There's No Place Like Home (part 2)
“But General Burkhalter, I assure you I had nothing to do with Colonel Hogan’s disappearance!” Klink protested later that day, when the General came to tell him about his replacement.
“I’m afraid this time, Klink, that it is out of even my hands. You were given the responsibility of making sure that Hogan was ready for execution—”
“And he was!” Klink declared. “Was he not standing at roll call when Major Hochstetter showed up?”
“—and instead we find an empty cell and nonsensical orders from you to delay calling out the dogs to search for him. Berlin is most displeased.”
“I-I-I… I was simply stunned, General Burkhalter. I was not expecting to find Hogan missing—I can’t imagine how he would have gotten out! I couldn’t think!”
“Of you, Klink, I can believe this. And are you still insisting that your Sergeant of the Guard could not have had a role in this?”
Klink paused. In his heart he knew that he himself had been guilty of trying to get Hogan away from Stalag 13, and that he was relieved when he found an empty cell. But Schultz had had to listen to the horrific injuries being inflicted, and a man with such a soft heart would be more than sorely tempted to try to stop the suffering in any way he could. But would that include taking part in a prisoner’s escape? “He says he did not, sir. Schultz may be a little dimwitted, but he does not lie to me, Herr General.”
“Well someone is lying, Klink. And I think it will make little difference to the prosecution whether it is or is not you. For your sake, Colonel Klink, I hope it was worth it.”
“General Burkhalter, I assure you—!”
Burkhalter held up a hand. “Save it for the trial, Klink. Captain Eichberger will be here in three days to take over the running of this camp. In the meantime I suggest you think of some creative ways of saving your skin—if you can.”
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“Hochstetter, I am not yet convinced that Colonel Klink had anything to do with Hogan’s escape,” Burkhalter said later that day. He opened up the humidor on Klink’s desk and took out a cigar, waved it under his nose, disapproved, and put it back.
“With all due respect, it is not the General that needs convincing. That will all be determined at the Kommandant’s trial.” Hochstetter paced in front of Klink’s desk, almost as unhappy to see Burkhalter sitting behind it as he would to see Klink. A Gestapo man needed to be in charge, not some wishy-washy Luftwaffe officer. At least Franz Eichberger, while not Gestapo, was touted to be gung-ho about the business of running a prison camp. He had worked his way through the ranks quickly, only coming into his Captainship in the last few months, and his superiors were quite certain that he could handle a camp like Stalag 13 with no trouble at all.
And if he could be get along with Hochstetter, so much the better. Maybe together they would finally weed out the sabotage issues around the camp. On the other hand, Hochstetter considered, with Hogan gone, perhaps there wouldn’t be any sabotage to sort out.
“And there’s another issue to contend with,” Burkhalter said. He paused. He didn’t like confiding in Hochstetter; he always felt like he was dealing with a swamp rat.
“What is that, Herr General?”
Burkhalter grimaced. “I was informed of something this morning I did not know,” he began. “It appears that our bumbling Colonel Klink is actually quite valuable to the Third Reich.”
Hochstetter snorted. “A prison warden? What makes him so valuable? Why didn’t he ever say anything?”
“He does not know. But he has been entrusted with a list of people who are to be rounded up by Berlin in the event of anything… unfortunate occurring. They are people who are being watched and investigated by the upper echelons as we speak, as we believe they can lead us all the way back to higher, more important contacts.”
“How can he not know this?” Hochstetter asked, disbelieving. “Why would they send someone like that to this cesspool of a camp?”
“They would send him here for his own protection.” Burkhalter refused to comment on the condition of the LuftStalag.
“You mean he is putting on an act when he behaves like a bumbling idiot?”
“No one is that good an actor,” Burkhalter replied. “Klink’s behavior is his own. He was hypnotized and given the list, then told to forget it ever happened. He would simply be taken to Berlin and hypnotized again if the information needed to be retrieved.”
“Bah, this is nonsense!” Hochstetter dismissed. “Surely there are other ways of safeguarding this kind of information.”
“No doubt,” Burkhalter answered. “But it is certainly something to think about when considering Klink’s future.” He shrugged. “Berlin has many scientists working on experiments with the human mind. They even tried to do some work on Colonel Hogan when he was captured. But he was apparently too strong willed to succumb to the programming we had intended for him.” He paused. “This was apparently not a problem with Colonel Klink.”
Hochstetter waved his arm dismissively. “Obviously, it has made little difference to the Kommandant’s loyalties, General. Klink purposefully let Hogan get a good head start when it was discovered he had gone missing, if he didn’t help Hogan to get away himself. The trial will have to go on as planned. Let someone else less inclined to show clemency toward the enemy hold the precious information Berlin wants kept so quiet.”
Newkirk’s eyes widened as he listened to the conversation. Klink, carrying valuable information? Blimey, they sure picked the ultimate in secret weapons—no one would believe a fool like that could be holding something so important!
Until this moment, Newkirk had blocked any notions of carrying out espionage missions from his mind—nothing was more important than protecting the Colonel. But this one piece of information astounded him, and he knew he had to tell the others what he had heard. Maybe they needed to get working again, even if just for a little while, to get their minds off of the terrible circumstances they found themselves in now. To save the lives of the people whose names were locked away in Klink’s head. Not for you, bloody London, Newkirk thought. Not for you—you’ve abandoned the gov’nor like so much rubbish; but for the people who could be killed if we don’t warn them.
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“Fellas, now isn’t the time. Please,” Wilson pleaded, when Hogan’s men came as one to see him downstairs. “Colonel Hogan’s about to fall back to sleep; he’s exhausted. And he doesn’t need any added stress at the moment, either,” he warned, sensing something brewing from the looks on their faces.
“Look, mate, every time I come down here and the Colonel asks me what’s going on in camp, I have to tell him I know nothing. I’m beginning to sound like ruddy Schultz!” Newkirk declared.
“It’s probably making him more stressed to know that we’re hiding things from him, Joe,” Kinch added truthfully. “He knows we find out everything. Not telling him only makes him imagine the worst.”
“And is the truth any better?” Wilson asked accusingly.
Le Beau was the first to admit it. “No,” he said quietly. “But we need to talk with him.”
Wilson looked from one man to the other, then sighed and shrugged in a gesture of defeat. “Okay, guys,” he agreed reluctantly. “But just for a couple of minutes. And take it easy on him—he’s still not very strong yet; don’t make him any more tired than he already is.”
Carter nodded, smiling almost apologetically, and was the first to lead the men to Hogan’s bedside behind Wilson. He turned back questioningly, though, when he laid eyes on his commanding officer. Hogan had been propped up on pillows on the cot and was laying back with his eyes closed, his right arm on top of the blanket, but away from his sore abdomen. His face, still slightly swollen from the attacks in solitary, was still and drawn. He didn’t look like he was remotely ready to hear anything from anyone. “I think he’s asleep,” Carter said in a whisper.
The others started to retreat when a quiet voice surprised them. “Not quite yet, Carter.”
Carter turned. Hogan’s eyes were open, and he had turned his head ever so slightly toward them when the men had come down the ladder. Carter smiled and came back to Hogan’s side. “Gee, Colonel, I thought you were sleeping,” Carter said, unable to stop smiling. It was so good to see Hogan awake! “When you were lying there all still like that, I thought sure you were asleep. I mean, your eyes were closed, and you looked so tired and all—”
“I know what asleep looks like, Carter,” Hogan said softly, benignly.
The men moved back to Hogan and crowded in around the cot. Hogan looked worn, and it was quite clear that he was still suffering. But it was equally obvious that he was forcing himself to stay in the present so he could listen to his men about what was going on around him, with little ability to bear them dancing around the truth.
“We thought you needed to know what’s happening, gov’nor,” Newkirk started awkwardly.
Hogan nodded nearly invisibly. “Do tell,” he whispered.
And so they spilled it all, from their rescue of Hogan, to having to collapse the tunnel to solitary, to Hochstetter’s extended stay in the camp. When they got to Klink’s arrest and coming trial, Hogan grimaced. “So they think he helped me get out,” he said. “I’ll bet he’s regretting ever warning me now.”
“He’s in a lot of trouble, Colonel. Burkhalter’s arranged for a Captain Eichberger to take over the camp day after tomorrow,” Kinch said. “Obviously he’s pretty sure Klink’s going to be found guilty.”
“Is there any doubt?” Newkirk put in. “The thing is, sir, that apparently the Bald Eagle is important. Burkhalter says he’s got a list of possible enemies of the Third Reich who are being watched, and if anything happens, they round up everyone on it.”
“Where’s this list?” asked Hogan, interested but finding his energy waning fast. He closed his eyes.
“In his head, sir.”
Hogan wrinkled his brow but kept his eyes shut. “Come again?”
“Klink was hypnotized, so he would not know he has the list,” Le Beau explained.
“Too bad we didn’t see that little session,” Hogan joked tiredly. “It could have been entertaining, especially if we’d put in a few suggestions of our own.”
Carter chuckled. “Yeah, like clucking like a chicken,” he said. “Or—or making him sing the American national anthem every time the phone rings in his office. Or—”
“We get it, Carter, we get it,” Kinch said, amused.
“We need to get hold of that list, Colonel,” Newkirk said. “If we don’t, a lot of people could be in big trouble some day. God knows who’s on it.” He paused. “I don’t have any answers, gov’nor. And we were hoping you might… well, you might have something in mind.”
Wilson stood nearby, concerned about the revelations but trying not to fume at the pressure being put on his patient. Hogan was still seriously unwell, and asking him to coordinate some scheme was the last thing he could handle at the moment. Still, he remained quiet, hoping that Hogan’s better sense would kick in. But based on past experience, he wasn’t holding his breath.
As it turned out, Hogan said nothing. He lay quietly, not moving aside from the occasional twitch of discomfort. After a long pause, Le Beau spoke up. “I think he is too tired,” he said. “We will have to come back when he is more awake.”
“Get him out.”
The order startled the men. Wilson came closer to the bed to check on Hogan. “What’s that, Colonel?” asked Carter.
Hogan forced his eyes open and raised his left hand in a vague gesture of earnestness. “Tunnel to the cooler… still clear?” His men nodded. “Have to… get Klink out. Have to warn the people on that list… before… something happens.” He paused, drained. “Just… gimme time,” he added as his eyes closed again. “Klink’s trial… when?”
“Day after tomorrow, Colonel,” Kinch piped up.
“I’ll have plan… before then,” Hogan whispered. Suddenly Hogan’s eyes opened, and he stared at them all intently. “You… took a chance on exposing… the whole operation.” The men did not flinch under his examination, but looked resolutely back at him. “You could have… lost everything… could have ended up… facing… the firing squad with me. Big risk… I never told you… to do that for… me.”
No one’s face changed. No one looked embarrassed at the admission or ashamed by the act. Hogan’s unnatural energy seemed to start waning. His eyes suddenly full of tears, Hogan murmured, “Thank you.”
His eyelids drooped then and he started breathing more deeply. Wilson arranged Hogan in the bed and turned to the men. “He’s asleep. Can’t you guys see how exhausted he is? Just leave him for awhile.”
The men nodded guiltily as Kinch said, “Sorry, Joe. But this is something that’s bigger than all of us. And Colonel Hogan is still the boss as far as I’m concerned.”
Wilson nodded. “I know,” he admitted. “I just hope he gets paid well for all the overtime.”
“Are you sure we’re doing the right thing, Colonel?”
“I’m not sure of anything at the moment, Carter,” Hogan answered. He had just given his men their directions for tonight, and he was feeling dead beat. “I’m just hoping for the best.” The others had gone upstairs to prepare, but Carter had lagged behind, looking for reassurance.
“Well, this is one of your plans, Colonel Hogan, so I’m sure it’s a good one,” Carter said chirpily.
“Thanks.” Hogan was aware of a steady, hot throbbing throughout his body, particularly concentrated at his hand and his abdomen, and the ferocious headache he had awoken to a few days ago had never completely disappeared. I’m not supposed to be in charge any more, he thought fleetingly. Just let me go back to sleep. But habit or the persistence of his crew would not let him relinquish his position, and so he quashed the idea and tried to pay attention. “It’s gonna be hard on Klink,” he said.
“Better than facing the firing squad,” Carter replied.
Hogan nodded carefully. “You’ve got that right.” He paused, trying to conserve his strength long enough to stay awake for the rest of the conversation. Though it would have been a blessing to fall asleep again, Hogan sensed that Carter had more on his mind, and he wanted to hear it. “Carter?” Hogan said finally.
“Yeah, Colonel?” Carter looked at Hogan with big eyes. “Do you need anything? Are you feeling okay? I can go get Sergeant Wilson—”
“Carter,” Hogan interrupted gently, hoping to stop him with just a word, “what is it?”
Carter stopped, guiltily looking at Hogan and then away. “It’s nothing, sir.” Carter tried to sound dismissive, but somehow he couldn’t quite manage it.
Hogan wasn’t fooled. “Since when?” he asked softly. “Come on, Sergeant. Spill it.”
Carter fidgeted while he clearly debated the issue, then whispered, “I was so scared, Colonel,” he said. Hogan noticed that Carter had tears in his eyes. “That day they took you away, I was just—” He cut himself off, not wanting to force any painful memories on his commanding officer. “Well, I mean… it was the first time I thought we might really be in trouble. And without you to help us figure out what to do, I was just… scared.”
Hogan understood. “So was I,” he said simply. “But we always knew the risks involved in what we do.” He thought of Klink in the cooler, awaiting trial tomorrow, and the tasks Hogan had set forth in motion for tonight. “And we’re not out of the woods yet. You’d be stupid not to be scared.” Hogan shifted with difficulty. “One step at a time, Carter,” he hissed through his teeth, as he started to feel sick with pain again. “That’s all we can do.”
Carter nodded. “I guess you’re right,” he said, and, aware that Hogan’s condition was starting to deteriorate, he added, “I-I’ll leave you alone now, sir. You get some sleep.”
“Carter,” said Hogan, in a voice so strong that it startled the Sergeant, “we’ll get through it, whatever happens.” Hogan could feel his concentration disappearing and, seeing that his words and tone had had the reassuring effect on Carter he had hoped for, he let himself once again slip away into soothing darkness.
