The Impending Doom of Arthur Kemp

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
How an eccentric young spy called BALTUS BANCROFT helped me to SURVIVE THE HORRORS of being SHOT DOWN AND STRANDED in German-occupied Belgium during WORLD WAR II

Submitted: November 25, 2013

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Submitted: November 25, 2013

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RECORDED FOR POSTERITY BY

ARTHUR C. KEMP, P.I.

© 1968


CASE # 46-8902

OR

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How an eccentric young spy called BALTUS BANCROFT helped me to SURVIVE THE HORRORS of being SHOT DOWN AND STRANDED in German-occupied Belgium during WORLD WAR II

 

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Huddled against the small radio-station in the lower cockpit, Sergeant Arthur Kemp clutched his oxygen mask in place with one hand and held on for dear life with the other.

 

Luckily he hadn't seen damage done by the last hit but it had been the worst one yet. The entire fuselage flexed and the plane wobbled to and fro for several gut-wrenching seconds. When the rocking finally stopped Arthur let out a deep breath followed by a cautionary gag, a sign that he had come to recognize that his nerves were clashing with his flight training, reminding him of the life-threatening danger he was in despite his effort to stay focused.

 

He thought about it, realized that he could hardly blame himself for feeling queasy after that last hit. He had never felt anything like that one before. Then again, this whole experience coupled with the overwhelming shadow of impending was completely new to Arthur.

 

It was late February and he had arrived in England in early November. By 8th Army Air Force standards Arthur was practically a veteran. Early on he had been assigned as radio operator on the factory-fresh B-24 bomber, Piccadilly Lily, for her first mission and over the months he and the rest of the crew had come to love her dearly. She had been good to them. Time and time again she had protected them from attacking fighters and exploding anti-aircraft rounds over German-occupied territory before bringing them back safely across the English Channel.

 

What really made Piccadilly Lily incredible was that she had not lost a single member of her original crew, despite the fact that the average life-expectancy for B-24 crewmen was about six missions.

 

It had been because of Piccadilly Lily's outstanding flight record that she now found herself lost and alone and soon to be destroyed.

 

Several hours earlier, the crew had been individually roused at around 04:00 and ordered to put on their flight gear before reporting to the mess hall to be briefed on a high-priority unscheduled flight.

 

Sleepy and confused the nine chosen ones had been slow to snap to attention when the Base Commandant, the tall and dignified Colonel Miller entered briskly, puffing on an over-sized pipe and leaving a trail of thick smoke in his wake. He started off thoroughly expressing the great importance of what would be Piccadilly Lily's most important mission to date, a mission which she had been hand-picked for by the top brass at Central Allied Air Command.

 

This mission was not a bombing run. Instead, Piccadilly Lily would be carrying three high-value passengers to a drop-zone in German-occupied Luxembourg. She would take off from Wendling Air Base and set out over the North Sea, maintaining a south-eastern course over German territory. It would take a couple of hours to reach her target in Luxembourg where she would drop her passengers and be on her way back to England before sunrise.

 

In the typical style of all pre-flight briefings, Colonel Miller had spoken quickly and the crew found themselves so enthralled by his animated lecture that no one noticed when three strange young men, dressed in civilian clothes, arrived at the mess hall and. Without a word, the three men came to stand behind the others and stood quietly. It was not until the very end of the briefing when everyone was convinced the Colonel was done speaking that held up his arms as an afterthought and directed them to face the strangers. He then proceeded to make introductions.

 

“I know it ain't much of a secret around to you boys how those god-damned military bureaucrats in Washington like to run a tight-ship when it comes to 'being in the know',” he had begun. “They've got their millions of rules and one of those rules, in so many words, states that the lower a man's pay-grade is the less information he's entitled to and that's especially true concerning orders a soldier's expected to follow. Providing answers ain't important to the brass because another one of them rules says you're not allowed to ask questions.”

 

Colonel Miller had then stopped himself. He was taking a moment to consider his choice of words. This had caused the crew to fidget and shift around uneasily. When an officer openly showed uncertainty about rules and regulations it meant that he was feeling guilty. Officers usually only felt guilt to that extent when sending men to certain death.

