Sticks and Stones
2003 Papa Bear Awards - First Place
2003 Papa Bear Awards - First Place
Best Portrayal of a Canon Character - Carter
2003 Papa Bear Awards - Second Place
Best Overall Story
2007 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Lifetime Getaway Award
Colonel Robert Hogan, senior prisoner of war in the German POW camp Stalag Thirteen, leaned one shoulder against the window frame and sighed. Light snow had begun falling outside barracks two, softening the harsh landscape of the camp, but the drifting white flakes barely registered on his awareness.
He was bored. Bored out of his mind. It had been over two weeks since London or the underground had called upon him and his men to perform a covert operation, and the welcome respite had changed to dull routine.
The place actually feels like a POW camp lately, Hogan mused, without humor.
Sighing, he turned from the bleak window view to give his men an appraising glance. Corporal Peter Newkirk of the British RAF was engaged in a game of cards with their resident Frenchman, Corporal Louis LeBeau. Sergeant Andrew Carter was propped up on his bunk, preoccupying himself with a crossword puzzle. None of them looked the least bit interested in what they were doing, and Hogan sympathized. He, too, was tired of sitting around, thinking and wondering.
Newkirk and LeBeau actually started when Sergeant James Ivan Kinchloe emerged from their secret tunnel system, by way of the hidden entrance beneath one of the bunks. Hogan chuckled. At times in the past few days, he too had almost forgotten that they even had a tunnel.
"Carter, watch the door. What's the word, Kinch?" Hogan asked the black man, who had been minding the radio equipment down below.
"We've finally got ourselves something to do." Kinch handed over a sheet of paper on which was scrawled a message. "A German scientist named Stroheim is defecting, and we're supposed to process him through here."
"Wow, this one's in on atomic research." Hogan began pacing thoughtfully. "The Krauts are going to knock their heads together for a while trying to find this one. We may have to keep him in our basement a few days before we ship him out... At least the rendezvous is a chance to get out of camp." He turned to Kinch. "Radio London back, and tell them we'll pick up Stroheim tonight."
"Yes Sir." Kinch started back down into the tunnel.
Hogan picked up his cap from the table and headed for the door. "I think I'll just saunter on over and sound out our beloved Kommandant's agenda for the evening. We need a surprise bed check like we need a hole in the head."
"That's exactly what we'll get if he does pop in and finds any of us missing," Newkirk murmured.
Chuckling grimly, Hogan stepped out into the snow.
When Hogan arrived at the office of Colonel Wilhelm Klink, the Kommandant was sitting at his desk, fretting over a six-inch stack of paperwork.
Middle-aged, tall, and trimly built, Klink possessed the appearance of a bureaucrat. He was almost entirely bald, and wore a monocle in his left eye. He made up for his unimposing appearance with the most powerful set of lungs in the Third Reich; he was a loud man, who often shouted to give an impression of authority. It rarely worked.
He was in a bad mood today. "What do you want, Hogan? Can't you see I'm terribly busy?"
Hogan nonchalantly dropped his cap on the desk and reached for Klink's humidor. "Oh, yes Sir. As a matter of fact, that's exactly what I wanted to talk to you about."
Klink looked up, and promptly swatted Hogan's hand away from his cigars. "What are you talking about?" he snapped, glowering suspiciously at the senior POW.
The American gave him a one-shouldered shrug. "The men and I are starting to worry about how hard you're working."
"A likely story."
Hogan took a deep breath, and launched into his hyperbole. "It's true, Sir! The men all admire your kindness and your compassion, and they have nothing but admiration for how hard you work to make their lives as prisoners of war a little better. But look at you! You've been working so hard for our benefit, you're starting to neglect yourself. You're not even eating right--"
"Hogan, I had an excellent lunch only an hour ago!" Klink retorted.
"Oh, yeah, prison food. Do you honestly think that's good enough to keep a strong, fit man like you healthy?"
"Besides, that's not your only problem. You're working so hard, you'll tire yourself out. And you need a change of scenery! The only thing worse for a man's health than overwork is overwork in a monotonous environment. I mean, here you are, staring at these four walls day after day..."
"Hogan." Klink raised one hand for silence, rubbing his temple with the other, and Hogan suppressed a smile. The Kommandant was now psychologically ripe for suggestion.
"You may be right, Hogan. I have been working too hard. I should take a little time to relax."
"Absolutely right. What you need is to go out for a real dinner tonight. Enjoy yourself! Then come back and get a good night's sleep."
"That's an excellent idea." Klink paused, giving Hogan a suddenly suspicious look. "But why do you care?"
"Because the men and I don't want to lose our beloved, caring Kommandant to a stress-induced heart attack, Sir!"
That was the clincher. Klink grimaced uneasily, placing a hand on his chest, then slowly nodded. "I see, Hogan. Well, not to worry. You can assure your men that I intend to give myself plenty of proper rest from this moment on!"
"I'm glad to hear it, Sir." Hogan rose, picked up his cap, and headed for the door. Upon opening it, he nearly collided with the immense bulk of Sergeant Hans Schultz.
"Hiya, Schultz," Hogan greeted, backpedaling quickly lest he bounce off the rotund German's stomach. A flip remark was on the tip of his tongue, but he swallowed it back as he read Schultz's anxious expression. "What's up?"
Schultz ignored the American, waddling in front of Klink's desk instead. "Herr Kommandant," he stammered, "you have a visitor. A Gestapo man is here!"
Klink shot out of his chair. "Gestapo! Hochstetter?" Major Wolfgang Hochstetter, while not the most proficient of secret police agents, had been a thorn in both his and Hogan's sides for a long time.
"Nein, Herr Kommandant."
"That's worse then," Hogan observed obliquely, folding his arms.
Klink scowled at him. "What could the Gestapo want now? Things have been running perfectly!" Without waiting for an answer, he bolted for the door, followed by Schultz. Shrugging, Hogan went after them. As he stepped onto the porch, he saw Kinch, Newkirk, LeBeau and Carter emerge from barracks two, aware of the impending visitor.
The snow had stopped falling, and prisoners and Germans alike watched as a long black staff car pulled up in front of the Kommandant's office. Two black-clad Gestapo aides spilled out and opened the car door for their superior, a major.
Hogan appraised the Gestapo officer thoughtfully. He was a tall, pale man with a crooked mouth, unreflecting ice-blue eyes, and a long scar on his left temple. He moved with glacial grace, and his gaze wandered little before fixing itself upon the Kommandant.
A silently frantic Klink lurched into his hospitality mode, without even knowing the Gestapo officer's name. "Welcome to Stalag Thirteen, Major! It's always a pleasure to receive distinguished visitors. I'm afraid I wasn't informed that you would be coming--"
"I am Major Frolich," the man interrupted, rolling his eyes almost imperceptibly. He had a quiet, steady voice which was filled with authority--and an undercurrent of tempered steel. "You are Colonel Klink, the Kommandant, ja?"
"Yes Sir, I most certainly am. May I ask what brings you to my humble stalag? Anything I can do to assist you in any way will be--"
"That is all I needed to hear." Frolich's gaze shifted, slowly passing over a wide-eyed Sergeant Schultz, and lighted on Hogan with a look of cold deliberation. "This is your senior prisoner of war?"
"Hogan, Robert E.," Hogan answered for himself, cutting Klink off. He locked gazes with Frolich, trying to discern some glimmer of intent, but the man's blue eyes were an empty void.
Frolich let the mutual gaze linger for a moment, with what almost seemed like a mien of forbearance. Then his attention snapped back to Klink, who physically flinched.
"This man is under arrest. The Gestapo wishes to question him."
Hogan's heart skipped a beat. In front of barracks two, his men gasped and exchanged horrified glances.
"Question him?" Klink repeated. "For what reason? The man is a prisoner! He's already been questioned thoroughly and repeatedly by myself as well as the Gestapo, and..." His mouth snapped shut as Frolich lanced him with a stare.
"The Gestapo does not explain its reasons to jailers," Frolich said slowly, in a moderate, conversational tone that terrified Klink more than any degree of shouting. "The very fact that you seem so concerned for this prisoner inclines me to question you as well. Do not further convince me."
"Yes, Sir," Klink whimpered, giving Hogan a pained glance. "Of course. I will be glad to release him to you. But... when, Major, shall I... expect him back?"
Frolich folded his arms. "That will depend on Colonel Hogan's stamina. Rest assured, however, he will be restored to you... or whatever is left of him." He turned to his aides. "Take Colonel Hogan into custody."
The two men stepped forward to take Hogan by the arms, but he shook them off. "I'll go myself, thank you very much." He glanced over to his men, drawing in a deep breath.
"Take care of things," he instructed firmly. The rest of the men stared back at him in shock, but Kinchloe raised his hand in a small salute. Hogan responded in kind, then turned and stepped into Major Frolich's car.
The long car ride was none too pleasant--especially after Hogan's hands were cuffed behind his back, and a blindfold pulled over his eyes. It was an irrelevant gesture. He knew precisely where the Gestapo headquarters in Dusseldorf were located. The challenge that lay ahead of him was to keep them from finding that out--along with about a million other things.
In spite of what he faced, his worry was for his men. He desperately hoped they would stick to the night's planned mission instead of coming after him. They had to know by now that he would find some way to return alive, if not without some bruises, from this latest interrogation.
But there was something about this man Frolich that set his nerves on edge. An intelligence, a cunning that was frighteningly familiar--because, somehow, it mirrored his own.
When the ride was finally over, Hogan was dragged from the car and led up a short flight of low, broad steps, then through a doorway and into a building. A few hallways followed; Hogan memorized the turns they took, for future reference. At last he was led into a quiet, carpeted room and roughly thrown down onto a cushioned seat, somewhat to his surprise. The guards left, and the door clicked shut behind them.
He lay quietly for a few brief moments. Despite the blindfold and the complete silence, scent and touch gave him clues to use in orienting himself. He decided that he was in some kind of office--and an unusually nice one, for the Gestapo.
The door opened again just as he was making an effort to sit up straight.
"Welcome to my sanctum, Colonel Hogan." The smooth, hard voice was Frolich's. The blindfold was pulled away, and Hogan blinked in the sudden brightness. After a few moments, he could see enough to realize he had been correct about the nature of his environment.
The room was small, windowless, perfunctory but comfortable, colored in muted grays. He was sitting on a sofa; adjacent to it stood an immaculate desk and a well-stocked bookshelf. But what caught Hogan's eye was the large glass case taking up most of the wall to his right. It contained an impressive array of swords, daggers, shuriken, and other blades of traditional Japanese design.
"Presents from your allies?" Hogan remarked wryly. It earned him a backhanded blow across the mouth, delivered by one of Frolich's two thugs.
"Patience," Frolich said quietly to the guard, then turned and sauntered closer to the display case, giving his collection a fawning glance. "A hobby, let us say. Two things I admire of the Japanese. They create weapons as beautiful as they are lethal.... and they respect honor."
"Funny, a Gestapo agent talking about honor."
"I might yet surprise you, Hogan." Frolich folded his arms. "I believe in honor. And I suspect you have a fairly strong sense of it as well. You Americans call it duty, but essentially it is the same."
Hogan was tiring of the psychological waltz. "Hogan, Robert E., Colonel. Serial number--"
"Now, now, Colonel. We would both prefer you to say nothing at all rather than things we both know. Stand up."
In reply, Hogan rolled his eyes to one side and set his jaw. Sighing, Frolich gestured to one of the guards, who yanked Hogan to his feet.
"Remove the handcuffs," Frolich ordered. The other guard stepped behind Hogan, and a moment later the handcuffs fell away. Rubbing his wrists, he gazed warily at Frolich, allowing a question in his eyes but nothing more.
"We both know you are helpless. Later, when you are in pain and I offer a reprieve, I want you to remember the comfort which I first allowed you."
"I know the routine," Hogan murmured. "Save your breath. I don't feel any more like talking to you than I did to to the dozen other dipschnitzels who've given me this song and dance."
"Perhaps. But I shall see for myself." Frolich sat down on the sofa. "Let us begin with the munitions factory explosion in Gelsenkirchen last month..."
