It had only taken Brian's seasoned men a short time to clear up the mess left in the front courtyard of the house. After a much needed break they would go back to the barn and bury the bodies of the fallen soldiers and add the two bodies that remained upstairs. As the men sat around enjoying their coffee in the large airy kitchen of the estate house, the owners granddaughter filled Brian in on what had been happening to her family since the Germans had taken over. She had valuable information as to what she had overheard between the invaders being quite fluent in German, something she was wise enough never to reveal to her uninvited 'guests'.
A quick look upstairs after enjoying the first decent cup of coffee he had experienced in months told Brian more of the story about events in the last hour or so than he would have liked to know. The sniper lay dead of a single rifle shot from young Taylor's weapon that had hit its mark perfectly in the center of the man's forehead. He was dead before he hit the floor. In a room next door to the first one, Brian could see the evidence of why Mademoiselle Beaulieu had reacted so strangely when mentioning the second dead soldier. The man lay next to the window overlooking the courtyard. He had a red spot spreading out from a hole in the back of his uniform shirt. His uniform pants, along with his underpants, were pooled around his ankles. Brian turned to the young woman.
"He was about to rape me when your marksmen took his shot. When he jumped up and ran to the window to see what was happening, I grabbed his gun from the table where he laid it and ended his life," she said in a matter of fact monotone.
Brian saw a shadow cross her face again, but made no comment. He walked over and took her hands into his.
"You did what you had to," he reassured her.
Just then, young Taylor stepped into the room. He saw his Sergeant holding the young lady's hands and obviously comforting her. He felt that strange pang again for one very brief second and then dismissed it.
"Hmm, hmm, excuse me Sir. I was sent up to tell you that a call came in for you from headquarters."
Brian released Aimee's hands and moved to follow Justin out the door.
"You come with me," he told the girl. "I'll have my men clear out this room first off."
Aimee nodded her head and proceeded to follow the Americans out of her bedroom. The pain of what she had just experienced and been forced to do was still clearly etched on her face, but she knew she'd have more time to deal with the whole thing later on. Right now it was more important to help her liberators in any way she could. She particularly wanted to be of help to the extremely attractive leader of this group of men. His gentleness and kindness was such a wonderful change from the coarse and crude way she had been treated ever since the German commanding officers had deserted the estate and left behind the small band of soldiers to clear things up. Once the officers were gone it had become obvious that the now leaderless group of men had only restrained themselves from bad behavior because of commands from their superiors. It had only been two days since the officers left and she had been waiting for one or more of the men to make his move. The Americans could not have timed their arrival better. Aimee knew that her life would have been changed forever if they had arrived even ten minutes later. She would be forever grateful to them.
Sergeant Kinney's radioman was waiting at the foot of the stairs and handed the phone over to Brian as he reached the bottom. Lieutenant Masters passed on the orders that Brian and his men would need to secure the estate and keep a close watch on the road which led into one of the larger and more important towns on their way to the Rhine. There had been some delays in the Company's movements due to lack of supplies but they should be coming through in two or three days. Brian was ordered to stay put until further orders. The chance to sleep in a real house that was still completely intact was almost too much to fathom and he sensed his men would be giddy with delight. He and radioman Carruthers quickly rejoined the rest of their squad in the kitchen.
Brian looked around the room. His men were obviously exhausted, except for the fresh faced newcomer of course. Every man bore a scruffy face since there had been little time for a proper shave in recent weeks. Brian ran a hand over his own short whiskers and relished the thought of being clean shaven again. Each face looked up at him expectantly, including the elderly Nicolas Beaulieu and his wards. Brian made short work of explaining what the new orders were. He could see Aimee in the corner by the large old fashioned wood stove translating to her grandfather.
"Nous devons installer confortablement nos invites pendant qu'ils sont avec nous, petite-fille," the old man informed Aimee. "Tu leur prepareras un de tes plats les plus fins ce soir."
"Oui, Grand-pere," she agreed.
Brian joined Aimee and she explained that her grandfather wished for her to provide a fine meal for him and his men tonight and see to it they were made comfortable while they were with them. She smiled warmly at the Sergeant.