 

“I'm afraid I just can't make myself follow that rule when it comes to you boys. Blindfold me, throw me against a wall and shoot me dead, but I'm not gonna ask men that I love to go out and get killed,”. He paused and looked them over proudly, “Not without first doing my damnedest to make you understand why I'm asking you. That means telling you everything I know, regardless of what the Brass has told me you should know,”.

 

“So, first let me tell you who these guys are: the short fellow on your left is called Eanes but I suppose you'll be calling him Mister Eanes. Beside him, the handsome grease-ball , he's called Mr. Pomposini,”. Eanes had smiled and offered a polite wave, while Pomposini just stood like a noble Roman statue in a perturbed manner with his chest poked out and his arms crossed.

 

“Then there's this young man here with the glasses,”. Proving to be the friendliest of the three, the man, who seemed to be no older than 25, chuckled and nodded to the group. He had a wide grin on his face, the kind of smile that didn't belong on a military base. “You'll call him Mr. Bancroft.”

 

“Now, I have to tell you that I honestly don't know the details of their mission. They're clandestine operatives and that's all you and I are allowed to know. The only important thing for you to know is that you absolutely must complete your mission, to see these three bastards to Luxembourg. Everybody got that?”

 

The crew acknowledged, a few of them loudly sounding off with a yes, sir! out of habit. A couple of them had even thrown up a quick, informal salute. Colonel Miller stood there for a moment with everyone looking on in anticipation. He sucked on his pipe like a baby with a bottle and when he finally removed it to speak a cloud of thick smoke slowly billowed out and condensed into a cloud around his head and shoulders.

 

“You're dismissed! Get to your bird, boys! Good luck!” he shouted. The crew obeyed and shuffled off with Colonel Miller looking on proudly, hands on his hips and a smile on his face. As they filed out he spoke up again, this time with a sort-of fatherly passiveness, “Hell, I wish you all the very best of luck!”

 

A couple of hours later the sun was just beginning to chase away the nighttime sky and thousands of feet above the Belgian countryside Piccadilly Lily was in peril; aflame and losing altitude as she struggled to fend off the swarm of attacking German fighter planes.

 

Suddenly, as if to pound the final nail into the coffin of the doomed bomber, a direct hit to her aft fuel line caused an explosion that rocked the fuselage so violently it nearly knocked Arthur out of his chair despite his gung-ho grip. The Lily rolled to and fro like a skiff in hurricane for what seemed like an eternity before her two skilled pilots finally managed to level her off.

 

When the Lily seemed stable, Arthur looked around anxiously, surveying his limited view of the plane's fuselage to try and assess the damage. He looked over his right shoulder, up to where the pilot and co-pilot sat where the many cracks in the windshield and the bullet-holes from which they originated caught his eye immediately.

 

Normally, the back of Lt. Doyle's head and that of the co-pilot, Lt. Gentry, would be popping out from the top of their respective seats and clearly visible from Arthur's station directly below.

 

This time, however, Lt. Gentry's head could not be seen; the first casualty of the Lily's crew.

 

Arthur looked over his other shoulder where only about a foot separated him from the smoldering shell-casings that fell like a smoldering gold waterfall from the top turret-station situated almost directly above him. The bottom-half of the Lily's flight engineer, Sgt. Britton, swung back and forth in the gunner's seat, following the path of the .50 caliber machine gun as he fired back at the attacking swarm.

 

Although his view of the bomb-bay was almost entirely obscured by Britton, it was not long before Arthur noticed the black smoke seeping into the cockpit from the tail section. He leaned back as far as he could and tried to get a better look through the narrow walkway but the smoke was just too thick on the opposite side of the bomb-bay.

 

In the corner of his eye he saw a quick flash of blue. Instinctively he pushed himself off of the desk and into the floor just in time to look up and see the smoking trail of bullet holes running along the length of the area where had been a split second before.

 

He let out a deep breath and thanked his lucky stars. He then saw that Britton had not been so lucky. He was hardly able to react when, instead of spent shell-casings, Britton came tumbling out of the turret-station above and smashing face-first into the floor.

