Jim Colling Adventure Series




НазваниеJim Colling Adventure Series
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Chapter Seven

March-April, 1946

The beginning of March brought more days without snow, and slightly warmer temperatures. Spring had not yet arrived, however, and there were few days when the sun was in the sky for any sustained period. Snow had been replaced by chilling rain, and the gray gloom of winter was still present, just in different form. This served to make the second Friday in March unusual, when the sun broke through the clouds as they drove to the camp. Before she left the jeep, Elizabeth asked if they might be able to have a picnic at lunch time. When Colling arrived to pick her up at noon, he had a basket in the rear of the jeep from the Weisse Hirsch that Herr Schuler and his wife had packed with ham sandwiches and potato salad. There were two bottles of beer and one of wine as well, and a small chocolate cake made possible by the sugar and chocolate supplied to Herr Schuler by Colling.

They found a spot on a hillside where the ground was pushing up new green growth. Colling spread an Army blanket and they sat quietly eating the meal that the innkeeper and his wife had prepared. Before he had completely finished his cake, Colling put down his fork and announced, “Sorry, I can’t eat any more. If I ate like this every day, I wouldn’t fit into my uniform.”

Elizabeth placed her fork on the small dish that held her cake and agreed, “You’re right. I wonder what the Germans are going to do when rationing ends? They’ll all be as fat as hogs.”

Colling laughed. “As far as I can tell, the Master Race all looked pretty fit before the war. I don’t imagine they’ll all become over-weight.”

Maybe not, but there were lots of fat Bürgermeisters and Hausfraus around before the war.”

They continued to speculate on what lay in store for Germany as Elizabeth repacked the picnic basket. When she finished, they sat in silence for a few moments, both of them looking off into the distance. The sun was fully out, and the sky blue and filled with puffy white clouds. Colling was contemplating how quiet their hillside was when Elizabeth spoke.

Jim, I want to tell you something,” she said, her tone more serious than he was used to.

What’s that?”

Jim, I want you to know I think you’re very nice.”

Her statement was unexpected, and Colling was unable to think of a response immediately. His mind raced, expecting her next statement to be that she did not want to see him anymore, perhaps telling him about some lieutenant or captain with whom she had decided she was in love.

Seeing he had been taken off guard, she smiled and continued, “Oh, Jim, I can see what you’re thinking. You think I’m going to give you the brush-off. But you’re wrong. You should know I like you very much….”

Before she could finish, he put his arms around her and kissed her. She returned his embrace, and Colling felt a rush of excitement. When they pulled apart, they were both slightly out of breath. Elizabeth was the first to speak, “Golly, that was nice.”

Ummm,” said Colling, as he pulled her to him again. As she came into his arms, he pushed her back onto the blanket. After a few moments, he felt her struggling, and when he took his lips from hers, her arms were on his shoulders, and she was saying, “Wait, wait, Jim.” She sat up and he leaned away from her.

Whew!” she said. “You don’t make a pass at me all this time, and now it’s sirens and flashing lights.”

I’m sorry…,” he started to say, when she interrupted.

You don’t need to apologize. It’s just that I didn’t think things would be quite so intense so quickly.”

We can do whatever you like, Liz. I promise you I won’t push it.”

Well, I think it should be a little slower. I hope there isn’t anyone around, watching us.”

This made Colling survey their surroundings. He could see no one, but he understood how she might be uncomfortable, being out in the open. He said, “Liz, you know I think I fell for you the first time I saw you. I thought you were the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen.”

Elizabeth blushed. “I have to be honest, Jim. I was curious to meet you, but I wasn’t attracted to you the first time.”

I can understand that. I was just some guy behind a bar. And an enlisted man at that.”

Do you want to know when I first got interested?”

Sure.”

The first time we drove to the camp, and got stuck because of all the snow that day. You were so interested in me, and we talked about a lot of things I never talked about with anybody before.”

Not even your husband?”

She paused for a moment, “No, not even him. I believe that I actually know more about you than I did about him.”

Taking note of her use of the past tense, and wondering whether it was inadvertent or not, Colling said, “You understand, Liz, one of the reasons I never made a pass at you was because I didn’t know how you still felt about him. I mean, you were married, and still waiting to know about him being missing in action.”

I’ve decided he isn’t coming back, Jim. For awhile I was hopeful, but it’s been over a year now. If he were alive, the Air Force would have heard something.”

