Steven J. Pani
Part I - A Call To Action
February 16, 1943 - Stalag 13, Germany
The message came in at around ten in the morning.
Sergeant James Kinchloe, “Kinch” to his friends, interpreted the electronic signals with practiced ease. To him, Morse code was just like a foreign language. Once you understood it, you could translate it. The transmission from Allied headquarters in London lasted for almost three minutes. When it was finished, Kinch looked at the handwritten translation and frowned. “Great,” he muttered.
“Trouble?” Andrew Carter asked, looking up from an inventory checklist.
Kinch turned to his friend and fellow sergeant. “Big trouble,” he said. “Take a look.” He handed Carter the clipboard he wrote the message on.
Carter looked at it and he frowned too. “Oh, no,” he said quietly.
“Better get the colonel,” Kinch said. Carter gave him a short nod and headed toward and up the ladder that led to the barracks they shared.
Kinch smiled to himself. The kid sure knew how to follow orders. A minute later, Carter came back down followed by Colonel Robert Hogan, the senior POW officer. He was only wearing his gray officer’s shirt and brown pants.
“Carter says we’ve got trouble,” he said in his deep, bass voice. Kinch nodded and handed Hogan the message. It wasn’t good.
MEMBERS OF RED HAWK RESISTANCE CELL CAPTURED. AWAITING
TRANSER TO BERLIN FOR INTERROGATION. RENDEZVOUS WITH
CELL LEADERS AT BLACKWOOD TAVERN AT 2000 HOURS. FURTHER
INFORMATION AFTER MISSION ACCEPTANCE.
Blast! Hogan thought. He had heard of the Red Hawks through various contacts and they all told him they were some of the best intelligence gatherers they knew. To lose them would hamper the war effort.
“So, is it a go?” Kinch asked.
“It’s a go,” Hogan replied. Suddenly, a thought came to him. “Kinch,” he said. “Who hasn’t been on a mission yet? Any kind?”
Kinch got up from his seat and went to a section of wall where several clipboards hung. He took one and studied the attached pages. “Just three people, Colonel,” he reported. “Jim Barton, Tom Pierce and Sam Roberts.”
Hogan rubbed his chin. Already he could scratch off Barton. He was in the “cooler” for starting a fight with one of the guards. And Pierce was sick with a nasty stomach bug.
Which only left one person: a young lieutenant, barely into his twenties, from someplace in New York called Westchester County.
“What are you thinking, sir?” Carter asked, breaking the silence.
“That it’s time to formally induct one of our new members,” Hogan told him. “Find Newkirk and tell him I need to see him. Now.”
With that thought and a grunt of exertion, Sam Roberts leapt onto the crate in front of him, his feet sticking staright up in the air. He closed his eyes and began taking slow, deep breaths. Doing a handstand and maintaining it for as long as he could was one of his favorite forms of exercise. Sam knew other people thought it was strange, but he didn’t care. Doing something that few others could do gave him a thrill he never got tired of.
Unfortunately, at the moment, his body was getting tired of being upside-down. Before his handstand could collapse, Sam put his feet on the ground with a soft thump. Just for fun, he did a quick backflip as well.
“Not bad,” said a voice to his left.
Sam turned to face the speaker. “Huh? What?”
“I said, not bad. You’ve got a good talent there.” The man was wearing the blue uniform and cap of the British Royal Air Force, complete with corporal’s stripes.
“What? That?” Sam said, pointing his thumb at the crate. “That was just light exercise. Nothing compared to what I can really do.”
“I can imagine. Peter Newkirk,” the man said, holding out his hand.
Sam gripped it firmly. “Sam Roberts. Nice to meet you.” A stray memory clicked. “You’re Carter’s friend, right?” he asked.
The other man--he looked about ten years older than Sam--seemed amused. “Ol’Andrew told you about me, did he?”
“Just the basics,” Sam told him as he tugged his green cap onto his head. “You’re one of the few people who call him by his first name, you’re a pretty good pickpocket and you’re a lousy gin player.”
“The man cheats,” Newkirk said, pointing a finger at Sam. “I just haven’t figured out how. C’mon, Colonel Hogan wants to see you.” The two men started walking, slowly so they wouldn’t attract attention. Along the way, Newkirk pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered one to Sam.
“No thanks. I don’t smoke,” Sam said. He found the whole notion quite odd. Why breathe in something that made you cough?
“Oh. You don’t mind if I...?”
“Oh, no. Go right ahead. So...why does the colonel want to see me?”
“It seems London’s given us a job to do,” Newkirk said, exhailing a small cloud of smoke, “and the colonel wants you to help out.”
Me? Interesting, Sam thought. “What’s the job?”