 

Still on all-fours, he umped onto his knees and threw himself backward into the fuselage in one quick spring. Britton's body was contorted into an awkward, lifeless heap before him. The cold, dead stare of his comrade's green eyes proved enough to make Arthur ignore the sharp sting of the winter air as it rushed through the gaping wounds in the Lily's belly and smacked the exposed flesh of his face.

 

He threw his head back against the hard steel of the fuselage then brought his knees to his chest, hugging them against his body with his right arm and clutching the oxygen mask to his face with his other hand. He shut his eyes as tightly as he could.

 

In all of his twenty-five years, Arthur had never experienced such crippling fear. In his heart he felt a deep and resounding ache unlike any he had ever felt before, the kind of heartbreak only felt when standing at the threshold of death. The only thought in his head was simple and naturally serene, the most instinctive of man's primal desires: that his impending death comes swift and painless.

 

But all of a sudden something happened that Arthur could have never anticipated.

 

A pair of strong hands took hold hold of his shoulders and tugged him upward. Once on his feet he opened his eyes and stared into two large, yellow lenses belonging to a pair of standard issue flight goggles. He saw that an oxygen mask covered the rest of the face, so his gaze continued to drop until he noticed the shoulder-strap and realized that the man was wearing a parachute. He immediately looked to the man's feet and was instantly relieved find two more parachutes on the floor. Looking back up to the man's face, the bright crimson of a familiar Windsor-knot managed to catch his eye, despite being largely hidden by the oxygen hose. He instantly knew the man before him and, in that same instant, somehow knew that he was going to survive.

 

Mr. Bancroft pulled down his oxygen-mask and moved in as close as he could manage. “ARE YOU HURT!?”, he spat into Arthur's face at the top of his lungs, hoping to be heard over the howling of the wind and gunfire.

 

Arthur stopped for a moment to think, realizing that it had not yet crossed his mind. Had he been hurt? If he had indeed been injured, he had not felt it happen and he did not feel it now, so he arrived at the conclusion that if he had been struck by a bullet, it would be impossible for him not to have felt something. He shook his head.

 

“HERE, PUT IT ON!” Bancroft yelled as he shoved one of the parachutes into Arthur's chest, “WE HAVE TO BAIL RIGHT NOW!”

 

Arthur nodded again and, swinging the parachute onto his back, he frantically stepped into the bottom harness. He slipped his arms through the back-straps before struggling to secure the top harness across his chest, which was proving to be a much more difficult task at the moment than it had ever been in training. His hands wouldn't stop shaking and he missed the buckle several times before he successfully managed to make the mechanism catch and lock together.

 

When he looked up, Mr. Bancroft was climbing down from the pilot's station. Directly behind him, Lt. Doyle had finally left the Piccadilly Lily's controls and was now busy securing his own parachute. Utterly confused and waiting for someone to tell him what to do next, Arthur looked back and forth between the two men.

 

As it fell apart at the seams, the Piccadilly Lily, now without a pilot, slowly began rolling to one side as she started losing altitude at an alarming rate. Lt. Doyle ran into the bomb-bay and, stopping in the middle of the narrow walkway, he struggled for several seconds to open the emergency door-release, pushing up at the lever with all of his strength until it finally gave way. The entire fuselage shuddered as the massive bomb-bay doors fell open.

 

From the cockpit, Arthur stood staring down into the bottomless bomb-bay at the endless sea of orange sky and the wavering tree-line below. Mr. Bancroft lunged toward him violently and grabbed at his left shoulder, shoving him out onto the walk-way before spinning him around so that the tips of his boots were hanging over the edge. When he felt Mr. Bancroft let go of his shoulder, he tried to quickly recall the highlights of jump training before taking a deep breath and looking down. As he began to fall forward, he suddenly jarred to a halt as his entire body locked up. He demanded that it move forward but it refused to listen. He stood there for several seconds, trembling uncontrollably from head to toe. Despite the danger he knew he was in and despite how badly he wanted to live, his body would not budge. He threw his head back in anger and closed his eyes, blinking away the tears as they began to well up,

 

