There's No Place Like Home (part 3)
Hogan scraped at his jaw line for the fifth time in the last hour. “I can’t wait till I can have a shave again,” he complained. “This beard is itching like mad!”
“It has only been four days, Colonel,” Le Beau said. “You will make your face bleed if you keep scratching it like that.”
Hogan grimaced and continued clawing at his face and neck. “But it’s driving me crazy!” he said. “Why can’t I make it look like I’ve been with some nice family until just now, who liked me clean-shaven?”
Kinch grinned. “Now, come on, Colonel, you know you can’t do that. You’re the one who told us why in the first place.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know, I know,” Hogan sighed, deliberately pulling his hand away from his cheeks. He looked across the tunnel to where Newkirk was supervising alterations to some of Hogan’s clothing. “How are you going over there?” he asked.
Carter glanced up from what appeared to be very detailed work. “It’s starting to look really good, Colonel,” he answered. “We’ve pretty well ripped your shirt to shreds.” Hogan was tempted to look away as Carter held up a shirt like the one he had been wearing the day Hochstetter had pulled him from the lineup, but his eyes were drawn to the slash marks and the dirty, red stains scattered across it. “We’ve even managed to make this look like real, dried sweat and blood.”
Kinch noticed the temporary light in Hogan’s eyes go out as he surveyed the men’s handiwork. Hogan nodded numbly. “It looks right, I guess,” he said.
“We didn’t keep the real one, gov’nor,” Newkirk said. He pulled the shirt back down to the table, realizing the impact that seeing the shirt was having on Hogan. “And I’m sorry you have to wear this one.”
“It’s okay,” Hogan answered in a slightly shaky voice. “This time it’s hopefully going to keep me alive.” Hogan drew in a quick breath as Wilson continued to undo his expert wrapping of Hogan’s left wrist. “Hey, that’s a bit rough!” he declared, as one of the bandages pulled at his healing wounds.
“Sorry,” Wilson apologized. He continued his work, but slowed down as he realized he was now on the last level of gauze. “I’m not happy about doing this, Colonel, but I think in this case you’re right: if I don’t, you could suffer in other ways.”
Hogan agreed. “If it looks like I’ve had some expert job done, then the Krauts might guess I’ve had help. I need some sloppy-looking stuff that looks like I’ve done it myself.”
“Well, you are not going to drag the ones we replace these with through the dirt, either, Colonel Hogan,” Wilson insisted, “whether you outrank me or not.” He picked up a new bandage and started wrapping it loosely and with an amateur look around Hogan’s left wrist.
“Okay, okay,” Hogan said, “I have no intention of doing that.” He clenched his fist as fresh prickles of pain stabbed his wrist at Wilson’s touch.
Wilson uncurled Hogan’s fingers and glanced at his slightly whitening face. “I can’t believe I’m even agreeing to this,” Wilson muttered, as he reached carefully for Hogan’s right hand. “Taking off perfectly good bandages, taking a chance on you getting these cuts infected. I can’t believe I’m letting this happen.”
“You don’t have any choice,” Hogan said, watching warily as Wilson very gently unwrapped his injured fingers and his wrist. “I only would have done it later without your supervision.”
“That’s no comfort to me, Colonel Hogan,” Wilson said, taking hold of a broken-off stick that was to replace the splint that up to now had been supporting Hogan’s hand. He looked at his patient’s injuries and tried to hide his dissatisfaction. The knuckles were still badly swollen and bruised almost black, the fingers inflated to more than their normal size. The wrist itself was trying to heal, but retained a red, raw look that trumpeted a battle against infection. It didn’t surprise him when Hogan’s face contorted and he involuntarily tried to pull away as the medic held the fingers together again to rebind them in what looked like a less-than-professional manner. “Sorry,” he said again, as he watched Hogan’s face pale even further and start to shimmer with new beads of perspiration. “Sorry. But it’s better if I do this than you. These fingers still need a lot of support, and whatever you’d do left-handed just wouldn’t be good enough.”
Hogan nodded, his breathing shaky. He said nothing but tensely watched Wilson do his work. When Wilson finished, he looked up at Hogan’s drawn face and said, “I’m not sure you should be doing this, Colonel.”
Hogan just shook his head slowly. “Have to,” he managed.
“Then let me redo the bandages around your abdomen tomorrow. Hold off for a day, okay? Just one day. You don’t have to go out tonight, do you?” Wilson looked to the others for support.
“It might be worth waiting, Colonel,” Kinch said. “The Gestapo is still pulling out of the area. One more day couldn’t hurt, just to be sure.”
Hogan didn’t answer, concentrating instead on keeping the room from spinning. “Colonel, I can’t do any more tonight,” Wilson persisted. “You aren’t ready for this.”
Hogan nodded lifelessly. “Okay, I’ll wait.”
Sorry, Colonel. Wilson gathered up the used bandages and turned to the others. “Make sure he gets some sleep tonight.” He shook his head as he looked back at Hogan, leaning forward on the cot with his eyes half-closed but unwilling to lie down. “Tomorrow I’ll take care of his other bandages. Don’t let him try it himself.” He went to Hogan’s side. “Do you hear me, Colonel? I don’t want you to do this yourself. I can make it look as bad as you need it to, okay?” He tried to look into Hogan’s eyes, but they were closing rapidly. He took Hogan by the shoulders and lay him down on the thin mattress. Hogan submitted silently. “Okay, Colonel. That’s enough for today. The war will still be there in the morning.” Hogan sighed and closed his eyes. “Just a bit too much for him,” Wilson explained, turning to the others. “I really don’t like him doing all this; he’s not recovered yet.”
“We don’t like it much either,” Newkirk said. “But you can’t get the Colonel to stop for long.”
“And even if we don’t like it, he’s right,” Kinch added ruefully. “This is the best way to see if we can get the operation up and running again. Otherwise we might as well close up this tunnel and get all of us out of here now.”
Wilson looked around him, at the walls supported by beams, at the oil lamps positioned evenly till they were out of sight, at the radio equipment spread out over two tables, at the men standing almost protectively near their sleeping commanding officer. How it all began was only a distant memory. How it would end was anybody’s guess. He shrugged his acceptance. “That would be a shame,” he admitted. “You’ve all done a lot of good here so far. I guess we just have to let him do it his way.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Schultz will be exactly where he is supposed to be, Colonel,” Le Beau promised. “I will make sure he is there, even if I have to lead him there with a trail of strudel.”
Hogan smiled briefly as he pictured the possibility. “I’m sure he wouldn’t mind that at all.” He gingerly pulled on the torn shirt Carter presented to him, trying hard not to look at it. “Too neat?” he asked, as he struggled with the buttons.
“Here, let me,” Kinch offered, moving Hogan’s sore hands away. He did up a couple of buttons, then left the others and pulled out Hogan’s shirttails. Then he helped Hogan on with his jacket, draping the coat over his shoulder on the right instead of trying to get Hogan’s arm through the sleeve.
“Don’t forget your cap,” Carter reminded him, handing it over. Hogan took it and placed it on his head.
“It is cold,” Le Beau told Hogan. “Stay covered up. Wilson will kill us all if you die of pneumonia.”
Newkirk approached with a handful of dirt and started smearing it on Hogan’s jacket and pants, then very gently did the same on Hogan’s face. “You be careful, gov’nor,” he said, concentrating a little more than necessary, and therefore not having to look Hogan in the eye. “We did a lot of work to make you look this bad.” He surveyed his work, only to find Hogan studying him intently. “Just make sure all the blood on here stays fake, okay?” he added quickly, examining a wet patch of dirt he had just put on Hogan’s sleeve.
Hogan understood the message Newkirk was trying to give him and nodded. “That’s my plan,” he said quietly. Hogan straightened and looked at his jacket as Newkirk drew back. “You guys are going to owe me another jacket when I come back here,” he said with forced lightness. “I don’t like the way this one is looking!”
“We will make it like new, Colonel,” Le Beau promised. There was no humor in his voice.
“Look after Klink while I’m gone. Don’t let him get too nervous.” Hogan thought of the Kommandant, who had, as of late, taken to retreating down the tunnel to the spot where he was first brought in. Hogan had decided it was best to let him find his own niche down here, where he could think about everything going on around him, and start to come to grips with how his life was changing. “Tell him I’ll come visit him as soon as I’m back in the camp’s good graces.”
The others nodded. Wilson stood by quietly, watching Hogan for any signs of distress. But he knew he had delayed the inevitable for as long as possible, and could only depend now on Hogan’s common sense. Changing the final bandages had not been easy, as they had become fused with the healing incisions on Hogan’s abdomen, and fresh spots of blood had appeared on the white wrapping. Hogan had only nodded approval, saying it looked more realistic. But the change in his breathing had not escaped the medic’s notice, and Wilson was praying that more harm than good wouldn’t come out of this escapade. Still, there was nothing he could say now that would change Hogan’s mind.
“I’ll be back tomorrow.”
“Better be,” Wilson burst before he could stop himself.
Hogan turned to the medic, surprised. “Thanks, Joe,” he said softly, acknowledging everything the Sergeant had done for him since his rescue. “I won’t do anything stupid, I promise.”
Wilson snorted. “That’d be a first,” he jibed, smiling. Then, more serious, “Good luck, Colonel.”
“Thanks. Let’s hope I don’t need it.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan paused for breath after climbing up the ladder through the tree stump opening at the end of the tunnel. Dodging the sweeping search lights from the guard tower, he grimaced as his injuries protested the unusual posture. When the light passed he stood up and moved to the shelter of a nearby tree and leaned against it, willing away the throbbing in his hand and abdomen. He hadn’t had to strain them this much since he had been taken, and now he could do nothing but wait until the feeling of nausea passed so he could push them to their limit again.
Hogan looked down to the camp. The gates loomed before him, with fences reaching high into the sky, the barbed wire reflecting the pale moonlight. Hogan shivered and drew the jacket around him. Winter was definitely in the air—the earth was hard beneath his feet and he could see his own breath in front of him. At least he had his shoes; thank God someone had pulled his outer clothing from solitary confinement when they had rescued him. Otherwise, tonight would have been even less pleasant than it was already shaping up to be.
Resigned to holding off until morning light before making his appearance, Hogan settled down for the wait. He looked with concern at his right hand. Wilson had been right—it had easily been the worst of his injuries, and it continued to cause him great pain. The bandages now around the two fingers looked like they had been applied by an amateur, but Hogan could feel the support the medic had built into them. Still, the hurt was sometimes breathtaking, and he was worried about regaining full use of his fingers. The thought of having a permanent physical reminder of Hochstetter was almost enough to drive him screaming out of the woods, and he leaned his head back against the tree and closed his eyes until the thrill of fear receded.
When he opened his eyes, Hogan looked around him for any watching patrols, then pulled away from the tree and started walking away from the camp. He would have to do many circuits around Stalag 13 to keep himself warm, and to get himself in a sufficient state to make it appear that he had been on his own for a long time. They did a good job on the shirt, though, Hogan thought, wrinkling his nose. Maybe too good a job—phew! Come on, sun, hurry up! I haven’t been at calisthenics for three weeks; I’m not fit for walking too long!
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Eichberger nodded to his Sergeant of the Guard that his inspection of the men of Barracks Two was completed and turned away to do his usual morning inspection of the compound. Schultz waved his arm and called for the group to break it up and get started with their assignments. Grumbling, Schultz was surprised when Le Beau came up to him, with his pick and canvas sack already in hand.
“Ready to start the day, Schultzie?” he asked lightly.
“Ja, ja, one day is like the next,” Schultz answered with a note of sadness.
“Aw, come on, Schultzie, that’s no attitude to take when I am about to make you some nice potato pancakes.”
Schultz stopped on his way to the guard house and looked with a small smile at the Frenchman. “Potato pancakes? For me?”
“Oui, for you,” Le Beau said, nodding. “It has been hard for you, Schultz; you have lost your commanding officer, just like we have. I want to do something nice for you.” He looked carefully outside the camp, scanning the woods. Then he started walking again, so Schultz had to move to continue the conversation.
“That is a very nice thing to do, Le Beau,” Schultz said. “You are a very good friend, for an enemy.”
Le Beau smiled widely at his guard. “I try,” he said. He turned from Schultz again and looked once more out to the woods. “Hey, Schultz, what if we were to start a vegetable garden here in camp?”
“What kind of vegetable garden?”
“Well, you know—one where we could grow cabbages, potatoes—all the things that go into the kinds of food you like, so I could make it more often for you.”
Schultz considered. “I don’t know if the Captain would let you,” he said.
“Oh, sure he would—look, all you need is some good soil, like that soil out there,” he prompted, pulling Schultz closer to the wire. “See?”
Schultz resisted. “No, no, Cockroach, the dirt in the camp is the same as the dirt outside.”
“No, it isn’t!” Le Beau insisted, tugging at the guard. “Look—that soil is richer. It has been fertilized with the leaves from the trees and the droppings of the animals. Look closer, Schultzie.”
And he practically pushed Schultz up to the fence. Suddenly, there was a movement in the trees, and Schultz drew back. “Cockroach—there is something out there!” he said.
“Out there?” Le Beau echoed. “I don’t see anything, Schultz.”
“But there is, there is!” the guard persisted. He leaned closer to the fence to look in between the wires.
Schultz’s eyes widened when he saw what emerged from the trees. A man, stumbling and unsteady, heading for the gates. The figure looked familiar—that jacket, that hat, with that height and weight—“Colonel Hogan!”
