The Eagle and the Cross
2003 Papa Bear Awards - Third Place
Best Original Character - Margarethe Wunderling
Summary:When a clandestine meeting with the Underground goes wrong, Hogan takes refuge in a church.
Special Thanks: To Zoey for her encouragement and keen-eyed criticism. What a pal!
Author's Note: ~"Dialogue"~ denotes that a foreign language is being spoken, usually German.
"...Heaven still guards the right." (Richard II)
[Sunday 22 NOV 1942//2240hrs local]
Kirchestrasse, Kitzingen, Germany
His foot struck an uneven spot on the sidewalk. He stumbled, falling headlong. Recovering sufficiently to maintain his feet, he continued on his desperate flight. The pain from his left shoulder area was a white-hot agony. He tried to apply pressure to the wound as he ran, but could feel his life's blood slowly seeping away.
Sirens blared throughout the tiny hamlet, punctuating the cold, clear night with their high-pitched wails. Half-timbered houses dating back to the early Renaissance stood starkly in the silvery sheen of the full moon like so many silent sentinels, watching...waiting.
He could almost feel a thousand pairs of eyes glaring down at him from behind the blacked-out windows.
As he ran, he thought back on the deadly turn of events. He still couldn't believe it. The whole thing had been a setup! Luckily, some sixth sense had warned him, and instead of proceeding directly to Kitzingen's sole inn, the Kaiser Gasthaus as instructed, he'd watched from across the street in an alley.
Just as he'd decided that it was safe to proceed, the Gestapo arrived in force. They raided the small inn and soon emerged with four men in custody. That was when his luck ran out...
Earlier that evening...
[Sunday 22 NOV 1942//2130hrs local]
Kaiserstrasse, Kitzingen, Germany
"Achtung! Halt!" a Gestapo officer shouted, pointing at him. Hogan instantly ducked back into the alley as several shots rang out. He heard a sharp impact on the brick wall less than an inch above him. Taking off down the alley, he could hear the sound of pounding boots following close behind, bullets ricocheting close at his heels.
Hogan took a flying leap, landing behind a stack of crates. Coming up, he fired three shots in rapid succession, and whirling around, then spun and sprinted deeper into the alley. Ahead, a high stonewall blocked his way. Several options flashed through his mind, which he instantly discarded.
Spotting another set of boxes at the foot of the wall, Hogan used them as a stepladder, and grabbing the top edge of the wall, quickly pulled himself up. Just as he was about to scramble to safety, another volley of shots rained lead all around him.
He cried out involuntarily as a searing hot iron slammed into his shoulder, the force of the impact sending him toppling over to the other side. Fighting against the pain, he stumbled into the darkness...
[Sunday 22 NOV 1942//2245hrs local]
Kirchestrasse, Kitzingen, Germany
The sound of tires screeching behind him abruptly brought him back to the present. Hogan ducked into a doorway, his dark clothing blending into the deep shadows. Holding his pistol ready, he waited.
The patrol car roared by, its siren shattering the quiet of the quaint cobbled street. In the moonlight, it looked like something out of a Hans Christian Andersen storybook.
He heard a dog begin to bark, a lonely mournful song. It was soon joined by several others, a veritable canine chorus.
Leaning against the cold, stone masonry, Hogan closed his eyes and took deep calming breaths. He had to get back to the rendezvous. Warn the others. He felt the warm wetness from the gunshot wound. He was growing weaker, he knew.
He jumped when a church bell immediately overhead tolled the quarter hour. Looking around, he realized that he was standing in the side entrance to a large church.
The sirens! They're coming back! He fumbled with the door handle. Locked!
The patrol car's headlights turned the corner. No time! Placing the muzzle of the weapon's silencer directly onto the lock, he squeezed the trigger.
A soft ~phffft!~ was quickly followed by the door opening. Ducking inside, he shut it behind him and listened. He could hear the patrol car drive by, slower this time.
A sudden change in the dark interior's lighting warned him--a searchlight!
Instantly, he crouched next to the door, weapon ready. He blinked against the perspiration in his eyes. His harsh breathing grated in his ears. He tried to swallow around the dryness in his throat.
A second siren!
His world began to tilt on its axis, like Goldilocks when he banked her on a hard turn. Thinking of his B17 Flying Fortress brought an odd feeling of euphoria washing over him. He shook his head, trying to clear it.
Stay focused, Colonel! he growled. You've got the Krauts inside a ten-K radius looking for you!
He listened tensely as the second German patrol approached. It soon rumbled by without stopping, its siren wailing. Closing his eyes in relief, he slid down to the floor. As he did, he felt himself losing his last remaining grasp on reality...
[Sunday 22 NOV 1942//2305hrs local]
St. Johanniskirche, Kitzingen
Hogan awoke with a start. Where was he? He found himself lying facedown on a hard, cold floor. Marble? he wondered. The church! He remembered an imposing, gothic steeple, overlooking the center of the small town--St. Johanniskirche.
He shivered suddenly, feeling a bone-deep chill. The Gestapo! Hogan had to get to the rendezvous. Kinch and Newkirk would be waiting for him. They had to find a way to rescue the four underground leaders. The men were probably being transferred to Gestapo Headquarters in Wurzburg, almost ten kilometers west of Kitzingen.
Tonight was supposed to have been a get acquainted meeting between Hogan and the leaders of four different underground cells operating in the vicinity of Stalag 13. It was supposed to have been a chance to coordinate sabotage efforts, establish priorities, exchange vital information.
A searing pain radiating from his left shoulder reminded him that he was wounded. Time to go, Colonel! he told himself. He placed his right hand down and pushed up, bringing his knees up under him.
"Uhhnn...Some days it just doesn't pay to get out of bed." Hogan sat up slowly and slouched against the wall, trying to regain his strength. That wasn't so hard, was it, Colonel? he asked. Now you've only got about another three K's to get to the rendezvous.
At a startled gasp from his right, he instantly brought up his Luger.
A young woman stood outlined in a golden circle of light, cast by the single candle she held. She stared, wide-eyed with fear. Hogan's dark, brown eyes bored into hers.
Time seemed to slow...
He could feel a drop of perspiration wend its way down his left temple and splash onto the floor below. His blood pounded in his ears, in time to the hammering in his chest. He breath rasped as he breathed in and out...
The blink of an eye passed and her initial wide-eyed stare changed to haughty anger. She raised her chin defiantly, glaring at him.
"~Are you going to shoot me?~" she demanded. Hogan didn't answer, but neither did he lower his weapon. She rolled her eyes in exasperation.
"~Please, it is late, and I still have much to do. If you are not going to shoot me, then put that thing away. This is the House of God, after all!~"
Without taking his eyes off her, he nodded and lowered his weapon.
"~Don't try anything,~" he warned. At least that was what he'd intended on saying, but it came out as little more than croak.
"~You are hurt!~" she cried, taking a sudden step towards him. Instantly, the Luger snapped up again, aimed directly at her heart.
"~Don't--!~" he gritted. He watched her through blurring vision. Her figure seemed to approach and recede much like a badly out-of-focus film.
She stopped in her tracks, fear warring with anger and concern in her lovely eyes. "~Please...let me help.~" Her voice was softer, gentle. "~I promise that I mean you no harm.~"
Hogan's arm shook from the effort of holding the weapon steady. Realizing that he couldn't keep his arm up any longer, he nodded and again lowered the weapon. Blinking through the haze distorting his vision, he watched, mesmerized by the circle of light that surrounded her, creating a halo effect.
He grinned lopsidedly, feeling lightheaded as if he were floating. "Are you an angel?" he whispered. She was kneeling next to him, checking his pulse and feeling his forehead. At his question, she have him a startled glance.
"You speak English?" she asked. Confused, Hogan shook his head. Had he slipped back into English, he wondered?
"Never heard of it," he denied. She smiled with her eyes, amused.
"I see." Abruptly, her smile turned to concern. "You have lost a great amount of blood. What happened?"
"Bad guys..." he mumbled.
"The sirens! The Gestapo...they are looking for you?" she asked. He nodded, tired. Her hands gently explored his shoulder, and unexpectedly, sent an intense surge of pain. He gasped.
"I am sorry!" she apologized.
"I thought angels were supposed to relieve pain...not make it worse," he grumbled. She laughed softly, a tinkling, musical sound, but became instantly serious.
"We must get you to the infirmary and take care of this."
He shook his head. "No time..."
"I will get Mother Superior," she said, ignoring him. "You must wait here. Will you be all right?"
"Gotta go...too dangerous. For you..." Eyes closed, he made a move to stand. In his mind, he could even see himself standing. In reality, he only managed to fall into her arms.
"You are not going anywhere..." Her voice called to him from somewhere far away. "...except with me..."
[Sunday 22 NOV 1942//2350hrs local]
Infirmary, St. Johanniskirche
He heard voices talking softly above him.
"~How is he, Mother?~"
"~He is remarkably strong. He has lost a great deal of blood, but he will be all right.~"
He felt a warm, gentle touch on his forehead. "~No fever. That is good.~"
"~His identification tags say that he as an American officer. A colonel. What would an American officer be doing here?~"
"~All in good time, Margarethe. All in good time...~"
The voices above him faded into the darkness that reclaimed him.
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0015hrs local]
Infirmary, St. Johanniskirche
The sound of soft humming brought him back from the abyss. Brahm's Lullaby. His mother used to hum it to him when he was a child. He turned towards the sound, squinting against the dim lighting. He saw a feminine silhouette a few feet away, head down, rocking back and forth.
"Shhh...Liebling..." the voice was a caress. "~Good night, little one. Sweet dreams.~" As she stood, Hogan saw that she carried a small bundle in her arms, a sleeping child. He watched as she laid the child down and gently covered him. As she worked, she continued to hum soothingly.
She leaned over the small form for a few moments. Straightening, she turned to go. Catching his eye, she smiled. Hogan smiled in turn. She was indeed lovely, he saw. She sat down on the side of his bed.
"I see you are awake. Colonel, is it?"
Hogan grimaced. "Found me out, huh?" Nodding, she fingered the dog tags that were lying on his chest. Sighing, he muttered to himself. "Guess I'll have to come up with something else for next time."
"Excuse me?" Margarethe watched him curiously.
Grinning slightly, he held out his hand and introduced himself. "Col. Hogan, U.S. Army."
"And I am Margarethe Wunderling--"
"You sure are, ma'am," he said appreciatively. Her dark, brown hair was tied back in a sensible bun, a nurse's half-wimple partially covering her head. He noticed how her eyes--Gray, he noted--crinkled at the corners in amusement. Realizing that he was staring, he added lamely, "You speak English very well."