Colling thought about what she had said. He knew there was a risk involved in becoming more deeply involved with her. There was always the chance that her husband would turn up. He could be in the hills of Manchuria right now, isolated in some village, perhaps injured and unable to communicate with the outside world. Colling looked at her and she turned to him so that he was staring into her eyes. He said, “Will you be my girl, Liz?”

He could see her eyes filling, and then she said softly, “Yes, Jim, I will.”

They kissed again, as passionately as before, but after a few minutes, she let him know they needed to stop. She asked, “Jim, is there some place we could go and have some privacy?”

Well, the Weisse Hirsch, maybe.”

Not there. The Schulers know us. If we take a room, they’ll know what we’re doing. Or at least they’ll think they’ll know what we’re doing. And besides, the Hungarians eat there, and we can’t be sure there won’t be any gossip. No, I don’t think a Gasthaus is the answer.”

They discussed possibilities. The Red Cross billets were guarded and off-limits to men. His quarters at the kaserne did not have guaranteed privacy, and getting Elizabeth in and out of the post without being seen would be impossible. Colling promised to think about what they could do. In the meantime, he suggested that they could neck in the jeep. She laughed and told him that he would get in trouble for misappropriation of government property.

As a matter of fact, they did neck in the jeep at every opportunity over the next couple of weeks. One of the Camp 146 AMGOT sergeants mentioned to Elizabeth that Major Brumerson had commented that she seemed to be arriving late with more frequency, and Ferguson asked Colling why he was arriving back at Grabensheim so late on the afternoons he was driving “that Red Cross dame around.” It looked as if it would only be a matter of time before they would be discovered in the parked jeep, and someone in the military hierarchy would intervene to bring an end to Colling’s acting as Elizabeth’s chauffeur.

With this threat foremost in his mind, Colling had been casting about desperately to think of a place where they might find privacy. When the solution presented itself, he thought how foolish he had been not to think of it sooner.

Colling was making his usual delivery of a pound each of sugar and coffee to Frau Bergheim when it dawned on him that her farmhouse was large and she was the only one living there. As he sat with her at the table in the tiled kitchen drinking coffee while she smoked a cigarette, a ritual in his visits to the farm, he began to ask questions about the house. He casually asked when it had been built and by whom, its size and so on. When he asked the number of bedrooms, the German Hausfrau’s face broke into a broad smile.

You have perhaps a girl, Colling? And you wish a place for privacy to have, yes?”

Colling realized his face was reddening as he answered, “Well, yes, Frau Bergheim. I am thinking if that might be possible.”

Come,” she said, rising from her chair and beckoning him to follow. She took him to a flight of stairs, and as they ascended, she commented, “When my husband Josef and I first were married, his father and mother owned the farm. Josef and I were given the garret in which to live. Josef with his own hands finished it to make it suitable. My husband was also a very modern man. He convinced his father to install plumbing and electricity. The NSDAP government subsidized such improvements.”

Colling had noted that as the Germans he met came to know him better, there was less hesitancy to avoid referring to the Nazis, although most of them used the initials standing for Nationalsozialistiche Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, the official name of the Nazi party, rather than the term “Nazi.” He had yet to hear any German use Hitler’s name in a positive manner.

They had arrived on the third-floor landing. Frau Bergheim ushered him into a pleasant gabled room. A set of double windows at the far end was framed by the angles of the roof. Its plastered interior walls were set off by dark wood trim around the doors and windows. Its furnishings consisted of a double bed, a dresser and a small table that could serve as a desk or dressing table. Frau Bergheim proudly pointed out a door, behind which was a small room with a toilet and sink. “Josef put that in for me. There is a bath downstairs, but having the water closet up here meant we did not have to use the outhouse or go to the kitchen to wash. And the furnace downstairs means there is heat,” she said, gesturing towards a small radiator against one wall.

Frau Bergheim,” asked Colling, “Is it possible that I could rent this room from you?”

Of course. Is not that why I have showed you the room?”

Of course. And how much would the rent be?”

Nothing. You have been very kind to me. You have brought me news of my boys. You have brought me sugar, coffee and cigarettes. I could not ask you to pay me for this room. And if you tell me when you will be here, I will be somewhere else at that time. We who have farms in this neighborhood help each other, and I can be at another farm on any day you may name.”

I will need the room on Fridays. If we…I…will be here any other day, I will tell you in advance.”

Good. So then it is done,” she replied. As she handed him the key to the house, she said, “If she is a nice German girl, be true to her.”

