“They’re going where?” Garrison asked, his tone said he wasn’t sure he’d heard Actor right.
“To the symphony,” Actor explained with a smile. He was glad to see he wasn’t the only one for whom amazement had been the first response.
“Goniff and Chief?” Garrison repeated. “How the hell did that happen?”
“It seems Goniff was telling Chief and Casino how much he missed being home this time of year because he and his mother listened to the symphony on the BBC in the winter. Somehow, this morning, Casino produced two tickets to the concert tonight.”
Garrison shook his head. “How did Chief get in on this?”
Actor smiled, lighting his pipe. “Casino urged Goniff to ask the barmaid at the Saber and Thistle...”
“The redhead?” Garrison smiled.
“Yes, that one. But Goniff told him he owned Chief and was going to take him. What I am not entirely certain of is how he talked Chief into it.”
“He promised to feed me,” Chief said from behind them.
Actor and Garrison turned as one. Actor straigthened surprise, glancing at Garrison to see his reaction. Their warden’s mouth dropped open slightly. Chief was wearing a black tuxedo, like many they had been forced to wear on missions, but under it he wore a royal blue shirt that gave the suit an infinite amount of class. The color served to set off his dark coloring and black eyes. Unlike the other times, Chief also looked relaxed, wearing a half-smile that was the kind to attract a large number of ladies.
It was Goniff though that surprised Actor the most. The little thief had secured a dark gray tux and light blue shirt. Which ever tailor they had seen in town had done a wonderful job of matching the shirt to Goniff’s blond hair and sky blue eyes. Goniff, as normal, was bouncing with energy and smiling widely.
“Well?” He demanded.
Garrison shook his head, smiling back. “You two look great.”
Even from across the room Actor could see Chief darken a shade in embarrassment. Goniff only smiled wider. “Thanks, Warden.”
“I suppose you’ll want to borrow the jeep?” Garrison asked.
Actor suddenly had to fake a cough to cover his laughter. Garrison sounded like a father sending his sons off on a date. Garrison gave him a puzzled look but let it go.
“No thanks, Warden. We’re staying the night.” Goniff replied. “Sergeant Major is giving us a ride into town then bringing us back tomorrow. Going to visit a...” Goniff staggered to a stop over what he’d been about to say. “Um... girlfriend... in Sussex.”
“Excellent plan,” Actor cut in, coming to Goniff’s and the Sergeant’s rescue. “A jeep would be hard on your apparel.”
Glancing at his watch, Goniff poked Chief with his elbow. “Time to run, Chiefy.”
They turned to leave but Garrison said, “Be careful. Just because the Krauts haven’t bombed in two months doesn’t mean they won’t.”
As soon as the door closed behind them, Actor burst into laughter. Garrison stared at him, though he was smiling. “What?” He demanded.
Actor threw an arm over the other man’s shoulders. “You will make a wonderful father.”
Understanding what he was referring to, Garrison joined in his laughter. “Think I should tell them about the birds and the bees soon?”
Goniff shifted just slightly in his seat. He hadn’t asked Casino how he’d gotten the tickets; he probably didn’t want to know. They were better seats than he had expected, being in a box almost directly over the stage. It threw the sound off a little but actually allowed them to see the conductor. The last of Tachovsky’s Fifth swelled out, filling the small hall with sound. Carefully, Goniff glanced at Chief, trying to judge his reaction. As was typical, he couldn’t tell if the Indian were enjoying himself or were bored out of his mind. The music carried him away for the final crescendo and he forgot to worry about his companion.
Applause swelled as strongly as the music. People began to come to their feet, and Chief was one of the first. Smiling, Goniff rose in appreciation as well. The lights in the house came up, the orchestra took a final bow and gradually the crowd started out. They stepped into the hall, right into a mob of chattering children in school uniform.
Over the noise from the excited kids, Goniff asked loudly, “So Chief...”
The air raid siren screamed. For a moment everyone froze. Then in well-tuned order, children and adults started down the stairs for the exit. Goniff looked up at Chief.
“Did you see where...” he started.
Chief nodded. “Nearest shelter’s end of the block.”
They moved aside, as did the other men, letting the women and children start down the stairs first. The last of the kids disappeared down the narrow staircase. Several of the men, followed. Chief and Goniff waited, having seen the other men’s wives already leave. At last they were the only ones left. They got halfway down when a woman’s scream carried over the air raid horn. A small woman flew up the stairs, colliding with Chief who put an arm out to stop her.
“You can’t go back up there,” he said calmly.
“My children,” she sobbed. “They aren’t with the class.”
Goniff took her arm, started guiding her back down. “I’m sure they’re just separated...”
“No, no,” she insisted. “They’ve done this before. They don’t like the music. They run off and play somewhere. They’re up there! They won’t know what to do.”
The two teammates stopped. Goniff looked up at Chief who nodded once.
“Okay,” Goniff said quickly. “We’ll go search. You go on. Won’t do no one much good if you get lost too.”
She hesitated for a moment, but that was long enough for an older man, Goniff guessed the head master, to grab her from behind. “Come along, Mrs. Dix. These gentlemen will look for Thomas and Brittany. We need to proceed to the shelter.”
More dragging than walking, he moved her off, yelling, “Thank you.” to them over his shoulder.
From far away the muffled sound of loud thumps could be heard; the first of the bombs hitting the edge of London. Chief started back up the dozen steps.
“I’ll go left,” he called back.
Goniff followed him, broke right at the top. “Thomas! Brittany!”
In the dark recesses of the theater he could hear Chief also calling. The explosions were getting closer. Goniff swallowed hard as he realized he could feel them, shaking the floor, the sound almost subliminal.
“Thomas!” Chief called out again. Then, “Got them!”
Sprinting in the direction the voice had come from, Goniff nearly collided with the taller man. Chief had a child in each arm, a pretty blonde girl on his right and an older darker blond boy in his left. He handed the boy to Goniff and they ran toward the stairs. Halfway down the floor shook, the building rattled to its foundation by a very close brust. Chief stumbled, and the girl in his arms screamed. He grabbed the railing, slamming into the wall to stop his fall. Goniff flinched as he heard him hit.
“Chief?” he questioned. Another explosion rained plaster down on them.
