Genesis
Syl Francis

Papa Bear Awards 20032003 Papa Bear Awards - Third Place
Best Drama

Papa Bear Awards 20032003 Papa Bear Awards - Third Place
Best Overall Story

Papa Bear Awards 20072007 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Lifetime Getaway Award


Summary: How it all started...(Because I hate an unanswered question.)

 

Acknowledgement: "The White Cliff's of Dover" (Lyrics Nat Burton, music Walter Kent); "Goodnight, My Love" (Lyrics: Mack Gordon Music: Harry Revel); "Lilli Marlene" (Poem by Hans Leip; Music Norbert Schultze; English lyrics Tommie Connor).

 

Special Thanks: To my two new online friends, Zoey and Kathleen, HH writers extraordinaire and beta-readers first class! Any errors or problems are entirely the fault of the author and not these two wonderful ladies.

 

 

****

 

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers..." (Henry V)

 

****

 

[Friday 30 OCT 1942//1800hrs Zulu]

Headquarters, 531st Bomb Group, 8th Air Force

Northhamptonshire, England

 

****

 

"General Duncan, you can't be serious!"

 

"I'm always serious, Colonel Hogan. You know as well as I do that this is long overdue." Duncan spoke mildly. "Robert, you've flown close to fifty missions. You know what that means."

 

Hogan's usually mild-mannered demeanor darkened. His dark, handsome looks were that of a recruiting poster. He glared at his Group Commander with disbelieving eyes. "You're grounding me? You called me into your office to tell me that? This is the big surprise?"

 

"No, Robert," Duncan replied evenly. "I called you in here to tell you that I've recommended you for your first star and the Distinguished Flying Cross."

 

Hogan crossed his arms in anger, unable to believe what he was hearing. His dark eyes smoldered, obviously fighting a losing battle with his temper.

 

"You mean that you're gonna stick a new medal on my chest, a star on my collar, and then tell me that I have to fly a desk for the rest of the war? Thanks, but no thanks!"

 

"Robert, you've flown over fifty missions. That's twice the usual twenty-five allowed by regulations. I've kept you on flight status longer than any other officer, because you're the best squadron commander I have. And you're the most highly decorated combat pilot in the Group, not to mention the entire Wing! Hell, the whole Army Air Corps--!"

 

"Oh, come on, sir! That's an exaggeration. I have it on very good authority that John Wayne's decorations are a lot higher!"

 

Duncan grinned. His best squadron commander had the most uncanny way of diffusing a tense moment with an innocuous comment. Most Group Command and Staff meetings ended with Hogan cracking some silly one-liner that invariably broke everybody up.

 

Hogan glared pensively at his Commanding Officer.

 

"General, you know that this a load of hogwash! Am I supposed to sit safe behind a desk while everybody else takes the risks? I can't do that, sir! I won't!"

 

Duncan stiffened at the junior officer's insubordination. He snapped a pencil he'd been holding in half, the only sign that Hogan's anger had affected him.

 

"Col. Hogan, I needn't remind you whom you're addressing, do I?" Duncan and Hogan held each other's eyes for a moment longer. Finally, both men relented.

 

Hogan nodded reluctantly. "Begging the General's pardon. I was out of line, sir."

 

"No, Robert. You have every right to be upset." Duncan opened the lower drawer of his massive executive desk and pulled out a bottle of Scotch whiskey. He looked questioningly at Hogan, who gave a curt nod. Pouring them each a drink, Duncan handed a shot glass to the highly decorated, highly irate officer standing before him.

 

"A toast, sir," Hogan said, a sardonic glint in his eye. "To the Army Air Corps! The only organization in the world that 'rewards' its successful pilots by grounding them!"

 

Matching Hogan's ironic expression, Duncan clinked his glass against the junior officer's. They both took a deep gulp from their drinks.

 

Sighing deeply, Duncan glanced over to Hogan and gave him a rueful grin. "You and I may not agree with the Corps' practice, Robert. And should we ever start running low on trained crews and pilots, the Corps will be forced to put a stop to it. But you're as aware as I am of the statistics--the more missions a crew flies, the greater the chances of their not returning home. And the chances increase with each mission after twenty-five."

 

Duncan walked up to Hogan and placed a fatherly hand on the younger officer's shoulder. "Robert, you know that it's time for you to be rotated out of combat. You've served your crew and the Air Corps faithfully and well. To ask you to keep going out--"

 

"But I want to keep flying! Nobody's forcing me to--!"

 

Hogan didn't finish his sentence. He didn't have to. A light seemed to go out of his eyes. A look of profound sadness quickly overtook him. Walking back to the window, he looked for his B-17 Flying Fortress.

 

As easygoing as Hogan usually appeared, Duncan knew that he had an inner core of steel. Duncan couldn't remember the veteran officer losing his cool before. Except perhaps when he lost a crewman. Hogan didn't easily take losing a man.

 

"Who'll take over the squadron?" Hogan asked.

 

"Major Zapinski. He'll be promoted after this mission."

 

Hogan nodded. Zapinski was his executive officer, a hard worker, and a topnotch pilot. He, himself, had recommended Zapinski for promotion to the next grade and for his own command. I just hadn't considered that the squadron he'd be taking over would be mine, he told himself.

 

"He's a good man," he said simply. Straightening his shoulders, Hogan turned and walked to the windows overlooking the vast airfield of Northhamptonshire, England. The 504th Bomb Squadron, part of the 531st Bomb Group, was lined up neatly, nose-to-tail, wingtip-to-wingtip, on the runway. The unit would be deploying within the next three hours for yet another massive night drop.

 

Hogan had come to Gen. Duncan's office for his mission brief and had been surprised that the Group Operations Officer (S-3) was not there. Now he knew. The general had wished to drop his own little bomb in private.

 

The veteran pilot's dark, restless eyes searched the field for his plane. He easily spotted her in her in takeoff position--the lead. He smiled a bit wistfully at her nosecone, which sported the familiar image of 'Goldilocks,' a bathing suit-clad, blonde bombshell--who came fully loaded, as his crew would say.

 

In Hogan's eyes, his Flying Fortress was much more than just a plane. She was his lifeline home. As long as he loved her and treated her gently, 'Goldilocks' would get him home to Connecticut and his family.

 

In his most private musings, Hogan thought of Goldilocks with the same deep passion as that of a beautiful lover. He grinned rakishly. Or at least of a beautiful woman who comes 'fully loaded,' he added to himself.

 

In fact, for as long as Hogan had been flying Goldilocks in the European Theater of Operations (ETO), there had been no other woman whom he considered lovelier--with the possible exception of his mother.

 

He clasped his hands tightly behind his back. And now the general wants to ground me, he thought bleakly. Hogan recalled his previous missions over the course of a year. First flying as a neutral observer with the RAF. Then when the US officially entered the war, flying bombing raids over occupied Europe.

 

Now, as the Allies prepared for the eventual push into Europe--at least two years away, his whole existence had been punctuated with one dangerous mission across the English Channel after another.

 

He sadly reflected how over the course of time, his command had lost three crews --Lt. Tripper's plane over Antwerp; Lt. Costello's over Bremerhaven; and the last one--Lt. Maddox--less than a week ago, over Hamburg.

 

Today, looking out at the home of the 504th 'Black Knights' Bomb Squadron, Hogan's nerve-wracking bomb run over Hamburg seemed almost unreal. He thought about the flak. So heavy I could've gotten out and walked on it. He recalled the Messerschmitts--They were everywhere!--With almost free control of the skies, because the 504th was beyond Allied fighter escort range.

 

The squadron successfully held its tight box formation through almost the entire ordeal. When suddenly, the German fighters overran Lt. Maddox's plane. Maddox and his crew were recent replacements flying their first combat mission. They were in the 'tail-end Charlie' position, which was reserved for rookie crews.

 

Still inexperienced, Maddox allowed himself to be successfully separated from the box formation, and next thing Hogan knew, Maddox's B-17 was gone, a bright fireball in its place.

 

The ME-109s must have gotten a direct hit to the plane's still fully loaded bomb bay. Hogan closed his eyes at the memory.

 

And we didn't even take out the target, he thought fiercely.

 

Somehow the rest of the squadron made it safely home. But at what cost? A plane and its ten-man crew gone! One moment they were there--joking, fighting, swearing, praying--the next instant they were gone!

 

Hogan thought of the youthful pilot and his crew. They'd just completed their crew training at Moses Lake, and had arrived in England less than a month ago. Hogan recalled Maddox's cocky attitude and his eagerness to see combat. He suddenly felt tired.

 

Ten men...little more than schoolboys. How many more letters home will I be forced to write? he thought. How many more mothers will I have to inform that they'll never see their son again?

 

Hogan felt his shoulders slumping at the overwhelming feeling of despair that coursed through him.

 

And after this next mission, I'll be sitting flat on my butt for the rest of the war! How will I face the squadron when I tell them?

 

He stood staring out at the flight line for a few moments longer, lost in his thoughts. Finally, shaking himself back to the job at hand, Hogan straightened his shoulders and faced Duncan.

 

"What are my orders, sir?"

 

****

 

[Saturday 31 OCT 1942//0200hrs Zulu]

South, southwest of Hamburg, Germany

 

****

 

The 504th Bomb Squadron approached the target from the south. They came in low, just out of range of the German air defense batteries. The bright flares from the continuous bombardment of anti-aircraft fire, blazing just below them, turned the night sky into day.

 

"Looks like a Fourth of July fireworks display, eh, Colonel?" Lt. Harris spoke from his position in the copilot's seat.

 

"Some Fourth of the July!" Hogan replied, not taking his eyes off the instruments. "The Roman candles are aimed at the audience--deliberately!"

 

"I'd like to get my hands on the desk jockey who recommended we approach from 10,000 feet!" Harris growled. "I can almost touch the treetops!"

 

Hogan grinned slightly at Harris' exaggeration.

 

"The so-called 'desk jockey' happens to be our beloved Commanding General, Harris. Look at the bright side. This way, if we go down and your chute doesn't open, you won't have as far to fall."

 

"Thanks, sir. That sure makes me makes feel better," Harris said sourly. Hogan flashed him one of his patented devilish grins, and then became all business.

 

"Black Knight Leader to Black Knight Squadron," Hogan radioed. "ETA to target, four minutes. Acknowledge."

 

The rest of the squadron immediately radioed acknowledgement. One bold subordinate irreverently answered with, "Baby Bear to Goldilocks. Acknowledge--ETA to target, two minutes." The sound of suppressed twitters from the rest of the squadron rang in Hogan's headset.

 

Harris' shoulders shook in silent laughter. Hogan grimaced slightly, but then grinned wolfishly. He knew how to play this game.

 

"Goldilocks to Baby Bear. Major Zapinski, report to me after we return to base. Acknowledge."

 

There was a slight pause, followed by a nervous throat being cleared.

 

Hogan allowed himself a small smile.  Despite being second in command, Zapinski was not above pulling a prank on his C.O. Knowing he'd been caught red-handed, the Squadron Executive Officer returned to proper radio protocol and readily acknowledged his identity.

 

"Black Knight Two to Black Knight Leader. Acknowledged."

 

Hogan decided that for that round of much-needed levity, he'd buy his X.O. a drink when they got back. He switched to intercom. "Pilot to Bombardier. Heads up, Lt. Stevens. ETA to target, two minutes!"

 

"Bombardier to Pilot. Acknowledged. ETA to target--two minutes."

 

As he expertly piloted the aircraft, Hogan kept a wary eye on the increasingly heavy flak erupting just below him. Soon those Jerry triple-A gunners are gonna find our range and we'll be sitting ducks, he observed grimly. What was the general thinking? he asked himself, echoing Harris' earlier complaint.

 

Hogan knew that the 504th was to approach from a 10,000-foot ceiling, which was well below the B-17s maximum cruising altitude of 35,000 feet. The low approach increased the danger to the planes from the air defense batteries as they neared the target and dropped their payloads. However, according to Operations, it also increased the chance of 'optimal penetration' of the target, which was housed in an underground, steel-reinforced concrete complex.

 

Destroying the target--according to the Germans a 'milk processing plant,' but to US Intelligence a parabellum munitions factory--was vital to the war effort. Moreover, since the last time they'd tried to knock out the target they'd failed and lost a plane, the 504th was determined to succeed at all costs.

 

"Pilot to Bombardier. Target approaching. You have control."

 

"Bombardier to Pilot. Roger. I have control."

 

As the B-17 approached a target, the pilot always turned control of the aircraft over to the bombardier. While, Hogan still did the actual flying, Lt. Stevens ordered minor adjustments to ensure the best approach through the Pilot Directional Indicator (PDI).

 

The PDI transmitted the desired course changes to Hogan via his instrument panel, and Hogan in turn called out the course adjustments to the rest of the squadron. The pilots adjusted their approach accordingly.

 

"Starboard two degrees," Hogan intoned, making the necessary adjustments.

 

"Roger. Steering starboard two degrees," came the response over Hogan's headset. The PDI sent two more minor adjustments. Within seconds, Hogan heard the words that signaled control had been returned to him.

 

"Bombs away!" Stevens called. "Flying straight and true."

 

Hogan watched the long, steady line of 5000-lb bombs as they streamed steadily to their target. A few moments later, Stevens shouted, "Bingo! Look at her go! That was for Lt. Maddox and his crew!"

 

Ten thousand feet below, the ground erupted in a series of bright plumes. Several powerful explosions suddenly mushroomed upwardly, hung momentarily as if looking over the city of Hamburg, and then collapsed back. Fires broke out everywhere, and soon the winds whipped them up into a violent firestorm.

 

If there were anything left of the underground complex, it probably wouldn't be of much use to the German war machine. As for anything left alive down there--Hogan preferred not think about it. This was war, after all. And war was Hell.

 

Hogan turned and gave Lt. Harris a thumbs-up sign. "That's a keeper, gentlemen!" he said over the ship's intercom system. "Pilot to Bombardier. You did your usual outstanding job, Lt. Stevens!"

 

"Bombardier to Pilot. Don't thank me, sir! You're the one who kept this ol' bucket steady!"

 

Smiling, Hogan responded in mock severity, "Be careful who you call an 'old bucket' around here, lieutenant!" As he spoke, Hogan reached up and caressed the bulkhead immediately above him. "Goldilocks' a lady and deserves to be treated like one!"

 

"You're right, sir!" Stevens hastily replied. "Goldilocks knows she's the only girl for me!"

 

"And don't you forget it!" Hogan winked at Harris, who grinned back. "Let's head home, boys. Pilot to Navigator. I hope you've already plotted our return trip, Lt. Schmidt. And this time--make sure your map gets us all the way across the Channel!"

 

"Navigator to Pilot." Schmidt's good-natured voice came over the intercom. "I'll do my best, sir!" He was the best navigator in the 504th and a pretty good nose gunner, too. Hogan was happy to have him as part of his crew.

 

"Hear that, gentleman? 'Wrong-way' Schmidt guarantees us a safe flight home. Drinks are on him!" The intercom resounded with raucous cheering.

 

"Thanks, L.T.!" someone yelled. Hogan recognized the voice as PFC Harper, the right waist gunner.

 

"What if he tries to land us in the drink again?" That came from Sgt. Dixon, the tail gunner.

 

"Aw, can it, you clowns!" Schmidt called out in mock annoyance. "The C.O. said the drinks were on me. He just didn't tell you that you had to bring your Mae West--just in case." The navigator's response was greeted with loud boos.

 

Turning to Harris, Hogan said, "Take over, Lieutenant. But be gentle with her."

 

"You don't need to worry about that, sir," Harris reassured him, taking the controls. "I'll treat her like a real lady!"

 

The next instant, the plane shook violently. A hit! Within moments, a loud explosion rocked the cockpit, and Hogan felt the plane shudder from nose to tail. He immediately grabbed the controls back.

 

"We're hit!" he yelled over the intercom. "Pilot to crew! We've taken a hit. Everybody--report!"

 

One by one, his men reported in, all except two--Lts. Stevens and Schmidt. As the crew reported, the plane took several more hits.

 

"Pilot to Bombardier! Stevens! Report! Navigator--report! Lt. Schmidt!"

 

He received no response.

 

"Pilot to Signals! Sgt. Kinchloe, check the nosecone. Stevens and Schmidt aren't responding."

 

"Signals to Pilot! Roger."

 

Meanwhile, the 504th Bomb Squadron was under massive anti-aircraft fire. The air defense batteries had finally found the squadron's range and were now saturating them with a deadly barrage.

 

The flak was thick and heavy, exploding in bright flashes all around Hogan's squadron. His own plane was taking a severe battering. In the past few minutes, Hogan felt the plane lurch and reel from hit after hit. Still, the B-17 was an incredible workhorse. On at least four occasions, the crew had made it back home with part of the fuselage shot off.

 

A couple of times, Hogan even managed to bring her in with only one engine and no landing gear. It was little wonder that the crew had the utmost faith in their C.O.

 

"Signals to Pilot! Sir, the nose took a direct hit! Both Lt. Stevens and Lt. Schmidt are gone."

 

Hogan felt a cold hand grip his insides. Stevens and Schmidt weren't the first men he'd lost, nor would they be the last; nevertheless, Hogan felt a little piece of himself die with the young officers. Swallowing painfully, he nodded, and opening his mouth to acknowledge the report, he found himself unable to get the words out.

 

"Signals to Pilot." Kinchloe's insistent voice sounded strained. "Col. Hogan, did you copy?"

 

Harris worriedly watched as his Commanding Officer, usually so cool under fire, struggled to regain his bearing.

 

"Copilot to Signals," Harris answered. "We copy, Kinch."

 

At this point, one of their starboard engines took a direct hit. The next instant, they lost the second starboard engine and their hydraulics. Hogan and Harris struggled desperately to hold the bomber steady, but they were quickly forced to fall out of the Squadron box formation.

 

"Black Knight Leader to Black Knight Two! We've lost two engines and hydraulics. We can't maintain our position. Take over, Black Knight Two!"

 

A slight pause greeted his order.

 

"Black Knight Leader, this is Black Knight Two." Maj. Zapinski's voice sounded coolly professional. "Acknowledged. I'll get them home, Goldilocks. Godspeed."

 

Hogan smiled slightly at Zapinski's irreverence, but he had complete faith that if anyone could get the 504th home, it was his X.O. "Thank you, Baby Bear," Hogan replied.

 

As soon as the plane began to lag behind the Squadron's protective shield, a large band of German fighters fell on the crippled plane like a wolf pack.

 

"Messerschmitts!" Hogan shouted. "Pilot to crew! Look alive, guys! Or we may not be alive much longer! Harris--! We've gotta hold her steady or we'll lose her!" His crew's excited voices provided a steady stream of traffic over the intercom as the plane limped along.

 

"Bogey at nine o'clock!"

 

"I see him--!"

 

"Bogey at six o'clock--!"

 

"--at twelve o'clock--!"

 

"Too many! Too many!"

 

Even with both Hogan and Harris trying to keep the plane steady, without hydraulics and short two engines--not to mention with what seemed the entire German Luftwaffe gunning for them--it was a lost cause. Soon, Hogan had to prepare the men for the order they all dreaded.

 

"Pilot to crew! We're losing altitude. This is it, men. I'm gonna try to keep her steady until we're over the forest north of Hamburg. Be ready to abandon ship when I give the order. Acknowledge."

 

"I got him! Tail gunner to Pilot! I got one! I got--!" Dixon suddenly screamed in agony.

 

"Pilot to Tail gunner! Dixon! Come in!" No answer. Another one, Hogan thought bleakly.

 

"Left waist gunner to Pilot!" Harper's voice cut in triumphantly. "Scratch another Jerry!"

 

"Harper!" Olsen's excited voice shouted. "Bogey at three! Watch it!"

 

They were receiving a battering, but were refusing to go down without a fight. However, it was no use.

 

"Harper! Two o'clock, buddy!" Olsen warned. "Uh-oh! Got one on my nine o'clock! Take that, ya Nazi Rat! I got him! Harper, I got him!" Olsen's triumphant voice changed to one filled with pain. "Harper! Aw, no-ooo...!"

 

Hogan jumped in immediately. "Pilot to Right waist gunner! Report!"

 

Olsen didn't immediately reply, and Hogan was about to send Kinchloe to investigate when the gunner finally answered. "Right waist gunner to Pilot. Harper took a hit, sir. He's dead."

 

And another.

 

Just a few moments later, Hogan finally gave the order.

 

"Pilot to crew! Abandon ship! Repeat! Abandon ship! Escape and evasion procedures are in effect. Remember...if captured, give only name, rank, and serial number. Good luck, gentlemen!" He nodded at Harris, shaking hands in farewell.

 

"Good luck, Harris."

 

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. Sir--?" The young officer hesitated momentarily, his eyes expressing the words he was unable to say.

 

"See you on the ground, lieutenant!" Hogan promised. "And don't forget--it's your turn to bring the wine and cheese."

 

Harris smiled gratefully, and nodded.

 

"Yes, sir," he whispered raggedly. At that moment, a Messerschmitt flew almost directly towards the cockpit, spraying them with lead. The Plexiglas shattered into a thousand pieces, with Harris taking the brunt of the attack. He was thrown against Hogan, shielding his C.O. from the deadly fusillade.

 

As his co-pilot slammed into him, Hogan felt him jerk spasmodically as he was riddled by enemy bullets. Within seconds the German fighter was gone, but not before he had taken the young officer's life. Struggling to maintain the controls with one hand, Hogan held onto Harris' lifeless body with the other. He could feel the young pilot's still-warm blood seeping into his flight suit.

 

Carefully, Hogan placed Harris' still form on the co-pilot's seat. Combating against his raging emotions, he set his jaw and got back to the business of saving the lives of the rest of his crew.

 

His insides growing numb, he ensured that his remaining men safely jumped, before finally beginning the climb to the forward escape hatch. As he made his way down the short ladder to the open hatch below, Hogan could feel his heart ache.

 

Five men gone--just like that! Stevens, Schmidt, Harris, Dixon and Harper. He didn't have the time to mourn their loss. He knew that it would hit later. Running his hand one last time along the cold, metal bulkhead, Hogan said his last farewells to 'Goldilocks.'

 

"So long, babe. I'll never forget you," and leaped into the black skies over enemy territory.

 

As the cold night air assaulted his face, Hogan became aware of the pungent smell of burning cordite. Enjoying the momentary feeling of freefall, he realized that his eyes were closed. Opening them, he became aware of the distance to the ground, and the shells exploding all around him. The usually coolheaded Hogan experienced a brief, heart-stopping panic attack, coupled with a strong urge to jump right back into the cockpit.

 

He pulled the ripcord, and was immediately jerked back, his parachute billowing overhead. Hogan took several deep, ragged breaths, chuckling shakily. From his vantage point at the top of the world, he felt strangely separated from the fires burning below and the flak exploding around him.

 

Was there ever a time when death and destruction weren't a part of my life? he wondered.

 

He searched the night sky for Goldilocks. In the distance, he caught sight of her, trailing fire and smoke, and watched regretfully as she lost her battle with gravity and spiraled into the rugged, wooded hills below.

 

"We took quite a few of 'em with us, didn't we, babe?"

 

****

 

He suddenly found himself in the trees and braced for a rough landing. He wasn't disappointed. Crashing through the thick foliage, he struck a tree trunk with his shoulder, bounced crazily and then slammed against a thick branch. Finally, bruised, battered, and barely conscious, he came to an abrupt halt--dangling ten feet in the air.

 

In the sudden stillness, the sounds of pursuit could be heard in the distance. The pitch-black of night was broken periodically by the erratic sweep of searchlights. The sounds seeped into his consciousness, and finally galvanized him into action.

 

Hogan took out his Army knife and quickly cut through his shoulder harness. Within seconds he was on the ground and limping at a stumbling run. Stopping to get his bearings after a few minutes of a reckless, headlong dash, he found the North Star and started heading in a direction that took him away from the fast approaching German patrol.

 

"Great," he muttered. "A thousand grid squares, and I land in Kraut central."

 

****

 

[Sunday 01 NOV 1942//0730hrs local]

Schleswig-Holstein Forest, North of Hamburg

 

****

 

Within a few hours, Hogan found Kinchloe. The next day they rendezvoused with Olsen.

 

When they found Olsen, desperate, hungry, at the point of the collapse, the news he gave them was grim: Sgt. Riley, the ball turret gunner, had been killed. Hogan felt the bottom fall from his stomach. And still another.

 

"I'm sorry, Colonel," Pvt. Olsen spoke with his mouth full. He hadn't eaten in almost forty-eight hours and was practically inhaling the chocolate bar Hogan gave him. "I couldn't help Riley." Olsen's voice broke. "W-we came down several meters apart. It was dark, but the area was swarming with patrols. I could see searchlights everywhere. When I hit the trees, I took out my knife and cut myself down."

 

He swallowed, taking a moment to steady himself. "It's a good thing I did, 'cause as soon as I hit the ground, I heard shouts and gunfire. I started to run in the opposite direction, but I tripped and fell into a ravine." Olsen gently touched the crown of his head and shrugged.

 

"I must've hit my head or something, 'cause the thing next I know, it's daylight and the whole place is as still as a church. I stayed hidden for the better part of the day. Finally, I took a chance and started north--like you briefed us. 'Head north to the submarine rendezvous.'"

 

Olsen looked up at Hogan for confirmation of his orders. Hogan nodded and patted him gently on the shoulder.

 

"You did the right thing, Olsen," Hogan reassured him. "So, what happened then? How did Riley get killed? Did you see anything?"

 

Olsen nodded mutely, overcome with emotion. "Th-they shot him, sir--just like that. I found him just before dusk. He was still hanging from his chute. They just left him up there--in the trees. Didn't even bother to cut him down." Olsen dropped his head into his knees, his shoulders shaking with grief.

 

"I cut him down and hid his body in the bushes." He reached into his pocket. "I took his tags and marked the spot where I left him." He held the dog tags out to Hogan, who took them and studied them. A bullet had clipped a corner of one of the tags, rendering it sharp and jagged.

 

"Did you see anything else?" Kinchloe prodded. Hogan stepped up.

 

"I think that can wait, Sergeant," he said quietly. "Let him eat and get some rest. He can tell us later."

 

Kinchloe nodded, glaring at Olsen. "Riley was a good man, sir. One of the best. I only wish that I'd been there when--"

 

"Well, you weren't!" Olsen shouted, defensively. "And neither was I. If either of us had been there, we might've been caught. Or killed. Just like Riley! Don't you think I wish I coulda done something to help him? He was my best friend! I woulda died for him!"

 

By way of answer, Kinchloe turned his back on the soldier, disdain apparent on the normally even-tempered radioman. As the ranking noncommissioned officer, Kinchloe was responsible for the enlisted men. He had no use for Olsen, considering him little more than a slacker.

 

"What would you have done, Sarge?" Olsen asked. "You being so brave and all--!

 

"Why, I outta--!" Kinchloe growled. He whirled around and made a sudden move towards the clearly alarmed airman.

 

"Kinch!" Hogan hissed, intervening between the irate sergeant and frightened private. "Stand down! That's an order, Sergeant Kinchloe." Hogan held onto his senior noncom a moment longer, each glaring at the other. Kinchloe finally nodded and Hogan released him.

 

"If we're going to make it," Hogan said softly, "then we have to work together.  And that goes for all of us." He glared at his two remaining crewmen. Slowly, they each nodded their acknowledgement.

 

****

 

[Sunday 01 NOV 1942//1800hrs local]

Schleswig-Holstein Forest, North of Hamburg

 

****

 

Hogan stood over the newly dug grave, a small Bible his mother had given him in his right hand, a set of dog tags in the other. He gripped the tags tightly, until they were digging into his palm. He could feel the small jagged edge cutting into him, but he didn't care.

 

The Germans had just left Sgt. Riley's body dangling in the trees where he'd died. They hadn't even bothered to check him for any sort of identification or papers. Hogan doubted if they would even bother to contact the Red Cross.

 

Just twenty-four hours ago, he'd been standing in Gen. Duncan's office, feeling sorry for himself because he wasn't going to be allowed to fly anymore. Well, they let him fly one last mission, and what did he do with it? He got most of his men killed!

 

I hate this war! he fumed silently. It's taking our best and brightest boys, and leaving us with animals that call themselves 'men.' A throat being cleared behind him reminded him that he still had another duty to perform. Straightening his shoulders, Hogan stood to his full height.

 

There in the woods, dirty, unshaven, raven hair disheveled, Hogan had never looked more heroic. Kinchloe and Olsen gathered round, their eyes downcast.

 

"We gather here today," Hogan said softly, "to remember our fallen comrades--Lt. Schmidt...Lt. Stevens...Lt. Harris...Sgt. Dixon...Sgt. Riley...Pvt. Harper." As Olsen's muffled sniffles echoed in the silent forest, Hogan began to recite from Ecclesiastes:

 

"There is an appointed time for everything,

And a time for every affair under the heavens,

A time to be born and a time to die,

A time to kill, and a time to heal..."

 

Olsen stifled a sob and wiped his eyes, blinking rapidly.

 

"A time to weep, and a time to laugh,

A time to mourn, and a time to dance,

A time to seek, and a time to lose..."

 

"He was the best," Olsen whispered raggedly. "They all were..."

 

"A time to be silent, and a time to speak,

A time to love, and a time to hate;

A time of war, and time of peace..."

 

"...He and his wife were expecting their first baby. Why couldn't it have been me, instead?"

 

"What now is has already been,

What is to be, already is,

And God restores what would otherwise be displaced. Amen."

 

Kinchloe and Olsen murmured their 'Amens.'

 

"Company--! Attention!" Hogan commanded. All three men snapped to attention. "Present--! Arms!" Instantly, three sets of salutes were sharply executed. "Order--! Arms!" The salutes were crisply dropped. "This completes the service," Hogan said quietly. "Take a few moments to say your individual farewells."

 

With that, Hogan spun on his heel and left the others. He needed to be alone for a few minutes. To think. To grieve. To rage.

 

Leaning against a tree, away from the others' eyes, Hogan allowed the tears to come. Six men dead! Who's next? Kinch? Olsen? Me? He sighed deeply, and then impatiently wiped his eyes. Can it, Colonel! he chastised. You haven't the luxury. Or the right.

 

It was his job to get them all back home. He couldn't afford to show any sign of weakness. What did Eisenhower say back in Gibraltar? That a leader's job is to appear confident in front of his men even when he isn't; therefore, when he makes a decision that others might disagree with, they'll have faith in his orders. If soldiers lose faith with their leaders, then even the best plans will fail.

 

Hogan opened his hand. In the back of his head, he noted that Riley's tags had cut into his palm. He realized that he was bleeding and that he should do something about it. The tags were now covered in blood--his blood. Somehow, he couldn't bring himself to care.

 

"On my honor," he whispered, fiercely addressing his dead crew. "I swear that your deaths will not have been in vain."

 

At that moment, the morning's quiet was shattered by angry shouts and automatic weapons fire. Hogan found himself face to face with the business end of a German rifle.

 

****

 

[Sunday 01 NOV 1942//2306hrs local]

Gestapo Headquarters, Hamburg, Germany

 

****

 

"Hogan, Robert E., Colonel, U.S. Army. Serial number zero-eight-seven...six-seven...zero-seven." Hogan kept his eyes carefully straight ahead, refusing to look at the Gestapo captain interrogating him.

 

Hogan sat stiffly, his arms tied behind him to the chair. Two guards, also in the distinctive black uniform of the Gestapo, stood at port arms, one beside the door, the other slightly behind Hogan and to his right. The American bomber pilot was quite aware of the guards' menacing presence.