Colling told Elizabeth about their good fortune the following day. Because it was only Wednesday, he had nearly three days to wait. When Friday came, they ate a hasty meal at the Weisse Hirsch, then drove to Frau Bergheim’s farm. Everything was deserted, and Colling parked the jeep inside the barn that was attached to the farmhouse.

When Elizabeth walked into their room, she exclaimed, “Oh, Jim, it’s just perfect!” She went to the windows. “Jim, there’s a flower box. When it gets warmer, we can open the windows and enjoy the flowers blooming.”

Frau Bergheim had anticipated their visit, and had opened the valve on the radiator. The room was a comfortable temperature, and feeling awkward and not knowing what else to say, Colling commented that the room was warm. Elizabeth smiled.

She said, “I think I’ll use the WC to change. Why don’t you turn down the bed.”

Elizabeth closed the door to the water closet behind her, and Colling hastily undressed and slid under the covers. After a few minutes, Elizabeth emerged, wearing, as far as Colling could judge, only her slip. She slipped in beside him. Without hesitation, their bodies and lips were pressed together, their excitement growing. The heat of her body was urging him on, and Colling fought to control his physical reactions, holding back and prolonging the inevitable. He thought back to the instructions he had read in Dr. Fishburn’s Manual of Successful Marriage that his parents had seemed to have carelessly left on the bookshelf in his father’s study when he was fourteen. He also visualized the diagrams of the female anatomy from the human physiology books he had studied in college. His attention to pleasing Elizabeth slowed his own impulses, so that he felt in control when her movements became more spasmodic, and she began to moan and cry out, first softly, then with more intensity, until her pelvis thrust wildly upwards and he sensed she had had an orgasm. Once he entered her, his own movements matched hers, and he was unable to prolong the arrival of his own climax.

They lay entwined for some time, whispering endearments. When Colling finally withdrew and settled beside her, Elizabeth asked, “My gosh, where did you learn to do that?”

He smiled down at her, “I paid a lot of attention in anatomy class.”

Oh, really? Don’t try and tell me this is your first time.”

Yep,” he replied.

You’re kidding!”

No, really.”

Elizabeth suddenly sat upright, “Ohmigosh! You weren’t using anything!” She jumped from the bed and ran into the water closet. Colling could hear water running, then after a short while, she returned. Colling watched her as she walked towards the bed, nude, and thought how beautiful she was.

As she sat on the bed, she said, “One good thing. It’s probably my safe time. Keep your fingers crossed that a little Jimmy doesn’t show up in nine months.”

Colling was contrite, “I’m sorry. I got some rubbers from the pro station at the kaserne, but things went so, you know,…fast, that I forgot to put one on.”

Well, from now on, we have to use them,” she replied, leaning over to kiss him.

I promise I will, Sweetheart,” he said.

She pulled closer to him and whispered in his ear, “Maybe you want to start right now.” He felt his excitement grow as her hand stroked him, and she said, “Maybe I ought to make sure by putting it on for you.”

Afterwards, as they dressed, Elizabeth suggested that they confine their love-making to Fridays. One day a week when their whereabouts could not be accounted for by their superiors was risky enough. If they were spending three afternoons in bed at the Bergheim farm, they were sure to be discovered, and repercussions would certainly follow. While Colling was not happy with the prospect of having to see and be near Elizabeth when he could not make love to her, he did have to admit that her caution made sense. Ferguson was already suspicious. In fact, Colling would have guessed that the sergeant had a pretty good idea why he was taking so much time to drive Elizabeth home on Friday afternoons. Elizabeth had mentioned to him that the supervisor and chaperone of the female Red Cross staff, Miss Boysen, had interrogated her on the same subject. Elizabeth had passed it off as wanting to enjoy lunch at the Weisse Hirsch, as a change from the Kummersfeld mess hall food, but Boysen, who saw protecting the reputations and chastity of her charges as a special mission, made no secret of her skepticism.

Accordingly, Colling and Elizabeth fell into a routine as the next few weeks passed. They would indulge themselves at the farmhouse, then eat at the Weisse Hirsch. As the days grew warmer, they would sometimes have Herr Schuler pack a picnic basket and bring it back to the farm.