Newkirk puffed on his cigarette. “Not sure,” he said. “Didn’t have time to ask. Guess we’ll find out together.” A minute later, Sam and Newkirk were standing in front of BARRACKE 2, the spot where the main area of the tunnel system was located. Taking one last puff, Newkirk got rid of his cigarette and opened the wooden door.
Inside, several men noticed them entering and said various hellos. “Hey, Newkirk,” one of them said. “The colonel’s waiting downstairs.”
“Thanks,” the Englishman said. “Watch the door, will you?” The man got up and opened the door slightly, so he could see outside. Newkirk and Sam brushed past him and went over to one of the bunks. Newkirk gave the side of the top bunk two quick slaps and with a loud squeak, the bottom bunk’s false mattress rose, revealing a sturdy-looking ladder.
Sam shook his head and smiled. When it came to hiding things, these guys were good. “Amazing,” he said quietly. Newkirk went down first, then Sam. Halfway down, Sam let go of the ladder, landing with a loud thump.
“Show-off,” Newkirk muttered. Sam didn’t mind. To him, that was a compliment. The two men then walked down a short tunnel into the large room where the colonel was waiting. Giving him a salute, Newkirk said, with a touch of humor, “Reportin’ as ordered, sir.” Sam went over and shook Hogan’s hand. He did the same with Sergeant Kinchloe and Corporal Louis LeBeau, both of whom he met a few days earlier.
“Hey, Carter,” he said cheerfully as he shook his friend’s hand. “How you’ve been?”
“Okay, I guess,” the young man said. “Louis’ been showing me how to cook. He even let me do breakfast today.”
“Just scrambled eggs,” LeBeau added. “Nothing too fancy.”
“Really? Were they any good?” Sam asked.
“Well, I haven’t thrown up yet,” Newkirk said, getting a very loud “Hey!” out of Carter.
“Okay, enough small talk,” Colonel Hogan said. “Time to get down to business.” After everyone had found a place to sit he said, “Gentlemen, about twenty minutes ago we got word that a resistance cell, The Red Hawks, was in serious trouble and London wants us to get them out of it.”
“Can’t you ever give us any good news?” Newkirk said to Kinch.
“Hey, I just report it,” Kinch protested. “I don’t make it up.”
“What’s the trouble, Colonel?” LeBeau asked, ignoring the exchange.
“Several members were captured and are going to be interrogated. I don’t think I need to tell any of you what could happen if they talk,” he said. “Any questions before I go on?”
Sam raised his hand. “I was just wondering, sir, how do I fit into all this?”
“Every member of our operation gets to be part of at least one mission,” Hogan told him. “And I thought your time had come. You interested?”
Sam grinned. “Yes, sir.”
The colonel returned the grin. “All right, then,” he said. “Now, the cell leaders are still free, and they want to meet us at the Blackwood Tavern at eight tonight. Newkirk’s team leader, followed by LeBeau, Carter, and then Roberts. Find out what’s going on and report back. Then, we’ll work out a rescue plan. Any more questions?” The men were quiet. “Then that’s it. I’ll give you the recognition signal an hour before you leave. See you later.” As the small group started for the ladder that led upstairs, Sam remained perched on his seat.
He couldn’t believe it. A mission. He was going on a mission! A chance to prove that he was part of the team. But something was bothering him. Something he couldn’t quite put his finger on...
“Hey, you okay?” Carter asked.
“Sure. Guess I’m just a little nervous.” That was it. He was nervous.
“Don’t worry, mon ami,” LeBeau said, putting his arm around Sam’s shoulders. “Just stick with us, and nothing will go wrong.”
Sam gave him a tight smile. Nothing will go wrong, he said.
Famous last words.
Part II - Captured
To the casual observer, the four men wearing backpacks looked like a group of travelers, trying to find a place to rest for the night. No one would suspect they snuck out of a nearby prison camp and hitched a ride with a friend. Now they stood in front of a small, brightly-lit building.
“Well there it is, gents, the Blackwood Tavern,” Newkirk said, a note of triumph in his voice.
“Not much to look at, is there?” LeBeau commented.
“Who cares what it looks like,” Carter said, rubbing his hands together. “Let’s get in before we turn into ice cubes.” The three men started for the the door when suddenly, someone behind them politely coughed.
“Uh, guys? I have a confession to make,” Sam said, his cheeks turning redder than they were. “I’ve...never actually been in one of these places before.”
“Never?” LeBeau sounded like he was going to laugh.
“Yeah, that’s right,” Sam said, looking slightly down at the Frenchman. “Why, you’ve got a problem with that?”
“Just asking,” LeBeau said quietly, his tone apologetic.