In the tunnel beneath Stalag Thirteen, Sergeant Kinchloe sat forlornly at the table which housed his radio equipment. Hours after his first report to London that Colonel Hogan had been arrested, their superiors had finally responded, with orders that were no comfort.
On the other side of the man-made cavern, Corporal Newkirk was restlessly treading a groove in the bare dirt floor. Kinch sighed and gazed across his radio set at the Englishman. "Sit down, Newkirk. You're makin' me dizzy."
With a woebegone expression, Newkirk stopped pacing and sat down, only to begin anxiously twisting his hands in his lap. "It's not right, Kinch, and you know it. You saw that bloody Gestapo man--you saw the look in his eyes. He's going to kill Colonel Hogan!"
"Not if the Colonel can help it, and knowing him, there's a good chance he can." Kinch sighed. "I know how you feel, but you heard the reply London just gave us. Our top priority is to get this guy Stroheim. And even if it wasn't an order from London.... it's an order from Colonel Hogan."
"It's what he said before they took him away. 'Take care of things.' Don't you get it? He was talking about the job to pick up Stroheim."
Newkirk dropped his gaze. "That's a hard order to handle, Kinch, but... you read the Colonel better'n me." He shrugged sadly. "When do we leave?"
Kinch glanced at his watch. "It's nearly lights-out upstairs. We go just as soon as LeBeau and Carter get back and give us the all-clear." He'd sent them topside to scout for any extra guards or other surprises.
"Right." Newkirk stood up slowly, his lips twisted into a worried frown. "This Kraut egghead better be worth it."
Kinch sighed quietly. "Colonel Hogan will be okay, Peter. If he's managed to keep our hides out of trouble all this time, taking care of himself oughta be easy."
Though he nodded resolutely, Newkirk didn't look any more convinced than Kinch felt.
The interrogation was everything Hogan had expected.
He was handcuffed to a hard metal chair. Time eventually became nonexistent, but he felt sure the questioning proceeded for hours. Frolich did not once look him in the eye or touch him; it was the guards who delivered the punishment for flip remarks, denials, and sheer refusal to answer questions. Hogan had to admit they were skilled. They knew how to inflict an amazing amount of pain, and they did it without causing a great deal of physical damage--but it was not lost upon him that the guard at his right delivered decidedly weaker blows than his partner.
Hogan fixed his concentration on fantasies of killing Frolich, in a multitude of creative ways.
An unexpected reprieve finally came when Frolich's telephone rang. Gesturing for the guards to back away from Hogan, Frolich moved to his desk and picked up the receiver.
"Major Frolich speaking... Ahh, Major Hochstetter..."
The name penetrated Hogan's haze of exhaustion and pain. He tilted his head in a furtive effort to observe Frolich's expressions.
"Ja, Herr Major, I did. He is here... What?" A scowl spread across Frolich's face. "Ja... Ja... Very well, Major. As you wish."
"I think you're in trouble," Hogan rasped, tasting a thin film of blood on his lip. One of the guards raised a hand to strike him, but Frolich intervened.
"Nein, leave him alone. I have new instructions regarding this man." Folding his arms behind his back, Frolich gave Hogan a direct gaze. "You seem to hold the interest of a particularly nasty colleague of mine."
"Wicked Wolfie Hochstetter? Sure. We're old pals."
To Hogan's surprise, Frolich chuckled quietly. "Colonel Hogan, you are a most refreshing specimen. I truly wish I could keep you for my own amusement... However, this annoying little man Hochstetter seems to consider you his own personal plaything." He grunted disdainfully.
"Well, what do you know... Hochstetter to the rescue."
"Hardly. He wishes to supervise your interrogation, not stop it. However, it does mean you will be given respite until he arrives in the morning." Frolich gestured for the guards to remove Hogan's handcuffs.
His upper body was a solid mass of soreness, but Hogan slowly stood up by himself. Frolich stepped close to him, giving him an appraising look.
"My compliments on your high threshold of pain, Colonel. You just might die without breaking."
Hogan squinted at Frolich, through a swollen left eye that was quickly taking on the darkness of a bruise. "I don't think I'll do either."
Frolich's pale eyes darkened with cold malice. In one swift, sweeping movement, he caught Hogan's left wrist and twisted his arm, with such force that he was physically jerked against the Gestapo officer's chest.
The accompanying pain was exquisite.
Despite the power of his will, Hogan's muscles gave way to the onslaught, and he slumped to the floor as Frolich let go of him. New agony exploded through his body as a boot impacted once, then again, with his ribs. After that, mercifully, he felt nothing more.
Dressed in civilian clothes, Corporal Newkirk wandered into the vegetable market in Hammelburg and casually began to shop. In reality, he was going through the motions of making a contact. Max, the proprietor and an agent of the underground network, was patiently watching him from the cash register. After filling his basket halfway with salad fixings, Newkirk made his way over to the counter.
"Guten abend," he murmured, in his best German. "Tell me, have you a fresh shipment of carrots yet?"
"Not yet, I'm afraid." Max lowered his voice and added in English, "Herr Stroheim is a bit late."
"Bloody charming, that." Newkirk moved away from the counter. For another five minutes he wandered about the market, poking at the produce, occasionally tossing a few more vegetables into his basket.
At last, a new customer stepped in--a small and bookish man wearing a black coat, the brim of his hat pulled down in a feeble effort to conceal his bland face. The nervousness in his eyes, behind his thick glasses, marked him as Newkirk's target. A nod from Max confirmed it.
Newkirk sidled toward the arrival. "Abend. I suggest you avoid the cucumbers today..." He lowered his voice, slipping back into his usual Cockney lilt. "Papa Bear sends his regards, Herr Stroheim."
"Ahh, at last..." Stroheim glanced around anxiously. "How will this be done?"
"Give me two minutes after I leave, then follow me out. Go to the car waiting across the street."
"Whatever." Newkirk shrugged and moved off, switching back to German. "Ja, these prices are a crime. What can one say, war is costly..." He trailed off into a murmur as he thumbed through his wallet, heading for the counter.
After paying for his purchases, he walked out of the market and crossed the street, where he climbed into a car which had been borrowed from Stalag Thirteen's motor pool.
LeBeau gave him a stern look from the passenger seat. "Did you get everything on my list?"
"Yes, Mum..." Newkirk rolled his eyes and shoved the bag of vegetables into the Frenchman's arms.
"What about Stroheim?" Kinchloe was slouched in the back seat, making his best effort to be invisible.
"He's coming. If you ask me, he's even more of a shrimp than LeBeau."
"Hey!" LeBeau punched Newkirk in the shoulder. "Just for that, you get none of my bouillabaisse for dinner tomorrow night."
"Alright, knock it off," Kinch growled. "Newkirk, is this our man?"
Newkirk glanced at the figure who had just stepped from the market doorway, silhouetted in the pale light of the streetlamps. "That's him, alright."
Looking around anxiously, Stroheim crossed the street and came over to the car. Newkirk gestured for him to get into the back seat, then started the engine.
Stroheim heaved a sigh of relief as he slammed the car door. "I am so glad that is over."
Kinch sat up slightly. "I'm afraid you're only halfway in the clear, Herr Stroheim. We'll have to hide you until it's safe to send you on your way to the sub. Even then, you'll have another dangerous trip ahead of you."
Stroheim shook his head. "I don't care. I would rather die in this escape than continue to use my knowledge for the Fuhrer's insanity."
"I think it's only fair to tell you, we've got some troubles of our own." Kinch folded his arms. "Papa Bear was taken in for a round of Gestapo questioning today. He's always managed to weasel his way out of it safely, but... I don't like the looks of the guy who arrested him. Things are pretty uncertain for us right now."
"I shall try to be as small a burden as possible," Stroheim replied solemnly.
Newkirk chortled without humor and glanced over his shoulder. "Any smaller, mate, and we'll lose you completely."
LeBeau, sensitive to size jokes--and virtually anything else that ever came out of Newkirk's mouth--gave the Englishman another swat. Kinch closed his eyes tightly and sank down in the seat, praying they would at least make it back to Stalag Thirteen without a car crash.
"Colonel Hogan, wake up."
Uttering a groan of pain, Hogan stirred and unwillingly crept toward consciousness. The surface on which he lay was hard, cold metal, causing a deep chill to seep into his body through his uniform. He longed to sit up and escape that discomfort at least, but he couldn't find the energy to move. Compromising, he opened his eyes.
He was inside a bare, dimly lit prison cell. There was a guard at the door--the man who had been on his right during the interrogation. And Major Frolich was seated on a chair beside the metal shelf that passed for a bunk.
The sight of his captor motivated Hogan to action. He sat up quickly, only to be rewarded with a wave of dizziness and several stabs of pain from varied locations. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and sat still.
Among his pains was a dull, throbbing ache when he moved his left arm, which was encompassed by a strange heaviness. Slowly he glanced down at it, taking in with dim astonishment the bland white surface of a cast that extended from his wrist up past his elbow.
"You broke my arm..."
Anger rising, he looked up at Frolich, contemplating a dive for the man's throat. As if reading Hogan's thoughts, the guard shifted his weight, deliberately exposing the machine gun tucked against his side.
Frolich raised a hand to calm the lieutenant, then rose from his chair and reached up toward the rusty light fixture dangling from the ceiling. He tugged at a loose wire, dislodging it, then gazed pensively at Hogan.
"Now, Colonel, we may speak freely."
Something in the Gestapo officer's face had changed. His lips were thinned solemnly, and the once-cruel eyes were softer, almost weary. In spite of himself, Hogan lapsed into a puzzled quietude and waited.
"Your arm was not broken," Frolich murmured. "Merely sprained, of necessity. I apologize for your pain... for all of this. But there is a just cause."
Hogan glowered warily at Frolich. The German sighed and folded his arms, looking away.
"Colonel Hogan, I learned long ago that to most effectively fight a thing, one must become a thing. That is why I am here. I have sought to use against the Gestapo the very power they have given me."
The conversation, if it could be called that, was taking a turn that unsettled Hogan in unexpected ways. Rallying his exhausted wits, he studied Frolich through narrowed eyes. He was convinced this was some form of ploy, a deception, but he was at a loss as to its nature.
When he said nothing, Frolich sighed. "I didn't expect you to believe. I can only be content that you have no choice but to play out the events I have set in motion." He closed his eyes, and now, the weariness could not be mistaken.
Hogan took a breath, refusing to wince from the pain in his ribs, and slowly counted to ten. "If you want to play games, Frolich, have Smiley here bring us a deck of cards."
"This is no game." Frolich opened his eyes, and a trace of the former coldness was lurking there. "I brought you here to give you something, Colonel--and I have. Incorporated into that cast on your arm are ten strips of microfiche, containing over fifty highly guarded Gestapo documents."
Taken aback, Hogan glanced down at the cast. Its unmarked white surface did nothing to either confirm or deny Frolich's startling claim.
"Perhaps now we shall get someplace," Frolich murmured.
Setting his jaw, Hogan lifted a renewed glare of suspicion to his jailer. "After what you've done, you can't possibly think you're going to convince me of what you just said."
"No. But I don't have to." Frolich sighed, fixing his gaze on his steepled fingertips. "It has taken me three years to gather the information you now carry. To get it, I had to become what you saw in me today. I had to do things..." He faltered abruptly and paused, lowering his head. When he continued, his voice was quiet.
"I have paid with my soul for the information, but even this was not enough. There are a few who have begun to suspect me, including Major Hochstetter. A month ago, I could have fled Germany with what I had--but I was convinced I could gain more if I only waited a little longer. And I did... but my time has now run out."
A chill that was not just from the cold abruptly slithered down Hogan's spine. In Frolich's eyes, he recognized the look of a man who knew that his own death was imminent.
"They're going to come after you," Hogan murmured, the pieces of Frolich's puzzle beginning to make sense. "And you needed a carrier pigeon."
Frolich looked up at him. "Yes. I am being watched too closely to pass on the files. I needed someone with the contacts and the cunning to see them delivered safely to the Allies--and you, Colonel, are the ideal choice."
