Originally published in Remote Control 15, May 2001
Note: this story is set immediately before The Last Ride Raid, by Kathy Agel and LC Wells.
Major Hans Dietrich woke early on the morning after Christmas 1944. Another boring day in captivity stretched out before him.
After the attempt on his life weeks earlier, he’d been moved from the prisoner infirmary at Camp Crowe to the hospital at a neighboring Army base, where he’d been installed in a private room, both for reasons of security and to let the medical staff treat his pneumonia effectively. And in that private room he remained.
Medically, he didn’t need it any longer–he felt well, even considering that he’d been gravely ill. But the isolation was necessary for his safety until his transfer to a different prison camp came through. He’d have been dead within a day if he’d been sent back to Camp Crowe and released into the general prisoner population. Sequestration was necessary, and he knew it all too well. But the isolation and forced inactivity were incredibly boring and stultifying.
Yes, the days were long and boring, but the more Dietrich associated with Americans, the more he realized how kind and generous they were. The camp commander kept him supplied with books from the prison camp’s library, as well as the small newspaper produced in the prison camp, plus others they’d received in exchange, but he’d read all of the books at least once, and the camp papers had one thing in common–they were slanted toward convincing the camp Nazis of the error of their ways–and this wasn’t something he needed to be shown. The nurses and orderlies brought him the local papers and some magazines, and gave him stationery and writing implements, but reading took up only a small part of his day, as did writing letters home to his mother and to his wife. One of the doctors brought him a radio, and he listened eagerly to whatever news and music programs he could find, amazed at the level of information available to American civilians. He’d turned down the offer of a few jigsaw puzzles.
Weeks earlier, after the attack, the former camp commander had stated his intention to transfer Dietrich to a camp in New Jersey, but that had been held up when the doctors pronounced him too ill to be moved. Now that he was healthy, though, he wondered why the transfer was taking so long. Granted, all armies were snarled in red tape, but he thought the Americans were more efficient than this. They certainly fought more efficiently.
Christmas at least had been a welcome break in the routine. The hospital staff had decorated the halls and even the patient rooms during the week prior. The air of anticipation pervading the hospital on Christmas Eve had been palpable, penetrating his enforced solitude. On Christmas Day, a number of the hospital staff had gone through the halls singing Christmas carols. One of the orderlies had dressed as Santa Claus, distributing presents for the patients. For a wonder, there had even been something for Dietrich – a small box of homemade cookies and a sack of hard candy.
The Americans were generous to the POWs – they ate the same food that the American troops ate. The American GIs might complain about the quality of the food they were served – and complain long and hard they did – but the food in the prison camps was the best food Dietrich had eaten in a very long time – if ever. Dinner Christmas night had been special– roast turkey with what the orderly had called ‘the works’– fresh bread, rich gravy, a savory bread and herb stuffing, mashed potatoes, peas and carrots, and an odd jelly-like concoction the orderly had called cranberry sauce. There had even been real ice cream with chocolate sauce for dessert, accompanied by coffee. It was the best meal he’d had in a very long time, and he only wished he could have shared it with his family.
He sighed and started to read yesterday’s paper again.
** ** **
The morning after Christmas dawned clear and cold in Colt’s Neck, New Jersey, but that didn’t stop the people at Diamond Shamrock Farm from completing their appointed tasks. Horses had to be fed, watered, groomed and exercised, checked for potential health problems, stalls had to be cleaned, and all the million-and-one details of life on a Thoroughbred breeding farm had to be tended to, over and over again.
Bridey Cullen was in the broodmare barn, doing her midmorning check on the mares who were in foal, when Barry Dugan, the farm’s part-time stable help, approached her. "Bridey, I don’t know how to tell you this. I mean, I know you’re not gonna want to hear it, but I gotta tell ya, and…."
Bridey sighed. Barry would never use two words when fifteen would do. "Straight out is usually the best approach, Barry," Bridey said without looking away from Playfair. The mare wasn’t due for several weeks, but signs indicated she’d foal sooner than expected. That was worrisome. "Spit it out."
"Well…okay. I enlisted today. I leave for basic training right after New Year’s."
That got her attention. She turned, surprise and dismay evident in her eyes. That Barry’s announcement had taken her aback was more than evident, and she worked hard to school her expression into something less revealing. "You enlisted? Barry, you just graduated high school last week."
"Yeah. In the Marines, just like Joe! I had to, before all the fighting is over! I want to get in on it!" He fidgeted. "I…uh…I’m giving notice. Today’s my last day. I want to spend some time with my family before I go. You understand, right?"
Bridey blinked and tried to act as if Barry’s announcement hadn’t tilted her world on its axis. "Oh, yeah, sure. I understand perfectly. In fact, Barry, you can just pack it in now. Go home to your family. I’ll get your final pay to you before you leave."
"I learned a lot from you and Mike, but I gotta do this, you know?" he asked, his blue eyes earnestly pleading for understanding and acceptance.
She nodded. "Yes, Barry, I know." She gave him a brittle smile. It was the best she could do under the circumstances.
"Wish me luck?"
She nodded. "God keep you safe, Barry."
"Thanks." He took a step toward her, then changed his mind and spun, leaving the stable at a near-run.
Bridey watched him leave. "Merry Christmas, every one," she muttered, then turned back to her work.
** ** **
Captain Charlie Wagner, US Army, was in a good mood as he drove from his duty station, Fort Monmouth, to Diamond Shamrock Farm. Christmas had been a happy time, spent with family and friends. The war was going well, his family was healthy, the POWs he was responsible for were productive and seemed content in their work assignments.
He turned into the long drive that led to the house and stables at Diamond Shamrock. As he drove up the lane, off to his right he spotted a rider on a tall Thoroughbred, galloping through the fields and jumping over the fences that separated the pastures. The rider’s leg and body position were perfect, the hands light and confident. Anyone else would have mistaken the rider for a teenage boy, his slender body moving as one with the big chestnut. Charlie knew better.
Charlie honked as he came abreast of the rider. He received a wave in return, and the rider changed course, paralleling the roadway that led to the house and stables.
Charlie parked his car near the large front porch of the farmhouse, then got out of the car, taking a few strides to ease the ache in his leg.
"Leg bothering you?" came from the front porch.
Charlie turned to see Mike Cullen standing in the front door. "Hey, Mike. It’s okay—it just stiffens up when I’ve been driving too much."
"Been out and about this fine day?" Mike asked as he came out the porch and down the steps to join Charlie. They were a study in contrasts–the compact ex-jockey in his late forties, and the tall Army captain in his mid-twenties, a good head or more taller and young enough to be Mike’s son.
Charlie nodded. "I had some prisoners to check on."
"Did you see Herself?"
"She spotted me as I drove in. She’s on her way up." He paused, puzzled by the expression on Mike’s face. "What’s wrong?"
"Young Barry enlisted. Today’s his last day. In fact, he’s already gone."
"Oh, hell. How’s Bridey taking it?"
Mike shrugged. "About as you’d expect. She took to the saddle to work her frustrations out."
Charlie nodded. "That’s typical. What are you going to do?"
Mike jammed his hands into his coat pockets. "We’ll do what we have to do. She’s out of school until fall. Things will be fairly easy until the foals start coming. Then we’ll both be sleepin’ in the barn. Good thing we only bred a few mares last year."
"This farm still takes a helluva lot of work, Mike," Charlie pointed out.
"Don’t I know it."
"My offer is still open."
"One of your prisoners? Unless they already know horses, it would take more time to train them and keep after them than it would to do the work ourselves. Got any like that?"
Charlie shook his head. "At the moment, no."
"You’ve already checked, I take it?"
"Mike, I’ve been checking backgrounds for the past few months. The best I can do is a former saddlemaker, and he’s already working for the shoemaker."
"He’d be a help were we needin’ any tack repaired."
"I’ll keep looking, Mike," Charlie assured him. "Something will turn up."
Mike shrugged. "What’s meant to be will be."
Charlie looked down at him out of the corner of his eye. "That’s very fatalistic, Mike."
"It’s very Irish, Charlie," Mike said patiently. He looked past Charlie to the barn. "Here comes Herself. I’ll leave the two of you to it," he said, and went back into the house.
Charlie watched Bridey make her way up to the house, her long strides eating up the distance between them. He could tell from the expression on her face that she was not having a good day. "Hi."
She stomped up the steps and leaned a shoulder against one of the porch columns, letting her jumping helmet dangle from its elastic chinstrap. "Hi yourself. Did you hear?"
"Great timing, huh?"
"You know, Bride—"
Bridey held up her hand to stop him. "I know. You’re going to offer me prisoner labor again."
Charlie frowned. "And you’re gonna turn it down again."
"That’s a good bet."
"Think about it, at least," Charlie urged.
"Do you have anyone who can help?"
"Trained horsemen?" Charlie shook his head. "No."
"You know how Pop and I feel. We don’t have the time to train someone. It would take more time to train them than to do it ourselves."
"Then why are we having this conversation?
"Because I’m just as stubborn as you are," Charlie said amiably.
Bridey snorted. "Not by a long shot, you’re not."
"All right–so I’m dopey."
That made her smile. "Well… maybe."
"Like I told your father, something will turn up."
"I’m not holding my breath."
Colonel Harbarce, the officer who’d taken over the administration of Camp Crowe in late November, came to visit Dietrich two days after Christmas. Dietrich went on instant alert. He rose from the chair where he’d been reading. "Colonel?"
"It’s been finalized. You’re going to a camp at Fort Monmouth, in New Jersey. It’s small, but the Nazi contingent is practically non-existent. You leave tomorrow. "
Dietrich inclined his head in acknowledgment.
"Good luck to you, Major." Harbrace extended his hand; Dietrich shook it, then saluted. Harbrace returned the salute smartly, then turned on his heel and left.
Fort Monmouth. The name wasn’t familiar; it wasn’t one of the camps Dietrich had come across in his reading. And New Jersey? All he knew was that it was one of the smaller states, located near New York. He wondered what would become of him once he arrived.
** ** **
After five days on one train or another, Dietrich and his escort, a US Army corporal who was more interested in the women on the trains than in his prisoner, finally arrived in New Jersey late on New Year’s Day, 1945. It was cold, crisp, and clear. The sky was a bright azure blue as he disembarked from the train at Fort Dix.
A young lieutenant escorted him to a holding cell in the stockade. "You’ll be leaving for Fort Monmouth early tomorrow morning, Major. Don’t get too comfortable."
There was no chance of that, Dietrich thought as he looked around the small room. There was a cot, a chair, and a sink–the cell was obviously used for solitary confinement. The cot was small, and though the room was warm enough, it wasn’t exactly his idea of a four-star accommodation. Still, things could have been worse.
He pulled off his boots, lay down on the cot fully clothed, and fell instantly asleep.
** ** **
The next morning he was on another train, heading east, then north. This was a relatively short ride. The train stopped at a station in a town called Freehold, where Dietrich and his guard were met by a large sedan painted US Army olive drab. Then they started on the last leg of the journey.
The ride from the train was brief, and Dietrich didn’t see much of the countryside. What he did see was rural. The four-lane road that led to the base was lined by farms and orchards, their fields fallow, the trees bare. And through the trees and hedges, he spotted a few horses, their coats long and shaggy against the chill of winter. But when they ran, he could see they were fine animals, most likely Thoroughbreds, judging from what he could see of their conformation.