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Klink bade good night to Schultz as the big guard ended his shift outside the Kommandant’s cell. Left with no visitors and nothing to occupy his mind but alarming thoughts of his possibly short future, he started a slow, steady pace around his prison. He was consumed with the idea that tomorrow would more than likely be the last day he would spend at Stalag 13. Depending on the outcome of his trial—and he doubted there was little chance that a favorable outcome would result—another man, a mere Captain, would be taking his place.
This place wouldn’t be the same anyway, he thought morosely, not without Colonel Hogan to liven things up. Klink tried to picture Hogan standing in the office, smoothly stealing cigars from the locked humidor, or lining up with his subordinates at roll call in the cold, with only that thin brown jacket to protect him from the elements. An officer deserves more, but you never complained for yourself. He remembered the more than rare occasion when Hogan would sit across from him with a chess board between them, and though the American rarely won a game, Hogan had always remained good-natured, and full of clever anecdotes and good conversation. He could have just been playing you for a fool, if what Hochstetter believes is right, Klink thought bitterly. You should have just followed procedure immediately. But when the next image of Hogan forced its way into his consciousness—that of a man tortured and broken at the hands of a man who hated him—Klink had a change of heart. He closed his eyes to the horrific scene playing before his mind’s eye. No one deserves that, Hogan. Wherever you are, I hope you’re healing.
Then the next question came painfully to him. Where was Hogan? How did he get out? Klink himself was being asked these things, with no clear answer. If he could only come up with something that would convince the authorities that he did not have anything to do with Hogan’s disappearance, he might one day have a chance at solving the mysteries. But he could not think of one, wryly realizing that if he were here, Hogan would certainly have come up with something that would help immediately. How ironic that my future is being determined by you, without you even being here.
Klink ran his hands uselessly along the walls of the cell, wondering if there was some truth to the notion that Hogan had simply slipped through the walls of the other room, and he wished there were some magic that he could use now, to steal away himself.
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Hogan’s dark eyes followed Kinch as the radio man checked the instruments on the panel nearby and picked up a couple of small items from the desk. Kinch nodded fleetingly in Hogan’s direction, a gesture that Hogan accepted with a slight incline of his head, but no words. Hogan moved uncomfortably on the cot when the penetrating wounds in his abdomen began smarting distractingly; he shot a glance over at Wilson sitting nearby, trying to keep his discomfort as invisible to the medic as possible, in the hopes of spending less time being hovered over, and more time being active.
The movement, however, was not lost on Wilson, who sagely decided to pretend he had not seen it. But he was more than aware of Hogan’s limitations. The Colonel, while making a great deal of progress considering the limited medical resources of the camp, was still prone to sudden exhaustion that would unexpectedly slam his eyes shut, and bouts of nearly unendurable pain persisted, even with painkillers administered as often as allowed. The one or two times that Hogan had been permitted to get up, he had quickly returned to the sanctuary of the cot, as his still-sore muscles protested the stress, or a sickening dizziness would threaten to pull him down. Then he would sleep for long periods, his energy quickly spent.
Now, Wilson saw the look of rejection in Hogan’s eyes as the tunnel hummed with activity. “They’ll be all right, Colonel,” he said simply.
Hogan closed his eyes briefly, took a deliberate breath, and opened them again. “Let me go out with ’em, Joe. Please.” He turned briefly away from the traffic around him, to focus on the man holding him back.
Hogan’s plea was genuine, but his voice was weak. Wilson asked gently, “And what help do you think you’d be in your condition?” He watched Hogan’s frustrated gaze drop to his useless, throbbing hand. “Look,” Wilson said gently. “You’ve done your bit. Let them do theirs.”
“But, Joe, this time it’s different. This time—”
“I know,” Wilson interrupted. He didn’t want Hogan to have to say it. This time everything is at stake. “But we both know you won’t be any good to them the way you are, don’t we?” he reminded him. He tried to smile reassuringly. “They’ve got your orders. They wouldn’t dare disobey.”
Hogan stared at the floor, downcast. “I guess so,” he said.
“One rescue tonight is more than enough. They don’t need to worry about the possibility of adding another one to their list.” The first one was devastating enough.
Hogan nodded, then brought his left hand to his head. “Dizzy,” he announced suddenly, his voice unsteady. Wilson got up and immediately helped slide Hogan into a resting position. “You’re right, Joe,” Hogan said breathily, and sounding slightly distressed, “I’d just… slow them down tonight. Maybe I’m just having a… hard time letting the chicks… leave the nest.”
Wilson smiled softly. “I don’t blame you, Colonel,” he replied. “But you don’t have to let them go yet…. Just loosen your grip till you’ve recovered, okay?” Hogan’s reply was a sigh that slipped through his lips as his head lolled once very gently back and forth, his eyes half closed, seeing nothing. “Yeah…” he answered himself, studying the now-still face of his superior officer, “yeah, I guess that’s okay.”
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Carter very slowly opened the tree stump lid outside the prison camp and scanned the surrounding area. A searchlight from the tower near the gate about thirty meters away swept overhead, causing him to duck down, and then he timed his exit from the tunnel below with the next arc of light from the camp.
Closing the lid, Carter made sure he had his binoculars and his pack, and moved out into the darkness.
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Louis Le Beau made his way quietly up through to the dog pen near the fence line and tried to raise the kennel above his head that allowed him to see the compound. Trčs lourde. He braced himself on the ladder and tried again, this time able to move the structure a few inches. Peering into the darkness, he saw four furry legs hanging over the edge. “C’mon, you two; get off!” he whispered loudly to the dogs above him. “Vite!”
The German shepherds gave a short whimper and then hopped out, turning around to sniff the face of the man emerging from below. Le Beau looked at the pair of dogs that had squeezed into the small space together. “Ah, Heidi, Bismarck…I should have known.” He ruffled their ears affectionately. “Amour.” Le Beau quieted the other dogs that started milling around him, and pulled out some homemade snacks for them, as he hid in the shadows away from the lights from the towers.
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If it were for anyone but Colonel Hogan, I wouldn’t be here. Peter Newkirk considered what he was about to do as he waited for the signal to move in. Well, he reconsidered, shifting from foot to foot in the cold of the tunnel by the cooler, he’d probably do the same if it was for Kinch, or Carter, or Le Beau. How had he ever ended up caring about anyone but himself? His mind drifted to his prior existence on the streets of London and the less wealthy areas of the city. There, it was a rough-and-tumble life, gruff and impersonal more often than not. But here, there was a closeness and camaraderie that Newkirk couldn’t get out of, no matter how much he tried to cover it with smart remarks and baleful stares.
And, surprising even himself, he realized he didn’t want to.
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Kinch peeled himself away from the side of the building when the search light had passed by, heading for the next stopping point—the truck parked outside the cooler. Considerate of Langenscheidt to forget to return it to the motor pool, passed through his mind. When he was sure the next run was safe, he dashed to the building he was aiming for, creeping along the side of it until he got to the window he wanted.
Kinch started to look inside the opening when the tower light once again made its rounds. He ducked, hugging the wall, with his head tucked down into his chest, and when no siren sounded, he straightened, pulled the tool out of his pocket, and got to work.
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Wilson watched Hogan’s chest rise and fall in a steady rhythm. The Colonel had been asleep since before the men had left the barracks, and had not moved, aside from an occasional turn of his head or groan from his lips. What was it about this man that made other people put everything on the line at a word from him? Why did no one question his schemes?
Wilson had no sure answer, but he could guess: Hogan never asked of others what he would not do himself. There was risk, great risk, in every move they made as saboteurs and spies. But Hogan’s willingness to do whatever it took to support the Allied war effort had brought out the natural bravery of the men under his command, and they now all trusted each other with their lives. They knew that somehow, whatever Hogan said, even if it seemed spontaneous, he had actually taken into account the safety of the people involved, and the very real consequences of action versus inaction.
In short, this seemingly unsophisticated flyboy was an exceptional leader. He had earned the respect of the men, and they showed it by laying their lives on the line day in and day out. A team of real heroes, led by a hero. Hogan’s heroes, Wilson thought knowingly. None of them would be able to do this without Hogan— or him without them. Hogan grunted uncomfortably, a frown passing over his features as he slept. Wilson touched Hogan’s forehead. Still warm, but not on fire as it had been when Hogan had come out of solitary. Now let’s just make sure we can keep them all together.
Silent as a cat, Kinch tightened the tool around the bar on the outside window to the cell in the cooler. Twisting it slightly, he listened for the scraping sound that indicated it was loosening, and then he continued, testing it every now and then with his fingers.
Inside the cell, Klink was lying, disconsolate, on the pallet that served as his bed. A far cry from my nice, warm quarters, he thought, full of self pity. Then he drew himself up, mentally, and told himself that he had certainly encountered worse sleeping quarters—like in the middle of a World War One bunker. He huffed a derisive laugh—at least there, he had a chance of escaping with his life. Here, he knew, there was little hope of avoiding being shot.
A scratching noise broke his reverie, and he sat up immediately, listening. Please, don’t let there be any rats, he thought, shuddering. The guard in the hallway called, “Lights out, Kommandant,” in an almost regretful voice, and suddenly the room was dark aside from a patch of moonlight, and footsteps faded in the distance. Klink pulled his feet up onto the bunk, listening to the continuing light scraping noise somewhere nearby.
Suddenly the sound became distinctly louder. Metal on concrete. Klink frowned, wondering about the source of the noise. Another scrape, and then a long pause. Light from the guard tower splashed through the cell, then disappeared, and the noise began again. “Who is that?” Klink asked sharply, starting to feel frightened.
“Sh!” came a voice, equally sharp. But no answer followed the reproach.
Another noise from the side of the cell caused Klink to jump. A louder, heavier sound that seemed labored and close to the ground. Klink hugged his knees, unable to decide what to do. In spite of himself, he tried desperately to see what was going on around him. But the night was conspiring against him as a cloud passed over the moon, leaving the cell in complete darkness.
Klink gave a start as he realized there was now another person in the cell. He tried to see who it was, but a very dim light emanating from the side wall was not bright enough to help. Trying to sound confident, Klink said, “Who are you?” When no answer came, he called loudly, “Guard! Guaaaaaard!”
“Blimey, Kommandant, you’re going to have to learn to keep your mouth shut!”
Klink was sure he recognized the voice. But he didn’t get a chance to contemplate the issue, because someone struck him from behind, sending his monocle flying and plunging his already dark world into blackness.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Le Beau watched as Kinch waved madly across the compound. He abruptly stopped feeding the dogs, who sat, tails wagging expectantly, not at all concerned with the business of the camp. Then he retreated to the safety of the tunnel entrance, where, still holding the kennel above his head, he started to softly and expertly meow.
The din that followed was deafening and insistent. Le Beau disappeared back down the tunnel.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Carter’s binoculars had stayed focused on the dog pen from the moment he had made it to his target area. Now, he watched as Le Beau vanished from sight and the dogs started barking like mad. Smiling eagerly, Carter started fishing through the equipment he had removed from his pack, and pulled out a lighter, lit one of the smoke bombs he had brought with him, and tossed the device into the clearing before doing the same with several others and taking off back toward Stalag 13.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“What is going on here?” Burkhalter called as he stumbled out of the VIP quarters, pulling on his coat and trying to see across the compound. There were dogs barking, sirens wailing, and guards running to and fro in a less than organized fashion.
He was met by Hochstetter who, fully dressed, was charging toward him. “General Burkhalter, it seems that Colonel Klink has escaped!”
“Escaped?” echoed Burkhalter. “How?”
“The bars on his window have been cut.” He shook his head. “But they are too small; someone must have helped get him a key to the cell from there.” He pointed toward the fence near the dog pen. “I imagine he went that way, as the dogs got riled up quite suddenly, and—”
“Look! Over there!” Burkhalter shouted, pointing past the fence and into the trees. Heavy smoke was billowing into the sky and forming a great cloud that slowly wafted toward the camp.
“He has started a forest fire!” Hochstetter yelled.
“Get some of the guards to go out and fight that fire before it takes over this camp, Hochstetter! The rest of them will have to search the area for Klink!”
Hochstetter raged on as he followed the General’s orders. Meanwhile, he scanned the passing men for Sergeant Schultz, now even less convinced that the guard had nothing to do with Hogan’s disappearance, now that his commanding officer had also mysteriously vanished right before his trial. He would have to deal with the incompetent fool when this wild night was under control.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Mission accomplished, sir,” Newkirk reported to Hogan, as the American struggled to push his grogginess away. How long had he been asleep?
“Good. Where is he?” Hogan asked.
“Still at the other end of the tunnel, sir.”
“Okay. Well, don’t let him down this end yet. We’re going to need to break this to him gently. What does he think is going on?”
“Well… nothing yet, gov’nor. He’s still unconscious.”
“Unconscious?” Hogan repeated loudly, then winced at the impact that had on his head. “Newkirk, what did you do?”
“Sorry, Colonel, but he was starting to shout for the guard, and we would have been caught dead to rights.”
Hogan nodded, rubbing the back of his neck with his left hand gently. “You did the right thing,” he admitted, grimacing. “Everyone else okay?”
“Oui, Colonel,” came the voice of Le Beau. He appeared from another tunnel that spilled back toward this main passageway. “I saw Kinch sneak back this way before the alarms went off. And Carter is on his way.”
“Hey, fellas, did you see that?” As if on cue, Carter’s voice boomed through the underground area, and he showed up only seconds later, practically bursting with pride and unexpended energy. “I watched until I saw Louis go back down into the tunnel, and then I heard the dogs going crazy—you know, really barking up a storm, like they’d seen a real cat or something—and then I set those smoke bombs off all over the place! The Germans are going to go nuts trying to fight a fire that isn’t there!” he said.
Hogan nodded tiredly. “What’s going on upstairs?”
“The whole area’s lousy with Krauts,” Le Beau reported. “I saw Burkhalter trying to pull on his boots while he was screaming at Hochstetter about not being able to keep hold of anyone in the cooler here. The two of them are trying to organize a search for Klink.”
Kinch appeared from the barracks. “Thanks to your idea of cutting through the bars, Colonel, Hochstetter is sure Klink took a more orthodox route out of the cell and is heading out to the woods somewhere.”
“Did you cut the barbed wire on that side of the perimeter?”
“Yes, sir; right near the guard tower.”
“Good; that’ll take the heat off the prisoners for awhile.” Hogan said. He tried to pretend he didn’t see Wilson watching him for the signs of fatigue Hogan was trying to hide.
