Just Another Mission
2003 Papa Bear Awards - Third Place
Best Portrayal of a Canon Character - Kinchloe
2003 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Best Overall Story
Summary: In the days following the Allied Invasion on the beaches at Normandy, one of our heroes is called upon to commit the ultimate sacrifice.
Author's Note: ~"Dialogue"~ denotes that a foreign language is being spoken, usually German.
Acknowledgement: Once again, a special thanks to Zoey Tranor--a terrific online pal and writer's secret weapon. And I must also thank Sandra Miller who took invaluable time from her own fanfiction writing and enormous responsibilities running the Bludhaven Library to help beta-read this story.
Disclaimer: Hogan's Heroes is owned by Paramount, Viacom and others; this is an original story that does not intend to infringe on their copyright. Feedback is welcome!
Copyright November 2001
"...A man...ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether he is doing right or wrong." (Socrates)
Wednesday 16 AUG 1944/1230hrs local
Barracks 2, LuftStalag 13
Sgt. Kinchloe slowly looked up. His eyes traveled from the Black Knight that was so annoyingly holding his White King in Check.
To the calloused hand that was pointedly tapping the Black Knight for added emphasis.
Traveled up a sleeve of aged, brown leather, to the silver eagles pinned prominently on an open khaki collar.
To the twinkling brown eyes that were currently smiling back in triumph.
"Give up?" Hogan teased. Growling, Kinchloe placed his chin on his right hand and studied the board critically. Hogan continued talking affably. "Did you know that Chess was once called the game of kings?"
"Oh, really?" Kinchloe asked annoyed. He was only half listening, having spotted a possible opening.
"Uh-huh," Hogan chattered, his tone open and friendly--the epitome of good sportsmanship.
Kinchloe rapidly made some mental moves. He didn't buy his boss's gracious-winner act for a second. Col. Robert E. Hogan was the sneakiest, most dangerous man he knew. And while he trusted him unconditionally with his life, when it came to playing Chess against him, Kinchloe would just as soon watch his back.
"See, at one time, only royalty indulged in the game." Hogan's voice was a buzzing drone in the background. (Probably trying to make me break concentration, Kinchloe thought, amused.) "Because of the strategy involved and the taking of Kings and Queens, it was deemed too dangerous for the common man. Might make him think he was royalty's equal or something--"
Hogan froze. His easy manner instantly changed. Kinchloe caught the briefest icy flicker in his superior's normally warm, brown eyes. He waited, wondering if he'd stepped over an invisible line. Abruptly, Hogan's face alighted in a broad, self-deprecating grin.
"You know what I hate about you, Kinch?" he asked, his tone mock severe.
"That I'm better at Chess than you?"
"At ease, Sergeant!" Hogan shot back, laughing. "One lucky break doesn't make you better, just smarter!"
"Why thank you, colonel," Kinchloe smirked. Hogan gave him a sour look.
"No, what I hate about you, Kinch, is that whenever I'm beginning to feel like I'm invincible, you always manage to bring me back down to earth." He leaned back on his chair and shook his head. "You always remind me that I can't let myself become complacent. That I can be beat."
"Hey...no need to apologize, Kinch. In fact, I should be thanking you." Hogan reached across the table, offering his hand. Hesitating slightly, Kinchloe took it and they shook.
"Thanks for a great game, Kinch. But most of all, thanks for keeping me in line all these years. All the crazy things we've done...some great, some not-so-great...I don't think I could've gotten through them if you hadn't been there to back me up."
Kinchloe felt overwhelmed by his Commanding Officer's words. Hogan wasn't the type of CO who often handed out praise. He was in the business of doing what no one else could and expected his men to accomplish the impossible, something they did more often than not.
Truth be told, Kinchloe wasn't sure that he or the others could have accomplished what they had if it hadn't been for Hogan. The colonel's steady leadership inspired his men to greatness, made them believe that they could do anything.
And now he's telling me that I was instrumental in his success. Well, I'll be...
Kinchloe looked straight into Hogan's eyes, holding them steadily for a long moment. The corner of his mouth twitching slightly, he broke into a wide grin.
"Sir, I don't know how much longer this lousy war's gonna go on, but I promise that as long as does, I'll do my best to keep on beating you at Chess."
Hogan gave him a wry look. "Gee...thanks, Kinch. Your loyalty touches me no end." He began to reset the board for another match. At that moment, a young, Black sergeant stuck his head in.
"What is it, Baker?" Kinchloe asked.
"Sorry to interrupt, but London just called. They want to talk to the colonel on the double."
Wednesday 16 AUG 1944/1330hrs local
Barracks 2, LuftStalag 13
"Why are they called V-2 rockets, sir?" Carter asked.
"'V' as in 'Vergeltungswaffen'--for weapon of reprisal," Hogan explained. He caught Kinchloe's eyes over Carter's shoulder. As always no words were needed between the senior officer and NCO. This latest mission had 'Suicide' written all over it.
"The Allies have been steadily advancing since D-Day," Hogan continued. "At this rate they'll be entering Paris any time soon."
"And the Resistance fears the Bosche are going raze the city to the ground," LeBeau said, his expression dark.
"Part of the Germans' scorched earth policy," Hogan said, nodding.
"And with General Choltitz just being assigned as the Kommandant of Gross Paris," Kinchloe added, "it's a cinch that Hitler doesn't intend to let the city fall into Allied hands."
"True," Hogan agreed. "Our sources say that Choltitz was handpicked by the 'Fruitcake' himself, because he's never questioned a military order in his career. Furthermore, he's covered several of the Wehrmacht's retreats, in each case, making sure that nothing was left of the cities they'd abandoned."
He sighed, running his hand through his dark hair. In his mind's eye he could see the devastation left by the retreating Germans. The thought of Paris, the beautiful City of Lights, falling prey to a similar fate was sickening. Shaking his head to clear the images, he continued.
"We have confirmed reports that the Krauts are booby-trapping the city. Factories, bridges, museums--you name it!"
"And what the booby-traps don't destroy," LeBeau hissed passionately, "Hitler plans to level with a rocket bombardment until--"
"--Until there's nothing left of the city," Hogan finished.
"What could the Krauts hope to gain by that, Colonel?" Newkirk asked.
"What does a spoiled child hope to gain by breaking a toy rather than letting another play with it?" LeBeau snapped. "It is just one more reason for all Frenchmen to hate the dirty Bosche."
Hogan placed his hand on the small Frenchmen's shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly. LeBeau looked up, dark eyes blazing. Seeing the warm, understanding gaze from his Commanding Officer, LeBeau dropped his eyes and nodded slowly.
Hogan turned and looked at the others in turn, his dark eyes taking on a familiar glint.
"So, while the French Resistance is responsible for taking out the booby-traps throughout Paris, our mission is to find and destroy the secret rocket launch sites that are being assembled before they have a chance to fire on Paris."
"What?" Newkirk asked, jumping to his feet. "Colonel, that's crazy! It-it'd be suicide!"
"Maybe it is!" LeBeau snapped. "But this is Paris we are talking about. Colonel, we cannot let the Bosche destroy her!"
"Louis," Newkirk began, "I understand how you feel, but we all know that Paris isn't exactly of vital military importance--"
"What do you mean, not of 'vital military importance'?" LeBeau replied hotly. "What if this was London we were talking about?"
"All right, hold it, you two!" Hogan called over them. "This isn't getting us anywhere.
"Sir, how are we supposed to find the launch sites if they're secret?" Carter asked.
The others all turned and glared at him.
"Carter, does stupidity run in your family, or is it something you've had to work at?" Newkirk asked. Carter blinked at him confusedly.
"That's enough, Newkirk!" Hogan snapped. "Carter, finding the location of these launch sites has top priority. Our flyboys are looking for them from the air, and the Underground is on full alert." He pulled down the wall map he kept in his quarters.
"Peenemunde," he said, pointing at an island on the Baltic Sea. "The Jerries' so-called 'Top Secret' rocket research facility. It's currently under twenty-four hour surveillance by the Underground."
"What are they looking for?" Kinchloe asked.
"Rail loadings...truck transports out of there," Hogan said, shrugging. "Anything that might provide us with a clue as to where they're taking the rockets." He looked up. "It's our belief that Old Bubblehead intends on launching a missile strike against Paris using their new V-2 rockets. As far as we know, they've been working on building them since January '44 when we landed at Anzio."
He shrugged. "They must've figured that sooner or later they were going to lose Italy, and after that, a European invasion wouldn't be far behind."
"And it wasn't!" Carter said. "Oh, boy, you can bet they sure got that one right!"
Newkirk glared at him. "No kidding, Andrew. Sometimes your grasp of the obvious overwhelms me."
"Gee...thanks," Carter replied, blushing proudly. Newkirk rolled his eyes and dropped his head into his arms.
Ignoring them, Hogan walked over to the open window, overlooking the main compound. He stood there for a long moment, watching the bored guards as they walked their monotonous rounds. Taking a deep breath, he turned and faced them.
"Gentlemen, all reports on the V-2s say that we won't have any defense against them. We have to find and destroy these rockets before the Krauts have a chance to launch even one. If we don't, and they're allowed to launch against Paris, the city won't survive."
He glanced at Newkirk and then he walked over to LeBeau, placing his hand on the smaller man's shoulder.
"Crazy? Maybe. Suicide? Probably. But if we don't stop them, D-Day landings or not, the V-2 rockets could turn the tide of the war."
Wednesday 16 AUG 1944/2030hrs local
Barracks 2, LuftStalag 13
Hogan looked up from his maps and plans when the door burst open. Kinchloe rushed in, a message in his hand.
"This just came in, Colonel," he said. "From London." Handing it to Hogan, he added, "And, sir...it's hot!"
Hogan stood suddenly as he read it. "They found it!" he said excitedly. Turning to the map, he took out a pair of calipers and protractor and quickly plotted the location, his face lighting in a smile.
"It's about eighty kilometers due south from here." His finger traced the road leading south from Hammelburg. "Near the town of Mutlangen." He studied the terrain relief carefully. "Hmmm...The town's situated on a fairly steep hill. Elevation almost 1500 meters...the launch site should be about here!"
"According to the Underground," Kinchloe said, "it's built deep inside that hill. One of our people actually got a job hauling coal to them and got a fairly good look from the inside." He grimaced, crossing his arms in unconscious imitation of his Commanding Officer.
"It's guarded by an SS battalion and surrounded by a high, electrified fence and a deep trench--a tank trap. They also have dogs and machine gun emplacements. There's only one road that leads up to it, and it's heavily patrolled." He shook his head. "It sounds stronger than Fort Knox."
Hogan glanced up at him, nodding. "It's a real bad break for us. If it weren't underground, it'd make a great aerial target for our B-17s and B-24s."
Kinchloe grinned ruefully. "That would make it too easy, sir."
"Yeah, and where would the fun be in that?" Hogan asked, his tone dry. He stared off into space, thinking of the enormity of the problem. "It'll have to be hit from the ground. Someone will have to go in and blow it."
Kinchloe nodded. "London says that a team of British commandos will be dropped in tomorrow night to do just that."
Hogan nodded thoughtfully. On impulse, he walked towards his footlocker and opened it. Rummaging quickly through the contents, he touched a special spot, and a false bottom snapped open. He set aside a Luger with silencer, a Top Secret codebook, and a few other items he preferred the enemy not to find. Finally, he pulled out a much worn, dog-eared manual--an almanac. Flipping through it quickly, he found what he wanted. As he read, he shook his head worriedly.
"The new moon isn't due until the 18th--that's two nights from now. If the Brits jump in tomorrow night, they'll still have a crescent moon." He replaced the book and the other items in the false bottom and stood up.
"I don't like it, Kinch. It's too dangerous. They could be spotted and killed before they even hit the ground. Maybe you'd better radio London and recommend they wait one more night."
Kinchloe nodded, and was about to leave when Hogan's voice stopped him.
"Except for that, the job seems pretty straightforward: Suicide--just like Newkirk said. But that's pretty much as straightforward as things ever get for us," he added, shrugging. "Like I said...just another mission."
He gave Kinchloe a wry smile.
"The commandos' job will be to destroy the launch site. Ours, to rendezvous with them afterwards and see them safely back to friendly lines. If there are any of them left, that is."
"It looks like for once, our job's gonna be a snap," Kinchloe said. "Escorting Allied personnel back to friendly lines is our primary mission."
"True. We've sent so many of our boys back home that we should be looking into opening a travel agency after the war." Grinning, Hogan was about to dismiss Kinchloe, when a thoughtful look suddenly came over him. "Kinch, after you sign off with London, contact the Underground. I want whatever photos, diagrams--anything they have on this place."
Raising a single eyebrow at the request, Kinchloe nodded. So much for the job being a snap, he thought ruefully. Oh, well...like the man said, 'Just another mission.'
Thursday 17 AUG 1944/0500hrs local
Main Tunnel under Barracks 2, LuftStalag 13
Baker jerked awake. Giving himself a mental kick, he stood up and began pacing around the crowded communications center. He was on radio watch and was supposed to be alert. He could just hear Kinchloe's quiet, reprimanding voice, reminding him again of the importance of staying awake while on duty.
He poured himself a fresh cup of coffee and took a sip, scowling at the bitter taste.
The Allies better come soon, he groused, I don't know how much more of this lousy Ersatz coffee I'm gonna be able to take.
Taking another sip, he glanced around Kinchloe's private sanctum and smiled slightly. The senior radio operator didn't trust many men with his equipment. Baker was one of a handful. The younger man realized the enormity of responsibility that such trust placed on him.
And that includes staying awake, Washington! he berated himself. The sudden clicking of the telegraph key startled him. Grabbing the earphones, Baker hurriedly plugged in. Listening for a moment, he quickly transmitted a 'repeat message.'
As the transmission started again, the young radioman wrote in his quick, sure shorthand, listening intently to the regular series of dots and dashes. When he received an 'End Message,' Baker keyed the mike and spoke into it.
"Goldilocks, this is Papa Bear. Over and out."
As he signed off, Baker rolled his eyes. He still couldn't understand why headquarters changed their call sign. Col. Hogan had been perfectly happy being Goldilocks in honor of his B-17. But after having the same codename for almost two years, HQ had determined that it was time for a change.
It was funny because among the Underground network, once he became 'Papa Bear,' Hogan achieved even greater notoriety. Although highly respected as 'Goldilocks,' for some reason, almost as soon as his call sign changed, Hogan gained even more infamy.
He then thought of all the impossible missions that Allied High Command kept assigning his Commanding Officer, because they knew that Hogan would somehow always manage to succeed. Taking a deep breath, Baker hurried upstairs to wake Kinchloe with the message.
As he climbed out of the secret trapdoor entrance, he decided that maybe fame wasn't such a good thing after all. Checking his watch, he quickly made his way towards Kinchloe's bunk.
Almost time for morning roll call.
Thursday 17 AUG 1944/0530hrs local
Main Exercise Compound, LuftStalag 13
Hogan stood at the head of the Allied prisoners' formation, outwardly relaxed. He smirked slightly as Sgt. Schultz walked up and down the long line of prisoners counting heads, unknowingly counting two of the prisoners more than once.
Hogan's mind was on Baker and Olsen, who were at this moment rushing through the woods outside the compound to meet with a member of the local Underground. Sending them had been Kinchloe's recommendation. After two years of using the same team for all the important missions, both Hogan and Kinchloe had decided that it was time to start entrusting some of the others on solo jobs.
And the butterflies in my stomach won't stop fluttering until those two kids are back safe and sound, he added to himself.
The message that Baker had received was a relayed request from the Underground for a meeting. Watching Schultz as he strutted up and down the line of POWs, Hogan silently thanked the Powers That Be for allowing him to be shot down and assigned to a prison camp with such an 'efficient' Sergeant of the Guard.
"Re-porrrrrttt!" Col. Klink, the camp Kommandant, shouted.
Hogan glanced over at Kinchloe, who rolled his eyes. Almost two years of hearing Klink's 'warm' voice first thing each morning was beginning to wear thin. Still, it didn't hurt their mission that the camp Kommandant was as 'efficient' as his guards.
"Herr Kommandant," Schultz reported, saluting crisply. "All prisoners present and accounted for!"
Klink returned the salute and took a step forward. Smirking in triumph, he looked around at the assembled prisoners, his eyes eventually settling on Hogan. Gripping the riding crop he habitually carried under his right arm, Klink began slapping his left palm with it. Unconsciously, he slapped too hard, suddenly wincing and shaking his hand in obvious pain.
The POWs met his inept actions with jeers and catcalls.
"Hey, Kommandant!" Newkirk called, his Cockney accented exaggerated. "You should be more careful with that thing. I hear it's a dangerous weapon!" The other prisoners burst into loud, raucous laughter. Hogan smiled, enjoying Klink's discomfiture.
"Yeah, boy! I-I mean, Kommandant, sir," Carter chimed in. "I once saw a jockey use a riding crop on his horse. Oh, boy, that horse was sure mad...bucked like the Dickens and threw him--"
Aware that all eyes were on him, Carter stopped talking and looking around, cleared his throat.
"Carter, what the blazes are you jabbering about?" Newkirk asked in disgust.
"Well, I just thought that the Kommandant wouldn't want to do anything that could get him thrown from his horse."
"The Kommandant doesn't have a horse, you nitwit!" Newkirk replied, annoyed that he was having this conversation.
Carter blinked, obviously confused. "Then why does he always carry a riding crop? I mean, if you don't ride a horse, then why--?"
"Andrew--shut up," Newkirk said.
"E-nough!" Klink shouted.
"I mean...why carry a riding crop, if--?" A sudden jab to the ribs stopped any further conversation. Carter glanced up at Kinchloe who gave him a sharp shake of the head. Carter nodded and shrugged, still mentally asking why?
When the line of prisoners finally quieted down sufficiently, Klink's whole demeanor became that of a preening peacock.
"I have just received a report from Berlin that the glorious forces of the Third Reich have mounted a bold counteroffensive and are breaking through the vastly inferior Allied lines. We expect within any day to have pushed the Allies back to the beaches of Normandy and into the English Channel!"
A low rumble of mutterings from the line of prisoners met his announcement. Smiling proudly, and looking like he'd grown two feet, Klink glanced over at Hogan.
Meeting Klink's eyes, Hogan hooked his thumbs in his jacket pockets and rocked back and forth on his heels.
"That's all very interesting, Kommandant," he said. "I guess the rumors that the 'glorious forces of the Third Reich' are in full retreat from St. Lô and Coutances are false, then." Klink stiffened, his jaw quivering in anger. Before he could respond, Hogan continued, an impish look on his face.
"Oh, and it must be an out and out lie that the 'vastly inferior' Allied forces landed in Southern France just two days ago and are currently pushing your 'superior forces' all the way back to the Siegfried Line!"
Hogan's comments were met with cheers from his men. Klink looked like he was about to explode with apoplexy.
"And it must also be a lie that the Allies are just days from entering Paris--" LeBeau shouted, his clenched fist raised. "--to finally drive out the filthy Bosche!"
Klink whirled on the angry Frenchman, his expression thunderous. Fingering his monocle, he glared at LeBeau, shaking in fury at the POW's look of derision. Taking a deep breath, Klink visibly calmed himself and smiled coldly. "Do not be too certain that there will be a Paris left for the Allies to enter!"
At his words, LeBeau leaped towards the Kommandant, shouting a long string of French invectives. It required both Kinchloe and Newkirk to hold the diminutive Frenchman back.
"Sgt. Schultz! Sixty days in the cooler for that man!" Klink shouted.
"Sixty days!" Hogan protested. "Kommandant, that kind of punishment is cruel and unusual, and you know it!"
Klink turned on the senior POW and stomped towards him. Stopping less than three feet from him, he waggled his finger at the American. "Col. Hogan, be careful what you say, or you may end up in the cooler with him."
Unperturbed, Hogan stepped forward until he was almost nose-to-nose with the camp kommandant. Leaning even closer, he spoke in a low tone that only Klink could hear. "Kommandant, need I remind you that Allied tanks might be rolling through these gates any time soon? And prisoners have a lo-onnng memory."
"Col. Hogan, need I remind you that I am still camp kommandant. That cockroach was disrespectful. Sixty days in the cooler is the standard punishment--"
"Is that what you'd like my men to remember, Kommandant?" Hogan asked. "That when a young, hotheaded Frenchmen shouted something patriotic about his country, you chose to punish him unfairly--"
"It is not unfair! It is the standard--"
"--Or would you rather they remembered how you let the incident go with just a warning?" Seeing Klink's resolve begin to waver, Hogan added softly, "I know how I would like to be remembered if I were in your shoes, Kommandant."
His jaw working with his inner uncertainty, Klink finally nodded, facing away from Hogan. "Very well...I shall let it go this time, Col. Hogan." Unexpectedly, he turned and added in stern warning, "But you must give me your word as an officer that you will remember this incident, and report my fairness and compassion for all prisoners."
His eyes glinting coldly, Hogan nodded. "Oh, you don't need to worry about that Kommandant. Believe me, I'll remember everything exactly as it happened. You have my word as an officer on that."
Nodding curtly, Klink faced the line of prisoners, his eyes falling on LeBeau. "Just this once, I am going to show that I am not without compassion. Cpl. LeBeau, instead of the cooler, you are restricted to barracks for ten days--all privileges revoked!"
His 'kindness' was met by low mutterings from the prisoners. Saluting stiffly, Klink yelled over their rumblings, "Dis-missssed!" Spinning on his heel, he stomped back to his office.
Hogan and Kinchloe again exchanged glances, this time their eyes smiling in triumph. Slapping the senior noncom on the shoulder, Hogan nodded towards the barracks. "Come on, Kinch. Baker and Olsen should be back soon."
Thursday 17 AUG 1944/0930hrs local
Barracks 2, LuftStalag 13
"Report." Hogan returned Baker and Olsen's salute, his outwardly serious demeanor hiding his amusement. Both men were standing at rigid attention. Oh, brother! Hogan sighed, mentally rolling his eyes. "At ease, fellas," he said. The two men exchanged uneasy glances, clearly anything but at ease in his presence.
Hogan looked askance at Kinchloe, giving him a 'Help me out here' look. Putting on his best Senior Noncom mask, Kinchloe faced the two nervous soldiers.
"Baker, Olsen!" he said sharply. "The colonel ordered you to 'Report!' So...Report!"
Baker and Olsen again exchanged panicky looks. Olsen seemed to be nudging Baker with his eyes. Finally, he hissed, "Well, go on!"
Swallowing, Baker nodded agitatedly. "Right," he said, hurrying to the map.
This was the first time he'd briefed his Commanding Officer and the others. Sneaking out of camp was easy, facing these guys wasn't. Glancing worriedly at Kinchloe, he caught the senior noncom's look of encouragement. Feeling a sudden infusion of warmth spreading through him, he straightened to his full height and proudly faced Hogan.
"Sir, Rapunzel reports that a large convoy of transport trucks left Peenemunde late last night."
"Last night?" Hogan asked. "Why did they wait this long to tell us?"
Baker shrugged, feeling deflated, as if it were entirely his fault. "Rapunzel's contact didn't have a radio on him, so he decided to follow the convoy to determine their heading." He stopped and swallowed, his throat suddenly dry.
"Well?" Newkirk asked impatiently. "Where are they headed?"
"Southeast," Baker said, managed. "Or at least they were until--"
"Colonel!" They all turned as Foster rushed into Hogan's quarters. "This just came in. From London!" Foster glanced at Baker, noting the perspiration on the sergeant's forehead. Better you than me, buddy, he thought fervently.
Hogan snatched the message, and reading it quickly, he nodded, releasing a long breath. "Allied HQ wants us to intercept and destroy the truck convoy before it reaches the rocket base." He tapped the message on his open palm, his mind racing.
"Baker, you said that the convoy was headed southeast. Did Rapunzel tell you where it was last seen?"
"Yessir," Baker replied hoarsely. "It was headed towards Dessau, traveling southeast from Berlin. But, it was stopped just on the other side of the River Elbe."
"What happened?" Hogan asked.
"The bridge is out," Baker explained, a wide, boyish grin suddenly brightening his features. "Remember the Allied bomb run over Berlin two nights ago?" Hogan nodded. "Apparently, the bridge was taken out that night as part of a secondary mission."
"That's a break for us, Colonel," Kinchloe said.
Hogan grinned. "I'll take good news anyway I can. Baker, did Rapunzel say which way the convoy's been diverted?"
Baker nodded vigorously, his confidence growing. Pointing at the city of Dessau on the map, he traced the road back north towards Berlin. "The convoy doubled back in same the direction it came. Then it turned west--here--" He traced an East-West road towards Hannover. "--at Hannover, the convoy then turned south--along here!"
Baker next traced a road, heading due south from Hannover. "The latest reports had the convoy stopping for refueling at Bad Hersfeld--"
"--Bad Hersfeld!" Newkirk interrupted. "Colonel, that's only a few kilometers north of here!"
"The convoy's heading this way," Hogan said, suddenly animated. "How long ago did they stop, Baker? D'you know?"
"No sir," he said regretfully.
"That's okay, son," Hogan said studying the map. "Hmmm...look here," he said. "The road they're traveling on crosses the River Fulda at this point." The others nodded. Picking up his pointer, he pulled down another wall chart, that of a bridge. Grinning slightly, he looked over at Newkirk. "See, Newkirk...I told you that one day we'd need this."
Newkirk grinned back. "I never doubted you for a minute, sir."
"Oh, boy--you sure did, Newkirk," Carter interrupted. "I remember when you'n me reconned it." Carter glanced at the others, grinning animatedly. "Boy, some of the things you said! Colonel, if you'd been there, you probably woulda just taken his stripes--"
"Never mind, Carter!" Newkirk complained.
Hogan glanced at Kinchloe, who rolled his eyes, shaking his head. Quirking a single eyebrow, Hogan grinned slightly. What would I do without you, Kinch?
"Okay, knock it off, you clowns!" Kinchloe snapped. The others immediately quieted down, but Newkirk continued to glare daggers at Carter, who impishly grinned back at his best friend.
Hogan immediately got down to business. "Carter, can you make up enough charges to take out the bridge?" He pointed at the detailed diagram of the cantilever bridge that Carter and Newkirk had drawn up almost four months previously. It was over 200 meters in length, and almost 850 meters high, from the river gorge to the elevated crossing.
Carter nodded eagerly. "You bet, boy--uh, I mean, sir!" he said. "On the last supply drop we received new detonator caps, fuses, and C-4 plastic explosives! Enough to blow up ten bridges--"
"Thanks, Carter," Hogan interrupted. "I knew that I could count on you." Turning to Baker, he slapped the younger man on the shoulder and smiled warmly. "Baker...Olsen, you men did well. Good work!"
The young men dropped their eyes and shuffled slightly, embarrassed by the accolade. The others grinned over their heads, knowing exactly how they felt.
"Okay, fellas," Hogan said, returning to the map. "We've got a lot of work to do if we're gonna intercept that convoy." Nodding at Kinchloe, he jerked his head towards the door. "Kinch, you know what to do--uniforms, weapons...oh, and we need a truck from the motorpool."
"And I know just the Kraut who can be bribed into giving it to us," Kinchloe replied, a wicked glint in his eye. He began herding everyone out the door to allow Hogan some quiet in order to finalize his plans.
About to follow Olsen out the door, Baker suddenly stopped and hastily pulled a large envelope out of his battledress jacket. "Sir! I almost forgot!" He handed Hogan the envelope. "Rapunzel said to give this to you. She said it's the info you asked for."
Breaking the envelope's seal, Hogan carefully dumped out the contents onto his field table--photos and diagrams. The others quickly gathered round and exchanged dubious glances when they realized what they were seeing--exterior and interior snapshots of the underground rocket base.
"Double bloody charming!" Newkirk muttered.
Thursday 17 AUG 1944/1330hrs local
Cantilever Bridge over the River Fulda
The bridge hung, suspended over a deep gorge. The fast-moving waters of the River Fulda raged far below, the debris from recent rains carried along in its wash.
Hogan stood on the far side of the bridge on lookout, keeping watch over the steep, hillside road. Readjusting his field glasses, he scanned the bend on the road once again. The two-ton truck borrowed from the Stalag 13 motorpool was parked a few feet away from him, near the edge of the bluff. From his vantage point, he had a clear view of the road for almost a mile. Any approaching vehicle would be easily spotted.
He glanced over his shoulder. His men were carefully laying out the C-4 charges under the watchful eyes of Carter, who insisted on checking each detonator cap and fuse to ensure they were properly installed.
As the team's explosives expert hopped from soldier to soldier, adjusting a connection here and a wire there, Carter commented excitedly on the upcoming blast.
"Boy! Just you wait!" he told Newkirk. "This thing's gonna blow so high, the weatherman will be reporting falling bridges for the next coupla days!"
"Lovely, Carter. Just lovely," Newkirk intoned dryly.
"Carter, I think that you are a very sick man," LeBeau added. "I recommend you seek immediate help, mon ami--before it is too late."
Scratching the back of his head, Carter cocked it to the side. "But I feel fine, Louis. Honest!"
Newkirk and LeBeau rolled their eyes, LeBeau throwing up his arms in disgust. Baker and Olsen exchanged amused glances at the byplay. Kinchloe stood back, hands on hips, his expression sour.
"Get the lead out, you clowns!" Kinchloe growled. "Unless you want this bridge to be your final resting place!" The others immediately turned back to the task at hand. At that moment, Hogan spotted the lead vehicle of the convoy, a half-track.
"Oh, swell!" he muttered. Those things are armed with a turret-mounted, 20-millimeter cannon!
Hurrying to the truck, he opened the driver's side door and shouted, "Kinch, get these men moving on the double! The convoy will be here any sec!" As Hogan climbed in the truck, Kinchloe waved in acknowledgement. Starting the engine, Hogan began driving back across the bridge.
"Carter!" Kinchloe yelled. "Get cracking! You heard the colonel! The Krauts will be here any minute!" As he shouted, Kinchloe ran towards Carter to ensure that the younger, accident-prone sergeant didn't suddenly become careless and inadvertently send them all to Valhalla.
"All done!" Carter announced.
Hogan pulled up in the middle of the bridge and moved over to the passenger side, making room for Newkirk behind the steering wheel. The others quickly climbed in the rear, all that is, except Carter and Kinchloe. It was Carter's job to walk down the line and do a final, visual check of the charges.
It was Kinchloe's job to keep an eye on Carter.
Newkirk drove the truck several meters beyond the bridge and pulled it off to the side of the road. The others climbed out, quickly taking their positions. Baker and Olsen unloaded a red and white roadblock sign and placed it at the bridge exit.
"Man...I don't ever want to handle that stuff again," Baker muttered, meaning the plastic explosives.
"Yeah," Olsen agreed fervently. "It sure ain't like any modeling clay I ever played with when I was a kid."
"That is because you two had normal childhoods," LeBeau commented, pointing at Carter with his chin. "Unlike our friend over there."
"You can say that again, mate," Newkirk replied. "When it comes to Carter, there ain't a bloody normal thing about him--"
"--Hold it!" Hogan interrupted. Spotting the lead vehicle approach the far side of the bridge, he pointed. "There they are!" He waved Baker, Olsen, and LeBeau into the woods. As the three men disappeared, he called out, "Kinch! Carter! Move it!"
Kinchloe came running up to him, his expression grim.
"We have a problem, Colonel." At Hogan's look, he continued. "Carter says that some of the fuses are defective. He's trying to replace as many as he can before the convoy crosses."
Hogan felt his adrenaline shoot up. Seeing the half-track slowly lumbering towards the midway point, the first of six transport trucks less than fifteen meters behind it, he blew out the breath he didn't know he was holding. The rest of the convoy was evenly spaced out, at approximately the same distance between each vehicle.
Each of the transport trucks had a two-man team, armed with automatic weapons, riding shotgun on the top of the cargo trailer. The long trailers were covered with a green/brown-camouflaged tarpaulin. Hogan's trained eyes could make out the distinct, tube-like shapes of the German rockets. The next instant he spotted the rear vehicle--another half-track!
And another 20-millimeter cannon.
"It's too late," he said, shaking his head. "We'll have to take our chances. Call him in."
Kinchloe nodded curtly and sprinted to where Carter was still fumbling with the defective fuses.
As the lead vehicle crossed the midway point, Hogan began counting down mentally. Every convoy stop he and his men attempted was fraught with danger. Usually, he had to contend with a motorcycle or staff car bearing armed guards. Stopping armored vehicles with turret-mounted weapons was not his idea of a good time.
Hogan's heart beat rapidly as Kinchloe and Carter quickly, yet carefully rolled out the detonator wire. At the last minute, they discovered that they didn't have sufficient wire to run it to the woods. Momentarily disconcerted, Carter pointed at their truck and looked at Hogan for confirmation. Nodding vigorously, Hogan waved them both towards it.
He could feel the sweat begin to trickle down his back. This August had been unusually hot in Germany--both figuratively and literally. The Allied victories on the Western Front had frayed the Stalag 13 guards' already volatile tempers, while the hot August days only added to their short fuses.
At the moment, the sweltering heat was causing Hogan to regret his choice of disguise. The heavy SS uniform jackets were considered all weather by the Germans, but were proving to be quite uncomfortable in the afternoon sun.
With the lead vehicle less than twenty meters from the roadblock, Carter and Kinchloe dove underneath the truck, taking their positions. From the corner of his eye, Hogan saw Carter feverishly wiring the detonator. About to turn away, he saw Kinchloe suddenly slap Carter's hand and jerk the detonator away from him. Hogan rolled his eyes when Kinchloe began rewiring the connectors.
One of these days Carter's gonna give me a heart attack, he groused. If the Krauts don't kill me first. His disposition a match for the outside temperature, Hogan waited impatiently for the half-track to finally come to a stop.
"Halt!" Hogan yelled, his arm upraised. Newkirk stood next to him, his Schmeisser at port arms. The half-track stopped, still on the bridge. Ignoring the muzzle of the 20-millimeter cannon, which was pointed straight at him, Hogan took slow, measured steps, until he was directly in front of the vehicle.
Glancing down, he noted that the toes of his boots were mere inches from the bridge. Then again, I might just get myself killed instead. Looking up, he locked gazes with the turret gunner, a boy of about seventeen whose apricot complexion had probably never been touched by a razor. His collar insignia identified him as SS.
