“They were what?!”
“Well, that’s the nearest I can explain it. O’ carse, only Ireland has real leprechauns, but they were like the local version. It felt like they were treating me like family, almost.”
“Sam, what’s the problem with this thing?” Tom held up the little disk.
“You need to be careful with it. It’s like a compass, but it’s not. It’s called a Sérkatoray, a seeker. They only appear when there is a need. They only appear to those worthy of using them. Frodo, did that thing ever light up when you held it?” Frodo shook his head. “Tom, whatever it is that needs finding, you’re it!”
“Oh, lovely. Don’t I feel special? What the hell is it I’m supposed to find?”
“Well, that’s part of the problem. We won’t know until we get there.”
“Waddya mean, we? I thought you just said I’m the one that’s supposed to go find whatever the hell it is I’m supposed to find?”
Shadow put his hand on Tom’s shoulder. “You don’t think we’d let you venture off by yourself, do you? We want some of the glory, too! And if not, at least someone will know where you’re buried.” He winked, and grinned that irritating lopsided grin of his.
Tom looked around at his crewmates, his friends. “Well, if you’re coming, then let’s get moving. Mount up!”
“Russian leprechauns? Magic bread?” thought Beppo. “This sounds like some cheesy serial at the cinema!” However cheesy it sounded, though, he quickly scuttled up under a tarp across the rear fender. As he twisted himself up, he knocked his cover off his head. He froze as a set of boots came into his field of view. They stopped, then kicked his Schirmmütze under the car. He gasped quietly as whoever it was cinched the tie-downs on the tarp. “Be careful what you wish for, my friend. You just might get it,” he heard. “Oh well,” he thought, “in for a pfennig, in for a mark!”
An hour or so later, Rosselsprung and Nibelung were trooping the line, checking on their troops. When they got to Beppo’s tank, they were surprised that he wasn’t there. The gunner said that the Herr Leutnant had gone over to the Puma, but he didn’t know where they were now. As the two Panzer officers walked to the Puma’s former position, they were confused. They had given no orders, and they had gotten no message from the armored car that they were moving. Yet, they were gone.
As they stood there, they could see tire tracks, but they faded out after 20-30 meters. Nibelung reached down and picked up the Schirmmütze lying there. “Well, this is Beppo’s.” There was a small clock sewn onto the side of the cap. Some officers had their unit emblem sewn there. Beppo’s crew had sewn the clock on there as a joke after the “Bling” incident. He hadn’t really thought it was all that funny, but he had taken it as the back-handed humor it was meant to be. Hell, out here, you needed all the humor you could find. Besides, the way he saw it, it was a mark of respect and comradeship. If the men didn’t respect and/or like him a little, they wouldn’t have made that sort of effort.
Rosselsprung looked over at the sidecar combo sitting there, the engine ticking as it cooled. “You don’t suppose someone spilled Sam’s faerie dust, and the bike is all we have left?”
“I don’t know,” replied Nibelung, “but I hope they’re all right. We can’t afford to lose a gun right now. I guess we’ll have to move Hansen and his troops up here to cover the gap. They’re good guys, and reliable in a fight, but damn those Irish are a little strange!”
Sam was confused. By his reckoning, they had driven a good ways, but his fuel gauge wasn’t moving. He wasn’t sure how far they had come, but Frodo had spelled him twice at the wheel. He slowed, then stopped the vehicle.
“What’s wrong, Sam?”
“I don’t know, Tom, but something isn’t right. I’m going to check the fuel.” As he tried to clamber up on the rear deck, he slipped, and fell against the gear tarped to the fender. “Ooph!”
“Ooph?” He slid down, and undid the tie-downs. As Beppo rolled most unceremoniously off the fender, he jumped back. “What the feck are you doing here?!”
“Jaysus!” cried Tom, and he climbed out of the turret, more than a little pissed off. “Now we have Leutnants as stowaways?! With all due respect, Sir, (although respect was not really what his tone of voice implied), what in the name of Jesus, Mary, and Saint Joseph are you doing here? Don’t you have your precious, mighty Tiger to tend to?”
