The Good Shepherd
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by Jardonn Smith
Category: Gay Fiction/Erotica
Description: Making love inside a Nazi POW camp is impossible. Falling in love is not, but death by slow starvation is a grim proposition, so when two U.S. airmen prisoners see their chance for escape they take it. Success will require much courage and faith in each other, plus a little help from an unexpected guide.
eBook Publisher: MLR Press, LLC,
eBookwise Release Date: January 2012
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [77 KB]
Reading time: 42-60 min.
You belong to me, Harold Tripp, and you are beautiful.
On the day Harold's plane went down, Lady howled all night long. Made sense. Animal sense, you know, like when all the beasts ran for the hills hours before the Indian Ocean tsunami crashed ashore.
Lady was Harold's dog more than mine. He picked her out from a litter of four pups. He named her, and from her puppy years to full-grown, she followed him everywhere. Lady and I got along fine, too, until Harold joined the Air Force and shipped out to Korea. During Harold's tour of duty, Lady had very little to do with me. Kept her distance. Staked herself out a spot in our yard thirty feet from the house where a barbed wire fence bordered our west pasture. At feeding time, she'd stand by the fence watching me while I filled her bowl on the back porch. Calling her did no good. Only after I'd gone back inside would she approach the house and eat.
The dog shelter Harold and I built for her sat near our house, but she never used it after Harold left, and so as winter approached I loaded the damned thing into the pickup's bed and moved it out to her spot. Couldn't bear the thought of her shivering in the Illinois cold, and my gesture worked. She slept in her dog house. Crawled inside when she needed to warm herself or get in from the rain, but otherwise most of her time was spent sitting by the fence and looking west, toward Korea and Harold. Understanding her need, feeling it myself, I turned her house so her doorway faced west.
Through the winter of 1950 and most of 1951, I rarely saw Lady. It was almost as though she thought I'd done something to Harold. Taken him away so she could never see him again. I sympathized, because in actuality Harold had taken himself away from me and from her.
After we both returned safely from Europe and our service during World War II, Harold and I enjoyed five years together. Five glorious years, no doubt, but when news broke that the communist north had invaded the south of Korea, I knew he'd be joining in the new fight. Nothing could keep Harold grounded. Not Lady. Not our southern Illinois farm and home. Not me.
Harold Tripp grew up on a farm but was born to soar. After eighty-two missions piloting B-17s over Nazi-occupied territory, all successful save one, Harold itched to be back in the air for a worthy cause. I needed him to be happy. How could I possibly hold him back and expect our love to be the same as before? Doesn't work. Misery of one partner infects the other until hatred consumes both. Besides, Harold and I had both seen our share of misery.
I like to say Harold was my Christmas gift, delivered to me December 15, 1944.
When the Germans dragged Harold into our seventeen-man Stalag barracks, I took notice like never before. In my three-plus months as a prisoner of the Nazis, I'd seen several downed airmen brought in to join us, but Harold affected me differently. Could have been pity more than infatuation. He'd been roughed up pretty good. Lacerations marred his face, hands and arms and purple bruises surrounded his left eye socket.
After his German-guard escort unceremoniously pushed him through the door and slammed it shut, several airmen rushed to his aid. Guided him to his bed, a two-feet-wide plank of wood with a two-inch-thick mattress recently vacated by a man dead from dysentery. They removed his prison-issued shoes. Laid him down. Tucked him under a thin gray blanket of wool, and then the entire gang, all Americans from downed B-17s, surrounded him.
As for me, I stayed out of it. Since my bed was next to his I knew I'd get my chance, and so I listened while sitting at a table in the middle of the room. A free-standing stove sat mounted to the floor a few feet from the table, its carefully-rationed embers of coal radiating minuscule heat.
The men were all in a dither, figuring the SS had tortured him.
"No," he explained. "Townspeople did it."
"Oh." The men's enthusiasm tapered a bit, but they pressed him on. "Where did you come down?"
"Outside of Heme I was told. After we dropped our payload on Dortmund, we took flak and lost our one, two and four engines."
One guy asked, "Could you navigate her at all?"
"Fought her all the way from a hard left spiral. Kept her aloft long enough for my men to bail, and then set her down. Truckload of German citizens were waiting for me before I'd even unstrapped. I came out with my hands up and about five of them yanked me from the doorway and started punching."
"Who saved you?"
"Nobody. They got it out of their system, I guess. Loaded me onto their truck. Delivered me outside the gate here."
"At least you got to ride," one snorted. "Me and my crew marched thirty miles getting here."
Somebody finally got around to asking, "What's your name, buddy?"
"Lieutenant Harold Tripp."
"Where you from?"