The remark stirred a familiar defensiveness. "I'm a prisoner of war--"
"Not to mention a very active saboteur and spy." Frolich gave Hogan a vaguely reproving look. "Come now, I know everything about the operation you have forged at Stalag Thirteen. And I'm not the only one. Even Hochstetter thinks he knows; he simply has failed to prove it."
Hogan sighed. "You're the one talking. Not me."
"Still no trust. That's good. At least I can be sure that the files are now in very secure hands."
"Let's assume I accept what you're saying," Hogan allowed, with an edge creeping into his voice. "You had better have a perfect explanation for the little show of force you've put me through."
"Quite simple. The other guard you were... acquainted with... today. He answers to Hochstetter, and his job is to watch me. He required convincing of my--enthusiasm."
"That explains why my left side is a lot more bruised than my right." Hogan cast the guard by the door a sour glance. "And Smiley works for you?"
"You might say that Lieutenant Stiegler and I share certain philosophies." Frolich leaned forward. "So. You may or may not choose to believe the things I've told you, but the fact remains, once you are returned to Stalag Thirteen you will learn that it is true. By that time... I will already be dead. Hochstetter's agent will report to him that I had a private talk with you, and I cannot risk questioning."
"In case you hadn't noticed, neither can I," Hogan snapped. "You said it yourself, he wants in on my interrogation--and I don't think he's going to pass up this chance to get back at me."
"You'll think of something. You always do."
"Suppose he wants to examine this cast?"
"That too has been allowed for." Frolich's lips twisted in a faint, bitter smile. "Aside from the microfiche, the cast carries an explosive--Lieutenant Stiegler's design, light and thin but very efficient. It would probably kill you; it certainly would destroy the microfiche, your arm, and any meddling hands in the way."
Hogan felt a knot of horror twist in his gut.
Oblivious to the reaction, Frolich gently ran his fingers over the plaster shell that suddenly felt very tight on Hogan's arm, caressing a subtle thickness below the elbow. "Attempt to remove the cast, and the charge will detonate. Only Stiegler knows how to defuse it, and he will do so when he takes you back to Stalag Thirteen. If Hochstetter detains him, then he will come to you when he is able. Failing that, unfortunately, you will have something of a challenge on your hands--or should I say, on your arm."
Shock gave way to rage, and Hogan clenched his fists. "I could kill you right now, Frolich."
"It makes no difference to me. But that would be of no help in getting you back to your camp." Frolich's grim expression faded to resignation. "I will be dead by dawn, Colonel Hogan. And you have more important concerns."
Frolich stood up slowly and moved toward the door, but then paused and glanced back at Hogan. "I should think you might find it rather interesting. You learn now what it feels like to be used, in much the same way as you yourself have used so many others." He gestured for Stiegler to unlock the door of the cell.
"Frolich," Hogan murmured, and the Gestapo officer looked back at him one last time.
"I wish I could say I'm sorry... but I'm not."
Frolich smiled sadly. "I am," he replied in a soft voice, and disappeared into the corridor. Lieutenant Stiegler followed him, closing the heavy steel door, and Hogan was alone.
In solitude, he leaned his head against the cold concrete wall, hesitantly touching the cast on his arm. He felt truly overwhelmed, for the first time he could remember.
"You can't be serious."
Friedrich Stroheim crouched in the snow just beyond Stalag Thirteen's high barbed-wire fence, staring blankly down through a trapdoor that opened out of a tree stump. Kinchloe huddled beside him, while Newkirk and LeBeau remained hidden in the bushes, waiting.
"Come on, Herr Stroheim," Kinchloe sighed. "It's a tunnel. You'll be a heck of a lot safer down there than anyplace above ground--especially here!" He put a hand on Stroheim's shoulder and pushed him to the ground, ducking himself, as a searchlight from one of the stalag's guard towers ghosted across the clearing.
Stroheim made a whimpering sound. "Sergeant, perhaps this is not the most auspicious of times to discuss it, but... I am afraid I suffer from rather acute claustrophobia."
"Oh, that's just great," Kinch groaned, shaking his head. "Well, let me put it to you this way: you can be claustrophobic down there, or dead up here."
"Point taken..." Stroheim got up, and with painful slowness, began easing himself down into the tunnel entrance.
The bushes rustled, and Newkirk sprinted from cover, dropping to the ground at Kinchloe's side. "Trouble, mate?"
"Stroheim's got a deathly fear of enclosed spaces." Kinch craned his neck to look over the rim of the stump. "Get down there after him. If he starts having any problems, just keep him quiet, okay?"
"Right." Newkirk nodded and slithered down the hatch. Kinch pressed himself against the ground as the searchlight passed by again, then gestured for LeBeau to move. The Frenchman scurried over and followed Newkirk, just as noises of a scuffle began to erupt from down below.
Colonel, I sure wish you were here, Kinch thought bleakly, and started down the ladder.
Underground, his fears were confirmed. Stroheim was having a wild panic attack. Newkirk and LeBeau were struggling with him, and from the looks of things, it was all they could do to hold him.
"He's flippin' barmy!" Newkirk wailed, jerking his head back to dodge Stroheim's flailing fist. The small German was uttering cries Kinch had never heard the likes of before.
The noise attracted the attention of Carter, who had stayed behind when Stroheim was picked up. He appeared from the barracks end of the tunnel, and his eyes widened as he saw the melee taking place. "Hey!"
"Andrew, get over here!" Newkirk commanded, as he wrestled Stroheim to the floor--inadvertently crushing LeBeau beneath them. Quickly Carter scuttled over and added his weight to the fray.
"Give me some room." Kinch stalked forward, balling his fist. His comrades parted like the Red Sea, pushing Stroheim into the line of fire, and one solid blow to the man's jaw settled the matter. He slumped unconsciously in Newkirk and Carter's arms.
Groaning, LeBeau crawled out from under the heap of bodies. "Mon Dieu..."
"Double mon Dieu." Breathing hard, Newkirk propped himself up on one elbow. "I wasn't halfway down the ladder when he jumped me and tried to climb back up. Who'd have guessed the lit'l bugger could put up a fight like that?"
Kinch put his hands on his hips. "Phobias can do some strange things... Come on, Carter, let's get him settled in a cot down here. Newkirk, I'd like you to check with Sergeant Wilson and see what kind of sedatives we've got."
"If we're running short, I suggest a hammer," the Englishman grumbled as he stood up. Ignoring Kinchloe's reproving look, he headed for the tunnel that led to barracks five.
Within a few minutes, Kinch and Carter had laid Stroheim on a cot in the radio room--the nerve center of the tunnel system, where he could be closely watched. Newkirk soon returned with Sergeant Wilson, who was the closest thing to a medic among the stalag's prisoners.
"Nice bruise," was Wilson's first flippant remark, when he leaned over the cot and looked at his patient.
"Never mind that," Kinch admonished. "This guy's violently claustrophobic. Another panic attack like the one he just had could bring the Krauts down on us."
"I'm even less of a therapist than I am a doctor." Wilson heaved a thoughtful sigh. "Newkirk was jabbering at me about sedatives. Do I take it you want this guy drugged?"
"If we can't keep him quiet any other way, yes."
"Well... I'll agree to that for tonight, if only so you guys can get some sleep. But it wouldn't be good, keeping him pumped full of chemicals until whenever it is you plan to get him out of here."
"We don't even know. That's up to the Krauts." Kinch spread his hands helplessly. "I promise, tomorrow we'll try to talk to Stroheim and figure out how to keep him calm. But for now... I think he needs the rest as much as we do."
Wilson frowned. "Alright, deal." He produced a syringe from his shirt pocket and began rolling up Stroheim's sleeve. "This should keep him under for a good ten or twelve hours. Go on, try to get some sleep."
"Thanks." Finally starting to feel his weariness, Kinch headed for the lockers to shed his black espionage garb, followed by LeBeau and Newkirk.
"What do we do next?" LeBeau queried plaintively.
Kinch shrugged. "Before I turn in, I'll get a message off to London. Hopefully by morning they'll have an answer for your question."
Closing his eyes, Newkirk thumped a fist against the door of his locker. "We ruddy well need the Colonel back."
A dim sense of deja vu drifted into Hogan's awareness as he heard his name being called. A hand was on his shoulder, shaking him gently, and with a resigned sigh he opened his eyes. Lieutenant Stiegler was leaning over him.
"Guten morgen, Colonel, such as it is."
Hogan hadn't realized how young Stiegler was. He did now, and he also noticed the troubled emotions lurking in the youthful officer's face.
"Frolich?" Hogan asked quietly, sitting up.
"Gone. Permanently." Stiegler averted his gaze. "Sir, I do not know how I can apologize for what I had to do yesterday. All I can say is that like Major Frolich, I believed the end will justify the means."
"We'll see," Hogan murmured. "But I'd like to give you one piece of advice: Get out of this. In the end, your little charade will do worse things to you than anyone else."
Stiegler sighed. "I want it to end, Sir. Perhaps, when we reach Stalag Thirteen--"
"If we get that far." Hogan inclined his head. "I can arrange a one-way trip to London. That should be a good incentive for you to help me get out of this alive. Now, I take it I have a visitor."
"Ja... Major Hochstetter has arrived." Stiegler frowned worriedly. "What will you do, Sir?"
"I don't think there's much I can do, except be more honest with him than I've ever liked to be." Hogan stood up slowly. "I think I know what buttons to push."
"Good luck, Sir." Stiegler reached up to the hanging light fixture, and reconnected the wire to the listening device hidden there. Then he took Hogan by the arm and led him out of the cell.
"An ordinary cast was first given to you in my counterpart's presence," Stiegler murmured, as he led Hogan down a maze of dimly lit corridors. "Later, I switched it in secret with your... special package. Lieberman will report to Hochstetter what he saw--that I only dressed your injury."
"Fine." Hogan scowled, touching his cast. "But I've gotta know one thing. Just how sensitive is this little wiring job you've done on my arm?"
Stiegler blanched. "Let us merely say, Colonel... I would try to be careful not to jar it too much."
"Wonderful. Just wonderful..." Hogan drew his left arm more tightly against his body, falling silent as Stiegler opened the door to Major Frolich's office. Like a coiled cobra, Hogan's pet Gestapo foil lurked within.
Major Wolfgang Hochstetter was a small, vicious terrier of a man, with a stern face and a snarling voice. He was sitting at Frolich's desk when the door opened, and he looked up at Hogan, his ever-threatening dark eyes narrowed to calculating slits.
Hogan greeted him with an insolent smile, made lopsided by his swollen lip. "Well, Major, aren't you going to ask what I'm doing here?"
The habitual scowl lines across his forehead deepening, Hochstetter slowly stood up and came around the desk. "Just because I did not authorize your visit here, Colonel Hogan, does not mean I disapprove of the results," he replied in his heavily accented English. As he drank in the spectacle of Hogan's bruises and cuts, something akin to satisfaction relaxed his taut facial muscles.
"You were brought here at a most interesting time. Do you know that the man who interrogated you, Major Frolich, has been found dead? Either he shot himself or it was made to look that way."
A ripple of mixed emotions passed through Hogan, but he set his jaw dispassionately. "I'm all broken up."
"Soon you may be, in the literal sense." Hochstetter folded his gloved hands behind his back, slowly beginning to circle the room. "Frolich's loyalty was suspect. We have watched him for some time, and two days ago the decision was made that he should be questioned. I was on my way here to do just that when I was informed that he had you in custody."
Hochstetter paused, turning to face Hogan. "Perhaps he had a way of knowing that we were to question him. Perhaps he brought you here to give you information."
"Oh, sure. We had a nice cozy chat, right after he broke my arm as a sign of friendship." Hogan's voice was laden with sarcasm.
The Major's eyes wandered to the cast on Hogan's arm, and he tapped his black mustache thoughtfully. "You saw Major Frolich inflict this injury?" He glanced at Lieberman, who had been standing to one side of the desk, and Stiegler, who remained at Hogan's shoulder.
"Jawohl, Herr Major," Lieberman replied.
"Afterward, I applied the cast to Colonel Hogan's arm myself," Stiegler added cautiously.
