Taking The Shot
Welcome! This story was actually intended for Christmas Day. Alas, like UPS and FedEx, I'm a bit late with my gift:-)
Enjoy, and Happy New Year!
Christmas Eve, 1943
A thin, almost lopsided sneer curled Major Wolfgang Hochstetter's lips as he stared out the half-open window. The street that lay beyond the wooden frame was blanketed in a layer of white; the snowfall that covered it had tapered off an hour or so ago.
So much the better.
Oddly, he barely noticed the frosty cold that coated his exposed skin. Instead, he flexed his gloved hands several times before he reached over to check on his companion. As usual, it was primed and ready. He lovingly caressed the hard wooden grips of his pistol for a long moment.
My only true friend. A puff of steam escaped his nostrils as he considered the thought. Ironic, isn't it? As a policeman, I have no friends. Only colleagues. There are no women waiting for me at home. An image of Gertrude Burkhalter flitted through his mind's eye before he ruthlessly squashed the errant thought.
And frankly, if they look like that then I'm better off being alone!
I am who I want to be. A protector of the people. Keeping the streets safe from criminals.
Not to mention enemies of the state.
Hochstetter gazed out the window once more. The full moon highlighted the snowy street in a soft bluish glow; if he looked carefully he could almost pick out the window lettering in the shop across the street.
In a few hours it will be Christmas. For the kinder, there will be no war. Although the hour is late, I imagine some of them will still be up playing with their new toys.
How I envy them at times.
His eyes scanned the empty street relentlessly, as if searching for something. Strangely, the icy snow brought a distant - yet decidedly warm - memory to mind.
Father enjoyed telling us stories on a night like this, he remembered. Not about the War of course...but once upon a time he told us about the Christmas truce of 1914. How the soldiers climbed out of their trenches and celebrated with the enemy before they returned to killing each other.
That would never happen today. Total War has been declared; sentimentality like that is out of place in the modern world. To win the war, we must be ruthless!
We must win...
Just then, a narrow shaft of golden light spilled out onto the street as a nearby doorway opened. A tall figure slipped out onto the cold street before the darkness reclaimed its territory. Hochstetter blinked his eyes as his vision readjusted to the pale night.
Oddly, the stranger was appropriately dressed for the environment. A trench coat, solid white, covered the man's body in an almost-natural camouflage. Under normal circumstances he would be just another civilian on his way home.
But I know better. And he should, too.
For a moment, the shadowy figure stood in the twilight darkness. A golden coal - obviously a cigarette - danced in front of the stranger's face before he flicked the cylinder to the ground. Suddenly, the white silhouette moved forward; the icy crunch of snow being crushed beneath shoes tore through the still air. Hochstetter silently watched as the man crossed the street before walking with a deliberate, if not nonchalant, calm down the snowy sidewalk.
If you only knew...
A victorious grimace spread across the Gestapo Major's face as his prey drew near. The pavement was only meters away; if his luck continued to hold the man would pass right in front of him.
And I won't miss. Not this time.
Silently, he raised his pistol and took aim. Ten meters...then eight...then six...
The pistol jumped slightly as he fired an imaginary round at the walking target. He imagined the powerful projectile tearing through his enemy's torso before killing him outright. With a bit of luck he would linger long enough to see his killer...
...but not tonight. He relaxed his grip and lowered the pistol to his side.
Unaware of it all, the man walked on; within minutes he had disappeared into the gloomy darkness. A tinge of regret touched Major Hochstetter's dark heart as he holstered his trusted sidearm.
Perhaps I should have pulled the trigger after all. But then again, there are rules to our little contest. Aren't there?
I want to be there when you're finally exposed for what you are. To savor the look of defeat in your eyes when we stand man to man. To know that your ultimate fate will be in my hands. That's worth a temporary escape. Isn't it?
And maybe...just maybe...I remember the story that my father told me once upon a time. Perhaps I can be the bigger man for once. To show compassion in the midst of war.
For those reasons, I give you the gift of life...temporary though it may be. He raised a hand in an imaginary toast to his unseen adversary and smiled.
Merry Christmas, Colonel Hogan.
A/N: An interesting question: how many times do we unknowingly pass by death while walking on the road of life?
There really was an unofficial Christmas truce in 1914...strange, but true. At one point there was a soccer (football) match between the 'enemies.' The brass on both sides actually had to go around and 'remind' the soldiers they were supposed to be killing each other!
As always, thanks for reading!