Chief nodded, still moving down the stairs. Goniff tucked his arm over the boy’s head as more wall showered down. Then they were on the ground floor, the door in front of them. Goniff hesitated, unsure whether it would be safer in the building or in the street. Before he could decide, a shock of sound raced the length of the building and the floor collapsed under him. He felt the support give; he never felt the landing.
“Damn,” Garrison mumbled, leaning nearly out the open window, unmindful of the snow blowing in around him.
Actor swallowed hard. Even from nearly sixty miles away the terror that was engulfing London was evident. Brilliant flashes of orange and red lit the sky while under those was the ominous glow of large fires. And somewhere in that were his two friends.
“What do we do?” Actor asked, knowing very well what he wanted to do.
Garrison was silent for a moment. “We can’t get into the city. The local authorities will have the road blocked.”
“Not to someone with army intelligence,” Actor reminded him.
Shaking his head, Garrison said, “Trying to find them would be crazy. They could be in any of a dozen shelters.”
“So we leave them?” Actor snapped, startled and disappointed with Garrison’s thinking.
Garrison looked up at him, smiled slightly. “No. We’re going to go get them. I was just making sure that we both knew it was crazy.”
Smiling tightly to acknowledge Garrison’s con, he said, “I’ll leave a message for Casino.”
Someone was calling to him. That was the only thing he was sure of. Opening his eyes didn’t improve things, except for a stray shaft of moonlight everything was pitch black. He was on a very cold floor though something warm was next to him. As he struggled through the dizziness to sit up everything came back - the two kids, the bombing, Chief. Chief was calling to him.
“Chiefy?” He looked around, a little too quickly and had to fight off a wave of nausea, wiped a hand across his forehead and found it sticky. Carefully he traced his fingers over the cut just at his hair line; it hurt to touch but didn’t seem serious.
“Where’s the boy?” Chief asked.
Goniff was squinting into the dark, still trying to locate his friend. But on Chief’s question he turned his attention to the child. “Thomas?”
“Uh, huh,” the boy sobbed.
“Are you hurt anywhere, lad?” Goniff asked calmly, trying not to panic the kid.
“Don’t know,” was the shaky reply.
“Brittany is okay,” Chief said, voice not any closer.
Goniff stopped for a moment, listening. There were sounds of groaning wood and the occasional crash of something falling. In the distance he could hear emergency sirens but nothing else. “Is it over?”
“Just stopped,” Chief said. “You were out for a while.”
Straining to see in the dim moonlight, Goniff commented, “We must have fallen into the basement. Should be a torch around here somewhere. Stay right here, Thomas.”
“Okay,” came the scared reply.
Now that his dizziness was fading Goniff could see the door were the stairs had once joined the room. It seemed the sensible place for a torch so he started in that direction. “Don’t move, Chiefy. I think I see a tool kit.”
Luck was with them, he made it through the debris without too much trouble and there was indeed a light in the kit. Relief flooded him as he flipped it on. He had always worked in the dark, but that was a different world from being trapped in a basement with two scared children.
“Got it.” He flashed the beam over the ruins, stopped as it hit Brittany’s bright blonde hair. Goniff frowned; she was sitting to the side of a pile of rumble. Where was... something moved behind the girl.
“Bloody hell,” Goniff whispered.
He leapt over loose wood and bricks, scrambling to Chief. The man was almost completely buried under a section of the first floor wall, curled slightly onto his side, his head and shoulders the only things visible. There was an empty spot just in front of him which Goniff figured was where he had protected Brittany as they fell. When he knelt next to Chief the onyx eyes met his.
“How bad is it?” Goniff asked, afraid to touch anything for fear of making it worse.
Chief managed a slight smile. “Not as bad as it looks.” He moved carefully and part of the debris shifted. “The stuff isn’t completely on me. Needed the light before I could start moving things around.”
The Indian made to shifted but Goniff pushed his shoulder down. “Easy, mate, let me,” he urged. “It’ll be easier and safer.”
He could see Chief start to argue then think better of it. With a single nod, he left the dirty task to the little thief. Goniff took a close look at the pile and decided the first thing he needed to move was Brittany. Looking back to where he had left Thomas, he waved.
“Thomas,” he called. “Be a good lad and come watch for your little sister. You can hold the torch for me.”
Thomas scrambled forward, looking uncertainty at Goniff. “Soon as Chiefy here is loose,” Goniff told them, “we’ll go find your mum. Oh, this is Chief. And my name is Goniff.”
Thomas nodded, taking the light from him. “Okay.”
Goniff reached for the first piece of wooden floor. “Can’t bloody believe our luck, sometimes, mate,” he complained. “Only we could have a nice evening ruined by having a German bomb blow us into the basement.”
He continued to talk as he tossed sections of brick, plaster and wood off Chief. It was odd he realized suddenly, he talked when he was nervous, but when he was working he could move as quickly and quietly as Chief. Grabbing a large piece that was resting across Chief’s legs he stopped. The wood was wet. Sticking his hand into the light, he expected to see blood, would not have been surprised to have Chief lie about being hurt. It wasn’t blood; it was water. He glanced down. There was an inch of water on the floor.
Raising his hands to heaven, he said, “Of course, now we’re all going to get wet. What else could go wrong?”
“The kids,” Chief reminded him.
“Oh, yeah.” Glancing around, Goniff spotted a solid, large packing crate just behind where Chief was trapped. “Thomas, bring Brittany over here. Careful now, lad.”
He lifted the children up and placed them on the crate, out of the water and off the cold floor. Once that was done, he continued to toss pieces of debris off his teammate. Within minutes he had everything off as far down as Chief’s knees. As he continued to work Chief uncurled and managed to get into a semi-sitting position. Goniff reached for an old support beam. Only this one didn’t move. He straightened, looking over the pile that was left. The massive beam was supported off Chief’s legs by a layer of smaller debris - but the end was held firmly in place by a wall that had fallen straight down, wedging itself into the small space. Goniff groaned, a couple of men and a chainsaw could free it but he had no chance alone.
Trying to sound positive, he said, “Gonna have to squirm loose from here, Chiefy.”
Chief looked up, and Goniff knew the Indian had indeed lied about his condition. There was pain in the dark eyes, and just a hint of worry. Shaking his head, Chief admitted, “Can’t move my right leg..”