The soldier's too-old, unflinching eyes held Hogan's. The American glared back. They stood this way for what seemed a long moment, when unexpectedly, the muzzle of the large gun moved slightly to the left, until it was no longer aimed directly at Hogan.
His knees suddenly weak, Hogan felt a drop of perspiration wend its way down his right cheek. Inside, a thrill of relief washed over him. So you blinked first, eh, kid? So much for the super-race.
A young lieutenant soon joined the gunner in the open turret.
"Heil Hitler!" Hogan crisply saluted the junior officer. The lieutenant snapped to attention and returned the salute.
"Herr Oberst, vas ist denn los?" he asked. "~Why are we stopped here--in the middle of the bridge? Is this not dangerous? May I not move the convoy off the bridge first before--~"
"~Enough!~" Hogan shouted. "~Leutnant--?~"
"Leutnant Weisser, Herr Oberst."
Hogan nodded curtly in acknowledgement. "~Leutnant Weisser, I am Oberst Hoganhoffman! My orders are to stop all vehicles on this road to warn you of heavy Underground activity in the vicinity. We have reports of ambushes further south, near Steinach.~"
"Jahwohl, Herr Oberst!" Weisser shouted, saluting. "~I will ensure that the guards remain alert at all times--~"
At that moment, the first of the charges went off near the middle of the bridge. Newkirk immediately brought up his submachine gun and fired a burst at Weisser and the turret gunner. The two men screamed as they fell over the sides.
The bridge was instantly engulfed in chaos--explosions, flames, and smoke adding to the overall confusion. Screams of agony and shouted warnings could be heard over the tearing metal, sending cold chills through the Allies. Hogan and his men rapidly took up positions behind any available cover, firing on anything that moved.
Several more of the charges went up in a spectacular display of pyrotechnics. Catching sight of several men being blown clear of the bridge, Hogan's jaw tightened as they tumbled into the angry waters below. Within moments of the first explosion, the bridge began to slowly collapse under its own weight from the midway point, taking the half-track and three of the transport trucks with it.
"Sir! Look!" Carter yelled, horrified. "The bridge isn't going over completely. The explosives on the other half aren't going off!" He next words were self-castigating. "It's the fuses. I didn't get all of the defective ones!"
Hogan ran to the edge of the cliff at a crouch. Staying low, out of range of the small arms fire still coming from the far side, he placed his hand on one of the remaining bridge supports. The steel alloy was torn and warped from the high stresses placed on it, the edges sharp and jagged.
"Blimey, Colonel--Look!" Raising his head from a prone position, Newkirk pointed at the remaining trucks still on the bridge.
"Holy cats!" Kinchloe muttered.
"Sacre chat," LeBeau whispered.
His eyes glued to the far side of the bridge, Hogan tightened his grip on the bridge support, the razor sharp ends cutting into his palm. He could only watch helplessly as the remaining vehicles slowly began backing off to the safety of the other side.
Thursday 17 AUG 1944/1440hrs local
On the Hammelburg Road
The long drive back was done in almost complete silence. LeBeau sat with his arms folded on the stock of his weapon, his head resting on his arms. Baker stared, unseeing, at a spot on the bed of the truck. Olsen sat with his legs splayed out, his head thrown back and eyes closed.
Carter sat apart from the others, refusing to look at any of them. In the silence, the truck swayed to the rhythm of the turning wheels, the rocking motion whispering 'Failure...failure...failure...' across the endless kilometers.
Kinchloe worriedly kept his eyes on Carter. The young sergeant's usually effervescent personality had taken on a sudden turn to the dark side. Kinchloe had not seen Carter this despondent since the younger man received a 'Dear John' letter shortly after his capture.
Arriving at a decision, Kinchloe moved next to Carter. Ignoring the others, he concentrated on his favorite explosives expert.
"Andrew," he said softly. Carter jerked, startled by the voice next to him. When the younger man turned, Kinchloe caught sight of his anguish, noting that his normally bright, blue eyes appeared shadowed and sunken.
"Want to talk about it?" he asked.
In a fit of anger, Carter grabbed his helmet and tore it off his head, flinging it across the cargo-hold. To his surprised dismay, it narrowly missed LeBeau.
With a low growl of anger, the small Frenchman leaped at Carter, shouting a string of insults in his native French. Baker and Olsen just as quickly jumped up and grabbed the much shorter man by the arms, dragging him back to his seat. Kinchloe caught a few of the choice words that LeBeau was spewing, and winced as his ears burned.
Carter jumped to his feet, his initial hurt expression changing to one of belligerence. "Oh, yeah? Well...same to you, buddy! Whatever you said!"
"Knock it off, LeBeau!" Kinchloe ordered.
"That--that completement debile blew the mission! Because of him, the Bosche will still be able to destroy Paris!" LeBeau struggled hotly against the others' firm hold. Looking at Carter disgustedly, he asked nobody in particular, "Why do we trust him with important missions anyway?" Jerking his arms free from the others' grasp, he turned away, muttering to himself, "He always finds a way to foul up everything!"
Catching this last comment, Carter grabbed LeBeau by the shoulder and spun him around.
"Oh, yeah? You think you could've done any better, pal? Well..." Carter thought rapidly, trying to remember a phrase that LeBeau had painstakingly taught him. "Well...je crois que non. So there!"
"'I think not'?" LeBeau sneered. "Is that the best you can do, Carter?"
"I said, 'Knock it off,' LeBeau!" Kinchloe snapped.
Still seething, LeBeau plopped down as far away from everyone as he could, muttering under his breath in his native tongue.
Carter stood uncertainly, swaying to the rhythm of the moving truck, 'Failure...failure...failure...' echoing in his head.
"But that's all the French I know," he said. When LeBeau failed to respond, he turned beseechingly to Baker and Olsen. Unable to meet his pain, they looked away.
"I guy can't do more than that, can he?" Feeling a warm hand on his shoulder, he looked up at Kinchloe. "A guy can't be expected to do better than he knows how--can he?"
Kinchloe shook his head. "No, Carter. A guy can only be expected to try his best."
Carter hung his head, shaking it in desperate denial. In his mind he could see the rockets bombarding the city of Paris. His shoulders began trembling.
"It'll be all my fault, Kinch." Slowly, he lowered himself until he was sitting down again. His head bowed, he repeated, "It'll be all my fault."
Kinchloe sat down next to him and placed his hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Carter...what happened was no one's fault." Scowling at LeBeau, he added meaningfully, "And nobody's blaming you."
LeBeau looked up, glaring defiantly. He and Kinchloe wordlessly stared at each other, their dark expressions mirror images. Glancing at Carter, LeBeau felt a sudden stab of guilt pierce him. Squeezing his eyes shut, he brought his hand up to cover them and then ran it through his hair.
Taking a deep, heartfelt breath, he said apologetically, "Carter, Kinchloe is right. What happened was not your fault...And no one blames you. I was out of line." He then extended his hand to Carter.
After a long moment, Carter slowly raised his head. He turned first to Kinchloe, and then LeBeau. The corner of his mouth twitched slightly in a half-smile of acknowledgement for their efforts. Taking LeBeau's hand, he shook it.
Smiling sadly, LeBeau settled back and closed his eyes, feigning sleep.
Baker and Olsen exchanged looks of relief, and believing that the brief rift between the two friends had been healed, followed suit and went to sleep.
Feeling Kinchloe's eyes on him, Carter gave him a quick smile to reassure him that he was all right, and he too leaned back on his seat, his eyes closed.
Keeping his thoughts to himself, Kinchloe watched the German countryside recede in silence.
Thursday 17 AUG 1944/1550hrs local
Main Tunnel under Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
Hogan spoke in sharp, staccato phrases as he strode through the main tunnel back to the barracks. "Kinch, get on the horn to London. Let 'em know what happened. Request further instructions."
As Kinchloe turned to go, he added, "Oh, and inform them of the batch of bad fuses they sent us. Get the lot number from Carter." Shaking his head, he explained, "They probably shipped some to other units besides us."
"Roger, sir." Kinchloe ran ahead to the radio room. These were the first words that Hogan had spoken since the fiasco at the bridge. Kinchloe knew his Commanding Officer too well to believe that he blamed anyone for their failure to destroy the bridge and all of the V-2 rockets.
Except himself, of course, he thought darkly. The colonel always blames himself for failure and credits us with success.
Kinchloe wished, not for the first time, that he could do more to relieve some of the pressure on his CO When they first started on their mission, it had almost seemed like a game. The idea that they could pull off some of their outlandish schemes right under the very noses of their captors appealed to Kinchloe's wry sense of humor.
But that was 1942--two whole years ago.
It seems more like two hundred, he thought. And in that time, their little group of covert operatives had achieved over a 95 percent success rate. With most of their success due to Hogan.
But things are different now.
Two years ago none of them dared think of tomorrow, much less make postwar plans. But that was before North Africa fell to the Allies. Before their forces landed at Anzio. Before D-Day. Before today. Before now.
Hogan's easy leadership style, his technical and tactical expertise, his ability to effectively execute a plan once he set it in motion, had resulted in two things: Kinchloe had begun to dare hope for tomorrow. And for home.
Because if anyone can make it happen, it's the colonel, he thought fervently. But soldiers who dare hope became careful. Too careful, he reminded himself.
Kinchloe knew that soldiers who begin to think about going home inadvertently place their lives above the mission. In the process they become a liability to themselves and to others.
So, no, Kinchloe could not afford to think of home. He could not afford to hope for tomorrow. Besides, his life in Michigan seemed almost unreal, as if it belonged to someone else. His friends and family were like people he'd read about in a book--surreal.
The only reality in his life was here. His only friends were the men he worked and fought with and risked his life with--the same men who would just as gladly put their lives on the line for him. These men were his only real family.
And it was just as much his job as Hogan's to get them through the rest of the war. Kinchloe didn't question the why. He only wondered whether he was up to the job.
And as long as the colonel--and the others need me--it will be my job.
Taking out his codebook, Kinchloe began to encrypt the message to London.
Thursday 17 AUG 1944/1630hrs local
Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
Hogan crumpled the message in anger. Slamming his hand on the field table, he swore under his breath.
"The commandos are on again for tonight," he muttered.
"Yes, sir," Kinchloe nodded. "London says that because not all of the rockets were taken out, the quicker the launch base is destroyed the better."
"But it's suicide while there's still a moon out!" Hogan yelled. "Our guys' chances are gonna be slim at best! Doesn't London know that the Krauts won't be ready to launch for at least another couple of days? Why can't the mission wait twenty-four hours more?"
Kinchloe eyes hardened in disgust. "Politics, sir."
Hogan nodded tiredly. He started pacing, something he hadn't done in a long time. In addition, he futilely patted his pockets for cigarettes. Again, something he hadn't done in quite a while.
Maybe it's because he doesn't smoke cigarettes, Kinchloe observed wryly. Shaking his head in amused tolerance, Kinchloe took out his pack of Lucky Strikes and calmly held one out.
Distractedly nodding his thanks, Hogan took it, and then to Kinchloe's further amusement began patting his pockets yet again, this time in a vain search for matches.
Rolling his eyes, Kinchloe struck a match and held it steadily for him. Gratefully taking a long drag, Hogan smoked in silence for a few minutes, unconsciously grimacing at the foul taste. All the while he paced in slow, deliberate steps. Stopping in front of the sole window in his quarters, he stared out at the main compound.
Leaping lizards, what a dump! Has this place been going downhill lately, or has it always been this depressing? I'd better have a talk with the management about it. Realizing that Kinchloe was waiting for instructions, he faced him, his expression troubled.
"Politics..." he muttered. Stubbing out the cigarette, he placed both hands on the table and leaned forward. "Newkirk's right. Paris is not of any military importance. The only reason we're even going into it is because we promised DeGaulle we would."
Kinchloe nodded. "I had an idea it was something like that, sir."
"So now a team of very brave men have to jump into a snake pit during a moonlit night." He slammed his hand on the table in frustration. "And it's my fault!"
"That's not true, sir!"
"I was in charge!" Hogan said dismissively. "The mission was my responsibility." Neither man spoke for a beat. Finally, Hogan let out a long breath. "Okay, Kinch. You're right. Instead of standing here feeling sorry for myself, I should be thinking up a way to help these Brits--"
An urgent knock at his door interrupted him. Exchanging unreadable glances with Kinchloe, he called out, "Come in!"
Newkirk stuck his head in. "Sir...Gestapo just rolled in. Maj. Hochstetter!"
"Swell!" Hogan muttered. "Kinch, I need you to start making arrangements for tonight's rendezvous with the Commandos. You know what we need. I'll go check and see what our favorite bad guy wants."
Kinchloe nodded. They'd done this cloak and dagger stuff so often, it was practically second nature to him. As he turned to go, Hogan stopped him.
"And Kinch?" Kinchloe waited. "This could turn out real bad. Ready the medical supplies. And tell Sgt. Wilson that he'll be going on this one with us."
Kinchloe nodded slowly. "Yes, sir. I'll take care of everything." He stood, watching Hogan's back for a moment, and then headed towards the tunnel entrance, a sudden chill running down his back.
Wilson was their medic.
Thursday 17 AUG 1944/1645hrs local
Kommandant's Office, LuftStalag 13
Hilda sighed, bored by the daily tedium. The Kommandant had once again given her a stack of documents to file, dictation to type, and forms to fill. Enough paper work to keep her occupied for the Duration. Riffling through the files, she pulled one out, stuck a sheet of paper in it, and re-filed it.
Slamming the filing cabinet shut, Hilda was about to return to her desk when she felt a pair of hands on her shoulders. She automatically stiffened and gasped at the unexpected touch. The next moment, she felt herself melting into Hogan's seductive arms, shivering slightly as he kissed her playfully on the neck. He gently turned her around, and somewhere in the back of her mind, she could hear herself making soft purring sounds as she eagerly stood on tiptoe to meet his kiss.
She knew deep down that their secret trysts were but a game to him in order to gain information. But she didn't care. Hilda decided a long time ago that she looked forward to these few stolen moments with him, and that despite everything she was just a little bit in love with the dashing American colonel. She also realized that when the war was over, she'd only have her memories to keep her warm during a cold, winter's night.
"What does Hochstetter want?" he whispered, his breath hot against her cheek. Lost in his kisses, it took her a moment to realize he'd asked a question.
"I am not sure," she said huskily. She closed her eyes dreamily as he kissed her neck, her ear, her cheek. "H-He stormed in--" She stopped momentarily, as Hogan's lips found hers, taking her breath away. Coming up for air, she swallowed against the hammering in her chest and butterflies in her stomach. "--a-and he said something about getting to the bottom of it once and for all--"
She felt Hogan's hands on her shoulders suddenly push her away, holding her at arms length.
"Get to the bottom of what?" he asked, his voice all business. Her knees weak, Hilda wasn't sure what he'd asked. "Get to the bottom of what?" Hogan repeated, his tone insistent.
Blinking rapidly, Hilda felt the world stop spinning, and opening her eyes, realized that Hogan's intense dark gaze had her pinned down. She suddenly felt like a helpless bird looking back at a predator that was about to strike.
She shook her head. "I-I do not know, Col. Hogan--" she managed. Hogan glared at her for a beat. The next instant, his eyes took on their usual warm, teasing glint. Smiling boyishly, he leaned down and kissed her once more, a slow lingering kiss that made her forget everything except the moment. Taking out a pair of nylons, he wrapped them warmly around her neck, and then kissed her tenderly on the forehead.
Running his finger gently down her cheek, he whispered, "You're the nicest thing about this lousy war, Hilda."
Feeling short of breath, she wordlessly watched him as he gave her a jaunty wink, opened the door to Klink's office, and strode in. Her knees unable to support her any longer, Hilda collapsed into her desk chair.
Chin in hand, she blew a lock of blonde hair out of her eyes and gazed longingly at the closed door.
Thursday 17 AUG 1944/1645hrs local
Tunnel under Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
The telegraph key started clicking unexpectedly. Startled, Kinchloe dropped what he was doing and hurried over. He checked his watch. 1645 hours--a quarter of an hour earlier than the scheduled time.
Tapping an acknowledgement, Kinchloe quickly cranked a handle. At the same instant, undetected by the bored guards outside, an antenna disguised as part of the main compound's flagpole, rose several feet. Within minutes, Goldilocks transmitted a coded message. A few minutes later, Kinchloe had it decrypted. He stared at it, feeling suddenly very tired.
"When it rains, it pours..." he muttered.
Thursday 17 AUG 1944/1655hrs local
Kommandant's Office, LuftStalag 13
Pulling out a sheet of paper from his uniform blouse, Hogan walked up to Klink, and pretending that he didn't see Hochstetter, casually saluted the Kommandant.
"Kommandant, I'm glad I caught you. The men have a list of grievances that--"
"Klink!" Hochstetter shouted, suddenly standing next to Hogan and practically shoving him aside. "What is this man doing here?"
"Maj. Hochstetter!" Hogan's eyes lit up in feigned surprise.
"Col. Ho-gaaan!" Blustering, Klink made a shooing motion at him in a vain attempt to wave him out. "As you can see we are terribly busy--"
Ignoring him, Hogan smiled disarmingly at Hochstetter. "So, Major, what brings you to our happy home?"
"Diis-misssed!" Klink interrupted, this time on his feet and saluting meaningfully. Both Hogan and Hochstetter ignored him.
"Tell me, Hogan," Hochstetter began, "what do you know about blowing up bridges?"
Klink immediately ran around his desk and insinuated himself between them. Hands clasped, he glanced from one to the other, a silly grin pasted on his face. "Hogan? Know anything about blowing up bridges?" He waggled his finger at Hochstetter. "Now, now, Major. Col. Hogan is a prisoner of war here, and as you know no one has ever escaped from--"
"Klink..." Hochstetter said, his tone quietly dangerous. "Shut up!"
Wincing, Klink muttered, "Yes, sir...shut up."
"I don't know what you mean, Major," Hogan said innocently. He walked up to Klink's humidor and casually took out a cigar. Reaching for Klink's lighter, he flicked it, and nonchalantly took a few puffs. Klink grimaced at Hogan's impertinence, and was about to protest when Hogan flashed him a grin. "Danke, Kommandant."
"Bitte schon," Klink mumbled. Looking defeated, he scuttled back behind his desk.
Hochstetter's patience was at an end. "Klink!" he growled.
"Of course, if you're asking whether I've ever blown up any bridges--?" Hogan inserted. Hochstetter whirled on him. A full head shorter than Hogan, he still managed to be almost nose-to-nose with the American colonel.
"Yes, Hogan..." he said slyly. "Have you ever blown up any bridges?" He waited, his cold dark eyes hungry.
Taking a long puff on the cigar, Hogan looked askance at the Gestapo officer. Oh, brother...Subtlety isn't your forte, Major. Smiling self-deprecatingly, Hogan looked suddenly shy. "Well...I don't like to brag, Major...Kommandant..." he began. Both men seemed to lean in closer, simultaneously holding their breaths.
"Yes, yes?" Hochstetter sounded eager. "Go on, Hogan."
Hogan's chest swelled with pride. "Like I said, I don't like to brag, but...gosh, at last count I had almost ninety-five bridges--"
"Ninety-five bridges--!?" Hochstetter and Klink burst out together.
"Golly...I know that's not much," Hogan said. "I mean others have blown up a whole lot more than that--"
"Finally!" Hochstetter yelled triumphantly. "You admit that you are responsible for the bridges that have been blown up so mysteriously--"
"Oh, gosh, it's not all that mysterious--" Hogan pshawed.
"Col. Hogan, I don't understand," Klink spluttered. "How--? When--? Where--?"
"We know the where and the when, Hogan," Hochstetter interjected sharply. "The Hammelburg Bridge, the Mainz River Bridge, the Fulda Bridge...train tunnels, roads, ammo dumps--all within the area! It's the how that we're interested in."
"Hey, I'm impressed, Major," Hogan said admiringly. "I doubt if I could've told you exactly the where and when, myself. I mean...ninety-five bridges--they do tend to blur after a while."
"So, you admit to having been involved in this--this epidemic of sabotage!?" Hochstetter jumped in.
"Sabotage!?" Hogan protested. "I admit I'm responsible for some ninety-five bridges--" He paused, nodding and shrugging simultaneously. "--Oh, all right, and quite a few tunnels and other targets being blown up, but I wouldn't call it sabotage."
"Oh? You wouldn't call it sabotage, Col. Hogan," Hochstetter said unpleasantly. "Then what exactly would you call this wanton destruction of the property of the Third Reich?"
Hogan shrugged. "Just lucky, I guess."
"Luck--?!" Hochstetter choked.
"Well, yeah!" Hogan said as if talking to a dense child. "I mean...it's not all that easy to hit a target from thirty thousand feet straight up, you know! A couple of times I might've even missed, but I think ninety-five bridges is a pretty good tally. Don't you agree, Kommandant?"
"Oh, yes," Klink said nodding thoughtfully. "I think ninety-five is definitely a good tally."
"Klink--!" Hochstetter screamed, shaking a fist at him.
"I mean from thirty thousand feet straight up," Klink said reasonably. "You have to admit, Major, that's a pretty good record--"
"Klink!" Hochstetter's hands made a threatening move towards the Kommandant's neck. Klink slunk back into his chair, staring back at him, clearly frightened but smiling foolishly in order to hide it.
"Y'know, I think that I could've increased my record by a few more if I hadn't been shot down over Hamburg." Shrugging, Hogan sighed regretfully. "I only wish that I'd gotten an even hundred first."
Hochstetter looked as if he were about to explode, his coloring turning red, then purplish.
"I am not talking about your bombing missions, Hogan!" he growled. "I'm talking about the River Fulda Bridge--"
"Well, like I said, Major, you can't expect a guy to remember the location of all the bridges he's bombed--!"
"--which was destroyed just a few hours ago!"
"A few hours ago? But Major, I've been here in Stalag 13 all day--every day for the past two years if you want to be perfectly truthful about it--"
"Of course, he's been here, Major Hochstetter," Klink interrupted. "You can't expect Col. Hogan to know anything about the Fulda Bridge being destroyed."
"Klink!" Hochstetter screamed. "Shut up!"
Klink nodded wordlessly, and poured himself a shot of Schnapps. Cringing at the Gestapo officer's manic screeching, he downed it in a single gulp.
"Hogan, I know and you know that you are somehow responsible for the Fulda Bridge being completely destroyed--" Hochstetter said. "--along with a very valuable convoy."
"Ah, ah, ah-h!" Klink again interrupted, waggling his finger. "Only half the bridge and half the convoy were destroyed, Major," he reminded him. "Remember, the glass is half-full, not half-empty!" He uttered this last with a bright, innocuous smile pasted on his face.
Watching from the sidelines, Hogan mentally rolled his eyes, allowing himself a slight grin. Thank goodness for good ol' Blood and Guts, he mused.
"Klink! Each day of your continued, miserable existence takes at least ten years from the Thousand Year Reich!" Hochstetter shook an ineffectual fist at him and then glared balefully at Hogan. "Hogan...Klink...I swear that I will get to the bottom of this!"
Scowling at Hogan's disingenuous look of innocence, and Klink's frightened concern, Hochstetter made a low, growling noise deep in his throat, then whirled around and jerked the door open.
"Bah!" he screamed and stormed out.
Puffing thoughtfully on his cigar, Hogan stared at the door for a few moments. "There goes a very unhappy man," he observed ironically.
Reaching into his humidor, Klink took out a cigar and lit it. Matching Hogan's pensive look, he nodded in agreement. "Yes, Col. Hogan...a most unhappy man, indeed."
"Probably hasn't killed anyone today," Hogan murmured.
Exchanging knowing looks, both men blew smoke rings in an uncharacteristic moment of shared camaraderie.
Thursday 17 AUG 1944/1725hrs local
Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
Hogan walked in the barracks at the same time that Kinchloe emerged from the tunnel trapdoor. He waited while the senior radioman tapped the bunk frame to close the secret entrance. When Kinchloe finally turned to face him, Hogan felt a momentary pause.
"What is it?" he asked. Wordlessly, Kinchloe handed him the latest communique. Hogan yanked the cigar from his mouth and taking the message, read it through several times. He walked over to the community table and stubbed out the cigar in the ever-present, overflowing ashtray before finally looking up.
"They've lost their collective minds..." he muttered, shaking his head in amazement.
Kinchloe nodded. "Uh-huh."
"What is it?" Newkirk asked.
"Who's lost their collective minds?" Carter added.
"How do they expect us to do this?" Hogan demanded. "Did they say?"
"They authorized us to contact the Underground for any further information," Kinchloe replied, shrugging. "And then to proceed at our own discretion. So long as--"
"So long as we get it done tonight," Hogan finished. Distractedly tapping the message on his open palm, he paced for a moment, overcome by the mission orders. The others exchanged worried glances. Any mission that had their Commanding Officer acting this concerned had to be more dangerous than usual.
"Beggin' your pardon, Colonel," Newkirk pleaded, "but if you don't tell us what this is all about soon, I may just have a stroke."
Nodding in acquiescence, Hogan leaned against one of the bunks, hitching his elbow along the frame. He faced his men squarely and laid out the facts as succinctly as possible.
"We just received the location of the two additional rocket bases. The Underground reports that the remaining rockets were dispersed in three different directions. We believe that they're each being sent to a different rocket base." He nodded at Kinchloe.
"One of the bases is located outside of Tauberbischofsheim," the senior Noncom added. "Which is less than fifteen klicks Southwest of here."
"So...guess who has just been ordered to take out this facility?"
"Do we get three guesses?" Carter asked eagerly. Hogan automatically brought his hand up to rub his eyes. Kinchloe simply looked up at the ceiling for a moment, while shaking his head. "I mean, jeepers, I've never been able to guess right on the first try--"
"Oh, you're bloody marvelous, Andrew!" Newkirk growled sarcastically. "D'you know that? Can't you hear with your ears for a change? The colonel and Kinch are trying to tell us that we've been given the mission of taking out the rocket base." He jumped up. "Buggeration! What the bloody hell am I saying?"
"Criminy--us?! Take out a rocket base? By ourselves?"
"Sacre bleu! Is that correct, mon Colonel?"
"'Fraid so, fellas. The third location is too inaccessible. It's located in the Bavarian Alps just outside of Fussen, next to the Swiss border. Allied High Command is planning a series of air raids to take it out, but chances are pretty slim that our bombers will be able to--"
He stopped abruptly, a familiar, faraway look in his eyes. The next instant, he snapped his fingers, a wicked gleam lighting his handsome features.
"You've thought of something, eh, Colonel?" Newkirk asked excitedly.
"What is it, boy--uh, I mean, sir?" Carter asked. Hogan simply grinned broadly.
"Sir?" Kinchloe asked. Hogan nodded his head in the direction of his quarters.
"Come on. I've got an idea."
Thursday 17 AUG 1944/1830hrs local
Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
"Blimey!" Newkirk cried out, jumping to his feet. "Beggin' the colonel's pardon, but you're out of your bloomin' head! It's crazy, that's what it is!"
"Newkirk--!" Kinchloe snapped. Newkirk whirled at him.
"Did you hear what he said?" he demanded, pointing accusingly at Hogan. "Go up against a battalion of SS? Just the five of us?"
"Well...actually, the seven of us," Carter corrected. "Baker and Olsen will be going, too."
"Oh, well, I guess that makes it all right, eh?" Newkirk asked sarcastically. "Seven men against a battalion. The odds are suddenly looking better!"
"We are wasting time," LeBeau hotly interrupted. "I say the sooner we get started, the sooner that Paris will be out of danger."
"All right, hold it!" Hogan yelled over them, but was ignored by the angry enlisted men who were busy arguing with one another. "I said, 'Hold it'!" he roared. The room went instantly silent. He nodded. "Thank you."
He pulled down the map from its hidden wall recess. Without speaking, he circled two locations. A third location--the Mutlangen rocket base--was already marked. Moving to the other side of the field table, he quickly began spreading the myriad photos of the Mutlangen facility that the Underground had sent them.
"Okay, here it is, gentlemen. Down and dirty. No frills." His dark, intense gaze held their attention. "Tonight, a company of British commandos is going to jump into the Mutlangen area. Their job is to take out the rocket base, and render it and any rockets there inoperative."
"That part we know already, sir," Newkirk said impatiently. "It's the next part that we have a bit of a problem with." He swallowed nervously at the sudden glint in Hogan's eyes but didn't back down. After a brief moment, Hogan nodded.
"Don't worry, Newkirk. You're not going on this one." He turned to Kinchloe. "Kinch? Can you come here a minute?" The two senior leaders moved to the side for a brief conference.
Sitting down slowly, Newkirk felt a momentary pang of relief. Looking up at LeBeau and Carter he smiled goofily. "I'm not going on this one," he said, savoring the moment. Abruptly his euphoria gave way to doubt and finally to outrage. He jumped to his feet and stalked over to where Hogan and Kinchloe were conferring in private.
"Just a minute here, Colonel!" he huffed. Hogan and Kinchloe exchanged their characteristic neutral glances, and as one, turned at the interruption. Unconsciously, they struck identical poses--crossed arms, single eyebrow raised, glaring dark gazes.
Mirror images of each other.
Clearing his throat, Newkirk opened his mouth to speak again, but LeBeau beat him to the punch.
"I agree with the colonel, Newkirk!" To prove his point, LeBeau walked up between Hogan and Kinchloe and struck a matching pose. Hogan and Kinchloe exchanged wry looks above his head.
Newkirk made a move towards the much smaller man. "Why you little--!" LeBeau quickly ducked behind Hogan and stuck his tongue out at Newkirk just as Carter grabbed the RAF corporal by the arms.
Emerging from behind the safety of Hogan's back, LeBeau glared at Newkirk, raising his chin in defiance. He made a noise in his throat, which only a true Frenchman could hope to mimic. "You do not care about Paris," he sneered. "Well, you can stay home and you can--"
"You're not going either, LeBeau," Hogan interrupted.
"What? But, Colonel--! Mon Dieu--! I must go with you! We fight for Paris! For the Libertad!"
"And that's why you're not going," Kinchloe said. "You're too close to this one, buddy. Your head isn't on straight." He shook his head. "I'm afraid that I have to agree with the colonel."
"But don't worry," Hogan interjected. "You're not staying home. You'll make the rendezvous with the commandos at the designated time and place. Then you'll escort them back here and start getting them processed for the return trip."
He stopped. Turning to Carter, he hesitated. "I'm afraid, Carter, that you're not gonna be as lucky. I need you on this one. And your services."
Carter blinked uncertainly. He looked around at the others, then back at Hogan. When he didn't say anything immediately, Hogan cocked his head to the side.
"What is it, Carter?" he asked. Carter looked down at his feet, unable or unwilling to look him in the eyes. A sudden expression flitted across Hogan's face. "Oh. I see...Well, that's understandable, Carter. This mission is extremely dangerous and I can only take volunteers. You're under no obligation to--"
"NO!" Carter said startled. "No, sir, Colonel. That's not it at all. Honest!" He paused, unable to continue. Realizing what was troubling him, Kinchloe placed his hand on the younger man's shoulder.
"Carter...you know that the fuses weren't your fault. It was a bad lot number. You can't blame yourself."
"I know that what you're saying is true, Kinch," he said quietly. "But the explosives were my responsibility. Because of me, the mission failed."
"I was in charge of the mission, Carter," Hogan said. "Its failure is my responsibility. The fact that those commandos have to jump into Mutlangen tonight is my fault."
"But that's not true, sir," Carter protested. "I mean, no one could blame you for the fuses being bad. They were shipped to us like that--" he stopped, a look of understanding crossing his features. "I-I guess, it wasn't anybody's fault. Right, sir?"
Hogan wordlessly gazed back at him, dark eyes smiling warmly.
"Mon Colonel, I still do not see why I cannot accompany you on this mission!" LeBeau complained. Chin jutted rebelliously, he glared with Gallic haughtiness at his Commanding Officer. "The rendezvous with the commandos does not require more than one man," he said hotly. "But to go against a battalion of SS with only three? It would be suicide. Therefore, I volunteer to go."
"As do I, Colonel," Newkirk chimed in. "I'm not some kind of a Hangar Queen that needs molly-coddling. Baker and Olsen can rendezvous with--"
"Sorry, fellas," Hogan said with a final shake of the head. "My orders stand." He turned back to the photos. "Kinch, Carter...take a look at these and study them. Commit them to memory--"
"I don't understand, sir," Carter interrupted. "If these are the recon photos of the facility at Mutlangen, then why--?"
"Because the Jerries are masters of the assembly line and mass production," Kinchloe explained. "A building plan that worked for one facility is highly likely to be copied almost identically for the next one. Chances are that each of the facilities will be carbon copies of the other."
Carter gave a short laugh. "Sounds like my neighborhood back home in Muncie. Almost all the houses look exactly alike." Hogan slapped him on the shoulder and then turned to Newkirk and LeBeau.
Both men were sitting glumly on Hogan's bottom bunk, looking for all intent like a couple of disappointed kids. ""Newkirk...LeBeau, you'll have to memorize these building plans as well."
"What for?" LeBeau asked belligerently.
"If we're not going--?" Newkirk added.
"Contingency," Kinchloe said sourly. "In case we fail--"
"--And don't come back," Hogan finished. Newkirk and LeBeau slowly stood, the import of Hogan's words leaving them both speechless for once.
Thursday 17 AUG 1944/2130hrs local
Main Tunnel under Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
The heroes worked with silent efficiency.
Kinchloe opened the small arms locker and began issuing weapons. Newkirk and LeBeau each withdrew a US made Thompson sub-machinegun. Wordlessly, they went through their safety checks, and satisfied, slapped a 30-round magazine into it. In addition, they stuffed three more ammo clips apiece inside their jackets.
Carter emerged from his laboratory, lugging several heavy, shoulder carried canvas bags. Two were strapped to his left ankle so that he could drag them awkwardly behind him as he walked. Kinchloe and Newkirk quickly gave him a hand.
"Thanks," Carter mumbled, and then called out sharply when Newkirk looked like he was about to carelessly drop the bag he was holding. "Hey! Watch it! That's loaded with dynamite!"
Grimacing, Newkirk gently laid the bundle down. "Why can't you ever carry anything that doesn't explode?" he asked sourly.
"Where would the fun be in that?" Carter asked, wide-eyed. Not bothering to answer, Newkirk grabbed him by the collar and drew back a fist, but he was stopped by LeBeau who held his wrist in a surprisingly vice-like grip.
