Jim Colling Adventure Series

НазваниеJim Colling Adventure Series
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Cheerio, chaps,” he said, his breath blowing a cloud of vapor. “May I speak with your officer?”

Staff Sergeant Gambelli touched the rim of his helmet with his finger in a loose approximation of a salute, and answered nonchalantly, “I’m NCO-I-C, sir. No officer.”

Ah, very well, Sergeant,” answered the British officer, eyeing Gambelli’s chevrons, then sweeping his gaze over the other men, “My name is Pritchard, Major Pritchard. Am I right to imagine that you chaps are on your way to Italy?”

Yessir,” replied Gambelli.

And what city, might I ask?”

Milano,” said Gambelli, using the Italian pronunciation.

Splendid. I don’t suppose I might prevail upon you to take a bit of mail to Milan for me?”

Mail, sir?”

Ah…yes, Sergeant. Actually, it’s a bit of parcel post, if you know what I mean.”

Not exactly, sir.”

Major Pritchard smiled broadly, as if indulging a small child, “Well, actually, Sergeant, I could make it worth your while, you and your lads here, to take something to Milan for me.”

Gambelli smiled back, “And I guess I’m not gonna know what the ‘parcel post’ is, right?”

That would be correct, Sergeant.”

How much, Major?”

How much what, Sergeant?”

Well…both, how much do you want us to carry, and how much will you pay?”

Quite,” said Pritchard, “My lorry over there has the cargo in its rear, and I and my sergeant will ride along, in the passenger car, of course, and we will require you to give us a lift to a place in Milan.”

And how much for the fare?” asked Gambelli.

How does 10,000 Lire sound?”

Gambelli was about to answer when Colling interrupted, “Sarge, could we talk about this?”

Yeah, sure. Excuse us, Major.”

Once at a distance from the British major that Colling decided was out of earshot, he pulled his fellow American soldiers into a huddle around him. Colling spoke first, “Sarge, guys, the Major here has got something he wants smuggled into Italy real bad, and 10,000 Lire is only $250.00. Frankly, I do not want to take the risk of going to the stockade or an Italian jail for a lousy forty bucks apiece. I say we ask him for 300,000 Lire and see what he says, that’s 50,000 apiece. If he comes back with a decent counter-offer, we can take it, but I think whatever it is he’s carrying, it’s worth a lot more than six or seven grand.”

Gambelli nodded his head in approval, and the other men followed suit. They walked back to where the Major was standing, and Gambelli spoke, “We got official seals, so we can open our trucks and reseal ‘em after your stuff is inside. We got travel papers to clear us to Milan with no searches. That’s worth a lot. We want 300,000 Lire, no more, no less.”

Without the least hesitation, Pritchard said, “Done. Let’s get my ‘stuff’ as you call it, transferred right away. No telling how long a stop we have here, and time is of the essence.”

The British vehicle was quickly pulled alongside the tracks, and while the Major and Gambelli watched, the British sergeant and the other Americans rapidly unloaded a series of crates of various shapes and sizes and handed them up into the rear Henschel. Colling guessed that some contained paintings, based on their flat shape, and it was easy to further surmise that the others contained sculpture or similar objects. Colling had broken the seal on the truck’s doors when it was opened, and once the cargo was all inside, he re-applied a new seal.

The British sergeant drove the English vehicle across the tracks and into the woods, and a few moments later came loping towards the train. He reached the passenger car just as the train began to move, and was clambering up its steps when the car jerked forward. Inside, Colling lifted a battered coffepot from the coal stove in one end of the third-class railway car and poured himself a mug of what he discovered was bitter-tasting ersatz brew. The taste was abominable, but the warmth he felt when he drank was welcome. Gambelli and Smith were out on the flatbeds, riding with the Henschels. The two British soldiers took seats at the far end of the car, leaving the Americans clustered around the stove. There was little apparent inclination to speak, and soon Colling’s three companions and the British sergeant were asleep. Colling sipped his coffee while Pritchard stared out the window.

The inspection of the Henschels when they crossed the Italian border at the Brenner Pass was as perfunctory as that they had experienced when leaving Germany for Austria, but actually gaining approval to proceed took more time. The Italian customs guards believed themselves obliged to notify the American Military Police to come look at the U.S. travel authorization documents, which took time. Then the British Military Police were summoned to review Major Pritchard’s papers, which took even more time. Eventually, everything was found to be in order, and after a glance at the seals on the trucks’ doors, the Italian guards cleared the two flatbed cars. More time passed as the Italians examined the other six freight cars making up the train, but eventually, they waved them forward into Italy.

They skirted the Trentino Altobegan, passing through Bressanone, Bolzano and Trento, then turning west towards Brescia, past Bergamo, and then into Milan. Despite Ferguson’s warnings about partisan activity, the journey was uneventful. The bitter cold gradually abated, but it remained cold enough for the men to wear their overcoats when outside the passenger car. They were able to take off the heavy coats only when the train pulled into a station on the eastern outskirts of the city, just as they finished eating their breakfast of K rations. The trucks were driven off the railway cars, and Major Pritchard squeezed into the Henschel that contained his cargo, while his sergeant rode in the other.