 

"Col. Hogan," the captain began. "You have already told us all that. Please, in order for me to be able to properly inform the Red Cross of your capture, I must also know your unit designation and the purpose of your mission when you were shot down."

 

Outwardly, Hogan remained unperturbed. Inwardly, his heart was racing. He was beginning to worry about Kinchloe and Olsen. They'd all been briefed about what to do in case of capture and knew what to do, but there was no telling what they might accidentally let slip, especially Olsen. This was only his third combat mission.

 

"Hogan, Robert E.," Hogan intoned. "Colonel, U.S. Army--!"

 

~crack!~

 

Cobra-swift, the Gestapo Captain struck Hogan across the cheek--once, twice, three times--drawing blood. His ears ringing, Hogan stoically withstood the sudden abuse. Looking up at his interrogator, Hogan locked eyes with him. Dark brown eyes bored into cold gray ones.

 

A cruel smile playing on his lips, the Captain shoved a paper under Hogan's nose.

 

"In order to properly inform the Red Cross of their capture," he repeated, "all prisoners of war must sign this document, confessing their crimes against the Third Reich!"

 

"Hogan, Robert E., Colonel, U.S. Army. Serial Number zero-eight-seven--"

 

~crack!~

 

"Your companions have already signed! See?" The Captain held out a document with Olsen's signature. Hogan read the statement, a cold hand squeezing the air out of his lungs. He could feel a single drop of perspiration wend its way down his temple.

 

Olsen, what have you done? he despaired. What did these monsters make you do? Slowly, he looked up into the Captain's ugly eyes. "Hogan, Robert E--"

 

The Captain snapped his fingers and instantly the guard to Hogan's right, stepped up and struck him in the lower abdomen with his rifle butt.

 

"~Oomph!~ Hogan grunted, doubling over at the explosive pain, his vision shrouded in a cloud of hazy red. Before he could draw breath, his head was suddenly jerked back by the hair, and the Captain again struck him powerfully across the cheek. The force of the blow sent him sprawling over to the floor, chair and all.

 

The guard unceremoniously kicked him in the ribs, eliciting a sharp gasp of pain. The downed American pilot struggled to maintain his grasp on reality as the world receded into a dark tunnel. He felt his chair being righted, and his head again being forced up.

 

"Are you ready to sign, Col. Hogan?" The voice seemed to come from some far distant place, taunting, evil, threatening. Eyes closed against the throbbing behind his eyes, Hogan blinked rapidly to clear his vision. Slowly looking up, he caught the murderous glint in the Gestapo captain's eyes.

 

"Hogan, Robert E.," he mumbled. "Colonel, U.S. Army. Serial number zero-eight-seven--!"

 

Wild-eyed with fury, the Captain had his hand raised for another strike when the door slammed open.

 

"~Captain Gruber! What is the meaning of this!~" The newcomer had the rank and insignia of a Luftwaffe Colonel. "~This prisoner is obviously an Allied flyer, and therefore, a prisoner of the Luftwaffe!~"

 

Great, Hogan thought sourly. Now the Krauts are fighting over who gets first dibs. Shaking his head slightly to clear it, he pretended to be more hurt than he actually was. Feeling the deep ache in the rib area where he'd been kicked, he observed that maybe he didn't need to pretend too much.

 

And there's no need to let 'em know I understand German.

 

He sat still, looking neither left nor right, allowing the two German officers to argue over him.

 

"~Colonel Altbusser! This man was captured by the Gestapo and is therefore our prisoner--!"

 

"~Standard Operating Procedures, Captain! All Allied flyers shall be turned over to the authority of the Luftwaffe!~"

 

"~After the Gestapo is done interrogating them!~"

 

"~And what have you learned from the American Colonel?~" Altbusser asked skeptically.

 

"~Nothing yet.~" Gruber admitted. "~But the Gestapo has ways of finding out what we want to know.~"

 

"~Well, I'm afraid that time is the one thing you don't have,~" Altbusser replied. "~There is a POW train leaving Hamburg for Hammelburg in the next hour. The American flyers will be onboard, by order of Field Marshal Biedenbender, whom I need not remind you is on Reich Marshal Goering's personal staff!~"

 

"~We shall see about that, Col. Altbusser. My superior, Col. Feldcamp--!~"

 

"~--has no authority over Luftwaffe prisoners of war!~" Altbusser interrupted. "~Now, unless you wish to take the matter up with Herr Goering, himself--?~"

 

At the mention of the Luftwaffe's Commanding General, who also happened to be Hitler's second-in-command, Gruber looked visibly shaken and finally nodded.

 

Keeping his head down, Hogan could not believe his luck. He knew that Gruber had only been warming up. If Col. Altbusser hadn't interrupted the Gestapo's interrogation, Hogan was certain that he would've needed to be carried out of the room.

 

"Col. Hogan?"

 

Hogan looked up.

 

"You shall be transferred to a prisoner of war camp within the hour. Do you have any questions?"

 

"Yeah...what about my men? Staff Sergeant Kinchloe and Private Olsen?"

 

Gruber clicked his heels and snapped to attention. "Private Olsen has confessed to serious crimes against the Third Reich. He will be held and tried for his acts of sabotage!"

 

"Sabotage!?" Hogan protested. "He was arrested in uniform! According to the Geneva Convention--!"

 

Gruber slapped him across the face again.

 

"Silence--!"

 

"~Captain Gruber! I protest this treatment of Luftwaffe POW's. If Private Olsen was captured in uniform, then he will be transported to LuftStalag 13, along with Col. Hogan and the other prisoner!~"

 

Gruber gave Altbusser an evil grin and showed him the document with Olsen's signature. Altbusser grabbed the paper and studied it closely. Hogan waited. After a few moments, Altbusser turned grimly to Hogan.

 

"Colonel, can you identify this signature?" he asked. Hogan again read the signature: Martin J. Olsen, Private, USA.

 

"If that is his signature," Hogan said grudgingly, "I don't believe that he signed it of his own free will."

 

Altbusser glared at Gruber momentarily. The Gestapo captain returned his stare with a smug look. "You wouldn't suggest that the Gestapo release an enemy of the Third Reich who has already confessed, would you, Herr Oberst?"

 

Hogan noted that Gruber spoke English. Probably for my benefit, he growled. "Colonel, I demand that both of my men be released to the custody of the Luftwaffe. According to the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war--!"

 

"Enough!" Gruber shouted. "Col. Hogan, you and Sgt. Kinchloe shall be remanded to the custody of the Luftwaffe. But Pvt. Olsen shall not. He is to be transported to Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin at the earliest possible date."

 

"No!" Hogan yelled, struggling with his bonds. "You can't do that! He's a prisoner of war--not a saboteur! Colonel Altbusser--!"

 

Altbusser stood quietly, a tired look washing over his arrogant features. He gave Hogan a grave, apologetic shake of the head.

 

"I am sorry, Col. Hogan," he said. "But the matter is unfortunately out of my hands." He shrugged helplessly. "Your Pvt. Olsen has signed his own death warrant."

 

Without thinking, Hogan awkwardly jumped to his feet, his hands still tied behind the chair, and crashed headfirst into Captain Gruber.

 

"Guards!" Gruber shouted. Instantly, the guards were on top of Hogan. The next moment, his head exploded and the world went black.

 

****

 

[Monday 02 NOV 1942//0530hrs local]

Enroute to Dusseldorf, Germany

 

****

 

When awareness returned, it did so in fits and starts. He felt his body being sporadically rocked, or perhaps jostled was closer to it. His hearing returned next, a soft, chugging sound creeping into his consciousness, followed by a piercing whistle.

 

A train? he thought. Another blast of the whistle. He shakily brought his hand up to his head, groaning softly.

 

His sense of smell returned with a vengeance. The stench was almost unbearable enough to send him scurrying back to unconsciousness. Like Mom's garden after she'd fertilized it.

 

"Colonel?"

 

Eyes closed, Hogan turned to the sound. Who? he wondered.

 

"Is he all right, guv'nor?"

 

Hogan felt a gentle hand on his shoulder.

 

"Colonel Hogan?"

 

Kinch. He felt oddly proud that he'd identified his senior noncom. Struggling against the darkness that threatened to reclaim him, Hogan concentrated on Kinchloe's voice, trying to focus on his face. He could see someone dimly, barely able to discern his features. Finally, the figure before him coalesced into the worried countenance of SSgt. Kinchloe.

 

Realizing his C.O. was finally conscious, Kinchloe's eyes softened into a relieved smile. Hogan's own relief was quickly damped.

 

"Olsen?" he asked hoarsely.

 

"Here, sir."

 

Hogan sat up quickly, too quickly, a wave of dizziness washing over him. A strong arm was instantly there, supporting him--Kinchloe. Hogan leaned on him gratefully. Olsen scooted up close to Hogan, and they solemnly shook hands.

 

Hogan stared at him, feeling his eyes fill up. "Good to see you, airman," he said simply.

 

"You're not kidding, sir," Olsen said. "Some Gestapo captain kept telling me I had to sign something that was all in German!--but I wouldn't. I kept giving him my name, rank and serial number."

 

He glanced down in embarrassment. "He showed me a piece of paper with your signature on it, Colonel, but I didn't believe him. Not Colonel Hogan, I told myself. So, I just kept repeating my name and serial number, over and over."

 

Hogan smiled, his pride swelling inside him. "Good job, Olsen."

 

Olsen fairly beamed at the compliment. Col. Hogan was not the type of commanding officer who often threw out praise.

 

"They tried the same thing with me, sir," Kinchloe said quietly. "Your signature, bold as brass. I knew it was a crock. The document was in German, but I was able to read most of it. It stated that you admitted to acts of sabotage and a whole lotta other bull!"

 

Hogan grinned. "Nice to know that my men have faith in me." He leaned against the train's wooden side. Between the slats, he could catch glimpses of the German countryside. The late fall was turning bitterly cold. He felt a bite of winter seeping inside.

 

He looked around the boxcar, curling his nose at the overpowering smell. The place was filthy, the floor covered with foul-smelling straw that hadn't been changed in a while. Since latrine facilities were not available, it was apparent that some of the POWs weren't fastidious about where they relieved themselves.

 

Hogan took in the bored and frightened faces of the other prisoners. Their uniforms represented the Air Forces of several Allied nations.

 

"Hail, hail, the gang's all here," he muttered. "Anybody know where we are?"

 

"We're on a bloody POW train in the middle of frigging Germany, mate," an irreverent voice answered. A soldier in a British RAF uniform looked back at him with a sarcastic grin.

 

"That's 'Colonel' to you, Corporal!" Kinchloe growled.

 

"Take it easy, Kinch," Hogan murmured. Kinchloe glared at the English soldier, who returned his look with a smirk. The next moment, he startled both Hogan and Kinchloe by demonstrating a deft sleight of hand.

 

"That's right, mate, take it easy," he said. "No disrespect intended. Here, let me make it up to you--Colonel." The last was added with a slight sneer.

 

Hogan quickly laid his hand on Kinchloe's arm to keep him from going after the corporal. Ignoring the black sergeant's anger, the Englishman waved his hands faster than the eye could follow, and then as if by magic, a pack of cigarettes appeared.

 

"The 'and is quicker than the eye!"

 

He offered Hogan a smoke. Smiling, the American officer declined. Shrugging, the RAF corporal took one out, and to the surprise of an American airman, a tech sergeant sitting next to him, he fished a match from behind the young man's ear.

 

"Hey!" the airman jerked, startled. "Boy, how'd you do that?"

 

"A magician never reveals his tricks, mate!"

 

"Boy! You're a magician?" the young sergeant asked eagerly. The corporal nodded smugly. To the t/sergeant's surprise, the corporal next held out his watch and wallet.

 

"You should be more careful where you leave your belongings, mate," the corporal said with mock warning.

 

"Hey!? Boy! How'd that happen?" the t/sergeant asked startled. "I could've sworn--?" He took back his personal items, profusely thanking the Englishman for 'finding' them. Soon, the two were talking animatedly, and although the American outranked the Englishman, it was obvious which one held the upper hand in the conversation.

 

Hogan and Kinchloe exchanged rueful glances. Finally, the black sergeant answered Hogan's original question.

 

"We've been traveling for the better part of the night. We should be pulling into Dusseldorf soon. I heard the guards talking." He added this last part in a low voice. Hogan nodded. There was no need to let the others know that both he and his noncom spoke German.

 

"That's more than a hundred kilometers from Hammelburg," Hogan estimated. "We're still a ways from 'home.'" At the others' look, he added, "According to the German colonel, we're being transported to LuftStaglag 13, located outside of Hammelburg."

 

"Home," Olsen sighed. "Think we'll ever see our families again, sir?"

 

"You can bet on it, Olsen," Hogan promised quietly.

 

A few minutes later, they heard two long blasts from the train, and felt the train begin to slow perceptibly.

 

"Looks like we're pulling into a train station," the t/sergeant stated unnecessarily.

 

"Thanks for the news, Yank," the Englishman replied. "We never would've figured it out by ourselves."

 

"Oui, mon ami. You are most astute," a small French corporal added ironically.

 

"You're welcome." The young airman's response was completely naive. The two Allied corporals rolled their eyes.

 

"Heads up!" Hogan said sharply. "Everyone on your feet!"

 

The other POWs exchanged sullen looks, and then glanced at the battered American officer. As Kinchloe helped his C.O. to his feet, Hogan returned their stares evenly. He had to fight to keep from wincing at the gnawing ache radiating from his rib area. My brains don't feel all that great either, he noted, trying to ignore the throbbing in his head.

 

"Stay on your toes," Hogan rasped. "Be ready for anything--"

 

At that moment the train came to a screeching, jarring halt. The sound of air brakes hissing settled around them, followed by a church stillness. Abruptly, angry shouts from beyond the boxcar walls shattered the silence. These were punctuated by the staccato burst of gunfire and a bloodcurdling scream.

 

Everyone automatically dropped to the floor. The sounds of heavy boots running outside, dogs barking, and more angry shouting reverberated in the breaking dawn. Hogan heard someone sobbing in the far corner.

 

Kids! he fumed. They're little more than kids! They should be in school, sweating out their finals, not facing certain death.

 

Slowly, the POWs raised their heads, their expressions terrified. Almost as one, they all turned and faced Hogan. He suddenly felt the weight of the world on his shoulders.

 

Par for the course, Colonel! he told himself. You're the ranking POW. Start setting the example.

 

"On your feet!" he snapped. "The last thing I want the Krauts to see is a bunch of scared mama's boys feeling sorry for themselves!"

 

Several of the prisoners flushed with anger. The little Frenchman muttered something in his own language that Hogan didn't quite catch. The young American airman gave him a hurt look.

 

Almost like a puppy that's just been kicked, he thought guiltily.

 

Grumbling, the Allied prisoners did as ordered. When the boxcar doors suddenly slammed open, the prisoners stood huddled in a small group eyeing their captors with expressions close to defiance. A squad of German soldiers climbed in, brandishing weapons, screaming at the top of their lungs.

 

"Raus! Raus!" they yelled, which needed no translation.

 

The POWs nervously hurried to do as told. Quickly, in ones and twos, they jumped out onto the waiting platform. Despite his high rank, Hogan was brusquely hustled out, along with the rest of the prisoners. As he was shoved along at the point of a rifle, he surveyed their new location.

 

He quickly noted guards on the roof of the train, covering them with 30mm machine guns. Kinchloe surreptitiously nodded towards the gingerbread roof of the depot. More armed guards. Casually glancing around the depot's perimeter, Hogan spotted yet more sentries at all checkpoints.

 

He quickly squelched any thought of attempting to escape.

 

Very thorough, these Germans, he thought sarcastically. Soon, Hogan and Kinchloe found themselves in a holding area, with the rest of the prisoners. They were soon joined by another group of POWs. This was probably the reason they were being taken through Dusseldorf, which was at least a hundred kilometers out of their way.

 

A low murmur rose among the assembled airmen. The RAF corporal was pointing at something over Hogan's shoulder. Curious, he turned to what had their attention. Not unexpectedly, the German soldiers began pushing and shoving, barely holding back their snarling attack dogs, which snapped and growled menacingly at the prisoners, effectively opening a narrow pathway.

 

A German patrol led a group of five civilians--a tired, dirty, unkempt-looking bunch. Two of the men were carrying a stretcher. Hogan felt his stomach drop. It held a woman, young, beautiful--

 

--And dead, he saw. He caught the eye of one of the men and held it for a split second. In that brief instant, the civilian passed a silent message to him. Imperceptibly, the civilian's eyes looked down at his coat pocket.

 

"Underground," Kinchloe murmured. Hogan nodded, his pulse racing. He had to act! Now! But how? The sound of a Cockney voice next to him sent a thrill of relief through him. Leaning over he whispered in the Englishman's ear.

 

"The older guy," he hissed. "The one in the brown jacket. I need you to pick his pocket. Can you?"

 

"Are you kiddin', Colonel?"

 

"Now!" Hogan growled, pushing the startled Englishman onto the passing prisoners. Instantly, the train station erupted in pandemonium. The Allied prisoners began pushing and shoving each other, confusing the guards, startling the civilian prisoners.

 

Almost as soon as it began, it was over. The guards fired a warning burst over the their heads, and the POWs hit the deck, including Hogan. Cautiously, he raised his head, swallowing the sudden bile. Every weapon in the depot was trained on them. The silence was almost absolute. In the distance, he could hear a police siren wailing in the early morning.

 

"Stand down!" Hogan shouted. "And that's an order!" Slowly, the Allied prisoners regained their feet, their attitudes sullen.

 

As the Germans re-established order among the prisoners, Hogan looked over once again towards the civilian prisoner. The man gave him a surreptitious nod. The next moment, the light seemed to go out of his eyes. A sick feeling washed over Hogan. He knew then that he'd glimpsed into the depths of hell. The civilians were all dead men. He knew it. They knew it. And from the angry rumbles coming from the Allied prisoners, they knew it, too.

 

He watched sadly as the five men were led away to their fate. Hogan wanted to look away, but forced himself to watch as long as possible. He wanted to stamp their image indelibly into memory, to remind himself why they were fighting this war. He remembered the Gestapo captain, and tried not to think about what these men were facing.

 

The woman was the lucky one, he thought bleakly.

 

He wasn't given time to see more. The guards again started shouting orders, barely holding back their attack dogs from the Allied prisoners who didn't instantly jump. Hogan realized that they were being pushed and shoved into the barest semblance of a ragged formation.

 

He shook his head and shared a rueful look with Kinchloe.

 

"'Fall in' always worked for me," the sergeant muttered. Hogan grinned. He sidled over to the RAF corporal, who raised a single eyebrow in acknowledgement.

 

Mission accomplished. Hogan nodded and then settled down to wait.

 

Two Luftwaffe non-commissioned officers walked up and down the line of prisoners, counting heads.

 

"Hey, mate!" the RAF corporal called out. "Why don't you use your toes? You're almost out of fingers!"

 

Hogan cringed. The last thing he wanted was for the British airman to call attention to himself and jabbed him in the ribs to quiet him. The corporal grunted in surprise.

 

Meanwhile, the other prisoners broke out in taunting laughter. The guards ignored the prisoners' jeers, and finally, conferred with an officer. The officer nodded, and pointed in Hogan's direction with his chin. The noncoms saluted smartly and headed towards the American flyer.

 

They stopped in front of him, one on either side. With a jerk of the head, they indicated that they wanted him to follow them. Hogan glanced at Kinchloe and shrugged. He took a moment to straighten his uniform and went with them. They escorted him to the German officer, a major.

 

"Prisoners of war are required to salute officers of the detaining nation." The major said without preamble, his voice dripping arrogance. Hogan studied the youthful officer--a major, he noted.

 

"Prisoners of war are only required to salute officers of grades equal to or higher than themselves," Hogan returned. "If you will notice, Major--I'm a Colonel, two full grades above your rank."

 

The major stared at Hogan through flat eyes devoid of expression. "You are the ranking officer, Colonel Hogan," he said. He waved at the assembled group of prisoners. "As such, these men now fall under your command, until a more senior officer replaces you or you recant your command."

 

Hogan watched him through narrowed eyes, not really seeing where he was going with it.

 

"Your men have not eaten for the better part of two days, Colonel. Some have not eaten for almost four. It is not the intention of the German Luftwaffe to purposely starve its prisoners of war. However, under the Geneva Convention we are authorized to take appropriate measures for violations of even minor infractions of discipline."

 

Hogan shook his head, still not understanding.

 

"Unless you greet me with the proper military courtesy, Col. Hogan, your men will have to withstand at least another twenty-four hours without food. It is your choice."

 

By this time, the tantalizing aroma of cooking had wended its way to Hogan's nostrils, making his mouth water. Like the major said, Hogan hadn't eaten since his capture almost two days ago.

 

"Major, I protest! This is in clear violation of the Geneva Convention--!" Hogan began, but was cut off.

 

"It is your choice, Colonel. Render the proper military courtesy and your men eat. Don't salute, and your men don't eat." The major shouted the threat, ensuring that all of the POWs heard it. Hogan realized that that's exactly what the major had wanted--to cause dissension in the ranks. The prisoners were strangers to each other. Most weren't even from the same army.

 

By causing friction among the prisoners' chain of command, the major would be effectively destroying any chance of their establishing a semblance of unit cohesion.

 

Hogan was about to protest again, when he was interrupted by a familiar voice.

 

"Hey, what is this, guv'nor?" the RAF corporal called. "You can't speak to the colonel like that! He might be a Yank and a bleedin' colonel to boot, but he's our bleedin' colonel!"

 

"Oui! My English friend here is correct! We demand that you apologize to mon Colonel immediately!"

 

"Yeah, what's the idea, Mac?" Hogan recognized the young American sergeant's boyish voice.

 

"I wouldn't eat your maggoty ol' chow, anyway!" Hogan grinned. He'd know Olsen's Midwest drawl anywhere.

 

"What would the Bosche know of proper cuisine, anyway? Smells like boiled cabbage. ~Phui!~"

 

Remaining straight-faced, Hogan raised a single eyebrow at the major, and shrugged his shoulders, his expression ingenuous. The major's dark features became thunderous.

 

"Kids--!" Hogan sighed, shaking his head. "You raise them, draft them, teach them how to kill--and what do they do the first time they get captured in enemy territory? Embarrass you."

 

"Silence!" the major yelled, but was overridden by the prisoners' good-natured boos and cat calls. "Silence! I demand--!"

 

"Herr Major!"

 

Everyone turned to the new voice. The major whirled towards the sound, snapping to attention.

 

"Jahwohl, Herr Oberst!" he cried. "Heil Hitler!" Heels clicked smartly, the major's right arm shot straight out in a salute.

 

The newcomer, a Luftwaffe colonel, casually returned the salute. "Heil Hitler," he intoned. Hogan's ears pricked up. This could be fun, he thought.

 

"~Major Steiner,~" the colonel began. "~What is the meaning of this? Why have these prisoners not been fed? They are due to depart in another forty-five minutes.~"

 

"~Colonel Weiss!~" Steiner stammered. "~I was just explaining to the American officer that the men would be fed as soon as he rendered the appropriate military courtesy to me--~"

 

"~Major Steiner. I wish to make one thing perfectly clear. The American officer is a colonel, fully two grades above yours. He is a prisoner of war and will be afforded the proper courtesies as outlined by the Geneva Convention. Furthermore, as long as you are an officer under my command, you will never abuse prisoners of war who come under our temporary authority. Do I make myself clear?~"

 

"Jahwohl, Herr Oberst!" Steiner shouted.

 

"~Now, before I decide that you would be much better off in a combat unit on the Eastern front, might I suggest that you ensure these prisoners are properly fed before they board the train again.~"

 

"~Jahwohl, Herr Oberst!~" Steiner saluted, and turning to his guards immediately began shouting orders in German. Soon, it was apparent to the prisoners what had transpired--that Steiner had been reprimanded and that their colonel would not be forced to humiliate himself in order for them to receive their rations.

 

"Colonel Hogan?"

 

Hogan faced the Luftwaffe colonel. Following proper military protocol, he snapped to attention and saluted his senior captor out of courtesy.

 

"I wish to apologize for the actions of my officer," Weiss murmured. Shrugging, he added, "He is young. And the nephew of a well-placed Luftwaffe general."

 

Hogan grinned, nodding. Changing the topic, he asked casually, "What unit is this, sir?"

 

"We are the 436th Air Group--" Weiss began, then stopped. He gave Hogan a measured stare, his expression unreadable. Finally, a small grin began to play at the corner of his mouth.

 

"Excellently done, Colonel. Excellent."

 

"I try, sir," Hogan said, charming smile firmly in place.

 

"Enjoy your stay at LuftStalag 13," Weiss returned. "It is the toughest POW camp in all of Germany. There has never been a successful escape from there."

 

"Really?" Hogan murmured, crossing his arms across his chest. "Thank you, sir. You've given me a goal in life. Mom always told us Hogan boys that we needed to set high goals."

 

"Indeed? Meine Mutter was the same. 'Georg,' she would say, 'you will never amount to anything with your nose in a book." Weiss grinned wistfully. "Perhaps under different circumstances, Col. Hogan, you and I might have met as comrades rather than as enemies."

 

"Perhaps," Hogan agreed. They stood without speaking for a moment longer, watching as the Allied prisoners lined up and resentfully made their way through the chow line. When the last remaining POWs were waiting to be served, Weiss turned and extended his hand. They shook.

 

"Enjoy your meal, Col. Hogan," Weiss said. "Your train will be departing for Hammelburg soon." As he spoke, he was interrupted by another train, which was pulling into the station. It chugged noisily as it came to a grinding halt on a track parallel to Hogan's troop transport. "I shall leave you here. Auf Weidersehen!"

 

The two officers saluted, and Weiss departed. As soon as the Luftwaffe colonel disappeared into the train depot, Hogan walked to the tail end of the chow line and waited his turn. Spotting Kinchloe and Olsen, he headed in their direction.

 

The brash RAF corporal, the diminutive member of the Free French Forces, and the young American sergeant were seated with them. Kinchloe introduced the Allied airmen as Corporals Newkirk and LeBeau. The American sergeant jumped to his feet and saluted nervously.

 

"Sir! Technical Sergeant Andrew Carter reporting!"

 

Hogan stood to full attention and solemnly returned the young sergeant's salute. "At ease, Carter," Hogan said quietly. Carter smiled brightly and ducked his head shyly. "Sit down, airman, and eat your chow before it gets cold."

 

Carter immediately dropped to the floor, eagerly obeying his new Commanding Officer. The others all rolled their eyes but made no comment.

 

A few moments later, Hogan was leaning against a post, trying not to gag on his 'meal.' Boiled cabbage! Hogan hated boiled cabbage. You sure picked the wrong country to get captured in, Colonel! Why couldn't I have gotten myself shot down over Italy, instead?

 

He noticed Kinchloe's amused sideways glances and returned them with a dark glare. Kinchloe cleared his throat and continued eating. After a few moments of withstanding Hogan's disgusted grunts and grimaces, Kinchloe spoke, his voice tentative.

 

"At least they're not planning on starving us," he offered.

 

"That's a matter of opinion, mate," Newkirk complained. "How can you eat this ruddy garbage?"

 

Kinchloe shrugged. "I'm hungry."

 

"Starvation might not be such a bad idea, after all," Newkirk groused.

 

"Hold your nose and choke it down, soldier!" Hogan snapped. At Newkirk's look of protest, Hogan explained quietly. "You need to keep up your strength. This might be the last meal we see in days. We have no way of knowing."

 

Newkirk glared at Hogan, and then at his metal plate filled with soggy cabbage. Nodding and shrugging, he surrendered to the inevitable and began eating the mess. Taking Hogan's suggestions as direct orders, he did as told--he held his nose and choked it down.

 

Trying not to make a face, Hogan took a small bite of his boiled cabbage. He immediately fought a strong urge to spit it out. "And I thought the Gestapo were cold-blooded bastards," he muttered. "This food should fall under the war crimes act!"

 

"Oui!" LeBeau muttered. "The Germans know nothing about the art of preparing cuisine. Comme dessert, que me suggereriez-vous pour effacer le goût du plat de resistance de ma bouche?"

 

"Huh?" Carter said, confused.

 

"I said, what's for dessert to get the taste out of our mouths?"

 

"Oh, are we having dessert?"

 

LeBeau rolled his eyes.

 

Grinning, Kinchloe finished his chow and even began to lick his plate. "Here!" Hogan said sharply, shoving his plate at his noncom. "Bon appetit!"

 

"But you just said--!" Newkirk began. Hogan made a single, sharp movement with his hand, cutting him off.

 

"R.H.I.P., Corporal," Hogan said smugly, a twinkle in his eye. "Rank has its privileges."

 

Kinchloe looked doubtfully at Hogan. "Are you sure, Colonel?" he asked. "Like you said...we don't know when we'll see our next meal."

 

"Take it, Kinch," Hogan said reassuringly. "Believe me, I'd only throw it up later. No sense wasting food." Reluctantly, Kinchloe took the proffered meal, but still hungry, wolfed it down.

 

Ensuring that none of the guards were looking in his direction, Hogan slid down until he was sitting next to Newkirk. Not looking directly at the Englishman, he jabbed him lightly with his elbow, holding his hand out behind him. He felt something being placed in it, a small notebook.

 

His movements casual, he jammed his hands into his Bomber jacket, the notebook seemingly burning his sweating palm.

 

****

[Monday 02 NOV 1942//1430hrs local]

Enroute to Hammelburg, Germany

 

****

 

 

With the additional prisoners that had joined them at the Dusseldorf station, the boxcar was tightly packed. The prisoners just barely had enough room to sit, squeezed in shoulder to shoulder.

 

Like a can of sardines, Hogan grumbled. He sniffed, his nose curling once more at the rancid odor. Make that spoiled sardines!

 

Standing, leaning against the slats overlooking the companion train that had pulled into the station earlier, he studied the straw-filled boxcar that was directly across from him. Catching a glimpse of what looked like wooden boxes underneath the straw cover, Hogan immediately knew what the train was transporting.

 

A sudden idea took shape. He grinned slightly, shaking his head.

 

He couldn't. Could he?

 

Taking out a cigarette from his last pack, he offered one to Kinchloe. Hogan rarely smoked cigarettes, preferring cigars, But beggars can't be choosers, he added philosophically.

 

"Gotta match, Kinch?" he asked. The sergeant shook his head regretfully. Instantly, there was a lit match held under Hogan's nose. He took it gratefully, lighting his cigarette. Mindful of the straw-covered floor, he carefully put it out. Taking Kinchloe's cigarette, he lit it with his own.

 

Inhaling deeply, Hogan blew out a long stream of smoke. Then, an impish look overtaking his features, he reached across the narrow slats to the waiting boxcar across from him. As the troop train started moving, Hogan grabbed a handful of straw from the other boxcar and casually set it on fire.

 

Whistling The White Cliffs of Dover, Hogan then carefully tossed the burning straw back onto the straw-filled boxcar. He repeated his actions a few more times. Kinchloe, watching curiously from the sidelines, read the markings on the opposite train.

 

"Sir!" he hissed, eyes wide. "That's a munitions train!"

 

Hogan raised a single eyebrow, his eyes alight with amusement. Really? Without skipping a beat, he began to sing softly. Grabbing a handful of straw, he lit it and tossed it back.

 

"There'll be blue birds over the white cliffs of Dover,

Tomorrow, just you wait and see--"

 

Quickly catching on, Kinchloe mirrored his C.O.'s actions, adding his own mellow baritone to the sentimental song.

