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NORBERT DAVIS

RENDEZVOUS WITH THE RUSSIANS

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First published in Argosy, May 1943

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-12-31
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Argosy, May 1943, with "Rendezvous With the Russians"


Illustration


Simon Blue, fugitive from Hitler, rode a box-car to Russia—to discover that the
thundering snow-swept battlefront was Europe's safest refuge from the Führer!



TABLE OF CONTENTS


CHAPTER ONE
[Untitled]

STORMWAY, attaché of the American Embassy, was a small, coldly efficient man with a big bald spot and nose-glasses that threw off steely glints when he moved his head quickly. He sat behind the big desk in the second reception office and stared at the man in front of him without any approval at all. "You're a nuisance," he said. "But I don't suppose that bothers you any."

"No," Simon Blue admitted. He was just a little above medium height and thin from the meals he had been missing lately. He had brown hair and a snub nose and freckles and an amiable grin. He was wearing a brown suit that was baggy at the knees and a loose English tweed top-coat that had kept its shape in spite of being used as a combination blanket and sleeping bag. He had no hat, and he needed a hair-cut.

"How do you manage to keep out of jail?" Stormway asked curiously.

"I'm fast on my feet," Blue said.

"You must be. The Spanish are very sharp about picking up people without papers these days. Why don't you go away from here?"

"I'm trying to," Blue said patiently. "Have you heard anything yet?"

Stormway slapped the desk with the flat of his hand angrily. "No! Do you realize that there is a war going on? Do you think the State Department has nothing better to do than to verify citizenship and identification for a—for a...."

"Bum like me?" Blue finished.

"The very description I had in mind," Stormway agreed. "You had no business losing your passport! That's a very dangerous sort of a thing to do in these times!"

"I know that now," Blue said. "But I was drunk, and it was awfully cold in that hotel room, and there was nothing else to burn, so I took the papers out of my pocket and put them in the grate and—"

"I've heard that story six times," Stormway interrupted. "I still don't believe it. Now look here. There's a very tense situation in this country. Our troops are in Africa, and Hitler has taken over Unoccupied France, and as a result this region is tuned up like a time bomb. I advise you most seriously to get out of here before it explodes."

"I can't get out unless I have a visa," Blue explained wearily, "and I can't get a visa unless I have a passport to put it on. So I guess there's nothing to do but wait until you hear something from the United States. In the meantime, could you lend me some money?"

"Yes, I could," said Stormway, "but I'm not going to."

Blue nodded. "Yeah. I see. Well, I'll drop around tomorrow."

"Wait a minute," Stormway said. "Have you had anything to eat today?"

"No," Blue answered truthfully.

Stormway flipped a limp, colored piece of paper on the desk. "Here. Do you know what that is?"

"A dollar bill!" Blue said incredulously.

"Yes. You can pass it anywhere. Take it along." He gestured wearily.

"Thanks," said Blue. "Be seeing you."


BLUE went out through the big gates into a street that looked narrow and shabbily discouraged. He shivered and buttoned the collar of the top-coat close around his throat. This was what was known at one time as Sunny Spain, and even now the sun was shining like a cold bronze ball in the icy blue of the sky, but there was something missing. Namely, warmth. The wind that rustled papers along the gutter had the chill of a breath from a tomb, and the people that dodged furtively along the walks had the wan and drawn air of ghosts on the way to a conclave in a haunted house.

Blue walked down to the corner and leaned against the Embassy's courtyard wall and thought over his troubles. Stormway was quite right in thinking there was something slightly off-side about the burned passport story. Blue had burned it, but not by mistake or while he was drunk or to keep warm. He had burned it just before he passed the French-Spanish border because he knew he would be searched there by experts and that they would find it if he had it on him.

He had no wish to be identified by the border police as Simon Blue because he knew there was a French warrant out for that party signed by some people whose names meant something on a warrant. Blue had inadvertently gotten into a poker game with three German business men who had come into Unoccupied France to see what they could steal. The Germans were quite proud of their ability to play poker as a trio, but Blue had a few tricks of his own, and used them to advantage.

The Germans must have had friends who were smarter than they were, though, because the next morning they woke Blue up by pounding on the door of his room and screaming and slobbering threats in their peculiar jargon. Blue went out the window and away from there. He was really fairly honest on most occasions. He never did anything worse to the other person than the other person was trying to do to him. In modern Europe that policy gave him considerable leeway. He sighed deeply now and took a shiny leather folder out of the inside pocket of his top-coat. He opened it, and it was a passport. However, it was not an American passport, and it was not made out in Blue's name. It identified a German national by the name of Gustave Hans Bremerhien.

Gustave, its owner, had made quite a bit of money in the United States and then had headed for the Fatherland, stopping off in Paris, just occupied by the Germans. He had enjoyed himself there until he met a member of the Totenkopfverbände. This is an organization which stooges for the Geheime Staatspolizei—the Nazi secret police—in conquered countries.

Gustave made the mistake of confiding to his friend that he was carrying his savings in a money belt. The man from the Totenkopfverbände promptly stuck a knife in Gustave's back, robbed him of his money and such other sundries as he was carrying, and dumped him in the nearest sewer.

Gustave's friend from the Totenkopfverbände used his money to bribe his commander to assign him to the border patrol between Occupied and Unoccupied France, where the pickings were richer. Blue had been caught by the German tide in Paris. He ran into Gustave's friend while he was trying to sneak across the border into Unoccupied France. Gustave's friend accepted a bribe with an expert air and then sold Blue Gustave's passport.

Blue bought it because he thought it might come in handy, and it had. It was the only reason he was at large right now. Stormway had been very right about the Spanish suspicion of unidentified people. Every other policeman Blue saw stopped him and demanded his papers. The German passport stopped them every time.

But the passport also brought difficulties. The Nazis are not so dumb as to let any German wander around without keeping an eye on him. They were keeping an eye on Blue—a cold and fishy one. He had to report to the German Embassy every day. And he couldn't use the passport to get into any country that was at war with Germany.

But then, he had a dollar, and he smiled a little when he thought what he was going to buy with it and how it would taste.


THE voice was thin, urgent.

"Señor."

Blue turned around, startled. The woman had crept along the wall so quietly he had not heard her. She was small and shrunken, and she wore a shawl over her head and a man's old suit coat and a lifelessly bedraggled skirt. Her feet were wrapped in burlap sacks, and her face had that gaunt, ugly look that hunger brings to all features, no matter how beautiful. She was carrying a small wicker tray, and she pushed it out timidly at Blue.

There were flowers on the tray—little stringy yellow flowers that the frost had nipped and browned. They were tied with sewing thread in careful bunches.

"No," said Blue gently. "No. Not today."

The woman nodded with the hopelessness that goes even beyond despair and turned away. Blue saw, then, the little boy who had been hiding behind her sagging skirt. He was a queer little boy with spindly legs and a round, puffy stomach and a swollen caricature of a face. He looked that way because he was starving.

Blue swallowed hard, staring at him. Then he took two quick steps and caught the woman.

"Here," he said, and threw the crumpled dollar bill on her tray. "Here!"

The woman touched the bill uncomprehendingly with a trembling, claw-like finger.

"Take it," said Blue. "It's a dollar. An American dollar bill."

"Dollar?" she repeated slowly.

"Money. Pesos. Dinero." Blue pointed to the flag on the front of the Embassy. "American money."

"Yanqui!" the woman said in a breathless gasp.

"All right," said Blue. "Yankee money, then."

The woman's face seemed to crumple. She sank back against the support of the wall with the bill clutched tight in both her hands. The tray made a little rattling sound falling, and the yellow flowers spilled on the pavement. The woman's mouth was open, and she was trying to form words with lips that shook uncontrollably.

"Skip it," Blue said. "Forget it. I've got millions in all my pockets."

He swung around and walked away, going fast. One of his shoes had a hole in it, and the cement felt icy through it. His knees felt a little stiff and unsteady, and there was a bitter, brassy taste in his mouth. Maybe he had been in worse spots than this, but he couldn't remember when.


CHAPTER TWO
Fighting Blue

THE German Embassy was a large, grey granite building entirely surrounded by swastikas. It had lots more clerks than the American Embassy. Blue got by four in the first reception office, three in the second, and two in the third, and after an hour's wait was ushered into an office that looked exactly like one of the better-class movie sets, complete with enormous Nazi flag, bust of Hitler, and big black desk at the far end.

