All For One and One For All
2004 Papa Bear Awards - Third Place
2004 Papa Bear Awards - Third Place
Best Overall Story
2007 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Lifetime Getaway Award
I’m getting too old for this.
Colonel Robert Hogan had this thought for not the first time as he stumbled wearily to his bunk at LuftStalag 13, where he was technically a Prisoner of War. He had just returned to the camp – not something POWs are prone to do if they have their druthers—after a close call on the outside. It had been a solo mission for the Underground, something he didn’t often enjoy, and he had been surprised by a German patrol and nearly captured. Someone knew about his mission, and he was being hunted. In his fearful flight, and without a companion to supply a second set of eyes, he had stumbled into a rabbit hole, bumped his head, and badly injured his right ankle. The three miles back to camp had been long after that, and weakening.
He waved away the alarmed looks of his men when he returned shortly before dawn and aimed straight for his room, where he could have time for more peaceful solitude. Hogan sighed as he sank onto the mattress. He grimaced as he lifted his injured foot up on the bed. He considered removing his boot. His ankle was badly swollen; he could feel his skin pressing uncomfortably against the leather, and a steady, hot throb rolled up to his knee from the site. A very slight tug sent fireworks racing to his equally throbbing head. Suddenly his exhaustion took over and instead of continuing he lay back and closed his eyes. Yep. Way too old.
“’Ey, hey, hey!” he suddenly yelped. A white hot blast of pain shot up Hogan’s leg, rudely jolting him into awareness. Instinctively he pulled his injured limb up and away from the bed. He opened his eyes to see Corporal Louis LeBeau looking woefully at him and quickly withdrawing his hands. Hogan was surprised he hadn’t heard the Frenchman enter the room. How long had he been out?
“Sorry, mon Colonel. We were worried about you. You look unwell—and that bruise on your temple. We wanted to make you comfortable and let you sleep until roll call.”
“Thanks,” returned Hogan, struggling up. “But if I take that boot off I won’t get it back on. It’s either sprained or broken, and I have to go back out tonight so I’ll need both shoes—only polite to dress for dinner.” Part two of his mission. At least tonight he could take someone with him.
“But, Colonel, you will need treatment.”
“Later, LeBeau. How long till roll call?”
“Thirty minutes, Colonel.”
“I’ll be there.” He waited. LeBeau didn’t move away. “Yes, Louis?”
“We are pleased you are back, Colonel. Are you going to tell us what happened?”
“Maybe later. Right now I’d better make myself pretty for the Krauts.”
Hogan shuffled LeBeau out of the room and for a moment pondered the men under his command. It wasn’t easy working with the Resistance, getting orders from the unseen in London to go on life-threatening missions to sabotage German war plans. But he was given a good team of people, some of whom had become close companions, more like friends than subordinates. He appreciated their care and concern. But it was his job to be strong for them, and he couldn’t stop now. He stood up, testing his injured ankle. It protested so strongly that Hogan nearly blacked out. But he reached out for the bed and managed to sit out the wave of nausea and dizziness that overcame him. Trying a new tact, he stood again and painfully hobbled to the small mirror to survey this bruise LeBeau had mentioned. Hm, yellow and brown, never a good combination. Hogan tousled his dark hair a bit to cover it. It would do. The camp commandant, Colonel Wilhelm Klink, would buy any explanation Hogan gave him.
But his men wouldn’t. Time to face the music, Robert old man, he thought. He carefully changed his wet clothes, managing to antagonize his battered body only twice. Both times he cursed under his breath, once gasping at a sudden reminder from his ankle that everything hadn’t gone to plan last night, and finding a couple of new sore spots he hadn’t had the displeasure to discover before now. He pulled on his bomber jacket and grabbed his cap, and, groaning at every slow and agonizing step, he tried to paste a nonchalant smile on his face as he opened his door to face his compatriots. “What’s the word from London?” he asked the four worried faces. Succeeding at covering his pain, he tried to saunter to the table where Sergeant Andrew Carter and Corporal Peter Newkirk were playing cards. The two looked at each other—even they could see that the ghost-like pallor and stream of perspiration on their commanding officer’s face were telling a different story from his tone of voice.
“Part one successful, Colonel,” put in Sergeant James Kinchloe. Hogan was grateful for his radioman’s understanding. While the others might instantly ply him with questions, Kinch wouldn’t. He knew Hogan would explain when ready. When he was stronger. When he could make sense of it himself.
“Good, so the list I brought to Hansel and Gretel got to the Wicked Witch,” Hogan confirmed. At least something went right last night, he thought. That list of operatives who needed to be protected had to get to the right people—members of the Underground, masquerading as German military officers, getting closer and closer to the upper echelon of this whole war, ready to sabotage any moves against the Allies. Tonight Hogan and Newkirk would go back to Hansel and Gretel and get details on an ammunitions shipment that they needed to intercept, and follow through on the job.
He looked over at LeBeau. His mind had drifted away. “Someone has infiltrated—there is a list. The meeting was tonight! Find the spies—now!” The voices echoed in his head. He could hear the German officers running, the dog barking, the gunshots. A close call, one that could have jeopardized the whole operation he was running—and cost him his life. Thank God his contacts were safe. He wasn’t sure now, though, whether it was safe to take Newkirk tonight. He would consider that later. Right now, he found himself feeling light headed, and moved towards a chair. “More to do tonight,” he said to Newkirk, nearly falling into a seat, instead of casually settling in, as he had hoped. “You up for the games?”
“Well I am, gov’nor.” The Englishman tried not to say what he wanted to say.
“Good. So am I,” answered Hogan, responding to the unasked question. “Things got a little hairy last night,” he finally said. “Unexpected patrols. Nice bright moon. I didn’t look where I was going and landed in a hole. I’m okay, all right?” He looked at his men, who seemed unconvinced. “Just need to have a nap after roll call.” Silence. “All right?” he repeated.
The others mumbled reluctant agreement, and moved out when they heard the shout for roll call in the camp. Hogan followed at a slower pace, starting to feel woozy. His ankle sent constant knife-jabs up his leg. He wanted to ignore it, but he couldn’t. He was hot despite the chill in the air, and wondered if a fever was setting in. Ignore it. You can deal with it after tonight. The outside light assaulted his eyes and drove more knives into his skull. Got to think clearly. Shake it off. Shaking was probably the last thing he should have done. The whole world seemed to shake after that, people and nature swirling before him, moving closer, moving away. Swaying slightly, he found himself suddenly supported by Newkirk, who had hung back from the others. “Thanks, I can do it now,” he said.
“Sure, Colonel,” agreed Newkirk. But he didn’t leave Hogan’s side. Quietly, Hogan was grateful, and took the opportunity to lean heavily on the Corporal until they were ready for the head count. Newkirk silently accepted his CO’s stubbornness, and worried about his condition, especially in light of their mission tonight. Would he do more harm to himself by exposing himself to yet more danger before he was even looked at? What if it were a bad break? Infectious fever, even gangrene panicked the RAF member’s mind. But a sideways glance at his pale superior officer reminded him that if he mentioned his concerns, they would fall on deaf ears—there was a mission to accomplish. Period.
Meanwhile, the camp’s fumbling Kommandant was waving his riding crop and carrying on about the condition of the camp in light of an anticipated visit from General Burkhalter. Hogan slowly pulled away from Newkirk and Klink worked his way around the men. “And you, Colonel Hogan, I would appreciate it if you would explain to your men that this is a prison camp, and they are expected to act like prisoners of war. General Burkhalter would be most pleased to see that sometimes the Allies actually know they are facing the end of their battles!”
Hogan straightened as Klink stopped in front of him. “Aw, gee, Kommandant, we like playing happy prisoners. Don’t you want it to look like you’re taking good care of us? Why just the other day, Le Beau was asking about putting some fresh flowers around the--”
“E—nough, Hogan,” interrupted Klink. He secretly enjoyed Hogan, more than he should as a German Kommandant in a LuftStalag. But any General’s visit was enough to send him into a tizzy, and today he didn’t want Hogan to do anything but cooperate.
Hogan let out a sneeze. It was then that Klink took a good look at his senior POW. He was surprised to see Hogan wincing, looking very pale, and not very well. He took in the looks of those closest to Hogan, and confirmed his feeling that something was wrong when he noticed the concern on their faces. “Hogan, are you ill?”
“Just a touch of the flu coming on, sir.”
“You are pale as a ghost, Hogan.”
“Trying to keep up with the fashions, Kommandant. White is the new black.” Some men around Hogan snickered slightly.
Klink decided to let it all go. “See that you attend to yourself—light duties for you today, Hogan. Confine yourself to quarters if that helps you. It would certainly help me to have you not so ever-present when the General is here.” He abruptly turned away and called “Diss—missed,” over his shoulder as he headed back toward his office.
As the men disbursed, Hogan’s friends crowded to him. Despite what he tried to show them they could tell he was not well and would not last long outside. And they knew that he was making light of what had happened last night, that there was more their superior officer was not saying. Hogan turned towards Barracks Two as though to push away all the solicitousness. “Colonel, you’re going to have to consider sending someone else tonight—” started Kinch.
Hogan stopped short. Someone walked into him from behind they were all so close, and Hogan grimaced as his felt the impact in his sore body. But he recovered quickly enough to glare at Kinch. “Someone else?” he almost spat. “And what do you expect someone else to tell our contacts—‘We know you were briefed on Papa Bear but tonight you’ll just have to trust us, this other guy is okay?’ It doesn’t happen that way, Kinch. You know things have to proceed as planned. ” A sideways look told the men he wanted to be alone. He continued to limp towards his quarters. The slow progress was painful just to watch.
“We’ve gotta do something,” started Carter. “He’s not gonna last ten minutes out there tonight.”
“I’m gonna have me ’ands full just keeping him standing up,” Newkirk predicted.
Kinch nodded agreement grimly. As he glanced up and saw Sergeant Hans Schultz approaching, he signaled the conversation to halt. Wouldn’t do to be discussing Underground operations in front of a German guard—even Schultz. “What is wrong with Colonel Hogan?” asked the bulky man. For him, being a German soldier was just a job. Quite frankly, it was either this or end up on the front with active weaponry and constant danger. And given a choice between that and this....well, the food was so much better here, thanks to Le Beau’s culinary expertise, and he actually felt comfortable with the prisoners, who somehow he suspected actually liked him, too. And in Schultz’s existence, that was nearly as important as doing the right thing for the Fatherland.
“Like he said, he’s just a bit sick, Schultzie,” said Newkirk.
“Yeah, he’ll be all right in a day or two,” added Le Beau. Saying that, Le Beau thought, might actually make it so.
“Hey, Schultz, you wouldn’t want to do us a favor, would you?” asked Newkirk on the spur of the moment. The others eyed him cautiously.
“A favor?” clucked Schultz. “I am not supposed to be fraternizing or colluding with prisoners of the Stalag—” he began, trying to remember the rule that he had broken so many times before, and knowing even as he said it he would probably not be able to keep to it.
“Yeah, I know all that, mate,” continued Newkirk. “But it’d be for Colonel Hogan, and you know that when he’s happy, we’re happy, and that makes us good prisoners, doesn’t it?” Schultz considered, and listened. “What we need, is maybe just an extra blanket or two so the Colonel can rest easy, you know? And maybe some penicillin. Help him get over his flu a bit faster.”
“Oh, I don’t know... where am I supposed to find that? Blankets are in such short supply.”
Not sure where his friend was headed, Le Beau nonetheless sweetened the pot. “C’mon, Schultz, I’ll make it worth your while.”
“Will you?” asked the guard, intrigued by imagined culinary delights that only this diminutive Frenchman could offer.
“How about chicken cordon bleu and vegetables with a light sauce, followed by a mousse so light you could float away on it.”
“That sounds like Heff—en,” Schultz answered, mouth watering.
“Blankets, Schultz,” said Newkirk, pushing him slightly away. “Blankets.”
“Mm. Blankets....blankets of mousse.....blankets of.....---oh, yes, I’m sure I can try to track down some blankets for Colonel Hogan.” And he wandered away.
“What was that for?” asked Carter.
“If he’s ’overing around all day we won’t really be able to help, will we? It’ll give us time to sort out this mess. And do we really want Schultz and Klink to think we have all the medical supplies we need right in our own humble abode?” Newkirk asked.
“Good thinking,” Kinch agreed. “Let’s see what’s going on.” And he and the others headed back to the barracks. Intruding on the senior POW’s privacy was akin to taking your life in your hands. And they feared his wrath almost as much as the Gestapo’s.
“I will go,” said Le Beau. “I will try to get the Colonel to have something soothing to eat.”
“I’ll go,” said Kinch. “You guys are too loud for someone with a headache.”
“Hey, I think I’ll go,” suggested Newkirk. “I’m the one who’s got to be with him tonight. Maybe I can knock some sense into him, without him knocking me senseless.”
The others reluctantly agreed. Newkirk approached the door to Hogan’s room and knocked lightly. “Colonel...Colonel ’Ogan, sir.” There was no answer from the other side. Newkirk shrugged, then tried again. “Colonel?” When there was still no answer, he edged the door open just slightly, peered in, then entered.
Inside, Newkirk saw Hogan turned away from him on the bunk. He hadn’t even bothered to remove his jacket and hat. “Colonel, sir, are you asleep?” he asked. No answer. Newkirk came closer and discovered Hogan’s eyes were closed. But he wasn’t sure it was sleep that was claiming the man. “Hey,” he poked his head out of the room and called to the others, “I think he’s bleeding unconscious.”
The others came into the room quickly. “Well he doesn’t look very comfortable,” admitted Le Beau. He touched Hogan’s face. “And I think he has a fever.”
“Out in the wet last night, out in the cold today,” Kinch said. “And who knows if there’s any infection to worry about. He won’t let us close enough.” He turned to Carter. “Can you go down in the tunnel, Carter, and get us some penicillin? At least we can try to get the fever down.”
“And what if Schultz miraculously brings us some more?” asked Le Beau.
“Then we say the Colonel doesn’t seem to need it at the moment but we’ll keep it in case,” answered Kinch.
“On the way,” said Carter, and he left quickly. Le Beau moved in and gently took the cap from Hogan’s head, and motioned for help in removing Hogan’s bomber jacket. “Gentle, gentle,” he warned, as Newkirk and Kinch pulled Hogan’s limp body up from the bed. He needn’t have worried; Hogan made no move or sound of protest. They arranged him carefully on the bunk and covered him with a light blanket.
So what really happened out there? they asked themselves silently. When Carter came back Kinch administered the shot, and they left the room quietly.
“I don’t like it,” said Kinch. “He’s a lot worse off than he’ll admit. Maybe we should tell London he can’t do it.”
“You want him to go barmy on you?” said Newkirk. “The Colonel finds out you’ve done that and you won’t need to worry about the Germans.”
“Let’s give him some time,” said Le Beau. “Maybe the Colonel is right and he just needs some time to recover.”
“With that ankle?” asked Kinch. But he, too, knew resistance to Hogan’s stubbornness was a waste of time.
“We’ll just have to wait and see.”
Colonel Klink sat at his desk, trying to concentrate on his paperwork. But he was distracted by the idea of the General’s visit. Face it, he thought to himself, it’s your ancestors who were great German officers, not you. He didn’t like thinking this way, but he also didn’t like how he couldn’t help being kind to his enemies. Take Hogan, for instance. The American Army Air Corps Colonel was one of the most irritating men he had ever met—constantly outsmarting him, commanding a loyalty from not only his own men but from the German guards, something Klink with all his German rank could not do. Hogan was an inferior chess player; maybe that was some type of redeeming quality. Americans have no sense of strategy anyway. So why was it that he liked this man, his mortal enemy? Why was it that he was worried when he noticed Hogan looking less than his usual self at roll call? Why was it that when Hogan didn’t follow him to his office this morning with his usual list of demands for and complaints from the prisoners that Klink wondered if the man was in need of medical attention, or in some sort of trouble?
You don’t need this today, Wilhelm, he said, shaking the thoughts from his head. He sighed, then tried to refocus. He hated these visits from headquarters. General Burkhalter was always threatening to send him to the Russian front for incompetence. And yet Klink knew that no one escaped from Stalag 13. He snorted in derision. Of course he knew that once again it was Hogan who was responsible for that. Why was this man so nice to him, so helpful, when he should by all rights be thrilled whenever Klink was dressed down?
Sergeant Hans Schultz came in just as Klink was about to smash his monocle in frustration. “Herr Kommandant!” he barked, almost jolting Klink out of his chair.
“What is it, Schultz? I am trying to get ready for the General’s visit.”
“Well that is just it, Herr Kommandant. General Burkhalter has just—”
“Arrived,” completed the General himself, coming into the room. “I realize I am early, Klink, but it never seems to make a difference in the presentation of your camp.”
