Echoes of Mercy
2007 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
2007 Papa Bear Awards - Third Place
Best Portrayal of a Canon Character - Carter
2007 Papa Bear Awards - Third Place
Best Overall Story
No Rest for the Weary
Louis Le Beau opened the door to Barracks Two and without bothering to look out, said, disheartened, “It’s all yours, Schultzie,” then went back to the table in the common room and sat down, staring regretfully at the plate full of food before him.
“Schultzie” was Hans Schultz, the
large Sergeant of the Guard at Stalag Luft 13 just outside of
Le Beau shrugged. “Sure I’m sure, Schultzie. It would be better for it not to go to waste.”
Schultz nodded then sat down, leaning his rifle against the table. Supporting his chin with his palm, Le Beau silently held out a salt shaker. “Danke,” Schultz said, taking it. He sprinkled some salt on his dinner, then he looked, delighted again, at the plate. “Oh,” he said, like a small child asking for a sweet before dinner, “and some pepper?” Still not speaking, Le Beau picked up another shaker and handed it over. “Danke,” Schultz said again, and sprinkled liberally. Another look at his culinary dream come true. “And… perhaps… a little bit of your special sauce—?”
“That’s enough!” Le Beau snapped finally, waving his hand to ward off the coming idea and standing up. “Take it as it is.” He moved away from the table and took refuge at the stove, where he poured a cup of coffee and brought it over to James Kinchloe. The tall black Sergeant took the cup and nodded his thanks.
“Of course,” Schultz said penitently. “I am sorry, Le Beau.”
Letting go of his anger, the Frenchman sat back down and offered an apologetic smile of his own. “That’s okay, Schultz. To each his own.”
Schultz picked up the fork on the table, and with great gusto stabbed into a potato. He raised the vegetable to his mouth, then paused and looked at it thoughtfully. “Colonel Hogan… he is still not eating?” he asked softly.
Sergeant Kinchloe came forward from where he leaned on the bunk and sat down across from the guard. “No, he’s not,” he said matter-of-factly. “At least not enough to keep Louis happy.”
“It is not just me,” Le Beau sniffed, though he tried to offer Kinch a small smile of understanding. “Le Colonel is not eating enough to keep a bird alive.”
“Maybe he’s just sick of potatoes,” suggested Andrew Carter. He shrugged contritely when hard stares greeted him. “Well, I know I get sick of them sometimes,” he added. Oh, well, let them use me to get out their anger, he thought; he knew it wasn’t the choice of food that was keeping Colonel Robert Hogan from chowing down, but perhaps a distraction from the problem would make the rest of them feel better, even for a little while.
Peter Newkirk shook his head and looked down from his top bunk near the door. “We all do, Andrew,” he said. “But we could probably offer the gov’nor his choice of fine foods right now and he’d let it all sit there to go cold.” A sigh from the English Corporal. “’E’s just not himself at the moment.” He sat up and pulled a cigarette out from under his mattress, then hopped down from the bunk and bummed a light.
“It is a shame,” Schultz lamented between bites. “He is missing some beautiful meals.” A pause as the remark clearly didn’t earn him any points with the prisoners. “He should not still be so sad,” he added regretfully. “The accident was not his fault.”
“A man died, Schultz,” Kinch replied. “That kind of thing bothers the Colonel.”
“Ja, ja. Und Gunter, he seemed like such a nice boy. But still, it was an accident. It is very sad, but it happens,” the guard philosophized as he finished clearing the plate. He considered licking it, but relented when faced with the expectant looks of the prisoners. He stood up. “Corporal Langenscheidt still wants to speak with Colonel Hogan, and if you think it would help…” Schultz offered. Carter handed him back his rifle as Le Beau swept the plate away.
“I don’t think the Colonel will want to talk with anyone right now, Schultz. Thanks all the same,” Kinch answered.
“Yeah, that’s real nice of you and Langenscheidt, Schultz,” Newkirk agreed.
“All the guards… well, they like Colonel Hogan. We want to see him get better.” For the enemy, Schultz thought, they were nice men. Sure, every now and then he had to be on the side of the Germans; after all, they were his countrymen, and it would be nice to be on the winning side once in a war. But this mismatched group of prisoners, who seemed so closely knit despite their incredible diversity, clearly had a camaraderie the transcended the barbed wire and armed guard towers that surrounded them. And now, seeing them “closing ranks,” as it were, to care for their now-vulnerable commanding officer—someone they had never even met until they were all captured by the Germans—he felt obligated to give them some privacy, even in a barracks that was never intended to offer them anything but a place to lay their heads after another long, uneventful day as unwilling guests of the Third Reich. He shrugged his broad shoulders. “You know where he is, if Colonel Hogan changes his mind.”
“We know, Schultz,” Carter said, nodding. “Thanks.”
“Ja. Und danke for the dinner, Le Beau.”
“You’re welcome, Schultz.”
And the guard disappeared. Le Beau sighed as he looked at the expertly-emptied plate. “Well, at least someone liked the dinner,” he said.
“Don’t take it personally, Louis,” Kinch suggested gently. “You know if the Colonel was gonna eat anything, it’d be something you cooked. He’s probably just not hungry.”
“Oui, I know, mon ami,” the Frenchman agreed resignedly. “But I am worried about what will happen if he does not snap out of this soon. The accident was almost two weeks ago; he should be recovered enough to eat a meal by now.”
“Yeah, but he wasn’t just hurt physically, was he?” Newkirk conjectured unhappily. No one disputed him. “Spending hours trapped in a car with a dead man... conjuring up a whole conversation with him just to stay sane while he waits for someone to come and rescue him…”
“But that’s not the strangest part,” Kinch added. “What gets me is that the Colonel got everything about Kleinschmidt right. His hometown, the names of his sisters and brother, even what he wanted to do with his life. How can you make up that stuff and get it all on the nose? We all know he was a little concerned about being able to sneak away from Kleinschmidt to meet our contact; he’d just transferred here and Colonel Hogan hadn’t had a chance to check him out. He didn’t know how hard the guy was gonna be to get around.”
“Then he must have spoken to Kleinschmidt in the car before the crash,” Newkirk postulated.
Kinch disagreed. “What would make a guard talk to a prisoner on such a personal level—even if it’s Colonel Hogan? It just doesn’t make sense. And the boy died—that’d be pretty hard for the Colonel to take. Kleinschmidt might have been a German, but he was still just a kid.”
“Then why haven’t we talked to him about it?” Carter asked. The others looked at him in disbelief. But he persisted. “Well, if that’s what’s really bothering Colonel Hogan, we should get him to let it all out—and all we’ve done is avoid him!” Small nods of agreement as Carter’s words sunk in. “We’re supposed to be his friends. What kind of friends are we if we look after him on the outside, but we don’t help him heal inside?”
Another moment of silence. Finally Le Beau spoke up. “You are right, Andre. We have not been very good friends. It is wrong of us to think that because Colonel Hogan is an officer, he does not feel as we do when something goes wrong.”
Newkirk nodded, then said with a hint of a smile, “Well, then, that settles it, Carter—you go in and see what’s eating at Colonel Hogan—and we’ll wait out here to catch the pieces when he sends you flying back out of his office. Right?”
“I’ll talk to him,” Carter said. He raised his chin defiantly. Then, his eyes slightly betraying the false bravado in his words, he announced: “I’m not afraid.”
Kinch raised an eyebrow and considered offering a salute as Carter headed for the Colonel’s office. But he refrained, as Newkirk must have had the same idea and shot off one of his own. Le Beau just bit his lip and kept his blue eyes glued to the Sergeant as if he could warn him against the action with a stare. But Carter ignored them all and knocked purposefully on the door to Hogan’s room, only glancing fleetingly back toward the others when he heard the word “Come,” from the other side.
Carter swallowed and steadied himself, then opened the door and disappeared inside. His friends could only look at each other and shake their heads.
Carter found Robert Hogan on his bottom bunk, propped up by a couple of rolled-up blankets, his legs and chest covered by a third one, his left arm draped carefully across his abdomen at a specific angle aimed at aggravating neither his shoulder nor his tightly-bound ribs. His right arm lay at his side, unmoving.
Carter moved into the room, giving an awkward wave as he approached his commanding officer. “Hey, Colonel,” he greeted with a smile.
Hogan nodded carefully. “Hey.”
“Just thought I’d… see how you’re doing!” he continued cheerfully. His overly bright smile faltered a bit when he noticed the heavy bruise that started just above the US Army Air Corps officer’s eyes and extended halfway down the left side of his face, still looking as dark and ugly as he remembered it being the last time he dared have a good look at it. “I mean,” he added a little less confidently, “I was wondering if you were up to coming out to have a little supper. You know, with the fellas. I could help you, I mean with your leg…” He let that sentence trail off. Hogan didn’t need help remembering his limitations right now.
Hogan breathed in and out slowly before he answered softly, “Not tonight, thanks, Carter. Maybe tomorrow.”
“Oh, sure, I understand,” Carter
agreed with a nod. “It’s been a big day for you, anyway, I mean, uh—” He
hesitated when he realized he’d talked himself into a corner; Hogan hadn’t done
anything today. He hadn’t come out
for roll call, he hadn’t come out for meals, and he hadn’t talked to
But this was different, Carter was smart enough to realize: this mess, Hogan had managed to come out of, while someone else, unwittingly part of his plan to use an outing from prison camp Stalag Luft 13 as a way of meeting a contact from the Underground, had died. And while the victim had been a German soldier, this time that made precious little difference to Hogan.
“It’s all right, Carter,” Hogan said wearily. “I know I’ve been holed up in here most of the day.”
Carter relaxed. “Oh. Right. Well… you haven’t eaten, either.”
“I told Le Beau: I’ve got a splitting headache and I just couldn’t stomach anything right now. If I get hungry later, I’ll come out and get something myself.”
No, you won’t, Carter thought unhappily. His eyes drifted toward the cane the camp medic had left in the office for Hogan to use when he was recovered enough to attempt a short stroll. The Colonel hadn’t touched it yet, and both of them knew he wasn’t nearly well enough to. “I know what you went through was pretty bad, Colonel,” Carter said quietly, after a too-long silence. “Corporal Kleinschmidt was just a kid. I know he was a German, but it’d be easy to forget that.” He paused. “It’s okay to feel bad because he died.”
“My not eating has nothing to do with the fact that Kleinschmidt died. This is war; people die. I’ve watched them die. I’ve helped them die.” Hogan paused at that last statement, regrouped his thoughts, and continued more softly. “I’m just… not up to it, okay?”
Carter understood the plea in Hogan’s simple declaration, and with a small smile, nodded. “Sure, Colonel. I understand,” he said, much to Hogan’s relief. “You know, everyone’s been asking about you, sir,” he added. “Even the Krauts. Schultz is always moping around—but I think he’s looking for food, too—and Langenscheidt, well he—”
“Carter,” Hogan said again, alarm rising within him at the mention of the last guard’s name, “I’m going to try to sleep for awhile; I’m pretty beat. Okay?”
Carter nodded quickly. Well, I had to try. “Oh, yeah, Colonel. Sure. I’ll leave you alone for now. Maybe you’ll join us tomorrow.”
“Yeah. Maybe tomorrow,” Hogan said without much conviction.
“Well… you just call if you need anything, okay, sir?”
“Right.” Hogan watched as the young Sergeant backed toward the door. “And Carter, thanks… for checking up on me.”
A small nod and Carter was gone. When he came out, he simply smiled enigmatically at the others and said, “Head intact, not tossed out on my ear… nothing to wipe the floor with, fellas,” and sat down on his bunk near the door, ostensibly to read. At least now the Colonel knows we support him. Andrew, you did good!
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan looked balefully at Kinch as the radio man shrugged not quite apologetically from the doorway. “And?”
“And… they want to talk to you.”
Hogan tilted his head and let out an exasperated sigh. “And you told them—?” he prompted, gesturing toward his legs, covered once again with a blanket.
“Yes, sir, I told them,” confirmed Kinch. “And… they want to talk to you.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan sat heavily in the chair Kinch had moved next to the radio equipment, recovering from the arduous trip from his room to the series of tunnels and passageways beneath Barracks Two that normally he roamed quite easily. With his arm and shoulder still not healed, the cane had been more of a hindrance than a help, and though Kinch had been there to support him, the journey was still very slow, and very painful. “Klink’d better not... call for a surprise roll call any time soon,” he panted, as he waited for the world to stop spinning.
“No, sir; Carter’s on watch, so there’ll be a lot of warning for that surprise,” Kinch replied, watching his commander carefully as he connected with Allied Headquarters again. “And the Kommandant isn’t expecting you out and about any time soon, anyway.”
“That puts him one up... on
Kinch smiled ironically. “I’m sure they’ll think it is, sir.” He paused for a moment, listening, then acknowledged the party on the other end of the connection before holding the headsets out to Hogan.
Unhappy to see a slight tremor in his hands, Hogan accepted the offering and leaned carefully in toward the desk, where the microphone was perched waiting for him. “This is Papa Bear,” he said. A pause. “I’m aware of that,” he said tersely. Kinch watched anxiously as Hogan’s mood seemed to grow darker with each statement. There was a long silence, during which Hogan’s eyes grew distant and his expression troubled. He shifted with considerable difficulty on the chair. “That’s… regrettable, sir,” he said, sighing.
Kinch raised an eyebrow at the sudden change in Hogan’s voice. He had gone from being a clearly irritated operative, to a very thoughtful—and downcast—officer. Kinchloe couldn’t help but wonder what was being said on the other end of the line—or indeed, even to whom Hogan was speaking, since the person Kinch himself had made the connection with was no one worthy of being called “sir” by the Colonel. And Hogan’s already pale face had taken on a distinctly grey tinge. What the hell was going on?
Hogan listened again. His eyes bored into the tunnel wall, seeing something not etched in the clay, and then fell to the tunnel floor, seeing something else there. Finally he said, “If that’s what we need to do to stop that happening again, sir, we’ll do it. How long do we have?” An answer, followed by: “Any ideas how?” He nodded, then shook his head as though in resigned disbelief. “Right, sir. We’ll look for the first opportunity…. Yes, sir, we’ll stay in touch. Papa Bear over and out.”
With his good arm Hogan practically threw the headsets onto the desk. Then, clearly suffering, he doubled in on himself, pressing his good hand over his eyes as his injured arm lay helplessly in his lap. In a few seconds, he propped himself up by bracing his right hand on his knee instead, and, head still bowed and breathing heavily, Hogan shook his head slowly, as though discounting his inner thoughts.
Kinch said nothing as he shut down the radio, stealing occasional glances at Hogan. Finally he touched the Colonel’s shoulder, and spoke softly. “Is everything all right, sir?” he asked, not using the words he wanted to use.
Hogan opened his eyes and looked back at Kinch. The pain and tiredness—and sadness—had not left them. He shook his head. “Please help me get back upstairs,” he replied quietly, ignoring the question. “I’ve got to—” Hogan cut himself off as though censoring his words. “I want to lie down for awhile.”
Kinch pursed his lips and forced himself to accept the answer. “Yes, sir,” he said with a nod. He came around the chair and held out a supportive hand to his commanding officer. “Just lean on me.”
Pills for Propaganda
“I understand, General Burkhalter, but Hogan isn’t in any condition to—” Kommandant Wilhelm Klink tried to protest, even though inside he knew it was pointless. “But Herr General, Hogan isn’t likely to want—” Klink tried again, then: “No, of course, sir, I know what Hogan wants isn’t important. It’s just that—” He slumped his shoulders and shook his head. “Yes, sir, I agree we did quite a bit to help him, but that was because—” Klink shivered and pulled his ear away from the phone as his name was bellowed through the receiver. “Yes, sir, I’ll tell him…. Yes, sir…. Oh, to you, too, sir. Heil Hitler.”
Klink hung up the phone and sighed. His superior and direct connection to the Fuhrer, General Albert Burkhalter, certainly knew how to use everything for the glory of the Third Reich. So why didn’t Klink want him to use this incident? When Hogan had been brought back to camp the night of that terrible car accident, it was Klink himself who, shocked by Hogan’s condition, had insisted on getting the injured man to the hospital in Hammelburg immediately. And Hogan had been treated there, sometimes sedated, and given as much pain relief as would be spared for an enemy officer. That certainly was magnanimous, wasn’t it?
But when the American returned to Stalag 13 a week later—prematurely, Klink thought—Klink saw a different man from the one who had driven out of camp that tragic day. True, Hogan was still recovering from very serious injuries. But there was something else. Klink had heard both the guards and the prisoners talking in low tones around the camp, and what he heard gave him the shivers: Hogan had barely met Kleinschmidt until then, and the pair had not traveled very far before their car careened down a steep embankment. When they were found, Hogan told his rescuers that he and Kleinschmidt had sustained each other by talking, and that the young guard had told the American all sorts of things about himself. Private details that were confirmed later by another camp guard, Corporal Karl Langenscheidt, who had finally provided the details necessary to track down the dead man’s only remaining relatives—his sisters, who were living on their own in Helmstedt.
None of that would have bothered Klink, if not for the fact that Kleinschmidt had died immediately in the crash. So Hogan had actually been alone for four hours trapped in the wreckage, trying desperately to simply survive, talking to whom? Or… what? Clearly, the whole incident was haunting the senior Prisoner of War as well. That might be a poor choice of words, Klink thought uncomfortably.
His own compassion for Hogan disturbed the Kommandant. Hogan was merely a prisoner, an enemy who had caused more than a little trouble for the Germans before he was shot down. Klink should have had no qualms about letting some middle-ranked sycophant from the Propaganda Ministry use the American to the advantage of the Third Reich—yes, Klink began to think self-righteously, the Fatherland did use its precious resources to care for someone whose value to them was limited. It did give up one of its limited number of hospital beds to make sure Hogan could be monitored properly when he was first treated. The Fatherland did willingly do more than expected of it to keep Hogan alive.
Who am I trying to fool? Klink thought suddenly; I had to practically beg the doctor at that hospital to give Hogan something for his terrible pain when we first arrived. All doctors are not created equal…. Then with equal self-loathing, Klink realized that he would probably give these cold-hearted officials all the cooperation they wanted.
With a sigh, he turned back to his inventory report. His conscience would have to wait until he finished his paperwork.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan’s men nodded somberly. There wasn’t a man in the camp who didn’t know what it was like to get shot out of a plane. But such a huge loss in just one night…
Hogan nodded. “That raid was the night of the accident,” he said softly. Then, almost in a whisper, he added, “Black Thursday.”
Newkirk exchanged long looks with the others. The Colonel was constantly balling a portion of the blanket into his right fist, then loosening it, then gripping it tightly again. His whole body was tense, his mouth set in a taut, thin line. Hogan was in pain. But he didn’t mention it, and he wasn’t asking the men to leave. So Newkirk did his best to distract Hogan by helping him focus on his talk with Allied Headquarters. “So… why was it so important that you know, sir?” he asked hesitantly.
Hogan stared at the blanket across his legs, his hand still moving, each breath becoming more and more like a difficult pant. After a moment, he replied, “Because the RAF wants to try something else just as dangerous, and they… don’t want the same results.”
