Now and Then
2006 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
2006 Papa Bear Awards - First Place
Best Original Character - Colonel Wesley Dennison
2006 Papa Bear Awards - Third Place
Best Original Character - Oberholzer
2006 Papa Bear Awards - Third Place
Best Overall Story
2007 Papa Bear Awards - Third Place
Lifetime Getaway Award
Ghosts of England
“So… you are Colonel Robert Hogan.”
Hogan stood staring at the bulletin board behind the Kommandant’s desk as he was examined by the officer visiting the POW camp. He said nothing, but kept his gaze locked on the wall, the muscles in his jaw twitching as he clamped his teeth together, his hands curling and uncurling as fists came and went in his tenseness.
The black-clad Nazi came around behind Hogan, and the Colonel could feel the tall man breathe into the back of his dark hair, just above the collar of his brown leather bomber jacket. He left his fists clenched a little longer then, and closed his eyes as he drew a deep breath in and then let it out through his nose. He looked again at the bulletin board, almost obsessively trying to read a small note that Kommandant Wilhelm Klink had pinned to it, trying to put his German, and his keen eyesight, into use. He said nothing.
“I suspect that you know how much trouble you were to the Fuhrer,” the visitor continued. He came up along side the prisoner and smiled at him.
Hogan only blinked. Dearest Kommandant… he translated.
“That is,” continued the German, “up until nine months ago.”
The words blurred, and for the briefest time, Hogan’s demeanor cracked. He didn’t stop staring at the wall, Klink noticed. But his body seemed to sink for just a second. And his eyes…his eyes… The head of Stalag Luft 13 almost doubted what he had seen, as the despair that for the tiniest moment had filled his senior POW’s dark eyes melted into steely resolve—or was that detachment? Is that how you survive, Hogan? What does the Gestapo want from you now?
“We want to know about the 504th Bomb Group, Colonel,” the guest said to Hogan now.
For the first time, Hogan spoke. “Who are they?”
The interrogator barked out a laugh. “Have you forgotten already, Colonel Hogan?” he asked. “You were the Commander of the 504th Bomb Group out of England, were you not?”
“Funny, I can’t remember,” Hogan said in reply. Colonel Klink, I am writing to you because I believe you are a fine officer…
You were shot down last July, when you underwent rather… intensive interrogation before you were assigned here at Stalag 13. Is your memory returning now?”
“Hogan, Robert E., Colonel, US Army Air Corps. Serial number 0876707.”
“I know all that about you already, Colonel Hogan. What I want to know is a bit more about your background.”
Klink—rather imprudently, he thought later—spoke up. “Major Oberholzer, under the terms of the Geneva Prisoner of War Convention, Colonel Hogan is not required to give you any information other than his name, rank and serial number.” What in Heaven’s name am I doing? he thought, even as the words came tumbling out. Hogan, those are your words—you should be saying them, not me!
Franz Oberholzer turned to Klink and raised an eyebrow. Klink’s blood ran cold. “When I want to hear from Geneva, Colonel Klink, you will be the first one I call.” He turned back to Hogan. “The 504th caused a great amount of trouble over Essen last week, Colonel Hogan.”
“Did they?” Oh, brother, this person’s handwriting is pretty pathetic. Maybe it’s hard to write neatly when you’re being a sycophant.
Oberholzer straightened, a gesture intended to be intimidating. Hogan felt the muscles in his back ripple as he remained almost painfully arrow-straight. “The Fuhrer is most displeased.”
Hogan’s eyes flitted to Oberholzer’s face. “Glad to hear it,” Hogan deadpanned. Then he turned back to the wall.
“You won’t think so when we are done with you, Colonel Hogan!” Oberholzer snapped, offended. A pause, during which the Major seemed to regain his calm. “Very well, Colonel,” he said with a smooth smile that made Hogan queasy; “I will let you return to your quarters for now. We will talk again in two hours. Perhaps then you will have thought better of your stubbornness.”
“I doubt it.”
Oberholzer laughed lightly. “Ah, now there is the Colonel Hogan I was told to expect. I would have been disappointed if you had not come up with wisecracks to try and hold me off. It would have made me think I was not getting inside your brain quite far enough,” he explained, as he moved in way too close for Hogan’s comfort. “How does it feel, Colonel Hogan?” he asked. Hogan frowned slightly but didn’t move. “You have nothing now. You used to be the Commander of a legendary Bomb Group. Now, you are the leader of a group of impotent boy scouts,” Oberholzer oozed. He moved impossibly closer to Hogan and spoke into his ear. “How does it feel, Colonel Hogan, to have lost everything?”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan walked back into Barracks Two to a roomful of averted eyes. He paused as he shut the door to the hut, trying to gauge the faces of any one of the four men scattered around the common room, but it was a fruitless exercise, so he headed for the stove and started pouring himself a cup of old coffee.
Finally, the Englishman, Corporal Peter Newkirk, spoke up from his spot at the table. “We ’eard what the Gestapo man said, sir,” he admitted quietly, staring into his hands and only fleetingly glancing toward the Colonel.
Hogan had known his men would listen from his office, using the listening device they had planted in Klink’s office a couple of months ago, attached to an old coffee pot that had been converted into a receiver. But he couldn’t help wishing now that they hadn’t heard the humiliation he had just been subjected to by Oberholzer; he didn’t want their questions, and he didn’t want their pity, because he wasn’t sure if he would be able to cope with them now. “It’s a… unique angle he’s taking,” Hogan replied briefly, throwing a look toward them but not joining his men.
James Kinchloe forced out a light laugh from his spot near the bunk that hid a secret entrance to a tunnel system under the barracks that Hogan and his men used to operate a sabotage and intelligence unit for the Allies. “Yeah—imagine what that Kraut’d say if he knew what he was standing on top of.”
“Oui; he would have a lot less to say then, Colonel,” chimed in Louis Le Beau. The French Corporal continued watching Hogan’s straight back and exchanged a frown with his companions.
“Yeah. I mean he could never say that you didn’t recover from losing command of the—”
“Andrew!” chastised Newkirk harshly. The young Sergeant swallowed the rest of what he was going to say as icy looks from the others froze him in place across from the Englishman.
But Hogan finally turned to his men, coffee still in his hand. “No, no, Carter’s right,” he said in a strained voice that he was clearly trying to control. “Oberholzer was talking out of his hat. The guy obviously doesn’t know what’s involved in being a Bomb Group Commander—working all hours of the day and night before, during, and after bombing raids. Training kids to go out and die. Trying to promote mission strategies that you know only might work if the goons decide to stay home that day.” Hogan snorted. “‘Lost everything,’” he mocked. “He has no idea how lucky I was. I’ll leave all that to someone else now.”
“Who’s commanding the Bomb Group now, Colonel?” Carter asked. He jumped, startled, when he felt a hard kick under the table.
“I don’t know,” Hogan said abruptly. His shoulders dropped as he let out a loud breath. “I’m gonna go think for awhile. I’ve gotta figure out what this joker really wants.”
Kinch raised an eyebrow. “What else do you think he’s after, Colonel? Oberholzer said he wanted information about the 504th.”
Hogan shook his head. “That may be right, Kinch,” he said grimly. “But I get the distinct feeling that there’s more to it than that. Everything they’re going to get out of me about the Group is already in my file—and that’s a blank page. It doesn’t make sense that that’s all they want so many months after I was shot down.”
“Be careful, Colonel,” Le Beau cautioned.
Hogan smiled weakly. “I’m sure they’ll proceed very deliberately, Louis.” Hogan looked around the room, seeming almost lost for a moment. Then he put the cup of coffee on the stove and went into his office and closed the door.
“Good one, Carter,” Kinch scolded.
“Well, gee, the Colonel hasn’t lost everything; he has the operation!” the young man answered. “And besides, he said he was glad to give up being Commander of the Bomb Group!”
“It’s a front,” declared Le Beau. “That job meant the world to him.”
“Of course it did,” Newkirk agreed. “A career man like the gov’nor, working his way up through the ranks. Finally gets his own command and a job where he can make a real difference to his men—and it all gets taken away by the lousy Krauts, who then take great pleasure in constantly rubbing his face in it!” He shook his head. “It’s bloody not fair,” he complained helplessly.
“You’re right about that,” Kinch agreed, frustrated. “And there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Colonel Wesley Dennison took off his crush cap and practically whipped it across his office, missing the coat rack it was destined for by a long shot and not remotely caring. He scowled as he rounded his desk and sat down heavily in the chair, slamming into the back rest and almost sending the seat sprawling backwards into the wall behind it. He crossed his arms tightly in front of his chest, wanting to be alone but knowing that he had been followed back to his office and would not be allowed to stew on his own.
“Hogan, Hogan, Hogan!” he burst, as though to cut off any opening comment from the man who walked through the door behind him. “Eight months in this job, and I still hear about Hogan! What was this man, anyway? A miracle worker?”
Lewis Humphries shrugged as he picked up the abandoned cap and tossed it casually on the desk. “He was your predecessor, Wes, and he was a damned good one,” the Major said. He sat down in the chair across from Dennison and relaxed. “An absolute master at strategic planning. The brass can’t help but compare anyone and everyone to him.”
“Great,” Dennison grumbled. “He’s out in Germany somewhere, in a POW camp sitting out the war, and I’m stuck trying to fill his boots. How big were his feet, anyway?”
“Downright huge, depending on whom you believe.” Humphries offered a lopsided, almost apologetic smile. “Hell, Wes, he even impressed me, and you know how hard it is to do that. Straight as an arrow all the way, he was—but I never saw him back down from a fight when it affected his men, no matter how impossible it seemed. He was completely unafraid to take on anyone and anything that might put the Group at unnecessary risk. But at the same time, he was one of the biggest planned-risk takers I’ve ever seen. Covered every angle, every possible outcome, and always, always, took the biggest risks himself. And he managed to lead the 504th to the highest success rate, and lowest attrition rate, of any Bomb Group, period.”
“Let’s hear it for Saint Hogan,” Dennison declared resignedly.
“Aw, Wes, don’t be like that,” Humphries said, disappointed. “You’d have liked Colonel Hogan, really you would. You can’t dislike him for being good at what he did.”
“I don’t dislike him; I just feel like his ghost is walking behind me all the time, and I don’t even have the benefit of learning from him. How did he do it, Lewis? How did Hogan do it?”
Humphries smiled wryly. “If you knew that, then you might have been Commander of the 504th before him, not after him.” He sighed. “I knew whoever followed him would have it tough,” he admitted. “The whole Group kind of went into a depression when we were told he wasn’t coming back. Poor bastard. Breaks my heart to think of him now, rotting away in a Prisoner of War camp somewhere in Germany. I wonder what it’s like for him.”
At this, one of the greatest fears of all flyers, Dennison paused. Yes, he had heard the name Hogan mentioned an awful lot since he was promoted and assigned to lead the Bomb Group last August. And yes, it was starting to wear on him a bit, even though the frequency of the reminiscences was lower than when Dennison had first started at West Raynham. But no man wanted to think about being shot down out of his B-17 and captured by the Nazis. And he didn’t wish that horror on anybody else. Not even someone whose legendary status was a constant presence in his life. “I guess it just goes to show you,” Dennison said, now subdued: “you can be the greatest planner in the whole US Army Air Corps… but in the end, you’re still susceptible to Kraut bullets.” He shook his head. “Sure could use some of Hogan’s masterful strategic planning now. There are things about this proposed mission I just don’t like, and I haven’t got the damnedest idea how to get around them.”
Humphries stood up and smiled softly at his friend. “Just cover all the angles, think of all the outcomes, and fight like hell. Every raid is a calculated risk.”
“I know,” Dennison sighed. “Okay, Lewis; I won’t give up. Heck, I might even make Hogan proud of me, wherever he is.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Colonel Hogan, what is the flying complement of the 504th Bomb Group?”
Hogan answered the politely asked question with sullen silence.
“I believe you were involved in the first daytime raids by American bombers. That means you must have been privy to the strategy sessions beforehand. Group Commanders surely would have been told what was expected of them. What is the long-term plan of the Americans in regards to this daytime bombing?”
Hogan glanced down at the handcuffs on his wrists as his hands sat in his lap. And though his mind was filled with memories, he said nothing, and showed no emotion.
“How many of your men were killed when you were shot down, Colonel?”
Oberholzer saw Hogan’s eyes change when he asked this last question. Trained in psychology and an expert interrogator, the German smiled. He’d almost too easily found Hogan’s weak spot. Oberholzer came a little closer to Hogan in the already-small solitary confinement cell. “Did you lose one? Two? Four?” Oberholzer came round the back of Hogan and spoke into the Colonel’s ear. “Or did you lose all of them?”
Once again Oberholzer watched as Hogan quietly coped with the mental onslaught. The American was clenching and unclenching his fists, a painful task when one was in such tight handcuffs. Was he inflicting physical pain on himself on purpose—to avoid succumbing to emotional pain? Oberholzer watched as Hogan flinched at the movements but did not stop them, and continued his silence.
“More losses, Hogan. You were in charge of hundreds and hundreds of men. But you lost that command. You were in a plane in the skies over Hamburg… with nine other men… and you lost them, too.” Oberholzer shook his head as he came around to face Hogan, who was clearly fighting some inner demons to remain stoic, at least on the surface. “What else is there to lose, Colonel Hogan? Except perhaps your men here?”
At that moment, Hogan’s eyes betrayed him. He looked straight up at Oberholzer, his expression clearly anguished, his muscles tense and straining, his hands balled into painful fists that were causing the handcuffs to cut into his wrists. Not my men…not because of me…
Oberholzer simply smiled gently in return. “And so I ask again, Colonel Hogan. Tell me about the 504th Bomb Group.”
Forcing the faces of his men here at camp to the back of his mind, Hogan dropped his eyes back to his lap, and watched, detached, as a trickle of blood rolled slowly down toward his left thumb. His breathing became slow, steady, and shallow. And then he whispered, “Hogan, Robert E., Colonel, US Army Air Corps. Serial number 0876707.”
Oberholzer’s smile widened. “Oh, my dear Colonel Hogan,” he said. “I am so going to enjoy getting to know you.”
Carter looked toward Hogan’s closed door yet again, hoping against hope that it would suddenly open and their commanding officer would come out and reassure them. But it didn’t, and the Colonel didn’t, and so the Sergeant sighed and looked back to his friends. “D’ya think we should go in and see if he’s okay?” he asked, again.
“No,” Kinch answered almost immediately, exactly as he had the last three times Carter asked this. “If he needed us, he’d tell us.”
“Not bloody likely,” Newkirk retorted. “But Kinch is right about one thing, Andrew—you’re better off not going in there.”
“What time did that Boche come for him last night?” Le Beau asked.
“Two a.m.,” Kinch replied.
The group lapsed into silence. Hogan had already spent most of the day and evening with Oberholzer, locked away in a cell to which the men had no secret access, and returned well after evening roll call. Though there were only a couple of minor abrasions to show for his encounter at the time, Hogan’s men suspected there were more hidden injuries that they would not be told about. And, also as they suspected, the Colonel had merely offered them a weary smile and “The guy’s barking up the wrong tree,” before disappearing into his room, where he could hide from their prying eyes and their concerned questions. Then, in the middle of the night, when everything appeared to have returned to normal, the lights had been switched on in the barracks, and two guards had come for Hogan again, not allowing him to return until several hours later, when the Colonel had again taken refuge in his quarters.
And he had stayed there, leaving his men sick with worry, and more than a little fear.
“Maybe I could offer him something to eat,” Le Beau said after a moment, trying to think of a way to get himself into the room.
Newkirk shook his head. “Stomach’s probably too sore for him to eat, if I know my Gestapo,” he countered.
“He seems okay,” Kinch said unconvincingly.
“What, in the whole thirty seconds we’ve seen him?” the Englishman snorted.
“Well then what?” Carter asked.
They didn’t have time to work it out. Hogan’s door opened and they immediately ceased their conversation. The Colonel came out, still wearing his jacket but minus his crush cap, and grabbed his coffee cup. “How old’s this stuff?” he asked, holding up the kettle.
“Just a couple of hours, Colonel,” Le Beau answered hastily.
“Good,” Hogan said. He poured and took a drink, wincing visibly as he swallowed. Then he came and sat down at the table, where the others crowded in almost instantly, ready to ask questions.
“He’s gone now, right, Colonel?” asked Carter. “He won’t be coming back, will he—”
“I figured out what Oberholzer wants,” Hogan said over Carter, purposefully ignoring the man’s question.