Goniff stared at him, waiting for the rest of it. When it wasn’t forthcoming, he snapped, “You lying Indian, what else?”
Anger flared in the onyx gaze but Goniff refused to back down. After a minute, and to his surprise, Chief glanced away. “I’m pinned, something in my leg, just above the knee.”
Goniff was on his hands and knees instantly, noting the water was now a couple of inches deep. Reaching a steady hand into the rubble, he followed along Chief’s muscular leg to the tangle of debris and trapped flesh. He brushed something and Chief took a sharp breath. Goniff jumped.
“Sorry, sorry,” he muttered.
Chief nodded. “Go on.”
Taking a couple of quick breaths himself Goniff finished his task. There was a sliver of metal hooked to the beam at one end and embedded in Chief’s thigh at the other. Beyond that, below the knee, Chief’s leg was wedged tightly under the main beam. This time when Goniff pulled his hand back there were traces of blood on it.
He clenched his teeth, anger already vanishing under desperation. “Not as bad as it looks,” he mimicked in Chief’s voice.
Chief smiled at the gentle rebuff. He raised a hand and shook the water off it. “Waters not getting any deeper.”
“Yeah,” Goniff acknowledged. “Must be draining someplace. Just enough to keep us wet and cold.”
Those words brought a new fear to his mind that he tried to keep carefully hidden from his companion. Rescuers would be working their way through the buildings but it might take hours for someone to find them. It had been snowing when they arrived. It was going to get very cold in the wet basement. Goniff took in Chief’s pale features in the meager light. He looked again at the old wooden beam.
“Gonna see if I can find a fire ax, Chiefy. I’ve got....”
Chief shook his head emphatically. “No. Be better if you and the kids went for help.”
Goniff had thought of going for help but the feeling of guilt at leaving the other man had immediately pushed the thought away. With a grimace he realized that he’d been so concerned about Chief’s condition he’d forgotten about the kids. He glanced up at the two frightened faces and swallowed. It made sense to leave. He wasn’t doing any of them any good sitting here worrying.
The dark eyes that met his were filled with understanding. “Rather have professional help than you swinging some ax around me,” Chief confessed.
Goniff patted the man’s shoulder, then stood and faced the two very quiet children. “So, Thomas, give the torch over than. You stay here and keep your sister warm while I find a hole for us to crawl through.”
The boy’s hand was shaking badly as he handed over the light but Goniff didn’t know if it were from fear or cold. Their breaths colored the dusty air around them. Turning around Goniff swept the beam around the small room. Brittany immediately began to cry at the absence of light.
“Shush, Brittany,” Thomas said. “We’re going to get out soon.”
“I hope,” Goniff said to himself.
The only way into the basement normally was a double wide set of stairs. They were completely blocked. But since half the first floor was now residing around them it was easy to see the way out - easy to see but not as easy to use. After a few minutes of thinking, Goniff turned to the wall that was holding Chief prisoner. It had come almost straight down but it had cracked in the middle so that part of it was at an angle to the basement floor. He would have to go up first, make sure the rest of the route was safe.
With a quick pat to Chief’s head, which gained him a glare, he went around him and gripping part of the plaster pulled himself up. Behind him he heard Brittany whimper again.
“Hey, Chiefy,” he called down. “Why don’t you tell the little tikes some Indian stories? I bet they would like that.”
“Me?” Chief nearly squeaked. “But...”
“Talk to them,” Goniff urged.
He shifted carefully sideways on the loose plaster, spreading flat against it. Two feet over he was able to reach up and grip the jagged edges of the floorboard above him. With a smooth shift, he swung his legs up and onto the floor.
Leaning over, he called down, “Made it! Be back, hang on.”
As he moved off Goniff heard Chief’s voice say something about bears. He smiled, stories with animals had always keep him happy as a kid. For a moment he considered just running for help. But not knowing how far or how long it would take him made him come up with another plan. Despite the danger, he jogged around debris and holes toward the stage.
The stage area seemed the best place to find what he was looking for. The single beam make the search more of a challenge but eventually he found it. Grabbing the ladder he took the same route back, hoping his earlier running hadn’t weakened any more of the floor. At the last minute he slid to a stop and looked to the coatroom near the smashed double entrance doors. Sitting the ladder down he went into the room and gathered as many of the heavy coats and furs as he could. With his burden he went back to the gaping wound in the floor.
The slightly shakily sound of laughter drifted up to him. He smiled. Chief might not like to talk but when he had to he was good at it. Glancing down Goniff spotted another crate and tossed the coats to the top of it. Next he drug the ladder over.
The ladder was too short. Goniff had known it would be. Leaning out over the edge as far as felt safe, he lowered the ladder over, hanging tight onto it until it was as low as he could get it. Making sure there was no chance of hitting Chief or the kids, he dropped it the last few feet, hoping it survived the landing. Brittany and Thomas both flinched away as it landed with a loud crash.
“Hang about,” he called. “I’m coming down.”
He took the same route down as he’d taken up, dropping the last few feet rather than climbing. Handing the light back to Thomas he reached out and tousled both children’s hair. “Good job, real troopers both of you.”
Two smiles rewarded him. He knelt next to Chief. “How you doing, Chief?”
The man gave him a look that spoke volumes about his opinion of Goniff’s intelligence for even asking. Goniff jiggled his head a little. “Yes, well, stupid question. But how are you?”
Accepting that he was going to have to answer, Chief said, “Cold but I’ll manage.”
“Thought of that, didn’t I?” Goniff said proudly.
Moving away he collected the scattered coats, wrapped one firmly around each shivered child and dropped the rest on the crate next to Chief. Chief had managed to get mostly out of the water by leaning back onto several broken boards. But with the way he was trapped he couldn’t sit up completely straight and looked very uncomfortable.
“Hope they don’t charge us for these monkey suits,” Goniff complained, noting the rips and blood on both of them. “Mink probably cost more than I’ve ever stolen,” he said as he reached for another coat. “Raise your arse, Chiefy.”
“Goniff,” Chief hissed. “The kids.”
Goniff looked up to find the two children staring at him. “Don't tell your mum, huh?” They shook their heads and smiled at the now shared secret.
“Got to get you warmed up, Chiefy,” Goniff rambled. “You’re so white you’re starting to look like my brother.”