“What do they want to try, Colonel?” asked Carter.
“Air strikes on
Hogan’s men all started talking at once.
“Up until a few weeks ago, the Germans didn’t think the
Allies would try something so daring.
“And?” Le Beau prompted.
“And… they want us to find something more interesting for the Nazis to focus on
when the RAF makes its first strike. Preferably… something not so close to
“Then why do they not just stage a raid somewhere else at the same time?” Le Beau suggested.
“Yeah, one raid starting earlier on a target like
Düsseldorf, and another raid when the Krauts are all tied up there, on
Hogan shook his head, then winced as he shifted his leg under the blanket. “You’re forgetting one thing,” he said. He bit his lip. A piece of the blanket disappeared again. Hogan’s men waited. “This is war… but six hundred men are still hard to forget. They do this wrong and they lose a lot more men—at both sites.”
Carter lowered his head, saddened by the news of the
“Sure we will,” Kinch said with a half-hearted smile. “You can’t stop Hogan and Company for long.”
Kinch looked from Carter to the others and then over at the Colonel. Hogan was trembling. He wasn’t letting go of the blanket, and a thin sheen of perspiration was covering his face. Kinch pursed his lips and moved in closer. “Time for your medicine, sir,” he said quietly. Hogan closed his eyes as he took in short, shuddering breaths. “Then you can get some sleep.”
Hogan said nothing, concentrating as much as possible on the fabric crushed in his grasp. He’d done all he could for now; it was time to forget where he was, and why he was there. And right now, he’d do that gratefully.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan opened his eyes and took a couple of seconds to
orient himself. He was in his quarters, but on the bottom bunk instead of his
usual upper berth, which explained the blocked view of the ceiling. And he had
taken pain medication before he slept, which explained his fuzzy-headedness
upon wakening, when he liked to wake up clear-headed and sharp. And he was at
Stalag 13, which still didn’t explain
why he found himself being stared at by the
“I need to talk to you, Hogan.”
Klink’s voice didn’t offer any option to refuse. “How long have you been standing there?” Hogan asked, his voice betraying a touch of annoyance.
“I just got here,” Klink lied. In truth, with the other men out in the prison yard, Klink had come into the barracks to see Hogan in private, only to find the senior POW in a deep, drug- and pain-induced sleep. He watched the American closely for a few minutes, his eyes tracing the large, terrible bruise on Hogan’s face that had given him a black eye and, Klink guessed, a ferocious headache. Then he remembered what he had to tell his prisoner and had nearly backed out of the room, when Hogan had groaned and woken up. Now, Klink realized with more than a little trepidation that he was trapped. “The noise of the door shutting must have woken you up.”
“Hmf,” Hogan grunted in reply. “What do you want?”
“Do you want to sit up?” Klink asked, ignoring the question. He gestured toward one of the blankets on the floor that had been being used as a make-shift pillow.
“Yeah,” Hogan answered vaguely.
Klink reached down and picked up a blanket as Hogan struggled to pull himself up in the bed. At first the German avoided looking, to allow the injured man some dignity, but it very soon became obvious that Hogan couldn’t manage that task without a substantial amount of pain, so Klink turned and offered one hand as support for Hogan’s back as he drew the American up by his good arm with the other. Then, still gripping Hogan’s arm, Klink grabbed the blanket he had dropped and shoved it behind the Colonel, and eased his own hand away. Hogan fell against the blanket, biting back a groan, the roots of his hair damp with the sweat of exertion, and trying to slow his fast-beating heart. “Thanks,” he said breathlessly, when he could.
“So,” Hogan said, finally locking a suspicious gaze on Klink, “what do you want?”
Klink swallowed hard. “May I sit down?”
Hogan lifted his chin tiredly to indicate yes. Klink took the stool from the desk and put it beside the bed. He sat down heavily. “How are you feeling, Hogan?” Klink began.
Hogan looked chagrined. “You woke me up to ask me that?”
“No—no.” Klink paused awkwardly.
“Getting a little better every day, Sergeant Wilson says,” Hogan eventually offered the silence.
“Good. Good.” Another pause. “Actually, Hogan, I came here to tell you something.” More silence. “About your car accident.”
Hogan closed his eyes.
“The investigation is completed; I got a phone call about it this morning.”
Hogan didn’t open his eyes. “Good for you,” he said, his voice barely a whisper.
“It was an accident, Hogan. Pure and simple. The roads were bad and Kleinschmidt couldn’t handle the car after all the rain. There was no foul play.”
“Glad to hear it,” Hogan said softly; “I’d hate to think one of my boys was trying to do me in.”
“Hogan, I mean there was no sabotage. No one was trying to do anything to hurt you, or Kleinschmidt.”
Hogan remained silent.
Klink waited. And waited. Then: “Hogan?”
Two dark eyes opened and turned listlessly to the German Colonel. They were full of words, full of questions, full of pain. Klink felt a strange tug within him. He’s not just a prisoner, is he, Wilhelm? You must stop that, now.
“It’s very little comfort to me, Kommandant. And it’s probably even less comfort to Kleinschmidt’s—” Gunter’s—“family.” Hogan suddenly arched his back and drew in a sharp, gasping breath when a not-unfamiliar arrow of pain shot through his leg.
Klink watched silently until Hogan released the breath and sank back against the blanket. “I suppose you’re right,” Klink answered.
Hogan’s voice was weaker when he next spoke. “Anything else I can do for you, Colonel Klink?” he panted.
Just get it over
with, Klink ordered himself. “Yes, Hogan,” he said with a nod. Hogan raised
one eyebrow—the one that’s not above the
black eye, Klink noticed unnecessarily. “We’re getting a very special
visitor this week from
“I’m sorry, Kommandant, but I’m in no condition to bring the men out for parade. If you want a special formation, you’ll have to talk to Kinch. I’ve asked him to scramble the men in my absence.”
Klink couldn’t miss the irritation in Hogan’s voice. The American was wrong in his guess about what the Kommandant wanted—but he was on the right track. And Klink knew he would have every reason to be angry. “I do not want the men to parade,” Klink replied, putting a bit of severity into his own tone to bolster his courage. “I simply need you to talk to the visitor when he comes here.”
“Talk to him?”
“Yes, Hogan. You see, he is coming here especially to see you.”
Klink let out a light, nervous laugh at Hogan’s deadpan reply. “You’re a very special prisoner, Hogan. You always have been!”
Hogan put a hand to his forehead and closed his eyes. “Don’t remind me,” he said, rubbing carefully around the bruise.
“When Major Schafer gets here, I want you to be charming and helpful and engaging— I want you to act like me!”
“Make up your mind, Kommandant; I can’t do both.” Hogan and Klink locked eyes for a moment; Klink looked away when Hogan asked, “What does Schafer want to talk to me about?”
Klink paused—an uncomfortably long pause, thought Hogan. Klink raised his chin and said with more confidence than he felt, “When you had that accident, Hogan, the Luftwaffe went to extraordinary lengths to get your injuries treated. You were taken to the hospital, you were given medication—”
“In other words, you acted like ordinary, compassionate human beings,” Hogan retorted. “I suppose now you want me to pay for that aberration.” Hogan forced himself to pull away from the rolled-up blanket Klink had pushed behind him. “Major Schafer’s from the Propaganda Department, isn’t he?” he asked, his voice low and accusing. “This is all about publicity.” He let out a heavy breath. “And nothing about decency.”
Klink shook his head. “Hogan, you don’t understand—” he
started, even though as he spoke, inside he was already contradicting himself: No, Hogan, you understand
“No, Kommandant; you don’t understand.” Hogan threw off the blanket that had covered him as he slept, and with tremendous effort and not a little pain, he swung his legs off the bed and stood up, grabbing the upper bunk to try and steady himself. Klink rose in surprise, watching with increasing alarm as Hogan, grimacing, then propelled himself—undoubtedly by sheer force of will—toward his desk. The American officer leaned heavily on the surface. It was anger alone that was keeping him standing; his injured leg was shaking and threatening to send him crashing to the floor any second. With his good arm, Hogan reached for the precious bottle of pills that he had been gratefully—unquestioningly—taking to help him cope with the pain of physical healing. “If the price tag of accepting your medical help is to sell myself to the Nazis—” he began. He stumbled toward Klink, tottering and swaying dizzily but still managing to look menacing, and forced the bottle of pills into the German’s hands—“then I’d rather go without.” Bitterly, he gasped, “Thanks anyway.”
Klink’s mind absorbed the white, drawn face of the senior
POW as the American collapsed, breathless, on the bunk. Hogan had used all the strength
he could muster to defy the proposal from
Hogan didn’t answer. Klink turned and left the office, and then, as he heard a sob of pain come from Hogan’s quarters, he placed the bottle of pills on the table of the common room, before shaking his head regretfully and leaving the barracks.
With Time Comes Trouble
One look at Hogan and Newkirk rushed to his bedside, kneeling close to him. “Gov’nor, what is it?” he asked. He scanned the room. “Where’s your medicine?”
“Forget it,” Hogan rasped, still curled in on himself as much as he could. “Price is—too high.”
“What’s that, gov’nor?” Newkirk asked. He looked at the perspiration pouring off the senior POW’s grey face and became too frightened even to touch him. “What can I do?”
“Nothing. I’ll do—without them.”
An agonized groan through tightly clenched teeth told
Newkirk what he had to do. “I can’t say I agree with your conclusion, Colonel
Hogan, but I’ll let you have your way… at least until I get
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Sergeant Joe Wilson shook his head as he faced Hogan’s men. “He needs that medicine to hold off the worst of the pain,” the medic said. He stared at the bottle still on the common room table. “But I understand why he won’t take it any more. I’ll give him something else. Not nearly as effective, but at least he’ll take it.”
“Why won’t he take the Boche pills?” Le Beau asked, frustrated. “It’s about time they did something decent.”
“It’s not that simple,”
“Strings?” Carter echoed.
The outcry of disgust was immediate and unanimous.
“That explains why the tablets were out here,” Newkirk realized. And why you were in so much pain, gov’nor. “Ol’ Klink must have left them behind.”
“What have you given him now, Joe?” asked Kinch.
“Aspirin,” the medic replied, frustrated. “He wouldn’t take morphine—says he wants to be more alert now that he knows the Krauts are up to something. He did accept a sedative to help him relax. It wouldn’t be a bad thing for him to get numb to everything for awhile, in spite of himself. It might actually keep him from pulling crazy stunts like the one he did today.”
“Thanks, Joe,” Le Beau said.
“Yeah, thanks,” Carter agreed.
“It’s okay,” the medic said. He looked again at the spurned medication. “Maybe you can slip one of these into his food,” he said without a trace of guilt or humor. “It’s the least the goons can do for him.” He stood up. “Talk to him about what’s coming up,” he suggested. “Klink’s visit got him all wound up. And that isn’t doing him any good at all.”
“Nor the rest of us,” Newkirk added.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Herr Kommandant, there is a Captain Lehmann here to see you.”
“Captain Lehmann?” Klink looked up from his desk. “I’m not expecting any Captain Lehmann,” he mused. “What does he want?”
“I do not know, Herr Kommandant. And I did not think it was my place to ask,” Schultz replied confidentially.
Klink thought a moment. “But no one is due here until this afternoon!” He shrugged his shoulders. “Very well, Schultz; send him in.”
The guard opened the door and gestured for someone to enter. A small, stout man entered, his dark hair parted on one side and pulled over his head. I never did like that look, thought Klink, who nearly gasped aloud when he realized he was criticizing what was the Fuhrer’s own hair style. He wore a suit that was just one size too small for him, and Klink’s eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to the buttons that seemed ready to burst on the man’s chest, which were only put under even more duress when the man offered a sharp salute to the Colonel.
Klink returned the gesture. “Captain Lehmann, is it?” he asked.
“Yes, Colonel Klink.”
“I was not… expecting you today.” Klink tried to shrug casually. He failed miserably. There was nothing casual about an unexpected visit by anyone, even a lower-ranked officer.
“I have been sent by
Klink hastened to amend his words. So, this man was replacing Major Schafer as the representative from the Propaganda Ministry! It would not do for Klink to seem unwelcoming. “Oh, of course, of course, Captain Lehmann!” he said with exaggerated cheerfulness. “It’s just I wasn’t expecting you to arrive until this afternoon, that’s all.” Klink let out a small laugh and came around the desk. “Please, please—won’t you sit down? Cigar?” he offered, gesturing toward his humidor. “A glass of brandy, perhaps?”
Lehmann accepted the offer of the seat but waved away the cigar and the brandy. “No, no, Colonel Klink. I am fine as I am. So you have everything ready for me here, yes?” he asked, folding his hands in his lap.
Klink frowned. “Here?” he asked. “Why, Captain Lehmann, I thought you would be doing this in the barracks.” He stopped and took a quick look around. “You have not brought your equipment with you, Captain,” he observed.
Lehmann let out a light laugh. “Equipment, Colonel? Why, I have everything I need. And I’m sure you would not deprive me the use of one of your pencils, would you?”
“My pencils—no,” Klink mused, still looking. “It’s amazing,” he muttered, staring at Lehmann’s jacket. Perhaps there was a legitimate reason for its tightness after all.
“What is so amazing, Colonel?”
“Why, that cameras can be made so small!” Klink marveled. “I can’t even tell that you have one with you!”
Lehmann’s own lightheartedness turned into perplexity. “Cameras?” he repeated. “Colonel Klink, I have no camera. I have no need for one.”
“You don’t?” Klink asked, surprised. “Well, Captain… I mean, I was under the impression that…” Thank heaven. He thought about his encounter last week in Colonel Hogan’s office. It had frightened him to see Hogan so distressed and so ill, and it had done the American no good, either. Maybe I can get Hogan to simply tell this man that he was thoroughly looked after; that is the truth, after all. Without photos it can’t be half as bad, and then maybe he won’t be so defiant about taking those verdammt pills he needs so much! “Well, perhaps we should go see Colonel Hogan now.”
Klink nodded. “Yes—well, he’s not really well enough to be up and about, not for long, anyway,” he explained as Lehmann frowned at him. “As a matter of fact, this morning was his first day out at roll call since the accident.”
Lehmann shook his head. “Excuse me, Kommandant, but… why do I want to go see a prisoner?”
“For your assignment!” Klink answered.
“I do not need Colonel… Hogan, for my assignment,” Lehmann said.
“Oh, Captain Lehmann, I’m sorry. I was led to understand that you were going to speak to Hogan about his treatment after the car accident. So it is only me that you want to talk to?” Klink babbled. This might not be bad after all, Klink considered. “Well, I suppose you people in the Propaganda Ministry know a lot more about what is effective publicity than I ever would. After all,” he added, with a laugh that he hoped sounded more carefree than relieved, “I am Kommandant of a prisoner of war camp—I do not look for publicity.” A quick one-eighty. “Of course, I do have one or two fine photographs of myself in full military regalia if you think they would be useful for—”
“Kommandant Klink—Kommandant Klink!” Lehmann waved his hand to signal negative as he tried to cut in on Klink’s sudden flow of words. Klink came to a halt and looked at him expectantly. “Herr Colonel, I am not here to talk about this—car accident—at all. I don’t know anything about that.”
Klink’s shoulders slumped, deflated. “You don’t?”
“Then… why are you here? Aren’t you replacing Major Schafer?”
“From the Propaganda Ministry! He was to come here today to do a story about how our senior POW was taken to the hospital and generously treated by German doctors to save his life. I presumed you were here in his place.”
Lehmann raised his eyebrows, but shook his head. “No, Kommandant,” he said, standing. “There has obviously been a miscommunication somewhere along the line. I am not from the Propaganda Ministry, and I know nothing of your senior POW or his car accident. I am here from Central Supply—your reports came in earlier this week and there were some—shall we say, unusual?—figures in them. I am here to conduct an audit.” He smiled as Klink seemed to melt before him. “Now—you have already said we can use your office. That’s just fine. May I take you up on that glass of brandy now?”
Klink nodded numbly. He was right. It wasn’t bad; it was worse.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan winced considerably as he shifted position on the small bench in the common room. He had started to get a bit more involved in camp life in the last couple of days, and only this morning he had joined his men for the first time in nearly three weeks at roll call. When Klink came out at first light, he had been astonished to see the American standing in the front row, the collar of his brown bomber jacket drawn up to help ward off the morning cold, one thumb hooked into a pocket, one hand gripping a cane a little too tightly. The German had come and taken a good, close look at Hogan, as though not sure he was real. And then suddenly roll call was the fastest affair Hogan had ever seen, and Klink had ordered Hogan to go back to the barracks and sit down before he fell down. Hogan had offered a characteristic half-grin at that, which his men appreciated. But he didn’t laugh, because it was too close to the truth.
Now, he was waiting for Kinch to come back up from the tunnels below Barracks Two, nursing a cup of coffee and trying to consider what they had heard a few hours ago on the coffee pot in his office that served as a nice receiver for the listening device they had planted in Klink’s office. An auditor, Hogan thought. Just what the Bald Eagle needs—more people around to make him jumpy.
He rubbed his forehead wearily. The once-constant overpowering headache had finally receded, but it had left him feeling sore in the head and still sensitive to loud noises and bright light. His neck was still stiff, but he could at least turn his head without tears stinging his eyes, and his shoulder and ribs were finally on the mend. Most of the trouble now remained in his leg, which resisted all attempts at relief and woke him up often at night, when his nightmares weren’t busy doing the same. I could be up all night for a month; I still won’t take those tainted pills you offer, Hogan thought again. He cursed his own stubbornness as a sudden stab of pain left him momentarily paralyzed. Aspirin will do just fine, he reminded himself grimly when it passed.
The bunk over the tunnel rose up with a clatter and Kinch appeared. He climbed into the room and re-secured the secret entrance. “Are you all right, Colonel?” he asked as he approached the table.
Hogan smiled half-heartedly. “Sure. Don’t I look all right?”
Kinch shrugged. “Well, I guess so. But if you hold that cup any tighter it’s gonna bend in your hand.”
Hogan let his eyes drift to the coffee cup. Sure enough, his grip was so strong his knuckles were white. Deliberately, he released it. “What’d you get?” he asked.
“Plenty. The Krauts have more Ack-Ack batteries starting to converge near Berlin and the surrounding towns. And apparently, the hot shots are starting to get nervous. They’re trying to get organized.”
Hogan scowled. “Well, we can’t have that,” he remarked. “Anything else?”
“London.” Kinch twitched his moustache as his dark eyes tried to gauge Hogan’s reaction.
It was unreadable. “What about London?”
“They want to know our progress towards a solution to their… dilemma.”
“What did you tell them?”
“We’re working on it.”
“Good man,” Hogan answered. Since the truth is, I haven’t been able to think. He gave his ribcage a soothing rub. About anything. Except…
The door to the barracks suddenly opened and Le Beau popped his head in. “Another Boche car has just come into camp, mon Colonel,” he said.
“That must be Schafer,” Hogan said. “Take a look, Le Beau.”
And that’s my signal to sign out. Hogan looked up at Kinch from the table. “I’m gonna go lie down for awhile,” he said.
Unused to Hogan retreating when new developments arose, Kinch sighed. “Right, sir.”