“In case you two forgot,” Newkirk said to them, “we have an appointment to keep.” With that, he opened the door and he, Carter, and LeBeau went inside. Sam took a deep breath and followed suit.
The Blackwood matched his expectations: men and women having quiet conversations, occasional plumes of smoke, and music coming from a unseen radio. Thankfully, no one in uniform--especially anyone who would recognize them--was in sight. The small group made their way to the back of the room, as instructed, and found a table large enough to accommodate them. As they started to sit, Newkirk said, “I’m going to get me a beer. Anyone else want one?”
“Sounds good,” Carter said, taking off his hat and scratching his head.
“I’m not thirsty,” LeBeau told him.
“Just water for me,” Sam said. While Newkirk went to the bar to get the drinks, Sam said, “I tried beer once. Made me sick to my stomach.” The Englishman soon returned with two mugs of the local brew and a tall glass of cold water. As the three of them sipped their drinks, LeBeau said, “Heads up. I think our contacts are here.” Sam and the others looked toward the door--
And his heart skipped a beat. Next to the youngish-looking man who entered was a young woman. She wasn’t overly attractive: she had little makeup on, and her front teeth protruded a little. But she had nice, reddish-brown hair and ice-blue eyes that seemed to sparkle...
“Guten Abend,” the man said as they approached the table. “Mind if we sit down?”
“Please,” Newkirk said. The newcomers took chairs from an vacant table and sat down in them.
“It’s quite dark out tonight, don‘t you agree?” the man asked. A moment later, he lowered his voice and said, “They say the darkness is spreading.”
Sam felt himself stiffen. The first part of the recognition signal. Let’s hope we don’t foul up, he thought.
“The darkness can’t spread where there’s light,” Newkirk said, his voice equally quiet.
“And with light, there is hope,” the woman said.
“For the future,” LeBeau said.
“A good future,” Carter added.
“For all,” Sam said, relieved that he didn’t make a mistake.
The strangers seemed to relax. “You are from Stalag 13?” the man asked.
The group nodded. “Call me Peter,” Newkirk said. “This is Louis, Andrew, and Sam.”
“Joseph Kaufman. This is my sister, Sarah.” The men smiled and said hello, but Sam’s smile was the widest.
Sarah. Pretty name...
What’s wrong with you? he asked himself. Snap out of it! He shook his head and tried to focus on the conversation.
“We heard your group got captured,” LeBeau said. “How did it happen?”
Joseph and Sarah were silent for a few moments. Then with a deep sigh, Joseph said, “We were betrayed. A few days ago, we invited a man to join us. We didn’t know he was a spy.”
“He accepted, and two days later,” Sarah said, “the Gestapo attacked our base. My brother and I escaped with a friend of ours.”
“Where’s your friend now?” Carter asked.
Sarah swallowed. “He didn’t make it. He was too badly injured.”
Sam clenched his fists and heard LeBeau mutter something under his breath. Another life lost, thanks to this stupid war.
“You will help us, won’t you?” Joseph asked.
“Of course we will,” Sam told him.
“Do you know where your friends are now?” Newkirk asked Joseph.
“A detainment and storage facility,” the man replied, “not too far from here. We can show you the way.”
“Perfect,” Newkirk said. “Let’s go then.” Everyone at the table started to rise--
“You’re sitting at our table.”
The group looked up. Standing before them were four surly-looking men. The one that spoke was tall, barrel-chested, and sported a thick black beard. “Excuse me?” Newkirk said, trying to sound German.
“This is our table,” the man said. “We don’t like other people sitting at it.”
“We were just leaving,” LeBeau said, scowling.
“Oh. They were just leaving,” the bearded man sneered to his friends. They all chuckled.
“Well, they can leave,” another man said, indicating the men. “But I think the fraulein should stay and keep us company.” He put his hands on Sarah’s shoulders, making her squirm.
“Get away from her!” boomed a deep, commanding voice.
The tavern became very quiet as everyone looked to see where the voice had come from.
It had come from Sam, who was standing up, his eyes blazing. “What?” the man said in disbelief.
“You heard me,” Sam said, his voice tight. “Get away from her. Now.” While his brain was screaming at him to stop what he was doing, Sam watched as the man who touched Sarah walked over and shoved him, nearly making him trip.
“You didn’t have to do that,” Sam said through clenched teeth.
“I like doing that. I love doing that.”
“Really. Well, then, love this!” This was Sam’s elbow jabbing into the man’s stomach. As the man doubled over in pain, Sam used his fists to strike the back of the man’s neck. The man landed hard on the floor and started moaning.
