Two and a half months after arriving at Stalag 13, a German POW camp, Royal Canadian Air Force Major Melissa Davidson was familiar with the entire camp, both above ground and the extensive tunnel system beneath it. Helping run the sabotage operations had meant many late and sleepless nights, but despite that fact she didn’t look a day over twenty, and with good reason. The Major, much more commonly called Melissa, wouldn’t turn twenty for a little under a week.
Standing outside in the crisp February air, staring up at the cloudless, blue sky, she was interrupted by Sergeant Shultz. “The kommandant wishes to see you in his office.”
“Danke Shultz.” She walked across the compound avoiding the large puddles the melting snow had caused. Corporals Peter Newkirk and Louis LeBeau had overheard Shultz’s message, and as soon as it was safe, went to inform Colonel Hogan.
Back in Hogan’s quarters, the three, joined by American Sergeants Ivan Kinchloe and Andrew Carter, listened in on the conversation. There was a bug planted in Klink’s office, and the receiver was in the coffee-pot the men were huddled around. Through it they could hear the conversation.
“It has come to my attention, Major, that your birthday is coming up very soon. It is in the first part of March, correct?” There was a pause before Klink continued. “What is the exact date?”
“March first, Colonel Klink.”
“And how old will you be?”
“I’ll be turning twenty.”
“Is there anything special I can do? As a gift perhaps?”
“No, but thank you for the offer.” There had been a slight pause before she answered, but it likely didn’t mean anything.
“Well if there is ever anything you need the offer stands. Dismissed Major.”
They unplugged the coffee-pot, not wanting her to know they had been listening. “Since when ‘as old Klink ever offered us gifts for our birthdays? Granted we don’t ‘ave curls, or wear dresses. At least not often anyway.” Newkirk clutched at his head, thinking of the times that he had worn dresses for missions. Hogan knew he wasn’t really angry, just blowing off steam. Smiling Hogan looked around the room. Kinch and LeBeau had smiles on their faces as well, but Carter had a thoughtful look on his face. Following Hogan’s gaze Newkirk noticed Carter’s expression. “Penny for your thoughts.” Then he reached out and pulled a coin from behind LeBeau’s ear. “Guess you’d better wash better Louis.”
“Wash better! Well let me tell you something.” Hogan stepped in before the two had an all out battle going.
“Do we wish to appear normal when Melissa comes in or not?” The squabble was effectively stopped. After spending so much time breaking up little arguments like this, being a parent should come naturally to Hogan.
Arranging themselves into normalcy, if that was possible, took only moments and they expected Melissa to walk through the door at any minute. As time passed some of them began to worry, at first to themselves, then out loud. When they heard the door open they turned expecting to see Melissa. But instead of her petite frame they saw Shultz’s immense one.
“Hi Shultz, have you seen Melissa?” Kinch was the first to ask.
“Outside looking at the sky. Did you know her birthday is soon?” Shultz entered and seeing a plate of cookies on the table began munching. When Hogan nodded in response, Shultz swallowed and continued. “What do you think I should give her? I must give something as she makes me fudge and cookies often, not just when she needs a favour. Did you know she’s called me Dad a few times?” Shultz sounded immensely proud and touched at this last statement.
“No, I didn’t know that. Don’t you have a son about her age?” Hogan knew only a little about Shultz’s family.
“Oskar is fifteen, his birthday was last month. Melissa made a cover for his Bible as a present. I took it to him the last time I went home.” Hogan was slightly ashamed.
“That was very thoughtful of her. We don’t have any ideas on what to gibe her ourselves. Sorry we couldn’t be more help.” Shultz nodded and hurried off. Melissa had been there for less than half the time the others had, and had still managed to learn more about Shultz, and probably Klink, than they had.
“I didn’t realise,” Kinch began after a moment, but even he was at a loss for words.
“I don’t think anyone did.” Hogan was quieter than normal.
Outside Melissa gazed at the sky. In a minute she would go inside. It wasn’t the weather pulling her inside, the temperature was unseasonably warm; it was the companionship. While the personalities were as varied as the nationalities, they fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. This was one factor that made their operation so successful. Thinking of the operation she headed toward the barracks.
“At least French food isn’t all blood. Le nourriture d’Anglais est horrible!” LeBeau, standing at the stove, was once again arguing with Newkirk. The two were best of friends, but had their share of fights.
“At least English bloody well makes sense, not like that gibberish you’re always spouting!” LeBeau sputtered, on the verge of hurling insults.
“LeBeau calmez vous. Je prefere le nourriture Francais aussi. Le nourriture d’Anglais est different. Newkirk, if you like, I can teach you some French so LeBeau isn’t talking gibberish.” Both contented themselves with grumbles and Melissa knew the fight would soon be forgotten. Before anything more could be said a car pulled up in front of Klink’s office. Peering out the window they saw General Burkhalter and his sister, Frau Linkmeyer, enter.
“Wonder what Klink did. A visit from that old bat is worse than being sent to the Russian front.” LeBeau sounded truly sorry for Klink.
Could I have an explanation please?” Melissa had met the General once before, but his sister hadn’t been to the camp since before Melissa’s arrival. Everyone suddenly seemed to be taken down with a fit of laughter. When Hogan recovered he told her of Frau Linkmeyer’s attempts to lure Klink into marriage. Soon Melissa was laughing so hard tears were running down her cheeks. Shultz walked into the middle of this scene.
“The kommandant wants Colonel Hogan and Major Davidson to report to his office immediately.” He paused, looked at Melissa’s face, opened his mouth to say something, but turned instead and left.