Hogan stood and picked up the cane he had propped against the table beside him. His color—and his energy—instantly seemed to drain away, and his voice was unexpectedly faint when he asked, “Can you please—bring me some water, Kinch? I need to take some aspirin.”
Kinch couldn’t help but notice the white-knuckled grip Hogan had on the cane. He shook his head as his commanding officer took one heavily limping step toward his office. “Right away, Colonel.”
Hogan turned to nod his thanks, and briefly, the two men’s eyes met directly. Kinch saw that same look in his commanding officer’s eyes that he had seen when Hogan had first learned about the fate of young Kleinschmidt, and knew then it was better not to press. This was about more than avoiding propaganda. “You just go lie down.”
A tiny smile touched the edges of Hogan’s mouth as he slept.
“What do you think of Kommandant Klink?”
“I can’t tell you that,” Hogan replied. “It’s not nice to put down people your friends might admire.”
A low, amused laugh from beside him in the car. “The Kommandant is not that bad.”
“No, I suppose not… for a guy who can order you shot any time he wants.”
“Do you really think the Kommandant could do that?”
Hogan slowly, painfully, turned so he could see the young, unmoving soldier beside him. “When you’re being held prisoner by the enemy thousands of miles from home, Gunter, you believe anyone could do that.”
“Who is the enemy, Robert?”
Hogan frowned. His head was pounding, his leg and shoulder were ablaze with pain. He didn’t understand the question. So he didn’t answer.
“Who is the enemy?”
Hogan struggled with a reply. “That depends on… whose side you’re on,” he panted. The throbbing in Hogan’s temples sharpened.
“And whose side are you on, Robert?”
Hogan groaned and moved uncomfortably in his sleep.
“The right one,” Hogan burst, as an insistent pain raced like lightning through his body. Why don’t you just move? he thought, frustrated, as he looked at the back of Kleinschmidt’s head. Then, straining to reach out with his injured arm, Hogan pulled on the young soldier’s shoulder to draw him up from the steering wheel.
The American recoiled in despair at the sight that greeted him: the face of the Corporal was reproachful, mournful in death. “You are denying me,” Kleinschmidt accused sadly.
“No… no, I’m not,” Hogan said. He shivered violently, flooding his senses with fear and stoking the already-roaring fire in his wounded body.
Hogan clutched at his blanket, and with a soft cry arched weakly off the mattress. Beads of sweat sprung onto his brow, as real pain echoed the agony of his dream.
“You’re dead…. I’m talking to myself. You’re not here!”
“Do you think you will survive without me here?”
“Please.” Hogan’s arm fell to his side. His sore neck could no longer hold his head up. He closed his eyes, but he could still feel the sorrowful eyes of the guard upon him.
Hogan sank limply onto the bunk. His tight fist slackened and released the blanket.
“Please… you’re not here.”
“But I am, Colonel Hogan. God in His mercy has kept me here to sustain you. I am here!”
“No!” Hogan lurched forward, and as he reached out again as though to banish the vision, Kleinschmidt disappeared, leaving him alone in the car with a still, unbearable quiet.
Hogan shifted in the bunk, groaning as he writhed to escape this torturous dreamscape. Sweat poured off him, soaking his clothes and his hair. Then the images disappeared, and he fell into an unrestful dreamlessness.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Colonel Hogan is sleeping,” Newkirk said, managing to make those four words sound like more of a threat than a statement of fact. He stood up and moved toward the front of Hogan’s door, where Kinch, Le Beau, and Carter had already gathered when Klink and his second—his expected—visitor appeared in the barracks.
Klink let out one of his nervous laughs from beside Major Schafer. “Now, now, now, Newkirk!” he sang. “The Major has an appointment with Colonel Hogan!”
“If I recall, the Colonel specifically said he wouldn’t be available for this ‘appointment,’” Kinch remarked coldly.
“Oui, Kinch, he did. I think the words he used were, ‘Over my dead body,’” Le Beau added, his eyes still locked on the two officers.
“Yeah,” Carter said, his face set in a deep frown. “And we don’t like him like that.”
Klink laughed again, wildly this time. “Oh, that Hogan!” he said. “He has such a marvelous sense of humor!” His face became all at once both serious and pleading as he turned to the prisoners. “Now get out of the way and let the Major through,” he said through his teeth. The two guards who had accompanied the German officers readied their rifles.
“Colonel Klink, Colonel Klink!” Schafer said, speaking for the first time since the confrontation began. He smiled, his tiny dark eyes gleaming. “I can’t see this being a problem. As a matter of fact, I think it’s just charming!”
“Charming?” Klink repeated, shooting a glare at the prisoners.
Hogan’s men looked at each other, bewildered but still on guard.
“Of course!” Schafer replied. “How protective they are of their commanding officer while he is recovering. How delightful that they want to look after him. I think it’s a perfect addition to this story. Imagine it,” he said, turning fully to Klink and ignoring the prisoners: “this American Colonel, badly injured in an accident that killed one of the Third Reich’s loyal soldiers, willingly treated by dedicated doctors and nurses, then returned to the camp for a full recovery, to be cocooned in care by his fellow prisoners, and allowed to be so protected by the compassionate Kommandant of the Stalag!” Schafer smiled, even as the expressions on Hogan’s men grew more sour with each word, “It’s a dream!” he said, pleased with himself.
Klink looked warily at the men blocking Hogan’s door. So many thoughts went through his mind at once: that Hogan would never stand for it; that the men standing in front of the door would not cooperate; that the “dedicated” doctors and nurses Schafer was referring to were hardly “willing” when Hogan was brought to the hospital; that the “compassionate Kommandant” label might not go down so well with General Burkhalter; that if he didn’t cooperate now, there might be other consequences to deal with later… “Well,” he said, finally, laughing again, “Major, I can certainly see your point of view about this. Uh, however, I’m not so sure the—”
“Colonel Klink, I am so glad you see this the way I do. You know, sometimes,” he said with a small, confidential laugh of his own, “people are afraid to go along with me here—but once they know that I answer directly to Reichsminister Goebbels, they always cave in. I am glad I did not have to wave that noose in front of you, Herr Kommandant.”
“Me?” One final, exaggerated laugh from Klink. “Why, Major, you must understand, I intend to fully cooperate with you and the Reichminister, of course!” Klink moved out of the way of the guards, who at his nod, once again raised their rifles, and practically growled, “Now move.”
Still glowering, Hogan’s men slowly parted. Klink opened the door and gestured for Schafer to pass into the room. He followed close behind, as did the prisoners who had tried to block their way. They found the American Colonel lying on the lower bunk, drenched in sweat, eyes closed, the room still holding the fading light of the day.
Klink looked guiltily at Hogan, then fleetingly at the prisoners, then with apology at Schafer. “Well,” he said with a tiny laugh, “Hogan is asleep.”
“Now there’s a news bulletin,” Newkirk remarked darkly.
“We told you he was,” Le Beau added.
“And the medic says when the Colonel’s asleep, we’re not supposed to wake him up,” Carter declared.
“Never mind, Carter,” came a sigh from the bunk. All eyes looked back at the Colonel, who was now looking with strained tolerance at the intruders. “It’s pretty hard to sleep with all the noise from certain—” The word Krauts was on his lips, but he refrained from using it—“uninvited guests,” he said pointedly.
But Major Schafer felt none of Hogan’s unhappiness—or he didn’t take it into account—and he approached the Colonel and stood above him. “Colonel Hogan!” he said. “I am Major Schafer, from Berlin.”
“How nice,” Hogan replied, with none of the vitality and enthusiasm of his visitor. “I believe my men mentioned I was declining all requests for interviews.”
Schafer ignored the rebuff. “Do not worry, Colonel Hogan, I will not tax your energy. I know you have much healing to do. It was quite a serious accident.”
“Really,” Hogan replied, his voice full of sarcasm. “What brought you to that conclusion? That somebody died?”
Schafer shook his head mournfully. “Yes; it was very sad, very sad, indeed. I understand you had just gotten to know the young guard with you in the car.”
Hogan’s men drew themselves up and moved as one closer to the bunk. This was going into a territory in which they knew Hogan was particularly vulnerable right now. Hogan glanced at them, then turned an almost threatening stare on the Major. “He died on impact. I don’t know anything about him,” he said in a hoarse voice. You are denying me, flitted through his brain. With conscious effort, Hogan ignored it. “Anyone will tell you that,” he said, his eyes landing on Klink.
Klink, who had been fidgeting nervously behind Schafer, stepped forward. “Yes, Major, that is true. The investigation did show that Corporal Kleinschmidt died almost immediately—and the car had not gone very far outside the camp when the accident happened. So there wouldn’t have been very much time for him and Colonel Hogan to get acquainted.”
Schafer turned back to Hogan. “And yet there are these persistent stories…” he continued. Hogan began to look hunted, almost scared. His men drew even nearer. Schafer nodded temporary acquiescence. “Never mind. We can get to that later.” Hogan’s fearfulness melted into a quiet desperation; in his present condition, he couldn’t just walk away from Schafer. He was trapped here, and trapped with his memories. Or were they hallucinations? He had not been able to reconcile what he remembered with the facts. One version of events or the other had to be wrong. Didn’t it? “In the meantime, Colonel Hogan, I am going to learn more about your treatment following the accident. From what I understand, Colonel Klink was most compassionate about your situation.”
“Yeah, he’s all heart,” Hogan shot back. He felt a twinge of guilt at his tone of voice when he saw Klink frown. Klink had done the right thing. Of all the Germans he’d met, Klink was the one who always seemed the most at odds with cold duty versus genuine humanity. But right now, to Hogan, he was a weak-willed pawn who was allowing Schafer to make the senior POW’s life more painful and confused. And he could feel no sympathy for that. “Colonel Klink was a responsible Kommandant,” Hogan amended flatly. It was the best he could manage at the moment.
Schafer nodded, smiling benignly. “He was, indeed, Colonel.” Klink’s spirits seemed to lift.
Hogan took in and let out a deep breath. He saw his men exchanging glances; they knew what he was going through, he realized. He only wished they didn’t have to witness it. “I’m tired,” Hogan said, blinking sleepily. “So if you gentlemen will excuse me.” He closed his eyes and turned his head away, wishing the whole world would just disappear.
A short, expectant silence followed. When nothing filled it, Kinch said, “You heard the Colonel. He needs to sleep. Come on, fellas; let’s clear out.”
Hogan’s men murmured assent and filed out of the room, with Newkirk bringing up the rear. He stopped as the Germans didn’t seem to be following. “That includes you,” he said.
Schafer continued watching Hogan’s still form for a few seconds longer, then turned, smiling, to the Englishman. “Of course,” he said. “Thank you for bringing me here, Kommandant,” he added, nodding at Klink. “I believe I shall have quite a substantial story on my hands.” A final glance at Hogan as Schafer left the office. “Whether Colonel Hogan cooperates willingly… or not.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Klink shook his head unhappily as he watched Captain Lehmann examining the index cards in the little filing drawers in his office. That quarterly inventory report had been perfect—perfect! It was exactly the way Berlin always wanted it—written in singular, duplicate, triplicate. Accounting for every little thing in camp and how much it cost and where supplies went and what was left. And now, an auditor was here. An auditor! As if Klink didn’t have enough to think about without someone asking him to justify the number of blankets that had given up the ghost and the number of potatoes that had been distributed to the prisoners.
He felt trapped. Inside his office, there was Lehmann, looking for any inconsistency to possibly bring trouble raining down on Klink’s head. In the outer office, there was Schafer, trying to make Klink look like a Luftwaffe version of Florence Nightingale; how bad would that look to his superiors? And on top of that, there was Hogan. He was clearly not in the mood for any of this, and Klink couldn’t blame him one bit. The accident had been a terrible waste of life. And the way Hogan had been trapped for hours with only a dead man for companionship—well, that was—
Klink shook his head to clear those thoughts away. He had gone through all of this before. More than once. And it was troubling to him that whenever he thought about it, though he was devastated by the death of one of his own men, he was still worried about how Hogan was coping. He shouldn’t care how the American was handling this. And yet he did. And Klink was forced to wonder if that made him less of a German officer than he was supposed to be. And why that thought somehow didn’t bother him as much as the possibility that perhaps most German officers were not as humane as they should be. Because if they, too, fought this inner battle, they certainly did not show it.
Schafer called out from the antechamber. Klink sighed despondently, then braced himself to pretend to enjoy the circus, when all he wanted to do was run away.
Two For One
“Here’s the water, Colonel,” Carter said, handing a cup to Hogan.
Hogan took the offering and swallowed the two aspirins he had ready and waiting. “Thanks,” he said. He took a long drink and handed the cup back to the young Sergeant. He rubbed his drawn face tiredly.
“Are you sure we can’t get a medicine drop from London for you?” Carter asked, the only time he’d voiced the much-thought wish out loud. “I mean if you don’t like what Joe has, maybe Headquarters could—”
“I need to know what’s going on,” Hogan said with a slight shake of his head.
Carter nodded reluctant agreement. “Well, you should at least take a nap, Colonel,” he suggested, noting Hogan’s glassy eyes.
“Love to, Carter, but I can’t do that right now,” Hogan answered. He leaned back against the blanket he was still using to cushion his tender back muscles, wincing slightly as he did so. “There’s too much to do.”
“Mmhmm.” Hogan stifled a yawn. “Klink’s up to his eyeballs in paperwork and brass. And London’s waiting for something brilliant from us to help ready Bomber Command to drop their balloons over Berlin.”
“I suppose,” Carter agreed. “You know, it’s too bad we can’t use those two fellas from Berlin somehow. I mean, that’d be perfect, wouldn’t it?” he asked.
Hogan nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, but the question is how?” he replied. “We’ve got one bean-counter and one pencil-pusher and one rather wobbly Kommandant. The only thing those men listen to is themselves, and they’re not saying much.” He paused, just a beat, as an idea rushed through his brain. “Unless…” Carter watched, fascinated, as Hogan’s eyes seemed to suddenly focus on something in the distance. The Colonel abruptly snapped back into the room. “I need some time to think about this. Carter, where’s Schafer now?”
“I’m not sure, Colonel.”
Just then Le Beau and Newkirk walked into Hogan’s office. “That Captain Lehmann is on his way over here, Colonel. We just saw him leave Klink’s office,” Le Beau reported.
Hogan nodded. “Well, that’s one headache out of Klink’s way for a few minutes. Can you keep Lehmann occupied for a little while to give Klink a break?”
Newkirk nodded. “Anything you say, gov’nor.” And they were gone.
Hogan looked into Carter’s eager, willing eyes, and for just the briefest second his mind flashed back to his—imagined?—conversation with Kleinschmidt about the young demolitions expert. Hogan had told the German that Carter could manage to stay positive anywhere, in almost any circumstances. He felt a measure of mental anguish at the memory, mixed with a strangely calming knowledge that he had been right—at least about Carter. He looked again at the man before him.
“Yes, Colonel?” Carter repeated.
Hogan hesitated, then let out a breath. “Just… make sure those two don’t get carried away,” he said, quite sure that those were not the words he intended to say.
Carter grinned. “That’ll be hard with someone like Newkirk, sir,” he said. “But I’ll try.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
A few minutes later, chaos was reigning in Barracks Two. “But you see, I only have the one cup, sir!” Newkirk was calling over the ceaseless racket around him. Lehmann had come to the barracks trailed by Sergeant Schultz, and was casually making his way around the common room, picking up and moving around things at a leisurely pace. The men in the hut were doing everything they could to keep the Captain occupied, with Schultz calling out hopelessly for the prisoners to be nice to the visitor and let him get on with his job.
“Schultzie! Schultzie!” Le Beau was waving from his bunk. “Let the nice Kraut look at the way we live! Here,” he said, throwing a threadbare towel toward the guard and watching it land on the barrel of his rifle, “let him use my very best towel to wash up with!”
“Yeah, before he sits down to a nice, cold cup of acorns—I mean, coffee!” called Goldman from the table.
“I’ve saved a seat for you right here, Captain!” Carter said, patting the bench beside him.
“Boys, boys!” Schultz called, trying desperately to be heard. “Please. Captain Lehmann is just trying to count what you have; he does not want to wash up or have coffee!”
“That’s a shame,” Newkirk said, shaking his head. He came around so he was almost on top of the visitor. “I thought he might like a bit of the real camp experience, you know?” He patted his stomach. “Nothing like a touch of the ol’ indigestion to make you feel right at home in the Stalag!”
Lehmann pulled away, his mouth turned down in a disgusted frown. “I am not interested in a ‘camp experience,’” he said curtly. He turned to Schultz. “And I suggest that you bring these prisoners under control, Sergeant!”
“Jawohl, Herr Captain,” Schultz said, unhappy about being chastised, and embarrassed that he hadn’t thought of getting the prisoners to obey on his own. He shook his head at the men, looking more like a disappointed parent than a dangerous prison guard, then, noting the look of surprise and disdain on Lehmann’s face, he frowned and tried to look stern. “The prisoners are to come to order and allow the Captain to do his work!” he called. He waved his rifle around, even though he only held it by the barrel, so it looked more like a baton than a weapon. “You will show him what he needs to see, and you will behave!” He let the butt of the rifle rest on the ground as his face and voice melted into a pleading whole. “Bitte?”
Carter glanced guiltily at the others, who were also exchanging contrite looks as they weighed up their limited options. Colonel Hogan wanted Lehmann tied up and kept away from Klink for awhile. Lehmann himself was clearly not interested in anything but business. And getting Schultz into trouble could mean serious trouble for the operation.
Newkirk was the first to speak once the commotion had died down. “We didn’t mean anything by it, Schultzie. You know we just get excited when visitors come to town.”
“Yeah—life gets pretty dull around here,” Kinch said, coming up behind Carter and propping his foot up on the bench. “When someone finally shows up, we want to show off a little bit.”
“Show off?” Lehmann echoed, shaking his head. “You are acting like a cage full of monkeys. That is hardly showing off!”
Carter shrugged. “Gee, I dunno about that; the monkeys in the zoo I used to go to back home always jumped around a lot, and the zookeeper always told us they were showing off.”
Kinch lowered his head and tried to hide a smile behind his moustache.
Lehmann waved away the explanation. “I have seen enough in here,” he said, turning abruptly and heading toward Hogan’s office. “What is behind this door?”
Hogan’s men immediately leapt up and scrambled for the office. Schultz backed up toward the door to the barracks, not wanting to get trampled, and tried to call out over the sound of heavy footsteps and benches scraping across the floor.
“You don’t want to go in there, Captain,” Kinch tried to stop the German.
“No, Captain, there’s nothing in there for you,” Newkirk agreed.
“Nothing at all!” Carter piped up.
“Oui, you would be bored in there,” Le Beau predicted.
Lehman stopped, drew himself up straight, and glared at the men. Then he turned an angry eye on Schultz. “What is in there, Sergeant?” he asked.
Schultz, who had drawn himself to attention, let his shoulders drop. “Herr Captain, that is Colonel Hogan’s quarters. He is the senior prisoner of war in camp.” Noting the looks on the faces of the residents of the barracks, he added, “He is… probably resting. He was hurt in a car accident and is still getting better.”
