What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
2006 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
A Late Night Talk
Colonel Robert Hogan ran his hand brusquely across his mouth for the third time in ten minutes. He had been happy with the results of tonight’s sabotage outing—his men reported that the ball bearing plant had been destroyed, and no one had been hurt—but it bothered him that they had seemed so relieved earlier tonight when they had been told Newkirk was staying behind. Hogan sighed. He still often caught the others watching Newkirk particularly closely when it came to encountering anyone outside their close-knit group. He had wanted to think that was all behind them. But he wasn’t naïve enough to believe it truly was.
Peter Newkirk had angered Hogan
almost beyond reason when the RAF Corporal had showed up at Stalag Luft 13 in
the middle of Nazi Germany with a woman—a woman that he had brought through the
secret tunnels that helped keep Hogan’s intelligence and sabotage operation up
and running right under the noses of the guards of the prisoner of war camp and
its pompous but bumbling Kommandant, Wilhelm Klink. Newkirk had been ordered by
Hogan to get back to
Hogan had come down hard, as had the other men under his command. After all, what Newkirk had done was unconscionable, regardless of his motives. And it had undermined the one thing that a group like Hogan’s desperately, absolutely needed: complete trust in each other. Hogan and his men had been on almost a dozen forays since that nearly disastrous day, and every one of them had been a success—technically. But Hogan had kept watch on his men, and though he hated to admit it, he knew that the dynamics had changed. They were still watching their backs—but not just against the enemy. Now they were watching one of their own.
“Damn it, Newkirk!” Hogan burst, exasperated. He slammed his fist down on his desk, upending the tin can that served as a pencil holder and rattling his lamp. Hogan knew another truth as well: that he himself had been hurt by Newkirk’s actions. Not just because the man had disregarded his orders; Newkirk wouldn’t have been Newkirk if he didn’t follow his heart. But because Hogan had hoped that the safety of the men he worked with—and the success of the vital operation they were all part of—would have been more important to the Englishman than any girl he had just met, genuine or not. Newkirk had overlooked one of the basic rules of thumb—never sacrifice many for the sake of one. Especially when the loyalties of the “one” were unknown. And never, never bring someone who hadn’t been cleared by Hogan through the tunnels.
Hogan stood up from his desk and let out a heavy sigh, then began his customary pacing, a habit he didn’t realize he had until it had been brought to his attention as a telltale sign of his worry. He was glad that tonight all his saboteurs were safely tucked in their beds, so they wouldn’t see him walking the floor now. They didn’t know—yet—that Hogan’s own outing hadn’t been so successful. Or that they were going to have to trust each other implicitly when they woke up in the morning, if they wanted to survive.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
The saboteurs may have been safely tucked in their beds, but not all of the men in the barracks were asleep. One man was lying on his bunk facing the rough wooden wall without really seeing it. He hadn’t slept well for weeks, and it looked like he wouldn’t again tonight. Two years of living in a roomful of men had taught him how to shut out all the little noises of the night: the creak of a bunk as someone turned over and the occasional quiet cough, not to mention the sounds of seventeen other men doing nothing more than breathing. He didn’t notice such things any more, and they had nothing to do with his insomnia.
Newkirk felt like sighing, but didn’t want to make even that small a sound that might draw someone’s attention to himself. He’d had far too much of the others’ attention coming to him in the form of sidelong looks and barely hidden questioning glances ever since the day he’d nearly blown the entire operation at Stalag 13. He’d disobeyed a direct order from Colonel Hogan, then made matters much worse by bringing a Gestapo agent through the tunnel and into camp. Disaster had been averted only by the Colonel’s quick thinking and Carter’s brilliant acting job.
By all rights, he should have been court-martialed. He had been, in a way, and Newkirk would never forget the solemn faces of his closest friends as they sat in on what could only be called a trial. He’d also never forget the hard tone of Hogan’s voice as the American officer laid out the charges. He’d managed to partly talk his way out of it, resulting in the Colonel starting a program of “weekend passes into town” for the men who were the most active in the operation. That part was working out well, judging from the stories they were telling on their return to camp. Newkirk didn’t mind being left out of that. He knew he didn’t deserve the privilege, and Hogan had made it clear at the time that it would be a while before he would be going into town for any reason. That was a part of his punishment, and he’d made up his mind to get through it without complaint.