Colling was certain that he had never been so happy, but his light-heartedness was tempered by concern about the future. While he did not share his thoughts with Elizabeth, he spent a significant amount of time contemplating what their fate would be if she were to say yes to his proposal of marriage. He wanted to complete his studies, but was unsure how he could manage to support Elizabeth as his wife at the same time. There had been one married student when he attended college, but the man’s family had been wealthy, and there had been money from some kind of trust fund. Those of his fellow soldiers who were married seemed to universally complain about the effect that the sparse Army pay had on their wives. There was some discussion about the proposed educational funding for veterans that was being debated in Congress. The alternative, of course, was to return to Belle Cors and work for his father. Or possibly find a job elsewhere. He was not sure how Elizabeth would take to living in a small town. After all, he was convinced that her background placed her far above anything she would find in Wisconsin.

His military duties also continued to keep him occupied. Three replacement medics arrived at the First Battalion, two PFCs and a private. The PFCs, Hermanson and Prevatt, were transfers from an armored battalion that had been deactivated; Private Barnes was fresh out of training. Ferguson immediately sent the two PFCs to Company A at Camp 146, to replace the medics there who had received their discharge orders. Barnes was assigned to Colling, and the two of them held sick call together, dealing with the routine complaints and ailments that came to them.

As units were dissolved, their personnel who were not eligible for discharge were used to fill gaps in the forces remaining in the Army of Occupation. Consequently, men continued to come and go from the 40th Regiment, and Colling was frequently called upon to help support the battalion clerks, now numbering three, in typing and mimeographing the mass of paperwork involved. Because of Colling’s initiative and leadership, Ferguson relied on him and continued to have an increasing confidence in him, so that Colling’s relationship with the master sergeant was one of growing mutual respect.

Major Harris began to spend more time in the battalion headquarters, and when Colling remarked on it, Ferguson told him, “The Herr Oberst came home. Seems he was able to get away from the Russki’s and surrender to the Limeys up north. They’ve had him in a POW cage all this time. Finally cleared him and sent him on his way. Bastard had to walk home.”

Did he catch the Major and his wife together?” asked Colling.

No. Lucky for the Major, he was here when he showed up at the villa. The Countess made a phone call to tip him off.”

Didn’t Major Harris have his clothes and stuff out there?”

Yeah. He had me drive out and pick it up. I made like the Army had commandeered the place as an officers’ billet. I doubt if the Oberst bought it. Things might be a little tense at the dinner table these days,” said Ferguson with a smile.

You think the Count will turn the Major in for fraternization?”

Could be, but the Old Man will ignore it. Harris was always one of his favorites. That’s why nothin’ has been said about it all this time.”

What do you think the Major is going to do?”

Well, you know he has a wife and two kids back in North Carolina. Up to now, he didn’t seem too anxious to request to go home. His brother’s been after him to come help him run the family saw-mill. Yesterday he asked me to fill out the paperwork, and I need you to do it on the Q-T. It ain’t a good idea for it to get around too early that he’s leaving.”

Colling completed the forms needed for Major Harris’ request for transfer to inactive reserve status, and put them on the Major’s desk for his signature. As he did so, he happened to think that Ferguson was probably going to be leaving soon himself.

A week later, it was announced that Colonel Harrington had been approved for promotion to brigadier general. Sergeant Ferguson was elated, since the Colonel had promised him that if he received his star, he would use his influence to see that Ferguson was assigned to Panama. Colling wondered what type of men would replace the Old Man and the senior NCO.

Colling picked Elizabeth up at Camp 146 that afternoon. It was Friday, and he was looking forward to their afternoon together. They had just driven through the camp gate and he was about to voice his thoughts on the subject of Harrington and Ferguson’s replacements when she spoke first, “Jim, they’ve fired me.”

Startled, he said, “What? What do you mean?”

Most of the DP’s have left, and Major Brumerson told me today that he appreciated all I had done for them, but they wouldn’t need my services anymore.”

Colling’s mind was racing. Without the need to serve as Elizabeth’s driver, there would be no excuse for their being together. He asked, “Any chance you can get another assignment where you would need me to drive?”

She didn’t look at him, but he could see that she was frowning. “No, I can’t think of anything.”

I think Ferguson would still let me use the jeep if I told him I had to see some Germans on Army business.”

But Miss Boysen would never approve me riding along, Jim.”

Maybe we can go to Munich and get a hotel room. I can get a weekend pass.”

I can’t do that. We have parties we have to host, and we have to serve doughnuts and hot dogs when the sports teams are playing, and baseball is just starting up. Besides, I wouldn’t want to be going to some tawdry hotel room. It just makes me cringe to think about it.”