"I am told I have quite a talent for cooking, Monsieur. I look forward to proving myself tonight."
Brian smiled and nodded. "I'm sure my men and I will be quite satisfied with anything you provide, Miss Beaulieu."
"Aimee. Please call me Aimee."
"Aimee. Yes, well then I'll leave you to it. We have some more business to take care of before we can relax a little."
Brian hurried away to rejoin his men on the other side of the room where they were chowing down on some homemade croissants that the children had brought to them on their great-grandfather's instructions. Brian reflected on how the good food combined with delicious coffee should put his men in a better frame of mind for the tasks ahead. He noticed young Taylor staring at him with a strange intensity as he approached and felt that odd tingle run down his back again. If he had the time he would have tried to analyze it but there were more important things to take care of for now. Brian coughed loudly and got his men's full attention.
"All right men, as I said we are ordered to secure this location and keep a close watch on the main road. Norton, you and Kelly take first watch at the road. I want one of you posted a couple hundred yards up the road at each end. You'll be relieved in a few hours. Our hosts have promised a wonderful meal this evening and we'll have it waiting for you. Samuels, I want you to take Crockett and Smith and check out the rest of the estate. I've been told there are other buildings on the estate and they need to be cleared. Don't leave any hiding places untouched. We don't want any unpleasant surprises after the sun goes down. Carruthers, you take Cowlip and Goldberg and find a good place to bury the Germans. I see no reason to inflict that chore on our hosts. They've had to deal with them enough already. By the way, don't forget to add the two soldiers upstairs to the lists. There is one in both adjoining bedrooms."
Brian didn't need to explain further. His men snapped to, thanking the Beaulieu's as they passed by them to hurry off to do their individual jobs. Brian turned his attention to the new recruit.
"Taylor, I want you to stay behind and help me check out the house. We need to do an inventory of everything the Germans left behind and what will be useful to us. I'm going to debrief Miss Beaulieu here. It seems she speaks fluent German and they were unaware of the fact. They may have said some things that will help us. You start with the upper rooms and work your way down. Make a list of anything that doesn't look like it belongs to the residents and we'll go over it later."
Justin snapped a salute to his Sergeant and quickly headed upstairs. He ran into Cowlip and Goldberg upstairs as each were gathering up their dead soldier from the rooms the men had taken their last breath in. Cowlip carried the body of the man Justin had brought down with the single shot. He patted the young newbie on the shoulder as he passed him and muttered "Damn fine shooting kid," before carrying the body down the back stairs. He was followed close behind by Goldberg who couldn't help noticing that his soldier had the hole in his back, not the front. Not his place to ask why, he decided quickly and then followed Cowlip down the stairs to join Carruthers at the barn.
Justin entered the room that Goldberg had just exited and noticed right away that it belonged to a young lady. It was a beautiful room filled with white lace, frilly curtains and girly touches. The vanity table boasted several bottles of French perfumes and a beautiful antique brush and comb. The only discordant note in the room was the red stain on the lovely pale blue throw rug. If not for that, the room could only be called enchanting. Justin's mind wandered when he saw the large four poster bed standing against the far wall. For some reason he could see his Sergeant snuggled with the lovely Mademoiselle in the center of the bed and he shook his head hard to dislodge the image. It dawned on him that this war was going to be a lot harder on him if he didn't stop having these thoughts about a man who was a virtual stranger to him, not to mention his superior officer.
"Get a grip, Taylor," he muttered out loud and then jumped a mile in the air when he heard a voice directly behind him.
"What did you say?" came Brian's question as he approached silently behind his newest recruit.
Justin was momentarily too embarrassed to respond, but gathered his wits about himself quickly as he answered, "nothing, Sir. I was just about to check for any out of place items in the room. Outside of the ugly stain on the carpet and the pistol next to the bed, I don't see anything odd at first glance."
"Okay, Private. I'll check on the next floor. Meet me in the kitchen when you finish your inspection."
"Yes, sir," Justin replied, giving a crisp salute.