Standing in Klink’s office less than five minutes later, Melissa and Hogan were begged by Klink to attend dinner with them that night. “Hogan, I will give all of your men an extra slice of white bread every week if you will come!” Hogan walked over to Klink’s cigar case and opened it. Removing a cigar and lighting it he deliberated.
“Two extra slices.”
“Agreed, agreed. So will you come?” Klink was nearly on his knees begging.
“And an extra shower for each man.” Melissa put in her request, or demand, before Hogan could agree.
“Yes, yes.” Hogan had hardly ever seen Klink so desperate, and he had seen Klink desperate a lot.
“And I suppose you’ll want LeBeau to cook” Klink nodded and began to pace, his riding crop tucked beneath his arm. “Fine, we’ll come. Begins at the usual time? Good. See. you then.” Hogan left with Melissa following close behind.
“He was really desperate. How long do these visits usually last?” Melissa was now very interested in Frau Linkmeyer.
“They last anywhere from a few hour to a few days. If she stays for days we’ll be invited to every meal the two share.” Hogan hoped the visit didn’t last long, they were always torture.
As expected LeBeau was not jumping with joy when he learned he must prepare yet another meal for Klink and his guests, especially these guests. LeBeau finally agreed though and went off to start cooking. Carter and Newkirk, who were to serve, weren’t overjoyed either.
The meal was fantastic, despite the lack of notice, but Melissa didn’t spend much time thinking about the food. From the moment she entered she had other things on her mind, like trying not to laugh out loud. It wouldn’t have been so difficult except Newkirk stood behind Frau Linkmeyer’s chair and either made horrible faces at the back of her head or imitate her actions. With General Burkhalter at the head of the table and Klink sitting beside Frau Linkmeyer, nobody but Hogan and Melissa noticed. By the end of the evening their side ached with the suppressed laughter
At one point during the meal, Frau Linkmeyer was talking and flung her hands out, forgetting about the cup she held in her hand. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but the cup was full of wine. When she gestured the entire of the contents of the cup was flung into Klink’s face. Carter, Newkirk, and Shultz all suddenly had reasons to go to the kitchen. Melissa, who had unfortunately just taken a drink, began to choke. Between the coughing and silent shaking laughter she was the centre of attention. When she was able she took another drink and immediately began to choke again. Frau Linkmeyer had gone to take a drink from her now empty cup and had just realised that the liquid was all over poor Klink. Needless to say the evening soon wound to a close.
Holding their sides the two managed to stumble back to the barracks only to collapse, helpless with laughter, on the bunks. Kinch, who had been given a full account, and LeBeau, who had seen from the kitchen, were slightly more composed. When Hogan and Melissa finally sat up, faces red and eyes streaming, Newkirk couldn’t resist a comment.
“At least your choking fit gave old Iron Eagle a chance to wipe ‘imself off before ‘e began to rust.” This reduced them to further peals of laughter.
The next morning at roll call they found General Burkhalter and his sister gone. They had left the previous night. When Klink appeared everyone broke out in enormous grins. Klink retreated back to his office even sooner than usual. Because of the warm spell there wasn’t a work detail going out. Melissa, after picking up a package from her quarters, set off to visit Klink. Hogan and the others remained outside to take advantage of the nice weather.
“So LeBeau, have you decided what to give Melissa for her birthday yet?”
“Perhaps a little of that French ‘ospitality you’re always telling us about?” Ignoring Newkirk LeBeau answered Carter
“Non, et tu?” Carter shook his head sadly. As LeBeau looked around the others shook their heads as well. They would have discussed it further, but Melissa walked out into the muddy compound. They didn’t have another chance to discuss it all day. They did manage to make arrangements to meet outside that night. Stepping out the emergency exit one by one they waited at an outcropping of rock near by.
“Everyone here?” Hogan listened for the responses. Carter, Newkirk, Kinch, and LeBeau answered and Hogan was about to begin when he heard a voice he unfortunately recognised.
“Nice to see you again Hogan, old chap.”
“Crittendon.” It came out almost as a hiss.
“That’s Colonel Crittendon to you. Remember, I outrank you. What are you doing out of camp? Finally realised what I’ve always told you; the first duty of a prisoner is to escape.”
“Actually we weren’t escaping. We just stepped out for a breath of fresh air. We’re returning to camp now.”
“Glad for the invitation. Lead on old boy, I could use a cup of tea.” Hogan led the way back to the entrance. When they emerged back in the barracks Melissa was asleep. Crittendon, not realising there was a new prisoner, threw the door to Hogan’s quarters open with a band. He merely poked his head into the darkened room and banged the door shut again. Newkirk handed Crittendon a cup of tea and sat him down at the table. He was hoping against hope Crittendon would leave.
“Colonel Hogan, who is that, that child?” Melissa had come to see what all the noise was about. Wearing one of Newkirk’s pyjama tops, which hung well below her knees, with her cheeks flushed unevenly from sleep, and her hair tousled, she appeared more childlike than ever.
“Major Melissa Davidson.”
“Have you Americans resorted to drafting young girls? How old is she? Fifteen? Sixteen?”
“I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of making your acquaintance. As Colonel Hogan mentioned my name is Melissa. I’m a member of the RCAF, and almost twenty.”
“If you’re RCAF, then you couldn’t be a major.”
“No more than you’re a colonel. I’m a Squadron Leader, but that rank is equivalent, as you know Group Captain...”
“Crittendon, but you may call me Rodney.” Hogan rolled his eyes as Crittendon rose and kissed her hand. “Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll make my way to the tunnel. I assume you have a bed prepared. Good night.” He entered the tunnel, and no sooner had the bunk closed behind him than Melissa spoke.
