There's No Place Like Home (part 1)
2005 Papa Bear Awards - First Place
2005 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Best Original Character - Captain Eichberger
2005 Papa Bear Awards - First Place
Best Overall Story
2007 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Lifetime Getaway Award
What’s Going On?
Colonel Robert Hogan watched the parachute glide like a dandelion seed effortlessly through the clear, cold night sky, and briefly allowed his mind to wander to more pleasant times. Training novices for the Royal Air Force seemed like a million years ago. But the US Army Air Corp flying ace could still remember the fearful hesitation followed by the whoops of triumph that young recruits shouted as they accomplished their first real leap from an aircraft, before grinning broadly at the American commander. Shifting in the underbrush that helped conceal him from any possible German patrols, Hogan smiled at the scenes as they replayed in front of his mind’s eye; if a leap from an Allied bomber wasn’t such a perilous undertaking, with the ever-present threat of being discovered, or killed by flak or parts of your own aircraft on the way down, a clear night like this could mean a dream jump, an experience to be savoured by all the senses.
Hogan abruptly dropped his smile as reality forced its way back in, and he remembered his own bailout over Hamburg. He had lost the majority of his crew that day, in a vicious dogfight that from the very beginning was clearly aimed at ambushing his B-17, Goldilocks. His leap from the burning aircraft hadn’t been graceful, like the one he was watching now; it had been dizzying, overwhelming, terrifying. His senses had been overloaded, and while he could force memories of the agony he had suffered from his injuries and his ejection into a sky bursting with enemy fire to the back of his mind, the tortured cries of the men under his command remained forever in his foremost thoughts.
They were after me, Hogan thought, squeezing his eyes shut at the horror of his own capture, still despairing at the taunting of the Nazis when they confronted him, interrogated him, beat him, in their attempts to get the Allied secrets from the American squadron commander that they knew he had—one of the Third Reich’s “Most Wanted.” But Hogan hadn’t talked, and the Germans had let loose their fury on him, before finally transferring him to Stalag Luft 13, a Luftwaffe prison camp just outside Hammelburg. Then a familiar self-torture rang through his ears: They might have made it back if they hadn’t been flying with me.
Drawing in a frigid, but calming, breath, Hogan deliberately collected his thoughts. A lot of water’s flowed under the bridge since then, he reminded himself. Now, more of our boys have a chance to get out of Germany. The faces of the men Hogan worked with back at the prisoner of war camp flashed in his mind. Captives though they were, they were all now a tight sabotage and espionage unit, working out of Stalag 13 with Allied High Command in London and with the local Underground. And in the last three years, they’d retrieved downed flyers, rerouted escaped POWs from other prison camps, and ruined German military operations until they’d lost count. They were now one of the biggest secret threats to Nazi Germany in existence, and so far there was no end in sight. Yep, Hogan thought again, with some satisfaction, things sure have changed.
Hogan’s eyes followed the billowing silk as it descended into the trees about a hundred meters away. “Time to go to work,” he muttered to himself, pushing the thoughts of the last thirty seconds from his crowded mind. He stretched as he prepared to go lead the downed flyer to the tunnel network under Stalag 13. I wonder how old this one will be. Nineteen? Eighteen? He sighed as he anticipated the shell-shocked, terrified expression he would see on the baby-faced teenager who would no doubt be trying to remember everything he’d learned in training school—if he wasn’t too busy saying every prayer he’d ever learned as a child to think about contributing to his own survival. No matter in the long run, Hogan considered—this was a routine mission; the poor kid would be in friendly hands soon enough. Then Hogan’s men would get him out of Germany and back to his unit, just like all the others.
Hogan scanned the woods around him as he made his way to the approximate landing site. So far, no one around to obstruct the rescue. Good. Just up ahead, he saw the chute in the trees, entangled in some branches. The man in it was twisting and turning, struggling and gasping in his hurry to break free. Experience had taught Hogan to watch before approaching if there was no immediate threat: more than one panicky man had hurled a knife toward the unexpected rescuers nearby. Thankfully, almost all of them had been badly aimed. But still, there was no point in adding to the fear. When the man was on the ground, Hogan would make his presence known.
Finally, Hogan saw the man tumble from the web of rope and silk, then pull off his helmet and shake his head. Hogan grimaced. Even younger than before. God, was I ever that green? Try to get the chute, he urged silently. They won’t stop hunting if you don’t hide it! As if he had heard Hogan, the airman gave a couple of tugs, but when the parachute didn’t give, he gave up and looked to run for his life.
Hogan was about to cautiously reveal himself when sudden shouting and rifle fire froze him in place. He watched tensely as the young man spun around, wild-eyed, then took off in Hogan’s direction. Hogan readied himself to draw the man quietly into the safety of the brush when three German soldiers appeared, weapons primed.
“Halt! Anschlag!” came the warning call.
The young man turned and raised his arms. Hogan’s shoulders sagged; he’d never even seen or heard this patrol. He had done all the right things, but with this unexpected intrusion, they had become all the wrong things. Now, this mere boy would become a prisoner of war, and unless he escaped, he would spend the rest of the conflict cooling his heels in a prison camp, where the enemy would do its best to break his spirit, and take away any innocence that remained.
Hogan’s operation had to remain secret. To reveal himself now would be to put everything—and everyone involved—in jeopardy. Hogan bit his lip as he prepared himself to witness the capture; he could do nothing to help now.
The shock that followed nearly made Hogan scream in raw agony. As the youthful flyer started to stutter his name, rank, and serial number, another fresh-faced youth appeared, obviously another flyer who had been shot down with the one standing in front of the Germans. The boy froze when he realized what he had stumbled upon and also raised his arms. Then one of the Germans raised his rifle and said to the others, “Vergesst nicht: Keine Gefangenen.” No prisoners. Hogan braced himself as he heard the click of the trigger, but could not make himself turn away as the soldier fired at point-blank range, sending the first boy hurtling through the air until his body hit the tree he had just dropped from with a sickening thud. Another German also fired, but his victim just dropped where he’d been cut down. The third German approached the first boy and prodded him with his weapon, shrugging when the boy didn’t move. He reached down through the gear for the boy’s dog tags, as someone did the same to the other youth. They nodded, satisfied that they had done their job. Then the man who had fired the first shot ordered, “Verteilt euch! Wir müssen sichergehen, dass wir sie alle erwischen!”
The order to spread out and continue searching for others made its way through the fog in Hogan’s numb mind and spurred him into action. Breathing hard, and trembling more than from the cold, he stumbled away from the bush and ran as fast as he could away from the nauseating scene. Only when his shaking legs gave out did he stop and succumb to the need to be sick, as the looks of surprise and shock from the mere children he had watched be brutally killed flashed over and over before him, to join the other heartbreaking memories in his mind.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Holy cats, it’s a bit late for this!”
Sergeant James Kinchloe pulled off the headsets he had used to listen to the radio message from Allied High Command in London and looked incredulously at his companions in the tunnel under Barracks Two.
“What is it, Kinch?” asked French Corporal Louis Le Beau, the radioman’s bunkmate. He strained to see what the American had written down on his sheaf of paper. Scribbles. Nothing he could make any sense of.
Kinch shook his head. “London says to make sure no one goes out again until further notice. They say they’ve got word that there may be trouble brewing that they don’t want us involved in.”
“‘They don’t want us involved in’?” echoed Andrew Carter. The youthful American Sergeant scratched his head. “Well that’s a change. I mean they usually want us to be in the middle of it. Or causing it!”
“Well, that doesn’t worry me so much,” Kinch said. “What worries me is that Colonel Hogan and Newkirk are both out tonight.”
“What kind of trouble is it, Kinch?” asked Le Beau.
“They won’t say yet. Just they don’t want us caught in the middle. Must be pretty big.”
Le Beau furrowed his brow. “Tonight of all nights for Pierre to go out to visit some mademoiselle,” he muttered. “And le Colonel out getting pilots!”
“Well at least we know the Colonel will be back soon—it’s only a routine thing, Louis. We’ll see him come laughing down here in about an hour. As for Newkirk—” Kinch stopped, thinking of the RAF Corporal who had niggled permission for a night on the town out of Hogan before the Colonel went out—“well, he can think on his feet. He’ll be safe with some fine fraulein and back before midnight—that was the Colonel’s order, and he wouldn’t dare be late.”
Carter tried to offer some reassurance. “Boy, you’re right about that, Kinch. I mean when the Colonel gives an order, it’s an order, and he expects his orders to be obeyed. I mean, even if he’s not here, he expects people to do what he told them to do. I mean I wouldn’t be caught not doing what the Colonel said to do tonight, boy—he was pretty tired when he left; you know how he’s been taking on extra duty because of your cold, Louis—and I mean, he didn’t want anyone making any more work for him, because I bet he’s going to just sack out when he gets back, and—”
“Carter!” Kinch said, trying to stop the flow that was Andrew Carter’s mouth when he was on a roll. “The Colonel’s due back before Newkirk. And I’m sure they’ll both be fine.”
They all nodded and headed upstairs, offering pats on the back and assurances. But despite the brave words, no one would be convinced till everyone was home in Stalag 13 safe and sound.
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Colonel Wilhelm Klink paced back and forth in his office long after evening roll call had confirmed that everyone was present and accounted for. Several times, he was tempted to pick up the phone and ring back General Burkhalter to reconfirm his superior’s orders. But every time he put his hand on the receiver, a cold chill from deep inside himself made him draw back his hand and simply start pacing again.
Klink opened his window and, not bothering to brace himself against the cold air that greeted him, he looked across the compound that was Stalag Luft 13 at Barracks Two, where his senior Prisoner of War officer, Colonel Robert Hogan, was bunked out for the night. Hogan, if it were up to me…
Klink paused mid-thought. If it were up to me, what? What would I really do? Klink thought of the countless times Hogan had come before him in this very office, asking for the impossible—a bowling alley, a yacht club, a pool party—rumba lessons! The most ridiculous and improbable things that any prisoner could expect from his captors. But there were other reasons for Hogan’s visits as well: extra rations for his men; extra blankets when the cold weather didn’t let up for days and the firewood didn’t seem to make any difference. Hogan even volunteered his own services in exchange for some of these privileges, as he had pitched in to do Le Beau’s cleaning duty earlier this week when Hogan explained that the Frenchman needed extra sleep, to fight off some flu making the rounds of the camp.
But Klink was conscious of the fact there was even more to it than that; during their somewhat regular chess games in the Kommandant’s office, Klink had found Hogan to have quite a strategic mind, and although the American often pretended to be stupid about German military matters, Klink was more than aware that his own position at Stalag 13 had more than once been saved by Hogan’s savvy… and cunning. And there was a genuineness about Hogan that spoke to Klink in a way that the Kommandant could not express, partly because he was not inclined toward shows of intimacy, and partly because expressing admiration for the enemy was a sure way of getting one’s self put in front of the firing squad on a charge of treason.
So, if it were up to him… Klink closed the window and stared at the phone, debating whether to make the call or to just follow through on the order as he had always done, unquestioning, unerringly.
Klink changed his way of thinking. If it were up to Colonel Hogan, what would he do? He shook his head and looked up at the portrait of Adolf Hitler on the wall. This time, mein Fuhrer… this time you have gone too far.
Klink turned back to his desk, put the telephone receiver on the blotter, and sat down, worried and grim. Tomorrow, Hogan. The beginning of the end starts tomorrow.
The Pressure Mounts
Colonel Hogan looked like a white, scared rabbit when he burst into the barracks from the tunnels some time later that night. Though he had tried his hardest to get his wild breathing—and his quickly pounding heart—under control before he faced his men, he had not really been successful, and when he emerged from underground, panting and sweating, eyes darting around constantly, the men under his command sat him at the table in the common room, trying to hide a new, mounting panic of their own.
“Carter, get a blanket,” Kinch ordered. Carter nodded and grabbed a moth-eaten, slim cover from his own bunk. Kinch took it and tried to wrap it around Hogan’s shoulders, while Le Beau put a steaming cup of coffee on the table in front of Hogan.
Hogan shrugged away the blanket and the fussing, and quickly surveyed the room. “Where’s Newkirk?” he asked, still moving ceaselessly. He shivered as though cold, then wiped his hand across his eyes and brow.
“He’s still out, Colonel,” Le Beau answered, looking worriedly toward Kinch. “He is due back within a couple of hours. Where are the pilots?”
Hogan stood up and ran his hand through his hair, still working off all the adrenalin that had rushed through his body earlier. He knew he had to be careful how he explained what he had seen, and right now he didn’t have words to relay the events that wouldn’t scare the men as much as he had been scared witnessing them. So he simply said, “They aren’t coming.” He stopped just long enough to give his men a look that they knew wasn’t to be crossed or questioned. “Let me know when Newkirk gets back. Meanwhile no one leaves this camp without my say-so. Understand that? No one. And that’s an order.”
And he disappeared into his office, closing the door with a slam behind him.
The others looked at each other, bewildered. “Something went wrong,” Kinch guessed.
“Oui. Mon Colonel looked scared,” Le Beau noticed.
“And now Colonel Hogan doesn’t want us to go out either,” Kinch said.
“Well, what about Newkirk?” Carter asked. “I mean, if there’s trouble, shouldn’t we go get him?”
“London says no one leaves camp.”
“Who cares about London?” Le Beau sneered. “They aren’t here to see.”
“Yeah, but if we went out, we’d also be crossing the Colonel. And I don’t think he’s in any mood to have his orders disobeyed.”
Le Beau nodded acquiescence. “And I am in no mood to face his anger.”
Carter looked glum. “I guess all we can do is wait till someone explains what’s going on.”
“Let’s hope Newkirk struck out with his fraulein tonight,” Kinch said, looking toward Hogan’s door. Experience told him that there was a lot of walking happening on the other side of that door. Pace to the desk, pace to the bunk. Pace to the desk, pace to the bunk. And this time, there was more than mere plotting brewing in Hogan’s mind; there was fear. Kinch shuddered at the thought; it took a lot for Hogan to actually show his particularly negative emotions. What had happened tonight to throw him so? “I don’t think the Colonel will calm down until he comes back.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Peter Newkirk stopped for the fourth time since he had hit the woods tonight, clutching the tree nearest him with a lover’s intensity. Another bloody patrol; what’s going on tonight? He knew Colonel Hogan had gone out to get the downed pilots, and had not insisted that Newkirk cancel his planned time away. But there were still many more patrols than normal; something must have gone wrong.
Newkirk shivered, missing the warmth of the small apartment he had been in only an hour earlier. Once in a rare while, Colonel Hogan gave in to Newkirk’s wandering spirit and let him leave the camp for purely personal reasons; a four or five hour pass is how they preferred to think of it. Hogan knew that his men would take no unnecessary chances, and thought it might even be important that the men not stand out at other times by appearing to be complete strangers in Hammelburg when they went into town to meet contacts. Ruing the contrast between the young fraulein’s comfortable sofa and the rough, cold bark of the tree he was embracing, Newkirk almost wished the Colonel had denied him the pleasure of being in a young woman’s arms for the evening. This kind of ending to the night was almost a cruelty.
Is the gov’nor still out here, too? Newkirk wondered. He watched one of the German soldiers pass within a few feet of his hiding spot, and held his breath until it was safe to move again. Only another half mile, mate, and you’ll be safe at home. I swear, Lord, no more loose women for me—at least until the war is over, or these bleedin’ patrols are called off for good!
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
The door to Hogan’s office swung open, and the Colonel popped his head out. “Any sign of Newkirk?” he asked tersely, taking in the men sitting tensely at the table.
“Not yet, Colonel,” Kinch answered. “But he’s not due, sir. Don’t worry yet; he’s always on time.”
Hogan didn’t seem to take any comfort in those words. “Le Beau, head to the end of the tunnel. See if he’s coming. But keep your head down. I don’t want any problems tonight, got it?”
Le Beau glanced at the others. “Oui, Colonel.” Hogan turned away to close his door and disappear into his worry chamber again. “Colonel—” Hogan stopped and looked at the Corporal. “What is happening, Colonel? Are you all right?”
Hogan remained unmoving for a moment, then visibly forced himself to relax. “Sorry, fellas,” he said. “Bad night. I’ll explain when I’ve had time to disassociate it all. I just want Newkirk back here.”
Kinch nodded. “A lot of patrols out there, Colonel?”
“Let’s just say they aren’t your usual friendly neighbourhood Krauts,” Hogan answered. His dark eyes changed as a scene replayed before him that only he could see. The others exchanged looks, and finally Le Beau banged the side of the bunk that revealed the entrance to the tunnel. “No,” Hogan said, his eyes still troubled, “not your usual Krauts at all.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Newkirk, where have you been?”
The barracks was a flurry of activity in the time shortly after midnight, as Newkirk climbed back into the hut with an apologetic look on his face. “Caught outside,” he answered. “Bloody patrols everywhere. Is the gov’nor mad at me?” he asked, glancing toward the closed door to Hogan’s office.
“Are you kidding?” asked Le Beau, trying for the second time that night to get someone to accept his offer of warm coffee. “He has been out here every ten minutes asking if you are back—since ten thirty!”
Newkirk grabbed the coffee gratefully between his cold hands. “I wasn’t due back until midnight!” He took a long, slow drink. “Where are the flyers?”
“Something must have gone wrong out there,” Kinch said in a low voice. “The Colonel didn’t come back with anyone, and he’s been jumpy ever since. Won’t talk.”
Newkirk frowned. “Well, if was anything for him like it was for me, I can understand why.”
Hogan’s door opened suddenly, and the senior POW, looking composed and dressed once more in his regulation uniform and brown bomber jacket, came into the main room. Walking swiftly to Newkirk, he put his hand on the young man’s shoulder and looked deep into his eyes. “Are you all right? How did you go getting back here?”
Newkirk accepted the look, registering some surprise inside—there didn’t seem to be even a hint of a reprimand in Hogan’s voice or demeanour. “Well, sir, it was a bit of an effort: there were goons everywhere; the woods were just crawling with them.”
Hogan nodded grimly. “I know.” He stood up straight and took in the room. “Okay, fellas, gather round. We’ve got a problem.” The men pulled up closer to the common room table. Hogan put his foot up on a bench and took a deep breath before continuing. “When I went out tonight, I found one kid that was caught up in the trees. When he came down, I also found a German patrol waiting.” The men grimaced collectively at the thought; it was far too easy to remember their own capture to think of someone else’s objectively. “Another baby face suddenly walked in on the whole thing… and then the Krauts shot them both, close range.”
For a moment, the others were too stunned to speak. Then Carter barely whispered, “Colonel, that’s against the Geneva Convention, isn’t it?”
“Do you see know of anyone out in the woods who could confirm that?” Hogan asked wearily. The others shook their heads slowly. “One of the Germans said something about taking no prisoners. Then they fanned out to look for the others. I had to take off or risk exposing us as well.” Hogan stared hard at the table. “I don’t mind telling you, it was a pretty sobering experience.”
“Maybe that’s what London was talking about,” Kinch mused.
“London?” Hogan said.
“Yeah, Colonel. London radioed before you came back, saying they don’t want anyone out of camp until further notice. They didn’t give any reason. There didn’t seem any point in mentioning it till now, since you made the same decision,” Kinch added hastily. He waited for the fallout.
There wasn’t any. “No,” Hogan agreed, “I think I would have been just a little irritated with their sense of timing.” He looked at Newkirk. “Looks like you and I broke the rules.”
Newkirk shrugged. “So, same routine as always, sir.”