"Stop playing around, Newkirk!" he said sharply. "We still have a lot of work to do!"
Hogan, meanwhile, was quietly briefing Sgt. Wilson on his mission.
"I hate to toss you into this without prior warning, Wilson, but if things go bad for the Brits, they may not be able to wait for your services."
"I understand, sir," Wilson said. "But, you do know that they'll have their own medical personnel?" At Hogan's nod, he added, "Are you sure you wouldn't rather I go with you?"
Hogan shook his head. "Neither mission's a piece o' cake," he admitted. "And I'm probably overreacting." He gave a chagrinned half-smile. "You may not be needed at all--Goodness knows, I hope you won't be--but like with all the best laid plans..." He didn't need to finish the statement.
Wilson understood only too well. Parachuting into enemy held territory was dangerous enough. Parachuting into an enemy camp while there was still a moon out lowered the odds even more. But these commandos were professionals. If anyone could pull off the mission, they could.
Hogan clapped Wilson on the shoulder and moved on to Baker who was watching everyone from the communications station.
"Do you have any questions?" Hogan asked. Baker immediately jumped to his feet, snapping to attention.
"No, sir," he said. Hogan flashed him an amused smile.
"At ease, Baker," he said. "We're pretty informal around here." Baker nodded awkwardly and sat back down. "Remember to monitor the Brits' comms. Call sign, Humpty-Dumpty." Which I hope won't prove prophetic, he thought bitterly. "Newkirk's team is White Rabbit. We're Mad Hatter. And, because you'll be monitoring from here, you're Papa Bear."
Baker nodded, feeling the weight of responsibility on his shoulders that the call sign evoked. He was grateful that Hogan chose to take a moment to talk to him. Noting his CO's easy manner and having him go over everything expected of him one more time helped settle Baker's jumpy nerves.
"Yes, sir. And I should expect a radio check from London at H-hour."
"Zero-hundred hours, sir!"
Hogan gave him a nod and a wink and smiled. "Good work, Sergeant." About to turn to go, he added, "And don't forget--keep the home fires burning."
Grinning, Baker flashed him a thumbs-up.
Taking a moment to check his own sidearm, Hogan caught sight of Carter busily inventorying the contents of one of the canvas bags. Securing his Luger in its shoulder holster, he was about to walk over to Carter, when he saw Kinchloe crouch down next to young explosives expert.
Hogan instead moved over to the weapons locker and drew a semi-automatic Schmeisser with a folding metal stock. Expertly running through the safety checks, he slung it over his shoulder and next turned to his assigned wall locker. There he put away any personal effects--watch, Academy ring, ID tags--that might identify him later if captured or killed...
Kinchloe watched as Carter concentrated to the exclusion of everything else on the task at hand. Not for the first time, he wondered how a man who had trouble telling his left from his right could have such a talent for handling explosives. Giving himself a mental shrug, he finally spoke.
"So, no more snafus this time round, buddy?"
Eagerly looking up, Carter answered excitedly. "Oh, boy! You betcha! Nosiree bub!"
Kinchloe waited patiently for his explanation. As usual when discussing explosives, and because of his keen anticipation of the night's activities, Carter spoke hurriedly, stumbling over his words.
"See, I figure that since I can't trust the fuses, then it's better not use plastique this time. So...I decided that good old-fashioned dynamite--in six-pack bundles--would work just as well."
"Sounds like a plan," Kinchloe said with a touch of admiration. "How--?"
"But the best part is how they'll be set off," Carter interrupted. He took out a bundle of dynamite to demonstrate. "See, I'll have them on a timer." He pointed to the timer, which was taped to the dynamite bundle. "And when it reaches the designated time, the timer's spring will strike a small glass vial--" He pointed out the fluid-filled vial. "--which will break and release the chlorine--"
"Chlorine?" Kinchloe asked surprised.
Grinning, Carter nodded vigorously. "Yeah...bleach! Plain, ordinary bleach!"
Kinchloe sat back on his heels, shaking his head in confusion. "I don't get it."
"When the bleach is released it'll drop on a sliver of magnesium, resulting in a chemical reaction. The magnesium will flash and burn, igniting the dynamite in the process."
Kinchloe whistled in admiration. "Holy Cats! Remind me not to borrow any alarm clocks from you." Carter blushed proudly at the unaccustomed praise from the senior noncom.
"Andrew, how much time will you be able to give us to complete our part of the mission?"
"It's a twelve hour timer," Carter explained. "So I can give you any increments of that."
Kinchloe looked thoughtful. "We can't run the risk of the Krauts discovering the dynamite before it goes off, but the colonel and I'll need enough time to get things done. Ninety minutes should be plenty of time."
"I figure that if I set off the rocket fuel that's stored in the nearby depot, it'll set off sympathetic explosions throughout the compound and send the whole kit-and-caboodle into orbit."
"That's what I admire about you, Carter," Kinchloe said wryly. "You take such pride in your work."
Thursday 17 AUG 1944/2325hrs local
Woods East of the Tauberbischofsheim Rocket Facility
As soon as the truck stopped, Hogan and Kinchloe vaulted off the tailgate. Carter and Wilson began handing them their equipment. Newkirk and LeBeau stood guard on either side of the truck. Within minutes, Hogan's team finished their offloading. Hogan gave a soft, two-note whistle, and Newkirk and LeBeau hurriedly jumped into the cab and took off.
Hogan grabbed three of the canvas bags, checked his weapon one more time, and turned to the others. Carter and Kinchloe were similarly loaded down with three, shoulder-slung canvas bags apiece. In addition, Kinchloe carried a small, black case--his tools.
Hogan remained fully alert while his men checked their weapons one last time. As he waited, Hogan felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He scanned the area methodically, feeling exposed in the small clearing. Dim moonlight glinted off their SS collar tabs and steel helmets.
He glanced up through a small opening in the tree cover. The barest sliver of a moon silently looked down from the night sky. Hogan glared back, cursing its lovely silvery sheen. One more night, he thought bitterly. Couldn't wait just another lousy twenty-four hours.
Done, Kinchloe gave him a curt nod. Hogan immediately led them into the thick underbrush. They still had three kilometers over heavily patrolled, rough terrain to hike.
Thursday 17 AUG 1944/2345hrs local
On the Hammelburg Road heading south
"I still cannot believe that I must sit this one out," LeBeau muttered. He was slouched on the passenger side of the cab, his right elbow resting on the open window, his cheek pressed against his fist.
"I know it seems a bit hard, mate," Newkirk conceded. "But I have to agree with the colonel. You're too close to the problem, it being Paris and all. Could make you careless."
"That is not true!" LeBeau denied hotly. "I would never allow my emotions to get in the way of a mission! Never!"
"'Course not!" Newkirk said soothingly. "But the colonel's a bleedin' officer and all...He has to think of these things. You know how it is."
"All I know is that the Bosche plan to wipe out Paris, and I have to sit in the sidelines!" Fuming, LeBeau crossed his arms. "How would you feel if it were your home that was about to be destroyed?"
"You forget something, mate." Newkirk's voice dropped until LeBeau had to strain to hear him. "I lived through a little thing called 'the Blitz.'" Neither spoke for a long moment. Finally, Newkirk continued quietly.
"Back then, England stood alone. The RAF barely had enough planes to fight off the daily air raids. And me? I had to stand back and watch these nineteen- and twenty-year-old fighter pilots scramble for their Spitfires--to fight for bloody King and country." He paused, angry.
"And I couldn't lift a finger to help..." he sighed. "My bomber crew was bloody grounded. See...almost all of our bombers were destroyed on the ground during the first few air raids."
"I did not know that, my friend," LeBeau said quietly.
"I did what I could. Helped man an ack-ack gun during air raids, all the while wishing I were up there. With all those bloody, baby-faced pilots." He shook his head. "I'd never wished so hard to be a bleedin' officer as I did that long, hot summer of 1940..."
"I am sorry, mon ami...But then you must see how I feel at this moment--that I must help save my home."
"Yes, I do, mate," Newkirk agreed. "But things are different now, don't y'see?"
LeBeau turned to him curiously. "I do not understand. How are they different?"
"France isn't alone, mate...not like England was back in '40. For one thing, the Allies are making the liberation of France a joint priority. You have some of the best armies in the world--in all history--fighting right now--this moment--to free your country. France's back isn't against the wall--Hitler's is."
"Yes, but that does not help Paris. As long as the filthy Bosche want to make an example of her, they will never let her be returned to Allied hands!"
"And that's why the commandos are jumping in tonight, mate, and not tomorrow night when it would be safer for them. Someone in London decided that Paris is too important to let her be destroyed. So, you see...your country isn't alone. It's got the armies of every free nation fighting for her freedom."
LeBeau sat back thoughtfully, digesting his friend's words. Neither man spoke for a long spell, preferring the companionable silence to further conversation.
Friday 18 AUG 1944/0000hrs local
Woods outside the Tauberbischofsheim Rocket Facility
The three men communicated through hand signals. They crouched behind a screen of shrubs and thickets. Around them small groups of SS guards with snarling dogs patrolled the outer perimeter.
Through his field glasses, Hogan studied the surrounding terrain. As he'd figured, the rocket facility was laid out almost identically to the Mutlangen site. A deep trench--almost three meters deep with steep sides--provided the first obstacle they had to overcome. From where he stood, the only means in and out of the complex was a short bridge that spanned the ditch.
Once across the trench, they then had to contend with a high-voltage fence, which in turn was guarded by four, two-man teams of roving guards. Hogan noted that they were armed with semi-automatic weapons. Further inside the compound, Hogan spotted three large fuel storage tanks, lying adjacent to a large, camouflaged motorpool area. Posted signs warned of highly explosive and flammable material.
Hogan handed the binoculars to Carter and pointed at the storage tanks. Carter nodded in understanding. Next, a small patrol marched up to the bridge entrance. A single sentry was posted next to a one-arm security gate. As they watched, the sentry saluted the NCO in charge of the patrol and quickly raised the gate.
When the patrol crossed the bridge, they stopped at the electrified fence in front of a double gate, and the NCO signaled the bridge sentry. The sentry opened a junction box, reached inside and pulled down a lever. He nodded at the NCO who immediately opened the double gate and marched his men through.
Looks simple enough, Hogan mused. His eyes followed the guards until they disappeared inside a side entrance to a squat, concrete building, taking note of the armed guard who stood just outside the door. The guard had checked the NCO's identification before allowing the patrol to enter.
Kinchloe suddenly grabbed Hogan's forearm and pointed--a two-man patrol, with a guard dog headed their way! Hogan immediately unholstered his Luger and quickly screwed on a silencer. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Carter and Kinchloe were following suit. Hogan could feel the sweat trickling down his temples.
The dog's a lousy break, he thought ruefully. He glanced at his watch. H-hour! The commandos would be jumping into Mutlangen just about now. We gotta get inside before all Hell breaks loose over there, and the Krauts beef up security down here!
Even as these thoughts flashed through his head, the dog began to whimper and pull at his leash. As Hogan watched, the dog's whimper turned to a low growl. The guards immediately released it, and it shot like a bolt of lightning straight in their direction!
Friday 18 AUG 1944/0000hrs local
Tunnel under Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
Annoyed, Baker glared as Olsen paced, twelve steps in one direction, twelve steps back.
"Will you sit down?" he complained. "You're driving me nuts!"
"I can't help it! This waitin's killing me, man! Why couldn't the CO have let us go with 'em?"
Baker shrugged. "You know the colonel. He always has a reason for everything."
"Yeah, I know that all right." Olsen's voice took on a bitter note. He sat down abruptly. "He doesn't trust us, that's why!"
"Olsen, you're barking up the wrong tree," Baker snapped back. "Man, I don't get you. You knew the colonel from before--being on his flight crew and all. Haven't you learned anything?"
"What d'you mean?"
"I mean the fact that he briefed us on tonight's mission--let us in on the contingency plan. He not only trusts us, he expects us to carry on if there's a snafu tonight. And he doesn't come back."
Olsen thought about Hogan and the others. Not come back? The CO not able to think himself out of a problem? The thought had never occurred to him.
Jumping to his feet, he shook his head in denial and pointed accusingly at his friend. "Now who's barking up the wrong tree?" he asked hotly. "There isn't a Kraut alive who could ever stand up to the colonel--"
At this moment, the telegraph key began clattering. Baker was instantly alert, his pencil virtually flying across his notepad. Almost as soon as the metallic clicking began, it ended.
Baker looked at Olsen. "That was Goldilocks. Humpty-Dumpty reported all Green at H-Hour."
"Then, I guess that's it, huh?" Olsen asked. "The jump must've been a success, right?"
Baker nodded, thoughtfully. "Yeah, man...I guess that--"
The metallic clicking started again.
The two men exchanged startled glances. Baker again reached for his pencil, and started transcribing the message, when he went suddenly still.
"Baker? Baker what is it?" Olsen asked. "Baker...?"
Baker looked up, his dark eyes stricken. "At H-Hour plus two minutes...Humpty-Dumpty reported heavy fire coming from the target area." He struggled to keep going. "The commandos were cut down before they even hit the ground--a regular turkey shoot." He covered his eyes momentarily and after a while reached for the mike.
"Just like the colonel said..." Olsen whispered. Noticing that Baker was changing frequencies on the transmitter asked, "What are you doing?"
"Calling Newkirk and LeBeau," Baker answered, his tone grim. "They gotta be told."
Nodding, Olsen turned away, stunned by the news. Somewhere in the distance, he heard Baker calling.
"White Rabbit, this is Papa Bear...Come in, White Rabbit..."
Friday 18 AUG 1944/0005hrs local
Woods outside the Tauberbischofsheim Rocket Facility
The dog leaped over the thick brush and almost into Kinchloe's lap. Without hesitation, Hogan fired twice, the Luger spitting out ~phffft! phffft!~
The dog crumpled, deathly still.
The guards meanwhile were running in the dog's wake and smashed into the thicket. Carter and Kinchloe simultaneously leaped to their feet and struck out hard with the butts of their Schmeissers. Both guards went down without a sound. Wordlessly, the Americans tied and gagged them.
Hogan stared at the dog, his expression unreadable, the only sign of emotion a muscle in his cheek, which jumped suddenly. Turning away, he found some loose brush lying around and covered the dead animal. When he finally looked up, he saw that the others had dragged their unconscious prisoners underneath some thick shrubbery.
Jerking his thumb at them to follow him, they emerged from the woods, one by one. Seeing another patrol approach, Kinchloe and Carter immediately snapped to attention, while Hogan gesticulated and shouted in his best, arrogant SS officer voice. Thus, when the passing patrol got within hearing distance, they received an earful.
"~And how many times must you Dumkopfs be reminded to always challenge people you do not know--I would not care if it were Himmler himself! If you do not know them on sight, then you must ask for proper identification! Do you understand?~"
"Jahwohl, Herr Oberst!" Kinchloe and Carter replied. Peripherally, Hogan saw that the guards were less than two meters away. He hoped that the dim moonlight would not allow them to get a good look at his face. Thankfully, Carter and Kinchloe's backs were to them.
As the German soldiers passed in front of him, the NCO in charge sharply saluted him. Hogan automatically returned the salute, and then waited for the patrol to march past.
"Let's go," he muttered. "Heil Hitler!" The three Americans all exchanged the Nazi straight-arm salute and stiffly fell in step. Eyes forward, they approached the bridge sentry. Kinchloe's helmet was low over his eyes, his dark complexion hopefully hidden in the shadows. To distract the guard, Hogan stepped forward and saluted him.
The sentry stiffly returned the salute, clicking his heels and snapping to attention.
"~I wish to escort these two Dumkopfs to their commanding officer!~" Hogan explained. "~I caught them shirking their duty!~" He pulled out a sheaf of papers from his breast pocket, and clicking his heels, presented them to the sentry.
"~I am Oberst Hoganhoffman, SS Security. I was ordered here to check on the status of the facility's security measures. My first task was to test the outer perimeter guards. These two men have never before laid eyes on me, and yet, when I approached them, they did not even challenge me--unlike you, of course, Corporal--? What is your name?~"
"~Corporal Schwimmer, Mein Herr!~"
"~Well, Corporal Schwimmer, may I congratulate you on doing a fine job? Yes, a fine job. I promise you that your name will figure prominently in my report to Headquarters.~"
"Danke, Herr Oberst!" Schwmimmer seemed to grow another inch.
"Nein, Corporal Schwmimmer!" Hogan replied. "~It is you whom I should thank. With crack soldiers like you fighting for our glorious cause, our Thousand Year Reich will never fall! Heil Hitler!~"
"Heil Hitler!" Schwmimmer saluted proudly.
Friday 18 AUG 1944/0010hrs local
Abandoned farmhouse, northeast of Mutlangen
"We copy, Papa Bear," LeBeau replied dully. "White Rabbit, out." He replaced the walkie-talkie into its carrying case and sat back heavily, feeling indescribably tired.
"Well, that's just bloody charming," Newkirk said coldly. Cursing out loud, he picked up a dusty plate that had been left behind by the farmhouse's previous occupants and threw it against the wall with all the force he could muster.
"Those poor blokes never stood a bloody chance! The colonel warned HQ that this might happen! But would they listen?" He glared at Wilson and LeBeau. "Like bloody Hell!"
He spun on his heel and stomped outside, slamming the door behind him. Wilson and LeBeau stood in the dark without speaking. LeBeau's thoughts were with the men who'd lost their lives that night, turned to his three friends who were at this moment risking theirs, and finally returned to his friend who at this moment was mourning the loss of so many of his countrymen.
"What do we do now?" Wilson finally asked.
"We wait." His back against the wall, LeBeau slowly slid down to the floor. "We wait until the appointed rendezvous hour." He stared unseeing at the closed door. "Just in case..."
Friday 18 AUG 1944/0015hrs local
Outside the Tauberbischofsheim Rocket Facility
Hogan snapped off a salute and handed the door sentry his papers. The sentry first checked the papers and then each man in turn. When he turned to Kinchloe, Hogan chopped down, striking him on the base of the neck. Before he could fall down, Hogan and Kinchloe quickly propped him up against the wall, as close to the shadows as possible.
"Carter!" Hogan hissed. "Go!"
Kinchloe handed Carter the canvas bags he'd been carrying, and taking them, Carter struggled under their combined weight. However, he managed to keep his feet as he stumbled towards the rocket fuel depot.
Hogan slung two of the canvas bags over his shoulder, while Kinchloe took one and his tool case.
"Let's go," Hogan ordered. He opened the door leading into the underground facility and quickly checked to make sure it was all clear. Nodding, he headed inside, Kinchloe at his heels.
Friday 18 AUG 1944/0045hrs local
Outside the Tauberbischofsheim Rocket Facility
Keeping to the shadows, Carter worked his way stealthily to the large storage bins. In the silence of the night, he could hear boots crunching on the gravely ground as the patrols passed by. On occasion he caught a dog's snarling bark outside the fence perimeter.
Finding a spot from where he could observe without being seen, he decided to watch for a few minutes, until he felt it safe to proceed. In less than a minute, his patience was rewarded.
A squad of SS marched up to the fence that surrounded the fuel depot and stopped at the gate. The NCO in charge took out a set of keys and unlocked the gate.
"Hans! Hans!" The NCO called and waited impatiently for whomever this 'Hans' was. "Hans!" he called again. Immediately, a disheveled-looking private appeared.
Looks like someone's been sleeping on the job, Carter thought with amusement. It was apparent that the NCO thought so, too, because he was instantly screaming at Hans, shoving him into the squad formation. The sergeant pointed at another soldier who promptly fell out of the squad, saluting sharply.
As Carter watched, the squad moved on. He waited a few moments longer until the replacement sentry also disappeared somewhere inside the depot. As soon as he was gone, Carter moved quickly towards the gate. Seeing the rather archaic lock, he took out a 'Newkirk special'--a skeleton key--and carefully placed it inside the lock. Feeling the tumblers click when he turned the key, Carter grinned with childlike glee.
Boy, oh, boy! Wait'll I tell Newkirk!
Friday 18 AUG 1944/0045hrs local
Inside the Tauberbischofsheim Rocket Facility
Kinchloe followed Hogan, keeping to the shadows afforded by the myriad catwalks that crisscrossed the vast, enclosed space. The place was unbelievably enormous! He'd studied the plans for the Mutlangen site and knew what to expect, but nevertheless the sheer size of the underground facility evoked a reluctant respect for whoever designed it.
He and Hogan had already descended two levels but had yet to run into anyone. Where is everybody? he wondered. A sudden noise ahead warned him that he'd spoken too soon. Hogan held his hand up, signaling Kinchloe to stop. They hurriedly ducked into a shadowy recess along the wall.
As they waited, Kinchloe heard voices approaching--two men laughing and arguing at the same time.
"~She was a dog, Kurt! A real Schnauzer! How could you stand her?~"
"~It is easy for you to say, Erik! The frauleins fall all over you, because they think you look like the American cinema idol, Clark Gable. But a simple soldier such as I...well, I have to take whatever I can get! And besides, in the dark--and after a few beers--all women look alike.~"
"~Ah, but the curse of the morning sun!~" Both men burst out laughing and continued down the catwalk without ever noticing the men lurking in the shadows.
Exchanging rueful glances, Hogan and Kinchloe wordlessly moved on. After a few minutes, they found what they were looking for--the entrance to the main power plant. It was located adjacent to a long corridor that had been blasted smooth. They remained hidden on the catwalk while they studied the problem.
The power plant was kept behind a set of heavy-gauge steel double doors. Posted signs warned of high voltage and that only authorized personnel were permitted entry. From where he stood, Kinchloe could see no immediate way to get inside. As they watched, two men dressed in civilian clothes walked up to the closed doors.
One of the men opened a metal junction box hidden in a wall recess and took out a telephone handset.
"Achtung!" he called. "~This is Dr. Schneider. Dr. Mueller and I are reporting for our shift...~" He listened momentarily. "~Oh, wait--!" He turned to Mueller. "~Mueller, I forgot to check for the countersign. The challenge is 'To do great things is difficult.' Do you know the proper response?~"
Mueller nodded. "~Yes, the countersign is 'But to command great things is more difficult.'~"
Nietzsche! Kinchloe glanced at Hogan and saw that he also recognized the quote. Schneider spoke into the handset and within moments, Kinchloe heard a loud hissing sound and the double doors slid open, allowing the two men to enter. As soon as they were inside, the doors slammed shut once more.
Quickly handing Kinchloe the canvas bags he was carrying, Hogan slowly came out of the shadows. As Kinchloe watched, a squad of SS guards turned the corner headed in their direction.
He whistled a warning, but it was too late! Hogan looked around for a place to hide behind but by then it was obvious that the squad had spotted him. Shooting him an 'Oh, well' look, Hogan's outer demeanor abruptly changed before Kinchloe's eyes.
His normal, easy-going slouch was replaced by a stiff-backed, arrogant carriage. He walked, ramrod-straight towards the double doors. To Kinchloe's immense relief, the squad marched by without challenging his CO However, as they passed him, Hogan suddenly called out.
Kinchloe's heart stopped. He stared, mouth agape. What's he doing?
The sergeant of the guard ordered his squad to halt. He executed a crisp about face and saluted Hogan.
Hands behind his back, Hogan walked slowly towards him. He didn't return the salute, forcing the sergeant to keep his arm straight out before him. Kinchloe strained to hear what his Commanding Officer was saying.
Is he trying to get himself killed? he fumed.
"~Sergeant, do you see these?~" His voice deceptively pleasant, Hogan pointed at his shoulder tabs. The sergeant nervously nodded.
"Jahwohl, Herr Oberst!"
"~That is very good, Sergeant. Very good, indeed.~" Smiling ferally, Hogan inched closer to the hapless NCO. "~The next time you see these tabs, Sergeant, and fail to salute them, you will find yourself on the way to the Eastern Front! Do I make myself clear?!"
"Jahwohl, Herr Oberst!"
Hogan then pointed at the sergeant's weapon, which was slung over his right shoulder. "~Let me see your weapon, Sergeant!~"
As Kinchloe watched, the NCO quickly unslung his rifle, cleared it for inspection, and held it out for Hogan. Kinchloe squeezed his eyes shut, tamping down a growing panic. What does he think he's doing?
His precise movements that of an army drill sergeant, Hogan yanked the weapon from the sergeant's hand, expertly ran his hands up and down its length, and then made a show of inspecting the chamber and peering down the barrel.
"~This weapon is a disgrace, Sergeant! Are your soldiers' weapons as filthy as yours?~"
"Nein, Herr Oberst!" Despite the distance that separated them, Kinchloe could see a distinct sheen of perspiration breaking out upon the hapless NCO's forehead.
"~I find that very difficult to believe, Sergeant. Consider yourself on report. You are a discredit to your uniform!~" With a show of disgust, Hogan tossed the weapon back, catching the sergeant unprepared. The mortified NCO fumbled awkwardly for several seconds before finally managing to hold onto the weapon with both hands.
"~Diss-misssed!~" Hogan growled, spinning on his heel without acknowledging the NCO's salute. Nonplussed, the NCO swallowed several times and slowly dropped his arm. A few of his men twittered at his discomfiture. Instantly, he lost his nervousness, becoming thunderous.
"~Jaeger! Weissen! You are both on report! Two weeks extra duty! Forward march!~" As the squad disappeared around the bend, Kinchloe could still hear the NCO screaming epithets at Jaeger and Weissen. Hogan immediately headed towards the hidden junction box, and glancing in Kinchloe's direction, flashed him a wink and an impish grin.
Letting out a long breath, Kinchloe closed his eyes and shook his head. I'll kill 'im myself, he thought darkly. The next instant, he heard a loud hiss, and the heavy doors began to slide open. Hogan held his hand palm out to him, indicating he wanted him to wait. When the doors were wide enough to permit entry, Hogan stuck his head in, and then hurriedly waved his arm.
Grabbing all the gear, Kinchloe crossed the open corridor and followed Hogan through the double doors.
As soon as he stepped inside, Kinchloe could feel the deep thrumming of the powerful dynamos on the level below. Again, he was overcome by the vast size of the complex. The plant generated enough power to make the facility self-sufficient. Therefore, any air raids, which might result in power outages within the local area, would not affect it.
This part of the power plant was mostly open, several levels high. Looking up, he saw level upon level of gauges, panels with multiple lights, a confusion of wiring, heavy cables, and pipes. Movement on the level immediately above him caught his eye. Instantly, he and Hogan sought the shadows once more.
Overhead, he could see two men in dark coveralls, checking gauges, making adjustments, and occasionally writing notations onto the clipboards they carried. Hogan grabbed Kinchloe's wrist and pointed at a row of gauges on their level. Men in dark coveralls were also monitoring these panels.
Hogan pressed his forefinger into Kinchloe's chest. Yours, his eyes communicated. Kinchloe nodded. Next, Hogan pointed at the dynamos located on the level below, and then at his own chest. Mine.
Taking one of the canvas bags from Kinchloe, Hogan moved purposefully towards a ladder leading down to the dynamos. As Hogan disappeared below, Kinchloe hid one of the canvas bags and his tools in a small alcove. Taking a deep breath, he moved stealthily towards the row of gauges on his own level.
Stopping momentarily to adjust his helmet as low over his face as he could force it, he stood and came out of the shadows. Reaching the closest panel, he kept his back to the men working there. He was in luck. The men were so engrossed in their tasks they remained oblivious to him.
Opening the carryall, Kinchloe surreptitiously removed one of the dynamite bundles. Head down, he pressed the preset timer, and using his body to cover his movements, reached behind the large panel and attached the magnetized bundle.
His heart hammered so loudly that he felt certain it could be heard over the incessant thrumming of the dynamos.
Adjusting his shoulder strap, he began moving towards the farthest panel of gauges. Keeping his head down, he passed by the two workers, again without being noticed. There, he repeated his actions, attaching another dynamite bundle to the back of the panel.
Taking a deep, shaky breath, Kinchloe straightened his shoulders and started back towards the entrance. Just as he was about to breathe a sigh of relief, one of the men called him.
"Soldat! Ein moment, bitte!"
Kinchloe stopped in his tracks. The perspiration ran in rivulets down his face. Oh, swell, he thought helplessly. Now what?
"Ja? Was ist los?" Kinchloe spoke without turning.
"~Will you please bring me a cup of coffee? I am still unused to this early morning shift.~"
Kinchloe nodded wordlessly, and continued walking. Behind him, he could hear the two workers talking.
"~You say early morning shift,~" the other worker chuckled. "~I say late night shift!~"
"~Either way, I am having trouble staying awake!~" the first worker replied. Both men laughed out loud.
Kinchloe made it back to the entrance just as Hogan was emerging from the level below. Kinchloe jerked his head at the callbox located on this side of the double doors. As Hogan reached for it, Kinchloe recovered the equipment he'd hidden earlier. He returned in time to hear Hogan speaking softly into the handset.
The next few seconds passed with interminable slowness. Keeping his head low and his back to the cavernous power station, Kinchloe imagined prying eyes boring a hole between his shoulder blades. What could be taking so long? Had they attracted suspicion? Was a squad of SS even now swiftly making its way here? Would they be waiting on the other side of the doors for them?
A sharp, hissing sound, signaling the opening of the heavy double doors, startled him out of his thoughts. Not waiting for Hogan to make sure that the way was clear, Kinchloe followed him out practically nipping at his heels.
Friday 18 AUG 1944/0045hrs local
Outside the Tauberbischofsheim Rocket Facility
Carter rapidly crossed the short distance between the fence and the storage tanks. Keeping an ear cocked for any signs of the lone guard, he moved into the shadows at the base of one of the tanks and happily settled down to work. Even as a boy, Carter had loved pyrotechnics.
Carefully taking out one of his prepackaged dynamite bundles, he recalled his extended family's annual Fourth of July picnics, and how he'd look forward to the fireworks with fever-pitch anticipation. Grinning slightly, he remembered how he'd plead with his dad and uncles for permission to set off the Roman candles, and his deep disappointment whenever his mother intervened, saying it was too dangerous.
Shaking his head, Carter pressed the preset timer on the bundle, picked up his bags and moved to the other side of the tank, where he repeated his actions. He never could understand his mother's fear. Imagine anyone being afraid of a little flash/bang? But when he turned ten, she finally gave her reluctant okay, and Carter's life had never been the same.
Smiling at the memory of his first fireworks display, Carter moved silently to the next storage tank. A sound to his right alerted him that the depot guard was walking his post. Tightly hugging the shadows on the side of the tank, Carter froze in place. The guard soon passed by, his helmet glinting in the weak moonlight.
Carter counted to sixty, listening intently. Satisfied, he continued with his work. Finishing the second tank, he was about to move on to the third when he paused. Lovingly running his hand along the dynamite bundle, Carter gently patted it a fond farewell.
Well, I've gotta go now...Remember, you can't go off until the timer tells you to, okay? And be careful--there's a lot of Krauts around here. They may want to keep you from going ka-boom...and I know you wouldn't want that, huh?
With that, Carter moved to the next two tanks and within a few minutes finished the job. Looking back at his handiwork, he began to feel the same eager expectation he'd experienced as a boy. Keeping an eye out for the guard, Carter waited until he was sure that the lone guard was on the far side of the tanks and dashed across the open space to the unlocked gate.
Mission accomplished--and he still had explosives left over! Now all he had to do was wait for the colonel and Kinchloe. Staying low, Carter skulked silently through the rows of parked vehicles in the motorpool. An idea suddenly came to him: Maybe I should 'fix-up' a few of the vehicles for Jerry.
Recalling the gangster films he'd watched back home at the local bijou, he added, I could even hotwire us a getaway car!
No sooner did he say this than he saw exactly the vehicle they needed--an armored half-track, with a 20mm mounted cannon. Just like the ones back at the Fulda Bridge, he thought. Maybe it's even the one that got away. Boy, oh boy...wouldn't that be a kick?
Moving with catlike stealth around the vehicle, he inspected it and climbed into the cab. Working quickly, he found the wires he needed and cut them. Before he connected them, however, he checked his watch.
An hour to go. He decided against connecting the wires at that time, believing it wiser to hold off starting the getaway car until the last second. With nothing else to do, he crouched low in the cab and settled down to wait.
Remaining alert, he kept a constant vigil, scanning the motorpool for guards. A sign farther down the line caught his eye. Grinning suddenly, he leaped off the half-track and headed in the sign's direction. Carter couldn't read German, but there were certain words that Hogan and Kinchloe made sure that everyone on the team knew and recognized.
And one of the first words Carter had memorized was 'Munition.'
Boy, oh boy, oh boy! An ammo dump! Golly Moses! Those make the best explosions of all!
Friday 18 AUG 1944/0045hrs local
Abandoned farmhouse, northeast of Mutlangen
Wilson tiredly watched LeBeau pace.
"Will you cut it out, LeBeau! Sit down, for cryin' out loud! 'Fore you gimme a case of whiplash."
"I cannot help it! We should do something besides wait here!"
"Like what? We have our orders--wait until the rendezvous time and then head back to camp."
"Non! I say we take out the rocket facility ourselves! I say we go there now and--!"
"--And what, mate?" Newkirk asked from the door. "Get ourselves killed, too?"
"How can you talk like that, Newkirk?" LeBeau's tone was belligerent. "Your own countrymen--"
"--Just died for King and Country, I know!" Newkirk retorted angrily. "And believe me, mate...I'd like to take that place apart with my own hands!" As he spoke, he waved his arms, pacing back and forth. Coming to a stop, his shoulders drooped. "But if we go there now, the ruddy Krauts will have three more trophies on their shelf. Thanks, but no thanks, mate!"
"I do not care what you two say," LeBeau declared. "I am going!" He started for the door and stopped. "Well--? Are you coming? Or must I go alone?"
Walking up to him, Newkirk grabbed his arm. "Louis, you aren't goin' anywhere...And neither are we. You heard what the colonel said. His orders--!"
"Orders!" LeBeau spat. "Since when do we only follow orders?"
"Since it'd be suicide to do otherwise," Wilson cut in quietly. The others turned to him. "Look, fellas...I'm kinda new at this, I know, but--" He looked at them both, shrugging. "Don't you think that the Krauts would sorta increase their security after a commando raid?"
"You bet they would!" Newkirk agreed. LeBeau made a disgusted noise in his throat and was about to head towards the door again, when a sound outside the farmhouse stopped him. Instantly, all three men froze in place. Newkirk brought his weapon to bear, automatically removing the safety. He waved LeBeau and Wilson against the wall while he hurried to the doorway.