“Where on earth did you find him?”
“Well, he found us, and I had no choice but to bring him back. He does outrank me.” Hogan sounded quite apologetic. “He seems taken with you though.”
“After he got it through his thick skull that I wasn’t a child. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll return to bed.” She left the room only to return a moment later. “I suppose I’ll be in charge of keeping Rodney occupied during his stay.” Hogan nodded. “Good night.”
If Crittendon expected Melissa to be as young intellectually as she appeared physically he was sadly mistaken. He challenged her to a game of chess, expecting to be easily able to beat her. Instead she wound up forcing him into checkmate. They played several more games with Crittendon losing them all, before he declared that he was tired
“What are you doing up ‘ere? ‘As ‘e left yet?” Newkirk was surprised to find her out of the tunnel when he returned from the rec hall.
“I imagine he’s sulking, but I can’t be sure.”
“Who’s sulking, and why?” LeBeau, seeing her above ground, hoped Crittendon had left too
“Rodney is sulking because I just beat him in ten games of chess. He said he was tired so I came up here to bake some brownies. They should be done in a few minutes.”
“Why do you keep calling ‘im Rodney?” Newkirk couldn’t see why anyone would want to speak to him at all.
“He asked me to, and so it’s polite to call him that. Besides he’s a superior officer, and I wouldn’t want to disobey an order I should go back down. LeBeau, will you take those out when they’re done and ice them immediately.”
“Bon chance.” Back in the tunnel Crittendon was sitting on his bunk fingering a tear in his uniform jacket. The chess board had been put away out of sight.
“Hello Rodney. When did you tear your jacket?”
“Must have caught it on something. Didn’t notice it before now. Anyway there isn’t much I can do about it.”
“Would you like me to sew it up for you?” He took off the jacket and handed it to her. She went to find a needle and matching thread. While she sewed the two talked.
“You said last night you were almost twenty. How old are you really?”
“I won’t turn twenty until March first; only three more days.”
“Don’t you want to escape? The first duty of a prisoner is to escape.”
“I may want to escape, but that isn’t an option anymore I’m helping Hogan with his mission. The way I see it I can do much more good here, sabotaging the German war effort, than I would be doing back in England.”
“Good point, I never thought of it like that.” Melissa snapped off the thread and handed the jacket back to Crittendon. “Thank you, you can hardly see where it was mended.’
“Your brownies are ready and Shultz is on his way over.” Carter stuck his head down into the tunnel.
“I’d better go now. I’ll see you later Rodney.” Melissa was just climbing out of the tunnel when Shultz walked in. He stared for a moment.
“I know nothing, nothing.” He sniffed. “But I smell something good!”
“Here Shultz, be careful, it’s hot.” Melissa cut him a generous piece. Then she cut another piece and retreated back into the tunnel. “I’ll see you later Shultz, enjoy.”
Back in the tunnel Crittendon was startled when he found Melissa suddenly at his side. “How did you get here?” Melissa pointed towards the tunnel entrance. “Of course. What’s that?”
“It’s a slice of brownie, fresh from the oven.”
“Thank you Melissa. Shouldn’t you be heading back up? It’s almost supper time.”
“See you later.” When she got back up Crittendon was the topic of conversation. They were trying to think of a way to get rid of him
“Why don’t we just send him back to England? Then he’d be out of our hair for good.” LeBeau thought he had hit on the perfect solution.
“There’s only one problem with that. If I were to send him back someone from London would personally come here to execute me.” Hogan was only partially joking. “We have to make him want to go back to camp.” He looked at Melissa.
“I’ll talk to him. If I can get him to go back can you arrange for Shultz to capture him?” Hogan nodded, grateful he didn’t have to try and convince Crittendon. “I’ll talk to him as soon as I get a chance.” She didn’t get a chance to go back into the tunnels that night.
After roll call the next morning Melissa took a tray of breakfast down to Crittendon. “Good morning Rodney. Are you getting tired of sitting down here all the time?”
“Good morning. Actually it is a little tedious. What’s for breakfast? I hope it’s not toast again.”
“You’re in luck, today it’s pancakes. How would you feel about going back to your camp.”
“Going back! But the first duty of a prisoner --” She cut him off.
“I know, but where will you be doing more good? You’re senior officer right?” He nodded. “You can help in many ways.”
“Let’s see. I could be sitting in a prison camp or I could be shooting down German fighters or bombing rocket plants. What good am I doing sitting in a prison camp?”
“Bombing may have more immediate effects but as senior officer in a prison camp you can help others to remain loyal, and more important, silent. You can help prisoners escape and help to make conditions better for those who remain. These are some of your duties. Which is more important, helping others or bombing bridges?” Crittendon sat in silence and Melissa continues. “If you want to go back we can arrange it so Shultz will recapture you and take you back. This way the guards can’t harm you.” Crittendon sighed.
“I’ll go back. Shultz can recapture me tomorrow. Thank you for bringing me breakfast.”
“Good bye, and you’re welcome.” Melissa left him staring pensively at his pancakes. She was about to use the entrance into the main room but stopped when she heard voices. After a moment she recognised Klink’s voice. Without bothering to listen to the conversation she mentally ran through the tunnel entrances. She could use the one in her quarters, but that might attract attention. Shaking her head she hurried away It was Sunday, and there shouldn’t be anyone near Klink’s quarters so she could use that entrance.
Hurrying down the narrow passageways she only hoped Klink didn’t return before she got out. Sliding the cover over a bit she peered into the darkened room. Luckily it was empty. She pushed the stove all the way open and was about to climb out when she heard approaching footsteps. She yanked the cover closed just as the door opened. She dropped back down the ladder and walked, more slowly this time, back in the direction she had just come.