“Yeah. Only this time I wish we had gone by the book!”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Roll call the following morning was a quiet affair. Neither Hogan nor Klink had had much sleep, and the cold winter wind blowing around Barracks Two left no one in the mood for conversation. Curious though he was about the cause of Klink’s unease in facing the assembly, Hogan nonetheless felt a slight sense of foreboding when he was summoned to the Kommandant’s office after morning mess.
“You wanted to see me, Kommandant?” Hogan asked.
“Yes, Hogan,” Klink replied, turning to face the American. Hogan looked carefully at Klink’s face. There were dark circles under his eyes, and grooves in his forehead that seemed to indicate that he had spent a long time with a furrowed brow recently, thinking of things perhaps none too pleasant. What he didn’t know was that Klink was making the same appraisal of him. “Hogan,” Klink began. He stopped and then sat down at his desk.
Hogan looked at the Kommandant, growing more concerned by the minute. “Something wrong, Colonel Klink?” he asked.
“Hogan,” Klink began again, “Hogan…” He couldn’t finish what he knew he had to say.
Hogan swallowed hard. What the hell is going on? “Yes, Kommandant?”
“Hogan, you need to escape.”
Hogan laughed loud and long, relieved at Klink’s joke at his expense. Wrapping his arms around his chest, Hogan relaxed. “That’s very funny, Kommandant!” he exclaimed, still laughing. The German didn’t seem to be joining in the fun, however, and Hogan’s good humor abruptly ended. “Uh—Kommandant, you’re—you’re kidding, right?” Hogan laughed again, tentatively. “You don’t really expect me to believe that you actually want me to—” He faltered, not for the first time in the last twenty-four hours uncertain about something. It was a feeling he didn’t like. His arms dropped to his sides. “Colonel Klink?”
Klink seemed to consider before speaking. Finally he looked around the room like a paranoiac and whispered, “Hogan, are you quite certain you were not followed when you came here?”
Hogan frowned and became even more alarmed. “I didn’t check; I don’t usually have any reason to worry about spies when I come to your office, Kommandant,” Hogan answered. Except my own! God, I wish they were listening to this! “What’s this all about?”
Klink raised a finger. “Just a minute,” he said in a hushed voice. Klink got up and walked around his office, seeming to pounce on any item that was remotely out of place. He pulled flowers out of a vase, pulled glasses quickly off counter tops, and wildly opened the door in his office that led to his quarters. Nothing seemed to be askew. Then, leaving Hogan still very concerned and in the dark, Klink opened the door to his antechamber. “Fraulein Hilda, would you please go down to the motor pool and tell Sergeant Schultz that I want him to supervise the maintenance at the guards’ house? Then go tell Corporal Langenscheidt that he needs to recheck the supply hut before you put in your requisitions for the month.”
Hogan heard a slightly bewildered, “Jawohl, Herr Kommandant,” come from the other room, and noticed Klink didn’t close the door to turn back to his senior POW until Hilda closed the door behind her on the way out.
Klink came back to stand almost nose to nose with Hogan. “Hogan, you need to get away from Stalag 13,” Klink said in a whisper.
“I’ve been telling you that for years, sir.” Hogan tried to laugh, but his heart was racing and he couldn’t help but feel that this wasn’t going to be a typical saboteurs’ romp. “But you run this place with a fist of iron—no one’s ever escaped from Stalag 13, Kommandant.” Is he trying to flush me out? This would certainly be a new approach.
“Then I will have to help you,” Klink insisted. “You must get away, and it must be soon.”
Hogan was troubled by Klink’s apparent sincerity. If there was one thing he could always count on about Klink, it was that when the German was putting on an act, it was obvious. And this was no act. “I don’t understand, Kommandant. What are you saying?”
“Hogan,” Klink practically hissed, “I am telling you that—” Klink suddenly stopped. He drew away from Hogan as if the American was a cobra and crossed to relative safety behind his desk. He rubbed his hands together in front of his face, a nervous habit Hogan had grown accustomed to reading. Klink was anxious, and torn. “I don’t know what I am telling you.” He stopped kneading and tucked his fists under his arms, refusing to look at Hogan. “Forget I spoke.”
Hogan raised an eyebrow. He couldn’t let go of it now. There was something big, really big, brewing around Stalag 13, and if Klink was this upset it had to be important enough to affect the operation. “It’s kind of hard to do that, Kommandant.” Hogan tried to put on a mask of lightness. “Of course, you were just toying with me, right, sir? Trying to see if the Escape Committee’s been digging any more tunnels?”
Klink turned almost eagerly to Hogan. “Have they?” he asked all in a rush.
Hogan was starting to feel a small thrill of panic deep down inside. “Uh—well, they always have a number of projects on the go, Colonel. But I think it’s a bit cold for tunnels—ground’s too hard to dig through. After all, we only have our hands, sir—and a few spoons we’ve taken from the mess hall.”
Klink seemed disappointed. “Oh,” he said. “I see.”
“Permission to speak freely, sir,” Hogan requested.
“Granted,” Klink said almost reluctantly.
“What’s wrong, Kommandant?” Hogan asked. “You don’t seem like your normal, warm self today.” He moved in a bit closer. Klink seemed to be hesitant about being near the POW and moved away. Hogan persisted in his pursuit. “You seem tired. Distant.”
Klink and Hogan ended up at the front of Klink’s desk, right where Klink didn’t want to be. Why couldn’t Hogan leave well enough alone? “I’ve had a lot on my mind lately.” Klink tried to sound dismissive. “You look like you could use a good night’s sleep yourself, Colonel.”
“Well, you know how it is, Kommandant. An officer’s life—wine, women, and song till all hours of the night.” Hogan paused for effect. “Of course, since I’m a prisoner, sir, it’s more like water, pin-ups and badly played harmonica music. But one day that will change.”
Sooner than you think, Klink thought. “I’m sure it will, Hogan.”
“When General Patton comes roaring through that front gate, I’ll have some real wine, real women, and real American music.” Hogan continued goading the German. Come on, Klink; break! What’s really going on here?
Klink waved Hogan’s images away. They’re never going to become reality for you, he thought. “Please, Hogan, not today.”
“Begging your pardon, Kommandant, but it’s you who asked to see me this morning. And if I may say so, you seem more than a bit on edge. Can I help?”
Klink’s eyes continued to look worried. Pained, thought Hogan suddenly. “Hogan,” Klink said finally. He came so close Hogan could feel Klink’s breath on his cheek. “Hogan, I meant what I said before. You have to get out. You don’t have much time.”
“What do you mean?” Hogan asked, struggling to maintain his composure. Had someone discovered the operation?
“General Burkhalter called yesterday. The Fuhrer has put out a general order. All enemy air corps officers are to be executed.”
Hogan felt himself go cold. Automatically, he asked, “Are you sure?”
“Quite sure,” Klink answered. “There is to be no prison camp space for officers. That means—”
“That downed officers are shot on sight,” Hogan finished. What he had seen last night suddenly flashed in his mind. “And anyone else who’s caught in the crossfire.” Desperate to deny what he was hearing, Hogan asked, “Is this order going to be rescinded? I mean, Mr. Nutty’s come up with some pretty hare-brained schemes in the past, but somehow he’s been talked out of them, right?”
“Not all of them,” Klink said.
“What about enlisted men?” Hogan asked.
“I don’t know. The order may be expanded. At the moment it’s just officers. And that means you, Hogan.” Klink felt his knees failing him, and he felt his way around his desk to sit down.
Hogan felt his head swimming and struggled to carry on a coherent conversation. “Why are you telling me this?” he managed. “You could be shot for treason.”
Klink seemed terrified even to be speaking. “I know,” he said. “But Hogan—” He cut himself off, unable to continue.
“How do I know this isn’t just a trick?” Hogan pressed. He didn’t know why he was trying; he could tell by Klink’s appearance that this wasn’t any ploy to catch him at something. “You could be telling me this so I try to escape, and then I’m shot.”
“Hogan!” Klink burst. Hogan paused, stunned. “The Gestapo will be here the day after tomorrow to make sure all orders are carried out. Unless the Fuhrer changes his mind before then, if you are here when they arrive you will not be here when they leave.”
Klink’s words drove straight through Hogan, and the American slipped almost bonelessly into the chair in front of the desk. “You’re serious, aren’t you?” he said.
“Deadly serious,” Klink replied. “Hogan, you always seem to have a trick or two up your sleeve. You always seem to get yourself out of trouble… and sometimes me, too. This time, you’re going to need every trick you have.”
Hogan tried to hear Klink over the voices screaming in his head. “What’s in it for you? Why are you warning me?”
Klink made a futile gesture with his hands. “It is murder, Colonel Hogan,” he said in a whisper. He did not look at his prisoner. “We already have you; you cannot harm the Fatherland any more. And I love my country… but I cannot stand by and condone cold-blooded murder… not even for the Fuhrer.” His voice was less than a whisper as he finished.
Hogan paused, still frozen by his emotions, then tried to laugh. “For a minute I thought you were going to say it was my sparkling personality,” he said, not at all confident in his speech.
“There is that, too,” Klink answered sincerely. He looked Hogan in the eye. Hogan was startled. “Though we are enemies, Colonel Hogan, I like to think that in different circumstances we might have been friends. And a friend would not let a friend face the firing squad.”
Hogan swallowed, still fighting to assimilate everything he was hearing. His whole universe was changing in an instant, and it was dizzying. “So you’re taking a chance on it yourself?” he said.
Klink shrugged. “I will be safe. General Burkhalter always thought you were clever enough to get out of here anyway. It will be the first real escape from Stalag 13. But no one needs to know I helped precipitate it—do they, Hogan?” Klink added suddenly.
Hogan shook his head, still woozy. “No,” he whispered, “no, of course not.” Hogan covered his face with his hands and took in a deep breath to recover from the shock of this morning’s bombshell. Opening his eyes, he steeled himself and said more firmly than he felt, “Thank you for that information, Kommandant. I’ll have to get back to you on it.” With a nod toward the door, Hogan added, louder, “And if you’d consider those supplies for the men when Hilda puts in her requisition this month, I’m sure they’d appreciate it, sir.”
Hogan walked toward the door on shaky legs, and then turned back to Klink, offered him a genuine salute, and left without even noticing if it had been returned.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Kinch rushed to Hogan’s side as the Colonel entered Barracks Two. “Colonel, are you all right?” Hogan nodded and wiped the back of his hand across his mouth as Kinch led him to the table; he was sweating and shaking, something he was trying unsuccessfully to hide from his radioman. “You’re white as a sheet!”
Hogan nodded again, trying to pull himself together. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, Kinch, sorry. Must have been something I ate.”
Kinch wasn’t fooled. “Or something that happened with Klink.”
Hogan tried to bring his emotions under control. “I’ll be okay in a minute, Kinch.” Hogan’s mind was racing as fast as his heart. If what Klink said was true, there was so much to consider before taking any action. And so little time to decide what those actions should be. Telling his men about this development in their prison lives before he’d had time to think things out would only lead to panic when he didn’t have answers for them; he would have to go through it all first.
With only his own terror for company.
Hogan’s eyes reflected something that Kinch had rarely seen in the man until last night: fear. The tremors were unmistakable; the bravado was kidding neither of them. “Colonel,” Kinch began, softly, “can we help?”
“I don’t think so, Kinch,” Hogan said shakily. “I just need to work some things out. I’ll let you know when I know what we need to do.” Hogan got up and headed unsteadily for his quarters.
“Colonel, is the operation in trouble?”
Hogan stopped and turned back to Kinch. “That would be one I could fix,” he said ruefully.
Kinch felt a cold dread of his own inside, when he watched Hogan close the door behind him and let out a muffled cry of mental anguish that seemed to echo like gunfire through the quiet hut.
The Rest Of The Story
I’ve got to get out of here!
A panic unlike any he had ever felt before was coursing through Hogan’s mind and body like a runaway train on a downhill track. Pacing was impossible; sitting still was even less possible. Hogan was twitching like a nervous cat and so unaccustomed to the unease that he started to question his own sanity.
I have to escape! How many nails were in that loose board in the ceiling? Eight. Would have been more if he had had the chance to get to it after the second time it nearly came crashing down on his head after a fierce rainstorm.
I’ll just… go through the tunnel and get to the Underground, and they’ll get me out, just like we’ve gotten everyone else out who’s needed to go before me. He took a good look at a knot in the plank near the bed—he’d never noticed before that it seemed to resemble a sparrow in flight. He wondered how that had formed.
Yeah, right, then the Gestapo comes plowing through the camp and starts having a field day with my men… they discover the operation and everyone is shot. One, two, three, four pencils sitting in the old tin can converted to a holder on his desk. One of them was strangely dull…. Carter must have taken one to do some of that light sketching he had been caught out doing in secret last week. The embarrassment of the poor Sergeant when he had his talent unveiled!
Just go… you’ve got to just go. No one would expect you to sit here and just wait to be shot in cold blood. Hogan noticed his crush cap was starting to look worn along the brim. Time to ask the Red Cross to finagle another one for him. There was nothing he liked about looking sloppy in uniform, even if it wasn’t dress uniform.
Who would take over the operation? How would it run? And how long before Hitler’s order gets extended? What about my men? The sky was turning a dark grey; rain would be coming this afternoon, and if it got cold enough tonight, snow would come next. Hogan thought of the two flyers he had seen shot down—were their bodies still out there, waiting for the snow to provide them with a coffin? Or had they been taken away? In either case, their families would be confronted with heartbreaking news soon enough.
Hogan pressed the balls of his hands fiercely into his eyes, his fists pushing against his forehead, the fire in his brain making him nearly gasp for air. He had to find a way to concentrate, to regain control of his traumatized mind and his panicked emotions.
Two days. Klink told him he had two days before the Gestapo showed up and made sure that Hogan wasn’t taking up any more space in the barracks. It would take Hogan that long to bring himself under control, he thought fleetingly to himself. But in the meantime, he had to come up with a plan, if there was one. And fast.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Darkness was settling in on the camp, and still Hogan had not come out of his quarters except when summoned for roll call. Kinch had told the others what he had witnessed, in low tones so as not to disturb their commanding officer, and since then the group had been on pins and needles, wondering if and when Hogan would reveal what was going on. It had not escaped any of their notice when Hogan had stood to be counted, that there was a distinct unease between him and Klink, and that Hogan had been uncharacteristically silent, with his eyes mainly studying the cold, cracked ground beneath his feet. When he did look at his men, it was with scrutinizing, almost fearful eyes that were now puffy red pools over black, heavy circles. Everyone had wanted to ask what was wrong, and how they could help. But no one dared. When Hogan was ready, he would tell.
But the wait was killing them.
Kinch suddenly appeared from below, holding a piece of paper that normally he would not hesitate to take directly to Hogan, even if he was asleep. But now, he suspected that Hogan was not only not asleep, but not necessarily able to cope with anything else to complicate what was appearing to be an abnormally complicated and confusing week already.
“Something going on, Kinch?” asked Newkirk, blowing a stream of smoke from one of the cigarettes that he hadn’t stopped smoking since he last saw Hogan. The gov’nor’s mood can’t be good for my health, Newkirk remembered thinking, as he lit his seventh one.
“More from London about their order not to leave the camp,” he replied.
“Do tell,” Newkirk said, as Carter and Le Beau gathered close.
“You know it has to go to the Colonel first,” Kinch replied. They turned almost as one toward the closed door.
“Oh yes?” Le Beau said. “And you want to disturb him now?”
Kinch shrugged, uncertain. “You know he’d be more upset if we walked on egg shells around him. He doesn’t like his mood to affect the operation.”
“Oui, but there is something different about the way he is acting this time, Kinch. I have never seen him like this.”
Carter nodded agreement as he sat down at the table. “Yeah. I mean, the Colonel’s never missed a chance to have a go at Colonel Klink before. And he always looks him in the eye. But this afternoon he was just… there. But not there.”
For once no one corrected Carter. This time he seemed right on target, even if it sounded wrong. “Still, it’s the Colonel’s orders that he hears what London has to say straight off.” Kinch braced himself and headed for Hogan’s door. “No matter what he’s doing in there.”
Kinch knocked softly on the door to Hogan’s quarters as the others crowded behind him, trying to get a look inside the room. Hogan’s soft order to enter was almost enough to send them all in the opposite direction, but Kinch, determined to do the right thing, opened the door.
Kinch’s eyes had to adjust to the dimness as Hogan hadn’t turned on his light. Blinking, he made out the still figure of his commanding officer sitting on the edge of his bunk, leaning with his elbows on his thighs, staring at nothing. “Colonel?” Kinch said, edging his way in, reluctantly.
“Yeah, Kinch.” The voice was hollow, weary.
“Message from London, Colonel.”
Hogan raised his head, a flicker of interest reflected in his eyes with help from the light from the common room. “What is it?”
“They said orders to stand down have been due to unconfirmed reports of a big shake-up at Hitler’s headquarters. Rumors of serious recriminations for anyone caught outside a prison camp.”
Hogan’s mind went back to those two children he had watched be mowed down last night. “Yeah, well, you can tell them it’s not unconfirmed.”
“Also, they say they have confirmed the location of an oil refinery about ten miles from here that the Krauts have been using to supply troops, and they’ve also been keeping convoy trucks there that carry fuel and weapons heading for the Eastern front.”
“And… they want us to do something about it, sir. The convoy is supposed to be heading out tomorrow night at midnight.”
Hogan snorted. “They want us to stand down, and they want us to go out?”
“They were just explaining the stand down order,” Kinch added. “They say now they want us to proceed with caution… immediately.”
Hogan laughed bitterly. Kinch flinched. “Expendable. That’s what we’ve always been, right?” Hogan stood up. “Okay, Kinch. Tell London we accept. No, make that, tell them I accept. You fellas aren’t going out till we know it’s a bit safer than what I saw last night. I myself have nothing to lose.”
He brushed past Kinch as the others raced for an inconspicuous post elsewhere in the barracks, and walked out into the compound.
Kinch looked at the others, bewildered. “‘Nothing to lose’?”
“Something’s going on, mate,” Newkirk declared. “There’s a big something eating at the gov’nor, and he’s holding back.”
“And another bit of happy news came in, too,” Kinch added.
“What else could there be?” Carter asked.
“The Underground reports lots of patrols still in the area, and a couple of locals say they’re sure they’re being watched. They’re going to have to close up shop until things cool off.”
“Lovely,” Le Beau nearly spat. “So we are to go out, knowing that the Krauts are all over the place, and have no back up? Mon Colonel is right—they do not think of us as anything but rag dolls to throw away when they are done playing with us.”
“Does the gov’nor know all this?” Newkirk asked.
Kinch shook his head. “But the way he’s acting, there’s more to this than meets the eye, and we won’t know what it is till he cracks and tells us.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“General Burkhalter’s car has just pulled into camp,” Le Beau announced the next morning, turning from the laundry he was carefully hanging on the makeshift clothes line. Hogan pulled away from the wall he was leaning against and without a word walked away. The others exchanged worried looks and burst back into the barracks to activate the listening device they had planted in Klink’s office—connected to a coffee pot receiver they kept under Hogan’s desk.
“…that you are going to make sure everything is done according to the Fuhrer’s orders, Klink,” Burkhalter was saying when they got it working.
Hogan’s men raised their eyebrows. “Of course, General Burkhalter,” Klink replied, sounding less than enthusiastic.
“What’s the matter, Klink? I thought you would be more than happy to have Hogan out of your hair.”
“Oh, I am, I am.” Klink was so quick to respond that his answer was nearly missed as the men gasped at Burkhalter’s revelation. Hogan leaving? “It’s just that it is so sudden.”