“What’s that, sir?” Newkirk asked.
“He’s after you.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Dennison ran his hands through his hair again, frustrated as he looked over the papers on the desk in front of him. No matter what he did, he just couldn’t make it work. Some of his pilots weren’t ready. There weren’t enough planes. They were going into an area known to be teeming with anti-aircraft guns in broad daylight. He wanted to stop it, but he knew the mission was vital and he didn’t know how to get around it.
Humphries’s words echoed in his ears: cover all the angles, think of all the outcomes, and fight like hell. “I’m trying, Lewis, I’m trying,” Dennison sighed. Absentmindedly, he fingered the eagles on his collar, a habit he had picked up after his promotion, as he constantly had to remind himself that it wasn’t a dream. This time, the action made him think of the man who had been in this job before him, and for once he wished that Hogan’s ghost really was right behind him. “What would you do to look after your men today, Colonel Hogan? What would you do?”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“You wanted to see me, Kommandant?”
Klink looked up from his desk to see Hogan’s head poked into the office, his hand still holding the doorknob. “Yes, yes, Hogan, come in,” Klink said, standing. “Please shut the door.”
Hogan did as he was told with a shrug and came to stand before the German’s desk. Klink came around and moved in—too close, Hogan thought. Hogan shifted uncomfortably and tried not to look at Klink. “Something I can do for you, sir?” he asked.
“Major Oberholzer tells me you’ve been very… quiet,” Klink began. Hogan frowned as Klink came around behind him and worked his way back to his desk. “He says you are not giving him many answers.”
“He asks a lot of questions,” Hogan said cautiously. “I don’t have the answers to everything he wants to know.”
“Hogan, the Major says he has no immediate plans to leave Stalag 13. He is under orders to question you until he sees fit to stop doing so.” Klink waited; Hogan seemed to take the news without reaction. “I… want you to know that you are excused from roll calls while you are with Major Oberholzer.”
“Isn’t that nice?” Hogan replied sarcastically. “That way the Gestapo doesn’t have any interruptions when it’s playing Rough Boys in solitary.”
Verdammt, Klink! the Kommandant thought to himself. Just admit to him that you want to see how he’s holding up and be done with it, instead of aggravating him! “Hogan…”
“Yes?” Hogan’s voice was challenging, angry.
Klink hesitated. “Make sure you see the medic if you need to when you are through with Oberholzer.”
Hogan’s tone changed as he absorbed the real meaning behind Klink’s statement. “Thanks, Kommandant,” Hogan muttered. “I’ll keep it in mind. Right now, I think I just need to get some sleep.”
“Then do so,” Klink agreed, avoiding the angry red scrape emblazoned on Hogan’s right cheek. “And if you are still asleep at roll call, I will have Schultz go into Barracks Two to make sure you are there.”
Hogan nodded curtly, knowing appreciation was not what Klink wanted to hear. “Is there anything else you need, Kommandant?” he asked.
“Yes, Hogan. You promised me your men would do a complete service on my car; that has not yet been finished. Considering the circumstances, I’m willing to let that go for now, but I still want that done… when this business with Major Oberholzer is… through. Otherwise no extra writing paper next week as we agreed.”
Hogan nodded, thinking how the last trip into Hammelburg to “fix” Klink’s vehicle was how they had gotten the exact details of the plant to be bombed in the first place. “I already told you: the boys need more parts from Hammelburg. We couldn’t get them all the last time we were there. When you let us go back, you’ll have a perfectly running machine.”
Klink gritted his teeth; his car never seemed to run “perfectly” for long after Hogan’s ersatz mechanics were through with it. “For now,” he sneered. “Hogan, your men are not the fine mechanics you make them out to be!”
“They’re out of practice!” Hogan said defensively. “You see what it’s like with only a couple of Kraut cars to work with, instead of the fine American cars that they keep in their driveways at home!”
Klink shook his head and waved away the argument dismissively, relieved that at least a small bit of normalcy had crept back into his relationship with the American. “Fine, fine. The trip will be organized, then. Have your men make up the list. You are dismissed.”
Hogan turned to go, then hesitated and went back to Klink’s desk. “Kommandant,” he said expectantly.
Klink looked up from the paperwork he had plunged back into, to forget. “What is it, Hogan?”
“What’s with the new creep? I mean, why didn’t the Gestapo just send Feldkamp back for me?” Hogan asked, remembering rather unpleasant encounters he’d had with the Geheime Staatspolizei in the past. He didn’t look forward to meeting with any of the interrogators; however, Oberholzer was disturbing him in a way he found difficult to cope with. The others had focused on Hogan’s physical discomfort; Oberholzer was torturing his mind.
Klink studied Hogan’s face for a moment, thrown by the idea that his senior POW officer might want back that monster Feldkamp instead of Oberholzer, who seemed, if nothing else, a bit more civilized. Oberholzer had not been nearly as physically aggressive as Feldkamp and his men had; indeed, Hogan seemed to be faring rather well. But then Klink’s gaze returned to Hogan’s eyes, and there he saw the results of the new Gestapo officer’s visit. Whereas Hogan’s eyes had always been bright and defiant, determined and still carrying a trace of wry humor, now, after the American’s sessions with Oberholzer, the Kommandant realized that Hogan’s eyes were distinctly duller, as though something inside him had been extinguished. Oberholzer was fighting his war in a whole different way, and it was beating Hogan, quickly.
Klink felt a twinge of sympathy. “I don’t know, Hogan,” he said with a shake of his head. He dropped his eyes back to his desk. “Go… get some sleep, and… just hope he goes away soon.”
Klink didn’t look up as Hogan left the office.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Message from London, Colonel.”
Kinch spoke softly as he entered Hogan’s quarters, not wanting to disturb him with anything about the operation at the moment, and yet knowing that Hogan had to be kept informed.
Hogan was resting, upright on the lower bunk with his eyes closed and using the wall as a headrest. He opened his eyes, looking no more awake than he had when his eyes were shut, and with a sigh looked back at the Sergeant. “What’s going on, Kinch?” he asked.
Kinch winced at the weakness of Hogan’s voice. “Allied Headquarters passes on thanks for the information about the munitions plant near Hammelburg and says they’re planning to make quick work of it in three days.” He paused. “They said you might be interested in knowing that they’ll be sending the 504th to do it.”
Hogan nodded but didn’t answer, gently stretching clearly sore muscles. He flexed his fingers to try and offset the continued stinging in his wrists.
Kinch hesitated before saying more. “Colonel, you know Oberholzer is just trying to wear you down,” he started awkwardly. You idiot. Of course he knows.
Hogan only nodded slightly. “That he is,” he said softly.
“He’ll say anything to get you to tell him what he wants,” Kinch persisted. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Hogan smiled a little and closed his eyes again. He didn’t want to have this conversation. “Maybe.”
“Look. Colonel. You might not be in the air any more, but—”
“Kinch.” The sudden strength of the Colonel’s voice stopped the radio man. Hogan opened his eyes and sat up straight on the bunk. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but I’d really rather not talk about it, okay?” At Kinch’s look of uncertainty, Hogan added, “I’ll be all right. I just have to… get used to the way this goon operates. I’ll be fine.” Kinch simply watched his commanding officer. “I don’t have to be in the air to have a good crew.”
Kinch smiled, admiring Hogan’s outer strength, while cursing the Colonel’s inability to share his inner weakness and fear. But if he did, I wouldn’t be able to walk out of here trying to convince myself that everything will be fine…. And that’s what you want me to do, isn’t it, Colonel? “Thanks, Colonel,” Kinch replied. Then, determined to help support Hogan in the only way he could, the Sergeant added, “London also wants to know if we’re still on track to blow up that munitions train scheduled to head east next week. Any message for them?”
Hogan considered. “Yeah,” he said after a moment. “Tell them we’re gonna have to lie low for awhile. I need some time to get around Oberholzer, and if he’s aiming for the operation I want him to have as little ammunition as possible. If we don’t get the train next week, we’ll get the one scheduled to go after that. I don’t want you fellas doing anything until this Kraut’s gone. Got it?”
Kinch nodded. “Got it, Colonel.”
“Good.” Hogan ran a hand through his hair and then rubbed his face with both hands. “I don’t want to lose anyone else.” He shook his head. “I’m going to sleep for awhile, Kinch. Wake me up in time for mess.”
As Hogan lay down, Kinch tried to recover from the Colonel’s words. Anyone else. That Kraut Major’s getting to him. No, Colonel! Hang on! “Will do, sir,” Kinch said quietly. “You get some good rest.” And he backed out of the room, and worried.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan raised bloodshot eyes to the cell door as he heard it squeak open. He didn’t know what time it was, unable to see his watch, as his wrists were held fast by restraints on the arms of the chair, and there was no window; just a bright, bare light bulb that had been on for hours, robbing him of any ability to sleep or even to rest. All he could do to escape was lower his head, which had left him with a very stiff neck, a headache he would only wish on his worst enemy, and an overwhelming weariness.
It was a clean and refreshed Oberholzer who entered. “Good morning, Colonel Hogan,” he said cheerfully. “I trust you had a quiet night.”
Hogan said nothing, chanting to himself that he would not rise to Oberholzer’s clear attempts to goad him. But the Major would not accept silence today. “I said good morning, Colonel,” he repeated more forcefully.
Hogan laughed to himself. Only the Gestapo could make a pleasant greeting sound like a threat. “Is that what time of day it is?” he finally answered. “I wasn’t sure.”
Oberholzer laughed loudly. Hogan flinched and turned his head away. “Of course; you wouldn’t know would you?” The German laughed again.
“What do you want this time, Major?” Hogan asked. Hogan made the mistake of looking up again and this time saw the bare light. He squeezed his eyes shut as the brightness intensified the pounding in his head.
“The same as I have always wanted, Colonel Hogan,” Oberholzer answered. “Tell me about the 504th.”
Hogan let out a loud breath and shook his head slightly, still not opening his eyes. “Are you still on about that?” he asked. “I thought we agreed that you had no idea what you were talking about!”
The shouted word echoed like thunder in the small room. Hogan breathed in and out through his mouth, to help soften the thumping inside his skull. He kept his head lowered, wondering if he had gone too far, and waited for the German’s next move.
It was swift and harsh. Hogan felt his head being lifted by the hair and pulled back so the light was directly in his face. Eyes open or shut, Hogan could feel the glare of the bulb and a nausea building in his stomach as he felt his brain jerk around in his skull and then slam into his forehead from the inside. Aware that his wrists were shackled, he instinctively tried to kick away the Gestapo officer standing inches before him. But he failed, grimacing, as he was painfully reminded that his ankles were also restrained. Hogan swallowed the bile that rose into his throat, and panted as sweat ran down from his matted hair and stung his eyes.
“Is this what you want, Colonel Hogan?” Oberholzer growled through his teeth. He released Hogan’s head with a violent shove. Hogan choked and then swallowed again, still panting and barely listening. “I thought we were well past this kind of physical intimidation.” Oberholzer shook his head. He raised Hogan’s face with his hand and gently fingered the scrape that his own ring had inflicted on the American’s cheek. Hogan tried with all his strength not to react to the touch. The piercing light was overwhelming. “I am sorry about that scratch, Colonel,” he said, shaking his head slightly with dismay. “I prefer not to leave marks.” Oberholzer released his grip, and despite Hogan’s best attempts, his head fell instantly. “Now. You may deny all you wish, Colonel Hogan, but our Intelligence is quite certain of your background, and it is on that information that I am basing my interrogation. You were the Commander of the 504th Bomb Group. You were given access to much secret information that even now can be valuable to us. You are involved in some rather… unorthodox activities, even now, as a prisoner of war. You will tell me what those activities are, and who helps you. You will submit, Colonel Hogan. Or you will suffer.”
“Looks like a pretty sure bet either way,” Hogan answered breathily, grateful that the restraints on his wrists stopped him from shaking excessively in front of his enemy.
Oberholzer cocked his head. “It might be, Colonel,” he replied. “But that in the end is up to you. What is it to be?”
Damned Nazis. Damned Gestapo. Damned war! You won’t get my men, in London… or in camp! Hogan clenched his fists and his jaw to steady himself. Then he looked past his now-ferocious headache and into Oberholzer’s eyes. “Hogan, Robert E., Colonel, US Army Air Corps. Serial number 0876707. That’s all I know. Sir.”
Plunged Into the Past
Dennison paced back and forth in his small office, having grown tired of talking to papers that were never going to talk back to him to provide him with any answers. Hell, they weren’t even arguing with him at the moment. And that had to be a bad sign.
He stopped and looked out the little window to the airfield in the distance, where several planes were already lining up for a daylight raid over Bremen. Another place that’s part of The Hogan Legend. Nine submarines destroyed at a secret base, his plane mangled almost beyond recognition. And yet, he made it home, crew intact, on two engines. I would guess you didn’t like the odds on that mission either, Colonel Hogan, Dennison thought, mentally tipping his hat to the former leader of the 504th. But you went out and did your job anyway. Dennison sighed. Maybe I’m just being too cautious. If I just stop thinking and lead the raid, maybe it’ll work out just fine.
Dennison nodded as though he had had reached this conclusion by speaking aloud with someone. “That’s it,” he said. “I’ll just do it. I’ll just do it!”
He sat back down and slapped his hands on the desk conclusively. Then he looked at the papers before him. So why am I not satisfied?
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“I don’t like this Oberholzer chap; he’s spending far too much time with the gov’nor,” Newkirk stated distastefully, as they waited yet again for Hogan’s return. It was mid-morning and there had been no movement from the solitary confinement cells. Hogan had been taken again some time in the middle of the night, and to their surprise, the prisoners had seen Oberholzer strolling toward solitary confinement only after roll call at dawn. They had hoped for—expected—Hogan’s return at least two hours ago. But the building had remained unyielding to their wishes, and neither Hogan, nor Oberholzer, had come out.
Kinch sat down at the table with a cup of coffee. “I agree,” he said, disheartened. Then, unable to hide his lurking fear any longer, he added, “And I don’t think the Colonel’s holding up very well, either.”
“What do you mean?” Carter asked. “Colonel Hogan won’t tell that fella anything, Kinch—I mean, not anything!”
Kinch shook his head. “I don’t mean that, Andrew.”
“Well, what then?” Le Beau asked from the door. He had refused to give up his post, still hoping that any minute now Hogan would come waltzing out of the cells.
“I mean that guy’s using a lot of psychological warfare on the Colonel, and I think it’s starting to get to him. Colonel Hogan will never tell any secrets, but he’s starting to feel pretty down about everything that’s happened. Oberholzer’s just reminding him over and over again how much he’s lost since he got shot down.”
“Oh, that,” Newkirk said. He grew angry as he remembered the hollow man Hogan had been when he was first brought into Stalag 13. The Englishman had been so pleased as, watching discreetly in the past few months, he had seen the American regain his lost self. It had been a slow and painstaking nurturing, and it hurt Newkirk to think of Hogan’s psyche going backwards again. “Bleedin’ useless sods. They took it all from him; do they think he won’t remember it every blessed day he’s in this cesspool?”
“Do you think he will be able to hold out, Kinch?” Le Beau asked.
Kinch shrugged reluctantly. “Oberholzer’s playing hard ball, and he’s hitting the Colonel pretty much all the time: taking him in the middle of the night, questioning him for hours on end… it’s not good.”
“He’s only a man, no matter how strong he is,” Newkirk said unhappily. “It’s gotta be Hell for him.”
“But the Colonel wouldn’t tell that guy anything—not a single word!” Carter declared.
“I know, I know!” Newkirk answered, defensive. “I’m just saying that the gov’nor must be having a rough go of it, that’s all. Who said he was going to say anything?”
“Cut it out, you two; arguing isn’t going to help Colonel Hogan,” Kinch reprimanded, his patience almost gone.
“Well, what is?” Newkirk retorted, exasperated. “You tell me something I can do, mate, and I’m there.”
Kinch sighed as the fight went out of him. “Me, too, Newkirk,” he answered quietly. “Where do I go to sign up?”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hans Schultz approached Hogan’s men looking tired. Only a few hours into his shift, the prisoners were used to seeing the portly Sergeant of the Guard looking like he’d done two rounds of the camp with a full pack. It wasn’t easy carrying around all that weight—something he would admit as he absentmindedly handed one of the prisoners his rifle—or working under a man like Klink, who often blew hot and cold, depending on which intimidating officer he was dealing with that could send the Kommandant to the Russian Front if he so chose.