Hochstetter made a dismissive noise in his throat, still contemplating the cast. "It occurs to me this would be one way to conceal some small item..." He reached out to touch it.
"Hey, find somebody else to paw on," Hogan spat, taking a step backward and bumping into Stiegler. The Lieutenant placed a staying hand on Hogan's shoulder, then met Hochstetter's indignant gaze.
"Herr Major, I was present with either Major Frolich or this man all night. I know that the Major never touched the cast." He set his jaw slightly. "He was a good superior, and I do not like these accusations against him."
Hogan's eyebrow arched. The kid had some serious guts to protest to Hochstetter's face.
"Lieutenant, what you like and do not like is no concern of mine," Hochstetter growled. He gestured to Lieberman, and the two stepped over to the far wall, where they spoke for a moment in hushed tones.
Hogan risked a glance at Stiegler, and the young man blinked once, without looking directly at him.
Presently, Hochstetter stalked back to his position in front of the desk. Ignoring Stiegler, he addressed Hogan in a low, silky tone that was atypical of him.
"I know you, Hogan. Every moment of your existence is a scheme and a trick; even now, your mind searches for a way to turn this conversation to your advantage."
"If I think of one, you'll be the first to know," Hogan said blithely. He was rewarded with a fist in the stomach that forced the breath from his lungs.
"You play your games with Klink, but they fail with the Gestapo--and with me. I am sorely tempted to have you shot where you stand."
Clutching his stomach and still gasping for air, Hogan tilted his head to give the man a contemptuous look. "If you do that... you'll never prove all the things you think you know about me. And I'll die knowing I beat you, where it counted."
Hochstetter's eyes narrowed. Without shifting his gaze from Hogan's glare, he murmured, "Lieberman."
"Jawohl, Herr Major."
To Hogan's surprise, Hochstetter closed his eyes for a brief moment as he issued his next order.
"Lieutenant, take this man... back to Stalag Thirteen."
Uttering another perfunctory acknowledgement, Lieberman moved toward Hogan and took him by the arm. Hochstetter gestured for him to pause.
"I swear, Hogan, I will bring you down. You will find me in every shadow, watching you, waiting to destroy you utterly. Neither your resourcefulness nor Klink's ineptitude will keep me from this."
Hogan locked gazes with Hochstetter for a long moment. "Auf Wiedersehen, Major," he said quietly, and turned to accept Lieberman's escort. Near the door, he darted a quick glance at Stiegler.
The young man noticed, and took a step closer to Hochstetter. "Shall I go with Lieutenant Lieberman, Herr Major?"
"No. My own aide will do so. You I would speak with." The Major shot a glare at Lieberman. "Well? Take that man out of my sight!"
Meeting Stiegler's eyes one last time, Hogan offered up a silent prayer, and allowed Lieberman to lead him away.
At Stalag Thirteen, orders from London arrived just after morning roll call. The men waited in the tunnel as Kinchloe took the radio message.
"Still out cold." Leaning over the cot on which Herr Stroheim lay in drugged oblivion, Newkirk sighed. "I'd like to have used a nip of Wilson's stuff meself. I hardly slept at all, thinking about the Guv'nor."
"D'accord," LeBeau sympathized, twisting his cap in his hands. "Tonight we must help him. Do you suppose he will last that long?"
Carter looked up from the stick of dynamite he had been idly turning over in his hands. "The Colonel? You bet he'll last, boy! He doesn't break and he doesn't quit. You'll see. Why, I wouldn't be surprised if he even--"
"Oh, give it a rest, Andrew." Newkirk's reproach was lacking its usual sharpness.
"That goes for all of you," Kinchloe piped up from behind the radio. Scowling, he adjusted his headset slightly and reached for his clipboard. "Go ahead, Mama Bear."
For the next two minutes, he listened to London and wrote furiously, his expression growing darker by leaps. At long last he signed off. He stared at the clipboard for a moment, then yanked his headset off and angrily threw it down onto the table, shaking his head.
"More bad news?" Newkirk asked warily, seating himself beside LeBeau.
"They want us to take Stroheim out and turn him over to the underground tonight." Kinch's tone was flat.
LeBeau shrugged sadly. "With Colonel Hogan gone, Klink has been light on security. We should have no troubles. Besides, we must go out anyway to rescue the Colonel." He frowned as Kinch's expression became shadowed. "Oui?"
"No, Louie." Kinch sighed deeply. "Our orders from London are to go with Stroheim. All of us."
Carter gaped. "Kinch, you don't mean..."
"We fold up our operation here." Kinch nodded grimly. "Someone up top has decided there's too big a risk that the Colonel has been compromised. They want us to get out before we're found out."
LeBeau leaped up from his seat, uttering a burst of rapid, indignant French. "Ceci a tort! Nous ne pouvons pas laisser le Colonel--" He broke off abruptly when Newkirk reached out, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"I feel the same way," Kinch said slowly. "But we have our orders. Carter, start rounding up the explosives you need to blow the tunnels, okay?"
"Okay, Kinch." Shoving the stick of dynamite into his battered old jacket, Carter stood up and shuffled toward a branch of the tunnel, muttering to himself.
Shaking his head, Newkirk spoke in a quiet voice. "I'm not going. Not without the Colonel."
He was rewarded at once with the uncomfortable feeling of his three companions' surprised gazes on him. Looking around at them, he gathered his resolve. "The Guv'nor wouldn't leave one of us. He's taken care of us all for too long not to deserve the same."
LeBeau nodded slowly, resuming his seat beside Newkirk. "I'm with you, mon ami."
Carter turned to Kinchloe with a melting gaze, and the older man heaved a sigh. "Alright, look..."
Sergeant Olsen abruptly leaned around the doorframe. "Gestapo car just came through the gate!"
A mad scramble for the ladder ensued.
Uptsairs, every man in the barracks spilled out the door and clustered outside, watching as a Gestapo staff car rolled toward Klink's office. The Kommandant bustled onto the porch, with Schultz at his elbow.
When the car came to a halt across the compound, a lieutenant stepped out and exchanged salutes with Klink, who strode forward. Words passed between them, too quietly to be heard by the men, and Klink's expression became one of surprise.
The Lieutenant opened the rear passenger door of the car, and Colonel Hogan stepped out.
A collective murmur of dismay rippled among the men. The Colonel was hurt. He had bruises, a black eye, a swollen lip. He was limping... and a cast encased his left forearm. Even Klink grimaced at the sight of his ranking prisoner.
With a few final words and a salute, the Lieutenant stepped back into the car and gestured to the driver. The car took off for the gate, leaving Klink and Hogan to silently face each other.
Hesitating, Kinch started toward the two Colonels, prompting several of the other men to follow. Hogan turned his head slightly, a brief, acknowledging glance.
Klink clasped his hands before his chest, giving Hogan a regretful gaze; he did not care to see anyone in pain, especially one as familiar, though annoying, as his American counterpart. "Colonel Hogan, you're... well? Do you need a doctor?"
"I'll live," Hogan replied dryly.
"There's nothing you need?"
Unbeknownst to Klink, but noticed by the watching prisoners, a calculating glimmer appeared in Hogan's eyes. "Maybe one thing, Sir."
"What is it?"
Hogan glanced left and right, then drew back his right fist and delivered a punch that sent Klink sprawling.
Amid the men's gasps of shock, Klink stared up at Hogan in astonished rage, a gloved hand pressed against his jaw. Glancing at his fingers and finding no blood, he looked to Schultz, who stood wide-eyed and gaping.
"Schultz! Take Hogan to the cooler, immediately!"
"Jawohl, Herr Kommandant!" Schultz stammered. He warily stepped closer to Hogan and took him by his good arm, tensed to dodge any further blows, but Hogan had become passive. He quietly followed the Sergeant.
Climbing to his feet, Klink whirled on the crowd of prisoners and waved his riding crop. "Back to the barracks, now!" he bellowed, and stomped into his office.
Newkirk edged forward. "Kinch, what just happened here? The Colonel..."
Kinch's expression was solemn. "The Gestapo must've given him a real going-over."
"Oui. Mon Colonel is hurting," LeBeau lamented. "What can we do?"
"Let's try to find out." Kinch headed for the barracks.
Inside, he headed for the tunnel entrance. Newkirk, LeBeau and Carter followed him below, and they started down the tunnel that led to the cooler.
Colonel Hogan was already there, leaning pensively against the wall, at the base of the ladder which led down from the solitary confinement cells. It was clear he had expected his men's intended visit. With a small, tired smile, he waved a dismissive hand to halt their approach.
"Colonel, are we glad to see you!" Carter blurted.
The empty smile took on a fraction more warmth. "It's mutual, fellas. Is everything okay here? Did you get Stroheim?"
Kinch took the fore. "Yes Sir, we did. He's a little... odd... but nothing we can't handle." He turned to flash the others a meaningful glance. "Anyway, London wants us to turn him over to the underground tonight. What about you, Sir? You want me to call Wilson to have a look at you?"
"No, I'm alright." Hogan stood straighter, taking a step toward the ladder. "But I do need some information. I want you to find the whereabouts of a Gestapo officer named Lieutenant Stiegler, in Dusseldorf."
"What do I do when I find him?"
"Leave that to me." Hogan glanced upward. "I'd better be getting back upstairs. I'd like to rest... and if you don't mind, I'd prefer to be alone for a while."
"We'll see to it no one bothers you, Colonel." Kinch saluted, and watched as Hogan laboriously climbed the ladder.
"Bloody devils," Newkirk murmured, once Hogan had vanished through the trapdoor. "I'd like to be there personally when every last one of 'em pays for this."
"What do we do about our orders?" LeBeau queried.
Kinch shrugged. "We call London and tell them everything's secure. We've got the Colonel back, and we'll proceed with tonight's rendezvous to hand off Stroheim."
A faint moan from the radio room caused them all to start nervously.
"Speaking of which, it sounds like the little guy is awake again," Carter said.
"Terrific." Kinch sighed, hunching his shoulders. "Come on, we'd better try and figure out how to keep him quiet."
The afternoon dragged on slowly at Stalag Thirteen, and the prison yard remained strangely empty throughout the day. Most of the prisoners kept to the barracks, as if holding some mysterious vigil for their senior officer.
Even Colonel Wilhelm Klink, the Kommandant, was finding it difficult to concentrate on his ever-present paperwork.
The left side of his jaw was bruised and ached faintly where Hogan had clipped him, but somehow, Klink couldn't bring himself to hold it against the American. He knew what the Gestapo was capable of; he had seen Hogan's injuries himself. The man had to be hurting, humiliated, and perhaps would have lashed out at anyone.
Hogan might have been the enemy, but his presence had grown familiar, even comfortable. Klink was more at ease talking to him than to any of his fellow German soldiers, whether superior or subordinate. He had gleaned interesting ideas from him, even confided in him on occasion. And as minutes lengthened into hours, Klink found himself wishing Hogan would barge into his office, swiping a cigar from the humidor as he protested some foolish triviality.
Just after three o'clock, Klink set aside his work and left the office on an impulse, heading for the cooler.
Sergeant Schultz was standing guard at the outer door, leaning on his rifle. His somnolent expression evaporated when he saw Klink coming. "Herr Kommandant!" He saluted anxiously.
Klink returned the salute. "I've decided I want to have a talk with Hogan. Give me the keys, Schultz." He patiently held out a gloved hand, and Schultz fumbled for the key ring on his belt, almost dropping it in haste as he handed it over.
"Dis-missed," Klink added, in his customary sharp fashion. Schultz saluted again and beat a quick retreat. Satisfied, Klink unlocked the door and stepped into the cell block.
In the last cell on the row, Hogan lay staring up at the bland gray ceiling, his injured arm tucked securely against his ribs. Klink was convinced that the American was aware of him, but he remained unmoving.
"Colonel Hogan," Klink began experimentally, and received no acknowledgement. Heaving a sigh, he spoke anyway.
"Hogan, I realize you have just been through a very unpleasant ordeal. I know the way the Gestapo works. Their attention is... something I would not even wish upon an enemy."
He paused. "I understand you must be angry. I can accept that you needed to express it. And, for some reason I cannot fathom... under the circumstances, I feel willing to forgive what you did. Don't take my good graces lightly."
