Reflections In A Golden Eye
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Argo, Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas all belong to MCA - Universal Pictures and Renaissance Pictures. No infringement of their rights is intended.
Sexuality: This is to be considered an R rated Alt fan fiction story and is intended for mature audiences, that is, folks over the age of 18. It depicts a loving relationship between two consenting adults who happen to be lesbians. The sexual content of this story is somewhat graphic in nature, therefore should this type of story be offensive to you, please leave now.
Final Disclaimer: This story is a continuation of one l began a bit ago called 'The Grecian Affair'. ‘Resistance & Resurrection’ is the second book in the trilogy. It is important that you read these other stories in sequence otherwise you won't have a clue. Because l saw the need to avoid the German occupation of Greece in the first two books, l decided to have Greece fall in the last months of 1943 and have them attack the island of Cyprus soon after. Most of the events in this story actually took place...l just altered the time frame to suit my storyline. There be angst here, and hurt/comfort ahead...and violence, but then, this was a violent period in history.
Acknowledgement: I want to thank my beta readers, Betty and Sue, for sticking with me. They not only kept me on track but also made sure I wrote from my heart. Ladies, I thank you. Well, this has been quite a year for me, a real rollercoaster, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride.
As l don't enjoy living in a deprivation tank, please feed the bard. Offerings, burnt or otherwise, can be sent to ArdentTly@yahoo.com
Copyrighted by ArdentTly, November 1998.
Machines of death from east to west
Drone through the darkened sky:
Machines of death from west to east
Through the same darkness fly.
They pass; and on the foredoomed towns
Loosen their slaughtering load;
They see no faces in the stones:
They hear no cries of blood.
They leave a ruin; and they meet
A ruin on return:
The mourners in the alien street
At their own doorways mourn.
Prelude to the End
In August of 1942 Canadian and British assault troops sailed from the south of England to raid the harbour of Dieppe. They were repulsed with heavy losses, but the lessons learned proved invaluable in l944.
Many difficulties deterred Hitler from invading England in l940, the least of that was the problem of finding the ideal spot at which to land. This same problem had to be tackled by the British/US forces five years later but was quickly overcome because of their expanding knowledge of what was termed ‘portable ports’. More than two million tons of steel and concrete were towed to the French coast and the British Mulberry handled 12,000 tons of cargo and 2,500 vehicles a day.
It wasn’t a matter of planning or constructing these ‘Mulberry’ harbours, just the time and effort deciding on just where to have them in place. The Pas de Calais was rejected because the area was the most heavily fortified along the French coast. Brittany was rejected as being too far from Germany, entailing long lines of communication. To the east, the enemy could quickly reinforce Holland and Belgium. This left only one possibility: the Cotentin Peninsula and the area around Caen, a lodgment bounded by the Seine, Eure and Loire rivers. Caen became the main objective, with a subsidiary attack on the East Coast of the peninsula to facilitate the early capture of the port of Cherbourg.
In the months leading up to the Normandy Landings, the Western Allies had to ensure the Germans received no information about their plans. Elaborate precautions were taken to maintain secrecy and access to large areas of Britain was severely restricted. The highest security classification was code named 'bigot', formed by the reverse spelling of ‘To Gib’, the stamp used on documents of personnel sent to Gibraltar. These papers could be seen by bigots only, a few people who had been positively vetted and cleared. All bigots were kept under continual scrutiny and forbidden to take any action that might expose them to capture and interrogation.
With hundreds of thousands of troops, their weapons and supplies, being assembled in southern England, it was impossible to disguise the fact that an invasion of Europe, almost certainly of Northern France, was imminent. While the invading force was assembling in southwest England, bogus camps, tanks and landing barges were established in the southeast to give the impression of an army in readiness. In preparation for D Day, Allied Aircraft dropped tons of metallic strips over the Calais area, and decoy ships were set adrift, appearing on German radar screens as aircraft and warships. The upshots being 19 German divisions were kept inactive around Calais, while nearly 322km to the southwest Allied forces were securing a bridgehead. So effective was this scheme that for six weeks after the landings, Hitler still believed that the main attack was to come at the Pas de Calais.
In the early hours of the invasion it was essential for the Allies to safeguard the flanks of the beachhead by preventing the Germans from bringing in reinforcements. Eisenhower had total air superiority but his aircraft could not take out small targets at night or in bad weather, so he decided to use airborne troops to seize strongpoint, blow up or secure bridges and keep the Germans of balance and confused. The task of seizing and holding the Caen Canal bridge at Benouville and the River Orne bridge at Ranville on the left flank was given to the British 6th Airborne Division. These crucial targets were about a quarter of a mile apart on the coast road.
With the Allies now on the offensive, the tide was beginning to turn. The Americans succeeded in their attacks at Calaise and St. Lo and the Canadian/British contingencies finally captured Caen. The Allied forces were now poised to smash through the German lines of resistance, forcing Hitler to make serious blunders. After the Allies had achieved the desired breakthrough at St. Lo, the fascist leader astounded even his best and most loyal generals by ordering all his available panzers to counter-attack inside the area. The Americans were sealing it off from the west and south and the Canadian/British forces from the north. This action, more than anything, weakened the hold the German forces had in France. The end result was the slaughter and destruction of perhaps as many as 10,000 enemy troops and another 50,000 captured.
With conquest in the air, all eyes looked to the war being fought in Belgium/Holland and the world held its collective breath.
Melinda sat bolt upright in her cot, wondering just what it was that had awakened her. She frowned, looking down at Jan's sleeping form sprawled over both cots. It always amazed the southerner that Janice could sleep anywhere, anytime; even standing up. She picked up her wristwatch and peered closely at it. 'Two o'clock in the mornin?', she wondered. Disentangling herself from Jan’s body, she hastily wrapped a sheet around herself and peeked out of the tent flap and then, curiosity piqued, went to put on her dressing gown. Cocking an ear, Mel heard a resonant voice coming from just outside and went to investigate. She opened the flap just a little and waited until her eyes were accustomed to the darkness. There were two men talking, but who? She recognized an American accent and thought of home. She decided it might be prudent to just wake Jan and ask her about it. Mel looked over her shoulder at the sprawled form of her lover and smiled. No, yesterday had been a hard day for the woman, having virtually crawled into bed without preamble shortly after supper. The tough archaeologist wouldn’t admit to it but Mel could see the constant stress was getting to her. Melinda knew she should just climb back into bed; she could only look forward to more of the same in the morning. Jan had tried to talk her out of going back to retrieve Mikael's body but it had to be faced sooner or later.... The southerner's stomach flipped uneasily. She blinked quickly and turned, listening once more.
"...Is a commanding promontory, on top of which the we believe there is a powerful German battery of six 155 mm guns. It's feared the power and range of these guns will cause our landing troops some trouble, sir. Our landing craft will be lowered some 11 miles offshore, out of range. We've been given the dangerous task of scaling the cliffs under concentrated fire to silence the guns. Some 200 Rangers, equipped with rocket guns firing grapnel hooks, ropes and ladders, will be put ashore at H Hour." The man cleared his throat and then went on. "We are, however, anticipating heavy losses. Normandy will be nothing like Dieppe, of course..."
The brunette shuddered, holding her dressing gown close to her neck; the reports she'd heard of the British and Canadian assault troops being almost decimated to a man ran rampant through her brain. Her face suddenly went very pale as she remembered one such report detailing the aftermath of the battle; the waters of the Atlantic a crimson red from the seemingly endless wave of human flotsam. Mel held tight to that one sentence she'd heard him say...'nothing like Dieppe'...The two men began walking away and Mel strained to hear what the other man had to say. She inched closer to the flap once more, trying to convince herself that she wasn't really eavesdropping; just keeping up with current events. She craned her neck listening. "...Horsa gliders. Operation Overlord had to be postponed once, the next opportunity is in at the end of this week. We need airborne troops to go in quickly and hold the Caen Canal Bridge. That’s where you come in, sir."
Jan rolled over and moaned Mel's name in her sleep and it took all the southerner's will not to pass out right then and there from sheer fright. If a person had come in right at that moment, well, the white pallor and look on her face would tell the tale of a southerner caught with her hand in the cookie jar.
It was a few minutes before Melinda could get her heart rate back down to a manageable level. She swallowed the lump in her throat and listened for a few more minutes but when the two dark forms slowly moved away, Mel gave up and went back to the bed.
"Dash it all. I wonder what they were talkin about?"
She sat there wondering if she should mention anything about it. What would Jan think about her eavesdropping? It certainly wasn't something a genteel southern woman would do let alone admit. Taking a deep breath, Mel decided to play things by ear and not be so forthcoming. 'I have a bad feeling about this', she thought, goose flesh quickly covering her still alabaster skin. Biting her lower lip, she got into their version of a double bed and slipped in behind Jan, quickly folding the smaller woman in a tight embrace.
"D'ju have another nightmare, darling? C'mere...", mumbled the blonde as she rolled over to face her wife. Mel sighed, her mind running over the troubling information. She tried to steady her breathing but all at once a groan left her lips as she felt sure hands moving over her skin and a hot mouth on her neck.
"Gods, yer cold Mel...I'll have you warmed up in no time...", Jan chuckled as she moved a leg in between the woman's thigh; her mouth sucking gently on the soft skin of Mel’s shoulder.
"But you’re tired, Jan…you should be sleepin." The southerner thought briefly about telling her companion of the conversation she'd overheard but its relevance began to dwindle rapidly as she felt Jan's mouth moving lower...
"I, uh…wanted to ask you…oh gods…something, Janice."
Covington grunted, her eyes still firmly closed. "Shhh…. Don’t talk." She snaked her hand up the cool skin of her lover and then placed a finger on Mel’s lips. Mel opened her mouth to reply but all rational thought left as Janice’s warm lips covered her own. She groaned deep in the back of her throat as she felt the woman’s questing tongue probing every inch of her suddenly very hungry mouth.
She barely noticed when the sheets and blanket were pushed off the bed and she felt a hot trail cover her rapidly heated flesh.
"Oh, gods. It’s been so long, Jan" she said as she grabbed the petite woman’s hard buttocks and squeezed.
Jan let out a growl and sank her teeth into the soft flesh of her lover’s hip. Mel bent one leg to accommodate the woman’s shoulders and then groaned as she wove her fingers through Jan’s silken hair.
"No it hasn’t."
Mel’s hips began to move as she felt her wife’s mouth moving through her pubic hair and the succulent flesh that lay therein.
Jan smirked and wiped her lips on her lover’s inner thigh.
"That long. Hasn’t been."
Mel blinked a few times and then tried to clear her mind of anything but the sweet sensation of having her lover’s lips and tongue moving over her swollen flesh.
"Put your hand...Jan, yes…there."
Jan moaned against Mel’s quivering flesh as her fingers began dancing in the gathering moisture. The cots began to squeak as she bent to her loving task.
"Lover, bend the other leg…now scoot down a bit towards me…yeah, good." The two of them worked until the woman’s buttocks were just over the end of the cot and then Jan groaned with satisfaction as she propped her lover’s legs on her shoulders.
"So wet…so very ready, Mel."
Mel nodded and put pressure on the back of her lover’s head. "Oh gods, Jan…"
Jan smiled and used the tip of her tongue to trace a path from the lower part of Mel’s vagina to the woman’s clit and back again. Mel’s hips rocked forward at each passing and the blonde increased the depth of her stroke.
Mel felt herself getting so close. She grabbed Jan’s face and stared into her dark emerald eyes.
"It’s been over twenty-four hours and with you that’s a damned long time, Janice Covington. Gods, I want…. Oh, please…"
Jan removed her fingers from their soft warmth and buried her face between her lover’s legs. Mel arched her back and grabbed the sides of the cot as the beginning of her orgasm slammed into her.
Covington grinned as her lover scrambled for a pillow to press against the scream she could tell was coming. She felt Mel’s body tense and then took the swollen nodule between her teeth and sucked hard. Strong tapered fingers found their way back into her hair and Jan took a deep breath before her face was mashed against Mel’s shuddering flesh.
A muffled wail filled their small tent as Melinda’s orgasm gathered speed.
Jan pulled her face away and took in a gasp of air before returning to her task. It wasn’t until she found herself being pushed away that she finally moved back up her lover’s body to place kisses on the spent woman’s mouth.
Mel opened her eyes and could see the faint silhouette that was her wife in the slowly receding darkness. Jan smiled as a few damp locks were pushed off her face.
"So…can’t get enough of me, huh?" She leaned down and touched her sticky nose to that of her lover. Mel’s hands came up to cup her face and then Jan heard a deep chuckle.
"Never, Janice. Never, ever, ever gonna get enough of you. Yer stuck with me. Or should I say stuck ‘on’ me? What a mess we must look, lover."
Jan grinned. "Well then, I guess we’ll just have to get busy and clean each other up, huh?"
"With what? I didn’t fill the basin last night, sugar. Hmmm…I guess we could improvise", she said arching an eyebrow. "And use our tongues."
The first rays of morning filtered through the tent flap, casting a glow over the two embracing forms. Though there'd been little sleep to be had, both women felt fairly rejuvenated. Mel arched an eyebrow as she heard the usual rumble coming from the form beneath her. "By your tummy's reckoning it must be time for breakfast, which means it's about 6:00am. I swear I'm gonna sleep for a week when all of this is over. I need my beauty sleep, after all." Jan snorted. "Oh, baby. If you get any more beautiful..." The two women kissed again, all thoughts of an early breakfast forgotten.
They walked across the compound, holding hands, both women sneaking glances at each other and smiling. They'd discussed the happenings of the past few days when they'd finally made it over for breakfast. The battle sequence both had dreamt only seemed to accentuate the ethereal bond that seemed to be growing every day. It was strange to think that physically, they hadn't changed over hundreds of years. Having Xena appear through Melinda had left a distinct impression on both women. The southerner shivered in the sun, thinking about the battlefield; the death and destruction she could still almost smell. Jan held her hand a little tighter, somehow sensing the woman's inner turmoil. Having Xena as an ancestor was formidable and rather...daunting. More than ever, Melinda wondered how she could ever measure up.
For her part, Janice felt a bit of pride, knowing the 'irritating blonde', as she thought of the bard, was more, much more than that; it was somehow soul cleansing, as if knowing of the woman's hidden strengths quantified her own. Jan arched an eyebrow, thinking of the raw sexual magnetism of the Warrior Princess. The bond the two women had enjoyed centuries ago had been palpable when Xena mistook her for Gabrielle. One thing was certain; Xena: Warrior Princess had loved, cherished and honoured the woman in her life, her bard, as the other part of her soul. Their love was... Ineffable.
Recognizing her wife's growing uneasiness, Jan stopped and pulled the woman close. Mel slumped against the smaller woman but then, giving her head a terse shake, straightened her shoulders and stood tall, steeling herself for the horrendous task at hand. Going back down into the cavernous bombed out house belonging to Mikael Christopolis was something both women had tried hard to put off but now...well, the time seemed to be upon them.
Dan Butterworth ambled over, seeing the obvious discomfort on the southerner's face. He leaned in and kissed Mel's cheek, taking her hand gently yet firmly in his own. "You know, ducks, you don't have to do this. Heaven knows, dear woman, you've certainly had yer own go of it. Jan and I...." Melinda pursed her lips into a thin hard line and silently shook her head. The big man sighed dramatically. He'd known it was a lost cause, however, it was worth a try.
"Look, luv. If you feel you've gotto...well, more power to ya." He paused, giving the brunette a gentle pat on her shoulder. "I've gotto borrow me mate here...just a few words, ducks. Jan?" Covington quickly brought her wife's hand up and kissed it gently.
"Be right back."
Mel watched as they stepped a short distance away. Still feeling guilty about her early morning eavesdropping, she studiously turned her back, determined not to let curiosity get the better of her again. She wondered what they were talking about...
When the two were far enough away, Dan put his hand on the blonde's shoulder. "I've been called away, Jan. I've gotta head across to the Strait of Gibraltar. Seems you mates are makin a run with our 6th Airborne. I've been tasked..." He brought his head up and then cleared his throat as he noticed Mel coming a little closer. Turning his back, he leaned in and Mel just barely heard the word 'bigot' as she approached the pair wondering where the devil she'd heard the term used before. ‘And bigoted about what?’ She decided to question Jan later and then dismissed it from her mind.
Dan grabbed his friend by the hand and they turned to face Mel. "I do apologize for interrupting, my lovelies. I shall be off now. People to meet and places to go. All that sort of rot." His imitation of an upper class bloke had Jan poking him in the ribs and even brought a slight smile to Mel's worried expression. Jan watched as the two most important people in her life hugged and then she stepped in and quickly gave Dan a hearty handshake. Dan rolled his eyes and pulled the woman in for a hug.
"Hey! Watchit, will ya? I've got a reputation to uphold here. Geez, bad enough the troops see you carrying me around and then Mel dumpin me into the water trough..." She smiled good naturedly as the man laid a small kick on her behind before heading back out towards Polis.
Jan had deployed a small battery of men to clean up the impromptu German Field Headquarters that lay in ruins, thanks to a certain warrior and then had personally taken over the task of clearing out Christopolis' basement. The amount of artifacts she’d found in good condition made Covington wonder just what gods were on the old man’s side.
Thanks to the work the German's had done in getting to Melinda it had taken only a few hours to reach his body. Jan was just thankful that the dear old man had died instantly, his frail body unable to withstand the cave-in due to the building’s direct hit.
Both women took their time going down into the cavern-like basement with Jan soothing Melinda every step of the way. The blonde tried to come across as being stoic and therefore unaffected but Mel knew differently. It was the way she grit her teeth, her rigid stance and the way she kept her hands balled at her sides. Somehow, Jan's attempt at portraying herself as a source of strength helped the southerner look beyond the tunnel vision that centered only on the death of poor Mr. Christopolis and see just how it was to affect the two of them. He'd been such a friend, helping them at every turn. Mel had discovered it had been the kindly old man who'd anonymously donated vast amounts towards the future preservation of Greek artifacts. When she'd found this out, the image of the man and her own father began to blend; they were so very much alike. She was glad to have had a few hours alone with Mr. Christopolis' body, preparing it like any good daughter would have. It also allowed her to grieve and then put the death of her own father into perspective. In effect, she'd had to bury him twice. She was determined this time would hold better memories.
Covington made herself busy, going through the inventory and sorting some of the boxes. She watched as Melinda slowly made her way from table to table, checking tags and nodding to the occasional word a worker had for her. Finally, with only the darkened corner left, Mel made her way over and just stood silently. Jan repressed a shudder thinking of the final care her lover had afforded the old man and yet, on some level, understood the need for the woman to put things into perspective and go on. She thought briefly of her own father and her eyes began to mist over at the on rush of memories. Biting her lower lip hard, she turned and found something to focus on - anything to stop the images. She picked up the bit of tablet that Christopolis had found and tried in vain to decipher the markings.
Melinda’s hand shook as she grasped her necklace, saying a small prayer for the dead man’s soul. An image of the two of them making spanikopitas in his hot kitchen jelled in her mind and she remembered just how soft and careful his hands had been. "Oh, Mr. Christopolis…I miss you so very much…"
Hearing a heart-wrenching sob, the archaeologist looked up and watched as Mel smoothed the clothing of its layer of dust and grime and stretched a worn sheet over the old man's face. Mel stood very still but Jan could see her shoulders shaking as the woman broke down, quietly sobbing at the loss of their dear friend. Jan had gulped deeply a few times as she looked at the note wrapped with the artifact. She knew if she lost her composure, well...it had already been a damnedably hard watching Mel break down.
She cleared her throat, "That Mikael...always thinkin of you, Mel. He sure was a special guy." She paused and dragged a dirty hand across her face. "I wanna get as much of his stuff to a safe place and then get it to the museum...providing it's still standing."
Putting her hand to the small of her back, she arched and winced as a few pops were heard. Clearing out the basement had been a chore. Both women had decided to move the artifacts as quickly as they could, feeling the rest of the main floor could come crashing down at any moment. Jan was pleasantly surprised with just how little damage there was. She thought about the large tablet that was wrapped carefully, awaiting meticulous preservation and wondered if it really was the only known portrait of Xena, Warrior Princess. Melinda's resemblance was truly uncanny. She watched as it was carefully lifted and placed in a box. There was something about that corner.... Jan placed the bit of tablet and the note into the inside pocket of her jacket, determined to get it to a safe place. 'Hell', she mused, 'might point to the missing scrolls mentioned in Melvin Pappas' Journal back at the museum.' She scratched her chin at that, saying a silent prayer to any gods listening, hoping the museum and their house would continue to survive the air raids.
Jan put her arm around the southerner's waist and pulled her close. Mel turned and looked somberly down at the woman she loved. "C'mon, you', Jan said softly, "We gotta go. Altho that bombing's stopped, it isn’t gonna last for long. I don't relish bein down here when that ceiling comes crashing in. 'Sides, I gotta see the Colonel. Old Tom said he had a few wires he wanted to 'share' with me. Knowin him...well, let's just say, I figure he has somethin up his sleeve." She reached up and kissed her wife gently on the mouth and wiped the last of Mel's tears with the heel of her hand. They stood there, lost in each other's gaze until finally, Jan could see the woman's blue eyes clear a little and then a small grin tugged at her lips as Mel took a deep breath and squared her shoulders.
"Yes, Jan. As nice and cool as it is down here...no, I don't think I'd like to spend any more time down here than I have to. I'll talk to Mrs. Souris and some of the others. We could pay them to help with the crating, do ya think? I...I don't wanna stay down here...not with you up there. I'm comin with ya, Jan."
Covington looked into the woman's face and saw determination there. "Ya, I know, Mel. I was gonna ask ya to. C'mon, let's blow this popsicle stand. I got work to do." Jan took the woman's hand and helped her out of the entrance, both breathing a small sigh of relief as they came out into the sunshine.
Mel hugged her wife closely and then stepped back. After straightening her clothing and dusting her hands off on her pants, she gave herself a quick shake and then set her jaw. Whatever came, she could handle it. Of that there really was no doubt. Not after the 'visit' from Xena.
Jan smiled widely and chucked the woman under her chin. "There's my girl", sharing yet another tender look, Mel rubbed the raised goose flesh off her bare arms and they walked over to the training area.
Yanni Stephanos waved frantically, urging Jan to show a few more maneuvers in close hand to hand combat training. Quickly squeezing her wife's hand, Mel touched the small of Jan's back and gave her a wee push. Needing no further encouragement, Jan smiled and blew Mel a kiss. The southerner smiled ruefully and sighed, watching her lover strut over to 'play' with the men. 'Work, my great Aunt Fanny', Mel muttered to herself, one eyebrow cocked. She tapped her teeth with one well cared for fingernail, thinking about Dan and his wife. There was something going on there.
The last letter she’d gotten from the woman had hinted at a few things…some arguments with family members and just generally feeling out of sorts. It was what ‘wasn’t’ said that had alarms going off in Mel’s head. She just couldn’t put her finger on it.
She couldn't help but smile as she heard a deep belly laugh coming from the men that surrounded her Jan. 'She always did have a way with the folks around her', chuckled the southerner to herself. She watched as one man after another proceeded to attack Janice from every conceivable angle, all but one ending on their rear ends in the dirt. One fellah had been a little quicker than Jan anticipated and she was pinned down, the man vainly trying to twist the wildcat's arm behind her back.
"Sonuva...", Jan cursed through clenched teeth. "I think I have you", the man laughed wickedly as Janice began to thrash beneath him. 'Oh, but you are a slippery one...such a wild cat’; Micolo Kronos thought briefly as the sergeant once again broke his hold on her right forearm. Jan positioned her one leg against the ground and began pushing. The man's grasp began to loosen as his supposed victim began to turn over on her side. The next thing he knew, he was the one who's face was pressed into the dirt, a low chuckle emitting from the woman who now had both her knees against the small of his back, leaning into the headlock that was effectively cutting off his supply of oxygen.
"Say it, Kronos...c'mon.... You can do it.... Say Uncle Sam." The man struggled, his face turning beet red and then slightly bluish. There were shouts around them as money was exchanged, new bets being made. Jan could partially understand what was being said, the odds now shifting once more in her favour. She shouted out a figure and smirked as it was accepted. Suddenly there was a hush and Jan brought her head up. Her immediate field of vision was filled with a pair of black officer's jackboots and her eyes traveled up until she took in the pudgy fingers impatiently tapping an outside leg. She sighed and then released the Maltan, getting slowly to her feet and wiping her hands together with some satisfaction.
"Oh, hiya Tom...um, Colonel. What can I do ya for? I was just teachin the men some more..."