The man behind the desk was a new one on Blue. He was small, and he had a tanned, thin-lipped face and eyes like off-color ice cubes and the white gash of a saber scar on his left cheek.

"Good afternoon," said Blue politely.

"Heil, Hitler," said the man. "Sturmbannfuehrer Kliest, Regiment General Goering."

Blue blinked once. All the above meant that the man was a major in Goering's personal regiment and that his name was Kliest. It also meant that he was a pretty important character by Nazi standards.

"My name is Gustave Hans Bremerhien," Blue said.

"Speak German!" Kliest snapped.

"I can't," Blue said. That was true. He could understand a few words and phrases, but he had never been able to speak it at all.

"Why not?" Kliest demanded. "You were born and raised in Germany."

"It is forbidden," said Blue woodenly.

Kliest eyed him narrowly. That answer would never have gone down with anyone of normal intelligence in the circumstances, but verboten is the most popular word in Germany. Almost everything is forbidden, just for any old reason or no reason at all.

"You mean that you have been forbidden to speak German?" Kliest asked.

"Yes," said Blue.

"By whom?"

"My superior."

"Who is he?"

"I am forbidden to say."

"What are you doing here in Spain?"

"Waiting for the stupid Americans to give me a passport under a false name so that I can go to the United States and accomplish a mission there."

"What mission?"

"I am forbidden to say."

"Hmmm," said Kliest, and then continued half to himself: "Sabotage, I suppose. And probably they forbade you to speak German so you would lose all trace of your accent. It is not very good, by the way. Your speech, I mean. I doubt if it would deceive a genuine American."

"Wouldn't it?" Blue asked.

"I think not. I have never been in the United States, but I have studied their motion picture films at great length. You do not speak like the actors do. You should practice."

"I'll get right at it," Blue promised.

"Hmmm," said Kliest. "Have you any further orders?"

"No," Blue said warily. "Just to get a passport from the American Embassy here. I was there this morning. It hasn't come through yet."

"I know that. Their channels are loaded now with diplomatic messages concerning their theft of Africa from our brave leader: They have no time for transmission of private messages, and they certainly won't have in the near future. You will be delayed here for some time."

"Oh," said Blue, and his stomach tied itself in a cold hungry knot.

"You have no money," said Kliest.

"No," Blue admitted.

"Hmmm," said Kliest. "Obviously you cannot live on nothing in the meantime, so I have made arrangements to allow you access to some funds."

"Ah," said Blue, and his stomach relaxed again. He felt better already.

"In return for a small service which you are to perform while you are waiting," Kliest added.

"What?" Blue asked cautiously.

"Do you know what an oerlikon is?"

"No."

Kliest said impatiently: "It's a 20 millimeter automatic anti-aircraft cannon—a very good one—being manufactured in great quantities in the United States now. The Spanish have a few of them which they are using in the Blue Division. They obtained them from Italy."

"Where did Italy get them?" Blue inquired curiously.

"From the same place the Italians get everything else—but courage. From us. We salvaged a few of them from the debris the British left at Dunkirk. You are to present yourself for temporary enlistment in the Blue Division as an inspector of these guns. If you are asked, you will say that you worked in a factory which manufactures them in the United States."

"Why, I don't know anything about them at all," Blue protested.

Kliest's icy eyes narrowed. "You can look at them and nod your head knowingly, can't you?"

"Well, yes."

"That is what you are to do. We need an observer in the Blue Division. Keep your eyes and ears open. Report everything you may hear or see here—particularly as to morale. You understand?"

"Oh, sure," said Blue. "For how long?"

"Until you are ordered to stop or until you get your false American passport, What is the name of that gun?"

"Oerlikon," Blue said. "20-millimeter automatic anti-aircraft cannon. I'm an expert. I worked in a factory that makes them."

"Right," said Kliest. "Perhaps you are more intelligent than you look. Here are your temporary enlistment papers, indicating that you are a specialist to have civilian status, all properly made out. Here is the address of the enrollment office of the Blue Division. Here is some money for temporary expenses."

He counted some flimsy, pastel-colored bills out on the desk-top. Blue picked them up with a little sigh of relief and folded them carefully. He could eat.

"Keep an account of that money," Kliest ordered. "Report back here as soon as you have completed your enlistment. You may eat on the way to the office, but don't loiter. Heil Hitler."


IT was quite an amusing coincidence, Blue thought. His name was Blue, and he felt blue, and he was going to join up temporarily with the Blue Division. However, he didn't feel nearly as blue as he had a while ago. He had eaten.

The office of the Blue Division's enlistment bureau was a narrow, bare room with a shiny bench along one wall and a rickety desk in its darkest corner. When Blue came in, there were only two people in sight. One was a fat, beaming little man with red cheeks who was sitting on the bench and humming to himself softly and pleasantly. The other man was sitting behind the desk. He had a yellowish, gaunt face and hooded eyes, and he was tapping the end of a pen against his prominent teeth as though he were testing them.

Blue approached the desk. "Do you speak English?" he asked.

"Yes," said the yellowish man. "Do you?"

"After a fashion," Blue said. "I'd like to enlist in the Blue Division."

The yellowish man looked stunned.

"Enlist?" he repeated incredulously. "In the Blue Division?"

"Yes," said Blue. "Here's my application papers. They're all made out. Look them over."

"That won't be necessary," said the yellowish man, breaking into a flurry of activity. He fished a series of forms out of different drawers in the desk. "Sign here and here and here and here."

Blue signed his name with the scratchy pen. He couldn't read the forms because they were in Spanish. The yellowish man watched him sign, holding his breath. When Blue had finished, he let the breath go in a long, relieved sigh.

"You are very lucky," he said. "You can leave tonight."

"Leave?" said Blue. "For where?"

"For the Russian front, of course."

"Russian?" Blue said dazedly. "Front? Why would I leave for there?"

"Because that is where the Blue Division is."

"Uh!" Blue grunted. "What—what are they doing there?"

"Fighting the Russians."

"You mean—you mean, they're fighting for the Germans against the Russians?"

"Naturally."

"Oh, no!" said Blue. "No, thanks. Just skip the whole matter. It's all a mistake. Forget it. Excuse me. I've got to rush. I've got an important engagement. Goodbye."

He turned and headed quickly for the door. The fat little man let him go past and then stood up very quickly and shook a shiny leather blackjack out of his sleeve and hit Blue expertly on the back of the head. Blue missed the door and hit the wall beside it. He bounced back and went down in a sprawling heap on the floor.

"Very neat, Herr Dosgang," the yellowish man complimented. "Now let's see what kind of a fish we've caught." He examined Blue's application papers. "Hmmm. It seems he's some kind of an expert. An anti-aircraft expert, to be exact."

"It makes no difference," said Herr Dosgang with a marked German accent. "The Russians would just as soon kill experts as anybody else."


CHAPTER THREE
Box-car to Russia

FOR a long time Blue thought the rumble-clank, rumble-clank, rumble-clank that jarred his head was the pulse pounding in his temples and that the reason he was shivering was because he had a chill. This could easily have been so, because he had a headache that started between his eyes and went right up and over to the back of his neck, and he was so cold that he was numb. But after he came out of it a little more he realized that the rumble-clank came from train wheels somewhere under him, and that he was shivering because the floor under him was shaking ceaselessly.

He rolled over slowly on something that felt like shredded lead-pencils packed down hard. He opened his eyes, but it didn't do any good because he couldn't see any more with them open than he could with them shut. He felt around until he found a wall that was also shivering and then pulled himself up to a sitting position against it.

After a long time the headache died slightly, and he could think again. He began by ruminating on the idea that he was not only brainless but a damned fool. He had talked to so many numb-wit clerks at the German Embassy that he had gotten very confident about his phony story of being Gustave Hans Bremerhien on some screwy secret mission. But Kliest was a horse of another color.

Nazis don't think normally, if at all, but Blue had met quite a few of them from time to time, and so he had a fair idea of Kliest's reactions. Kliest had thought he was an imposter, but he hadn't been dead sure. Germans always have to be dead sure, because if they should turn out to be wrong, they are dead.

So Kliest had arranged this little Blue Division deal. By that means he disposed of Blue himself and at the same time made some use of him. It was a neat trick. Now whatever happened, it wouldn't happen in Kliest's district, and he wouldn't be blamed for it. And in the meantime, Kliest would be sending back reports to Berlin, and Blue would be investigated.