Hogan blinked. And that was all.
Shaking his head, Klink unlocked the cell door. "You're free to leave the cooler," he announced crisply. Still meeting with no response, he spread his hands and started back down the corridor.
He was unaware of Hogan's eyes alertly following him.
As Klink stepped out into the November chill, movement at the compound gate caught his eye. He swallowed back a groan as a staff car with Gestapo markings entered.
"Schultz!" he barked, jolting the obese Sergeant to alertness, and hurried across the yard. Schultz trotted after him like a panting Saint Bernard.
Major Hochstetter stepped out of the car.
"Ahh... Major..." Klink fumbled. The events of the past day brought a new level of terror to this man's presence.
Rolling his eyes, Hochstetter saluted perfunctorily. "Where is Hogan?"
Behind Klink, Schultz sniggered. "That is funny, Herr Major. You always complain when Colonel Hogan is with the Kommandant, and when he isn't, you want to see him..." He blanched, his eyes widening to the size of search lights, as the Gestapo officer nailed him with a razor-edge glare.
"Klink," Hochstetter muttered, "what is this man doing here?"
Schultz began stuttering, and Klink cut him off, his instincts for self-preservation kicking in. "Yes, Schultz, what are you doing here? You're supposed to be standing guard at the cooler!" As Schultz began to retreat in his typical confusion, Klink stopped him with a hand on his shoulder and leaned close. "Lock the door to Hogan's cell and tell him I've changed my mind!" he whispered sharply.
The baffled Sergeant lumbered away, and Klink turned back to Hochstetter. "The cooler is where Colonel Hogan is, which I believe answers your first question, Major. And I must say I am not at all pleased with the state in which he was returned to me. Do you see this? He actually struck me after your lieutenant brought him back!" Klink pointed to the bruise. "He'll be in the cooler thirty days for this."
Hochstetter eyed the bruise. "For that, perhaps Hogan should actually get a medal... before he is shot."
"Major, do you want to see Hogan?" Klink asked warily. His gut twisted at the thought of how another Gestapo encounter might affect the already battered American officer.
"Nein. Leave him for now. At this time, I am here to begin making observations. I have settled my immediate affairs in Dusseldorf, and I will be staying here until further notice. You will carry on normally. Understood?"
Klink nodded on conditioned reflex, then abruptly shook his head. "No, Major, I'm afraid I don't understand. Why did you release Hogan if you weren't... finished with him?"
"Dummkopf, perhaps you forget. It was not I who arrested Hogan yesterday, but Major Frolich."
"Ahh, yes, a fine officer. He seemed very much like you," Klink stammered.
Hochstetter shot him a look of complete disgust. "Frolich is dead. And suspected of being a traitor."
"As I said, he was nothing like you at all." Klink hastily shook his head. His neck was beginning to cramp from so much exercise.
The look on his face not changing appreciably, Hochstetter went on. "Despite Hogan's protestations to the contrary, I am convinced Frolich gave him information of some kind, intending for him to relay it to his own connections."
"Do not even start your argument again, Klink. I know what I know. And Hogan knows what I know..." Hochstetter paused to frown at the tangled remark, then shot Klink a gratuitous glare. "I must know where Hogan is day and night, to catch him in the act of espionage."
Klink stiffened his posture. "By all means, Major... feel free to make Stalag Thirteen your home for as long as you deem necessary." He longed to grimace at the words. "However, I still feel confident that you will find nothing goes on in this camp without my knowledge."
Hochstetter gave him a crosswise scowl. "For your own sake, Klink... you had best hope that you are wrong."
Hogan's time in the cooler was divided between catnapping and contemplating his predicament. He was aware of what everyone believed--that his interrogation had pushed his tolerance and nerves over the edge. In fact, it was exactly the impression he had planned during the trip back from Dusseldorf.
With every bump in the road, he had felt a growing, uneasy awareness of the explosive concealed in his cast, and remembered Stiegler's warning that it could be volatile. He had decided that he wanted to place some distance between himself and his men, in case the bomb was accidentally triggered. And solitary confinement was ideal for that purpose.
Besides, after what he had just been through at German hands, walloping Klink felt very good indeed.
Almost immediately after Klink's visit, Schultz came in and locked the cell door again, murmuring something unintelligible. Hogan had ignored him. But some time after that, Schultz came back, escorting Sergeant Kinchloe.
Not stirring from his lethargic sprawl on the bunk, Hogan rolled his eyes toward Kinch. "Don't tell me you've taken my brilliant example," he remarked dryly.
"No Sir." Kinch pointed to the covered plate he was carrying. "Schultz agreed to let me bring you dinner, compliments of LeBeau."
"It is wunderbar, Colonel Hogan," Schultz murmured, his mouth stuffed with a gourmet bribe. He unlocked the door and let Kinch inside the cell.
Hogan sat up, cautiously resituating his arm. Kinch set the plate down, then shot a pointed glance at Schultz, who was eyeing it hungrily. "Can we have some privacy, please?"
Schultz wavered. "I don't think--"
"Which is exactly the way it should be," Hogan interrupted impatiently. "Tell you what, Schultz. If there's any leftovers, they're all yours."
The fat German beamed at him. "Jawohl!" he replied, and swaggered away down the corridor.
Once Schultz was out of sight, Kinch leaned forward and spoke in a low voice. "We've got troubles, Colonel. Major Hochstetter rolled in about half an hour ago with his goon squad."
Hogan let his head drop back against the wall, sighing deeply. "That's great. Maybe I let on too much to Wicked Wolfie after all... and it explains why Klink changed his mind."
"I beg your pardon, Sir?"
"Never mind." Hogan shook his head slowly. "What's Hochstetter up to?"
"Making Klink tighten security is what. And it looks like he's setting up camp for a while." Kinch frowned. "Colonel, I don't think we'll be able to take Stroheim out of here until we get rid of old Sunshine And Joy."
"I know. We'll just have to keep him downstairs for a little bit. I'll think of something..."
"There's another problem, Sir. Stroheim is claustrophobic. Last night, we didn't have him in the tunnel one minute before he lost it and we had to drug him. Since he woke up earlier today, it's been all we can do to keep him calm. I'm afraid he could blow our cover if he has another attack."
"Oh, boy." Hogan wearily rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I'll try to think fast, Kinch--but to be honest, there's a more immediate priority. Have you gotten anything back on Lieutenant Stiegler?"
"Not yet. Underground says there's some kind of reshuffling going on at Gestapo HQ in Dusseldorf. Lots of confusion, they're trying to figure out what's going on." Kinch paused. "Do you know something about it?"
Hogan chose his words with care; the men had enough on their minds without worrying over him too. "Let's just say Lieutenant Stiegler is the key to some information that could save a lot of lives." Including mine, he added silently.
Kinch gave him a doleful look. "With all due respect, Colonel, I hate it when you get mysterious."
"So do I, Kinch." Hogan shrugged. "It'll be okay. Now, maybe you'd better call my dinner partner and get back to holding down the fort. I'm counting on you, buddy."
"Right." Kinch saluted, moved over to the cell door and then paused, turning back to Hogan. "Is there anything you want, Sir?"
"No... Yes." Hogan smiled wanly, wedging a finger under the edge of his cast. "Ask LeBeau if I can borrow one of his knitting needles. This thing itches like the dickens!"
A faint grin tugged at Kinch's lips as he nodded.
A prison camp Stalag Thirteen might have been, but barracks two was, in its own ways, almost a home. Over time, its rough wooden walls and rows of shabby bunks had taken on a peculiar kind of character. With its repertoire of tricks and secrets, it reflected a little of the personalities of the men who resided there.
But with Colonel Hogan absent, the heart and soul of the barracks felt lacking. And the arrival of the Gestapo had only added to the gloom.
Seated at the table, half-heartedly tinkering with the remains of an old alarm clock he'd taken apart months before, Andrew Carter looked up as Kinch came through the door.
"I just delivered room service to the Colonel." Kinch went to the stove where LeBeau was busily cooking, and gave the small Frenchman a fond pat on the shoulder. "Thanks for fixing it for him, and by the way, he'd like to borrow a knitting needle from you."
Newkirk lithely hopped down from his bunk, sauntering over to take a seat next to Carter. "Even in the cooler, he can't be that bored. Not with the Gestapo around."
"I said one knitting needle," Kinch retorted, raising a finger. "Comes in kind of handy for getting to itches under a cast."
"That's fine with me... Ouch!" LeBeau suddenly flinched away from the stove, spitting out a string of French imprecations as he wrung his right hand.
A frown creased Carter's brow. "Louie, did you burn yourself?" The Frenchman knew his way around cooking equipment like no one else, and for him to have a mishap was unheard of.
Scowling, LeBeau poured a cup of water and thrust his singed fingers into it. "I was just thinking about the Colonel. I want to get my hands on the filthy Bosche that beat him up!
"We all do, mate," Newkirk sighed. "The Guv'nor's been through it with the Krauts plenty of times, but he's never closed up on us like this before. Or whopped old Klink, no matter how much he's wanted to. When I think about what they must've done to make him that upset..."
Kinch shook his head, taking a seat at the table. "Somehow, I think he's up to one of his tricks. He seemed okay when I talked to him just now, and besides, I can't see him ever losing his cool so badly he'd punch Klink. I think he wanted to be sent to the cooler."
"Why would he do that?" Carter queried.
"Beats me, but you know the Colonel. He's got a reason for everything he does, no matter how crazy it is."
"Yeah, you said it..."
Conversation came to a halt as the door opened, and an unhappy Schultz waddled in--with Hochstetter and two Gestapo guards on his heels. "Achtung! Barracks inspection!"
A wave of protests rose up from the prisoners, and Hochstetter ignored them, gesturing for his lackeys to begin the inspection. They proceeded to tear mattresses off the bunks, rifle through cabinets, and pry open lockers.
"Nice of you to wait until suppertime!" LeBeau groused, brandishing a wooden spoon defensively as one of the guards glared at him.
"Have any of you spoken to Colonel Hogan since he was brought back to camp?" Hochstetter demanded.
Kinch stepped forward and glowered down at the small German, folding his arms. "Just me."
Hochstetter gave the black man a contemptuous glare. "Did he give you anything, or discuss his questioning?"
"I'd like to give you something on the Colonel's behalf," Newkirk murmured, raising a fist. Glowering, Hochstetter stepped toward him.
Sensing an imminent disaster, Carter bolted up from the table and wedged himself in front of Newkirk. Kinch stepped forward at almost the same moment to place his hand on the Englishman's shoulder. Eyes narrowing, Hochstetter let a venomous gaze slide across all three of them.
"For your information, as if that were any concern of mine, I did not interrogate your beloved senior officer... Yet." He folded his arms.
Glaring at Hochstetter, Newkirk pushed against his friends' restraining hands. "Why, you lousy--"
A guard's machine gun leveled on Newkirk as Kinch and Carter redoubled their efforts to calm him. "Easy, Peter! You won't help the Colonel this way," Kinch said softly.
The words were effective. Newkirk became still, then abruptly shoved the two Americans' hands away, turning to throw himself down onto his seat with a growl of frustration.
The inspection was over, and Hochstetter's glare intensified when his aides had nothing to report. He sent them out, then gazed from one end of the barracks to the other.
"You are all being very cunning, but you cannot keep secrets from the Gestapo forever. I swear to you, I will find everything you are hiding... or Hogan will die." Turning on his heel, he started for the door.
LeBeau stepped halfway in front of him, a rare fury in his dark eyes. "Won't you stay for dinner, Major? For you, I have some lovely wienerschnitzel and rat poison."
Eyes widening, Hochstetter drew back a gloved fist. LeBeau's gaze didn't waver.
"Bah!" Hochstetter snorted, swinging his fist over LeBeau's shoulder. He struck the pot bubbling on the stove, and it clattered to the floor, bouillabaisse spilling across the wooden boards.
"Come again," Kinch remarked coolly. Uttering another snarl, Hochstetter stomped out without looking back.
A collective sigh of relief rose up when the Major was gone, but Kinch raised a hand as he realized one German remained. Schultz was staring down at the spilled pot of fish stew, looking as if he were about to cry. "Cockroach...!"
