2003 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
2003 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Best Overall Story
In your multitudes
Scarce to be counted
Filling the darkness
With order and light
You are the sentinels
Silent and sure
Keeping watch in the night
Keeping watch in the night”
Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg, “Les Miserables”
Alain Boublil Music Ltd., copyright 1985
The men cautiously emerged from their tunnel entrance outside the camp, concealed in the woods by what appeared to be an old tree trunk. Colonel Robert E. Hogan, U.S. Army Air Corps, climbed out first, checking to see if the guard tower’s searchlight from the nearby LuftStalag 13 was coming their way. All looked clear and he sprang from the trunk with practiced agility.
Hogan was a dark-haired, handsome man, almost six feet in height, in his late thirties in age. Even though he had been a prisoner-of-war for over two years he had managed to keep himself fit. He knew that while the POW status of his men meant they were cut off from their units, their present and more dangerous mission demanded just as much that they stay in good condition. Hogan commanded a volunteer force of men who had allowed themselves to be taken prisoner in order to commit espionage and sabotage behind enemy lines under the unique, and unwitting, protection of a German-run POW camp.
He signaled to Sergeant First Class Andrew Carter, his American explosives expert, to follow. Carter, a thin, wiry man, popped up out of the exposed tree trunk and crouched down beside Hogan. Next up the escape tunnel was Corporal Peter Newkirk, British RAF, an affable man with hands fast enough to pick anyone’s pocket and a genius for accents. Hogan had relied on him many times to impersonate German officers on the telephone in arranging the “cooperation” of some recalcitrant minion for several of their typically cunning operations.
“Let’s go,” commanded Hogan.
The three men were dressed entirely in black; their faces smeared with grease to help conceal them from the guards surveying the camp’s perimeter. Each took quick glances in all directions around them, then vanished silently single file deeper into the woods.
Carter nervously fingered the satchel that hung around his neck. He wasn’t frightened at the thought of handling explosives; instead, the experience made him feel as thrilled as a ten-year-old stealing his first smoke behind a neighbor’s shed. It was the mission itself, which always entailed some risk for Hogan’s men. This evening’s mission seemed ordinary enough, to meet up with an underground contact from the nearby town of Hammelburg. Tonight they would provide him with explosives for fellow partisans to sabotage strategic targets, possibly bridges or power stations, considered important to the German military.
This evening, however, Carter felt jittery and on edge, his lean stomach knotted with anxiety. He occasionally developed these premonitions before missions and would try to conceal his uneasiness from the others. After all, he was with Colonel Hogan, one of the most admired espionage and sabotage leaders in the Allied forces. Usually the anticipation of being able to work for Hogan on another exciting adventure was enough to distract him from being worried, but this evening things felt different. Carter was at a loss to explain why and tried to shake off the vague, foreboding thoughts as he pressed through the underbrush of the forest.
Newkirk brought up the rear and was glad that Hogan and Carter were forging a path for him through the brush. They had agreed to parallel the main road, without venturing too close to it and possible exposure by enemy patrols, but that meant the dense foliage slowed their progress. Newkirk paused and glanced behind. No sounds followed them. One advantage, he supposed, to pushing their way through the thick growth of the forest meant it would be hard, if not impossible, for someone to silently sneak up on them. Thank 'eaven for little favors, he thought to himself with a slight smile, and relaxed his grip on the British Sten submachine gun he carried.
After about an hour of slow, but steady progress through the forest Hogan held up one hand to signal for them to stop. The three men crouched in the brush, breathing hard, their eyes peering through the growth and listening intently for any sounds. Hogan wiped his sweaty brow with one sleeve, wishing for a cooler night. The early part of that November had been typically chilly, especially in the evenings, but in the past couple of days they’d experienced an unusual warming spell.
“Sure wish Dubois had left us some lighter flak vests,” he said.
“Yeah, maybe ones with holes in them,” mused Carter. “I bet they’d be a lot cooler that way.”
Hogan shook his head while Newkirk looked at him and rolled his eyes. Carter could always be counted on to make such typically inane comments.
The bulletproof flak vests had been a present from a French member of the resistance, Maurice Dubois, after they helped to pass the much-needed armament to his colleagues.1 At the time, Hogan viewed the gifts with skepticism as to their usefulness for his men. The vests were bulky and uncomfortable to wear and on nights like these they made you sweat profusely. However, he knew the Frenchman’s pride would be offended if he refused his offer.
Then, after Corporal Louis LeBeau, the French member of their team, had been shot on one of their nightly forays2, Hogan enacted a rule that all his men don a vest before an operation. They had been fortunate that night—LeBeau suffered what turned out to be only a minor grazing wound—but Hogan realized the vests would do them no good sitting in a foot locker back in their barracks. After that incident, he insisted everyone going out wear one, including himself.
“What’s our next step, Colonel?” asked Newkirk. “Is our underground contact meeting us here?”
“Uh unh,” grunted Hogan. “We’re supposed to rendezvous with him further ahead on the other side of this road we’ve been following. If he’s on time, we should meet up with him at oh-two-hundred hours.”
He pulled back the sleeve of his black zippered jacket and tried to catch some moonlight to illuminate the face of his watch. The hands indicated twenty minutes to two. Damn, he thought. The thick woods had slowed them down and were threatening to make him late for the meeting.
Punctual to a fault, Hogan fretted silently that if they were late their contact would not wait for them, necessitating another “escape” the following evening to attempt to pass the explosives. He couldn’t blame him if he felt the need to leave, there was enough risk for the contact to be out this late past curfew, but he wished there were an easier way to pass information and supplies to his counterparts in the underground.
“We’d better step on it,” he whispered to his men. “We’re running behind and have to cover some ground before we reach the meeting point.”
Carter and Newkirk nodded their assent.
“Why don’t we just travel on the road, Colonel?” asked Carter. “It would sure make for easier going than this.”
“Too much danger of being detected by patrols,” said Hogan as he shook his head. “They’re out in force tonight—we’ve already heard one go by and we can’t risk being caught by surprise.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” agreed Carter. He wished there were no moon at all that night so they would be better concealed.
He gazed up at the sky through the treetops and was able to pick out the pattern of stars that formed the Big Dipper. He recalled from his high school days when he briefly fancied himself an amateur astronomer that the group formed the anchor to a constellation of stars known as “Ursa Major,” or the “Great Bear.” Usually, orienting himself by familiar star patterns made him feel more at ease in his surroundings. Their orderliness imposed a sense of safe permanence to his perilous world, but this evening he couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that hung in his gut. He looked down at the ground and shook his head as he picked up his satchel and stepped out after the other men.
Newkirk peered through the woods across the road and nudged Hogan in the side. “Look ‘ere, Colonel,” he whispered. “That may be the bloke we’re waiting for.” He pointed across the road to an indistinct moving shape.
Hogan looked where Newkirk was pointing. “Right,” he said. “Go around each side. We need to make sure it’s him before we approach. I’ll go across the road to reach him from the rear. Wait for my signal before you move in.”
Carter and Newkirk slipped through the woods, each moving about thirty meters in distance from where Hogan crouched. They waited to hear his distinctive whistle after the sign and countersign had been satisfied, signaling they could cross the road and join the gathering.
Hogan saw that they had positioned themselves, then stood up slightly to peer down the road. No sign of a patrol. Hunched over, he dashed across the dirt road, pausing on the other side to check out the vague figure. He could see the man turning toward the sound of his approach, fear etched on his worn face.
Hogan stepped from behind a tree, keeping himself partially concealed, and said in a low voice, “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”
The short, mustachioed man, a light scarf around his neck and woolen cap with the brim pulled down, seemed to relax slightly and clearing his dry throat, hoarsely called out, “Except when the tulips are in bloom.”
“Okay,” said Hogan, straightening up and stepping out in full view of the man. His brown eyes twinkled as he grinned and said, “Good to see you, Pieter.”
The man nodded in relief and mopped his brow with a kerchief he pulled from his coat pocket. “Papa Bear, I am getting too old for this,” he said. “I wish there were an easier way for us to meet.”
“You and me both,” said Hogan. “But, it’s difficult for us to come here during the day and you can’t risk being seen meeting anyone in town.”
The underground contact nodded his head in agreement as Hogan whistled softly for his men. Newkirk and Carter broke into the small clearing at the same time, each from the opposite side.
“Mein Gott!” exclaimed Pieter. “I didn’t even know you had others with you. Thank heaven you weren’t a patrol—I might never have heard you coming.”
“Aw, it’s all right, sir,” said Carter. “We’ve gotten pretty good at what we do. Besides, we’ve been checking all along the route and there’s no sign of a patrol in the area now.”
He flashed a boyish grin at the man, feeling relieved that the contact had been made safely. Maybe those vague feelings of dread he’d experienced earlier were just his usual needless worrying.
“I know of your exploits,” Pieter said. “Your team, Papa Bear, has accomplished many successful missions against the despised Third Reich. If it weren’t for men like you, we in the underground might have given up our efforts long ago.”
Hogan clapped a strong hand on Pieter’s shoulder. “We all play a part,” he said. “The targets your men help to eliminate makes our job seem all the more worthwhile.”
He turned to Carter. “Have you got the package?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” answered Carter. He slipped the satchel’s strap over his head and handed the bag over to Pieter. “There’s enough plastic explosive in there to blow up a dozen bridges,” he said eagerly, his eyes shining.
Pieter nodded and took the bag, slinging it over his shoulder. “It will help us to make life difficult for our enemy in many ways,” he said. “My men greatly appreciate what you have done for us.”
Newkirk touched the tip of his gun to his forehead in salute and grinned cockily. “That’s what we’re ‘ere for, Gov’ner,” he exclaimed. “Don’t ‘esitate to call on us anytime, day or night.”
Hogan chuckled. “All right already, we’ve got to get moving again before a patrol does show up.”
He turned and clasped the old man by the hand. “Pieter, my friend, take care. Thanks to your efforts I hope to see the war come to an end and you retire from this business before much longer.”
“The same for me, Papa Bear,” said Pieter.
He paused as he began to turn away. “With all the dangers around us one never knows...in case this is our last meeting...”
He pulled Hogan’s hand forward to capture him in an embrace. Hogan was surprised by the sudden emotion of the gesture, but wrote it off to the sentimentality of an old, tired man.
“Nonsense, Pieter,” Hogan scoffed. “You’ll have many more stories to tell your grandchildren once this war is over.”
“I hope you are right, Papa Bear,” Pieter responded solemnly. “I hope you are right.”
He pointed to the other side of the woods across the road. “I’ll return that way,” he said. “There’s a path about a kilometer into the woods that will take me to the outskirts of town. From there I can slip through unnoticed to my home.”
Hogan nodded. “We’ll cross with you, then split on the opposite side and return to home base. Lead the way, Pieter.” Hogan glanced at Carter and Newkirk to make sure they were ready to move out and signaled for them to follow.
The men paused at the edge of the road, looking up and down for signs of patrols. The way seemed clear as Pieter stepped out into the open and began to make his way across.
Hogan, still hunched over, followed a few meters behind as Carter and Newkirk kept a watchful eye in either direction. Pieter was almost to the other side of the road when Hogan spotted the small dark disk that was embedded in the dirt immediately in front of him.
“Pieter, no!” he cried out, stepping towards him.
In horror, he watched himself as if in slow motion try to reach out with one hand as Pieter’s foot came down directly on the hidden mine. The resulting deafening explosion suddenly rocked the quiet countryside and Hogan felt himself being propelled backwards as his world went black.
The forest seemed to echo around them as Newkirk sat up first, shaking his head to try and expel the ringing sound in his ears. He coughed as the dust and debris of the explosion still settled around him. Carter was off to his side by about a meter, and by now was also sitting up and shaking his head to try and clear the thundering reverberation.
“My Gawd, Andrew, what on earth was that?” Newkirk exclaimed.
“I, cough, I’m not sure,” said Carter, rubbing his eyes that were watering from all the dust. “A bomb maybe? I sure don't remember hearing any planes overhead, though.”
“What a gawdawful racket—we’ll be bloody lucky if that doesn’t bring the patrols down on us,” said Newkirk, dusting himself off and looking around for his weapon. He found the Sten gun lying in the brush beside him and picked it up—it seemed to be in working order.
Newkirk came shakily to his feet and took a deep breath, still reeling from the blast. His lungs hurt from all the dust he’d inhaled and he felt as though someone was still banging a gong inside his head. He stumbled over to Carter and gave him a hand to help him to his feet.
The two men stood and looked out across the road. Their jaws dropped as they found themselves staring at a huge crater in the road, easily three meters in diameter. The scene was still cloudy from all the dust in the air and they both blinked several times to dispel the notion it was merely an illusion.
“Geez, a land mine?” Carter wondered aloud. “How did we miss it when we came across the road the first time? I could have sworn we checked it out before we passed through. I know I—”
“Never mind that,” interrupted Newkirk, “where’s the Colonel and Pieter?” As he searched around his voice became more worried and anxious. “I see something over there,” he said, pointing to some brush on the other side of the road. “Careful now, watch where you step,” he directed as they picked their way across the still hazy, moonlit road.
Newkirk looked down quizzically at the smoldering pile of rags half concealed by some bushes. He suddenly recognized a shoe among the indescribable heap and realized with a sickening feeling that little else remained of the underground contact he knew only as Pieter. The air was acrid with the odor of charred flesh. Newkirk fought the urge to gag and turned away.
“Don’t bother, Carter,” he said weakly. “Pieter’s dead.”
“Are you sure?” asked Carter. “Maybe he’s still alive and we can get him back to camp. Did you check—”
“I checked!” Newkirk snapped. “'e…'e must’ve been directly over the mine when it went off—there’s nothin' left to take back to camp…” His voice trailed off.
“And Colonel Hogan?” Carter asked, fear in his voice.
“The Colonel,” said Newkirk, alarmed, his head snapping up. He peered about desperately, hoping to hear some sign of movement in the brush to signal Hogan’s presence. “Colonel,” he called out, whirling around. “Colonel 'ogan!” No answer greeted him and he began to frantically fan the brush with the butt of the submachine gun, hoping that Hogan had been far enough away from the blast to have been blown clear and would be found unharmed.
“Wait, Newkirk,” Carter said breathlessly, “that must be him over there.” He pointed to a pair of legs protruding from the brush across the road, near where they had both previously been lying.
Ignoring the possibility of additional mines, Newkirk sprinted over and knelt down beside the still, prone figure.
Hogan was face down, lying half out in the road, his head resting against a large rock that extended from the edge of the woods. A growing pool of blood seeped out from under him and was spreading slowly across the dirt.
Newkirk grasped the limp body by one shoulder and gently rolled him over on his back. Several fingers of blood ran down the side of his ashen face from a jagged cut near his left temple. A shudder passed through Newkirk as he looked down and saw a twisted piece of metal embedded in Hogan’s chest. He hesitantly reached down and placed his fingers over Hogan’s neck to feel for a pulse.
“'e’s still alive, Carter!”
Carter dropped his gun and knelt down on the opposite side, his face vacant with disbelief.
“Quick, find something to stop the bleedin' from that cut on 'is 'ead,” Newkirk directed.
Carter fumbled through his pockets, finally pulling a kerchief from his jacket and pressing the folded cloth against the wound.
Hogan moaned softly, but made no movement.
Newkirk tried to take hold of the protruding metal fragment. “Christ, it’s still bloody hot!” he exclaimed as he jerked his hand away, waving it to cool the blistered fingers.
He withdrew his hand up into the sleeve of his jacket for protection and grabbed the piece again. Easing it slightly back and forth, Newkirk gradually withdrew the shrapnel and tossed it aside. He carefully probed the tear in Hogan’s jacket with his fingers and whistled his relief.
“The flak vest must've stopped it—it doesn’t seem to 'ave penetrated.”
“Is he going to be okay?” Carter asked, looking up worriedly at Newkirk.
“I don’t know—'is pulse is weak, but seems steady enough.” Newkirk ran his hands down Hogan’s body, checking for broken bones and cuts. “Other than that nasty cut on 'is 'ead 'e seems to be in one piece. We’ve got to get him back to camp though and then figure out 'ow to get 'im to a doctor.”
“That won’t be easy,” said Carter.
“No, but neither will be getting back to camp. We 'aven’t got a car so that means we’ll 'ave to carry 'im the whole way. 'ere, Carter, take 'old of 'is legs.”
Newkirk carefully folded Hogan’s arms over his chest and grabbed him under the shoulders as the two men lifted him up between them and began to slowly make their way back through the woods.
Carter halted abruptly, pulling Newkirk up short behind him as Hogan lay slack, suspended between them.
“Whoa, Carter,” Newkirk whispered, “what are you doing?”
The two men were breathing hard. They’d had to stop several times along the way to rest their weary, numb arms, neither one willing to voice the thought they might not make it back before the partial cover of darkness was lost to the approaching dawn.
“I’m pretty sure…we’re near the camp,” Carter said, panting. “I’ll go ahead on my own…and find the tunnel. You wait here…I’ll be right back.” He stepped into the increasingly transparent gloom and disappeared into the brush.
Newkirk looked down at Hogan. The man had not stirred once during the exhausting two-hour journey, even though the going had been rough. They’d almost dropped him twice from fatigue and sudden plunges in terrain as they’d made their way through the thick woods.
Newkirk sat next to him in the silence and prayed that he would be okay, but worried as to how they were going to get him medical care. The gaping three-inch incision along his temple was now thickly outlined in dark, clotted blood. It seemed to have finally stopped bleeding but had begun to show an ugly purplish bruise that extended out from its edges. Newkirk had taught himself how to apply his limited sewing skills to inserting a few stitches here and there when a member of their cadre suffered a deep cut, but this was well beyond his abilities, he thought.
Finally, Carter reappeared from the brush and crept over to Newkirk. “Yup, the entrance is up ahead on our left,” he said. “The guard in the tower seems to be asleep—everything looks clear.”
He reached down and lifted Hogan’s legs as Newkirk once more gently grasped him under the arms.
“'ang in there, Colonel,” Newkirk said softly, placing his head next to Hogan’s. “You’re almost 'ome.”
They moved out quietly and wound their way through the woods to the vine-covered stump that concealed their tunnel entrance. Crouching behind it, they peered over the top looking for signs of patrols along the outer fence or roving spotlights headed their way. All seemed still. Carter lifted the lid and stepped onto the upper rungs of the ladder contained within.
“Hand him over to me and the two of us can carry him down,” he whispered.
Carter held Hogan’s legs and began to descend as Newkirk bent over the rim of the stump, gradually lowering Hogan by his wrists.
Once inside the main tunnel, Carter eased Hogan onto the floor and then raced to a dirt wall opposite the entrance where another ladder appeared extending upwards into darkness. He leaped halfway up the wall onto the ladder and scrambled to the top where he pounded twice against a beam that framed the ladder’s pinnacle. The sound was echoed by two thumps from above as an opening was revealed, spilling light into the tunnel below. Carter hurried up the ladder that descended, emerging into the frame of a bunkbed situated in the middle of their barracks.
“Where have you been?” demanded Corporal Louis LeBeau, who was seated at a long table next to the bunk. Unable to sleep, he had been engrossed in darning a pile of socks and turned from the table impatiently to confront Carter. He stopped in shock as he saw Carter’s taut face and the blood that streaked his jacket front.
“Mon Dieu!” he cried. “What happened?”
“It’s the Colonel,” Carter gasped. “He’s been hurt.” He reached down into the tunnel to extend his hand to Newkirk, who slowly ascended with the crumpled body slung over his shoulder.
Staff Sergeant James Kinchloe, the American communicator for their group, had been standing anxiously by the stove with a cup of cold coffee in his hands. When he saw Newkirk appear from below with the limp, bloodied figure the tall black man dropped his cup to the floor with a crash and ran over to the bunk.
“What on earth happened?” he asked as Carter and LeBeau helped shift the unconscious man off Newkirk’s shoulders onto a nearby bunk.
Newkirk stood gulping for breath as he leaned against the frame of the bunkbed. “We met Pieter…then started back…must’ve been a land mine in the road…Pieter was killed instantly.”
Carter broke in. “The Colonel was right behind him when the mine went off—he must have seen it because he tried to warn Pieter, but it was too late. The next thing we knew, Pieter was dead and Colonel Hogan was thrown by the explosion. It looked like he hit his head on a rock.”
Kinch bent over the bed and gingerly picked up the still body. Cradling Hogan in his arms like a child, Kinch walked to the end of the barracks and pushed open the door to Hogan’s room with his foot. “Louis, get some hot water and clean rags,” he ordered tersely.
Carter and Newkirk followed him into the private room as LeBeau hurried to fill a basin. Kinch placed Hogan carefully on his bed and directed Carter to move a table and lamp from the middle of the room to help illuminate the lower bunk.
He stooped over to examine Hogan and gasped when he saw the huge tear in the chest of his bloodstained jacket. Kinch quickly unzipped the coat, pulling it back to reveal a dented, but intact, shirtfront. He sucked in his breath, whistling softly as he murmured, “Thank God.”
Newkirk nodded. “Thank Gawd is right, Kinch” he added. “If 'e 'adn’t made us wear those flak vests, 'e’d be a goner for sure—there was a nice piece of shrapnel planted in 'is chest that would've gone right through 'im otherwise.”
Kinch gently turned Hogan’s head to the side so he could get a better look at the cut on his forehead. “That’s a nasty one,” he said, frowning. “Say, Newkirk, isn’t there a former medic in Barracks Three?”
“Yeah, Davis I think 'is name is. Transferred in about a month ago.”
“You’d better take the tunnel over to his barracks and bring him here right away,” Kinch said somberly.
“Right.” Newkirk sprinted out of the room to head back down the tunnel.
LeBeau and Carter stood nearby, looking helpless. Kinch glanced at them, then checked his watch. They had only an hour before morning roll call. He knew Hogan’s absence could not go unnoticed.
As though reading his mind, LeBeau spoke aloud. “What are we going to do when they call us to formation?”
“I’m not sure yet,” said Kinch. “But I hope we think of something quickly—we don’t have a lot of time.”
“I wonder what the Colonel would do?” asked Carter.
“I’ve been asking myself the same question,” admitted Kinch, looking at the other two anxiously.
Just then Newkirk returned with the medic, who still looked half-asleep.
“Newkirk told me what happened,” he said. “I’m not sure if there’s much I can do, but I’ll take a look.”
Davis peered down at the pallid face and grimaced. Taking a strip of cloth from LeBeau, he dipped it in the basin and began to gently wipe at the cut on Hogan’s forehead. Blood oozed slightly from the ends of the wound as he pressed along its edges. He cleaned the area as best he could, changing cloths frequently.
As Davis continued to check him over, Kinch pulled the other men aside to confer with them.
“I think I may have an idea,” he began. They looked at him expectantly to continue.
Turning to the medic, he asked, “Davis, if someone were to fall from an upper bunk, is it be possible for him to cut his head like that?”
Davis paused from his work and looked up. “Yeah, I suppose so. Although it would depend—he’d have to hit his head on something sharp.”
“Like the edge of a table, would that be sharp enough?” asked Kinch.
“Yeah, that might do it,” said Davis.
“Good, then I think I’ve got a plan that will get the Colonel some help. Newkirk, get one of his uniforms from his locker—we’ve got to get him out of this outfit and into his regular clothes. LeBeau, see if you can find Schultz, but don’t do anything yet, just find out where he is.”
The men nodded their understanding, relieved that someone had finally thought of something.
LeBeau returned as Newkirk finished buttoning the top of Hogan’s uniform shirt. “Schultz is asleep outside the Kommandant’s quarters,” he told the others.
“Good,” said Kinch. “When we’re ready, you’re going to call Schultz in and tell him the Colonel fell—that he’s been hurt and we found him in his room this way. Okay?”
“Oui,” answered the Frenchman. “Je comprends—I understand.”
Newkirk, who had been sitting by Hogan’s bed, interrupted them. “'ang on, gents. I think 'e may be comin' to.”
They gathered around the bunk as Hogan lifted a hand shakily to his head and groaned.
“'ow are you feeling, Colonel?” asked Newkirk.
“That you, Newkirk?” asked Hogan as his eyes fluttered open.
“Yes, sir. We’ve been awfully worried about you.”
“Unnnnhhhh,” he moaned as he cautiously stretched his limbs. Everything hurt—he felt as though he’d been run over by a truck. Hogan slowly turned his head toward Newkirk and squinted. “Wha…what happened?”
“There was a land mine, sir. You were knocked out in the explosion.”
“Where…where am I?”
“Uh, in your room, sir.” Newkirk’s voice seemed puzzled. “Carter and I carried you back 'ere and brought you in through the emergency tunnel.”
“What’s with the blackout?” asked Hogan. “Don’t tell me Klink’s afraid they’re going to bomb this place.” He rubbed his eyes with his fists.
The men all looked at each other uneasily.
“Blackout, Colonel?” Kinch finally asked, hesitantly.
“Yeah, what’s with the lights out?”
Hogan extended one hand to the side and encountered Newkirk sitting next to him. He fingered the corporal’s patches on his sleeve and froze.
“Newkirk?” he asked tensely.
“Yes, sir,” said Newkirk, still not comprehending.
“Colonel,” asked Kinch, scarcely restraining himself, “can you see me?”
Hogan turned his head in the direction of Kinch’s voice. Kinch was standing at the foot of the bunk, less than two meters away. Hogan’s eyes blinked open and shut, as though trying to will them to perceive something, anything. He slowly dropped his head back on the pillow and stared unseeing at the upper bunk in realization.
“No,” he hoarsely whispered.
“You mean…you mean you can’t see anything, Colonel?” asked Carter in disbelief.
Hogan shook his head slightly. “Tell me again, what happened?” he murmured, his deep voice subdued.
“Well, sir, you, me, and Carter went out to meet our underground contact, as scheduled,” said Newkirk reluctantly. “The meeting went off okay and then when we started back, well, we…we must've struck a land mine. Carter and I were both okay, but it seems you banged your 'ead against a rock when you landed. You’ve got a nasty cut on your fore'ead.”
Hogan raised a hand to his head, wincing as he touched his temple. He pressed his eyes shut with his fingers, trying to remember through the piercing headache what had happened. His mind was a jumble of thoughts and hazy recollections. He remembered leaving for the meeting through the tunnel. Making his way through the woods. Approaching the meeting site. With Pieter. He tried to sit up suddenly and the vice around his head tightened, making him feel sick to his stomach. Leaning on one elbow, he weakly shook his head to try and clear it.
“What…what happened to Pieter? Is he okay?” Hogan asked, concern in his voice. “Did he get away all right?”
The men looked at each other, uncertain what to say.
“I’m, uh, afraid not, sir,” said Newkirk quietly. “'e, uh, well, sir…'e was killed instantly.”
Hogan clenched his fists and laid back on the bed. He was still trying to bring a clear picture into his mind. He remembered seeing Pieter leave ahead of him. Pieter was a few steps away when he saw something in the road. Hogan remembered. He had seen a mine in the road. He had called out, had tried to warn him, but he was too slow, too late.
“I could have stopped him,” he blurted. “I didn’t warn him in time. I shouldn’t have—”
“Colonel,” Carter interrupted gently, “don’t blame yourself. There was nothing anyone could do.”
Hogan shook his head. His carelessness had caused a death. The death of a civilian. A dedicated partisan who sacrificed his life to help him and his men in their mission. He could never forgive himself.
There was a long, awkward pause among the men. No one knew what more to say to him.
Finally, Kinch looked at his watch. “Colonel,” he said anxiously, “we’ve got to decide what to do—it’s almost time for roll call.”
Of course. He still had men to think of, men who would be placed at risk if their clandestine activities were revealed because of his mistake.
“I, uh, I think I’ve come up with a plan, Colonel,” Kinch continued uncertainly.
It seemed odd for him to be proposing a plan to Hogan. Everybody thought of the Colonel as the idea man—the one who always thought of something in a pinch.