Pritchard directed them through the streets of Milan. He seemed familiar with the city, and confident that he knew where he was going. After many twists and turns, he pointed out a walled compound and ordered Smith to pull the truck up to the double wooden doors in its arched gateway. Pritchard alighted from the Henschel and pulled the bell cord dangling beside the entrance. After a short conversation with someone through a small barred window in the door, the doors swung wide and Pritchard motioned them inside.

Colling cut the seal on the truck’s rear doors and the gang of Italians who appeared to unload the vehicle soon had removed all of the Major’s crates and boxes and carried them into the building. When the last item had been handed down from the Henschel, Colling closed, locked and resealed it. Major Pritchard pulled a thick roll of Italian currency from inside his jacket and counted out thirty new 10,000 Lire banknotes and handed them to Gambelli. The Americans climbed back into their trucks and drove out of the compound.

Gambelli had to stop and ask directions to the address of a dealer in wines and liquors whose name they had been given by Sergeant Gaetano. The address turned out to be a run-down warehouse located north of the Milan city limits. They backed the trucks up to one of the large doors at one side of the building, and Sergeant Gambelli went in search of the proprietor. When the Italian appeared, walking beside Gambelli, he was talking and gesturing excitedly. Gambelli waved his hand for Colling to join them.

He says he can only pay 400 Lire per barrel for the beer,” explained the sergeant. “Ferguson’s buddy gave us a bum steer.”

Does he speak English?” asked Colling.

I don’t know,” replied Gambelli, but the Italian interrupted by responding that he understood a little English.

My name is Colling, Signore. What is yours, please?”

Caltineri, Mr. Colling. Caltineri.”

Speaking formally to impress the Italian, Colling lamented, “I so regret that we will have to take this good German beer that we have brought all the way to Italy to the second buyer that was recommended to us. Adio, Signor Caltineri.”

Colling turned as if leaving, gesturing to Gambelli to do the same, when Caltineri asked them to stop. Colling responded that they must be on their way, that they could get a better price elsewhere. The Italian asked Colling to reconsider, and after a few minutes of bargaining back and forth, the Italian offered 600 Lire per barrel. Colling countered with 900 Lire, and Caltineri told him to take his beer and leave. Again, however, as Colling turned away, the Italian called him back. Fifteen more minutes of haggling, and they had settled on a price of 720 Lire, and Caltineri took Gambelli to his office to be paid. The Sergeant returned with a large wad of Italian banknotes in his hand, which he and Colling re-counted. It came to 180,000 Lire.

While they were counting the money, Caltineri had shouted for his workers to help unload the trucks, and as they worked, had one of his men bring a bottle of Chianti for he and the Americans to share while they watched his men haul the beer barrels into the warehouse. The wine was not to Colling’s taste, but Gambelli and the other soldiers repeatedly emptied their glasses as they toasted Italy, King Victor Emmanuel, Harry Truman and the United States of America.

While the consumption of the Chianti was taking place, Colling strolled around the yard and took the opportunity to look through the warehouse doors to satisfy his curiosity. He saw stacks of crates with stenciled labeling that he assumed to be Italian wines, cardboard boxes marked Schenley’s and Old Granddad, and other containers that he recognized as brands of Scotch, Irish and Canadian whiskies. Caltineri was obviously an important purveyor of alcoholic beverages. The Italian noticed Colling’s interest in his inventory, and came and stood beside him, “Very nice, yes?” Caltineri asked.

Very nice. I have some Lire of my own that I might use to buy some Italian spirits to re-sell in Germany, perhaps.”

I have just the thing, Signor Colling, Torre d’Oro. It is a fine, how you say, liguore, clear gold in color, an anisette. Very expensivo when the impost is paid.”

How much, Signor Caltineri?”

What I have has no impost stamps.”

No tax has been paid, then?”


I will be immediately removing it from Italy, so there should be no tax.”

True. You are very perceptive. Perhaps also because you are American soldier, this will be even more possible.”

How much?”

400 Lire per bottle.”

Colling scoffed, “Ridiculous. Americans will buy nothing that sells for $10.00 a bottle. I can pay 100 Lire and still make money when I sell for 200 Lire.”

The Italian huffed as if insulted, “Impossible. I can ask no less than 300.”

The bargaining continued, with Caltineri ultimately agreeing to sell a case of twelve bottles of the liqueur for 1500 Lire. Colling asked for thirty cases, and handed over the five banknotes that he had received from Gambelli as his share from Major Pritchard. Caltineri pulled a roll of bills from his pocket and returned five large 1,000 lire notes to Colling. He then ordered his men to load the Torre d’Oro onto one of the Henschels. As they did so, Colling asked to open some of the cases at random and verify their contents. All the bottles were sealed and appeared to be filled with the gold liqueur.

Sergeant Gambelli had observed the loading of the Italian liqueur, and asked Colling as he was pad-locking the doors of the Henschel, “What you up to, Colling?”

Just making a little investment, Sarge. I bought some Torre D’Oro. I may be able to sell it in Germany when we get back.”

Hey, Torre D’Oro is good stuff. My Mama always used to get a bottle for Christmas, when she could afford it.”

Caltineri gave them directions to the factory where they were to pick up the windows, and after a short drive, they pulled into its walled storage yard. Several long open sheds, which seemed to have been recently constructed, took up most of the space in the compound. About half were stacked with prefabricated building components, including doors, lintels, and windows. When Sergeant Gambelli presented himself at the factory office, he found that they were expected, and the manager led him to one of the sheds, where there were rows of crates of complete window frames lined up. As the Italian checked them off against his order sheets, the Americans, with the help of two laborers that the manager had called, passed the windows into the trucks. Colling stationed himself inside the Henschel with his liqueur, making sure that the cargo was stacked around the cases of bottles to protect them from damage.