Klink shot to his feet, ready to fumble himself into the General’s good graces—if that were at all possible. “General Burkhalter, what a pleasure to see you here at Stalag 13. You know we always look forward to having you here.” He made almost frantic motions for the General to make himself at home, and offered Burkhalter a drink.
“Brandy, Klink,” he said. Klink waved Schultz away to get it.
When Schultz returned, Klink dismissed him quickly. “Very good, Schultz, now back to work. You know we have to keep an eye on the prisoners, especially those working on the gardens today.”
“Jawohl, Herr Kommandant,” said Schultz. “Ah, but Kommandant, um—one more thing if I may, Herr Colonel.” He paused. Well, he had promised to try. And the thought of Le Beau’s cooking..... He took a cursory glance at Burkhalter before launching into his request. “The prisoners are requesting some extra blankets and some penicillin for Barracks Two.” There. It was out. Firing squad material, perhaps? he thought, as he watched Klink’s face. But his commanding officer was apparently determined to keep a good show up for his visitor. Schultz took mental note to perhaps make all his requests in front of people who terrified Klink.
“And why do they need that, Schultz?” asked Klink.
“Well, Herr Kommandant, it appears that Colonel Hogan is unwell and the prisoners would like to speed up his recovery.”
“Unwell in what way, Sergeant?” asked Burkhalter.
“I believe it is the flu, General. He looked unwell this morning at roll call, and said he was coming down with something,” said Klink. He turned to Schultz. “Very well, Schultz, get them what they need.” He waved Schultz away. “Must have the senior POW in good condition, according to the Geneva Convention!” groveled Klink to Burkhalter.
“Mm, Geneva is the last place you should think of being, Klink,” said the General. “My ideas for you are much colder than that.” He finished his drink and slammed the glass on the desk. “I have come today, Klink, because Stalag 13 is the closest prison camp to a munitions shipment being transported tonight, and you need to be aware of the procedures if the men accompanying the shipment have any special needs or requests on the way through. This is,” he said, pausing for impact, “if you understand how to follow Luftwaffe procedure.”
Klink bowed his head. He hated the humiliation that always came with Burkhalter’s visits. So, Hogan was unwell—unfortunate for many reasons, thought Klink. Including that if this had been a normal day, the POW would have probably been in Klink’s office when Burkhalter arrived, and that would have diverted attention away from Klink. And Hogan never failed to have something good to say about him to his superiors. A good sport, really, thought Klink, considering he was a prisoner of war.
“I am ready to do whatever the General considers necessary in light of this important stop,” is all Klink responded. They both had pause when they heard a truck pull up.
“Expecting company this morning, Colonel Klink?” asked Burkhalter.
Klink went to the window and nearly sank to his knees as he saw Major Hochstetter disembarking from the truck. Gestapo, he trembled inside. Another fine moment in my life. Klink feared the Gestapo for more than one reason. First and foremost, he worried about the possibility that someday they might want him for not being strong enough—or perhaps hard enough—to treat his prisoners the way the Gestapo seemed to treat everybody. But he also disliked how they abused people in most cruel ways, to get answers that may not even be reality. Men who were taken to Gestapo headquarters never came back the way they left. Even when the physical wounds had healed, the mental scars remained forever.
Klink shuddered and waited for the small man to burst in, as he always did. He was not disappointed. “Klink,” said Hochstetter in greeting. “I need to see one of your men.” He turned to Burkhalter. “I did not know you were at the Stalag this morning, Herr General.”
Burkhalter always had a bad taste in his mouth when Burkhalter was nearby. He let that taste show on his face. “Mmm. Major Hochstetter, that may be because I don’t feel it necessary to have my secretary check my movements with you in advance.” That man likes his job too much and thinks he has more power than he really does, thought Burkhalter.
Hochstetter shared the distaste of his superior. But for him it was not just Burkhalter, but everyone who dared question the methods of the Gestapo. Of agents for the Fatherland, there was no one better to follow through with interrogations till the bitter and often bloody end. Hochstetter knew that what he was doing was right and necessary, and he approached his job with obvious relish. Too obvious, thought Burkhalter. “Of course you are right, Herr General,” said Hochstetter with false sweetness. “Please excuse the intrusion, gentlemen, but the Gestapo cannot afford to wait. Klink, I need your Colonel Hogan.”
Not again, thought Klink. He’s always trying to pin something on Hogan. “Colonel Hogan is unwell today, Major Hochstetter. What is it you need him for?”
“Last night my troops found out about a secret meeting that included the handing over of names of some spies posing as German officers. While on patrol they encountered a lean dark-haired man making a break in this direction. In the bright moonlight last night the men were quite specific in their description, and I could think only of Colonel Hogan when they told me.”
“A lean, dark-haired man?” scoffed Burkhalter. He was no fan of Hogan, but he could not resist the opportunity to bring Hochstetter down a peg. “Surely there would be many men who fit that description, Major. And why did your fine patrol not hunt down its prey? One man, escaping an entire patrol?”
Hochstetter pasted a not very convincing smile on his face and turned to Burkhalter. “One deals with humans, Herr General, and humans are bound to be imperfect once in a while. Even SS guards.” He turned his attention back to Klink. He hated Burkhalter being here; somehow he didn’t have the control he wanted when the General was present, and he was a good enough officer not to disobey orders from above. Klink would normally be jelly in his presence. But not with Burkhalter there making it difficult. “Now, Colonel Klink, I’m sure Colonel Hogan could spare the SS some time this morning to discuss his whereabouts.”
“I assure you, Major, Hogan was at bed check last night. But
if you insist, we can go over to Barracks Two at once.”
Without so much as a knock, the door to Barracks Two burst open. The men had already seen the approaching officers and arranged themselves innocently about the room, taking a quick final look at their commanding officer, who seemed to be sleeping, and who, they could only hope, would stay that way throughout the unexpected visit.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” greeted Klink with forced cheerfulness. “As you can see, we have the pleasure of a double visit today—”
“I have it well under control, Klink,” dismissed Hochstetter. He looked around the room. Carter was reading a letter, Newkirk and Le Beau were playing cards, Kinch had paused in a book. “Where is Colonel Hogan?”
“He’s asleep,” said Le Beau. “He is ill with some sort of virus.”
“Get him out here,” ordered Hochstetter.
“Really, Major, it’s the first chance ’e’s had to sleep all day. Can’t you leave him alone for awhile?” requested Newkirk. Blimey, my mouth’s gonna get me in big trouble someday.
“I would not want the Colonel to think he missed me on such a short visit,” said Hochstetter. “Get him. Now.”
There was a continuing protest, as Kinch moved toward Hogan’s door. But the hubbub stopped as suddenly as it had begun.
“What’s all the noise out here?” Hogan suddenly appeared in his doorway, pale in face but steady and strong in voice. His men knew he had no doubt as to what was going on, but he was keeping his calm demeanor for appearances.
“Mon colonel, this Bosch—”
“Steady, Le Beau,” warned Hogan. Then, eyeing Hochstetter himself, Hogan said, “And so to what do we owe the pleasure, Major?” Kinch noticed Hogan was leaning slightly against the doorframe.
“Colonel Hogan, it is my belief that you were outside of this camp last night. Am I correct?” The Major surveyed him with his scrutinizing eyes. He noticed a slight pallor to the normally robust face, but could not place anything else. Yet.
“Now why would I do that? And if I did do that, why would I come back?” Hogan was keeping his voice light. Klink was nearly beside himself. These visits ate at him at the best of times. This was definitely not the best of times.
“Your motives are quite a mystery to mere mortals, Hogan. But despite what you say, the description my SS patrol gave last night was quite clear. A tall, dark haired man heading towards Stalag 13. I’m sure you can understand why I thought of you.” Hogan remained silent, his face passive. His men threw quick glances at each other. SS? There was definitely more to what happened than what Hogan had told them. Hochstetter took a dramatic pause, then delivered his verbal blow. “And the man obviously injured his leg quite badly. He was stumbling along, quite unable to walk properly.” He looked Hogan in the eye. “I admire you, Hogan. Your motivation was so great you wouldn’t let even great pain stop you from escaping.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Major,” said Hogan, meeting Hochstetter’s gaze.
“Come over here, Colonel Hogan,” Hochstetter said.
Le Beau trembled slightly, hoping it wouldn’t show. Carter’s eyes darted from the Colonel to Hochstetter and back. Newkirk straightened visibly and watched, concerned. Kinch closed his eyes for a brief moment, wishing all his strength into his friend. They wanted to help, to stop this. But the guards’ guns would not allow it. Hogan drew himself up away from the doorway and, almost imperceptibly steeling himself, slowly-- remarkably to his friends-- walked steadily and evenly across the room to stand before Hochstetter.
Le Beau didn’t realize he had stopped breathing until the air he let out loosened the knot in his stomach. Mon Dieu, how did he do that? The others were showing similar relief. I hope we’re not too transparent, he thought. But he then realized that Klink and Schultz looked almost jubilant. Good thing Klink hates Hochstetter.
Hogan was standing square before Hochstetter. Kinch noticed a difference in his commander’s breathing, and a gleam of perspiration on his white face, but no trace of the agony he would have put himself through to carry that off. “Yes, Major?” Hogan said. The voice was still steady.
Hochstetter raised his eyebrows in obvious surprise. Without missing a beat, he said, “Stand on one foot, Hogan.”
Klink spoke up. “Really, Major Hochstetter, this is more than necessary---”
“Quiet, Klink. Do it, Hogan.”
Hogan tried to look bored, and shifted his weight so it was fully on his left leg, his injured leg suspended. Relieved of the pain for a moment. But Hogan knew there was more, and he was bracing himself for it.
“Now the other one.”
Hogan’s men held a collective breath. Hogan put a weary smirk on his face. “What’s the matter, Hochstetter, won’t anyone play Hopscotch with you?” But he slowly, deliberately, changed feet. All his weight was on his injured ankle. He forced himself to study the face of the young guard observing the situation, forced himself to imagine a steel rod was holding his leg steady, forced himself to stay expressionless on the surface, while inside his body was screaming.
Newkirk hadn’t thought it was possible for Hogan to go any paler, but he nearly jumped to help when he saw Hogan completely blanch. He marveled. Hogan wasn’t giving anything away. Only a stream of sweat pouring off his forehead pointed to any stress, and that could be passed off with the flu the men had said Hogan had. Dear God, how long? Newkirk pleaded.
After what seemed like an eternity, Hochstetter nodded. “I am impressed, Hogan.” Hogan lowered his other leg and shifted his weight to it. “I am most impressed.”
“Next time I’ll teach you to shoot marbles,” Hogan answered. His voice wasn’t nearly as steady now, Kinch noticed. But the sarcasm remained. Hogan stayed eye to eye with Hochstetter.
“Come now, Hochstetter, this is enough foolishness,” broke in Burkhalter. “The next time your SS men see someone in the bushes, make sure they capture them the first time instead of going through this foolish charade. Let’s go, Klink.”
“Yes, of course, Herr General,” said Hochstetter. He turned toward the door, then unexpectedly grabbed one of his guards’ weapons and struck Hogan full force on the right leg.
Hogan gasped and grabbed his leg. But he didn’t cave in. “Thanks, Hochstetter. I may limp now,” he rasped. He gave it another rub, then stood up, glaring at his tormentor. He knows. He knows but he can’t prove it and he’ll do anything not to be made a fool of.
“We are not through, Colonel,” said Hochstetter. “We are not through.” Hogan stood tall, unmoving. Hochstetter turned on his heel and left, followed by the others. The door slammed behind the last of them.
The usual practice of counting to ten until the Germans were safely out of earshot was abandoned abruptly when Hogan crumpled to the floor.
Swirling lights. Flashes of pain. Sounds of agony. Where was all this coming from? Hogan wondered. There was another moan—God, another lightning rod rammed down his boot. ~What is going on?~
Opening his eyes he realized the moan was coming from his own lips. "Kill that light," he managed to whisper. Someone turned a bright light away from him. What felt like a vice tightening around his ankle drew his attention to his leg. "Stop! Stop that!" he ordered hoarsely, as he saw Kinch about to cut through his boot.
"Colonel, you’ve got to get this looked at—" started Kinch.
"I said stop it," Hogan repeated angrily. "Now more than ever, I can’t be seen to be injured." He tried to sit up, but was quite easily detained by Carter. "What happened?"
"After Hochstetter left you collapsed, sir," answered Newkirk.
"How long have I been out?"
"About twenty minutes," said Le Beau. "We brought you into your quarters to try to help you, mon Colonel."
The Frenchman sounded almost hurt. Hogan didn’t want to hurt his friends. "I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound ungrateful." God, the agony! He couldn’t let on, or they would find some way of making tonight’s mission impossible for him. "It’s just if I’m seen hobbling around camp now, Hochstetter will have all the evidence he needs, don’t you think?"
The others murmured agreement. "I don’t know how you did that, Colonel," said Carter. "I thought for sure you would’ve fallen ov—"
"Blimey, Carter, you sure know how to show confidence in the gov’nor," interrupted Newkirk.
"That’s all right, Newkirk. I wasn’t sure I could do it myself. But it was that or get taken to Gestapo headquarters."
"You did not say anything about encountering the SS last night, mon Colonel," said Le Beau.
"No, I didn’t. That settles tonight, Newkirk. There’s no way you’re coming with me. They already suspect something’s going on, I won’t have you putting yourself in unnecessary danger. I can do this alone."
The others protested loudly. "And what about sabotaging the munitions shipment?" Kinch said over the din. "Do you think you can do that alone, in your condition? We should tell London to change their plans."
"You know it’s too late for that, Kinch. Besides, Hansel and Gretel are expecting me, and it’s too late to put in a substitute. I’ll go it alone." He sat up and put on his best command voice. "That’s an order. Understand?"
"Yes, Colonel," they mumbled.
Hogan's men could have talked themselves blue in the face; they knew there was no point in trying. So they spent the rest of the day trying to make Hogan comfortable, offering him food, offering him drinks, being so solicitous he wanted to knock their heads together. His normally genial self was being replaced by a short-tempered grouch-- it was not in his nature to be waited upon, and he wanted to be left alone to concentrate on what he needed to accomplish tonight--now alone.
He shooed away Le Beau and his repeated attempts at loosening Hogan's belt, but asked Carter to stay. Instead of allowing himself to be babied, however, he interrogated the young explosives genius about what he needed to do to destroy the munitions shipment he was to be briefed on this evening. "It's hard without knowing exactly what line it's going to be on, Colonel," explained Carter. "You might need one type of charge in one spot, and another type at another spot."
"Give me your best all-rounder," Hogan said. Sitting up in his bed, he gingerly shifted his injured leg under the blanket.~ Hmm--shouldn't have done that, Robert E,~ he grimaced to himself, trying to stop himself from crying out. Still unbearable. ~What were you trying to prove back there?~ he asked himself. But then again, what choice did you have?~ He was almost certain now that the ankle was broken, which was going to make tonight even more difficult. He berated himself for being so stubborn, but he couldn't send his men out there now. And the job had to get done. Better for one to suffer than all. He fleetingly wondered if this meant he was a control freak. But he just as quickly dismissed the idea--no, he just had to protect the people whose lives he held so dear.
"I sure wish you'd let me go with you, Colonel," Carter was saying. "I could bring a little of everything--we'd blow that shipment to Kingdom Come!"
"Thanks, Carter, but it's too dangerous now--they're out there, and they're watching."
"No offense, Colonel, but if they're out there, they're looking for you, too. It's just as dangerous for you--even more so now."
"All part of the spy business, Carter. The king's musketeer always has to have an evil Cardinal's Guard as a foil."
"But there's always a trusty sidekick, too, to watch out for him," insisted Carter.
Hogan lightly punched at Carter's shoulder. "Go on, trusty valet. I promise I'll dodge the sword thrusts. Just get me the stuff I need." ~Enough for now~, he thought. ~Rest your weary head, Hogan. Got to be alert for tonight.~ "I'm going to take a nap. Tell Le Beau I'll expect some of his finest cooking when I get up. Papa Bears like BIG bowls of porridge before going out for their walks."
Carter could do nothing but agree.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Klink paced his quarters for a full fifteen minutes after Hochstetter and Burkhalter left. He downed a glass of schnapps, found that did nothing to calm his nerves, and had another. He was a wreck after that confrontation in Barracks Two. Hochstetter was so certain that Hogan was involved in espionage. He couldn't be, thought Klink. How could Hogan have gotten out? -- And yet....
He tried not to think about it. After all, what man in his right mind would escape from a prison camp, and then come back? But if all of that were true, then he, Klink, was merely a puppet, and Hogan was playing him for a fool. He couldn't stand the thought. For, no matter what nationality and what status Hogan had in this camp--prisoner under Klink's command-- he couldn't help thinking that Hogan actually liked him somehow. In different circumstances, the two men could even be friends. ~But under different circumstances, would Hogan suffer such a fool as myself?~ Klink prided himself as a man who did not suffer fools gladly. ~Perhaps that's why you are such a disappointment to yourself,~ he admitted bitterly.