Having reached that conclusion, Blue decided that he had better get out of wherever he was and go somewhere else very quickly. He was obviously on a train now, and it was probably heading north toward the Spanish-French border. It was hiking along at a pretty good clip, but Blue had jumped off trains going faster in his career without incurring any fatal injuries, and he didn't look forward to any great difficulties.

He explored carefully and was surprised to find that he still had the remainder of the money Kliest had given him and his passport. He also was still wearing his good English tweed top-coat. Things could have been worse.

"Hey!" he said suddenly and loudly.

"Heil Hitler!" a voice answered instantly out of the darkness.

"Never mind that," said Blue. "Do you speak any civilized language?"

"You want me to speak English?"

"Yes," said Blue. "Who are you?"

"I am Patkin. What is your name?"

"I don't know whether I have one or not. Just call me Blue."

"All right. I welcome you in the name of Der Fuehrer to the brave armies that strike against the evil menace of Red Russia which coils like a venomous snake at Moscow and seeks to sink its fangs in the prostrate body of civilization."

"What was that?" Blue asked.

"Welcome, noble fascist comrade! Sieg heil! Heil Hitler! Down with plutocracy and international bankers! We will fight for the right! We will send the Russian beast cringing back to its den in the Kremlin!"

"We'll need some help," said Blue.

"We will have it! All good men like us will rise in their wrath and smite the Red Russians and the evil, flaccid democracies that dare to flaunt their defiance in our stern faces!"

"Okay," said Blue wearily. "What is this thing we're riding in?"

"A goods truck. A freight car."

"Are we alone in it?"

"Yes. There were thirty other noble fascist comrades who were supposed to be with us, but they didn't—ah—arrive on time."

"I'll bet not. Did they have to carry you in here, too?"

"No, I was handcuffed to a policeman."

"Oh. What's on this train besides us?

"Food."

"Food?" said Blue incredulously. "Coming out of Spain?"

"Yes. For our brave fascist-comrade soldiers fighting against the beast—"

"Skip it," said Blue. "Where are we, do you know?"

"In France."

Blue jumped. "France!"

"Yes. We passed over the border before, you regained consciousness."

"Oh, my," said Blue. "I'd better get the hell out of this car in a hurry. So long."

"You can't get out," said Patkin. "The doors are locked and double-locked and fastened by three steel bars on the outside and sealed."

"How do you know?"

"I listened to them lock them, and then I tried them afterwards—just for curiosity. Our noble fascist comrades take every precaution for our protection."

"Yeah," said Blue sourly. "Don't they, though?"


THEY sat in silence while the train rolled steadily and noisily through the night. Blue pulled the overcoat close around him and improvised a muff by pushing each hand up the opposite sleeve of the coat.

After a long time, Patkin said: "I'm an honorary Aryan."

"That makes you about a third-class German, doesn't it?" Blue asked.

"Yes," said Patkin proudly. "Are you an Aryan?"

"I'm an American."

"An American! Congratulations, comrade fascist, for escaping from the confines of that weak, evil, scheming country! It is doomed to be burned and blasted by the noble forces of our dear Fuehrer. How did you happen to be in Spain?"

Blue was too weary and disgusted to think up a lie, and besides he didn't think it would make much difference any more. "I was managing a prize-fighter by the name of Dim-Out Duncan. He was awful. Everybody in the United States knocked his brains out. So I brought him to Europe in the hopes I could locate some stumblebum here that he could whip. I couldn't."

"What happened to him?" Patkin asked.

"I finally got to Berlin. He got drunk in a blackout there and bumped into a lamp post. He thought the lamp post had insulted him, so he dove at it head-first. He broke the lamp post—also his neck. I not only had to pay for his funeral but also buy a new lamp post. So I was absolutely dead broke, and no one in Berlin had any money I could borrow.

"So I went to Austria. Hitler did, too. So I went to Czechoslovakia. So did Hitler. I went to Poland. Along came Hitler. I made an end-run to Norway. Hitler, again. I got to Paris. I had just managed to get together enough money to get back to America, when here he came again. It took all the money I had to bribe my way into Unoccupied France. I got some more money there, but I had to bribe everybody from the dog-catcher to the chief of police to get out before Hitler got in, and so I arrived in Spain dead-broke."

"But why did you want to go to the United States?" Patkin asked. "It is a very dangerous place to live since it made its unprovoked attack on der Fuehrer."

"I was under the impression that Hitler declared war on us," Blue said.

"Technically, yes," Patkin admitted. "What else could he do after the United States made its brutal and treacherous assault on our brave allies, the Japanese, at Pearl Harbor?"

"Oh," said Blue. "What were the Japanese doing there?"

"It belongs to them," said Patkin.

"Is that a fact?" said Blue. "I always thought that Hawaii belonged to the United States."

"That is because you read the lying, capitalist, plutocratic newspapers controlled by the international bankers and Red Russians. I read nothing but German newspapers. They always tell the truth."

"I can see that," said Blue.

"For instance," said Patkin, "I will bet that you did not know that Japan had conquered all of Alaska and all of the Pacific coast of the United States and that all the rest of the country is in the throes of a bloody revolution and that a hundred thousand people died of starvation in New York last month."

"Well, well," said Blue. "Where did that policeman who brought you here get you—from an insane asylum?"

"No. From the jail. They gave me the choice of being executed or joining the Blue Division."

"That seems like a fair choice," Blue commented. "What were you in jail for?"

"I was accused of murder."

"You were framed, no doubt?" Blue inquired politely.

"Oh, no. I killed the man. He said Hitler was as crazy as a bed-bug. So I stabbed him. How was I to know that he was an important member of the Nazi party?"

"How, indeed?" Blue said. "Now would you mind piping down for a while? I want to pick up on some more sleep."

"Heil Hitler," said Patkin. "But why did you want to go back to the United States?"

Blue sighed. "I got a card from my draft board. Now shut up."


CHAPTER FOUR
Bloody Roulette

BLUE woke up slowly and heavily. He was cramped and stiff, and he felt as if he had been frozen for forty years. He opened his eyes without very much hope and was surprised to find that he could see a little. It was evidently daylight outside, and some wan streaks of sunlight crept through between the loose side-boards of the swaying, rattling car.

"Heil Hitler."

Blue looked around, blinking in the gray gloom. Patkin was sitting braced against the wall farther down the car. He was a thin little man with a big nose and no chin at all. He had liquid brown, spaniel eyes and an ingratiating grin.

"Can't you say something else for a change?" Blue asked. He examined the dusty length of the car and then stiffened suddenly'. "Good God! What is this—a slaughter-house?"

There were ugly red-brown stains on the worn walls, and Blue could see now that the floor covering which had reminded him of shredded lead pencils was really very coarse straw packed down to a hard matting, and it was also spotted with the same ugly red-brown patches that had soaked in and spread. Blue swallowed a gulp of repugnance.

"Oh, no," said Patkin. "This is a car used to carry wounded back from the Russian front."

"Wounded?" Blue repeated. "They surely don't carry them in an old, unheated box-car like this?"

"Only the most seriously wounded," Patkin explained. "The slightly wounded are brought back in heated passenger cars fitted up as train hospitals."

"Haven't you got things turned around?" Blue asked.

"No," said Patkin. "The seriously wounded are the ones who are permanently disabled. They can't fight again, but it doesn't matter what happens to them. The slightly wounded can be patched up and sent back, so naturally our noble fascist comrades give them the best of care. We fascists, as you know, do not believe in silly sentimentality. Everything is efficiency with us."

"Yeah," said Blue. "That's one word for it. I wonder if we're going to get anything to eat, or if we have to starve all the way to Russia?"

"They will give us something to eat. It wouldn't be efficient to starve us too much."

"The condemned men ate a hearty meal," said Blue. "We hope."

The train rumbled steadily onward. The sun rose higher, and it grew a little lighter in the car, but no warmer. Blue had no feeling in his legs, and he began to wonder if they were really frozen.

And then the train began to slow down. Evidently the brakes weren't very good, or else the engineer just didn't give a damn. The car began to give a series of heaving jars that threw it first against the back coupling and then the front hard enough to slide Blue and Patkin a foot along the floor with each bump. At last the engineer got tired of playing and slammed the train to a shuddering stop that shook dust out of every board in the car.