Schultz hurried to the gate and ordered it opened, motioning for Le Beau to stay behind. Le Beau nodded, satisfied to watch the events unfolding. Schultz ran toward the trembling man who was still coming toward him with his eyes downcast. “Colonel Hogan!” Schultz said again, grabbing hold of the American, to support him.
Hogan looked blearily at the guard. “Schultz?” he gasped weakly. His face was white, and he was bathed in sweat. Schultz took only a couple of seconds to look over the prisoner and was disgusted by what he saw—torn, filthy clothing, bloody bandages, and a hollow look in Hogan’s face that spoke of fear and pain.
He guided Hogan toward the camp. “Colonel Hogan, where have you been?”
“Had to… get out, Schultz,” Hogan panted. As they entered the camp, he stole a very alert look at Le Beau, who came rushing over as though seeing Hogan for the first time. Hogan turned back to the guard and continued. “Hochstetter…” He sagged in Schultz’s grip as the gates were closed behind him. “But I… couldn’t last out there, Schultz… please, let me come home.”
Le Beau took hold of Hogan’s other arm. “Colonel. Colonel, it is Le Beau. You are safe now, Colonel.”
The ruckus at the gate was attracting the attention of others in the camp, including Eichberger, who had not yet returned to his office. “What is going on here?” he asked, now standing before the trio.
“Herr Captain, I was looking outside the fence when I saw this man coming toward the camp. This is Colonel Hogan!”
Eichberger took a long look at the man being supported by Le Beau and Schultz. “So this is Colonel Hogan,” he observed. Hogan didn’t look up, continuing to breathe laboredly. Le Beau looked from Eichberger to Hogan, unconsciously holding his breath. “Colonel Hogan!” called Eichberger, very close to Hogan’s face.
Hogan slowly raised his head and looked at Eichberger with vacant, tired eyes. “Colonel Hogan, you and I are going to have a talk in my office. Schultz, handcuff this man and bring him.”
“But Herr Captain—”
Eichberger waved the protest away. “Never mind,” he said. “I will do it myself.” He grabbed the handcuffs from Schultz’s belt, then jerked Hogan away from his helpers and drew his arms roughly behind his back, applying the cuffs tightly. Hogan grunted and squeezed his eyes shut as a bolt of pain raced through his hand. “If he can get out of a locked cell by melting through the walls, then what is to stop him from getting out of this camp unless we take stricter measures? Come, Colonel Hogan, we have much to discuss.”
Eichberger pulled Hogan away by the arm. Hogan looked back toward Schultz and Le Beau, sweat pouring down his face. Le Beau bit his lip, hoping that the condition Hogan appeared to be in was an act, and Schultz simply watched their retreat, stunned.
“What… just happened?” Schultz asked.
“The Colonel has come back!” Le Beau answered. “And that pig Eichberger has already got his hands on him.”
“Cockroach,” Schultz asked, turning to the Corporal, “was he supposed to come back?”
“Schultz,” Le Beau replied, “the Colonel would not want to ruin the Kommandant’s perfect record. No one has ever escaped from Stalag 13.”
Introductions and Revelations
Hogan stood wavering in front of Eichberger’s desk, his hand hurting terribly, his eyes stinging from the sweat that had worked its way into them. But Eichberger said nothing for a moment, content to simply look at the man before him.
Finally, the Captain nodded approvingly. “So, you are the great Colonel Hogan,” he said. Hogan remained silent. “Hogan the Magician!” he announced, laughing. Hogan frowned slightly but did not take the bait. “I must say, Colonel, you certainly had many people in a state when you disappeared. It appears you did not share your talent as an escape artist with anyone in the camp before you took your leave. Tell me, how did you do it?”
Hogan did not answer. He squirmed uncomfortably in the restraints.
“The handcuffs are bothering you, Colonel,” Eichberger observed. “Why do you not just… slip out of them, as you did out of your cell?” He laughed at his own joke. Hogan stopped moving. “Come now, Hogan,” Eichberger persisted. “Surely you would have expected us to want to know how you managed to get out?”
Hogan cleared his throat. “Hogan, Robert E., Colonel, US Army Air Corps, serial number 08767—”
Eichberger waved him into silence. “Never mind all that, Hogan. I know all about you. All about your sabotage and all about your best friend, Major Hochstetter.” Hogan said nothing. “What I want to know is, why did you come back?”
“Only hotel in town,” Hogan answered evenly.
Eichberger laughed loudly. “Ah, Colonel Hogan, you amuse me.”
“My life is complete.”
“I see what General Burkhalter told me about you was correct,” Eichberger said, obviously pleased. “You are indeed an unusual specimen. Even in your precarious situation, you manage to make jokes. Not all men could laugh in the face of a firing squad.”
“Is that where I’m heading?” Hogan asked, his emotions still switched off.
Eichberger considered. He stood up and circled around Hogan, toying with him. “You don’t know, do you?” he asked. “You are speaking as though it does not matter, but you don’t really know what my plans are for you, do you?” Hogan stayed quiet. Eichberger studied Hogan closely, then smiled and faced him. “My name is Franz Eichberger, Colonel Hogan. I am the new camp Kommandant. Or did you not notice that your friend Colonel Klink is not here?”
“He’s not my friend.”
“Many things have changed since you last graced us with your presence. But you will have plenty of time to learn about that. You will be spending the next thirty days in the cooler. That is, unless you decide to make the walls dissolve,” he added, chuckling. “Sergeant Schultz!” he called.
The door opened immediately and Schultz entered, daring an anxious look toward Colonel Hogan while saluting Eichberger. “Jawohl, Herr Kommandant.”
“Take Colonel Hogan to the cooler. Do not remove his handcuffs until you have him locked in his cell.” Eichberger turned to Hogan to explain. “We will take no chances with you, Colonel. I am not interested in the kind of unpleasant surprise that greeted your old Kommandant when I visit you later—that is, if it was a surprise to him.” Resuming his orders, Eichberger said, “Post two guards, Sergeant, and make sure one of them is in constant visual contact with the prisoner. I will come by later to interrogate him myself.” Schultz nodded his understanding. “Do not worry, Colonel Hogan, I have no intention of having you executed. There are many more interesting things to be learned by leaving you alive. Sergeant, you may take him.”
“Jawohl, Herr Captain.”
Eichberger turned away from Hogan as though he had already left the room. Schultz looked at Hogan, still standing unsteadily at the desk, and prompted him to move with a touch of his elbow. Hogan accepted the gesture and turned to leave. They had gotten half way out the door when Hogan appeared to stumble, and he started to fall forward. Schultz caught him around the waist to stop him from hitting the floor, and Hogan grunted in protest at the handling. “I am sorry, Colonel Hogan,” Schultz said, helping Hogan to stand upright.
“That’s all right, Schultz,” Hogan answered tiredly. He took the opportunity he had created to study Eichberger carefully from under the brim of his cap. The man was a block of ice; he was concentrating on the paperwork at his desk, now seemingly oblivious to their presence. Hogan began to wonder what type of man Eichberger was, and reminded himself that this was no Colonel Klink he was dealing with. No; the consequences of a wrong step here would be much harder to avoid. “Just get me out of here.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Schultz pulled the handcuffs out from between the bars of the cell as Hogan hissed and tried to soothe his throbbing right hand. The American moved to the cot against the opposite wall and sat down wearily. “Thanks, Schultz.”
“Colonel Hogan, should I send for Sergeant Wilson?”
“I doubt your new Kommandant would allow that,” Hogan answered.
“But you are hurt,” Schultz replied.
“If it were up to the Prussian Corporal, Schultz, I’d be dead. Hurt doesn’t rate a mention.” Hogan leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. Most of his behavior in front of the Germans had been an act, but his tiredness after being outside walking for hours, and his discomfort at the rough handling of his still-wounded body, had been real. He had played it up as much as he could for his meeting with Eichberger, but now he was willing to forgo any charade if he could just have some time to recover.
Schultz looked at Hogan sadly. “I was worried, Colonel Hogan. The boys told me you were in very bad shape.”
“Do I look like I’m in very good shape?” Hogan retorted without animosity. “Don’t forget to get your second guard, Schultz,” he reminded the Sergeant. “I’ll be in here sleeping. Wake me when Patton shows up, okay?”
And the world around him faded away.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
A less than delicate touch on his abdomen drove Hogan firmly into awareness. He sat forward with a jerk, swatting randomly at the cause of the discomfort, only to find his arms pushed away. He cleared his head and regarded the intruder. It was Eichberger.
“Major Hochstetter has some very interesting methods of interrogation,” the Captain said, as he once again probed Hogan’s abdomen. Hogan flinched and pulled away, laying a protective arm gently over his seeping wounds. “I don’t think I’ve seen him outdone by anyone, ever.”
Hogan remained quiet. Still unsure about how to handle Eichberger, he had decided that observation was going to tell him a lot more than arguing. And so he listened, leaving the Captain to fill the silences.
Eichberger was sitting next to Hogan on the thin mattress, where the prisoner had fallen asleep upright and not moved. From the light coming in through the small window Hogan guessed it to be at least midday. “You were tired, Colonel Hogan,” Eichberger said.
“Haven’t had a lot of sleep lately.”
“Where have you been sleeping, Colonel Hogan?” Silence. “We both know you must have had refuge somewhere.” Nothing. “I wonder what makes a man decide to return to the enemy for respite.” Eichberger waited once more, then nodded and said, “I admire you, Colonel Hogan. You are certainly a strong man. But your silence here is not gaining you any advantage. Surely nothing would be lost by answering some very simple questions.”
“Hogan, Robert E., Colonel, US Army Air Corps—”
Eichberger laughed. Hogan stopped speaking. “Oh, Colonel, there you go again! I do not wish to hear of common things that are in your prisoner dossier. I am interested in the other parts of your life here. The ones that deal with your alleged activities outside the camp. The ones that distracted Major Hochstetter, and unintentionally saved your life.”
Hogan said nothing.
“Very well. I can respect your lack of interest in speaking about such matters to me for the moment. Would you do me the favor, at least, of telling me why you came back to Stalag 13, instead of heading away from Germany?”
Hogan considered for a moment, then said simply, “I couldn’t take it any more.”
Eichberger cocked his head, interested. “‘Take it’?”
“I couldn’t survive out there.”
“So you thought it would be easier here? That it would be better for you in a prison camp? What about the execution order hanging over your head?”
“A quick death is better than a slow one.”
“Where have you been for the past three weeks?”
“In the woods.”
“The Gestapo had patrols searching for you everywhere. They were quite thorough.”
“Not thorough enough.”
“Where did you get food and water?”
“I stole it.”
“And these bandages?”
“What about shelter? The weather has been most fierce.”
“I stayed in barns when I could. The owners didn’t know I was there.”
“You have an answer for everything,” Eichberger said. “How did you escape from solitary confinement?” Hogan said nothing. “I see. An answer for everything you want us to believe. Very well, Colonel Hogan. For your information, the Fuhrer’s command ordering the execution of officers has been withdrawn. Therefore, I would be lax in my duties as camp Kommandant if I did not look after you. I believe your dressings are old and dirty and therefore not sterile any longer. I will take them off.” Hogan stiffened. “Have no fear, Colonel Hogan. When you are released they will be replaced. And I will have Sergeant Schultz get you a new shirt.” He crinkled his nose distastefully. “Obviously you have not been near enough water to take a bath, and it would be cruel of me to subject my guards to you like this. You smell distinctly like an American, and that is not something they need to experience.”
Hogan did not answer, but steeled himself as Eichberger pushed his arm out of the way and began to tug roughly at his dressings. His mind was already heading back to Connecticut, and Hogan desperately wanted to follow it home.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Klink had been startled when he first heard sounds behind him coming from the other side of the wall. He had not heard Hogan’s men talking about any problems out in camp. Then he heard Hogan’s voice, and the scenario all became clear. Hogan had made it back into camp, and now he was facing his punishment for escaping. Schultz’s voice had come through in lower, muted sounds for a short time, and then all was silent.
Now, Hogan’s closest confidants were huddled near the wall, listening as Eichberger and Hogan tangoed through their brief encounter. They would shake their heads, or gesture when they thought something was particularly impressive, or smile in silent congratulations to Hogan when he managed to sidestep Eichberger’s queries. But when they heard the Captain starting to pull Hogan’s bandages off, they exchanged angry looks and their movement stopped. Klink heard Le Beau say something under his breath, but though his skill in the French language was fairly advanced, he couldn’t understand it. And he was sure he saw tears in Carter’s eyes at the first gasp of pain from Hogan’s mouth. The muffled noises didn’t last long, though, and then they heard Eichberger say something indistinct before the cell door was opened and closed with a clang.
Silence followed, and the men straightened, moving away. “So that is how you know what is going on everywhere?” Klink ventured to ask in a hushed voice.
“Yeah, Colonel, that’s how,” Kinch answered curtly.
Their faces were stiff with anger as they contemplated what had happened in the cell behind the wall. “Well, at least we know Eichberger’s going to honor the withdrawal of the execution order,” Carter said hopefully.
“Lovely, so he’s just going to make the gov’nor’s life miserable,” Newkirk said. “Taking his dressings off—Wilson’s going to go ’round the bend when he finds out.”
“Hey, Schultz is coming!” came a voice from the other end of the tunnel.
“Let’s go,” Le Beau said. “The pig said he was going to let the Colonel have another shirt. Maybe we can get Schultz to bring him some bandages, too.”