“If we can convince Klink that you injured yourself in a fall, they might believe us and be willing to take you to a doctor in town.”
“Go on,” said Hogan.
“We can say you fell from your bunk—that we heard a noise and came in here and found you like this.”
“It might work, Colonel,” implored LeBeau. “We have to do something to get them to take you to a doctor.”
Hogan nodded. Would Klink buy it? If not, there would likely be reprisals for him and his men. He still felt numb with confusion. He had no idea what was to happen, but he had to think of the others right now.
“Okay,” he said resignedly. “It’s worth a try.”
Kinch looked at LeBeau who nodded and hurried out of the room. He hoped this worked. If not, we’ll all have a lot of explaining to do, he thought. Worse than that, he wondered despondently if there was anything that could be done for the Colonel.
Hogan lay there, his face struggling to appear calm, as he anxiously closed and opened the fists at his sides.
The beginning rays of daylight were extending across the compound as LeBeau shook Sergeant Hans Schultz by the shoulder a second time. The big man was seated on a bench, his back against the wall outside the entrance to Kommandant Klink’s quarters. His mouth hung open and snores echoed throughout the camp.
LeBeau hissed, “Wake up, Schultz! We’ve got a problem!”
Schultz awoke suddenly with a snort and tried clumsily to scramble to his feet. When he spotted LeBeau standing in front of him he sighed with relief and eased his bulk back onto the bench.
“What is it, Cockroach?” he grumbled. “Can’t you see I was resting my eyes?”
LeBeau tried rousing him again. “Schultz, listen to me,” he insisted. “There’s been an accident—Colonel Hogan’s hurt.”
Schultz’s eyes popped open wide. “Wha...what did you say, LeBeau? This had better not be more of your monkey business!” he said sternly, shaking a finger at him.
“This is serious, Schultz. Colonel Hogan fell—he’s been badly hurt. You’ve got to come take a look at him.”
LeBeau grabbed him by the elbow as Schultz rose wearily from the bench.
“All right, all right, I’m coming.”
He picked up his rifle with his free hand and started across the compound, almost being dragged by the diminutive corporal.
“What is going on out here?” bellowed Colonel Wilhelm Klink, the Kommandant of LuftStalag 13, as he emerged from his quarters, slamming the door behind him. The tall, trim, balding man stood stiffly erect on the steps as he fingered the monocle in his left eye.
“I asked what is going on,” he repeated impatiently. He looked intently from Schultz to LeBeau.
“Herr Kommandant,” Schultz began, shaking LeBeau off his arm as he hurriedly saluted, “the prisoner informed me there has been an accident and I was just proceeding to investigate the matter.”
Schultz emphasized the articulation of his words in an officious-sounding voice, hoping his report would seem more legitimate and the Kommandant would not notice he had just awakened.
“Accident? I heard no accident,” Klink said in a preoccupied manner. “This is just one of their tricks. I have no time for such foolishness today, Corporal LeBeau.”
He waved his hand dismissively as he marched down the steps and began striding across the compound to his office.
“Colonel Klink!” LeBeau cried out. Klink came to a halt and wheeled about toward the Frenchman. LeBeau’s face looked tired and strained as he fought to keep his composure.
“Colonel Klink, it’s Colonel Hogan,” he said pleadingly.
“What about Hogan?” asked Klink, perplexed. Something about the prisoner’s voice sounded terribly desperate.
“He fell and is seriously hurt. You must come quickly. Please, sir,” he begged.
Klink looked at LeBeau with an incredulous expression. Hogan hurt? He thought the man was completely impervious the way he always managed to avoid any difficulty. However, there was something in the Frenchman’s agitation…
“All right, Corporal.” Klink nodded hesitantly and ordered Schultz to follow as they proceeded toward the barracks.
When Klink entered the private room at the end of the barracks he encountered the dismal faces of Hogan’s men as they looked up from where they stood encircling his bunk. They parted as Klink stepped closer, allowing him to near the edge of the bed where the motionless figure lay. Klink stared down at Hogan and blanched when he saw the ugly gash running along the side of his forehead. Hogan’s face was drained of color, his eyes closed and lips tight with pain.
Klink signaled for a chair to be moved closer and he slowly sank into it as he leaned over the bed.
“Colonel Hogan?” Klink spoke softly.
The eyes opened gradually, but remained staring straight up at the upper bunk.
“Colonel Hogan, can you hear me?”
“Yes, sir,” replied Hogan in a flat voice, his face expressionless.
“What happened?” asked Klink, real concern in his voice.
“I…I’m not sure.” Hogan licked his lips. “I was asleep up top and the next thing I knew Newkirk was waking me up.”
Newkirk piped up. “We 'eard a noise, Kommandant, and came running in 'ere and found Colonel 'ogan stretched out cold on the floor.”
“Oui, Colonel,” added LeBeau. “We think he must have hit his head on that table and knocked himself out.”
Klink looked over at the table. Incredible to think a fall had caused this much injury; Hogan’s cut looked to be very deep. His glance fell to the floor, where he continued to look for several moments with an odd expression on his face. There was no blood on the floor, he thought, perplexed. He looked over at Hogan. His uniform had no blood on it either. Klink was about to ask how this could be when Kinch broke in.
“He’s been unconscious for well over an hour, sir. We tried to do what we could for that cut, but he’ll need stitches. He just came to a few minutes ago.”
Klink rose and turned to Schultz. “Sergeant,” he ordered, “go to my office and call for an ambulance immediately.”
“Jawohl, Herr Kommandant,” answered Schultz as he came to attention and began to leave.
“There’s something else you should know, Kommandant,” said Hogan, his voice unsteady.
“Yes, Colonel Hogan, what is it?” asked Klink. Schultz halted by the door.
Hogan cleared his throat. “I’ve, uh, got more of a problem than just this cut.”
“Yes, yes, what is it then,” demanded Klink, seeming impatient.
“I…I can’t see,” said Hogan in a husky voice.
“I don’t understand. What do you mean you can’t see?” asked Klink with a puzzled expression.
“Kommandant, he’s blind,” said Kinch. “When he came to, we thought he was okay except for that gash on his forehead, but then, well, we learned he can’t see anything.”
Stunned, Klink turned toward Hogan. “Good heavens, Hogan, is that true?”
“I wouldn’t make something like that up,” he retorted bitterly.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…” Klink sputtered. “I just…” He noticed how Hogan, who had his head turned in his direction, seemed to be looking past him with a vacant stare. Shaken, Klink tried to compose himself and glanced up to see Schultz standing in the doorway looking aghast.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” he shouted. “I told you to call for an ambulance. Schnell!” Schultz, his mouth agape, backed hurriedly out of the room.
Klink began to depart after him, then stopped and returned to Hogan’s side. He placed his hand uncertainly on Hogan’s shoulder. Hogan stiffened at the unexpected touch, then gradually eased back on the bed.
“Colonel Hogan, I will accompany you to the hospital,” Klink said compassionately.
Hogan abruptly turned his head away and swallowed hard. He didn’t need anyone’s pity, Klink’s in particular. No one in the room moved as the Kommandant walked out slowly. In the ensuing silence Hogan condemned himself. He’d made a mistake and now had to pay the consequences. Though, he thought remorsefully, it hardly seemed a fair exchange for the life of a loyal friend.
“They’re back!” exclaimed Carter as he burst through the barracks door. The men rushed to the window and looked out to see the Kommandant’s car rolling through the main gate. It had been three days since Hogan was taken out of the camp by German military ambulance. That same morning, the men had assembled themselves in tribute as aides carried him from the barracks on a stretcher. Hogan made no response in return and they later dejectedly realized he probably wasn’t even cognizant of their gesture.
The camp had been visibly despondent during his absence. Word of his plight quickly circulated among the barracks and the first thing on the prisoners’ minds was the future of Hogan’s operation. Would he be asked to shut things down and perhaps be ordered home?
Everyone looked forward to the end of the war and the opportunity to return home to be reunited with loved ones. Yet, to be told to bring their operation to a halt while the Germans were still stubbornly resisting didn’t rest easy with most of the men. Certainly they wanted more than anything to have the bloodshed end, but only on terms that meant victory for the Allies. They felt their activities were an important part of making that possible and it was this compelling drive that motivated them to volunteer for assignment to Hogan’s team in the first place. To have it end in this manner didn’t seem right. They had all worked too hard to have the end to their mission not coincide with the conclusion of the war and an Allied victory celebration.
Colonel Klink had been most considerate of Hogan’s men in his absence, providing them with regular updates on his condition after visiting him at the hospital each day. He had seen to it that Hogan received the best of care, intervening on his behalf whenever some obstinate German nurse questioned the need to attend to a member of the enemy’s forces.
That morning, though, Klink returned from the hospital and glumly called the men in Hogan’s barracks together. They would be glad to know Colonel Hogan would be released that afternoon. However, and Klink looked genuinely downcast when delivering the news, there was no immediate hope of him regaining his sight. The German doctors had tried every medical test and procedure available to them. They concluded the region of his brain responsible for vision had been damaged when he fell and hit his head. There was nothing that could be done for him. There was a slight possibility the injury might heal over time and perhaps allow him to partially recover some ability to see, but they weren’t very optimistic in their prognosis.
The men were completely stunned by the news. They knew the injury had been serious, but thought all it might require was some medication or treatment. To hear Klink speak of damage that might be permanently disabling was unsettling for them all.
The men began to gather outside the door to their barracks to greet Hogan on his return. They watched as Klink’s staff car stopped in front of his office and Schultz bustled around from the driver’s side to open the door for the Kommandant.
The front passenger door opened simultaneously and an arm reached out to grasp the doorframe. As Klink emerged from the rear seat, Hogan stepped out from the front, swinging one foot out and beginning to turn and rise as he exited. He misjudged the height of the floorboard and caught his foot in the doorframe, throwing himself off balance. Lurching forward unexpectedly, he fell hard toward the Kommandant, heaving them both against the side of the vehicle.
Klink somehow managed to keep himself upright and supported him with both arms until Hogan, visibly flustered, regained his footing.
“Are you all right, Colonel Hogan?” Klink asked, slightly winded from the collision.
Hogan flinched as he touched the large bandage covering the stitches in his forehead.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine,” Hogan said, disgusted with himself for seeming so uncoordinated and helpless. He straightened up and hooked his thumbs in his flight jacket pockets, hoping to conceal how ill at ease he felt.
“I’ll have Sergeant Schultz take you to your barracks, if you’d like,” Klink offered.
“Yeah, sure, thanks,” Hogan mumbled awkwardly. Schultz took Hogan by the arm to lead him away. “Just a minute, Schultz. Kommandant?”
Hogan turned in the direction of Klink’s voice and hesitated. “Kommandant, I just wanted to thank you for all you’ve done. I, uh, really do appreciate it.”
“Think nothing of it, Hogan,” Klink replied. “I only wish, well…I only wish they had been able to do more for you.” He looked at Hogan’s pained face.
“I know, Kommandant—thanks anyway,” Hogan said quietly. He turned back toward Schultz, nodding for him to proceed.
As they walked away Klink stood there, watching Hogan’s tentative steps as Schultz led him by the arm, and shook his head in sympathy for someone he could not consider an enemy.
The men stood around awkwardly as Hogan and Schultz approached the barracks. A few tentative calls of, “Good to have you home again, Colonel,” and “We missed you, sir,” greeted him.
Hogan, sensing their uneasiness, forced a grim smile in return. “Yeah, good to see you guys, too,” he joked half-heartedly.
The group fell silent, unsure how to respond to his sparse attempt at humor. A few cleared their throats or coughed and began to make excuses about things they had to do and gradually wandered away.
Hogan hung his head. He had worried about how the men would accept him in his condition. His second day in the hospital he had begun to think he might still be capable of functioning as a member of the unit. After all, he was principally the idea man. Perhaps the others could continue to carry out missions at his direction.
What on earth could I have been thinking? There was no way he could expect them to want to carry out orders for someone in whom they had no confidence.
LeBeau interrupted his thoughts when he appeared at his side and squeezed his arm warmly.
“Colonel,” he said, “I’m making a special meal for you tonight. Veal cordon bleu—your favorite.”
“Thanks, Louis,” Hogan said, grateful for the distraction. “Uh, how much longer before it’s ready?”
“About another half an hour,” LeBeau said. “In the meantime, I’ve got some fresh coffee on the stove—would you like some?”
“Sounds good,” said Hogan. “Schultz, could you—”
“We’ll take it from here, Schultz,” broke in Kinch. “Thanks.”
Schultz nodded understandingly as Kinch took Hogan by the arm to lead him inside the barracks.
“If you should require anything, Colonel Hogan,” Schultz said, “please do not hesitate to call for me.”
Hogan half smiled. “Thanks, Schultz. I’ll do that.”
Yeah, if I should need anything, he thought dejectedly. Like only to be able to see again.
Kinch assisted Hogan inside and maneuvered him to the head of a long table in the middle of the room.
“Here you go, Colonel.”
Hogan reached out with one hand to feel for the bench that he’d heard Kinch pull back for him. Finding it, he hesitantly sat down and rested his arms on the table in front of him.
LeBeau placed a cup of coffee between his hands.
“Careful, Colonel, it’s hot.”
Hogan nodded and sat for a moment, savoring the smell. Odd how he’d never really appreciated little things like that before. The full, homey aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled his senses. Maybe I can rely on these other perceptions more fully, he thought.
He sat quietly, sipping the coffee, listening to his men as they resumed their normal routines and activities around the room.
“Kinch,” he called out.
“Yes, sir,” responded a voice immediately to his left.
Hogan started. Kinch had silently seated himself at the table without Hogan’s awareness.
“Sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
“That’s okay, Kinch, I, uh, just didn’t realize you were there.”
Hogan frowned slightly. He hoped the men couldn’t tell how jumpy he was feeling.
“Kinch, have you had any communication with London?” he asked.
“No sir, I thought I’d wait until you returned to let them know, well, you know, what happened.”
Hogan nodded. He knew what Kinch was thinking—that he didn’t know what to say about Hogan’s accident. That he was worried about London’s response if they learned he might be out of commission, permanently. He sat there for several moments, almost seeming to peer down into his coffee cup.
“You’d better send them a message. Tell them everything that happened. Tell them about Pieter.” Hogan’s voice got quiet as his head fell to his chest. “Then ask them what they want us to do.”
“Right, Colonel,” Kinch answered, and got up from the table to head down the tunnel to the radio room.
He noticed the stares of the other men as they watched him walk to the bunkbed frame and hit the concealed lever to force its opening to the tunnel below. He knew they all dreaded having to tell London what had occurred, but they had no choice. The higher command in London would have to know sooner or later.
Kinch and the others had discussed, prior to Hogan’s return, the possibility of keeping the operation going without London ever having to know about Hogan’s accident. Maybe things could continue as before, Newkirk had offered, with the Colonel remaining as the central planner for missions they would carry out for him. It sounded feasible at the time, but inwardly they all worried London would find out and then balk and order things immediately shut down.
As the conversation continued, LeBeau spoke out, berating them. Perhaps they were all being a bit selfish. After all, by informing London of Colonel Hogan’s condition they might be able to arrange his return and get him the medical treatment he needed. Weren’t the doctors in London or New York much better than what Dusseldorf probably had to offer him?
The men reluctantly agreed, ashamed that in their dedication to the mission they had neglected to think of Hogan’s needs. Still, by telling London what had happened, Kinch and the others knew they were probably as much as shutting the operation down themselves.
Kinch emerged from below just as LeBeau finished setting the table for supper. He noticed Hogan was still seated in the same position, alone, while the others around him tried to appear occupied. He sat there motionless, his head slightly bowed, and continued to grip the now empty coffee cup. Kinch saw that he was holding the cup so tightly his knuckles were blanched. As though he feels he has to hold on to something tangible in his sightless world to feel anchored, Kinch thought.
He made a slight cough as he approached the table. “Colonel Hogan?”
“Yeah, Kinch.” Hogan raised his head.
“I’ve sent off a message. We’ll have to wait for London’s response.”
“Thanks. Let me know when it comes in, will you?” he said distractedly.
“Sure thing, Colonel.” Kinch sat down at the table. “Say, LeBeau, that smells pretty good,” he said, sniffing the pot that had been set on the table.
“It is beyond good,” said LeBeau, feigning insult. “C’est magnifique! I hope everyone is hungry tonight.”
He filled the plates in front of Hogan and Kinch and called the others to eat. Newkirk, Carter, and the rest stopped what they had been doing and gathered to sit at the table.
As they began to eat, the room became noisy and animated, the men joking among themselves, all of them heartily enjoying the meal.
Hogan hesitantly felt for the utensils by his plate and picked them up. He felt his stomach tighten as he began to realize in a panic he wasn’t sure how to perform a simple task such as eating a meal in front of his men. At the hospital, the food had been cut up for him. Although it wasn’t much worth the effort of eating anyway, he recalled.
The food in front of him smelled enticing; LeBeau really had outdone himself purposely to try and please him and Hogan knew he was hungry beyond belief.
He reached out with his fork to try and locate the food on his plate. The utensil came down hard on the edge of the dish, tipping it upwards slightly. Hogan, feeling himself redden with embarrassment, cleared his throat nervously and moved his fork to the side.
Was it his imagination, or was the dinner table conversation beginning to sound strained and artificially light-hearted, he wondered? He felt certain that all eyes were upon him. Trembling, he put down the fork and reached out for his cup of coffee.
Kinch, sitting quietly by his side, noticed that Hogan hadn’t yet touched his meal. He saw Hogan’s hand, shaking slightly, place his fork down and reach out in front of him to try and grasp his mug.
Hogan, not realizing LeBeau had refilled the cup and set it down to one side, found himself clutching empty space and tried to casually withdraw his hand, hoping the others hadn’t noticed. His retreating arm inadvertently brushed against the full mug sitting to the right of his plate and knocked it over, splattering hot coffee across the table.
All pretense of table conversation came to an abrupt halt.
“Geez, Colonel!” said Carter, accusingly, as he jumped up out of the spray of hot liquid.
The others glared at Carter, who, too late, recognized his gaffe. “Oh, I mean…that’s okay. No problem, sir,” he stammered. “I, uh, I needed to wash this uniform anyway. Really.”
Several of the men rolled their eyes at Carter’s inept attempt at recovery. Newkirk shook his head in disgust and LeBeau made a face to try and make him shut up.
Hogan sat with his head bowed, feelings of failure and humiliation engulfing him. Swallowing hard, he pushed the bench back from the table and hesitantly stood up.
“I’ve, uh, still got a pretty bad headache, guys,” he said, his voice faltering. “I think I’m just going to lie down for a while.”
“Sure, Colonel,” Kinch said carefully, “if you think so.” He looked at Hogan’s struggling face and felt equally helpless in not knowing what else he should say.
Kinch stood up and Hogan felt him take his arm.
“But, Colonel,” said LeBeau imploringly, “aren’t you hungry? I can bring your food in to you, if you’d like.”
“No, thanks, Louis. I’m, uh, not very hungry right now. Maybe later. Thanks.”
“But, Colonel, I made it especially for you,” LeBeau insisted.
Hogan turned away, his shoulders slumped, and made no response.
Kinch looked at LeBeau and shook his head to silence his further entreaties, then led Hogan from the table to guide him to his room.
“I can take it from here, Kinch,” he said quietly when they reached the door.
“Okay, Colonel. Just call out if you want anything.”
Hogan didn’t answer him and walked slowly into the room, closing the door softly behind him.
The anguished silence filled the entire barracks. No one could speak, not even to chastise Carter, who felt worse than the rest.
Hogan leaned against the back of the door and took a deep, labored breath. He had been held at Stalag 13 for almost three years now, but never before had he felt so intensely what it meant to be a prisoner. In his own dark world he had become a captive with no chance of rescue. Not even his men could share in the depths of this solitude. He slid to his knees in anguish on the floor. Never before in his life had he felt so very much alone.
London’s response came in the middle of the night. Kinch, unable to sleep, had been in the radio room trying to read. The other men generally viewed that section of the tunnel as his. He served as the communicator for their group and although a few others knew how to operate the radio, he was the only one versed in the cryptic Morse code used by some of the underground units.
Kinch had tried to make the subterranean room as cozy as possible, outfitting it with an old rug and stuffed armchair they’d picked up on one of their official work details into town. Schultz had been bribed with two candy bars to look the other way when they spotted the discards lying by the side of the road outside town and loaded them into the back of the truck.
He thought a particularly nice touch to the room was the oil painting that hung from a nail driven into one of the beams supporting the tunnel walls. It was a copy of “The Boy with a Fife” and was purloined after an episode in which they had once again managed to successfully dupe Colonel Klink.
That time they had convinced not only Klink, but also General Burkhalter, that the original version of a painting the Germans had stolen from the French was actually an imitation3. The original was instead rescued by LeBeau and later safely returned to his fellow countrymen. Kinch was able to retrieve the imitation from the trash where Klink and Burkhalter had subsequently dumped it.
He liked looking at the painting when he was down in the radio room for long periods of time. It broke the monotony of the drab, earthen walls and served as a pleasant reminder of another of their successes in manipulating the Germans.
Kinch finished turning another page of his book when he heard the radio squawk faintly. He had turned the volume down so as not to disturb the men sleeping above and reached for the microphone to reply.
“This is Papa Bear,” he said. “Go ahead.”
“This is Goldilocks, Papa Bear. Sorry to call so late, but we’ve been in a dilemma over your previous message. General Fitzhugh is here and would like to speak directly with Papa Bear, if that’s possible.”
Kinch sat up straight. Fitzhugh was the commanding general for all Allied military intelligence operations. A four-star heavyweight. For them to have brought him in was not typical protocol.
“Uh, right, Goldilocks. You’ll have to wait while I wake up Papa Bear. It’s just after two in the morning here.”
“We realize that, but the General just arrived and he didn’t want to delay further in speaking with your Colonel.”
“Roger that, Goldilocks. Hold on.”
Kinch climbed up the ladder and silently entered the barracks room. The other men were sound asleep and the measured, steady reverberation of snoring occupied the quarters. He crept quietly to Hogan’s room at the end of the barracks and knocked softly at the door, then opened it and peered into the darkened room.
Kinch was unable to tell in the faint light if Hogan was lying in his bunk. He stepped into the room and closing the door behind him, flicked on the light switch. The bunk was empty. Kinch noticed it didn’t look as though it had even been slept in.
“That you, Kinch?” asked Hogan calmly. He was seated at his desk in the middle of the room, still fully dressed.
“Uh, yes, sir.”
It was apparent he was not the only one who had been unable to sleep that night.
“Sorry to disturb you, Colonel, but London’s just responded to your message. General Fitzhugh wants to speak with you in person.”
“General Fitzhugh?” Hogan grunted in surprise. “Huh, that doesn’t sound good.”
He resignedly brushed back a shock of black hair from his forehead and slowly stood to be taken down to the tunnel.
“Well, then, I suppose we’d better not keep the General waiting.”
“Okay, Goldilocks, I’ve got Papa Bear here. Go ahead.”
Kinch handed the microphone over. “Would you like some privacy, Colonel?” he asked. “I’ve got a headset here you can wear.”
“No, thanks, Kinch. You might as well hear it yourself first hand.”
Hogan sighed. He felt worn out by having spent all night mentally debating London’s anticipated response.
On the one hand, his assignment to Stalag 13 had not been a trivial sacrifice for him. He’d allowed himself to be shot down during one of his bombing missions and managed to survive the harrowing experience intact, he recalled wryly. He’d then purposely exposed himself to capture by the Germans and was fortunate not to have been shot or lynched in the process.
Initially, in particular, he’d worried about how his parents would react to the news of his being shot down and taken prisoner. He was prevented, of course, from saying anything to warn them in advance, but felt they had finally been able to accept the reassurances in his letters that he was not being mistreated.
He could still recall his skeptical reaction when Fitzhugh first summoned him to Headquarters and broached the idea. No one had previously tried to establish a special operation unit behind enemy lines. Until then, the partisan groups had worked in a disorganized patchwork of independent operations. It would be Hogan’s job to not only gain their confidence and coordinate their activities, but to also lead a team of his own men in response to special orders received directly from London.
Hogan’s demonstrated courage under fire and quick ability to think on his feet had earned him the widespread admiration of his fellow airmen. Fitzhugh had heard of the reputation of the cocky young officer who had risen to senior field grade rank faster than most of his peers. He needed someone like him for a special assignment, presuming he could accept having to follow orders from desk jockeys like himself, he’d said with a hint of a smile.
Fitzhugh was no desk jockey, Hogan knew. He’d been wounded twice in air combat at the helm of a Mustang P-51 fighter plane. Fitzhugh had only reluctantly accepted a Headquarters position in higher command because his injuries would no longer allow him to remain on flight status. Hogan had formed tremendous respect for the General and despite his initial skepticism, was willing to take on the mission if Fitzhugh sincerely thought he was the right man for the job.
The assignment of leading the combined military sabotage and espionage team had proven one of his most challenging, but was also intensely rewarding. The friendships he’d forged with the men on his team were some of the deepest human bonds he’d ever experienced. His men would, without thinking, risk their lives for him. Although he was forced to remain somewhat detached because of the gulf military tradition imposed between officers and enlisted men, he cherished their companionship. He hated to think he might be the cause of their operation coming to a premature end.
On the other hand, he dreaded the specter of living the rest of his life without being able to see. He knew the pathetic German hospital he’d been taken to was years behind the practice of medicine in England or America. The chance to be allowed to return home might mean his sight could be salvaged, even if only partially.
The radio crackled, breaking into his thoughts.
“Papa Bear, is that you?” spoke an aged, mellow voice.
“Yes, sir. I imagine you’ve got something important to say to be up this late at night, General.”
“I’ve got some bad news for you, Papa Bear, and I didn’t want anyone else to have to deliver it. You know I realize how much sacrifice you’ve made already and I’m afraid I’ve got to ask a bit more from you.”
Hogan remained silent.
“I’ve discussed your, er, situation, with my staff here and I’m sorry, but we’re going to have to ask you to stay in place. In your condition it’s not likely the Germans would think you escaped unaided and allowing you to return home would bring rather severe measures against the rest of your men and probably the entire underground network there. Also, we simply can’t afford to have your team cease operations right now. There’s going to be some significant offensive action taking place in the next couple of months and we’ll need their assistance. So, we’ll be sending another officer in to take over for you. Perhaps after a few months we can find a way to bring you home and try to get you some care.”
Leave it to Headquarters to come up with a decision you hadn’t anticipated. He figured he’d either be allowed to continue to operate or would be ordered home. He wasn’t expecting to be told to step down and sit on the sidelines while some other officer took his place. Hogan bristled at the notion of someone barging in and taking over what he had so carefully built up. And what did they expect me to do, sit outside Klink’s office with dark glasses and a tin cup while the operation continued on without me?
“I see, General,” said Hogan caustically. “Well, I’m sure the career board must need more time deciding what my next assignment should be. After all, I suppose there’s only a limited number of positions for blind bomber pilots.”
Hogan regretted the words as soon as they slipped out. The general’s reply stung him even more.
“Hogan, your military career is decidedly limited right now. I’m afraid you have no choice, unless you are asking to resign your commission.” The general sounded tired and much older than when the conversation began. “I’m sorry, old boy, I truly am…” The voice trailed off.
Hogan pushed the microphone away and stood up.
“Colonel?” Kinch said.
Hogan made no response; afraid his voice would break and reveal the torrent of emotions he was feeling. Stunned, he shook his head and turned away.
Kinch hesitated, looking at Hogan’s slumped back. “Uh, Goldilocks, we acknowledge your last transmission. This is Papa Bear, signing over and out,” he said quietly.
“They told him what?!” asked Newkirk, not believing what Kinch had just recounted to the others about Hogan’s late-night radio conversation. “Are they balmy, or what?”
“Incroyable!” said LeBeau. “Don’t they appreciate at all what he’s done?” He disgustedly threw the shirt he had been washing into the tub with a splash.