“You know how the Fuhrer is when he gets an idea,” Burkhalter said. The aging General paced slowly in front of Klink’s desk, nodding his head as he agreed with the speed of the command down the ranks. But if there was one thing Albert Burkhalter had learned as a member of Hitler’s staff, it was not to hesitate for a second when the Fuhrer demanded action. Otherwise, he could be on the receiving end of one of the man’s less than rational temper tantrums. “He wants to make sure this is done immediately. At all camps, and in all places.”
“But General Burkhalter, the last time the Fuhrer suggested something like this, Reichsmarshal Goering talked him out of it!” Klink reminded him. He added in a lower voice, “And it is against the Geneva Prisoner of War Convention.”
“Do you think it is wise to remind the Fuhrer of such things, Klink?”
“No, Herr General,” Klink nearly whimpered. “It’s just that… if we do this now, and then the Fuhrer changes his mind…”
Hogan’s men were becoming more and more concerned as they listened to the exchange. None of what was being said made sense. But if Hogan was leaving, perhaps Klink had told him so, and Hogan had simply been unable to find a way to break the news to them? That, at least, would account for his mood.
“The Gestapo is coming in tomorrow, Klink. You are to give them your complete cooperation.”
“Of course, Herr General.”
“You have, of course, kept this a secret?”
“Oh, of course, General Burkhalter. No one knows about this.” A pause. “I wish I didn’t know about it.”
“You have become too comfortable with Hogan, Klink. You need to be more detached. This order of the Fuhrer’s in the end will perhaps be good for you. And it will free up some space in your camp—you are always telling me you need more room for your prisoners, since no one ever escapes.” Burkhalter laughed.
Le Beau’s stomach turned. “He is talking about taking mon Colonel away from us, and he is laughing.”
“Yes, sir,” Klink labored to answer. “You know, General Burkhalter, I cannot help but think that in Colonel Hogan’s case, execution is not the best answer—”
A collective gasp escaped the eavesdroppers’ mouths. What was that Klink just said?
“…better if perhaps the Gestapo were to take Hogan back to Headquarters for more intensive questioning. You know he has always been considered such an important prisoner. And if he is somehow responsible for the activities around the camp, as Major Hochstetter says, then perhaps Hogan could be of more use if he—”
“Ach—Hochstetter,” Burkhalter dismissed, pouring himself a glass of schnapps from Klink’s decanter; “he is a small man with a big mouth. But he is Gestapo. And when he gets here tomorrow, I am sure he will be quite happy to do the work the Fuhrer has commanded of him.”
All too happy, Klink thought. He sat at his desk. “General Burkhalter, Hogan has been quite vocal lately about escaping.” Maybe if I can prepare him for Hogan not being here when the time comes…
The prisoners looked at each other, confused. This was anything but true; as a matter of fact, Hogan always made a point of assuring Klink that he would do anything not to ruin the Kommandant’s perfect No Escape record. What was Klink trying to do?
“Escaping?” Burkhalter repeated. He turned to Klink. “Well, you have two choices, Klink. You can either put Hogan in the cooler to make sure he is here tomorrow, or you can let him escape—with the Fuhrer’s order that there be no room in prison camps for enemy air corps officers, when he is caught the same goal will be achieved, yes? I expect you would be more anxious to put him in the cooler; that way your No Escapes record will remain unbroken.”
Klink swallowed the bad taste that rose into his throat. My record is nothing next to an innocent human life. “The other prisoners will be very upset when this happens,” he managed to say.
“That is what you have guards for. If the prisoners are out of control, your guards can control them… with their rifles. Where is Hogan now?”
“I expect he is in his quarters, General.”
“Does he suspect anything?”
“I don’t think so, Herr General.”
“You have not faced Hogan with that same sour face you are showing me, have you? That would be a red flag to a bull like Hogan, Klink.”
“No, Herr General. I think it was just something I ate.”
At that moment the door to Barracks Two flew open. Hogan’s men quickly disassembled the coffee pot and shoved it under Hogan’s desk. Hogan walked in just as they were finishing. “Anything good on the pot?” he asked.
No one answered. Hogan looked from one man to the other, registering their pale faces, their traumatized eyes, their pity. They knew. “So, you know what’s going on,” he said, walking back out to the common room.
The men followed. “You’ve got to leave, Colonel,” Le Beau said, the first to dare speak.
“’E’s right, sir, you can’t stay with an order like that ’anging over your ’ead. Come tomorrow, Hochstetter’ll be here to do his worst,” Newkirk agreed.
Hogan paused at the stove, holding a cup but unable to remember what to do with it.
“Klink told Burkhalter he didn’t tell you. How did you find out?” Kinch asked.
“Klink told me,” Hogan said, disturbed by the weakness of his own voice. He carried his empty cup to the table. “He couldn’t keep it to himself.” He tried to force a grin onto his face. “You know how I always charm him.” The grin disappeared as he played ineffectively with the cup. “He practically begged me to escape.”
“For once I agree with the filthy Bosche,” Le Beau admitted.
“Louis’s right, boy—I mean sir!” Carter said. “Otherwise the Gestapo’s gonna—”
“Carter!” Kinch chastised the Sergeant into silence. He turned to Hogan. “Colonel, we’ll get you out through the tunnel.”
Hogan shook his head. “There’ll be Krauts all over the woods. With that order out it’d be one sighting and bang: I’m dead.” Hogan stood up. “We still have a mission to complete, right? That oil refinery and those trucks are going to drag this war out and get more of our boys killed. Hochstetter’s not coming till tomorrow; that gives me a whole day before I have to panic, right?”
“Right,” Kinch said, trying to support Hogan's attempt at lightness—the Colonel’s automatic defense against what must be a feeling of pure panic. “That’s plenty of time.”
“I might get the Underground to give me a hand; I don't want you fellas involved while all this is going on. The ‘no prisoners’ order doesn't include enlisted men yet, but what happened last night makes me wonder if anyone will really take notice of that.”
“No go, Colonel,” Kinch said regretfully. Hogan looked at him questioningly. “The Underground says they’re being watched like hawks at the moment; they’re shutting down till the Krauts ease up.”
Hogan shook his head and sighed heavily. “Well, that’s that, then.” Hogan swirled imaginary contents in his empty cup and headed toward his room. “Guess I’m on my own. London always said they'd deny knowledge of our activities if we were caught. So one takes a chance on this one but me. And that’s an order.”
“Unph.” Hogan grunted from the exertion as he lifted and lowered the barbells in the camp’s erholungshalle, or recovery area, a hut fitted out for prisoners and camp personnel who needed rehabilitation after an illness or injury. He had put more weight on the barbells than he could normally handle with ease, but he wanted to have to concentrate on something unimportant, hoping the work would help disperse some of the almost electric energy flowing through his veins, and clear his mind so he could think logically in the coming hours. But it wasn’t working; his tank tee shirt was nearly soaked through, and his face was glistening with sweat, but all he could think about was one thing: he was marked for death, and he was scared.
He knew that if he did nothing, he would simply be shot. If he escaped, then the Germans would be out looking for him, and if he was caught he would be shot. If he waited in the tunnel for a chance to wend his way through the Underground, then anyone he was caught with outside the camp would be shot with him. If he just plain hid, then he might not be shot, but he would still die—inside, while he watched the men under his command struggle with the takeover of the camp by Gestapo men already disinclined to be less than kind or humane to the enemy. The choices were less than heartening.
And then there was the question of the assignment from London. Allied High Command obviously knew there were problems; they didn’t want anyone to go out—anyone but Hogan and his men. And while the order to leave no prison space for downed flyers only applied to officers at the moment, Hogan was not confident that all enemy soldiers would abide by that distinction—something made all too obvious to him the other night.
His first instinct was self-preservation: get out, forget the mission, and take his chances, carefully. But every time he concocted a plan that got him as far as a safe passage to England, he thought of all the times they had beaten the odds before, pulling off what was touted to be the impossible, in order to shorten the war a bit, to tip the odds in favor of the good guys, to help save God knew how many innocent lives. If they let that oil refinery go, and let those trucks bring fuel to the Russian front, then Hogan might live, but thousands of others would die. And since his chance of escaping unscathed seemed slim at best anyway, the least he could do was bring down a few Krauts with him.
But it’s not fair! his mind protested, screaming desperately. I could almost accept being shot for being a spy and a saboteur—but not for this! Nor for simply being what they made me in the first place: a prisoner of war! Hogan drew the barbells up till they were even with his shoulders. He felt himself sweating more heavily as his muscles strained to support the weight. Staring only at the opposite wall, he felt his arms trembling, and when he felt as though he could take no more, he held for another fifteen seconds, before finally dropping the barbells on the floor mat with a loud exhalation of air.
He stood for a moment to catch his breath, hands on his knees, eyes closed, head almost spinning, and when he opened his eyes he saw a pair of boots waiting beside him. Following the path up the legs, his eyes finally alit on Newkirk, who was simply watching him, eyes troubled, hands in pockets. Hogan straightened and headed for a bucket of water nearby. He picked up the ladle and took in a long drink, then used the towel he had placed next to the bucket to wipe his face before speaking. “What can I do for you?” Hogan asked, not really wanting to talk, but thinking wryly he might not get many more chances. He rubbed his hair briefly and hung the towel around his neck. He didn’t look at the Corporal.
“We have an idea, Colonel ’Ogan, sir,” Newkirk started.
Hogan sighed. It was going to be twenty four hours of plans. Plans that were all well-meaning, but which he was not in a frame of mind to dissect, or even to comprehend. “I’ve thought of a few plans, too,” Hogan said, staring at the water. “But they all end the same way,” he added almost bitterly. Snap out of it! he chastised himself. You don’t need to scare them to death, too.
Newkirk looked around the room, then decided to trust their regular checks for hidden listening devices and said, “We want to hide you in the tunnel for awhile, sir. Just till things settle down.”
Hogan paused. Newkirk’s voice had been uncharacteristically gentle when he made the proposal. Soothing and calming. Hogan grimaced as he realized he had not been able to hide his feelings from his men as this crisis faced them—the one time when they would need him to be calmer than he had ever been before. Now, they were trying to pacify him, instead of the other way around. “And how long do you think that would be?” Hogan asked quietly.
“Well, like Burkhalter said, ol’ Scramble Brains has made this kind of decision before, but he’s always been convinced to change ’is mind,” Newkirk offered.
“And in the meantime, the Gestapo tear this place apart looking for any sign of me, trek through the woods to find any saboteurs they can—and probably come up with a nice handful of Underground agents—and then take over the camp when they consider Klink’s failure, because the timing of my getaway would seem just a trifle too suspicious, no matter how safe he thinks he is.” Hogan looked at Newkirk. The Corporal could see only weariness in his commanding officer, and a look that was all too close to resignation, which distressed him. Hogan never gave up. Never!
Hogan understood Newkirk’s hesitation. “Sorry, Newkirk,” he said. “I know you fellas are trying to help. I’m sure the tunnel will come in handy. I just need to be careful about when. If I use it too soon, I get everyone in the dog house, or worse. If I use it too late… well, same trouble.” He shook his head. “And then there’s London.”
“Ruddy London,” Newkirk spat out. “Kinch called them, you know, gov’nor. Gave them the specifics of that shake up they were worried about.” Hogan listened. “They told us we had to protect Papa Bear at all costs.” Hogan nearly smiled, but something in Newkirk’s tone told him that wasn’t all London wanted. “Then they said they wanted to make sure we got to the oil refinery before the trucks headed out tonight.”
Hogan nodded and nearly laughed at the absurdity of it all. “Now for my next magic trick—!” Hogan announced sarcastically. He held out his arms. “Nothing up my sleeves—hey, look at that, no sleeves at all!” He let his arms drop by his sides.
Newkirk looked on, helpless. If all the magic he had learned growing up on the streets of London could have helped now, he would have done every trick in the book. But as it was, nothing he had learned could help him face the almost certain loss of his commanding officer, and, if he admitted it to himself, a man he considered a close friend.
“Newkirk,” Hogan declared, “I have a lot to do tonight, and precious little time to do it. Go back and get Carter to prepare some of his finest for me, will you? Something nice to go in those trucks. And some hand grenades. And ask Le Beau to make me up something special for dinner; I’m starting to feel peckish. Nothing like a good Last Supper to tide you over till…” He let his sentence trail off.
Newkirk answered softly, “Yes, Colonel.”
Hogan cleared his throat. “Come on; I’m not going down without a fight. Let’s just make sure that if I do have to go that it’s in a blaze of glory.”
“Right, gov’nor,” Newkirk said, his voice oddly strangled and his eyes unusually wet.
“And right now, I’d better have a shower. Otherwise, you’ll put me in the tunnel before I’m due.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Colonel Hogan, the Kommandant would like to see you in his office.” Bulky Sergeant of the Guard Hans Schultz eyed the meal being consumed at the common room table. Usually, dinner in the barracks was a lively affair, even for men held prisoner by the enemy. But tonight, something was different, and Schultz could sense it—but his first instinct was to check and make sure it didn’t have anything to do with the quality of the food before them.
“Not now, Schultz.” Hogan waved him away without looking at him. “I need to be with my men.” He looked at his almost untouched meal, so carefully prepared by Corporal Le Beau, and wished with all his heart he could eat it so the Frenchman would feel comforted. But he couldn’t.
“Please, Colonel Hogan—the Kommandant, he is very anxious. He had a big meeting with General Burkhalter today, and you know how the big shots always make him nervous.”
Hogan’s men exchanged glances. Hogan avoided their eyes. “Well, Burkhalter has that effect on everybody, not just Klink. What did they talk about, Schultz?” Hogan asked, trying to gauge how much the guard knew.
“The Kommandant and the General did not take me into their confidence,” Schultz said, sounding relieved. Hogan interpreted the tone of voice as portraying genuine ignorance of the situation.
“So where did ol’ Kraut-face go?” asked Newkirk irreverently.
Schultz cringed at the lack of respect but did not reprimand the Englishman. “The General had said he had some important business to attend to at the camp and was going to stay the night—” Hogan raised his eyebrows. “But Kommandant Klink convinced him that he would be more comfortable staying at a hotel in Hammelburg, since our VIP quarters are being refurbished, and he should come back next week.”
“Renovations, eh, Schultz?” Kinch asked.
Schultz gave a confused look. “I do not understand why he said such a thing, Sergeant Kinchloe. There is no work being done in the VIP quarters. That was done two weeks ago.” He turned to Hogan. “But, Colonel Klink asked me to tell him when the General left the camp, and when I did, he sent me to get you. So please, Colonel Hogan. Come nicely, please don’t make me go back to the Kommandant’s office without you.”
Hogan sighed and stood up. “Okay, Schultz, okay. Just for you, though.” He looked at his plate. “I suppose you haven’t eaten yet,” he surmised.
Schultz gazed lovingly at the food left to go cold. “Nein,” he said breathlessly.
Le Beau was skeptical. “You? Miss evening mess? I don’t think so, Schultzie,” he scoffed.
Schultz twitched his moustache. “Well, strictly speaking, I did not miss dinner, Cockroach… it’s just that they never seem to give us enough, and I stay hungry.”
“Here,” said Hogan, picking up his plate and pushing it at the guard. “Have mine.” He looked apologetically at Le Beau. “No sense in having it go to waste.”
Le Beau nodded, disheartened. “Oui. I understand, Colonel.”
Picking at the delights on the plate, Schultz gallantly held the barracks door open for Hogan, who zipped up his coat, grabbed his crush cap, and walked out, with as little confidence as he had when he first arrived at Stalag 13 three years ago.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Colonel Hogan, why are you still here?”
Klink’s words came out more as a plea than as a question. When Hogan entered the office, Klink had immediately shut the door and ushered the POW to a chair very close to his desk. Then he had sat down and nervously tapped the blotter on his desk before finally stating the reason for this evening summons.
Hogan crossed his arms, angry. “Where do you expect me to go?” he asked.
“Anywhere, Hogan, anywhere! I told you what was going to happen here. General Burkhalter has already been here today—”
“Thought I noticed a distinct odor in the air,” Hogan sneered.
“Hogan,” Klink nearly hissed, “this is no time for flippancy. General Burkhalter was going to stay but I convinced him to stay in Hammelburg for the night so you have a chance to get out. The Gestapo is coming in tomorrow. They will take over this camp and do as they please.”
“Then it’s business as usual,” Hogan said. Klink started trembling but didn’t speak. “Look, Kommandant,” Hogan said, leaning forward, “Let’s face it. You and I both know that the Gestapo has always done whatever it wants here. They run roughshod over you any time they like. And what’s ol’ Iron Eagle do? Nothing—more like lead than iron.” Hogan sat back, still tense. “Whether I’m here or ten miles outside the wire, they’re going to find me.”
“Then don’t be there,” Klink said, too upset to hear the accusations Hogan had made. Why was Hogan hanging around?
“Don’t be ten miles outside the wire. Be farther away than that. Go away, go far, far away, so when they come they have no hope of finding you at all!”
“And what happens to my men, Kommandant? I go, the Gestapo gets cranky, they take over the camp, push you out, and start interrogating my men, and there goes the neighborhood! Never mind that they don’t know anything.”
“Hogan, you cannot stay here. The Fuhrer is showing no indication of changing his mind! He was so angry after the mass escape at Stalag 3 in March that he wanted to shoot everyone! Reichsmarshal Goering had to convince him that shooting all those men was unwise. I don’t know if he will be able to do the same again.”
Hogan raised an eyebrow. “I’m sure if the head of the Luftwaffe is trying to stop a massacre, it’s not because it’s the humane thing to do,” he snorted. Hogan stood up. “Look, Kommandant, I have work to do tonight. I’ll be happy to take you up on your offer tomorrow after roll call. It’ll be safer for my men, and a good alibi for you.”
“But you don’t understand, Hogan; Major Hochstetter will be here at noon—tomorrow will be too late!”
Hogan thought of the refinery and the trucks that were probably loading up to travel as they spoke. “You’re right, Kommandant. Tomorrow will be too late. See you in the morning. And don’t you worry; I’m not planning on volunteering to be put in front of a firing squad. I’ll think of something to suit everyone.” I hope.
All Through The Night
“This your best stuff, Carter?” Hogan asked, taking a handful of explosives from the Sergeant and putting them into a pack.
Carter nodded, gulping, and kept handing Hogan the equipment he needed. He never said a word, just watched Hogan as the Colonel moved from one place to another. Hogan tried to ignore the puppy eyes and concentrate on the night ahead. He focused more than necessary on the actual packing of the bag, frowning as one explosive was fussy about sharing space. Hogan was uncomfortable being the subject of such intense scrutiny, and dealt with it by making constant small talk, and by avoiding stillness.
“This is how it’s gonna go,” Hogan said. “All you have to do is sit and wait. I’m going to go to the refinery, put some dynamite under those trucks, throw a few grenades, and get out of there. Hochstetter’s not due till lunch time tomorrow. So in the morning I’ll show up for roll call, play it nice and calm. That’ll give Klink some witnesses to my being here, and it just might convince the Gestapo that there’s nothing suspicious about the timing of my convenient disappearing act. That way, if it’s at all possible, this unit can continue to operate.”
Hogan took a chance on facing his men. All he saw were four pairs of anxious eyes. He looked away again and moved the pack toward the bunk that led to the tunnel as he added, “Just in case something happens between now and then—well, here are my orders for you for after I leave. Until a replacement shows up, and that shouldn’t be too far off, Kinch, Newkirk—I want you two to make as many decisions as possible together. I need Kinch’s cool-headedness, and Newkirk’s hot-headedness. You need both to make a unit like this one work. Decisions made solely on logic won’t work… but neither will those based fully on emotion. If you can’t agree, you go Kinch’s way.” Newkirk and Kinch looked at each other, distressed at being appointed before Hogan had even left, and yet knowing it had to be done this way. Newkirk lowered his head, shoving his hands in his pockets and mumbling his understanding, while Kinch just nodded, then bowed his head low and stared at the floor.