Discouraged by her comments, Colling did not reply, and they drove in gloomy silence.

Colling had made arrangements with Herr Schuler for a picnic basket to be ready for them at the Weisse Hirsch. Colling decided that they would eat at the farmhouse. The atmosphere in their room was in contrast to the cheerfulness he normally encountered when he climbed the stairs after hiding the jeep in the barn. Elizabeth had laid out their lunch, and they ate the sandwiches, their conversation limited to comments on Herr Schuler’s food.

Elizabeth poured herself a glass of Moselwein that the innkeeper had managed to procure from some source that he refused to reveal. After taking a sip, she said, “Jim, I have an idea.”

What’s that?” answered Colling, pausing as he drank from a bottle of beer.

Well, I have been thinking about something I need to do. Maybe we can do it together. I need your help.”

His curiosity aroused, Colling asked, “What do you want to do?”

I don’t think I’ve mentioned it, but I still have relatives in Poland. My mother’s brother…my uncle…is still there. I’ve been asking about the chances of getting him to the States, and the Red Cross has said they can help.”

So how do I figure in?”

Well, you could go with me. You speak Polish, and they say things are pretty dangerous over there. It would be safer for me to have someone with me. And Mildred...Miss Boysen… wouldn’t object if I had Colonel Harrington’s okay, and she knew I would be accompanied.”

Not if she knew it was me that was accompanying you, she wouldn’t.”

Well, she would if she thought an officer was going with me.”

Colling was taken aback, “But I’m not an officer. And I don’t intend to be court-martialed for impersonating an officer.”

But it would mean we could be together. We could go as husband and wife.”

There’s such things as ID cards, and travel papers. We’d be crossing borders, and they would be looking at everything. I could go to the stockade if I get caught, and you probably would too,” he said emphatically.

Jim. Don’t worry. I have connections. I can get papers, a uniform for you, everything.”

You have connections?” he asked, “Where do you get connections?”

She touched his arm, smiling at him, “My parents know some people who are connected with the Polish exile government. The exile government is opposing the Communists, and they’ve still got ways to get papers and so on, from when they were helping the resistance against the Germans.”

Colling was aware that the Polish communists, with strong support from the Russian occupation forces, were engaged in a bitter contest with other factions, including the government-in-exile that had recently returned from its wartime seat in London, for control of Poland. So far, the communists had not been able to gain power, although the presence of the Red Army was a powerful influence in their favor.

He asked, “How is it your parents know these people?”

They contributed money from before 1939, and still do. Members of the exile government were guests in our house. I met many of them.”

Why doesn’t your uncle just pack up and leave?”

It’s very difficult. If I…we…as Americans are there with him when he leaves, the Russians are less likely to stop him. An American passport still carries a lot of weight.”

They continued discussing the prospects of successfully extricating Elizabeth’s uncle from Poland. Eventually, Colling reminded her why they were at the farmhouse. After they had made love, he considered what it would be like when their trysting came to an end, and then he thought about what it would be like to spend a week or two sleeping with Elizabeth every night, especially when he had no idea how or when they could arrange an opportunity to be together after their return. She continued to reassure him that there would be no real danger, and she won him over, in spite of his more cautious instincts.

Colling told her about Lieutenant Peterson’s uniforms, and that they were his size. He had not tried them on, but he estimated that they were a good fit. Elizabeth told him to request a travel authorization for Prague, and two weeks’ furlough. It was said that the city had been untouched by the war, and although it could not surpass Paris in terms of entertainment; it was a popular tourist destination for American soldiers. She assured him that she would have documents identifying him as a second lieutenant.

He sensed somewhat uncomfortably that she must have been planning this for some time, since she seemed to have most of the details worked out. Their journey would begin the following Thursday, when they would travel by train to Munich, where his transformation into an officer would occur. Prague would be their next stop, and then on into Poland.

That afternoon, Ferguson authorized his furlough request without comment, and Major Harris signed it. He asked for two weeks, with a report-in date of May 10. According to Elizabeth, their purpose would more likely be fulfilled in less time.