Kinch stood in the center of the circle of men outside the barracks, nodding his head. “I know, I know, but those are London’s orders.”
“Gosh, Kinch, how did the Colonel take the news?” asked Carter.
“How could he take it? They didn’t exactly give him much of a choice. They as much as said his career is over because he’s blind. You can imagine how he felt when they told him he’d have to resign his commission if he refused to stay. They were pretty hard on him.” Kinch looked around at the discouraged faces.
“So when is his replacement supposed to come in?” asked Newkirk.
“I don’t know—London didn’t say.”
“Blimey, I hope they don’t send us another Crittendon.4 That’s all we’d need.”
Newkirk kicked the dirt in frustration. The others shook their heads in disbelief and anger.
Schultz walked by, looking apprehensive. He slowly approached the group, noticing their dismal mood.
“What is the matter, boys?” he asked.
“Aw, nothing, Schultzie,” muttered LeBeau. “We’re just talking about Colonel Hogan.”
“Ja,” Schultz nodded his head understandingly, “I know. Colonel Klink sent me over to the barracks to order Colonel Hogan to his office. He didn’t appear for roll call this morning and the Kommandant is very unhappy.”
“Geez, Schultz, I don’t think Colonel Hogan is going to be thrilled about being ordered to Klink’s office right now,” said Carter. “He’s not exactly been in the best of moods since he got back from the hospital.”
“Ja, ja, but I have my orders.” He shrugged and turned toward the barracks.
Schultz opened the barracks door and stepped into the main room. A few men were sitting at the table playing cards while others lay in their bunks reading or writing letters. He looked around the room, but didn’t see Hogan among the group.
One of the men at the table looked up and, pointing a finger towards Hogan’s room, said, “In there, Schultz.”
The card players glanced at each other, knowing Schultz was likely on the unpleasant mission of having to confront Hogan regarding his failure to appear at that morning’s formation.
Schultz knocked at Hogan’s door and, not hearing any answer, opened it and went in. The room was dim and shadowy. Hogan had not bothered to turn back the shutters that covered the windows and only a few threads of light entered web-like through seams in the shutter boards.
“Colonel Hogan?” Schultz asked tentatively.
“What is it Schultz?” came the voice from Hogan’s bunk.
Schultz halted. He had many times heard Hogan seem cavalier or nonchalant; it was his usual tone of voice when speaking to the Kommandant, but never before had he heard him sound so completely withdrawn and apathetic. He cautiously peered at the lower bunk and saw that Hogan was seated in the shadows, his back against the wall and knees drawn up inside his encircling arms.
“I beg your pardon, Colonel Hogan, but Kommandant Klink has asked to see you in his office.”
There was a long pause while Hogan pondered this request. “Well, I don’t feel very much like seeing him, if you’ll pardon the pun.” There was no humor present in Hogan’s indifferent tone.
Schultz responded, flustered. “Please, Colonel Hogan. Colonel Klink was not happy that you did not appear at morning roll call and would like to speak with you. For me, please?”
After a moment, Hogan sighed deeply and stretched out his long legs to sit on the edge of the bunk.
“All right, Schultz, just this once, for you.”
Hogan stood and waited for Schultz to guide him, the two of them emerging from the room with Hogan in Schultz’s grasp.
The men were dismayed at seeing Hogan led around like a prisoner. He’d always been so cocky and sure of himself. Even on those rare occasions when Klink lost his temper and confined Hogan to the cooler he’d refuse to be escorted and would instead saunter jauntily to the small, enclosed prison block of cells, as though preparing to depart on a weekend’s pass into town.
Hogan, bareheaded, stepped out into the yard. The sun was out, making the usually cool November day almost seem like spring, but Hogan barely perceived its warmth. His head bowed, he hesitantly was led across the compound to Klink’s office. He could hear conversations and activities in his vicinity come to a halt as they passed. The short journey to Klink’s office seemed interminable and the sense of being on public display was torment for him.
Schultz reached around Hogan to open the door to the foyer of Klink’s office and made a movement for him to enter. Hogan heard the sound of typing cease and then the undeniable intake of breath as Hilda saw him enter. Ordinarily, Klink’s attractive blond secretary looked forward to Hogan’s visits and enjoyed his flirtations with her. This time, however, she was too shocked to even greet him.
He stood there uncomfortably, keenly aware of her scrutiny. His uniform was disheveled as though he had slept in it. Several days’ stubble thickly shadowed his weary face, making him look haggard and somewhat menacing. The ends of a line of black stitches running along his temple poked out crookedly from the bruised skin, creating an almost freakish appearance. Hilda rose slowly and backed away as Schultz, trying to ignore her, guided Hogan through the outer office and knocked at Klink’s door.
“Yes, come in,” said Klink, preoccupied with a pile of papers on his desk.
Schultz entered with Hogan in tow.
“What is it?” he muttered, still not acknowledging them.
Schultz glanced at Hogan, who stood there impassively. “Colonel Klink, I have brought Colonel Hogan to you, as you requested.”
Klink pushed back from his desk. “Well, Col—“
He halted, stunned, as he looked up. He had never seen Hogan like this before.
Klink turned to Schultz. “Sergeant, you are dismissed. Please close the door behind you,” he said deliberately.
“Jawohl, Herr Kommandant,” answered Schultz as he hastily made his departure and pulled the door shut.
Klink walked around to stand next to Hogan, who remained facing the desk.
“Colonel Hogan, would you like to take a seat?” he asked, pulling a chair around for him.
Hogan reached down with one arm and finding the chair, sat listlessly without saying a word.
“I, uh, I couldn’t help but notice that you were not at morning roll call,” said Klink as he walked back behind his desk.
Hogan made no response.
Klink sat with a sigh and held his head in his hands as he continued to stare at Hogan. Only muted anger showed on Hogan’s exhausted face.
“Colonel Hogan,” Klink said finally, “I’m at a loss as to what I can do for you here. You know as well as I the doctors said they were unable to do anything more. If you are not feeling well I will certainly make arrangements for you to return to the hospital, but they assured me you were quite ready to be released.” Klink paused. “It is a question of discipline in front of the men, Hogan. If I allow you to remain absent from morning roll call it will set a bad example. I hate to enforce the rules given the circumstances, but I have no alternative.”
Hogan stood up, his jaw clenched.
“Look, Kommandant, I’m not going to be led out like a trained circus animal for roll call each morning. There’s little chance of my escaping or of making it very far even if I was able to find my way out of here. If you don’t like my attitude then just do us both a favor and throw me in the cooler, because I really don’t see the point to this any longer!”
Hogan threw Klink his usual semblance of a salute and began to turn in the direction of the door when it was flung open.
“What is this, Klink? Are you allowing your prisoners to decide whether or not they want to appear in formation? I’m sure Berlin would be very interested in your, um, shall we say, innovative methods of prison management.”
A short, thick man with receding hairline and thin mustache swaggered into the room. He wore the black uniform of an SS officer and was holding what appeared to be a piece of dark fabric in his gloved hand.
“Major Hochstetter,” Klink said uncomfortably, “what are you doing here?”
“I’m checking up on things, Klink,” glowered Hochstetter.
“But, Major, you are aware of my perfect record. There have never been any successful escapes from Stalag 13.” Klink’s attitude was obeisant, almost groveling.
“Not you, Klink,” Hochstetter growled. “I’m here to speak with Colonel Hogan.”
Hogan stood there coolly during Hochstetter’s outburst, refusing to acknowledge his presence. Hochstetter looked curiously at him.
“Several days ago we learned of the disappearance of a civilian in town. Someone whom we had been watching for some time now as a suspected member of the resistance. He failed to open his shop one morning and we became suspicious. Later that day, we discovered what remained of some poor soul who seemed to have encountered a land mine on a road just outside of town. Pity. It wasn’t an easy task given what we had to work with, but we were able to positively identify him as one Pieter Hoethe.”
Hogan fought to control himself from showing any reaction. He felt like lunging for Hochstetter and tearing his heart out. His nails dug into the palms of his hands, drawing blood.
“I thought it was an unusual coincidence, Klink, when I heard that on that same evening your Colonel Hogan here suffered an unfortunate, er, domestic accident.”
Hochstetter peered skeptically at the sutured wound on Hogan’s head.
“A fall from his bunk, eh?” He sneered at Hogan. “Bah!”
“I think you should know that my men and I have just completed a search of Colonel Hogan’s room.” Hochstetter held up the cloth in his hand and let it unfold to reveal a torn black zippered jacket. “This is what we found in the bottom of his locker, Klink. I presume this is not exactly standard issue for American military personnel?”
Klink looked at the dirty, wrinkled garment and realized with a shock it was streaked with dried blood across the front.
“What I would like to know is whose jacket is this, Colonel Hogan?” Hochstetter snarled as he threw the windbreaker directly at Hogan. It hit him in the chest and fell to the floor at his feet.
Hogan bit his lip. In all the confusion after the accident someone must have hurriedly thrown the soiled jacket they’d removed from him into his locker, probably intending to go back later and destroy it. He should have thought to ask his men what they had done with his clothes that night.
“Remove your coat, Hogan,” Hochstetter ordered abruptly.
Hogan paused, uncertain, then slowly unzipped the leather bomber jacket and slipped it off. He let it fall to the floor next to the crumpled windbreaker.
“Now your shirt,” he barked.
Hogan stood there. What was Hochstetter up to, he wondered?
“I said, remove your shirt!” yelled Hochstetter impatiently as he strode over to Hogan and, grasping his shirt front with both hands, yanked it open, tearing the buttons off and sending them skipping across the floor.
Hogan’s bare, mostly hairless chest was exposed, revealing a large greenish-yellow bruise to the right of his sternum. Hochstetter, not taking his eyes off Hogan’s strained face, reached down with one hand and picked up the zippered jacket. He draped it across Hogan’s torso, poking a finger sharply where the jagged tear in the jacket matched the bruised area on his chest.
“Hmm, it would seem you were one lucky fellow that night, eh, Hogan?” said Hochstetter menacingly, jabbing his finger against Hogan’s chest for emphasis.
There had been too many occasions when Hogan had managed to elude his grasp, but that was not to be the case this time. Hochstetter could barely conceal his eagerness at having finally entrapped his adversary. He would see to it that the brash American colonel paid for his foolhardy impertinence.
Hogan was at a loss for words. Usually his mind would be racing toward some solution about now, but in his unfamiliar sightless world he felt confused and disoriented. The only thing he could think of was to try and bluff Hochstetter.
He shoved Hochstetter’s hand away from his chest. “Colonel Klink, I’ve had enough of this,” he said angrily. “I don’t know what this Gestapo henchman thinks he’s up to, but I resent his insinuations. His questioning me in this manner is against the Geneva Convention and I don’t have to be subjected to it!”
Without waiting for Klink to respond, Hogan turned in the direction of the door and taking several quick steps, found the handle. He opened it brusquely and stormed out.
Schultz, sitting in a chair in the outer office, had propped his rifle up against the filing cabinet outside Klink’s door. Hogan began to walk out and suddenly tripped over the unseen weapon resting on the floor in his path. He felt himself begin to stumble and reached out desperately to catch a wall or piece of furniture to break his fall. Flailing his arms in the air he fell with a tremendous thud, landing hard on one shoulder and knocking the wind from his lungs.
Klink and Hochstetter had tried to pursue him and both reached the door in time to see Hogan sprawled on the floor of the outer office, gasping for breath. Hogan rolled over on his side and grabbed his shoulder in pain. Hilda, standing behind her desk with her hands to her mouth, began to sob in panic. Schultz was unable to move and had frozen in shock at the sight of Hogan, his shirt torn open, bursting through the door.
Klink quickly stepped forward and knelt down. Hogan shook off the hand Klink placed on his arm and reached to grab the edge of Hilda’s desk to pull himself into a sitting position. He sat there, breathing heavily, resting the back of his head against the desk. His face was flushed with anger and humiliation.
Hochstetter slowly strode over to where Hogan sat on the floor. “Get up,” he hissed.
Hogan remained unmoving, still holding on to his aching shoulder.
“I said, get up!” Hochstetter screamed, bending over so his head was inches from Hogan’s darkening face.
Hogan spat at the Gestapo major, the gob of spittle landing directly on his cheek. Infuriated, Hochstetter drew back his right hand and hit Hogan with his fist, the blow landing just below the cut on his temple and knocking him sideways to the floor. Blood began to trickle once again from the stitched wound. Hogan lay there on one side, stubbornly refusing to move. Hochstetter stepped quickly around him and swung back his foot, savagely kicking him in his midsection. There was a sickening sound as Hochstetter’s heavy boot met the narrow bone and cartilage of Hogan’s lower ribcage. He let out a long, agonizing groan and doubled over, drawing his knees up to try and protect himself. His rage fueling itself, Hochstetter bent down and began to beat him with his gloved fists, landing blow after vicious blow to his head and shoulders.
“That is enough!” shouted Klink, trying to pull Hochstetter away from the huddled figure.
Schultz, rousing from his chair, hurried over and grabbed Hochstetter by the other arm. The big bear of a man threw Hochstetter against the filing cabinet and stood there staring at him in fear.
“You had better be careful, Sergeant,” warned Hochstetter breathlessly, trying to regain his composure.
Schultz, speechless with anger, picked up his rifle and hastily saluted Colonel Klink, then marched out of the office, brushing past two of Hochstetter’s men who stood there dispassionately observing the entire scene.
“Pick him up,” ordered Hochstetter tersely.
The two men bent down and, taking each arm, pulled Hogan roughly to his feet. He stood there weakly, swaying slightly as he remained bent over holding his sides, trying vainly to take a breath without making his ribs scream in pain.
“We will continue our little discussion in the cooler, Colonel Hogan,” Hochstetter said evenly.
The Gestapo officer looked at Klink, who stood by helplessly. Klink knew Hochstetter was beyond reason, but he didn’t dare to question his authority. The Gestapo was never crossed without retribution. Besides, Hochstetter was clearly mad and Klink had no idea where his fury might end.
Hochstetter strode out of the office and signaled for his men to come. They followed their commander across the compound to the walled cinder block building known as the cooler, half-dragging Hogan with them.
Schultz came rushing around the corner of the building toward the circle of men standing outside the rear of their barracks.
“What is it, Schultz?” asked Kinch, worried when he looked up and saw the terrified expression on his florid face.
“It’s Major Hochstetter of the Gestapo. He came to Kommandant Klink’s office to question Colonel Hogan.”
Schultz paused, out of breath and shaking as he spoke.
“His men found something in his locker and he accused him of being involved with the resistance. He…he took Colonel Hogan to the cooler for interrogation but couldn’t even wait—he began beating him while still in the Kommandant’s office. I tried to stop him, but…”
The men were horrified.
Newkirk dropped his head and cursed softly. “Ohmygawd. So that’s what Hochstetter was doing in there. 'e must have found the clothes in 'is locker from the night of the accident.”
The others looked at Newkirk, realizing how damning the evidence would be in Hochstetter’s hands.
“You left them in there?” asked LeBeau.
“I, I meant to go back and clean things up later. You know what I mean,” he said, taking a quick glance at Schultz, “but then I forgot about them.”
The men were stunned in disbelief.
“What are we going to do?” asked Carter.
“You must do something for the Colonel,” insisted Schultz. “I’ve never seen Major Hochstetter so upset before.”
Kinch thought hard for a moment. “Schultz, can you make sure Klink is in his office to take a telephone call in ten minutes?”
Schultz nodded his head. “I will try.”
“You have to. Remember, make sure he’s kept busy there for at least ten minutes.”
Schultz hurried off to Klink’s office to keep the Kommandant occupied.
“What are you thinkin' we can do, Kinch?” asked Newkirk.
“I’m not sure yet, but we may not have much time. If Hochstetter is as angry as Schultz said…” He was afraid to continue the thought. “I’m wondering if we could create some sort of diversion that would take Hochstetter away, even temporarily.”
“What good would that do?” asked Carter.
“For starters, it would buy us, and the Colonel, some time.”
“Sounds like a good beginning to me,” said Newkirk. “What did you 'ave in mind?”
“Well, we could get on the telephone connection to Klink’s office and try to draw Hochstetter away on some pretense of trouble elsewhere.”
“It might work,” agreed Newkirk.
“I think we have no choice but to try it,” said LeBeau gravely.
Klink walked rapidly from his office to the cooler at the end of the compound, a relieved look of determination on his face. The uniformed SS trooper standing at the entry to the corridor looked at him with disdain when he demanded to be admitted to Hogan’s cell, but led him down the passageway, stopping in front of an imposing metal door.
“Open it,” Klink ordered.
The soldier turned the key in the lock and pulled back the heavy door, its hinge complaining, and nodded to the Kommandant. Klink stepped inside the cell.
Hogan was being held by his arms against the far wall by two uniformed officers, fighting to rally his dwindling strength in anticipation of each unforeseen strike. Hochstetter was standing in front of him and as Klink entered he delivered another staggering blow to Hogan’s abdomen with his gloved fist. Hogan’s legs collapsed under him with a horrible moan and he sagged toward the floor.
“Hold him up!” he bellowed at the troopers.
They pulled on Hogan’s arms, trying to haul the dead weight to a standing position. Hogan’s head drooped down, his thick black hair matted with blood and perspiration against his forehead. The limp body hung there as Hochstetter, clearly relishing the task, prepared to hit him again.
“Major Hochstetter,” said Klink coolly behind him.
Hochstetter wheeled around, his eyes enraged.
“Major Hochstetter, I just received a telephone call from a General Fuhrtag—of your Headquarters, I believe?”
Hochstetter, breathing hard from exertion, took a deep breath to calm himself. “General Fuhrtag, eh? What did he want?”
He glanced back nervously at the bruised and bloodied figure.
“He said there was some problem. A report he was apparently quite displeased with; a report that you had submitted.” Klink spoke evenly, trying not to show his horror at the sight of Hogan’s abuse. “He requested, no, he ordered you return to your office immediately.”
Hochstetter kneaded his gloved fingers in thought, then turned to the two men and signaled for them to release Hogan. He slid down the wall, shivering as his bare torso slumped against the cold, damp floor.
“Hmmph. For now, Kommandant Klink, you will see to it that the prisoner remains here. I intend to be back.” He motioned for the others to follow and marched out of the cell.
Klink watched Hochstetter leave, feeling nothing but revulsion. He abhorred what the man portrayed and the image of a soiled Germany he represented. The Fatherland’s elite. That was not the Fatherland he had been raised as a boy to love.
Klink turned to Hogan and dropped to one knee beside him. Blood trickled from his nostrils and one corner of his mouth. Klink took a handkerchief from his pocket and tried to wipe away some of the blood and sweat. Hogan’s eyes rolled back in their sockets as he struggled to remain conscious, barely aware of Klink’s presence through the pain. Klink cursed Hochstetter through clenched teeth and cursed himself for having allowed him to get away with this. Never again, he thought. Never again.
Admittedly, Klink had been reluctant to totally countermand Hochstetter’s orders. He detested the man, but also feared his wrath, and consequently condoned Hogan remaining in the cooler overnight. He did, however, summon a doctor from town who agreed to treat Hogan in secrecy. Klink knew even word of this aid being rendered to Hochstetter’s captive might enrage him further and insisted the doctor speak to no one of what he had done.
The doctor found Hogan had been fortunate not to suffer more severe injury than some cracked ribs and bruises and insisted on giving him a shot to help ease the pain. Hogan initially resisted being drugged; he feared being incapable of defending himself should Hochstetter return in the night, but Klink assured him he had been called away on other business and Hogan reluctantly consented. It was evident to all he was in severe pain and exhausted; he had slept only fitfully since his accident almost a week earlier. Klink watched as it took less than a minute after the doctor administered the injection for Hogan to finally slip into an undisturbed sleep from which he would not awaken for over twenty-four hours.
The men grouped around the barracks table, reading the square of blue notepaper that Kinch had carried up from the radio room.
“‘Major Arthur Kincaid, British RAF,’” Newkirk read aloud. “‘Last assignment Combined Strategic Task Force advisor. Expected to arrive in country 16 November.’”
“That’s tomorrow,” said Carter, looking at a calendar on the wall near his bunk.
“How is he supposed to get into camp?” asked LeBeau.
“Same way the Colonel did, I suppose,” said Kinch. “I guess we’ll just have to wait ’til he shows up and ask him.”
“Does Colonel Hogan know yet about the new officer coming in?” asked Carter.
“Negative,” responded Newkirk. “'e’s been in the cooler and no one’s 'ad a chance to talk with 'im.”
“Yeah, don't remind me,” said Carter angrily. “I still can’t believe Klink is leaving him there.”
He shook his head gloomily. Morale in the camp had sagged with Colonel Hogan’s accident, but had plunged precipitously since Schultz burst in to tell them of Hochstetter’s deranged confrontation.
The men were only slightly relieved to see their telephone ruse had worked, but were stunned when Klink subsequently failed to release Hogan from the cooler. Granted, he had made arrangements for a doctor to attend to him in his cell, but it was little consolation for the men who cared so deeply for their leader and were prevented from going to his aid themselves.
Kinch quickly folded the blue piece of paper and thrust it in his pocket as the door to their barracks opened. They relaxed when they saw it was only Schultz coming through the door. He looked weary and depressed and probably hadn’t slept much better than they had, Kinch thought. Schultz shuffled over to their table, acknowledging the men with a nod and a yawn.
“LeBeau,” he said, “Colonel Klink has requested you take some food to Colonel Hogan in the cooler. He has finally awakened.”
LeBeau brightened at the request. “Right away, Schultzie,” he said eagerly. He hurried to a kettle simmering on the stove and ladled out some soup into a large tureen. Grabbing a towel to wrap around the hot container, he presented himself to Schultz to be escorted to the cooler.
“Uh, just a minute, LeBeau,” Newkirk called, pulling the Frenchman aside, “I think you forgot to add some salt.” Newkirk leaned over LeBeau’s shoulder pretending to peer into the pot and whispered in his ear. “Louis, you’ve got to tell the Colonel the news about the RAF officer.”
LeBeau reluctantly nodded his understanding and yanked the pot away. “Nonsense! What would an Englishman know about French cuisine,” he said huffily and turned to follow Schultz out the door.
Hogan was shivering on the hard wooden bunk. Schultz had brought in extra blankets for him, but the cell was cold and damp, regardless of season, and its chill penetrated one’s body after less than an hour there. He tensed when the door creaked open, waiting to hear the ominous sound of heavy boots treading toward him.
LeBeau walked in and immediately perceived the apprehension in Hogan’s demeanor. He tried to force a cheerful-sounding greeting and hoped his voice wouldn’t reveal his shock at Hogan’s appearance. One side of his face was swollen from his temple to his lower jaw in a hideous discoloration that was discernible even through the thick growth of stubble.
At the sound of LeBeau’s voice Hogan visibly relaxed.
“Oh, it’s you, Louis.”
“Oui, Colonel. I’ve got some hot soup for you.”
Hogan shook his head. “I’m not hungry.”
“I don’t believe it,” clucked LeBeau. “I know you haven’t had anything to eat in over two days. You need your strength, now eat.”
LeBeau placed his arm around Hogan’s shoulders to assist him as he slowly rolled onto one side and gingerly sat up. His bound ribs ached with each movement. Thank goodness the doctor had given him an injection or he wouldn’t have been able to sleep at all with the discomfort he was feeling.
Hogan pulled the blankets tight around his bare shoulders as LeBeau sat the wrapped tureen in his lap and placed a spoon in his hand. Trembling slightly, he began to spoon the hot soup in, warming himself with each mouthful. Hogan devoured the entire pot quickly and nodded his head in gratitude to LeBeau who removed the empty container.
LeBeau glanced at the cell door to see if the guard was nearby and could overhear them.
“Colonel Hogan, I’ve got some news from London I have to pass on to you.”
Hogan sighed and wearily rested his head against the wall of the cell. “Go ahead.”
“London is sending in a Major Arthur Kincaid from the RAF to take over. He’s supposed to arrive tomorrow.”
“No, sir, that’s all.”
Hogan dropped his head to his chest, his voice subdued. “Well, you and the others know what to do. Make sure everyone cooperates with him for me. I guess if I get out of here I can arrange to move my things out.”
They heard the guard approach to take LeBeau back to the barracks. He picked up the tureen and squeezed Hogan’s arm as he spoke quickly. “We’re still working to get you out of here, Colonel.”
“Thanks, but don’t do anything foolish. It doesn’t much matter to me where I sit right now. Barracks or the cooler, it’s all the same, as far as I’m concerned.” Hogan forced a weak smile and reached out to touch LeBeau on the arm. “Thanks, Louis. For everything.”
LeBeau swallowed hard and turned to leave as the guard opened the door. He prayed Hogan did get out of there soon—while he was still alive.
The next day Klink did manage to get Hogan freed from the cooler, although it took most of the day and several dozen telephone calls to higher headquarters before the release could take place.
Klink was finally able to convince General Burkhalter that despite Hochstetter’s zeal during the brutal interrogation, he had failed to extract a confession from Hogan. Besides, Klink insisted, he had questioned the prisoners who witnessed Hogan’s accident and was himself present shortly afterwards. He had no doubt it had occurred as they described.
Klink failed to mention his own reservations about the account. He was more than willing to overlook some minor discrepancies in order to avoid a recurrence of the violent rampage that had occurred during Hochstetter’s visit.
Late that afternoon Schultz had to do more than just lead Hogan back to the barracks; in his weakened state he fairly had to carry him. He deposited Hogan on his bunk where Newkirk helped him on with a clean uniform shirt to replace the one Hochstetter had destroyed.
Turning down LeBeau’s offer of food, Hogan asked for some extra blankets and remained there the rest of the day, trying to regain some warmth in his chilled, aching body. Schultz even passed them several pieces of wood for the stove, although it barely permeated the numbing cold Hogan felt.
He faded in and out, shivering under the blankets, trying to resist the overwhelming urge to sleep. He dreaded the inevitable reawakening which each time forced him to deal anew with the terrorizing realization that his world remained an empty void of blackness. When he did slip into a sleep state and the accompanying dreams that filtered in from his subconscious he found himself haunted by images of Pieter, walking slowly in front of him, stepping down on a dark disk that brought an end to both of their worlds.
Hogan jerked awake at the weight of someone’s hand on his shoulder. Gasping for breath, he was completely soaked in perspiration.
“Colonel, are you all right?” asked Newkirk with concern.
Hogan realized he had been dreaming and had startled the men with his cries.
“Unh, yeah…yeah.” He gradually eased back onto the pillow, wiping one hand shakily across his sweaty forehead. “What…what time is it?” He felt so disoriented since the accident, unable to look at a watch or calendar to obtain his bearings.
“It’s just after five-thirty in the morning, sir. Friday the 17th,” he added.
Hogan carefully eased himself into a sitting position, his ribcage protesting each movement. “Friday? Wasn’t that RAF officer supposed to arrive yesterday?”
“Yes, sir,” Carter’s voice broke in. “We were expecting him but he never showed up.”
“Any idea what’s happened to him?” Hogan asked.
“No, sir, not yet,” answered Carter.
“Kinch is on the radio now trying to raise the underground unit that was supposed to meet 'im,” said Newkirk.
No sooner had Newkirk finished speaking than there was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” Hogan answered.
Kinch entered the room and looked dejectedly at the other men. He handed a slip of blue notepaper to Newkirk and shook his head at Carter.
Newkirk read the note and lowered himself slowly onto the stool at Hogan’s desk. “Oh Jesus, no,” he said softly.
“What is it?” asked Hogan with concern.
“Bad news, Colonel,” Kinch answered somberly. “The underground unit just returned from their rendezvous with Major Kincaid. He parachuted in last night and,” Kinch paused, clearing his throat, “and was spotted coming down by a nearby Wehrmacht patrol. The underground found him, still hanging in his harness. They figure he was dead from the patrol’s fire before he even hit the trees.”
