Friday, December 16, 2011
The Good Shepherd 3
Frank Jenkins says Harold Tripp was his Christmas present, delivered to him December 15, 1944. Unfortunately, both men were in a Nazi POW camp at the time. My fictional U.S. airmen arrived at different times after having survived the downing of their B-17 bombers. Their friendship is instant. Their relationship with a Nazi attack dog is highly unusual.
The Good Shepherd is scheduled for release by MLR Press on December 18th. That's three days away, and so I'm posting one excerpt per day until the ebook's release. I made this cover photo. MLR Press will make their own cover, which I will also post on release day. Here is today's snippet, as Frank and Harold get acquainted.
I strolled to my bed while gazing down at him. His eyes were open, staring at nothing. Arms outside the blanket, hands folded atop his chest.
"Needing a snooze?" I asked, taking a seat on my bed to his left.
"Probably," he sighed, forcing a half-hearted grin. "Doubt if I can, though."
"Yep. I know the feeling. Too much thinking about how things could turn so bad so quick." I stood over him, extended my hand. "Sergeant Frank Jenkins. Turret gunner on the Lucy Lu out of Cheshunt."
His grip was stronger than mine. "Lieutenant Harold Tripp, pilot of the Yankee Pride out of Nuthampstead."
I sat on my bed, scrutinized his cut-up face. "Tell you what, Lieutenant Tripp..."
"Harold," he gave me permission.
"Sure, sure. Call me Frank. Are you thirsty?"
"Very," he gingerly drew back his blanket.
"No. You stay put. I'll get it." I dropped to a knee, reached under his bed, pulled out his washpan with a tin cup, bar of soap, toothpaste and brush, shaving razor, and a towel inside, his one-week supply, courtesy of the Red Cross. "I'll be right back," I said with cup in hand. Upon my return, he greedily gulped while I supported the back of his head with my palm. "Want another?"
He wiped his mouth with his fingers. "No, thank you. That will do."
"All right, Harold," I put his cup into the pan and pushed it under. "Try to rest. That's what I'll be doing right here next to you."
"Can do, Frank. Thanks again."
True to my word, I laid down and kept quiet, but only for a minute or two. That's when Harold rolled onto his side and faced me. "Frank?"
"Every man here is skinny as a rail. I'm guessing you didn't come in that way."
"True." I turned onto my side so I could see his reaction to what I had to say. "They're starving us, Harold. Slowly but surely. We get water in the morning. Soup and a chunk of black sawdust bread for supper. We call it that because there's more sawdust in it than flour. Most men don't eat it. Those that do get stomach cramps something awful. Soup is a rutabaga boiled in water. Every now and then we get a potato, but either way each man gets about ten swallows of soup, one tiny piece of vegetable."
"How long have you been here?"
"Since September. I'm guessing I've lost thirty pounds or better. There's no man here who's been in camp more than a year. They're all dead. Dysentery or starvation, take your pick." I waited, taking his silence to mean he wanted to hear more. "Some of the officers and enlisted men who were in bad shape got shipped down to Luft 3 last spring. That's Goehring's quality camp for airmen, or so I'm told. The one the Germans show off to the outside world so they'll think all prisoners are in a good place. This camp here, Harold, is not a good place. I don't even know why it's called a Luft. Only Luftwaffe I've seen is the Commandant. Rest are regular Army or SS." I reached for the corner post of my bed. "See this?"
"Been sawed off. These used to all be tripled-decker bunks. This was once a forty-eight man barrack, according to Jack."
"You mean the barrack's rep?"
"That's him. He's been here since May, and he said that's when the Germans came in and cut off all the top bunks. Chopped them into firewood for their stoves. Officer's quarters and soldier's barracks."
Harold stared blankly toward the floor, and then locked eyes with mine. "Think the guys here can make it another month or two?"
"Yeah. I heard you telling them our men are in Belgium and the east side of France."
"Some are saying we'll be inside Germany by first of the year."
"Well, I know it's getting rough on the Nazis. Our portions of grub shrink every day. I mean, how desperate are they? Can't even spare a few rutabagas for their prisoners. Tell you something else I've noticed."
"Fewer guards. Like they're taking soldiers out of here to be used somewhere else."
"Maybe east. The Russians are closing in, too."
"Could be. All I know is, if I see a way out of here, I'm running. Hell, before long I'll be too weak to stand. I'd rather take my chances roaming the countryside than to stay here and starve."
"Hmm... I don't know, Frank. This camp might be liberated by New Year's. Can you hold out a few more weeks? No use getting shot when the end is so near."
"Well, Lieutenant, you know more about it than I do, so I'll hang with you for now. All right?"
"Sure, sure. We'll stick together."
Funny how he made it sound as though we needed each other on equal terms. After all, I was the three-month veteran of prison life. Of course, that also meant he was stronger than I by three months. Guess it all evened out.