Once the trucks were loaded, Gambelli settled accounts with the factory manager. When the staff sergeant climbed up into the cab of the leading Henschel, he told Colling and Smith, the driver, that they had had to pay 92,000 Lire, which was more than they had expected, but they were still left with 88,000 Lire. Gambelli counted out 30,000 Lire as Sergeant Ferguson’s share, and tucked it inside his field jacket. He tried splitting the remaining money into six equal shares, but since the smallest denominations were 1000 Lire, he had two stacks of bills with only 9,000 Lire, while the other four contained 10,000 Lire each. Colling told him to give him 8,000 Lire, and once the Italian currency was exchanged into dollars, the other men could each give him $8.00. The staff sergeant couldn’t follow the calculations that Colling was making, so Colling asked Gambelli for a piece of paper and wrote out the figures. By showing that converting the 58,000 Lire into dollars would give each man about $242.00, and that Colling’s 8,000 Lire would be only $200.00, Gambelli saw that Colling would still come out slightly behind the other men. Colling brushed off Gambelli’s suggestion that the other men contribute more than $8.00, explaining that he thought he would make more than enough from selling the Torre D’Oro. Gambelli agreed that the money they had received from Major Pritchard was by far the more lucrative transaction, and that the profit from the sale of the beer was secondary.

They were driving through Milan towards the railway terminal when Gambelli suggested that they stop and find some wine and women before their return journey. The train north to Austria was not due to leave until 21:00, and there was ample time to enjoy the pleasures of Italy.

Smith readily agreed, and at the next street corner, he pulled the truck to the curb so that Gambelli could put his head out the window and ask a male passer-by for the whereabouts of the nearest bordello. After a short conversation in Italian, the staff sergeant pointed ahead of them, saying that he had been given the address of the best whorehouse in Milan.

The men in the truck behind them undoubtedly wondered where Sergeant Gambelli was going, but they dutifully followed the first Henschel as it wove its way through the streets of Milan. The house that Gambelli was seeking was on one side of a small square that proved an ideal place for parking their vehicles. A tavern occupied the ground floor, and the crew of the second truck at first thought it was Gambelli’s destination, until the staff sergeant explained otherwise.

As Gambelli started to lead the men across the square, Colling suggested, “Sarge, somebody better stick with the trucks. I’m okay with being the one to do it. You guys are going to have to leave your weapons, and somebody has to keep an eye on them.”

Gambelli responded, “You’re right. I’ll send one of the other guys to spell you as soon as he gets his ashes hauled.”

No need, Sarge. I’m not up much on whorehouses.”

Eye-talyen pussy is the best in the world, Colling,” urged the sergeant.

I know, Sarge, but I’d just as soon wait out here and have a glass of wine over there at one of those outdoor tables,” said Colling, nodding towards a café on the opposite side of the street. In truth, Colling wanted to mention that there was a good chance that Gambelli could find himself with a good case of the clap in about a week, but he did not do so.

The table proved chilly in the fading December afternoon, and Colling decided to try Grappa instead of wine. He leaned back in his chair, sipping the Italian brandy, thinking about what Christmas would be like back in Belle Cors, and wistfully regretting that he would not be there. He thought about the best way that he might dispose of the Torre D’Oro. He had a little over $1100 invested in it, and guessed he could re-sell the 360 bottles for $7.00 or $8.00 each. If things worked out well, he would have over $3000.00 in cash after the profit from the sale of the liqueur was added to the other money he had accumulated – not as much as others had managed to gain from the occupation, but a decent amount.

It was fully dark when Colling honked the lead Henschel’s horn to remind Gambelli and the others that they had to meet their train. The Americans emerged from the tavern in varying stages of drunkenness, their clothes disheveled. Colling decided that Harms was the least intoxicated, and suggested he drive the second truck, while Colling himself would take the first. Gambelli’s speech was slurred, and he swayed back and forth in the cab of the Henschel as Colling found his way back to the outlying rail yard where they had left the flat-bed cars that morning.

All of them spent most of the return train journey sleeping, when not taking their turns riding in the cabs of the trucks. They were able to make connections to the Kummersfeld railway station, where the vehicles were driven off the flatbed cars. Major Barretson met them at the station and they followed his jeep to the airfield. Zinsmann’s men quickly unloaded the windows. Colling made sure he was in the truck with his Torre D’Oro as the rest of the cargo was taken off. Gambelli distracted Major Barretson so that he would not see that there were boxes remaining in the Henschel after the last of the windows was removed.

Ferguson was pleased to receive the 30,000 Lire that made up his share of the profit on the beer. He gave the returning men passes so that the Italian currency could be changed into dollars at the American Express office in Munich. Colling told Ferguson he would rather have a three-day pass to one of the Army recreation centers around Garmisch, and gave his lire to Smith to exchange for him. When the corporal returned from his weekend in Munich, Colling added the dollars that Smith brought him to his other cash.

Colling had secreted the Italian liqueur in the same storage room that held the Battalion’s cigarette surplus. Ferguson had made him a second key to the locker, so that as fresh cigarettes were received for the PX, Colling would have access to replace the older stock, which was then sold across the post exchange’s counter.

