Where Angels Tread
2007 Papa Bear Awards - First Place
Best Original Character - Gunter Kleinschmidt
2007 Papa Bear Awards - First Place
Most Unique Story
Robert Hogan started to lift his head, then stopped abruptly as agony exploded inside his skull. Bracing himself, he tried again, but slowly, and this time he managed to pull himself upright, but not without feeling strong waves of pain crash against his back, his shoulders, his chest. And all through the torturous task, one question persisted in the US Army Air Corps Colonel’s mind:
Moving his heavy head ever-so-slowly, and still stopping occasionally in deference to a painfully stiff neck, Hogan turned to try and see the person beside him. The slim, helmeted man was slumped awkwardly over the steering wheel, his face turned away, his body limp, and even through blurry vision Hogan could tell that the right arm was broken. He tried to slide himself toward the still form, but gasped when the effort shot fire through his left leg from his toes to his hip. It took him a minute to realize that the mangled vehicle had pinned that leg under the dashboard, from his foot to just above his knee. He was going nowhere. Hogan allowed himself to collapse against the back of the seat, grimacing once as the leather made contact with strained muscles and his whole head pounded ruthlessly, leaving him breathless and distressed.
When the worst of the pain had receded and black dots no longer danced in front of his closed eyes, he tried to take stock of his situation. Keeping his eyes shut, he replayed the day: roll call at Stalag Luft 13, where he was senior Prisoner of War—far too early a roll call after a late night roaming the woods in the middle of Germany, out on a mission to get vital information from an Underground agent about top secret plans to improve Luftwaffe planes. Then a song-and-dance routine with the camp Kommandant, Colonel Wilhelm Klink, so he could get back out of camp today to get London’s instructions back to the contact. That’s right… Hogan had wrangled a few hours out of camp on the pretence of… what was it?... oh, yes: scouting out the best place to cut firewood for the camp’s winter stores—because the forest around the camp didn’t have the best wood for the stoves used in the Stalag—at least that’s what he thought he made up to get himself in to town. Good grief, Hogan thought wryly, shaking his head at the thought until a flood of pain reminded him that wasn’t a good idea; the things I do for my country!
Try as he might, Hogan could remember nothing after that, and when concentrating sharpened the pain in his head, he stopped and let random images float through his mind without order or reason. He saw Peter Newkirk, the English Corporal who was part of his intelligence operation back at camp, flashing a broad smile and laughing loudly at a joke he had just made at the expense of Stalag 13’s Sergeant of the Guard, Hans Schultz; he saw Klink, balling a fist in frustration as Hogan slipped out of the Kommandant’s office with a pilfered cigar; and he remembered taking a fleeting glance back toward the compound as the car he was now trapped in was leaving the camp, thinking how this was a rare chance to be chauffeured in broad daylight to his meeting place, instead of having to sneak out in the middle of the cold German winter night.
And a fine mess this turned out to be, Hogan thought ironically. He brought a hand up to his head to try and ease the throbbing. Oh, boy, we’d better get out of here… wherever “here” is…. Resisting the urge to simply lie back and let this catastrophe wash over him, Hogan looked out the shattered windshield and tried to make sense of his surroundings. There was a tree trunk, much closer to him than he would have expected normally, and over to one side there was a large boulder and grass, which struck him as slightly out of place, since it was almost in line with the window. Hogan panted breathlessly, “We’re on an angle…. We must have slid… down an embankment.”
And then, not sure if the man beside him had heard him or not, Hogan lapsed back into oblivion’s beckoning arms.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan let the voice sink into his consciousness and mentally considered answering but did not move.
“Herr Oberst. Colonel Hogan.”
The voice was a bit stronger now, more insistent. Hogan let out a low moan as his head lolled to one side. He couldn’t think of opening his eyes, not just yet.
“Colonel Hogan, you must wake up now. Wake up.”
Hogan groaned louder and forced his eyes open. He immediately lurched forward as his head spun and nausea rose within him, and he heaved and choked until the dizziness subsided. Just as he’d feared, the journey into the present carried with it a stronger awareness of the pain he’d been trying so hard to suppress, and now, exhausted by the unwanted movement, he fell back against the seat again, panting and sweating. He would welcome unconsciousness, he thought tiredly. Bring it on.