Crouching low next to the door, Newkirk waited until the others had taken positions underneath a darkened window. With a nod to LeBeau, he slowly turned the knob and cracked open the door. Peering through carefully, he cautiously crawled through the narrow opening onto the outside step. His motions smooth and fluid, Newkirk took a position just on the other side of the door.
A few moments later, he felt more than saw LeBeau join him.
With actions borne of long experience, the two soldiers moved along the edge of the farmhouse, hugging close to the shadows. Reaching the far corner, they paused momentarily, listening to the silence.
Newkirk tapped LeBeau on the shoulder, and then pointed at the woods that encircled the house. LeBeau nodded. Newkirk moved out at a low crouch, his dark clothing blending with the night. LeBeau waited tensely, counting to thirty, allowing his comrade a chance to reach the relative safety of the tree line before following.
As soon as he reached the woods, LeBeau hid behind a giant tree trunk, looking for Newkirk.
Where is he? he wondered. The next thing he knew, a gloved hand was clamped tightly against his mouth, preventing him from crying out, cutting off his air supply. A voice he did not recognize began to softly recite:
"I have done one braver thing
Than all the Worthies did,
And yet a braver thence doth spring,
Which is, to keep that hid."
The voice paused, then added gently, "All right, old chap. It's your turn. But just a small warning--" A quiet ~swichk~ next to LeBeau's ear sent a chill down his spine. He knew that a blade had just been pulled from its scabbard. "--No second chances."
With that, the hand was removed from his mouth, but was replaced by a sharp blade suddenly pressed against his Adam's apple. LeBeau took a deep gulp of fresh air, and swallowed a few times before he was able to find his voice. Closing his eyes, he sent a silent prayer to Notre Dame and in a low voice began to recite the countersign:
Than all the Worthies did;
And a braver thence will spring,
Which is, to keep that bid."
LeBeau had never read or heard of "The Undertaking" by John Donne, but at this moment, he hoped beyond hope that he'd memorized the obscure passage exactly right.
"Good show, old bean!" The earlier threatening tone was entirely gone, replaced by a good-natured voice. "Never much cared for Donne, myself, but it was either that or 'How do I love thee, let me count the ways.'" He chuckled softly. "Wouldn't do to whisper sweet nothings in your ear, eh? You being a POW for almost two years now, wot?"
LeBeau grimaced sourly. "Very funny." He turned and faced the newcomer.
"Ah, a Frenchie! Jolly good! I was expecting an American--a colonel, I believe."
"He's on another mission," LeBeau explained. "He sent us instead."
"Us?" The stranger blinked in surprise. Slowly turning, he followed LeBeau's eyes and looked over his shoulder. A Thompson machinegun barrel aimed between his eyes greeted him. Taking care not to antagonize the finger resting on the trigger, he carefully raised his hands above his head.
LeBeau took his weapon.
"Aye, mate...Us!" Newkirk glared coldly. "Louis, you all right?"
"Oui, mon ami," LeBeau said. "He gave the proper challenge." As he spoke, he patted down the prisoner for more weapons.
"I'm Leftenant James Whittington, B Company, His Majesty's 214th Light Infantry." He stoically withstood LeBeau's search and added bemusedly, "I must say...you chaps are certainly not very trusting."
"Like you said, mon ami," LeBeau said easily. "We have been POWs for over two years. It has made us very cautious." Turning to Newkirk, he added with a shrug, "He is one of us."
"Are there any more of you?" Newkirk asked. Whittington dropped his eyes.
"Not as many as we started with, I'm afraid. The Jerries were waiting for us. Almost the entire company got wiped out. I managed to maneuver my chute out of the hotspot and into the woods. I hid for a few minutes and made a break for it." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Found two more of my chaps on the way--Staff Sergeant Vaughan and Private Butler. Vaughn got it in the leg. He'll be all right." He paused, bitterly. "I'm afraid poor Butler's bought it, though.
"We have a medic with us," Newkirk said. "Maybe--?"
But Whittington shook his head. "No, old bean. Poor chap never stood a chance...Vaughn and I did what we could for him, but he didn't make it. Died just before we got here."
Newkirk and LeBeau looked away momentarily. Finally, Newkirk shouldered his weapon. "Our job's to get you back to our own lines. Come on. We'd best get started."
Friday 18 AUG 1944/0115hrs local
Inside the Tauberbischofsheim Rocket Facility
Hogan glanced at his watch: 0115 hours! They had less than sixty minutes to finish what they'd come to do and get away. Mentally recalling the interior layout, he turned right and hurried down a short corridor. Too late, he spotted a man in a white lab coat rounding a bend up ahead and heading their way.
Surreptitiously, he moved a half step in front of Kinchloe. He was angled in such a way as to block his NCO from a casual observer. Looking neither right nor left, he confidently strode past 'Lab Coat.' As soon as he felt it safe to do so, he glanced over his shoulder and saw to his relief that Lab Coat was turning the corner.
Instantly, Hogan tapped Kinchloe on the arm and they broke into a light jog, slowing down as they approached the bend in the corridor. Stopping just short of it, Hogan looked cautiously around it.
The giant-sized steel doors told him he'd found what they were looking for--the launch bay.
His heart hammering in his chest, he fell back against the corridor wall, abruptly feeling weak-kneed. Taking a deep breath, he looked up at Kinchloe and nodded.
"This is it, buddy," he whispered. "For the big money!"
Kinchloe gave him a lopsided grin. "Always wanted to be one of those space cats, Colonel--like Buck Rogers. Thanks for the opportunity."
Hogan gave him a long, hard look. "I'm really starting to worry about you, Kinch."
"It's your fault, sir," Kinchloe said easily. "A guy hangs around you long enough, he begins to think the impossible...isn't."
Hogan actually felt his cheeks flush in embarrassment. "Let's go...before I begin to realize just how impossible this whole idea really is!" As they hurried towards the doors, he asked over his shoulder, "Who's the idiot who thought up this little suicide mission, anyway?"
"Oh...well, next time, do me a favor, huh?" Hogan paused as he opened the junction box next to the doors and reached inside for the handset. "Just give me a good right cross to the chin."
"It's a promise, sir."
Giving him a sour look, Hogan spoke into the handset, providing the correct countersign when challenged. Within moments, they heard the loud hiss and deep rumbling noise that signaled the huge doors were about to open...
They saw it as soon as they stepped through the doors--sleek, beautiful and deadly.
"Holy cats..." Kinchloe whispered reverentially.
"Amen..." Hogan muttered. They stared wide-eyed at the V-2 rocket, which sat, primed and ready, on its launch pad. A second rocket was on its side, still tied down to the cargo trailer on which it had been transported. Probably one of the three that got away from the bridge, Hogan figured. The rhythmic pounding of marching feet alerted him back to the present. A small squad of soldiers was coming towards them.
"Kinch!" he hissed in warning. Kinchloe immediately bent low next to the wall, his back to the wide, enclosed area. As the soldiers neared them, Hogan nonchalantly kept his finger on the trigger of the Schmeisser slung over his shoulder. He held his breath as they walked by him, returning the NCO's salute.
The squad paused at the steel doors, and then went through them without incident. Not waiting to see if they'd return, Hogan pressed Kinchloe to his feet and they took off at a fast stride.
As they walked, Hogan kept an eye out for anyone else. Kinchloe was forced to remain as inconspicuous as possible and therefore had to keep his head turned away towards the wall and slightly downward. After walking a few feet, Hogan spotted the control room, a small glassed-in cubicle two levels above them.
"Okay, buddy, here's where we go our separate ways," Hogan said. "You know what to do."
"Oh, sure..." Kinchloe said ironically. "Reprogram the rocket with the new grid coordinates you gave me so that it doesn't head towards Paris." Rolling his eyes, he muttered, "Piece o' cake. But I still don't get it, sir. Why don't we just blow it up along with everything else?"
Grinning, Hogan slapped him on the shoulder. "What would be the fun in that?" he asked disingenuously. Seeing the stubborn set to Kinchloe's chin, he relented slightly. "Okay, okay...if we just blow it up, the Jerries will only build another one. But if we send it somewhere else--say to a certain rocket facility located near the Swiss border--it might just make the Krauts start thinking that the darn things are unreliable."
"The Swiss border--?" Kinchloe looked startled. "So that's your plan. To take out two rocket sites for the price of one." He gave a low whistle, apprising Hogan with a look of open admiration. "Gotta hand it to you, sir...You sure don't think small."
Hogan shrugged self-deprecatingly. "If nothing else, this might make the Krauts go back to the drawing board--for a while anyway. Might delay their program long enough for us to win the war." He sighed. "Then again...it might not."
"Even if it doesn't delay their program, Colonel, it's still a great plan." Kinchloe held out his hand. "Again, thanks for giving me the opportunity to do this."
His expression serious, Hogan took the proffered hand and shook it. "Good luck, Kinch." With that, he started climbing a set of rungs that only led up. Kinchloe ran a short distance before he found a way down towards the launch pad...
Crouching in the shadows, Hogan removed two small canisters from one of the shoulder bags and then hid the bags along the wall. Standing, he stuffed the canisters into his tunic pockets and stepped out onto the catwalk, straightening his uniform as he did so. Setting his jaw in a hard line, he headed towards the control booth.
There were fifteen men inside--ten lab coats, five uniformed. A scrutiny of the shoulder tabs revealed a Field Marshal, two Major Generals, a full Colonel and a Major. Some pretty high brass here! Everyone's favorite Fruitcake must want to make sure the job on Paris gets done right.
Glancing down to the lower levels of the huge bay, he spotted several guards posted on the level immediately above the launch pad. Try as he might, however, he couldn't spot Kinchloe.
And hopefully, neither can the Krauts, he thought worriedly...
Hearing a noise above him, Kinchloe froze. The heavy tread of storm-trooper boots passed overhead with interminable slowness. When the guard was finally gone, Kinchloe glanced at his watch: 0130 hours--45 minutes before the power plant blew.
His eyes traveled of their own accord up the length of the V-2.
Reprogram the rocket, he says. Why can't he have me do something simple...Like go ten rounds against Joe Louis? Or pitch a no-hitter in game seven of the next World Series. Beat Newkirk at cards.
He paused at this last rumination, picturing Newkirk sitting at the head of the table, talking animatedly as he dealt.
Beat Newkirk at cards? Kinchloe shook his head. Compared to that, reprogramming the rocket is a piece of cake!
Hogan stopped outside the door leading into the control booth. He took a moment to glance around him--no guards on this level. Here we go! he thought and knocked briskly for entry.
The major instantly opened the door. He glared at Hogan, a single eyebrow raised in inquiry.
"~Yes, Herr Oberst?~"
Hogan reached inside his tunic and pulled out a sheaf of papers. "~I am Oberst Hoganhoffman, SS Inspector General's Office. I was sent by Berlin to inspect the local security measures of the project. There have been several rumors of possible sabotage and--~"
"~Yes, yes!~" The Field Marshal stepped forward impatiently. "~We just received a report from our Mutlangen base that a company of British commandos attempted a parachute assault.~"
"~Attempted?~" Hogan had a sudden cold feeling.
"Ja, Herr Oberst!" the major exclaimed with pride. "~But they were stopped before they even touched the ground!~"
"~I see...~" Hogan warred with a dark anger that threatened to overwhelm him. He addressed the Field Marshal. "~I have been on the road all night, Herr General. This is therefore the first that I have heard of the raid. You must see, mein Herr, of the urgency of my mission then. If the Allies sent airborne assault troops to one of the sites, then it is highly likely that there may be one on its way here as well.~"
The Field Marshal nodded. "~That is true, Oberst Hoganhoffman. Major Richter here will see to it that you receive the utmost cooperation.~"
"Danke, Herr General," Hogan said, clicking his heels. An announcement came over a loudspeaker.
"Achtung! Achtung!" Everyone looked up to listen. "~T-plus thirty minutes!~"
"~Ah, Hoganhoffman,~" the Field Marshal said, his face glowing. "~You arrived just in time. Launch time is now but a half hour away.~"
"~So soon? I did not know we were ready for a launch tonight?~"
"~We had hoped to launch both rockets at the same time,~" the Field Marshal admitted. "~But what with the raid at Mutlangen--we decided to move up our time table. We already had one rocket set to go prior to the shipment we received today. Mutlangen and Fussen are not prepared to launch tonight, of course; however, this will be our 'wake-up call'--as the Americans would say--to the people of Paris. And, within another seventy-two hours, all three facilities should be ready fire in tandem.~"
Hogan nodded, his eyes on the rocket, which was poised and set to deliver its deadly message to Paris. Fussen was the location near the Swiss border, he knew. Hopefully, within the next thirty minutes it would cease to be a threat, as would this one. Mutlangen would have to wait for another day.
He checked his watch: 0140 hours. Kinchloe should be in position by now.
Kinchloe checked his watch: 0140 hours. The colonel should be in position by now, he thought. Ready or not--! Ensuring his helmet was as low over his eyes as he could get it, he shouldered his bag and tool case and boldly stepped out onto the launch bay floor.
Keeping his eyes straight forward, he walked up to the launch pad and began climbing the metal stairs. As he did so, he was quite conscious of the hot steam being emitted from the rocket.
He'd heard the announcement giving the countdown at T-minus 30 minutes. This had not been part of the plan. He'd estimated that it would take him at least that long to reprogram the rocket and wire the second one to blow. Hogan was supposed to knock out the people in the control booth, and then the two of them were to launch the rocket themselves.
Guess we'll just have to improvise.
Time to improvise, Hogan thought. He turned to the Field Marshal. "~Herr General, if you would excuse me? I wish to go down to the launch bay for a few minutes--to ensure that no one has attempted any sabotage.~"
"~I am sorry, Hoganhoffman, but I cannot allow you to do so. It is too close to launch time. It would be too dangerous for you.~"
"~I am willing to take the risk, mein Herr,~" Hogan said. "~After what happened at Mutlangen, I would be remiss in my duties not to inspect the launch bay.~"
One of the 'Lab Coats' approached them. "~Herr General, what the Oberst states is correct. We can delay the launch by ten minutes to accommodate him. Major Richter here could accompany him.~"
"~That would not be necessary--~" Hogan protested.
"~--No, no...~" the Field Marshal interrupted. "~It is a good idea. The two of you could inspect the area much faster than just one. Very well, Hoganhoffman. Launch time is now at--~" He checked his watch. ~--0215 hours! Carry on!~"
Hogan and Richter saluted. "Jahwohl, Herr General!" they exclaimed together. As they left the control booth, the loudspeaker announced the extended launch time.
Kinchloe heard the announcement and knew that Hogan was responsible for it. He was feverishly working in the shadows of the rocket fins, a control panel open before him.
I don't know how you did it, Colonel, but thanks for the additional time.
A few sparks flew out at him, causing him to wince on occasion. He wiped at the beads of perspiration that were dripping steadily down his face.
If I ever get back home, I'm gonna punch that recruiter right in the mouth! Fun, travel, and adventure--meeting new people--he forgot to mention the part about them trying to kill you!
He cross-connected one last set of wires. There! That oughtta do it! He checked his watch: 0150 hours. The plant was due to blow in twenty minutes. And the rocket was supposed to go at the same time. If this works, I promise never to doubt any of the colonel's wild schemes ever again!
A noise behind him caused Kinchloe to whirl around. He froze as he realized that the business end of a Luger was aimed between his eyes.
Hogan tapped Richter on the shoulder and pointed to the right of the launch bay. Richter nodded in understanding and immediately headed in that direction. Hogan made as if to go in the opposite direction, but as soon as Richter was out of sight, he changed directions yet again. He knew that he didn't have much time, but he had to take care of this little part of the mission before he did anything else.
Kinchloe is on his own for now, he thought grimly. Hurrying back to the ladder leading to the upper levels, he determinedly put the thought away that his friend's life was in danger and that he couldn't take the time to warn him. He'd have to rely on Kinchloe's uncanny ability to survive against impossible odds.
Right now, he had to recover the explosives that he'd hidden earlier. Having Richter tag along had cost him precious minutes. He reached the bags in record time, and rushed back to the ladder. Not bothering with the rungs, he grabbed the sides and slid all the way to the bottom level.
As soon as his feet hit the floor, he was off and running towards the second rocket. Tossing the shoulder bags onto the cargo trailer, he grabbed onto the cargo bed and easily pulled himself up and over. Aware of time slipping by, he nevertheless worked with cool efficiency. Soon, he'd placed a dynamite bundle on the booster rocket and another on the warhead. Climbing down, he then placed a third charge on the cargo trailer just for good measure.
Tossing the empty bag aside, he went in search of Kinchloe.
Holding his breath, Kinchloe waited for the major's next move. The officer glared coldly, using the Luger to indicate he wanted Kinchloe to move aside. Reluctantly, the American took a step to the left.
The major's eyes narrowed in puzzlement. Kinchloe felt a moment of smug triumph. He'd managed to seal the control panel in time. There was no sign of tampering--unless you knew where to look. The major's eyes fell on the shoulder bag that was lying on Kinchloe's feet.
Jerking it open, he discovered the hidden bundles of dynamite still inside. Next, he opened the tool case. An expression of realization came over him as he next looked up at Kinchloe.
"~You are a saboteur!~" he shouted. "And that uniform also makes you a spy!~ Without hesitation, he raised the weapon about to shoot.
Hogan's shout sent a shiver of relief through Kinchloe.
"~What is this, Herr Major?~" Hogan asked. "~A saboteur?~"
"Ja, Herr Oberst!" Richter's Luger never wavered as he answered Hogan. "~I caught him in the act and was about to execute him as a spy.~"
"~Herr Major, I commend you your enthusiasm in attempting to rid us of this--this human garbage--!~" Kinchloe caught the twinkle in Hogan's eyes when he said this. "~--but do you not think that it would be better for me to interrogate him? Surely, he would not be acting alone? Besides, we do not know what exactly he has done to the rocket. It is best that I find out before we execute him. Don't you agree?~"
Richter nodded in reluctant agreement. "~Jahwohl, mein Herr. Should I order the launch stopped~?"
"~Did you find any explosives on the launch pad? Or any signs of tampering?~" Hogan asked.
"~Nein, Herr Oberst. I believe that I stopped him before he could cause any real harm.~
Hogan nodded. "~That is as I thought. You did a good job, Major Richter. And my report to Berlin will so indicate. Come. Let us take this man to an interrogation room and show him how the SS treats spies and saboteurs.~"
Hogan paused when they reached the double launch bay doors. "~Major Richter, perhaps it would be a good idea for you to post several guards outside the doors...to ensure that no one else is permitted entry until the rocket is safely launched. Meanwhile, I will see to the prisoner.~"
"Jahwohl, Herr Oberst!" Richter said, saluting and clicking his heels at the same time. "Heil Hitler!"
"Heil Hitler!" Hogan returned. Pointing his Schmeisser at Kinchloe, he indicated that he wanted him to start walking. "As for you, my dear Herr Saboteur, you are now the personal guest of der Fuehrer and the SS. I hope you enjoy your stay with us."
Outside the Tauberbischofsheim Rocket Facility
If Carter could have paced, he would have had a hole worn out on the bottom of the half-track. They should've been back by now! He glanced yet again at his watch: 0210 hours. It's all gonna blow in another five minutes--!
At that moment, he caught sight of two silhouettes running from the bunker. Hogan and Kinchloe! Carter jumped behind the wheel, and reaching underneath the dashboard, crossed the wires he'd readied earlier. To his vast relief, the motor started immediately.
Easing the throttle, Carter inched the vehicle out of its berth and steered in their direction. A shout from somewhere towards his left was soon followed by gunshots. Uh-oh!
"Kinch! Colonel!" he called, bringing the half-track up next to them. Kinchloe grabbed on one-handed and easily swung himself onboard. He then reached down and offered Hogan, who was still running alongside it, a hand up.
"Thanks," Hogan breathed gratefully, un-slinging the bag and weapon he was still holding. "Come on--the gun!" he said, pointing at the 20-millimeter mounted cannon. He hastily began assisting Kinchloe in loading. Slapping an ammo belt into the feeder, he stood aside as his senior NCO expertly swung it around and started to fire.
With Carter driving and Kinchloe manning the 20mm cannon, they began tearing a swath through the outer compound. Guards ran back and forth, shouting warnings, and firing. As they approached the bridge, the gate guard ran up to the half-track, and in a last-ditch effort to stop them from crossing, started climbing onboard.
"Colonel!" Carter yelled, pointing at the new threat.
Hogan ran to the edge of the vehicle and climbing up on the side, he kicked out, connecting solidly with the soldier's chin. "Hey! No hitchhikers allowed, Fritz!" The momentum of the kick sent the German flying backwards into the concrete ditch below.
Exposed as he was, Hogan found himself seemingly targeted by all the small arms in the compound. He could almost feel the hot rounds ~zi-iinnngg!~ as they narrowly missed. The American flyer immediately dove back into the relative safety of the armored cab.
He glimpsed Kinchloe keeping a large company of SS pinned down behind a protective wall with deadly accurate fire. Grabbing the Schmeisser, Hogan joined in, firing quick, short bursts at any guard who was foolish enough to show himself.
"Good shooting, Kinch!" he shouted. "You must be part Texan!"
"Only on my mother's second-cousin-removed-by-marriage side!" Kinchloe returned with a grin. The next instant, the grin turned feral as he spotted and targeted another platoon-sized group that tried to rush them.
Watching the soldiers scatter before the deadly fusillade, Hogan shook his head admiringly. "Must be some cousin!"
By now the motorpool parking area was a scene of pandemonium--with soldiers scurrying, motors coughing to life, and several vehicles in pursuit. Strangely, Hogan saw that many of the trucks that started initially, died after moving only a short distance.
He glanced down at Carter. "I see you've been busy, Carter!" he shouted. The young explosives expert looked up and grinned proudly. "Good job, soldier!" he added, just as another guard elected to show himself. Both Hogan and Kinchloe fired simultaneously.
Grimacing, Hogan lay his weapon down. No matter how necessary, he hated this part of the job. Turning away, he quickly dug out the last two dynamite bundles from the shoulder bag. When they cleared the bridge, he armed the fuses to a ten second delay and threw.
At that instant, a low rumbling startled everyone into looking up. As the heroes watched, awed, it seemed as if a bright new star were joining its siblings in the sky. The enemy soldiers let out a long, triumphant cheer, inspired by the sight of the V-2 rocket roaring into the night--a testament to the Fatherland's mighty power.
The next moment, several massive explosions rocked the entire area, ending their short-lived celebration. The fuel tanks ruptured outwardly in an impressive show of light and heat, followed by the ammo dump and bridge going up, apparently in a sympathetic reaction. Simultaneously, the bunker resounded with a series of underground explosions, which violently shook the area.
Hogan and his men hastily ducked inside the armored cab for protection against flying debris. Several heartbeats later, Hogan and Kinchloe sneaked a look backward. Neither man spoke, overcome by the level of destruction left behind...
Long afterwards, Hogan stared at the strange, orange glow just beyond the horizon. Feeling suddenly tired, he glanced over at Kinchloe. His senior NCO and right-hand man looked back, his expression mirroring Hogan's.
"Sometimes, I wonder what's the point," Hogan said softly. Both men stood, their arms resting on the edge of the cab's cupola, their chins on their arms. "We blow one up...they build another. We blow that one...and they replace it, too. Sometimes...well, sometimes..." He shrugged lamely, his voice dying out.
"I know, Colonel," Kinchloe murmured. "Believe me, I know..."
Friday 18 AUG 1944/0400hrs local
Tunnel under Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
Hogan stood, leaning tiredly against the tunnel wall, a steaming cup of black coffee clutched in his hand. He'd ordered everyone, except Kinchloe and Wilson, to grab some sack time.
"Plenty of time after roll call for a debriefing!" he shouted over their loud protests. He now watched as Wilson worked on Sgt. Vaughn's leg, wincing involuntarily when the British sergeant gasped in pain.
"Sorry, Vaughn," Wilson apologized. "That was the last of the morphine back at the farmhouse."
"Quite all right, mate," Vaughn muttered through gritted teeth. "It only hurts when I laugh. D'you wager I'll ever be able to play the piano, then?"
Shrugging, Wilson reassured him, "I don't see why not."
Grinning slightly, Vaughn dropped the punch line, "That's nice t'know...'cause I couldn't bloody play it before."
"Colonel?" Kinchloe was standing next to Hogan, holding out a folded message slip. "Report from London on the rocket facility at Fussen." Taking the communique, Hogan quickly scanned it. His drawn features lit momentarily.
"You hit a bull's-eye, Kinch," he said, his voice low. "The Underground reports that the third rocket factory was completely destroyed." Scowling, he pointed at the injured man with his chin. "What about our next supply drop? Any word on when it'll be rescheduled?"
Kinchloe shook his head regretfully. "The Air Force is stretched pretty thin right now, sir. Headquarters promises a drop as soon they have an opening."
Hogan sighed. "Funny...when HQ wants us to do something, it's always as of yesterday. We request our regular supply drop, and they give us the 'Don't call us, we'll call you' routine."
"So, what else is new, sir?"
Hogan gave him a rueful smile, then turned to Wilson. "How's he doing, Doc?"
Wilson spoke softly to Vaughn and then grabbing a towel wiped his hands. Standing, he walked over to Hogan and Kinchloe. "He'll be all right, Colonel. But, he's in a lot of pain...Isn't there anything we can do?"
Hogan checked his watch: 0400 hours--ninety minutes to Roll Call. "Kinch...don't we have a tunnel branch that goes under the camp infirmary?"
Kinchloe nodded. "Yeah. We've never used it, though. Never had any real need of it, thank goodness."
"Looks like we could use now," Hogan said. "Come on." He grabbed a flashlight and quickly headed down a little used branch of the tunnel.
Wilson watched them disappear around the corner, wondering not for the first time when it would all end.
The labored whisper alerted Wilson. Instantly, he was kneeling next to his patient. "Yeah? What is it, Vaughn?" he asked. When Vaughn answered, his voice was so low that Wilson had to lean in close to hear him.
"I don't suppose...I could have...another one...of those aspirins...?"
Wilson immersed a washcloth in a basin of cold water, carefully wrung it out, and placed it gently on the wounded man's forehead. "I'd rather not just yet, Vaughn," he said softly, his voice not giving away his regret. "We need to give the ones you've already taken a chance to work..."
His mouth twitching in pain, Vaughn closed his eyes and nodded. "Right-o, Doc..."
Wilson again dipped the washcloth and repeated his earlier actions. All the while, he spoke in soft, soothing tones, attempting to take Vaughn's mind off his pain. "Y'know, you're the first real-life commando I've ever met," he said, keeping a critical eye on his patient. "Tell me, how does a guy qualify to get into a crack outfit like yours?"
Vaughn blinked several times, his face working in concentration. "Well...it's not so bad, really," he managed, swallowing around his dry throat. Wilson instantly had a glass of water against his lips, and Vaughn drank gratefully.
"The Leftenant and CO are right good chaps," he continued. "Always do whatever the lads have to do..."
As Vaughn spoke, Wilson surreptitiously took the young sergeant's pulse. To his intense relief, he found it steady; furthermore, he also noted that Vaughn's voice had grown stronger, no longer labored.
Friday 18 AUG 1944/0410hrs local
Abandoned tunnel under Camp Infirmary, LuftStalag 13
Hogan flashed a beam of light across the darkened tunnel branch. He noted the cobwebs and light layer of dust that seemed to cover everything. Kinchloe found and lit one of the many torches that lined the series of tunnels beneath the prison compound.
"Blimey!" a low voice said behind them.
Hogan whirled to find Lt. Whittington staring open-mouthed. "I didn't believe Newkirk and LeBeau's description of your operation, sir. I see I was wrong." He gave Hogan an open look. "How may I help?"
"By returning to your quarters and getting some sleep, Lieutenant!" Hogan returned sharply.
Whittington raised his chin defiantly, his eyes hardening. He glared at Hogan, his stance belligerent. Kinchloe stepped between them.
"Lieutenant, I know you only wish to help, sir, but the colonel's right. You don't know the operation here, and we can't risk you getting caught. "
"That's right, Whittington," Hogan said, his tone softer. "If you were caught, we wouldn't be able to explain your presence in camp. It could blow the whole operation."
Whittington looked like he was about to argue further, but again, Kinchloe stepped in. "Sir, I know you're worried about Vaughn, but I think you know that it'd be better if you returned to your quarters."
The young British officer glanced from Hogan to Kinchloe. At first it seemed as if he were about to argue further, but instead, he nodded wordlessly and turned on his heel.
Hogan let out a sigh of relief and then returned to the mission at hand. Sweeping his flashlight around a recessed section along the tunnel wall, he finally spotted the ladder leading up to the abandoned infirmary entrance. About to start climbing, he stopped when Kinchloe abruptly grabbed him by the sleeve.
"Colonel, wait--!" Kinchloe warned. "Let me check it first, sir." Agreeing, Hogan stepped aside. Kinchloe expertly inspected the ladder, testing to see if it held his weight. Satisfied, he gave Hogan the thumbs up.
Nodding, Hogan muttered, "Let's go."
Friday 18 AUG 1944/0530hrs local
Main Compound, LuftStalag 13
Hogan squinted blearily through the light, morning mist. He was dead on his feet and looked forward to a few hours of sack time after morning roll call. His mind wandered during the monotony of the camp's morning routine.
"Eins, zwei, drei..." Schultz droned sleepily.
Hogan thought about the last-minute raid of the infirmary. Everything had gone well, and they'd taken only what they needed, enough morphine for a few days. Hopefully, their two British guests would be on their way home within the next twenty-four hours.
"...All present and accounted for!" Schultz said in the background. Hogan blinked, coming back to the present.
As soon as Schultz made the usual morning report, Klink swaggered forward, his manner even more exaggerated than usual. Halting in front of the line of prisoners, he stared out at them, adjusting his monocle and rocking on his heels. His nervous grip on the ever-present riding crop seemed even tighter than normal.
"I just received a report this morning of a failed raid by your much-vaunted British commandos at one of the Third Reich's rocket facilities. Headquarters informs me that a company of over 50 British soldiers were easily stopped by the superior SS forces of the Third Reich."
The Allied prisoners met his announcement with angry catcalls and low rumblings. A growl to Hogan's immediate left caught his attention. Newkirk's mouth was set in a grim line, his eyes narrowed dangerously. Hogan placed his hand on the RAF corporal's arm.
"Take it easy, soldier," he muttered.
"But you heard what that bloody Kraut said, Colonel--!" Newkirk protested.
"Just think of the look on his face after we pay them back for tonight--!" He stopped, realizing that Klink was directly addressing him.
"Well, Col. Hogan?" Klink crowed. He strutted towards the senior POW, his steps that of a bantam rooster. "What do you have to say? Are you ready to admit that your cause is lost? That soon, the unparalleled forces of our glorious Reich will push the Allies back to the sea?"
Hogan felt his blood rise. Biting back a retort, he met Klink's triumphant gaze, his dark eyes burning in unspoken anger.
Relishing the moment, Klink continued, "Are you not ready to admit, Col. Hogan, that the Reich shall prevail for a thousand years? That your petty commando raid failed, because your armies cannot withstand the engineering superiority of our rocket facilities? That with our new and improved rocket technology, we shall soon bring the Allies to their knees?"
He glanced down the line of POWs. Spotting LeBeau and Newkirk, he added, "First Paris and then London." With an angry cry, the two friends immediately lunged at Klink. Grinning wolfishly, the Kommandant stood haughtily by as several POWs held back the Frenchman and Englishman. Turning to face Hogan, Klink continued as if there had been no interruption.
"And before the year is out..." he paused for dramatic effect. "Well, there are the reports of a new rocket being developed even now. One we call the 'New York Rocket'."
Hogan felt an icy hand grip his stomach. He'd already received Top Secret intelligence on the so-called 'New York Rocket'; unfortunately, the reports agreed that its threat was terribly real. Within another few months, the Nazis could have a rocket capable of reaching the US eastern seaboard. Hogan thought of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.
Unbidden memories of the London Blitz superimposed themselves on his mental picture of New York Harbor. He could actually see Lady Liberty lying in a broken heap on her pedestal, and the once-proud Empire State Building a mere smoking ruin.
Locking eyes with Klink, Hogan fought off an urgent need to smash his fist into the Camp Kommandant's derisive sneer. Thinking about his own successful raid last night, Hogan's black thoughts began to dissipate. Before long, his dark expression transformed itself into one of his patented, disingenuous looks.
"Is that right, Kommandant?" he murmured. "Funny, but the prison grapevine is running rampant with rumors about malfunctioning V-2 rockets that seem to be flying all over the German countryside, destroying your own facilities. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you, sir?"
Klink's triumphant grin instantly gave way to apoplexy. Unable to speak, the Kommandant saluted the senior POW and quickly turned on his heel. Halfway to his quarters, he remembered to call over his shoulder, "Disss-misssssed!"
Friday 18 AUG 1944/0600hrs local
Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
Kinchloe watched as Hogan slammed open the door leading into his quarters. His CO's momentary sense of triumph over Klink had been short-lived. His back to the others, Hogan appeared to be seething inwardly, seemingly wanting to smash his fist against something.
Wincing slightly, Kinchloe stood in the open doorway, his body effectively blocking the others' view. Knowing Hogan needed to be alone, Kinchloe wisely opted to close the door.
"Hey! Kinch--!" Newkirk protested. "We've gotta talk to the colonel!" LeBeau and Carter echoed their agreement.
Kinchloe unflinchingly withstood their shouts, his arms crossed. "No one goes in until the colonel says so." He spoke in soft tones, but his dark eyes glared ominously. Nodding towards the tunnel entrance, he added quietly, "Come on. We've got a lot to do before tonight."
Hogan stared out his lone window, the gray dawn dismally breaking over the compound. He heard the slow, trudging footfalls that signaled the changing of the guard. A stray beam from the morning sun caught a glint off the machinegun emplacement on the guard tower.
Soon the shadows around the dingy, nondescript buildings began to recede. The place looked even more forlorn than usual.
He wondered for the umpteenth time just what had possessed him to accept this rotten assignment. He could have easily escaped years ago. Returned to his squadron and flown hundreds more missions.
That is, if I could've convinced Gen. Duncan not to ground me first.