LeBeau uttered a hiss of exasperation. "Get out!" he snapped. Giving him a startled look, Schultz shuffled through the door, and LeBeau slammed it behind him.
He'd barely turned around before he found himself caught up in a bear hug from, of all people, Newkirk. "You're a little tiger, mate!"
Leaning against the table, Kinch shook his head. "Come on, you know that was a stupid thing to do. Both of you." He frowned at LeBeau and Newkirk as they sat down. "Fighting back right now, that way, is only going to bring them down harder on us. And we don't know what the Colonel is planning, either. We've got to wait for his word, fellas."
LeBeau sighed. "D'accord."
"Well, what do you want us to do?" Carter wailed. "Hochstetter was talking like he's going to kill the Colonel! Now that's gotta be against the Geneva Conven--"
"You think the Gestapo cares about the Geneva Convention?" Newkirk pushed Carter's cap down over his eyes. "Wake up, mate! Hochstetter'll do anything to get what he wants."
"Relax, all of you," Kinch said firmly. "I'll report this to the Colonel and find out the next move he wants to make. That's all we can do. The rest of you better start putting this place back together again..." He looked around at the chaos left in the Gestapo's wake. "And good luck."
A Gestapo guard walked through the cooler every hour, on the hour. Once he had established this pattern, Hogan felt at liberty to leave his cell for a while, taking to the tunnels below for a chance to stretch his legs. He was growing more and more restless.
For once, the cool damp of the tunnels was almost comforting. Hogan moved silently in the near-dark, not wanting to arouse the attention of any of his men who might be watching over Herr Stroheim.
It was unpleasant business, he and Hochstetter each waiting for the other to make the first move. He could guess the Major was lying in wait for an attempt to transmit stolen Gestapo information to the underground or the Allies; undoubtedly they had radio detection gear upstairs, in addition to a squad of thugs alert to any strange occurence.
Chuckling grimly, Hogan rubbed the cast on his arm with his fingertips. I couldn't get this information out of camp now if I wanted to, Major. It's not your move, but it's not mine yet, either.
He abruptly became aware of noises at the opposite end of the tunnel, coming from the central section beneath barracks two. An unfamiliar voice was raised in increasing urgency, followed by a strange cry, then a shouted command that sounded like Kinch. Feeling a tingle of apprehension, Hogan quickened his pace, moving toward the sounds.
Running footsteps became audible as he neared an intersection in the tunnel. Taking a deep breath, he stepped forward to greet any form of mayhem approaching him...
And a slight but rapidly-moving weight bowled him over, collapsing on top of him as he hit the hard-packed dirt floor on his back.
The pain of the double impact--against his already aching body, no less--took second place to a sharp thrill of fear as his cast bumped against the floor. Catching his breath, Hogan twisted uncomfortably, grappling with the small but frenzied figure on top of him. Herr Stroheim, I presume!
Just as he had the small man in a firm grip, one hand clamped over his mouth, Kinchloe appeared in the half-light filtering through from a more frequently traversed section of tunnel. His eyes widened when he saw his commanding officer and Stroheim in a tangle on the floor. "Colonel! I'm sorry, I--"
"Douse that light." Hogan's command came on impulse. Kinch obeyed swiftly and without question, snuffing out the flickering illumination of the lanterns in the adjoining tunnel, and the section was plunged into pitch blackness.
Hogan shifted his weight carefully, pinning Stroheim against the floor, and leaned close to where the man's ear should have been. "Listen to me. You can't see the walls now. Close your eyes. You're safe here--remember that."
Stroheim became still, though he was trembling, and nodded slowly under Hogan's silencing hand. Hogan relaxed his grip, and gradually felt the small man's breathing slow.
"Kinch?" Hogan asked into the darkness.
"Here, Sir." Kinch sounded chagrinned. "I'm sorry about that. Herr Stroheim was doing okay, until he started getting wind of our uninvited guests topside."
"I know the feeling." Hogan sat halfway up, bracing his back against the tunnel wall, and pulled Stroheim close to him. The small man was limp in his arms.
"You want me to take him back now, Sir?"
A hand squeezed Hogan's wrist, and he sighed. "No, not yet. Just leave him here to rest for a while. The Krauts won't check my cell for about another forty minutes, so I'll stay here as long as I can."
"Yes, Sir." Kinch's footsteps began to recede.
Stroheim remained still for several minutes, and his trembling subsided as his tense body slowly relaxed. After what felt like ages, he finally spoke in a small, tremulous voice that sounded loud in the confines of the tunnel.
"Colonel Hogan, I believe?"
Hogan nodded in the dark. "That's me. And you'd be Herr Friedrich Stroheim, of course."
"Yes." Stroheim hesitated. "Please forgive me, Colonel. Your wounds, your companions explained to me... I didn't mean to cause you any more pain."
Stroheim shifted at Hogan's side. "You can't know how terrible it is, to feel trapped and suffocating in one's only safe refuge. Knowing the Gestapo is above us only makes it worse."
"Trust me, I'm not thrilled about our unwelcome houseguests either. But you're safe down here."
"Please, talk to me. It helps to calm my nerves."
"Okay..." Hogan thought for a moment. "Tell me something, then. I'm a little curious how a man as obviously intelligent as you can be afraid of enclosed spaces."
The small German was silent for a moment. And then he asked quietly, "Are you aware of history, Colonel Hogan?"
The question caught Hogan off guard. "What?"
"Or our place in history, I should say. Do you never think of the future, and what will be said and thought of the things you have done?"
Hogan chuckled grimly. "Most of the time, I'm lucky if I have a chance to think five minutes ahead."
"That I understand. This life must give you very little time for contemplation... I, on the other hand, have had far too much time to myself. And perhaps it's why I'm here, now. I feel conscious of things to come. You know my work?"
"Only that you were involved in atomic research."
"Ja. I have studied the unlocking of tremendous power, infinite possibilities... both dangerous weapons under the thumb of a madman such as Hitler. As time passed, I grew desperately afraid that I or my colleagues would be remembered for unleashing the greatest horror ever known to the world. But I was forced to go on... and I felt so helpless."
He sighed. "Much of the work was done in a bunker, deep under the ground. Perhaps it's only that, when I am reminded of that place, the fear of what I have done is aroused."
The explanation bemused Hogan, and he sat silently for a moment before answering. "Your intentions were right. You don't have anything to blame yourself for."
"Is there nothing you're afraid of, Colonel?"
Hogan frowned, thinking for a moment. His answer was quiet and solemn.
"If you can call it that, I'm afraid of my men getting hurt or killed. And I'm afraid of spending the rest of my life here, never seeing my family again."
"A soldier you are, truly."
"And... sometimes... I'm afraid of losing this war."
The words were difficult, but now that Hogan had begun the confession, he felt compelled to go on. "The Germans may be losing ground, but desperation is the mother of invention--and boy, have they been inventive. We've sabotaged a lot of very creative weapons and strategies that just might have won the war--and those are only the ones they allow anywhere near Klink." He sighed. "Sometimes, I can't help but wonder what they might have come up with that we don't know about."
Stroheim drew away from him slightly. "I think I begin to understand. Colonel, have you taken the weight of this entire war upon your own shoulders?"
"There's always so much more to be done."
"But only so much that is within your reach. For the rest, you must have faith." Stroheim's hand found Hogan's shoulder in the dark, and patted it. "From what I have seen here, if the Allies have many more like yourself and your men, the Third Reich has no chance in the world."
Hogan chuckled faintly. "Do me a favor. Repeat that to the brass when you get to London."
"Colonel? Mon Colonel?"
I can never get any uninterrupted sleep anymore... Hogan stirred groggily, groaning a noise of protest to prove his displeasure at being roused. Sitting up, he rubbed his good hand across his face and glanced toward the cooler's tunnel entrance. Predictably, the wall block which concealed it had been pushed out, and LeBeau was leaning halfway through the opening.
"What's up?" It wasn't the phrase on Hogan's mind, but it would suffice.
"Kinch sent me to get you, Sir. The underground has sent us the information you wanted."
"Finally!" Hogan stood up, glancing at his watch. It was a quarter past eight in the evening; he had forty-five minutes to roam around before the guard's next check-in. Satisfied, he followed LeBeau.
In a tunnel alcove beneath barracks five--Sergeant Wilson's domain--Stroheim was laying quietly on his cot. His eyes were closed to shut out the view of dark, oppressive walls, but his uneasy breathing gave away his wakefulness. He stirred slightly as Hogan passed, and the Colonel gave him a pat on the arm. Stroheim responded with a faint smile.
In the radio room, Kinch was sitting dutifully before his equipment--and with him were Newkirk and Carter. Hogan had learned not to question their almost supernal way of being around when important doings were afoot. He waved a hand in lieu of a salute, while LeBeau crossed the room to sit with them.
Hogan eased himself down onto a seat opposite Kinch, wincing; his aches and bruises were worse now than they had been the day before. "What have you got?"
Kinch frowned. "Well, I don't know if this is what you wanted to hear or not... but Lieutenant Stiegler is dead."
The Colonel's heart sank. "How?"
"Hochstetter. The Merry Major suspected him of treason--or something--and brought him in for questioning. He tried to escape, and they shot him." Kinch tilted his head. "Sir, wasn't Stiegler one of Frolich's thugs?"
"It's a long story." Hogan closed his eyes and sighed, giving in to his weariness just enough to rest his head on his hand. "I guess the only thing I can do now is let you all in on it. To put it short and unsweet... this cast is loaded."
Four dubious faces blinked back at him.
"Listen. In his own way, Frolich was working against the Gestapo, but they were onto him. He had me picked up so I could smuggle out the information he'd collected. It's on microfilm, inside this cast somewhere."
Newkirk gave Hogan's plaster-encased arm a wondering glance. "Sir, does that mean your arm isn't really broken?"
"No, but it's sprained pretty bad. Hochstetter had a goon keeping tabs on Frolich, so he had to put on a good show." Hogan dropped his gaze to the cast. "And here's the really nasty part. Frolich's accomplice--the late Lieutenant Stiegler--has this thing tamper-proofed. In a big way."
Carter caught on the quickest as the conversation moved into his forte. "Explosives, Sir?" His eyes became wide as he stared at the cast's innocuous white surface.
"So they claimed, and I have no reason to doubt them." Hogan shrugged helplessly. "Stiegler was the only one who knew how to disarm this thing--without it disarming me. He was supposed to come here and remove it, but that's obviously not going to happen now."
A moment of uncertain silence followed, and then Kinch spoke, in a steady voice. "So that's why you got yourself thrown into the cooler."
Hogan smiled wanly. "Stiegler said this thing might be a little sensitive. I didn't want you guys close to me if he turned out to be right, but it's held up so far."
"What are we going to do, Sir?" Newkirk asked anxiously.
A grim shrug was the only answer Hogan could give. "I don't know. Maybe I'll ask to have a chat with Hochstetter. If I'm going to go out with a bang--"
"Mon Colonel, that isn't funny!" LeBeau interrupted. For a brief moment, he looked mildly surprised by his own reaction to the gallows humor, but he didn't lower his eyes from Hogan's. Kinch, Carter and Newkirk were likewise gazing at the Colonel with expressions of uneasy concern.
Sighing, Hogan ran his hand through his thick black hair. "I know, fellas. But you have to realize something. Sooner or later, Hochstetter is going to get curious about this--and when he does, I don't want any of you around."
The men exchanged glances. And then Carter stood up, twisting his cap uneasily in his hands.
"Colonel, let me take a crack at that cast." He hesitated. "I mean, I'm almost as good at taking apart bombs as I am at making them... aren't I?"
Carter's beseeching expression, to say nothing of his intense loyalty, forced a smile to tug at Hogan's lips. But he shook his head slowly. "I can't ask you to do that, Andrew. There's too much of a risk you'd be hurt too."
Casting about with his eyes for moral support from the others, Carter took a deep breath. "Well maybe you can't ask, Sir, but--but I can volunteer. And that's exactly what I'm doing. So... so you'd just better get used to the idea!" He winced at his own facade of firmness.