Klink followed the men as they worked their way back toward the ladder under the barracks, bewildered at their lack of urgency when a German guard was coming. Kinch motioned for Klink to remain where he was, and his head was just popping out of the bunk and into the hut when the door opened and Schultz appeared. “Hi, Schultz,” Kinch said, climbing into the room and banging the bunk back into place.
Schultz spun away and closed his eyes. “Please, Sergeant Kinchloe, I do not want to see any monkey business!”
“We had to see what was happening to the Colonel, Schultz,” Le Beau replied. “Besides, you’ve always known a lot more than you let on to, anyway.”
Klink’s jaw dropped. Could it be true that Schultz has been privy to all this all along?
“But I do not need to see it!” Schultz protested.
“You need a shirt for the Colonel,” Newkirk said. “Any chance you can get Eichberger to let Wilson look him over? Now that the bleedin’ filth’s taken off the gov’nor’s bandages.”
Schultz shook his head. “I do not think so. I will try when I bring his clean shirt, but I think not. The Captain seemed quite clear that he wanted Colonel Hogan left alone until his thirty days are completed.”
“How is he, Schultz?” asked Carter. “I mean, how is he really?”
Schultz shrugged his big shoulders and accepted the shirt Kinch brought him from Hogan’s room. “He is tired. He is probably a little bit sick. He is hurting. I do not know if that is better or worse than he was before, but it is how he is now.”
“What’s he doing now, Schultz?” asked Kinch.
“I think he is sleeping. But, I do not think he is having good dreams.”
“Hard to do when you are in pain,” Le Beau muttered angrily. “Filthy Bosche.”
“Bring some bandages with you anyway, Schultz. For the Colonel. Okay?” Newkirk urged.
“Ja. I will try.” He turned to leave, then sighed and turned back. “You know, I wish we had Kommandant Klink back.”
“So do we, Schultz. So do we.”
Klink listened silently, suddenly understanding what impact he truly did have on the operation of the camp and the treatment of the prisoners. Hogan evidently had not been exaggerating to appease Klink when he had told the Kommandant that things would have been completely different with another man in charge; it appeared that the men of Stalag 13 could only have hoped to have found someone with Klink’s level of compassion for the enemy. Was that a good thing? Klink wondered. His training wanted to think not, since he had been taught a good Luftwaffe officer was to be respected and feared.
But the other part of him believed that respect didn’t need fear. Hogan’s men don’t fear him, he thought, and yet they would put their arm in the fire for him. Surely that is a sign of respect. Maybe I was not such a buffoon as I believed when I first found out about this operation in the first place. Klink sank down onto Hogan’s cot, trying to think of how to change things back to how they were before Hitler had stuck his nose in everyone’s business, and changed their lives forever.
An Unlikely Ally
Hogan heard the door to his cell open but ignored it. The sound of heels clicking towards him as he lay facing the wall also did not rouse him. He knew what was coming, and he didn’t want any part of it.
“Good morning, Colonel Hogan.”
Hogan kept his eyes closed and continued breathing evenly.
“Colonel Hogan, it is time to have a talk.” Still no response. “I have seen your records, Colonel. I am aware of your strength of resistance.” Hogan didn’t move. Captain Eichberger turned toward the guard at the cell door and told him to leave until he was called. The guard obeyed, and Eichberger came back to stand at the cot. “There. Now we can speak privately.”
“What do you want, Eichberger?” Hogan asked wearily.
“I just want some intelligent conversation,” the German answered lightly.
“You mean you talk, and I listen,” Hogan said. “We’ve gone through this same routine for the past five days. I’ve told you everything I’m going to, so you might as well give up.”
Eichberger smiled at the back facing him. “Colonel Hogan, when will you learn that I never give up?”
Hogan lapsed into silence. Eichberger seemed comfortable with the quiet for a moment. Then he said, “Hogan, can I confide in you?”
Hogan opened his eyes but did not move.
“I realize you have no reason to believe me at this stage, Hogan, and I am still not quite sure what you are capable of, but I need to trust you, and so I will.”
Hogan said nothing. He could feel Eichberger move in closer, almost on top of him, and saw the man’s shadow on the wall in front of him. What kind of game was he playing?
“I needed to be sure you had not been broken, Colonel, before I dared tell you this. I can see now that I should not have worried.” Hogan listened to the hesitation in Eichberger’s voice but did not comment. “Colonel Hogan,” the man nearly whispered, “I have been sent to Stalag 13 to help you.”
Hogan involuntarily gave a small start. He quickly tempered the urge to react and instead said as calmly as possible, “You have a funny way of showing it.”
“What did you expect me to do, expose myself and risk being executed along with that idiot Klink?” Eichberger moved in until he was practically leaning on Hogan. “Please, Colonel Hogan, you must believe me. I am here to help you.”
Hogan turned stiffly onto his back, his sore body protesting every inch of movement. Eichberger watched as Hogan visibly tried to control his pain, and when he looked closely he could see the American’s brow glistening with the sweat of effort and discomfort. Hogan grimaced, panted, trying to settle his unbandaged right hand, which had lately given way to a ferocious, pure-white agony whenever he moved his arm too quickly. He missed the protection of the splint that Wilson had used on it, and now regretted moving at all. “What do you want from me?” Hogan asked through gritted teeth.
“I want to save the operation.”
Hogan took a minute before responding. He knew that pain could cloud his judgment, and so he waited until he felt more under control before he came up with an answer. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Hogan felt at a distinct disadvantage. His hand was demanding his full attention, which made it difficult for him to study Eichberger the way he wanted to. Were there any clues in his demeanor about his sincerity? Anything in his eyes, in his stance? Hogan knew he should be looking for confirmation, but right now he couldn’t find the focus he needed to do it.
“The sabotage operation, Colonel Hogan,” whispered Eichberger, close to Hogan’s ear. “Headquarters is expecting us to save it if we can. That’s why I am here.”
Hogan frowned and looked at Eichberger. London had said they would send no one. This had to be a trick.
“You’ve got the wrong guy.” Hogan shook his head slowly.
Eichberger knitted his brow. “Of course, you have no reason to trust me,” he said, not angrily. He stood up. “You are in pain. I have left your wounds untreated too long. I will send in the camp medic to look after you; Sergeant Schultz has been begging me to do as much for the last five days anyway,” he said with a slight smile. “You have done well here, Hogan—even the Germans are on your side.”
“Schultz does his job. He’s a good German soldier.”
“And a humanitarian. Something that has always stood you in good stead, I take it.”
Hogan shrugged mentally. Physically he couldn’t cope with any unnecessary movement.
“We will talk again, Colonel. Keep in mind what I said. I will find a way to prove myself to you.”
“There’s nothing to prove,” Hogan said. “You’re barking up the wrong tree.”
“I don’t think so, Papa Bear,” Eichberger said in a low voice.
Only Hogan’s eyes responded, and even then, only for a second.
“We shall save the operation, and we shall save you. Orders from above, you know.” Eichberger turned and called for the guard. “I will send the medic, Colonel Hogan. Perhaps that will help convince you that I mean what I say. Get some rest. There is much work ahead, for both of us.”
The guard appeared and unlocked the cell, and Eichberger walked away without looking back.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Oh, this is a great little infection you’ve got raging now,” Wilson said crossly, as he tried to make quick work of replacing the bandages that had been stripped off of Hogan’s hand days earlier. “It’s spreading right up your arm. I thought I told you to keep the dressings on.”
“I did.” Hogan’s voice was muffled through the towel Wilson had stuffed into his mouth for him to bite down on. “This was—someone else’s idea.” He hissed the words into the cloth and squeezed his eyes shut.
When Wilson had first lifted the wounded right arm, Hogan had let out a loud cry of pain. The medic immediately noticed the violent redness around the wrist and the inflamed skin of Hogan’s forearm and gave the Colonel a towel to bite down on as he worked. Now, as Hogan endured the agony of treatment and redressing, Wilson tried to keep up his usual banter in an effort to distract his patient from what he was doing. “Always great when an untrained person thinks he knows best about these things.” He paused just long enough to monitor Hogan’s physical reactions. The Colonel was taking groaning, gasping breaths, and his face and hair were damp with perspiration, but he was coping, and so Wilson continued. “Well at least you’re back in camp now, right? What made the tyrant have a change of heart about you being cleaned up?”
Hogan fought to concentrate on what Wilson was saying. “You wouldn’t believe it,” he answered. Wilson finished his work and rested Hogan’s arm down in his lap. The tension in Hogan’s body seeped away, and Wilson eased the towel from between his clenched teeth. Hogan laid his head back against the wall of the cell with a moan, exhausted from the experience, feeling very little when the medic worked on his other wrist and his abdomen.
“Try me,” Wilson prompted. He pulled out a syringe and filled it with antibiotics to fight the infection that had driven Hogan’s temperature up. “Somehow, nothing you say strikes me as impossible any more.”
Hogan let out a weak laugh. “Sorry to destroy your sense of reality.”
Wilson shook his head. “That’s okay,” he said. “Keeps me interested. Who’d have thought being a medic could be this fascinating?”
Hogan felt the cold prick of the needle. Thank you, he thought gratefully. He was too worn out to say it.
“Come on,” Wilson persisted, “what’s so unbelievable?”
Hogan opened his eyes and took a brief look toward the bars of the cell. There was no guard there, but he was still wary of speaking about this in case someone was listening in. Wilson picked up the cue and investigated, then came back to Hogan’s side. “No one here, Colonel. The guard seems to have left.”
Hogan raised one eyebrow. “Interesting. I haven’t been out of someone’s sight since I got here.” He took a minute to rally his strength and then said, “Eichberger came by this morning and told me he’s been sent by Headquarters to help me.”
Wilson’s eyes widened. “He what?”
“He said he’s been ordered to help save the operation.”
“But I thought London said no one was coming!”
“They said there would be no replacement Papa Bear. That could just mean that they want me to stay where I am. That didn’t rule out anyone else showing up. And that’s another thing—he called me Papa Bear.”
Wilson stared at Hogan. “Are you sure?”
“I may be sick, but I’m not delirious,” Hogan answered. “He was quite clear about it.”
“So he knows about you.”
“He knows, or he suspects and he’s trying to flush me out so he can get all of us. Tell the boys to see what they can find out about Eichberger’s background. Maybe Klink will know something. I’m not letting on to anything unless I know he’s on the up and up.”
“What do you think, Colonel?” Wilson asked.
Hogan let his eyes drift shut. “I don’t know. He swears he’s on the level. Said he would let you in today as a way of proving his story. He’s moved the guard away after his specific order that I wasn’t to be left unattended. It all looks good, but I don’t see him waving an American flag yet. All of this could be a lovely trap, and I’m too cynical to fall into it.”
Wilson nodded. “A character trait that has saved your skin countless times, no doubt.”
“Come on; you need a drink.” Wilson pulled out a bottle of water he had brought with him and held it to Hogan’s lips. The Colonel swallowed greedily then leaned back again. “You up for a shave?”
Hogan opened his eyes, surprised. “Hm?”
“A shave. Do you want a shave? Le Beau said you’d probably be irritable without one, and you are looking pretty scruffy. I’ve got the stuff right here.”
Hogan closed his eyes again. “Probably couldn’t stay awake through it, sorry.”
“No problem. I’m used to working on people who are unconscious—asleep is easy. Come on, let’s take advantage of Eichberger’s good nature while we’ve got it. Lie down here, and I’ll look after the rest. It’s probably the only chance I’ll ever get to have the last word in a debate with you.”
Hogan smiled and let Wilson help ease him into a reclining position. He fell asleep as he felt the soap touch his cheeks, relaxing for the first time in a week. Whatever was coming, at least he was safe for now.
Carter for the Defense
“Colonel Klink, we need your help.”
The Kommandant sat on his cot in the tunnel, having spent the better part of the week contemplating his future and his past, looking up in surprise at the young Sergeant before him. “My help?” he asked. “It would not seem your standard practice to ask when you need my help, Sergeant. You just manipulate me however you need to.”
Carter shifted from foot to foot. He knew the Kommandant was right. But he didn’t like the way it was obviously intended to reflect on Colonel Hogan. He avoided answering while he debated how to say what he wanted to say. In the end he just blurted out his thoughts. “Colonel Hogan only ever did what he had to do. He couldn’t do what London ordered us to do without getting around you. And no matter how nice a guy you are, Kommandant, Colonel Hogan had to follow orders. And he follows orders even if it gets him in trouble. That’s why he’s in trouble now. I mean, you told him to get out of camp, and he wanted to get out, too, I mean he was scared to death, you could see it—but London wanted us to blow up that refinery, and so he stayed and did that first, because he thought it would be too dangerous for the rest of us—and then look what happened. I mean if it weren’t for the Germans, he wouldn’t even be in this kind of trouble. Heck, he wouldn’t even be in Germany.” Carter faltered to a stop, slowly letting out a breath and taking in the startled expression on Klink’s face. “So don’t talk bad about Colonel Hogan, Kommandant,” Carter finished. “He doesn’t deserve it.” Then he added, “Sir.”
