“And so,” said Dr Martel, gesturing grandly outwards, despite being wrapped up against the bitter winter wind, “you see the mess your men have made, Colonel?”
Richter did, although he now regretted having insisted on being shown. Even aside from the unwelcome stench, it was growing icier by the second out here in the fields close to Dr Martel’s house. “It will be cleared up and filled in immediately.”
“I mean, if you’d wanted an open sewer, I’m sure it could have been arranged.”
Richter shot the other man a reproachful look. He felt the point had already been more than adequately made. Dr Martel had also told him he needed to talk – or rather, no doubt, harangue him – about medical supplies, and it was simpler for Richter to visit the Martels from here, so he ordered the Lieutenant following him to go back to the car and tell the chauffeur to drive it round to the front of the surgery to wait for him there.
After that, halfway down the lane, he turned on hearing a shout. There was somebody moving, but just too far away to make out clearly who they were. Richter thought, however – but that notion was halted by the loud crack of a rifle firing. It took him a rather absurd amount to time to realise that the shot had been aimed at him – and that it had not missed, even though it almost had, merely winging his shoulder. He gritted his teeth as the pain began to become a reality.
He surveyed the scene, but the figure had gone, and he could see two guards had gone off after the culprit – it must have been one of them who had shouted. He would have to speak to them later, but for now, he carried on walking next to Dr Martel.
“Good God, Colonel,” said Dr Martel suddenly. “You haven’t been hit, have you?”
Richter had to bite back inappropriate amusement. Martel sounded as if he thought such a thing was an impossibility and not the stuff of daily life, which could hardly be true by this point in the war. Besides, the man was a doctor and no doubt must have served in the previous war. “Say nothing. I was not shot.”
“But you –”
“I was not shot. There was no bullet.”
Dr Martel seemed to get the message at last. “Right. Well, look – how bad is it? If you pass out on me before we get to the surgery, they’ll have me shot. I’d rather call for one of your lot now.”
“It’s not very bad,” said Richter. It couldn’t be, even if it hurt. It had winged him, that was all, and that through the thick winter overcoat. He only feared it must be such a slight injury that Martel would wonder what he was making a fuss about. “I will make it there – and I would be grateful if you did not call for anyone else.” He caught Martel’s look and gave a laugh that was a mistake, causing him to wince. “It’s not misplaced heroics, doctor, I assure you.”
“Olive,” said Martel, as he burst in through his kitchen door, Richter close behind him. “Colonel Richter has kindly dropped in to discuss supplies. Oh, and he hasn’t been shot, and I suppose I’m not patching him up, either.”
Mrs Martel simply stared at them both for a moment, before she put aside the tea cloth she’d been clutching. “Philip, I don’t find that very amusing. Colonel,” she added with an unwilling nod – a reluctant greeting, as if she would rather not have acknowledged him at all.
“For heaven’s sake, sit down,” said Martel, pulling out the nearest chair. “Olive, can we spare some tea? I think it would be a good idea. And I’m not joking. Colonel, if you’d take off your coat –”
Richter went to do so and then paused, pained at having to make the request. “Perhaps – ah – I think you had better assist me.”
“Good point,” said Martel. “Look, what is this? I hope you remember I’m the enemy. It’s probably treason for me to do anything other than leaving you bleeding to death on the flagstones.”
Mrs Martel moved across with a steaming cup of something that no doubt was not tea. She sounded brittle. “Well, I hope you won’t – I’ve just this moment swept them, thank you.” She put the hot drink down on the table. “Tea, Colonel. Well, I say tea – of course, it’s not. The last of the blackberry, I think.”
Richter stared ahead as Martel helped him out of the greatcoat. “It is much better that the Kommandant of Guernsey is not shot at and certainly not in any way injured, if it can be avoided.” He then gritted his teeth, the movement causing first a stab of pain in his shoulder and then a slight twinge of nausea and dizziness. He sat back down carefully and, with his good hand, took hold of the tea, taking a sip.