A week later, with Ferguson’s permission, Colling checked out a ¾-ton weapons carrier from the motor pool, placed the cases of Torre D’Oro in it, and used his pass to go to Garmisch. Sergeant Ferguson had given him the name of a master sergeant who served as an assistant to the officer managing one of the Army clubs. Ferguson had heard that Master Sergeant O’Donnell might be able to do something for Colling regarding the Italian liqueur.

As instructed, Colling telephoned O’Donnell as soon as he arrived in Garmisch. The sergeant suggested they meet at a Gästhaus located in the woods at the edge of the town. Colling found the place easily, following the master sergeant’s directions, and parked his truck so that he could see it from the window of the tavern. When he entered the dimly lit main room, he discovered that it was not much warmer inside than it was outside, and with one exception, the place was devoid of customers.

Master Sergeant O’Donnell was sitting alone at a table with a glass of beer in front of him. He was a big man, sullen, balding and pink-faced. He did not say anything as Colling joined him. Colling ordered a beer from the aproned waiter who came to take his order.

Sergeant Ferguson at the 40th told me you might be able to help me.”

Maybe. What is it you’re looking for?” replied O’Donnell, as the waiter set Colling’s beer on the table.

I’m not looking for anything. I just got back from Italy, and I might have something you might want.”

Like what?”

You buy booze for the club, right?”

Yeah. But I don’t need any chianti or any of that other Italian shit. Nobody wants it unless you serve Italian food, and we don’t.”

It’s not wine. You ever hear of Torre D’Oro?”

The sergeant’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah. But I’ve had a bunch of slick-o’s try to foist off home-made liqueurs on me before.”

This stuff’s genuine. I got thirty cases, 360 bottles, and I want $10 a bottle for it.”

You’re nuts. That stuff retails for $9.95 in New York.”

Before the war, maybe. But nobody’s seen this stuff in years.”

How’d you get it?”

Never mind. I got it without any stamps on it. You interested? If not, I got some more people I can try,” said Colling.

I ain’t payin’ no sawbuck a bottle, I’ll tell you that.”

So make a reasonable offer, maybe we can trade.”

I can go maybe five a bottle.”

Colling stood up, “Forget it. See you sometime.”

Wait,” said the sergeant. “Sit down.”

Colling dropped back into his chair. “I said make a reasonable offer, for Christ’s sake, Sarge.”

Okay, okay. Seven.”

Make it eight and we got a deal.”

I got to go get some cash,” replied O’Donnell. “That’s nearly three grand, and I ain’t got that much on me. How soon can you deliver?”

Right now. This deal has to be done in the next sixty minutes, or I hit the road.”

Okay. My jeep’s outside. Follow me back to the club. I’ll point to where you can park, and I’ll be back as soon as I get the money and a truck to carry the booze.”

O’Donnell drove fast, and Colling was concerned that the jolting the ¾-ton was taking over the frost-damaged German road might break some of the liqueur bottles. They entered Garmisch, and he soon saw the sergeant waving and pointing towards a place in a field bordering the road that appeared to be used as a turn-around or parking area. The truck’s tires crunched over patches of ice as Colling pulled in. He watched O’Donnell’s jeep disappear around a curve.

Colling pulled the holstered .45 automatic from underneath his seat and removed the weapon, chambered a round and placed the pistol beside him. He had fired a .45 only for familiarization at the range behind the kaserne, but felt a nervous confidence that he could use it if necessary. Its presence would also serve as a deterrent, should O’Donnell have an idea he could pull a fast one.

The last of the warmth from the weapons carrier’s heater had dissipated, and Colling tugged his field jacket more tightly around him as the cold crept into the cab. He was debating whether to drive away when a 2½-ton truck came around the curve where O’Donnell had gone. The truck pulled in beside the ¾-ton, and then was backed until the two vehicles’ cargo beds were facing each other. Colling slipped the .45 into his waistband under his jacket and got out. Sergeant O’Donnell and a technical sergeant dropped down from the cab of the deuce-and-a-half. O’Donnell lifted the tarpaulin covering the back of Colling’s truck and peered inside at the stacked cases of Torre D’Oro. “Can I have a sample?” he asked.

Sure,” said Colling. “Go ahead and climb in and pick any one you want.”

The master sergeant dropped the weapons carrier’s tailgate and clambered inside. Colling watched as he opened several of the cardboard cartons and pulled bottles into view, turning them and then holding them to the light. Colling stood so that he could see the technical sergeant out of the corner of his eye, but the other soldier seemed more interested in what O’Donnell was doing than planning any assault on Colling. O’Donnell finally selected one of the bottles of liqueur and drew the cork. He touched his finger to the wetness on its tip and then touched his tongue. He replaced the cork, slid the bottle back into its carton and climbed out of the truck. He then produced a roll of bills from the pocket of his jacket and peeled off hundreds, fifties and twenties, counting as he did so. When he reached $2880, he handed Colling the cash. “Good deal, kid,” he said, “Let’s get these boxes into the deuce-and-a-half.”

