After so much time spent in preparation twenty year-old Canadian Air Force Major Melissa Davidson -- wait, make that nineteen years old. Major Davidson’s birthday was not for three months and six days, not that anyone but her was counting. Discreetly checking to ensure that her hat was on securely and her hair was tucked up inside, the Major mentally rehearsed the lines she would have to speak. The tiny girl knew that it was imperative that her gender remain a secret for as long as possible. If the Gestapo couldn’t be fooled or if she was shipped to the wrong Stalag -- well, she preferred not to think about those possibilities.
The truck groaned to a halt and the guard forced her into an interrogation room. One of the more lenient and humane members of the Gestapo was placed in charge and the interrogation was mercifully brief. She gave answers to only the required questions -- name, rank, and serial number. Well, the answers weren’t totally true. The serial number and rank were accurate, but instead of giving her full name she gave the more masculine sounding Mel. The interrogation was brief because after refusing to give more information the Gestapo captain had resorted to other ways of making her talk. The captain -- assuming she was male -- had hit her harder than her slight frame could take and she collapsed.
The next thing she was aware of was the fact that her head was throbbing and the people in the room were completely unfamiliar. Unwilling to blow her cover so soon, and aware of the fact that her hat was still securely in place, she decided to let the men ask the first questions.
“Mon colonel, he is awake,” a small, dark man with a French accent said from his position at the stove. As he turned to face her she caught sight of the uniform shirt beneath his tattered red sweater. The shirt confirmed his nationality beyond a shadow of a doubt. She reached her hand up toward her forehead wincing at the movement. The others came over to the bunk she had been placed on. Her eyes rested on the tall, dark-eyed colonel in the centre. He would decide her fate.
“Are you all right?” He inquired. “Would you like something to eat?” Concern was etched on his face and mirrored on the faces of the other men. She figured this was as good a time as any to test out the code London had given her.
“Anything but porridge, I hate it but the three bears seemed to love it.” She held her breath this was the moment of truth.
“Papa Bear especially cared for it.” He paused. He looked a little puzzled. “I wonder if the pixies did?” With the code almost delivered everyone was holding their breaths and waiting in anxious silence for the answer.
“Why don’t you ask them?” With the code said and her safety established she removed her hat, shaking her hair free. It took only a glance at the men’s surprised faces to realise they, like the Gestapo, had been fooled. “Major Melissa Davidson.” She introduced herself saying her full first name for the first time since entering Germany.
“She’s a ruddy girl, guv’nor!” The English corporal almost yelled it causing Melissa to wince in pain at the sound of the loud voice. Directing his gaze back at her he also directed a stream of rapid-fire questions at her as well. “Where are you bloody well from? What are you doing ‘ere? ‘Ow did you get ‘ere?” She turned her attention away from the rambling corporal and on to her mind-numbing headache. She scarcely noticed when the Englishman abruptly stopped, but was thankful to find that a tall American sergeant had pressed a hot cup into her hands. She took a grateful sip and nearly spit it out over the surprised young man. It was coffee something she never drank.
As she handed the cup to the Frenchman she expressed her gratitude, in French, and all their mouths dropped. The colonel broke in. “Now I have some questions. Where are you from? How did you get here? What are you doing here?” He ticked off the items on his fingers. “Why do you speak such fluent French? Do you intend to stay, and for how long? Are you really a girl?” He said the last question almost as an afterthought, and he sounded incredulous.
“I’m a major in the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Gestapo, I’m assuming brought me here. Before our plane was shot down I was in London, and they sent me here. I have orders to assist you in your sabotage operations. I speak fluent French because Canada has two official languages and I learned French through school. I intend to stay for as long as the operation here last or until...let’s leave it at that. I prefer to look on the bright side of things. Yes, I am a girl. As of yet only you and London are the only ones who know that. The Gestapo has no clue who I really am. I gave them my rank, serial number, and most of my name.” The Englishman opened his mouth, presumably to ask how she gave them most of her name, but Melissa continued before he had a chance. “The name I gave the Gestapo was Major Mel Davidson. When I refused to give them more information...” Her voice trailed off and she paused. “Well, I guess you know the rest better than I do.”
“Quick thinking Major.” The one member of the group who had so far not spoken, a moustached, black man, softly spoke the sentence. “By the way, I’m Sergeant Ivan Kinchloe, but everyone calls me Kinch.” Within moment Melissa had been introduced to all the men in the group. Then a large man dressed in a guard’s uniform came in to inquire why the lights were on after lights out.
“But Shultz, look at the new prisoner. We can’t look at her in the dark. The Gestapo dropped her off here unconscious.” Louis LeBeau, the French corporal, explained pulling a plate of strudel out from under a cloth on the table.
“Cockroach, you may have one more minute to examine the new prisoner. Wait a minute, did you say the Gestapo brought her in uncon- I know nothing, nothing!” With that he almost ran out the door, the strudel clasped in his hand.
“That was Sergeant Hans Shultz, he’s in charge of our guards. Sometimes I think that he thinks that LeBeau here is-” Andrew Carter, the American who had earlier given her the coffee, was silenced by Peter Newkirk, the Englishman. Newkirk was in turn shushed by Colonel Hogan himself.
“We’d best get some sleep. Major, you stay in that bunk. Carter, you sleep in the extra one in my quarters for tonight. Major in the morning we will wake you for roll call, and then Colonel Klink, the kommandant, will want to see you. London had contacted us about receiving someone new, but who thought it would be anyone like you. Good night Major.” Robert Hogan disappeared into his quarters before Melissa had a chance to wish him good night. Almost instantly she fell into a deep sleep.
It seemed like only moment later when Carter tapped her shoulder to wake her for roll call. She jumped and was instantly wide-awake sitting bolt upright in bed. Since she was already in uniform, she swung her feet over the edge of the bunk and went to stand. She would have fallen hard to the ground had she not grabbed a hold of LeBeau who was just walking past. Melissa’s face was white with pain and LeBeau was quite easily supporting her. Hogan, taking one look at the scene, quickly sat her back down on the bunk. The fact that LeBeau, who was no giant himself, had been easily supporting what looked to be the greater part of her weight, and had been towering over her, made him realise just how tiny she was. She couldn’t be more than five feet tall wearing heels.
