Zipper Hand by Milton Morgan //

Hideout by Kenyon Brown //

“Are you sure this is the right room, Sarren? There are dozens of tenants that live in this Apartment. This one, right here, is the exact place? They all look the same, how could you know?” 
Sarren collected his lucky lighter from his helmet. He thumbed the worn, blackened spade engraved on the front, then jerked it open, bringing a small flame to life. Ember erupted from his thick cigar and glowed as he inhaled slowly. Rampart crossed his arms, stretched his neck impatiently, and kept an unsteady stare on his commander’s cigar. 
“You still have that thing?! We jumped out of a plane, mowed down squads of Nazis, survived your nightmarish driving, and you still manage to hang on to that one cigar. It’s not even a cigar anymore, it’s a nub!”  Rampart took a breath and regained his position. 
Smoke fumed from his commander’s nose, the ashy grey matched the hair concealed by his offset helmet. He presented Rampart an overconfident, bridged grin. The private arched an eye while cocking his head steadily.  Sarren retrieved the stogie and mentioned with annoyance, “At this rate we don’t need weapons to fight this war. We can jus’ show the German’s your repulsive mug. When they counterattack, finish them off with your damn nagging!” 
He returned the smoke and drew in a calming lungful.  “Despite all that, I’ve got a good feeling about this one..” Rampart tried to protest but failed to be quick enough. Sarren roared a raging battle cry, “TRICK OR TREAT!!” with a forceful grunt. Before the cry could die off into the vacant air, Sarren leaned back and planted his battle scarred boot to the door. The aged hinges were no contest for Sarren’s brute strength, but neither was the door itself. Metal hinges buckled, then snapped. Splintered wood caved inward, and the aged pine entrance detached. Sarren’s boot created a small portal within the pine, leaving the rest of him still in the hallway. The private flinched as his commander’s foot disappeared while the door itself failed to collapse in; It leaned forward then backward, holding Sarren hostage by his ankle. The cherished cigar slid out of his gaping mouth, colliding onto the dirtied floor, only to roll and vanish down the stairwell. “Dammit!! My foot’s stuck in the door!” 
Rampart peeked through the forced opening. His eyes quickly scanned the room for any sign of movement. On the clear sign of little life he launched a rough scowl and criticized, “You’re unbelievable Commander… Maybe next time we should just wave a flag screaming, ‘Hey Nazi. We saw where you ran off to with the French lady!’ Or better yet, encourage what French resistance still exists to fight us. Remember the briefing? The Nazis got smart and started mimicking our accents and language. I don’t wanna die today.” 
 Sarren reached to slug Rapart in the shoulder but was withheld by his wooden shackle, causing him to slip on the ashy floor boards. Dirt and ash exploded into the air as his spine made contact. “Arrgh, just shud-up!  Help me would ya?!” His comrade quickly glimpsed over the railing. Stillness and in ruin just as they left it. Without a word, he unsheathed his survival knife and chiseled at the entryway. 
Sarren examined him, continually glimpsing at the backfire burn across his soldier’s cheek. He was damn lucky to still be alive. Taking an enemy’s weapon and trying to use it yourself is always risky. 
“There. Try sliding it through.” Sarren pulled and immediately swore. A warm sensation pooled into his sock but it didn’t cause him to hesitate. He adjusted, twisted, and finally freed himself. The battered architecture was nowhere near forgiving. Splinters, blood, and what remained of his sock clumped together, would now be classified as his ankle. 
Rampart gagged and held his damaged hands to his gaping mouth. He paused for a moment then coughed wetly; he was forced to turn away as his stomach wanted to have its own personal view. Sarren rolled his eyes and reached for the field kit on his back. “Relax Shakespeare, I’ve seen worse. I have ta look at your mug every day don’t I?! And trust me. That burn only made you look better.” The private couldn’t argue, he had a difficult time erasing the sight from his mind. He motioned to the newly opened entrance and then dashed into the room while diverting his eyes. 
Broken glass and grayed debris smothered the dwelling. Rampart slowed his pace, noticing the small clouds rising and whiney creaks he caused with each step. It was as if the air itself was unsettled by his presence. Each breath taken in burned the soldier's lungs.  His exhausted body recognized the pain; he placed in the back of his mind with rest. Light had little presence here. What light did exist reflected lifelessly off of the smothering ash. Tones of grey and black plastered the deadened household, completely masking the colors that once existed. What was visible was not much: a split table hung half way off the balcony, Geometric oak fragments were strewn to the side, resembling what used to be a rocking chair, and a single untouched glass cup atop a lonely shelf.  Rampart’s crackled steps joined the chorus of wisping winds and distant war, the very few sounds that filled atmosphere. His commander added his own input; Rampart could hear him complaining about how cheaply made the country’s carpentry was.  
Rampart sighed as he glanced toward his Commander. He scanned the area once more, then darted his gaze back toward the cup. It was untouched, dust didn’t blanket it, and clean liquid relaxed on the bottom. He quietly drew his handgun, unbuttoning the holster, and then cradled the handle. His distressed hands were unbelievably tender; he secretly thought he could count each and every ridge on the grip. Just like he was trained, his breath became shallower as he ventured further into the dwelling. A short hallway stretched behind the lonely shelf, masking a cracked door to the side. Light slowly dissipated, causing him to desperately widen his eyes, hoping that it would improve his vision. With his firearm ready, Rampart pressed his spare hand to the door to edge it open.