He scowled, remembering his last conversation with his commanding general. Hogan had already flown twice the allotted number of missions deemed 'survivable' by the Army Air Corps statisticians, and the highly decorated combat pilot had faced the dreary prospect of being grounded permanently upon his return from his latest mission.
A mission from which he had not yet returned.
He sighed, thinking of the war from the air. Somehow it all looked so much cleaner from up there. When the bombs hit their designated targets, the ensuing plumes on the ground seemed almost majestic, beautiful in their way.
Probably could've had over 500 bridges by now, he grumbled. Then added ruefully, Or I could be flying a desk, signing endless orders, and sending other air crews to their possible deaths.
Deep down, Hogan knew that if he had been forced to accept a ground assignment in England, that eventually the constant worry for the lives of the crews and restlessness over his own inactivity would have driven him crazy.
Fighting a clandestine war with a few men and even fewer rules, his hands seemed sullied, stained by the mud and grime. He felt as if he'd been robbed of something precious.
My soul perhaps?
Try as he might, Hogan couldn't escape the innate ugliness of his war. From the pristine, spotlessness of his cockpit, he'd viewed the war as a deadly ballet executed with elegance and grace.
From here, he saw it for what it was. Brutal. Sadistic. A waking nightmare from which there seemed no end.
He thought of the 50 commandos lost or captured the previous night. And what of his own team? So far he'd been extremely lucky and hadn't lost anyone. But there seemed to be no end to the war, even with the current string of Allied advances.
Sooner or later, Hogan knew that his luck might run out. And what if I lose someone? What will I do then...? Leaning forward on his elbows, Hogan felt a sense of hopelessness wash over him.
Unbidden thoughts of the countless downed Allied airmen that he and his men had rescued and returned home over the past two years came to him. What if he'd never accepted this assignment? What of them?
They'd probably be in some lousy POW camp just about now, he admitted. Or dead.
And what about the numerous other missions that he and his team had carried out? Somehow none of his previous successes helped him feel better. Glaring out at the all-too familiar sights, Hogan glanced towards the front gate, where the new guards were just now being posted. His black mood intensified, threatening to overwhelm him.
Frustrated, he slammed the heel of his palm on the window frame. Moving away, he threw himself on the lower bunk and stared up at the mattress above. Here and there bits of straw could be seen peeking out from the worn-out cover. Looks like I'm not the only one here ready to call it quits.
Snorting in disgust, he sat up and swung his legs over the side.
Can it, Colonel! Nobody's quitting here. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and start coming up with a plan to take out that last rocket base.
Friday 18 AUG 1944/1630hrs local
Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
Shouts from somewhere outside filtered in through Hogan's open window. Looking up from his notes, he was surprised to see the late afternoon sun streaming in. He'd managed to work straight through the morning and into the afternoon without a break. He stood and stretched, working out the kinks in his back and neck.
A sudden rumble from his stomach told him that he'd skipped breakfast and lunch. He checked his watch--16:30 hours. No, he hadn't missed dinner. At least not yet.
Hogan was about to call LeBeau for a sandwich, when he heard more shouts coming from outside. This time, they sounded loud and angry. Curious, Hogan walked over to the window to see what all the excitement was about.
A two-truck convoy with a staff car in the lead had pulled up to the fence. The senior occupant in the sleek, black car had the gate guards hopping. Hogan caught a glimpse of a closed, gloved fist being shaken at the hapless soldier from the open rear window. Instantly alert, Hogan watched as the Corporal of the Guard rushed to open the double gates, fumbling in his confusion.
As soon as the convoy entered the compound, Hogan hurried outside.
Taking up a carefully nonchalant stance against his barracks wall, campaign cap pulled low over his eyes, he watched intently as Klink ran out of his office to greet the officer in charge.
"Major Hochstetter!? Klink gushed. "What a pleasant surprise! Two visits in one week! To what--?"
"Klink!" Hochstetter yelled by way of greeting. "Shut up!"
"Yes, sir...shut up," Klink mumbled, nodding in defeat.
"We are delivering these prisoners to Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin," Hochstetter explained pompously. "And as much as it pains me to do this, we must stop here for a few hours. The bridge over the River Elbe was destroyed a few nights ago, and the engineers haven't yet completed the temporary crossing. While we wait, I expect another truck to arrive later this evening with twelve additional guards."
"Later this evening?" Klink asked, nervously. "About what time?"
"It is, of course, none of your business, Klink," Hochstetter replied. Klink reluctantly nodded in agreement.
"Yes, Herr Major...none of my business--" Klink repeated.
"But I will tell you, nevertheless!"
"But you will tell me, neverthe--"
"Klink, shut up!"
Klink immediately clamped his mouth close.
"A small platoon of our finest SS soldiers will arrive at approximately six thirty this evening."
Klink stared in dismay at his uninvited and unwelcome 'guest.' Hochstetter's words finally sank in. He'd be here at the compound for almost two and half hours. Clasping his hands in a phony gesture of bon homie Klink smiled broadly.
"Well, until then, you'll just have to be my guest, Major! How very delightful!" Klink said with cloying pleasantness.
"Yes-esss, Klink," Hochstetter said, his voice dripping sarcasm. "How very delightful. "
"Yes, yes!" Klink continued, oblivious to the Gestapo major's obvious distaste. "You will, of course, join me for dinner--?"
As he spoke, one of the prisoners--a British noncom, Hogan immediately saw--jumped out of the back of the truck, surprising his captors.
"Hey, mate! I demand to know where we're being hauled off to--!"
Hochstetter instantly whipped out his sidearm, while Klink ducked behind the relative safety of the Gestapo officer.
"Schultz--!" Klink shouted. "Guards--!"
Four soldiers bearing ugly red Swastikas on their upper arms, which identified them as Gestapo, jumped from the truck where they'd been riding shotgun, their Schmeissers ready.
Shaking his head at the Kommandant's open display of cowardice, and the British noncom's recklessness, Hogan sprinted towards them. He pushed his way through the tight circle of black-uniformed, armed guards, and immediately placed himself between the British sergeant and the drawn German weapons.
"Kommandant, I demand to know what's going on!" Hogan insisted.
"Kliiinnnkk--! What is this man doing here--!" Hochstetter spluttered.
"Col. Hogan, this is none of your business--!" Klink stammered, frightened by the sudden turn of events. The afternoon had been going so well. How could all of this be happening? And he hadn't even had his afternoon Schnapps, yet. "Schultz--!" Looking around desperately, he wondered what hiding place his rotund Sergeant of the Guard might be cowering in. When I get my hands on that fatheaded dumkopf--!
"As senior POW," Hogan was saying, "I'm responsible for the safety and fair treatment of all prisoners assigned to Stalag 13."
Out of the corner of his eye, Hogan realized that a weapon was being held inches from his cheek. Turning deliberately, he glared directly into the cold eyes of the enemy soldier. Then, placing his finger inside the muzzle of a weapon, Hogan casually pushed it aside.
"Hans, didn't your mother ever tell you that it's impolite to point?"
Nonplussed the guard took a moment to recover from Hogan's audacity. Frowning suddenly, he jerked his weapon back to its original position: directly in Hogan's face. Hogan turned away, pointedly ignoring him.
"Ah-ha!" Klink said from behind Hochstetter, waggling his finger over the Gestapo major's shoulder. "But these men have not been assigned here--"
"Klink!" Hochstetter screamed, slapping Klink's hands, while simultaneously shoving the flustered Kommandant away from him. Pointing at Hogan, he shouted, "I want this man arrested and shot! Immediately!"
"Name, rank, and serial number only, pal," Hogan muttered under his breath. The slightly confused British soldier nodded.
"Shot?" Klink stammered. "B-But--"
"If you won't do it, I will!" Hochstetter raged, waving his Luger in Hogan's direction. "These prisoners are part of the commando unit that attacked the Mutlangen rocket facility, and the Gestapo intends to deal with them! Personally!"
At Hochstetter's words, Hogan felt a momentary surge of pride and relief wash over him, which was immediately replaced by a new sense of urgency. He and his men would have to rescue the British commandos.
"But, Major," Klink protested, "we can't--! I-I mean, the Geneva Convention--?"
"Bah! The Gestapo does not recognize any such treaty--!"
While Klink and Hochstetter argued, Hogan pulled the POW aside. "Is that true, pal? You one of the boys who dropped into Mutlangen?"
The British soldier glared suspiciously at Hogan. "How do I know I can trust you, Yank?"
"Because," Hogan began, then recited the recognition signal:
"I have done one braver thing
Than all the Worthies did,
And yet a braver thence doth spring,
Which is, to keep that hid."
Grinning, the Englishman gave the countersign:
"Then you have done a braver thing
Than all the Worthies did;
And a braver thence will spring,
Which is, to keep that bid."
Hogan offered his hand as he introduced himself. "Col. Hogan."
The British commando took the proffered hand, and the men quickly shook. "Sgt. Ripley, sir."
"How many made it, Ripley?" Hogan asked without further preamble.
"Two dozen." His tone darkening, Ripley added, "More would've made it, but the Gestapo shot the wounded." Hogan's countenance matched the sergeant's mood.
"Sergeant, I promise that--" Hogan began, but was interrupted by Klink.
"Col. Hogan, I must insist that you return to barracks. These POWs are not being assigned here. Therefore, they are none of your concern."
"On the contrary, Kommandant, any Allied prisoner of war who enters this compound is of my concern." Hogan stepped up to Hochstetter, his manner dangerous. "And what's this I hear about British wounded being shot by the Gestapo?"
Klink gasped in horror. "Col. Hogan! That is a very serious charge! Surely, you do not believe for one moment--!"
"I don't just believe it, mate!" Ripley shouted. "I saw it with me own eyes!"
"E-nough!" shouted Hochstetter. Pointing at Hogan, he demanded, "Klink, if this prisoner does not return to his barracks immediately, then I will shoot him right here for trying to escape." Grinning ominously, Hochstetter chambered a round and deliberately aimed his pistol at Hogan.
"Kommandant! I protest!" Hogan shouted, but several camp guards, led surprisingly by Sgt. Schultz, suddenly grabbed him, dragging him from the circle of Gestapo soldiers. Before he could say anything further, Hogan found himself being hustled back to Barracks Two.
"Please, Col. Hogan..." Schultz hissed, his expression terrified. "Please...You must return to the barracks. For your own safety." Suddenly realizing what a courageous act the normally timid Sergeant of the Guard had just performed, Hogan nodded and did as Schultz requested.
"As for you, Englander--" Hochstetter was saying in the background, "--the Gestapo will deal with you!"
Friday 18 AUG 1944/1700hrs local
Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
"That's about it," Hogan said, wrapping up his impromptu briefing. They were all squeezed in his quarters for the moment, his men either standing or sitting in various degrees of relaxation or alertness. "You'll head out at 17:45 hours. That'll give the Krauts enough time to change the guards after what passes for the evening meal and--"
"--And give ol' Schultzie enough time to catch a short nap, eh, Colonel?" Newkirk interjected, grinning broadly. He was rewarded with a glare from Hogan and a smack on the back of the head from LeBeau.
"Knock it off, Newkirk!" Kinchloe growled. Properly chastened, Newkirk shuffled his feet and apologized.
Grinning slightly, Hogan chucked him on the arm in a sign of comradeship. "Forget it." Turning to the others, he added. "Rapunzel will have her team waiting at the rendezvous point. Remember, it'll be a one for one exchange. Newkirk, as soon as everything's set, get on the horn to Baker. Do you have any questions?"
"Just one, sir!" All eyes turned to the newcomer, Whittington. "Your plan calls for the three of us--" His expression took in Newkirk and LeBeau. "--to practically single-handedly take on that company of Gestapo guards--"
"Oh, but that's not exactly true!" Carter chimed in. "You'll have Rapunzel's team--over fifteen men! Three more than you'll need--" He stopped, taking in the tight, silent faces. "Well, it's true," he added, shrugging nervously. "You'll have--"
LeBeau elbowed him in the ribs. "Quiet!" he hissed, nodding meaningfully in Hogan's direction.
Their commanding officer was casually slouched against his bunk, thumbs hooked into his jacket pockets. "Go on, Whittington," he said quietly. "What are you really trying to say?"
"Well..." Whittington quickly glanced around. Swallowing, he cleared his throat and continued, "Begging the Colonel's pardon, but while we're all mucking about the countryside and risking our lives to intercept that truck full of Gestapo, just what are you going to be doing?"
LeBeau uttered an expletive in French and made a move towards the British officer. Newkirk instantly grabbed his diminutive friend by the collar.
"Take it easy, Louis," he muttered.
"But you heard what he said!"
"That's all right, LeBeau," Hogan replied. "The lieutenant is a guest, and a guest is always treated with courtesy." His cool gaze held Whittington's defiant eyes. "You asked what I would be doing while the rest of you risked your lives, is that it?"
Whittington nodded once, sharply.
"Why, I'm gonna be--"
"He's going to be sabotaging the Mutlangen rocket base is what he'll be doin'!" Newkirk interrupted. "The Colonel, Kinch and Carter here are going to carry out your mission...sir!"
Friday 18 AUG 1944/1730hrs local
Tunnel under Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
Kinchloe went through the final checklist, meticulously noting each item: weapons, ammunition, uniforms, truck...He and the others had not sat idly while Hogan worked behind closed doors that day. They'd taken care of most of the preparations for tonight's two-pronged mission.
The veteran NCO's expression remained grim as he worked. Like Hogan he was relieved that so many of the commandos had survived. Unfortunately, this meant that they would need their combined resources to rescue the commandos and destroy the rocket site.
And once again, the CO is forced to split the team, Kinchloe added silently. He shook his head. This was a turn of events that neither man liked; however, there was little they could do.
The need to act was critical regardless of the risks. The French Underground was rampant with unconfirmed reports that the population of Paris was being urged to take up arms in a general insurrection. The day before, the hated tool of Nazi collaboration, the Vichy government's Radio-Paris, had ended its transmissions, signaling the fall of the puppet French government.
Furthermore, the American forces were just days from crossing the River Seine at Mantes.
All in all, Hogan’s men had to destroy the rocket site tonight in order to prevent it from launching its deadly fusillade at Paris before the City of Lights liberation. And of course, there was the little matter of rescuing the commandos...
Piece o' cake, as the Colonel would say.
He hesitated at one particular item on the list--final letter home. A sudden wave of cold dread swept through him.
Can it, Sergeant! He grumbled. It's all standard operating procedure.
Giving himself a mental headshake, he turned back to the job at hand. However, try as he might, his thoughts kept returning to this reminder of their mortality. Before every mission, each man wrote a letter home--just in case. Naturally, each of the heroes took the matter in stride.
In fact, as far as Kinchloe knew, neither Hogan nor Newkirk had changed their letter since the second mission they'd been on. In contrast, prior to each mission, LeBeau wrote a letter to a different girlfriend he had stashed somewhere in France. Kinchloe grinned. At last count, the diminutive Frenchman had over a hundred 'last letters home' on file.
On the other hand, Carter conscientiously wrote his mother a new letter every time, happily discarding the previous, unused one.
Kinchloe guiltily thought of the last time he'd updated his own letter home. Six months? No, more like nine months ago. Well, I don't have time for it now, he reminded himself, continuing with his checklist.
Momentarily, he stopped again, unable to shake this unexpected feeling of...what? He couldn't put an exact name to it, although he was fairly certain he knew what it was.
He'd been making plans again, he realized. Thinking of home and what he'd do after the war.
Thoughts of Hogan and their current mission intruded. He knew that the Colonel was worried. That despite Hogan's light-hearted claim that this was just another mission, he was deeply concerned about the impossible odds they faced.
And maybe this time will be it, Kinchloe thought. The last mission...
He thought of his family back home in Michigan. Maybe he should take the time to update that letter, he thought. Just as quickly, he discarded the idea. What could he possibly say to them that he hadn't said already?
Dear Mom and Dad, If you're reading this, then...I have no regrets...Always remember I love you...Your loving son, James...
With a mental shrug, Kinchloe went back to his checklist. Moments later, he found an item that had not been marked off.
Frowning, he went in search of Carter.
"I don't have
any left, Kinch," Carter said. "I've already checked my whole
"Well, check it four times!" Kinchloe ordered. "I don't care what it takes! We can't blow up the place without those fuses."
"Kinch--I-I'm s-sorry," Carter said, shrugging helplessly.
At the young sergeant's look, Kinchloe almost relented, but the situation was too grave. If they didn't come up with something, they'd have to scrap the whole mission. Wracking his brains, he thought and discarded several ideas. Without much hope he asked, "What about improvising? Like before--with the magnesium-chlorine fuses?"
Carter shook his head regretfully. "I used up the last of the stuff, Kinch. I don't even have enough timers left--just three. And you know we haven't had a supply drop in weeks! The only fuses I've got left are the bad ones. I've checked them out. Only a handful are any good...Not enough to take out the entire rocket base."
Trying to keep his impatience reined in, Kinch nodded somewhat curtly. "Okay, Carter, you told me what you can't do. Now, I want you to tell me what you can do!"
"Well...I could maybe concoct a few Molotov cocktails," Carter mused without much enthusiasm. "It would be really crude, though. Just gasoline in something breakable, with some kind of flammable material for a fuse. The timers that we do have would be useless with them. Which means that once we light them, we'll only have seconds to get away."
Kinchloe nodded thoughtfully at this information. "Sounds doable," he said.
"There's just one small problem," Carter said.
"Transportation," Carter explained, shrugging. "The three of us would never be able to carry enough to make much of a difference."
Kinchloe felt a headache coming on. Looks like we'll have to scrap this mission after all.
"Or...?" Carter paused in sudden thought.
"Or what? Did you just think of something? Well, what is it, Sergeant? Spill it!" As Kinchloe spat out his rapid-fire delivery, he unconsciously advanced ominously on Carter.
His back against the wall, Carter swallowed nervously, shook his head and shrugged helplessly. "What if we ask Rapunzel if her outfit has any fuses to spare?"
Kinchloe blinked. Of course! I should've thought of that, he mentally chastised himself. His dangerous expression replaced with one of sheepish admiration, he clapped his friend on the shoulder.
"Great idea, Andrew. I'll get on the horn to Rapunzel right now."
Both men hurried to the radio room.
Kinchloe sat, staring at the communique in his hand. Abruptly, he crumpled the paper and threw it in the burn can.
"Um, uh, Kinch...shouldn't we tell the Colonel?" Carter asked uneasily.
"You let me worry about the Colonel, Carter. You worry about the Molotov cocktails." Since we're not getting any fuses from the Underground.
Rapunzel reported that on their last supply drop, her organization had also received a shipment of fuses with the bad lot number. Carter nodded, and hurried back to his lab.
Alone Kinchloe sat at his station a moment longer, in deep contemplation. Thoughts of his family came, memories of happier days playing out in quick-cut, black and white flashes, much like a Saturday matinee newsreel. Finally, he took out a single sheet of paper and began to write...
Friday 18 AUG 1944/1815hrs local
Forest clearing near Hammelburg Road
"Okay, you guys know what to do," Hogan said hurriedly. They were all dressed in German uniforms, the collar tabs identifying them as members of crack SS units. Currently, Hogan and his men stood in a forest clearing near the Hammelburg Road, about 200 meters outside of Stalag 13. It was only 1815 hours, but the evening was already shrouded in black. Tonight there would be no moon.
"Rapunzel is already at the rendezvous point, and the target's been spotted crossing the Hammelburg Bridge." Hogan reported, and then grinning added, "She says that the target vehicle has been delayed as per our instructions a few kilometers out, but it should be on the road again in less than an hour." At the others' nods, he added, "As soon as my team's in place, I'll have our Mutlangen contact, Rose White, get in touch with Baker. This it, fellas...Good luck."
The heroes shook hands all around, saying their final farewells.
Newkirk: "Good luck, Colonel, Kinch...Carter try not to blow up the truck before you get there."
LeBeau: "Au revoir, mon Colonel...Kinch...Carter."
Carter waited until he and Kinchloe were off to the side alone. "Kinch?"
"Yeah? What is it?"
"Kinch...the Molotov cocktails?" Carter paused, uneasy.
"What about them?" Kinchloe asked impatiently.
"I...I didn't...you know...um, make them."
"What?!" Kinchloe grabbed Carter by the collar and dragged him behind their truck. "What do you mean you didn't make them? Are you crazy?"
"Kinch, they won't work! The three of us can't carry enough to make a difference! Besides...there're too many things can go wrong. Not the least being that they don't always work--"
"I gave you a direct order, Sergeant! You know that I could have you court-martialed for this--don't you?!"
Swallowing, Carter ducked his head and nodded. Thinking about the scope of the mission they were about to undertake, he felt a sense of shame wash over him. Had he let his friends down, he wondered? Gathering his inner strength, a feeling of quiet resolve came over him. He slowly raised his eyes and faced his senior NCO.
"I know that we don't have a whole lot to work with, but I can make it work, Kinch. I have more explosives than timers and fuses, but I know that I can come up with something...a daisy-chain, y'know? To get the most bang for the buck!" As he spoke, Carter's face lit in the usual animated way it did whenever he spoke about explosives.
Sighing, Kinchloe closed his eyes. He had to tell the colonel, he told himself in self-disgust. "He'll have to cancel the mission," he said, his voice barely above a whisper.
"What d'you say, Kinch?"
Kinchloe faced Carter. "I'll have to tell Col. Hogan. He'll have to cancel the mission. It's crazy to continue--"
"But, Kinch, we can't cancel! What about Paris? All those people? And Louis? He's depending on us!"
"Carter, remember the SS battalion we went up against last night? Well, tonight that's gonna look like a Sunday school picnic. They'll be waiting for us--reinforced. With the right supplies we might stand a small--very small--chance of success! But this--? No, I should've told the CO already." Grinning humorlessly, he added, "And buddy, it's not you gonna be facing a court-martial, it'll be me!" He turned to go, but was stopped by Carter.
"Kinch...I can make it work," he said earnestly. "I know I can. Kinch, please...I've got to do this. It's my fault those rockets got away at the bridge, remember?"
Kinchloe shook his head tiredly. "Carter, we've through all this...That wasn't your fault--"
"Look, I know--here--!" Carter pointed at his forehead. "--that what you're saying is true. But here--!" He pointed at his heart. "--I can't help feeling that this whole thing is my fault." He looked down and then up again, holding Kinchloe's eyes steadily. "Please, Kinch...I know I can do this. Will you trust me?"
An endless second passed, but finally, Kinchloe nodded wordlessly...
Hogan raised his eyebrows questioningly at Whittington. "Yes, Lieutenant?"
Whittington walked up to him, tentatively holding out his hand. Smiling, Hogan took it in his firm grip and the two men shook.
"God speed, sir."
Hogan nodded, clapping the younger officer on the shoulder with his free hand. Turning, he opened the passenger side door of the waiting truck. As he climbed in, he called out, "LeBeau?" LeBeau, who'd already started out with his team, turned around, eyes questioning. "Give Rapunzel a kiss for me!" Hogan said, saluting playfully.
LeBeau returned the salute in kind, and turning quickly, disappeared into the German forest. With that Hogan, Kinchloe, and Carter climbed into the waiting truck and took off.
Friday 18 AUG 1944/1855hrs local
Hammelburg Road, 5km west of Stalag 13
Newkirk could feel the level of anticipation rising noticeably among the group of partisans tensely waiting behind the heavy brush along the road. He glanced over at LeBeau who stood guard with him in the middle of the road, a detour sign between them. Any second now, Newkirk thought. Almost as soon as the words formed, a truck materialized along the bend on the road.
Time to play German, he added silently. Newkirk and LeBeau automatically snapped to attention, their rifles held at port arms.
As the truck approached, Newkirk took two steps forward and held his arm straight out.
"Halt!" he called, walking up to the driver's side window. "Heil Hitler!"
The driver automatically returned the salute. "Heil Hitler!" he said impatiently. "~What is the matter? Why is there a roadblock here in the middle of nowhere? We are late and in a hurry!~"
"Ja, ja..." Newkirk intoned, sounding bored. "~Everyone is in a hurry these days. The captain is in a hurry. The sergeant is in a hurry. Even the Allies are in a hurry. But I? I do as I am ordered.~" He shrugged, smiling inwardly at the driver's irritated scowl.
"~The captain ordered the sergeant to place a road block here--in a hurry!~" Newkirk continued, conscious of the partisans' stealthy movements along the brush. "~'Right now,' the captain said! 'This instant!' So of course, the sergeant ordered us to hurry up and stand guard here--'Now! This very moment!'~" Newkirk rolled his eyes, catching a brief shadowy glimpse of a dark form inching its way towards the truck.
Almost in position, he thought, his adrenaline suddenly shooting up.
"~That was five hours ago,~" he said, shrugging expansively, "~and you are the first truck that has passed through here." He sighed, the long-suffering, heartfelt sigh of put-upon buck privates the world over. "~But I follow orders. And I stand guard. And I stop whatever vehicles pass through here and ask for their papers.~"
Grumbling, the driver pulled out a sheaf of papers from his inside pocket. Handing them over to Newkirk, he asked, "~How much farther to Stalag 13? We were supposed to be there at 18:30 hours, but we ran into some trouble about 8 kilometers back--the biggest bomb crater I've ever seen. Almost drove the truck into it!~"
Newkirk shook his head in shared sympathy. "~Sabotage,~" he tsked. "~You'd think that the local Underground would be a little more considerate about our great civic works. After all, once the war is over, we will all have to live here.~"
"~Saboteurs?~" the driver asked surprised. "~We thought it was the work of Allied bombers. We didn't know that there were saboteurs in this area. Perhaps, then that is why you're here, guarding this road?~"
"You know, mate, I think you're absolutely right!" Newkirk replied in English, his Cockney accent exaggerated. The driver and his passenger looked stunned as they found themselves suddenly surrounded by a silent group of armed partisans.
LeBeau stood next to the passenger side door, his weapon aimed unflinchingly at them.
"Out," Newkirk ordered. "And don't try anything stupid. My little friend over there would like nothing better than to kill you where you sit."
LeBeau, who in reality couldn't stand the sight of blood, gave them his most sinister grin. The German soldiers exchanged worried glances and then resignedly raised their hands above their heads.
Friday 18 AUG 1944/1900hrs local
On the Bavaria-Baden Wurttemberg Road, South of Stalag 13
Kinchloe drove, with Hogan riding shotgun on the passenger side. Neither man spoke much as the miles passed, lost in his own thoughts. Carter, meanwhile, slept in the back of the truck in the cargo bed. Probably the only guy in the world who can sleep like a baby next to explosives, Kinchloe thought ruefully.
Flashbacks of the previous night came unbidden. He remembered the sleek, beautiful rocket set to launch. The Luger aimed directly between his eyes. The subsequent firefight and escape.
"Once more into the breach..." he muttered.
Hogan seemed to jerk awake from his reveries. "Pardon?"
Kinchloe gave a short laugh. "I said, here we go again. How did you put it earlier, Colonel? About blowing them up only to have to do it all over again? Looks like you were right, sir."
"Of course, I was right," Hogan quipped. "I'm a Colonel."
Kinchloe flashed him a grin. "Yeah...but you were right anyway."
Hogan chuckled softly. "Watch it, Kinch. Or I may have to court-martial you for insubordination."
"Well...you could," Kinchloe admitted, remembering his earlier words to Carter. "But who'd operate your radio and decode your messages?"
"Hah! Sgt. Baker, that's who!"
"True, true," Kinchloe agreed good-naturedly, "but who'll keep those two clowns--Newkirk and LeBeau--out of your hair? And let's not forget Carter...Who'll keep him from blowing up the barracks?"
"I heard that!" a muffled voice came from the back.
"Shut up, Carter!" Kinchloe and Hogan shouted at the same time.
"Okay...so you're irreplaceable," Hogan conceded. "I guess I'll just have to make you an officer then. How's Second Lieutenant James Kinchloe, US Army Air Corps, sound to you?"
"Second Lieut--?! Oh, no, you don't! I'd rather be court-martialed. That's no promotion--that's a-a demotion!" Kinchloe shuddered at the thought.
Grinning, Hogan punched Kinchloe playfully on the arm. "Don't worry, buddy. I was a second looey once. Worse than my Plebe year at the Academy. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy--much less my best friend."
"Your best friend--!?" Who? Me?
Momentarily taken aback by Hogan's unexpected admission, Kinchloe unconsciously tightened his hands on the steering wheel, his thoughts in a jumble. Neither man spoke, an embarrassed silence suddenly hanging between them.
"Uh, um, Kinch...?" Hogan began hesitantly, and then stopped. To cover his CO's obvious discomfiture, Kinchloe spoke, keeping his voice light.
"So...you said you wouldn't wish it on your worst enemy--not even Klink?"
"Aww...the Ol' Bald Eagle's not so bad--just misunderstood," Hogan offered, tongue in cheek.
"Is that what it's called?" Kinchloe asked, his tone matching Hogan's. "Funny...I thought he was just incredibly dumb!"
"That too," Hogan agreed.
"How about Hochstetter?" Kinchloe asked. "Would you torture him with a second looey's gold bar?"
"It's probably against the Geneva Convention," Hogan mused, "but, yeah. In a heartbeat. Then I'd cast him adrift in the 10th Ranger Brigade. Those battle-hardened snake-eaters would probably chew him up and spit him out."
Kinchloe laughed softly. "That'd be something to see. Think he'd last?"
"He'd either be shot by his own men, or killed in a parachuting 'accident'--undoubtedly due to his parachute mysteriously failing to open.
"Yeah...undoubtedly," Kinchloe agreed.
Out of the corner of his eye, Kinchloe caught sight of Hogan settling back on the passenger seat as if for a short nap.
"And Kinch...?" Hogan began softly. "I meant what I said earlier about...you know..."
Not daring to face Hogan, Kinchloe kept his eyes straight ahead. After a moment, he nodded. "Same here, sir..."
As he drove through the darkened roads of the forests of Bavaria and Baden Wurttemberg, Kinchloe's normally taciturn features briefly softened.
Friday 18 AUG 1944/1945hrs local
Hammelburg Road, 5km west of Stalag 13
"Rapunzel, what's taking so long?" LeBeau called softly, worriedly glancing at his watch. He and Newkirk stood lookout while the others got ready.
"All is ready, LeBeau," a soft, feminine voice said from behind him. She materialized at his side the next moment. "Karl and his men will take care of the prisoners." LeBeau watched as Karl, Rapunzel's right hand man, waved casually from where he stood partially hidden in the underbrush.
"Let's head out, then," Newkirk said sharply, anxious to leave. LeBeau noted that neither he nor Newkirk had asked Rapunzel what she meant by 'take care of' the prisoners. Some questions were better left unasked, he knew.
Similarly, LeBeau picked up on Newkirk's impatience, knowing exactly how his friend felt. LeBeau, himself, could feel time slipping away from them. He hurriedly waved the others onto the back of the truck.
The partisans were now all dressed in the SS uniforms. The prisoners--stripped down to their long underwear and socks--were being prodded along towards the dilapidated truck in which Rapunzel's team had arrived.
LeBeau again checked his watch. Hogan and his team should be arriving at the Mutlangen base in less than an hour. Frustrated, he urged the resistance fighters to speed it up.
"Let's go! We are late! We do not want that filthy Gestapo Bosche, Maj. Hochstetter, to send out a search party for our friends over there." He pointed at the prisoners with his chin. Besides, both LeBeau and Newkirk wanted to be by the radio back at the barracks when--and if--Hogan's team reported in.
When everyone was finally loaded, LeBeau and Newkirk walked towards Rapunzel. She would not accompany them to Stalag 13; instead, she and what remained of her team would head out to the second rendezvous point and wait.
"This is it, Rapunzel," Newkirk said. "We're ready to go."
"Yes," she replied. "Tell Papa Bear for me that I believe that this plan is his most brilliant yet."
"We will," LeBeau assured her. "Meanwhile, mon Colonel ordered me to give you this message--" He stood on tiptoe and kissed her tenderly on both cheeks. "I believe he was regretful that he could not give it to you himself."
Smiling sadly, Rapunzel said, "I, too, regret that he was not here to deliver it in person. However--" She gently caressed her cheek with her finger. "--thank him for me for sending such a thoughtful message." She leaned down and kissed LeBeau tenderly on the forehead.
Nodding, LeBeau and Newkirk started jogging back to the waiting vehicle. As they rushed back, Rapunzel called out.
The two men turned as one.
"Please...convey my sincerest apologies for not being able to help out with the fuses." Before LeBeau and Newkirk could reply, Rapunzel slipped into the cab of the truck, and without further word, she and her team took off into the night.
"I don't believe that I liked the sound of that, mon ami."
"You and me, both, mate. You and me, both."
Friday 18 AUG 1944/2025hrs local
Hammelburg Road, east of Stalag 13
Newkirk, LeBeau, and Whittington gripped their weapons nervously. They sat, unseeing, in pitch-darkness, the low hum of the truck's well-maintained Benz motor harmonizing with the steadily turning rear double axles.
Members of Rapunzel's crack Underground cell surrounded them on all sides. Two of her most trusted lieutenants--Kurt and Rolf--were sitting upfront in the cab. It was their job to drive them through the Stalag 13 front gates, hopefully without more than a cursory inspection of the truck's rear passengers.
Furthermore, Kurt who was playing the part of their Sergeant of the Guard had to convince Hochstetter that nothing was amiss, that their lateness in reporting was easily explainable.
Newkirk grimaced in the gloom. Although this was the team of resistance fighters that had sabotaged the road earlier in order to delay the real SS guards, and there was little doubt that they'd be able to get them into the compound without trouble, Newkirk nonetheless hated to depend on outsiders.
I wish Kinch and the Colonel were here. He checked his watch: 2025 hours. Hogan and the others would be arriving at Mutlangen any minute now. What's taking so bloody long to get to Stalag 13? He began tapping his foot in a sign of nervous impatience. A sudden jab to the ribs and a loud 'hissst' from his left side announced LeBeau's annoyance.
Newkirk made a concerted effort to stop his fidgeting. He began counting to 100 to keep his mind off the minutes that seemed to be ticking with interminable slowness.
The next instant, he felt the truck begin to slow down and heard the loud squeal of brakes. These sensations were soon accompanied by a shout from outside.
This is it, he thought. Home sweet home.
Friday 18 AUG 1944/2030hrs local
Mutlangen Road, 8 km east of the Bavaria-Bad Wurttemberg Road
"This is it," Kinchloe muttered.