Klink had not liked the way Hochstetter tried to humiliate Hogan this morning. It took all his strength not to cheer when Hogan faced the Gestapo officer and jeered him with his talk about children's games. It was true that Hogan had seemed extremely unwell. But even the senior POW surely couldn't have withstood the injuries Hochstetter had described without giving it away, and Hogan had done no such thing. No, Hochstetter was certainly wrong--Hogan had been in the camp all night. ~What would become of me if you left for good?~~ he thought. ~~And who would really try to understand what I am doing here?~~
He made up his mind and then changed it for the third time, to visit Hogan. He kept replaying the moment when Hochstetter made his final attack. Klink had been horrified at the sheer brutality, not to mention the attempt at humiliation, of Hochstetter's swing of that rifle, and he had winced when he saw the weapon connect with Hogan's leg. The thought made him feel shame at being German next to a man like Hochstetter. But it also made him ashamed of himself for not being able to accept that this type of cruelty should be second nature when dealing with enemies of the Fatherland. He wouldn't blame Hogan for being furious at him, Klink, over the incident. He couldn't visit Hogan; it would seem like he was being too kind-hearted.
Klink was spared any further self-torment by the knock on his office door. "Come!" he called, almost visibly relieved.
"Herr Kommandant," said Schultz, entering the room. "I have made the rounds of the Barracks as your requested, Herr Kommandant. All the guards are prepared to increase patrols tonight as ordered by Herr General. With particular attention to the wire around the side of camp where Barracks Two is located, as ordered by Major Hochstetter, Herr Kommandant."
~~You fool Hochstetter, thinking Hogan would try anything when he knows full well you're lying in wait.~~ "Thank you, Schultz." Klink sat back at his desk, then looked out the window. "Have you seen Colonel Hogan this afternoon?" he asked, trying to sound casual.
"Nein, Herr Kommandant. But I have seen Le Beau"-- indeed he saw Le Beau. His stomach was still grinning from the lovely meal he had gotten as promised for raising the blankets and medicine the men had requested. "--and he tells me Colonel Hogan is sleeping off his flu. And," he confided, "complaining loudly about the bruise that the rifle left on his leg."
Klink nodded absently. He'd better do a surprise bed check tonight...just in case.
Hogan's men had figured they'd better start manufacturing some sort of story for when this was all over and the Colonel actually agreed to have his injuries treated. Hochstetter's unprovoked onslaught gave them an easy opening, and they were hoping it would carry-- if they got Hogan back alive tonight. So they grumbled in no uncertain terms in front of Schultz about the bad mood that the senior POW was in, now that he was nursing a bad leg. Bad enough to be accused of espionage, they spouted. But to be abused on his own territory, and inflicted with the very injury that was supposed to be used to prove these allegations. It was an outrage!
The four looked at each other, miserable and frustrated, while behind his door they knew their commanding officer was preparing himself to head out. No one had been able to convince him to abandon the idea. And no one had managed to talk Hogan into taking him along. There was so little they could do to help. Making them even more unhappy was the fact that Hogan appeared to be so cheerful about it all. Humming. He was actually HUMMING!
On the other side of the door, Hogan was anything but lighthearted. Dressing in his blacks, his mind flashed back to the night before. It was all so close, and he could see it with crystal clarity. He put his hand up to his temple, gingerly fingered the bump that kept a constant drumbeat playing in his head. He said a silent prayer that his weak ankle would hold out just long enough for him to finish his work, and that the feverish glaze that interfered with his vision would back off. ~Time for a break,~ he thought tiredly. ~What I wouldn't give for a couple of weeks on a farm, with a girl and a warm bed.~ He comforted himself with the idea that this would be possible, someday, and forced himself to think positively about the long night ahead. So whenever a doubt crept into his mind, he hummed.
He'd kept off his feet as long as possible for the remainder of the day, hoping the rest would make it a bit easier to handle tonight. But his first real steps around were just as painful as when the injury was fresh-- or maybe he had just gotten used to it by ignoring it. In either case, he realised the five-mile hike --each way-- was going to be nearly as big a challenge as eluding the increasing patrols around the camp. Hogan thought of asking Kinch to radio ahead to see if there was a way to hitch a lift with a contact. But he dismissed the idea immediately, knowing that this admission of need would only worry the men under his command.
A sudden knock on the door made Hogan jump. "Colonel," came the Frenchman's voice. "Klink is coming!"
Hogan grabbed around for his robe, then thought better of it and quickly moved into bed, gathering the blankets around him. It was late-- Klink didn't usually perform bed checks this late. Hogan for once was grateful that his injuries had slowed his progress; he had fully expected to be gone by now. "What does he want?" was all Hogan growled, hoping that the commandant was already inside the barracks.
He was rewarded with the singsong voice of the camp officer. "Hogan, are you in there?"
"Where else would I be at this time of night?" He waited for the door to open. When it did, he saw Klink being shadowed by Le Beau and Newkirk, with Carter practically jumping up and down behind them. Gonna have to talk to Carter about giving himself away.
"Just doing a bed check, Hogan," said Klink. Inside, Klink was relieved to see Hogan there glaring at him. "After all, this is a camp for prisoners of war, and I must run a tight ship." ~There, Hochstetter, there is your spy!~ scoffed Klink. ~Tucked up nice and warm in his bed!~ "How are you feeling this evening, Hogan?"
"Well, now that you mention it, Kommandant, one of my legs is a bit stiff, thanks to your esteemed visitor this morning."
"Yes, well, I must say I didn't agree with that, Hogan," admitted Klink. "But I thought you handled it very well."
"Why, thank you, Kommandant, that means a lot coming from a man like you," Hogan said, managing to sound sincere. His own men smirked but remained silent. What the heck, Hogan thought-- he almost meant it. He knew deep down Klink hated his job, almost as much as Klink hated having to play second fiddle to some maniacal people whom he had to call fellow countrymen. "There IS one thing you could do to help make up for the humiliation, sir," he continued.
"What is that, Colonel Hogan?"
"Could you tuck me in?" He held out the edge of the blanket to Klink. "And," he pointed a finger behind him, "I've got this itch, right ---"
"Hogannnnn," warned Klink. And, his mood restored to where Hogan wanted it for the moment, Klink turned on his heel with a curt "Good night, gentlemen," and exited the barracks.
Hogan swung himself back out of bed and stood up. The men were gathered in the doorway. "Okay, looks like it's safe now. Klink must have been nervous after the visit from our friends this morning. I'd say we've satisfied him." The men parted as he left the room. "I'd better get a move on. Big night ahead."
"Uh, Colonel," started Kinch. "Call came through from the London. They want you to meet up with Little Red Riding Hood at the checkpoint, where you will be taken to your contacts."
"Why the run-around?" asked Hogan, immediately suspicious. "I need to get to Hansel and Gretel at the agreed rendezvous."
"I don't know, Colonel. Something about concern over increased troop activities in the area. They said it would better if even you don't know everything."
Hogan frowned. "I don't like the sound of that. But orders are orders. And YOURS are to make sure you stay here tonight like good little spies." He headed toward the entrance to the tunnel. "I'll be back for roll call."
"Good luck, Colonel," offered Carter.
"I won't need luck, Carter. I've got half your supply of charges tied around my waist. I'll just need a nice, smooth ride." And Hogan disappeared from sight.
Kinch breathed a sigh of relief. "Well, that was easier than I thought," he said, when he was sure Colonel Hogan was out of hearing range.
"That was a good idea, Kinch--getting him to think it was London's idea to have a car there," said Newkirk.
"I wasn't sure it would work. They agreed with the Colonel that it still had to be him that went out tonight. But at least they let us get him some help."
"That was brilliant, Kinch," praised Le Beau. "Now let us hope the Colonel will be able to carry it all off."
"I'll see that he does," agreed Newkirk, taking off his pajamas to reveal his blacks. "I'll be at rendezvous in an hour."
"Remember what I said, Peter," warned Carter. "Pick the right charges."
"Don't worry, Andrew my boy," smiled Newkirk. "Piece of cake." He patted the items he had hidden under his clothes.
"The Colonel will be furious," worried Le Beau. "His orders were to stay behind. But one cannot let a friend walk blindly into danger with no help."
"Hopefully, Le Beau," said Newkirk, "Colonel 'Ogan will never need to know."
"We'll give him a five minute head start, then you'd better be on your way," said Kinch.
"Watch for the patrols," added Carter. "They're bound to have increased them after Hochstetter's men blew it with the Colonel last night."
"Don't worry, I've got it under control," said Newkirk. "Colonel Hogan's meeting the car to get to the rendezvous. I'll go straight there--might even make it before him."
"Don't play hero," said Le Beau. "When you know everything is okay and the Colonel is safe, lay the charges and get back here. We would not be able to explain your absence if the Colonel comes back, and you've been captured by the SS when you were supposed to be here."
Newkirk appreciated the concern of his friend, disguised by scolding. He smiled and took a playful swipe at Le Beau's head. "Trust me; this is one time when I'd like nothing better than to be shivering in my drafty bed. But I was supposed to go with the gov'nor tonight and I'll be a monkey's uncle if he's going to risk it alone in his condition. Whether he knows it or not!"
And with that, Newkirk dirtied his face, and headed out after Hogan.
Now that the adrenalin was pumping through him, Hogan felt more alert and prepared than he had all day. He should have known it would be this way; it always was on a mission. Determined and single-minded, nothing took priority over what he was about to do. He moved easily through the tunnel and climbed out into the woods beyond. As the cool night air hit his dirtied face, he hardly noticed the stinging in his ankle, and crouched low as he made his way into another bright, moonlit night.
Hogan had almost cried for joy when Kinch announced the change in plans from London. The idea of not having to walk on his injured leg was a real relief. Now, feeling energized and positive, he thought this extra precaution would just slow things up and get in the way. Still, it wasn't for him to second guess Headquarters. And, upon reflection, Hogan contemplated that it wouldn't have been above his men to try to force London to cancel the whole plan, so he should be grateful he was here at all.
Experienced at these operations, Hogan slid quickly and stealthily along, using the available shadows for cover and keeping an extra sharp eye out tonight for places where he could get tripped up in the dense underbrush. The checkpoint was about three miles away from camp, and Hogan felt he could get there almost with his eyes closed. But he was taking no chances tonight.
A few minutes later, Newkirk also came out of the tunnel. He scouted the perimeter to see if there were any signs of Hogan, and when there were none, he started heading quickly toward the rendezvous. He had a longer walk ahead of him. Inside, he knew Le Beau was right; if Hogan knew he was out, Newkirk would be raked over the coals--while they were lit. But they had all agreed that in this case, rules were made to be broken; Hogan couldn't be out alone tonight. Too often, they felt, he put himself in peril to protect them all. Now they had a chance to do something to shield Hogan. And they were going to take it, even if he didn't know about it.
The Englishman kept his eyes peeled; the route he was taking was similar to the one Hogan would be taking, and he had to make sure he wasn't spotted by his superior officer. A snapping twig made him freeze in his tracks and turn toward the sound. He crouched low and held his breath, then breathed a sigh of relief as he saw a rabbit cross his path. ~Blimey, mate, you're on edge tonight. Hey, Bugs, you working for the Krauts?~
As he regained his pace, Newkirk thought about the officer to whom he willingly pledged his loyalty. The confident American had had to work hard to get his trust; Newkirk wasn't the type to just accept someone's authority. But over time, Hogan had proven his worth to Newkirk, by making quiet decisions, maintaining his strength and wits in tricky situations, and by keeping the safety and wellbeing of his men in mind, even when London's orders seemed to disregard them. Newkirk tried to understand Hogan, but he was a hard man to get to know. He knew only bits about Hogan's background; the sometimes outspoken Army Air Corps officer was tight-lipped about himself, even though he encouraged his own men to open up when they needed to. ~~Who can you go to, mate?~~ Who did he confide in, when the pressure got to be too much? What made him the leader he was? ~~Someday, gov'nor, I'll know the secret of you.~~
Emerging from his own thoughts, Newkirk saw a shadow move in the distance. He squinted from his place under the cover of a large tree to observe, and slowly made out the outline of Hogan. He had caught up with his superior officer. Newkirk watched quietly as the figure moved from shadow to shadow, and noted grimly that Hogan was more often than not leaning on the trees as he went.
Hogan didn't realise he had an audience as he moved through the woods. As he had progressed towards his destination, his initial adrenalin had worn off, and now he was struggling. Breathing heavily and sweating profusely, he tried to think of how far away he was from Little Red Riding Hood. His usually sharp senses felt dulled next to the sharpness of the pain when he took a step. There was a place just ahead where he could stop for a minute. ~~Just another thirty feet. Come on, Robert, you can make that. You've got another mile to go yet.~~ Hogan focused on the little spot he had used to hide from patrols a dozen times or more--a small patch of scrub that concealed a hollowed-out section of earth bedded with soft grass. A perfect place to collect himself.
--What was that?--Forgetting his discomfort in the light of possible discovery, he quickly backed up to the safety of a cluster of bushes and scanned the horizon. Nothing. Just the cool wind bowing the tops of the trees. He had stopped paying attention, and had left himself open to potential trouble. ~~Damn it, Robert, CONCENTRATE!~~ he ordered himself. But he was finding that harder to do. Summoning up the strength he knew he had to have, Hogan tried to keep his mind on his surroundings and his mission. Keeping low, he willed himself towards the precious hiding place. Disproportionately happy at finding it intact, he let himself tumble into its relative safety. ~~Just for a few minutes,~~ he promised himself.
After a minute or two of simply resting his head on his arms, Hogan tried to take stock. He knew that he had traveled about two-thirds of the way to the checkpoint, and still had about a mile to walk. He had been lucky not to encounter any patrols so far, but he also knew that he was starting to lose the alertness he needed to keep himself out of harm's way. His internal thermostat was completely out of kilter; he was hot, then cold, then burning up again. And every step with his untended ankle was a fresh and exquisite agony. He closed his eyes while the image of that warm farm bed comforted him. The faceless brunette with the soft, clean hair, the smooth skin, the soothing voice...
Hogan shook himself back to reality. THAT wasn't going to happen any time soon. What was next.... ~~Focus, Robert. FOCUS.~~ Get to the checkpoint. Meet Little Red Riding Hood for a lift to the rendezvous. Get the details on the munitions shipment. Blow the whole wad, and then get back to Stalag 13 by dawn. Hogan felt around his waist for the pack of explosives Carter had put together for him, and smiled to himself when he thought of the young Sergeant trying to explain how every little piece of equipment worked. Hogan didn't have the heart to tell Carter he was certainly familiar with the material by now, and let the young man go through his paces. ~~If anything goes wrong, he won't be able to say he should have told me,~~ he thought.
Time to get back to work. Rising slowly, Hogan made sure he had his wits about him as he emerged from the brush. Determined to get back on track, he watched continually as he moved, only pausing to take a break when pain made it hard for him to breathe properly. But even then, the stop was momentary, and he went on.
Newkirk watched as Hogan came out of the well-known hidey-hole. ~~It's getting tough on you, gov'nor,~~ he observed. But he kept himself hidden, and trundled along when he knew he wouldn't be sprung. He soon overtook Hogan, who was stopped again, leaning heavily against a fallen tree, and, swallowing his strong desire to reveal himself to his superior officer, passed him in the darkness, aiming towards the rendezvous point.
Newkirk easily reached the checkpoint before Hogan. Keeping to the shadows, he spied a car reflecting the moonlight. A single occupant was in it. Little Red Riding Hood was a bear of a man, burly and bearded. Newkirk considered making himself known to the contact, but thought the better of it. He waited for a few minutes, then saw Colonel Hogan appear some distance away. Newkirk was dismayed at how weak Hogan appeared, and watched with concern as he saw the unsteady gait with which Hogan approached the car, almost drunken in his movements, and certainly not at all visibly conscious of the critical moment this was--identifying the contact.
Hogan pulled himself across the back of the car as the large man disembarked. Newkirk was biting his tongue, wanting to call out "Wait, Colonel--make sure it's 'im!" but knowing he could not. He couldn't hear the exchange, but breathed an almost audible sigh of relief when the man took Hogan gently by the arm and guided him to the passenger seat. He watched Hogan loll his head back, and could see his chest heaving as he recovered some of the strength he had lost on the journey here. Then the man Newkirk knew only as Little Red Riding Hood got back into the driver's seat, and turned to Hogan.
