Fears of the Brave
2004 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
2004 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Best Original Character - Captain Strohm
2004 Papa Bear Awards - Third Place
Best Portrayal of a Canon Character - Hogan
2004 Papa Bear Awards - Second Place
Most Unique Story
Before the Dawn
Colonel Robert Hogan stood blinking in the white-hot light. Resisting the urge to raise a hand up to shade his face, he turned his head away from the source. As his eyes adjusted, he tried for what seemed like the tenth time to distinguish any objects or people in the room. Frustration mixed with fear when he could not. Where was he?
The question came at him again, turning his insides to ice. “How do you defend yourself, Robert Edward Hogan?” He had no answer to give, and felt himself trembling. “You have killed. And you have failed to stop killing. Lives have been put at risk because of your actions, and your inaction. How do you respond to these accusations?”
Hogan felt adrenalin rush all the way to his fingertips as he broke out in a cold sweat. His heart was pumping so hard he was surprised no one but him could hear it. His chest heaved as his breathing sped up, and he felt dizzy, but nothing in the room was spinning. He peered back into the brightness, fighting to keep his emotions in check. He couldn’t remember ever being this frightened of anything before. And making it worse was his complete lack of control: he didn’t know where he was, how he had gotten there, or who was questioning him.
The light got hotter, and closer, and if possible, brighter. So bright that he could no longer see any darkness around it, and he suddenly found himself being dangled over a precipice, with the light burning into him from behind. His eyes unable to focus, he could only see a black, seemingly bottomless abyss yawning below. Terrified of struggling in case the invisible grip on him came loose, he spread his arms and legs as though skydiving, an instinctive move to try to control a fall.
“Have you no answer, Robert Hogan?” came the booming voice.
“I—I—” was all Hogan could manage. He looked down against his will and saw faces, fading in, fading out. People who had passed through his life at LuftStalag 13. People who he had tried to help get away from the Germans, while remaining a prisoner of war himself. People who had sacrificed everything to help the Allies triumph during this terrible, ungodly world war. People whom Hogan would never see again because, for one reason or another, they had not survived. Hogan watched a bead of sweat from his brow plunge into the darkness, as the faces flashed before him.
“It was my job,” he gasped. “I was following orders!”
“You will answer to a higher power,” the voice said evenly. And then Hogan was falling.
“No!” he screamed, terrified. “No! I’m Papa Bear! I’m Papa Bear!” And he continued screaming as he tumbled through to the blackness below.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Hogan woke up with a start, a shriek still strangled in his throat. He sat up, breathing heavily, sweating profusely, looking around him wildly to be sure it was only a dream.
That dream. That same damned dream he’d been having for weeks. It never changed. The light, the faces, the fall. The question: how do you defend yourself? He put a hand up to wipe his face and cursed when he realised he was still shaking. He squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed them fiercely, trying to settle himself down. Again. Not again.
Forcing himself to breathe calmly, he stood up and walked unsteadily to the small, dirty window in his private quarters inside Barracks Two. Dawn was just starting to creep into the sky, breaking up the darkness with small brushstrokes of light. The guards would be bellowing for roll call soon. Just as well, he thought; he wouldn’t be getting any more sleep tonight anyway.
An uncharacteristic frown crossed Hogan’s face as he tried to shake his foul mood before meeting his men. As the senior Prisoner of War officer at this German camp, he had to put on a cool exterior. Especially to his team: being in charge of the most intense sabotage operation of the war, right in the midst of the enemy, required the control and skill of a master craftsman—and sometimes an award-winning actor. Fear was not allowed; it would only undermine the confidence of his subordinates, who needed constant and unwavering support to do the dangerous work they were assigned by Allied headquarters in London. Hogan himself had had his fair share of scrapes with the enemy, including a rather brutal encounter with the Gestapo a few months back. He considered: perhaps he was still suffering the mental effects of his capture. He wanted to think he had fully recovered, but an occasional unbearable headache or breath-taking stab of pain in his ankle made it clear that he was wrong. Maybe his mind was telling him the same thing.
He sighed and moved quietly into the main room of the barracks. He felt his way through the dim light to the stove, where a pot was holding coffee left over from last night. Pouring the tepid liquid into a cup, he realised he’d been depending more and more recently on the caffeine to get him through the days. He had slept little with the advent of this nightmare a couple of weeks ago, combined with a relentless schedule of Underground activity that scraped his nerves raw. Too often lately, he had found his mind wandering, unfocused, far from his reality.
“Want a fork?” came an English accent out of the darkness.
Hogan jumped and nearly dropped his cup. He turned quickly and made out the figure of RAF Corporal Peter Newkirk. “What was that?” he asked quietly.
“I asked if you wanted a fork,” Newkirk repeated. “That coffee’s too solid to use a spoon.”
Hogan lifted the corner of his lips in a very brief half smile. “Didn’t think anyone would be up this early.”
“You know me, sir, I’m an early riser. Don’t like missing the morning sunshine reflecting off the barbed wire.” Newkirk came forward and took a cup, motioning for Hogan to pour. “I’m just not the same without my daily tar intake,” he quipped.
Hogan remained silent. “Having trouble sleeping, sir?” Newkirk ventured carefully.
“What makes you say that?” Hogan answered tersely.
“Well, sir, I don’t mean to be nosy, but this is the third time this week you’ll be ready for assembly before we’re called. Schultzie isn’t going to know what to do with himself.”
“Hey, doesn’t anyone believe in sleeping at night around here?” Another voice pierced the dimness.
“Just greeting the best part of the day, Le Beau,” Hogan replied.
Corporal Louis Le Beau stumbled bleary-eyed to the stove. “How can you drink that concoction now?” he asked, wrinkling his nose. “It is an insult to the palate.”
“You should know, Louis; you made it,” Newkirk retorted.
“We French have impeccable taste,” Le Beau protested. “You English cannot appreciate fine cuisine with your bland idea of gourmet food. What you do to food should be against the Geneva Convention. Café is meant to be drunk fresh and hot, not old and lumpy.”
“More like stew now,” Newkirk pronounced, swallowing hard and replacing his half-full cup. “Tastes the same as when it was fresh, though.”
Le Beau was about to respond when another voice piped up. “Hey, what’s going on? Did I sleep through something?”
Sergeant Andrew Carter rolled out of his bunk and came to the others. “Join the party, Andrew,” said Newkirk. “We’re just discussing how many times to chew Louis’ coffee before swallowing.”
Le Beau started swearing in French. “Okay, fellas, knock it off,” Hogan ordered listlessly. He turned and walked away from them.
The others immediately ceased their banter and looked at each other questioningly. It was going to be a long day.
“Message from London, Colonel.” Sergeant James Kinchloe appeared from underneath a bunk in Barracks Two, where a tunnel laboriously dug by the Underground was concealed. Kinchloe spent a great deal of his time under Stalag 13, keeping track of radio transmissions that would give Hogan and his men their next jobs. Tonight he climbed out, carrying a clipboard with the decoded information for his commander.
Hogan took the board from the black radioman. He was in no mood for any static from London. Kinch had handed Hogan five assignments in the last week, too much for ordinary men, Hogan believed. It wasn’t like they were being asked to perform commonplace military tasks; every move they made was a risk to their lives. “You’d think they’d give us a little holiday for all the fireworks we’ve been setting off for them lately,” Hogan sighed. “You fellas have earned a break.”
“We all have,” yawned Le Beau. “If they wouldn’t mind waiting until tomorrow, Colonel, we might sleep in for once.”
Hogan scanned the words on the paper in front of him and frowned. “Interesting.”
“What do they want, Colonel?” asked Le Beau.
“Seems like we’ve got some high-level Krauts coming to Hammelburg for talks on a new Luftwaffe offensive that could shorten the war—and not in our favour. London wants us to infiltrate the meeting, get the plans, and make sure that the masterminds of the scheme don’t get back to Berlin.”
“Is that all? Do they want us to do anything else—like make ships in bottles?” remarked Newkirk sarcastically.
“Why are they coming to Hammelburg for a meeting like this?” asked Carter.
“My guess is security. Berlin could be too big and too busy, a bodyguard’s nightmare. A little out-of-the-way place like Hammelburg could be the perfect location to hatch a pretty ruthless scheme. And it’d let them filter out all the rotten ideas before presenting them to Hitler,” Hogan surmised. “He’s not known for his patience.”
“This is big stuff, Colonel,” observed Kinch. “And in the daytime, more than likely.”
“When’s the meeting?” asked Newkirk.
“Day after tomorrow. We’re going to need some help on this one.” Hogan turned to Le Beau. “Louis, what haven’t we celebrated lately?”
“Bastille Day. But even the Germans know that is not in October.”
“There are other holidays besides the French ones, y’know,” said Newkirk sardonically.
“Very few worth mentioning,” sniffed the diminutive national.
“You fellas are thinking too broadly. Think closer to home. What would get Klink into town?” Hogan asked, his brown eyes twinkling mischievously.
The men took a moment to consider their balding, prison camp kommandant. His ego well-known, his kowtowing personality even more obvious. And his more than healthy attitude towards the fairer sex a weakness they had exploited—more than once. “Girls,” they answered, almost as one.
“So we’ve got to get him one for his birthday in three days,” Hogan said.
“I wish someone’d get me a present like that,” muttered Newkirk.
“But Colonel, it’s not Klink’s birthday until February,” Carter said.
“Carter, don’t be such a stickler for detail,” Hogan censured good-naturedly. “It just wouldn’t be wise to leave these things till the last minute. We’ll plan a nice birthday surprise for the kommandant. Fix up his car nice and shiny—oh, that’s something,” he announced with a roguish grin. “We’ll need to go into Hammelburg to get some things to shine up and tune up Klink’s car nice and proper.”
“Who’s gonna let us do that?” Carter burst.
“Don’t worry, Carter. I’m sure our friendly neighbourhood guard Sergeant Schultz will take us.”
“This story’s just gettin’ better all the time,” Newkirk remarked.
“Kinch, we’re going to need full details on this conference. Radio London. Get times and places. And then get the details on who we have in Hammelburg that can get into that meeting, preferably someone the Krauts are already comfortable with.”
“Yes, Colonel,” said Kinch. And, knowing that once a plan was in his head Hogan wanted things moving right away, he took off to the tunnel.
“Newkirk, I’m going to need some papers. High level stuff, no frills. If I have to meet up with some of these pretty boys I’m going to need to play on their level.”
“Comin’ right up, sir,” Newkirk nodded.
Hogan’s mind drifted to his last experience with the Germans as he rubbed a sore spot on his temple. “And make a second set for yourself, just in case. Le Beau?”
“Start work on your very best apple strudel. We’re going to need to convince Schultz that our plan is a good one. And the way to Schultz’s brain is through his stomach.”
“Carter, we’re going to need some small, but powerful charges. The best way to make sure these guys don’t get home without hurting innocent civilians is going to be to get their cars. They’re bound to have someone looking after them. You’ll have to find a way around the guard.”
“No problem, boy—uh, Colonel,” said Carter. “Y’know, I’ve been working on some knock-out drops that might just work if we have to use them. Or—or I’m developing a temporary amnesia drug that might work better.”
“How does that one work?” asked Newkirk.
“Um,” faltered Carter. “I can’t remember.”
“Sounds like he has been testing it on himself,” Le Beau said.
“I’ll talk with Klink about his coming celebration,” Hogan told them. “Let’s get to work.”
“Can’t we turn in and work on all this tomorrow?” Carter moaned.
“Maybe the next war, Carter. Maybe the next war.”
The well-oiled machine that was Hogan’s underground operation got to work in earnest. Kinch kept his ear glued to the radio, with Hogan hovering nervously nearby. He trusted his radioman but couldn’t help constantly looking over his shoulder to get the de-coded information as it was written down. The more he read, the more edgy he got. He paced as he relayed questions to his superiors via Kinch, then furrowed his brow as the answers came rolling in. He was in two minds: this was a chance to strike a real blow to the Axis powers; but it was also a serious risk to his men. He hoped he would be able to take sufficient precautions to ensure their safety.
Meanwhile, Newkirk was further down the tunnel, carefully putting pen to paper, designing papers that would legitimize Hogan in the face of the Germans. History. Identity. Orders. Then he turned to his own paperwork. Pausing, he remembered his stint as a German officer trying to get Hogan out of Gestapo Headquarters. You haven’t forgotten either, have you, Colonel? he said to himself, fingering Hogan’s documents. Well I’m making these papers good enough to get us out of Hitler’s office if necessary, gov’nor. Don’t worry this time around.
Nearby, Carter was in his element. Bunsen burners and test tubes at the ready, the American Sergeant was concocting potions only he could explain. Much as he could irritate the others with his sometimes inane comments and poor jokes, they respected his ability with explosives and chemicals. Carter didn’t dare underestimate the importance of getting his work right; he knew that a slip-up in his formulas or his charges could mean death to one of his colleagues. In the end he was a perfectionist, for the safety of his friends, as well as for his own satisfaction.
Upstairs at the stove, Le Beau was putting the finishing touches on a fine snack for Sergeant Hans Schultz. The portly guard was easily swayed by the culinary pleasures of his charges. But Le Beau had learned to take no Germans for granted, not even the normally placid Schultz. With this in mind, he added a little more cinnamon to the bowl. “Maybe I should double the recipe,” he muttered aloud. “This will only fill one of his three stomachs.”
Hogan came up through the bunk bed entrance, followed by Kinch. His face was grim. “What do they have to say, Colonel?” asked Le Beau, turning from his work. Hogan looked strained, he thought. No sleep, more pressure. London should have given him a chance to recover properly after his Gestapo capture.
“That smells good, Le Beau,” said Hogan, ignoring the question. “I’m going to turn in. Killer headache. Keep up the good work.” And he passed with not so much as a look in the Corporal’s direction, shutting his door quietly behind him.
Le Beau looked at Kinch, questioning. “It’s risky. It’s making him anxious,” Kinch said. “The Colonel needs time to think about how to execute this one. But there isn’t any time.”
“And he is unwell, Kinch,” said Le Beau. “He is not sleeping. He did not eat anything at dinner, not even when I offered him his favourites, made by my own hand. And he is still getting headaches. It is not fair for London to expect him to walk into a roomful of Krauts. Not the way he is now.”
“Try telling him that,” interjected Newkirk, coming up from the tunnel. “These are the best papers I think I’ve ever done.” He dropped them on the table for the others to examine. “I only hope we don’t have to use ’em.”
“We’ll find out tomorrow,” Kinch said. “That’s when London is going to finish filling the Colonel in on our Hammelburg contacts.” He looked at Hogan’s closed door. “I can tell you this much: he doesn’t like it, not one bit.”
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On the other side of the door Hogan was lying on his bunk staring up at the ceiling. The headache had only been an excuse to get some solitude, but now it was becoming real. Face it, Robert, you’re just too tired to keep this up. But neither did he want to fall asleep and face these unseen demons haunting him. He massaged his temples and his forehead with his hands. So much to do. The men are counting on me to get it right. And I don’t know if I can do it. London is asking us to kill. To kill…. And though he did his best to fight it, he fell into a troubled slumber, and once more woke up screaming.
The Way To A Man’s Heart
Kinch came up out of the tunnel and grabbed a coffee mug. He’d gotten up early to go down and communicate with London, and found Hogan already down there, listening to static. Noting Hogan’s drawn face, Kinch had wondered how long his commanding officer had slept last night. Hogan had simply nodded his head in greeting, then returned to his inner thoughts. Kinch did his best to ignore the Colonel, knowing that when he was this way it was better not to try to draw him out. But the constant presence unnerved him, and he had to come back up to the surface, with no information forthcoming from Headquarters yet.
Pouring a cup of joe, he considered what he knew. Some of the messages that had come from London last night still made no sense to Kinch, but he could tell by Hogan’s reactions that they had been perfectly clear to the Colonel. A mission like this one depended on many people working together, something that Hogan didn’t usually care for. There were too many opportunities for something to go wrong. A small, close-knit group was the preferred method of operation. But there was no way this mission was going to be able to proceed this way. Already, there was Hogan, his four closest operatives, Klink, and Schultz. Add whatever Underground agents were necessary and there were a dozen people for Hogan to feel responsible for. Kinch shook his head. No wonder Hogan was looking drained.
“Achtung!” came a loud, booming voice from outside. “Achtung! Rise and shine, rise and shine!”
Kinch looked up, startled. Roll call. Hogan was still downstairs. He raced to the bunks and called down. “Colonel—roll call! Roll call!”
Hogan scrambled up the ladder and closed the entrance just as Sergeant Schultz opened the door. Le Beau, Newkirk, and Carter, were rousing themselves. Le Beau, who had been moved from his bunk to let the traffic head downstairs, was being particularly slow this morning.
“It is time for you to come and be counted,” Schultz said, yawning.
“We’ve already done that, Schultz,” said Hogan cheerfully. “None of us is missing.”
Kinch marvelled at the way Hogan put on this jovial exterior as soon as a job was underway. How could any of his men ever tell when he needed to unload his own burdens? “Jolly joker,” said Schultz. “You know I have to count you in front of Kommandant Klink.” He paused. “So raus, raus!” he shouted.
The men moaned their protests at this assault on their ears. Filing out past Schultz, Le Beau mumbled, “You just see if I give you any of my strudel.”
Schultz put out a hand and stopped Le Beau mid-step. Hogan watched, interested. “Did you say ‘strudel’, Le Beau?”
“I made some last night, just for you. But I don’t think I will be doing that now. You are an insult to my ears.”
“Oh please, Le Beau, not your strudel. You must let me smell it.”
“That’s about as close as you will come to it.”
“That’s right, Schultz. You can’t afford to make Le Beau angry when he’s been cooking.” Hogan came up to Schultz and put a hand on his shoulder, flashing a winning smile. “Tell you what. I’ll bet I can get Le Beau to hand over some of that strudel. But you have to do us a little favour first.”
“What kind of a favour?” asked Schultz in a low voice.
“Well the men want to do something special for Colonel Klink’s birthday this week. What’s the chance of us heading into Hammelburg tomorrow to fix up his car and get him a special date with a beautiful fraulein?” Hogan asked, conspiringly.
“Oh, no, I couldn’t do that,” Schultz said.
“Not even for apple strudel?” asked Le Beau. “I made extra, thinking you might want some on the trip in to town. But if you don’t want it I am sure some of the other guards would be glad to have it.”
“Maybe I could do it,” Schultz reconsidered.
“Sure you could, Schultz,” encouraged Hogan. “I’ll have a talk with Klink after roll call.”
“But the kommandant’s birthday is not until February,” Schultz said, frowning.
“Don’t worry, Schultz,” said Hogan. “Klink will forget all about that when he has a lovely, rich lady in his arms.” He patted Schultz on the chest and strolled out to the compound to join formation.
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Hogan’s eyes feasted briefly on Klink’s secretary Hilda as he entered the camp kommandant’s office after roll call. He smiled one of his most charming smiles at her, and, as usual, she responded with a look that melted his insides. Hogan sighed as he passed her without comment. Too many things to organise today. A rendezvous with her would have to wait until after the Luftwaffe offensive was deterred.
He rapped quickly and then entered Klink’s inner office without waiting. Klink was busy at his desk and did not look up. “Not now, Hogan. I have too many things to do this morning. Dis-missed.” He waved as though to shoo Hogan away like a troublesome fly.
“Working hard as always, Kommandant?” said Hogan sympathetically. He took off his cap and clutched it in his hands. “That’s just like you, sir—dedicated, industrious, devoted to duty.” He sniffed, as though touched by the scene. “That’s why the men are so proud of you, sir. I tried to tell them they couldn’t interrupt a man as busy as you with something as trivial as a date but they insisted I try to surprise you anyway. I told them it couldn’t be done.” Hogan sighed as he leaned over Klink’s desk, planting the idea in his ear.
“You are right, Hogan, I don’t have time for foolishness right now—” Klink cut himself off. “What do you mean a date?” he enquired quickly, paperwork forgotten.
“Well, sir, the men wanted to do something special for your birthday and they thought you might like a night on the town with a beautiful lady in Hammelburg, with your car all done up nice and shiny and clean.” Hogan shrugged. “But it’s just not something you can make time for in your busy schedule, sir. I understand.” He straightened up, sighed. “I’ll break the news to the men, sir. It’ll break their hearts.” He turned toward the door.