* * *

Sarren clipped the medical case shut and rolled his ankle in front of him. Well it isn’t gonna get better sitting here. He grasped the nearby banister to leverage himself up. Half way standing, an eiree creak caused his heart to sink. The banister gave a final cry of defiance before it snapped off the wall, taking Sarren down with it. “Piece of crap! If you’re gonna build something, don’t do such a half ass job! Make it so it can outlast war!” Sarren hurled the splintered wood down the stairwell, somewhat expecting it to make him feel better. It didn’t. He steadily pushed himself off the floor while watching his ankle, “It’ll do… I need a smoke.” A few pats on his riddled jacket caused his heart to race. Forceful slaps caused his gear to swing and weapons clank. Suddenly, he stilled. “Oh no…” Hesitation slowed his pace as he edged toward the railing. Four floors down, a small glow gave little life to the blackened basement. As if it were final heartfelt goodbye, the orange ember brightened boldly before it was finally extinguished. The commander stood there in a seemingly endless trance. 
“Commander!!”  Sarren registered Rampart’s cry just in time as a wild figure approached quickly. He reached his arm out with a claw like fashion, catching and restraining the character. The young woman screamed and flailed violently. The commander wrangled with the woman, fighting to keep a grip and ignore her painful jabs with kicks.
“Eassyy lady! Ow! C’mon I know I’m irresistible but..Ow Dammit! Slow down!” Completely unprepared, Sarren stumbled as a jaw breaking head-butt smashed his nose. He attempted to reinforce his lock but was interrupted. The woman wrapped her leg around his damaged ankle and pulled, causing him to trip and cuss. 
“Yearrgh!!!” The private realized his Sarren-Like cry was a mistake as she dodged his flying tackle; she turned then rammed him into the brittle wall. Half his body sank in and became acquainted with some old pipes. She breathed deep and leaned to dash. Fear took over as her feet slowly left the ground. She didn’t notice the hulking figure behind her before it was too late. 
Sarren increased his grip and slammed his strength and weight onto the stranger. The floor boards shrieked with pain as they both created a clashing impact. Her eyes widened with pain and shock, she finally was captured. Both of their pulses slowed. He smiled with the gratitude of success but she replied with shrapnel of spit. 
“Well I…I see you made a.. new friend.” Rampart struggled to chime in. He slowly peeled himself from the wall and limped slowly toward them.  “I.. found her in a..some kinda.. a study. She was hiding under a..um ..under a desk.” Rampart scratched his facial scar and breathed quickly, “This isn’t good. We’ve lost him by now. All that work…” Rampart spun his head around the room, hoping to find some sort of answer in the ruined building. 
“Hey feisty lady. You speak English?” Dirtied and frazzled dark-brown hair enshrouded the young woman’s battered face. The war seemed to have touched every part of her, except for her moistening eyes. Sarren cleared his throat, trying to think of any French phrases that could possibly help here, “Où est la salle de bain?” The woman’s glare softened into a confused gaze. She raised an eyebrow and questioned sarcastically, “You invaded my once loving home to ask where the bathroom is, you German Bastard?!”
Rampart caressed his eager hands, then leaned near the two while chuckling, “Sarren you dolt! Maybe you should have been paying more attention to our French pilot, he diiid give lessons at the Massachusetts camp.”  
Sarren jabbed Rampart in the arm, “You feel like doing some pushups private? The guy spoke a mile a minute, I lost as much patience with him as I’m losing with you.” Rampart’s grin faded as he shook his head with irritation. 
“You are..Americans?” The lady asked with a half-hearted smile. 
Sarren sniffed with self-admiration, “Yeah. I am. I’m not so sure about my friend here though, I think he may be a Martian.” He could feel Rampart’s glare and only shrugged. The woman glanced at both of Sarren’s pinning legs with pleading eyes. “Just don’t go all crazy or I’ll give you some flying lessons.” He warned while glancing at the shattered window. He motioned for Rampart to help her up. 
She placed her hand over her heart and bowed sweetly saying, “My name is Emmy.” She paused, curiously, “Why are you here?”
Sarren lifted his helmet and pressed it over his chest. “I am Captain Stone, and this is Private Wilson. We’re…looking for a dangerous German Military General, about five foot seven, has lots of guns, yells a lot, oh and he has a woman over his shoulder. He was spotted holding up in this location roughly… two hours ago. I don’t suppose you’ve seen them?” 
Emmy folded her arms and looked toward the corner of her eyes. “I have.” Rampart tried to sigh with relief but Emmy stopped him, “I have seen him with a girl. You’ve got to take me with you. Any place is better.” The Captain scratched his neck, trying to think of any other option. Emmy motioned to her door with some disgust, “You did just wreck my home, annndd this fella may get away again.” She cooed. 
 Rampart shook his head debating, “No way Commander, we can’t have extra baggage. She isn’t trained, how can we catch him if we’re babysitting?!”  
 Sarren shoved his soldier playfully and chuckled, “Well she DID just beat your ass! By the way, how does defeat feel? “
His tone darkened with severity, “Remember it. Next time you may not be breathing after.” 
The private’s face reddened brightly as he bowed his head, “...Yes sir.”
Sarren clasped his hand tightly on Rampart’s shoulder reassuringly.
“Very well, you can accompany us. Jus’ remember, keep your head low and I! am in charge.”