"I took my schooling in Cambridge before the war," she explained. "And you? You speak German quite fluently."
Hogan shrugged, not answering. She gave him a tolerant look. "I see. It is all very well for you to ask questions, but you do not provide answers." He smiled enigmatically.
"Sister Margarethe?" an older woman called softly. Hogan and Margarethe both turned.
"Yes, Mother Bernadette?"
Sister? Hogan wondered. He glanced quickly back at Margarethe, and for the first time saw the small, gold crucifix she wore. Of course, she's a nun! You almost made a big fool of yourself, Colonel!
"Ah! I see our newest, and largest patient is awake!"
"Largest?" Hogan asked curiously. Margarethe and Bernadette both laughed softly.
"Most of our patients are under the age of ten. From our orphanage school," Margarethe explained.
"Orphanage?" Hogan asked.
"Before the war, St. Johanniskirche ran a parish day school," Bernadette explained. "Since the war, the needs of our parishioners have changed."
"Especially the needs of the children who have been orphaned or abandoned," Margarethe added sadly.
"Yes," Bernadette agreed with a shake of her head. "It is always the children who suffer." She glanced up at Hogan, her smile tinged with sadness. "But you mustn't tire yourself out, Colonel. You really should try and get some sleep. You need to rest."
Hogan shook his head, 'no,' while simultaneously attempting to sit up. "Colonel, you must lie down!" Margarethe protested, holding him by the shoulders.
"No. It's too dangerous for me to stay any longer," Hogan said weakly. "The Gestapo is still searching for me. Soon, they'll start a house to house."
He stopped for breath, and to wait for the world to stop spinning. Unable to help himself, he leaned on her for support. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he registered the subtle scent of her perfume.
Perfume...? He couldn't recall any of the nuns at his parish school wearing perfume.
"Col. Hogan, you can't even sit up," Margarethe pointed out. "How can you expect--"
"--'Cause I have a job to do. Four men are in the hands of the Gestapo, and it's my responsibility to get them out. I've gotta contact my men."
"The Gestapo?" she hissed. "Colonel, are you out of your mind?"
Hogan grinned. "There's an RAF corporal who keeps asking me that." He feigned a hurt look. "A guy could get a complex, you know."
Margarethe gave him a 'Don't give me that' look in turn. "Mother Bernadette, I believe that we were only half correct. What we have here is a very large, very stubborn child!"
"Margarethe, perhaps the Colonel is correct," Bernadette said regretfully. "It is too dangerous for him to remain here. I am sorry, Colonel, but I must think of the children first."
"Mother--!" Margarethe gasped in shock.
"No, Sister," Hogan said, nodding. "Mother Bernadette is right. It's best I leave." Rallying his strength, he swung his legs over the side and sat up. Resting for a moment, he straightened his shoulders and slowly stood, leaning heavily on Margarethe.
"But look at you!" Margarethe protested. She turned to Bernadette, beseechingly. "Mother, look at him! He is too weak to travel. We cannot turn him out!"
"Ladies, if you'll just lead me to my clothes and weapons, I'll get out of your hair."
"Margarethe, take him to Father Schumacher's cell. They are of similar size. I am afraid, Col. Hogan, that your shirt and jacket were a total loss."
"Mother--?" Margarethe tried once again. At Bernadette's sorrowful shake of the head, Margarethe dropped her eyes and nodded solemnly.
"Chin up, Sister Margarethe," Hogan said softly. "When I was a kid, I was thrown out of more parish schools than you can count. I was even voted 'Most likely to be a troublemaker' by the nuns of St. Michael back home."
"Now, that I can believe!" Margarethe said with a laugh.
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0045hrs local]
Rectory, St. Johanniskirche
"These were Father Schumacher's quarters." Margarethe opened the heavy door, located down a long, drafty corridor. Entering, she pointed at an inner door. "That is the bedroom. His clothes--"
"Were his quarters?" Hogan asked. Margarethe nodded.
"He and several other clergymen were taken one night during a Nazi purge. He was rumored to have been working with the Underground to hide Jewish children--"
Margarethe nodded, and then hesitantly added, "We never found out for certain." She walked over to a simple statuette of the Madonna and Child. Lying next to it was a large, highly ornate crucifix.
"I see..." Hogan said softly. He picked up the crucifix, admiring its gold, inlaid beauty and its heavy chain. "And the children currently housed here in the orphanage? Are any of them--?"
Margarethe shook her head. "No!" she quickly.
A little too quickly, Sister, Hogan mused.
"Our children are all Catholic orphans from the local area. And we even have their Baptism and First Eucharistic records to prove it. The Gestapo has kept such close tabs on us since Father Schumacher was taken that--" She stopped abruptly and shrugged.
"They are a terribly efficient organization, Col. Hogan. They even checked our parish records to ensure that we only housed proper orphans here. And not 'enemies of the state.'"
She looked up indignantly. "Can you believe that? Mere children considered enemies of the state! The world has gone insane."
Hogan nodded, his expression neutral. He found it incredulous that in this time of war and chaotic conditions the church orphanage could possibly maintain such accurate records to prove the children's Catholicism. However, he elected to keep his opinions to himself.
"Sister Margarethe!" They turned at the urgent voice. An older nun in full habit stood at the doorway. "Gestapo!"
"Colonel!" Margarethe said hurriedly. "Quick! You must hide! This way!" She grabbed him by the arm to lead him away, but Hogan pushed her and the other nun out the door.
"Don't worry about me!" he told her. "Take care of the kids!" He shut the door in the women's faces and headed into the bedroom. "First things first," he muttered. "Gotta get some clothes."
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0105hrs local]
Mother Superior's Office, St. Johanniskirche
"~Major Tischler, I am sorry, but we cannot help you.~" Bernadette spoke calmly, her hands clasped before her. "~We have seen no such person.~"
"~But of course, Mother Superior,~" Tischler said, arrogantly. "~Naturally, you will not mind if we take a look around?~" He nodded at his men, who immediately broke into three, two-man teams and set out.
"~Herr Major, we do indeed mind!~" Margarethe protested. "We cannot have your men frightening our children!~"
"~Crack soldiers of the Third Reich, frightening the innocent children of the Fatherland?~" Tischler took a step towards Margarethe. "Fraulein, such talk is almost treasonous.~"
"~That's our Sister Margarethe for you!~" a voice behind them quipped. "Always stirring up trouble!~" All eyes turned towards the sound. Hogan boldly walked up to the Gestapo major, his hand held out.
Margarethe and Bernadette exchanged stunned glances, and then stared at Hogan and the white collar and ornate crucifix he was wearing. He determinedly looked away from them, giving the Gestapo major his undivided attention.
"~Major Tischler? Father Hoganmeiser, at your service.~"
Tischler shook hands, eyes narrowed. "~I did not know that the church had a new priest?~"
"~Oh, I'm just visiting, Herr Major,~" Hogan said. "~It's the Archbishop's idea, really. He believes it is good for the soul to get back with the people. Listen to their troubles. Bring comfort.~"
The Gestapo officer glared at him from under hooded eyes. "~Tell me, Father,~" he said darkly. "~What are you doing in that costume when the Fatherland needs all her young men?~"
Hogan fingered the large crucifix that hung from his neck. "~That is a very good question, Herr Major. One which I often ask myself.~" He paused dramatically, and started to pace. By all outward appearances, he looked like a man in deep thought.
"~I believe that a man such as myself serves the Fatherland as much as any of your soldiers. As an officer, you concern yourself with the physical well being of those under your command. Well, the Church concerns herself with their spiritual well being. In the end, Herr Major, we all have our jobs to do.~"
"~Yes, I suppose you are correct, Father. Still--~"
"Herr Major!" The ranking sergeant appeared at the door and snapped off a salute. "~We have searched the church, the living quarters, and the infirmary. We have found no sign of the fugitive.~"
"~Very well, Sergeant!~" Tischler casually returned the salute. "~Take the men outside. We will return to the assembly point.~"
"Jahwohl, Herr Major!" The sergeant saluted stiffly, executed an about face, and marched out.
"~Father, Mother Superior...I apologize for the intrusion.~" Tischler clicked his heels and bowed stiffly. "Auf Weidersehen."
"Auf Weidersehen, Herr Major," Bernadette said softly. Margarethe nodded at Tischler by way of farewell. Hogan escorted the Gestapo officer as far as the main outer door.
"Guten Abend, Major Tischler," Hogan said pleasantly, and then on a whim, added as if saying a blessing, "Vulpem pilum mutat, non mores."
The major gave him a blank look. Scowling, he touched two fingers to his high-peaked hat and left.
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0130hrs local]
Main Entrance, St. Johanniskirche
Mother Bernadette rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Most amusing, Col. Hogan. But what if he'd understood Latin?"
"Well, it's not like I said anything vulgar."
"No, you just gave him a warning," she said.
"A warning?" Margarethe asked. "What kind of warning? What did you say, Colonel?" she asked suspiciously. When he didn't answer right away, she turned to Bernadette. "What did he say, Mother?"
"Vulpem pilum mutat, non mores," Bernadette repeated. "A fox may change its hair, not its tricks." At Margarethe's blank expression, she added, "People may outwardly change their appearance, but on the inside--"
"--but on the inside, they have not changed their intentions," Margarethe finished. She glared at the priestly accoutrements that Hogan was wearing. "And speaking of a fox with new fur..."
As they spoke, Hogan felt a sudden dizzy spell. Bringing his hand up to his forehead, he closed his eyes, fighting against the wave of nausea. He'd been running on pure adrenaline through the Gestapo's visit, afraid of blacking out at any given moment. He leaned heavily against the door, waiting for the touch of wooziness to pass.
"Col. Hogan!" Margarethe rushed to his side. "You should be in bed! Look at you! You're as pale as a ghost!"
Hogan grinned weakly. "Well...this is the place for it, isn't it? Ghosts, I mean?"
"Col. Hogan, perhaps Margarethe is correct," Bernadette said. "You are in no condition to travel."
"Now, don't you start going soft on me, too, Mother Bernadette," Hogan joked. "Nice Mother Superiors just aren't allowed in the job description. Why it could tear apart the very foundation of the Church."
"Never mind the Church," Bernadette growled. "You need to rest."
"Sorry, ladies," Hogan said, shaking his head. He appeared exhausted. "But slacking off isn't in my job description."