"Yes, Sergeant. I can see very well what you were doing. I also see the price of a private tutor has gone up a tad since this morning. Was that dracmas, dinars or US currency, Private?" He pursed his lips as Kronos found something more interesting to look at, rather than meeting the Colonel’s eyes. He jumped to his feet and threw the Colonel a very clipped salute and stood at attention.
Jan grinned and then casually took Barrington by the elbow and led him back towards his tent. "That gout actin up again, Tom?" Mel came over and joined them, giving the private a small smile. Kronos grumbled good-naturedly and fumbled with a few bills, which he passed to Stephanos. A group of compatriots surrounded him and began pounding his back. It had been close.
"I say, Covington...you can't continue to openly gamble in my camp. I won't have it. Not good for morale, don't you know?" Jan punched him on the arm and then took a few tablets from her breast pocket. "Here, Tom. I've only got a few of these pills left. How's your contact in the black market?" The colonel grumbled and then cleared his throat, grudgingly taking the medicine that would ease his gout if only for another 24 hours.
"Look, Jan, I do appreciate this but...well, it just isn't done, an officer trudging through back alley ways, dealing with nefarious black marketeers." He paused and then sighed as Jan explained that the private she'd just taken down was one of the contacts she always used. He nodded once and made a mental note to have the man in for a...chat. 'Sooner rather than later', he thought as he winced with every step he took. He held the flap open as both women entered his tent.
Mel grinned as she pressed a wad of bills into her lover’s hand. "Maybe we can get some chocolate on the way home...at the duty free? I mean, just how much longer can this damned war go on?" Covington clicked her teeth, chucked Mel's chin and motioned the woman forward. "You got it, toots."
Mel looked around, figuring Dan would be waiting for them but there was no such luck. She glanced at Jan and her brow furrowed as she tried to decipher just what that 'look' was on her lover's face. The wheels began turning as things began to click into place in the back of her mind. She sat quietly, mulling things over as Jan set up two chairs and then both sets of eyes settled on the man taking a seat behind his desk, the relief plain on his face.
"Pills workin, huh, Tom? Good, wouldn't want to lose you to some saw bones at this stage of the game."
Colonel Thomas Barrington was a brave man. He'd won himself several service medals in his 25-year service to King and Country. However, much to his chagrin, the sergeant was privy to his inner most fear...doctors. Couldn't abide them; they positively terrified him. Why, the mere thought was enough to put him into a cold sweat. He'd do anything...even put off the amputation of a few toes and endure the constant pain just to avoid one. Which, of course, was what he was doing at that very moment in time.
"So Tom, old son...what's the big mystery? You said wires?" Covington sat, ankles crossed, slouched in the folding chair. Mel eyed the woman from beneath her dark lashes, wondering what the show of easygoing bravado was all about. Jan only did that when she was bothered about something. She wondered just what Jan knew, had been since she and Dan had talked just after breakfast. The fact that their friend was absent moved like a puzzle piece and Mel dabbed a hanky at the perspiration forming at the nape of her neck, stopping the droplets before they began their descent down the middle of her back. 'Hmmm', she thought, crossing one leg over her shapely knee.
A few images began forming in her head as she pondered Dan's worry and Shelley's apparent indisposition the past few months. An insect began flitting about her head and she absently waved it away. She tuned her attention back into the ongoing conversation and caught a few words...Caen...Gibraltar.... And…Bigot. Her head snapped up and she narrowed her eyes. She'd heard something about ...just recently, in fact. Her eyes widened as another piece of the puzzle fell into place.
"...So you see, Covington, he's off to Normandy." Mel slipped silently to the floor of the tent, her face white as a sheet. Jan dropped down beside the woman and watched anxiously as Mel's eyes rolled back and then fluttered closed.
The allied advance on western Germany was halted by a combination of inadequate supplies and stiffening resistance; Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery had devised a spectacular plan to defeat the enemy by late spring. Forsaking his customary caution, Montgomery went to the Supreme Allied Commander, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, on March 10th with a daring scheme to rush Germany by a backdoor route through the Netherlands…To be undertaken by the end of the week.
In essence, he wanted airborne forces to land in the east of occupied Holland. They would capture five bridges on the main road linking Eindhoven and Arnhem and hold open a corridor 64 miles long until ground troops of the British Second Army could drive up from their current positions of the Belgian-Dutch boarder. From Arnhem, Montgomery believed it would not be difficult to turn the flank of the Germans' western frontier defences and storm into the Ruhr.
Frantic efforts were made to assemble and get ready 5,000 assorted aircraft for what would be the biggest airborne operation ever. Three divisions - the British 1st, the US 101st and 82nd - plus the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade were to be landed and supplied over a period of three days. The senior air force officers estimated that there were not enough aircraft for them to drop all the men in a single day. The 101st drop zone was near Eindhoven at the southern end of the corridor; the 82nd was to secure the central section around Nijmegen. The task of capturing Montgomery's main objective, the big road bridge over the Lower Rhine at Arnhem in the north, was given to the 1st Airborne and the Poles, under the command of Maj. Gen. Urquhart. His Red Devils would have to hold out longest until the Second Army arrived, and if things went wrong they would be on their own. In spite of reports coming in from the Dutch Resistance indicating German armoured units near Arnhem...a fact corroborated by RAF reconnaissance photos...the men of the 1st Airborne were told at their briefing to expect weak opposition from second-rate troops.
Next, the first rule of every airborne operation - drop close to the target to ensure surprise - had to be broken because the airmen refused to risk their planes close to the bridge in the belief that the area was heavily protected by anti-aircraft batteries. Urquhart's only alternative was to land on patches of open ground west of his objective.
Even though the vital element of surprise had been removed, there was no stopping or revising the operation. The first half of the division climbed aboard transports and gliders on the morn of Sep 17 and once airborne, joined a mighty fleet of British and US aircraft heading east toward Holland. The landings, in the early afternoon, went well and to begin with met little opposition. But the old men and boys that Allied Intelligence had believed to be defending Arnhem turned out to be two combat hardened divisions of SS Panzers and a Panzer Grenadier battalion, which was equipped with experimental multi-barreled, rocket-propelled mortars.
As the 1st and 3rd Battalions of the Parachute Regiment moved along the main roads into Arnhem but were soon obstructed by heavy enemy fire. Lt. Col. John Frost and his 2nd Battalion, using a secondary road alongside the river, advanced quickly. Peter van Oppen talked to the Colonel in low tones as he and his cadre insulated themselves within the man’s small group. Peter had taken a liking to the personable soldier and they'd spent quite a few evenings going over the history of the area. The Colonel, seeing both enthusiasm and a brilliant mind behind the light blue eyes began to encourage a friendship between the Dutch cadre and his advisors.
"Which enemy battalion do you think was in this area, Colonel? We are looking for our friend..." Frost scratched at the stubble lining his strong jaw. "Yes, I know you lot are worried about...what was his name...Frank?"
Jaap piped up from the back, "His name is Frans and he is a very good man..." The Colonel nodded as they carefully made their way past another nest of snipers. There had been far too many 'good men' that had died already and if he could stop the advancing Germans right here, right now...well, he'd give his left arm gladly. He inwardly cringed thinking about the letters of condolences he'd be writing when it was all over.
Suddenly, the Railway Bridge was in sight and Frost took in the scene before him. He cursed silently as he noted the twisted iron.
"Looks like the Germans have made better time than we have, yes?" Helena said as she removed her binoculars for Anneke to use. The Colonel sighed heavily and then a smile lit his face up as one of the lookouts reported that although a small pontoon bridge farther upstream was found to be unusable, their main objective -the Road Bridge - was intact.
Peter grit his teeth as they made their way across the field, littered with the remains of enemy and ally alike, searching each face, hoping and yet...He wasn't sure at this stage whether he wanted to find Frans among the dead or not. Just knowing his friend was at least accounted for would somehow ease his mind. Being a realist, he knew there was probably little hope of ever finding the man. He could just as easily be on a transport heading out to parts unknown as he could be in some forlorn ditch, the life oozing out of him. He shook the image away and tried to focus. 'Just so he's not somewhere being tortured...please God.'
Noting his discomfort, Menno strode forward and flipped over another body. "You can't keep doing this, Peter. You have to believe Frans is still alive...and we'll find him, you wait and see. I see a mixture of relief and sorrow on your face when you look at each body. It would not be a good thing, Peter, if we found him here. We would know, yes, but I think we have been through too much now to take the easy way out."
Peter stared at the bear of a man. Menno wasn't one for more than three words strung together and here he was getting very philosophical while searching bodies for their lost friend. He clasped the man on the shoulder and sighed. "You are right, Menno; I have to believe Frans is alive if only so I can kick his behind for making us worry this much." The two men hugged briefly and caught up with the rest.
Darkness was falling when Frost and his men began to take up positions in houses overlooking both sides of its long, concrete northern approach ramp. Brave efforts to storm the strongly held southern end of the bridge were repulsed by Panzer Grenadiers and the mere fact that Brit.. paratroopers were on the north side was enough to cause major difficulties for the commander of the 2nd SS Panzer Corps. The German Colonel had decided to dispatch one of his divisions rapidly away from the town to assist in beating off Allied attacks on Mijmegen. He then attempted to move some tanks on to the south bank using a tiny ferry some way to the east - a painfully slow process – and ordered his troops to clear the bridge, whatever the cost.
van Oppen watched as tough SS troops tried time and again to dislodge Frost’s troops from their vantage points. In one flurry of well-directed fire, the paratroopers wrecked a column of 22 scout cars and half-tracks, which tried to bulldoze through from the south. A fierce gun battle ensued and Peter noted with dismay that around the north end of the bridge houses were burning or disintegrating under artillery fire, while the cellars beneath them were filling with dead and wounded.
Helena patted his shoulder and then pointed up what was left of the street. A small band of German soldiers was trying to work their way up to a new vantage point. She smiled and then licked her index finger before touching the barrel’s sight.
Peter fired off two quick bursts and a man went down. Anneke caught Peter’s eye and winked, nodding in Helena’s direction. The blonde frowned and then grunted once as the Greek took careful aim and then fired off two shots. Anneke added another two marks to the crumbling plaster clinging to the window frame.
"She is a good shot, yes?" Peter saw the pride written on her face and wondered if she had ever felt such pride for him. A cold anger began in his belly and he leaned over in plain sight and began emptying his clip. The remaining German’s took refuge behind a wrecked lorry and began to site in their machine gun. Menno yanked back on van Oppen’s jacket as part of the window frame disintegrated.
"What are you doing?" He yelled. Helena grabbed the last grenade off her belt and quickly pulled the pin. Counting to three, she then lobed it and watched as it bounced a few times on the cobblestones before rolling under the lorry. Peter snorted with derision but had to wipe the smirk from his face as the explosion caused the vehicle to twist sideways, crushing two or three of the German’s against the railing. The rest scrambled from the burning ruin and were cut down one by one as Menno and Anneke took careful aim and squeezed off their shots.
None of them noticed the tick Peter had at the corner of his right eye.
Things began looking desperate as the day wore on. Frost's command
was blocked a scant mile from the bridge by fresh German infantry whose armour
was brought in to reinforce the 22nd Panzer Corp. Casualties began mounting
in disastrous proportions on both sides; there was talk of the Dutch cadre getting
out of harms way. The building they'd taken shelter in had taken some critical
fire, and they would have to move soon.
"Look, van Oppen...you've gotta go. There's just no two ways about it. Things are looking pretty damned dismal here. It's my job to hold the line for as long as I have to but you don't. So take your group and skeedaddle. You know I'm right."
Peter took Jaap and Menno aside. "I think we should make a stand with them. What do you say?" A feeling of despair crept slowly into the small group as Anneke and Helena huddled close by.
"Do I have a vote in this?" asked Helena, the newest member to the group.
"Of course you do, Helena", murmured Anneke, giving the woman a squeeze.
"Well then.... I say we leave." Silence filled the air as each of them digested her vote.
"Why do you say that?", asked Peter roughly. "These men have been good to us; we can't just abandon them when the going gets rough."
Helena nodded and then crawled towards the men. "Look, I understand how you are feeling for these men but I don't want to die here. The Colonel himself said it was a lost battle. Most of them will be taken as prisoners of war and sent to camps. What will happen to us? I think they will kill us straight away, no questions asked. I say we go and find Frans."
Peter scowled at the woman and then drew silent, pacing back and forth and running his hands incessantly through his blonde hair. And then he stopped just as suddenly as he’d begun. "Good. It is settled. We shall make a stand and our glorious death shall not go unavenged."
Helena gripped her lover’s hand with strong cold fingers, a hard look coming to her face. She didn’t want to give up her dream of a bright future with Anneke. It was a reality she could almost touch. As she opened her mouth to say something, anything, Peter balled his fists at his hips and glared at them all.
"Nee Helena, I won’t hear another word. We have to stay; it is our destiny. You are an outsider; I don’t expect you to understand." Anneke’s mouth hung open as she watched a hard stubborn look settle over her friend and brief lover. She wanted to argue, to make the man see how terribly wasteful their deaths would be. Why wouldn’t he at least discuss it? It was very unlike the man and a bit of worry began eating at her belly. This was not the Peter she knew, not at all.
Helena pulled the woman back and they huddled close against the wall, taking refuge in each other’s arms and keeping their own counsel. Menno sat against the opposite wall and settled his brother beside him, watching as Jaap finally stopped fidgeting and went to sleep. He darted worried looks from Peter back to Helena, feeling the icy grip of fear begin the work its way deep inside. There was something wrong with their leader and the big man wondered just how long he could keep silent about it.
None of them realized just how far away they were sitting, each lost in their own dark and worried thoughts. The thought of certain death hung over them all as the unsettled silence deepened and it was well into the early morning hours before they fell into a fitful slumber.
It was a few hours later when Colonel Frost made his way through the rubble to the small tangle of bodies and quickly began to shake van Oppen's shoulder. He'd been contacted via runner that General Urquhart's command was disastrously fragmented and sustaining heavy loses. Help from their quarter was not going to happen; they'd have to fend for themselves. The most depressing news of all had come just moments ago when the radios had finally been fixed. Because of bad weather most of the Polish brigade was still in England.
"Peter...wake up. Look, I'm not taking no for an answer. Get your chaps and move out...now. I've heard from the General and it won't be long before the damned panzers overrun us. Get out and don't look back, right?"
Peter rubbed the sleep from his eyes and began assembling his friends. "We have decided, Colonel, we will stay and fight." Disappointed eyes looked over at the Dutchman but the group said nothing. Helena, normally a very vocal person, seethed but she’d been out voted and would abide by the decision. Thoughts of Athens and Solari, her future with Anneke...they were becoming mere wisps of a dream now.
"You know, I really do appreciate that, van Oppen. You men...and ladies, of course...have been a great help to us. I won't forget it. But I must insist. You could do me a great favour and take some of my papers with you. If you reach the rest of our allied forces..."
Peter boldly put his hand forward. "We will reach them, Colonel. Of that you can be sure." The Colonel blinked a few times rather surprised at how easily the young Dutchman had given in. Something began niggling at the back of his mind but he quickly pushed it away as thoughts of getting the group out of harms way overtook him.
"Right then. God speed."
They all shook hands and Frost passed him a canvass satchel as two of his men helped the group pack up their meager belongings. Making their way to the basement of the building had taken them longer than the Colonel had imagined. Already, the red fingers of morning were slowly inching across the sky. Frost was somewhat taken aback as each of the cadre hugged him, the women kissing him on his cheek, and then they were gone.
Beaches of Normandy/Is Cyprus Burning?
In the early hours of the invasion it was essential for the Allies to safeguard the flanks of the beachhead by preventing the Germans from bringing in reinforcements. Eisenhower had total air superiority but his aircraft could not take out small targets at night or in bad weather, so he decided to use airborne troops to seize the strongpoint, blow up or secure bridges and keep the Germans of balance and confused. The task of seizing and holding the Caen Canal bridge at Benouville and the River Orne bridge at Ranville on the left flank was given to the British 6th Airborne Division. These crucial targets were about a quarter of a mile apart on the coast road.
The first glider came in just after midnight and had to use its chute to reduce speed. This raised the tail and it ploughed into a barbed wire fence, smashing the nose. Dan Butterworth and the co-pilot, still strapped into their seats, were thrown out of the cockpit unconscious.
Inside the glider everyone was momentarily knocked senseless. Butterworth had brought the glider down in exactly the right place by the canal and within seconds the men regained consciousness and went for their target. Luckily a German anti-tank gun beside the bridge was unmanned. The first landing had achieved complete surprise. Two teenage German sentries pacing the bridge in opposite directions, mistook the crash of the glider's landing for a piece of damaged allied bomber hitting the ground. One minute later, the second glider landed and its contingent joined the first group at the East End of the bridge. Their primary task was to clear the trenches of enemy troops and take out a pillbox.
Dan scrambled back into the cockpit and grabbed the picture of Shelley, shoving it deeply into his breast pocket. Wiping the blood from his forehead and then pressed a hankerchief against the wound. The co-pilot, a stocky man in his late twenties, winced as the medic strapped his broken arm tightly against his torso.
They took a head count and although there were four wounded, they were all mobile. As far as Butterworth was concerned, the landing was a huge success. He motioned all the men together and they did a small recce. It was by sheer luck they hadn’t been discovered and the Captain was going to take full advantage of it.
As the men fanned out at his direction and cleared the trenches and pillboxes, more troops from the first and second gliders stormed the bridge from the eastern end. The alarm went up as one of the German sentries fled to the western end, shouting 'paratroopers!'.
"Damn it all! Get that man!" Dan shouted and two rifles came up as the other German soldier fired his Very pistol flare and was immediately cut down. Some men ran over the bridge to seize the Gondree cafe and other buildings while the sappers removed demolition fuses from the bridge but found no explosives.
Dan signaled the other troops in the area via radio that the site was secured and waited for further instructions. Sitting huddled near some bushes in a make-shift perimeter watch Dan steadied his breathing and shook his head with amazement. Within 10 minutes of landing, the small force had captured the bridge, sustaining only a few injuries along the way. He nodded at the Sergeant and then rang off. They would have to hold their position for two hours until relieved by men from the main drop farther east of Ranville.
Captain Butterworth and his men made a dash with what was left of the US Rangers, their numbers severely cut down by the sniper fire securing the base of the cliff. The pre invasion naval bombardment had stopped when the Rangers reached their corrected landing point and the Germans had remanned the fortifications. Soaked and suffering from seasickness, under heavy small arms and grenade attack from above, the Rangers battled to scale the cliff.
Dan and his men gave covering fire as they watched the final landing barge disgorge its contents upon the beach. He’d given his Lieutenant orders to split the paratroopers into two squads and take his men and rendezvous with the US 1st Army just down the beach at Vierville-sur-Mer while he helped the Rangers establish a defensive position farther up. Timing things just right, they waited as another salvo from the US destroyer Satterlee thundered in on German positions on Pointe du Hoc, enabling the first men to scramble to the top within five minutes of landing on the beach. In the deafening silence the second group began picking their way across the blood soaked beach. Then word came down that upon reaching the summit, the Rangers had found that the guns, the destruction of which had been their primary object, were no longer there. To save them from earlier aerial and naval bombardment, the Germans had moved them to a more secure site, an orchard one-mile inland.
The Captain watched as the leader of the Rangers did a body count and then reported in by radio that they’d lost over half their men securing the objective. No mention was made regarding the absence of the great guns and he doubted the truth would do anyone any good at that point in time. Like a well-oiled machine, the Rangers regrouped and moved on to cut the coastal highway between Vierville and Grandcamp. Dan and his group had been tasked to move down to what was called Omaha Beach and help fortify the area until reinforcements showed up.
He rolled his shoulders to ease the tired and sore muscles and then did his own head count. His co-pilot had taken up position near the base of the cliff and had been one of a group of about eight men that had been the first of their group killed in action. Although things weren’t too clear, Dan believed that one of the shells from the US destroyer had missed it’s objective and struck the very spot the men had been.
Dan sat with the remains of his group and they all took a collective breath. It had already been one hell of a day and he wondered how many would live to see the end of it. He felt rather numb scenes of the war and the part he played rolled over and over in his mind. It was funny how a particular blonde and her companion figured through it all.
Snapping out of his reverie he and his men headed down the shoreline and then took up their positions in the sparse grasses near Omaha Beach. Butterworth lay staring at the scene that greeted him and felt his stomach roll. The sickly aroma of death that wafted off the carnage before him assaulted the very being of the man and Dan thought he might go mad from the stench. He lowered his binoculars and took two uneasy breaths. He glanced sideways at his Sergeant and because of the close proximity, could see the man’s chin tremble ever so slightly.
The scene that would haunt their dreams for years to come was right out of some demented artist’s view of hell. Only the reddish mess littering the shoreline rivaled the mangled rotting corpses that lay bloating in the afternoon sun. Dan quickly dragged his binoculars back up as he saw some movement down near one of the metal obstacles lining the beach. Could there be any survivors in this hellish scene?
Sergeant Brown popped his head up and pointed down the beach. "Look there, Captain…I fink we gotta live one." Dan zeroed in his sites and then quickly bent over and began wretching into the grass in front of him. There were a few uneasy moments from the men behind him until the Sergeant took a look himself at what had upset the Captain. The sharks had come into the shallows to feed.
Butterworth rolled over onto his back and quickly closed his eyes. Wiping a shaky hand across his mouth he tried to focus on something…anything. Images of his sweet wife filtered through the horrors and he found himself slowly releasing the breath he’d been holding. His eyes flashed open as Sergeant Brown cleared his throat.
"Sorry ‘bout that. I fought…well, you know. Bugger me. I just can’t wrap me head around it, Captain. So many dead. An look there…the half buried bodies of our boys…tangled with the enemy. And the landing craft. Some of the poor buggers never even made it out. Bloody Jerry’s."
Dan nodded and swallowed back his rising bile. ‘Joined in death, enemies no more.’ Shading his eyes from the sun, he could almost see the morning’s battle play out before him. It was evident a great number of the Americans had been picked off just as the landing craft began to spew forth its contents. Dan closed his eyes again, the rhythmic sound of the waves threatening to overcome him once more as they seemed to play with the flotsam of lost humanity.
He sat up and began pulling himself together, strengthening his resolve that he’d not fall apart. Later, out of view of his men was the time for that, not now.
Dan wiped a shaky hand over his face and then brought out a piece of paper. He wasn’t sure what he was going to write but he knew this moment, right now, needed to be captured. Licking his worn pencil out of habit, Butterworth stared out across the horizon and then began to write.
‘The waves roll slowly up, their froth pink with death
And the sky is filled with the mournful cry
Of gulls wheeling lazily above,
Eyeing the sweet banquet below.
The gunfire has ceased leaving deathly silence
To bear witness as each mother's child
Finds peace in the bosom of a sorrowful god.
Only the hiss of sunrise as it warms these bloody shores
Greets this new day, and the waves lay final claim to their prize.’
The Sergeant watched as his Captain gained control and then he too got up and met with the advancing Rangers. He looked out to sea and could almost picture Portsmouth. "For King and Country", he said in a quavering voice. He turned and began making his way forward, skirting most of the carnage until he came upon the bodies of a few German soldiers. He bent down and began rifling through the pockets. His actions dislodged the helmet that had been covering the man's face and then it hit him squarely in the chest. The man’s face was completely untouched, unmarred by the destruction the rest of his body had endured. Brown felt a catch in his throat as he realized the young German soldier was probably only a few years older than his own son. He looked down at his thieving hands and dropped the articles shamefully. Brown looked up and saw a few of the others rifling through the bodies, taking souvenirs. Some of them were taking out their frustrations on the enemy corpses, kicking them aside and delivering menacing blows to those that held any rank.
And the seabirds wheeled lazily above, their mournful cry the only sound in a world suddenly gone mad.
Colonel Thomas Barrington stood in the doorway watching the short blonde going about the tent looking for something to use as a fan. It was quite amazing just how tender the brash American Sergeant could be in matters of the heart. Well, no…only when it concerned Melinda Pappas. Covington was a very strange young woman; both masculine and feminine. He’d known Janice for the better part of two years but their relationship had been a cautious one. He never knew quite how to treat the situation. After all, finding a woman of her spunk and savvy, natural talent and personality, all the right things indicative of a good career soldier was a rare thing indeed. He’d even tried to get the damned woman to consider Officer Training but no, Janice was having none of it.
Barrington shook his head and then left the two women alone. Suddenly noticing the crumpled notes in his fist, he hobbled back to his tent and hollered for his batsman and tea.
Jan flapped a shirt ineffectually over her wife and watched carefully as Mel’s eyes fluttered open. The southerner groaned and then pushed Jan’s hand away. "Oh, Lord…stop pushin that heat at me. It must be 100 degrees in here, Janice. Couldja…get me something to drink?"
