When the Last Leaf Falls — Chapter 2

A Sneak Peek continued…

Previously I posted the Prologue and part of Chapter 1 from the novel now under development. Below is the rest of Chapter 1 and all of Chapter 2 as a follow up”Sneak Peek.”

I recommend clicking the link below and reading the “set up” in Post #1  (Prologue and first half of Chapter 1) then coming back and following it up with the rest of Chapter 1 and this new  entire Chapter 2.

Happy reading!

Continued from Post #1  Sneak Peek — When the Last Leaf Falls 

 

Where was I? he pondered. “Fitch…” he said.

     “Radio…” Fitch said with teeth chattering, “…is as dead as that new guy—the replacement—Hawkins. We can’t send a runner—so here we are.”

“We fight it out?” Howie stammered through a sudden and frozen wind, slapping his face like an unseen hand showing no mercy.

“Yeah. We fight it out.” Fitch shivered against the icy chill as he brought his binoculars up. His entirely freezing and fatigued attention was on the German patrol and the single tank entering the open ground. “Now let’s line up to meet this SOB,” he whispered.

They were ill-prepared for winter fighting when the 9th Infantry was thrown suddenly into the surprise German counter-attack. The men of the 9th Recon Troop wore white bed sheets they’d liberated from a bombed-out Belgian hotel, draped over olive green combat uniforms and GI pot helmets, in hopes the camouflage effect made them invisible to the enemy.

Fitch and Howie rolled twenty feet in the snow to their right until they had the tank lined up directly in their path and just under a slight rise in the terrain which enabled a shot at the underside. Sergeant Fitch would give Howie the required tap on his helmet; a signal for him to rise to one knee, fire, and for the other men of the patrol to run for the relative safety of cover they had left behind.

Everyone knew they had to wait for Howie’s single bazooka round to fire and then they would sprint against German tank machine gun fire, along with individual enemy troops firing at them in an open field of knee deep snow. The proverbial “fifty-yard dash,” held particular meaning today to every man caught out in the open field.

To Corporal Howie Anderson, with the single tool of the trade to stop a tank, it meant saving them—buying time for his friends—but not for himself.

“You get one shot, and only one,” Fitch reminded him. “After that, we are dead or they are.”

Howie pulled off his helmet and looked intently at the photo of his new bride; a photo wedged inside the interior lining of his steel pot. “I won’t die, Collette,” he said as he kissed the photo and replaced the helmet.

Sergeant Fitch loaded the single bazooka round into the back end of the long tube—it too wrapped in white rags. “Wait… Steady… Hold it… Hold it…” he commanded.

The approaching Panther V was less like a tank to Howie and more a lumbering monster churning through the whiteness of the frozen field where the two Americans, among a dozen others, lay making themselves invisible.

The enemy tank spit out brown icy earth from its back as heavy metal tracks chewed toward them—and behind it was other men with guns. Someone is going to die, Howie’s mind screamed as his nervous breath sucked in ice cold pre-dawn air.

Realizing the moment his life would most likely end was mere seconds away, Howie mentally focused upon one thing he must do if destined to die: Don’t miss

“Wait. Not yet. Hold…” Sergeant Fitch continued in shallow breath.

Everything was too slow now. His sergeant’s orders were killing Howie as much as the approaching tank would. He couldn’t run, hide, say, “time out.”

“Hold it… Just a bit more… Wait until he hits that rise. Got to get a shot underneath him… Hold it…” Fitch’s voice chattered in the biting coldness of the moment.

The tank was less than one hundred feet away and would soon crush him. Where’s the order to fire? Howie’s brain shouted.

“Now!” Sergeant Fitch yelled as he tapped Howie’s helmet. “Go! Go! Go!” he ordered to the others as Howie carefully aimed at the exposed underside of the tank’s belly that was almost entirely upon him now.

He pulled the trigger, becoming oblivious to anything but the swoosh of the shell projecting forward out the long tube and into the under-carriage of the enemy tank to his front.

Men scrambled and the small arms firing began. Out of the corner of his eye he saw his friends begin to fall. He dropped the bazooka and without thinking of retreat rushed forward to take the fire meant for his friends.