"How far must you go?" Margarethe asked, her voice tinged with concern. She stood so close to him that he could see a faint sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose. For some reason, that made his stomach flip-flop.
"I'm sorry, Sister," he said softly. "But the less you know, the better it is for you."
"But I already know too much, Colonel. You might as well trust me with the rest." Her gray eyes, dark with worry, held his for an eternity.
He felt like he'd forgotten how to breathe. He fought a sudden urge to run his fingers lightly across her face. Can it, Colonel! Remember who and what she is--a nun! A wave of vertigo washed over him again, and inadvertently, he leaned into her for support.
He felt her put her arms around him, but he struggled against her. Shaking his head, he gathered his strength to push her away. "No! Sister Margarethe...I appreciate all you and Mother Bernadette have done for me, but I have to go--Now!"
Margarethe stared at him. She looked hurt, but he couldn't be sure. Besides, he didn't want to know. He was acting like a complete jerk and he knew it. These brave women had risked their lives for him, and this was how he was repaying them--with an unconscionable show of ingratitude.
And worse, with the strongest desire he'd felt for a woman in a long while.
"Sister...please, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to--"
Margarethe shook her head and held her hands up in a staying motion. "That is quite all right, Colonel," she said, her voice neutral. "I understand. You must do your duty."
He nodded mutely, unable to think of anything else to say.
"Margarethe," Bernadette said quietly. "The Colonel might have need of his weapon wherever he is going. Perhaps you should retrieve it from the Sacristy." Margarethe nodded and left. "You must forgive Sister Margarethe, Col. Hogan. She is young and at times impetuous, but her heart is always in the right place."
Keeping his eyes downcast, Hogan nodded solemnly. "Thank you again, Mother Bernadette," he said softly. "I wish there were some way of repaying you--"
"--There is!" Margarethe interrupted. She had just returned with his weapon. "You can let me drive you to wherever you need to go."
"Out of the question!" Hogan snapped.
"At least part of the way, Colonel," she amended. "Please?" At the emphatic shake of his head, she threw up her arms in exasperation.
"If you are not the most stubborn, most mule-headed man that I have ever had the displeasure of meeting!" She walked huffily up to him, and jabbed him in the chest with the muzzle of his Luger. "Here! Take your infernal gun! I hope you choke on it!"
Hogan quickly grabbed her wrist and pointed the pistol away from him, while simultaneously removing it from her hand.
"Margarethe--!" Bernadette gasped.
"Are you crazy?" Hogan protested, his voice uncharacteristically going up an octave. "The darn thing's loaded and the safety's off! You could've killed me!"
"Oh, what a loss that would have been to the war effort!" she returned sarcastically.
"Well...I don't about the war effort," he grumbled. "But it sure as heck wouldn't have done me any good!"
She made a sour face at him. "What difference is there between me accidentally shooting you, and you deliberately walking out there--alone--in your condition? You'd soon be dead for either reason." She glared at him. "Well!?"
Hogan opened his mouth to speak, but she cut him off.
"I will tell you...There would be no difference!" Raising her chin in anger, she looked down her nose at him, crossed her arms and turned her back. "Of all the ungrateful, pigheaded, idiotic--"
"Okay, okay!" Hogan said, annoyed. "I get the picture!" He glanced at Bernadette, who shrugged gamely.
"She does have a mind of her own," she told him.
Hogan nodded. Jamming the pistol inside the waistband of his trousers, he walked up behind Margarethe and placed his hands on her shoulders. At his touch, she instantly stiffened, and Hogan immediately jerked his hands away, as if burned.
"I'm sorry, Sister," he apologized. "I didn't mean any disrespect. I--" She spun around suddenly, and before he knew it, she was facing him less than a hand's width separating them. He stopped, struggling for words. It didn't help that her proximity made him even more aware of her perfume and of her.
He held her eyes, again feeling as if time were standing still. He didn't know how it happened, but she was suddenly in his arms, his lips inches apart from hers--
--Realizing what he was doing, Hogan released her, taking an involuntary step backward.
"Sister--! I--!" He shook his head in disbelief over what he'd almost done. Margarethe took a step towards him.
"War or no war. There's no excuse for my behavior," he said, unable to look at her. "Please, forgive me." He turned to go. "Mother Bernadette, please don't judge all Allied soldiers by my reprehensible actions."
"Col. Hogan, I don't understand--?" Bernadette began, but Hogan cut her off.
"I'd best go," he said. Both women were looking at him with strange expressions. "Auf Weidersehen," he added and turned towards the corridor that led to the side entrance through which he'd entered.
"Wait! Colonel!" Margarethe called. Sighing, Hogan stopped in his tracks. Didn't she know what she was doing to him? Couldn't she see how he felt? How could she be so blind?
Well, of course, she is, you idiot! He chastised. She's married to the Church. She probably doesn't even know you're alive!
Oh yeah...? She's a woman, isn't she? Even a nun would notice if a man had just tried to kiss her!
"Col. Hogan...please," she said quickly, afraid of being interrupted. "I know that I've said some very terrible things to you tonight. But please don't let that cloud your judgment. You have lost a great deal of blood. Look at you. You are still weak. If you try to travel on foot, you might not make it. Please. Let me help."
Hogan looked at her for a long time. Again, it seemed as if he'd forgotten the very fundamentals of breathing. His face felt flushed, his knees weak. He didn't know if it was from the wound in his shoulder, or the one in his heart.
Knowing he should refrain from doing so, he tentatively raised his hand and tenderly cupped her chin. Losing himself in her gaze, he finally nodded.
"You win, Sister," he murmured. Grinning self-deprecatingly, he added, "I'm not sure if I could've made it as far as the door anyway."
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0215hrs local]
Bayern Forest outside Kitzingen, Germany
"Thanks for the lift, Sister, but this is as far as you go," Hogan muttered. "I'll make if from here."
"Of course you will, Colonel," she said agreeably. As she spoke, she climbed out of the caretaker's dilapidated truck and hurried over to the passenger side. Opening the door, she was not surprised when Hogan fell over sideways into her waiting her arms.
She shook her head in exasperation. "Are all Allied officers as stubborn and pigheaded as you?" she muttered.
"No. I'm afraid the colonel is in a class all by himself." Margarethe whirled at the sound of the voice. "Hands up, lady. Fingers spread--now! Before I shoot first and ask questions later!"
Margarethe instantly did as told. "Please! If you are his friend, Col. Hogan is hurt."
"Hurt?" another voice asked. "Blimey, why didn't you say so?" Immediately, two figures dressed entirely in black emerged from behind the tree line. One quickly hurried past her to the cab of the truck. The other one--Margarethe saw that he was a Black man--unwaveringly kept his weapon pointed straight at her.
"How is he, Newkirk?" he asked.
"He will be all right," Margarethe said. "He was wounded in the shoulder and he's lost a great deal of blood, but--"
"Kinch, you are not going to believe this!"
"What?" Kinchloe hissed, worried. "What is it?"
"He's dressed as a-a priest!"
"You heard me! He's dressed as a ruddy priest! Colonel, are you all right? Colonel? Kinch, he's out cold. We should get him back to camp A.S.A.P."
Kinchloe nodded, and then walked threateningly up to Margarethe. "Okay, lady, let's hear it. What happened to the colonel?" He casually kept the semi-automatic weapon pointed at her. "Talk!"
"Kinch--! Newkirk--!" Hogan's weak voice broke in.
"Newkirk! Cover her!"
Newkirk nodded, and jerking his head at her, indicated that she move over several feet.
Kinchloe hurried up to Hogan, the worry in his voice obvious. He helped Hogan to a sitting position. "Colonel, what happened?"
"The Underground leaders were arrested by the Gestapo. I managed to get away, but got a bullet in me. The Sister, here, and her Mother Superior bandaged me up."
"Sister--?" Newkirk asked.
"Sister Margarethe," Hogan said introducing her. "Long story. Just my luck, huh? I get shot up, and a couple of nuns intercede on my behalf. Guess being an altar boy when I was ten has finally begun to pay off."
"Nuns?" Margarethe murmured to herself. "Then that is why--?"
"The Gestapo arrested all four?" Newkirk asked. "Blimey! That's bad, Colonel. It could set back our operations by several months." Kinchloe nodded in agreement.
"Your operations?" Margarethe asked, seething. "Is that all you are worried about? What about those poor souls in the hands of those--"
"Sister!" Hogan broke in. He reached for her hand. "I promise. We're going to do everything in our power to free them."
She studied him for a long moment. Finally, satisfied at his sincerity, she nodded. "I believe you." She reached up and gently caressed his cheek, her fingers feather soft. Hogan felt his insides churn, warring between self-loathing and an intense desire for her.
He looked away quickly, unable to meet her eyes any longer. "Kinch! Give me a hand out of here."
Bending down to do as requested, Kinchloe addressed Newkirk, "Bring the truck around, so's the colonel doesn't have to walk too far." Newkirk nodded and hurried to do as told. When Kinchloe had Hogan out of the vehicle, Margarethe moved in to help support the wounded officer from the other side.
"Col. Hogan?" she said.
"Hmmm...?" Hogan sounded disoriented. Margarethe could tell that he would soon reach his limit. She addressed Kinchloe instead, "Sergeant?"
"Kinchloe, is it?"
Kinchloe nodded, "Yeah? What can I do for you, Sister?"
"Well, for one thing, you can help me put this man to bed. He is close to collapse. I tried to get him to rest earlier, but he was insistent on coming here. Now he wishes to storm Gestapo Headquarters and free your four friends."
"And your problem is--?"
"Sergeant, surely you can see the foolishness of all this. Col. Hogan is much too weak to attempt anything so dangerous."
"And you know this because--?"
"--Because I am a trained nurse, Sergeant. And I know when a patient is close to collapse."
"Nurse?" Kinchloe echoed. "I thought you were a nun?" Margarethe opened her mouth to reply, but she was beat to the punch by Hogan.
"Some nuns are nurses, too, Kinch," Hogan murmured. "And teachers...and angels..." he added, eyes closed. He leaned heavily on Margarethe, resting his head on her shoulder. "...smell nice, too..."
Kinchloe was taken aback. Hogan's words and actions were that of a man slipping into delirium.
"I guess you're right, ma'am," he said apologetically, trying to take Hogan's weight off her. "We do need to get the colonel back to base."
Obviously struggling under Hogan's mass, Margarethe smiled tolerantly. "That is quite all right, Sergeant," she said softly. "I do not mind. In fact, I am beginning to grow quite used to your colonel using me as a headrest." At Kinchloe's surprised expression, she chuckled in secret amusement.