With the two men talking and everything seeming to be under control, Newkirk decided it was time to move on. After all, Hogan and the contact would be driving; he had to walk. If he didn't get moving, he'd miss everything. So he turned away, relieved that Hogan was in safe hands, and started the hike. ~~Bloody 'ell, what are you doing here?~~ Newkirk asked himself. ~~Babysitting a man who's perfectly capable of looking after 'imself. You're going to hide and watch him doing just fine all night, then catch pneumonia. All for nothing. We worry too much.~~
On he trekked, worrying more than normal about the possibility of patrols in the area. It was quiet. This was good, usually. And tonight it should be excellent. But for some reason it was disquieting to Newkirk that there was no one out working for the Fuhrer, when an important munitions shipment was due and the SS was sure there were spies nearby.
He discovered his concerns were well-founded when he reached the rendezvous; instead of Hansel and Gretel, Newkirk saw SS uniforms, unmistakable even by the light of the moon.
Hogan was heading into a trap.
“Sacre bleu!" Le Beau couldn't help his outburst at the news Kinch had just delivered. "Kinch, we have to do something!"
"I'm not sure what we can do now--they're probably already there," Kinch answered, a ball of nervous energy.
"But if it's a trap we've gotta do SOMETHING, we can't just leave them to get captured!" Carter said.
London had just radioed through chilling news--their mission for the night had been uncovered by the Germans, and immediately called off. Hansel and Gretel wouldn't be at the rendezvous tonight, and Hogan was to cease operations immediately until things quieted down. Unfortunately, the message was a little too late--Hogan had left more than thirty minutes ago. Kinch tried to collect his thoughts. There had to be something they could do; they couldn't let Hogan, and possibly Newkirk, walk straight into enemy hands. If they were being sought, then Hochstetter would surely have a hand in any interrogation. And that wouldn't go well, especially for Hogan.
Kinch slammed his fist down on the table. "Why didn't they give us more warning? They must have KNOWN Colonel Hogan was going to be gone by now--and Red Riding Hood."
"That doesn't matter; what matters now is getting the Colonel and Newkirk back-- preferably WITHOUT any interference from the Gestapo," said Le Beau. He paused, thought. "We will have to go after them. If they don't come back here we won't have any way of knowing what has happened. At least if we are there we will be able to try to rescue them."
"Right," agreed Kinch. "I'll notify the Underground to keep a lookout for them. We're going to need all the eyes we can get."
"I'll start getting the next set of charges ready just in case," put in Carter. "We're going to run out at the rate I'm handing them out tonight!"
"Let's just get moving," urged Le Beau, impatient. "Every minute we stand here is another minute closer to the Gestapo getting to the Colonel and maybe Newkirk."
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
The drive to the rendezvous point only took a few minutes, but Hogan was grateful for the warmth and the rest. He was briefed on more of the mission before his contact started driving; this shipment was the biggest single delivery of ammunition ordered for the duration of the war. Things weren't going well at the Russian front, and reinforcements were being sent, along with so much firepower that the Germans could not fail to make some progress, even if they were all blind shots. Hansel and Gretel had the details of when and where the delivery was coming, apparently by truck and by train. Hogan tried to think how he could possibly be in two places at once, and wished quite unexpectedly that he hadn't told Newkirk to stay behind. Carter was the expert, but he had wanted the Englishman's cool, unexcitable mind for this one. Now he had neither, and Hogan himself wasn't thinking well enough for one.
The car approached the rendezvous point slowly and quietly, pulling up in a darkened area. The driver pointed to a cluster of rocks about one hundred meters away that marked the meeting ground. "This is where I take my leave," said Little Red Riding Hood. "Your contacts will be here soon, Colonel Hogan."
Hogan looked around, concerned. "This isn't place we agreed on yesterday."
"No, Colonel. But don't worry. London told your men today when they changed security. Hansel and Gretel will be here as planned. I must take my leave. The car is too obvious to anyone passing; you can hide much better on your own."
Hogan extended his hand. "Thanks for the lift," he said.
The contact took it. "No thanks necessary," he replied. "Good luck. You're going to need it.”
Hogan left the warmth of the vehicle, and without so much as a look in his direction the contact slipped quietly into the night. Hogan slid out his gun as he backed up to the trees. Defying any weariness, his level of alertness was high now; he didn't like being out of control, and a new rendezvous spot was reason enough to be cautious. He tried to calm the panic rising in his chest when he realised he wasn't sure exactly where he was. Some of the landmarks were familiar, but he had relied solely on his contact during the trip and had not done his usual surveillance of the route on the way over. It had been too tempting to absorb the softness of the seat, and the lulling purr of the engine. He should be about five miles from camp. But thinking about the length of the trip, he realised he was probably a bit further afield. ~~Maybe it's closer to the shipment's route,~~ he hoped, berating himself for not paying more attention earlier.
His eyes scanned around him, trying to take in every rock, every tree, every bush. Was that a man he saw near that scrub?--No, just a shadow from the stump nearby. Where were Hansel and Gretel? Surely it was the appointed hour. Maybe they had left-- Hogan had been slower than he thought; perhaps they thought he had abandoned the mission and returned to the safety of their own cover story lives. But that wasn't the set-up. Then again, neither was this.
Hogan heard what he thought was an owl calling in the trees beyond the rock cluster. A signal. Or was it really just an owl? Hogan wasn't sure. He didn't want to stick his neck out, and got a sudden sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. Something was wrong. He wasn't sure what, but his gut instinct was telling him that this time he was in over his head. He wanted to pass it off as the effects of his injuries, but he knew in his heart that it wasn't. If this really WAS the meeting point, Hansel and Gretel would have been here by now. Gun at the ready, he was nonetheless surprised to find himself slightly trembling as he tried to retreat further into the woods. He would follow the route the car had taken, at least that much Hogan was sure of. It would lead him back to the checkpoint and from there he could work his way back to Stalag 13. Mission aborted: all parties not present and accounted for.
Hogan turned and found himself facing the barrel of a rifle. "Well, Herr Colonel, a bit far from home, aren't you?"
Hogan felt his heart drop to his feet as he faced the young guard. SS. And this man knew who he was. He had walked straight into it, he thought. What had happened to Hansel and Gretel? And somehow, even though he knew all the right codes had been exchanged, Hogan couldn't help wondering if Little Red Riding Hood had been part of a plot to set him up, and Hansel and Gretel never had any intention of coming to this out-of-the-way place. How could he warn them? And how could he himself get away? All of these thoughts flashed through his mind in mere seconds. But he calmly answered, "My car broke down, and the auto club won't come this far out."
From his hiding spot Newkirk could see what was happening. He had hardly had time to think between the time he saw Hogan slipping through the trees, and now, when he was watching with increasing fear the encounter between Hogan and the SS guard. It had all happened in a matter of seconds. He had wanted to warn Hogan, but knew that doing so would only serve to get them both captured. He wanted to help now, but knew that the same result would occur. He could do more for his commanding officer by being able to alert the others than he could if they simply both disappeared off the face of the earth. But it was only a supernatural force that was stopping him from coming out shouting and shooting.
"What are you doing out here, Colonel Hogan?" the guard asked, prodding Hogan with the barrel of his rifle.
Hogan's thoughts drifted down to the explosives pack hidden under his shirt. He tightened his grip on his pistol. Trying to think fast, he felt a trickle of sweat run down the back of his shirt. It ran like ice down a hot shower wall. Why did this man know him? And did he dare try to make a move? As he felt his physical strength dripping away, he told himself he had to do something now... or never.
Newkirk was madly scouting the area--where had that other SS officer gone? Maybe if he could get that one, he and Hogan could overpower the other one together. ~~God, why is this happening? Please, PLEASE let the gov'nor get out of this one, and let us get HOME!~~
"Such a nice night I decided to go for a walk," Hogan was answering. ~~Blimey, even in the face of the bleeding SS!~~ thought Newkirk.
"Who were you meeting out here, Colonel?" insisted the guard. Newkirk watched, flinching, as Hogan made a desperate movement to disarm the guard using his own weapon. But the guard, by far the stronger of the pair, simply stepped out of the way, then used his rifle to strike Hogan, first on the arm and then across the back of the neck, sending the American's gun flying, and knocking Hogan to the ground.
Hogan gasped for breath, groaning while he rubbed his neck. His arm was sore where the first rifle blow had struck him, and Hogan got to his knees, caressing it. Holding his arm close to his body and bending over, he used the moment to secretly loosen the explosives pack from around his waist and let it slip soundlessly to the ground into the darkness.
"Get up," the man was poking him. "You will come with us now to Gestapo Headquarters. I'm sure you will have looser lips there."
As Hogan started to rise, the guard struck at his right leg with his rifle and laughed. Hogan cried out and staggered. It was then that it clicked--this was the guard in Barracks Two whose face he had focused on in order to avoid falling during Hochstetter's attempt to expose him. This meant only one thing to Hogan: the guard would have to be disposed of. How and when he wasn't sure. But it had to be before the man had a chance to tell Hochstetter, or it would surely be Hogan's life sacrificed instead.
The click of a safety device being removed from a weapon made Hogan turn around. Another SS guard had appeared, and was holding a gun cocked near his prisoner's head. Through now hazy vision Hogan watched the men who were controlling him. One pulled him to his feet and pushed him roughly toward the other. "Let's go. We can continue your walk on this nice evening, Colonel." The guard picked up Hogan's weapon, not noticing the waist pack Hogan had tried hiding under leaves, and ignored the stumbling of his badly limping captive.
Newkirk stayed stock still until he was sure the trio was gone. Then he stood up and ran as fast as he could back towards Stalag 13. He was going to need help, if he ever hoped to see Colonel Hogan alive again.
Newkirk practically ran Le Beau down as he flew towards the checkpoint. Surprised at his sudden appearance, the others pulled him into the darkness and fired questions at him, not waiting for any answers. "Hang on, fellas, hang on," Kinch said. "Give him a chance to catch his breath. Newkirk, where's the Colonel?"
Newkirk took only the briefest of pauses. "They've got 'im. The bloody Gestapo have got 'im. It was a trap. I didn't even have time to warn him."
"London called to cancel the operation when they found out it had been let out of the bag. But it was too late--we were heading out to try to warn you," said Kinch. "Looks like now we'll have to change our destination."
"How was the Colonel?" asked Le Beau.
"Not good." Newkirk thought of the way Hogan looked when he was being led away, and how hard it was to watch him struggling just to stay standing. "And I don't think it's going to get any better now that the Gestapo's in the picture."
"There's a truck waiting a couple of miles up the road," Carter said. "Are you all right to keep going?"
"Yeah, yeah mate, I'm fine," Newkirk answered. "Just cold and bloody scared."
"Let's get going," Kinch said.
"Where were they going, Newkirk? Could you make out anything?" asked Carter
"Gestapo Headquarters," Newkirk shuddered. "And the way the guard was acting you'd think he learned everything he knew from Hochstetter himself."
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Hogan lay sprawled on the floor of the back of the truck, only partly aware of what was going on around him. The patrol had parked their vehicle a couple of miles away from where he had been captured, and the journey back to it had not been an easy one. Aching and feverish, he had fallen more than once, and the hands that helped him up were not kind. Finally, his ankle gave out completely, and Hogan knew walking was going to be torture. But he was dragged back up and pulled along, panting and gasping. Still he refused, even in his agony, to ask for help or mercy from his captors.
A dull throb at the base of his skull reminded Hogan of the rifle strike that had robbed him of his weapon, and disoriented him. But that was unimportant now. ~~Just have to stay alive,~~ he told himself. ~~Hail Mary, full of grace...~~
A few jolts told Hogan the truck was still moving. He smarted with every bump in the road, but enjoyed the coolness of the floor against his flushed cheek. Drifting in and out of reality, Hogan thought of the men he had left behind. They would be worried, he thought, when they didn't see him come back. Would Hansel and Gretel get to the rendezvous and suspect trouble, and raise the alarm? ~~Gotta stop that shipment.~~ The truck lurched, and Hogan groaned, not opening his eyes, as his body jerked and hit the floor again. ~~The Lord is with thee...~~
He was vaguely conscious of a guard sitting in the back of the truck with him. Hogan tried to focus his thoughts. He had to get out, and he had to get rid of that guard who knew him--permanently. But all that seemed beyond him at the moment. His will to stay conscious finally failed him, and he slipped into painless black.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
"We got in contact with the Underground when we got the news," Kinch said, as the truck moved along the road. "There are a lot of eyes out there looking for both of you."
"Can't you speed it up, Carter?" asked Le Beau. His mind kept seeing Colonel Hogan being tortured by the Germans. It was almost physically painful for him to be unable to help the American who had come to be a friend. "The Gestapo will not wait nicely for us to get there."
"I'm going as fast as I dare, Louis," Carter answered. "We can't help the Colonel if we're in an accident--or captured, too."
"Sorry, Andrew," Le Beau mumbled.
Carter understood his friend's anxiety. "That's okay."
Newkirk recounted everything he had seen and heard. Kinch noticed the commentary was punctuated with several "should"s, like, "I should have stopped him," and "I should have let him know I was there," and "I should have killed the Krauts before he even arrived." Newkirk shook his head in frustration and anger. "He's in the 'ands of the bloody Gestapo, and I watched the whole thing happen!"
Kinch patted his friend on the shoulder. "Newkirk, you did what you had to do. Nobody knew it was a set-up. You were supposed to keep watch, not interfere."
"I was supposed to keep him safe!" Newkirk argued.
"You couldn't get two SS officers on your own. The Colonel wouldn't expect you to try that," put in Le Beau. "He would have wanted you to do just what you did. And you are helping now--you let us know where he is, so we can bring him home."
"Yeah, bloody good of me, wasn't it?" Newkirk said. "Now all we have to do is hope he's alive to GET home."
None of them had an answer for that.
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"Take him to the interrogation room," the voice said. It was German, Hogan observed, not even sure why that was significant. "You will have to get help with him."
Still hovering somewhere between consciousness and unreality, Hogan absorbed bits and pieces of what was going on around him. He remembered being on a truck, and being unceremoniously dumped in someone's office. Only distant, blurry pictures of the room were in his mind. A barking voice, sharp and unforgiving, echoed in his ears. The sting of a slap across his face remained... or was it just a memory? Who were these people, and why were they so unhappy with him? And why were they not speaking in English?
Occasionally the situation was clear to him: he was being detained by the Gestapo. The German voices were those of his captors. In other words, he thought when he was most lucid, he had been taken to Hell. At the moment, however, he was just Robert Hogan, civilian, stuck in some strange and powerful nightmare, his mind unable to process the motives of these people who were doing everything they could to keep him from a peaceful, dreamless sleep. He was grabbed under the arms and dragged bodily into another room, where a bright light forced him to turn his head away. He felt himself being shoved into a chair, and then felt raw rubbing as ropes were tied around his forearms, holding him fast.
His mind cruelly and suddenly drove him to the present. He was aching everywhere, his body felt almost electrified. He could hear his blood pumping through his skull, and the lower half of his right leg felt like the skin was being ripped off by a hacking, jagged knife. He was sweating, and yet he was shivering with cold. ~~Stay alive, Robert,~~ he pleaded with himself. ~~Blessed art thou...~~
Someone was speaking to him. Hogan tried not to listen, and instead studied these new faces. Neither of them was the guard who had come to Barracks Two. Where was that man? And had he said anything to Hochstetter? How could he get out of here? And if he did, where would he go? No one knew where he was. The roar of the person shouting in the room got louder, and Hogan turned his attention to the man whose face was now mere inches from his own.
"And you will tell me what your purpose was for being out in the woods tonight, Herr Black!" So, at the moment his identity was safe; this person was calling him by the color of his soaking wet clothing. Name, rank and serial number was definitely out of the question, so Hogan simply blinked, unmoving.
His silence was answered by a strong blow to the stomach. Unable to double over, Hogan grunted and bowed his head. He answered the continuing questions with the same stony silence, and was met with a flurry of attacks.
Who are your contacts? A whip crack across the cheek. ~~Blessed is the fruit of thy womb...~~
Where did you come from, and what were you trying to do tonight? A bone-crunching strike to the ribcage. ~~Holy Mary, mother of God...~~
What is your name? A punch that sent blood running down his face. ~~Pray for us....~~
Confess what you have done, and you will make it easier on yourself. The butt of a weapon hard against the back of his head. ~~Pray for us...pray for me...please....~~
And finally, welcome darkness overtook him.
“Your Papa Bear was carried into Gestapo headquarters about an hour ago,” the Underground contact told Le Beau and Carter. He had been watching the building since the alert came from the Heroes that Hogan had already gone out on his mission when the covert operation was exposed.
“Carried in?” echoed Carter. He glanced around him constantly while they whispered in the shadows. Newkirk and Kinch were waiting on the other side of the street, trying to formulate a plan, wanting to know what had happened. How had the Germans found out what was going on?
“Yes, he did not seem to be struggling.” The young man shifted nervously. “Our agent on the inside says he is being interrogated but has not revealed any details of the Underground or its agents, yet.”
“And he will not,” vowed Le Beau. “Colonel Hogan would never tell the filthy Germans anything.”
“You don’t know the Gestapo very well, my friend,” said the man. “Even a strong man can only take so much ‘interrogation’ by their trained monsters.”