Klink blinked silently for a moment, taken by surprise by Carter’s heartfelt defense of his commanding officer. Once again his mind pricked at his conscience—Could you inspire such loyalty in your own men? It looks like you could have learned a lot from Colonel Hogan. “I appreciate what you’re saying, Sergeant,” he answered at last. “And I am learning to accept what Colonel Hogan has told me about what you have all been doing down here. But you must understand that I follow orders as well. And to find out that you have been operating under my nose—under my feet!—all this time, and using me when it suited your purpose—my enemy’s purpose—comes as a bit of a shock.” Carter said nothing, still recovering from his own outburst. “I respect that Colonel Hogan is a fine soldier. Please tell me what it is you need to know.”
Carter cleared his throat and tried to remember what he had come here for in the first place. “We need to know about Captain Eichberger.”
Klink snorted. “What about him?” he asked.
“Well, he started out being really nasty to everyone. But now he told Colonel Hogan he’s on our side. I mean, the Allies.”
Klink couldn’t stop a sarcastic laugh from slipping out. “Oh, really? How do you know this?”
“Colonel Hogan told Sergeant Wilson when he went down there to take care of him.”
Klink heard the slight change in Carter’s tone of voice, and for just an instant he worried. “Take care of him?”
“Oh,” Carter said, trying to sound dismissive but failing miserably, “Well, you know, Eichberger had taken off all the Colonel’s bandages, and he got an infection.”
“And you think this man might be on your side?” Klink asked, incredulous.
“People have to do all sorts of things they wouldn’t normally do when they’re under cover, Kommandant,” Carter explained. “Anyway, the Colonel wants us to see if we can find out anything about Captain Eichberger, to prove his story.”
“Well, you won’t find out anything from me,” Klink said, resigned. “I don’t know much about the man, except that he was quite anxious to take over my spot when I was arrested.”
“Had you ever heard of him before?” Carter asked.
“Oh, here and there,” Klink said, waving a hand lightly as though to show the uselessness of his information. “A bright spark, some upstart who came in from nowhere a few months ago, very aggressive about wanting to move up the ranks.” Klink shook his head. “Major Hochstetter will know all about him.”
“I don’t think he’ll tell us much,” Carter mused.
“No, I doubt he will,” Klink answered.
“Well, thanks, Kommandant.” Carter paused. “You know, you’re not a bad guy, I mean for a German. I know it might seem confusing right now, but don’t worry. Sometimes it’s confusing to me, too, but Colonel Hogan always comes up with something, and then it’s all clear again.” He straightened as though to firm his resolve. “And he’ll come up with something this time, too.”
Klink nodded thoughtfully.
“I’m sorry you can’t go back upstairs,” Carter said. “But we’ll make it as easy for you as we can. We don’t treat anybody bad, honest.”
Klink nodded again. It had been playing on his mind quite a bit lately that he would not get to say a proper goodbye to the people he cared about or worked with. And the question of what would happen after he was away from Hogan had also been uppermost in his thoughts. But so far, Hogan’s men had been fair, almost kind, to him. And he could only hope that Papa Bear’s influence would travel all the way back to London. “You have been very fair-minded with me, considering the situation,” Klink acknowledged. “Do you know how long I will be here?”
Carter shrugged. “It depends on what we find out about Eichberger. And on what Colonel Hogan says he wants us to do. Captain Eichberger gave him thirty days in the cooler, so we’ve gotta wait and see what happens. The Underground is lying low because of all the Kraut activity in Hammelburg right now, so we have to figure out how to get you out, and London’s not helping—we think.”
Klink had cringed at Carter’s choice of words. “Your London doesn’t seem very helpful,” he observed neutrally.
“No.” Carter screwed up his face, the closest he could come to anger. “Y’know, sometimes they make me so mad. Colonel Hogan works really hard for them, and they don’t understand what it’s like down here—they ask for the impossible, they forget we’re prisoners.” Carter put on a lopsided smile. “But the Colonel always manages anyway. He doesn’t like to send back a message that says we’ve failed.”
“You’re very loyal to Colonel Hogan,” Klink said.
“Oh, yes, sir,” Carter said, suddenly enthusiastic. “We’d just be ordinary prisoners of war if it weren’t for Colonel Hogan. Gee, he took command of the unit when London asked him to, even though he wanted to leave, and that wasn’t easy, not after the way the Krauts had been hounding him—oops, sorry, Kommandant. But it’s true. And he’s never let us down, boy, not ever. I mean he won’t even let us go out if he thinks there’s trouble, and he didn’t let us go out the night that London wanted us to blow up that refinery, no, sir, and look at the trouble it got him.” Carter smiled sheepishly. “I—I think I already said that.”
Klink couldn’t think of anything to say in the face of such devotion. “You did,” he stated lamely.
Carter shifted feet. “Anyway, Kommandant, that’s what I think of Colonel Hogan. And all the other fellas feel the same. So when I tell you that he’s going to do the right thing, you can believe it.”
Klink nodded. “Yes, Sergeant, I think I can.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan grimaced, eyes still closed, and tried to pull away as he felt a sharp prick in his upper right arm. But a firm hand held him in place, and he blinked himself fully awake to see Wilson easing a needle out of his arm. “You could have warned a guy,” he grumbled, using his left hand to rub his eyes.
Wilson put away the syringe and helped Hogan to sit up. “I’ve been here for ten minutes,” he said. “You weren’t going to wake up if a brass band played next to you. Besides, you still need your sleep.”
“I’ve been getting it. Why didn’t you come yesterday to tell me what you found out?”
“I did. But you still had a fever and you didn’t wake up then, either.” Hogan was silenced. “Your temperature’s down today; how’s the pain?”
“A lot better.” Hogan tried to obliterate the memory of the last few days, no, make that the last few weeks. “Thanks a lot, Joe. I owe you, big.”
Wilson smiled. “I’ll just add it on to your tab. Now, how’s your thinking? Are you clear enough to remember everything I tell you today?”
Hogan shot Wilson a look, then decided not to pursue the issue. The fact that he hadn’t woken up when the medic had visited told him more than he wanted to know. “Yeah, I’m sure I am,” he said simply.
“Kinch spoke to London yesterday. They say there was an agent sent in to infiltrate military intelligence in Germany about a year back—code name Black Forest. They said you know the recognition code.”
Hogan furrowed his brow, thinking. “Yeah, I do.”
“They lost track of him a few months back. They said they were afraid he might have gone to the other side, but they never found him again, and there were no repercussions to your operation, so they presumed he was simply undercover and had not contacted them out of fear of being exposed. They say this might be him, but they’re making no guarantees.”
Hogan frowned. “Physical description?”
“Matches, Colonel. But there are a lot of men that look like Eichberger, and without a photograph it’s impossible to tell if he’s the right guy.”
“There’s one way,” Hogan said.
“And there’s another thing, too.”
“Klink says Eichberger’s a fairly recent acquisition. Made himself known when he joined the ranks, wanted to move up the ladder pretty quickly. Said all the right things to all the right people. Made a lot of friends, and fast.”
“Sounds like he could be our man.” Hogan shifted on the cot. “Tell the boys to keep watch on Eichberger, but don’t let him in on anything—anything—until we’re sure we’ve got the real McCoy—and until we know he hasn’t turned traitor.”
“That won’t be a problem. He hasn’t made a lot of friends in his time here.”
“I don’t think that was one of his objectives.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Let me handle Colonel Hogan, General Burkhalter. He is just beginning to relax around me.”
“I cannot see why he would feel comfortable with you around, Captain Eichberger. Are you coddling someone who has escaped from the camp?”
“Of course not, Herr General. But if I can get Hogan to trust me, I might be able to get more information out of him. Something Major Hochstetter could not do with all his more… primitive methods.”
“Hochstetter is not known for his bedside manner,” Burkhalter admitted. “Has he been back to camp since you reported Colonel Hogan’s return?”
“No, General, but he has called. He wanted to take Hogan back to Gestapo Headquarters for questioning over this sabotage business. However, as there has been some continued sabotage activity since Hogan first disappeared, I explained that as the camp Kommandant, it is my responsibility to deal with the prisoners, and since the Fuhrer had withdrawn his order of execution, the Major had no right to remove Hogan again. From what I understand, his accusations of espionage are merely a front to continue his campaign against the American. And that will simply disrupt this camp, again.”
“So you are suggesting that I not see Hogan either?” Burkhalter asked.
Eichberger hesitated. “Well, yes, Herr General. Since you were the one who passed on the Fuhrer’s order in the first place. Perhaps it is best if you do not see Hogan. At least for now.”
Burkhalter nodded. “Very well, Eichberger. I will trust you on this.” He replaced his hat and headed for the office door. “But keep me informed. I want to know if Hogan tells you anything about where he was when he was out of camp. And if he knows anything about where Klink might be. I am willing to let you do this your way, Captain, because I know that Hogan will not slip away from you as he did from Klink.”
“No, General Burkhalter. Hogan will not get out of camp again—at least, not alive.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan raised his eyes quietly to Eichberger’s face as the German entered the cell again two days later. “So, Hogan, have you thought about what we talked about the other day?”
Hogan shrugged. “There’s nothing to think about. You must have mistaken me for someone else.”
“I told you, Colonel Hogan, I do not lie.” Eichberger nodded the guard away from the cell and moved in closer. “Have your men not checked out my story?”
“When have I seen my men?” Hogan retorted.
“Come now, Colonel—the medic has been here; I have allowed him in. Surely you have passed on some information to the men in your unit to check me out.”
“I’ve been asleep when he comes; we haven’t talked.”
“What can I say to make you believe me?” Hogan remained silent. “If I was on the side of the Germans, would I keep everything I know a secret? Would I tell you that I know you are Papa Bear?”
Hogan shrugged. “Maybe. If you were trying to trap me. That is, if there was anything to your story. I don’t know anything about this Papa Bear you keep going on about. You’re talking out of your hat, Eichberger. You’ve got nothing on me. And Hochstetter’s got nothing on me. This is just a different way of approaching the same old thing. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
Eichberger paused. “But the ground is hard and unyielding.”
Hogan waited, then said slowly, “So the apple rolls down the hillside.”
“And is then fit for nothing but pie. Now do you believe me, Colonel?”
Hogan was tempted. But something still held him back. “Nice little poem you made up there,” he said.
Eichberger shook his fists in frustration. “Colonel, that is the code I have been taught. You know that is true. I am Black Forest!”
Hogan’s stance didn’t change. “Hogan, Robert E., Colonel, US Army Air Corps. 0876707. Nice to meet you.”
Eichberger nodded, understanding. “You are cautious. Angry, perhaps, because I have had to act like one of these Nazi pigs in order to infiltrate them. Because I must maintain this charade, and that includes keeping you in here, and treating you this way. But surely you must know what it takes to remain safe in the midst of the enemy. And so do I.” Hogan didn’t look at him. “General Burkhalter was here yesterday. He wanted to see you, but I sent him away. And Major Hochstetter has been swarming around, asking questions, wanting to take you back to Hammelburg. But I have kept him also at bay. Why would I do this, if I were not on your side?”
Hogan said nothing.
“Very well. You have time to consider. I must keep you in here or risk being exposed to my superiors.” Eichberger let out a short bark of a laugh. “Superiors. That’s a joke. Those fools cannot see past the ends of their noses.” He crouched down to speak more softly near Hogan. “Please, Colonel. I am doing all I can to help. If I wanted to, I could have exposed you by now. You would have been dead instantly.”
“Not if Hochstetter had anything to say about it.”
Eichberger shook his head regretfully. “No. Not if Hochstetter had anything to say about it. He is a madman, and you have suffered greatly because of him.”
“And me. I am sorry, Colonel Hogan. To be thought of as one of them, I must act as one of them.”
“Maybe you are one of them.”
“I am not. My actions will prove my innocence.”
“They haven’t proven a lot so far.”
“I promise you, I am here to help. Please. Please see for yourself.”
“I don’t have a lot of choice. I’ve got another twenty-one days before I can even think about life outside this hole. You can do whatever you want, Eichberger. I have no place to go.”
An Uneasy Alliance
Hogan stood in the doorway to his quarters for the first time in over two months, and was unexpectedly overwhelmed by the sight. Everything was as he remembered it, and he had spent a lot of time remembering it while he was sleeping on a rickety cot in the cooler. The lumpy, worn mattresses covered his hard, uncomfortable bunk slats. The scratchy, thin blankets had been neatly spread over them, and his books were all neatly arranged on the shelf near the upper bunk.
Hogan looked over at the desk. His pencils were all sharp, sticking out of the now-rusting tin can that had been fashioned into a holder. Some papers were stacked precisely on the side, and a cup of steaming coffee was sitting in the middle.
Hesitantly, almost warily, Hogan ventured into the room. He fingered the clean, pressed dress shirt that someone had draped over the upper bunk post, and his eyes were drawn to the book that had been placed near the head of the lower bunk. Hogan picked up the book thoughtfully. Do not be afraid… His lips curved into a soft smile, and he started flipping pensively through the pages. You shall lift up your face toward God. You shall entreat him and he will hear you…. He nodded and continued, finding the book fell open to those passages he had apparently turned to again and again. I rock with grief, and am troubled at the voice of the enemy and the clamor of the wicked…. Fear and trembling come upon me, and horror overwhelms me, And I say, “Had I but wings like a dove, I would fly away and be at rest….”
Hogan closed his eyes and pictured the scene in his mind. Yes. Yes, he would fly away if he could. For a moment he was at peace. But he knew he couldn’t leave, not now. And so he opened his eyes with a sigh, and walked over to his desk, putting the book down gently and picking up the coffee with his left hand. He took a sip and tried to get comfortable in his old surroundings.
A quiet knock on the open door pulled him out of his thoughts. “Colonel?”