Colling used the intervening days to make his own preparations. After trying them on and finding them a perfect fit, he packed Peterson’s uniforms into the B-4 bag, using olive-drab tape to mask the lieutenant’s name and serial number painted on its sides. He traded five packs of cigarettes for a battered but sturdy leather suitcase at the shoemaker’s shop where he had purchased his Leica camera. For five more packs, the proprietor agreed to sew a panel into the bottom of one side to create a hidden compartment. Colling selected the case because it felt heavy when empty, and hoped that even when its visible contents were removed, the weight of any concealed items would not be noticeable. The German did not seem surprised at Colling’s request, and Colling concluded that calls for such alterations to luggage must have been common-place in the Reich, and apparently the American occupation had not seen any diminishment in demand.

He wrote a letter to his parents, explaining that they might not hear from him for awhile, being purposefully vague, saying that his unit would be on maneuvers where no postal facilities would be available.

On Tuesday night, he walked into Grabensheim and went to Zinsmann’s apartment. The German’s woman answered the door. When she recognized Colling, she called over her shoulder for Zinsmann. The builder greeted him eagerly and offered him a seat in one of the armchairs from the Herrensee hotel. Zinsmann shouted at his woman to bring two beers. When she brought the bottles, two children followed at her heels, and Zinsmann shooed them to their room. After taking a drink of beer, Colling spoke, “Klaus, I have a favor to ask.”

Anything, Colling, anything,” answered the German.

I wish to borrow a Luger.”

Zinsmann’s eyes narrowed. “I have no Luger. Firearms are forbidden.”

Colling continued, “I know this is correct. I also know that if you do not have a pistol, you can get one. I also know that you were a member of the Waffen SS. It will assure you to know that many times I have been asked about this, and I have always denied your involvement in such things. For this alone, you should know you can trust me. It is not my intent to betray you.”

Zinsmann did not answer immediately. He stared fixedly at Colling, who met his gaze without wavering. After a few moments, the German said, “How much ammunition will you need?”

I had not thought on this, but I would imagine that perhaps fifty cartridges would be sufficient.”

Zinsmann rose and left the room. He returned carrying something wrapped in a piece of soft cloth. He unwrapped it to disclose a Luger, which he handed to Colling. “Here it is. It is my present to you.” From his pants pocket, Zinsmann pulled a pasteboard box and held it out. “Here is a box of fifty. My present to you as well.”

Many thanks, Klaus,” replied Colling as he shoved the pistol and ammunition into the pockets of his field jacket.

The German responded, “I have never seen this pistol before. You must never say where it is you got it.”

You have my word, my friend. It is my memory at this moment that I bought it for $50 from a comrade who took it from a Wehrmacht officer that he wounded and captured.”

Zinsmann laughed. “Much luck, Colling. And be on guard.”

Colling assured him that he would and quietly slipped out into the night. As he walked back to the kaserne, he thought of the instructions that the German had given him on the firing range, and wondered whether he would have to use the pistol, and what he would do if he had to.

Colling and Elizabeth had agreed that she would be on the train from Kummersfeld, and he would board at Grabensheim. The cars were all third-class with wooden bench seats and no compartments, and the B-4 bag and suitcase, which contained the Luger and $500 of his cache in its hidden compartment, made an awkward burden as he walked the length of the train searching for her. He found her seated between two German women, so that he could not sit beside her. She was wearing her dark blue Red Cross uniform, and was conversing excitedly with the women in German, acting the part of a newcomer to the country, marveling at the novelty of being in a foreign land. Colling sat several seats away, attempting to concentrate on a Stars and Stripes that he had brought with him, while glancing continually in Elizabeth’s direction.

Some progress had been made in repairing the Munich Hauptbahnhof, but it was not yet receiving local trains, so they were forced to disembark at a temporary outlying terminal. Colling and Elizabeth fell into step together as they exited their car. Fortunately, temporary rest-room facilities constructed of plywood had been recently added to the small station, so that Colling would have a place to change into his officer’s uniform. He hoped that Elizabeth had remembered that he had told her that he did not have second lieutenant’s insignia. If she had forgotten about that detail, there was no chance he would pass as an officer.

As if she had been reading his thoughts, she drew him aside and handed him a manila envelope. “Here are your new papers. You’ll see everything’s there.” Then she took his hand and pressed something into his palm. “Those were my husband’s,” she said. “I’ll be waiting for you near the ticket windows.”

As he walked towards the men’s room, he opened his hand to find a set of gold second-lieutenant’s bars.

The multitude of dark blue uniforms worn by German railway workers, both men and women, caused Colling some difficulty in locating Elizabeth in the throng that crowded the railway station, but at last he saw her standing a short distance from the row of ticket windows that filled one wall. He joined her, and together they stepped to the window. Colling asked for two first-class round-trip tickets to Prague. The clerk handed them over as Colling gave him Military Marks in payment.