“Well, then, he won’t mind a little company,” Lehmann said, and, looking determinedly at Hogan’s men, he pushed his way past into the Colonel’s quarters.
As they had with Schafer, Hogan’s men crowded into the room behind the German. Only this time, Hogan wasn’t sleeping. He was sitting up in the bed, much the way Carter had left him, holding a book with his right hand. He frowned at the intrusion and let the book down gently on his blanket-covered legs. “Doesn’t anyone in this hotel pay attention to the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door?” he quipped. Any trace of humor that might have accompanied the question was markedly absent.
Lehmann came further into the room and approached the American officer. “You are Colonel Hogan,” he said. His eyes ran up and down the bed, up along the upper bunk, around the room.
Hogan straightened in his bunk. “I could have told you that,” he answered sourly. “It’s you who’s the stranger around here. Who are you?”
“I am Captain Lehmann, Colonel. Central Supply. I am here conducting an audit on your Kommandant, Wilhelm Klink.”
“Well, there’s only one of him,” Hogan answered humorlessly.
“Thank Heaven for that, sir,” came Newkirk’s voice. He shrugged apologetically when Hogan looked his way.
Hogan looked back at Lehmann. “Satisfied?”
Lehmann smiled thinly. “Hardly,” he replied, still staring down at Hogan. Hogan did not look away. “I hear you were in an unfortunate car crash,” he said.
Hogan’s eyes fell. “There’s rarely a fortunate one,” he answered softly.
Lehmann ignored the sarcasm. “I understand from Major Schafer that a fine young German soldier lost his life, while you… you, Colonel Hogan, lived.”
Hogan said nothing. Lehmann furrowed his brow. “Colonel Hogan—is that a blanket behind you?”
Hogan took a slow, disinterested look behind him. “Well, would you look at that?” he said, his tone filled with slow irony. “I thought it was my feather pillow.” He raised an eyebrow, then looked back at Lehmann. “The maid must have taken it when she changed the towels this morning.”
Lehmann raised his chin. “The regulation is one blanket per prisoner, Colonel Hogan. You are using two.”
A deadly silence fell over the room. “I have two bunks,” Hogan said.
Schultz looked from one officer to the other. “Herr Captain, because of Colonel Hogan’s injuries—” he began nervously.
Lehmann ignored him. “Nevertheless, Colonel, you are only one man. One man; one blanket. That is the allotment allowed.”
Hogan’s men seethed with barely concealed rage from behind the German. First, an enemy officer was trying to use Hogan as a propaganda piece—and now, another one was trying to humiliate the Colonel because he was still recovering from the accident that had nearly killed him! They glared at the Captain, shifting with an angry energy that Hogan couldn’t help but notice. He glanced in their direction but did not address them.
“And so what do you suggest, Captain?” Hogan asked thinly.
“I do not suggest anything to prisoners, Colonel Hogan,” Lehmann answered. “The allowed distribution is one blanket per prisoner. You have two; therefore, you are breaching regulations, as well as depriving another man of his entitlement.”
At that, Hogan, with difficulty, pulled himself to a sitting position. Slowly, smoothly, and never taking his eyes off the Captain, he reached behind him and drew the rolled-up blanket out from the bunk. Without looking to see where it landed, he pushed it onto the floor, then used his right hand to keep himself propped up on the bed. “Now Klink passes your audit,” he said, his voice low, and dangerous. His eyes, smoldering with fire, were nevertheless lifeless. A long mutual stare passed between the two men. “So get out.”
A tiny, triumphant, infuriating smile curled its way onto Lehmann’s lips. Reaching down, he bundled up the extra blanket and nodded once in Hogan’s direction before turning toward the door, where Hogan’s men formed a solid wall in front of the German. Almost as one they moved aside, not trusting themselves to speak, or to look at their commanding officer. “Thank you, Colonel,” Lehmann said, looking back at Hogan, whose face was as stony as his men’s; “now some other poor, unfortunate man can also be warm this winter. And that is what you want, isn’t it?”
The muscles in Hogan’s jaw tensed as he struggled to keep his silence. He watched Lehmann depart, and his men and Schultz follow him. Then he let go of the breath he had been unconsciously holding and melted back down onto the bunk.
Kinch shut down the radio equipment in silence, reflecting on the downhearted tone in his commander’s voice when Hogan had reported to London that no, everything was not yet quite in place for the Allies to stage an attack on Berlin. Headquarters was getting impatient, and this, the latest in an increasing number of calls to the men working undercover in Germany, was evidence of that.
Hogan had not moved after the transmission ended, and now he looked almost guiltily at Kinch, the dark circles under his eyes emphasizing to the radio man just how heavy a toll the last three weeks had taken on the Colonel. Sitting in the tunnel with only the light from the oil lamps to illuminate the area, Hogan’s face was definitely thinner, gaunter, than it had been a month ago. The large bruise that had been almost like a mask had faded, but the outline and discoloration was still visible, lending Hogan a pained appearance that overpowered the brightness of anything he said, which already wasn’t very cheerful. And the officer seemed infinitely less confident than he had been before the crash. Kinch sighed inwardly; that accident had claimed so much more than his commanding officer’s physical health.
As if able to read the Sergeant’s thoughts, Hogan shook his head. “I don’t know what I’m doing, Kinch,” he confessed.
Kinchloe frowned. “Sir?” he asked. The single word probed deeply.
Hogan ran a hand through his hair, realizing with unreasonable frustration that he had left his crush cap upstairs. “We’ve got two Krauts in camp and orders from London to keep the Germans away from Berlin. With a combination like that, I should be able to come up with a plan in a flash… but it’s all eluding me. I’m out of step; I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“Don’t be too upset, Colonel,” Kinch suggested immediately. “You take all the time you need. Things haven’t exactly been ‘business as usual’ for you lately; London will wait till you’re ready.”
Hogan’s tired brown eyes seemed to look right through Kinch. “Come on, Kinch—I’m sure London’s called more often than you’ve told me. They must be waiting for something; Bomber Command is preparing an attack and they want information. Am I right?”
Kinch let his eyes stray away from Hogan.
“Kinch, am I right?” Hogan persisted.
Finally, Kinchloe heaved a deep sigh and nodded. “Yes, sir. You’re right.”
Hogan paused. He was grateful for the concern, but distressed at the idea that his men were holding out on him. “Kinch,” he said, with a quiet desperation in his voice, “I need to know when they contact us; you can’t hide that from me. You understand?”
“Yes, sir,” Kinch answered solemnly. “But Colonel, until now you just haven’t been in any shape to—”
Hogan put up a hand to stop him. “I know,” he admitted. “I know. I appreciate what you were trying to do. But you’ve protected me long enough. It’s time I got off my tail and got back to work.”
Kinch looked at Hogan and said seriously, “You needed a break, sir. They should have given you some time to recover.” Physically and mentally.
Hogan shrugged. “All requests for leave: denied, right?” he responded with an attempt at a smile. “It was never going to be easy being involved in this operation. The war’s not going to stop because Papa Bear needs a nap. Let’s face it, Kinch: I’ve been slack and I need to get back on the ball. I just… can’t…” He looked for words that even now refused to come. “…focus.”
Kinch nodded. “It’ll come, Colonel,” he said. “When your body and your mind have healed, it’ll come.”
For a brief moment, Hogan looked Kinch right in the eye. Then, as he absorbed the Sergeant’s statement, he let his gaze fall. He shook his head almost regretfully. “It’ll take too long,” he said softly. “They need the help now.”
Kinch watched his commanding officer waging this internal battle and felt a strong wave of sympathy. If there was one thing Hogan hated, it was feeling out of control. He asked the Colonel gently, “Have you talked to Langenscheidt?”
Hogan’s eyes snapped to Kinch’s face, wide and haunted. “No,” he answered, too quickly. Then, lowering his head again, he added, “I can’t do that. Not yet.”
“Colonel,” Kinch persisted, trying to be both supportive and helpful, “he was the one who knew Kleinschmidt best. He was able to confirm everything that—”
“I know.” Hogan cut Kinch off hastily, desperate to stop the words he knew were coming. He ran a hand across his face, closing his eyes and breathing deeply as irrational fear rose within him. “I just…” He trailed off without finishing his thought.
But Kinch understood what the Colonel could not say. He nodded and quietly assured him, “Everything in its own time, Colonel. First we’ll focus on getting you better.”
Hogan accepted the statement with a mixture of hope, and doubt.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“I’ve gotta go see Klink,” Hogan announced the next day. He leaned his cane up against the stove, then zipped up his bomber jacket and pulled up the collar.
“What about, Colonel?” asked Le Beau.
“Lehmann’s getting out of hand; I need to put a stop to it. And—” Hogan paused, as though considering his words—“and… I think I know how to use Schafer to help London prepare for that raid.”
“How’re you going to do that, Colonel?” Carter asked.
“One step at a time, Carter,” Hogan answered. He retrieved his cane. “First I have to stop Lehmann before he audits Klink all the way to the Russian front.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan accepted Klink’s offer to sit down, propping his cane up against the front of the Kommandant’s desk. Klink wasn’t usually so accommodating, but he was still uncomfortable seeing his senior POW in less than robust health, and the American’s face was still distinctly on the pale side after being on his feet for more than a few minutes—as Klink had witnessed again at this morning’s roll call. So he made the uncharacteristic gesture of having Hogan relax in his presence, even though Klink knew this meant that Hogan could rattle on in relative comfort about the minutiae of prison camp life.
Hogan carefully stretched out his left leg, irritated at how little effect aspirin was having on the pain, then turned an annoyed eye on Klink. “You have to stop Captain Lehmann, Kommandant,” he announced. “He’s starting to get on my nerves.”
Klink waved a dismissive hand toward Hogan, and with an accompanying humph of distaste, sat down at his desk. “Your nerves?” he said, dropping his voice in case anyone was just outside the office. “Hogan, you have no idea what he is doing to me. He is looking at everything—everything. He’s all over the office, in all my files—he’s even asking Fräulein Hilda to give him all correspondence between my office and Berlin! Now what does he need that for?”
“Maybe he’s afraid you’re wasting ink,” Hogan replied with a shrug. “Listen, Kommandant, he’s harassing my men. He went into Barracks Four yesterday and took away two of their spoons. He said there were more spoons than men!”
Klink waved his hands uncomfortably. “Look, Hogan, Captain Lehmann may do whatever he wants. And how do I know you won’t use those extra spoons for digging, eh?”
Hogan tilted his head as a disbelieving expression took over his face. “Are you kidding? Those spoons are so weak we couldn’t dig through a sandbox.” He frowned. “And they belonged to two men who happened to be outside in the yard—so now they’re two spoons short!”
“Fine, fine—get two more spoons from supply.” Klink shook his head. “Look, Hogan, this isn’t easy on any of us. You will just have to adapt until Captain Lehmann is gone. He is doing his job.”
“I’m fully aware of that,” Hogan answered sourly.
Hogan’s tone made Klink swallow the words that were on the tip of his tongue. Schultz had told him about Lehmann’s encounter with Hogan in the barracks, and how Hogan had without a word handed over the blanket he had behind his back. Klink had never given a second thought to it himself; Hogan did have two bunks. And when the American had been discharged from the hospital, he was still so ill that it was Klink himself who had sent extra blankets and firewood over to Barracks Two, to ensure Hogan had everything possible to aid his recovery. But that was wrong, too, wasn’t it? Klink sighed to himself now. Because if I was a more efficient Luftwaffe officer… or you were really just another prisoner…
“Captain Lehmann is doing an excellent job,” Klink said brusquely. “He is a model of German efficiency.”
“Swell,” Hogan said. He drew his leg back and, reaching for his cane, stood up. “A little more of this efficiency and you’ll find yourself counting snowshoes instead of spoons.”
Klink laughed humorlessly. “Very funny, Hogan. But I hardly think that I will be sent to the Russian front over a couple of pieces of silverware.”
“That’s what they all said,” Hogan said, shrugging as he limped toward the door, “right before they got on that train to Stalingrad.”
“Is that all you wanted here this morning, Colonel Hogan? To try and scare me?” Klink asked, trying not to give away that the American’s words really did give him a fright—or at least, more than a little bit of doubt.
Hogan opened the door, then stopped and looked at the Kommandant. “Hey, you don’t have to listen to me. It’s your snow storm.” Hogan appeared deep in thought for a couple of seconds, then said, “Oh, there was one other thing.”
Klink rolled his eyes toward the ceiling. “I was afraid of that.”
“I think I’d better have a talk with Major Schafer after all,” Hogan began.
Klink nearly dropped his monocle. “Really?” he asked. “What made you change your mind?”
“Herr Kommandant!” came a voice from the outer office.
Hogan turned to find Corporal Langenscheidt in the doorway beside him. A sudden wave of coldness swept through him. He gripped the cane, and the doorknob, a little tighter.
“Yes, what is it, Langenscheidt?” Klink asked impatiently.
“Herr Kommandant, the prisoners in Barracks Six are causing trouble with Captain Lehmann. Sergeant Schultz has requested that you come, sir.”
“Humph,” Klink grunted. “See, Hogan? More trouble from your men with our efficient German organization.” Hogan didn’t answer, still staring at the Corporal. “I will be right there, Corporal. Go back and tell Sergeant Schultz I’ll be along in a moment.” Langenscheidt saluted and, now dismissed, headed back to the hut where the disturbance was. “Now, Hogan, I can get Major Schafer for you, but—what was it that changed your mind about talking to him?”
Hogan was still staring out where Langenscheidt had been, and, if Klink wasn’t mistaken, there was fear in his eyes. Hogan, afraid of a harmless guard like Langenscheidt? How could that be?
“Oh—uh, you’d better, um, handle this thing in Barracks Six, Colonel Klink. I’ll—I’ll… get back to you later.” Hogan looked down and consciously tried to stop the hand holding his cane from shaking so visibly.
“Hogan, don’t you think you should come with me?”
Hogan turned to Klink, his eyes wide and clearly anxious. “Come with you? To Barracks Six?” he asked.
“Yes, Hogan. You heard Langenscheidt—you need to take control of the prisoners and get them to cooperate with Captain Lehmann.”
Hogan’s eyes hardened momentarily. “The way I did?” he asked. Klink had no answer. Then Hogan seemed to sink down toward his cane. “I can’t walk that far, Kommandant,” he said, suddenly seeming to Klink even weaker than he had been that morning. “I’ll have to leave it to your… German efficiency.”
Then, looking so pale he scared Klink, Hogan gave the German a shaky salute and hobbled out of the office.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan rubbed his face with shaking hands, wiping away the sweat and terror that had come with the nightmare. Kleinschmidt had been with him, again. Accusing Hogan of denying him, again. But this time, the young guard had been more persistent, his tone more urgent. Please keep talking to me. Just a little bit longer. Can you not show me the mercy God is showing you? Hogan fought the pleas, twisting and turning until he woke up from his troubled sleep with his blanket half on the floor and the rest tangled around his body. His leg was throbbing unbearably, and he could feel every vein pulsing blood through his head.
“No more,” he whispered softly; to whom, he was not certain. “If you were really showing mercy… no more.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Schultz opened the door to Hogan’s office at the invitation to enter and made his way through the dim room over to the bunk, where Hogan was sitting on the lower berth, looking drained and apparently doing, and seeing, nothing.
“Colonel Hogan, Kommandant Klink wanted me to tell you that the men in Barracks Six are having lights out one hour early tonight and tomorrow night because of the way they acted this afternoon.” Schultz shook his head slowly. “They were very angry with Captain Lehmann, and the Kommandant was very unhappy.”
Hogan frowned. “They have every right to be,” he said glumly. Because I should have been there to stop Klink from putting on a nice show for Lehmann’s benefit.
Seeing only the surface meaning of Hogan’s words, the Sergeant of the Guard continued. “Please, Colonel Hogan, I know Captain Lehmann is a difficult man, but he is being very hard on the Kommandant. Please, could you try and help him?”
For just a second, Hogan’s eyes were cold and, to Schultz, even frightening. Then the American’s expression softened and he said quietly, “Sure, Schultz. I’ll behave.”
Schultz smiled, pleased. He could always count on Colonel Hogan when things got too hot for Klink. “Danke, Colonel. I know it will make the Kommandant happy if you get along with the Captain.”
Hogan smiled. “I’ll go make nice with that pain in the—” He stopped and threw a mischievous grin at the guard, then, noting Schultz’s worried look, amended himself— “with that auditor, right now. Where is he?”
Schultz relaxed and smiled. “The Captain is still conducting a tour of the barracks. Corporal Langenscheidt is escorting him and holding onto anything…” Schultz screwed up his face, realizing he was about to make Hogan angry but it was too late to take back his words. “…anything… that the Captain thinks has been incorrectly distributed to the prisoners.”
But Hogan had only half heard him. “He’s with Langenscheidt, Schultz?”
“Ja, Colonel.” Schultz shrugged. Obviously the Captain’s activities weren’t as serious as the guard had thought. “He is helping the Captain with—”
“I—I think I’ll wait till he’s done,” Hogan said. Schultz furrowed his brow questioningly. Colonel Hogan was suddenly uncomfortable, but the German couldn’t put his finger on what it was that was bothering him. “He could be anywhere in camp right now, and my leg is… uh… giving me a bit of trouble at the moment. I’ll see him when he gets back to Klink’s office with his spoils of war. You come and tell me when he’s done, Schultz. Okay?”
Schultz frowned, disturbed by Hogan’s uncharacteristic reluctance to immediately step up to a challenge. “I will send Corporal Langenscheidt,” he replied, nodding. “He will know where all the things have been taken from, and I think he would like to talk to you—”
“No, no, Schultz,” Hogan answered quickly. “You come and tell me. It’ll be our little secret, okay?”
Schultz considered the American’s words, and the almost transparent panic in them, and nodded assent. “If that is what you want, Colonel Hogan,” he said reluctantly.
“It is, Schultz. Believe me, it is.”
“All right, then. I will be back when the Captain is finished.”
It was with a great deal of relief that Hogan replied, “Thanks, Schultz.” And when the guard left, Hogan covered his face with his hands, and allowed the fear to slowly drain out of him. Then he reached again for the bottle of aspirin, wishing desperately for the hundredth time that it was something much stronger, that would let him escape his nightmares.
Bowing to the Inevitable
“I don’t understand,” Newkirk said again, shaking his head as he flicked some ash from his cigarette onto the ground outside the barracks. “Why does the gov’nor want us to be nice to this Major Schafer? I thought he was dead set against being used as propaganda for the Krauts.”
“Yeah, that guy’s nothin’ but trouble,” Carter agreed.
“With a capital T,” Le Beau added.
“I know that, and you know that. But the Colonel thinks if he can get Schafer on his side—” Kinch began.
“Which doesn’t look so hard to do at the moment—he’s been at us every day trying to get us to convince Colonel Hogan to talk to him,” Newkirk put in.
Kinch nodded. “That’s right. If he can get Schafer to really listen to him, maybe he can give him a bit of information that just isn’t quite right.”
“And that will get passed on to Berlin,” Le Beau predicted, nodding.
“And then that’ll make the filthy swine think there’s something going on they need to know about,” Newkirk continued.