Minutes earlier, he'd pulled the truck onto a heavily overgrown, deeply rutted dirt road and followed it several meters into the woods. He braked to a stop just short of a firebreak. Allowing his eyes to become adjusted in the darkness, Kinchloe saw that the small clearing opened out onto a rise, overlooking a narrow valley nestled between two steep hills.
From his vantagepoint, he could make out a flurry of activity directly across the valley in and around the larger of the two hills.
"Home sweet home," he said ruefully. Reaching across the cab of the truck, he tapped Hogan on the arm. The decorated combat veteran instantly jerked awake.
"What? Where?" Hogan blearily looked around in the darkness, slightly disoriented. Kinchloe pointed at the activity along the side of the hill facing them. They sat in silence, studying the traffic along the single road leading up the granite face of the hill.
Kinchloe took out a pair of binoculars and steadied them on a five-truck convoy that appeared at the base of the hill. Peering intently through the high-powered glasses, he saw that the trucks were hauling wood and coal for the vast underground network located somewhere deep inside the hillside.
He watched as the trucks lumbered up the steep trail, pausing at intermittent checkpoints before proceeding to their final destination, lost in the vast gloom.
Every few minutes, he glimpsed a careless match flare, instantly followed by the sudden glow of a lit cigarette. Probably a bored guard walking his post, Kinchloe thought.
"One way in and out," Hogan observed, yawning. Sighing, he rubbed his eyes. "Many more missions like this, and I'll be old before my time."
"You sure can say that again," Kinchloe tiredly agreed. "Know what's the first thing I'm gonna do when this war is finally over?"
"Sleep! And Lord help the foolish soul who tries to wake me up before I've slept for three whole months!"
"Sleep...I almost can't remember what a night of uninterrupted sleep feels like. Sure sounds nice," Hogan mused. After a moment's thought, he shook his head. Opening the passenger side door, he stepped out. "Nah...I'd die of boredom. After a day or two--a week, tops!--I'd start looking for a bridge to blow up, or a truck convoy to ambush--"
"--Or a new tunnel to dig!" Carter's muffled voice interrupted from the back. They could hear him moving heavy crates in the cargo hold.
Hogan and Kinchloe exchanged grins and walked around the back to help unload their supplies. "You're probably right, sir," Kinchloe nodded. "I guess that being able to mine a bridge faster than anyone else in the neighborhood could make a guy feel a little restless after awhile."
"And let's not forget being able to throw a grenade farther than any of your family or friends," Hogan added.
"I can see that I'm going to be in real demand back home," Kinchloe added wryly. "An endless line of prospective employers just waiting for me..."
"And here you thought the Army didn't learn ya nuthin' useful."
Thinking of the crack, battle-hardened SS battalion, which had probably been reinforced since last night's raid, that they were about to go up against, Kinchloe rolled his eyes at his CO's characteristically upbeat manner. It's as if he doesn't have a care in the world, Kinchloe thought.
Unaware of his NCO's misgivings, Hogan shouldered his weapon and equipment bag. Grinning, he said, "Remember...it's just another mission. Piece o' cake!" About to start off, he paused at Kinchloe's hesitation. "What's the matter, Kinch?" he asked. "Come on. The war's waiting."
'Just another mission?' Kinchloe thought, shaking his head. Recalling that they were short on fuses, he felt a sudden cold chill grip the pit of his stomach. I've gotta tell him! he thought, a twinge of guilt eating at him. He's gotta know! This whole mission's crazy! It'll be plain suicide to continue. He's gotta call it off!
"Colonel--?" he began, swallowing around a suddenly dry throat. At that moment, Carter jumped off the back of the truck and landed between them. He looked curiously from one to the other: Hogan's usual twinkle had been replaced by a look of mild concern, while Kinchloe looked like he'd swallowed something sour.
"What's the matter, Kinch?" Carter asked.
"Nuthin'," Kinchloe muttered, shaking his head. "Come on! Like the colonel said, the war's waiting."
Instantly all business, the three men gave their weapons a final, cursory check and started out.
Friday 18 AUG 1944/2045hrs local
Main Compound, Stalag 13
Newkirk stood stiffly at attention, eyes front, weapon held at right shoulder arms. His helmet low over his eyes, face hidden in shadow, his eyes surreptitiously followed Hochstetter who was pacing back and forth as he addressed the 'SS guards.'
"~...Because of your recent distinguished record during the major counter-offensive at Avranches, while assigned to the 343rd SS Armored Division, you men have been awarded a distinct honor! In addition to receiving a unit citation for bravery from der Fuehrer, himself, you men have each been personally handpicked for this mission.~"
Hochstetter stopped pacing and faced them. Klink, who'd been standing uselessly by, wringing his hands nervously, shuffled to stand next to him. Hochstetter glared at Klink as if the Camp Kommandant were a distasteful bug he'd just as soon step on. Swallowing and smiling foolishly, Klink's nerves appeared ready to snap.
"~I--uh--also b-believe th-this t-t-to b-be a d-d-distinct honor, um, uh, M-Major--~"
"~Klink! Shut up!~" Hochstetter screamed. "~Nobody cares what you think!~"
Taking several steps backwards, the hapless Camp Kommandant beat a hasty retreat to the relative safety of his porch steps. Glancing at Hochstetter who was still glaring balefully in his direction, Klink quickly scuttled into the sanctuary of his office.
Once Klink was out of sight, Hochstetter took a moment to get his blood pressure under control. Turning back to the line of SS soldiers before him, he continued his impromptu speech.
"~This is not just another mission! We have been given the honor to hand deliver to Gestapo Headquarters in Berlin a very special group of British prisoners of war.~" He smiled suddenly, transforming his face into an unexpectedly cold, reptilian mask, which sent shivers up and down Newkirk's back.
"~A very special group of prisoners, indeed--captured British commandos!~" As Hochstetter uttered these words, he held out his right arm dramatically. A column of British POWs appeared out of the compound's high security area, their hands clasped on top of their heads.
At the sight of his countrymen, Newkirk felt a slow, deep-burning anger begin in the pit of his stomach. He somehow managed to squelch a sudden desire to turn his weapon on Hochstetter. A soft intake of breath next to him told Newkirk that Whittington was feeling exactly the same.
"Steady, Leftenant," Newkirk muttered out of the side of his mouth. "Easy does it..." He felt Whittington relax next to him. A few moments later, Kurt stepped forward, saluted Hochstetter and then turned and ordered the disguised Allied fighters to fall in on the line of prisoners of war.
"~You six--!~" Kurt pointed at the first six men in line. "~You will guard the prisoners in the first vehicle. Fall out!~" The men quickly double-timed towards the waiting truck. "~The rest of you--!~" He pointed at the remaining partisans. "~You will be responsible for guarding the prisoners in the second truck.~" As they turned to go, he pointed at Newkirk who stopped suddenly. "~All except you! You will ride shotgun with me in the trail vehicle.~"
Nodding, Newkirk hurried to Kurt's side and stood stiffly at port arms next to him.
"~Very good, Sergeant--~" Hochstetter said, "~--very good. I shall remember you in my report to Berlin.~"
"Danke, Herr Major!" Kurt said. When all the prisoners were loaded on the trucks, Kurt turned to Newkirk. With a slight wink and smile, he indicated that they should board their own vehicle.
Friday 18 AUG 1944/2130hrs local
Marchen Hofbrau est. 1765, Mutlangen
Hogan and the others spent the better part of an hour traipsing through the thick underbrush that grew along the outskirts of Mutlangen. They'd avoided several patrols and just managed to escape being spotted by a German shepherd.
As the three heroes entered the town, they almost ran into a large troop convoy that was racing through the quiet streets in the direction they'd just come from. Backpedaling, they took refuge in a small courtyard until the coast was clear.
Finally, after a few more close calls, they arrived at their destination--the Marchen Hofbrau. "This is it, fellas," Hogan said, pointing at the quaint, half-timbered tavern on the other side of the street. The hofbrau boasted a gingerbread roof and a scene out of a Hansel and Gretel painted on the façade. Hogan shook his head. The juxtaposition of fairytale and Swastika flag hanging limply from the rooftop gave him a strange feeling of displacement.
"Rapunzel said that our contact, Rose White, would meet us here," he continued. "We should be able to identify him by the white rose on his lapel."
At this moment, a staff car pulled up to the front door of the Marchen Hofbrau, depositing two passengers who entered the tavern. Hogan and his men crouched in the darkness and waited as the car to drove off and disappeared into the night. Quickly, the three Americans crossed the street, keeping to the deep shadows, and darted into a narrow alleyway behind the hofbrau.
"I'll go in and make contact," Hogan said. "You two wait out here." Kinchloe and Carter nodded. From their location, they could make out the tinkling sound of an upright piano accompanied by men's voices raised in off-key singing, punctuated by raucous laughter.
On occasion the front door would abruptly open, splashing a bright beam of light onto the otherwise darkened street. Soldiers in various stages of inebriation stumbled out, singly and in pairs, probably intending to continue their merrymaking into the wee small hours.
Hogan waited until the latest group of off-duty soldiers, staggered by. Their drunken laughter echoed off the blacked-out windows that stared sightlessly onto the cobbled street below. As the slurred voices faded out around a corner, Hogan stepped out from the alley and quickly ducked into the hofbrau.
The door closing behind him, Hogan stood to the side, getting his bearings. The seating area was packed shoulder to shoulder with uniformed men and heavily made-up women. Buxom waitresses dressed in peasant blouses and full skirts carried overflowing steins of beer from table to table, expertly wending their way through the thick crowd without spilling a drop.
Hogan's ears were assaulted by a cacophony of shouts, strident laughter, loud music and singing. He squinted through the dense, acrid cloud of cigarette smoke that hung over the room, searching men's lapels for a white rose. After a few minutes, he spotted a waiter tending bar, wearing a white carnation. Shrugging, Hogan was about to head towards him, when a couple seated a few feet to his right suddenly stood and began to leave.
Hogan changed direction and started towards the table they'd abandoned. He was about to pull out one of the chairs when another hand simultaneously closed around it, tugging slightly.
"~Excuse me, but I believe that this is my table,~" Hogan said smoothly, turning to face his challenger. He stopped, his breath immediately knocked out of him. Smiling back at him were a pair of lovely, almond-shaped blue eyes. More importantly, they were set off by a beautiful face, which was itself framed by a head of soft, blonde hair.
"~Perhaps we could share?" a husky, feminine contralto asked. The words not quite registering, Hogan merely gaped. Meanwhile, the same pair of lovely blue eyes looked up him expectantly. Abruptly, Hogan realized that he was staring and recovered his aplomb.
"~My mother always taught me to share,~" he quipped, holding out the chair for her. As soon as she was seated, he pulled out the second chair and closely positioned it next to hers. Hurriedly sitting down, he took her hand in his and gazed longingly into her eyes. "~Tell me, Fraulein...what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?~"
He felt his stomach flutter as the almond-shaped blue eyes crinkled in amusement. I guess the war can wait just a couple of minutes, he thought.
"Rapunzel warned me that you worked fast, Colonel Hogan," she said softly. "But even she didn't say just how fast." Hogan blinked. Instantly, his eyes traveled down her shapely neck, stopping at the lapel of her black overcoat--a white rose!
"You--?!" Hogan hissed. "You're Rose White?" At her nod, his eyes quickly scanned the tavern, searching for any possible accomplices. No one was paying them any attention. They were just another couple grabbing a few hours of respite from the endless tedium of war. "Rapunzel never stated that our contact was a woman!" Taking a moment to get his surprise under control, he leaned forward, his expression dangerous. "How do I know you're who you say you are? How do I know I can trust you?"
Smiling her secret amused smile, she replied, "On the contrary, Herr Colonel, how do I know I can trust you?" The look she gave him was playful, yet trusting. Drinking in her loveliness, Hogan felt himself responding to her teasing. Finally, with his customary twinkle, he gave her his most wolfish grin.
"Lady, I give you my solemn pledge as an officer and a gentleman...you can't!"
She laughed softly. "I am glad to see that Rapunzel was correct about you, Colonel Hogan." Becoming serious, she nodded towards the door. "Come...There is not much time."
Friday 18 AUG 1944/2245hrs local
On the Road, 15km SSE of the River Elbe Crossing at Dessau
Sergeant Drexler stirred slightly, stifling a yawn. He was riding shotgun in the second vehicle, his weapon lying easily on his lap. The trip so far had been largely uneventful, the British prisoners surprisingly cooperative. The truck's headlights briefly illuminated a road sign. Dessau--15km; Berlin--200km respectively. Drexler suppressed another yawn. It was turning into a long night.
"~Reinhart, keep your proper distance from the lead vehicle. You are falling behind.~" Drexler sounded bored as he addressed his driver, one of the guards that had joined them at Stalag 13. After a few moments, Drexler squinted through the windshield, trying to spot the lead vehicle's taillights. Frowning, he called out sharply, "~Reinhart! We are falling too far behind! Speed it up! That is an order!~"
Reinhart drove steadily on, ignoring his senior occupant. To Drexler's shock, the seemingly oblivious driver suddenly turned off the main highway, onto a single lane country road heading away from Dessau. In the truck's side-view mirror, Drexler saw that the trail vehicles had followed them. Picking up his weapon, he aimed it at the disobedient driver.
"~Reinhart, stop this truck before I kill you.~" Drexler felt a momentary twinge of triumph as Reinhart slowed to a complete stop; however, the next instant, Reinhart shut the motor and turned off the headlights. Drexler saw that the trucks behind them followed suit.
"~Reinhart, I don't know what you think you are doing, but you are going to turn this truck around and get back on the highway." Steadily holding his weapon on the driver, he continued, "I'm placing you on report as soon as we arrive in Berlin! And I assure you, Maj. Hochstetter will have a field day with you!~"
"Well, mate...isn't it a good thing then that we're not going to Berlin after all?" Drexler froze as the cold metal of a weapon's muzzle touched his forehead. His eyes traveled the length of the Luger's gun barrel and followed it up to a pair of cold eyes--another one of the new guards that they'd picked up at Stalag 13.
The canvas cover of the truck's cargo bed was suddenly thrown back, revealing several automatic weapons aimed at him and at two of his original guards. The British POWs were all grinning down at him. The senior POW, Sgt. Ripley, slapped the new 'guard' on the back. The Luger, which he still held aimed steadily at Drexler, never wavered.
"Bloody good show, Leftenant Whittington!" Ripley cried out.
"Was ist los--?" Drexler sat unmoving as his driver, 'Reinhart,' casually pried his weapon loose from his numb fingers.
"I'm afraid that now you're our prisoner, Fritz!" Whittington said with a grin.
"Aye, that he is, Leftenant!" Another voice called from the passenger side window. Smiling, Newkirk waved at Whittington. The next instant, his expression hardened as he opened the passenger side door, his weapon pointed threateningly. "Raus! Come on...Schnell!"
"Oui! Schnell!" LeBeau echoed, waving his weapon dangerously.
Nodding, Drexler quickly did as ordered, careful to keep his hands out in the open. His three original guards soon joined him. The four of them stood nervously, hands upraised. "~What do you intend to do with us?~" he asked.
"~I don't intend to do anything with you, mate,~" Newkirk replied blandly. "~But I understand that he has plans for you.~" He nodded at a man who'd mysteriously appeared from the woods that lined the road--Karl, Rapunzel's right hand man.
"We must hurry!" Karl said without preamble. "By now, the Gestapo major must be aware that he has lost his convoy." His men quickly rounded up the prisoners and prodded them into the woods.
Kurt, Rolf and the other phony SS guards shook hands all around with the Allied soldiers and hurried after Karl and his team. LeBeau and Newkirk found Rapunzel waiting in the thick underbrush, the less people who saw her, the better.
"Thank you, cheri," LeBeau said softly. Taking her hand in his, he gallantly kissed it, and then held it momentarily to his cheek. "Au Revoir!" As he stepped aside, Newkirk walked up to the beautiful and courageous partisan leader.
"Thanks just aren't enough," he said solemnly. "What you and your team did tonight...risking your lives to help rescue my countrymen..." Newkirk paused, overcome with emotion. "I'll never forget it. I promise." Smiling, Rapunzel stood on tiptoe and kissed the usually brash Englishman on the cheek. Newkirk ducked his head, his cheeks flushing hotly.
"Someone once said that 'the enemies of my enemies are my friends,'" Rapunzel said softly. "By the same token, 'the friends of my friends are twice fold mine." Karl appeared next to her, again seemingly materializing out of thin air. She looked up him and smiled. "We could not stand idly by and watch as our friends were taken by the Gestapo, could we?" Placing her hand on Karl's arm, she added, "We did no less than you would have done for us. Auf Wiedersehen, my friends!"
With a wave, she and Karl soundlessly disappeared into the thickets. Newkirk slapped LeBeau on the shoulder and both men hurried back to the waiting vehicles.
Friday 18 AUG 1944/2245hrs local
Die Alpenrose Drogerie, Mutlangen
The single, naked incandescent bulb cast harsh shadows on the men and lone woman sitting around the small, wooden table. They were in a hidden back room of the Alpenrose Drogerie, which was accessed through a secret panel behind one of the many shelves that held numerous bottles and vials.
The proprietor was Rose White's father and leader of the Mutlangen underground cell.
"Col. Hogan, forgive an old man his worries, but...if a company of British commandos could not do this, how can you hope to with only two men? Please...let us help you."
Hogan smiled. "We thank you for the generous offer, Herr Weiss, but the work you and your team have been doing here is too important to the war effort to risk."
"Father, I am sure that Col. Hogan and his men are quite capable and feel confident of their success--" Rose White began.
Kinchloe made a sour face. "I can't imagine what could've given her that idea," he muttered. Carter snorted and then when all eyes turned on him coughed to disguise the sound. Nervous, he cleared his throat, his eyes traveling around the small room in a poor attempt at nonchalance.
"--And if they're not interested in the secret tunnel entrance," Rose White continued, "why who are we to--?"
"Secret tunnel entrance?" Hogan and Kinchloe said at the same time.
"Hey! I know what this place is!" Carter interrupted. "It's a drugstore, isn't it?" He looked around at the others, a wide, pleased grin on his face. At the cold, still faces of the underground members, his grin slowly faded. Finally, he gave a small cough to cover his discomfiture.
"Secret tunnel entrance?" "Yes, it is!" Hogan and Rose White said at the same time. They looked at each other in momentary surprise. Smiling, Rose White addressed Carter.
"Yes, this is a chemist shop--or drugstore, as you would say. My father is the town's sole remaining chemist. I am afraid that the others were all drafted into the army."
"Secret tunnel entrance?" Hogan prompted.
"Could I look around?" Carter interrupted, unable to contain his excitement. Hogan and Kinchloe exchanged wry glances. "Maybe I could find something I could use!"
"Father?" Rose White asked. At her father's nod, Carter rose eagerly and crossed towards one of the myriad shelves that lined even this back room. After a quick glance at the labels on the bottles, Carter shook his head.
"May I search the front room?" he asked. At Weiss's nod, Carter happily ducked through the secret entranceway. Catching Kinchloe's eye, Hogan indicated that he should follow Carter.
"Keep him out of trouble," he muttered.
"Right," Kinchloe said and followed Carter.
"You were saying something about a secret tunnel entrance?" Hogan prompted.
Carter eagerly explored the many nooks and crannies of the small chemist's shop. It suddenly reminded him of home and his Dad's drugstore. Funny how certain things seemed to be the same the world over, he mused. Spotting a chemical formula that looked familiar he struggled with the rest of the label. Unable to read German, he picked up the bottle and turned to Kinchloe.
"Kinch, what's this say?" he asked, holding out the bottle. Kinchloe glanced over from the blacked-out window where he was keeping lookout. Taking one last look around the quiet street, he moved towards Carter and took the bottle from him.
Eyes squinting as he struggled with the unfamiliar words, he finally managed, "Potassium Nitrate...I think." He shrugged, handing it back.
"Boy, oh, boy!" Carter said excitedly. "That's what I thought it was, but I couldn't be sure."
"Why? What's so special about it?" Kinchloe asked.
"Now all I need is some string..." Carter continued, apparently lost in thought. "Maybe some kite string...that would work. Or even shoelaces...yeah! That's even better, 'cause they're already cut to size. Lessee..."
"String? Shoelaces?" Kinchloe interrupted. "Carter what are you talking about?" He trailed Carter around the tightly cramped aisles as the completely oblivious younger man meticulously searched each shelf and muttered to himself.
"Carter--" Kinchloe tried again, but Carter interrupted.
"Yep! Here they are! Oh, boy! Just like back home, Kinch," he chattered excitedly, holding up several small packets of shoelaces. "Y'know...a drugstore isn't just about drugs and stuff. It's more of a small haberdashery, selling a little of this and a little of that."
"A little of this and little of that, huh?" Kinchloe repeated.
"Uh-huh! Now...if only I can find some sugar...and soap. Yeah, soap would be good!"
Kinchloe shook his head. Whatever Carter was planning, it would speed things up if he just stood aside and let him get on with it. "I'll ask Herr Weiss if they have any," he said. But Carter was already busy measuring out the Potassium Nitrate into a petri dish.
Friday 18 AUG 1944/2325hrs local
Main Tunnel under Barracks 2, LuftStalag 13
Baker slouched wearily in his seat, headset hanging from his neck. Newkirk had reported over a half-hour ago that their mission was a success and that they were returning to base. Unfortunately, Hogan had yet to report in.
"Why don't they call?" Olsen asked again. Baker looked at him tiredly. He'd grown inured to Olsen's incessant pacing about two hours ago. Of course, it was the constant repetition of the same question that was beginning to wear thin on his nerves.
"Olsen, willya go to bed?" he asked impatiently. "You're driving me nuts."
"Come on, Baker, you know I can't sleep. Not now anyway." Olsen sat down suddenly. "I wish I'd gone with them."
"You can sure say that again, buddy."
At that moment, the lights suddenly went on and off. Someone had just opened the secret tunnel entrance. Instantly, both men were on their feet, Colt semi-automatic pistols at ready. Baker hit the light switch, immediately shrouding them in total darkness. They took positions on either side of the door that led from the radio room into the primary tunnel exit. Whoever it was--friend or foe--had to come through here, the main junction to the rest of the tunnel branches.
Finally, after several minutes of absolute silence, Baker heard the recognition signal--the opening bar to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Letting out a long sigh of relief, he hit the lights. He was soon rewarded by the sight of Newkirk and LeBeau jogging up to greet them.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0015hrs local
Outside the Mutlangen Rocket Facility
"Col. Hogan, are you sure?" Weiss asked. "My men and I are ready to help."
"Yes, Colonel," Rose White added. "Please...it is our war, as much as it is yours." Smiling softly, Hogan took her hand and kissed it.
"I know," he said with a firm shake of his head. "But not this time." Sadly, he dropped her hand. "Herr Weiss, thank you for everything you've done, and for your offer. However, you've already done more than enough. And as it is...we're taking a big chance having one of your men drive us in with an unscheduled coal delivery."
"Oh, but Ernst knows the layout of the plant," Rose White reassured them. "He's delivered coal into the main compound on several occasions."
Smiling, Hogan agreed. "I'm confident everything is going to go well. You see, Kinch and I have the whole thing down now. We go in, lay the charges, and run like Hell!" This last was said with his usual impish smile.
"Yeah, we got it down all right," Kinchloe agreed dryly. "Especially the 'run like Hell' part." At Kinchloe's words, Weiss smiled and shrugged, shaking hands all around.
"Then God speed," he said. "My men and I will wait for you at the rendezvous."
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0015hrs local
Main Tunnel under Barracks 2, LuftStalag 13
"Why don't they bloody call?" It was Newkirk's turn to pace incessantly. His nerves were raw with worry. Taking a last drag from his fifth cigarette in less than an hour, he impatiently stubbed it out and instantly started patting down his pockets for more.
Baker was too tired and too glum to be bothered by Newkirk's pacing. After Newkirk and LeBeau had arrived with the commandos, he'd radioed Goldilocks to arrange for a sub. As soon as they'd had a decent night's meal, he ordered everyone to grab some sack time. The commandos were currently bunked down inside an empty tunnel. Because there weren't enough cots for everyone some had merely lain down on the hard-packed dirt floor, rolled up in a poncho.
Stalag 13 was well-stocked way station for escaping prisoners and downed pilots, but even their operation had never handled this many men before. Everyone was too exhausted to argue, grateful for an evening's respite. As for Newkirk, like Olsen earlier, he was too wound up to sleep. Therefore, he paced. And asked the same questions over and over.
Baker rolled his eyes and tiredly dropped his chin into this hand. He glared at Newkirk and basically ignored him. Baker's expression said it all: He didn't know--Period!
In other words, his answer had not changed from the last three times Newkirk had asked. "Are you sure your receiver is working?" Newkirk asked. Again.
"For the umpteenth time--Yes!" Baker muttered. He didn't even bother to look up. "I just did a commo-check with Goldilocks, remember? They're readying the submarine to pick up these guys in the next coupla days."
Nodding, Newkirk sat down and smoked quietly, lost in thought. "If anything happens to them..." he began and then stopped.
"Nothing's gonna happen to them!" Baker reached into Newkirk's right breast pocket and removed his crumpled cigarette pack. Taking a cigarette, he leaned forward and Newkirk quickly obliged by lighting it with his own. "The Colonel always lands on his feet, remember?"
Newkirk gave him a long, wordless stare. Nodding, he stood up, stubbed out his cigarette, and started climbing the ladder topside.
"Yeah..." he muttered. "Always lands on his feet."
Taking a long drag, Baker leaned back and closed his eyes. Nothing's going to happen to them, he said silently. Please...don't let anything happen to them.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0105hrs local
Main Compound, Mutlangen Rocket Facility
They were tightly packed under a heavy tarpaulin, with several hundred pounds of coal surrounding them, squeezing them in. Hogan had to hand it to Weiss and his men, the black tarpaulin might have passed for a pile of coal in the dark, moonless night, but they weren't taking any chances. They'd camouflaged the tarpaulin further by gluing papier-mâché in the form of black coal to it. To the casual observer, the truck was simply hauling its usual load of coal to the main power plant.
Still, they needed to get past the gate guard. This was an unscheduled run and it would take cool finesse on the part of Ernst to get them in. Hogan and his men waited tensely as the truck pulled to a screeching halt. Hogan could feel his heart hammering in his chest.
"Heil Hitler!" they heard Ernst say by way of greeting.
"Heil Hitler." The guard's response sounded tired and bored. Hogan felt himself begin to breathe easier. If the guard were bored, then he wouldn't be looking too closely. After what seemed an interminable moment, they heard the guard speak.
"~I don't have authorization here for a coal delivery.~"
"~Check again, please...~" Ernst's voice sounded annoyed. "~I've had this coal run on my schedule for a week now. Saturday morning...two tons of coal! See?"
Hogan could picture in his mind Ernst showing the guard his authorization sheet. The kid's good, he thought admiringly. Sounds like he's done this before.
"~But I don't have a delivery on my sheet,~" the guard protested. "~Perhaps I should call my supervisor to check--~"
"~No, wait!~" Ernst said quickly. "~Please, don't call...Look, I'll be truthful. This is really not an authorized delivery--~"
At his words, Hogan and his men tensed immediately, each quickly checking his weapon.
"~See, there is this new pretty fraulein in the Marchen Hofbrau...and I told her I would meet her tonight. But...this delivery. It's actually for tonight. So, I figured, I would deliver the coal a little early and no one would be the wiser. Please...be a friend. After all...we are all in this war together.~"
The guard laughed in appreciation.
"~Does she have a sister?~" he asked good-naturedly.
"~No, but she has a roommate!~" Ernst replied in kind.
"~In that case, make room for one more at your table! I'll be there after I get off-shift.~"
"Danke!" Ernst called as the truck started up again. Hogan, Kinchloe and Carter exchanged relieved looks.
"Boy...!" Carter said. "It's a good thing he's got a date and all tonight, huh, Colonel?" Hogan didn't bother to answer and Kinchloe simply rolled his eyes.
As soon as the truck was well away from the gate guard, Ernst slowed the truck momentarily.
"We are passing the fuel depot," he called softly. At his words, Carter grabbed three of the equipment satchels, and in sure fluid movements, vaulted off the back of the truck. Landing on the balls of his feet, he allowed his momentum to carry him forward, rolling several times until he came to a complete stop. Getting his bearings, he saw the truck continuing on towards its destination and regaining his feet began running in the opposite direction.
Within moments, he found the security gate leading to the fuel storage tanks, and a few moments after that, he was inside, racing to set his charges.
Hogan and Kinchloe waited without speaking. They listened on edge to every noise that might warn them of something gone amiss. Soon, the truck slowed to complete stop.
"Colonel," Ernst called. "We are here. Be ready...the first drop is twenty feet straight down. Remember what I said earlier...just close your eyes and go with it."
Kinchloe made a sour face. "Easy for him to say," he muttered. Hogan agreed. Apparently, the 'secret tunnel entrance' that Rose White had alluded to earlier that night was actually a coal chute through which Weiss had sent at least one agent to reconnoiter the interior of the rocket complex.
According to Ernst, after the initial twenty foot drop, the chute then leveled off at a steady forty-five degree angle, zigzagging every twenty feet or so. The chute opened up at the complex power plant, where the coal was fed to massive furnaces, which converted the energy to steam. The steam, in turn, was used to power the turbines, which generated the electricity needed to power the complex.
The plan was simple: Ernst would drop Hogan and Kinchloe through the coal chute along with the rest of the coal. The two heroes would then proceed from the furnace room to the rocket launch bay.
Simple...yeah, Kinchloe groused. All we have to do is keep from breaking our fool necks on the way down!
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0135hrs local
Main Compound, LuftStalag 13
The black staff car practically flew to the front gates of the POW compound. Flags of the Third Reich fluttered crisply in the cool night air, announcing its unwelcome occupant. As the car came to a screeching halt outside the front gates, its horn immediately started honking, demanding entrance.
"Klink!" Hochstetter shouted. "Klink, if you don't open these gates, Dumkopf, I'll have you shot as a traitor!"
At his shouts, the camp, which had finally settled down into an uneasy peace, awoke with a start. Instantly a dozen searchlights criss-crossed the surrounding area outside the compound. The warning sirens went off, signaling a possible escape. The guard dogs barked and howled, wildly excited by the noise, ready to play hide-and-seek with the prisoners, or perhaps to take a bite out of one of the guards.
"Shultz!" Klink yelled, running out of his quarters. "What is going on here?" He was only half-dressed, his uniform jacket hastily thrown on and still unbuttoned. His high peaked cap was carelessly askew on his balding pate and dangerously close to falling off. As he called for Schultz, Klink hopped on one foot, struggling vainly with his boots, confused by the noise and activity. Had there been a massive escape, he panicked? His motorcycle and sidecar suddenly appeared before him.
"Guards!" he called, jumping clumsily aboard, still struggling with his boots. "Release the dogs! Fan out! Nobody escapes from Stalag 13!" As his sidecar took off unexpectedly, his hat fell over his eyes, temporarily blinding him as they headed towards the gate.
"Schultz!" Klink shouted, frustrated by the turn of events and therefore blaming the luckless Sergeant of the Guard. Naturally, he missed Hochstetter's black sedan as it passed him on its way to his office.
"Klink!" Hochstetter screamed, leaning out the passenger window and shaking a fist at the now clearly frightened Camp Kommandant. Klink immediately stood up in the erratically moving sidecar and awkwardly saluted the furious Gestapo officer. As he did so, the motorcycle hit a pothole, sending Klink toppling--boots and all--over the side.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0135hrs local
Barracks 2, LuftStalag 13
"Heads up, people!" Newkirk called. "It's Hochstetter!" He turned from the blacked out window and faced the rest of the POWs. "Oh, bloody bugger Hell! Now what do we do?"
"Hey, what's all the noise?" Baker demanded. His head peeked out at them from the camouflaged tunnel entrance ingeniously built into one of the bunks.
"It's Hochstetter!" LeBeau hissed. "We are in big trouble now. If he starts searching the barracks...!" He made a slashing motion across his throat.
"Then we can't let him search, can we?" Baker said.
"Did you not hear who is out there?" LeBeau repeated. "Hochstetter. And he's just lost over 50 prisoners, after he picked up new guards here--at Stalag 13!"
"Even Hochstetter should be able to add two and two," Newkirk agreed. "This is it, mates. It's been a barrel of laughs, but now--?"
"Is there anything we can do?" Whittington had suddenly appeared next to Baker.
"Look, we don't have a lot of time to discuss this," Baker said quickly. "But if they're searching for escaped prisoners, then I say we give them some."
"I beg your pardon?" Whittington stared at Baker in obvious surprise.
"Bloody hell! You've gone off the deep end, Baker!" Newkirk retorted. "If the Colonel were here he'd--!"
"No, listen!" Baker insisted. "We can't have them searching the barracks and discovering our whole operation. Not to mention finding the lieutenant here and his men." Baker watched the tense faces around him and momentarily panicked. What was he doing? He was just a junior buck sergeant. And he was addressing some of the most experienced covert operatives in the Allied armies.
Swallowing, Baker took a deep breath and steadied himself. After all, Hogan had placed him in charge of home base operations until his return. At least, that's what he told himself, as he faced down the others' grim looks.
"Okay, guys," he said, his tone reflecting a confidence he did not feel. "This is what we're gonna do."
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0135hrs local
Inside the Mutlangen Rocket Facility
Hogan and Kinchloe braced themselves as best they could, keeping a tight hold onto their weapons and equipment, when suddenly, the bottom fell from under them. Within seconds, Hogan experienced a stomach-churning freefall, not unlike the one when he'd been forced to bail from his floundering B-17, Goldilocks, so long ago.
Almost too soon to prepare for it, Hogan found himself sliding and tumbling, head over heels and out-of-control, down the coal chute. As he came to a turn, first his right shoulder struck the chute wall as he continued careening down the slide, only to strike the wall again further down, this time on his left side.
And so it went...And then, almost as abruptly as it had started, Hogan slammed to a sudden, bone-jarring halt. Dazed, he lay still where he'd landed, trying to get his bearings. An instant later, he felt more than saw Kinchloe slam into the coal pile next to him. A soft groan assured him that his friend was still alive.
"Kinch...?" he croaked.
