Roses are White
2003 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Most Unique Story
On a cold December evening, Peter Newkirk dreamed of sitting in front of his fireplace sipping hot cocoa as "A Christmas Carol" played on the radio. Those were the days, Peter, he said to himself, the corporal wondering if any such stage productions were done now, in wartime England. Aw, they have to be, he reassured himself, it just wouldn't be England without it. And with that, he sighed dreamily, thinking of the cold, barren landscape and how nothing seemed to change in artime. Hadn't they been doing missions for almost two years now? When would it end? Would it ever end?
He clicked his flashlight on and off several times, and another man reciprocated. They shook hands, and spoke several words in code before Newkirk led the man - code named Johnny Appleseed - to the emergency tunnel and down into the system of tunnels under Stalag 13.
Robert Hogan, senior POW officer, greeted the men as they emerged in Barracks 2. "Johnny Appleseed, I'm Papa Bear," remarked the man in the brown bomber jacket, extending his hand. Why do they have to send people with such great American code names around Christmas time, he pondered. Doesn't London know that just makes us Americans lonelier for home?
"Pleasure to meet you - I've heard a lot about you." He decided not to mention where. Dr. Steiner, a contact of the Heroes' in Hammelburg, had been a medical student with Hans Scholl, one of the founders of their movement. The less known about others, the better. He quickly got down to business, as Sergeant Andrew Carter watched the window. Hogan, Newkirk, Frenchman Louis LeBeau, and Sergeant James Ivan Kinchloe stood around the agent and listened. "I don't know how familiar you are with a movement known as the White Rose Movement?'"
Hogan was vaguely familiar with it. He knew it was a group of students - mostly medical, he'd heard - which originated in Munich. The others were totally unfamiliar. "Yeah, I just know what I've heard; we don't get down there. Wastn't it pretty much destroyed by the Gestapo?"
Johnny nodded. "Mostly, yes, the leaders were caught dropping a large suitcase of anti-Nazi leaflets at a campus." The Heroes understood. Not exactly a model group, thought the colonel, though he declined to say anything. Any type fighting for justice in these dark days was good. "The group was somehwat large, but...I do not want to say unskilled, but they were not as good at covert action as groups such as yours or those further north than they. They never truly got organized. They never managed to link up with groups which could have helped them, they were mostly interested in quickly spreading the truth about our evil leaders."
"Which explains the suitcase of pamphlets," Hogan considered. "They wanted to do it all in a hurry, I guess." Newkirk nodded. Yes, he considered, let's get this war over with.
Johnny concurred. "You are right, it was mostly geared toward reaching students while they might still be swayed a little. And they felt there wasn't much time, with our propaganda; which is probably true." He then explained the reason for the mission. "A tiny segment of the group exists yet under a new name, and they would like to contact people in Berlin or elsewhere, just to let them know contact names, maybe ask for and offer help in a few areas."
"How can we help?" The question was Kinch's.
Johnny explained. "There is a debutante ball on Christmas night in Mainz. It is a charity function where young ladies are introduced into society."
LeBeau whistled. "Girls, girls, girls. Now that's my kind of mission."
Johnny laughed. "These young ladies are only 19 or 20." He winked and grinned. "Though one could have an older sister."
"Don't encourage him," deadpanned Hogan. "So, one of these debutantes is our contact?" The agent affirmed this.
"That's a ways away," noted the black man.
"Yeah, but the sun sets real early," the colonel commented. "We could get a vehicle. And with sunrise not till after eight, we could make it back before roll call; we have a lot more time than in the summer."
"Precisely. The young lady is a college student who received one of the White Rose leaflets from a senior on campus at Munich, and has been involved with us for a little while." The agent rubbed his chin. "If you are thinking what I'm thinking, it would be a tad dangerous to just appear on her list of guests. However, I have heard you have many unusual ways about you; if you could deliever this packet of information to an agent in Essen, he will then be able to pass it on to Berlin." Johnny Appleseed handed Hogan a coded slip of paper with the name and address in Essen, plus the code to speak to this woman. "She will be expecting you."
Just then, Carter noticed Hans Schultz, Sergeant of the Guard, marching toward them. This was not unusual - lights were to be out shortly, and the guard was probably checking to ensure all were present, determined Carter. He told the prisoners, and Hogan ordered the agent into the tunnel. Johnny Appleseed ducked in, and it closed just before the guard entered. The prisoners greeted the guard somewhat warmly, though sadly because they knew he would be going home for Christmas, and they would not. "Hey, Schultzie, leavintg tomorrow, huh," inquired LeBeau amicably. "You sure you don't want my strudel recipe for your wife?"
"She would not know what to do with it," came the excited reply. "Besides, the highlight of my Christmas will be Saturday, Christmas night."
"What happens then?" The voice was Carter's.
Newkirk grinned. "Don't ya know, mate, that's when e gets to eat all the stuff his little ones can't put away."
The guard, about 300 pounds himself, tried to explain over Allied laughter that "my children never leave me anything. You cannot imagine how they eat. No, the highlight will be in Mainz. My niece will be presented in a debutante ball, and it is a very fancy occasion." He smirked. "Little Janssen calls it a Cinderella ball.' My wife, my children, my niece's parents, my father, and some other relatives will all be there."
"Quite a get-together; just her being presented?" Hogan deduced lightning couldn't possibly strike twice in the same place - they'd already gotten very lucky with the Burkhalter wedding. Still, one never knew.
"No, there will be 14 other young ladies." He inquired "why do you want to know?"
Hogan shrugged. "Just curious. What's your niece's name?" Schultz told them. "How old is she?"
The guard snickered, recalling his own occasional playboy attitude before events several months back had caused him to re-commit himself to his own family. "Oh, ho, I know what you are up to. You are looking for dates. Well, she is way too young for any of you; she is only 19, and has no older sisters." Hogan pretended to look defeated, and the other prisoners quickly followed.
Hogan decided to keep playing this hand a little. "Well, someone else might have an older sister, right? How does one get tickets?"
"Tickets are given out many weeks in advance; even if you were allowed out, and you wanted to, you could not spoil our fun," the guard noted. At least, I don't think they could...no, come on, Schultz, he told himself. You're going too far away for them to cause trouble now. "Oh, by the way, lights out in..." He glanced at his watch and finished. "...eight minutes and five seconds." They thanked Schultz and left.
After Johnny Appleseed came up, the Heroes relayed the news to him. "He's right, the lists are made up way in advance, and each family has to indicate how many tickets they need. Only the fathers of the debutantes have control of this, though, so even if you had conned that guard into trying to get you there, you still would have had to go through his brothre or sister."
"In other words, no dice. Where is it?"
"At the Mainz Plaza Hotel, the largest and most elegant in the area."
Kinch hummed. "So, we could be caterers..."
"They might be watched very closely, though. This is a charity event, with the girls chosen by how much their families contributed to one of the major hospitals - of course, Nazi run, so the Party can decide who to invite - over the last year. There are prominent Germans, including some military brass, who might be there." While the others fretted, Hogan mulled over possibilities. "Hence, I would not put it past the hotel to screen everyone before that evening, and know exactly who their caterers are, just to protect any bigwigs."
"What about reporters," Hogan wanted to know.
"Yes, that is probably your best bet. Reporters, photographers, that sort of thing." Johnny explained that there would be a professional photographer getting group pictures of each family and their guests before the ball. However, "there will be an area newspaper or two present to record the festivities."
Hogan nodded. "See if you can dredge up some press passes from the Shopping Times and Hammelburg Press for us, LeBeau will go out, and bring them in. Kinch, make us press passes, since Hammelburg doesn't have one of these balls, we'll say we're covering something to encourage those in Hammelburg that there's still some fun stuff for civilians in all this madness."
As the colonel instructed his men concerning Klink's staff car, the agent whistled. "I am impressed with your ability to grasp exactly what is needed, Colonel."
"Believe me, it's not as easy as it looks," Hogan remakred. I wish it were as easy as everyone tells me I make it look, he thought to himself.
Johnny Appleseed radioed Steffi Strasser early the next morning, before the rest of the Strasser household was up. Steffi had already been considering dreamily the debutante ball to be held Saturday. After hurriedly putting the radio in a cubbyhole and once again putting old clothes in front of it, the University of Munich freshman underwent her normal morning routine. Good, she told herself, the stage is set. Papa Bear himself will be transporting this information to Essen, then it will go on to Berlin. It is fitting that someone such as Papa Bear should help, whomever he is; many lives were already sacrificed to get the word out about these monsters in Berlin.
Who was Papa Bear, she asked herself. He operated out of someplace further north, much further, she knew that. Coming to Mainz was about the limit of where Papa Bear would travel for a mission. Why would he be so limited? Were the rumors true - that he was in a prison camp? She teased herself. Don't be silly, Steffi, there is no freedom of movement in Germany. If anyone moved around too much people would get suspicious.
She sighed. Here she was, home from Munich, after about a month in the organization, and already carrying out a very dangerous mission. She understood little about covert work, but recognized sending someone this inexperienced was not standard procedure. The few remaining White Rose people had decided this was a chance they could not pass up, though. How ironic that her father, a general who believed in the Party line, had given enough to allow her to be a debutante. His actions could lead to the White Rose movement's resurgence under their new title.
Of course, being inexperienced, she knew help would be needed. However, she also knew nobody she could trust at home. She glanced at the doll on her dresser. It reminded her of her friend Ilse. Ilse's uncle had made it at the Schatzi Toy Company, and Ilse had given it to her as a Christmas present one year - she couldn't recall when. Ilse and, from what she understood, her aunt, uncle and cousins were members of the "Confessing Church," formed in 1934 at Barmen. It refused to accept the state edicts that would soon lead to Nazi control of German Protestant churches. It went underground after many ministers were arrested. But even Ilse, she did not want to have to confide in. It was dangerous, and why let someone else's fun be spoiled by worries over the Gestapo. The Nazis had already taken away from the glamour of this moment for her.
Gretchen Schultz pulled up to the main gate in her car, and her husband gleefully strode out to meet her. Christmas wasn't as much fun as before the war - how could it be? - but he'd made a new committment to his family several months back, one he was honoring. His rich brother, Georg - who'd helped him put up the money to start the Schatzi Toy Company in 1921 - would even give him an old Volkswagon so Schultz could have it in the motor pool and he could go home on 24-hour passes. He only hoped Hogan and his men never messed with it - Klink's cars never seemed to run right; they were always in for repairs.
"What are you grinning about," wondered Gretchen. "You look like you just ate enough strudel for ten people."
He didn't want to tell her all about Hogan. He merely stated "there are some very unusual and wild prisoners at camp, and it feels great to get away from them."
"I fail to see how they could be much worse than our five at their rowdiest."
The guard snickered. "Someday, I shall have to tell you; but for now, let us talk no more about them. I want to think about noth-ing but family."
"And about how much material went into your tuxedo - we almost had to call in a tentmaker." The couple laughed as they rode back to Heidelberg.
As Christmas Eve day dawned, Kommandant Klink seemed in unusually good spirits. LeBeau had had a little more trouble than usual sneaking out to get the press passes, but none of the camp's guards were really great at spotting things. The Kommandant spoke to the men at roll call. "Gentlemen, the war continues to go well, and as you prepare to spend yet another Christmas away from home, being the generous man that I am, I am giving you each an extra slice of white bread today and tomorrow."