Hogan looked at Le Beau and Carter. “I’ll expect you two to give them your full support. And that you’ll get everyone else to do the same.” Carter and Le Beau nodded. “Whoever they send obviously isn’t going to be an officer. But no matter what rank he’s got, I expect you all to do as he says. I don’t want any bad reports.”
The group nodded numbly. The same words Hogan bit back were registering in all their minds: If you’re alive to get reports at all. Hogan’s men couldn’t believe they were quite possibly getting their final commands from the man whom they had come to rely on over the last three years. Continue with someone else? It was impossible! And yet out of respect and acceptance of Hogan, they could only agree to whatever he asked of them.
Hogan turned to Carter. “Carter, your expertise is explosives. No one can beat you at that. Whatever Kinch and Newkirk decide to do—you make the decisions on how it gets blown up. Right?”
Carter could barely swallow. He didn’t want to make decisions. Not because he was afraid to, but because it would mean Colonel Hogan wasn’t there to guide them himself. He was ready to blurt all this out, but somehow his mouth wouldn’t work for more than a few words, and he felt like he was being strangled. “Right, Colonel,” he choked.
“Le Beau,” Hogan began. He looked at the small Frenchman, whose eyes looked like two dark pools, threatening to spill over onto his cheeks.
Le Beau visibly straightened and swallowed hard, determined to be strong. “Oui, Colonel,” he said, cursing the slight tremor in his voice.
“Louis, it’s your job to make sure they all stay in line—of the group of us, you’re probably the one who sees what’s really going on in people’s minds the most clearly. Use that vision for good, not evil. Okay?”
Louis practically whispered his answer, fighting to stop his bottom lip from trembling. “D’accord, mon Colonel.”
Hogan punched the side of the bunk to release the ladder to the tunnel. “I’ll see you later tonight.” He double-checked his watch, glanced at his dark clothing, picked up the bag, and was gone.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“London said no one is to go out.”
“Bloody London told us to look after the refinery…and to protect Papa Bear at all costs!”
“But the Colonel’s orders were to stay behind, too. And, boy, you know how mad he gets if we don’t follow orders.”
“Zut alors! Of all nights, he should not be alone tonight—think about what is coming for him; we should not have let him go on his own!”
“I say we tag along,” Newkirk insisted.
“Oui, me too,” Le Beau added.
Kinch furrowed his brow. He knew he was right. He knew they were all right. London’s orders had been contradictory, but Hogan’s had been quite clear: no one but the Colonel was to go to the refinery. Kinch wanted desperately to bend to Hogan’s wishes. But, he reasoned, after tomorrow he would never have the chance to back up his commanding officer again. And if anything happened tonight, and they hadn’t tried to help, they would have to live with that lack of action forever.
Still, he closed his eyes as tried not to choke on his own words. “If we disobey Colonel Hogan’s orders now, after all this time, he may think we’re disregarding him before he’s even gone.”
“And if we do not follow him, he may think we are abandoning him before he is gone,” Le Beau countered.
Newkirk blew out a last puff of smoke before crushing out his cigarette on the floor with his foot. “So, what’s it to be, mates?”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Carter, do me a favor and get your elbow out of my ear.”
“Sorry about that, Newkirk—but you said we have to stay close together.”
“Blimey, any closer and you’ll be inside me; now shove off!”
Louis Le Beau approached and gave them a stern look in the darkness. “Quiet, both of you. Do you want to be seen?”
“Sorry, Louis, it’s just that Kinch said we had to make sure no one saw us—”
“Quiet, you guys.” Kinch’s voice carried over them all. He pointed in the distance. “There’s the Colonel over there.”
Newkirk squinted and looked in the direction of Kinch’s finger. Sure enough, there, about thirty yards away, was Colonel Hogan, crouched low in the blackness, slipping silently out from underneath a truck just outside the gates surrounding the oil refinery he had been ordered to target. But as quickly has he had become visible, he was invisible again, something Newkirk both cursed and blessed. How were they supposed to keep an eye on someone they couldn’t see? “Wish we could tell ’im we’re here,” he muttered.
“The compromise was we keep watch, but we only intervene if there’s trouble,” Le Beau reminded him.
“Well ’ow can we tell if there’s trouble if we can’t even see ’im?”
“Have you ever seen a Kraut react quietly to having his throat slit?” Le Beau said acidly.
“Enough, you guys,” Kinch said. “Looks like Colonel Hogan is nearly done. Let’s spread out and make sure the path home is clear. If he gets back before we do, our measly non-com stripes are going to be gone.”
“I’ll go this way,” Carter said, heading west, and straight into Newkirk.
Newkirk gave Carter a slight push in the opposite direction. “That way toward home, mate,” he said with a sigh. Blimey, gov’nor… don’t leave me to deal with this on me own!
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Long after the explosions had died down and the noise of panicked madness had faded away outside, the dim light in Colonel Hogan’s office had stayed on. Time passed, and the men in the common room had stayed awake, staring at the thin shaft of light that showed through the crack under the door to his quarters, and hoping somehow contradictorily that Hogan would either come out, or shut the light out and go to sleep. But he didn’t, and so they didn’t sleep either, their minds all focused on the coming day.
There was no sound coming from Hogan’s room; indeed, after he returned from the mission, he gave a brief smile to his closest companions, assured them that all had gone well and that he had avoided the two patrols he had spotted, and then seemed to indicate that he wanted to turn in. Somewhat disappointed, the men had agreed and wished Hogan a peaceful sleep, but that was clearly not on the senior POW’s mind.
Carter was the first to finally speak. “Maybe the Colonel’s fallen asleep with the light on,” he suggested.
Le Beau shook his head. “He never does that.”
“Maybe he’s listening to the coffee pot.”
“The light’s been out in Klink’s office for over an hour,” Kinch noted.
Newkirk kept his thoughts to himself. Maybe he’s writing his will. He couldn’t imagine what could be going through Hogan’s mind right now. Three years of running a secret organization, three years of taking chances with his life for the good of the Allies, three years of building a trust and rapport with this ragtag bunch of ex-flyers—all to come to a sudden halt in less than six hours, and all because he was an officer. What was the good of being an officer anyway? Newkirk had always wondered. His opinion had always been that officers were self-important, self-centered, pompous prats, whose concern for their subordinates was a shallow one at best. That was, until he had met Colonel Hogan. And now, the man who had changed his view was facing the ultimate crisis—alone.
He wouldn’t have it. Newkirk slipped quietly off his bunk and approached Hogan’s door. The others said nothing, merely looking at him with warnings in their eyes. Newkirk ignored them and knocked very quietly, half wishing that Hogan wouldn’t answer.
But he did. “Yeah?”
Newkirk opened the door and peered inside. Hogan was sitting on his lower bunk with his feet up. He appeared to have been reading, as there was an open book on his lap, but he closed it as he greeted the Corporal. “What is it, Newkirk?” Hogan asked.
Newkirk registered the almost complete lack of emotion or energy in Hogan’s voice. Surprised, but determined not to show it, he closed the door most of the way behind him and approached his commanding officer. “Uh—just making sure everything’s all right, gov’nor,” he stammered. “You don’t usually stay up this late after an assignment, sir.”
Hogan looked back, noncommittal. “You don’t either.” Newkirk said nothing. Hogan shrugged. “Got a lot on my mind tonight. It’s not every day you have to go running from the firing squad.”
Newkirk shifted uneasily. “No, I guess it’s not.” He tried to laugh. “Blimey, I should say it’s a bloody good thing it’s not, too!”
Hogan nodded, with just a hint of a smile. “You okay about being given temporary command with Kinch until my replacement comes?”
“Oh, yeah, Colonel, I’ve got no problems with that.” He had so far successfully avoided looking Hogan in the eye. Now, he took the best look at Hogan’s floor that he had ever taken. “Just thinking how much better it would be if you were able to stay in command yourself, sir.”
“There was always the chance any of us would have to go, Newkirk,” Hogan said quietly.
“Yeah, but not like this,” Newkirk protested. Maybe too strongly, he thought, as he saw Hogan look away uncomfortably. “You ready to go downstairs, Colonel? Anything we can do?” Newkirk asked awkwardly.
“Just make sure Le Beau remembers I’m down there when he’s making dinner. Don’t give my share to Schultz, okay?”
Newkirk nodded and let a hint of a smile pass his lips. “Double rations for you till you’re picked up, gov’nor. Promise.”
Hogan nodded. “You’d better get some sleep,” he said. “You’ll have a lot to take over in the morning. I’ll only be around as an advisor for a little while—you’re going to have to learn to do it on your own.”
Newkirk turned to go. “G’night, gov’nor.”
“Good night, Newkirk.”
Newkirk was about to leave when another knock on the door stopped him. “Colonel Hogan?”
“Come on in, Carter,” Hogan said. Newkirk turned to Hogan and nodded his farewell, unwilling to reveal himself while the Sergeant was present. Hogan understood and nodded back, then turned his attention to the Sergeant who was almost hopping from foot to foot. “Something on your mind?”
Carter moved reluctantly into the room, as though he were acting in spite of himself. Hogan watched as the young man obviously considered his words, then gave up the pretense he was building and suddenly blurted out, “I’m scared, Colonel.”
Hogan swung his feet onto the floor and sat up. “Tell me what it’s all about,” he said.
Carter started pacing in front of Hogan. “Well, I didn’t want to bother you with this, Colonel. I mean I know you’ve got a lot of stuff to think about and all. But I’m scared for you, and I’m scared for us—I’m just plain scared!”
Hogan nodded. Carter couldn’t express it eloquently, but he said it better than anyone else could have. “Sit down, Carter,” he said. Carter pulled out Hogan’s desk chair and sat on it so he could use the back as a resting place for his arms. “Take a deep breath and start over. What are you scared about?”
Carter looked surprised. “Well, gosh, Colonel. I’m scared for you. I mean, suppose the Germans catch on that you’re in the tunnel? Suppose they find you and drag you out of there?” Suddenly Carter looked guilty. “Sorry,” he said in a whisper. “I guess that’s a bad thing to ask you.”
Hogan stood up. “Carter,” he said through an exhale of breath, “you’re not saying anything that hasn’t been running through my mind for the past two days,” he said. “But when you consider it, this has always been a possibility. What’s been to stop the Krauts from catching us any time? We’ve always known there’s a risk with the tunnel. Only this time I’ll be staying in it, and they’ll be looking for me somewhere else. So that makes it an even safer place to be, right?”
Carter nodded, uncertain. “I never thought of it like that before,” he said.
“So put your mind at rest. Being in the tunnel is probably a pretty good place to be—the Krauts won’t think I’m hiding in my own basement.” Carter bobbed his head. “I’ll be quiet as a church mouse down there; promise. No one will ever know.”
Gee, Colonel, I don’t know how we’re going to operate without you,” Carter said. “You always keep so calm, even when things seem hopeless. I mean you always manage to find a way out of everything.” He looked down at the floor. “I wish you could find a way out of this. I’m sure Kinch and Newkirk will do a great job but—I haven’t worked for anybody but you.”
Hogan smiled benignly at the explosives expert, the last to join his band of saboteurs. When he first arrived, Carter had been unconfident, even awkward at presenting his expertise to the others. But over the course of time, he had proven himself more than capable. And, as he was showing Hogan now, even more than loyal. Hogan put a hand on his shoulder. “You’ve done great things, Carter,” he said. “And I expect to hear about plenty more of them when I get home. Just remember to use the code.”
Carter smiled up at Hogan. “I will, sir,” he said. He stood up. “You’d better go to sleep, Colonel. You’ll be busy in the morning.”
Hogan nodded. “Okay, Carter,” he said. Carter smiled again and turned to go. “Oh, and Carter—” Carter turned back. “Nice stuff you gave me tonight. It worked like a charm.”
“I know; it looked great,” Carter said before he could stop himself. Hogan raised an eyebrow. “Uh—I mean, we looked out the barracks window, and all you could see was the… sight of the …uh… the flames were just…”
Hogan shook his head. “It’s okay, Carter. I know you fellas tailed me.” Carter tried to deny it but Hogan put up a hand to stop him. “It was like watching Laurel and Hardy. You and Newkirk are made for each other.” Hogan thought of his two men, of whom he had caught a glimpse ahead of him as he approached the tree stump entrance to the main tunnel. “Look after each other, all right?”
Carter swallowed, hard. “Yes, Colonel. And you take care of yourself, too.”
Hogan nodded and the men said goodnight. Hogan thought for a minute, staring at the closed door. Then he turned back to the book he had left on the bunk. His dog-eared Bible. How many times he had referred to it during his tenure as head of this operation. How many times it had offered comfort and inspiration. But now, with his head spinning and his heart surging, its power seemed to be failing him. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid. He read the passage again, and again, until the words blurred on the page. But no matter how much he willed it, he could not put his fear aside, and eventually put the book down on his desk, unable to do anything but repeat the phrases, turning them into an order: The Lord is close to all who call on Him…. Do not be afraid.
But he was always terrible at following orders, and Hogan remained awake and anxious for most of the night, with several men only yards away doing the same. Though he was tempted several times to come out and join them, Hogan was unwilling to make them more fearful, and so he remained in his quarters. He had never felt so alone.
Wilhelm Klink’s voice was a little too loud the next morning for Hogan’s taste, and he lowered his head and turned slightly away from the din as Schultz turned to the Kommandant to announce that all the prisoners were in the camp at this early hour of the day. This is just routine, he tried to tell himself. You play with Klink a bit at roll call, you go into the tunnel… all stuff we’ve done before. Only this time you don’t come back up. Nothing too scary, right? Right. So why am I shaking in my shoes?
“Herr Kommandant, all prisoners present and accounted for.”
“Very good, Schultz!” Klink moved briskly toward the group of prisoners assembled outside Barracks Two and scrutinized them carefully, his eyes coming to rest on Colonel Hogan. He moved in closer. “Hogan, you are looking rather worn out this morning. Isn’t your bed comfy enough?” he sneered.
Hogan looked into Klink’s face with forced disinterest. The Kommandant’s eyes were almost pleading, and Hogan could see the question in them: why aren’t you gone? He shrugged and dug his hands deeper into his jacket pockets. “Let’s just say the noise last night disturbed my dreams a little bit.” Hogan squinted as he looked into the smoke-filled sky, and avoided taking in a deep breath, as he knew the air was still somewhat thick with the memories of burning oil.
“Never mind that, Hogan. That has nothing to do with you.” Klink’s grip tightened on his riding crop as he spoke through gritted teeth. “I expect to see you in my office after roll call, Colonel,” he added, his eyes boring into the senior POW. The pleading, the questioning, remained.
Hogan knew what the topic of conversation would be when the two met. Just keep up appearances for a little longer, Klink. You can’t give away what you’ve told me! “Whatever you say, Kommandant,” he said coolly.
Klink backed up and started damage control. “Now, gentlemen, no doubt last night you heard some unexpected noises…some shouting…perhaps a bit of what sounded like panic,” he added, trying to laughingly dismiss the frenzy that was Stalag 13 after Hogan had completed the mission to destroy the refinery last night. “But let me assure you that—”
Klink cut off as a car was heard barreling through the gates. Even in the early morning light the sheen off the black paint was disturbing. Hogan gave a brief glance to his men, who were starting to look distinctly uneasy. The car ground to a halt about thirty feet away and the door swung open. Klink turned to the prisoners as soon as he realized who was getting out. “Dismissed!” he said quickly, almost urgently.
Hogan didn’t wait to be told twice. The sight of Gestapo Major Wolfgang Hochstetter started a chill that penetrated right through to his bones. He’s early! Hogan realized. Real early! And, surrounded by his men, he tried to stop himself from actually running out of sight.
“You will stop, Hogan!” came a voice.
Hogan froze mid-step, still turned toward Barracks Two and safety. His hands turned to ice. He clenched his jaw to avoid saying anything; the muscles twitched angrily. He felt his men close in around him, but he could not look at them.
Footsteps came closer until he could feel someone standing directly behind him. “I need to speak with you, Colonel Hogan.”
Deliberately, stiffly, more than calmly, Hogan turned around and faced the smaller man. He looked Hochstetter in the eye, something that had always bothered him, since he saw very little in the Gestapo officer’s eyes that would lead to his soul. Hogan could feel his men shifting slightly. “Something I can do for you, Major?” Hogan said, fighting his hardest to maintain a calm exterior.
Hochstetter smiled, a sickening, sweet parting of his lips that gave Hogan an even greater sense of foreboding. The American felt beads of sweat starting to form on his forehead and under his collar. Don’t let him see that you know what’s going on!
“We had a bit of trouble last night, Hogan. One of our oil refineries was blown to Kingdom Come.” Hochstetter moved in till he was nearly standing on Hogan’s feet. Hogan straightened even more, until he was practically looking down his nose at the German. “I cannot help but think that somehow you had something to do with that.”
Hogan just shook his head slowly. “You don’t know what you’re talking about, Major,” he said.
“No matter,” Hochstetter dismissed. “I will enjoy trying to find out… before we shoot you as planned. Take him!”
With a sudden wave of his hand, Hochstetter summoned two of the Gestapo guards that had accompanied him, and Hogan found himself being forcibly pulled by the arms. Knowing this time that regardless of the outcome of his interrogation he was to be executed, Hogan struggled, resisting the grips restraining him, practically being dragged away, as his men tried to pull him back. His ears were ringing; all he could hear was shouting, shouting. His men pulling, screaming, protesting. His breathing was labored, shaky; he knew it was too late for anything but panic. But panic was not about to save him.
The sudden sound of a gunshot ripped through the air, bringing all noise and movement to a halt. Hogan stood breathing heavily between the two guards. Le Beau’s hand stayed on his upper arm, and he could sense it was Newkirk’s hand on his shoulder from behind.
Hochstetter lowered his pistol. Calmly he looked at Hogan and said, “You are an Allied Air Corps officer and an enemy of the Third Reich. According to the wishes of the Fuhrer, you are to be executed, as there is no longer any room in our prison camps for enemy officers. But I have my own interest in your activities first, Colonel Hogan, and so you will be interrogated regarding the sabotage activities around this camp before your rightful departure.” He nodded at his guards. “Take him to the solitary confinement cells. We will question him there before we shoot him.”
The two guards jostled Hogan away from his men. “No—no!” came Le Beau’s voice, as his grip tightened on Hogan. His hand was pried away and Le Beau was shoved back toward the others, as a guard gave him a warning wave of his rifle. Newkirk laid a restraining hand on the Frenchman’s shoulder and stood staring, devastated, at the scene before him. Klink stood, dumbfounded, knowing he had to now succumb to the wishes of the Gestapo, who were following orders from the very top, and Schultz stood equally dumb nearby. He had known nothing of the command to do away with the high-ranking prisoner.
As the guards were about to pull Hogan away from the barracks area, Kinch stepped forward and silently handed Hogan his crush cap, which had fallen off in the scuffle. As Hogan took it, he silently told Kinch everything he had always wanted to say, and could see in the radio man’s eyes the same thing happening. He glanced back toward Le Beau, whose eyes were filled with tears, and then toward Newkirk and Carter, who were standing, still stunned, shaking, and looking for all intents and purposes as though they were going to charge the Germans to stop this.
Obviously Hochstetter suspected this as well, as he gestured for a third guard to stand, rifle ready, between Hogan and his men. Kinch stepped back to the others.