Then, in a split second, he felt completely weightless. His stomach rose into his chest and his heart became lodged in his throat. When he opened his eyes he could see the Piccadilly Lily's damaged belly as it passed overhead, growing smaller by the second and leaving in it's wake a trail of flames and black smoke. Without another thought he pulled on his parachute's rip-chord. As the canopy opened, his body was violently jerked upward like a rag-doll before, in an instant, he found himself drifting along toward the ground at a comfortable speed. When his organs returned to their anatomically correct locations, he thought to look down. He had no idea where he was, only that he was somewhere in Belgium, and hadn't even thought to make sure there was a safe place to land below. As objects on the ground began to come into focus, he noticed that directly below him there were several small vegetable farms, surrounded by wooden fences, beside a wide, dirt road with small cottages placed here and there on the opposite side. He aimed himself at a large oak tree, and though it stood directly across the road from, and was in full view of, a farm house, he had quickly ran out of other options.

 

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Arthur took one last opportunity to look up and see if he could get an idea of where Mr. Bancroft and Lt. Doyle would land, or if they had indeed made it out of the Piccadilly Lily at all. He could see one parachute falling toward a farm just a short distance away, and thought he had noticed another one falling even further off down the road, but before he could be certain, a far off explosion caught his attention and, looking up in the direction of the noise, he saw the Piccadilly Lily for what he knew would be last time as her nose and, not far above it, her tail section, fell from a large cloud of lingering black smoke and plummeted downward, engulfed in flames.

 

As he gazed in awe at the heart-breaking, yet strangely beautiful, death of his beloved Piccadilly Lily, he felt a back-breaking jolt, accompanied by a series of loud rustling and violent snaps. Before he could realize what had happened, he felt a sudden and intense pain all along the right side of his body, especially along the length of his arm and on the side of his head, as his parachute swung him full-force into the oak tree's thick trunk.

 

For a moment, there was nothing. The force of his impacting the side of the tree caused him to black out. Several minutes later, he came to and found himself dangling from his parachute. Arthur saw that his parachute canopy had caught on the upper branches of the tree, which had been the cause of the sudden and painful manner in which he found himself in his current predicament: swinging from the branches of an oak tree, at least eight-feet from the ground below.

 

However he was going to get himself out of this, Arthur knew he had to do it fast. It wouldn't be long before the Germans showed up. Even if the fighters that shot her down didn't radio see anyone bail out, when the Piccadilly Lily blew up, the explosion had been large enough and loud enough to see from as far off as a mile, maybe further. German field offices, checkpoints, and patrols were known to be all over the Belgian country-side, especially since the resistance cells started popped up and were traced back to rural hide-outs.

 

He quickly unsnapped the top buckle of his harness and unzipped his flak jacket. After reaching blindly into his jacket, he patted around a few times before finally grabbing hold of his pocket-knife. He reached up and swung at the straps, each snapping as soon as the blade touched it. Now dangling at an odd (and incredibly uncomfortable) angle, he let out all of his energy in one final exertion. The final strapped quickly snapped and he fell to the ground, and landing on his back.

 

Arthur laid still for awhile, staring up at his ruined parachute and the tree branches in which it was tangled, his back aching so badly that he couldn't bare to move. He wasn't sure exactly how long he had been lying there when he noticed that the sun was now over the tree-line. He took a deep breath, once again storing up all of his strength before springing to his feet in a single motion. He stood there for a moment with his back arched, rubbing it gently. The aching had greatly intensified for a short time but, as he stood there massaging the places that hurt the most, it slowly dissipated before disappearing almost entirely.

 

He proceeded to spin around in circles, searching the area for a suitable hiding place close by. His finally came to rest on a large wagon. It was over-filling with hay and almost invisible, tucked neatly beside the farmhouse. He dashed across the road, hopped over the ancient stone fence that surrounded the small yard, then dove into the wagon as quickly as his body would carry him. He covered himself up with hay, burying himself beneath layer after layer of the dry hay until there was no light peaking through it. Satisfied that no one would be able to find him unless they were diligently searching for him, he made himself as comfortable as he possibly could before drifting off to sleep.