“Hogan, wait a minute,” burst Klink. He stood up to stop Hogan’s departure. Hogan paused, turned back to Klink with an expectant look on his face. “You know, Hogan, duty is the most important thing in a Luftwaffe officer’s life.”
“Yes, Colonel, of course I understand, you don’t have to justify yourself to the men, sir.” He made as though to leave again.
“But part of that duty, Hogan, is to make sure that the prisoners are treated well,” he continued over the senior POW. “You know I run the toughest prison camp in all of Germany, but that does not mean I am heartless. The men need to be able to do humane, kind things, Hogan. I would be shirking my duty if I did not let them do this for me.” Hogan tried to suppress a grin. “Now what is this plan the men have?”
“Well, sir,” Hogan said, warming up, “the men thought it would be lovely if they could get your car tuned up, cleaned inside and out, and get you all gussied up for a nice evening out with a charming fraulein. Someone young and inspiring, worthy of you, sir, especially on a night as special as your birthday.”
Klink smiled as he imagined the scene. Suddenly the smile stopped. “But Hogan, my birthday is months away.”
“Don’t let that spoil it, sir. The men would be so disappointed. They think the world of you—what does it matter if it’s really your birthday or not?”
Klink nodded emphatically. “You’re right, Hogan. I shouldn’t let that interfere with my duty as camp kommandant. If the men want me to have a candlelit dinner with a rich, enchanting woman, why should I deny them that simple pleasure?”
“You’re all heart, sir,” Hogan said. “Now we’re going to have to get your car into town for proper servicing, Kommandant. I suggest tomorrow morning after roll call. Schultz can guard us. I’ll take Carter, Le Beau, Kinchloe and Newkirk, and we’ll get it all organised. How’s that?”
“If Schultz wants to go, then you may go, Hogan.” He suddenly turned on Hogan and wagged a finger at him. “But no funny business,” he warned.
Hogan held up his hands in surrender. “Scout’s honour,” he said. And replacing his cap, he shot Klink a quick salute and left the office.
The game was afoot.
If so much didn’t depend on the outcome of these assignments, Hogan thought he would actually enjoy the strategic planning that came with them. But as he headed back to Barracks Two, he felt his stomach tightening into the familiar cold knot that had been there countless times before. He sometimes felt like he was putting together a jigsaw puzzle: all the pieces had to be in place to succeed. His men, trained and at the ready; the pawns, like Klink and Schultz were to be in this mission, lined up and unwittingly cooperating; the Underground, prepared to back up Hogan’s operatives; and Hogan himself, sorting all the shapes and colours to make a complete picture. Even the Germans had their role to play, their actions to be counted on. The problem with this puzzle though, Hogan always fretted, was that he had no control over the final design. At any time one of these key pieces could go missing. And one piece out of place could mean death to himself, or his men.
Hogan mentally ticked off the first item on his list. Getting Klink to agree to the scam was even easier than he had expected. Maybe one day he would actually have to get the kommandant one of those irresistible women. Schultz was an anticipated pushover. Absentmindedly, Hogan rubbed his stomach, which he knew would later be sore with stress. Back to the tunnel, he thought. London must have something by now.
This time on his descent to the bowels of Stalag 13 Hogan found he wasn’t alone. Le Beau, Newkirk and Carter were all gathered around Kinch, waiting for news. Le Beau handed Hogan a mug and filled it with coffee. “Anything, Kinch?” Hogan asked.
“Due in two minutes, Colonel. They want to speak with you directly.”
“What happened with Klink?” asked Newkirk.
“Are you kidding? A little more effort and he would have handed me the keys, a map, and a recording of ‘Melancholy Baby’,” Hogan quipped. “What about Schultz?”
“He is getting fatter,” grumbled Le Beau.
“Good, that means we’re getting what we want. You’ll have to make him something extra special to distract him when we’re in Hammelburg tomorrow morning.”
“I already have it planned, Colonel. A beautiful puff pastry filled with chicken, vegetables, and a sweet curry sauce.”
“Sounds wonderful!” piped up Carter.
“Never mind; with the amount Schultz eats we will be lucky to get two kilometres up the road before we run out,” Le Beau warned.
“You’re breaking my heart,” Hogan said.
“Mama Bear, this is Papa Bear, we read you and are ready for transmission,” Kinch broke in suddenly, his ear still at his headsets.
“Okay, fellas, upstairs,” said Hogan. “I’ll let you know what’s going on when I know.” Hogan then spoke over their protests. “That’s an order, come on, get going.” His tone of voice silenced their objections and they headed back up the ladder. Kinch was surprised when Hogan included him in the exodus as well, but he followed without comment.
Ten minutes later the group were sitting tensely in the barracks, jumping at every creak in the floorboards. The suspense was so thick, Carter marvelled that he could see through it. By the time Hogan emerged from below, Le Beau had stirred the coffee so much it had a small whirlpool in it, Kinch had practically paced a hold in the floor, and Newkirk had drummed an indent into the table.
“Okay, here’s what we’re gonna do,” Hogan started, as his men gathered around him. “We’ll start out after roll call in the morning. Le Beau, we’re going to have to get a couple of uniforms in the trunk of Klink’s car for you and Carter.”
“What type of uniforms, Colonel?” asked Carter.
“Nuns’ habits, Carter,” retorted Newkirk. “German uniforms, Andrew. German.”
“Oui, mon Colonel. What about for you and Newkirk?”
“Ours are going to be waiting for us at the Landgasthaus. Our contact there is Angus Voelker. He’s going to give us the low-down on attendees of our little Kraut cocktail party and then RSVP for us. We’ll take what we need and beat it.” He nodded at Carter. “Carter, we’re going to need some pretty small, pretty potent explosives. According to London, a dozen high-ranking Germans are going to be at this meeting, and I can guarantee you they won’t be carpooling.”
“No problem, Colonel.”
“And one more thing: this little picnic in the park is going to be guarded by the SS. Heinrich Himmler is reported to be personally interested in it.” Hogan’s men drew in their breath at the mention of the leader of the Nazi police. “Unfortunately I don’t think we’re going to have a chance to have a go at him. He’d just be another person for them to protect, so he’ll probably stay away.” The men were silent. Hogan knew what they were thinking: that this was much bigger than they could have envisaged. “Don’t be overwhelmed; we’ll take it one step at a time, the same way we handle all our other assignments. We’ll just have to make extra careful to watch our backs.”
Hogan actually wanted to offer his men the chance to back out—they were all volunteers in his mind—but he was afraid if he did, they would pick up on his own reservations and thus lose the confidence that was vital for them to possess in order to carry out their tasks with maximum efficiency and minimum danger. So instead, he gave them all a careful stare, trying to gauge their feelings. Normally quite astute at picking up on their emotional states, Hogan found that he could not read them now through the fog of his own uncertainty.
Unused to this ambiguity, Hogan cursed himself for what he considered a weakness in his own mind. That damned dream kept coming back in unexpected ways: a flash here and there, a chill down his spine, a terror that would not go away and yet could not be expressed. And now, a draining of his usual self-assurance, something he found he needed more than ever.
It was Carter who broke the awkward silence. “It’ll be nice to make such a big difference to the war effort,” he said.
Hogan looked at him with pride and a fatherly satisfaction.
“Yeah, we’ve never had anything this big, Colonel. What we do could save thousands of lives,” Le Beau said.
“London must think a lot of you fellas,” said Hogan. “They are entrusting a lot to you.”
“And to you, Colonel,” added Kinch significantly. Hogan paused. “If anyone is going to pull this off, it’s going to be Papa Bear.”
“We’ll all work together, gov’nor,” said Newkirk. “We’ll just think of it as the story of all stories to tell our grandchildren one day.”
Hogan smiled quietly. “Thanks, fellas,” he said. “Let’s get this organised.”
Hogan left his men and went into his room.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Hogan sat at his desk and opened his Bible. With a deft movement he found a passage that he had read over and over again: in the middle of the night, when he was suddenly gripped with an excruciating anxiety that was to be his alone; when he was waiting for word from one of his men out on a mission; when the enormity of what he was doing—and his responsibility for others’ lives—hit him full force. And when he woke up, sweating and shaking, as he had so often in the last few weeks, looking for an explanation for the incomprehensible. His eyes drank in the words, though he knew them now by heart: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear.
Without fear. Hogan wondered if he would ever again know what that felt like. He closed the book, and headed down to the tunnel to complete his preparations for tomorrow.
Ready To Roll
The bleak sun came up early at Stalag 13, and when Hogan came out of his room after a now not uncommon restless night he found his men already up. Newkirk was sitting at the table, hunched over some papers, doing what appeared to be very detailed work.
“What’s the go, Peter?” asked Hogan.
“I’m just making sure everything is perfect with these, Colonel,” he said, holding up one of the documents he had put together for when he and Hogan went to the Landgasthaus.
Hogan nodded. So Newkirk was anxious too; it was unlike him to go back to work he had completed. “Don’t worry, Newkirk. The papers are perfect. You’re the best forger I know,” Hogan said. “Actually I think you’re the only forger I know. But don’t let that detract from the compliment.”
Newkirk chuckled, appreciating the effort Hogan was taking. “I won’t,” he said. “Thanks, Colonel. Everything all ready now?”
“Everything that can be,” he said, pouring a cup of coffee. He sat down as Carter joined them. “You all packed, Andrew?”
“Oh, yes, sir!” Carter enthused. “I’ve got everything bundled up in a nice tidy package, ready to put in the back of the car with the uniforms Louis pressed yesterday.”
“Good. When it comes out of the motor pool, you and Le Beau will make your move.”
“Been in the tunnel yet today, Kinch?” asked Hogan.
“Not yet, sir,” answered the radioman. “We’re due for final contact from London at oh-seven-hundred-thirty hours.”
“Okay,” Hogan said, as Le Beau came and shoved a cup of steaming brew in his hands. “Thanks, Louis.”
“Drink it,” ordered the Frenchman. “And you will eat the breakfast I bring you, too,” he added. “I do not want you to faint from hunger in front of the nice maniacs.”
“If it’d make you happy, Le Beau, I’d eat the slop they serve here.”
“I did not say anything about suicide,” Le Beau answered. “Just make sure you eat.”
“That goes for you fellas, too,” said Hogan. “Rumbling stomachs look bad in a German uniform.”
“I doubt we’ll be starving with Schultz around,” Newkirk predicted. “How many snack stops do you think we’ll have to make on the way in?”
Hogan laughed quietly. “Not too many I hope—the meeting starts today.”
The banter amongst the men continued, but Hogan backed out of it and observed. He had given up long ago trying to guess how he had come to be in charge of this diverse group of men. What on the surface was a ragtag, undisciplined assortment, underneath was an organised, determined and dedicated team that used humour and self-deprecation to break up the tension that could tear apart an inter-dependent operation if left unchecked. Hogan counted himself as blessed for being able to work with these men, who, like him, knew what had to be done, and did it.
But though they trusted and counted on him, thanks to his rank Hogan still felt somewhat isolated from his men. He had never been one to pull rank, except when it would endanger his operation or the lives of the men under his command. But his duty also meant that he could not confide fully in his charges. The job of a senior officer was to keep his men’s minds fixed on the job at hand, and safe from any unnecessary dangers. And wondering if their commander was shaking in his boots was not something that helped keep them focused. So with few exceptions, Hogan kept his thoughts and fears to himself, only in his weakest moments revealing any unease. The gnawing at his insides was telling him this was one of those moments. But he was determined to fight it this time. There was too much at stake for a single thought to sidetrack them, and he didn’t think he could endure the guilt that would follow if anyone got hurt, or worse, killed, because of his own Achilles' heel.
His reflection didn’t last long, though, as the familiar rousing to roll call brought them to their feet. As usual, Hogan strolled out after most of the others had left the barracks, zipping up his jacket and casually putting on his cap. Stuffing his hands in his pockets, Hogan noted with wry amusement the almost effervescent strut of Colonel Klink as he approached from his office across the compound, stopping with a flourish in front of the gathered prisoners.
“Good morning gentlemen; Schultz,” Klink greeted, rocking back and forth on his toes. Schultz just pursed his lips, used to the insults. “Report, Sergeant!” Klink almost sang.
“Herr Kommandant, all prisoners present and accounted for.”
“Very good, Schultz,” said Klink. He turned to the prisoners. “It has come to my attention, gentlemen, that there has not been ample opportunity for you to exhibit your humane tendencies here at Stalag 13. And because I am, after all, a compassionate kommandant, I have given Colonel Hogan permission to go to Hammelburg today with four of his men to put those inclinations into practice. They will be under armed guard, of course, and if they try to escape they will be shot.” Hogan shook his head; Klink always did know how to make a heartening speech. “The rest of you will remain in camp, on light work detail for the day.” Hogan shrugged. Not bad. “You may complete any heavy work first thing in the morning.” Way to go, Kommandant, Hogan chided.
After this little oration, Klink seemed in a hurry to dismiss the men. He waved his hand as though to scatter them, then approached Hogan. “Nice touch, Kommandant. Light duties today,” Hogan said, hiding his urge to explain to Klink how to really motivate people.
“Thank you, Hogan,” Klink said. “Are you all ready to go?”
“Oh yes, sir. Le Beau and Carter have a few special polishes they’d like to bring along that will make the interior just perfect. You know how easy it is for it to become faded and worn without proper care.” He glanced at his watch. “We’d better be on our way, Kommandant. Places to go… frauleins to see….”
“Of course, Hogan, of course. The car will be out of the motor pool in a few minutes. Schultz!” he called.
“Jawohl, Herr Kommandant!” Schultz came hastily and stood at attention.
“See that the car is ready immediately. Bring it to the front of my office.”
“Jawohl, Herr Kommandant.” He saluted, then relaxed, and leaned over to Hogan. “Colonel Hogan—“
“Corporal Le Beau—he is still planning to bring the food he has been cooking?”
“Of course, Schultz. Nice day like this we might even stop and have a picnic. He’s packing a basket.”
Schultz smiled. “I will get the car,” he said, then dreamed his way away.
Hogan had a sudden inspiration, and called after him. “Oh, Schultz!”
“Yes, Colonel Hogan?”
“Le Beau’s really fussy about his cooking. You’ll have to let him pack the trunk alone, or he might think it’s not fit to serve.” And he might not be able to smuggle in the explosives and uniforms otherwise. “You know the French,” he added with an indulgent smile.
“Of course, Colonel Hogan. I will see that he has complete privacy.” He turned on his heel and shuffled quickly toward the motor pool.
“I knew you would,” Hogan muttered.
“I have told Schultz that you are to be back by sunset, Hogan,” Klink said sternly. Then his demeanour suddenly changed. “Will that be enough time to make arrangements with a beautiful fraulein?”
“Any fraulein with taste should agree to a lovely evening out with an esteemed member of the Luftwaffe in mere minutes.” Klink looked as though he were reconsidering the time away. “But the car, of course, Colonel, will take longer. We’ll do the best we can with it in the time we have. Your German mechanics might be good, but they don’t pay any attention to the little details. And that’s what women like: the details. It’s the little things that win their heart.”
“Of course you’re right, Hogan. Take all the time you need.”
Hogan smiled. This might not be so bad after all.
Hogan wasn’t sure whether it was the tightness in his chest or the tight packing of people in the car that was making him feel queasy. As he, his four men, and Schultz crowded into Klink’s car, he realised it was going to be a close fit and, never being fond of cramped quarters, he had tried to claim the front seat for himself. But lack of space meant Le Beau had to squeeze in between him and Schultz, who was at the wheel. And right now Le Beau was nauseatingly speaking of food, something Hogan could not stomach easily as his insides churned in anticipation of the mission ahead.
He had to admit Le Beau was doing a great job of piquing the guard’s interest. Since they had left the camp fifteen minutes ago, Le Beau had tantalized Schultz’s tastebuds with verbal images of the tasty morsels he had lovingly packed into the trunk of the car. That, thought Hogan, satisfied, and a dessert of charges and timers. And Schultz had happily taken the bait, at least once nearly running off the road while his mind was already feasting on the promised delicacies.
“Don’t you worry, Schultz, you will be enjoying a lovely pastry soon enough,” Le Beau said. “Maybe with some wine, a loaf of bread…”
“Yeah, but first he has to get us to Hammelburg in one piece,” commented Newkirk from the back. “Take it easy, up there, will y’, Schultzie?”
“We are nearly there,” Schultz announced, more to satisfy his own cravings than to keep his charges informed. “And it is nearly lunch time!”
“It’s 10:30 AM!” contradicted Carter.
“My day starts early, so my mealtimes do, too,” defended the guard simply.
Hogan remained quiet, his eyes concentrating on the road ahead. His mind was already in the Landgasthaus, anxiously waiting for Voelker to provide them with the information the Allies needed to deter this Luftwaffe attack. And he was mentally going through their plan of action: he and Newkirk to break away and head to the rendezvous; Carter and Le Beau to arrange to get the cars booby-trapped; Kinch to keep Schultz occupied. Hogan regretted having to give Kinch a low-level job, no matter how vital it was. But in broad daylight in World War Two Germany, a black man could hardly pass himself off as anyone official. And he certainly did know the workings of Schultz’s mind. It gave Hogan a small feeling of security to know that someone as sturdy as Kinch was going to be holding everything together for them.
In the back of his brain, the question of rigging the cars troubled Hogan. He knew that this mission could not be considered a success unless all of London’s orders had been followed. He knew that the only way to ensure any offensive didn’t get off the ground was for no one to escape with the campaign on paper—or in his mind. And he knew that there was no one else who could do this but him and his men.
But he could still hear the question: How do you defend yourself? If things went to plan a dozen lives would be sacrificed. To save thousands, he tried to argue with himself. But maybe the offensive will be abandoned and it will all come to nought… what will your defence be then? Hogan shifted in his cramped seat, almost as though trying to physically push the idea away. You’re arguing with yourself over nothing, he reprimanded himself. Stop thinking and do your job.
“Are we there yet?” Carter whined, shaking Hogan out of his reverie.
“Carter, didn’t your mother ever tell you that’s an irritating question?” asked Kinch.
“All the time,” Carter responded. “But she never answered it. So I still need to know.”
Hogan shook his head. Comic relief.
None too soon for Hogan’s taste, the car rolled into a fenced-in area in Hammelburg. Schultz pulled up beside a neglected building with several cars nearby in a concrete lot. “This is where Colonel Klink says his mechanic does his best work?” Schultz questioned doubtfully.
Hogan gratefully got out of the car and took in a deep breath. He and the others surveyed their surroundings. “This is where we were told to come, Schultz,” he said. By our contact, he added silently.
“I don’t see anyone,” said Carter.
“Doesn’t matter,” chirped Hogan. “We’ll just get working ourselves.” He continued to look around, and noted a German soldier standing near the gate. “Friend of yours, Schultz?”
“No, Colonel Hogan,” responded Schultz, glancing toward the man, who was now turning in their direction.
“Never mind,” said Hogan. He nodded to Le Beau. “Louis, how about some brunch for our friend Schultz?”
“Ah, oui, mon Colonel,” said the Corporal. He headed to the back of the car. “I only wish we had some wine and a nice stick of bread to put with this.” Schultz, mouth nearly watering, came to Le Beau’s side. Le Beau held up a hand to stop him. “Schultz, what did I say about you manhandling my creations?”
“I am sorry, Le Beau. I will keep my distance.” And he stood at attention respectfully near the driver’s door. Le Beau opened the back of the car, carefully removed the explosives from the basket, and emerged with the remaining spread.
“It will be a bit of a buffet today, gentlemen,” Le Beau said. “And a dry one at that,” he said with disgust. The French had to have wine with meals. Period.
“What is going on here?” came a gruff voice. Everyone turned to see the soldier who had been at the gate, standing behind Hogan.
“Heil Hitler,” greeted Schultz, saluting the higher-ranked officer.
“Heil Hitler,” the soldier responded, returning the salute. “What are you doing here with these men?”
“We are here to fix Kommandant Klink’s car,” Schultz began.
“That’s right, from Stalag 13,” piped up Carter.
“Colonel Robert Hogan, senior POW,” said Hogan, extending his hand. The look on the German’s face withered the smile on Hogan’s, and he took back his hand.
“We are not supposed to have any unnecessary traffic in this area today,” the soldier said. “By order of the SS.”
Schultz shuddered at the mention of the Nazi police. “We were not informed, Herr Kapitan,” Schultz wavered. “The Kommandant must have his car serviced by tomorrow.”