With a soft hint of laughter, Chief held himself up as Goniff slid another expensive coat under him. He put a third behind him to act as a pillow and finally, he tucked one around as much of Chief’s leg as he could. It was all he could do. Chief watched him with warm impatience, then reached for the ‘pillow’ and handed it back to Goniff.
“Better keep one,” he explained. “It’s cold out there.”
Goniff suddenly realized that he was chilled even after running and climbing. He could only imagine how bad the two little ones and Chief must be feeling it. He looked down at the torch in his hand.
“Can you hold this on us, Chief? Right over against that wall,” Goniff pointed to a different route than the one he had taken.
Shifting while being careful not to dislodge the coats Chief managed to get into a position where he could shine the light in the general area Goniff was indicating. Goniff grabbed the ladder, tested it as best he could to make sure it was still solid and moved toward the wall with it. Shifting through the debris he managed to steady the ladder on top of several wooden timbers. He stood back and examined his work. It was a six foot ladder, the timbers gave him another foot but the roof was still three feet above the last rung. With a sigh he came back and stood in front of the children.
“I’ll bet your two are some of the best climbers in your classes, ain... aren’t you?” he said confidently.
Thomas smiled. “I can climb our tree and it’s real big.”
“Very good,” Goniff approved. “Here’s what we’re going to do then. I’m going to climb up there,” he pointed, “and then you two are going to climb to the top of the ladder. When you get to the top of the ladder, I’m going to reach down and swung you up.”
“Like the circus?” Brittany said softly.
Goniff smiled, amazed at the resilience of children. In the middle of a bombed out building, cold and scared, they were willing to try something because it was exciting.
“Yeah,” Goniff said. “Just like in the circus. It’ll be fun.”
Picking one up in each arm, he moved them to the wall and sat them on the bottom rung of the ladder. “Now, you hold on tight here, while I go up. Brittany, I want you to come up first, okay?”
She looked up and up the tall ladder and immediately grabbed him, burying her face in his borrowed coat, shaking her head. Thomas had also lost the adventuresome look in his eyes. Goniff swallowed, wanting to hurry but knowing he couldn’t force them; he would have to talk them into it.
Prying Brittany off enough to see her face, he said, “Aw, now, love, what’s wrong?”
“High,” she whispered.
“It’s not so high as that,” Goniff said quietly. “And Thomas here is going to be behind you, you see.” He could see Thomas’ eyes widen at this bit of news. “Thomas is a fine little soldier, he won’t let anything happen to you.”
That made Thomas chin come up in proper British style and he hugged his sister from behind. “I’ll help you, Brittany.”
Reluctantly, she nodded. “‘Kay.”
Goniff kissed her on the cheek. He went up the ladder with a minimum of movement, not wanting his heavier weight to shift it. Stretching full out on the floor, he put his hands down and said, “Come along then, your mums probably worried.”
Once again the children proved his faith in them. Brittany looked up, hesitated, then grabbed the ladder and scamper up toward his outstretched hand. Grabbing both her hands he pulled her straight up and onto the sagging floor. She was light but the straight up strained at his arms and shoulders, not enough to case any real pain but enough to make it known that lifting Thomas would not be as easy.
“Good girl, now go over to that wall and wait for us,” he ordered gently.
Moving back into position, he said, “Okay, Thomas, your up.”
The boy hesitated longer than his sister had, being old enough to realize this wasn’t as easy or as fun as it was in the circus. Goniff could barely make out his wide eyes filled with fear.
“Come along, lad,” Goniff urged.
Slowly, Thomas came up the ladder, pausing at each step, looking hopefully up at Goniff when he did. Finally he was in reach. Goniff took several long breaths, grabbed the boy’s outstretched wrists and with a straining heave, swung him up and over. His muscles twinged and he sat back, rubbing his shoulder.
“Mister Goniff?” Thomas inquired softly.
“Just Goniff, Thomas,” he said through clenched teeth. “You’re a big lad.” He sat still for a moment longer. “Thomas go stand with your sister.”
As the boy moved away, Goniff leaned over the edge once more, fighting his feelings of guilt at leaving his trapped teammate. The light touched Chief’s bundled form. “I’ll be back, soon as I can, Chief.”
“I know,” came the firm reply.
Goniff stood. “Thomas, you hold on to me and Brittany, you hold on to Thomas.”
So linked, they stepped through the shattered front doors and out into chaos. Fires climbed high into the dark sky, though none of them were on the block with the theater. Goniff looked around, trying to find someone, anyone, who might be in a position to help. There was no one nearby, most of the sirens and activity devoted to the areas around the fire. With a sigh, Goniff started them down the block to where he knew the shelter to be.
The trip was painfully slow, the two children having a hard time walking through the debris and rubble with the long coats on. Finally, despite the exhaustion from climbing and worry over Chief, Goniff simply picked them both up and walked faster. A growing feeling of unease was making his nerves itch. They reached the corner and Goniff looked around in dismay. There was no shelter. Near panic gripped him. Could Chief have been mistaken or had he taken the wrong direction?
He was on the verge of turning around and trying back the way he’d come when a light glinted out of the smoke and darkness, illuminating a single bobby at the next corner. With a smile of relief Goniff starting hurrying toward the officer.
“Never thought I’d be running toward a copper,” he said softly.
As before, there was no warning, just a sudden massive shock of sound that knocked him off his feet. He hugged the children to him, landing hard on his back to save them the fall. For a moment he couldn’t get his breath, conscious only of Brittany’s soft whimpers and Thomas’ equally soft assurances. He raised his head, no flames licked near so he wasn’t sure if a gas main had blown or an unexploded bomb had gone up. The need to get back to Chief was suddenly overwhelming.
Sitting up, he took Thomas by the shoulders. “Thomas, take Brittany’s hand and walk straight on to that copp...policeman. Be careful of the sidewalk. When you get there you tell him there’s a bloke what’s trapped in the basement of the Palladium Theater.” He smiled at the boy. “Can you remember that now?”
“Palladium,” Thomas repeated carefully.
“I want my mother,” Brittany cried softly.
Goniff hugged her. “It’s alright, princess.” Pointing toward the barely visible lights he said, “That nice policeman will help you find her.”