"Kinch!" Newkirk came running up. "The bloody truck won't start." He glanced at Margarethe. "Beggin' your pardon, Sister."
Kinchloe sighed. They'd had problems with the motorpool vehicle when they left Stalag 13. Its breaking down was not unexpected. "Swell!"
"Sergeant?" Margarethe began, pointing at the church caretaker's truck. "Perhaps I might be of help...?"
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0300hrs local]
A block from Gestapo Headquarters, Wurzburg, Germany
"I have been inside the Rathaus," Margarethe said. "Before the war, it served as the district courthouse. As I recall, it has a holding cell in the sub-basement for those who were about to face the local magistrate." Her expression took on a faraway look.
"My parents used to bring me here for the Wurzburg Annual Winefest. See the ornate fountain out front?"
"On special occasions, the Buergermeisters would pump wine from it in celebration. It was a time for singing, picnics, family and friends." She smiled in remembrance.
"My best friend, Katrina and I once discovered a tunnel that ran from behind the maintenance building to the River Mainz. It was little more than a culvert for rain runoff, but to a child it was a grand adventure."
"Those were happier times. Now, all we have left to remind us of those days is on the building's outer facade. You can still make out the image of a green tree, which symbolizes justice."
"Justice! What a laugh!" Kinchloe snorted. "The Gestapo and justice don't exactly go together."
"Yes...the days of justice in my homeland are long gone. But perhaps some day..." she murmured.
"Some day, they'll return," Hogan said. He'd been sitting between Kinchloe and Margarethe, his head propped against her shoulder. He sat up slowly, groaning softly. "You have to believe that, Sister." Margarethe smiled at him in gratitude. "By the way, what are you doing here?" he asked, glaring at her.
He heard a sharp intake of breath from her, and cringing waited for the expected explosion. Before Margarethe could respond, Kinchloe came to her defense, and inadvertently to Hogan's rescue.
"Sir, it's my fault. Our truck wouldn't start. I had Newkirk dump it into a steep ravine to hide it. The Sister here--"
"--The Sister here," Margarethe huffed, "offered the use of our church caretaker's truck. Not that it would make much difference to you, Colonel!"
Hogan opened his mouth to retort, but once again, Kinchloe spoke first, this time bringing the conversation back to the mission. "Sir...I don't see how we'll be able to go in and take them out. It's too dangerous. The place is crawling with Krauts." He glanced at Margarethe. "Umm...no offense, ma'am." Margarethe's eyes crinkled in amusement.
Hogan nodded, tiredly. "You're right, Kinch. We're not exactly set up to storm Gestapo Headquarters."
"So, what will you do?" Margarethe asked. Hogan leaned his head until it was against the backrest. Eyes half-closed, he grinned slightly.
"Well...if we can't go in and get them out, then we'll just have to let the Gestapo bring them to us."
"Oh, bloody charming, Kinch," Newkirk muttered under his breath. He'd been listening intently from the rear. "The guv'nor's out of his bloomin' head. Must be suffering from a severe case of loss of blood."
"Can it, Newkirk!" Hogan's eyes snapped opened. He flashed the RAF Corporal a look that made his lucidness all too clear. "Or you'll be suffering from a severe kick in the pants."
"As I was sayin', sir," Newkirk said soothingly. "I believe that this could possibly be your most brilliant plan yet! Whatever it is!"
Hogan rolled his eyes but didn't take the bait. "Kinch, if I remember my map of the area, there's a river crossing less than a klick to our west."
"Yes!" Margarethe said excitedly. "This street leads directly to the Alte Mainbrucke. It is the sole crossing of the River Mainz for several kilometers, or klicks, as you say, since the Allied bombs took out the other bridges in the city."
Hogan grinned. "If I recall, the closest crossings are further south near Ochsenfurt and north near Hammelburg." At Margarethe's nod, he brought his hand thoughtfully to his chin. "I'm beginning to like this plan more and more." He turned to Kinchloe. "Did you transfer your wiretapping equipment from the other truck?"
"Good. Newkirk, you remember Carter's instructions?"
"On how to properly wire a bridge?" Newkirk asked, insulted. "Of course, I do, sir! Anything Carter can do, I can do--!"
"Then let's get to work."
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0346hrs local]
West bank of the River Mainz, Wurzburg, Germany
Hogan studied the picturesque, cobblestone bridge through his field glasses. Despite the icy temperatures, he felt flushed and had to blink a few times to clear his blurring vision. Wiping his eyes on his sleeve, he turned back to the job at hand.
There'll be plenty of time to crawl into your bunk later, Colonel! he groused to himself. Or, at least, into a hole somewhere.
They were parked a hundred meters from the river's edge in the shadow of a beautiful schloss, which sat atop a steep, vine-covered hill.
The bridge was little more than a footbridge. It had been barely wide enough for their small, weather-beaten truck to make it across. Yet, because it was the only bridge in the area, the local authorities had been forced to open it to vehicular traffic.
"If they fall for it," Hogan muttered, "they'll have to come through there. Newkirk, you know what to do."
"Right-o, sir!" Newkirk said, and took off.
"Kinch? Ready?" Hogan called softly, looking up. Kinchloe waved from the top of the telephone pole. He had his headsets on and was busy cutting and splicing wire.
"Do you really believe this will work?" Margarethe asked. "It seems so--reckless!"
Hogan shrugged, eyes unreadable in the shadows. "There's always some element of risk in any military operation. We're all volunteers here, and we all know the score." Realizing that he was still wearing Father Schumacher's ornate crucifix, he took it off and handed it to her.
"Here. Before I forget." Hogan took her hand, and solemnly placed the beautiful religious icon in her open palm. Gently, he enclosed her hand with both of his. "Keep it safe. Just in case."
"Thank you," Margarethe said gratefully. Glancing up to where Kinchloe was working intently, she shook her head. "I don't understand, Colonel. What exactly are you and your men doing here in the middle of Germany? Are you OSS? Escaped prisoners of war?"
"We're blowing up a bridge," Hogan said lightly. "What's there to understand?" While he talked, he kept his field glasses trained on Newkirk. At last, the Englishman waved, the signal that he was done.
"Kinch!" Hogan called. "Now!"
Kinchloe nodded, and head down, went to work. A few minutes later, he grinned at Hogan and gave him a thumbs up. From the ground, Hogan could hear his senior NCO's side of the conversation. It didn't take too much imagination to figure out what was being said on the other side.
"~This is Major Kinchmacher from Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin. With whom am I speaking?~" Kinchloe paused to listen. "~Ah, very well, Major Tischler. We understand that you have taken into custody four members of the German Underground?~" He paused.
"~That is good work! Congratulations. Col. Feldcamp requests that they be immediately transported to Berlin for interrogation!~" He paused.
"~What? I do not care about your incompetent methods of interrogation! Col. Feldcamp is on Herr Himmler's personal staff and is in charge of all interrogations of captured members of the Underground! Major Tischler, unless you wish to find yourself on the other end of one of Col. Feldcamp's special sessions, then I suggest you--~"
He stopped, listening. Suddenly, his face lit into a grin.
"~Yes...tonight! Right now, in fact. If you leave now, you should be in Berlin by eight this morning!~" He paused again. "Yes, yes, yes. Heil Hitler!~"
Disconnecting, he nodded down at Hogan and flashed him an 'Okay' sign. As soon as he was back on the ground, Newkirk joined them, and they hurried to take up their positions.
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0430hrs local]
West bank of the River Mainz, Wurzburg, Germany
The medium-sized truck was preceded and trailed by a motorcycle escort. "Here they come!" Hogan muttered. "Newkirk, stand by on the detonators...Kinch, we'll wait until they're alongside us."
"Yes, sir!" they said simultaneously. The three men pulled down full-face masks.
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0432hrs local]
West bank of the River Mainz, Wurzburg, Germany
From where she waited in the truck over a hundred meters away, Margarethe watched tensely. This is crazy! She thought, close to panic. I cannot believe that they are going through with such insanity! They will never get away with it!
The next thing she knew, the quiet of the moonlit night reverberated with several earsplitting explosions and the staccato of automatic weapons fire. Quickly climbing out of the truck, she looked back, stunned by the show of pyrotechnics.
What was left of the bridge was on fire. The truck from the Gestapo was clearly outlined on this side of the river by the blazing illumination. Several dark shadows were running around in a state of panic. Gunfire rang sporadically in the night.
She heard a high-pitched shriek, closely followed by a loud explosion and two figures falling over. They did not get up again. Meanwhile, several more shadows stood stock still, their hands held high. In the background, the distinctive wail of the air raid alarm sounded its lonely cry.
She heard angry shouts from across the river. Soon a lethal stream of automatic gunfire began spitting out death and destruction from the other side of the now destroyed bridge. The figures on this side moved in low crouches, returning fire.
She saw them jump onto the truck, and tires screeching, start towards her. One of the men was hanging from the passenger side window providing covering fire. Margarethe clapped her own hands to her mouth to keep from screaming out loud. She could not discern the identity of the victors--Hogan and his men, or the Gestapo?
All of a sudden, three powerful explosions rocked the scenic walkway on the opposite bank. Margarethe's heart lurched, and she let out a short scream. At the same time, several enemy soldiers were blown clear into the fast-moving waters of the River Mainz below.
As the truck rapidly approached her position, Margarethe stood uncertainly, debating whether or not she should run. "No!" she swore fiercely. If her friends were captured, then she would have to help them.
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0443hrs local]
West bank of the River Mainz, Wurzburg, Germany
By the time Hogan jumped out of the passenger side window and held the door open for her, Margarethe thought she'd aged ten years. Before she could say anything, he fired a long burst over her head. Automatically, she ducked and clapped her hands over her ears, screaming in terror.
She saw that he'd been aiming for the caretaker's truck gas tank but nothing happened. He swore under his breath and then grabbed her by the collar.
"Quick! Get in!" he ordered, practically throwing her inside the cab of the Gestapo truck. At the same time, he called to Newkirk and pointed at the caretaker's old truck. "We need to blow it!" he yelled. "We can't leave any evidence for the Gestapo to find!"
Nodding, Newkirk ran towards it, slapping something against the gas tank and dashed back. As soon as Newkirk was a safe distance away, Hogan fired a burst at the truck. Instantly, it went up in a blinding flash, and Hogan vaulted through the open passenger side window.
Kinchloe pressed his foot down hard on the gas pedal, and they roared off into the night. Hogan took up a shotgun position, hanging from the open window, firing continuously. Margarethe could hear more automatic fire coming from the back of the truck. Newkirk, she surmised.