Hogan sighed, gazing gravely at the younger man. "Do you understand the situation, Carter? Even if Hochstetter doesn't walk in on us, you could get hurt."
Carter squared his shoulders. "Colonel, I'm... I'm up for it, if you are."
An uncomfortable silence held until Newkirk leaned forward, thumping Carter soundly on the back. "You're a brave lad, Andrew. It was an honor knowing you--"
"Oh, knock it off," Kinch retorted.
"Steady, guys." Hogan stood up slowly, resigning himself to Carter's reckless courage. "Alright, if we're going to do this, it'll have to be in the cooler. The guards check on me every hour, and besides... if anything goes wrong..."
"It's where you can do the least damage," LeBeau finished for him morosely.
Carter shifted nervously, then got up and edged toward the tunnel passageway. "I'd better start getting my tools together, Sir."
"Fine. Come up through the tunnel exactly one minute after twenty-one hundred. As for the rest of you..." Hogan paused grimly. "You know what to do if things go wrong."
He moved to follow Carter out of the radio room, but Kinch's voice stopped him. "Colonel...?"
Turning, Hogan met with three almost identical gazes from Kinch, LeBeau and Newkirk--expressions that betrayed their depths of concern.
"I know, guys." Hogan rousted a faint smile. "Count on Carter. He knows more about bombs than anybody. Besides... taking things apart is always easier than putting them together."
Newkirk's lips twisted wryly. "Good luck to you, Sir. To both of you."
"Yeah..." Hogan gave a resigned shrug, then lifted his hand to salute the three men. Instinctively coming to attention, they returned the gesture.
With a grateful nod, he walked away.
At exactly two minutes after nine, Carter popped out of the cooler tunnel, looking like a flighty ground squirrel. He almost jumped out of his skin when Hogan stirred from his motionless position on the bunk.
"You're late," Hogan remarked, just as Carter was breathing a sigh of relief.
"Sorry, Sir. Hochstetter had Klink pull a surprise roll call." Carter produced a tool case and a flashlight from beneath his worn bomber jacket. "I think I got everything we need. Brought the flashlight because there's not enough light in here." He lifted his eyes to give Hogan a quick, apologetic glance. "I'll need you to hold it for me, Sir."
"Don't worry about that. Just concentrate on the job." Hogan took the shabby blanket from the bunk and spread it across the cell's small table, to catch incriminating plaster shavings. Then he sat down and gingerly rested his encumbered left arm on the makeshift tablecloth. "There's not much in the way of work space. Will this do?"
"Fine, Sir." Carter sat down across from him and began laying out his tools. "Look, if anything I do starts to hurt, you let me know. Okay?"
"I feel like I'm at the dentist."
Carter paused in mid-movement. "You know, I never thought going to the dentist was really all that bad. See, the dentist I had when I was a kid was--"
"Carter." Hogan leveled an impatient gaze on him, and he nodded abruptly. "Oh, yeah. Okay..." He clicked the flashlight on and handed it to Hogan. "Hold it like this, Sir, so the light's pointed right here."
Gripping the flashlight in his right hand, Hogan watched intently as Carter proceeded to work, carefully cutting into the thickened section of the cast beneath which the explosive lurked. The task was agonizingly slow, because one wrong move might nick a hidden wire, setting off the bomb.
As minutes passed, powdery white plaster shavings accumulated on the blanket-turned-tablecloth, and Carter began to sweat. After a while, he paused to wipe his slickened palms against his shirt.
"Uhmm, Colonel... could we talk?"
One eyebrow arching, Hogan looked at him askance. "Now? About what?"
"Oh, anything, Sir. I mean... well, it'll help me relax a little, until we find the package."
"If you say so..." Hogan rolled his eyes, trying to think of a topic they'd never discussed after all their time together. It wasn't easy. In a stalag, there came to be very little the men didn't know about each other--a fact which was a blessing and a curse.
At last, a subject occurred to him which he had never really explored. "Tell me about why you got into the military."
Carter paused briefly in his work to give Hogan a shy glance, then resumed his chiseling. "My big brother, I guess. You know, I always had to do everything he did. So, when he joined up... I guess I had some big idea I could stick with him if I did too.." Ruefulness crept into his voice. "Found out it doesn't really work that way."
Hogan's gaze softened. "Where is he now?"
"Somewhere in the Pacific, I think." Carter set aside one of his tools and selected a narrower one in its place. "They move him around so much, he can't even write often. Last letter was about four months ago."
Thinking of his own brothers, Hogan sympathetically tilted his head. "You must worry about him a lot."
"I sure do." Carter sighed softly, then gave his commander another glance. "What about you, Sir? How'd you get into the Air Force?" He frowned as if unsure of whether the question was appropriate, but Hogan nodded reassuringly.
"How did I get into the Air Force..." Hogan thoughtfully let his gaze wander. "There were a lot of reasons. But I guess in the end, I owe it to my father."
"You mean he wanted you to be a flyer?"
"And see me sent off to war? No way. He wanted me to be a doctor." Hogan chuckled faintly. "But I didn't care much for the sight of blood, and besides, I never agreed with Dad if I could help it. So I went and did the one thing that would aggravate him the most." He shrugged with one shoulder, a trace of remorse creeping into his expression.
"In hindsight... it was a pretty lousy way to avoid seeing blood."
Not looking up, Carter pursed his lips solemnly. "Your dad must have been pretty sore."
"He accepted it, and he was proud of what I accomplished. But he never liked the choice I made... and a lot of things were left unsaid between us when he died."
Carter was respectfully silent. Hogan sighed, then carefully sat up a little straighter, shaking off the melancholy wrought by the remembrances.
After a moment, Carter shifted his weight, reaching for a different tool. "You know, I don't think my folks ever really thought I'd get shipped off to fight. Paul, sure... but not ol' Andrew the runt." He grinned self-deprecatingly. "I was never as good at anything as Paul."
"Now, that I don't believe," Hogan said, softly but firmly. "You have talents, Carter. The rest of us don't remember that often enough, but it's true."
"Yeah, I'm good at making messes. And I always have been." Carter chuckled faintly. "Just ask Newkirk."
The remark made Hogan smile. He wasn't sure he would ever understand the relationship between Carter and Newkirk, though in his heart, he suspected that the childlike young American and the moody British pickpocket were in their way the best of friends.. He'd certainly gotten used to seeing them together, the way Carter followed Newkirk around like a puppy, absurd notions and all.
The habit usually earned Carter rough teasing and sardonic reproach. For the most part, it was fond in nature--but at times, Hogan felt that Newkirk's temperamental jabs were just a little too harsh.
"I think Newkirk could use more patience," Hogan confided. "I've wondered sometimes why you never stand up to him. After all, you do outrank him!"
Carter looked up, his brow creasing in a frown. "Oh, no, I couldn't do that, Sir."
"Well, for one thing, I'd never feel right bossing around somebody older than me. And besides that, well... Newkirk..." Carter shrugged. "He gets kind of restless, you know. And I sort of figure he'd go crazy sooner or later, if he didn't have somebody to blow off steam at. I don't mind."
The humble, factual words were a revelation to Hogan, and he stared at Carter in amazement. "You mean you purposely let him rag on you the way he does?"
"I guess, sort of. Just a little." Carter glanced up at Hogan. "Most of the time it's just on accident I make him mad. But sometimes, if I see he's really about to blow, I'll try to say something dumb so he'll yell at me and get it out of his system... Why're you looking at me like that?" Blue eyes full of uncertainty returned Hogan's wondering gaze.
Hogan shook his head slowly. "I just hope that someday, Newkirk realizes what a friend he has."
It was difficult to tell in the dim light, but Hogan could have sworn he saw Carter blush.
The moment ended when Carter suddenly raised a hand. "Hey, wait a minute... I think I got something here." He picked up one of his finest tools and carefully scraped away more plaster from the cast, exposing the edge of something metal.
Down the corridor, keys rattled, and Hogan tore his gaze away from Carter's find. "The guard. Into the tunnel, quick!" he whispered.
Carter bolted for cover. Hogan bundled up the plaster-powdered blanket and kicked it under the bunk, then shifted his position, resting his head on his arms.
When the guard passed by, he saw nothing but a prisoner sitting at the table, asleep.
For the umpteenth time, Kinchloe glanced at his watch, only to discover that it was just one minute later than the last time he'd looked. Heaving a disgusted sigh, he stood up and moved toward the barracks stove, where he poured his third cup of coffee..
"Almost an hour now," Newkirk sighed, absently shuffling his dog-eared deck of cards. "Least there's been no explosion yet, that's a good sign."
LeBeau stirred on his bunk, where he had been lying listlessly for the past hour, and gave Newkirk an ungrateful glare. "Carter will do just fine, Newkirk."
Kinch shrugged. "Remember, he has to make himself scarce while that Gestapo bulldog takes his hourly walk through the cooler."
"What is Hochstetter going to do? That worries me more than the Colonel's bomb."
"He must know the Colonel got away from Gestapo headquarters with something. I wonder why he's waiting to make his move..."
"He's letting the Colonel stew in uncertainty, that's what it is." Newkirk restlessly rose from the table and started to pace. "Blimey, would I like to get my hands around that Gerry rat's throat..."
Sergeant Olsen, who had been standing at the door on sentry duty, abruptly turned toward Kinch. "I think we've got trouble. Hochstetter's on the move, and it looks like he's going to wake up Klink."
"At this time of night?" Kinch headed for Colonel Hogan's office. "We'd better patch in that bug we've got in Klink's quarters. I don't like this one bit."
In Colonel Hogan's small, private room, Kinch produced the coffee pot-turned-listening device that had eavesdropped on many top-secret conversations. Newkirk, LeBeau and Olsen crowded around the desk as Kinch plugged into the Kommandant's quarters, and after a moment, Klink's voice emerged from the speaker. He sounded equally disgruntled and anxious.
"--can I do for you, Major? I assumed you wouldn't need anything until morning..."
The response was delivered by Hochstetter's guttural snarl. "This time of the night is always ideal for interrogations, Klink."
"Interrogation?" Klink's exclamation was echoed by LeBeau, and Kinch waved a hand to silence his companions as Hochstetter answered. "Of course. A man just awakened often proves to be quite malleable."
Klink's discomfort intensified audibly. "Then... you want to see Colonel Hogan now."
"You have such a brilliant grasp of the situation," Hochstetter retorted. "Get dressed, Klink, now! I want Hogan released to me within five minutes."
"Yes Major. Right away, Major..." Klink's voice receded as he left the living room of his quarters, and an uneasy silence fell over Colonel Hogan's office.
"We've got to warn the Colonel!" LeBeau blurted out as he started for the door, but Newkirk caught him by the scarf and pulled him back. "Hold on there, mate. You know what the Guv'nor will do if Hochstetter finds out what he's got!"
"He'll set off that bomb and destroy the microfilm." Kinch yanked out the coffee pot's plug. "Orders or no orders, I'm not going to see Hochstetter get the Colonel hurt or killed. Newkirk, do you know how to work one of Carter's little goody packages?"
The Englander groaned. "Gor, after all his scatterbrained lectures, I think I can have a pretty good go at it. Exactly what have you got in mind?"
"When in doubt, dynamite."
Olsen shrugged. "Works for me..."
"Hopefully we can divert Hochstetter's attention to the one thing he cares about more than his job." Kinch headed for the door of Hogan's office. "Come on, we've gotta work fast."
"When do we ever work slow?" LeBeau retorted.
Hogan's arm had gone numb at about the same time Carter, after much patient chiseling, had exposed the small metal casing embedded in the cast. Set just below the crook of Hogan's elbow, it was thin and just wide enough to contain microfilm.
It was difficult to believe that such a small package could hold such a dangerous booby trap, and for a moment, Hogan almost wondered if Frolich had been bluffing. But thoughts of the exploding pens that Carter sometimes rigged quickly vanquished his moment of optimism.
Carter had set aside his tool, and sat contemplating the malevolent little package. Hogan was unwilling to break the flighty Sergeant's attention, but after two minutes of silent waiting, he shifted in his seat and flexed the fingertips he had long ago lost contact with. "What's the next step?"