“What’s wrong Major?” The question was asked simultaneously by all the men.
Melissa replies tightly through what appeared to be clenched teeth. “My right ankle, I didn’t injure it when the plane crashed, so it had to be from when I collapsed at Gestapo headquarters.”
“We don’t ‘ave time to check it now. Come on ‘urry up.” Newkirk spoke not out of unkindness but out of necessity. “LeBeau, ‘elp ‘er out of ‘ere.”
Heavily leaning on LeBeau, she managed to make it outside but couldn’t stand unassisted. They were no sooner in place than Klink came out of his office. He immediately saw Melissa. Her short brown curls and deep brown eyes caught his attention as he walked across the compound. The next thing he noticed was that LeBeau appeared to be tightly holding on to her.
“LeBeau, step away from that lady.” When he saw that LeBeau was about to protest he bellowed, “And that’s an order!” LeBeau reluctantly backed away as Melissa collapsed into a heap. Klink stared for a moment before LeBeau and Carter helped her up. If they thought her face had been white before now it was positively translucent. She looked only moments from fainting. Klink, once he had regained his powers of speech, ordered Hogan to assist Melissa into his office. Then he turned and walked away.
Hogan, doubting Melissa’s ability to make it to Klink’s office, lifted her into his arms and carried her into the office. He deposited her into the nearest chair and took a seat next to her. “Colonel Klink, may I introduce you to Major Melissa Davidson, Royal Canadian Air Force. She is now a prisoner here, and second most senior officer.”
Klink stared unbelievingly for a moment before asking the same question the others had. “Is she really a girl?” As the question was directed at Hogan it was he who answered.
“Yes, she’s a she. The friendly neighbourhood Gestapo dropped her off unconscious last night. The paperwork should be on your desk.” Klink looked at the pile of papers in front of him for a second before pulling out the correct document.
“This says that the Gestapo dropped off a Major Davidson last night but the first name given here is Mel.” Klink stopped to watch Melissa in concern as she gently massaged her right ankle. Then he directed his questions back towards Hogan. “She doesn’t look old enough to be enlisted. How old is she, and why did you carry her in here? Is she hurt?”
“I’m nineteen, I’ll be twenty in a little over three months.” Melissa answered this question herself, as she knew Hogan had no way of knowing. While she knew that she looked younger than her age the looks the two gave her took her by surprise. “Colonel Hogan carried me in here because my right ankle is badly sprained. Courtesy of the Gestapo.” With Klink accepting her as a prisoner and not a future romance half the battle had been won. Now the only thing left to do was to arrange lodging, in Barracks Two.
“With no escapes the camp is pretty full. We need a brilliant mind like yours to come up with where to bunk this new prisoner.” Hogan knew that by flattering Klink, he could get Klink to agree to almost anything.
“Brilliant mind, yes, that’s me. Only someone with a brilliant mind could maintain a perfect no escape record.” Hogan cut him off.
“Of course, and with your genius you all ready know that Barracks Two is the only one with any extra room. All it would take would be a simple word to carry out your brilliant plan. The second part of your plan would be to divide my quarters so she can be separated from the men. I just want you to know that if the idea had come from anyone but you ... but, how can I argue with brilliance?”
“Of course Hogan, you took the word’s right out of my mouth. Your men will be given the necessary supplies. Well, what are you waiting for? Dismissed!” Hogan scooped Melissa, whose face had regained a little colour, into his arms and proceeded to carry her into the barracks. He placed her gently onto a bunk.
“Carter, take a look at that ankle, Kinch go contact London, LeBeau make us something to eat, Newkirk give Carter a hand. Kinch and I will be back in a minute. Instead of work detail today we’ll be adding a partition in my quarters. All right, get to work.” With that Hogan and Kinch disappeared into the tunnel. Carter began to unlace her right boot as Newkirk went to get the first aid kit.
By the time Newkirk got back with the first aid kit Carter had begun to gently remove Melissa’s boot. Her face was once again etched with pain. As Carter continued to gently pull the boot off, Melissa finally couldn’t keep silent anymore and let out a cry of pain. Carter and Newkirk looked at her as she tried to get herself back under control. By the time her boot had been taken off to reveal an extremely swollen ankle Melissa was near tears. When Newkirk and Carter took a look, they quickly realised that more advanced medical knowledge was needed. It was at this point that Kinch and Hogan reappeared.
“Gee whiz, you gotta come take a look at this Colonel. By the way, what did London have to say?” Carter’s first sentence caught Hogan’s attention immediately and he crossed the room in two long strides. He gently took a hold of Melissa’s ankle and felt to see if anything was broken. The examination took only a minute and then he straightened up.
“I can’t tell if anything’s broken. Are you okay Major?” When she returned with a tense, tight-lipped nod Hogan continued. “We’ll have to find a way to get you to a doctor. London confirmed that you are who you say you are, and so-” He was cut off by Shultz entering. His gaze rested for a moment on Melissa before he spoke.
“Who is that? Is she hurt?” Shultz stood hesitantly in the doorway. For the first time he seemed oblivious to the fact that LeBeau was standing at the stove.
“This is the new prisoner Shultz. Her name is Major Melissa Davidson. The Major’s ankle is either broken or badly sprained. What are you doing here? We don’t have to work on the roads today.” Carter answered the questions and he sounded deliriously happy not to have to work on the roads.
“Please, call me Melissa, Shultz. The same goes for the rest of you. I’m very pleased to me-” She stopped short with a sharp intake of air as Hogan seated himself at the foot of the bunk.
“Sorry Major, I mean, Melissa. So Shultz, do you have something to tell us, or do you know nothing?” Hogan apologised he had sat down without thinking.