Jan tossed the shirt away and patted the woman’s hand. She pulled her flask out of a back pocket and offered it with a smile. Mel cast her a weary look. "I don’t think so, darling. Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a tall ginger ale."
Covington shrugged as she replaced the flask and got to her feet. She cocked her ear and then threw herself back down on top of a startled Melinda Pappas.
"Holy shit, that was close! You okay, Mel? Jeez, shelling first…won’t be long before…" The southerner pulled at her ears in a vain attempt to stop the ringing and then both women turned as the Colonel’s batsman raced into the tent.
"The Jerries…They’ve landed in beach assault crafts…crikey! The Colonel wants yer straight away, Sergeant!"
Janice grinned at her lover and then seeing she wasn’t going to pass out jumped to her feet and offered a hand up. "Playtime." She said and winked.
"Okay…tell him we’ll be right there."
Mel shook her head bemusedly and then hurried after her lover.
Barrington looked up once and then spread the messages across his desk. "These are from early this morning and this one…it’s only an hour old. Looks like we’re back in the thick of it, ladies. Miss Pappas, I’d suggest you go with some of the civilians and…"
Melinda shook her head quickly. "No! I go where Jan goes. Right, Jan?"
Jan sighed and looked sadly over at the Colonel. "Ya know…l do agree with ya, Tom…about the civilians…but I can see it now…I’d be thinking Mel’s all safe and sound and she’d be all pissed off and trying to get to where I am. And by hook or crook, she’d find me, too. Ya really don’t want to see her angry, ya know?"
Mel smiled knowingly. "You’ve got that right, darlin."
Barrington cleared his throat. "Well…l suppose I could have someone else do that, but won’t she be in the way?" A very deep colour began spreading from his neck upwards as both women pinned them with their gaze.
He was suddenly reminded of a very dauntless warrior-like Melinda Pappas walking through the smoke, dodging shrapnel and burning debris as if she were totally impervious to it all.
He swallowed weakly and licked his lips. ‘And she’d been wounded’. He found it all so very incongruous that this rather typical southern woman who seemed to blanche at the mere thought of trouble could then…
Images of the dark ebony hair blowing back from her face, the blue piercing gaze that left the viewer no doubt as to her being force to be reckoned with filled his mind and he blinked a few times, reminding himself that he was happily married.
"What I meant to say…" He snapped his jaws shut and scowled as Melinda stalked over to his desk.
"If you think, for one doggoned minute I’m gonna just sit here…" Jan smirked as she watched the Colonel avoid any real eye contract with the statuesque brunette threatening him with her version of intimidation. Hands on hips and shoulders squared, Melinda Pappas was indeed a sight to behold. However, the image was ruined as she stomped one slightly modified standard issue army boot, accentuating each word delivered.
Barrington cringed and tried to zone out much as he did when his wife would go on and on about how badly he’d played bridge that night. He thought of happy thoughts …thoughts that began to include a very nice looking brunette…her long tapered fingers caressing his weary forehead, telling him that she loved the way he played cards and that his game of cricket was simply unparalleled…
His head snapped up. What had she said?
Another shell landed nearby, throwing the Colonel to the ground.
"…And then we’ll make our way into the Troodos. The Germans probably won’t bother following us there and we can rendezvous with the group in Limassol…" Jan steadied the southerner as the desk shook and papers scattered to the floor.
"Excuse me? I say, Janice…just when did your promotion to my superior come in?" He cleared his throat and lumbered painfully to his feet. "Bloody Jerry’s. That was a little too close. Now Covington, if you’ll kindly leave the planning to those who…"
His jaw snapped shut as she gathered up the messages and stuffed them into a nearby brief case. "Nope. You are going with the civilians and the wounded, Tom. You know you are in no goddamn shape to handle a trip through the mountains with us and….don’t give me no lip, Colonel. I told you I didn’t have any more of those pills for your foot…we’ve had whatever chance we might have to get you some more on the black market…it’s done. Best we can do is make sure you and any pertinent docs get settled in with the civilians and wounded, all tucked out of sight. Okay?"
Tom Barrington felt his temper rising and opened his mouth to make some sort of scathing reply only to have it completely defused by a soft hand on his forearm. He looked up into very clear blue eyes and it was as if a calming warm blanket had settled around his shoulders.
"I know you wanna stay here and lead the assault, Colonel, but doncha see? It’s your foot. I can see how much pain you’re in and just how bravely you’ve tried to hide it. And you’ve done such a good job, sir. Why, outside of Janice and myself, I don’t think there is one man here that knows just what you go through in your battles with the pain."
Janice reached over and dragged out two walkie-talkies with extra batteries, strapping one to her belt and offering the other to the Colonel. "It’s not as if I’ll be in command, Tom. You can be right in the thick of things the whole time. I’ll keep you up to date every step of the way, promise."
"Didn’t you say there were some caves nearby, Janice? I don’t like the idea of havin all the women and children cramped inside some dirty old cave, but…"
The Colonel sighed and then began telling them of the local caverns that were being used as supply areas. They were more than big enough to accommodate the 30 to 40 people in the group.
The tent shook as a shell impacted close by. "Holy shit! All right, end of talk…. Let’s get the fu…. Sorry, Mel. C’mon, Tom…let’s get you outta here!"
Parts of the camp had been destroyed and Tom could see smoke billowing up from Polis. The Colonel knew it was only a matter of time before they’d be overrun. He quickly set his pride aside and helped the others evacuate.
It was a few hours after they’d settled the older villagers, children, and the wounded, putting some distance between them and the town before Jan’s group of eighteen freedom fighters could stop for a break. It had been very hard to leave the others behind but in her heart Covington knew it had been the right decision. She just hoped the German’s would take what little there was in the village and move on.
Mel swiped ineffectually at the swarm of small insects and scrunched her face as she watched the men applying some rather disgusting looking cream to their faces. She felt a tap on her shoulder and then, eyes wide, tried to back up.
"Oh no you don’t. C’mere! Gotta get this stuff on that nice shiny face of yours. The moon’s gonna be out in….oh, two hours, I guess. ‘Sides, this’ll be the last stop we can make for a while." Jan checked her map and flicked a bug off her ear. Melinda watched her as she smeared a bit of the greasy black goo from cheek to ear and then gave her an appraising look.
"You want to do it or shall I? Look, I know you hate this sh…this stuff…all greasy and black and olive drab…but you’ve gotta do it. ‘Sides, it’ll help keep the bugs off ya."
Mel sighed and then reached out and touched her lovers nose. Inspecting her finger closely, she decided that the less contact she had with the substance the better she’d feel. "You do it."
Jan smiled gleefully and opened the tins.
"You needn’t look so darned pleased, Janice Covington. Why, I think you take pleasure in seein me suffer."
"Ah gwan…this is the only type of makeup I DO like puttin on…Heheh."
It was another good two hours before they reached Pano and a nervous pall descended as runners came straggling in through the darkness with information about Chakistra’s failed attempt at making a stand. Jan growled to herself. If only…
Memories of her time with the Dutch cadre filled her mind and she knew without a single doubt that if only…She wondered just how her Dutch friends were fairing. The scuttlebutt was the war being fought in the European Theater was all but over. If that were true, it wouldn’t be too much longer before the axis forces capitulated and…Thinking about the poor sods in the nearby village making a stand and dying when peace was right around the corner made her blood boil. ‘The damned war couldn’t go on forever’. Jan squared her shoulders, determined to do whatever needed to be done to hurry that eventuality.
Oosterbeek: Haven or Hell?
General Robert Urquhart sat in a small, darkened room in the Hartenstein Hotel drumming his fingers on the desktop. The last report he’d received indicated the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade was being delayed by bad weather in England. At this point, he’d have to assume they wouldn’t be making an appearance any time soon, if at all.
He picked up the radio with exasperation, hearing a buzzing sound just as he had all morning. Slamming it back down, he stood and began searching his trousers for matches. He paced back and forth as he began rolling the cigar between his fingers. He’d taken special care in packing just the right amount of Cuban cigars, making each one last. He sighed deeply as he exhaled the pungent odor of tobacco.
It had been a long night. The last report through the somewhat sporadic and oft times conflicting radio reports had the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade either delayed in England or on their way but to another rendezvous point. It was most distressing. Tuesday was turning out to be a very unsettling day indeed.
Without the use of his radio, Robert Urquhart was totally oblivious to the fact that part of the Polish Brigade had indeed landed but had found their previously okayed rendezvous point overrun by the Germans. They had landed in the midst of a heated skirmish and were at the mercy of both friend and foe alike, neither stopping to check shoulder flashes before firing.
His pacing was checked as his Captain came rushing into the room.
"Sir! I’ve got some Dutch people outside that insist on seeing you. They say…" He was interrupted as Peter pushed past.
"Hello. I am just coming from Colonel Frost. He has entrusted us to deliver this to you." Van Oppen carefully handed the briefcase over to the General and then glanced quickly behind him.
"Most irregular, sir." Grumbled the adjutant. Urquhart waved his Captain away and took in the bedraggled group as they made their way into the room. The blonde man standing tall before him looked very young but was obviously the leader. A very tall looking woman with piercing grey eyes stood behind him, holding a smaller blonde woman against her side. Bringing up the rear were two men, one showing the signs of wear and tear that only interrogation could provide.
"Right. Have a seat, please." He motioned to the chairs and couch that had seen better days. "Sorry about the furniture, but one must do with what’s available."
Peter smiled wearily. After dodging both enemy fire and Allied bombings, he would be happy to just curl up on the floor and sleep.
Helena strode forward after easing her companion onto the couch. Anneke winced but said nothing. Peter darted a quick look in her direction and jumped to his feet.
The Greek said, "You have doctor, yes?"
She glanced over her shoulder and saw their leader glaring back. "It is only a flesh wound, Peter. We could not have stopped and so…"
"Je had het me moeten vertellen...zij is mijn verantwoordelijkheid, niet de jouwe", Peter said between clenched teeth. The Greek just flashed her slate grey eyes in his direction and said nothing. It was neither the time nor the place to discuss just what the man had said. Anneke gently pulled the woman back and began whispering into her ear.
The General watched the mini drama unfold. It seemed there was a bit of a power struggle going on. The woman spoke with a Greek accent, and he wondered just how she’d come to be in a group of Dutchmen. Was the other woman Greek as well? Sisters, perhaps.
"Yes, of course we do. Sergeant!"
A man hurried in and left with instructions to fetch the MO. Helena dropped to her knees and took the blonde’s trembling hand in her own. She spoke quietly and then gently kissed the woman’s lips. She froze as she felt an angry hand on her shoulder.
Having been told exactly what the man had said earlier, Helena was ready to respond.
"Now you will listen to me, Peter. It is my business. She is my business now. It was our decision not to stop but to go on." Anneke nodded weakly, clutching her side. Peter stood there, mouth open and then reached down and pulled the woman’s jacket open. He cringed as he saw how much blood had seeped through. Gritting his teeth, he stood up and then glared at the Greek woman.
Knowing it was neither the time nor the place for the heated discussion he knew was coming, Peter bit back his angry retort and turned to face the General. "We have done what Colonel Frost wished of us. If we can have a few hours to rest and get medical attention, we will be on our way."
Suddenly the radiophone rang, startling them all into silence.
"Urquhart here. Yes. Dash it all! Been without one, yes. Couple of days now. Look man…you’ll have to tell the RAF to drop the cargo closer to the hotel…we’ve had to pull back…yes, the lines are getting rather thick here. Right."
An explosion rocked the building and a fine cloud of dust filtered down from the ceiling. Helena wiped her hand over her lover’s face but only managed to smudge things further. Menno and Jaap sat stone-faced, their shoulders touching.
Cursing quietly, Urquhart stared at the hissing line and replaced the receiver. Well, at least he’d gotten word out about the supplies. Although it was really only a matter of time before they were overrun, he was going to make a stand for as long as possible.
He looked at the group before him. Their destiny was to have found some way to get through the German lines alive…only to go from the frying pan into the fire.
The General sucked a tooth. "I’m sorry, old chap. No can do. I’m afraid you’re here for the duration. That brief little conversation I just had from one of the other units has the Jerry’s closing a cordon around us and if the barrage we are currently experiencing is any indication, the bastards are going to make the cargo drop bloody difficult. You say you’ve just come from Frost? How are things with him, then?"
Peter dragged his eyes away from Helena’s back and cleared his throat. "Yes, we spent a few days with them. One our team was out on reconn with the 2nd Battalion…they were captured. We are looking for him. I think things are very bad for the Colonel right now, sir."
"For everybody, I’m afraid. Yes, just so…. What is your name, by the way?"
Peter stood proudly and introduced the group, Anneke first and Helena last. Urquhart noted the difference in the last names and a few things fell into place. Sisters? Power struggle? Indeed.
He stroked his mustache as the Sergeant led the group out into one of the rooms in the back. Going back over to his desk, he retrieved his cigar and played it back and forth under his nose, sighing deeply. Placing it between his teeth, he gingerly played a match over the end and puffed slowly as the scent of fine tobacco filled the air once more.
"Right, John…. What have you got for me?" He opened the briefcase and then began to read.
Peter stood sullenly in the corner while Helena made his former lover comfortable on one of the cots provided. Seeing her look so vulnerable, Peter noticed that Anneke’s usually healthy 160 lbs. had been whittled down by at least 15 lbs. It was obvious to him that Helena was not taking care of his ex lover. He began a mental tally of grievances against the Greek woman.
The MO worked quickly, peeling back the sodden clothing to get at the wound. It was a shallow one, probably from a ricochet as they’d eased past the German lines.
It had been difficult in the early morning light to distinguish between friend and foe, and so they’d palavered quickly and then done their best to avoid any human contact whatsoever. Helena had acted as point, and they’d managed fairly well. However, getting through an area they'd overheard called ‘Hell’s Highway’ had not only cost them precious time and energy but also, it seemed, the well being of one of the cadre. An injured member impacted on the cadre as a whole. It was Peter’s responsibility, but at this point, he was all too willing to put the blame on the tall Greek. He had been all for just setting Menno and Jaap up as snipers and taking out as many of the packets of humanity as they came across. However, as Helena pointed out, one couldn’t be sure on just whose side the soldiers were on. So they’d taken the long way…a decision that sat like bitter ashes in the leader’s mouth.
He’d found himself spinning out of control lately, what with Frans missing, Jaap almost near the breaking point, Anneke drawing farther away from him and closer to Helena…
Gritting his teeth, he watched with burning eyes as the medic finished stitching the wound in Anneke’s side. He began pacing back and forth as the other two men exchanged worried glances. Jaap huddled close to his brother, sharing unspoken images of just how far their leader had fallen.
Menno picked absently at the scabs that dotted his wide face as Jaap worried the yellowing bruises on his brother’s hands and arms. It was almost as if Jaap were willing them away. The larger man patted the man’s shoulder and then hugged him close. Jaap’s incessant repetitive movements were beginning to worry him. The man would button his shirt over and over, saying it wasn't right and then take it off, saying it had to be washed again. He’d been dissuaded from dunking the thing in the fetid waters they’d come across in their travels but the man had become sullen and unresponsive. It was only when Peter had suggested he and Menno act as snipers and go ‘hunting’ that Jaap had expressed any interest in his surroundings at all.
He was going to be very happy when the damned war was over. Things would be as they were, with Peter and…
Sighing deeply, Menno glanced up and was pinned by Helena’s slate grey eyes. No, things would never be as they were. With Frans missing and then Helena poured into the mixture, things had really gotten past the point where they could ever be the same.
He liked the Greek, finding her to be both capable and reliable. He glanced over at his pacing friend and his worry increased. Peter now had the look of a caged lion, claws extended, ready to leap upon anything at the slightest provocation. He would have to do something…
Jaap’s head came up as his brother moved and then stood up. He blinked a few times and then noticed his buttons once more and was lost.
Helena turned at the animalistic low growl coming from van Oppen just as Menno grabbed the man about the waist. Anneke reached out, almost falling out of the cot, as she attempted to grab her lover’s sleeve.
The Greek woman stood her ground, fist held before her and legs planted firmly apart as she watched the two men struggling.
"Come on, then! Let him go, Menno. It stops here." With a roar Peter went on and on about how she didn’t deserve Anneke…that only Jannie had deserved her love…that his love was just as pure…only his love would set them free. Couldn’t she see things would be the way they used to be?
Helena dropped her fists, shaking with pent up adrenaline and just stood there, his rant jumbling around inside her head. It was obvious to her now; the man was mad. She felt horrible. The man wasn’t in control of himself whatsoever and she’d been ready to pummel him, to take out her frustrations at his behavior the past couple of days. She thought of just how many different ways the man could have gotten them all killed and found herself sick to her stomach.
She stood shaking her head as Peter was reduced to a blubbering mass of unresponsive flesh, and then Menno dragged him from the room, leaving a cold silence in their wake.
When the big Dutchman returned a few minutes later, he was surprised to see that neither woman had moved, almost as if they’d been frozen in time. Helena’s face was chalky white while Anneke looked as if she was still holding her breath.
Both women watched as Jaap followed his brother out, and then Anneke quietly began to cry.
Helena was so torn. She wasn’t sure if the tears were for what was, what she’d almost done, what she didn’t do or because Anneke’s wound had reopened. She stood there stock still, waiting for a sign from her lover, something that would tell her they were still all right. Whatever she and Peter had been to each other once upon a time, there was still a fierce bond between them.
"Helena…kom eens hier, schat", Anneke grimaced as she pressed her hand hard against the wound that had begun to seep once more. "Come to me, my love."
Grey eyes filled with tears as Helena read the look on her lover’s face. Whatever she’d had with Peter, or Jannie for that matter…they were past. Their future was together.
Dropping to her knees, Helena held the woman’s pale hands and then pressed them to her lips. The stress of the last few days had lain like a weight on everyone’s mind yet seemed almost unbearable at just that moment to Helena Mazontis.
Gently peeling back the torn and stained shirt, Helena dragged the basin closer and began to carefully clean the wound. Once the chore was done with, she eased the rest of the woman’s upper clothing off and then sponged the dirt and grime that had accumulated over the past 72 hours. She sighed inwardly at how prominent her lover’s ribs were becoming.
Anneke watched through half opened eyes as the day’s events
fell upon her like a heavy shroud. As she let her eyes slip closed, images of
the bodies they'd found swarmed
up to greet her. She fought silently and then they flickered momentarily as she felt Helena’s hands smoothing the hair at her temple.
Anneke found herself sliding back down into her wakeful nightmare as the scene changed to that of their journey through Hell’s Highway earlier that afternoon.
They’d come across a small river that flowed down from the Lower Rhine, and although it was narrow in spots, there wasn’t enough cover to make the crossing safely. They had all scattered and done a short recce to determine the best place to ford the water.
The constant barrage had made them all jumpy and eager to just cross the damned river and be done with it. However, Helena, who had almost completely taken over the task of getting them all to safety, had come back with news of both a narrow traverse and enough dense brush for suitable cover.
Anneke had been overjoyed as thoughts of cool brisk water on her grimy body floated through her mind.
As they crept along in the early morning light Menno, who had taken point just a moment earlier, gave the signal to halt. Five sets of eyes scanned the horizon and then Jaap began to hear the noises of an oncoming group of soldiers. Quickly indicating that the women should follow Jaap with Peter and himself as rear guard, the group began to creep towards the water.
Anneke just barely stifled a scream as she noticed the bodies littering the banks of the river. Helena poked her in the back, wondering just what the hold up was and then she felt the soft ground beneath her give way. Looking down, she was just able to distinguish a few rotting corpses before her mind closed shut and refused to register any further details.
In order for them to cross the river, it was apparent they’d have to do so upon the backs of bodies that lay almost cheek to jowl in the fetid waters of the Rhine.
Peter didn’t seem to notice anything and pushed the women ahead. Jaap had tried to clear a path, pushing away the grisly debris as best he could, but it soon became a losing battle as the next boot-sucking step was surrounded once more. And then they were chest high in the horror and each wondered if they wouldn’t simply go mad before reaching the other side.
They were half way across when an alarm in German rang out. A few shots were fired and the group all but ran across the river.
"Halt! Halt!" Shouted the silhouetted figures that dotted the banks. A flare gun was discharged and then the leaden sky seemed to jump away from them, giving the enemy a clear shot at their position.
Helena was the first to act, throwing her body against the blonde and dragging Peter down into the mire beneath them, using the useless bodies as a shield as shots rang out. Finally breaking the surface, the Greek was barely conscious of the flotsam around her as she swam closer to the shoreline, dragging Anneke behind her.
Peter had struggled as soon as his head had breached the water and the stench of death was everywhere. He found himself surrounded by faces that bore very little resemblance to human beings, even in nightmares and had opened his mouth to scream. His mouth was quickly covered and then suddenly, his foot was touching bottom and he was dragged from the water, up the slope and out of the line of fire. Stumbling along, he pushed the hands away and watched as Menno made a head count.
Helena had already made it up over the knoll and had stopped to check that the river hadn’t held any further surprises. Although leeches were the least of their problem, they were unwanted guests in any event.
Anneke gasped as she felt her ribs prodded. Quickly holding her arm to her side she shook her head at the Greek woman and then moved quickly away, leaving the soldiers to curse both the malfunctioning flare gun and the sodden and bloated gifts that day’s battle had bestowed upon them.
Helena watched as her lover’s eyes finally closed. She could tell by the jerking movements that Anneke was reliving their day’s trials. "Oh god, hou ze uit de buurt", the blonde whispered piteously. Helena crooned softly to her, blinking back the tears. Oh to be back in the bosom of her homeland, safe and far from harm’s way.
She carefully brushed a blonde lock from her lover’s face and then began replacing the clothing. Sitting against the wall, Helena took the rag and squeezed it until the water ran pink and then began her own ablutions. With each pass of the cloth she felt rejuvenated.
Her thoughts of what the night and following day would bring was interrupted by the occasional shell burst and machine gun fire and then she slept, her hand still clutching the cloth as if it were a life line.
The occasional shell burst and machine gun fire interrupted
her thoughts of what the night and following day would bring. Then she slept,
her hand still clutching the cloth as if it were a lifeline.
The Game of Life
Stephanos crept quietly forward on his belly, his nose twitching as his keen smell took in the German cigarettes. Thoughts of liberating the tobacco played through his mind, and he tightened the grip on the knife in his hand. Jan had given him a K Bar, and although the finish was black matte making the edge look dull, he knew just how sharp the blade really was.
Parting the brush slightly, the Cypriot watched as three German soldiers crouched over a sack, divvying the contents amongst themselves. He narrowed his eyes and frowned. Inside were small articles belonging to the small church in Pelendria along with some bread, fruit and a cask of wine. Knowing just how very hard food was to come by let alone the elixir of the gods, Stephanos was certain the owners hadn’t given them up willingly. As to the artifacts…his blood boiled as he thought of the sacrilege. Had these soldiers no shame?
The two German soldiers began haggling over their ill-gotten gains as a handful of others came into the clearing. The Greek cursed under his breath as he did a head count, and then he slowly eased back the way he’d come, visions of retribution put on hold for another time.
Visions of his quiet village on the island of Crete being similarly raped flashed across his eyes, but even he, Stephanos the Bull, knew he was woefully outnumbered. Perhaps the feisty little American could figure a way for these pompous invaders to feel the wrath of the Greek people. She was like a pit bull, this Jan Covington. While it had been a great blow to his considerable ego to have a small and seemingly insignificant female beat him in a contest of strength and will, he’d gotten over it as he saw others fall before her skill and cunning. Now he appreciated the little blonde dynamo with her machismo and take no prisoners attitude. He shook his head in wonder: her ego seemed at times to rival his own. Almost.
Melinda sat perfectly still as the foreign words washed over her, and she began picking small things out of the conversations that whirled about her. The consensus this night was that although they had confidence in the Sergeant, there was a real growing fear now that German soldiers had been spotted in the Troodos. If they gained a stronghold in the mountain areas there would be nowhere to hide. Visions of having their backs against the unforgiving waters of the Mediterranean Sea were notworth contemplating.
The southerner picked aimlessly at her neck, unable to leave the greasy smears alone, thereby providing previously hidden flesh for the winged denizens to prey upon. She dropped her hand guiltily as she felt another mosquito pierce her tender skin. Why wouldn’t she ever learn? Taking the olive drab jar from her pocket, Mel began dabbing at the newly bitten area. It had been a long night and she was sure to look like some bloated puffer fish by morning. She caught her hand mid scratch and then sighed deeply.