Hogan covered his face in his hands. Oh my God, he thought, I’m responsible for another death, another loss of a dedicated man. He wouldn’t have been sent if it weren’t for me. Because of me.
“Colonel?” asked Kinch, worried at the look of devastation that had suddenly come over Hogan.
Hogan shook his head, afraid to speak. “Tell London,” he ordered in a hoarse whisper. “Now everybody out.”
His head still buried in his hands he began to tremble. Carter and Newkirk stared at him in shock.
Kinch, uncertain of what else to do, herded them both out the door. He glanced back to see Hogan slowly curling up into a ball on the bed.
As Kinch drew the door closed behind him the first few tortured gasps escaped from Hogan’s shaking body. He had never cried before, not even as a boy when a car had struck him on his bicycle after he’d turned a corner too sharply and lost control. He’d lain in the street then, his pale, thin face looking up at his cousin who had been riding behind him, and bravely blinked back the tears, refusing to appear weak or afraid. Now, alone in his room, all the despair of a lifetime culminated in that focal moment and erupted in a cascade of agonized sobs that wrenched his weary body. It was all because of him.
The men sat gloomily around their barracks. There was still an hour left before lights out, but no one felt like participating in any of their usual activities. Newkirk, stretched out on his bed, absently shuffled a deck of cards. Carter, seated on the bunk below him, whittled away at a scrap of wood, turning it as much into a pile of shavings on the floor as into any recognizable shape. Kinch sat at the table, staring into a cup of coffee long since turned cold. They all looked up as the door to Hogan’s room opened. LeBeau emerged, shaking his head and carrying a tray of food.
“Not a thing,” he said in answer to their unasked question. He dumped the tray’s contents into a trash container near the door. “In two days now he’s refused to eat a thing.”
“I don’t think he’s moved at all,” said Carter.
“He won’t even speak to anyone,” said LeBeau. “I’ve tried to talk to him and he just lays there facing the wall. I don’t know what else to do.” He threw the tray down on the table with a clatter in frustration.
Newkirk hopped off his bunk and stood there, looking around at the other men. “We’ve got to come up with something. If this keeps up 'e’s going to slowly kill 'imself. We can’t let that 'appen,” he urged.
“I know,” agreed Kinch, “but we’ve tried everything we can think of, with no effect. I’m at a loss as to what else we can do.”
“Kinch, I 'ate to admit it, but I think we need to tell London,” said Newkirk. “We’ve done all we can at this point. Maybe they’ll come up with somethin'.”
“It sure can’t hurt,” said Carter. The others nodded in agreement.
“Well, I suppose so,” said Kinch, not feeling particularly optimistic. “I’ll try to describe for them how he’s been.”
He shook his head and walked over to the bunk frame, hitting the lever to reveal the hidden room below.
“We’ll just have to hear what they say.”
It was another day and a half before London came back with an answer. In the meantime, LeBeau had finally coaxed Hogan into taking in some food to try and sustain himself. After almost a week of self-imposed fasting, he was gradually becoming weak and more gaunt before their eyes. LeBeau spent a tearful session one evening pleading with him to eat something and after the Frenchman left the room in despair he’d finally given in and lethargically consumed a small amount of soup. He still refused to speak with anyone or stir from his bunk, but at least at each mealtime LeBeau noticed the level of soup in the bowl placed on his tray had been reduced slightly.
Kinch called them into the radio room that afternoon to discuss London’s response out of earshot of Hogan. Carter was the last to climb down the ladder.
“What did they come up with?” he asked as he hopped off the bottom rung onto the dirt floor.
“Well, I’m not exactly certain yet,” said Kinch.
They gathered around him, waiting for his explanation.
“They say they’re going to send somebody in who may be able to help Colonel Hogan, but they can’t tell us any more than that over clear channels. I’m supposed to wait here for,” he looked at his watch, “another minute and the sub is going to relay in code what they need us to do.”
They stood around the table and watched the Morse hand key, waiting for its silence to be broken which would signal the submarine’s transmission. After what seemed an endless wait, the key clicked to life. Kinch grabbed the headset and quickly acknowledged their communication with his sure, steady stream of dits and dots. The message in return was brief.
After a few moments Kinch pulled off his headset and continued to look puzzled at the notepad where he’d decoded the message.
“Well, what is it?” asked Newkirk insistently.
“I don’t entirely understand why, but they’re telling us to try and get Klink to make a formal request for assistance to the International Red Cross on Colonel Hogan’s behalf. That’s all they would explain.”
He looked up at them. “I still don’t know how that’s supposed to help the Colonel, but if that’s what they want us to do…” he shrugged his shoulders.
“Blimey, what kind of solution is that?” asked Newkirk, incredulous.
“Maybe they know something we don’t,” said LeBeau.
“Yeah, maybe,” said Kinch. He crumpled the message into a small wad and tossed it on the table. “Well, wish me luck. I’m going to head over to Klink’s office and try to put this plan, or what there is of it, into action.”
Schultz briefly knocked and then opened the door to Klink’s office to find him standing at the window, looking distractedly out across the compound in the direction of Barracks Two.
“Herr Kommandant,” he said, interrupting Klink’s thoughts.
“Yes, Schultz, what is it?” Klink continued to look out the window.
“Herr Kommandant, one of the American prisoners, a Staff Sergeant James Kinchloe, has asked to speak with you.”
“Sergeant Kinchloe?” Klink paused, turning. “He’s in Colonel Hogan’s barracks, is he not?”
“Yes, sir. He is one of the senior enlisted men there.”
“Hmm. Show him in, Sergeant.” Klink closed the window and walked over to stand behind his desk.
Schultz ushered in the tall black man who came to attention in front of Klink’s desk and saluted smartly. Klink returned his salute and invited him to sit down in a chair. He suddenly realized he had never had a private conversation with the American enlisted man before. Kinchloe was the one who usually remained in the background, quiet and pensive, he recalled. Klink was curious as to what had brought him to his office.
“I understand you wished to speak with me, Sergeant Kinchloe?”
“Yes, sir, I did.” Kinch paused, uncertain how to begin. “I, well, I mean, we’re all worried about Colonel Hogan.”
Klink sighed deeply and stood up. “I know. You’re not the only ones.”
He walked over to the window to open it and stood there looking across at Hogan’s barracks.
“Kommandant, we’re at a loss as to what we can do for the Colonel. We’ve tried everything. He’s refusing to eat, he won’t talk to anyone, he won’t even leave his bed.”
Klink frowned. “Does he appear to be ill?”
“Well, no, sir. Not physically anyway. I mean, his injuries are healing okay. It seems to be something else.”
Klink nodded his head. “Your Colonel has been through quite a lot these past couple of weeks. More than most men could endure.”
He wanted to apologize to the enlisted man for the horror of what Hochstetter had done, but felt it might be out of place. With Hogan, the two of them were on equal ground in terms of rank and he could relax and be more open. Had it been Hogan sitting there, by now he probably would have offered him a cigar and poured him a cognac.
Klink oddly missed their companionable talks. Since Hogan’s accident he had been totally uncommunicative. Klink was disturbed, though, to hear that this had extended to Hogan’s tight circle of fellow prisoners as well.
“Sergeant, do you have any recommendations as to how I may help?” he asked.
“Well, yes, sir, I do. We were talking with some prisoners who just transferred in from another camp and they told us of a similar situation that took place there. They were able to call on the Red Cross who sent someone in to help. I don’t know if they can do anything in Colonel Hogan’s case, but perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to ask.”
“Hmm. Yes, perhaps it couldn’t hurt.” Klink thought a moment and then nodded his consent. “All right, Sergeant, I will make arrangements to contact the Red Cross and see what they can do.”
Kinch stood up, relieved. “Thank you, Colonel Klink.”
He meant it sincerely. He had to admit that Klink had treated them tolerably well. They all certainly appreciated that life under a different Kommandant could have been much more unpleasant. Somehow Hogan had managed to forge a delicate balance in his relationship with Klink, resulting in the successes they had enjoyed and also, just as important, greater latitude in small personal freedoms as prisoners of war.
Klink returned his salute. “Thank you, Sergeant Kinchloe. I’m sure we are both praying that Colonel Hogan can be helped.”
The long, black Daimler pulled in through the front gate and came to a stop in front of Klink’s office. Newkirk watched from his perch atop an overturned barrel outside the barracks as the driver of the vehicle came around the side of the car to open the rear passenger door.
A pair of long, slender legs emerged followed by an incredibly stunning woman in her early thirties. She had deep chestnut-colored hair that fell to the top of her shoulders and was fashionably dressed in a smart business suit that, although modest, complimented her figure as much as any design from a top Parisian couturier.
She turned and reached into the vehicle to extract a leather case and then said something low and inaudible, which was followed by an equally handsome black Labrador bounding out from the vehicle’s rear seat. The dog came to a sit beside her and angled its broad, noble head up to gaze at her with intelligent eyes, waiting for her next command.
Newkirk snapped from his reverie and hopped off the barrel to quickly step inside the nearby barracks door.
“Everybody, come ‘ere!” he yelled. “Come get a load of the bird that just drove in!”
The men tumbled out of the barracks and watched as the woman, grasping the dog by a harness, walked up the steps to Klink’s office and disappeared inside.
Newkirk emitted a low whistle. “Now that’s gorgeous.”
“I think I’m in love,” said LeBeau, dreamily.
Kinch shook his head admiringly. “Klink, that old devil. I wonder what he did to deserve such a good-looking visitor?”
“Yeah, he must have done something right this week for a change,” joked Carter.
The men chuckled as, the apparition now gone, they filed back inside the barracks.
As they entered, Carter glanced over to the closed door to Hogan’s room. “Too bad the Colonel couldn’t have enjoyed that,” he said.
“Yeah,” said Newkirk, wistful. “Maybe that’s what we should have tried to shake him out of this depression.”
Taking their places around the table, they idly resumed their game of cards.
LeBeau had just wrapped his arms around a winning pot of money when the door to their barracks suddenly opened. Schultz entered, clicking his heels as he came to attention and stepped inside the room.
“Achtung!” he cried as Colonel Klink came into the barracks, followed by the attractive stranger. The men scrambled to their feet and snapped to attention.
Klink amiably ordered, “At ease, men,” and turned to the woman.
“I’d like to introduce to you Dr. Maurier of the International Red Cross.”
The men’s jaws dropped. What on earth was London up to, they all wondered? If this was supposed to be a joke certainly none of them found it humorous. They all knew that on any other occasion the beautiful brunette would have stirred Hogan’s attention, but given the circumstances it seemed like a cruel, taunting trick to play.
“Blimey, mates, she’s a doctor?” muttered Newkirk under his breath.
Klink led the woman, still holding on to the dog, to each of the men in turn and introduced them.
“Dr. Maurier, may I introduce to you Staff Sergeant James Kinchloe, Army Air Corps.”
Kinch responded, amazed, “My pleasure, ma’am.”
At the sound of his voice the woman turned in his direction, gazing up at him with smiling eyes and extending her hand. “Why, thank you, Sergeant Kinchloe.”
Kinch looked down into her deep blue eyes and hesitated. There was something about them, as though she wasn’t looking at him, but instead was looking past him.
She moved down the line of men and made the same pattern of motions each time, pausing to hear each person speak and then turning toward them with her hand extended in greeting.
“And where is Colonel Hogan?” Klink asked.
“Uh, he’s in his room, sir,” answered LeBeau, glancing uneasily at the closed door at the end of the barracks.
“Sergeant Schultz, will you please ask Colonel Hogan to join us?” Klink asked.
The men looked at each other awkwardly.
“Jawohl, Herr Kommandant,” Schultz replied resignedly, and walked over to Hogan’s room.
Knocking first, he opened the door and called inside. “Colonel Hogan, Colonel Klink is here and, er, he’s asking you to come out.”
There was no response. Schultz looked back at the Kommandant and shrugged his shoulders helplessly. Klink looked uncomfortably at the prisoners and walked over to Hogan’s room. Dr. Maurier followed him with the men trailing behind; each hoping there would not be a scene with Klink’s insistence on Hogan’s appearance.
Klink stepped to the entrance to Hogan’s darkened room.
“Colonel Hogan, I need to speak with you for a moment. It is important.” Klink hesitated. “Please, Hogan.”
There was a long pause and then the sound of a wooden bunk creaking as Hogan rolled over and gradually sat up. In the dim light they could see his legs hanging over the side of the bed. He sat there motionless for a full minute and then slowly stood and walked to the door, his hand trailing the wall as a guide.
The light fell on him as he entered the doorway. Schultz’s jaw dropped open. Hogan stood there, shoulders hunched slightly; his uniform, wrinkled and stained with dried perspiration, hung loosely on his now thin frame. The stubble covering his face had thickened into a dense, short beard that was mostly peppered with gray. An angry-looking jagged red scar lined his temple where the wound had begun to heal. Even with the covering of hair on his face it was evident he had lost a great deal of weight and his eyes seemed to sink cavernously into his face.
Kinch noticed the woman doctor stood there with a quizzical look, not seeming to react to Hogan’s unkempt appearance.
Klink cleared his throat nervously. “Colonel Hogan, I have brought with me a doctor from the International Red Cross. Dr. Maurier has graciously consented to come here to provide you with some assistance.”
Hogan answered flatly, his head bowed. “Yeah, well, tell the good doctor I can sharpen my own pencils.”
The woman’s brows came together in a pained expression, recognizing the depths of bitterness and despair in Hogan’s voice.
“I’m afraid that’s not the sort of assistance I’m trained to provide,” she said gently. “I’m a specialist trained to work with individuals who have lost their sight, Colonel Hogan.”
Hogan lifted his eyes in reaction to the sound of her voice. A woman doctor, he wondered? What was going on here? Was this some sort of trick by Klink or worse yet, his own men?
The men shuffled their feet anxiously as the heavy silence in the room became almost palpable.
Realizing a response was not forthcoming from Hogan, the woman leaned down and imperceptibly gave a command to the dog by her side. The dog rose and padded over to Hogan, nuzzling the hand that hung limply by his side.
Hogan started at the touch, then relaxed when he realized it was only a dog. His frown dissipated and he began to unconsciously stroke the soft fur on its head.
“That’s quite a dog you’ve got there, ma’am, I mean, Doctor,” said Carter.
She smiled. “Yes, he certainly is.”
“Dr. Maurier?” inquired Newkirk curiously. “Do I detect the traces of a British accent? Beggin’ your pardon, ma’am, but your name doesn’t sound very Anglo-Saxon.”
“Yes, Corporal, you probably still can hear an accent. My father was posted to England for many years as a legal attaché from Switzerland. My nationality is Swiss, but I was born and raised in London.” She gave a warm, engaging laugh. “I actually thought we were British until I reached my teens and we had to return to our family home in Lucerne.”
Hogan had crouched down and was running his hands along the dog’s broad shoulders and chest. The dog tenderly licked the side of his face near his crooked scar and Hogan smiled for the first time in what seemed like ages.
“Ma’am, what’s your dog’s name?” asked LeBeau, warmed by the sight of Hogan’s reaction to the animal.
“His name is Ursa Major, but I call him Major for short,” she replied.
“Gosh, Ursa Major, you mean like the constellation?” asked Carter.
“Not exactly. I did borrow the Greek name from the cluster of stars but actually was inspired to call him that by an American fairy tale I used to love as a child. I named him Ursa Major in tribute to it.”
Dr. Maurier turned toward Carter. “Perhaps you are familiar with the story?” she said casually. “My favorite character in it was called Papa Bear.”
The men looked at each other in astonishment. Hogan froze momentarily and then slowly rose to his feet, looking confused. His mind was reeling.
“Uh, yeah, of course, I mean, who wouldn’t know the story of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears?’” replied Carter, stunned.
“Yes, that’s it,” she answered. “It’s been so many years I couldn’t recall the title.”
Dr. Maurier turned perfunctorily toward the Kommandant. “Colonel Klink,” she asked, “do you have a facility here, guest quarters perhaps, that can be used in my work with Colonel Hogan? It will need to house both of us for the duration of his training.”
“Why, yes,” answered Klink. “There happens to be a guest cottage on the compound that is used for visiting dignitaries. It is vacant now and I think you will find the accommodations there most comfortable.”
“Thank you, Colonel,” she replied. “Sergeant Schultz, could you see to it that my things are moved there from the car?”
“Jawohl, Frau Doktor,” said Schultz as he snapped to attention and proceeded from the barracks.
She turned next to Kinch. “Sergeant Kinchloe, I’d like to ask that you please have someone assist Colonel Hogan in collecting his things to be moved into the guest quarters. He will need his toiletry articles, some clean uniforms, and any other items that will make him comfortable. When you are ready, please have them brought over. You are to have his things sent over first, and then Colonel Hogan is to be brought there in an hour.”
“Yes, ma’am. I’ll take care of it.”
“Thank you, Sergeant.”
Dr. Maurier then addressed the other men. “It has been my pleasure to meet all of you. After our work has commenced I will need to speak with you again privately.” She smiled. “Colonel Hogan is not the only one who will require training.”
“Certainly, Doctor,” Kinch replied.
“Colonel Hogan, I expect an hour is sufficient time for you to prepare?”
“Yeah, I suppose so,” he said noncommittally, still bewildered.
She nodded her head in confirmation. “Major,” she called. The dog, which had been lying on the floor at Hogan’s feet, arose and quickly moved next to her. Dr. Maurier leaned down and, taking up the dog’s harness, followed Klink out of the barracks.
Schultz had just finished bringing in the last of the bags when Dr. Maurier entered the guest cottage. She removed her coat and took a deep breath. The room was not too musty, but it was apparent it received little use.
Klink had described the quarters to her on their way over from the barracks. She knew the entrance opened into a combined living and dining area, with dining table to the right and couch, armchair, and a few casual tables across from the doorway in the living area. To the left was the entrance to a small kitchen, which Klink had assured her would be stocked with light provisions, although they would have their meals brought in from the officers’ kitchen in order to provide more time for their work. Immediately to the right of the kitchen was a door that led to a short hallway with two guestrooms, each with private bath that proceeded off of it at either end.
With Major at her side she began to pace off the room, memorizing the number of steps from the door to the pieces of furniture placed around the room. Major accompanied her on the tour, expertly weaving in and out of the obstacles the furniture presented. Next, she investigated the kitchen, opening each drawer and cabinet to check their contents and store away in memory the locations of items she would need later.
Schultz emerged from the hallway where he had placed her bags in the nearest guestroom when there was a knock at the door. As Dr. Maurier was occupied, he answered it for her and was greeted by Carter and Newkirk who had carried Hogan’s belongings over from the barracks.
“Ah, thank you, gentlemen,” she called from the kitchen when she heard them enter. “Sergeant Schultz, would you have them place Colonel Hogan’s things on the bed in his room. I will take care of putting them away for him.”
“Certainly, Frau Doktor,” he replied.
Carter and Newkirk followed him down the hallway to the far room. They unloaded his uniforms and few belongings and then returned to the living room with Schultz.
“Is there anything else you may require?” Schultz asked.
Dr. Maurier felt for the watch on her wrist. It was almost five o’clock.
“Yes, Sergeant. I imagine Colonel Hogan will be hungry. Would you please make arrangements for some dinner to be brought over later?”
“Jawohl, Frau Doktor,” he said, looking at Carter and Newkirk uneasily.
She detected the hesitancy in his voice. “Is something the matter, Sergeant?”
Schultz wasn’t certain how to respond and Newkirk spoke up for him.
“Well, you see, ma’am, the Colonel 'asn’t 'ad much of an appetite since 'is accident. It doesn’t matter what Corporal LeBeau, who’s a fabulous chef I might add, prepares for 'im, he’s eaten next to nothing.”
“Ah, I see,” she mused. She thought hard, trying to recall the emotions Hogan was probably experiencing following his ordeal. “Well, gentlemen, I guess that’s one of the first areas we will need to work on. He’ll need his energy if we’re to accomplish all that lies ahead of us.”
“Yes, ma’am,” answered Newkirk. “Well, good luck. If you can help 'im somehow…well, I mean, we think a great deal of 'im, ma’am, and don’t want to see 'im go on the way 'e’s been.”
“I know,” she said kindly. “I understand very well.”
The men nodded their thanks and took their leave along with Schultz. After they departed she proceeded to Hogan’s room and arranged his things in preparation for their first session.
Dr. Maurier was seated at the dining room table contemplating over a cup of tea the formidable task ahead of her when there was a knock at the door. She got up to answer it and was greeted by Schultz, standing on the threshold with Hogan in his grasp.
“Frau Doktor, I have brought Colonel Hogan, as you requested.”
“Thank you, Sergeant,” she said. “That will be all for now.”
Schultz snapped to attention, nodded and turned, leaving Hogan at the doorstep.
“Colonel Hogan, won’t you come in please?”
She pulled the door open wider and paused. There was no movement for a few moments, and then Hogan hesitantly stepped inside. He stood there resolutely in silence.
“Colonel, I don’t bite,” she said good-naturedly. “You’ll need to come in a bit further if I’m to close this door.”
He took a few more uncertain steps into the room. She carefully swung the door shut and turned in his direction.
“I was just having a cup of tea, Colonel,” she said. “Would you care to join me?”
“I don’t care for tea,” he said sullenly.
She responded brightly, purposely ignoring his apparent disposition. “Ah, yes, of course, I forget you former colonists never maintained the fine British tradition of tea. Well, then, I’ll make you a cup of coffee.”
She began walking toward the kitchen.
“You’ll find a chair and table off to your right at two o’clock, Colonel, about three paces from where you are standing. Please, have a seat.”
She paused as she entered the kitchen and was relieved to hear a chair being pulled back from the table as Hogan sat down. Please, Lord, she quickly prayed, let me somehow find a way to get through to him.
A few minutes later she returned from the kitchen carrying a tray. She set it on the table and placed a cup and saucer in front of Hogan, then poured for him from an urn.
“Do you take anything in your coffee, Colonel?”
There was no answer.
Puzzled, she asked, “Colonel Hogan?”
The chair scraped the floor as he pushed back from the table and stood up.
“Colonel?” she asked more uncertainly.
He responded, his voice seething with anger.
“All right, this joke at my expense has gone far enough. What’s going on?”
“I…I don’t understand.”
“You know perfectly well what I mean. What’s with that Papa Bear nonsense? I want to know what’s going on,” he said, raising his voice. “Who sent you here?!”
Oh, dear, she thought, he didn’t know about the arrangements that had been made. She shook her head. This was going to be more difficult than she had expected.
She took a deep breath and turned from the table to face Hogan.
“Colonel, London sent me here. I parachuted in two days ago and made arrangements through the underground to meet up with my supplies and a driver who brought me here. I occasionally work with the British intelligence services. They contacted me about a week ago and told me of your circumstances. They knew I had a better chance than anyone of helping you and asked me to come here under the guise of the Red Cross. I apologize that no one prepared you for my visit. I…I thought you knew.”
She paused, unsure whether to continue.
Hogan responded, confused. “Why would London send you?”
“It’s a bit of a gamble, as you Americans are fond of saying. Your work here has been invaluable to the war effort and if there is any chance of salvaging it…well, London is hoping my efforts will help make it possible for you to continue your mission. They realize, Colonel, that it hinges very much on you. Without your ability to carry on the chances for success are much reduced. My assignment is to make your continued involvement possible.”
Hogan reached for the chair and slowly sank down into it. His head was still swimming. How on earth would it be possible for me to continue to operate? Didn’t they realize the extent of my disability? Was there really a chance it could happen?
As though reading his thoughts, Dr. Maurier spoke.
“Colonel, I’m sure you feel there are more things you can’t do right now than things you can. But believe me, there are many ways to alter that balance. The training I will provide can make that happen. But, it will take a great deal of hard work on your part.”
Hogan shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said skeptically. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
“I do know,” she said, her blue eyes intense. “I know very well.”
Hogan shrugged. “Well, what have I got to lose? It’s not exactly as though I’m going anywhere, now is it?”
“Good.” Dr. Maurier stood up.
They’d made it over the first hurdle, but she knew from experience there were more yet to come.
“Well, Colonel Hogan, we’ve got a lot to cover in the time available. Shall we get started?”
“Yeah, sure, why not.” He still wasn’t completely sold on the idea.
“To begin with, you’re going to learn how to walk accompanied by another person. The first thing you need to remember is they are not to push you about in their grasp like some convict, but rather you are to take the sighted person’s arm near the elbow, like this.”
She reached for his arm and traced down to take his hand. He pulled away at first, then relaxed and allowed her to slip his hand inside the bend of her arm.
“That way, you will be forewarned of changes in levels or obstacles. The sighted person encounters them first, makes the necessary adjustments, and you will sense everything through the movements of their arm.”
He nodded his understanding. “Makes sense.”
“Fine, let’s give it a try.”
She began to take a step and felt his grip tighten.
“Relax, Colonel. You’ll want to use a light touch, one that will allow you to feel more of their movements than if you hold the person like a vise.”
“Sorry.” He cleared his throat nervously.
He loosened his grip on her arm and she began to walk around the room. They navigated their way in tandem around the dining room table and made a circuit through the living area, coming to a stop near the front entrance.
“I can tell when you’re about to change direction,” he said in amazement.
“Good, good.” She checked her watch. “We’ve got some time before dinner, Colonel. Next I’ll show you to your room and explain how things have been arranged there.” She paused momentarily. “I imagine you’ll want to freshen up and change before we eat.”
Hogan suddenly realized how decrepit he probably appeared. In his depressed state he hadn’t showered or changed in over a week. Alone in his room or around the other men it hadn’t mattered to him, but now he began to feel embarrassed at the way he probably looked to her.
Taking her arm once more he sheepishly followed Dr. Maurier down the short hallway. They entered the room and she began by leading him to the closet.
“You’ll have to learn how to become a creature of habit, Colonel. If you know where things are always placed it will make it easier for you. I’ve arranged your uniforms in the closet, pants to the left, shirts to the right.” She chuckled. “Wearing a uniform makes things a bit easier as you don’t have to worry about color coordinating. However, whenever you return to civilian life there are ways to deal with that and I’ll go over them with you later.”
Next she walked him over to the dresser. “You’ll find shorts and socks in the drawer. I’ve arranged your toiletry articles on top.”
She reached for an object on the dresser. “I’ve brought several items for you to make certain tasks easier. This is an electric razor. I’m sure you’d much rather use that than to try and shave with a straight razor.”
Hogan took the razor she placed in his hand and scratched his beard, amused. He’d almost begun to get used to its itching.
“Yeah, I imagine this beard doesn’t do much for my looks,” he joked. “It’s probably come in all gray and makes me fit the part of the ‘Old Man’ too well.”
She laughed lightly. “No, Colonel, that’s not it at all. I am simply aware how military men are accustomed to keeping their faces clean-shaven. I thought you might feel better if you could shave again.”
He shook his head thoughtfully. “You know, Doctor, for the first time since my accident, I feel as though someone understands what I’m going through.”
Dr. Maurier hesitated. “Well,” she said quietly, “with this terrible war there have been many people who have lost their sight. It is an unfortunate circumstance that there has been a greater need for my services.”
She turned to leave. “Will you require anything else, Colonel?”
“No, thank you, I think I can find everything.”
“Fine,” she said. “I’ll be in the living room. You may join me there when you are ready.” She left, closing the door softly behind her.
Hogan leaned on his outstretched arms against the shower wall, allowing the hot spray to beat down on his head. The warmth was soothing to his still aching ribs and bruised body. He thought about what Dr. Maurier had told him. He was immensely gratified that London was willing to give him another chance, although he hadn’t yet completely bought in to the notion that he could learn how to function as before. Since the accident he’d felt so helpless and inadequate. He hoped he would be able to regain the confidence of his men. He hoped he’d somehow be able to pull this off.
Hogan made the last flip with his tie and slipped the long end through the loose knot. He was surprised to find how easy it was to put on a tie again, even without being able to look in a mirror. It had become such a mechanical gesture I could do it with my eyes closed, he thought wryly.
