmly stated.

"The labor camps might mean hard work, but at least you'll be alive," Maas desperately asserted.

Ignoring the advice, Feke helped Leeds sit on the edge of the hole, inwardly marveling at his friend's implicit faith. No longer worried about anyone knowing their true identity, he spoke in English. "The next time the train slows down for a curve, I'm going to lower you down. Whatever you do, don't move 'til every car has completely passed over you."

Leeds nodded his understanding. Stuffing his hat inside his coat, he waited patiently.

Realizing he would need the hat to hide his shaved head, Feke did the same. When the train finally slowed, he took a firm grip under his friend's arms and helped him ease out through the hole. Praying that he wasn't committing murder, Feke let go. Without hesitation, he sat down in Leeds' place, his legs dangling just above the rails. The rapidly moving ground made him dizzy and he closed his eyes as he slipped over the edge. Hanging on by his fingertips, he let himself be dragged a short way before he released his hold.

 

Allied Headquarters,
ETO - London

The mood of the office puzzled him. If Danko hadn't known better he would almost say it was happy. Confused, he came to attention and saluted. "You wanted to see me, General?"

"Yes, Lieutenant." Worth smiled. "I have another mission for you."

Fully cognizant of how important their next mission was to his men, Danko protested, "It's only been four weeks, sir. I don't know if LeBec's leg will--"

Worth rose to his feet. "I'm perfectly aware of the date, Lieutenant. As for LeBec, I think he'll make a miraculous recovery, as will your other misfits, when they hear the details of the mission."

"Yes, sir," Danko skeptically agreed.

"Tonight, a submarine will drop you off near the coast of Sweden. There you'll make contact with a sailor who'll smuggle you aboard a freighter bound for Delfzijl."

"That's in the Netherlands, isn't it, sir?"

"It is."

Hesitantly, Danko admitted, "I'm not sure my men . . . hell, I'm not sure I can go back there."

Acting as though Danko hadn't spoken, Worth continued to explain, "In Delfzijl, you'll contact a Doctor Colijn--"

"General--"

Worth pointedly ignored his subordinate's attempt to interrupt him. "He'll lead you to two men who were recently captured by the Germans, but have managed to escape."

Realization slowly dawned, and Danko regarded his superior in shocked surprise. "Feke and Leeds?"

"From the reports we've received," Worth nodded, "it could very well be Feke and Leeds."

Danko closed his eyes fighting back the tears threatening to damage his reputation as hard-as-nails, Army officer. When he felt in control, he reopened them. "Are they all right?"

The smile faded as Worth admitted, "The doctor asked that you bring antibiotics to treat typhus."

"I'll tell LeBec." Danko shuddered as he realized what kinds of conditions were necessary to breed typhus.

"One other thing," added Worth, "you're to take a minimum compliment. My source thinks the Germans may be getting close to discovering our route between Sweden and Delfzijl. If you take a dozen men along it, you're bound to attract attention."

"I'll take Cutter, LeBec, Vern, Farrell, and Embry."

"Isn't that going to build even more of a wedge between the old men and new?" Worth cautiously pointed out.

"They were there when this thing started, General," Danko firmly stated. "They deserve to be there when it ends."

"Just remember, Lieutenant," asserted Worth, "this isn't merely a rescue mission. We need to know exactly what Feke and Leeds revealed to the Germans. The whole resistance movement in Amsterdam is up in the air. So far, there have been no reprisals. It's possible, however, that the Germans are waiting for more mice to enter the trap before they spring it."

Remembering his orders concerning Professor Sneevliet, Danko suspiciously asked, "Are we to make sure Feke and Leeds don't help spring it?"

"That's up to you or them," replied Worth.

Immediately understanding what the General was implying, Danko nodded. Considering what the two men had probably been subjected to already, death might be preferable to recapture. "How do we get home?"

"The same way you arrived," Worth explained. "Good luck, Lieutenant."

Danko bitterly realized how little hope was contained in those two words, even when they were sincerely expressed. He regretted having said them to Lientje. They hadn't adequately conveyed his feelings, but then, were there any words that could have?

