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Kindred Spirits, Distant Hearts. Chapter 32.
By
AnnaMayZing

Kindred Spirits, Distant Hearts. Chapter 32.

“And you, Untersturmführer, had better be damn sure that you have got your facts right..."

Tripoli. October 24th, 1942

 

Katarina and Major Ritter waited patiently whilst Corporal Müller disappeared hurriedly through the door behind him.

“Sir,” Katarina began, more thinking aloud than speaking to her superior officer directly. “Do you think that the men who attacked me could be saying that I broke into their house? They are lying if they did.”

The Major smiled. “Katarina, I have known you long enough to know that both you and Matron Kaufmann are the most honest and bravest women I have ever had the pleasure of working with. We will get to the bottom of this, don't you worry.”

As he spoke the flustered and now worried looking Gefreiter returned, alone.

“I spoke to the Untersturmführer but he wouldn't listen, Sir. He just yelled at me to get out whilst he was interrogating a prisoner.”

Major Ritter's eyes narrowed menacingly and despite his dark, tanned appearance, the corporal paled visibly.

“Your insubordination has been noted, Gefreiter Müller. I am sure that you will find the eastern front a somewhat more challenging theatre.”

The surgeon then walked past the end of the counter and paused. Glaring at the unfortunate policeman he waited until it dawned on Corporal Müller that he was waiting to be taken to the interrogation room.

*

Maria glared back at the arrogant Field Gendarme sitting across the table from her. She leaned forward against the table and spoke directly at him.

“And you, Untersturmführer, had better be damn sure that you have got your facts right because you are looking at a charge of insubordination to a senior officer.” She paused for effect and she noticed his eyelids flicker ever so slightly. She could see that the doubt was setting in. “I don't know what the punishment for that is,” she hissed. “But you can be damned sure it won't be pleasant!”

The Police Lieutenant sat up and leaned back in his chair, never once taking his eyes of Maria. She was right, the doubt was beginning to take a hold.

“So, why don't you tell me what this is all about.” Maria had taken the lead and wasn't going to let this arrogant man get his breath for a second.

He looked at her and his eyes narrowed.

As he opened his mouth, the door to the interrogation room suddenly burst open and crashed loudly against the wall. The handle leaving an indentation in the grubby plaster.

“On your feet, Untersturmführer!”

The hapless policeman immediately jumped to his feet. Rania cowered against Maria who put her arm around her to show she was safe.

“Name!”

“Untersturmführer Harald Langer, Sir!” he shouted, and his right arm shot out straight ahead in the Nazi salute. “Heil Hitler!”

Oberstabsarzt Ritter walked slowly around him, never once taking his eyes away from him until he was directly behind him. Momentarily he looked at Maria, winked and smiled. Maria smiled back and silently nodded.

Once he had completed a full circle around the policeman, he walked a few steps away and, with his hands clasped behind his back, said;

“So, why are you interrogating one of my matrons?”

“Sir! She has been accused...”

“Who! Who has been accused, Untersturmführer?” The surgeon barked, before the policeman had a chance to finish answering.

“Matron Langsdorf, Sir!” came the equally sharp reply.

The surgeon turned on his heel and walked over to the now nervous policeman and stopped, his face almost touching the policeman's ear.

“So why, then are you interrogating Hauptmann Matron Kaufmann? Is she involved too?”

The colour drained from the Lieutenant's face as he realised that Maria could have been telling the truth all along. Nevertheless, he wasn't sure.

“But Sir, that is Matron Langsdorf. She was identified...”

“Identified by whom?” the surgeon said quietly but firmly.

“The local who made the complaint. He said she broke into his house and was taking his daughter away. When he tried to stop her she attacked him.”

The Major straightened up again and looked up at the revolving fan hanging from the ceiling.

“Is this correct, Matron Langsdorf? Did you attack a man and steal his daughter?”