“Sorry,” muttered Martel. He busied himself somewhere beside Richter’s right shoulder. “Hmm,” he said, and then straightened up. “No, you’re right – it isn’t too bad at all. Might need a couple of stitches, though. Now, do you want me to do that, or wait till you get back to the military hospital?”
Richter felt the tea was helping a little. “I realise this is an insufferable request, doctor – but I would be grateful if you would.”
“You won’t be when I’ve finished,” said Martel, not without a certain relish. “I was hoping to have a word with you about the lack of anaesthetics and antiseptics, but I see you’re after another practical demonstration. Look, are you sure about this? It damned well won’t help matters if a Guernsey doctor has a stab at the Kommandant and anything goes wrong.”
Richter gave a faint smile. “If you would oblige,” he murmured, and then: “Although I must say that your bedside manner, doctor, is considerably lacking.”
“Yes, well, there’ll be no sympathy for the devil here,” said Martel. “And you’ll still have to show one of your own medical fellows when you want it re-dressed or checked over, you know.”
“I shall give the medical officer a suitable explanation that he will no doubt not believe but which he will be obliged to accept.”
Martel glanced over at Mrs Martel first, as if he was in some way asking her permission. Richter wasn’t in a position to see her reaction, but Martel then turned to him and said, much too cheerfully, “Now, Colonel, I’ll get this cleaned up and give you a couple of stitches and get you out of here before someone comes to arrest me. I’m afraid it will hurt.”
“Yes, yes, I understand,” said Richter. He was a soldier, after all, even if he still liked to think of himself as a scholar at heart.
Martel nodded. “Right – just give me a moment.” He disappeared, presumably into his surgery.
Richter finished the tea and put it down on the table. “Thank you,” he said, and avoided Mrs Martel’s gaze.
“This is very – unexpected, Colonel,” she said. She sounded even warier than usual. He couldn’t blame her.
Richter nodded. “Yes. I would rather this incident was not made into an excuse for more violence – on either side.”
“Oh, yes; yes, I see,” she said, her disapproval softening fractionally as she understood. “Yes, of course.” She shivered. “No doubt they would shoot any number of us as a deterrent. I’m sorry,” she caught herself, her tone hardening slightly again. “You people would shoot any number of us, I should say.”
Richter merely said, “Given the situation – the low morale – there are those at the Feldkommandantur who would demand reprisals. I fear so.”
He did not say more: how Reinicke and the Admiral who had arrived to replace General Muller would be glad of any such excuse. They had to frequently restrain the Admiral from ordering the men to kill all the islanders as the best solution to the problem. And if it had not been an Islander, as he suspected, that might be even worse. Morale among the men was about as low as it could be and it would take very little to bring about a descent into anarchy and violence. So, the Kommandant could not be shot. It was out of the question. And if he could catch those two on guard duty as soon as he got back, the incident could be fully dealt without any interference from someone like Reinicke.
“Right,” said Dr Martel, returning, now sounding brisk and professional. “I don’t suppose you have any actual alcohol left in that hip flask of yours?”
“A little,” Richter said. “A very little.”
Dr Martel gave a short grin. “Then I’m afraid I’ll need to borrow it. If there’s enough, you might want to take a swig first. And, Olive, you’d better lock that door, just in case that driver comes looking for the Colonel.”
“He has been instructed to wait,” said Richter, beginning to feel tetchy. He wanted this over with. “Besides which, he would knock.”
Dr Martel threw a glance at Mrs Martel. “Oh, he would, would he? Makes a change from some of your people.” Then he positioned himself and said, “And now, Colonel, I’m afraid this is going to hurt, but it should be over fairly quickly.”
Richter gave a brief nod, willing him to get on with it and then gritted his teeth against the pain when he did.
“Keep still, Colonel.”
Richter hadn’t been aware that he had moved, but nevertheless he tried to do as he was told.