Hogan stared at the men he had worked with for so long. He wanted to say something glib, something light hearted. He wanted to take those looks off their faces, to say something to comfort them, to reassure them. But he couldn’t think of a thing, so he simply nodded slightly and let his eyes talk for him, hoping they weren’t relaying too much of the absolute terror he was feeling now, and then allowed himself to be led away.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
The order to confine all prisoners to barracks after the heartbreak outside had little impact on the men of Barracks Two, who would have retreated to their huts whether ordered to or not. Louis Le Beau, who would normally have been cooking up a storm by now, sat impotently at the common room table, occasionally wiping away the tears that were streaming ceaselessly down his cheeks. He looked at no one, wallowing in absolute misery.
Newkirk sat across from him, punishing the deck of cards that had the misfortune to be nearest his hand when he stumbled back into the barracks. He split the deck in two, then ground one half into the other mercilessly, pushing all the harder when any of the cards refused to submit to his will. Then he would start the process over again, with no intention of ever starting a game. His concentration was extraordinary. But it was the only thing stopping him from breaking down, whenever he felt stinging in the back of his eyes, and saw Hogan’s struggle with the guards playing out all too clearly before him.
Kinch, too, remained quiet, sitting on the bunk that hid the tunnel below, remembering. All he could do was remember. Hogan’s trust in him had been unwavering, such a unique thing in a time when people had barely gotten used to living alongside colored people, much less working closely with them. But Hogan had been mentally colorblind, as were Newkirk, Le Beau, and Carter. And suddenly, Kinch knew his life had been changed for the better, even though he had been stuck in a German Prisoner of War camp. He had seen what was possible, and he could never turn back. And one of the men responsible for that change was now sitting in solitary confinement, awaiting death. Kinch was numb.
The ghost of the group was Carter. When the men filed, dazed, back into the building, Carter had headed straight for Hogan’s quarters. At first he stood in the doorway, just staring. Then, he shuffled inside and stared at Hogan’s bunk. Finally, he sat down at Hogan’s desk, and just looked at nothing at all. He had told Hogan last night that he was scared, and Hogan had tried to reassure him that everything would be fine. And Colonel Hogan was always right; everything usually was fine. But today it wasn’t.
Carter’s eyes were full with unshed tears. He could feel them brimming on his bottom lids, waiting to spill. But he couldn’t let them fall on the Colonel’s floor. Hogan would not have wanted Carter to cry; he would have wanted him to be strong. On the other hand, Carter thought, whenever the Sergeant felt himself becoming too emotionally involved in something, the Colonel had always been quite firm in telling him that it was Carter’s humanness that helped him do his job with the least risk to anyone not targeted by their activities. That it was his emotion that helped him to save lives. And so Carter let the tears out, and a heart-wrenching sob escaped his throat as he shook in his agony over what was to come.
Suddenly the room was filled with Hogan’s closest companions, who, in concentrating on comforting Carter, were all really supporting each other. With things now being so radically different from what they had planned, all they could do for the moment was think minute to minute. It would be some time before they could consider the future, or before they wanted to.
“Come, Colonel Hogan. You know you have nothing to lose now. The Fuhrer has ordered you to die, along with all the other Allied officers. So tell me, what is it that you have been up to while you have been in this camp?”
Hochstetter moved in closer to Hogan, until the Colonel could feel the man’s breath on his cheek. Sitting tied to a hard chair in the cold cell, Hogan had already been worked over, but in small increments, designed to create pain, designed to befuddle his mind.
Designed to draw this out as long as possible before execution. Hogan simply drew in a rasping breath and remained silent. He concentrated on his breathing, trying to ignore the sharp stabbing in his side that started after a small club had struck him hard when he had been blindfolded. Now, the light nearby was almost blindingly bright to his sensitive eyes.
“Hogan,” Hochstetter started again, quiet and calm, “tell me about the oil refinery. Tell me how you did it.”
Hogan turned his head away and closed his eyes. Hot, it was so hot in here. Why was Hochstetter not sweating like he was? How could the man be wearing gloves?
“I grow impatient!” Hochstetter burst. Hogan flinched and squeezed his eyes shut tighter. He felt someone grab a clump of his hair and pull his head back sharply. He grunted from the shock of it and opened his eyes. Hochstetter’s enraged eyes stared back at him. “Hogan, you are responsible for this, I know you are—you cannot save yourself; you are already under orders to be shot. So why don’t you save yourself all this agony and tell me what we already know?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hogan gasped.
“Bah!” Hochstetter growled and released Hogan’s head with a shove.
Hogan panted and looked ahead with half-closed eyes. So this was it—Hochstetter was going to have the joy of killing him, but not until he’d had the pleasure of watching Hogan suffer first. Hogan wished he could just tell everything and get straight to the execution—why delay the inevitable with torture?—but something in him refused to do that. Even if he could convince Hochstetter that he had always worked alone—and he doubted he could do that—he could never give the man the satisfaction of knowing that his long-held suspicions about Hogan had indeed been correct.
“So we shall ask again, Colonel Hogan. And then we shall start to get upset with you. But we have other ways of loosening your tongue.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
I warned him. I warned him. I begged him! Why did that foolish man not listen to me?
Klink paced back and forth in his office, stopping occasionally only to look outside his window to see if anyone was emerging from the cooler. No one was, and the camp looked eerie with no one wandering around the compound, so he turned away again and walked the floor. He had done everything he could. He had warned Hogan that trouble was looming, had put his own career—his own life—at risk by alerting Hogan to the coming danger and offering to help him get away. But the man had not listened, and now he was locked in a battle of wills with Hochstetter that he could never win.
So why was Klink feeling guilty?
The question plagued him as well, until he realized it was because the tragedy was not yet over; it was still unfolding in the cooler. Hogan was not yet dead; he could still be fighting a futile battle to save himself.
With Hochstetter’s taste for blood, Hogan, you’re better off making something up and hoping for a quick death.
A loud noise startled Klink, and he jumped, only to realize the window had not been shut properly and was now banging against the frame. He quickly crossed the room and secured it, then sat at his desk, wondering who would be the next to be persecuted in this war, and whether it would be the enemy, or one of his own.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“I am impressed with you, Colonel Hogan. I had almost believed that a prolonged visit with me would have broken you.” Hochstetter ran his hand along Hogan’s swollen, bloody cheek, but the American barely reacted, staring blankly ahead with dull, unfocused eyes. “On the other hand, I am fascinated by your desire to undergo such punishment, knowing that in the end the result will be the same. Some American sense of loyalty or pride, I suspect.” Still no answer from Hogan. “Very well then. I will leave you alone for now. But you can depend on my returning shortly, to continue our little talk. Perhaps by then you will be more in the mood for a chat.”
The door to the cell closed with a loud echo, but Hogan did not hear it. He had long ago retreated into a part of himself that Hochstetter could never reach. Almost mechanically, Hogan took note of the terrible aching in his shoulders and upper arms as they supported his full body weight, as he dangled just inches off the floor, his hands cuffed above his head in shackles that had been suspended from the ceiling. He absently detected trickles of blood running along his arms as the cuffs cut into his wrists, but equally unemotionally he realized that there was nothing he could do about it, and so he dismissed any feeling that would have raised his awareness of his situation.
Heat and thirst were the only things that penetrated Hogan’s mind at present, and they were overwhelming: a fever raging from within left him dripping and occasionally oblivious to his surroundings; and breathing was becoming more difficult with his arms raised above him. He swallowed razor blades every time he dared gulp in some cool air to relieve the hotness in his mind and body. A small bucket of water and ladle sat nearby on the barren cot—a torturous prop in this charade of an interrogation.
What’s this all about anyway? His mind started questioning, despite his desire for nothing but peace. The pounding in his head roared on, but he could still hear the banter. It’s going to end the same way no matter what you tell him. Why put yourself through this? Tell him some cockeyed story that he’ll fall for, and let it end sooner rather than later….
A muscle spasm broke his fevered reverie and made him whimper in pain. “No…” he breathed aloud. “No…. It’s what he wants….” Hogan laughed weakly, causing a coughing fit that wrapped him in agony. He wants me to wish for death…. He wants me to beg to die. Hogan stretched his legs as much as possible and let the balls of his feet support his weight for a moment. “‘Do not be afraid,’” he said in a whispered breath. “‘Do not be…’” He was breathing easier, but his legs were aching from the strain and he had to pull them away from the floor again. He moaned softly as his arms and shoulders once again took on the burden of supporting him. I won’t do it, he vowed to himself. I’ll outlast you somehow, Hochstetter. I’m going to make you work for my hide. By the time you kill me, you’ll be half dead yourself. And then, my work will be half done.
Gratefully, Hogan welcomed the darkness that started to cloud his mind, and he slipped away from the present, to await the next round with his tormentors.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Hochstetter’s car is still here,” Le Beau observed bitterly from his post at the door to the barracks. “That means he is still torturing Colonel Hogan.”
The next morning, the men were still confined to barracks, with no information forthcoming. None of them had slept well; all of them were angry, or frightened, or both. And all of them were still watching Hogan being dragged away, struggling as they had never seen him doing so before, facing a slow and torturous death by a madman who enjoyed his gruesome task too much.
Le Beau backed up and opened the door wide as Schultz came in. Looking dispirited and tired, he leaned his rifle against the stove and sat down at the common room table without being asked. He sighed heavily, and looked at the prisoners, some of whom were staring at him with less than friendly faces.
“I thought you boys might be better company than the Gestapo men, at the moment,” he said quietly.
“Not much, Schultz,” Kinch said. A German wasn’t exactly the kind of company they were looking for at present.
“They are back in solitary this morning,” Schultz told them. “Major Hochstetter said he is making progress, whatever that means.”
“It means he’s bloody dragging the Colonel to the brink of death, then laughing in his face when he brings him back to life,” Newkirk said angrily.
Schultz nodded unhappily. “At least… Colonel Hogan is still alive.”
“Ever see a cat play with a mouse?” Kinch asked. “It’s cruel, Schultz. Real cruel.”
Schultz nodded again. “And in the end, the cat still wins.”
“Unless a dog comes by and scares it away,” Carter added.
“And we are sadly lacking a dog at the moment,” Le Beau said.
Newkirk chewed on an idea for a moment, then said into the silence, “We could always bring a big dog in.”
Kinch furrowed his brow. “What?”
“A dog. We need a dog; we could always bring one in.” He hopped down from his bunk, more animated than he had been since the day before. “Look, mates—Hochstetter’s a cat, and we need a big dog to scare him off. Klink’s here, but he’s a chihuahua—Hochstetter would only laugh at that. But who would be a Great Dane to him?”
“The Fuhrer?” Carter ventured.
Newkirk shrugged. “You’re right, Carter, but a little ambitious. Try a little closer to home.”
“A Kraut who outranks him,” Le Beau said.
Newkirk touched the side of his nose with his finger.
“Burkhalter,” Kinch suggested.
“Kinch, my boy, you win the all the marks. If we get Burkhalter in here, he might be just the man to stop Hochstetter from keeping this miserable game going,” Newkirk suggested.
“And then it might give us just the time we need to get the Colonel out of there!” Le Beau exclaimed, a sudden light glimmering in his eyes.
Schultz suddenly got up from the table and grabbed his rifle. “Please, Cockroach, please do not talk like that!” he said, heading toward the door. “I do not like what is going on here… but I do not want to hear what you are planning! It would be worth my life if I was caught!”
Kinch said firmly, “Schultz, the Colonel’s done an awful lot for you over the last three years. If you like him, you can’t like what’s happening to him in there.”
Schultz shook his head. Standing guard outside the cell, he heard many things coming from inside that closed room that sickened him. But take an active roll against it? Disobey the Gestapo and orders from the Fuhrer? “I do not,” he said. “Colonel Hogan has always been a nice man, even for an enemy. But this I tell you: I want to know nothing. Nothing!”
And he backed up clumsily, and practically ran out the door.
Newkirk turned to the others. “Gentlemen, let’s get the bones ready; it’s time to call in the dogs.”
“That’s right, General Burkhalter, it is causing quite a stir among the prisoners, which the guards are starting to have a hard time controlling, sir.”
Klink sat at his desk that night, willingly, almost gratefully, gushing out this tale to his superior officer. “Yes, General. Yes, but he says he is acting on the Fuhrer’s wishes…. No, General, he has not given any time frame… Of course, General, I will not tell the Major that you are coming….Yes, sir, tomorrow. Oh yes, Heil Hitler.”
Klink hung up the phone and smiled his relief. For the first time since all of this began, he was having some say in its direction. He had noticed at afternoon roll call that the men were starting to behave more aggressively toward the guards, and toward each other. The tension was so thick in the camp Klink thought he wouldn’t be able to walk through it, and though he tried to put it down to the normal irritability of captive men, even he was smart enough to realize it had been exacerbated by what they had witnessed yesterday, and by the fact that Hochstetter was still there, and therefore clearly still toying with their Allied commanding officer. And when he got to the head count at Barracks Two, some of the men had to be physically restrained when a fight began over something trivial, and had escalated into a virtual free-for-all. It had been an almost uncontrollable incident, and Klink, while angry at the disruption, understood the displaced rage of the men.
Because he, too, was angry.
Sergeant Kinchloe had apologized as the men shuffled back into the barracks, and told Klink that the men were all devastated by the taking of Colonel Hogan and were taking it very hard. Then he said he didn’t know how much longer he would be able to get them to control themselves as well as he had done up to now. Klink had nearly dropped his monocle at the suggestion that these men were already showing some restraint. But when Kinchloe had mentioned offhandedly that Hochstetter wouldn’t be allowed to operate this way if someone like Burkhalter were here, a light went off over Klink’s head, and he had headed straight for the phone.
And now, things were about to change. It might be too late to save you, Hogan. But at least I can stop you from suffering any longer. He stared across the desk at the spot Hogan usually occupied when he was bargaining for more rations or privileges for the prisoners. It looked starkly empty now, and Klink could almost hear Hogan’s loud, genuine laugh echoing in the silent room.
It’s a strange feeling, to want to save an enemy from an ally.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Lying prone on the cot, Hogan tried not to succumb to the coughing fit he could feel building in his throat. The last spasm had been excruciating to his battered body, and he had been unable to concentrate for the next five minutes on anything but the sharp, pulsing pain that consumed him. Hochstetter had ordered him released from the shackles awhile ago, speaking in saccharine tones that only made his prisoner feel all the more helpless and wary.
Worst of all was when Hochstetter himself had brought Hogan some bread. Hogan could not have felt less like eating, and yet he was ravenous. He reached out with a shaking hand to accept the offering, gagging as it went down his dry throat. Then Hochstetter had actually brought him a small ladle of precious water, most of which got spilled on the way to Hogan’s mouth because of the Colonel’s unsteady, swollen hands. At that point, Hochstetter had shaken his head and “tsk”ed, saying that Hogan had used his full ration for the night, and would not get more until the morning. The desperation with which Hogan tried to save any drops that were lingering on his arms and hands was a humiliation that Hochstetter wouldn’t have dreamed of hiding his delight in seeing.
Through a feverish haze, Hogan was starting to feel the cold. His jacket had been long ago stripped away, and was visible in the corner of the cell. But he was exhausted, and had no strength to retrieve it. His torn shirt was soaking with sweat and was of no help at all, and his shoes were probably somewhere near his jacket and cap. He had been deposited on top of the thin blanket provided to prisoners in solitary, but he could find no energy or ability to get off of it so he could wrap himself in it.
He was lost in a twilight netherworld, and blankly faded into uneasy dreams, which were a strangely distorted version of his nightmarish reality.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Are you sure it’s safe to do this now?” Carter asked.
Kinch was standing by the bunk that led to the tunnels below the barracks, ready to head to the solitary confinement cell where Hogan was being held. He nodded his head. “Hochstetter’s done for the night. We have to see what condition the Colonel’s in, tell him the plan. You heard what Klink said on the coffee pot—Burkhalter’s coming tomorrow. When he hauls Hochstetter out of there, we’ll be able to rescue the Colonel. It’s too risky to do it now.”
Newkirk patted his shoulder. “Let us know if you need anything.”
Kinch nodded grimly, then headed out.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Kinch gritted his teeth as the stone that would let him enter the cell in solitary confinement scraped noisily against the floor. Stopping every few seconds to gauge any activity on the other side of the wall, he pushed just far enough to be able to squeeze through the hole, and drew himself up in the room.
What he saw nearly made him sick. There was blood on the floor in the middle of the cell, splattered like raindrops in spots and concentrated as though poured from a gaping wound in others. There was the Colonel’s jacket discarded in the corner. A single shoe. His cap. And the smell of sweat, fear and pain. As his eyes adjusted to the dim, cold light from the bare, single bulb, Kinch scanned the room until he saw a still figure abandoned carelessly on the cot against the wall.
Oh my God, we’re too late! Kinch rushed to the cot and put his hand out to touch Hogan, then recoiled as he became aware of his condition. The Colonel was lying still, his breathing coming in shallow, rattling breaths, with an occasional groan coming from somewhere within him. His face was bloody—Kinch couldn’t tell where the actual wounds were—and his hair was matted and dirty. Hogan’s hands and wrists seemed swollen, and Kinch could see where some sort of restraints had cut into him, and where Hogan had obviously pulled against them, whether to escape them or as a reaction to some form of torture he did not want to know.
Kinch very gently put a hand to Hogan’s forehead. Hogan was hot to the touch, and yet the room was near freezing. Kinch saw the blanket underneath him and started to move Hogan very carefully in order to release it. He paused briefly but did not give up on the task as Hogan let out a plaintive whimper of pain at the jostling. Finally, he was finished, and he tucked the scratchy covers softly around his commanding officer. “Colonel Hogan,” he whispered near Hogan’s ear. Hogan made no response. “Colonel Hogan, sir,” he said again, kneeling closer. No answer but a coincidentally well-timed moan. “Hold on just a little longer, Colonel. Help is on the way.” Nothing. Kinch started despairing, but decided to take heart in the fact that Hogan had lasted this long, and that Hochstetter was obviously not satisfied enough to shoot the man yet.
Standing up, Kinch whispered a farewell promise. “You’ll be out of here tomorrow, Colonel. You can count on it.” Then, his heart nearly breaking, he left Hogan in the cold cell to endure the night alone.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
The next morning, Le Beau pulled away from the wall of the barracks he was leaning on and gestured vaguely toward the front gate. “Kraut car,” he said.
Newkirk and Carter looked up from the nothing they were doing, and watched the vehicle pull up in front of Klink’s office. A non-com got out and opened the rear door, revealing General Burkhalter, who quite purposefully strode into the building.
“Carter, go tell Kinch it’s time. Le Beau, you’d better tell Wilson to be standing by.”
The pair agreed and broke away to do their assigned tasks. Newkirk tried to nonchalantly head back inside the barracks, then bolted for Hogan’s quarters, where he pulled out the coffee pot to monitor the situation. “All right, Burkhalter, do your stuff. And do it quick so we can get the gov’nor out of there.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Klink, what is going on?” Burkhalter didn’t bother greeting Klink when he entered the office. Nor did he think of sitting down. The whole idea of dealing with the Gestapo, and Hochstetter in particular, was completely distasteful, and, in this case he believed, a waste of his time. Hochstetter was to have come to the Stalag the day before yesterday and remove Colonel Hogan from existence. Something had not gone to plan, and, in Burkhalter’s opinion, it was no coincidence that the foul-up had occurred under Klink’s nose. “Why is Hochstetter still here?”
“General Burkhalter, how good to see you,” Klink started by fawning. Burkhalter waved away the effort and, worry eating at him, Klink got straight to business. “I know the General asked me to cooperate fully with the Gestapo; however, I expected the Major to be gone by now.”
“What has he done about Hogan?”