The men of Barracks Two were huddled outside their hut, still watching the cooler. Oberholzer had left a short time ago, but Hogan had not come out. Le Beau stopped stamping his feet and blowing into his worn gloves just long enough to greet the guard. “Hey, Schultzie.”
Schultz grunted a reply. “Cockroach,” he said to the Frenchman. “The Kommandant wants two of the prisoners to go get Colonel Hogan out of solitary.”
Kinch immediately pulled himself away from the barracks wall. “What do you mean, Schultz?” he asked, frowning.
“Major Oberholzer has released Colonel Hogan for now, and the Kommandant wants him out of the cells.”
“Well, why doesn’t the Colonel just leave, then?” Newkirk asked, alarm raising the volume of his voice.
“I think he is too tired,” Schultz answered. He tried again. “Please, boys. Please go get Colonel Hogan—I do not want the Kommandant angry.”
“Yeah, yeah, we’ll go, Schultz,” Kinch answered, exchanging worried looks with the others.
“Danke,” the guard replied, lumbering off. “There will be noon roll call in five minutes.”
Kinch went into action immediately. “Le Beau, see if you can find out where Oberholzer’s gone off to. Newkirk, you and I will go get the Colonel.”
“What do I do?” Carter piped up.
Kinch hesitated. “Carter… get Wilson over to the barracks with his medical bag, just in case.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Newkirk came to an abrupt halt as he was about to enter the solitary confinement cell and just stared. Kinch, coming up behind him, gave him a gentle shove. “Come on, Newkirk; let’s go!”
Newkirk moved slightly into the room to allow the Sergeant in, but he did not advance, and Kinch then also took up the stare. “Colonel?”
Hogan was sitting on the hard, bare cot in the corner of the room, his elbows on his knees, his head hanging low. Without his jacket or his cap, they would have expected the Colonel to be shivering with the cold, but he was actually dripping with sweat, his breathing slow, and labored, and his eyes closed, as though he had to concentrate on every breath. He did not respond to Kinch’s voice.
The pair moved in closer, and Newkirk sat down next to Hogan on the cot, trying to examine the Colonel without touching him. He noticed fresh blood on Hogan’s hands that he presumed came from wounded wrists, and the American was trembling slightly. Hogan’s face seemed untouched aside from the prior scratch, but he looked exhausted, as though he was asleep sitting up. “Gov’nor,” he said in a whisper. “Gov’nor, we’re gonna take you out of here, mate.”
For a second Hogan raised his head and grunted as though in answer, but he did not open his eyes and his head soon dropped again as he resumed his hard breathing. Kinch came to Hogan’s other side. “Colonel,” he said, in a voice a little stronger than the Englishman’s, “we need you to stand up. Can you walk?”
For a minute Kinch wondered if Hogan had heard him, but after a few more seconds, the Colonel raised his eyes to the Sergeant and grunted an affirmative response, nodding once before the throbbing in his skull forced his head back down.
Kinch, his actions mirrored by Newkirk, took hold of one of Hogan’s elbows and, putting his other hand on Hogan’s lower back, gently pulled the Colonel upright. Hogan groaned as seized muscles in his back and shoulders protested the move. His men paused but did not give up. “Come on, Colonel,” Kinch said softly, encouragingly, “let’s get out of here.”
Hogan forced his eyes open and weakly tried to pull away from his helpers. They allowed him to move more freely, but did not release their hold. “I’m all right,” he said through dry lips. “I just sat in one place too long,” he explained, wobbling on swollen ankles. “He didn’t hurt me.”
We’ll be the judge of that, Kinch thought unhappily, glancing at the bare bulb above them that had been switched off some time ago. Kinch guessed at its use as he watched Hogan wince at the slightest light.
“Come on, gov’nor. Let’s get out of this hole,” Newkirk said, trying to sound bright. “We’ve got a much better class of dump waiting for you in the barracks.”
Hogan seemed to gain some strength and energy as he moved with his men out of the cells. When they reached the outdoors, however, he flinched and seemed to pull back momentarily. Newkirk realized it was the brightness of the midday sun that was affecting his commanding officer, and he steered Hogan toward the shade of the barracks.
Roll call was in progress, and despite their attempts to get Hogan inside, the Colonel aimed toward the men in the line-up. “Colonel, you don’t have to do this,” Kinch murmured.
“He’s right, gov’nor; Klink asked us to come get you—he knows you’re not up to it.”
“I’m fine,” Hogan said in a determined voice. He shrugged away the pair, who were determined to hold him fast. “If I’m awake, I’m at roll call with my men,” he said, staring hard at the dozen prisoners facing the Kommandant.
Kinch and Newkirk exchanged looks as Hogan hobbled to his place in line, steadfastly ignoring the stares of both the Germans and the men under his command. Still almost oblivious to the cold, Hogan reached his usual place and turned to face Klink. He reached up and fumbled with his collar, trying unsuccessfully to make his sweat-soaked shirt presentable. The only concession he made to his condition was to keep his eyes half-closed and his head bowed away from the light. He would not leave his men on their own, damn it. He would not let Oberholzer take them away, too.
Newkirk pulled up beside Hogan as he always did, openly watching the Colonel now, as Kinch pulled up behind them. Schultz declared the prisoners all present and accounted for, and Klink eyed Hogan warily but did not comment. Then, as Klink turned away and the prisoners disbursed, Hogan finally let out a soft moan and swayed toward the Englishman.
Newkirk was right there to steady him. “Come on, gov’nor; let’s get inside.”
The camp medic, Joe Wilson, was waiting in the hut, as he had been summoned earlier by Carter, and when Hogan was ushered inside, the medic immediately guided him toward his quarters and helped him to lie down on the lower bunk. Hogan’s men backed away but did not leave the room.
“Colonel, where did he hurt you?” Wilson asked.
Hogan wanted to shake his head, but by now he knew better so he just raised a swollen hand. Wilson grimaced as he saw the damaged wrist and turned toward his bag. “No—no, he didn’t,” Hogan panted. “I just… need to sleep.”
And before anyone could protest or try to ask him more questions, Hogan rolled over onto his side and slowly, painfully, curled himself up into a ball, and closed his eyes.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
General Alfred Butler took Hogan’s hand and shook it firmly. “Colonel Hogan, welcome to Bomb Group Command.”
Hogan smiled, trying not to burst with happiness. “Thank you, sir.”
“You’ve earned this, son. It’s going to be damned hard work, and you’ll be lucky if that hair of yours stays as dark as it is now by the time this war is over, but I feel you’re the right one to lead the new 504th.”
“I’ll try not to disappoint you, sir,” Hogan answered.
Butler smiled. “I’m sure you won’t. You know those B-17s like the back of your hand, and your skill is unparalleled by anything I’ve ever seen. Your men are proud of you, Hogan, and so am I.”
Hogan’s head bowed at Butler’s words, humbled by the praise. “Thank you, sir.”
The young Colonel frowned as the air suddenly grew cold and the deafening sound of plane engines assaulted his ears. He looked up to find that he was sitting in the pilot’s seat of his Flying Fortress, Goldilocks, his hands gripping the control column, clouds and a flak-filled sky spread out before him. He looked to his right to see his co-pilot, Trevor Montgomery, shaking his head. “We’re going to lose her, Papa,” he said into his interphone.
“No!” Hogan protested angrily. “We can’t, Trev; we can’t.”
Montgomery shook his head. “You can’t stop it, Colonel Hogan.”
Hogan turned to look at the man beside him and was shocked to find him dead. Suddenly sick to his stomach, he turned away, seeing blood on his own hands and pooling at his feet.
“We’ve got a fire starting back here!” came a sudden, heart-stopping call.
Hogan doubled over in agony as his abdomen burned from the intrusion of flying shrapnel. He watched as blood poured onto his flight suit, and then he hit the alarm bell—three short, unforgettable bursts—and jumped, without the benefit of his parachute, into the sky, leaving the screams of his men, trapped in a burning plane, behind.
Hogan tried hard but couldn’t remember his landing or capture as he stood before the large desk with the Nazi flag behind it. His bloodied flight suit had disappeared and now he was wearing his dress uniform and seemed perfectly well, physically. Numbly watching his own actions as though from a distance, he extended his trembling arm out toward the towering German officer confronting him and gave him a handful of dog tags. Without reading them, Hogan knew instinctively that they belonged to his men: Montgomery, Kovacs, Doolittle, Bailey, Martinez… Then the officer handed them to an ornately dressed priest nearby, who buried them in his robes, shaking his head at the loss.
Hogan watched without a movement or a murmur of protest as the Nazi solemnly reached out and pulled the Colonel’s pilot’s wings from above his breast pocket, and then his eagles from his collars. These the German calmly put on the floor before him and then crushed neatly under the heel of his brightly polished boots. Hogan’s only reaction was internal: a shame and a grief that reached deep down into his soul.
The Nazi shook his head, then put on a mocking smile and laughed softly. Hogan lowered his eyes again, starting to feel like he was suffocating.
The laughter slowly morphed from a low, sly sound to a sharp, grating cackle, and when Hogan looked up it was to stare into the face of Franz Oberholzer. His eyes full of mirth, the Gestapo officer stared back at Hogan unflinchingly. Hogan tried to remain steady as he looked back, but the Major’s blue eyes were so cold that the American suddenly experienced an intense fear and had to break the gaze.
“How does it feel to have lost everything, Hogan?”
Hogan jerked his head up, only to see himself in the prison yard at Stalag 13, dressed in his crush cap and bomber jacket, the latter quite clearly devoid of any rank insignia or even symbol of the Bomb Group that he had led. In the distance, he could see his men—Newkirk, Le Beau, Kinch, Carter—being herded into the back of a truck at gunpoint, with scores of other prisoners lining up behind them, ready to be taken away. “You can’t!” Hogan practically shouted, looking desperately at Oberholzer. “Leave them—leave them alone!”
But Oberholzer shook his head slowly, patiently. “How does it feel to have lost everything, Hogan? How does it feel to have lost everything?”
“I didn’t lose it,” Hogan protested now, looking back toward the truck, then back to the German. “You took it from me. You took it!”
Oberholzer didn’t answer, but turned back to look at the truck. He raised his arm, then lowered it as though giving instructions to someone in the distance, and suddenly the truck holding Hogan’s men exploded in flames.
Hogan cried out, stunned, and then sank to his knees, unable to stop looking at the horror before him. “No…” he gasped, as his chest heaved with an unrelenting anguish and tears poured down his face. “No…”
“How does it feel to have lost everything, Hogan?” Oberholzer’s voice cut through Hogan’s grief loud and clear. “Because you see, now… now you have nothing.”
“No,” Hogan moaned. “No…” He stayed on his haunches on the ground, then raised his eyes to the skies and wailed, “No!”
Hogan awakened abruptly and sat up ramrod straight in bed. He covered his face with his hands, and when he felt wetness realized that he had actually shed real tears while dreaming. He shook violently as sweat poured off him, concentrating only on catching his breath and erasing that horrible nightmare from his mind. Some of it had been memories: he remembered the conversation with Butler; he remembered Montgomery dead beside him in his plane. And he remembered the taunting of Oberholzer: how does it feel to have lost everything?
Feeling foolish but unable to stop himself, Hogan slid out of bed and flung open the door to his quarters in search of someone, anyone. But when he looked he found no one, and for the slightest second, he panicked, thinking that the nightmare might have been real after all.
Forcing himself to think more clearly, he tried to look at his watch but found only white bandages. As calmly as he could, he rationalized that Wilson had removed his watch to dress his raw wrists while he slept, and he turned back to his room, where he found the timepiece sitting on his desk. Four thirty-five. It was still afternoon; the boys would be out in the compound. Hogan opened the shutters to his window that had been thoughtfully closed when he was brought in earlier. Sure enough, there were prisoners milling about the yard, and in the distance, yes, there was Carter, chatting with Schultz, and looking for all the world like everything was as it should be.
Hogan nodded as an irrational sense of relief washed over him. He turned away from the window and, still shaking, sat down. You don’t have them yet, Oberholzer. And I’m not going to give you the chance.
Setting the Trap
“Carter, it’s time for a break; you’ve been at it all night and half the morning, so I’m told,” Hogan said. He held out a steaming cup of coffee to the young Sergeant and looked with cautious interest at the work he was doing with all these test tubes and beakers.
“Thanks.” Carter took the cup from Hogan and took a quick sip, then put it down. “I won’t be long, Colonel. I just want to make sure I’ve got everything right. We’re gonna need to have plenty of explosives for that train coming through next week.”
Hogan shook his head. “Look, I told you: everything’s on hold until Oberholzer’s gone.”
“Oh, I know, Colonel,” Carter said, nodding his head in agreement. “I just like to be prepared.”
“Don’t prepare yourself out of a good night’s sleep,” Hogan said, clapping the Sergeant on the shoulder. “I need you all to be on the alert. We don’t know what’s coming, and we need to be ready.”
Carter turned for the first time away from his work and looked straight at his commanding officer. “I don’t know how you do it, Colonel,” he said. “I mean, that Oberholzer fella scares me, and I don’t even have to get near him!”
Hogan tried to smile reassuringly. “You get used to it. Look, try not to worry; that’s my job. I won’t let you fellas do anything until this goon is out of the way. Now get outta here and get some shut-eye before I really need you. I’m no good at disentangling you from your chemistry set.”
Carter grinned. “Okay, Colonel. Hey, Colonel, you should probably do the same thing yourself—I mean, you haven’t had a lot of chance lately…” His voice trailed off as his smile faded.
Hogan smiled tiredly. “It’s okay, Carter. I’ll get there eventually.” He watched as the young man headed upstairs to the barracks, then he moved into the main tunnel area and let his memories take over.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Come on, Mark, you’ve been at it all night. It’s time for a break.” Hogan handed the steaming cup of coffee to Lieutenant Bailey and sat down in the empty chair across the desk. “No one said you had to make this a twenty-four hour assignment, you know.”
“I can’t help it, Papa,” the navigator said. “Once you said you weren’t happy about the upcoming mission, I knew I needed to look at all the angles and see if there was anything I could do to help.”
“I’m afraid it’s bigger than both of us.” Hogan smiled. “Look, I know you’re anxious. I’m sorry I let on to you. It’s not your job to do the worrying. Give me some time and I’ll sort it all out. There’s bound to be something I’m missing here. I won’t let us head out until I’m sure we have a decent chance of success.”
Bailey stood up and tried to stretch the kinks out of his back as he stifled a yawn. “I know you won’t,” he replied thoughtfully. “You know, I don’t know how you do this kind of thing every day.” He shook his head and looked back at the papers he had amassed on the desk, full of half-finished theories and ideas that he had abandoned even before he had finished writing them down. “It gives me a headache.”
Hogan shrugged and offered a lopsided smile. “You get used to it,” is all he said. “Go get some shut-eye before I have to carry you back to your quarters.”
Bailey grinned. “I think I’ll take you up on that, sir,” he said. Hogan raised an eyebrow. “Just make sure you do the same, okay?”
“Eventually, Baby Bear… eventually.”
Hogan watched as his navigator left the office. Then he picked up the coffee and started fishing through the papers himself. It was going to be a long day.
Hogan looked wistfully down the tunnel toward the exit, then sighed as he looked up the ladder to the barracks. The more things change, the more they stay the same…. “I won’t let him get you, fellas,” he said softly, as though they could hear him. “I won’t let him get to you through me.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“But Major Oberholzer, I don’t know what you are doing with all that equipment; there are no radios in the camp.” Klink turned away from the window and the radio detection truck outside, shaking his head doubtfully. This whole situation was leaving Klink shaken, and he wanted nothing more than for the Gestapo officer to leave Stalag 13. Seeing Hogan so clearly unwell at roll call today had been strangely disturbing to the Kommandant; even though he often said he wished Hogan weren’t so boisterous, he couldn’t help but feel a pang of what he could only describe as compassion that the senior POW was finding Oberholzer’s tactics difficult to cope with, and Klink almost, almost, told the Gestapo Major to go away and find some place else to play his mind games.
“Aren’t there?” Oberholzer answered curiously, his chin raised as if in defiance of the Kommandant’s observation.
“No, there aren’t,” Klink answered again, this time his pride starting to feel a prick of anger. “My guards search the barracks for any contraband every day, and there is nothing to be found,” he said with more than a touch of smugness.
“Then they are blind,” Oberholzer said flatly. “With Hogan here, there will be many things to find. He simply hides them well.”
