dissabte, 30 de juliol de 2016

The three Yanks were rushed out upon the parade ground at the Italian base. Two squads of shouting Italian soldiers escorted them. They burst upon a scene of confusion and excitement. Stan looked across the grounds toward the runways. Suddenly he burst out laughing and poked Allison in the ribs. "Look! His Nibs is deserting us!" General Bolero was leading his staff toward a parked plane. For a big fat man he was making fast time. His cape floated out behind him and he had lost his jaunty cap. His officers were loaded down with brief cases, files, and bundles of papers. The general was a full ten paces ahead of them. "I'd call that a rout," Allison shouted. "I think our outfits must be closing in. We'll have to do some stalling," Stan shouted. O'Malley was already stalling. Four men were pushing him along, and he was beginning[Pg 53] to show signs of temper. Stan tried to get close enough to shout a warning to him. He did not want O'Malley to start a riot at that moment. The Italians were evacuating the base in every sort of machine they had. Cars roared across the field, men pedaled by on bicycles, trucks lumbered past, and a whippet tank snorted as it rolled past dragging a field gun. Men on foot rushed in every direction. Stan stumbled and went down, managing to trip two soldiers. Instantly a dozen Italians were upon him, tugging at him, waving their rifles and shouting. O'Malley took this as a signal to go into action. He swung hard on the chin of an officer standing beside him. The surprised officer went down like a felled beef. With a yell O'Malley waded in, swinging at soldiers as they piled in on him. Many bloody noses and black eyes developed in a hurry, but O'Malley was swarmed under by the weight of sheer numbers. He went down yelling like a Comanche Indian and swinging like Joe Louis. Stan struggled to his feet and held up his hands. He realized the uselessness of fighting against such odds. The melee O'Malley had caused had drawn almost a company of Italians[Pg 54] to the spot. Allison had managed to stay on his feet, but he had suffered from rough handling along with Stan and O'Malley. His uniform, which was wet and sagging, had been torn in a dozen places. "Go quietly!" an Italian officer bellowed. He had just arrived on the scene. "Go quietly or you will be sorry!" "We're going, call off your dogs!" Stan shouted. The officer shouted orders in Italian and soon restored a semblance of order. Allison called across to Stan. "Have a look above, and you'll see what all the excitement is about." Stan looked into the sky and caught his breath. The paratroopers were coming. Low over the hilly country a fleet of transports and gliders swept in from the sea. They swept along in perfect formation like giant birds seeking a tree to light upon. Above them fighter planes wove in and out, while on either side fighter-bombers roared along. It was a beautiful sight. Suddenly the Yank air soldiers began to pile out. The sky blossomed with colored parachutes[Pg 55] until the blue was thickly dotted with them like a field crowded with spring flowers. They came floating down with machine guns and supply hassocks dangling from their chutes. On a slope above the field a glider nosed in. It slid to a halt and a jeep bounded out of its fat, rounded snout. Another glider slid in and a tank rolled out of it almost before it had slid to a halt. The slope above them was already swarming with Yanks, and machine guns were rattling. Stan looked around desperately. They were being rushed toward a big truck. He made one last attempt to slow down their retreat. Shaking off the men who held him, he ducked his head and hit the line of soldiers like a blocking back clearing a path for a ball carrier. Two Italians went down, one under a straight, stiff arm and the other from a solid body-block. Then a soldier clipped Stan across the head with the butt of his rifle. Stan went down on his face and lay still. O'Malley had started his fight again, but this time the Italians were not wasting precious minutes. O'Malley got a rap such as the one that had felled Stan. Allison went down under[Pg 56] a pile of soldiers. Two minutes later the three Yanks, out cold, were dumped into the truck and it was rumbling away along a paved road. A few minutes later Stan groaned and opened his eyes. The truck was so packed with soldiers that he was forced to sit up, even though he had been out limp and cold. His head throbbed and felt twice its normal size. Turning it a