But it was not to be. “Colonel Hogan,” came the voice again.
Hogan drew his focus away from his throbbing shoulder and his aching ribs and his thumping head and briefly, vaguely, wondered who was being so persistent. “Uhhhnn,” he groaned in protest. There were intelligible words in his mind, but he could not find the strength to say them.
“Please, Colonel Hogan, you must pull yourself together.”
“Whuh-izzid,” Hogan slurred. He paused to catch his breath laboredly and tried again. “Just lemmee… sleep…”
“Nein, Herr Oberst. You must stay awake. You have hit your head.”
“I know I hit my head,” Hogan said sharply, irritably. A lancing pain through his temple reinforced his statement. He hissed and bit his lip, hard. “And I don’t think the rest of me’s too good either,” he added softly. And then a slow, heartbreaking revelation: they were still in the wrecked car. Hogan tried to look at the man beside him; the guard, Corporal Kleinschmidt, was still. “Lemmee… help you… move,” he managed. Without thinking, Hogan tried to shift position. His trapped leg protested loudly, causing the Colonel to break out in a cold sweat as his stomach flipped sickeningly yet again. He was sure he could feel blood oozing from a cut on his head, and another on his arm. He did not want to see if he was right.
“No—do not try, Colonel Hogan,” came the German’s voice.
“Your arm,” Hogan panted, battling to stay coherent. “Your arm is broken. What about your legs? Are you trapped?”
“My… left arm is entangled, Herr Oberst. I do not think I should move right now.”
The young voice and its intended bravery touched Hogan, and he very much wanted to help make the mere boy beside him more comfortable if he could. “Maybe I can turn you so you don’t have to have your face in the… steering wheel,” Hogan gasped, still struggling to maneuver himself. The pain was horrific, but he persisted; Hogan could at least see their surroundings. Poor Kleinschmidt could see nothing but the floor of the car.
“It’s all right, Colonel Hogan,” Kleinschmidt replied, as Hogan had to abandon the effort. “I am comfortable enough as I am.”
Exhausted by the exertion, Hogan heard the words through a deafening jackhammering above his eyes. He nodded weakly and forced himself once again to think. “What happened?” he asked.
“We ran off the road, Herr Oberst,” the guard replied.
Hogan nearly laughed at the simplicity of the answer. But he couldn’t think of anything remotely funny about their predicament at the moment. He waited until he had gathered enough strength again to speak, then asked, “How long have we been here?”
“I am not sure; close to an hour, I think.”
The answer startled the Colonel, who instinctively tried to raise his arm to look at his watch. But he groaned and dropped it quickly as a sudden avalanche of pain instantly surged down from his shoulder to his fingertips. When he got his breath back, he tried to gauge the placement of the sun in the sky above them. “Then we’re not expected back at camp for three hours. They’ll start to miss us about half an hour after that, and then by the time they find us…” Hogan’s voice trailed off. Another four hours trapped in a car. Another four hours without anyone to even think about where they might be. Another four hours of extraordinary pain. My head hurts, he thought wearily. Stop calculating. And then, as he thought of the young guard again: And stop thinking only about yourself.
“Are you sure you can’t move at all?” Hogan asked.
“I don’t want to try, Herr Oberst,” Kleinschmidt answered. “I will be fine this way.”
Hogan was moved by the lad’s steadfastness. “They’ll find us,” he said breathily, fading once again. “The Kommandant would never let us be late for bed check.”
“Stay awake, Colonel Hogan. You must stay awake.”
But Hogan found that task impossible. “Wake me when we get back to Stalag 13. I’ve got John Philip Sousa playing in my head and I need to get away for awhile.” Then he closed his eyes and let silky blackness cocoon him.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
The angle of light on the car told Hogan that it was much later than it had been when he last drifted off to sleep or unconsciousness. But an equally astute instinct told him they were no closer to being found. Feeling a little less heavy-headed than he had before, and with the sensation in his trapped leg dulled almost alarmingly, he tried to get a fuller understanding of his situation.
