Sergeant Kinney took one last look around to make sure that nothing had been carelessly forgotten. This part of the woods that his men had spent the last couple of days in was relatively safe, at least on the surface, but you never knew. You always had to be on guard for the slightest mistake. The soldier who had brought young Private Taylor out to their camp had given Brian his new orders straight from Lieutenant Masters. They were to pull out as soon as possible and head for an estate that was known to have been taken over by the Germans. Apparently the rumor was that the place was not actually cleared out and they still had supplies and soldiers stashed there. It was up to Brian's squad to scout out the place and report back their findings. A very important road ran right in front of the property and it would be dangerous for the Company to advance any further with such a threat still viable.
Once he was satisfied with what he saw, he joined his men who were standing around casually smoking and doing a bang up job of ignoring the newbie Private. Poor Taylor looked uncomfortable, but he didn't hang his head like the last two new recruits. He looked straight at each man as if assessing whether that one would be a friend or foe to the newcomer. Brian rather admired the way he held himself. As Brian approached the group, young Taylor caught his eye and suddenly smiled widely. The unexpected gesture caught Brian by surprise. He had expected the kid to look like he was about to shit in his pants, not throw a warm smile his way. What shocked Brian even more was his off guard response to that smile. He actually felt his cock twitch in his shorts and a little tingle in his crotch.
"What the fuck....," he muttered to himself.
A few seconds later he stood in front of his men and gave his head a mental shake to clear his thoughts before barking out orders, the gruffness in his voice causing that surprising smile to fade rapidly from the kid's face. He was surprised at how sorry he was to see the smile disappear, but Brian was too good a soldier to let the thought distract him from his duties. His men, including young Taylor, snapped to immediately. They all respected their Sergeant and felt safe under his leadership. No one hesitated to follow any order he gave.
The men shouldered their rifles and set their packs firmly on their backs and then formed two lines a few feet apart. Brian was again surprised when Taylor fell into place easily as if he'd been a member of the squad for some time. He could see from the glances his men threw each other that they were impressed too. Brian made up his mind then and there that the new recruit was obviously quite intelligent. He just hoped the kid was as good a shot as he was smart in the head. With the order to 'move out', the men started their trek towards the main road that would lead them to the suspect estate.
Sergeant Kinney marched along silently, scanning the nearby trees along the winding road for any odd movements or sound. His men, half on one side and the other half across the road, marched behind him. They were on high alert too, the effort showing clearly in the strain on their faces. They had lost a few men since landing in France due to negligence and being less than fully on guard. They didn't want to make that mistake again. Losing Private Saunders had made them even more cautious. Their tenseness telegraphed itself to the newest recruit and made him just as careful. He too scanned the roadside, looking for anything suspicious.
Private Taylor had no desire to be where he was right now, kicking up little puffs of dirt on the side of this country road in a land so far from home, but here he was and he would make the best of it. Justin had been raised by a fairly tyrannical father who barked orders and expected them to be followed in an even rougher way than his new Sarge. He had plenty of experience with authority figures so he knew he would be able to handle whatever the Sarge threw at him. He was second in line right behind Kinney so that he could drop to his knee and take aim in case Sarge saw something before anyone else did. The young man took his eyes off the side of the road for a few moments and stared at his new Sergeant's back several yards ahead of him.
For some reason, Justin had expected his new commanding officer to be a hardened burly much older man, not this slender attractive slightly older man in front of him as he exited the jeep that had brought him to the clearing. He was even more surprised by the warmth he felt when he looked directly into the Sergeant's eyes and thought he saw a smile hidden behind the stern face. He gave his salute once he was on the ground and waited for the Sergeant to receive the message he was being given by the driver. Then the good looking officer indicated for his new recruit to follow him and moved off. As the jeep pulled away, Private Taylor followed behind the Sergeant towards the edge of the trees where a small group of eight or nine men were gathered around chatting amongst themselves while waiting for their leader to return.