 

Delfzijl, Netherlands

Though the sun tried to break through the gloom of the overcast sky, its rays were weak, unable to take the chill off the fall day. The long walk from the docks was almost over, but Danko knew better than to relax. It was a lesson he had learned in Amsterdam. Taking one last quick glance around, he ran up the stairs to a house that closely resembled Lientji's. The coded knock was followed by admittance for himself and LeBec. Before their arrival, he had decided that no one would wait outside this time and he paced nervously as the others arrived at carefully timed intervals. No words were exchanged with the elderly man who had admitted them. In a country devoid of freedom, superfluous conversation was not only meaningless, but dangerous as well.

The last to arrive was Cutter. As soon as the door had been closed and locked behind the sergeant, Danko said, "Okay, that's it, we're all here. Where are the packages?"

"This way." The doctor led them up two steep flights of stairs. At the top of the second flight was a bookcase. Unlike the one in Lientji's living room, this one was full. Pulling out two books, the doctor unhooked a latch allowing the bookcase to swing open. "Your countrymen are up there. I did what I could for them, but I'm afraid there is no medicine."

"That's all right," soothed LeBec, obviously anxious to climb the short flight of stairs in front of him. "I brought some with me."

"That is good." Colijn nodded approvingly.

As he ran up the stairs, practically on Lebec's heels, Danko tried to hide his fear. What if the two men weren't Feke and Leeds? Could his men handle the disappointment?

At first glance, it was difficult to recognize any familiar features in the thin faces. The outline of their bones was prominent beneath the translucent skin, contrasting harshly with the dark, brown shading beneath their eyes. Hair was just beginning to grow on the shaved heads. Tears filled Danko's eyes when he finally realized that the two emaciated bodies before him were indeed Feke and Leeds. When he led men into battle, he expected that some would die. It was one of the hells of war. He didn't expect them to be treated like animals. Danko found himself speechless. What words could convey his feelings to men who had obviously endured so much?

"What took you so long?" Feke's voice was ragged and weak, but the smile on the thin face was achingly familiar.

His voice cracking slightly, LeBec replied, "We didn't think you guys would miss us, so we decided to do a little sightseeing first."

As the others found their voices and exchanged insults and wisecracks with Feke, Danko turned his attention to Leeds. Normally, the forger would have been laughing and joking with the rest. Though his eyes showed his joy, no comments left his lips. Fear replacing his initial happiness, Danko crossed to the forger's side. Putting a hand on the thin arm, he asked, "Are you all right, Leeds?"

A tear rolled down Leeds' cheek as he nodded assent, but there were no words to acknowledge his claim.

"He doesn't talk, Lieutenant," Feke quietly explained. "Not since the day we were picked up."

Hesitantly, Farrell asked, "Was he . . .? Did the Krauts . . .?"

"According to the doctors at the camp, the reason isn't physical," Feke reluctantly admitted.

Noting the men's uneasiness, Danko said, "We'll worry about it when we get home. LeBec, get Feke and Leeds ready to travel. If we don't get moving soon, we'll miss our rendezvous."

"Right, Lieutenant."

LeBec's compliance was obviously forced, and Danko could understand why. It would take weeks to get the two men well enough to safely withstand the rigors of the journey ahead. But they didn't have weeks, they didn't even have hours.

As LeBec injected the two men with the antibiotics he had brought, the others helped them dress. Distressed at the sight of the wasted bodies, Danko quickly turned away, the presence of their host providing a badly-needed diversion. "I'd like to thank you, Dr. Colijn, for taking care of my men."

"I would like to have done more," the doctor sadly noted. "Unfortunately, we don't have the medicines we need."

"LeBec," called Danko, "did you bring extra medical supplies you could leave with Dr. Colijn?"

"Yes, sir."

The doctor nodded gratefully. "Thank you, Lieutenant."

"We owe you a lot more than a few vials of antibiotics can repay." Danko knew the words were trite, but he hoped the doctor could hear the sincerity in his voice.

Crossing to the older men, LeBec pulled out all but two vials of medicine and handed them to the physician. "We're ready to go, Lieutenant."

His eyes returning to the other side of the room, Danko wasn't surprised to see Leeds cradled protectively in Vern's strong arms. Farrell and Cutter were supporting Feke in such a way, his feet barely touched the floor. Even as he wondered if his command would condemn the two seriously ill men to death, Danko ordered, "Let's go."

Leading the way down the steep staircase, Danko had to fight the urge to rescind his order. At the front door, he turned to face his men. "Put Leeds down, Vern. He's gotta walk to the docks on his own."