As he returned to Grabensheim, Colling realized that he had more cash in his pocket than he had ever seen. Even at Christmas time in his father’s drug store, daily receipts had seldom totaled more than a couple of thousand dollars. He began thinking how best to secure what he had. He could deposit the funds in his soldier’s funds with the Finance office, but that would raise questions about how a corporal making $60 a month had accumulated thousands of dollars, especially since he had not been drawing full pay, but had left better than half his pay on deposit in his soldier’s account since joining the Battalion. He decided to see if he could find a place to hide his cash.

With that in mind, he had Zinsmann provide him with a thin piece of wood paneling cut to the exact dimensions of the rear of the top shelf in his wall locker. When no one was in the barracks, he fitted the wood into place so that it formed a false back behind which he could securely hide his money.

Colling’s absences had prompted Ferguson to find a replacement clerk. Private William Tracy was a thin, nervous 18-year old draftee who had been serving as the company clerk for C Company. He had joined the Battalion just before the German surrender, and had made it known that he knew how to type. Sergeant Ferguson had suspected that Tracy did this to try and get a job at Battalion headquarters, away from any fighting. As a result, he made sure Tracy stayed with a line company. But with hostilities ended, Ferguson realized his decision had become pointless, and so he had brought Tracy over to fill in for Colling. While with C Company, Tracy had been reduced in rank from private first class when he was caught sleeping at his guard post. Ferguson had no plans to promote him, and Tracy reciprocated by frequently expressing his desire to see the expiration of his term of service and discharge.

The Battalion lost almost half of its personnel in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The Army was seeing success in sending men home for discharge, and both Colling and Tracy were kept busy processing paperwork for those who were departing on a daily basis. When he was not working in the Battalion office, Colling was in the PX, supervising the two men who comprised the Exchange’s staff. He was also preoccupied with making sure that a Christmas party that the Regimental morale officer, Captain Hallowell, had scheduled to be held in the Grabensheim PX actually occurred.

Since the reconstruction at Grabensheim kaserne and the Kummersfeld barracks now provided quarters for designated officers’ clubs, Colonel Harrington had decreed that attendance at the planned Christmas party be limited to enlisted men only. Because beer would be served at the party, there was an expression of concern by some of the Regiment’s officers that the men might not treat the Red Cross girls who would be at the event with respect. Major Harris, as commanding officer at the Grabensheim kaserne, assured the Colonel that he would drop in to the PX periodically, and vouched for the men’s behavior, but also asked that a squad of MP’s be on hand as a precaution.

Because the troops at Kummersfeld were attending their own Christmas celebration, there was not as large a crowd as there had been at the inauguration of the ice cream fountain, and it was not necessary to control admission to the PX. Even so, the place was filled to capacity. The only real open space consisted of the small dance floor, where men took turns jitterbugging with the Red Cross girls. Six of the women had arrived in two staff cars from Kummersfeld, and while two of them served cake and coffee from a table at the rear of the room, the other four took turns dancing with the men. Between the loud voices of the celebrating soldiers and the four-piece band, Colling had to shout to be heard over the noise as he supervised the men serving beer and tending the fountain.

He had just finished handing over a glass of beer to a sergeant from A Company when he looked up to see the blonde Red Cross girl he had noticed at the fountain opening night. She had flashing blue eyes that matched her smile.

She said, “I hear you’re the one they call ‘Dog Robber.’”

Colling felt his face redden as he tried to think of something to say, and the girl’s smile broadened at his discomfort. His throat had gone dry, but he managed to blurt out, “Where did you hear that?” He instantly imagined how stupid he must look and sound.

Colonel Harrington’s the one who decided you deserve the name.”

Two soldiers had elbowed their way on either side of the blonde, asking her to dance while at the same time asking Colling for another beer apiece. While he drew the beers, Colling said, “My name is Jim Colling. What’s yours?”

Liz Hamilton,” she replied, and then to the men beside her, “You guys have to give me a break. Go cut in on Janet or Rosie. I’ll be back to dance in a minute.”

The interruption had allowed Colling to recover some of his composure, and he asked, “Where you from, Miss Hamilton?”

You can call me Liz,” she answered. “I’m from Pennsylvania originally, but I’ve lived all over. How about you?”

Little place in Wisconsin called Belle Cors. I don’t imagine you’ve ever heard of it.”

You’re right. I never have. Well, I have to get back to duty. If you get a break from the bar, I’m available for a dance. Just cut in.”

Any chance we can talk when the band takes a break?”

Maybe. I’m sure all of us will want to sit down and rest, and if you can find me, I’d like that.”

Colling was washing glasses when the room suddenly grew much quieter, and then the band-leader announced that there would be a short break. Colling asked one of the other bartenders to take over for him and looked for Elizabeth in the crowd. He spotted her just as she dropped into a chair behind the table holding the cake. He picked up a chair for himself as he walked towards her. He placed it beside her and seated himself.

I’m taking you up on your offer.”

No dance now. I am exhausted.”

Like they say, you knew it would be like this when you signed up.”

She laughed and said, “Yes, I guess I did.” In a more serious tone, she went on, “I hear you speak German very well.”

Ja. Ich spreche Deutsch. Meine Vater und Grossmutter hat mir lassen gelernen.”

She responded in German, “You have less accent than I do.”

He continued to speak in German as well, “My grandmother says she knows I am an American. The same for the Germans that I know here.”

You seem to do well. The Colonel and your Major think highly of you.”

Switching to English, Colling responded, “Is that why they call me ‘Dog Robber?’”

I’m sorry, I thought it was a compliment.”