Carter looked up as if he'd forgotten Hogan's presence, and blinking nearsightedly, he raised an arm to wipe his brow with his sleeve. "I guess... I guess it's time to pull its teeth, Sir." There was a nervous tremor in his voice.
"I know you can do it, Little Deer."
Hogan's voice was quiet and steady as he gazed at the younger man, willing him to feel his commander's confidence. The use of the affectionate nickname served to drive home that unspoken message.
Carter looked up, opening his mouth as if to protest--but when his eyes met Hogan's, he quietly shrugged. "Thank you, Sir."
He picked up a screwdriver, took a deep breath, and slowly unscrewed the casing. Inside it lay a folded layer of canvas, a protective covering for the microfilm... and on top of that rested a small and neatly packaged explosive charge, attached by three wires to a crude but functional detonator.
"We're not gonna get that microfilm without setting it off," Carter said grimly. His eyes sought Hogan's as his fingers hovered hesitantly over the wires, and the Colonel returned a well-schooled gaze of calm.
"Go ahead, Carter," he said quietly.
Closing his eyes briefly, Carter nodded, and picked up a pair of wire cutters.
Still fumbling with the buttons of his jacket, Klink emerged from his bedroom with exactly three seconds to spare in Major Hochstetter's deadline. The Gestapo man stopped pacing to glare at him.
"Ready, Major," Klink stammered, edging toward the door. Hochstetter was just as dangerous outdoors as in, but there was at least some psychological comfort in getting him out into the open. Klink led him onto the porch and they started across the compound, passing the Major's staff car, which was parked in front of the guest quarters.
"I will question Hogan as thoroughly as this environment permits." Hochstetter folded his hands behind his back. "Should that fail to have results, I do not intend to toy with him any longer. This time, he will be taken to Berlin--and he will not return."
A shiver crept down Klink's spine. "Major, are you sure that's the best decision? Hogan is a prisoner! What can he possibly tell you that you have not already learned?"
Pausing in his step, Hochstetter gave the Colonel a measured gaze in the moonlight. "Bear something in mind, Klink. No matter what restraints you may impose upon him, a man of Hogan's intelligence has more freedom than you ever will."
"Yes, Major," Klink grumbled meekly. He was aware of the subtly implied insult--but to address it would have been to welcome trouble.
Hochstetter continued moving toward the cooler. "Now, Klink. When I am interrogating Hogan, I want--"
He got no further. Without warning, the night's quiet, moonlit darkness transformed itself, shattered by a deafening roar and the brilliant glow of blossoming flames.
As he dropped to the ground, curling into a protective ball, Klink caught a glimpse of two moving shadows in the shelter of the nearest building. He could even have sworn that one of them looked like Sergeant Kinchloe.
When the sound of an explosion reverberated across the camp, Carter almost dropped his screwdriver on a very dangerous exposed wire lead.
A brief double shock of panic swept through Hogan, but after two heartbeats, it began to sink in that he was still alive and would remain so--at least for the moment. He breathed deeply and glanced up at Carter, who was frozen in what had to be a very uncomfortable pose, looking at Hogan with an anxious and bewildered expression.
Hogan moved to rise, but Carter stopped him with a startlingly firm hand on his shoulder.
"No, Sir. You can't move, Sir." He spoke slowly, emphasizing each word, as he pointed to the still very live bomb attached to Hogan's arm. Then he tilted his head toward the tunnel entrance. "I'll go."
Without waiting for confirmation, he bent down to slip through the opening--only to jump backward like a startled cat as LeBeau shot out of the tunnel. "Bon soir!"
"LeBeau, what is going on out there?" Hogan almost stood up, with an unconscious urge to impose on the small Frenchman with his height, but he caught himself and held still.
LeBeau cleared his throat. "Well, mon Colonel... you see... we needed to distract Major Hochstetter."
A sense of foreboding prickled through Hogan's nerves. "What did you do? Blow up his car?"
"Funny you should mention that!"
As Hogan's jaw dropped, the unholy mother-hen instinct that Carter fostered toward his explosives was stirred. "What? With one of my bombs?"
Hogan covered his eyes with his free hand, contemplating the image of vengeful Gestapo agents swarming over the camp. "Oh, no..."
"But Hochstetter wasn't in the car!" LeBeau protested, then spread his hands helplessly and gave Hogan a beseeching look. "He was coming for you. We had to give him something else to worry about."
It had been a foregone conclusion that the men wouldn't follow his orders this time. Holding his breath, Hogan slowly counted to five. "Supposing they don't trace this fiasco back to us, just how do you think we're going to explain it? Because if we don't, Hochstetter's never going to leave!"
The Frenchman shrugged. "You always think of something, mon Colonel."
"Yeah, yeah..." Torn between anger and gratitude, Hogan sighed. "Did it work?"
"Oui! Hochstetter has gone straight to Klink's office to begin an investigation, and he's forgotten all about you, Sir."
"Out of the frying pan, into the..." Hogan shook his head. "Alright, so we've delayed one problem by creating another--it's what we do best, anyway. While Carter finishes up here, I'll try to dream up a way out of both of them."
"I have the utmost confidence in you, mon Colonel." LeBeau turned and started for the tunnel entrance.
And in the convoluted recesses of Hogan's mind, an idea began to stir.
"Wait a minute..." He sat up straighter. "What's up with Hochstetter's radio detection goons?"
LeBeau grinned. "He has them looking for pieces of his car as we speak."
"That's a break. Alright, tell Kinch to get London on the radio, and have them leak word to that Kraut mole sniffing around at headquarters. The line is that a Lieutenant Stiegler of the Gestapo was selling information to our side. Got that?"
"Good. Get going. I'll talk to you soon... I hope."
"Right away, mon Colonel." LeBeau saluted and ducked into the tunnel, and Hogan turned to Carter. "Okay, let's get this over with."
"Oh... yes Sir." Growing solemn as he remembered his task, Carter sat down and refocused his attention on the explosive. "See, I already crossed these two wires. Now I can cut this last one and take out the detonator... if I crossed the right ones."
The last few words were a mumble, but Hogan discerned them clearly enough. "And if they're not?"
Hogan closed his eyes, sighing deeply. His safety's on the line too, he reminded himself. "Alright, Carter... give it your best shot."
"Yes Sir," Carter replied quietly, and Hogan felt the dull pressure of the younger man's hand on the cast. Teeth clenched, he couldn't resist opening one eye to watch as the wire cutters closed in on the last wire.
After a long moment, Carter squeezed the grip of the cutters. The wire gave way with a muted snap...
And nothing happened.
Hogan lifted his head, his braced muscles beginning to relax, and gave Carter a glance; the Sergeant's eyes were closed, and his face was screwed into an expression of tension incarnate. A chuckle of amusement and relief rose in Hogan's throat, but he swallowed it back. "Carter..."
"Huh?" Carter opened his eyes, meeting Hogan's patient gaze. A look of chagrin crossed his face, but he glossed over it as he slowly plucked the detonator from inside the casing. Holding it by the wires between thumb and forefinger like a dead rat, he stared at it in amazement. "We did it!"
"You did it." Smiling warmly at Carter, Hogan removed the canvas package from the casing and unfolded it, to reveal the ten strips of microfilm that Frolich had promised.
Carter moved in again to pry the casing, complete with defused explosive charge, out of the plaster. "I want to put this thing back together. It might come in handy!"
"Unfortunately, Hochstetter's fresh out of staff cars." Hogan fidgeted and ran his fingers over the emaciated remains of the cast. "Where's that knitting needle..."
"I better go get Sergeant Wilson." Grinning, Carter shoveled the components of the bomb into his jacket. "It's time for you to get plastered. I mean--for your cast to get plastered. Replastered. I mean--"
"I know, I know." This time, Hogan was unable to restrain a chuckle. He held out the microfilm packet. "Give this to Kinch for safe keeping. And tell Newkirk and LeBeau to get Stroheim out of here, while Hochstetter's gang is busy."
"Yes Sir!" Carter accepted the packet, and turned to duck into the tunnel.
The young man paused, looking up uncertainly. "Sir?"
"You did a good job."
A grateful smile spread across Carter's face. "Thank you, Sir," he replied, and disappeared into the tunnel.
Klink got no sleep for the rest of the night. Hochstetter kept him awake with hot-tempered demands, recruiting camp guards to sift through the wreckage of his car, ordering more searches of the barracks. It only worsened his disposition when not a scrap of incriminating material was found--among either the prisoners or the guards.
Day was breaking when Hochstetter's attention went back to the man in the cooler.
When Klink led Hochstetter to Hogan's cell, the American officer was sprawled on the bunk, obviously in a deep slumber that Klink envied. He started awake when Hochstetter slapped the cell door, rattling the bars.
"Oh, it's you." Hogan grunted and began to roll over. "I didn't order room service..."
"Up!" Hochstetter thundered.
With an almost chiding look, Hogan slowly obeyed. Throwing off the threadbare blanket, he shambled over to the bars, his cast-laden arm tucked against his side. Somehow, it didn't look quite the same...
It both relieved and annoyed the Kommandant to see that Hogan was smirking darkly, his usual catty and sardonic mood restored. "Colonel, as long as you're here, I'd like to lodge a protest against that ruckus of yours last night. How do you expect anybody to sleep through all that noise?"
"I don't," Klink grumbled miserably.
Hochstetter cut short the familiar badinage. "Do you mean to say, Colonel Hogan, that you are unaware of what has gone on here this night?"
"Am I supposed to be aware of something?"
"Bah." Hochstetter leaned closer, gripping the bars with gloved hands. "I do not believe you, Hogan. Even locked in a guarded cell, you have an uncanny ability to cause trouble! And even if you did not cause it, I think you know which of your men did."
"What's the matter, one of the boys make fun of the Gestapo during roll call again? They get rowdy when I'm not around, you know. Like they say, when the cat's away--"
"Silence!" Hochstetter roared, waving his fists in frustration.
At the sound of footsteps, he turned to see the approach of his aide. The Lieutenant's expression was uneasy, to say the least, as he handed Hochstetter a piece of paper.
The Major snatched the dispatch and unfolded it. As he read it, his face grew increasingly red.
"What is it, Major?" Klink queried. He couldn't keep from his voice the very faintest undercurrent of glee, realizing that whatever the news was, it was making Hochstetter an unhappy man indeed.
Hochstetter crumpled the paper. "A German spy in London has discovered that Major Frolich's aide, Lieutenant Stiegler, was the double agent. Not Frolich himself. In fact, they think Stiegler killed Frolich for finding out." He threw the ball of paper to the floor. "Stiegler was an expert with explosives. They believe he put the bomb in my car as well, before he was killed. And they have called me back to Berlin, to answer for how this man eluded us so long."
"Well, how do you like that! You go blaming us, and all this time it was one of yours!" Hogan snorted, badly feigning wounded dignity.
The Gestapo officer spun on his heel to glare at him. "Hogan, I still think you had something to do with this--and I will learn how if it is the last thing I do!"
Hogan's eyes twinkled. "Sticks and stones, Major..."
Klink, who had no compunctions about kicking Hochstetter when he was down, chose that calculated moment to intervene. "I think you've done enough already! Turning this camp upside down when you should have been investigating your own agents..."
Hochstetter whirled, and if looks could kill, Klink would have been a smudge on the floor. As it was, the Kommandant blithely ignored it. "Shall I see you to your car?"
The small man's rage erupted in one final, thunderous "BAH!" And with that, he marched out of the cooler, his woeful aide on his heels.
Klink allowed himself a brief, devious smile, glancing at Hogan. "For once, that man is getting what he deserves for needlessly disrupting this camp! Imagine, thinking that prisoners could have blown up his car..." He paused, suddenly doubtful, and his expression turned suspicious.
But Hogan nodded sagely. "Yes Sir, it's a completely ludicrous idea. After all... we have so much more creative places for hiding bombs."
Oblivious to Klink's stare of bewildered astonishment, Hogan sauntered back to the bunk, and settled in to catch up on hours of lost sleep.
Text and original characters copyright 2000 by Jordanna Morgan
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.