little he could look out over the side of the truck. They were rolling along a winding road, climbing in low gear. Looking back Stan saw the battlefield they had just left. The Yank airborne troops had swarmed onto the airfield. Already two big Yank planes had landed and men were spilling out to take over the field. With a groan Stan looked up. Twisting his head caused pains to shoot up and down his neck. He saw that the paratroopers were still coming in. A field of white chutes filled the air, while behind them dropped the varicolored chutes carrying equipment and ammunition. Gliders were casting off their toggle hooks and swooping earthward. Equipped with tommy-guns, folding rifles, mortars, folding bicycles, bazookas and light artillery, the air soldiers swarmed down.[Pg 57] Suddenly excited shouts from the Italians in the truck made Stan look up again. A fighter-bomber was roaring down toward the truck. Stan saw that there were three trucks in the group and that they were closely bunched, an ideal target for the diving Yank. Grimly he watched the hundred-pound egg slide free as the bomber lifted and zoomed upward. The deadly missile seemed to hang in the air for a moment, though it grew bigger and bigger every second. It appeared to be aimed straight at the last truck in line, which was their transport. Stan looked about for Allison and O'Malley. His pals were standing against the side of the truck, wedged in by soldiers. They both looked weak and shaken. O'Malley was almost without clothes. Then the bomb hit. It landed in a bank just behind the truck. A great upheaval of earth and rocks lifted into the air and showered over the truck. One rear tire exploded with a bang and the truck began to wobble and jolt as it swayed along. Then they broke over the top of the ridge and went careening down a steep slope. Five minutes later they had reached cover in an avenue of trees. But the Italians did not halt for repairs.[Pg 58] They wanted to put as many miles as possible between them and the Yank air army before their gas ran out. An hour later the truck limped into another airfield which had not been attacked. It was tucked away in a circle of hills with wooded slopes reaching down to a little valley. Here they found they had overtaken General Bolero. He was out on the field rushing about, shouting orders and apparently getting ready to take off again. His staff was trailing him about, with their bundles and brief cases and files. Stan and his pals were rushed into a small barracks room. The junior officer who spoke English had charge of them, backed by a dozen guards. "We will supply you with clothing," he said, casting his eye over their ragged uniforms. The clothing turned out to be blue shirts and bright green dungaree overalls. O'Malley glared at the officer. Stan grinned as he slipped into his outfit. "It would save you a lot of trouble if you just turned us loose," he suggested. "You will not escape. You will be sent to[Pg 59] Italy." The officer matched O'Malley's glare. "Sicily can never be taken. Our infallible leader Mussolini has said Sicily can never be taken." He waved his hands excitedly. "Your forces will be driven into the sea." "I'll bet you a bottle of your finest wine that half of the island is already taken," Stan answered. "I say, why don't you kick the Germans out and help us along?" Allison asked. He felt he might touch a sore spot in mentioning the Germans. The shot hit home. A flush spread over the face of the officer. "The Nazi dogs," he snapped. "We will deal with them after we have used them to help us." "Sure, an' they'll treat you like they did the Poles," O'Malley said. "An' it will serve you right well, you spalpeens." "We'd like to stop over here and rest a bit," Stan cut in. "We realize you treated us roughly because we made you a lot of trouble. We'll give you our parole. There'll be no more rough stuff." "You talkin' fer me?" O'Malley growled.