All events from about five minutes after Hogan and Kleinschmidt left camp earlier today were erased from the Colonel’s mind, and he had enough sense not to try and force the memories. All he did know had been planned the night before he and the guard headed out: the man Hogan had contacted last night was awaiting instructions from Allied Headquarters in London. Hogan was to have delivered those instructions today at a pre-arranged spot near Hammelburg. But Hogan could not remember if he and Kleinschmidt, his unwitting chauffeur, had even gotten to the town. Judging from the bright daylight still greeting him, he guessed they hadn’t. And from the look of things, he wouldn’t be making that rendezvous at all—today or any time in the near future.
Now, Hogan thought, a once-over. There was no doubt that he had hit his head, probably on the windshield of the car, when whatever disaster had overtaken them had occurred. A sharp, ceaseless drumming was beating his temples, and any sudden movement increased both its volume and its intensity. Hogan accepted this injury as the main reason for the lethargy and confusion he constantly had to fight, as well as pinpointing it as the source of the sticky trail of blood he could feel on the side of his face from his hairline down to his jaw.
He already knew that his leg was trapped in the wreckage, and the pain that accompanied any attempts to free it only stoked the fire racing freely through Hogan’s chest, where he was sure there were at least two broken ribs, and his shoulder, which radiated a slow, deep ache all its own. Tears stung his eyes whenever he moved his neck more than a couple of inches in either direction. And finally, a trickling feeling on his arm told Hogan that there was a cut somewhere that was not clotting on its own, and he could only hope his shirt would help arrest any further bleeding. He had definitely seen better days.
He turned his wavering attention to his companion. Not daring to turn his head to look, Hogan said questioningly, “Kleinschmidt? You there?”
“Ja, Herr Oberst. Ich bin hier.”
“How are you… holding up?”
“I am fine, Herr Oberst. How are you feeling?”
“About as good as… I’m sure I look,” Hogan replied, still finding it difficult to complete even short sentences in one breath.
Kleinschmidt’s complete lack of movement was disturbing to Hogan, whose actions were also severely limited. But the young man’s almost serene calm in the midst of this mess was soothing, and the Colonel cursed himself for not taking control of the situation earlier, even taking his own injuries into account. This kid didn’t ask to be in the war, he reminded himself. But then… who did?
“We still will not be missed for some time.” The German’s voice suddenly did not sound as confident as it had only a minute ago.
“Don’t worry; there’s no way we’ll be left for long once we pass curfew,” Hogan panted, sure he was failing in his attempt to sound reassuring. “Someone will find us; you’ll see.”
Kleinschmidt fell silent. Hogan felt too ill to try and resume the conversation, though he had been finding it soothing to have company.
“Have you gone back to sleep, Herr Oberst?” the guard asked eventually.
“No,” Hogan whispered. The truth was that the Corporal’s words had brought him back from some distant, semi-conscious state. Hogan just didn’t have the energy to move, or even to say, anything; pain and blood loss had left him weak and lethargic, and being oblivious to the passage of time didn’t seem like such a bad thing. But Kleinschmidt was determined to keep Hogan far too aware of his predicament. “No,” Hogan repeated softly; “I’m just… resting.”
The Colonel swallowed painfully. God, how he longed for water. All the rain they had had last week… had that contributed to this accident today? Hogan wondered fleetingly. It didn’t matter in the end: they were still here, and there was nothing to drink within reach. He felt himself growing cold, even though he knew that in reality he was starting to burn with fever. Determined to keep at bay whatever bleak future awaited them, he gasped, “How you… going over there?”
“I do not feel badly, Colonel,” Hogan’s companion answered.
“Arm must… hurt like hell.”
“It feels quite dull, sir.”
Hogan nodded vaguely, then groaned at the instant protest from his sore head and neck. Lucky you, the American thought ironically. His heavy-lidded eyes closed in weariness and despair. How much longer… can’t think to gauge it…Come on; stay lucid….
“Talk to me, Herr Oberst.”
The plea made Hogan’s exhausted mind spin, and he wanted to weep rather than agree to the Corporal’s request. But somehow even in this state, Hogan couldn’t bring himself to disappoint the young guard, as the face of one of his own men at Stalag 13, Andrew Carter, drifted through his mind. His voice was barely strong enough to carry the few feet to Kleinschmidt’s ears. “What… do you want me to talk about?”
“Why did you become a pilot? Were you conscripted?”