"What if he can't?" demanded the powerful young man.

Danko forced his voice to remain firm as he replied, "Then he gets left behind."

Reluctantly, Vern lowered his friend, even as Farrell and Cutter removed their obvious support from Feke. Their faces couldn't hide the conflict that waged between their minds and their hearts.

Danko opened the door and prepared to step outside when he saw Leeds pull away. The fear on the young man's face was plainly visible as his eyes encountered a street very much like the one in Amsterdam.

Slowly, Danko crossed to the forger's side. "It's all right, Leeds." As the eyes remained fixed on the narrow street, Danko continued, "We have guns this time. I won't let them take you alive again."

The frozen stare melted as the eyes shifted to Danko's face. The plea they spoke was as loud as any voice.

"I promise," reaffirmed Danko, swallowing around the lump in his throat.

As he led the way out the door and down the street, Danko had to force himself to concentrate on the danger surrounding them, and not on Leeds' reaction. Would the German soldiers leaning casually against the storefront across the street become suspicious? Would the man walking toward them sound an alarm? For now, there was no time to dwell on what could have happened in Naarden Fortress to affect a man so deeply.

 

Allied Headquarters,
ETO - London

While waiting for General Worth to appear, Danko reflected back on the past seventy-two hours. They had reached their rendezvous in time - barely - where their contact had then entombed them in crates that were eventually loaded onto a freighter bound for Sweden. They had spent the next day and a half cramped into a small area unable to speak for fear of discovery. Though their contact had said he would try, he had been unable to provide either food or water. Only Feke and Leeds had seemed untroubled by the discomfort. Again, Danko had to force himself not to dwell on what they'd had to endure to engender such pliability.

"I see you were successful this time, Lieutenant," said Worth as he walked briskly into the room.

Standing at attention, Danko acknowledged, "Yes, sir."

Worth hung up his hat before crossing to his desk and sitting gratefully in the comfortable chair behind it. "Stand at ease, Lieutenant. I've just come from a meeting with General Eisenhower. If Feke and Leeds weren't convicts, they'd get medals for what they did. The knowledge they possessed could've toppled the entire resistance network throughout the Netherlands. That neither one of them broke is a tribute to the American Army and the Dirty Dozen."

"Never thought a convict had it in him, did you, sir?" Danko bitterly noted.

Worth angrily sat forward. "That'll be enough, Lieutenant."

Neither his face nor his stance showed the ire still burning as Danko acknowledged, "Yes, sir."

"Now," Worth suspiciously regarded his subordinate, "tell me what we should do with those men of yours."

"Sir?" Danko's anger turned to apprehension.

"Do you think Feke and Leeds will want to return to the Dirty Dozen when they're well enough?"

His initial concern over the future existence of the entire unit disappeared and Danko admitted, "I think Feke will. Though he won't talk about what happened at the camp, it's obvious that he hates Germans even more now than he did before."

"And Leeds?"

"I don't know, General." Reluctantly, Danko explained, "He still hasn't spoken."

Worth shook his head. "Damn, I was sure he would start speaking again as soon as he realized he was safe."

"Yes, sir, that's what the doctors hoped, too."

"I guess that's it for him then." Worth pointed out, "You can't take a mute into battle."

Danko tried to hide his fear as he asked, "What's gonna happen to him, General?"

"We'll have to send him home." As the lieutenant sighed with relief, Worth continued, "Though heaven knows the Chicago Police Department may never forgive us."

"I wouldn't get stationed near there after the war, if I were you, General," agreed Danko.

"You better go tell your men the good news while you can." Worth opened a file sitting on the desk in front of him. "I may have another mission for you soon."

Even this news couldn't destroy the contentment Danko was feeling. In the months they had been together, he had grown to like the men under his command. They may be unmilitary and undisciplined, but they were dependable. Though he would miss the young forger, he was glad Leeds would escape the horrors that had afflicted him. It gave Danko hope that the rest of them might survive as well.

 

St. Andrews Hospital,
Gloucester, England

The voices were heard long before the faces were seen. Leeds couldn't decipher the entire conversation, but he could tell it had something to do with Cutter's lack of trust in his charges. Leeds smiled as he watched the Ward Sister hurry down from the other end of the large room. He knew that even her commanding presence wouldn't be enough to quiet the group.