The prisoners heckled Klink. Most of the catcalls were the usual taunts, but Newkirk seemed especially bitter. Klink tried to help by talking about his plans. "I know how you feel, Corporal, I have nowhere to go this Christmas, either. Though I might see my grandfather, he is quite elderly, and not the kind to party with."
"You're so bloody vain nobody'd talk to you to be your friend," exclaimed Newkirk.
Hogan placed a hand on the Englishman's shoulder as Klink called for silence. "Easy, Newkirk, we don't want to get them too riled."
As Klink dismissed them and stomped away, Newkirk lashed out. "But colonel, he don't think a thing about our families. All he's talkin' about is his own plans for Christmas. At least Schultz was nice and asked a few questions about ours."
But it probably made us lonelier remembering them, considered the colonel. "Old bubblehead's not gonna think about anyone but himself till he comes to grips with who he supports, namely those goons in Berlin." Newkirk grumbled as they walked back to the barracks. "I know it seems like it's taken forever, it does for us, too."
Newkirk continued his animated speech. "Hey, I've been here almost a year longer than you have, I've had it much worse. Haven't I, Louis?" LeBeau nodded. "We was here for Christmas of 40, I'd just got sent here a couple weeks before."
Hogan could tell the Englishman was bothered. That was why he was extra thankful for the mission; it would take their minds off being away from home. "Hey, there's a lot of Germans who feel the same way, but they're afraid to show it. And remember, it may not be home, but we get to go to a big dinner on Christmas, right?" Newkirk had to admit that Hogan had a point. The commander switched effortlessly to business. "Kinch, ask the Underground for a special favor. Christmas Day, the power and phone wires to the Shopping Times and Hammelburg Press need to be cut."
"So...if someone calls about the reporters, they won't get an answer," guessed the sergeant.
"Right. I don't know who will be there, but there could be some generals, and there could even be some Gestapo."
"Gestapo agents have families," exclaimed Carter. "Who would want to even marry one?"
"Who'd be round the bend so far as to go out with one?" Newkirk chimed in.
"I'll admit, it's crazy," noted Hogan, "but possible. Still, even focusing on generals, it's not unlike one to call and confirm." As Kinch prepared to exit down the tunnel, the head POW requested one other thing. "Just call and inquire about them sending people to the ball, and if they are, give em a false scoop. We'll send them on a wild goose chase to Berlin." The man nodded and went down the tunnel.
Steffi Strasser tried on her elegant, white dress and looked in the mirror. It was such a shame that there would be so many swastikas hanging around the Plaza Hotel. She fondly remembered dreaming of this moment since she was a very young girl. The Mainz Debutante Ball had always been the biggest thing in the papers around Christmas. It was a very, very select group of young ladies who would be introduced to society. And now, here she was, ready to go to the ball not dreaming of Prince Charmings, but rather dreading Gestapo agents. Oh, well, maybe Papa Bear is like a Prince Charming, considered the fraulein, once again dreaming of who that might be. A count? A baron? Rumors swirled that he was even a foreigner. How can that be, she wondered.
Suddenly, a figure walked into her bedroom and put his hands over her eyes. "Guess who," he said.
She turned to face her grinning father. What a time to come in, just when I am thinking about betraying the monsters he fights for, she thought to herself, pretending to grin. She knew her father would sense shock, so she explained "Father, I never expected to see you here!"
"Miss out on my daughter's most fabulous moment, are you crazy? The richest man in Germany could not afford a more elaborate affair than this ball, after all," noted the proud man.
"But...shouldn't you be fighting for the Fatherland," inquired Steffi, inside wondering if she could still go through with this. Maybe he's only stopping for a moment, she thought.
There was no such luck. "My dear, even the generals in the high command have a heart." Inside, he sometimes wondered if the fuhrer did, but he would not say anything against him. Besides, it wouldn't be this bad forever. Not once the war was over and won. "I would have given anything to come to see you."
Steffi grinned, inside wondering whether she should radio Papa Bear and call off the mission. No, this was too vital, even if it only helped a little, it was an event that could not be passed up. Yes, she could still do it. Or, would Ilse look the other way if given the packet? Papa Bear would know what to do - I will radio him when I get a chance, determined Steffi.
These hopes, too, were dashed. "Do you remember when you and Ilse would use your mother's tablecloths as wedding dresses," laughed the general. "I want to spend some time with my darling debutante; I have a clear schedule from now until Sunday, when I will leave. So, we can spend lots of time together talking about these glorious times."
I need to get to Ilse sometime, just to tell her what might have to happen and where I hid the packet, Steffi determined. Snapping her fingers, she replied. "I knew there was something I hadn't done - I have hardly had time to think. Do you know I have not had time to more than chat a few minutes with Ilse since I came home from the University?"
"But of course, we forget when things we are so busy. Call her, see what her schedule is like, we shall hopefully do something special sometime after presents are opened tomorrow, before the event. And relive those darling balls you would pretend to hold in our living room." Steffi smiled as the oddest thought came to her. I'm glad we don't have female generals. I can at least tell her in the ladies' room sometime without him here.
The Heroes studied Steffi's picture. Hogan asked if the Underground knew of her father's whereabouts. They did not, but presumably he was stil at the front. Now, he needed to get Klink to remain in camp Christmas night. Either Klink or Captain Gruber would need to be present to watch over the camp. And, while Gruber wasn't there all that much, Klink could very easily call him in and plan a wild bachelor's night in town. Gruber was much stricter, and might well notice them missing.
"Good afternoon, Sir, Merry Christmas," came Hogan's cheerful comment. He pulled out several wood carvings of soldiers. "The men made these especially for you to display, Sir."
Klink received the soldiers happily. "Why thank you, Hogan, that's a very nice gesture."
"It wouldn't be Christmas without giving something."
"I will just put these over here on my...Hogannnn, these are Allied soldiers!"
"I know. American and British. The bald one's Eisenhower," he explained matter of factly. "You might get to meet him someday, this would make a nice headquarters after the Allies enter Germany."
Klink shoved the soldiers back into Hogan's hand. "I do not need Allied soldiers sitting around my office!"
"You sure? I bet Montgomery would autograph his for you if you ask him."
"Yes, I am sure. What would General Burkhalter say if I had Allied soldiers sitting in my office?"
"What more could he say, he said pretty much when he caught you playing the American Air Force song."
Klink shook a fist at the head POW. "I am lucky he did not strangle me with my own violin." "Aw, he was probably just in a bad mood. It's not like it was Hochstetter."
"He would strangle me with my own violin."
"Maybe." Hogan swiped a cigar from the box atop Klink's desk. "So what are your plans for tonight and tomorrow?"
"For your information, I do not have any plans.' Although I was hoping to go and visit my elderly grandfather; he is 92."
Hogan smirked, recalling that the kommandant had told him Hitler Youth girls had found hm very attractive. "Don't you think he has a date all set up with some gorgeous fraulein?"
"Oh, come on, Hogan, I cannot..."
"Really, Kommandant, you told me yourself how those Hitler Youth girls went after him." Caught him in his own bragging, considered the American. I'll bet Klink wonders how I remember all those little comments. No, actually, knowing him he probably doesn't remember making them. "I'll bet he's goin' out with some woman a third his age, maybe less."
Klink shrugged. "Perhaps, but he invited me..."
"He's just being modest, Sir, you do the same thing yourself." Klink hummed. "You know you'll likely be spending an evening just sitting around while he and this lady yak it up."
"Perhaps I would. But, Hogan, he is my grandfather." He smiled. "You could learn a thing or two from him yourself. He was a private in the Franco-Prussian War."
"In the Luftwaffe, I suppose."
Klink chuckled. How can this man be so naive, considered the man. "Do not be ridiculous, your own Wright Brothers did not even get a plane off the ground till 30 years later! There was no Luftwaffe then."
He took the bait, thought Hogan. "So he'll be spending all his time telling this woman old war stories from the trenches. You never wanted to be a soldier, did you?" Hogan would come fast and furious now. "You never wanted to be in the trenches. And yet those are the bloody, gory, gross stories he's going to tell. Stories the Iron Eagle would never stand for, becuase you are the great Wilhelm Klink. You have a higher, nobler, calling, that being the illustrious Luftwaffe!"
Klink grinned, recalling fabulous times flying through the wild blue yonder. He loved flight - as long as nobody was shooting at him. He glanced upward and proclaimed "that is right, there is only one truly great branch of service."
"The one where you soar like a bird." Hogan impersonated a plane divebombing its target, using his hand as the plane and making like it dropped a large bomb. "And snatch up your prey like a great eagle."
The image made Klink grin broadly. "That is what I like about you, Hogan, you appreciate the glory of flight. Your national symbol is even an eagle." He walked over to Hogan and patted him on the shoulder. "What will it take to make you realize that Germany offers the best of both worlds, the glory of eagles and the greatest, mightiest people on the planet."
"Germany becoming a democracy would probably do it," stated Hogan. "I think you're right, kommandant, it'll be much easier to go Sunday, or even early next week, to see your grandfather. After he's done partying and telling old war stories."
Klink grinned. "Yes, Hogan. That would be better. I will simply turn on a Wagnerian opera and spend Christmas with the prisoners. Won't you join me, Hogan?"
"No, thanks, I'm gonna be going to bed early." He frowned. "You have cowed us well, Sir. Nothing can remind us of home and make us feel better. Certainly not Wagnerian opera. But, hey, thanks for the offer." With that, Hogan left Klink's office.
"He bought it," announced the head POW as he entered Barracks 2. "He's staying home, which means no bedchecks, no night roll calls."
"Great. What did he say about the soldiers," LeBeau wondered eagerly.
"He didn't notice till just before he put them on his table to display." The prisoners laughed. Hogan's antics always provided them with quite a bit of myrth.
Newkirk stopped laughing rather quickly, however. "Hey, I know how it feels," came the somber Frenchman after a moment. "Your country's just being bombed, mine is under complete control of the Germans." He spat on the ground. "Filthy bosch."
"What kiddies aren't goin' to bed tonight afraid of bombs, or missing their parents cause they had to be moved up to Scotland to escape, stead of thinkin' bout ol' Saint Nick?"
Hogan nodded grimly. He never let on, wary of hurting the feelings of non-Americans, but the thing he was most thankful for was taht German bombs could not hit America. He didn't know what he'd do if they did. "We all miss home, this war's been hard on everyone. That's one reason why we're here, so we can make sure people sleep more safely."
Carter pointed out that "the way we operate, I wouldn't be surprised if we've shortened the war by years."
"But it's still the same bloody mess it was last year at this time," complained Newkirk.
"We haven't even begun to liberate my beloved France yet," LeBeau chimed in.
"And there's still a lot of people suffering under this tyranny," remarked Kinch.
"The more people can keep hope alive," explained the head POW, launching into a mini-pet talk, "the easier it'll be for our men, and the tougher time those goons will have keeping control. That's why this mission is important. We can't afford to let the war get us down; we've stil got lots of work to do. And if we let the enemy get us down, we're all in big trouble. Yes, it's a shame we have to be here Christmas Eve and Day, and that our loved ones back home are suffering. But remember," came the colonel as he held up a finger. "They'd be suffering a lot more if we didn't keep ourselves at peak performance. We're needed here, desparately."
Newkirk sighed, not really satisfied. Could he do better at home - he remembered how excited Schultz had been about being with his family this Christmas. He didn't know any kids personally, but one couldn't help but feel for them in this wicked era.