“Krauts are yelling for roll call!” a voice from above warned suddenly.
“You’d better go; they’re probably looking for accomplices. Hurry up and get back in position. I’ll look after Klink myself.” Wilson gave a start of protest, but Hogan silenced him before he began, holding up a hand. “No one will miss me at roll call,” he said. “But they’re bound to notice if these four aren’t there. And we can’t leave Klink on his own.”
Wilson nodded, defeated by Hogan’s logic. Promising a swift return, the men scurried to change and get outside. Slowly, and with considerable discomfort, Hogan eased himself out of the cot. Wilson supported Hogan as he swayed unsteadily on his feet; then Hogan pulled away. “They’d miss you, too, Joe. I’d better do this on my own,” he said. Wilson looked unconvinced. “Considering what he tried to do for me, the least I can do is explain.”
“Well at least do me a favor—explain while you’re sitting down. You’re weak as a kitten, and you still have a fever. I don’t need to have you deteriorate on me.”
“You have my word,” Hogan promised. “If I’m not standing up I’ll be sitting down.”
“That’s very comforting,” Wilson quipped. He shook his head as he watched Hogan drape his bomber jacket over his shoulders tenderly, perch his crush cap cockily on his head, and stumble with clear frailty down the tunnel to his new companion in exile.
Klink’s eyes widened as a figure slowly came into view in the dimness. He had woken up a short time ago, not really sure what had happened, but with a dull ache at the back of his neck to assure him that something real had occurred. But he had not moved, too scared to venture away from where he was, and anyway he couldn’t seem to find his monocle.
What he thought he saw now made him wonder if he had been hit too hard. “Hogan?” he dared to whisper.
“Welcome to purgatory,” came the familiar American voice.
Klink sat up straighter on the floor of the tunnel so he could get a better look. As the figure approaching in the gloom became more distinct, Klink started to make out details: a slow, unsteady walk that nonetheless retained that confident gait that occasionally drove Klink mad with frustration at its owner. The man had only his left arm pushed through the sleeve of his jacket; the right, splinted hand he held cushioned protectively against a torso swathed in bandages under an unbuttoned shirt. Klink studied the face as it came into view: it was bruised and weary, but under that cap there was no doubt who it was. “Hogan—how did you get here?”
The American stopped a few feet away from Klink. “Let’s just say I didn’t like the accommodation at the Gestapo Hilton,” he said. He let a silence pass between them. “Are you all right?”
Klink suddenly decided that he didn’t want to be sitting on the floor with Hogan standing above him here—wherever “here” was. He pulled himself to his feet. “I will be,” he said, brushing himself off.
“You’ve lost your monocle,” observed Hogan, looking casually around. He spied Klink’s hat in the corner. “It’s probably over there.”
Klink looked where Hogan pointed and found his eyepiece sitting inside his hat. He examined it, then replaced it, and put his cap back on his head. “Thank you,” he said.
Hogan nodded. “I hear you had a bad day coming up,” he said, unsure what to say now that Klink was in front of him.
Klink shook his head. “That’s an understatement,” he acknowledged. “Tomorrow I am sure I would have been facing the firing squad—for helping you to escape. And I didn’t even do that!”
“No, but you wanted to,” Hogan said simply. Suddenly the realization of the risk Klink had taken by trying to help him struck full force. Hogan averted his eyes from Klink’s continued look of confusion. “You took a real chance for me. Thanks.”
Klink nodded. “You didn’t listen.”
“Actually, I did,” Hogan replied. “As a matter of fact, it was all I thought about. But I had other things I had to do first. Duty to country and all.”
“Hogan, where are we?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Who took me away from the cooler? For that matter, how did they do it? And what about you—how did you get out?”
“Let’s just say we both have friends in low places. All you need to know at the moment is that we couldn’t let you face the firing squad; you’re too important.”
Klink’s confusion only grew. “Important?” he echoed. “To whom?”
“To the Allies,” Hogan answered. The world abruptly started to go fuzzy before Hogan’s eyes, his body unaccustomed to the sudden activity after days of recovery. He reached out a hand as if to steady himself against a wall. But the wall wasn’t there and he found himself starting to pitch forward, only to be caught by Klink. He grimaced as Klink’s arms encircled his sore torso.
“Hogan!” Klink said, concerned. He looked for a place to sit Hogan down. Finally he spied a small, hard chair near where he had been sitting and lowered the American into it.
Hogan sat out the wave of nausea, trying to take deep breaths, and opening his eyes every now and then to see if the spinning had stopped. Sweat was pouring down his face, and he felt sick as a throbbing pain started to make itself felt again. He concentrated for a moment on pushing the hurt to a remote part of his brain, and when he felt he had sufficiently succeeded, he rasped, “Thanks.”
“You are not well,” Klink said. He tried to see the dressings Hogan sported, but when pictures of Hogan hanging in the cell invaded his memories again, he decided to abandon the examination.
“Let’s just say I owe Hochstetter a work-over in a dark alley some day,” Hogan replied.
Klink looked around them, trying to figure out where they were, and not remotely succeeding. “Hogan, are we safe here?” he asked.
“Safer than in your mother’s womb.” Hogan paused, unwilling to say more about it. “Why did you try to help me?”
Klink thought for a moment. “You know, Hogan, I don’t think that’s a question I can answer right now. I think for the moment I just need to console myself with the knowledge that I did.” Hogan nodded, still staring at the floor. “Was it you who got me out of the cooler?”
“I can’t talk now,” Hogan said suddenly. He was struck with a sudden real fear that he would pass out in front of the Kommandant, and that was something that made him feel very uncomfortable—and vulnerable. “I need to… go lie down.”
Klink put out an arm to help Hogan up. “Let me help you,” he said. “They have given you a place to rest?”
Hogan frowned as he realized Klink really had no idea what his new circumstances were, and quite possibly thought Hogan didn’t either. “Yeah, I have a cot further down the line,” he answered vaguely. Hogan got up but did not accept Klink’s offered aid. “You’d better stay here for awhile. Things will get clearer soon.”
He started to head away, when Klink’s worried voice reached his ears. “Hogan—I don’t want to be alo—I mean, how long will I be here?”
Hogan turned back and studied Klink’s frightened eyes. He wanted to care more than he did, but right now he couldn’t concentrate on much more than standing upright. “Get some sleep,” he said, not sure how reassuring he was sounding. “You’ll be okay here.” He pointed to the blanket that Newkirk must have left when he brought Klink here earlier. “That’ll keep you warm. I’m sorry, I can’t explain right now. I’ll see you later when I’m… not so…” Not so sick, he thought, hurting. “…so fuzzy on it all myself.”
Then, knowing that Klink would be too uncertain to do anything other than what the American had suggested, and knowing the others would be back in a matter of minutes, Hogan staggered back to his cot further down the tunnel, where he collapsed wearily, his mind reeling from this short encounter, and knowing that there would only be more to come.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Ol’ Klink’s curled up in a ball with his blanket, sleeping like a baby,” Newkirk reported as he returned from his trek down the tunnel with Le Beau. “What would have possessed the gov’nor to leave the Kommandant on his own like that?”
“Exhaustion.” Wilson spoke over his shoulder as he tended to Hogan, whom the men had found sprawled across his cot on their return. Alarmed, they had had to stop themselves from going topside and grabbing Wilson out of his own formation. When he came below, they had practically dragged him off the ladder and over to their commanding officer.
Kinch nodded as he and Carter stood worriedly nearby, watching Wilson finish his examination. “Is he all right?” asked Carter, who had been unable to stand still the whole time.
Wilson handed Kinch Hogan’s jacket and cap. “He’ll be fine,” he assured the Sergeant. “He hasn’t moved around a lot since he’s been here; the exertion of going all the way down the tunnel probably just wore him out. His fever’s up a bit, but there’s no new bleeding or anything, so take it easy. He just needs the sleep.”
Kinch yawned. “We all do,” he said. He looked down the tunnel toward where they had left Klink. “It’s getting crowded down here.”
“Too crowded,” Wilson agreed. “You fellas go get some sleep. There won’t be any less work to do tomorrow.”
“We’d better keep a guard on Klink in case he wakes up and decides to go exploring,” Le Beau suggested.
“Good idea,” Kinch said. “We’ll get the men down in shifts. Carter, go tell Olsen he’s the lucky first.”
“Right, Kinch,” Carter said, and he headed up the ladder.
The others headed up slowly, taking deliberate looks at Hogan lying still on the cot before they ascended. Wilson nodded reassuringly when they turned their worried gazes to him, then prepared the second cot he had finally set up downstairs for his own use, and settled in for the night.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“This just smacks of carelessness, Schultz,” Newkirk chided the guard the next morning, puffing on his cigarette. “First the Germans lose Colonel Hogan, then they lose Colonel Klink? Makes me glad I’m an enlisted man,” he quipped.
“Please, Newkirk, this is very serious. The Gestapo was to have men come to the camp today to try the Kommandant for treason!” Schultz lowered his voice and shook his head sadly. “And the Kommandant will find it difficult out in the woods.”
Newkirk nodded. “Is that where they think he’s gone, Schultzie?”
Schultz nodded. “Ja. The wire was cut near the cooler leading out to the woods.” The big man paused, then asked slowly, “That is where he has gone, isn’t it?”
“Could be, my dear friend, could be.” Newkirk blew a stream of smoke out of his mouth and stubbed out the end of the cigarette on the ground. Schultz absentmindedly picked it up and put it in the nearby trash barrel. “I doubt anyone knows for sure,” he added, thinking of the Kommandant asleep in a ball. “Not even ’im. Uh-oh, heads up, mate.” Newkirk nodded in the direction of the gate as a staff car pulled up, and an officer exited the vehicle in great haste, heading toward Klink’s office. “Looks like the fireworks are about to start.”
“I do not like fireworks,” Schultz lamented. “This is trouble.” Schultz stood up and headed away from the barracks. “Ever since General Burkhalter showed up last week, there has been nothing but trouble.”
“I’m with you there, mate.”
Newkirk was about to turn back into the hut when he saw Hochstetter come barreling out of the office toward Schultz. His voice carried in the wind, hurting Newkirk’s ears as it always did. “Sergeant Schultz! You are to report to General Burkhalter’s office immediately!” he ordered.
It is Kommandant Klink’s office, Schultz thought defensively. “Jawohl, Herr Major.”
“You will hand your rifle to the guard outside the door,” Hochstetter added. “We have many things to ask you.”
Schultz’s eyes widened. “Who, me?” he asked, a worried look taking over his face.
“Never mind the stalling; get moving.”
“Jawohl, Major Hochstetter.”
Schultz took one last look toward the Englander who was still watching the scene, then started, head lowered, toward the office. Newkirk bolted inside to tell the others, feeling like the world was collapsing around them.
I’m losing control, Hogan thought, pinching the bridge of his nose in the hopes of relieving some of the tension behind his eyes. Newkirk had just shouted down the tunnel opening that there was now trouble with Sergeant Schultz, and the others had scrambled back to the barracks to find out what was happening, leaving Hogan downstairs with only the cold walls for company. Wilson had gone upstairs to circulate amongst the other prisoners and not arouse suspicion, and Klink was still being watched down near the cooler. Things are happening all around me, and I can’t do anything to dictate how they’re affecting the operation.
Hogan sighed heavily. He was getting tired of the décor around him. Though he knew that for the first few days he had been simply physically unable to go anywhere else, he didn’t realize how much he would miss being among the action going on above his head. And now, this windowless world was making him feel distinctly claustrophobic. He needed to move. But he was aware enough to know that he wouldn’t make it up the ladder without considerable difficulty, even if he could go up there without being seized for execution, which he doubted.
Hogan felt a little stronger after his initial encounter with Klink last night. Fevered sleep had given way to a natural rest, and the soreness had receded enough for him to sit up without taking a break to control his breathing. He tried to recall their conversation, but he had been so tired, and much of it had filtered away with the sweat of fever. What he did know, though, was that he hadn’t said very much. And, feeling a pang of guilt, and more than a twinge of loneliness, Hogan decided to revisit the Kommandant now.
Hogan reached for his bomber jacket and slipped his left arm through the sleeve. He considered doing the same with his right, but the bursts of pain from any unexpected impact or twist were still devastating, and he was in no mood to tempt Fate. So he pulled the jacket over his shoulder instead, brushing his left hand across his face in the process. Hogan smiled briefly—he was clean-shaven, and he knew how it must have happened. No one had said a word, but everyone knew how Hogan hated to have stubble on his face. Unable to shave himself because of his injuries, there was only one person who had ever taken on the task for him: Le Beau. The Frenchman would have known it would make Hogan feel better and more in command of himself and his surroundings. He was right, and Hogan was grateful.
Taking it slowly, Hogan made his way down the tunnel toward the cooler. Finally he came across Corporal Hamilton, sitting several feet away from Klink, looking bored. “I’ll take over for now, Corporal,” Hogan said. Hamilton nodded and left.
Klink was sitting on another chair, wearing his overcoat, hunched over like an old man looking for something on the floor. The blanket he had wrapped himself in last night was folded neatly at his feet with his hat perched on top of it, and someone had lit one of the oil lamps down here to relieve the gloom. He looked up when he heard Hogan’s voice.
“They’ve let you come back down here, Colonel,” Klink said.
Hogan raised an eyebrow. So Klink thought they were both prisoners. You don’t know how right you are, Hogan thought wryly. Both of us have no place we can go. Yet. “How did you sleep last night?” he asked simply. Hogan took the chair Hamilton had been sitting in and moved it to within a couple of feet of the German, then sat down. He didn’t want a repeat of last night.
“It was cold,” Klink complained. Then, as if catching himself, he added, “But at least I am alive.”
Hogan nodded. He frowned, trying to think of what to say. He wasn’t accustomed to being at a loss for words. But how did he explain to Klink what had been happening under his nose for three years? He closed his eyes.
“Are you all right, Colonel Hogan?”
Hogan opened his eyes, surprised at the concern in the voice, and looked at Klink. “I’ll be okay,” he said.
“Major Hochstetter did terrible things to you, Hogan. I’m sorry I couldn’t stop him.”
Incongruous images flickered in Hogan’s mind—a sharp slap across the face; a field of brilliant yellow flowers; a dazzling knife of pain in his abdomen; a moonlit waltz; a long, low moan as a blackjack found its mark near his kidneys; a scream of agony at the nauseating snap of his finger; “I love you…”. Hogan shook his head slowly; his throat was too dry to speak.