 

Before a thought could register in his head, Arthur suddenly found himself awake and sitting up as his body reacted involuntarily to something that poked at it from above. Directly to his left, a tall German soldier jumped back in surprise. Immediately, the soldier aimed his rifle and, behind him, the other four members of the German patrol sprang to attention, each fixing his aim on Arthur.

 

“Zeige mir deine hände!”, the tall soldier began screaming in German and made stabbing motions with his rifle. “Schnell! Deine hände, schnell!”. Although Arthur only understood a very small amount of German, there was no time for speculation. His instincts seemed to take over. As he jumped to his feet and threw his hands into the air, the mountain of hay rolled away from his body in all directions.

 

“Komm herab!”, the soldier ordered. He motioned with his rifle for Arthur to step down from the wagon and Arthur obeyed. “Komm herab, schnell!”

 

The German soldier then grabbed him by the shoulder and pushed him toward the rest of the patrol. The four others relaxed their guard and encircled him. From behind him, he could feel the tall soldiers hands patting up and down the sides of his flight-suit and poke at the tops of his boots as he checked for weapons. One of the other soldiers, a short, older man with a thick mustache came forward, unzipped Arthur's flak jacket, and felt around a bit before nodding to his comrade.

 

“Nichts?” the soldier behind him said.

 

“Nichts,” the older one responded with a shrug. “Unbewaffnet. Er ist ein pilot?”

 

Recognizing the word “pilot”, Arthur shook his head.

 

“No,” he said loudly, “Nein. Not a pilot. Um,” he paused for a moment, wondered how to express himself with the little bit of German he had learned in flight school, “Ich bin...radio operator!”

 

Indicating that he had understood, the soldier with the mustache leaned back, looking behind Arthur with an expression of both surprise and enlightenment.

 

“Ah!” the tall soldier said with understanding, then turned him back around, looking him up and down several times. “Sind die radio operator. Und niemand sonst leben?”

 

“I do not understand you,” Arthur said loud and slow, shaking his head. “Ich...nein...speak German...Deutsch. Nein...speak...Deutsch. Ich bin...sorry. Do you understand?”

 

The tall soldier frowned as Arthur spoke and politely waited until he had finished before bursting into laughter. Surprisingly insulted, Arthur's jaw dropped in disgust. He looked over his shoulder to see that the rest of the patrol was laughing uncontrollably as well. He locked his hands together on top of his head and rolled his eyes. “Really?” he asked no one in particular, becoming more annoyed as the laughing continued. “Are we really laughing about this? Come on.”

 

When the laughter finally subsided, the tall soldier nodded, “Okay, no Deutsch,” he said to Arthur, giving him a thumbs-up. He then looked to the rest of the patrol with an exaggerated shrug. “Ich vermute,” the soldier chuckled, struggling to suppress his giggling and finish his thought at the same time, “dass er nicht sprechen Deutsch!”.

 

Once again, the Germans all burst into laughter at Arthur's expense, but the tall soldier quickly gained his composure, pushing their new American prisoner forward. Falling in behind, the German soldiers resumed their patrol, pushing Arthur along in front with his hands atop his head. His thoughts bounced from one side of his head to the other, coming and going rapidly. He wondered if Lt. Doyle and Mr. Bancroft had managed to avoid capture, or if they were even still alive. He knew that if they had been caught, he might meet up with them again at whatever checkpoint station the Germans were marching him to, or perhaps later on in a P.O.W. camp. Surely, the Germans would have someone that spoke English at the checkpoint. Perhaps they would tell him about the fate of his comrades, if they themselves knew, but he knew that he could not ask, in case one, or both, of them had avoided capture.

 

After they had been walking for about half an hour, a large cloud of dust began to rise in the distance, far off down the road before them. As the cloud grew, Arthur could see that it was being made by a vehicle, a shiny black car, that glinted in the sun as it sped toward them.

 

“Stop!”, he heard the tall soldier yell, and he obeyed. As the car became larger and larger in the distance, the patrol talked amongst themselves. The luxurious, four-door Mercedez-Benz slowed down as it reached the patrol, finally coming to a stop about a meter in front of where Arthur stood. He could clearly see that inside there were four men, each wearing black uniforms. The two men sitting in the back wore black helmets in the typical of the German army, while the two in front wore black officer caps trimmed in white. The patrol continued to speak quietly with each other behind Arthur while the men in the car seemed to be doing the same.