The Schultz family had exchanged several small gifts, and now snuggled in front of the nice, warm fireplace. I wish it would snow, Oskar considered. It would look so pretty - nothing like the dreariness we've been having.
"Will they drop bombs on Christmas," worried Janssen, who had just turned six.. She looked up eagerly at her father from his lap.
"No, of course not," the guard commented to the little girl. He was so happy to be away from the drudgery of war - and away from Hogan - for a quiet time with his family. He'd missed this so much, but in the habit he'd picked up of knowing nothing, he had forgotten how precious this time was.
"The bombs still scare me, we hear more of them now," Heinrich, seven, remarked. "How much longer will this go on?"
A tall teen added "I long for peace, when we can go out safely." And without fearing the Gestapo, their eldest, Oskar, would have stated had he not known to hold in those thoughts.
Schultz picked up a puppet he'd brought back from Stalag 13 recently. "Do you see this nose?" Janssen nodded. "Do you remember when I said that in war, there are some things we must keep very secret from everyone, and know no-thing about?"
"Because we'll get in trouble?"
Oskar helped Janssen. "Because the Nazis don't want us to be nice. Like with our church. The one we do not go to."
"So we have to play pretending to be Nazis," remarked the girl. Schultz nodded. "There sure is a lot of pretending in war."
"That is right," remarked Schultz. More than you can imagine around Hogan and his men. Then again, you probably have to pretend to believe the propaganda far more than I realize. Hitler is very persuasive, after all. "Come here, all of you, and listen very closely. This is something that must never leave your mouths, it must stay in your hearts, and you must not tell anyone." He pointed to the doll. "This nose is a v' shape. The Allies use the v' to mean victory.'" He said the English word and quickly made the symbol the way Newkirk had shown him once. "It is a word that means they will defeat us. Not because they do not like us, but that they will have victory over the mean people like the Gestapo."
"The scary ones," one child remarked.
"Ja. Do not think of it as meaning to hurt the German people. Think of it as being victory over the things you do not like, the things that scare you and are mean." The children began mentioning the "yucky bombs," the "mean Gestapo people," the propaganda tellintg them to hate, and the government trying to convince them to worship and even pray to Hitler. "Ja, that is what I mean. But we must pretend that it is only a nose, we must pretend till the end of the war, and never let on what it really means." The children merrily flashed the "v" symbol to each other, and the fat man rebuked them. "Where did I say that belonged?" They answered "in our hearts," and quickly ceased. "That is right; you cannot even show that v' symbol to anyone else, only to each other when you know nobody else can see. If you do show it elsewhere you will get in very big trouble."
"We have a long day tomorrow, and soon Kris Kringle will be here," Gretchen remarked, glad to see Hans taking charge once more of family devotions and taking the lead in teaching their children about the problems with Nazi ideology. She could do some, but such work needed both parents. Oskar was good at simple Sunday School lessons, and he'd already led one younger brother to accept Christ as his Savior. He was only a young teen, though. As the fire crackled, the only light in a blacked out city, the loneliness slowly ebbed as they realized the significance of the holiday, that God was with them if they would simply believe. They sang:
"Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht!/ Alles schlaft, einsam wacht/ Nur das traute hochheilige Paar,/ Holder Knabe mit lockigem Haar,/ Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh/ Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh..."
"...sleep in Heavenly peace," sang the Heroes as they completed a Christmas Eve dinner of a ham that LeBeau had prepared plus various other confiscated goods. They even had extra items from their Red Cross packages - Klink had been nice enough to provide them on time this time. LeBeau glanced at his watch. Newkirk sighed heavily.
"Home seems pretty far away, doesn't it," came Kinch's whispered voice.
Newkirk nodded. "When I think of how our country's bein' bombed, even now with our RAF doin' a lot better..." He shook his head. "Feels like this war'll never end, y'know?"
LeBeau put a hand on Newkirk's shoulder. "Oui, I know how you feel. I never would have believed it would be this long that my beloved France would be under the rule of those lousy Germans." He threw up his hands. "It's like...well, we just do so much and yet..." He trailed off.
The Britisher tried to understand. "Will it just be be the same thing next year, and the next year, and the next, even after all we do?" LeBeau agreed that Newkirk's wording probably was close. "I wish I could say, mate, I wish I could say."
Hogan picked up his mug and stared at the pot belly stove. "These things take time, and we've bought our men that."
"If only I could see somethin', though, some sign." He sighed again. "What I wouldn't give to hear Tiny Tim sayin' God bless us, every one,' or one other of them Christmas miracles. At least it reminds ya somethin' good like it can happen." He threw down a napkin. "Instead, just another ruddy mission to help a tiny piece of resistance. Makes me wonder what's the use? What's the resistance doin' anyway?"
"Maybe just buying time till the cavalry comes; keeping the faith." The voice was Kinch's.
Hogan nodded. "Kinch is right; the Underground's gotta take it slow, those monsters have too firm a hold on the country."
Raising his voice, Newkirk flailed his arms. "Hey, all I'm askin' for is to know every Christmas for the next fifty years won't be like the last ones have been."
Carter pointed out the barracks window. "Hey, look, a shooting star on Christmas Eve. Make a wish; but you can't say it, or it won't come true."
Newkirk felt Carter was being silly as usual, but decided it was worth a try. Just let me see it's worth it, somehow, that we're going to beat these bloody fools, or that we are having an impact, or something. He shook his head. Not very specific, he considered as he gazed at the meteorite, now rapidly fading. But if Carter should happen to be right about this, you'll know what I mean.
Hogan and LeBeau would pretend to be reporters, with Carter a novice tagging along and Newkirk a cameraman for the newspaper. Newkirk impersonated Klink and ordered the main gate opened, and Hogan left in disguise in Klink's auto. The car was pulled to the side of the road. Hogan hopped into the tunnel system through the emergency exit, changed into a tuxedo, and exited again with the other three. He was thankful for the very early sunsets in Germany. At about the halfway point, 5:00, it was already quite dark. They would arrive in time to set up for the last few familes' group pictures.
The car pulled in and was valet parked while the Heroes made their way to the banquet facility. Informed that photos were being taken in a room upstairs, Hogan led his group around a back way. They had planned on simply mingling for a few moments to appear less conspicuous, but scurried into the room as they noticed the Schultz family congregating near them. Luckily, Hogan thought to himself, he's too busy to notice us.
"I bet his kids are talking about how much they look like penguins," considered Carter aloud. "Because that's what I feel like."
The professional photographer noticed the men and stepped forward. "Good evening, Herr..."
"Ludwig Lohmiller," spoke Hogan, extending a hand and showing his press badge with the other. A silent turn of the head told the others to also display theirs. "My men and I are here from the Hammelburg Press and Shopping Times, it is a joint venture to cover this most exquisite affair." He grinned broadly as the last of the preceding family left the hotel suite. "We have been ordered to cover this debutante ball as a symbol to the people that there is still glamor and splendor to be had in our glorious Fatherland, even in the midst of war."
The photographer smiled. "I see. I am Johann Richter, with Richter and Sons Studios. I...do not recall seeing your names on the list of the press invitees."
"Our editor is always one to order things at the last minute; he probably did not get it in in time to be on the list." He noticed a man exiting the room. "He is going to call the Schultz family in?" He was. "Let us get our equipment set up. My men Newmeyer and Leibner need to get some cameras set up to make sure they work," he remarked, pointing to Newkirk and LeBeau, "while I tell our apprentice Carterheim here" he pointed at Carter "how to proceed in an event like this. We will go into a corner so as not to disturb you." Even with the beds removed, there were still places in the large room where one could hide reasonably well.
"Is there someone in particular you are wishing to interview," Richter inquired as Ilse walked in with Janssen. "I hear that General Strasser is here, but you will have to wait until after family pictures."
So the general is here. That will make it hard for our contact, though better for us in a way- we have an even better excuse. "I quite understand, but please, permit us to prepare so we can take our own photo for the press of his lovely daughter and the family."
"Of course," came the amicable reply.
Meanwhlie, Janssen saw Carter writing something in a corner. "What are you writing," the little girl asked him.
Carter looked at the child who seemingly had curls everywhere. "Well aren't you a darling little girl; you look just like Shirley Temple, you know that? I am a reporter taking notes."
Janssen was about to ask who Shirley Temple was, but Ilse led her away, telling her not to bother the reporter because he was obviously very busy. As Newkirk began to set up his camera the rest of the family began to come in. Schultz and his brothers and sister all hugged Ilse and told her how beautiful she looked. Newkirk and LeBeau had hidden behind cameras, unable to see the people. Hogan and Carter were hidden in a cranny where they could not see what was transpiring, and Schultz couldn't see them. As Richter lined everyone up so all could fit in the picture, Janssen tugged on her dad's tuxedo. "What is it, liebchen," he whispered.
"Who is Shirley Temple?"
"Who is..." he spoke aloud. Reminding himself to be quiet, he knelt down and whispered "why do you want to know that?"
"That man over there," Janssen pointed, indicating the little alcove in the suite. She quieted down as her dad shushed her. "He said I look like Shirley Temple."
Schultz eyed the hunched over men; they did not look familiar to him from what he could see, but he began to get an uneasy feeling. No, he chided himself, do not be silly. Don't let them drive you crazy tonight. Hogan could not be here, this is a fabulous evening and there will be nothing to spoil it. To the girl, he explained in a soft voice. "Shirley Temple is an American child actress."
"America is an enemy though, right?" Schultz confirmed this. "Is that something else I should pretend about?"
"You mean pretend you know nothing about that? Ja," he whispered, standing straight up. It's not as bad as some things - some soldiers watch captured Betty Grable movies, after all - but just in case, it's a good idea to tell her that. It keeps the message consistent for her young mind. Who could that man be, though? Perhaps one of those people like those Hogan dealt with that he wished to ignore.
After several photos were taken of the whole family, then of just the debutante and her parents, the Schultz family left. With the room empty of all but the Heroes and Richter, Hogan and his men emerged. Richter's assistant called him out into the hallway, and Hogan gathered his men around him. "Okay, General Strasser's here, so this is the game plan. I'll talk to him, to get at his daughter. We'll take a few pictures of the whole group here, then..."
Just then, Schultz walked back into the room; he had dropped his billfold. Absently, he retrieved it, then walked right past Hogan and his men, saying "Hello, Colonel Hogan." He stopped near the door, his eyes growing wide as saucers. Turning around slowly, he shuddered as he saw four tuxedo-clad Heroes in the room. Muttering as he walked toward them, he asked "Colonel Hogan, what are you doing here?"
"We're reporters, Schultz," calmly explained the lead POW.
"No you are not, you are prisoners of war," insisted the guard.
"You don't expect us to stay at home on Christmas, do ya," came Carter..
"Yes, I do, you are supposed to be at Stalag 13!" Why do they show up in so many places, lamented the sentry.
Hogan shrugged. "Who can blame us, thiis a really fabulous place. Is my tie on straight?"
"I do not care about your tie," complained the obese man, "I just want you to stay away from my family. Go party in Hammelburg if you have to."
"We wanted to come here," Hogan explained. "But don't worry, our mission doesn't involve anyone in your family."