“Why the crackdown?” Hogan asked good-naturedly.
“None of your business, American,” said the soldier. Hogan shrugged. The soldier turned to Schultz. “I am Kapitan Strohm, SS. On special duty today. It is my responsibility to make sure there are no unnecessary intrusions. If your Kommandant has special needs he will have to make certain they do not interfere with SS business.”
“Sergeant Hans Schultz. And I am sure they will not, sir!” Schultz said.
“What do these men need to do?”
“We’re here to make sure everything is handled properly. We’re the only mechanics the Kommandant trusts,” Hogan said with a laugh.
“I am sorry to hear that,” Strohm replied. Hogan exchanged looks with his men.
“Believe it or not, we actually are good mechanics and car detailers,” Hogan said. “As a matter of fact we were just about to head out to get a few special parts to make this car something worthy of a Luftwaffe Colonel.”
Schultz’s mind drifted to the picnic that Le Beau had put back in the car when Strohm appeared. The last thing on his mind was getting spare parts for Klink’s car. He wanted the buffet, wine or no wine.
“You will stay here, Sergeant Schultz. I will take this Colonel…Hogan, and…” he surveyed the others, then pointed to Newkirk, “you, with me, to get the things you need.”
“Hey, now wait a minute,” Hogan protested. “You can’t just hand us over like a loaf of bread, Schultz. We don’t even know this guy.”
Strohm straightened as though to make himself taller. He reached into his breast coat pocket. “My papers,” he said, handing them to Schultz. “You will understand, of course, that I cannot allow any disturbance today. If you want to fulfill your Kommandant’s orders, you will have to involve me.”
Schultz gazed vaguely at the papers and then handed them back. His own papers looked just as unremarkable. Only this man probably made more money than he did. Sighing, he nodded his head. “Perhaps you can get a bottle of wine while you are away, Colonel Hogan,” he said.
“Wine?” questioned Strohm.
“And some bread, too, Colonel,” said Le Beau.
“Bread? And wine?”
“Oh, and don’t forget to set things up with that beautiful fraulein!” Carter added.
“Bread? Wine? Women? This is sounding more like a party than a work detail, Sergeant!” suspected Strohm.
“You fellas may have to get the bread and the wine on your own,” Hogan said, starting to walk toward the gate. “We’ll work on the fraulein…if I can get Chuckles here to agree to it.”
Strohm glared at Hogan. “Someday, Colonel Hogan, the Gestapo may have reason to question you.” Hogan stopped mid-step. “When that happens I hope I am there to witness it.”
A scene flashed through Hogan’s brain, one of those that had appeared often, trying to make his sometimes foggy Gestapo ordeal clear, but blessedly failing. He collected himself, then followed the prompting of Strohm’s rifle and headed toward the gate with Newkirk close behind.
Hogan concocted and abandoned plans with almost every step as he and Newkirk were led down the main street. His mind was in a whirl; how was he going to make this mission a success now? He knew Le Beau, Carter, and Kinch would be safe enough with Schultz; they might even be able to tamper with the cars of those involved in the meeting today. But how was he going to find out what the Luftwaffe was capable of if he couldn’t get to the contact? Stealing an occasional quick look at their stern, silent guard, Hogan considered his options. Could he create a diversion? What if he suddenly became ill when they were near the Landgasthaus? Would Strohm consider it necessary to get him medical attention in the nearest building? A sharp memory of Strohm’s comments about the Gestapo negated that possibility. A forced liberation? The streets were unusually quiet today…. No, too risky, with too many disagreeable consequences if it failed.
Hogan heard low grunting beside him and glanced at Newkirk. The Englishman was shaking his head and muttering to himself, something Hogan knew was a sign that Newkirk was angry, and worried. He had to come up with something, and soon.
His concentration must have slowed his step, because he suddenly found himself being prodded from behind. “Move, Colonel,” sneered Strohm. “We have places to go.”
Hogan straightened to move his back away from the barrel of the rifle. He tried not to look at Strohm, whose uniform still sent shivers through him. “The spare parts dealer might be a bit of a walk from here,” he commented dryly.
“There are more important things to attend to,” Strohm answered. As they approached a street corner, he ordered, “Turn in here.”
Hogan turned to see the entrance to a large building. “This isn’t the shop,” he said.
“No. It is the Landgasthaus.” Hogan was instantly alert. Newkirk’s grunting ceased and he looked at Hogan questioningly. “Now move.” Waving his rifle, Strohm guided the two prisoners inside.
Looking around the grand lobby, Hogan looked for anyone that could remotely be disguised as their contact, anyone who could see the situation they were in and come to their aid. But to his dismay there was no one in sight, not even a front desk clerk. Newkirk managed to whisper to Hogan, “I don’t like the look of this, Colonel.”
Hogan nodded. “Neither do I,” he answered. “Just hold on. We’ll see what happens.”
Another SS guard appeared. “Heil Hitler!” greeted Strohm.
“Heil Hitler,” said the other man.
“I am to escort these men for interrogation,” Strohm said by way of explanation. Hogan raised his eyebrow and stole a glance at Newkirk, whose face mirrored his own unease.
“Jawohl. Remember, no interruptions today.”
“Ja. They shall be kept out of sight…and very quiet.”
The other officer laughed. “They all grow quiet eventually, don’t they?”
Hogan shifted his weight, and briefly closed his eyes to blot out the shiny black boots that flashed more unpleasant, indistinct memories through his mind. He could not afford to lose his concentration, not now. He found no humour in this exchange, and knew that even without Hogan’s personal experiences behind him that Newkirk would not be amused either. Hogan’s mind was ticking over a mile a minute. Strohm had no reason to suspect them of anything. So why was he taking them for interrogation? And why at the Landgasthaus, the one place that enemy soldiers should be nowhere near today?
A brief, pleasant conversation ensued, then Strohm led Hogan and Newkirk to the lift. “I apologize for having to expose you to that,” Strohm said quite unexpectedly as the doors shut.
Hogan kept his eyes facing forward. Newkirk gave a start but did the same.
“You are probably anxious today,” Strohm continued. “Worried. Thinking of your family.” Hogan again raised an eyebrow but said nothing. “Have you family you miss, Colonel?”
Hogan glanced at Newkirk, whose eyes were telling a story of distrust mixed with apprehension. “We all have family, Captain,” was all Hogan said.
“My brother is on the Eastern front,” Strohm confided. “I have not heard from him in months. All we have is a photograph.” Hogan nodded, making eye contact briefly with Newkirk. He thought the Englishman was going to scream in mere seconds. “Have you photos of your family, Colonel?”
“I’ve managed to keep a couple, even in a Luftstalag,” he answered.
“Of your girlfriend, perhaps? Your wife?”
“My mother.” Hogan nodded very briefly at Newkirk, whose eyes were starting to widen in understanding.
“Perhaps you have it with you. I would like to see an American mother.”
Hogan nodded carefully. Then, displaying his empty hands to Strohm, he slowly reached into his jacket pocket and brought out a photo. A woman in a dress, standing outside a cheerful home. There was half an arm around her shoulders that had no one attached to it; the photo had been ripped in half. “That’s Mom,” he said, his hands cold with fear and anticipation.
“Here is my brother,” said Strohm, reaching for his own family portrait. Blimey, thought Newkirk, this is a strange time for a family reunion! But Strohm pulled out a torn picture of a young man, smiling, his arm outstretched, wrapping around…. nothing. Newkirk watched in amazement as Strohm brought the photograph up to the one Hogan held, and the arm then embraced the woman. The photo was now complete.
Hogan stared at the armed man. “Angus Voelker?” he said in disbelief.
“Yes, Colonel. Well, Kurt really. But now I know I can trust you as well.” Hogan gave him an inquiring look. “Agents are told my name is Angus; if someone has intercepted them, the replacement would never think to use such a name for me.”
The German’s body relaxed and he smiled. Newkirk thought he would pass out in relief. “Peter Newkirk,” he said, shakily extending his hand. “Blimey, mate, you sure know how to put a guy off.”
Voelker took the offered handshake. “It is part of my job to be as convincing as possible. I trust you will forgive the rudeness of my previous demeanour.”
Hogan had to physically shake off his discomfiture before he spoke again. “You were uh…quite credible as a Gestapo goon,” he said. “Speaking from experience.”
“I beg your pardon, Colonel Hogan. I did not realize…”
“Forget it,” said Hogan, as much to himself as to Voelker. “We’ve got work to do.”
The elevator came to a halt and the doors opened into an ornate hallway. Voelker resumed his role as an SS official as they passed two other guards, and then led them into a hotel room, where he locked the door behind them. He put aside his rifle immediately and turned to face Hogan and Newkirk. “The meeting is taking place on the level above us. They have all assembled and are getting underway shortly. SS and Gestapo guards are in place securely around the conference room. The only way in or out is through them.”
“Or as one of them,” Hogan said. “I take it that’s why you’re dressed as you are; not just because black compliments your figure.”
“Exactly.” Voelker smiled briefly at Hogan’s attempt at lightness. “And it is why you have similar uniforms here for yourselves. You would not get very far wandering around here dressed as an American Colonel and an RAF Corporal.”
“How many are there?” asked Hogan.
“Fourteen, Colonel. And a dozen SS and Gestapo guards at any given time, working on a rotating schedule. They are due to change the guards in twenty minutes. That will give you just enough time to get ready.”
“There’s time before they’ll look for you on shift. Let’s go through some of the details. We need to know what to expect when you come back. What kind of people are in there?”
“Luftwaffe intelligence; some of the best strategists of the Third Reich. This offensive is intended to obliterate the Allied forces as never before. Each of these men has been hand-picked by Hitler. Apparently he is getting impatient with his army’s lack of progress, particularly on the Eastern front. He has authorised a full-scale, all-out offensive strike.”
“To pull the Allies into line,” Newkirk surmised.
“And make the others fall in beside them, stunned by Germany’s obvious strength,” added Hogan.
“That’s right,” Voelker said. “So this is, of course, extremely important to everyone involved.”
“How long are the guard shifts?”
“Four hours. Some are posted in the room, some out. There have been bodyguards assigned to these men since almost dawn today.”
“Very precious cargo. You’ll need to be inside. I appreciate the position you have put yourself in, Voelker.”
Voelker didn’t answer. Hogan didn’t like the silence. “You’d better get moving, or you might be missed,” he prompted. Voelker maintained his silence. He seemed to be having an internal battle which was playing out on his face. Hogan considered, exchanging quizzical looks with Newkirk, then said, “I know this is a dangerous mission, Voelker. But a lot of people’s lives depend on it.”
Voelker looked Hogan squarely in the eye. “Yes, many people’s lives depend on me, Colonel Hogan,” he said. “Including my family’s.” Hogan felt his stomach tightening, but he said nothing. “I cannot do any more for you today, Colonel,” Voelker announced.
Hogan just blinked. Voelker couldn’t mean what Hogan thought he meant. “I will not be meeting the guards for the changeover,” Voelker said.
Newkirk moved in closer to Hogan, who suddenly trembled in a cold sweat. Were they being betrayed? “What do you mean?” Hogan asked, dangerously quiet.
“You will need me to get back to your companions; for that I will stay,” said Voelker. “I will wait here until you are ready to return. But I will not be a part of that meeting.”
“Why bleedin’ not?” burst Newkirk.
“It is time for me to finish my work with the Underground,” Voelker said. “My wife and I are worried about our family’s future. Our daughter, she is the right age for Himmler’s reproduction plan.” He looked at Hogan, his eyes suddenly flashing anger and defiance. “I will not let Anna become a breeding machine for the Third Reich. Not for the Allied cause. And not for you.”
Hogan paused, momentarily speechless. “When were you planning to tell us this?” Hogan spat. Inwardly, he cursed himself. He knew that Voelker was trying to protect his family. He knew that taking part in this mission was putting Voelker’s life at risk, and, indirectly, his family’s lives. He knew that any man had a right—and a vow—to protect his family, and that he was asking Voelker to put all that in jeopardy. But he also knew that only rooms away a plan was being formed to put many thousands of lives in danger. And he didn’t have an alternate plan of action in place to secure the information the Allies needed.
“It is not a decision I have made lightly, Colonel. But I must put my family before all.”
“And what kind of future do you think your family’s gonna have when the Germans take over the rest of the free world? Do you think your daughter is suddenly going to be unattractive to a bunch of lonely Kraut soldiers back from the front, who haven’t been near a female in months?” Newkirk argued bitterly.
“Stow it, Newkirk,” Hogan ordered.
“Sorry, Colonel,” he mumbled. “But what are we going to do?”
Hogan let out a deep sigh. “I’ll take the guard duty myself.”
“But Colonel—” protested Newkirk.
But Hogan cut him off. “We don’t have a choice,” he nearly snapped. “We have to get those plans.” Newkirk nodded his solemn understanding. Hogan looked at Voelker, whose boldness had receded into a stoic resolve, then back to his subordinate. “Voelker says he’ll stay to get us out. You stay here and keep an eye on him. Make sure that he keeps his promise. I’ll meet the changing of the guards myself, get the information we need, and come back here. After that it’s back to Schultz.” He picked up Voelker’s abandoned rifle and shoved it at Newkirk. “Use that if you have to.”
Newkirk whistled under his breath in surprise. “How long will you be, Colonel?” he asked.
“Shifts are four hours.” He firmed his own tenacity, and turned to be face to face with Newkirk. “Time to test your papers, mate,” he said. Newkirk pulled them carefully out of his uniform and with a silent prayer handed them to Hogan. “I’ll get changed. Where are our clothes?” he asked Voelker.
Voelker pointed to the adjoining room. “I’ll be ready in ten minutes.” He paused to draw a strengthening breath. “I hope you made the shirt 42 regular. I get lost in anything much bigger.” He disappeared into the other room.
“And he’d better make it back,” Newkirk growled at Voelker. “Or you’ll have a lot more to worry about than Germany’s repopulation program.”
Sergeant Schultz dabbed delicately at the sides of his mouth with a napkin as he sighed contentedly. “That was beautiful, Le Beau. Beautiful!” He leaned against the side of Klink’s car with a smile that very little would be able to wipe away.
Le Beau, for his part, was sporting a scowl. As he stuffed the remnants of his cuisine back in the picnic basket, he could not help but think about his commanding officer and his comrade. Hogan and Newkirk had been gone for over two hours, and all those left behind had learned was that the meeting place was two blocks away. It might as well have been two miles. Kinch had roamed the perimeter of the fence, ostensibly to see if he could spot Hogan, Newkirk, and Strohm. And while that was high on his list of priorities, he knew that Hogan would want his men to continue with their part of the plan: to find and wire the cars of the people in the Luftwaffe meeting.
Carter, meanwhile, was thoroughly—and slowly—polishing the outside of the car. “What now?” he whispered to Kinch when he returned. “The Colonel was supposed to meet the contact at the Landgasthaus, wasn’t he?”
“He wasn’t told,” said Kinch. “He was just told that Voelker would make himself known, and was given the contact code.”
“Maybe we can convince Schultz to go and look for him,” said Le Beau. “Then we would know for ourselves where he and Newkirk are, and make sure they are safe.”
Kinch nodded. “Okay, let’s give it a shot. Maybe we can get closer to the cars that way, too.” Kinch broke away from his companions and casually approached Schultz, who seemed about ready to doze in contentment. “I admire the way you’re handling this, Schultz.”
“Danke,” Schultz responded, still grinning broadly, his eyes half closed in satisfaction. Happily settling himself against the side of the car, his face suddenly dropped and his eyes opened wide. “Sergeant Kinchloe, handling what?”
“This Captain Strohm barging in and taking off with the Colonel and Newkirk,” Kinch answered, positioning himself comfortably beside Schultz. He crossed his arms and considered. “I mean, they went for spare parts a long time ago and haven’t come back. I’d hate to be you, going back to Stalag 13 with two fewer people than you started out with.”
Le Beau picked up the thread and, wiping his hands from any remaining crumbs, squinted in the sun as he bombarded Schultz’s sense of peace as well. “Oui, what will Colonel Klink say when he finds out you lost two of your prisoners?”
“Yeah, that’s pretty careless, y’know, Schultz,” piped up Carter.
Schultz’s face had by now lost any boastfulness, and instead he was looking almost wildly from one prisoner to the other. “No, no, no, no!” he said. “Herr Kapitan outranks me; he could have done as he pleased!”
“But you had orders to keep your eyes on your prisoners, Schultz. From the Kommandant!” argued Le Beau.
“Oh, Cockroach, why did you not say something about this earlier?”
Le Beau grinned as he watched panic set in. Good, this just might work. “And you did not even find out where they were going. They could be half way to Berlin by now!”
Schultz was starting to look apoplectic. Time to deliver the final punch, thought Kinch. “It’s your responsibility to find them, Schultz.”
“But where do I look? It is like Le Beau said, they could be anywhere!” Schultz fretted.
“We will have to comb the streets, Schultz.” Le Beau shook his head in mock disgust. “I do not know how such a good soldier could let this happen. But we had better start soon. You do not know where that Strohm has taken them.” Then, to himself, Le Beau realised, We do not know where he has taken them. Just let them be safe.
“What do we do? What do we do?” Schultz was rambling.
“Don’t worry, Schultz,” Kinch comforted. “Let’s get in the car and do a nice, methodical search of Hammelburg.”
“But what happens if Herr Kapitan comes back here while we are gone?”
“Well one of us could stay behind while you search, Schultz,” offered Carter.
“Jolly joker,” mumbled the corpulent guard. “I have already misplaced two; I cannot afford to misplace another.” Sighing, he heaved himself off the car and opened the door. “Let’s go, boys. From the look of it, he will not be coming back of his own accord anytime soon.”
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Colonel Robert Hogan was meanwhile standing at full attention, eyes forward, face expressionless. To the unknowing bystander he was simply a dedicated and well-trained SS soldier, silently pledging his life to protect the Fuhrer and his appointed leaders. But inside, his mind was processing everything he saw and heard, archiving it all for future retrieval when the time came.
It had not been particularly difficult to get into the conference room; armed with the exquisitely done papers that Newkirk had furnished him, and clad in the perfect uniform provided by Voelker, Hogan had simply presented himself when the changing of the guard shift took place. Hogan thanked his lucky stars again and again that the SS guards wore coats that could cover the sight of the perspiration soaking through his shirt. It was hard enough to take on a mission unexpectedly, but to put on the uniform of the men who had caused him so much anguish mere weeks ago was an exercise in self-torture. Thankful for the privacy when changing, Hogan had had to stop when putting on the boots; his whole body was shaking so much he could not pull them up properly. He wiped his face with a trembling hand and gripped the side of the bed while he tried to calm his breathing. Get over it, Hogan, he said to himself, frustrated, and, if he admitted it, scared. Get over it or you’ll get yourself killed.
He had come out of the room on unsteady legs, reviewed his orders with Newkirk—mainly, to keep Voelker around long enough for him and Newkirk to be able to get back to the others when ready—and left to take over the mission in which he had intended to have a much lesser role.
So now, after only the briefest of direct questioning, mainly related to his paperwork, here he was, by the minute becoming more horrified by what he heard, and working hard not to let any of it show. Words came into his head and were immediately sorted and sent to separate sections of his brain. Scorched earth…complete annihilation… loss of life irrelevant… submission of the Allies to save their helpless comrades… And visions of fiery destruction and ruthless killing that made Hogan want to weep. How could any man, any person who claimed to be a human being, agree so easily to these ideas? He felt a chilling fear mixed with anger rising inside his chest, pounding hard from the inside to demand release as a primal scream. Other things he found disturbing but could not fully comprehend: brief mentions of camps, round-ups, purification. Combined with the details of what seemed like an offensive encompassing the entire Luftwaffe in one massive air strike, Hogan felt as though he were suffocating under the weight of the wickedness pressing down on the room.
Suddenly the closeness of the officer near him made Hogan nauseous. “Ein Getrank, bitte, privat,” Hogan said, nodding toward the glass and jug on the table.
“Jawohl, Leutnant,” said the soldier, moving away. Hogan took a deep gulp of air. One more hour of this.
The man returned with a glass. Hogan downed the contents quickly, then handed it back to the soldier. “Danke,” he said. “Sie trinken außerdem.” He directed the young man to drink himself, anxious to be as far from him as possible. “Nicht für eine lange Zeit kann bewegen Sie schwächen.” He doubted that any weakness the man would be feeling would be from standing for a long period, but the excuse was enough to make the Private do as he was told, and Hogan was grateful for the respite.