A porter, intent upon making sure that no American officer had to carry his own luggage, had hurried over to take his bags from him when he emerged from the restroom. Now, his hands free, Colling realized that he was being saluted by passing enlisted men, and he self-consciously touched the bill of his service cap in return. He hoped that the fact that he would appear to be a young newly-minted second lieutenant would account for any defects in protocol. At any rate, most of the soldiers who saluted him did so while ogling Elizabeth, so that it was unlikely that anything that he failed to do properly would draw much attention.

Before boarding the train to Prague, Colling deposited the B-4 bag that now contained his enlisted man’s uniform and papers with the baggage checkroom. He then mailed the ticket stub to himself at the Grabensheim kaserne in an envelope he had addressed the night before.

The railway tracks east from Munich were in slightly better condition than those in the western part of the Occupied Zones of Germany. They had a compartment to themselves, and Colling took out the identity documents that Elizabeth had given him. There was a U.S. passport in the name of James Collins. His birthplace was listed as Milwaukee, and the month and day of his birth were his own. The year was two years earlier, making him twenty-two years of age. Colling noticed that the cover of the passport was worn, giving the appearance it had seen some previous use. The issue date was 1938, and there were several entry stamps from South American countries. Next to a triangular stamp labeled Venezuela was a penned notation, Estudiante Turista.

Both the passport and the “Collins” military identity card had his photograph on them, and he asked Elizabeth how she had managed that detail. She laughed and asked him if he recalled her taking his picture at the Bergheim farm. He realized that she had taken several photos that day, and remembered how she had insisted that he not wear his uniform jacket. The snapshot now on the ID card showed him wearing a uniform shirt and tie, so that his rank was indeterminate. Colling also remembered that Elizabeth had brought her camera along on one of their Fridays at the farm, more than a month previously, and felt a renewed sense of uneasiness at the thought that she might have been making plans for this journey well in advance of discussing it with him.

There were also Army travel authorization forms, furlough orders and safe passage documents addressed to the various Occupying Powers made out in his name. Presumably, the last would impress any Russians they might encounter. Included was a U.S. Department of State certificate of marriage for James Collins and Elizabeth Collins, dated January, 1946. It said that they had been married at the United States consulate in Munich. There was no indication of a church ceremony, and Colling wondered if such an oversight might prove troublesome in the future. Colling carefully folded everything and placed it in his wallet.

Elizabeth outlined to him what she termed their “cover story.” He had not heard the phrase before, but understood its meaning instantly. She showed him her “orders” on Red Cross stationery. She was to proceed to Warsaw and determine what relief supplies might be furnished by the American Red Cross in Germany to meet Polish needs. She was being escorted by her husband, an American Army officer assigned to the American Military Government, who was familiar with the inventories of surplus supplies and equipment held by the U.S. Army in Germany which might be available for transfer to the Red Cross in Poland. Elizabeth gave him a thick loose-leaf notebook containing many typed pages of what appeared to be inventory lists, with stock numbers, quantities on hand, and so on, which he placed in his suitcase.

Colling knew that leaving American-occupied Germany would entail scrutiny by the U.S. Army, and he hoped his masquerading as an officer would not be found out. As it was, there was nothing to be concerned about. The two American MP’s who came through the cars asking for papers were very cordial to Colling and Elizabeth, and particularly attentive to Elizabeth. When they saw that Colling was from Milwaukee, they asked him what he thought the Chicago Cubs chances were of going to the Series again in ’46. He said he was hopeful, but that the Tigers were more likely to repeat the trip than the Cubs. The MP’s laughed and admitted that they were both from Detroit and big Tigers fans. Since Colling had always been a Cubs fan, he bantered with them for awhile, realizing he was getting the worst of the exchange. The discussion about baseball resulted in there being no real examination of their documents, at which the military policemen had barely glanced.