Hogan looked up to see Le Beau peering in. “Come on in, Louis.”
“Welcome back, Colonel,” Le Beau said, coming to his side.
“Thanks.” Hogan raised his cup slightly. “From you?”
“Oui, Colonel. So you feel more at home.”
Hogan nodded. “Thanks,” he said again. He looked around him. “Never thought I’d be happy to see this garbage can again.”
“You have not been in the nicest places.”
“This isn’t exactly the Hotel Berlin,” Hogan responded. He put down his cup and walked over to the window, opening it wide. “But at least it has a window.”
Le Beau watched as his commanding officer brought himself back into the role he was meant to have. As far as Louis was concerned, there had never been a question of anyone but Hogan being in charge. If there was no Hogan, there was no operation. And though he was dedicated to the cause they had all been fighting for, if it came down to a choice between the operation and Hogan, Hogan would win hands down. “It has not been the same up here without you.”
“It’s been pretty ornery where I was, too,” Hogan agreed. He continued to stare outside at the other buildings, at the barbed wire fences, at the stark sunlight.
“So what happens now, Colonel?” Hogan didn’t answer. Le Beau furrowed his brow. “Colonel?”
“Hm? Oh, sorry,” Hogan said, turning away from the window. “Eichberger says he wants to see me this afternoon. He says he’s got the perfect way to prove what he says.”
“Do you think he really is Black Forest, Colonel?”
“I have no doubt at all,” Hogan replied. “What I have questions about is his loyalty to the Allies. I’m not quite satisfied yet. But I’m not sure what will make me happy, either. I’ll just have to play it by ear.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“You wanted to see me?” Hogan asked as he came into the office.
Eichberger looked up from his paperwork and gestured toward the chair before him. “Yes, yes, please, sit down, Colonel Hogan.”
“I prefer to stand,” Hogan answered.
Eichberger sighed. “Suit yourself.” He laid his hands purposefully on the desk. “I need to know what reservations you have about me, Colonel. I need to know how I can allay your fears that I am working for the Nazis.”
“Well, for starters you could recite the Pledge of Allegiance,” Hogan replied.
Eichberger laughed softly. “A spy would not hesitate to swear an oath to a country he despised. I think you are toying with me.”
“I never joke about my country.”
“What about if I told you everything I know? Would that help?”
Hogan said nothing.
“I understand.” Eichberger stood up and started pacing to help him think. “Allied Headquarters in London is running an operation out of Stalag 13, run by the former commander of the 504th Bomber Squadron, a certain Robert Hogan, Colonel, shot down about three years ago over Hamburg. Through a combination of good luck and hard work, Hogan and his men have been able to help hundreds of Allied prisoners to escape and get back to England, as well as completing countless sabotage missions in the area, making this one of the most ineffective areas of the war for the Germans in terms of production and transport. This Colonel Robert Hogan’s code name is Papa Bear. His lair is a network of tunnels operating under the camp and leading out into the woods, with a small, core group of men inside the camp, and a large number of Underground agents outside the camp, to help him.” Eichberger stopped to look at Hogan, who was following him with his eyes but remaining as expressionless as possible. “Since this Papa Bear’s recent arrest, escape, and resulting recapture—and I’m not quite sure yet that that last bit was not deliberate, by the way—the number of unexplained acts of sabotage has dropped considerably, with the exception of a handful of minor disasters that seem to have been randomly and occasionally inexpertly handled.”
Eichberger arrived back at his desk and faced Hogan head-on. “How am I doing so far?”
Hogan’s expression gave nothing away. “Keep talking. This is interesting.”
“I shall tell you another story,” Eichberger continued. “There once was a man named Franz Eichberger. He was living in England, and he was terribly unhappy about the changes in his ancestral homeland through the 1930s. He was quite anxious to start working for the Allied cause, and thanks to some family connections had no problem infiltrating German military intelligence. He was a very strong man, a very determined man. He passed on information as required to Allied Headquarters back in London, and watched the exploits of the great Papa Bear with tremendous interest. He was thrilled when he was given his own code name: Black Forest. But then he was close to being discovered where he was, and he had to re-invent himself. So he pulled some strings and joined the Luftwaffe, determined to move closer and closer to this Papa Bear, to see if there was anything he could do to be part of his operation. You can imagine his surprise when he learned that the chance to become Kommandant of this camp arose. He immediately expressed his interest in this position, and set to work at once at gaining Papa Bear’s trust, so he could help this extraordinary man out of what was obviously a difficult situation.”
“That’s very noble,” Hogan observed. “Why did he drop out of sight of London?”
“Fear of being exposed. He came close more than once. In the end he decided that in order to protect those for whom he was working, he would simply blend in for awhile. But then the chance to make a real difference was too overwhelming, and he had to help Papa Bear,” Eichberger finished, his voice dropping, “or risk becoming the traitor he was pretending to be.” Hogan remained stoic. “My main contact in London has been Open Book.” Eichberger started to look desperate. “Colonel, what else can I say?”
Hogan said nothing for a moment, taking everything in. Finally, he said, “Okay, I’ll trust you. You’ve got the right guy.” He sat down, and Eichberger did the same, eagerly leaning forward in his chair. “What do you think you can do?”
Eichberger spread his hands to take in the room. “Why, Colonel, from this position, we can do anything. Unlike when Klink was here, I can work with you; this camp can become the main hub of intelligence and sabotage activity, and a haven for prisoners, instead of a place to fear.”
Hogan nodded briefly. “You’re certainly ambitious.”
“And why not—this is what we have dreamed of, yes? I cannot tell you enough what a privilege it is to work with you, Colonel Hogan. Your work is very highly respected back in London. And even amongst the Germans.”
Hogan raised an eyebrow.
“They have watched you with great interest. But they have not been able to get any solid evidence against you. Surely you know they have been after you for years,” Eichberger explained.
Hogan briefly raised his right hand and rubbed it gently. “I’ve gotten the picture, yeah.”
Eichberger made a face of discomfort when he looked at the still bandaged, still discolored fingers. “The medic—he has fixed your hand?”
Hogan shrugged. “The best he can. Time will tell.” He lowered his hand back into his lap. “London didn’t send you here,” he said calmly.
“No,” Eichberger admitted. “No, they didn’t.” He shook his head. “They sent me to Germany, but coming to Stalag 13 was my idea. I told you they had because I thought you needed to be assured that I was a friend.”
“Don’t lie to me, Eichberger. Ever. That’s a sure ticket out of my good books.”
“I won’t—I assure you, Colonel Hogan, it was meant for good. To show you my sincerity.”
“Well, you got caught in the lie, and it nearly kept you out of the picture. If anyone’s going to be telling tall tales around here, it’s me, or you under my command. Got it?”
Hogan nodded. “Okay.” His mind started ticking, and he started formulating plans for the first time in weeks. “We’ve got to get back on track.”
“There is news of a convoy passing near this camp in a few days. Ammunition and fuel heading east. I can get full details. You—we can be back in business in no time.”
“Okay,” Hogan said. “Let me know what you find out.” He stood up. “Meanwhile, if you don’t mind, I’m going to have a shower, Kommandant.”
Eichberger nodded once, as a small smile tugged at the edges of his lips. “Certainly. You may even take enough hot water for a shave.”
Hogan raised his right hand again. “I’m afraid that’s still someone else’s job for awhile. But I’ll take the hot water anyway. Meanwhile, I’d appreciate it if you could ask the Red Cross for some new shirts for me. I seem to have lost a couple in the last two months.”
“By all means,” Eichberger answered. “Hogan, were your men responsible for those acts of sabotage after you were arrested?”
Hogan stayed expressionless. “How would I know?” he asked evenly.
Eichberger smiled knowingly but allowed the response to pass. Hogan turned to go. “Oh, Colonel Hogan—” Hogan turned back toward him. “There’s just one more thing I’m curious about.”
“What’s that?” Hogan asked.
“Colonel Klink. What actually became of him?”
Hogan considered, then replied, “I haven’t the faintest idea.”
An Operation Reborn
Hogan nearly dozed off as Le Beau’s light touch played a razor along his face, once again shaving his commanding officer and soothing his jagged nerves. He felt a slight thrill of fear as Le Beau’s hand touched his neck, but, as he had done all the other times that had happened recently, he forced the panic back, reminding himself that this man’s hands were not going to tighten their grip and try to throttle the life out of him.
Aside from the continuing concern about his hand, and occasional sudden tiredness, Hogan had healed quite well physically. But he still woke up most nights in a cold sweat from nightmares that he could only see shadows of, and memories of a reality that he wanted desperately to forget. He had noticed a change in himself—a greater wariness of ordinary situations, a smaller sense of trust. He questioned his motives more often, including his decision to keep Black Forest in the dark about Klink. If he was going to trust Eichberger with the operation, why could he not tell him that Klink was in the tunnel? And some of his humor, the weapon that kept his deepest, darkest fears at bay, had disappeared. That worried him almost more than the nightmares, and it saddened him.
Now, with a hot towel wrapped around his face, and some light humming coming from Le Beau, Hogan was feeling nearly normal again. Much as he hated not being able to do everything for himself, he was enjoying the pampering after eight weeks of hell. But he knew himself well enough to realize that this would only sit well with him for so long, and whenever a sudden jolt of pain in his hand brought tears to his eyes, he cursed Hochstetter and vowed to be completely independent again as soon as possible.
He felt a presence on his left side. “Yeah?” Hogan asked, not opening his eyes.
“Thought you might like a cup of coffee, Colonel.”
Hogan opened one eye and saw Carter holding out a steaming cup. Closing his eye again, he smiled patiently and said, “Just put it over on the desk, Carter. I’ll have it in a minute.”
Le Beau removed the towel from Hogan’s face, and Hogan sat up as Le Beau patted some aftershave on his cheeks. “Voila, a perfect shave,” the Frenchman declared.
“Thanks, Le Beau. You know, if you need a trade after the war, you’d make a great barber. I’d be first in line every morning.”
Le Beau tutted. “My work is free at the moment, but after the war, you might have to pay for it.” Hogan raised his eyebrows and grinned. “Well, maybe you would get yours for nothing, Colonel.”
“Thanks,” Hogan said. He turned to Carter. “What’s going on around the place?” he asked.
“Kinch is downstairs keeping Colonel Klink company, and Newkirk is trying to teach him how to play poker.”
“Teach him how to play?”
“Well, maybe teach him how to cheat.”
Hogan laughed softly. “Now that sounds more like it.”
“Colonel, I still don’t understand. Why didn’t you tell Captain Eichberger about Klink?” Carter asked.
“I’m not sure,” Hogan answered, clearly still considering the issue himself. He stood up and headed for the coffee. “I just felt more comfortable keeping that a secret.” He shrugged as he picked up the cup with his left hand. “Maybe I’m just being too cautious.”
“But you told him about yourself, Colonel,” added Le Beau.
“He already knows about me. He knows all the codes, he knows the whole set up. He could have sold us out long ago. But I won’t let him in on everything just yet.” He grimaced at the strength of the brew, then took another sip before putting down the cup. He started pacing the room, rubbing his chin, thinking. “If he’s not working for us, it’d be better to have him think he’s gained our confidence than for him to be scratching for clues for the duration. As far as Eichberger’s concerned, I’m on my own, got it? You’re to tell him nothing. He’s not to know exactly who else is involved.”
Le Beau nodded. “Oui, Colonel.”
“Now I guess I owe Klink a visit. Heaven only knows how many marks Newkirk’s taking him for.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“I just wanted to let you know that we haven’t forgotten you. We don’t normally keep people down here this long. But we’ve had a few interruptions along the way, and we’re hoping to resume normal operations soon.”
Klink studied Hogan closely, trying to measure the impact that a month in the cooler had had on the senior POW. He had heard rumblings from the others about Eichberger and Hogan, but not enough to make sense of any of it. And now, getting fed up, he was determined to hear the whole story.
“So I am led to believe,” Klink answered. “Hogan, what is going on around here? Is it true that Captain Eichberger is really an Allied agent?”
“That’s the sixty-four dollar question,” Hogan replied. Klink looked at him, confused. “It’s the biggest questions of them all,” Hogan explained. “He claims to be. Once we’re satisfied that he’s telling the truth, we’ll get you out of here. Special delivery.” He turned to Kinch. “What’s the news from the Underground?”
“The heat seems to be off. We kept up a bit of work when we could, and some partisans started pulling off a couple of little sabotage jobs in the last few weeks—mainly because they didn’t want the Gestapo to have any solid evidence that you were in charge of the operation.”
Hogan nodded. Eichberger had mentioned something about amateurish incidents nearby, and Hogan appreciated the fact that the locals were trying to help cover for him, and the operation, in the only way they knew how. “They’re good people,” he said. “Unfortunately, they’re out of practice, thanks to us—the Nazis aren’t quite convinced that I wasn’t the head of the local operation despite their work. We’ll have to relaunch ourselves carefully.”
“How are we going to do that, sir?” Kinch asked.
“We’ll start small. Carter, there’s a bridge about two miles from the refinery. Do you remember it?”
Carter blushed as he recalled that he wasn’t supposed to have been anywhere near the refinery the night Hogan was there. “Sure do, boy,” he answered. Newkirk elbowed him. “Sir,” he added. Newkirk jostled him again. “He already knows!” Newkirk looked at him in surprise.