Carter wanted to get out of there, now. The idea of Colonel Hogan being battered by some high-ranking, low-IQ enemy officer was making him almost jump with anger. “Did anyone see Major Hochstetter go in there?” he asked.
“No. No one has gone in or out since Papa Bear was brought in.” He paused, considered, then offered this up for the anxious men. “Papa Bear has not even given his name—he came in without dog tags. If Hochstetter is looking for him, there would be no way of him knowing it is Papa Bear here.”
Le Beau nodded. A practice of Hogan’s when on solo missions was to disobey general orders and leave the tags behind. This was frowned upon, as the Allies naively thought there would be good treatment for their men in the event of capture. They also wanted to be able to give them a proper burial if they died alone. In this case, Le Beau reflected, being anonymous in capture was probably prolonging his life.
“Time to get moving,” Le Beau said, also anxious to get started. Colonel Hogan was so close! They had to get him out and back to the safety of his friends. And they had to do it quickly. What would happen at daybreak when roll call came...and half of Barracks Two was missing?
The pair thanked their contact and, ever alert for unwanted attention from the few people still on the streets, slipped across to Newkirk and Kinch, who were head to head, discussing a plan of action, and getting nowhere. They were too muddled to think straight at the moment. ~~This is why Colonel Hogan is the Papa Bear,~~ thought Kinch.
“The Colonel was brought in about an hour ago,” Le Beau offered, explaining the situation. Kinch and Newkirk absorbed everything, Newkirk growing more aggravated by the moment.
“Those bloody Kraut’s are probably working him over. We’ve got to get in there,” he hissed.
They assumed the cover of some unruly men having an argument over politics as a few people walked by. “You are insane,” Kinch was saying. “It will be easy for the Allies to fall in line once the Germans have prevailed; look how badly they are doing now. They have little hope at all, the war is already over for them.”
“Non, mon ami, the French will not give in. You may take our country, but not our spirit—“ Le Beau protested, loudly for the benefit of the woman who had paused nearby.
“But Paris is lovely in the springtime,” the fair-haired, attractive woman said.
The men stole looks at each other and turned their attention to her. “Especially by the banks of the Seine,” Kinch said, testing the waters. Could it be?
“Would it not be grand to take a swim there?”
Newkirk’s eyes started to get a bit of their spark back. “I prefer it in the winter, when it’s cold,” he offered, tentatively.
“That is when I like it best of all.”
The men could not believe their luck, and, relieved, pulled the woman into the shadows. “Cinderella,” Kinch confirmed.
“Yes,” she answered. “Have you not been expecting me?”
“To be honest I think it’s just pure dumb luck we found you,” Newkirk answered. “We’re running a bit short of it tonight.” Normally he would have added a comment that reflected a bit of his idea about her lovely shape, but the thought flashed too quickly through his mind. There was too much at stake to be distracted by a beautiful woman!
“I understand,” the young woman answered. “Things are ready for you.” They stared at her, waiting. “Your Colonel is inside Gestapo headquarters. We have arranged for one of you to go inside to see him.” Their eyes bulged—head straight into HQ? But they remained silent, listening for the rest of the plan. “Even the Gestapo have people to answer to. You can go in on the pretext of making sure the prisoner is being treated properly. If you are unhappy with it you can order him to be taken to hospital. The truck they take him in may possibly then be able to be...detained.”
“Ambushed, you mean,” Carter clarified.
“Yes.” She smiled. Newkirk couldn’t help noticing it made her face look like that of a young girl. “There is an officer’s uniform that may just fit.....” she looked at the foursome, considering, then pointed to Newkirk, “you.” The smile disappeared as she got back to business. “Normally we would have taken measurements, but as you can appreciate this operation was a bit of an emergency. But you can handle it, yes?” The smile came back, and she aimed it at Newkirk.
“I’m sure I can, love,” he answered. He grinned. Then the thought of what he had to do, and why, wiped the smile off his face. And the fact that they were sure that taking Hogan to the hospital would be considered necessary was almost too much to handle. “Where is it?—We’d better get a move on. The longer the Colonel’s in there, the less I like it.”
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Half an hour later, Newkirk was in a small apartment, chomping at the bit, hardly able to contain his nervousness and his fears. The uniform of the German officer was an almost perfect fit. ~~Better start going easy on the Bernaise sauce,~~ he decided, while Le Beau straightened his collar.
“You remember what to do,” Kinch said, adjusting Newkirk’s weapon and the decorations on his lapel.
“Get in, find the Colonel, order him taken out. Then you follow the truck, intercept it, and we get him out of there.”
“Exactly,” said Carter, handing Newkirk the forged papers that “proved” who Newkirk was. “Just don’t take any chances, Peter. You can’t help Colonel Hogan if you’re dead.”
“I wish you’d stop saying that, Carter,” Newkirk said. He straightened up and looked at his reflection in the mirror above the dresser. Sometimes he found it amusing how he could look like a Kraut, almost like dressing up in a Pantomime at Christmas as a child. But tonight he was too worried about being convincing for the Colonel’s sake to find it ironic. Everything stood out to him as wrong: the eyes, the hair, the build, the ruddy face.
“You look fine,” said Kinch, as though he were reading Newkirk’s thoughts. “Just think of the Colonel, and you’ll follow the right track.”
“I hope so,” he answered.
He headed towards the secret exit in the rear of the apartment. “Bon chance, mon ami,” Le Beau said. “We will be ready. Do not keep us waiting long.”
Newkirk nodded, and took his leave.
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“I don’t CARE what your Gestapo plans are,” Newkirk was spewing in his thank goodness convincing German. “It is MY job to make sure all prisoners are well treated under the Geneva Convention. And if you would like to complain about the timing, Herr Corporal, then perhaps you should discuss that with Major Hochstetter, who sends me!”
The poor guard who was in charge of the night office nearly bowed to Newkirk at the mention of Hochstetter’s name. “Jawohl, Herr Captain,” he said. “I am sure it is fine. I will take you to the rooms.”
“Are there any new prisoners?” Newkirk asked.
“Ja, Herr Captain, there is one. We do not know who he is; he was captured on patrols this evening without identification, and he is not speaking to us.”
~~Bleedin’ right he’s not talking. The Colonel’d never give anything away.~~ “Take me to this man, I want to see him. Perhaps he will talk to me.”
The Corporal led Newkirk down the hall and through a series of corridors. He opened the door to a dark, dank room, cold and draughty. And empty. “Well this is fine,” complained Newkirk as he stepped inside. “Where is this man?”
“He must have been taken back to the interrogation chamber,” the Corporal answered simply. Newkirk shuddered. “Herr Major in charge of questioning said he wanted the man to come up with answers tonight, as he is sure the man was part of a plan for sabotage.”
As if on cue, noise filled the corridor. Two German soldiers were dragging a man with them, and threw him bodily into the room. The man moaned but made no attempt to move from the awkward position that he had landed in on the floor. Newkirk nearly fainted when he realized that pathetic figure on the concrete was Colonel Hogan. His muscles tightened, but he could not move to help his commander. Not yet.
“This is what you call humane treatment? What kind of answers does your Major expect to get from a man who is unconscious?” Newkirk spat. “Leave me with this man, I will examine him. Tell your major that I will most likely demand this man have hospital treatment, and to have a transport vehicle ready.” It was not hard for Newkirk to sound like he was angry; he could not remember a time in his life when he had more felt like crying out and hitting without reason or rhyme. “GO!” he ordered.
The Germans left the room, the final man closing the door behind him. Newkirk made sure he was not being observed, then immediately knelt beside Hogan, who had not made another sound. “Colonel, Colonel Hogan,” he whispered. He touched Hogan’s clothing— drenched, Newkirk noted. He turned Hogan over on his back. Hogan let out a pitiable cry that clearly articulated his agony. “Easy, mate, easy,” Newkirk soothed, until the cries receded into spasmodic whimpers.
Newkirk looked his friend over and despaired at his condition. A purple swelling around his jaw, a badly cut cheek that was still seeping some blood, a large, ugly bruise that was peeking out from behind his neck. Newkirk touched Hogan’s face gently as the Colonel began to shiver violently. Fever. He looked around for a blanket; of course there was none. Cursing under his breath, he continued his examination. The skin on both arms was inflamed and raw near the wrists. The lightest touch on Hogan’s torso brought anguished writhing from the American.
Newkirk stopped, shaking. He had expected Hogan to have been abused, but this was more than he had imagined. And through this Hogan had said nothing? ~~Of course he said nothing,~~ he told himself, overcome. “No wonder we all respect you, gov’nor,” he said out loud, though he wasn’t at all sure Hogan could hear him. “It wouldn’t even occur to you to save your own skin.” He took off his German officer’s jacket and covered Hogan’s broken body with it, momentarily forgetting that this man was his commanding officer, and comforting him like a brother.
Newkirk knew he was asking too much for Hogan to suddenly become alert. But in the hopes that he could somehow be heard through the shroud of pain, Newkirk whispered, “It’s me, gov’nor. It’s Newkirk. We’re gonna get you out of here.”
Hogan remained silent, his breathing interspersed with groans and some incoherent sounds that Newkirk didn’t try to make out. The Corporal tried to think. Getting Hogan out would now become the easy part; no one in his right mind could deny that Hogan needed medical attention. How the hell the men were going to be able to help him later on was a bigger problem. ~~Don’t think that far ahead, Peter. One step at a time.~~ Newkirk looked at Hogan. He had never seen his commanding officer so helpless before. Knowing the answer, Newkirk nonetheless muttered, “What the hell have they done to you?”
Watching the building from a distance, Le Beau felt like a lion in a cage. He should be in there helping. How long was this going to take? Hadn’t Newkirk been in there too long? He glanced down around the corner where Kinch and Carter were waiting in the truck they had come in, ready to follow any vehicle that would return Colonel Hogan to them. He looked nervously at his watch. 1:40. Four minutes since he last checked. Newkirk had been in there for over an hour; the Colonel about two and a half hours. Le Beau worried; he knew what damage the Gestapo could inflict in such a short time, and he wondered if he would be seeing his commanding officer and his bunkmate alive again soon.
~~Stop that,~~ he chided himself. ~~You always imagine the worst, and it never happens.~~ He kept his eyes firmly on the door, which stubbornly did not open. ~~But what if it happens this time?~~
He slapped his upper arms to warm them up. The night had turned into a cold, miserable reminder that they could be safe and warm somewhere else, if they had not pledged to work for the Allies in this way. There was a single flash of headlights from the truck around the corner. Kinch and Carter must also be getting nervous, Le Beau surmised. He made an exaggerated shrug, to communicate that nothing had changed, and turned his attention back to the imposing building that contained two of the people he held most dear.
Then, just as suddenly as there had been nothing to do, there was a flurry of activity at the Gestapo building. Le Beau drew himself up, watching carefully, trying to see everything. The front door opened, and Newkirk stepped out, gesturing madly at someone inside the building and barking orders in German that Le Beau could not hear clearly. Then another man came out, a solider, carrying the end of a blanket-covered figure Le Beau could only conclude was Colonel Hogan. The rest of the stretcher emerged, and another soldier with it. Newkirk was loudly and angrily overseeing the proceedings.
A truck pulled up to the front of the building. Le Beau signaled wildly to Kinch and Carter, who slowly brought their vehicle further up the street. Le Beau turned and watched as the truck’s back doors were opened, and the soldiers hoisted their load inside. So, Newkirk had succeeded. Le Beau half smiled to himself. ~~Crazy Englishman,~~ he thought. ~~At least now le Colonel has a chance.~~
But his relief turned to confusion when he saw Newkirk climbing inside the back of the truck as well, and gesturing to the soldiers to ride up front. The plan had been that Newkirk come back to them, and an Underground agent help when they got to the remote hospital with diversion to get Hogan away. “What on earth are you doing?” Le Beau said under his breath. “We do not want to have to rescue two!”
Le Beau saw Newkirk lean attentively over the inert form on the floor of the truck, then accept one of the Germans into the vehicle with him, while the other moved to the cab. He shook his head, fear piling on top of worry, and hurried to join Kinch and Carter for the trip to the hospital nestled on the very edge of the city. The games were about to begin.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Newkirk sighed almost audibly as he helped the young patrol officer into the truck. He had succeeded in getting the men to allow him to ride with Hogan, a last-minute change of plans prompted by Newkirk’s belief that the Colonel would not be able to flee the truck on his own. He hoped Carter, Le Beau, and Kinch would be able to adapt. Now if only he could adapt as well—he had not really expected the guard to ride with him. But his persuasiveness at the use of Hochstetter’s name only went so far, and Newkirk noticed in one soldier’s case it actually increased his interest in the proceedings.
“You will drive very slowly, do you understand?” he growled at the driver. “You will take a steady, smooth route to the hospital facility on the outskirts of the city. They will have the best care for this man there. No excuses, Corporal!”
“Jawohl, Herr Captain.”
Newkirk sat back beside Hogan as the doors were shut. The soldier remaining with him sat on a bench against the wall of the truck. “Here, Herr Captain—it is more comfortable up here,” he offered. “The ride is long.”
Newkirk wanted to slap the young man. He looked at Hogan, still and pale on the stretcher on the floor. “Let us just hope it is not too long for this man. I will stay here and look after him, instead of relaxing, thank you,” he snapped.
The Corporal gave Newkirk a “suit yourself” look, and rested his back against the wall for the journey. Newkirk watched Hogan for any signs of distress. The Colonel had made few sounds and no movements since they had transferred him to the stretcher. Newkirk had nearly wept as he helped with that task; he knew every time someone handled Hogan they were inflicting more pain on his commanding officer. If he had had any doubts, they had been dispelled by the desperate sounds escaping from Hogan’s mouth. ~~Like a nightmare that’s real~~ Newkirk thought at the time. ~~You wake up but it won’t go away.~~ Each time he antagonized Hogan’s beaten body, Newkirk flinched and then vowed to make it up to him. He wasn’t sure how, but he knew that this man, who had so many times put his life on the line for his men, was not going to suffer like this again. Not at his hands. And not at the Germans’ hands either. Never again.
For the moment Hogan seemed at rest. Twice they had questioned him. Twice they had gotten no information. Newkirk wondered if he would be able to do that. Then, shuddering at the mere thought of the scenario that had led to the condition of his commander, Newkirk forced the thoughts aside and adjusted the light blanket on Hogan’s feverish body.
“This one is more valuable than they know in there,” said the soldier. Newkirk paused at this confidence. He looked at the soldier, who was nodding knowingly. A bit like the cat that swallowed the cream, thought Newkirk.
“Why is that?” he asked in his curtest German, worried. He glanced at Hogan, who seemed to be showing signs of returning to consciousness. ~~Not now!~~
“This man is a Prisoner of War at LuftStalag 13,” answered the guard. “Corporal Janssen, our driver, confided to me that he saw this man when he visited the camp with Major Hochstetter yesterday. He is a Colonel, his name is Hogan, I believe. He is suspected of running an underground organization.”
Newkirk went cold inside. “So why is it that the Corporal has not told anyone about this?” he asked, stonily. He had had only fleeting contact with the driver, and knew that if the man had recognized him from the barracks yesterday it would be all over for both him and Hogan.
The young guard laughed, relaxing. “Well, if you knew Janssen like I do, Herr Captain... well, he wants to get a promotion out of this one, I think. He plans to tell Major Hochstetter once the Colonel is in hospital. Drive the Major there himself, like a cat giving the gift of a mouse to its master.” The man laughed heartily at his analogy; Newkirk had to swallow the bad taste that came into his mouth.
Newkirk heard a low sound from the stretcher beside him. He looked and saw Hogan’s eyes fluttering slightly. Newkirk couldn’t think of a worse time. He placed a hand gently on Hogan’s shoulder. “Herr Colonel?” Newkirk said, hoping to get through to Hogan that he was not free to speak his mind. “Are you Colonel Hogan?”
Hogan’s eyes opened, but stayed unfocused. Newkirk studied his superior carefully. “Herr Colonel, is it?” he repeated. Hogan’s eyes shifted to meet Newkirk’s stare. “My fellow soldier here says that you are a saboteur from the LuftStalag 13. Is that right?” Newkirk tried with all his might for his eyes to relay a whole plan of action to Hogan. ~~Don’t answer, gov’nor. Don’t say you know me.~~
Hogan blinked, his expression not revealing whether he understood what Newkirk was trying to say, or even if he understood that words had been spoken. Newkirk hoped his message had gotten across. “He is unresponsive. You will have to wait until he is in hospital to hope to get something from him,” he said simply.
He turned fully away from the soldier, and kept watch on Hogan. Now his eyes were surveying the inside of the truck, paused once on the seated, armed soldier, and then came to rest of Newkirk. He opened his mouth to speak, but only cracked, unformed sounds came out. “Rest, mein Herr Colonel,” Newkirk said. Hogan’s expression changed to one of confusion. “You are to be treated according to the Geneva Convention.”
