The Dirty Dozen: To The Last Gasp

The Dirty Dozen: To the Last Gasp

This is a three book epic, soapy, Danko heavy series that deals with his final missions, him falling in love and then life after the war.

Warning: It’s teenage, wrote what I wanted to and be damned the cliches fiction. I’m sure some of the military stuff isn’t right and probably the medical stuff isn’t right but instead of getting bogged down in details, I just wanted to tell a good story.

Writing this has helped me renew my love of fan fiction because I decided to just let it all pour out on the page without boundaries. I hope that you like it as much as I liked writing it.

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To the Last Gasp

Master, go on, and I will follow thee

To the last gasp, with truth and loyalty

–As You Like It.

Book One: Honor

He couldn’t remember the kid’s name. That was the last thought that went through Danko’s mind before the world exploded in front of his face.

He knew the boy was from the south somewhere. Georgia, maybe or Tennessee. He had a terrible twang that the other men had mocked mercilessly for a full week. Then they parachuted into occupied France, took out a German airstrip together and instantly, he was one of the boys. One of the dirty dozen, replacing Martin before him, and Dennison before that.

Danko could pick out the original members in the dark, Feke, Leeds, Lebec, Vern and Sgt. Cutter, but these new kids were all starting to look alike. All too young. All too naïve. All too dead.

He thought this one was named Jackson, or Jefferson, or one of those Presidents. He hadn’t decided which one when bomb exploded. If he’d had the ability to think after that, he would have chastised himself for going back in. He knew there wasn’t enough time and yet he thought he had enough to grab the kid and get out.

He was wrong.

The explosion threw him back against the wall and knocked the breath out of his lungs. Survival instincts made his body try to recapture what it lost which was a good thing, because his brain couldn’t get past the total wash of pain that covered him like a blanket. He might have slipped into unconsciousness because the next thing he knew, he was being dragged down the hallway, by friend or foe, he didn’t know.

Danko tried to open his eyes, to see how much trouble he was in, but his eyelids felt like they were glued shut and then he felt the burn, in his face, in his head.

Sound and smoke made everything worse. Boots thumping against the floor, shouting, German. Lots of German. Shit. Really fouled this one up, Danko.

The hands came away and he hit the floor. A knee pressed him flat down on his stomach, then his wrists were tied behind him, then his ankles were secured and a connecting rope passed between them. Hog-tied. Which meant they couldn’t spare a man to guard him or they thought he was a lot more dangerous than he was.

He struggled for a moment with the ropes, found little play and then claustrophobia overwhelmed him and suddenly he couldn’t breathe.

That was panic. There was nothing constricting his chest. No reason he couldn’t take a full breath, but his brain and his lungs couldn’t come to an agreement on that. Danko turned his attention inward, willing his heart to slow and his lungs to fill. Focus. Don’t thrash around. Just relax and focus.

After a few moments, years of military training kicked in and he regained control of his body. Couple of deep breaths, stop fighting the bonds. Even if you get loose, you can’t see, so don’t get ahead of yourself.

The deep breaths helped knock the fog out of his brain but it did little to alleviate the pain in his eyes. It was as if a sheet of sandpaper had been inserted between his eyelids and his eye balls. Every attempt to open his eyes hurt worse than the one before it. Like he was doing more damage with each blink.

Not that all hope was lost. Orders notwithstanding, he knew his men would mount a rescue mission. Just had to hold out until then.

He thought about the southern private, Jackson. That was it. Arnold Jackson from Nashville, Tennessee. He saw the kid take a dozen rounds in the chest. Just seconds before, he’d pulled the pin on a grenade, so when he went down he took out the Gerry who shot him and a couple more who were heading Danko’s way.

Danko vaguely recalled getting off a few shots of his own before the explosion but he wasn’t sure if they’d accomplished their mission. If so, there’d be a plane waiting to take the dozen back to London tonight. Part of him wished they’d all get on it and part of him hoped they’d disobey orders and come back.

The hope that it would be soon faded along with the German voices. The lack of shouting meant they had the situation under control. Danko tensed when he heard booted footsteps coming toward him again, then a thud, followed by a heart-wrenching groan. Knowing he shouldn’t, Danko forced open his eyes but all he could see was the vague shape of a body on the floor. Other shapes hovered over him then left.

Another prisoner. One of his own dozen. “Who are you?” Danko was surprised by the lack of power in his own voice. Gravelly, too, from the smoke and the dust.

The only response to his question was a long series of painful moans and gasps for breath.

Danko spat out a curse then furiously fought with the ropes that kept him from helping his fallen comrade. It was a useless exercise but it did it anyway, burning off the layers of fear and anger and frustration.

“Oh my god.”