The convention continued, and Hogan had to admit that he completely missed some of it. Every word was a revelation to him of the cunning and heartlessness of the Third Reich. As images washed over him, he felt sweat trickling down his back, and he gripped his rifle more tightly to combat the sickness he felt closing in on him. A severe, unyielding headache was building in his skull, but this was hardly the time for such a debilitating attack. He could not look down or close his eyes, for fear of being pulled up for slacking on the job, and he could not face the other men guarding the meeting, for fear of being physically sick. He instead stared at nothing, his eyes taking on a faraway expression, his intellect handling the information but trying desperately not to assimilate it.
Hogan could not think clearly past the incessant pounding in his head. Every noise in the room was amplified: that chair that got scraped across the floor as a small, angry Major rose in defense of his idea was dragged across the front of Hogan’s brain; the glass being slammed down on the table as debated points were volleyed back and forth echoed near his temples; the voices raised in anger or excitement were shouting in his ears. He felt himself weakening. I’m not going to make it, he panicked. He brought a hand up to his stomach, fighting to get himself together. Then, very gradually, he felt his breathing stabilize. The clamminess of his hands went away, the cold sweat drying uncomfortably on his back and forehead.
The arguments and strategic planning continued, and now Hogan was hearing it more clearly than he wanted to. Abandoned areas must be unfit for future use… dive bombers will always get through… starvation of the masses through destruction of food depots and supply lines will force capitulation… economic strangulation… if Russia falls, England will follow… .
This madness has to be stopped, Hogan managed to think. What these men are planning is nothing short of a massacre; a massacre, with no code of honor or rules of war. And he turned his beleaguered mind to his men, praying with all his strength they would be able to stop these madmen from getting their plans back to Berlin. The Allies had to formulate a plan to destroy the Luftwaffe, before it helped to change the face of Europe.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“I know you do not understand the decision I have made,” Voelker said to Newkirk.
Newkirk was leaning against the wall of the small room, still holding the rifle Hogan had thrust at him before leaving. “You’re right, I don’t,” he answered. “You want to save your family, but you’re not willing to do anything about it. Do you think it matters to the Nazis if you were involved in espionage or not? They’ll still want your daughter.”
“I will get her out of Germany,” Voelker said. “Somehow.”
“Why back out of this mission half way through?”
Voelker shrugged, then shifted his position on the bed uncomfortably. “Cold feet, I think you would call it. The sheer rank and number of Luftwaffe and SS here—if I am discovered then I cannot help my family at all. And I could make it worse for them if I am caught.”
Newkirk pushed himself away from the wall. “So you’ll leave that charming risk to Colonel Hogan,” he said. “He’s already faced the Gestapo once, you know. I don’t think he’s any more anxious than you to deal with them.”
Voelker nodded. “So I understand. It is regrettable. It is difficult to ask a man to put himself in such a position once, never mind twice.”
“Difficult, but you’ve managed nicely,” Newkirk said sarcastically. “You know, thanks to your little trick we still don’t even know where the bloody cars are. Part of our mission is to make sure these plans don’t get back to Berlin. What are we supposed to do about that, give all the men lobotomies?”
“The cars are parked in a lot next door, guarded by more SS members,” Voelker said.
“Fine,” said Newkirk. “I’ll get changed into that German uniform, and we’ll go have a look. We still have over an hour before the Colonel’s due back here.” He patted the rifle. “And don’t get any ideas, Voelker. This little mate of mine gets a bit anxious at times like this.”
Voelker stood up but made no move towards Newkirk. “Just for the record, gov’nor,” added the Englishman, “I know you love your family, and I respect that. But you’ve put a lot of people I care about at risk now, and that makes me edgy, if you know what I mean.”
“It is a difficult time for us all,” said Voelker solemnly. “Men do things they wish they did not have to.”
Newkirk nodded, and, making sure he had the rifle by his side, grabbed his clothes to get changed.
Whose Side Are You On?
“Look, Kinch, there is Newkirk!” whispered Le Beau excitedly, making sure to keep Schultz out of earshot.
“What’s he doing with Strohm dressed like that?” Carter asked.
“And where is the Colonel?” wondered Le Beau.
Kinch waved his arm out the window, trying to get the attention of Newkirk, who was standing near a chain link fence with Strohm close by. They seemed to be deep in conversation when Newkirk saw them and nodded. Turning quickly to Strohm, the two of them disappeared into the building.
“Hey, Schultz, that’s Newkirk!” shouted Kinch, suddenly becoming animated and pointing to where the pair had been standing. He passed his thoughts to the others with a brief look.
“Where?” Schultz asked, almost running the car off the road. “Where is he, Sergeant Kinchloe?”
“I’m sure I just saw him and Captain Strohm going into that building there!” Le Beau said. “We will have to follow them.”
Schultz wasted no time pulling over. He did his best to jump out of the car, forgetting his rifle, with his prisoners close behind. “Where? Where are they?” Schultz said. “Are you sure you saw them?”
“Oui, oui—they went inside here, Schultz,” said Le Beau.
“Let’s go,” said Kinch, starting towards the door.
Schultz was pulled up by Carter. “Here you go, Schultz,” he said, handing the guard his weapon. “We have to look like you’re in charge.”
“Oh. Danke, Carter,” he answered, slinging it over his shoulder. Le Beau raised his eyes toward the heavens and shook his head.
They encountered Strohm as they entered the lobby. “Where are Colonel Hogan and Newkirk?” Le Beau burst, looking around. Neither was anywhere to be found.
“Yeah, what have you done with them?” Carter added, puzzled.
Strohm merely nodded to acknowledge their presence, refusing to become agitated by their anxiety. “Colonel Hogan is answering some questions for my colleagues,” he said calmly. Hogan’s men had flashbacks that they did not enjoy of their commanding officer’s last question-and-answer session with the Germans. But they did not understand Newkirk’s absence, or why he was dressed as an SS soldier. “Your Englishman is with him, and will be returned to you soon.” Kinch, Carter, and Le Beau’s eyes spoke to each other. That’s not true. What’s going on?
“Herr Kapitan,” said Schultz, saluting nervously. “I have orders to bring Colonel Hogan and Corporal Newkirk back to Stalag 13 with these other men.”
“Don’t worry, Sergeant. They will go with you. I am sure they will be of very little use to us, when we are finished.” He fixed Schultz with a contemptuous stare. “I thought these men were to be detailing your Kommandant’s car.”
“Jawohl, Herr Kapitan, they have done so. But they were waiting for Colonel Hogan to—to—”
“Yes, I know, to bring wine, bread, and a beautiful fraulein. I recall it exactly,” Strohm said. “Wait here,” he ordered. “I will bring you your Corporal.” And he turned on his heel and walked away.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“I will take you downstairs and organize for your men to get to the cars,” Voelker said, as Newkirk put on his RAF jacket and cap. “That will be a simple process, and one which your Sergeant Schultz can oversee on his own.”
“Good; Schultz can’t handle anything complicated, like guarding prisoners,” answered Newkirk. “How long before Colonel Hogan’s due back?”
“The next shift should be starting any minute. We will wait for your Colonel, and then I will get you out.”
“Do the others know who you really are?”
“I do not think so. They seemed concerned. Or perhaps they are just good actors, like yourself and your Colonel Hogan.”
“Let’s hope he’s winding up his acting career on a high.”
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Hogan found his way back to the room where Newkirk and Voelker were waiting, in a fog. He had survived the remainder of his SS guard stint by sheer force of will. Shifting his brain into autopilot, he steadfastly ignored the jackhammer in his head and the rolling waves in his stomach. As Luftwaffe plans were being ironed out and accepted, Hogan had taken in the words, now numb to their implications, and committed details of movements, supply locations, and tactics to memory. Then, when replacement guards suddenly appeared, he had come off duty with the smart salute of a Third Reich devotee, and parted company with the others as quickly as he could do so without arousing suspicion.
As Hogan closed the door to Voelker’s room, all the strength went out of him and he sank involuntarily to his knees. Sick inside and trembling with weakness, he succumbed easily to the hands helping him toward the bed. “Gov’nor, what happened? Are you all right?”
He heard Newkirk’s anxious voice somewhere nearby and tried to reassure him. “I’m okay… just… felt dizzy for a minute….” And he tried to wave him away, but winced painfully when he shook his head and stopped.
“Did they hurt you, Colonel?” pressed Newkirk.
“No,” Hogan managed. “Just … have a headache…. It’ll go away soon. Too … much… time with the bad guys.” He was trying hard not to vomit. “Get—get these boots—off me.”
“Bloody Gestapo scum,” Newkirk seethed. He gestured for Voelker to help him do as ordered. He helped Hogan lay back on the bed. “Bleedin’ filth,” he spat. “Somebody’s gotta put ’em in their place.”
No one spoke as Hogan slowly regained his energy. Newkirk got him a glass of water, and loosened his uniform shirt around his neck. Eventually Hogan sat up again, vaguely pushing the caring hands away. “I’ll be okay,” he said, convincing no one. The throbbing in his head had receded so that he could hear more clearly, and the queasiness seemed to be under control for now. But the words he had heard wouldn’t go away. They would never go away, he feared.
“We got what we needed,” he rasped. “More than enough.” Newkirk was still hovering like an anxious mother bird. “I’m fine,” he insisted, trying to make his voice sound sterner and more in control. “I just got caught off-guard, that’s all. Let me get this immoral uniform off and back into my own clothes and we’ll get moving. How are we going with the cars?” Newkirk continued to look apprehensive. “Newkirk, will you cut it out? What’s going on?” Hogan said, wishing instantly that he hadn’t raised his voice.
“—Well, Colonel,” Newkirk said, shaking himself back to work, “Voelker has shown me where the cars are kept, and he was just about to take us downstairs to get to them. Le Beau, Carter, and Kinch are down there with Schultz.”
“How are you planning to do that?” asked Hogan.
“Well, Colonel, we could do another round of guard duty—” This time it was Hogan’s turn to shoot a withering look. Voelker stopped. “But I presume that would not be the preferred method.”
“No, it would not.” Hogan put up a hand to stop Voelker from continuing. “Newkirk, have the fellas got any more car polish left?”
“I don’t know, Colonel; I haven’t spoken to them yet.”
“Doesn’t matter. I’m sure they can manage to scrape some up. Voelker, what if they get volunteered to do a nice spit and polish job on the Luftwaffe cars as well?”
“That may work; they have told me they are already done with your Colonel Klink’s car. But they do not know me yet, Colonel. They may be reluctant to carry out a sabotage job with me in their presence.”
“You don’t know my boys,” said Hogan, smiling slightly for the first time since they arrived in Hammelburg. “They could smile in Hitler’s face if it meant being able to stab him in the back. We’ll just explain everything; they’ll be fine.” He stood up, unsteady but determined. “Come on, there’s work to do. I don’t know how much longer that meeting’s going to go on. They seem to have had things pretty well planned when I was there, and I want to make sure they have absolutely no chance to put any of those theories into practice.”
“Please, Colonel,” broke in Voelker. “I have already promised your men I would bring Newkirk to them. They think you are being interrogated.” Hogan started, then simply eyed Voelker angrily. “I am sorry; it was the only way to explain your presence at the Landgasthaus to your Sergeant Schultz. If I take Corporal Newkirk downstairs, it will give you time to change and recover. And I would like to have a word with you, as a gentleman.”
Hogan, torn between his sense of urgency and his need to stop, even for just a few minutes, silently agreed, and Voelker and Newkirk departed.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“Pierre, are you all right? Did les cochons harm you? What about le Colonel?”
“Settle, settle, Louis, I’m fine,” soothed Newkirk as he approached his colleagues from the lift. “Colonel Hogan is okay, too.” He pulled in closer to them as Schultz praised Strohm for the safe return of at least one of his missing prisoners. In a low voice, he added, “That’s Voelker,” and nodded, then quickly straightened as the faces of the others registered surprise, and even anger.
“Sergeant Schultz. Since your men seem to have so much time on their hands, and since you insist on waiting for your Colonel Hogan before going back to you Luftstalag, I think it would be very … nice… if they would give the same care and detail to the cars in the adjoining lot as they have to your Kommandant’s vehicle,” Voelker suggested.
Schultz balked at the idea. “I—I—Herr Kapitan, I just have to make sure I get Colonel Hogan and head back to the Stalag. He is our senior POW officer,” he said pleadingly. “How long will he be tied up?”
“A fine choice of words,” said Voelker, grinning like a Cheshire cat. Newkirk shook his head. Good thing I know he’s on our side. I think. “Hogan will be… tied up… for a bit longer. Certainly long enough for those cars to be well looked after.”
“Herr Kapitan, I cannot let these prisoners stray away. Not again!” Schultz protested.
Newkirk, with a wink to the others, quickly piped up, “Atta boy, Schultzie, you tell ’im who’s boss!”
“Yeah, that’s right, Schultz, you give him what for!” Carter added.
“Your job is to look after us, Schultz—never mind any possible court martial,” said Kinch.
“Or transfer to the Russian front,” Le Beau continued. The others laughed heartily, trying to show Schultz how much they admired his rebellious streak.
“The Russian front?” Schultz repeated, his eyes widening.
“That’s right, Schultz—defying a superior officer. That’s really big of you, Schultz, looking after us like that,” said Newkirk, with a sniff. “Makes me feel warm all over.”
“Yeah, why should we look after some Kraut’s car—no offence,” said Le Beau with a nod towards Voelker.
“Wait a minute, wait a minute!” Schultz finally stammered. “You boys have nothing better to do while you wait for Colonel Hogan; I think you should head out to the cars and do as you have been ordered to by Herr Kapitan Strohm.”
The foursome groused and grumbled as they headed outside, followed by Voelker. “Hey Schultz, at least let me have something to eat,” Newkirk said. “You don’t think my hosts were kind enough to provide lunch, do you?”
“Hosts…jolly joker,” mumbled Schultz. “Fine, you will take the picnic basket with you.” He turned to Le Beau, who was starting to get his temper up. “I know, Corporal Le Beau, I know—no one else will touch your food.”
Le Beau smiled and went to the back of Klink’s car, away from Schultz, quickly loading the basket with charges and handing it to Newkirk. “There may even be enough for you to have seconds, Schultz,” said Le Beau graciously.
“Seconds? You mean thirds,” said Kinch.
“Fourths,” corrected Carter.
“I will let the guard know of your job. I want to see these cars looking their best when I come back. No excuses!” Voelker barked.
“Jawohl, Kapitan Strohm,” agreed Schultz.
“I will check on the progress of your beloved Colonel Hogan,” Voelker sneered. “You would be wise to be working diligently, Sergeant.”
“Jawohl, Herr Kapitan,” said Schultz again. “Jawohl.”
After Voelker had words with the SS guard watching over the parking lot, he ordered Schultz and the heroes in, and disappeared back inside. Le Beau handed out some snacks from the basket to Schultz and the other guard, while Carter carefully removed the explosives. Newkirk and Kinch then began to polish the bonnets of the cars farthest from the men with the rifles, and asked to open the hoods, so even the engines could have a luster to be proud of.
And Double Cross
“I want to tell you why I have made this decision, Colonel Hogan.”
Hogan had focused on regaining his composure when Voelker and Newkirk left him. He wished most for aspirin to curb his forceful headache, but that was hard to come by when he was in a hotel in the middle of Hammelburg, surrounded by people who could cure his pain permanently. So he simply lay still for a few minutes, willing himself to ignore the tenderness of his head and body. When he thought he had a chance of being successful, he sat up slowly and peeled the SS uniform from his tired limbs. He breathed easier as he pulled on his own shirt, pants, and shoes, and had nearly sighed in relief as he felt his bomber jacket embrace his shoulders.
Hogan walked to the mirror to fix his hair. He frowned when he saw his drawn features, displayed on a pale face that almost trumpeted his soreness. “You look like you could use a day off,” he greeted himself wryly, then snorted at the slimness of the prospect. The most he could hope for was a decent night’s sleep— even with his nightmares he was willing to risk it. But he knew that, too, would be denied him until this mission was completed.
Now he stood facing Voelker, still wary of the man whose allegiances seemed to waver. A talk “between gentlemen” was not what he had in mind, and he wanted nothing more than to get out. Even Stalag 13 was starting to look good. But here was Voelker, wanting to talk. “You don’t have to explain anything to me,” Hogan said.
“Do not get me wrong, Colonel; I am not asking for a pardon. I am doing what I must do to protect my family. A man accepts what he cannot change, and changes what he cannot accept.” Hogan offered him a slight nod in response. “I simply want you to understand. What you heard in that Luftwaffe meeting today shocked you, did it not?”
Hogan paused, then answered quietly, “I don’t think I’ve ever been so repulsed in all my life.”
“It would not have shocked me. You see, Colonel Hogan, when Adolf Hitler first came to power, I was among the many who thought he would revitalize the Fatherland. He promised security to the workers, economic empowerment for Germany. He was able to make allies of other countries, to get them to make territorial concessions. We were a nation to be respected again. We were all behind Hitler. He was a man of destiny. Even I had given him my soul.” Voelker stopped, as though ashamed of his admission. Hogan had the grace to turn away.
“But then things started happening,” Voelker resumed. “The police—the Fuhrer’s Schutzstaffel—became a force to be feared, instead of respected and admired. The churches were oppressed, the Jews began to be badly treated. We started hearing stories of atrocities, of power gone mad…. We—I – became disillusioned. I thought being part of the German Resistance would be a way to help shorten this war, and remove people like Hitler, Goering, and Himmler from power, that it would loosen the terrible grip they have on this country. But it has not. And now, Colonel, now I have a wife, Katrina, and a daughter, Anna, who is seventeen. A son, Colonel Hogan: Erich, who is seven years old. And I am afraid. Afraid for their future.”
Hogan had stood silently during this narrative, growing more and more somber. He didn’t want any of this explained to him; when people he encountered in this business opened themselves up to him it made it more personal, and he couldn’t afford the luxury of feeling friendship or kinship with them. There were too many decisions that could be hampered by emotion. And still, Voelker’s words touched him. To believe so much in a leader to free your people, and to have that crushed in a way too horrific to accept, must be an unbearable burden. And coupled with a fear for the safety of those you love… Hogan simply nodded, respectfully. “Thank you for taking the time to tell me,” he said softly, his voice affected by his thoughts.
He replaced his crush cap, and turned to leave. “We’d better get going,” Hogan said. “My men should be about done with the cars by now, and we’ve got to get this information to London as soon as possible.” Voelker didn’t move to join him. “Voelker,” Hogan prompted. Maybe the man was still deep in his shame. “Kurt—”
“Colonel Hogan, you and your men are doing fine things for civilians at your camp. Your operation is widely respected and admired.” Voelker seemed to shake his body into alertness.
“We do our best; we get four and half stars in your local travel guide.” Hogan hoped his lightness would mask this feeling of foreboding that was beginning to eat away at him.
“I have actually had the opportunity to learn much about your undertaking. You see, you helped a friend of mine get out of Germany several months ago.” Hogan did a double-take. If someone was leaking information about the operation it could put them all in jeopardy. “Do not worry, Colonel, he did not have the opportunity to pass on specific details of your unit. But he did manage to do something else for me.”
“What’s that?” asked Hogan, not really wanting to know.
“You are quite a good actor, Colonel Hogan,” Voelker said, ignoring the question.
Hogan shrugged, uneasy. “Comes with the job,” he acknowledged.
“You stay very calm in unexpected situations,” Voelker continued. Hogan said nothing. “So do I.” Hogan raised his eyebrows when he found himself facing the barrel of a pistol. “Put your weapons on the table.”
“This day just gets better and better,” Hogan remarked resignedly. He raised his hands slightly up and away from his body. Then, keeping his movements slow and deliberate, he brought a small gun from his pocket and dropped it on the coffee table.
“You will get me and my family to Switzerland, Colonel.”
“I can’t get you there; you know that.”
“England, then. Anywhere! We have to get away from Germany. It is not safe here.”
“You picked a heck of a time to notice; you’ve been part of the Underground for more than a year.”
“Colonel Hogan. I appreciate the work you do. And the sacrifices you make. But my family is in danger. They must come first. You will get us out.” Hogan continued to listen, once again finding words inadequate. “You will return to Stalag 13, and you will not say a word about this to anyone. You will make plans for my wife and children to escape. And myself.”