"Alright, Jan. Where are ya, darlin?" Melinda peered at her watch again, giving it a small shake just in case. It ticked loudly as if mocking her, the time almost identical to when she had last checked. Why was it that time seemed to crawl when you really wanted it to race by and seemed to just slip between your fingers when you wanted to hold on to it a bit longer?
Small animals skittered across the forest floor as the shadows began to recede and morning started to flicker across the low horizon. Jan rubbed her jaw in contemplation and then studied her drawings again. She was just pacing off a section and making notations when she heard a small twig snap. Quietly dropping to her knees, Jan removed a long thin dagger from her boot and waited. It was a few seconds, but then the noise was repeated, and Covington cocked her head, pin pointing the location. She grinned.
Stephanos cursed silently as the toe of his boot came down on a small twig. He waited patiently and hearing nothing, moved slowly forward. He’d run into some of the others and was told the whereabouts of the little blonde. Images of her pressing hard against him in a wrestling hold entered his mind and he felt himself flush with arousal. He blinked a few times and snorted. ‘She was very attractive, this fiery little dynamo’, he mused and then his smile faltered as he remembered the way the blonde had looked at the tall brunette warrior walking through the flames, oblivious to the danger around her and the deep gash on her thigh. That look was something he could only ever dream would be aimed his way. And it would certainly not be from someone like Janice Covington. She was beyond his grasp, that was clear, but oh the fantasies that had been filling his mind lately!
He stiffened, his blissful reverie broken as he felt the cold edge of a blade pressing against his throat. Two sharp fingers jabbed into his kidneys, and he winced but painted a smile on his face as he recognized the faint scent of leather.
"Stephanos." They stood for another moment and then Covington removed the blade. "You do know you’d be dead right now. How many times have l gotta drill things into that thick skull of yours?" It was a rhetoric question, and the Greek understood the lesson being taught. He’d been caught wool gathering, and had the Sergeant been a German soldier, it would be his blood seeping into the rich soil under his boot, not the heavy dew that he was beginning to notice as the area around them came to life with the early morning sun. He swallowed deeply.
Jan noticed a faint blush start up the man’s neck and patted his shoulder. "Look, I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings but you gotta know…next time it might not be just your life that hangs in the balance. You might end up getting one of us killed…and if that someone is tall and brunette…You won’t have to worry about what the German’s will do to you, okay?
His blush receded rapidly as he heard the cold tone to her voice and knew, without even turning, that her eyes had gone a very flat emerald green. He felt himself pulled against the tree and then released the breath he’d been holding.
"So, spill it. Whatcha find, how many, where….you know, details."
The Greek swallowed as the woman brought her face close to his. "You okay? I didn’t spook ya that much, no?" The man made a tiny attempt at a smile and then dropped his head. Jan frowned and then noticed the large hands fidgeting, remembered the blush and moved back a little.
‘Gods, another one…how do I get myself into these situations? Jeez, almost cut the bastards neck for him and he gets turned on? Men! Maybe I shouldn’t use a knife and just rely on my bare hands.’ She snorted, looking down at her small callused but definitely feminine hands. No, that would just attract a kinkier group. She sighed. There was no way she was going to even broach the subject with Stephanos let alone say a word to Mel about it. The southerner was already noticing how the men wanted more frequent lessons in hand to hand. She almost snickered but thought better of it as she felt a phantom cold icy blue gaze all but fall on her.
Jan really didn’t mean to flirt with the guys, it just happened. She was good at what she did as a soldier and liked to show it off every now and again. ‘Ha! All the time, Covington and you know it.’ She wiped the grin slowly off her face with the back of her hand as she thought of how jealous her wife would get and the passion that emotion would arouse.
She blinked as she felt the point of a blade just below her ear. Swiveling only her eyes, she looked into the dark smirking face of her comrade.
"Shit." She chuckled low in the back of her throat as she watched the man’s grin widen and then he replaced the dagger in her boot.
Stephanos’s jaw dropped, and then he began to shake, as silent mirth rippled through his stocky frame.
"So…tell me about those soldiers", she said as she reached for the walkie-talkies.
Melinda dabbed at her cleavage as she handed out the last ration pack. She eyed the tin of Spam, a sneer painting her lips. She checked the other box by her feet and saw that Janice’s was British. Pawing through the jumble, she picked up the diet sheet and noted the contents. There was a tin each of corned beef and marinated kippers, a packet that proclaimed itself ‘the best Instant Mashed Potato Flakes’, a small jar of marmalade, some crackers and a small box of biscuits. Pushing things aside she also noticed a few toffees and a chocolate bar. Frowning, the southerner bit the inside of her lip, weighing the pros and cons and then decided to just dump the contents where she sat and wait for Jan to decide just what she wanted to eat. After all, her lover was expending far more energy than she herself would even in extreme circumstances.
Jan rarely sat still, and just watching her was apt to make a person tired. She had a voracious appetite in all things, and it seemed to Mel that the woman spent the whole day from the time she woke up until the wee hours of the morning when sleep would finally claim her in the quest for something, be it life’s experience or food.
The southerner picked a few tins for her sustenance and then heaped the rest in preparation. Eyeing the candy bar she’d kept for herself, Mel bit her lower lip and then pushed it back over to Jan’s rather large pile.
Jan watched as her lover divvied up the two packets and then smiled as the candy bar was pushed away. True love was such a wondrous thing, and Covington blessed the day she’d found the woman in her office back in Argos, Greece four years previous. That had been the beginning of something so unexpected, so very special, that Janice was still at a loss as to just what she’d done in another life to deserve it all.
Stephanos watched as the Sergeant crept closer. The look upon the woman’s face was pure poetry in itself. The woman’s eyes shone with pure adoration and even such a man as he could see that every fibre of the woman was attuned to the object of her desire. He was struck with awe as he watched the other American’s head come up, as if she’d sensed the woman’s presence. The Greek knew just how impossible that must be but just the same, there was something…
Jan watched as the sunlight filtering through the trees danced upon the ground encompassing her lover and thought she’d never seen the woman look lovelier. She gazed at her lover’s profile oblivious to the insect bites, the grease that smeared both skin and clothing and the ruffled nest that had become Melinda’s new hairdo. As Mel lifted her hand two sweep the loose strands from her forehead, Jan’s breath caught in her throat. It didn’t matter where they were, what they were doing or who they were with; it all seemed to fade to pale when they were together. She could feel a physical ache when she was away from her wife and suspected Mel felt exactly the same way. Even now, as she watched an awareness come over the woman, she knew for certain their bond existed and transcended time. Her chest swelled as she watched Melinda come to her knees and search the forest.
Melinda felt her throat constrict as a warmth seemed to wrap around her like a well loved security blanket. She felt the frustration and worry just seep out of her as she sensed the close proximity of the woman she loved. Searching the dense forest, the southerner’s eyes finally locked onto a shadow, and then she rose from her knees, leaving the foodstuffs to litter the campground. A great sigh seemed to flow from the depth of her as she watched the shadow take form, and then she smiled widely as green gemstones seemed to bore into her very soul.
As the two women walked carefully towards each other, Stephanos wiped a tear from his whiskered cheek. Surely there would be a woman out there in all the world that would love him with half of what he’d just witnessed? He blinked a few times and caught quite a few pairs of eyes glancing nervously his way. Squaring his shoulders, he stood up and strode forcefully into the camp.
Giving each of their small band a knowing look, he pointed over his shoulder at the women as they embraced and then went hand in hand to pick up their morning meal.
"This is why we fight, yes?" The men who wore the bumps and bruises of the Sergeant’s expertise as a weapons/combat instructor nodded. They knew the tiny American had made Greece her home and had dedicated her life to the preservation of Greek antiquities. Some, like Stephanos, knew far more than that. Having good ears and the ability to look less intelligent than he was had netted him quite a bit of personal information about the two women. This information in turn had made him seem a little more important in the eyes of his comrades thereby increasing his own confidence and abilities. It was really a very good situation all the way around.
Jan looked over as the group of men crowded around Stephanos and wondered just what they were going on about.
Melinda began opening her tins and then, in mid sentence, fell silent as she picked up the low mumble of a rather ribald conversation. She picked up her hanky and quickly covered her gaping mouth as she began translating certain phrases. Jan looked up, the smile frozen on her face as she watched Mel’s posture change. Scanning the area quickly and finding no hint of danger, she reached over and took her lover’s cold hand in her own.
"What’s up? Mel…"
Melinda swallowed harshly, a small snick sounding in the back of her throat. She heard a few of the men laughing and then heard something about why they should be following such a silly little American woman who performed unnatural acts and saw red. With great big letters.
Jan watched quizzically as her lover straightened her modified fatigues and then marched over to the nearby group of soldiers. A hush fell over the group as the southerner began speaking in Greek, her voice faltering at first and then taking on a bold tone. Covington, unable to make neither head nor tails of the conversation, strolled over and stood with Stephanos.
"Say, what’s going on? Something upset my wi…Melinda just now and she looks pretty upset about it. What’re they saying?"
The Greek suddenly found his fingernails needed scrubbing and that perhaps it was a good time to clean and polish his boots and press his uniform along with stone washing his socks in a nearby stream. Certainly, it would take quite a bit of time to do that, but it would be far safer to fight his way through German soldiers to get to the stream than staying at his present location.
That’s when the light went on for Jan. The man’s apparent unease and some of the embarrassed glances from the men told her that some of them found either her teaching methods or her sleeping arrangements unpalatable. Unbuttoning her jacket, Jan unhooked her web belt and handed it to the speechless Greek who watched with growing alarm as the woman began rolling her sleeves up. This was not the place, nor the time; they should be working together. The Sergeant checked the holster at the small of her back and Stephanos gulped loudly, plucking the cap from the blonde’s head. The field radio crackled once as it was placed on the ground and then was silent.
Covington knew just how fast a fight could turn into a mutiny. She mentally kicked herself as she watched the two troublemakers stride forth. They’d both been bad news from the first day. "We havin a problem, boys?", Jan began and then feeling the hairs on the back of her head bristle, she grabbed her boot knife and turned.
Stephanos yelped out something unintelligible, and Jan tackled him seconds before her dagger was thrown. Mel twirled and spotted a few German soldiers running into camp towards them and opened her mouth in alarm as one of them clutched his throat, blood spewing from a mortal wound. She stood there as if caught in the same horrid nightmare she’d had only a few days ago. This time reality was where she was, not some dreamscape. She staggered as something hit her from behind, and then the ground came up to meet her.
Jan rolled off of the Greek, cursing as she noticed the crushed radio and scanned the crowd for Melinda. She caught sight of the ebony hair once as the crowd moved and the woman was gone from view. A few seconds later the southerner was in view and Jan watched as the men around Melinda stood in defence against the oncoming soldiers. She winced as Stephanos dodged a rifle butt and then Jan slammed her elbow into the German’s mouth as she pulled him to the ground, taking satisfaction as his jaw broke. The Greek howled with anger and pounced on the German, beating him senseless. Stumbling to her feet, Jan pushed her way through the melee, keeping Melinda’s dark flowing tresses in sight. And then she was gone. Jan threw herself to the ground once more as a shot rang out.
Scanning the area quickly, she rolled to her feet and pulled her .44. She’d hoped to contain the small band of soldiers without alerting the rest of the squad to their whereabouts. Swearing under her breath, she took aim and fired three shots, dropping two soldiers before they could squeeze off a round. She turned and yelled a few orders and then sidestepped as Stephanos grappled with another soldier, almost knocking her down.
"Mel!" She ducked as a blade whizzed close to her ear and then butt stroked the man with her revolver. Pivoting on her right foot, she turned and caught sight of her lover just as another shot rang out.
It was as if the world ceased to revolve, slowing everything down to a painfully leaden pace. Covington watched in horror as Mel twisted backwards in pain, slowly dropped to her knees and then collapsed in a heap on the ground.
Mel grunted as she felt a hot searing pain in her back and wondered if she’d been knocked over by a few of the men fighting nearby. She moved to sit up and found she couldn’t. All she could hear was a roaring in her ears, as if Dan and his Curtiss Warhawk were idling right next to her.
Jan stood there, mouth agape, blood draining from her face as she tried in vain to see her lover through the gaggle of bodies surrounding her.
"Mel…oh gods no…" She pushed by two men and stepped over another downed man, totally oblivious to what was going on around her. A bullet whizzed past her right ear, and she never flinched or strayed from her course towards what the Fates had already decreed.
Mel looked up and managed to spot the petite figure of her mate suddenly blind-sided by a mountain of a man and grappling for possession of a very long, very wickedly sharp bayonet. As Mel watched, the man kicked Jan’s feet from under her and was in the midst of trying to find a way to sheath his blade in the warm body of the woman beneath him.
Jan detected movement out of the corner of her eye through the sweat that dripped from her scalp as she saw the blade dip towards her chest. ‘Mel! She was hurt…oh gods, no!’ Her biceps bunched as she managed to hold the blade at bay, but then the whole weight of the man was pressed against her, and all she could see was the grinning face of death. She squeezed her eyes tightly as she felt the sharp point pierce the skin between her breasts. The man smirked and then eased back, toying with her.
Mel crawled as fast as she could, her legs making only the feeblest attempts at functioning, sobbing as her nails rent deep grooves in the ground beneath her. Somehow, someway…she had to…
"Damn it…I’m nothin but a damn distraction…oh gods, Jan…", she cried bitterly.
Stephanos winced as the blade pierced his hip and then grabbed at the revolver as the German soldier raised it to fire. They stood there as if dancers in an intricately orchestrated waltz; bodies pressed together and faces close enough to share a kiss as the struggle of life and death waged back and forth. The Greek looked into the unbelievably young man’s eyes and thought about the childhood this person had had. He could almost see the ruddy faced blonde scampering over the hills of Germany, oblivious to the disease that was permeating the very air he breathed and the mother’s milk he had been weaned on.
A small edge of fear entered the German’s eyes as he saw a calm descend upon his hated enemy. Only moments before had a feeling of total abandon swept him along, and he’d found himself blindly attacking anything that moved. It had seemed like a good idea to jump the bear of a man before him, feeling the power somehow drain from the wounds he was inflicting, but now he wasn’t so sure. Now the weapon in his hand was being pushed down and away from his victim, and his own hand, now slick with blood, was being forced against him.
A small gasp left the young man’s mouth as he felt the tip of the knife slowly pushed through the walls of his abdomen and then the revolver dropped from his hands as he tried vainly to keep his insides where they belonged.
A gurgled noise made its way up and out through lips somehow gone slack. All he felt was a growing cold that seemed to spread throughout his body like blue unyielding flames. Would it ever stop, this pain, this agony? Feelings of anger and frustration hit the man but soon gave way to remorse and sorrow as he realized there were so many things he wanted to say to this stranger who was close enough to share the same breath. He watched as a lone tear made its way down the craggy face of the Greek and then he smiled, the comforting arms of numbing slumber reaching out for him at last.
Stephanos stepped away from the crumpling body and then fell to his knees, pressing a hand tightly against his hip. He looked over at the young lad whose life he had stolen and wanted only to join him in oblivion.
‘My first kill’, he thought. ‘It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Where was the triumph, the glory? Where was the pride in accomplishment?’ There was none of that, only the cold realization that somewhere there was a mother who would never see her child again, a brother who would never sit and laugh over a game of chess or cards.
In his stupor, Stephanos barely felt the bullet pass through is upper arm, spinning him around to lie face first in the rust coloured earth. With one hand pressing against his side and still holding the K Bar, Stephanos ignored the blood pouring down his right arm and rolled to his side as he heard his name called.
There before him, within two meters, lay the tall American, blood spreading like a blossoming flower over the lower back of her fatigues. He blinked a few times, trying very hard to concentrate on what she was saying, not on the voices from his childhood; the images of everything he’d done, all the people he’d loved marching past in an effort to call him home.
Tears of frustration ran down Mel's face, as the energy seemed to leech into the soil around her. "…have to…Jan will die.."
A memory of the brash young blonde entered Stephanos’ mind, and he found himself back at the camp, trying very hard to get his hands on anything – her collar, her sleeve, anything as she danced around him just out of reach. Her smiling face floated before him as she helped him up after beating him before the others in mock combat, and then she was hugging the other American, the look of pure devotion written easily on her face.
Sweat poured down his face as he reached a hand out towards the brunette and then his vision became cloudy. Mel sobbed as she saw the hand raised in succor slowly fall back down and then, as if in slow motion, the knife the Greek had been holding was falling towards her, end over end. She wondered how the man could have thrown with such precision with his eyes closed.
She found herself reaching up effortlessly and snatched the blade from the air. Turning back towards the death scene played before her, Mel knew she’d have one chance. There was no way she could get the knife to Janice…no way for the woman to do the impossible and cheat certain death once more. But she had to…somehow…
Jan’s lower jaw trembled with effort as she felt the man’s superior strength begin to make headway against her flagging determination. The point of the knife found her once more and Covington found her breath caught between her teeth. She tried to raise her knee in-between her assailants but he only grinned wider, squeezing her leg painfully between his.
She couldn’t think, couldn’t speak, couldn’t ask the man for a time out, a palaver so they could work out their differences. Couldn’t he just wait a minute so that the leaden burning pain in her arms could lessen? Why couldn’t he see she had so much more living to do, a wife she loved, friends she cared for? If he would only stop grinning that way!
With trembling fingers, Mel grabbed the blade’s sharp edge and drew her arm back as the German was pressing the tip of his weapon once more through the soft fabric of Jan’s fatigues.
Jan cried with bitter tears of relief, as the man seemed to falter. Deflecting the blade with her wrist, she grimaced as blood began gushing out of the man’s neck, covering her like a sticky shroud. And then he slowly crumpled against her in a lover’s embrace and although sickened with the image, Jan held the man as she felt the life pumping out of him. It was such a waste, such a horrible thing, war. There was no glory to be found, no banners raised to proclaim her victory. All she felt was deep regret. She took a deep shuddering breath, the sorrow of Mel's sacrifice sitting on her chest heavier than the dead body ever could. And what of Mel? She was hurt…Was she...
And then Jan passed out.
Arnhem and Freedom
In the early morning of June 6th the remaining forces of the landed 1st Polish Parachute Brigade swam across the Rhine from Driel and made their way towards the firmly entrenched enemy forces. It had been a brief couple of hours since the supplies had been dropped, and now a detachment of armoured cars from the Second Army began arriving in Driel.
Urquhart’s men were down to the barest of supplies, their clips down to almost nothing as the reddening sky announced morning. Cold determined faces glared from their positions inside the hotel, and each man knew without a doubt that there would be no last ditch reprieve, no miracle to be found this day.
Peter lay in the cot deep in a slumber brought on by severe trauma and exhaustion. The two brothers were busy cleaning their weapons and sorting through their dwindling supply of ammunition. The women sat huddled by one of the front windows, each one of them trying not to succumb to the depressing pall that seemed to invade the room. Seeing their leader in such a state was sucking the very confidence that had made them such a success and each member of the group felt as if something were dying inside of them.
"Anneke? How is your side? Here, let me look." Anneke pushed her lover’s hand away tenderly and opened her jacket and shirt. The flesh surrounding the wound was bruised and slightly red but didn’t have the heat or angry streaks associated with infection. The Dutch woman carefully patted the bandage and then smiled into her lover's face.
"It will be fine, old mother. You must stop or I shall demand my daily feeding. Right here and now."
Helena smirked, knowing the threat to be a hollow one. Both women were very aware their relationship would have to be kept a close secret. Displays of open affection were kept at a minimum, neither one in truth wishing to share the deep love with anyone else. Especially now. The Greek sighed, images of her homeland skittering across her vision, so close and yet so far away. Would they survive to even see another dawn?
"Look at the sunrise, my Helena. Is it not wondrous? I think it is a good day to die, yes?"
Helena reached across and drew the woman carefully to her, and then both heads came up as the General made his way into the room, the bulk of his men close behind.
"Right. I don’t much like it but we’ve been given orders to withdraw. Monty’s sending troops and a few boats and should be here within the hour. Seems we’re in a no-win situation, lads…and ladies, of course. We’ve got a group of about 200 Polish soldiers that’ve just made their way through the German’s back door at Driel and although they have some supplies, there is no way we can hold Jerry off for more than another 18 hours. It’s certainly not my choice to leave the area to the enemy, but I’ve been assured from reports that our forces, along with the allies, have pushed their way to both Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Antwerp is ready to fall with the American’s virtually knocking on their front door. You have all made an honourable accounting of yourselves and the Red Devils will go down in history as being a force to be reckoned with."
He paused, a catch evident in his throat. "It’s been a blasted long battle, but the end is in sight, and we shall win the day. It’s been a bloody pleasure to know you all." The General walked through the room offering words of encouragement to the crestfallen men in his unit and then turned to his adjutant and began formulating the plans for full retreat.
Peter, awakened by the noise, sat up scratching his head and rubbing his blurry eyes. Menno made his way close to the man and brought him up to date, wondering just how much van Oppen could comprehend. The blonde slowly nodded his head and then wiped his face and asked, "Waar is mijn scheermes?" Jaap smiled and crawled over to sit beside the two men.
"You know you can’t shave here, Peter. There is no running water to be had. Besides, there is no time before we have to leave for the boats."
Menno’s jaw fell open as he listened to his brother. "Jaap? You…you understand what the General say?"
Jaap frowned at his older brother as if the man was crazy. "Ya, you did not hear him? Hij zei…"
Menno laughed and pulled his brother close while Peter began pulling his own clothes into some sort of order.
Anneke slowly made her way over towards Peter, trying not to smile at the haystack hairdo he was wearing. Each strand of hair seemed to have a mind of its own and refused to even lay in the direction of its neighbours.
A confused blank look greeted her as she took the man’s hand. She reached up and tilted his face towards her. "You slept about six hours, Peter. Voel je je al wat beter? Come and join the rest of us, we have some biscuits don’t we, Helena?" van Oppen blinked a few times as Anneke cast her lover a worried look. The Greek smiled reassuringly and threw a heavily waxed box of English biscuits their way. She finished cleaning her weapon and then packed up their meager belongings. The idea of rescue was still playing over her mind, and she was determined not to put too much stock in it, as of yet. Things had a way of surprising you when you least expected it and she was enough of a pessimist to plan for just that eventuality. Making sure that both their revolvers had a fresh clip of ammunition, she shouldered their supplies and made her way over to the rest of the group.
Helena bit her lower lip and waited for the others to say something. At that point, she knew the leadership of the cadre had shifted off van Oppen’s shoulders and now lay squarely on her. She was willing to lead but it had to be unanimous. Perhaps Menno would take charge? If only briefly?
The gruff Dutchman swallowed slowly, seeing all the eyes pointed his way. All but Peter’s. Menno sighed and then took Helena’s sleeve.
"We cannot have Peter lead us", he whispered. "I think it will be better if you and I just continue as we have, yes? I think I have more experience so…"
Helena’s mind went through the many possibilities of the situation, and then she just decided to take the easy way out. She would defer to him until she felt Anneke’s life were in danger and then…Well, having lived through another night when their fate seemed sealed had made the woman more determined than ever to pay whatever the cost was to bring Anneke to safety, to her home…to Greece.
The tall Greek squared her shoulders and nodded once. Menno sighed in relief, not wanting another confrontation, another struggle within the ranks. It was hard enough casting Peter aside. After all they’d been through and Frans still missing…
He jerked his head around as the clear sweet voice of Anneke rang out.
"What do you say, Peter? Should we go down with the recce group and see about those boats?"
There was a moment of silence, each member holding their collective breath, and then Peter slowly got to his feet. Menno smiled widely, and then the world crashed down upon his shoulders as Peter asked for his razor once more, Jaap’s explanation totally beyond his grasp.
Urquhart had watched the sad little scene play out and heaved a deep sigh. The damned war had taken so much out of everyone; those that stood shoulder to shoulder and those left at home. His thoughts ran briefly to his own family back in England. Although not related by blood, the small group before him was as much a family as his own and he felt their loss deeply. It was very apparent that their leader had suffered a mental breakdown and was going to have to be watched. He gazed at the tall Greek woman and nodded to himself. She was definitely leader material; damned fine head on her shoulders. He’d heard the reports on how she’d kept the group together as van Oppen was falling apart.
Another explosion rocked the building, and the General carefully peered out one of the windows, its glass long gone. He wondered just why bloody Jerry wasn’t storming their encampment. "Only a matter of time", he muttered under his breath as he brushed the dry wall dust off his shoulders.
He sighed again and then scrambled his way across the room with his second in command and gave the orders for retreat. The plan was to have the fallen bodies of their dead comrades act as a false front, guarding perimeters that no longer mattered while they carefully sneaked out the back door to freedom. If they were lucky, Jerry wouldn’t even twig as to what was going on until it was far too late and they were out of range.