The rest of it, though, that was another story. He could deal with any punishment that Hogan assigned, but what he couldn’t handle was losing the trust and respect of everyone in the group. The others had tried to act like nothing had changed, but it didn’t last long. They’d still played cards with him at first, but the silence during the game had taken all the pleasure out of it, and no one asked him to tell jokes or do magic tricks anymore.
The last three weeks had been a living hell for someone as sociable as Newkirk. He’d gradually given up on doing anything other than falling out for roll call and performing his assigned work detail duties. When he wasn’t working, he’d taken to spending as much time away from Barracks Two as possible, even to the point of going to the mess hall instead of joining the others for cuisine de Le Beau.
Newkirk finally let out the sigh he’d been holding in. He couldn’t keep living like this; better to be sent to the cooler and kept in solitary until the end of the war than to have to face another day among the men he’d hurt by his thoughtless actions.
The Englishman slipped to the floor, moving carefully so he wouldn’t disturb Carter, who was sleeping in the bunk below. He was fully dressed, not having bothered to change into his usual nightshirt before going to bed, so all he had to do was pull on his boots before silently crossing the common room of the barracks. He paused, gathering his courage along with a deep breath before knocking softly on the door to Hogan’s quarters.
Hogan wasn’t startled by the light knock on his door. Then again, if Klink had walked in and told him the war was over and Hitler had surrendered to Patton, he wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow, either. He was in a jaded frame of mind, preoccupied by problems within the camp and problems within the operation itself, and after ten minutes of unproductive pacing, he had given up and hit the bunk for equally unproductive lying down. He glanced toward the door and said, “Come,” but didn't move to sit up and greet his late night visitor.
Newkirk opened the door and stepped hesitantly inside. He stood quietly, almost as if he expected to be told to leave.
Hogan didn’t give the response Newkirk expected, and instead gave a brief, distracted smile. “Something on your mind, Corporal?” he asked. If it was anything like what was on Hogan’s mind, he would have a blinding headache. But he wanted to give Newkirk a chance to reveal himself at his own pace.
Newkirk nodded, then took another deep breath before beginning. “Colonel Hogan.... I’d... like to request a transfer to another barracks. Sir.”
Hogan furrowed his brow and cocked his head slightly, concerned. “Newkirk?”
Another hesitant nod. “I’m not doing anyone any good here any more. If I’m no longer a part of the operation, I’d just as soon not stay here and be in everyone’s way, sir.”
Hogan frowned. “What makes you think you’re not a part of the operation? I haven’t discharged you from service yet that I’m aware of.”
“You may as well, and be done with it. I know how everyone feels about me, sir... and I can’t say I blame them one bit. I nearly got everyone killed... and all because I didn’t listen and do what I was told.”
Hogan sat up and swung his feet off his bunk. He rubbed his eyes tiredly, then threw a reluctant look at the Englishman. “Everyone feels...” Hogan paused and stood up, wishing just then that he was holding a cup of coffee so he could take refuge looking inside the cup instead of at Newkirk. Without one, he absentmindedly rearranged the papers on the desk. “You belong here. It’s just going to take time.”
“Time, sir? It’s been three weeks already. Three weeks, and none of the others want anything to do with me. Not even Carter...” Newkirk’s voice trailed off, remaining silent for a long moment. “Not even you, sir.”
Hogan paused with one paper in mid-shuffle. “I’ve had a lot on my mind,” he offered, sounding a little too casual to convince even himself. “Mostly about the operation.” The final paper was replaced. “And about you.”
“I’ve put a lot of that worry there, sir. I made a right mess of things. I almost ruined everything we’ve been doing here... and I... let everyone down.”
Hogan let a small flash of anger burn through him. “You disobeyed a direct order,” he said sharply. “Because you couldn’t get your mind off a dame!” Hogan let his eyes drop and looked away quickly, cursing himself for giving Newkirk a glimpse of the chink in his armor.
Newkirk took a half-step backwards, recoiling a bit from the sharp sound of anger cutting through the Colonel’s voice. The first time he’d heard that tone was during the “court-martial,” though he’d heard it many times since in the back of his mind.
“Yes, sir... and I don’t know what to say except that I’m sorry I let it happen. I betrayed your trust, betrayed every one of the others as well. I wouldn’t blame any of you if you never could trust me again.... God knows I don’t deserve it.”