Careful of his splinted fingers, he pulled a pillow out from behind his head and flung it at the head of the body sleeping peacefully in the bed next to his own. He knew Feke wouldn't enjoy their friends' idea of a wake up call.

The pillow had barely landed before the Hungarian was sitting straight up in bed, the offending missile in his hands. "What the hell!"

Leeds pointed to his ear, then to the door leading into the ward.

Feke's understanding was visible in his eyes and smile. Gently throwing the pillow back, he said, "Thanks."

As the noise grew closer, Leeds eagerly awaited his friends' visit. Their presence made the terrors interrupting his nights disappear. When he slept, he often woke with a silent scream on his lips and sweat soaking his clothes and bedding. In the chill of the wet sheets, he would relive the horrors of his dreams, and wish that they had only been nightmares. But, every time he tried to use his hands, he knew they had been real. Every time he tried to speak he knew they had won.

The Germans had never made him reveal his true identity. Not with pain, not with fear, and not with degradation. But they had done something that his father, the police, and even the army couldn't do - they had broken him. He could not find Dylan Leeds.

 

Field Punishment Camp,
Gloucester, England

There was no noise coming from the barracks, a circumstance that Danko found unusual. Ever since they had returned from the Netherlands with Feke and Leeds, things had pretty much been back to normal. Or at least what was normal for the Dirty Dozen. On his guard, Danko walked slowly into the building. As soon as he entered, he could understand why it was so quiet. Of the five men who now occupied the barracks, only two were present. Lyons sat at the table playing solitaire, while LeBec lay in his bunk, staring up at the ceiling.

Puzzled, Danko asked, "Where is everybody?"

When it became apparent that Lyons expected him to answer the question, LeBec reluctantly explained, "Sergeant Cutter took the others over to the hospital."

"Why didn't you go?" inquired Danko, worried by the Cajun's unusual behavior. Lyons didn't know the injured men, so his lack of interest was understandable. LeBec, on the other hand, was one of the most compassionate people Danko had ever known. Normally, he would have been the first to request a visit with sick friends.

"I didn't feel like going, all right?" LeBec insolently replied.

The pleasure Danko had felt at Leeds' impending good fortune disappeared. His voice rough with suppressed anger, he snapped, "I want you in my office, Soldier, on the double."

Danko didn't wait to hear the Cajun's reply. Wondering why he felt such disappointment, he entered his office and waited impatiently for his recalcitrant subordinate.

Showing no remorse, LeBec slowly entered the office. "Should I close the door?"

"That's up to you," said Danko. "Do you want Lyons to hear your explanation?"

"My explanation for what?" asked LeBec, feigning ignorance.

"You tell me." Danko caught Lebec's eyes with his own. "What did Feke or Leeds do that's made you so angry you won't go see them?"

Breaking eye contact first, LeBec quietly closed the door. "They didn't do anything. What made you think they had?"

"What else could I think?" Calming, Danko softly admitted, "There's no other interpretation for your actions."

His eyes focused on the floor near his feet, Lebec whispered, "You could try guilt."

"What in heaven's name are they guilty of? Surviving?"

"Not them," LeBec forlornly shouted, "me!"

Wondering what he had missed in the last few days, Danko asked, "What are you guilty of?"

"If I hadn't gone with you into Lientje's house," explained LeBec, raising his head and focusing his eyes on Danko, "I would've been picked up along with Feke and Leeds. I have the same coloring, the same build."

Still confused, Danko scratched his head. "What does that make you guilty of?"

"I deserted them twice," cried LeBec, fighting the tears. "First, by not being on the street with them, and, again, when we didn't try to rescue them."

Danko dropped heavily into a chair and covered his eyes with his hand. He rubbed his temples gently before admitting, "If anyone should feel guilty, it's me." As LeBec started to protest, Danko held up his hand. "Hear me out. It was my orders that put Feke and Leeds on that street with you in the house. It was my decision that it would be suicide to rescue them."

"Lieutenant--"

"But I don't feel guilty," Danko interrupted. "I can't afford to. You were lucky this time, that's all it was. Next time, you might be the one I leave on the street, and I still won't feel guilty."

LeBec shook his head. "How do you keep it all in perspective?"

"Discipline," explained Danko. "Right now the only thing that's important to me is winning this war. If I agonize over every man that dies or is wounded under my command, I couldn't function. If I can't function, there's no Dirty Dozen. If there's no Dirty Dozen, this war could drag on a few years longer."