 

"There'll be love and laughter and peace ever after

Tomorrow, when the world is free--"

 

"Blimey, you're both bloomin' daft!" Newkirk yelled, as he, too, realized what the senior POW was up to. Instantly, he joined them. "Wish I'd thought of it!"

 

"The shepherd will tend his sheep

And the valley will bloom again--"

 

Soon, all the prisoners were in on the 'game.' A very dangerous game, Hogan knew, for the fire was building steadily, and he could even now feel the heat it was radiating.

 

"And Johnny will go to sleep

In his own little room again."

 

Despite the suddenly high morale in the boxcar, Hogan felt an inordinate desire to get out and push in order to make their train move faster.

 

"There'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover,

Tomorrow, just you wait and see..."

 

As the POW train steadily gained momentum, and to Hogan's relief finally pulled safely out of the station, he could see that the munitions train was clearly ablaze, the fire dangerously out of control. German soldiers were running back and forth in a state of panic, a fire brigade hastily forming to put out the flames.

 

When their train took a curve, the prisoners were treated to the sight and sound of the munitions train suddenly going up in a spectacular explosion. The shockwave from the ensuing blast shook the troop train, throwing the POWs to the floor. 

 

Laughing and cheering, the Allied prisoners shook hands and pounded each other on the back, congratulating each other for striking another blow against the Fatherland.

 

Hogan stood back, his arms casually crossed. Looks like my kids have suddenly become men. Thinking of the contents of the small notebook in his pocket, he knew that all of their lives were going to depend on it.

 

****

 

[Tuesday 03 NOV 1942//0400hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, near Hammelburg, Germany

 

****

 

"Raus! Raus!"

 

The truck's tailgate dropped and the canvas cover was pulled aside. The POWs got up slowly, grumbling under their breath. They'd traveled all day and most of the night by train, only to be herded onto a convoy of trucks and forced to travel several more miles. They were tired and hungry, their nerves frayed from the constant shock-tactics of the German guards.

 

Hogan was the last man off the truck. Vaulting easily from the tailgate, he took a moment to assess his new 'home.' Ignoring the corpulent German sergeant who was screaming in his ear, he took in his surroundings, noting the guard towers with 30mm machine guns, barbed wire fence, searchlights, long rows of low, gray nondescript buildings. He was already formulating plans on how to break out.

 

"Schnell! Schnell! Appell!" Once again, the POWs were being pushed, shoved, and unceremoniously herded like cattle into a ragged line. When someone pressed a rifle barrel into his back urging him along, Hogan decided he'd had just about enough. Grabbing the barrel, he easily disarmed the startled sergeant-of-the-guard.

 

"All right! All right!" Hogan shouted. "I heard you the first time. You don't have to yell!"

 

The German sergeant blinked in shock at the American colonel's impertinence. Finding himself facing a very angry and armed prisoner of war, he openly cowered in naked fear. Round eyes bulging and enormous jowls quivering, he was reduced to a mere stutter. Slowly, he raised his hands and pleaded for mercy.

 

"Es tut mir leid, Herr Oberst! Please, do not shoot. I have a wife and five children--"

 

"Oh, for heaven's sake," Hogan muttered, shoving the rifle back into the sergeant's shaking hands. "Here! Before one of us gets killed."

 

Realizing that he was no longer in danger, the sergeant opened his mouth but couldn't utter a sound. Rolling his eyes, Hogan beat him to it.

 

"Company! Fall in! On the double! Sgt. Kinchloe, get these clowns in formation!"

 

Kinchloe instantly took charge. He quickly organized the junior NCOs into a semblance of a chain of command, and before the Germans knew what was happening, the Allied POWs were standing in parade formation.

 

Hogan marched crisply to where Kinchloe stood at attention, in front of the assembled troops.

 

"Sir!" Kinchloe barked, saluting smartly. "The company is formed. All present and accounted for."

 

"Very well, Sergeant!" Hogan replied, returning the salute. Kinchloe made a right face and moved quickly to his own place in line. As soon as the senior noncom faced forward, Hogan executed an about face, and standing at attention, waited.

 

He didn't have long to wait.

 

The door leading to a building clearly marked Kommandantur slammed open. A bright beam of light sliced through the shadows enshrouding the front porch. A tall, slender silhouette stepped into the open doorway, pausing dramatically for effect. The figure was clearly outlined in the light, his features in shadows. He was wearing the German standard, high-peaked cap, a long flowing overcoat, and carried what looked like a riding crop.

 

Oh, brother! Hogan sneered. The senior Allied prisoner closely studied the figure as he descended the porch steps. And I just bet you're returning the favor, he added. He took note of the arrogant swagger, the exaggerated movements--All designed for our benefit. To strike fear in our hearts.

 

Hogan remained military straight, his outer bearing showing nothing of his inner thoughts. The camp Kommandant came to a halt directly in front of him, squinting through his monocle. Neither man spoke, nor exchanged military courtesies.

 

The Stalag held its collective breath as the two officers took in the other's measure.

 

Finally, the Kommandant whirled round and stamped in the direction of the porch steps. Climbing the stairs, he faced the assembly from his elevated position. Taking one last haughty look at the new prisoners, he opened his mouth, and to Hogan's utter amusement, called out in a high, shrill voice--"Report!"

 

The large sergeant still shaky from his near-death experience waddled to the head of the formation, carrying an official-looking clipboard. He was nervously counting on his fingers, lost in thought.

 

"Schultz! Dumkopf! Report! Mach schnell!"

 

Hogan grinned in spite of himself. Oh, this just keeps getting better.

 

"Jahwohl, Herr Kommandant!" the sergeant reported, saluting. "All Allied prisoners present and accounted for!" He added helpfully, "The Luftwaffe sergeant-of-the-guard in Dusseldorf reported that we were to expect three hundred new prisoners, and I count three hundred!"

 

"Are you sure?" Hogan asked, feigning shock. "I counted three hundred and ten!" He called over his shoulder. "Isn't that right, Sgt. Kinchloe? Didn't we count three-ten?"

 

"Yes, sir. Three-ten! Definitely!"

 

"I guess you've lost a few lambs, Schultzie!" Newkirk called out.

 

"Nein! Nein!" Schultz denied. "Dusseldorf reported three hundred. I count three hundred." He concentrated on the clipboard he held in hand, his eyes squinting as he tried to read in the dark. Hogan sidled up to him, and pinching the sergeant's own flashlight from his web belt, thoughtfully beamed a light on the list.

 

"Danke," Shultz said distractedly.

 

"Here, let me!" Hogan offered, taking the clipboard. Nodding thoughtfully, he handed Schultz the flashlight, who considerately held it for him. "Hmmm...Just as I thought...Winken, Blinken, and Nod are missing from the roster. So are Rodgers and Hammerstein, Gilbert and Sullivan--!"

 

"What about Huey, Louie, and Dewey?" an unknown voice from the prisoner formation called out. The POWs broke up in loud guffaws.

 

"Enough!" the shrill voice of the Kommandant cut through the laughter. Hogan pretended to be startled as the clipboard was yanked from his hands. The Kommandant stood toe-to-toe with him, glaring at him through his monocle. "Your little joke has gone far enough--" He glanced at the POW roster. "--Col. Hogan!"

 

Keeping a straight face, Hogan gave the German colonel a hurt look. "I was only trying to help, sir!" he protested.

 

"Get back in formation, Colonel," the German officer ordered. Smirking, Hogan did as told. Glancing over his shoulder at Kinchloe, Hogan winked. The men behind him snickered. Annoyed, the Kommandant leaned over and hissed in Schultz's ear. "Dumkopf!"

 

"But, Kommandant Klink," Schultz chastised gently. "Col. Hogan was only trying to help--"

 

"Shut up!" Klink shouted in exasperation.

 

"Hey, there, Fritzy," a voice called out of the dark. Newkirk, Hogan recognized immediately. "No need to take it out on poor ol' Schultzie. 'E's only tryin' to do his job!"

 

Klink whirled on the assembled prisoners of war. Instantly, they were standing at rigid attention, eyes front. Unable to spot the heckler, Klink stomped towards Hogan, again standing toe-to-toe with the senior POW.

 

Two can play this game, Hogan thought darkly. He suddenly leaned forward until he was almost nose-to-nose with the Kommandant.

 

Klink immediately jerked back, startled. The POWs snickered at his sudden discomfiture. Straightening to his full height, Klink attempted to regain some of his lost dignity.

 

"Col. Hogan, I warn you," he growled, waving his finger under Hogan's nose. "There has never been a successful escape from Stalag 13! It will be your responsibility to see to it that your men know that. One false move, and--" Klink made a slashing motion across his throat.

 

He held his hand out to a waiting German soldier. Quickly, the soldier placed a bullhorn in Klink's hand. Turning to the guard towers, he shouted, "Fire!"

 

Instantly, the night rang with the sharp, staccato bursts of 30mm automatic weapons. Hogan's stomach dropped as he saw a stream of miniature geysers shooting upwards along the entire perimeter of the barbed wire fence as the large caliber bullets impacted with the hard ground.

 

"This will be the only warning you receive," Klink yelled. "Observe the No Man's Land sign posts. They are situated ten feet inside the barbed wire. This is a free fire, shoot-to-kill zone. Any prisoner caught in this area will be shot--without warning!"

 

Angry, Hogan snapped, "Kommandant! I protest! You can't fire on a POW without fair warning--!"

 

"This is your warning!" Klink responded. "It will do you well to remember it."

 

His announcement was met with angry muttering from the POWs.

 

"Sgt. Schultz! See to it that the prisoners are properly processed through the de-lousing station--" The POWs' grumbling rose in volume when they heard this, but Klink ignored them. "--and assigned quarters. Carry on, Sergeant!"

 

The guards immediately began to line up the unwilling POWs to go through the de-lousing station.

 

Klink was about to return to his quarters, when he stopped. Instead, he stamped over to Hogan.

 

"Col. Hogan, I wish to see you in my office at 1130 hours--for a light lunch."

 

"Thank you, sir, but I prefer to eat with my men."

 

"Colonel, perhaps I did not make myself clear...that was not a request. It was a direct order."

 

Curious, Hogan asked, "May I ask why, sir?"

 

"Certainly, Col. Hogan," Klink said, amiably. "You are the only officer here who is equal in rank to myself. Let us just say that I wish for us to become better acquainted." Smiling, he repeated the time and walked back to the office in what Hogan would soon come to recognize as Klink's personal goose-step.

 

His arms crossed in his own familiar pose, Hogan stood thoughtfully staring at Klink's back as he retreated through the doorway.

 

As soon as Klink was gone, Kinchloe appeared next to Hogan. "What was that all about d'you suppose?"

 

Hogan shook his head. "Not really sure. If no one's ever escaped from this place, then he can't be as dumb as he looks." He heard a loud crash from inside the Kommandant's office. This was followed by a series of German expletives, all apparently aimed at the fat sergeant. Hogan raised a single eyebrow. "Then again--?"

 

"Dumkopf!"

 

"Es tut mir leid, Herr Kommandant--!" Shaking their heads, the Americans translated, "I am sorry--!"

 

"~You are supposed to be processing the prisoners, Schultz! Not in here feeding your fat face! Get out! Before I have you transferred to the Russian Front~!"

 

The front door opened and the nervous sergeant slowly backed out of the office. Turning, he made a face--relief, fear, acceptance--and painfully climbed down the two steps to the hard-packed ground below. Catching sight of Hogan, he rolled his eyes, gave a heartfelt sigh, and moved on.

 

Single eyebrow raised, Hogan exchanged a mildly surprised look with Kinchloe. On impulse, he jogged to the Kommandant's building, and ignoring the stairs, lightly stepped onto the porch. He was about to turn the knob and enter the building, when two guards (who looked like they knew which end of their weapons to use) blocked his way.

 

Kinchloe held his breath.

 

"Hey, come on, fellas," Hogan protested, the very soul of innocence. "The Kommandant said he wanted to see me!" In about another six hours, he added, but you don't need to know that.

 

Taking his cue, Kinchloe ran up to Hogan, never taking his eyes off the Germans. "That's right!" he chimed in. "I definitely heard the Kommandant tell the Colonel here that he wanted to see him."

 

The sentries exchanged uneasy looks. The entire time they'd been stationed at Stalag 13, they'd never met a POW who actually spoke to them on equal terms. Most of the POWs had a defeated look in their eyes, and rarely raised them even when addressed.

 

"You wouldn't want me to file a formal complaint with Col. Klink, would you?" Hogan asked, his voice silky smooth. The guards instantly snapped to attention and allowed him to pass.

 

Kinchloe stayed outside, his heart racing at his C.O.'s audacity. But then, Col. Hogan wasn't known for letting the odds stand in his way of accomplishing the impossible.

 

"Col. Hogan, what are you doing here?" Klink shouted. "You're supposed to be going through the de-lousing station!"

 

"Sir, I protest! By act of Congress, I'm an officer and a gentleman. I don't need de-lousing!"

 

"Be that as it may, regulations clearly state that--"

 

"--Regulations clearly state that as the senior prisoner of war, I will be afforded all the rights and privileges due my rank," Hogan replied crisply. "So. No 'de-lousing'!"

 

A feminine voice quietly interrupted.

 

"Herr Kommandant? General Burkhalter is on the line for you." Even from outside, Kinchloe felt his blood suddenly race. A woman in camp?

 

"What? General Burkhalter?" Klink's nervousness clearly carried. "This early in the morning? Thank you, Fraulein Helga. Col. Hogan, whatever you have to say will have to wait until our meeting at 1130. Diss-missed!"

 

Hogan's reply wasn't loud enough for Kinchloe to catch. In fact, several minutes of silence followed his dismissal. Just as Kinchloe made up his mind to walk inside and find out what had happened to his Colonel, the door opened and the highly decorated bomber pilot stepped out, his back to Kinchloe.

 

Clutching his hat casually behind his back, Hogan faced the inside, exuding charm. Waving at whoever was on the other side of door, he closed it, and spinning on his heel, he spread his arms out wide.

 

Crossing the front porch in the breaking dawn, Hogan leaned against one of the posts. He donned his hat and tipped it far back on his head, a single lock of jet-black hair escaping and fluttering in the cool morning breeze. Gazing out at the deep German forest that surrounded the compound, he suddenly smiled.

 

He looks like the cat that ate the canary, Kinchloe thought. Eyes narrowing, he studied a suspicious discoloration on Hogan's cheek. Lipstick? No way! In the middle of Germany? In a POW camp?

 

Hogan glanced at his senior noncom and gave him a small grin. "Kinch," he said, breathing in deeply, "this is turning out to be a beautiful war!"

 

Uh-oh, Kinchloe groaned. I know that look.

 

Kinchloe knew that as a war hero, bachelor, and dashing pilot, Col. Hogan had never lacked for feminine companionship. This never interfered with his professionalism on the job, but it won him a bit of a reputation with the ladies.

 

Whenever a new secretary or nurse reported to the compound, the men would often take bets on how long before she would fall victim to their Commanding Officer's considerable charms. The fastest ten bucks Kinchloe ever won took about thirty seconds from initial bet to payment.

 

And now it appeared that even in a POW camp, the Colonel hadn't lost his touch.

 

Jumping off the porch with a jaunty step, Hogan automatically placed his arm around Kinchloe's shoulder.

 

"Let's take a walk, Sergeant."

 

"A walk, sir?"

 

"A walk."

 

Shrugging Kinchloe followed, matching his C.O.'s long, ambling stride.

 

****

 

Hogan led them on a circuitous path that seemed little more than aimless wandering. They'd been strolling here and there for the better part of an hour, when they stopped before the dog kennel.

 

Kinchloe loved dogs. He'd even had a German shepherd when he was a kid. He hated to see what he knew were wonderful, playful animals turned into man-killers. Unexpectedly, Hogan whistled softly at the growling dogs, and to Kinchloe's amazement, two of the German shepherds whimpered in response and stood on their haunches, begging.

 

Mouth agape, Kinchloe stared at his C.O.

 

"How'd you--?" he asked, but stopped when he saw his own shock mirrored on Hogan's face. Recovering quickly, Hogan jerked his head, indicating that they move on.

 

"Dogs and kids love me, but this is ridiculous," Hogan muttered. As they hurried away, Kinchloe stole a glance over his shoulder towards the dog kennel and was surprised to see the same two dogs following them with sad, wistful eyes.

 

Next, they sauntered over to where there were warning signs posted along the fence perimeter. As they strolled, they made sure to stay well outside of the low barbed wire that clearly marked No Man's Land. Kinchloe could almost feel the crosshairs on his back.

 

"Man, oh, man," he said in a low voice. "I don't like the looks of that."

 

'That' was the veritable maze of anti-personnel barricades that ran the length of the No Man's Land free-fire zone.

 

"Piece o' cake, Kinch," Hogan said reassuringly. Kinchloe gave him a skeptical sideways glance.

 

"Begging the Colonel's pardon, but--" Kinchloe paused. "Sir, look at this place. You'd have to be crazy to try an escape through here. First you'd have to cut through the rolls of concertina wire on the top of the fence, as well as, the anti-personnel obstacles that run down the center."

 

He didn't have to point out the sharp-eyed guards, who even now were coldly tracking them with their machine gun sights.

 

Hogan glared at the seemingly impenetrable barricades. "Lousy, Krauts," he sighed. "They seem to think of everything."

 

"And that's not all, Colonel," Kinchloe insisted. "Even if you make it past all that, you still have to contend with a possibly electrified fence--that's probably alarmed." He waved his arms for emphasis. "It would be like storming the Siegfried Line!"

 

"Possibly electrified," Hogan repeated. "Probably alarmed. We don't know for sure."

 

"Care to be the one who tests it?" Kinchloe asked.

 

Hogan made a sour face. "Funny guy," he muttered. He stood, arms crossed for a moment longer, not speaking. Grinning suddenly, he turned to Kinchloe and slapped him on the shoulder, surprising him. "Like I said--piece o' cake! Come on, Sergeant. Let's see what other 'homey' touches the Krauts have in store for us."

 

Feeling a headache coming on, Kinchloe shrugged and followed his Commanding Officer, who led him towards one of the barracks, number 2. Stopping at the far end, Hogan leaned against the building, hands in his pockets.

 

"Kinch, I know we just got here. But we don't have a lot of time. It's absolutely imperative we make contact with the local Underground."

 

At Kinchloe's look, Hogan added quietly, "Those men at the Dusseldorf train station? They were carrying vital information--information that needs to get to the Underground."

 

"But how, Colonel?" Kinchloe asked.

 

"Radio," Hogan said easily.

 

"We don't have a radio!"

 

"No, but Klink does," Hogan said smugly. "In his office." Before Kinchloe could respond, Hogan nodded at two guards that were approaching.

 

As the guards passed by, Kinchloe and Hogan were arguing animatedly about the merits of the Boston Red Sox versus the Detroit Tigers. Kinchloe was busy pointing out that the Sox continuously got rid of their best players--"Don't remind me!" Hogan groaned--when the guards moved on, out of earshot.

 

"Sir, even if the Kommandant does have a radio in his office, how are we supposed to gain access to it? He's not going to just let us walk in and use it."

 

Hogan shrugged a bit defensively. "Okay, so I haven't ironed out all the details yet. Come on, do I have to think of everything around here? You're the radioman...Think of something!"

 

Kinchloe sighed, covering his eyes. The headache that had been threatening all day hit him with full force. Before he could think of a respectful reply to his Commanding Officer, Hogan punched him on the arm and gave him an impish half-smile.

 

"Don't worry, Kinch," he said with a quiet reassurance he didn't feel. "We'll think of something. We always do."

 

Pointing at the twin guard towers and the rest of compound with his chin, Hogan indicated that he wanted them to get a lay of their surroundings. Biting back the questions that were urgently fighting to be asked, Kinchloe did as his C.O. wanted.

 

As they studied their new home, Hogan continued his explanation. "Those people sacrificed themselves for this information, Kinch. The least we can do is complete their mission."

 

Kinchloe didn't answer for a moment. He thought about what he wanted to say, how he'd follow Hogan to Hell and Back, how he'd be willing to make any sacrifice to prove his loyalty to his Commanding Officer. But facts were facts. And what the Colonel was proposing was just plain crazy.

 

"Begging the Colonel's pardon," he said tentatively. "But it'd be suicide! We're POWs, remember? In the toughest POW camp in all of Germany. From where I'm standing, I can't see any way out of here that doesn't spell death."

 

As if to prove his point, the camp suddenly exploded with a long, machine gun burst. Hogan and Kinchloe--and the rest of the prisoners--exploded into action. Hogan sprinted towards the perimeter, a cold hand clutching his heart.

 

He saw Newkirk and LeBeau, just outside of the No Man's Land, waving their arms at the tower guards.

 

"Kamerad! Kamerad!" they yelled. Furious, Hogan ran up to them, but was blocked by the guards.

 

"Was ist denn los? What is going on here?" Klink yelled as he hurried up.

 

"That's what I'm trying to find out!" Hogan snapped. He pointed at the guards that were blocking him. "But Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum here won't let me through!"

 

Klink waved at the guards to allow Hogan to pass. Straightening his shoulders, Hogan walked towards the two Allied prisoners in slow measured steps.

 

"Sir, we were only--!"

 

"You're at attention soldier!"

 

Newkirk and LeBeau's startled glances disappeared instantly. As one, they snapped to attention until they were ramrod straight, eyes front.

 

"Just what did you clowns think you were doing?" Hogan asked, his voice deceptively low. "Were you deliberately trying to get yourselves killed?"

 

"Sorry, Colonel," Newkirk said, chastised. "We were testin' the waters, so to speak."

 

"Oui, mon colonel," LeBeau chimed in. At Hogan's withering glare, both men seemed to shrink just a bit. Hovering like a cobra about to attack, Hogan walked up to Newkirk until he was almost nose-to-nose with him.

 

"Testing the waters, you say?" At Newkirk's emphatic nod, Hogan finally let loose. "The next time you try to pull such a stupid, boneheaded stunt like this, I'll shoot you myself! Is that clear?"

 

"Yes, sir!"

 

"Oui, mon colonel!"

 

Hogan whirled and addressed the rest of the prisoners. "That goes for all of you! The last thing I want to do is write a letter to some mother, stating, 'Dear Mrs. Smith, I'm sorry to inform you that your son is dead because he's an idiot!'" He glared at the mass of prisoners. "Now break it up!"

 

The POWs instantly began moving away, trying to place as much distance as possible between themselves and their angry leader.

 

Klink stared at Hogan open-mouthed. None of his own men ever listened to him with such rapt awe. Aware that the prisoners were hurrying off in small groups, he jumped in, "Yes! Yes! All prisoners return to the processing stations! Diss-misssed!"

 

But by now there was no one left, except Hogan, Kinchloe, and the two chagrinned Allied corporals.

 

Giving his men one last contemptuous glare, Hogan turned to Klink. "Sorry about that, Kommandant," he apologized, shrugging. "But you know how kids are--They have to discover things out for themselves. You know, learn from experience."

 

"Indeed," Klink said, rocking on his heels. "Perhaps, ten days in the cooler will drive the point across that no one ever escapes from Stalag 13!"

 

"Ten days!" Hogan protested. "Come on, Kommandant. It's only their first day here. I think they've learned their lesson. And I give you my word, as an officer and a gentlemen, that neither of these men will pull a stunt like this again."

 

The two prisoners' faces registered surprise at this, but quickly squelched it and smiled innocently at Klink, nodding vigorously for added emphasis.

 

Klink wavered momentarily, then smiled brightly. "Col. Hogan, I accept your word. However, just to be on the safe side I believe that one night in the cooler will teach these men that the rules are absolute in this camp. Take them away!"

 

Newkirk and LeBeau were led away by two no-nonsense guards. Nodding curtly, Klink spun on his heel and returned to his office.

 

Hogan and Kinchloe exchanged mutually disgusted looks.

 

"That's. Just. Swell!" Hogan muttered. He turned on his heel and stomped back to Barracks Two. "Take a memo, sergeant. From here on, all escape attempts will go through the Escape Committee."

 

"But we don't have an Escape Committee," Kinchloe pointed out.

 

"We do now, and you're in charge," Hogan shot back in a voice that would brook no argument.

 

"But--!"

 

"Got other plans for the Duration, Sergeant?"

 

Kinchloe sighed. "Okay, but I'd like your permission to recruit Newkirk and LeBeau." Since they got me into this, he fumed.

 

"My permission?" Hogan asked. "I insist on it!"

 

They both leaned against the far corner of Barracks Two, neither talking for a long moment, enjoying the companionable silence. From where they stood, they had an unobstructed view of almost the entire Stalag--the Kommandant's quarters, front gate, rec hall, mess, de-lousing station and the guards' quarters. It also afforded an excellent view of the East and West guard towers.

 

"Sir, I just don't see how we can beat any of the obstacles the Jerries've tossed our way. Maybe Klink is right. Maybe the war is over for us."

 

"You could be right, Kinch," Hogan admitted pensively. And then, chin jutting in a manner familiar to all who'd served under him, he added, "But we can't let a few bad breaks stop us."

 

Bad breaks? Kinchloe wondered. What would the Colonel consider impossible odds?

 

"POWs or no," Hogan continued, "first and foremost we're soldiers. And our job is to complete the mission. If we're faced with problems, then we need to find solutions to those problems. No matter the circumstances, our duty is to ensure that the mission gets carried out."

 

Kinchloe sighed. It was obvious that the Colonel's mind was already made up. Somehow they were going to get this information to the Underground. Even if it killed them. Ours not to reason why, Ours but to do or die, he paraphrased.

 

He decided to take one last stab at reasoning with his Colonel. "Sir, even if Klink does have a radio in his office, there's no guarantee that I'll be able to operate it. I'm not familiar with all the latest German models and besides--"

 

Hogan jabbed him in the arm and jerked his head. This way, his eyes said.

 

Kinchloe followed. Now what?

 

He didn't have long to find out. Simply by turning the corner, they no longer had a clear view of the guard towers. More specifically, the guard towers no longer had a clear view of them.

 

Hogan gave him a triumphant look and hurried him down the narrow alley between the barracks. Kinchloe closed his eyes momentarily, groaning mentally. Didn't the guy ever let up? So much for the war being over for us.

 

"While I was in Klink's office, I caught a glimpse of a map of the compound," Hogan explained. "It doesn't take an Intelligence officer to spot such an obvious blind spot." He grinned. "Just a certain pompous, monocled camp Kommandant."

 

Shrugging, he added, "It seemed too good to be true, so I wanted to see for myself." Looking around to make sure that there were no guards nearby, he reached into his jacket and pulled out a small manual. Grinning slightly, he handed it to Kinchloe.

 

Kinchloe's eyes widened. It was a radio operator's manual for a German short-wave model Marconi-248! He stared at Hogan.

 

"How--?"

 

"Let's just say, that while the King Rat was away, talking on the phone, his little Frauline Mouse was willing to 'play.' The manual was in a bookshelf in the outer office--terrible security precautions, I know," he tsked. "The man should be reprimanded severely."

 

Rounding the corner between the barracks and the de-lousing station, Hogan added, "You'll have a few hours to commit it to memory. I'd like to return it when I have my little 'light lunch' with him at 1130. Think that'll be enough time to get the rudiments down?"

 

Kinchloe nodded, lost in thought as he flipped through the pages. "More than enough, Colonel." Putting it away safely in his jacket, he suddenly grinned. "It's good to know that when it comes to romance, sir, women are the same everywhere."

 

Hogan had the grace to blush.

 

"War is Hell, Sergeant," he snapped. "Okay, I've seen enough for now. Let's take a look at the other inmates."

 

The rest of the morning was taken up with meeting the newcomers, as well as questioning the old-timers. They also had to contend with Sgt. Schultz's efforts to assign the prisoners to their barracks.

 

****

 

[Tuesday 03 NOV 1942//094500hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Outside Barracks 2

 

****

 

"But I don't want to be assigned to Barracks Two!" Hogan protested. "It gets entirely too much sun in the morning. And I like to sleep in late."

 

"All prisoners must be up before 0530 for morning roll call!" Schultz yelled, and then paused. "But Col. Hogan, I have you down for Barracks Six. You are not assigned to--"

 

"Hey! Now that's more like it!" Hogan interrupted. "Barracks Six, it is! Just don't assign me to Barracks Two."

 

"Wait a minute! Wait a minute!" Shultz yelled suspiciously, waving his arms for quiet. "Why is Barracks Six so important to you? You are not already planning an escape tunnel are you?"

 

"No!" Hogan denied vehemently. "I protest such an unwarranted accusation, Sergeant. It's just that 'Six' is my lucky number, you know, and--"

 

"--And it is the closest barracks to the wire!" Schultz ended triumphantly. He shook his finger at Hogan, making a tsking noise. "Col. Hogan, if you or any of the other prisoners should try to escape, it could mean the Russian Front for me! Therefore, I hereby assign you to Barracks Number Two!"

 

Hogan dropped his eyes and shuffled his feet. After a moment, he looked up at the fat sergeant's wary eyes and smiled as if chagrinned.

 

"You caught me, Schultz. I guess I should've known better than to try to go one-on-one with such a devious mind." He shook his head, and glancing over at Kinchloe as if for support, added, "I can see now that nothing will ever escape your attention, eh, Schultz?"

 

"That is correct, Col. Hogan!" Schultz agreed, punctuating his remark with an emphatic nod. "I see everything!"

 

"And I suppose that now you're going to assign Sgt. Kinchloe here to Barracks Two as well because of his reputation."

 

"Reputation--?" Schultz asked puzzled.

 

"Oh, come on!" Hogan replied. "You don't fool me, Sergeant. You know as well as I do that Sgt. Kinchloe is known as 'the Tunnel Rat'!"

 

Kinchloe rolled his eyes at this. Oh, brother!

 

"The tunnel rat?" Schultz echoed. "But why--? Ah, so! Because he likes to dig tunnels! Jahwohl! Ich verstehen, Sie! Trying to dig a tunnel from Barracks Two would be impossible! It is one hundred and fifty meters to the outside fence."

 

"Really?" Hogan asked. "That far?"

 

"Ja!"

 

"And of course, the outside fence is electrified, so we'd never be able to cut through it, right?"

 

"Ja!" Schultz said, nodding sagely. At Schultz's answer, Hogan felt a deep disappointment come over him. Kinch was right! The fence is electrified.

 

"Was ist? Electrified--? Nein, nein, Col. Hogan," Schultz said hurriedly, shaking his head. "The fence is not electrified. We do not generate enough power for that. The Allied bombers keep destroying our power plants." He sighed. "I do not understand why we cannot all be friends. War is not a nice thing."

 

"You're absolutely right, Schultz," Hogan agreed, his expression completely friendly and open. "I'd like to be your friend, Schultz."

 

"Ach! That is nice to hear, Col. Hogan," Schultz said smiling warmly. Doing a double take, his eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Why do you ask about the fence? You would not try to cut through it? That would be too dangerous!" He leaned in. "The tower guards are not very nice fellows."

 

"Well, you Germans sure know how to build a prison camp," Hogan said. He sighed deeply, crossing his arms in defeat. "I hate to admit it, but you guys have us beaten there, Schultz. You're right. Trying to escape through the wire would be tantamount to suicide."

 

Schultz nodded emphatically.

 

"While a tunnel to the outside fence from Barracks Two would be 'impossible' as you say," Hogan continued. "Don't you agree, Sgt. Kinchloe?"

 

"Indeed, sir. Impossible."