“No, Sir,” Katarina replied. “Rania's parents are both dead. I went to her house to find her some clean clothes and I was attacked by three local men. The older one tried to kill me.”

Langer looked shocked. The matron sitting behind him hadn't said a word and the voice seemed to come from outside the door.

His jaw dropped and his eyes opened wide as Katarina entered, still speaking. He spun around and looked at Maria who sat, stone-faced at the table, looking back at him.

Suddenly, he felt sick. The matron had been right all along. At the very least he could feel the icy air of the Eastern Front creeping up his spine.

Major Ritter once again began to circle, pacing very slowly whilst watching the ceiling fan as he spoke.

“Let me see if I have got this right. Tonight, three local men were arrested by the guards. They were brought here where, to save their own necks, they told you that one of them was the child's father and he had been attacked by one of my matrons whilst kidnapping his daughter. Having described the Matron, my Matron and having been told that her name was Langsdorf, you sent two of your men into the hospital, my hospital who, without a single word to me, arrested Matron Kaufmann because she happened to be with the child. Is that correct, Untersturmführer?”

“Sir, I...”

“I said, is that correct!” The Surgeon shouted so suddenly that the Feldgendarme physically jumped with fright.

“Yes, Herr Oberstabsarzt!” he shouted back. “That is correct!”

“Hmm, good. So, you checked the Matron's papers, of course, and she didn't have them with her. Since she fitted the description you had, she was arrested, correct?”

“Yes, Sir!”

The Surgeon then asked, without taking his eyes from the ceiling fan;

“Matron Kaufmann, where are your identity papers?”

“Right here, Sir,” Maria replied without hesitation and placed her booklet on the table in front of her. “I always carry them with me. It would be foolhardy not to.”

Ritter smiled momentarily.

“Yes,” he said quietly. “Foolhardy indeed.” Slowly, he turned to face the Untersturmführer. “Almost as foolhardy as lying to a senior Wehrmacht officer. Wouldn't you say so, Langer?”

The Policeman swallowed nervously but had the sense to remain silent.

“Now, where are these men now? I sincerely hope you didn't let them go.”

“No, Sir. They are in another room.”

“Good. Take me to them. Matron, bring the child.”

A few metres down the corridor was another room, identical to the one in which Maria had been held. Inside the three Libyans were chattering away and looking rather smug, no doubt thinking that they had convinced the 'stupid Germans' that it was they who had been wronged and had been totally justified in protecting their property.

Major Ritter was the first to enter and they all looked at him and began chattering at once. The Surgeon raised his hand for silence.

He turned to the Gendarme who had followed him in.

“Do you speak Arabic?” he asked.

The officer shook his head. “Not much,” he said.

Major Ritter went back into the corridor.

“Katarina, would you fetch one of the Italian Nurses, please. I believe many of them speak Arabic.”

Katarina nodded and ran quickly back to the main building.

Whilst she was gone, the Surgeon beckoned little Rania to his side. She was reluctant at first but with a little encouragement from Maria, she did as she was bid and, together, they re-entered the room.

Immediately, the leader of the three stood up and began to walk towards the girl. He was speaking in a soothing voice but the only word that anyone could make out was the child's name.

Immediately, the gendarme drew his side-arm and pointed directly at him.

“Sitzen Sie!” he said abruptly and the man stopped but stared uncomprehendingly.

A quick flick of the gun barrel in the direction of the chair he had just left was enough and the big man returned to his seat.

It was obvious from the child's terrified demeanour that something didn't add up. Either her father was a nasty piece of work who frightened her or, he wasn't her father at all.

One of the men was sitting quietly, nursing a bandaged hand but he never once took his eyes off the child.

“What happened to his hand?”

The Untersturmführer shrugged his shoulders. “One of the guards dressed it,” he replied. “His finger is a mess.”

Major Ritter beckoned to Maria to join him and as soon as she entered the room the injured Libyan suddenly became agitated an jumped up, pointing to her and then to his hand shouting unintelligibly.