“Get him!” the bearded man shouted. As he and his two remaining friends started toward Sam, Newkirk punched the man in the face, making him crash into an empty table. Gasps and screams erupted from the onlookers.
Two down, two to go, Sam thought. Looking around rapidly, he saw a broom leaning against a wall. He lunged for it, and used the handle to jab one of his attackers in the chest. Sam spun around and did the same to his other opponent. Both men went down hard.
After a few moments of groaning the four men, bruised and bloodied, got to their feet and staggered out of the tavern. The patrons watched them leave, glad that the fight was over.
“I think we’ve worn out our welcome,” Joseph said after seeing the angry look on the bartender’s face.
“I think you’re right,” replied Newkirk. “Let’s leave. Nice and slow.” The five men and one woman left the table and walked out the door.
“Remind me never to get you angry,” Carter murmured to Sam.
“Oh, that wasn’t angry,” Sam said casually, “that was just annoyed. If I was angry...well, let’s just say it isn’t pretty.” He smiled and said nothing more.
Carter gulped. He suddenly felt much colder.
And people say I’m strange.
It was a beautiful night, despite the cold. The moon was a slim crescent, crickets were chirping, the stars twinkling in their familiar patterns. If Sam had time, he would have enjoyed lying down on the grass and looking for the Big Dipper, Andromeda, or even the rare shooting star.
But he had no time for such things now. Being the fastest member of the group, he was elected to do the reconnaissance of the building where the Red Hawks were being held. Now he was racing back to his friends, wearing the contents of his now discarded backpack: a tight-fitting black outfit and homemade camouflage paint. Gripped tightly in his right hand was a small-caliber hangun. In a few moments, he reached the spot where the group was hiding and squatted down with them. “Well?” Newkirk whispered.
“It’s pretty small,” Sam reported. “And there’s something that looks like a shed in the back.”
“That’s the storage area,” Joseph explained. “The Germans keep a lot of supplies there: food, ammunition, even gasoline.”
“Hmm. If that blew up, it might make a nice diversion,” Carter said.
Newkirk glared at him. “You and your diversions,” he grumbled.
“Isn’t anyone worried the guards might see us?” Sarah asked. “I mean, we are very close to the buliding.” That was true. If they made a loud enough sound, the soldiers would find them for sure.
“If we stay low and quiet, they won’t find us,” Sam told her.
“Shh!” LeBeau said to them. Turning to Newkirk, he asked, “You think we’ve seen enough?”
The Englishman nodded. “Let’s go.” Crouching, the group started to make their way back into the woods. Suddenly, there was a sharp snapping sound. A fallen branch had cracked under Sam’s boot. Everyone tensed up, praying no one had heard it. When nothing happened, they exhaled and kept moving.
That’s when everything went wrong.
Sarah tripped over a rock, causing her to cry out in surprise. Then there were shouts from the direction of the jail and alarms began ringing.
“Run!” Newkirk shouted. The group dashed madly into the forest. “Split up,” he yelled. “Meet back at camp!” Sam grabbed Sarah’s arm and both fled. Within moments, they lost sight of the others.
To Sam, it was like his worst nightmare--being chased by monsters--had come to life. Except now, the monsters wore human faces and carried guns. As they ran, Sam heard the distant crack of a rifle being fired. A second later, the crack was closer. Much closer. Sarah screamed.
“Are you hit?!” he shouted.
“I don’t think so,” she replied. They kept running.
Hoping to buy them more time, Sam skidded to a stop, turned to face where the shots had come from, and pointed his weapon. He squeezed off a few rounds and then continued running. Breathing hard, both he and Sarah jumped over a fallen log, wove in and out of the trees--
Without warning, the ground disappeared. Sam and Sarah tumbled down a small but steep hill.
Sam groaned, his head spinning. He sat up and saw Sarah lying a few feet away from him. “Sarah?” he called as he came closer to her. “Are you all right?”
“I think so,” she said weakly. “That was some fall.”
Sam smiled with relief. In what little light there was, she appeared to have only a few bruises and scratches. His relief, however, was short-lived when he realized something.
The gun. Where was the gun?
Before he could search for it, several of the soldiers that were chasing him and Sarah came down the hill. In moments, they were hauled to their feet.
A tall, imposing figure--the commander, Sam guessed--stood in front of him. “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” he asked.
“Nein,” Sam replied. He only knew a few words, and that was one of them.
The man was silent for a moment. “You two are under arrest,” he said in heavily accented English, “for trespassing and for firing on soldiers of the Third Reich.”
As Sam and Sarah were being led away, he swore to himself that if he got out of this alive, he’d start trusting his instincts more.
He knew something like this was going to happen. He just knew it.
Part III - The Rescue
“You left them?”