“What do you think will happen to us?” Klink asked, sensing the necessity of changing the subject.
“Not much at the moment,” Hogan answered, relieved. He braced himself, then launched into what he knew he had to do. “Look, Colonel, I think I need to explain a few things to you.”
It was Klink’s turn to frown. “Explain a few things?”
“About where you are, and what’s going on here.”
“Now that I would like to know,” Klink answered. “You have been here longer than I have, Hogan. What is going on? And wasn’t that Corporal Hamilton sitting here earlier? Have they taken him, too?”
“There is no ‘they,’” Hogan replied. “There’s us.”
Klink took a moment to register what Hogan said. “Us?” he finally asked.
Hogan nodded. “That’s right.” He waited for the confusion on Klink’s face to transform into curiosity. Where to start? “First of all, Kommandant, you haven’t left Stalag 13.”
“I haven’t?” Klink asked, looking around him. “Where are we?”
“We’re in a tunnel under the camp,” Hogan answered. He paused only briefly as he saw Klink’s expression change to one of anger. “We have…several.”
“Colonel Hogan, your men have been digging tunnels—” Klink blustered, not sure how to react, and so choosing to take the command route.
“Yeah, and it’s a good thing, too. Otherwise you and I would both be six feet under,” Hogan retorted, unwillingly becoming irritated at Klink’s reaction. “My men got you out through the wall of the cooler, same as they got me out of solitary. We loosened a stone and dug a tunnel from the barracks to the building.”
“Loosened a stone—? Hogan, why? I mean, why not dig straight out of camp?”
“Because we had work to do. At least until old Nut Brain up in Berlin decided to change the rules and I had to go into hiding.”
Hogan exhaled loudly, exasperated. He wasn’t handling this right. He changed tack. “Let me explain it this way,” he said, almost formally, calming himself down. He’s not gonna like this, but there’s nothing he can do about it now. “Colonel Klink, the Allies are running a sabotage and intelligence operation out of Stalag 13. The reason you don’t know about it is because we function out of a network of tunnels under the camp, with the help of the local Underground. We come and go as we please, except when the Germans pull something unexpected, like you did last week. So we don’t really want to go right out, unless we plan to come back in.” He paused. “Hochstetter was spot-on when he accused me of being involved in the destruction of the oil refinery the night before he came. It was an assignment from London; that’s why I couldn’t take you up on your offer of escape before it was too late. I had orders to follow, and I did.”
There, it was out. Hogan hadn’t done more than glance at Klink during his monologue. Now, he took a moment to study the Kommandant’s face. It was blank. “Colonel?” Hogan prompted.
Klink pulled himself from his daze and nearly whispered, “Hogan, are you trying to make a fool of me?”
“Only when it suits the Allied cause, sir.”
“Did you really think I’d believe this nonsense you’re telling me?” Klink’s voice rose a bit in anger. Hogan frowned. “I don’t know what you think you’re trying to accomplish here, Hogan, but if you’re trying to cover up an infraction of the rules by your prisoners with some wild story, it’s not going to work.”
“It’s true, all of it,” Hogan answered sharply.
“How could such a thing be true?” Klink protested. “I would have known if something was being planned on such a grand scale. A couple of little tunnels here and there, yes, I can see where that might have escaped detection—after all, prisoners are forever trying to dig tunnels out of camp—but a full scale operation under my feet? Impossible!”
“It’s not impossible; it’s true, and you’re in it!” Hogan said, annoyed. Damn it, why won’t he just listen? “We’ve been at it for almost three years—we started a couple of months after I got here. Why do you think I let Oskar Schnitzer bring me back into camp when I escaped?—I needed to bring in radio parts. Then when London asked me to run the operation, I agreed.”
“The veterinarian?” Klink asked.
“A member of the local Underground,” Hogan snapped back. He considered. “I’m only telling you this because you’re going to have to go the same route that a lot of our downed Allied flyers go—if we don’t get you back to London, the Germans will shoot you. And we can’t afford to let that happen. You know too much.”
Even through his bewilderment, Klink could hear what appeared to be a compliment. “I know too much?” he asked, hopeful.
“Way too much,” Hogan answered. “But don’t get that look on your face—you don’t even know you know it.” Klink opened his mouth to answer, then shut it when he realized he didn’t know what to say. Hogan shrugged. “They used you and a few other people to keep information they needed, just in case.”
Klink recovered in time to scoff. “Ridiculous!” he said.
“Oh yeah? Ask Burkhalter. He told Hochstetter all about it, before Hochstetter said not to worry about it and to have you shot anyway.” Klink paused. Hogan continued. “You want to take that chance?”
Klink seemed to shrink a bit as he thought of his options. “No. No, not really.”
Hogan forced himself to ease off. This is so surreal, he thought. I never thought I’d be explaining this to Klink this way. “Look, I know it’s a lot to digest in one hit. But the truth is, Kommandant, that the Germans consider you dispensable now, and the Allies consider you indispensable. You probably don’t want to go forward, but you sure as hell can’t go back, unless you want to be shot.”
Klink nodded, swallowed. His world was emptying out before him and he couldn’t think of what to do. “I know.”
“And I can’t go back, either. So like it or not, we’re roommates.” Hogan stood up and realized how tired this encounter had left him. “Later on, you can come back down to the other end of the tunnel. I’ll show you around, and you can be kept there in relative comfort until the coast is clear and we can ship you back to London.” He turned to go back to his bunk, then faced Klink again. “I’m sorry you had to find out this way,” he said sincerely. “It wasn’t the plan. I was hoping you’d never find out.”
“Of course,” Klink said.
Hogan couldn’t miss the note of sarcasm in Klink’s voice. “Not just because it was a secret operation, but because I didn’t want you to think we were playing you for a fool.”
“But you were, Hogan. You were.”
“Actually, I was playing more on your ego.” Hogan paused. “And your humanity. We would have been goners many times if you hadn’t stood up for the prisoners. You’ve been a fair Kommandant, Colonel. It was a little less difficult to stay here under your command.”
Klink seemed to take some comfort in the words. “Is that true, Hogan?”
Hogan nodded. “Yes, it is.” Hogan stood up. “Listen, I’m gonna go back up the other end. When you’re ready, follow the tunnel till you get to me. It’s a simple system, no turnoffs. I’ll answer any questions you have.”
Klink’s face remained shell-shocked. “Thank you, Hogan,” he said. What else could he say?
Hogan nodded once in acknowledgment, less than happy with having to burst Klink’s balloon as he had, but knowing he owed at least an explanation to the Kommandant, who had, after all, tried to save his life. “You’re welcome.”
Hogan cradled his right arm as he felt his fingers and wrist starting to ache again, then turned on his heel and purposefully walked away.
The Next Target
Sergeant Schultz stood in front of the desk in Klink’s office at full attention. Surrounded by brass, he was in no fit state to relax. He had handed his rifle to the guard outside as ordered, and had saluted the officers in the room with a trembling hand. He tried not to let his voice shake as he answered their questions.
“Exactly how long have you known Kommandant Klink now, Sergeant?” asked Hochstetter.
Schultz tried to calculate time. “Three and a half years, Herr Major. We were both assigned here when Stalag 13 was opened.”
“And during that time, Sergeant, you have developed a close relationship with him?”
Schultz let his mind flicker over the time he had been working under Klink’s command. “Herr Major, there were time that the Kommandant said I was like a son to him. But other times, I felt somewhat disinherited.”
“So you feel very strongly about the Kommandant.”
“Oh, yes, Herr Major!”
“And how did you feel when he was arrested and placed in the cooler?” Hochstetter asked politely.
Schultz shook his head sadly. “Oh, that was very, very sad. You see, Kommandant Klink is not used to the cold, and it is not a warm place to be. Without his gloves, his fingers would have cracked—”
Hochstetter waved for Schultz to stop his descriptions, and the guard lapsed into silence. Burkhalter spoke up from behind the desk. “I think what the Major is trying to find out, Sergeant, is if you took any action when Kommandant Klink was arrested that would be considered… unusual.”
“Unusual, Herr General?” Schultz repeated, uncertain.
The other officer in the room, clearly exasperated with the proceedings, spoke up. “Did you or did you not help Kommandant Klink to escape from the cooler?” he asked sharply.
“Nein, Herr Oberst!” Schultz denied vehemently. “Nein, I did my duty!”
“Now, now, Colonel Hassler,” Burkhalter interjected smoothly. He could see that the questioning was unnerving the Sergeant, and he believed he could get farther with Schultz with gentleness rather than abruptness. “There is no need to upset Sergeant Schultz. He has always proven himself to be a loyal—if not somewhat oblivious—soldier of the Third Reich.”
“Danke, Herr General,” Schultz said.
General Burkhalter grimaced, as though Schultz had just proven his point. “There is no reason to believe that he did anything but his duty the night that Colonel Klink disappeared.”
But Hassler wasn’t having any of it. “And what about the night your American officer disappeared? Your prison cells seem to have magic walls that fade away at night!” he mocked. “You are trying to tell me that this man would know nothing about any of this? Why, he was on duty at the time that the prisoner escaped. And as there was no indication that the walls had dissolved, and since this man had the only key to solitary confinement, it does not take a genius to figure out what must have happened!”
“No, no, Herr Oberst!” Schultz said, starting to feel dizzy. “No, I did not unlock Colonel Hogan’s cell, I swear to you. It would be worth my life!”
“It may yet be,” Hochstetter interjected. Schultz shuddered. “But at this stage, I agree with General Burkhalter. Sergeant Schultz may be of more use out of prison than in. He certainly understands how Klink’s mind works. Perhaps with the Sergeant’s help we can track down the missing Kommandant in time for his trial.”
“From what you say, Major Hochstetter, it sounds like he and the American Colonel are probably together.”
“I don’t think so,” Burkhalter disagreed. “Colonel Hogan would have been in no condition to help Klink to escape. And since, after all, they are on opposite sides of the war, it would not be likely that they would have been helped by the same people.” Burkhalter stood up. “Colonel Hassler, I am afraid your visit here has been wasted. You came expecting to put Colonel Klink on trial for treason, and instead you have found a shambles.”
“My report to Berlin will be most unfavorable, you can be sure of that,” Hassler said. “Here you are, protecting an inconsequential Sergeant of the Guard, in a camp where both you and the head of the local Gestapo were in charge at the time that two vitally important prisoners escaped; I can only imagine what the repercussions will be. Perhaps there will be a trial on charges of treason after all. But with you as the defendant!”
With a quick salute to Burkhalter, Hassler turned on his heel and left. Burkhalter turned to Hochstetter, stunned. Schultz stood trembling, trying to figure out who to salute. “Major Hochstetter,” Burkhalter hissed, “you will find Klink. Or you will find yourself facing more than just a trial.”
Hochstetter himself, normally not prone to panic when threatened by anyone, had turned slightly pale. Despite his outward appearance during the interrogation of Sergeant Schultz, he was smart enough to know that his own career—indeed, his own life—could be at stake, and for more than one reason. Berlin was expecting a report indicating that the Fuhrer’s orders to eliminate all enemy air corps officers had been followed, something that he could not declare. To make matters worse, the person whom he could point the finger of blame at for this failure was also missing. And Hochstetter had been in camp the whole time, so there was no chance of him being declared innocent of any part of the fiasco. I should have known that Stalag 13 would be the place where it all fell apart on me, he thought. “We will find Klink,” he assured the General. “I will not rest until he is brought to trial.”
Burkhalter turned to Schultz. “Captain Eichberger will have the final say in what he does with you, Sergeant. If you are lucky, he will still consider you trustworthy enough to remain Sergeant of the Guard. If you are not, then you may find yourself wishing you had disappeared along with Colonel Klink and Hogan.” I know I’m beginning to wish I could have.
“Jawohl, Herr General,” Schultz answered weakly. “Am I dismissed?” he asked hopefully.
“Yes, Sergeant. You may be pleased to know there are no prisoners in the cooler at the moment. So there is no chance of anything else unusual happening.”
Schultz saluted, feeling sweat dripping down the back of his neck. “No, General Burkhalter, nothing unusual at all.” He backed out of the office, grabbed his rifle, and practically ran back to his post. He would have to talk to the prisoners in Barracks Two as soon as he knew he wasn’t being watched. Schultz could honestly say this time that he knew nothing, but he knew that wasn’t the case with Hogan’s men. And what they knew might very well save Klink’s life—or his own.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Kinch pulled the plug out of the coffee pot, absently thinking that they were going to need a new cord soon with the work out this one was getting lately.
“That’s bad,” Newkirk observed. “They’re going after Schultz now.”
“Burkhalter seemed to stand up for him a bit. But we’ve gotta be careful,” Kinch warned.
“Yeah, I mean Schultz knows a lot more than nothing,” Carter added.
“And it will not take a lot to get it out of him,” Le Beau predicted. “One session with Hochstetter and it’s the end of the tunnels—and the end of us.”
“Looks like it’s all gonna depend on this Captain Eichberger,” Kinch said. “Let’s just hope he’s more even minded than Hochstetter. And that Burkhalter can hold up against him and Hochstetter if he’s not.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“We can’t just have Schultz disappear, too; Stalag 13’s going to start to look like the Bermuda Triangle.” Hogan’s mind started spinning when he heard what had just transpired in Klink’s office. “On the other hand, we know he’s a weak link. He’s held up pretty well so far, but he hasn’t had to go a full round with Hochstetter either.” Hogan furrowed his brow. “Okay,” he said finally. “We have to think of the future of the operation. Things haven’t been going very well so far. London’s been quiet,” he said, with more than a hint of anger in his voice, “we’ve got the Gestapo all over us, and now we’ve got Klink to think about, too. That list he has is too important to the Allies to just let him go. We can’t take any chances on something happening to him, and we can’t take him out now.” Hogan sighed. “So,” he continued, “what to do about Schultz—to be fair to them both, we have to admit that if it weren’t for him and Klink, we wouldn’t have survived as long as we have. We owe it to them to keep them out of harm’s way.”
He paused, clearly debating all the factors involved. Hogan’s men watched him carefully. “Kinch, what have you been able to find out about Eichberger?”
“Not much, Colonel. All we could get was that he’s a real live wire. He’s Luftwaffe, but he’s come up through the ranks pretty quickly. Not known for his bedside manner, but nothing stands out about him, either.”