It might be, in a back-handed sort of way. A dog robber was what an officer’s servant was called, ’way back, because he got the scraps left over after the officer fed his dogs. Now it means anyone who is able to keep his superiors happy by finagling or scrounging for them.”

Well, you do make your superiors very happy. And I think that’s a good thing.”

The music started again and Elizabeth stood up, “Well, back to work.”

Colling reluctantly rose from his chair, “Any chance I can see you again?”

She replied, “Listen, I do some interpreting out at Camp 146, the DP camp. They might be able to use another person who speaks German. If you want, I can ask about your going out there with me. I go mornings during the week.”

Sure. I’d love to.”

I’ll see what I can do,” she said over her shoulder as she was pulled towards the dance floor by a soldier anxious to dance.

The party’s final event was the singing of Christmas carols, led by the Red Cross girls. Since their speaking with one another, Colling hadn’t been able to take his eyes off Elizabeth, and had searched her out at every opportunity as he worked behind the bar. Now, as she stood facing the roomful of half-drunken soldiers, shoulder to shoulder with the other young women, their voices raised in Adeste Fidelis, he was certain that she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.

The Christmas carols had been Major Harris’ idea, and it worked as planned. The men quietly filed from the PX when the bandleader took the microphone and wished everyone a good night and a Merry Christmas. The staff cars were waiting outside for the Red Cross girls. Many of the soldiers waved and shouted holiday wishes at the cars as they drove through the gate of the kaserne.

Colling spent most of Christmas Day sleeping. Cleaning up the PX following the party had lasted until two in the morning. The kaserne was quiet. Many of those men who were not assigned to guard duty had walked into Grabensheim, and despite the non-fraternization rules, seemed to have arranged to spend the day with some of the town’s young women. Major Harris was nowhere to be seen, and Colling later learned his commanding officer had hosted a Christmas dinner at his mistress’ villa for the officers of the battalion. The countess’ cook had been provided with a turkey and other foodstuffs from the battalion mess hall to prepare the meal.

In response to public opinion at home, and in order to live up to its own press releases, the Army had shipped thousands of turkeys and tons of food to provide traditional Christmas dinners to its troops in Europe, out-doing even its Thanksgiving efforts. Colling left the mess hall after the specially scheduled mid-afternoon feast feeling over-full.

The following day was Wednesday, and Colling reported to Battalion Headquarters as usual immediately after breakfast. He put Tracy to work on the morning report and was sorting through the mail that had arrived on Monday. Preparations for the holiday had resulted in correspondence being set aside to be dealt with later. Ferguson arrived just before eight, having finished his breakfast in the mess hall with the other senior NCOs. The Master Sergeant had little to say as he reviewed Tracy’s completed report. Colling and Tracy started typing the departure forms for the men whose transfer or discharge orders had been received. There were fewer in number than earlier in the month, and Colling was thinking about asking Sergeant Ferguson whether he could leave the remainder of the paperwork with Tracy to go attend to his responsibilities at the PX.

The telephone rang and Colling answered. He recognized the voice of Captain Emerson, the Regimental Adjutant. The captain asked for Ferguson. After several yessirs, Ferguson hung up the phone and looked over at Colling. “Seems like the Colonel wants you to go out to the DP camp with that Red Cross gal. They need an interpreter.”

Colling was unsure of how to respond. Ferguson appeared irritated. The sergeant continued, “She’s been driven out there every day by one of the Old Man’s drivers. Now you got to do it. You start tomorrow morning. Pick her up in Kummersfeld at seven sharp. Red Cross billets. In the Rathaus where the Regimental HQ is, third floor.”

Right, Sarge.”

And carry a .45. No telling what you’ll run into on the roads.”

Elizabeth Hamilton was waiting in front of the Kummersfeld city hall which housed the 40th Regiment’s headquarters when Colling pulled up in his jeep. She was bundled in her dark blue Red Cross cloak, wearing galoshes from which she tapped the slush before turning in her seat to bring her legs into the vehicle. She was pulling the canvas and plexiglass door closed as Colling spoke, “Hope you haven’t been waiting long.”

Nope. Just came outside. I thought it was better than having you have to come in and try to get someone to find me.”

Colling asked if there were a route to the camp that was shorter than retracing his steps through Grabensheim, and Elizabeth informed him that there was not. The road he had used to get to Kummersfeld had been plowed clear of snow, but a crew of Germans under supervision of some U.S. Engineers was still working from Grabensheim north to Camp 146. Elizabeth suggested that they wait and proceed behind the workmen as they cleared the roadway. She assured him that she would explain any late arrival as being due to inclement weather.

They were sitting in silence, watching the line of Germans shoveling, when Colling asked, “How many of the DP’s speak German? I’ve heard most of them are former slave laborers. Poles and Czechs, mainly.”

They are,” Elizabeth replied. “I’m involved in trying to place them. They seem to be more comfortable when someone speaks to them in Polish.”

Colling smiled and quoted a Polish verse, “‘Eyes blue as the sky above the steppes, hair like the golden grain that reaches to touch it.’”

Startled, Elizabeth looked at him, “You speak Polish, too?” And then in Polish, “Was that from your father and grandmother too?”

Nope. My Mom’s side of the family. Her parents and her brothers and sisters were all born in Poland. She was the first one born in the U.S.A.”

Elizabeth said, “My mother was born in Poland. She still has relatives living there.”