“Major Hochstetter arrived during morning roll call two days ago and upset the prisoners, sir. He promised Colonel Hogan that he would be interrogated about the sabotage of the oil refinery and then, when the Gestapo was done, that Hogan would be shot. The prisoners were naturally very distressed by this, and I had to confine them to barracks. They seemed better this morning, so I let them out. But the guards are very vigilant, General Burkhalter, and I can’t help but wish that the Major would complete his business and leave the camp.”
Burkhalter had remained silent during all of this, nodding in agreement, and raising an eyebrow in annoyance. “Major Hochstetter has not been assigned to do anything at the moment but ensure that the Fuhrer’s orders are carried out. The disruption of an entire prison camp for the interrogation of one man is not acceptable. Where is he now, Klink?”
“He has Colonel Hogan in one of the solitary confinement cells,” Klink answered.
“And how is this interrogation proceeding?”
“I have not been down there, General. I did not want to interfere with Gestapo business.” And the reports from Schultz were bad enough. I don’t think I could see Hogan right now—even if he could remember who I am.
“Well I am going to interfere with Gestapo business. Right now. Come, Klink.”
Burkhalter turned and swept back out the door. Klink grabbed his overcoat and hat and hurried to keep up, praying that Hochstetter had not finally completely the horrific deed he had been sent here to do.
Newkirk raced through the tunnel to where Kinch was waiting, on the other side of the wall of Hogan’s cell. “It’s time,” he whispered breathlessly. “Burkhalter and Klink are on their way over.”
Kinch nodded. “Good. The Colonel needs a break.” In the last ten minutes he had heard much more than he wanted to of Hochstetter’s “interrogation.” At first, Hogan had seemed quite alert, and responded either in the negative to the German’s accusations, or made some comment that angered his captor. Then Kinch had heard chains, which he feared were being used as a makeshift whip, and some terrible cries that, had he not known who was in there, he would not have been able to guarantee were human in origin. Now, things had gone quiet, at least on the Colonel’s part, and Hochstetter’s voice could be heard, but Kinch couldn’t make out the words.
Suddenly they heard the door to the cell being opened, and Burkhalter’s accusing voice boomed right through the wall. “Major Hochstetter, what do you think you are doing?”
“General Burkhalter!” Hochstetter sounded like he was trying not to appear annoyed with the intrusion. “I am questioning Colonel Hogan on suspicion of sabotage before shooting him by orders of the Fuhrer.”
“And do you think the Fuhrer would approve of you putting your interests before his own?”
Hochstetter’s response about being certain Hitler would want to know if the sabotage around the camp would stop when this prisoner was executed was drowned out by a gasp from Colonel Klink. “Major Hochstetter, how can you expect Colonel Hogan to answer your questions like this?” he asked, his voice strangled.
“In the end his answers do not matter.”
“Hochstetter, you will come with me,” Burkhalter said, in a tone that invited no protests. “We will discuss this in Klink’s office, and then you will do what you came here to do.”
Kinch and Newkirk exchanged looks. We’d better work fast!
Hochstetter’s reply was somewhat subdued. “Of course, Herr General,” he said. “I am sure you will understand my reasoning when you have heard all I have to say.” Then, obviously speaking to his guards, he added, “Go and have your lunch. I will call for you when I am through talking with the General and the Colonel.”
Newkirk and Kinch heard the door to the cell being closed and locked. Kinch counted to ten, then moved the stone out far enough to move back through with Hogan.
But when they entered the tiny room, they were horrified to find that Hogan had been left hanging by his arms from the ceiling, with manacles again cutting into his already raw wrists, and his feet not touching the floor, as he had tried to curl in on himself to protect himself from what would have been countless strikes from all sides.
Newkirk came around to face Hogan, both compelled to look at him, and repulsed by the whole scenario. The Colonel’s eyes were open just slightly, but he showed no sign that he knew his friends were there. Newkirk looked closely—yes, Hogan was still breathing. But with nothing to support him, and having his arms stretched over his head, the breaths were coming in shallow, uneven spurts. “We’re here now, gov’nor,” Newkirk said in a gentle whisper. “We’ll get you out of this.” He noticed blood seeping slowly through Hogan’s soaking, filthy shirt and looked at Kinch, devastated. “We’d better hurry.”
Kinch, meanwhile, was examining the cuffs holding Hogan in place. A couple of quick tugs did nothing but cause Hogan more pain, and it quickly became clear that they weren’t going to be able to simply pull the chains away from the cell and take them with him, to be cut off later on. They were well and truly attached to the ceiling, and there would be little time to figure out how to get through them. “We can’t get these off,” Kinch hissed. “We need the key!”
“Schultz’ll have it,” Newkirk replied. “Come on; we haven’t got much time.” The pair of them turned to go. Newkirk called gently, “We’ll be back, gov’nor. Don’t give up on us yet.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Schultz suspected that the pair was up to something as soon as he saw them coming. He straightened and adjusted his rifle, then stood at strict attention outside the cell door. “What are you two doing here?” he asked, trying to sound his most military. “You know you coming down here is verboten.”
Kinch took a chance; they didn’t have time to waste dancing around the issue. “We can’t get through the shackles in the Colonel’s cell, Schultz. We need the key.”
Schultz looked startled, then tried to recover. “What?” he asked.
“We can’t get the Colonel out because of the handcuffs; we need your help.”
Schultz shook his head and lost all pretense of military presence. “No, no, no!” he practically wailed. “You do not know what you are asking! Colonel Hogan is a prisoner, he is under the authority of the Gestapo; I cannot help you!”
“Come on, Schultz. Hochstetter and his goons have the Colonel strung up like a side of beef. They’ve hurt him real bad. Give us the key.”
Schultz’s features changed slightly from one of fear to one of sadness. “I know what they have done to Colonel Hogan. They have made me stand outside this room the whole time to keep anyone from coming in. And sound carries easily here.”
Newkirk grimaced as images flashed in his mind. Then he pushed them away and continued. “Come on, Schultzie,” he said in his most silky smooth voice, “the gov’nor’s always been good to you, ’asn’t ’e? I mean, ’e’s always helped you when you needed it, hasn’t ’e?”
Schultz started to crumble. “Ja, Englander, ja, he has.”
Newkirk moved around so he was behind the guard and started to work his magic. His fingers very gently walked around Schultz’s belt until he found a set of keys. Then, with the utmost caution, he removed the large ring from the man’s belt, taking care that not a rattle was heard. “Well, then, Schultz, one good turn deserves another, doesn’t it?” he asked. Schultz started to turn around toward Newkirk; the Corporal simply pushed his cheek back toward Kinch. “Keep facing Kinch, Schultzie; you don’t want to see what’s happening behind you.”
Schultz started quivering. “I know nothing,” he breathed in, closing his eyes in that slow, simmering fear he got whenever he was involved in something that he knew he shouldn’t be, but somehow knew he had to be. “Nothing!”
Newkirk held the keys up so Kinch could see them. Without a second thought, Kinch reached out for them. Schultz trembled at the sound of them and turned away. “Thanks, Schultz. We’ll make sure you get these right back. And don’t worry, we’ll make sure no one knows we’ve been here.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Newkirk’s normally steady hands were shaking as he put the key into one of the locks on the restraints on Hogan’s wrists. Kinch was considering how to hold Hogan in a way that would cushion the fall when his arms were released without causing him any unnecessary pain. But he was having a hard time finding any part of Hogan’s body that had not been ill-treated by Hochstetter, so he had to simply accept that it was not going to be an easy move and tried to grip Hogan around the waist. Hogan was still not responding to anything going on around him, so Kinch was hoping it would be a brief and somewhat painless transition.
“Got ’im, mate?” Newkirk asked, as he was about to release the restraints.
“Yeah, yeah—do it.”
Newkirk pulled the shackle away from one of Hogan’s wrists. The Colonel sagged and Kinch lost his hold. Hogan’s other arm was now holding the burden of his body weight, and he moaned softly. Kinch shook his head as he realized what he had to do, and he quickly scooped up Hogan in his arms as Newkirk undid the other lock. Hogan’s full weight now rested in Kinch’s arms.
Newkirk looked at his companion. “That’s it; let’s go.” He zipped around the cell, grabbing the clothing that had been strewn around, and tossed it into the tunnel ahead of them. Then he went through the opening, helping as Kinch gently lowered Hogan to the ground and handed him in and to safety. Once fully through, and with Hogan now completely unresponsive, Newkirk moved the stone that led to the cell back into place, and then raced ahead to make sure the keys were replaced before Burkhalter and the others returned. We’ve got you, gov’nor, he thought, with a sense of relief that nearly overwhelmed him. No one’s ever going to do that to you again.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Sergeant Joe Wilson took one look at Robert Hogan and bit his lip to stop from crying in sorrow and despair. Then he got down to business. “Okay,” the medic said simply. “This is a bit worse than I thought. Grab that stretcher.” He pointed to the corner for it to be brought over. “We’ve got to move him out of this cramped area and I want him disturbed as little as possible.” He touched the back of his hand to Hogan’s cheek and arm. Cool and pale, Hogan’s skin was taking on a slightly bluish tint. “He’s in shock; grab me some blankets. We’ll have to get him warm and dry right away.”
And so the slow process of moving Hogan to the part of the tunnel right under Barracks Two began.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“If I understand it correctly, Major Hochstetter, the Fuhrer’s order was quite clear: make sure the officers in the camps are executed. The order did not include torture beforehand, or disrupting the operation of the prison camps.”
Burkhalter stood very straight with his arms behind his back in Klink’s office, a position he used when wanting to seem his most menacing. Despite his general distaste for the American, seeing Hogan dangling from the ceiling after quite obviously being tortured bothered Burkhalter. He had never had a taste for the more aggressive methods of the Gestapo, preferring to get what he wanted accomplished by thinking clearly, or by throwing his considerable weight around. And Hochstetter’s evident relish for the darker side of his job was something that also grated on the General’s nerves.
“Begging the General’s pardon,” Hochstetter began with forced politeness. “An oil refinery and important truck convoy near this camp were destroyed the night before I arrived. It was clearly the work of saboteurs, and Colonel Hogan is a suspect. It would be considered important to find out if he is guilty, so we can determine if the sabotage will stop once he is executed.”
“You can also find out simply by shooting him and then seeing if anything happens!” Burkhalter countered. “This long build-up is unnecessary, Hochstetter. You are prolonging this to indulge yourself, and it is disrupting the operation of this prison camp.”
“Any disruption would probably make this camp run better,” Hochstetter growled, with a severe look toward Klink. “I have never seen the prisoners so well behaved.”
“Nevertheless, the running of Luftwaffe prison camps is none of the Gestapo’s concern,” Burkhalter persisted, bearing down hard. “You are to cease this unnecessary commotion and carry out your orders as handed down by the Fuhrer, with no deviation from them. Is that understood?”
“With all due respect, Herr General,” hissed Hochstetter, “I also have orders from Berlin that have come from the Fuhrer—to put an end to the sabotage around this camp by any means I see necessary, and that includes questioning prisoners who are about to face the firing squad. I would ask you to confirm this yourself before you order me to stop doing my duty.”
Burkhalter pursed his lips and rocked just once back and forth on his toes. “Very well, Hochstetter. But you will not continue until I have confirmed the correct procedures.” He turned to Klink, who had been sitting at his desk, his head jerking from one man to the other like a ping pong ball as they debated in front of him, too stunned by the whole sequence of events that had led to this point, and still reeling from the vision that had confronted him when Schultz had opened the cell door. “Klink, tell Schultz to get Hogan down from that contraption Hochstetter has him tied to. Leave him there until this is all settled.”
Klink bobbed his head up and down in answer to his superior. Then, pulling himself from his shock, he stood up hastily and said, “Of course, General Burkhalter. I will see to it myself right away.” If nothing else, at least I can stop Hogan being tortured before he dies.
Klink practically ran from the office and toward the solitary confinement cell, unaware he was being observed by Hogan’s closest friends. Le Beau closed the barracks door that he had opened just a crack and shouted down the bunk opening that led to the tunnel below. “Klink is heading to the cooler!”
“The moment of truth,” Kinch whispered as he watched Wilson trying to settle Hogan gently on the cot used normally by the radio man himself, or prisoners in transit. “Newkirk, did you get the keys back to Schultz?”
“No problem, mate,” Newkirk answered. “He wanted to know… nothing.”
“Carter’s down at the other end of the tunnel, listening at the cell.”
“What’s he doing down there?”
“Lookout, in case anything goes wrong. Besides,” Kinch added, glancing only vaguely at the mess on the bunk that was Hogan, “I don’t think he could take…”
His voice drifted off, as the same thought struck him as well. “I know,” Newkirk replied. “I understand just how he feels. But if it were bloody Hochstetter instead,” he sneered, “you wouldn’t be able to stop me from laughing.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Open the door, Schultz. We have to get Hogan down.”
Schultz reached around his belt, praying silently that his keys were where he hoped. He sighed inwardly when his hands felt the cold ring, and he drew out the key he needed to open the door. “Herr Kommandant, what is going on?” he asked.
Klink waved his arm dismissively. “Generals, Majors—all this arguing going on in my office. I don’t want to get involved. General Burkhalter says Colonel Hogan is to be taken out of those shackles and left alone until he clarifies orders with Berlin.” Schultz turned the key in the lock and held open the door for his superior officer. Klink continued talking as he went in, dreading the idea of seeing the senior POW in such an alarming condition again. But at least he could relieve some of the suffering, and so he steeled himself to the task, for compassion’s sake. “Schultz, you will have to get the medic, and get some fresh clothes from the barracks for Colonel Ho—”
Klink stopped as he registered the emptiness of the cell. Disbelieving, he took a fast look outside the cell, then turned and looked back in and scanned the room carefully. “Schultz, did someone already come here and take Hogan?” he asked, astonished.
“No, Herr Kommandant,” Schultz said, wondering if he sounded a bit too emphatic.
“B-But—but he is gone!” Klink went further into the room and turned around every which way. “Schultz, there is no place he could have gone without going through that door. Did you let anyone in here?”
“Of course not, Herr Kommandant!” Schultz answered. They let themselves in!
“Then someone has helped Hogan to escape!”
“Shall I call out the dogs, Herr Kommandant?”
Klink paused. Hogan would have to be moving very slowly if the way he looked was any clear indication of his condition. If the dogs came out now, Hogan would be caught, and Klink would be guilty of helping a monster like Hochstetter fulfill an order that he didn’t agree with. If Klink didn’t order them out, he would be accused of helping the enemy. Either way he played it, Klink wouldn’t come out on top. Finally, he said, “Yes, Schultz. But first I want you to go get clothes for the Colonel, and bring them back here. Then you can sound the alarm.”
“But Herr Kommandant, Colonel Hogan will surely get away!”
“Just do as I say, Sergeant. And in the order I have told you. Or I will be putting you on report!”
Fears and Reality
Wilson tiredly rubbed his eyes and face, and moved to the base of the ladder that led to the main room of Barracks Two.
“How is he, Joe?” Kinch asked. Wilson had not left Hogan’s side for nearly two hours, but had insisted that the others leave them alone, something that both relieved and worried Hogan’s men. Now that Wilson had moved away, they considered him fair game for any questions.
“Major Hochstetter worked him over pretty badly,” the medic admitted. “He’s got so many bruises on his face, they all run together.” He shook his head. “But bruises are the easy things. The Gestapo was pretty brutal.”
“What do you mean?” Newkirk asked, not really wanting to know.
“Two broken fingers on his right hand, a broken rib, I’ll have to watch for pneumonia—they must have left him soaking wet at one stage and it was cold in there, I gather. Concussion, contusions, hell of a tender abdomen—maybe some bruising of the kidneys, you name it… and something else I couldn’t quite understand, but I can tell you it wouldn’t have been pleasant.”
“What’s that?” Kinch asked, concerned.
Wilson considered not answering, then shrugged and led the others back to Hogan’s bedside. He pulled down the blanket covering the Colonel and gently pulled open the fresh, dry shirt that had been put on him. His torso was wrapped securely in white bandages, but there were specks of red showing through. “Blood?” Newkirk questioned. He shrugged; regrettable, but not surprising.
Wilson nodded. “A lot of small incisions—like knife-jabs. Not deep enough to mortally wound him, but certainly deep enough to cause some pretty bad pain and have a decent chance of damaging something inside. About ten of them,” he recounted, pointing to a small area just below Hogan’s ribcage, “all in this area.”
Le Beau screwed his face into a look of disgust and repulsion. His eyes were drawn toward the marks on Hogan’s throat that clearly outlined someone’s handprints. He felt constantly on the brink of tears, but none came, and he could say nothing, and no matter how far away he moved he could not block out the regular, low moans of his commanding officer, who had yet to lie completely still, even in this state of oblivion.
Just then Carter came running down the tunnel. “Klink and Schultz have just gone into Colonel Hogan’s cell,” he panted.
“They’ll start searching soon,” Le Beau managed to say, turning away.
Carter shook his head. “Klink told Schultz to come here and get some clothes for the Colonel before he lets the dogs out.”
“A couple of us had better get up there then,” Newkirk said.
“I’ll go,” Kinch volunteered. And, with a look at Le Beau, he added, “You come, too, Louis.” You need to get out for awhile.
“Oui, let’s go,” Le Beau answered. He almost couldn’t move fast enough to control the nausea he was feeling.
Carter took in the mood of the others and approached Hogan’s bunk, where Wilson was just beginning with light fingers to bundle up Hogan again. He looked at the Colonel’s wrists, thick with bandages, and his right hand, splinted to keep the broken fingers protected, and knew that the others had not told him everything when they explained how Hogan had been found. He wanted to appreciate the gesture, but he also hated it: his imagination could put in so many more terrible scenarios. Or would they only be mild images in comparison to the reality?
“How long will he be like this?” Carter whispered.
“It’s hard to tell,” Wilson answered, burying Hogan’s arms under the blankets. “I’d like him to wake up sooner rather than later; I need to get some fluids in him, and I can’t do that when he’s unconscious. On the other hand, the longer he’s out, the less he feels, and that’s not a bad thing in this case.”
Carter worried. And though he didn’t want to know the answer, in case it wasn’t the one he wanted to hear, he asked, “Is the Colonel going to be okay?”
Newkirk braced himself for the answer as well. He had long been wondering, but had also been afraid of the possible answer.
Wilson turned to the two men and registered their grief and fear. “Look, there’s no way around it; he’s in awful shape. Hochstetter would have figured he could do whatever he wanted and no one would care since the Colonel was going to be shot anyway. But everything they did was just window dressing—it was aimed at hurting, not killing. He’ll be okay. It’ll just take some time.”
Newkirk’s eyes were once again pulled to the man lying on his back on the bunk. Though his eyes were closed, there was nothing about Hogan that suggested he was resting. His face was etched with new lines of agony and stress, and a particularly strong stitch of pain occasionally left him moaning as his body jerked and pulled away from the cot. “You’ve gotta hand it to the Gestapo,” Newkirk said with contempt; “they know just how to hurt you enough so you want to die—then they torture you by letting you live.” His anger grew as he studied Hogan’s battered face. “And Hochstetter would have planned it so the Colonel was fully aware of what was happening when he finally pulled the trigger.”
Wilson nodded and thought of the state Hogan was in when he had come in—unresponsive, but with his eyes open in eerie slits. Awake, but not aware. Until they had started to tend his injuries, when he seemed to somewhat come into himself, and allowed himself to lapse fully into unconsciousness, something Wilson took as a sign of Hogan understanding the change of circumstances around him. “Well, this time Colonel Hogan got the last laugh: he took himself somewhere Hochstetter could never go.” He sighed. “Now all we have to do is get him to come back.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“WHAT?” Hochstetter’s voice rose at least an octave and his face turned a bright red as Klink reluctantly presented his findings to the other officers in his office.