 

"There, you see, Schultz? The Tunnel Rat has spoken. It's impossible. Thanks for the advice, Schultz. You're a real pal."

 

Schultz smiled brightly at Hogan's words. Waving, Hogan and Kinchloe turned and started moving away, only to stop.

 

"Oh, and don't worry," Hogan said. "We'll just keep this little conversation between ourselves. We wouldn't want the Kommandant to think that you might be fraternizing with the enemy, would we?"

 

Schultz nodded vigorously, smiling. As the POWs moved away, his smile was suddenly replaced with a wide-eyed expression. "Fraternizing with the enemy?" He stared after Hogan, trying to recall their conversation. What had they talked about, exactly? Tunnels and fences! A cold fear and thoughts of the Russian Front consumed him.

 

"I know nothing!" he muttered.

 

Once out of earshot, Hogan murmured, "So, how soon do you think we can start digging?"

 

****

 

At 1130 while Hogan met with the Kommandant, Kinchloe was busily interviewing prisoners for any special skills. He already knew some of Newkirk's special talents, and that LeBeau had fought with the French Resistance. The diminutive Frenchman was an expert in both small arms and small unit tactics.

 

Furthermore, Kinchloe happily discovered that Carter was a chemist and an explosives expert. However, instead of being assigned to an Ordnance unit, he'd been a crewmember onboard a B-17.

 

Typical Army efficiency, he glowered. Still, a perfect addition to the 'Escape Committee.'

 

As he went through the enlisted men, he found an eagerness in almost everyone to be included in whatever plans Hogan was cooking up. The ones who showed a definite lack of enthusiasm to rock the boat, Kinchloe dutifully marked off his list and made a mental note to pass off to the Colonel.

 

He'd seen Hogan turn around some of the most reluctant recruits before. If anyone could stir them into a sudden bout of patriotism, it would be the colonel.

 

Kinchloe shook his head bemusedly. And of course, each man will believe that volunteering was entirely his own idea. Grinning, he again reviewed the prisoner roster. He was determined to have a complete report ready for the Colonel when he returned.

 

He thought about his initial awkwardness in interviewing NCOs who were senior in grade. However, Hogan had appointed him his acting Command Sergeant Major; therefore, Kinchloe's words carried the authority of Hogan's silver eagles.

 

"But, Colonel, I'm only a Staff Sergeant. What if some of the more senior noncoms complain?"

 

"Tell 'em to write a letter to their Congressman! There's a war on, Sergeant!"

 

To his relief, no one questioned Hogan's decision. And so, for better or for worse, Kinchloe found himself in charge.

 

"Swell," he muttered. Placing chin in hand, he wondered how Hogan was faring with Klink.

 

****

 

"Well, Col. Hogan," Klink spoke smugly, taking a sip from his wine. "What do you think of your new home? You know, of course, that the war is over for you."

 

Hogan smiled slightly, feeling ill at ease across the table from Klink. He'd returned the radio operator's manual without anyone having missed it. The accumulated dust on the bookshelf told him that the manual was rarely, if ever, used.

 

He thought of the beautiful Fraulein Helga on the other side of the door. They'd greeted each other with knowing smiles, but neither had dared to pick up where they'd left off earlier. Besides, Hogan told himself, fraternizing with the enemy was strictly business on his part.

 

While it was pleasant that the enemy had such nice curves, he couldn't allow himself to get carried away. Still, she might prove an asset if 'handled' properly. Picking at his food, he felt a slight twinge of guilt at this thought.

 

Realizing that the Kommandant was awaiting an answer, he glanced up from under hooded eyes. Klink's idea of a 'light lunch' was enough food to feed the prisoners for a week. Remembering the meager breakfast he'd forced down his throat just a few hours before, Hogan felt himself seething.

 

To hide his increasingly black mood, he took a sip of wine, replacing the glass on the table with slow, deliberate movements. Forcing an expression of joviality, Hogan looked up, a bright, vacuous smile firmly in place.

 

"Well, sir, the compound isn't much, yet, but my men and I are already making plans on how to beautify it--you know, vegetable gardens, flowers, that sort of thing."

 

"You are?" Klink looked surprised.

 

"You said it yourself. The war's over for us. We knew it the minute we found out that we were being transferred to Stalag 13. I mean, even back in England, we've all heard of Stalag 13--!"

 

"You have--? I-I mean, of course, you have!"

 

"Absolutely!" Hogan insisted. "D'you know what you're known as back home? The 'Scourge of the Eighth Air Force'!"

 

"I am--? I-I mean--"

 

"Well, it's true! You're a legend among all the crews!" Hogan leaned in closer. Spotting a humidor on a nearby accent table, he casually reached over and took out a cigar. Sniffing it with practiced ease, he searched his pockets for a match. Not finding one, he glanced at Klink, who automatically offered him a light.

 

Taking several puffs, Hogan finally settled down to a luxurious smoke. Havana Golds! His favorite. He sighed with pleasure.

 

"Y-you were saying something about me being a legend--?" Klink prompted.

 

"Of course, you are, sir! Why, who hasn't heard of Stalag 13? The toughest POW camp in all of Germany--and of its tough as nails camp Kommandant?"

 

Pausing to take a couple of puffs, Hogan gauged the effect his words were having on the 'Scourge of the Eighth Air Force.' If it were possible, the man seemed to have grown two feet.

 

As if to confirm Hogan's observation, Klink stood to his full height, his riding crop tucked neatly under his arm. Strutting around the table, he walked over to the window and looked out on the compound. Hogan took the moment to open the humidor and grab a few more cigars.

 

"It is to be expected, Col. Hogan," Klink said, turning suddenly. Shoving the cigars in his bomber jacket, Hogan nodded enthusiastically.

 

"Oh, absolutely," he agreed, standing and joining Klink by the window.

 

"After all, a man of my professionalism, ironclad discipline--"

 

"But fair, sir! The word on the outside is that you are extremely fair with the Allied prisoners!"

 

"It is--?"

 

"Of course, sir! A man of your obvious integrity, an enemy amongst enemies, why you can afford to be magnanimous."

 

"Yes, certainly. You are correct, Col. Hogan. I have always aspired to be completely fair and impartial with the prisoners."

 

"Oh, and you have succeeded, sir. That's why--" Hogan stopped, as if reluctant to continue.

 

"That's why 'what'?" Klink asked. He felt his heart start racing. "Col. Hogan, please, you may speak freely in front of me."

 

Yeah, I'll just bet! Hogan thought darkly. He quickly turned his back, taking a long puff on the cigar in order to hide the sudden anger that had inexplicably flared. Cooling down, he turned again and gave Klink his best puppy dog eyes, the same look that always seemed to get him a little further with the English girls.

 

"Well, sir..." he stopped.

 

"Go on, Col. Hogan," Klink urged. "What do you wish to say?"

 

"I feel like such heel, sir." Hogan looked dejectedly down at his feet, the picture of a broken man.

 

"Of course, Colonel, if you don't feel that you can speak to me--"

 

"But," Hogan interrupted quickly before Klink talked him out of a 'confession,' "you've been so fair with us since our arrival--welcomed us, provided us with that delicious breakfast--I almost couldn't taste the sawdust in the bread, honest!" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Klink stiffen and tighten his grip on this riding crop. "I feel that I must report an escape attempt planned for tonight."

 

"An escape attempt--?!" Klink was instantly furious. "Col. Hogan, I've already warned you that no one has ever escaped--!" he stopped. "But why are you telling me this?"

 

"Are you kidding, Kommandant? After that little demonstration you gave us with the machine guns? I'm doing it for my men's own good. We're flyboys, not commandos. What do we know about ground tactics?" He glared for a long moment at Klink. Finally, dropping his eyes, he admitted softly, "I just don't want to see any of my men get hurt!"

 

"I see. I see," Klink said, nodding rapidly. "You are reporting your own men because you know that they do not stand a chance."

 

"Of course, sir. Wouldn't you?" Hogan's shoulders slumped in dejection. "The fellas are gonna hate me now."

 

Klink placed his hand on Hogan's shoulder in a show of camaraderie. "Col. Hogan, I assure you that you have done the right thing. I promise you that I will do everything in my power to prevent anyone from getting hurt."

 

"You will?" Hogan's eyes lit up with gratitude. He took Klink's hand in his own, shaking it vigorously. "Thank you, sir. You know, I had you pegged all wrong. I-I can see now that y-you're like a father figure to us, sir."

 

He ducked his head, the picture of a man overcome with emotion. Hating himself for what he was about to do, Hogan hugged Klink closely, taking the Kommandant by surprise. Unable to look him in the eyes, Hogan walked towards the door, half-spun round, and flicked off a casual salute.

 

Klink returned it automatically. After the door closed behind the American officer, it dawned on him that--just perhaps--Colonel Hogan had just thumbed his nose at him.

 

Impossible! he thought. The man is totally cowed by my power and authority. Still...what if? Klink's face darkened into a scowl, his left hand forming an ineffectual fist.

 

As Hogan stepped outside into the bright, autumn sunshine, he, too, scowled darkly in self-disgust over hugging Klink. Crossing the compound in his long, ground-eating gait, he muttered, "I wonder if they closed the de-lousing station?"

 

****

 

"Okay, Kinch. What do we have?" Hogan spoke without preamble, startling Kinchloe who'd been interviewing Carter.

 

"Well, sir--"

 

"Is there someplace we can talk privately?" Hogan interrupted.

 

"Yes, sir. This way." Kinchloe immediately led the senior officer to a closed door inside the barracks. "The Presidential Suite, sir," he said expansively, a wave of his arm taking in the drab, dingy quarters.

 

Hogan looked around, his amused expression never leaving him. "What I would call 'Early Depressing,'" he quipped. "My quarters, I assume?"

 

"Yes, sir. I worked it out with Schultz that as the senior ranking POW--a full colonel, no less--that you were entitled to private quarters--"

 

"Private quarters?!" Hogan asked, surprised. "Kinch, there's no need for that. I can share with another--"

 

"Wouldn't hear of it, Colonel!" Kinchloe interrupted. "Look sir...you made me your Acting CSM, right?"

 

Hogan nodded.

 

"Well, begging the Colonel's pardon, but this is what we NCOs call 'Sergeants' Business.' As your A/CSM one of my jobs is to take care of my boss--that means you, sir." At Hogan's look of protest, Kinchloe held up his hand. "Sorry, sir. But that's just the way it is. Accept it. Please." At Hogan's uncertain look, he repeated, "Please?"

 

An amused twinkle flashed across Hogan's eyes. "Well, Sergeant Kinchloe. Who am I to stand in the way of 'Sergeants' Business'?" He held his hand out to Kinchloe, and the two men shook solemnly. Standing in the middle of the seedy quarters, Hogan allowed himself a moment of silent relief.

 

It's not much, he mused, but it's home. Better yet, it was private--something for which he knew he'd always be in debt to Kinchloe. Command was hard enough on a man, without his having to stay in character 24 hours a day. This way, he'd be allowed a few precious moments to himself each day in order to unwind--to let the mask drop.

 

Turning back to Kinchloe, he got down to business.

 

"So, what do you have for me?"

 

****

 

Three quarters of an hour later, Hogan had a better picture of the soldiers under his command. There was a broad spectrum of talent amongst the prisoners, which would prove highly useful for any future escape plans.

 

However, until he took care of the mission he'd inherited from the Underground, any escapes would be put on hold.

 

"But why, sir?" Kinchloe asked. "Isn't it better that we start planning the escape operation now? This way we can take advantage of whatever opportunities avail themselves."

 

Hogan held his hand up to stop Kinchloe's argument.

 

"Sorry, Kinch. But we need to focus our entire energies to contacting the local Underground and getting this information to them. And fast." At Kinchloe's questioning look, he explained, "The information is time sensitive. From what I can gather, it's dependent on the next new moon--and if memory serves, that should occur on the eighth of the month."

 

"Which is five days from now," Kinchloe added.

 

"Exactly." Hogan stood and paced in the cramped quarters. Six paces in one direction, six paces back. Kinchloe could see the tension in Hogan's shoulders in how he executed a precise about face at each end of the room and at the exact length of each step taken.

 

Moreover, he could almost hear his C.O.'s mind as it worked through the problem. Hogan's reputation as a brilliant squadron commander was well deserved. Kinchloe knew of his C.O.'s more than fifty successful bombing missions--more than any other pilot in the Wing.

 

Kinchloe had firsthand experience in observing the veteran pilot's almost supernatural ability to think on his feet, having flown almost twenty missions with him. On more than one occasion, Kinchloe had had a front row seat when a mission had gone bad: too many Messerschmitts, anti-aircraft fire, lost crews. Yet, Hogan somehow always managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat and save what might have been a scrapped sortie.

 

Other Squadron Commanders might have been excellent at their jobs--even superior. But when compared to Hogan's elegant virtuosity, a maestro conducting his Squadron Operations like a symphonic orchestra, drawing the best possible performance from each player, there could be no comparison. Everyone else was a mere apprentice.

 

"So what's the plan, Colonel?" he finally asked.

 

Hogan stopped pacing, and leaning with an elbow on the top bunk, he faced Kinchloe.

 

"We need a diversion to get you into Klink's office and the radio."

 

"That would be some diversion, Colonel. I've never even seen the radio. And while the manual gave me a general idea of its operation, it's gonna take me a few minutes to get used to it. Not to mention that I'll need several minutes to send and receive a transmission." He gave Hogan an ironic look. "Colonel, we don't need a diversion, we need the Marines to conduct an amphibious landing."

 

"How long do you suppose you'll need?" Hogan asked seriously.

 

"I'm not sure, sir. If I could take a look at it ahead of time--you know to become familiar to its design--I could have a better idea."

 

Hogan shook his head. "Too risky. Klink might have the imagination of a dead flashlight battery, but he's not completely stupid. He might catch on that we're interested in his radio."

 

Kinchloe nodded in reluctant agreement. "So, where does that leave us?"

 

Hogan grinned. "I sort of finked to Klink that there's going to be an escape tonight." At Kinchloe's look of respect, he ducked his head. "I know. Sometimes, I scare even myself. Anyway, I need a couple of volunteers to fake an escape attempt. While the Krauts are busy conducting a camp-wide search, you, my friend, will be able to sneak into Klink's office and send a message to the 531st Group--to Gen. Duncan."

 

"Gen. Duncan?" Kinchloe asked, surprised.

 

"Do you know any other Commanding General who'll know who we are?" Hogan asked. "More importantly, do you know anyone else who'll believe that we're who we say we are?"

 

Kinchloe shook his head. "You've got a point."

 

"Okay, so, we need a couple of guys who can think fast, can find a place to hide that'll keep the Krauts occupied for--how long do you need?"

 

"An hour?" Kinchloe asked hopefully.

 

"Half an hour," Hogan said without pause. Kinchloe rolled his eyes and nodded in acceptance. "Who do you recommend?"

 

"That new kid, Carter. He's eager, intelligent--I think he's a good man."

 

Hogan looked at the list Kinchloe had drawn up about potential 'Escape Committee' members. "Hmmm...Carter, eh? Chemist, explosives expert. Flew ball turret gunner on a B-17. Sounds like a guy we can use." Hogan nodded thoughtfully. "Okay, who else?"

 

"Olsen?" Kinchloe asked reluctantly.

 

Hogan looked surprised. "I thought you didn't have a high opinion of our Private Olsen?"

 

It was Kinchloe's turn to pace. "You have to understand, sir. Ever since Olsen was assigned to the 'Goldilocks' crew, he did nothing but slack off on the ground. A real Sergeant's Headache!" He waved his arms for added emphasis.

 

"Whenever there was a dirty detail to get done, there was never any sign of Olsen. The guy could just make himself disappear--sometimes for hours at a time! A couple of times, I almost took him behind the Quonset hut and throttled him."

 

Kinchloe shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. "But in the air--we couldn't ask for a better gunner. Or a better soldier. He had something like three kills and one assist--and he'd only flown three missions with us."

 

Hogan nodded. He knew of Olsen's record both on the ground and in the air. Reaching a decision, he nodded.

 

"Olsen it is, Kinch," he agreed. Smiling, he added, "Bring in our two 'volunteers,' Sergeant, so's I can let 'em know what they've just 'volunteered' for."

 

Grinning, Kinchloe saluted and left. As soon as his senior NCO was gone, Hogan's smile disappeared.

 

Just what the Hell am I doing?

 

****

 

[Wednesday 04 NOV 1942//0005hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, main exercise compound

 

****

 

The 'surprise' bed inspection surprised no one, except Sgt. Schultz who was beside himself with panic when he discovered two prisoners missing. The rest of the prisoners stood outside in the freezing drizzle that had just started falling. Schultz counted and recounted. Still two missing!

 

"Report!" Klink ordered.

 

Swallowing nervously, Schultz broke the news to the Kommandant. "Herr Kommandant, two prisoners are missing."

 

Klink instantly began barking out orders. "Sound the alarm! Call out the dogs! I want armed patrols both inside and outside the compound! On the double! All prisoners are confined to quarters until further notice. Anyone found outside the barracks will be shot on sight!"

 

"Shot on sight!?" Hogan yelled in angry protest. He ran towards Klink. "You said no one would be hurt! You gave me your word!"

 

"I remember giving no such word, Col. Hogan. Sgt. Schultz, escort this prisoner to his quarters!"

 

"Jahwohl, Herr Kommandant!"

 

"Kommandant, I'm lodging a formal protest--!" Hogan yelled, as Schultz began to pull him away.

 

"Your protest has been duly noted and rejected!" Klink replied, a smug grin lighting his features.

 

****

 

[Wednesday 04 NOV 1942//0030hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #2

 

****

 

Hogan was shoved unceremoniously into the barracks. He rushed the door as it slammed in his face. Furious, he banged on it in futile rage. Turning from the door, he yelled into the crowd of milling POWs within the barracks.

 

"Kinch!" No answer. "Sgt. Kinchloe!" Still no answer. He looked around, his eyes registering on the other POWs for the first time. They were noticeably trying to avoid his eyes. "Where is he?" he demanded, although he already knew.

 

A young black sergeant stepped forward. Baker, Hogan remembered. Like Kinchloe, Baker was also a radioman.

 

"He took off during all the excitement, sir." He gave Hogan a hopeful look. "He'll be okay, sir. You'll see."

 

"Lights out," Hogan ordered. "I need everyone absolutely quiet, no movement, no talking."

 

"What are you going to do, sir?" Baker asked.

 

"Don't ask!" Hogan snapped. Relenting, he placed his hand on the young man's shoulder. "I'm going to do something extremely stupid, soldier. I'm going outside." To find Kinch, he added to himself. And the others.

 

Placing his finger to his lips, he indicated he needed quiet. Soon, the place was still as death. Pressing his ear to the door, he heard soft voices immediately outside.

 

There were guards posted right outside the door. Just swell!

 

He was about to discard any idea of going after his men, when a new voice came up, shouting in angry German.

 

"~What are you two soldiers doing here?~" Klink's shrill voice was recognizable even through the door. "~You should be outside the fence perimeter on patrol!~"

 

"Jahwohl, Herr Kommandant!"

 

"Mach schnell!" Klink yelled. The voices soon receded. Hogan heard shouts, dogs barking, and boots pounding farther off, but nothing nearby. Taking a chance, he pulled the door ajar and did a quick scan of the area.

 

All clear!

 

Hurriedly, before he changed his mind, he ducked outside, finding refuge in the dark shadows afforded by the icy drizzle. A searchlight almost caught him, but he hit the ground and rolled to the edge of the barracks' foundation, lying perfectly still until the light passed him. As soon as it did so, he jumped up and sprinted to the Kommandant's building.

 

Rounding the corner that led to the back, he skidded to a halt outside an open window. Looking in, he saw Kinchloe's shadowy, huddled form tapping away at the Morse Key. Grabbing the windowsill, Hogan hauled himself up and in, frightening several years from Kinchloe's life if the glare he shot Hogan was any indication.

 

"How much longer?" Hogan hissed.

 

Kinchloe held up a single hand, all five fingers spread out. Five minutes. Hogan nodded, and not wanting to distract his radioman, knelt by the window to keep watch. As promised, when five minutes were up, Kinchloe gave Hogan a 'thumbs up' sign and began powering down the radio.

 

Once outside, they moved with a grace born of their innate athleticism and a stealth born out of need. As the searchlights moved back and forth, they ran across the compound to the alley between the buildings.

 

"Head on in," Hogan ordered.

 

"What are you gonna do?" Kinchloe demanded.

 

"I'm bringing in my two lost lambs before they're slaughtered by the big bad wolves."

 

"I'll go with you," Kinchloe said quickly.

 

"Nuh-uh," Hogan said shaking his head. "You've already risked life and limb once tonight. I'm not asking--"

 

"You're not asking, sir. I'm volunteering," Kinchloe interrupted. "Remember, I recommended them for this detail."

 

The two men held each other's eyes for a moment. In the end, Hogan nodded. "Sergeant's business," he muttered. "Gets me every time. Okay, we'd better split up. You go get Olsen--he's hiding in the de-lousing shack. I'm going after Carter."

 

"Where is he?" Kinchloe asked.

 

"Water tower," Hogan said succinctly. "Kinch, if you can't find Olsen in the de-lousing shack, don't go looking for him."

 

"But what if he was forced to change hiding places because of the Krauts?" Kinchloe protested.

 

"I repeat. If you don't find him there, you're not to search for him. Head on back to the barracks--on the double. And that's an order, Sergeant."

 

Kinchloe nodded reluctantly. "Yes, sir. I understand."

 

With that the two men separated.

 

****

 

[Wednesday 04 NOV 1942//0050hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, outside Barracks #2

 

****

 

Hogan flitted through the shadows, conscious of the patrols all around. The tower was centrally located, and to get to the top, he'd have to risk exposing himself.

 

He thought back to his earlier conversation with Carter and Olsen. Both soldiers had been extremely eager to play 'Hide and Seek' with the Germans...

 

****

 

[Tuesday 03 NOV 1942//1600hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #2

8 hours earlier...

 

****

 

"You bet I'll do it, boy!" Carter said excitedly. "Uh, I mean--sir!"

 

"Me, too, sir," Olsen said quietly. "How long do you need us to stay gone?"

 

Hogan studied the two young men, wondering if they knew what they were getting into.

 

"Are you two sure you understand the danger you'll be placing yourselves in?"

 

"You said that the Kommandant promised he wouldn't let anyone get hurt," Carter pointed out.

 

"Klink said he'd do his best to keep anyone from getting hurt," Hogan corrected.   "He didn't make any promises. For one thing, he can't be everywhere at once. For another, we can't trust him."

 

Carter and Olsen shrugged gamely. "I'm ready to go, Colonel," Carter said eagerly.

 

Hogan and Kinchloe exchanged unreadable looks. Feeling uneasy over the young sergeant's eagerness--How many boys have I sent to their deaths with that same look?--he stood and walked to the small window in his quarters. It was mid-afternoon, and while the day was a bit chilly, he had the shutters open to let in the bright sunlight.

 

Hogan stared out at the compound. In the distance, he could hear the shouts and laughter from a lively game of soccer. He watched for a few minutes, giving himself time to think about what he wanted to say. These boys--these men!--had to be made to realize the deadly peril they'd be in.

 

"Olsen, Carter," he said, finally facing them. "I appreciate your willingness to volunteer--to do what needs to be done. What I don't want is for either of you to minimize the danger you'll be in."

 

"Come on, Colonel--" Carter began.

 

"No!" Hogan yelled, cutting him off. "I want you two to listen to me and listen good. This isn't a game. This isn't a Sunday picnic. This is real. The stakes here are incredibly high. We've got to get this information to the Underground as soon as possible and in order to do it, we have to get to Klink's radio. Believe me, if there were any other way, I wouldn't even consider such a crazy scheme. But I don't have a choice." He paused, gauging the effect of his words.

 

Carter glanced uneasily at Olsen, and then quickly looked away. He swallowed nervously, his clear, blue eyes reflecting his inner turmoil. He felt Hogan's eyes on him, and hesitantly looked up. He held the Colonel's warm, brown gaze for a moment, trying to gain strength and confidence from the larger than life bomber pilot under whose command Fate had placed him.

 

"Sir? What information do we have to get to the Underground?" Carter asked.

 

"That's on a Need to Know basis, Airman," Kinchloe said sharply. Carter immediately dropped his eyes.

 

"Oh, of course." He nodded, trying to hide his obvious disappointment. "I'm sorry, sir. I didn't mean any disrespect."

 

"Of course, you didn't, Carter," Hogan said quietly. "But the less you know the better. Especially if--"

 

"Especially if I'm caught, right?"

 

Hogan nodded.

 

Olsen suddenly reached over and punched Carter lightly on the upper arm. "Hey, come on, buddy! That kinda stuff just ain't in our department. That's Officers' Business. Me, I'm buckin' not to make Private First Class--too much responsibility."

 

Carter gave him an uncertain smile. Leaning in closer, Olsen placed his arm around Carter's shoulder and spoke in a low tone.

 

"Look, buddy...Trust me when I say this--the Colonel and the Sarge here are the best there is. Me, I'm a real Sad Sack, see? But not them two. They're like...real professionals. Regular Army types. The kind that know what they're doing."

 

Olsen looked up Hogan and Kinchloe, his expression mirroring his complete faith in the both of them. Turning back to Carter, he added, "So, see? The Colonel isn't promising us nothing but danger. Won't even tell us the whole reason for the mission 'cause we might get caught. So what do I say? I say, if Col. Hogan has enough trust in a slacker like me for the job, then I ask no questions except, 'when and where do I go?'"

 

He then got up and stood next to Kinchloe, arms crossed, facing Carter.

 

Glancing from Olsen, to Kinchloe, to Hogan, Carter realized that each man radiated a confidence he envied. He wanted nothing more than to jump up and join them where they stood, a veritable impenetrable wall of strength.

 

"Sgt. Carter?" Hogan's quiet voice broke into his nervous ruminations. "Carter, no one will think less of you if you back out. This is strictly a volunteers-only operation."

 

Slowly, Carter's nervous expression began to clear. Soon, it was replaced by what Hogan had begun to recognize as the young sergeant's normally sunny disposition.

 

"Heck, yeah, boy!" he cried excitedly. "Back home, when we had family picnics, my cousins and me used to play Hide-and-Seek." At Hogan's encouraging smile, he continued, his excitement growing. "It could sometimes take all afternoon on account of we were such a large family. Anyway, I always found the best hiding place, and--"

 

"--We get the picture, Carter," Kinchloe interrupted...

 

****

 

[Wednesday 04 NOV 1942//0055hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, near the main water tower

Present...

 

****

 

And sure enough, Carter had indeed found the best hiding place again. Actually, both he and Olsen came by Hogan's quarters later that evening, and recommended the water tower and de-lousing shack as their hiding places.

 

Hogan couldn't believe that the two men had succeeded in slipping through the Krauts' hands so completely. They'd sneaked out after the last bed check before lights out. Unfortunately, that meant that he'd already been in the water tower for the better of four hours.

 

Hogan had intended to let the two 'escapees' be discovered by the patrols, but since Klink's 'shoot to kill' pronouncement, he couldn't take the risk. So, now, he and Kinchloe had to 'tag' Carter and Olsen, putting an end to their game of Hide and Seek.

 

Stopping to catch his breath, Hogan timed the searchlight sweeps. When he felt that he could make it without being caught in them, he dashed to the base of the tower and started climbing. He had to reach the shadowy recesses immediately underneath the tank to avoid the next searchlight sweep, or he was dead.

 

Almost there! Nerves ratcheted to fever pitch, his hands suddenly slipped. Grabbing futilely at the rungs, he managed to catch himself, but now he was dangling dangerously, still out in the open.

 

The searchlight! It was on its return arc.

 

Later, he wouldn't be able to exactly recall how he did it, but the next thing he knew, Hogan was clutching the lip of the tank and pulling himself up and over.

 

He almost fell on top of Carter, who was gripping the inside ladder a single rung from the icy waters below.

 

Taking deep ragged breaths, Hogan gasped, "Dr. Livingston, I presume?"

 

"Huh--?" Carter asked blankly.

 

"Never mind, Einstein," Hogan hissed. "Get the lead out! Mission accomplished."

 

"Oh, boy--! ~mmmphf?~

 

Despite their extremely precarious positions--one false step and they'd both end up in the drink--at the young sergeant's loud cry, Hogan had swiftly lowered himself until he was on the same rung as Carter. At this moment, he was glaring daggers at the young sergeant, while simultaneously clamping a powerful hand over his mouth to keep him from sounding off again.

 

"Carter...?" Hogan whispered dangerously.

 

Carter looked up at him with highly expressive bright, blue eyes. Yes, sir? Those same eyes asked silently. 

 

"There's a war on, remember?"

 

A bit hesitantly, Carter's head bobbed up and down.

 

"Then try to remember whose side you're on!"

 

****

 

[Wednesday 04 NOV 1942//0040hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, somewhere between the buildings

A few minutes earlier...

 

****

 

Kinchloe meanwhile had fared a little better. He'd found Olsen without incident, and the two were hurrying back to the barracks, when they were stopped in their tracks by a menacing growl.

 

Their way was blocked by the biggest, blackest, meanest-looking German shepherd Kinchloe had ever laid eyes on. Teeth bared, white foam slavering at the jaw, the dog lowered itself on its haunches, powerful muscles quivering, ready to pounce. One wrong move and he'd go for the throat.

 

"Sarge--?" Olsen grabbed Kinchloe desperately by the sleeve. His hoarse whisper registered an octave higher than normal. "What do we do?"

 

Trying not to make any sudden moves, Kinchloe slowly held his arms out at his side, palms open.

 

"Nice doggie..." he crooned. "Pretty doggie...You don't want to hurt us, do you?"

 

A deep-throated growl was his only answer. Kinchloe swallowed. Now what? Remembering how the dogs had reacted back at kennel when Hogan had called them, he took a chance and whistled softly.

 

The dog's ears instantly perked up. He turned his head, curiously eyeing the two POWs, as if saying, Was ist los?

 

"That's it, boy," Kinchloe crooned. "We're friends...aren't we, boy?" He whistled again, the same way he used to when calling his own dog all those years ago, while growing up in Detroit. On impulse, he began to slowly lower himself to the dog's eye level--inch by excruciating inch--until he was crouching in front of the German shepherd.

 

Sweating, despite the sub-freezing temperatures, Kinchloe held out his hand, palm down, to the dog. The shepherd gave a low growl, suspicious of his moves. Kinchloe tamped the impulse to jerk his hand back, managing to keep it steady.

 

The next instant, the dog tentatively touched his muzzle to Kinchloe's fingertips, sniffing curiously. Within seconds, he was snuffling up against the NCO's face, whining softly.

 

"Yeah, boy..." Kinchloe whispered, rubbing him affectionately between the ears. "That's a good boy..."

 

Olsen reached over and lightly petted the dog's head. "Hey, buddy, you're really not a killer, are you? You were drafted, just like the rest of us." He smiled at Kinchloe. "I can't b'lieve it, Sarge. He's a real pussycat, ain't he?"

 

The German shepherd growled at this, causing Olsen to suddenly jerk his hand back. "Okay, okay...Take it easy, pal! No insult intended. Jeez!"

 

After a few minutes of cementing their newfound friendship, the men were about to part from the dog, when they heard voices approaching.

 

"Krauts!" Olsen hissed. Kinchloe held his hand up for quiet. The dog's haunches began to quiver in sudden anger. A growl started deep inside his throat, and then began building. Kinchloe watched helplessly. Would the dog turn on them? To his surprise, his four-legged friend suddenly spun round and took off, a ferocious killer again.