“I would have been happy to do that without the steel persuasion,” Hogan said with a vague gesture towards the gun. Voelker did not move. Hogan sighed. “Okay, but we’ll need time. Stalag 13 doesn’t usually have kiddie quarters”.
“The comrade whom I told you about, the one you helped. He helped me as well. He was able to make contact with someone in your camp who understands what is at stake for us of the German Resistance. Somewhere in your POW camp is a bomb, Colonel. If I do not show up there within a week of this meeting, this person will detonate it. I will not tell you where to find it, nor who it is that knows of its location. You will go back to camp, and do as I have asked, or someone will die.”
Hogan straightened his back uncomfortably. “How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
“You don’t.” Hogan nodded grimly, knowing he was cornered. “But you cannot take any chances, can you?”
“You don’t have to do this,” Hogan said. He turned to Voelker. “You could have just asked and we would have helped.”
“I trust no one, Colonel Hogan,” Voelker answered. “Not even you.”
Hogan felt his headache come back full force. This could endanger the lives of his men, or his operation, or both. “Voelker,” he said wearily, “just call off your goon. We’ll get you and your family out somehow. You don’t have to threaten us; we’re the good guys, remember?”
“I can no longer believe in men wearing white hats, Colonel Hogan. All hats are grey, their final color to be determined by the outcome of any given venture.” Voelker shrugged. “Consider it a compliment, Colonel. If I did not have such faith in your ability to get my family and myself to safety, I would never have considered such a maneuver.”
“I’ll be sure to include that in the travel brochure: ‘An operation to die for.’” Hogan rubbed the space between his eyebrows and tried to think clearly. “All right, a week. We’ll have you out by then. How do we contact you when we’re ready?”
“Make your usual contact with the Underground, Colonel. Tell them you need a music teacher and that you have pupils eager to learn. I will be contacted.”
“You’d better pack light, Voelker; this isn’t going to be a pleasure trip.”
“You need not worry, Colonel Hogan; we gave up many things we held dear long ago.” Voelker, who had over the course of the conversation become more and more rigid, seemed to relax. “We know we can start again, wherever we are. As long as we are all together.”
Hogan considered Voelker’s statement, and with a pang of envy at the man’s close family ties, he nodded briefly. “My men are waiting.”
“Fine. Let us go, Colonel. There is much to do. And you are on a deadline.” He handed Hogan back his weapon, and the two of them left the hotel.
Hogan met his men downstairs feeling ten years older than when he has last seen them. This was always going to be a tough mission, but this one had gone so awry that he hardly knew whose side who was on. So it was hardly a surprise to him to see Le Beau chatting happily with the guard in front of the parking lot, handing him the remains of what looked like an apple strudel. Somewhere in his brain Hogan registered the fact that he hadn’t eaten since he left the camp that morning, but he was in no state to stomach food now.
Le Beau approached as soon as he saw his commanding officer. “Colonel, are you all right?” he asked, giving Hogan a thorough looking over. “You do not look well.”
“We’ve got trouble. Big trouble. How are you going with your little assignment?”
“Carter is nearly done, Colonel. But I had to give up almost all my finest cooking to do it.”
“We’ll put you in for a Medal of Valor,” Hogan said. “Let’s get outta here.” He approached Schultz, who was picking through the crumbs left in the basket the other guard had abandoned. “Schultz, I want you to know I protest this treatment. Here we were, coming into Hammelburg to do a good deed, and we end up polishing everyone else’s cars and being questioned for nothing. The Red Cross is going to hear about this.”
“Oh, Colonel Hogan, I am so happy to see you back!” Schultz cried. “Please, Colonel, the men were just waiting for you. They said they wanted to occupy their minds; we were—they were—so worried about you! Please. Let us just go home now, yes?” he asked.
“Not so fast,” Hogan said. He turned to Voelker, who was standing nearby. “Hey, Strohm, who’s going to tell the kommandant that we didn’t get everything done? Who is going to believe this pathetic excuse for a guard?” Schultz looked about to protest when Hogan added, “Can’t even keep hold of his prisoners—you’re lucky we weren’t killed, Schultz; you’d have an awful lot to explain. And we haven’t even lined up the beautiful fraulein we promised for his birthday.”
“I am sure your kommandant will trust his guard to tell him the truth.”
“You don’t know Klink very well, Captain. He runs Stalag 13 with an iron fist. And if he even suspects that the SS was out of line on this, you’ll have to start packing your snowshoes, mister.” Le Beau just watched Hogan, totally at sea. “You may just have to front up yourself to apologize in person.”
Voelker nodded, understanding. “We will see, Colonel Hogan. Perhaps that is so. Sergeant Schultz, this man is your responsibility again. I am sure you will have the wherewithal to ensure he does not leave your sight again.”
“No, Herr Kapitan. I mean, yes, Herr Kapitan,” Schultz fumbled. “Come, boys, raus, raus, let us go back now.” And he moved off towards Kinch, Carter, and Newkirk, who were further back in the lot. “Cockroach, come; we will get the others moving.” Le Beau looked to Hogan, who shrugged, and then followed Schultz, still trying to retrieve his basket.
Hogan moved in closer to Voelker. “I can’t organize this completely on my own; we operate as a unit, Voelker,” he said.
“Very well; tell only those who must know. I will do what you say is necessary. But you will honor your word, Colonel Hogan.”
“I would have helped you out without the threats,” Hogan reminded him. “It’s we who can’t trust you,” He paused. “I’ll be in touch soon.” And he turned his back on Voelker and concentrated on getting his men back to camp.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Carter’s instincts about the best way to set the charges impressed Hogan. Here was a boy who could often easily be mistaken as unintelligent, scatterbrained. And yet Hogan knew that when it came to explosives and chemicals, he would trust Carter’s expertise with his life. Now, Carter had whispered to Hogan as they headed to Klink’s car that the vehicles had all been rigged, the timers primed to start working when each engine was started. But, in an effort to minimize any civilian loss of life, the timers had been set for thirty minutes, plenty of time for the vehicles to be out of more heavily populated Hammelburg, and well on their way back to Berlin. Hogan had smiled and patted Carter on the back. “Good boy, Carter,” he praised him. Hogan had heard enough from the Luftwaffe officers about civilian casualties; he knew he and his men didn’t want to be associated with that type of warfare.
The ride back to Stalag 13 passed much as the meeting had for Hogan: in a dream. He was so busy processing the information that he had heard, and analyzing his reaction to it, that he did not notice the time passing swiftly by with the scenery. Hogan’s military background was chiding him for being so sensitive to what was clearly military strategy. He tried to put it down to the coldness with which the plans seem to have been made, but he knew somehow that he couldn’t discount his recent devastating encounter with the Gestapo as having a role to play. After all, he had certainly been in German company before, and in German uniform. And it bothered him that this sometimes crucial aspect of his operation could now be a source of distraction for him during a mission. He felt he had been weak when he should have been strong today, and resolved not to let it happen again.
And then there was the matter of Voelker. It had been bad enough that he had backed out of the mission when it was in progress, but to then make demands of Hogan and his operation was unprofessional, and dangerous. Hogan felt he could understand the man’s fears for his family; he had met enough terrified Germans living under the tyranny of the Third Reich. But he could not accept the man’s terms: do it, or someone dies. Where could a bomb be in the camp? Who would be willing to set it off? And was Voelker telling the truth in the first place? How many lives was Voelker willing to risk? Too many unanswered questions dogged him. And he had not even begun to face the questions that would inevitably come from his men, when they found out that their mission was somehow not finished.
Lost in these thoughts, he had to be nudged two or three times to answer questions that were posed as part of the small talk of the men discussing what had happened with Schultz while Hogan and Newkirk had been at the Landgasthaus. And when they returned to camp, tired from their taxing excursion, Hogan simply banged twice on the bunk bed that led to the radio downstairs in the barracks, and turned to his men, who had planned on getting the lowdown on his talk with Voelker themselves. “Kinch, tomorrow we’re going to have to put in a call to the Underground, get an agent who’s willing to spend a night with Klink. I know: it means giving up the comparative safety of a mission, but ask them to make the sacrifice in the name of freedom.”
His attempt at lightness was not lost on his men, who simply listened silently. Something was obviously troubling him; he didn’t usually go to quite this much trouble to keep them amused after a troublesome assignment. “Now get some sack time; you’ve earned it. Le Beau, you’ll want to sleep under Baker’s bunk tonight; I’m going to have to go in and out of the tunnel and there’s no point in waking you up all the time.”
“But Colonel, you will need to sleep, too. You should not—”
“Le Beau, when did you step in as honorary mother?” Hogan snapped.
Le Beau stopped, hurt. Hogan always lost a bit of his charm when under extreme pressure. And Le Beau knew that it wasn’t his commander speaking, but his fear and his frustration. “Oui, Colonel,” he said, subdued.
Hogan sensed he had overstepped his boundary and put a hand on Le Beau’s shoulder. “Sorry, Louis; but I have to get this information to London tonight. And the faster it’s out of here, the more time the Allies have to thwart it.”
“Oui, I understand, Colonel,” Le Beau said, satisfied that Hogan was handling the strain at least passably. “But before I go to bed I will bring you something to eat. And you will eat it, Colonel.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“I don’t care. You will eat it.”
“Okay, Louis, okay.” He looked on his men with gratitude for their loyalty. “You fellas did a great job today. There’s more to tell you but it will have to wait until the information gets to London first. I’ll be sure to tell them how you went above and beyond the call. Maybe they’ll set you up a car detailing shop after the war.” He offered a weary grin, then stopped as an apparent afterthought struck him. “Hey, Newkirk, any of those dissolving tablets left?”
“Yes, gov’nor, I’m sure there are,” Newkirk answered quickly, heading towards his footlocker. “I’ll fix one up for you right away.” Still hiding that headache, eh, gov’nor?
“Thanks. I’ll be downstairs, gotta get the radio warmed up,” Hogan said, and he disappeared down the ladder, four pairs of worried eyes following him.
The men allowed Hogan the dignity of heading down on his own, then Kinch descended a few minutes later. Wordlessly he handed Hogan the glass full of fizzy medicine Newkirk had prepared. Hogan looked at him, beaten, then downed the contents in one hit, grimacing at the taste. “Thanks,” he said. “Now get to bed. It’s been a big day.”
“I can pass the code through for you, Colonel,” he offered.
“I was sending code when you were still a Private,” Hogan said, trying to sound casual. “Thanks anyway, Kinch. But there’s so much stuff to send you’d be rotated home by the time I’m through. I’ll be fine on my own.” Hogan appreciated Kinch’s offer. And he wasn’t blind to the fact that the men were trying to keep an eye on him as well. But he wanted to get this over with. And he didn’t want them to see the shell-shocked look that was bound to cross his face when he repeated everything he had heard at the Luftwaffe meeting, when the information was released from its compartments, and back into his consciousness. Or when he told Headquarters about the bomb.
Early in the morning, Kinch went back to the tunnel and found Colonel Hogan still at the desk, head down on his arms, eyes closed. Shaking his head, Kinch quietly picked up the headsets and, moving silently so as not to disturb his commander, started to switch off the radio that was hot from being on all night.
“Leave that on,” Hogan’s voice suddenly penetrated the stillness. Kinch nearly jumped. “I’m waiting to hear from London.”
Kinch turned to see Hogan’s head rising from the table. He looked sick, Kinch thought, like he hadn’t slept in months. Hogan rubbed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. “Permission to speak freely, sir,” Kinch said.
Hogan nodded. “Permission granted,” he said, crossing his arms.
“Sir, you look awful—”
“Permission revoked,” Hogan said wryly. “When I want the truth I’ll give it to you myself.” He stood up to stretch his stiff limbs, pacing a small path.
“Begging your pardon, Colonel, but the men are getting worried.”
“They’ll have more to worry about than my looks in awhile, Kinch,” Hogan said grimly, in a rare confidence. “There’s more to come.”
Kinch nodded slowly, understanding now that Hogan’s uncharacteristic mood had not been caused solely by the unexpected foray into the Luftwaffe meeting, or even by his headache. Newkirk had filled them in on Voelker’s last-minute refusal to infiltrate the session, and on Hogan’s condition at its conclusion. But to the radioman, who usually accurately gauged their commanding officer’s reactions, something had not added up. Now he knew why.
“I’ll stay here and wait for London, Colonel. Why don’t you get some sleep.”
“No thanks,” Hogan said.
“Colonel—ten minutes. You’re dead on your feet. You can’t help us if you’re unconscious.”
Hogan considered. “Okay. Ten minutes—and if anything comes from London I want to know immediately.” Kinch nodded. “Immediately,” Hogan repeated as he headed up the ladder.
“Yes, Colonel,” said Kinch. Maybe I’ll lose track of time.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Hogan crept past his lightly snoring men back to his quarters, his body aching for sleep but his mind still racing. As he had relayed the information from the Luftwaffe meeting, weariness had pressed down harder upon him, and he was grateful for the chance to clear the images from his memory. Perhaps now he could begin to forget them, and the irrational fear that had beset him, and keep only his now more deeply steeled determination to help the Allies find a swift and victorious end to this madness.
Hogan punched his pillow in a vain attempt to get comfortable. The old and lumpy mattress was doing very little to support him, and even less to relax him. Where was that bomb? Where? How could it have remained concealed in the camp for months? How could he be sure Voelker was telling the truth? And how was he supposed to get children through the tunnels? And how dare Voelker put Hogan’s operation at risk for his own selfish reasons, even for his family; didn’t he realize he was putting many more lives at risk? And if he did, why didn’t he care? The questions swirled in his brain, unrelenting. Hogan exhaled loudly and tried to ignore the persistent grinding of his sore stomach, but he knew he was fighting a losing battle: he hated questions he couldn’t answer, and he would twist them and turn them around until he could make sense of them. If he could make sense of them.
Stop poking me, big brother. Don’t you know that’s rude? Hogan twitched as he tried to get away from the insistent fingers prodding his shoulder, then sat bolt upright as he discovered the sensation was real, not part of his dream. He had been home, playing touch football with his family… he was young, and carefree, not an intelligence operative, with so much more at stake than the first slice of his mother’s fresh-baked pumpkin pie. Kinch was beside him, rousing him from a sleep he didn’t realize he had had. Hogan fought the unreasonable urge to dress the man down for being there—for not being his brother. “What is it?” he asked, trying to disguise his gruffness.
“Sorry, Colonel. It’s London on the line.”
“’S’all right, Kinch,” Hogan sighed, swinging his legs out over the side of the bed. “I asked you to come get me. It’s too bad they didn’t give me my full ten minutes.” He grabbed his jacket and headed out of the room. Kinch followed silently. He didn’t dare tell Hogan that it had been over an hour since he had convinced his commanding officer to leave the radio and get some sleep, and that he had even managed to get him out of morning roll call.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
After thirty minutes of nail biting by Hogan’s men, the senior POW officer came out from under the barracks floor and reluctantly faced his subordinates.
“London was thrilled with the information we had for them, fellas, and congratulates us all on a job well done,” he began. Hogan’s men patted each other on the back and commented loudly how it was about time Headquarters recognized the difficult – and perilous—work that they carried out. “Thanks to us, they say they can now pinpoint strategic weapons locations and Luftwaffe bases, as well as having a clearer understanding of the mindset of the enemy to help in counterstrategy.” The group nodded, impressed. “And, they report that several explosions blocked the main roads about twenty minutes outside of Hammelburg late last night, with apparently none of the people expected arriving back in Berlin or even reporting in.” He nodded his acknowledgment to Carter. “No civilians were reported injured or killed in the blasts.”
Carter smiled shyly, pleased. Hogan had accepted that bit of news with great relief, but somehow with no remorse about the loss of life that had been inflicted by order of his superiors. Defend yourself, echoed in his head, but Hogan drove it out. Had those planning the destruction he had listened to in Hammelburg felt the need to defend themselves?
Now came the hard part. Hogan took in a breath. “There’s one more thing,” he said. Kinch watched Hogan’s face struggling with emotions before he spoke. Now they would find out what it was that was still bothering their commander. “There was a bit of fallout from that meeting with Voelker yesterday.” The men expressed concern, and a bit of anger. None of them had taken the news well that Voelker had left them in the lurch, and then casually expected Hogan to step into the breach for him. “Seems like he’s had ideas for awhile to get himself and his family out of Germany, and he wants us to serve as his travel agent.”
Le Beau was the first to speak up. “He wants us to help him, but he was not very forthcoming about helping us.”
“I don’t see how we could help someone like Voelker, Colonel,” piped up Newkirk. “I mean he’s not reliable, is ’e? Suppose he does something stupid at the last minute to give us away?”
“Yeah, well he’s got a pretty strong bargaining chip,” Hogan said to stop the chatter. “He says he’s had someone bring a bomb into camp that will be detonated if he and his family don’t show up here in a week to get smuggled out of the country.”
The outburst that followed made Hogan close his eyes and raise a hand to end it. “Where is it, Colonel?” asked Carter over the din. “I’m sure I could diffuse it.”
“I’d tell you if I knew, Carter,” responded Hogan. “He won’t tell us where it is, or who’s going to set it off. He’s made it so that we have to comply with his demands or risk getting blown up. And that means getting Voelker, and his wife, and his teenaged daughter and seven year old boy through the tunnel.”
“Children, Colonel? We don’t take kids through here; they can’t be trusted to keep secrets!”
“We’re not going to have any choice. Trying to find a bomb in a place the size of Stalag 13 is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Even if we knew what we were looking for it would take us more than a week to find it. London has ordered us to meet his demands and get them out.”
More protests met Hogan’s ears. The loudest came from Newkirk: “What if he’s lying?”
“What if he’s not?” Hogan retorted. “Are you willing to take odds on that? I’m not. What if there is a bomb and it goes off in the tunnel? One of you fellas could get killed. Or what if Klink buys it? We get another commandant who isn’t so charmingly inefficient and it’s the end of the operation for us. Not to mention the firing squad.” The men shifted uncomfortably. “We have to operate on the premise that he’s telling the truth.” Hogan sat down, frustrated. “We don’t have any choice.”
“The Colonel’s right; we can’t tell if he’s pulling our leg or not,” Le Beau conceded.
“So how are we going to handle children in the tunnel, Colonel?” Kinch asked.
“I’m not sure yet,” answered Hogan. “But we’ll have to come up with something… and fast.” He closed his eyes and squeezed his shoulder muscles. “I’ll have to go have a think about it. Our first priority is to find that bomb.” He stood up. “Newkirk, any of that draught left?”
“I’ll get you some, Colonel,” Newkirk answered, going off to follow through.
“Kinch, make sure you have someone lined up for Klink,” Hogan reminded him.
“Under control, Colonel,” he answered.
“I’ll be in my room, conniving,” Hogan announced, leaving the common area and heading for his quarters.
And that’s where he stayed, accepting the drink Newkirk brought him, though it was having little effect on the headache that continued assaulting him. “Get some sleep, sir,” Newkirk advised gently.
Hogan just nodded and waved him out of the room. Newkirk was right; sleep was what Hogan needed to clear his head. But it seemed as though the gods were conspiring against him in that. And just when the others thought he was finally settling down for a rest, the door to his room burst open. “I’ve got it,” he announced. “I know how to get Klink to let us search for the bomb. Get on your white gloves, boys; it’s inspection time.”
The Inspection Tour
“I’m heading over to Klink’s office,” Hogan announced a short time later. “Kinch, Newkirk, you know what to do.”
“Righto, Colonel,” Newkirk confirmed.
“Louis, Andrew, you wait for the signal.”
“Oui, Colonel, we will be listening for it.”
“Okay, here we go,” Hogan said, and he turned the collar of his jacket up against the cold, fixed his crush cap on his head, and trotted across the compound. Kinch headed straight down to the tunnel and rerouted the telephone line into Klink’s office. Newkirk followed quickly. Le Beau took up his position next to the coffee pot, now plugged in to bug Klink’s office, with Carter stationed at the top of the ladder.
In the outer office of the kommandant’s building, Hogan managed to enjoy an engaging kiss with Klink’s secretary, Hilda, near the filing cabinet. He knew he usually had to warm her up to get inside unexpectedly, but he also knew they both took pleasure in the convincing. Pulling her soft form to himself, the back of Hogan’s brain was telling him to get to the business at hand, while the front of his brain was saying this was a necessary restoration of his strength of will. It’ll do for an excuse, he said to himself, renewing the kiss with vigor.