Hogan opened the door to his room and ran his hands over his freshly shaven face. He had to admit it felt good not to have that scratchy beard any longer. He stepped out into the hallway and heard the sound of a dog scrambling to its feet next to his door.
“Well, Major,” he said, “and I suppose you were standing guard, hmm?” He reached down and patted the dog’s head.
He heard Major proceed ahead of him as he made his way down the hallway. He remembered there had been an entrance to the living area off to the left, but he was unsure how long the corridor was. He suddenly realized Major had come to a stop in front of him and seemed to be waiting. Perhaps he's trying to guide me, he thought. He put one hand out and found the doorway to his left, clearing his throat as he stepped into the living room.
“Well, I hope this is an improvement in my appearance for you, Doctor.”
Dr. Maurier laughed softly and rose from the couch. She came over to him and placed his hand on her arm.
“I trust that has helped you to feel better, Colonel?”
She led him to the dining area and pulled out a chair for him to sit down.
“More than you realize. It’s a real treat just to be able to shower with hot water for a change.” He smiled as Dr. Maurier sat at the table to his right.
“I took the liberty of ordering some dinner for us. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Uh, no, not at all,” he said uncertainly.
He could feel himself begin to tense at the possibility of humiliating himself again. He hadn’t eaten in front of others since that first evening back at the barracks after he’d been released from the hospital. It was too difficult for him to know what to do and to worry about spilling something. He hesitated, unsure how to begin.
“This will be your next lesson, Colonel,” Dr. Maurier said gently.
It’s as though she knows what I’m thinking, Hogan realized.
“London told me you were trained as a bomber pilot, Colonel, is that correct?”
“Yeah, at least I used to be.” The bitterness had returned to his voice.
She bit her lip. That was foolish of her, she thought. She hadn’t wanted to remind him so soon of those few remaining tasks he could never perform again. She shook her head and pressed on.
“Well, we will use a principle that was taught to you in that training. You must think of the plate in front of you as the face of a clock. I believe you learned to use the same system in identifying the position of enemy planes around you. I have arranged your plate so that the vegetables are between twelve and four o’clock, meat between four and eight, and potato between eight and twelve. You will find it much easier if the food has been precut for you—I’ll speak with Corporal LeBeau, your cook, and make certain he understands this.”
Hogan nodded gratefully and felt for the utensils in front of him to begin.
They ate in silence for the most part, not from awkwardness as much as each was absorbed in thought. Hogan was surprised to find his appetite healthy and was grateful for Dr. Maurier’s consideration in cutting the food up—it did make things appreciably easier for him.
After dinner she cleared the table and then returned with a tray. He could hear crystal glasses clink together as she carried them into the living area.
“I’ve got some good brandy that I managed to bring in from London, Colonel. Would you care for some?”
“Sure, that sounds great.”
She helped him over to the couch and he felt her sit down at the other end.
“Next lesson, Colonel. You’re going to do me the honor of pouring for us.”
He started. How does she expect me to do that?
She leaned over toward him and touched his arm, running her hand down lightly to take his left hand in hers. Her hand felt incredibly soft.
“You are right-handed, I presume?”
“Uh, yes.” He cleared his throat self-consciously.
“Fine, then you will use your left hand to help determine the measure of what you are pouring.”
She gently placed his hand around the crystal brandy snifter and adjusted it so his index finger rested inside the lip.
“When you pour, your fingertip will feel when the liquid is approaching the top of the glass. Of course, you’ll need some practice to become comfortable with this, especially with hot beverages.”
He chuckled. There was something about her that made him feel at ease. She didn’t seem to be repulsed by his condition as had Hilda. It was as though she could sense and understand every thought and emotion he was experiencing.
He finished pouring and lifted one of the glasses.
“Well, here’s to the beginning of an interesting challenge for you, Doctor. I hope you’re up to it.”
She picked up her glass from the table. “I suppose that remains to be seen, Colonel,” she said.
He could hear the smile in her voice.
They sipped the full-bodied liquid. It was excellent brandy, Hogan thought. Better than he’d tasted in many years. He leaned back against the sofa and savored the way it warmed his throat as it went down.
“Dr. Maurier, where did you find this brandy?” he asked.
“It was a gift I received from an old family friend before leaving London. Walter Fitzhugh and my father worked together many years ago and I’ve tried to stay in touch with him for father’s sake.”
“Walter Fitzhugh?” Hogan asked, sitting up. “You mean, General Walter Fitzhugh?”
“Yes, that’s right. He’s the one who requested that I come here. Didn’t you know that?”
“No, I…I guess I didn’t.”
Hogan settled back against the cushions and reflected for a moment.
“I suppose the past couple of weeks there have been a lot of things I haven’t known. I’d sort of shut myself off from everything for a while,” he said quietly.
She remained silent, but he could sense she understood what he was saying.
“Please, Colonel, I seldom use my title anymore. We will be working together closely and I’d prefer if you used my Christian name. You may call me Vicky.”
“Yes, short for Victoria. My parents became quite fond of the late Queen of England during their stay there and decided to name me after her.”
“Hmph. So, you rub elbows with generals and were named after a queen. You’ve got a most fascinating background to be wasting time with a has-been from Cleveland,” he said jokingly.
“So, Cleveland, that is where you are from in America?”
“Tell me about it, please, Colonel.”
“Only if you’ll stop calling me Colonel,” he chided good-naturedly.
“What should I call you?”
He hesitated. He couldn’t remember the last time someone had addressed him by his first name. His men certainly would never take that liberty and even with Klink, his equal in rank, they had never become that familiar with each other.
He chuckled softly. “I guess Robert will be fine.”
“All right then, Robert, tell me about growing up in America. I’ve never had the occasion to visit there.”
He began by telling her about the small community on the outskirts of Cleveland where he was raised. His father had been a foreman at the local mill and his mother was a housewife. He was an only child, but his father had come from a large family and there were always plenty of cousins around for him to play with.
He went on about his early love of airplanes that led him to a career in the air corps, his life in the military and what made him accept the assignment that brought him to Stalag 13.
She was especially interested in that aspect of his career. She confessed she had been given access to his file in London and had immediately been curious as to what sort of man would volunteer to be taken prisoner.
She seemed to understand, more than anyone with the exception of his men, what the assignment meant to him. How the chance to make an important difference in the war meant so much and was what kept him going through the difficult times.
They talked on together for hours late into the night, their conversation relaxed and natural. By the end of the evening he felt as though he had known her all his life.
They could have talked for hours more, but Major came over and interrupted them, placing his head on Hogan’s knee.
“Ah,” said Vicky. “He’s probably asking to go out. I’ll need to take him for a walk before we turn in.”
“Do you mind if I go with you?”
“Not at all, I’d enjoy the company.”
She retrieved her topcoat and handed Hogan his leather jacket from the closet.
As they stepped out onto the porch into the chilly night air Hogan realized that it was well into the evening, but he had not heard her switch on any lights in the room. He shook his head. The lights must have been turned on before, he decided.
Hogan took hold of Vicky’s arm and walked down the steps. It felt good to be out in the fresh air, he thought. They walked about the empty, still compound, letting Major lead the way for them. Stopping at one end of the yard, Vicky unsnapped Major’s harness and allowed him to roam freely. They listened as he explored his new territory with interest.
After a few minutes Hogan felt Vicky begin to shiver with the cold and he hesitantly slipped his arm around her shoulders to try and warm her. She stiffened initially at the change in his touch, then he felt her relax and gratefully lean against him to capture his warmth.
They stood that way together for a long time, each sensing the other’s slight movements as they breathed in the night air. Hogan wished their evening would never end, but eventually Major loped over to them and Vicky gently released herself from Hogan’s grasp, reaching down to attach Major’s lead. She straightened back up and took his hand to once again place on her arm.
“I suppose we ought to go back in,” she said, her voice husky.
“Yeah, I guess so.” He wondered if his voice revealed the melee of emotions that he was feeling as well.
They walked in silence back to their quarters. Once inside, Hogan politely excused himself and retired to his room.
As he loosened his tie he suddenly realized how tired he was; his energy level hadn’t yet returned to normal while his body still recovered from the events since his accident. He undressed quickly and slipped into bed.
As he lay there in his own darkness he thought about what had taken place that day. He thought about Vicky and what had motivated her to come there, at some risk to herself, he noted.
In his mind he could hear the sound of her voice, warm and gentle, and the way she spoke to him. She must be quite attractive, he imagined, given the way he could tell the other men, Klink and Schultz included, had fawned over her.
Reaching up in the dark, he ran his fingers over the long, jagged line of a raised scar on his forehead. What was he thinking? He had always been aware that women found him incredibly good-looking. But now things were much different, he expected.
Still, in Vicky’s manner with him he didn’t sense that she found him repulsive. He marveled at how it seemed as though she knew his inner thoughts. As though she somehow understood, first-hand, what I'm going through, he mused as he slipped into a peaceful sleep he hadn’t been able to experience since the accident.
Hogan awoke with a start. He was drenched in perspiration and wondered if he had cried out in his sleep. He could hear Major outside the closed door to his room, whining softly. His head dropped back on the pillow as he exhaled deeply.
This time at least he hadn’t been haunted by images of Pieter. That horror had been replaced by one of a sneering Hochstetter, gloved hand being molded into a fist, and a burning look of hatred in his eyes as he menacingly approached closer and closer. Hogan shuddered.
He lay there, allowing the disturbing vision to fade from his head, and wondered what time it was. He had no idea how long he had been sleeping, but thought he felt refreshed.
Hogan held his breath and strained to listen—he thought he could hear the faint sounds of someone in the kitchen. Vicky must already be up, he realized.
He roused himself from bed and hurriedly showered and changed to join her.
Hogan stepped out into the living area.
“Good morning,” Vicky said. There was a trace of concern in her voice. “Did you have some difficulty sleeping?”
She must have heard me having a nightmare, Hogan realized.
“I, uh, think I slept okay. I just can’t seem to shake these bad dreams I’ve been having. Funny, I never used to dream much before.”
She came to him and took his hand to guide him to the table.
“Do you find you remember many details from your accident?”
“Actually not too much. There’s a big gap between the explosion and then coming to back in the barracks. I guess I was unconscious for most of that time.”
He sat at the table with his head bowed and paused, unsure how much to tell her.
“Unfortunately, the moments leading up to the accident are quite clear. I keep seeing them over and over again and wishing I had done something to make them turn out differently,” he said quietly.
“You realize, of course, you cannot turn back events in time,” she said gently.
“I do, but…”
“You mustn’t be so hard on yourself. You need to allow more than just your physical injuries to heal. With time, the scars from the inner ones will become more faint as well.” She spoke softly, understandingly.
He nodded. Maybe I just need more time.
Vicky rose to bring him some coffee.
“By the way, what time is it?” he asked as he heard her return from the kitchen.
“Ah, yes,” she said, “I forget you don’t have any way of checking a clock. It’s almost nine in the morning.”
“Nine o’clock,” he said, surprised. “I guess I must be still catching up on my sleep.”
She poured some coffee for him and then excused herself, going to her room where she retrieved something from a drawer and returned.
“I brought these for you from London. Here, let me have your left wrist.”
He extended his arm across the table and felt her slip off his wristwatch and replace it with another. He ran his fingers over the watch. It didn’t seem much different, although perhaps the face was a bit larger than the watch he had been wearing.
“Can you feel the small pin at the bottom of the watch crystal, about where six o’clock is?” she asked.
He slipped his fingers around the base of the watch. “Yeah. So?”
“Press in on that pin.”
He followed her instructions and was surprised to feel the crystal release and lift back on a hinge to reveal the face of the watch.
“Now feel the watch face with your fingers.”
He lightly slid his fingers over the exposed surface of the watch. There were tiny bumps at each of the hours and the hands were slightly raised so he could tell their positions more readily.
“You’ll find twelve is marked by three raised dots, two dots for six o’clock, and a single dot for the other hours.”
Hogan concentrated and tried to distinguish the raised marks. “I think this says it’s five minutes to nine.”
“Yes, that sounds about right. When you aren’t checking the time, you’ll want to keep the cover closed to protect the watch hands. To anyone else it will look like an ordinary watch, but for you it will make it possible to tell the time.”
She picked up the next item from the table.
“I’ve also brought you a special alarm clock that has been similarly modified. In addition to the hour and minute hands, however, this one also has a third hand to indicate what time the alarm is set for. Eventually you may find you experience a normal night’s sleep, but at least at first you’ll find it difficult without being able to see sunlight to tell whether it is morning or the middle of the night when you awaken.”
That was exactly what he had been experiencing. He shook his head in amazement. About the only clue for him in the barracks as to whether it was day or nighttime was the sound of men stirring in the other room.
“How did you know I would need these?”
“I’ve worked with many individuals who have lost their sight, Robert. You’re not the only one who has been injured in this war.” She spoke gently.
“I’m sorry. I guess I’ve been pretty generous in doling out the self-pity, huh?”
“No, no, that’s not it at all. It’s just…”
Vicky paused, unsure of how much to say. “Well, for now let’s just go on. There’s still a lot we have to cover.”
She rose from the table.
“I can fix you something for breakfast, if you’d like. I expect the officers’ kitchen may have already closed for the morning.”
“Sure, just some toast is fine.”
He sat, drinking his coffee, while he listened to her move about in the kitchen.
“How do you take your eggs?” she called out to him.
“Eggs? Please, don’t go to the troub—”
“No trouble,” she interrupted him. “We’ve got a long day ahead of ourselves and you’ll need more to eat than just toast.”
He chuckled. “You sound just like LeBeau.”
She came out from the kitchen a few moments later, carrying a pan.
“I’m afraid my cooking skills are a bit rusty. You’ll have to make do with scrambled; I hope that’s all right.”
She filled their plates and sat down to eat.
“So, what’s on the agenda for today?” Hogan asked.
“Well,…” she paused to think. “I suppose we’d better work next on your navigation skills.”
Hogan brought to mind the orienteering training he’d had in the military where they taught him how to negotiate his way across unfamiliar terrain with only a map and compass. Could this be what she was talking about?
“Yes, there will be times when you won’t want to rely on someone else or you may not have anyone there to help you. You’ll have to learn how to safely get around on your own. I’ll teach you how to navigate your way around your barracks and the camp. For unfamiliar surroundings you’ll learn how to work with the aid of a special long cane.”
Hogan remained silent. A cane? He couldn’t accept having others see him use a cane. It would make his disability too conspicuous. He could just imagine the reaction of the men to seeing him tap his way around the camp. Impossible. He’d rather spend the rest of the war sitting alone in his room.
Vicky heard him set down his fork and push away from the table. She paused, waiting for his response, waiting for him to finish wrestling with what she had said to him. Most of them balked at the notion of using a cane, she knew, but it was necessary if he was to be as independent as possible.
He sat there in silence for what seemed several minutes. Neither one of them moved.
Hogan finally spoke, his voice subdued. “I…I’m not sure about this,” he said. “I, uh, I don’t think I can use a cane.”
It wasn’t said as a challenge; she genuinely seemed to want to know the reasons for his reservation.
Hogan swallowed hard. “I don’t want to look like some pathetic cripple,” he said harshly.
Although he hadn’t intended it, his words stung Vicky. She hung her head, waiting to bring her emotions in check before answering him.
“I hope, in time, you will come to accept yourself, and others with similar challenges, with more benevolence,” she said quietly.
Hogan sat there, puzzled at her response. He could tell he had offended her somehow, but didn’t understand what he had said that affected her so deeply.
He shook his head. “I’m sorry, I guess I’ve said something wrong.”
“No…no, please don’t think that. It’s just that…well, I understand your reluctance. Most people who lose their sight find it hard to accept the idea of using a cane.” She paused, thinking. “For now, instead we’ll work on finding your way around a familiar location, one that you can visualize in your mind.”
She cleared her throat and stood up from the table.
“To begin with, you may help me bring the dishes into the kitchen.”
“Okay,” Hogan said, his voice uncertain.
“It’s the same clock principle we used when arranging the plate of food. For each location you must establish a starting point that you envision as six o’clock. Usually the entrance into each room is a good starting point. Have you been in these quarters before?”
“Yeah, a couple of times, when Klink would hold parties for some visiting big shot and I was invited as the senior POW officer—sort of a show-and-tell.”
Vicky laughed. “Good, then you should have some idea as to how things are laid out?”
“All right, then establish the front door as six o’clock. What is located at twelve?”
“Hmm, that would be the living area—some chairs and a sofa.”
“That’s right. Now we’re going to pace off the distance from the door to the end of the sofa.”
Hogan stood and she walked over to him and placed his hand on her arm. They turned and made their way to the front entrance. From there, she led him across the room as they counted off the paces.
“Ten,” he said as they reached the end of the sofa.
She nodded her head. “Good. Now, where is the entrance to the kitchen from here?”
“I’d guess at about eight o’clock, with the door leading to the hallway next to it at nine.”
“Fine. Let’s calculate the distance.”
They paced off once again. They repeated this for all of the rooms, Hogan counting out the number of steps each time, and eventually made their way back to the dining table.
“Very good,” Vicky said.
Hogan felt better that he had pleased her with his effort.
“You’ll have to follow these steps for your barracks, your room, and other locations you will need to navigate. For each place, establish a mental map, then pace it out. Once the dimensions to various points in the room have been figured, you will need to get used to silently counting to yourself each time you begin to walk. It may seem awkward at first, but don’t worry, it will soon become second nature for you and eventually you won’t even realize you are doing it.”
She picked up a plate from the table.
“Now, I’d say you’re ready to help me clear the table, Colonel,” she said, her voice gently teasing him.
He chuckled and felt for his plate on the table.
“If I ever succumb to marriage I’m sure my wife will appreciate you for this. Lead the way, Doctor.”
Hogan walked again from his room to the stove and then to the table in the middle of the barracks. He’d counted off the steps to himself as he paced the distance. Perhaps I can pull this off, he thought. Maybe he could function again, even without his sight.
The men had been called away on a work detail outside of camp and he’d taken advantage of their absence to reacquaint himself with the barracks from a different perspective—that of measured steps in his sightless world.
The barracks seemed oddly quiet to him; he couldn’t recall ever being completely alone there before. Even on work details, although his rank excluded him from physical labor, he still insisted on accompanying the men, if only to make certain they were not mistreated.
Besides, the trips had often proved useful in conducting some of their clandestine activities once outside the camp’s perimeter. There had been more than one occasion, particularly under Schultz’s watch, when they had been able to pass messages with members of the underground who happened by their detail while going to or from town.
He turned toward the stove and found a pot of coffee there, still warm. He poured himself a cup and sat at the table, deep in thought. After lunch Vicky had given him some time off, “for good behavior,” she’d said jokingly. She’d then retired to her room and he’d stretched out on the sofa, thinking he might nap, but sleep eluded him. His mind was too busy, going over and over again the things she had taught him.
After an hour or so he’d gotten up to sit out on the steps of their quarters, letting the November faint afternoon sun warm his face, when Schultz walked by. Schultz had told him of the work detail and Hogan seized the opportunity to be taken to the barracks so he could practice what he and Vicky had worked on earlier.
He sat there now, thinking of her. She’d excused herself after lunch and he heard her softly close the door to her room. Perhaps she was tired from her travels and then the concentration of working with him.
He admitted he’d been difficult. He regretted the way he’d first reacted to her, rashly jumping to conclusions as to the purpose for her visit. In kind, she had only responded with incredible patience and compassion.
He smiled when he recalled what she’d said about Fitzhugh sending her there. Good old Fitzhugh. He’d been too harsh with him as well and would have to respectfully apologize whenever he returned to London. No, not just apologize; he’d have to sincerely thank him for having the foresight to send Vicky and allowing him to have a second chance.
She’d salvaged his life. He shook his head in wonder at the recollection of how far he’d fallen away not just from his men, but also himself. When no one else was able to break through the shell he’d constructed Vicky somehow knew exactly how to reach him. Everything she’d done, every word she’d spoken to him, was said in complete acceptance and comprehension. As though she knows even better than I do what has been happening to me, he thought.
He’d never felt so totally comfortable with a woman before. He’d certainly had his share of female relationships, but none where he felt the sort of kindred union he’d only previously experienced with his tight band of men.
He liked the easy way she laughed, the softness of her touch when she placed her hand on his, and the way she seemed to listen so attentively to what he said. He’d opened up with her as he had never done before, not even with his men.
It seemed odd, though, not having a woman throw herself at him as had so typically been the case before. It used to actually amuse him to see how women would fawn over him, almost tripping over each other, completely at his beck and call.
Vicky was so different. Her manner with him was caring, but she somehow remained a bit reserved, as though she was holding something back, perhaps not wanting to reach out too closely to him. He didn’t sense that she found him physically repulsive, although he wondered what the scars from his accident had done to his appearance.
It suddenly struck him that in the few hours she’d left him on his own he was actually missing her company. Incredible, he thought, that in the short space of time he’d known her she’d had such an impact on him. He shook his head and was draining the last bit of coffee in his cup when the door to the barracks opened.
“Mon Colonel,” said LeBeau, genuinely surprised and happy to see him.
“Louis, how have things been?”
Hogan was touched by the affection in LeBeau’s greeting as he came over and put his arm around Hogan’s shoulders.
“Ah, Colonel, much better now that you are back. We’ve missed you.”
“Thanks, Louis, I’ve missed me, too,” Hogan said jokingly. “Say, where are the others?”
“They are still working. Kommandant Klink requested we clear some downed trees outside the camp for firewood. I was sent back early to prepare dinner for the others.”
LeBeau removed his jacket and began to tie an apron around his waist.
“And how are things going with Dr. Maurier?”
“Better than I would have expected,” Hogan replied, shaking his head in wonder. “She’s taught me to do things I wouldn’t have thought were possible.”
“Is she still here?”
“Yes, we’ve got more work to do.”
“Mais oui,” teased LeBeau. “After all, with an instructor like her I don’t blame you for not wanting to rush through the training.”
“She’s…she’s really good looking, eh, Louis?”
“Beyond good looking, Colonel. She’s magnifique.”
“Would you, uh, would you describe her for me?” he asked, his voice quiet and serious.
LeBeau sat at the table and looked at Hogan. He must be falling for her, he realized, the way he asked about her.
“Yeah, I mean, what does she look like?”
“Ah, oui.” LeBeau paused. “I’d guess she’s in her early thirties. She’s got dark brown hair, but it’s more than just brown, it’s like…like the color of a rich tapestry that shows burgundy and gold threads in it when the light hits it just right. And her eyes…her eyes are a deep blue that sparkle when she looks at you.”
“No, Louis,” Hogan said softly, “they smile when she looks at you.”
“Oui,” LeBeau nodded his head. “That’s it—they always look like they are smiling. How did you know?”
“I can tell. I can hear it in her voice,” Hogan mused.
LeBeau stood up and placed his hand on Hogan’s shoulder. “Ah, oui, Colonel, I understand.”
He walked over to the stove to ready a pot of water.
“There’s more coffee here, Colonel. Would you like some?”
“That’s okay, Louis, I’ll help myself.”
Hogan stood and walked over to the stove and casually refilled his cup. He tried not to smile as he lifted the mug to drink. He could almost sense LeBeau’s astonishment.
“Colonel, it’s incredible.”
“Yeah, Louis, it’s incredible all right. Vicky is quite a woman.”
“I don’t know how she’s done this for you, Colonel, but Mon Dieu, it’s wonderful to see you like yourself again.”
“Thanks, Louis, it’s nice to feel this way again. For a while there I didn’t even know who I was any longer.”
Hogan finished the last of his coffee and set the cup on the table.
“Well, I’d better get out of your hair so you can get dinner ready. The others will be hungry after working outside all day.”
He headed toward the door and then stopped, turning back to LeBeau.
“Say, Louis, would you tell me something. Tell me honestly, I mean?”
“Oui, Colonel, what is it?” LeBeau sounded puzzled.
“Since the accident, well…did it change me…the way I look?”
LeBeau scanned his face and saw the worried expression.
“Ah, no, Colonel, not the way you think. You’ve got a scar from where you were hurt, but it doesn’t show so much anymore. To me, you still look the same.”
“Yeah?” Hogan bowed his head for a moment, deep in thought.
“Well, thanks, Louis. Thanks a lot.”
He turned back to the door. “Say hello to the other fellows for me, will you?”
“Certainly, Colonel. I’m sure they’ll feel badly having missed your visit. When do you think you might be back with us again?”
“I don’t know. I guess that’s up to the teacher.”
Hogan flashed a boyish grin at LeBeau and headed out the door.
Hogan helped Vicky clear the table after dinner. She’d seemed oddly quiet during the meal. He didn’t sense that she was upset with him, but more that she was preoccupied with something. They returned to the table and she poured coffee for them both.
“You’ve been deep in thought this evening, Vicky,” Hogan said as he picked up his cup.
“Ah, yes, I suppose so.” She shook her head and smiled at him. “I’m sorry, I imagine I haven’t been very good company this evening.”
“Quite the contrary,” he said quietly.
She cleared her throat. “I’ve, uh, I’ve been thinking about what we have remaining to cover in your training.”
“A lot, I hope,” Hogan said playfully and heard her laugh in response. She sounded more like herself, he thought.
“Well, since the pupil doesn’t yet seem to be worn out, we will have another lesson this evening.”
She rose and he heard her retrieve something from her room. She walked back to the table and set a heavy object down.
“I’ve been trying to decide whether to go over this material with you, but I think it may be useful, particularly when you return to civilian life.”
He sat there, wondering what she was referring to.
“I need to teach you how to read in Braille. Have you ever heard of that system of text before?”
“Yeah. The letters are coded in a series of raised dots on the page, right?”
“Yes, that’s it. I’m not sure how much it will help you here, but in the outside world you’ll find many materials now available in Braille. Perhaps I can make arrangements to have some books and newspapers sent here to help you practice.”
She lifted the cover of the book she had carried to the table.
“The paper is a bit heavier than in regular books, but that is so the punch machine can make a good imprint of the dots.”
She slid the book over in front of him and placed his hands on top of the page. It felt roughened with rows of tiny dots. How on earth could anyone make sense of this, he wondered?
“It may seem incomprehensible at first, but it really is a very simple system. With experience, you’ll find you can read almost as quickly as when you were able to see printed words.”
She rose to stand behind him and gently placed her hands over his to guide him to the top of the page.
“The alphabet appears at the top of this page. All letters, numbers, and punctuation symbols are represented by a combination of six dots, arranged in two columns. ‘A’ is the easiest letter to recognize as it is the most commonly used and is represented by a single dot in the upper left position. ‘B’ is similar, but has a second dot added just below in the middle position of the same column. Understand?”
He nodded his head. “Yeah, I suppose so, but it sounds like a lot to remember.”
“It simply takes practice,” she said reassuringly.
They ran through the alphabet several times until Hogan was able to correctly identify each letter without her prompting.
“Good. Now let’s try some words.”
She turned several pages and placed his hands at the top of the page.
“You read from left to right, just as with printed text. What does this say here?”
He hesitantly ran his fingers slowly over the dots, feeling like a schoolboy sounding out words in second-grade reading class.
“When…in…the…course…of…human…events…” He stopped, amazed. “Say, I can read this.”
He turned, raising his head up toward hers.
“But don’t you have anything more interesting to read than the American Declaration? Maybe the box scores from last season’s American League pennant race instead?”
She laughed and he felt her hair brush softly against his face. Her hands came to rest on his shoulders and a shiver ran through him with the gentle sensation of her touch.
“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid not. Perhaps I can find something slightly more interesting for you, though.”
She reached around him and turned a few pages. Her hair once more fell across his cheek and he breathed in deeply. She smelled like scented soap and he could detect a faint odor of lavender.
She straightened back up and took his hands again.
“Try this paragraph. You’ll need to use both hands in order to gain any speed. The left hand trails the right slightly, and returns to the left margin of the page sooner in order to act as a pointer for where to pick up the next line of text.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” he said.