One horse, tall and black, ran along the fenceline that paralleled the thoroughfare, easily keeping pace with the car. The horse, obviously a stallion, reminded Dietrich greatly of Jaeger. He smiled, thinking about his old friend and competition partner–pleasant memories were rare these days, and he sank into this one, remembering the day, a lifetime ago, when an Olympic gold medal had been theirs for the taking. Then he wondered what had become of Jaeger, back in Germany. He hurriedly shut down that line of thought. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
He looked back out the window. Farmland soon gave way to businesses– stores, tack shops, farm and feed centers, offices. Traffic picked up, and Dietrich noticed a good many military vehicles on the road, in both directions. From this, he deduced that they were approaching the camp.
A few minutes later, the car made a turn, passing through the gates of Fort Monmouth. He was taken directly to the infirmary for a complete checkup, top to bottom. It didn’t matter that he had been pronounced fit before he’d even left Camp Crowe–Fort Monmouth wanted his condition on arrival documented and on record. There was no use complaining. It was the way of every bureaucracy.
The doctor was thorough in his exam. Dietrich was poked and prodded, then pronounced fit, if underweight. No surprise there. He’d lost fifteen pounds while fighting pneumonia, weight he could ill afford to lose. The doctor filled out the myriad of forms that every army ran on, then left him alone in the room.
Dietrich slid off the exam table, finished dressing, and walked to the window. From his second-floor vantage point, he could see a large part of the base. Civilians and military personnel alike bustled around, hurrying to one task or another. Jeeps, staff cars, individual trucks and small convoys of different vehicles formed a constant stream, in and out of the gate. And, off in the distance, he could see the guard towers of what he assumed was the prison camp.
From listening to the conversations around him on his journey from Kentucky to New Jersey, he’d been able to determine that this camp, although part of a large and bustling Army base, was a much smaller prison camp than Crowe. He’d deduced that it was a satellite camp, existing mainly to provide labor for the surrounding area. The prisoner population was made up mostly of enlisted men and lower-level non-commissioned officers, plus a very few officers who’d opted for work-release. Dietrich presumed they’d done so to alleviate boredom, as he had in Kentucky.
It was supposedly safe, but Dietrich knew he could reasonably expect another assassination attempt once he was released into the general prison population. He was much stronger now, but he knew he wasn’t anywhere near strong enough to fight off several determined attackers.
A harried-looking sergeant came into the exam room. "Major?"
Dietrich turned. "Yes?"
"Grab your gear and come with me. We’re going to put you up in one of the isolation rooms until the brass can figure out what to do with you."
Dietrich nodded and lifted his bag. The infirmary again. At this rate, he’d be a quasi-patient until the war was over.
The isolation room was sterile, in more ways than one, smelling of disinfectant. There was a bed, a nightstand, and a chair; a folding screen to shield the bed was tucked away in one corner, and there was a sink near the door. The upper half of the door had a glass panel so the staff could easily observe any patient inside without resorting to physical contact.
Dietrich placed his bag beside the chair and sat down to wait.
** ** **
Charlie was deep in the composition of his year-end report on the Fort Monmouth work-release program when his secretary entered his office. "Charlie?"
"Yeah, Betts?" he asked, without looking away from his paperwork.
"Colonel Mitchell wants to see you."
That got his attention. "Now?"
"Uh-huh." Betty Zeglinski came around the desk to see what he was working on. "You expect me to type that?"
Charlie smiled at her. "Yup."
"I can’t even read it. You’ll need to translate it first."
"Don’t I always?"
She took his uniform hat from the hat rack and handed it to him. "Don’t keep the Colonel waiting."
Charlie grinned, took the hat from her, and headed out of the office.
Mitchell’s office was a floor above Charlie’s, and he took the stairs slowly. His leg had been aching more lately, the pain increasing as January turned damp and cold. He gave silent thanks for the former cavalryman-turned-Army surgeon who’d chosen to save his leg instead of amputating it when he’d been wounded in Sicily. The occasional pain was far easier to endure than the absence of a leg.
Charlie pushed the door to Mitchell’s office open. "Colonel? You wanted to see me?"
Colonel Gaines Mitchell looked up from his desk. "Ah, Wagner. Yes. Come in. Sit down."
Charlie closed the door behind him and sat in one of the two leather desk chairs in front of Mitchell’s desk. Mitchell was the new prison camp commander. He was in sole charge of the prison camp, and in matters of camp procedure and discipline, answered directly to Washington, not to Colonel Westover, the commander of Fort Monmouth itself. He was of medium height, stocky, with piercing blue eyes and steel-grey hair; he presented a no-nonsense appearance, which nevertheless hid a ready smile and ribald sense of humor. The left breast of his Eisenhower jacket was filled with campaign ribbons. A cane hanging on the back of his chair told Charlie why he was commanding a desk and not a combat unit.
Mitchell looked up at Charlie briefly, then passed a file across the desk to him. "We’ve got a new prisoner. A transfer from Camp Crowe in Kentucky. He just got in this morning."
Charlie opened the file. A handsome man in his late twenties stared out unsmilingly from a photo stapled to the inner cover. "Troublemaker, sir?"
Mitchell shook his head. "Not in the sense you mean. Some of the Nazis in his last camp didn’t like his attitude."
"Not Nazi enough for them?" Charlie asked as he flipped idly through the material in the file, half of his attention on the folder and half on Mitchell.
"Not Nazi at all." Mitchell frowned. "Apparently, he verified the character of one of our boys who gave testimony against a Kraut officer accused of atrocities against Allied POWs."
Charlie looked up. "That took guts. What kind of testimony?"
"The Krauts were trying to make our guy look like a liar. This major said he wasn’t. "
"How did he know?"
"Apparently they’d cooperated in the past."
"Huh?" Charlie asked in puzzlement.
"In North Africa." Mitchell pointed with his pen. "It’s in the file."
"North Africa." Charlie nodded. "That was a different kind of war." He paused. "So he told the truth rather than lie to protect one of his own. It says a lot about the guy."
"Yes, it does. And one of his own tried to kill him for it."
"Not surprising." Charlie closed the file. "Career officer?"
"Seems like. As you can see, his file’s pretty thick. Panzer commander. One of Rommel’s boys."
"He’s danced every dance, too, right back to ‘Thirty-nine."
Charlie started to hand the file back, but Mitchell shook his head. "Take it with you, go over it. You’ll need it."
"He presents a problem–our problem. They couldn’t keep him safe at Crowe– they’ve got too many hardcore prisoners down there. He was transferred here because we have one of the lowest percentages of hardcore prisoners of all the camps. Now it’s up to us to try to figure out what to do with him."
"Where is he now, sir?"
"Right now he’s in the infirmary– it’s the most secure place. He had a pretty bad case of pneumonia last fall–apparently, he fell into a river during a bad snowstorm that popped up when he was out on a work party. That was the cause of the pneumonia, and the attempt on his life didn’t help. The pneumonia held up his transfer. He’s healthy now, but I don’t want him to recover only to be set upon by the hardcore prisoners here. Granted, we don’t have many of them, but we have enough."
"Yes, sir." Charlie flipped through the file. "Where do I come in?"
"He might be amenable to doing some work-party duty again. That would get him out of the camp for a while, anyway. Problem is, he’d still have to come back here at night and on Sundays."
Charlie licked his lips thoughtfully. "What about quartering him off the base, sir?"
"With whomever he’d be working for."
"How many people would go for that?" Colonel Mitchell asked in disbelief.
"I know a family who might–they run a horse farm in Colt’s Neck. It’s a father and daughter–the son is in the Pacific."
Charlie shook his head. "No, sir. A sergeant in the First Marine Division. Highly decorated, too. Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, a slew of other medals. We went through school together."
Mitchell gave him a sly smile. "A jarhead. You had brains and went Army."
"Not only that. He enlisted—I graduated college first and went to OTS."
"Smart man." Mitchell leaned back in his chair; it creaked as it tilted on its swivel hinge. "Tell me about these people."
"They’re a hard-working family, sir. Mike came over from Ireland when he was just a kid. His wife died when we were teenagers. He and the kids ran the farm and raced the horses. They had plenty of help before the war, but they’ve all enlisted or were drafted. It’s down to Mike and his daughter now."
"So they need the help badly."
"Yes, sir. It would be a good place to quarter the prisoner. Since they start work at five in the morning, it would be a hardship for the camp personnel who had to escort him to farm every day–especially if we have a hard winter."
"All right—see if they’ll agree. It would be nice to be able to help people like that."
"I think I can talk them into it."
Mitchell frowned. "Talk them into it? Why would that be necessary?"
"They’re stubborn and proud, sir, and don’t think they need the help–though they’re killing themselves to keep that farm running. Their last part-time worker just quit last week–he graduated from high school and enlisted. He wanted to get in on the war before it’s over." Charlie shook his head. "Kids."
"In it for the glory?"
"Or the excitement. He’ll learn the hard way."
Mitchell raised an eyebrow. "Bitter, Captain?"
"No, sir. Realistic. I joined the Army because it was my duty. There’s no glory in war, and I knew that going in."
"Some people have to learn that the hard way. How’s the leg?"
Charlie shrugged. "It’s worse in the winter. Yours?"
Mitchell smiled ruefully. "I’m from California. I’m not enjoying the kind of winters you have here in New Jersey."
Mitchell tapped his pen on the desk, then tossed it to the blotter. "Okay. Talk to the prisoner, and if he wants to work, talk to your friends."
** ** **
Charlie settled himself at the desk with a cup of coffee and the file. The prisoner’s name was Hans Josef Dietrich, a major in the Wehrmacht. He’d been born and raised in Trakehnen, in East Prussia, and was a graduate of military schools in Dresden and Potsdam.
Some of the prisoner’s personal records appeared to be missing, but for a wonder, the prisoner’s Soldbuch was in the file. Charlie opened the small book, surprised it hadn’t been stolen as a souvenir by a larcenous guard. Too many had, which was unfortunate—they were often a treasure trove of intelligence.
This one certainly was. Mitchell was right–the prisoner had danced every dance. He was a Panzer commander who had seen action in Poland, France, North Africa, Russia, Norway, and France again, where he’d been captured; he’d won the Iron Cross First and Second Class, the Tank Badge, and had been awarded the Wound Medal Second Class, indicating he’d been wounded three or four times. He seemed to have been primarily a combat commander, though Charlie noticed he’d done his share of desk duty at times. Charlie wondered briefly if he and the prisoner been in North Africa at the same time–perhaps on opposite sides in one battle or another.
Charlie returned the Soldbuch to the file and thought. Trakehnen was horse country, a region where fine blooded horses were raised. Though they weren’t racehorses, they were pretty much equivalent to the Thoroughbred in type and temperament. He remembered his father saying that a long time ago during a friendly argument with Mike over which horses were better– German, or Irish, or American Thoroughbreds. They’d never come to a conclusion, just genially argued about it on an annual basis.
All right, so it was a long shot. But it was worth a chance.
He grabbed his cap and headed for the door.
The infirmary was a short distance away, short enough to walk instead of driving. Charlie opted for his car anyway– that walk in this cold would only make his leg ache worse.
At the infirmary, Charlie found the doctor in charge of prisoner care. A quick conversation with him determined that yes, the prisoner was completely recovered, and no, a work assignment that was partially outdoors shouldn’t harm him.
Charlie digested this. "Okay. I’ll send someone over for him. I need to see him in my office as soon as possible."
"Don’t you want to speak to him here?" The doctor turned and gestured toward a door behind him.
Charlie looked past him to see a tall, slender German officer looking through the glass of a door to one of the isolation rooms. Their eyes met briefly, then he looked back to the doctor and nodded. "My office."
** ** **
Dietrich heard the low murmur of conversation outside his door. Hearing his name mentioned, he moved closer, hoping to hear more. The walls were thin; sound carried easily.
Through the glass in the upper half of the door, he saw a tall officer in the uniform of a US Army captain talking to the doctor who had performed his examination. The captain looked in at him, then back at the doctor. Then he nodded, said something, and left.