 

Around the corner, he heard a sudden cry of surprise.

 

"Was ist los--!?"

 

"Der hund ist sehr verrückt--!"

 

"Yeah, Fritz, your dog's crazy all right! Crazy about American G.I.s!" Kinchloe quipped, grinning. He tapped Olsen on the arm, and they both sprinted in the opposite direction. As they ran, they could still hear frightened yelps of pain coming from the guards.

 

****

 

[Wednesday 04 NOV 1942//0530hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #2

Present time...

 

****

 

The silence was shattered by the guards storming into the barracks.

 

"Raus! Raus! Appell!" Schultz's voice boomed. The prisoners slowly threw off their bed covers, groaning and muttering blearily. They'd had little sleep the previous night and were all in a foul mood.

 

Hogan checked his watch. 0530 hrs. Right on time! He'd had even less sleep than his men. In fact, he'd had no sleep at all. After he'd returned to the barracks, he'd waited a few minutes for Kinchloe's return. He'd just about decided to go out again and look for him, when Kinchloe and Olsen made it back.

 

He remembered his intense relief on hearing two desperate raps on the window shutters--the signal!

 

****

 

[Wednesday 04 NOV 1942//0130hrs Zulu]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #2

Earlier that night...

 

****

 

"That's them! Quick--let 'em in!" Before he'd even finished the sentence, the window had been thrown open, and Olsen and Kinchloe were hauled in. Hogan stood back, waiting until the two men were safely inside.

 

Pointedly checking his watch, he quirked a single eyebrow at Kinchloe. "Young man, how many times do I have to tell you that as long as you're living under my roof, you will be in by curfew?"

 

Kinchloe and Olsen chuckled. "Sorry, 'Dad,'" Kinchloe rebutted. "But my date, here--" He nodded at Olsen. "--insisted on staying till the last dance."

 

"If any of my dates looked like that," a soldier piped up, "I'd just as soon kill myself." Foster! Hogan remembered, pulling the soldier's name from his memory banks.

 

"Hey!" Olsen protested. "What's the matter with how I look? Olive drab really brings out the green in my eyes, don'tcha think?"

 

Foster threw a pillow at him, which Olsen easily caught. "Hey, thanks! I could sure use this!"

 

"Okay, knock it off!" Hogan ordered. "Everybody hit the sack. We've had a long night, and the Krauts are just waiting for us to try something else." Grumbling and muttering, the POWs started for their bunks.

 

"--No, I get the top bunk!" Foster said sharply. Carter was staring at him, a bit uncertainly.

 

"But I always sleep on the top bunk!" Carter argued. Hogan and Kinchloe exchanged tired glances. Now what?

 

"Listen, you Indiana hayseed!" Foster said, taking a step closer to Carter, who was clearly uncomfortable about arguing. "I was here first, so I'm taking it!"

 

"Hey, who are you calling a 'hayseed'?" Carter demanded. Hogan looked at Kinchloe and jerked his head in the direction of the two antagonists. Kinchloe nodded curtly.

 

"Carter! Foster!" he called, his voice steel-edged. "You heard the Colonel. Knock it off! Hit the sack--the both of you!"

 

Foster immediately pulled himself onto the top bunk.

 

"Hey!" Carter protested.

 

"Sorry, Hayseed," Foster muttered, eyes closed. "I guess you're just too slow."

 

Carter nodded in sad agreement. "Yeah, boy, I guess you're right. If I hadn't been outside, hiding from the Germans in the water tower, I guess I might've gotten first dibs. I guess you got the top bunk fair and square." Shrugging, he started peeling his outer clothing.

 

As Carter undressed, Foster slowly opened his eyes and watched the young sergeant get ready for bed. Carter's words had stung. While the 'Indiana Hayseed' had been outside, risking his life, what had Foster been doing? Nothing, except ensuring his own comfort by staking out the top bunk.

 

He lay awhile, racked by guilt. Finally, unable to bear it any longer, he swung off the bunk and shook Carter, who was already under the covers, on the shoulder.

 

"Hayseed," Foster called softly.

 

"That's Sgt. Carter to you," Carter muttered, without opening his eyes.

 

Foster nodded, and realizing that Carter couldn't see him through his closed eyes, readily acknowledged, "Okay, Sergeant," he said softly. "I'm sorry I called you a 'hayseed.' Look, to make it up to you why don't you go on ahead and take the top bunk? It's yours."

 

Carter opened his eyes, glaring at Foster. "How come?"

 

Foster shrugged his shoulders. "You were right. I was way out of line. And besides, I'm afraid of heights." Carter made no immediate move, but rather stared uncomprehendingly. "Go on--take it!" Foster insisted.

 

Carter's suspicious glare suddenly brightened into a wide smile. "Hey, boy! You're all right!" As he spoke, he excitedly threw back his covers and about to climb onto the top bunk, he suddenly paused. "Pals?" he asked, sticking his hand out.

 

"Pals!" Foster agreed, taking the proffered hand and shaking it.

 

Kinchloe and Hogan, who'd continued to watch the little interplay between the two soldiers from the sidelines, exchanged amused looks. Once it was apparent that the barracks had finally settled down for the night, they both turned to Hogan's quarters. 

 

****

 

"Okay, what've you got?" Hogan asked. Kinchloe made a face and handed Hogan the message he'd decoded from their former Headquarters.

 

"You're not gonna like it, Colonel," Kinchloe warned. Hogan scanned the opening transmission codes and looked up, a sour look on his usually pleasant features.

 

"'To: Goldilocks, From: Papa Bear'?" he asked. Kinchloe shrugged his shoulders.

 

"You said you wanted me to make HQ believe that it was really us who were transmitting."

 

"And 'Black Knight One' never occurred to you?" Hogan asked. Kinchloe's eyes fell momentarily.

 

"Sorry, sir...but that's not your call sign anymore. Major Zapinski--"

 

"--Is 'Black Knight One,'" Hogan finished. Sighing, he shrugged sadly, and then added, "S'okay, Kinch." He bent his head to read the rest of the message.

 

Kinchloe waited patiently while his C.O. read the lengthy message, grimacing at the thunderous expression that came over the senior officer. Hogan cursed under his breath.

 

"He's out of his mind," he said finally. Looking up from the message, he glared at Kinchloe. "And just how does Gen. Duncan expect us to perform this little miracle? Wave a magic wand and say 'Abracadabra'? Doesn't he know we're prisoners of war?"

 

"I did point that out to him, Colonel," Kinchloe replied. "The General said something about how we can't let a 'little bad break' like that stop us."

 

Hogan glared critically at Kinchloe. "You know what I hate about you, Kinch? You have a way of making my own words come back and haunt me."

 

"I try, sir."

 

"Yeah, well the last laugh's gonna be on all of us. We're stuck in the toughest POW camp in all of Germany, and Duncan expects us to just waltz out of here and commit sabotage. I don't get it. Did he say why the local Underground couldn't carry out the mission without us?" Hogan paced in anger. "I mean, excuse me, but I must've left my plastic explosives in my other pants before I was shot down! We don't have weapons of any kind--Hell, we don't even have a map of the area!"

 

Kinchloe shrugged in sympathy. "Duncan said that London will contact the local Underground for us. They should have all the supplies and materiel that we'll need. It's up to them as to the how and when they'll contact us. In the meantime--"

 

"--In the meantime, Duncan says that the idiots in London expect us to stop this shipment of heavy water. Nuts!" He crumpled the paper in his hand. "How are we supposed to recognize the contact? Do we know the secret handshake?"

 

"Goodnight, My Love."

 

"Well, goodnight to you too, Sergeant. But isn't this rather sudden?" Hogan quipped. If it were possible for Kinchloe to blush, Hogan imagined he'd be red from head to toe at this moment. The radioman rolled his eyes in long suffering silence.

 

"I meant the song," he muttered, looking put out. "That's the recognition signal."

 

Hogan grinned. "That's a relief. I admit you look rather fetching in your battledress, Kinch, but you're just not my type."

 

Kinchloe closed his eyes, wishing the whole conversation would just go away. How do I get myself into these things? he wondered. He waited for Hogan to say more, and when he didn't Kinchloe began to worry. It wasn't like his C.O. to face a new challenge without a positive can-do attitude. This mission must really have him concerned.

 

"Tell me, Kinch," Hogan said pensively. "Do you see a red cape on my back?"

 

"No, sir--?" Kinchloe answered, a little confused.

 

"Too bad. I have a sudden desire to fly out of here under my own power." Hogan sat down on the bunk, drawing his knees up to his chest. Releasing a long, heartfelt breath, he said wryly, "But I guess that's no more gonna happen than us stopping that shipment." He looked up ruefully at his right hand man. "Grab some sack time, Kinch. No sense in both of us staying up worrying about this."

 

Kinchloe nodded and left his Commanding Officer to his private thoughts.

 

****

 

Hogan spent the better part of the night studying the message from Headquarters. Unable to sleep, he'd paced until Schultz and his bullyboys came storming in.

 

By then, a plan that had been niggling at him in the back of his head finally began to take form. As he walked out for morning roll call, he thought he knew what needed to be done.

 

"It's crazy," he told himself. "And I'm crazy for even considering it!"

 

****

 

[Wednesday 04 NOV 1942//0545hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, main exercise compound

Present time...

 

****

 

Schultz counted and recounted.

 

Hogan and Kinchloe exchanged knowing looks. Olsen and Carter stood military straight, eyes front, faces devoid of expression.

 

"You and you!" Schultz rapped out, pointing first at Olsen then at Carter. "You were missing last night during the surprise bed check! Where were you?"

 

Carter blinked innocently.

 

"I was here for the surprise bed check, Sgt. Schultz. Honest. I like surprises!" He turned to Olsen and beseeched his help. "Wasn't I here, Olsen? You saw me, didn't you?"

 

"Yeah, I saw you. You were right here." Olsen turned to Schultz and repeated. "Schultz, Carter was standing right here next to me." He turned to Hogan, wide-eyed. "Wasn't he, sir? You saw him, didn't you?"

 

Hogan brought his hand up to his chin and studied Carter thoughtfully, as if seeing him for the first time. Seemingly satisfied, he turned to Schultz. "Yes, I definitely remember seeing this man here during the surprise bed check. Were you here for bed check, Carter?"

 

"Yes, sir. I sure was."

 

"And you saw him, Olsen?"

 

"Yes, sir," Olsen said, nodding.

 

Hogan turned back to Schultz. "There, see? Carter was right here."

 

While this exchange had been going on around him, Schultz had gone from angry to confused to completely mystified to angry again.

 

"Nein, nein, nein! He--" he pointed at Olsen. "--cannot vouch for him--" He pointed at Carter. "--if he--" He pointed at Olsen again. "--was also not here!"

 

Hogan walked up to Schultz, and crossing his arms, stood with his feet shoulder width apart. Eyes narrowed, he tilted his head sideways, studying Schultz as if he were an alien life form.

 

"Schultz, make up your mind! I thought you said that Carter was missing. But I just showed you that Carter was here all the time. Now you're saying that it was Olsen who was missing? I can't keep up with you, Schultz."

 

"Nein, Col. Hogan," Schultz spluttered, trying to get in a word edgewise. "I said that Carter and Olsen were missing--"

 

"But that's impossible! How could Olsen have been missing? He just told you that he was right here with Carter." Keeping his eyes on the totally bemused Schultz, Hogan called out to Olsen, "Didn't you just say that, Olsen?"

 

"I sure did, sir," Olsen answered self-righteously.

 

"Carter, did you see Olsen?" Hogan asked.

 

"Yes, sir!" Carter said nodding emphatically. "Like I tried to tell Schultz earlier. Olsen was right here. Weren't you, Olsen?"

 

"Yep. I sure was."

 

"Did he tell you that, Schultz?" Hogan asked.

 

"Ja."

 

"Well, there you are," Hogan said, shrugging. "Case closed!"

 

Schultz nodded in agreement. "Ja. Here I am. Case closed." He started turning away, only to turn back hurriedly, waving his arms for added emphasis, his confusion and denial of the 'facts' as presented back in full force.

 

"Nein, nein, nein--!" he began but was interrupted by the arrival of Newkirk and LeBeau being escorted back from the cooler. Schultz closed his eyes at the utter futility of trying to untangle the complicated knot in which he seemed to find himself.

 

"Detail, Halt!" ordered the corporal of the guard. He executed a right turn and saluted Schultz. "Sgt. Schultz, I am returning the prisoners who were in the cooler. Corporals Newkirk and LeBeau."

 

Schultz returned the salute a bit distractedly. He waved at the corporal to return the prisoners to their place in line. The corporal enthusiastically responded by prodding the two Allied prisoners into a spot in the front row.

 

"Okay, mate...No need to shove!" Newkirk protested.

 

"Oui! S'il vous plait--'please' works magic all around the world," LeBeau retorted. "That's why you Germans will make lousy world conquerors. You have terrible manners!"

 

The corporal of the guard feinted a move against the small Frenchman, but LeBeau instantly hid behind Newkirk. The guard waved him off in disgust, glad to be rid of the two insolent prisoners, and stomped off. As he left, LeBeau stuck his tongue out at him.

 

"Yeah, that's tellin' 'im off, mate," Newkirk said sardonically.

 

"Hey, knock it off!" Kinchloe ordered curtly. The two immediately fell silent, but Hogan caught them furtively making faces at one another. He'd deal with them later, he promised himself, and turned his attention back to Schultz.

 

The portly Sergeant of the Guard was still checking his prisoner roster. He knew that last night there had been two prisoners missing, but now all prisoners were present and accounted for.

 

Hands on hips, Hogan took this moment to jump in. "Okay, Schultz. I'm waiting."

 

"Was? What are you waiting for, Col. Hogan?" he asked distractedly. "Eins, zwei...?" he counted softly to himself.

 

"I'm waiting for an apology, of course."

 

"An apology? I do not understand," Schultz replied haughtily.

 

"Why, for everything you put us through last night--bed checks, roll calls, people shouting, dogs barking, gunfire--into all hours of the night. A guy can't get any sleep around here!"

 

Schultz opened his mouth to interrupt, but Hogan kept going. "And all the while, there was nobody missing!" He pointed dramatically at Newkirk and LeBeau. "There are your missing prisoners!"

 

"What?" Newkirk asked, startled.

 

"Qu'est-ce que?" LeBeau echoed.

 

"Was?" Schultz blinked at Hogan, clearly not understanding. Unperturbed, Hogan shrugged.

 

"It's as obvious as the boots on your feet, Schultz!" Hogan insisted. Then, looking pointedly at Schultz's massive middle, he amended, "Well, you know what I mean." Sidling up to him, Hogan companionably placed an arm around the bewildered Sergeant-of-the-guard's shoulders.

 

"Schultz, it was an honest mistake," he said sympathetically. "It could've happened to any of us--right, fellas?"

 

"Oh, right!" Newkirk said, having no clue about what was going on.

 

"Yeah, boy--uh, I mean--yes, sir!" Carter said, nodding. Several of the prisoners chimed in in agreement.

 

"Hey, coulda happened to anybody!" Olsen said expansively.

 

"Honest mistake!" LeBeau chimed in.

 

"Like the Fuehrer opening a Second Front!" Kinchloe added. This was met with raucous laughter from the other prisoners.

 

"Jolly joker," Schultz muttered. Hogan held his hand up, to forestall any more 'helpful' comments.

 

"See, Schultz? We understand. It was all a misunderstanding."

 

"Col. Hogan," Schultz said in a small voice. "I do not understand. Please, explain to me how two soldiers were missing last night, but this morning there are no soldiers missing?"

 

"That's what I've been trying to tell you, Schultz. No one was ever missing. You made an honest mistake. You counted two soldiers missing, because two soldiers were missing!"

 

"They were? But you just said that no one was missing--?" Schultz protested.

 

"That's the beauty of it, Schultz! They weren't really missing!" Hogan walked up to Newkirk and LeBeau and standing between them, placed a hand on their shoulders.

 

Schultz sighed. "First you say they were not missing. Then you say they were missing. Now you say they were not missing again. Col. Hogan, you are giving me a headache!"

 

"Schultz, don't you get it? You just forgot that Newkirk and LeBeau were in the cooler. See? That's why it looked like you had two missing men, when they weren't--missing that is."

 

"I need to sit down," Schultz muttered.

 

"Report!" Klink's shrill voice shattered the morning.

 

"Uh-oh," Hogan muttered. He spoke quickly and quietly into Schultz's ear. "Here's your chance, Schultz. Admit a mistake--that prisoners were never missing, or explain how two men were able to escape from Stalag 13, under your watch, and then were somehow able to sneak back in."

 

"Schultz!" Klink yelled, stomping towards them. "What is going on here? Col. Hogan, why are you not in formation along with the other prisoners?" Hogan irreverently touched a couple fingers to his cap and took his place in line. "Schultz, what is the status of the missing prisoners? And let me remind you...There has never been a successful escape from Stalag 13! If you do not find those men--and soon--it will be on your head!"

 

Schultz immediately snapped to attention and saluted smartly. "Jahwohl, Herr Kommandant! All prisoners present and accounted for!"

 

"Very well, very well," Klink said dismissively. "Report to me as soon as there's a change in status--!" He stopped, open-mouthed. "What did you say?"

 

Hogan shook his head in exaggerated admiration. "Amazing how that razor sharp mind catches on, isn't it?" He glanced askance at Kinchloe, who rolled his eyes.

 

"All present, Herr Kommandant," Schultz repeated. Klink spun round on his heel and quickly began to pace up and down the prisoner formation.

 

"But how is that possible?" he asked. "Last night, there was an escape attempt--two men were missing!"

 

"Nein, Herr Kommandant!" Schultz said, trying to explain, although he himself still wasn't entirely sure about what had happened. "You see...I counted two men missing. And there were--two missing, I mean. But they weren't--missing, that is. They were in the cooler--"

 

"Schultz! Dumkopf!" Klink yelled in exasperation. "You are making no sense. First, they were missing! Then they weren't missing--!"

 

"That's what I said, Herr Kommandant," Schultz broke in excitedly. "To Col. Hogan--"

 

"Hogan? What does he have to do with this?" Klink asked, immediately walking towards the senior POW. "I knew it! You are somehow responsible for this--this fiasco!"

 

He waved his finger under Hogan's nose for emphasis. For his part, Hogan met the Kommandant's angry eyes calmly. Crossing his arms, he cocked his head to one side and raised a single eyebrow.

 

"Can you be more specific, Kommandant?" he asked. "Just what exactly am I supposed to be responsible for?"

 

"The two missing men," Klink insisted. "You are somehow responsible for that!"

 

"But they're not missing, Kommandant," Hogan said blandly. "Like Schultz said. All Allied prisoners are present and accounted for."

 

"But last night...there were two men missing--"

 

"No, Herr Kommandant," Schultz broke in helpfully. "They were in the cooler. Remember? You assigned them there--"

 

"I know what I did, Dumkopf!" Klink snapped, his anger and confusion escalating. Visibly calming himself, Klink glared at Hogan, and through clenched teeth, said, "Col. Hogan, are you trying to make me believe that there were never any men missing?"

 

Hogan just smiled and shrugged.

 

"But you, yourself, told me that there was going to be an escape attempt last night," Klink reminded him. "Remember?"

 

Hogan's eyes took on a faraway look, as if trying to recall some distant memory. Finally, his expression cleared and his dark eyes suddenly hardened. He gazed coldly at Klink. "I don't seem to recall any such conversation, Kommandant."

 

Klink jerked back slightly as if struck, his coloring rising. One hand closed tightly around his riding crop, while the other balled into a fist, which he shook feebly at Hogan.

 

Realizing the lack of dignity in such a pathetic action, he turned the fist into a salute, and held it until Hogan was forced to return it. Smirking, Hogan flicked off a casual salute.

 

"Dis-misssed!" Klink commanded angrily. Ignoring the sudden snickers coming from the enlisted prisoner ranks, he whirled round and started towards his office. A sudden thought struck him, and he stopped midway.

 

He did it again! he fumed. Hogan did it again, and this time in full view of the whole company. The American officer had once again thumbed his nose under the pretext of saluting him.

 

Hand closing in a fist, Klink turned round to lambaste the insolent senior POW, but Hogan was already walking through his barracks door, surrounded by well-wishers who were pounding him on the back. Klink vainly shook his fist, and then brought it down, shoving it in his overcoat pocket.

 

Why couldn't he be as popular with his own men, he wondered? Bah! That is why the Allies will lose the war. They are too soft. He turned and walked slowly back into his office.

 

****

 

[Wednesday 04 NOV 1942//1449hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #2

 

****

 

"Colonel!" Carter pushed open the door to Hogan's quarters even as he was knocking. He stopped, saluting awkwardly. Hogan looked up impatiently from his plans. It was close to 1500 hrs, and he was no closer to finalizing the operation.

 

Of course, it's hard to plan when you don't know what equipment you're gonna have, he pointed out ruefully. Or how many men. Or how we're gonna get out of here. Or--he stopped, realizing that Carter was waiting, ramrod straight, for him to return his salute.

 

Still holding his pencil, Hogan touched it lightly to his temple by way of saluting. The young sergeant remained at attention.

 

"At ease, Carter," Hogan said, curiously. "What can I do for you?"

 

"Sir! Sgt. Kinchloe sent me to get you. Someone's coming through the gate--!"

 

"Why didn't you say so?" Hogan grabbed his hat and ran out of the barracks. Whoever it was could be no one important. Then again--? As soon as he stepped outside, he slowed to a nonchalant stroll. Carter, of course, didn't stop in time and slammed into Hogan's back.

 

"Oops! Oh, boy...I'm-um, s-sorry, sir!" he stuttered. Hogan didn't bother to turn around. He just waved the distressed young man into silence and continued heading towards Kinchloe.

 

"Forget it, Carter. I have great insurance coverage," Hogan said over his shoulder. "It'll even cover a so-called 'accident of war.'"

 

"Really?" Carter asked ingenuously. "My folks' insurance will take care of 'em even when they're--"

 

"--Never mind, Carter," Hogan said, cutting him off. He came up to Kinchloe. Neither man spoke. Kinchloe simply nodded towards a small truck with a closed, rear compartment pulling up to the dog kennel. A sign on the driver's side said, 'Oscar Schnitzer, Tierarzt.'

 

As they watched, the truck stopped next to the kennel gate. The driver immediately got out, walked around to the back, and opened the double doors. As soon as he did, the prisoners heard the sound of vicious dogs barking coming from within. The driver whistled softly and the deep-throated growls ceased, replaced by playful yelps and whines.

 

"Arnwolf...Manfred...Kommen sie hier!" Two German shepherds jumped out and ran around the driver, barking and jumping excitedly. He spoke in low, soothing tones as he opened the gate and escorted the animals into the kennel. Once inside, he started calling each dog already there.

 

"Hansel...Wolfgang!" Instantly, two dogs ran out of the doghouse and greeted him, barking happily. "Bismarck! Wo bist du?" The solid black German shepherd that had befriended Kinchloe the night before bounded out of nowhere, tail wagging. The handler spoke softly to them, crooning in 'doggie-talk.'

 

As he worked, he started whistling. The sound carried clearly in the brisk, autumn afternoon. Instantly, Hogan and Kinchloe jerked to attention. The recognition signal!

 

"Hey, boy!" Carter said excitedly. "That's one of my favorite songs. Shirley Temple sang it in The Little Stowaway." He paused. "Well, she didn't sing it. Alice Faye sang it. Little Shirley sang it with different lyrics. Let's see..." And to the others' surprise began singing completely unselfconsciously.

 

"Goodnight, my love, the tired old moon is descending.

Goodnight, my love, my moment with you now is ending--"

 

Kinchloe jabbed him in the ribs. "Knock it off, Carter!"

 

"No, wait, Kinch," Hogan said thoughtfully, an idea taking form. "I think that what this dump needs is a little livening up. A bit of good, old-fashioned Americana. Go on, Carter," he urged. "Finish the song. Kinch and I'll join you."

 

Timidly, Carter started singing.

 

"Goodnight, my love, the tired old moon is descending.

Goodnight, my love, my moment with you now is ending--"

 

Grinning, Hogan joined in and waved at Kinchloe to do the same.

 

"It was so heavenly...holding you...close to me,

It will be heavenly to hold you again in a dream."

 

Soon all three were belting out the pleasant tune, slightly off key, but nevertheless enough to garner them attention from the other POWs. Catching Newkirk's eye, Hogan waved him and the other prisoners over.

 

"The stars above have promised to meet us tomorrow.

Till then, my love, how dreary the new day will seem..."

 

Within minutes, their little trio had grown into a small glee club, and soon after that, a fifty-man chorus.

 

"So for the present dear, we'll have to part.

Sleep tight, my love, goodnight my love..."

 

As the group grew in size, Hogan waved at Newkirk, and using hand and arm signals indicated he wanted him to keep the sing-along going. Newkirk understood instantly that something was up and did as told.

 

"Remember that you're mine, sweetheart."

 

When they reached the end of the song, Newkirk called for attention. "Okay, you bloomin' Yanks, that was a bit of all right! But how about serenading our bloody German friends here with a little 'Lilli Marlene'?"

 

His question was met with an enthusiastic chorus of "Yea's." 'Lilli Marlene' might be a German song, but it was popular on both sides of the war.

 

As the opening strains of the well-worn song started--

 

"Underneath the lantern by the barrack gate

Darling, I remember the way you used to wait..."

 

--Kinchloe helped Hogan slip towards the back of the group. While the POWs were belting out the popular tune, Hogan used the distraction to make his way towards the dog kennel. Reaching the truck, he furtively climbed into the passenger side. The driver was already waiting for him.

 

"Talk!" Hogan said sharply.

 

"The notebook. Do you have it?"

 

"Not so fast. Who are you? How do I know you're not Gestapo?"

 

"My name is Oskar Schnitzer. I am der tierarzt--the veterinarian. And you are 'Goldilocks.'" He grinned at Hogan's surprised expression. "Gen. Duncan warned us that to say that to you would be on pain of death."

 

"Okay, I believe you're who you say you are," Hogan admitted sourly. Reaching into his bomber jacket he pulled out the notebook and handed it to Schnitzer, who put it away.

 

"So, talk!" Hogan repeated.

 

Schnitzer shook his head. "Nein! We cannot talk here. You must come tonight to Hammelburg to der Buchladen--the bookstore. We will meet there."

 

"And just how do you propose I get out of here? The Kommandant isn't in the habit of giving prisoners of war overnight passes into town."

 

"I will return tonight," Schnitzer reassured him. "I'm afraid that my poor Manfred is going to become quite ill tonight."

 

Hogan looked shocked. "You're not going to purposely to make one of your own dogs sick? That's inhuman!"

 

Schnitzer vehemently shook his head. "Nein, nein. I have put a sleeping potion in his food container. When he is fed tonight, he will go to sleep. He is slated for guard duty tonight, so the Sergeant of the Guard should easily notice that something is wrong."

 

"Who, Schultz? Notice anything? Fat chance of that. I'd better be out here and make sure that he definitely notices something and calls you."

 

"Ah, you know our Schultz already," Schnitzer laughed. "Very well. The guards usually feed the dogs at around 6:00 pm. The potion should take effect about a half hour after he eats."

 

"I'll be ready," Hogan promised. With that, he slipped out of the cab, and soon rejoined the chorus, which at this time was belting out 'Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree.'

 

Catching Kinchloe's eye, he jerked his head towards the barracks. Meet me there, he said silently. Kinchloe nodded his acknowledgement.

 

****

 

[Wednesday 04 NOV 1942//1830hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, near the dog kennel

 

****

 

"Halt! Who goes there?" Schultz barked, his rifle at ready.

 

Hogan rolled his eyes, and walked up behind the 'alert' Sergeant of the Guard, tapping him between the shoulder blades.

 

"The Kaiser!" he said sarcastically. Startled, Schultz jumped, almost dropping his weapon.

 

Gasping for breath, he faced Hogan, while clutching his chest. "The Kaiser?" he rasped. "Jolly joker...What are you trying to do? Give me a heart attack?"

 

"Sorry, Schultz," Hogan said, an unapologetic gleam in his eye.

 

"Col. Hogan, what are you doing outside the barracks? No one is allowed outside after dark." Even though it was early evening, it was already dark.

 

Grabbing Hogan suddenly by the arm, he asked nervously. "You're not planning an escape, are you? I am in so much trouble after reporting two men missing who weren't missing, but who were--" He stopped, confused.

 

Hogan crossed his arms and shook his head. He tsked disingenuously. "Well, as a matter of fact, I'm out here scouting for the best way to--"

 

Schultz suddenly shut his eyes and placed his hands over his ears. "No! I do not want to know! It-is-better-if-I-know-nothing!" In his agitation, the portly sergeant evenly spaced each of his words for emphasis.

 

Resting his right elbow on his left hand, Hogan brought his right hand up to his chin. Single eyebrow raised, he watched Schultz quizzically,. "Y'know, I'm worried about you, Schultz. At this rate, you won't be around much longer--"

 

Schultz leaned in anxiously. "Why do you say that? Have you heard something? Am I being sent to the Russian Front?"

 

Giving a short laugh, Hogan waved off Schultz's worries. "Nothing of the kind, my friend. I meant your blood pressure. Look at you, Schultz...you're so nervous, you're making me jumpy!" Placing his arm around Schultz's massive shoulders, Hogan began leading him towards the kennel.

 

"You need to take it easy, Schultz. Learn to relax. Go on furlough."

 

"Furlough?" Schultz asked sardonically. "You don't think the Big Shot would ever grant me a furlough?" 

 

"Well, you never can tell, Schultz. Would you like me to put in a good word for you?"

 

"You would do that for me, Col. Hogan?" Schultz asked, touched.

 

"You betcha!" Hogan said expansively. "After all, what're friends for, right?"

 

"Danke, Col. Hogan," Schultz said, gratefully.

 

"So, tell me. What do you guys do around here for fun anyway?"

 

"We do not have fun. Der Kommandant does not allow it--"

 

"Doesn't allow it?" Hogan asked aghast. "The monster!"

 

"Ja!"

 

"Well, look...the guys over at Barracks Three are planning a wine and cheese tasting party in a couple of nights--"

 

"Wine and cheese? But where will they get--?"

 

"Well, Schultz. That's where you come in. See, I have a list of items we'll need for the party right here, and--"

 

"Unteroffizier Schultz!" came a shout from the direction of the dog kennel. "Kommen Sie hier, bitte! Der hund--Wolfgang--ist sehr krank!"

 

"Was ist los?" Schultz muttered, hurrying towards the kennel.

 

"What's the matter, Schultz?" Hogan asked feigning confusion.

 

"One of the dogs is sick," Schultz said hurriedly, going through the kennel gate. "Col. Hogan, stay out here. It is too dangerous for you to enter. The dogs are trained to attack prisoners."

 

"I understand," Hogan agreed. He waited outside the kennel, watching and listening.

 

"~Sergeant Schultz, shouldn't we call the veterinarian to let him know?~"

 

"Jahwohl," Schultz replied. "~Run to the guard shack and call him. Tell him it is an emergency.~"

 

"Well, I'd better head back to the barracks, Schultz," Hogan said. "I can see that you're gonna have your hands full for the next few minutes."

 

Schultz nodded distractedly. "Wolfgang..." he crooned, stroking the dog gently. "There, there, there...the doctor will be here soon..."

 

Hogan started back towards the barracks, but as soon he came to the alley between buildings, he ducked in and waited.