The guard was a little happier knowing his family would not be placed in jeopardy - it was bad enough when only he was. "Good, as long as you stay away..." His eyes widened again. "Wait a minute, your mission... Mmm, I know nothing, I hear noth-ing!" Just then, Schultz turned around to see a Gestapo agent stepping into the door.
Hogan quicly rescued the stunned guard. "Yes, Sergeant, so you see, we have covered some very wild stories." Nothing could be wilder than what they actually do, posited Schultz. "Your kommandant has called our papers several times to tell us about his perfect record of no escapes, so we are a little annoyed at these constant requests to interview such a vain man. Tell him do not call us, we will call him!" Hogan saluted Schultz and said "heil Hitler" before commenting in the end "I do admire a man who sticks up for his commanding officer, though, even one like Klink." Schultz mumbled his "heil" under his breath as he departed, wondering what had gotten into Hogan.
Colonel Hogan then turned his attention to the Gestapo agent. "Ah, forgive me, Sir, but that Klink will use every avenue to get the press to cover him. You would not understand until you had met him yourself."
The agent curled the corners of his mouth into a tiny grin that Carter determined was all the smile a Gestaop agent could ever muster. "Yes, I have heard about that Wilhelm Klink. I can only imagine. I came to ensure everything was all right before we proceed; a man who was one of the heroes of the Greece campaign and an illustrious general on the Eastern Front is here in the next party, and I was assigned to check on things." He explained that "your papers were not on the original roll of those covering the event."
"That is understandable, our editor likes to change his plans at the last minute. We had a couple items we thought might go to press, but they will not be able to, so we felt this was the next best thing."
"We are checking with your editor to make sure..." Richter's assistant popped his head in and reported that the wires were down in that area. "Well, I guess there is nothing we can do about that."
Hogan handed the man their passes and phony ID tags. "I am sure these papers will vouch for themselves." Kinch does great work on identification, considered the colonel as the agent studied them briefly and handed them back, pronouncing them fit. "I hope there have been no threats against the illustrious general or against this ball."
The agent realized that telling the reporter that the daughter was under surveillance might cause him to inadvertantly tip her off; not that Hogan didn't suspect such a thing already. Hence, he assured Hogan that there was no reason for alarm. The Heroes got into their positions as the Strasser family entered.
After pictures were taken, Hogan introduced himself to General Strasser. "My colleagues and I have been sent on assignment from Hammelburg's papers, we had hoped you would be here. It is a great honor."
"Danke." The general grinned, and soon began discussing war stories.
As Hogan chatted with the general, Newkirk walked up to Steffi. "A most fabulous evening, and even your father is here. A reporter's dream, an elegant formal and your father" came the Englishman as the room emptied. He whispered "this place is the stuff love stories are made of, candlelight, a gorgeous fraulein with all eyes on her, beautiful roses. Roses are red."
Steffi noticed there were few family members left, and so she hustled Newkirk out of the room so as not to arouse suspicion, urging the others to follow. "Well, come on, we should not keep Herr Richter waiting, right? You can interview me out here." When they were all out in the lobby, she glared at Newkirk. Could this be Papa Bear? And doesn't he know there are Gestapo here? Amidst murmurring from the crowd, she whispered "were you the one who was to meet me?"
"I'm just a baby bear," whispered Newkirk, suddenly eyeing the Gestapo agent. "He following you?"
"He says he is protecting my father, but I believe he is following me. I have done well to hide from him, but I did not even bring the papers, another debutante did."
"Who?" Before any answer could be given, General Strasser walked up to Steffi.
"They are waiting for us downstairs; we should mill around before you must go to the debutantes' waiting area." He turned to Newkirk. "This is such a special time, but there are so many people to talk to; I am sure you will find many fascinating stories."
As they left, and the two Gestapo agents followed at a far distance, Newkirk muttered "yeah, I'm sure we will." He won't leave her side, I bet, considered the Englishman. He turned to Hogan. "What now?"
"She didn't tell you where the stuff was?"
"The Gestapo guy's got her scared, I think," he told Hogan. "She didn't even bring it; one of the other ladies did."
"Could be her faither's got her scared a little, too," the Frenchman commented.
Hogan fretted slightly as he spoke. "Okay, we still have a few hours built in just in case; who'd she say it was?"
"She didn't say. Sir, if I may, why not just ask the others who knows er? We are reporters."
Hogan grinned. "And that's just what I want you to do. But you have to be subtle; remember, that's how Holmes solved his cases." Newkirk nodded. "Ask questions about their childhoods, about their dreams and goals, that sort of thing. We need to find commonality. And, of course, interview everyone else, too, so it looks more real. You might get clues that way."
The Heroes went their separate ways, and began interviewing. The people in charge of the banquet quickly arranged for the "reporters" to eat with several other members of the press, all from the Mainz area except for one one from Frankfurt and one from the Ministry of Propaganda.
Hogan raised his eyebrows. "I am quite pleased that the Ministry has chosen to cover this fabulous affair; as our editor said, there is much to be gained by showing the people that there is still some semblance of our wonderful civilization in the midst of such chaos."
The chief organizaer smiled. "So very well put; I suppose as a newsman he is used to turning a phrase just the right way." Hogan nodded. "Actually, he is here not only so the Ministry can use this later, but also to be the Master of Ceremonies."
"Most excellent," Hogan considered, though he could tell Newkirk was trying very hard to stifle a scowl. Yes, Newkirk, he thought, I know how you feel. They will try to turn this into a Party rally. "I trust you will watch our seats; we need to begin our work. I already spoke with General Strasser, but there are other great stories here, as well; human interest stories, to perhaps convince those who are borderline in other nations that we do offer wonderful things to those we shall conquer." Boy, considered Carter, Hogan sounds like he should be from the Propaganda Ministry. The young sergeant was in awe over how his CO conducted business.
The organizaers were also quite pleased. "Yes, as you put it, this should hopefully get out to the Allied nations; perhaps you would be interested in donating one or two of your human interest stories for Berlin Betty to use?" Hogan agreed that they might, and left.
Hogan bumped into Schultz near the family's tables. Most of the others, including his children, were milling around with other people in the ballroom. "Herr Schultz, I'm Ludwig Lohmiller of the Hammelburg Times, we spoke earlier."
"Hogan," the guard muttered under his breath.
"Relax, Schultz. And please, call me Ludwig."
"You want me to call you Ludwig? Are you crazy? I..."
"Hello, Hans," spoke Gretchen, walking up to and eyeing Hogan. "You look familiar, do I know you?"
Wishing to protect his family, the guard replied "dear, this is Ludwig Lohmiller, he is a reporter."
"Hmmm, well, my husband's toy company brought him a lot of prestige before the war, perhaps I saw you as a reporter covering him then," deadpanned the woman. Janssen walked up to them and announced she had to go to the restroom. Ilse offered to take her.
Moments later, Carter spied Janssen and Ilse walking out of the ladies' room. "Oh, I forgot something," came the debutante.
"I can go back to the table myself," spoke Janssen, "I'm a big girl."
Sensing Ilse's unease, Carter offered to walk Janssen back to thieir table. "Which one is it?" She gave the number. "My name is Ernst Carterheim, what is yours?"
"Janssen Schultz." They began walking. "What do reporters do?"
Carter quickly got into character. "Reporters tell people what happened in the news - in their city, in the world, everywhere. They write about it and it goes in the newspaper."
"How do you find out what happened?"
"We interview people; that means we sit and ask them questions about things."
Janssen got excited. "If you ask me questions can I be in the newspaper?"
Carter grinned. Why not, the colonel said to act like reporters. "I think so, we will see how much room there is in the paper. Let us sit down out here." They sat on the floor outside the door to the ballroom. "You are the youngest person here, how old are you?" He found out she was six. "And what debutante are you with?"
"My cousin Ilse."
"She is the one who went back into the bathroom?" She was. "What is her last name?"
"Schultz. We are all loyal Germans!" exclaimed the little girl as she rocked back and forth while sitting Indian style. "We do not even know who Shirley Tmeple is." She was enjoying the pretending.
And this is Schultz's daughter, Carter wondered. Good thing I didn't let slip anything more than I did. "Do you dream of one day being a debutante?"
"Maybe in Heidelberg, that is where we live." She leaned forward and gazed at the "reporter." "I do not know if they have a fancy ball there or not."
"This is a really fancy place, have you ever seen anything this fancy?"
Janssen blurted "Except there are no glass slippers, it reminds me of Cinderella's ball." She put her hands over her mouth and whispered in an embarrassed tone. "Oops, I don't know if I was suppposed to say that."
She continued to whisper. "Because I do not know if Cinderella is a Nazi story, and Father says some things like that we should pretend not to know."
Now this is making sense, considered the American. "Like when I said you looked like Shirlty Temple?" She nodded. "Do you pretend a lot?" She slunk back, looking very timid. On the one hand, Carter was glad she obeyed so well; it would keep her from spilling secrets. On the other hand, he wanted her to feel comfortable with him "It is okay, I pretend sometimes, too. But don't tell anyone I pretend, because I could get in trouble."
The girl nodded, smiling. "It is a deal. Are you done asking questions? Can I be in the paper now?"
Carter smiled. "Let me interview some others in your family, there aren't many other chlidren here, are there?"
"I have not seen many, there are some Oskar's age," Janssen comented as they walked to the table.
Carter assumed that was a brother. Where did Ilse go, he wondered; he hadn't seen her come out. "I will show you the right number table." He fought the temptation to start interviewing Schultz. Boy, would I love to see his reaction, though, considered Carter.
Instead, he walked up to the region Hogan had just left. Watching Janssen run back to her table, he noticed another boy walking back to get a sip of his drink. "Hello, I'm Ernst Carterheim, I am a reporter. Who are you?"
"My name is Heinrich," came the blond-haired boy. "I am a proud member of the Hitler Youth." He snapped to attention and flashed a heil sign.
Janssen whispered into her brother's ear. "You don't have to do that, he pretends." Schultz grimaced as he heard this, looking around and ensuring nobody else was nearby.
"We do not even whisper that..." began the father.
"Oh, well in that case I do not like..."
"Heinrich!" Schultz glared at him. "Remember, it must stay in your heart, never in your mouth!" The boy nodded meekly toward his dad. "That goes for you, too, Janssen. We do not even talk about pretending!" She suddenly looked quite sad, and uttered a small "okay." Turning his attention to Carter, the guard insisted that he leave them alone. He whispered. "Tell Hogan to keep all of you away from here. Why are you not talking to whoever you came to see?"
Carter felt badly that he'd gotten the boy in trouble. He decided he would stay away. First, though, he felt Schultz deserved an explanation. "She didn't have the stuff, the Gestapo..."
"Don't tell me that!" He held up his hands and backed away as the children present giggled. "I do not want to know about it; but if you did not come to see anyone here, do not talk to them."
"But why can't he ask Heinrich questions so he can be in the paper," inquired Janssen.
Gretchen was beginning to wonder, as well, when the guard explained. "I am doing this to keep you out of trouble, young lady; there is some monkey business going on, and I do not want them to come around here."
"Because the Gestapo might find out they are pretending about something," explained Gretchen in a low voice, beginning to catch what her husband ws saying. Heinrich listened intently as his mother asked his dad: "Are those real reporters, or not?"
The boy guessed the next line correctly, mimicking his father perfectly as the elder said "I know nothing, noth-ing!"
Carter walked up to Hogan and remarked "Schultz's table is off limits tonight."