Hogan had immediately regretted the hostility in his voice. He straightened, hoping the movement would diffuse his hurt, and flexed his shoulders. “You made a mistake,” he said roughly, heading toward the window. Anywhere but face to face with Newkirk. “Everyone makes mistakes. No one quits over them.”
While the Englishman stood facing Hogan, he couldn't bring his eyes up to meet the American’s face. Head bowed, shoulders slumped, he presented quite a different image than his usual one of the brash Cockney magician. He said nothing.
“Is that what you want to do?” Hogan pressed. “Quit?”
“No, sir,” he said very quietly. “But for the good of the outfit... I have to. You can’t trust me any more, and my being here in the same barracks isn’t doing anyone any good. Papa Bear can’t have anyone along on a mission that he can’t count on, and neither can the rest of the men. You can’t use me any more as part of a team, so I thought it might be for the best to move on an’ make room for someone else.”
Hogan let out another sigh, weary of this conversation even before it started. He had known he would probably have to explain this to Newkirk eventually, and had played the dialogue over and over again in his head. But every time, he had been dissatisfied with having to reveal himself, and possibly make Newkirk feel any worse than he already did. Hogan wasn’t blind; he had seen how the other men had been cautious about the time they spent with the Corporal, whether in the middle of a mission or just hanging around the prison camp. In the beginning, Hogan had felt it was justified; after all, Newkirk had brought them all dangerously close to the business end of a firing squad. And the Colonel’s own feelings had been wounded by the man’s actions, more deeply than he had expected. But after about a week, he was concerned when he saw Le Beau, Kinch, and Carter still giving Newkirk a bit of a cold shoulder, and had taken it on himself to invite the Corporal to play darts, cards, and even listen in on radio transmissions. It seemed to make a difference—on the surface. But the friendliness of the prisoners had been shallow, almost too much of an effort to maintain, and they had drifted away. Eventually, even Hogan had given up, heavily burdened with his responsibility for the unit as a whole, and with his own hurt.
“You broke a very fragile bond, Newkirk,” Hogan said at last. “But it’s not irreparable.” He took in a breath to steel himself before speaking again. “It wasn't just the fact that you disobeyed orders.... You hurt… them.” There, he didn’t have to include himself here. But was he being fair if he didn't?
“I know that, sir. I got you all with what I did... the best friends a man could ever hope t’have, all of you, and I couldn’t have done more to hurt you if I’d tried.” Newkirk shook his head slowly. “Some more than others, maybe. You’re my commanding officer, both because of rank and because I agreed to work for you back when this whole thing started. I broke my word to you, Colonel... and you of all people deserve better.”
Hogan swallowed, feeling his Adam’s apple dropping back where it belonged, at least for the moment. He turned back to face Newkirk and was surprised to see the Corporal’s dejected stance. “It’s my job to keep the operation running. It’s not my job to let my feelings get in the way. You disobeyed an order; you’ve been disciplined. As far as I’m concerned, it was over when I handed down my decision at the time.” At least that’s what I wanted to believe. So why does it still grind me up inside? “I expect the others to respect that. If they aren’t coming to the party, Newkirk, I’ll make sure they do. Request for transfer denied.”
The dark-haired Englishman raised his head just enough to get a glimpse of Hogan’s face. The American was saying what he’d never thought to hear, as he’d fully expected Hogan to take the opportunity to remove a problem from the ranks. Instead, he was being offered a reprieve, and quite possibly a chance to redeem himself. “Understood, sir... and thank you.” He paused to gather his thoughts. “May I ask why?”
Hogan shrugged, hoping to appear casual. “The place wouldn’t be the same without you,” he said. “Who else can get us fresh eggs for breakfast by pulling them out of Olsen’s ear?” Hogan tried to smile, though worry still tugged at the edges of his mouth and kept him from offering much more than a split-second grin. “Besides, you’re one of the best men I’ve got. And I’m not about to let the Gestapo take you away from us. I’ll—We’ll get over it, Newkirk,” Hogan amended quickly. “I’ll see to it personally that everything’s status quo in the morning. Before I get busy with my own work.”