“This time I know something. The materials for your building project are outside. Oh, Cockroach,” he had finally noticed LeBeau, “What are you making?” Before LeBeau had a chance to reply, Klink entered the increasingly crowded room. He had some difficulty manoeuvring around Shultz and he still stood in the doorway.
“Now that everyone’s here the party can begin. Care to dance Melissa?” Carter was given stern looks from everyone, but it didn’t dampen his enthusiasm. “I promise not to step on your toes.” Hogan, who was sitting closest, tipped Carter’s hat into his face.
“I would but I’m sidelined for the moment. Thank you for asking though,” she paused, “Andrew. I’m touched that you would even consider it, and I promise to dance with you when I’m able to.” Carter, who had righted his hat, flushed at the mention of his first name, and proceeded to turn even redder at the last sentence.
“What about me? I’m a Frenchman, and I haven’t danced in -- Sacre bleu! Shultz, the sauce isn’t done yet!” Shultz finally entering took the lid off the pot on the stove and cut LeBeau's request short. LeBeau started the others asking for dances. The noise was positively earthshaking. Everyone was talking at once. Even Klink.
“Quiet please, or no one gets a dance!” That caused almost an instant silence. Melissa continued. “Everyone can have a dance. Colonel Klink, did you have something to tell us?”
“I remembered that you had said something about a sprained ankle earlier and wondered if you needed a doctor. By the way,” Klink paused before continuing shyly; “do I get a dance as well?” When Melissa nodded, Klink went to leave. “I’ll call for a doctor, and I’ll see if I can get one to come here.” When Klink was safely out of earshot all the men burst into laughter.
Reminding Hogan that the materials were outside Shultz also left. With the two Germans gone Hogan returned to business. Continuing on from where Shultz had interrupted him a good five minutes before he calmly stated, “Welcome to the group. Because of your injury you’ll be staying here and monitoring the radio for a while. As soon as you’re back on your feet you’ll be given a tour of the camp, both above and below ground. I’m almost afraid to ask this next question, but do we have any volunteers to sit with Melissa while we build that wall?” The noise level once again rose until Hogan appointed Kinch to be the first to sit with her.
While Kinch and Melissa talked, the rest of the men entered Hogan’s quarters. Before beginning to work Hogan sat them down for a talk. “We have a ourselves a bit of a problem with Melissa.” He was cut off by an enthusiastic Newkirk.
“I know, I know. We all would ‘ave preferred a blonde, and she could be a little taller. Even LeBeau is taller than she is!”
“I like her just the way she is.” Carter protested with his face red.
“The problem isn’t with her height, or lack of it, but with London. We have a mission Melissa needs to be involved in. Kinch didn’t get a chance to tell them about her ankle. I didn’t want to mention it in front of her because the mission is time critical. It must be carried out in the next few weeks.” Hogan paused to give them time to think about it before continuing. “Depending on what the doctor says she might not be able to do this mission for a while. The Underground has a singer who has been granted access to the rocket plant we found last week. The singer is unwilling to plant the bombs, but will let someone else take her place. The guards don’t know her and her first time singing there is next week. She can plead sickness, but only for so long. Any ideas?” There was only silence. They could hear the conversation from the next room.
“Isn’t there another way to take out the plant?” LeBeau asked this hopefully, but Hogan sadly shook his head.
“Guess there’s only one question left to ask. Can she sing?” Carter asked this question and it showed that Melissa had been accepted as a member of the tight-nit group.
“Kinch is going to find a way to ask her.” When Hogan didn’t get an answer he realised the men were listening to the conversation in the next room.
“So you like music. We don’t get to listen to much around here, we have to do the singing ourselves.” They could hear Kinch talking, then came the question they were so anxiously waiting for an answer to. “Do you sing?”
“A little, but not very well.” They didn’t know Melissa well enough to know if she was telling the truth or just being modest. Kinch had to find a way to get her to sing.
“I’d love to hear.” Kinch knew he couldn’t push it too far without her becoming suspicious. “That is if you wouldn’t mind.”
“I suppose I could, what shall I sing?”
“Whatever you want. I’m not picky.”
“Okay, but just to tell you I’m not from Nova Scotia, I’m a prairie girl through and through. Saskatchewan’s my home province.”
“Understood. May I assume the song is about Nova Scotia?”
Instead of a response a soft, but clear mezzo-soprano voice was heard singing the simple melody.
“Farewell to Nova Scotia, the sea-bound coast,
Let your mountains dark and dreary be,
For when I am far away on the briny ocean tossed,
Let you ever heave a sigh and a wish for me.”
When she finished they all sat in silence for a moment before Kinch started to softly clap. Carter was the next to join in followed by Newkirk and LeBeau.
“Does that answer your question?” Hogan asked as before going to open the door. Then he too joined in. Melissa blushed and ducked her head. Shultz came in, having heard the applause, to find out what the noise had been from. After Shultz left they went to work, for real this time.
When Klink and the doctor came, Carter was sitting with Melissa while the others worked. “Major Davidson, this is Doctor Friedrich Staeder. Doctor Staeder, your patient Major Melissa Davidson. Now that you’ve been introduced I’ll be returning to my office, I have quite a bit of paper work to do.” With that Klink left. The doctor stood in the centre of the room obviously stunned. Klink had told him he would be treating a prisoner, but had neglected to mention that the prisoner was female. Carter moved out of the way even though the doctor hadn’t even removed his coat yet.
“What seems to be the problem here Major?” The doctor came to his senses at Carter’s movement. He laid his coat over a chair and took the seat Carter had vacated.
“I injured my right ankle when I collapsed at Gestapo headquarters last night. I can’t put any weight on it without falling and as you can see it’s quite swollen.” While Melissa was talking Carter had slipped into Hogan’s quarters to inform the others of the doctor’s arrival. By the time the doctor had completed his examination the entire group had formed a tight semi-circle around the two. Staeder hadn’t noticed and when he straightened up he nearly collided with an anxious Carter.