"How come?" It was probably for the best, but he couldn't imagine Schultz chasing them away; he was usually nice. Then again, it was Christmas, and they did deserve a little time alone.
Carter lowered his head. "Well, one of his kids got in trouble for talking to me and not pretending."
Hogan's face contained a puzzled look as he sipped his drink. Strange answer, but it makes little difference. "Just as well, I can interview Ilse away from the table. We've got a lot of people to interview, a lot of clues to ferret out. You remember what I said, any little thing could help." Carter nodded, and Hogan said he would cover the debutantes. "I should be able to find a few clever ways to introduce the code words into the conversation."
The Heroes spent the first part of their evening nervously glancing at their watches. The debutantes began leaving to enter the waiting area shortly thereafter, and their fathers followed, so they could walk down the long aisle with each. The Gestapo did seem to be eyeing Steffi a little, but weren't paying much attention to the "reporters" - this relieved Hogan greatly. We're slipping into the woodwork, he told himself.
As the Heroes walked to their table, a gentleman from the Ministry of Propaganda strode up to them. "Ah," exclaimed the man, "Herr Lohmiller, I am Gerhart Weiss, from Herr Goebbels' ministry." They shook hands. "I used to work in Hammelburg years ago, I am trying to recall if I know your faces..."
"Well, I was in Vienna for quite a while - but hey, it's all German."
Weiss nodded. "Ja, we are all German peoples. And your associates, they look rather young, I may not know them."
Hogan introduced them and said they had all joined the paper recently. "Probably after you joined the Ministry, I do not recall you."
. "I see, yes, I have worked in the Ministry since 1937."
"I was in Vienna till 38, so happy to see Austria merge with our glorious Fatherland I chose to come back and take advantage of our union. I was in Kiel till..." He acted as though he could not think of when he left for Vienna. If Weiss said he'd been there, Hogan would ask when and give his date of leaving as before Weiss came. If not, he would ignore it.
Weiss had never been there, so the matter was dropped. "Well, then, we shall have to reminisce about the wonderful town of Hammelburg, shall we not? I am anxious to hear how it is now."
As the man spoke of Hammelburg being a "bright light in the soon to be worldwide realm of the Third Reich," Newkirk felt like throwing up. I'm not going to have much appetitie now, pondered the Englishman as they sat. All these lovely young women, falling prey to the evils of the Nazis. And here I am, sitting with a man who feeds them this garbage. I don't know what would be worse - for him to believe it, or for him to not believe it and be lying to them.
Weiss excused himself, and went up to the podium. While he prepared his notes as emcee, Hogana and his men excused themselves. Once they were in an out of the way place, they compared notes.
"Okay, what'd you find," Hogan inquired. "I got from General Strasser that Steffi was friends with several of the other debutantes."
"I tried a different angle, mon Colonel. Four of the laides, including Steffi, are students in Munich or around there," noted the Frenchman as he handed names and notes to Hogan. "I found information on families and their occupations, vacations, places they'd love to visit." The POW nodded. "Okay, good, this is what I hoped for, you each go different ways and you're sure to find..." He stared at one sheet. "What's this phone number?"
"One of the ladies does have an older sister."
"Figures," came the Englishman. "I couldn't stand to think about these ladies now followin' the Nazis, so I asked about their childhoods. Got great stories."
Hogan grinned as he read Newkirk's notes. "I think it might be Ilse, General Strasser told me about how she and Steffi would use good tablecloths as dresses and hold pageants in his house...whoops," he said, furrowing his brow at one page of notes.
The Englishman explained the colonel's reaction for the others. "We got three other debutantes who useta hang out with Steffi all the time, and did the same cute things as kids. I can't say for certain who's most likely. A few more went through school with er, an' they all dreamed of this since they were little."
"Here's what I found." Carter handed a notepad to Hogan. "Tons of stuff - pets and their names, favorite foods, hobbies, things like that."
"All those things to ask about, an' you got pets," chided the Englishman.
"Well, hey, the colonel said to get all kinds of information."
The Frenchman nodded. "Oui, all we have to know is who had an English bulldog named Winston, and there's our contact."
Hogan mulled over many pages of notes. "It could be any of about half a dozen, maybe more if I include those who are simply possibilities." The lights dimmed and brightened. "Okay, they're close to starting, I'll look these over while they go down the aisle. There has got to be a pattern for one of these ladies."
As Weiss collected his thoughts at the podium, Hogan pored over the notes, looking for any kind of a lead. The debutantes would be introduced, then after each went down the aisle, did some curtsying and turning around, and left, the meal would come. Hogan hoped to have the debutante pinned down before then, so he could approach the young lady before the meals were served, find out where the packet was, then they could leave. He felt a little concerned because it was reproted that snow had begun to fall somewhat heavily.
As Hogan did this, one Gestapo agent walked over and gazed at the notes behind Hogan's back. The colonel pretended to notice only after a moment, and muttered "a reporter's work is never done; how to combine all this into one story, then what to present as the best items for the Propaganda Ministry." He turned to the agent. "Have you any suggestions?" The fellow walked away, satisfied that all was in order and not wishing to draw attention to himself.
Hogan concentrated on what he recalled reading as the lights dimmed and a stagelight shone on Weiss, who began raving about the "master race." He rambled on about the "glorious Fatherland" so much, it almost made the Heroes pine for Klink. Soon Weiss had everyone yelling "heil." At the Schultz table, the chidren mimicked the adults, but held the "v" symbols in their hearts, thinking about a return to love and peace. Someday we will not be worshipping these people who tell us to hate and bring us war, considered the youngsters. Hogan and his men, flustered at this impromptu rally, pretended likewise at their table. Nekwirk, not knowing if anyone else truly understood, felt incredibly lonely, as if he was the only one in the world who truly hated this terrible tyranny.
Hogan fretted as each debutante was marched down the aisle with her father. The material on each flashed by in his mind whenever one was introduced. He even peeked at his notes several times when nobody else was looking. Were his men sure they'd written down everything they heard? Each whispered back that he was sure. Hogan frowned. Even considering only the very probable ones - a lass named Eva, then a Sophie, Ilse, and a couple of Heidis - he would have to just go ask each one. And that would be time consuming; he could murmur to one without arousing suspicion while at that table. However, going to several would make one wonder what he was doing.
The Hreoes ate little once the meals came; the rally spoiled their appetites. If only Steffi hadn't had so many friends, considered the colonel. She might have confided in any of a number of poeple. As the meals were finished and people began milling again, Hogan freeted. He looked at his watch, then went to the restroom. Yes, he told himself as he looked out the window, it is snowing pretty well now. I don't know that we'd have much time to reach Essen and get back to camp even if it was clear, though we probbly could. But now, with the roads worse?
He and the other Heroes congregated in the same spot as the crowd made merry. "Now, are you guys sure," Hogan asked. "Because if we split up maybe we can each dance with one, but we're gonna look pretty funny as reporters dancing with every debutante here."
"Hey, I even gave you the notes I took when I interviewed Janssen." Carter told the others "it was really cute, I was walking her back to the table because Ilse went back in the bathroom for something she'd forgotten, and she asked if I could get her in the paper."
Hogan flapped the papers at his side. And we took all this time, he said to himself. "Ilse went back to the restroom; did she come right back out?"
"Well...no, I guess I did think that was kinda odd, but I could have missed her."
"Blimey, the bloke's worse than Dr. Watson."
"What did I say, pick up every little thing," the colonel insisted, annoyed.
Carter explained he hadn't put that in his notes for the interview. "Who wants to read in the paper when you went to the restroom?"
"Don't you read any mysteries," LeBeau wanted to know. "My countryman Hercule Poirot always learns who did it with those little things."
"You must not read, either, Louis, he's Belgian, not French!" Turning to Hogan, Newkirk continued. "Besides, he could never hold his own against our own Sherlock Holmes."
"What, you mean she went back and stayed..." Carter thougth a minute. "Oh, I get it now." I never could solve mysteries before the end of the book, pondered the American.
"Right, our contact was probably in there with her." He shook his head, trying to think. "LeBeau, Newkirk, knock out those Gestapo guys for a while, and drag them somewhere where nobody can see them. Newkirk, call our contact in Essen, pretend you're phoning in a story to someplace in Hammelburg that hasn't had its wires cut. I've got a plan."
Hogan ensured that Schultz and his kids were elsewhere, and finally asked if he could dance with Ilse. He glanced at his watch - they could still get back before roll call, if they chose to wait until tomorrow to deliver the items to Essen. However, they could not do both. Even though the contact was waiting tonight, Newkirk would be able to tell him what happened.
Ilse smiled as the "reporter" began to dance. "You dance quite well, Herr Lohmiller."
"Danke. So do you. I understand your uncle owns a toy company."
"Yes." The girl grinned broadly, the glamour of the evening not likely to wear off for months. It did seem like something out of a fairy tale, just like she had dreamed. "My brother is rather rich. He helped my uncle start the business."
"I hope he is rich in family, too, that he can spend the time with you. You certainly have some lovely flowers, I saw them on the table..."
Hogan whispered in her ear. "Tulips, lilies, and of course, roses. Roses are red."
Ilse had nearly forgotten about the packet - she had begun to believe that maybe Papa Bear hadn't wished to contact her after all. She forced the concern from her face as she recalled the code. "And skies are blue," murmurred the lady.
"Snow is white."
"And roses are too." Okay, I said it - now what was suppoed to happen?
"I think you have a package for me? Don't worry, there's no Gestapo around." Only your fat Uncle Hans, pondered Hogan. Schultz was gawking at Ilse and Hogan, as Gretchen kept turning his face back toward her.
"Hidden in the trunk of my father's car, I have a spare key in my purse. It is a manilla envelope - I do not know what is in it. It must go to Essen, that is all I know." Ilse sighed. "Now I want to hear no more about this." She went to her purse, grabbed some makeup and applied just a little more, then fetched the key whlie nobody was looking and gave it to Hogan.
"I'll slip it back to you later, make like you lost it," the colonel muttered. Ilse breathed a huge sigh of relief as Hogan departed.
"What is going on, Ilse," inquired Georg, "where did that reporter go you were dancing with? He seems like a nice fellow, though a bit old for you."
Ilse smiled nervously. "Yes, well, he is; he just had to run and start on the story...have you seem the spare car keys, I thought I had dropped them someplace, but maybe I pulled it out of my purse before we came tonight."
Georg smiled. "You worry about the littlest things; if the hotel finds it they will tell us. And there is valet parking, nobody will steal the car."
LeBeau, meanwhile, received the key from Hogan, then with Carter snuck out of the hotel and slunk over to the valet parking area. Showing the key to the valet, the Frenchman requested to be shown to Georg Schultz's car. "His daughter has lost her spare set of keys, we are checking for them to see if they are still in the car; these are Herr Schultz's keys." Once they were shown the vehicle, Carter began to interview the valet. Once the attendant was distracted enough, LeBeau pulled the envelope out of the trunk and stuffed it into his tuxedo pocket. He motioned for Carter to return inside with them, and they went to the doorway to signal Hogan.
When the colonel received the signal, he breathed a sigh of relief. He went to a phone in the lobby to check on Newkirk, who had been getting in touch with the agent. "Well...here is the guv'ner now," he could hear Newkirk saying as he was handed the phone.