“Here, let me exchange places with you and I’ll show you what I mean.”
Vicky stepped back and then sat in his place as he moved to stand behind her.
He paused and then uncertainly placed his hands on her shoulders, slowly trailing down her arms as he bent over and caressed her hair with his cheek. She stiffened slightly, but didn’t say anything.
Hogan reached down further, slipping his hands on top of hers and abruptly halted.
He dropped his head to his chest. What an idiot I’ve been, he thought.
He slowly straightened up, releasing her. No wonder she hadn’t been making a play for him. She was wearing a wedding ring. Of course. Hadn’t he heard Schultz call her “Frau Doktor?”
Hogan stepped back and cleared his throat with embarrassment. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.”
His voice sounded strange, Vicky thought.
“What is it?” she asked, perplexed.
He shook his head. He felt like such a fool.
“I’m sorry, it…it hadn’t occurred to me you might be married.”
“Oh,” she said quietly in realization as she fingered the ring on her hand.
She stood from the table and turned toward him.
“There’s nothing to apologize for, Robert. I…I should have told you about myself, but, well, I wasn’t sure when would be the right time.”
He nodded and turned away.
“Wait…please.” She touched his arm. “I wear this ring because I was married, once. I…I lost my husband in the war two years ago. We were in London when he was killed in a bombing raid.” Her voice became a murmur. “I’m sorry, I should have told you. You had no way of knowing.”
Hogan turned to say something to her when there was a knock on the door. Vicky groaned inwardly. There was more she felt she ought to tell him.
She reluctantly called, “Come in.”
The door opened and Newkirk entered the room. He hesitated when he saw the emotions burdening their faces.
“I’m sorry, sir, am I intruding?” he asked uncomfortably.
“No, Newkirk, it’s okay,” Hogan said with a sigh. “What’s up?”
“Uh, well, sir, Kinch is on the radio with London. Something’s going on and 'e asked me to come over and bring you and Dr. Maurier to the barracks.”
“If now’s not a good time, sir, I can let 'im know—”
“It’s all right, Newkirk,” Hogan interrupted impatiently.
It wasn’t all right; he wanted to be able to apologize to Vicky for having put her in such an awkward position, but that would have to wait until later.
“We’ll come over with you now. Vicky, is that okay with you?” he said as he turned toward her.
“Yes, certainly,” she replied. “I’ll get our coats.” She left the room to retrieve them, leaving Newkirk and Hogan alone.
“On a first name basis, eh, Colonel?” Newkirk teased. “So, and 'ow are the private lessons going, hmm?” His voice was filled with innuendo.
“Knock it off, Newkirk,” Hogan snapped. “I’m not in the mood right now.”
Newkirk was taken aback. “Sorry, sir. I, uh, I didn’t mean anything by it.”
Vicky returned and handed Hogan his leather jacket as Newkirk helped her on with her overcoat. She called for Major and gave Hogan her arm as they proceeded out of the quarters and across the compound to Barracks Two.
LeBeau poured coffee for Hogan and Vicky as they sat at the table in the middle of the barracks, waiting for Kinch to finish decoding London’s transmission and ascend from the radio room.
Carter knelt by Major, stroking his fur, and looked up at Hogan. “So, how’s it going, Colonel?”
“Fine, Carter. There’s been a lot to learn.”
“He’s a quick study,” said Vicky warmly.
“Geez, Colonel, you sure do seem to be doing a lot better,” remarked Carter.
“Oui, Colonel, it’s wonderful to see you this way again,” echoed LeBeau as he sat at the table with a mug of coffee.
“Yeah, well, I suppose Dr. Maurier getting me to shave again was a big improvement, hmm?” He chuckled as he rubbed his cheeks with his hand.
They laughed together while Kinch was heard climbing up the ladder from below. LeBeau got up and handed him a cup of coffee as he stepped over the rails of the lower bunk to join them.
“Thanks, LeBeau,” he said as he sat beside Hogan.
Kinch unfolded the blue piece of notepaper and looked over at Vicky uncertainly. He hesitantly slid the paper across the table in front of her.
“Dr. Maurier, London asked me to pass you this message.”
She dropped her head and smiled slightly. “I’m sorry, Sergeant Kinchloe, but I must ask you to read the message for me. Unless it is in Braille, of course.”
Hogan’s jaw fell open. The other men, with the exception of Kinch, looked shocked.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry. I, uh, I wasn’t sure.”
“I understand, Sergeant—there’s no need to apologize. Out of curiosity, what made you suspect?” she said with a smile.
“Well, I noticed when you were first introduced to us and looked directly at me, you had a sort of unfocused look to your eyes. Colonel Hogan looked the same way after his accident.”
“Ah, yes,” she reflected. “That is difficult to adjust. I can compensate for most other things, but that one is hard to gauge.”
“Wait a second,” Hogan interrupted. “Do you mean to tell me you’re blind?” His voice was filled with disbelief.
“Yes, that’s right, Robert.”
The men looked at each other again in surprise. They’d never heard anyone call the Colonel by his first name before.
Hogan shook his head. “But…but, you said you parachuted in from London. How on earth did you manage that?”
“Major and I both jumped in tandem with sighted paratroopers. Our harnesses were connected to theirs, although now I understand they are developing an altimeter that sounds a warning when you approach the ground. I suppose some day I may be able to jump solo, although I’m not certain I’d be very eager to try it,” she said with a laugh.
“Incroyable,” said LeBeau in amazement.
Hogan sat there, looking stunned.
Kinch cleared his throat. “Well, I suppose I’d better read the message then. It concerns you too, Colonel.”
“Yeah, sure…go ahead,” he said distractedly. His head was still reeling.
“Yes, sir, it’s pretty brief.”
Kinch retrieved the paper from across the table and began to read.
“Request you prepare and evaluate Papa Bear’s readiness to resume operational capability. Assessment to be done during support mission for Operation Lancer.”
“Operation Lancer?” Vicky asked.
“Yes, ma’am, that’s what the message said.”
Hogan interrupted; trying to recall what he had been briefed during his last visit to London.
“Operation Lancer is the code name for the beginning of a wave of Allied special operations behind enemy lines. There’s to be a coordinated pattern of sabotage to disrupt communications and logistics activities and weaken Germany’s troop support capability.”
“There’s a second message that came in for you, Colonel, that may explain things some more,” Kinch said.
“It says, ‘Papa Bear and team directed to interdict shipment of munitions for enemy troops. Munitions convoy to pass through Schlemmer tunnel tomorrow evening between 2320 and 2340 hours. Request you attempt to destroy shipment and tunnel to hamper enemy supply transport lines.’”
“The Schlemmer tunnel? Isn’t that the new one they just completed? That thing is almost a mile long,” exclaimed Carter.
“A mile long? 'ow do they expect us to blow that?” asked Newkirk.
Hogan was deep in thought. “We don’t have to blow the whole thing,” he said. “Just do enough damage to one end so nothing can get through.”
“That would do it,” agreed Kinch. “It took them six years to dig that passage through the mountain and with it gone there’d be no easy way around it.”
“We’d just need to bring enough of it down that the war would be over before they could finish digging it back out again,” Hogan said pensively.
“So, you think we can pull it off, Colonel?” Carter asked.
“That depends, I suppose. How much explosive do we have in stock?”
“Not much, sir, we ended up cleaning out most of our supply when we passed what we had to Pieter.”
Carter looked uneasily at the other men.
Hogan nodded. He wasn’t going to revisit his regret over that ill-fated night now. They had to prepare for their next mission.
“We’ll have to check with the underground units and see what they can get for us. Kinch, get on the radio and begin contacting the units, starting with those nearest to us. We won’t have much time to run around picking up material if we have to be ready tomorrow night.”
“Right, Colonel.” He got up and headed over to the bunkbed entrance to the tunnel to begin his rounds of communications.
“Carter, you’ll need to rig some timed charges, probably two dozen of them, the usual thing.”
“You got it, Colonel,” Carter said eagerly.
It felt good for all of them to be back in action again.
“We’ll need to go out tomorrow night around nine in order to make it there in time to wire the tunnel before the convoy goes through. Newkirk, can you arrange to get a vehicle of some sort for you and the others?”
“Certainly, sir. I believe there’s a truck in the shop that LeBeau and I have been workin' on. We’ll see to it that we’re not finished before we need to, er, take it on a road test.”
“And what about yourself and Dr. Maurier, Colonel?” LeBeau asked. “How will you join up with us?”
“It’ll be just me and I’ll come over after dark and go out the tunnel with one of you as a guide,” Hogan answered.
“I’m sorry, Colonel,” Vicky interjected, her voice firm, “but you forget London has directed me to evaluate your readiness. I’m going to accompany you on the mission tomorrow evening.”
Hogan chuckled softly. “ Normally I’d argue with you, but anyone with the guts to make a parachute jump and not be able to see where they’re landing probably won’t give in very easily. I guess I know better than to try and fight you on this one.”
Vicky smiled and nodded her head, triumphant. “So, how are we to join up with your men?” she asked.
“Simple,” said Hogan in his familiar cocky tone of voice as he stood from the table. “We’re going to have Schultz drive us in Klink’s staff car.”
Hogan hadn’t said a word to Vicky after their meeting was over in the barracks. They’d said goodnight to the other men and then walked slowly back across the compound, allowing Major a few minutes to explore off lead before they headed inside their quarters.
Hogan silently handed her his jacket and waited for her to return. He stood by the table, wondering how to begin when he heard her re-enter the room, approaching him.
“Why didn’t you tell me before?” he asked, sounding hurt.
Vicky sighed and shook her head.
“I was about to tell you when we were interrupted earlier by Corporal Newkirk. Before that, well, I just didn’t know when the timing would be right. I…I didn’t want you to feel sorry for me—I’m sure you can understand why.”
“How…how did you lose your sight?”
She paused, fingering the band on her hand, then reluctantly began.
“It was two years ago, in the same bombing raid in which my husband was killed. I was a medical doctor and had to work late one evening at the hospital. There were so many wounded to deal with then.”
She shook her head, thinking back.
“Charles insisted on picking me up at the hospital—he worried about my trying to get a taxicab so late at night. We were stopped in a busy intersection when we heard the first wail of the air raid sirens. I remember Charles fretted over whether to abandon the car there or attempt to continue on to safety. I was tired after working so long and asked him to try and make it home. We were only three blocks from our apartment and there was an air raid shelter in the cellar there. We had gone about another block when the explosions began around us.”
“There was no time to think, no time to react. A large shell must have landed very near where we were. I was thrown from the car and came to a few moments later, unable to see. I could hear Charles, apparently still trapped in the car. He…he was screaming in pain for someone to help him.”
Her voice dropped to a whisper.
“I was a physician, and I was utterly helpless. I…I couldn’t see anything, in all the noise and confusion I couldn’t find my way to the car. By the time others arrived Charles was dead. B-b-because I couldn’t help him…”
Breaking uncontrollably into sobs, she leaned against the table.
Hogan reached out and gently took her arm, pulling her toward him. She slipped her arms under his and buried her head in his chest, her body shaking.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly.
He could feel the wetness of her tears through his shirt and held her close.
“I’m so very sorry,” he said, rocking her tenderly in his arms.
After several minutes, her trembling began to gradually subside and he could feel her uneven breaths return to normal, her face still pressed against his chest. He slid his hand under her chin and gently lifted her head. Wiping the moist tears from her face, he slipped his hands through her thick hair. She raised one hand to the back of his neck as his lips met hers.
He kissed her softly at first, caressing her face and hair, taking in the pleasant scent of her body. He pulled her tighter and they kissed each other hard, her lips parting as he pressed against her. His hand descended across her shoulders and began to trace lightly down her back, coming to rest against the curve of her buttocks as he pulled her in to him. She moaned softly as she felt him stir against her.
Separating from him slightly, she lifted a hand to trace the outline of his lips and jaw with her fingers. She kissed him again, her mouth eagerly seeking his, then parted and slipping her hand in his, led him silently to her room, closing the door behind them.
Hogan awoke first and lay there quietly on his side next to her, his left arm encircling her waist. He gently nuzzled the back of her neck, savoring the scent of her skin. She stirred a little under the thick comforter, but continued to sleep. Hogan remained still, enjoying the way his arm rose and fell on her soft belly with each slow, measured breath.
After a few moments he carefully slipped his arm out from under the covers to feel the face of his watch. It was seven in the morning. He’d finally slept through an entire night, without waking hours before dawn or requiring an extended session of agitated tossing and turning before sleep eventually overcame him. He rolled gradually onto his back, trying not to disturb her, and lay there, his arm tucked under his head, trying to think about the mission later that day and struggling to keep tantalizing thoughts of Vicky from intruding.
Hogan was thinking of what preparations remained to be done for that night’s mission when she rolled over, facing him, and murmured something. Turning to nestle against her, he delighted in the way the curves of her body warmly filled the spaces between them. He caressed her hair with one hand and could feel her eyelashes flutter softly against his cheek. He wondered if she still experienced the momentary panic that he felt when he awoke to the never-ending blackness.
“Good morning,” he whispered.
“Ummm,” she agreed, drawing closer and draping one arm across his chest.
He kissed her and she moved against him, leaning atop his torso.
“Unnnhhh,” he groaned sharply, quickly shifting his weight out from under her.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she exclaimed. “Did I hurt you?”
Hogan sucked in a breath, trying to speak without sounding strained.
“No, no.” He squeezed his arm against his side, holding the bruised ribs.
“I’m still feeling the results from a close encounter with a certain Gestapo officer,” he said, wincing. “I’ll be all right in a minute.”
The pain gradually subsided and he eased back next to her, taking a deep breath.
“I heard what they had done to you,” Vicky said, her voice subdued. A shudder ran through her.
Hogan turned toward her and gently brushed the side of her face with his hand. “It’s fine, now. Really.”
Vicky shook her head. “Those inhuman beasts.”
Hogan shushed her softly. “That’s why I’m here—so they won’t be able to get away with that with others.”
“I know,” she said reluctantly and laid back down beside him, thinking. “Are you worried about this evening?” she asked.
“Not really. A little perhaps, in that I don’t want my being there to put someone else in danger, but my men are really the best. I feel confident we can pull this off tonight. Why, are you nervous about going out with us?”
“No, I know you and your men are very good at what you do,” she said. “I’ve been thinking, though,” she continued. “I believe you need to begin learning how to work with Major.”
“What do you mean?”
“Major will be your eyes tonight, Robert, just as he has been mine.”
“Of course, no wonder he’s always by your side—he’s a guide dog, then?”
“Yes, one that is specially trained. You’ll find he has acquired a number of unique skills that will assist him in operating in your environment here.”
“Well, but don’t you think I need to develop the ability to operate here on my own? After all, when you leave Major won’t be available. That is, of course, unless I could convince you to stay somehow…” He let his hand trace suggestively down the curves of her hips.
She laughed softly. “It may sound insane, but I wish I could stay here with you. Instead, Major will have to watch over you for me, until you get home after the war. I’m leaving him here with you.”
Hogan started. “But Major is yours—he’s trained to work with you. How will you do without him?”
“I will train another. I’ve provided dogs for other people who have lost their sight as well. Major has always been my dog, but I would feel better knowing he was with you.”
Hogan pulled her toward him in an embrace. He knew what it must mean to her, to give up her trusted companion.
“I promise to take good care of him,” he said. “I’ll see that you’re reunited with him after the war.”
“I was hoping all three of us would be reunited after the war,” she said softly.
Hogan held her tight. He’d never felt compelled to make such a commitment before, but this time there was no hesitation.
“You have my word I will make that happen,” he murmured as his lips encircled hers.
Schultz knocked on the Kommandant’s door and opened it in response to Klink’s greeting.
“Herr Kommandant,” Schultz said, “Dr. Maurier is here to see you.”
“Ah, yes, Schultz, by all means, show her in.”
Klink pushed the papers away and stood from his desk to come around and pull out a chair for her.
“Good morning, Dr. Maurier,” he said jovially. “May I offer you anything, coffee, perhaps?”
“Thank you, but no, Colonel. I’m quite fine right now.”
She sat down, ordering Major to lay at her feet and wondered if her face revealed the friction of Hogan’s morning growth of beard from their earlier lovemaking.
Klink walked back behind his desk and sat down.
“So, tell me, how are things going with Colonel Hogan?” He sounded genuinely interested and concerned.
“Very well,” Vicky responded. “He's made tremendous progress in the short time we’ve had available for his training.”
“I am so pleased to hear that.” Klink hesitated. “I don’t know if you find it surprising for me to say this, Frau Doktor, but I truly respect Colonel Hogan. It was not, er, pleasant for me to see what happened to him after his accident.”
“I know you mean that,” Vicky replied. “Colonel Hogan has spoken very highly of you as well. I imagine there must be similar burdens placed on the two senior officers here that provide a common ground for understanding.”
“Precisely,” answered Klink. “Although my reasons for wanting to see Colonel Hogan helped were not entirely self-serving. I did not want to see his life go on the way it was. He still can no doubt lead a meaningful life after this wretched war is over.” Klink sighed.
“That is partially the reason for my coming here, Colonel,” Vicky said. “I believe Colonel Hogan has acquired most of the skills he will need to function here in camp, but he will encounter a different set of challenges when the war is over and he returns to civilian life. For instance, it is difficult to teach him how to cross a busy city intersection here in camp.”
“Ah, yes, of course,” Klink responded, thinking. “Is there anything that can be done to help?”
“There is, with your permission and assistance, Colonel. I would like to take Colonel Hogan into Dusseldorf this evening. That will give me the opportunity to introduce him to a different environment, more like the one he will have to live in after the war.”
“Into the city, you say?” Klink hesitated at the unusual request. “Well, I don’t know…”
“We certainly would be under escort, Colonel. Perhaps you could spare Sergeant Schultz to drive us there and he could keep an eye on Colonel Hogan for you?” She held her breath, hoping he would take the bait.
“Hmm, yes, that would be acceptable, I suppose.” Klink nodded. “All right, then, I’ll see that Schultz is made available this evening to provide the necessary escort.”
“Thank you, Colonel Klink. I know it will prove most helpful for his training.”
“What time would you like to depart?”
“Oh, I believe seven o’clock will be fine, Colonel.”
Klink stood from behind his desk to signal the end of their meeting.
“I will make the necessary arrangements for you, Frau Doktor.”
Hogan refilled Vicky’s coffee cup as she sat at the table in the barracks.
“With a little more effort I think I could have gotten Colonel Klink himself to offer to drive us,” she was saying with a smile.
The men around the table joined her in laughter.
Hogan placed his hand warmly on her shoulder. “You’re incredible, Vicky.”
She smiled up at him and placed her hand over his, giving it a slight squeeze in return.
“I suppose you’re not the only one who has been learning something these past few days, hmm?”
LeBeau and the others fondly watched them interact with each other. It was evident they had developed a deep and genuine affection for each other.
LeBeau knew that Dr. Maurier had made a tremendous difference in Colonel Hogan; she’d been responsible for helping many of his wounds to heal, the invisible ones anyway. He just hoped she didn’t create new ones with her inevitable departure. LeBeau got up thoughtfully from the table to start a new pot of coffee on the stove.
“We’ve got a change of clothes for you and Dr. Maurier,” Kinch was saying. “They’ll be in the truck with us when we stop near the Schlemmer Pass. That will put us about a half a mile from the tunnel.”
“A change of clothes?” asked Vicky.
“Yes, ma’am,” Kinch answered. “You’ll be stationed at a perimeter checkpoint with the Colonel and will need to remain as concealed as possible. We’ve got some dark clothes for you to wear that should help. Besides, if anything should go wrong, you’ll need to clear out of there quickly and I thought slacks would make it easier for you than trying to run in a dress.”
Vicky nodded her understanding.
“We shouldn’t have any trouble slipping away from Schultz,” Hogan said. “We’ll have dinner first and all we need to do is make sure he has a heavy meal and plenty of wine to drink. I just hope we can keep him awake long enough to drive us to our meeting point safely.” He chuckled.
“Colonel, I’ve got all the explosives we’ll need and then some,” Carter said. “When the underground units heard you were back in operation they made arrangements to gather it up for me. I think they even would have found a way to carry it through the front gate for us if I’d asked them.”
“Good.” Hogan smiled.
Vicky spoke up. “We’ve still got some work to do, Robert,” she reminded him. “I’d like to use the assistance of your men this afternoon, if that’s all right.”
“Sure, what did you have in mind?”
“We’re going to do some target practice,” Vicky said calmly.
The men looked at each other uneasily.
“From what I understand you have an extensive tunnel system below the camp?” she asked.
“Yes,” Hogan said hesitantly, trying to figure out what she had in mind.
“Good. That will help to muffle what we are doing.” She stood from the table. “Shall we, gentlemen?”
Vicky lifted the satchel she had carried over from their quarters and placed it on the table next to the radio. Opening it, she reached inside and brought out a small flat case. She felt for the clasps and unsnapped them to lift back the lid, disclosing a compact automatic weapon with blued gunmetal finish and custom-made rubber grips.
“Wow, a Mauser HSc 7.85mm pistol,” said Carter admiringly. The men gathered around the table in the radio room, watching her.
“7.65mm,” Vicky corrected. “Only this one has been slightly modified for your Colonel Hogan.”
She lifted the gun from its case and removed a long tube of the same color. Vicky placed the tube to the end of the Mauser’s barrel and expertly spun it, catching the threads and twisting them firmly together.
“This silencer will allow us to practice down here without being heard above.”
She then took an ammunition clip from the case and inserted it into the bottom of the Mauser’s grip, slapping it with the palm of her hand to seat it upwards.
She handed the gun to Carter who hefted it, feeling the weight.
“It’s got a real nice balance to it,” he said.
“Precisely. The balance will help you to shoot with accuracy without having to visually sight the target.”
She turned in Kinch’s direction. “Is there another large room down here that we can use?”
“Yes, ma’am. Just a short distance from here.”
He turned and gave her his arm, as she had taught them to do. Newkirk did the same for Hogan and they proceeded down a corridor that opened into a roughly square room large enough to easily hold fifty men.
They’d built the room after the time Hogan thought up a way to make the Germans believe there’d been a massive prison break in order to keep nearby troops occupied in looking for the “escaped” prisoners.5 What Klink and the others never realized was the men had not escaped at all, but were concealed below the camp in the tunnels.
The greatest danger in this escapade was to keep the men crowded down below from rioting in frustration due to the cramped conditions. Afterwards, Hogan had the new room dug out for use in the eventuality they needed to pull a similar stunt again.
Vicky reached into her satchel and took out a thickness of paper that she unfolded. The bundle contained several layers of targets displaying a black silhouette of a man holding a gun. Inside each target was a small set of concentric rings, centered over the man’s heart.
“Sergeant Kinchloe, would you see that these are attached to the walls?”
“Certainly.” Kinch took the targets and handing some to Carter, began to tack them up around the room.
“Now, gentlemen,” Vicky said as she turned her back, “I’ll ask you to pick up some gravel and when I give the word, each of you in turn will throw a stone at a target, trying to hit where the center of the bulls-eye is located.”
“I don’t get it,” said Carter, puzzled.
“Just watch, Andrew,” Kinch said. “I think I know what Dr. Maurier’s up to.”
She smiled and nodded, flipping up the safety mechanism on the gun in her hand.
Kinch threw a small stone across the room behind her, striking the silhouette in the chest. Vicky whirled in a crouch, whipping the gun around and up in the direction of the sound, and fired twice. The Mauser barely recoiled as it emitted two faint spits.
“Again,” she ordered.
Newkirk tossed his stone against another target to her side. She turned to her left, bringing the gun up and carefully squeezing the trigger. Vicky dropped her arm, releasing the clip with her other hand and smoothly pulling back the slide to expose the empty chamber.
“Well?” she asked.
Carter walked to the targets against the first wall, placing his fingers over the holes in the circle.
“Bulls-eye,” he said in amazement.
He turned to the other target on the side wall.
“Same there, too.”
He looked incredulously at Vicky. “Ma’am, I don’t know how you did that, but that’s some shooting.” He shook his head in wonder.
Vicky smiled. “Thank you, Sergeant. My father used to spend quite a bit of time on the practice range with me when I was younger. He wanted to be certain I would always be able to protect myself. After I lost my sight it merely required some adaptation to reclaim the same accuracy. You have to listen for the sound. With concentration you can detect the height and distance of the stone striking the target. The gun in your hand becomes an automatic extension of your body and with practice you can learn how to aim toward the sound with precision.”
“Fellows, remind me never to make her angry,” Hogan quipped.
Vicky laughed. “Now, it’s your turn.”
He walked over to her and she reloaded the gun, placing it in his hand. It felt solid and was so well balanced you almost thought you were holding nothing. He checked the safety and flipped it up, then pulled back the slide to seat a round in the chamber.
“Okay,” he said uncertainly.
Vicky nodded to the others and Newkirk hefted a piece of gravel toward a target to Hogan’s right. His head slightly bowed, he listened intently and then quickly turned, extending his arm toward the sound. The Mauser spat once, striking the right edge of the concentric ring of circles.
“You’re off to the right about four inches, Colonel,” Kinch said.
Hogan nodded. “Okay,” he said, signaling his readiness.
Carter tossed the next stone, striking a target to the left. Hogan shifted and fired again.
“Carter,” Newkirk said in an annoyed voice.
“What?” asked Carter defensively.
Newkirk walked up to inspect the target more closely. The target was dented and marked by the piece of gravel near the silhouette’s right ear, well above the bulls-eye, with a bullet hole piercing the paper left of the stone’s mark.
“Well, Colonel, I’ve got good news and bad news,” he said. “The good news is your shot is closer this time. The bad news is Carter can’t hit the broad side of a barn. Maybe Dr. Maurier can find some time to work with 'im before she leaves.”
He smirked at Carter while Vicky and the others tried not to laugh.
“Was I off to the left a bit?” Hogan asked.
“Yes, sir, by about two inches.”
Hogan made another mental adjustment and signaled for Newkirk to throw again. He picked up a small rock and aimed for the target behind Hogan. At the sound of its impact Hogan turned and pulled the trigger twice. Both bullets cleanly pierced the dark center of the bulls-eye.
Newkirk whistled low. “Nice shooting, sir. You’re dead center with both shots.”
Hogan pushed the safety back into position and turned toward Vicky and the men.
“Well,” he said grimly, “let’s hope I won’t need to use it tonight.”
“Now’s a good time for me to also show you some of Major’s special skills, Robert,” Vicky said.
Kinch had earlier carried the dog down the ladder, fireman-style, and LeBeau now released him from where they were standing at the entrance to the room. Major padded eagerly over to Vicky and sat at her side. Vicky reached down and gave him an encouraging pat on the head, then took an extra clip of ammunition she had placed in her pocket and tossed it across the room where it came to rest on the floor several meters away.
“Major, pick it up,” she said in a crisp, succinct voice.
The dog trotted over to where the clip was laying and carefully lifted it with his teeth, then carried the clip over to Vicky where he deposited it in her open hand.
“Good boy,” she said approvingly and Major again sat down, awaiting her next command.
“Did he just retrieve something for you?” Hogan asked.
“That’s right,” Vicky answered, “an ammunition clip I had thrown for him.”
“Gosh, that must be a hard trick to teach him,” Carter said.
“Actually, no,” Vicky said. “Retrieving is very much in their blood lines. It’s one reason they so often select this breed to train as a guide dog. When you drop something, it’s relatively easy to see where it fell and then pick it up, but for a person who cannot see, having a dog who is capable of picking up dropped articles can be most helpful.”
“Here, you try it,” she said, turning to Hogan and placed the clip in his hand.
Major looked expectantly at Hogan who flipped the flat metal container off to his side.
“Major, pick it up,” he commanded and the dog quickly obeyed; then, tail wagging, loped over to Hogan and nuzzled his hand to signal for him to open it and accept the clip.