The General and two of his Captains set about gathering all the documents from the front room and then Urquhart picked up the phone one last time before disconnecting it. Nothing. He prayed the last communication was right on the money, and their rendezvous site was correctly pinpointed; it was far too late to be playing silly bugger.
He checked his watch and then gave the signal.
"Move out, ladies and gentlemen. ‘The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things…’"
Peter sat rubbing his stubbled face as the last of the 1st Parachute Brigade made their way onboard the rescue crafts, lost in his own twisted world. Not a sound could be heard as each man had wrapped both is weapon and his gear in shredded cloth. It was going to be a very cold trip across the North Sea and the cadre huddled close.
Helena whispered comforting words to her lover, which included many phrases in Greek, which Anneke couldn’t begin to understand. However, it was the close proximity, the soothing warmth and tone of her lover’s voice that seemed to push the darkness away. So certain was she that Death would call this day that she’d already resigned herself to it. As long as she was with Helena…the person she was convinced was her soulmate, anything was endurable, and everything was possible.
Now, with rescue at hand and the comforting arms of Helena’s embrace, the blonde began to think that maybe, just maybe there could indeed be a future for them all. She and Helena had talked often through Frans or Peter about life beyond Holland, when the war was over. They were poor translators, and many a night had been passed with them all in stitches doing pantomimes, but the gist of their dreams had been easily understood.
Anneke sighed mightily and then winced, holding her side carefully. The stitches seemed to be holding quite well, but she still felt as if she’d been run over by a half-track. She felt her lover’s strong hand rubbing at the lower part of her back and eased into the sensation.
The waves began to beat against the sides of the landing craft, and Helena began to draw in a deep cleansing breath. The nightmare, it seemed, was almost over.
Peter began fidgeting, images of Anneke lying in a field of wild flowers filling his mind. A slight smile played at his mouth as she reached out to him in his dreams, and he slowly got to his feet.
He could hear her calling to him and mindlessly pushed the hands that tried to hold him down. Peter paid them no mind as he walked purposefully towards where the two women sat.
"Get that damned fool down! We’re not out of the woods y…"
The Sergeant’s words hung in the air as a loud ‘ting’ was heard. Menno jumped as the round ricocheted off the bulkhead beside him.
"Down! Everybody down! Sniper!"
Hands clawed at Peter as he struggled to reach his beloved…nothing, no one could stop him…their love all he could see, all he could feel.
Anneke watched in horror as the boat pitched one way and Peter lurched the other. ‘If only he would fall down!’, she thought from beneath the firm protection her lover’s body offered.
"Peter!" she shouted and then he turned, slowly, a full beaming smile on his face. Anneke screamed as the small red circle on his chest began to expand.
Peter opened his mouth to tell her what a beautiful day it was, now they were together. He yearned to speak the words of love they both knew, once upon a time, but he suddenly felt so tired.
Helena held her lover down, tears falling from her eyes as she watched Peter slowly drop to his knees. The Greek knew without a shadow of a doubt that the bullet should have, would have killed Anneke had Peter not chosen that particular moment to stand up. She couldn’t make out what Anneke was saying but it tore at her heart to feel the anguish and pain radiating off her struggling body. It was all the Greek could do to hold onto her lover as she flailed away beneath her.
Anneke struggled, yelling incoherent words as she tried to reach her hand out. A body fell beside her and she screamed as blood was pumped from the soldier’s neck. Helena pushed the dead man away and then winced as she felt a burning sensation in her left lower thigh. She moved quickly to cover every part of her lover she could as more bullets whined around them, a few finding their marks. Soon the deck was slick with blood.
Peter knelt there amongst the ruin and chaos with the look of total serenity. He blinked a few times, trying to figure out why everything was playing at the wrong speed. Why couldn’t he make out the words being spoken around him? He slowly moved his eyes and saw both Menno and Jaap trying desperately to push by the bodies that covered them, that held them down, and he slowly exhaled, a bubbly red froth painting his lips.
‘I’m sorry’, he thought as he watched the smaller Dutchman howl with grief, his brother clawing at the fabric of anything nearby in an effort to pull himself free. He saw the sorrow in Menno’s eyes and wished he could spend a few hours telling the man just what a good friend he was and that he would some day make a good leader in his own right.
He heard his name and took in the two women as they fought on the deck. He wanted to stop it…wanted to protect his lover, and then it seemed a cloud was lifted and he could see it was Helena and Anneke. The woman reached her hand out towards him and he fell forward onto his hands. He had to get to her. If Helena were covering her in such a manner, it meant danger was close by, but the only thing the blonde heard was the gentle lapping of the waves as it rocked the boat.
He thought of poor Frans and wondered if the idealistic young man was safe, defying the odds yet again.
‘I’m sorry’, he said in his mind as he watched the tears fall from the woman’s faces. He felt such love for them and knowing that the Greek could do just as good a job at protecting his former lover made him feel sad that he couldn’t voice that. He’d let jealousy rear its ugly head too many times, turning their offers of friendship away. And now…now it was too late.
His wrists buckled and he felt the cool pebbled surface of the deck against his fevered cheek. He didn’t notice the return fire or the flashes from their guns as the boat finally pulled out of range. All he saw were the stars that dotted the heavens, the low dense clouds scenting the air with the promise of rain.
He felt his hand gripped and managed to look over at Anneke as she pressed it against her cheek. There was so much to say, so much to share and as his windpipe began to fill with blood, Peter tried to form the words he so badly needed to speak.
Menno and Jaap scrambled over, finally free of the restraining hands of the nearby soldiers and knelt by their dear friend.
"Oh, Peter. Why? Why did you stand up?" cried Jaap as he hid his face in his sleeve.
Peter wanted very much to reach up and wipe the tears away, to tell the man everything would be all right. He smiled as he felt one tear fall upon his cheek, mingling with his own and then began to struggle as his windpipe was totally filled, the peaceful feeling replaced by that of terror.
Anneke sobbed as the Greek helped her over by the fallen man’s side, totally oblivious to the stain that slowly spread across the side of her jacket. Helena felt herself pinned down and lay there watching as the small group helped their leader over to his side and his last breaths left with ease. She didn’t even feel the tourniquet being tied on her upper thigh or the needle that went into her leg, her vision filled with the scene she knew would come one day.
Peter went suddenly rigid and then cast a last look at Helena as the woman spoke what was in his heart.
"I’m sorry." And then he smiled and lay still.
It seemed hours since they’d left shore, and Menno scanned the horizon as morning began to make itself known. A yell behind him alerted him to the troop ship that seemed to appear in the distance as if by magic. He glanced over at what was left of his little group and felt a mixture of pride and sorrow. They had achieved many of their goals and really had defied all the odds living this long. He fought the catch in his throat as images of the early days of the cadre filled his mind.
So lost in his reverie of Jannie, Peter, Frans, Anneke and his brother Jaap that he didn’t even register Helena’s presence as she watched him by the railing.
She touched his elbow and then began speaking. "We will be aboard soon and on our way to England. What will you do then? Anneke and me…we will find our way to Greece."
Menno nodded, figuring as much. "I will be sorry to see Anneke leave but I understand. The memories are too harsh, yes? And I think even if Peter had lived…that he would not have been able to carry on." He paused and then met her flint grey eyes with his own brown ones. "I’m not ready to lead. I could never fill his shoes."
"Ah." Said the brunette as she watched the wounded being taken aboard the troop ship. She pushed the dark wisps of hair out of her face keeping one eye on Anneke as the woman lay in the stretcher nearby and then she fell silent. It had taken the better part of an hour to remove the stitches, clean the wound, re-stitch the torn areas and then dress it all. The woman bit her lower lip as she noticed just how very tired Anneke was looking.
She inched closer to her lover. The boat wallowed a bit in the rocking seas, and Menno clutched the railing. A short bark of laughter came from behind, and he turned just in time to see one of the soldiers spew forth what he’d just recently consumed. Two sailors elbowed each other before side stepping the poor man and going to the next stretcher in line.
"You know, I think you short change yourself, Menno. In the time I have worked with you I have been very impressed. You were a very good second to van Oppen. Both you and Frans had his ear and I know Peter appreciated it."
Menno nodded and gazed back out at the horizon as if trying to see just where Frans could have gotten.
"He’s still out there, you know? Somewhere. Perhaps wounded or…" The big man swallowed and turned away. "We should be looking for Frans. You know he wouldn’t stop looking for any one of us."
Helena sighed and then put her arm carefully around the man’s shoulders. "You know the chances are slim that he is still alive. You must face this, Menno. I think even van Oppen knew this, to a certain extent."
"Yes, but he wouldn’t have given up! You don’t understand…we were a family and you...." The words dried up in his throat as he realized what he’d been about to say. ‘How could I?’ he challenged himself, thinking of all the times when Helena had been there to save the day.
Helena snorted softly and nodded. She’d never felt part of the group, always a presence the group suffered because they were in a pinch. Settling her jaw she smiled coldly and went to stand near the wounded.
"That came out wrong. I’m sorry, Helena. I’m…Look. I know I cannot lead our cadre and I want…. Will you be the one to take over for Peter?"
Helena crouched down next to Anneke and gently brushed the hair off her lover’s forehead. "You know we are going to Greece, Menno."
"I know, but…you are the best man for the job."
Helena locked eyes with the man and then laughed. "Yes? Well, I could act as leader for the duration. I don’t think it will be for long, judging by the rumours that are running rampant over the ship." She paused and then stood up. "Yes. I will do as you ask on one condition. You are my second and will take over as leader when I have found a way to get back to Greece. Yes?"
Menno grinned and nodded quickly. He felt a weight shift off his shoulders and knew that everything would be all right. Helena was a natural born leader and he knew she was right: it was truly his job to lead the cadre. In time. With Frans by his side, perhaps the cadre could one day see the glory that Peter had brought them. "Frans", he whispered.
Jaap slapped his brother on the arm and began picking at his shirt. "I’m hungry, Menno. I don’t like the sea, and I want to go home." He paused and then looked over his brother’s shoulder towards the coastline. "Frans is dead. Just like Peter. And Jannie. Even Anya is dead. Are we dead, Menno? Is this just a dream, and we are back in the water with the rest of the dead bodies? I don’t want to be dead. I want to go home."
Menno hugged the man closely, his breath caught somewhere between his teeth. ‘First things first.’ He thought. ‘Get Jaap better and then look for Frans.’ He wiped an errant tear off his whiskered cheek with the back of his hand and merely nodded. "We’ll go home, Jaap. We will. Soon."
Captain Butterworth watched as the wounded were being taken on board. News had come in earlier regarding the occupation of the German Chancellery in Berlin and the ship had roared as one after listening to the BBC report that Hitler was dead. If the rumours of Japan’s capitulation were true, the war was over.
Dan removed his helmet and ran both hands through his hair. "Need a haircut.", he murmured. He caught bits and pieces of conversation as the soldiers came aboard. He spied the General and threw the man a smart salute. Urquhart returned the motion and then walked up the gangplank.
"I say, Captain. Any news of what’s going on with this bloody war? I’ve been incommunicado for almost 12 hours."
Dan quickly brought the man up to date, adding the sorry news that Colonel Frost had been badly wounded and was below decks being tended to even as they spoke. He watched as the General cursed under his breath and hurried away.
A breeze ruffled his collar, and Dan found himself wondering just where his wife was at that moment. He could almost close his eyes and see the two of them standing on the terrace of their home, thoughts filled with nothing but each other and the war very far away. He sighed. He hadn’t heard from Shelley in well over two months, and it was beginning to worry him. Things had been tight ever since the fall of Malta, but news was still finding a way to filter in here and there.
‘Jan would know. She’s always got her ear to the ground.’ He scrubbed his face with a leaden hand, feeling the stress for his friends overtaking him. Covington and Melinda had become very dear to him over the years and he longed for the nice easy companionship they all seemed to enjoy. Even Shelley was getting used to the brash ways of a certain blonde archaeologist. He knew she’d like his friend. Everybody liked Janice Covington. What was not to like?
"Janice Covington, where are you?", he muttered aloud. He jumped as he felt a hand at his elbow. A very stocky young man who looked like he hadn’t slept in years was at his side, a curious look upon the man’s face.
"Yes? Can I help you?"
Menno cleared his throat and then drew himself up to his full height. "I am Menno van Brecht, sir. I’m part of the Dutch Resistance. Did I….did you say Covington?"
Dan’s eyes opened wide as a memory began forcing its way forward. "Why, yes. Yes, I did. Janice Covington. She’s a…"
Menno’s face broke into a wide smile. "…Sergeant in the US Army. Yes. We know her."
Butterworth frowned. ‘We?’ Surely the group that Jan had told him weren’t part of the wounded being brought aboard?
"Is all your unit…did you all manage to get out? I really would like to meet this Peter Jan and Mel keep talking about. Where is he?" Dan turned and searched the faces in the crowds surrounding them. He looked back expectantly.
It was as if a cloud passed over the Dutchman’s face and Dan immediately kicked himself. "Oh, my god…I’m so sorry. So very, very sorry." ‘Damn it all, Butterworth! Both feet this time!’
He watched as the man before him brought himself under control and then noticed the tall woman who came to stand beside them.
"Hello. My name is Helena Mazontis and the rest of the cadre is here on board. What remains, that is. They have lost Peter just earlier today. Sniper. Another member is wounded and being tended to now. She will live. One man is also missing and…presumed dead."
Dan arched an eyebrow and took in the woman in front of him. Almost six feet tall with very grey piercing eyes. He smiled and spoke a few sentences in Greek, watching as the woman’s eyes widened and then a grin bathed her face.
"Ah! You speak my language! Oh, this is wonderful. I haven’t been able to use my own mother tongue for months now. We must sit and talk."
Dan smiled and then glanced over as the Dutchman cleared his throat.
"I’m going to go down and see Anneke. You will be coming along later, Helena?"
The Greek nodded and clasped the man’s shoulder. "She is asleep now, Menno. The doctors have given her something for sleeping. I will come and sit with her in a moment, yes?"
He nodded and walked away.
"So, mind telling me how a Greek woman became the leader of a Dutch cadre?"
"I have a very long story and a very dry throat."
Dan smirked and brought out his hip flask. "Where are my manners?" He watched bemusedly as the woman took a healthy swig of dark rum. "So, you were saying?"
Helena chuckled and then began her story.
In the Moonlight
Jan grunted as she tried to shift whatever it was lying on her chest. Her nose crinkled as the rusty odor of drying blood permeated her senses. Opening her eyes quickly, she looked into the cold grey eyes of death and shuddered.
The man’s face was inches from her own, the lips pulled back in rictus, looking for all the world as if he were going to bite her. She wiggled her arms beneath the body and pushed. At first nothing happened. Then the weight shifted and she eased herself out from under him.
She could feel the blood slowly returning to her legs and arms and figured she’d been out for a while. She probed her head and neck area but found nothing. Jan began rubbing her hands together to get the circulation moving again and then wiped the sticky front of her fatigues.
"Ouch. Shit…oh yeah." She winced as her fingers probed the shallow wound between her breasts. Taking a deep breath, she noted the residual pain in her upper ribs.
‘The guy must weigh about 190. Maybe he knocked the wind outta me and I passed out. Yeah, that must be it’, she reasoned. It never occurred to her that the tension and lack of sleep would have anything to do with her flagging condition. Like most hyperactive people, she thought she was invulnerable.
The camp was silent, only the crickets could be heard. Quietly getting to her feet, the Sergeant began a recce, checking the nearby bodies for any sign of life. Jan counted seven of her men amongst the dead. She sighed heavily as she noted Melinda wasn’t one of them. Had she been injured? Was the memory that played in her head true? She vaguely remembered seeing her lover’s face twist in pain, then Melinda falling to the ground, but try as she might, she just couldn’t think of what happened next. She had to find Mel. If she was injured and in enemy hands…
Clenching her jaw, Covington noticed the supper she and her lover were going to have and just how hungry and tired she’d been. Those feelings were long gone, replaced by a slow burning fire. She’d find Mel, get her back and then…
A casual observer might have felt his blood freeze at the sight of Janice Covington as a stone curtain of rage settled over her usually affable features. Her round face and quick smile usually made those around her think she was years younger than her actual age. However, she’d seen a lot in this war and it had hardened the easygoing young woman she had been a scant couple of years ago.
Any thoughts of attacking the small German force she knew was now in the mountains were pushed aside as she began trying to formulate a plan to get her wife back. It wouldn’t do to go blundering into things and have the sweet southerner pay for her mistakes. ‘No, not one hair had better be out of place’, she thought pursing her lips. She checked her weapon. Pulling the ammunition from the bodies nearby, she made her way out of the clearing and over to the edge of the forest.
The pungent scent of pine filled her senses, and she felt a sense of peace as her eyes began to adjust to the shadows around her. A faint odor could be detected, and Jan found herself looking at the debris scattered beneath her boots. A pattern slowly emerged, and then she lifted her eyes and began scanning the area. There, amongst the pine needles was a drop of blood. And then another. She dabbed at it carefully and then tested the consistency between index finger and thumb. ‘Only a few hours or so…maybe less.’
Jan brought her revolver up and cocked her ear, trying to pinpoint the speaker. There, just a few yards ahead under some scrub brush lay a body. As she crept closer, Jan recognized the Greek shoulder flashes and knew it to be Stephanos. Pushing her way through the brambles, she quickly worked her way up to the man’s head.
"Hey, Stephanos…you okay?"
"…Silly question, Sergeant. I’ll be fi…fine. Listen. They have your woman and…a few others. They…shot the wounded." Jan began checking the man’s wounds and seeing the hip had stopped bleeding tended to Stephanos’ shoulder. She could tell by the heat as she touched it that the bullet was still lodged inside. It would have to come out. But for now, she wrapped it tightly, flinching as the man uttered a low hiss.
"Those sonsabitches…don’t they know anything about the Geneva Convention? Shit. How’d they miss you? Or me, for that matter."
"Look at my uniform…they thought I…was already dead. You? I think you had camouflage, yes? That man’s blood must have done the trick. I did not know your Miss Pappas was so good with a knife."
Jan frowned, thinking she’d misunderstood the man and asked him to repeat what he’d said.
"Yes, it is true. I see you fighting with that German…he is killing you, yes? I see the bayonet moving towards your chest some more and I cannot help. Melinda, she call to me…" He gasped as Janice tied off the wound. "I know I cannot help, I am too far away. But her…she look at me with such pleadings, telling me with her eyes that she can do it. I don’t know how…still I see this in my head…I throw the knife and she plucks it from the sky. No fumblings, no mistake, just an easy catch as if she was born to the blade. I don’t think I see such beauty…"
Visions of the tall brunette not only wounded but having to make that choice…to actually kill a man, not in self defence but in murder filled her mind. She knew that was exactly how Mel would see it, regardless of whose life she was saving.
Jan shook her head to clear it and then held up her hand. "Okay, listen…you know which way they headed? I’m goin after them and then I’ll be back for ya. Okay?"
Stephanos nodded, pointing up the hill and closed his eyes as Jan scrambled back out of the bushes. He lay there wondering just how long he could hold out; how long would it be until the little firebrand was back? There was no doubt in his mind as to the success of her mission, only the amount of time it would take. Although his strict upbringing made him initially shy away from such thoughts as two women being in love, seeing the look of total devotion pass between the Sergeant and the other American was too beautiful a thing to dismiss. No, for her love, the Sergeant would cross all the fiery pits of hell and then some. And when it came right down to it, so would he. They were good people, those Americans.
Watching the statuesque brunette crawling in the dirt, her back crimson with blood had cut him to his very soul. There was an aura about the woman. He suddenly remembered the two men who had decided amongst themselves that people such as the two Americans were not the type to follow or fight for. Well, one of them was dead and the other taken prisoner. He would give almost anything to be there to see Kronos’ face as a woman rescued him. He grinned, a low chuckle starting in his belly and then winced as the pain shot from his hip down his leg and then back again, settling as a harsh ache in his belly. At least he could feel and it felt so good to be alive.
Jan quickly plaited her long hair and wished she’d been able to find her Fedora before the shit had hit the fan. Checking her weapon once more, she shoved it into the back of her waistband and began to pick her way up through the narrow pine trees.
She had gotten about half a mile up the mountains, painstakingly avoiding any easy trail she came across, preferring to attract as little attention as possible. She didn’t know exactly how big the party was that awaited her and was determined to catch them all off guard. Maybe if she…Jan smiled a wicked smile, a plan starting to gel within her mind.
She eyed the gentle stream just through the trees and made for it. As much as she wanted to, Covington avoided splashing any water on her face as she leaned down and slurped at the cooling liquid. The mixture of dirt, war paint and dried blood was perfect cammo and she figured she could use all the help thrown her way. The bugs were getting a little hard to handle, and Jan decided to rectify that as soon as possible.
She paused and looked at her reflection in the stream. No, the hair would just not do. Digging her hands into the soft mud, the Sergeant began applying great globs of it to her hair and neck. A few swarms of insects flitted about her face but soon left, as they found the pungent barrier didn’t agree with them. Satisfied with her handiwork, Jan began going through her uniform, discarding anything that rattled.
There was a rustling just ahead and Jan threw herself behind some rocks and prayed she hadn’t been spotted. She forced herself to even her breathing out and then began listening to snippets of conversation.
"Meine Rückseite ist Tötung ich. Denken Sie die Gerüchte sind zutreffend? Daß die Verbündeten Berlin genommen haben? Was tun sie uns an, wenn sie uns mit der
amerikanischen Frau finden? Möglicherweise sollten wir ihre Wunde verbinden? Ich
mag nicht dieses, Johan."
Jan squinted hard, trying to remember her rudimentary German taught during her time with Special Ops. Something about the fall of Berlin and someone badly hurt. Had the Allies finally pushed the Jerry’s back to Berlin? Jan grinned mirthlessly as she wondered just how many Jerrys her men had wounded in the skirmish back at their camp. Just as she was pondering that bit of information, another voice piped up, the words flowing like rapid fire and hard to follow.
"OH-Anschlag Ihr Sorgen. Haben Sie irgendwie mehr dieses Kircheweins? Möglicherweise hilft er, aus Schreien dieser Frau zu ertrinken."
Jan felt a cold hand squeeze around her heart as she realized the wounded person they were talking about was Melinda. She slipped her hand around and gripped the cold steel of her revolver and then relaxed. No, it wouldn’t be a good idea to use it just yet. Naw, better to take a good look see before taking anyone out. She popped her head up and watched as the two guys walked by. Her plans of going up the way they had come came to a shuddering halt as they took up temporary residence on an outcropping of rocks nearby. Neither man bothered to drink from the stream so Jan figured they must be camped close by. Well, she could wait. Her stomach flipped over as she recognized a heap over by the trees. ‘Probably one of ours’, she thought, wondering how many survivors she’d find at the camp.
Laughter filled her ears, and she found herself caught as images of her wife lying in a pool of blood, suffering terrible pain entered her mind. Breathing slowly with jaws clenched, she nodded once. No, she couldn’t wait. Not for long. Every moment might count. She began fidgeting with her knife as the guttural conversation dug at her dwindling patience.
Her frustration level was rapidly being reached, and then one of the men got up and went to relieve himself over by a thicket. The other soldier said something about rations and went back up the trail. Seizing the moment, Jan tossed a rock over by the first man and was rewarded as his head turned, giving her a perfect shot at the vulnerable flesh at the base of his throat.
The man went down noiselessly, hands grasping at the protrusion in his neck. And then he lay motionless and Jan went to retrieve her weapon.
"One down.", she muttered quietly. She sighed as she recognized Kronos’ body. By the looks of his hands he’d given them a run for their money before dying. That was something.
Skirting the pathway, she crept silently up towards the camp and then began doing a head count. There were four wounded and six soldiers sitting around eating cold rations. None of the wounded soldiers were hers, and she now had to contend herself with the truth…they’d been killed and dumped somewhere along the way. She just prayed Mel wasn’t too bad off.
She watched as the man she’d seen before began handing a bottle around. Each man took a healthy swig and then passed it on. If they kept it up all Jan had to do was wait and they’d be ripe for the picking.
A groan reached the Sergeant’s ears, and she watched as one of the soldiers threw a rock over to the right side of the camp. Stretching her neck out, Jan’s eyes widened as she took in the recumbent figure of her lover lying on the cold ground over by a stand of trees.
That they would treat someone wounded in this fashion was hard to take, but that she was a woman was unforgivable. ‘Toss her over to the side like yesterday’s bread. Musta been groaning too loudly for them if they put her so far from camp. Well, that’ll work in my favour too, boys.’