Dietrich pursed his lips in thought. Another doctor? No, the tall captain had worn too many campaign medals on his uniform. He must be a member of the prison camp administration staff. That was the only logical answer. Soon, Dietrich thought, he’d be relocated to the camp itself. He sat down to wait.
He wasn’t waiting long when a corporal entered the room. "Major, if you’ll follow me." He shook his head as Dietrich reached for his small bag. "You can leave that here for now. It’ll be safe. We’ll get it to you." Dietrich nodded and followed.
** ** **
"Captain Wagner, Corporal Conway reporting with the prisoner as ordered, sir."
Charlie nodded. "Thank you, Corporal. Dismissed."
Conway saluted smartly, then turned on his heel and left the office.
Charlie regarded the German officer standing before him. He was tall, and his worn field grey Wehrmacht uniform hung on him, as if he’d lost weight. Charlie had a feeling he hadn’t had that much weight to spare to begin with.
He stood at attention, with a watchful look in his eyes that Charlie had seen many times before. It was balanced with a quiet dignity without a scrap of arrogance, and an awareness of self and surroundings. Charlie sensed that this man was not to be underestimated.
Charlie didn’t usually deal with officers–most of the prisoners in work-release were enlisted men and noncoms. It wasn’t mandatory for officers to enroll; some did, though it was rare for them to want to leave the relative comfort of the camp. The few officers who did volunteer, though, did it for their own reasons, which were as varied as the men themselves.
Charlie gestured to the chair in front of his desk. "Have a seat, Major."
"Thank you, Captain." Dietrich sat down, his eyes straying briefly to the nameplate on Charlie’s desk before he looked up again. Even seated, he gave the impression that he was standing at attention.
Charlie continued to flip through the file in front of him, then he closed it and looked across the desk at the patiently waiting German. "Major, I understand you present us with a problem. I might be able to solve it satisfactorily for all concerned."
Dietrich’s face didn’t give anything away. "And how is that, Captain?"
"We want to get you out of the camp and out of danger. I run the work-release program here, and I have a potential placement in mind for you–if you’re willing."
"I would still sleep here and spend weekends here," Dietrich pointed out.
Charlie shook his head. "Not if I can find someone willing to put you up."
"Who would be so willing?"
Charlie fought back a smile. Dietrich’s disbelief echoed Colonel Mitchell’s. It wasn’t surprising, actually– how many people would be willing to quarter an enemy POW? "Friends of mine. They need someone who isn’t afraid of hard work."
"I have never been afraid of hard work," Dietrich replied with some asperity. "What type of job would I be doing?"
"You were born in Trakehnen. That’s horse country. You know anything about horses?"
The German raised an eloquent eyebrow, then laughed heartily, which started him on a round of coughing. When he caught his breath, he said, "I know a great deal about horses. These are farm horses?"
Charlie snorted. "Not hardly. Racehorses. Showhorses. That make a difference?"
Dietrich’s eyes softened. "Yes. I am acquainted with the latter."
"Good. That will make your new boss happy–once I talk her into this crazy scheme."
Dietrich frowned. "This assignment is not definite?"
Charlie thought he heard disappointment in the German’s tone, and he filed that away for later consideration. "Not yet–but she’ll see reason."
"My employer would be a woman?"
Charlie nodded. "She’s a helluva horsewoman. She and her father raise and train racing Thoroughbreds on a breeding farm west of here. They have a lot of valuable stock. With spring coming up, there will be more work than the two of them can handle. The hours will be long and hard."
Dietrich smiled. "That is standard at a breeding farm, especially with spring approaching."
"You game? It won’t be easy."
"Hard work is preferable to no work at all."
Charlie laughed. "You may eat those words when you meet your boss, Major. She’ll work you hard, but she won’t ask you to do anything she won’t do herself. In fact, it’ll be a point of honor for her to do more than you do."
Dietrich raised an eyebrow at the implied challenge. "Then she will have to work very hard indeed."
Charlie grinned. Dietrich’s tone had been pleasant, but Charlie knew he’d taken that comment about Bridey as a challenge. "You just wait and see." He rose; Dietrich did the same. "I’ll get back to you as soon as I can, Major."
"Thank you, Captain."
"Major, I hope I’ll be the one thanking you."
** ** **
Dietrich followed Corporal Conway back to the infirmary, his mind whirling every step of the way. The chance to work with horses again–it warmed his heart. He’d been too long away from them. His leaves spent riding with Anneliese had been too short, and far too long ago. And his days as a member of the German Olympic Team– those were far in the past.
Again he wondered how Anneliese was faring, and how Katrina was. He hadn’t had a letter in weeks, and now, with his transfer, mail would be even more delayed in arriving. He sighed. Letters from Anneliese had never been frequent, even before he’d been taken prisoner, and he’d gotten used to that, but he wanted news about the baby. He hadn’t even seen a photograph of her. He imagined getting photos taken was difficult with the conditions existing in Germany, but he would have liked to have seen one photo of his child.
** ** **
Charlie steered his car out of the base gate and in the direction of Colt’s Neck. The longshot had come in–now to convince Bridey that it was a horse she wanted to buy. He wasn’t sure he liked the odds on that one.
Charlie shook his head. Bridey’s fierce independence, one of her greatest strengths, was also one of her greatest weaknesses. Still, she could be made to see reason, if he couched his proposition just the right way.
He found her in the foaling barn, checking up on Diamond Dust. "You look exhausted."
"Thank you," she said without turning.
Her tone was more tired than sarcastic, and Charlie looked at her in concern. "What’s goin’ on?" he asked, keeping his tone light.
She straightened and left the stall, giving the heavily pregnant grey mare one last glance as she latched the door. "Playfair delivered her foal last night, three weeks early. She’s fine, and the filly is small, but she’ll make it."
"Have you even been to bed yet?"
"Oh, I thought about it for a while. You know me–I don’t need much sleep."
Charlie studied Bridey’s face. All the warning signs were there–the challenge in her eyes, the ramrod-straight back, the mouth thinned to a tight line, the flippant edge to her voice, the words that dared him to contradict her. The tough shell, the hard facade that hid the very vulnerable young woman inside, was very much in evidence today. She projected that image to the world to keep from being hurt. Charlie had always been able to see right through it, but the fact that Bridey even thought she needed to employ it around him was very telling.
"I know–you’ll sleep when you’re dead." Charlie paused for a fraction of a second, then went on before Bridey could reply. "And the way you’re pushing yourself, that’ll be in about three days."
"Maybe in a week." She smiled, but her smile turned to a look of weariness. "What am I supposed to do, Charlie? The work has to get done."
"Feed me and we’ll talk."
Bridey turned and led the way out of the barn, up the path to the back door, and into the kitchen. "You always were a slave to your stomach, Charlie. Come on– Siobhan made some oatmeal cookies this morning."
Charlie grinned. "She must have known I was coming."
In the kitchen, Charlie headed right for the refrigerator. He’d practically grown up in the Cullen home, and didn’t need an invitation to make himself at home. He retrieved a quart of milk, took two glasses from the drainboard, then hooked a foot around a chair and pulled it out, easing onto the chair in one smooth motion. He set his uniform hat on the table and filled the glasses.
"You ready to take me up on my offer now?" he asked, as Bridey brought a plate of cookies to the table and sat caddy-corner to him.
"Listen. You were having a hard time keeping up with the load when Barry was here. You’ll kill yourself without him."
"I’m out of school now," Bridey pointed out.
"And foaling season is coming," Charlie shot back. "You had a fulltime worker and two part-timers last year, and you barely kept pace with the work. Now they’re all gone. How are you and Mike going to make it now? What do you do when three mares go into labor at the same time? Tell me that, Bride."
Bridey sighed. Charlie was right, and she knew it. She couldn’t fight any more. "You finally found a prisoner with horse experience?"
Charlie nodded. "I’ve got a new transfer. He’s apparently got a strong background with horses."
Bridey snorted. "Farm horses, I bet. Roman-nosed draft horses with big dinner-plate feet."
Charlie shook his head. "Show horses, from what he told me. And at this point, would it really matter?"
"No, I guess not." Bridey leaned forward. "So tell me—what aren’t you telling me?"
Charlie shrugged. "He’s had problems in the past–some Nazis in his last camp tried to kill him, and we’re afraid the same will happen here. He’s not a Nazi, and he makes no bones about it."
Charlie crossed his fingers for luck. "And I was wondering if you could quarter him here. Let him sleep in the barn?"
Bridey looked at him in disbelief. "In the barn? In January? With seven empty bedrooms in the house? Charlie, are you out of your mind? He can sleep here."
Charlie hid a smile. "You’re very trusting, Bride."
"Charlie, you wouldn’t even suggest bringing him here if I couldn’t trust him." She gave him a hard look. "So tell me why I can trust him."
Charlie smiled. Trust Bridey to cut to the heart of the matter. "There’s something about him, Bride. Something in his eyes. He’s an officer. Ex-Panzer commander. He’s done work-release before, at his last camp in Kentucky. His file says his last employer gave him a high rating, and the camp commander was impressed with his conduct."
"That’s great. Now tell me why you think he belongs here."
Charlie ran a hand through short- cropped chestnut hair. "A feeling I have. I can’t explain it. There’s something about the guy, Bride. He seems trustworthy."
Bridey shook her head. "You and that sixth sense of yours."
"Don’t knock it."
"I never have." She took a cookie and broke it into bite-sized pieces, then arranged and rearranged them on the napkin. "What was he doing in Kentucky? Working with racers?"
Charlie gave her the ghost of a smile. "Picking apples."
"Won’t we be a step up," she said dryly.
"So you’ll do it?"
Bridey looked across at him and sighed. "Yeah. We’ll do it." She shook her head. "I don’t know how I let you talk me into this."
"Because you’re finally using your head instead of listening to that Irish pride."
"I’ll hand you your head and your pride—along with other selected body parts—if this doesn’t work out."
"I’m not worried."
"Wait a minute – we’re not going to have any guards here, right?"
Charlie shook his head. "Nope. I’ll be out every day for a while, then every few days thereafter."
"You’re out here almost every other day anyway," Bridey pointed out.
"This will be in an official capacity."
"Like it matters?"
"Humor me. I don’t think there will be any problems."
"Hey—does he speak English?"
"Better than you or I do."
Bridey grinned. "That’s a relief. I can’t see us conversing in sign language, and you can’t be here to translate all the time."
Charlie shook his. head. "How did you avoid picking up even a little bit of German when we were growing up? You heard me and my dad speak it enough. Joe even understands enough to get by."
"I just ignored you. And most of what Joey learned were swear words."
"So it’s a go?" Charlie pressed.
Bridey sighed in final surrender. "Yes, Charlie. It’s a go."
"Just let me go get my briefcase–the forms are in it." He rose.
Bridey pushed him back into the chair. "I’ll go. Rest your leg. You’re limping a lot lately."
Bridey made a face. "Just what we need. I’ll be right back."
Charlie sat back and reached for another cookie. "I could get used to this, you know."
"That’s what I’m afraid of." She handed him two envelopes. "Here. Read Joey’s latest while you wait."
Charlie read the two letters. Joe Cullen was a great talker, but damn, he was no letter-writer. Neither letter was more than twenty words long. Charlie knew the restrictions about what combat soldiers could and could not say in a letter, but he thought Joe could have said a bit more than "Hi, love you, miss you. Got a promotion. Send more cookies and don’t forget soap." He knew that Bridey wrote to Joe every day, letters that were long and chatty and filled with all sorts of daily activities– letters that gave Joe a sense of the home he was fighting to defend. They were the same sort of letters she had written to Charlie when he was overseas–letters he still cherished today.
