Four Days On The Danube – Snippet 06

          Another burst of gunfire came from Ingolstadt. Where were the Americans? Stefano’s concern was for himself as well as for them. He couldn’t get the airship ready to fly on his own. They’d deflated the balloon after they arrived in Ingolstadt, as they normally did when they were stopping somewhere for any significant stretch of time. The sheer mass involved in getting the balloon re-inflated was just too much for one person to handle in any reasonable amount of time.

          For that matter, even if he could get the blimp aloft on his own he couldn’t really handle it safely. The airship was designed to be flown by a minimum of two people, and a crew of three was better.

          Where were they?


          Hank Siers was lying next to a pile of rubble, from which his companions had just pulled him out. The building he’d taken shelter behind had been collapsed by an exploding cannon shell. His leg was broken and he was unconscious, but he was still alive and otherwise unhurt, so far as Bonnie Weaver could tell.

          Of course, that assessment was based on nothing more substantial than a two-week class in first aid that Bonnie had taken a couple of years earlier. For all she knew, Hank was bleeding internally, had all sorts of internal damage, and was even now exhibiting plain and unmistakable symptoms of said injuries that she was too ignorant to recognize.

          “How is he?” asked Dina Merrifield. She and Bonnie were the same age, had grown up together, and had been in the same classes in school. In short, they knew each other as well as people in a small town do who are acquaintances rather than friends — but very closely acquainted. Closely enough that Bonnie didn’t see any point in pretending to know more than she did.

          “I don’t really know, Dina, to be honest. I’m sure his leg’s broken, although — thank God — it’s not a compound fracture. He probably has a concussion, too.”

          Amanda Boyd came around the corner of the building — what was left of it, rather. She’d gone to see if there were any signs that enemy soldiers were moving around in the area.

          “I can’t see anybody, except a couple of women hurrying to get into a building. So far as I can tell, the fighting is still at least a quarter of a mile away.”

          That wasn’t really much comfort. A man could walk a quarter of a mile in five minutes. But soldiers in combat wouldn’t move that quickly, Bonnie told herself, unless they had specific reasons to know that a target was nearby.

          Still, she didn’t think they had more than half an hour of safety. That gave them barely enough time to get out of the town and reach the airship, with a wounded and unconscious man to carry.

          Hank was no lightweight, either. It would take all three of them to carry him, even if they could jury-rig some sort of stretcher.

          The thought of a stretcher concentrated her mind and helped her to control the incipient panic. One thing at a time. We need something to make a stretcher from.

          As it turned out, Dina had been thinking along the same lines. “There was a wheelbarrow back there, where they were doing construction. And some wood we could make a splint from.”

          “Fitting a man as big as Siers into a wheelbarrow isn’t going to be easy,” Bonnie said dubiously.

          Amanda shrugged. “I saw a picture once of something like twelve guys who crammed themselves into a VW. And I don’t see where we’ve got an alternative, Bonnie, unless we just leave him here. Ain’t no way we’re gonna carry this fat asshole.”

          Amanda didn’t get along well with Siers. Partly that was because of her age — she was two years younger than Bonnie and Dina, just shy of twenty — and partly it was because Amanda was edgy and didn’t get along with a lot of people. Being fair, although Bonnie herself wouldn’t go so far as to call Hank an asshole, he certainly wasn’t one of her favorite people, either. He was a fussy and overbearing boss, just for starters.

          Dina straightened up. “She’s right. I’ll go get it.”


          She was back in less than five minutes. It took them at least that long to fit a splint onto the surveyor’s leg. Bonnie, who did the work of setting the broken bone, could only hope she’d done it right. If she hadn’t, Hank would probably walk with a limp for the rest of his life. But she was beginning to fear that might be the least of his problems. Hank was still unconscious. Not even the pain of having a broken bone reset had aroused him. She didn’t think that was normal, even for a man who’d been knocked out and almost certainly had a concussion.

          Then, it took another two or three minutes to get Hank into the wheelbarrow and positioned in such a way that he wouldn’t fall out — entirely, anyway; at least a third of him wasn’t actually in the wheelbarrow — and enough of his weight was distributed properly so that they could pick up the handles.

          At that, it would take two of them, one on each handle, to move him. The third woman would rotate so they’d each get some rest.

          They’d need it, too. Bonnie didn’t know exactly how much Hank weighed. She’d have said two hundred pounds or so. Now, straining at one of the handles as they trundled toward the gate that led out of the town in the direction of the airfield, she revised her estimate upward.

          “Like. I. Said.” Amanda was on the other handle while Dina led the way ahead of them. “Fat. Asshole.”