Finally, when it appeared that they were home free, Hogan slid into the cab and collapsed on the seat next to her...
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0515hrs local]
Outside LuftStalag 13
"But I do not understand...a prison camp?" Margarethe looked aghast. "You broke out of the camp, and now you are breaking back in?"
"Oh, it doesn't like much," Hogan quipped, "but it's home." He climbed out of the cab and turned to her. "Sister Margarethe, it's been...interesting to say the least. If there's anything you or the orphanage ever needs--"
"Col. Hogan, please...before we say good-bye, I must--"
"Colonel! It's getting close to roll call," Kinchloe interrupted. "And you know what happens then!"
"Blimey, he's right, Colonel," Newkirk piped up. "Ol' Klink always doubles the guards just in case anyone's missing!"
Hogan turned to the Underground leaders. "Gentlemen, if you wish, we can make arrangements to have you sent back to London. It's up to you." He was answered with four headshakes.
"Thank you, Col. Hogan, but no. Our place is here. Thankfully our families are safe, which frees us all to continue our work." They each shook hands in turn with Hogan, Kinchloe and Newkirk. "Until we meet again, Col. Hogan. Auf Weidersehen."
Hogan nodded. "By the way, would you gentlemen mind returning Sister Margarethe to St. Johanniskirche?"
"It would be our pleasure. This is a small enough payment, Sister, for what you have done tonight."
"Thank you," she said softly. The Underground leaders waved farewell and hurried to the truck. She turned to Hogan and his men. "Sgt. Kinchloe, Cpl. Newkirk, it has been a most exciting evening. I do not know when I have been more frightened in my life."
She laughed softly at their abashed looks. "But I thank you for everything. You were both wonderful." She stood on tiptoe and kissed each one on the cheek in turn. Both men ducked their heads in embarrassment. Next, she faced Hogan.
"And as for you, Colonel," she began. "Never in my life have I met a more exasperating man. You look like you are about to fall in a heap, and yet you blow up a bridge and rescue four men from the Gestapo, no less. Then you ride on the outside of the cab of the truck like some cowboy from the American cinema."
"Oh, yeah?" Hogan retorted. "Well, you're not exactly my idea of a nun. Always shouting orders, pushing people around, and threatening them with loaded guns!" Snapping his fingers, he pointed at her, reproachfully. "And wearing perfume! What kind of a nun are you anyway?"
"I am no kind of nun," Margarethe said calmly.
"I mean," Hogan continued, ignoring her, pacing and waving his good arm, "if I wanted to get pushed around by a woman, I'd get married!" Stopping suddenly, he whirled around. "What did you say?"
"I said, that I am not a nun."
Hogan spluttered. "But--? You--!? I mean--you're Sister Margarethe!" This last sounded like an accusation.
Margarethe smiled. "I told you that I took my schooling in Cambridge before the war?" Hogan nodded. "I also spent my first two years as a nurse in Christ's Hospital. And the English address their nurses as--"
"--'Sister'!" Hogan finished, crossing his arms and wincing at the sudden pain from his left shoulder.
Margarethe nodded. "That is correct," she said. He gave her a sour look.
"The children at the St. Johanniskirche orphanage were already used to addressing the religious staff as 'Sister,' so when I reported for work in the infirmary, it was only natural that they addressed me as such. I'm afraid that the title stuck."
Hogan stared at her, dark eyes registering his anger.
"Well? What do you have to say?" she asked, sounding annoyed.
"This!" With that, Hogan grabbed her, and taking her into his arms, kissed her long, hard and deep. After an eternity, Hogan dimly heard Kinchloe's voice reminding him of his duty.
"Uh...um...Colonel...?" Kinchloe cleared his throat, embarrassed. "Um...sir? It's, um, uh, time, sir. We gotta go."
Reluctantly, Hogan and Margarethe broke apart. Dark brown eyes smiled gently down at sad gray ones.
"I guess this is good-bye, Sister," he said softly.
"No, it is not good-bye, my colonel," she whispered. "It is Auf Weidersehen." Hogan walked her to the truck, and opening the door for her, he leaned down and kissed her one last time.
"Auf Weidersehen, Sister Margarethe."
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0515hrs local]
Main Tunnel under Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
Agitated, LeBeau paced. He checked his watch, and then paced some more. It was almost time for morning formation. Where are they? He stopped pacing momentarily and listened.
What could have happened to them?
He remembered his first reconnaissance mission. He and Carter were late getting back and had just barely made it in time for roll call. The look of utter relief on Col. Hogan's face had been worth the harrowing ordeal, and LeBeau had boldly teased his Commanding Officer for worrying like a mother hen.
And now I know how he felt, he admitted. Helpless.
Footsteps descending the ladder announced that Carter was coming down. "Louis? Are they here, yet?" Carter asked anxiously.
"Non, they are not," the small Frenchman answered with a shake of his head.
"You think that maybe--?" Carter didn't finish.
"I do not know what to think, mon ami," LeBeau said sharply. "Except that it is almost time for roll call, and we must have a story ready for the Krauts."
Carter nodded unhappily. "I guess so." He scuffed the toe of his boot in the tunnel's dirt floor. "You don't suppose--?" Again Carter didn't finish, but this time it wasn't LeBeau who cut him off but rather the familiar sound, dim at first, then growing louder, of pounding footsteps echoing from the emergency tunnel entrance.
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0520hrs local]
Main Tunnel under Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
"Colonel! Kinch! Newkirk!" Carter called excitedly. He ran up to them, and pounded them on their backs, too happy to see them to bother hiding his emotions. "Boy, am I glad to see you guys!" Not noticing Hogan's sudden wince of pain when he thumped on him on his hurt shoulder, Carter quickly amended his jubilant greeting, "Um, I mean, it sure is great to see you again, sir."
Noting his C.O.'s clerical collar, he did a double take and added, confused, "Uh--I mean, um...Father?"
Hogan shook his head and rolled his eyes. He was too exhausted to come up with a snappy response, so he settled on the truth, instead. "Glad to be here, too, Carter. It's been a long night." Hogan's usually pleasant features looked withdrawn, his mouth pinched in pain. Kinchloe and Newkirk were immediately at his side.
"Colonel, sir," Newkirk complained. "I hate to keep sounding like a broken record, but you need to lie down."
"I'm fine, Mother," Hogan growled, shrugging off their concerned looks. He fought against the constant feeling of lightheadedness. Newkirk was right. He did need to lie down, but he'd be damned if he'd give in to any weakness. He thought of Margarethe, and allowed himself a small smile. Removing the priestly garments, he began to dress in his uniform.
Exchanging surreptitious glances, the others gave him his space.
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0705hrs local]
Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
Newkirk studied his Solitaire hand. A long, thin trail of smoke from a forgotten cigarette wended its way from the ashtray to his eyes. Irritated, he waved his hand in front of his face to dispel the smoke. Reaching across the table, he picked up the cigarette and took a long drag from it.
Exhaling, he blew out a double stream of smoke from his nostrils and stubbed out the cigarette. His mind only half on the game, he placed the Jack of Clubs on the Queen of Hearts.
He glanced across the room at the closed door leading to Hogan's quarters. It had taken some subtle maneuvering, but finally the enlisted men had managed to get their stubborn Commanding Officer to bed.
He turned a card--Nine of Diamonds. He immediately placed it on the Ten of Spades.
Newkirk grinned. I've gotta hand it to the colonel, he thought. He might be a bleedin' officer and a Yank to boot, but he's a bit of awright.
Turning another card, he scowled. The Seven of Clubs. About to place it on the discard pile, his eyes took on a sudden glint. Looking left and right, he saw that no one was paying any attention to him. Smirking, he placed the Seven of Clubs on the Eight of Spades, and then quickly covered the Seven with the Six of Hearts.
I always say that a little bit of cheatin' in Solitaire only serves to spice up a right boring game. Besides, a lad's gotta keep his hand in, eh, Peter?
Abruptly, his smirk faded. Fingertips still on the Six of Hearts, Newkirk thought pensively about the unexpected raid by the Gestapo that resulted in Hogan being wounded. It brought home the extreme danger that the Allied prisoners placed themselves in each time they left camp.
You knew that when you volunteered, he reminded himself. But you did it anyway. Buggeration! What will the lads back home say if they ever find out ol' nimble-fingered Newkirk is actually takin' orders from a Yank colonel?
He stared unseeingly at the cards lying before him. His thoughts were with his Commanding Officer, who though wounded, had come through with a simple and daring plan that had ensured the safe rescue of the captured Underground leaders.
Not one to openly admire others--especially those in authority--in a rare moment of insight, Newkirk admitted that Hogan was one of the bravest men he'd ever met.
He's the kind of man all the lads dream of growing up to be one day...and the kind all men wish they were.
Looking down at his Solitaire hand, Newkirk smiled to himself, and shrugging picked up the cards and reshuffled.
Wonder what the lads back home would say if they found out that I've even followed some of his bloomin' orders?
He was startled out of his musings when the bunk that camouflaged the main tunnel entrance abruptly opened. Kinchloe's head appeared at the same time. Climbing out, he quickly slapped the bunk's frame, and the trapdoor instantly closed. The radioman's grim expression immediately caught Newkirk's eye.
"What is it, Kinch?" the RAF corporal asked worriedly.
"Message from the local Underground. And it's bad. Gotta tell the colonel right now."
"But you saw the colonel!" Carter protested, instantly jumping from the upper bunk and blocking Kinchloe's way. "He's dead on his feet. Whatever it is, can't we handle it?"
LeBeau, who'd hurried up to see what was going on, nodded vigorously. "Carter is right, Kinch. Why can we not handle this and allow the Colonel to rest?"
Kinchloe momentarily considered their suggestion, and then rejected it out of hand.
"No! The colonel's gotta make the decision." Again, he started towards Hogan's quarters, but Carter blocked his way once more.
"Kinch, maybe if you told us what the problem was we could come up with an idea?" he asked earnestly. Kinchloe scowled at the young sergeant and was about to snap at him, when he saw Carter's sincere worry. Taking a deep breath, Kinchloe nodded slowly.
"The Underground reports that the nuns and orphans from St. Johanniskirche have been taken by the Gestapo--"
Newkirk's breath hissed in shock. "Sister Margarethe?" he asked.
Kinchloe nodded. "She had just been dropped off by the Underground leaders when the arrests were made. They were taken less than an hour ago." He looked at each man in turn, his expression bleak.