THEY waited. Finally there were faint voices outside and the clank of steel from the doors. They swung away at last, opening outward instead of sliding like an American box-car. Sunlight flooded in, blindingly bright after the gloom.

Two German coal-scuttle helmets loomed in the opening, and a rasping spate of German words came from under the scoop of one of them. Patkin answered quickly and apologetically, and the helmet said a lot more, none of which sounded complimentary.

"What's the beef?" Blue asked Patkin. Patkin shrugged. "He thinks there should be more of us. He was expecting more. He is angry because our other noble fascist comrades missed the train."

The helmet let out a bellowing snarl that must have been an order. Another head appeared in the opening, this one in a round, flat fatigue cap. He put two tin bowls that looked like handleless dippers on the floor of the car and threw in a big chunk of black bread that was so hard it bounced.

Patkin and Blue got up and squatted down beside the bowls. They were filled with some kind of soup, the ingredients of which looked pretty doubtful. But the soup was smoking hot, and it uncurled a slow, luxurious ball of warmth in Blue's stomach. He broke off a piece of the hard bread and dipped it in the soup and chewed noisily, enjoying himself. Patkin made contented sputtering noises beside him.

Blue finished with a sigh and slid his bowl toward the helmet.

"Any seconds?"

"Nein!"

"Okay," said Blue. He nodded at Patkin. "Ask him if we can get out and stretch our legs."

Patkin spoke in smooth, pleading German.

"Nein! Verboten!"

The flat fatigue cap appeared again, and its owner snatched away the two empty bowls. He also made a pass at the piece of bread that remained, but Blue kicked it out of his reach.

"Come and get it if you want it," Blue invited.

The helmet gave an angry bellow, and the big doors swung shut, and the steel bars clanked into place. The engineer started up the train in the same haphazard way he had stopped. After awhile he got things straightened out, and they began to rock along steadily again.

The day passed with leaden, lagging slowness. Blue was dozing uncomfortably when Patkin said suddenly:

"We are going faster."

"So what?" Blue asked, bored.

"That means we are in Germany."

"Why does it?"

"The road-bed is better. It will stand more speed. The Germans take all the new rails from conquered countries and put them on their own road-beds. They send their worn-out rails back for the conquered countries to use."

"That's thoughtful of them," Blue commented. "We are going faster, though. We must be knocking off about sixty."

"Our noble fascist comrades at the front are probably hungry."

"I am hungry," said Blue. "And not probably, either."

But he got nothing to eat then. He tried to chew some of the black bread, but it was too hard. There was nothing to do but pull up his belt a notch and wait.


IT was dusk when the engineer made another of his crash-landing stops. The steel bars rattled, and the doors swung open. Another coal scuttle helmet appeared. The face under this one was emaciated and darkly bitter, and the man's right sleeve was empty from his elbow down. He held a Luger pistol ready in his left hand. He spoke to Patkin in a dead, thin monotone.

Patkin spread his hands apologetically and answered.

"Same beef as before?" Blue asked. "Yes. He, too, expected more noble fascist comrades to be with us."

An old man with a straggly gray beard and a uniform that looked like, and probably-was, a left-over from the last war came up and produced two more bowls of soup and another and even harder chunk of bread. While Blue and Patkin were eating, he went away and came back with a pile of dingy gray blankets in his arms.

One-Arm snarled at him. The old man answered sullenly and stubbornly. "What now?" Blue asked. Patkin said: "The one-armed one does not think we should have so many blankets. The old one says his orders were to issue the blankets to the men in this car, and that is just what he is going to do."

He did. He heaved them in on the floor of the car and then took away the soup bowls. One-Arm said something to Patkin and then laughed in a sudden harsh croak.

"What's the joke?" Blue inquired.

"He says this car looks like we have already been playing Russian roulette."

"What's that?"

"It's a game the Russians play. Whenever one of their soldiers is killed, his comrades kill thirty-two Germans or Rumanians or Hungarians or noble fascists like you and me."

"Very funny," Blue said.

One-Arm slammed the doors, and the bars slapped solidly into their sockets.

The train banged and hopped into motion. Blue crawled over and found the pile of blankets. There were a dozen of them, and they were made of some kind of ersatz wool that was as heavy and not much more flexible than lead. But they were warm. Blue and Patkin spread four on the floor and used the rest to cover themselves. It was much colder than the night before, but they were quite comfortable.

It was dawn when the train stopped again. The men that brought the inevitable soup were younger and tougher-looking, and they carried rifles. They had shawls wrapped around their heads under the coal scuttle helmets. It was bitterly cold, and their breaths made steamy plumes in the heavy air.

"Ask them where we are," Blue said.

Patkin questioned the guards who were watching them impatiently, stamping their feet and swinging their arms to keep warm. One man answered him in two words.

"He says we are in hell," Patkin reported. "I think he must mean Poland."

"That sounds reasonable," Blue agreed. The doors were locked, and the train rolled on again. Blue went back to sleep. Hours later Patkin woke him up by shaking him vigorously.

"What?" said Blue.

"We are in Russia."

"How do you know?"

"The road bed. The Russian trains have a different gauge. The Germans had to re-lay the tracks through here. Can you feel it?"

That wasn't hard. The car was rocking and groaning like a boat in a rough sea.

"Yeah," said Blue. "I wonder where they're taking us. Have you any idea?"

"I think to Lyzdek. That is the supply point and rest base for the Blue Division. It is north of Moscow."

Blue ran his palm over the stubble on his cheeks. "I hope they furnish us with a razor and a hot bath."


THE train groaned and rocked endlessly onward. It was noticeably colder, and Blue and Patkin were no longer comfortable. They huddled under the blankets and shivered miserably. It seemed to get dark much earlier than it had the day before, but the train rocked and roared steadily across the country.

"We must be almost in San Francisco by this time," Blue said finally. "If they don't stop pretty soon and—"

They stopped. They stopped all at once. The violence of it knocked Blue and Patkin out of their nest of blankets and rolled them the whole length of the car, and that was the only thing that saved their lives.

Somewhere ahead there was a boom that was like sullen, distant thunder. And then the car in back of them, loaded heavier than the one they were in, crushed through the rear of their car with a shriek of tortured wood and metal. Their car was caught like a grape in a vise, and it reacted just the same way. The irresistible pressure tore it loose from its couplings and popped it clear out of the line of the train. It went over and over again, smashing and grinding against the frozen earth.

Blue hit one side and then the other. He doubled up, wrapping both arms protectively around his head. The blows were rocketing, dizzy smashes that threw him helplessly, and then the car stopped its death roll, and he dropped sickeningly and landed flat on his back on what had been the car's side-wall.

He lay there for an eternity, choking on the dust and straw, unable to think or see or make his arms and legs coordinate. Then wind swept like a cold hand across his face, and he got his breath in a great, lunging gasp. He felt like he had been beaten all over with baseball bats. "Patkin," he whispered hoarsely. There was no answer. Blue groped around through the tangled mass of straw and blankets and found nothing, and then the wind blew coldly at him again, and he turned and crawled in that direction.

A splinter cut a gash in the palm of his hand, and then he tripped and fell headlong into open air. Snow crunched hard against the side of his face. He dragged himself slowly to his feet and stood there, swaying loosely.

There was a wan slice of moon riding high and icy in the dark vault of the sky, and in its thin, ghostly glow he could see the flat roll of the country around him, deserted and desolate, with frozen brush thrusting up through the snow like tight-curled stubble. The train was spread all along the track like a giant worm that was broken and humped and twisted back on itself. It had been very thoroughly and expertly wrecked.

A shift in the shadows caught Blue's eye, and he saw a dark figure moving cautiously along up the track.

"Patkin!" he called.

It wasn't Patkin. There was the sharp crack of a rifle, a pointing flick of orange flame, and the bullet made an eery wheeee going close past Blue's head. The sound Drought back all the energy that had been battered out of him. He vaulted over a bush and dove headlong into the snow and rolled frantically. There was another report, and the bullet crackled in the brush where he had disappeared.

He crawled frantically, his hands clawing at the granular snow crust, legs kicking against the entangling folds of the topcoat. Then he got up to his feet, hunched low, and began to run, zig-zagging through brush that snapped and clutched at his legs.