Newkirk smiled for a moment until he took note of the look on Hogan’s face. The American had always been one to smile and laugh easily, unless he was doing what Newkirk thought of as the “commanding officer” routine. Newkirk’s natural gift for imitating voices also made him sensitive to subtle inflections and the word choices others used. He frowned as he put two and two together. Given the recent problems between them, Newkirk wasn’t sure he should mention it, but there was just something there that made him think that the Colonel might need to talk about as much as he himself had earlier. “Begging your pardon, sir... but is there something else you’d like to talk about?”
Hogan abruptly replaced his mask of command. “Something else?” he echoed, not angrily.
Newkirk ran a hand over his hair and nodded. “You seemed pretty upset this when you came back from making the pickup this evening... well, more upset than you’ve been of late, that is. Did something go wrong?”
Hogan headed for his desk and shook his head, studying the lamp with undue concentration. “Nothing you need to worry about,” he said. “And before you ask, it has nothing to do with me not trusting you to know about it.”
Newkirk nodded slightly, that having been the first thought that crossed his mind. “Colonel ’ogan... it’s probably not my place to say this, but you look like you need someone to talk to. Believe me, sir, I know exactly how that feels.” He waited, watching Hogan closely, noting the tension in the other man’s movements.
Hogan gave a shrug, admitting without words that the Corporal was right but that he was unable to accept his offer. “In answer to your question, Newkirk, something did go wrong tonight. But I need some time to figure out how to handle it before I pass this problem on to someone else. Is everyone off the radio for the night?”
“I believe so, sir.” Newkirk frowned as he replied. “Everyone’s in their bunks, and the tunnel’s closed up.”
“Good. No one goes on the radio until further notice. All contact through the Underground is to be done through Schnitzer, in person.” Hogan paused, then looked at Newkirk, who hadn’t moved. “That's all, Newkirk.”
“I don’t think it is, sir.” The Englishman shook his head as he stood a bit straighter. “With all due respect, Colonel, whatever’s worrying you... it concerns the rest of us as well.”
“Look let’s just forget it for now,” Hogan said, shaking his head. “I’ll let you know when it’s time for you to worry.”
Newkirk smiled briefly at the irony in Hogan’s words. “I’d say it’s a bit too late for that.”
Hogan let out a loud breath and turned to face Newkirk. “All right, I’ll lay it on the line. I came back empty-handed tonight. I don’t have the code book.”
Newkirk took a step forward, reaching out to gently lay a hand on Hogan’s shoulder. Getting that close to the Colonel let him finally see the lines of strain and exhaustion on the man’s face. “Best you sit down, sir, and tell me what’s going on.”
Hogan just shook his head and sat down on his lower bunk, trying to piece the night together in his mind before presenting it to the Englishman. Newkirk pulled out the desk chair and took a seat. “I made it to the drop site okay... just in time to watch the code book fall straight into the middle of a Kraut patrol.” Hogan stared at the scene in his mind’s eye and heaved another sigh. “Of course, that meant they figured out that someone was supposed to be out there to meet the drop.... I was lucky to get back here with the same number of holes in my body that I went out with.”
Newkirk shook his head in disbelief. “Blimey! And you’re sure none of them saw you?”
“Oh, they saw me all right,” Hogan replied. “There are a few trees missing some bark they used to have.”
“You okay, then, Colonel?” Newkirk leaned forward, his eyes anxiously scanning Hogan’s body for signs of injury. It would be all too typical of the American officer to hide his wounds from the men; in fact, Newkirk was quite certain that if Hogan could keep Sergeant Joe Wilson, the camp medic, from finding out about them, he would.
Hogan noticed the worried look on Newkirk’s face and nodded quickly to reassure him. “I’m fine, Peter, fine. I ran around in circles for awhile to throw them off the trail and then hid in one of the caves nearby. When I was sure it was safe, I bolted back here.” He let out a humorless laugh. “All I have to show for it are a few gray hairs I didn’t have when I woke up this morning.”
“I think we’ll all have more than
a few of those before this ruddy war comes to an end.” Newkirk sighed, and
settled back in the chair. “Bad break, that, the Krauts gettin’ their hands on
the code book. So the question is: who besides you and
Hogan ran his hands over his face, fighting to stay focused as weariness finally started to overcome him. “I didn’t think anyone did. It was probably just a lucky break. Lucky for the Nazis—unlucky for us. If the Krauts figure out what they’ve got, we could all be up the creek... and rowing our way to the front of a firing squad.”