"Yes,...Yes, we have it. We are encountering some problems because of weather, and there is a deadline...I see." Hogan hummed. "It is snowing in your area?...It is harder here....Very well, we shall make it there before the morning edition." The colonel hung up the phone.
"I tried to talk to im bout the situation without revealin' too much," whispered the Englishman.
Hogan nodded. "Yeah, I know. Seems there's a few letters from a Martin Niemoller - code named epistles' - that he wrote from some camp, that's part of what we're sending. And they're to be read in the morning service for this underground church," concluded the head POW. Carter and LeBeau met them, and they wandered over to the coat room, where they'd met before. "You took care of our friends?'" LeBeau explained they were dumped in the bathtub of the suite which had been used for the photos. "Good, shouldn't be anyone in there till the maid. The clothes will be a little big for you, LeBeau, but I want you and Newkirk to slip into their clothes, you'll go back to camp in the Gestaop's car."
Carter became quite puzzled. "Uh, where does that leave us?"
"Colonel, with that snow, how are you gonna make it there and back to camp before roll call," inquired Newkirk.
"We're not. Carter, you're friends with a couple of the Schultz kids now, we're gonna go to Georg's house, they're stayng the night there and going back home in the morning. Let em capture you."
The head POW had little time to explain, but felt it was necessary. Not that Carter would be certain to keep it all straight, but perhaps. "You heard me, take your tux off, dispose of it in the restroom. We brought change of clothes for at Essen, after all, so we'll go out to the valet and get that from the car. Go knock on the door. I'll be hiding in the bushes," Hogan explained. The other prisoners looked nonplussed. "It'll make sense in a little bit. Newkirk and LeBeau are going back to camp in Gestapo uniforms and in their car; nobody'll see the clothes don't fit well in the darkness. I'm going to radio you, Newkirk, from Hammelburg when we get back there. Then, you're to put on a guard's uniform and meet us on Hammelburg Road."
After Hogan left to wait for them, Newkirk shook his head. "If I didn't know im so well, I'd say e was round the bend."
Heinrich Schultz ran into the restroom to use it before the Schultzes left. While there, he noticed the "reporter," Carter, leaving the stall where he'd disposed of his tux and changed clothes. "Remember me," wondered the boy. Carter nodded. The lad felt normal childlike impatience with his inability to share his true feelings. He'd kept them hid well, but now felt the need to let them out. "Well, you know, what I tried to say earlier my Daddy says I can't have in my mouth cause we can get in trouble. But I want to show you what is in my heart." Just as he said this, someone else walked into the restroom.
Newkirk had joined Carter and Heinrich in the otherwise empty restroom, to check on Carter and change out of his tux. He was flustered by the words spoken by Weiss, by the fact so many of those young debutantes believed that stuff, frustrated by the bombing his country was taking, and most of all frustrated he was still away on Christmas.
The first sight he saw on entering, however, was a "typical German youth," blond hair, blue eyes, probably right for a Hitler Youth poster. Except for one thing - he was raising his hand in a " V' for victory" symbol. The "v" stood high in the air, like a grand flag waving, just as he envisioned Churchill himself holding his fingers in the air.
Heinrich thought to himself, hoping and praying that the "reporter" understood. This means "victory," he told himself. This is what is in my heart when I hear those wicked Gestapo talk, or when I have to listen to our teachers saying how we're better than everyone else just because of our race. And now I have a way to express it. We will win over those who are saying and doing mean things. I hope you keep this in your heart, too, Herr Carterheim, ended the thought.
Newkirk wept at the sight. Yes, Peter, he told himself, there is hope. When little German boys hold high the "victory" symbol, there is hope. He returned the greeting, as did Carter. While Newkirk looked up, thankful for this sign, Heinrich disappeared. Newkirk looked down but saw no child. Glancing out the door, he saw nobody - the family had left already.
"Did you see..." He didn't know how to finish. Had Carter seen what? "It's just...it was so beautiful, I don't know if I can put it into words. This typical looking Hitler Youth kid, and he flashes the victory' symbol..." Yes, he told himself, it is worth it, Peter. It is worth it.
"Well, yeah, that was..."
Newkirk held up a hand. He had thought he'd seen the boy earlier, but he wasn't sure. He certainly hadn't seen him at Schultz's table. "Don't tell me. Whether it was a Christmas angel or just a kid who doesn't believe this nonsense the Nazis feed em, I don't know which I'd rather believe. Both of em sound pretty good right about now." Carter grinned.
Newkirk changed into his Gestapo outfit. He was soon followed by LeBeau. The Frenchman had been speaking with Georg about a followup interview, and getting his address and directions for Hogan and Carter. Newkirk and LeBeau asked the valet for the Gestapo car and left. Hogan, having ditched his tuxedo, joined Carter in their civilian clothing. It was unusual, but the valet was easily fooled into thinking that reporters would naturally slip out of their tuxes and travel in civilian clothing. Hogan and Carter left in the car they had brought down to Mainz.
"Okay," whispered Hogan as they drove off, "park it about a block from the house, then go up into the yard. Knock on the door if you have to." Carter parked, then wandered up to the home, mendering arund the front stoop. Schultz looked out the window. What is he up to now, wondered the man. And why did he change clothes? And how?
"What do you see out there, Hans," inquired his brother as Gretchen carried Janssen - already asleep - up into Ilse's room. George weighed 50 pounds less than Hans, but that was still rather overweight. The girl awakened slightly in her room, and with commotion downstairs, Ilse promised to help the girl change into pajamas while Gretchen went down.
"I see...I see noth-ing," Schultz remarked, turning to his brother. "Why don't you go and make something for Heinrich; the others have already gone upstairs to get ready for bed, and would you believe he says he is still hungry." The boy pretended to growl like a revanous lion.
"Of course I believe it, Hansel, he is your son," chided Georg as he went into the kitchen. Georg's wife had gone to prepare the guest room for Schutlz's three oldest. Gretchen, Heinrich, and Hans Schultz were the only ones in the living room when Carter knocked on the door.
Schultz opened the door and told Carter "go away, we do not want any of your monkey business." He shut the door in the prisoner's face.
Moping, Carter said "what does a guy hafta do to get captured here?" Hogan signalled him to knock again, and this time Heinrich opened the door before Schultz could tell him not to.
"It is the reporter, Herr Carterheim," explained the boy. "Come on in!"
Carter stepped into the living room, shutting the door behind him, and said "okay, here I am."
"Here you are?" came Gretchen's confused voice. "Here you are what?"
"I want you to capture me." Heinrich grabbed hold of him and gave Carter a silly grin. "I escaped."
"No you didn't, silly, I've still got hold of you."
Georg walked into the room with a piece of strudel and a glass of warm milk. "Here you are, my boy."
Heinrich quckly took the plate. "Get some for Herr Carterheim, please," Heinrich requested as Hogan walked in the door and closed it behind him, presuming a simple capture had occurred. "He likes to pretend, too," he remarked. "He even gave me the victory' symbol."
Schultz rapidly stood up. "What did I tell you about talking about that symbol, young man?"
"Excuse me..." Hogan began. The head POW was totally ignored.
"But I did not say anything about us believing that."
Carter nodded. "That's right, he didn't even say anything when he showed the sign in the rest room earlier."
Schultz was livid, but also a little scared now. He whisked the plate of strudel away from the boy and gave if back to George. "Did anyone else see you," he asked as Hogan walked toward the guard.
"Just another reporter, he gave me a v' sign back." But how do you know he was a real reporter, pondered the sentry.
"Excuse me," Hogan tried to interrupt. Though more forceful, he still got little response.
"Wait your turn," came the guard. Hogan walked over to the couch and sat. The look reminded him of when one of his younger brothers had been caught playing with matches. Schultz held the child by the shoulders, seeming to stare right through the suddenly scared boy. Hogan decided this was not the time to ask to use the phone. "Young man, don't you know the Gestapo could have come in and seen you?! You never, never give that sign to anyone; it is so dangerous to show you don't like the Nazis, the Gestapo..." Schultz tried to think of something scary enough to frighten the child and keep him from doing it, but not scary enough to traumatize him. He shook a finger at him, the boy's lip trembling. "The Gestapo would take you away and beat you up! They migth also take us away, or your brothers or little sister. There are very mean people there. When you see something like that done, you must know nothing! You keep it in your heart and do not show it; if that other reporter had been a Gestapo agent in disguise he would have been very mean to you."
Carter felt awful, like it was his fault. "Hey, look, I'm sorry, I..."
Schultz ignored the American. A little calmer, Schultz exclaimed "you go stand in the corner for giving that sign, and think about what I said!" He pointed to a corner in the dining room, and the boy marched there, sobbing and thinking about the Gestapo. Schultz sighed, wishing he hadn't had to scare him so much - but, the dangers that posed required it. He spied Hogan sitting on the couch, now joined by Georg Schultz, who was gulping down the strudel.
"Schultz..." began Hogan.
"Stay out of this, please," came the guard.
Hogan gestured toward Carter. "But one of my men is standing in the corner!" I respect and probably agree with your handling of your son, he considered, but making prisoners stand in the corner is against the Geneva Convention.
"I think I deserve to," noted Carter from his corner, "I shouldn't have shown that sign back to him, and could have gotten him in a lot of trouble."
Mrs. Schultz looked at Hogan, and became increasingly confused and concerned. "One of your men..." Gretchen paused. "Hans, who are these people?"
Schultz looked around the room for Carter, finally noticing that he was indeed standing in a corner. "In a minute, dear," he told his wife, unsure of what to say. He walked up to Carter and spoke. "I was not telling you to stand in the corner, only Heinrich."
Carter nodded sadly. "Yeah, but you said how bad that was, and how much trouble we could get in." Schultz sighed as Carter rambled. "I mean, I even interviewed your little girl, and told her I liked to pretend - I did say some things I shouldn't have said."
The colonel, overhearing, decided to try and help. Recalling how his father would comfort them after punishment, he considered he was very much like the fat man who usually guarded them. Maybe he and Schultz could work together here. He walked over to his fellow American. "Carter..." Hogan realized he might expose part of the mission, so he asked Georg and Gretchen to leave before they heard anything else. Only the man complied, leaving quickly; Gretchen insisted on staying, and after a moment Hogan decided he couodn't prevent that. "Carter, what you did was just...well, it was part of our mission." Hogan turned to the Schultzes, recognizing that he made it sound like he would take advantage of their family - and of little kids. He knew he couldn't do that. "I didn't mean that the way it sounded. We'd never mean to take advantage of little kids, it just happened..."
Gretchen seemed unsatisfied. Schultz thought for a moment, and looked up. Finally, he called Hogan and Carter to where he and Gretchen stood. "Carter, come away from there now," he called. Carter slowly complied, worried Schultz might yell at him. The boy ws still weeping and sniffling a little in his corner. Schultz hated to see this, but knew the lesson had to sink in. Hans Schultz muttered for his wife and the POWs to hear. "I know when you do your monkey business very strange things happen. Not all of them are good for Germans. But this was." He hung his head and sniffled slightly. "Because if he had shown that victory' sign to anyone else..." The obese man shuddered. "I cannot stand to think of what cruelty could have happened. At least he will learn his lesson from a loving father." Hogan nodded grimly, stifling a laugh he felt was inappropriate. Robert, did you ever think you'd be comparing a German guard to your own loving father?
Carter grinned. "So, I don't have to stand in the corner?"