Hogan tried again. “I—need to get—”
The effort was great and painful, and he didn’t get much farther before Newkirk started speaking to him in German. ~~C’mon, gov’nor, try to understand what’s going on here!~~
Hogan stopped. “Please,” he simply whispered. “Help me.” He closed his eyes. Newkirk knew he was in pain but could not help. The Corporal was hopeful, though, that Hogan had understood what Newkirk was trying to do. Asking for help was not part of Hogan’s standard operating procedure. ~~Or maybe you just really need it.~~
“He will get everything WE need when Major Hochstetter finds out about him,” the young soldier said with a snort. He sat back and closed his eyes. Long trip. No point in wasting the night.
Newkirk glared at him. ~~Bloody idiot. How long is this ride?~~ He felt a slight tug on his sleeve and looked down to see Hogan’s hand under his arm. Hogan’s eyes were open and darting back and forth between Newkirk and the German. He squeezed the arm and Newkirk came down close to his face. “There’s a plan?” Hogan croaked softly.
“Aye, gov’nor,” whispered Newkirk. Hogan nodded, then closed his eyes. “Rest, mate, you’re going to need your strength for this one.” Without opening his eyes, Hogan raised an eyebrow. Newkirk grinned. Papa Bear was coming back.
With a Little Help from Our Friends
The trip to the hospital was a release for Hogan’s men. At last they could do something; waiting was an intolerable torture. Upon arrival, Carter parked across the street. Then the trio disembarked and took up strategic positions: Carter near the entrance to the hospital, Le Beau behind a shrub where he could act as lookout, and Kinch across near the truck. No one could see the Underground contact; Le Beau cursed to himself that they had abandoned the operation, just when they were needed the most.
They didn’t wait long for action. Le Beau signaled the others as the truck carrying Newkirk and Hogan rounded the corner. Carter pulled back into the shadows, pistol at the ready. The truck came within a few feet of him, then slowed and stopped. Kinch crossed the street to draw the attention of the driver, who was heading toward the back to open the doors. Newkirk stepped out, snarling commands at the solider who hopped out behind him, reaching in for the stretcher that bore Hogan. Carter stepped out from the shadows.
“Carefully, you dumbkopf, this is a man, not a sack of potatoes,” Newkirk was berating the man in German. From inside the hospital two orderlies appeared. ~~More people to worry about,~~ Carter thought, making his way toward Newkirk.
Kinch started shouting at the driver about blocking his truck’s access to the hospital. Le Beau came out and waved at the orderlies for help with a suddenly lame leg. But they would not be distracted, and Le Beau was practically falling over when Carter and Newkirk made their moves.
The solider who had ridden inside with Hogan and Newkirk was surprised when he found a pistol cocked up against his temple. The cold click froze him in his step. “I’ll take it from here, mate,” said Newkirk, happy to be using his own voice again. The solider, with some steel prompting, dropped his weapon. Carter was doing a something similar to the driver. And, to the surprise of Le Beau, the orderlies came to each Newkirk and Carter, brandishing their own weapons, and waving them away.
“Go,” said one in broken English. “Take your Papa Bear. We will take care of these men.”
“Blimey,” said Newkirk. “What--?”
“Thanks to your Papa Bear many of our Underground – and their families – are alive today.” The young man smiled at the look of disbelief. “You did not think we would leave you when you needed us? You have done enough for us, certainly more than enough to deserve our help in return.” And he turned his attention to the man he was guarding, relieving him of his weapon and tossing it to Newkirk.
“This one—the driver—he knows the Colonel by name and on sight,” said Newkirk. “And he’s told ’is charming friend here all about us, too.”
“No need to worry about that,” said the other ally. “Their story-telling is over.” Two other orderlies appeared from the hospital entrance. By this time it didn’t astonish anyone when they came to join the other two.
“You’d better hurry,” said one. “We will handle these two.”
Kinch and Le Beau quickly went to the back of the truck, where the stretcher holding Colonel Hogan was still laying. “Mon Colonel,” Le Beau said in greeting, jumping into the truck.
He was rewarded with a weak half-smile from his commanding officer. Hogan tried to say something in response but found that not possible. Even smiling had aggravated the bloody gash on his cheek. Le Beau nearly fainted at the sight of Hogan’s condition. Kinch chimed in quickly, “We’ve got it all under control, Colonel. We’ll be out of here soon.”
He and Le Beau lifted the stretcher and carefully loaded it into their truck. The orderlies were rounding up their two prisoners. “What will become of them?” asked Newkirk.
“They won’t be telling their tales to anyone else,” said the man who had come to Carter’s side. “We will make sure they are sent to the proper place.”
Newkirk was sure he didn’t want to know what that meant. Part of him wanted death for the two, but the human side of him could not swallow the idea so he hoped instead that they would be imprisoned away from anyone that could jeopardize their operation. And that they perhaps spend a few minutes alone in a dark alley with Newkirk, with their hands tied behind their backs.
“We don’t know how to thank you,” started Carter.
“It is not necessary,” said the man. “Now go, before we ALL get caught. Take care of Papa Bear. We will need you again soon enough.”
Newkirk and Carter ran to the truck without answering. Kinch had the truck idling and took off quickly as Carter closed the door. “Gee, that was CLOSE,” he said. Newkirk shook his head at how Carter could simplify even the most harrowing experience.
The men brought their attention to Hogan, still lying quietly on the stretcher. “He went through bloody Hell in there,” muttered Newkirk, shaking his head. “I thought we’d had it when my friend in the back said the driver recognized him from his visit to the camp yesterday.”
Le Beau wanted to comfort his commander, but could not stomach looking at his bloodied face. “Stinking Gestapo,” he managed, blinking back tears. “Filthy demons. Inhuman beasts.”
“That’s pretty strong, Louis,” came Hogan’s voice.
“Colonel!” Le Beau nearly burst into tears.
“Don’t waste your anger,” Hogan said. “There’s still work to do.”
Carter, Newkirk and Le Beau came close to hear Hogan’s weakened voice. They tried to stop him from struggling to a sitting position, which, given his injuries, he could well do without. But Hogan would have none of commanding on his back, and insisted on being propped up. Carter offered himself as a cushion.
“There’s still a munitions shipment to deal with,” he said, beginning to regret the position he was in. He raised a raw arm to ribs that he was sure were broken. Le Beau grimaced and briefly looked away. “Little Red Riding Hood gave me enough details to figure out what’s going on. It’s too much of a big one to let get away.”
“But Colonel—“ started Carter.
“I know we got a late start on it, and we don’t have a lot to go on, but it’d be a nice piece of revenge for the inconvenience, don’t you think?” Hogan said. “Now Red told me that the shipment will be coming by train and by truck. At about one o’clock in the morning it should be passing through on the Hammelburg railway line. What I don’t know is exactly how much stuff we’re dealing with, or how many in the convoy.”
Le Beau and Carter looked at each other. “Um, Colonel…it’s after two,” Carter said reluctantly. “They’ll have been and gone by now.”
Hogan cursed under his breath. A failed mission, and nothing but trouble to show for it. Suddenly he felt tired, physically and emotionally. The recovery of his body would be long; the recovery of his mind and spirit would be longer, and harder. “I need to lay down,” he said simply. The men gently eased Hogan back onto the stretcher, and arranged the blanket over him carefully, unhappy with the mood they knew he had slipped into. “By the way,” he said. “Thanks for disobeying orders tonight and coming out. If you hadn’t, I’d be eating sauerkraut through a straw for breakfast.” He smiled weakly, trying to resist the melancholy overcoming him. “Any more ignoring of the rules, however, and you’ll find yourself on the painful end of my steel-toed boots.”
“Rest, mon Colonel,” said Le Beau.
If Hogan was awake or paying attention to what his men were saying around him after that, he hid it well. Newkirk quietly told what he had seen and heard inside Gestapo Headquarters, with Le Beau uttering oaths in French and English alternately. Carter shook his head, watching Hogan as an anxious pup watches its master, and Kinch tried to keep the group focused, so they wouldn’t panic belatedly about the near-disaster they had survived. Hogan’s well being was their top priority, but they were also trying to think of what they could say that could possibly explain Hogan’s condition once he was back in Stalag 13. Close to home twenty-five minutes later, after proposing and rejecting their twelfth scenario, Carter glanced through the front window and pointed excitedly.
“Look—Jerries! And there are heaps of ’em!”
Kinch slowed the truck down to a crawl and turned off the headlights. In the distance, the foursome observed a convoy of trucks, moving slowly through the night.
“They’re following the railroad line,” noted Kinch.
“Well, what do you know?” said Newkirk. “Looks like the bloody Krauts can’t tell the time. I’d bet you your magazine pin-up girl that that’s the munitions shipment Colonel Hogan was told about.”
“I would not take that bet, Pierre,” said Le Beau. “I like les filles too much. Look at the backs of those trucks.”
A closer inspection of the line of oversized trucks showed heavy weaponry protruding from the back flaps, in some cases the barrels of several huge pieces of artillery pointing defiantly skyward.
“Holy cow,” breathed Carter. “Look at that. No wonder London wanted it stopped.”
“There must be at least half a dozen of them,” Kinch said. “How did they expect us to get all of them?”
“By using the railroad line.”
The four of them turned to the voice that came from the floor of their vehicle. “What do you mean, Colonel?” asked Carter.
Hogan had opened his eyes and was struggling to get to the window. Without waiting to be asked, Newkirk helped support the Colonel, and propped him up as he studied what was going on ahead of them. “The trucks—are following the railroad line,” he panted from the exertion. “They were supposed to travel together. Obviously they separated somewhere along the line, so the—trucks – are still following the—route.” Hogan slid down against Newkirk, fighting his pain and his weakness. They still had a chance; they had to take it!
After a moment, Hogan opened his eyes to find Le Beau staring intently. His head was throbbing in time with his leg, which until he had decided to get up to look out the window he had actually managed to almost forget. His injuries were all competing with each other for his attention, something that was now making him nauseous. But he didn’t want this mission to be lost, so he persevered.
“They’re hugging the railway tracks, using them as a guide. You have to get ahead of the trucks,” he said in a whisper. “Get far enough ahead to give yourself time to lay charges on the line—the longest strip you can manage. Set them off when the trucks are all aligned with them. Then the trucks are destroyed along with the railroad. Get it?”
“That’s bloody brilliant,” Newkirk said, for once not being sarcastic. “Two for the price of one. It’s cheap at half the price.”
“I had to—leave my charges behind,” Hogan continued, feeling his small pocket of strength ebbing. “Carter, what have you got with you for a job like this?”
Carter happily started digging through his pockets and a pack he had carried with him on the truck. “Oh, I’ve got everything you could want, Colonel. Long timers, short timers, dynamite, powder explosives, nitroglycerine, specialty charges---”
“Okay, Carter, we get the idea,” Hogan said. “You’ll have to set some pretty big ones on the sleepers, maybe toss a couple of sticks of dynamite onto the trucks if you can manage it. It’s going to depend on how heavily manned they are in the back. Timers won’t be good enough, we’re going to have to be able to set them off on our own. Have you got enough wire to keep us far enough away, but close enough to see what’s going on?”
“I could get us from here to Berlin,” Carter chirped.
“My eyesight’s not that good,” Hogan quipped. He felt himself slipping into blackness; it just took too much energy to fight the pulsing pain. “Just make sure you’re…far enough …away….” And he was gone.
“He is unconscious again,” Le Beau fretted. “Forget the trucks; we must get the Colonel back to camp.”
“No, Louis; the Colonel wants us to get that convoy. And as long as he’s in command, we’ve gotta do what he says,” Kinch countered. “Besides,” he added quietly, looking at Hogan’s still form, “we owe them for doing this to him.”
Newkirk fidgeted unhappily. “Kinch is right,” he said. “The Colonel put his life on the line to get the plans to stop this shipment; it’s up to us to make sure he didn’t waste the effort.”
Le Beau argued with himself, then reluctantly agreed. “D’accord, we will do it,” he said. “We cannot have le Colonel think we do not carry through his orders.” But he continued to frown at the others.
“Okay,” said Carter, who was fishing through the explosives pack. “If we want to do this right, we’re going to need pretty long wire. Newkirk, can you see how many sticks of dynamite we’ve got in that bag over there?—And make sure we set some pretty long fuses on them, like I showed you a couple of weeks ago.” The young demolition expert was in his element, and in this area the others always deferred to his expertise. “Kinch, we’re going to need some time to lay the charges, so you’re going to have to manage to get about two or three miles ahead of the convoy.”
“Check,” responded Kinch, starting to back the truck up slowly.
“Louis, think you’ll be able to get some sticks of dynamite into the trucks like the Colonel said?”
“If anyone can do it ’e can,” said Newkirk. “’E’s the smallest of us, if anyone’s gonna sneak past the Krauts it’s not gonna be Kinch.”
“Oui,” Le Beau answered. He forced himself to look at Hogan’s swollen, pale face and almost flinched outwardly. “If I can get in between those trucks I will do it for mon Colonel.”
As Kinch manoeuvred through the area, Carter pulled out the tools of his trade and got to work assembling the firepower they would need to pull off the job. Le Beau fidgeted nervously, while Newkirk kept watch over Hogan, who seemed more at peace than the RAF Corporal had seen him all night. He noticed the gash on Hogan’s face had stopped oozing blood, and was now inflamed. Absently moving a blanket over the injuries he knew were hidden, Newkirk repeated his silent vow that this would not be allowed to happen again.
“Okay, we’re here,” Kinch said, pulling into an area of heavy undergrowth. “The convoy won’t get here for probably another 10 minutes. If we’re lucky.”
“Right. Let’s go,” Newkirk said. And with a last look back at Colonel Hogan-- ~~We’ll be back, gov’nor.~~ the four of them burst out into the darkness.
Le Beau was keeping track of time in his head. He kept thinking about how he could get dynamite into those trucks and not be spotted. Sure, the back of the trucks might not be heavily manned—but the cab of the truck ahead of it in the convoy had at least one person in it whose eyes were supposed to be facing front! Nonetheless, he went to work down on the line with the others, laying charges and wire, taking his direction from Carter, who, only a few feet away, had already primed twice as many explosives as he had. On his other side was Kinch, who was madly wrapping wire down a sleeper. Across from him Newkirk was working his way down the line, alternately laying charges and unravelling wire. No one was speaking to or even looking at each other.
About a hundred fifty yards back they had left the truck hidden in the dense bush, Hogan senseless inside. Though there had been a discussion about someone staying behind, in the end they agreed that they could do a faster job if they all went out, then just got back to their commanding officer as quickly as possible. If he woke up, they doubted he would have the time or the strength to wander off before they returned. But time ticked away, and they were nearly as anxious to finish the work at hand to get back to the Colonel as they were to stay out of the way of the coming blasts.
Kinch signalled for the men to wind up their efforts as they heard the rumble of trucks in the distance. Carter and Newkirk trailed the wires away from the railway line and back towards the waiting truck. Le Beau examined the fuses on the dynamite he had in his belt, and looked for a protected spot to take cover in. Kinch came and laid a hand on his arm. “If you can’t do it safely, Louis, don’t do it,” he said.
Le Beau nodded. “Oui,” he said, and he shrugged. “Go back to le Colonel. I will be there in a few minutes.”
Kinch gave his arm a pat and then disappeared into the bushes where Newkirk and Carter were poised to set off the explosives on the railroad tracks. Le Beau crouched until he was almost lying down, still waiting for a brilliant idea about how to pull this off. The first of the headlights appeared in the distance. He imagined the trucks blowing sky-high. Then, “C’est lui!” he whispered aloud. “Up!”
Shoving the sticks back into his belt, Le Beau made the most of his small stature to make an easy climb up a nearby tree. Bracing himself in the crook of two sturdy branches, and making sure he was well protected by surrounding foliage, he pulled out the sticks, studied the fuses again, and waited.
As the first truck appeared, Le Beau studied its structure. Closed on top, but a canvas cover, not one made of steel. Perfect. Even more flammable. The fuses were long enough to give one full minute of lead time. The other trucks were approaching, with the first now almost directly under him. Now or never, he said to himself. Deftly lighting a stick, Le Beau tossed it lightly onto the top of the lead vehicle. With his time for escape now limited, he quickly did the same with the other five sticks he held, aiming them at the trucks’ canvas covers.
Thirty seconds later he was scrambling down the tree and racing as fast as he could towards the cover that hid his companions. Counting down he knew he was not going to make it and he dove into the scrub, covering his head with his arms and making himself as small as possible.
“Louis!” He heard Carter’s panicked voice.
“Go! Do it! I am fine!” he shouted back.