“Don’t look so worried --” Staeder stopped when he realised he didn’t know the man’s name.
“Sergeant Andrew Carter”
“Sergeant, there’s nothing broken. You do have yourself a nasty sprain Major. I’ll wrap it up for you, but you’ll need to find a pair of crutches and use those for about a week. Then you’ll be back on your feet. It will probably be a few days after you lose the crutches before you’ll be able to walk without a limp.” The tall, thin doctor turned back to Melissa brushing a lock of his blonde hair out of his dark blue eyes. “If you don’t mind me asking, Major, but where are you from?”
“I’m a Canadian.” The men retreated back to Hogan’s quarters as the two talked. LeBeau was the last one in and he caught the doctor’s next statement. It sent him running into the next room.
“Mon colonel, le docteur n’est pas Allemand!” LeBeau excitedly spat the words out, but he still managed to keep his voice low to avoid being overheard.
“We know he’s not an almond, Louis.” Newkirk patiently explained. “He’s a German doctor.”
“He’s not really that either.” LeBeau retorted.
“Not a doctor, or not a German? Now you’ve lost me. If he’s not a doctor what’s he doing here?” Carter was completely confused.
“He’s a doctor but he’s not a German. His mother was Canadian and he grew up there. His father was German and after his mother died they moved to Germany.” LeBeau’s words still came out in an excited rush.
“Blimey!” Newkirk had forgotten to keep his voice down. Dr. Staeder knocked on the door before sticking his head into the room.
“Nothing, but Corporal LeBeau seems to have overheard you saying that you’re only part German. Is that true?” Hogan was determined to find out the truth, knowing what happened when imaginations ran away.
“Half German in fact. I grew up and took medical school in Canada, but did my residence here in Germany. Unless people are told I’m not a German citizen they never even suspect the idea.” Staeder confirmed what LeBeau had overheard and then left to wrap Melissa’s ankle. Once he was outside the room and the door had been closed, several conversations began at once. Newkirk and LeBeau were talking about this most recent development while Kinch and Hogan were talking about the mission. Carter was talking to everyone, but since no one was listening, he was talking to himself. Hogan finally silenced them all and settled down to one topic of conversation.
“Now we’ll talk about Staeder. We have at least a week before we even have to think about the mission so it can wait. Since people believe Staeder’s German he could be extremely helpful to us.” Hogan set the conversation on track and then listened to the men’s responses.
“Will ‘e go along with it though, guv’nor?” Newkirk cut right to the chase.
“Only one way to tell. Carter, you go out and sit with Melissa, and ask Staeder to come in when he’s done. And please don’t give anything away.” Hogan picked up his hammer to return to work.
“How come I always seem to be the one sitting with Melissa? Not that I mind or anything, but, gee Colonel, why always me?”
“Allow me to answer that one Colonel.” Hogan nodded his approval and Newkirk continued. He placed his arm around Carter’s shoulders. “Well, Andrew, it’s like this. While you’re good with explosives; you’re no bloody good with a hammer.”
“Since you put it that way.” Newkirk shoved Carter out the door almost before he had finished speaking. Once in the other room he saw that Staeder had just finished and was putting his things back into his bag.
“Carter isn’t it?” Staeder asked when he had finished. Carter nodded, secretly hoping that Staeder would agree to help. “Well, Carter, the Major will be fine. I’ll drop by in a couple of days. Will you tell that to the Colonel for me, please?”
“Why don’t you tell him yourself? He wants to talk to you in his quarters.” Carter pointed towards the door before taking a seat beside Melissa. He couldn’t help but look towards the closed door. After the fifteenth time in as many seconds Melissa’s curiosity got the better of her.
“Do you have a fascination with all doors or just this one?”
“What? Oh, no. Actually there was this one time Newkirk -- never mind. You probably aren’t interested. So what’s Canada like?” Carter didn’t know how to answer the question and quickly changed the subject.
“It’s beautiful. In the winter the Northern Lights dance and are reflected off of the snow. It takes your breath away, if the cold hasn’t already. In the summer fields of waving golden wheat stretch out in all directions, and that’s just one little corner of Saskatchewan.”
“What’s the rest of the country like?” Carter’s gaze was fixed on Melissa’s face. He thought he could almost see the sights she was describing in her deep brown eyes.
“In Alberta the Rockies rise up purple against the sky. Sometimes I think they stretch all the way up to heaven. Up north polar bears roam free on the tundra. The Maritimes have beautiful rugged coasts, and PEI has such quaint red roads, and Quebec is like stepping into another country. Sometimes you can almost believe you’re in France.”
“What about France?” LeBeau exited Hogan’s quarters. The other’s remained behind for a moment before joining the three in the main room.
“I was just saying that Quebec is about as close as you can get to France without actually being there.” Melissa answered LeBeau’s question even though the others didn’t know what they were talking about.
“I see you’ve been talking about ‘ome.” Newkirk was the last one in the main room and hadn’t heard the exchange between her and LeBeau.
“How can you tell?” Melissa was intrigued. Newkirk came to stand beside her, knelt, and gently took her face in his hands.
“You’ve got a look of utter enchantment and you can almost see the places in your eyes,” he said softly. “You really miss ‘ome don’t you? It never gets easy, but it gets better.” He stood up and there was a moment of silence and though no one spoke they were all thinking of where ever they called home. They sighed together almost as one.
“Thank you Peter.” Melissa’s eyes were bright with tears and spoke more than her mouth ever could have. She had only spoken in a whisper but everyone heard. He gave her hand a quick squeeze. There was another moment of silence before anyone spoke.
“Well,” Staeder said clearing his throat, “I should go. They expect me back at the hospital. In a few days I’ll be back to check on you Major.” He gathered his things.
“Good-bye Doctor, and call me Melissa please.”
“Only if you’ll call me Fritz.”
“Good-bye Melissa.” Then he turned and walked out the door with a wave.