"Now you see why the colonel has to be told?"
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0715hrs local]
Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
Hogan leaned against the small window in his quarters that overlooked the main compound. He clutched the message that Kinchloe had given him and reread it. Again.
Margarethe in the hands of the Gestapo! And Mother Bernadette and the children.
"Why?" he muttered half to himself. "I don't understand. Why now? Did someone sell them out?"
Did the Gestapo suspect that they were hiding Jewish children? For that was Hogan's own conclusion from his discussion with Margarethe earlier that evening.
He turned to Kinchloe not really expecting an answer. The radioman met his eyes, and then looked guiltily away. Kinchloe's expression piqued Hogan's attention.
"What is it?" he asked.
His back to his C.O., Kinchloe shook his head. Hogan immediately walked up behind him, grabbed him by the shoulder and spun him around. "I asked you a question, Sergeant!" he snapped. "You know something! Now spill!"
Kinchloe nodded, his expression filled with remorse. "According to the Underground, the Gestapo found a large, ornate crucifix lying near the bridge. Major Tischler traced it back to--"
"--He traced it back to St. Johanniskirche...and to me," Hogan said flatly. His jaw line hardening, he stood to his full height and without another word, headed towards the tunnel.
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0730hrs local]
Main Tunnel under Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
Hogan struggled into the uniform of an Abwehr officer, a colonel. He heard the others coming up behind him. Without turning around, he said curtly, "There's no love lost between the Abwehr and the Gestapo. I'll go in and--"
"--You mean, we'll go in, eh, sir?" Newkirk asked.
Hogan turned around and stopped. He pinned Newkirk and the others with a pair of tired, bloodshot, and very angry eyes. The four men were also dressed in Abwehr uniforms. Hogan felt his blood pressure rising to the boiling point. He knew that he was in a foul mood, which was only exacerbated by the still gnawing ache from his shoulder.
He did not need this.
"Absolutely not!" he snapped. "This mission is of a purely personal nature and of no military value whatsoever to the war effort. London will never authorize it! And neither will I."
He pointed at Newkirk: "So--" Then at LeBeau: "--you--" Next at Carter: "--stay--" And finally at Kinchloe: "--here!"
"Sorry, sir," Newkirk said shaking his head. "But this is one time that we're afraid we'll have to overrule you." At Hogan's thunderous expression, he swallowed and took an involuntary step back.
"Corporal, the next words you're going to hear from me are Court Martial," Hogan spat out.
"Colonel, we're all volunteers here," Kinchloe said quietly. Hogan whirled on him. "And we're volunteering to do this with you. You know that you'd never make it alone, sir." He met Hogan's dark eyes calmly. "Besides, like you said...it's personal."
After a long moment, Kinchloe saw the corner of Hogan's mouth twitch slightly. "Et tu, Brute?" Kinchloe flashed him a smile in return.
"What's a 'Bru-tay'?" Carter asked. Newkirk and LeBeau rolled their eyes.
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0750hrs local]
Main Tunnel under Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
Kinchloe listened intently into his headsets, nodding occasionally, writing rapidly in his shorthand.
"Pied Piper, this is Goldilocks. We copy. Over and out." Looking up at Hogan, he tore out the communique and handed it to him. "Everything we asked for, sir. They're as anxious to get the sisters and the kids out of harms way as we are."
Hogan nodded, his eyes hooded. "This is turning into a regular donnybrook," he grumbled. "If anything should go wrong..." He didn't finish. Looking up, he held Kinchloe's eyes momentarily. "I want Baker fully briefed. If we don't return--"
"He knows what to do, sir," Kinchloe said quietly.
Sighing, Hogan nodded and jerked his head in the direction of the emergency tunnel.
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0850hrs local]
Alte Mainbrucke Strasse, Wurzburg
Hogan checked his watch. 08:50. There was no leeway for error. They had to rescue the prisoners, turn them over to the Underground, and make it back in time for noon roll call.
Piece o' cake, Colonel!
He stood across from the Rathaus, holding a newspaper. The headlines proclaimed victories on the Eastern Front and North Africa. He rolled his eyes.
Somebody better inform Allied High Command that we're losing the war.
He glanced around the bustling, cobblestoned street. It was comprised of half-timbered shops with gingerbread roofs. Again, he was struck by the almost folktale setting. He half-expected the Pied Piper to come skipping down the street followed by singing children and dancing mice.
A movement from across the street caught his eye. The black, red, and white flag that had been hanging limply from the flagpole crisply fluttered in the sudden breeze. A cold hand gripped Hogan. The Nazi Swastika dispelled the odd, nostalgic mood into which he'd temporarily fallen.
A black sedan with Nazi flags protruding from the front bumpers pulled into the Rathaus circular driveway, parking in front. A diminutive soldier dressed in the uniform of the Abwehr stepped out of the driver's side. He immediately walked to the rear and sharply opened the rear passenger door.
The driver saluted stiffly as the passengers--a general officer and his aide--stepped out. The general nodded at the driver without returning his salute. At sight of an Abwehr general officer, the two SS guards posted at the front entrance to the Rathaus snapped to attention.
The general and his aide saluted casually as they passed them. The aide hurriedly opened the door for the general, who walked in without a backward glance. About to follow, the aide looked over his shoulder momentarily, and catching Hogan's eye, nodded.
Hogan folded the newspaper in slow, deliberate movements and placed it under his arm. He glanced towards the meat market's ornate roof where Kinchloe was once again tapping into the local phone system. He flashed Hogan a thumbs up, indicating that he was ready.
Hogan nodded, and then crossed the street. He heard a motor start about a half block away.
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0915hrs local]
Gestapo Headquarters, Wurzburg
"And why was the Abwehr not informed of this capture, Major?"
Tischler stood nervously at attention before the Abwehr general. The general's aide, Major Neukirche, had introduced him as General Karteig, in charge of relocation and interrogation of all persons deemed 'enemies of the state.'
They were speaking in English to avoid any eavesdropping. The general was speaking--or rather screaming--at Tischler.
"As you know, the head of the Abwehr, Admiral Canaris has been authorized by Reich Fuehrer Goebbels to investigate any matter involving the treasonous act of hiding any known enemies of the state!"
"Nein, Herr General!" Tischler responded.
"Wha-aat??!!" Karteig shrieked. "Are you implying that I am lying to you?"
"Nein, Herr General," Tischler stammered. "I-I only meant that I was not aware of any such orders--"
"How long have you been in command here?" Karteig demanded. An insane look had come over the general's blue eyes. Tischler felt his knees turning to jelly. He glanced over at Neukirche, but the general's aide was determinedly studying a spot on the wall.
"F-For s-six months, Herr General," he managed.
"And in that time, you haven't bothered to read Reich Order four-three-seven-nine-two-six slash A-two-B?" Karteig yelled.
Neukirche bit the inside of his mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Carter is layin' it on a bit thick, eh?
Unexpectedly, his eyes fell on a bright, gleaming object lying on Tischler's desk. Glancing askance at the Gestapo major, Neukirche saw that his attention was completely taken by Karteig. Casually brushing his fingertips past Tischler's desk, Neukirche palmed the object and smoothly transferred it to his inside coat pocket.
Tischler, meanwhile, anxiously shook his head. Seeing the insane glint return to Karteig's eyes, he quickly changed it to a desperate nod. His Adam's apple bobbing up and down, he stuttered, "I-I...y-yes, of course, I have, Herr General."
"Oh, really?" Karteig asked silkily. Taking out a folded document from inside his overcoat, he dramatically opened it and held it before him. "Then what, may I ask, does paragraph four, subsection two-C state?"
Tischler swallowed nervously. "Um...S-subsection, um, uh...two-C, mein Herr?" He fingered his collar, suddenly feeling hot and sweaty inside the drafty office.
Karteig whirled towards Neukirche. "Who placed this incompetent in charge here? Make a note, Major Neukirche. To Reich Fuehrer Goebbels! Inform the Reich Fuehrer that the Wurzburg Gestapo office obviously does not take the internal security of the Third Reich seriously. Recommend immediate transfer of its Commanding Officer, Major Tischler, to the Eastern Front!"
"Jahwohl, Herr General!" Neukirche snapped, writing quickly in a small notebook.
"Herr General!" Tischler interrupted, his voice pleading. "Please, sir! I remember now! The Reich Order states unequivocally that--um..."
Tischler stopped, fishing for words that wouldn't come. Karteig disdainfully turned his back on him, giving Neukirche the chance to surreptitiously sidle up to the terrified Gestapo officer.
"--That all 'special' prisoners will be immediately transferred to the authority of the Abwehr," Neukirche supplied quickly under his breath.
"--That all 'special' prisoners will be immediately transferred to the authority of the Abwehr!" Tischler echoed triumphantly. He shot Neukirche a grateful look.
Karteig whirled around, his insane look instantly changing to one of benign kindness. He smiled gently at Tischler.
"That is correct, Herr Major!" he said, pretending not to notice Neukirche stepping away from Tischler's side. "I knew that the Abwehr's good friends, the Gestapo, would not select a moronic simpleton--like that Kommandant of LuftStalag 13--to command such an important field position."
Tischler fairly glowed under the praise. Swallowing nervously, he cleared his throat. "Umm...Herr General...I am required by regulations to clear the prisoner transfer with Berlin--"
At that moment, the phone ringing interrupted them. Tischler jumped to pick it up.
"~Major Tischler speaking. Heil Hitler!~" he said. "~Who? Major Kinchmacher from Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin? Ah, yes, major, I remember that I spoke to you last--~" He stopped, swallowing. "~But--~" he said. "~But--~" He started sweating under the collar again. Catching Neukirche's sympathetic eye, he shook his head in desperation.
"~But we were ambushed, Herr Major! Not a kilometer from the building--~" he stopped. "~The special prisoners, Herr Major?~" he stammered, nodding his head, trying to get a word in edgewise. "~Col. Feldcamp wishes them transported to Berlin--?~"
"~Impossible!~" screamed Karteig. Grabbing the handset from Tischler, he proceeded to shriek into the mouthpiece. "~This is General Karteig of the Abwehr! Who is this!!??~"
His face and neck reddening dangerously, he listened. "~Major Kinchmacher, I'll only say this once--!~"
Major Neukirche moved up to him and spoke sotto voce into his ear. "~General...your blood pressure. Please, you must calm down...~" Karteig looked like was going to explode, but then at the next moment, he nodded and visibly calmed himself.
Turning back to the phone, he spoke in a more moderated tone.