“What do you mean, Hogan is missing?” Burkhalter asked, trying to ignore the continued ranting and raving going on beside him. “How could a man locked up in solitary confinement and chained to the room be missing?”
Klink shrugged apologetically. “I cannot imagine, General Burkhalter. Sergeant Schultz says no one went in or out of the cell.”
“Perhaps not while he was awake,” Hochstetter accused, growling.
“Major Hochstetter, I assure you, my guards are quite alert when it comes to looking after our special prisoners,” Klink began.
Burkhalter waved his hand to stop Klink from continuing. “Yes, yes, Klink. But the problem remains: Colonel Hogan is not in his cell. Regardless of how he got out, a man in his condition,” he said, with a glare towards Hochstetter, who merely raised an eyebrow and his chin in defiance, “could not have gotten very far. You have called out the dogs?”
“Of course, Herr General,” Klink answered. As late as possible, to give Hogan a fighting chance. “The guards are already out looking for him.”
“You would probably be better served by searching inside the camp, Klink,” Hochstetter suggested. The others looked at him questioningly. “Hogan may have needed some… looking after… before he went on his way. Perhaps he is still inside the Stalag.”
“Ridiculous!” Klink dismissed immediately.
“Perhaps not so ridiculous, Klink,” Burkhalter said. “As a matter of fact, perhaps you had better send some men in to study the cell itself. If Schultz was awake, and Hogan got out, then there would have to be a flaw in there. And you had better find it.”
“Yes, Herr General.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Kinch looked up from the coffee pot at Le Beau. “They do a good search of that cell and they’ll find the tunnel. You’d better tell Carter to get rid of it, and fast.”
“Oui, I will go.” Le Beau stopped on the way out and turned back as a sudden, clear thought made it through his racing mind. “Kinch—what is happening? Are we closing down the operation?”
Kinch stared back. He had not made it past the present to start worrying about the future. “I don’t know, Louis. Only the Colonel decides that. Let’s move one step at a time, and hope he recovers in time to salvage this disaster. Right now, we just close the one tunnel.”
And hope it’s the only one.
A New Suspect
Klink stood reluctantly in the doorway to the cell that had recently held Colonel Hogan prisoner. Inside, three guards, including two of the men Hochstetter had brought with him from Hammelburg, were scouring the room, studying it closely, pulling at the bunk, tapping on concrete blocks, jerking at the tiny bars on the solitary, high window that could not possibly fit any man, not even a child.
Though the middle of the cell no longer held the American, Klink’s mind refused to pull Hogan away from the chains that dangled from the ceiling. A torture chamber—that’s what this room had become. Under Klink’s command, this cell had only been intended to punish and remind prisoners where they were and under whose authority they were living. But now, it had been anything but that, and he doubted he could ever send a man here again.
“Keep looking, keep looking!” Hochstetter was urging. “He must have gotten out somehow!” He took the ladle out of the bucket of water and sniffed it absently. Klink wondered what he was thinking. Then Hochstetter suddenly got more agitated and splattered the ladle’s contents against the wall. Klink could only watch, feeling somehow disembodied, with a deep-set feeling of personal loss. Loss of…what? he wondered. Klink wasn’t sure, but somehow he suspected that life at Stalag 13 would never be the same.
“Herr Major!” came a sudden cry, jerking Klink out of his private thoughts. Klink looked up to see a young solder on his knees at the side of the cell, tugging with all his might at a large concrete block that formed part of the wall.
Hochstetter was there in seconds. “What is it?” he asked impatiently.
“Major Hochstetter, this block is loose!” answered the guard.
“Get down there and help him!” Hochstetter ordered another guard. The man obeyed, and with great effort the two young men managed to shift the block a few inches out. Hochstetter moved in to examine their findings. All he could see was a wall of dirt. But that didn’t deter him. “This hole is big enough to fit a man—this could have led to a tunnel! Start digging!” The men looked around impotently. With what were they supposed to do this? “Imbeciles! Klink, get some shovels and get these men digging, schnell!”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“He’s sleeping now,” Wilson said, sitting down at the desk Kinch used for radio transmissions. “That’s a good sign.”
Newkirk nodded and watched Hogan, whose breathing seemed steady and stronger. But the sleep wasn’t peaceful; that much was clear. “So what happens now, Joe?” he asked. “What can we do for him?”
“Not much,” Wilson admitted. “I’ll need to spend a lot more time with him,” he said. “I’m going to have to make him drink, which isn’t easy at the best of times, and it’ll be harder now with his throat swollen, thanks to someone’s iron grip.” Wilson tried hard to contain his anger, knowing how easily Newkirk rose to anyone’s heated emotions. But it was a difficult task when faced with such overwhelming damage as this. “Damn that Hochstetter,” is all he said now.
“Amen to that,” Newkirk answered. “His hands seem pretty bad; what about them?”
Wilson sighed. He never did have guaranteed answers. He wished Newkirk didn’t want them. “Well, his right hand’s suffered the most. The outer two fingers were broken at the base—”
“That would have been just for fun,” Newkirk said bitterly.
Wilson nodded. “Unfortunately, yes. A very deliberate act. And excruciating. So that hand’s going to stay pretty useless for awhile, and I don’t expect the swelling to go down any time soon.” Damn the Germans! “Otherwise you’re looking at just some time to let his wrists heal, and the rest of the swelling will ease up. From the sound of it, they were taking a lot of strain. He’s just going to need time.”
Newkirk nodded. Time. “I’ve never been any good at waiting,” he said simply.
“Me neither,” Wilson answered. “Guess that’s why I went into medicine. Always trying to rush Mother Nature’s healing powers.” He stood up. “Come on; let’s see if we can’t find something to eat. You look like you could use a sleep and a meal yourself. When we’re done, it might just be time to help prod nature along.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hochstetter was raging through the rest of the day, angry at the turn of events. Burkhalter had agreed to allow Hochstetter to search the camp, but had drawn the line at the Gestapo man digging past the solitary confinement cell wall. “If there is dirt there, Major, then a man would not be able to go through it. You will end up digging your own tunnel and then blaming it on the prisoners!”
Hochstetter’s response had been typical of his character—an exclamation of disgust and dismissal, then a “If you say so, Herr General,” through gritted teeth that spoke of a promise for revenge someday, even if the war was over.
Meanwhile, a study of the rest of the cell and the surrounding buildings turned up nothing, and the guards who had taken the dogs out of the camp also reported no success. Hochstetter called in the radio detection truck, then turned his temper and his suspicions on Klink later that day in the Colonel’s office. “So, Kommandant,” he started. “You say no one but you and your guard had a key to that cell.”
“That’s right, Major Hochstetter, no one could have possibly gotten in without either myself or Sergeant Schultz knowing about it!” Klink insisted from behind his desk. Somehow it always seemed safer to face Hochstetter with a barrier of some sort between them.
“So if Hogan is not there, he is either a magician,” Hochstetter began. Klink let out a nervous titter; “or he had help from someone who had access to the cells.”
Klink’s laugh got a little louder. “Surely you are not questioning the loyalty of Sergeant Schultz!” he began. “I know he is a lot of things, but Schultz is certainly not the type of soldier who—”
“Well if not Schultz, then someone else with a key,” Hochstetter persisted, his eyes boring into Klink.
“I am the only other one who has a key, Major Hochstett—” Klink cut off abruptly as he realized the implications. He shook his head vehemently, desperately. “No, Major Hochstetter, I assure you, I had nothing to do with Hogan’s disappearance! I—”
“Sergeant Schultz was found to be wandering through Barracks Two after the escape was discovered, before ordering the dogs to be released. He apparently said he was there on your orders. A man who wants escaped prisoners found would certainly not be sending men out for clothes for a man who isn’t there! Guards!” Hochstetter bellowed. Immediately the door to Klink’s office opened and two of the Major’s men came in. “Take this man to the cooler. Klink, I am arresting you on suspicion of helping Colonel Hogan to escape.” Klink started protesting, but when faced with the raised rifles of the soldiers he quickly succumbed. “Now we will find out how our Colonel Hogan played Houdini, Klink. And you will wish it was you who had disappeared instead!”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Wilson ignored the Colonel’s low groans and adjusted Kinch’s hands so he better supported Hogan’s head. “There, hold him like that. No, no—watch the angle, that’s right; we have to be careful not to aggravate his chest injuries. Now hang on.” Wilson regarded Hogan’s face for a moment—the still-closed eyes, the cheek sporting an inflamed gash—and readied himself. Very slowly he started to tip a cup of tepid water toward Hogan’s mouth. Gently he tried to part the parched, swollen lips, only to be met with new moans of protest but only the slightest resistance. Kinch hesitated. “It’s all right, Kinch, we’ll keep going,” Wilson reassured him. The Colonel’s still too weak to put up much of a fight. “Come on, Colonel, you know how much I love these little tête-à-têtes with you. Let’s just take one sip, eh?”
Hogan tried to swallow in a reflexive reaction to the liquid he felt hit the back of his throat. He immediately coughed, a choking, suffering sound as his body jerked forward, and he moaned weakly, still never opening his eyes, as pain from the sudden movements enveloped him and removed him from the present once again.
Wilson shook his head regretfully and, with Kinch’s help, eased Hogan back under the blankets. “Too soon,” he sighed. “Well, we had to try. Good thing no one’s expecting him at roll call.”
Suddenly Le Beau burst through the tunnel entrance from above. “Kinch—you are not going to believe this—Klink is being escorted to the cooler!”
“What?” Kinch said. With just a glance back toward Hogan, he headed upstairs. “What are you talking about?”
“I just saw Klink heading to the cooler—with Hochstetter’s goons holding his arms. I think he is in trouble!”
Kinch shook his head. “Where’s Carter?”
“He’s still down near solitary where we collapsed the tunnel.”
“Get him. And get Newkirk, too. We’d better find out what’s going on. If Klink’s in trouble, that means we’re all in trouble.” Kinch thought of Hogan down below. Oh, Colonel, what I wouldn’t give for one of your wild schemes right about now!
A short cough and the groan that followed woke Wilson up from the slumber he had unwittingly fallen into. Aside from roll call and quick rounds of the camp infirmary, the medic had barely left the tunnel since Hogan had been rescued, gratefully accepting the food that Le Beau prepared and sent down for him. But he had kept a close eye on Hogan, not as confident about the Colonel’s condition as he had made himself sound to the others, and that meant not sleeping—at least, until his body had decided otherwise.
Wilson blinked and opened his eyes widely as he got up from the chair and came to Hogan’s bedside. He couldn’t help smiling when he saw two half-open, confused eyes looking back at him. “Colonel Hogan,” he said.
Hogan said nothing, but continued looking at Wilson. Wilson could tell from experience what Hogan was doing: taking stock. Checking himself over, trying to gauge the situation, seeing if it was safe to move, to speak, even to breathe. Hogan suddenly squeezed his eyes shut and stiffened in agony, biting his lower lip—a mistake, as that was also sore. Finally, he simply allowed himself to cry out softly in pain.
Wilson came down close to Hogan to reassure him. “I know, Colonel. I’ll get you something to help,” he said. He had avoided it before now, wanting to be able to monitor Hogan’s natural progress, something that couldn’t be done while he was medicated. But Hogan was obviously now back in the present, and needed relief, so he took out the syringe he had had waiting and injected the contents into the Colonel’s arm. “You’re safe, Colonel. You’re in the tunnel. The Krauts don’t know where you are.”
Hogan seemed to relax then, and Wilson watched as he faded away again. “Hurts…” slipped almost imperceptibly from Hogan’s lips. And then he was quiet, still unable to lie completely still, but his breathing rhythmic and strong.
“I know,” Wilson answered, though he knew Hogan wouldn’t hear him. “At least you can tell me that.”
Despite himself, Wilson felt emotion overcoming him. He had looked after Hogan many times, including when he had first arrived in the camp, and he had watched as the senior POW struggled with injuries—both physical and mental. This time, Wilson had honestly thought he might have lost him, but Hogan’s single word had somehow reassured him otherwise. Just like I’ve watched you do for your men countless times, he realized.
Wilson took a deep breath, exhaled loudly, and blinked back his emotion and his tiredness. Then he headed upstairs to let the fellas know that their commander was coming back to them.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Hochstetter, you continue to amaze me.”
“General Burkhalter, my men have searched the camp, and they have searched the cell. If Hogan was not released by the guard, then it had to have been Klink himself!”
“Then why not arrest them both?” The question was almost, but not quite, serious. Burkhalter was finding this small man tiresome, and even though he had always cooperated with the Gestapo, something about this particular member of that group always rubbed him the wrong way, and he chafed at letting Hochstetter have his own way easily. He had had a hard time getting through to Berlin, and while he awaited further clarification of the Fuhrer’s orders, he was on edge; after all, one did not normally approach the Supreme Commander about his directives. He hoped he wouldn’t get himself into hot water over this himself. And since the cause of that would in the end be Hochstetter, Burkhalter was cutting him no slack whatsoever.
“One bumbler at a time,” Hochstetter answered. “And if the Sergeant is guilty of the crime, then Klink would be held responsible anyway.”
Burkhalter pursed his lips. How many times he had heard Hochstetter berating this camp. Many times he agreed. But the camp’s record spoke for itself, and even he, Burkhalter, could not dispute it. Something about Klink and Hogan together worked well for the Luftwaffe’s performance here. “Major Hochstetter, I think you occasionally forget who you are dealing with here,” he said slowly.
“Exactly. General. Of the Fuhrer’s staff.” He held his breath for a second before launching into what would be his release. “Major Hochstetter, I speak for the Fuhrer in his absence on all things to do with the Luftwaffe. Colonel Hogan, if he is found, is not to be interrogated again—if that is what you truly think you are doing. When he is returned to camp you will have him shot as per the Fuhrer’s orders, with no excuses. Understood?”
“We shall see, Herr General, when our answer comes back from Berlin,” Hochstetter answered, now a deep scarlet. “With all due respect to your rank, of course.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Klink paced back and forth in the cooler, missing his riding crop that he used to grip so tightly when under stress. He let Hogan out? Klink? If only it had been that simple! Hogan had never needed Klink’s help in anything, including, it seemed, getting himself out of facing a firing squad. But the how and why of it all still bewildered the Kommandant.
Klink considered the American as he walked a path around the cell’s perimeter. Since Hogan had arrived three years ago there had certainly been an increased number of strange events in and around the camp. Prisoners who had escaped from other Stalags disappearing into thin air; a huge amount of sabotage activity that had the higher-ups pulling their hair out; tanks, planes, and vehicles mysteriously going missing—and then sometimes reappearing in the most unlikely places. Klink had never found himself in so much trouble—and he had never found himself saved so many times by a man who should have been his sworn enemy.
Yes, Hogan had often tried to pass himself off as a cowed, broken man—he certainly resembled something like that when he had first arrived in the camp escorted by General Burkhalter—but over time, Klink noticed a distinct change in the American. And that change did not match the continued words of compliance that Hogan used when talking to the Kommandant.
Or was that manipulating the Kommandant?
Could it all be true? Could I just have been missing something all this time? Klink shook the thought out of his head. Impossible. And yet…
He looked up as the sound of footsteps grew louder. “Schultz!” he cried, a cross between anger and relief, as the portly guard came into view.
“Herr Kommandant,” Schultz said, coming to the bars of the cell, “I have been sent to guard you.”
Klink turned away, still unreasonably angry at the man. “And where do they think I am going?” he asked bitterly. “Unless Colonel Hogan happened to tell you a way out of here before he decided to leave!”
Schultz shook his head regretfully. “Herr Kommandant, I assure you, I did not see Colonel Hogan get out of solitary. I swear to you, Kommandant, I stood outside his cell the whole time, and he did not come out through the door.”
“Then what did he do, Schultz?” Klink despaired, gripping the bars of the cell tightly. “I don’t have any idea how he got out, and now Major Hochstetter thinks I helped Hogan to escape!”
“I am sorry, Herr Kommandant,” Schultz replied. His mind drifted to his encounter with Kinch and Newkirk yesterday, but he refused to let it dwell there. After all, he didn’t know exactly what they had done, or how, either.
Klink made a sound of frustration and turned away from the bars. “Oh, it’s not your fault,” he admitted, deflated. “I just wish I had an answer for him, so he would let me out of here! I would not have let Colonel Hogan just walk out of here,” he added. If I had known what was going to happen to you in solitary, Hogan, I would have driven you out of camp myself.
“Of course not, Herr Kommandant. But, Herr Kommandant, the Major, he was very angry with Colonel Hogan.”
Klink nodded and waved his hand futilely. “Major Hochstetter is always quite happy to blame Colonel Hogan for anything that happens around here. Once the Fuhrer’s orders came through, he just knew he had leave to do whatever he wished.” Klink shook his head, remembering the sight of Hogan hanging limp in the cell. Rarely had Klink ever been so devastated by human suffering; certainly he had witnessed many tragic scenes—in World War One, even in this war—but seeing Hogan, a man considered nearly unbreakable, who had changed from being a bewildered new prisoner to a confident senior POW officer, who had more than once saved Klink himself from the Russian front or worse—seeing Hogan helpless and suffering unfathomable torture was something Klink would not easily forget. “Now he can’t blame anything on Hogan, and he has General Burkhalter watching his every move.”
“Is there anything I can get you, sir?” asked Schultz.
Klink shook his head. “No, no, thank you, Schultz,” he answered. “Perhaps a good lawyer… or maybe a miracle. That’s what it’s going to take to get me out of this mess.”
One Out of Two
Hogan whispered through the pain-filled haze. “Can’t… think,” he gasped. Breathing heavily, he was trying to force his eyes open, but he couldn’t get them to do more than part mere millimeters, hardly enough to take in what was going on around him. And he couldn’t hear past the pounding in his skull, or think past the wild throbbing of his body.
“You don’t have to, Colonel,” Wilson answered, tenderly touching a cloth to Hogan’s hot forehead. “I’m happy just having you awake for a few minutes. Do you know where you are?”
Thoughts were racing in random patterns through Hogan’s brain. He could barely remember his own name, much less where he happened to be. And he couldn’t grasp any one concept long enough to focus. An unexpectedly strong jolt of pain pulled at him. “God,” he pleaded through gritted teeth. Then a shocking knife of agony sliced through him, ripping through his right hand and nearly lifting him off the bunk. He cried out, tears starting to squeeze out of his now tightly closed eyes. “God, please!”
Hogan trembled violently, arcing on the cot and gasping for relief in desperate, jagged breaths. Instinctively, he reached to clutch the blanket covering him. But with his hands so wounded it only caused more agony, and he found himself in a helpless cycle, causing pain as he tried to conquer pain. “Help me,” he begged, breathless, and unable to control what was happening to him.
Wilson gently and deliberately moved Hogan’s hands away, then settled him onto the cot, speaking in soothing tones as he worked. “We’ll get you through this, Colonel, we’ll get you through,” he said, reaching for a syringe. “Try to take slow, even breaths,” he said softly. He prepared the needle and started to inject the merciful fluid, knowing that when Hogan did become peaceful, there would be no conversation for quite awhile. “Try to focus on what I’m saying. You’re safe now. It will get better. Do you know where you are?”