Klink shook his head, bewildered, “Major Oberholzer, I must admit I find the Gestapo’s interest in Colonel Hogan rather puzzling. He has never shown himself to be anything but a rather ordinary prisoner.”
“You obviously don’t know his background, Klink,” the Major answered disdainfully. “Colonel Hogan was a very wanted man before he was shot down. There was never a question that he was holding some very sensitive military information—not to mention that the Third Reich was losing some very valuable installations thanks to his flying skills. One of the reasons Colonel Hogan was sent here was to keep him from trying to escape—we believe a man like Hogan is less likely to abandon men under his command for his own interests. And if we keep Hogan, we can still find out what is in his mind—and how it works.”
Klink swallowed, hard. Yes, he had known that Hogan was a special case; officers were not sent to enlisted men’s prison camps. And yes, he had known that Hogan was a good flyer—an extraordinary one, from all reports, though never from Hogan himself. But Klink had never dreamed that the questioning of the senior POW was to continue indefinitely, that there was something other than military curiosity that kept Berlin so interested in the American. “How it works?” he repeated lamely.
“Of course!” Oberholzer looked at Klink in amazement. “You see a cowed, broken prisoner of war trying to make it home sane. Because that is what you want to see, and what Hogan wants you to see. But there is much, much more to the good Colonel than that.”
Maybe that is what you want to see, Klink thought unexpectedly. “Major Oberholzer, I cannot have you disrupt the running of this prison camp any longer,” the Kommandant said, suddenly bolstered by the thought, and, somewhat righteously trying to look after his senior prisoner of war. “If you have no evidence that Colonel Hogan is involved in anything out of the ordinary, then I am going to have to ask you to cease this interrogation and leave the camp.”
Klink nearly shuddered. Had he really said that to a member of the Gestapo?
Oberholzer smiled thinly. “That is exactly what I intend to do, Colonel Klink. We will be leaving tonight.”
“Of course! I will be taking Colonel Hogan with me. There is still much to learn from him.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Tomorrow’s the day, Colonel,” Kinch said, hoping to bring Hogan out of the world he had escaped to.
Hogan looked up almost disinterestedly from his desk and nodded, then looked back to the papers before him.
“That munitions plant is going to be history by tomorrow night; it’ll sure make it harder to rush weapons and ammo to the German soldiers fighting in France.”
Hogan nodded again, but this time didn’t look back.
Hogan finally turned around. “Is there something you really want, Kinch?” he asked finally. The Sergeant grimaced. Hogan hadn’t sounded angry, not even impatient. Just resigned to being watched, gauged, investigated by his own men.
“How long do you think Oberholzer’s gonna keep this up? I mean he’s been at you for the last two days and he hasn’t gotten anywhere.”
Hogan dropped his eyes. Maybe he has.
“The fellas, we… we just want to know if there’s anything we can do to help, sir,” Kinch said softly.
Hogan smiled wearily and looked his comrade in the eye. “Just don’t give up on the operation, okay?” he said. Kinch felt a chill as he took in the intensity of Hogan’s request. “Make a list of the hundred-and-one things London expects from us, and when this Gestapo creep is gone, we’ll pick up where we left off.”
“There won’t be anything from London for awhile, Colonel,” Kinch said almost reluctantly.
Hogan frowned. “Why not?”
Kinch shuffled his feet. “Well, that’s the other reason I came in here, Colonel; Oberholzer’s brought in a radio detection truck. It’s parked just outside Klink’s office.”
Hogan’s expression changed to one of exasperation. “He doesn’t miss a trick,” he said through his teeth.
“I’ve already shut down our radio and made sure everyone else knows not to try anything with the portables.”
“Good man,” Hogan said. He stood up, his energy suddenly renewed, and brushed past Kinch into the common room. “Where’s Oberholzer?”
“I last saw him heading to Klink’s office, Colonel.”
Hogan glanced around the room, then over toward the bunk that hid the tunnel entrance, as though to make sure everything was secure. “Well, if there were any doubts about what he’s after, there aren’t any more. Get the others. We need to have a talk.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“What do you think of my radio detection truck, Colonel Hogan?”
Oberholzer once again had Hogan in the solitary confinement cells and away from his men. Still restrained, but this time without the harsh, punishing light bearing down on him, Hogan felt better able to cope now that Oberholzer had tipped his hand. “I think you’re wasting your time.”
“Oh?” Oberholzer asked, surprised.
“Seems like a lot of trouble just to stop some poor GI from listening to the BBC.”
Oberholzer smiled. Hogan had learned to hate and almost fear the expression. “Is that what you honestly think I’m after?”
“What else could it be?”
Oberholzer shook his head. “Tell me, Colonel Hogan, how do you get through the long days here at Stalag 13? An active man like yourself must find it hard to just sit back and watch the war pass by.”
Hogan shrugged. “I do calisthenics. And there’s a darned good ceramics group that meets twice a week in the Rec Hall.”
Oberholzer’s smile got wider. Hogan fought down the nausea that seeing it brought. “And what about the long nights, Colonel? A good-looking, up-and-coming young officer... you must have had quite a harem of beautiful ladies at your beck and call.”
Hogan immediately grew quiet. He wouldn’t get drawn into that—he couldn’t. Sure, there had been a few lovely ladies in the Underground with whom he had shared tender moments. But neither he nor the woman involved at the time had ever been fooled into thinking they were anything but fleeting, desperate encounters in a time of great danger, and immense loneliness. And he hadn’t had a harem—only a couple of special women when he was in London. But that was so long ago now....
“No?” Oberholzer came around to face the American once more, and this time, ran a finger down Hogan’s jaw line. Hogan raised his chin to avoid the man’s touch, but Oberholzer was persistent and he couldn’t get away. “Don’t worry, Colonel Hogan. Perhaps you will meet a lovely lady on our travels.”
Hogan couldn’t stop himself from answering. “‘Our travels’?”
One final touch on Hogan’s neck. The Colonel closed his eyes against the coldness growing inside him as he shuddered a breath. Oberholzer pulled his hand away. “Yes! We are going out, Colonel Hogan: you and I. I am taking you to a munitions factory near Hammelburg, where we will have a nice, long visit.”
Raising the Stakes
Oberholzer’s words drove into Hogan like a knife. Take him to the munitions plant near Hammelburg? The munitions plant that the 504th would be bombing in less than twenty-four hours? Fear charged straight through him, turning him even colder inside. But he had already steeled himself against the German and gave away nothing. “I’m not allowed out of camp,” he quipped instead; “the Kommandant kind of frowns on prisoners leaving whenever they feel like it.”
A short bark of a laugh was the Major’s reply. “You won’t need to worry about that, Colonel,” he answered. “I’m sure Kommandant Klink will have no trouble agreeing to let you go with me.”
Oberholzer whirled around and clamped Hogan’s restrained forearms hard as he stared into his face. Hogan tensed even harder and used all his strength of will not to avert his eyes from the German’s gaze. “Let me make it a bit clearer to you, Colonel Hogan,” the Major practically growled. “The Gestapo has very reliable intelligence that says the Allies are planning to bomb that plant.”
Hogan raised an eyebrow. “That’s not ‘intelligence’; anyone knows it’s bound to happen eventually,” he said evenly.
“I am going to take you there tonight.”
Hogan said nothing, instead just keeping his eyes intently on Oberholzer’s face. Don’t look away. Don’t look away….
“Doesn’t that worry you, Colonel Hogan?”
“I should certainly think so. You see, tomorrow the 504th Bomb Group is going to execute a daylight raid to try to destroy that munitions factory.”
“You should know; you are the one who gave them the target,” Oberholzer answered.
“Was I,” Hogan stated flatly, as though not believing a word of it.
Oberholzer sighed. “Doesn’t it bother you? That you could be killed by men who used to be under your command?”
“Unless you’re planning to keep me there for the rest of the war, I can’t see how you can guarantee that raid will happen when you want it to,” Hogan answered.
A thin smile from the Major that Hogan couldn’t stomach. “Actually, Colonel Hogan, I’m hoping that raid is diverted.”
“Of course you are.”
“But not for the reasons you would believe. You see, there is a reason for me taking you to that plant.”
“Care to let me in on it?”
Oberholzer finally straightened and let go of Hogan’s arms. The Colonel let out the breath he had been strangling within himself as he struggled to endure the closeness of the German. Playing this game with the Gestapo officer was taxing him both mentally and physically, and this session had been particularly long. Hours of psychological cat-and-mouse; the ever-present, thinly-veiled threat of physical violence; the unyielding fear that his men would be targeted; the unrelenting humiliation—it had all taken its toll on Hogan, and he was beginning to feel beaten today. But they were finally reaching what Oberholzer was really driving at, and Hogan knew he needed to continue to stay alert so he could figure out how to combat this persistent enemy. It was a difficult task at best. He followed the Major’s pacing form with tired eyes.
“When our office learned of the 504th’s plan to bomb the munitions factory near Hammelburg, my superiors knew that you had to be involved. Do you remember Colonel Feldkamp, Hogan?”
Hogan bowed his head and nodded. Someone like Feldkamp, with his penchant for doling out terrible abuse, was hard to forget. Hogan said nothing.
“Colonel Feldkamp has never given up his suspicions about you, and he has been kind enough to pass those ideas on to me. But we decided that we were going about flushing you out the wrong way.” Another small smile, this time accompanied by a shake of the head. “The Colonel, he has such a short temper. He says you did not respond well to it.”
Hogan flinched involuntarily. No, he thought, I didn’t. Not when I was awake or when I was unconscious.
“Have no fear, Colonel; Oberst Feldkamp will not be returning. I have approached the matter of your unveiling in a slightly different manner. I am going to take you to the factory that the 504th is intending to strike. And when the Allies learn that the leader of their valuable operation is there, I am quite certain the attack will never happen.”
Hogan cocked his head. “You’re losing me. If you’re so sure I’m the head of some big secret operation, what makes you think I wouldn’t just order them to bomb the place anyway?”
“I don’t doubt that for a minute, Colonel Hogan. You are a fine and dedicated officer. But regardless of your orders, your men here would do everything in their power to stop that raid, including either using the radio—or trying to escape from Stalag 13 to get word out via the Underground. Then when they fail, thanks to the increased patrols outside the camp here, and the strike goes on as planned, the 504th Bomb Group is decimated by the waiting German defense forces, and your men are captured and exposed. And it happens in one nice, neat little package, all thanks to their loyalty to you. You lose again, Colonel Hogan.”
Hogan was sure his heart stopped beating. No matter how much he wanted to believe otherwise, he knew Oberholzer was right: if his men knew Hogan was sitting in a factory about to get bombed out of existence, there would be little that would stop them from trying to get word out to Allied Headquarters, including the danger to their own lives. “You’re dreaming, Oberholzer,” Hogan managed to whisper hoarsely. “Feldkamp was wrong, and now you’re wrong.” Then, a little more strongly: “Even if you’re right about the raid, all that will happen is a factory will be destroyed, I’ll be dead, and you’ll have nothing to show for it.”
“I think not, Colonel Hogan. And I’m going to tip the odds in my favor even more before we go.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“The boys did great today, Wes.” Humphries smiled and nodded as Dennison took his outstretched hand.
“Yep,” the Colonel agreed. He drew his friend into the room, offering a cup of coffee. “They sure did. That aircraft factory is only a distant, miserable memory.” He sat down at his desk with a heavy sigh. “Makes for a long day, though.”
“That it does.” Humphries sat and regarded Dennison for a moment.
“Something I can help you with?” Dennison asked eventually. “Or is it just that you love my haircut and can’t take your eyes off it?”
“Just wondering why you’re still up.” Dennison raised an eyebrow. “Well, early start tomorrow,” he said simply.
Dennison shook his head tolerantly. “Don’t play sweet and innocent with me, Lewis. I know exactly what you’re driving at. The blasted plant at Hammelburg.”
“Mm-hm,” admitted Humphries through a sip of coffee.
“The answer is no; I still don’t have a solution.” Dennison sighed. “And I’m still up because I’m still not happy with just going ahead and doing it. My boys are tired, some of them aren’t terribly experienced, and according to that Papa Bear fella it’s a very heavily guarded installation. Taking them in there under those conditions… well I just don’t like it.”
“Can’t say I blame you; so what do you do?”
“I stay up all night thinking of what to do before it’s too late to do anything.”
“Do you think Papa Bear is right?”
Dennison shrugged. “It wouldn’t be unusual for the plant to have Ack-Acks all over it. Besides, everything that’s come from him has been right so far.” He shook his head. “There’s another one I hear about all the time—Papa Bear.”
“He’s gotta be some kind of amazing agent—imagine working in the heart of Germany all this time and not being caught.”
“I wonder who he is,” Dennison pondered.
“You and I are never gonna find out, that’s for sure,” Humphries replied. “He’s a more heavily guarded secret than the Norden.”
“Must be quite a job—imagine the excitement!”
Humphries eyes widened. “Are you kidding? Imagine the risk!”
“Risk?” Dennison echoed. “Well, maybe a little,” he conceded when his friend snorted at the remark. “Hey, look—this guy could be a Nazi who’s selling secrets. He might be playing on the right side, but for the wrong reasons!”
“Or he might be a genuine Allied agent who’s been planted there and who takes his life in his hands every day!”
“Who knows?” Dennison said with a dismissive wave. “Whoever he is, I’m glad he’s working for us.”
“And so? What are you gonna do?”
Dennison sighed. “I’m gonna pace my office all night, and then panic quietly.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan was been released from solitary confinement just before the day’s last roll call, and he was exhausted. But he couldn’t find sleep, so he gathered his men in his office and took the time, in a muted, almost emotionless way, to explain to them what Oberholzer was planning to do.
“But, Colonel, if he takes you there, the 504th is gonna—”
“We’ve gotta get word out, sir,” Kinch said, hoping he’d drowned out Carter’s words. He looked at Hogan openly, and saw a weary, almost resigned man in place of the bright, confident commanding officer he was so used to seeing. “We can’t just let this happen.”
Hogan shrugged and brought a hand up to gently rub his ashen face. The wounds from the too-tight shackles on his wrists didn’t go unnoticed, angering his men even more. “You can’t stop it,” the Colonel countered softly. Then, as though making a sudden realization, Hogan brought his hand down, looked at his men intently, and addressed them strongly. “You hear me? You can’t stop it—you’re not to do anything to endanger the operation to get me out. No radios, no escapes. Whatever Oberholzer does to me, he’s not going to get all of you. Understood?” Hogan’s men shifted uncomfortably but did not answer. “Understood?” Hogan waited with barely-concealed desperation for the group to at least nod their agreement. “No one’s gonna blow our cover for this creep. That’s an order.”
It was Newkirk who found his voice first. But it was quiet and clearly full of things he knew he could not say aloud. “Okay, gov’nor. If that’s the way you want it.”
Hogan nodded briefly, not looking the Englishman in the eye. “That’s the way I want it.”
The awkward silence that descended on the group was broken by loud voices from the common room. Hogan immediately got up and left his office, followed by the others, to see what was causing the ruckus. He stopped when he realized it was because German soldiers had entered the barracks. And not on their own.
Oberholzer was with them.
Raising his chin and tugging at the bottom of his bomber jacket, Hogan made his way to the stove, where he knew he could see everything happening in the hut. He stood staring boldly at Oberholzer, and the Major simply glanced at the American and started a slow, seemingly aimless wander around the room.
Hogan decided to take the high road. “Well, Major, I didn’t expect to see you in our humble little home,” he said. He dropped the bright, falsely cheerful tone as he nodded toward the two guards that accompanied Oberholzer and added, “You usually just have your goons come for you.”
At that last sentence, Oberholzer paused, then turned slowly and smoothly on his heel toward the senior POW. “Yes?” he said thoughtfully. “Perhaps I have been too keen to let others do this part of the job for me.” He moved in closer to Hogan and stopped only when he was practically in his face. Hogan set his jaw as his men watched tensely from around the room. “Clearly my presence here disturbs you.”
Hogan’s voice remained level and calm. “I don’t like the barracks being used as a garbage dump.”
The hand holding Oberholzer’s gloves tightened into a fist that raised up in anger and rushed in toward Hogan’s face. Hogan didn’t move, defiance smoldering in his eyes, not looking at the knuckles poised to send him flying across the room. At the last possible second, Oberholzer seemed to think better of the move, and he stopped, his hand quivering inches from Hogan’s cheek. The German let out a low laugh, then lowered his hand. “That’s a shame, Colonel Hogan,” he said in a low voice; “that’s all it has been since the first downed flyer was brought here.”