“We have a few things to discuss, Melissa.” Hogan pulled up a chair and the rest followed suit. “Sometime in the next week or two you’ll be taking an active part in an important mission.” Hogan went on to outline the mission and afterwards Melissa peppered him with questions. When he had finally satisfied her, he moved on. “As you know, we communicate with the Underground, and while we work closely with them the meetings are in secret. Dr. Staeder has agreed to help us. When he comes to check on you in the time before the mission you will exchange information. Sometimes he will bring documents, pictures, or maps, and sometimes you will have them for him. Melissa, you will be doing these exchanges as he’s coming to check on you. Now that’s done with we have only a few more questions. Would you mind if we put a tunnel entrance under your bunk? The guards will be less likely to enter and search, and it’s also a little more secluded. Where would you like the door, and --” Newkirk cut him off.
“What colour would you like the walls to be? You ‘ave two choices -- wood, or wood.”
“No, I wouldn’t mind having a tunnel entrance there. Where ever you put the door will be fine, and Newkirk, I’d like the walls to be wood please.” She managed to keep a straight face but couldn’t keep her eyes from dancing with delight.
“Your wish is me command m’lady.” Newkirk bowed low. LeBeau took Carter’s place and began a spirited conversation with Melissa in French.
When they had finished, the workers went into the main room. Expecting LeBeau to have supper ready and keeping warm on the stove, they found him arguing, or so they guessed from his hand motions. “Louis, what’s this? Where’s our food? Or does a pretty face --” Newkirk stopped himself after a glare from LeBeau. The ‘pretty face’ just smiled.
“I’m sorry for delaying your dinner, but thank you for the compliment, Newkirk.” LeBeau busily began to prepare supper. Hogan was surprised the men weren’t fighting for Melissa’s attention and briefly wondered why.
Time seemed to fly by as Melissa settled into daily life at Stalag 13. Preparation for the mission kept her busy as she learned the songs Staeder smuggled in to her. The men were busy digging the new tunnel entrance and doing their parts preparing. Newkirk was trying to finish a dress for Melissa to wear, and Carter was having to time of his life creating the explosives. They had to be very specialised, yet very concentrated. The explosives needed to be small enough to be carried in unnoticed. Almost before anyone noticed it was New Year’s Eve. Melissa had been at Stalag 13 for five days but in some ways it felt as though she had always been there.
Since it was New Year’s Eve there was a party planned. Everyone was excited, even Klink. It was about eleven in the morning when Staeder arrived. Hogan had managed to get Klink to allow Staeder to attend the party, so he would be returning that night. “Good morning Carter, Newkirk, LeBeau, Kinch.” Over the past five days Staeder had become good friends with the men in Barracks 2 and he greeted them as they stood outside.
“Morning Fritz. The Colonel and Melissa are inside.” Staeder nodded his thanks to Kinch and continued on inside. He found no one inside, but before he could go back out to ask where they were, Carter’s bunk lifted and Hogan climbed out. Then he turned and helped Melissa up.
“Good to see you Fritz, anything new?” Hogan was honestly glad to see the man. The two had become fast friends.
“Nothing's new, this visit’s purely for medical reasons. Have you been giving Melissa a tour of the camp?”
“Yes, he has been, and now I’ve seen it all.” Melissa hadn’t given Hogan a chance to answer. “I used my crutches -- most of the time.” She stopped guiltily, and Fritz shook a finger at her.
“That’s fine. I came today to give you one final check before you can stop using them. You should even be able to dance tonight, and it doesn’t look like you’ll be short of partners.” He whistled a lively dance tune as he worked. “You’re all set. Take it easy today so you can dance tonight, but you’d better save me one. See you later tonight.”
“See you.” The two parted. Melissa went outside to join the others in the crisp winter air, and Fritz went to talk to Hogan in his quarters. Hogan had retreated there to give the two some privacy.
The rest of the day flew by as if time were as eager to begin a new year as the people were. Many things had changed in 1941, and not all of them for the better. While the sabotage operations had begun earlier that year, America had also finally joined the war. New Year’s meant that it had been another year of war. But it also meant they were one year closer to peace and an end to the carnage. This was what they were excited about.
Even Klink was involved in the party preparations; men were in and out of his office all afternoon. They often reappeared with balloons or streamers in their hands before they disappeared into the recreation hall. LeBeau was in charge of the food being served and Melissa was in the kitchen helping. The two worked well together and the smells emerging from the kitchen made Shultz’s mouth water with anticipation. No matter how much the guard pleaded he was no allowed to enter.
As the evening approach the trips to various parts of the camp slowed to a trickle, and then finally stopped as the preparations finished. Soon the only two left working were LeBeau and Melissa. They would have been done sooner but Shultz had managed to get his hands on a pan of chocolate fudge Melissa had left cooling on the windowsill. All of the others had retreated back to the barracks to prepare. Over in the now empty rec hall the streamers gently waved in the breeze blowing through an open window, all else was still.
Klink was in his quarters putting on his best uniform and polishing his monocle. Shultz was also getting ready, taking bites of fudge every few minutes. While the two Germans were putting on their best, the prisoners were doing the same. Most of their parties were more informal, but this one seemed different. It may have been because of Melissa, or simply because they wanted to see the old year out in style.
In Barracks 2 the preparations had almost been completed. Hogan wearing, for the first time since Melissa’s arrival, something other than his trademark brown jacket came out of his quarters and stood in the doorway watching the men under his command. Newkirk, with his light fingers, seated at the table sewing a button on the jacket of his dress uniform. Kinch, in his usual solemn manner, combing out his full moustache. Carter, quiet for once, shining his black shoes. LeBeau and Melissa were the only ones missing from the scene. The peace was broken when the two entered.
“Where were you two?” Hogan looked at LeBeau’s face examining it for any traces of lipstick.
“We were in the kitchen. Schultz managed to take a pan of fudge when we weren’t watching, so we had to make another.” Melissa answered on her way across the room. When she was inside her quarters LeBeau found his face being searched for traces of lipstick.
