Disclaimer.

As much as I'd like it to be so, these characters don't belong to me, but to Combat! and Selmur Productions, ABC, and Image Productions. I get no monetary compensation for my work.


Dear Readers, please keep in mind that this chapter is from Eleanora's point of view, except from one very brief moment where Hanley creeps in.


Shut down

She saw two vehicles far ahead. There they were. She hoped. Surely the krauts didn't drive jeeps. She slowed down, then came to a stop, still at a reasonably safe distance away. She watched as the two maneuvered to block the narrow lane. If they had been enemy vehicles, they would have opened fire and asked questions later, she thought.

Confidence restored, she drove up to them. Ah, so there was Lieutenant Hanley. And his sidekick, Saunders.

Barely civil, Hanley wanted to know what the blazes she was doing here.

Dammit, it should be obvious. Following up the lead from Jacques, of course. But she kept her reply courteous.

Then, an impertinent PFC had the nerve to insinuate that she had stolen the jeep. The same man who facilely moved between French and English and served as the lieutenant's interpreter.

She didn't deign to respond. She had the letter from the general. That was all the permission she needed.

The dialogue between her and the lieutenant absolutely sizzled. Not in a good way. It was more like a monologue. Pretty much all him yelling and her listening. Gad, that man was infuriating, she thought.

She bet he wouldn't have been so caustic to a male reporter, but she wouldn't say that. He was mad enough as it was. No doubt Hanley would have let a man take his chances on getting shot, assuming the SS was still in town. She could barely keep her own temper in check as he layered insults upon injuries. He finished off with a threat to arrest her.

Hanley paused for breath, and, she thought, to see if she was cowering yet. She recognized an angry and scornful male when she saw one. The only thing that usually worked on that sort was to appear submissive. Not that she was, but she needed to defuse the situation.

Finally able to get a word in edgewise, she did her best to sound reasonable and persuasive. Fat lot of good it did her. Calmly, she agreed to stay right where she was. "If I can go in and see it as soon as you're done."

That sounded pretty good, she thought. Considered, patient, conciliatory.

To her mind, she had conceded a great deal.

Now if that blustering lieutenant would only give just a little ground. Of course, she acknowledged to herself, she was really at Hanley's mercy, but she couldn't show it.

With a mental shrug of her shoulders, she waited. Not that she could have actually gone on, if Hanley really wanted to prevent her. She wouldn't put it past him to order one of his men to shoot out a couple of tires, or at the minimum, take the distributor cap or pull a wire or two.

If he took her up on her offer, she would stay there, at least for a good thirty minutes. Captain Smith and the other two correspondents would not have caught up to her by then, although it would be close. She was sure that as soon as she didn't show up for breakfast, the good captain would have gone looking for her.

It wasn't the lieutenant that replied, but Saunders. Already humiliated and thoroughly lectured by Hanley, the sergeant's words ripped her apart. The words were innocuous enough. A promise to take her on a personally guided tour. But, my God, how he spit those words at her. They burned into her soul. She felt as if he had stripped her bare and stabbed her through the heart.

So much for her fa├žade that she so carefully built up over her years in the journalism business. The one she hid behind when the words or sights were almost too much to bear as a person. The one that every reporter had; otherwise, it could be too hard to do their job.

She blanched. She knew a shocked look was on her face. At least her mouth hadn't dropped open. Then color flooded her face and her ear tips burned as the blood rushed back. She felt angry tears trying to form behind her eyes, but she clamped down on them. They could be construed as a sign of weakness. Later, maybe, when no one was there to watch and torment her about being a weak girl, she'd cut loose with a few well-chosen words and give vent to all the emotions she kept carefully cloistered away. But for now, absolutely not. She'd be damned before she gave either of them the satisfaction of knowing how deeply those words cut.

Hanley stared at her and she stared right back.

No give on her part that he could tell; her hide must be thicker than an elephant's. He waited a bit longer for a rebuttal. None came, but he could see color now burning her cheeks.

Satisfied that he had finally managed to shut that infernal woman down and put her in her place, Hanley gave the sign for his small and undermanned convoy to proceed. Sure, Saunders added the scalding words that stopped her cold; maybe a little harshly said, but it did the trick. It really stopped her in her tracks, and got her out of his hair.

He, Hanley, had more pressing business at hand than to escort some correspondent around or detail one of his men as a bodyguard and minder. And out of sight, out of mind, he dismissed her as another problem solved.

She watched as Hanley and company drove on ahead. She would have laid money on someone keeping a pair of binoculars trained on her until they couldn't see her any longer.

And she, she was as still as a statue until they disappeared over the horizon. She'd given her word she'd wait there. She just hadn't said how long she'd wait.

Equally important, she wasn't going to move one muscle, not even to flick that pesky fly away from her face. That motion could be misinterpreted as her wiping away tears and she didn't want the lieutenant to think he had reduced her to tears. At least when he'd stared at her waiting for a comeback, or for tears, she'd not given him either. And he blinked first.

Yes, she'd wait, but not forever. She'd also made a promise to Jacques. She'd just have to see how things played out. Would Saunders actually come back and get her or would she wait for those thirty minutes and then creep on towards Trois Anges?

As far as she was concerned, with those last words that were thrown her way and that self-satisfied look on Hanley's face as he tried to stare her down, that canceled her concession to remain "right here."