Sergeant Kinney introduced each of the men in his squad to the new recruit with little fanfare and then stepped away a few feet so he could check out the orders from his Platoon leader. The entire Company of three Platoons under Captain Branch were going on the march in a couple of days and it was up to the different squads in each platoon to carry out their assignments to keep the entire Company as safe as possible. Brian's squad was ordered to do advance reconnaissance of the country estate that was suspected of still hiding German soldiers and that left no time to get acquainted. He had been forced to be gruff and waste no time getting moving. As he trudged along the road now, he truly wished he had been able to give young Taylor a little more of his time, but it would have to wait a little longer.
The men had been walking the road for almost an hour when the tall chimney tops of the estate could finally be seen through the tops of the trees. A few more yards and they would no longer have coverage and be exposed to the open road. Sarge quickly ordered his men to take cover among the last of the towering trees that stood before a large open field that lay in front of the large fortress looking stone house set well back from the road. One could tell that the field had once boasted thriving crops, but it was now filled with deep ruts from heavy vehicles and badly damaged plants that had been burned down for the most part. Apparently the field had been used as a vehicle dump at one time since there were still damaged jeeps and trucks strewn about in clusters. The vehicles made excellent cover for the Squad.
One by one the men inched closer to the great house. Everyone kept their eyes peeled for sentries or signs of movement. A few tall bales of hay stood closer to the drive leading from the main road to the front of the house and a half dozen horses grazed nearby behind a white wooden fence. A barn like building stood a hundred feet or more away from the main house and the men could hear the low sound of a cow or two mixed in with the loud chattering of chickens. The barn doors stood open so the men were even more guarded, not knowing if any human being was causing a disturbance among the animals. There was no way yet of knowing whether the inhabitants of the house were soldiers or residents or both.
Brian gave the familiar signals to his men to stay put behind the hay and vehicles they were crouched behind while he moved in for a closer look. He pointed to his eyes after pointing to young Taylor, letting him know to watch his back. Justin gave his head a vigorous shake to let his Sarge know that he understood and then knelt with his rifle at the ready, prepared to pick off anyone who was a threat. His palms began to sweat as he watched the Sergeant move cautiously and low in a zig zag formation towards the closest building, the barn.
Everything seemed secure when Justin heard one of his fellow squad members a few feet away from him hiss harshly, "the window...ninety degrees South." Justin instinctively moved his rifle sight to the right and rapidly scanned the building upwards. He caught the glint of the sun off the metal barrel that was sticking a few feet out the top window facing the barn. It was a difficult shot because of the angle, and there was no way to see the body holding the weapon, but Justin knew one had to be standing right behind it. He could see the Sarge getting within sprinting distance of cover from the barn itself and he knew he had mere seconds to act. He took careful aim at the dark area just behind the protruding rifle and squeezed off his shot.
A loud scream from the window told the G I's in the field that the new sharpshooter had hit his mark. They had no time to react. A quick scan to the left showed them that Sarge had made it to the side of the barn and was now covered. Another quick scan back to the house brought the unwelcome news that the injured or dead soldier in the window was not alone. A half dozen men, in various stages of dress, spilled out the front of the house with weapons at the ready. Kinney's men were well trained and every soldier lay on the ground before they could get off a single shot. Everyone froze, waiting for the next move.
Several agonizing moments passed with no movement or sound from the large stone built house. Nobody dared to breathe and make a move. The men could see their Sergeant moving cautiously to the barn entrance, hugging the wall with his backside. He slipped into the barn. Five more minutes passed. The tension was thick enough to cause heart palpitations. Finally, Kinney emerged from the barn and gave the all clear signal. All eyes turned to the house. Still no activity.
Finally, after several more nerve wracking minutes, the soldiers in the field could see a long broom handle with a white kerchief attached to the end being thrust out the front door. The men held their fire, but stayed prepared. An elderly man stepped out onto the porch waving the broom high over his head. There were several young children and a young lady behind him with frightened looks on their faces.
"Aidez ma famille," the older man kept shouting. "Aidez ma famille!"