“Anywhere but in Berlin,” Kinch finished.
“Like what?” asked Carter.
Kinch shrugged. “I don’t know. All I know is, the Colonel plans to get real cushy with Schafer, real soon, and we need to play along, whatever he comes up with.”
Newkirk made a face. “It’s like kissing Hitler on the mouth.”
“Yeah, well, I guess that’s why he’s the Colonel and we’re the non-coms. I prefer girls.”
Le Beau let out a humorless laugh. “London’s going to owe le Colonel a week in Paris after this is over.”
“Just a week?” Kinch countered. “More like a month.”
“Don’t be so greedy.”
“Hey, if you’re going to dream the impossible, Le Beau, you might as well dream big.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Colonel Hogan, can I talk to you a minute?”
Hogan looked up from the book he was reading and studied the serious look on Carter’s face. “Of course, Carter. Come in.” He put the book aside and swung his legs off the bunk, carefully stretching out his left leg and tenderly rubbing around the knee. He watched as the Sergeant moved in with some reluctance. “What’s on your mind?”
“Well… Colonel… I was just wondering…” Carter shifted feet reluctantly, his eyes looking at everything in the room except Hogan. He screwed up his face as though trying to decide what to say.
Hogan frowned. “Carter? Something wrong?”
Carter twitched his mouth again. “Well, no, sir, not really. I mean it’s just that—” He stopped and shrugged self-deprecatingly. “Well, I guess I just don’t understand what’s going on.”
Hogan’s concern melted into gentle tolerance. He gestured toward the stool near his desk. “Take the weight off your feet, Carter. What are you trying to figure out?” he asked.
Carter brought the stool over near Hogan and sat down. “Well, before, you said you didn’t want anything to do with Major Schafer. And now you want us to be nice to him. And you’re gonna talk to him!” He frowned. “I didn’t think you had anything to say to him.”
Hogan nodded, understanding. “I don’t,” he admitted.
Carter looked at Hogan, confused. “Sir?”
“Carter,” Hogan continued, “I need to use Schafer to get false information to Berlin about what the Allies are planning to do. And the only way to do that is for him to think I’m on his side. And the best way to do that is to fill him with so much chatter that it just falls into line with everything else I come up with.”
“But what are you going to say?”
At this, Hogan paused. “Well, he wants to know what happened… in the car accident,” he said with surprising difficulty. “He wants me to tell him I was treated like a king.”
Carter’s eyes widened. “Colonel, you’re not going to—”
Hogan shook his head. “I can’t remember anything clearly, Carter, even if I wanted to tell him the truth. I’ll give him some generic facts, draw him in, and then I’ll feed in a few other bits.”
“How are you gonna do that?”
Hogan was beginning to wish this conversation had never started. It took him a long time to answer. “I’ll tell him the story about me talking to Kleinschmidt.”
Carter couldn’t believe his ears. After Hogan learned that the young German guard had died immediately in the car crash, he had spoken to no one about his trauma—no one. From that moment on, he had steadfastly refused to repeat the details of the long talks he had said he and Kleinschmidt had while waiting for rescue, knowing that they had been confirmed by Corporal Langenscheidt. Which left Hogan with a painful conundrum that he had not been able to resolve: either he had made everything up and was, by some major coincidence, right; or some part of Kleinschmidt had stayed with Hogan in the car, and helped the Colonel to survive. Logic told him it had to be the former. But something inside him was adamant it was the latter. And that was something he had not been able to face, and that his nightmares had not allowed him to forget.
Carter looked at Hogan now, his own concern showing on his face. “Colonel, are you sure that’s—”
“If Schafer will fall for that, he’ll fall for anything,” Hogan said, avoiding the Sergeant’s eyes. “God knows everyone else has,” he added in a whisper. Snatches of his dreams about Kleinschmidt echoed in his mind. Please keep talking to me. It makes this less frightening.
Carter could see the pain the idea was causing his commanding officer and couldn’t let it go. “Everyone but you, sir?” he asked softly.
Hogan’s bowed head now jerked up in Carter’s direction. “It’ll be fine,” he said, sounding almost angry. Carter understood and did not take the bait. “He’ll get the little ghost story he wants, and then he’ll be more than willing to believe a few other things Kleinschmidt supposedly ‘said’: like that the Krauts need to concentrate their defensive power on Stuttgart, or Bonn, or Hamburg. Once he falls for one tall tale, he’ll naturally fall for a second.”
Carter pursed his lips for a moment, thinking. Hogan looked away, absentmindedly massaging his leg as his mind traveled back to the accident and those terrible hours trapped in the car, wondering if he would live long enough to see his rescue. If he could just use that ordeal to help the Allies, maybe he would be able to put it to rest. At least enough to do his job properly as senior officer in this camp—enough to protect the men from people like Lehmann, and worse.
“Do you really think it was all in your mind, Colonel?” Carter asked finally.
“It had to be, Carter,” Hogan answered quietly. “Kleinschmidt died right away. I was by myself the whole time.”
“Sometimes… when we think we’re all alone,” Carter said, his voice soft and tentative, “that’s when Someone Else is looking out for us.”
Hogan closed his eyes and stilled his hand. “Are you saying you think Kleinschmidt’s spirit really stayed behind so I could hang on till we were found?” he asked unwillingly.
Carter shrugged. “I don’t know who was there with you, Colonel,” he answered honestly. “But I sure know you weren’t alone. You needed help… and help was there.”
Hogan couldn’t answer that. His mind spun as he once again felt the dizziness that came every time he tried to resolve this war waging within him. “I need to get the Germans away from Berlin,” he whispered. “This is the only way I can think of.”
Carter grinned as Hogan finally raised his eyes to meet the Sergeant’s. “That’s okay, Colonel,” he said encouragingly. “Whoever was with you that day, was sure on your side. They probably won’t mind getting used to help the good guys again.”
Hogan tried to smile back, but he failed.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“How’s this, Colonel?” Newkirk asked, handing over the sheet of paper he had spent the better part of thirty minutes working on.
Hogan took the offered document from the Englishman and studied it. “‘While Colonel Hogan was being rescued, he revealed…’” He muttered along more of the letter, testing the flow of the writing. He nodded approval as he continued, “‘…and while still in a semi-conscious state, Hogan said Corporal Kleinschmidt told him that German officials should be concentrating their defensive batteries at Stuttgart and Bremen, because the Allies are planning…’” He kept reading, the concentration evident on his face. “‘…and all personal details spoken by Colonel Hogan when still under sedation were confirmed by another guard at Stalag 13, Corporal Karl Langenscheidt…’” Hogan’s voice fell to a whisper, his face turning sad, then unreadable, “‘which leaves little doubt as to the vital importance of the other statements from Colonel Hogan regarding the imminent plans of the Allies, and I leave it to your discretion…’”
Hogan nodded the rest of the letter away and handed it back to Newkirk. “That date for the Stuttgart attack is right?”
“Yes, sir, six days after the accident,” Newkirk replied with a nod. “And Bremen was two nights later.”
“Very good,” Hogan said tersely, looking away.
At that moment the door to Hogan’s office opened and Schultz entered unannounced. Newkirk immediately drew the paper out of sight, as Hogan turned to greet the guard, his tone all business. “What can we do for you, Schultz?”
Schultz approached the desk. “Colonel Hogan, Captain Lehmann is finished with his inspection of the barracks. He is in Kommandant Klink’s office, cataloging what he has collected for his report.”
Hogan didn’t try to hide his sour look. “Thanks, Schultz.”
“Are you going to go talk to him?” the guard asked hopefully.
“Yeah, Schultz. I’ll be along in a minute.”
“Jawohl,” Schultz replied. Then, noting the look on Hogan’s face did not invite further conversation, he turned to Newkirk, who also fixed him with a cold stare. The guard shrugged and departed.
Newkirk pulled the paper back out with a sigh of relief. “Slip that into the paperwork Lehmann’s got piled up in Klink’s office,” Hogan said. “Make sure it’s near the top.”
“Now let’s get Carter and Le Beau. It’s time to clean up Klink’s office. And this time we’re really gonna clean it.”
“Right away, gov’nor.”
Hogan sighed and paused to gather his thoughts before he followed Newkirk out the door. Forgive me, Gunter, for what I’m about to do.
Truth and Consequences
Hogan looked at the array of objects spread before him on the desk as Newkirk, Le Beau and Carter shuffled around Klink’s office, making themselves look busy with the work of dusting and sweeping. So many items, small things that were a prisoner’s simple comforts, poor men’s luxuries: a small blanket, a plate, even a picture frame. Some of these things couldn’t have come from camp supplies; they were simply taken to make some man’s life that much more barren. Hogan swallowed the burning anger rising within him and turned with false brightness to Lehmann.
“That’s quite a treasure trove you’ve collected there, Captain,” Hogan declared, his voice somehow conveying immense admiration and respect. Newkirk, knowing how the Colonel would feel seeing the items, rolled his eyes toward the ceiling when he was sure no one was watching him. He shook his head in wonder as Hogan then said with a laugh that invited Lehmann to join in, “I didn’t realize the men were such good hunters and gatherers.”
Lehmann did not accept the invitation. “You mean thieves,” he sniffed, tossing a tin cup carelessly back on the pile.
Hogan frowned. “Now, Captain, I must protest that sort of language—you don’t know that the guards didn’t just give the men those things!”
“Give?” Lehmann let out a short bark of a laugh. “I hardly think the guard would have given the prisoners a set of brass candlesticks!”
“A gift from home!” Hogan persisted. “Oh, sorry, Le Beau,” he said. Hogan moved away from the desk as the Frenchman came by with the feather duster, prompting Lehmann to turn to face the Colonel. Now sure Lehmann’s attention was fully on him, Hogan offered a clandestine nod to his men, who began pocketing several items from the cache, including cutlery, writing paper, candles, and even, underneath Carter’s bulky fleece jacket, a coffee pot. Hogan barely missed a beat as he added, “I want you to know there are no hard feelings.”
Lehmann raised his eyebrows in surprise. Newkirk spied the documents he needed to reach on Klink’s desk and was about to add the doctored letter to the pile, when the German unexpectedly leaned back and laid his hand on top of them. Newkirk immediately jerked back and shot a worried look at Hogan, who saw everything.
“I must say I am surprised to hear you say that, Colonel,” Lehmann said. “I would have thought—well, after our first meeting in your barracks…”
“Ancient history,” Hogan announced, waving the confrontation away with his cane. Suddenly he seemed to lose his balance, and he pitched forward, his cane clattering to the floor. “Oop—!”
“Colonel!” Lehmann instantly sprang up to catch Hogan before he landed on his face. Hogan accepted the support from Lehmann, leaning heavily as though slow to recover from his misfortune. He watched secretively as Newkirk took the opportunity to slip his paper into the sheaf now freed from Lehmann’s hand, then straightened and slipped another object under his jacket.
Hogan took the cane the Captain had retrieved from the floor and nodded gratefully in the German’s direction. “Thanks,” he said, brushing himself off. “Must have gotten a little too confident. I hate having to use this thing, but I guess I don’t have much choice,” he confided with an embarrassed laugh.
“You must be more careful, Colonel,” Lehmann advised, not noticing when Hogan’s eyes met Newkirk’s. The Englishman nodded as he slipped something else out of sight. “From what Colonel Klink says, you are still not at all a well man.”
“No, no, I suppose I’m not,” Hogan agreed. “Anyway, I’m glad we’ve cleared the air, Captain. I just wasn’t doing very well when we first met, and I didn’t want you to leave with a bad impression.”
Lehmann smiled. “That’s very big of you, Colonel Hogan,” he said, finally releasing Hogan’s arm now that he was certain the American was steady on his feet.
“Good, good.” Hogan’s eyes made a quick sweep of the room. “Okay, fellas, that’s enough cleaning for now. Let’s get out of the Captain’s way so he can finish his job.”
Carter, Le Beau and Newkirk noisily agreed and worked their way slowly out of the office, as Hogan bade Lehmann goodbye.
Hogan left with a small degree of satisfaction. So far, so good.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Schafer leaned in closer. “And Colonel Hogan was talking non-stop when you reached him inside the car?”
Newkirk leaned back a bit from the common room table. No matter how willing he was to follow Hogan’s order to cooperate with the Major, the Colonel hadn’t ordered anyone to enjoy it. “Well, not non-stop,” Newkirk amended thoughtfully. “Just… really insistent-like. Like there was something really important he had to tell us, and he wanted to make sure we understood.”
“Really?” Schafer breathed, entranced.
Newkirk nodded. “Yes, it was really strange. There he was, barely hanging on to life, and yet he was carrying on about what we thought at the time was bloody nonsense.”
“Nonsense…” Schafer repeated while writing in his notebook. “What was he saying?”
“Well, now, a lot of it was hard to figure out,” Newkirk replied. “He wasn’t even fully conscious, you know.”
This only stoked the German’s interest. “Did he know that anyone was there when he was talking?”
Newkirk shrugged. “I’m not sure. But he was so anxious—you could say almost frantic.”
“Could you make out any of it?”
“Bits and pieces,” Newkirk replied. “Mostly ramblings about Kleinschmidt—you know, the Kraut—I mean, the guard—that was in the car with him.”
Schafer nodded. “Anything else?”
“Hmm,” Newkirk said, pretending to ponder the question. “I don’t think so.”
Carter tapped Newkirk’s arm from beside him. “What about that other stuff—you know, about the attacks on Stuttgart, Bremen, Berlin—all that stuff?”
Newkirk turned to the Sergeant and nodded. “Oh, that’s right—I forgot about that.”
“Berlin? What did he say?” Schafer asked eagerly.
Newkirk frowned, “Oh, I can’t remember now, Major. It was over three weeks ago. And to be quite honest, that’s a nightmare I’d rather forget.” That much is true, anyway, you bloody Kraut.
Schafer nodded. “Oh,” he said, disappointed. Then, reluctantly, he added, “Well, I can understand that.”
“Oh, now, hang on a minute,” Newkirk said, as though a sudden burst of inspiration had hit him; “there was an official report made about the whole mess. You know, there had to be. Letters to Berlin, the whole lot—Kommandant Klink brought the Colonel to the hospital, and I remember him saying the gov’nor was still muttering about things. Probably would have written it all down, you know—he’s a right efficient old eagle, our Kommandant. I’ll bet there’s something in his office about it.”
Schafer looked up from his notebook, his hope renewed. “You’re probably right!” he exclaimed. “I’ll have to discuss this with the Kommandant.”
“Oh, well, you probably don’t have to bother the Kommandant,” Carter said quickly. “Colonel Hogan said Captain Lehmann has got all the Kommandant’s reports and correspondence to study for himself. It’s probably all in his pile somewhere.”
Schafer nodded. “That’s fantastic.” He smiled, a broad genuine smile. “Danke schoen, gentlemen, for your cooperation. This is a most extraordinary story, as you can well imagine.”
Oh, we’ve imagined, all right, Newkirk thought as a slow smile spread across his face. The gov’nor’s imagined all sorts of things, just for you. “Yes… yes, it is.”
Schafer stood up. “So, where is Colonel Hogan? I still want to speak with him about this. Kommandant Klink said the Colonel was willing to sit down with me.”
“He’s in his office,” Newkirk said, also rising. He led the way to Hogan’s quarters, with Carter bringing up the rear. “Now, I must warn you, Major, this is very hard for the Colonel to talk about. You’d best not question what he says or he’ll get very upset.”
Schafer shook his head as his eyes widened. “I won’t.” He put a hand up to stop Newkirk before he knocked on the door. “I thought Colonel Hogan didn’t believe any of this himself.”
Newkirk shook his head dismissively. “He was just resisting the truth, Major. We all know what really happened out there.”
Schafer nodded knowingly. “Right.” He let go of Newkirk’s arm.
The Englishman took a breath and then knocked on Hogan’s door. “Colonel Hogan, sir. You have a visitor.”
Newkirk opened the door and let Schafer and Carter pass in before him, and when he followed, the half-smile on his face disappeared. Hogan was upright on the bottom bunk, but he looked pale and strained and was clearly in pain. He was gripping his leg, alternately biting his lip and taking short, gasping breaths. He glanced up grimly when the three men entered.
Hogan’s men forgot all about Schafer and came to the Colonel’s side. Newkirk nearly called the whole plan off when he saw the perspiration coating the officer’s face; Hogan wasn’t putting on an act. “Gov’nor?”
Hogan just shook his head stiffly and looked up at Schafer. “Glad you could make it,” he said between breaths.
Schafer hesitated when Hogan raised his chin to offer him a seat on the stool near the desk. “Perhaps this is a bad time for you, Colonel. I—”
“It’s fine,” Hogan shot back. He took a few breaths through gritted teeth, then looked at Newkirk’s worried face. “It’s fine,” he repeated.
Newkirk didn’t lose his anxious look. He glanced over at Carter, who seemed unsure how to proceed, then asked softly, “Colonel, do you want some of those pills that Klink got from the hospital?”
Even as the words left his mouth, Newkirk knew Hogan was going to react badly. The Colonel shot him a look that nearly shriveled the Corporal where he stood. Newkirk swallowed. It was the wrong thing to suggest, and he knew it. But he couldn’t help but want to end Hogan’s suffering right now, and he knew the spurned pills were the only thing that had given the officer any real relief. Hogan didn’t answer, his eyes, red-rimmed and glassy, now fixed in concentration. Understanding, Newkirk straightened and said softly, “We’ll… get you some aspirin, sir.”
Hogan nodded once, then turned to Schafer. “So, you want to know about the accident.”
Schafer was glad of the opportunity to break the tension in the room. “Yes, Colonel Hogan. It was most unfortunate.”
“There’s that word again,” Hogan muttered, as Newkirk came back to him with the pills. Hogan took two aspirins out of the bottle and put them in his mouth, then accepted a cup of water from Carter and took a long drink. “Thanks,” he said to Newkirk, his eyes conveying an apology that right now he could not express.
Newkirk nodded. “It’s all right, gov’nor,” he said in response to both Hogan’s spoken and unspoken words. He took back the bottle and the cup. You don’t have to explain. This has got to be a bloody hard thing for you to do.
Hogan turned back to Schafer and visibly turned his attention away from his pain. “From what I was told, when I was brought back to camp after the accident, Colonel Klink ordered that I be taken to the hospital immediately,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Your injuries were quite serious, then,” Schafer said.
Newkirk rolled his eyes. Stupid Kraut, he thought. What d’you think this was just about when we walked in? A hangnail?
“Yes,” Hogan said, shooting a look at Newkirk, who he knew would be thinking the same thing he was. “They kept me there for a week.”
Schafer nodded and leaned forward. “And what was it like, in the hospital?”
Hogan bit his lip and took a slow, measured breath. Then he tried to shrug casually as he replied, “I don’t really remember. I was sedated some of the time, half out of my head in pain the rest.”
“But the doctors treated you well, respectfully,” Schafer prompted.
“I couldn’t tell you,” Hogan answered. “All I know is Klink took one look at me when I got back to camp and turned the truck around to go to the hospital. When I finally came into myself, I was in a hospital bed with a nurse that looked like Winston Churchill hovering over me.”