Frowning, Newkirk leaned forward, again taking note of Hogan’s obvious exhaustion. “Right. Except there’s not a thing we can do about it tonight. Don’t even know where it is, for starters. At any rate, you look all done in, sir, and quite frankly, I’m ready for a kip myself. We’ve got a little while till roll call; why don’t we both try to put it to good use?”
Hogan nodded resignedly. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. There’ve been too many late nights this week; I’ve had it. I’ll worry about the firing squad tomorrow... if I’m still alive to do that.” Hogan swung his legs up on the bunk as if to lie down, then stopped when he saw Newkirk stand up to go. “Newkirk—” The Englishman looked at him questioningly. “It’ll be back the way it was, tomorrow.”
“Thank you, sir.” Newkirk spoke quietly, his voice choking with emotion. “I’m glad to hear it.” He turned, moving quickly toward the door before he broke down completely. “Good night... gov’nor.”
Hogan smiled softly, then lay down to allow Newkirk the dignity the Colonel knew he so badly needed. “Good night, Newkirk. See you in the morning. And remember—I’m trusting you to keep this to yourself until I say so.”
Unable to speak, Newkirk nodded and went through the door, closing it carefully before moving quietly toward his bunk. I’m trusting you, the Colonel had said, words that the Englishman had been waiting so long to hear once again. He knew it would be a while before things were back to the way they had been before, but it was a start.
Clearing the Air
Newkirk stopped beside his bunk, leaning against it as he started to take off his boots. Just as he had the laces undone, he heard the low rumble of a truck in the compound. Frowning, he went around to the barracks door, opening it just enough to get a look outside. A pair of the tower searchlights had a half-ton truck pinned down with their beams, and Newkirk could see two German soldiers just getting out of the cab. They took a quick look around, one pointed to the sign on the outside of Klink’s office, and the two men went to the building. One of the camp guards met them at the foot of the stairs leading into the Kommandant’s office and stood talking to the new arrivals. After a minute, one of them showed the guard a bundle from which a small parachute hung. The guard nodded and escorted them into the building.
“Blimey!” Newkirk breathed aloud. “All bets are off about what that is.” Hesitating only for a split second, he silently closed the door and made his way back to Hogan’s room. He opened the door without knocking, expecting Hogan to still be awake. Instead, he heard the quiet, steady breathing of a long-awaited rest.
Newkirk glanced at the sleeping man as he turned on the desk lamp. “Colonel Hogan?” he whispered. No response. He set the coffee pot in its usual place, plugging it in but not taking off the lid. Thanks to Kinch’s clever electronics work, the ordinary-looking appliance had taken on another function: that of serving as the receiver and speaker for the microphone hidden in the Kommandant’s office.
Newkirk returned to the bunk, hesitating. “I hate to do this, but you’ve gotta hear what’s happening.” He reached down to tap Hogan’s leg sharply; it was never a good idea to grab at a sleeping man’s shoulder, unless you wanted him to come up swinging. “Wake up, gov’nor. There’s something going on in Klink’s office.”
Newkirk turned as Hogan stirred slightly and went back to the coffee pot, removing the lid and pulling out the percolator basket so they could listen in on the conversation that would inevitably take place as soon as Klink could be roused enough to speak coherently. He was about to turn back to the bunk to make sure Hogan was getting up when he felt himself pulled from behind by the neck, and something cold was pressed up against his throat. Instinctively, Newkirk arched his back and stiffened. “It’s me! It’s me, gov’nor! It’s Newkirk!”
The grip around Newkirk’s neck immediately loosened and the blade that had been up against his jugular disappeared into the darkness. Newkirk relaxed and took a couple of gulping breaths.
Hogan shook his head and tossed the knife on the table. “Good grief, Corporal, don’t you know how to knock?”
Newkirk stepped away from Hogan, one hand going up to rub his throat. “Sorry, sir, but there’s no time for that. A couple of Krauts just went into Klink’s office. I think they have the code book.” He held out his hands, measuring the size of the bundle he’d seen. “They were carrying a package about this big, and it had a small drop ’chute still attached.”
“Sounds like a winner,” Hogan replied grimly. He braced his arms on his desk and started listening. “They get Klink up from his beauty sleep yet?”