All of Hogan’s men felt the impact of that statement, and they bristled but waited for Hogan’s reaction. The Colonel’s stillness and silence kept the unease in the room at its peak. Finally, Hogan chuckled softly. “You just can’t see reality, can you, Major?” Hogan glanced at his men, then continued with calm conviction. “Even if you were right, which you’re not, I’d rather be here surrounded by these downed flyers until I’m ninety-five, than spend one more minute with you.”
Pride started to replace the humiliation. Somehow, Hogan had done it again. The prisoners breathed a little easier, though since the Colonel was clearly not relaxed, they could not be, either.
Oberholzer finally moved his eyes away from Hogan’s face and surveyed the room. “Tell me, Colonel Hogan,” he said, walking a small path around the hut, “how long have you lived with these men?”
Hogan stood stock still. “You keep telling me you already know everything about my time in Germany,” Hogan said evenly. “Why don’t you tell me?”
“You were assigned to Stalag 13 in late October of 1942… which means you have been with these men for approximately five months.” Hogan said nothing. “Surely that is enough time for you to have created some strong ties with them.”
The eyes of Hogan’s men bore into the Colonel. He tried not to look back. “I don’t ignore them when we pass in the compound,” Hogan conceded.
Oberholzer laughed. “And that’s all? I don’t think so, Colonel Hogan. You see, despite what you try to portray, I see right through you,” he said. He continued to smile. “Your Achilles’ heel is your command. Your men. Your responsibility.”
“D’you think?” Hogan replied, the words dripping with sarcasm
“Which one of these men means the most to you, Colonel?” Oberholzer asked. He moved slowly, deliberately, from one man to the next, bringing his face uncomfortably close to each of them. He looked closely at Kinch, who drew himself up to his full height and stared back unwaveringly. “It wouldn’t be you,” the Major said with a note of distaste. “I have been told you do have some taste, Hogan… and making friends with a black man would refute all that.”
Hogan felt the blood rushing to his face as his temper soared. As Oberholzer turned to see the impact his comment had had on the Colonel, Kinch shot his commanding officer a pleading look, and, with considerable difficulty, Hogan maintained his self-control, the only outward sign of his anger being slightly flushed cheeks. He stayed silent.
“What about this one?” Oberholzer said as he approached Le Beau. The Frenchman did not bother to hide his abhorrence of the German officer. “No,” he said dismissively, wrinkling his nose. “Not a Frenchman. Certainly not this one.” The Major continued his rounds and stopped before Newkirk. “This one?” He narrowed his eyes and examined the Englishman carefully. “A bit scruffy, the Englander… and a bit of a rebel, I suspect, from the look in his eye… Perhaps him?”
Oberholzer turned back to Hogan to judge his reaction, then he turned deliberately back to Newkirk and suddenly grabbed the Corporal by the sweater, nearly jerking him off his feet in surprise. Newkirk quickly regained his footing and gripped Oberholzer’s wrists to force them away. With a mighty shove, Newkirk managed to get the German off him, and he growled angrily, “Why, you filthy little—”
Hogan’s voice, full of reprimand, stopped the Englishman’s tirade before it really had a chance to fly. Newkirk dropped his fists to his sides, and he lowered his eyes. “Sorry, Colonel,” he muttered.
Oberholzer let his eyes linger on Newkirk for another moment in silence, before he shook his head and moved on to the man fidgeting beside him: Carter. The young Sergeant had spent the last five minutes staring at his commanding officer, trying very hard to get some strength from Hogan’s steely resolve, and doing everything he could not to give away how nervous the Gestapo officer was making him just by being in the room. He remembered so clearly Hogan’s words to him only this morning: Try not to worry; that’s my job, and he was repeating them like a mantra in his head. But now, as the Major stopped before him and looked in his eyes almost curiously, Carter couldn’t help but squirm and sweat. He looked back at Hogan, who nodded almost imperceptibly, and swallowed hard.
“What about you, my friend?” Oberholzer asked.
Carter bit his tongue; he knew the Colonel didn’t want any trouble. I’m not your friend, pal.
“You have nothing to say?” Oberholzer persisted. Carter remained silent, feeling the eyes of everyone on him. “You are very young,” the German continued. Still no answer from Carter. “Colonel Hogan, does the United States let children fly now?” Hogan said nothing. Oberholzer looked back at Carter. “Tell me, Sergeant, how old are you?”
With a worried glance toward Hogan, Carter said, “Old enough, sir.”
Oberholzer smiled softly. “‘Old enough’? What a curious answer. Old enough for what, I wonder?” He ran one finger down Carter’s face. “Old enough to shave?” The finger moved down to cross the American’s neck. “Old enough to die?”
“Leave him alone, Oberholzer,” Hogan said sharply. He made no move toward them, nor indeed any move at all. His eyes remained fixed on the German officer.
Oberholzer’s hand fell to his side. “Ah… so it is this one.” He smiled as he looked Carter over once again. The young Sergeant wiggled uncomfortably under the scrutiny. “He may not be the closest to you…” Oberholzer nodded and stepped away, “but he is the one you feel the most need to protect.”
Hogan felt a cold chill as his heart dropped into his stomach. “These men don’t need me to protect them, Oberholzer.”
Oberholzer laughed, delighted. “It’s too late, Colonel Hogan! You have already given yourself away!” He gestured for one of his guards to come to him. “Corporal! This man will accompany Colonel Hogan to the munitions plant near Hammelburg.” He looked at Hogan, whose eyes had filled with pain at the knowledge that he had led one of his men into danger by not being able to silence his outrage. “Now, Colonel Hogan. If you were going to allow the Allies to blow up the plant, and thus sacrifice your own life… perhaps you will see things differently with one of your men’s lives on the line as well. The ball… is in your court.” He nodded to the guard nearest Hogan, who locked a pair of handcuffs tight onto Hogan’s wrists and then pushed the Colonel toward the door of the barracks. “Say goodbye, Colonel Hogan. Let’s go.”
“So, what do we do?” Le Beau asked desperately, as the trio watched the car carrying Hogan, Carter and Oberholzer drive out of camp.
“We go and get ’em back,” Newkirk answered grimly.
“You heard the Colonel as well as I did—no one risks the operation for him.” Kinch was finding breathing difficult. When Oberholzer had goaded Hogan in Barracks Two, clearly upsetting the Colonel despite all his commanding officer’s attempts to hide it from the Nazi, it had taken all of Kinch’s strength to stop himself from throwing the German against the wall, or worse. And when Oberholzer had gone a step further and dragged Carter, the newest of the group, into the picture, Kinch had felt sick. Now, after Hogan could do little more than throw a meaningful look back at his men and murmur a reminder of their duty to look after each other, it was all starting to hit him. Every part of him wanted to do as Newkirk declared—to go out and bring back the Colonel and Carter. But his strong sense of loyalty to the man who had made this place so much more than an ordinary prison camp forced him to try and follow the orders he had been given. Even if it killed them both.
“We can’t just leave him and Carter in the hands of that bloody piece of slime—you know what’s going to happen to that munitions plant tomorrow!” Newkirk protested.
“I know!” Kinch snapped back.
“Then we’ve gotta get them out of there somehow!”
“Well, what do you expect us to do? Oberholzer’s got guards all over the place. And we can’t use the radio or they’ll pick up on that, too!”
“Then we’ll get rid of the truck!” Le Beau announced.
“Oh, really? And who do you think they’ll hold responsible for that?” Kinch resisted the urge to punch the wall of the barracks. “We can’t do it, not that way.”
“Then what way?” Newkirk demanded.
“I don’t know!” Kinch finally burst. All the anger went out of his voice, and his face. He shook his head as he lowered his eyes to the ground. “I don’t know.”
We cannot just let them go,” Le Beau said in a voice that barely reached a whisper. “I know what mon Colonel said about the operation, but… without him and Carter, there is no operation anyway.”
“We won’t give up without a fight, Louis,” Newkirk promised. He looked at Kinch, who nodded solemnly, worriedly, in agreement. “You heard what the gov’nor said before he left.”
“Oui. He said, ‘Let it go.’” Le Beau’s eyes filled with tears as he recalled the agonized look in the Colonel’s eyes as he had whispered the words.
“That’s right,” Kinch agreed unhappily. “And you remember what he said in his office: no one’s to risk the operation for him.”
“That’s right,” Newkirk said. “But he also told us to look after each other. And he never said that didn’t include Carter, did he? And if we look after Carter, we could end up looking after the Colonel at the same time. And we’d still be following orders, wouldn’t we? We always agreed that we would sink or swim together. And it’s time to start paddling hard.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“You’re grasping at straws, Oberholzer,” Hogan said as the car wended its way along the roads toward Hammelburg. “If this is all about me, why bring Sergeant Carter into it?”
Hogan tried to offer Carter a reassuring look, a difficult task considering the attentiveness of Oberholzer, and the fact that Carter’s face was turned toward the window, his eyes wide and unwilling to meet his commanding officer’s. Oberholzer smiled. “The Sergeant is my insurance policy, you might say,” he replied. “It is as you said back at camp, Colonel Hogan. If it were just to save you, you might not try to stop the bombing. But with one of your men in jeopardy, you will order the air strike to be averted.”
“Is that what you think?” Hogan snorted. “This could go on for months: you bring me to the factory; if your information is wrong and it doesn’t get bombed, you blame it on me. So you try again next week, next month, next year. Eventually, playing the odds, the plant gets bombed, you blame it on me and I’m dead. Either way I can’t win. Why don’t you just finish this now and let the kid go?”
Oberholzer shook his head. “I want all of them, Colonel Hogan. Not just you. Not just one or two of your sycophants. Everyone who is a part of this operation you run that causes so much trouble for the Fatherland.”
“Well, you’re gonna have a long wait, because there is no operation, and there is no one else. Just a Colonel who was unlucky enough to get shot down over Germany one miserable afternoon. Anything else is pure fantasy on your part.”
“We will see whether that is true… tomorrow.”
Carter continued staring out the window into the darkness. He knew the roads, having been to Hammelburg already once or twice in escapades with the Colonel and the others. But that wasn’t what he was seeing. Carter was seeing all the small gestures that Hogan had made since the Sergeant arrived in the camp just over two months ago, to make him feel welcome, and valuable, and secure. The encouraging nods, the secret winks at roll call when Klink was being particularly pompous, the cups of coffee in the tunnel, the smiles and pats on the back. Hogan had accepted and respected Carter, bowing to his expertise in explosives and chemicals, giving the Sergeant leave to use whatever materials he saw fit for the sabotage jobs they had started doing a few weeks ago, and praising him when all went well. Colonel Hogan was more than the senior POW at Stalag 13; he was Carter’s friend. And now this Gestapo Major was making trouble for Hogan, and all the Colonel could seem to do was try to get Carter out of the fray. It troubled the young man, and so he didn’t meet Hogan’s eye.
He was too busy trying not to cry.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Schultz turned as quickly as he could manage in the physical condition he was in and considered raising his rifle toward the noise he heard from the shadows. But he just shook his head and “tut”-ed when he saw the source of the sound. “Cockroach,” he chastised softly, “what are you doing outside the barracks after lights out?”
Le Beau shrugged. “What do you think, Schultzie? I cannot sleep with the Colonel and Carter away with the Gestapo.”
“Ah.” Schultz nodded sadly. “I understand,” he said in a low voice. “The Major, he does not seem to be a very nice man.”
Le Beau snorted. “That is the nicest thing you could say about him,” he said.
Schultz ignored, or did not understand, the sarcasm. “I am worried about Colonel Hogan and Carter being with him, too,” he continued. Le Beau furrowed his brow and listened. “Carter, he is very young, and he is very innocent. And Colonel Hogan… well, if he thinks that there will be trouble for Carter, he will get very mad. And if Colonel Hogan gets very mad with a man like Major Oberholzer, there will be a lot of trouble for both of them.”
Le Beau nodded. “So what do we do, Schultz?” he asked.
“We do not do anything, Le Beau. You go back inside the barracks and behave, and I do not report you to the Kommandant.”
“It’s not enough, Schultzie,” Le Beau remarked, shaking his head.
“What do you want to do—walk into the munitions factory and take them out of there?” The large guard chuckled. “Do you think that the Gestapo is going to let you just waltz in there, say, ‘Can Colonel Hogan and Carter come home, bitte?’ and then leave with them in the back of a truck?” The small smile left his face. “I am telling you right now, Cockroach, it will not happen.”
“Well, it might, Schultzie,” Le Beau countered, as the Sergeant shuffled him back into the darkened building. “It just might.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“I hope you find your accommodation comfortable, Colonel Hogan,” Oberholzer said pleasantly.
Hogan ignored the gnawing feeling in his gut caused by the mix of anger and fear dancing inside him. Oberholzer certainly hadn’t been kidding: this was, indeed, the munitions plant that Hogan himself had told Allied Headquarters about, and it was, indeed, the one that was targeted for tomorrow’s bombing raid by the 504th. The Colonel moved reluctantly into the tiny room—what was this in a former life, a broom closet?—unwilling to betray any emotion to the Gestapo officer, then rubbed wrists that were still aching from being in restraints for such long periods in the past few days. He looked at the bare wooden chair, then at the equally bare bulb glaring at him from over his head, and he turned his face away, memories of his time in solitary with Oberholzer still too fresh. The rest of the room was empty, aside from a small bucket in the corner. Hogan wrinkled his nose, but simply accepted the inevitable.
“Looks like we’re going to have to flip a coin for the chair,” Hogan said lightly, hoping that Carter, standing alongside Oberholzer, would take some comfort in his commanding officer’s flippancy.
“Nonsense, Colonel Hogan,” Oberholzer countered. Carter swallowed hard. Hogan froze. “What kind of host would I be if I made my guests fight over their quarters? The Sergeant will not be in here with you.”
“And where will he be?” Hogan asked with difficulty.
“Sergeant Carter and I will be in the plant office, where I will have access to a telephone and a command post, to see how long it takes for your loyal and dedicated men to forgo your orders and try to save you.”
Hogan shook his head. “There you go again, insisting that I’m giving orders to anybody.”
Oberholzer smiled without any teeth. “You are a stubborn man, Colonel Hogan.” Hogan didn’t react. “Let us see if that stubbornness will be the death of you… and your beloved Sergeant.”
Hogan didn’t look as the door was closed and locked behind him.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“These men aren’t ready to fly, General.” Hogan spoke respectfully on the phone, even though his patience was beginning to wear thin. How many times could he answer this same question?
“Hogan, the Bomb Group needs to be ready to go out on schedule.”
“I’m sorry, sir, but three of the squadrons aren’t experienced enough to pull off this kind of mission; there are too many greenies, and I cannot certify them as combat-ready.”
“What will make you change your mind, Hogan?”
“Another two weeks at the controls, in non-combat conditions.”
“You know that’s not possible.”
“Yes, sir, I do. And so do the men. They are ready to move out on your command.”
“Then you will certify them.”
“Colonel, you are making this extremely difficult. You know moving men who are not combat-certified into the line of fire goes against our principles.”
“Then don’t do it, sir. I won’t say they’re ready just to appease someone’s conscience. They’re not ready, and I won’t order them to go.”
“The higher-ups are going to rain down hard on you for this, Hogan.”
“That’s their decision, sir. My job is to give you my honest, informed opinion, and in this case, that opinion is that these men don’t belong in the skies over Europe. If they’re ordered into combat, it will not be by my hand. And I won’t risk their lives just to save my own skin, sir. I could never live with myself if I did.”
Hogan sat on the floor, propped up against the wall with one leg stretched out and the other bent close to his body to use as a headrest. He had tried the hard chair but found his back hurt after only a few minutes in it, so he abandoned it in favor of the concrete floor. Once again his mind flew back to his responsibilities before he got shot down over Germany… and once again he was surprised by how little had changed. The squadrons had not been ready that day in 1941, and no amount of persuasive talk had convinced Hogan to admit otherwise. And now, his men at Stalag 13 were not ready for the overwhelming task of stopping the bombing of the munitions factory and saving him and Carter, and he knew he wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he asked them to. If they could at least somehow save Carter…
Hogan shook his head slowly, his temples still throbbing after hours of interrogation followed by no sleep, all wrapped up in worry. Boy, you’re really in it this time, Robert Hogan, he thought to himself. What I wouldn’t give to be guaranteed a dressing-down by General Butler about this one when it’s all over…if only because it would mean I’ll get out of it alive….
