Hello Internet! It’s time for Flash Fiction Friday. Please give a warm welcome to my sweet friend and future DSP Publications alumn, Anne Barwell. Guys. Just a heads up. You’ll need tissues for this Winter Duet short. I am just a mess of sniffles. Damn you Anne! My heart! *shakes fist!*
WARNING: Major spoiler for Winter Duet ahead! Enter at your own risk!
Phoenix: A Winter Duet Short
by Anne Barwell
Leo Dawson locked the trapdoor behind his friends. Friends. When had they crossed that line from comrades in arms to friendship? He grunted as he struggled to his feet, leaning heavily on the kitchen table to catch his breath. Silently, he wished them well, and hoped they had more of a future ahead of them than he did.
He’d known what he was doing by staying behind. While Leo wasn’t privy to the information Kristopher—Dr. Lehrer—carried, he’d seen the grim expression on Liang’s face. Then there was the fact that a high ranking SS officer was hunting them. Leo had heard enough about how they worked to know they wouldn’t waste their time with the team he’d found himself a part of unless it was very important.
Leo had done all he could for the war. His fight was almost over. He shivered, although the stove still gave out a decent heat. Pain ran through his leg. If he didn’t do what he had to soon, he’d be out of time.
A sad smile curved his lips. “I’m sorry, Mary,” he whispered. She’d understand, wouldn’t she? It wasn’t fair to burden her with a cripple. She had her life ahead of her. “I can make a difference this way. Can’t you see?”
He mentally shook himself. Now wasn’t the time for melancholy. He had work to do, his own mission to complete. Using his makeshift crutch, he stumbled out to the living room where he’d hidden the dynamite he’d found in Ken’s coat pocket. Hopefully Ken wouldn’t find the letter Leo had left in its place until it was too late.
Soldiers shouted to each other outside. One voice sounded very familiar. Reiniger. Leo clenched one fist. He’d seen a glimpse of Liang’s back when Matt had changed the dressing. That bastard needed to pay for what he’d done. Liang wasn’t military. He hadn’t asked for this.
None of them had.
Fight the good fight. Win the war for king and country. Even knowing about the reality of what that meant, Leo still wouldn’t have changed anything.
Well, mostly anything.
I wish I’d had more time with you, Mary. I wish I’d found the nerve to ask you to be my girl sooner.
He needed to play for time, to convince Reiniger and his men that their prey hadn’t already escaped. Gritting his teeth against the pain, Leo ducked down under a window. He took aim. Let off a couple of shots. Crawled over to another window and did the same. He’d always been a lousy shot, but he wasn’t trying to hit anyone.
No. He needed to lure Reiniger in closer. Give him an easy target he couldn’t resist. Paint a picture of someone the Obersturmführer wouldn’t see as a threat until it was too late.
Reiniger allowed himself a slow smile. He was so close to finishing this, to taking the traitor Lehrer, and his associates, into custody. Hopefully, Holm would let him help with the interrogations of both Lehrer and the man who had helped him escape from the Institute—Schmidt. Schmidt had played him for a fool for months, posing as a soldier loyal to the Third Reich. Not only that but Reiniger would never forget the amusement of his men when they’d found their superior tied to a tree.
Lehrer was a scientist, not a trained soldier. Reiniger twitched, remembering the reprimand he’d received after that incident.
Both men needed to pay for what they’d done.
Reiniger was merely doing his duty. Following orders to bring in a man who carried information vital to the war effort. Holm had said he’d wanted their prey alive. He hadn’t said unharmed. If prisoners resisted arrest, they needed to be taught to obey orders and the consequences if they did not.
Another shot rang out. Reiniger ducked, just in time. If the information he’d received was correct, the men inside were outnumbered.
“Surrender! You are surrounded and outnumbered.”
The lack of reply wasn’t unexpected. The fools might be determined to make this difficult, but their resistance wouldn’t change the outcome.
“Kick down the door,” he ordered his men. “Take into custody anyone inside. Remember, take them alive but use whatever force you need to stop them escaping.”
Reiniger stood back to let his men go first. He heard shouting, and sighed. Did he have to do everything himself? He strode into the house. “What is the problem, Gefreiter?”
A young man stood defiantly in front of him, his arms raised in surrender, although he swayed on his feet. Reiniger peered at him more closely, frowning. The prisoner was barely upright, and couldn’t have been much more than twenty years old, if that.
“The rest of the house is clear, Herr Obersturmführer. I have confiscated the prisoner’s weapon.” The Gefreiter stood to attention.
“The prisoner is injured. Leave him with me while you search again,” Reiniger told him. The young man’s complexion was quite pale. Reiniger smiled, noticing the bandaged leg. It wouldn’t be hard to get him to talk. “They have to be here somewhere.”
“Very good, sir.” The Gefreiter saluted and left the room.
“My name is Obersturmführer Reiniger. You will tell me the whereabouts of Dr. Lehrer and the other traitors.” Reiniger took a step closer and sniffed. “You’ve been drinking.” He shook his head in disgust.
“I know who you are, Mr. Reiniger.” The man spoke in English, and had an accent Reiniger hadn’t heard before.
He recovered his composure quickly, certain he’d misheard. The man couldn’t know his grandmother’s pet name for him. He’d hated that name, especially when one of the children at school had overheard it, and teased him about the way his hair had stuck at angles.
My little reindeer.
Reiniger grimaced. He had definitely misheard. Accents had a way of mangling words, especially when one didn’t know how to pronounce them properly in the first place. Never-the-less he felt his anger rise at the memory of something he’d put behind him long ago. “Sprechen Sie deutsch?” he asked. “Do you speak German?” He repeated it in English when there was no answer.
The man shook his head. He smiled, his eyes were bright. Too much so. If he’d drunk the amount he reeked of, he wouldn’t still be standing. The Allied pilot—it had to be him, given his description and lack of German—reached for the bookcase to the side of him to steady himself when his leg gave way.
Suspicious, Reiniger took another step closer, raised his hand, ready to force some respect into the man. He’d get answers out of him, one way or another.
One of his men burst into the room. “Obersturmführer! He’s…”
“See you in hell,” the young man muttered. He slid down the wall, and closed his eyes.
A loud explosion rocked the building.
“Verdammt!” Realisation struck. No wonder his prisoner had been so calm. He’d been playing for time, waiting for the dynamite fuse to burn down. Reiniger sprinted for the door, but it was already too late. Another explosion followed the first, knocking him to the ground.
His world dissolved into fire and pain, and then he knew no more.