“Yes,” said Martel. “While I’ve got you captive, you may as well know that the other week we had two of your soldiers in here – marched in and wanted to commandeer a couple of carrots. Luckily, Olive fought them off with the colander.”
“Don’t exaggerate, Philip. I merely shouted,” said Mrs Martel from somewhere behind Richter. It sounded as if she might be wiping up still. “They apparently hadn’t expected anyone to be in and they ran. Fortunately for us – not everybody around here had the same sort of luck.”
Dr Martel had reported this incident to Freidel on the day it had happened, so Richter knew that this was a distraction intended for his benefit. Or possibly a means for Martel to complain again at the outrage while he had the chance; it could easily be both. He focused on his voice, not really taking in anything else, although he was fairly sure it was mostly a string of words that were synonymous with ‘appalling behaviour’.
“And I think that’s it,” said Martel, his voice sounding distant for a moment, then far too slow.
Richter caught himself, realising that he was, now that it was done, on the verge of passing out. He stayed still and let the sensation fade.
“Well, that’ll teach me to complain to you about lack of medical supplies – now I’ve had to waste perfectly good bandages and thread on you!”
Richter leant against the table with his good arm. “My apologies. I will have them replaced.”
“And how would you explain that, Colonel?”
Richter reflected on the question and realised that it was a good one. “Perhaps not, then. However, you have another Red Cross delivery due soon. It is we who are likely to suffer the greater shortages now.”
“Yes, but I’m out of too many things again,” said Martel. “It costs lives, you know, Colonel, not merely momentary inconvenience. We ought to be able to rationalise things out between us.”
Richter gave a slight smile, because that was a nice idea: if two reasonable men could sit down and have a conversation and sort out this mess, it would be far better than the situation they were all trapped inside. “I think your people would also have something to say about that. Red Cross parcels are not to be shared with the German military.”
“No,” said Martel. “No, they’re not. And quite right, too, when you can’t keep your hands off our mouldy old carrots!”
“Philip,” said Mrs Martel.
“Well, they were mouldy,” said Martel. “I said so at the time – you should have handed them over. It’d probably count as an act of resistance.”
Richter took the risk of standing, and found that he could, quite adequately. “It is as well, doctor, that I was not shot and that you did not assist me – I think it’s probably as well I didn’t hear all of that.”
“I talk too much?” said Dr Martel, deflating a little. “Yes, I suppose I must. Everyone keeps telling me so.”
Richter found himself in the uncomfortable position of sharing a look with Mrs Martel. “I meant only that you should be a little more careful. And – thank you, doctor. Mrs Martel.”
“Look,” said Martel. “I understand that you don’t want this known – and appreciate it, too – but I don’t know – someone tried to murder you! I think if it were me, I’d like to know they weren’t going to try again.”
Richter had to bite back the desire to laugh. He was fairly sure that it would hurt if he did. “You should be grateful for the sentiment. But I shall look into it – I cannot have gun battles on the streets any more than I want this incident to escalate the current problems.”
Richter still felt sure he had seen the green of a uniform, so he’d bring this one to Kluge. The irony was that, if Martel was worrying about a killer on the loose, Richter felt a considerable sympathy for a soldier driven to shoot one of his officers whether in protest, or merely through another case of Island Madness. Although, if it had been Richter, he would have aimed for the Admiral, or at least Reinicke, not the man who kept talking the pair of them down from killing people.
“Anyway,” said Martel as Richter reached the back door, “much as I enjoyed sticking sharp implements into a damned Jerry, let’s not make a habit of this, eh, Colonel?”
Richter bit back a smile. “No,” he said, and winced faintly at the memory of said sharp implements. “Let’s not. And in any case, as I keep reminding you, there was no incident – nothing happened.”
He headed down their driveway towards the waiting car. He had better get straight back to the Feldkommandantur and ensure that nobody else got wind of the incident. That was the important thing. The end of the war must come soon now, and he was determined to make sure that there were no more deaths on this island than there had to be.