Hogan nodded, still thinking. “Okay. We’ll watch what happens tomorrow. If he turns up the heat too high, we’ll have to get Schultz out, too.” He turned to Le Beau. “Louis, I’m afraid this might mean some extra cooking for you. Think you can handle it?”
“It would take three chefs to handle it, Colonel. But you can count on me.”
Hogan smiled. “I knew I could. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to this. The more obvious we make our actions, the less chance we’re giving the operation to survive. And I’m still hoping we—you—can come out on top of this, somehow. Me? My work is nearly done, right? Thanks to ol’ Scramble Brains I get to duck out early, even if I am a little worse for wear.”
Carter looked closely at Hogan, who seemed to be visibly melting. “You look tired, Colonel.”
Hogan smiled patiently. “Always in with a compliment, Carter,” he said.
“Sorry, Colonel—but you do.” Newkirk shoved him a little less than gently. “Well he does!” Carter protested.
“Nice one, Carter. Don’t you think the gov’nor—?”
Hogan held up a hand. “Never mind, Newkirk. I’m sure it was said out of concern for my welfare.”
“Yeah!” Carter piped up.
“And yes, I am tired, and yes, I am going to bed. Louis, make something special for Klink tonight; he’s had quite a trying day. I just told him about the operation and he’s in a bit of denial. Go easy on him, but don’t let him leave, whatever you do.”
“Does he know about the list, Colonel?” Newkirk asked.
“No. All he knows is, he’s important to the Allies and we can’t let him out of here.” A now familiar wave of tiredness swept over Hogan, and he sat down. “I’ll explain more only on a need to know basis.”
Hogan groaned in relief as he lay his head down on the cot. Staying up and alert for so long had used up more energy than he had expected. “Get some rest, Colonel,” Le Beau urged.
“I plan to,” Hogan said. “Just watch out for Klink and Schultz… and the bad guys… and you’d better blow up a bridge or two once the goons have cleared out… otherwise they’ll know for sure it was me. And we can’t… let Hochstetter win….” Hogan’s voice drifted until the men realized he had fallen asleep. Then they went their separate ways, to carry out their work, and hope for a future different from the only one they could imagine now.
The New Kid on the Block
General Burkhalter was accepting Schultz’s report that all the prisoners were present and accounted for at morning roll call when a black, shiny staff car pulled into camp. He dismissed the prisoners and turned toward the car, which parked just outside Klink’s office, and greeted the officer who emerged from the vehicle.
Hogan’s men hovered near the barracks, straining to see what was going on without seeming too obvious. “Look at that,” Newkirk said as he struggled to read the lips of the Germans. “Nice shiny medals he’s wearing, isn’t he?”
“That must be Captain Eichberger,” Kinch decided. “He certainly looks spiffy. Wonder whose boots he shined to get where he is.”
“He probably licked them clean,” Le Beau sneered. “All dirty Bosche are the same.”
Schultz, who had been lingering near the prisoners, said, “That man will decide what happens to me.” He looked at the men hopefully. He had not had a chance to speak with them before now. “Major Hochstetter and that Colonel Hassler, they think I was involved in getting Kommandant Klink out of the cooler. He did just escape on his own, didn’t he? I did not help do this, did I?”
The men looked at each other guiltily. They had gotten so used to using Schultz as a dupe that this time, when he was not involved, he stood a real chance of getting into serious trouble. “No, Schultzie, you did not help him get out,” Le Beau said. His face brightened as an idea came to him. “How about a nice plate of strudel? I will make it for you this morning, okay?”
Schultz smiled briefly. “Ah, Cockroach…yes, strudel would be wunderbar,” he said, drawing out the word as though he were stretching a piece of taffy. The grin disappeared suddenly, though, as other thoughts crowded his mind. “I wonder if they will let me have that when I am standing at the Russian Front…or in front of the firing squad.”
“Aw, don’t think like that, Schultz,” Kinch admonished him gently. “You know there’s gotta be a way out. You’re innocent, after all.”
“You know that—so you say. And I know that—I think. But the big boys, they do not know that.” He shook his head. “General Burkhalter told me that it would be up to Captain Eichberger to decide whether I stay here… or go someplace else.”
Carter patted Schultz on the shoulder as the big man slumped against the building beside him. “Don’t worry, Schultz. You know Colonel Hogan always has a plan—”
“Carter!” Newkirk scolded, pushing him as Schultz’s eyes widened. He tried to cover up the gaffe quickly. “Never mind that, Schultzie, you know how Carter’s always living in the past. We’d love the gov’nor to come up with a plan, but you know how it is when someone leaves,” he finished through his teeth; “it’s hard to imagine them not being here.”
Schultz nodded, not sure if he believed what the Englander was saying but wanting to. “Ja,” said, thinking of his own missing commanding officer. “It is.” He sighed and pulled away from the wall. “I must get back to my post. While I still have one.”
Schultz departed, his head hung lower than the men had seen in a long time. “Poor Schultzie. He’s in a real mess,” Le Beau said.
“Yeah, and with this Eichberger around it could be a real sticky wicket,” Newkirk added. “I wouldn’t want to be in that office with all of them.”
“I’m surprised Schultz didn’t faint yesterday,” Kinch declared. “All that hot air blowing around Klink’s office.”
“Should we listen in on the proceedings?” Newkirk asked.
“They are probably expecting us to be outside for exercise period,” Le Beau said, shaking his head. “We’d better make ourselves visible for awhile.”
Kinch grimaced but agreed. “We’ve been awfully scarce lately. We’ve gotta watch ourselves; Hochstetter’s starting to give us the eye whenever he comes by. The last thing we need is to be more closely watched. I’m sure we’ll find out the result of their conversation soon enough anyway.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Captain Eichberger, welcome to Stalag 13.”
“Danke, General Burkhalter. I am looking forward to my time here.” The Captain, barely forty and trim to military perfection, was standing in full regalia in front of his superior officer. “I understand that this has been a very special camp—no escapes, ever. A fine record I hope to continue.”
Burkhalter raised an eyebrow, nodding. “I am sure you will,” he said, ignoring the two escapes that brought Eichberger here in the first place. “Now, you understand why you are assuming command.”
“Jawohl, Herr General. The previous Kommandant of this camp is up on charges of treason. Will his trial be held here?”
Burkhalter shifted uncomfortably before answering. “At some stage that would be desirable. There is much that can be used as evidence right here in the camp. However, the timing is uncertain at this stage, as there has been a hitch in the proceedings.”
Burkhalter plastered a smile on his face. “Don’t concern yourself with this at the moment, Eichberger. All you need to be aware of at this time is that former Kommandant Klink was allegedly responsible for the Gestapo not being able to carry out the Fuhrer’s orders to eliminate all enemy air corps officers, including the one in this camp, Colonel Hogan.”
Eichberger raised an eyebrow. “He interfered with the Fuhrer’s directive?”
“So it would seem.”
“So where is this Colonel Hogan now?”
“That is a question we would also like answered. Someone has helped him to get away from camp. We have strong reason to believe that someone is Klink. The Gestapo has been crawling through the woods around this camp for nearly two weeks, without a trace of Hogan. We can only surmise that he has now been taken by the Underground. A thorough search is still underway in Hammelburg, to make sure no one is harboring him.” Burkhalter moved to the counter, where one of Klink’s ever-present decanters of schnapps was sitting. “In the meantime, Eichberger, tell me about yourself.” He poured two glasses of the drink, and handed one to the Captain, a clear invitation to relax in front of his superior. “What is your background?”
“Well, General, I joined the Luftwaffe a few months ago. At first, I was given small tasks—you know, the usual administrative duties in a small office in Düsseldorf. You see, an old injury stopped me from being fit to go to the front lines or into a plane. But thankfully someone in the office could see that I had much more ambition than to be a paper warrior and helped me to get some more interesting work to do. I apparently showed some aptitude for command, and was put in charge of different divisions of the administration. Eventually I worked at Stalag 7, just for a short time, under Kommandant Klein, to learn the ins and outs of being in a prison camp with these Allied swine. And though I do not relish the idea of being thought of as a swineherd, I am committed to doing my part to keep them in their place—below my feet.”
Burkhalter listened with some admiration to the young officer. Though he wasn’t a fighting man, he was certainly the type of person the Luftwaffe wanted. If anyone could bring these Allied prisoners into line, Burkhalter had a feeling Eichberger could. He drained his glass. “Very good, Eichberger. There is one other matter you need to attend to as you assume command of Stalag 13.”
Eichberger took another small sip of his drink. Burkhalter noticed he had not drunk much of his schnapps. Perhaps the man didn’t want to appear inebriated in front of his superior officer—or maybe he simply didn’t care for it and had been too intimidated to refuse the glass when it was offered. “Of course, Herr General.”
“There is the matter of your Sergeant of the Guard, Hans Schultz. It seems that he was guarding solitary confinement at the time that Colonel Hogan disappeared without a trace. Only he and Colonel Klink had keys to that area. Then, when Klink vanished as well, of course Schultz was under suspicion. The Gestapo is most interested in how he may have been involved.”
Eichberger’s eyes bulged. “Colonel Klink has vanished?” he asked. Burkhalter nodded once, grimly. “This is what you are calling a ‘hitch’?”
“Unfortunately, yes. But the issue now is the future of your Sergeant of the Guard. Without any real evidence against him, we have decided to leave Schultz out of the investigation for the moment. However, if you feel that your work would be undermined by his presence, we will have him removed.”
Eichberger frowned, deep in thought. “How well does this Sergeant Schultz get along with the prisoners?”
Burkhalter snorted. “Almost too well.”
“Then leave him as he is,” Eichberger decided. “We can use him to extract information from the prisoners. If they trust him, they will confide in him, and if they know anything, eventually we will as well.”
Burkhalter smiled. He liked the way this man thought. “Very good, Captain. I can see that this camp will run very well under your command.”
“And, General,” Eichberger added, while the moment was his, “could you please call off the Gestapo? It will only aggravate the prisoners. And, quite frankly, if they have not been able to find anything here in the last two weeks, chances are they won’t find anything tomorrow, or the day after.” He shook his head. “A shame. I had always considered the Gestapo to be such a competent outfit.”
Burkhalter remained silent. You haven’t spent much time with Major Hochstetter, then, he wanted to say. But of course he knew he couldn’t. So he simply nodded his agreement. “Very well. We want to make sure all goes smoothly as you take over Stalag 13. Major Hochstetter and his men will be out of camp tomorrow.”
“Very good, sir. Danke.” Eichberger put his still mainly untouched glass down on the desk. “Sir, may I ask for a formation of the prisoners earlier than normal today, so I may see what type of—” He paused to cough mockingly, “—men, are in this camp?”
Burkhalter nodded approvingly. “Whatever you wish, Captain. This is your camp now. I will send for Sergeant Schultz, and he will assemble the prisoners.”
“Good. I should like to meet this Sergeant Schultz. I have a feeling he will be very valuable to me, in more ways than one.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Bored. Bored, bored, bored. Hogan blew out a breath as he sat at the desk housing the radio equipment, carelessly dealing out cards in a never-ending game of solitaire. He struggled with the deck as he wasn’t used to working solely left handed, and he got unreasonably angry when one card fluttered to the floor as it fumbled out of his awkward grip. Hogan bent over very slowly to retrieve it, not wanting a familiar wave of dizziness to help him join the errant four of clubs on the cold earth.
Hogan put the card on the table and stood up, tenderly rubbing his abdomen. Wilson kept telling him he was making good progress, but some days he didn’t feel like he had, and this was one of them. Oh, his injuries were healing up nicely, that much was true, but it was more than his body that had been humiliated by Hochstetter and his men. His mind had been attacked, too. Hogan was grateful that he could not remember all of what had happened to him down in solitary confinement. But enough of the torturous imprisonment came back to him to make him want to curl up in a ball on his cot, something he would have done if it didn’t cause him unreasonable amounts of pain.
It was the laughter that was taunting him now. The low, gravelly sound of Hochstetter’s sick pleasure at Hogan’s pain. The thin smile that cut through the Colonel as he was forced to endure the unendurable. The half-closed, merciless eyes that bored into Hogan as he sank to depths of pain he could not escape, and that they both knew would only lead to death in the end—later, when Hochstetter was finished with Hogan himself. The falsely sweet voice holding out a thin, old slice of bread, that Hochstetter had known Hogan would take, if the American wanted to hold out any longer against the onslaught. And despite his wish for a quick death, Hogan had succumbed to the desperate instinct to stay alive, and so he had tried to ignore those eyes and that laugh, and grabbed the bread with an intensity that surprised even himself, pushing the humiliation that came with the act to the very back of his mind.
Until now. Hogan sat down on his cot and, suddenly overcome, he put his head in his hands and started sobbing. The tears pushed their way out with all the force of his pain and fears behind them, unleashing all the agony and despair he had hidden from everyone, including himself, up to now. His chest heaved with the release, and in time he did curl up into a ball on the cot, but he felt nothing. The numbness of his body eventually spread to his mind, and he moved into an uneasy sleep, filled with abusive dreams and distorted images that would not let him escape from the torture for even a fleeting moment.
Change of Guard, Change of Heart
The men of Barracks Two stood uneasily outside their hut as the German officer paced slowly back and forth in front of them. Schultz had called them to formation awhile ago, and so far this new man to the camp had said not a word to them, choosing instead to study them as though watching lab rats in a cage.
Newkirk shifted restlessly. “Blimey, Schultz, it’s cold out here. When are you going to let us go? At least at exercise period we can move around to keep warm.”
At the sound of Newkirk’s voice, Eichberger stopped pacing and faced him. “You are cold, Englander?” he asked.
Le Beau felt a shiver run down his spine, not from the weather, but from the ice in Eichberger’s voice.
Newkirk shrugged, suddenly uncertain. “Well, sir, it’s not that I’m complaining, you see, it’s just that the cold dries out my skin,” he said, half jokingly.
“You are speaking in formation,” Eichberger answered. “That is verboten. You will spend three days in the cooler for this infraction of the rules. And if you think it is cold outside, it will seem like we are in the tropics by the time you get out of there.”
Newkirk made to protest. Eichberger held up his hand. “You would do well to learn your lesson the first time, Englander. Otherwise you may find yourself with dry skin—permanently.” He turned to Schultz. “Sergeant, you will take him now.”