 

Within the half-hour, Schnitzer's truck pulled up. Now that's service, Hogan thought. Of course, it helps if you prearranged the emergency.

 

Schnitzer parked the truck, driver's side next to the gate, blocking Schultz's view of Hogan's hiding place. As soon as the truck stopped, Hogan ran at a low crouch towards it. Waiting for Schnitzer to first open the back door nearest towards the kennel, Hogan quickly used it as cover and jumped into the back.

 

Schnitzer pointed at a pile of heavy canvas in the rear. Nodding in understanding, Hogan lifted the tarpaulin and slid underneath it.

 

****

 

[Wednesday 04 NOV 1942//1925hrs local]

Reisert Buchladen, Hammelburg, Germany

 

****

 

When the truck stopped, Hogan lay perfectly still, hardly daring to breathe. He heard low voices from outside, speaking in hurried whispers. Try as he might, he couldn't make out what they were saying. Feeling the blood pounding in his ears, he was about to remove the canvas cover, when Schnitzer called him.

 

"Colonel," he hissed, opening the door. "We are here!"

 

Immediately, Hogan threw off the cover and moved towards the door, taking in a deep gulp of fresh air. Nodding in relief, he reassured Schnitzer that he'd be all right.

 

"Just as soon as I've sucked in all the oxygen within a 100 kilometer radius," he gasped. "This place smells like a dog kennel."

 

"~We must hurry!~" A woman's voice urged from the front of the vehicle. Instantly, Hogan's ears and spirits perked up. He quickly vaulted from the rear end.

 

"Ja, ja!" Schnitzer said soothingly. "We are hurrying."

 

Hogan moved around the truck and stopped, seeing a figure silhouetted in the dark. Spotting him, the woman quickly approached him. When she was a few feet from him, Hogan was finally able to discern her features.

 

Stunning! He thought, but couldn't take the time to admire her as she was urging him to follow her.

 

"This way! Quickly!" she insisted. Hogan and Schnitzer rushed after her. She led them down a short flight of stairs and through a door into a small room. Locking the door behind her, she hurriedly walked around the room, checking curtains to ensure they were completely drawn. Reassured, she struck a match and lit a small oil lamp, setting it on a table in the center of the room.

 

At Hogan's questioning look, she shrugged. "The war rationing...the power is turned off after dark. It does not matter. The Allied bombers have knocked out the power plant so many times, we are used to having to make do."

 

Hogan nodded, feeling guilty. Changing the subject, he decided to get down to business.

 

"I've been studying the problem, Frau--?"

 

"Fraulein Reisert," she corrected, and then added, "Greta."

 

"Greta," Hogan repeated, enjoying how the soft light from the oil lamp cast shadows and warm highlights on her blonde hair. Momentarily, he realized he was staring at her, and clearing his throat looked away quickly.

 

"Fraulein Reisert," she said pointedly.

 

"I stand corrected, Fraulein," he replied. "As I was saying, I've been studying the problem. Do you have a map of the area?"

 

Greta nodded and hurried to a shadowy recess in the room. Hogan followed her with his eyes, distracted by her lithe figure. Giving himself a mental headshake, he determinedly tried to keep his mind focused on his mission--and studiously avoided staring at her shapely legs.

 

Interestedly, he watched as she removed a brick from the fireplace, reached in and pulled out a large piece of folded paper. Instantly, he was next to her, unfolding the map.

 

"Perfect!" he exclaimed, hurrying to the table and spreading it out. "How up to date is it?" he asked.

 

Schnitzer shrugged. "Jurgen brought it to us several months ago after a trip to Karlstadt. He updated the roads leading north of here." He shrugged, shaking his head. "He meant to update the roads and trails south to Wurzburg, and east to Aschaffenburg, but did not have opportunity. And now..." He sat down sadly.

 

Hogan glanced at Greta. She too sat down and reached across the table, clasping her hands around Schnitzer's. Looking up at Hogan, she explained, "Our friends--the ones from whom you took the notebook--they were returning from England, where they'd just received training." She looked away bitterly.

 

"They were to be the vanguard for the much vaunted 'Secret Army' your OSS is in the process of organizing in preparation for the European invasion."

 

Hogan shook his head. "I'm not sure I understand."

 

"Jurgen, Konrad, Lorenz, Wilfred, Tibalt, and--" She turned away quickly, covering her eyes. Impatiently, she wiped at them, blinking rapidly. "--and Dagmar...They were to recruit and train others. But now--" She shrugged, shaking her head.

 

In sudden anger, she slammed her hand on the table, causing both Hogan and Schnitzer to jump, startled.

 

"It's all so useless!" she cried. "The invasion is never going to happen!" Pushing her chair back suddenly, she leaped to her feet, and angrily faced Hogan. "The Allies will never take back Europe from that madman! And my poor Dagmar--!" Turning her back to him, she covered her eyes momentarily. Taking a deep, ragged breath, she shrugged. "She is gone now--and for what? For nothing!"

 

Confused, Hogan glanced at Schnitzer, who was looking at Greta with profound sadness. "Dagmar was her younger sister," he said.

 

"She's dead," Greta intoned lifelessly. "For nothing...nothing."

 

Hogan walked up behind her, and hesitantly, placed his hands on her shoulders and slowly ran them down her arms, coming to rest on her small waist. Her back still to him, Greta instinctively leaned into him, the top of her head barely coming to his chin. Slowly, Hogan wrapped her in his arms, caressing her cheek with his, inhaling her soft scent.

 

For a long moment, he held her closely without speaking, for once unable to think of anything to say. What could he say? Words alone wouldn't bring any comfort, he knew. He'd lost six men over Hamburg, and try as he might, he couldn't erase their faces from his head.

 

Their easygoing smiles haunted him, their death screams seared into his psyche. He knew that he wouldn't rest until he'd done something to at last put them to rest.

 

"Greta, listen to me," he said softly. "Your sister and your friends did not die for nothing--" She shook her head, struggling to free herself from his grasp. "--No! Listen!" he insisted. "This information they gave their lives for--It's up to us to carry it through. You know what will happen if the Nazis successfully complete their heavy water experiments, don't you? Don't you?"

 

Sobbing, she nodded.

 

"Then we have to stop them. This shipment is on its way to Bremerhaven from a secret location in Norway. Allied submarines are on the lookout for it, but we don't have any information on the ship that's carrying it. All we know is that it will be leaving Bremerhaven by train, and that it's scheduled to pass through this area by the next new moon--"

 

Greta gasped. "That's only a few days from now--"

 

"Four, to be exact," Hogan said. "November 8th."

 

"That's Sunday," Schnitzer said.

 

"But it's too soon!" Greta insisted. "We don't have anyone here trained for such a mission. That's what Jurgen and his men were supposed to do--train new recruits. We have no weapons...no explosives--"

 

"What?" Hogan asked, startled. "I was led to believe that you'd be providing us with all the necessary men and materiel--"

 

"But how can we?" Schnitzer asked. "We are not fighters. We know nothing of sabotage. We are shopkeepers, farmers, old men--too old and sick for the Third Reich to impress into service."

 

Hogan stared at the two of them. "Just what do you do in the Underground?"

 

"I care for the dogs at LuftStalag 13," Schnitzer said, shrugging. "Of course, I've trained them to disobey the German guards and only pretend to attack prisoners." He smiled warmly. "My German shepherds can recognize over twenty different Allied army uniforms."

 

"How--?" Hogan began.

 

"Oskar and I and several others have helped Allied flyers escape. We have a network of safe houses from here to the sea, where they can get picked up and taken home by sub. We provide them with clothes and new identities. Naturally, we keep their uniforms."

 

"Naturally," Hogan said sardonically.

 

"Yes, and that is how I train the dogs to recognize Allied soldiers. I dress up in the uniform and--"

 

"--And they learn to trust anyone who's wearing one," Hogan finished. Schnitzer nodded proudly. "Fantastic," Hogan murmured.

 

"Colonel, we do what we can," Greta said. "But we are not soldiers. Every Allied flyer we help endangers each of us. I tried to talk Dagmar out of going to England for her clandestine training. 'It is crazy!' I told her. But she insisted. And now--"

 

Hogan laid a hand on her shoulder, and with the other tipped her head up to meet his eyes.

 

"I promise, your sister's sacrifice won't be in vain." Her eyes--Blue, he noted--smiled gratefully up at him.

 

"But, Col. Hogan," Schnitzer interrupted. "How can you? As we said, we have no men or materiel to supply you with. How will you be able to carry out such a dangerous mission?"

 

"Herr Schnitzer," Hogan said, a twinkle flitting across his eyes, "don't you know that we can't let a few bad breaks stop us?" Crossing his arms in his usual manner, he asked, "Tell me, Fraulein Reisert. Are there any other military units in the area?"

 

At her nod, Hogan smiled boyishly. Noticing a set of dimples, Greta's stomach suddenly fluttered. She had to concentrate to hear the rest of his words.

 

"Can you get me a case of wine and a coupla pounds of cheese?"

 

She nodded, question marks in her eyes. "Well, yes...but why?"

 

"Why? Because I'm planning a little party, of course," he said, his dark eyes dancing. "All war and no play makes Robert a very dull a boy."

 

"Col. Hogan, somehow I don't believe that 'dull' is a word that would ever describe you," she said, her tone sardonic. "Just what exactly are you up to?"

 

"I have a plan..."

 

****

 

[Wednesday 04 NOV 1942//2230hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #2

 

****

 

"Blimey! It's bloomin' daft, that's what it is!" Newkirk exclaimed. "Beggin' the Colonel's pardon--but you've gone round the bend...sir!"

 

"Put a lid on it, Corporal!" Kinchloe said sharply.

 

"No!" Hogan held up his hand, forestalling Kinchloe. "No, Kinch...Newkirk's right."

 

"He is?" Kinchloe asked.

 

"I am?" Newkirk echoed.

 

Hogan nodded. "It is crazy."

 

"It is?" Newkirk asked in a small voice.

 

"Of course!" Hogan said shrugging. "I mean, we're prisoners of war! London must be out of their collective minds to expect us to do anything this crazy."

 

"Sir?" Kinchloe spoke quietly. Hogan gave a sharp shake of his head.

 

"No, Newkirk is right, Kinch. And the sooner we tell London that we can't destroy this shipment of heavy water because it's too dangerous, the sooner we can begin to sit out the rest of this war." He started heading back to his quarters. "Of course, we won't have long to wait for the war to end--"

 

"What do you mean, sir?" Carter asked.

 

"Oui, mon Colonel," LeBeau said, looking a bit confused by the sudden turn of events. "I do not understand."

 

Hogan gave a short laugh, and turned to face the others. "What's there to understand?" he asked, his dark eyes boring into them. "If the Nazis successfully complete their heavy water experiments and develop the atomic bomb before our side does, then you can bet it'll shorten the war by several months...maybe even years!" He paused and smiled suddenly, but the light did not dispel the shadows in his eyes. 

 

"Of course, the outcome will be in their favor. And Hitler's 'Thousand Year Reich' will also be a reality." He glared at his men for a moment longer, and then unexpectedly, smiled again.

 

"But what do we care? After all, we're POWs. Like Klink said...The war's over for us." He turned on his heel. "Good night, gentlemen. It's been a long day...If I were you, I'd practice saying 'Heil Hitler'!"

 

He was about to open the door leading to his quarters, when he was set upon by more than a dozen men.

 

"Wait, sir!"

 

"We're with you!"

 

"Just tell us what you want us to do!"

 

"Who said anything about wanting to sit out the ruddy war, anyway?" Newkirk called out. "We can't let those bleedin' commandos have all the fun, now. Can we?"

 

Hogan turned and faced them, a real smile playing at the corner of his mouth. "Okay, then." He glanced over at Kinchloe. "We've got a lot of work to do, Kinch. And not a whole lotta of time to get it done in."

 

****

 

[Wednesday 04 NOV 1942//2250hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #6

 

****

 

"Start digging tonight? Is he crazy?"

 

"We're all crazy, Sergeant! We joined the Air Corps, didn't we?"

 

"What are we supposed to use for tools?"

 

"You're a sergeant, aren't you?"

 

"Yeah? So?"

 

"Handle it! You've been given a mission: Dig! We need it completed by Saturday night at the latest. And don't forget--straight down for thirty feet to avoid sound detectors. Then you only have a measly fifty meters horizontal. If I were you, I'd get started, Sergeant."

 

"But it's after hours!"

 

"Tell it to the Chaplain!"

 

****

 

[Wednesday 04 NOV 1942//2250hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #3

 

****

 

"He wants us to give a what? To who?"

 

"You heard me, mon ami. A wine tasting party for the Bosche."

 

"Anything else?"

 

"Oui! We need you to get us six German uniforms, with weapons and ammo."

 

"He's crazy! And you're crazy, too!"

 

"Vrai, mon ami! But we live in a crazy world."

 

"Okay, okay! But don't expect any miracles!"

 

"Non! No miracles. Just--"

 

"Just what?"

 

"Just that you must ensure the equipment will not be missed. At least, not right away."

 

"Swell."

 

****

 

[Wednesday 04 NOV 1942//2250hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #2

 

****

 

"The truck will be waiting along this draw--" Hogan pointed at a spot on the map, a ravine 500 meters due west of the camp. They were squeezed into his quarters, gathered around his tiny field table. "--tomorrow night and every night thereafter...LeBeau, Carter, you'll recon the target and the surrounding area. Carter, I'll want your best professional opinion on how much and what type of explosives we'll need."

 

"Yes, sir," Carter said seriously.

 

"LeBeau, your job is to update the map--I need to know all the roads, trails, and streams leading into it. Plus any military checkpoints that we'll need to avoid."

 

"Oui," LeBeau nodded.

 

"I also need you to draft as detailed a sketch of the bridge as you can. I want to know its weak spots--the best locations to place the charges." He paused, gazing solemnly at the two men. "I don't have to tell you that everything depends on you two, do I?"

 

"No, sir!" "Non!" They said simultaneously. Lebeau gave Hogan an uncertain look.

 

"What is it, Lebeau?" Hogan asked.

 

"Mon Colonel...How are we to get out of the camp without getting ourselves killed or captured?"

 

Hogan grinned, stealing an amused glance at Kinchloe. "Sorry, LeBeau, but I've been told in no uncertain terms that that's 'Sergeant's Business.' And I've learned from long experience that when Sgt. Kinchloe here tells me to butt out, I'd best do just that."

 

"But--" Lebeau started.

 

"What's the matter, Louis?" Kinchloe asked, scowling. "Don't you trust me?"

 

"Bien sur! I trust you, Kinch," LeBeau reassured him. "It is the Bosche I worry about. I do not think they will allow us to just walk out."

 

Kinchloe grinned. "Don't worry, LeBeau. You'll have your exit point by tomorrow night. Right, Olsen?"

 

"Right, Sarge!"

 

LeBeau muttered something in his own language under his breath.

 

"Where are we going to get the explosives, Colonel?" Carter asked. "Is the Underground providing them?"

 

Hogan cast a slightly guilty look at them and shook his head. "No, I'm afraid that we were invited to a party, and the host forgot to get the party favors."

 

"B.Y.O.B., Colonel?" Kinchloe asked. "Bring your own bombs?"

 

Hogan nodded.

 

"Oh, bloody charming," Newkirk muttered.

 

"So, what are we going to do for explosives, sir?" Carter asked.

 

"There's a Kraut engineer battalion located here," Hogan explained. "I figure on a little shopping trip after we get Carter's report."

 

The others went suddenly still. Newkirk spoke slowly. "You mean, you want us to break out of here, then break into there? Raid their ammo dump, and then blow up the bridge?"

 

Hogan nodded and winked. "You know, Newkirk...You're a lot brighter than you look. Pretty soon you'll be bucking for sergeant."

 

"Sir, do you think that's wise?" Kinchloe asked. "I mean, if we blow the raid at the ammo dump, it'll throw a monkey wrench into the whole deal."

 

Before answering, Hogan took out a cigarette, and striking a match, took his time to light it. He moved away from his men, needing a few feet of space to think. He stood off by himself for a few moments, smoking quietly. In deep thought, he blew out a long stream of smoke, his expression troubled.

 

"I'll be completely honest with you gentlemen," he said quietly. "This is the weakest point in the plan. But what other choice do we have? Stalag 13 is a prisoner of war camp. While we may pick up small arms and ammo here, it isn't authorized heavy explosives. The engineer battalion is. And they have exactly the kind of explosives needed to blow up a bridge."

 

"Yeah, boy! They sure do!" Carter broke in, excitedly. "I have a buddy in an Engineer unit back in England! Did you know that they not only build bridges, they also blow them up? Anyway, his unit had all the latest stuff! Like plastic explosives--! Boy, slap a few of those on a bridge's joints and ~phoom!~ Bye-bye bridge!"

 

"Carter--" Newkirk interrupted, annoyed.

 

Carter ignored him, adding excitedly, "I spent a couple days leave with my pal. He let me play with some of the stuff--!"

 

"Carter--!"

 

"I even helped him make some! Pretty potent, too--" His eyes grew animated, almost maniacal. "--real humdingers that went ka-bloom!" He included sound effects and arm gestures to prove his point.

 

The others just stared at him without speaking. Slowly, Carter seemed to return to reality, and was soon blushing. Newkirk rolled his eyes.

 

"Carter, I don't think even the Colonel here--" he jerked his head in Hogan's direction. "--would ever trust you to manufacture explosives--"

 

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Hogan said sarcastically. About to turn back to his map, a sudden idea overtook him. He snapped his fingers. "That's it! Carter, with the right materials and supplies, d'you think you could actually make your own explosives?"

 

"Well, sure, sir! I studied chemistry in college...In fact, I was even kinda famous 'round campus," he added blushing shyly.

 

"Famous?" LeBeau prompted.

 

"Well, I kinda blew up the physics lab," he said, embarrassed. "Four years in a row."

 

"Blimey! That does it, Carter! Now I know the Colonel will never--!"

 

"--Carter, I want you to give us a list of everything you need," Hogan interrupted. "I'll see what we can up with."

 

"You got it, boy! Um, I mean, y-yes, sir!"

 

"But, Colonel--!" Newkirk protested.

 

"Would you rather raid the Kraut Engineer Battalion?" Hogan asked.

 

Newkirk dropped his chin into his hand. "Oh, this is just double bloody charming."

 

Hogan nodded curtly, and then turned back to the map, his attention already completely focused on the mission planning.

 

"Colonel?" Newkirk asked.

 

"Hmmmm...?"

 

"Is it too late to request a transfer?"

 

"That depends," Hogan said without looking up. "How are you at forgery?"

 

Newkirk looked around at the others a bit uncomfortably. Pulling at his collar, he grinned uncertainly. "Blimey, Colonel! Forgery? I swear...that one time in London...the Bobbies had the wrong man. Honest! My character is being maligned by persons unknown--!"

 

"Can it, Newkirk," Hogan interrupted, tracing a possible route on the map for the transport train. He and Kinchloe conferred for a couple of minutes in low tones. Afterwards, Hogan picked up the conversation where he'd left off.

 

"I don't care about the how or the wherefores," he said, finally looking up and locking gazes with the RAF corporal. "I need someone who can forge some documents--and fast. Can you handle it?"

 

"What do you need me to do, sir?"

 

****

 

[Thursday 05 NOV 1942//0345hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #6

 

****

 

"How far down, Mac?" Hogan asked.

 

"We're almost ready to start going horizontal, sir," Sgt. MacPherson said. He looked exhausted, his face and hands muddy from digging.  "Just a couple more feet to go."

 

"Your men have done a great job, sergeant," Hogan said quietly.

 

"Thank you, sir. Sir? What about the dirt--?"

 

Hogan's eyes narrowed. He looked up at Kinchloe.

 

"Barracks five is responsible," Kinchloe said. He turned to MacPherson. "Hasn't Barclay come by to see you?" At MacPherson's shake of the head, Hogan's expression darkened.

 

"Well, Sgt. Kinchloe," he said with forced lightness. "What do you say we pay a visit to the boys in Barracks five?"

 

"Begging the Colonel's pardon," Kinchloe said. "But I think that Mac and I should handle this, sir." At Hogan's angry look, MacPherson stood up and moved next to Kinchloe.

 

"Kinch is right, sir. We can handle it."

 

Hogan looked at one, then the other.

 

"'Sergeant's business'?" he asked.

 

"'Sergeant's business.'"

 

****

 

[Thursday 05 NOV 1942//0356hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, outside Barracks #5

 

****

 

A muffled crash coming from Barracks Five caught the guard's attention. Instantly alert for trouble, he ran towards the building, all the while looking around for the Corporal of the Guard. Reaching the door, he paused immediately outside, listening.

 

The place was still as a graveyard. After a moment's hesitation, the guard continued on his rounds.

 

****

 

[Thursday 05 NOV 1942//0357hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #5

 

****

 

Kinchloe slowly removed his hand from Barclay's mouth. MacPherson, meanwhile, gave the reluctant sergeant's arm one more twist.

 

"Do you copy, Barclay?" Kinchloe hissed in his ear. "Are you going to play ball, or do we have to send you another message?"

 

Swallowing, Barclay shook his head in weak defiance. "You have no right!" he managed. "I'm a POW. The regulations state that--"

 

"The regulations state that you are still a soldier in the US Army," Kinchloe said disgustedly. "You were given a mission, sergeant, and you failed to follow orders. Back home, we'd let the officers court martial you. But here, we do things differently. Don't we, Mac?"

 

"You bet, Kinch. The last thing we need is to worry the Colonel. He has enough things on his mind."

 

"Yeah, Mac. We Sergeants know how to handle little things like these, don't we?"

 

"Sure do. You want me to hold him for you, while you work him over, and then you hold him for me?"

 

"Hey, guys!" Barclay exclaimed nervously. "Y-you can't! It's against regulations! I-I could get you in a lot of trouble, you know!"

 

"You know he's right, Kinch?" MacPherson said seriously. "Think we should just kill him?"

 

"What?!" Barclay's voice went up an octave. "Come on, guys. This isn't funny any more."   

 

"Nah," Kinchloe answered, ignoring Barclay. "Too messy. But I know a couple of NCOs over in Barracks Eight that can make it look like an accident."

 

"No wait! I've got it!" MacPherson interrupted. "We can arrange it so's the guards shoot him while trying to escape."

 

"Y-you're crazy!" Barclay barely spoke above a whisper. "You can't do that! It'd be the same as murder!"

 

"Actually, Barclay, we can do it!" Kinchloe said, his voice low and threatening. "And even the Colonel would never be able to figure out the truth. But I have another option for you. One where you get to walk away...What do you say? Interested?"

 

Barclay eagerly nodded, beads of perspiration breaking out on his forehead.

 

"Baker!" Kinchloe called softly. Immediately, the door leading outside opened, and the young Black sergeant sneaked in. He leaned against the door, listening, holding his hand up for quiet. After a long moment, he took a deep breath and turned, his expression relieved. At Kinchloe's questioning look, he swallowed.

 

"Goon," Baker said succinctly. He'd only managed to avoid the patrolling guards.

 

"Sgt. Baker," Kinchloe said. "Sgt. Barclay here isn't feeling very well--he seems to be suffering from a stomach problem. He's asked if you would take over his position as NCO in charge of Barracks Five."

 

Baker stared at Barclay, his expression unreadable. Glancing at the rest of the prisoners who were standing, looking uncertain, he nodded slowly. "And what about the rest of you?" he asked. "Are your stomachs up to it? Or are you too sick to act like soldiers"

 

His questions were met by low mutterings and grumbling. Finally, a huge airman who was built like a linebacker stepped forward. "You just tell us what needs doing, Sarge," he said. "We'll take care of it."

 

"Yeah!"

 

"We'll show you!"

 

Kinchloe glared at Barclay. "Do you have any problems with that, Sergeant?" Barclay gave a weak shake of the head.

 

"Good." Kinchloe smiled grimly. "Baker? Mac here will show you 'what needs doing.'"

 

****

 

[Thursday 05 NOV 1942//0530hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #2

 

****

 

"Raus! Raus! Appell!"

 

The guards repeated the early morning wakeup call several times, storming the barracks to rouse the deeply slumbering prisoners.

 

"Up, up, up! Everybody up!" shouted Schultz. "Out, out, out! Everybody out for morning roll call!"

 

Groaning like old men, the soldiers slowly began to stumble out of their bunks. In a couple of cases where a POW just couldn't be awakened, Schultz walked up to the foot of his bunk and pointed at him. The other guards immediately came up to the sides of the bunk and tipped the soldier out of bed. In one instance, the soldier still didn't wake up.

 

"Was ist los?" Schultz asked, clearly perplexed.

 

Yawning and bleary eyed, Hogan stepped out of his quarters. He looked rumpled, as if he'd slept in his clothes, which indeed he had.

 

"What's up, Schultz?" Hogan asked. "Got an early war today?"

 

Schultz let out a short, sarcastic snort. "Jolly joker! Col. Hogan, this barracks is late for morning roll call. We will all be put on report for this!"

 

"All right, Schultz, I gotcha!" Hogan said, yawning sleepily. "Okay, you guys--everybody out! Before we get placed on report."

 

"Jahwohl!" one of the guards said. "Or it will be the cooler for you! And half rations for the entire barracks!"

 

"The cooler..." Newkirk mumbled. "They let you sleep in the cooler, don't they?"

 

"Newkirk--" Hogan said warningly.

 

"I know, I know--" Newkirk said nodding. "Outside!"

 

It was a very bedraggled looking bunch of POWs that finally formed outside for morning roll call. The entire camp, which unknown to the Germans had worked late into the wee hours of the morning, was over ten minutes late.

 

Fuming, Klink stomped up and down the sloppy rows and columns of prisoners. His critical eye spotted several men who were literally asleep standing up, propped up by a buddy. Everyone was yawning and having trouble keeping his eyes open.

 

Finally, Klink stopped in front of Hogan. As he did so, he stared at the American flyer. Hogan stood casually, completely relaxed, his thumbs hooked into the pockets of his bomber jacket (a habit that the highly proper Kommandant Klink thoroughly disapproved of).

 

Additionally, Hogan had his hat pulled down low over his eyes, which in Klink's view provided a poor role model for the rest of the camp. As the senior POW, it was Hogan's responsibility to set the example for the entire camp--a duty at which he was obviously failing.

 

"Col. Hogan, look at you! You are a disgrace! You are in sore need of a shave...Your uniform looks like an unmade bed, and you are having as much trouble staying awake as your men. What have you to say for yourself?"

 

As he spoke, Klink waggled his forefinger under Hogan's nose, venting his frustration. About to start again on Hogan, a light suddenly dawned over the Kommandant's features.

 

"You are up to something, Col. Hogan! I can tell...You cannot hide anything from the 'Scourge of the Eighth Air Force'! You and your men look like you haven't slept in 24 hours, because you are planning an escape! Isn't that so?"

 

He leaned in closer. "I warn you. Any escape attempts will be dealt with severely. Do you understand me, Colonel?" Waiting for Hogan's reply, he was surprised when he didn't receive any.

 

"Col. Hogan?" Klink squinted at the senior POW through his monocle. After a few seconds, he thought he heard a sound coming from Hogan. Was ist los!? Klink stared, puzzled. "Col. Hogan?"

 

At this moment, Klink finally understood what the sound was coming from the man standing before him. Colonel Robert E. Hogan, highly decorated air combat veteran, was sound asleep on his feet and snoring in the early morning breeze.

 

"Ho-gaaannn!" Klink shouted. Hogan jerked awake. Blinking blearily, he focused on Klink, the fog in his mind slowly dissipating.

 

"Ummm...Good morning, Kommandant!" he said, rubbing the back of his head. "What time is it?"

 

"Six o'clock," Klink said, automatically checking his watch.

 

"Six?!" Hogan exclaimed, surprised. "Kinch!

 

"Here, sir!"

 

"Uh, Kommandant...are we done here?" Hogan asked, a bit impatiently. Klink threw his hands up.

 

"Yes, Colonel Hogan. We're done now. I am sorry that your sleep was interrupted this morning. Thank you for so graciously joining us for roll call."

 

Hogan nodded, Klink's sarcasm lost on him. He was gesturing furtively at Kinchloe to meet him in the barracks. Kinchloe caught his eye and nodded.

 

Hogan turned to Klink, smiling. "Oh, no problem, Kommandant. I love our little morning get togethers. Makes me feel like we're all one, big happy family. Sorry, gotta go. We're having a soccer match, and I'm one of the line judges."

 

****

 

[Thursday 05 NOV 1942//0730hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Kommandant's Office

 

****

 

"They are up to something..." Klink muttered, watching the lively soccer game being played in the main compound. The sound of a high whistle caught his attention. Hogan stood hands on hips, leaning down until he was nose to nose with the French corporal--LeBeau, Klink recalled.

 

The small Frenchman was yelling at the top of his lungs in his own language and gesticulating at another soldier, a young American sergeant, who was also gesturing excitedly.

 

"Colonel! He can't talk to me like that! I'm a sergeant!" he protested.

 

"LeBeau, I calls them the way I sees them!" Hogan shouted, turning away. "Carter blocked you fair and square!"

 

"Yeah! So there!" Carter taunted. LeBeau came up to him, shouting a long string of French epithets. It was obvious to Klink that while Carter apparently didn't understand the language, he understood the gist.

 

"Oh, yeah?" Carter yelled. "Well, boy! That goes double for me--whatever you said!"

 

"LeBeau! Carter!" Hogan broke in. "If you continue this un-sportsmanlike conduct, I'll have you both booted from the game!" Klink shook his head. Too soft! he thought, disapprovingly. I wonder how he ever made Colonel?

 

By now, they had a small audience. The rest of the prisoners were shouting taunts and encouragement to keep the two antagonists going.

 

"Tu es completement idiot!" LeBeau shouted. "In case you don't understand French, that means you're a complete idiot!"

 

"You're not gonna take that are you, Carter--?" Newkirk shouted.

 

Ignoring the spectators, Carter placed his hand on LeBeau's chest and shoved. "Oh, yeah? Well, you're...short! And just in case you don't understand English--that means that I'm taller!"

 

"Are you going to let a Yank talk to you like that, Louis?"

 

Enraged by the insult, LeBeau came at Carter, kicking mud in his wake. Stepping between the two combatants, Hogan got a full volley on his trousers.

 

Everybody froze.

 

His eyes traveling from his now mud-splattered trouser legs to the quarrelsome duo, Hogan exploded. "That does it! You're both out of here! Hit the showers!"

 

The Frenchman muttered something that Klink didn't catch, but which the American officer did. "That's it, soldier! You're both confined to quarters! I want to see you both in my office! At attention! Now!"

 

Both men snapped to attention and saluted. Executing a left face, they quick marched into the barracks. Watching from his office, Klink shook his head in quiet disapproval. In the German army, the men would have been shot for insubordination, or sent to the Russian Front, he thought. A sudden idea coming to him, he grabbed his hat and overcoat and headed outside.

 

****

 

[Thursday 05 NOV 1942//0745hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Exercise Compound

 

****

 

"Heads up, people," Hogan muttered. "Old Blood Guts took the bait. Newkirk, be ready." Newkirk nodded. Hogan raised his voice. "And that goes for all of you! I don't care if you are POWs! You'll conduct yourselves in a sportsmanlike manner, or your team will forfeit!"

 

"Col. Hogan!" Klink shouted. "A word please."

 

Hogan turned, a feigned look of surprise on his features. Shrugging, he tossed the soccer ball and whistle to Kinchloe. "Sgt. Kinchloe, take over!"