“I want you to go out tomorrow night and get rid of it. Make it good, but not too good. That might just make Hochstetter doubt whether he’s got the right guy if he points his finger at me again. Take Louis with you as lookout.”
“What other little targets have we been meaning to get around to that we haven’t done yet?”
“Well, there was that tunnel that the convoys use about five miles from here. The Underground tried it, but they didn’t do a very good job of it and the Krauts fixed it up, good as new,” Newkirk said.
Hogan nodded. “Then that’s next. We’ll make it a better job. More professional- looking.”
“Won’t Hochstetter still be suspicious, Colonel?” Le Beau asked.
“I’ve never seen him not be. We’ll just have to be careful not to get caught,” he said, trying to sound light. He hated that it was such a great effort now to sound at ease when contemplating the Gestapo officer. “By the time we’re done with those two projects, there should be another little treat ready for us.”
“How’s that, Colonel?” asked Kinch.
“Eichberger says he knows about an important shipment of ammunition and fuel heading toward the Russian front. It’ll be passing by this camp, and he wants to blow it.”
“Gee, Colonel, is that a smart thing to do?” Carter asked. “I mean—what if it’s a trap?”
Hogan shrugged. “How else are we going to find out? I’m afraid we don’t have any choice. But I’ll do that one myself—I don’t want Eichberger knowing who else is involved in this operation, not yet. He hasn’t got any more names. He’s just been hinting at others. If he gets anyone, it’s going to be me alone.”
“Not alone, Colonel,” Newkirk protested.
Klink watched with interest. He could see now what that over-exuberant Sergeant Carter had been trying to tell him a few weeks ago. Here was Hogan, just out of the cooler, organizing the continuation of an operation that could place him and his subordinates in front of a firing squad, but taking the time and the care to shift the heaviest risk onto himself.
Klink had never before seen a man so aware of all the factors involved in a situation, and it amazed him that after two months of maltreatment by his captors Hogan could rebound so quickly. His mind drifted momentarily back to the day Hogan had been brought into camp, accompanied by General Burkhalter. Staring emotionlessly with a half-lidded gaze in the Kommandant’s office, Hogan had seemed like an empty shell. He had said nothing, looked at no one; when reading his file, Klink had wondered just what kind of man he was dealing with. When Hogan’s defiance and anger had suddenly flared up, despite all that had been done to him before his arrival at Stalag 13, Klink had reluctantly felt his respect for the American go up.
Now, watching Hogan swiftly take charge of his men, and noting their eagerness to please him and to stay by his side, that level of respect went even higher. He should have learned from Hogan. But then, Hogan had not revealed his true self to Klink, until now.
“Yes, alone,” Hogan said firmly. “If everything goes smoothly, the rest of you will get involved again.” He turned back to Klink. “And then, it’ll be time to say auf Wiedersehen to you.”
Klink could only nod understanding. His agreement, as Hogan had already made clear, was not required.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan waited anxiously for the trap door in the bunk to open, and only then took a full breath and unclenched his shoulders long enough to release the tension holding them tight. “Are you okay? How’d it go?” he asked immediately, as he pulled Carter awkwardly, left-handed, back into the barracks.
“Fine, Colonel. No problems,” Carter answered, brushing himself off and turning to watch Le Beau follow him up the ladder.
“Oui. Everything went fine, Colonel,” the Frenchman added.
“Good. Any patrols?” Hogan asked.
“One, but nothing we could not handle, Colonel. We just hid in the bushes until they passed,” Le Beau reported.
Hogan nodded. “How’d it look?”
Carter grinned. “Like a high school kid did it. But it’ll stick.”
Hogan shook his head. “I doubt any high school kid could do what you did, Carter. You are one of a kind.”
Kinch agreed from the table. “You can say that again.”
Carter smiled. “Thanks. No, honest, Colonel, it looks great. But you don’t have to worry; no one will think it came from here. Not from me, anyway. I mean I did a good job, but I made it look like it had to be amateurs. And I don’t mean amateur like you or Newkirk, no sir, boy—” Newkirk and Hogan exchanged amused glances at the unintended sleight. “—I mean like people who’ve never even seen dynamite, much less worked with it. I made it look so inexpert that—”
“At ease, Carter,” Hogan said. Carter put a lopsided grin on his face and stopped. “Good job,” Hogan said to him and Le Beau. “Carter, you’ll go back out tomorrow night with Kinch. But I’m not going to play the odds—Newkirk, you go with them and play I Spy. There might be a few more patrols out there, and they’ll both need to concentrate on getting the tunnel done. The fewer interruptions the better.”
“Yes, sir,” Newkirk nodded. “Sir, do you want to come?”
Hogan paused. “No. I think I’ll leave it to the experts.” Hogan stretched stiffly. “Now let’s get some sleep. It looks like we’re back in business.”
Hogan retreated to his office and shut the door, still hearing the muted sounds of his men in the common room. He was pleased all had gone well, and he was starting to feel more confident about the possibility of being able to resume regular operations. But Newkirk’s question had startled him. The thought had never even occurred to him to go outside the fence. And while like any good agent he was always aware that the work he did was perilous, the coldness that penetrated him when he considered it now was a far cry from the usual tightening of his stomach and slight light-headedness he had seen almost as a comfort before heading outside the wire. Damn you, Hochstetter. You won’t get the better of me, he thought, desperate to believe it. I’ll be back… and you won’t know what hit you. He paced until the adrenalin worked its way out of his body, and eventually he collapsed on his bunk and fell asleep, begging his mind and spirit to recover quickly, so his nightmares would not become reality.
Ideals and Ideologies
“So how’s life under Captain Eichberger, Schultz?”
Hogan walked around the compound with the Sergeant of the Guard, taking advantage of the bright sunshine to bring some color into his pale face. It had been too long since he had spent time outside, and he savored the slim warmth of the day as it seeped into his cold body.
Schultz shrugged. “It started out terrible. But now, it is not so bad. He is a fair Kommandant.”
“Anything like Klink?” Hogan pressed.
Schultz tut-tutted. “Nein, Colonel Hogan, nothing like the Kommandant. I know this sounds crazy, but I miss him.”
“Not so crazy, Schultz. You worked with him for a long time.”
“Ja, three years. I wonder where he is. But mostly, I wonder if he is well.” Schultz sighed and stopped his walking momentarily. “This may surprise you, Colonel Hogan, but the Kommandant was not as fit as I am.” Hogan raised an eyebrow. “I walk around all day, back and forth around the camp. The Kommandant, he sits in an office, and calls people to himself. He is not like you, Colonel; he does not fraternize with his men. That is not acceptable in the German military.”
Hogan pursed his lips. “Schultz, I wouldn’t have it any other way. My men are worth hanging around with, and no difference in rank can make me think otherwise.”
“Ja, I can see that. You know they feel the same way about you. They were very upset when Major Hochstetter came that day and…” Schultz let his voice drift off, remembering the shock he had felt himself when the Gestapo officer had had Hogan dragged from the morning line up.
Hogan shifted uncomfortably and absently rubbed his abdomen, a frown creasing his features. Schultz started walking again. Hogan kept pace, meticulously studying the ground. “Yeah, well, that was a bad day,” Hogan said huskily.
“Colonel Hogan, you were away for a long time,” Schultz said in a low voice. “Were you really hiding in the woods, as I have heard? Or were you someplace else?”
“What do you think, Schultz?” Hogan asked.
“Your friends, they knew where you were,” Schultz told him. “They were angry about what the Major did to you. But, they did not tell me anything else.”
“I thought you always wanted to know nothing, Schultz,” Hogan reminded him.
“That is true,” Schultz admitted. “But I was worried about you. You have always been a very nice enemy, Colonel Hogan.”
Hogan smiled softly. “Thanks, Schultz.” He sighed. “Do you really want to know?”
Schultz paused. “I am not sure.”
“Take your time; think it over,” Hogan suggested. “Then, if you still want to know, I’ll tell you.”
Schultz nodded as Hogan turned to leave. “Colonel Hogan?” he asked.
Hogan stopped. “Yeah, Schultz?”
“Is Kommandant Klink in the same place now that you were then?”
Hogan didn’t answer right away. As much as he wanted to reassure Schultz—and he found himself in that frame of mind often—he wasn’t sure the Sergeant could be trusted with such sensitive information. Not with Eichberger around, and not with Hogan not yet completely trusting the Captain not to use the guard in some ploy to trap Hogan and the operation. “Think it over first, Schultz. Sometimes it’s better to know nothing.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Another success, gov’nor. A couple of patrols, but they’re not likely to trace anything back to us.”
“That’s right, Colonel. We side-stepped them easily and made short work of that tunnel,” Kinch added.
Hogan nodded and took another sip of the coffee that had been sustaining him for the past three nights. “Good. That’s one more thing that’s been made a bit tougher for the Krauts.”
Klink seethed inside. Although he had started to get used to the idea of being kept prisoner under the camp that he had once commanded, he still found it hard to accept that his senior prisoner of war could so easily set about destroying German armaments installations. He decided to speak up. “Colonel Hogan, may I have a word with you?” he proposed, still feeling the need for formality, even in this stark and unusual setting.
Hogan exchanged quick glances with his men. “Go on up, fellas. There’s coffee on the stove, and I think Le Beau’s put together a midnight snack. I’ll be up in a minute.” He watched them disappear up the ladder before he turned to Klink. “What can I do for you, Colonel?”
“Colonel Hogan, I am appalled at the ease with which you send your men out to destroy German targets.”
Hogan tried not to laugh. “Why should that be so hard to figure out?” he asked. “It’s not like I’m on the side of the Nazis. I’m in this war to help defeat the Germans, remember?”
“But people could be killed—innocent civilians as well as your own men.”
“That’s a chance we have to take. Believe me, I am fully aware of that every time I send one of my men out.”
“And just how do you justify this?”
“Every job has its risks, Kommandant,” said Hogan, starting to feel that anger that built up in him whenever Klink questioned his purpose in camp. “We try to minimize unnecessary loss of life. But we do what we do because we have no choice. If the Krauts weren’t so determined to make a mockery of human existence, we wouldn’t have to be here at all. I know I’d much rather be sitting up in my B-17 dropping bombs anonymously than facing all of this in person on the ground.”
Hogan’s outburst surprised Klink and himself. Until he said it, Hogan had not fully realized how much he missed being in the air with his men. Then a fleeting, strong memory of his crew passed through his mind, and another, equally powerful image of the mess that led to them having to bail out of Goldilocks implanted itself in his brain. He remembered the devastation he felt when he found out the fate of his crew, and the overwhelming relief when his “Baby Bear,” Mark Bailey, had defied the odds and shown up at Stalag 13. In this split second of memories, Hogan turned away from Klink. “But I wasn’t given any choice when I was shot down. And so I’m fighting the only way I can,” he added quietly.
“You are still talking about my homeland, Hogan.”
“And you’re still talking about mine.” Hogan crossed and uncrossed his arms angrily. “Look, Klink, we might as well come to an understanding about this. Your part in this war is over, at least from the Nazis’ point of view. All you can do now is hopefully save a lot of lives on the side of the Allies.”
“What makes you so sure I want to do that?” Klink asked, also starting to get hot under the collar.
“I think you want to do that because you feel unfairly treated by your own kind. Since when has any of the brass treated you with the respect you deserve? Since when has anyone but you been concerned with the Geneva Convention? Since when has anyone ever even considered questioning the ideologies of that Bubblehead Hitler?”
“Let’s face it, Kommandant, when it comes right down to it, you’re a little fish in a big pond. But only on the surface. To the Allies, you are now one of the most important people in the war. The information you have could save countless lives—for all I know, my own name is in that thick skull of yours, not to mention the names of any German who’s even thought that Hitler’s moustache looks stupid. I send my men out to do their jobs, but they’re all volunteers. Not a single one of them has ever been forced to stay. That’s gotta tell you something about what they think of your Master Race garbage.”
“That does not mean that they are right.”
“Do you think they’re right?” Hogan stopped his tangent, and watched Klink carefully for his reply.
Klink opened his mouth as though to respond right away. But he seemed to think better of it and waited. After a moment, he said, “I cannot say that I am happy with you going around Germany and destroying bridges, tunnels, convoys… Colonel Hogan, the German way may not be a way that you are happy with. But Hitler brought this country hope that it had not had in years. A sense of pride that we had lost before he became our leader.”
“That was before the war. And now? Can you say you’re honestly proud of the Fatherland?”
“Now?” Klink’s voice trailed off as he considered. “Now… we have beautiful artworks…”
“Stolen from the best museums in Paris.”
“And lovely music…”
“But without a lot of stuff that you enjoy—like swing, and American band music!”
“And bright, dedicated children…”
“Who’re expected to ‘Heil Hitler’ at least fifty times a day, just like everyone else.”
“So we are not perfect, Hogan,” Klink said. “But we are human.”
“And you’re scared.” Hogan shook his head. “When’s the last time you felt comfortable standing up to Burkhalter, telling someone higher up that you thought their decision might not be the right one?”
“That is not the German military, Hogan. We have respect for our superiors.”
“Even if it means destroying yourself.”
“I stood up for you. I warned you of the trouble coming. I took my life in my hands, Hogan.”
“And I appreciate that,” Hogan answered. “Really, Colonel, I can’t tell you what that warning meant to me. I know it was hard to give.” Hogan’s voice softened. “Maybe we need to agree to disagree. Never discuss politics with friends, right?”
“Friends, Hogan?” Klink asked warily.