CHAPTER FIVE
The Partisans

VOICES shouted faintly behind him, but there were no more shots. Blue slowed to a heavy jog-trot and kept right on going. There was nothing in this country—no lights, no houses—nothing but snow and brush and cold. Blue ploughed down into a ravine and followed along its crooked length, glad of the cover it afforded. He came out into a wider draw, and then his feet skidded on slick ice. He went down with a thud and skidded across the ice clear to the other side of the draw and ended up in some more matted brush.

He lay there, panting. There was a knife-like pain in his side, and the chill air ached in his throat. He could hear no evidence of pursuit. After a while he got wearily to his feet again. The draw was evidently the bed of a frozen-over creek. Blue started trudging along it. It would lead somewhere. It didn't much matter where that was. He had been walking five minutes when he saw a little flick of light ahead of him. He ducked involuntarily, but there was no sound of a shot. He waited for a moment, shivering spasmodically, and then advanced cautiously, trying to stifle the crunch of his footsteps in the snow. Then he smelled the thin, acrid tang of wood smoke.

He went forward more hurriedly. He would have settled for the electric chair at the moment. It would at least have been warm.

He almost passed the place before he saw it. It was a sprawled, low-walled hut tucked in close against the cut-bank above the creek. Blue found the faint, darkened traces of a path and toiled upward. He felt along one roughened, mud-plastered wall until his fingers touched the smoothness of wood.

He thumped on it hard with his numbed knuckles. After a moment a woman's voice said something in an inquiring note from inside.

"Friend!" Blue said. "Friend! Let me in!"

There was no answer. Blue hammered on the door again and stood waiting, rubbing his knuckles. Then the hinges creaked, and the door opened an inch and let out a breath of warm air that played luxuriously across Blue's chapped face.

"I'm harmless," said Blue. "And I'm damned near frozen. Let me in, please."

The door opened wider invitingly. Blue stepped quickly inside, and the door thudded shut again. He was in a small, low-ceilinged room bare of all furniture except a homemade table and the stools around it. A fire in a chimney fireplace made a red, warmly welcoming eye ahead of him.

"Thanks," Blue said.

The woman who faced him was short and dumpy-looking in her shapeless clothing. She wore a shawl around her head, and her tanned face was seamed deeply with wrinkles. She spoke again inquiringly, and Blue said:

"I can't speak Russian."

She shrugged and indicated the fire with a jerk of her head. Blue went closer to it and spread his hands gratefully against the glow. There was a slight, sly whisper as the woman moved behind him, and some instinct made Blue duck.

The axe blade wickered past his head so close he could feel the breath of it. He whirled around and ducked back, stumbling against one of the rough stools.

"Hey!" he shouted.

The woman was coming for him again, the axe raised expertly over her shoulder. Her eyes were shiny, fierce slits. Blue leaned over and grabbed the stool and threw it hard at her shins. She bent down with an involuntary gasp of pain, and Blue kicked her left elbow.

The axe handle flipped up, tearing loose from her numbed grasp. The axe spun across the room and thudded on the floor. The woman dove for it instantly, but Blue got there first and put his foot down on it.

"Take it easy," he said breathlessly. "I know I look like hell right now, but I'm kind of a nice guy when I'm cleaned and polished."

The woman spat at him. She tugged at the axe unavailingly.

"Relax," Blue advised. "I'm not going to hurt you, if I can help it. Let's be friends. All I want is the use of your fire for a little while."

The woman hissed words that dripped venom.

"I sort of get the idea that you don't approve of me," Blue said. "But I—"


AIR stirred coldly against the back of his neck. Blue jerked around, still keeping his foot down on the axe. There was a man in the doorway. He filled it, from top to bottom and from side to side. He had a round, heavy-jawed face smeared with soot and grease and a flattened nose with a scar across the bridge. His eyes were like chilly chips of blue glass. He was wearing a long, quilted overcoat, and there were four German stick grenades stuck in the belt of it. In his right hand he was holding a shiny new German Mauser pistol-carbine. It was cocked, and it was pointed at Blue's stomach.

Blue raised his hands slowly and carefully. The big man said something over his shoulder, never taking his eyes or the gun from Blue, and then stepped into the room and closed the door.

The woman broke into a torrent of angry denunciation, pointing at Blue, then shaking both fists for emphasis.

"Oh, I'm not as bad as all that," Blue said, trying to grin.

The big man spoke a couple of short words.

"I can't speak Russian," Blue said uneasily. "I can't speak anything but English."

Still watching him unwaveringly, the big man reached back with his left hand, found the catch, and pulled the door open a little.

"Ydrev!" he called.

It sounded as though it might be a man's name, and evidently it was. He came sliding through the partially opened door into the room. He was carrying a sub-machine gun with a round drum magazine and a ventilated barrel. He wore a quilted coat like the big man's, only dirtier, and he had a fur cap tilted jauntily down over one eye. He was small and thin and spry-looking, much older than the big man, and there was a glint of malicious humor in his eyes.

The big man spoke to him, indicating Blue with a jerk of his head. Ydrev looked at Blue and then pursed his lips and fluttered his forefinger in front of them.

"You want me to say something?" Blue asked. "Well, what'll I say? I'm an American, and my name is Blue."

Ydrev scowled, concentrating. He asked a question.

"No," said Blue.

Ydrev tried again, speaking more slowly, in another language.

"Nope," said Blue. "I can't understand that, either."

Ydrev studied him. Finally his eyes focused on the top-coat. He looked that over very carefully, even feeling the material of the sleeve. Then he took a floppy little paper pamphlet out of his pocket, thumbed through it until he found the page he wanted, and held it up in front of Blue.

It was a Russian-English phrase-book. It contained common sayings in Russian together with their English translation. Ydrev's grimed forefinger was pointing at the one that said: "Do you speak English?"

"Yes!" Blue shouted emphatically. "English! I speak English!" He nodded his head up and down.

Ydrev turned triumphantly to the big man and spoke in Russian. The big man looked doubtful. Ydrev repeated himself positively. He jerked at Blue's coat collar to illustrate. The front of the top-coat opened. The maker's name was on a red lettered label on the inside pocket.

"Yah!" Ydrev said.

He pointed to the label and then put the phrase-book close to it so the big man could see the similarity of the lettering. The big man peered, scowling, and then finally nodded once, reluctantly. He opened the door and called again.


BLUE stared, bug-eyed. The person who came in was by no means a man. She had a round, smoothly flawless face and eyes that were as blue as the sky on a clear summer day. She was wearing trousers and high boots and a short padded and quilted jacket. Little strands of honey-blond hair strayed out under the edges of her big fur cap. She carried a rifle with a long telescopic sight slung over her shoulder, and three German stick grenades were pushed under the coat belt.

The big man spoke to her and then pointed at Blue.

The girl nodded gravely at him and then said: "I am speaking English some little. Do you also speak it?"

"Yes!" said Blue, blowing out a long thankful breath. "Yes, indeed! And I'm certainly glad to see you!"

"I am Maranya. What is your name?"

"Simon Blue."

Maranya pronounced the syllables carefully to the big man and Ydrev. They tried them over with varying success.

Maranya turned back to Blue. "Are you fascist? Are you Nazi?"

"No!" said Blue.

She thrust out her clenched fist at him. Blue ducked and then realized that she wasn't attempting to hit him. She was giving the Communist salute.

"No," he said. "I'm not a Communist, either."

"What, then?"

"Well—well, I'm a democrat. I mean I'm an American. I'm from the United States."

"Yonk!" Maranya exclaimed incredulously.

"All right, all right," Blue said. "Have it your way. I suppose I'm a Yankee."

The big man and Ydrev muttered in surprise, and Blue's original hostess complained unbelievingly.

Maranya frowned severely at Blue. "I am studying geography of United States. It is not that you can fool me by pretending." She took a pamphlet from her jacket pocket. It looked a little like the one Ydrev had used, but it was much thicker. "Where do you live? What state in the United States from you come?"

"Louisiana."

Maranya found it, evidently on a list in the book. "What is capital?"

"Baton Rouge."

"What is sea port?"

"New Orleans."

"What is river by sea port?"

"Mississippi."

"Spell," Maranya ordered.

Blue spelled Mississippi while Maranya's forefinger followed each letter. She shrugged then, convinced, and closed the book.

"What you do on the train we wreck?" she asked.

"Oh, were you the ones?" Blue said. "Then you must be guerrillas."