“There wasn’t anything we could do, Colonel,” LeBeau said to the outraged Hogan.
“Yeah, there were ‘krauts’ everywhere,” Carter added. “We were lucky we weren’t caught.”
Hogan didn’t want to hear anymore. Almost three hours ago, he sent his men to find out more about the Red Hawks’ situation. Only Newkirk, Carter, and LeBeau returned, bringing with them a man they called Joseph Kaufman. Kaufman, who said he was one of the Red Hawks’ leaders, was injured with a shoulder wound. Kinch and Carter were treating it.
And as if that wasn‘t bad enough, the group split up after they were discovered and the men lost sight of Roberts and Kaufman’s sister. With Joseph hurt, and patrols looking for them, they couldn’t wait for the two to show up.
Wonderful, Hogan thought grimly. Now the Germans have two more prisoners they can interrogate. And if Roberts talks... “And whose bright idea was it to split up in the first place?” he asked.
Newkirk opened his mouth to protest, but Joseph interrupted him. “Stop. Please,” he said, grimacing as his injured shoulder throbbed. “We have no time to argue. Right now, your friend, my friends and my sister are in terrible danger. We must do something to help them.”
He’s right, the colonel thought. There was no time for arguing. Not with people counting on them. “What do you suggest?” the colonel asked him.
“This rescue plan of yours. Will it still work?”
“I think so. LeBeau,” Hogan said, turning to the Frenchman, “we’ll need transportation.”
“I think I can get a truck from the motorpool,” LeBeau said.
“Do it. Newkirk: uniforms. A colonel and three guards.”
“Right, sir,” Newkirk said as he nodded.
“Carter,” Hogan said, “We’ll need explosives. At least three.”
“I’m on it.”
“Okay. Kinch? How would you like to take out a storage shed?” the colonel asked.
The sergeant grinned. “Delighted.”
“I’m coming with you,” Joseph told Hogan. “I want to make sure my sister’s all right.”
The colonel shook his head. “You’re hurt. And it might get danger--”
“I’m coming with you.” There was no mistaking the firmness in the young man’s voice.
Hogan smiled faintly. Stubborn. He liked that. “All right. Gentlemen, let’s get moving. We’ve got places to go and people to save. And I, for one, do not want to be late.”
He was sitting in the middle of a perfectly square room, hands and feet tied securely to the chair he was in, and his face scrubbed clean of the paint that was on it. He was scared, but he didn’t show it.
There was no clock in the room, so Sam didn’t know how long it was since he and Sarah were brought in. Sighing, he hoped her brother and the guys were all right. He hoped Sarah was all right. If anything happened to her...
His sudden anger turned to puzzlement. What was going on with him? He never felt so strongly about a girl before. Any girl for that matter. What made her so special?
Before Sam could think of an answer, there was the sound of a lock opening. The room’s metal door opened with a loud groan. For a moment, Sam thought help had arrived.
But it wasn’t help. It was a middle-aged man with thinning brown hair and a mustache, wearing the night-black uniform of the Gestapo.
Sam’s heart started beating faster. He had never met the man, but his friends back at Stalag 13 had described him in perfect detail. And now he was standing right in front of Sam.
Major Wolfgang Hochstetter.
Trying valiantly not to let fear show on his face, Sam watched as the major walked over to the chair, went behind it, and undid the ropes that bound Sam’s legs. “There. That’s better, isn’t it?” the major said in a slightly grating voice. “Now, suppose you tell me who you are and what you were doing here.” Sam looked Hochstetter straight in the eye and said nothing.
The major smiled. “Very well, then,” he said, “let me tell you what I know about you: you match the description of the person who started a fight at the Blackwood Tavern, your inability to speak German suggests you are a foreigner, and you were in the company of a known member of the Underground. That alone tells me you are an enemy of the Fatherland.
“Now I ask again: who are you? And what were you doing here?”
“Why should I tell you anything, huh?” Sam said quietly. “Because you’re better than me? Because you’re a member of the ‘Master Race’?” He let out a short laugh and said, “You’re nothing but a bully. And a pathetic one at that.”
“There are limits to my patience, boy,” Hochstetter said in a tight, cold voice. “And I am quickly reaching them.”
“I’m not a boy,” Sam told him in the same tone of voice. “I’m a man. Same as you.”
The major chuckled. “Of course you are.”
Sam suddenly felt very hot and, more importantly, unafraid. Time to teach this guy a lesson. “All right. You want to know who I am? I’ll tell you.” As the major came closer, he said, “Someone you really don’t want to get angry.” With that, he rammed his right foot in-between the major’s legs.
Rammed it extremely hard.