 

"Yes, sir!" Kinchloe said, catching the ball. Placing the whistle in his mouth, he blew it. "Okay, you meatheads! Let's play ball!"

 

"Um, Kinch?" Olsen called. "That's baseball. We're playing soccer."

 

Kinchloe scowled.

 

"What's the difference?" he asked. "It's a got a ball, doesn't it? Here!" He tossed the ball to Olsen, who caught it, shrugging. Soon, the two teams squared off against each other once more.

 

Meanwhile, Hogan was casually leading Klink away from the game. "What did you wish to talk to me about, Kommandant?"

 

As he and Klink turned a corner, Hogan glanced back to the crowd of men gathered watching the game and just managed to catch sight of Newkirk ducking around the Kommandant's building. Dampening the flitting look of triumph that lit his features, he turned back to Klink giving him his undivided attention...

 

****

 

[Thursday 05 NOV 1942//0815hrs local]

LuftStalag 13

 

****

 

"So, you see, Col. Hogan," Klink was saying, "an officer just cannot allow this type of public insubordination. It is very bad for morale." As he spoke, Klink animatedly gestured with his hands, completely caught up in the topic.

 

"I get you, Kommandant," Hogan said, seriously. "You mean that I should've just requested that you form a firing squad and had my men shot." He placed his hand on his chin as if deep in thought. "Now, why didn't I think of that?"

 

"No, no, Col. Hogan!" Klink said, shaking his head. "Of course, you wouldn't want to have your men shot on the first offense. However, continued insubordination--"

 

"But, just think of it, Kommandant!" Hogan interrupted. "They could be the examples. If the others saw how we deal with conduct unbecoming, then there'd be no problems in the future." He glanced at Klink with a look of admiration.

 

"Boy, you Germans sure know how to keep discipline! No wonder, you're running out of men. What the Allies don't kill or capture, you guys shoot. Brilliant!" He looked as if an idea suddenly struck him.

 

"But what will you do for men when you start the next war?"

 

Klink looked like he'd had an attack of apoplexy and was about to respond, when they were both startled by a sudden loud crash that resounded through the entire compound.

 

"What the--?" "Was ist--?" Hogan and Klink spoke simultaneously. Instantly, both men were hurrying in the direction of the sound. POWs, guards and dogs were all running in the same direction.

 

Soon the guards were holding back the prisoners, shouting threats, their rifles at port arms, forming an impenetrable line. The dogs were growling and snapping at the prisoners, leaping on soldiers who broke through the line and knocking them backwards. Hogan could swear he saw a few of the dogs licking the faces of the POWs whom they'd stopped.

 

"Was ist denn los?" shouted Klink. He and Hogan came up to the section of fence between guard towers four and five. A supply truck had crashed through the section of fence and was turned over on its side. "Sgt. Schultz! Report!"

 

Schultz came from around the truck.

 

"Schultz, is the driver okay?" Hogan asked worriedly. No one was supposed to get hurt! he fumed. He watched as several men carefully pulled the luckless driver from the truck's cab. A stretcher team broke through the mob of POWs and guards.

 

"Ja, he hit his head and is unconscious, but I believe that he will be all right. We are transporting him to the camp infirmary."

 

"Schultz, what happened?" Klink asked. Schultz shook his head.

 

"I am not sure, Herr Kommandant. Private Frohlich was going to town for supplies. When he started the truck, it just seemed to take off."

 

"Sounds like a stuck gas pedal," Hogan said. "Hold on a sec. A couple of my guys are pretty good mechanics. Olsen! Foster!" The two were there immediately. "Check the truck. See what could've happened."

 

"Col. Hogan, please!" Klink interrupted. "I appreciate the offer, but I assure you that we have perfectly good mechanics here."

 

"Oh, of course, Kommandant!" Hogan reassured him. "I just feel really bad about this."

 

"Why should you feel bad, Col. Hogan?" Klink asked curiously, then added suspiciously. "Your men didn't have anything to do with this, did they?"

 

"Kommandant!" Hogan protested, shocked. "I protest! We're POWs--not criminals! I was just offering to help. Come on, fellas. If he's gonna be this way--"

 

"No, wait, Col. Hogan!" Klink interrupted.

 

"Gee...try to do a nice thing, and this is the attitude you get," Hogan grumbled. "Well, I know where we're not wanted--"

 

"Col. Hogan--" Klink said, trying to break in.

 

"I was even gonna offer to fix the fence, but you can just forget the whole deal--"

 

"Col. Hogan!" Klink yelled, frustrated. Hogan stopped, his expression surprised. "Col. Hogan," Klink said a bit calmer. "I apologize for my earlier suspicions. It's just that...well, we are on opposite sides of the war, after all."

 

"Well, Kommandant, we might be enemies, but that doesn't mean we can't be civil with one another," Hogan said petulantly. He crossed his arms in childish pique, exuding attitude.

 

"You are, of course, correct," Klink said. "And just to show you that I can admit being wrong, I insist that your men inspect the vehicle and fix the fence."

 

"Oh, yeah? Gee...you're all heart, Klink. Thanks, but no thanks! I wouldn't have my men fix your fence if this was the last Stalag on Earth!" With that he spun on his heel and began to stalk away.

 

"Ho-gaaannn!" Klink shouted. "I order you to fix the fence!"

 

Hogan froze in his tracks. He turned slowly, and glared at Klink, eyes narrowed. "What did you say?" he asked dangerously.

 

"I said, that I order you to have this fence fixed. Or else--!"

 

"Or else, what?"

 

"Or else...thirty days in the cooler!"

 

"You wouldn't dare..."

 

"Try me!"

 

The two colonels glared at each for a long moment. Hogan looked like he was about to say something irreversible, when Kinchloe stepped in.

 

"Begging the Colonel's pardon!" he said. "But Olsen and Foster have just volunteered to fix the fence, sir. And I have at least another ten men to lend assistance as needed."

 

Hogan's dark eyes held Klink's a moment longer. Finally, his cold expression softened into a slight smile. "Okay, Kommandant," he said quietly. "You win this round. My men will fix the fence. But I'm lodging a formal protest."

 

"Your protest is noted and rejected, Col. Hogan!" Klink snapped. "Carry on!" he added, saluting. Hogan touched two fingers to his hat by way of returning the salute. Klink turned on his heel and stomped back to his office.

 

"Newkirk?" Hogan muttered.

 

"Back in the barracks," Kinchloe reported. Hogan nodded.

 

"Like the man said, Sergeant. Carry on."

 

****

 

[Thursday 05 NOV 1942//0845hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #2

 

****

 

"Did you have any trouble?" Hogan asked. Newkirk looked insulted.

 

"There ain't a safe around that can withstand the loving touch of 'light-fingered' Peter Newkirk, sir!" he proclaimed. "Those travel vouchers never stood a chance against my considerable skill. Why before the war, in addition to being much in the demand for the London stage for my brilliant magic act, I was also wanted--"

 

"--by Scotland Yard?" interrupted LeBeau. Newkirk gave him a sour look.

 

"Never mind," Hogan groused. "How long before you have the documents drawn up?"

 

"By 1800 hours tonight, sir," Newkirk said confidently.

 

Hogan nodded. "Good, carry on." With that Newkirk got up to leave Hogan's office. As he was about to open the door leading to the common area, Hogan's voice stopped him. "And Newkirk?"

 

"Yes, Colonel?" He gave Hogan a curious look.

 

"Good work, Corporal."

 

Newkirk's face underwent several changes, reflecting his warring emotions. Finally, it settled on a pleased smile. He nodded, a bit self-consciously and hurried out to get started on the forged documents straight away.

 

Hogan turned to LeBeau and Carter.

 

"Kinch, Olsen, and several other guys are working on the fence. They tell me that they'll be done long before lights out tonight. In case they don't, we need to draw up a contingency plan..."

 

Three quarters of an hour later, he looked at his two men. "Okay, do you understand the plan?" he asked. At their solemn nods, he smiled warmly. "Okay. I want you two to get as much sleep as you can. Your mission tonight is critical, and I don't want it to fail simply because you were too exhausted to carry it out."

 

"Yes, sir," Carter said.

 

"Oui, Colonel."

 

"Before you go...Carter, the list of materials you requested. Are you sure that's all you'll need...? A hydrometer, an enameled steel container, potassium chloride, and a gallon of common household bleach?"

 

"Yes, sir," Carter said, nodding eagerly. "Homemade explosives are a lot easier to manufacture than you might think." He shrugged.

 

"What do you need bleach for?" Hogan asked curiously.

 

"Oh, bleach contains small amounts of potassium chlorate, which is extremely volatile! It's been used for ages in grenades, land mines, and other explosive munitions." He paused, his eyes taking on a faraway look. "Just think...Your typical American housewife on wash day holds the potential for blowing up every bridge in Germany." He grinned excitedly at Hogan. "Makes you think, doesn't it, sir?"

 

Hogan stared at Carter for a long moment. "I'm beginning to worry about you, Carter. Okay, I'll see what I can do. The one problem is this 'hydrometer.'"

 

Carter shrugged. "If you can't get one, sir, I can still extract the potassium chlorate, but I won't be able to measure it accurately. It could make the stuff even more unstable."

 

"As I was saying, one hydrometer coming up," Hogan said smoothly, flashing a grin. LeBeau smiled back, amused by C.O.'s easy-going style. Carter gave them both a blank look, completely having missed the joke.

 

"What about fuses, wires, detonators, timing devices?" Hogan asked. Carter shrugged.

 

"Oh, we won't need timing devices if we're there to set off the charges," he pointed out. Hogan nodded in agreement and was about to say 'Good night' when Carter continued. "As for the rest, I think there's plenty of stuff lying around that I can use." Hogan was about to nod again, when Carter's expression became speculative. "Except maybe the wire..." he mused.

 

"Wire...right," Hogan muttered, adding 'wire' to his list.

 

"Oh, and detonators," Carter added. "I sure could use some of those!"

 

Hogan and LeBeau exchanged a look. LeBeau rolled his eyes, while Hogan closed his and shook his head. He dutifully added 'detonators' to his list.

 

"Anything else?" he asked sardonically.

 

"Umm...? Fuses?" Carter asked.

 

"You tell me," Hogan said. "You need fuses? I'll add fuses."

 

"Well, maybe a couple," Carter admitted.

 

"A 'couple' as in 'two'?" Hogan pressed. Carter made a face.

 

"A 'couple' as in 'a whole lot'? Sir?" Carter asked tentatively.

 

Hogan sighed. "A 'couple' as in 'a whole lot,'" Hogan repeated, scribbling quickly. "Looks like Newkirk will get his raid of the ammo dump, after all," he muttered. "Okay, Carter. Anything else?"

 

Carter shook his head. "No, sir."

 

"Are you sure?" Hogan spoke slowly, spacing each word evenly.

 

Carter nodded vigorously. "Yes, sir."

 

Pinning him with his best glare, Hogan studied the young sergeant for a long moment. At last he nodded.

 

"Okay...In that case--!" Hogan slapped both men on the shoulders and started them towards the door. "Since, I've confined you to quarters, Klink shouldn't suspect anything when you're not seen the rest of the day. If there're no questions, I want you both to hit the sack."

 

"Yes, sir!"

 

"Oui, mon Colonel!"

 

Long after the two men had left his quarters, Hogan sat at his worktable, poring over the map and his Operations plan. His men all had their individual assignments and were working round the clock to complete them. Suddenly feeling the walls closing in on him, he decided to conduct an inspection tour.

 

As soon as he stepped outside, he stopped. Too many things could still go wrong, he knew. But more importantly, as a leader of long experience, Hogan also knew when to back off. His job was done for the moment.

 

It was now up to his men.

 

****

 

[Thursday 05 NOV 1942//1735hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #2

 

****

 

"Colonel?" Kinchloe stuck his head in. Hogan looked up from the papers that he'd been going over yet again. His brain felt fried. He rubbed his eyes tiredly.

 

"What is it, Kinch?"

 

"We'd like to show you something, sir. Got a few minutes?"

 

Hogan nodded and followed his senior noncom who led him to the section of fence that had been destroyed that morning. The American pilot stood, hands on hips, his mouth agape.

 

"I can't believe it, Kinch," he said, shaking his head. "It looks better than the original!" He grabbed Kinchloe by the sleeve. "You didn't make it better than before did you? You were supposed to--"

 

"--We were supposed to 'fix' it, so that we could get in and out without too much trouble." Kinchloe grinned knowingly. "And we did." Looking around, he caught the attention of a POW on lookout duty. The lookout nodded, and then surreptitiously dropped a red handkerchief on the ground.

 

Further down the main compound, another lookout, playing catch outside Barracks Five, began bouncing the baseball against the barracks wall. Immediately, two men standing just outside the Kommandant's office started a loud argument, which quickly exploded into fisticuffs. Several other prisoners quickly surrounded them and yelled encouragement.

 

Their jeers and roars were soon drowned out by the pounding feet of the fast approaching guards. Shrill whistles rang out in the early evening, accompanied by the chilling yowls of snarling dogs.

 

"Achtung! Achtung!" Sgt. Schultz yelled as he ran towards the mass disturbance.

 

While this chaos erupted around them and the tower guards' attention was turned towards the growing riot, Kinchloe took this moment to demonstrate the unique, built-in qualities of the newly repaired fence section.

 

"Colonel," he spoke rapidly. "The problem with most attempted escapes through the wire is the requirement to always carry with you a pair of wire-cutters--"

 

"--Yeah...and the Germans get really testy about that sort of thing if they find a set on you!"

 

"Exactly! Also, the time it takes to cut each individual strand of wire eats into the few seconds that you have to effect your getaway."

 

"Thank you for the step-by-step, Kinch," Hogan said impatiently. "Now get to the point."

 

"Right. So, what we needed was to find a way to circumvent that problem. Olsen and Foster have done just that. They've fixed the fence so that you'll no longer need to cut your way to the other side--"

 

"--Kinch," Hogan broke in, his voice dangerously low. "If you don't get to the point, I swear I'll confine you to the cooler myself."

 

"Yes, sir!" Kinchloe said, nodding. "Now watch--!" With that, the senior radio operator grabbed the fence's lower wooden beam and pulled up. "Voila!"

 

To Hogan's stunned surprise, the entire section of fence rose almost three feet.

 

"Not wide enough for a tank, but plenty good enough for a man to easily slip under," Kinchloe said easily, enjoying Hogan's reaction.

 

Hogan looked at his senior noncom with open admiration. "'Voila,' indeed!" Jerking his head, he indicated that it was time to go. As they ran towards the sounds of the staged prison riot, Hogan held out a 'thumbs up' to Kinchloe.

 

****

 

[Thursday 05 NOV 1942//2230hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Outside Barracks #2

 

****

 

The two shadows advanced with the precise movements of a choreographed ballet. First one would flit from the dark recesses between buildings, then the next would follow, dodging the incessant sweep of the omnipresent searchlights. At last, they came to the fence section between guard towers four and five.

 

Timing the lights to the second, first LeBeau, then Carter slipped out from underneath the altered fence section.

 

Safely outside the compound, the two men made their way stealthily to the prearranged location where Schnitzer had parked the truck. In the back, they found dark, non-reflecting clothing. They removed their uniforms and quickly dressed.

 

Climbing inside the cab, LeBeau released the brake, and he and Carter pushed the truck for almost a quarter-mile before climbing in and starting it.

 

Carter checked his watch. 22:50! Only twenty minutes had passed since they'd left Barracks Two.

 

****

 

[Thursday 05 NOV 1942//2250hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #2

 

****

 

"I'm sorry, Colonel," Newkirk said despondently. "I know I promised them by 1800 hours, but it's a lot slower going without a typewriter to print the letters." He looked shamefacedly at his leader who was holding two completed travel vouchers.

 

Hogan sighed, nodding. "This isn't bad, Newkirk. I'd never be able to tell the difference from the original." He looked up at the unhappy RAF corporal. "I think that this will do. Only the two men in the cab of the truck should have to show papers anyway, if the need arises. And chances are that only the senior officer will have to produce any type of orders."

 

"But the uniforms we'll be getting are enlisted only, sir."

 

"Yeah, Colonel," Kinchloe agreed. "The boys in Barracks Three have been working on six goons all day. Priming them for the wine-tasting party, but they're all privates."

 

"Well, I don't see why that can't work, either," Hogan mused aloud.

 

"Begging the Colonel's pardon, but if the most senior man in the truck is just a private, then any checkpoints we come to, we'll probably be given the third degree," Kinchloe suggested.

 

"And searched from top to bottom," Hogan finished.

 

"Sir?" Newkirk spoke up. "I could maybe come up with something. You know, sneak into Klink's quarters, see if I can lift some of his insignia? Or maybe one of his uniform jackets?"

 

Hogan shook his head right away. "No! Absolutely not! He'd miss it and then he'd turn the whole camp upside down. These privates might not be too keen in admitting that they'd misplaced a uniform, but Klink? No...too dangerous!"

 

All three men glared silently at each other for a long moment. The tension in the room was so thick Kinchloe could feel it. Finally, he spoke up.

 

"Sir? Newkirk's right. It would be the best chance we have. We need someone in the cab that can scare off any potential inspection of the back of the truck. Only a high-ranking officer would be able to pull that off. And besides me, you're the only one who speaks German." He paused, shrugging. "And I don't exactly look German."

 

"Right, sir!" Newkirk exclaimed "And since you're already an officer, you know how to bluster with the best of them. You know--pull rank!"

 

"Newkirk?" Kinchloe muttered.

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Don't help."

 

"I hate to admit you fellas have a point," Hogan murmured. He looked at Newkirk. "What kind of diversion would you need? And for how long?"

 

"Well, I--"

 

"Sir?" Kinchloe interrupted. "I have an idea. Instead of Newkirk sneaking into Klink's quarters, why don't we arrange it so that he can just walk in?"

 

"Just walk in?" Newkirk protested. "Just like that--?"

 

Hogan waved him to silence. "Go on--?" he said interestedly.

 

"We're prisoners of war, and technically, the Germans can use us on work details that aren't directly tied to the war effort. So--"

 

"--So, Newkirk could actually go into Klink's quarters on perfectly legitimate business...Say to clean it or something." Hogan grinned. "I like the way you think, Kinch...Sneaky! Kinda reminds me of me."

 

Kinchloe and Hogan shared a moment of mutual respect, but they were interrupted by Newkirk.

 

"Oh, bloody charming! I volunteer to sneak into the Kommandant's office and pinch something, and what do I get for my troubles? A cleaning detail."

 

"Think of it as Post-war job training," Hogan offered. Crossing his arms in a gesture reminiscent of their C.O., Kinchloe grinned at Newkirk. The RAF corporal looked at them both with a sour expression.

 

****

 

[Friday 06 NOV 1942//0115hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #6

 

****

 

Hogan checked his watch by the weak light from a nearby burning torch. He rubbed his tired eyes. 01:15! It looked like another sleepless night.

 

He glanced blearily around the enclosed the space. The boys of Barracks Six have done themselves proud! he thought impressed. The tunnel's low ceiling required him to keep his head down for the most part; however, it was high enough that a man of average height could walk it upright. Hogan admired the shoring job that the Barracks Six crew had done.

 

"I bet there isn't a stick of wood left in this entire complex," he said, grinning.

 

"Well, I ordered my men to leave just enough so that the buildings didn't collapse under their own weight," MacPherson said, "but I'm afraid that a few of the boys got just a little carried away."

 

"I like a soldier who demonstrates enthusiasm for the job," Hogan said, heading back to the entrance. "Shows spirit."

 

"We couldn't have done it without Sgt. Baker and the Barracks Five crew, sir," MacPherson added. "They came up with the idea of getting rid of the dirt right under the Krauts' noses."

 

"I'll let them you said that, Mac," Hogan promised. Baker and his boys had come up with a brilliant plan to dispose of the dirt--during the soccer match, the staged fight, and any other activity involving a number of men, the boys of Barracks Five mingled among the crowds and furtively dumped the dirt, which they'd hidden inside their trousers.

 

However, while this idea succeeded in getting rid of a large amount of dirt, they'd still had quite a ways to go. Kinchloe solved this problem by assigning Barracks Three and Four to dig slit trenches. (For future hygiene needs, Hogan told Klink when the Kommandant protested.)

 

While the soldiers of Barracks Three and Four dug trenches, Barracks Five dumped tunnel dirt into them. Hogan grinned. This might be one of the first times in the history of digging trenches that more dirt went into the ground than came out of it.

 

"Mac, how much longer before you get to the woods beyond the wire?" he asked.

 

"At the rate we're going, sir," MacPherson answered. "I'd estimate another eight to ten hours."

 

"Excellent, Mac. I'm taking a few men with me tomorrow night--" He glanced at his watch, and added ruefully. "--Well, make that tonight, anyway--And I'm gonna raid an ammo dump. Being able to get out of Dodge without having the Sheriff's posse spot us would make my life a whole lot easier."

 

"Not to mention it would also make it last a whole lot longer," MacPherson said ironically.

 

"Yeah...there's that, too." Hogan shook hands with MacPherson. "I'd best be getting back."

 

****

 

[Friday 06 NOV 1942//0345hrs local]

Cliffs overlooking the River Mainz' cantilever bridge,

approx. 5km due East of Karlstadt

 

****

 

"I have seen enough," LeBeau whispered. "It is getting late. We should start back." They'd been scouting the river crossing for the better part of 90 minutes now. While Carter sketched a detailed drawing of the bridge with its steel reinforced superstructure and open girded trusses, LeBeau updated the map that Hogan had given them.

 

In addition to the bridge they'd been sent to scout, LeBeau noted that the railroad line paralleled the River Mainz for at least five kilometers. However, other than the cantilever bridge located at the Mainz' widest point, there were no other bridge crossings nearby.

 

Carter nodded, and about to reply, dropped back down. "Shhh--! Krauts!" he hissed suddenly. LeBeau instantly froze in place next to him.

 

After a several tense minutes of waiting, LeBeau finally asked. "Where are they? I don't see them." The next moment, he heard them. A six-man patrol! "What are they doing out here?" he muttered annoyed. "At this time of night?"

 

Carter slapped him on the side of the head. LeBeau grimaced, but didn't retaliate. Instead, he listened to the soldiers speak as they passed by. LeBeau couldn't understand German, but maybe he could remember a phrase and pass it on to the Colonel once they got back to the barracks.

 

After the longest quarter hour in LeBeau's recent memory, the patrol finally moved on.

 

He tapped Carter on the shoulder, and holding up his closed fist, he jerked it in the universal 'Follow me' signal. Carter nodded and folded the piece of paper on which he'd been scribbling notes. Rapidly stuffing it inside his waistband, he got up and followed LeBeau.

 

Taking off in the direction where they'd hidden the truck, the two men moved quickly, but quietly. They avoided most of the well-worn paths that paralleled the railroad tracks as well as the sentries they'd spotted earlier.

 

****

 

[Friday 06 NOV 1942//0525hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #2

 

****

 

Hogan paced within the cramped confines of his quarters. He'd chain-smoked the remainder of his cigarettes and was on one of his last ones. He took a long drag and blew out a thin stream of smoke. Stubbing out the cigarette butt on his field table, he left it in a growing pile of spent butts.

 

Mechanically, he reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the crumpled cigarette pack. He looked at it surprised. Hogan preferred cigars and rarely smoked cigarettes. He hadn't realized until now that he'd been smoking steadily since he'd returned to his quarters.

 

One cigarette left--slightly bent, but it would do. Quickly, he lit it and started his endless pacing again. Noticing that he was still holding the empty pack in his left hand, he flung it into the wastebasket.

 

That's the last of them, he grumbled. They're probably bad for you, anyway. He checked his watch. Five more minutes before morning roll call. Think, Colonel, think! If LeBeau and Carter don't make it back on time, you've gotta have a cover story ready.

 

He didn't have anyone in the cooler this time with which to explain the missing soldiers.

 

Yeah, and why is that, smart guy? He took a long, lingering puff, inhaling deeply. Pausing in the middle of the room, he blew out a long stream of smoke. Yeah, well, there's no helping it now, he added fatalistically. His musings were interrupted by Schultz's usual gentle morning wakeup call.

 

"Raus! Raus!" Came the daily alarm clock. "Everybody out!"

 

Schultz's order was met by the normal grumbling and muttering on the part of the prisoners. Hogan stepped out of his office and looked for Kinchloe. Catching his senior noncom's eye, he frowned at Kinchloe's sharp shake of the head.

 

Hogan jerked his head in Foster and Olsen's direction. Kinchloe nodded and then walked up to the two soldiers. As he passed them, he muttered something under his breath. Immediately, Olsen threw his pillow on the floor and walked up to Foster, shoving him backwards.

 

"You take that back!" he yelled. "Betty loves me and only me! I know she does!"

 

"You're crazy, Olsen!" Foster yelled. "How many times do I gotta tell you? You've got a face only a mother could love!"

 

"Oh, yeah! Well, let's see what your mother thinks about yours once I'm done pounding you!" With that, he launched himself at Foster, fists flying.

 

"Achtung! Achtung!" yelled Schultz. "Stop fighting or you will be late for roll call once again."

 

"Olsen, Foster!" Newkirk called out. "Did you hear that? Schultzie says that we're going to be late. What do you think they'll do to us? Put us in prison?"

 

"Col. Hogan!" Schultz called, as he struggled to come between the two combatants. "Please, Col. Hogan. If this barracks is late again, it will be on my head!"

 

Hogan checked his watch, and then looked across the room at Kinchloe. The sergeant shrugged helplessly. Hogan sighed. Time was up. He nodded at Kinchloe who immediately stepped between the two antagonists.

 

"All right, guys! Break it up!" he yelled. At his words, Olsen and Foster stopped fighting, but stood fists ready to go another round.

 

"Everybody outside!" Hogan shouted. "Come on. We don't have all day." With that he started heading back into his quarters.

 

"Col. Hogan! Where are you going? You should be heading outside!"

 

"What? Oh, sorry, Schultz," Hogan said easily. "I need to hide our escape plans. I wouldn't want to leave them lying around in the open. No telling when your goons might come sniffing around."

 

"My goons?!" Schultz asked, shocked. "Col. Hogan...I would never--"

 

"Yeah, I know you wouldn't, Schultz," Hogan said, patting Schultz on the arm. "But the walls have ears, as they say."

 

"They have?" Schultz asked. He looked around, caught up in the moment. Hogan was about to answer, when they were interrupted by Klink's high-pitched shout.

 

"Schultz!"

 

Schultz's large eyes bulged in sudden fear. He muttered something unprintable under his breath, and hurriedly waved Hogan and the few remaining prisoners outside.

 

"Raus! Raus!" Schultz shouted, waving his arms in annoyance.

 

"We're coming! We're coming!" Hogan shouted, waving his arms in imitation of the fat sergeant. Stepping out into the dark, Hogan squinted against the eerie mist that covered the chilly morning. The guard towers were lost in the haze, the only sign of their presence the relentlessly sweeping searchlights.

 

Again, he checked his watch. 05:32! He could hear Schultz walking along the rows and columns counting aloud. "Eins! Zwei! Drei...!" Hogan closed his eyes against the inevitable. What would he say by way of excuse?

 

Come on, Colonel! That's why you get paid the big bucks...Think of something!

 

"...Zwangzig, Eins-und-Zwangwig...!"

 

"Report!" Klink shouted.

 

I guess this it, Hogan thought. Two outs and the count's full. Oh well, it was a great idea while it lasted.

 

"Herr Kommandant!" Schultz saluted smartly.

 

Here it comes, Hogan thought in grim anticipation.

 

"All prisoners present and accounted for!" Schultz reported.

 

Wait...! What did he say?

 

"Very well, Sergeant!" Klink acknowledged, returning the salute. "Diss-misssed!"

 

Hogan stood speechless, his mouth agape. Slowly, he turned and faced his men. They were all looking back at him with wide grins.

 

"Kinch?" he called, eyes questioning.

 

"Here, sir!" Kinchloe replied, smiling.

 

"What--?"

 

At this point, the line of soldiers parted, revealing Carter and LeBeau standing stiffly at attention. Both men saluted smartly. His expression inscrutable, Hogan snapped to attention and returned their salutes crisply. As soon as he dropped his arm, the entire formation broke out into loud cheers.

 

Climbing his porch steps, Klink stopped midway. He whirled around at the sound of cheering, and grabbing his monocle, he squinted in confused suspicion at the crowd outside of Barracks Two. Hogan was slapping two of the soldiers on the shoulders, and--

 

Klink blinked.

 

--and he playfully pulled down the hat brim of the young American sergeant over his eyes, while simultaneously squashing down on the little Frenchman's red beret.

 

Shaking his head, Klink turned back to his office. Soft! Hogan is too soft...Again, I wonder, how did he ever make Colonel?

 

****

 

[Friday 06 NOV 1942//0600hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #2

 

****

 

Hogan smiled at his men over his coffee cup as he took a tentative sip from the bitter liquid. He was leaning casually against one of the bunks, enjoying the feeling of camaraderie. LeBeau had everyone's attention as he recounted his and Carter's harrowing ordeal.

 

Carter merely sat and smiled at the right times, nodding his head as LeBeau spoke. The others good-naturedly passed the two scouts their breakfast rations. As LeBeau spoke animatedly, Carter ate. He looked up and caught Hogan's dark gaze on him. Smiling shyly, the young sergeant dropped his eyes.

 

"You two did well," Hogan said quietly. At his words, the others fell silent. Realizing they were expecting some words of profound wisdom from him, Hogan grinned ruefully and said the first thing that came to mind. "Now I know how Mom and Dad felt when I was late coming home and didn't call ahead."

 

The others laughed appreciatively.

 

"I guess you must've caused your mum and dad quite a few restless nights there, eh, Colonel?" Newkirk asked, winking wickedly.

 

Hogan felt a slight pang at the innocuous reminder of home. He stared pensively into his coffee cup for a long moment, remembering his last visit home. Two years ago this Christmas. Ryan was still--

 

The sound of a throat clearing brought him crashing back to the present. He looked up quickly and saw everyone's eyes on him. Realizing his mistake, he smiled self-deprecatingly.

 

"Let's just say that growing up, my brother and I were grounded more often before we got our wings than afterwards."

 

The men chuckled at his poor attempt at humor. Pouring another cup of coffee, Hogan took the papers that LeBeau and Carter had brought back with them.

 

"Your brother's a pilot, too, sir?" Newkirk asked.

 

Hogan looked away momentarily, his dark eyes becoming bleak. "Was," he said shortly. "He was killed at Pearl Harbor." He turned to leave, unable to face their well-meaning sympathy.

 

"Excuse me, gentlemen. I'll be in my quarters going over these. LeBeau, Carter?" Both men looked up. "I'd like to see you when you've finished your breakfast. Relax, fellas...no need to hurry."

 

"Oui, mon Colonel."

 

"Yes, sir."

 

Entering his quarters, Hogan crossed over to his field table and pulled out the lone chair in the room and collapsed into it. Leaning on his elbows, he covered his eyes in an effort to erase the unbidden memories of home. Try as he might, he kept seeing them in his minds eye: Mom, Dad, and Ryan...

 

****

 

[Tuesday 24 Dec 1940//1200hrs local]

Bridgeport, Connecticut

 

****

 

Hogan threw a fastball and ducked behind the giant oak. He was rewarded by a surprised yelp. He was home on leave after a harrowing year flying as a neutral observer with the RAF.

 

The frightening sounds and smells of the London Blitz--sirens wailing, bombs exploding all around him, burning cordite--seemed a lifetime away.

 

"Why you--!" Ryan shouted, his angry voice bubbling with laughter. "You're dead meat, Junior!"