“Jawohl, Herr Captain.” Schultz approached Newkirk with regret in his face. “Come, Newkirk, I have to take you to the cooler.”
Newkirk mumbled, “It’s okay, Schultz, I know it’s not your fault.” He passed Eichberger, not trying to hide his contempt, and glanced fleetingly back at his comrades. “See you in three, fellas.”
The others nodded, trying to look encouraging without saying anything to irritate the new Kommandant. Eichberger turned to the others. “As for the rest of you,” he said, “I will trust that you are smart enough not to follow the example set for you by the Englander. Any further infractions of the rules will be treated even more harshly, now that one of your own pigs has been put in a private pen.” Eichberger laughed at his own joke.
Burkhalter turned to him. “These men used to share their barracks with Colonel Hogan. You will probably find them to be the most disruptive of the men here, since he had close relationships with many of them.”
“Yes?” Eichberger replied, his eyes showing a new interest as he studied his charges. He turned and walked the line again, staring even more closely at the group. It did not escape his notice that the sullen eyes staring back at him were often brimming with ill-concealed hatred, but it did not bother him, and he looked back, letting a thin smile cross his lips. “A sloppy bunch of tin soldiers,” he proclaimed. “Hardly the cream of any crop. Now that these sheep are without a shepherd, they will be no trouble for me, General Burkhalter. Of that I can assure you. Look at this one!” he said, pulling Le Beau out of line.
The Frenchman tried to pull away, but Eichberger had him by the scarf, and struggling was only making it tighter around his neck. “This is hardly a danger to the Third Reich. Oh, maybe to some farmer’s imbecile daughter, perhaps, but not to our fine military machine.”
Le Beau’s anger brought strong color into his cheeks as Eichberger spoke. He said nothing but continued to pull back at his scarf until the German released it with a laugh, sending Le Beau sprawling toward the other prisoners. “Bosche,” Le Beau spat under his breath.
The word didn’t escape Eichberger, and he whirled back toward the assembly. “Say it again, pig,” he hissed at Le Beau, towering over him, crowding him so he could not move.
Le Beau stared back, the anger in his eyes shooting flames toward his antagonist. “I said you are a—”
“Louis!” cried Kinch, grabbing him by the arm before he could finish.
Eichberger laughed again. “Yes, you little piglet—listen to your black Mutterschwein.” Kinch shook with rage but he knew better than to speak now. Eichberger smiled benignly. “Perhaps you will learn in time that I am not to be toyed with. You may have been protected by your precious Colonel Hogan, and coddled by Kommandant Klink, but you will not find that with me. The sooner you learn that lesson, the better for you. But feel free to take your time; I am quite happy to continue teaching you if you refuse to study.” He turned to another guard standing nearby. “Dismiss these things; get them out of my sight.”
“Jawohl, Herr Captain.”
The men broke formation and headed back to the relative warmth of the barracks, feeling more like real prisoners of war than ever before.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan was just waking up, and feeling just as tired as when he had fallen asleep, when he heard footsteps approaching from the other end of the tunnel. He sat up to see Klink making his way tentatively toward him. “Hogan?”
Hogan nodded. “Kommandant,” he said in reply.
Klink stopped and looked around him, taking in the desk, the radio equipment, the oil lamps, the ladder. He shook his head, as though dazed. “So it’s true…” he breathed. “You really do have a…”
“An operation running down here? Well, we did have, at least until your pals in Berlin started getting exclusive about what officers they let into their little Stalag country clubs.” Hogan nodded toward the desk chair. “Have a seat.”
Klink went toward the chair, but was distracted by the radio. He followed a wire up the wall until it disappeared into the ceiling. “Where does this go?” he asked, pointing to it.
“To your office,” Hogan answered. Klink’s face took on a look of astonishment. “We needed an antenna, so we’ve got one in the flagpole. Ever wonder why we don’t mind when you raise that hideous Nazi flag of yours?”
Klink opened his mouth to respond, then decided against it. “Hogan, what is all this?” he asked.
“I told you—sabotage and intelligence. A traveler’s aid society for escaped prisoners and downed flyers. Anything London wants us to do.”
“I do not understand how it is possible,” Klink said, still disbelieving. “Where does this ladder go?”
“Up to the barracks.”
“Your barracks?” Klink breathed in wonderment.
Klink grabbed the chair and sat down in it before he fell down. “So Hochstetter was right,” he said. “I have been a fool.”
Hogan was too tired to argue. “Maybe you just didn’t want to see,” he said.
“Then I was a fool and a traitor,” Klink said bitterly. “Are all the prisoners part of this?”
“Not all of them; we only tell people what they need to know. The rule when they come in is No Escapes. If they want to try it, I organize a transfer and they’re on their way—from someplace else.”
“No escapes? Why?”
Hogan paused, knowing how this would sound to the proud German. “If we lost you, you might be replaced with someone I’d have less… influence… over. And then we’d have a bigger chance of having to shut down. With you in place we knew we could accomplish what we needed to.”
“In other words, with an ineffectual man behind the desk you could run circles around the Germans.”
“We’re saving lives,” Hogan said, starting to feel a prick of anger. “We’re ending the war sooner.”
“For the Allies,” Klink accused.
“Of course for the Allies,” Hogan snapped, irritable. “Do you honestly think a nut case like Hitler could fairly run the country, much less the world?”
Klink’s first instinct was to stand up for the leader of his Fatherland. But as thoughts raced through his head, he swallowed the patriotism. “No,” he whispered. “No, Hogan, I do not.”
“Look what he’s doing now—ordering the deaths of hundreds of men just because they have rank. What would stop him from ordering the massacre of thousands, or even millions, of others because of something they have no control over?”
Klink nodded. “You are right, Hogan. But it is my duty to defend my country. I love Germany.”
“Then help it. Help get it away from this idiot.”
“How?” Klink asked.
Hogan paused. “You have information the Allies need, Kommandant. Take the trip back to England willingly.”
“You have said this before, Hogan—but I do not know of any such information that would help the Allies.” Klink paused. “Nor do I know that I want to.”
Hogan understood, but he stood his ground. “You won’t have much choice in the end. We’re going to get you to England, and you’re going to give us what we need. Your cooperation would be wonderful, but it’s not essential.”
“And how are you going to do that?” Klink asked, a hint of accusation in his voice.
Hogan sighed. He’d had enough. “I’m not sure yet,” he admitted. If Klink had not been so wrapped up in his own emotions, he would have noticed that Hogan was also being overwhelmed by his. The American shook his head wearily. “That’s going to depend on Major Hochstetter, and on your replacement. And since I seem to be striking out lately, I’m not about to place any bets on what either of them is capable of.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Le Beau whipped off his scarf and threw it on his bunk like it was contaminated. Carter approached him with soft steps and said quietly, “I’m sorry about what happened outside, Louis. Are you all right?”
Le Beau’s face remained tight with anger, but he turned to his friend with words that he tried to keep civil. “Oui. Merci, mon ami.” He looked at Kinch, who was fuming near the stove, gripping a cup so tightly that Le Beau could have sworn he saw the Sergeant’s knuckles go white. “Merci, Kinch, for stepping in.”
Kinch poured coffee into the cup with short, angry motions, causing some to spill over the rim and onto the floor. He didn’t take notice. “I wish I didn’t have to, Louis. I would have loved for you to do exactly what you were thinking.” He stared at the bunk behind Le Beau, where he knew below their commanding officer was trapped. The anger whispered in his ears and tempted him to do irrational things, but he fought them down with the thought of Hogan’s cool temperament under pressure. “But all it would have done was get you the same as Newkirk—or worse.”
“Poor Peter,” Carter said. “Stuck in the cooler for three days! Gee, Klink never did that when we spoke up.”
“Klink isn’t Eichberger. And there’s no Colonel Hogan to intervene on our behalf, now, is there?” Kinch reminded him.
“No. Gee, I guess I didn’t realize how much we depended on the Colonel to keep us out of trouble.”
“I think that’s something we’d better remember while we feel out Eichberger in the next few days,” Le Beau declared. He tossed his beret on the bunk and moved toward the stove. “In the meantime I will make Newkirk something special to eat while he is down there, and the Colonel, too.”
“What about us?” Carter asked.
“Why not? We all deserve something special for putting up with these filthy Bosche. I will make a gourmet meal for all of us.” And when I am mashing the potatoes, I will be thinking of that Captain Eichberger’s head.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
A blond, pigtailed head peeped through the office door. “Herr General, Berlin is on the phone.”
Burkhalter looked up from the paperwork he and Eichberger were perusing and smiled at the pretty blond secretary. “Thank you, Hilda. Put it through.”
Hilda nodded and disappeared, and in a moment the phone at the desk rang. Burkhalter picked it up. “Burkhalter here.” He paused, listening. Eichberger watched him carefully, not bothering to hide his study. “Ja, Reischmarshal. Are you sure?” Another pause. Burkhalter was starting to frown. “Of course, sir. No that changes nothing here at the moment. But I will pass on the information at once. Danke. Heil Hitler.”
Burkhalter hung up the receiver and turned to Eichberger. “As I suspected. Only I wish the change of heart had come before this whole mess started.” Eichberger tilted his head expectantly. “The Fuhrer’s order to execute enemy officers has been rescinded.”
Thanks for Nothing
“That makes no difference to my work, Herr General,” Hochstetter said smoothly. “Klink is still charged with treason for helping a prisoner to escape, and Hogan is still being sought as an escapee and as a probable saboteur.”
Burkhalter was starting to get hot under the collar in dealing with the Gestapo man but held his temper, since he knew the Major was leaving in the morning anyway. “Be that as it may, Hochstetter, what it does mean is that if you do manage to find Hogan, you cannot shoot him on sight.”
“I’ll try to remember that,” Hochstetter answered with false sincerity.
“You will be gone tomorrow morning. Your presence here is causing difficulties that our new Captain Eichberger does not need to face as he begins his work at Stalag 13.”
Hochstetter swallowed the angry words that were about to spew out of his mouth. He nearly choked on them. “Whatever the General wishes,” he said acidly. “My work is done here anyway.”
Eichberger couldn’t stifle a scoff. “It barely began, from all appearances, Major,” he said.
Hochstetter’s anger raged deeply inside, and he balled his hands into fists as he considered bringing this insolent babe in the woods to kneel before him in the interrogation chambers in Hammelburg. But in the presence of Burkhalter he knew he had to control himself, and so he simply said, “Traitors to the Fatherland always make my job more difficult, Captain. But rest assured, we will find Klink.” He turned to Burkhalter. “I will take the radio detection truck with me.”
Burkhalter nodded. “Good. You may go, Major.”
Hochstetter nodded mutely and, with a shaking hand, saluted Burkhalter, uttered a strong, “Heil, Hitler,” and left, slamming the door behind him.
Burkhalter shook his head. “A petty little nuisance of a man,” he said to Eichberger. “But he always seemed to have Hogan uppermost on his list of dangerous men. With Hogan gone, perhaps he will leave you, and Stalag 13, alone.”
“A prisoner? A dangerous man?” Eichberger laughed. “I hardly think any Allied pilot could pose a threat to the Third Reich from a prisoner of war camp. You are right, Herr General, perhaps the Major did have too much time on his hands. Perhaps there are other ways of keeping him busy.”
“He will amuse himself now searching for Klink,” Burkhalter predicted. “But when he turns up nothing, beware—Hochstetter will probably come back here. He is a creature of habit.”
“Habits are made to be broken.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan tried to ignore the stunned look on Klink’s face as he ordered, “Kinch, radio London.”
“With the radio detection truck gone, we can finally find out what’s on their minds. And it had better be good,” Hogan fumed. “They left us in the lurch, and I want an explanation.” Hogan turned away as Kinch got to work making the connection. “I’m not happy about Eichberger. He seems a bit too gung-ho to work with easily.” Glancing at Klink, who was still standing speechless, Hogan added, “This is when having you upstairs would come in handy. We can’t work well when one of our men is sitting in stir.” He called for Le Beau.
“How’s Newkirk going?”
“He is all right, Colonel. A bit bored, and a little cold, but he liked the dinner I brought him.”
“Dinner…?” Klink managed, amazed.
“Sure; we can’t survive on that stuff you feed us when we’re in there,” Hogan replied. “Haven’t you noticed the nice meals you’ve been getting since you’ve been down here? Le Beau is a fantastic chef, as you well know!”
“I suppose…” Klink admitted. “But… in the cooler?”
“What better place than the one where you only get bread and water?”
Klink shook his head; this was all too much. And too humiliating.
“London on the line, Colonel.”
“Good.” Hogan moved away from Klink and to the radio. Kinch held the microphone toward Hogan, as the Colonel’s hands were still in no shape to grip it. “Papa Bear to Goldilocks, do you read?”
Klink’s eyes widened in recognition of the name he had heard Hochstetter ranting and raving about over the last three years—the great Underground leader, Papa Bear… Hogan was Papa Bear!
“Go ahead, Papa Bear, we acknowledge,” came a female, English-accented voice. “Glad to hear your voice, Papa Bear. We thought for awhile we might not speak to you again.”
“Always optimistic, Goldilocks. Still waiting for new Papa Bear. Need instructions for continuation of operation. New wolf in place. Teeth sharp.”
“We read you, Papa Bear.” There was a pause as someone obviously received instructions. “Orders remain as before. Proceed with caution. Keep outings to a minimum until you confirm how sharp the teeth are. No new Papa Bear is coming.”
“Why not?” Hogan burst angrily, unable to stop himself.
“Sorry, Papa Bear, other matters need more urgent attention at present. You are to remain in place.”
Hogan nodded grimly, his features contorted with suppressed rage. In place, and in hiding. How long to do they expect me to do that? “Roger, Goldilocks.” Hogan collected himself, then got back to business. “We also have a package that needs delivering. Old wolf must go to England. Information vital.”
“Usual route for that, Papa Bear. No special delivery available at this time.”
Hogan’s eyes flared. Klink wondered what the “usual” route was. And he got the slightest sick feeling in his stomach when he realized that he was the old wolf Hogan was referring to.
“The usual route is blocked at this time, Goldilocks,” Hogan responded, his voice betraying more than a hint of frustration.
“Sorry, Papa Bear, no other options available. I’m afraid you’re on your own.”