"Uhhhnn..." was the only answer he received. Worried, Hogan attempted to move towards the sound, when suddenly the bottom again dropped out from underneath them. This time, their trip was much more quick, and they fell a short, but painful distance. Groaning, Hogan and Kinchloe both lay on their backs, staring up at the impossibly high mountain of coal. Apparently, Hogan's movements had caused a small avalanche through the unstable pile of coal.
"Oh, my aching back," Kinchloe groaned. "That was some roller coaster ride."
"Tell me about it..." Hogan grumbled. Then, slowly, carefully he first sat up and moments later regained his feet. Reaching down he offered Kinchloe a hand up. "Come on, Kinch...the ground's stopped moving, at least."
"At least," Kinchloe echoed ruefully. "So what do we do for an encore? Get ourselves shot out of a cannon?"
"Kinch...we're inside a rocket base. Don't even joke about things like that."
Kinchloe gave Hogan a long look and slowly nodded. "Right..." he said slowly.
"Let's go," Hogan said tiredly and moved out with a slight limp. "The war's waiting." About to follow, Kinchloe took another look at the huge pile of coal and got a sudden idea.
"Uh, sir...?" he called.
"Yeah?" Hogan turned and waited. Kinchloe pointed at the coal mountain and then wordlessly struck a match, letting it die out in his hand. Hogan slowly nodded.
"Not bad, Kinch," he murmured. "Not bad at all." Without further comment, they removed their equipment shoulder bags and got to work.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0145hrs local
Main Compound, LuftStalag 13
Klink stood nervously next to Hochstetter. The Gestapo major had in short order taken command of the Stalag 13 guards and was personally leading the search effort. From what Klink could make out of his hysterical rantings and ravings, apparently Hochstetter had misplaced his convoy and was now here, blaming him for the mishap.
"But Maj. Hochstetter," Klink protested weakly, "I fail to see how your losing the prisoners under your command could possibly have anything to do with Stalag 13--?"
"Klink! No one cares what you think! Now, shut up and stay of my way!"
As always, Klink nodded meekly and did as ordered. "Yessir," he mumbled. "Shut up and stay out of your way."
"Sergeant of the Guard!" Hochstetter called. "I want all the prisoners rousted and standing out here immediately! If any prisoner fails to cooperate fully, he will be shot in front of the others--for crimes against the Third Reich!"
"Jahwohl, Herr Major!" Shultz nervously saluted, and shaking with ill-concealed fear, rushed off to carry out his orders.
Within moments, hundreds of Allied prisoners in various stages of dress and undress were pouring out of their dilapidated barracks onto the main compound. The men muttered and growled in sleepy anger at being suddenly awakened in the middle of the night.
"What's this all about, Schultzie?" Newkirk called.
"Yeah, what's going on?"
"A guy needs his beauty sleep!"
As the men lined up into some semblance of a military formation, Schultz and his men began counting them down. Moments later, Schultz counted again. Unhappy with the results, he ordered a third count, but by then Hochstetter was screaming in his ear.
Looking around in vain for Hogan, the one man who always provided sanity and stability to his war, Schultz turned slowly and glanced regretfully at Klink. Then, his heart in his throat, Schultz reported the dreaded news:
"Herr Kommandant...Herr Major...There has been an escape--!"
"What--!!??" Klink shouted, stunned by the news.
"Jahwohl, Herr Kommandant. Twenty-five prisoners are missing...Including Col. Hogan."
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0145hrs local
Inside the Mutlangen Rocket Facility
"Sir, you realize those homemade fuses and timers aren't entirely accurate," Kinchloe offered.
"I know that, Kinch," Hogan said. "I just wish you'd let me know a little sooner than the drugstore that we were short on fuses."
"There wasn't much you could do about it, Colonel," Kinchloe said. "And I saw no need to worry you any more than you were already."
"And what if Carter hadn't found the material necessary to manufacture his homemade fuses?" Hogan asked. "Would you have told me before we shot down that Coney Island ride into the furnace room?" Kinchloe didn't answer immediately.
"That's what I thought," Hogan said. He glanced at his friend. He wasn't really angry with Kinchloe for trying to protect him, but the mission could have been seriously jeopardized if Carter hadn't found the Potassium Nitrate and other materials needed to manufacture homemade fuses...
"We'll talk when this over, Sergeant," Hogan said formally.
"Yes, sir," Kinchloe said, snapping to attention. Without further comment, they moved out.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0150hrs local
Main Compound, LuftStalag 13
"Klink! I want the buildings searched and torn upside down! Schultz! Form a firing squad! If the British POWs aren't handed over immediately, I am going to start ordering a man shot every hour on the hour--!"
"He's out of his freakin' mind!" Baker muttered.
"Blimey, Kommandant! You can't let him--!" Newkirk called.
"Maj. Hochstetter," Klink blustered. "You haven't the authority to give such an order--!"
"Klink! I have all the authority I need!" Hochstetter shouted. "This!" Hochstetter pulled out his Luger and pointed it directly at Klink's temple.
"Y-Yes, sir..." Klink stuttered. "All the authority you need..."
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0155hrs local
Inside the Mutlangen Rocket Facility
Flitting quickly through the ubiquitous shadows, the two American flyers climbed the several sets of metal stairs that lined the entire East face of the furnace room. To Hogan's surprise, the room was largely unmanned at this time of night, with the majority of its operations automated. He and Kinchloe had watched fascinated as giant scoops dumped coal onto moving conveyor belts, which in turn, transported their cargo to the huge, open maws of the burning furnaces.
That had made their job all the easier. Working hurriedly, they'd set their charges onto the base of the main furnace, the conveyor belt, and the massive coal pile. Hopefully, when the big bang came, the coal would fuel a significant amount of collateral damage by igniting into flames.
They soon reached their next objective: the generator room. Recalling the plans he'd studied, Hogan knew that it lay two levels directly above the furnace room, where the heat generated by the giant furnaces could easily be converted into steam to power the turbines above them. To get in without undue problems, he remembered the phonebox placement at the other plant, which had been used for password clearance.
Searching the immediate area, Hogan found it easily and picking it up immediately yelled into it.
"~Achtung! Achtung!! Intruder alert! All rifle squads must report to their unit commanders immediately! Repeat! All rifle squads must report to their unit commanders immediately!~"
As soon as he finished, Hogan heard someone over the handset yelling questions, demanding the proper password for verification. Shrugging, he yanked the handset out of its base, and he and Kinchloe hid as best as they could along the shadows and recesses of the uneven walls. As expected, the doors leading from the generator room suddenly burst open, and a rifle platoon stormed out at the double and began running down the stairs that he and Kinchloe had just climbed.
As soon as the last man cleared the doorway, Hogan and Kinchloe sneaked out behind them, ducking through the heavy doors. As the doors slammed shut behind them, Kinchloe looked for something to jam them together. Spotting an iron bar that hung next to one of the doors apparently placed there for just this specific reason, he jammed it between the door handles.
They now found themselves on a catwalk overlooking a large open space. One level below, they could see the huge turbines. From where they stood, they could feel a deep thrumming coming from the powerful generators. Even now the giant turbines were generating the electricity needed to power the underground base. Using hand signals, Hogan indicated he'd go down a level and that Kinchloe should head right. Each man moved quickly, but stealthily.
Kinchloe heard approaching footsteps, and instantly vaulted over the side of the catwalk. Hanging on to the edge by the fingertips, he waited tensely for whomever it was to pass. As soon as they did, he swung his legs back up again to safety. Not taking time to consider the recklessness of his actions, he got up shakily and continued towards his objective.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0155hrs local
Main Compound, LuftStalag 13
"With Hogan missing, who is the senior POW here?" Hochstetter demanded. Klink looked around nervously, searching for someone to replace Hogan. At last, his eyes fell on Baker.
"You!" he called. "Sergeant...Baker? Is it not?" Baker nodded wordlessly. Klink scuttled up to him, and leaning in closely whispered. "Please...where is Col. Hogan? If he doesn't show up soon, Maj. Hochstetter is going to--!"
"Klink! I said I wanted the senior POW," Hochstetter yelled, stomping up to them. "I didn't say that you should start fraternizing with him!"
"I--?!" Klink gulped and quickly stepped aside.
"And where is my firing squad? Schultz!"
At that moment, a great underground explosion rocked the compound. Everyone, POWs and Germans, immediately dropped to the ground as a second and third explosion shook the camp.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0200hrs local
Inside the Mutlangen Rocket Facility
Reaching the control panels, Kinchloe hurriedly set one timer and then daisy-chained three long-burning fuses from it, running them in a straight line along the length of the control panel and finally attaching them to three explosive bundles.
Movement in the level below caught his eye--Hogan, he knew--setting explosive charges on the main turbines. He checked his watch. The initial explosives in the furnace room were set to go in another hour and a half. Not much time to take out the V2 rocket.
About to turn to go, he stopped suddenly. A black shadow was advancing stealthily towards Hogan!
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0200hrs local
Main Compound, LuftStalag 13
"Shultz!" Frightened and lying facedown on the hard-packed commons, Klink shouted for his rotund Sergeant of the Guard. Unable to breathe properly, he suddenly realized that Schultz was on top of him, clinging onto him for dear life. His fright changing to outraged disgust, Klink immediately started slapping Shultz's hands, trying in vain to dislodge him from on top of him.
"Dumkopf! Get off me! Schuuuuullltttzzz!" Within seconds, Klink felt other helpful hands assisting him to his feet. More importantly, he felt Schultz's considerable weight being pulled off him.
"Herr Kommandant..." Schultz protested nervously. "Are you all right? I was only trying to make sure that you--"
"Schultz! Shut up!" Klink yelled in exasperation. Looking around, he finally noticed that Hochstetter wasn't standing next to him. "Where is Maj. Hochstetter? That explosion! Where did it come from?" He stopped, looking around.
Eyes wide, Schultz made a show of searching his pockets. "I do not know, Herr Kommandant--" Klink rolled his eyes.
"Dumkopf!" Klink yelled, futilely waving his fist under Schultz's nose. As the prisoners slowly began to rise to their feet, Klink caught sight of the unconscious Gestapo major lying face up in the dusty ground. Even from where he stood, Klink could make out a thin line of red trickling from just above Hochstetter's left eye.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0205hrs local
Inside the Mutlangen Rocket Facility
Not bothering to consider his options, Kinchloe dove from the catwalk towards the moving shadow. With a painful grunt, he slammed into the huge enemy soldier who'd been about to knock Hogan over the head with a heavy wrench. Kinchloe's momentum carried them both forward, slamming them into the protective housing of one of the main turbines, and causing the enemy soldier to drop the wrench. At the same time, Kinchloe felt his head strike the metal housing and momentarily saw stars.
The next instant, Kinchloe was fighting for his life. The large German was holding him in a strong, vice-like grip. Kinchloe's head was being pushed dangerously close to the powerful turbines. Futilely, he gripped the German's wrists trying to remove them from his neck. He brought his knee up to his opponent's groin and kicked up with all his might.
The enemy soldier merely grinned in contempt. Kinchloe could feel himself beginning to blackout, when suddenly the pressure around his neck was gone.
"You okay, buddy?" Blearily, Kinchloe looked up, trying to focus through the painful haze that was quickly overtaking him. The last thing he saw was Hogan's worried frown, a heavy wrench gripped tightly in his left hand.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0205hrs local
Main Compound, LuftStalag 13
"The infirmary..." Hochstetter dazedly muttered.
"Yes!" Klink agreed, helping him to his feet along with Schultz's assistance. "Schultz, escort the major to the camp infirmary--!"
"Nein! Nein!" Hochstetter muttered groggily, weakly waving his arms in protest at being manhandled by Klink. "The infirmary...it came from..." Hochstetter's voice died out as he succumbed to unconsciousness again.
"Yes, yes, Major Hochstetter," Klink agreed soothingly. "We are taking you to the infirmary right now. Schultz! Alert the camp doctor!"
"Jahwohl, Herr Kommandant!" Schultz said, saluting crisply. About to take off, he stopped as Klink continued rattling off orders.
"And I want the bomb squad assembled immediately!"
"Jahwohl, Kommandant Klink--!"
"A stretcher! Send for a stretcher!"
"A stretcher! Jahwohl--!"
By now, the camp was in a flurry of activity--guards double-timing in different directions in small patrol squads, teams of dog-handlers jogging by in twos and threes. The sounds of motors roaring to life could be heard from the camp motorpool, and the omnipresent sirens and searchlights continued their relentless wailing and sweeps of the camp perimeter. Into the frenzied chaos, a single quiet voice spoke.
"Umm...? Kommandant Klink?" Klink was preoccupied with Hochstetter and therefore didn't hear his name at first. "Sir? Colonel Klink?" Klink looked up, squinting in the eerie illumination, unsure who had addressed him. Turning, he saw Sgt. Baker standing at a short, respectful distance.
"Yes?" Klink asked.
"Sir? Can we help with the injured man?" Baker approached carefully as he spoke.
Klink was suddenly suspicious. "Why should you wish to help an enemy officer?"
"He's injured, sir," Baker said by way of explanation. "We make no distinctions with the wounded from either side." He gazed steadily at Klink. "But then, you already knew that, didn't you, sir?"
Nodding reluctantly, Klink accepted Baker's offer of help. As they were gently laying the Gestapo officer onto the stretcher that Schultz somehow managed to conjure up, Hochstetter chose this moment to come to again.
"Get your hands off me!" he yelled at no one in general and Klink in particular. Sitting up slowly, he held his hand up to the cut above his eye. "The infirmary..." he began, only to be interrupted by Klink's good-natured bedside manner.
"Yes, yes, Major...as I've said before, that is where we are taking you. Now be a good patient and lie back down so that we--"
"Klink! Shut up!" Hochstetter yelled, regaining the full use of his senses--and vocal cords. "The explosion! It came from the infirmary!" He shouted exasperatedly, and pointing in its direction, added, "Guards!"
Slapping Klink's insistent hands off him, Hochstetter stood and stumbled after the guards that were now rushing to the camp hospital. Klink turned helplessly towards Baker who ignored him, and along with Newkirk and LeBeau, ran in the same direction.
Recovering, Klink in turn hurried after them.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0225hrs local
Inside the Mutlangen Rocket Facility
The sounds of shouts, warning sirens, and heavy boots woke Kinchloe up. He was lying in a dark alcove, hidden from prying eyes by a granite outcropping that jutted out just far enough to keep him from the view of casual passersby.
"What--?" He sat up, groaning painfully. Where was he? And what happened, he wondered? More importantly, where was the colonel? Checking his watch, Kinchloe was shocked to see that a little less than half an hour had passed. The colonel must have tucked him safely away while he continued with the mission. Closing his eyes against the pounding in his head, Kinchloe placed his hands gingerly against the granite wall and slowly stood.
Taking a brief moment to regain his equilibrium, Kinchloe listened for any approaching footsteps on the other side of the protruding rock. Nothing. Taking a chance, he peeked around it and was surprised to find out that he was less than a hundred feet from the rocket launch bay.
"Swell," he muttered. At least, he didn't have far to go now. At the pounding sounds of approaching boots, Kinchloe ducked back behind the outcrop. "On second thought..." He immediately saw that they were hurrying towards the launch bay doors. Taking a deep breath, Kinchloe straightened his tunic and brought the helmet low over his eyes. Waiting for the column of soldiers to pass him by in a quick, but orderly pace, the black American stepped out of hiding and tagged onto the tail end of the formation.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0225hrs local
Outside the Camp Infirmary, LuftStalag 13
"Kommandant," Baker said quietly. "I protest. Maj. Hochstetter is making no move to arrest any possible escapees. He's set to shoot to kill. I remind the colonel that that's in direct violation of the Geneva Convention."
"And what exactly would you have me do, Sergeant?" Klink asked. "If there are prisoners in there attempting to escape, then Maj. Hochstetter is well within rights to shoot to kill."
"What if I were to go in and talk to them, sir?" Baker asked. This was not going the way they'd planned it. "Wouldn't it better for your record, sir, if the escape attempt were stopped with no loss of life?"
Klink looked thoughtful at this, but then suspiciously asked, "And just why are you so anxious to help us stop this escape, Sgt Baker? You were not planning on joining them, were you?"
"No, of course not, sir," Baker said. "I just don't want to see any of my buddies get shot or killed. Please, sir...I give you my word of honor. No tricks."
Nodding, Klink called. "Maj. Hochstetter! A moment, please...!" He waved in an ineffectual attempt to catch Hochstetter's attention. Rolling his eyes, Baker and Newkirk ran towards Hochstetter and 'accidentally' slammed into him.
"Oh, uh, excuse us, Maj. Hochstetter," Newkirk said needlessly loud. Unknown to Hochstetter, he'd just relieved him of his sidearm--just in case.
"Yes, sir," Baker broke in. "We'd like to help. Please...I know that we can stop this escape attempt if you just give us a chance."
"I've no intention to stopping the escape attempt," Hochstetter growled. "Except to shoot anyone who tries to escape from the infirmary."
"Sir...we can stop this," Baker insisted. "Please. There's no need to shoot anyone!"
"Get this man out of here!" Hochstetter demanded. "Why don't prisoners in this godforsaken Stalag ever act like prisoners?"
"Oh, but Major," Klink simpered. "I think you should listen to this young sergeant. What he says makes a lot of sense. Better to stop the escape with no loss of life, than to kill several prisoners while attempting to escape!"
"Klink, what you think is of no importance to me," Hochstetter began and reaching for his holster, mimed a fast draw. He now stood, pointing his finger directly between Klink's eyes. "But if you insist on getting in my way--?" he stopped. Where was his Luger?
"My weapon! What happened to my weapon?" he shouted, while searching the ground immediately around him. Simultaneously, Klink, Shultz, and the other guards helpfully followed suit.
"Hello the infirmary!" Baker shouted. "This is Sgt. Baker! For your own good, come out with your hands up! Surrender peacefully, guys, so that we can avoid any bloodshed."
"How do we know ol' Blood and Guts Klink won't shoot to kill?" a voice protested from inside.
"Sgt. Baker!" Hochstetter shouted, "I gave you no such permission to order your men to surrender--!"
"Did you hear that?" Another voice echoed. "Hochstetter isn't interested in letting us surrender! And what about the Kommandant? He might say he'll be lenient, but how can we trust him?"
"Yeah! You know how he is about his record of no escapes!" the first voice agreed. "And the cemetery's full of guys who trusted the Gestapo!"
"Sergeant--!" Hochstetter insisted.
"Sir!" Baker spoke rapidly. "Sir, just think about it! You came here because you lost a large contingent of escaped British POWs. Right?"
"That is correct," Schultz answered helpfully.
"Schultz!" Hochstetter and Klink yelled together. "Shut up!"
"Well, sir...if you stop a second escape attempt in the same night, just think of how that will look in your favor?"
"Sgt. Baker," Klink began, "that is the most ridiculous thing that I've ever heard--!"
"And if the big brass in Berlin is anything at all like the one back home, sir...Well, they tend to remember the last thing you've done, don't they? Good or bad?"
"Schultz!" Klink shouted. "Return these men to the prisoner formation--!"
"Yes..." Hochstetter said thoughtfully. "They do, don't they?" He suddenly grinned at Baker, the act itself sending chills down the American's back. "I like that, Sgt. Baker." Then turning to Klink, he shouted, "Klink! Dumkopf! What are you waiting for? Give these men the necessary terms to effect an immediate surrender!"
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0230hrs local
Inside the Mutlangen Rocket Facility
The patrol double-timed in step. Kinchloe maintained a proper 33-inch distance from the soldiers immediately in front of him, keeping his head slightly turned down. He held his breath and didn't let it out again until he'd stepped through the gigantic double doors. As the doors slammed shut behind him, Kinchloe looked around for a good place to drop out of the formation and start looking for Hogan.
As they rounded a corner, Kinchloe stepped back and faded into the shadows, pausing for a moment to get his bearings. Directly before him--sleek, straight, and beautiful--stood not one, but two V2 rockets. From the amount of activity he could detect below him in the launch bay, Kinchloe had a feeling that the rockets were already primed and ready to be fired.
"This is not good," he muttered. Somehow he and Hogan had to stop them from launching, but how? The place was a beehive! People were running everywhere in every direction. A warning klaxon suddenly sounded, and a calm voice came over the PA system.
"~Achtung! Achtung! We are at T-minus 30 minutes and counting. All nonessential personnel should begin clearing launch bay area. Repeat... All nonessential personnel should begin clearing launch bay area.~"
Soon the lower launch bay began emptying of personnel. There followed a loud metallic clang that reverberated across the vast chamber. To Kinchloe's surprise, the whole chamber appeared to start moving. Overhead, stars began to appear, and he determined that it wasn't the chamber moving, but rather the roof opening instead.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0230hrs local
Outside the Camp Infirmary, LuftStalag 13
"And if you peacefully surrender in the next five minutes," Klink was saying, his voice amplified by a bullhorn, "I promise that each of you will receive an extra slice of white bread during meals--"
"Klink!" Hochstetter yelled impatiently. "What are you doing?!!"
"I am attempting to negotiate for a peaceful surrender--" Klink attempted to explain.
"Give me that--!" Hochstetter growled, snatching the bullhorn from Klink's hands. "White bread..." he muttered. "Attention the infirmary!" he shouted. Klink jumped at the sound of Hochstetter's voice. "I'm giving you five minutes to surrender peacefully. If you don't, I'm ordering the guards to open fire!"
Turning to Klink, the Gestapo major threw the bullhorn back at him. "There! That is how the Gestapo negotiates!"
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0230hrs local
Outside the Mutlangen Rocket Facility
His charges set, Carter ran across the main compound, staying among the shadows. He checked his watch. If only he could be certain about the timers and the fuses. Worried, he wondered how Hogan and Kinchloe were faring inside the underground complex.
The pounding sounds of fast approaching boots forced him to search for a hiding place. At the last possible second, he dove behind a low-lying sign that warned of a deadly back blast area. Rolling himself into a tight ball, Carter held his breath and waited. As he did, he heard another sound, a deep rumbling, almost a groaning, that pierced his eardrums.
Instantly, Carter had his hands over his ears, trying to block out the painful din. All around him, the warning klaxons went off, their high-pitched wails providing an additional cacophony to shatter the night. After several minutes of clamor, the deep rumbling finally ceased, and a few minutes after that the sirens died out as well.
By now, several patrols had passed by his hiding place. Carter wondered at his dumb luck at not having been discovered. The sign he was hiding behind was barely four feet by three feet with at least two feet of clearance at the bottom. Even the least sharp-eyed sentry should have been able to spot him with little effort. However, the patrols double-timed past him, intent on their destination.
He wondered what could possibly have held their attention so fully that they had missed him, hiding practically out in the open. At this moment, a faint glint in the dim starlight caught his eye, and he gasped at the wonder and beauty of it--the twin rockets! Wide-eyed, Carter took a moment to admire their elegance, amazed at the sheer power they represented.
Blinking suddenly, Carter remembered why he was here and just what the power behind these engineering marvels represented, death and destruction for the City of Paris. His jaw jutting out in sudden determination, Carter began thinking of what else he could do to help their mission.
He remembered how he'd effected their previous getaway, and waiting for another patrol to go by, he began searching for a vehicle.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0250hrs local
Inside the Mutlangen Rocket Facility
Hogan crouched, hidden behind a heavy forklift. He could feel time running out, but hadn't had a chance to place the charges yet. Too many people. Too much activity. And yet, if he didn't do something soon, it would be the same as condemning thousands of Parisians to death.
He wiped his forehead with his upper sleeve, tense from worry. He checked his watch yet again. As he did, the launch control announced over the intercom, "~T-minus 20 minutes and holding...Repeat...T-minus 20 minutes and holding!~"
Hogan felt a sudden surge of relief. He didn't care about the whys or wherefores, all he knew was that the launch had been temporarily halted. Unfortunately, at the announcement there was a sudden influx of activity. If the operation within the bay had been at the beehive-level before, it had now surpassed it to that of a hornet's nest.
Okay, Colonel...time to earn all of that back pay you've got coming after the war. Taking a deep breath he released the safety on his weapon and replaced it in the holster. Standing and straightening his tunic, he stepped boldly out into the middle of the launch bay.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0250hrs local
Outside the Camp Infirmary, LuftStalag 13
The sounds of gunfire and explosions outside the compound startled everybody, galvanizing them into action.
"Guards! Schultz!" Klink shouted, turning completely around in his confusion over the unexpected attack. The next instant, Schultz slammed into him, and Klink went tumbling over backwards. The portly sergeant's face reflected his own confusion and almost paralyzed fear. It was all he could do to hold onto his rifle.
"Herr Kommandant!" he called out apologetically. "I am so sorry!"
"Klink! We are under attack!" Hochstetter screamed. "Do something, Dumkopf!"
"Guards...!" Klink yelled, scrambling to his feet and forgetting he still held the bullhorn. "To your defensive perimeters! Mach schnell!" Of course, his voice didn't carry over the pandemonium that had overtaken the camp. In disgust, Hochstetter again yanked the bullhorn from the bemused Klink's hands, and running towards the front gates, began shouting orders.
In all the commotion, Baker took the opportunity to sneak Olsen and Foster, the two POWs who'd been hiding in the infirmary, back to the mass prisoner formation. The two soldiers had volunteered to enter the infirmary from the old tunnel branch that Hogan and Kinchloe reopened just that previous night.
Baker recalled the looks that the other prisoners gave him earlier when he'd related his plan to them. He couldn't blamed them for thinking he'd lost his mind, but given the circumstances, what other choice did they have...?
"I need two volunteers to 'escape' through the infirmary tunnel," Baker said. Foster and Olsen immediately raised their hands. Baker shook his head. "Don't you clowns even want to know the plan before you volunteer?"
"Uh-uh, Sarge...all that planning and stuff. That's your department," Olsen said with a shrug.
"Yeah, Baker," Foster agreed nodding. "We're just a coupla privates. We do what we're told and let the officers and sergeants do the worrying."
Of course, as he'd told them his plan, the two men's expressions didn't seem quite so lackadaisical. Nonetheless, they'd still agreed to the mission, knowing that the tunnel would be caved-in behind them, effectively trapping them in the infirmary.
Lt. Whittington's commandos quickly rigged the tunnel with some leftover dynamite--just enough to collapse it in on itself. Baker had to hand it to Olsen and Foster. They'd known that their 'escape' could end up being a one-way suicide mission, but they didn't back down.
He'd been proud of their response and told them so, but they'd scoffed at the possibility of danger to themselves.
"No problem, Sarge!" Foster declared.
"Yeah...Piece o' cake!" Olsen added, echoing Hogan.
Now, Baker could only cross his fingers and pray. He thought of Whittington's men who'd volunteered to go outside the compound to set off the additional diversionary explosions and small arms fire. Their job was to lead the camp guards on a merry chase for a few hours, long enough to give Hogan and his team a chance to return before daybreak.
So far his plan to cause chaos was working, but the next few hours would prove to be the longest of his young life.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0315hrs local
Inside the Mutlangen Rocket Facility
Kinchloe skulked along the shadows, keeping a sharp eye out for Hogan. As he dodged from one hiding place to another, he advanced ever closer to the rockets. When they'd announced a hold on the launch, he'd almost collapsed from relief.
Thank God...He'd closed his eyes in real gratitude. Now, he held onto his canvas carryall and made his way towards the two lovely targets that beckoned him. Soon, he was standing less than 20 feet from them. Staying low against the far wall, he finally spotted Hogan working on the first V2.
Hurriedly, Kinchloe moved to Hogan's side and tapped him on the shoulder, startling him. Using hand signals, he mimed that he would take care of the second V2. Hogan shook his head, pointing at the rocket's ramjets. Squinting slightly, Kinchloe saw what Hogan had indicated--dynamite charges!
Kinchloe felt a hand slap him warmly on the shoulder. He turned to Hogan who was grinning widely.
"Let's go, buddy," Hogan said with a grin. "We're done here."
Kinchloe nodded, returning Hogan's grin and giving him a 'thumb's up.' Together the two men made their way back to the exit, and soon found themselves safely outside.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0315hrs local
Forest outside, LuftStalag 13
His body hunched over at a low crouch, Klink tiptoed slowly, carefully through the woods. With great care, he picked up his left foot, and then softly placed it down again on the ground before him, toe first then heel. He repeated the entire performance with his right foot.
Immediately behind Klink, mirroring his every move, from the low crouch to lifting and placing each foot down with painstaking care, followed a wide-eyed Schultz. As he moved stealthily forward, trying to keep his teeth from chattering, Schultz looked quickly left and right, his heart jumping at each shadow.
The tree branches all around swayed slightly as the wind picked up. Schultz gasped at the sudden movement and stumbled, falling into Klink. They both went down in a heap.
"Shultz!" Klink hissed, beside himself in annoyance. "Dumkopf! Get off me!"
Schultz awkwardly scrambled to his feet. Turning to help Klink up, he apologized profusely. "I-I am so sorry, Herr Kommandant--" he stuttered. The sound of a twig snapping nearby sent them both diving for cover.
"Shh-shhh! Quiet!" Klink ordered, nervously. Schultz continued trying to burrow himself further underneath Klink's uniform jacket. Klink slapped him several times in annoyed frustration. "What are you doing, you coward? You should be on the lookout for escaped prisoners!"
"B-But, Herr Kommandant...what if I find one--?" Schultz asked fearfully.
"What do mean by that, you idiot?" Klink retorted. "You capture them, of course!"
"But they are armed..." Schultz whimpered.
Klink rolled his eyes, and slapping Schultz on the helmet, jerked his head in the direction they'd heard the sound. "Let's go. We are not done here," he whispered, scowling.
Immediately above them, blending in with the thick foliage, Whittington crouched silently on a strong branch. Looking a few yards further on, he spotted and signaled Sgt. Ripley. His sergeant was sitting on the branch of another tree a few yards to Whittington's left. Similarly, without having to actually see them, Whittington knew that two more his soldiers were hiding among the trees further on.
The four British commandos had produced the noisy diversion of a few minutes ago. Now, all they had to do was wait for the first opportunity to return safely to the tunnel. With luck, the guards would concentrate their search for escaped prisoners on the ground, and not on the trees. He recalled Baker's instructions...
"...Your job will be to produce a diversion, then hide in the trees until things cool down. As soon as they do, return to base."
"But what if something goes wrong?" Whittington had asked. "The dogs could lead them straight to us--" He stopped, looking bemused as the others burst into laughter.
"What's so funny?"
"Sorry, Lieutenant," Baker apologized. "We forgot you guys are visitors here. Don't worry about the guard dogs. They're on our side--"
"Sgt. Baker is correct," LeBeau chimed in. "They hate the lousy Bosche!"
"That's right," Baker agreed. "The dogs'll lead the guards farther and farther away from the four designated trees until it's safe for you to come down." At Whittington's look of utter disbelief, Baker smiled. "They've done it before, sir."
"They haven't failed us yet, Leftenant," Newkirk added. At their sincere expressions, Whittington finally nodded.
"Very well, Sergeant," he'd said with a nod. "One diversion coming up!"
Smiling, Whittington looked directly down on Klink and Schultz, who were still crouched in mortal terror.
Listening to Klink as he ranted in a low whisper at his portly sergeant of the guard, Whittington's smile widened.
"Schultz...you are an idiot! And a coward! And when this night is over, I will throw you in the cooler along with the rest of the escaped prisoners! No! I will see you on the first train to the Russian Front!"
"But Herr Kommandant, if we do not find the escaped prisoners, we will all be sent to the Russian Front." Schultz's expression was gently reproachful as he gave this reminder. Klink's eyes widened.
"The Russian Front--!" he repeated, the truth of Schultz's statement sinking in. Both he and Schultz fell back weakly against the tree trunk behind them. "But I was such a brilliant Kommandant..."
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0330hrs local
Outside the Mutlangen Rocket Facility
"Col. Hogan! Kinch!" They both turned at the sound of Carter's voice. "Over here, guys!"
Hogan and Kinchloe quickly changed directions and headed towards him. Spotting a half-track, Hogan gave Kinchloe an mischievous grin. Kinchloe nodded in recognition. It was the same make of vehicle that Carter had hot-wired on their previous mission. A moment later, Carter's head popped up, and he gave them a happy wave. The next second, he ducked below sight again.
The two Americans sprinted towards the half-track, which was idling in place, ready to leave. Hogan glanced at his watch. If the timers worked, then they had--he mentally counted down--three, two, one--
Several powerful explosions suddenly rocked the compound!
The fuel depot went up in a fiery detonation. The blast knocked them both off their feet. Rolling with the aftershocks, they looked up and saw that the half-track was now heading towards them. Recovering, they ran at full speed and simultaneously grabbed the sides of the vehicle and jumped onboard.
As the half-track started across the large camouflaged parking area, the three men felt the compound erupt again and again in multiple explosions all around them.
"You've been busy!" Hogan shouted at Carter. Carter flashed him an excited grin in return. Hogan glanced at his watch, and then at Kinchloe. As one they turned to look at the rockets. They could make them out clearly by the light of the many fires that had broken out all over the area.
Luckily, the troops running around the quadrangle mistook their getaway vehicle for one of their own and quickly made way for them. Realizing that they were about to make a clean escape, Hogan and Kinchloe flashed wide grins at each other.
"Look!" Kinchloe suddenly shouted.
Hogan stared where Kinchloe was pointing. Then he saw it--the domed roof was once again closing over the V2s. And still no explosion from below ground. He glanced at his watch again.
"Kinch!" he yelled. "It's taking too long! The homemade fuses...they must've all been bad! I'm going back. I can't let those--" He pointed at the needlepoint noses of the rockets, which were slowly disappearing beneath their protective roof. "--those things destroy Paris!"
"You can't go back there, Colonel!" Kinchloe protested. "It'd be suicide!"
"Sorry, Kinch!" Hogan said with finality. "My mind's made up!" He turned to Carter. "Carter! Pull this thing over!" He pointed towards a spot on the side of the road. "I'm getting off!" He grabbed his weapon and checked it. His eyes intent on what he was doing, Hogan addressed Kinchloe.
"Kinch, I need whatever extra ammo you've got. No telling how many Krauts I'll come across--"
"No--!" Kinchloe shouted. "You can't--! I won't let you--!" Both Hogan and Carter stared at him in shock. Closing his eyes, Kinchloe fought to get his emotions under control.