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Dennison raised his head from his desk, alert and energetic and astonished by his sudden and obvious revelation. “I’ve got it!” he declared aloud, even though there was no one in the room with him. “I’ve got it! Why didn’t I think of it before?”
He got up and flung open the door of his office. “Lewis, I’ve got it!” he called out into the empty corridor. You’re such an idiot! he thought, even as he did it. There’s no one else around to hear you! Nevertheless, he said it again. “I’ve got it!”
Dennison turned back into the room, grabbed his cap and jacket, and went out to tell his best friend and supporter how he planned to make the mission a success, while minimizing the risk to his men, and then to hope that his superiors would see it the same way.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Newkirk frowned deeply and looked intently again at Wilson. “Are you sure this will work?” he asked doubtfully.
“No.” At the Englishman’s raised eyebrows, the medic simply let out a long breath and let his gaze drop to the syringe in his hand. “But it’s the only thing I can think of.”
Kinch filled the long silence that followed. “We know you’re doing the best you can, Joe. We can’t ask for anything more. Just tell us what we have to do.”
Race Against Time
“Herr Kommandant, the prisoners have the list of parts they need to complete the repairs to your car.” Schultz stood before Klink in the Colonel’s office, reluctantly. He had not wanted to bother his commanding officer at the moment; he seemed so gloomy since Colonel Hogan and Sergeant Carter had been taken out of camp last night.
Klink merely blinked up at the large man. “They do?” he asked.
“Jawohl, Herr Kommandant. Sergeant Kinchloe says the men would like to go into Hammelburg to get the parts so they can distract themselves in the motor pool until Colonel Hogan and Carter are brought back.”
“They want to distract themselves with my car,” Klink said, shaking his head. “I’ll be lucky if it doesn’t run off the road by the time they’re done with it.” He paused. He supposed he should be grateful that the prisoners were behaving in such a civilized manner; considering no one knew whether to expect Hogan and Carter back in camp any time soon—if at all—they were handling themselves fairly well. That was either because they had been trained well by Hogan—or because they were scheming.
Klink consciously discarded the second thought. “Very well, Schultz. You may take them for the parts. But make sure you guard them well—I don’t want any funny business while you are away, or it will be on your head!”
“Jawohl, Herr Kommandant. On my head!” Schultz dropped his attentive posture for just a moment as he added worriedly under his breath, “Oh, boy.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“I still don’t understand why I’m here, Major,” Carter dared to say, as Oberholzer settled back nicely at a desk with his coffee and looked at the young Sergeant with a great deal of satisfaction.
“It’s very simple, my boy: Colonel Hogan will either save your life, or die trying.”
“I beg your pardon?”
The Gestapo officer smiled tolerantly. “The plant is due to be bombed by Colonel Hogan’s old Bomb Group today.”
“What makes you say that?” Carter asked, wondering how he was managing to carry on a polite conversation with a man who had treated Colonel Hogan so badly.
“If you must know, Sergeant, our Intelligence was able to intercept a radio transmission. We traced it to the source—London, of course… but not to those receiving the information.” Oberholzer smiled gently. “However, we have our own theories on who was intended to be told.”
Carter shifted uncomfortably. It was clear who the Gestapo officer was talking about. The American said nothing.
“The bombing will not happen, if you are here. Colonel Hogan will see to it.”
“How is he supposed to stop it?”
“You place a great deal of trust and faith in Colonel Hogan, don’t you?” the Major asked. “You think he is a clever and resourceful man. And in many respects, I would have to agree with you. But, you see, he is actually quite simple to figure out. He would let any scheduled bombing raid take place if only his life hung in the balance. But he would never let anything happen to one of his men, if he could stop it. And those under his command would reciprocate that loyalty. I am anticipating that those men will pull out all the stops to contact the Allies before this place is obliterated. And then… well… we shall have all our little spies, shan’t we?”
“Well, that’s not gonna happen, pal,” Carter burst before he could stop himself. Oberholzer merely raised an eyebrow, amused. Carter was encouraged to continue. “You know, you’re sure full of yourself.” His flash of anger was spent as quickly as it had appeared, and he looked wide-eyed at the Major. “Sir.”
Oberholzer grinned. “I think the word you are looking for, Sergeant, is confident.” He nodded approvingly. “Colonel Hogan has trained you well. You sound a bit like he did during our little talks.”
“I could do worse,” Carter dared.
“You could, indeed,” Oberholzer replied. His smile disappeared. “And if you are alive tonight you will know your loyalties have not been misplaced. There is a chair over there—get some rest. You never know if it may be your last chance.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Hogan shook his head even as Bailey spoke. “You know why.”
“But, gee, Papa, daytime bombing? Without fighter escort? Why don’t they just line us up and shoot us?”
“It might not be that bad.”
“You don’t like this, do you.” Hogan’s navigator, his Baby Bear, didn’t have to ask. It was a statement of fact.
Hogan once again cursed that this young man could see right into his thoughts. “You can’t stop it,” is all he said.
“Are you telling Roberts?”
“I did. But orders are orders, and he and I both follow them. And so do you.”
“Sometimes I think we’re idiots, you know that?”
Hogan smiled briefly, ironically. “Yep. But that’s what war is all about.”
Hogan watched as the navigator walked away, his mind still reeling. You can’t stop it…. You can’t stop it…. And then the screams of wounded men and twisted, dying metal pierced his soul….
Hogan’s head jerked up so fast it hit the wall and bounced away. He winced and slowly brought his hand up to soothe his offended skull. He didn’t remember falling asleep on the floor, and now his thoughts were full of the past, and of a disaster he could not prevent, no matter how hard he had tried. You lose again….
Hogan tried stretching sore, stiff muscles, still groggy from the unexpected slumber, and wondered how long it would be before the plant was bombed. There had to be something he could do this time; he couldn’t just let Carter die. In his mind, he saw Kinch’s anxious face as the radio man declared, “We can’t just let this happen!”
“No, we can’t,” Hogan agreed aloud now. He didn’t want his men to risk their lives for him. And at the same time he wanted desperately for Carter to be saved—and, if he admitted it, himself as well. He sighed as his own words floated back to him. Whatever Oberholzer does to me, he’s not going to get all of you. “Guess you were wrong, Robert Hogan,” he said, shaking his head. In his heart, he knew his men would risk anything—everything—to rescue them. And it filled him with reluctant hope, and forceful despair. You can’t stop it, he had told them. But now that was both an order… and a challenge.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Newkirk, Kinch and Le Beau scrambled out of the car and moved onto the sidewalk, looking around them. Newkirk then pointed toward a familiar landmark and the trio started walking away.
“Wait! Halt! Back, back, back!” came the voice of their guardian, Sergeant Schultz.
The prisoners paused and turned to him. “What’s the matter, Schultzie?” Newkirk asked.
Schultz hurried up alongside them. “What is the matter? You cannot go wandering around Hammelburg on your own, that is what is the matter. You are prisoners of war!”
“Are we, now?” Newkirk retorted. He looked at the others. “Did you hear that, mates? We’re prisoners of war!”
Le Beau and Kinch responded loudly. “Such a shame!” Le Beau declared, shaking his head. “And on a lovely day like today!”
“You know, that’s too bad, Schultz—we never get to see this beautiful city!” Kinch added.
Schultz shook his head, vibrating the rest of his ample form. “And you will not get to see it today. We are going to get parts for the Kommandant’s car, and then we are going back to camp.” He paused as he saw Le Beau look worriedly at the sky. “What are you looking at, Cockroach?” he asked with a tinge of suspicion.
Le Beau immediately dropped his eyes. “Uh—nothing, Schultz. I think it might rain today.”
Schultz laughed. “Rain? There is not a cloud in the sky. It is perfect weather!”
“Not for our ruddy bombers,” Newkirk muttered. “Bleedin’ fighters’ll spot them in a second.”
“What was that, Newkirk?” the German asked, as Kinch nodded grimly.
“I said, ‘We’d better go, Schultz, before the Kommandant beckons,’” the Englishman amended.
Schultz nodded. “Ja, let’s go.” The men started walking in the direction they had taken when the car first pulled up. “Wait—wait a minute, where are you going? The motor repair shop is that way.”
“Is it, Schultzie?” Newkirk asked, sounding surprised. “Well, what do you know about that?” He looked at the others, who nodded approvingly. “Tell you what, Schultz,” he said, patting the guard’s chest as the other two got into the car. Newkirk reached into Schultz’s uniform and silently and smoothly lifted the keys: “You head that way, in case we’re wrong—and we’ll head this way.” Keeping Schultz’s attention on his face, the Englishman held the keys out to Kinch, who took them and started the car. Newkirk then backed himself into the vehicle and closed the door. “You know, just in case we’re right. Two heads are better than one, after all, right, Schultz? Or in this case, four heads!” The car pulled away from the curb. “We’ll meet you back here in an hour or so, right?” He patted Kinch on the shoulder from the back seat. “Off we go, then!”
And they were gone, leaving the guard to slowly change from bewildered, to angry, to absolutely terrified at being caught without his prisoners… again. “Newkirk!” he called out. “Newkirk!” Deflated, he looked around to see if he was being watched, and sat down in a doorstep to wait. The boys always came back… eventually.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Nice work, Newkirk,” Kinch said as he drove toward the factory a couple of miles away.
“Oui, that was magnifique,” added Le Beau.
“We’d better hurry,” Newkirk said, accepting the praise with a shrug. “We don’t know how long we’ve got before those B-17s come screaming across the sky—if they hit, they get us, the gov’nor and Carter. And if they miss, they get Schultz. And I don’t want to explain that to Klink when we all turn up dead back at camp.”
A Desperate Act
Newkirk buttoned up the blue-grey jacket he had taken from the trunk of the camp car and shook his head at his companion. “Kinch, are you sure about this? Maybe you should have waited in the car instead of Louis…”
Kinch shook his head starting at Newkirk’s first word and continued even as he himself spoke. “No—Louis’s too squeamish. I’ll do it. Besides,” he said, pulling the black scarf over his face and drawing on a pair of gloves, “It’s not like anyone’s gonna see my face. Are they?” he asked.
Newkirk offered a lopsided smile. “No, I guess not.” He pulled his own mask down. “I hate these ruddy things. Good thing I was never afraid of the dark.”
Kinch’s eyes smiled slightly from behind the cloth. “There are a lot worse things to be afraid of nowadays, Peter,” he said. His eyes grew hard. “Let’s go get Carter and the Colonel.”
Then they drew their pistols and confronted the guards at the door to the factory.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan thought he had perfected his nonchalant look in time for Oberholzer’s next appearance in this tiny prison. But he was sure it didn’t show on his face when the door opened without warning and two masked men in Abwehr uniforms entered, their Lugers drawn, their eyes making a quick scan of the room. Still, as the door closed behind the pair, Hogan pushed himself off the floor and, staggering slightly, stared as expressionlessly as he could manage at the new arrivals.
The unknown men met each other’s eyes for a brief second, then seemed to relax. They pulled down their scarves. “Colonel, it’s us,” Kinch said needlessly.
For a moment Hogan thought he would faint dead away. He was certainly dizzy at the sight of two of his men standing before him, as well as from the lack of food and water since last night. But he quickly recovered and asked, almost sharply, “What are you doing here?”
“We’re gonna get you out,” Kinch replied. He stopped and listened; Newkirk put an ear to the door.
“Where’s Carter?” Newkirk asked in a hushed voice. He nodded to Kinch and came back to join him and Hogan.
“He’s with Oberholzer in the plant office,” Hogan answered as the trio pulled in closer to speak. “How did you get here?”
“It’s a long story, Colonel,” Kinch replied. “But we’ll all be getting out of here soon enough.”
“You shouldn’t be here; this place is gonna be blown to bits any minute now!” Hogan protested.
“We know, gov’nor, and that’s why we’ve come,” Newkirk said, nodding.
“It’s an unacceptable risk,” Hogan said. The men let the comment roll off their backs, knowing it was Hogan’s way of dealing with his men putting themselves in what he considered to be unacceptable danger—usually involving securing Hogan’s own safety. “Where’s Le Beau?”
“He’s in the car,” Kinch answered.
Newkirk nodded. “We’ll bring it back to town when we’re through. Schultz knows we’re good for it.”
Hogan shook his head. “Schultz…?”
“We don’t have much time, Colonel,” Kinch said urgently. “We know if Oberholzer suspects anything out of the ordinary that he’ll never let you go. So we’re gonna try to make him think getting you out of here is his idea.”
“His idea?” Hogan echoed. “How?”
A noise from outside the room jolted the men. Kinch looked almost reluctantly at Newkirk as he came around behind Hogan. The Colonel straightened, bewildered, and looked questioningly at Newkirk. “What’s going on?”
Newkirk bit his lip. “Do you trust me, gov’nor?”
Hogan frowned. “You know I do.”
“Right. See you back at camp, then. Get him, Kinch.”
Hogan’s face registered an instant of pain, then went blank as he slumped into Kinch’s waiting arms. Regretful about the surprise knock on the head he’d had to deliver to his commanding officer, Kinch gently but quickly lowered Hogan to the floor and pushed up a sleeve. He took the syringe Newkirk offered and plunged the contents into Hogan’s arm. “Sorry, Colonel,” he said softly. Then he looked up at Newkirk. “That’s all we can do.”
Newkirk looked worriedly at Hogan’s now-still face and panicked inside. “Kinch, are you sure we can’t just take him? I mean, what if we gave him too much—?”
“No,” Kinch said, more strongly than he intended to. “We can prod them along, but taking him out of here will have to look like the Germans’ idea.” He pulled Hogan’s sleeve back down and made sure he was settled on the floor. Then he stared, worried about what they had just done, and worried about what might happen. “Let’s just hope they get that idea real quick.” He forced himself to turn away and replaced the scarf over his face. “Now we’d better go find Carter.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Why have you not yet reported to me, Huesler?” Oberholzer’s tone was sharp and impatient as he spoke into the telephone whose ring had roused Carter out of a stupor. They had been sitting for hours today, with Oberholzer trying many methods to get the young Sergeant to talk about Hogan and life at Stalag 13. And though the Gestapo Major was well-trained in the art of persuasiveness, he wasn’t getting very far with Carter, and it wasn’t because Carter was too clever for him; it was because Carter was too worried about what was probably going to happen to him, and to Colonel Hogan, some time this afternoon.
“You be sure to report in again in thirty minutes. And immediately if something should develop before then!” Oberholzer slammed down the phone and let out a not-so-subtle curse.
One side of Carter’s face lifted in a smile. “Having a bad day?” he asked hesitantly.
Oberholzer glared at the American, then tempered his expression and fell into an easy smile. “Let’s just say your Colonel Hogan is a stubborn man.”
Carter dropped the smile. “What have you done to the Colonel?” he asked, fear lacing his voice.
Oberholzer shook his head. “Nothing, my young friend. He is quite safe. But I suspect he will not be soon. Nor will you.”
Carter didn’t want to know, but he asked anyway. “What time is it?”
A raised eyebrow and a glance at his watch. “Two-fifteen.”
Carter gulped but said nothing. Oberholzer smiled softly. “Worried?”
Carter shook his head stubbornly. “Hungry.”
“Perhaps you are getting angry that your Colonel does nothing to stop the 504th Bomb Group from coming here and destroying the plant—and, therefore, killing you.”
Carter squared his jaw in rarely felt anger. “If you’re so sure that’s gonna happen, how come you’re here? Don’t you want to get out alive?”
“Of course!” Oberholzer said with a short laugh. “But I have more confidence, perhaps, than you do in Colonel Hogan; I am certain this plant will not be touched. At least not today. You, on the other hand—is it possible you are getting nervous? Or just a little perturbed with Colonel Hogan, that he has not ordered the attack to be stopped?”
Carter shook his head again. “I never said anything like that, mister. I trust Colonel Hogan more than anybody in this whole war! I just think he doesn’t have anything to do with this ol’ bombing you keep talking about, so you’re wasting your breath!”
Oberholzer bowed his head in deference to Carter’s impassioned outburst. “Nonetheless,” he said quietly, “we shall see.”
As Oberholzer finished speaking, the door swung open and two men dressed in Abwehr uniforms and with their faces covered in black cloths stormed in, guns raised. The Major looked up in surprise, then quickly recovered his composure and stood up to face the pair.
“Get up and hand over your weapon,” the shorter of the two rasped.
Calmly, Oberholzer reached into holster and pulled out his sidearm. “And the rest,” the taller of the men persisted as he pocketed the gun.