“Hey, he did it,” Hogan said.
“Well, of course, sir,” Carter said, half-seriously. “You outrank him.”
Hogan crouched beside Major, gratefully scratching him behind the ears, and grinned as the others burst into raucous laughter.
Hogan fingered his tie, checking to see if it was centered, as he entered the living room. Vicky was seated on the couch and rose to greet him as he came into the room.
“How do I look?” he asked as she put her arms around his neck.
Vicky ran her fingers lightly through his hair. “Not bad for a has-been from Cleveland,” she replied teasingly and kissed him.
He drew her close. “Do we have to go out tonight?” he asked. “I think I know another way for you to, um, assess my operational readiness,” he murmured as his hands slipped to her waist and pulled her into him. He caressed her neck with his lips.
A knock at the door interrupted them. Hogan reluctantly released Vicky and cleared his throat.
“Come in, Schultz.”
The door opened. “How did you know it was me, Colonel Hogan?” Schultz asked as he stepped inside the room.
“Well, let’s just say we’ve been interrupted by almost everyone else, Schultz. I just figured it was your turn.”
Schultz shrugged. There were plenty of times he didn’t understand what the flippant young colonel meant, but usually those were instances he didn’t want to know about either.
“The Kommandant’s car is ready outside, Colonel Hogan, whenever you and Dr. Maurier are ready to leave.”
“Thanks, Schultz, we’ll be right there.”
Hogan walked over to the closet to retrieve their coats, then helping Vicky on with hers, whistled softly for Major and took up the handle on his harness to lead them outside.
Schultz opened the door to the staff car for them and eased in behind the wheel to start up the motor.
“Where are we going, Colonel Hogan?” he asked.
“I have a feeling we’re going to make a night of it, Schultz,” Hogan answered. “Why don’t we begin with some dinner at the Scheffhenhaus?”
“Ah, Colonel Hogan, that restaurant is very, very nice, if I may say so.
“So I’ve been told, Schultz. I’m hoping we’ll have lots to celebrate this evening.”
“Jawohl, Colonel Hogan,” Schultz said eagerly and headed out the main gate.
Hogan put down his wineglass and felt for his watch to check the time. It was nine-thirty. The others should have already left through the tunnel and were probably on their way to the Schlemmer Pass, he thought. He figured from the restaurant to the meeting site near the mountain tunnel was about a thirty-minute drive.
“I hate to cut a lovely evening short, Vicky, but we’d better get going.”
He pulled some currency from his jacket and felt for the denomination markings in the corner. Vicky had given Kinch a small punch machine that he’d positioned on the table next to his radio. It resembled a typewriter, but instead of lettered keys it operated a set of small metal bores. All Kinch had to do was type out a message on the regular keyboard and a set of coded dots would be produced on paper. He’d done this for the bills Hogan carried, as Vicky had instructed, leaving a series of small dots in one corner of each bill to indicate its value. Hogan counted out the correct amount and placed it on the table as he stood.
“How are we doing on time?” Vicky asked.
“We’re okay, but I don’t want to cut things too close. It’d be just my luck to get a flat tire or have something else go wrong that would make us late.”
He took her hand and placed it on his arm as he leaned down for Major’s harness.
“Ready to go, boy?”
Major came to his feet from under the table where he had quietly remained during dinner and stood by Hogan’s side, waiting for his command.
Schultz came over to them from his table near the door. He’d offered to sit separately in order to give them more privacy. It was evident to him as well that they had become very fond of one another, and he knew their time together was fast drawing to a close with the conclusion of Vicky’s visit.
Schultz not only respected Hogan, but also genuinely liked him. It was due to more than just the occasional candy bars and gifts he’d provided when he wanted some favor. On more than one occasion he’d been instrumental in helping Schultz escape transfer to the Russian Front. When Schultz had slipped up and gotten drunk while on duty one afternoon Hogan had gone to some lengths to intervene on his behalf and Schultz still felt indebted to him for this unexpected kindness.6
“You are ready to go back to camp so early, Colonel Hogan?”
Schultz sounded disappointed and Hogan knew it was from their forcing a premature end to his evening of drinking schnapps and flirting with the barmaid.
“Don’t worry, Schultz,” Hogan said reassuringly, “the night is still young. Dr. Maurier and I would like take a drive before we head back…”
Hogan continued as they headed out the door.
“Oh, Colonel Klink, I didn’t know you were still here,” Hilda said in surprise as Klink emerged from his office. “I just told Major Hochstetter you'd already left for the day.”
“Major Hochstetter was here?” Klink could feel himself stiffen at the thought.
“No, Herr Kommandant, he called for you just now on the telephone.”
“What did he want?” Klink asked with relief. At least he wouldn’t have to face the despicable brute this evening.
“He wanted to know where Dr. Maurier was. He sounded quite upset and was babbling something about her Red Cross affiliation not being correct.”
Klink felt as though his blood was beginning to congeal in his veins.
“What…what did he say?”
“I’m not sure, Herr Kommandant, but I think he said he had checked on Dr. Maurier and found she was not with the Red Cross. He insisted he had to know where she was immediately.”
“And what did you tell him?” Klink asked. This was beginning to sound like trouble.
“I wasn’t sure what to tell him, Herr Kommandant. I was so surprised at his tone and he caught me off guard…”
“What did you tell him?” Klink repeated more insistently.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I told him she had gone out with Colonel Hogan and Sergeant Schultz to the Scheffhenhaus in Dusseldorf.” Hilda looked frightened at the realization that she may have placed them in danger with her admission.
Klink drew in a deep breath. “That’s quite all right, Fraulein Hilda, don’t worry. You’ve done nothing wrong,” he said, trying to reassure the shaken girl. At least I hope you haven’t done anything I can’t avert, he thought to himself.
Klink stood there a moment, pondering the problem, and then returned to his office to retrieve his topcoat and cap. As he slipped on his coat he glanced around the room. Perhaps he should prepare himself in the event serious trouble was to occur. He quickly stepped behind his desk and reached into a bottom drawer where he kept a Walther .9mm automatic pistol. He seldom carried it and had to check to make certain it was even loaded. Klink dropped the gun in the deep pocket of his overcoat and patted its weight against his side. He hoped he wasn’t making a foolish mistake.
“You really shouldn’t stay so late, Fraulein Hilda. Please, go home now and I’m sure everything will be fine,” he said as he emerged from his office.
She meekly obeyed and Klink escorted her down the steps before walking hurriedly to the motor pool.
“Here we are, Colonel Hogan,” Schultz said as he slowed the car and pulled to the side of the road. “Although I don’t know what is so special about the Schlemmer Pass.”
He shrugged and dutifully shut off the engine, then looked in the rear view mirror to find Hogan and Vicky in a steamy embrace.
“Oh, I…I beg your pardon…” Schultz stammered awkwardly.
Hogan released Vicky, reluctantly, and reached into his jacket pocket.
“Here, Schultz, I picked this up for you.”
He handed a bottle of schnapps to him over the seat.
“Why don’t you do us a favor and walk around for a bit, hmm?” he said as he slipped his arm around Vicky’s shoulders and leaned over her once more.
Schultz eagerly took the full bottle—a good brand, too, he noted, not the cheap schnapps he could usually only afford to drink on his enlisted man’s salary—and opened the driver’s door.
“Jawohl, Colonel Hogan,” he said gratefully as he clambered out.
They both listened as Schultz’s steps faded down the road. Hogan gave Vicky a final kiss and then sighed.
“I suppose there’s no rest for the weary?” he said.
She laughed gently and patted his arm. “Come on, we’ve got to find your team of men.”
Hogan quietly opened the car door and let Major out first, then stepped out and gave Vicky his hand to help her from the car. She took his arm and he reached down and grasped Major’s harness.
“Okay, boy,” he said softly, “let’s go.”
Major struck out down the road, leading them in the direction of the tunnel and Hogan’s waiting team of men. They walked briskly in the cool night air, sticking to the side of the road in case they should hear a car approach and need to conceal themselves.
Hogan could tell they had rounded another turn and felt his watch. They’d been walking for more than twenty minutes, at a fast pace, and should have come upon them by now. Maybe Major had guided them in the wrong direction? He could feel himself begin to perspire, despite the chilly evening, then forced himself to take a deep breath and relax. Vicky had taught him a number of skills but there was one that could never be learned and that was how to follow his instincts. Hogan tightened his grip on Major’s harness and pressed on.
“Wait,” Vicky whispered, “I thought I heard something up ahead—the sound of something metal being struck.”
They halted and stepped further off to the side of the road, trying to crouch down beside some bushes they found there. Hogan strained to listen, but didn’t hear anything.
“It’s stopped now, I think,” Vicky said softly.
Hogan released Major’s lead and whispered intently in his ear, “Go look, Major,” pointing down the road. The dog looked up at Hogan and Vicky, then silently trotted in the direction they had been headed, carefully skirting the side of the road.
Hogan placed his arm around Vicky’s shoulders. “How are you doing?” he asked.
“I’m fine,” Vicky smiled and placed her hand on his. “When I began working with British intelligence they gave me some operational training, but I’ll admit I’ve had few occasions to use it.”
“You’re not worried are you?” Hogan asked.
“No, not with you I’m not,” she said and gave his hand a squeeze.
“Yeah, well I’m beginning to be. Major should have returned by now.”
Hogan withdrew his arm from around Vicky and anxiously felt for his watch. Major had been gone for almost five minutes. What was the hold up, he wondered?
Just then they could hear the sound of someone running up the road. Hogan reached into his belt for his gun and remembered with a grimace he hadn’t taken it, but had left it with Kinch and the others. He didn’t want to risk having it inadvertently seen on him while they were in town and raise suspicion.
“Colonel,” they heard someone hiss a few meters away.
Hogan stood cautiously, “That you, Newkirk?”
“Yes, sir.” Newkirk stood panting. “We 'ad to park the truck a bit further away than we’d planned, sir. This road’s more winding than we expected and we 'ad to find a spot with enough of a straightaway that another vehicle wouldn’t come up on it too suddenly. When we saw Major coming ‘round, we knew you 'ad arrived. He led me right to you, sir.”
Major ambled over to them and Hogan scratched him behind the ears in relief.
“Good boy,” he said.
“We’ve got a small problem, Colonel.”
“What is it?”
Not already, Hogan thought. Everything had gone so smoothly up until now.
“Just a minor one, sir. It seems the timers that Carter brought with 'im aren’t working. 'e tested one after we got 'ere and it malfunctioned. Rather than risk the explosives not going off properly we’ve made a small change and are going to run a wire out to a detonator. It means we’ll 'ave to stick around to watch for the convoy and set it off when they enter the tunnel.”
Hogan nodded. “Have you got everything you need to do that?”
“Yes, sir. Carter thought to bring a spare detonator box and we’ve got plenty of wire, so we should be all set.”
“Right, then. Let’s head out,” Hogan said and gave Vicky his arm to proceed down the road.
Klink pulled the car over against the curb and shut off the headlamps. He could see light spilling through the windows of the Scheffhenhaus restaurant across the street, but there was no sign of his staff car out front. Maybe Schultz had parked it on a side street, he thought.
He sat in the car, examining the other vehicles along the roadway. None of them looked like Hochstetter’s car either, he noted, and it occurred to him that Hogan and Dr. Maurier may have already finished dinner and were on their way back to camp. There was still a chance he could cut them off before they made it back and warn them about Hochstetter.
He felt pressured for time and was tempted to turn the car around and immediately return the way he had come in order to overtake their vehicle, but something made him decide to check inside to see if they were still there. He pulled his overcoat tight about him and stepped out of the car into the chilly night.
The street was still and he could see his breath in small puffs before him as he walked along the sidewalk. Klink climbed the stairs and carefully opened the door to the Scheffhenhaus. The interior was warm and brightly lit, although there were few patrons still dining at this late hour. He looked about the room. No sign of them. Could they have changed their minds about where they might have dined that evening?
A matronly-looking woman with a broom in her hand approached. “Abend, mein Colonel.”
“Gutenabend, meine gnädige Frau” he replied absently, still peering about the room.
“Do you care to dine this evening?” she inquired. “Our kitchen has just closed but I am sure we can prepare something for you.”
“No, thank you, I’m just looking for someone, but they don’t seem to be here.”
“May I be of some assistance, perhaps? What do they look like?”
“There were supposed to be three people dining here this evening. An American colonel and a woman accompanied by a sergeant from my LuftStalag.”
“Did they have a black dog with them by any chance?” she asked.
“Yes, yes, that would be them. They were here then?” Klink asked anxiously.
“Ja, but they left some time ago.”
“How long ago?”
“Oh, maybe an hour or half-hour ago.”
Klink looked at his watch. It was a quarter after ten. They’d gotten quite a start on him and were probably already nearing camp. He thanked the woman and turned to go.
“Is something the matter with that young couple?” the woman asked curiously.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” Klink asked, distracted by his sense of urgency.
He turned back to the old woman and noticed she had a puzzled look on her face.
“That couple,” she said, “there must be something wrong. Everyone seems interested in them.”
Klink felt a sudden chill. “What do you mean, ‘everyone seems interested?’ Did someone else ask about them this evening?” he asked, feeling his nervousness grow.
“That’s right,” the woman replied. “There was a man in here earlier asking the same questions.”
She shook her head and turned away, baffled as to the unexplained interest the two diners had provoked.
“Wait,” Klink said urgently. “Who was asking about them earlier? Did he give a name?”
The matron snorted. “Gestapo officers seldom give their name, Colonel. He was not in uniform, but said he was with the Gestapo. Ach, who am I to question him?”
“Was he a man about this tall, with a thin mustache?” Klink gestured to indicate someone who came up to his shoulder.
“Ja, that’s about right,” the woman said. “He did not seem very friendly and I was just as happy to be quickly rid of him.”
“I understand,” Klink said with a shudder. “He is not a very pleasant man.”
“Ha, do you know anyone from the Gestapo who is?” she said sarcastically and returned to her sweeping.
Klink shrugged his shoulders in tacit agreement and reached for his wallet.
“Please, take this for your trouble,” he said and handed the woman a small note.
She looked at it and then put her hand out quickly, snatching it and just as quickly secreting it in her apron pocket.
“I suppose you are going to follow them to the Schlemmer Pass as well?” she said as she turned away to resume her sweeping.
Klink looked at her with a start. “What’s that about the Schlemmer Pass?”
“That’s where the couple was headed after dinner. As they left I overheard the American officer asking the sergeant to take them to the Schlemmer Pass.”
Klink froze. “Did you tell that to the Gestapo officer who was here?” he asked.
The woman looked alarmed. “Well, yes I did. He asked me where they were going and I told him.”
“That’s all right,” Klink said reassuringly and reached into his billfold for another note. “Here, you’ve been most helpful.”
She gratefully accepted the additional money and looked up to thank him but he’d already left, the door closing silently behind him.
LeBeau ran over to them as they approached the parked truck. “Mon Colonel,” he said happily, “you made it.”
“You don’t think I’d miss out on all the fun, do you?” Hogan said. He grinned and clapped LeBeau on the shoulder. “Where are the others?”
“Kinch and Carter are in the tunnel now. They just started placing the explosives.”
Hogan nodded. “Good. Have you got our change of clothes?”
“Oui, Colonel—in the truck.”
LeBeau offered Hogan his arm and brought him around to the rear of the parked vehicle. Hogan reached up for the tailgate latch and pulled himself up into the truck, then extended his hand for Vicky as LeBeau assisted her up as well. He pulled the canvas flaps across the back to provide Vicky with some privacy and turned to her.
“There should be a bench off to your side where you can sit,” he said.
He walked to the front of the truck bed and found two sets of clothing lying on the bench.
“Here,” he said, handing her the items Kinch had brought for her to wear, “I think these are for you. I can’t say much for their stylishness, but at least they’ll be warm.”
Vicky chuckled and began to undress.
Hogan sat down next to her and changed silently, pulling on the sweater and jacket he’d found on the bench. He suddenly realized Kinch had forgotten to bring a flak jacket for him, but didn’t want to say anything in front of Vicky and cause her to worry. They’d be well away from the action this evening anyway and there was little chance of him needing it. Still, he thought, one never knew, and he tucked the Mauser that had been atop his pile of clothes inside his waistband and zippered the jacket over it.
“How are you coming?” he asked.
“I’m all ready,” Vicky said.
“Fine, let’s go—we don’t want the party starting without us,” Hogan said and jumped off the back of the truck bed.
He reached up and taking Vicky by the waist, helped her down.
She stood beside him, straightening the jacket Kinch had provided. Seeing them emerge from the rear of the truck, Newkirk came over to them.
“All set, Colonel?”
“Yup, we’re ready.”
“Fine, sir. Louis and I are going to hot foot it back to the tunnel. We’ve got to leave the truck 'ere—there’s no place closer where we can park it off the road.”
“How far is the tunnel entrance from here?”
“Oh, about a half a mile, I’d say.”
“Oui,” said LeBeau, “it’s not too far.”
He placed a radiotelephone into Hogan’s hand.
“Here’s a walkie-talkie for you to alert us if there’s a problem or if anyone comes by.”
“Good. If you don’t hear from us we’ll wait for you to return in about a half an hour.”
Hogan felt for his watch. It was now ten-thirty and they had less than an hour before the convoy was scheduled to pass through.
“Right, sir. See you then.”
Hogan heard LeBeau and Newkirk turn and run down the road to rejoin the others.
Vicky turned to Hogan. “So, what do we do now?” she asked.
“What we do most of the time on these operations, sit and wait,” Hogan said cheerfully. “This work is typically hours of monotony punctuated by a few minutes of anxiety just before things blow.”
He led her around to the side of the truck closest to the woods.
“Here, we can sit on the running board; it’s a little better than the ground.”
“We could sit inside the truck,” Vicky said. “Wouldn’t that be warmer?”
“Are you cold?” Hogan asked, putting his arm around her as they sat next to each other.
“No, I’m warm enough. I just thought the cab of the truck might be more comfortable to wait in.”
Hogan thought for a moment. “Yeah, I guess it would be,” he said, considering the idea. “My only concern is if someone comes by or trouble develops we’d be sitting ducks. If anything goes wrong I want you to be able to quickly take Major and try to get away from here.”
“And what about you?” Vicky asked.
“Don’t worry about me, I can take care of myself,” Hogan said, feeling for the Mauser beneath his jacket.
He pulled her closer. “This is all just for precaution. I’m sure things will go smoothly.”
Vicky nodded and rested her head against Hogan’s shoulder. She didn’t mind the waiting; at least it was an opportunity for more precious time together before she would have to leave him. She sat there for several minutes in silence, thinking.
“You realize, of course,” she said quietly, “that if everything goes well this evening my work with you will be finished.” She left the remainder unsaid.
Hogan nestled her hair with his cheek. “And I guess that means you’ll be going back home?” he asked softly.
“Yes,” she murmured.
“Where is home for you now?”
“After Charles was killed I moved back to my family’s home in Lucerne. I’ll eventually return there, but first I’ll visit London to make my report and then see what else they may have for me.”
“What sort of work do they have you do?” Hogan asked curiously.
“Some time after my accident Walter Fitzhugh came up with the idea of developing a training program for military personnel who lost their sight. I usually work with groups of former service men and women, easing their transition to the civilian world and teaching them many of the same skills I’ve taught you.”
Hogan sat quietly for several minutes.
“I guess that means you have to work closely with them in that assignment?”
Vicky detected the hint of worry in his voice.
“Not like this,” she said, taking his hand. “This experience, in many respects, has been quite unique.”
She brushed against his cheek with her lips. “I did mean what I said about our being reunited after the war, you know.”
Cupping her chin in one hand, Hogan kissed the tip of Vicky’s nose. “And I meant what I said about making that happen,” he answered.
“Ah, but your reputation precedes you,” Vicky said, only half-teasingly. “To say you have been popular with the ladies is a bit of an understatement, no?”
“Hmm, I see Fitzhugh briefed you on more than just my official personnel folder,” Hogan said, amused.
His tone became serious once more. “That was before, Vicky. It has nothing to do with my accident or your not being able to see either. I’ve never met a woman like you and I can’t imagine being with anyone else.”
Slipping his arm around her waist, he began to draw her towards him, then suddenly froze.
“What is it?” she asked, concerned.
“Shhh,” Hogan said softly.
He waited a few more moments before speaking again.
“I think I hear a car coming.”
He reached for the walkie-talkie and hit the transmitter button, speaking with a low voice into it. “This is Papa Bear calling the Three Little Pigs. Papa Bear calling the Three Little Pigs. Do you read me? Over.”
Silence returned his call. Hogan tried again, still with no response. He worriedly placed the radio on the running board.
“Why don’t they answer?” Vicky asked.
“I’m not sure. There’s a chance they’re too far into the tunnel for them to pick up a signal.”
Hogan shushed Vicky again as the sound grew louder. Straining to listen, he partially relaxed.
“That sounds like the Kommandant’s staff car,” he said, shaking his head in wonder. “I thought for sure that bottle of schnapps would have Schultz sleeping like a baby.”
“How do you know it’s Colonel Klink’s car?” Vicky asked.
As it drew nearer, Hogan nodded his head in affirmation.
“Yeah, I’m sure of it now. Klink’s motor had a slight pinging sound to it. I noticed it when we were going into the city earlier this evening. It went away for a while, but seems to be back now.”
He paused again. The car was coming down the road from the direction in which they had earlier walked.
“Damn. Schultz is likely to recognize this truck, too; the boys borrowed it from the motor pool.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m not sure yet. First, I want you to move out of sight.”
He took Vicky’s hand and made his way to the rear of the truck.
“Here, crouch down behind this tire—it will conceal you better.”
He stood beside her, pressing himself against the side of the vehicle. The car rounded the curve and began to slow, squealing to a stop before reaching the truck. The engine cut off into the surrounding stillness. Hogan held his breath and waited. A car door creaked slowly open.
“Colonel Hogan, are you there?”
“Isn’t that Sergeant Schultz’s voice?” Vicky asked.
“Shhh,” Hogan said softly. “That’s Schultz all right, but something’s up—he doesn’t sound like himself.”
“Colonel Hogan, please, no more games, I need to speak with you,” came the voice pleadingly.
Hogan tensed. Something was definitely wrong. Schultz sounded frightened and panicky. He turned to Vicky and whispered in her ear.
“I’m going around to the front of the truck to see what he wants. If anything should happen—if anything should go wrong—I want you to take Major and get away from here, quickly. Do you understand?” He spoke urgently.
“Okay,” she said reluctantly.
“You have to do it—promise me,” Hogan emphasized firmly.
Vicky nodded. “I promise,” she whispered shakily.
Hogan stood up and slowly eased forward, stepping out from around the front end of the truck.
“Here I am, Schultz,” he said in a matter-of-fact voice.
Schultz looked over at Hogan, dressed in black civilian attire, and his mouth dropped open. He began to stammer something about Hogan having changed out of uniform, but thought better of it. Clearing his throat nervously, he called out to Hogan again.
“Colonel, I…I need to speak with you, over here, please.” Schultz sounded on the verge of tears.
Hogan walked slowly toward him, feeling along the front of the truck and trying to appear casual and unconcerned.
“Sure, Schultz. What’s up?”
There was no response from Schultz and Hogan inched forward, trying to draw attention away from the truck. Hogan felt the front bumper of the staff car beside him.
“What is it—“ he started to ask when a fist exploded against the side of his face, whirling him around and flinging him against the hood of the car.
Hogan tasted blood as his hands gripped the frame of the car, trying to regain his balance. He turned gradually, his back leaning against the front passenger door. Schultz began to whimper in the background as another fist suddenly drove into Hogan’s abdomen. He dropped to his knees in the dirt road, unable to take a breath. Bent over, his arms curled around his sides, Hogan gasped painfully.
A gloved hand reached down and gripped him vise-like by the throat, forcing his head back and slamming him against the side of the car.
“Unnnnhhh,” he groaned softly. Oh God, please, he thought, let Vicky get away.
He tried to grab the arm that stiffly pinioned him against the car, but was met with a knee to his injured ribs that transformed his sightless vision into a shower of bright flashes and threatened him with insensibility. Unable to remain upright, he collapsed against the car and fell to the ground in a heap, breathing in agonizing spasms.
A boot roughly prodded him in the back.
“So, Hogan, it seems you did not learn your lesson, eh?” Hochstetter looked down, sneering at him.
Hogan moaned in pain and rolled onto his knees, trying to sit up. He had to stall, had to give Vicky more time to escape to safety. The cat will play as long as the mouse seems alive, he realized desperately.
Hochstetter squatted down in front of Hogan and pulled open his jacket, roughly jerking the Mauser out from his waistband.
“Tsk, tsk,” he said coldly. “Don’t you know in your condition you could get hurt playing with these toys?” he said mockingly and drew the gun back, striking Hogan across the jaw with the butt end of the pistol grip and laying open his chin to the bone.
Hochstetter tossed the gun out of reach to the side of the road.
Hogan gagged, his mouth now filled with blood, and weakly tried to spit, fighting to remain sentient.
He could hear Schultz, his voice shaking with fear, cry out as he struggled by the driver’s door, making a metallic banging sound. Hochstetter must have handcuffed him to the door, Hogan thought.
Hands still grasping his sides, Hogan tried to straighten up. Each breath brought shooting pains to his ribs and chest.
“Whassamatter, Hochstetter,” he mumbled, his mouth and tongue feeling strangely swollen. “Some old lady catch you cheating at cards again?”
Enraged by his defiance, Hochstetter reached deliberately for his belt to remove a dagger, sliding it noiselessly from its scabbard. He placed the sharp blade to Hogan’s neck, his eyes gleaming as he pressed against his throat, bringing to the surface a thin red dotted line of blood.
“Where is Dr. Maurier?” he asked, spitting out the words.
“How am I supposed to know?” Hogan answered, straining against him. “It’s not exactly as though I’ve seen her, if you know what I mean.”
His fury engulfing him, Hochstetter suddenly plunged the knife into Hogan’s side and thrust the hilt forward, twisting it violently.
Hogan listened as his own tortured scream echoed faintly in his head. It was as though his body was somewhere else far away he thought with wonder as he passed mercifully into unconsciousness.
Klink pulled the car over to a sudden stop. There was another vehicle off to the side of the road, but no one was in sight, he noted. Cautiously opening the door and stepping out, he walked carefully over to the vehicle.
His hand slid unconsciously into his coat pocket to finger the gun that banged against the side of his leg as he looked warily through the windows into the interior of the car. No sign of any occupants.
Klink walked around to the front of the vehicle and froze when he saw the Gestapo emblem on the front grill. Hochstetter must have arrived only a short time earlier; he placed his hand on the hood of the car and could feel that it was still warm. But why had he abandoned his car?
Klink slowly walked back to his car and leaned against the door, surveying the scene. His glance fell to the road. With a puzzled look, he examined the road in both directions. A second set of tire tracks had originated from that point and proceeded up the road in the direction in which he was headed. Would Hochstetter have switched vehicles? To what purpose?
Klink was torn; there was no guarantee that Hochstetter had departed in the second car. At the same time, there was no sound coming from the woods on either side of the road and no sign of any other vehicles in the area. His only choice was to proceed ahead, in the direction of the tracks, and hope that he was making the right decision.
Schultz sagged against the car, his wrists raw from having vainly tried to release himself from the handcuffs that manacled him to the doorframe. He’d watched in horror as Hochstetter interrogated Hogan and had almost fainted twice himself from the gruesome exhibition.
He half watched now, afraid to look and afraid to turn away, as Hochstetter yanked Hogan’s head by a fistful of dark, matted hair, and struck him again.
Hochstetter’s overcoat was thickly spattered from the blood that streamed down Hogan’s face and covered his neck and chest. A low moan came from the senseless figure.
Schultz prayed that Hogan would remain unconscious, if only that he might be spared from further interrogation, but his eyes fluttered open with the next blow, his face a mask of pain and fear.