"Sgt. Kinchloe," Hogan rasped out. "I gave you direct order! Your extra ammo--! Hand. It. Over!" Hogan held his hand out for emphasis.
"Colonel...I'm sorry, sir. I meant no disrespect, but--" Kinchloe stopped, choking on his words, his eyes filling with pain. "Sir...it's suicide."
"Kinch..." Hogan's eyes softened. Looking away in sudden embarrassment, he thumped Kinchloe lightly on the shoulder. "It has to be done, buddy...I think you know that."
His eyes suddenly lighting with their normally impish glint, Hogan turned and faced him. "Besides, like I always say, 'Piece o' cake'!" Slowly, reluctantly, Kinchloe nodded.
"'Piece o' cake'..." he murmured. Clearing his throat, he straightened to his full height. "You're right, Colonel. It has to be done." Turning slightly away, Kinchloe patted his pockets, and pulled out two extra ammo magazines. Smiling, he handed them to Hogan. As his CO's fingers closed about the magazines, Kinchloe deliberately dropped them.
"Oh, I'm sorry, sir--" he said, bending as if to pick them up.
"That's okay, Kinch. I've got them--" Hogan began. Before he could complete his sentence, Kinchloe whipped around with lightning speed and punched him on the chin. Hogan went down without a sound. Quickly, the former middleweight boxer helped his friend and commanding officer to a comfortable position, grimacing at the sharp pain in his knuckles...and his soul.
"Kinch...!?" Carter hissed, too shocked to react. "What did you do--?"
However, Kinchloe wasn't paying attention. Instead, he checked his weapon and then searched Hogan's pockets, relieving the unconscious officer of any extra ammo.
"Sorry, sir," he murmured. "But a direct order is a direct order."
"Kinch...! What're you doing--?"
"Carter, I don't have time to explain." Kinchloe spoke rapidly. "Take the colonel to the rendezvous point. When he wakes, tell him that I was just obeying orders." He smiled to himself, Hogan's words ringing clearly in his head...
"...Who's the idiot who thought up this little suicide mission, anyway?"
"Oh...well, next time, do me a favor, huh? Just give me a good right cross to the chin."
"It's a promise, sir."
"...And keeping a promise to a friend."
"Go! That's a direct order, Sgt. Carter! Do you understand?"
Struggling to maintain his composure, the younger sergeant nodded and stood. Facing Kinchloe, he slowly brought his hand up in mute salute. Surprised by Carter's tribute, Kinchloe solemnly returned the salute. With a curt nod, he turned to leave. Pausing, he spoke over his shoulder.
"And Carter...promise me you'll take care of him." Without another word, Kinchloe vaulted off the half-track.
As Kinch disappeared into the darkness, Carter whispered raggedly, "I promise..." Quickly wiping his eyes, he put the vehicle in gear and began the long, torturous trip to the rendezvous point.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0345hrs local
Main Compound, LuftStalag 13
As the night progressed, the population of Stalag 13 was rapidly decreasing. Only it wasn't the prisoners who were escaping, but rather the guards who were disappearing. Three patrols that had been sent out to search the woods outside of the camp had seemingly disappeared. Or at least, they were long overdue.
"Where are the patrols, Klink!?" Hochstetter screamed. "How can three patrols disappear?"
Baker looked at Newkirk and shrugged. By now, the dogs had probably led the errant guards five kilometers out of their way--in the wrong direction. It should be relatively safe for Whittington and his men to return to base, Baker thought.
Grinning suddenly, Newkirk called out, "Maybe the woods are haunted, Kommandant!"
"Oui, mon Kommandant," LeBeau agreed. "There is no moon tonight...It is said that the spirits of the dead haunt the woods on moonless nights!"
"Spirits--?" Schultz whimpered, looking around fearfully. He sidled closer to Klink. Hochstetter glared suspiciously at the two Allied prisoners.
"What do you know about the patrols disappearing?" he growled. Newkirk and LeBeau both shrugged innocently.
"How could we know anything?" Newkirk asked blandly. "We've been standing out here in formation during this time."
"Maybe the patrols became lost in the dark?" LeBeau offered.
"Yeah...Me friend, Cpl. LeBeau here is probably right, Kommandant," Newkirk agreed. "We all know that your guards couldn't find their way out of a paper bag even with ruddy bread crumbs to mark the way!" His comment was met with raucous laughter from the POW ranks.
"Silence!" Klink and Hochstetter yelled simultaneously. "Schultz! I want all these prisoners returned to barracks for immediate lockdown!"
"Jahwohl, Herr Kommandant!" Schultz said, saluting crisply. Executing an about face, he addressed the prisoners. "All prisoners--! Return to barracks!" As he said these words, he began waving them back to the barracks with small hand gestures, accompanied by a strange, clucking sound. "Baaackk...backbackbackback..."
As the POWs turned with a show of reluctance towards their respective barracks, they playfully echoed all around him, "Backbackbackbackbackbackback..."
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0345hrs local
Bavaria-Bad Wurttemberg Forest east of Mutlangen
As soon as Carter turned off the ignition, he found himself surrounded.
"~Out of the vehicle!~" a harsh voice in the dark ordered. Carter didn't understand sufficient German to know exactly what had been said, but he understood the tone well enough. And the weapon next to his temple offered just the right amount of incentive.
Nodding, he raised his hands above his head and jumped out. He was quickly hustled against the vehicle and summarily searched. Movement behind him caught his eye. He turned in time to see them dragging Hogan from the half-track. The still unconscious officer offered no resistance.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing--?!" Carter protested. He made a move to go to Hogan's aid, but was instantly grabbed from behind. "You can see he's hurt!" Carter looked around at the impassive faces around him. For the first time, he realized that he didn't recognize any of them.
"Wh-Who are you fellas?" he asked. When no one answered, he tried another tack. "M-my friend and me...we were just, um, passing through. I don't suppose you could, um, give us directions to, um, Berchtesgaden? See...we're on furlough and neither of us has ever seen the Eagle's Nest--!"
"Enough!" One of the men made a slashing motion with his hand. "Take them," he snapped. The others quickly began dragging and shoving Carter deeper into the woods.
"Hey, wait!" Carter cried. "My friend! You can't just leave him there!"
"Do not worry," a cold voice growled. "I assure you, your friend will be well taken care of."
Glancing back, Carter saw that Hogan, who'd been lying on the ground in an unceremonious heap, was being carried between two men--in the opposite direction!
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0345hrs local
Inside the Mutlangen Rocket Facility
So far so good, Kinchloe thought looking around. He'd made it safely back into the facility the same way as before--through the coal bin trapdoor. He'd raced through the furnace room, removing most of the explosives he and Hogan had placed there, and quickly stuffed them inside his uniform jacket. Maybe the fuses weren't any good, but there was nothing wrong with the dynamite.
And I sure need all the dynamite I can get my hands on, he thought fervently.
The only thing that mattered now was destroying the rockets. He didn't have time for any of the secondary targets. However, as he was about to bypass the generator room, he paused reluctantly. They'd planted enough dynamite there to send the whole place into orbit.
However, because the rockets were located inside the launch bay and protected from the rest of the facility by the huge blast doors, which were constructed of heavily reinforced titanium steel, it was just possible that even if he totally obliterated the generator room, the resulting tumultuous explosions would be safely contained outside the launch bay. Thus, the rockets could escape destruction.
No, if Kinchloe were to ensure the destruction of the rockets, he'd have do so from inside the launch bay itself. However, he still had the same problem of the blast doors. Any explosion from inside the launch bay would be safely contained within. In other words, he might succeed in destroying the rockets, but the complex would be left practically intact, which meant the threat would not be completely neutralized.
Still, it should set the Krauts back temporarily, he told himself, only to shake his head. No! If I don't blow the whole thing, then sooner or later Hogan and the others will have to come back and finish the job.
"And everything will have been for nothing," he muttered. Making up his mind, Kinchloe ducked inside the generator room. As before, he clung to the shadows, freezing in place each time he heard someone approaching. His heart hammering in his chest, the electronics genius was formulating a plan even as he made his way towards the nearest turbine.
If he could only make use of the electricity that the turbines were generating and somehow use that to set off the electronic detonators. Grinning suddenly, he ducked behind one of the hundreds of pipes that rose from the concrete floor. These pipes, he knew, transported at high pressure the steam produced by the furnace room.
No, I don't need to make use of the electricity being generated, he corrected, but of the steam that powers the generators.
Searching among the pipes, Kinchloe quickly spotted the steam control valve. Unfortunately, it was in full view of the entire bay, and the last time he'd looked in the mirror, he hadn't looked like he could pass himself off as a German.
Still, it was too late to worry about inconvenient details like that. Swallowing, Kinchloe took a deep breath and got his nerves under some semblance of control. Shoving his helmet low over his eyes, he stepped out into the open.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0400hrs local
Bavaria-Bad Wurttemberg Forest east of Mutlangen
Carter sat on the pine needle covered forest floor, his back against a tree. His hands were tied behind his back and his legs were also bound tightly around the ankles. He was trying desperately not to worry about Hogan...or Kinchloe. At the thought of Kinchloe, he remembered his promise to take care of the colonel. Feeling suddenly ashamed, he realized that he didn't know where they'd taken him. Watching his captors closely, he noticed that one kept checking his watch.
"Y'know, fellas, you don't have to stand around and wait with me. If you have somewhere else you've gotta be, I'll be okay...Honest!"
The men ignored him. The one who'd been looking at his watch spoke to the others in rapid German. Unable to understand the words, Carter watched their faces, instead. They were worried about something, he knew. But what?
And where had they taken the colonel, he wondered silently. Then, afraid he already knew the answer added, "And what about Kinch...?"
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0400hrs local
Barracks #2, LuftStalag 13
"Hey, Sarge...can we come out now?"
"For the third time, Barkley," Baker intoned tiredly. "No! You can't come out until we know the colonel's on his way back. Got it?!"
"But, Sarge! It's crowded down here! Twenty of our guys, and fifty Brits! We're tripping over each other!"
"Then sit down, soldier!" Baker snapped. "So you don't trip over anybody! Back down in the tunnel, Barkley! And if you rear your ugly head again without permission, I'll see you court-martialed when the colonel gets back!"
"Court-martial?" Newkirk asked. "Why waste the colonel's time? LeBeau and me can take care of the likes of 'im!"
"Oui, mon ami," LeBeau agreed. "We French know how to take care of complainers and collaborators--" He made a quick slashing motion across his neck. "Just give the word, Sgt. Baker."
"No-no, Sarge!" Barkley said quickly, beating a hasty retreat back into the tunnel. "I'm going...see?" The others exchanged mutual looks of disgust as the trapdoor closed over his head.
"Like LeBeau said...Just give the word, Sergeant. We'll take care of him." As he spoke, Newkirk gave Baker a long meaningful look while surreptitiously pulling a knife halfway out of his left boot. Glancing down at the knife, Baker felt a sudden chill in the pit of his stomach.
"I'll let you know, Corporal," he said noncommittally. Standing, he gave Newkirk and LeBeau a wordless half-salute/half-wave, and then climbed into the tunnel to wait by the radio.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0400hrs local
Inside the Mutlangen Rocket Facility
Kinchloe again hid in the shadows. He'd made it back to his hiding place none too soon and nervously wiped his brow. How the Germans could be so careless of intruders when there had been explosions reported from topside was beyond him, but he was thankful for it nonetheless. Glancing at the pressure indicator needle on the steam control panel, he saw that it had definitely risen a few points.
He nodded in satisfaction. The pressure wasn't building so fast that the Krauts would notice it immediately. But it was rising and would reach the red zone in another fifteen minutes or so.
So, it's time for Mrs. Kinchloe's favorite little boy to play hero, he thought ironically. Moving carefully, he quickly reached the exit, and checking first to make sure the coast was clear, started for the blast doors. He'd made it halfway there when his luck ran out.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0410hrs local
Bavaria-Bad Wurttemberg Forest east of Mutlangen
A vehicle approaching from the west alerted them. Instantly, Carter was gagged, dragged and dumped roughly inside the thick brush. One of his captors remained with him, holding a wicked-looking Schmeisser against his temple. Carter got the message and lay absolutely still, almost too afraid to breathe.
"Bitte...?" A soft feminine voice called. "Haben sie eine Alpenrose?"
Carter's eyes widened. Alpenrose! That was the name of the drugstore that Rose White had taken them to. He felt the man next to him slowly relax, and moments later the weapon was removed from his temple. Shortly, Carter found himself again being dragged bodily against his will.
"Hey, come on, fellas! If you want a guy to go somewhere, just tell me! I can walk on my own--!"
"We are sorry for our late arrival, Sgt. Carter," Rose White said softly, stepping out into the clearing. Her father and several of his men quickly followed her. "I'm afraid that we were unexpectedly delayed by roadblocks."
"Yes, we had to take several detours," Herr Weiss explained. "We heard explosions from the rocket base. Were you successful?" Looking around, he added worriedly, "Where's Col. Hogan? Sgt. Kinchloe?"
"They took the colonel!" Carter said sharply, pointing at his captors with his chin because his hands were still tied behind him. "And they won't tell me where!"
Weiss spoke rapidly to one of Carter's captors. Instantly, Carter was untied, and a few moments later, Hogan was dragged before them--wide-awake and dark eyes blazing in anger.
"Col. Hogan!" Carter ran to his side, relieved that his CO had regained consciousness. "Sir, are you all right?" He noticed a definite discoloration forming where Kinchloe had struck him. Hogan ignored his question and instead pinned him in place with a glare.
"Where's Kinch?" he asked. Standing mutely, Carter looked down, unable to hold Hogan's gaze. The others exchanged quick glances. "Where!?" Hogan shouted, grabbing Carter by the shirtfront. Overcome with rage, Hogan shook the younger man, but Carter still refused to look up.
"Tell me you didn't leave him back there!" Hogan demanded, forcing Carter to look at him. "Tell me, damn you!"
"Col. Hogan!" Rose White gasped.
"Kinch...Kinch said to tell you," Carter choked. "That...he was only obeying orders. That...he was keeping a-a promise...to a friend." As Carter's words sank in, Hogan's eyes grew wide and he felt his entire body go numb.
"A promise to a friend...?" he repeated, slowly shaking his head. As he did so, his words came back to him...
"...Next time, do me a favor, huh? Just give me a good right cross to the chin."
"It's a promise, sir..."
"No," he whispered. Then, louder, angrier shouted, "No-ooo-oo!" Looking around in desperation, he spotted a vehicle hidden among the heavy foliage and ran towards it. "I'm going back for him!"
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0410hrs local
Inside the Mutlangen Rocket Facility
"~Drop your weapon!~"
Kinchloe ignored the shouted warnings and sprinted the final yards to the blast doors. Reaching the personnel entrance, he yanked the smaller door open just as the guards behind him opened fire.
He dove inside and behind the titanium steel doors as several bullets flew directly overhead. Several more shouts around him told him that he'd already been discovered. Not taking the time to catch his breath, Kinchloe ran at top speed across the open launch bay. As he did so, he automatically began zigzagging in a well-practiced pattern from his high school days as a running back.
Once he fell into the old routine, his moves became automatic. Time seemed to slow to a crawl. An enemy soldier appeared before him, shouting German epithets, aiming his weapon pointblank at him. Without hesitation, Kinchloe strong-armed him out of the way, and just like in the old days, the soldier fell back.
As the enemy soldier went down, Kinchloe spun in place and changed direction. Another soldier, who'd launched himself at the American, was caught off-guard by Kinchloe's unexpected move and flew ineffectually towards the spot that Kinchloe had just vacated.
The rockets were less than twenty yards away. Out of the corner of his eye, Kinchloe saw yet another defender diving towards him. Without breaking stride, Kinchloe leaped up and over him, landing at a run.
There was a sudden roar in his ears that sounded like an approaching train. And another. And another. Unable to place the sound, he was startled when a huge hand seemed to suddenly slam into him, spinning him around several times. Just as the world stopped reeling, he felt the same hand slam into him again. And again.
Time suddenly resumed its normal pace. With it, Kinchloe could clearly hear the sounds of semi-automatic fire from all over the launch bay. Several bullets hit the concrete floor immediately in front of him, ricocheting crazily.
"Lousy shots..." he muttered. "Couldn't hit...the side of a barn." Funny, why did he feel so lightheaded? And his legs, why couldn't he move his legs? He looked down. That's funny...why was he on his knees?
A strange, peaceful sensation washed over him, and Kinchloe felt a strong urge to lie down and go to sleep. Considering the problem as if it were a deep philosophical puzzle that required solving, he shook his head.
"No..." he muttered. "Can't sleep...Got promises to keep..." As he spoke, he awkwardly dug out the dynamite bundle from his uniform jacket.
"~Look out! He has dynamite!~" The shout brought added panic to the open bay as civilians and soldiers alike dove for cover.
"And miles to go..."
Milliseconds before the launch bay suddenly exploded with the staccato burst of semi-automatic gunfire, Kinchloe drew back and threw the dynamite at the nearest V2 rocket.
"...Before I sleep..."
As the soldiers all around him opened fire, Kinchloe fell forward, struck from all sides. The roaring sounds of the approaching train echoed in his ears as he struggled to remain conscious.
What was it the colonel wanted me to do?
He shivered suddenly, feeling cold all over. He felt something hard in his hand. Blinking his eyes to clear his blurring vision, he concentrated on what he was holding. How did the Luger get there? He didn't even remember removing it from his holster.
Promises to keep...an inner voice reminded him. Miles to go...
His vision clearing, he suddenly saw it--the dynamite. It was resting about ten meters in front of him against one of the rocket's fins. A German soldier suddenly walked into his field of vision, and Kinchloe saw him bend down to carefully reach for the explosives.
At that moment, the pressure that had been steadily building within the steam pipes reached critical mass and blew. The resulting shockwave caused the explosives that had already been set in the generator room to go off in a series of sympathetic explosions, which could be felt all the way inside the launch bay.
Smiling to himself, Kinchloe aimed the Luger at the bundle of dynamite...Before I sleep...and squeezed the trigger.
The world went white, then black...
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0415hrs local
Bavaria-Bad Wurttemberg Forest east of Mutlangen
Before Hogan could reach the vehicle, the others tackled him to the ground. He fought them all with a sudden ferocity. "Let me go! I'm going back for him!"
"Col. Hogan!" Weiss shouted. "Please...you cannot! There are dozens of roadblocks between here and Mutlangen. We must all evacuate this area--!"
"No!" Hogan shouted, still trying to fend off Weiss' men. "I won't leave without my friend!" For emphasis, he punched the nearest partisan in the midsection, then whipped around and chopped down on the back of the neck of another. As the partisan collapsed to the ground, Hogan took his weapon.
Breathing raggedly, Hogan glared at the others. "I'm going back...Don't try to stop me."
"Col. Hogan, please--!" Rose White pleaded.
"Sir, I'll go with you," Carter called.
"Negative! It's too dangerous. Report back to base...Tell 'em we'll be there shortly--!"
There was a sudden red-white flash, as if the night had been suddenly turned to day. Simultaneously, they were all sent sprawling to the ground as the entire area shook violently with a series of massive explosions.
And in the distance, the horizon glowed with the beauty of a new and deadly Aurora.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0500hrs local
Forest outside of Stalag 13
"Col. Hogan, we are here." Weiss spoke softly, compassionately. Hogan's lifeless eyes flickered momentarily, and he nodded. Wordlessly, he and Carter jumped off the vehicle and turned to go. At the last moment, Carter turned back and waved.
"Thank you, Herr Weiss," he said softly. "And you, too, ma'am," he added shyly, nodding at Rose White.
"You are welcome, Sgt. Carter," Rose White said sadly. "And Carter...?" He waited for her to continue. "We are all terribly sorry about Sgt. Kinchloe."
"Yes, ma'am...thank you, ma'am," Carter mumbled. Then noticing that Hogan was already disappearing into the woods, hurried after him. He'd promised Kinchloe that he'd take care of the colonel, and in his present condition he could walk into a Kraut patrol on purpose.
Carter froze in place. He found himself suddenly surrounded by several armed men dressed entirely in black.
"Carter!" He turned at his name. It was Newkirk.
"Newkirk!" Carter said happily, thumping his friend on the back. "Boy, am I glad to see you!" Newkirk returned the welcome, but quickly became serious.
"How's the colonel?" he asked. Carter shook his head. They'd radioed ahead that the mission had been accomplished. One MIA--missing in action--Kinchloe, assumed dead. Newkirk nodded in understanding. "Where is he?"
Carter looked around. "He was ahead of me. He should've passed by you guys already!" He grew worried. "I don't like this, Newkirk. He's taking it pretty bad. No telling what he might do--"
"No telling what who might do what?" Startled, they all turned towards the sound of the voice, weapons drawn. Hogan stepped forward.
"I-I'm sorry, Colonel," Carter stuttered. "I-I didn't mean anything--"
"That's right, sir," Newkirk volunteered. "I'm the one who--"
"Never mind. It's not important!" Hogan's tone cut them off curtly. "What I want to know is why I was able to come up on you guys without anyone noticing? Who's in charge here? Where are your lookouts?"
"I'm in charge, sir." Stepping forward, Baker spoke up for the first time. "No excuse, sir."
Hogan glared at him for a long moment, thinking unfairly that Kinchloe would never have allowed such an egregious error. "You bet there's no excuse, Sergeant." Baker nodded without comment. Dropping the matter, Hogan asked, "What's the current status?"
"Most of the 'so-called' escaped prisoners have been 'recaptured,' sir," Baker reported. "As soon as we received your message, we began sending the 'missing' men out in twos and threes so that they'd be recaptured."
"Of course, around here, the prisoners practically had to capture the bloody Jerries in order to be caught!" Newkirk interjected. "In fact, one team reported that they came across a sleeping Kraut and had to wake him up first so that he could then 'capture' them. I tell you, sir...what's this ruddy war coming to?" He grinned, amused by the incongruity of the situation. When Hogan failed to grin in return, Newkirk cleared his throat in embarrassment, and Baker stepped in, quickly getting back to business.
"All that's left are these two men, sir, and of course you, Carter, and--" Baker stopped.
"...and Kinch," Hogan finished, his voice barely above a whisper. Baker nodded. Wordlessly, he handed Hogan and Carter their US Army uniforms. They took them and began changing.
"What about the Gestapo?" Hogan asked as he adjusted his belt. Almost clinically, he noticed that he'd had to take it in yet another notch. By the time the war ended, there wouldn't be enough left of him to bother sending home.
"Well, sir, as to our good friend, Maj. Hochstetter," Newkirk began. "Rumor has it that a little bird informed his superiors in Berlin that he 'accidentally' misplaced 50 prized prisoners. Of course, I couldn't say for sure how the boys in Berlin found out about this major faux pas, but--"
"--But you have a pretty good idea," Hogan finished for him. "Good work, Newkirk."
"Oh, don't thank me, sir," Newkirk protested. "You can ruddy well thank Sgt. Baker, here, for coming up with the idea." At this, Hogan gave Baker another long, measuring look.
"Okay, then," he said with a tired shrug. "Let's get captured."
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0600hrs local
Main Compound, Stalag 13
"And because of the massive escape attempt, which resulted in the unfortunate death of one of your own men, Sgt. Kinchloe, during the tunnel cave-in under the infirmary--all privileges are suspended for thirty days!" Klink's announcement was met with jeers and hoots.
"As for the men who were involved in the escape attempt...They are hereby remanded to the cooler for--"
"Kommandant!" Startled by the interruption, Klink glared at Hogan.
"Col. Hogan, you were one of the ones who attempted to escape." Klink shook his finger in the manner of a schoolmaster. "After all these years you should know that there has never been a successful escape from--"
"--And after all these years, you should know, Kommandant, that I'm responsible for the actions of my men. Therefore, I take full responsibility for the escape attempt. I'll serve the punishment, but let them off. They were only following orders."
"Colonel--! You can't, sir!" Newkirk protested.
"We were all in on it!" LeBeau added.
"Knock it off!" Baker shouted, sounding so much like Kinchloe that the others quieted immediately.
"I'm the senior ranking POW," Hogan reminded Klink. "What happened was my responsibility...and my fault." And it's time to resign my command, he added silently. Klink didn't say anything for a long time. Finally, he brought his hand up his chin and nodded thoughtfully.
"Very well, Col. Hogan," Klink said at last. "I accept your offer. You will serve thirty days in the cooler. Your men will be confined to quarters for the same amount of time." He paused suddenly awkward. "And Col. Hogan?" Hogan looked up him with pain-dulled eyes.
"Please, accept my deepest sympathies at your most regretful loss." Surprised by Klink's sincerity, Hogan nodded in thanks. "Disssss-missed!" Klink saluted and executed an about face, returning to his office.
Without a word to his men, Hogan let Schultz escort him to the cooler.
Saturday 19 AUG 1944/0800hrs local
The Cooler, Stalag 13
Hogan leaned against the cell bars, staring emptily into space. Since the explosions from the rocket base, he'd been little more than an automaton, devoid of any real feelings. Just an overwhelming blackness...
"Kinch...why?" he whispered.
"This might answer that." Hogan whirled suddenly. Baker's young, serious face was looking up at him from the tunnel trapdoor. He was holding up a piece of paper. Hogan looked suspiciously at it.
"What is it?" he asked. He didn't reach for it, almost afraid to touch it. Fully emerging from the tunnel, Baker held the paper out to him, gently insistent. Reluctantly, Hogan took it between his thumb and forefinger.
"It's Kinch's last letter home, sir."
"His last letter?" Hogan barely choked the words out.
"Yes, sir," Baker said, re-entering the tunnel trapdoor. "I thought you might want to read it. Oh, I almost forgot--!" Hogan turned, waiting. "We just got word...Paris is in a general state of insurrection. The Vichy government has collapsed and the resistance has occupied their local headquarters. And get this, sir...General Choltitz has contacted them to negotiate a peaceful handover of the city."
At the news, Hogan smiled for the first time in hours. "So much for Hitler's scorched earth policy," he said.
"Yes, sir. I guess Choltitz didn't want to go down in history as the 'Man who burned Paris.'"
"Apparently not," Hogan said softly. "Have you told LeBeau?" Baker nodded. "Good."
"Sir? One more thing," Baker began. Hogan looked at him expectantly. "London reports that a sub will be at the regular rendezvous point in 24 hours. Lt. Whittington and his men will leave here tonight, escorted by Rapunzel's team."
Hogan digested the information. He hadn't given any thought to the commandos since his return. He'd been so consumed by his own pain that he'd forgotten his responsibilities. Realizing that Baker was waiting for some response from him, Hogan finally nodded his thanks. As Baker made a move to duck back into the tunnel, Hogan stopped him.
"Thanks...for taking charge. You did a good job."
Unable to speak, Baker could only nod. He felt suddenly ten feet tall, pleased by Hogan's praise. He was about to reply, when he realized that Hogan had again fallen silent. Not wanting to disturb him further, Baker quietly disappeared into the tunnel.
Long after Baker was gone, Hogan sat on his bunk, still holding the letter between his thumb and forefinger. Finally, blinking rapidly, he unfolded it and began to read...
Dear Mom and Dad,
If you're reading this, then I'm either dead or missing. I know that I'm supposed to tell you how much I love you and what a privilege it has been to be your son, but you know that already. You know that I love and respect you both, and that I pray you'll never have to receive this letter. But you have, and for that I'm sorry.
I want you to know that I died doing what I truly believe in. After all, dying so that others might live isn't the worst possible reason to go, is it? And each day that this long and terrible war continues other mothers and fathers are receiving letters such this one, informing them of their sons' untimely deaths, ill-attempts by half-grown boys to offer comfort to those they left behind. If my death helps prevent other mothers from receiving a similar letter, then I did not die in vain.
I hope that one day, Mom and Dad, you have the pleasure of meeting some of the remarkable and heroic men with whom it's been my honor to serve--especially my commanding officer and closest friend, Col. Robert Hogan. Dad, I think you'd like him, because with the exception of you, he is probably the finest man I've ever known. And, Mom, I know you'd love him, because, well, all the women do.
Should you ever have the opportunity of meeting these men, please don't greet them as strangers. Instead, embrace them as your sons, because they surely are my brothers.
Your loving son,
Tuesday 19 SEP 1944/0530hrs local
Main Compound, Stalag 13
Klink walked out of his quarters for the morning roll call with a light step. Reports coming from the frontlines in Arnhem, which the Allies called Operation Market Garden, were good for the Axis Powers. Although initially surprised by the massive airdrop of over 30,000 paratroops, the German resistance was strengthening with each passing hour.
The news invigorated Klink. After a long, hot summer of setbacks, starting with the Allied Invasion of Europe and culminating with the American forces reaching the Siegfried Line just four days ago, it was heartening to see that the German resolve had not been broken.
We will win, yet, he thought proudly. Soon, the Allies will be driven back across the English Channel...perhaps all the way back to the American eastern seaboard. He looked around the compound, proudly taking in the sight of the dingy buildings, rusting barbed wire, and bored guards. Smiling, he took a deep gulp of the crisp autumn air, and promptly sneezed.
Unperturbed, he looked upon the even ranks of the prisoners as they fell into formation. Eyes narrowing, he squinted through his monocle, attempting to get a better look.
"That's strange," he murmured. The POWs appeared to be dressed unusually sharp this morning. Their normal state of ragged dress had been replaced by highly polished boots and brass, as well as neatly pressed uniforms. Furthermore, as they fell in formation, they were lining up in straight ranks and columns.
"What is going on?" he muttered. Turning to the guard outside his door, he was about to ask, when Sgt. Baker stepped forward. Executing a crisp about face, Baker addressed the assembled troops.
"Company! Attention!" As one, the prisoners snapped to attention. Baker executed a second about face, and stood impassively at attention.
Not sure why the prisoners had suddenly decided to pay him such an unexpected honor, Klink stepped down and was about to march out towards the center of the formation, when he saw Schultz emerging from the cooler. Nodding at Baker, Schultz then stood respectfully to one side, his rifle at attention.
Feeling at loss as to what was going on, Klink was about to call out to Schultz, when Hogan slowly stepped out from the dark and dank punishment cell. He appeared pale from his long stay in solitary, and still unaccustomed to light, he blinked blearily, shading his eyes from the bright morning sun. Before Klink could comment, Sgt. Baker's voice boomed out in the early morning.
Klink spun around in time to see row upon row of right arms snapping up in military precision. Quickly, his eyes returned to Hogan who was standing by the cooler door, taken slightly aback. Recovering, Hogan snapped to attention and shoulders back, started towards the formation. As he approached the first line of prisoners, Baker called out, "Eyes! Right!"
Instantly, the Allied ranks turned their heads as one, and as Hogan passed by, they followed his progress until he stood in front of Baker.
Feeling his earlier euphoria rapidly evaporate, Klink could only stand back and watch as Hogan returned Sgt. Baker's salute. As soon as he'd dropped his hand, Baker executed an about face and returned to his place in the ranks. Meanwhile, Hogan stood quietly surveying his men. Finally, the American officer spoke.
"Order, arms!" The POWs sharply dropped their salutes. "Stand at ease!"
Frustrated at this new turn of events, Klink wanted to say something to interrupt. Hogan had just commandeered his formation. Really, the man was impossible! When would he realize that the war was over for him? That soon the war would be over for all the Allies? Klink opened his mouth and was about to call out, when Hogan began speaking.
"Gentlemen, you honor me today with this unexpected tribute. I thank you. But know this--serving with men such as you has been my honor and privilege. Sgt. James Kinchloe is no longer with us, but the war outside goes on. Even as I speak, British and American forces are meeting with heavy resistance on several bridgeheads in the Netherlands..."
"How did he know that...?" Klink murmured.
"Maybe a little bird told him, eh, Herr Kommandant?" Schultz said at his elbow. Klink turned annoyed, slapping him with his riding crop.
"Dumkopf!" He began, but stopped when Schultz made shushing motions while simultaneously pointing at Hogan who was still talking.
"...The war is far over, gentlemen. Therefore, let us all renew our pledge to stand as one, to continue the fight, until the forces of good finally put an end to this darkness that has for many years held the free world in its grasp."
"Darkness--?" Klink asked.
"The bad guys," Schultz explained helpfully. And then, dropping his eyes in shame, added, "Us." Klink shook his fist ineffectually in his face, but before he could rant, Schultz again brought his finger up to his lips in warning. Klink turned back towards Hogan who was still speaking.
"...And to Sgt. Kinchloe, our comrade and brother in arms, whose sacrifice was above and beyond the call of duty, may he rest in peace."
At these final words, Hogan brought his arm up in silent salute. One by one, and then en masse, his men followed suit. After a few beats, Klink and Schultz also saluted in tribute to a fallen enemy soldier. Hogan slowly dropped his salute and without another word began the long, lonely trek back to his quarters.
"Order, arms!" Baker commanded. As Hogan passed by their ranks, the men at first followed him silently with their eyes, and then tentatively, one by one, they reached out and patted him on the back and shoulders. A few grabbed his hand and shook it. Before long, a crowd of well-wishers had enveloped him.
"We're with you, sir!" Turning, Hogan saw that it was one of the new men. Not more than eighteen, he thought, his eyes bleak.
"Yeah, boy! I-uh, I mean, sir!" Carter chimed in. "Just say the word! We're ready!" He smiled infectiously at Hogan. Feeling his dark spirits lifting, Hogan nodded.
"Blimey, sir!" Newkirk called out. "Like Carter said, 'Just say the word!' We'll follow you to hell and back!" Hogan gave him a 'thumbs up' sign.
"Oui, mon colonel! I think that Hell would be preferable to Stalag 13, non?" At LeBeau's weak joke, Hogan slapped him on the back and smiled for the first time in weeks. Reaching the entrance to Barracks #2, Hogan paused a moment and acknowledged the loud cheers from his men.
Nodding at Newkirk, LeBeau, and Carter, he waved them inside ahead of him. Glancing nervously at each other, they did as ordered. About to follow them in, Hogan stopped, and spotting Baker in the crowd, he waved him, too. Surprised, Baker followed him in.
As soon as they were gathered in his quarters, Hogan walked up to Baker and placed a friendly arm around his shoulders.
"Fellas, let me introduce you to the newest member of our team...And my new right-hand man!"
Text and original characters copyright 2001 by Syl Francis
This copyright covers only original material and characters, and in no way intends to infringe upon the privileges of the holders of the copyrights, trademarks, or other legal rights, for the Hogan's Heroes universe.