Bridey returned just as he slipped the second letter back into the envelope. "Short and sweet," he said.
"Worse than usual," she muttered. "It’s what he doesn’t say that worries me." She placed the briefcase on the table. "Here ya go."
Charlie opened it and rummaged through the contents for a prisoner work employment application. He handed several to Bridey. "Okay–so you fill out these forms—"
Bridey rolled her eyes. "In triplicate?"
"Quadruplicate." Charlie grinned. "And tell me what he’ll be doing. Then you agree to pay the government a buck-fifty a day for his services, and we’re set."
Bridey looked at him in disbelief. "A buck-fifty? That’s all?"
"Yeah. We’re cheap."
"And how much of that does he get? He’ll be working hard, Charlie."
"About eighty cents, in prisoner scrip. He can spend it in the camp."
Bridey shot him a look of exasperation. "He won’t be in the camp, remember? He’ll be here."
"Look, Bride, we’ll work something out," Charlie said impatiently.
"You bet we will," Bridey said. "To start with, you make sure he has everything he needs when he gets here–clothing, shoes, boots, toiletries–the works."
"You drive a hard bargain, little girl."
"Yes, I do. And might I remind you, I’m not a little girl."
"You are to me, kiddo." Charlie grinned, leaned over to kiss her on the cheek, and rose. "I have to get back to the base. I’ll bring the prisoner tomorrow morning–I’ll pick up the completed forms then. I’ll have a ration book for him, too."
"This had better work."
"For everyone’s sakes," Charlie said, and left.
When Charlie returned to the infirmary, Dietrich was in the isolation room, reading a day-old copy of the Asbury Park Press. He rose when Charlie entered the room. Charlie saw that the POW mask, as he’d long thought of it, was firmly in place, but there was an apprehension in Dietrich’s eyes that he couldn’t quite conceal.
"It’s a go, Major." Dietrich didn’t do more than nod, but Charlie caught the relief in his eyes, and the small smile he tried to hide.
"We’ll get you supplied with the appropriate clothing and whatever personal items you need. We’re going to keep you in the infirmary overnight, and I’ll take you out to the farm tomorrow morning. Have they brought your lunch yet?"
"Then let’s go get some. I’m starving."
It took Dietrich a moment to realize that Charlie had spoken in flawless German. "Your accent is very good. Munich?" he asked as they left the room.
Charlie nodded. "My dad was born there and came over right after the last war. He taught me when I was a kid. I took four years in high school and four in college, too."
"And they made you a translator when you joined the Army?"
"Hell no." Charlie shook his head emphatically . "I’m not stupid. I never even let on I could speak a second language. I was infantry–I commanded a rifle company in North Africa and Sicily."
"Where were you wounded?"
"In the leg."
Dietrich looked up in surprise, then gave a rueful smile, then quickly schooled his face into obedience.
Charlie grinned. "Sorry. Couldn’t resist. Sicily. Just outside Palermo."
"You were with General Patton?"
"He is an extremely adept commander."
"Yeah. Too bad more people on our side don’t think like you do." Realizing they were entering potentially dangerous territory, Charlie changed the subject. "You said you had experience with show horses?"
"Yes. I spent my childhood on a breeding and training farm."
"Thoroughbreds or the German breeds?"
Dietrich raised an eyebrow at the unexpected and savvy question. "Thoroughbreds, mostly, but I am familiar with other breeds as well."
"And you ride?"
"Major, this sounds better and better all the time."
"Do you ride, Captain?"
"When I can. I practically lived on horseback when I was a kid. I haven’t been on a horse much since I came home, but Bridey–your new boss–keeps telling me it’s great therapy."
"For the body and the mind."
Charlie laughed. "Man, you even sound like her. I think you two will get along just fine." Then he sobered. "Major, one more thing. I can’t assign a guard to the farm. You’ll be on your own. Now, I’ve read some glowing reviews about you in your file, but I need more than that. You’ll need to give me your word as an officer and a gentleman that you won’t try to escape, or cause any kind of problems for the Cullens. Personally, I don’t think you’ll be a problem, but I need your assurance."
Dietrich looked at him in silence for a moment, then nodded. "You have it." He paused, then added softly, "Would you like it in writing?"
Charlie hid a smile. His gut feeling had been on the money, right from the get-go. "I don’t think that will be necessary."
** ** **
They ate in the Fort Monmouth canteen. Dietrich’s presence in Wehrmacht uniform raised a few eyebrows, but Charlie’s presence reassured any observers of the validity of Dietrich’s presence.
Charlie watched Dietrich’s eyes light up as he looked at the food on the steam tables. To Charlie, it was just plain old Army food–better than some he’d eaten, granted, but Army food nevertheless. To Dietrich, though, it must have looked like a sumptuous banquet. "Take whatever you want, Major."
Dietrich looked at him, then looked back at the food. Charlie watched in amusement as he chose a bowl of chicken soup, a roll and butter, then instructed the corporal behind the counter to fill a plate with sliced baked ham, boiled potatoes, green beans, and carrots. Then he took a slice of apple pie and a cup of coffee.
Charlie followed along the serving line, making essentially the same choices, substituting mashed potatoes for boiled and cherry pie for apple.
They sat at a table against the far wall. Charlie noticed that Dietrich took the chair that placed his back against the wall. Charlie sat caddy-corner to him, so he could watch the other diners come and go.
They were silent for a while, paying more attention to their meals than to anything else. Partway through his main course, Dietrich looked up at Charlie.
"This is very good," Dietrich said.
"For Army food, anyway," Charlie said. "You’ll eat better at the farm. Siobhan prides herself on her cooking skills."
Charlie nearly choked on a mouthful of coffee and shook his head emphatically. "No–Siobhan is your employer’s father’s cousin. Your employer can burn boiled water. Siobhan is a widow and takes care of the house. She’s prickly, but she’s a good cook."
"You sound very familiar with the family," Dietrich said tentatively.
"That’s because I practically grew up in the Cullen house. Their son is my best friend. I haven’t seen him in nearly three years."
"He is…in the service?
"The Marines–he’s in the Pacific. Don’t worry—you won’t spark any bad memories."
"None for you, either?"
Charlie shook his head and broke off a piece of roll. "Not really."
"Despite your wound?"
"Major, I’m half German. Like I said, my father was born there. There’s no point in hating people. It would be like hating myself." He smiled. "Besides–it could have been an Italian bullet."
** ** **
Sleep was slow in coming to Dietrich that night. The infirmary was fairly quiet, and because he wasn’t a patient, no nurses or orderlies came by to disturb him by taking his temperature every few hours or to distribute medication.
Yet the very silence worked against him. Instead of encouraging sleep, it allowed him to concentrate on his thoughts, which went off in a multitude of different directions.
Unbidden, his mind ranged back over the past few years, to the earliest days of his military career. He’d been bright, full of ideas, with the ability to think on his feet. He drew the attention of superiors early on, and that helped to hasten his rise up the career ladder. Promotions had come at a rapid rate, especially once the war had begun. If it hadn’t been for the depredations of the Rat Patrol, he would probably have been a colonel by now.
He thought he had been a good commander. He’d played many roles to his men–teacher, disciplinarian, counselor, referee. He’d been considerably gentler than most—discipline in the Wehrmacht could be brutal, and Dietrich hated brutality that was expressed simply for its own sake. While he had a low tolerance for stupidity, he still had a capacity for compassion, and utilized it when he thought it necessary. It had made him an extremely popular commander, revered by the men under him. They all knew he had their welfare at heart, and because of that, he knew they would have gone to hell and back for him–and many had. Far too many had died under his command, and it sat badly on his conscience.
From reading the American papers his captors allowed him to have, he knew the war was going badly for Germany. It was only a matter of time before Allied armies rolled over his homeland like a tidal wave, obliterating everything in their path. He just hoped that his parents and Anneliese and the baby would be able to stay out of harm’s way.
This work release would keep him out of harm’s way, for the time being. He would be well out of the way of whatever hardcore prisoners had been assigned to this camp. If it worked out with this family, he would be safe, engaging in hard work that he not only loved, but which would also keep his mind occupied. Captain Wagner had said that his new employers were kind and hard-working people who would work as hard as they expected him to. And he had every intention of giving them the full value of his labor. He had never worked with racehorses before, but they couldn’t be very different from the German Thoroughbred showhorses he had trained and ridden.
He hadn’t been quite truthful with Captain Wagner, and now he regretted it. There was no real reason to keep his Olympic gold medal a secret from the American officer. Dietrich still couldn’t quite understand why he’d done it. He knew it wasn’t in his file, so Wagner had no way of knowing just who would be mucking out stalls and grooming horses at a small out-of-the-way farm here in New Jersey. He regretted the lie of omission now. He liked Wagner. The American officer had been very direct and open with him, and had been under no obligation to take Dietrich to lunch, that fabulous display of food that had so plainly demonstrated the bounty of America, even during wartime.
Dietrich forced his mind to calm, then punched the pillow and fell into a light sleep.
** ** **
"I hope they get here soon," Mike said, looking out the front door for the tenth time in as many minutes. "Siobhan will throw a fit if I’m late pickin’ her up."
"And we know how cranky she gets when people don’t adhere to her schedule," Bridey said dryly.
"Now, me own, be patient."
"I am, Pop," Bridey said tiredly. "I just wish she’d give me the same consideration."
"You can’t make a racehorse of a donkey," Mike said patiently.
Bridey rolled her eyes at the old Irish platitude. "That’s easy for you to say, Pop. She’s not after you all the time."
"Ignore it, darlin’."
"It’s not always easy, you know," Bridey pointed out.
"Offer it up to God, me own," Mike said gently.
"I do that more than I care to think about. I hope it pays off somewhere down the line."
** ** **
Charlie looked over at Dietrich as he turned the car into the entrance to Diamond Shamrock property. "Nervous, Major?"
Dietrich looked at him. He considered denying the suggestion, but Captain Wagner’s very open, very American manner made Dietrich feel he could trust him. Wagner was very likeable, someone Dietrich thought would have been a friend under different circumstances. He smiled. "Slightly."
"Don’t be. The Cullens are glad to have your help. Bridey might be a little… blustery…at first, but she’s got a good heart, and she’s a helluva horsewoman. Mike’s the salt of the earth, and he never met a horse he didn’t like. And Siobhan? Well, just enjoy her cooking," Charlie said, "and ignore her when she gets annoying. We all do."
Dietrich smiled, then turned to survey the property. Large pastures lined either side of the blacktopped roadway. The trees were plentiful, but their branches were naked in January’s cold. Here and there he could see horses, mostly mares heavy with foals.
The roadway widened, and the house and barns came into view. The house was white with green trim, surrounded by a wide porch. The barns bore the opposite color scheme–they were painted the green of new grass, set off with sparkling white trim, and looked to be very well-maintained.
Charlie parked the car in a small parking area to the side of the house. Two vehicles were parked there already–a four-door sedan and a truck with an open bed.
Dietrich looked toward the house. Two banners hung from the roof of the porch. Square in shape, they bore blue stars on a field of white, bordered with a wide expanse of red. Each was trimmed with gold fringe at the bottom. Two more stars, smaller versions this time, hung in the large window to the right of the entryway. Dietrich had learned that this meant the family had sons in the service. Two stars– two sons.
** ** **
Mike and Bridey came out onto the porch when they heard Charlie’s car. Their new employee/parolee was just getting out of the car when they reached the steps. He was tall, about an inch or so under Charlie’s six-three, and dressed in a US government-issued blue denim POW uniform. Over the denim, he wore a heavy coat, marked on the back with a white PW, which he buttoned as he exited the car. He reached back inside, leaning over the front seat to remove a duffel bag from the back, along with a burlap sack that looked like it held boots.