Poor kid. Must hurt so bad he’s looking for a distraction. “No,” Hogan said through a gasping breath as an excruciating pain radiated from his trapped leg, making him arc away from the back of the seat. So much for blissful numbness. “I was already in the service,” he said when he could speak again. “It was the best way to get into flying.”
“Flying.” The voice sounded almost wistful. “You like flying, Colonel Hogan?”
“I did, Kleinschmidt.” Hogan’s mind reluctantly went back inside the cockpit of his last plane, a B-17 Flying Fortress called Goldilocks. The pain of memories nearly outweighed the pain of his injuries. “I did.”
“But you do not any longer?”
What an odd question, Hogan thought suddenly. Then he realized how his answer might have sounded and replied, “I haven’t been in the air in over a year now. I like to think I’ll still enjoy it if I ever get the chance to go back up there again.”
“You will, Herr Oberst,” the German Corporal said determinedly. “War cannot hold down a good man forever.”
Hogan smiled wanly. How could this boy know whether he was a good man? He must be so scared. “We’ll both get a chance to do many things when the war is over,” the Colonel said now.
“My brother Karl and I always wanted to go to America,” Kleinschmidt said, his voice unexpectedly animated.
“Yes. We would talk about all the places we would go to. We wanted to see the Liberty statue… and we wanted to see the Grand Canyon. And Hollywood, Herr Oberst. We wanted to go to Hollywood. Karl was always a very good actor. He did a lot of plays when he was in school, and then with a local Theater-Gruppe. He was always so talented. He could even perform Shakespeare with great ease.”
Hogan let all the words wash over him. Come on; think. This kid’s practically begging you just to stay with him so he doesn’t have to think about how scared he is. Clear your head. “That’s great,” was all he could manage.
“Of course, William Shakespeare is a classical playwright, isn’t he?” Kleinschmidt added.
Hogan couldn’t miss the irony in the soldier’s voice. Classical. It took him a minute, but then he remembered: Shakespeare’s Englishness was a difficult thing for the Nazis to accept, though they adored the Bard’s works. So he was no longer allowed to be English; he was classical, like Sophocles. And certain plays, like The Merchant of Venice, made the Nazis like him even more. “Oh, of course,” Hogan replied with the tiniest of smiles, somewhat buoyed by the shift in focus from himself. He paused to rest. “So will you go to Hollywood—after the war?”
A short silence. “No.” Hogan decided to leave that unanswered, and it was Kleinschmidt who picked up the dropped thread of conversation. “Karl was killed about six months after he was called to serve. On the Eastern Front.”
Hogan’s heart felt a pang at the announcement, something that struck him as odd considering he had never met Karl Kleinschmidt, who had been killed fighting on the wrong side of the war. Still, if Karl had been anything like this brother… “I’m sorry, Kleinschmidt,” he said quietly.
“Gunter. My name is Gunter. If you wish to, you may call me that, Herr Oberst.”
Up to now, Hogan had tried to remain somehow detached from everything that had happened, and was happening, to them. He had tried to concentrate solely on getting through the next few hours with as little pain as possible—and with as little chance of danger to the operation and his men as he could manage. But the invitation to bond more closely with this young soldier was too much for Hogan to ignore. No matter how hard he tried to act otherwise, the reality was he was frightened, and he was despairing, if only just a little bit—and he was saying over and over again in the back of his mind the simple prayer he had learned as a child, to find some comfort in this strange situation: God, I have no power; You have all. Please take care of me.
“Robert.” A grimace followed by a calming breath. “My name is Robert.”
A long pause. Hogan wondered for a moment if he hadn’t made the Corporal feel ill at ease. Then: “Thank you for talking with me, Robert. It makes what is happening less frightening.”
“That’s okay. Gunter.” Another wave of tiredness washed over the Colonel, and with a low moan he closed his eyes. “My head hurts. I need to sleep.” A random thought passed through his mind. “You probably should, too.”
“I am resting, Robert. You sleep now. We will talk again soon.”
And, satisfied with the answer, Hogan drifted away from his pain, and into nothingness.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“What do you think of Kommandant Klink?”