But Hilda was obviously of two minds as well, and the part of her mind that was saying Hogan was getting too much pleasure out of this was winning. She pulled away from him long enough to whisper, “Colonel Hogan, what do you really want?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” he asked, happy to forget Klink and any other male German for a few more minutes. He nibbled at her neck, taking pleasure in her taste and her smell.
“Yes,” she said, all business. She neatened her clothes and went around the back of her desk. “I’m afraid it is,” she sighed. “You have come to see the Kommandant.”
Hogan let his shoulders sag in defeat, and threw her a boyish grin. “Well that was how it started out… but I’m sure I could be persuaded to do other things.”
“Not today you can’t,” she said. “But you can see Colonel Klink. He is in there, working on some reports.”
“Spoil sport,” Hogan teased. Hilda smiled brilliantly at him, and Hogan returned the look. Mmm, silent promises…
He knocked on the door to Klink’s office and walked in without waiting for a response. “Fraulein Hilda, I told you I did not wish to be—oh, Hogan,” Klink realized, looking up. “I am very busy, Hogan. But I will speak with you.”
“Thanks, Kommandant,” said Hogan, trying to sound sincere.
“Hogan, I am very displeased about what happened in Hammelburg yesterday,” Klink said, with a tight shaking of his thumb and index finger in the senior POW’s direction.
“I wasn’t very thrilled with it either, sir,” said Hogan. “After all, we went into Hammelburg on a good deed, a mission of mercy, so to speak, and what happens but we get pulled up by the goons—oh, beg your pardon, sir, the SS—and taken in for questioning. Now that can’t be good for morale.”
“You seem to have recovered, Colonel Hogan. Sergeant Kinchloe said you were still sleeping this morning after the rather eventful day. I thought I would be humane and compassionate, Hogan, and let you sleep in, considering you were in Hammelburg doing something for me.”
“That was very kind of you, sir.” Hogan made a mental note to have a word with Kinch about taking matters into his own hands. “Well, sir, the reason I’m here is, my men and I think that this Captain Strohm really pushed his luck, sir, and tried to overthrow your authority. You should have heard him pushing Schultz around—like he was the camp commandant, not you!”
“When outside the camp Schultz is subject to the authority of other officers,” Klink said dismissively.
“But, sir, I didn’t think that some of the things he said were worthy of you. ‘Klink runs a soft stalag.’ ‘Klink is too cowardly to make his guards work harder.’ ‘Klink isn’t here to see me, so why should I acquiesce to his wishes?’ Oh, sir, Sergeant Schultz is too kind to tell you, but this Strohm was completely out of line. He even made the men work on the cars of other German officers in town instead of concentrating on yours. Oh, it was shameful, Colonel. Shameful.”
Klink had risen slowly from his desk as Hogan spouted these tales. How dare a lower ranked officer override him? “Really?” he asked.
“Oh, yes, sir,” Hogan declared. “I would have said something myself, sir, but of course he didn’t want to hear anything from me. I would have demanded he come here to camp in person and apologize for his behavior.”
“Oh, yes, sir. After all, he shamed you in front of the prisoners. No self-respecting officer should accept that from someone as trivial as Captain Strohm.”
“I’d put in a call right now to Gestapo Headquarters in Hammelburg,” said Hogan, picking up the phone.
“In Hammelburg…” Klink was considering.
“And ask to speak to his immediate superior,” added Hogan, dialing some numbers.
“His superior…” contemplated Klink.
“And tell him that Strohm had better show up within the week or all hell’s going to break loose.”
“Within the week?” Klink questioned.
“Hello, Headquarters!” said Hogan, handing Klink the receiver.
“Hello Headquarters,” repeated Klink.
Back in Barracks Two, Le Beau had waved madly when Hogan indicated he was about to make a call. “Now!” Carter called down the ladder. Kinch was waiting with the headsets standing by. And as soon as Klink said, “Hello, Headquarters,” Newkirk was there, German at the ready.
“Ja, Gestapo Headquarters. Heil Hitler,” he said, raising a salute to Kinch, who smiled and responded in kind.
Klink turned to Hogan in horror. How had he gotten through to Headquarters? “Hogannn,” he growled. Hogan just shrugged and crossed his arms casually. “Heil Hitler,” Klink said, recovering. “This is Colonel Wilhelm Klink, Kommandant of LuftStalag 13.”
“Ja, Colonel Plink, this is Colonel Miller. What can we do for you?” Newkirk asked in his best German. Kinch smirked.
“Klink, Colonel. It’s Klink. I am calling about your Kapitan Strohm. Apparently he had occasion to meet up with my Sergeant of the Guard and some of my prisoners in Hammelburg yesterday.”
“Strohm? Strohm?” said Newkirk, trying to remember. “Ah yes, Blink. I know of the Kapitan. A fine soldier.”
“Klink, Colonel. I am unhappy with the reports I am receiving about the Kapitan’s treatment of my prisoners, my Sergeant, and also of remarks made in my absence. And I would like—” He looked at Hogan, who whispered “‘I demand!’” with an emphatic gesture to support it—“I demand that he come to Stalag 13 to apologize for behavior unbecoming an officer.” He threw a questioning glance at Hogan, who nodded silent approval.
“Unhappy, ja?” Newkirk replied. “Well, Colonel Fink, this may be able to take place as you wish. As it so happens there is a major inspection tour of the Stalags being planned for next week. Oberfuhrer Becker is most anxious to come to Stalag 13, as it has the reputation for being the strictest in Germany. Of course you will have the place looking its very best for him when he comes. The Oberfuhrer is a stickler for neatness, even in a prisoner of war camp.” Newkirk let out a snort that he hoped would indicate a slight madness in the Oberfuhrer. “I am sure that Strohm can accompany him. You will see him on Wednesday.”
“An inspection? On Wednesday? That’s only…” Hogan held up five fingers. “…five days from now. Colonel, this camp is very busy. We cannot spend our days and nights cleaning every little corner…”
“No? Shall I tell the Oberfuhrer he is not welcome, Colonel Zinc?”
“No, no of course not, Colonel,” Klink said. “What I mean to say is that we shall get to work right away making sure all is in order for the Oberfuhrer’s visit. As long as Strohm is with him.”
“As it shall be, Colonel Slink. Heil Hitler.” And Newkirk pulled a finger across his neck for Kinch to cut the connection, grinning from ear to ear.
“Oh yes…” muttered Klink as he slowly, absentmindedly, handed Hogan the receiver. “Heil Hitler.”
“You handled that brilliantly, sir,” praised Hogan, hanging up. “Shall I tell the men to get out their dress prison uniforms for the inspection?” Klink was still dumbfounded. “Sir?” he prompted again.
“Hogan, Oberfuhrer Becker is coming here in five days. And he has a neatness fetish that would make my grandmother look like a filthy waif—and she made us wash five times before we sat down to dinner. Hogan, what are we going to do?”
“Well I’m sure the men would be willing to help clean the place up, Colonel. After all, it’s our prison camp, too, and we want to be proud of it when visitors come.”
“You would do that, even after what happened yesterday?”
“Is Strohm coming, too?” asked Hogan.
“Yes, he will be coming with the Oberfurher’s party.”
“Well, then, all the more reason—we don’t want him to think he’s gotten the better of us, sir. Not the men from Stalag 13. It will be my personal pleasure to show him just what kind of men he’s dealing with.” And that’s the truth.
“Very well, then, Hogan. Set up work details and your men can begin cleaning immediately. And quickly!” Klink added. “We only have five days.”
“Believe me, Kommandant, I am fully aware of the time limit.” And with a brief salute, he left the office.
Who’s Got the Bomb?
Carter and Newkirk took their brooms and very casually swept a wide arc to the remotest corners of the supply hut. “See anything?” Newkirk whispered.
“Yeah, lots of things, but I don’t know which one of ’em might be a bomb,” Carter answered, looking over the seemingly endless rows of boxes, sacks, and barrels filling the overcrowded room.
“And I thought prisoner of war camps were under-supplied,” quipped Newkirk. He carefully looked over toward the guard watching them from the doorway. “We’re going to be here all bloody night, and we don’t even know what we’re looking for. Or what sets it off.”
“Anything we do could blow this place to Kingdom Come—and us with it!” Carter said.
“Thanks for that comforting reminder, Carter,” Newkirk said sarcastically. “Let’s start from this end and work our way back through the room. At least we can see if any of the supplies look like they’ve been tampered with.” He pulled a dust cloth out of the bucket he and Carter had dragged along with them and started running it over boxes nearest him. “C’mon, Carter,” he said loudly, so the guard could hear. “When the inspector comes we have to make sure he doesn’t think the prisoners don’t actually get any of these marvelous things,” he said dryly, eyeing the medical supplies and rations with some envy. He told himself secretly to come back when there was a break between missions and load up for the prisoners’ personal storehouse.
Carter followed Newkirk’s lead, and examined everything as they moved up and down the aisles. But how did they find something when they didn’t know what it looked like?
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“This kitchen is disgusting!” complained Le Beau. “How do you expect to impress anyone when you cannot see your face in the stainless steel? You would be lucky not to get food poisoning!” The German in charge of the kitchen cringed, knowing that Le Beau was regarded as a culinary expert by many in the camp. “I will pull this building apart board by board to make it right.”
“Jawohl, I will get started on—”
“No! You will not touch it! You cannot be trusted. You will get out of my sight.” He picked up a bowl of what looked like sauerkraut and shoved it at the German. “And you will take this reject from the kitchen from Hell with you. Before it walks out of here under its own power.”
Thus left to his own devices, Le Beau began a careful search of the kitchen and the mess hall.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“Are you sure your men can handle this section on your own, Schultz?” asked Kinch. Looking over the guard house and towards the tower, Kinch was meeting with resistance from the portly Sergeant about putting the cloths over this part of the camp, saying it was a matter of pride for the men that it be kept clean at all times. Kinch wondered what “all times” meant, as he thought he would have some serious work to do to even bring this place up to below par, and cleaning was not quite what he had in mind when he asked about cleaning!
“Ja, Sergeant Kinchloe, we will see to it ourselves,” insisted Schultz.
“Okay, Schultz,” said Kinch. Then, thinking on his feet, he said, “But I’d sure hate to be you if this Oberfuhrer finds something to be unhappy about. After all, you’re the Sergeant of the Guards….”
“Ja, I am!” he said proudly. Then his expression changed to one of concern. “What do you think he would do?” he asked.
“I wouldn’t know, Schultz. But if you’re the one in charge of the guards, and the guards displease him, well, it would be your responsibility, wouldn’t it?”
“Auf meinem Leben!” fretted Schultz. “Every man should take responsibility for his own area, yes?”
“Well in theory, Schultz. But when something goes wrong in camp, it’s ultimately the Kommandant’s fault, isn’t it? Well, the same would apply to yourself with your guards.”
Schultz moved away from the door he had been blocking. “You may do what you need to do.”
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Hogan came out from his hiding spot when he saw the car pull up on the road and Voelker, in German uniform and holding a rifle, disembark. Still not happy to trust him, Hogan held his Luger close to his body, and advanced slowly.
“You are well, Colonel Hogan?”
“Wonderful,” Hogan answered curtly. “We’re ready for you. You’ll come into camp on Wednesday, accompanied by some other agents posing as a General and his inspection group. Klink has demanded Strohm come to camp to apologize for his arrogance in Hammelburg and for undermining his authority. You can disappear while you’re there, we’ll make it so Klink will never notice. Your family will come through the tunnel the same night, and we’ll smuggle you out in the dog trucks.”
“We were planning to come into camp together, Colonel Hogan. My family does not wish to be separated.”
Hogan was starting to lose grip on his already weak patience with this man. “I’m not your personal travel agent, Voelker. If you want to get out, you have to trust me on how to do it. There’s at least one thing I know better than you. And another thing, your son’s going to come in blindfolded and he’s going out the same way. We can’t take any chances on a child spilling the operation by accident. And the less he knows, the safer everyone is.” In case you get caught, he finished to himself grimly. They won’t be able to use a child to get to his parents, not if I have any say in it.
“Colonel, that cannot be. My son, Erich, he is terrified of the darkness. He cannot be out at night, and blindfolded; he will be mad with fear.”
“Now look, Voelker, you gave us your conditions and I’m meeting them. We don’t have a lot of choices about how and when. He comes in blindfolded or not at all. You’ll just have to find a way to keep him calm.” Hogan felt his grip on his pistol tightening. Voelker was trying to get the upper hand again. When would this guy give up?
“I cannot guarantee his silence during a nighttime journey, Colonel Hogan. He is a child. He is frightened. What would you have me do?” There was no regret in his voice, simply continuing defiance, steadfastness.
Hogan tapped his foot, impatient with himself, but trying to think. He admired the man’s devotion to his family, but he seemed to forget there was a war on! Still, Hogan could not help thinking of a young boy, frightened and leaving everything he knew, and he wanted to make it easier… if there was such a thing. “Okay,” he said finally. “Your inspection entourage is scheduled to come through the gates at noon precisely. While the guards are there and their attention is diverted, one of my men will meet your family at the entrance to the emergency tunnel. Your contact in town will get them there. But your son will be blindfolded for the trip, and he’ll stay that way till he’s safely in the tunnel and there’s no way for him to figure out how he got there. Clear?”
“Clear,” Voelker replied. “We will get details from our mutual contact.”
“Now we’ve kept our part of the bargain, Voelker; you keep yours: cough up the bomb,” Hogan said.
“Not yet, Colonel Hogan. We must be inside first. All of us.”
“You’re making this mission a lot riskier for my men, Voelker. I’m sure even you can appreciate that conducting operations during the day leaves us a lot more open to being noticed…and shot. The least you could do is show your hand.”
“I am sorry, Colonel. Not until we are all in camp.”
Hogan found it hard to resist the urge to throttle Voelker. Not only because of the man’s stubbornness, but because his continued defiance was in essence questioning the integrity of Hogan and his men. Still, Hogan kept the worst of his thoughts to himself, and concentrated on the mission at hand. If he couldn’t get Voelker to tip his hand, he would have to make sure he did so when the time came. And God help them both if Voelker tried to hold back then. “Tell your family they’ll have to be ready to follow orders once they are with me and my men. And that includes you,” Hogan said gruffly. “Once you’re at Stalag 13 you’re under my command. Anything but strict adherence to the rules could have disastrous results…for all of us.”
“Understood, Colonel. We will do as you say.”
“I hope the rest of your family isn’t quite as stubborn as you,” Hogan said. And, purposefully lowering his pistol, Hogan headed back into the woods.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“Nothing, Colonel. Not a thing out of place, and nothing that looks remotely suspicious,” Kinch reported.
“Same goes for me, Colonel. Although I was concerned about some of the food I found in the kitchen,” added Le Beau. “But I decided that was not a bomb; just poison.”
“What about you fellas?” asked Hogan, turning to Carter and Newkirk. The group had met back in Barracks Two just before evening roll call, to compare notes.
“Everything seemed okay, Colonel,” said Newkirk. “But there’s so much bleedin’ stuff in there it’s hard to tell.”
“We went through everything, sir. It’s just impossible to find something when you don’t have any idea what you’re looking for,” Carter said.
“How did you go, Colonel?” asked Kinch.
“Change of plans,” Hogan said, avoiding a direct answer. “We’ll bring his family in when the inspection group comes through the front gates.”
“But Colonel, that’s broad daylight!” protested Le Beau.
“You’re very observant, Le Beau,” Hogan said. “That’s why you’ll be meeting them at the tunnel entrance. We’ll need a sharp-witted person to make sure things go right while the rest of us make sure the Germans are kept busy. The boy will be coming wearing a blindfold; make sure it’s taken off as soon as he’s downstairs.”
“Now,” mused Hogan, rubbing his chin, “we’ve got to find that bomb. Someone has to know something. Kinch, did the guards have anything unusual to say while you were in their hut?”
“No, Colonel, just scuttlebutt about officers who have visited the camp. I’m not sure whose side the guards think those officers are on, the way they talk about them,” Kinch grinned.
“That’s it!” Hogan said suddenly. “Kinch, you’re a genius.” Hogan stood up and headed for the door.
“What did I say?” Kinch asked the others, as Hogan swept out with fresh resolve.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“The men will keep working tomorrow, Schultz. We aren’t at all satisfied yet with the state of this camp.”
Hogan had made a bee-line for Schultz, who was doing his shift slowly this evening, and occasionally stopping to stifle a yawn. “But Colonel Hogan, I don’t think even the Oberfuhrer would be looking into some of the spots the prisoners are cleaning. Why would he remove drawers from desks to study them?” he asked, remembering how Kinch had scolded him when he found dust bunnies under the lowest drawer.
“Oh, now, Schultz, the men take pride in their work. They don’t want the camp to be clean just on the surface; they want it to be truly sparkling, deep down where it counts.” Sometimes Hogan wondered how he could keep this banter up so often. It could get tiring to pretend that your men were so easily bendable, when inside he knew they were anything but submissive, timid creatures. “We haven’t done the recreation hall, or the officers’ barracks yet. We’ll have to get to them first thing in the morning.”
“Don’t bother with the Officers’ Barracks,” advised Schultz. “It has not been used in two months. No one goes in there.”
“Well, we like to be thorough, Schultz. After all, where would an officer like to see better treated than officers’ quarters?” Hogan laughed. “We’re all alike, you know. Like to see our nests feathered nicely.”
Schultz considered this, as visions of Hogan’s “officer’s quarters” in Barracks Two flashed through his mind. Hardly “feathered” the way any man of rank deserved. “Ja, I understand, Colonel Hogan,” he said.
Walking beside Schultz as the guard continued his rounds, Hogan casually asked, “Gee, Schultz, it has been awhile since we’ve had any visitors. Who was the last one to stay here?”
Oh,” Schultz thought, “that would be… General Fleischer.”
“Oh that’s right,” Hogan agreed heartily. “What did he come here for again? To discuss a promotion with the Kommandant?”
Schultz chuckled. “No one comes here to discuss that,” he muttered conspiratorially. As though his loyalty were being questioned, though, Schultz added, “But he did come with something nice for the Kommandant.”
“Nice?” Hogan asked, his ears perking up.
“Yes. Very nice. He told me that the Kommandant’s old gymnasium classmates were planning to surprise him on the anniversary of a very special school event, and that he hoped to bring it to the Kommandant himself.”
“So what was it?” Hogan asked, alert.
“I do not know, Colonel Hogan. General Fleischer was called away from the camp urgently. He has left me the package with instructions to give it to Colonel Klink on his command.”
Hogan was suddenly wired. “Where is that package now?” Schultz paused to think. “Schultz, who has it?” he asked impatiently, anxious.
“That would be telling,” Schultz said. “I promised I would not say. I gave my word that I would deliver it to the Kommandant myself, and that I would tell the General the look on his face when he saw what was inside it.”
“Just bursting with excitement, I’ll bet,” Hogan mused angrily, picturing the package exploding in Klink’s face when it was opened, taking out both him and Schultz in one hit. “Schultz, has the General contacted you yet about delivering this surprise?”
“As a matter of fact, he contacted me this afternoon after the Kommandant got the prisoners started on the detailing. He asked me to make sure it was safe and said that it was going to be delivered soon.”
Hogan was nearly beside himself. “Gee, Schultz, I’d love to see the package,” he said, cursing himself for not sounding as calm as he hoped. He flashed a winning smile at the guard. “C’mon,” he said, as though plotting secretly with Schultz, “it’s just me—no one else would have to see.”
“No, Colonel Hogan, I promised!”
“Oh well,” Hogan said, trying to sound hurt. “Now I know why you didn’t want Newkirk and Carter in the supply hut.” He shot a quick look over his shoulder to see if he was getting anywhere with this, then smiled to himself when Schultz began to take the bait. “You’ve been keeping a big secret in there all alone—want to get all this glory for yourself!”
“No, Colonel Hogan, that is not where it is,” protested Schultz.
“Or why the mess Sergeant was upset about Le Beau going through the kitchen.”
“No, Colonel Hogan, the parcel is not there!”
“Or why you didn’t like Kinch going into your guard house cupboards.”
This is where Hogan suspected the parcel was at the start of this questioning, but knew he had to lead Schultz up to it. He was rewarded when Schultz said, “Please, Colonel Hogan, do not tell the others about it. I promised I would tell no one.”
“Don’t worry, Schultz,” said Hogan, satisfied. “Your secret will be safe with me.” And so will you and Klink. I hope.