The man cried out in sudden and horrible pain and fell to his knees. Two guards burst in, wondering what happened. Hochstetter shouted something in German to them. One went over to Sam and untied him while the other helped the major to his feet.
“Filthy dog!” the major roared in Sam‘s face. “I will see you hang for that!”
Sam was unfazed. “Not before I see you first.” With a growl and a gesture from the major, Sam was dragged away.
Hochstetter watched as the prisoner was dragged down the hallway, then he turned and put his hands on the back of the chair, his entire body trembling with rage.
It wasn’t possible, he told himself. He was a loyal member of the Third Reich. He was the best the Gestapo had to offer. And he had been attacked and humiliated by a...child! Impossible!
With a wordless roar, the major picked up the chair, turned, and threw it at the wall. Panting, he promised himself next time, it would be the boy he threw.
The door opened and Sam was dumped into the cell like a sack of flour. He sat up and and saw three people looking at him. One was a young woman with curly, blond hair, another was a teenage boy with short black hair and gray eyes. The last person was an older gentleman with a thick gray beard. Sam was about to say hello when he heard someone say, “Sam? Sam, is that you?”
He looked and saw Sarah get up from the bench she was resting on. He went over to her and hugged her. “Sarah!” he exclaimed. “Thank heavens you’re all right. Did they hurt you?”
“No. Just scared me, that’s all. You?” she asked.
“I’m fine,” he replied. He turned to look at the strangers again and asked, “Are these you’re friends?”
Sarah nodded. She then introduced Sam to the rest of the Red Hawks: the woman’s name was Claire, the teenager was Kris, and the gentleman’s name was Johann.
Sam said hello to each of them, then sat down and started thinking. He wasn’t sure what was happening back at camp, so he thought they could try to escape on their own.
But how to do it? Breaking the door down and running for it was out of the question. Bribing the guard was also impossible. If only he had some kind of tool or weapon--
He stopped. Someone was crying. He turned and saw Sarah, her head covered by her hands.
“Hey, why are you crying?” Sam asked gently.
“Why?” she asked, tears streaming down her face. “Because we’re never going to get out of here. Because no one is going to save us, that’s why.”
“Yes, they are,” he said, wiping a tear off her cheek. “It’s just going to take some time. Now please, stop crying.”
“Why should I?”
“Well, because--” He paused. What does one say to a girl who’s crying? Then he smiled and said, “Because a face as pretty as yours isn’t meant for crying.”
Geez, Sam, he thought. Could you sound any cornier?
“You think I’m pretty?”
Sam blinked. Corny or not, the line worked. “You mean no one’s told you that?”
Sarah blushed. “Just my parents,” she said.
Sam touched her cheek and said, “Well, you are.” Then he did something he never did and thought he’d never do. His heart racing, he leaned foward and kissed Sarah on the cheek. “Better?” he asked her.
She nodded. “That was my first kiss.”
“Really? Mine too.” he said. He then started laughing. A few seconds later, Sarah joined him. Their laughter stopped when the cell door opened. An officer entered and said, “All of you, come with me. Now.” Sam and Sarah got up from their seat--
And stared, not believing their eyes. It was Carter. Seeing their faces, he put a finger to his lips and they nodded with understanding. They and their cellmates then followed him out into the hall where Newkirk, also in disguise, was waiting.
Once outside, Carter pointed the rifle he carried at the guard and grabbed the keys from the man’s hand. “All right, pal,” he said, dropping his fake accent, “get inside and don’t make a sound.”
“You heard him. Move!” Newkirk said when the guard hesitated. The man entered the cell and Carter locked the door.
“Took you long enough,” Sam said to them.
“Hey, we’re here now,” Carter said. “That’s all that matters.”
“I don’t understand,” the old man--Johann--said. “Who are you people?”
“Just call us the cavalry,” Newkirk said. “Now let’s get out of here.”
Moving as fast as he could, Kinch made his way to the back of the fence that surrounded the jail and storage shed. Wire-cutters gripped firmly in his hand, he watched as the guards moved away from his target. When they were no longer visible, he went to work, cutting open a hole in the fence. Staying low, he ran to the shed and forced open the door.
Using a flashlight, he saw at least thirty crates--no doubt the food and ammo the Germans were storing--plus ten or twelve drums of gasoline. Reaching into the bag he was carrying, Kinch pulled out the bombs Carter made and put them on three of the drums. With steady hands, he set the three timers for ten minutes, then bolted out of the shed and back into the woods.
As soon as he was far enough away, Kinch let out a sigh and leaned against a tree. He did his job. Now it was up to Newkirk and Carter to do theirs.
“Who else is here?” Sam asked.