“Looks like ‘e wiped it off before ‘e came back, Colonel.”
“Why do you assume we kissed, though I wouldn’t mind.” LeBeau defended himself.
“Because you are French, as you’re always telling us.” Kinch, who usually kept out of this sort of argument, joined in.
“She’s even short LeBeau, and you always stake your claim on the short one.” Hogan’s comment was greeted with laughter.
Carter, who had been uncharacteristically silent, finally spoke. “So what kind of fudge did you make?” This generated another wave of laughter. It had just died down when they heard Fritz’s car pull into the compound. In another minute the doctor had joined them. While the others were in uniform Fritz’s dark pin-stripe suit would allow him to stand out in a crowd. LeBeau and Melissa were ready at almost the same time. When Melissa appeared in the doorway someone let out a low whistle.
Her uniform was the same blue as Newkirk’s and the styles were only slightly different. Melissa’s skirt hit just below her knees and her black shoes had low heels. Her uniform jacket, shirt, and tie were of the same style as the others. The jacket accented her tiny waist. She had applied a little makeup and smelled softly, as usual, of lilacs. Her dark brown eyes were outlined in blue and it made them appear larger and deeper. Her lips were slightly redder. Her short cap of brown curls was as usual, yet they somehow looked as though they had been professionally done.
“Excuse me, but would you mind if I escorted you to the party?” Kinch offered his arm to Melissa.
“Not at all, thank you for asking.” She dropped a curtsey and took his elbow. The two walked out into the star-studded night. Everyone had to admit they were jealous that they had to walk into the rec hall alone.
“I thought the short one was yours LeBeau.” Hogan remarked before walking outside as well. The others followed.
The party went unbelievably fast, the music was lively, and the company was good. The decorations were beautiful, and the food delicious. Klink had somehow managed to find a case of champagne, and the bottles were chilling, on ice, outside. Melissa was never lacking a partner, and never danced with the same person twice. As midnight approached she found herself dancing with Fritz.
“How’s the ankle faring?” He glanced down at it before continuing. “There doesn’t seem to be enough of you to go around.” They both laughed. Then the song ended and they parted.
Midnight drew near and everyone went to get a glass of champagne to toast the New Year with. When Melissa and LeBeau, her current partner, reached the table Shultz and Newkirk, who were pouring the champagne, debated over whether or not she was old enough to have some.
“Here you go Cockroach. None for you Major, I don’t think you’re old enough.”
“Come on Shultzie, surely she’s old enough. She ‘as to be at least twenty. Right?”
“Actually, I’ll be twenty in three months,” she glanced at her watch, “and forty-five seconds.” Their mouths dropped. Newkirk swallowed hard.
“‘Ere. Shultz, you give your kids a little wine on special occasions, right? This is the same thing.” Shultz closed his mouth and nodded as Newkirk handed her glass.
“Thank you. Why don’t you two come with us? Everyone has champagne and have moved to stand on the dance floor.” Shultz and Newkirk abandoned their posts and the four pushed their way into the centre of the group. They joined Carter, Fritz, Kinch, Hogan, and Klink as they waited for the last few seconds of 1941 to fad away.
“Ten, nine, eight, seven,” the numbers were shouted by men holding their glasses high. “Six, five, four, three, two, one! Happy New Year!” There was cheering and backslapping all around them. The small group in the centre stood silent.
“To health, wealth, and happiness.” Kinch raised his glass.
“To love.” LeBeau raised his.
“To friendship.” Hogan held his high.
“To ‘ome.” Newkirk joined in.
“To food.” Shultz took a bite of fudge and raised his glass high.
“To youth.” Fritz raised his.
“To the wisdom that comes with age.” Klink raised his to join the others.
“To family.” Carter joined in leaving Melissa’s glass the only one still lowered.
“To a speedy end to the war, and everlasting peace.” They clinked glasses and began to sing. One by one the men around them joined in.
old acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And the days of auld lang syne?”
Then everyone began to move toward the doors laughing and talking in small groups. Shultz left to make sure everyone made it back to the barracks. Klink was left standing alone in the centre of the dance floor. The lights had been turned off and he stood there in the dark silence.
He raised his glass. “To solitude.” He was surprised to hear Melissa’s voice from beside him. He turned to see her standing in a patch of pale moonlight
“To togetherness.” Then she raised her glass as well.
“What are you doing here? You should be heading back to the barracks.”
“I couldn’t leave without saying thank you.” Then impulsively, she stood on her tiptoes and wrapped her arms around his neck. She kissed his cheek like a small child and ran out into the darkness.
In the barracks Newkirk and LeBeau were questioning Hogan about Melissa. “Did you know that she won’t be twenty for another three months, mon colonel?” LeBeau still couldn’t believe it.
“’Ow did she get to be a major already?” Newkirk was just as incredulous.
“Yes, I know she isn’t twenty yet. I was just as surprised as you were. Carter, close your mouth. I don’t know how she got to be a major, you’ll have to ask her yourself.” As if on cue, Melissa walked in.
“Excuse me Melissa, but would you mind if we asked you a few questions?” Kinch, ever tactful, stepped in before anyone else could.
“Of course not.” She couldn’t really say much else. Already she knew what the questions would be about. Actually, she was surprised it hadn’t come up earlier.
“Are you really only nineteen?” Carter was still a little shocked. Melissa nodded looking even younger.
“Blimey.” Newkirk said it softly, under his breath. “And you’re really a major?” She nodded again, anticipating the next question. “’Ow did you manage that?”
“I took OTC through school, and then I graduated near the top of my class. That got me a promotion up to captain. Then when I volunteered for this mission I was promoted again.” The men nodded, obviously still stunned. “If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go to bed. Good night everyone, and Happy New Year.” Then she disappeared into her quarters. Hogan also said good night and went to bed. The others sat in silence for a moment before going to bed as well.