 

Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the tall soldier, followed closely by the shorter one with the mustache, walk up and continue toward the car, slinging their rifles onto their backs. At once, the back doors of the Mercedez-Benz swung open and the two soldiers in black jumped out. As the tall soldier, then the mustached soldier, clicked their heels together and threw up a salute, the closest soldier in black marched forward, intercepting the tall soldiers by extending a hand, gloved in white. The soldier in black pressed his palm into the tall soldier's chest. The other soldier in black slammed the car door and quickly, moving around around the front of the car, came to stand beside his comrade.

 

The soldiers in black both addressed the tall soldier in German. Without a reply, the tall soldier dropped his salute. He took hold of the arm extending toward him, shoved it away, then shouted angrily. Both of the soldiers in black, as well as Arthur, took a step back, recoiling in shock at what the tall soldier had done.

 

The offended soldier in black erupted into a fit so quickly and loudly that his face went from pale white to a bright pink in an instant, while beside him his comrade was quiet. Thinking his silence odd, Arthur watched him closely and noticed him slowly reaching down with his right hand. He unbuttoned the top of his holster and wrapped his fingers around the grip of his Luger. Though he stood ready to draw his weapon, he kept it holstered.

 

Even so, when the rest of the patrol noticed this they all ran at once to the tall soldier's side. They confronted the soldier in black, who immediately removed his hand from the weapon's holster and screamed at his accusers. His confusion growing by the second, Arthur looked on in amazement as all of the German soldiers yelled and stamped and threw their hands around. Though the sight itself was outrageous and comical, he didn't dare to laugh in fear that they would then stop yelling at each other and yell at him instead.

 

Then he heard two more car doors slam. The two officers, both in long black coats, one of wool and the other of leather, had emerged from the car and were now running to break up the argument. The officer who had been driving the car, dressed in the wool coat, grabbed both of the soldiers in black by the shoulders and yanked them back without saying a word. As he stared them down with an icy, penetrating gaze, they both turned around and quickly stood at attention, their feet snapping together, their arms closing at their side and their chins pointing out. To Arthur's great surprise, the patrol immediately followed suit and did the same, each of the five soldiers instantly snapping to attention, throwing their heads back and standing up straight as an arrow.

 

The officer in the leather coat walked briskly around the front of the car and, with his hands clasped behind his back, he came to stand beside his fellow officer. It was then that, for the first time, Arthur noticed the bright red band around his right shoulder on which he could clearly make out the swastika. He knew that, while the other Germans may or may not be members of the nazi party, there was no mistaking the political affiliation of the man with the swastika arm-band because only nazis wore them.

 

All at once, it dawned on Arthur that the horrible monsters he had heard so many stories about and read about time and again in the papers over the last four years were, in fact, not monsters at all. The nazi that stood before him was clearly no monster. Despite his horror, he could not help but see that he and the nazi were made of the same stuff: flesh and blood and bones and hair. The nazi was human, which meant that the other nazis were also human, yet somehow, still capable of all the evils that had made them infamous among the Allies and the German people alike. So, being human, that meant he, too, was capable of such evil. The very thought turned his stomach and made him nauseous.

 

For the next several minutes, while the other three black-coats and the patrol gathered in separate groups and talked lowly amongst themselves, the nazi and the tall soldier remained in the middle and spoke to eachother. Arthur was still in the spot where the tall soldier had ordered him to stop, having moved only twice to shift his weight onto the other foot. With his hands still perched atop his head, his arms had begun to ache long ago. By now they had grown numb, much like his legs. He was sure that the Germans would not shoot him for relaxing his arms at his side, but doing so would surely draw unwanted attention to himself, maybe even the attention of the nazi, so he made up his mind that, at the time being, it would not be worth it.

 

“Heil Hitler!”, the tall soldier finally spoke up loudly, snapping his feet together and saluting the nazi.