“I don’t think so. Hadn’t heard anything before you—well, before you woke up.” Newkirk shook his head. “Do you always wake up so ruddy mean?” He rubbed his throat again, trying to rid himself of the feeling of the blade against his neck. Hogan’s move had been completely unexpected, driving Newkirk’s respect for the American officer up another notch. It was good to know the Colonel could take care of himself like that; it was the sort of information that might be useful some day.
“Only when I’m not at home or at the Y,” Hogan quipped. “If they’ve got that code book, we might have a chance of getting it back. But we’re going to have to be careful about it—or we’ll have the Gestapo breathing down our necks.”
Hogan stopped talking and slid onto the stool as he heard a door slam through the speaker. “Lieutenant, what is the meaning of this?” Hogan shook his head; Klink was in self-righteous mode. “Don’t you know what time it is?”
“Herr Kommandant, we recovered this in the woods tonight while on patrol. It came from an Allied plane. Stalag 13 is the nearest military installation, and we needed to get it someplace safe.”
Hogan nodded grimly. “Yeah, that’s the code book, all right,” he confirmed. Concentrating, he didn’t take notice as the door to his office opened wider, and three other people moved in to surround him and Newkirk, their eyes betraying their surprise at finding the Englishman fully dressed and the commanding officer wide awake, obviously at work.
Newkirk glanced up as the others filed into the room. He started to make a comment, but stopped as Klink’s voice came across the speaker once more. “Well now, what exactly is it you have there, Lieutenant?” There was a soft rustling sound, and Klink could be heard muttering to himself as he obviously looked over the prize. “Very interesting. It seems to be some sort of code book... written in English! Well, I’ll just put it in my safe and figure out what to do with it in the morning. Good work, Lieutenant; I’ll see that you and your partner get mentioned in my report.”
“How do you like that?” Hogan declared, shaking his head. “Those poor flatfoots make the find of a lifetime, and Klink says he’ll mention them in his report!”
Newkirk chuckled briefly. “That’s our Kommandant for you. When you think on it, they’re lucky that he’s even gonna bother.” The smile faded from his face as he looked at Hogan. “Well, sir, now we know for sure where it is.”
“Where what is?” piped up Carter.
Hogan frowned as he heard Klink dismiss the men, then listened to make sure he didn’t make any phone calls. Klink merely hummed maddeningly as he opened and shut the safe, and left the office. “Le Beau, make sure he’s gone,” Hogan said.
“Oui, Colonel,” the French Corporal answered. He zipped out of the room and to the front door of the barracks.
“Colonel? What’s going on?” Sergeant James Kinchloe decided to take a chance on asking the question, although he wasn’t entirely sure he wanted an answer.
Hogan unplugged the coffee pot
and leaned back with a sigh before turning to face the Sergeant. “Klink is now
the proud owner of our brand new code book from
Louis Le Beau came back into the room. “Lights out, Colonel.”
“Code book?” Kinch frowned. “You don’t mean the one you went out after tonight… do you?”
Hogan exhaled loudly as he prepared to once again report his failure. “That’s exactly the one I mean,” he said. “There were patrols at the drop site. I couldn’t get to it before they did.”
“Gosh, Colonel, it sounds like you were lucky to make it back in one piece!” Carter gave Hogan a close look, then nodded to himself. At least the Colonel looked like he was all in once piece. “So how are we gonna get it back?”
“I’ll just pop on over to Klink’s office, after he’s had a chance to get back to bed.” Newkirk smiled and rubbed his hands together. “Give me five minutes, Colonel, and I’ll have that code book back.”
“No, that won’t work,” Hogan said
with a quick shake of his head. “Klink’s already had a good look at it. He’s a
lot of things, but he’s no goldfish. He’ll remember what he saw. We’re going to
have to find another way. Intercept it while it’s in transit to
“Colonel, it’s not your fault,” Le Beau spoke up, putting as much confidence in his voice as he could. “You only had two choices: let it go, or get captured by les Boches. Don’t worry; we’ll get it back.”
Hogan shrugged, unconvinced. “Yeah. Whatever the reason, we’re still in the same boat. I’m going to have to think about this one, fellas. Klink says he won’t deal with it until the morning—and he’s a man of his word when it comes to procrastinating. So after Kinch finishes up on the radio I want you all to hit the sack. We’re going to be busy tomorrow.”
The men nodded and turned to leave. Hogan suddenly stopped them. “And one other thing.”