"He's asking for our help with his family," Justin told the soldiers near him. Word was passed down the line. They suddenly noticed the Sarge coming out of the barn and moving cautiously towards the group on the porch with his rifle pointed straight at the older man. His men took the cue and came out from hiding to join him. As Kinney came up to the old man, the poor creature started babbling rapidly in French. The Sarge knew a smattering of the language from classes he'd taken years before, but he couldn't make hide nor hair of what was pouring frantically from the old man's mouth. Suddenly the attractive young woman, who had been standing behind the old man with three young ones holding on to her skirts, stepped forward.
"Monsieur, you are Americain, oui? This is my grand-pere...my grandfather," she began with a thick accent.
"You speak English," Brian acknowledged.
"Oui. I learned in England, before the war. I was attending school there when my family called me back home." She paused and turned to her grandfather. "IIs sont Americain, Grand-pere. IIs sont ici pour nous aider." She turned back to the good looking American. "I was just telling him that you are here to help us. I am correct, am I not?"
"That's part of the job, ma'am," Brian informed her. "What is your name?"
"I am Aimee Beaulieu. This is my grandfather, Nicolas Beaulieu. These are my niece and nephews, Angeline, Alexandre, and baby Andre. They are my brother's children. Both he and and his wife were killed when the Germans first took over our home several years ago. Andre was hardly out of the crib. It has been hell for us ever since, but we've survived. And now you are here to end our suffering. Merci beaucoup. Thank you with all our hearts."
The petite girl stood on tiptoe and gave Brian a kiss on the cheek. The children still clinging to her began to giggle. Brian almost turned red, especially when he saw the look on his men's faces. He gently moved the girl away from him and continued his questions.
"We're glad we could help, but now maybe you could help us. We need as much information as you can give us about the soldiers who were staying here and anything you might know about their plans. Are there any more we should be aware of, for instance?"
"Let's go inside. I'll get you and your men some coffee and I can answer all your questions then. But first off, the Germans only left eight men behind when they left here and you killed one upstairs, the rest were killed down here, and one more received his justice upstairs too." A cloud passed over her face as she spoke those words. "I will tell you more after you've come in and refreshed yourselves."
Kinney looked at his men, who looked more than ready for a break, and ordered them to get the bodies out of sight and then join him in the house. Each of the squad grabbed a set of legs and began moving bodies to the barn. Justin was about to help another soldier when Brian called him over to join him.
"I want you to come in with me, Taylor."
Justin dropped the leg he had grabbed and moved to join his Sergeant. The two men proceeded to follow the elderly man and his granddaughter into the house.
"We'll be right with you Miss Beaulieu, if you'll give us a second," Brian informed his hostess as he pulled Justin to a halt.
The family moved on to the kitchen in the back of the house. Justin looked at Brian quizzically.
"Sir?" he asked.
"I just wanted to thank you for proving to me that headquarters didn't have their thumbs up their asses when they said you'd be an asset to the squad. You saved my life, Taylor, and I won't forget it. I owe you one." The thought crossed his mind that he knew how he'd like to repay the good looking young man, but that was ridiculous. He quickly put his Officer mask back on. "Now let's go get some of that coffee."
Brian walked away briskly. For a moment, Justin was glued to the spot. Was it just asinine wishful thinking on his part because the Sarge was so damned attractive, or did the man just look as if he was coming on to him?
"Damn it Taylor, get a grip," he muttered under his breath. He was just thinking such ridiculous thoughts because he had felt a twinge of jealousy when the pretty Mademoiselle had planted one on that beautiful cheek and it had been far too long since he'd seen a man that attracted him. Well, it hadn't been that long since he'd seen the results of letting his attractions show and he wasn't about to make that mistake again. If he did, saving the man's life or not, it could maybe get him killed even by the man whose life he had saved. No, those thoughts were going nowhere so he might as well drop them now.
Justin followed Sarge back towards the kitchen wishing more than ever that this sick war was over so he could go back home. He was certain there had to be someone back in the States that was meant for him. He would keep searching till he found him too. If there was one thing Justin was not, it was a quitter. And he had no intention of going through his life without love.
To be continued...........................