 

“Heil Hitler.”, the nazi casually returned the salute. Then they both turned around on their heels. The tall soldier returned to his patrol and the nazi walked to his fellow black-coats. As both reached their respective groups, all of their comrades fell silent and listened intently as they were briefed on, what Arthur assumed to be, the details of the conversation between the tall soldier and the nazi.

 

Almost in unison, the patrol fell into a single-file formation. Led by the tall soldier, they marched past the four black-coats without so much as a glance and continued on down the road. As the black-coats continued to speak amongst eachother, the nazi turned to Arthur with a wicked smile on his face, and when their eyes met he realized that the entire argument between the Germans had been about him. It had been a simple prisoner exchange, made complicated by the fact that it was taking place between two very different branches of the German military. Assuming that they would be obeyed without question, the black-coats had stopped to demand that Arthur be turned over into their custody. For some reason, the tall soldier had initially refused to give him up, and that was when chaos ensued. The conflict had not been resolved until the nazi stepped up and, most likely out of fear for his life, the tall soldier was no longer able to dispute the black-coats and their claim on the prisoner.

 

His heart skipped a beat as the nazi clasped his hands behind his back, the spooky smile still on his face. Arthur stood absolutely still, eyes locked with the nazi's as the distance between them became smaller and smaller. Stopping a couple of feet in front of him, the nazi dropped his arms to his side as Arthur stood before him, trembling.

 

“Hello.”, the nazi said politely through a toothy grin. His voice frozen in his throat, Arthur did not speak.

 

“Oh, yes! Your arms,” the nazi began. To Arthur, the man's tone came off as being clearly concerned, if perhaps a bit overly-apologetic, “They must be hurting you terribly! Please, put them down! I am very sorry! I would have told you sooner but I did not notice!”

 

In utter disbelief, Arthur remained still. Not only did the nazi appear to have a near-flawless grasp of the English language, he also seemed to be genuinely concerned and apologetic. Although, to an extent, it made Arthur uncomfortable, he decided to explore the absurd idea of perhaps palpating the nazi's trust, if only to see where it might lead. After all, he was tired and confused and aching all over. His body was telling him there was no other choice. He unlocked his hands and winced as his arms fell to his side, radiating an intense, throbbing pain.

 

“Much better, yes?”, the nazi continued to smile, removing a pack of cigarettes from his coat pocket. He shook the pack until a single cigarette slid out about half-way, then held it out in Arthur's direction. “Cigaretten?”

 

Arthur looked at the pack suspiciously for a moment, then looked back up at the nazi, who seemed to be showing such kindness to a prisoner-of-war that it altogether might indicate mental instability. He looked back down at the pack and plucked out the single cigarette.

 

“Thanks.” he said uncomfortably.

 

“Of course.” the nazi replied as he removed a cigarette for himself and replaced the pack. “I am sorry that we have no Lucky Strikes – only government issue. Not good, but cigarette made of shit is better than no cigarette at all, yes?”

 

Arthur nodded as the nazi lit a match and held it up for him. Without giving a thought to how strange it was that the nazi had correctly guessed his brand of cigarette, he leaned forward and took a few deep puffs. It had been nearly twenty hours since his last cigarette, and though his body had been craving one for the past several hours, he had forced it from his thoughts completely, believing that it might be months before he could have another. When he straightened his back again, he closed his eyes and held the smoke in his lungs for as long as he could before expelling it gently through his nostrils.

 

“So,” the nazi continued to smile as he let out a deep breath full of smoke, “You are a radio operator with the 392nd bomb group. Part of a B-24 crew?” “B-24J,” Arthur nodded, narrowing his eyes, “That's right.”

 

“Oberfeldwebel Kroegel told me that he did not find identification tags on your person. What is your name?”

 

Arthur stared at him warily. The nazi shrugged and nodded, and with his left hand, pulled the white-cotton glove from his right.

 

“I am Lieutenant-Colonel Gebhard Leberecht Wentz,” the nazi held his right hand forward, “Kampfgruppe Blücher, 28th SS-Freiwilligen Sturmbrigade Wallonien.”