 

Hogan answered with another volley of snowballs. Before long, the Hogan family backyard rang with the familiar laughter of its two grown boys at play. But the boys were men now. Men in uniform. Men with heavy responsibilities in a world at war.

 

Moreover, today was Christmas Eve, and the two Hogan brothers were again boys only playing at war.

 

Hogan felt a cold explosion on the back of his head. "Gotcha, Squirt!"

 

"Squirt--?!" Hogan protested, throwing another snowball. He was rewarded by another angry roar from his older brother. "I'm thirty-four years old!"

 

"Yeah, well, I'm still four years older!" Ryan yelled back, shaking off the cold wetness from his dark hair.

 

Laughing, Hogan went for the frontal assault. He launched himself at his older brother and they both went down, rolling together in the cold, wet snow. Hogan suddenly found himself on the bottom--just like when they were kids--his arm twisted behind him, his face being rubbed in the cold.

 

"Navy flyers are the best! Say it, Junior!"

 

"Like heck!" Hogan grunted, tossing his brother head over heels. He scrambled to dive on Ryan's back, and soon had the tables turned. "Okay, Grandpa...You know the drill. Army Air Corps leads the way! Say it!"

 

"Sorry, Junior!" Ryan gasped. "You're coming in garbled!"

 

"Oh, yeah?" Hogan grabbed a handful of snow and began stuffing it down his brother's Navy jacket. Their yells were interrupted by the back-porch screen door being slammed open.

 

"Ryan! Bobby!" Mom called out, just as she had every day of their lives. "Soup's on!" She stopped, placing her hands on her hips, and glared at her two boys. "Oh, honestly. Look at you two. You're disgraceful. And Lucy will be here any minute."

 

"Lucy?" Hogan and Ryan asked together. Calling a temporary ceasefire, the brothers jumped to their feet. Ryan threw his arm around his younger brother's shoulders, hugging him towards him.

 

"I don't know what you're so all-fired excited about, Squirt. Lucy's my girl!"

 

"Your girl? In your dreams!"

 

"I have some very realistic dreams," Ryan said suggestively.

 

"Yeah, and that's as far as you'll ever get with her," Hogan teased.

 

"You know, for an Army flyboy you sure talk too much," Ryan said, annoyed.

 

Grinning, Hogan straightened Ryan's collar and fingered the silver wings pinned on his brother's chest. Under the pretext of dusting Ryan's Navy jacket from any remaining snow, he answered.

 

"And you Navy flyboys are all officers and gentlemen, right? Don't worry, Big Brother," Hogan said, an impish smile playing across his lips. "I know you like Lucy...a lot. And I have an idea that she feels the same about you."

 

"Oh, yeah? And what makes you such an expert, Junior?" Ryan asked skeptically.

 

Hogan looked innocent. "Who me? What do I know about women?"

 

Ryan glared at him. "I'm not sure...And I'm not sure I want to know."

 

"Come on, Grandpa!" Hogan grinned. "Race you to the porch!"

 

****

 

Hogan closed his eyes in pained recollection. He had to shake these memories...He had work to do...

 

But the memories kept coming back...

 

****

 

The rest of his Christmas leave was a blur of images...

 

Mom smiling proudly over her freshly baked pumpkin pie...

 

Hogan and Ryan sitting around the fireplace while their father read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas' aloud, just as he'd always done since they were children...

 

Ryan and Lucy announcing their engagement...

 

Mom and Dad smiling bravely as they waved good-bye at the train station...

 

Their smiles morphed into inconsolable grief as they read the official cablegram reporting Ryan's death at Pearl Harbor a year later...

 

****

 

[Friday 06 NOV 1942//0645hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #2

 

****

 

The knock at the door brought him back to the present. Taking a deep, gulping breath, Hogan impatiently wiped at his eyes. He hastily spread the papers out on the table that he'd been holding and crossed over to the window overlooking the compound.

 

His back to the door, he called out. "Come in."

 

LeBeau and Carter stuck their heads in. "Mon Colonel," LeBeau spoke quietly. "You wished to see us?"

 

"Yeah," he muttered, distractedly. He uselessly patted his pockets for a cigarette. Carter instantly held out an unopened pack of Chesterfields.

 

"Here, sir," he offered. Hogan reached for it uncertainly.

 

"Are you sure, soldier?" he asked. "These are worth their weight in gold."

 

Carter shrugged. "I have a couple more packs, sir."

 

"Thanks," Hogan said gratefully, taking the proffered pack. Flicking out a single cigarette, he quickly lit it and inhaled deeply. You're smoking too much, Colonel, he told himself. Gotta cut back.

 

Carter watched his C.O. unsure on how to continue. LeBeau elbowed him and nodded furtively. Carter shook his head vehemently. LeBeau eye's fairly screamed 'Go on!' at him. Carter swallowed nervously.

 

"Uh...um, sir?" he said hesitantly. Hogan gave him a questioning look. "Sir...me and the other guys--! Well, we just want to say that--! That is, we want you to know that--"

 

Hogan felt touched by the young man's struggle for words. After a moment, he took pity on him. "Thanks, Carter...I appreciate it. That goes for all the guys." He stepped away for a few minutes, smoking quietly, hands trembling slightly, until he was sure he had his emotions under tight rein.

 

Finally, Hogan turned to them and got down to business. "Anything unusual to report? Checkpoints, special units, patrols? Anything?"

 

"The bridge is lightly guarded, mon Colonel," LeBeau answered. "But we did run into several patrols there and back."

 

"Yeah, boy--um, I mean, sir," Carter broke in. "That's why we were so late getting back. A coupla Jerry patrols suddenly showed up just as we were about to start back."

 

"Oui, Colonel," LeBeau agreed. "I do not speak German, but I thought I heard the Bosche say the words for freight train and heavy water as they passed by--gueterzug and schweres wasser."

 

"Yeah, and I definitely heard someone say Sonntag," Carter added helpfully.

 

Hogan nodded. "'Sunday...freight train...heavy water,'" Hogan mused. "Sounds like we're on target. Good work, fellas."

 

LeBeau and Carter beamed proudly. "Get some sack time," Hogan ordered. "Just in case." The men nodded and headed out...

 

Long after they were gone, Hogan stood by the window, smoking quietly. It's our turn to hit 'em by surprise, Big Brother. This one's for you...

 

****

 

[Friday 06 NOV 1942//0800hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Outside Barracks #2

 

****

 

The prisoners looked up as a truck pulled in through the front gates. Kinchloe leaned towards Olsen. "Tell the Colonel that Schnitzer just drove in."

 

Nodding, Olsen took one final drag from his cigarette, and dropped it into the dirt. As he stood, he casually ground out the butt and walked indoors.

 

Seconds later, Hogan stepped outside, straightening his jacket and hat. Kinchloe tossed him a mitt and a baseball. Rubbing the ball into the mitt, Hogan threw it in the air, catching it easily.

 

Kinchloe, meanwhile, warmed up by taking a few practice swings with the bat. Olsen crouched behind him and started a fast-paced "Batterbatterbatterbatter--!"

 

Nodding that he was ready, Kinchloe took an expert batter's stance. Hogan looked over his shoulder and checked to see if Schnitzer was in position. Schnitzer removed his jacket--the signal!

 

Hogan went into his windup and pitched a perfect fastball, right down the middle. Kinchloe's swing was followed by a resounding ~crack!~ of the bat. The ball went sailing up, up, up and over the guard tower into the woods beyond.

 

Hogan glared at Kinchloe from underneath his campaign hat. Taking out a second baseball from inside his bomber jacket, he nodded secretively. Kinchloe took his batter's stance again.

 

"Lucky hit! Lucky hit!" Olsen chanted. "Come on, sir! You got 'im where you want 'im! Batterbatterbatterbatter...! Aaannd...swing!"

 

This time, Kinchloe held back on his swing, purposely aiming a line drive in the direction of the dog kennel. The ball rolled underneath Schnitzer's truck. As it did so, Hogan and Kinchloe ran after it.

 

Schultz and two other guards arrived there at the same time, weapons ready.

 

"Halt!" Schultz shouted.

 

"Hey! Come on, Schultz! That's our last ball!" Hogan protested, sliding to a stop, his hands held out.

 

"Yeah, Schultz!" Kinchloe chimed in. "Come on...it's just a baseball."

 

Schultz looked uncertain, then reluctantly nodded. Schnitzer spoke up, his tone friendly.

 

"Please, allow me to help," he said, crouching and looking under the truck. "Oh, there it is! Behind the rear wheel." He reached in and grabbed the ball. Standing, he was about to return it to Hogan when it slipped out of his hand and dropped to the ground.

 

Simultaneously, he and Hogan crouched down, both reaching for the ball together. Hogan quickly slipped a note into Schnitzer's pocket. To Hogan's surprise, Schnitzer returned the favor, slipping a note into his bomber jacket. Locking gazes momentarily, both men stood up.

 

"Thanks, Herr Schnitzer," Hogan said politely, casually tossing the ball up in the air and catching it in his mitt. "You, too, Schultz. I don't know what we'd do if we lost our last baseball. It's bad enough we had to miss the '42 World's Series because of this lousy war...And considering that the Cardinals beat those Damned Yankees four games-to-one--"

 

Catching the Germans' shocked looks, he stopped mid-sentence. "What?"

 

"Col. Hogan," Schultz tsked disapprovingly. "Such language! What would your mutter say?"

 

Hogan cocked his head to one side in disbelief. Turning on his heel, he started heading back to the barracks. A diehard Red Socks fan, he shook his head and muttered, "Might've figured the Krauts for a buncha Yankees fans."

 

****

 

[Friday 06 NOV 1942//09300hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #2

 

****

 

"London wants to talk to me," Hogan said, pacing the cramped confines of his quarters. "It's marked 'Urgent.'" He crumpled the message in his fist. "Swell! Just swell!"

 

"Sir! You have to stand still!" Newkirk protested, helplessly. His mouth worked awkwardly around several pins as he futilely followed after Hogan on his knees with a tape measure in one hand and a German uniform in another. "I mean, I can't be expected to've gone to all that trouble pinching the ruddy thing, and not make sure it fits you, can I?"

 

"Do you know what they want, sir?" Kinchloe asked, ignoring Newkirk. Hogan shook his head and resumed pacing. Newkirk threw up his hands in defeat.

 

Oh, what's the bloody use? the Englishman groaned.

 

He looks like a caged tiger, Kinchloe thought.

 

"I'll have to go out tonight," Hogan said. "The Underground contact I told you about--"

 

"--Greta?" Newkirk interrupted, his face brightening.

 

"--Fraulein Reisert," Hogan corrected. "She has a portable short wave. We'll have to use it."

 

"We?" Kinchloe asked.

 

Hogan smiled. "Kinch, I worry about you. You don't get out enough."

 

"That's true, Kinch," Newkirk agreed. "A man should have a hobby, I always say."

 

"Newkirk?" Hogan said. The RAF corporal looked at him, question marks in his eyes. "Shut up."

 

Newkirk grimaced and mumbled something unflattering about 'Officers.'

 

Kinchloe crossed his arms while giving his C.O. a skeptical look. Hogan stopped his incessant pacing, thus giving Newkirk the opening he needed to fit the Luftwaffe uniform jacket on him.

 

"You're my radioman," Hogan said with a slight shrug, wincing suddenly as Newkirk pricked him accidentally. "Hey! Watch it!" he yelped.

 

"Sorry."

 

Hogan glared at him, and then turned back to Kinchloe. "I need you," he said. Kinchloe nodded slowly. "Besides. Didn't your draft board tell you? Join the army and see the world--?"

 

"Yeah..." Kinchloe nodded. "I seem to recall something along those lines...Join the army and see the world. Meet interesting people--"

 

"--kill them!" He and Hogan finished together, laughing at their gallows humor.

 

"Oh, bloody charming," Newkirk muttered. "You two are a regular Jack the Ripper and Vlad the Impaler."

 

Hogan grinned. "Glad you approve, Newkirk, 'cause you'll be coming with us."

 

"Thank you, sir," Newkirk said with the utmost insincerity. "It does a bloke's heart good to feel wanted."

 

"We'll outfit you in one of the uniforms that Barracks Three got for us." Hogan paused, embarrassed. "Kinch...I'm afraid you don't look much like a German--"

 

"Yeah, and that gives me a warm feeling all over, Colonel," Kinchloe retorted.

 

"So, we'll have to take you prisoner--" Hogan began.

 

"--Prisoner?" Newkirk asked.

 

"In case we run into patrols," Hogan explained. "We'll say we captured you and are taking you to Stalag 13!"

 

"The toughest prisoner of war camp in all of Germany!" Newkirk added in a thick German accent.

 

Hunched over, Kinchloe stuck a quarter against his right eye in a dead-on imitation of Klink. "There has never been a successful escape from Stalag 13!"

 

"Y'know, Kinch, I hate to admit it, but Newkirk's right," Hogan said straight-faced. "You do need a hobby!"

 

****

 

[Friday 06 NOV 1942//1700hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Outside Barracks #2

 

****

 

The shadows were lengthening in the late Autumn evening. The weak afternoon sun was slipping below the western horizon. From where they stood, huddling against the outer wall of Barracks Two, the prisoners could see and hear the changing of the guard by the front gates.

 

Kinchloe sighed. "The place feels almost peaceful," he grumbled, giving the breath-taking western sky a critical look.

 

"Yeah," Olsen agreed. "A guy could grow used to the sun setting over the de-lousing shack." Kinchloe snorted in amusement.

 

"That's right, mate!" Newkirk added. "Why, under the right conditions, you could almost describe the ol' place as poetic!"

 

"Surreal is more like it. Especially with the sun gleaming off the 30 millimeter machine guns on the guard towers," Kinchloe said sardonically.

 

"And the concertina rolls on the top of the fence," Olsen added.

 

"It's a regular Buckingham Palace, mates!"

 

The men laughed softly. Abruptly, the coughing and spluttering of an out-of-tune truck motor broke the quiet.

 

"Heads up, people," Kinchloe muttered. "Looks like our friendly neighborhood tierarzt is back. Olsen, get the colonel."

 

"Sure thing, Sarge."

 

****

 

[Friday 06 NOV 1942//1732hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #2

 

****

 

Hogan read from the note Schnitzer had passed him. He and his men were crammed into his small quarters, which meant that he couldn't pace. He glanced at Carter.

 

"Schnitzer's left the supplies we requested in the truck by the ravine. He was able to get us almost everything we asked for except the hydrometer and the wire."

 

"Sir, the Stalag communications shack should have enough wire for our needs," Kinchloe offered. "You know, your standard telephone wire."

 

"Good idea," Hogan said. "Carter, LeBeau see what you can do after lights out." Both men nodded. "Carter, you said that you can still manufacture the explosives without the hydrometer. Just how unstable will the stuff be? Will we be able to handle it safely?"

 

Carter looked suddenly uncertain. He glanced at the others, and then back at Hogan. "Sir, I can try...but I can't guarantee that it won't go off at the slightest thing."

 

The other men went still.

 

"Buggeration!" Newkirk muttered.

 

"I'm sorry, sir," Carter apologized. Hogan automatically reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the pack of Chesterfields.

 

"It's not your problem, sergeant," Hogan

 

"Oui, mon ami," LeBeau agreed. "It is our problem. Perhaps we still can raid the Bosche ammunition dump?"

 

"Too risky," Hogan say blowing out a stream of smoke. "We're too close to the mission. If anything should go wrong--" He shrugged. "Carter, can you explain the basic principle behind this--hydrometer? D'you think we could make one?"

 

Carter shrugged. "I don't see why not. All it does is measure specific gravity of the liquid."

 

"Hey, if I remember my high school science," Kinchloe broke in. "All you need for that is a heavy object, like a rock, tied to something that floats--like a stick or a piece of cork."

 

"Yeah, boy," Carter agreed. "A homemade hydrometer won't be calibrated exactly, so the reading won't be perfect. But it could work."

 

"And the boys in Barracks Three have an abundant supply of corks left over from their little wine-tasting party," Newkirk added.

 

"Oui! That and a big hangover!"

 

Hogan nodded, a new look of determination lighting his warm brown eyes. "Good! As soon as bed check's over, we'll move out. Mac reported that the tunnel's ready for business. Carter, LeBeau--you'll get the wire from the communications shack. Then Carter, you'll work on the explosives. LeBeau, you'll get him whatever assistance he needs."

 

Both men nodded.

 

"Olsen, Foster--you'll accompany us as far as the truck. You'll offload the stuff and bring it back to the compound. Got it?"

 

"Yes, sir!" they said together.

 

"Newkirk, Kinchloe, you'll be with me." He looked around. "Any questions?" He was met with several "No, sir's!"

 

"Good," he said smiling. "In that case, gentlemen, let's get ready."

 

****

 

[Friday 06 NOV 1942//2330hrs local]

Reisert Buchladen, Hammelburg

 

****

 

Hogan stood in the shadows near the bookstore. Signaling Kinchloe and Newkirk, they turned the corner down a back alley to the rear of the building. Taking point, Hogan led his men down the narrow staircase to Greta's residence, located below street level. Furtively, he knocked twice, paused, and then knocked twice again. Newkirk stood watch a few feet away. Kinchloe waited tensely crouched next to the door.

 

There was a short wait. The door opened a crack, accompanied by a sharp gasp.

 

"Herr Oberst! Was ist los?" Greta asked, startled.

 

"It's me, Fraulein Reisert," Hogan whispered. "Col. Hogan."

 

"Col. Hogan?" She stared at his uniform. "Please...come in!" Hogan hurried his men inside after her. He quickly closed the door behind him, and stood with Newkirk listening against it. He heard a match strike, saw a brief flash, which settled into an uneven, golden flicker as Greta lit the oil lamp.

 

As the light fell on her, playing with the golden highlights of her hair, Hogan caught his breath. The moment was suddenly shattered by Newkirk who let out a low, appreciative whistle.

 

"Stow it, Corporal!" Hogan said sharply.

 

"Sorry, sir...Fraulein," Newkirk apologized. "I guess I'm a little out of practice."

 

Greta smiled knowingly. "That is quite all right, Corporal. I understand." Newkirk was immediately next to her, her hand held tightly in his. Greta looked taken aback.

 

"I think I'm in love," he said dreamily. "Will you marry me? Tonight? Right now?"

 

Greta's smile broadened, her eyes crinkling in silent laughter. "I'm afraid I cannot marry you tonight, Corporal." She leaned in closer. "There's a war on, you know."

 

"Yes, so I've been told," Newkirk said, looking crestfallen.

 

"Newkirk...outside!" Hogan growled, jerking his head in the direction of the door. "Keep watch. If you see or hear anything, give the signal."

 

Newkirk gave Hogan a sour look, and then glanced regretfully at Greta. He shook his head. "Officers...they just don't understand love at first sight, y'see."

 

Hogan grabbed Newkirk by the collar and started pushing him towards the door. "Outside, Romeo!" he ordered. "Or all the king's horses and all the king's men, won't be able to put Peter Newkirk back together again."

 

"That's blatant abuse of power, it is!" Newkirk protested, struggling half-heartedly at the door. Hogan opened the door and shoved him outside, slamming it in his face. Newkirk glared at the closed door for a moment. Sighing, he took his lookout position.

 

"Officers--they take all the fun out of war."

 

Meanwhile, Hogan had slowly turned back to face Greta. "I'm sorry about that." He determinedly ignored the way her hair fell down in cascades over her shoulders, and how her blue eyes sparkled in the dim light cast by the oil lamp.

 

"There is no need to apologize, Col. Hogan. I quite understand," she said coolly. "Now, shall you tell me why you are here and dressed like that?"

 

"Your short wave radio," he said curtly. "We need to use it." Greta nodded, her blue eyes steady.

 

"Very well, but I shall require your help." She pointed at a small, well-worn sofa and made to move it. Hogan and Kinchloe quickly grabbed it and pushed it out of the way. As they did, she rolled back a large area rug, revealing a trapdoor. She then picked up the oil lamp. "This way."

 

They hurried down a steep staircase into the dankness below, a root cellar, Hogan saw. There was barely room enough for two, much less three.

 

"I'll wait upstairs," Greta said. Hogan nodded.

 

"How long d'you think before you can raise them, Kinch?" he asked. Kinchloe shrugged, shaking his head.

 

"I'm not sure, sir. A few minutes, I guess."

 

"Okay, I'll be topside. Call me when you make contact."

 

"Roger." Kinchloe was already hunched over the radio, powering it up. Hogan watched for a few moments, and then climbed the stairs. Because the oil lamp was in use in the root cellar, the living area was now lit by a single candle.

 

He looked around the room and spotted her by the kitchen sink, filling a teakettle. He studied her as she went about her normal routine, his throat constricting as she moved in and out of the uneven shadows thrown by the lone taper.

 

"Fraulein?" he called softly.

 

"Would you care for some tea?" she asked.

 

"Tea?" Hogan shuddered involuntarily. "Um...no, thank you."

 

She gave him a quizzical look and abruptly laughed softly. "I beg your pardon, Colonel. I forget...you Americans do not care much for tea, do you?"

 

"Well...I wouldn't say that," Hogan answered. "My grandmother...now, she held tea in real high esteem--"

 

"I see..." Greta said with a smile. "So, what you are saying is that I remind you of your grandmother?"

 

It was Hogan's turn to laugh. He took a step towards her until he was less than an arms length away.

 

"Oh, no, ma'am," he said softly, shaking his head. "I assure you--you definitely do not remind me of my grandmother."

 

"Well, that's a relief," she said. "I--"

 

"Colonel!" Kinchloe called. "I've got London on the line." Hogan held her gaze a moment longer, feeling his throat tighten once again.

 

"Sir?"

 

"Coming." Hogan's dark eyes bored into hers. The next instant he was heading downstairs.

 

****

 

[Saturday 07 NOV 1942//0025hrs local]

Reisert Buchladen, Hammelburg

 

****

 

As they emerged from the root cellar, Greta immediately saw that something was wrong.

 

"Col. Hogan? What is it?"

 

Instead of answering her, Hogan indicated that they should replace the rug and sofa back to their original places. When that was done, he nodded at Kinchloe to move out. As soon as his NCO left, Hogan turned to Greta.

 

"Two of our OSS agents were captured by the Gestapo in Bremerhaven," he said. Greta gasped.

 

"Oh, no! I am so sorry!" she said. Hogan nodded, his shoulders slumped. He looked like a man who was about to break under the weight of the world. She wanted to hold him in her arms and offer comfort, and was about to take a step towards him, when he suddenly straightened, a look of cold determination coming over him.

 

"Before their capture, they reported spotting the heavy water being loaded onto a freight car at the train depot. They also reported that the shipment's been moved up a day. Instead of waiting for the new moon as previously planned, the heavy water will be shipped out tonight."

 

"I don't understand," Greta said. "Why would they risk such an important shipment? The Allied bombers might be able to pinpoint it at night if there is even a sliver of moon left."

 

"That's true," Hogan agreed. "But not if the Luftwaffe is busy pounding London at the same time."

 

"What?" Greta was shocked.

 

"The agents reported that the German High Command has ordered a massive day and night drop on London. It'll be the Blitz all over again."

 

"But why? It makes no sense!"

 

Hogan's dark, brooding eyes bored into hers. "Since when does anything that psycho does make any sense?" He started for the door. "I gotta get going. I've got a bridge to blow."

 

****

 

[Saturday 07 NOV 1942//0235hrs local]

Woods outside LuftStalag 13

 

****

 

Hogan brought his hand down sharply. "Go!" he hissed.

 

Newkirk took off at a crouch, staying as low as possible. As he dove under a thick shrub, a searchlight that swept the outer perimeter cut a swath in the spot he'd just vacated.

 

Hogan held his breath as the beam moved on. The instant it passed, Newkirk made a dash for the new tunnel entrance. He stopped at what appeared to be an ordinary tree stump. Inexplicably, Hogan could feel a strong desire to laugh bubbling inside him.

 

He'd have to find some special way to reward the boys from Barracks Six. Not only had they completed the tunnel ahead of schedule, it exceeded all engineering expectations--to include the camouflaged entrance.

 

Newkirk placed his hand on the tree stump and furtively pulled up. The top of the tree stump opened, revealing the entrance to the tunnel below.

 

****

 

The men moved quickly down the length of the tunnel.

 

"Blimey! Where is everybody? I thought we'd have a nice reception party waiting for us--beer...champagne...water."

 

"That's a good question," Hogan muttered. He was beginning to get a bad feeling.

 

"Colonel Hogan!" LeBeau's distinctive French accent could be heard coming up the tunnel from the opposite end.

 

"LeBeau! Here!" Hogan called. LeBeau came running up to them. "LeBeau, what's going on here? Where's MacPherson?"

 

"It's Carter, sir--" LeBeau began.

 

"I bloody well knew it!" Newkirk complained. "Colonel, you shouldn't mix dangerous explosives with a low intelligence like Carter's!"

 

"What about Carter?" Kinchloe asked, ignoring Newkirk.

 

"He started working on the explosives mixture as soon as he got the ingredients," LeBeau explained. "We did everything we could to keep the goons away, even set him up in one of the empty barracks buildings."

 

"But--?" Hogan prodded.

 

"But we cannot hide the smell."

 

"Smell?"

 

"Oui, mon Colonel. The smell is terrible!"

 

"So what happened?" Hogan asked anxiously. "Did the Krauts find it? Is Carter okay?"

 

"Oui, mon Colonel...I mean, non! I mean--"

 

"LeBeau, you're not makin' any bleedin' sense! Do the Krauts know or don't they?"

 

"Non! They do not. We knew we couldn't hide the smell, so one of the prisoners, Sgt. Barclay I think it was, suggested that we disguise it."

 

"Barclay?" Kinchloe snapped.

 

"Disguise it?" Hogan asked confused.

 

"Oui! Sgt. Barclay reported a lice infestation in Barracks Five. The Krauts went crazy...Klink ordered all the prisoners to go through the de-lousing shack."

 

"Barclay came up with the idea?" Kinchloe looked skeptical.

 

LeBeau nodded enthusiastically. "Oui! It's worked like a charm! The Krauts are so busy processing us through the de-lousing shack they haven't noticed that some of the prisoners have gone through there three and four times already."

 

The others laughed at the audacity of the whole thing.

 

"And best of all, the smell from the disinfectant chemicals are hiding the smells from the explosive mixture."

 

"You guys did well, LeBeau," Hogan said respectfully.

 

"Merci, Colonel," LeBeau said with a smile. "But you must hurry. Schultz has asked about you once already. I am here, under the pretext of looking for you."

 

Nodding, Hogan and the others started down the tunnel, stripping off their German uniforms as they ran.

 

****

 

[Saturday 07 NOV 1942//1730hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Barracks #2

 

****

 

The day passed uneventfully, the hours ticking by with interminable slowness. Hogan ordered his team to get as much sleep as possible. Unable to follow his own advice, Hogan paced his quarters, smoking one cigarette after another. As the sun finally began its slow descent, lengthening the shadows, and bringing with it an unexpected cold mist, Hogan felt his inner turmoil begin to settle down.

 

They were ready...

 

****

 

[Saturday 07 NOV 1942//2100hrs local]

LuftStalag 13, Tunnel underneath Barracks #6

 

****

 

The men donned their uniforms, struggling with the unfamiliar buckles and imperfect fit. Carter hopped around on one foot, hopelessly trying to get his left foot into the narrow, storm trooper's boot.

 

"Carter!" Hogan snapped. "What's the problem?"

 

"It doesn't fit, sir!" Carter said helplessly. Hogan looked at Newkirk and jerked his head in the sergeant's direction. Newkirk rolled his eyes, but moved in quickly to help.

 

"Here, Carter...let me help you," he said, annoyed. Carter stopped hopping long enough for Newkirk to assess the problem.

 

"See? It's too small," Carter insisted.

 

Newkirk's facial expressions warred between disgust and frustration. "Too small, eh!?" Newkirk said, dangerously. "I'll give you 'too small'!" He grabbed Carter by the collar and held a closed fist up to the startled sergeant's nose. "It's the bloody wrong boot! You're trying to put on the right boot on your left foot!"

 

"What?" Carter looked down at his foot in amazement. "Well, how do you like that?"

 

Newkirk closed his eyes and shook his head. "Sir, are you sure you wouldn't want to raid that ammo dump, after all?"

 

Hogan and Kinchloe exchanged inscrutable looks. Kinchloe shrugged his shoulders helplessly. Hogan sighed and checked his watch--21:15 hours!

 

"Saddle up, people!" he ordered. Pausing over the canvas bags filled with Carter's homemade munitions, he glanced over to where the young explosives expert was still struggling with his boot. Rolling his eyes, he added ruefully, "We who are about to die, salute you."

 

"You have such a way with words, sir," Newkirk said sarcastically.

 

"Stow it, Corporal!" Kinchloe growled, grabbing him by the sleeve.

 

"Inspiring is what I meant!" Newkirk said quickly, stumbling as Kinchloe dragged him through the tunnel.

 

Grinning, Hogan turned to MacPherson who was waiting to see them off. "Mac, you know what to do if we don't come back."

 

MacPherson nodded. He glanced regretfully around the tunnel, which he and his men had worked on so diligently. His orders were to blow it if Hogan and his team didn't return.

 

"We won't let you down, sir." He and Hogan shook hands. "Godspeed, sir." Hogan's dark eyes softened momentarily. Nodding curtly, he turned and hurried down the tunnel after his men.

 

****

 

[Saturday 07 NOV 1942//2130hrs local]

Woods outside LuftStalag 13

 

****

 

Hogan moved with a grace borne of stealth, his shadow an extension of the forest. He came noiselessly upon Carter who'd been posted to keep watch. The ever-vigilant sergeant, whose back was to Hogan, remained oblivious to his C.O.'s presence. Hogan glanced up at the sky and shook his head.

 

Why me? he asked.

 

Grimacing, he clapped his hand over Carter's mouth. Surprised, Carter's hands went up, involuntarily throwing his weapon over his head. Hogan sighed.

 

"Carter, lookouts--by definition--are supposed to be on the lookout for trouble."

 

Carter's wide blue eyes looked up at him, chagrinned. Hogan slowly released his hold, and reaching behind him, picked up Carter's weapon, returning it to him.

 

"Sir, I was ordered to keep watch on the trail coming from the camp."

 

Jerking his thumb over his shoulder, Hogan said tiredly, "Carter...the camp is in that direction."

 

"Oh, no, sir!" Carter said, shaking his head. "Kinchloe specifically told me to keep an eye on the trail coming from my right." Carter pointed down the opposite trail with his left arm. Hogan looked down the trail where the eager young sergeant was pointing and followed the length of his arm, up to Carter's candid eyes.

 

"Uh-huh." Shaking his head, Hogan got up and started in the direction of the truck. Sensing that Carter wasn't following him, he looked over his shoulder and was about to call him, when he saw that Carter was glancing back and forth between his left and right hand.

 

Covering his eyes, Hogan again shook his head and sighed. "Let's go, sergeant. The war's waiting."

 

Beaming, Carter nodded, his normally sunny disposition in direct contrast to Hogan's mood. As they neared the truck, Kinchloe ran up to them.

 

"Sir, we have a problem--"

 

"I am not a problem, Sergeant!" Hogan whirled in the direction of the voice--Greta!

 

"I am going with you, and that is that."

 

"What are you doing here?" Hogan kept his voice low, but it was as angry as his men had heard from him. He stalked up to her.

 

"I have already told you," she said calmly, lifting her chin defiantly. "I am going with you. I wish to help."