Obviously embarrassed, LeBec regarded his commanding officer. "I guess I've been acting kinda stupid?"

"Nope," disagreed Danko. "Selfish."

"Selfish?" asked LeBec in puzzlement.

"You wanted to be the one who died, rather than the one who survived," Danko confidently stated. "You figured then you wouldn't have to live with the guilt."

"That's ridiculous!" snapped LeBec.

"Is it?" Sitting forward in his chair, Danko pointed out, "That guilt of yours got so heavy you couldn't even visit two men you consider friends simply because they're the source of those feelings."

"I guess it's not so ridiculous after all," LeBec finally admitted.

Danko smiled. "So, how about making that pain disappear and come to the hospital with me?"

"Sounds like a good plan to me, Lieutenant." LeBec hesitantly returned his superior's smile.

"From the hints, General Worth was dropping," Danko ruefully noted, "I think we better get our butts in gear before we find ourselves on a plane or a submarine."

"Going," picked up LeBec, "to France or Italy or Yugoslavia or Istanbul or . . ."

Rising to his feet, Danko slapped the Cajun on the back. "Join the Army and see the world."

"Just once," admitted LeBec, as he followed the Lieutenant from the office, "I'd like to see it without blowing it up."


St. Andrews Hospital
Gloucester, England

Danko wasn't surprised that the first person to approach him when he entered the hospital was Matron. Except when Feke and Leeds were missing, the only time he had ever known the Dirty Dozen to be quiet was when a gun was pointed at their heads.

"Leftenant," Matron angrily demanded, "I insist that you remove those ruffians from Ward Seven at once! They're disturbing the entire floor."

"I'm sorry, Matron. Due to the nature of their work, when they're off duty my men sometimes get a little exuberant," Danko apologized.

Her ample bosom shaking with indignation, Matron snapped, "A little! One of your men tried to change the antibiotics in Mr. Leeds' IV bottle."

"I'm sure he was only trying to be helpful," said Danko, defensively.

"He intended to replace it with whiskey!"

LeBec's hand flew to his mouth. Around the strange sounds emitting from his throat, he managed a hasty, "Excuse me, sir, Matron." Without a backward glance he hurried up the stairs.

Watching his only ally rush away, Danko despairingly tried to edge around the older woman. "I promise, I'll inform my men henceforth all medical needs are to be performed by the Sisters."

Matron's grudging acceptance followed him as Danko quickly made his escape. He knew he would have to discipline his men, if only to keep Matron off his back. He would rather face a Panzer Division than that woman again. However, as he entered the ward and noted the happy faces, his resolve weakened. After all they had been through, Danko knew that Feke and Leeds needed those smiles, almost as much as they needed the antibiotics. Still, he couldn't let them see he was feeling sentimental. "All right, who's the wise guy who tried to put whiskey in Leeds' IV?"

"Does that sound like something we'd do, Lieutenant?" Farrell innocently inquired.

Crossing to the actor's side, Danko nodded. "It sounds exactly like something you eight balls would do."

"I'm hurt. Really, I am." Farrell dramatically put his hand to his heart.

"I can tell you'll be crying for a week," stated Danko, sarcastically.

As Farrell started to respond, LeBec put his hand over the taller man's mouth, "Tell him how hurt you are later, Tarzan. Right now the Lieutenant's got some news for Leeds."

Danko's good humor returned as he faced the gaunt forger. "As we speak, General Worth is drawing up the orders. When you're well enough, you'll be going home, back to the Windy City."

There was no resentment as the others vocally expressed their happiness over their friend's good fortune. Forgetting himself, Vern hit Leeds on the back so hard the forger had the breath knocked out of him.

Noting the unintentional blow, Danko hastily shouted, "All right you guys, that's enough. I don't think Leeds can take much more of your well wishes. Let's get out of here before Matron comes looking for me again."

Danko wished he could stay, Leeds obviously needed help coping with the news of his impeding return home - a trip that was apparently not happily anticipated. Alarmed by the pain twisting the thin face, Danko turned to call the Sister.

"No!"

Wondering why Feke should shout such a command, Danko angrily swung back to face the bedridden man, only to find the Hungarian's eyes fixed on Leeds. "Feke?"

"He spoke, Lieutenant." Feke had to clear his throat before he could continue. "Leeds said 'no'."