"~Major Kinchmacher, I have only one thing to say to you and Col. Feldcamp. Interfere with the Abwehr's authority over this matter, and I shall take the issue up with the Fuehrer himself. What's more, I will personally lead the firing squad. Do I make myself clear, Herr Major?~"
He listened a moment longer. Smiling a smile that only a rattlesnake might find endearing, he handed the phone back to Tischler.
"~I believe, that you will find Gestapo Headquarters quite cooperative now, Major Tischler,~" he said.
Nodding nervously, Tischler took back the phone. Listening momentarily, he nodded several times, saying "Jahwohl" over and over and then hung up. He looked up at Karteig and snapped to attention.
"Gestapo Headquarters ordered me to fully cooperate with the Abwehr, Herr General."
"Good...good," Karteig said with a smile. Abruptly, his demeanor instantly changed back to maniacal.
"Well? What are you waiting for?" he screeched.
Tischler jumped. He jerked open his door and immediately began shouting out orders. Taking great comfort in the knowledge that his job was secure, for the moment at least, he thoroughly enjoyed making others jump in terror.
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0945hrs local]
Main Hallway, Gestapo Headquarters, Wurzburg
Karteig and Neukirche exchanged unreadable looks. While Tischler's back was to them, they donned full-face masks. Taking out their Lugers from their holsters, they removed the safeties.
Neukirche crossed the main entrance and opened the double doors. This was the signal Hogan had been waiting for. He also donned a full-face mask, and brandishing a semi-automatic Schmeisser with a folding metal stock, jogged up the Rathaus stairs. The faded outline of a green tree could still be made out on the facade of the building.
The tree of justice, Margarethe had called it. Unfortunately, the black shadow cast by the Nazi flag fluttering in the biting breeze was currently swallowing it.
Hogan coldly eyed the two outside guards who'd quickly stiffened at his approach. They each brought their weapons up to bear, blocking the entrance. Hogan halted but he didn't lower his weapon. Instead, he held the Schmeisser almost nonchalantly, his finger resting lightly on the trigger. Neukirche quickly stepped in, allaying the guards' fears.
"~Stand at ease! The colonel is with me!~"
The guards exchanged nervous looks, but slowly lowered their weapons nonetheless. A two-ton truck with military markings pulled up into the Rathaus' circular driveway.
Several armed and masked soldiers in Abwehr uniforms jumped out of the rear of and took up positions around it. Hogan waved at the short driver of the black sedan who was still waiting for Neukirche and Karteig. The driver waved back and climbed into the sedan. He started the motor and pulled out in front of the truck.
Inside the Rathaus, Tischler finally noticed Karteig's mask. "Herr General? I do not understand?"
"These are enemies of the state, Herr Major," Karteig said curtly. "The Abwehr works best anonymously. Many of our operatives work undercover. There is no telling if any of these prisoners might recognize us. It is better that our identities remain secret."
At this moment, the prisoners were escorted in under heavy guard.
Mother Bernadette looked calmly at Major Tischler and the strange masked man. "~Herr Major, is all this really necessary?~" She waved at the armed men. "~Most of these children aren't old enough to read, yet. I assure you that you and your guards are under no danger from them.~"
"Who is this woman?" Karteig screamed. Several of the children immediately started to cry.
"Please! You are frightening the children!" Margarethe protested. She knelt down and picked up a tiny child who looked no older than three.
"I--? I--frighten children? How dare you, Fraulein!" Karteig shrieked. The children began wailing in terror. The little one that Margarethe held, hid her small face in the young woman's shoulder. "Why...I love children!" Karteig eyes were again insane. "There is no one in the Fatherland who loves children more than I--except perhaps the Fuehrer himself!"
"Then why are you doing this?" Bernadette asked. "These children are no one's enemy. It is not their fault that--"
"Of course, it's their fault!" Karteig interrupted. "Whatever it is that makes them enemies of the state--it is no one else's fault but their own!"
They turned to the new voice, an Abwehr colonel. "The truck is ready for the transport of the prisoners."
"Very well, Herr Oberst. Take the prisoners. But be careful--I do not trust that small one. She might be a midget in disguise."
"A midget--!" Margarethe protested. "But that is preposterous--!"
"Of course, Herr General!" The colonel clicked his heels smartly in acknowledgement. "Major Neukirche! Get these dangerous prisoners loaded onto the truck. We have a long way to go!"
"Jahwohl, Herr Oberst!" Neukirche acknowledged.
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//0955hrs local]
Outside Gestapo Headquarters, Wurzburg
The masked soldiers stood mute guard as Neukirche and Hogan loaded the women and children onto the back of the truck. Karteig remained at the top of the stairs, Tischler next to him. When the last child was lifted onboard, Karteig casually re-holstered his weapon.
"Another victory for the Fatherland, Herr Major," he said. "These criminals shall be taken to a special place where they will no longer be a danger to the Third Reich." His cold eyes smiled under the hooded mask, sending a shiver through Tischler.
"The Abwehr has had plenty of practice in erasing the existence of dangerous enemies everywhere. I assure you...these midgets will never grow up to raise a weapon against the glorious Reich."
He snapped out a stiff-armed salute. "Heil Hitler!"
"Heil Hitler!" Tischler returned.
Karteig marched stiffly to his waiting car. The driver stood by the rear passenger door. As soon as Karteig climbed inside, the driver shut the door and quickly slid in behind the wheel. The black sedan pulled out of the Rathaus' circular driveway, followed by the truck.
As the vehicles disappeared into the distance, Tischler finally released the breath that he'd been unconsciously holding.
[Monday 23 NOV 1942//1035hrs local]
Forest outside Hammelburg, Germany
The truck slowed to a stop. Margarethe comforted the still-whimpering children. She was more frightened now than when the Gestapo had taken them into custody. She thought of that horrible man, Karteig and how he'd deliberately terrorized the already frightened children.
She looked towards Mother Bernadette. The Mother Superior was rocking an inconsolable child in her arms, murmuring the Hail Mary over and over. The other nuns were also doing their best to comfort the terrified children.
As soon as the truck stopped, the guards that had accompanied them lowered the tailgate and jumped out. Margarethe saw that they had pulled into a deep, wooded forest. Fear clutched her throat. Would this be the end?
Margarethe and Bernadette exchanged looks. Bernadette regarded her calmly.
"~Have faith, my child,~" she murmured. "~Trust in God. Whatever happens, it is His will.~"
Margarethe raised her chin proudly and gave Bernadette a brave smile.
"~Everybody that's an 'enemy of the state' get out!~" an amused voice shouted. Margarethe paused. That voice! So familiar! But it couldn't be--could it? She exchanged a hopeful look with Bernadette and then quickly made her way towards the tailgate.
She was greeted by several unmasked Abwehr soldiers wearing huge smiles. Among them stood Newkirk, Kinchloe, and Hogan.
Instantly, her joy turned to anger, and she jumped to the ground, her eyes blazing.
"How dare you! How dare you not tell us before now! You frightened the children! You frightened Mother Bernadette and the other sisters. You even frightened me! How could you? What kind of men are you, anyway?"
She spotted Carter, wearing a general officer's uniform, and whirled on him. "And you!" she hissed, pointing her finger accusingly. "You are the worst of all! You deliberately took pleasure in making the small children cry!"
Carter withstood the onslaught, eyes downcast, his expression miserable.
"You are worse than the Gestapo--" she began.
"Margarethe!" Hogan's sharp voice cut in. She turned on him, her anger fueled by the fear she'd been put through and the betrayal she'd felt at his hands.
"How could you?" she whispered. She looked at the point of collapse. Hogan grabbed her immediately. "How could you?" She leaned her forehead on his chest and sobbed quietly.
"I'm sorry," he said fiercely, holding her closely. "But it was necessary--"
"Sir?!" Kinchloe interrupted. "We have to hurry!" Hogan nodded and jerked his head in the direction of the children. The men were quickly offloading them from the back of the truck onto an excursion autobus.
"Margarethe, I'm sorry we frightened you and the others, but we had to," he said. "You never would have been released if we hadn't been able to 'out-Gestapo' the Gestapo."
"But once we were safely away?" she demanded tearfully. "Why not then?"
"Because we couldn't risk being stopped at any checkpoints, and the children accidentally revealing that we were their friends. We had to keep up the charade until we were sure that it was safe to reveal who we were."
He released her slightly, looking longingly at her. "Believe me...I am more sorry than words can say. We all are." He indicated Carter who stood, shoulders slumped, the picture of pure misery.
Feeling guilty for what Carter must have been going through, Margarethe walked up to him. Touching his arm lightly, she startled him out his gloom.
"Please...?" she said softly. "We have not been properly introduced. I am Margarethe Wunderling. And you are--?"
Carter instantly turned scarlet from his neck to the tips of his ears. Stammering, he tried to answer. "Uh...My, um, name, uh...is, um, Carter, ma'am," he managed shyly. Margarethe smiled.
"Thank you, Carter," she said, standing on tiptoe and pecking him on the cheek. "For everything." Deeply embarrassed, Carter looked everywhere but at her, too tongue-tied to respond.
Mother Bernadette walked up to them at that moment. Or at least, Margarethe thought it was the Mother Superior. Margarethe stared at the apparition.
She looked like Mother Bernadette. She held the small child, whom Gen. Karteig had terrorized, in the same comforting manner of Mother Bernadette. She spoke in Mother Bernadette's soothing tones.
The only problem was that she was not dressed in Mother Bernadette's traditional black and white habit. In fact, she was dressed in an outfit that Margarethe would never in her life have expected to see the Mother Superior wearing--that of a Hitler Youth Leader.
Bernadette looked almost as embarrassed as Carter had been by Margarethe's kiss. "Col. Hogan," she began, bewildered. "I do not understand the necessity for this charade. Why must I and the other sisters wear this abomination?" She indicated the uniform.
Hogan was about to answer, when Margarethe cried out in shock, "Col. Hogan! Is this some kind of joke? I will not wear such a monstrosity!"
"Oh, yes, you will--!" he began, but was interrupted by Carter, who was pointing excitedly at the little girl.
"Hey! Isn't that the midget--?" the young sergeant asked. Bright blue eyes animated, he stepped up to Bernadette, and holding out his hands, he gently pried the squirming, wide-eyed tyke from her. "Why, you're just as cute as a button," he crooned softly.
The little girl continued to struggle in his arms. "Y'know," Carter said, a smile lighting his features, "I have a little cousin not much older'n you. What's your name?"