For a moment Goniff’s resolve gave way to guilt. He should take the children the last few blocks. But Chief needed him and he strongly suspected that the authorities would not let him run back into a bomb damaged building.
Gaining his feet, he said, “Okay, now off with you. Don’t forget, Thomas.”
“Palladium,” Thomas quoted again.
Brittany wrapped herself around his leg. “Thank you,” she said with proper English calm.
Before Goniff could change his mind or become embarrassed, Thomas took his sister’s hand and started very stiffly off toward help. Goniff watched for several seconds then turned and ran full tilt back to his trapped teammate.
Actor finished his search of the overcrowded shelter, meeting Garrison back at the door. Garrison shook his head, dropping his cigarette and grinding it out on the dirty floor.
“I can’t believe I didn’t ask which theater,” Garrison complained.
“From the people I’ve spoken with,” Actor volunteered, “all the theaters evacuate to this and one other shelter.”
“The air warden said they haven’t started searching the district yet.”
“Why not?” Actor demanded.
“The next district over is on fire. That takes first priority,” Garrison explained calmly.
Seeing the logic even if he didn’t like it, Actor could only sigh. “So, on to the next shelter?”
Garrison nodded. “Yeah...”
“You two,” a sharp voice called
Garrison and Actor turned to find themselves confronted by a soot covered fireman. “You two USA?” he demanded.
Since Garrison was in uniform it was useless to deny it. “We came in looking for...” Garrison started.
“Well, you’re in my army now, mates,” the man barked. “I’ve got men down and people trapped in burning buildings. Grab a helmet.”
“Now just a moment,” Actor started to protest.
Garrison touched his arm. “Actor, they need help.”
It was all he needed to say, the real implication being that somewhere in the cold night, Chief and Goniff might also be depending on strangers. Actor gave him a short nod. They followed the captain and were handed two bright yellow helmets.
Frowning, Actor complained, “Yellow is not my color.”
Garrison smiled at the lame attempt at humor. Actor followed him out the door, barely dodging two small children being brought in by a policeman.
Goniff heard the sound as soon as he stepped through the broken doors. Running water. A lot of it. His stomach clenched, more of the floor had given way, disappearing below and he fought by a wave of fear that froze him in place. He skirted the hole, moving carefully back to where he had place the ladder.
Thankfully the ladder was still upright. He shone the light around the rest of the basement. It was worse than he had imagined. Water was gushing through a large hole only a few feet from where Chief was pinned. Worse still, Chief was sprawled sideways, unmoving, water lapping around his shoulders. Part of the wall had blown out under the force of the water, catching Chief in the explosion.
“Chief?” Goniff yelled, coming down the ladder in two moves.
He knew yelling was useless, had Chief been conscious he would have pulled himself out of the cold water. Goniff sank into the knee deep water, wading through the floating wood and stumbling over the broken debris. The newly fallen floor had thankfully been away from Chief.
Grabbing the heavy soaked coat, Goniff jerked Chief out of the water and up against the boards. Chief groaned at the rough treatment.
“Chief?” Goniff asked again, pleading this time. “Come on, you’re making me nervous here.”
With a dazed expression, he looked down at the water. Chief tried to stand, panic making his movements awkward. Goniff grabbed his shoulders even as his trapped leg jerked him back down.
“Chief!” Goniff ordered. “No.”
Chief looked up and Goniff could see the fear that the man would have never have revealed normally. As he saw it, the Indian’s walls came up, hiding the worse.
“Goniff? Just you?” Chief asked hoarsely.
Goniff nodded, not liking his answer. “Heard the explosion and figured I better get on back here. I saw the kids to a copper and told them to send help.”
Looking down at the rapidly rising water, Chief said levelly, “They’d better hurry.”
With fake hope, Goniff said, “I’m going to get a lever, something to slid under that beam. What with all this water helping to float it, I think we can get you loose.”
He didn’t wait to see the doubtful gaze from his friend. There were plenty of boards and it only took him a minute to find what he needed. “Just the thing here,” he called in encouragement. “Won’t be nothing to getting you out.”
Shoving the long four by four under the heavy timber, he said, “Ready, Chiefy?”
Chief nodded, bracing back, ready to try pulling free. Goniff leaned on the thick board, wood groaning as he did. Nothing happened. Stopping, Goniff squatted in the icy water and shifted his fulcrum.
“There we go,” he again enthuse, though in reality it didn’t seem to change the tools positioning by much. “Once more.”
Goniff refused to panic over the sight of the water climbing to Chief’s hips. Leaning slowly down he again heard the sound of tortured wood. He watched the timber for some sign, some subtle shift. Nothing. He threw all his weight against the piece of oak - and it snapped clean, dropping him face down into the dark flood. He came up sputtering and cursing, giving full vent to his helpless frustration.
“Goniff,” Chief said quietly. “Give up.”
Moving around the pile, staring at the hole in the wall, Goniff said, “Here then, we just need to board up...”
The distinctive snick of Chief’s switchblade cut off his statement. He stared down at he shiny blade, then to Chief’s face.
“Cut me loose,” Chief requested softly.
Goniff frowned. “Chief, I can’t cut through that wood...”
The reality of Chief’s request hit him like the icy water had. “No,” Goniff pleaded. He backed away, as if Chief were threatening him with the lethal knife. “I can’t...”
“I don’t want to drown,” Chief said intently.
“You’re not going to drown!” Goniff insisted.
In answer Chief gestured down. The water was now waist deep. “You don’t, I will,” Chief said flatly.
Goniff felt like throwing up, felt like hitting Chief, felt like running. He took the knife from Chief’s trembling hand.
“Jesus, Chief...” he whispered.
Chief gave him a quick, scared smile. “Won’t be so bad, leg’s numb anyway.”
Kneeling next to his friend, Goniff touched the man’s leg. Chief was completely still, staring at the opposite wall.
Goniff straightened. “No. Not yet.”
Chief made a quick grab for him, but he stepped easily out of the way. “Goniff....” “Fifteen minutes,” Goniff pleaded. “I can find the main shut off. I can follow the pipes."
Chief shook his head. “No time.”
“Ten minutes,” Goniff said firmly. “I ain’t found it by then - I’ll... I’ll cut you out.”