Hogan let one side of his face raise up to form a lopsided smile. He had woken up a little while ago and found, as usual, that Kleinschmidt had roused him. Now, his neck unbearably stiff, he was unable to turn his head at all toward the Corporal, nor indeed toward anything else, without blinding pain, and so he remained with his head back against the seat. And when he had opened his eyes he found the almost absent daylight still piercing, and so he kept them shut, since there was very little to see anyway.
“I can’t tell you that,” Hogan answered, breathing with some effort. “It’s not nice to put down people your friends might admire.”
Kleinschmidt let out a little laugh. “The Kommandant is not so bad,” he said.
“I suppose he’s okay, yeah,” Hogan conceded. A small warning thrilled through him: Don’t let on you think Klink’s a pushover. This kid is still a Kraut, no matter how nice he is. “For a fella who can order you shot whenever he feels like it,” he added.
“Do you really think he would ever do that?” Kleinschmidt asked.
Hogan paused. “Gunter, when you’re a prisoner being held captive by the enemy in a camp thousands of miles from home… you learn to think that anyone could do that.”
“Perhaps.” Then Kleinschmidt asked another question: “Could you ever do that, Robert?”
Through Hogan’s mind flew what seemed like a thousand missions, a thousand jobs that he and his men had done for the Allies, a thousand times that they had snuck out of Stalag 13, guns drawn, tension almost physical, waiting, watching, just in case they had to kill anyone who got wise to their set-up, and who couldn’t be snuck back to England via the Underground channels. A thousand potential times to end someone’s life before he even realized it was happening. Most of the time, it was blessedly unnecessary. Once in a rare while, though, it had to happen. And if it hadn’t, the lives of Hogan’s men—or hundreds of others—would have been forfeit. “If I had to,” Hogan finally said thoughtfully. “If it meant saving my men.”
“Your men,” Kleinschmidt echoed. “I have seen your men in camp, Robert. The Frenchman, Le Beau; Corporal Newkirk; the black man, Sergeant Kinchloe. That skinny one who always laughs so much—the Sergeant…”
“Carter,” Hogan filled in. “I never thought about him that way until you said it. He’s a good kid. Keeps his humor no matter what.” As their names were spoken, Hogan put their faces in front of his mind’s eye. My men. They would know something had gone wrong, somehow. When the Underground contact told them he had not arrived. They would worry, and there would be nothing they could do until Hogan and Kleinschmidt were missed by the Germans, who were not expecting the pair back until nightfall.
Hogan felt himself fading, drifting into a consoling blackness that frightened him. The once-unendurable pain from his injuries was almost non-existent there, the heat of his fever now receded to bone-chilling cold that was only partly due to the temperature outside. It would be so easy to just let all feeling slip away… all the pressure of the operation… all the responsibility… all the pain…
“Gunter!” Hogan cried, as he drew himself up as quickly and suddenly as he could. His head burst and fire raced from his neck straight down his arm and his back. He gasped, breathing heavily through his teeth, his eyes squeezed shut as he tried to focus his suffering mind on being able to cope. You won’t just lie back and die, Robert Hogan…. You won’t let go like this!
“Robert!” came the Corporal’s voice. It sounded so distant, so detached. Hogan fought to concentrate only on Kleinschmidt’s words. “Robert, you must not sleep again. Do you understand? You have lost blood, and now you are weak. If you fall asleep now, you will find it harder to wake up when our rescuers arrive. You must be able to talk to them. Do you hear me? You must be able to talk to them… and to me.”
Hogan groaned a response, his right hand raised to support his head and fruitlessly try to ease the incredible pain his frantic movements had triggered. But he understood the warning in the German’s words. And more than that, he believed it. “Okay…” he gasped, now reluctant to move himself back toward the seat. “Okay… I’ll… stay awake. I just… got…” Why couldn’t he say the word to the boy? Scared.
But Kleinschmidt didn’t seem to need to hear it. “Tell me about your men, Colonel Hogan,” he said. “What makes them so special to you?”
In spite of himself, Hogan smiled. What didn’t make them special? “Lots of things,” he managed. He still couldn’t think past the renewed pounding in his head and the active, brutal pain thundering through his body.
“Tell me about them. Tell me about your laughing Sergeant, Carter.”