While Melissa was criss-crossing through the tunnel system the group in the barracks above had dispersed. Klink had gone back to his quarter and Shultz had gone reluctantly back to work. The others had started to play cards. Carter, reading on his bunk, was the only one to hear the knocks that signalled someone wanted to come up He sprang to his feet and managed to bump Newkirk hard enough that the Englishman knocked the deck of cards onto the floor. When Newkirk bent to pick them up Hogan nearly tripped over him, but reaching out a steadying hand managed to regain his balance. In the process he slammed the just opening bunk closed. It was another few minutes before Melissa finally stood above ground.
“I was starting to think you didn’t want me to leave those tunnels! Because of hearing Klink up here I decided to use the tunnel in his quarters, but no sooner did I get it opened than I heard his footsteps Luckily I got back down in time.”
“So what did Crittendon say?” Hogan didn’t seem to think Crittendon would agree to go back.
“Let me guess.” Newkirk launched into an imitation of Crittendon. “The first duty of a prisoner is to escape.”
“Do you think we could get court-martialled for sending him back?” Kinch asked, again only half joking. LeBeau drew a finger slowly across his throat.
“If you’d let me finish, or even begin, I have a feeling you’ll be pleasantly surprised.” She paused partially for dramatic effect, and partially to see if there would be any more interruptions. When there weren’t any she continued. “He agreed to go back tomorrow. Am I correct in assuming that you didn’t make any plans because you thought Rodney would die before he went willingly to a POW camp?” Everyone nodded except Carter.
“I’ve always had faith in Crittendon.” They groaned.
“Can you get in touch with Schnitzer?” Kinch nodded. “Good. Tell him that he needs to phone Klink and somehow manage to get Shultz to change the dogs. He can plead some sort of illness. Fritz will back him up if it come to that. Anyway, when Shultz unloads the dogs, he finds Rodney.”
“Sounds good to me. What do you think Colonel?” Kinch knew that if Hogan approved they would go ahead with the plan.
“Sounds fine, but Melissa can I ask you a question?” She nodded. “How on earth did you manage to convince him?”
“It was quite simple, I just asked him a question?” She walked out before he could ask what the question was. Kinch also left to go contact Schnitzer. The vet, an Underground agent, would be willing to help. They wouldn’t have to worry about the dogs attacking because they were trained to be friendly.
Down in the radio room Kinch was on the radio attempting to contact Schnitzer. It was several minutes before he succeeded. Schnitzer has just picked up the phone when Kinch let out a surprised yelp.
“Are you all right? What’s the matter?” The vet was very nervous, he had to be. If he was caught working for the Underground he would be tortured and perhaps shot.
“It’s nothing, Melissa just popped up out of nowhere and surprised me. Anyway we need you to call Klink and tell him that you’re sick. We have to convince him to send Shultz out for the dogs. If Klink can’t be convinced, we’ll have a doctor phone him. Is that okay with you?”
“Why do you need Shultz to do the delivery? I could just make two trips like usual.”
“That won’t work. Shultz has to do the delivery. Call Klink as soon as possible. Goodbye.” Kinch hung up and turned to Melissa. “Are you in the habit of sneaking up on people and giving them heart attacks? Come on, you and Hogan will want to get to Klink’s office.” He pushed her towards the tunnel entrance. Melissa and Hogan hurried to Klink’s office as soon as she was above ground.
“Hogan what are you doing here?” Klink was short with them as usual. “What ever you want the answer is --” He was cut off by the telephone.
“You finish kommandant. I’ll get the phone.” Hogan made a move to pick up the phone. Klink picked it up before Hogan even got close.
“Hello Stalag 13. Colonel Klink speaking.” They could only hear Klink’s side of the conversation but that didn’t matter as they already knew what was being said. “Then we’ll postpone changing the dogs until you’ve recovered.” Hogan and Melissa hurriedly began to talk about the dogs and Klink paused to listen.
“It’s good that the dogs are staying longer.”
“The longer they stay the friendlier they get, eh?”
“Yesterday LeBeau managed to walk right up close before the dogs barked, and before they’d bark as soon as they caught sight of him.”
“It would be awfully easy for someone to escape if the dogs liked them.” Melissa continued pretending she didn’t know Klink was staring right at her. “Wouldn’t it?”
“I’ll send Sergeant Shultz out for them tomorrow. Heil Hitler.” He hung up the phone and went to the door to call Shultz. “Shultz! Tomorrow you will be driving to Hammelburg at seven o’clock to change the dogs. You know the address. Dismissed!” Shultz had hardly entered when he left again.
“Now kommandant, the men have a few requests for things to be sent in the Red Cross packages. Ping pong balls, shaving cream, razors.”
“Shampoo, conditioner, knitting needles, yarn, needles.” Melissa paused and Hogan took over again.
“Playing cards, shoe polish, laundry soap, thread. Oh, and Newkirk wants a crochet hook.”
“Crochet hooks, shoe polish, and playing cards! What do you think this is? A hotel?”
“In that case I’d like a wake-up call for 6:00 and breakfast delivered to my room, I have an early war. Come along Melissa, I can’t believe this got a five star rating.” Hogan swept out, Melissa on his arm. Klink shook his fist at the retreating pair.
“Newkirk, if Klink asks you asked for a crochet hook. Don’t even bother to ask it’s a long story.” Hogan shook his head. “Actually it isn’t. I ran out of things to request.”
“I understand guv’nor, but a crochet ‘ook? Does anyone ‘ere even know ‘ow to crochet? What if Klink actually gets it?”