"No. I teach them these things because I want them to know they do not have to fall for Hitler - he is very persuasive, and does and says a lot of things I do not like, that are mean or just wrong. But, that v' is a very dangerous sign." The Americans nodded.
Gretchen shook her head, a little worried lest her husband give away something important. Not only that, but she could tell now that these were not ordinary reporters.. "Hans, what monkey busness' are you...I am totally clueless now, Hans, please give me a hint."
"There are things I do not know myself," explained Schultz. He glanced at his watch. Heinrich had been in the corner for long enough. He walked over to him and pulled a tissue from his pocket, kneeling and wiping the boy's face. He turned him around and hugged him. Quietly, he said "I am sorry I had to scold you so harshly, but that is very dangerous to show that v' sign. You go right to bed now, and you get no dessert for the next tthree days. I want to make sure you remember this, because I love you very much, and I don't ever want to lose you. But you must obey our rules about these things so you can be safe." You put quite a few American fathers to shame, Schultz, came the head POW's thought.
"I'm sorry, Daddy," whimpered the boy.
"I know. Run along upstairs, I will tuck you in in a minute." Heinrich ran upstairs, and the guard walked toward Hogan and Carter. "Now, as for you..." The guard sighed. "You will, of course, forget this ever happened." Hogan and Carter nodded. "Georg," he called to his brother, "check on my older boys." The brother went from the kitchen to the bedroom. "Now, I do not know what you are doing here, but I want your monkey business to stop this minute, before your good luck runs out."
Hogan smiled. The last few minutes had seen Schultz much more in charge than they were used to, but perhaps that "pretending" the kids spoke of was also practiced by the father. It was safer for all of them to pretend Schultz was a bumbling fool, and not the man who owned a large toy company before the war. "We will, Schultz, I just gotta call someone."
"We'll say your son captured us if you want," Carter offered.
The guard shook his head. "That will not be necessary, since nobody else saw him. I want you to leave my children completely out of this!" He smiled. "Although, maybe just in case..." He hesitated. "In case someone saw...noth-ing."
Hogan laughed, as the guard had already begun to "see nothing" about it. "We'll say some kid, we don't know who, then if someone does start asking you questions we'll give a description of your son, use his name only then." The guard agreed. "Good, now can I make that call?"
"Why do you want to call someone," inquired Gretchen, a little alarmed because of what Heinrich had done. This was very confusing. "Who are you?"
"I told you, Ludwig Lohmiller," answered the colonel. "You guys captured Carter, he's an escaped prisoner from Stalag 13."
"Yeah," Carter exclaimed, pounding the air as both Schultz's mouths stood agape, "and of all the rotten luck, I take a wrong turn and come down here."
"I need to phone in a story to our newspaper," Hogan explained as Georg's wife Eva walked into the room. He turned to Eva. "Our car broke down, can I use your phone, Ma'am?"
"What in the name of Kris Kringle..." sputtered Gretchen.
Eva okayed the phone call, though it was long distance. She told Schultz "the children are all okay, except for Heinrich; he is scared the Gestapo might have seen him and he didn't know it."
Schultz sighed. Oh, well, better to scare him now than have him harmed later, he told himself. He decided it was better if nobody saw whatever Hogan was about to do. "Come on, we will all reassure him while he makes this call."
"No," insisted Gretchen, "I am staying down here until I find out what is going on."
Schultz cast a quick glance at the American colonel. Hogan grumbled a little, but nodded. He wished he could be sure Mrs. Schultz would be as willing to ignore things. She probably was, though, and he had little choice but to trust her. It would be worse if he didn't. She might not let them leave to complete the next round of their mission otherwise. "Tell her who we are, Schultz, it's okay," he said after Eva left.
"Dear, these are not reporters. This is a man you saw a couple times when picking me up - Colonel Robert Hogan, my wife, Gretchen." She eyed him warily. "If he says he giong to call Stalag 13, then he is going to call Stalag 13, though I am sure he will pretend to be someone else. He does that a lot; unlike ourselves and our children, his pretending..."
Gretchen stopped hm. "Hans, I do not care. Just tell me one thing. Are our children safe?" He promised that Hogan would make sure of that. Her stare was like a dagger as she looked at Hogan. "Now I want you to tell me the truth. And look at me when you do it," she demanded. "Are our children - especially Heinrich - in any danger, and what is going on?"
Hogan had little time to think how to answer that. Her bluntness was not what he normally encountered. And with her staring into his eyes, he knew even poised as he was, he might not be able to get away with fibs. He remembered his own mother. He blurted out "as far as I know, nobody suspects what you believe. From all I can tell, there is no danger to any of your family." He wasn't sure what he'd say to the second query.
He had little time to think, either. Gretchen fired the next question quickly. "And why do you want one of your own men captured?"
Do I dare? No, I can't tell her the whole story. She seemed sincere, but one could never be too careful. But somehow, I know she'll know if I lie; and if I do we may not get out of here. Before, that wasn't as much of a concern, but now, with items needed quickly? Plus, there was no guarantee Mrs. Schultz would only call Stalag 13, though from what he'd seen and heard, the family would likely want nothing to do with Gestapo agents. "We can't make it back to camp in time for roll call because there's something else we have to do. This gives us an excuse; I'm out helping to capture Carter. I plan to call Stalag 13 and pretend to be the person I was tonight, and say I saw him."
"Dear," the guard interrupted, "it is at this point I always say I want to know noth-ing. I suggest you do the same." Usually I say it even earlier, he pondered.
Gretchen gave her husband a wry grin. "If you want to know nothing, go up and reassure our son that the Gestapo is not coming tonight." He left.
Hogan felt somewhat relieved. "I'm glad you realize I'm telling the truth about that." "Hans is not nearly as persistent as I am, Colonel. I recognize you now, and I think you are telling the truth...at least about the Gestapo not coming." Her face hardened. "Because I am like a lioness, and I will do anything to keep you from endangering my cubs, including fingering you for any sort of treason they suspect my cubs of." Carter shuddered slightly, but Hogan glanced at him with a look telling him to remain calm. There was no need to panic. "Tell me exactly what is going on."
Hogan griped inwardly. This woman could lead me to give away our whole operation, considered the American. Many times, Hogan wouldn't have even had to reveal what he had to Schultz. Was this what motherhood did to someone? It would explain why he knew of almost no mothers in the Underground.
Hogan rambled to give himself time to think. "Your husband insists on not knowing to protect you," began the colonel. "Call it pretending, call it whatever..."
"You still have not answered my question," declared the woman. Boy, she doesn't give up at all, contemplated Hogan. I am going to have to reveal something to get out of here. But, what?
Finally, he remembered the letters. Maybe that would help. "Are yu familiar with a minister named Martin Niemoller?" She was. "He's in prison somewhere, but smuggled some letters out to be read to an Underground church. These letters will reassure that church, just as your boy needs reassurance. We need to get them there by Sunday morning." He looked at his watch. "Which is rapidly approaching." Hogan was glad he was so good at hiding his emotions, because Mrs. Schultz was making him sweat inside.
Gretchen sized Hogan up, considering what he'd said. Yes, it could be...she knew the Confessing Church had many ministers in jail. Still..."All this craziness...for a couple letters?"
"I'll admit, it's not the way Saint Paul did it," came the humorous comment. "But I think you'll admit every little bit helps, and the Gestapo makes normal means impossible."
The woman hummed. "I still suspect you might be carrying something else." Boy, good thing this lady's not in the Gestapo, I'm doing my best and she still suspects! "However,.I feel I can trust you regarding that. I also feel you will be careful enough to not get caught. There is one more thing."
This better be quick, lady, we're losing enough time as it is. "What?"
"You will make sure we get out of Germany, if you are caught." She'd implied it was a question, but Hogan could tell by her voice it was a command.
Hogan grimaced. He had so many other things to think about if they did escape. Yes, maybe that would be best, Schultz knows enough about us. But, how could he...okay, he could, but if he told her he could, he would be risking his whole operation. No, Robert, this woman pretends enough, you could agree to have people get in touch with her. Besides, Schultz already suspects you could, I'm sure. "Okay, we'll try..."
"Trying is not good enough, Hogan. Just as trying to keep quiet is not good enough; one must do it, not just try. You saw how we scolded Heinrich when one little thing slipped. Hans can ignore you if he wants, he knows what could happen to him if he doesn't. I am warning you the same way, if you let something slip about us...." Gretchen was pleased to see Hogan's reassuring look.
"All right, we'll make sure some people get to you to help you out," proclaimed the man. Good grief, he asked, will she ask me the names of contacts next? Luckily, she grudgingly accepted. Hogan felt exhausted. He had just gone the mental equivalent of fifteen rounds with Joe Louis. And Gretchen still insisted on watching him call! Carter watched the window.
Gretchen grinned, satisfied as the head POW impersonated Ludwig Lohmiller over the phone. Hogan spoke slower than he sometimes did, but Klink, unlike sometimes, did not attempt to get a word in edgewise. "If it is all right, I will simply contact the guard house and one of your men can come down."
Klink expressed shock, then sudden delight at realizeing his record was still intact. "How wonderful - you know, there has never been a successful escape at Stalag 13. A record which remains intact thanks to your capture."
"It was not I who captured him; it was...well, I shall explain when your man gets here. Please transfer me, and you can go back to bed." Klink agreed, glad to have this little distraction out of the way. Hogan heard the words "Stalag 13, guard house" and hung up.
"You are clever, Hogan. Now, leave and do not come our way again, unless you are helping us escape. Or else, you will again be fighting a lioness," warned Gretchen.
Just as they were about ready to leave, however, Carter turned quickly from the window. "Someone coming," he cried, "and it looks like Gestapo!"
"All right, hide..." Hogan began as Georg walked downstairs. Gretchen quickly grabbed their arms.
"Not so fast. If prisoners are found on this property we could all get in trouble. Are the papers on you?" They were not. Knowing those would cause no problems, she called out to Georg, who was just reaching the end of the staircase. "Go up and tell Hans to bring our hero down for capturing this man." She scowled at Hogan. "Unless you have a better idea?"
Georg shook his head as he went back upstairs. "Doctor said to exercise, but this is ridiculou," muttered the man.
Hogan shook his head. "We can hide, lady, we've done it before."
"I know what I can trust people to pretend to do," explained the wife as heavy boots were heard marching up the drive. "Hiding is not easy. But if you are so good, yu will pretend with us." Gretchen was assuming that this visit was the result of Heinrich's actions. As she opened the door, she grinned. "Are you hear to see our little hero; I believe he is in bed already."
The Gestapo agent appeared confused. "Little...hero?"
"Yes, the one who made the capture," remarked Gretchen as the Gestapo barged their way in. She noticed Heinrich timidly peering down from the top of the staircase, holding Schultz's hand. "It is all right, dear, the scary one will not hurt you." Quickly, back to the Gestapo agent, she explained. "He was quite brave when he made the capture, but now that he thinks about it he realizes what could have happened. It is so scary to meet up with the Allies."
Heinrich, looking somewhat pale, tugged as his dad's arm. Whispering in the bending man's ear, he asked almost inaudibly even to Schultz "is Mommy pretending?" Inside, Heinrich was praying. Schultz nodded. "Is he here cause of me?" Schultz didn't know. Georg and Eva appeared at the top of the steps, Georg determined not to walk down again unless he absolutely had to.
