Krauts were out there.
Sergeant Chip Saunders, the squad leader, slid his steel helmet back a little so it wouldn’t rasp on the stone wall of the cellar, then pressed against damp masonry to try to see out of what was left of the window. You hear noises, you better look, not just listen. It was a rule Saunders had learned the hard way in the fighting this far into France. Just because they were getting close to Germany didn’t mean the war was over, not by the range of an M1 rifle.
Waving a grimy hand to Caje and Littlejohn to warn them not to move from where they were slumped in the corner behind him, Saunders bellied up to the window. Some trick of the light from the fading sun seeping through the shell-fractured beams roofing the cellar gave Saunders a momentary glimpse of himself reflected in the broken glass of the windowpane. His taut disciplined face looked smudged with fatigue. The endless days and nights of battle action were marked on him, making him look older than his twenty-five years. Thin grooves that he’d never noticed before curved around his month. They gave him a grim expression, like he was going to spit any minute. Saunders dodged the reflection with a voiceless snarl, trying to get a good look out the window.
Now where was Kirby? That no-good fresh-faced kid was supposed to be squad security on this flank of the farmhouse, but you couldn’t see him.
There was the noise again.
A faint click and rattle, like a rock rolling down a slope, sounded outside. Saunders caught up the rifle he carried now in preference to a tommy gun, the smooth wood of the balance reassuring him as he brought the piece up carefully to poke the muzzle through the window. One shot is all I want, he told himself. One shot.
Mentally, out of long habit, he reviewed his squad dispositions. Kirby outside, on the edge of rubble heaped over the cellar if he was where he was supposed to be. Caje and Littlejohn just behind him, here in the cellar. Nelson on his way back to Lieutenant Hanley at the platoon CP to see about getting the ammunition they needed to replace the stuff they’d fired during the day. Brockmeyer spelling Littlejohn on the Browning Automatic Rifle, so Brock was posted to cover the farmhouse road behind them. Doc trying to organize some chow in what was left of the farmhouse pumproom. That was it. The squad. Saunders had been promised replacements for the rest of his men, but he sure wasn’t holding his breath until they showed up.
Krauts were out there.