The voice startled him, first because he hadn’t heard anyone approach, and second because it belonged to a woman. The scent of a woman followed as she stooped down beside him. A gentle hand touched his face but he didn’t allow himself to accept or enjoy this small bit of comfort.

“My man, how bad is he?”

She moved away from him and this time he listened for the sound of her heels on the floor. Nothing. She moved soundlessly and he wondered if she was a ghost. Maybe he was dead and this was the first level of hell.

“It’s bad,” she said. “There’s so much blood I can’t even tell where the wounds are.”

The soldier screamed and she begged him to forgive her.  She must have tried to stop the bleeding with pressure, painful but necessary.

“I can’t see. My eyes. . . tell me his name.” Danko held his breath and waited for the worst. Who could it be? Not Vern or Malloy, they were stationed outside the building for cover fire. Leeds was inside working the safe, Lebec covering him. But this was just one man, not two.

There was more moaning accompanied by the jangle of dog tags.

“Goldman,” she said. “Samuel L. Goldman, Private.”

Not one of the original dozen. That was a relief but he hated himself for feeling that way. All of his men were human beings, sons and brothers. They all deserved to live and not one deserved to bleed out on a cold, hard floor. Especially without someone to hold on to while he slipped away.

“If there’s anything you can do for him. . . ” Danko said fully aware that he was asking a German to care for a Jew. “He’s just a kid.”

The woman didn’t respond right away and Danko thought he might have over-estimated the depth of her compassion.

When she did finally answer, her voice was choked with emotion. “I wish there was something I could do, but even if I could get a medic to work on him, we’d just be prolonging his pain. The best thing I can do for him is let him bleed.”

Coming from the enemy, that should have sounded like a callous threat, but Danko could hear the regret in her voice. When she began reciting the Lord’s Prayer he realized what he’d been missing. She was speaking English. And not broken English with a German accent, either. She sounded slightly British but not quite. The giveaway was when she ended the prayer men with word amen. She pronounced it with a long A sound, not an ah sound.

“You’re an American?”

“Yes. Virginia born and bred. I was going to school in London when the war broke out and –” She stopped at the sounded of booted feet coming their way.

A solider marched into the room and filled the air with mile-a-minute German. Danko didn’t understand the words but he understood the tone. The man was upset, rattled. The woman responded in German with a sharpness and force that surprised him. She was an American, a female, and yet the soldier took what she dished out and left without question. He couldn’t figure it.

“You and your men did a lot of damage,” she said when the soldier was gone.  “Three dead, six injured, and the radar room destroyed. And I don’t know how many men you came in with but they only found one body.”

Which meant nine had escaped to fight another day. Danko tried to open his eyes again, really wanting to see his strange benefactor, but his lids refused to budge and that scared the shit out of him.

“It’s what they pay me for.” Danko barely got the sentence put before his body said enough already. He wanted to collapse. He wanted to stretch and he couldn’t do either, not tied as he was. He thought about asking her to cut the connecting rope so he could at least stretch his legs but he was afraid it would be one favor too many and he didn’t want her to leave just yet.

When the dust settled there’d be hell to pay and he was going to be smack in the middle of it. A captured American, the Lieutenant who led a daring middle-of-the-night raid. . . death would not be swift.  Captain Mueller, the commander of the garrison, would have questions and he was going to demand answers.

Goldman might be the lucky one, dying before he could be questioned by the SS.

It was cold on the floor. . . . And suddenly her hands were wrapped around his neck.

He fought her as best he could with his strength gone and his hands bound.

“Danko, stop. I’m trying to help you.”

She knew his name. How? Had he told her? No. Dog tags, he could feel them hanging loose outside his shirt.

Damn, he was confused.

She slipped her hand under his neck, lifted, then set his head back down on a stiff bolster. He was on his back, bound hands beneath him but he wasn’t hog-tied anymore.

Lord, he had lost time. How much? Long enough to mount a rescue mission?

“I’m going to irrigate your eyes. Keep your head still.”

“Don’t worry about me. Take care of Goldman.”

She paused then said softly, “I’m sorry. He’s gone. Now, hold still.” She poured tepid water over his eyes, but still it felt cool against his burned skin.

“You have a name?”

“Olivia.” She used two fingers to manually open the lid and it felt like someone was sticking pins in his eyes. Let the torture begin.

“Almost done.” She washed out his other eye, then laid a gaze pad over each closed lid. When she started wrapping gauze around his head, the panic returned full force. Rationally, he knew it was necessary. Any eye movement could cause permanent damage, but still, the process made his heart skip a beat.

Until the bandages came off, he’d be blind. In the hands of the enemy and blind. Could it get any worse? Shit, don’t even think that, he swore to himself. Because it could. It could get so much worse.

Continue to Book One: Part Two

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