 

“Tech Sergeant Arthur Kemp,” he gripped Wentz's outstretched hand, shaking it firmly. “579th squadron, 392nd bomb group, 8th Army Air Force.”

 

“Sehr gut, Arthur Kemp - I mean to say, very good.” His smile growing wider, Wentz withdrew his hand, replacing his glove before reaching up, removing his cigarette in a large puff of smoke. “I am also interested to know where in America is your home? Myself, my home is Lower Saxony - a town called Cuxhaven.”

 

“I'm from a town called Richmond,” Arthur replied, “It's in Virginia. Do you know Virginia?”

 

“Yes, I know the state called Virginia,” Wentz whistled, “Where Richmond is actually capital, no?”

 

“Yeah, Richmond is the capital of Virginia,” impressed, Arthur could not help himself. He grinned. “But, you know, Virginia isn't a state.”

 

“Sure it is! One of the United States, I know,” Wentz nodded vigorously, “I learned them all.”

 

“Well, yeah, it's one of the United States, but technically Virginia is a Commonwealth and not a state.”

 

“No!” Wentz feigned disbelief.

 

“Uh huh, I promise you.” Arthur chuckled, “You say you know all of the States? Well, you know Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, and Kentucky? Well, they're Commonwealths, too, just like Virginia. Those are the only four in the whole nation.”

 

“But what is the difference?” Wentz cocked his head to the side, “Between a Commonwealth and a State, I mean?”

 

Arthur shrugged, his palms up-turned.

 

“Beats the hell outta me,” he sighed before taking another long drag of his cigarette.

 

“What?” Wentz quirked a brow, his confusion only growing.

 

“I mean,” Arthur thought for a second, “I have no idea.”

 

They both laughed.

 

Wentz blew out a final plume of smoke, then threw the spent cigarette to the ground, snuffing it out with a single, quick stomp of his shiny, leather jackboot. Shortly after, Arthur did the same. The two stood and looked around for a moment, awkwardly avoiding eye-contact.

 

“If you'll follow me, Arthur Kemp,” Wentz broke the silence as he began to pivot on the heels of his feet, “We'll continue our conversation in the car.”

 

Arthur nodded.

 

“Where are we going?” he asked.

 

“We are taking you to the main checkpoint near Waterloo,” Wentz replied, opening the car door and gesturing for Arthur to get in.

 

“Isn't that where the patrol was taking me?” he asked as settled into the middle of the car's backseat.

 

“No,” Wentz replied as he hopped in beside Arthur and close the door. “They were taking you to the Wermacht patrol station, just up the road.”

 

The other back door opened and one of the soldiers in black slid in, sandwiching Arthur in between himself and Wentz. The officer followed, closing the door behind him as he sat behind the wheel and, not long after, the other soldier in black was sitting in the passenger seat. Turning around to make sure that all of the doors were shut, the officer in the driver's seat finally depressed the gas pedal, and in less than a minute, they were flying down the narrow, dusty road at, what Arthur guessed to be, more than sixty miles-per-hour.

 

“So,” Arthur sighed, breaking the silence, “We're going to the checkpoint near Waterloo, and from there I'll be sent to a P.O.W. camp?”

 

“From the Wermacht patrol station, you would have been booked, processed, and then sent to a camp for prisoners-of-war.”, Wentz replied without a trace of his previously inviting tone, “That is why we were sent to pick you up and bring you to the checkpoint.”

 

“But what's going to happen at the checkpoint?”

 

“We will hand you over to the Secret State Police,” Wentz answered gravely, “And they will take you to their detention facility in Brussels, where they will administer an evaluation and proceed with their interrogation.”

 

Arthur closed his eyes tightly and took a deep breath.

 

“So, that's why you were so nice to me?” he grinned and chuckled quietly to himself, “Because you knew you were about to take me to be tortured and killed by the Gestapo.”

 

Wentz said nothing.

 

“Thanks for giving me one last chance to taste a cigarette,” Arthur said quietly, turning his head to look at Wentz. “And one last chance to laugh.”

 

His eyes focused forward, Wentz remained silent.


© Copyright 2020 Arthur Kemp . All rights reserved.

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