Despite the fact that Colling knew that Prague was a popular destination for U.S. soldiers on furlough, and that he and Elizabeth were not the only Americans on their train, he was apprehensive as they rolled out of Germany and into Czechoslovakia, remembering the delays and interrogations involved in crossing frontiers when he had traveled to Italy. In part, his concerns seemed to be borne out. Although the officials on the Czech side of the border seemed to be used to the sight of American uniforms, they were still very conscientious. They carefully looked at each of the items of documentation as they were presented, even though Colling suspected their command of written English was limited. They asked many questions, including whether they were carrying money or firearms. Colling showed them the mixture of Military Marks and dollars in his wallet that totaled a little more than $100. Elizabeth opened her purse and held up a handful of Allied Military Currency and two ten-dollar bills. When the border guards asked to search their luggage, Colling obliged by pulling their bags from the overhead rack and opening them on the seats. After some slight poking around in the folded clothes, the Czechs seemed satisfied, shook Colling’s hand, bowed to Elizabeth and left the compartment.

Prague was spectacular to look at in the late April afternoon, but noisy. The scarcity of rubber tires during the war had caused most vehicles, both motorized and those pulled by draft animals, to be fitted with iron-rimmed wheels, and their clatter on the city’s cobblestone streets was at times deafening. Elizabeth held her hands over her ears for most of their ride from the railway station to their hotel. The driver of their horse-drawn carriage called out that they were passing through Václavské Námesti. When Colling indicated that he did not understand, the man spoke in accented German to tell him that the English name was “Wenceslas Square,” and Colling made the connection with the Christmas carol.

The Hotel Bohemia had been a favorite of the Germans during their occupation of Czechoslovakia, when it had been known as the Böhmenhof, and the owners continued to strive to maintain the best of standards. The restaurant offered a better selection of meat than Colling had seen in Germany, and for that matter, under rationing before he left the States. They both selected veal dishes which turned out to be delicious. The wine was a disappointment, being a poor imitation of a red Bordeaux, and they left half the bottle. By the time they had finished eating, night had fallen, and the desk clerk warned them that it might not be advisable to walk the streets in the dark. There was only limited lighting, and certain “bad elements” were apt to be encountered.

Fortunately, the street noise diminished in volume before midnight, so that their sleep was undisturbed. On reflection the next morning, Colling was of the opinion, which he did not share with Elizabeth, that their love-making had left both of them so tired that they were oblivious to anything outside the windows of their room.

Colling was used to a large breakfast, and the coffee and roll that the hotel provided was a poor substitute. His stomach was growling as they alighted from the carriage that delivered them to the central train station. It continued as he stood in line to exchange dollars for Czech Kronen with which to purchase tickets to Warsaw. His hunger did not abate when they were settled into the first-class compartment that had cost 4000 Kronen, over $100. The purchase of the tickets had taken almost all of the American dollars he was carrying on his person, and meant that he might not be able to pay for a decent meal until he could dig into the extra cash in his suitcase. He was in a foul mood when he told Elizabeth the price of the train tickets. She told him not to worry and asked him to lift her suitcase from the overhead rack. She deftly opened it and pulled away the inner lining, which appeared to Colling to have been glued to a cardboard or thin wooden panel. Behind the panel were several envelopes. Elizabeth removed one and handed it to him. Inside was a sheaf of U.S. currency. He riffled the bills and whistled softly.

How much is here?” he asked.

There should be $500 in that envelope. I have $5,000 altogether.”

Why so much cash?”

Sometimes you have to grease a few palms. And expenses, too.”

You expecting to have to bribe somebody?”

Maybe. You don’t know the kind of people we’ll have to deal with. I do.”

You’ve had to do this before, you mean?”

Not really. But my father and mother know how it is. That’s why they sent me the money. Maybe we won’t have to use much of it. Maybe we will. I don’t know. Anyway, now we can go to the dining car…if there is one…and have something to eat. I’m sure they’ll be happy to take dollars.”

There was a dining car, and for himself, Colling ordered an omelet with cheese, ham and onions. Elizabeth wanted only coffee and a pastry. When his food came, Colling downed it quickly, and when he was done, asked the waiter to bring more coffee and another pastry. Elizabeth watched him as he finished the pastry in a half-dozen bites. After the last of it was gone, he leaned back and sighed.

Elizabeth smiled at him and said, “You act as if you haven’t eaten in a week.”

My stomach would have agreed with you. It’s nice to taste real eggs again. All we get in the mess hall is the powdered kind.”

It was fortunate that they ate when they did. A few dozen kilometers east of Prague, the condition of the rails changed dramatically, and the cars began lurching over uneven tracks worse than those Colling had experienced in northern Germany the previous September. The train slowed noticeably, and Colling estimated that they were traveling at less than twenty-five miles an hour. Moving at this slow pace, they did not reach the Polish border until well past noon.

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