Hogan tried to bring his rapid breathing under control. He groaned but didn’t answer. Finally he let out a loud breath as his rigid body went limp, and Wilson knew he was out. Shaking his head, Wilson stood up and wiped his own face, damp with the exertion of looking after Hogan. “Maybe you should’ve left your mind where it was when they found you,” he sighed aloud, “at least for awhile.” Then he called for one of the others to look after Hogan, as he went up to make sure he was visible in the camp for part of the day.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“So what’s going on with Klink?” Carter asked. Kinch made his way down into the tunnel, where Carter had been holding vigil beside Hogan’s bedside. The Colonel had not stirred since Wilson had given him the painkiller about four hours earlier, something that Carter had been quietly grateful for, since he had been unfortunate enough to hear a bit of Hogan’s earlier struggle when he was sitting on the bunk above the tunnel. He had been sorely tempted to burst downstairs at the time, but something inside him hadn’t wanted to see Hogan in such an agonized state. To him, Hogan was eternally well and eternally strong. Sitting beside him now, Carter knew that wasn’t exactly true, but he was still hoping that in the end, Hogan would come back to that strength. And sooner, rather than later, was his wish.
“He’s still in the cooler. Going stir crazy, I would think. Poor fella—Hochstetter’s really bearing down hard.” Kinch shook his head. “And Burkhalter’s no better—but at least he’s stepping on Hochstetter’s toes.” He glanced toward Hogan. “That’s the least of what I’d be doing.”
“What did Berlin say?”
“Nothing yet. It’s like they don’t want to know what’s going on.”
“What about London?”
“They just say to keep low and keep them informed. And now that the radio detection truck is here, we can’t even do that.” He laughed, a short, humorless laugh. “After all the Colonel’s done for them, you’d think they’d jump to do more.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Schultz shook his head as he sat down wearily outside Barracks Two. “I do not understand what is happening,” he said simply.
“What’s there to understand, Schultz?” asked Newkirk.
Schultz didn’t try to hide his bewilderment. “First, Major Hochstetter comes to camp and says Colonel Hogan is to be shot—but he does not shoot him. Then, Colonel Hogan disappears.” His eyes widened and he shot a pleading look at the Englishman. “But I do not want to know how that happened. Then, Major Hochstetter puts the Kommandant in the cooler.” He shook his head regretfully. “Poor Kommandant, he is so frightened. I tell him, everything will work out fine. But he does not trust the Major.” In a low voice he added, “And neither do I.”
“What’s going on, Schultzie?”
“That I cannot tell you, Newkirk.” Newkirk started to protest. “That is because I do not know.”
Newkirk gestured toward the cooler, where Burkhalter was suddenly seen heading with Hochstetter at a brisk, determined pace. “Someone knows, Schultzie. And I have to go find out.” He patted the Sergeant on the shoulder. “Finish up your lunch, mate. I’ll let you know when I’m finished spying.” And he turned and disappeared into the barracks, leaving Schultz pleading not to be told any more than he already knew, which was much more than he wanted.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Klink, I have good news and I have bad news.”
Klink stopped pacing in his cell as the voice of General Burkhalter came to him from down the hall. He grabbed the bars stopping him from running out of there and looked hopefully at his superior officer, trying hard to ignore the man beside him. “Yes, Herr General?” he asked hopefully, a stupid smile pasting itself on his face, against his wishes.
“The good news is that we have heard from Berlin.” Hochstetter didn’t look like he thought that this was good news, Klink noticed. “Berlin is of the opinion that any Gestapo interrogation of Colonel Hogan is to be ceased immediately.”
Thank God for that, Klink thought compassionately.
“Normally, it would be considered the duty of the camp Kommandant to control any problems that Gestapo activity would create in the Stalags, but in this particular situation it is not considered possible.”
Klink was aghast—that meant that Berlin knew he was under suspicion. That meant someone even higher up than Burkhalter was aware that his loyalty was being questioned! He was stunned, and at the same time ashamed, since he knew in his heart that he had wished for Hogan to escape. “Not possible?” is all he said now.
“That’s right, Klink. When briefed on the circumstances, Berlin agreed that you are to be held.” Burkhalter shrugged. “That for you is the bad news. In the meantime, the running of this camp will be taken over by me, and then by someone else being sent in from Hammelburg, until your trial is held. As for Hogan, if he is found, he will simply be shot. Which is what should have happened in the first place,” he added, looking in Hochstetter’s direction.
Hochstetter fumed but did not take the bait. “Colonel Klink,” he said now, “I hope you are thinking about what you have done. What a shame that the man who got you into this mess, cannot get you out of it.” He glanced briefly inside the cooler. “Perhaps when he is found we can shoot you both together. A traitor to his country is no better than an American anyway.”
Klink felt a shudder run through him.
Le Beau had heard all he wanted to hear, and ran back down the tunnel to tell the others.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Colonel Hogan blinked slowly as he became aware of his surroundings. Oh, how he hurt. From sore muscles in his legs and at his shoulder blades, to sharper, deeper pains in his chest, hands, and head, Hogan was coming to have a very deep and personal understanding of agony. But it was all muddled and dull, as though he was under a heavy, wet blanket that stopped him from moving or feeling anything fully. He somehow sensed that he should be grateful for that, and carefully turned his head, resisting the urge to close his eyes again as even that small move caused nearly unbearable pain.
Where was he? The last thing he could remember clearly was Hochstetter shouting in his ear. He had been lying on the cot in solitary, being painfully aware of every inch of skin and every muscle that had been abused by the Gestapo goons, when Hochstetter had added insult to injury by spitting on him and reminding him that when the interrogation was over came only death. And then reminding Hogan that death wouldn’t come before Hochstetter had had his fill.
Everything after that was a slide show of indistinct and confused images and sounds. Hogan had known that if he was not to go insane while waiting for the death that was to come—if he was not to beg for it and collapse in a crying, aching heap—that he would have to be somewhere else psychologically. And so he had removed himself mentally from the torture, and had planted himself firmly in Connecticut, near his home in a field that he loved.
And it had worked. When his abdomen was being pierced slowly and deliberately, he concentrated on the brilliant yellow of the buttercups that were sprinkled across the field as far as the eye could see. And when he saw his blood dripping down onto the flowers and the petals became tinged with red, he remembered the crimson poppies that bloomed near the farthest tree. When his little finger was being forced back farther than he could endure, he made himself dizzy with the sound of buzzing bees that drowned out his own agonized cries, so that by the time the Germans targeted his ring finger he barely responded, aside from the tears that rolled freely down his cheeks as it snapped sickeningly. When shouts of abuse assaulted his senses and his head pounded, he heard the clanking of the horseshoes as they hit their targets during the many family picnics in the field. The smell of sweat and fear was replaced by the tantalizing perfume of the apples in the tree he used to read under. The heat of fever as his body fought the onslaught was tempered by the cool meadow breezes that whispered across his brow.
And when he was lying flat on his back with his arms pinned down by heavy boots and a pair of hands tightening around his neck, he looked up and saw stars. Not just any stars: the stars he saw the night he and his first true love waltzed, without music, in the field after a friend’s wedding earlier in the day. The stars that shone down on Donna Marie when she whispered, “I love you, Rob,” in his ear, in that breathless tone that left him woozy with desire and happiness. The stars that made so many promises to them as innocents, before hard times swept through the country and took her away from him.
And in the middle of those images came the reality: voices—some shouting, insistent screams; other more soothing, coaxing, pleading words. None of it clear. None of it with faces to match. Just flashes. And for the moment, Hogan was grateful for that as well.
So now, having taken a moment to return his psyche to Germany, Hogan tried to focus. Do you know where you are? The words came to him as though someone had spoken them, but he could not remember it for certain. He looked directly across from him and saw a desk, and some equipment, and an uneven wall. A tunnel. The tunnel? he asked himself, not quite sure whether to believe his stinging, aching eyes. He let out a low moan, weary within himself, and ready to sleep again.
“Colonel,” he heard. Hogan wanted to turn his head toward the voice but could not will himself to do so. “Colonel Hogan, I am here.”
Hogan tried to speak, but found his throat dry and razor sharp. “Le Beau?” he croaked. God, that hurt.
“Oui, Colonel.” Hogan heard the creak of a chair and soon saw Le Beau’s small, worried face come into view. Holding a glass of water, Le Beau asked gently, “Can you lift your head?”
Hogan didn’t even try. He just let out a breath and closed his eyes.
“It’s okay; Wilson showed us what to do,” Le Beau said efficiently, as though Hogan had answered. Hogan opened his eyes slightly as he felt water touching his lips, and he saw Le Beau very gently squeezing a dripping washcloth over him. He opened his mouth a little bit and thanked God for the cool water that worked its way past his lips and onto his tongue. “Not too much at once, Colonel,” Le Beau said, stopping. He smiled at Hogan benignly. “I will not ask how you are feeling.”
Hogan nearly smiled but found the effort too great at the moment. Instead he let out a sound that was a cross between a sigh and a moan, letting his eyes drift shut.
Le Beau nodded. “You are in the tunnel, Colonel,” Le Beau confirmed. “Kinch and Newkirk got you out of solitary. You probably do not remember,” he said kindly, as Hogan certainly did not. “You have been here for three days, and you are getting better,” he said deliberately.
Hogan wanted to slip away again, but he had one overriding concern. He opened his eyes. “Operation—?” he managed, before a cough riddled him with instant pain.
Le Beau let Hogan ride out the wave of hurt before he answered. “On hold, mon Colonel. Too much Bosche activity. Hochstetter and Burkhalter are still here, and the radio detection truck is parked outside.” Le Beau decided that was enough to say for now. Hogan did not need to worry about Klink and everything else going on.
“Louis—did I say—I can’t remember anything—” Hogan asked, barely audibly.
“No, mon ami, you did not say anything to that pig Hochstetter,” Le Beau said proudly. “We would not be here now if you had.”
Hogan groaned agreement and closed his eyes, going back to a sky blanketed with stars, with a woman he loved in his arms.
On the Other Foot
Sergeant Schultz remained unmoving as the men from Barracks Two were dismissed from their earlier-than-usual morning roll call. General Burkhalter was an early riser, something that did not go down well with either the guards or the prisoners. And once they had been roused, often the prisoners could not go back to sleep, which meant the guards had to be alert a lot earlier than normal, a problem for Schultz even when his mind was at rest.
Today, he watched as the men Colonel Hogan had always been closest to shuffled tiredly back into their hut, wishing that the American officer was there now so he had someone to confide in. But it had been four days since Hogan had last been seen in solitary confinement, and all searches had ceased in the immediate vicinity. Hogan was gone.
Something about the situation bothered Schultz, aside from the fact that Newkirk had Kinch had made it quite clear that they had access to the cell where Hogan had been being held. He could not understand why the men were still so surly. If they had indeed gotten Colonel Hogan out, and he was safe, why would they be upset? He thought back to when he had first learned that there was some definite monkey business going on in the camp—when he had been stunned by his own brother Ludwig coming out of a tunnel under the barracks. Hogan and his men were more than just mere prisoners of war; they were still fighting, right under the Germans’ noses.
Schultz reluctantly considered the possibility that Hogan had not survived Hochstetter’s interrogation. The sounds he had heard while guarding the room were enough to drive a sane man out of his mind—the human suffering was immense, which was hard enough. But hearing it inflicted by someone who seemed to enjoy it had left him nearly retching, and it was only fear for his own life that had stopped him from bursting into the cell and using his own strength to bring Hochstetter to a halt. Perhaps Hogan had died. Schultz was unsure how he would deal with that idea, if it was a reality.
Newkirk was the last to head back inside, and Schultz shook himself into action and followed. “Englander,” he beckoned, as Newkirk headed for the stove. “Can I talk to you?”
Newkirk turned to the guard and nodded. “Sure, Schultzie,” he said.
Le Beau, Kinch and Carter observed quietly, milling about the room. Le Beau started to gather some food for breakfast. Though the sun had barely broken the horizon, he had things to do, and there was a man healing downstairs who would need nourishment. If he could do nothing else, there was always the need for food. It kept his hands busy, and stopped his mind from focusing too sharply on their problems.
“I would like to know—” Schultz paused. No, I would not like to know. But I need to know. He rephrased his unspoken words. “The prisoners have been very cross lately.”
Newkirk shrugged, pouring a cup of coffee for himself. He sat down at the table before answering. “Things haven’t been so wonderful for us here lately,” he said simply. “In case you hadn’t noticed.”
Schultz nodded knowingly. “They have not been so wunderbar for me either, Newkirk.” He sat down at the table without being invited. Le Beau shook his head but kept at his duties. “It is very confusing for the guards. Kommandant Klink is locked up, and no one knows how long Major Hochstetter will keep him there.”
“Poor baby,” Newkirk shot back sarcastically. “At least Hochstetter’s not beating him nearly to death.” The look on Schultz’s face made him immediately contrite. “Sorry, Schultz,” he said softly.
Schultz shook his head. “Nein, Newkirk, you are right. It is not right, what he did to Colonel Hogan.” He raised one eyebrow, hopefully. “Where is Colonel Hogan?” he asked reluctantly.
“Do you really want to know?” asked Kinch.
“No. I do not want to know,” Schultz decided. “I want to know nothing. But… is he… all right?”
“Hardly,” Le Beau replied crossly. “Filthy Boche.”
“He’ll recover, Schultz,” put in Kinch. “But it’s going to take a long time. Hochstetter was sure he could do whatever he wanted to and not have anyone to answer to for it, since he was going to kill the Colonel anyway.”
Schultz shuddered. “I did not know anything about that, boys. Honestly!”
“We know ya didn’t, Schultz,” Carter answered.
“And now Major Hochstetter thinks Kommandant Klink helped Colonel Hogan to escape, and he is going to bring him to trial.”
“A fair trial, Schultz?” asked Carter.
“There’s no such thing when the Gestapo’s involved, Carter,” Kinch interjected.
“When’s this happening, Schultz?” asked Newkirk.
“The Major did not say. But he has been given full approval by General Burkhalter to prepare for trial as necessary. Major Hochstetter says that should take about two days.”
“That’s not much time,” Kinch said.
“Oui, considering Klink’s perfect record here you would think there would be more to look at than the Colonel’s disappearance,” Le Beau added, putting eggs onto some plates for the men.
“That does not matter to Major Hochstetter,” Schultz said, shaking his head. “Colonel Hogan got out of a locked cell, with a guard at the door. I am afraid it is all my fault.”
“You’re not to blame, Schultzie,” Newkirk protested sincerely.
“Yeah, you didn’t have anything to do with Kinch and Newkirk going in through the—”
“Carter!” cried Le Beau, Kinch, and Newkirk almost as one.
“The Kommandant told me to get clothes for Colonel Hogan before I called out the dogs. I should have said nothing.”
Le Beau asked quietly, “Why did he do that, Schultz?”
Schultz answered, “I think it is because he felt bad about how Colonel Hogan was being treated, and he wanted to give him a chance to get away from Major Hochstetter. So now, Major Hochstetter has the Kommandant instead.”
“It’s a sticky wicket, all right,” Newkirk agreed. “But it still doesn’t make up for what happened to the Colonel.”
“In this, Englander, we will have to agree to disagree. The way I see it, the Kommandant has traded for Colonel Hogan’s life, with his own.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Le Beau paced the floor later that morning, unable to forget the conversation with Schultz. The idea appalled him—to think that some lousy, cowardly German officer had actually taken his own life in his hands in order to save Colonel Hogan was impossible. And yet they had all heard Klink telling Schultz quite clearly to delay calling out the dogs to search for him. Probably to give Colonel Hogan more of a lead—it is more of a sport that way, he thought bitterly.
Carter walked in on Louis as he trampled through Hogan’s empty office. “Whatcha doing, Louis?” he asked.
Carter ambled in and sat on Hogan’s lower bunk. “Yeah. There’s sure a lot to think about. I mean, who’d have thought that Klink would show so much backbone?”
Le Beau stopped and turned to the American. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well, Klink didn’t know about the tunnels. He had to think the Colonel was outside the fence somewhere. But he waited before calling out the dogs.”
“So?” Le Beau answered, unwilling to accept that Klink was on a mercy mission.
“So, I mean, how many times have we seen Klink cave in because he was afraid of the Gestapo?”
“Everyone in his right mind is afraid of the Gestapo.”
“Yeah, but with Hochstetter here, Klink still waited. He thought he was giving Colonel Hogan time to get away.” Carter shrugged. “And look where it got him. I mean, he may not be one of us, you know, but he’s sure at least partly human.”
“Maybe partly. But if he had spoken up sooner, mon Colonel would not be suffering so much right now.”
“No,” agreed Carter. “Maybe he’d just be dead.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“That’s good, Colonel. No more now, you need to have a rest.” Wilson drew the cup away from Hogan’s dry lips and eased his patient back down onto the cot.
“Hot,” whispered Hogan, already sweating and exhausted by the mere act of being propped up for thirty seconds and swallowing.
“You still have a fever. That’s why drinking water is so important.” Wilson wrung out a wet cloth and ran it gingerly over Hogan’s abused face and neck. “You just do as I say and you’ll be up and about before you know it.”
“Gotta find out… what’s… going on…”
“Not right now, Colonel; you’re off the clock. What you have to do right now is heal.” Wilson moved the blanket down to check Hogan’s dressings.
“Germans everywhere?—uhhn,” Hogan cut off, as a feather-light probe of his abdomen sent fireworks racing through his body.
“What do you expect in Germany?” Wilson quipped, trying to keep Hogan’s mind off of the assessment. He reached for Hogan’s right arm. “I don’t usually see many mademoiselles around here—though that’s not for lack of looking.” The pain swelled to excruciating levels as Wilson’s examination turned to Hogan’s wrist and hand. They were still badly swollen and tender to the touch, even through the thick dressing and the splint. Hogan’s muted groans became shrill, anguished cries as the medic checked the roughly broken fingers. Wilson could only imagine the pain. How did he bear this being done to him? “Sorry,” he said sincerely, pausing in his work to give Hogan a brief respite. “This hand is going to be bad for quite awhile, I’m afraid.”
Hogan lay panting, his eyes closed as sudden images of his imprisonment came rushing through his mind. Wilson mercifully concluded his work quickly, and covered Hogan again with the blanket. “You’re doing better, Colonel, but you still have a long way to go. No late-night frolicking with the frauleins for a little while longer, okay?”
Hogan’s mind was already drifting in its struggle to endure. “Only with… Donna Marie,” he mumbled incoherently. Then he faded back to the comfort of home.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Very good. Then the trial will be held here the day after tomorrow,” Burkhalter said into the phone. Kinch and Carter looked at each other as they sat at the coffee pot, now keeping regular checks on any activity in the Klink’s office. “And when will Klink’s replacement arrive?... Excellent. We will be expecting you.”
Kinch unplugged the listening device as Burkhalter hung up the receiver in Klink’s office. “Boy, is Klink in trouble,” Carter said.
“That’s quite an understatement,” Kinch observed. “Sounds like Burkhalter’s expecting a guilty verdict.”
“What else would there be?” asked Newkirk, coming into the room. “Klink’s facing the Gestapo—guilty is the only thing they know. Easier to say than ‘innocent’.”
“This isn’t good. If Klink’s found guilty and we get a new Kommandant, the whole operation could be in big trouble.”
“What do you think it’s in now, mate?” replied Newkirk. “We’ll just have to see who we get.”
“Well, I hope it’s someone like Klink,” wished Carter aloud. “I mean, he’s an enemy, but at least he’s been a pretty nice enemy. I mean as nice as enemies can get without actually being allies—”
“Carter, you’re dribbling,” Newkirk said.
Kinch shook his head. “No, Carter’s right. Klink’s gone above and beyond the call this time, and it’s really cost him—and us. I wish we could think of a way to get him out of this and put him back in place.”
“How are you planning to pull off that miracle?” Newkirk asked.
“I don’t know. But we’d better start thinking. Otherwise we might have already gone on our last mission.”
Text and original characters copyright 2004 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.