Newkirk had waited for the others to leave first, which left him still deep in the room when they turned back. He’d caught their looks when they first came in, and suddenly felt the urge to melt into the shadows. He forced himself not to move; Hogan had said he was a part of the group again, and it was time to act like it.
Hogan waited until all eyes were on him before continuing. “There’ve been a lot of bad feelings going around this place in the last three weeks.” He paused. Le Beau’s head dropped down; Kinch seemed to need to look all around the room; Carter just looked straight at the Colonel. “I’m not saying there haven’t been reasons for it, but it’s time to put it behind us.” He paused and looked fleetingly at Newkirk, who was standing, eyes downcast, close enough for Hogan to feel the man’s breath on his neck. “Newkirk’s learned his lesson. He made a mistake and he paid for it. We’re all okay. Let it go.”
Newkirk didn’t move. He could hear the conviction in Hogan’s voice, but it was up to the others to accept the Colonel’s words. He prayed each man could find it in his heart to forgive the past, but as the silence lengthened, the doubts and fears of the long days and nights came back into his mind.
Carter was the first to speak. “Well… I guess we have been kinda hard on ya, Newkirk,” he said, shifting feet and not really looking at the Englishman.
“Yeah,” Kinch added. “I mean we were all pretty shaken up when we found out your lady friend was a member of the Gestapo. But… we’ve all done crazy things, and I guess you just had to have your turn.”
Newkirk started to find it easier to breathe as the pair spoke. Hogan nodded approvingly. Then their eyes turned to Le Beau, who was standing, arms crossed, with a stern expression on his face as he stared at the floor. He didn’t speak. Hogan prompted him. “Le Beau?”
The Frenchman tilted his head
from side to side, as though debating something to himself. “Oui, I have also done stupid things in
the name of l’amour,” he admitted
finally. He looked at Newkirk. “I am sorry,
Newkirk raised his head, taking a long moment to look each man in the eyes. “I... I’m sorry, too, mates,” he said quietly. “I let you down once. But I swear to you now that it’ll never happen again.”
The Englishman slowly moved out from behind Hogan, and in that same moment, Le Beau also moved forward. Newkirk smiled as his eyes met those of the little Frenchman, and Le Beau suddenly grabbed him in a rough embrace. Newkirk felt himself breathing easy once again, as Kinch and Carter also stepped in to draw him back into their circle of friendship.
“I hate to break this up,” Hogan said soon after, “but roll call’s in about an hour, and our Kraut den mother really should find us in our bunks when he comes waltzing through the front door.”
Carter chuckled. “Okay, Colonel. You coming, Newkirk?” he asked hopefully, relieved that he found it comfortable to speak to his friend again.
“You lot go on,” Newkirk answered, giving Le Beau a gentle push toward the door. “I just need a quick word with the gov’nor.”
The others filed out, and Newkirk turned to face Hogan. “Colonel Hogan, I’d just like to say thank you. For everything.” Before the American could respond, Newkirk did something he had rarely even considered: he came to attention and offered Hogan a perfect salute.
Hogan’s eyes registered his surprise and appreciation. “Careful, Corporal,” Hogan said, straightening as he returned the gesture; “my eagles might just get used to that kind of treatment.” He smiled softly, pleased to see things back to normal among his crew. “Now get outta here, before I fall asleep sitting up. We’ll sort out the real problems in the morning.”
One More Problem
Hogan stole a quick glance at the
back row as Kinch stepped into the line up for roll call. “You talk to
Kinch raised his eyebrows. “Oh, yeah,” he said, as though still reeling from the conversation. He was about to continue when the Sergeant of the Guard, Hans Schultz, came into earshot. Kinch shoved his hands in his pockets and raised his chin in the direction of the German to signal his presence to Hogan.
Hogan immediately turned around, stifling a yawn and shrugging deeper into his bomber jacket. Still bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, he rocked slightly back and forth, hoping the cold and the movement would keep him alert enough to pick up on any clues about the Kommandant’s plans for the day. He yawned again, widely, prompting Schultz to do the same.
“Colonel Hogan. Please, do not yawn like that,” the large guard said as he closed his mouth. “Yawning is contagious.”
“Big night, Schultz?” Hogan asked.
“Ja, ja,” Schultz answered, as he continued counting the men before him. “An SS patrol from the woods showed up here in the middle of the night and demanded to see the Kommandant.”