There wasn’t anything Chief could do so Goniff slogged away, going up the ladder and onto the shaky floor. Old habits had made him notice the pipes against the wall as they had come in. He had used outside pipes before as an entry point since coming down from the roof was usually a route no one guarded against. Before heading for the stairs he found the fire box. The glass was incredibly still in one piece. He broken it open, grabbed the ax. Using Chief’s sharp knife, he cut part of the hose and tied the ax to his back.
“Feel like a bloody Viking,” he said to himself.
Running for the stairs he found the first flight to be intact if slight off center and his flagging hope rose as he bounded up them easily. His luck ended there. The stairs leading to the roof had vanished, collapsed into the first floor, leaving only jagged pieces of board and nails as a sign of their former presence. Goniff stared at the wall. Going up a destroyed stairwell was not the same as a steady house wall but Goniff approached it the same way; carefully judging each hand hold, making sure each foot was solidly planted before shifting. But thoughts of time running quickly away from him made him move faster, snagging his hands and knees on the rough boards. He reached the door, propped a foot on each side of the jab and grabbed the doorknob. The blood on his hands froze to the cold metal, bringing more pain.
The door was locked. Goniff smiled to himself grimly, having expected that. The next few minutes were devoted to getting braced across the open space. Once that was done he maneuvered the heavy ax loose. Finally, unsteadily, he jammed the blade next to the brass knob and levered. The door popped open with surprising ease.
The blast of cold air was filled with smoke and he choked on a cough as he fell with relief onto the snow covered roof. Rolling to his back he took three quick deep breaths then staggered to his feet and scanned the roof. The water tank sat in one corner, sagging badly as part of the roof dipped beneath it. It was then that Goniff saw that most of the roof had also come down into building. The whole building had nearly come down; it was miracle they hadn’t died right away. Shaking off his reaction, he moved across the roof. The thin moonlight reflected off the dull metal pipes running from the tank. Goniff grabbed the large shut off valve and twisted. It didn’t move. Stepping back, Goniff braced himself against the facade wall and threw his weight against the metal wheel. Nothing.
Barely controlling his anger and frustration, he stopped and looked at the device, trying to see if there were a lock on it somewhere. It was nothing that complicated. The whole mechanism was frozen solid.
“No! No! No!” Goniff slammed his numb hand against the metal.
He whirled, running back to where the ax lay in the snow. Coming back he jammed the handle into the wheel and leaned against it. Still no movement. Snatching it out, Goniff gave into his helplessness and swung the blunt side of the ax down on the pipe between the shut off and tank. The metal rang and ice dropped to the roof. Once more Goniff swung down, putting all his strength into it.
“Let go, damn you,” he yelled. “I promised Chiefy.”
He dropped the ax and tried the shut off. It moved a fraction. Goniff gave a yell of triumph and pushed, putting his whole body into it. The wheel shifted suddenly, giving way and throwing Goniff off balance. His shoulder slammed into the cold metal, pain shot down his arm. He ignored it, continued to turn, by too slow degrees the wheel. The sound of the water rushing through the pipe changed, became sharper, then softer. Finally, with a groan the shut off came around and the sound of rushing water stopped.
Goniff sagged back, sliding down the brick wall, almost in tears of relief. His shoulder throbbed, dragging him back to reality. Clutching his arm, he forced himself to his feet, knowing he still had to get back to Chief. Glancing down at his hands he realized that he couldn’t feel them anymore. He had to get warm, had to get Chief warm.
Going down was easy and dangerous. Praying that the floor would hold him, he held to the doorknob, hugged his injured arm to him and dropped the ten feet down. He rolled over the broken boards, agony from his arm nearly taking him into darkness. Blinking hard, he fought it off.
“I’m coming, Chief,” he promised again.
Once more he stumbled to the coat room. Stripping off his frozen coat and shirt, he slipped on the heaviest coat he could, wrapped another around his legs over the froze pants. Each move of his arm nearly sent him to the floor but eventually he was in dry wraps. Searching the coats also produced a couple of pair of gloves, one which he immediately put on and the other of which he hoped would fit Chief. Shaking so hard his teeth rattled, he grabbed his bundle and started back.
He squatted on the ledge and glanced down. The water had already drained, leaving splashes of ice on the gray cement. Goniff almost smiled in relief - then he saw Chief. The man was unconscious again.
“Chief?” Goniff started down the ladder, hanging onto it one with hand, the bundle of warm dry clothes draped over his injured arm.
The ladder had tilted under the buildings continued collapse and he dropped the last two feet, going to his knees as he hit. He looked up - and saw blood seeping under the heavy beam. His breath caught. Had Chief had another knife? Had he...
“No, Chief...” Goniff gagged, crawling the last few feet to his friend.
Goniff moved passed him, snatched his glove off and ran his shaking hands down Chief’s leg, terrified of what he would find. The leg was whole, solid muscle running all the way down to the wooden beam. But the piece of metal deep in his leg had shifted, opening the wound. It was bleeding slowly, blood freezing as it hit the cold stone. Goniff leaned his head against the nearest board in relief. One look at Chief chased away any relief. The man was white, lips slightly blue, so cold that he wasn’t shaking. Goniff was no medic but he had lived in poverty all his life; he knew what it meant to freeze to death in the middle of a cold London winter.
Moving as fast as his trembling hands would work, he pulled the soaked coats off the frightening still body. With his hands refusing to answer his commands and his shoulder sending shooting pains down his whole body, it took forever before he finally had Chief stripped to the waist. He wrapped him in the coats. Using Chief’s switch blade he cut away the frozen pants, wrapping his legs in more of the fur coats, fur side down against the chilled flesh.
He looked toward the ladder, once more faced with going for help or staying. He had to get Chief warmed up soon. Deciding he couldn’t do anymore good here, Goniff started to stand - and the world tilted, dropping him back to the cold floor next to Chief. He gasped, holding his arm tight, trying to relieve the hot pain that threatened to carry him away. Slowly, he started to laugh. He had finally made a decision, and he couldn’t do anything about it.
He sat still long enough for the world to stop moving. There was only one thing left to do, offer what body warmth he could, though he knew it wasn’t much. Sliding in behind the unconscious man, Goniff painfully lifted Chief back, resting him against his chest and wrapping the final two coats over both of them. He slid his arms under the coats, held Chief close with the good one, pressing full length against Chief’s back. There was nothing now but waiting.