Jan curled her lips and silently sent good thoughts to the woman, asking her to be brave, that she’d fix things…just hold on.
Two men got up and helped one of the wounded soldiers back down the path towards the stream. Jan quickly followed them. A few minutes later she took up her place a little closer to where Mel lay, her pants bulging with ammunition and another knife.
Mel groaned piteously, and it was all Covington could do not to jump to her feet, gun blazing and just rush to her lover’s side. She pushed that thought away and concentrated on what her next move should be.
Half an hour crept slowly by and Jan watched as two of the wounded curled up and fell asleep, the wine having had its affect. One of the soldiers gathered kindling and started a fire, bellowing against the general wishes of those less intoxicated. Jan shook her head, knowing any soldier in his right mind wouldn’t light a fire but would be satisfied to remain relatively inconspicuous and suffer cold rations than stick out like a sore thumb. Can’t attack a force if you can’t smell them.
Covington waited until dusk and then moved closer to her beloved. Taking a chance, she whispered Mel’s name and then waited, hoping the woman wasn’t too far gone to hear her.
Creeping along on her belly, Jan moved slowly until she could just reach the woman’s arm with her fingertips. She held her breath as she caressed the heated skin. Mel moaned, her hair all but obscuring her sweet face.
"Mel? Mel, honey…I’m here and I’m gonna get you out of this, I swear it." The southerner groaned again. Jan bite her lip and stifled a heart-wrenching cry. Just looking at the woman in this state was killing her. She noted the perspiration that dripped off Mel’s face, the white pallor of her skin and rapid respiration. These were not good things. Jan figured the woman was in shock from the wound and would soon be past the point where waiting for medical attention was an option.
"Shit, shit, shit. Goddamnit, Mel…. C’mon, darlin. You have to wake up…you gotta. Mel?"
"Jan….ice?", the southerner said in a weakened voice.
Jan all but cried out in relief as she watched one pale blue eye peak at her from beneath her disheveled hair. Mel blinked a few times and then a slight smile graced her mouth.
Jan held her breath, wishing the horrors of this day to be gone, wanting more than anything to see Mel looking across from her carefree and at ease, her laughter filling the air as they walked along the beaches of Ayia Napa. Yes, those had been good days. Wiping her nose Jan offered up a weak grin and patted the woman’s arm.
"That’s my girl. Do you…Mel, where were you hit? Can you feel your toes? Can you move at all? How much pain are you in? Did they give you anything – either pills or morphine injection? And what about…"
Mel snorted and tried to shake her head, but gasped as pain took hold of her body in its fierce embrace. Jan watched the pain as it etched her lover’s face and blinked back the tears as they began running down her cheeks. She would NOT be weak. She HAD to be strong. ‘Beat it back, Covington…for Mel’s sake.’
"Yer just the same as always, Jan…lower back, left side I think. No and no again." She paused and then took a shuddering breath. "Bullet passed through. I heard them…talking. Said I’d lost some blood and…would die…soon. I…don’t wanna die, Jan…leaving you…" A fresh batch of tears trickled down her cheeks.
"No!", the blonde whispered furiously. "I won’t let that happen, d’you hear? We ain’t giving up. If I hafta drag you outta here on my back…"
Mel smiled at the image and then nodded slowly. "Okay then. Well…I can’t really be much help, bein indisposed and all, so how do you figure we’ll get out of this one, Hardy?" Jan winced as another shudder of pain raced through her lover.
Jan swallowed and stroked her chin. "Well…"
A yell caused the Sergeant to move back into the shadows and she watched as a few soldiers came running back into camp.
"Oh oh. Me thinks the jig is up."
She left her lover wondering just what she meant and slowly took aim from behind the tree.
Two men went down immediately, and Jan rolled to one side and scrambled away from her lover to a small rock formation. Return fire rang out, causing a flock of birds to take wing, which in turn had the men firing wildly at anything that moved. The Sergeant grinned sardonically as another target presented itself and another man fell to his knees, a perfect circle appearing just above one eyebrow.
"Six down and three to go."
The smile was wiped off her face as she was showered with bark as a bullet hit the tree close to her head. She ducked and rolled to a new position. Another shot rang out and she knew her position had been pinpointed. Jan took one last glimpse of her lover and then retreated slowly into the protection of the dense forest.
"Oh!", she yelled, trying to draw them out. Two wounded men began making their way towards her, firing at anything and everything as they came. Jan took aim and one of them clutched his leg and fell heavily to the forest floor screaming for what she figured was the man’s mother.
"And then there were two." She said quietly. "C’mon boys! Come and get me!" She taunted loudly as she slapped another clip into her revolver. She turned away from the fire and blinked deeply, adjusting her night vision as she fled.
"I’ll be back, Mel", she whispered.
Orienting herself, she headed back down the mountain towards the camp and Stephanos. She intoned a silent prayer for both people and then began making as much noise as possible. Cocking one ear, she grinned, baiting them with what little German she still possessed and the merry chase was on.
"Gerade eine Frau ganz alleine. Kommen Sie mich abfangen, wenn Sie sich trauen!"
The two German soldiers hesitated briefly hoping that daylight would find the phantom woman stranded with a broken ankle because of the rocky terrain but knew if they wished to actually greet the new day she’d have to be dealt with one way or another.
They both gave the comforting fire one last look and then headed off down through the trees.
Jan stopped every now and again, waiting until she could hear the men trampling about like bulls in a china shop. She stumbled a few times herself and cursed the low clouds that hid the moonlight.
She heard a cry behind her and knew the men were having as hard a time of picking their way through the forest as she was. The hill suddenly sloped downwards; Jan lost her grip on the reedy pines around her and went down hard. She grabbed a root and then scrambled to her feet quickly, moving off to the side before slipping once more. This time there was no purchase as she felt the loose scree abrade the skin on her arms and legs. There was a slight outcropping of rocks at the bottom of the hill, and this is what finally stopped the woman’s descent.
Jan lay there in a daze just staring up at the stars that peeked through the clouds. Ophiuchus stood brazenly in the eastern sky, and for some reason Jan remembered the story of Hercules slaying a giant snake near the river Sagaris. She curled her bruised, tired body up small as some loose gravel came down the slope, and Jan knew she had to make tracks to stay ahead of the soldiers.
The landscape was becoming familiar to her and she thanked providence that she’d taken her recent tumble…it put her just where she needed to be; not far from her original camp.
Smiling widely, she made her way close to a small clearing and then shouted a few insults in German. Hearing the distant expletives, she positioned herself and then perched on a small boulder and waited calmly.
It took the men ten minutes to pick their way down the hill, managing to avoid the same trip Covington had made, but just barely. Both men holstered their weapons as the clouds parted and moonlight lit up the clearing.
"You are going to die, silly woman. But first we will make you pay for making us work so hard to find you. I think I shall go first. If you ask us nicely we may kill you in a few days. Maybe." He chuckled evilly and began taking off his jacket. Jan just sat and smirked.
The other soldier cocked his head, amazed at the woman’s attitude. Her lack of concern surprised him. Usually, they screamed and begged almost immediately. This one would be different. Strangely, the idea aroused him even more than usual.
Covington had no intention of even responding to their lewd remarks, understanding that it was just part of some ritual these men went through in order to completely traumatize their victims before moving in. The tone in their voice and the way they moved in tandem with each other left no doubt that they had worked this particular scenario before. Well, this time they were in for a surprise. This time their victim wasn’t going to be so easily out-maneuvered and in fact, had a plan herself.
Jan watched both men as they walked slowly towards her, the ground momentarily illuminated. All they had to do was walk a little more. Suddenly the area was bathed in darkness and Jan’s hand went to the back of her waistband. She fumbled once and then, much to her horror, discovered her revolver was missing. ‘Must have dropped the damned thing somewhere along the way. Shit!’
Gritting her teeth, she prayed the knife would still be inside her boot. Jan sighed quietly as her hand closed around the hilt, thanking whatever gods were watching.
Although her vision was severely limited, Jan could hear them well enough as both men began approaching from either side. ‘Damn!’ They’d changed their direction, avoiding the area she wanted them to go in. Quietly getting to her feet, she positioned herself behind the boulder and brought the knife up, her body coiled and at the ready.
Images were captured by moonlight as the events began to play out in the small clearing. The clouds parted briefly showing one soldier crossing the area in front of Jan and then the look of puzzlement crossing his face as his foot sank into a shallow pit. He went down hard as a spring trap was triggered around his ankle. Jan lost sight of the other man as the clouds obscured her vision, and then she was tackled from the side. The wind was momentarily knocked out of her, and she felt her blade sink into the soft tissue of her attacker. The man cried out once, his hand going around the knife, and then Jan was up on her feet. She kicked out in the area she figured the man was and felt the satisfaction of hitting her target dead on. The man crumpled to the ground, his nose mashed in by the wicked kick.
‘And then there was one’, she thought coldly.
Jan stood there quietly catching her breath as she assessed the changing situation. Peering closely she could see the man wasn’t lying in the trap. Jan moved in a slow circle, keeping feet firmly planted on the ground, hands out in defensive position. Other than having a sore ankle the blonde was well aware of just how ineffectual her trap had been. Something had gone wrong and the spring had triggered too late, allowing the guy time to get his foot almost completely out before it slammed shut around the top of his ankle.
She was in the midst of devising an alternate plan when she felt the cold grey steel of a revolver pressed against the back of her neck. She let the air slowly out between tight lips and held her hands up in surrender.
"You are very good, American. How is it that a mere slip of a girl such as you can manage to destroy a troop of twelve men? No matter. Hand over any weapons, please." When no weapons were forthcoming he pushed the woman down onto her knees.
"Ah, that is even more impressive. My, you really are a mess." He fingered her mud caked hair and sneered. "What have you done with poor Gustav?" The moon appeared in the sky once more and the German could see his comrade lying in the dirt, a knife protruding from his ribs. "He was a good friend. I don’t have many of those and for that, my fraulein, you will die rather slowly."
Jan waited until the soldier was looking at his friend’s body before gathering herself up with one foot beneath her and launching herself at the man’s midsection. A surprised cry woofed out of him, and then Jan was raining blows upon his face and head. He brought the butt of his weapon down hard against the top of the woman’s shoulder, but the action had the opposite effect than intended, and he found himself bringing both hands up to deflect the blows.
Jan was like a wildcat, images of her wounded lover lying in the dirt a mere kilometer away spurring her on. Every slight this man or his companions had dealt Melinda was given back ten fold with either fist or boot well past the point where the man had lain motionless beneath her. Sweat dripped down into her eyes and mingled with stinging tears as she pulled herself back from the rage that consumed her. Covington pulled her bloodied hands away from the man’s body and stood up, wincing at the sudden pain she felt. Her hands moved quickly over her body and there, sticking out of her hip was a knife, buried half way up the blade.
Jan frowned and then slowly with both hands, began to pull the weapon from her body. She quickly wiped the blood from the blade and stuck it into the sheath in her boot and then did a brief inspection of the wound. It oozed slowly and she pressed her hand over it while looking for a makeshift bandage. Stripping the dead man’s shirt off, she ripped it in half and bundled it against the wound and then tied the rest around her upper leg.
Looking to the heavens, Jan took a deep breath and then began the arduous journey back to the other camp.
No sooner had Jan left the grisly clearing when she heard a twig snap. Whirling quickly around, knife in hand, she found herself staring into the warm unafraid eyes of a two point buck. Small in stature, his coat gleamed as the clouds finally parted and the moonlight bathed them both in splendor.
Jan stood there wondering just which of them was truly the wild animal. There she was covered in blood and dirt having killed a man with her bare hands face to face with all the grace and beauty mother nature could offer. The Sergeant felt a deep calm settle over her as the deer walked slowly in her direction, just staring and sniffing the air. Deeming her no threat whatsoever, it turned and slowly picked his way back into the dense forest without so much as a backward glance.
Thoughts of Greek Mythology played over her mind as she carefully worked her way back up the steep incline. The wound in her leg that had begun to burn eased into a dull ache as she crested the final outcropping of rocks. Never before had the woman been so happy for a clear and cloudless sky as right at that moment. Not knowing if any other enemy forces were there in the Troodoos meant little to her at that point in time. The only thing she cared about was how quickly she could make it back to Mel before her injury started to seize up.
Breathing hard, her hand pressed tightly against the wound, Jan rounded the corner and finally spied the stream. With the many twists and turns she’d made will avoiding capture, she was concerned that she might not be able to find her way back as quickly as she’d needed to. However, with the stream in sight, she made record time and all but launched herself across the German camp to her lover’s side.
Mel lay in a sweaty heap, her face pale in the soft moonlight, and Jan thought her heart would break. Carefully pushing the woman’s dark mane from her face, Jan began kissing her lover’s cheek and neck as she moved her hands down in exploration.
"Mel, honey? I gotta check the wound, okay? It’s not gonna be pleasant but I’ll be as gentle as I can." Jan was afraid of what she’d find and almost cried out in relief as her hand whispered delicately over Mel’s lower back. The blood had almost congealed and there didn’t seem to be any evidence of further bleeding.
"Hey, doll…we’re doing pretty good. The bleeding has all but stopped and…" She pulled the back of Mel’s fatigue’s away and peered closer at the wound. Jan bit her lower lip as she saw just how close it was to the spine. Images of the sweet and courageous woman forever bedridden crept into her thoughts and Jan clenched both hands together to stop their shaking.
"S’okay, babe. Looks good. Everything’s fine. Not to worry. Seems a bit hot right now and looks awfully…red." She wiped at the drying blood and swallowed deeply as the full extent of the wound was exposed.
"Yer talkin funny, Janice. C’mon, darlin. I need to know the truth…Tell me."
"Ah. Well." Jan sat back on her butt and ran a shaky hand over her face. How much should she tell her? Would lying be a good thing right now? Might help bolster her confidence some.
Mentally kicking herself, Jan decided to just come out with it. The southerner had always been far stronger and more capable than her appearance indicated and she thanked Melinda’s bloodline once again.
Melinda grit her teeth as the silence grew. Could it be that bad? She wasn’t really in a great deal of pain. Surely, that meant something good? And she wasn’t warm…why had Jan said there was heat? She couldn’t feel…and then her eyes widened as her own words sunk in. She couldn’t feel the heat or the pain. This was not a good thing. Not at all. She swallowed the growing fear in the back of her throat and valiantly pushed her hand through the dirt to touch Jan’s leg.
"Maybe…. Maybe it’s not that bad, Jan? You…you can’t see all that well, can you? Maybe if there was more light..."
Jan twined their fingers together and tried hard not to show her fear. While Mel had been talking she’d been carefully poking at the woman’s hip and leg area with a sharp twig. Mel hadn’t even flinched. No, now wasn’t the time for the truth. Later, when Mel was safely in the hands of doctors, then they’d face the truth.
"Yeah, yer probably right, Mel. Can’t really see too much." Jan put on a brave face and went about trying to make her wife as comfortable as possible.
"I’m…I’m so thirsty, Jan. And so very tired." Covington felt coldness creeping into her heart, as Mel’s breathing became ragged.
"S’okay, Mel…you’ll be okay…. S’alright…." She said as fingers clutched at her. "Gods, what are we gonna do? I should, ah…oh shit, breathe, Mel!" She bent down and quickly placed a finger on Mel’s pulse point. It was thready and erratic.
"Not suppose to move em, Covington…she could have a spinal injury. But…oh hell!"
She rolled her wife over slowly and then checked for breathing. Nothing.
Mel’s eyes were rolling back in her head and her body had gone rigid as it fought for oxygen. Covington quickly opened the woman’s shirt and pressed her ear against the cooling skin. Not a murmur.
"Mel! Gods, don’t do this. Mel! Baby, c’mon…no…no…don’t you dare leave me like this! D’you hear me? No way! Not a fucking chance, Mel! You leave, I leave! Got it?"
She shook her lover by the shoulders, pulling Mel hard against her. Then she lay the woman down and tilted her head back. Melinda’s skin was so cold, so blue. Jan wiped the blood and dirt from her lips and then pinched Mel’s nose closed, quickly blowing a breath into her lover’s mouth.
"Gods, please Mel..c’mon…fight….fight!"
Jan pinched Mel’s nose again and blew in a couple of quick breaths in succession and then placed her ear against the woman’s chest. There was no resistance when she blew in and Mel’s chest had risen each time but still, there she lay, lifeless and cold.
‘It couldn’t end like this! Not after all they’d been through…it just wasn’t fair!’ Jan knelt there, fat tears rolling down her cheeks, and gathered her lover close…closer than she knew she should. Her wound…
Taking Mel’s face in her own, she gently kissed the woman’s soft mouth, running her thumb across the sculpted lips.
"I love you, Mel. I always have and I always will." Jan squeezed her eyes shut and howled her grief to the heavens. She had prayed for someone, anyone to come and help her but now, now she didn’t care. She only wanted her pain to end.
The forest was still and dark as Jan rocked back and forth, her lover cradled against her chest and then the call of a night owl was heard, whispering through the trees. Jan wasn’t sure just how long she’d been holding Mel but it seemed like hours. Suddenly the brunette’s head fell back and Jan placed her head against her lover’s breast. She could just barely discern a heartbeat but it was there. Then Mel took a slow shuddering breath and it was as if all the colour in Jan’s cold grey world came flooding back.
"Oh, sweet Jesus…yes! That’s it…more…. Another one! Oh, gods, Mel…come back to me…please…." She carefully lowered the women down and it was then that she noticed her hands were covered with blood. With growing horror, Jan opened the front of Mel’s jacket and saw a small exit wound in her side oozing blood.
Quickly covering the wound, Jan dragged over her combat jacket and held it tightly against the wound. ‘So that’s why she was so shocky and unresponsive. Makes sense now…damned stupid, Covington, to miss that’, she berated herself.
"Well, okay…so, Mel. This is what happened, baby. That bullet came in from the back, sure, but it musta hit your pelvic girdle and split off into two lumps. One stayed inside ya but the other…well, it came out here." Jan touched the area gently, feeling the heat and swelling and cursing herself yet again. She pushed the dark locks from her lover’s face, glad that the woman was still unconscious. She hoped fervently that she hadn’t done further damage shaking her and acting like a damned fool.
"Yer losing it, Covington. Talking to yourself is NOT a good sign, ya know. Yeah, I know it. Answering is even worse." She chuckled and then pinched herself. "Get a friggin grip, woman! This is no time to fall apart. Oh, and what time is? Nah, I think I’ll just fall apart a little bit and then do the rest later. Back in the States. In her arms. Yeah." A wistful look came over her and she stroked her lover’s dirt smeared face.
"Oh, I gotta do something about this soon. She’s gonna kill me if she get’s a look in the mirror at the mess. Mind you, I did make sure no one lived to tell the tale of the disorderly debutante. Heh."
Jan looked down at her hands as they shook and then her stomach flipped once. She barely had time to crawl over to some bushes before she wretched. While she was no stranger to hand to hand combat and had certainly taken her share of enemy lives…there had been so many and there was a time when she truly thought…if it hadn’t been for Mel and Stephanos…She wretched again.
She sat beside her lover in the dark clearing and wondered what the morning would bring. She’d have to get Mel into shape if she was gonna heft the woman out of the bush alone. ‘No good fretting about that now, Covington, just do it.’ She sighed and then wiped her face on one very ragged sleeve.
After fashioning some makeshift bandages and packing Mel’s hip she began making a few trips back and forth from the spring as she tended to the woman’s wounds. Only after the still unconscious woman was cared for did Jan strip down to her skivvies and begin to clean and dress her own.
She marveled at the fact that not only had she been pig stuck by the German but it looked as if he’d gotten in a few swipes as she flailed about with her hands and feet. She hadn’t felt a single thing, her focus primarily on the destruction of man beneath her.
"Ah well. Nothing a few stitches and a good night’s sleep won’t cure." Her lover’s condition was what had her worried and until she awoke and could indicate whether she had any tingling in her legs, Jan had to assume the worst.
She leaned back against a tree and lost herself in the soft texture of her lover’s skin and hair as she waited for daybreak. Sometime just before dawn Covington fell into a dreamless sleep, and Melinda Pappas opened her eyes.
Cries and Whispers
Day is Done
Jan sat in the front seat just staring out of the windshield at nothing at all. Her eyes felt like they’d been left in a sandbox all night, and each eyelid must have weighed in at 100 lbs each, easily.
It’d been a long hard haul getting to that point in time and now that it was here, well Covington wasn’t sure she wanted to laugh or cry. ‘A whole fucking year’s gone by. How’d that happen?’
It seemed like yesterday when she woke some time in the night to a gentle hand on her thigh. A light breeze rustled the branches over her head and except for the carnage that lay just beyond the now cold fire pit, Jan could almost believe she and Mel had gone out for a nice hike and had fallen asleep under the safe arms of a pine bough.
The harsh morning light had illuminated the horrors of the previous evening, and Jan found herself wishing she could have moved them both elsewhere. Images of the other two bodies lying in the clearing entered her mind and she knew the area was going to resemble an abattoir soon enough.
She dozed a little and then opened her eyes again as she heard a rustling, her jerking movements startling a pair of ravens who had been picking at…
Jan turned her head as she felt her leg squeezed and looked into eyes that had seen far too much in the way of harsh realities. Jan knew it was wrong of her, but she tried very hard to shield the southerner from…everything bad that life had to offer. Mel just seemed so genteel and vulnerable.
She was reminded of the talk that they’d had eons ago after sharing a vision-like dream. She sighed, knowing that Mel really could take care of herself but that there was just no way she would ever be able to push down that part of herself that felt the need to wrap her lover in the safety of her arms.
It was almost midday by the time she’d rigged up a makeshift stretcher. Jan had been in the midst of trying to figure out just how she’d move Mel onto the thing without hurting her when she heard a warning whistle. Calming her heart down, Jan went quickly down to meet the forward scouts. At that moment in time, she knew there was just no way she could protect herself let alone Melinda, not without her gun or knife. Not even with her bare hands. Not now.
She’d felt a great weariness steal over her as the Colonel had come hobbling up the path and smiled thinking of the two corporals who were determined to pamper the man the whole way. She remembered the look on the old man’s face; it was obvious he was in a great deal of pain. Tom had fought with the army surgeons the days just after D Day was declared but had finally gone under the knife and lost three toes and part of his foot to gangrene.
‘And he had been lucky enough to get away with just that’, she mused darkly in retrospect. Old Tom had gone back to Crete and was currently enjoying his retirement. Not one to miss an opportunity, he’d taken to bending anyone’s ear retelling the horrors of protecting the whole damned town of Polis while hiding out in the caves. She snorted softly thinking of the old man and had to admit she missed the stiff upper British bantering he offered. Other than Dan Butterworth, no one seemed willing to see past her rough exterior to the lazy humour that lay just below the surface. Mel was helping with that….Mel…
Melinda had been in and out of consciousness for a week now. It was so damned hard to just see her lying there. The whole day had been spent just waiting…waiting for Melinda to come around, waiting for the specialist to make an appearance…Waiting. Had the surgery been successful? Would she ever walk again?
The blare of a horn snapped her back from her reverie, and Jan sat looking at hands that were white from gripping the steering wheel. She sniffled and slowly pulled them back into her lap. The parking lot of the hospital was hardly the place to pull a weeping Nellie.
It had been so hard watching her lover languish in the over-crowded and damaged British hospital in Nicosia. She’d gone every day but even her bullying and constant threats wouldn’t get her past the Head Nurse and the rules of only next of kin staying the night. That had been the hardest part because she knew Mel had things she needed to say. They both had.
Covington wiped her face quickly and then checked to see if anyone had noticed her very uncharacteristic break down. There had been more and more of those as time had gone on. It was beginning to bother her somewhat, but she knew things would get back on track once Mel was home from the hospital.
It had been a very long twelve months. They had seen all the usual doctors and quite a few specialists had been called in from Greece. Finally, after two bouts of minor surgery to sort out some internal damage caused by the ricocheting bullet, Melinda had been persuaded to leave what was left of their house in Polis. After long discussion they’d decided to take up residency in the house they owned in their adoptive homeland of Greece.
Melinda Pappas’ uncle had spared no expense in having a few American surgeons flown to the island, and it had been through the man’s sheer force of will and political clout that the red tape had been circumvented. Things had been very tight the few months after the war was officially over.
However, after all was said and done and the final surgeries performed they might finally been able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The damage the bullet had caused was no where near as bad as Jan had feared but had still played havoc with Mel’s nervous system, causing numbness in her legs and bouts of terrible pain in her lower back. Melinda had been under some very strong sedation lately, not really knowing whether or not Jan was even in the room.
"Got her hooked up to so many goddamned wires now…even feedin her like she was a prize goose. No say in what they give her or when, just that damnedable intravenous stuff."