“The colonel, LeBeau, Kinch, and Joseph,” Newkirk replied.
“My brother?” Sarah said. “Is he all right?”
“He’s fine,” Carter told her. He then looked at his watch. Only eight minutes left to go. The small group rounded a corner--
“What are you doing here?” a familiar voice asked.
Carter almost gasped. Major Hochstetter! Here! Could things get any worse?
“Orders from General Burkhalter,” Newkirk said with his best German accent. “The prisoners are to be sent to Berlin tonight.”
“Tonight?” Hochstetter said in disbelief. “But the transfer wasn’t supposed to happen until morning! Let me see your papers,” he ordered. As Newkirk reached into his uniform for the phony documents the major said, “Wait. I know you. I’ve seen you before. Both of you.” He pointed at Newkirk and Carter.
Uh-oh, Carter thought. Things just got worse.
Before the major could say anything else, there was the sound of someone pounding on a door. Everyone turned to see where it was coming from.
It was coming from the cell where they put the guard. He was also shouting, “Hilfe! Herr major! Hierin! Hilfe!”
“What is that?” the major shouted. “What’s going on here?” He stepped past the phony officers--
--and fell down senseless. Sam had punched Hochstetter squarely in the nose. “Guess it’s just not your day,” he said to the unconscious major. “Help me with him.” Sam and Carter grabbed the major’s arms and dragged him to an empty closet. All the while, the imprisoned guard kept shouting uselessly for help.
As Newkirk opened the closet door, Sam and Carter placed Hochstetter in a sitting position. “I thought you didn’t like resorting to violence,” Carter said.
Sam looked at him funny. “You think he’d listen to reason?” he said, indicating the major. He turned and saw that Newkirk and the Red Hawks were staring. “What’s everyone standing around for?” he asked. “Let’s move.”
Everyone jumped slightly at the command and then, with Newkirk and Carter in the lead, made their way to the exit.
“Who’s in charge of this rescue, anyway?” Newkirk muttered. Carter could only shrug.
Inside the truck “borrowed” from Stalag 13, Colonel Hogan--or rather, Colonel Schviker--drummed his fingers on the dashboard and checked his watch again. If Kinch did his job, they had only five minutes before all heck broke loose. But where were Newkirk and Carter?
Something in the rear-view mirror caught his eye. There they were. Behind them, he could see Roberts, two young women, a teenage boy, and a old man. Those had to be the Red Hawks.
“Get ready,” he told LeBeau, who was in the driver’s seat. “When they’re in, we get out of here as fast as we can.”
Just a little further, Sam thought, and we’re home free. The guards at the enterance lowered the barricade on the truck and everyone piled in. Sarah saw Joseph sitting inside and they embraced.
“I thought I’d never see you again,” she said quietly.
“Me, too,” he replied.
When everyone was seated, the barricade was raised and truck began to move. The jail seemed to become smaller and in moments, it disappeared from view.
With a squeal from the brakes, the truck stopped and a dark figure emerged from the woods. “Room for one more?” he called out.
“Hop in,” Sam said and helped Kinch into the truck.
“I’m worried,” Kris--the teenager--said. “What if they realize they were tricked?”
“I don’t think they will,” Carter said, looking at his watch. “They’ll be too busy to care right about...now.” As he said that, there was a thunderous explosion that made Sam and the Red Hawks gasp. An orange light appeared in the sky in the direction of the jail.
“Wh-What was that?” Claire asked in a stunned voice.
“That, young lady,” Kinch said to her, “is a whole lot of supplies going up in smoke.”
As the truck started moving again, there was another, slightly smaller, explosion. Two more followed.
“Sounds like the whole shed’s going up,” Sam said. “Not bad.”
“Thank Carter,” Kinch said. “He made the bombs.”
“What can I say?” Carter said, sounding very pleased with himself. “It’s a gift.”
Sam chuckled and looked around. They made it. Everyone was safe. He caught Sarah’s eye and they both smiled.
Score one more for the good guys.
Major Hochstetter stumbled out of the closet he found himself in, the victim of a pounding headache and possibly broken nose. He made his way outside and the sight that greeted him made him feel worse. The storage area behind the jail was engulfed in flames and every officer was busy trying to put it out.
The major went over to one of the guards and pulled him aside. [The prisoners,] he shouted at the man in German, [you let them leave?]
[Y-Yes, sir,] the man replied. [We didn’t think there was any problem. Everything seemed in order. And then the fire--]
Hochstetter growled and pushed the man away, not wanting to hear anymore. It all made sense now. The officers he encountered in the hallway were spies, sent to recover the Underground agents and, somehow, started the fire as a distraction so they could get away.