He’d gotten off a proverbial “lucky strike”—a hit with the bazooka round that the odds makers in Chicago gang run back rooms wouldn’t have favored. He unconsciously screamed and fired wildly while the German tank belched smoke and began to burn. Stunned enemy soldiers returned fire. Several dropped just feet from him. He was a crazy man now; firing a Thompson sub-machinegun he had slung over his shoulder, reloading, spraying the field, and reloading again. He expected death to come any second, but the bullet with his name on it kept eluding him.

He stopped and fought from his standing position at the rear of the smoking tank as a dozen Germans now retreated. He yelled and screamed, firing, attacking as only the insane can without regard for consequences as the enemy fell before him.

He took one quick look back to see if his friends had made it to the safety of the ditch near the tree line. As he did he heard the distinctive sound of a half-dozen American M-1 Garand rifles with their pop, pop, pop… metallic clinking sounds as eight round clips emptied into the enemy now in full retreat.

“Yeah!” he screamed, gazing up just as one lone enemy soldier emerged from the turret of the disabled tank with pistol drawn. He instinctively fired a burst into him. He watched as the young man flailed forward with eyes wide open in the surprise of death.

During that split second euphoria of surviving a one-on-one shoot-out, Howie noticed a change come over his enemy. The man looked warm and limber in sudden death. Howie envied the warmth of the dead man, as his 20-year-old body felt stiff and frozen in place; legs unable to move him forward or back.

The entire scene rolled before him in surreal film-style slow motion as if this violence were not real, and he was not really here, and Sergeant Fitch who waved his arm for him to retreat to their position was, in reality, Humphrey Bogart, and it was not him standing alone against the Krauts, but someone he was watching from the theater seats that merely looked like Howie Anderson and the…

“Anderson! Get out of there!” he heard Lange scream.

He found himself stiffly turning to obey. His entire squad—all his friends including the Preacher—Powell—were waving their arms for him to join them in the ditch. Their firing gave him cover.

Finally turning to make the dash to friendly lines, he felt a sudden jolt. His helmet flew off, his knees buckled, and a warm sensation of blood trickled down his face. He tasted the salty red moisture as it met his lips.

“Good,” he said as he collapsed into the snow. “I feel so good,” he sighed as face-first he struggled with the blood-reddened snow against his warming and flushed face.

Don’t die, my love,” she had pled as they last kissed three months ago in Paris.

In dying, he knew he had saved his comrades. And in dying there was really only one regret… Collette.

 

2

The French Women

 

“Only a French bakery can claim to make a woman skinnier when she walks out with a baguette than when she walked in,” Carlos laughed as he ended his call to a private party in London. “Here she comes. I have to go. See you tomorrow… Ciou,” he said, clicking off the phone as he waved from the car to the two women leaving the café.

Jeannette nodded to him and then kissed her mother on the cheek. “I will call when I return from London. We will spend more time next visit. Je promets, Mère.”

Marie understood the pressure on her youngest and most successful child. She returned her daughter’s kiss whispering, “I have something special to share with you on your return.”

“Oh! A mystery!” Jeannette replied smiling. She stroked her mother’s face with the back of her hand. “You are so beautiful, Mère. How is it you never age?”

“Ingredients from the bread of life keeps us young,” Marie chuckled. “Now go. The train for Paris leaves on time, even in Normandy.”

Jeannette smiled and knew her mother’s riddles involved profoundly religious motives. “Someday I hope to understand,” she replied.

“A hint, mon petit chou. Avec le bon homme, et Dieu,” Marie answered.

With the right man and God, Jeannette translated.

Mother and daughter had now stepped outside the Alderette Boulangerie and Café, which served as a gathering place for the citizens of their small off-the-main-road Norman village, Mont Anglais. Her beau waited in the rental car at the curbside.

“And Carlos?” Jeannette returned in a whisper, as she simultaneously signaled to the man behind the wheel that she was aware of the time.

Marie forced a smile to the Spaniard, and then softly whispered, “In matters of the heart God will never lie. I will pray for you.”

“I know you will. Adieu, Mère.”

Carlos hit the horn.

Marie frowned and Jeannette winked in reply, taking the baguette and marmalade from her mother’s hand; something sweet to remind her of a mother’s care.

Carlos wasted no time as he hit the accelerator, whizzing past Mathieu in the town square. The town’s gardener waved to Jeannette and then looked sadly back toward Marie.

With his beloved Claire now gone, and time not his friend, the secret and a promise he had kept since World War Two was about to be shared—whether he liked it or not.