Oberholzer smiled resignedly and reached under his jacket to pull out another, smaller pistol. “Gentlemen, to what do we owe the honor of this visit?” he asked.
“You are interfering in Abwehr business. If this factory is to be bombed as the Gestapo believes, then we want the information now, before it happens, not later, after it has happened. You are taking too long with these men. We will take over.”
As the taller of the men spoke, the smaller one came around to where Carter was standing and pulled him toward the door. “You will come with us,” he said to the Sergeant, who frowned and resisted the tugs of the masked man. He raised his chin at his companion. “And where is the other one—Hogan?”
Oberholzer shook his head. “You may take this one if you like, but you are not taking Hogan. He is my prize. You see, I can be very accommodating to the Abwehr,” he started gently. But then his voice hardened as he continued, “But in some things I am unshakable. Colonel Hogan is the key to this attack, and the key to the acts of sabotage happening around Stalag 13. I am as sure of it as I am of my own name. And no one will remove him from me. Not even the Abwehr.”
“We shall see about that,” the taller man said. “Take us to him. We will question Hogan ourselves.” A pause. “Since you seem to have failed in your attempts to get information from him. Otherwise you would not be here now.”
Oberholzer nodded graciously and, obeying the waving machine guns, moved toward the office door. “You will only question him here,” he insisted. “He will not be taken away from this plant. Otherwise, my interrogation will have failed, but not due to my own actions.”
On the way through the halls of the plant, Carter gave a start when he found his elbow being squeezed by one of the Abwehr men. He was about to protest when he met the eyes of the man gripping him, and realized that this was their rescue. He grinned in spite of himself, and resolved to stay steadfast. After all, they weren’t out of this mess yet.
But even Newkirk and Kinch, who had already been with Hogan earlier, were not prepared for the sight of the Colonel when Oberholzer opened the door to the small room. “Mein Gott!” Oberholzer exclaimed. “He’s dead!”
In the Nick of Time
Kinch fought down the sick feeling rising inside him and tried hard to focus on the work at hand. He watched light-headedly as Carter gasped and dropped to his knees at Hogan’s side before anyone could stop him. Newkirk came forward and placed a restraining hand on the young man’s shoulder, squeezing it in the hopes of passing on an unspoken plan. “You fool!” Kinch rasped at Oberholzer, glad the German could not see his face. “What have you done?”
Carter continued to call Hogan’s name, each pleading cry piercing his friends and leaving them almost unable to function. The Sergeant was shaking Hogan by the shoulders, moving his head back and forth, trying anything to rouse him. But it was not working, and Newkirk had to look away from the still, white form on the floor.
“I did nothing!” Oberholzer protested, aghast. “He was fine this morning. I came down here and talked to him myself!”
“Clearly he was not fine!” Kinch retorted. “Or does this look fine to you?” He moved in close to Oberholzer, rammed the barrel of his pistol into the man’s stomach. His anger was real, despite his knowledge that the German was not responsible for the vision before his eyes now. “Did you have Colonel Hogan searched for cyanide capsules before you left him in here on his own?” he sneered.
“You idiot! If this man is as dangerous as you claim he is, did you think he would leave himself no way out of relentless interrogation? Did you not think he needed to have a guard in this room with him, to stop him from doing something like this?”
“B-But—but I was sure!”
In the meantime, Newkirk had leaned down near Carter and was doing his own examination of Hogan. Trying hard to hide the fact that his hands were trembling, he lifted Hogan’s eyelids; pinpoint pupils stared back at him. Swallowing with difficulty, he ran his fingers along the Colonel’s cold, clammy skin and stopped just below the jaw line. He pressed hard, harder than he had to, his eyes boring into his still commander’s face, willing him to have a pulse. When he found one, albeit slow and thready, he breathed a sigh of relief that he quite frankly didn’t care if Oberholzer noticed. He moved a hand in front of Hogan’s nose and mouth and waited for what seemed an interminable time for the slightest warm, moist breath to touch it. He nodded to Carter when it finally happened.
“He is still alive,” Newkirk said, as much for his own benefit as for Kinch and Carter’s. He stood up and confronted the Gestapo officer. “But he may not be for long. That means, Oberholzer, that there is still time to try and stop your bungling from completely destroying the Abwehr’s plans for this man. We will take him with us now. And you will come with us. If Hogan was going to stop this plant from being bombed—” Newkirk scoffed outwardly, but inwardly he strained his ears to listen for the sound of approaching planes— “he certainly isn’t able to do that now. And so it will be safer for you to be out of this place than in it, ja?”
Oberholzer nodded stupidly. “Ja.”
“And not so safe when our superiors are through with you,” Kinch added with a snort of contempt.
Oberholzer shook his head as he continued staring at Hogan. “Nein.” I could not have been wrong… I could not have been! There are no bombers! And yet…
“Let’s go.” Kinch waved his gun sharply toward Carter. “You, American, help carry your officer and get him out to our car. We will have much to ask him if we are not too late to reverse the effects of whatever he has taken. And much to answer for if we are.”
Carter gulped and nodded, by now comfortable with what was really happening, but still shaken by Hogan’s condition. Newkirk holstered his pistol and helped Carter lift the Colonel’s lifeless body in between them. Kinch motioned with his gun for Oberholzer to move out of the way, and Hogan was taken out of the room. The others followed.
As they emerged from the building, Kinch once again looked up at the sky, all too aware of the tight time frame they were working within. The sky was starting to cloud over, but still no sign of American bomber planes. He shook himself back to his most immediate worries and prodded Oberholzer toward the car, where Le Beau was waiting for them.
“What’s this?” Oberholzer asked, resisting getting into the vehicle.
Kinch shoved him into the front seat and sat beside him, effectively blocking him in. “Shut up,” Kinch ordered as he pulled down his mask. Oberholzer gasped.
Le Beau revealed his pistol and stared with loathing at the German officer. “This is what happens to les Boches when they play games with Colonel Hogan.”
Kinch looked into the back seat, where Carter and Newkirk were loading Hogan into the car and trying to make him as comfortable as possible. “Anything, Newkirk?” he asked.
Newkirk pulled his mask down and took a couple of deep breaths to recover from the exertion of carrying the Colonel. “Nothing, mate. He’s not stirring at all yet.”
“We’ve gotta get him back to Joe as soon as possible. If we can’t wake him up, we can’t help him from here.”
Le Beau handed his pistol to Carter and started the car. “I will drive as fast as I can, mon ami,” he said.
Newkirk felt for Hogan’s pulse again, looked one more time at the expressionless, pale face. “His breathing’s real slow, Kinch—and his skin’s like ice.”
“What happened to him?” Carter finally asked.
Newkirk shook his head. “We had to find a way for the Kraut here to agree to let Colonel Hogan out of the plant before it was bombed—and the only way we could think of was for him to appear to be so ill that he was no longer useful. So we injected him with morphine.”
“Only a little bit more than is normally good for him,” Kinch clarified.
“You gave the Colonel an overdose? What if it’s too much?” Carter yelped.
“That’s what an overdose is, Carter,” Kinch answered. “And it was the only chance we had. We were planning to use it on you and the Colonel to get Oberholzer to think you were both sick and maybe contagious. But once we discovered you’d been separated, we had to change tack.”
Oberholzer raised his head. “And so why did you not just force him out at gunpoint, instead of concocting this charade that may still cost your Colonel Hogan his life?” Where did they get the uniforms? Where did they get the car? Hogan… everything I suspected really is true…. But what can I do about it now?
“We couldn’t risk you saying anything to the plant guards on the way out, now, could we?” Newkirk replied. “This way, it all looks perfectly legitimate… and we get rid of you in the process.”
“What are you going to do with me?” the officer asked.
“We should have left you in the plant,” Le Beau replied. “You were right, after all; it is going to be bombed today.” He shrugged, listening for a moment to the silent sky. “But the Colonel would not like it if we operated like that without his permission. So we are taking you to the Underground.” He pulled the car off the road in front of a small house. “The signal is there,” he said to his companions.
Kinch put his mask back on his face and opened his door. “Now you’re gonna get out nice and easy, Oberholzer. And you’re gonna come nice and quiet-like. We’re going to take you into this house, and the nice people who live here are going to make sure you get to London by the scenic, submarine route.”
“I cannot go to London! I—”
“You have two choices, mate,” Newkirk said, leaning toward the front seat and into Oberholzer’s ear. “You can go to London—or you can bleed to death in this car. Take your pick. I know which one I’d prefer for you.”
Oberholzer nodded stiffly. “Very well.” Kinch backed out of the car, his machine gun now readied and aimed at the officer. Oberholzer disembarked and straightened his uniform. “Tell me,” he said, looking at Kinch, “how did Hogan get word out to stop the bombing?”
Kinch shook his head. “He didn’t. He ordered us not to.”
Oberholzer looked suitably surprised. “But then, how is it that you came to the plant? It is due for destruction, and yet you have risked your lives…”
“We take chances, Oberholzer; that’s our job. And we’ll do whatever we have to for the Colonel. Because he’s worth it, and Carter is worth it, and the cause we fight for is worth it. If we’d gotten blown up today, at least we’d have been able to look our Maker in the eye. I doubt you’ll ever get that high up.” He glanced into the back seat and felt himself turn even colder inside when he caught a glimpse of Hogan. “Now move.”
With Hogan’s body still leaning heavily against his arm, Carter very carefully held up the gun Le Beau had handed him so he could track Oberholzer. When Kinch and the German disappeared inside, Carter dropped his pistol into his lap and looked back at Hogan. “He looks bad, Newkirk. He looks really bad,” he fretted. “What can we do?”
“I don’t know, mate. But if we don’t get him back to camp soon, we’re all gonna look exactly the same—’cause we’ll be dead from those bleedin’ bombs that are gonna be dropped any second.”
Kinch came quickly out of the house and without waiting got into the car and shut the door. “Let’s go,” he said curtly.
Le Beau pulled the vehicle away from the curb and headed back toward the middle of Hammelburg. “Oberholzer is taken care of?” he asked.
Kinch nodded. “He won’t be going back to his office any time soon,” he answered. “Those fellas from the Underground are gonna keep him all tied up—in more ways than one. And then they’re going to get him back to England, where he can’t cause any more trouble.” A glance toward the back seat. “For anyone.”
“Where are those bombers?” Le Beau wondered aloud.
“Who cares?” Newkirk answered, with a glance of his own out the window. “Let’s just be glad they haven’t shown up yet and get back to camp!”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Le Beau got out of the car and tried to pull Schultz into the front seat. “Hurry up, Schultzie; we have to go back to camp right away.”
“Oh, Cockroach, you are back!” Schultz smiled happily as the Frenchman tugged at him. The guard looked around the car, seeming to check if everything was still in order. “I knew you would come back; you are good boys in the end, even if you were naughty and left me sitting on the doorstep like that!” He nodded, running his hand along the open door. “And you kept it so nice and clean!” he marveled.
“Come on, hurry up, Schultz; we have no time to waste.” Le Beau pushed and shoved until he got Schultz close enough to be pulled into the car by Kinch.
The guard frowned as he resisted the manhandling, then almost choked when he saw the black man in German uniform. “What are you doing?” he asked, notes of both fear and warning in his voice. “Why is Sergeant Kinchloe dressed as a German officer?”
Le Beau didn’t bother answering. He just pushed in beside Schultz, shut the door, and tore off toward Stalag 13. It was Carter who replied. “Well, he had to, Schultz, if he was gonna get me and the Colonel out of that factory.”
Schultz nodded agreement. “Ja, ja…” Then the voice registered in his brain and he looked into the back seat. “Carter!” he exclaimed. “What are you doing here?” His eyes moved over Newkirk and then fell upon Hogan. “And Colonel Hogan! What is Colonel Hogan doing here?” He closed his eyes and turned back to the front seat. “I do not see them! They are not here! I see nothing!”
“Stop that, Schultz; there’s no time for that,” Kinch scolded. “We have to get the Colonel back to camp. Can’t you see how sick he is? Now here’s what you’re going to tell the Kommandant—”
“Wait! Do not tell me! If I say anything, the Kommandant will know you boys left me to go get Colonel Hogan and Carter—”
“We’ve got you covered, Schultz; you’ll be fine,” Newkirk said, trying to sound reassuring. He looked back at Hogan, about whom he was getting more and more worried by the minute. “I just hope we can say the same for the gov’nor when we get back to Stalag 13.”
“We did everything we were supposed to, Joe, but we had to stay away from him longer than we wanted to and he hasn’t woken up yet!”
“Get him in here—come on, quick—move it!”
Hogan’s men lifted the Colonel as gently as they could considering the hurry they were in and brought him into his quarters, where they laid him on the lower bunk. Wilson immediately moved in, pulling a tiny flashlight out of the medical bag he had grabbed as soon as he realized who was in the car he saw pull into camp, and shining it into Hogan’s eyes. No reaction. Flicking off the light and tossing it back in the bag, he touched Hogan’s skin, felt for a pulse, moved the Colonel’s head from side to side, and waited for a response that didn’t come. “Has he woken up at all since you gave him the stuff?” he asked the others.
Newkirk shook his head, but it was Kinch who answered. “No,” was all he could croak.
Wilson turned back to Hogan and took the Colonel’s head in his hand again, shaking him a bit harder than before. “Come on, Colonel, wake up. Wake up; we need you!”
“What can we do for him, Joe?” asked Le Beau.
“Nothing,” the medic said, frustrated and not trying to hide how frantic he was. “We’ve got to get him awake enough to drink something.” He shook Hogan again. “Come on, Colonel. Come on!”
Wilson started to pull Hogan into an upright position. Newkirk moved in to help support the dead weight. “Come on, gov’nor. You said you trusted me. Now you’ve gotta wake up so we can get you better. So you just listen to Joe and do what he says, all right?”
“Water—I need water, quick,” Wilson ordered.
“In a bowl?” Carter asked.
“A cup—in a cup. Fill it up. And a spoon, or—something to stir with. Get them now.”
Carter burst out of the room and was back in mere seconds. “Here,” he said, handing the cup to the medic.
Wilson shoved it into Le Beau’s nearby hand and reached into his bag. He poured a black, powdery substance into the cup, then took it back and stirred the contents with the spoon. “Keep him steady,” he said to Newkirk. He looked at Kinch. “Help hold his head up.”
Kinch moved in immediately. When everything was ready, Wilson carefully opened Hogan’s mouth and began pouring the concoction into him. As it reached the back of Hogan’s throat, the Colonel choked and started coughing. Some of the mixture came out of his mouth, drawing small black paths as it rolled down his neck. Wilson stopped pouring and watched, and when it appeared that Hogan had actually swallowed some of the liquid, he resumed, while continuing to call Hogan’s name.
“Activated charcoal,” the medic said in brief explanation. “We need to get something to absorb the morphine.”
Hogan’s frightened men watched as Wilson continued his ministrations. Finally, he handed the cup off to Carter and practically shouted in Hogan’s ear. After what seemed like hours, they were rewarded with a change in their commanding officer’s condition. Hogan seemed to take in a deep, choking breath, and, his eyes still squeezed tightly shut, coughed painfully. He tried to curl forward into himself, but Wilson stopped that movement and motioned for Newkirk to help him lay the Colonel down on his side on the bunk. Then the medic determinedly began to massage the Colonel’s arms and legs. Hogan moaned, taking difficult, rasping breaths, still coughing, and suddenly sweating profusely.
“What’s happening, Joe? He’s in pain,” Newkirk said worriedly.
Wilson nodded, still concentrating fully on his patient. “He’s waking up a bit,” he said, putting a hand to Hogan’s neck. “He’s reacting to the morphine—muscle spasms, nausea. I’m trying to get him some relief. If we can treat the overdose symptoms, he should be all right in a couple of days.” The Sergeant nodded as he felt Hogan’s pulse. “Pulse rate’s picking up.” He lifted each of Hogan’s eyelids. No response. “It takes time. I’ll need to keep a close eye on him.”
“But he’ll be okay,” Kinch said firmly, looking for reassurance.
For the first time, Wilson looked away from his patient and at the men who had brought him back to camp. He nodded sympathetically. “Yeah, Kinch. Yeah, he should be okay.”
Hogan’s men breathed a collective sigh of relief.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Schultz! What is going on? How did you end up coming back to camp with Colonel Hogan and Sergeant Carter when you went out to get car parts?”