"You’re not the tallest one on the farm any more, Darlin’," Mike teased.
"Apparently not, Pop," Bridey said, and set off down the steps into the yard.
Dietrich tried to hide his surprise. He hadn’t expected his new employer to be this young–why, she looked barely out of her teens!
She was dressed in a work shirt, faded denims–jeans, he remembered the Americans called them–and boots, topped by a heavy wool coat, which she buttoned as she approached. Dark red hair was pulled back into a ponytail and topped by a billed plaid cap. He looked up to meet her eyes as she walked down the steps and realized that she was appraising him in much the same way he’d assessed her. Fleetingly, he wondered what conclusion she’d reached.
Bridey didn’t say anything as she approached. She knew Charlie was waiting for her reaction. "Morning," was all she said, her eyes on the prisoner.
"Not for much longer," Mike said from behind her.
"Sorry," Charlie said. "We got a late start. My fault."
"S’okay," Bridey said, giving him a quick smile. Then she turned her attention back to the prisoner. The dark brown eyes calmly gazing back at her were alert and watchful, and Bridey had the feeling she was being measured. She merely raised an eyebrow as she held his gaze. In his eyes she saw kindness, and an uncertainty, as if he were unsure of his reception. She couldn’t blame him.
Dietrich held the young woman’s gaze. So this was his employer. She looked at him with bright green eyes that turned suddenly sharp. He had an idea that she saw more than she let on, cataloguing it, filing it away for later consideration and possible use. Still, behind the sharpness there was another, softer quality, something he couldn’t quite identify.
"Major, Dietrich, this is Bridey and Mike Cullen. They own this farm, and you’ll be working for them."
"For as long as you can stand us, that is," Mike said.
"Your home is very beautiful," Dietrich said appreciatively.
Mike beamed at the praise, and Bridey’s eyes lit up. "We’re not at our best in the winter, I’m afraid. Wait until the spring, when everything comes alive again."
"Are ye after havin’ breakfast?" Mike asked, his brogue broader than usual.
"Pop," Bridey chided softly, then turned to Dietrich. "Pop wants to know if you’re eaten yet. He drops into Irish phrasing sometimes. You’ll get used to it."
"I see. Yes, thank you, Herr Cullen, I’ve eaten."
"Probably nothing as good as what you’ll be eatin’ from now on," Mike said.
"We’ve already eaten, but there’s some fresh-baked soda bread left from breakfast, and coffee, or tea," Bridey said. "Once you get settled, you can have some if you’re still hungry."
Dietrich inclined his head in thanks. "That is very kind, Fraulein. Thank you."
"I’d take her up on the offer if I were you," Charlie said. "You’ll need the energy. Bridey’s likely to work your fingers to the bone."
"You come back here in civvies, Charlie, and I’ll do the same to you," Bridey threatened, but her smile belied her words.
"Why do you think I always wear my uniform when I’m around you, Bride?" Charlie grinned. "It keeps me out of your clutches."
"I didn’t think you were doing it to impress me," Bridey said dryly.
Charlie grinned. "The only thing that impresses you is a good piece of horseflesh."
Bridey patted his arm. "And you’re not a horse."
"No, but he eats like one," Mike said.
Charlie gave Mike a grin. "On that note, I’ll take you up on the offer of the soda bread."
"I didn’t offer you any," Bridey shot back.
"I know." Charlie leaned down to kiss her cheek. "But I’m gonna have some anyway."
"I figured you would." She turned to Dietrich. "Major, come with me, and we’ll get you settled before greedy-guts here eats your share, too."
Dietrich nodded and lifted his bags, then followed her into the house. She led him through the main foyer, and up a staircase to the second floor; turning to the right at the head of the stairs, she walked a short distance down the hallway before stopping before an oaken door.
"This will be your room." She opened the door, pushed it open, and gestured for him to enter.
Dietrich stepped in, a look of amazement on his face as he took in his surroundings. The room was large, yet simple. To his right there was a wide bed, flanked by twin nightstands, each topped by a lamp. A dresser with a mirror took up one wall, a chest of drawers was located between two windows on the opposite wall, and a fireplace dominated the wall opposite the bed. A door was open next to it, leading to–a bathroom?
He turned to her. "This is—beautiful."
"Well, I wouldn’t go that far. I’ll have to get the bed made—"
"I can do that," Dietrich said quickly.
"Okay." She nodded. "I’ll bring you sheets and blankets, and a quilt. Oh, you’ll need towels and soap, too."
"I never expected this luxury."
"You didn’t think we’d make you sleep in the barn, did you?"
He met her gaze unflinchingly. "I considered it a possibility. "
She shook her head emphatically. "Not here. You’re going to work hard here, Major. You’re entitled to a good rest when you’re not working. You’ll have the run of the house–kitchen, living room, the music room. Nothing is off limits."
"You are very kind, Fraulein."
"This time tomorrow you may be cursing me out." At his look of puzzlement, she went on. "Like I said, you’re going to work hard. Counting you, there are only three of us to care for nearly forty horses—more, once the foals start coming. Despite what Charlie said, he does help out when he has time, but his leg restricts him, and he’s so busy…. He does what he can, and we’re grateful. And we’re grateful to you too, Major. I know you didn’t have to go along with this crazy scheme."
"Fraulein, it is to my advantage, too."
Bridey nodded. "I know. Charlie told me. But you’ll be safe here." She looked away. "I’ll be right back."
Dietrich had already unpacked by the time Bridey came back with sheets and blankets; he had the bed half made when she returned with an armful of towels, several bars of soap balanced atop the stack. "You’re fast," she said as she disappeared into the bathroom.
The towels put away, she stood in the doorway of the bathroom watching him for a moment as he expertly twitched the sheets into place and tucked them in. She thought about offering to help, but decided it would be less awkward if she simply pitched in without asking.
Taking a pillowcase, she snapped it open with a flick of her wrists. The sound and motion drew his attention and he looked at her quizzically.
"Pillows and pillowcases are my speed. And I don’t do Army corners," Bridey said, stuffing the pillow inside the case.
He gave her a tentative smile. "I got out of the habit a long time ago."
"You won’t have to get back into it here. Siobhan takes care of the house. We have enough work to do with the horses." She stuffed the second pillow into its case and straightened. "Ready?"
Bridey led Dietrich down the stairs, through the dining room, and into the kitchen, where they were greeted by the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee. Charlie, seated at the table reading the paper and drinking black coffee, smiled up at them.
"Made yourself useful, didja?" Bridey asked.
"What’s soda bread without something hot to dunk it in?"
"Dry?" Bridey walked to the bank of wall cabinets that flanked the two wide windows over the sink. Removing two white ceramic mugs, she handed one to Dietrich, then filled both from the coffeepot on the stove.
"Thanks, Charlie." She put her mug on the table, then gestured to Dietrich to take a seat.
Dietrich sat across from Charlie. "My thanks, Captain."
"Bitte sehr," Charlie said, then grinned.
Bridey brought two plates to the table, along with a crock of butter and a jar of orange marmalade. Dietrich’s eyes widened as he saw the condiments. Bridey glanced at Charlie, then placed the butter and marmalade in front of Dietrich, and pushed the plate of sliced soda bread in front of him as well.
Dietrich looked up at her quickly. "Go ahead," Bridey said. "I ate a while ago, and Charlie is happy if he has something to dunk his bread in."
Charlie quickly picked up on the hint. "And I can’t eat any more, anyway. I’ve got a lunch meeting with Colonel Mitchell, and it’s his treat. I have to save my appetite so I don’t insult him."
"The way you eat, Charlie, it shouldn’t be a problem," Bridey said dryly.
He drained his mug and rose. "Gotta go. I have two stops to make before I get back to camp. Major, if you need anything, Miss Cullen has my numbers at work and at home."
"Bitte sehr." He grinned. "C’mon, Bride, walk me to the car."
"Sure," Bridey said. "I’ll be right back." She gave Charlie an assessing look, but his face didn’t give anything away.
"That was a broad hint if I ever heard one," Bridey said as they pulled their coats on in the front hall. Charlie just rolled his eyes and settled his cap on his head, then opened the door and stepped out onto the porch. "Where’s Pop?"
They stopped on the top step. "Your father went to get Siobhan while you two were upstairs. You okay? Want me to stay until he gets back?"
Bridey shook her head. "Go to your meeting. We’ll be fine."
"Charlie, this guy’s here to save our bacon. We’re going to be alone together at some point. And he seems nice enough."
"Yeah. Nice," Charlie said dryly. "This is a guy with two Iron Crosses, Bride, and you call him ‘nice’?"
Bridey speared him with a glance. "You having second thoughts?"
"No," Charlie said firmly. "You?"
"Not a one. You coming for dinner?"
Charlie shook his head. "Not tonight. I’ve got late meetings. I’ll be lucky to grab a sandwich when I’m done. Raincheck?"
"Like you need one?"
"I never did before." He leaned down and kissed her cheek; Bridey reached up and hugged him. "Call if you have any problems."
Bridey waved as he drove off, then turned and went back into the house.
Dietrich had finished the soda bread by the time Bridey came back into the kitchen. She smiled at the sight of the empty plate. "Good, huh?"
"I can truthfully say I have never had anything like it." He paused. "What did you call it?"
"Soda bread. Irish soda bread." Bridey put the dirty plate and utensils in the sink. "I hope you liked it–you can’t avoid it around here. Siobhan makes it a couple of times a week for breakfast. You’ll meet her later."
He rose. "What do you want me to do?"
"The morning chores are done, but I can give you the grand tour now before we start in on the rest of the stuff that needs to be done."
He looked around. "Where is your father?"
"He took Siobhan shopping in Freehold earlier and he left to pick her up."
Dietrich froze, then relaxed visibly. "You’re not concerned about being alone with me?"
She met his eyes, her gaze clear and direct. "Charlie wouldn’t have brought you here if you weren’t worthy of our trust."
"I don’t know if you do. Charlie is my older brother’s best friend. He’s my best friend, too. He practically grew up in this house. The second star out front is his. His parents hung one for my brother. He’s family. You wouldn’t be here if he had the slightest doubt about your trustworthiness."
"Then I shall endeavor to live up to his expectations."
"Good. Come on–grab your coat and I’ll give you the tour."
Dietrich stood and shrugged his coat on. Bridey smiled, then led the way out the side door and down to the stable area.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed him take a deep breath, and she smiled at the expression on his face. "Smells good, huh?"
Dietrich gave her an answering smile. "Very good. I haven’t smelled it for…a long time."
"I love the aroma of fresh hay and horse in the morning," she said as she stopped on the pathway. "To be honest, I love it any time. There’s nothing like it."
"Many people find it offensive."
"You don’t. "
Bridey grinned in reply. "Charlie said you know showhorses. Do you ride?"
"Oh, good. You can help me exercise the riding horses. Do you jump?"
He noticed her phrasing– ‘do you’, as opposed to the potentially condescending ‘can you’. He gave her points for tact and consideration. "Yes, I can jump."
"Great. I have a couple of really talented jumpers who need more schooling than I have time to give them. You can help me, if you don’t mind."
"No, Fraulein, I don’t mind at all." This assignment was looking better and better every moment. To ride the horses as well as work with them? It was beyond his expectations. That they were jumpers and not dressage horses didn’t dampen his enthusiasm at all.