“Then I guess you’ll have to learn, won’t you? Anyway the plans are all set. Shultz goes out tomorrow with the dogs” Hogan turned.
“What about Crittendon?” Hogan turned to face Carter.
“I said Shultz was going out with the dogs didn’t I?”
“He’s been much better this time mon colonel, he never even mentioned the geraniums.” LeBeau, referring to the Crittendon Plan sent the others into peals of laughter. When he saw Melissa’s solemn face he stopped. “Don’t even ask.”
“Colonel, will you come with me to brief Rodney?” Hogan grimaced but walked towards the tunnel entrance. Down in the tunnel Crittendon wasn’t on his bunk. Hogan muttered something unkind beneath his breath before raising his voice.
“Let’s split up and search for him. You check the east side, and I’ll check the west. I knew something was suspicious when he agreed to go back so easily. Well, let’s go. Come back here if you find him.” Hogan stalked off. Melissa headed off in the opposite direction.
Returning back to their starting place Melissa hadn’t seen a trace of Crittendon. Since she had returned before Hogan, she began to make Crittendon’s obviously slept in bed. She smoothed the covers a final time and straightened up in time to see both Hogan and Crittendon staring at her. Nervously she tucked her hair behind her ears and ducked her head. She raised it when Hogan began to speak.
“He was in the library. Well, shall we begin?” Hogan crossed his arms and leaned up against the wall. Obviously Melissa was to do the explaining.
“Shultz will be leaving here tomorrow night at around seven to change the dogs. You’ll be going out with a group of us through the emergency exit at a little before seven. We’ll be going a distance down the road where the others will create a diversion so Shultz stops the truck. That’s when you’ll climb aboard. Don’t worry about the dogs, they’re trained not to attack. When Shultz reaches town and goes to unload the dogs, he’ll catch you in the truck and take you back to Stalag 9. Do you have any questions?” Crittendon shook his head no. “I’ll see you later. We’re having a poker game and I have to go bake the chips.” She disappeared. Hogan went to leave as well, but was stopped.
“Hogan, old boy, dreadfully sorry. Would you mind showing me where to find a bit of paper and a pen?” Hogan reversed course and led Crittendon out.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully, well almost uneventfully. There was a church service in the prisoner's chapel, and Crittendon attended. Wearing one of Carter’s uniforms he slipped out of the tunnel and walked into the chapel in the middle of a group. Shultz, standing near the door had looked at Crittendon for a long moment, but didn’t appear to recognise him.
The net day, with Crittendon safely back in the tunnel, nothing out of the ordinary happened Shultz, smelling the baking poker chips, had stopped to talk. “You know, I saw the funniest thing last night.” He reached for another cookie, taking a large bite.
“I thought you saw nothing?” LeBeau was eyeing the plate of cookies At the rate Shultz was going there wouldn’t be any left to play poker with.
“I thought I saw Colonel Crittendon going into the chapel last night. Isn’t that funny?” Shultz chuckled then noticed the others weren’t laughing. “Colonel Hogan, please don’t tell me I saw what I thought I saw. Oh, please Colonel Hogan!”
“Fine Shultz, I won’t tell you.” Shultz sighed with relief. “Carter, will you tell him?”
“Crittendon was in the chapel yesterday. He’s in the tunnels now and tonight you’re going to capture him.”
“But how did he? Tunnels? I know nothing, nothing!” He ran out the door, slamming it behind him.
“Maybe if he stayed longer he’d learn something. Do you think?” Kinch tipped Carter’s hat into his face. “You guys keep tipping my hat, maybe I should wear it like this all the time. It could start a new trend!” Newkirk threw a pillow, which solidly connected with the energetic young man’s head. “Or maybe not.”
Even after Shultz had made a dint in the pile of cookies, there was still more than enough to use for poker chips. Melissa gathered up a dozen or so and wrapped them in brown paper. She went to her quarters for a minute, and returned with another package. She picked up the package of cookies, and set off for Klink’s office.
“What do you think is in that package?” LeBeau lifted the last of the cookies from the pan.
“Cookies, we saw her put them in there LeBeau.” Carter spoke as if to a small child.
“Not that package, the one she picked up from ‘er room.” Newkirk looked as though he would have liked to tip Carter’s hat again, but Carter wasn’t wearing it.
“Oh, I wonder.” Carter didn’t see Newkirk roll his eyes. “Guess we’ll have to ask her.” He reached for a gingersnap.
“Between you and Shultz, Carter, we won’t have any left to use tonight!” LeBeau slapped Carter’s hand away.
“You let Melissa take some over to Klink and you didn’t slap her hand.” Carter was indignant.
“Didn’t your mother teach you never to ‘it a girl?”
“And besides, who made them?”
“Well, she did.” He stopped having run out of arguments. Melissa returned from Klink’s and Carter jumped in. “What are those packages you keep taking over to Klink?” Newkirk shook his head.
“Andrew, didn’t you mother teach you any manners?”
“I’m sorry Lissa.”
“That’s okay.” Everyone was staring at Carter. Finally Newkirk spoke.
“What did you call ‘er?”
“Lissa, is there anything wrong with that?” Carter looked puzzled. Newkirk shook his head no slowly, as it was obvious Melissa didn’t mind. In all of the time she had been there no one had called her by a nickname. “So, what are those packages, please?” Newkirk groaned.
Melissa flushed slightly. “Well, I’ve been taking them over a few times a month, right?” They nodded. “Well, I’ve been doing Klink’s mending.” After imagining, if only briefly, all of the exciting possibilities it was disappointing to learn the mundane truth. Then the humour of the situation struck them. They smiled but Melissa, with her head down, didn’t notice. “I did manage to convince Klink he needed a new uniform because his old one had been ineptly mended so many times. When the new one gets here we’ll have an actual colonel’s uniform. It should fit one of you with a little alteration. Besides it could come in handy if we need Klink to carry a message.”