"We are partisans," Maranya said. "We are not bandits. We fight under orders by radio."

"Sure," said Blue. "That's what I meant. You did a swell job o£ train wrecking."

Maranya smiled a little. "We are expert. We fight behind Nazi lines one whole year now. What you do on that train?"

"Well, I was trying to go home so I could get in the Army. I managed to sneak out of Unoccupied France—"

"France!" Maranya interrupted "Vichy! Fascist! Faugh!"

"Sure," Blue said. "And I was dead broke when I arrived in Spain—"

"Spain!" said Maranya. "Fascist! Faugh!"

"Yeah," said Blue. "And then this Nazi bum tricked me into enlisting into the Blue Division—"

"Blue Division!" Maranya hissed. She drew her forefinger across her soft throat and made a clicking noise with her tongue.

"Okay with me," Blue told her. "And when I found out what it was and tried to get away, they batted me on the head and threw me on the train. So here I am. It seems like I'm getting back to the United States the hard way."


MARANYA turned and told the story to Ydrev and the big man, illustrating with gestures. They nodded and grunted gravely. The big man put his Mauser back in its holster and thrust out a thick, calloused hand. Blue shook with him.

"This is Sidor," said Maranya. "He is our leader."

"Sidor," Blue repeated.

"Moo," said Sidor, which was as close as he could come to Blue's name.

Ydrev stepped up, too, and shook hands. "Boo," he said, coming a little closer than Sidor had.

"Ydrev," Blue said.

"Ydrev is a tailor in peace days," Maranya explained. "He recognizes that your coat is English cloth. He speaks Polish, Slovak, a little Hungarian."

"No wonder I couldn't understand him," said Blue. "But thanks, kid. I certainly appreciate the try."

Ydrev chuckled and winked.

Maranya put out her hand as the men had. It was slim and very firm in Blue's grasp.

"And thank you," he said. "How about our hostess, here? Am I still on her black list?"

"Zaya does not like any foreigner," Maranya told him. "Nazis kill her husband and brother and little son. It makes her a little crazy, I think. She has kill already five Germans with that axe. She slice their head and tie stones around them and push them in river."

Maranya spoke confirmingly to the woman, and the wrinkles in Zaya's face grew deeper, and her lips pulled away from her teeth in a gloating grimace. She made a suggestively horrible chopping motion and then giggled. Blue shivered, thinking of what he had so narrowly missed.

Maranya said: "She is spy for us. We feed her on what we take from Nazis. We eat now. We do not have to hurry. Sidor sends men to pull up tracks outside of Tzinov, which is first station your train goes through. When Nazis hear about wreck, they come out to where tracks are torn and then get off and hunt for us. This country is too rough for tanks. They come as infantry—on foot." Maranya chuckled and patted the barrel of her rifle. "They are very careful. They do not like to hunt us on foot in woods. We kill so many of them. I kill twenty-two last month—not one closer to me than five hundred meters. Good, ah?"

"Very good," Blue agreed.

"I am good sniper," said Maranya proudly. "I kill most Germans of any in our group except Sidor. I am very hungry, so now we mast all eat. Ydrev!"

Ydrev nodded and went to the door and opened it. There was a sharp, snapping crack out in the darkness. Ydrev whirled clear around and fell flat on his face, still gripping the sub-machine gun.


OUTSIDE a voice bellowed a hoarse command in German. Sidor yelled back defiantly. He jerked one of the stick grenades out of his belt, pulled the safety ring off with his teeth and hurled the grenade over Ydrev and through the open door. He whipped another out of his belt and threw it after the first.

The grenades went off together with a lifting, scarlet smash in the night. Sidor drew the Mauser from its holster, and rushed the door, head-down. On the way, he leaned over and picked up Ydrev effortlessly with his left arm. Maranya yelled, too, thin and high and challengingly.

"Come quick!" she said to Blue. "German patrol!"

She whipped the rifle down off her shoulder and followed Sidor, holding the rifle like a grouse hunter holds his shotgun, ready for a snap-shot.

The German voice bellowed another command. There was an ugly, chattering roar, and machine-gun bullets cut through the walls of the hut like a steel flail. Blue saw the woman, Zaya, spin around with both hands up to her face and blood sliding terribly through her fingers. She fell full-length, soddenly, and then Blue dodged out of the door, ducked down low.

Another grenade smashed out and then another, and Blue heard the queer, high sing of steel particles past his face. Maranya screamed. Blue lost his footing on the icy path and went banging headlong downward and slammed hard on the icy covering of the creek.

He staggered up to his feet in time to see a dark, bulky figure coming at him with the pencil-point gleam of a bayonet thrust ahead of it. Blue snapped his left forearm down and sideways, knocking the bayonet aside, and then slid in under the rifle feet first. He kicked hard and felt his heels bite into soft flesh.

The dark figure yelled and went over backward. Blue bounced up to his feet again, caught the streak of movement on his left and tried to dodge. He wasn't quick enough. The butt of a rifle caught him just over his ear and knocked him end over end. The world whirled around in a red-streaked, shrieking nightmare, and then he went out like a light.


CHAPTER SIX
Noble Soldier-Comrade

BLUE couldn't have been out more than five minutes, and he came around with a spine-chilling jerk when a hard, slim hand started to rub snow in his face. He sat up, shoving out both arms swimmer-fashion.

"All right, all right," he mumbled incoherently. "Lay off, will you?"

"What is your name?"

"Simon Blue."

"You are conscious," said Maranya. "Get up. See if you can walk."

Blue got up and staggered around dizzily in a circle, trying to get his balance.

"Good," said Maranya. "We must move now. You must help yourself."

"Germans," said Blue vaguely. "The German patrol...."

"They were small patrol—eight men. They come from Salzev. We do not expect them from there. The garrison is very small there, and they are afraid of us. I think they send these eight after Zaya because they are suspicious of her for killing those others with the axe and do not know until they shoot Ydrev that there are more of us here."

There were dark, humped figures sprawled in the rumpled snow.

"What..." said Blue.

"Three got away," Maranya said. "Sidor has gone after them because one was the under-officer—the sergeant. He must not escape. The Nazi soldiers are sheep, but the sergeants are good. You are fine fighter. You put the one German unconscious before the other hits you."

Blue stared at the still figures. "Which..."

"That one there. I cut his throat."

"Uh!" said Blue, gulping.

"I do not count him as one I kill," Maranya comforted. "He is belong to you. Now you must carry this for me." She handed him her rifle. "Please do not knock the telescope. It is very delicate."

She leaned down over one of the still figures then and pulled its arm around her shoulders, hooking her own right arm around its slack waist. She stood up with a little sigh of effort, bringing the figure with her.

"Here!" said Blue. "Let me help! Who...?"

It was Ydrev, and he cut loose with a long string of fire-cracker words that could only have been profanity.

"No!" said Maranya sharply. "Carry the rifle! I have carry many wounded. I know how. He is not bad. He is shot in the leg only. He must make it work, or it will freeze."

Ydrev said a lot more, and Maranya answered him even more explosively. Ydrev moaned obediently. He tried to move his stiffened right leg and would have fallen except for Maranya's support. She dragged him forward, and he finally got the leg to move, cursing in whispers now through his clenched teeth.

They went hobbling down the creek bed like two affectionate staggering drunks but with a queer air of desperate urgency about their progress. Blue followed along, carrying the rifle carefully, feeling like a fifth wheel.


Illustration

"If I could help—"

"No!" Maranya snapped. "Be quiet. Watch. There may be other Germans. They do not take partisans prisoner. They hang us if they catch us—you, too."

"Oh!" said Blue.


HE watched. He watched until his eyes ached and burned in the wind and the dry cold. They went down the creek bed until they came to a wooden bridge that must have been the handiwork of some German Pioneer unit. Maranya pulled Ydrev up on it and leaned against one of the bracing timbers, panting brokenly.

"Road," she said. "Military road. Must follow it to hide tracks. Watch for sentries. If challenged—shoot. Safety catch of rifle is on right side bolt."

"Okay," said Blue. "How is Ydrev? Is he still with us?"

"He is sick now. Must hurry."

She took a last deep breath and hauled Ydrev along down the twin-rutted dark straggle of the road. Ydrev's head was wobbling loosely on his shoulders, and his legs wavered in all directions like those on a run-down mechanical doll. The bruised side of Blue's head began to throb sickeningly, and each step was a hammer blow in his temple. He stumbled in a frozen rut.