"Thanks." She stopped and gestured to the largest of the stables, just off to the right. "That’s the main barn. The riding horses and stable ponies are in there, plus the racehorses–or what would be racehorses, if there weren’t a war on. The stallion barn is that smaller building over to the right– it’s got room for eight stallions. The breeding shed is behind that–you can’t see it from here." She turned to the left. "That’s the main ring, and there’s another ring with jumps beyond it. The round pen is between the rings and the main barn–you can just see the curve of the fence from here. And past the rings are the foaling barn and broodmare barn–they’re closest to the back door. It makes getting to the mares in the middle of the night a little easier."
"This is a larger facility than I had expected."
"Actually, we’re running at reduced capacity now. When we’re actively racing, we’ve got a couple of dozen employees. Now it’s just you, me and Pop. Foaling season is heading our way, too. We’ll be real busy in a few weeks."
"How many broodmares do you have?"
"Twenty. Only nine are in foal, though."
"That many in foal or that many in total?"
"We bred ten last year, and all of them caught. One dropped her foal early, right on January first. I hate leaving a mare open if she’s healthy, but under the circumstances, it didn’t make sense to breed them all. So only our best mares are in foal right now."
"How many stallions are here?"
"Two breeding, four non-breeding– for the moment, anyway–and we’ve also got five racers who should be in training but who aren’t, and we’ve got six geldings I’m training for show."
"What type of showing?"
"Hunters and jumpers."
She cocked her head to one side. "You don’t sound like you approve."
Dietrich shook his head. "Pardon me, Fraulein. I did not mean to give that impression."
"That’s okay." She looked up at him out of the corner of her eye. "So tell me– what’s wrong with hunters and jumpers?"
He looked down at her and saw a challenge in her eyes, along with a glint of humor; one corner of her mouth quirked up in a half-smile. "We don’t show what you call hunters in Germany, though we have many good jumpers. I prefer dressage, however."
"Oh. Highbrow stuff." Bridey smiled. "We don’t see much of that at shows in this area, I’m afraid, though I know it’s very popular in Europe. Here we ride hunters, jumpers–even some Western and some saddleseat, though why anyone would want to bounce around some poor Saddlebred’s back like that is beyond me."
"Bouncing on any horse’s back is abhorrent," Dietrich said, his tone dripping disgust.
Bridey gave him a wide grin. "Oh, Major, I think we’re going to get along just fine."
Dietrich couldn’t help smiling back. "Captain Wagner said your main concentration was racing."
"It always has been." Bridey nodded. "My father was a jockey until he got too tall. Then he set up as a trainer, and later he got into breeding. We breed Thoroughbreds and sell or race them. Most of the last crop of yearlings were sold through private treaty last summer and fall, though we retained a couple. We’re hoping to race them later this year. I train some of the retired racers as showhorses. Come on– I’ll show you the setup."
They walked down the wide aisle of the main barn. As they progressed, horses stuck their heads over stall doors and whinnied. Bridey greeted each one with a soft word and a caress, or a scratch behind the ears.
They reached the last pair of stalls. "These are our stable ponies. We use them to pony the racers when they’re in training– it keeps the young ones calm and teaches them how to behave."
A mottled head appeared in a stall door. The horse saw Bridey and whickered softly. Bridey grinned. "That’s Rosie. She’s thirty-two years old and enjoying a well-earned retirement." Bridey grinned. "She was one of our lead ponies. I swear, she could read a fractious racer’s mind and know exactly how to calm him down."
"She looks like a Knabstrup."
"She’s an Appaloosa. I don’t think you have too many in Germany. She’s a Western breed–a stock horse. You don’t see too many here, but cowboys ride them out West and the Nez Perce Indians rode them when they fought the US Cavalry last century."
"Yeah?" Her eyes brightened. "Are you interested in history?"
Dietrich shrugged. "I am fairly conversant in military history."
Bridey nodded. "I guess that would follow." She leaned on the stall door. "I’m a history major. I just graduated college last month. I start my master’s in September."
When he made no comment, she moved on to the stall across the aisle. "This is Cody. He’s a Quarter Horse. He used to be a ranch horse, but Pop found him at an auction a few years ago. We don’t know how he made his way from Texas to New Jersey, but we’re glad he did. He’s bombproof."
Dietrich looked at the stocky dun gelding. "Bombproof?
"He’s very calm and patient. Nothing can make him blow up. He took over for Rosie when we retired her. We use him to pony the yearlings and two-year-olds in training." Bridey paused. "He hasn’t had much to do the last couple of years."
"Because the few tracks that were open just closed, and because of fuel rationing, we couldn’t ship to the tracks that were open before the ban took effect. And no one is sponsoring shows. So we’ve got a bunch of lazy horses lounging around in the pastures and stalls. And other breeders can’t ship their mares to our stallions, either. I’ve been using our studs on our mares, but I want to get some outside blood in here as soon as possible."
"You said you had non-breeding stallions–why not use them?"
"Our foundation stallion is retired from breeding, and the other three are unproven on the track. They were going to start racing last year, but…. We could geld them, but we won’t do that until we see what they do on the track. But we won’t use unproven stallions on our mares, and even if they were proven, they’re too closely related to most of the mares we have."
Dietrich smiled at this and Bridey looked up at him curiously. "You approve, I take it?"
"That is sound husbandry, Fraulein."
"Thank you. Come on–let’s go see the stallions."
She led him out a door at the rear of the main barn, then to a smaller structure off to the right. "This is the stallion barn."
One of the stallions was in a small paddock just outside. "This is Diamond Star. He’s not at stud any more–he’s our foundation stallion. He still thinks all the mares are his, though. Except for a few of the mares that we bought for outcross purposes, most of the horses here trace back to him at least once. The best have him on top and bottom."
Dietrich looked at the bay stallion. He clearly showed signs of age, yet his eyes were clear, bright, and intelligent. He nickered at Fraulein Cullen and came forward eagerly when he saw her.
"Come here, old man," she said, her voice soft, the expression on her face affectionate. She drew a carrot out of her back pocket. "You know I always have something for you." She snapped the carrot into three smaller pieces, and offered one to the stallion, stroking his neck as he crunched the offering.
Then she handed the other two pieces to Dietrich. "Here. Get acquainted with him."
Dietrich held his hand out, palm up, the carrot piece in the center. The stallion approached cautiously, hesitating when he caught an unfamiliar scent. But the lure of the carrot won out, and he gently lipped the carrot from Dietrich’s hand.
Star’s breath was soft on Dietrich’s palm, his lips like velvet. It was a familiar and much-missed sensation, and Dietrich found himself smiling broadly. He offered the remaining piece of carrot, and Star took it with more alacrity this time, then looked for more.
"That’s all for now, old man. We’ll have more later. Come on," she said to Dietrich. "I’ll introduce you to the rest of the boys."
They entered the stallion barn. The stalls had iron bars running from the tops of the stall walls to the ceiling, and the heavy oak doors to the stalls in this barn were equipped with a sturdier hinge. It was obvious that breeding stallions resided here.
Horses nickered and called out as they recognized human presence. Their vocalizations became challenging as they caught whiff of an unknown scent.
"They know I am here," Dietrich said unnecessarily.
"Yup. They’ll get used to you, though. Soon, too—they’re good boys." She took a leather lead from a hook outside one stall and entered. Dietrich remained in the aisle, knowing better than to enter an unknown stallion’s stall uninvited. Inside, he could hear Fraulein Cullen’s voice, low tones meant to convey a sense of security to the horse.
She came out a moment later, leading a tall bay. The horse looked Dietrich over with intelligent eyes, obviously wondering who this human was who had dared to invade his domain.
"This is Diamond Box Score. He’s one of Star’s best sons. He’s out of a daughter of Man O’War. He had a great record on the track, and he sires beautiful foals."
Dietrich looked at the horse with an appraising eye, noting the sloping shoulder, straight legs, and powerfully-muscled hindquarters. That this was a breeding stallion was not in doubt. He had a presence, a quality that said ‘look at me’. Dietrich found it hard to take his eyes off the horse.
He looked at Fraulein Cullen. She was observing him as he looked Box Score over, and her pride in the stallion was evident. "He is a handsome horse, Fraulein."
"And he knows it." She returned the stallion to his stall, and moved on to the next.
One by one she introduced him to the stallions in the barn. There was nothing tentative about Fraulein Cullen’s interactions with the horses. Her movements around the stallions were sure and precise, confident but not overconfident. He noticed that all of her attention was concentrated on the horse she was handling, sound procedure when handling an entire male.
"Your stallions are very well-mannered," he said as they left the barn.
"Thank you. Racehorses are taught manners from the time they’re very young, especially the colts. They have to be able to ignore the fact that they’re colts–they may be in the same race with a filly in flaming heat, maybe even walking a few yards behind her in a post parade. They have to be able to ignore temptation. And if you let a breeding stallion know that you expect him to behave himself, he will. We don’t allow any temper tantrums or studdy behavior outside the breeding shed, and not much inside, either."
She looked at him to see how he’d meant the comment. But there was no sarcasm in his tone, and none in his expression. "Thank you. I can lead any one of our stallions right up to a mare in heat, and every one of them will ignore her until I give the okay."
"You breed the stallions?" Dietrich asked, trying to hide his surprise.
Bridey nodded. "Are you surprised?"
"Women don’t usually work with breeding animals in Europe."
"They don’t here, either. The presence of women in breeding barns is frowned upon. It might offend our tender sensibilities." She made a rude noise. "None of my sensibilities were ever that tender. This is a breeding farm, and I have a job to do."
Dietrich said nothing, just smiled and turned away.
"You have big showhorse breeding programs in Germany, don’t you?"
"Yes. Each area of the country is known for a specific breed."
"We have that here, too. Tennessee Walkers and Saddlebreds in the South, Morgans in New England, stock horses in the West."
"And your famous Kentucky Thoroughbreds."
"Yeah, but as racers, not showhorses. Showhorses are made, not bred. They’re usually retired racehorses who didn’t make it on the track. Our breeders are going to have to figure out which lines make better showhorses than racers, and breed for that. I don’t see it happening, though. The big money and prestige are in racing, not in showing. Showing is looked upon as a hobby for the rich."
"And you would like it to be perceived as more than that."
"Yeah. I would. It takes a lot to make a top jumper. A horse needs a lot of heart and a lot of try. I like to think ours have what it takes."
As she spoke, Dietrich found himself realizing that he liked her. Behind that forthright and direct personality was someone who quite evidently loved horses, and loved working with them as well.
She looked at her watch. "Time to check the broodmares. None of them are due to foal for a while yet, but you know how mares can be."
Dietrich looked at her carefully. Her words had been forthright, no sign of a challenge, but he decided that he needed to confirm her statement. "Mares deliver when they will, not on our schedules."
"You said a mouthful, Major."
The broodmares who were in foal were in a different part of the barn than the unbred mares. Bridey checked each for signs of distress or foaling, then moved on to the open mares. Dietrich followed, observing her technique. She was thorough, and didn’t miss anything that could indicate potential illness or injury, or imminent foaling
Dietrich was greatly impressed with the quality of the mares on the farm. They were well-conformed and competently cared for. This placement was proving to be an incredible stroke of luck, and he wondered when he’d wake up from what had to be a dream. There was no reason for him to be this lucky.
Fraulein Cullen came out of the last mare’s stall and stood looking up at him. "Well, that’s the end of the tour. Let’s get you to work."
"What would you like me to do?"
"We’ll start in the main barn–some of the younger horses need their daily grooming. Fastball, Shortstop and Round Trip could all use it." She started off, Dietrich alongside her, his hands clasped behind him.
They walked halfway through the main barn, until they came to a large and well-organized tack room. "Each horse has his own equipment in his own tack trunk. The trunks all have nameplates on them, and they’re in alphabetical order. Just drop the ‘Diamond’ from the beginning of the name."