Jan’s belly grumbled alarmingly and she stuck the keys in the ignition. The soft purr of the engine soothed her jangled nerves as she pushed away all the difficult nights they’d both had to endure. She snorted derisively as she thought of all the evenings she’d climbed in through her lover’s window at the hospital. Even Nurse Murphy, the top Sergeant aka Head Nurse had given up trying to keep her out, and they’d settled into a very uneasy truce. The old battle-axe had finally come to terms with things seeing Mel more relaxed and willing to do her physio when their nightly rendezvous went uninterrupted.
Covington fingered the slight bruising just below her collar and sighed. It had been a difficult but not insurmountable task finding a way that both women could achieve the release they both so dearly needed. The surgery had put a stop to that and the blonde missed the joys only her wife could bring her.
"Only a coupla days, baby…then you can sleep in your own bed…our bed. And that’ll be the end to old Battle-Axe’s dirty looks. Then I can tend to ya the way I know you need, Mel." The Andrew Sisters came on the radio, and Jan began to sing along.
"Don’t sit under the apple tree…"
Dan stood overlooking the terrace as he watched the men working on the back wall. Their voices seemed to fade in and out as he tried his best to concentrate of the tinkling of the ice cubes in his whisky and soda. He passed the glass from hand to hand just staring at the contents before raising it to his lips. He’d been nursing the damned thing for almost an hour while he waited…for word.
Shelley came in from the spare bedroom and grabbed a goblet and a pitcher of ice tea from the refrigerator.
"My goodness, that breeze feels wonderful. I take it from your dour expression that Jan hasn’t called yet?"
She drank the contents of her glass and then stood with her back against her husband. "Do me, would you darling?"
He frowned having been a million miles away and wondered exactly what had been said. "I’m sorry, darling. What did you say?"
"Oh, damn it all, Dan. Please love, either put my hair up in a bun, or I shall really have to start thinking seriously about having it all whacked off. Would you mind, Dan, if I got it cut back a bit?" There wasn’t an immediate answer, and she turned to see where he’d gotten to again.
Dan placed his hand on his wife’s shoulder and just pointed. There in the distance was a cloud of dust that seemed to grow as a black car sped down the road towards them. Dan recognized the DeSoto immediately and grabbed Shelley’s hand and kissed it.
"Don’t you dare cut a single hair on that pretty head, darling. I’m sorry I’ve been rather out of it but…"
"Oh I know, Dan. What with Melinda’s injury and the baby’s colic…" Shelley peeked into the spare bedroom once more before joining her husband on the staircase. "God, I hope it’s good news!", the strawberry blonde remarked as she felt her hand crushed in response.
The two of them stood there anxiously waiting for their friend to park the car.
"Fer cryin out loud! Say, Dan! And you must be Shelley! Shit, when did you guys get in? I thought your plane didn’t get in ‘til tomorrow." She hugged Shelley quickly and was immediately enveloped in a bear hug as Dan lifted her up off the ground and swung her around.
"Hey! Put me down, ya lug!"
Dan chortled and then settled the blonde back on her feet. Brief introductions were made and then an uneasy silence descended. Dan all but hopped from foot to foot in his eagerness to hear about Mel.
Jan cleared her throat and then wiggled her eyebrows at Shelley.
"…Where’s this new edition I heard about? Are you sure you just had a baby, cos baby…you are looking fine. Hey, Dan. You said she was pretty, but ya never said she was beautiful. Nice to meet the voice in person, Shell."
Shelley blushed prettily as Jan kissed her hand. "My beautiful wife, Covington." Dan said with mock severity. "And Danielle isn’t much of a baby anymore, Jan. Sixteen months old, isn’t she darling?"
"And growing like a weed! Oh, Jan you’ll love her…she’s upstairs, asleep. The flight was rather bumpy…and noisy…and well, Danielle didn’t sleep well at all. We put her up in your guest bedroom. If that’s all right?"
"Hey, stay for as long as ya like." Jan whirled on Butterworth. "Dan, you didn’t. You did! You brought yer wife and kid over on a Herk, right? Shit. Well, I promise Shelley, I’ll treat ya right." She hooked her arm in Shelley’s and off they went back up the stairs and into the house leaving Dan standing there trying to protest.
"But, Jan…it was only six hours. And the price was right. And…" He scrambled up the stairs after them.
Shelley winked at her husband just before going into the house. "And besides, we couldn’t have gotten here until next month on a civilian flight, Jan. It wasn’t very pleasant being trapped on board with fifteen smokers, I can assure you. I don’t suppose that helped Danielle’s disposition."
Jan shook her head as they entered the kitchen. "Knuckleheads, all of em. Smokin near a kid. Huh."
Shelley watched with a twitch on her lips as Jan proceeded to remove a thin black cigar from her smoke tin. She watched the ritual with interest as the woman went on and on about how inconsiderate men were when it came to the health and comfort of those around them.
Jan rolled the cheroot between her fingers and then brought the cigar to her nose, sniffing deeply. After hopping up on the counter, she tapped one end and then the other against the tin before placing the box back into her coat pocket. She then proceeded to go on about smoking being such a nasty habit, all the while oblivious to the looks aimed her way by two very tolerant friends.
Dan stood leaning against the doorway until Covington placed the cigar between her lips, and then he sauntered over and offered her a light.
"Nah…I don’t smoke."
Silence filled the room, and Jan halted mid rant and looked at the two. "What?"
"You don’t smoke? Since when do you not smoke, Jan Covington?" said Butterworth in a very sarcastic tone. "Ever since I’ve known you, you’ve smoked those wretched black coffin nails."
Jan rubbed her chin with the back of one hand. "Ya. Well." She cleared her throat. "Actually, I just chew on em now. See, Melinda..."
Dan laughed. "Hen pecked! Oh that’s rich."
The blonde snorted quietly, a smile belying the dangerous twinkle in her eyes as she walked over to her buddy. "Ya? Ya think so?"
"Oh, Dan! Please, Jan….go easy on him. He’s been like this for weeks. You’d think he’d been looking forward to seeing you and Melinda or something." She patted her husband on the shoulder and gave the smaller woman a hug.
"How is Melinda, Janice?"
The two of them watched as the blonde went to the refrigerator and got out a beer. "You guys want one? It’s Keo and it’s cold." Dan nodded, and she tossed him one and then settled herself at the bar.
Dan watched pensively while tapping a foot nervously against one of the bar stools. "Oh, that’s all I can stand! Out with it, Janice. This very moment!" Shelley’s breath caught as she watched a slow smile dance across the blonde’s mouth. ‘It must be good news! Oh god, please!’
"Well. You guys know the extent of her injury, right? Okay, well she had another surgery coupla days ago, and she’s doing mainly bed rest right now." Jan became somewhat wistful as she tried to convey her wife’s current state of mind.
"She’s gonna be like a bull in a china shop when she comes to. Heh. Yeah, she doesn’t much like being confined to the bed but you know, the doc’s are pretty insistent. I’ve been tryin keep her legs and lower body in good shape with some rather…"
"I don’t think I need to hear this, Jan…and Mel being unconscious…I shall just check on the baby, leave you two alone for a bit. To discuss womanly things…between women…and stuff."
"What’d I say? All I was trying to tell ya is I work Mel’s leg muscles, her hip joints, her pelvic girdle and such."
Shelley smirked and reached over to pour some ice tea into her goblet. "Oh, not to worry. I knew what you meant. I think. You were talking about psysiotherapy, weren’t you?"
Jan frowned and looked at her friend. "Ya. Whatja think I…Keerist!" She snorted, took off her shoe and threw it in Dan’s general direction. "Funeee. Oh brother. Yeah, I was. Not to say that I don’t work other muscles, too, if you get me. Yeah, nothing keeps the libido down for long. Why, just last week…" Jan looked up through her eyelashes to see if a nice blush was spreading across her new friend’s face but stopped mid sentence when all she saw was a knowing grin.
"What’s wrong, Janice. Oh please, do go on."
Janice gulped and tried to put on a devil may care smile. "Haa. Well, um…"
"No, no dear. Continue. I’m sadly lacking in the ways two women have sex. I’d love to hear all the sordid details. After all, I’m sure Dan has told you ad nauseum about our boring old love life. Haven’t you dear?" she called out to her husband who was all but doubled over with laughter as he watched his friend squirming nervously.
"Oh this is just too rich! Speechless, yet! Janice Covington’s met her match!" Dan slapped his leg a few times and then came to sit on the couch, handing Jan her shoe.
Visions began swirling in Jan’s brain, and she was just about to launch into a very ribald description of she and Mel ‘having sex’ when the phone rang.
"You two are really lucky. I was just about to make you guys really blush." Jan got up and grabbed the phone.
A small cry pierced the air, and Shelley jumped to her feet. "Lucky? Apparently not. Poor Danielle’s gums."
Jan mouthed the word ‘baby?’ and Dan nodded. "New teeth, poor darling." Jan smiled as images of a drooling, toothless, demanding child assaulted her mind. One day she wanted to hear the pitter patter of little feet, but they’d be attached to a small dog. A schnauzer, perhaps.
"Who is it? Is it the hospital?" he asked, pointing to the phone. Jan held her finger up and spoke a few phrases in Greek.
There was a pause on the other end, and then Covington laughed out loud. She said a few words in Dutch and then slammed the phone back down.
"Hot damn, hot damn! That was just Helena and Anneke! They are in town and wanna get together and paint everything red! Hot damn, hot damn! Man, would Mel have a blast with those two!" She danced around the room and even took the screaming child from Shelley’s arms, much to the woman’s horror.
"Now, Jan….you won’t….drop her….oh, god Dan…."
Jan threw her head back and began to slow her motions, tickling the youngster in her arms. "S’okay, Shell, really. I won’t drop her. Say, she’s about the size of a large roast, huh?" Danielle began babbling at the woman and then latched onto a fistful of Jan’s blonde tresses, giggling happily.
"We’re so happy about Mel, Janice. I suppose she’ll be coming home soon. Is this the last of her surgeries?" Jan danced the child over to her father. "Well, I dunno Dan. I sure do hope so. Say, when do you guys hafta be back in England anyway?"
"We’ve got a fortnight, Jan.
"Ever think of getting a small dog? Less maintenance." Shelly chuckled and placed a hand on the blonde’s shoulder, as if knowing most of it was just Jan feeling awkward. The taller woman pursed her lips wondering just what kind of parents Jan and Mel would make. Then Jan began making rude noises that were quickly mimicked, and Shelley all but snatched the child away. ‘My daughter will not grow up a hooligan!’ She thought and cringed at how very callous she sounded. This was one of her husband’s dearest friends. She swallowed and put on a game face as the bathroom noises continued.
Dan stood by the door and just watched as Covington glanced his way and then self-consciously handed back the happy child. Seeing Jan smile made his heart swell. It had been a damned long hard war, and they’d all paid a heavy price. Would anything ever be the same? So many friends lost. He sighed heavily thinking of the high toll his own squadron had taken. Sweet laughter tinkled in the air, and he pushed away the dark thoughts. His eyes seemed to glow with pride as he saw his little sixteen-month-old baby girl smiling and giggling. He’d missed her birth and hadn’t even been aware Shelley was pregnant until he’d gotten back into England. That had been a shock, but not an unwelcome one. No, things would never be the same, but perhaps that was good, too.
Shelley watched the play of troubled emotions that appeared on Dan’s face and pondered their future together. Oh, the many nights she’d prayed for his safe return. Shelley had had an easy time of it with regards to her pregnancy, the only draw back being that she hadn’t been able to contact Dan at all. She’d waited until she was a good six months before breaking the news in a bunch of letters that would rival the lost scrolls of Xena. All but six of her tomes had ever been delivered and that had been a good three months after their reunion.
Yes, that had been something. Not only had the man’s eyes almost popped out of his head at seeing her lovely hair in a different hairdo but to see her carrying a squalling three month old as well was really too much. It had been rather funny. They’d almost been in an accident in Batley Carr because he just couldn’t keep his eyes off them and on the road.
All in all, Shelley felt very blessed. What else could she want in this lifetime? She had it all. Then she sighed, thinking of poor Melinda in the hospital. ‘Well,’ she reasoned, ‘it could very well have been far worse and with Melinda always in the thick of things, something was bound to happen.’
She envied her friend the bravery and fortitude she’d found within herself. Shelley had always wondered just how she’d react faced with seeing her mate in any danger. Would she have been able to act unselfishly and just throw caution to the wind in order to save him? She rather hoped so and then said a brief prayer that she’d never have to find out.
It made her happy to see Dan carefree and happy again. She didn’t really know Janice very well, but could see the easy way they interacted. Just watching them together made the man seem years younger. Shelley wondered what Jan would say if she knew of the surprise Dan had cooked up for later that evening.
Everyone piled out of the Desoto right at the strike of 9:00 in front of Mikolos, Jan’s eyes darting over the crowd in an effort to spy her friends. Anneke had told her so much about Helena that Jan felt she already knew the woman. However, she was quite unprepared as the blonde ambled over, dragging a very strikingly attractive brunette with bewitching grey eyes. She felt a slap on her back and there was Solari right beside her.
"Oh my gawd! Look at you! Shit, why didn’t anyone tell me she was coming, too? It’s like old times! Man…surrounded by all you beautiful women and mine laid up in the pokey. Not fair! Well, I suppose I’ll just hafta flirt with all of ya."
Anneke arched an eyebrow at Dan who in turn covered a smile and winked at Solari.
They all grabbed a table and began talking at once. Laughter filled the expanding area they had claimed as their own, and the wine flowed freely.
"So, whatcha girls doing in this neck of the woods?"
"Oh, we had some business in the area, Dr. Covington. We are just passing through."
The blonde paused, her mouth on the rim of the beer stein. "The name’s Jan. My old man was Dr. Covington. Great guy and world class archaeologist, he was, too. He and Mel’s Dad were the ones that found evidence the Xena scrolls even existed. Hell, it shoulda been them getting all the attention at the Museum’s reopening in a coupla days, not me."
Dan frowned, not liking the way the conversation was going. No, it would never do. He ordered another round of drinks and changed the subject.
As the night wore on, it became very apparent that no amount of liquor was going to rouse Jan from her darkening mood. It was sad, really, watching the woman’s eyes roam over the crowd as if trying to catch a glimpse of someone. Solari sat a bit closer to the woman, and they soon began to drift away from the crowd, lost in a conversation both needed to have.
"I’m real sorry about Peter, Sol. I…he was a great guy. Him and Anneke had a thing going but she just wasn’t…she was waiting for Helena." Solari nodded and began studying her restless hands. Jan blinked a few times and then found herself thinking back to her time in the Netherlands.
She glanced over at Anneke and Helena and sighed deeply. It was hard to believe the frail Dutch woman she’d met at the docks in Athens was the same robust woman that sat kissing and snuggling the rather imposing Greek tonight. It wasn’t a big step for her to see Peter sitting and laughing at this impromptu party. She rather liked the Mazontis woman, but she’d been a wild card Jan hadn’t counted on.
"You’da liked van Oppen, Sol. Salt of the earth kinda guy. Real pip. I miss him. He had these pale blue eyes…kinda like Mel’s but…" Jan took a gulp of her beer and cleared her throat. "My Mel has deeper azure eyes, ya know? They sparkle. His were real sorrowful for the most part. Seen too much of life and death, I guess."
Solari dabbed at her eyes and nodded, having seen the very look Jan was describing in her sister’s face. The woman knew just how important Anneke was in Helena’s life; any possible romance she might have had with the Dutchman was nothing compared to the calm and easy relationship the two women had. They were just so right for each other.
Jan looked up as her hand was taken, and she found herself dancing a waltz with Dan. She’s had enough wine to just relax and let the man lead. When she closed her eyes, she could almost feel her arms around Melinda.
"You alright, ducks?" Dan tilted the small woman’s chin up. "You’re not going to throw up again, are you Jan? I really…well, let’s say the last incident was enough for one life time, right?" Jan’s smirk slipped a little as she remembered how she’d found herself wrapped around her soulmate in the wee small hours of the morning, her mind fuzzy on just what had transpired the night before. One thing had been clear: the relief she’d felt along with the remorse…as brief as it was…for ‘ralphing’ all over her friend. She shuddered in memory as he led her back off the dance floor.
Another bottle of wine was replaced, and the mood turned somber as Jan began telling her friends about Stephanos, her voice breaking as she told them of his death. He had survived the injuries incurred at the hands of the German soldiers that day back in the hills of the mountains, but had stepped on a mine a short fortnight later and had been killed instantly. The subject turned to mines and just how terrible a device they were, all concurring that it might very well take a good fifty years before every mine was found and destroyed, if ever.
The conversation turned to other mutual acquaintances, and a few war stories were exchanged. Jan seemed to know the most when it came to their whereabouts and the group listened intently. Colonel Frost had gone on to be decorated but had taken early retirement because of his wounds. General Urquhart had been given a Chief of Staff position, but even Dan knew flying a desk was just not the way to end a career. Old Tom Barrington was the only one who seemed to be thriving, even minus his toes.
Jan was glad to be counted as a civilian once more, and they all cheered as news of Dan’s promotion to Lieutenant Colonel slipped out. Shelley watched bemusedly as each woman hugged her very embarrassed husband. They’d just received the information a few days previous and had planned to tell Jan earlier.
Dan stood up and cleared his throat.
"Ladies and gentlemen. It’s my great honour to be with you all tonight. I sometimes wonder just how I managed to survive the horrors of this damned war and, well, a lot of that has to do with someone very special." He looked over in Jan’s direction but couldn’t quite catch the woman’s eye.
We’ve all got together here to give praise to a pair of very special women. Oh, damnit. I’ve forgotten, Jan told us earlier…. Well, come along Janice…. Stand up and tell us all about Mel."
Solari nudged the woman and then helped Jan to stand. "I’m afraid she’s had too much to drink Dan."
Janice smirked and pulled her arm away from the blonde. "Ha! Too much to drink, my Great Aunt Fanny! Nebber have nuff of that wunnerful stuff…" She stopped her weaving as Solari whispered something into her ear.
"A reunion for me and Mel? Where is Mel? Ollie Ollie Oxen Free…" Jan smacked her forehead. "No, that’s silly. She can’t be here. Yer drunk, Sol…ha. No, she’s in the hosti…hopsi….in the fixit room…place where sick…aw, c’mon, you know where." Jan waved at the group as they stifled their laughter and just sat back to enjoy a totally bombed but obviously happy Janice Covington.
"S’been a good long time since I saw you guys an I really love ya all. Sure wish my Mel could be here but then you’d all be jealous ‘cos she’s just so damned beautiful…gods, I miss that woman." A few of the women wiped at their eyes as Jan tried to compose herself.
"Ahem…well, she couldn’t be here. I think she mighta made a concerted effort if you guys woulda told her this was gonna be a reunion not just a casual night out on the town." She narrowed her eyes and gave the Barringtons a dirty look.
"Be that as it may", she grinned toothily. "Should be findin out next coupla days if the surgery was a sessuc…ah…did a good job or not. Could have m’wife back in our bed real soon…Hey, Shell! I was gonna tell ya about that. ‘At’s right…wanted ta know about how woman make love. Well, I’ll tell ya…can’t show ya…might get my face slapped but good if I show up at the poshible….the spothible…nevermind…with all of ya’s in tow."
Jan’s face got a dreamy look to it, and she began painting some rather lewd images for the group, much to Dan’s immediate embarrassment.
"Oh, gods, Jan. Not again. Look love, you’re going to fall down." Shelley held his arm as Solari jumped up and firmly placed her arm around Jan’s waist.
"Come on, Dr. Covington. I think you’ve had more than enough, yes? Let’s go out for a breath of air." Jan nodded as she wiped a tear from her eye. "I just miss her so much, ya know?"
Solari nodded, and then she and Dan helped the woman outside.
The three of them stood looking up at the moon, a heavy silence surrounding them as they were lost in their own thoughts.
"’Might have beens’. Ever think about them, Dan? I mean, if I’d only listened to the Colonel, maybe Mel wouldn’t be lying in a ward, wracked with pain. S’all my fault. I shoulda found a way to get her outta Cyprus. I coulda found a way…"
Dan reached over and pulled the woman to him in a fierce hug.
"Gods, Jan. You know Melinda would have been miserable if you’d done that. You can’t go on thinking about it. You know you can’t change things, so it’s best to let them go. If you hadn’t been there to find her in those mountains then she would have died. I really don’t know how you both managed to survive. Or any of us, for that matter." He stared off into space as remembered all the letters he’d had to write for all the men who never came home.
"And yes, I do think about them. The ‘what ifs’ bedevil me quite often." He drew silent thinking about the mechanization that put the whole damned war into motion in the first place. If only a sullen man with visions of grandeur hadn’t been such a charismatic figure. If only the fields hadn’t been ripe for such a maniac, for such hatred to take root. He sighed thinking it was shear bloody luck he hadn’t been sent to the European Theatre. News continued to filter out regarding the concentration camps, and he knew the nightmares that troubled his slumber would be tenfold, one hundred fold if he’d had his tour of duty there.
"Do they ever go away, I wonder? They must, huh? I was thinking of getting Peter to the States, ya know? There was something really tragic about the guy. He tried to hide it and be this strong silent type but ya know, ya can’t keep that in for long before it eats at your heart and soul."
Dan looked over at Solari and a moment passed between them. The description fit the petite woman well.
"We all have to face what we fear at some time or another. Take me, I don’t think I could ever get into another glider if my life depended on it. And swimming…no, haven’t been able to do that either. I keep seeing…" A tremble had crept into his voice, and he mumbled something as he stepped away from the women.
Solari watched as Dan made his way back towards the bar. Both he and Jan were going to have terrible hangovers in the morning but for now, now it was good the liquor was helping to ease the pain.
Jan leaned over the railing as a wave of nausea overtook her. She and Dan had talked about that. All that blood, people screaming, soldiers dying. Turning to the woman beside her, Jan began telling the woman of her exploits with both Dan and Peter. First there was laughter and then tears and finally an easy silence filled the air as they both looked up at the cold clear night, lost in their own thoughts of what might have been.
The restaurant began to empty in the wee small hours of the morning as Dan waved at the two taxis taking Helena, Anneke, Solari, and Shelley away. His wife had already agreed he should stay and get Janice home safely, but the petite blonde had other ideas.
Dan was thrown back into time as he and Jan snuck across the hospital grounds. Janice paused briefly to anoint the bushes with her alcoholic offerings, and then they were off, scaling the small wall.
"Geez….which window was it? Man….that one? No…just a sec." Jan picked up a piece of concrete and drew her hand back. Dan yelped quietly and grabbed the chunk from her.
"What the hell d’you think you’re doing, Janice Covington? D’you want to bring the MPs down on us? I say, won’t a few pebbles do the job? Oh for god’s sake…Melinda?", he whispered. Getting no reaction, he called once more in a louder voice. "Melinda!"
Janice smirked as an image of Rapunzel came to her mind. "Ya, let down yer sweet hair!"
A hand was quickly placed over her mouth, and she collapsed with giggles as Butterworth dragged her over to the bushes.
"If you continue like this…well, I’m leaving Jan. I swear it. Not only is it extremely unladylike but childish as well."
Janice cocked an eyebrow in his direction. "Ah, yer no fun any more, Dan. Sheeit…you used to be a regl….rega…a bunch of laughs. Parenthood does not agree with ya, Dan. Like an old nurse maid now…" She hiccuped and then pushed the man against the wall.
"Just gimme a hand up, old sod, and you can be on yer merry way. Okay?"
"But which window? You simply cannot go gallivanting through people’s hospital rooms at this hour of the morning. Come along, Jan, be sensible. Why can’t we just walk in the front door?"
Jan snorted, thinking of Brunehilde the head nurse waiting for any excuse to kick her sorry ass out of the hospital. She was just not gonna give the woman the satisfaction.
"Nope. Not gonna go there, Dan my man. Besides, I gotta talk to Mel. I wanna surprise my sweetie…see if I can wake her from her slumber…get her all hot ‘n bothered…"
"Do I have to hear this, Jan? Oh, alright. Come here. Yes. Put your foot here…right…now look, you should be able to just reach up and grab…that railing. I suppose if you hear a scream, you’ll move along to the next window? Might not be a good idea to just crawl into their beds, Janice…I mean, you never know…someone might ask you to stay."
Jan flashed a wicked smile and then winked. "Nah…only one woman for this tiger." She growled and then began inching from window to window, whispering her lover’s name.
Dan watched as she approached the third window and then started forward as a hand reached out and grabbed his friend by the scruff of her neck and pulled her inside.