The major’s nose itched. He started to rub it, and he hissed in pain. It was all that little boy’s fault, he thought. That filthy, little, piece of--
I will find him, he swore to himself. I will find him, and his friends! And when I do, I will rip them apart with my bare hands!
With his hands clenched into fists, he went back inside to find a telephone. He had to make two phone calls: one to a doctor to have his nose fixed, the other to Gestapo headquarters to report the current situation.
His superiors were not going to be pleased.
“And you should’ve seen his face!” Sam said to his friends. “It was hilarious!”
They were back in the tunnel system, celebrating their success. Before that, they dropped the Red Hawks off a short distance from an Underground base, where they would stay with another group until they found a new base of operations. When Colonel Hogan invited them to the party, everyone except Sarah and Joseph declined, saying that all they wanted to do was get some sleep and forget all about their terrible experience.
So there they were, talking and laughing about what happened. “I still can’t believe you did that!” Carter said to Sam. He was referring to the kick Sam gave Hochstetter.
“Ol’Wolfie’s going to be sore for a week,” Newkirk said.
“Two weeks,” Sarah corrected him. “Don’t forget about the nose.”
“Oh, yeah! You should’ve seen it,” Carter said, turning to Hogan, Kinch, and LeBeau. He then smacked his right fist into his left hand. “Pow! Sam really showed him!”
“I bet he did,” the colonel said. Looking at Sam, he said, “Hochstetter’s probably going to start looking for you, you know.”
“Yeah, next time he comes around here you’d better make yourself scarce,” Kinch said.
“Don’t worry, I will,” Sam promised. After a moment he said, “So, how’d I do?”
“Well, aside from knocking the stuffing out of Hochstetter,” Hogan said--getting a laugh from everyone-- “you did pretty good. Sounds like you really kept your cool.”
“I guess that I can count on being part of a couple more missions then, huh?”
“I don’t know,” Hogan said, turning to his men. “What do you say, guys?” Everyone--even Sarah and Joseph--responded by clapping and saying words of approval.
Sam smiled. It was then that he realized his own, personal mission was complete: he had proven himself a member of the operation and finally earned the respect of his new friends.
From his left, Joseph coughed. “I hate to interrupt,” he said, “but I think it’s time Sarah and I rejoined our friends. Thank you, Colonel, thank you all, for everything you’ve done.”
“You’re welcome,” Hogan said as they shook hands.
After the handshakes with the others were done, Joseph looked at his sister and said, “Sarah?”
“In a minute,” she told him. “I want to say goodbye to Sam myself.” She then pulled Sam to the ladder that led outside. The men looked at each other and shrugged.
“I...never did thank you for helping me back at that tavern,” Sarah said quietly.
“I couldn’t let those creeps hurt you, could I?” Sam said.
Sarah chuckled. “No, I guess not.” She looked down for a moment, then said, “I also didn’t thank you for...you know.”
“I do. And you’re welcome.”
She smiled and blushed. “I was hoping you could give me something to remember you by.”
Sam touched her cheek. “I thought you’d never ask.” He looked at her for a moment and then gave her another kiss. A true kiss this time, one that touched her lips.
After what seemed like an eternity, Sam stepped back and whispered, “Goodbye.” He then climbed the ladder and pushed open the top of the tree stump that concealed it. He looked around the darkened woods for any signs of activity. When he was sure it was safe, he motioned for Sarah and Joseph to come up. They did, and with one final, quiet farewell, the Kaufmans disappeared into the night.
Sam barely felt himself going down the ladder. He could deny it to everyone else, but not to himself. For him, the impossible had happened.
He had fallen in love.
He sighed and started walking back to his friends. He stopped when he noticed them, looking at him with questions in their eyes.
“What?” he asked. “Haven’t you ever seen a guy kiss a girl for the first time?” No need to tell them what happened at the jail, he thought. He watched as their faces went from amused to stunned.
“You’re almost twenty-two, right?” Kinch asked. Sam nodded.
“And you never...?” Newkirk said. Sam shook his head.
“Not even once?” LeBeau said.
Sam grinned. This was fun. “Nope. Never been on a date, either.”
Carter’s jaw dropped. “You mean you’re a...?”
“Sergeant,” Hogan said in a don’t-even-say-it tone of voice.
Carter looked down at his boots. “Sorry,” he mumbled.
If they thought Sam was going to be angry, they were wrong. He had heard talk like that before, and he didn’t mind it one bit. All he did was laugh, put his arm around Carter’s shoulders, and swung them both to face their friends.
“You know,” Sam said to them, “you guys are all right.”
“Funny,” Hogan said, “we were just thinking the same about you.”
Text and original characters copyright by Steven J. Pani
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.