Rania also began to shout. She looked at Maria and then at the Surgeon.

“No! No Maria, No Katarina!” she said, shaking her head vigorously. “Me! Me do it!”

“What is she talking about, Matron?” the surgeon asked to which Maria had no answer.

“I haven't a clue, Sir. I really haven't.”

Katarina was gone for no more than ten minutes and when she returned with a Libyan orderly, the man was still shouting and gesturing. As soon as Katarina appeared, however, he stopped instantly and stared at her. Open mouthed he studied the two of them with what appeared to be some amount of distress. With his good hand, he rubbed his eyes roughly and then stared again, first at one and then the other. Slowly he sank silently back into his seat, shaking his head in disbelief.

Rania looked at the orderly and as soon as she saw that he could understand her she began chattering away whilst he listened carefully to what she had to say.

When she finally stopped for breath, the orderly looked up and said;

“She say the matron 'ere...” he pointed to Katarina, “went to 'er house to get some clothes where they were attacked by this three men 'ere. She say it was 'er who bit that one's finger because 'e was holding 'er with his hand around 'er mouth. She say that the big one there was trying to 'urt the matron and she was afraid so she stab his leg with the matron's brooch.”

Major Ritter nodded thoughtfully.

“Ask her who these men are.”

After a brief conversation, the orderly stood up.

“She say the big one, 'e is the 'usband of 'er mother's sister. The other she not know.”

The major rubbed his chin and was about to speak when the orderly continued.

“She also say 'e beat 'er Aunt and make 'er do things she not like. She say 'e will do same to 'er if she go with 'im.”

Rania stared up at the surgeon, her dark brown eyes filled with fear.

“Langer, watch these three and don't let them out of this room. Shoot them if they so much as try!”

He turned and left the room, beckoning his matrons to follow. “Bring the child.”

Back in the room in which Maria had originally been held the Major paced back and forth.

Katarina broke the silence.

“Sir, we can't hand her over to them. You know she is telling the truth and I dread to think what he may have done to me if she hadn't acted as she did.”

“Don't worry, Matron. I won't be allowing them near her but the problem is what to do with them and, more importantly, with the child. We can't keep her here.”

“Sir, with all due respect,” Maria argued, “She has been working with us for several months now, ever since Katarina dragged from beneath the crashed truck. She has been an asset to us and she has learned so much. Surely she can stay here. At least until we get to the bottom of her Aunt's situation?”

“I have an idea, Sir,” Katarina offered. “Rania can stay with Maria for a while and in the meantime, Untersturmführer Langer can redeem himself by looking into what Rania has said. After all, that is his department rather than ours.”

Ritter looked at her, pondering the idea.

“Not really, Matron,” she said at length. “The Feldgendarmerie are only here to police our own military. They are not policemen in the true sense of the word.”

“No, I appreciate that, Sir but you have threatened him with the Eastern front. He may be a little more co-operative if he sees that threat lifted?” Whilst Major Ritter considered the implications she added, “And, they have made a fool of him. I think he will want to address that also...”

“All right, agreed. Maria, requisition a some bedding and we will see where this takes us.”

It was all Maria could do to stifle the smile that was forming on her lips. At least, now, it was official and she didn't have to worry about anyone discovering the extra mattress under her bed.

Whilst they discussed the situation, the Italian orderly knocked on the open door.

“I 'ave look at the finger. It is very bad and need attention before it get gangarene.”

Almost as soon as the words left his lips they were startled by the sudden crack of a gunshot and they all ran back to the room where they had left Langer with the Libyans.

The sight that greeted them was a bloody mess. Langer was standing with his back to the wall and his Lüger in his right hand. It was pointing directly at the remaining two Libyans who were cowering in the corner, hands outstretched in front of them.

They were joined immediately by Gefreiter Müller who run in from the front office, his rifle held in front of him.