Hogan shrugged. “You stuck your neck out for me; we stuck our neck out for you. There must be an element of friendship there somewhere.”
“Not just something done for military gain?” Klink said doubtfully.
“No, Kommandant,” Hogan replied. “If that were the case we’d just get someone to come here to get the information from you, hypnotize you all over again, and feed you back to the angry mob looking for you at Gestapo Headquarters.” Klink shivered. “Somehow that just didn’t sit right with me.”
“Now that’s something we can agree on,” Klink said, starting to relax.
“In time, maybe you’ll understand why I do what I do.”
“I think I do, Hogan. You are a soldier doing his job. Believing in your cause. I just can’t get used to the idea of it. I always thought somehow I would survive this war.”
“You’ll survive, Kommandant. I’ll see to that myself.”
“Thank you, Hogan.” Klink stopped for a moment to absorb everything. “Have you really been doing this since you got to camp?”
Hogan shrugged. “We started a few months after I arrived.”
Klink shook his head, still amazed. “I can’t believe I never saw… never suspected… Hogan, you are a very, very clever man. You are a credit to your country.”
Hogan inclined his head modestly. “Thank you, sir.”
Feeling uncomfortable, Klink decided to abruptly change the subject. “What do you think of Eichberger?” he asked.
“Not sure yet. He seems okay. I’ll be having a meeting with him tomorrow to see what he’s got up his sleeve.” Hogan rubbed the back of his neck tiredly. “I’d better hit the sack. That coffee’s the only thing that’s been keeping me going the last few days, and if I have another cup I’ll float away.”
“You are recovering, Hogan?” Klink asked. It amazed him that Hogan had survived the attacks by Hochstetter and his men at all. That the American seemed to be able to function without lasting side effects was mind-boggling.
“Getting better every day, Kommandant.” Hogan put his left hand on the ladder. Klink noticed once more that Hogan still favored his right hand, putting very little pressure on it and avoiding gripping anything with it. Once in awhile, he had spied Hogan, when he didn’t think he was being watched, pulling up short and quite obviously dealing privately with some discomfort, drawing his hand to himself and silently breathing his way through pain. But Klink always said nothing, sensing that Hogan did not want to share this experience with anyone, least of all his enemy. “Thanks for asking.”
Klink nodded. “That’s the least a friend can do, Hogan.”
Hogan grinned. “Don’t worry, Kommandant. I’m sure I’ll find plenty for you to do soon enough.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“There have been more acts of sabotage in the last couple of days around this area, Colonel Hogan,” Eichberger said to the American the next day.
Hogan put on a look of surprise. “Have there?” he asked.
Eichberger smiled like a naughty boy. “Come now, Colonel. You’re not going to suggest that you didn’t have any part in it?”
Hogan shrugged his shoulders. “You’re the one who said the locals have been acting up. That has nothing to do with me.”
“Either that or your own men are following your orders. Is that not possible?”
Hogan just stared back at Eichberger. “Who says I have men working for me?”
Eichberger smiled again, broadly. “Oh, now, Colonel Hogan, remember I know something about your operation. Now which was it—them, or the local Underground?”
“I wouldn’t have a clue. I’ve been a bit indisposed.”
“You never give up, do you?” Eichberger observed, amused. “Well, no matter. I have the information on that ammunitions and fuel convoy. It is passing so close to camp that it would be a crime not to do something about it.”
“So why don’t you do it yourself?”
Eichberger laughed. This Hogan was indeed an entertaining man! “And how do you suggest I do that?”
“You’re the idea man, Eichberger. You tell me.”
“You still don’t trust me, do you, Colonel?” Eichberger shook his head. “I can only think of one thing to convince you, and that is to help you do this job myself.” Hogan crossed his arms and looked at Eichberger steadily. “The convoy is scheduled to pass by on the main road at about oh-two-hundred hours, day after tomorrow. I will organize to have explosives available outside the fence from midnight onwards. Then you and I will set about making sure the trucks don’t reach their destination.”
Hogan merely raised an eyebrow. He was getting used to letting Eichberger do the talking.
“Are you amenable to this, Colonel Hogan?” asked Eichberger.
“It sounds intriguing.”
“But you are still not quite convinced of my sincerity,” the Captain concluded. He sighed. “I can see why you have been so successful for so long, Hogan. Your natural wariness must stand you in good stead. But really, this time you are worrying over nothing. I will help you. We can work together.”
Hogan considered for a moment, then said, “Okay, we’ll try it. I have nothing to lose here, and everything to gain, right?” Eichberger nodded. “Give me a meeting point. When the time comes, you’ll have the explosives ready to go. We’ll work on my mark, and then get back to camp on the double. No fancy stuff, no funny business.”
“What about an escape plan for you? Shall I organize it?”
Hogan shook his head. “I’ll take care of that myself.”
“Maybe I should meet you in the tunnel. Where does the system begin?”
Hogan felt his stomach muscles tighten. He had never revealed the details of the tunnel network to Eichberger. “The less you know, the better.”
“Shouldn’t I go out with you?”
“No, I’ll meet you there. You just name the place.”
“There is a small woodshed about one hundred meters away from the main gate. You must have seen it when you returned to camp last month.” Hogan nodded. “There is protection from the camp’s searchlights there. It seems like the most logical place to meet. We can go from there to the convoy road. Meet me there at oh-one-hundred.”
“I’ll be there.”
A Night Out
“I’ve gotta admit, I don’t like this, Colonel,” Kinch said, as he watched Hogan pull a black turtleneck shirt over his head.
Hogan winced briefly as the action stretched muscles and wounds that were still healing. “I’m not thrilled with it either, Kinch, but this is the way it has to be.”
“I wish you’d let at least one of us go with you.”
“No,” Hogan said. “And no shadows this time, either,” he added, eyeballing the Sergeant. “This time I go solo. For real.”
Kinch nodded and lowered his eyes to the floor. “Right, Colonel.”
Hogan registered the unhappiness on Kinch’s face and softened his tone. “I appreciate your concern, I really do. But if Eichberger turns out to be a real live Kraut, I’d rather he capture someone he already knows about. There’s no point in him getting everyone.”
Kinch nodded. “I know.”
Hogan went out into the common room and reached under Newkirk’s bunk for the face paint. “Eichberger’s promised no surprise bed checks tonight,” he said. “So I should have a smooth run out of here. He doesn’t need to be near the tunnel exit, not yet, so we’re meeting at the woodshed outside camp. I can only hope his dynamite is as good as yours, Carter.”
Carter frowned. “If he’s not an expert at it, Colonel, it could be dangerous stuff! I mean it’s not like my stuff.” Hogan smiled. Only Carter could conceive of a situation where dynamite wasn’t dangerous.
“Don’t worry, Carter. Eichberger’s supposed to be using some of this stuff himself. I hardly think he’ll use anything that he could accidentally blow himself up with.”
“Well… just watch yourself,” Carter said, grudgingly.
Hogan paused in his preparations to regard the Sergeant. “Thanks,” he said seriously. “I will.”
Le Beau spoke up. “What’s the plan if something goes wrong?” he asked reluctantly.
Hogan didn’t miss a beat. “Close up shop and get out.” He took a moment to give his command stare to his men. He rarely did it, but when he did, Hogan’s crew knew he was dead serious, and they didn’t dare disobey. “One sniff that anyone is selling us out and you burn everything, collapse the tunnels, and run. No heroes. Got it?”
“What about Klink?” Newkirk asked.
“Take him with you if you can. He’s still got information we need.” Hogan handed the paint to Newkirk. “Okay, it’s time to go. I’ll see you fellas later.”
“When should we start to worry?” Kinch asked, trying to sound light.
“When neither of us shows up for morning roll call. Because if I don’t come back, I’m going to make darn sure Eichberger doesn’t make it back, either.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan very slowly and carefully poked his head out through the tree stump that was the end of their tunnel. Pulling the lid down as a light from the guard tower swept over the lid, Hogan took a deep breath and waited, then plunged into the night when the beam’s circle was focused elsewhere. He looked all around him as he made his way to the appointed rendezvous, then hid in the scrub near the perimeter of the forest and waited for a sign of his contact.
Hogan spent some time watching his breath appear in white streams before him, and registered the cold uncomfortably. Then a sudden movement nearby moved his attention to the shed, and he watched intently as a figure appeared, carrying something. Hogan scanned the area; the person seemed to have come alone.
A light birdcall broke the stillness. Hogan returned the call and emerged cautiously from his hiding place, appearing at Eichberger’s side so silently that the Captain actually jumped when Hogan drew himself up to make contact. “Hogan—you did come.”
“What did you think—that I’d let an opportunity to mess up the Krauts’ plans slip by?” Hogan looked for a gun in Eichberger’s hands. There was none. Then his gaze slipped to the bag Eichberger had put on the ground. “What’s in the pack?”
“Dynamite. Grenades. Some fuses—I wasn’t sure what you would want to use. You’re the expert, after all. I’m here to learn from you.”
“Well the first thing you need to learn is that flattery will get you nowhere. And staying out in the open will get you killed.” He nodded toward the darkness of the trees. “Let’s get moving. We need to get to the roadside along the convoy’s route. You know where it is. Take us there.”
“Right.” Eichberger sounded almost like an eager child as he picked up the pack and started striding toward the trees.
Hogan pulled him up by the arm. “Are you trying to get yourself killed?” he asked. He crouched down low and pulled Eichberger with him as a light from the camp made its circuit overhead. “You can’t just waltz around out here. Pay attention or you’ll get us both shot!” He advanced toward the body of the forest at half-height and in absolute silence. Eichberger tried to follow suit; Hogan could hear a couple of footsteps, but nothing that couldn’t be passed off as general sounds of the woods. So far, so good.
Finally Eichberger took the lead and in a short time he and Hogan had reached their destination. “The convoy is scheduled to pass by here at two o’clock,” he said.
Hogan looked at his watch in the dim light. “It’s after one-thirty now. We’ll have to get this stuff ready to go.” He gestured toward the bag. “Let’s get started.”
Hogan let Eichberger open the pack and start removing the contents. Neat, professional-looking explosives soon piled up around them. Carter would approve, Hogan thought with an inward chuckle. “Nice stuff,” he commented.
“It’s all good quality, Colonel. Nothing that can accidentally go off and get either of us killed,” Eichberger said pointedly.
“You took the words right out of my mouth,” Hogan replied dryly. “Have you got a gun?”
Eichberger looked startled. “A gun?”
“A gun,” Hogan repeated. “Something to have out in case a patrol suddenly shows up and wants to make short work of us.”
“Oh,” Eichberger said, relaxing. “No. I didn’t bring one.”
Hogan let out a disgusted breath. “Great,” he said. He pulled his Luger out of his pocket. “Here, hold on to this,” he ordered, practically shoving it into Eichberger’s hands. “And make sure the safety’s on while you’ve got it pointed in my direction.”
Eichberger looked at the weapon with some surprise. “Colonel Hogan—where did you get this?”
“Don’t ask questions,” Hogan replied. “And next time think ahead. What makes you think everything’s going to run smoothly all the time?”
Eichberger looked properly chastised. “Sorry, Colonel. I’m new at this.”
“You won’t have a chance to get old at it if you keep this up.”
Hogan let an uncomfortable silence sit between them as he went to work at organizing the things Eichberger had brought with him. Hogan had to admit that the Captain was certainly playing the role of novice agent very well. Taking Carter’s advice, Hogan didn’t rely on Eichberger to prepare any of the explosives; he could only trust what he did himself.
Finally Eichberger broke the silence. “Colonel Hogan?”
Hogan paused only for a second, and looked Eichberger. Then he looked away, seemingly absorbed in attaching a fuse to a stick of dynamite. “What?” he replied curtly.
“Why did you give me this gun?”
“I told you—to make sure we’re covered while we’re doing this. You can’t leave things to chance.”
“I know that,” Eichberger replied. “But I mean, why did you hand it to me? It’s clear you don’t trust me yet. Why give me a weapon?”
Hogan didn’t look up from his work. “Because for all I know you have half a dozen goons surrounding us right now, waiting to shoot me at the first sign of espionage. If you’re going to do it, you’re going to do it.” Eichberger took on another startled look. “At least this way, if you’re on the level, you can keep watch for those same types of goons, and use the weapon for good instead of evil.” Hogan stopped. “You do know how to use the thing, don’t you?”
Eichberger nodded. “Oh, yes, Colonel. An expert shot.”
“Good. Okay, this is finished; let’s go.”
“Let’s go where?”
Hogan sighed. Maybe this Eichberger was exactly what he appeared to be—a greenhorn. “We have to move in closer to the road so when the trucks come by we have a chance of lobbing some of this stuff into them.”
“Come on.” Hogan led the way to a secure area in the scrub. Once there, he took the gun back from Eichberger and hid it in his clothes. Then he held up a lighter and some dynamite. “Think you can handle this?” he asked. “Or would you rather go with the grenades?” Eichberger gulped and didn’t answer right away. Hogan nodded. “Right; you go with the dynamite. At least you’ll have a chance to throw it before it blows up in your face.” He handed the incendiaries to the Captain. “These are set with one minute fuses. You light them, you throw them, you get the hell away. Got it?”
All that was left now was to wait and see if Eichberger’s information about the convoy was correct, and if Hogan would make it home to tell the fellas either way.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Bunks creaked and blankets shuffled as Hogan’s men tried to wait out the time their commander was away without driving themselves mad. Due to the time of night, they had turned out all the lights, so as not to attract any unwanted attention from the guards, but that left them with very few options.