Carter unsuccessfully smothered a laugh. Newkirk’s eyes twinkled.
“I’d have married her, too,” Hogan said, ignoring the German’s perplexed look, “as long as she promised to keep wiping my face with that wonderful, cool, wet cloth.”
“I see.” Schafer took a few more notes, then lowered his voice. “I’d like to ask you about the accident itself, Colonel Hogan. So I can get a fuller understanding of things. Would that be all right?”
“Ask away,” Hogan replied. Carter and Newkirk watched their commanding officer steel himself for the coming interrogation. An untrained eye would have spotted nothing. But to those who lived and worked so closely with Hogan, the signs were unmissable. Hogan took in a deep—yet, this time, shuddering, his men noticed—breath; he raised his chin; he swallowed purposefully. And his eyes became fixed and—not cold, Carter realized, but—guarded. Yes, that was it: guarded. As if he had to protect himself from whatever was going to come at him.
Schafer began carefully. “Tell me what happened that day, Colonel,” he said gently.
Hogan nodded. “Corporal Kleinschmidt and I were going to scout out an area for firewood for the camp. There’s… not a lot of good wood around here, and it’s my responsibility to make sure the men have adequate heating in the winter. German winters can be quite cold,” he said. “Even slightly west of the Russian front.”
Schafer nodded, still writing.
“I don’t remember exact details—apparently, we didn’t get very far. Colonel Klink told me that the investigation into the crash showed Kleinschmidt simply ran off the road—poor conditions, lack of experience… all that.”
“Yes, yes,” Schafer agreed. He stopped writing. “What happened in the car, Colonel?”
Hogan grimaced and rode out a burst of pain from the red-hot poker that seemed to be incessantly twisting itself in his leg. “We waited to be rescued. I waited to be rescued,” he amended. He looked fleetingly at Carter. The Sergeant was looking back at him intently. Hogan turned away.
“What did you do, while you waited?”
“There wasn’t much I could do,” Hogan replied. “I was trapped in the car. Kleinschmidt was—” His voice caught in his throat. Hogan swallowed. “Kleinschmidt was dead. All I could do was wait. And pray.”
Carter frowned. Newkirk raised an eyebrow. There was an interminably long silence as Schafer scribbled in his notebook. “When you were found, Colonel Hogan… you said Corporal Kleinschmidt told you many things about himself while you were waiting for rescue. Things that were proven correct later on.”
Hogan felt his throat constricting. “I was delirious,” he blurted out. “I didn’t know what I was saying.” You are denying me….
“What about the talk about Stuttgart… and Berlin?”
Hogan looked sharply at the Major. “What about it?” he asked.
Schafer nearly jumped, startled by Hogan’s intensity. Then he smiled and relaxed. “Well, Colonel—they say you were talking about German towns… while you were… delirious.”
“That wouldn’t be so unusual,” Hogan countered. “I am in Germany, after all.”
Carter was torn. Hogan was not saying any of the things they had discussed in his quarters before this began. “Selling” Schafer on the story about Berlin meant revealing the details of the time the Colonel was trapped in the car, which Hogan was clearly not doing now. Perhaps he had decided to go down a different path to get the same results? Instinct told Carter that wasn’t the case. He tried to catch Hogan’s eye. Well, he can always ignore me if he wants to, so... “Uh—Colonel, I hope you won’t mind me saying so, but… well, I think you should tell the Major the truth about what happened that day.”
Hogan looked up into Carter’s eyes, and Carter’s heart nearly broke in two. Hogan was plainly still struggling fiercely with the decision he had made to speak about his ordeal, even with some details altered to suit his own purposes. At that moment, Carter realized, Hogan was afraid. Not of some German officer trying to use him, not of failing in their mission to pave the way for the Allied bombing of Berlin. But of himself. “Tell the Major the truth, Colonel,” Carter urged gently.
Hogan nodded mutely, then looked down at the floor. “I didn’t think Kleinschmidt was dead,” he whispered. Schafer leaned in closer to hear. Carter and Newkirk looked at each other, then simply watched as events unfolded. “He talked to me. If he hadn’t been there to keep me talking, I don’t think I would have survived till we were found.”
“What did he say to you, Colonel?” Schafer asked softly.
“He told me about his family. He told me he had a brother and two sisters, and that his parents were… waiting for him,” Hogan said emotionlessly. His staring eyes saw nothing, no one in the room. “He told me his name was Gunter, and he asked me about my men here in camp. He kept waking me up when I wanted to sleep. He said we both needed him to be stubborn, and that talking was making what was happening less frightening.” A long pause. “He said I would be all right,” Hogan said finally, quietly. “That war couldn’t keep a good man down forever.” Hogan closed his eyes, as tears built up behind them that he could not shed.
Carter was finding it difficult to see through the blurry vision his emotions had created. Still watching Hogan intently, he could see Newkirk out of the corner of his eye, shifting his feet uncomfortably, unsure what to do. Schafer was writing non-stop. Then suddenly, Hogan’s voice, now stronger and more in control, broke the awkward silence.
“Yes, he told me lots of things,” Hogan said, with a small, acknowledging nod toward Carter. “He told me the Allies were planning an attack on Stuttgart—and another attack on Bremen. Both of which, I have been told, happened.”
“There were attacks on those two cities in the last two weeks, Colonel Hogan,” Schafer confirmed. “Are you saying that Kleinschmidt told you about them before they happened?”
“That’s right,” Hogan answered, now sounding more self-assured. “He told me all about them.”
“What else did he tell you, Colonel?” Schafer asked, barely stopping to breathe as he wrote.
Hogan shrugged. “I feel uncomfortable telling you this,” he said truthfully. Then he added, “I could have imagined it all.”
Schafer shook his head. “It hardly seems so—with all those details about his family, about those two Allied bombing attacks… Please, go on.”
“He told me all about Berlin… how much he loved it… how foolish the Nazis are in abandoning other targeted cities in the mistaken belief that the Allies may try to bomb a city so deep in Germany….” He shook his head. The memory of the youthful soldier came into his head and refused to be shaken away. War cannot hold down a good man forever. Hogan let out a long, weary breath. If only I could believe that’s true…
“I can’t talk about this any more,” Hogan said softly. “It’s a burden, Major,” he said, reaching for his cane with a trembling hand. He pulled himself up, not trying to hide the pain the action caused, and stood before the surprised German officer. “It’s a burden I can’t share with anyone.” He nodded briefly toward Carter and Newkirk. “If you gentlemen will excuse me.” Then he turned, and with the small amount of strength he had left, he walked out of the barracks.
Hide and Seek
“What do you think—did it work?” Newkirk asked, still looking out the door of the barracks at Schafer’s retreating form.
“Sure it worked,” Carter assured him, nodding. He wanted to smile, but Hogan’s behavior in his quarters a short time ago had him worried. “The Colonel’s plans always work.”
“I wonder if you’re gonna be in for trouble later, though, Andrew,” Newkirk pondered, closing the door and coming back to the table.
“What do you mean?” Carter asked.
“Well, the gov’nor was changing his story there for a minute. I wonder if he knew something we didn’t—and he just didn’t have a chance to tell us before we went in there.”
“No,” Carter said knowingly, shaking his head. “He didn’t find out anything.”
Newkirk shrugged. “Maybe. I sure blew it asking him about those bloody Kraut pain pills, though. I wish taking them had been part of his plan to show Schafer all was forgiven. The sooner we put this whole mess behind us, the better.”
“I don’t think that will happen for awhile, Newkirk.” Carter sighed as he remembered the broken look in Hogan’s eyes. Because the Colonel hasn’t forgiven himself.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“What are you doing here, Colonel?”
Hogan gave a slight start when the voice interrupted his thoughts. He turned to see Corporal Langenscheidt looking at him with a mixture of curiosity and concern, and felt a tiny thrill of fear shiver through him. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall of the Recreation Hall, forcing himself to speak calmly. “Hiding.”
He waited to hear the sounds of retreating footsteps. There were none. Go away. Please, just go away.
“Who are you hiding from, Herr Colonel?”
Hogan opened his eyes but did not turn to look at the guard. “Germans,” he answered flatly.
Langenscheidt lowered his eyes, bowed his head slightly. “I understand,” he said softly after a moment.
Hogan sighed, still staring at nothing. “No, I don’t think you do,” he said wistfully.
Another silence between them. “No. I suppose I do not.”
Hogan closed his eyes again and concentrated on breathing. In… out. In… out. That’s a nice breeze…. I’d expect to be colder at this time of year…. In—
“May I ask you something, Colonel Hogan?”
Hogan held his breath. No. No, no, no, no, no… He breathed out deliberately and opened his eyes. “What is it?”
Langenscheidt seemed to hesitate, then began, “When you were in the car… with Gunter that day…”
Hogan closed his eyes tightly and pursed his lips. Please. Please, no.
Langenscheidt saw Hogan’s reaction but, swallowing hard and taking in a deep breath, continued, “… did he talk about his brother, Karl?”
A whole conversation came racing back to Hogan, and he could feel beads of sweat trickling down the back of his neck as he began to find breathing more difficult. The throbbing in his left leg suddenly intensified. He licked his lips and turned to face the guard. “He didn’t talk about anything,” Hogan said hoarsely. “He died when the car crashed.”
Langenscheidt’s deep blue eyes grew sad. Then he locked them onto Hogan’s face. “I know what was reported, Herr Colonel. But there was more that happened, wasn’t there?”
Hogan shook his head and looked away. “No, there wasn’t,” he maintained. “I was delirious. I imagined everything.” It doesn’t matter if the odds would be a million to one that I’d get the kid’s story right. I’ve always played the odds. I imagined everything. I imagined everything….
The young guard shifted uncomfortably. “Colonel Hogan,” he said softly, insistently, almost pleadingly, “the things you said when the search party found you—you could not have made those things up. They were all correct—the names, the places. Gunter must have told you.”
“He didn’t!” Hogan snapped, too harshly, looking fiercely at the Corporal. He saw something in the German’s eyes that stopped him before he continued. He took a few seconds to calm himself down, slowed his breathing, and regrouped his thoughts. The life went out of his own dark eyes, and he closed them and once again propped himself against the wall, tilting his head back against it. “Why do you want to know, anyway?” Hogan asked softly.
“Because Karl Kleinschmidt was my best friend.”
Hogan could say nothing in reply. He did not move, or show that he even registered what the guard said.
Langenscheidt waited, then slid next to Hogan, leaning beside him against the wall of the building and looking out toward the fence beyond them. “Karl and I grew up together, Colonel Hogan. When the war came, he was sent to fight, and I—well, I was not.” A small, almost embarrassed laugh. “He was fit and strong. I was also strong—but I could not see fifty feet in front of my face. If they put a rifle in my hand on the battlefield, I would almost have to use it as a walking stick.”
Hogan allowed himself a tiny smile. “But you’re a camp prison guard.”
“I do not get duty in the guard towers, you have probably noticed.”
Hogan shrugged. He knew the schedule of the guards in all sections like the back of his hand.
“Karl and I were inseparable. We were always the best of friends. Karl und Karl. People joked that we were twins—they would never find one without the other, we were so alike and so often in each other’s company. I was part of his family, and he was part of mine. Of course, we were all worried about him going off to fight. But it was not the first time young men from Helmstedt were called up. Annaliese—their sister—her sweetheart was conscripted. He was declared Missing in Action at some stage… there is little hope that he will come home. I was in love with Karl’s other sister, Helga, but I was never able to tell her; she always told me I was like a third brother to her. And one does not fall in love with one’s sister.”
Hogan let the story wash over him. All through the telling, flashes of the impossible memories of his time in the car after the accident ran through his brain. Annaliese especially had a sweetheart. But he was called to fight…. He shook the thoughts away. I imagined everything.
Langenscheidt wasn’t done with his confession, though, and he continued. “The night before Karl left, he made me promise to look after his family. I did not know how I was going to be able to do that, since I was coming to Stalag 13. But then when Gunter was recently transferred here, too, I knew that I would be able to keep my promise—at least to him, and through Gunter, I could keep watch over Annaliese and Helga.”
Hogan opened his eyes slowly, tiredly. “Why are you telling me this?” he asked quietly.
Langenscheidt turned earnestly to the American. “I need to know what happened in the car, Herr Colonel. I need to know, for Annaliese and for Helga. For Karl. And… for myself.”
Hogan took in the intensity of the German’s expression and for a long moment could only look at him, beyond speech, and with more than a little fear. His voice was scarcely more than a whisper when he finally spoke. “Gunter died right away, Langenscheidt,” he said. “I spent the whole time in that car talking to myself, making up a conversation with someone who wasn’t there any more, just to survive.” Hogan shifted his weight in deference to his injured leg, using the movement to turn away from his persistent companion. Please, God. Please, let this end now.
The guard shook his head slowly, as though he was afraid to contradict the Colonel, but could not agree. A hesitant question. “Do you believe in Heaven, Herr Colonel?”
I used to fly in it, Hogan thought. Then, softly: “Yes.”
“And… do you believe in angels? You know, those that watch over you, like guardians?”
Hogan wanted to say no. That might be all it would take to put off Langenscheidt enough to make the young man go away. But it was Hogan himself who had suggested that some sort of heavenly intervention was responsible for the wrecked car being found before it was too late for him and—so he had thought at the time—for Gunter. And so something inside him would not let him deny it now. “Yes.”
“Colonel Hogan. Gunter… he was an innocent. He was impetuous sometimes, but he was a good boy.” Hogan closed his eyes, his tortured spirit beginning to weep. “Please, Colonel Hogan. Please, tell me what he said.”
A storm raged in Hogan’s soul. If he revealed all those hallucinations to Langenscheidt, he would be confirming them as real—because Langenscheidt was the one man who knew everything about the Kleinschmidts. If he kept the stories to himself, he would be denying this young man the peace he sought regarding his friend, and possibly denying the reality of what had actually happened in the car that day. Once spoken, Hogan could never take the words back, could never go back to the security of denial. Which did Hogan believe was real? Had some part of Gunter Kleinschmidt really remained to keep watch over the Colonel until help arrived? Or had Hogan created all of those conversations in his mind? And how could he have, since everything he had related later on had been correct?
After what seemed like hours, Hogan opened his eyes. “Langenscheidt,” he began. He stopped when he saw once again the earnest look on the man’s face. He paused. “Karl…” The German leaned in to hear Hogan’s faint voice. “Gunter… said… that Karl was a very good actor… and… that he performed Shakespeare….”
“Ja, Herr Oberst,” Langenscheidt confirmed, nodding. “Ja, Karl loved the theatre.”
Hogan nodded. “And the two of them were…” Hogan’s voice caught as he related the now-impossible dream that the two boys had shared… “hoping to go to America after the war.”
Langenscheidt nodded sadly. “Ja. Ja, that is true, too.”
Hogan fell silent. He knew it was true. He knew, in his heart, that everything he remembered and insisted on denying was real. He remembered how absolutely terrified he had been in the car, when he felt comforting darkness moving in to try and claim him. And he remembered how strong the voice of the young guard had then become, calling him, insisting on keeping Hogan active and alert, somehow urging him on to hold on. He remembered how frightened the German’s voice had been, prompting Hogan to hold onto the small bit of strength that he still had, to comfort the guard when things were looking grim… and how in the end, it turned out that the weakness and fear had apparently been an act—something Gunter Kleinschmidt, or whatever part of him was still in the car—had been using to keep Hogan determined to survive until rescue came.
“I don’t understand,” Hogan whispered eventually. His mind was locked in the car, seeing the wreckage and seeing Gunter’s still body beside him. He could feel the despair and the pain, and he could hear the silence, the frightening, overwhelming silence that meant no one had come to save him from this nightmare he could not escape. “I don’t understand why.”
“Sometimes there is no reason we can comprehend,” Langenscheidt declared softly. “Sometimes it is just the mercy of God, and we have to accept it.”
Hogan shook his head, still staring, trance-like, at things the man beside him could never see. “I don’t understand,” he repeated.
“Colonel Hogan…” said Langenscheidt, a little more strongly.
The German accent pulled Hogan abruptly out of his memories and into the present. Hogan tried to compose himself, and he looked at the guard with eyes appearing sunken into his face, his features tired and spent, as though he had been up all night, haunted by nightmares that made sleep more of a torture than a way of refreshing the mind and body.
“You remind me of Karl in many ways, Colonel Hogan,” Langenscheidt admitted. “Even Gunter noticed that in the short time he was here. Karl was always the stronger of the two of us, the most resilient.” Hogan lowered his eyes. “What Gunter told you about Karl that day—it was all true. What he said about his family—that was also true. What you are trying to deny, Colonel Hogan, it all happened. I believe that. Do not torture yourself with doubts about what was simply a gift to a good man.”
War cannot hold down a good man forever. “What’s so good about me… that wasn’t good about Gunter?” Hogan asked, his voice weak with grief, and something else he was just now beginning to recognize: guilt that he had survived.
Langenscheidt paused thoughtfully. “Perhaps something… perhaps nothing.” The guard shrugged. “It is not for us to know.” He looked at Hogan and realized he had taken the American almost past his endurance, and he regretted it. “Please do not mistake me, Colonel Hogan. I grieve for my friend. Gunter was also like a brother to me. But I would like to think that he died nobly, and if he stayed to help you as you claimed that night, then I can believe quite honestly that he did.”
Nearly paralyzed with anguish, Hogan eventually choked out his reply. “He did, Langenscheidt. He did.”
Langenscheidt absorbed Hogan’s words, and his suffering. “Thank you, Colonel Hogan,” he said gently. Then, the guard changed the subject and his tone. “I will leave you alone now, and make sure the other guards stay away from here. Since you are hiding,” he announced more brightly.
Langenscheidt left without waiting for a response. Hogan remained stock-still for a few moments, then slowly gave in to the unbearable pain rising within him, releasing a single, gut-wrenching sob. He raised his shaking hands to his face and covered his eyes, as tears finally began to roll down a face contorted with sorrow.
Klink stood facing Captain Lehmann, feeling somehow not unlike the way he used to feel when he was standing before the headmaster at school when he was about to be punished for doing something naughty. Only this time, he couldn’t drop his head and look out from under the mussed-up hair that allowed him not to confront trouble eye to eye.
“Colonel Klink,” Lehmann began, his tone slightly less friendly than Klink would have liked, “after having thoroughly inspecting the barracks, the supply hut and the kitchens, as well as the guards’ quarters and your own, I must tell you that your quarterly inventory report was completely accurate.”
Klink relaxed and smiled. Of course it was! “Danke, Captain. I worked very hard to make sure everything was exactly as Berlin wanted—”
“Unfortunately, that is not something that you should be proud of,” Lehmann interrupted.
Klink’s brilliant smile disappeared. “No, of course it isn’t,” he said, deflated. “Why isn’t it?”
“Because it clearly shows that you are using far more supplies than necessary to run an ordinary prisoner of war camp!”
Klink’s eyes suddenly lit up. “Ah, but Captain, this is not an ordinary prisoner of war camp!” he replied. “There has never been a successful escape from Stalag 13! None of the other prisoner of war camps can boast such a marvelous record. Of course, in order to maintain this extraordinary record, I do find it necessary to occasionally reward the prisoners for their good behavior, and I have developed an understanding with Colonel Hogan, who is most cooperative about keeping the men in line.”