Maria quickly covered Rania's eyes and led her from the room. The sight of her uncle, lying in a pool of blood with the back of his head just a pulp was not something she would wish a child to see.

“He tried to jump me as soon as the Italian left,” Langer said unapologetically and without emotion.

The surviving pair both began to talk at once, the words seemingly tripping over themselves in their effort to be heard.

“They say it nothing to do with them,” the orderly translated. “They say only 'im to blame.” He nodded towards the body on the floor.

“It looks as though you have some cleaning up to do, Untersturmführer. I want a full report on my desk, first thing tomorrow morning.” Ritter turned to the Gefreiter. “Get two guards to take him to the main building. This orderly will take you to the theatre to see what they can do with his finger.”

The Corporal clicked his heels sharply together.

“Jawohl. Herr Oberstabsarzt!” he barked and quickly turned away to carry out the order.

The Surgeon stood silently for a moment in deep contemplation.

“So, Untersturmführer...” he said eventually. “Your main witness is dead and the other two have put any blame squarely on his shoulders. Make I take it that you have no further reason to detain Matron Kaufmann any longer?”

The Gendarme looked thoroughly miserable and shook his head.

“No, Sir. She is free to go.” He paused. “What about the child?”

“I will take care of that little detail. You concern yourself only with these three. I will leave that in your, ahem, capable hands.”

They walked back to the main building, just the four of them. The Italian orderly stayed back, waiting for the guards to accompany him and his patient.

When they reached the Surgeons office he turned to Maria.

“You are on duty in the morning, aren't you, Matron?” he asked.

“Yes, Sir,” Maria replied.

“Then you had better get some sleep. There is only a few hours left before you are due to take the handovers.”

After she and Rania had left, The surgeon turned to Katarina.

“And what about you? You have had a rather traumatic evening. I am sure that the nurses can manage without you for what is left of this night. You should get some rest too.”

Katarina smiled. “No, I am fine, Sir. I will stay until Maria comes back in the morning.”

“All right, Matron. As you wish. I will bid you goodnight but, one more thing. Please write your report about what has happened tonight.”

“I will, Sir. There is one other thing though. I... that is... we, Maria and I, well... we didn't know that Rania's mother had a sister. Since her husband is now dead perhaps we could look into whether she will have Rania. I am sure that if we give her an allowance for the work Rania does here, she will not be burdened.”

The Surgeon thought for a moment.

“Does she have children of her own?”

“I don't know any more than you do, Sir, but if we could investigate the possibility? Rania is a lovely child and very capable. I would hate for her to lose the opportunities that she has been given thus far.”

“All right, Matron,” Major Ritter agreed. “I will look into it tomorrow. In the meantime, she can remain under the guidance of yourself and Matron Kaufmann.”

As the dawn broke, Maria had not slept at all. She looked down at the restless form of the sleeping child on the mattress beside her bed and wondered what she was dreaming about.

As carefully as she could, she got out of bed and put on her robe then very gently, shook the recumbent child into wakefulness.

They washed and dressed and then went to the mess hall to take breakfast.

As was normal, Katarina met them there.

“You look tired, didn't you sleep?” she asked.

Maria shook her head.

“Not much,” she admitted. “There was too much going on in my head.”

Katarina agreed.

“I am glad to have been working. It allowed me to take my mind off it for a while. What about her?” She indicated the child.

Maria looked at Rania who, totally oblivious, continued to eat the bread and sausage that Maria had put in front of her.

“I think she slept well enough but she was very restless.”

Katarina sipped at her coffee.

“I hate this war,” she said eventually. “Do you think we will survive it?”

Maria stopped, her mug hovering halfway to her lips. Without taking a drink she placed it back onto the table.

“We can't think that way, Katarina. We have to survive. We have a job to do and as difficult as it can be at times, many others depend on us.”

She reached out and took her sister's hand.

“Besides,” she continued with a smile. “We have only just found each other. We have to survive if only to make up for all those years we spent apart!”

 

 

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