Beppo stood there, trying to balance the embarrassment he felt with the pride and bearing of a Panzer officer. It was a delicate act, and he wasn’t succeeding. He knew he was wrong. He looked up at the Shadow, who was still in the turret. He was leaning on his hatch with a bemused smirk on his face. Tom glanced up and glared at his gunner.
“Oh, don’t tell me you knew about this?”
“Okay, I won’t,” grinned Shadow. “After listening to Frodo, when I realized he was there, I figured a little more youth and enthusiasm would add to our age and treachery. Between the five of us, we ought to be able to handle anything!”
“Right. Perfectly logical! And wipe that silly arse smirk of yer face!”
“Oberscharführer, I owe you and your crew an apology. Two, actually. I overheard the Rottenführer’s report, and acted in a very compulsive and unforgivable manner. Stowing away is not proper conduct for an officer of the Deutsches Heer. I am sorry. I don’t suppose it’s any consolation that I stowed away in order to head for trouble?”
Tom just stood there. In addition to being totally confused by this quest, now he had a relatively normal German to deal with. At least Sam and Frodo were part of the magick world. The Shadow, well, he was the Shadow, whatever the feck that meant! He still hadn’t come to grips with whatever it meant to be chosen for whatever the hell this quest was, either. Now Leutnant Beppo. He should have stayed back in Eire, and fought the Brits. At least those bastards were the ones he knew and understood.
“Herr Leutnant, you’re in the shite now, whether you like it or not. I imagine you’ve heard enough to know that whatever we’re heading into, you’d probably prefer to face Ivan. Even the two leprechauns don’t know what’s going on, so might just have bitten off more than you can chew. I’ll tell you this, though. You’re in over your head. Regardless of those shoulder straps, this is my mission. This is my Panzerspähwagen, and my crew. I’m in charge. Hell, I’m the bleedin’ ‘Chosen One.’ You’re just along for the ride, or you can stay here. Clear?”
Beppo looked as if he were about to explode at the effrontery of this NCO, but he swallowed his pride. Tom was right. If half of the story he heard was true, he was in over his head. You could shoot Ivan, but how do you kill a leprechaun? “I understand. I will stay out of your way, and help where I can.”
“Good.” Tom turned to his crew. “Sam! Check the fuel. Frodo, you’re back at the wheel for a while. Shadow, give the Leutnant one of the MP40s. They’re slightly more useful than his pistol.”
Sam looked down from the back deck. “Tom, something’s not right.”
“Well, nothing’s wrong, per se. For some reason, we’re getting fantastic mileage.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, we’ve driven about a hundred, hundred and fifty kilometers, and we’ve used about half a liter of fuel. I have a funny feeling we’re not in the Leutnant’s world anymore, if you know what I mean.”
Tom reached in his pocket, and with just a little trepidation pulled the Sérkatoray out of his pocket. It was glowing blue. Slowly, he turned back and forth where he stood. He noted where the light was the brightest, but he also saw that there was a brief flash of red at one ‘compass point.’ “Sam, what does this mean?”
“Well, I’m thinking we want to head to that bright blue light. Red usually means evil, but you’ve just got that flash. Just a spot of trouble?”
“You know, when my resident magick expert doesn’t know what’s going on, it doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence.”
“Well, what do you expect? I know how things work in Ireland, but we aren’t in Ireland, are we, ye git!”
“Mount up, ye bunch of blackguards! Leutnant, you’ve just been transferred to the Panzergrenadiers. You’ll have to hang on the back of the turret, there’s not enough room for you inside. You can help keep an eye out for anything, er, unusual.”
Beppo knew damned good and well there was room enough for him inside the car, but decided that being outside was a shade bit better than being down inside the car, second in line for a hatch if there was any trouble. He nodded in agreement, and climbed up on the deck. He took the MP from Shadow, and made himself comfortable. As the car started up and moved out, he scanned the horizon behind them. What was he looking for, anyway?