Lehmann shook his head. “Rewarding prisoners is hardly the answer, Colonel. Clearly it costs too much to do such things. The answer is to be tougher on your prisoners. Your guards have guns, do they not? Then let them start to stay in camp out of fear and broken morale—instead out of laziness because they are treated as though they are in a rest camp!”
Rest camp? Klink couldn’t help thinking of how ironic that sounded, even though his head was spinning. He thought of Colonel Hogan, whom Lehmann had deprived of the one simple thing that Klink had offered to help the American to recover. He still got butterflies in his stomach when he imagined the betrayal Hogan must have felt when the Captain had demanded that he give up his additional blanket. Yet another reminder that Hogan was a prisoner, not a free man—as if he needed any more reminding after a week in the hospital with minimal attention and grudgingly-given pain relievers, only administered when Klink himself had visited and saw Hogan writhing in such agony that the Kommandant demanded the injured man be given medication. When he realized what was going on, Klink had made regular visits to the hospital, which ensured that Hogan would get some relief at least once a day. Stalag 13—Germany—was certainly no rest camp for the American officer. And why should you care, Wilhelm? he chastised himself once again.
Klink offered a small, nervous laugh. “A rest camp. That’s very funny.” Lehmann’s dark look changed his mind. “It’s not very funny.” He shook his head. “Not at all. No. But, Captain Lehmann, everything I use is thoroughly accounted for, as you yourself admitted. And it is all necessary for the smooth running of this—”
A knock on the door interrupted him mid-stream. Thank heaven, Klink thought unashamedly. “Yes, what is it?” The door opened and Major Schafer appeared. “Oh, Major! Come in, come in!” Klink gratefully waved the officer into the room. “What a pleasure to see you!”
Schafer looked at Klink with a slightly bemused expression. He saluted Klink, who returned the gesture. “Well, danke, Herr Kommandant, but I only saw you a couple of hours ago.”
“Is that all it’s been?” Klink asked. “Oh, it seems like much, much longer than that.” He moved back behind his desk—strategically away from Lehmann, who was looking on with clear distaste. “Of course, when you are tied down with paperwork—you know, audits and other Luftwaffe matters—well, time just seems to speed up, doesn’t it?”
Schafer’s confused look remained for a few seconds, then he wiped it off to get to the subject at hand. “Yes, I… suppose it does,” he replied.
“Now, what can I do for you, Major Schafer?”
“Well, Colonel Klink, to be honest, I was hoping to have some time with Captain Lehmann.”
“Captain Lehmann?” Klink repeated dully.
“Yes, yes! I understand he has all the correspondence between you and Berlin in the last three months out for study.”
“Yes, that is true,” Lehmann said, stepping forward. He saluted Schafer, who returned the gesture with a “Heil Hitler.” “It is all in the antechamber, Major. I am still sorting through it. What is it you need?”
Schafer let his eyes roam between Klink and the Captain. “I understand there were reports from this office to Berlin about the car accident that Colonel Hogan was in.”
Klink frowned. “Well… yes… there was something.”
“Excellent. Colonel Hogan and his men had much to say about his rescue, and the stories were absolutely fascinating.”
“Fascinating?” Klink repeated. That’s hardly the word I would use. “Well, yes, I suppose they were.”
“And you, Kommandant, you heard it all first hand!”
“Ja, and I wish I hadn’t,” Klink muttered, his memories all too sharp. The blood… the suffering… he wished that on no man.
“If only someone had listened.” Klink nodded at the statement. At last, someone else agreed that Hogan should have been given better treatment! “You handled it marvelously, Kommandant.” Schafer turned to Lehmann. “Where are these reports? I am most anxious to continue this. I should have something to Berlin by tomorrow!”
“I have them in the outer office, Herr Major,” Lehmann answered.
“Good. Show them to me, and I shall get to work.”
“Jawohl, Herr Major.” Lehmann turned to Klink. “I will return to Berlin tomorrow, Colonel. And we shall see what further action we must take. But I must warn you: it will not be good for you.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Schafer’s still in Klink’s office. I hope he’s doing what I think he’s doing; it’s been quiet in there an awfully long time,” Hogan said.
Le Beau nodded and brought Hogan a cup of fresh coffee, which the Colonel accepted with a small smile before turning to look back out the door of the barracks. How many times have I tried to distract le Colonel with food or drink? If only it were that easy… “I am sure it will be just perfect, Colonel,” he assured Hogan. “Newkirk does very good work.”
“Good enough to end up on the ‘Wanted’ posters at the post office,” Kinch added mischievously.
“Now, hang on a second there, gentlemen,” Newkirk protested. “I have never been on a ‘Wanted’ poster at the post office.” He waited a beat, then added, “It’s strictly Scotland Yard for me.”
“I always wondered how they decide whose pictures go up in the post office,” Carter mused. “Some of those guys are really scary-looking.”
“Well, you don’t land up there for winning a beauty contest, mate,” Newkirk replied.
Le Beau put the last plate on the table and then turned to see if Hogan was going to join them. “Dinner is served,” he said to Hogan’s back. When he got no response, he looked at the others already seated and shrugged.
It was Carter who spoke up. “Colonel Hogan, are you gonna join us?” he asked.
Kinch watched his commanding officer carefully. When Newkirk and Carter related what had happened in the office with Schafer, the radio man had gone out in search of the Colonel. But when he spotted him, he decided to stay away. Hogan was wandering near the perimeter fences, leaning heavily on his cane, stopping occasionally to do what appeared to be wiping his eyes, only to resume the aimless drifting. When the officer finally returned to the barracks, his eyes were red and swollen, but his expression offered no opening for conversation, only a plea for solitude, and so Kinch decided once again to give Hogan his privacy.
Now, Hogan turned away from the door, his gaze wandering around the room and finally landing on the table. His eyes seemed to see right through it, holding what Le Beau had once described as “the thousand mile look,” but at least, Kinch thought, they no longer reflected the destroyed soul of a man. Now, they reflected resignation, and weariness. That wasn’t a lot better, but it was something.
“Sure, Carter,” Hogan replied with only a hint of a smile, and he came and sat down at the table of the common room, leaning his cane up against the stove. “Can’t have Le Beau’s good cooking go to waste.” He noticed the Frenchman’s eyes watching him intently as he picked up his fork. “Thanks for cooking for us, Louis,” he added quietly. Le Beau smiled, his eyes still locked on Hogan, and nodded. “I’m sure it’s…”
Hogan’s voice drifted off, as he looked at the plate and realized he had absolutely no appetite. He blinked himself into action and determinedly pierced a potato, pausing when it got halfway to his mouth to make himself focus again. He looked at his men, some of whom looked away when he caught them watching him, the others trying to speak volumes without saying a word. He put his fork back down on the plate, the food forgotten, and straightened his back. “What’s happening with Lehmann?” he asked.
“He’s leaving first thing tomorrow, sir,” Newkirk replied at once.
“Is everything ready?”
“Yes, gov’nor, the Captain’s car is in the motor pool. Kinch and I gave it a right good polish this afternoon, didn’t we?”
“That’s right,” Kinch confirmed; “it’s all shiny and ready to go.”
Hogan nodded. “And?”
Kinch shrugged. “And I’ve made sure the lock doesn’t work quite as well as it used to.”
Hogan finally smiled a real smile. “Good.”
The bunk above the tunnel rose up and Olsen’s head popped out. “Colonel—I’ve been monitoring the calls as you said—Major Schafer has just asked for a line out to Berlin.”
“Right,” Hogan replied. Kinch immediately got up and headed for the tunnel, and Hogan tried to follow, but found himself slowed by his still-unreliable leg. “Go on, Kinch,” he said, waving the Sergeant toward the ladder. “I’ll get there as soon as I can.”
Kinch nodded and followed Olsen back down. Hogan took hold of his cane and hobbled toward the entrance. He took a fleeting look back at his rejected dinner, then turned guiltily to Le Beau. “I’m sorry, Louis,” he offered. “Maybe later.”
Le Beau sighed and stood up, removing Hogan’s plate from the table. “Je compris, mon Colonel,” he said, nodding. “I will save it for you.”
Hogan’s men kept their eyes averted from the ladder as Hogan struggled to get below. Someday, everything would go back to normal.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“That is correct, Herr General, everything the American said so far has been verified!”
Hogan listened carefully as Schafer spoke to his superiors. “Of course it has,” Hogan said; “it’s amazing what can be right when you write it down after it happens.”
Kinch nodded and turned back to the equipment that let them listen to the whole phone conversation.
“The bombing of Stuttgart—the attack on Bremen—all of it happened just as the American said it would when he was pulled out of the wreckage. It is all in the letter the camp Kommandant sent to Berlin!” Schafer continued. Some doubts from the other end of the line. “I do not know why it did not get to the authorities, Herr General; I have a copy of it here from Colonel Klink’s own files. Everything the American Colonel said about the guard was correct, and everything he said about Stuttgart and Bremen came to pass! In this case it would seem prudent if we would listen to the rest of the warnings…”
The rest of Hogan’s men had finally given in to their curiosity and come down to the tunnel. Kinch turned to quiet them as Schafer continued, reading out the letter Newkirk had fashioned to the officer on the other end of the phone.
Hogan felt a tightening in his chest as Schafer then passionately retold everything the American officer had confessed to him—that Hogan had thought Kleinschmidt was alive, that the personal details he rambled about Gunter after his rescue all turned out to be correct, that the young guard seemed most anxious to share the Allies’ offensive strike plans—possibly to avert disaster in the Fatherland if Hogan could pass on the details to the right people, Schafer postulated—that so far, the first two predictions Hogan had made were correct, and that no one was paying attention to the letter Klink sent, explaining that Berlin was not a realistic target, while Leipzig and Wiesbaden were next on the list.
Schafer’s final, fervent suggestion was that Berlin take the warnings provided seriously, and move the flak batteries and other defense systems that were starting to gather near Berlin away from the area, and toward the cities mentioned in Klink’s letter. He promised to have something in writing for the Propaganda Ministry the next day, for publication and circulation within the next two weeks. In return, his suggestion was promised serious consideration, which would be confirmed within the next twenty-four hours.
Hogan nodded as the call concluded, then turned to Kinch. “We’ll have to keep monitoring the phones. We have to know what Berlin decides to do so we can contact London.”
Kinch nodded. “Right, sir.”
Hogan stopped, tried to stretch sore muscles, and then turned to Newkirk. “That letter may just have done the trick,” he informed him. “Good work.”
“Thank you, sir,” Newkirk replied.
“You all go back upstairs and finish eating. I’ll take first watch on the phone tap.”
Short bursts of protests were cut off by the look on Hogan’s face. The men exchanged slightly deflated looks and nodded their agreement, then followed orders. Hogan then sat in front of the equipment, and buried his face in his hands.
Back on Track
Hogan was dozing fitfully on the cot in the tunnel when Carter descended the ladder carrying a plate full of food. The Sergeant’s hop off the bottom rung startled Hogan into wakefulness, and he sat up with a small frown on his face, as though he couldn’t remember having fallen asleep in the first place.
“What time is it?” Hogan asked, rubbing his eyes.
“About ten o’clock,” Carter answered. He approached the Colonel and presented the plate. “You never came back for dinner,” he said simply.
Hogan looked at the food. There was nothing he wanted to do less right now than eat. He shook his head. “Louis’s gonna be really upset if you don’t eat this,” Carter prompted him.
Hogan shook his head again. “Just put it on the desk,” he said, gesturing vaguely toward the radio equipment.
Carter did as he was told, then came back to face Hogan. “Nothing from Berlin yet?” he guessed.
Hogan frowned. “Nope. Let’s hope they buy what Schafer had to say. London’s counting on it. And I don’t have any other ideas.”
“It’s a hard one, all right,” Carter agreed. He paused. “Colonel Hogan, are you all right?” he asked.
Hogan dropped his eyes. “I’m fine; I’m just tired.”
“Oh, I know you’re tired,” the Sergeant said. “I mean, it’s late, and your leg’s still in pretty bad shape, and aspirin can’t be helping all that much, and then there’s the—”
“Carter,” Hogan said, needing to stop the flow that he knew was born of nervousness on the young man’s part, “do you have something to say?”
Carter shrugged self-deprecatingly, then came in nearer to his commanding officer. “I just wanted to make sure you’re okay after today. You know, with Major Schafer.”
Hogan stared at his hands, folded in front of him in between his knees as he rested his forearms on his lap. “Well, it worked, didn’t it,” he said, not asking, not wanting to hear more.
“Yep, it sure did,” Carter agreed. “You know, I bet Berlin will call back tomorrow morning saying to move those anti-aircraft defenses right away.”
“Could be,” Hogan answered.
There was a long silence. “Colonel? I just wanted to tell you… Well, I mean, I just wanted to say that I…” Carter faltered, unsure how to proceed.
Hogan finally looked him in the eye. “Thanks for pulling me back on track today, Carter. It took a lot of courage to do that, and I appreciate it.”
“Aw, shucks,” Carter said, suddenly uncomfortable, “you would have come around to it yourself sooner or later, Colonel.”
Hogan shook his head. “No, I wouldn’t have,” he replied. “I knew what I had to do, and I couldn’t make myself do it. If you hadn’t said anything, I would have just let the whole thing drop.” Hogan stared at the floor. “Thanks.”
“Someone wanted to help you, Colonel,” Carter said softly, looking down at his commanding officer and once again feeling deep compassion. “I don’t know if it was Kleinschmidt or someone else… but… you did the right thing, talking about it. If Berlin moves its guns, a lot of lives will be saved.”
“All but one,” Hogan whispered, so low Carter nearly had to lean in to hear him. Another silence. Then, slowly, he went on. “Gunter was a good boy, Carter. He was a kid, stuck in a war that took away all his dreams. He didn’t deserve what happened to him.”
Carter nodded and carefully, hesitantly, came to sit by Hogan. The Colonel glanced at him then turned his gaze down one of the tunnel passageways that led down into darkness. “The war took away some of your dreams, too, Colonel,” Carter said gently. “You didn’t ask to be here, at least that’s the way I heard it.” Hogan didn’t answer, but Carter suspected he was listening to him, so he continued. “When I got here, you were still expanding this whole operation. I didn’t know a lot back then, but the fellas told me enough to figure out that if you’d had your way, you would have been out of this camp and out of Germany as fast as we’re sending out everyone else who’s lucky enough to be rounded up by us.”
Hogan nodded once.
“Well, that didn’t happen,” Carter said slowly. “You were asked to stay here, and you did. You gave up a lot, Colonel Hogan, and it hasn’t always been easy, no, sir. I mean, it’s been hard more often than you could ever say it’s been easy. And you didn’t deserve that, either. When it comes to war, I figure almost nobody gets what he really deserves; we just have to make the best of what we get. You do that every day. And maybe Kleinschmidt finally had the chance to, too.”
Slowly, with difficulty, Hogan turned to face the man he always called his “innocent.” He looked into Carter’s eyes and saw an honesty and a caring that he rarely saw in another man. And he remembered everything he had told Gunter about Carter that confusing, pain-filled day in the car—about how the Sergeant was loyal, and generous, and gentle. And he took comfort in those thoughts now, and felt their truth deep inside him. “Thank you, Andrew,” he said softly.
Carter met Hogan’s eyes and accepted the deep thanks that words were useless at expressing. “You go upstairs and get some sleep now, Colonel. I’ll take my turn waiting for Berlin to call.”
Hogan nodded and, without feeling the least bit of embarrassment, he let Carter help support him as he climbed with difficulty back up to the barracks.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Tell me about your men, Robert. What makes them so special to you?”
What doesn’t make them special? Hogan struggled to answer, unable to think past pain so sharp his eyes were tearing up. He kept them squeezed shut.
“Robert, you must tell me about them. What makes them special to you?”
“Lots of things,” Hogan finally gasped. Then, not even conscious of speaking aloud, he added softly, desperately, “And I need them now!”
“They need you, Robert. They need you to be strong. They need you to take the lead again. You must be able to do that.”
“I failed today. If they hadn’t been there to save the day…” Hogan’s voiced faded as his guilt grew.
“You were given gifts for a reason, Robert. Please do not be afraid to use them.”
Hogan fell back against the seat of the car, panting, fearful, distressed. “I’m tired.”
“Rest, Robert. And then get back to where you belong: in the lead.”
“I’ll try….” And he let his hurting body relax, and drifted away.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Colonel Klink bellowed in the early morning light even as he walked toward the men assembled outside Barracks Two. It was cold and there was a biting wind blowing straight through his long overcoat, and he wanted to get this over with so he could get back inside to his office, and his cup of cocoa, which, depending on how his final encounter with Captain Lehmann went, might at some point be laced with schnapps.
“Herr Kommandant, all prisoners present and accounted for!” Schultz saluted Klink and then shrugged deeper into his coat.
“Very good, Schultz,” Klink replied. He moved in till he was almost on top of Hogan. The American, his head bowed into his jacket, looked up at him, squinting against the wind. “I wish to see you this morning, Colonel Hogan,” Klink said. “Come to my office after morning mess.”
“Right, Kommandant,” Hogan replied. “Your friends leaving today?” he asked.
“Captain Lehmann and Major Schafer. Or are they going to take advantage of the Hotel Stalag 13 hospitality for a little while longer?”
“Apparently, there isn’t supposed to be any hospitality,” Klink muttered through his teeth. He looked at Hogan’s face, half hidden under his collar of his brown bomber jacket, looking more recovered but less rested. “Captain Lehmann has seen to that.”
“Trouble in paradise?” Hogan asked, straightening. Klink screwed up his face but didn’t answer. He didn’t need to, and both of them knew it. Hogan lowered his voice and said confidentially, “You know, we might be able to help you out, Kommandant. If you’re willing to make a deal.”
For a brief second, hope shone in Klink’s eyes. Then just as quickly it was extinguished. “Forget it,” he said. “I don’t need any more trouble than I already have.”
Hogan shrugged. “Okay, Kommandant. It’s your funeral.” Klink cringed. “Sorry, sir. Too close to the bone, that one.”
“Just come to my office later,” Klink growled. He backed away from Hogan and looked at Schultz. “Diiiiiis-miiiiiiiiiiiiiissed.”
Schultz saluted as Klink turned away and tried to disperse the men. Hogan tapped Newkirk’s leg lightly with his cane as he saw a staff car roll up outside Klink’s office. “Is that it?” he asked under his breath.
“Sure is, gov’nor,” Newkirk replied.
“And everything’s ready?”
Kinch leaned in behind him. “Yes, sir, everything’s just perfect.”
Hogan nodded. “Good. Newkirk—you got the letter back?”
“No problems, Colonel.”
“Okay. Get to work.”
“With pleasure, sir.” And the Englishman walked away.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Le Beau popped his head into Hogan’s office, where the Colonel had just disappeared. “Berlin is calling for Schafer, Colonel,” he said, stopping short when he saw Hogan standing stiffly over his desk, something gripped tightly in his hands.