And suddenly there was an earth-shaking blast. The sky lit up as the first truck succumbed to the attack. At the same time the railroad started to break apart, twisted steel and wood flying in all directions. The flaming projectiles set off chain reactions in the other trucks that Le Beau had not had enough explosives to hit directly. Crawling on his belly on the ground, Le Beau stole a split-second glance at the carnage behind him. The convoy had stopped: the trucks were burning, damaged beyond repair, their deadly cargo destroyed, melted, blown to pieces. ~~For you, mon Colonel.~~ A piece of the railroad track was twisted perpendicular to the ground; no transport would be happening on this line any time soon. Le Beau kept moving until he reached the others, who welcomed him into the protected cover like a hero.
“Let’s go back,” he said. “We have to get Colonel Hogan back to camp.”
With a final look over their shoulders, the group high-tailed it back to the truck. Jumping into the driver’s seat, Kinch drove quickly back towards Stalag 13 as the others checked on Hogan. “Well?” he demanded from the front.
“He is fine, mon ami,” said Le Beau. “Well, not really fine. But he is here. And he is alive. We will make him fine.”
Newkirk smiled at the sudden optimism. Le Beau always had a change of view after a mission had gone to plan. “He’d be real proud of you, Louis,” he said. “That was just fantastic, what you did back there. More agile than a ruddy monkey!”
“Qu’est-ce que c’est ‘ruddy’?” asked Le Beau.
The others laughed. “Don’t worry, mate. You may not want to know.”
The drive back to the camp was short and uneventful. Hogan’s condition did not change, which quietly worried them all. No one wanted to voice his rising concern, as if his fears would become reality if spoken. Newkirk nonchalantly touched Hogan’s neck. Thready pulse. And fever. That cut was still raw and could easily become infected. There was so much to fix. How would they manage in a POW camp to give this man whom they trusted and admired what he needed to survive?
Next to him, Le Beau was looking less and less happy. Carter noticed a tear running down his face, but said nothing; he was too close to crying himself. “What are we gonna tell the Germans?” he said. He meant it to sound business-like, but it came out more like a childlike wail. He was the trusty valet – how was he to protect Hogan now?
“I think I have an idea about that, Andrew,” said Kinch quietly. The truck arrived at the drop off point. Kinch switched off the engine and turned to the others. “I’ll go contact the Underground. You fellas get the Colonel inside.”
“But what---?” started Carter.
“No time to stop and explain, Carter. Daylight’s coming. I’ll explain once the call is made.” And he jumped out, moved stealthily to the stump several meters away, and disappeared under its lid.
Le Beau concerned himself with overseeing the transport of Colonel Hogan. Reluctant to grip him in any way, Newkirk knew nonetheless that it was more dangerous for Hogan to be out of camp, than it would be to be moved. Hopping out of the back of the truck, he waited for Carter and Le Beau to transfer the Colonel gently into his arms. A fireman’s lift was out of the question with his injuries, thought Newkirk. He’d have to carry him the way a father would carry a sleeping child. And so he did, with some difficulty, and with great care, while only the slightest of moans escaped from Hogan’s lips.
Newkirk dreaded the hardest part of the trip--- getting Hogan down into the tunnel. He had Carter and Le Beau hop down through the stump entrance ahead of him, then, grimacing at the discomfort he knew it would inflict, he tipped Hogan to an almost upright position, to let his body stretch down to where the others could pull him down and out of sight. Hogan cried out briefly, but then aside from some small whimpers he was silent, isolated in his world of pain. Newkirk cursed and quickly followed Hogan down, closing and securing the cover above his head. He bent down to examine Hogan on the floor of the tunnel before they moved him again. ~~Sorry, mate. But you’re home. You’re back home now.~~ “Get a stretcher, and a blanket,” he ordered the little Frenchman, who was wringing his hands in worry. Le Beau took off down the tunnel. “Carter, we’ll need more penicillin,” he said.
“We’ll have it,” he said, visibly trying to change his face into a mask of detached order. He had to be strong; he couldn’t help if he was falling apart. He turned and followed Le Beau’s trail.
They were bringing Hogan back up into the Barracks when Kinch finished on the radio. “Don’t get him TOO comfortable, fellas,” he said, looking with sadness at his fallen friend. “Get his jacket and uniform, Louis. We’re gonna have to move him again.”
“What?” they all protested. “No, mate, no way,” said Newkirk.
“I’ve organised for the Gestapo to come and get him.”
After an outburst from the others that could have woken Klink in his quarters across the compound, Kinch fully explained his plan. The four then set about to quickly make things ready. Le Beau grabbed the Colonel’s clothes and gave them a thorough dressing down. “He will never forgive me for tearing his coat,” he mumbled to the others as he sat at the table, making a shambles of a perfectly good leather bomber jacket.
“Just rip it on the seam, Louis,” said Newkirk, the tailor of the operation. “I can sew it back up later and he’ll never know.”
“He will know,” pouted Le Beau. “He always knows everything.” Le Beau realised he was being contrary just to be contrary, not a mood he was normally in, but one which, whenever he thought of Hogan and his pale stillness, he felt too strongly to quell.
Kinch was in Hogan’s room, having just administered a dose of hard-to-come-by penicillin. Newkirk approached with a cool damp cloth, which Kinch ran across Hogan’s forehead and pressed gently on his face. Hogan stirred in discomfort but did not awaken. Kinch shook his head, and the two of them went in to meet the others.
“How is he?” asked Carter, who was keeping watch out the window.
“I’d be happier if he could beat this fever,” Kinch replied. “But he’ll get the help he needs soon enough.” ~~I hope.~~
“They’re here,” Carter announced suddenly. Everyone leapt into action as the truck approached the barracks. Kinch and Newkirk stayed by Hogan’s door. Le Beau folded the clothes, ready to hand over, and Carter moved away from the window. Knowing they were now at the mercy of whoever entered, the men kept their eyes glued to the entrance to the barracks. Soon a man in a Gestapo officer’s uniform stepped in. For a moment no one spoke, as they all took stock of each other.
Then Newkirk stepped forward. “Little Red Riding Hood, I presume?” he said, extending his hand.
The man looked at him curiously as he took it. “How do you…?”
“I was out there watching when you picked up Colonel Hogan,” the Corporal answered.
“I can’t tell you men how badly I felt when I found out what had happened,” the man said in an accent Le Beau was surprised to place as French. “I didn’t know the operation had been cancelled until I returned back to the Underground base. So when they said someone needed to come here, I knew I had to volunteer. How is the Colonel?”
“Not good,” said Kinch. “But that’s why we need you.”
Le Beau came forward with Hogan’s clothes. “He will need to be in these when he returns.”
“Very good. I will present myself to your commandant as a Gestapo officer. I will tell him that we are taking Colonel Hogan for questioning, so when we return him later today there will be no doubt in his mind about the how the Colonel’s injuries were sustained,” said the man. “Where is Colonel Hogan now?”
Kinch led him to Hogan’s room. The man shook his head in amazement. “How did he survive?” he asked, staring in shock.
“Let’s get moving, eh?” urged Newkirk, suddenly uncomfortable.
He and Carter moved Hogan’s stretcher to the truck that had been backed up to the doorway. Lifting it into the back, Newkirk warned, “Now make sure if he wakes up he doesn’t think he’s REALLY in the hands of the bloody Nazis.”
“We will assure him he is perfectly safe,” said the man. And, closing the back of the truck, he tapped the side so the driver would pull away. “Show me to your commandant’s quarters. And don’t forget to make a fuss about how we whisked your Colonel away in the middle of the night, will you?” he reminded them.
“Don’t worry; we’re really good at complaining,” said Carter.
Kinch shook his head and clapped Carter on the shoulder. “Come on, guys; we’d better get cleaned up. There’s nothing we can do now until the Colonel gets back.”
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“Is THIS how you greet an officer of the Gestapo?” barked Little Red Riding Hood.
Colonel Klink was struggling with his monocle, stumbling out of his warm bed and blinking, bewildered. “N—no, no, Herr Oberst,” he fumbled. “I must have fallen asleep—after all, it is… four o’clock in the morning. I—I don’t remember receiving a call to expect your visit today,” he said.
“That is because the Gestapo is not in the practice of announcing itself when it comes to take saboteurs away for questioning. They tend to try to avoid us when we do that,” sneered the agent, menacing with his pristine uniform. His accent and his command of the German language were impeccable.
“Sab—saboteurs?” Klink stuttered.
“Yes. We are taking your Colonel Hogan into Gestapo Headquarters for questioning, Klink,” he said. “It is believed he is part of an Underground operation to sabotage German efforts to bring a swift and victorious end to this war.”
~~Not again. Is Hochstetter behind this?~~ “I assure you, Herr Oberst Schoreit, Colonel Hogan has been thoroughly questioned in the past, and the Gestapo have come up with nothing to connect our senior prisoner of war with any covert activities.”
“Then the right people have not been speaking to him. Either that,” he said, cracking his knuckles, “or no one has asked him properly.”
Klink gulped. No, not again. When would they leave Hogan alone? “I will take you to the barracks, Herr Colonel,” said Klink. “I don’t usually get the prisoners to roll call for another ninety minutes—“
“No need, Klink. I have already gotten Hogan myself.” ~~So you can’t see what condition he’s already in.~~ “He will be returned when we are through with him if he is innocent. IF there is anything to return,” added Little Red Riding Hood, cackling at his joke.
~~Poor Colonel Hogan. How can I stop this?~~ “Surely with all the prior questioning, the Gestapo would be satisfied that Colonel Hogan is not—”
“The Gestapo will be satisfied only when it has found and stopped everyone with ideas contrary to those of the Fatherland!” shrieked Riding Hood over Klink’s protests.
Klink worried that this man could be worse than Hochstetter if left unchecked. But he was unsure of what to do. As the Gestapo already had Hogan there was no chance of him talking the officer out of taking him. Perhaps he could persuade him to go easy….
“Colonel Hogan is very popular with the prisoners here, Colonel Schoreit. He inspires them to do the right thing here. Since he came to Stalag 13 there has not been a single escape! If anyone were going to get out it would be Colonel Hogan, yes, but he would certainly have no reason to come back. Any man in his right mind would stay out if he escaped, and Hogan is no different. After all, he is still just a man.”
“I am beginning to doubt that, Klink,” was the curt reply. “But we shall find out how human he is today. Guten Tag, Herr Oberst Klink. Heil Hitler.”
Klink’s hand flew up in automatic but disbelieving response. “Heil Hitler.” And he sank back on the bed as his visitor left him.
It was with mixed emotions that Colonel Klink watched the truck pull into camp just before sundown. That it had returned was a good sign: Colonel Hogan was more than likely being returned. But it equally gave the commandant a feeling of foreboding: Hogan was not likely to be the same fit man who had left in the wee hours of the morning. Throughout the day Klink had debated the idea of what to do if Hogan came back. ~~WHEN he comes back~~ he had forced himself to think, though he knew there was no guarantee. Not being completely naïve, Klink knew that Hogan would be tortured while in the hands of Schoreit and people like him, and that he would need more professional medical attention than he could receive in the prison camp. At the risk of having criticism rain down on him, Klink had decided to get in his private physician to look after his senior POW at Stalag 13. As the truck ground to a halt, he reminded himself of his decision, and prayed he could keep his resolve.
Underneath Barracks Two, the heroes had already been informed of Hogan’s imminent return. The Underground had thoroughly examined him, and continued with precious penicillin to help fight the fever coursing through his body, but left his injuries mainly untouched. They changed him into the clothes his men had provided, dirtied and crushed, and then simply kept watch on him until they considered it time enough to take him back. Hogan had woken only briefly, but the morphine administered to help him cope with the pain sank him back into a troubled unconsciousness, away from his excruciating reality.
Knowing he was in good hands had not stopped Hogan’s men from being anxious; they were on pins and needles all day, something that Klink had excused in light of what he knew would have been a frightening intrusion in the middle of the night. Klink responded to their anxiety by giving them time to themselves, and while the men told themselves that they should catch up on the sleep they did not get the night before, they found they could do no more than catnap, then wake up with a start, wondering if it was time for Hogan to be returned to them at last.
Now, the same Gestapo officer who had invaded Klink’s quarters early in the day was climbing out of the truck, motioning for another soldier to unload its cargo from the back. He walked toward Klink with a smirk on his face. “Yes, Klink, your Colonel Hogan is only human,” he said. “But he is a very strong human. He would say nothing about an Underground operation. Obviously he is not part of any sabotage ring, as I am certain he would not have been able to resist my persuasive questioning.”
It was then that Klink saw a filthy, limp figure being dragged out of the truck and discarded onto the ground. The jacket was familiar, the hat thrown after him recognizable. “Good God—Colonel Hogan,” Klink gasped. He broke away from the Gestapo officer and stood over Hogan. “Is he alive?” he breathed.
“At the moment,” came the voice from behind him. “As I said, he is a very strong human. And perhaps too clever for his own good. You may do as you wish with him. Gute Jagd, Herr Oberst. Heil Hitler.” And with a smart salute to the Fuhrer’s health, the officer and the truck left the camp.
Klink took only a moment to gather his thoughts. He bent down to look at his senior POW more closely. Hogan had obviously been severely beaten. There was some movement but it appeared to be vague, involuntary. Aside from an occasional groan Klink could see no sign of alertness or consciousness. Hogan was filthy and bloody, and even lying nearly face down in the dirt Klink could see that his face had been targeted; a scabbing-over cut on his cheek brought horror scenes to his mind that Klink pushed away. He tried to turn Hogan over and was met with more persistent moans of protest, then silence. Any touch produced cringes from the American. It had obviously been a relentless interrogation.
“Schultz!” called Klink, unable to look any closer.
The Sergeant came bustling over. “Jawohl, Herr Kommand—” Schultz cut himself short when he saw Hogan. “Herr Kommandant—?” he started, unsure how to ask what he wanted to know.
“Come, Schultz, let us get him to his quarters. I am sure he will want to be with his men.”
Schultz lifted Hogan, and Klink retrieved the American’s cap, gripping it tensely as the crossed the compound. Hogan remained still and silent now. While the truck had been in camp, most of the prisoners had kept their distance. But now they were starting to gather, and the murmur was getting louder and angrier. “Out of the way, out of the way,” Klink waved at the crowding men. As they got nearer to Barracks Two, Hogan’s closest companions came barreling towards them. Le Beau was spewing invectives in his native tongue, and the others were clamoring to help. “The door, get the door,” Klink ordered. Carter opened it quickly, then ran ahead to open the door to Hogan’s room. Schultz very gently deposited Hogan on his bunk.
“I will send for my personal physician to tend to Colonel Hogan,” Klink said, his voice oddly strangled. He turned and left the barracks without another word, still gripping Hogan’s cap. Schultz turned to follow him, then looked back at the others.
“The Kommandant’s doctor is very good,” he said. He shuffled a bit on his feet. “We do not all agree with the way the Fatherland is conducting this war,” he mumbled.
“Neither do we, Schultzie,” Newkirk said.
“You want to be one of the good guys, don’t you, Schultz?” said Carter.
“I want to be a proper and loyal German soldier!” Schultz suddenly stood tall and spoke loudly. Then he said in almost a whisper, “But I cannot be proud of my country when we treat good men like Colonel Hogan like this. Outside of the war, he is someone I would want to be a friend.”
“He would be your friend, Schultz,” predicted Le Beau kindly. He patted the Sergeant’s arm. “Go on, now. See if you can get some firewood, it is too cold in here for him.”
“Ja. Yes I will,” Schultz said determinedly. And he left with new purpose in his step.
Newkirk immediately went to the lower bunk in the main room and tapped the side. It rose, and Little Red Riding Hood stepped into the Barracks, still in his Gestapo uniform. He followed Newkirk back to Hogan’s bed.
Carter and Le Beau were watching as Kinch gave Hogan a quick examination of his own. “So what’s the story?” Kinch asked the Underground agent.
“He woke once while with us, but was not very coherent. We gave him morphine to handle the discomfort, but stopped about three hours ago—if he came back here with no pain it would arouse suspicion, and we did not want to take a chance on a possible overdose if another doctor also gives him medication. We could not tend to his wounds for obvious reasons, but I can assure you they are many and serious. He has broken ribs, a broken ankle, his arms require washing and wrapping carefully—I would say ropes have caused those burns near his wrists. That cut on his face is threatening infection. We have given him penicillin and cleaned it a bit, but again we could not do more for fear of giving away what really transpired. He still has a fever; hopefully the penicillin will combat that. We have precious little of it, but we have left a supply downstairs. The Papa Bear’s health is imperative. We have done all we can; I feel it is most inadequate given the risk the Colonel has taken to help our cause.”
“You’ve done well, Red Riding Hood,” said Kinch. “We couldn’t have explained this without help, and that would have put us all in danger.”
“You’d better go,” said Carter. “Klink will be back soon.”
“Fine,” said Red Riding Hood. “I will be glad to get out of this disgusting attire. Please tell Papa Bear that the Underground is grateful. We are indebted to all of you, many times over.” And he was escorted back to the tunnel, then slipped out of the camp.