The shaking keep the pain echoing through his arm, which kept him on the edge of consciousness. “I wish you’d wake up, Chief,” he said softly. “It’s lonely here.”
“Never been alone much, you know,” he continued. “Didn’t have seven brothers and sisters like Casino but I had two of each. And we shared the whole flat with a cousin and an uncle. Shifty lot the whole bunch of ‘em. Never worked a day in their lives.”
Pulling Chief tighter he said, “My Mum though, she made sure everyone got fed. May not have been much but...”
Chief started to shift in his arms, confused by his position. “Easy, Chiefy,” Goniff said lightly. “Don’t want to disturb me lovely collection of minks now do we?”
“Cold...” Chief whispered.
“Yeah, I know, mate.” Goniff swallowed hard, knowing it was a bad sign that Chief would even comment on discomfort. Goniff tried to shift Chief further back but jarred his arm, barely stiffly a cry of pain.
It was a sign of how far Chief had faded that he didn’t notice the sound. Goniff shook him very slightly. “Come on, now, Chiefy, keep talking. It’s lonely down here without someone to talk to.”
“Talk?” Chief said with a tone almost like amusement.
“Yeah, well, I know you don’t do that often,” Goniff conceded. “But considering our situation and all, humor me.”
A couple of minutes passed in silence. Just when Goniff thought Chief had passed out on him again, the Indian said, “Enjoyed.... the music.”
Goniff ‘s teeth were starting to hurt from being clenched against the cold. He tried to think of something to say that would make Chief feel better but finally he gave into his guilt. “I’m sorry, Chiefy. Was a stupid idea coming here. You saved my life last time out and I wanted to do something for you. You don’t let anyone do much, you know.” He sighed realizing he was rambling.
A slight chuckle answered his ramblings. “‘S okay,” Chief said softly. “Better go... no need.. both of us freezing.”
Goniff shook his head, chin rubbing through Chief’s icy tinged hair. “Can’t. I think I’ve busted by shoulder. I’d never get up the ladder.”
“Yeah. That about fits it,” Goniff conceded. Not wanting to think about thier situation, Goniff asked, “So, Chiefy, which piece did you like best?”
“First one,” Chief answered after a minute.
Goniff nodded, even though Chief couldn’t see it. “My mum likes that one, too. It’s by a Yank. Bloke name Sousa. Mum took me to the library once and we looked him up. Hey, you know once this is all over maybe our two mums can get together...” He staggered to a stop at the single harsh breath Chief took. Only then did he remember that Chief had never mentioned his family. Goniff swallowed, afraid of what that might mean. “Sorry, Chief, I didn’t know... I mean... your mum... she ...”
“I haven’t... talked to her,” Chief said flatly, barely covering the sorrow, “since I was.... fourteen.”
Surprised by the sudden serious turn of conversation, Goniff considered trying to go back to safer subjects. But part of him wanted to know, wanted to find out about his normally silent teammate. He wasn’t as observate as Actor, but even he could see the infinite sorrow in Chief’s dark eyes when sitting by himself or caught off guard. Goniff knew he would probably never get another chance to hear the truth. If they made it out of their situation alive, Chief would only clam up on him. So he asked, “Why not?”
A long cold moment stretched out around them. “Ran away from... boarding school... got in trouble,” Chief said levelly. “Been in trouble since. Knew she would.... be disappointed.”
Goniff’s breath caught at the last statement. His own mother had tried so hard to get him to go straight but she had always told him that she loved him. While he hadn’t been able to tell her much in his letters, he had told her that what he was doing was important. She had replied by saying that she was proud of him.
“Chief,” Goniff said quietly. “I think your mum would be proud of you.”
There was no answer.
Actor sagged back against the wall, listening in concern to Garrison’s rough cough. They had achieved a new level of respect for firemen tonight. Taking a deep breath, he wondered how long it would be before he could do it without smelling smoke. Garrison finally stopped, leaning back next to him. People were leaving the shelter now that the fires were under control and the streets clear. A few rows away Actor heard two children fussing and crying.
“They’ll start searching the other buildings now,” Garrison said quietly.
“We should try the other shelter,” Actor urged.
Still a little shaky, Garrison pushed himself to his feet. “Okay. If we don’t find them there....”
“No!” A little boys voice yelled. “We have to help them!”
Actor watched as the boy jerked away from the officer that was holding him. The child was standing very straight and tall, appeared to be much more mature than his age. Garrison tapped Actor on the shoulder, calling him away from the scene. They started toward the door.
“Chief is hurt!”
It was a little girl’s voice, loud and shrill in the closed quarters. The words hit the two tried men like the winter wind. They whirled around to find the boy still arguing with the air officer.
“The other one’s name...”
“Okay, son,” the officer was saying quietly. “We’ll find your mum and...”
Garrison pushed the officer away and knelt next to the children. “Hi,” he said calmly, not wanting to frighten them. Actor didn’t think that would be possible. “My name’s Garrison. We’re looking for two friends called Goniff and Chief.”
The boy started nodding furiously. “They’re in the basement of the Palladium. I been telling everyone but no one will listen.”
“Chief’s hurt,” the girl said again, tears running down her cheeks.
The officer standing over them said, “This happens sometimes, sir. The tikes get excited...”
Garrison was on his feet and in the man’s face. “These “tikes” have been trying to get help for two trapped men and all you have done is ignore them because they’re children. Once I’ve got my men back, me and your commanding officer are going to have a long talk.”
Dismissing the man with contempt, Garrison gave Actor a worried glance. They moved as one toward where the fire chief was directing out search teams. Actor stood back, smiling as Garrison turned from tried amateur firefighter to commanding US Army officer.
“Captain,” Garrison snapped. “You are now under my command. I want a team to follow me. We’ll need heavy equipment and a medic.”
Actor turned back and smiled at the children. “Don’t worry, we’ll find them.”
“Chief?” Goniff realized his voice was fading.
He wished the other man would wake up. It was getting hard to concentrate. The idea came to him again that he should go for help. But he had no strength and the idea faded even as he thought of it.
“Goniff?” Chief said hoarsely. “Get the kids...”
Goniff swallowed, shaking his head against Chief’s dark head. “It’s okay, Chief. The kids are safe.”
“Cold...” Chief muttered again.