The silence in the room was absolute. No one seemed capable of speaking or moving. That Leeds had talked should have made their happiness complete. Yet one look at the injured man's tortured face drove the smiles from their lips and the joy from their hearts.

The voice was rough and scratchy, but the tone was defiant as Leeds asserted, "They can't send me home."

Crossing closer to the bed, Danko gently inquired, "Can you tell me why?"

Red suffused the pale face as Leeds surreptitiously glanced at the others waiting near the door. It was obvious he did not want them to hear his confession.

"I'll see you guys back at camp," ordered Danko.

Farrell protested, "Couldn't we--"

"No, you couldn't," interrupted Danko. "Sergeant, you have your orders."

Saluting, Cutter acknowledged, "Yes, sir. Let's go, you animals . . . where'd you get that whiskey anyway?"

Their mood reflective, the others filed from the room. Throwing back his blankets, Feke sat on the edge of the bed. "Lieutenant, could you give me a hand?"

"Where are you going?" demanded Leeds before Danko could comply.

"I thought you might like to talk to the Lieutenant without an audience," Feke explained.

Eyes focused on his friend, Leeds quietly admitted, "I don't mind if you stay."

Danko found himself envying the two men. Whatever experiences they had shared had formed a bond stronger than any forged by blood or battle. It may even be the reason why Leeds had started talking again. "Leeds, what did you mean when you said no?"

Pain Danko instinctively knew was mental rather than physical marred the young face and clouded the shuttered brown eyes. This was an old pain, inflicted long before the world had ever heard of Hitler.

He started slowly, faltering over the words. "My mother died when I was eight. My father wanted to die, too, but his religion said that if he committed suicide he would spend eternity in hell." His voice barely loud enough to hear, Leads finished, "So instead I did."

"Was that when your father started drinking?" asked Danko.

"And hitting." Leeds closed his eyes and leaned his head back against his pillow. "They say I'm a hero because I didn't let the Krauts break me. But all they could inflict was physical pain. I know from experience that kind of pain has less hurt."

"You're older," Danko pointed out, "things could be different between you now."

"I can stop the hitting, but I can't stop the pain - his or mine. Especially now." Opening his eyes, Leeds focused them on his commanding officer, his sincerity clearly written in their brown depths. "Please don't send me home, sir."

Out of all the men under his command, this admission was the most astonishing coming from Leeds. Though he knew the boy had been in and out of trouble for years, there was nothing in his records to indicate a violent nature. That he had learned to kill so proficiently was more a surprise than an expectation, as he had been recruited for the Dirty Dozen for his forging abilities, not his skills as a soldier. That it appeared he wanted to remain a part of the unit was an even bigger surprise. "Why don't you want to go home?"

"I can't find what I'm looking for there," Leeds reluctantly admitted.

Uncertain he wanted to hear the answer, Danko took a deep breath before asking, "What are you looking for?"

"Myself." Dropping his eyes, Leeds explained, "I'm not the hero you all think I am. They broke me. They didn't take information, they took me. I'm more dead inside than my father."

"Is there anywhere else you could go?" inquired Danko. "I might be able to get the General to change your orders."

"I want to stay with the Dirty Dozen, sir." Leeds held up his broken hands. "When I got these, Lieutenant, I lost Dylan Leeds. I can't go home 'til I find him."

"If you stay with us, that," Danko gestured toward the splinted fingers, "could happen again."

"I realize that, sir, but to me it's worth the price."

Danko reluctantly consented, "I'll talk to the General. Now that you're talking again, he may rescind his order."

"Thank you, Lieutenant." Obviously relieved, Leeds leaned back against his pillow propped against the back of the bed.

"But you're wrong, you know," Danko softly pointed out. "They only broke your fingers. They didn't break you. Now that you've found your voice again, I think you'll realize that."

"Even before Feke warned me," explained Leeds, "I knew I couldn't talk. Too many lives were at stake. I'd learned not to say anything when my father beat me. It made him madder, but at least I felt in control. I tried to pretend those Krauts were my father."

Wondering how the boy could be so nonchalant about his abusive parent, Danko said, "I would've liked to have seen the faces on those Krauts when you wouldn't talk."

"They were a bit frustrated," admitted Leeds.

"I know how they feel," Danko, only half kidding, noted. "They only had one to deal with, I have twelve."