"Janice! Jan…." He went to the wall and made a few jumps in an attempt to reach the railing, failing miserably. He’d just decided the best thing to do was go through the front doors when Jan’s voice came from above him.
"Go home, Dan. I’ll see ya in the morning. Or should I say ‘we’? Yeah, Mel says she’s blowing this burg tomorrow mo…um, later today. Say g’night to….eep!"
Dan frowned, wondering just why Jan had stopped mid sentence like that, but when silence greeted his inquiry, he shrugged and cast one last look at the hospital, then began making his way back to the car.
He had a brief moment when the sound of the nearby waves threw an image into him, and he was back on the beaches of Normandy. He shook himself like a dog and hoped fervently that the dreams that had only started to fade would disappear all together. The words he’d written that horrific day whispered like dry leaves in his ear and he wondered if that was the way to salvation.
Dan nodded firmly and squared his shoulders. Perhaps he’d start writing when he got home.
Jan felt herself grabbed and then dragged into the room. Turning as quickly as her addled brain would allow, she prepared to do battle with the formidable Brunehilde only to find herself face to face with…Melinda.
There she stood, in all her glory, save for the bandage that was wrapped back to front around her midsection. Her ample bosom held the blonde’s interest momentarily as she was crushed against them, and then Jan’s mouth was claimed in a searing kiss.
"Oh, baby…I’ve missed you so much.", Jan said between kisses.
Mel giggled and pushed the blonde locks from her lover’s face. "Oh you silly. Why, it’s only been a couple of days…hasn’t it? How long have I been unconscious?"
Jan felt around at the woman’s back, careful of the bandaging and then did her own inspection. "Er, no…about a week, doll. Can ya feel this, sweetie? And how about that? Any funny tingling? Shouldja be up and about? Ya know, you might fall down and get hurt and…"
A hand was slapped over her mouth. "Now you just a second, darlin. You keep goin on like this and I’m gonna bless you out somethin fierce. I’m fine. Just fine. And yes, yes, no, yes and I’m well aware of that, thank you."
"Huh. Well then. Ahem. Let’s get you back into bed, shall we?"
"Did you not hear me, Janice Covington? I said…"
"Oh, I heardja, alright. Now, I want you to listen to me. I’m real glad you’re feelin better, sweetie. I am. I’m glad your pain and such is gone, too. And…" Her hands moved slowly up and down the brunette’s sides. "…If you don’t get back into bed, I might just have to take you right here on the floor. And it’s a tad hard, doncha think?"
Mel grinned and snorted softly. "I see. You did miss me, didn’t you? Well then, come here, lover."
"Oh, I plan to, Mel…but first. First I just want to hold you, babe. It’s been a long day, and I think I had too much to drink, ya know? I just wanna lie down here with you, all cuddled up and such. Okay with you? Just for a sec."
The stress of the last week just seemed to drain out of the small woman, the tension she wore around her eyes and forehead melting away and replaced by an easy peace. Mel led the blonde over to her bed, eased herself under the sheets and then held them open for her lover.
Jan yawned and slowly removed most of her clothing. Melinda found her breath catch as she viewed Jan standing there with the moonlight playing across her shoulders, highlighting her golden hair. She had a brief image of Jan struggling with a man back in the mountains, determined to take her life, denying them the destiny that both knew was theirs. Neither one had any doubts that they were supposed to be together…in this life and whatever else followed.
Jan heard a small hitching sigh and bent closer to the bed. "Are ya in pain, darling? Should I get…"
The blonde uttered a short cry of surprise as she was dragged into the bed.
"Just hold me, Janice. I need…" Fat hot tears coursed down her cheeks as she tried to push the image of her lover lying there…the possibility of Stephanos not being able to get the knife to her…that she’d miss, be unable to prevent what looked to be the inevitable.
Jan soothed the woman as she arranged the covers over them both. Being mindful of the wound, she eased one thigh between the taller woman’s legs and just slowly lowered herself onto Mel’s left side.
"S’okay, babe…. Relax. I’m here now. S’okay, Mel. Gods, don’t cry…you’ll have me doin it. Oh, please Mel…please…" She buried her face into her lover’s neck, and the two just held each other as the fierce emotions ran through them.
Jan’s worst fear had been that she couldn’t do a damned thing for Mel while she was in her own life or death struggle with the soldier; she had tried but the man was much stronger. One minute Mel was ducking as a shot filled the air and in the next instant she was teetering in what seemed to be slow motion…falling…falling.
Just thinking about it made her feel weak and so damned frustrated. Try as she might she hadn’t even been able to protect Mel. Jan absently rubbed the scar between her breasts. It had been her decision to take them all up to the mountains…if only…
She clutched at the woman beside her, desperate to hold onto something, anything as her fear and torment rushed through her like a freight train.
Mel blinked a few times, as Jan’s cries became ragged, the woman’s body rigid. She just held the woman until the body beside her calmed a little. Her own thoughts had been in a vortex, all jumbled together, until she’d become aware of the inner turmoil her lover was currently enduring.
"Gods but I love you, Janice Covington." A few sniffles came as a reply, and then Mel kissed the golden haired beauty. "I think we have some talkin to do, sugah. We both seem kinda lost right now…and I need to be grounded, Jan. I feel like I’m fallin’ apart, honey."
Jan’s head popped up, and she looked down into deep indigo eyes framed by worry lines. She sighed, grabbing a hanky and disengaged herself from her lover. As she rolled over onto her back, Covington pondered just how to say the things that were on her mind, in her heart.
Mel held her breath, feeling the tension coming off her wife in waves. She should have known better, should have listened to Jan about staying with the others. Because of her…
"Yeah, we gotta talk.
Jan bit her lower lip and then took a deep breath.
"Look, I’m sorry. I should never have put you in a position like that…almost getting you killed. Shit…why the fuck do I continue doing that? Putting you at risk when you are the most important thing in the damned world to me…gods, Mel…when I think of what I almost lost…" She balled her fist and smacked the bed once.
Mel’s lower lip quivered having already traveled that hellish road herself and snaked a hand out to cover that of her lover’s. The southerner sighed quietly and then cleared her throat.
"Darlin Jan. I know you can’t protect me like ya want to but can’t you see, I wanna be where ever you are, by your side, come hell or high water? Nobody twisted my arm and I certainly knew what I was getting into. I am an adult, Jan, and this was my decision. I just wished I could’ve been more help, instead of being a damned distraction. I…I almost got you killed."
Jan rolled to her side and propped herself up, shaking her head slowly. "Hey, if it wasn’t for you…Look, Stephanos told me what you did." She snorted derisively. "I got side tracked. I stopped paying attention to my surroundings and got taken down for it. My fault, not yours." She put her hand up as the southerner tried to voice a rebuttal.
"Nope. Not gonna hear it. Not yet. Just listen first, okay?
Mel sighed and then nodded. "Alright, Jan. But it waddn’t all your f…"
Jan touched the woman’s lips and went on. "Yeah, I know." She pinched the bridge of her nose and then sat up.
"I guess you know just how important you are to me, Mel. I think we both know we’d gladly place our own lives in the balance for the other", she said stroking her lover’s ebony hair. "But see? I don’t want it to get to that. Ever. I wanna grow old with you, darling. The idea of carrying on without you…it’s just not something that’s gonna ever happen."
Jan wiped her suddenly damp nose with the back of her hand. "I don’t want to lose you, Mel…but if…if being with me is going to put you in constant danger…" She cleared her throat again. "Maybe being with me isn’t such a good idea. I’d rather know you were safe and sound, away from where the action is."
Melinda felt a burn in her chest as she fought her initial reaction. How could she get through to this stubborn woman? She thought they’d been over this ground months ago, years ago, but here it was again, like some sort of insidious affliction that showed up every now and again to bedevil its owner. She had to get Jan past this and make her realize being apart was not the answer. But how?
Jan sat fidgeting with her hands, wanting to find the right words. She didn’t want to push Mel away, but it gnawed at her, this irrational feeling that if they stayed together they’d pay the ultimate price. She snagged her pants off the floor, retrieving the flask she always kept there. ‘Just a little hair of the dog. Might help me think a little straighter.’
Melinda slowly got up and walked over to the window, pushing it open. The room seemed to glow with moonlight, bathing the brunette’s form in a soft light. What could she say to get through to Jan? What hadn’t been said? Nothing. She sighed. There was no way she could convince or brow beat the woman; Janice Covington was just about the most stubborn person she’d ever met. The urge to just pull the woman onto her lap and spank the living daylights out of her was very strong and so damned hard to resist. How could living apart help either one of them? She knew the way Jan’s mind worked and figured her line of thinking fell into the ‘I’ll make the ultimate sacrifice’ category. Well, it wasn’t gonna happen so Janice Covington had better just better quit being so foolish.
She tapped her fingers on the windowsill. Her hand was rather large. She didn’t want to hurt the woman…only get her attention. Perhaps two sharp smacks would do the trick. Mel pursed her lips. No, a woman like Jan would probably need a good half dozen just to get past the feelings of hurt pride. Well, if it took a good dozen or more to get through to Jan…She could be selfless, too.
Jan knew her words had hurt Mel terribly, but she had to see that by stepping away, by keeping Mel safe, staying out of her life…Jan frowned and took another swig of her scotch.
‘If I step away from Mel, then she won’t follow me and get hurt. If she stays safe and away from me, well I’ll be miserable, sure, but we might both live to a nice ripe old age. Apart. No. Just a sec. If she’s safe and I know where she is and keep an eye out on her from time to time without letting her know…it’ll kill me. But what if I see she’s happy without me…Could she be? Would she find someone else and build a new life? I’d kill em.’ Jan upended the flask and used her tongue to fetch the last few drops remaining before dropping the silver case back into her pants pocket. ‘Kill em all. My wife.’
She looked up from her twisted hands, caught in the bedsheets and saw the beauty that was her Melinda. There was no way this woman would stay unattached for long. She remembered how old Barrington had looked at her. How many others were just waiting for a chance to move in? And just how did she stack up against these would-be suitors? How could she convince Mel that she was the only one for her?
Suddenly, Jan felt very sleepy and very confused. Why was Mel over by the window and not snuggled under the covers with her? And their bed had shrunk. Oh it was just too much. She covered her face with her hands and groaned.
The southerner slowly turned and then carefully made her way back to the bed. "Yes, sugah?"
"I think I need…"
Mel eased back onto the bed and pulled her lover down to lie beside her. "Oh, I know what you think you need, Janice Covington. You think you can just keep pushin me away, and I’ll just be a nice genteel woman and put up with it. That right?"
Jan found herself pulled up to lie across Mel’s belly and then felt a distinct breeze as her boxers were pulled down.
"If you all think I’m gonna live my life…" Smack! "…Without you in it because of some misguided chivalry…" Smack! "…You’ve got another think comin, Janice."
It was amazing just how quickly the blonde began to sober up. She felt the blood pulse through her brain, pushing all the cobwebs away and then a rather delicious heat began to settle on her bottom as yet another resounding spank found its mark.
"Don’t you realize my life is nothin without you? How could you possibly think I’d even survive without you in it? I’m getting damned sick and tired of this self-pity routine, Janice Covington. You know it’s our destiny to be together. Has been and probably always will be." She raised her hand again, but then her vision was filled as Jan looked deeply into her eyes.
She had been expecting a struggle of some sort; either physically or verbally. What she wasn’t expecting was a very turned on woman whose eyes positively glowed with desire.
"Oh baby, what you do to me." Mel’s lips were seized in a fiery kiss, and she lowered her hand to caress the heated flesh of her lover’s buttocks. She hoped it hadn’t hurt too terribly. There had only been four or five…surely that would make Jan take notice and actually hear what she’d been saying?
"I’m never gonna leave you, Mel. I couldn’t live without you. Couldn’t stand seeing you happy with someone else. I love you. I won’t let you go. Ever."
Melinda tasted the sharp tang of scotch on her lover’s tongue and knew the woman hadn’t heard a blessed word she’d said. ‘Happy with someone else? What the devil was she talking about now? There could never be anyone else for her…ever." She groaned as she felt her breasts roughly fondled.
Jan pulled away suddenly, wondering whether she’d somehow hurt her lover’s back but quickly put that notion aside as she felt herself rolled over and tucked beneath Mel’s delicious torso.
"Hurt me? No, darlin. You didn’t hurt me." She kissed the blonde’s mouth tenderly and then nibbled along the woman’s jaw until she reached Jan’s shell-like ears. "Did I hurt you? I know you’re too big to spank, Jan, but I had to…"
"Actually, I…kinda liked it."
Mel’s eyebrow shot up, and she grinned wickedly. "Oh? Well, there’s more where they came from."
"Oh, I’m counting on it, baby." She placed both hands on her lover’s face and kissed her deeply. When they finally drew apart, Mel could see the unshed tears in her lover’s eyes.
"I’m sorry, Mel. Sometimes I don’t say things the right way, but I love you so very much and can’t imagine living without you. I only want you safe, but I also understand that we’re meant to be together. If that means we live to be a hundred or only until next week then I’ll be happy because I’ll be by your side."
Melinda felt her throat close and a strangled sob croaked out. "Gods, Jan…don’t let anyone tell you differenly…you are a bard. My bard."
Certain strange noises were heard coming from Miss Pappas’s room that night, but the Head Nurse decided she’d studiously ignore them. There was no doubt that that woman was in there with her. What she ever saw in such a rough and tumble uncouth sort like Covington…
Cierani Nanscouri walked into the main part of the museum and spotted Janice Covington talking to a few big wigs and smiled. Things had begun running smoothly after Miss Pappas had gotten home and convalesced a few days. The hard hours they’d all put in getting the exhibits ready for the opening today must really have been hard on the small woman as Cierani noticed Janice rubbing her lower back.
Janice felt a hand at her elbow and turned to find her blonde assistant offering her a glass of champagne. She smiled and then took the offered drink. "Thanks, I think I need this."
"Yes, you look rather fatigued, Dr. Covington. Perhaps you should sit down for a while?"
A strange look passed over the blonde’s face as she cleared her throat and began rubbing her buttocks carefully. "Uh, no. No sitting for me. I’m just a little…tired. I think I need more sack time, is all."
The assistant smirked. She’d heard all the stories from the others regarding this sexual dynamo of a woman. More sack time might kill the other American. A small light began flickering in her brain as she watched the doctor wince.
"And how is Miss Pappas these days? We haven’t seen her very much. Is she under the weather, too, that she needs to be sitting down?"
Jan frowned. "Whatcha mean, sitting down? She hurt or something? Where’dja see her?" She began moving away from the influential people surrounding her but felt herself stopped.
"No, no. It was an observation on my part, Doctor. She is in one of the work rooms, I think. She complained of a sore wrist earlier, and I was wondering if that was part of her initial injury?"
Jan closed her mouth with a snap, cutting off any reply as she saw merriment dancing in the blonde’s eyes.
"Uh, yeah. We’re both a little banged up these days, Cie. In fact, I think we’ll be taking a well deserved vacation starting next week. I don’t think we have any projects going on at the moment. Nothing that needs my undivided attention."
"Except for your wife, of course."
The two women stood there looking over the crowd. Jan wondered just how much the rumour mill knew regarding their recent escapades. The Greek wondered if there could be someone in that very room who would excite her like the small Doctor did. She doubted it.
Jan snuck a sideways glance at her assistant and noticed the woman’s eyes light up as Solari Mazontis came into the room.
"Lost cause, baby. She’s as straight as the day is long so don’t bother going there. Save yourself the grief, okay?"
Cierani smiled and nodded. "Yes, I do agree, but the chase can be quite exhilarating, yes?"
Solari reached over the banquet table and snagged a plate of small pastries, oblivious to the rather wolfish expression aimed her way. Grabbing a bottle of wine and some glasses, she hurried back to where Melinda was working.
Melinda Pappas sat behind a work bench, a fine coating of dust covering her hair and evening gown. She had replaced her eyeglasses with magnification spectacles designed to show every curl of glyphs etched into stone and looked decidedly owlish in appearance.
"Did you see Jan out there, Solari?"
The blonde nodded, shoving a bit of food into her mouth as she poured two glasses. "Yes," she said between mouthfuls. "She was talking with Cie just now. I think she looks rather tired and bored. She has been with those stuffy men all evening, Melinda."
Melinda used the small brush and worked a bit of dirt out of the piece she was working on. "Hmm. I suppose so." She picked the piece of tablet Christopolis had given her and began turning it this way and that. The grooves and markings were very distinct but also terribly crumbled and incomplete. She didn’t think there was a full sentence to be found in the whole thing, just a mishmash of thoughts really. If only…
Solari smiled and placed a pastry against the woman’s lips, nodding when the brunette absently began eating the proffered morsel. Melinda was so intense and passionate in her work. The Greek thanked the gods every day that such a woman was working on the preservation of her country’s antiquities. She sighed thinking of Mr. Christopolis and just how he would have loved seeing all the pomp and attention paid to his life’s work. The three of them would have been a force to reckon with in the field of archaeology, indeed. Both he and Janice seemed to have a nose for finding treasures, but it was Melinda’s solid hand that seemed to pull it all together.
Melinda sighed and carefully placed the piece down on the cloth. A crack filled the small room as she worked her shoulders up and down, tilting her neck this way and that.
"My god but I’ve got to get some sleep. These late nights are killing me." Melinda had only been out of the hospital a scant month but was feeling more her self than ever despite the long nights.
Solari yawned in sympathy. Not many of the others knew just how many long hard hours the three of them had put in just cataloguing all the artifacts saved from the Christopolis Collection as it was now being touted. That had been a monumental task that had kept Melinda and her up for more than 36 hours at a time in some cases. But it had been a labour of love and now, looking across at the specially lit tablet across from them, Solari had to admit it was all worth it. Why, that portrait alone must be worth ten times its weight in gold not to mention its value as a priceless artifact.
"The only known likeness of Xena: Warrior Princess. By the gods, she was a comely woman, Melinda. I can see such a strong family resemblance, too."
Melinda bit her lower lip as her face turned crimson. "Oh, go on. While that portrait is indeed a wonderful work of art I think our Xena was far more beautiful than that. Why, just the way it’s been drawn detracts from the strength of her jaw, the cool azure look to her eyes and the stolid determination of the woman’s character."
The southerner smiled and leaned into her hand as she propped herself up by the elbow. ‘And in such perfect condition, too. For an artifact, of course. Why, a small piece missing from the top left quadrant and then that rather largish chunk on the lower right corner…’
Solari uttered a small shriek as Melinda jumped to her feet.
"Ohmigod…I am such a fool…oh, my heavenly Father…!"
Thinking the woman was either having a fainting spell or a relapse from her surgery, Solari grabbed her around the middle and tried to get her back into the chair.
"What are you doing? Stop…Don’t you see? Can you be as blind as I was? Why, look…if you’ve an eye in yer head! Look!"
Melinda held up the piece she’d been working on, closed one eye and moved it up to the right lower part of the tablet.
"Oh my. No, it cannot be! How did we not see it!?", cried the blonde as she squinted over the woman’s shoulder at the truth.
Melinda laughed and then she cried. "I don’t care. Just run and get Janice! Hurry…. Oh, damn it…look out."
Solari stood stock still as the taller woman deposited the chunk of rock in her hands and quickly exited the room. Still shaking her head, she brought it up against the tablet and then slowly joined the pieces together. Muttering under her breath, the woman began to decipher the words written so long ago.
"I tell the story of the Destroyer of Nations
She who once walked in the dark shadow of Ares
And beggared the land of its sons and daughters
Until even her own darkness rivaled that of the Stygian Lord
I sing the praises of a warrior’s strength and valor
She who turned her face from death at the cry of a child
And survived the walk of the damned
Burying more than a life bathed in crimson tears
I sing the song of hope in a land of turmoil
She who brought Persia to her knees
And had the Roman Empire crying to the gods in vain
As they sought to rid her from their thorny side
I sing the song of the Lion of Amphipolis
She who looked upon fallow pastures and saw bounty
And gave life purpose where only barren grief was plenty
Defying the powers of Olympus and her own dark heart
I scribe the tales of the Warrior Princess
She who is called Xena
And bring honour to the legend of her glory
And the truth of a destiny fulfilled"
"Wow. What a great bard she must have been. And such devotion. And love. And…this sounds like an epitaph. Oh, Janice is going to flip!"
Solari chuckled to herself and then placed the piece reverently down on the cloth and stood looking at the impressive portrait of the Warrior Princess. There was no doubt about it now. None whatsoever. She wondered what the rest of the inscription was. It almost looked to be in a completely different dialect, one she was woefully unfamiliar with.
Melinda quickly glanced at herself in the mirror and all but shrieked at the image that greeted her.
"Ohmigod. No, this will never do." Brushing herself off as best she could, Melinda looked into the mirror again and then slowly released her hair from the rather severe bun she’d been wearing.
Glancing side ways, she was struck by just how similar her profile was to the tablet in the other room. It was quite unnerving. Bracing her shoulders and pinching her lips to red fullness, Mel listened for her lover’s distinctive laugh and then set off in that direction.
Janice flicked a piece of lint off her tuxedo jacket and tried to concentrate on just what the man in front of her was saying. It did no good. While it had been kind of campy and fun to be all dressed up in a black tuxedo offsetting Mel’s burgundy gown, the glamour had worn off. Hours ago.
She began fidgeting until she felt a hot breath on the back of her neck. Goose bumps spread quickly over her skin as she recognized Mel’s heady perfume.
"I have something to show you…Doctor Covington." While public demonstrations of affection were something the two had decided to curtail years ago, they still had ways of expressing them which could be quite titillating.
"Oh?" Jan stifled a sigh as she felt a hand snake up under her jacket, gripping her hip.
"Yes, I think you might find it quite interesting, tantalizing even. I hate to interrupt you, knowing you’re so busy with these kind gentlemen…"
Jan felt a blush creeping up her throat. Then she jumped a little as Mel coughed, easing her hand down to cup a buttock.
"You coming?" Jan looked up and saw her lover’s blue eyes twinkling with merriment.
"Not even breathing hard yet." She said under her breath.
"I say, Covington, do introduce us to this fascinating creature." Mel dragged her eyes away from the darkening verdure of her lover’s eyes and stared blankly as the man placed a hand on her upper arm.
Smiling genteelly, she waited until the man awkwardly removed his hand. "How do you do. I’m Melinda Pappas, the good doctor’s associate."
"Partner, gentlemen. My…business partner. We do everything together. The sights we see…the moisture can be very overpowering...curl your hair, boys."
Melinda bit the inside of her lip as she felt the blonde move against her slightly before stepping away. She hastily removed her hand and then adjusted her glasses.
"Why yes, indeed."
Jan turned to her lover. "So, is this something I’ve had my hands on before, Miss Pappas?"
Mel smirked as a few of the men, snubbed by their apparent dismissal, turned away gruffly and headed out to the parlor for a cigar and brandy.
"I really think you might wanna see what I have, Jan."
Janice grinned wickedly. "Already? Man, you are just insatiable lately, aren’tcha? Well, that works for me cos I sure aim to please. Lead on, McDuff."
She watched as Mel’s gait changed and her hips began a sensuous roll. She loved the dress she was wearing, how the material was scooped, revealing almost all of the woman’s back. Thinking she might need some fortification, Jan snagged a glass of champagne and then stuffed a few hors d’oeuvres into her mouth, smacking her lips appreciatively.
Her heart missed a beat as Melinda slowed her stride and then looked seductively over her right shoulder.
"Oh baby, what you do to me."
All eyes watched as the two women left the foyer. Cierani grinned as a few of the women blushed, their eyes not as jaded as those of their husbands. It was all too apparent to those who paid attention just the type of heat the two generated.
Jan waited until they were well away from prying eyes and then pulled her wife into a full-bodied embrace. Mel smiled.
"I noticed that little jump, Jan. You finding it hard to sit down these days?" She smirked as a sheepish look came over her wife.
"Haa…well, just a little tender is all. So, what didja want to show me, sweetness?"
Melinda took her wife’s hand and led her back to the workroom, a chuckle bubbling from the back of her throat.
"Just wait til you see, Jan. You are gonna die."
"Well, you certainly have taken me to heaven on more than…"
All chatter stopped, drinks and appetizers forgotten as a yell was heard from the back of the museum.
"Holy shit! Do you know what this means, Mel!"
Solari exited the room with a broad smile on her face. "Cancel plans for vacation, check."
Janice yelled something as the blonde walked down the hall to her office.
"Byzantium? Are ya sure?"
"And make travel arrangements for Constantinople."
Completed November 8, 1999
The poem that appears at the first of this story is called Revelation, and is by William Soutar.
The other piece of poetry, ‘Normandy’, is my own, copyrighted November 18, 1999.
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