“What would you say if I told you I did the mending with me own two ‘ands?” Melissa looked up and knew Newkirk was teasing, but she didn’t let him know.
“I’d say you should have used a finer thread and smaller stitches.”
“Larger stitches and coarser thread mean less time needs to be spent on it.”
“True, but Klink told me himself that he sent his mending to a lady in Hammelburg before she got sick.” They all laughed.
Just after evening roll call the group donned their black clothing and went out through the emergency exit. Walking swiftly, single file, through the forest they stayed far from the road to avoid patrols. They had to be especially careful because people would be out looking for Crittendon. There was no moon to light their way and the temperature dropped below zero. They walked for ten minutes and then headed towards the road. Carter, Newkirk, and LeBeau walked a little further down the road. Then they all settled down to wait.
Fifteen minutes and four vehicles later Shultz came rattling down the road. Carter set off a smoke bomb and a small explosive charge just as the truck drove between the two groups. Newkirk and LeBeau ran out into the road as Crittendon climbed into the back of the truck. Melissa wished him good luck while Hogan, under his breath, wished him good riddance. LeBeau and Newkirk were waving the smoke towards the truck and just making Shultz more confused. When Crittendon had been loaded safely in the truck Hogan signalled to Newkirk and LeBeau. They disappeared just before the smoke dissipated. Shultz got out of the truck and walked around to the back.
“We should have known Shultz would check the dogs before he left again. Crittendon had better not talk.” Melissa couldn’t tell whether Hogan was mad or not. She didn’t dare respond as Shultz was only a few metres away. Leaves rustled as Carter, LeBeau, and Newkirk came to join them.
Watching in silence the five saw Shultz peer into the back of the truck. He started to walk back around to the front, but stopped when two of the dogs started fighting. He climbed in to break it up and finally saw Crittendon.
“Colonel Crittendon! Have you escaped again?”
“Been gone from Stalag 9 for five days.”
“Climb into the front where I can keep an eye on you. I’ll take you back.” They saw Shultz and Crittendon climb into the front. Before Shultz drove away he looked around. “Colonel Hogan had something to do with this didn’t he?” They couldn’t hear Crittendon’s response.
Walking back to the camp Newkirk glanced behind him to see Melissa looking up at the sky. It was full of brilliant stars hanging close to the earth. She was whispering something incomprehensible. When she finished she looked at Newkirk then back up at the sky. He followed her gaze in time to see a shooting star arch across the inky sky.
“Make a wish.” Both squeezed their eyes shut for a moment.
“What were you saying just now?” Newkirk was curious.
“It might be silly, but ever since I was a little girl I’ve always wished on the stars. My father taught me a little rhyme and I say it every night.”
“’Ow does it go?”
Softly and slowly she began to recite. “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. Wish I may, wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight.”
“My mother used to say that with me when I was little.” Hogan, was leading, stopped. He turned to face them. “I had forgotten until now.”
“My mom and I would sing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’.” Carter had his neck bent back as far as it would go.
The Milky Way was a white streak and the other stars glittered like diamonds in the crisp air. A thin sliver of a moon had just risen above the tops of the trees. The pale light shone on their upturned faces. All was silent except the sound of their breathing. In among the trees the ground was still covered with crisp, white snow.
“Look,” someone whispered. The Northern Lights, in dancing bands of blue and green, brought an eerie mystical feeling to the dark clearing. Always the same, yet ever changing, the Lights captivated all. The timeless beauty, whether over a bombed out London, a captured Paris, a Canadian farmhouse, or small American towns, was above petty human things. For a moment the war was forgotten.
A twig snapped and everyone dove to the ground. That is everyone except LeBeau. Looking down at his hands he realised what had sent the others diving for cover. “Oops.” Picking themselves up off the ground they laughed, breath forming clouds around their mouths. They began to walk back towards the camp.
“The temperature’s sure dropped. Wonder if we’ll get some snow.” Carter’s voice came over the sound of their crunching footsteps.
“I hope so.” Melissa sounded so eager and hopeful Hogan couldn’t help but wonder why.
“Why would you want it to snow?”
“I’ve always loved winter, especially snow. I spent this winter in London and it didn’t snow. It hasn’t snowed since I’ve been here either. I really missed not being able to watch the first snowfall.”
“Do you get a lot of snow in Canada?” LeBeau was mystified when Melissa only laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Hogan thought she’d gone crazy.
“He asked if we got a lot of snow in Canada. Where I live it starts snowing in the last part of October and hardly stops until April Usually the little kids going trick-or-treating wear parkas under their costumes. Last winter, when I was taking pilot training, I got a leave over Christmas. I had no choice but to go AWOL. It blizzarded the night before I was due back and all of the roads were blocked.”
“Did you get in any trouble?”
“My CO was understanding because he was storm-stayed even longer than I was.”
“Where did you take your flight training? Did you get it through the BCATP?” Newkirk had picked up on the fact that she had trained near home.
“BCAPT, what’s that?” LeBeau had never heard of it before.
“British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. Actually I did. I was at the Service Training School near Estevan.” She paused picking her way over a fallen tree. “We live on a farm near Bienfait.”
“Here we are.” Hogan opened the tree trunk and entered. The walk through the woods had coloured cheeks, noses, ears, and fingers cherry red. Warming themselves thoroughly they went to bed.