"Simon Blue!" Maranya said instantly.

"Sure," said Blue. "I'm all right."

"Hurry, hurry."

"You bet," said Blue, forcing himself to keep up.

They went on and on until Blue lost all track of time and distance.

"Here," said Maranya. "Careful. Brush."

The hard, frozen branches crackled and clutched at them, and then they were in thicker woods, and the night closed in until Blue felt himself moving vaguely in a black dream that had no end.

"Wait," said Maranya.

Blue promptly fell on his face, retaining just enough consciousness to hold the rifle up so he wouldn't land on the precious telescope sight. He stayed there for what seemed like three years, and then Maranya tugged at his arms.

"Simon Blue! Up!"

Blue got up to his hands and knees and crawled. He slid down into a narrow, dark passageway and felt warmth on his face. That woke him up a little, and he crawled faster. He came out into a long, low room just about the size and proportions of the box-car he had been riding in. There was a round gasoline tin with holes punched near its top ahead of him. There was light inside the tin, and a cheery red glow was beginning to creep upward from its base.

"Oh!" said Blue. He huddled close to the tin and let the warmth of it bite in deeply. "Oh, boy!"

Maranya moved beside him. There was a hissing sputter, and then the shadows moved back. Maranya was holding a German gasoline pressure trench-lamp, and by its steady light Blue could see that the walls and ceiling and floor of the room were all the same streaked, black dirt.

"Here," said Maranya. "Drink."

Blue took the cup with numbed fingers and swigged obediently. It was cognac—good cognac. It went, down Blue's throat in a welcome, burning streak. He sighed and took another big swig, moving back a little from the gas tin stove.

Ydrev was propped up against one of the dirt walls, his legs out in front of him. Maranya knelt down beside him now and flicked a knife out from under her short coat. It was razor sharp. She slit Ydrev's pants leg expertly.

"Good," she said. "The bullet goes clear through." She found a round clear bottle and, spreading the wound carefully, poured some of the bottle's contents in it.

Ydrev sat up with a jerk and yelled. Maranya paid no attention. She took a bandage from a German field first-aid kit and padded the wound expertly with it.

"That does for now. Here."

She poured brandy into another cup and gave it to him. Ydrev drank and sighed and drank again. He looked at Blue and shook his head in a sadly resigned way.

"Now you, Simon Blue," said Maranya. "Over here."


BLUE crawled over and sat up against the wall beside Ydrev. Maranya knelt in front of him and explored the back of his head with her slim, strong fingers.

"Ow," said Blue.

Maranya ignored him. She explored the bruise on the side of his head with the same ruthless efficiency.

"Yeow!" Blue shouted. "Hey!"

Ydrev chuckled at him sympathetically.

"Close the eyes," said Maranya.

She put her thumbs against his closed lids and pressed hard.

"Now open."

Blue opened his eyes.

"Look at me."

Blue looked at her. She was about four feet away, and as he watched she brought her smooth face closer and closer until her snub nose was almost touching his, staring deep into his eyes while she did it. She sat back on her heels, then, with a sigh of relief and smiled wanly.

"You have no fracture. Your head is just hurt a little, I think."

"I think it's hurt a lot," said Blue.

She poured more brandy into his cup and gave Ydrev another dollop. The bottle was still about a third full. She tipped it up to her lips and drank all the rest; without stopping for a breath.

"Good!" she said, sighing again. "I am tired a little for a minute."

"A little!" Blue echoed. "I don't know how in the devil you ever got us both here!"

"I am Russian citizen-woman," said Maranya. "I am good as any man—maybe better."

"You won't get any argument out of me on that," Blue told her.

Ydrev mumbled apologetically, touching his leg. Maranya chuckled and then flicked his cheek affectionately with her fingers. She went to the back of the room and fumbled around in a pile of boxes. She came back with a flat can and gave it to Ydrev. He opened it and took out a sardine by its tail and offered it to Blue politely.

"No, thanks," said Blue.

Maranya found another can. "You like this?"

Blue couldn't read the German label, but he opened the can and tasted its contents. It was something like corned beef, only more highly spiced.

"Swell," he said.

Maranya got herself a can and another bottle of cognac. "Not like vodka," she said, indicating the bottle. "Too weak."

"It'll do," Blue said contentedly. "You people kind of live high off the Germans, don't you? What is this dive we're in?"

"This place?" Maranya said. "Is what you call cave. Is—ah—temporary for us. Too close to Germans, We must move again tonight—back, to main camp of our partisan group. We wait now for Sidor."

"It's okay with me," said Blue. "I'm having a fine time here."


THEY sat in a row against the wall and munched and drank while the improvised stove gradually warmed the air. Blue had begun to doze when there was a shrill whistle from somewhere above and outside.

"This is Sidor," said Maranya. There was a rustling sound in the passageway, and then Sidor crawled clumsily through the weighted burlap sacking that masked the inner-door. He was dragging something behind him. He hauled it out of the passageway and dumped it beside the stove.

"My God," Blue said blankly. It was Patkin. He was bedraggled and battered and shivering as though he had the ague. He sat up and gulped and said loudly:

"Hail, fellow Communists! Hail, fellow comrade-soldiers! I have traveled thousands of miles to help you in the noble task of driving the black beast of Hitlerism back to Berlin! Down with fascism! Down with the Nazis!"

"I recognize the tune," Blue said. "But you've changed the words, haven't you?"

Patkin blinked at him. "Greetings, noble American fellow-Communist. Due to the plots of the foul monster that leads the Hitlerite hordes I was temporarily forced to dispense with my true beliefs and assume the loathsome disguise of a black fascist. But now! At last I am among friends! I can express my true convictions!"

Sidor spoke, and Maranya translated to Blue: "Sidor says he found this man wandering along the military road. Sidor was going to kill him, but the man saw Sidor first. He speaks some Russian. He shouted at Sidor that he was a friend, and when Sidor spoke to him he mentioned your name. Is he your friend?"

"I wonder," said Blue.

"I am a true Communist!" Patkin yelled, and went off into a harangue in what was evidently Russian.

Sidor and Maranya and Ydrev weren't impressed.

"He talks too much to be a good fighter," said Maranya. "If he is not your friend, Sidor will cut his throat."

Patkin stared imploringly at Blue, his teeth chattering.

"I guess he's a friend," Blue said. "Tell Sidor not to cut his throat"—Blue nodded at Patkin and then added meaningly—"just yet."

"Noble soldier-comrade!" Patkin said shakily.

"You better make with the nicey-nice, chum," Blue told him. "There are some very rough joes in this wickiup."

"What are those words?" Maranya

"Baby-talk," Blue said. "This guy is slightly insane—childish. But he's harmless. He'd better be."

"We are all dear, noble Communist b-brothers together," Patkin said fervently.


SIDOR went back and got two cans of food and another bottle of the good cognac and a cup. He gave one of the tins and the cup to Patkin. He didn't bother to take the cork out of the bottle. He knocked the neck off against his heel, poured some of the liquor in Patkin's cup, and drank carelessly out of the jagged top of the bottle himself.

Blue and Patkin watched him, fascinated, but it was apparently the way he usually did things because neither Ydrev nor Maranya paid any attention. Sidor ate and drank greedily. He finished the cognac and the tin of meat in a dead heat and tossed them over his shoulder.

Maranya asked him a question. Sidor nodded. He took something from his pocket and tossed it to her. Maranya showed it to Blue. It was an Iron Cross.

"It is from the German sergeant," Maranya said. "You see, it is as I said. It is not a Nazi Iron Cross. It is from the old German army. The sergeant is a trained veteran. That is why Sidor must kill him. There are many young Nazi sheep-soldiers, but trained veterans cannot be replaced."

"I see," said Blue soberly.

Sidor spoke at length to Maranya. She nodded when he had finished and said to Blue:

"Sidor says that you and your friend cannot stay with us. You do not know the country. You would be caught and hung. I will take you through the lines at a place we know."

"Tonight?" Blue asked, startled.

"Yes. We will have time. It does not get daylight now until after nine o'clock in the morning."

"We walk all night?" Blue said.

"It is better than being hung," Patkin commented.

"Maybe," said Blue doubtfully. "But we're liable to get caught anyway, aren't we?"