“Carter?” Hogan waited until he could see Andrew Carter’s face clearly in his mind, and hear his voice as the young Sergeant babbled on about his favorite topic: explosives. The Colonel felt a bit of comfort from the image, and, letting out a tiring breath, he said, “Carter’s the kind of fella you can always count on to back you up.” He paused for a moment. Kleinschmidt said nothing, so he continued. “He’s loyal and generous… and gentle. And he has a smile that could light up a room when he’s happy.”
Softly, the German replied, “That is sehr gut. And he can manage this in a prisoner of war camp?”
“Carter can manage that anywhere.”
“What about the Frenchman—he would be different, ja?”
“Oh, he would be different, ja,” Hogan agreed, momentarily amused. “Louis is… everybody’s mother… and a loyal friend… and the fiercest patriot you’d ever have the pleasure to meet. I’m sorry, Gunter, but you Germans picked the wrong people to repress when you conquered the French.”
“Peut-être,” the German answered with a touch of humor in his voice. “What about the black man, your Sergeant Kinchloe?”
“Oh, is he black?” Hogan retorted. “Sorry, Gunter, but his color never mattered to me. God never made a finer man. Kinch is smart, he’s funny, he’s strong… he’s a great soldier, and an even better friend.”
“You can be friends… with a black man?” Kleinschmidt asked, his voice slightly incredulous.
“If I can be friends with a German right now, Gunter… I can certainly be friends with a black man.” Another white-hot blast of pain. Hogan curled forward, dizziness and nausea rising with alarming speed. He broke out in a cold sweat and groaned through gritted teeth, pressing his good hand against his forehead as if trying to stop his brains from spilling out, while the torment expanded to encompass his entire skull. He heard Kinch’s voice in his ear, as though the man was standing beside him. We’re coming, Colonel. As soon as the Germans get word, we’re coming. “I know, Kinch,” Hogan muttered aloud. “But please hurry.”
“Robert?” A worried question from Kleinschmidt.
Slowly the anguish and the queasiness subsided to a more manageable level, and Hogan gulped in air greedily, but carefully. “Sorry,” he managed, still biting back the agony, and the tears that accompanied it. “I’m… okay now.”
“Tell me about the Englander,” Kleinschmidt prompted gently when Hogan had not picked up where they left off. “How is he to live with?”
“Lots of questions, Gunter. What are you—Gestapo?” Hogan joked weakly.
A slightly bemused Kleinschmidt responded. “Not a chance, Robert,” he said with a small laugh. “I would not have left you in such good condition.”
With his uninjured arm braced against the mangled dashboard and his other arm cradled in his lap, Hogan was able to cope with a tiny breath of a laugh. But it still took a few more seconds of controlled breathing before he was able to continue. “Newkirk’s a wild card,” he panted; “you never know what he’s up to—or why. You might think you’ve got him… pinned down… but then he… turns around and does the exact opposite of what you… think.”
Hogan stopped. There was certainly more to Peter Newkirk than that. But he was starting to find continuing this conversation difficult, physically. There were shooting pains in his leg, and his chest was stinging, and he wouldn’t even consider what kind of bump he must be sporting on his head. An overwhelming tiredness was once again descending on him, and this time he desperately wanted to give in to it.
“And is he loyal? Robert?”
Hogan didn’t answer. Please… this is enough… Please… I have to stop, fellas. Please try to understand….
“Robert? Is he loyal, this Newkirk?”
Now beyond exhausted, Hogan nonetheless lifted his head at the name of his friend. The sound of his difficult breathing filled the small space. He could not answer.
“Please, Robert. It is dark. They will be looking for us soon. Please keep talking to me. Just a little bit longer.”
“Why are you… so… stubborn?” Hogan panted at last.
“Because we both need me to be. Please… tell me about him, this unpredictable Corporal Newkirk.”
“Okay. You win,” Hogan whispered. “Newkirk…. He’s proud… he’s insecure… he’s clever… and conniving… and…”
“And?” prompted Kleinschmidt.
Hogan had paused to catch his faltering breath. “And yes… he’s loyal. Happy now?”
“Ja, Robert. Very happy.” A pause. “Robert, I am tired.”
“So am I,” Hogan answered, one tiny speck of him concerned at Kleinschmidt’s admission, since the boy had never indicated more than token discomfort since this whole ordeal had begun. “But you’ve kept me going—I’m gonna keep you going, too. Okay?”