The next morning dawned bright and sunny. The temperature hovered at about ten degrees below zero and roll call was chilly. The men hurried back towards the barracks as soon as they were dismissed, but Melissa stood outside. She glanced wistfully at the sky and then around her as she realised she was alone. Sighing she headed back to the barracks.
Inside the others all held hot cups of coffee. “Didn’t you think it was cold out there?” Kinch was still wearing his parka.
“At home I’d be outside having a snowball fight or playing hockey with my brothers. What would you be doing?”
“We’d be inside sitting around a fire with cups of hot cocoa.” Carter took a sip of his coffee
“I wouldn’t know, it doesn’t get this cold.” Kinch moved his chair closer to the stove.
“Moi aussi.” LeBeau chimed in.
“I’m not sure what I’d be doing, but it doesn’t get real cold at home either.” Hogan set his cup down on the table. “What’s for breakfast?”
“What do you want?” LeBeau stood up.
“Let me make breakfast please?”
“Sure, what are you going to make?”
“Ponachuka.” Melissa was surrounded by confused faces. “Crepes with cinnamon and sugar.”
“Oh, can I help?” LeBeau was once again in familiar territory.
“Thanks for the offer but I can handle it.” LeBeau sat back down and Melissa started to mix up the batter. Twenty minutes later they all sat down for breakfast. There was one more pan full cooking when Shultz came in.
“Mail call. A letter for you Cockroach, and one for you Colonel Hogan. A thick one for you Kinch, and two for you Newkirk. Carter you got three and Melissa you got five big thick ones.” Each person received their precious envelopes and ripped them open to devour their precious contents. Only Melissa set hers aside. She took the last batch out of the oven and put them on a plate for Shultz.
“These are for you. Did you get anything in the mail today?”
“I got a package from my wife and each of my children sent a letter. Who are your letters from?”
“My brothers, my mum, and Christine, my best friend.” While Melissa was talking Shultz had taken a bit of the ponachuka.
“Ponachuka! How did you know how to make this? It is a German dish.”
My mum used to make it for us on our birthdays or on special days.” Shultz didn’t respond but took another large bite.
“Danke. I must go deliver the rest of the mail. Good bye.” Shultz left and Melissa began to clean up. When the others finally surfaced from their letters they were surprised to find all of the dished had been done.
“How did you get all of the dishes done? You had five thick letters to read.” LeBeau was the first one finished. Then he spied the stack of envelopes on the table. “I see. So you’re saving them for later.?”
“Right, how are your parents?”
“They’re both doing fine, Papa got over his cold and is back to working in his garden. Pierre, my brother, came home for a visit and brought his fiancée. It was the first time they met her and Mamere fell in love with her. The wedding’s in a month.”
“How are Mavis and your mother?” Newkirk had surfaced.
“Pretty good, Mother’s leg’s been bothering ‘er but that’s about it.”
“Colonel, is something wrong?” Hogan had a sad look on his face.
“No, my brother Tim just joined up. His birthday was on a Sunday and by Tuesday he was in uniform. Now only Mae and Benj are at home and Benj will be old enough to join next year.”
“It mightn’t be any consolation, but at least you don’t have to urge him to go. And your mother will at least have Mae. All four of us are in uniform. Mum only has Uncle Bill and he’s out farming most of the time.”
“What about your father?” Kinch folded his papers back up.
“My dad died when I was five. Mum’s brother came to help with the harvest and never left. How’s Irene? Has she had her baby yet?”
“A little girl. I still can’t believe I’m an uncle.. They named her Margaret. Everyone’s fine and excited.”
“Congratulations. When you write tell her so for us.” Hogan firmly shook Kinch’s hand.
“I will, I just wish I could see her.”
“See who?” Carter joined the conversation.
“My niece. My sister just had her baby.”
“What did Chris have to say?” Melissa glanced at the top envelope.
“Not much. Robin didn’t have anything new to say either. He’s training in England.”
“I hope he stays there for a long time. Let’s go outside. It’s too nice out there to just sit in here!”
“You can go ahead. I’m staying here were it’s warm.” The others agreed with Kinch.
“Well, I should go make up the cot with fresh sheets so it’s ready for next time. Some Christmas you’ll have to come visit me, then you’ll get a taste of cold weather.” Melissa disappeared down into the tunnels. As soon as the bunk closed behind her Carter set off for Klink’s office in a dead run.
In the tunnels Melissa softly sang to herself as she tidied. Finally she stripped the sheets off the cot and remade it with fresh ones. She bent to pick up the bundle of dirty sheets and saw a small parcel wrapped in brown paper. She set everything back where it belonged and picked up the package. She headed for the tunnel entrance but was met by Hogan.
“Use the entrance in your room. Klink and Shultz are in the main room and I told them you were on your bunk writing a letter. Count to about twenty and come out..” Hogan and Melissa both climbed up the ladder and emerged through the trapdoor. Hogan went right out but Melissa waited. Before going out Melissa set the package down on her bunk, it wouldn’t be good if Klink started questioning her about it.
“Happy Birthday!” Shultz, Klink, and Fritz were standing in among the others. There was a small pile of wrapped gifts on the table.
“Thank you.” Melissa was at a loss for words.
“Here sit down and open your presents. Mine first.” LeBeau pushed a square package towards her. She unwrapped it, careful not to tear the paper. Inside was a cookbook. All of LeBeau’s favourite recipes were written out.”
“Merci LeBeau. C’est parfait!” She placed a kiss on his cheek.
“’Ere. It isn’t much, but I ‘ope you like it.” Newkirk handed her his gift. Inside were two sets of pyjama bottoms. “You already ‘ave the tops, I figured you should ‘ave the bottoms. I can alter them so they fit.” Laughing she gave him the same thanks she had given LeBeau.