"No," said Maranya. "Not with me as guide. We go back and forth many times. Last month Sidor was in Moscow two days to report and go to the opera."

"Opera?" Blue repeated, astonished. "Sidor?"

"Yes. He is a lover of the opera. You see, the lines here in the forest are not like trenches. There are many gaps and much land where both sides patrol."

Sidor spoke in an impatient rumble.

"We must go now," said Maranya. She got up and picked up her rifle. She had evidently retrieved that before she had taken care of Blue or Ydrev. She took a couple more German stick grenades from a pile in the corner and thrust the handles through her jacket belt.

"Well, wait," Blue said. "I want to thank Sidor and Ydrev for all this...."

Maranya spoke to Sidor, and he answered in a short sentence.

Maranya said: "Sidor says you can thank him by going home and joining your army and killing Germans."

"I'll do my best," said Blue. "Well.... Goodbye, now."

Sidor nodded indifferently. Ydrev grinned and gave a mock salute. Blue and Patkin crawled into the tunnel entrance after Maranya.


CHAPTER SEVEN
Long Way Home

THE first hour was all right. They marched in single file with Maranya leading and Blue next and Patkin tagging along in the rear. The second hour Blue's head began to ache again. The third hour was sheer hell. At the end of it Maranya stopped finally for a rest, and Blue collapsed on the snow, leaning his back against a tree trunk.

"How are you feeling?" Maranya asked him.

"I died three days ago," Blue said. "I'm just now finding it out."

"You are good, strong man," said Maranya, "to walk so far so fast with the hurt head." She took a bottle from her pocket and gave it to Patkin. "Here is brandy for him. He must have only a little to warm him. I go to scout for patrols. Do not move from here. Do not make noise."

"No, comrade-soldier," Patkin said.

Maranya disappeared silently in the darkness, and Patkin uncorked the bottle and gave Blue a drink.

"You must wear my hat," Patkin said.

"I never wore a hat in my life," Blue told him.

"It is better to now," Patkin answered. "It keeps the cold from your head." He took off his old cloth cap and put it on Blue's head.

"Well, thanks," Blue said, surprised. "How about your head?"

"I have no brains to get frost-bitten," said Patkin.

"Ummm," Blue murmured, thinking that one over.

Maranya appeared as suddenly as she had gone. "There are no patrols. Come, now."

Blue groaned and made it up to his feet. They marched another hour, and Blue began to get light-headed. He felt the impulse to sing, but Maranya stopped that in a hurry by slapping his face. After that he just walked. His feet went along automatically without any supervision on his part. After a long time, the process reversed itself. He got light-headed again, and then his head ached terribly, and then suddenly and surprisingly he caught his second wind. He had walked off both his exhaustion and the shock of the blow from the rifle butt. He felt pretty good, and he slogged steadily forward, guided by the shadowy swing of Maranya's slim shoulders.

He was beginning to think they had walked right through the day and were well along on the second night when Maranya stopped so suddenly he ran into her.

"What is it?" he whispered.

"We are between the lines now," Maranya murmured. "There is a road ahead. I thought I heard something. Wait here for me."

She unslung the rifle and glided silently away. Blue could hear Patkin breathing noisily behind him. Except for the faint creaking of frost-stiffened tree branches there was no other sound.

Maranya came back. "There is a truck stalled on the road ahead," she breathed, "I do not know whether it is Russian or Nazi. Here."

Blue groped out and felt the cold handle of a stick grenade. Maranya gave another to Patkin.

"We will challenge the truck," she said. "If they answer in German, throw the grenades, and I will shoot. Put your hand on my shoulder. Follow in step with me. Your friend will follow you in step. Make no noise."

They went quietly and cautiously ahead, circling to avoid clumps of brush that Blue couldn't even see. And then there was a break in the trees ahead and the flat, snow-chewed surface of a road. The truck was a big one with a humped canvas body that made it look like a squatting prehistoric beast in the darkness. There was no sound, no movement near it.

Maranya nudged Blue, and he nudged Patkin.-They stepped away from her to get room to throw the grenades. Maranya called something in a sharp, clear voice.


THERE was a pause, and then the answer came in a slow, cold drawl: "I don't know what you said or who you are, but you better not come no closer. I got me a tommy gun here, and I'm rarin' to go!"

"Texas!" Blue yelled.

There was another pause, and then the drawling voice said: "How'd you know what they call me?"

"I don't care what they call you!" Blue shouted. "But I know where you got that drawl."

"You got a drawl yourself. Where'd you get yours?"

"Louisiana."

"The hell you cry," said Texas. "You're kinda far from home, son. Suppose you sort of step out where I can see you."

"There are three of us," said Blue. "A Russian girl soldier and another specimen I haven't identified yet."

"Bring 'em along. I got lots of bullets."

The three of them stepped out into the open and walked slowly toward the truck. Texas made a faint, gaunt shadow beside the cab. He was wearing a long American Army overcoat with the collar turned up and a fur Army cap.

"We're legitimate," Blue said. "We could have chucked a couple of grenades at you if we weren't."

"I reckon so," Texas admitted. "And I'm sure glad to see somebody. I'm lost. I got me an American map and a Russian map, and they don't match, and this here cowpath ain't on neither of 'em."

"Where are you going?" Blue asked.

"Place called Salzev or something. It's a truck supply dump. This here is a lend-lease truck. I'm takin' it there and stayin' to check the ones that's comin' later."

"I show you," said Maranya. "Let me see the map. I have light."

Her flashlight made a dim blue glow over the map, and then she pointed. "Here you are now."

"Hey!" said Texas, alarmed. "That's between the lines. I ain't supposed to be there!"

"You make wrong turn here. See? You go back this road to this other road and turn to right."

"I got it," said Texas. "Say you're a mighty pretty girl, ain't you?"

"Yes," said Maranya frankly. "I must go now. Goodbye."

"Wait!" said Blue, alarmed.

Patkin said: "I want you to know that you have done a very great service to the Russian cause tonight. Simon Blue is carrying very valuable dispatches."


MARANYA came closer to Blue. "You carry dispatches behind the German lines? You are even braver than I think. The Nazis torture you and kill you if they catch you. This is from me for how you help my country."


Illustration

Her lips were firm and warm against Blue's.

"Gee!" said Texas enviously. "I'm helpin' your country, too, ma'am. Ain't I?"

Maranya chuckled, stepping away from Blue. "I go now. Goodbye."

"Hey!" said Blue, recovering himself. "Don't go—"

She was gone.

"Hey!" Blue shouted again. "Maranya!"

"She is in a hurry to get back to Sidor," said Patkin. "He is her husband."

"Husband?" said Blue. "Sidor? Oh." He stood staring forlornly into the darkness for a moment and then suddenly whirled on Patkin. "What was that you said about me carrying dispatches?"

"You are," said Patkin.

"Where?" Blue demanded skeptically.

"In an oiled silk packet sewed into the lining of your overcoat."

"Who put them there?"

"I did. While you were unconscious in the goods truck. You see, I actually did stab a Nazi, but not by mistake. He was a Gestapo man, and he was after me. Unfortunately I didn't kill him. I knew he would tell the Spanish authorities that I was no crack-wit fascist as soon as he recovered consciousness. I was afraid he might do that before I could get out of the reach of the Gestapo."

"Say," said Blue. "Just what are you, anyway?"

"I'm a spy," said Patkin. "An English spy. I have just come from inside Germany with those dispatches."

"Spy," Blue repeated, stunned. "And you let me carry those dispatches around when I might have gotten tortured and killed like Maranya said if they searched me and found them. Why, you were using me for your stooge!"

The little man nodded.

"Yes."

"Patkin," said Blue. "I don't think I like you. In fact, I'm going to wring your scrawny neck."

"Before you do that," Patkin said, "let me mention a name to you. Gustave Hans Bremerhien."

"What about it?" Blue asked cautiously.

"I can identify myself easily. If I should tell the Russians that you were Gustave Hans Bremerhien, a German national who was going to the United States to sabotage the war effort there, the Russians would shoot you instantly. On the other hand, if I should vouch for you as Simon Blue at the British Embassy, they will see that you are properly identified and given a passage home."

"Patkin," said Blue. "I still don't think I like you, but what can I do about it? Get in that truck with Texas. I'm sick of being pushed around. I want to get back home and join the Army and push somebody else for a change."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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