Pass the Parcel
“Okay, so it’s a pretty sure bet that Fleischer brought in the bomb,” Hogan relayed to his men a short time later. “Either that or the friend Voelker was talking about gave it to him to give to Schultz. Whatever way he did it, we’re not likely to see Fleischer again, and we’ve got big trouble if Schultz takes that parcel to Klink.”
“It seems like the plan is to get rid of Klink and Schultz completely,” Kinch surmised. “And with them gone…” Kinch’s voice trailed off.
“The operation is gone,” finished Hogan. “If a bomb goes off in this compound you can bet your bottom dollar Berlin’s not going to send another Laurel and Hardy to run things here.”
“It’d be bye-bye Kraut patsies… hello Gestapo,” said Newkirk.
Hogan nodded. Aside from the obvious repercussions on their operations, he couldn’t help but have a small, sick feeling in the pit of his stomach when his mind considered what would become of Klink and Schultz personally if he and his men couldn’t intercept the bomb. True, in the end they were the enemy, and true, he would follow orders if push came to shove. But if it weren’t for Schultz turning his head the other way so often, Hogan truly believed that their operation wouldn’t have survived as long as it had. And if Klink had not been, deep down, a compassionate man stuck in a role he did not relish, Hogan and his men could easily have suffered more physically —and mentally—in this camp than they had. Hogan found that he wanted to stop this disaster for Klink and Schultz’s sakes, as well as for the sake of himself and his men, a thought that took his conscience by surprise.
“So what are we looking for, Colonel?” asked Kinch.
“Ah, there’s the rub,” Hogan quoted. “We know where…but we still don’t know what. We’re going to have to investigate first. And we have precious little time to do it. Kinch, can you get back into those quarters?”
“I think so, Colonel.”
“Take Carter with you. You’re going to have to play sniffer dog, Carter. Can you do that?”
“I’m part bloodhound, Colonel.”
“Yeah, and you keep passin’ on your fleas,” teased Newkirk, giving him a playful shove.
Hogan allowed himself to enjoy the banter and gave a crooked smile before continuing. “See if you can find anything that could pass as a bomb. We’re going to have to replace it, and quick. But don’t try to diffuse it, just bring it back here. We don’t know what sets it off and I don’t want any dead heroes.” He was trying to be lighthearted but wasn’t succeeding. His concern was real. He trusted his men to try to do the right thing. But he also knew they were walking into danger, and it gnawed at him that he couldn’t take the risk away from them. As a leader he had to knowingly send his men into jeopardy, and they had never shirked their duty. But he always felt like a father pushing his sons in front of moving vehicles, and knew that if something happened to any of them, the sorrow, and the guilt, would be unbearable.
“We’ll be fine, Colonel,” Kinch said, understanding. “We’ll bring it here. It must be able to be handled, or Fleischer wouldn’t have been able to give it to Schultz. We’ll figure out how to get rid of it when we know what we’re dealing with.”
Hogan nodded, appreciating Kinch’s unspoken insight into his commanding officer’s worried mind. “Okay.”
“You want us to head out now, Colonel?” asked Carter.
“No,” Hogan said. “Let’s give it a break. I told Schultz we’d be at him tomorrow, and I want you fellas to have plenty of light to work with. This is no time to use half-measures. We’ll get you in there first thing in the morning.”
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Kinch and Carter barged into the guard’s quarters, buckets, mops and cloths banging and crashing, and got straight to work as they listened to Hogan smooth-talk Schultz outside. Kinch shook his head in amazement as he listened to the words drifting towards them. He didn’t know how Hogan kept up this constant patter; it was certainly a gift that not all men had. A saying he had heard came back to Kinch: If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything. And the senior POW had to regularly come up with and support stories with no truth in them whatsoever; if he couldn’t remember it all, there were lives, lots of them, at stake. Occasionally, but not often, Kinch had seen the pressure of this responsibility visibly wear on Hogan. The sign was in his eyes, when they suddenly lost their spark; when he seemed to be staring at nothing for a minute at a time; when he suddenly made a biting comment from left field, then wouldn’t look at his men for shame of it, and made it up to them by making sure they got time off. But he wouldn’t let on: the confidence of the men under his command was directly linked to his own, as was often the case in tight-knit groups, so he tried never to let them see his own cool demeanor falter. Not just any man could be a Papa Bear, Kinch pondered, digging through the closet loaded with heavy coats and long pants and assorted articles of clothing. Thank God for the one we’ve got.
“Hey, Kinch, look at this.” Carter pushed some long underwear aside in a large drawer to reveal a brown-papered parcel tied with string.
Kinch stared at the package that he had never seen yesterday, not having been given access to what Schultz had told him was “too personal” a place to go. He nodded his agreement. “I think we’ve got it.”
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“So what do we do with it?” Newkirk asked.
The men in Barracks Two were staring at the parcel Kinch and Carter brought back from the guards’ station. The foot-by-foot, square, brown problem sat on the table in front of them, daring them to act. Hogan looked to his demolitions expert, the man he trusted above all in matters pertaining to explosives of any kind. “Carter?”
Carter screwed his face up, thinking. “Well it might be on a timer, but that’s not likely,” he said. “If it was, Klink might have time to get rid of it before it goes off.”
“Okay,” understood Hogan. “So it’s pressure-sensitive. It’s tied down in there and the first person to break that string shakes hands with Saint Peter.”
“Uh-huh,” confirmed Carter.
“So how do we get rid of it?” asked Kinch.
Hogan had one leg up on the bench, and now he leaned on it, rubbing his face as he considered. “I could try to diffuse it, Colonel,” Carter offered.
“Not a chance, Andrew,” Hogan said, not missing a beat. “We’re not taking any chances. That thing is an unknown, and I’m not going to have you blowing yourself up over it.”
“We could always give it back to Voelker when he shows up here,” Newkirk said, cross that the man had left them in such a position. “It’s his bloody gift anyway, isn’t it?”
“We could,” Hogan mused. “But I’d like to put it to better use than that.”
“Why don’t we use it to blow up that new railroad bridge we have been talking about hitting?” suggested Le Beau.
“Not a bad idea, Louis,” nodded Hogan. “But it’s not a timer-set or impact explosive.” He turned to Carter. “Andrew, how would a bomb like this handle being couriered?”
Carter shrugged. “Gee, Colonel, I don’t know,” he said. “But if it’s been made properly it can’t be too sensitive or it would blow the minute someone looked at it cross-eyed. It made it this far, so it must be fairly sturdy. After all, Schultz didn’t know what’s in it, and he’s no light touch.”
Hogan looked around at his men. “What do you say we send a little gift to our friends at Gestapo Headquarters in Hammelburg?” Hogan smiled as he saw his men warm to the idea.
“That sounds like a great idea,” Le Beau said over the din. “We can say it is from Berlin.”
“Whatever we say, we can’t connect it with Stalag 13 in any way,” Hogan agreed. “Kinch, why don’t we find out what delivery trucks we’ve got going out in the next day or two, and give our friends in Hammelburg a bang-up gift. In the meanwhile, we’ll leave this little bundle at the far end of tunnel four. Make sure it stays sealed off to traffic, just in case. Newkirk, Le Beau, let’s come up with a different gift for the Kommandant. But make sure it looks just like this one—on the outside, only. We’ll sneak it back into the guards’ quarters tonight.”
“Yes, Colonel,” the men agreed, and took off to do their jobs.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“Colonel Hogan, I called you in here because I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to accept your men’s kind plans to go into Hammelburg to meet that fraulein tonight.”
“Oh, but Colonel--!” protested Hogan. Shortly after the meeting in the barracks, Hogan had been summoned to Klink’s office. And after the activity of the last twenty-four hours, Hogan had nearly forgotten the set-up to the whole operation: getting Klink to think the men wanted to give him a birthday surprise.
“No, Hogan, no—” waving Hogan’s protest away and going back around his desk.
“Oh, but Colonel, the men have really been looking forward to this!” Hogan said. “They said they really wanted to thank you for being such a compassionate—yet hard-working—Kommandant. And now you’re going to throw it back in their faces!”
“I’m sorry, Colonel Hogan, that is the way it is in wartime.” Klink sat down. “Sometimes men have to make sacrifices for the good of all. And with this inspection tour coming up I will have to be here in the camp at all times to make sure everything is in order for the Oberfuhrer’s visit on Wednesday.”
Hogan nodded resignedly. “Okay, Kommandant. But Mariel will be very disappointed.”
“Mariel?” Klink said longingly.
“Yes, sir. A lovely young thing, just moved into the area. But don’t worry, sir. She’ll understand. She’s a war widow, you know; she understands how these things happen.” Hogan saluted in his usual carefree manner and headed back out the door. He had more pressing matters to attend to. And he could tell Mariel that she wouldn’t have to pretend to enjoy the company of a pompous German officer this evening. Too bad he didn’t have time to take Klink’s place….
Wednesday morning’s roll call was a hurried and tense affair, thanks to Klink’s well-known anxiety in the face of any kind of inspection, or any encounter with the Gestapo. This suited Hogan down to the ground, as he had too much to do to stand in the cold, trying to divert Klink’s attention from his own edginess over the work at hand. As soon as they were dismissed, Hogan and his men made a bee line for the barracks, to gather around the table for a final review of the day’s plans.
“Okay, this is it. Voelker and the ‘Oberfuhrer’ are scheduled to arrive at noon precisely. Le Beau, at that time you’re going to be at the entrance to the emergency tunnel, where Voelker’s wife and kids are going to come down. Remember the boy will be blindfolded. When you’re fully inside the tunnel, and you know he can’t figure out how he got here, take the blindfold off, pronto. Otherwise we’re going to have trouble of a different sort. Keep them down there, make sure they have everything they need to be comfortable.”
“Carter, Newkirk, you two are going to create a diversion near the gates as the party comes in. This will throw Klink off enough to draw the guards’ attention to you, instead of to what’s happening outside the wire, just in case one of the guards is actually doing his job and scouring the perimeter.”
“Right, Colonel,” they answered.
“Kinch, as soon as they’re in here, contact the Underground and tell them we’ll be ready for the dog truck. Then coordinate with our contacts for the pickup to get them out of Germany. The plans are all made; we just need to make sure we’re on time.”
Kinch nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“I’ll get Voelker myself.” Hogan’s men watched him carefully. Hogan knew what they were thinking. The thought of giving Voelker a dressing down for putting the operation in such jeopardy had indeed crossed his mind. But he had already dismissed the idea as impractical, fruitless, and in some ways, heartless. His only intention was to get the man out as soon as possible, and let him live with his own conscience. “Once he’s done apologizing to Klink, I’ll make sure he gets to take an inspection tour of the barracks…without Klink in tow.” The men nodded understanding. “And now… all we can do is wait.”
Waiting was the hardest part for most of them. The days since Sunday’s discovery had been filled with planning, calls to and from the Underground and London, meetings and operational strategy sessions. A section of the emergency tunnel had been made into a makeshift sitting room for the Voelkers, as they would have to wait several hours at least to slip back out of camp. Hogan had pulled Le Beau aside quietly and asked him to pay close attention to the young boy, Erich, to make sure he was kept in lighted areas, and kept away from any conversation that might frighten him. The best way to keep a child of his age calm was to keep him occupied, so Hogan also had the men construct a couple of simple wooden games for the lad to play with, so his mind would not be on all that was happening around him.
Hogan had ordered his men to catch up on their lost sleep in the interim, but found it eluded him personally. Every now and then he would doze off, only to find himself still trying to answer the question that had been posed so many times: How do you defend yourself? He still had no clear answer, and woke up from tossing and turning no more rested than he had been when he shut his eyes.
Days of this were beginning to take their toll on his outlook. So when the time came for waiting, Hogan found himself taking to his bunk instead of pacing as usual around the barracks, engaging only in more unsettled sleep. As noon approached he got up, rubbed his face and eyes, splashed himself with cold water, and made sure his uniform was presentable to the “visitors”. He made sure the men were in place, sent Le Beau out through the tunnel, and went outside to set things in motion.
Just on midday, the front gates to the camp opened wide and an impressive black car bearing Nazi flags came through. Hogan pulled his back away from the barracks wall to get a better view of the proceedings, and nodded once to Newkirk and Carter, who started tossing a ball back and forth casually in the middle of the compound.
The car pulled up near Colonel Kink’s office and a door opened, revealing Voelker dressed in his officer’s uniform. He got out and opened the rear door to the car, where a man dressed in the clothing of a Nazi Oberfuhrer stepped out and took a surveying look around him at the camp. Hogan slowly, casually, followed as they headed to Klink’s office.
Klink came out of his office, coat tails flapping, as the visitors came started up the stairs. Hogan shook his head in amusement as he watched Klink nearly knock them back down, then apologize profusely as he led them back inside to his office. Hogan decided to spend a few minutes with Hilda before barging in on the meeting. Let’s get things warmed up a little, he decided. Then I’ll crash the party.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“This way. Come, you must hurry, this way.”
Le Beau took the trembling woman by the arm to lead her to the entrance to the emergency tunnel. She, in turn, was tightly gripping a young boy, who was whimpering as he stumbled in the underbrush. “Anna, take your brother’s other arm,” she ordered shortly. A teenaged girl obeyed the woman immediately, keeping her eyes averted from Le Beau. Une belle fille, he noticed with a tinge of sadness. Trop jeune.
“It will be all right, Erich,” Anna said. “We are nearly there.”
Le Beau took the heavy backpack that the woman had carried all the way to the meeting place. “Madame Voelker, you cannot carry this. I will take it.”
“You are kind, sir,” she said, relinquishing her bundle.
“It is not far from here,” Le Beau told her. “But we must get out of sight as quickly as possible.” A short distance to go, but Le Beau was feeling very vulnerable out in the daylight. He hoped Newkirk and Carter were putting on a good show.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“I believe you know our senior POW officer, Kapitan Strohm. Oberfuhrer Becker, this is Colonel Hogan.” Klink made introductions shortly after Hogan burst in, all righteous anger over Strohm’s presence. Under his breath, Klink threatened, “Hogannn…”
“General,” acknowledged Hogan, nodding slightly.
“Hogan. Yes I believe you are the reason the Kapitan has accompanied me on my inspection today,” Becker said, making unmistakable eye contact with Hogan, who merely raised an eyebrow. “Something about an interrogation in Hammelburg.”
Klink laughed nervously as he detected annoyance in the Oberfuhrer’s tone. “Well we don’t have to worry about that now,” he said, trying to keep the atmosphere light. “We have an inspection tour to conduct! And I think you will find, Oberfuhrer—”
“Now, hang on a minute, Kommandant!” Hogan said, raising his hand. “Now this Captain Strohm was way out of line when I was in Hammelburg, not only with me but with what he was saying about you! And I think it only fitting that he humble himself before you, sir, as a gesture of repentance for his arrogance.” Hogan looked from Klink to the others and back. “After all, when a man’s not there to defend himself against some pretty insubordinate cracks from the likes of Strohm… well, as an officer and a gentleman I was offended.”
“You often take offence at matters that are none of your affair, Colonel Hogan?” asked Becker.
“Begging your pardon, General, but Captain Strohm here was pretty rough on me. And on Colonel Klink’s command. A command under which I am proud to be a prisoner of war. And when he insults the Kommandant, he insults me and my men.” Oh, brother! Hogan rolled his eyes before he could stop himself and hoped Klink hadn’t noticed.
“A commendable attitude for a prisoner to have. Colonel Klink, you seem to have gained the respect of your charges. This is the sign of a fine officer.” Becker turned to the man beside him. “Kapitan, it seems you would do well to pay your proper respects to Colonel Klink. And to Colonel Hogan as well.”
Now this’ll be worth the price of admission alone, Hogan thought, eyeing Voelker.
“Very well, Herr Oberfuhrer,” began Voelker. Was he glaring at Hogan for real? Or was he just showing again what an extraordinary actor he was?
Hogan never got to find out, because it was then that all hell broke loose outside. Shouting, running, dogs barking: Carter and Newkirk, Hogan thought. Right on cue. More screaming. And then the door to the office burst open and Sergeant Schultz came in, breathless and upset. “Herr Kommandant, the men are fighting!” he said.
Klink responded immediately. “Hogan, you will come with me and discipline your men!” he ordered. “Excuse me, Herr Oberfuhrer,” he said, sweeping past.
Hogan and the others followed. Sure enough, a swarm of about two dozen men were shouting and cheering, crowding in around a skirmish. There were so many people jostling for a view and picking smaller fights that the people at the core of the riot weren’t even visible. Two of the dogs had been released and were barking incessantly. Several guards had run from the outer perimeter of the camp, rifles at the ready. But they were simply watching, boys themselves watching boys fight. Hogan allowed himself a thin smile before stepping into the fray. “Awright, fellas, knock it off! Break it up!” he shouted, pulling two men off each other and nearly getting decked in the process. “Knock it off!” He pushed his way through the flying punches and wrestling bodies until he got to the centre: Carter and Newkirk. “Cut it out, you foul balls!” he ordered, tearing them apart. The prisoners started to settle. “This has gone far enough. Colonel Klink has an important visitor today, and you’re not making a very good impression on him!”
Hogan stepped back, straightening his own jacket and resettling his cap, then turned to Klink, who looked like he had gotten the business end of a few fists as well. He picked the Kommandant’s monocle out of the dirt and handed it back to him. Klink practically snatched it away. “Hogannn,” he growled again, shaking his grimy monocle at him. “The men responsible for this display will be severely punished!”
Hogan turned to quite obviously bring the Oberfurher’s attention to the situation. Klink followed Hogan’s eyes and immediately put on a slippery smile. “Of course, sometimes men just have to release some pressure.” He laughed as the stern face of the Oberfuhrer relaxed. “Ten days in the cooler for these two,” Klink said with a frown, pointing to Carter and Newkirk, who were now brushing each other off and shaking hands in reconciliation.
“But Colonel, it’s Carter and Newkirk who were going to help you take the visitors on their tour of this fine camp! After all, we’re the ones who help keep this place in the tip-top condition you see before you,” Hogan said.
“Is this true, Colonel Klink?” asked Becker.
“Well, the men do take a certain pride in the condition of Stalag 13. It is one of the many reasons that our escape record is spotless here, Herr Oberfuhrer,” Klink grovelled.
“Then I should like the men responsible for the camp’s presentation to be the ones who show me around,” Becker replied. Hogan felt a smile creeping onto his lips. Nice touch.
All In The Family
“This way, madame, mademoiselle,” Le Beau guided the girl. When they had gotten near the hollowed-out stump, Le Beau had left his charges in the nearby brush, and went ahead on his own to make sure the Colonel’s plans had been successful. When he was confident that they were not going to be detected, he brought them out and started handing them down the opening to Kinch, who was waiting below.
“Mein Gotte!” exclaimed Mrs Voelker, as she looked through the hole to the network beneath her.
Le Beau handed her bundle down, then Kinch took her hand to help her down the ladder. Then Le Beau himself walked Erich to the ladder, lifted him up gently, and carried him to Kinch. Kinch took the shaking boy in his arms, all the while murmuring reassurances, and nodding to the boy’s family to also make him feel less frightened. Le Beau quickly followed them down, and closed the entrance.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Hogan’s eyes were drawn to the door to Barracks Two, where Le Beau was standing, clasping his hands together as though trying to keep warm. He was back; Voelker’s wife and family must be in the tunnel.
Hogan signaled to his men to disperse, and he headed back to Le Beau. “All set?” he asked under his breath, his eyes still scouring the camp.
“Oui, Colonel,” Le Beau replied. “They are all downstairs.”
“How’s the boy?”
“He was scared but he is better now. He is curious.”
“He can be as curious as he likes as long as no one satisfies that urge. Make sure he stays on that end of the tunnel.”
“Oui, Colonel.” Louis paused. “It was nice of you to get the men to make toys for him, to help him be less afraid, Colonel.”
Hogan, strangely uncomfortable with the insight, merely answered, “If he’s playing, he’s not wandering around finding things out he doesn’t need to know.”
“Of course, Colonel,” Le Beau replied. But he could tell by Hogan’s tone of voice that he had caught his commander out. He wouldn’t push this private man any further.
“Has Kinch radioed the Underground?”
“He is doing it now.”
Hogan nodded. “Good. All on schedule. The truck will be here at six o’clock. I’ll get Voelker when this little charade is finished.” He paused. “I’d better go greet our guests. Let me know if Klink suddenly appears.”