“Kinch and I are giving a joint present.” Hogan handed her a thick book.
“We’re going to teach you how to read, write and speak German. I can read and write it.”
“And I can speak it.” Melissa looked at the cover of the book. It was a German-English dictionary.
“Thank you. I'd kiss you Kinch, but you're standing too far away.” She had kissed Hogan, but Kinch was standing on the other side of the table. Klink handed her a long thin box. Undoing the ribbon and lifting the top she wondered what it could be. Inside lay a watch with a brown leather strap.
“Now you won’t have any excuses for missing roll call.” Melissa remembered the time. She had been on her way back from meeting an Underground agent when a patrol walked by. She took cover and they didn’t see her but the delay had caused her to be late for roll call. As she strapped it to her wrist she recalled that she had lost her watch in the woods a few weeks ago.
“Thank you Colonel.” She kissed the top of his bald head. Shultz passed her his gift. It still had stamps on it. “Is this the package from Gretchen?” Shultz nodded. Inside was a stuffed bear.
“I hope you like it. Oh, and Oskar sent his thanks for his birthday present.” Melissa stood and embraced him. She whispered in his ear.
“I hope my father was like you. Danke.” Fritz handed her his present. Inside the coloured paper were two worn paperback books, Anne of Green Gable and Anne of Avonlea. She opened the cover of one and saw written ‘Victoria Staeder’. Meeting her gaze Fritz spoke.
“They were my mother’s. I figured you would like to have them.” She wrapped her arms tightly around him. “I think she would have wanted you to have them. She would have enjoyed meeting you.”
“And I her.” They pulled apart. Carter handed her an envelope but before she had a chance to open it Corporal Langensheid knocked on the door.
“Major Hochstetter has just left Hammelburg. He’s coming here to speak with you Herr Kommandant.” The young man left.
“Shultz come with me. Dr Staeder, you’d better leave. Hogan, get this room cleaned up, and happy birthday Major.” The three men left and the others tidied the room. Melissa went to put her gifts in her room. When she returned she held the package she had found in the tunnels.
“Colonel Hogan, when I was changing the sheets on the cot I found this. I don’t know what it is and thought you should have a look.” Hogan took the package. As he was looking at it he saw the corner of an envelope. He tugged gently at it and it easily slipped free. The envelope was formally addressed to ‘Royal Canadian Air Force Squadron Leader Melissa Davidson’.
“Looks like it’s for you. Whatever it is.” He handed it back to her and waited a moment. “What are you waiting for? Open it.” He crossed his arms and leaned impatiently against the wall. Carefully she opened the small package. Neatly folded inside was a white scarf. Hogan recognised it as Crittendon’s. Hogan handed the envelope to Melissa. Inside was a short note.
Thank you for helping me to realise where my true duty lies. It may be more glamorous to bomb bridges but me being able help others is needed more in the long run. Keep a stiff upper lip and please accept this scarf as both a birthday gift and a token of my admiration. I would like to give you something more meaningful, but this is all I have.
Hogan came around and tried to peer over her shoulder, but she folded the note back up.
“I should go put this away in case Major Hochstetter comes.” She left.
“Well how do you like that.” Hogan remarked to no one in particular.
When Major Hochstetter drove into camp the group huddled around the coffee-pot receiver. It turned out all the Gestapo officer had wanted was an account of Crittendon’s capture from Shultz. Instead of the usual prolonged visits, this one was short. When Hochstetter had left Newkirk started the poker game. Melissa went to her quarters to read her letters from home. Actually only one was from home. All three of her brothers were in England. They were all with the South Saskatchewan Regiment, and usually took turns writing to her. Her friend Christine was in the Navy, and was away from home as well.
She finshed the last letter, from her brother Teddy, and came to the envelope Carter had given her earlier. She opened it and inside were dozens of delicate paper snowflakes accompanied by a short note.
I’m sorry I can’t make it really snow, because I have a feeling that’s what you really want. This is as close as I could come. Have a happy birthday..
Back in the main room the card game had wrapped up. Carter was on his bunk reading. Melissa crossed the room and went right over to him. She stood beside him and simply said, “Thank you.”
He hugged her tightly. “You’re welcome.”
Somehow LeBeau had managed to bake a cake and they had it for dessert. Twenty candles were imbedded in the frosting and when she blew them out she missed one. They had hardly finished when Shultz called them outside for a surprise roll call. The sky had clouded over and it was still just below zero.
As they stood in formation outside small flakes of snow began to fall. They came faster and the flakes became larger. By the time they were dismissed the large flakes were falling steadily. The others went inside and Shultz resumed patrolling but Melissa remained frozen in position captivated by the falling snow.
When Shultz came back around he removed his overcoat and placed it around Melissa’s shoulders. It hung to the ground. She opened her mouth but her walked away again. She slid her arms into the sleeves.
Snow collected in her hair, making a soft halo. Carter came out of the barracks and placed his hands on her shoulders. “Would you care to dance?” She nodded. They waltzed in the darkness.
Peering out the door Kinch, Newkirk, and LeBeau made no noise to disturb them. Hogan watched form his window and finally realised why the others hadn’t fought over Melissa. She had been Carter’s all along. Shultz stood thinking about his own far away wife and watched the young couple. Klink watched and reflected back on all of his flirtatious relationships and sighed.
Oblivious to all but the gently falling snow the two danced.
Text and original characters copyright by Anne DeRosier
This copyright covers only original material and characters, and in no way intends to infringe upon the privileges of the holders of the copyrights, trademarks, or other legal rights, for the Hogan's Heroes universe.