Hogan caught on quickly to what Gretchen was doing. Carter, clueless, said nothng. "Oh, yes, this man here did his best to scare the poor little thing, but you know, sometimes the mind acts before the body can tell it not to, especially with brave Hitler Youth like him."
The Gestapo agent nodded, but was still a little confused. "I see. Yes, we received a call from a neighbor, they saw someone out on the porch for a whlie, acting strangely, and they did not recognize him." The Schultzes breathed a sigh of relief. Heinrich had not been seen. "We felt we should investigate, there were several men who escaped a prison camp near here yesterday, Mrs...are you Eva Schultz?"
"Nein, Gretchen Schultz," she reported, handing him her papers. "I am the couple's sister in law, we just came from the debutante ball, and were so very tired, when Heinrich noticed the same thing. He is scared now, and tired, he might not wish to talk." Eva announced herself and walked to to give her and her husbands' paperss. "But he saw the man at the ball tonight, and thought he seemed odd. We have since learned this is an escapee from Stalag 13, named Carter."
Sensing Gretchen was the one in charge - probably because she was just being a proud mother - the agent turned back to her. He pointed at Hogan. "And, who is this man?"
Hogan remained stoic but perspired inside as Gretchen pondered for a split second which seemed like an eternity to him. If she chose to tell the truth - which she might, if only to save herself from any problems - then he would grudgingly understand. It would mean having to somehow knock out Gestapo officials as they were taken back to camp. Having her say he was Ludwig would be so much easier, especially since she wouldn't be followed any more after tomorrow; she'd be home in Heidelburg with the others. He was also formulating his own plan to explain Carter's presence at the motel with him. He wished he could explain it to her; it was airtight, after all.
Gretchen also thought to herself, and decided that her cubs were safe. She knew they could flee if they needed. Now, the only question was, who was Hogan to be? Unlike Hans, who would be expected to know Hogan, she had no reason to know who he was. She was glad Hans rarely spoke at times like this. "Why, he is a reporter, Ludwig Lohmiller. He came...because he saw Carter and Heinrich's capture, and knew it would make a tremendous story."
Hogan handed the agent his papers. "Is this true, Herr Lohmiller?"
"Yes; I have already called Stalag 13, they are sending a guard to pick up Carter, you may call and confirm this with their kommandant, Wilhelm Klink, if you would like." Hogan smiled. "It may take a while, in this weather, and since he is on his way here it would of course not be good to inconvenience the man and have him go elsewhere."
"How did you find civilian clothing," barked the Gestapo man at Carter, who spat.
"He stole them from some store in Hammelburg while the Red Cross truck he hopped aboard made a stop." explained the head POW. Since they had swiped some clothing from such a store at times, this would be something which could be checked.
Finally, the agent nodded. "I believe that is all; we shall call upon Kommandant Klink and confirm this, but it does appear that everything is in order. You are going back to Heidelberg in the morning?" Gretchen said they were. "Very good, I do not believe we will need to speak to you any further, or your family, as long as we get the confirmation from Stalag 13. And I understand how little children would be scared by these bad, bad Americans." The comment sounded quite hollow.
After the man left, Heinrich glanced longingly at his dad. "Will he come back?"
""Nein, and tomorrow we leave for Heidelberg, so we will not have any more problems."
Still quite scared, the boy whined. "Can I sleep with you and Mommy tonight anyway?"
The dad smiled sweetly. "Of course, liebchen." They went into the bedroom.
Gretchen looked at Hogan, but before she could say anything, the colonel said "yeah, I know, we owe you one."
"You owe me about fifty." She grinned. "Lucky for you, I am experienced in pretending. Quite experienced." Hogan wasn't sure what to make of the remark.
"I thought we'd never get out of there," proclaimed Carter as they were on their way.
"I knew we had to eventually." Though inside, Hogan knew she considered calling Stalag 13 herself, as well as ratting on him and saying Heinrich had captured both. He quickly fell asleep after his mental ordeal. His last thoughts were of Schultz remarking he thought often of his wife "during bayonet practice." He could see why.
Carter drove past several checkpoints, and finally the duo arrived in Essen. The sun had not yet risen, and people were sneaking into an old warehouse, he could tell some parts of this industrial section had been hit by bombers the previous night. The only reason Mainz had not been hit was London knew the Heroes were in the area.
As Hogan and Carter parked several blocks away and exited the car, Carter felt around himself. "Oh, no...I think we forgot it."
Hogan shook his head. "Carter, it's in a rip in the seat, remember?" Hogan pulled the envelope out and hid it in his shirt. "Come on, we're supposed to meet in this warehouse." A man shood outside looking round nervously. "Good norming, Sir, how was your Christmas?"
"Quite well, Herr..." I don't know this man, do I?
"Lohmiller, Ludwig Lohmiller," muttered the colonel. "Mine was excellent. I bought my wife some beautful roses. Roses are red."
They completed the code, and the man ushered them inside. "You are Papa Bear?" Hogan nodded. "I had begun to fear the worst. I hope everything went all right."
"Oh, no problems, just got held up by Mother Lion." Sensing confusion, Hogan explained. "No, that's not a code name, just...it's a long story." He handed him the packet.
The agent looked inside. "Ah, wonderful. The service is just about to start." He called a teen to him, and gave him the letters from Niemoller. "Take these to the podium, they will be read in a few minutes." He complied. "Won't you stay for our service; we must get started quickly, before the sun comes up."
Hogan smiled. "No, thank you, but we have to make it back by a certain time."
"Too late for that, but we have plans. Just make sure the rest of the pack gets to the people in Berlin."
Hogan radioed Newkirk from Hammelburg a short time later. Yes, Klink had received a call from Mainz Gestapo, and had confirmed that he'd sent a guard to pick up Carter. The corporal put on a guard's uniform, brought Hogan and Carter back, and ushered Hogan and Carter into Klink's ofiice.
The Britisher announced: "Sir, Private Lohmiller, Sir! Reporting, Sir." He gave a "heil" sign with each "Sir," and showed no signs of slowing down as he continued to shout. "I, Sir, have brought back, Sir, the prisoner, Sir, and as was told Sir, to you, Sir, Colonel Hogan, Sir, insisted on going along, Sir, so I would not, Sir, get trigger happy,' Sir, and now, Sir..."
Klink stood at his desk, his headache coming back, thanks to all that yelling. "All right, enough with the "sirs"s, tell me what happened, Private."
"Well, Sir, you see, Sir, I went down, Sir..."
"Get out, Private, and stop saluting me!" Newkirk left, as Klink collapsed into his chair, holding his head. "Was that man like this the whole time?"
"He was, Sir." Hogan grinned as Klink shook a fist at him. "Sorry. Couldn't resist."
"And you," the German pointed at Carter, "how did you get out?"
"That Red Cross truck that left this afternoon, I stowed away on the back and went into town, with it, then went most of the way and hopped off. I walked a while till I got into some city...what did the Private call it?"
"Yeah, well, some little kid nabbed me late at night, some Hitler Youth kid." Carter grumbled. "What do you feed these kids, they must never sleep."
"That is not important. 30 days in the cooler..."
"Thirty days," cried Hogan. "Come on, it's Christmas, where's your spirit?"
"He used the holiday to try to ruin my record," came the comeback, "where was his spirit?"
"And wouldn't you have done the same thing? This is when we're loneliest."
Klink thought for a moment, and finally said "20 days in the cooler."
"Are you kidding, a little kid captured him!"
Carter nodded. "That's right, why I coulda gotten away, but I'm not gonna go around beating on some little kid just to get away," Carter told him.
"Yeah, he was nice to the kid, give him a break."
"He watched me for ten minutes till some adult showed up, I could have easily tricked him in that time, you know." Carter shook his head. "But nosiree, I knew when I was caught. I'm a good sport."
"Come on, Kommandant, picture yourself at Christmas time, away from your family, the holiday season isn't over yet, you know. Give him more time to think about it with no activities and he'll be certain to try again, get his mind off it and he won't be," insisted the colonel.
"All right, five days, he'll be out New Year's Eve."
"Don't you think he was punished enough by having to listen to that new private on the way back...Sir," emphasized Hogan.
The constant, loud repitition of "sir" still rang in Klink's ears. "All right, 3 days, and that's my last offer. Lohmiller!" Newkirk returned, still in uniform. "Take this man to the cooler, and if he tries anything funny, let him have it with a big barrage of sir's. Diiiis-missed."
As the rotation of guards shifted, with those who didn't have off leaving and those who had off for Christmas returning, Hans Schultz drove into camp in a Volkswagon, which he parked in the motor pool. As he walked toward the kommandant's to report in, Carter wakled past him. "Hiya, Schultz," he remarked, "I just got out of the cooler."
"Only three days," muttered the sentry.
"Yeah. Klink knows a Hitler Youth kid captured me, so if you want you can tell him, you know," remarked Carter.
"Danke - no problems after that night, though. Oh, guess what? Remember I said your monkey business' worked out okay for once?" Carter nodded. "Well, Heinrich was still very sad the next morning, thinking about what he'd done. I think he knew that man never would have believed him if he'd seen him giving the sign.. We talked about the bad things we all do, and he asked Jesus into his heart to save him from his sins." Carter nodded excitedly, glad that his messing up had had positive results. The guard walked into the office, with Hogan following close behind. "Sergeant Schultz reporting back for duty, Herr Kommandant!"
"Excellent. Schultz, you know that Private Lohmiller we have on our roster?"
"Private Lohmiller? I was not aware we had..."
"Sure, Schultz, he's the one with the loud mouth, he signed up and came here right before you left for Christmas, you probably don't remember him." He held a hand to his head, as if it hurt. "But we sure do."
Schultz recognized that he should probably agree with Hogan. "Oh, that Private Lohmiller. Ja, it is just like the colonel says."
"Hmmpf. Anyway," began Klink, "I want you to keep an eye out for him. He brought back the man who escaped, but I have not seen him around since."
"With all that yelling of Sir' he did, I thought you'd be glad," noted Hogan.
"True. But he seems very efficient, and I had been hoping to talk with him, perhaps tone him down a little," noted the kommandant. "However, I do not know where he went."
Hogan swiped a cigar from Klink's desk. "If I may, Sir, all those sir's struck me as the beginning of the end for him. He has mental sirosis, I think."
"Mental sirosis? I have never heard of that term," Klink confesssed.
Hogan explained, using the cigar to gesture. "German scientists have confirmed this. It comes from a variety of factors in the Prussian peoples. See, the downside of being a great race is certain things, like military discipline, are so much a part of the person that they literally take over - hence the Sir' in sirosis.' It expands like a tumor, and so a soldier will get to the point where every sentence has many sir's in it; soon, the only word that will come out of his mouth is sir.'" Hogan nodded sadly. "Yeah, it lokos like he either went completely nuts or one of the other, senior guards got tired of him and...well, you know."
"Oh, my." Kink looked concerned. "That does sound terrible - but you know, I suspected there might be something wrong the way he shouted, and the way he used sir' so often. Perhaps you're right, Hogan, though I would hate to see such a talent go to waste. Diiiis-missed."
"That sounds terrible," lamented Schultz as he and Hogan walked out into the compound. "I am just glad I do not have a disease like that. Where do you suppose he went?"
"Well, way I figure," remarked the American, "there's one stop before a person goes totally insane. I bet that's where he is - he joined the Gestapo."
Text and original characters copyright by D. Fowler
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.