“I do not know if I can, Herr Oberst.”
“It’s Robert,” Hogan corrected the boy, alarm growing inside him. “You hear me, Gunter?”
“Ja, ja… Robert.”
The voice was weakening. Hogan was spurred on to speak louder and more forcefully, an act that drilled spikes into his skull, which he ignored. “Gunter, you haven’t been in camp long; I don’t know anything about you. You said you had a brother. Tell me about your parents. Where are they? Are they waiting for you to come home?”
“Oh, ja, Robert. They are waiting for me. I will be with them soon.”
“Where are they? Are you near the end of your time in the service?”
“I was born in a small village outside Helmstedt. It was always just the six of us; most of our family lived further away. But my father liked the area and wanted to stay there, even when his brothers left to find work elsewhere.”
“Six of you,” Hogan said, latching on to anything to keep the young man talking. “There were others besides you and Karl?”
“Oh, ja, there were my sisters, Helga and Annaliese.”
“Were they older or younger than you?”
“They were older. I was always the baby.”
Hogan tried to fight the fog closing in on his own mind. “Married?” he blurted, hoping anything would keep Kleinschmidt going while he himself was fading.
“Nein. They wanted to marry… Annaliese especially had a sweetheart. But he was called to fight. Helga had not yet found a man, and when the war came, all the young men were called away.”
I’m so cold… so cold… and so tired…. Hogan’s eyes started closing.
Fellas… where are you? I can’t go on with this, fellas. I’m gonna have to sleep. Okay?
“Gunter… I just can’t… think…. Keep—keep talking. Come on… it… won’t…. be long….”
Hogan’s eyes closed completely. Anything his companion had to say now went unheard.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Easy, now—easy, easy! Don’t try to move him till we know how bad he’s hurt! Colonel! Colonel Hogan!”
The words swam in close and then moved away, and Hogan could do no more than let out an almost inaudible moan. His brain was telling his good arm to move, his throbbing head to turn, but his body was not obeying and he was still so unbelievably tired. He flinched weakly as the piercing beam of someone’s light swept past his closed eyes, then felt someone’s hand on his shoulder. The almost non-existent pressure was excruciating, and he moaned, louder than he had before; the hand immediately withdrew.
“Colonel Hogan! Can you hear me?”
Why are they shouting? A groan was Hogan’s response. He tried to open his eyes, and when he could see through the slits, it was the pale, fuzzy yellow glow of a flashlight that greeted him. He tried to take in deeper breaths so he could answer, but he couldn’t. His lips moved but only whispered nonsense came out.
Then a voice very close to his ear. “We’re here now, Colonel. We’re gonna get you out of here.”
The voice was deep, soothing. And familiar. “K-Kinch?” Hogan managed, though he was unsure it was more than a sigh that escaped him.
“That’s right, Colonel. Kinch. And Newkirk’s here, too.” The voice was still there. Kinch was behind him, in the back seat. Hogan’s body relaxed despite his predicament. His men had come; everything would be all right. “When you and Kleinschmidt didn’t come back to camp, Klink sent out a search party. We convinced him to let a couple of us come along, since not everyone speaks English as well as we do.”
“As well as I do, you mean.” The voice of the English Corporal floated toward Hogan’s ringing ears from across the car. Soon it was closer, and softer. “It’s all right, gov’nor. We’re gonna get you out of here in no time. You’ll be right as rain soon.”
The worry of the past few hours started melting away. Hogan no longer had to worry about holding everything together. He no longer had to think about what would happen to his men, to the operation, to all the people fighting the war against the Germans in secret, if he let himself fall apart. That tension blessedly disappeared…
Leaving him plenty of room for pain. Suddenly, unbearably, Hogan felt the full force of every injury he had been ignoring, and he jerked weakly away from the back of the seat, crying out like a wounded bear cub as waves of agony rolled through him. Caring hands guided him back, while from somewhere unseen, reassuring words were being spoken softly in his ear. It would all be over soon, he was promised, as his sharp cries became quiet moans. He’d be back in camp among friends before he knew it.
“We knew something was wrong when Cyrano radioed that you’d never made contact,” Newkirk murmured. Louder, the Englishman asked, “What happened?”