Hogan left Le Beau standing outside and made his way deftly down the ladder to the tunnel below. All was oddly quiet at this time of day, and Hogan felt a sudden desire to spend some time down here in solitude, as he did occasionally when he needed to sort things out in his mind. There had been so much activity lately that he had not had a chance to just sit and reflect. It was simply plan and act: a soldier doing a soldier’s job. When he had stopped he was usually too exhausted for contemplation. But he didn’t give it much thought; he would have many years to reflect on this time. Years that he hoped would begin sooner rather than later, if he and his men were successful in their missions for the Allies.
Hogan came across Kinch at the radio. Not ready for conversation, Hogan and Kinch asked and answered Hogan’s question without an exchange of looks: all was still going to plan. Hogan nodded and softly smiled his thanks. As he moved further down the tunnel, an indistinct sound reached his ears, growing clearer as he neared the holding area that had been fashioned for the Voelkers. It was the sound of a boy playing trucks, that revving sound that Hogan remembered from his own childhood, and from every child that he had ever encountered holding any toy with wheels. Normalcy. Normalcy in this insanity. Hogan stopped and listened for a moment, then moved into view.
A slight, weary-looking woman stood up from a chair as soon as Hogan turned the corner. She looked frightened, Hogan realized. She doesn’t deserve this. “Mrs. Voelker, I presume?” Hogan said gently. “I’m Colonel Hogan.”
The woman seemed to visibly relax at his name. She released her grip on a lovely young lady standing next to her. A younger picture of the woman, Hogan knew he would have been able to place them as mother and daughter instantly, even without the advantage of knowing who they had to be. “Katrina Voelker, Colonel,” the woman said, regaining her composure and coming forward. “My daughter Anna,” she continued. Hogan nodded at the girl, who seemed to look up at him from under her long locks. Shy, thought Hogan. “My son, Erich.” She gestured toward the boy on the floor, who had only now stopped playing with the wooden truck the prisoners had supplied.
Hogan looked compassionately at the boy. “Hello, Erich,” he said, wanting to make the boy feel at ease. “How’s the truck?”
“Great,” he said simply. But he continued to stare at Hogan, only occasionally stealing a look at his mother.
Clearing his throat, Hogan began, “I’m sorry the accommodation isn’t quite five star. It was the best we could do under the circumstances. Family packages aren’t our usual forte.”
Mrs. Voelker smiled, a gesture that Hogan thought took years off her face. How worry and fear age a person, he thought. “We are not displeased, Colonel Hogan. We are grateful for your generous offer to help us.”
Offer? Hogan bit his tongue. No matter what he thought of Voelker, he would not do anything to change his wife’s understanding of the situation. “We do what we can,” Hogan answered instead. “I hope you understand why bringing your son in blindfolded was necessary.”
“It was difficult but we can appreciate the danger involved,” Mrs. Voelker said. “Erich would have been beyond us if this had happened in the darkness. I do not know how we can ever thank you and your men for the risk you are taking.”
“As long as he’s not afraid of dogs,” Hogan said, knowing the rest of their journey was not going to be much more pleasant.
“We have—we had a dog at home. Erich loves them,” she said, glancing at her son, who had by now gone back to his play. Hogan felt a pang as the woman spoke. So many things they will have to say they used to own, used to do, used to believe…
“Your husband is in the camp,” Hogan said. “We’ll get him down here as soon as we can. You’ll be leaving in the dog truck in a few hours. It will take you to our contacts who will get you out of Germany. You’ll be in England in two days, and helped further when you get there.”
“Danke, Colonel. Danke schoen.” The woman smiled again. Hogan couldn’t help but get the impression she was trying to put him at ease. He was grateful, and felt pity for her at the same time. To give up one’s whole life, in order to save it…
“I’ll have to leave you now,” he said. “A few more arrangements to make. Sergeant Kinchloe is nearby if you need anything, and Corporal Le Beau will be back soon with something for you to eat.”
Anna continued her silent staring. Hogan couldn’t read her expression. “Your kindness is great, Colonel. Thank you,” said Mrs. Voelker
Hogan had to turn away. “That’s okay,” he said. And shoving his hands in his pockets, he quickly walked away.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Thirty minutes later Voelker was inside Barracks Two, Hogan having pried him and Becker away from Klink, saying that he had not gotten his apology, and that he wanted it in front of his men in his quarters. When Becker agreed, Klink’s “Humph!” and shaking fist dissolved into a simpering smile.
Voelker surrendered his German uniform and Newkirk got to work on giving it to a private who would wear it out of the camp with Becker, then come back in through the emergency tunnel, with no one the wiser that “Strohm” had disappeared without a trace. Le Beau and Carter then outfitted Voelker in civilian clothes—their own clothes had been abandoned for light travel, the pack carried holding their most precious mementos—and sent him further down the tunnel for a reunion with his family.
“So far, so good, Colonel,” said Kinch.
“That package ready to go?” Hogan asked, remembering the bomb at the end of Tunnel Four.
“Yes, sir. Courier is picking it up tomorrow. It will be delivered to Gestapo Headquarters in Hammelburg.”
“Addressed to Strohm?”
“Yes, sir. When they realize Strohm deserted they’ll be looking for evidence of his whereabouts and either destroy it, or open it, thinking it might give them a clue.”
“And if they do the latter... Well, it’d be their own fault for tampering with the mail,” Hogan quipped. “That’s a federal offence!” He clapped Kinch on the shoulder. “Good work,” he praised. “There’s been a lot of work in this for you; you’ve done it well.”
“Thanks, Colonel,” Kinch said.
“Why don’t you go on upstairs and get some sun on your face. You’re looking pale.”
Kinch grinned and swatted Hogan’s arm, then headed up the ladder. Hogan smiled to himself, then sat down at the radio to collect himself. What a day this has been, he thought. And it isn’t over yet.
Lost in thought, Hogan hadn’t heard the footsteps approaching from behind him. So he was startled when a soft voice said, “Colonel Hogan, may I talk with you?”
Hogan turned and saw Anna Voelker standing there, looking charming in her pale dress despite the dimness of her surroundings. Her shyness was evident on her face, but she obviously was fighting it to come to him. Hogan turned his body to her, and gave her his full attention. “Sure,” he said.
“I thought you would be upstairs,” she started quietly.
“I come down here sometimes when I need to think.”
“It would be frightening, sometimes,” she pondered.
“It’s easy to be scared here,” Hogan offered, unsure how to answer.
“But you are very brave, Colonel. And brave men fear nothing.”
“That’s not true,” Hogan said, not unkindly. “They fear just as much as anyone else. They’re just more afraid of what will happen if they don’t act, than they are of what will happen if they do.”
Anna’s eyes softened. “Colonel Hogan, I have heard much about you. I overheard my mother and father talking when they thought I was sleeping.” Hogan raised an eyebrow. Anna lowered her eyes, embarrassed at her admission. “I know you have every right to be angry at my father, Colonel Hogan. But he loves us very much and does things that can only be justified by love.”
Hogan listened to the wisdom of this girl without comment. Anna continued, “You were very kind to my brother, Colonel. Papa says there was great risk in bringing us here in the daylight.”
“We do it when we have to,” Hogan said.
Anna smiled softly. “You did not have to,” she said. “Colonel Hogan, I would go to bed every night, frightened of every noise, every shadow. I would wonder when the Nazis would come for me, for my father—even to take my brother, or my mother, who are both so innocent. No matter what comes now, Colonel, I can sleep in peace. We are together, and once we are out of here and in England, I will never have to fear the night again.” She moved to stand beside Hogan and, in a moment of boldness mixed with hesitancy, placed a gentle kiss on his cheek. “Kann Engel Bewachung über Ihnen, Colonel Hogan,” she whispered. May angels watch over you. “I shall never forget your goodness.”
Hogan watched thoughtfully as she disappeared back down the tunnel.
Soldier and Man
“Does everyone understand what they’re doing?” Hogan asked. The Voelkers were waiting in the “sitting room” that had been constructed for them under the barracks, clutching all their worldly possessions, and each other. Hogan studied each of them, trying to gauge their readiness for this move. God help me if I ever have to do what they are doing, he thought. And he was filled with a new respect for them all, even Voelker. Frightened, Voelker had bravely done what he thought was necessary. And seeing the family huddled here together, even in their uncertainty, Hogan hoped he would have been able to do the same if he had needed to.
“Fine. The truck will be arriving in about fifteen minutes. We’ll move down to the exit soon.” He looked at Erich, who was sitting with his mother. “We’ll have to… put the blindfold back on,” he said hesitantly, hating the necessity but knowing it could mean the difference between life and death.
“We understand, Colonel,” said Mrs. Voelker. “Erich knows we are playing a special game. He has to guess what type of road we are on, whether we are in the city, or in the countryside, what kind of cars we are passing….”
Hogan admired the way she handled the situation. Mothers know best, he thought, and his mind flashed to his own family home, then just as quickly came back to the present. Some day… “We’ll move you out when the truck gets to the main gates.” Hogan made to move back down the tunnel, and found himself being followed yet again. He turned on his heel quickly and found Voelker there. “What is it?” asked Hogan.
“You have done as you said you would, Colonel Hogan, and I will do as I have promised,” Voelker said, coming to him. “I will tell you about the bomb.”
“Don’t bother,” Hogan said, bitingly. “We already found it.”
“What?” Voelker replied, stunned.
“My men found it on Sunday. We’re sending it to Gestapo Headquarters tomorrow. It will give a convenient explanation for the disappearance of Captain Strohm.”
Voelker was silent for a moment. “If you already had it…”
“Then we didn’t have to do all of this; that’s right,” Hogan filled in for him.
“Then why did you?” asked Voelker, dumbfounded.
“Because we promised we would. Because I told you we would have helped you if you had only asked. Because we’re the good guys,” Hogan nearly shouted. He paused. Now that he had seen Voelker’s family he had a different perspective. But he was still angry, so angry. More calmly, he continued, “You put my operation, and the lives of my men—not to mention the lives of innumerable Underground agents—at risk with your stupid plan. If we hadn’t found that bomb, it could have been delivered at any time, to anyone. We could have been shot as spies, our network could have completely crumbled, and your fellow countrymen would have been struggling to merely survive while you and yours were cozying up to some nice Yorkshire pudding by a fireplace across the Channel.”
Hogan couldn’t hide the fury that was creeping into his voice. His eyes were alight, darting back and forth while he struggled to keep from screaming at the man. All the pressure he had been feeling during this ordeal had come to a head, and the cause of it was standing before him, even now doubting his men’s earnestness. “Your little fiasco was selfish, Voelker. Selfish and badly thought-out. You didn’t consider for one minute the consequences of your actions on countless others. You thought the end justified the means. And it doesn’t.” Hogan drew in a breath. Calm, Robert. Calm down. “But we’re better than that. You see deep down, I understand why you did what you did. You’ve got a family, a great family, and they mean the world to you, more than this crummy war, more than anyone in it. You couldn’t see past them to the big picture. And I accept that; I might have even done the same in your place. But someday you’ll have time to think about all of this, when it’s not so close to home. And I was determined to make sure you know you were fighting on the right side.”
Voelker didn’t say anything. He merely stood, his face showing the impact of Hogan’s words. The Colonel was right. In his anger the American could have rightly brought a halt to this operation; he was not under pressure to help, now that the bomb had been discovered. “Colonel Hogan,” Voelker nearly whispered, humbled by his own self-interest. He tried to look Hogan in the eye, but found he could not. “I was doing only what I thought I had to. I trusted no one.” Hogan remained silent. “I will protect my family, Colonel Hogan,” Voelker suddenly said proudly. Then, more quietly, “We owe you our lives, much more than I could ever repay.”
“We’re the guys in the white hats. The men of honor,” Hogan said, almost without emotion. “You don’t owe us anything.” He thought about Voelker’s wife and children waiting at the tunnel exit. “Make sure your family knows the truth about us,” he said. “That they know we’ve been trying to help save lives.” He straightened his jacket and, clearing his throat, added, “That’s all the thanks we need.”
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Hogan continued to toss and turn that night, tired but troubled by this operation not quite completed. He had had Kinch wait by the radio in the hopes of hearing from the Underground, but that had not happened. Finally, feeling guilty about having the radioman sit wearily near the equipment, he had sent Kinch off to bed and took his place. But even he, after another hour of waiting for a call that wasn’t coming, had abandoned the hope of contact and had headed to his quarters.
Early the next morning, having been unable to sleep, Hogan himself met the Underground courier to hand over the parcel bomb. And later, still restless, Hogan’s mind was on the final words he had exchanged with Voelker’s wife. She had taken him aside, away from her family, gripping his forearms to look him in the eye. “Thank you for your kindness, Colonel Hogan. We shall remember you always.”
There was a catch in her voice, and Hogan looked down at her, touched by her emotion. Sincerely, he said, “I’m glad we could help.”
“You do not show your true self often, do you Colonel Hogan?” she asked softly.
In spite of himself Hogan noticed how soft her skin appeared. Though the war and its worry had aged her, close up he could see that Mrs. Voelker was still a woman in her prime, and beautiful when given the right circumstances. “I have to stay detached in my position, or I can’t do my job.”
“But you don’t,” she persisted. “You took such a risk getting us here during daylight hours. You had every reason to refuse us after what Kurt did, both last week in Hammelburg, and here. Yet you did not. You cannot say that is detached, Colonel.” She looked earnestly at him. “You are a soldier. But you are a man as well.”
Hogan tried to avoid her searching eyes, but found that he could not. “Is it that important to you?” he asked quietly, moved.
She squeezed his arms gently, kindly. “Perhaps it is important to you.” Their eyes remained locked, Hogan unable to respond.
At that moment Voelker came into sight. “Katrina,” he called. “It is time.”
The woman smiled gently at Hogan, released his arms, and went to meet her husband.
In his mind, Hogan was still watching her walk away when Newkirk called from the window. “Schultz is on the way, Colonel.” She was still looking at him. “Colonel,” repeated Newkirk.
Hogan was jolted back to the present, nearly spilling his coffee. “Right,” he said, collecting himself. “Okay.” He stood up, tucking his shirt into his trousers. A glance from Kinch told him there was still no word from the London about the fate of the Voelkers. All they knew at this stage was that they had safely gotten out of Stalag 13.
“Colonel Hogan, the Kommandant wants to see you in his office,” said Schultz as he entered the room.
Hogan nodded. “What’s it all about, Schultz?”
“I do not know, Colonel Hogan. And I prefer it that way.”
Hogan shrugged his shoulders, grabbed his jacket and cap, and followed the guard to Klink’s office.
“Colonel Hogan, I thought you would like to hear about our friend Captain Strohm,” Klink said, as the senior POW came into the room.
“He’s not my friend,” Hogan retorted. “I prefer to think of him as a casual enemy acquaintance.”
“You may be interested to hear that the Captain did not return to Gestapo Headquarters last night after he left here.” Klink sat down, opened his humidor, and pulled out a cigar. Hogan reached out to take one for himself, and promptly drew his hand back as Klink snapped the lid shut and locked it. Don’t you worry, Kommandant; there’s more than one way to skin a humidor.
“Is that so? Maybe they didn’t get their map from the auto club.”
“The Gestapo is investigating; they think he may have been a spy,” Klink revealed, awed. “Imagine; a man like that,” he said, shaking his head.
“Oh, I don’t think he was a spy, sir,” Hogan said dismissively, innocently, eyeing the humidor.
“No? Why not, Hogan?” Klink asked with interest.
“Well for one thing,” Hogan started, “a real spy wouldn’t draw so much attention to himself the way Strohm did in Hammelburg.”
“I’m not sure I see where you’re heading,” Klink said, getting up to pace. Hogan reached over and took the lighter off Klink’s desk.
“You’d have thought a real spy would have been more discreet than to pick up an Allied POW in the middle of Hammelburg.”
“Mmm,” considered Klink, as Hogan held up the lighter to Klink’s cigar with his right hand, while working the humidor’s lock with his left.
“And to make disparaging remarks about the Iron Eagle in public,” continued Hogan, successfully breaking through, as he had done many times before. Never taking his eyes off Klink, he took a handful of stogeys and shoved them into his jacket, and put one in his mouth. “Well that was beyond a joke, sir, and bound to attract unwanted attention.” He handed Klink the lighter as he closed the humidor again and held out his cigar for Klink to help light up.
“Yes, that’s very true, Hogan,” Klink said, preoccupied with Hogan’s proposal, and unwittingly doing as Hogan wanted.
“And to then be forced to come into a prison camp to apologise? No,” Hogan said, inhaling contentedly and replacing the lighter, “a real spy would have had to have been much more clever than that.” Hogan sat down, propping his feet up on the desk.
Klink’s face took on a familiar look of frustration when he realised the smoke billowing towards him was coming from Hogan. He was about to reprimand his senior prisoner when the telephone rang. “Colonel Klink speaking, Heil Hitler.” Klink’s face changed to take on a look of amazement. “Really?” he said. Hogan puffed on his cigar, listening carefully. “That is very interesting, Herr Major. Thank you for letting me know…. What’s that?…. Oh yes. Heil, Hitler.” Klink hung up the receiver and sat down. “Colonel Hogan, you will never believe it.”
“What’s that?” asked Hogan.
“That was Gestapo Headquarters in Hammelburg. Apparently a package was delivered there today addressed to Captain Strohm. His superiors decided to open it to find out who might be trying to contact a suspected spy… and the package exploded!”
“Hmm. Much damage?” Hogan asked.
“Two Gestapo officers killed, and one of the offices was destroyed. He must have had his own enemies,” pondered Klink. “Either that or someone suspected him of espionage and wanted to stop him.”
“Well, we can’t all be perfect,” Hogan said. He stood up, saluted Klink and turned to go, then seemed to think better of it and turned back. “Oh, sir—the men were disappointed that you couldn’t meet with that fraulein. So they scrounged together and managed to get you this.” He reached back into his pocket and thrust the pilfered cigars at Klink.
Klink took them from Hogan, pleasantly surprised. “Why, thank you, Colonel Hogan,” he said.
“It was nothing, sir. Just a token,” Hogan said, and slipped out. As the outer door closed behind him he could hear Klink’s voice crying, “Hogannnn!”
Hogan beat a path back to Barracks Two, and very briefly explained what had transpired. “It all went fine,” Hogan said distractedly. He rubbed his face, trying to fight the tiredness that had started to come over him on his walk back.
“News from London, Colonel,” Kinch said, appearing from below.
Hogan sat down at the table and looked at him. “What is it?”
“Voelker and his family are in London; they’ve been picked up and are being debriefed now.” Hogan shot a look at Kinch, asking more. “They’re all okay. And the kids are fine.”
Hogan nodded. He rested his chin in his hand, leaning on the table. His exhaustion was becoming more overpowering. “Good.” He closed his eyes.
“Go to bed, Colonel,” suggested Le Beau.
“Yeah, London says they’re giving us a few days’ reprieve for this one, Colonel,” Kinch added. He motioned to Newkirk to move in, and the two of them pulled Hogan up from the table by the arms.
“Hey, what’s the beef?” Hogan protested.
“It’s beddie-bye time for all good little Colonels,” Newkirk said, as he and Kinch led Hogan to his room.
Hogan resisted only mildly. Carter plucked the crush cap from his head, and as they deposited him on his bunk, Newkirk and Kinch pulled the bomber jacket from Hogan’s back. Hogan automatically turned toward the wall and curled up. By the time Le Beau had grabbed a blanket from the upper bunk to lay over their commanding officer, Hogan was completely asleep. The Frenchman looked at the others questioningly.
“This one’s finished now; he’ll let himself rest,” Kinch concluded.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
The white light was again flashing in Hogan’s face as he sat strapped in the chair. He could not see, but he did not need to. He knew what was coming.
“How do you defend yourself?” asked the voice.
Despite the underlying menace, Hogan was bold now, and had a ready answer. “Yes, people die. Yes, I am responsible for it. I’m a soldier and I follow orders. But I save lives, too. I am still a man as well.”
The bright, probing light disappeared. And Hogan slept on in peace as he found himself suddenly surrounded by soft, comforting warmth, with no dreams at all.
Text and original characters copyright 2003 by Linda Groundwater
This copyright covers only original material and characters, and in no way intends to infringe upon the privileges of the holders of the copyrights, trademarks, or other legal rights, for the Hogan's Heroes universe.