[Pg 60] "I am," Stan said and gave O'Malley a hard look. "We'll see that you're a nice, well-behaved boy." "Agreed," Allison said, catching Stan's idea that he was playing for time. Even if they gave their parole it would not prevent their being captured by the Yanks. The officer smiled knowingly. "You would like to stay here. You think your air troops will take over this field. No, we will not be so foolish. You leave for Italy in one hour." He turned and marched out, after giving orders to the guards. "That's that," Stan said. "But we still have a chance. He didn't accept our parole." "They ought to be usin' their men to fight an' not be after keepin' a whole company here as guards," O'Malley grumbled. "After the show you put on, they need a company," Stan snapped. "If we'd been good boys, they might have left us with a couple of guards." "Who started the fuss?" O'Malley demanded. "I stumbled, but that was just to slow down[Pg 61] the procession," Stan answered. "I'll admit it was a mistake." "We'd better be doing some heavy thinking," Allison warned. "If we don't we'll spend the rest of this campaign in a prison camp." There was no time for thinking and very little chance to talk. The Yanks were hustled out to the runways and loaded into a shaky and battered Fiat 20, two-engine bomber. They were escorted by the two squads of guards who stood around with rifles at ready until the plane started down the runway. Stan was squeezed in between O'Malley and Allison. The space inside the bomber was very limited, for it was not intended as a passenger plane. Besides the pilot and copilot, two men armed with pistols sat in the cramped quarters. The Italians had very thoughtfully provided their prisoners with parachutes. One of the guards spoke English and was not unwilling to talk. Stan singled him out at once. "I have been in America," the guard said in a friendly fashion. "What city?" Stan asked. "New York. I stay one year."[Pg 62] "Didn't you like it?" Stan asked with a grin. "Sure, it was much good. I come back for my brother and then there is war. I must stay." The soldier shook his head sadly. "After the war you'll be going back?" Stan asked. "Sure. It is a fine place to live, New York. I make plenty money, got friends." The soldier smiled. "I will see you then." Stan laughed. "You sure will." His eyes were on the back of the pilot's neck. If O'Malley reached out he could touch the man flying the plane. Stan bent forward, at the same time signaling O'Malley with his knee in short and long taps. O'Malley finally woke up and answered the Morse SOS. As Stan talked to the soldier he also telegraphed to O'Malley and later to Allison. What Stan suggested was that they get control of the two pistols. The friendly soldier was bending closer. Stan would offer to show him some pictures from America that he had in his wallet. He would get the man off guard and when he had a chance would grab his pistol and push him over into the cramped back part[Pg 63] of the ship. O'Malley and Allison would have to get the other pistol. "I think I have some pictures you may recognize," Stan said. He fished out a wallet which the Italians had not taken from him. Opening it he pulled out several snapshots of planes he had piloted at one time or another, but he held them so that the soldier had to bend forward. The guard leaned over almost against Stan. Like a flash Stan's hand shot out and he had the pistol. He lunged forward at the same instant, planting his head in the guard's chest. The soldier went over his stool and landed in a cramped position in the narrow waist of the plane. O'Malley had leaped the instant Stan's hand shot out. Allison did a good imitation of an American tackle. The second guard lost his gun but put up a tussle. Stan wedged past the struggling men and jammed the pistol barrel into the neck of the pilot. "We'll take over now," he snapped. The pilot cringed forward while the copilot turned about

Italy has surrendered!" he announced. "You are free men!"
Before the Yanks could reply, Arno and Tony rushed in. They were very excited.
"This is the hour we have waited for," Tony shouted. "Now we will drive out the Black Shirt Fascisti and the Germans." The younger brothers embraced each other and danced up and down. Lorenzo smilingly watched them. Slowly he turned to the three surprised Yanks.[Pg 99] "My family—we have fought against the big-talking Mussolini. We belong to the society Free Italy."
"Great!" Allison exclaimed.
O'Malley was already headed for the door.
"Wait!" Lorenzo shouted after him. "I must tell you some things."
O'Malley halted and turned toward the door. "Sure, an' all I want is to get back into this fight."
"I am sure you do," Lorenzo said. "And I am going to help you."
"Good," Stan said.
Lorenzo took a fat package from his pocket. It was the package his father had given him. He held it out to Stan.
"Here are the locations of all German bases in Italy, the positions of batteries, the supply routes used, and all the military maps you will need. This is very important information."

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