Must be rough right now, with the way things are over there.”

That’s true. We worry about how things are going to turn out.”

Well, if the Communists take over, it won’t be good,” responded Colling.

It’s unusual having two sides of a family with differing backgrounds. My German is school-taught; it doesn’t come from speaking it at home.”

Where did you go to school?”

College at Middlebury in Vermont. You?”

Two years at Wisconsin. Pharmacy school. I left after my sophomore year to enlist.”

Elizabeth did not respond, and Colling asked, “Did you graduate from Middlebury?”

Yes. I guess that makes me an older woman, doesn’t it?”

Colling was taken by surprise by her response, and uncomfortably offered the only thing he could think of, “I wouldn’t say that.”

She laughed and said, “I didn’t mean to embarrass you.” More soberly, she added, “Anyway, it’s true. I am older than you. And besides, I’m married.”

Colling was doubly surprised at her revelation. “But you’re not wearing a ring.”

Well, when I say I’m married, I mean I used to be…or actually, still am. My husband’s been missing in action since January.”

I’m sorry to hear that.”


What happened?” asked Colling.

He was…is…a flyer. He was on a B-29, flying missions over Japan. He didn’t come back from one of them.”

Elizabeth had become pensive, and Colling wished he could think of something appropriate to say. He said, “Well, there are reports all the time about flight crews that went down in China or Siberia, and are only just now turning up.”

She looked at him, “That’s why I’m still hoping. The Air Force said their last communication indicated they were headed west, away from the Sea of Japan. They might have landed in Siberia, that was closest.”

So did you join the Red Cross after you heard…about him?”

Elizabeth seemed to welcome his question as a chance to change the subject, “Lord, no. I joined to try and get near him when he was ordered overseas. I was stuck in Texas, in a little town near the airbase where he trained. When he left to go overseas, I thought I could stick it out, but it was too hot and dirty, I couldn’t stand it, so I went back to live with my parents. I thought first about joining the WACS, but decided I didn’t like to march, so I picked the Red Cross. The war over here was almost over, and I thought sure they would send me to the Pacific, but they didn’t.”

I had the same thought,…that I would go to the Pacific…but I was wrong too,” said Colling.

Why did you join? You could have stayed in college.”

Colling responded, “I had two of my high school friends get killed the same week. At least we got word the same week that they were killed. Both of them were in the Pacific, and I decided I should do something. My dad was against it. So was my mom. But I signed up anyway.”

Do you regret it?” she asked.

I have mixed feelings. Duty isn’t so bad. We work hard, but at least nobody’s shooting at me. On the other hand, I feel kind of let-down that the war was over before I got into it.”

Be glad you didn’t see combat. Lots of boys in the infantry didn’t come back.”

A passing ¾-ton truck made them realize that the road crew had moved off far down the road. Colling put the jeep in gear and followed the other vehicle to where the Germans were shoveling. The truck bravely plowed forward through the snow and disappeared, but Colling stopped to wait for more road to be cleared.

Elizabeth asked him, “Am I right that your father owns a drug store in your home town?”

Right. I have a job waiting after I get through college and pass my boards. Actually, I have a job waiting there any time. I worked after school since I was twelve. Started out delivering for the store on my bicycle.”

Is that how you learned to speak German and Polish so well?”

Well, like I said, my dad’s mother’s side of the family are all German, and our town is in an area where most everyone is of German descent, especially the farmers. So my dad insisted that I and my sisters learn to speak German. My grandmother lived with us, and when we were home, she made us speak Deutsch. I used it a lot in the store, too. Our customers appreciated it,…that we would speak to them in German. And I took four years of German class in high school, and one year of German Lit as an elective when I got to college.”

And the Polish?” Elizabeth asked.

That’s from my mom’s side of the family. Since I was six, I spent every summer on my Uncle Tadeuzs’ farm, and they didn’t speak anything but Polish. And every time my mom’s people came to the house, they would always talk to me in Polish. So I picked it up pretty well. My Aunt Maria gave me kid’s books in Polish to read when I was at the farm. I still can’t read it too well, not as good as German, but I can get along okay.”

Elizabeth pointed through the windshield to where a grader being used by the Engineers as a snowplow had appeared beyond the German workmen and was headed towards them. The Germans stopped shoveling when they saw that the road ahead was being cleared by the machine. Within a few minutes, Colling and Elizabeth were able to proceed to Camp 146.

Elizabeth was known to the guard who stopped them at the gate, and he waved the jeep through. Colling had never visited the camp previously, and Elizabeth directed him to a large building in the center of the camp that served as American Military Government headquarters. She introduced him to Major Brumerson, the AMGOT officer in charge. Brumerson made his own brief introductions of Colling to several AMGOT technical sergeants and staff sergeants. When Elizabeth told Brumerson that Colling was fluent in Polish, the Major expressed his pleasure, and asked Elizabeth to show Colling where and how to interview the day’s schedule of DP’s.

The interviews were conducted in a bare room with pine-board walls. Windows frosted with the cold let in some light, supplemented by a bulb with a large green shade hung over each of the tables at which the interpreters and their interviewees sat. Elizabeth gave Colling a sheet of paper filled with numbered questions in Polish. A pad of ruled paper on which he was to write the answers was furnished. She reminded him to record the answers in both Polish and English. He could do the translation after each interview was completed.