Never made contact, echoed through Hogan’s brain before draining away. “I guess… this did,” Hogan breathed. The noise of creaking metal and other voices descended past the fog in his brain, and he allowed himself to simply absorb the reality that he really, truly was being rescued; even though he had reassured Kleinschmidt it would happen, a small, niggling fear that they would not be found had refused to go away. Now that it was actually happening, his sense of relief was overwhelming.
Kleinschmidt. “What about… Gunter?” Hogan asked faintly. He felt another wave of light-headedness as fire burned through him with a sudden jerk of the vehicle. Metal ripping back; someone was prying open doors.
“My friend here,” Hogan explained almost drunkenly. Bright stars appeared in front of his eyes as someone trying to be helpful lifted a badly bruised shoulder. Breathing heavily through clenched teeth, he said, “Kleinschmidt. He and I were talking while we waited for help… he was trying to keep me awake but I fell asleep and now… he’s… gone quiet.”
Newkirk looked at Hogan and then back at Kinch and shook his head. The worried look in his eye drew the Sergeant closer. “’is neck’s snapped, mate,” Newkirk whispered. “He would have died instantly.”
Kinch turned his attention back to the Colonel, whose pain was now pouring off him in streams of sweat. His panting breaths were punctuated with occasionally sharper sounds as rescuers continued tending to him. Kinch moved back in near Hogan’s head and leaned down to speak softly to him. “Colonel, they’re gonna cut back the front of the car now, to free your leg. Do you want something to bite down on?”
“Just do it!” Hogan burst breathlessly.
A long, agonized cry forced its way through Hogan’s gritted teeth, his lips pulled back and his eyes closed impossibly tight. The lack of blood circulation due to the heavy pressure of the vehicle and the cold was remedied all too suddenly, and the blood rushed back into the wounded leg with excruciating speed. The heat of injury-induced fever was now giving way to frame-wracking chills, and someone moved a blanket in to try and hold off some of the worst of the trembling. Hogan breathed heavily and painfully, his head swimming even though his eyes were closed. “See, Gunter?” he panted as he was eased slowly and gently out of the vehicle. A sharp, anguished cry as he was carefully lifted into the waiting truck for the journey back to camp. Then, forced confidence: “I told you they’d come…. Can’t be out… past… curfew.”
Hogan pried his eyes open, and for the first time saw the anxious face of Kinch above him. Hogan smiled tiredly. “Stop… worrying…” he ordered feebly. He took a moment to gather his strength and then called out, “Gunter?”
Newkirk and Kinch exchanged glances and continued to help prepare Hogan for the trip in silence. “Gunter!” Hogan called again. “See, I told you: loyal.” A pause for breath and to cope with increasing pain. He dragged his eyes back to his men. “Gunter asked me about you,” he explained. “We kept each other… talking so we could… cope. He told me… about his family. Sisters… his brother… killed on the Russian Front… and Helmstedt…. And… we talked about… Klink. I told him… I knew if we were out too long… Klink’d send someone out… to drag us back.”
Kinch bit his lip as he watched Hogan try to smile. His commanding officer was doing anything not to think about the agony he was in. Is that how he had survived the last four hours—by pretending to talk to a dead man? “You were right, sir,” Kinch said tightly.
“He says his parents… are waiting for him. Have to have Klink… tell them how brave he was. They’ll… be proud….”
Another shake of Newkirk’s head. Kinch turned toward him in such a way that Hogan could not see either of their faces. “I heard the others talking—the gov’nor’s right about his brother. But his parents died in a fire just before the lad joined the service; they aren’t waiting for him.”
Kinch felt a chill run through him. He just blinked and turned back to Hogan. “We’re gonna get you back to camp now, Colonel. We’ll try not to move you any more than necessary. Kleinschmidt will be…” A look exchanged with Newkirk. “…going separately. You’re more badly hurt. Okay?”
Hogan sighed an affirmative answer, his eyes now closed, his face pale and drawn, his lips pinched in his suffering. “Started to doubt we’d be found in time. Had angels… watching over us today,” he murmured.
Kinch looked back toward the car, where the German’s body was being carefully extricated for transport back to camp. Maybe his parents had been waiting for him today. “You sure did have an angel with you, Colonel,” he said thoughtfully. He turned back to Hogan, who had finally grown still. “You sure did.”
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.