Carter's gentle approach and soothing tones finally calmed the child's fears. She solemnly gazed back at him, fascinated. Curiously, she tweaked his nose with stubby fingers and laughed delightedly when Carter made a funny face. He looked up at Bernadette.
"Beggin' your pardon, ma'am, but what's her name?" He rubbed the little girl's nose with his own.
"Ilse," Bernadette said warmly, running a finger down the child's apricot cheek. However, Carter and the Ilse had eyes only for each other. Smiling, she held her hand gently over both their heads in silent blessing.
"Ilse," Carter repeated. "Ilse..."
"Col. Hogan!" Kinchloe called from the bus. "It's time, sir!"
Hogan nodded his acknowledgement.
"Mother Bernadette, Margarethe," he said quietly, "I'm sorry, but the uniforms are necessary--"
"But they stand for everything we oppose!" Margarethe protested. "We cannot--!"
"Margarethe!" Bernadette said sharply. Margarethe looked at her, startled. Bernadette walked solemnly up to Hogan and placed her hand on his arm. "Can you suppose that our good colonel here and his men relish wearing these uniforms?" She whirled on the young woman.
"Do you think that mere clothing makes the person underneath it? We must each play several roles in our lifetime, my dear child. Today, we are called upon to do this...not for ourselves, but for the children."
Margarethe bowed her head in shame. "Forgive me, Mother," she said sincerely. "I spoke out of turn."
Smiling, Bernadette turned to Hogan. "Vulpem pilum mutat, non mores, eh, Colonel?"
Hogan grinned. "Yes, but in your case, Mother, it's not the fox wearing a new fur, but the lamb donning wolf's clothing." Catching Kinchloe's anxious eye, he started heading them towards the bus.
"This bus will take you on to Heidelberg," he told them. "You and the others are on a school excursion as part of a Hitler Youth rally. You'll find enough armbands and uniforms on the bus. I'm sorry, but you'll have to pretend you're fanatic Hitler Youth leaders for a couple of days." He grinned slightly. "How's your 'Heil Hitler'?"
Putting on a serious face, Margarethe held her arm out stiffly, and clearing her throat cried out, "Heil Hitler!"
Hogan shook his head. "Maybe you'd better practice a little," he said, warm brown eyes smiling down at her. Taking a deep breath, he continued, "The bus driver and two male 'teachers' who will accompany you are members of the German Underground."
When they reached the bus, Bernadette turned to Hogan. She indicated that he bow his head slightly. When he did so, the Mother Superior laid her hands lightly on his head, and recited a short blessing. "May the Lord watch over you and keep you safe. Amen."
Then, placing her hands tenderly on either side of his face, she pulled him down to her, and gave him a motherly kiss on the forehead. With that, Bernadette climbed on board the bus.
Hogan turned back to Margarethe, who waited mutely. He gave her a quick rundown on what they were to expect.
"When you get to Heidelberg you will board a Rhine River cruise liner for a day trip. The boat will make an unscheduled stop in Strasbourg, where you will be met by members of the French Underground. They will escort you south across the border into Switzerland. Arrangements have already been made to have you transported on to England from there."
He caressed her upturned cheek.
"Do you have any questions?" he asked softly. She shook her head, a single tear trailing down her cheek. He leaned down and kissed her gently, their lips barely touching. An embarrassed throat being cleared interrupted them.
"Beggin' the Colonel's pardon," Newkirk began awkwardly. Clearing his own throat, Hogan straightened and gave the RAF corporal a questioning look. "Sister?" Newkirk said. "I believe that I have something that belongs to you."
He reached inside his overcoat and held his hand out, opening it slowly. The morning sunlight gleamed on a bright object, revealing its many faceted semi-precious stones on a gold setting.
"Father Schumacher's crucifix!" Margarethe cried. Hands shaking, she took the beautiful icon from Newkirk. "Where--? How--?" she asked.
Newkirk smiled slightly, his usual smirk absent. "Well, Sister...we all have our gifts. Let's just say that a magician never reveals his tricks!" He glanced over at Hogan, who gave him a short nod of approval, and he suddenly felt his chest swell with pride. Newkirk quickly excused himself, leaving Hogan and Margarethe alone.
Feeling the preciousness of the moment, Hogan gently touched her face, his fingers feather soft. His warm eyes looked in hers with sad regret. Knowing that it was time, he finally spoke. "I guess this is good-bye--"
"No--!" she said fiercely, burying her face in his chest. "No, not good-bye!" She looked up at him, her tear-filled eyes momentarily alighting in a smile. Reaching behind her neck, she removed the simple, gold crucifix that she always wore and placed it on his open palm. Before he could protest, she firmly enclosed his hand over it.
"Keep it safe for me until after the war. And do not worry. You shall not need to look for me. If it is His will, I shall find you." She stood on tiptoe and caressed his cheek with a light kiss.
"So you see, my colonel...This is not good-bye. It is Auf Weidersehen."
[Thursday 26 NOV 1942//1230hrs local]
Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
Hogan sat on his bunk, staring, unseeing at the orders from London. He was supposed to reconnoiter a new factory that was going up halfway between Hammelburg and Frankfurt am Main.
His orders were to blow it up if the factory was manufacturing a new-improved rocket fuel, which would give the German V-1 rockets an increased range--perhaps as far as Wales and Northern Ireland. Intelligence believed that the new fuel mixture was the first step in the development of the next generation of rockets, the V-2.
Destroying the factory could set back German rocket research and development by several months, perhaps years.
No rest for the weary, he thought glumly.
Today was Thanksgiving Day, his first as a prisoner of war. He thought of his mother and father, having to spend this day with both their sons gone.
Some day of thanks for the folks, he thought bitterly. Ryan, killed at Pearl Harbor. And me, a POW. An unpleasant thought occurred to him. What if they haven't yet received word of my capture? What if they think I'm dead--that they've lost two sons to this lousy war? What'll that do to Mom?
Suddenly feeling restless, he stood and walked to the window. He patted his pockets uselessly for a cigarette. He remembered that he'd given them up a little over a week ago, preferring the challenge of commandeering some of Klink's private stash of cigars, instead.
And what do you have to be thankful for, Colonel? he asked himself. He watched a lively one-on-one game of basketball between Olsen and Baker. Both men were excellent athletes and neither seemed to be able to find a weakness in the other. Newkirk called out 'helpful' suggestions from the sidelines, while Carter stood quietly next to him, simply enjoying the company of others.
In the short time since his arrival at LuftStalag 13, Hogan and his men had set up one of the most outrageous behind-the-lines covert operations of the war. With the full blessing of Allied High Command, Hogan's Heroes were quickly gaining notoriety among the Underground.
So far, they'd blown up three bridges--not counting the one in Wurzburg--sabotaged an arms shipment, exposed a double agent, and now rescued the leaders of the local Underground and the nuns and orphans of St. Johanniskirche from the Gestapo.
A busy couple of weeks there, Colonel. What'll you do for an encore? he asked himself.
Lay low for a while if I'm smart, he sneered.
Hogan knew that the sudden flood of sabotage activity in the area would arouse suspicion sooner or later. Laying low wasn't such a bad idea. Besides, today was Thanksgiving Day--the men deserved a break.
And your heart just isn't in it tonight, is it?
He thought about Kommandant Klink's 'generous' allowance of an extra ration of white bread to all POWs in honor of the holiday. At first, Klink had only offered the additional allotment to the American prisoners, but Hogan convinced him that such preferential treatment could only result in a morale problem among the other Allied POWs.
"You wouldn’t want a sudden spate of attempted escapes, would ya?" he'd asked.
"No, of course, not," Klink responded, suspecting he'd been outmaneuvered but unsure how. Hogan allowed himself a small grin, which turned pensive again.
It had been four days, and he still had not received word about Margarethe and the others. Could something have gone wrong?
All too easily, he thought bitterly. You should never have allowed her to make such a dangerous overland trip. You should've insisted that Allied HQ send a sub for them--even if there were no military value to the mission.
Kinchloe abruptly interrupted his private musings, bursting in the door excitedly without knocking.
"Sir!" he cried, rushing across the room towards him. Wordlessly, he handed Hogan a brief communique.
From: Pied Piper
Message: Mission Accomplished. Sister Sends Warmest Regards. Mother and The Children Are Doing Fine. Request You Join Them In Giving Thanks For Safe Homecoming. God Bless and Keep You Safe. Love, Sister M.
Hogan took a deep heartfelt breath. He looked up at Kinchloe, his eyes lighting up with the first real smile in days.
"They're safe," he said unnecessarily. "Thank God, they're all safe."
Kinchloe nodded wordlessly.
Hogan kept his head down for a moment, blinking back the stinging in his eyes. When he finally looked up, his expression was serene. He walked towards his locker and dug out a bottle of bourbon that he'd 'liberated' following one of his last tęte-ŕ-tętes with Klink.
Pouring them each a generous drink, he lifted his glass in toast. "To safe homecomings!" he said.
"To safe homecomings," Kinchloe echoed. They clinked their glasses and then each took a deep gulp from their drink.
Laying down his glass, Hogan placed his arm around Kinchloe's shoulder and led him towards the operations map. About to speak, Kinchloe promptly closed his mouth when he caught a familiar gleam in the veteran pilot's eyes.
Using a pencil as a pointer, Hogan indicated a spot between Hammelburg and Frankfurt am Main.
"Isn't that the location of that new rocket fuel factory, Colonel?"
Marking the spot with a red pin, Hogan nodded and grinned broadly. "Kinch, I suddenly find myself feeling very thankful. I mean, take a good look at this place! It's a dump! Almost enough to make a grown man cry." He held his arms out, taking in the whole compound.
"Makes me thankful for everything I've ever had in my life. Parents who love me. An older brother who took the time to show me how to throw a curve ball. A Command I know can make a big difference to the war effort. And best of all, the greatest bunch of fellas a guy like me could ever hope to work with."
Kinchloe dropped his eyes in embarrassment at this last compliment.
"So, Kinch, what do you say, you and the fellas help me make this Thanksgiving Day extra special? You know--with all the trimmings?"
Kinchloe shrugged, nodding. "Sure, sir. What do you want us to do?"
Grinning wickedly, Hogan pointed at the red pin on the map. "Sergeant, how would you like to accompany me on a little Thanksgiving Day turkey roast?"
Text and original characters copyright 2001 by Syl Francis
This copyright covers only original material and characters, and in no way intends to infringe upon the privileges of the holders of the copyrights, trademarks, or other legal rights, for the Hogan's Heroes universe.