Elizabeth explained, “We ask where they are from in Poland. Most of them don’t want to go back, so they make up answers. We also ask about family, which causes some inconsistent answers. This bunch today has been interviewed before, and I bet they don’t have the same answers as the last time. We won’t know, since we don’t have their last answers, but I may remember what some of them told me, and I can’t let on if I think they’re telling me something different.”

The interviews proved to be interesting and beneficial to Colling. He found his facility with the Polish language increasing as the day went by. He had not conversed in Polish since his last visit to his uncle’s farm, months before, and he had to ask the first man whom he interviewed, who claimed to be a farm worker from some village in the western part of the country, to repeat his answers more than once. By the end of the day, however, his ear had attuned so that he was scribbling the responses to his questions without difficulty.

He and Elizabeth shared lunch in the mess hall reserved for the camp staff. It consisted of bologna sandwiches and coffee. Colling made a mental note to tell Ferguson that Sergeant Cooley needed to pay a visit to Camp 146, and look in on the cooks that he had assigned to its kitchen. Over the unappetizing sandwiches, Elizabeth told him about her background. Her father was a history professor at Penn State. He had met her mother at his prior position at the University of Pittsburgh, where she was a graduate assistant in Chemistry. Elizabeth was an only child, and her parents had had hopes that she would follow a teaching career as they had. She was not enthused about an academic life, but had given in and gone to Middlebury, in accordance with their wishes. She graduated with the class of 1943, receiving a bachelor’s degree in European literature, with dual minors in Polish and German.

She had met her husband when she returned home the summer after graduation, still uncertain as to what she would do. He was an officer candidate attending the University’s wartime training program for Air Force officers. They were married when he completed the course, and moved to Texas, where he underwent his final phase of flight training. The only place that they could find in which to live was a three-room former tourist cabin. It seemed to her to be always either too hot or too cold. It was eternally dusty, and the roar of airplane engines overhead never ceased.

In the fall of 1944 he received his orders and left for the Pacific theater. She went back to Pennsylvania. His letters to her were not permitted to reveal exactly where he was, or what he was doing. She joined the Red Cross and was assigned as a nurses’ aide to an Army hospital near College Station. She applied for overseas duty, selecting Hawaii from the list of possibilities. She received instead an assignment to England. When she arrived in Portsmouth with a group of thirty other Red Cross employees, they were soon thereafter sent on to France. She spent Christmas, 1944, in Paris, working at an Army hospital. In January, she received a telegram that had been forwarded from Pennsylvania, informing her that her husband was missing in action. She described herself as being in a “state of distraction” for the next few months, but she had continued to do hospital work. In June, she had been notified that she was picked to serve as a morale-boosting Red Cross girl for the occupation forces. She was assigned to the 61st Division, and when it was discovered she could speak Polish, she was tapped for additional duty as an interpreter for AMGOT.

Camp 146 had been built by the Germans as a prisoner-of-war facility for captured Allied soldiers. The 61st Division had originally taken it over to house the thousands of Germans who had surrendered in the closing days of the war. Within two months, AMGOT had assumed control, and droves of former slave workers had begun to arrive. Most of the German POWs had been released by summer’s end, but a few hundred remained, segregated from the DPs in a guarded compound. The DPs were also held under guard, to prevent their roaming loose on the German countryside and causing “incidents” with the former ruling class.

The return of the workers to their home countries had not proceeded rapidly, and there were still over five thousand men, women and children in the camp. Dozens more arrived from through-out Germany and Western Europe each week, and it seemed that the population of Camp 146 would never be reduced to zero. There were rumors that the United Nations would be taking over administration of the refugee situation, but no one yet knew what the infant UN would be doing, or when. Consequently, the Army continued to do what it could; trying to find a way to return their charges to their countries of origin; while also trying to sort out from among the Germans, those who would be prosecuted for war crimes, and those who would simply be released.

They had been going to Camp 146 together for only three days when Friday arrived. Colling thought about asking her what her plans for the weekend might be, but opted not to. After Saturday inspection, he went to the Battalion orderly room and checked the work that Tracy had performed in his absence. He found few errors, and was satisfied that the Battalion clerk’s responsibilities were being met. On Sunday, after speaking to the men on duty in the PX, he accepted Carley and McGee’s invitation to ride the truck to Kummersfeld and see Spellbound, which had just arrived from the States.

On Monday morning, Major Brumerson told them that interrogation work would end at noon, since the next day would be New Year’s. On the way back to Kummersfeld, Colling asked Elizabeth if she would be able to join him at the Grabensheim kaserne PX for the New Year’s Eve celebration there. He was disappointed when she told him that she had a previous commitment to attend the party to be held at the Kummersfeld officers’ club. He pressed her and asked if she could join him for lunch on New Year’s Day, and was doubly disappointed when she apologized and said she had other plans.

He recalled Ferguson’s warning that Red Cross girls were “officers-only,” and resigned himself to accept the wisdom of the sergeant’s advice.

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Jim Colling Adventure Series iconAlthough there are many books on International Relations, at Aberdeen we suggest that you start your adventure with ir with one or two of the following. They are all used in the first year

Jim Colling Adventure Series iconEdited by David Drake Eric Flint Jim Baen

Jim Colling Adventure Series iconDedication To Jim Baen, my mentor, my publisher and my friend. Just trying to pay forward. Acknowledgements

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