He looked at her out of the corner of his eye. "Very organized."
"When you have as many horses as we do, you have to start somewhere." She smiled. "The horses aren’t in alphabetical order, unfortunately. Do you remember where their stalls are, or do you want me to show them to you again?"
He smiled. "I can find them."
"Okay. I’ll be down at the other end–Rosie gets a warm mash twice a day, and she’s probably looking for it now. Yell if you need me."
"I will," Dietrich assured her, and set about gathering the tools he needed for his task.
** ** **
The rest of the day went quickly. Grooming horses was easy, mindless work, and he quickly fell into the comforting routine, losing himself in the familiar motions.
Bridey stuck her head into the stall where Dietrich was grooming Fastball. "Supper’s almost ready. Better come get washed up. Siobhan has a canary if we’re late."
He looked at her in confusion for a moment, then straightened. "I am to eat with you?"
"Where else would you eat?" Bridey inclined her head toward the door. "Let’s go."
Dietrich slipped the hoofpick into his pocket and followed.
They entered by the back door. "You use the bathroom," Bridey said. "I’ll wash up in the kitchen sink."
Mike and Siobhan were already in the kitchen. Siobhan was busy at the stove, and Mike was slicing bread at the table.
Bridey washed her hands quickly, then smiled at Dietrich as he came out of the bathroom. "Sit here," she said, gesturing to one empty chair. Dietrich nodded, waiting until Bridey had seated herself between him and her father before pulling his own chair out and sitting down.
"Chicken again?" Bridey asked, unfolding her napkin and spreading it in her lap. "I’m going to start clucking soon."
Siobhan gave her a frown of disapproval, and Mike smiled as he passed the meat platter. "You already sound like it, darlin."
"Are you surprised, Pop? We have chicken at least four times a week."
"We have to do something with the chickens that keep hatching from the eggs you don’t gather."
"Pop, you know I hate those damned chickens. They’re dirty and smelly, and they don’t belong on a horse farm. They’re only here because of the war effort."
"I thought you liked chicken," Siobhan said.
"I do–just not this often. Right now I can’t wait for Friday. Fish will be a blessing."
Mike grinned and offered a serving bowl to Dietrich. "Turnips?"
Dietrich recoiled slightly and shook his head quickly. "No–no, thank you," he said hurriedly. But he made no move to take the bowl.
Siobhan shot a glare at him, and Bridey and Mike looked at him quizzically. Mike placed the bowl down alongside Siobhan’s plate, away from Dietrich. "That’s okay. Y’can’t like everything," Mike said in a conciliatory tone.
After that, dinner was accompanied by desultory conversation–who Mike had seen in town, the latest gossip from the grocery store, engagements, new babies. The menu was studiously avoided.
Once dinner was over, Siobhan cleared the table. Dietrich quietly left the kitchen, and Bridey followed. "Major?" she asked, seeing Dietrich heading for the stairs.
Dietrich turned to her, his expression shuttered. "Fraulein?"
"We, uh, we usually listen to the radio for a while after dinner. You’re more than welcome to join us–don’t feel you have to run upstairs and hide." She bit her lip. "Unless you prefer your privacy."
He inclined his head in acknowledgment–though she wasn’t quite sure what he was acknowledging. "That is very kind of you. I thank you." But he made no commitment.
"Just so you know you’re welcome."
Dietrich digested that, then said, "Fraulein, I wish to apologize."
Bridey frowned, taken aback at the swift change in subject. "For what?" she asked in confusion.
"My behavior at the evening meal."
"You didn’t do anything wrong."
"I questioned the food Frau McKenna served."
"You mean the turnips? Don’t worry about it. It probably made her feel right at home."
"I saw the expression on her face. She was…not pleased."
"That’s pretty much par for the course for my cousin. Don’t worry about it, or the turnips. My brother insults them whenever she serves them. He calls them pig slop. Of course, considering the things he’s said about Marine Corps food, he’d probably be happy to have them now."
"Fraulein, be that as it may, you deserve an explanation."
"Okay. So what’s wrong with turnips?"
"We ate them at almost every meal for several months when I was a child. I have avoided them since."
"Every meal?" Bridey’s eyes widened in surprise.
"At times they were all we had to eat when times were hard."
"Oh, my. I can see why you don’t want to eat them now." She paused, thinking. "Siobhan won’t stop making them. The rest of us like them too much–Joey, too, no matter what he says about them. But don’t feel like you have to eat them just because they’re on the table."
He still looked uncertain, and Bridey reached out to place a reassuring hand on his arm. "There’s plenty of stuff she serves that I won’t touch–like brussels sprouts or lima beans. I just ignore them and they go away."
"I thank you for the advice."
"You’re going up to your room?"
"Then I’ll see you in the morning." She watched him climb the stairs, then turned away to join her family in the living room.
** ** **
Over the course of the next few days, Bridey broke Dietrich in on farm procedures. Between them they established a routine of things they did together, and other tasks they performed separately.
Dietrich noticed Fraulein Cullen’s independent spirit within a day of his arrival. When she assigned him his chores, he noticed she kept many of the more difficult physical tasks for herself. It was clear that she was proud of her self-reliance, and he felt that she hated to ask anyone for help in anything.
Yes, she was tall and strong, and seemed capable of doing whatever she needed to do, but seeing her hauling bales of hay and lugging sacks of feed made him slightly uncomfortable. So he quietly took on a few of the more physical jobs.
Working with the horses was one of Fraulein Cullen’s primary activities. She schooled the older horses, taught new movements to the younger, accustomed the yearlings and foals to handling by humans. The first thing he noticed was that she trained with a great deal of praise, constantly talking to the horse and peppering her speech with "Good boy," or "Attagirl." She also told the horses what they were going to be doing and why, and kept up a running monologue with the horse as she rode, fed, groomed, or cleaned the stalls. While it was doubtful that the horses understood more than a few of her words, the tone of her voice was a calming influence.
If a horse refused to do what she wanted, she never used force – just attempted to get them to do what she wanted by another method. It might take three, or four, or even more attempts, but when the horse finally obeyed, she rewarded them with lavish praise and petting.
And the horses responded to this treatment. They’d cock one ear forward, and the other in her direction, listening to every word she said. He enjoyed watching her. She was clearly competent, and just as clearly enjoyed what she was doing. Dietrich smiled. This was turning out to be an enjoyable assignment after all.
After the first night, which he spent in the solitude of his room, Dietrich spent the evenings with the Cullens, listening to the radio, sharing the newspapers with Mike and Bridey. He took his meals with the family, with no repeat of the awkwardness of that first dinner, and actually seemed to enjoy the routine of sitting in the living room after dinner, listening to the radio or reading the papers that the Cullens received every day. The papers quenched his insatiable thirst for war news. He was quiet, absorbing everything around him, commenting on little. Both Mike and Bridey sensed he was filing every fact away for later digestion. Just before bed, Dietrich and Bridey would make one last check on the horses before turning in. That had been Mike’s job, but Dietrich was happy to take it on.
The first week passed quickly. Dietrich settled into the routine as if he’d been living at Diamond Shamrock for years.
Sunday morning was warmer than what had been forecast, and Bridey left her coat open as she made her way to the barn. She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw Dietrich had beaten her there. "Major, it’s Sunday. What are you doing here? This is your day off. You could still be in bed."
"You are here," he pointed out without stopping his task.
"I have to be. You don’t–not today. This is your day off."
"Fraulein, there are no days off on a horse farm."
"Yeah, I know, but I can’t let you work seven days a week."
"And I cannot in all good conscience allow you to work while I rest."
Bridey stared at him. "And they say the Irish are stubborn."
Dietrich smiled, and turned back to his work.
Bridey didn’t push–if wanted to work, she couldn’t stop him. And, truth be told, it made things easier on her and Mike. "Don’t get so involved that you forget breakfast. Siobhan goes all out on Sunday."
"I would not tempt fate in such a manner."
She gave him a wide grin, relieved that he felt comfortable enough to joke. "That’s very wise, Major. We eat breakfast late on Sunday, when we come back from Mass." She hesitated. "I forgot to ask–is Charlie coming to take you to the camp for services? I don’t want to sound like I’m prying, but…."
Dietrich shook his head and smiled. "Fraulein, you have given no offense. Captain Wagner made no arrangements for that."
"Oh. I’d offer to take you with us, but I don’t know if it’s allowed–and I don’t even know if you’re Catholic."
"I am, but I doubt you would be encouraged to take me to Mass with you," Dietrich said gently.
"You’ve got a point there." She paused, thinking. "I’ll probably see Charlie at Mass–do you want me to ask him?"
"It’s not necessary, Fraulein. But I thank you for your consideration."
"Let me know if you change your mind," she said, and went off to her own work.
Bridey finished her first round of chores, then headed back to the house. She showered and dressed, then met Siobhan in the kitchen. There was no sign of Dietrich as she drove down the lane on the way to church.
He was very much in evidence when they returned from services at Saint Andrew’s, however, sweeping stray bits of straw from the cobblestone entry to the main barn.
"This farm is cleaner than it’s been in years," Siobhan said.
"Yes, and aren’t we all glad of it?" Bridey asked dryly, then went in to change to her work clothes.
Dietrich met her at the barn door a few minutes later. "Do you wish me to tack up any of the horses for you?"
"Thank you, but no. Sunday’s a day of rest for them and us. Since it’s so nice, we’ll just turn most of them out and let them amuse themselves."
They turned the horses out, leaving the close-to-term mares in their stalls. Diamond Star frisked like a young colt as he was turned into his turnout paddock.
"He doesn’t like the winter," Bridey said, grinning at the horse’s antics.
Dietrich leaned on the top rail of Star’s paddock. "I thought it would be colder here."
"It usually is. This is the January thaw. Wait ‘til we get sub-zero temperatures."
"I think I can wait."
** ** **
Midmorning on Monday, Bridey found Dietrich working in the broodmare barn, grooming Playfair and her new foal. Flighty Playfair seemed perfectly at ease, and again Bridey was struck by the ease with which the Diamond Shamrock horses had accepted their new caretaker.
"Hey," she said softly, by way of greeting.
"Did you need something?"
"No, but I thought you might. I’m running in to town to the tack shop, and then I’m going to see Charlie. Do you need me to pick anything up for you from the camp?"
"I can’t think of anything I need, Fraulein. But…would you ask if there is any mail for me?"
Bridey noted an anxious light in his eyes, but said nothing. "Be happy to. That’s it? Nothing else?"
"Fraulein, you and your family have met all of my other physical needs."
She smiled. "I’ll tell Charlie you said that."
** ** **
Bridey beamed at Charlie as she entered his office. "Charlie, I could kiss you."
He rose to greet her. "You mean I did something right for a change?"
"Better than right–Major Dietrich is a gift from heaven," she said, settling herself in the chair in front of his desk.
"Heavens, yes! He’s a natural, Charlie. You should see him with the horses. He’s absolute poetry in motion. They’ve all taken to him–even Playfair. And you know how picky she can be. But she loves him."
"You can take me to lunch to pay me back."
"Happily. Wanna go now? I’ve got time. My parolee has things firmly in hand back home."
Charlie shook his head. "I can’t. I’ve got too much to do this afternoon. Raincheck?" he asked, blue eyes sparkling.
"This is one you can have." Bridey smiled and stood. "Oh, he asked if he had any mail."
"Here," Charlie said. "These just came. They were forwarded from Camp Crowe." He handed Bridey two letters. "They’re from his wife."
Bridey looked up in surprise. "He’s married?"
"Yup. With a baby, too." Charlie rose from his desk and escorted Bridey to the door.