When Brian left the room, Justin sighed deeply. What the hell was it about the man that kept making him feel so nonplussed and awkward every time they were anywhere near each other. He kept having the feeling they'd known each other in another time and place, but that was crazy. He wasn't likely to forget knowing a man like that so the idea was ridiculous. Justin reminded himself that he had more important things to do than figure out why he felt so rattled by his Sergeant. He got to it and hurriedly checked out each and every room on the floor.
Brian's men knew their job and by the time delicious odors began emanating from the large kitchen at the back of the house, every man had completed his work and returned to report in except for Norton and Kelly who sat hidden at separate ends of the road with eagle eyes watching for trouble. They waited patiently for their relief so that they could have the first decent meal they'd experienced in a long time.
Back in the huge parlor of the estate house, Brian had gathered his men and gone over the schedule for lookouts. Samuels, Crockett, and Smith reported that a sweep of the out buildings of the estate revealed nothing untoward and a thorough fanning out through the fields that surrounded the estate revealed no hidden hideaways. It was almost comical how the men's bellies rumbled continuously thanks to the tantalizing smells that seemed to fill the house. Many of the men reflected on memories of home and their mother's or wives kitchens that offered up meals that they longed to taste again. All they wanted was to see this stinking war end so that they could have that home cooked meal they dreamed of once more, but in the meantime they were more than willing to partake of a little French fare.
It wasn't often that the men felt they could relax a little and this comfortable house that had not seen much of the ravages of the war made them talkative. Once the business end of their visit at the estate was complete, Brian dropped his commanding officer facade just a tiny bit and joined in as the men began discussing their lives back home and what they planned on doing once things got back to normal. Most of the men had wives and girlfriends waiting for them. Since their English speaking hostess was tied up in the kitchen and the other members of the family could not speak English, the men felt free to describe in detail what their women would receive once they got back home. Brian was careful to respond correctly at the appropriate times, but made no mention of his own personal longings which differed in one major way from theirs. He had told his men once that he had been badly hurt by someone and didn't wish to relive it. No one had ever asked him any more questions after that. They respected his right to avoid talking about the 'girl' who had done him wrong.
Brian had quietly noticed that young Taylor had joined in on much of the discussion and was obviously being accepted quite well. He had proven his worth today and the men respected that, but when the conversation turned to loved ones he had gone silent. Brian watched his face from across the room. There was a sadness in the young man's eyes and Brian wondered if he had actually been hurt by someone in the same way that Brian had faked a story about. For some odd reason it bothered Brian that someone could hurt this kid like that. Samuels was just in the middle of telling how much he longed to feel his wife's body inside his arms again when Justin looked up suddenly and caught Brian's eyes. It was almost like a blow to the stomach. Brian saw naked desire in Justin's eyes, but strangely the longing seemed to be directed at him. Before Brian could fully register the idea, Justin lowered his head again and the feeling vanished.
Brian sat in a state of shock. Did he imagine what he'd just felt? Was it possible that in this whole stinking war, and with all the hundreds of thousands of soldiers involved, he'd managed to get assigned the one young man to his tiny squad who was like him? He knew damned good and well that there were plenty of gay soldiers, but they kept it carefully under wraps unless they were off duty and in a pretty safe environment. Brian had never sensed that there was another in his own squad or even entire platoon before. If it was true, and young Justin was indeed one of his own kind, Brian knew he couldn't just indulge in some harmless fun like he would have done in an instant back home. One wrong move could get himself or Justin in more trouble than they could deal with, especially now when their lives were already at risk every minute of the day and night.
The thought that Justin might actually want him began growing in Brian's brain and quickly transferred itself to his lower regions. When Aimee entered the Parlor to announce that dinner was ready, Brian rose carefully while using his helmet to shield his crotch which had grown painfully tight in his khaki's. As Brian followed his men out of the room, he couldn't help wondering if there was any way he could satisfy both of his hungers at this temporary place of refuge from the ugliness that swirled around them outside the house. But first, he would have to make damned sure his instincts had been right about Private Taylor. A wrong move there could spell the end of Sergeant Kinney once and for all.
To be continued......................