Several men introduced themselves. Told of how they became prisoners of the Nazis, and then most of them drifted back to whatever they'd been doing before Harold's arrival. Those who stayed near his bunk bombarded him with information. Procedures. Schedules. Suggestions for avoiding the wrath of our German guards. They told Harold what to expect. What never to hope, and one by one they sauntered away.
"Welcome to Stalag Luft 6J," said the last man while offering his hand. "I'm Jack McCrae, duly-elected barrack rep."
"Pleased to know you," Harold offered his hand for a shake.
"As of now, you are the eight-hundred-forty-seventh man in this camp. Noontime roll call in the yard is two hours forward, so you take it easy for a while. Anything you need, just ask."
As Jack walked away, I strolled to my bed while gazing down at Harold Tripp. His eyes were open, staring at nothing. Arms outside the blanket, hands folded atop his chest.
"Needing a snooze?" I asked, taking a seat on my bed to his left.
"Probably," he sighed, forcing a halfhearted grin. "Doubt if I can, though."
"Yep. I know the feeling. Too much thinking about how things could turn so bad so quick." I stood over him, extended my hand. "Sergeant Frank Jenkins. Turret gunner on the Lucy Lu out of Cheshunt."
His grip, stronger than mine. "Lieutenant Harold Tripp, pilot of the Yankee Pride out of Nuthampstead."
I scrutinized his cut-up face. "Tell you what, Lieutenant Tripp..."
"Harold," he gave me permission.
"Sure, sure. Call me Frank. Are you thirsty?"
"Very," he gingerly drew back his blanket.
"No. You stay put. I'll get it." I dropped to a knee, reached under his bed, pulled out his wash pan with a tin cup, bar of soap, toothpaste and brush, shaving razor, and a towel inside, his one-week supply courtesy of the Red Cross. "I'll be right back," I said with cup in hand. Upon my return, he greedily gulped while I supported the back of his head with my palm. "Want another?"
He wiped his mouth with his fingers. "No, thank you. That will do."
"All right, Harold," I put his cup into the pan and pushed it under. "Try to rest. That's what I'll be doing right here next to you."
"Can do, Frank. Thanks again."
True to my word, I laid down and kept quiet, but only for a minute or two. That's when Harold rolled onto his side and faced me. "Frank?"
"Every man here is skinny as a rail. I'm guessing you didn't come in that way."
"True." I turned onto my side so I could see his reaction to what I had to say. "They're starving us, Harold. Slowly but surely. We get water in the morning. Soup and a chunk of black sawdust bread for supper. We call it that because there's more sawdust in it than flour. Most men don't eat it. Those that do get stomach cramps something awful. Soup is a rutabaga boiled in water. Every now and then we get a potato, but either way each man gets about ten swallows of soup, one tiny piece of vegetable."
"How long have you been here?"
"Since September. I'm guessing I've lost thirty pounds or better. There's no man here who's been in camp more than a year. They're all dead. Dysentery or starvation, take your pick." I waited, taking his silence to mean he wanted to hear more. "Some of the officers and enlisted men who were in bad shape got shipped down to Luft 3 last spring. That's Goring's quality camp for airmen, or so I'm told. The one the Germans show off to the outside world so they'll think all prisoners are in a good place. This camp here is not a good place. I don't even know why it's called a Luft. Only Luftwaffe I've seen is the Commandant. Rest are regular Army or SS." I reached for the corner post of my bed. "See this?"
"Been sawed off. These used to all be triple decker bunks. This was once a forty-eight man barrack, according to Jack."
"You mean the barrack's rep?"
"That's him. He's been here since May, and he said that's when the Germans came in and cut off all the top bunks. Chopped them into firewood for their stoves. Officer's quarters and soldier's barracks."
Harold stared blankly toward the floor, and then locked eyes with mine. "Think the guys here can make it another month or two?"
"Yeah. I heard you telling them our men are in Belgium and the east side of France."
"Some are saying we'll be inside Germany by first of the year."
"Well, I know it's getting rough on the Nazis. Our portions of grub shrink every day. I mean, how desperate are they? Can't even spare a few rutabagas for their prisoners. Tell you something else I've noticed."
"Fewer guards. Like they're taking soldiers out of here to be used somewhere else."
"Maybe east. The Russians are closing in, too."
"Could be. All I know is, if I see a way out of here, I'm running. Hell, before long I'll be too weak to stand. I'd rather take my chances roaming the countryside than to stay here and starve."
"Hmm... I don't know, Frank. This camp might be liberated by New Year's. Can you hold out a few more weeks? No use getting shot when the end is so near."
"Well, Lieutenant, you know more about it than I do, so I'll hang with you for now. All right?"
"Sure, sure. We'll stick together."
Funny how he made it sound like we needed each other on equal terms. After all, I was the three-month veteran of prison life. Of course, that also meant he was stronger than I by three months. Guess it all evened out.