"He never said anything." She shrugged. "He doesn’t really talk about anything personal."
"Most of them don’t. They keep that to themselves."
"Can you blame them? Prisoners, so far from home. They want something that’s just theirs, that no one can take away."
Charlie frowned. "When did you get so philosophical?"
"I don’t know. It sounds good, though, doesn’t it?" She frowned. "Why didn’t you tell us before?"
"Because I just found out. Some of his records took the long way from Kentucky." He studied her face. "Would it have made a difference?"
"Someone with a family…you just want to be nicer to make it up to them for being so far from home and family."
"You turning into a softie in your old age?"
"Would that be so bad?"
"Not from where I’m standing, kiddo. Say hi to Mike and Siobhan. If I can get away, I’ll be over for dinner."
** ** **
Upon returning to the farm, Bridey changed her clothes, then went looking for Dietrich. She found her father first, working in the round pen with Hot Corner. "Hey, Pop. How’s he doing?"
"His manners leave a bit to be desired, but they’ll come in time. Did you see Charlie?"
"He said hi. He’ll be over for dinner if he can." She paused, and her hand went to the letters in her pocket. "He gave me some mail for the Major."
"Ah, that’ll make him happy."
"They’re from his wife."
Mike’s face darkened. "Far from home with a wife left behind. That only makes the situation harder to take."
"Yeah," Bridey agreed. "Do you know where he is?"
"The main barn, the last I saw him. He was socializing with Deets."
"I think they really like each other."
"All of the horses have taken to him. It’s a rare find young Charlie brought us."
"‘Young Charlie’?" Bridey repeated. "Pop, don’t start."
"Off wi’ ye," Mike said, his brogue broad. "I’ll not have me own criticizin’ me."
"No, Pop, certainly not." Bridey laughed and set off to find Dietrich.
As Mike had said, he was grooming Determination. The big chestnut’s coat gleamed with attention. "He’s lookin’ good."
"He is a pleasure to work with. He enjoys the attention."
"He’s always been a hedonist." She fingered the letters, then withdrew them from her pocket. "Charlie gave me these for you." She extended the two envelopes.
He took them curiously, his eyes lighting when he saw the return address. He shuttered that reaction quickly, then looked at Bridey. "They are from my wife."
"That’s what Charlie said. He said they took the long way from Kentucky." She turned away. "You read them in peace. I’ll see you later."
He nodded absently, then called after her. "Fraulein?"
Bridey turned. "Yes?"
"You’re welcome. If you need me, I’ll be in the feed room, making Rosie’s mash."
"I have already done that. She finished it all."
"Really." She gave him a measuring look. "Thanks. Lunch will be ready soon."
She headed for Rosie’s stall. The old mare looked up at her, then went over to sniff at her empty mash pail. Bridey laughed and moved on to Dancer’s. It was clean, laid with fresh straw. So were the stalls to either side. The barn aisle was clear of any obstructions, swept neat and clean, all implements safely put away where they belonged. She knew that every water bucket would be full, all mangers topped off with fresh hay.
Bridey looked around. Everything she thought of doing had already been done, and it occurred to her that she actually had time to get a short ride in before lunch. She suddenly realized how many of her chores he’d taken on. It wasn’t that he was stronger–even though he was, she was far from being helpless or weak. Physical labor was something she’d been accustomed to since childhood–it was part and parcel of living with horses. No, she knew he’d simply seen how much she did and had consciously made a decision to lighten her load.
Well, if she had time for a ride, Dietrich did also. And riding was more fun with company.
She found him in the tack room, checking tack. "Hey."
"I’m going for a ride. Come with me?"
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."
He looked at her and laughed. "Do you know what my name means in English?"
She shook her head. "No."
Bridey grinned. "And Jack is a nickname for John. See, I was right."
Dietrich shook his head in resignation. "How can I argue with logic like that?"
"You can’t, so let’s go."
"Who should I ride?"
"Anyone you want."
"Determination?" He’d become partial to the tall gelding.
"Yeah, he can use the exercise. I’ll go get Dancer. I’ll be right back."
Bridey saddled Dancer quickly. Truth be told, she wanted to see how well Dietrich rode. He certainly handled the horses competently on the ground. There was an ease and grace to his movements that she’d seen in few people. But riding–that would be the final test.
Dietrich had Determination in crossties and was saddling him when she returned with Dancer. Bridey watched his fluid and graceful motion as he saddled Determination. There was an absolute lack of tension in his body, and the gelding responded to it.
"You’re good," she said.
"Thank you, Fraulein."
"You’ve been doing this a long time."
He nodded, but said nothing. He rarely made personal responses to anything she said. Bridey wanted to know more–her insatiable curiosity had to be fed. But Dietrich jealously guarded his privacy, giving details only when absolutely necessary–like the story about the turnips. She couldn’t blame him, not really–but something made her persist in reaching out and offering him her friendship.
"You give them the space they need. A lot of people don’t understand how to do that."
"You can’t let a horse feel trapped, Fraulein."
Bridey nodded. "I know. I learned that working with racehorses. A racer who feels trapped will flip over."
He led the gelding out to the stable aisle, and they chatted as they left the barn. "Did you work with the racehorses much?"
"Uh-huh. I was a groom, I was a hotwalker, I was an exercise rider when we had horses in training–galloping the horses on the track in the morning. I used to be the one to back the yearlings, too."
"Hotwalker?" Dietrich asked "Back them?"
"I’m sorry. Racing has its own vocabulary. A hotwalker cools the horses down after a workout or a race. Backing means training a yearling to accept a rider. You need someone small and light when the colts are at that age–you don’t want to stress them. We usually wait until they’re long yearlings–older, closer to two-year-olds. It’s less stress on their backs and legs. We start them in a box stall–saddling, getting them used to having a bit in their mouths, then leading them around. Then a rider will lie across the saddle for a few seconds, then slide off. We do that for a while, for longer periods of time, before we ever sit in the saddle–with no stirrups. That’s when we get the colt used to being steered by the reins. Then we add stirrups, and when they’re reliable, we move to the round pen for a couple of days before we start riding them on the track in small groups. Then we train them to the starting gate, and when they’re used to that, we start training them to race. The best ones don’t need much training for that–they naturally want to run."
Dietrich mounted; Bridey followed suit. "We break horses to saddle at a later age," he said.
"Thoroughbreds start racing early. Two-year-olds are racing by May. Pop usually holds back until the fall, and some of our horses don’t race at all until they’re three. Some of them need to grow up mentally and physically before they start working."
"That is true for most breeds."
"Is training very different in Germany?"
"We start our horses much more slowly. Some may not even be saddled until they are four or five."
Bridey shook her head. "That would never happen with a racehorse. A horse that age would miss the big three-year-old races."
"Your Triple Crown?"
Bridey looked at him in delight. "You’ve heard of them?" she asked eagerly.
"Only in passing. I know they are very famous and prestigious."
"Some people think they ask too much of a horse too soon."
"Your father?" Dietrich asked softly.
"Yeah? How did you know?"
"It’s just a feeling I have from talking to him. And you?"
Bridey shrugged. "I think there are some exceptional individuals who can handle the distance at that age."
"But not many."
"Not as many as we see racing at that age." She paused. "I think someday we may breed a Triple Crown contender – and if we do, I intend to see that he – or she – gets the chance to run on the first Saturday in May." It requires a special individual – we tend to breed horses that mature later. You can’t push a racehorse too hard or too fast. You’ll ruin them. You have to take your cues from them. We have be able to recognize that. You can learn a lot from a horse if you just keep your eyes open."
"The learning never stops. Horses are superb teachers."
"Pop says in learning we teach, and in teaching we learn."
"Your father is a wise man."
She smiled across at him, pride in her father in her eyes. "Thank you. What’s it like, learning to ride in Germany?"
He smiled at the question. Fraulein Cullen had an insatiable curiosity when it came to horses–and to virtually everything else. Horses and riding were safer subjects than most. "Well, you start out as a Pferdewirt."
"A what?" Bridey asked with a laugh.
"Translated literally, it means ‘horseworker’."
"You can progress all the way to Pferdewirtschaftmeister."
"Is that all one word?"
Dietrich grinned. "Yes. It means master horse craft worker."
"Interesting title. Is that what you were?"
Dietrich smiled. "No. I was a student. A rider. Then I went to military school."
"Did you stop riding then?"
"No, but after I graduated, time for riding was very rare." He said nothing about the Olympic gold medal he’d won in his last year of school. He’d been temporarily promoted to officer status to allow him to ride as part of the Olympic team, then demoted immediately after the Games were over.
"That must have been hard on you."
He looked at her, surprised at her insight. "Yes. It was very difficult."
"What did you do? When you were a student?"
Dietrich smiled. "I worked with the young horses, bringing them along at their own pace. And, at the same time, I learned from older horses. You would call them schoolmasters."
"Similar. They teach riders, not other horses."
"Rosie taught us. She was very patient with me, Joey, and Charlie."
"Then your Rosie is indeed a schoolmaster."
Then cantered across an open field. Watching Dietrich sit easily on the tall gelding, Bridey was reminded of one of her father’s favorite sayings– "A man on the ground is just a man, but a man on a horse is second to none." It had never seemed more true. Diamond Shamrock Farm was incredibly richer by his mere presence.
As they topped a rise near the pond, Dietrich broke into her thoughts. "It is very beautiful here."
Bridey beamed at him. "It is, isn’t it? I love this farm."
"Were you born here?"
"Uh-huh. Right in the master bedroom." Her eyes unfocused slightly, and then she shook her head as if to clear it. Then she looked at her watch. "We’d better get going. It’s almost lunchtime. Siobhan’s been quiet lately, and I don’t want to set her off."
Dietrich looked disappointed, but nodded. "As you wish, Fraulein."
"We can do this again soon. We can ride every day, as long as the weather is good."
He looked at her, and realized she was waiting for his response. "I’d like that."
"I thought you would."
Together they cantered down the slope and back toward the house.
** ** **
Bridey looked at her watch as they led the geldings down the stable aisle. "We’re late."
Dietrich took Dancer’s reins from her. "I’ll take care of the horses."
"I’ll tell Siobhan we’re back." She smiled. "Thanks for the ride, Major. I had fun."
Dietrich watched her leave, her long strides taking her out of the barn quickly. Barriers had fallen this day, and bridges had been crossed. He thought he’d found another friend in this amazing country.
Fraulein Cullen was very at ease around the horses. Her equestrian skills were well developed, but she didn’t feel the need to show off her abilities for him; rather, she matter-of-factly did what needed to be done, or imparted information she felt he needed to have.
Anneliese, on the other hand, had shown off her abilities from their first meeting. She had a need to be the best, and she had a need to let him know she was. He knew that Fraulein Cullen wanted to be the best at what she did, but somehow he knew it was due to an internal desire for perfection–not a desire to show everyone around her how good she was.
He found that he enjoyed Fraulein Cullen’s company a great deal. If circumstances had been different, he’d have been the one to seek her out instead of hiding behind a mask of politeness and reticence. He certainly wouldn’t have chosen to keep his distance, either physically or emotionally.
But he had a wife and daughter waiting for him at home. An entanglement with the woman who held his parole would be fair to none of them. Intellectual and professional interaction was all that was realistically open to either of them.
** ** **
January passed, with Dietrich settling into the routine as if he’d always lived at the firm. Considering the circumstances, it was a bit unbelievable. He was comfortable with his situation, comfortable with his employers, who were just as comfortable with and grateful for his presence. Daily life on the farm returned to the status quo.
Little did any of them know how soon their lives were to change.
Read the next part of Dietrich’s story in The Last Ride Raid, by LC Wells and Kathy Agel, available from Criterion Press.