“I know, Chief,” Goniff said quietly. “I know.”
“Always cold here...”
And Goniff knew that Chief wasn’t in a bombed out basement in London, he was somewhere far away and long ago. The very real fear that Chief would die in his arms brought a wave of mist to Goniff’s eyes. “I’m sorry, Chief. .. damn ... Please, Chief... stay with me.”
“Snowing again.... another one died.... “
The voice was filled with such sadness that the mist in Goniff’s eyes gave way to tears. “No one dying here, Chiefy. You stay with me. You just keep talking. They’ll find us. You just...”
There was a loud crash from above them and bright lights flooded the area, blinding him.
“Chief? Goniff?” Garrison shouted.
“Down here,” Goniff tried to scream. It came out a choked whisper. But it was enough. The lights steadied on him.
“Got them!” Actor’s voice now. “This way.”
Goniff sagged back, nearly passing out in relief. The larger body in his arms was heavy and Goniff reminded himself that it wasn’t over yet. He closed his eyes, silently begging Chief to keep breathing. He wiped his frozen tears into Chief’s stiff black hair. A warm hand touched his arm. Actor was bending over him, concern written on the handsome face.
“He’s pinned,” Goniff said hoarsely. “His leg’s bleeding. He’s cold.”
Actor nodded. “They’ll get him out. We need to get you warmed up.”
Goniff blinked as Garrison knelt next to them. In the background there was the sound of a chainsaw firing up.
“Come on, Goniff, “ Garrison said gently. “Let me take him. You go with Actor. I’ll take care of Chief.”
For a minute Goniff was afraid to move, feeling strangely as if he were the only thing between Chief and a more permanent cold. Before he could say anything Chief shifted against him.
“Goniff?” he questioned.
Garrison knelt in front of the Indian. “Chief? We’re going to get you out.”
Laying a hand on Chief’s shoulder, Garrison said, “Yeah. You’ll be out and warm soon.”
Goniff felt a strong hand under his shoulder and the pain almost made him scream. But under Actor’s insistence, he slid out from under Chief, to stand on shaky legs and watch Garrison take his place, holding Chief as the chainsaw ate through the wood.
“Warden...” Chief whispered. “Goniff’s hurt...”
Goniff started to slid toward the floor but Actor’s strong arm came around his waist and held him up long enough for him to see the beam give way. The medic came up - and the world faded into darkness.
“Mail call!” Garrison barked into the comfortable silence of the main room.
Everyone came to their feet but Chief. He continued to sit at the chessboard, his healing leg stretched out on a chair that Goniff had insisted on dragging over for him. Goniff smiled at him from across the room as he shifted his sling and moved forward for their sparse mail. Garrison called out for Casino and Goniff, then paused.
“Chief,” he said quietly, obviously surprised.
Goniff looked up toward his friend. In the whole year they had been together Chief had never gotten mail. Chief’s eyes were wide with surprise. He started to rise but Goniff took the letter and walked it over to him. Chief took a sharp breath as he noted the postmark. Goniff stayed were he was, waiting, not knowing what to make of Chief’s reaction. Chief tore the letter open with a trembling hand that only Goniff was close enough to see. It was a single page and Chief read it quickly, not noticing the silence as the other’s watched.
Very carefully he folded it and returned it to the envelope. Then without a word or glance at the others he rose stiffly and limped from the room. Goniff sighed as he watched the other man leave. He turned long enough to give his teammates a worried glance then went after Chief.
Chief had gone only as far the walled back garden. He was sitting on the cold stone, staring into the distance, the letter still clutched tight in his hand. Goniff cleared his throat, knowing that Chief would have already heard him but needing to do so for his own comfort. He stepped forward and leaned Chief’s cane against the wall next to him.
“Forgot that, mate,” he said lightly.
Silence claimed the area and Goniff shifted nervously. Finally, he knew he had to be the one to say something. “That letter,” he started, “it’s from your mum, ain’t it?”
More silence. Goniff shrugged nervously. “Yeah, well, look Chiefy, if you’re gonna be mad... it was...”
“Me,” Garrison said firmly.
Goniff turned to find the others standing in the double doors.
“I sent the letter,” Garrison continued.
“Now, Warden...” Goniff started.
“Though I wrote it,” Actor said.
“And I... uh, sort of urged them on,” Casino added lamely.
“But it was my idea,” Goniff insisted. “So, if you want to be mad at someone, it’s me you should be mad at.”
Long silence answered him. They waited. Goniff shifted nervously, tried to think of something else to say and gestured emptily. Finally, Chief took a deep breath and turned back toward them. His dark eyes were filled with tears, some of which now spilled over and ran down his cheeks. “She says she’s proud of me,” he whispered. “And I should write.”
He wiped a shelve across his face. Stepping in front of Goniff, he put his hand on the smaller man’s shoulder. “Thank you.”
Goniff blinked hard himself, nodding shyly back. “It’s okay, Chiefy.”
They stood in comfortable silence in the cold, moonlight snowy evening. Garrison broke by clearing his throat. “So,” he said, a touch of hoarseness in his own voice, “there’s still another package for the two of you.”
“Yeah?” Goniff brightened. “Hear that, Chiefy, hit the jackpot today we have.”
Actor shoved the cane into Chief’s hand, threw an arm around his shoulders and lead him back into the main room where a large package sat on the table. Goniff gestured down.
“You’re the one what’s armed, you do the honors.”
Chief’s knife flicked open and he deftly cut the twine encircling the package. But Goniff couldn’t let him do it completely by himself and started ripping one handed at the paper. Chief pulled up the top of the package. Goniff whistled.
The others crowded around. “What?” Casino demanded.
Goniff held up a gray tuxedo jacket. Underneath could be seen the rest of the gray tux and a black one as well. Chief lifted a page that was laying on top of the clothes.
“It’s from the Dix’s, the parents of Thomas and Brittany, to replace ours,” he said after a minute. In amazement, he added, “They also want to take us to dinner whenever we’re back in London.”
“Blimey, mate,” Goniff said holding up something else. “Looky here, there’s also tickets to the symphony’s whole bloody season.”
“As soon as they find another hall,” Actor added dryly.
Goniff smiled. “As long as they don’t do the 1812 Overture, I don’t think me nerves could take it.”