Hochstetter had propped him sitting up against the front bumper and stood over him, glaring down at his wounded prey.
“Had enough of a nap?” he said menacingly as Hogan wearily lifted his head.
He refused to answer and sat taking short, jagged breaths.
“I was asking you, Hogan,” Hochstetter snarled, “where is Dr. Maurier?”
Hogan, his voice faint, replied, “I told you before, Hochstetter, I don’t know where she is. She’s got nothing to do with any of this.” Exhausted, he dropped his head in resignation.
“Is that so?” sneered Hochstetter. “I happen to know the three of you were dining together earlier this evening, at the Scheffhenhaus. You then proceeded here, to place yourselves in the vicinity of the Schlemmer Pass. For what purpose remains to be seen. You might be interested to know I did a little checking on your Dr. Maurier and it seems the Red Cross knows nothing of her. There is also some question of her possible affiliation with British intelligence. I presume you know nothing of that, either, hmm?”
Hogan shook his head feebly.
A few paces away, Schultz listened to Hochstetter’s diatribe with shock. He had no idea who Dr. Maurier was or wasn’t nor what Hogan had been up to this evening, but neither did he want to know.
Disgusted with Hogan’s futile responses, Hochstetter looked up and saw Schultz staring at him. He fingered his mustache, glowering at Schultz while he contemplated an idea.
“Perhaps Sergeant Schultz can be of more assistance in answering my questions, hmm?”
He stepped away from Hogan and began to slowly approach Schultz, whose eyes filled with terror.
“No…no, please,” Schultz stammered. “I know nothing, Major Hochstetter. I’m telling you the truth.”
He began to desperately wrench against the doorframe once more.
Hochstetter stopped and glanced back at Hogan. His head was up and tensed; he definitely had his attention.
Unsnapping the leather flap from his holster, Hochstetter impassively removed an automatic pistol and pushed off the safety. Bringing the gun up in Schultz’s direction, he spoke deliberately.
“I think Schultz does know something this time. What do you think, Hogan?”
Hogan shook his aching head to try and clear it. He had few options with this madman. Fighting to concentrate, his mind struggled to consider his choices.
“Bah,” spat Hochstetter. “Schultz, I’m going to give you exactly ten seconds to tell me where Dr. Maurier is.”
Quivering with fear, Schultz began to babble incoherently.
Hogan heard Hochstetter pull back the hammer to cock it and the sound was all he needed. Summoning what strength he had remaining, he silently drew himself up as Hochstetter began to count out loud and then lunged in his direction.
Hochstetter was no more than a couple of paces away as Hogan brought his arms down on his wrist. The hammer fell forward, firing the gun unexpectedly; the shot going off harmlessly into the woods.
Hochstetter whirled in amazement as Hogan’s arms encircled his waist and he buried his head in his shoulder, tackling him sideways. The two of them fell to the ground with a grunt and writhed together, each vying desperately for control of the other. The impact of the ground forced the gun from Hochstetter’s grasp as he struggled to pull Hogan’s hands away from his throat.
Kinch looked up, startled, at the sound of a shot in the distance. His shock increased at the simultaneous arrival of Vicky at the tunnel entrance, stumbling towards them, tears streaming down her face. He caught her in his arms as she released Major’s harness, sobbing uncontrollably. The others rushed over to them, alarmed at her distraught appearance.
Vicky breathed in gulps, trying to control herself, knowing they were Hogan’s only chance. “Something’s…gone wrong,” she gasped.
Kinch looked worriedly at the others. “What’s happened?”
Vicky shook her head. “I’m not sure…a car drove up…Schultz was there, but seemed afraid.” She shuddered. “A second man…began striking Colonel Hogan. I…I think he may try to kill him.”
“Hochstetter,” LeBeau whispered in panic.
They looked back in the direction of the gunshot and then at each other.
“Go ahead,” Kinch said, nodding his head. “I’ll follow with Dr. Maurier.”
The other men grabbed their weapons and began to run down the road, fearful of the worst. Major hurried ahead of them at a quick run.
Kinch gave Vicky his arm and, picking up his own rifle, began to follow the others as rapidly as Vicky’s tired legs would carry her.
Hogan could feel his strength ebbing. Lying on top of Hochstetter he tried to wrap one leg around to keep him pinned to the ground, but knew he could not hold him indefinitely.
He worried that if his grip should release he would be unable to find Hochstetter in the darkness and would be all too easily finished by him. His hands felt for the scabbard on Hochstetter’s belt, but found it empty.
Struggling furiously, Hochstetter gained a temporary advantage and snapped Hogan’s head back with his fist. Hogan frantically clutched Hochstetter’s arms, trying to contain the flailing blows that rained against his head and shoulders. His lungs felt on fire with each choking breath.
Hochstetter began to raise his chest, trying to force Hogan off of him. Hogan gamely butted him, his forehead catching Hochstetter at the base of one eyebrow and leaving him temporarily stunned. Hochstetter lay momentarily still beneath him, moaning in agony.
Standing helplessly by, Schultz watched the doomed struggle, then glanced down and saw Hochstetter’s gun near the side of the car. He stretched out as far as he could with one foot, but was unable to reach it. The large man turned, trying the other foot, but was still only inches away from being able to make contact with it. Schultz took a deep breath and tried again, this time hanging by his manacled wrists from the doorframe to extend his body to his limit and finally kicked the gun toward the contorted figures.
“Colonel Hogan,” he cried out in anguish, “a gun. On the ground to your left.”
His forearm braced against Hochstetter’s throat, Hogan reached out blindly with his other hand to try and find the weapon. His fingers were just enclosing themselves around the barrel when Hochstetter caught the side of Hogan’s head with an elbow, knocking him over.
He scrambled atop Hogan, purposely digging his knees into his injured side and forcing a tormented, strangled cry from him. Reaching for the gun, Hochstetter grabbed it and was bringing the weapon around to place against Hogan’s chest when he was distracted by the sound of a car racing toward them.
Startled, Hochstetter looked up and was suddenly caught in the blinding glare of headlights aimed in his direction. He swung one arm up across his face, trying to shield his eyes from the dual torches.
The vehicle swerved around the car parked in the roadway and screeched to a halt just meters away, nearly running them down. The door flung open and Hochstetter strained to identify the vague figure who exited the vehicle. A tall, thin balding man emerged, holding a gun in his hand, but Hochstetter could see nothing in the beam of the car’s lamps.
“Who’s there?!” he called out angrily. “I can’t see. Shut off your lights!”
“Hochstetter, put your gun down!” Klink shouted.
He hoped Hochstetter could not see his hands shaking as he brought the gun up and tried to steady his arms against the frame of the open car door. In the flood of the lights he saw a horrific sight as Hogan, covered in blood, lay motionless beneath Hochstetter.
Sneering, Hochstetter slowly aimed in the direction of Klink’s voice and fired. The projectile caught Klink in the shoulder as his gun answered the discharge, but the impact of Hochstetter’s bullet forced his own shot high. At the sound of Klink’s cry of pain Hochstetter laughed derisively and cocked the hammer to fire again. Hogan lay still beneath him and would soon be finished next, he thought eagerly.
As the car pulled to a stop in front of them, Hogan felt himself losing strength rapidly. He listened dispassionately to the exchange between Klink and Hochstetter, wondering why everything was beginning to sound muffled as though he was underwater.
He strained to breathe when his fading awareness was suddenly pierced by a familiar whine coming from the side of the road. Half delirious, he reached out with one hand.
The jet-black dog, his dark coat concealing his presence in the shadows at the side of the road, crouched low to the ground and crept toward Hogan. Hogan felt a cold, wet nose press against his hand, the dog’s approach undetected by Hochstetter.
At the report of their gunfire, Hogan returned from semi-consciousness, the eruption acting as a final shock to his system.
He gathered his remaining reserve to fill his lungs with air and hoarsely croaked, “Major, pick it up.”
Hochstetter, still partially blinded by the glare, looked down at Hogan with a puzzled expression. What was he telling me to do, he stupidly wondered?
The dark shape moved in the shadows and obediently placed an object in Hogan’s outstretched fingers.
Hochstetter watched dumbfounded as Hogan swung his hand around and put a gun against his chest, his arm shaking violently. The Mauser felt like the weight of a cannon in his weakened grip and he had to bring his other hand up to keep from dropping it.
The contemptuous laugh that began to emerge from Hochstetter’s lips was completed as a gurgle as Hogan’s trembling finger pulled back on the trigger. The bullet discharged directly into Hochstetter’s chest as he stared down, disbelieving, and toppled senseless onto the spent figure beneath him.
As the remaining life quivered out of Hochstetter’s body, Hogan’s hand dropped to his side and he fell still.
With the sound of Hogan’s shot, Klink was roused from his stupor. He clutched his shoulder with his hand, his right arm hanging uselessly by his side. Pushing himself away from the car, he stumbled over to the frightful scene in front of the vehicle.
He tentatively prodded Hochstetter’s inert torso with his foot and received no response. Klink wedged his boot under Hochstetter’s shoulders and turned him over, heaving him aside and exposing the bloodied unmoving body beneath him.
He dropped to his knees beside Hogan, his eyes filling with tears. This man, whom some might have considered his enemy, had just saved his life and sacrificed his own in the process.
He placed his hand on Hogan’s damp chest as Major approached them cautiously, making a pitiful whimper as he sniffed at Hogan’s blood-soaked body. Klink’s shoulders shook as he began to weep, his hand trembling as it rested against Hogan’s chest.
Major suddenly barked and began to furiously sweep his tail back and forth. Klink looked over at him and saw Hogan’s hand, extended toward Major, begin to move.
Newkirk and Carter rounded the curve in the road first, having outdistanced LeBeau’s shorter legs. Both had intensified their pace at the second series of gunshots, hoping they would not be too late.
They paled when they came around the turn, spotting Klink, his own jacket stained with blood, weeping beside Hogan’s motionless body.
As Newkirk fearfully approached, Major began to bark and he watched in shocked disbelief as Hogan’s hand weakly raised toward the dog.
Klink looked up through his tears at the sound of the prisoners running toward him and was too dazed to even comment on their astonishing presence there.
Newkirk fell beside Hogan as his eyes slowly opened. Hogan looked as though he had been bathed in blood, his once-black shirt now a deep crimson that clung to him wetly. A flow of blood oozed steadily from his side where the shirt was rent in a jagged tear.
Newkirk fumbled through his pockets as Klink reached into his jacket and pulled out a kerchief, handing it to him. Newkirk mutely nodded his thanks and pressed the wad against Hogan’s side to try and stem the bleeding. Hogan shakily lifted his hand, placing it over Newkirk’s.
“Don’t bother,” he said weakly, his voice a rasping whisper. “Klink. Schultz. Are they okay?”
“I’ll be fine, Colonel Hogan,” Klink assured him and placed his hand on Hogan’s shoulder.
Hogan closed his eyes and nodded his head. “And Schultz?” he said hoarsely.
Klink looked up; he had not seen Schultz until now. The big man was by the open driver’s door on the staff car, his head drooping as he sagged against the side of the vehicle.
Klink motioned for Carter to check on him and he walked quickly over to Schultz. He had finally passed out from the fear and horror of Hochstetter’s demented rampage. He gently shook Schultz by the shoulder as he slowly lifted his head and stared at Carter with a look of non-comprehension.
“Schultz, are you all right?” Carter asked.
Schultz looked around blankly. His eyes grew wide when he spotted Hogan motionless on the ground beside Hochstetter’s prone body.
“Colonel Hogan. Is he…?”
“He’s still alive, Schultz, but we need to get him to a doctor right away.”
Carter glanced into the car. “Do you know where the key is to those cuffs?” he asked Schultz.
Schultz thought back, trying to remember what had happened after they pulled up in front of the truck.
“Major Hochstetter had the key. I think he may have put it in one of his pockets.”
Carter nodded and grimly went over to Hochstetter’s senseless form to go through his clothes. Finding the key in his overcoat he stood up and returned to Schultz to release him. Schultz gratefully thanked him and rubbed his sore wrists.
LeBeau had finally arrived and stood above Hogan, panting for breath as he fought back tears. Hogan had opened his eyes at the sound of the approaching footsteps and LeBeau cried out when he realized Hogan was still alive.
Klink turned to Newkirk. “Sergeant Schultz will drive us in the staff car to a doctor in town. We’ll have to move quickly.”
Newkirk nodded as Kinch and Vicky drew near. Kinch had been fearful of describing the scene to Vicky, certain from the dreadful appearance that Hogan had been killed. Klink looked up in surprise as Kinch slowly led her over to Hogan.
“Dr. Maurier,” Klink said gently, “Colonel Hogan is still alive, but just barely.”
She dropped to the ground beside Hogan and ran her hands over his body, sucking in her breath when she felt the wound in his side and the torn flesh along his jaw. She could tell from the wetness of his shirt that he had lost a great deal of blood.
Hogan moved almost imperceptibly at the sensation of her touch, feebly bringing one arm up that fell against her legs. She took his hand in hers and raised it to her cheek, her tears mixing with his blood to streak the side of her face.
“Vicky,” he whispered faintly.
“Shhhh,” she responded softly, “save your strength.”
Schultz walked over to them and remembering the schnapps still in his coat pocket, removed the bottle and handed it to Newkirk.
“Perhaps this will help Colonel Hogan,” he said in a hushed voice.
Newkirk knelt down next to Hogan and carefully placed his hand under his head. He tried to wipe away some of the blood from Hogan’s mouth.
“Colonel Hogan, try to take a drink.”
With Newkirk’s help he weakly lifted his head and took a swallow, then signaled for more and got down several trickles of the warming liquid. He nodded his head gratefully and laid back against the ground. The liquor soothed his parched throat and he could feel his strength slowly return.
“Kinch,” he called out softly.
“Yes, sir,” Kinch answered, encouraged by the sound of Hogan’s voice.
“Kinch, what time is it?”
They had completely forgotten about the tunnel. Kinch looked at his watch.
“It’s twenty-five after eleven, Colonel. We’ve got maybe fifteen minutes before that convoy comes through.”
He cleared his throat and glanced over at Klink, who listened curiously to their exchange.
Hogan thought hard through the cloud of pain. He knew Klink and Schultz were both present, but matters had been overcome by the urgency of what had happened.
“Listen carefully,” he said as Kinch leaned over, straining to hear him. His voice was still very faint and he felt incredibly tired.
“Take Hochstetter and put him in the tunnel. He’ll never be found there after it comes down.”
Klink looked flabbergasted at Hogan. Convoy? Tunnel?
The realization of Hogan’s activities slowly dawned on him. Hochstetter had said something about Hogan being involved with the underground when he had confronted him in his office, but Klink dismissed the accusation as more of his mad ravings. Could it be true?
He noticed Kinch and the others warily watching him, waiting to see his reaction to what was being revealed before him. Klink cleared his throat as he looked Kinch directly in the eye.
“Major Hochstetter’s car is parked up the road. I suggest we retrieve it first and place his body in it,” he said evenly.
Kinch blinked in surprise. It was evident Klink was on to their activities, yet he seemed to have no intention of betraying them.
“Yes, sir,” he said reflexively. He turned to Newkirk and Carter.
“You two go ahead to find Hochstetter’s car and bring it back here. Hurry.”
They nodded and ran to the truck. Kinch turned to the Kommandant.
“Thanks, Colonel,” he said knowingly.
Klink feigned ignorance. “I don’t know what for, Sergeant. I’m sure it will seem a shame that Major Hochstetter made the unfortunate mistake of driving through a tunnel at the same time a convoy was caught in a trap set by the underground. Although the Gestapo will no doubt have little difficulty replacing him. I am ashamed to say there are others of my fellow countrymen whose minds have been equally perverted by all this lunacy.”
Hogan reached up and touched Klink’s arm in gratitude. He felt the wetness that ran down his sleeve and whispered, “Colonel Klink, you’re hurt.”
Kinch looked over at Klink. He noticed he was holding his right shoulder and there was blood staining his hand and fingers. Klink glanced down at his shoulder. It felt as though a white-hot ember had burrowed its way into his flesh and he suddenly realized he had no feeling in his right arm.
“We’d better get you both to a doctor,” Kinch said.
Klink nodded. “Schultz, you will drive Colonel Hogan and myself into town. There is a doctor there who can be trusted and is discreet. Now let’s get Colonel Hogan into the back of my car.”
Schultz ran to retrieve a blanket from the trunk and hurriedly returned to unfold it for use as a makeshift stretcher. He and Kinch carefully lifted Hogan, who gasped weakly with the movement, placing him on it, then raised him up again and carried him to the vehicle.
“Dr. Maurier, perhaps you should accompany us to the doctor’s. You may be of assistance to him,” Klink said softly.
He took a corner of the sleeve of his coat and gently wiped the blood from her cheek. She felt for his good hand and squeezed it in gratitude, then called for Major to take up his harness and be led to the staff car.
Vicky awoke in the chair wondering how long she had been asleep. She had spent another long night by Hogan’s bedside. They’d returned from the doctor’s office two days earlier, slipping out of town in Klink’s staff car as day was breaking to drive back to camp.
After examining Hogan, the doctor announced with relief that the stab wound to his side had miraculously spared injury to any internal organs. He’d stitched his gashed chin and the deep knife cut, discussing with Vicky the frequent cleaning it would require to avoid infection. Colonel Klink was fortunate that the bullet had passed cleanly through his shoulder and after having the wound cleaned and bound the sensation began to gradually return.
Klink had gratefully thanked him; the doctor refusing payment for his services and asking no questions as to how they had both been injured. He had been acquainted with the humane prison kommandant for many years and the two men had developed a deep commitment after learning of each other’s mutual sympathies and their common, though unspoken, distrust of Hitler.
The other men had already returned to camp and met them when they arrived to help carry Hogan to his room in the guest quarters. Vicky had insisted on tending to him, though Klink knew she was as exhausted as the rest of them. She’d promised she’d nap in between treating Hogan’s wounds and found he remained quiet through the night, fading in and out of consciousness from the sedative the doctor had provided to help him with the pain.
The second night had been easier, with Hogan’s condition noticeably improved. He’d even been able to sit up and finish the soup LeBeau had brought over for them that evening.
Vicky heard him stir now and reached out to caress his forehead. He took her hand and gently kissed it.
“Don’t tell me you slept in that chair again,” he said, scolding her.
She stretched and rose to check Hogan’s wounds. Vicky left briefly then returned with a basin of warm water and some clean bandages. She sat on the side of the bed next to him as he placed his arms around her waist.
“Come lay next to me,” he said softly. “Rest for a few minutes.”
Vicky wanted to resist, but admitted she was exhausted and, acceding to Hogan’s insistence, pulled back the comforter and carefully slipped in beside him.
He slowly turned on his good side, draping his arm across her hips and cautiously kissing her on the mouth, taking care not to press against his stitched jaw.
“You must be feeling better,” she said teasingly as she nestled her head against his shoulder.
Hogan stroked her hair, wanting to enjoy every moment of her against him, the softness of her hair and pleasant scent of her skin. He found himself seriously considering attempting a gentle session of lovemaking, but then realized from Vicky’s deep, quiet breathing beside him that she had fallen fast asleep. Hogan sighed.
It was probably just as well, although perhaps if the activity loosened the stitches in his side Vicky could be convinced to remain a few more days. She’d had Kinch contact London and they’d agreed to let her extend her stay, but she was expected to depart the next day.
Hogan carefully placed his cheek against Vicky’s hair and, lulled by the slow, rhythmic movement of her chest rising and falling against him, drifted back to sleep.
The tense voices reached Hogan in his bedroom, rousing him to wakefulness. He lay quiet for a moment, trying to discern what was being said. He thought he could make out Klink’s voice, sounding oddly strained.
His curiosity getting the better of him, Hogan eased himself into a sitting position on the edge of the bed and stood cautiously. Finding his robe, he slipped it on and emerged from his bedroom to gingerly make his way down the corridor. He reached the living area in time to hear Kinch ask how much time they had.
Their conversation came to a halt as Hogan stepped into the room, the two men looking up in surprise at his sudden appearance.
Vicky frowned and came over to Hogan. “Robert, you shouldn’t be up,” she said.
There was a note of concern in her voice and Hogan had a feeling it had to do with more than just his walking around.
“What’s going on?” he asked warily.
Klink exchanged glances with Kinch, then spoke as Vicky led Hogan to the sofa where he slowly sat, waiting for their explanation.
“Colonel Hogan, I was just conferring with Dr. Maurier and Sergeant Kinchloe about some information I acquired earlier today from some, er, connections in town.”
Klink paused, looking at Vicky’s rigid face.
“It would appear that although Major Hochstetter’s disappearance has not yet been resolved, he unfortunately precipitated a set of inquiries regarding the non-sanctioned nature of Dr. Maurier’s presence here.”
“What are you saying, Kommandant?” Hogan asked.
Klink cleared his throat.
“Hogan, I believe Dr. Maurier may be in danger. Others in the Gestapo are, as we speak, in the process of confirming what Hochstetter had learned regarding her, shall we say, questionable affiliation with the Red Cross.”
Klink tried to strike a delicate balance; the incident at the Schlemmer Pass had affirmed his suspicions that Hogan and his men were involved in clandestine activities in the vicinity of their camp. However, he chose to ignore a direct confrontation as he felt they were probably instrumental in helping to bring the war to a speedier conclusion. Klink had long ago given up expectation that Germany would win and merely longed for an end to the violence and loss of life on both sides.
“In other words, they’re on to her, Colonel,” Kinch said. “According to Kommandant Klink’s sources they may be preparing to arrest her.”
“I went to Sergeant Kinchloe because I suspected he could, er, make some arrangements to secure her safe conduct out of Germany. I’m afraid there is little I can do to help under the circumstances.”
Hogan nodded his head. “Just alerting us to the situation is helpful enough, Kommandant. I don’t know how to thank you for what you’ve done.”
Klink walked over to where Vicky sat next to Hogan on the sofa.
“I will have to take my leave of you now, Dr. Maurier. I believe the less I know of this matter, the better.”
She rose from the sofa and, putting her arm around his good shoulder, reached up and kissed him softly on the cheek.
“Thank you, Colonel Klink. For everything.”
Klink looked touched by the attractive woman’s unexpected display of affection and turned to Kinch, who noticed the Kommandant’s face was beginning to blush a bright red.
“If you encounter any difficulties, Sergeant, please let me know.”
“Yes, sir,” Kinch replied, trying not to smile at Klink’s apparent discomfort.
Recently, each day had brought another revelation as to the previously concealed private side of the Kommandant’s personality. He understood now why Hogan would sometimes bristle when his men privately ridiculed Klink. There was more beneath that monocle than most of them had recognized.
Hogan waited until Klink left the room, then spoke.
“Have you taken any action yet?”
“Yes, sir,” Kinch replied hesitantly.
He’d been uncertain about proceeding without consulting with him, but he didn’t know how well he was recovering and also felt a sense of urgency.
“According to Colonel Klink they may be moving to come here for Dr. Maurier later this afternoon. I’ve already arranged with the underground to meet her and assist with her safe passage. London’s also been notified and they’ve made arrangements for the sub to pick her up this evening.”
“Good,” Hogan said, “and how are we going to get her to the underground?”
“One of our contacts knows a local farmer who can be trusted. He’s on his way here now and will conceal Dr. Maurier in the back of his wagon. She’ll be able to slip out undetected by the guards and then the underground will transfer her to another vehicle outside of camp.”
“Okay.” Hogan turned toward Vicky. “I suppose that doesn’t give us much time,” he said, disconsolate.
Kinch cleared his throat.
“Uh, Colonel, I’ve got to check on some final arrangements. I’ll be waiting outside when Dr. Maurier is ready,” he said and, tactfully excusing himself, left the room.
Vicky took Hogan’s hand, opening his palm to kiss it and then placing his hand on her cheek. His fingers softly caressed her face and neck, as though trying to memorize the way she felt to him. Vicky ran one hand through his hair, then kissed him as he carefully drew her close. Hogan held her quietly for several minutes, feeling the tears roll down her cheeks and moisten his face.
A light knock at the door interrupted their thoughts. Vicky took a deep breath and gently parted from their embrace.
“I have to go now,” she said, her voice breaking.
Hogan stood and walked with her to the door. She reached down and took a moment to hug Major, instructing him to watch over Hogan for her. Hogan took her in his arms and held her one last time; each not wanting to let go, but a second knock forcing them to reluctantly separate.
“Promise me you’ll be careful,” Vicky said, pressing her lips to Hogan’s cheek.
“I will,” he said hoarsely. “I promise.”
Hogan opened the door and Kinch greeted them.
“We’re all set, Colonel. Dr. Maurier, if you come with me I’ll take you to the wagon. We’ve got it waiting on the other side of the barracks so you’ll be concealed from the guard towers.”
Vicky nodded and took his arm, then turned to Hogan and squeezed his hand before proceeding down the steps with Kinch.
“Dismissed!” Schultz bellowed, pretending not to notice the evening formation of prisoners had begun to disperse several seconds earlier.
“Colonel Hogan,” Klink called out, walking over to the American while he knelt down and affectionately rubbed Major’s head.
“Yes, Kommandant?” Hogan answered, coming to his feet.
“Colonel Hogan, do you have a few moments?”
“Sure, Colonel, what’s up?” Hogan wondered if it was his imagination, but thought Klink sounded strangely conspiratorial.
Klink nervously coughed. “I’d prefer to speak with you privately in my quarters, if you don’t mind, Hogan.”
“Okay. Lead the way.”
Klink invited Hogan to take a seat on the sofa in his living room. He sat at the opposite end and Hogan heard him pull what sounded like paper from his jacket.
“Colonel Hogan, I hope you don’t mind, but I took the liberty of suggesting to Dr. Maurier that she write to you care of my attention. I knew the censors would likely object to your receiving letters that were typed in Braille for fear information of an unauthorized nature was being passed. Besides, I suspect they would intercept anything with Dr. Maurier’s name on it after she managed to leave the country.”
Klink placed the letter in Hogan’s hand. “This arrived for you late this afternoon. I knew you would want to read it right away.”
“Kommandant, thanks. I really appreciate it.”
Hogan eagerly unsealed the envelope and slipped out the thick sheaf of paper. A smile spread across his face as he slid his fingers lightly over the raised dots. He sighed contentedly and folded the note up again, settling back against the cushions.
“She asked me to pass her regards to you, Colonel.”
“That’s very kind of her to remember me. Dr. Maurier struck me as a very special person, Hogan.”
“Special isn’t the word for it, Colonel. We plan to be married after the war, you know.”
Klink looked pleasantly surprised. “I didn’t realize, Hogan. My congratulations to you both.”
“Thanks. I hope you’ll be able to accept our invitation to the wedding.”
“It would be my absolute delight,” Klink said, beaming.
He stood and crossed to a cabinet in the dining room.
“In the meantime, I think this calls for a drink to celebrate the occasion.”
He produced a decanter and some glasses and brought them over to the table.
“I understand this is supposed to be very good brandy. Dr. Maurier graciously presented it to me before she left.”
“Trust me, Colonel, it’s fabulous brandy.”
Klink poured a generous portion for both of them and handed Hogan his glass, lightly striking it against the edge of his own.
“To the swift conclusion of this terrible war.”
“You’ve got my vote, Kommandant.”
Klink chuckled. “I’ll remind you of that, Hogan, if I ever choose to run for office as Bürgermeister of Cleveland.” They laughed together companionably as they leaned back against the sofa and lifted their glasses.
1 Episode #70, "Knights in Shining Armor"
2 Episode #161, "That's No Lady, That's My Spy"
3 Episode #48, “Art for Hogan’s Sake”
4 Colonel Rodney Crittendon, British RAF, introduced in Episode #5, “The Flight of the Valkyrie”
5 Episode #88, “How to Escape from a Prison Camp Without Really Trying”
6 Episode #11, “Happiness Is a Warm Sergeant”