A few minutes later, Klink burst back into the barracks, and told the men his physician would be at the camp within the hour. “I will give the good doctor authority to do as he sees fit,” he added. The others nodded. “I want you to know, gentlemen, that I did try to stop the Gestapo from taking Colonel Hogan. I told Herr Colonel Schoreit that he had already been questioned.” He looked at Hogan, repulsed by his injuries but unable to look away. “But that obviously made no difference,” he said flatly.
“Thanks, Kommandant,” said Newkirk.
“Yeah, thanks for sticking up for him,” added Carter.
Klink merely nodded. “I will send the doctor over when he arrives.” He paused. “The sooner Colonel Hogan recovers, the sooner this camp will return to normal,” he said, only half intending it for the men. ~~The sooner I can stop feeling guilty for being a member of the Luftwaffe.~~
When Doctor Dreger arrived, he was ushered into Barracks Two, where the faces of four anxious men met him at the door. “Please, gentlemen, please, I will do what I can,” he said to them. “But first you must let me examine him. Leave me, please.”
He shooed them out of Hogan’s quarters and shut the door behind him. Carter twiddled his thumbs; Kinch started and stopped making a cup of coffee four times; Newkirk read and reread the same page of an old book, never succeeding in having it make sense; and Le Beau drummed his fingers on the table, constantly looking over at the door. A couple of times they could hear some muffled noises, and once they heard an anguished cry come from Hogan, at which they all jumped and considered barging in for an explanation. But the noise stopped and the door remained silent and unyielding. Newkirk was reminded to his frustration that he did not have X-ray vision, though he did seem to be looking right through the page of the book he was holding.
After what seemed like hours Doctor Dreger finally emerged. He wiped his hands with a towel, then wiped his brow, shaking his head wearily. Silently he came further into the room and picked up a mug from the stove. Kinch poured some now lukewarm brown liquid into it. The doctor sighed heavily, then turned toward the men.
“Your Colonel Hogan is a very strong man,” he said at last. Hogan’s friends waited. Doctor Dreger took a long drink, then continued. “The Gestapo are not renowned for their tortuous methods without cause. Colonel Hogan as you no doubt know has some severe injuries and is battling an infection as well. Colonel Klink was wise to call in someone from the outside.” He stopped, hoping that would be all that was necessary. But Klink had warned Dreger that Hogan’s men were fiercely loyal, and would be expecting more. So he explained further. “He should be in hospital. But Colonel Klink is reluctant to do that,” he added quickly, noticing the alarmed looks. “He thought, and I would have to agree, that it is better for a man to be among his friends when trying to recover from a traumatic experience, than to be in an unfamiliar environment.”
“So how is he now, Doctor?” asked Kinch.
“He awakened while I was examining him. I—apologise for the—noise you no doubt heard. I would have preferred him to remain unaware that I was checking him over. I had to give quite a tug to remove his boot, and it was uncomfortable, to say the least. He is, however, resting easy now. Antibiotics will attend to the fever, and also to the infection from the cut on his face. That will, I hope, begin healing of its own accord in the next few days.”
“What can we do, Docteur?” asked Le Beau.
“Be there for him,” he said simply. “I will make sure you have proper medication, and will come to check and change his dressings. But the most arduous healing will need to be done in his mind, not his body. And he will need you for that.”
“You can count on it,” said Newkirk.
Doctor Dreger then instructed them on the proper methods of dispensing the antibiotics, promised to be back frequently to change the dressings and check on Hogan’s progress, and left, to report to Klink. Hogan’s men consoled each other, and kept vigil beside him. They knew all they could do now was wait.
The next few days passed as a blur for Hogan’s men. They took it in shifts to be sure the Colonel was not left alone. Though he despised being coddled when awake, there was nothing he could do to stop them hovering when he was oblivious to their presence. During some of the more anxious moments, when Hogan seemed distressed or his fever was spiking, the four of them came together to his side, willing him to keep fighting.
The visits by Doctor Dreger continued, and each time he asked to be alone with his patient. And though he claimed it was because he preferred to work unhindered by the too-eager helpers, Dreger admitted to himself it was because he did not want Hogan’s men to see the extent of his injuries as he changed Hogan’s dressings. They were vile and unfathomable, thought Dreger, even for the Gestapo. And each time he came, he knew Hogan was becoming more aware of his surroundings, and thence also more aware of his pain. The groans of protest were becoming more determined, the thrashing at Dreger’s touch more pronounced. This was good, thought Dreger, but it would also be more upsetting for his men to witness.
This visit had been particularly traumatic, as Hogan had fully awakened, locking his panicked eyes on Dreger as the doctor lowered a needle to Hogan’s arm. “You are fine, Herr Colonel,” he soothed softly. “Your friends are here. Colonel Klink has asked me to look after you.” But Hogan had not understood, and tried to pull away from Dreger. The sudden movement sent fire through Hogan’s wounded body, and he cried out loudly, a mixture of fear and pain commanding his voice.
The door to his quarters burst open, and suddenly Newkirk, Carter, Le Beau, and Kinch were there. “What’s going on?” said Newkirk, menacingly.
“It is nothing,” said Dreger, settling the now nearly-unconscious Hogan back onto the pillow. He administered the shot to his patient, who sank quickly into an uneasy rest. “His fever is coming down. He woke up and did not understand why I was standing here with a syringe over him. Most unfortunate timing. Now he is fine. Leave him be.”
Reluctantly, Hogan’s men left his quarters. Newkirk stopped by Hogan’s bedside, as though verifying the doctor’s story, then followed the others out. Doctor Dreger came to them shortly thereafter. “Colonel Hogan is mending,” he said, suddenly tired. “His fever is broken and he will be able to stay awake for longer periods soon.” The men remained silent. “But you will have to understand, gentlemen, that there will be more moments like the one you heard awhile ago. He has been brutalized by the Gestapo; many common things will surprise and frighten him for some time.”
There was an awkward pause. Kinch lowered his eyes; he did not want to think of Hogan as frightened by innocent things. Le Beau sat down, as though defeated. But Carter spoke up. “He wasn’t frightened of us,” he said hopefully.
The others shot him a look as Dreger reacted. “He has been aware of you?” he said quickly. “Why did you not tell me he has been waking while I have not been here?”
“No, Doctor, um, he means he HOPES Colonel Hogan won’t be afraid of us,” Newkirk stammered. “You know, like he was before—just relaxed with us.”
Carter’s eyes widened as he realized his mistake. His eyes bored through Doctor Dreger, who mistook the panic in Carter’s eyes for worry. “I am sure he will have no need to fear his closest friends,” the physician assured them. “In fact he may come to depend on you more now than ever before.”
“Well we’ll be there for him, boy,” said Carter. “Uh—Doctor,” he corrected himself.
“I will go to Colonel Klink now, and inform him of Colonel Hogan’s condition.” He looked over the men, registering their anxiety, their exhaustion, and, most of all, their overwhelming loyalty to the man struggling in the room behind him. “Your Colonel Hogan is a very lucky man,” he said. “It is comforting to know one has friends as faithful and determined as you. I am sure you will be of immense support to him.”
“Thank you for your help, Monsieur le docteur,” said Le Beau. “Le Colonel is very important to us.”
“I imagine he must be, to inspire such devotion.” He nodded his acknowledgement. “Auf Wiedersehen.”
The vigils continued, the men both buoyed by the doctor’s prognosis for Hogan, and haunted by his prediction that the Colonel would be a changed man. That evening, Newkirk was nodding off on the chair beside Hogan’s bed, when he was jolted to alertness by a soft moan. He leaned in closer in the dimness, and heard the sound again, accompanied by a fluttering of eyelids and a slight movement of Hogan’s head. “Colonel?” he said gently.
“Uhhnn,” Hogan groaned weakly. Then, “Did you get the license plate of that bus?” he whispered. “I didn’t catch it when it hit me.”
“How you feeling, gov’nor?” Newkirk asked. He laid the back of his hand on Hogan’s skin. Cooler. Less clammy.
“Been better,” Hogan answered. “How long have I been here?”
“Three days. We’ve all been worried sick about you.” Hogan tried to raise his arm; Newkirk gently and easily lowered it. “No, don’t try to move around,” he said. “You’ve had it pretty rough.” Hogan obeyed without protest. “Do you remember what happened?”
“Mm,” Hogan answered vaguely, his eyes closing again. “Something about trucks.”
“LOTS of things about trucks,” agreed Newkirk. He saw Hogan was drifting away again, so he simply added, “We’ll explain later. But you’re safe now, Colonel. Do you know that?”
“Mm,” was the faint reply. Newkirk didn’t know if that was a response or just a groan, so he determined to repeat those assurances to Hogan again the next time the opportunity arose.
As it turned out, the chance came again the next day. This time it was Le Beau who was nearby. “So what’s all this about trucks?” came the voice.
Le Beau jumped, then started rambling quickly in French. “Le Beau, Le Beau—Louis, slow down,” Hogan smiled weakly. ~~Hm, that smarts,~~ he thought curiously, quickly dropping the smile that aggravated the wound on his cheek.
“Colonel, it is good to have you back,” Le Beau managed to say in English.
“Talk to me, Louis; explain what happened,” Hogan requested. He wanted to know about these images were that were flashing through his brain. He couldn’t tell if they were hallucinations from his injuries or if they were true memories.
“You have been ill, Colonel. We had to get you away from the Gestapo. You were captured when you went out to meet Hansel and Gretel. The operation had been discovered; it was a trap,” Le Beau jabbered.
Le Beau’s voice faded into the background as Hogan became more conscious of his surroundings. He glanced up: the ceiling, whose nails he had counted more times than he could remember when he couldn’t sleep for anxiety and a deep, paralyzing dread that he shared with no one. On his desk, the Bible: pages well-worn from him thumbing through them, looking for answers to questions he didn’t know how to ask. On a hook, his bomber jacket: his security blanket, his one connection to the man he knew he really was—a confident, respected man with a love of flying and a love of freedom. On the chair beside him, Corporal Louis Le Beau: a human reminder of why he was fighting the war, and a person any man would be proud to call his friend. Despite his assignment to this grimy, desolate POW camp, Hogan felt soothed here now.
His attention now turned to his increasingly aching body. At first he had only been aware of a dull pounding in his skull. Then, as the hammering became more severe, his face throbbed on both sides in an odd, uneven rhythm. Then his forearms joined in with a jagged, burning sensation. An attempt at a deep breath stabbed his chest and made him grimace. And finally, his ankle insisted on recognition, screaming at him angrily and demanding acknowledgement. Completely in the present now, Hogan let out a groan, stopping Le Beau mid-ramble.
“Colonel, you are in pain?” Le Beau asked.
Hogan nodded numbly. He realized he hadn’t heard a word Le Beau had said.
“Lie still; we have medicine for you,” he said.
Hogan let Le Beau go without comment. He returned a moment later followed by Carter, Kinch, and Newkirk. Kinch held a syringe. Hogan fought to control the rising sense of alarm that suddenly started within him. ~~These are your friends,~~ he told himself. ~~Why are you afraid?~~ But the feeling wouldn’t go away, and as they approached the bed, Hogan found himself trying to shrink back further into the mattress, which did not make him disappear, and which only further aggravated his suffering body.
Newkirk motioned for the others to stop, then gently came to Hogan alone. “Colonel, sir, it’s us. We’re not going to hurt you,” he said. Hogan’s eyes stayed wary as he tried desperately for self-control. “C’mon, gov’nor,” he urged tenderly. “You’re with us now. You’re home. No one’s going to hurt you.” He put a hand on Hogan’s shoulder and was surprised to find it trembling. ~~Damn the Germans.~~ “It’s all over, mate. You’re home.”
Hogan’s eyes widened at what seemed like a familiar conversation—had someone said that to him before? Regardless, the words had a calming effect, and Newkirk smiled encouragingly when Hogan visibly relaxed. “Kinch has morphine, Colonel. To help with the pain.”
He moved aside so Hogan could see Kinch approaching openly and without menace. “Hey, Colonel, do we have lots of news for you,” said Kinch. Hogan just looked at him, unable to speak. The needle in Kinch’s hand was scaring him beyond reason. He didn’t want anyone to know, and he was sure it would show in his voice. “I won’t hurt you, sir. Can you trust me?”
Hogan was startled at the question. Trust his men? Good God, with his life! Of course he could trust them! So why was he quaking now? “Yes,” he managed, in almost a whisper. Then, bolder, as if to convince himself, “I can trust you.” And despite the continuing apprehension, Hogan tried to steady himself and allow Kinch near him without recoiling.
Hogan’s anxious eyes belied his true feelings, and Kinch came to his commanding officer with feelings of both pity and sadness. “Here, Colonel. This will help you,” he said kindly, showing Hogan the syringe as though he were a child. “It has pain killers in it, that’s all. Nothing else.”
“I know,” managed Hogan, holding out his arm.
Carter saw Hogan shivering. “It’s okay, Colonel; I hate needles, too,” he offered. And as Hogan’s eyes met Carter’s appreciatively, Kinch gave Hogan the shot, then backed away.
Hogan’s breathing relaxed a bit as more space came between him and the others. ~~Steady, Robert, you’re safe. These are your men, you have nothing to be frightened of.~~ He looked back at the four faces watching him. A real fondness for these men welled within him. When would he ever feel secure with them again? Or wouldn’t he? “Tell me what happened,” he said, forcing himself to act as they would expect him to. “I have a feeling there’s a lot of the story I’m missing.”
The four told Hogan about London’s belated message to stop the mission, and that Hansel and Gretel had never gone to the rendezvous. It was then that he learned how they had disobeyed orders and sent Newkirk out to keep watch on him. They had expected Hogan to blow his top, but instead he just nodded silently, pensively. They then relayed the rescue plan, and filled in the bits about the convoy’s destruction. Hogan had not remembered anything about the trip back to camp, including seeing the munitions shipment coming through late; he merely listened, again saying nothing. Most surprising to him was how he had been smuggled back out of camp, to be held by the Underground until his condition could be explained.
“And London reports that those guards the Underground took away have been transported to London. Our clever soldier Janssen, who had come to the barracks, obviously was a bit of an ambitious fellow—he told no one about you, Colonel, not even the other man on patrol with him. Wanted to present you to Major Hochstetter himself, maybe get himself a nice little promotion.”
“Kind of like a stuffed turkey,” said Carter.
“Using Colonel ’Ogan’s eagles,” quipped Newkirk with some sarcasm.
“Those munitions trucks were holding the bulk of the arsenal,” said Kinch. “Blowing up the line along with the convoy has stopped a second shipment that was to have gone through the following night. London couldn’t be happier. They said it was a stroke of brilliance.”
“Sounds like you fellas had everything under control,” Hogan said, obviously tiring. “I couldn’t have done it better. Newkirk, the way you brought yourself into direct danger by going into Gestapo Headquarters was the most bull-headed, dangerous thing you could have done.”
Newkirk looked sheepishly at the floor. Time for his dressing down. “Sorry, gov’nor,” he said.
“What ‘sorry’? I’d have done the same,” Hogan said. Then, more quietly, he added, “And I’m grateful. Carter,” he said, turning to the man he considered his innocent, “I had to leave your charges out there somewhere. I wish I had had the chance to try out the techniques you showed me. But you took charge when the going was tough—you didn’t expect to have to blow up a munitions shipment after the mess of the evening—”
“Well, I was hoping,” Carter said with a grin.
Hogan smiled warmly, then winced and stopped. “Well you got your wish. And you did it by the seat of your pants; there was no prior information for you, and you managed it just fine. And Louis, you should have been a squirrel. Climbing trees—the mission wouldn’t have been successful if you hadn’t found a way to get to those truck beds. It was daring and clever.”
Le Beau basked in the praise. “You told us what to do, Colonel.”
Finally Hogan focused his eyes on Kinch. His eyelids were getting heavy with the effects of the morphine. “Kinch,” he said, “if you ever give me to the Gestapo again – real or fake – I’ll take you with me.” Kinch smiled. “Without your quick thinking, we would never have been able to explain this away. You really came through. Thanks.” Hogan lay back on his bunk, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. “You all performed above and beyond the call. Not just for me, but for the operation. Individually and as a team, you all came through. I’m proud of you.”
“You did the same, Colonel,” said Newkirk.
“Yeah, if you hadn’t headed out that night we wouldn’t have seen the convoy at all,” added Carter.
“Oui. You have taken many risks for us and for the operation. We follow your lead, Colonel,” Louis said.
“All for one…” muttered Hogan, drifting into drug-induced sleep.
Carter came forward to hear him better. “What’s that, Colonel?”
“My trusty valet,” Hogan breathed. “You were right, Carter; it works. All for one, and one for all.”
Carter stood up straight and beamed. Hogan was right. They’d done it after 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.