In the morning things returned back to normal. As if they had discussed it no more questions were asked about Melissa’s age or rank. Preparations for the upcoming mission resumed. Carter was in a frantic hurry to get all of the explosives made because time was growing short. They only had a few more days to prepare. If Hogan was uneasy about sending Melissa alone on her first mission, he didn’t show it.
The day of the mission came sooner than anyone wanted. Carter, staying up all the previous night finishing the explosives, was nearly asleep on his feet during roll call. Shultz didn’t notice, and when the prisoners were dismissed Carter remained standing. Melissa touched his arm and he saluted, obviously having no clue where he was. Melissa returned the salute crisply as Carter’s eyes began to focus.
“That’s okay. Why don’t you go inside and lie down?” Melissa led Carter to his bunk where he instantly went right back to sleep. While Carter slept the others examined his handiwork. A package of cigarettes was actually a package of dynamite. A bottle of perfume, was actually a mixture of highly explosive chemicals. Almost anything you would find in a woman’s handbag had been modified so it contained explosives. The handbag itself was lined with explosive powder. The two best things were the pair of high-heeled shoes and the long overcoat. The shoes were works of art. The heels had been hollowed out and had been filled with explosive powder. The left heel had been completely filled with powder, but enough room had been left in the right heel for a small timer. The overcoat had been lined with explosive powder. While this gave enough explosive charge to destroy the factory, it also made the coat extremely heavy.
When Carter woke several hours later, the group was going over the plans one final time. There were many things that still remained unknown but they had to continue anyway. With everyone having an understanding of their role in the mission the conversation moved on to other topics.
That night after roll call they slipped into the tunnel. They changed into the outfits they would be wearing that night. Newkirk would be the driver wearing the uniform of a private. Carter and LeBeau, wearing uniforms of higher-ranking officers would be escorts, and Hogan, the only one in civilian clothes, would be Melissa’s manager. Kinch would be remaining, as usual, back at camp. Newkirk had made Melissa’s dress but none of them had seen her wearing it yet.
The others were waiting impatiently for her to be ready and were talking amongst themselves when she appeared. A simple spring green skirt fell softly to her knees. The material, thin and filmy, floated when she moved. From the high waistline it rose up straight ending with a rounded neckline. It was sleeveless and her arms were bare. She wore no jewellery and little makeup. The men one by one fell silent. She stepped into the shoes, careful not to step down hard on the right one. Stepping down hard, or stomping, would activate the timer. Once the timer was set she would have only two minutes before the explosives went off. Flawless timing was needed to succeed. The drawback was that if something went wrong Melissa would have very little time to escape.
Carter helped Melissa into the coat and the group climbed up the ladder. They were borrowing one of Klink’s staff cars so they simply drove out of camp. The drive to the rocket plant was too short. Everyone was nervous. This mission was unusual for many reasons. First, the bombs would be taking out the rocket plant from the inside. Usually the bombs were on the outside. Second, they had no knowledge of the inside of the plant. Melissa would have to improvise when she got there. Third, Melissa would be going in alone. This was unusual for many reasons. She was out on her first mission with the group, and while she spoke fluent French, she didn’t speak any German. She was also unfamiliar with the land, knowledge that could prove lifesaving. The final reason that that it was so unusual was the simplest. Since the mission called for Melissa to be a singer she was not carrying a gun. This in itself added an element of danger, but the most dangerous things were the explosives. If Melissa wasn’t far enough away when the explosives went off she could be seriously hurt or worse.
The air in the car was thick with tension. All too soon the car pulled up at the rocket plant. Newkirk remained in the car while the other got out. Walking up to the door Carter, acting the part of a captain, knocked and showed his fake papers. LeBeau also showed his. After only a glance at their papers he inquired about the others.
“This Frauline is the singer you are expecting, Marie Richlieu. Her papers.” Melissa held them up. The guard nodded and stepped aside. Melissa, holding onto Hogan’s arm, attempted to walk in but the guard moved to block their path.
“Only the Frauline may enter.” Melissa released Hogan’s arm and walked inside. The three left outside returned to the car and after the factory doors closed they drove a safe distance down the road. Then all they could do was wait.
Inside Melissa was met by the men in charge of the factory. She was shown to what was probably the dining hall. “This is where you will sing Frauline.” It wouldn’t do any good to blow up this room.
Laying her hand on the man’s arm she forced any traces of the panic she was feeling from her voice “It would be impossible to sing in this room. But why am I telling you, of course you know the acoustics in this room are awful.”
“Yes, what could we have been thinking asking you to use this room.” This man, obviously their spokesperson, had no clue what acoustics were.
Taking his arm she rose up on her tiptoes to be nearer his face and softly spoke. “The two of us will go find a more suitable room, right?” She lifted a hand to stroke his face. He nodded and they went to find a better room. He took her on what amounted to be a tour. He hadn’t meant for it to be but she found something wrong with every room. Finally they came to the part of the plant that had to be destroyed. “This room is perfect!” The man looked around in surprise. To him this looked like the worst room, but she was the expert.
“Well Frauline, shall we go tell the others?” The man led her back to the dining hall and then the entire group travelled to the assembly room. Everyone found seats as Melissa removed the heavy coat. She laid it over a piece of machinery as near as possible to the centre of the room. She kept the handbag with her as she walked to the front of the room. Opening the top of the bag she checked a watch to see how long she had to sing for. It was five after eight and the guards changed at eight-thirty.
“The first song I’ll be singing tonight will be Lili Marlene.” After singing that song she sang for another twenty minutes. Then she asked for a break so she could freshen up. Grabbing her bag and going to walk out she was stopped by the man who had shown her around earlier.
“Allow me to show you where to go Marie.” For a moment she didn’t realise he was talking to her, and then remembered. As she took his arm she dropped her bag, and luckily he didn’t notice.
“All right.” She allowed him to lead her. Things had been going so well, almost too well. Soon she found herself outside a small bathroom. “Would you mind if we went back for my bag? I left it back there.”