“What else is new?” Hogan growled. Klink raised an eyebrow, surprised at the venom in Hogan’s voice. “Will contact as needed. Papa Bear over and out.”
Hogan turned angrily away from the radio. Kinch listened to the headsets for a moment, making sure the connection was complete, then he started switching everything off. Hogan closed his eyes and started rubbing his forehead with his index and middle fingers. His splinted hand covered most of his face—a blessing, as for once in the last two and a half weeks, he didn’t want the men under his command seeing every emotion played out on his face. And now, he had Klink’s observations to deal with, too.
When he felt sufficiently calm, Hogan lowered his arm, offering it a cradle as a familiar ache started building, and looked at the others. “Well, business as usual,” he said, trying not to sound angry.
“Aren’t they going to do anything, Colonel?” Carter asked.
“You heard them, Carter. Usual route, watch your backs, that’s about it.”
“Left hanging again,” Kinch observed, shaking his head.
“And no help with that filthy Bosche, Eichberger,” Le Beau spat.
Hogan looked at the Frenchman. He had heard all about the demeaning scene outside, and it enraged him to think of Le Beau and Kinch being spoken to as they had been. Both men had suffered more than their fair share of humiliation during their time, both in camp, and, in Kinch’s case, outside of Germany. But since Hogan had come on the scene he had been able to keep their exposure to such incidents to a minimum, and it made him furious, and more than distressed, that he was now unable to step in and do that important part of his job—to protect his men. “No,” Hogan said quietly. “I’m sorry, Louis.”
Le Beau understood the double meaning in Hogan’s apology. Hogan had been right when he said the Corporal was able to read people well. Le Beau came forward and faced his commanding officer. “We will handle him, Colonel,” he said, softly but firmly. He forced Hogan to look him straight in the eye. “We have learned a lot from you, Colonel Hogan. His words will not hurt us.”
Hogan nodded, quietly grateful for the men he worked with. So he forced on a smile and said, “Forget it, fellas—we always work better without interference anyway, right?” And when they agreed, he asked for some peace and quiet, and watched with gratitude as they took Klink and moved further down into the tunnel, leaving him with his chaotic thoughts and a private, very deep, sense of failure.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Newkirk was welcomed home to Barracks Two like a prodigal son. Even though he had been in constant contact with the others via the tunnel, the visits had been much shorter and less comforting, since Eichberger was constantly swapping guards, and had someone almost always looking directly into Newkirk’s cell.
“Blimey, I’d almost forgotten what it was like to be a regular prisoner till now,” Newkirk declared; “I’d gotten so used to the comforts of home. I think I’ll be keeping my mouth shut from now on when we’re in roll call, mates—just remind me because with a nasty piece of work like Eichberger in charge, I’m bound to forget almost immediately and start shooting me mouth off again.”
“He has not gotten any nicer since you have been in the cooler, either,” Le Beau announced. “He is constantly picking on one person or another.”
“Yeah, just as you were coming out, he was sending Barnes in for sneezing while he was talking,” Carter told him. “The cooler’s going to need a revolving door by the time this guy’s time here is up.”
“I don’t like the look of this for us, fellas,” Kinch said into the silence that followed. “If we can’t get around Eichberger, we’re going to have to close up shop.” No one answered. It was something they had wanted to avoid thinking about. “We’ll have to shut down and get out.”
Carter was the first to speak. “Gee,” he said, with a voice that sounded like he had swallowed his emotions, “I always wanted to see London properly. I mean, I only had to go through there on the way here, you know? I never got off the base.”
“Yeah,” Newkirk added, not sounding at all like he meant what he was saying. “It’d be good to see home again, even if the Krauts have done ’er some harm.”
“Not a very nice thank you to Colonel Hogan,” Le Beau said. “London could not be bothered trying to help. Just ‘nice to hear you’ and ‘do it all yourself’. They do not care about the work he has done here—they have not seen. They have not had to sit and watch him suffer at the hands of those pigs. They do not have any respect for him, or they would have sent someone to help him right away, not just told us to protect him but make him go back out on a mission. That is why he was caught by Hochstetter in the first place.”
The others nodded in unhappy agreement.
“And they think just as little of the rest of us,” Newkirk added finally. “Mates, no matter what London thinks, this has been the gov’nor’s operation. His and ours. I say we’re just going to have to forget whatever they may want and do what we think needs to be done, the way we think it needs to be done. The Colonel said he wants us to keep going, even while he’s downstairs, to throw the Krauts off the scent. It’s up to us to decide how to do it.”
Carter nodded. “Yeah.” For the first time in a long time, he had nothing else to say. Headquarters’ treatment of Hogan had made him angry from the beginning, and now it was time to stand up and be counted. Nothing he could add would make his case any stronger.
“Oui,” Le Beau agreed. “But the first thing we have to do is get Colonel Hogan out of here.”
“And Klink, too,” added Kinch. “So how do we get started?”
A New Hope
“Herr Captain, all prisoners are present and accounted for.”
It was a very different group of men facing the Kommandant of Stalag 13 for roll call the next morning. Though there was nothing visible to tip Eichberger off to the fact, these men were now a determined and resolute unit, who vowed to put up with anything to accomplish their goal of getting Hogan to safety as soon as possible. And that meant making Eichberger as friendly as they could.
“Very good.” Eichberger looked at the assembled group before him with the eye of a man who knew his place—above anyone else. And in truth, in this camp, he was the top of the heap. Burkhalter had left late last night, so Stalag 13 was now his. He would not waste the opportunities being in charge of this prison presented. “This morning, I had a look around this compound and observed that it is looking a bit… disorderly, shall we say? I will take volunteers to do a clean up duty that includes trash disposal, some painting, and some carrying.”
Hogan’s men looked at each other, all thinking the same thing. This was one of those times when Hogan would normally speak up and bargain with Klink for some privileges in exchange for the manpower. But Hogan wasn’t here, and they had a job to do. Carter stepped forward tentatively. “Captain, I volunteer to help.”
Eichberger looked with interest at the Sergeant. “Yes?” he said.
Kinch squeezed out from the back of the line. “Me, too,” he added.
A small smile tugged at the sides of Eichberger’s mouth. His eyes scanned the group, waiting.
“Yeah, I guess I could use the exercise,” came Olsen’s voice, as he, too, pulled away from the rest.
“Well, I haven’t had much of that either,” Newkirk piped up, and he stood beside Olsen, hands in his pockets.
Eichberger smiled at Newkirk’s offer to help. This was one who may have learned his lesson quickly. Standing there with his head lowered and his eyes studying his shoes, Newkirk looked like Eichberger wanted every prisoner to look: obedient, resigned, and hopeless. “Very good, gentlemen,” he said. “I offer no reward or special privilege for this work. But as you will come to see, I can be a very reasonable man to work with. You have no commanding officer of your own to liaise with me at present, but in the meanwhile, you may have no fear of approaching me. I simply ask the respect that is due to members of the master race—the people who have, after all, conquered at least yourselves.” He waited for his words to sink in.
And they did. Every man in the lineup was feeling a tension that came with nearly unbearable anger, but, thinking of Hogan in the tunnels below, they kept their emotions under control and swallowed the bitterness that burned in their throats. “We don’t need a reward, sir,” Carter said shakily. “We always like to have the camp looking nice. Colonel Hogan always said it’s our home and we have to take care of it.”
Eichberger nodded smoothly, just once, in deference to this unseen Colonel Hogan, whose influence on these men seemed phenomenal. “It sounds like your Colonel Hogan was a sensible man,” he allowed. He smirked. “It’s a shame he’s not here now to see you looking after your surroundings,” he said. He again waited for his words to impact on the men, and though he could see the changes as they physically shifted to bear the increasing tension they were feeling, he was surprised they did not speak out. “If he had only waited before escaping from this camp, he would have been able to see you cowering, broken men doing the menial jobs that are your lot. I have no doubt that the Gestapo would have grown tired of their fun with him, and let him return to you. After all, even the Fuhrer had changed his mind about the Colonel’s future.”
“Changed his mind, sir?” Kinch dared.
Eichberger turned to face him. For a moment Kinch thought he had pushed his luck, and that he would suffer some unreasonable punishment for asking a question. But the Captain simply smiled benignly before answering. “That’s right, Sergeant. Our Esteemed Leader decided that it would be too disruptive to the prison camps to execute the officers. So he commanded that the practice be stopped.”
How many men had already been killed by the time he decided that? Le Beau thought indignantly. And how fast would we have lost Colonel Hogan if Hochstetter had not been the imbecile they sent to follow through the order? “Pardonnez-moi, Captain. Are you saying that if the Colonel had not already been shot, he would have been let go?”
“From that foolish Major Hochstetter, perhaps. But not from Stalag 13.” He smiled at Le Beau as if dealing with a somewhat dimwitted child. Le Beau cooked under his clothing but remained silent. “Yes, your Colonel Hogan might have been right here beside you, perhaps even joining you in your work.”
You make it sound like that would have been demeaning for him. Well, I’ve got news for you, buddy, the Colonel was never above working right along side us when he needed to, officer or not. Kinch cleared his throat. “Sir, when would you like us to start?”
Eichberger continued smiling broadly, something that was disturbing to the men, who had become used to his short temper when dealing with them. “After breakfast. You must not work on an empty stomach. Report to Sergeant Schultz at oh-eight-hundred. You are dismissed.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Schultzie, is it true that ol’ Scramble Brains changed his mind about shooting all the officers?” Newkirk asked later that morning. He grunted as he picked up a box in the supply hut and moved it to another area so he could sweep underneath.
Schultz moved deftly out of Newkirk’s way but did nothing to help as the Englishman struggled with the heavy carton. But then, his mind was on so many other things that he barely noticed the man standing next to him. “Ja, Newkirk, I think so,” he answered. Schultz yawned. The last few days had given him little opportunity for sleep, with worry over Hogan, Klink, and his own future playing on his mind. “They have not told me, but I heard General Burkhalter talking with the Captain before he left. They did not know I could hear.”
Newkirk dropped the crate heavily on the floor and picked up the broom. “Nice of the old man to bring it to our attention like that,” he said. “Now that the Colonel’s gone and all.”
Schultz nodded. As much as he missed Colonel Hogan, his mind was still uppermost on his own commander, Colonel Klink. “I worry about the Kommandant,” he said.
Newkirk paused in his sweeping. “I know you do, Schultzie,” he said, biting his tongue. “He wasn’t a bad Kraut compared with some of the others around here.”
Schultz nodded. “I know that he and Colonel Hogan did not always get along, but Kommandant Klink always tried his best to keep things peaceful around here.”
Newkirk nodded. “You can say that for him,” he agreed. “Ol’ Klink was never much for controversy—too much of a chance to get sent to the Russian front!” Schultz nodded and swallowed hard. Newkirk watched him with some pity, then said, “He showed a lot of guts in the end, Schultz. Trying to help Colonel Hogan like that was the most amazing thing I think he ever did.”
“And he paid for it,” Schultz said, with only a trace of bitterness. “We were warned what happens when we help the Allies, and he paid for it.”
Newkirk was taken aback by the anger lacing the guard’s voice. Schultz had never been a man to express any enmity towards the prisoners. But today his voice had an edge to it that was unmistakable. “He followed his conscience, Schultz. He did the humane thing.”
Schultz snorted derisively. “The Fuhrer is not interested in the humane thing,” he replied. “If he was, he would not have ordered officers to be shot in the first place.” He moved toward the door. “And then changed his mind, so the deaths of all those who were already killed would seem like an even bigger tragedy.” He sighed heavily. “Finish with those boxes, Englander, without taking anything as a souvenir, if you can. After that, you can go. I will tell Captain Eichberger that you have done everything that he requested.”
Newkirk watched Schultz carefully as he walked out the door, stooped like he was holding the weight of the world on his shoulders.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“What is it about me that makes me so invaluable to you, Hogan?” asked Klink. The question had been playing heavily on his mind since Hogan had first mentioned it. Everything he had encountered in the last few days had been mind-boggling—a tunnel network under the camp, radios, intelligence, sabotage. A neat, tightly run operation functioning smoothly right under his nose. And a No Escape policy that destroyed any shred of pride Klink had tried to retain as Kommandant of Stalag 13; there was no doubt to him now that the camp was really under the control of Colonel Hogan—of Papa Bear. Klink had only been a puppet, a paper doll dressed up and used for purposes that he had not even guessed at.
Hogan had played him for a fool, no matter how the American tried to cushion the blow.
And Klink had spent hours contemplating the fact that Hogan had, indeed, tried to make the destruction of the German’s perception of reality as painless as possible. Hogan had spoken of Klink’s humane running of the camp, of the relatively painless life that the men had lived under Klink’s command, when there was rumor of unconscionable treatment at other Stalags. He had told Klink that more than once the operation had survived only due to the unwitting intervention of Klink, when the Kommandant was trying to do the right thing in the face of what was clearly the wrong thing. That Hogan himself had much to thank Klink for—not all men would risk their own lives to warn an enemy of danger. That Klink stood as more than a mere propaganda sheet for the Third Reich; in the end, he wanted Germany to win the war with honor, and he had proven that by his actions.
Klink wanted to take comfort in Hogan’s words. He wanted to believe that it might make some difference when—not if, Klink was beginning to believe, but when—Hogan managed to get him out the country and into the hands of the Allies in England.
But he couldn’t. Klink would have to leave his beloved Germany. His mother and brother would worry about what happened to him until he was secure in a prison camp himself—as a prisoner, not the Kommandant, he thought with some irony—and able to write a letter home to explain what had happened. If he was allowed to. Nothing Hogan could say to him now would change that.
But this idea that the Allies found Klink to be so important both soothed his shattered ego, and intrigued him. Nothing Klink had ever been told indicated that he was anything special. How ironic, thought Klink, that it is only in being taken by the enemy that one is shown his worth.
“You’re not invaluable to me,” Hogan answered, putting down the book that he had started reading four times that day. But, as in the other three attempts, he had been unable to get past the first ten pages; his mind was too busy with other things to be able to concentrate on all the elements of a story outside of his current reality. “But you’ve sure got something Headquarters wants.”
Klink came to stand before Hogan at his bunk. “And what is that, Colonel?”
Hogan sighed. He knew that this, among other things, would be of concern to Klink. And while he didn’t want to tell him, Hogan caved in. “I shouldn’t tell you—” He watched as Klink’s face changed, increasing in anxiety as it had over the last few days; “—but I guess I owe you at least that much in exchange for what you tried to do for me.”