Klink paced his office hurriedly, as though he had a destination in mind, and waved only his fist at the guard as he spoke, his gestures clipped and almost mechanical. He had been very disturbed when he’d watched Hogan’s men pull the Colonel’s limp body out of the car, and more than anything right now he wanted to know how the American was, and whether he would recover. Only a small part of him wanted to know how Hogan had come to be in that condition; the rest of him knew he would not be able to cope with the knowledge, if Oberholzer had done something unconscionable.
Schultz twitched his moustache and shifted uncomfortably. “Well, Herr Kommandant, it happened by accident. I—”
“Never mind, Schultz; never mind.” Klink waved the explanation away. What the Sergeant of the Guard said to his superior officer rarely made sense anyway. And it still wouldn’t tell him what he really wanted to know. “Where is Major Oberholzer?”
“I do not know, Herr Kommandant. The prisoners did not tell me.”
“The prisoners didn’t tell you? Schultz, you are supposed to be doing the telling, not a group of prisoners!” Klink protested. But he knew it was useless. In the end, Schultz really often did know nothing. “That may mean he is coming back for Colonel Hogan! Although,” he added with a small bit of ill-concealed satisfaction, “he was clearly wrong about Hogan being a spy—after all, that factory outside Hammelburg is still intact!”
“That is true, Herr Kommandant.”
Klink’s smile dropped. But this just means I’ll have to call Gestapo Headquarters myself to find out if we are expecting another visit from that sadist. “How long has Colonel Hogan been unconscious?” he asked curtly, trying hard to sound disinterested. He looked out his window toward Barracks Two, not sure what he expected to be seeing. He was disappointed when the building offered no answers.
“Since the boys came back with the—since I got back in the car to come back to camp, Herr Kommandant,” Schultz answered. “The prisoners’ medic is looking after him now.”
“Very good, Schultz. Keep tabs on what’s going on and report to me,” Klink ordered, hoping too much of his anxiety didn’t show through. “Every hour until Hogan wakes up!”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“What happened to those ruddy bombers?” Newkirk asked a few hours later as Hogan’s men sat at the common room table. “Kinch, didn’t they say they were coming today?”
Kinch nodded. “They sure did,” he answered. “Maybe they changed their plans and we didn’t get told.”
“How could they tell us?” Le Beau said. “That radio detection truck Oberholzer had brought here meant no one could tell us anything!”
“That’s right. Boy, I’m sure glad Klink’s ordered it out,” Carter added with a nod. “Hey, did you see his face when he went to those fellas and told them to leave?”
“Yeah,” Kinch agreed, smiling weakly at the memory. “He couldn’t decide whether to defy the Gestapo or to faint.”
“’E probably did both,” Newkirk said with a laugh. “Still, I would have felt a lot better going into town for the gov’nor if I’d known those bombers weren’t coming.”
Le Beau nodded. “Me, too,” he said.
“Well, at least we still managed to get the anti-aircraft guns away from there once the truck was gone,” Kinch said.
“Yeah,” Carter laughed. “Boy, Kinch, you do a great Gestapo boss. That was brilliant!”
Kinch grinned and spoke using the voice he had taken on earlier in the day when ring Gestapo Headquarters. “‘So, you think Oberholzer knows more than me! Well, you will know more than both of us soon—about the weather in Stalingrad—if you don’t move those batteries to Leipzig—schnell!’”
The others laughed, then abruptly stopped as Wilson emerged from Hogan’s room, nodding once in their direction before making his way to the stove. He rubbed his face tiredly before picking up a cup and pouring himself some coffee.
“How is he, Joe?” asked Kinch immediately.
Wilson let out a weary breath and turned back toward Hogan’s men. “He’s getting there,” he said with a nod. “Sick as a dog at the moment, but I’d be more worried if he was just lying there. He’s woken up once or twice but the morphine’s keeping him pretty out of it.”
“When will he get over that?” Carter asked.
Wilson shrugged. “Hard to tell. It’s happening, slowly.”
Newkirk shook his head, still not over the sight of Hogan lying lifelessly on the floor of that tiny room in the factory. “For awhile there I wondered if it was gonna happen at all.”
Wilson moved in as he noticed Carter grow quiet. “What’s the matter, Andrew? Are you okay?” He sat down next to the usually bright young man and put his cup on the table.
“Oh, yeah, I’m okay,” Carter replied with a shrug. “I was just thinking about what Major Oberholzer said about Colonel Hogan—you know, that he didn’t have anything any more, and that he was being stubborn and not telling the Gestapo about the 504th so the bombing could be put off.” Carter frowned deeply and anger inside him made a rare second appearance. “He wondered if I was mad at the Colonel for not calling off the raid because we might both get killed! But Colonel Hogan never got a chance to talk to you fellas once the Major had decided to bring me along. And he wasn’t well in the car, you could tell—and Oberholzer just kept going at him!”
Wilson patted Carter’s arm. “That’s what the Gestapo do best, Andrew. Oberholzer wore the Colonel down while he was here, then when he couldn’t get far enough with him, he took him to the factory—and brought you with them to see if that’d make the Colonel cave in.”
“But it didn’t!” Carter said defiantly, fiercely proud.
“No, it didn’t.”
“But the bombers—why didn’t they show up?” Le Beau wondered again.
“Who knows? Maybe they—wait a minute.” Kinch cut himself off as noises in the distance distracted him. “What’s that?”
The others strained to listen as well, then ran to the barracks door and threw it open in hopes of hearing more clearly. “Those are bombs hitting their targets, mate!” Newkirk practically shouted. “The ruddy planes are finally here!”
The men could see nothing from where they were, but listened, satisfied, as destruction rained upon the area outside Hammelburg. For his part, Wilson moved back into the barracks and went into Hogan’s room, where the Colonel was resting rather uncomfortably on his lower bunk. “You hear that, Colonel Hogan?” the medic whispered softly as he adjusted the blanket and once more checked his patient’s pulse. “The bombers have made it. It’s all okay.”
Hogan moaned weakly and struggled to open his eyes. He was tired—so, so tired—and he was hard-pressed to make sense of what was happening around him. “Everyone… safe?” he breathed, his speech slurred.
The energy required to stay awake long enough to hear the answer was beyond him, though, and Hogan drifted back to nothingness. “They sure are, Colonel Hogan,” Wilson replied nonetheless. He nodded and watched Hogan’s dark eyes close again. “They sure are.”
“So that’s the story, Colonel,” Kinch reported the next day. “The Commander of the 504th apparently asked to delay the raid till night time so they might not be so easily spotted.” He shrugged. “They knew it was a risky one, and they said he wasn’t happy, so they agreed.”
Hogan nodded thoughtfully. He was propped up on his bunk in his bathrobe, having given up the charade of being in perfect health, and rubbed his eyes wearily, trying to suppress a yawn. “Lucky for us he wasn’t,” Hogan said. “Otherwise you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation.” The Colonel closed his eyes against a now-less-frequent bout of dizziness brought on by the drugs he’d been given. “What made you decide to dope me up with morphine to get me out anyway?”
Kinch bowed his head to allow Hogan a moment in private to recover. “Well, Colonel, we knew Oberholzer would be smart enough to put two and two together if we just showed up and demanded your release—but if you were ill and unable to answer questions, he might just let you go. So we asked Joe Wilson what might make you appear sick, and when we got to the plant we put on some German uniforms…” He paused. “Unfortunately, you and Carter were separated, and things didn’t go quite as planned…”
“So you decided to just drug me and take your chances with Oberholzer.” Hogan shook his head, carefully. “The place could have blown sky high. What if the 504th had arrived on schedule?” he asked.
Kinch shrugged, awkward about being on the spot but not ashamed of their actions. “It was a chance worth taking, Colonel. What kind of operation would we have without you and Carter?”
Hogan felt himself becoming overwhelmed again. He felt like his emotions had been out of his control since he had returned to Stalag 13 and learned what Kinch, Le Beau and Newkirk had risked for his safety and Carter’s. “I didn’t want you to put yourselves at risk for me… but I couldn’t help hoping you might do it anyway, for Carter’s sake,” he admitted finally. Another long pause as he considered. “But you got us both out, and you got Oberholzer out of the way as well. In direct defiance of orders, mind you… but brilliant work.” One final pause. “Thanks… for not giving up.”
Kinch shifted slightly, knowing how hard outward emotion came to his commanding officer. He nodded and offered a small smile. “We learned how to be stubborn from you.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“So, Wes, still flying high after last night’s success?” Humphries smiled as he came up alongside his friend in the corridor. “A nice bit of strategy, if I do say.”
Dennison nodded as the two of them continued walking. “In the end it turned out I was trying too hard. All I had to do was see if we could move the raid from daytime to nighttime. Cut out all sorts of problems with visuals, and that’s really all I could do. But by golly, it sure made me feel a lot better.”
“You’re lucky the brass agreed—I’d have expected them to say no. Daylight raids are daylight raids, and they’re risky by nature.”
“Maybe they like my face,” Dennison quipped.
“That wouldn’t be it; they’d have said no right away if your mug had anything to do with it,” Humphries goaded lightly. “Hey—you might even step out from Colonel Hogan’s shadow.”
“I doubt that will ever happen,” Dennison replied. “And I’ve been thinking, Lewis: I really struggled with this mission, but it gave me a lot more respect for Hogan. I mean we’ve got fighter escort and experience in daylight raids now; he had nothing, and yet he still managed to pull it all off—and brilliantly. He must have gone through this kind of stress all the time. I don’t know how he coped and stayed as charismatic as everyone says. Maybe it’s not so bad having his presence floating around here. Gives me something to aspire to.”
“You could do worse.” The Major grinned. “Where are we going?” he asked, as they continued walking.
“I’ve been called down to the radio room. But I suppose you can come, too.”
“Oh, good; more time with the currently famous Colonel Dennison.”
“You want my autograph?”
“Nah; all those X’s look the same to me.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“We thought you deserved to hear what happened yesterday, Dennison,” the Colonel’s superior officer said.
Dennison furrowed his brow, already surprised to see General Alfred Butler standing before him. “‘What happened,’ sir?” he asked.
“We already know that by changing the timing of the raid over the plant near Hammelburg, dozens, possibly hundreds of men’s lives were saved.” Butler paused for a moment and seemed to think. “But it turns out that the change accomplished more than one objective.”
Dennison exchanged puzzled glances with Humphries. “Sir?”
Butler glanced at Humphries, who merely blinked back, and then turned his attention back to Dennison. “We received a message today from Papa Bear. The Jerries found out about the plans for the attack due to a breach in our radio security, which has now been rectified. If we have gone in when intended, it would have meant guaranteed huge losses to our side. Also, at the time the raid was supposed to happen, Papa Bear himself was unavoidably at the munitions factory. If the strike proceeded as planned, we would have lost the greatest undercover operator the Allies have in Germany.”
Dennison gasped. Humphries merely raised his eyebrows. “And there’s a message you need to see,” Butler added. He glanced again at Humphries, then nodded. “It is classified, gentlemen.”
Dennison took the paper offered to him and quickly scanned the contents before reading aloud. “‘Gestapo Major on his way to you now.’” He paused and looked at Butler questioningly, but received nothing but a blank stare in return. “‘Suspects existence and location of operation. Jerry reeling from attack on plant. Due to change of timing, Papa Bear and cub safe and sound. Special message to Commander of the 504th: Thanks for looking after my boys. Regards, Papa Bear.’”
Dennison looked up at Butler and considered speaking while his mind was still reeling, but changed his mind. He looked at Humphries beside him, whose eyebrows were now floating high on his forehead. Finally, he stammered, “‘…my boys’?”
Butler’s face remained unreadable. “Look after the 504th, Dennison,” he said at last. “It’s very important to people working on the inside. More important than you may ever know.”
Dennison nodded numbly. Colonel Hogan…. So you’re not sitting out the war after all. He smiled, thinking how often he had been told about Hogan’s perseverance and clear inner strength. I should have known there couldn’t be two men like you.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“I’m fine, Joe,” Hogan said before the medic even had a chance to speak. He turned back to watching some of the men play volleyball in the compound from his vantage point near the barracks, leaning against the wall, one of his feet braced up against it.
“I didn’t say a word!” Wilson protested. He held up his hands to show he had nothing with him with which to poke and prod the Colonel. “Just watching the game, same as you.”
“Uh-huh,” Hogan said, unconvinced but willing to let it go. His eyes followed the worn ball as it traveled back and forth across the net. Then he closed his eyes and sighed as a light, cool breeze swept past.
“You okay?” came Wilson’s voice immediately.
Hogan felt the medic’s hand on his arm. “I’m fine,” he said, opening his eyes. “No more dizzy spells, no more falling asleep without notice. Honest.” He threw a glance at the Sergeant and smiled tolerantly at the man’s worried face. “Not even any more being sick to my stomach. No thanks to you and that nice extra dose of morphine you told the fellas to give me,” he said lightly.
Wilson shrugged apologetically. “Sorry about that,” he said. “But they said they were desperate and I couldn’t think of anything else.”
“Well, it worked. And… thanks.”
“I’d say ‘Any time,’ but… I’d rather not.”
“Me, too.” Hogan closed his eyes again as his mind drifted to memories both long ago and recent.
“Colonel Hogan, watch this!” Hogan’s eyes lit up as he watched a young recruit excitedly prepare for his first landing at the controls of a B-17. “It’s gonna be a perfect landing; you’ll see!”
Hogan nodded. “You’re doing well, Brighton. But you’ll do better if your landing gear is down.”
The young man grinned as the tips of his ears turned red. “Whoops. That won’t happen under combat conditions, Colonel. Honest.”
Hogan smiled tolerantly and looked out his window. Suddenly he was standing in the middle of the compound at Stalag 13, and another young man, a prisoner of war, was standing in rags. “I’m cold, sir.”
Hogan frowned deeply, then looked at the torn jacket, the dirty, worn gloves, the shredded boots. He turned and found himself in Klink’s office. “Sir, the men in Barracks Six are freezing in this winter weather. The blankets we have just aren’t enough, and you promised long underwear after the stove broke down, when we did that extra work detail in the motor pool. It’s now been three days and we’ve got no stove and no underwear. It’s time to pay up.”
Klink shook his head. “We do not have any long underwear at the moment, Colonel Hogan. I told you yesterday that those supplies have been delayed.”
“‘Delayed?’” Hogan echoed, annoyed. “Then why is Schultz suddenly waltzing around like Nanook of the North?”
“Sergeant Schultz has enough blubber to keep the entire guard house warm for a week.”
“And it doesn’t hurt that he’s got long underwear on either,” Hogan retorted. “Le Beau saw it when Schultz reached over for our strudel.”
Klink waved his hands dismissively. “All right, all right. Long underwear. I’ll have the guards bring it out tomorrow.”
“Today,” Hogan persisted. “It’s going to be below freezing again tonight, and unless you want to see ice pops at roll call in the morning, they’d better get into something warm now.”
A mocking laugh from behind him made Hogan turn around. “You have nothing now.” Major Oberholzer was suddenly there, shaking his head as Hogan bartered for the well-being of his men. “You used to be the Commander of a legendary Bomb Group. Now, you are the leader of a group of impotent boy scouts.” The Major moved in close to Hogan’s ear. Hogan closed his eyes. “How does it feel, Colonel Hogan, to have lost everything?”
You took it from me, Hogan said to himself, as humiliation and desperation began to fill his emptiness.
“Look out, Colonel Hogan!”
Hogan stopped the errant volleyball only inches away from his face and held it fast. Corporal Monroe trotted over to the Colonel and Wilson, puffing and red-faced. “Sorry about that, Colonel,” he said, taking the ball Hogan offered.
“Oh, and hey,” Monroe added, with just a quick glance back toward the game, “I heard you weren’t feeling too well the last few days—glad to see you up and about, sir.”
Hogan nodded slowly. “Thanks.”
“And that long underwear, sir?—It’s great! I can’t take the cold, you know—that thin Florida blood. And even though the stove came back—well I never got around to returning the long johns to the Krauts.” A mischievous grin. “Last night I dreamt it was Betty Grable keeping me warm, and not some Kraut underwear. Thanks again.”
A small smile curled the edges of Hogan’s lips. “Glad I could help.” He watched as the young flyer raced back to the shouting players and resumed the game with vigor.
How does it feel to have lost everything? echoed in his mind again. But as Hogan watched a play suddenly dissolve into a four-man pile-up, he resolved the conflict within him: I haven’t lost everything, Oberholzer, Hogan replied inwardly; I’ve just got something totally different.
His thoughts focused on Carter, Newkirk, Kinch and Le Beau. I don’t have to be in the air to have a good crew.
Text and original characters copyright 2005 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.