Kinch had considered heading downstairs to the tunnel, but he knew Klink was sleeping there and he didn’t want to have to deal with the Kommandant’s incessant questions if he woke up. What he really wanted was a crossword puzzle. A small square of mysterious words that would eat up his time, and make him concentrate on something other than the worry eating away at him. He tried to imagine Hogan at his cheekiest, an attitude that always made the Sergeant feel like everything would turn out all right in the end. But somehow now the image wouldn’t come, and he could only picture the determined look on Hogan’s face as he headed out. “Never say die, boys,” he had said, when they first questioned him about the possibility of getting the operation fully functioning again. Funny, Kinch would have thought after all he’d been through that Hogan would be perfectly happy to head back to London. But then, that wasn’t the Colonel. He was never one to simply sit back and let the war slide by without having his say in its outcome. Kinch lay back on his bunk again and sighed. Sleep wouldn’t be coming tonight.
Le Beau rolled over on his mattress above Kinch and tried to think about what kept him here. It wasn’t the food, that was for sure. No matter how well he disguised the food with extra treats bought on the black market, or how he manipulated the Red Cross packages to their best advantage, the food was still cardboard. It wasn’t a love of fighting; though he was passionate about his homeland, and would do whatever it took to defend her, it was always with a slightly sad heart that he went about his duties outside the camp, knowing that it could be the last time any number of people saw their families. It wasn’t even a sense of duty. Colonel Hogan had given all of them the opportunity to leave, with no stigma attached. Le Beau himself had more than once said he was leaving the operation, to go back to France and fight in his own way. No, it had to be something else. And it finally dawned on him what it was: Hogan himself. No other leader he had encountered had ever been so persistent, so dedicated, so willing to put himself in the thick of things. True, Le Beau had had compassionate people to work with in the past, but Hogan was different. He said little, thought a lot, and backed up his words with action. And if there was danger to face, he didn’t try to hide it or make it seem less than it was; he was honest with his men, and in turn, they were honest with him, and they trusted him, trusted him with their very lives. And he had shown that he trusted them as well. And now he is out there without us, with someone none of us trusts. Le Beau rolled over again, and listened for the signal that would mean Hogan had come home.
Carter lay flat on his back, staring up at the slats on the bunk over his head, and ran through all the chemical equations he could think of. Every piece of scientific knowledge he had was being bandied about inside his brain. He moved his lips as he silently worked out formulas, crossing out mentally when he made a miscalculation, and starting again from scratch. His mind drifted to his lab downstairs, where he concocted some potions that no one wanted to know about, but everyone was happy to use. That made Carter happy; people trusted him with something important, really important. That had not been the case very often before he came to Stalag 13. He could still remember when they had received their first drop of nitroglycerin: he and Colonel Hogan had gone out to get the stuff together, and Hogan had been stunned at the knowledge Carter had about the substance and its storage. And when everyone else had run away during its unpacking, Colonel Hogan had stayed nearby, even though Carter could tell he had been nervous. Trust. What a gift Hogan had given him. And now, with Hogan out of camp with a man about whose allegiance they were all still uncertain, Carter wondered if he would ever get a chance to thank him.
Newkirk frowned as he punched his mattress, trying to move the lumps to a less intrusive location. Bloody Krauts, don’t know the meaning of a decent night’s sleep. He dropped back down heavily. Who was he kidding? He wasn’t going to be getting any sleep anyway. Not with the gov’nor out with Eichberger. Why did Hogan have to go out alone anyway? Why wouldn’t he let them follow, in case anything went wrong? You’ve answered your own question, mate—in case anything goes wrong. Officers. Had to show they were in control all the time. No, Newkirk corrected himself, he knew it was different with Colonel Hogan. The only time he insisted on the privileges of his rank was when he was concerned about the safety of his men. And then he seemed to ignore his own rank and do the hard work himself. Like tonight, Newkirk thought. Stubborn. He considered for a moment, then adjusted his thinking. No, not just stubborn. Protective. You won’t let us do anything you wouldn’t do. He sighed and sat up again, knowing he would be wasting his time closing his eyes. But we’d have done this for you, gov’nor…. And if I wasn’t so sure you’d be more offended by me disobeying your orders, I’d be out there with you right now, proving it! He reached under his mattress for his desk of cards, and in the darkness started to deal himself a hand.
Call It What You Will
Hogan found himself facing five pairs of anxious eyes when he dropped off the last rung of the ladder at the tunnel entrance. He merely blinked his surprise, too tired to wonder why they were all still up, and why they had Wilson with them. “Is there a problem?” he asked.
Hogan’s men surrounded him and unnecessarily guided him through the tunnel to the ladder that led to the barracks. When they got upstairs, they immediately sat him down at the common room table, firing questions left and right, leaving Hogan unable to hear any one person clearly. Finally, he just said over the noise, “It was fine, it was all fine.”
Wilson sat down on the bench nearest him and tried to look into Hogan’s eyes. “What are you doing here?” Hogan asked, as Wilson pulled at his eyelids.
“Are you kidding? Heading out on a mission without my permission? That’s against the rules.” Wilson reached for Hogan’s arms. “Let me see. How did these work tonight?”
“I said everything was just fine,” Hogan answered.
“No problems? What about gripping things?”
Hogan shrugged. “A bit tough with the right hand, but I managed.”
“How do they feel?”
Wilson sat back and released Hogan’s arms. Hogan’s right hand looked a bit swollen, and Wilson suspected it was somewhat tender to the touch. He wasn’t satisfied, but he knew he wouldn’t get anything else out of the Colonel, especially with his men around. “You’ve got a date with me later this morning,” he said pointedly. He stood up and nodded to the others. “Make sure he keeps it.”
“Will do,” Kinch said, much to Hogan’s dismay.
Wilson disappeared back down the tunnel, and Hogan’s men got down to details. “What was it like, Colonel? Was Eichberger there?” asked Le Beau.
Hogan nodded. “Yeah, he was there. Green as grass, but he was there. Kept his side of the bargain. Came up with dynamite, grenades, did exactly as he was told. I made sure he was back in camp before I came in through the tunnel.”
“What do you think of him?” Newkirk asked. “Is he for real?”
Hogan shrugged his shoulders. “Seems to be,” he said. “So far so good.”
“How was his dynamite?” Carter piped up.
Hogan smiled tiredly. He should have known. “It was fine, Carter. Not as good as yours, of course, but it got the job done. I tell you what, it was strange working with an amateur again—I’ll stick to you and your know-how any day, Carter. I didn’t like making all the decisions about what went where.”
Carter smiled, satisfied.
“So what happens now?” Kinch asked.
Hogan stood up and stretched carefully. “Now we get some sleep. Roll call comes early, and we want to look our best, don’t we?”
“It’s not like Eichberger won’t know where you’ve been ’alf the night,” Newkirk said.
“True,” Hogan agreed. “But we want to make a good impression anyway, don’t we? And you fellas should look fresh as a daisy in the morning. You have no reason to be tired, especially since you don’t know what’s going on, right?”
“Right,” Le Beau said reluctantly.
“Well, at least we can sleep better, now that we know Eichberger’s okay,” Carter said cheerfully.
Hogan agreed as the others added their support to the statement, then turned in for the night. He only wished he could believe that it was true.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Eichberger motioned for Hogan to sit down. “Please, Colonel, I am most anxious to have your opinion about last night,” he said as Hogan pulled up a chair.
“You came through for us, Eichberger. That convoy isn’t getting anywhere.” Hogan still sounded non-committal.
“So I have shown you where my loyalties lie. Now can we work together?”
Hogan nodded slowly. “Yeah. But under my command. You lead the camp; the operation is ultimately my responsibility, and I won’t have anyone blowing it. And that includes the Kommandant of Stalag 13. And you’re to treat me exactly the same way you did before. There’s to be no preferential treatment, otherwise you might give the whole thing away.”
“Oh, absolutely. Yes, Colonel.”
“There’s one thing I still don’t understand, Eichberger. How did you get into the Luftwaffe? I thought you were supposed to have infiltrated military intelligence. Now, the Luftwaffe is a lot of things, but intelligent is not one of them.”
Eichberger nodded. “You be assured you are right in that regard, Colonel. Intelligence is not the Luftwaffe’s strong point.”
“You can say that again,” Hogan interjected.
“I stayed in Abwehr for quite some time. Several months, in fact. But it became apparent that I was not cut out for that work within the German military—funny, because that was what I was eminently suited for back in London—and instead of taking the risk of being shuffled out and sent to the Russian front, I decided to wrangle a transfer to a different branch of the military.”
Hogan frowned. “You could have just escaped if you were going to be sent east. I’m sure London wouldn’t have expected you to be fighting against our allies.”
“That’s exactly why I moved, Hogan. I didn’t want to escape. I wanted to help. And the more complicated they made the job, the more I was worried about being found out, so I got while the getting was good. They were strangely amenable to my transfer. Maybe they were just trying to get rid of me,” Eichberger considered with some amusement. “They don’t care for inefficiency, and I just couldn’t get the hang of the work.”
“And you dropped out of sight because…”
“Because I was suspicious of their eagerness to move me. I thought perhaps I had been found out and they were waiting to pounce. So I stayed out of contact because I didn’t want them getting anyone further up the line. I had many contacts in Berlin, and I didn’t want any of them to be compromised.”
Hogan nodded. “Sounds logical. It was a good move.”
“So now, Colonel. Now we can get to work?”
Hogan nodded again. “Yep. Now we can get to work. I’ve been a bit out of touch lately, don’t know a lot of what’s going on around town. I’ll leave it to you to come up with the next target.”
“You can count on me, Colonel Hogan.”
“I’m betting on it.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“I don’t know; I just can’t get myself to trust him completely yet,” Hogan said to Wilson, as he submitted to the medic’s procedures. He fought to blink as Wilson held his one eye, then the other, pried open while he stuck a light beam in his face.
“Well, that’s not really unexpected,” Wilson replied. He snapped off the light and motioned for Hogan to unbutton his shirt. “I mean, after what you’ve been put through, you have every right to be a little wary of anyone German, don’t you think?” He pulled back the shirt and examined the Colonel’s abdomen. The wounds had closed, but the scars remained as final healing continued. A gentle probe of a couple of what had been the deeper lacerations made Hogan flinch. “That’s going well,” Wilson observed. “No infection, no more bleeding.”
“See? I told you I was a good boy,” Hogan responded. “Thing is, I don’t know what’s bothering me about him,” Hogan continued.
Wilson watched as the Colonel struggled to rebutton his shirt, stopping once or twice to massage his right hand. Obviously, there were still problems. “Still giving you trouble?” he asked, taking hold of the hand as Hogan tried to avoid his gaze.
“Hard to maneuver?”
“Sometimes. It just aches, and sometimes I can’t get it to do what I want.”
“I’m not surprised.” Wilson gently pressed on the knuckles at the base of Hogan’s fingers. Hogan grunted as his hand spasmed in response. “They’re still not in the best shape,” Wilson added, flexing the two outer fingers just lightly. Hogan bit his lip. “They’re a lot better, but you still have to go easy on them.”
“I am,” Hogan said. He caressed his sore hand when Wilson let go. “Haven’t you noticed my shaving is a bit off?” He put his left hand up to scratch a bit of stubble he had missed this morning. “Can’t get it all. And I’m sick of asking Le Beau to be my barber.”
“Hey, that’s not so bad. Not everyone can have a manservant in the middle of World War Two.” Wilson finished his work and faced his superior officer. “Now, why don’t you talk to me about Eichberger?”
Hogan waved the idea away. “You don’t want to hear about that. It’s just me being paranoid.”
“What you call paranoia, I call a sixth sense. And I trust yours more than anyone I’ve ever met.”
Hogan gestured helplessly as he tried to put his gut feelings into words. “I don’t know, Joe, there’s just something I don’t like. Maybe it’s just because he was out of touch with London for so long. I mean, he did the right thing last night; he could have had a trap waiting for me, but he didn’t. And he knew all the recognition codes, knew my code name…I’m just off balance, I think. Not getting much input from London isn’t helping, either.”
“So what would make you feel better?”
Hogan laughed gently. “A nice hot bath in a nice big bathroom in Connecticut.”
Wilson smiled. “I’m afraid we’re a little short of those in the middle of Germany. How about a cold shower?”
“That’s all I’ve had for the last three years.” Hogan grinned. Joe always did know what to say.
“Look, Colonel. If you’re uncomfortable, why don’t you find out if you can trace Eichberger’s trail—from when he got here, to when he fell out of touch, to when he reappeared. Someone must have information, and once you’ve been able to confirm it all, you’ll feel better.”
“Either that or I’ll wish I’d never met him.” Hogan nodded. “That’s a good idea.” He stood up. “Thanks, Joe,” Hogan said sincerely. “I’m sure I’m way too far in your debt to ever repay you.” He headed for the door.
“That’s okay, Colonel. I think I owe you a few, too. But, hey, if you’re ever not sure how to pay up—”
Hogan turned back from the door and raised his eyebrows expectantly. “You can always loan me Le Beau for the day. I’d love to have my own personal barber.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Kinch, get on the horn to London. Tell them I want some answers, and I want them sooner rather than later.”
“What’s going on, Colonel?” asked Le Beau, as Hogan started to follow Kinch downstairs.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of Eichberger so I can get a decent night’s sleep!”
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.