But Hogan quickly turned to face him and put the item far across the desk. “This is it. Let’s go.”
“Oui, Colonel.” Le Beau waited as Hogan grabbed his cane and awkwardly brushed past him, heading toward the tunnel. Then, making sure he was not being watched, the Frenchman took a couple of steps into the office and looked at what Hogan had been holding onto. He shook his head when he realized it was the bottle of pills from the hospital, that after he found out about Schafer, the Colonel had refused to take. Le Beau only wished he hadn’t interrupted before Hogan had had a chance to decide to change his mind.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Kinch smiled as he handed Hogan the paper with the transcript of everything that had been said while the Colonel was making his way down the ladder. “It’s good news, Colonel,” he said.
Hogan nodded, and, still listening to the voices on the phone line, he scanned the paper, then smiled. “This is great,” he said. “It’s exactly what we wanted.”
Hogan listened to Schafer crowing about how well he had done for the Fatherland in gathering this important information about Allied tactics, then shook his head as Schafer promised even more in a dispatch to be sent out today, and rambled on and on again about everything Hogan and his men had told him. “Kinch, when Schafer finally stops talking, get on the line to London and tell them the RAF can come in as soon as we confirm the anti-aircraft defense systems are gone. Make sure they know to bomb anywhere but Leipzig and Wiesbaden next week, right?”
“It’s time for me to check on our other little pigeon… who’s about ready to fly the coop!”
One Down, One to Go
“Schultz, I have a problem.”
The guard snorted. “We all have problems, Colonel Hogan,” he answered. “My problem right now is that these boots are too narrow for my feet.”
“Did you ever think that your feet might be too wide for your boots?”
“Don’t be a Mister Know-It-All,” Schultz replied.
Hogan bit his bottom lip. “Never mind. Schultz, I don’t want to rat on a fellow prisoner, but if I don’t, someone could get hurt, you know what I mean?”
“Rat? There are rats around here?” The Sergeant looked around him, suddenly more alert than he ever was when guarding the prisoners. “Where? I hope they do not head for the kitchen.”
“Never, Schultz—rats have a great survival instinct.” Hogan let out a short, loud breath. “What I mean is I don’t want to tattletale, but it’s my responsibility to look after my men, and I take that job very seriously.”
“Who are you talking about?”
Schultz twitched his moustache. “Hmf. The Englander, he is always in for some kind of trouble.”
“Oh, no, Schultz; Newkirk is a good soldier. It’s just that I think he’s going a little wire happy and he’s going to try to escape.”
Schultz shook his head. “Oh, that is naughty,” he said. “Where is he now?”
“I don’t know, Schultz. But I bet you he’s gonna try to get out of here when Captain Lehmann leaves. He might even get into his car.”
At this the guard laughed. “Into his car. Newkirk would not fit into the trunk!”
“Desperate men will try anything, Schultz. In the back seat, then! Don’t underestimate Newkirk.”
Again the Sergeant laughed. “What does he think he is: a suitcase?” he chuckled, enunciating every syllable. Hogan didn’t give up. “All right, Colonel Hogan, I will watch for him. And, I will check the Captain’s car.”
“You didn’t hear it from me, Schultz,” Hogan warned him. “I don’t want Newkirk to get hurt, but I don’t want him to think I’m selling him out, either.”
“Your secret is safe with me. You will not ‘rat’ with him.”
“On him, Schultz. On. Look, that’s the Captain’s car over there, isn’t it?”
Schultz looked over toward the Kommandant’s office. “Ja, that is it.”
“Go on, Schultz, go check it out.”
The pair was heading toward the car when the door to the Kommandantur opened, and both Klink and Lehmann stepped out onto the porch, with Lehmann toting a valise and a briefcase. “But I assure you, Captain Lehmann, that I do not give the prisoners any special gifts!” Klink looked out into the compound and saw his Sergeant of the Guard and Colonel Hogan approaching. “You can ask Hogan yourself—I am not very nice to the prisoners, am I, Hogan?” he asked, almost frantic for the American’s agreement.
Hogan shrugged. “Oh, I don’t know about that,” he retorted. “A couple of months ago, you let us have a piece of white bread that didn’t have any mold on it!” Hogan looked at Lehmann. “We were all pretty grateful for that, especially the men who have latrine detail. Things can get pretty grim around here, depending on how long it is between deliveries from Supply.”
“Hogan.” Klink said the word like a swear through his teeth. Hogan raised his eyebrows innocently.
“I will be leaving now, Kommandant Klink,” Lehmann said tightly. “See you keep a better hold on your supplies.” He looked at Schultz. “Sergeant, take my bag and put it in the car.”
“Jawohl, Herr Captain!”
Hogan shot a knowing look at Schultz, whose face showed a split second of panic. Then the guard took the suitcase and opened the trunk. To his immense relief, there was no one hiding inside. He looked at Hogan and smiled broadly. Hogan shrugged his shoulders in a “Well, how should I know?” gesture, and turned back to observe Klink and Lehmann.
”I will be filing my official report today, Colonel Klink. Someone will contact you next week to discuss further action.”
“Awfully glad you’re going to keep in touch,” Hogan put in cheerfully. “Don’t be a stranger now!”
Klink glared at the senior prisoner of war. “Hogan,” he seethed.
Hogan just smiled and watched as Schultz took the briefcase from the Captain. “Put that in the back seat, Sergeant,” Lehmann said.
Schultz accepted the order and opened the door to the car. He was about to put in the briefcase when he saw something on the floor. “Herr Kommandant! Herr Kommandant!” he cried. He reached inside the car as Klink and Lehmann came closer, with Hogan trailing right behind them. “Oh, this is naughty. Very, very naughty!” the guard scolded as he pulled out a cringing, cowering Corporal Newkirk.
“Oh, why’d you have to go and do that, Schultzie?” Newkirk complained as Klink started to puff and splutter. “I could have been free as a bird if you’d just kept your ruddy mouth shut.”
“Corporal Newkirk, what are you doing in Captain Lehmann’s car?” Klink managed to ask.
“Well, sir, I was trying to escape, if you must know,” the Englishman replied. “I figured if the Captain was going out anyway, he might as well give me a lift—saves on petrol, and all that. War rationing, you know.”
“Insolence!” Klink replied.
“Besides,” Newkirk said as he struggled a little against Schultz’s grip on his arm, “it’s not like he wasn’t taking anything else out with him anyway.”
“What do you mean by that?” Klink asked.
“Yes, Newkirk, what do you mean by that?” Hogan asked, finally moving in.
Newkirk gestured behind him into the back seat. “Well, I mean, take a look for yourself! Look at all the booty he’s got. I wouldn’t have taken up nearly as much space, really!”
The Germans and Hogan looked into the car. Klink gasped, Schultz “tut”ted, and Lehman spluttered. Hogan just crossed his arms across his chest and shook his head. “What are those things doing in there?” the Captain demanded.
“Nice try, Captain. Now I know why you were so thorough when you went through the barracks!” Hogan announced.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?” Hogan asked.
“It is?” Klink asked, amazed.
“Of course it is!” Hogan replied. “Captain Lehmann was taking advantage of his position as auditor to collect all the little things that he’d like to have for himself!”
“That is a lie!” Lehmann exclaimed.
“Of course, he’d make sure to take a few things from the prisoners that weren’t important to him—tin cups, old plates, things like that,” Hogan continued, undeterred. “But when he finished, he’d pick and choose the best of the best and then drive off with it until he got to the next prison camp and started all over again!”
“Diabolical!” Klink breathed.
“I have never heard such a thing!” Lehmann spluttered.
“Neither have I,” Hogan agreed, shaking his head. “It’s shocking behavior, just shocking.”
“There is nothing in this camp that I would want—and even if I did, I would never take anything!”
“Oh, really?” Hogan looked back toward the car, where Newkirk was pulling a box out of the back seat. He handed it to Schultz, who was looking on, and started pulling objects out of it. Hogan made a face of disappointment. “And I suppose this little box of goodies just walked into your car under its own power?”
“That’s my wine!” Klink practically yelped, as he snatched the bottle out of Newkirk’s hand.
“Your finest wine,” Hogan amended.
“My finest wine!” Klink confirmed in horror, looking at the label. He turned on the Captain. “Captain Lehmann, you will leave this camp at once. I will send a report of my own to Berlin, and you can be certain it will include all the details of your activities here at Stalag 13.”
“Kommandant Klink, this is preposterous! These men are making a fool of you!” Lehmann protested.
“Don’t try and pull the wool over Colonel Klink’s eyes,” Hogan suggested pointedly. “He knows you had access to every part of camp. No one else had that.”
Klink looked over to where Newkirk was still pulling items out of the box—a silver snuff box, some candles… a coffee pot! Did Lehmann stop at nothing? “Now it is you who will wait for someone to contact you, Captain.” Triumphant at last, he added, “And we will see what action has to be taken then.” With a snort, he added, “Diiiss-miiiiissed.”
Klink turned on his heel and headed back toward his office. “Schultz!” he called. The guard looked up from the bundle of items in his arms. “See to it that Captain Lehmann is escorted out of camp, and then come to my office with Colonel Hogan and Corporal Newkirk.”
“Jawohl, Herr Kommandant!”
Klink turned away, then suddenly did a double take. “And make sure you bring everything the Captain stole.” And he briskly went back up the stairs to his office.
“Tough luck, Captain,” Hogan said, shaking his head. “I guess crime doesn’t pay, even in war time.”
“You will pay for this, Colonel Hogan. I will not forget you!” Lehmann said venomously, as he stepped into his car and Schultz closed the door after him.
“No thanks necessary, Captain,” Hogan replied as Newkirk came to stand beside him. He let his cane slip from his hands and tumbled forward, only to be caught by Newkirk. Then he slowly rose up and smiled at the Englishman, before turning a satisfied smile on Lehmann. “I was just doing my job.”
Five days later, Hogan found himself called to Klink’s office. “I thought you would be interested in knowing, Hogan, that Captain Lehmann will not be doing any more audits of Luft Stalags.”
“No?” Hogan replied.
“No. Based on what happened at Stalag 13, Captain Lehmann has been removed from Central Supply, and the Gestapo is investigating. They think he may have been involved in the black market!”
“Really?” Hogan asked, trying to sound astonished.
“Who knows how much damage he might have done, if he was allowed to continue this kind of immoral activity?” Klink declared, shaking his head.
“Who knows?” Hogan repeated, looking around the office. He spied the box of things that had been pilfered from Lehmann’s collection by his own men, sitting in a box on the safe behind Klink’s desk. He raised an eyebrow when he realized the bottle of wine was still among the items.
“Imagine the nerve of that Captain Lehmann! Using Stalag 13 to fill his own pockets!”
Hogan had watched Klink fume and pace in his office several times in the past week about the whole affair, and ensured he made suitably sympathetic sounds of support. Now, he rounded the desk to get closer to the box and said, “That certainly was unfair, sir. I’m just glad you’re going to return everything he took to the prisoners.”
“Of course I’m going to return—wait a minute, why should I return everything? Some of those things the men should not have had!”
“Well, you can afford to make a gesture,” Hogan proposed.
“And I suppose shortening Corporal Newkirk’s sentence in the cooler to one week was not a gesture?” Klink retorted.
“That was only being fair, Kommandant. After all, if Newkirk hadn’t been caught in Captain Lehmann’s car, you might never have known what he was trying to pull!”
Klink harrumphed but did not reply.
“Come on, Kommandant,” Hogan said in his smoothest, most convincing voice. “Why not be big about the whole thing? Your original report to Berlin didn’t include the things that were already dispensed,” Hogan reminded him, fingering the bottle of wine. Good call of Le Beau’s to include one of these little beauties. “And what are a couple of spoons and candlesticks to a man like you, who already has so much?” He picked up the bottle and ostensibly studied the label. “And such good quality.” He looked around the room for a corkscrew.
“That man was a coward, Hogan. A coward!” Klink declared, snatching the bottle out of Hogan’s hands. Still intent on disparaging the auditor, he didn’t take notice as Hogan discovered a corkscrew in one of the desk drawers and handed it to him. Automatically, Klink plunged it into the cork and started turning it. Hogan found two glasses and placed them on the desk as the German continued speaking. “Using unarmed, cowed men to build up his own wealth. It’s unthinkable!”
“Yes, it is,” Hogan agreed. He sat down in the chair in front of Klink’s desk and began to massage his injured leg with both hands as the Kommandant finally succeeded in uncorking the wine.
“You know, Hogan, I wouldn’t put it past him to have been causing trouble at every Stalag that has a report pass his desk.” Klink carefully poured two full glasses of wine. “Lehmann was a dangerous man. But he won’t be bothering anyone again!” He picked up the glasses and turned to Hogan, who was frowning as he continued to try to soothe his throbbing leg. “You should take the medicine from the hospital, Hogan,” he suggested matter-of-factly. “You’re obviously still in pain. Those pills don’t do anyone any good sitting in the bottle.”
Hogan reached out for the glass Klink offered. “Neither does this wine, Kommandant,” he answered. He took a sip and sat back in his chair. “But it sure tastes a lot better going down.”
Klink was about to respond when he saw the glass in his hand as though for the first time. He sighed resignedly and took a long drink himself. “It certainly does.”
The two sat drinking in silence for a moment before Klink said, “And there’s something else you should know.”
“What’s that?” Hogan asked. He stiffened slightly in response to a twinge in his shoulder. A gulp of wine followed, and he relaxed.
“Major Schafer’s article about you won’t be making it to publication.”
Klink shook his head and kept drinking. When he emptied his glass, Hogan reached over to the desk and, picking up the bottle, refilled Klink’s and then topped up his own. Klink took another long drink but didn’t speak. Hogan raised an eyebrow, then took a small sip out of his own glass before saying simply, “I guess I wasn’t that interesting, after all.”
“Oh, you were interesting, all right,” Klink countered. “It’s what you had to say that was the problem.”
“What’s wrong with what I said?” Hogan asked, his voice defensive. Besides the pack of lies I told at the end of our conversation. “As I remember it, he couldn’t wait to take everything I said and run it straight to Berlin!”
“That’s true,” Klink agreed. “But he took everything you said a bit too seriously. Did you know he phoned Berlin after your little chat, and suggested that they move their armaments to Leipzig and Wiesbaden?”
Hogan furrowed his brow. “Why did he do that?”
“Who knows?” Klink replied with a wave of his hand. “But something you said made him think that those two cities were vulnerable to attack, and he believed it enough to convince Berlin it was true.”
“What would I know about that?”
“Obviously, nothing.” Klink paused and drained his glass. Once again, Hogan reached over to refill it. He gauged how much wine he had in his own glass and did not add to it. “Leipzig and Wiesbaden were left alone this week. But Berlin was bombed within an inch of its life by your destructive Allied planes last night.”
Hogan’s face broke out in a huge grin. “Really?” he said.
“You don’t have to look so happy about it,” Klink said sourly.
“Oh, yes, I do,” Hogan replied. “I’m only sorry I wasn’t there to help them do it!”
“It was barbaric!”
“Tell that to the people in London, who’ve already been through all this.”
Klink snorted. “Don’t you worry, Hogan. We’ll be ready tonight.”
“Maybe the Allies won’t go back tonight.”
“They will,” Klink predicted. He sighed. “They will.”
Hogan drained his glass and placed it on the desk. “Then God help us all.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan tried to ignore the voice persistently attempting to wake him up. “Mmmm,” he moaned, unable to turn away.
“Robert, I need you to talk to me.”
“Mmm… no. Please… please, just let me sleep.”
“You did it, Robert. You succeeded. In both tasks.”
Hogan opened his eyes and turned slowly toward the voice, surprised to see the peaceful face of Gunter Kleinschmidt looking back at him. Hogan felt ashamed. “I’m sorry, Gunter. I’m sorry I used you to get the Germans.”
“Friends help each other, Robert. Right?” Hogan furrowed his brow. “You helped me; I helped you,” Kleinschmidt explained.
“I didn’t help you,” Hogan protested softly, his head pounding, his body trembling.
“You did not ignore me in the car. You did not spurn me because I was the enemy. When I was frightened, you comforted me.”
“But you were—”
“Robert,” came Kleinschmidt’s voice. His strong, insistent voice gave Hogan pause. Then the German added, “You were my friend.”
Hogan nodded, and closed his eyes as he gave in to his body’s demands to rest. “And you were mine.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan was trying to rub away an unrelenting headache when Kinch knocked on his door. “Come.”
The radio man came inside and closed the door behind him. “London just called, Colonel.” Hogan paused, his hand still on the back of his neck, and looked at the Sergeant. “They say congratulations on a job well done, and they wanted you to know that last night’s raid was a big success—the RAF sent in four hundred and forty Lancasters, and had only a two percent loss. There were diversionary attacks on other cities, but the losses were still minimal.”
Hogan smiled and let his hand slide away from his neck. “That’s great,” he said.
“You look tired, sir,” Kinch observed.
“It’s been a long war,” Hogan replied. He sat on his lower bunk, glancing fleetingly toward his upper berth. His preferred sleeping place, he was looking forward to being able to climb back up there easily. But that was still days away from being a possibility.
“What’d Klink have to say?” Kinch asked.
“Nothing special. Newkirk will be out of the cooler today.”
“Good. He’s getting a bit tired of the rich food Louis keeps bringing him. I think he likes the bland English stuff better.”
“There’s no accounting for taste.” Another knock on the door. “Come.”
Corporal Langenscheidt entered, carrying a rolled-up blanket. “Colonel Hogan,” he said, “Kommandant Klink asked me to bring you this blanket. He says all mattresses must be covered.” Hogan furrowed his brow. “He says he is sure it is in the Geneva Convention.”
Hogan and Kinch exchanged looks, and Hogan nodded toward the German. “Thanks, Langenscheidt,” he said. He stood up to accept the bundle, grimacing as he straightened his left leg. “I’m not as young as I used to be,” he said in response to the Corporal’s look of concern.
“None of us are,” Langenscheidt replied.
The Colonel and the young guard locked eyes for a moment, speaking without words. Not taking his eyes off the Corporal, Hogan said finally, “Kinch, can you please get me some water? I need to take a pill.”
“Sure, Colonel,” Kinch replied, and, not quite sure what was transpiring between the two men, he left the room.
“You are still unwell, Colonel Hogan,” Langenscheidt surmised when they were alone.
“Getting better, Langenscheidt,” Hogan answered. “Just need a little help once in awhile.”
“We all do,” the guard agreed.
Hogan nodded, then said quietly, “I guess that’s why God sometimes sends us angels.”
Langenscheidt’s eyes brightened, and a gentle smile touched his lips. “Ja, Herr Oberst. I think that is why.”
Kinch came back into the room and handed Hogan the cup of water. “Here you go, Colonel,” he said. He looked from one man to the other, certain that he had missed something important, but not sure what it was. “Your aspirin, Colonel?”
Hogan continued looking at Langenscheidt for a moment, then finally shook his head. “Those pills from the hospital are still on my desk, Kinch. I’ll take them.” Kinch raised his eyebrows, but said nothing. Hogan turned back to the guard and smiled softly. “Sometimes you just have to accept the gifts you’re given.”
Text and original characters copyright 2006 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.