“If you don’t mind waiting here I can go get it for you.” This was what she wanted to hear. Assuring him she wouldn’t mind he left. Pulling off her shoes and breaking off the left heel, she followed him leaving a trail of powder. At the door she ended the trail and ran back along it. She had to be back before he was. She entered the bathroom shutting and locking the door only moments before she heard footsteps coming towards her.
Looking around frantically she noticed a door, almost invisible, leading to another room. With time running out she took a chance and slightly opened the door. It led to a storage closet, but half-hidden behind a stack of boxes was a small window. Running over she moved some of the boxes and cautiously pushed it open. Then she returned to the bathroom, and placing both shoes near the door, set the timer. Sprinting to the window she climbed out and ran. With no clue where she was going she was only trying to get some distance between the factory and herself.
In the car where Hogan, LeBeau, Carter, and Newkirk were anxiously waiting the minutes seemed to drag by like hours. Interrupting the uneasy conversation Newkirk pointed to his watch. It was eight-thirty-two. The plant should have been blown up at least two minutes before. What had gone wrong? Suddenly the ground shook with a series of explosions. The sky above where the factory had been was filled with smoke and every once in a while they could see flames.
The force of the explosion had thrown Melissa forward to the ground. Within moments she was back on her feet looking back at the factory. At least at where the factory had been. There was only a pile of burning rubble. She located the road and began to walk towards it limping slightly.
As the seconds flashed by the four waiting in the car grew more and more uneasy. Any minute someone could come to find out about the explosion and catch them sitting there. Melissa still wasn’t there at eight-forty, eight minutes after the factory exploded. Hogan was about to tell Newkirk to drive away when Melissa knocked on the car window. She was no sooner in the car than Newkirk drove, at the highest possible speed, back to Stalag 13.
Back in the tunnels everyone could finally relax. Carter had been in charge of closing the entrance. He and Melissa appeared last. In the dark interior of the car it had appeared that Melissa was in perfect condition. In the lighted room they could see differently. Besides being covered in dirt with branches stuck in her hair. There was blood coming from a just beneath her left eyebrow. It was swelling already and the area around it was beginning to bruise.
“That’s a nasty cut Melissa.” Newkirk’s statement had surprised her. As she lifted her hand to check it shook badly. At the sight of her fingertips covered in blood she began to shake even harder. LeBeau, who had left at the sight of the blood, Hogan, and Kinch had left. Hogan had debated calling for Fritz as soon as he saw the cut but seeing her shaking uncontrollably had made the decision for him.
Returning from the radio room, they found Melissa seated on the floor between Carter and Newkirk. Both had their arms around her and the shaking had somewhat slowed. They sat like that until Fritz arrived. Hogan greeted him and explained the situation. “The only wound she has is a cut beneath her left eyebrow, but that isn’t what worries me. We got back and she just started shaking.” Fritz was hurried to the shaking girl. He was bandaging her cut when LeBeau reappeared carrying a pot of hot tea.
“Merci LeBeau.” Newkirk poured tea for Melissa and handed her the cup. “Thank you Newkirk.” Staeder finished bandaging the cut and motioned for Hogan to join him in another part of the tunnel.
“You don’t have to look so worried, she’s fine. Only very shaken up. Am I correct in assuming that the mission went according to plan?” Hogan started to nod and then realised that he didn’t know.
“The plant was destroyed and that’s all I know. In the car we were driving so fast and staying low we didn’t have time to find out more. And you know what happened when we got back here.” Both men went to join the others. Melissa appeared to be in much better shape; the shaking had almost stopped.
“Take care of yourselves. I don’t mean to be rude but I hope I don’t have to see you again anytime soon.” Fritz climbed up the ladder and out the emergency exit.
“I hope you don’t mind telling us what happened in there.” Hogan knew he had to find out, the sooner the better.
“After you left they showed me to the dining hall.” She told the story from the beginning up until the time she had joined back up with the others. Everyone sat in silence, their tea growing cold, as she talked. They all wondered what they would have done under the circumstances.
“Good thinking, but how did you know they would allow you to sing in the assembly room?” Kinch wondered.
“I didn’t. The charges Carter made could have taken out the plant from there but I didn’t want to take the chance if I didn’t have to. It was only luck that caused there to be a finished rocket sitting near the door. I hoped it would go off when the explosive powder did, and the gamble paid off. By the way Carter, your explosives worked brilliantly. It was a shame you didn’t get to see them go off.” The others had questions too, and by the time they had been answered there were only four hours before roll call.
Climbing up the ladder, in their own clothes now, they headed to their bunks to catch a few hours of sleep. When they were awakened for roll call they emerged blurry eyed and blinking in the bright sunshine. Melissa was a little stiff but didn’t let it show in her walk. She had borrowed LeBeau’s beret and wore it at an angle pulled down low over the left side of her face.
“Why are you wearing your hat like that Major?” Shultz hadn’t noticed the face-cracking yawns of the others.
“How else should I wear it Shultz?” He was stumped. The prisoners thought they had made it without being noticed, but the Klink walked out. He had just asked Shultz to report when a large gust of wind came and lifted the hat off her head. She quickly caught it and replaced it. But not before Klink had caught sight of the bandage.
“Major, will you kindly remove your hat?” He moved to stand in front of her. She reluctantly obeyed. Her left eye was black and swollen. It looked much worse than it had the previous night. “Could you please tell me what happened?” Inwardly everyone groaned, they had forgotten to think of a story.
“It was stupid, Colonel. I was wearing LeBeau’s hat down like that because I didn’t want anyone else to know.”
“To know what?” Klink looked at LeBeau as he spoke.
“Well, I fell and hit my head on the corner of the table last night after roll call and LeBeau bandaged it up for me.” As Klink glanced around at the men’s surprised faces he decided that she was telling the truth. He walked back towards his office.
Carter spoke first, “Gee, Melissa, you’re just full of surprises.”
Text and original characters copyright by Anne DeRosier
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.