Klink seemed to brace himself for an impact. Hogan gestured for him to grab a chair and sit down. “You have a list, Colonel,” Hogan began, when Klink seemed settled in. “A list of all the people who the Nazis will round up if anything happens to Hitler and his band of Merry Men.”
“Suspects. People Berlin thinks are connected to Allied war efforts. They’re out there and operating now because the Germans are hoping to follow a trail right into the heart of Allied operations. But if anything happens, the people on that list will be the first ones they nab. These people are sitting in a rabbit trap—and the door could slam shut at any time. We need to know who’s on that list, so we can warn them, and possibly get them out now, before it’s too late.”
Klink shook his head, bewildered. “I have no such list,” he said.
“You do, but you don’t know about it. It’s locked away in your brain.” Klink stared blankly at the American. “At some stage you were hypnotized, and the list was embedded in your subconscious. You have to be put under again to get to the names.”
Klink scoffed. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard, Colonel,” Klink said. “Why would someone entrust me with this list, then station me way out here at a Luft Stalag?”
“You’re safer that way, aren’t you? Who’s going to look for a list like that with a prison warden?” Klink shifted uncomfortably at the job description. He had always thought of his work as nobler than that. But somewhere inside he realized Hogan was simply making a point, and refused to take offense. “They plant this in your brain, don’t tell you so you can’t blab it to anyone by mistake, then ship you off to a nice, safe, out-of-the-way place where they can keep tabs on you until the time is right. A perfect plan.”
Klink nodded slowly. He hated to admit it, but Hogan was right. It was a perfect plan. A perfect secret. And once again, Klink thought ruefully, he had been a perfect dupe.
Hogan noticed Klink’s reaction and added softly, “I know this has all come as a bit of a shock to you.” Hogan looked down. “I’m sorry to have to be the one to explain it all. But we only did what we had to do. I never manipulated you just for fun, Kommandant, and that’s the truth. I was doing my job.”
“I can’t help but feel that I have been a fool for the past three years, Hogan. Hochstetter could see what was happening, but I couldn’t. Maybe I didn’t want to.”
“Maybe you didn’t.” Hogan replied. He had no answers for the Kommandant. “Let’s have a game of chess,” he said, abruptly changing the subject.
“Chess—let’s have a game. I usually play with Kinch down here when he’s stuck on the radio, but you’re not a bad player, either, so what do you say?”
“‘Not a bad player’?” Klink repeated. “I’ll remind you that I am victorious almost every time we play, Colonel Hogan.”
“You may find I’m a different player now that I have nothing to lose by knocking your socks off, Kommandant.”
“Bring it on, Hogan. Bring it on.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Le Beau brought lunch downstairs to the refugees along with the daily camp gossip. He could not help but mention the apparent change in Eichberger’s treatment of the prisoners, and his announcement that Hitler’s order to execute officers in prison camps had been withdrawn.
Hogan leapt on this information. “Are you sure? Is this confirmed, Louis?” he asked.
Le Beau shrugged. “Schultz said he heard Burkhalter and Eichberger talking about it.”
Klink winced at hearing the men discuss these officers without the use of their rank. But he said nothing, too fascinated with the talk to be upset by semantics. “How did Eichberger seem to feel about this?”
Le Beau considered. “He said if the Fuhrer had changed his mind while you were still in camp, then Hochstetter should have released you back to the camp.”
“No bloodthirsty Kraut waiting to slit my throat on principle?”
“It did not seem so, Colonel.”
“Louis, tell Kinch I want him to get on the horn and see if he can confirm that the execution order’s been withdrawn; it might just be a trick to expose us. Then I want you fellas to keep at Eichberger; see what you can find out about how he feels about that retraction, and whether he’ll honor it.”
“Oui, Colonel. And if it all checks out?”
Hogan’s eyes took on a gleam for the first time in weeks. “Louis, I’m getting tired of this tunnel. I want to go back to my nice, drafty office. And what better way than for me to walk right back in through the front gate?”
Answers of the Past, Questions of the Future
“It’s too dangerous, gov’nor. The man’s a bleedin’ fruitcake!” Newkirk protested that evening. Hogan had just told the rest of the men about his desire to come out of hiding, and that had them all reeling.
“I agree, Colonel. Eichberger says he’s a reasonable man, but I can’t imagine him taking too well to you suddenly showing up.” Kinch spoke, almost knowing he was wasting his breath, but somehow hoping Hogan would listen.
“And what about Hochstetter?” Le Beau put in. “Once he finds out you are back, he will have a field day with you.” His voice dropped as he continued, “You do not need to be put in front of the firing squad to be killed.”
Hogan looked at his men with fondness. Somehow it always surprised him when they wanted to protect him, even though he never doubted that they would do it for each other without hesitation. Perhaps it was that he considered it his job to look after them, not the other way around. But regardless of the reason, he was touched by their loyalty. “It sounds like Eichberger isn’t really impressed with our Major Hochstetter,” Hogan said. “I have a feeling that if we play him the right way, he might be strong enough to keep the Gestapo at bay.”
Carter shook his head. “Gee, I don’t know, Colonel. Major Hochstetter’s a Major and Captain Eichberger’s only a Captain. He can just order him to do what he wants, can’t he?”
“Carter, my boy, sometimes it’s about brainpower more than about brass,” Hogan replied. “And from all accounts, it appears that Eichberger has a clear advantage over Hochstetter on that front. Let’s just see how it pans out, and then I’ll decide what to do.” He looked at the silent, anxious faces staring back at him and tried to put on a smile. “Look, I can hide out, run, or come back. If I come back, I can remain part of the operation. And I’d rather sit out this war with you fellas than in some overheated office back in London when they decide to ground me as an old man.”
No one answered, but they started shifting their eyes, shuffling their feet, and crossing their arms in discomfort. They didn’t like it, but they knew that if anyone was going to be able to work his way around this new Kommandant, it would be Hogan. And as dedicated as they were to the operation and its goals, they also knew they wouldn’t carry on with the same heart if Hogan weren’t there with them. Because while the operation was not intended to ever be solely dependent on one man, Hogan had become its essence—you didn’t think of the group without thinking of Hogan. And not one of them could think of working for anyone else.
“Do you think we can survive without Klink?” Newkirk asked. “We always worried about what would happen if he was gone.”
“Well we don’t have any choice now,” Hogan answered. “Eichberger is who we have, so Eichberger is who we work on. We won’t know how sharp his teeth are until we get bitten. And I’d rather him try them out on me than any of you fellas. Kinch, what do you hear about that order?”
“Not much yet, Colonel. Underground and London are going to get back to us.”
“Okay. Then I’d better start getting my cover story ready, so I know what I’ve been doing for the last three weeks!”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
The touch of Kinch’s hand on his shoulder startled Hogan into wakefulness. Usually an extremely light sleeper, Hogan had not heard the radioman come down the ladder, nor, it appeared, as he saw the clipboard in Kinch’s hand, had he even heard the radio’s noisy beeps and clicks. He sat up blearily, rubbing his eyes with his left hand, as his right still felt like lead, and tried to blink himself into full awareness. “What’s going on, Kinch?” he asked.
“Sorry to wake you, Colonel,” Kinch began. Hogan just nodded. “I thought you’d want to know what I found out about that execution order.”
Hogan took in a deep breath and tried to carefully stretch the kinks out of his neck. “I thought you didn’t expect word about that till at least this afternoon.”
“It is this afternoon, Colonel. It’s two thirty.”
Hogan’s face registered surprise. “I’ll have to talk to Wilson about what he’s putting in those syringes,” he joked weakly. Damn. I must not be as well as I thought. “So what have we got?” he asked, putting aside his unease. He absentmindedly stroked his hurting right hand and wrist.
“Well it was tough getting anything from Hammelburg—the Underground still isn’t very active thanks to the Gestapo nosing around.” Hogan nodded. “But we did manage to get word out from a contact in Gestapo Headquarters. Hochstetter’s ranting and raving around the office about not being given his chance to have a go at you,” Kinch started.
Hogan snorted, wincing at a stitch of discomfort in his abdomen. “I think he had plenty of chance,” he replied.
“Yeah, well, apparently he’s been dressed down for not completing the job he was sent here to do in the first place. He was accused of putting his own interests first, and now he has to report failure, since by the time the order was rescinded…well, you should have been… long gone.”
Kinch faltered into silence. Hogan nodded, staring at nothing as he considered what would have happened if Hochstetter hadn’t been so hell-bent on trying to make Hogan confess to acts of sabotage before finishing him off. “I suppose this is one time I should be grateful he’s such a maniac,” Hogan practically whispered.
“That did have its usefulness,” Kinch agreed quietly. How awful must it be to have to be grateful that a man hates you enough to torture you before he gets around to killing you? He looked at Hogan’s troubled face, with one or two lingering bruises leaving a slight discoloration on his still-pale cheeks, and wondered how Hogan could cope with all that had happened to him. Hogan’s eyes told Kinch that the Colonel was once again locked up in that cell, enduring a torture intended to drive him mad with pain before facing a certain death. Hogan had never spoken about the experience, choosing instead to try to put it out of his mind. But Kinch could see that it was still there, every time he caught Hogan off-guard. And it was heartbreaking to see the haunted look that dimmed the normally bright spark in Hogan’s eyes, leaving Hogan uncertain and, at least until he forced the feelings of fear and rage down for awhile, unconfident in his future. “Colonel?” Kinch prompted softly.
Hogan took a deep, calming breath and blinked himself back to the present. He looked at Kinch expectantly.
Kinch swallowed before speaking again. “Do you want to talk about it?”
Hogan shook his head. “No, thanks, Kinch,” he said with difficulty. “I’d rather just forget all about it.”
Kinch wasn’t fooled, but he nodded agreement. “If you ever do—”
“I know,” Hogan interrupted quickly. “Thanks.” He cleared his throat and made a visible effort to steer the subject away from himself. “Well, it sounds like it’s all on the up and up. I don’t think Hochstetter’s that good an actor to be able to put on a show like that just for the benefit of someone who might be watching who’s on the other side. He’s too arrogant to think that anyone might be infiltrating the great Gestapo,” he said. Kinch nodded. “So now the only question that remains is: is Eichberger the kind of guy I can trust not to shoot me when I show up?”
“That’s a tough call, Colonel,” Kinch said.
“I’ll give the fellas a couple more days to feel him out. Then it’s time to make my move. If this works, Kinch, we could be back in business.”
Kinch smiled and nodded, hearing some life come back into Hogan’s voice. But he hadn’t been mistaken when he saw the glassy eyes only minutes earlier, and wondered how long the spark would be there, before some horrific memory wiped it out again.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“But what will happen to me down here, Hogan?” Klink asked, when Hogan explained that he was heading back up into camp. Though he was not happy living this non-life underneath Stalag 13, at least he had had Hogan as constant company. But now, with the American saying he was going back upstairs, Klink was starting to feel more uncertain than he had before—he would be alone. And Hogan would not be there to protect him from anything the prisoners decided to do.
“We’ll keep you company,” Hogan reassured him lightly. “But hopefully you won’t be here too long anyway. Once the Underground is satisfied that the Gestapo isn’t actively monitoring their activities any more, we’ll get you out by the usual route.”
“The usual route?” Klink asked. He had heard this phrase before, when Hogan had spoken with London that day, with an anger in his voice that Klink had rarely heard in his senior POW.
“An Underground network. Maybe a sub. Or a plane, if I can get London to agree. They haven’t been very cooperative lately,” Hogan admitted. Klink heard some of the irritation coming back into Hogan’s voice.
“A plane?” Klink breathed. “You can get a plane?”
Hogan shrugged. “We’ve done it before. Depends on how important they think the information is. Right now they don’t even know what you have. I’ll have to convince them you’re worth the effort.”
Klink frowned at the implication that his worth would have to be proven. “What makes you think you can convince them?” Klink asked. Then, suddenly, “They don’t seem very interested in what you have to say.”
Hogan noticed the hint of mockery in Klink’s voice and felt the hairs on the back of his neck start to rise. “They have their moments,” he said stiffly. “But if I tell them you’re important, they’ll take my word for it. I haven’t steered them wrong in three years. And they have a stack of German POWs sitting back in London to prove it.”
Now it was Klink’s turn to feel uncomfortable. The implication was clear: Klink himself was about to join those who had passed through Hogan’s network before, to sit out the war in some prison camp, at the mercy of enemies who he was not at all sure were civilized. “What has become of these people?”
“Some of them will just bide their time until this whole mess is over,” Hogan answered. His mind raced through some of the faces that had appeared before him before heading back to London. “Others, like Biedenbender, are interrogated and debriefed before being put in a camp for the duration.”
“Biedenbender?” Klink said breathlessly. “I thought he defected!”
Hogan laughed humorlessly. “Him? Not on your life. I just helped him back to the Allies. Best birthday present I’d ever had.”
“Hogan, how do you do this?”
“Just a lot of hard work, Kommandant. A lot of hard work, a sprinkling of luck, and a lot of help from the Man Upstairs. I like to think He’s on our side.”
“Sometimes I wonder if He is paying any attention at all,” Klink said, disheartened.
“Didn’t know you wondered about things like that, Colonel,” Hogan said softly.
“Every man wonders about those things, Hogan, if he is human. The Allies do not have the market cornered on humanity.”
“Touché,” Hogan said. “You just never struck me as the contemplative type.”
“And you never struck me as the type of man who would be in charge of a military operation of such grand proportions,” Klink countered. “In war, people are rarely what they seem.”
Hogan nodded. “It seems like we’ve both missed a few details along the way. Well, Colonel, you’ll have plenty of time to contemplate when you’re in the hands of the Allies. I think I can say with confidence that you won’t face the same type of interrogation I did.” Klink winced at the thought. “And once they’ve finished with their gentle treatment of you, they’ll give you a nice cozy spot with a good view of the war.”
“It will not be home, Colonel.”
“No,” Hogan agreed. “It won’t. But a lot of us are in the same boat. If all goes to plan with Eichberger, I’m here for the duration, too.”
Klink shook his head, discouraged. “When will this war be over?” he asked, not expecting any kind of an answer.
Hogan didn’t have one. “Not soon enough for me, Colonel. Not soon enough for me.”
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.