They couldn’t kill him. He had already died.

More chapters from Night Side of Dark

A VG Serial: Night Side of Dark

Episode 31

The abrupt and brief staccato of gunshots echoed sharply from building to building. They rolled across the pitched rooftops of a downtown that no longer slept as soundly as it had before the storm troopers marched into Pulawy. Ambrose Lincoln stood in the first apologetic light of a new day and waited for the sound of soldiers running down the deserted street. Not even the snow would be able to deaden their footsteps.

All he heard was silence.

No voices.

No lights in the windows.

No cars backfiring in the cold.

No sirens.

Nothing.

None of it made sense, but after he knelt beside Celia, gently turning her face from the street and brushing the snow from her hair, the silence made all of the sense in the world.

The soldiers knew what had been planned for daybreak.

Two underground Partisans had bombed a train.

Two underground Partisans had killed almost a hundred men, good men from the homeland, brave men who had been their comrades in arms.

Two underground Partisans had been captured.

Two underground partisans would die.

There would be an execution at dawn.

A firing squad.

They had not been chosen to fire the deadly shots.

There was nothing for them to worry about.

Others could face the bitter cold without them. They weren’t needed, not on this morning anyway. They preferred to witness death on the far side of a field where men and women had no faces. None of them wanted to see life sucked out of the bastards even if they were guilty. They would have hidden their eyes before they watched a woman die.

There would be four shots.

This they knew.

Two shots to drop the Partisans to their knees.

Two shots to complete the coup de grace.

One final bullet in each head.

God have mercy on the victims and the shooters both.

Three blocks away, warm in hotel rooms that had been confiscated by force and entitlement, they heard the four shots.

No more.

No less.

The execution had gone as it was written in their field manuals.

Quick.

And precise.

Now it was over.

Two were lying in the snow. Two would never feel the brutal pain of cold again. Dying did have its finer points, but only in winter and only when the fires had gone out.

Dunaway Walker raced out of the hotel, tightening the belt on his coat. He was still holding his De Lisle carbine close against his chest. A brown fedora had been pulled down tight over his forehead, and his eyes were swinging back forth like a pendulum up and down the streets.

Like Lincoln, he had expected to fight his way out of Pulawy, and it might well be a short journey. Better men than he had been buried on the edge a town. The strip of snow-banked dirt was never so small that it could not hold another grave.

“Where is everybody?” he whispered aloud to Lincoln.

“Nobody’s coming,” Lincoln said. His voice was crisp and certain.

“I thought the gunshots would light a torch under their derrieres for sure.”  Walker wiped the spittle from his lips with the back of his coat sleeve. “Certainly didn’t think they would sleep through it.”

“It’s a cold day to die,” Lincoln said.

“It’s a cold day to live.”

“Take your pick,” Lincoln said.

The British captain chuckled. “I have nothing against the cold,” he said.

“You may change your mind before we reach the other side of the river.”

“I may change my mind before we reach this side.”

Walker slipped an MK 2 Ka-Bar military fighting knife out of his coat pocket and hurried to the little man. He sliced the ropes binding Eigner’s hands and ripped the blindfold off his face.

The little man nodded.

It was a quiet gesture of thanks.

“We’re even,” Lincoln told him.

The little man smiled.

Lincoln wrapped the bloodstained military coat tighter around Celia’s shoulders. She shivered. He pulled the woolen collar against her face.

He started to pick her up.

She refused.

“I will walk,” she said.

“I’m afraid you can’t do that,” Walker said.

“Why not?”

“You’re not wearing any shoes.”

Celia knelt down beside the fallen lieutenant and roughly removed his boots. She took the luger from the ground where it lay beside his outstretched arms and pushed her feet into the boots. She did not bother to untie them. She didn’t have to. They were large. They were warm. It was a trade worth making.

“Now we can go,” she said.

Her eyes were hot with defiance.

“Where are you going?” the little man asked.

“The river,” Walker said.

“You cannot get across it,” the little man said.

“This is a port town,” Lincoln said. “Somewhere near the docks, we’ll find a boat. Big or small, it doesn’t matter.”

“It’s a hard river,” the little man said. “The ice is too thin for a man to walk across and too thick to row a boat to the other side.”

“We’ll take our chances,” Lincoln said.

“If you must go, we have a boat hidden in a cove downriver,” the little man said. “We knew we would need it some day. I guess this is the day.”

“How far?”

“Maybe a mile. It will seem farther in the snow.” The little man paused and looked up as the early glimmer of sunshine chopped it sway through the forest. “What’s on the other side of the river?” he asked.

“A way out of here,” Walker said.

“Are you meeting someone?”

“We are,” said Walker.

“Do you know them?”

Walker nodded.

“Have you met them before?”

“No.”

“Do you know you can you trust them?”

Walker shrugged as he stepped over the dead lieutenant. The blood had already frozen on his face. His eyes had lost their luster. “Sometimes you have no choice,” he said.

“It may be a trap.”

“It’s a trap only if you don’t expect one,” Lincoln said.

The wind was picking up.

And a dark cloud touched the outer edge of the sun. It was promising more snow. A light fog began to drift through the trees. It was more of a fine mist.

A man could hide forever in the fog.

“The Germans will be waiting for you,” the little man said.

“They always are,” Lincoln said.  He still had his arm around Celia as they cut down an alley, out of sight, and headed toward the marshes that would take them to the river.

The little man trailed behind. “They will kill you next time,” he said into the wind that swept his words back toward town.

Lincoln sighed.

“They killed me last time,” he said and, for a moment, wasn’t quite sure why he had said it. Then he knew.

Walker stared at him strangely.

The little man twisted his face into a frown.

He spit.

Only Celia ignored him.

Lincoln grinned as a cold gust of wind splashed against his face.

Celia remembered.

Chapters of Night Side of Dark will be published on  Saturday and Sunday.

Please click the title, Night Side of Dark, to read more about Caleb Pirtle III and his novels on Amazon.

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