Hogan raised his eyebrows to feign surprised. “So his carousing finally caught up with him, eh?”
Schultz paused mid-count to chuckle. “Jolly joker,” he said. “The Kommandant does not like to be disturbed when he is sleeping. He is very cross this morning.”
Newkirk looked over at the guard and grinned. “Would that be a right cross or an Iron Cross there, Schultzie?” For weeks now, he hadn’t joined in the usual routine of heckling the Germans during roll call; it felt good to be back in the game.
Hogan smiled at the laughter that followed. “What did the SS men want, Schultz?”
“I do not ask questions when the SS come into camp, Colonel Hogan.” Schultz shook his head. “You should not be asking questions either.”
“Gee, Schultz, my mom always said you had to ask questions to learn anything,” Carter piped up from the back row. “Are you saying my mom was wrong?”
Hogan shook his head. “You shouldn’t be picking on Carter’s mother, Schultz; it’s against the Geneva Convention.”
The men laughed at that, and Hogan accepted their appreciation with a nod. “That’s right; moms are off limits!” Kinch added.
“Not mine,” Le Beau continued, staring hard at Schultz. “Mine would rip the head off a Boche soon as look at one,” he said. To Hogan, he said, “That makes her an ally.”
“I did not mean it like that, Carter. I’m sorry.” Schultz turned and looked down at Le Beau. “Please tell your mama that I—”
The rest of what he was going to say was lost as Klink’s “Repoooort!” came ringing across the compound. The guard wheeled around and snapped off a quick salute. “Herr Kommandant! All present and accounted for!”
“Very good, Schultz!” Klink shivered under his warm overcoat, then surveyed the prisoners. “I need volunteers to shovel out the motor pool! The truck cannot get out to drive toward Hammelburg this morning.”
The men started calling out in mock sympathy for their captors’ plight. “That’s a real shame, Kommandant,” Newkirk called out. “But there’s nothing like a good spot of digging to get warm—and to get rid of the some of the flab the guards are building up from their nice, soft jobs here in camp.”
“You can’t force the men to dig, Kommandant,” Hogan reminded Klink.
“Maybe not,” Klink answered smugly. “But if the truck can’t get out, we can’t collect your Red Cross packages, can we?” he crowed. “The truck that was to deliver the parcels today slid off of icy roads and into a ditch five miles from here. A truck from Stalag 13 was going to meet it. But clearly that cannot happen now.”
The smirk on Klink’s face irritated Hogan, and the grumbling from the prisoners was loud and clear. Still, Hogan had a sudden brainstorm, and turned to his men. “All right, fellas, all right,” he said, loudly enough for Klink to hear. “Let’s just get out of the cold. By the time we get the truck dug out, the Krauts’d have stolen all the stuff in the packages anyway.”
The protests continued for a few seconds, then subsided as Klink, clearly affronted by Hogan’s prediction, dismissed the prisoners and ordered the senior POW to report to his office. Hogan smiled at his men and nodded his triumph, then followed them back inside Barracks Two.
“Bloody Krauts, holding up our Red Cross packages,” Newkirk complained. “We’ll be lucky to see a single spoonful of that coffee by the time they get them here.” He grabbed the kettle on the stove and sniffed the contents left over from last night with disdain.
worry; we’ll get them. This gives me a chance to bargain with Klink. And it got
him mad enough to call me into his office so I can find out what’s going on
with that code book.” Hogan pulled up Kinch as the radio man was about to head
back down into the tunnel. “What did
Kinch sighed, then said reluctantly, “They’re pretty mad, Colonel. They say not being able to use the new code means they’ll have to implement another one pretty quick—and that means delays in operations. They say they can’t understand why we didn’t get it in the first place.”
Hogan’s eyes flashed in sudden defiance. “And I suppose they wanted me to just waltz into the middle of that Kraut patrol, take it out of their hands, and say ‘Excuse me, old chaps, but I think you have something of mine there.’” He shook his head in disgust.
“That’s… about the size of it,” Kinch admitted.
“Don’t listen to them, Colonel,” Le Beau advised. “You did what you had to do. They couldn’t expect you to risk being captured by les Boches.”
Hogan sighed and crossed his arms. “Yes, they could… but then they expect a lot of things—like for it to snow in July, and for Hitler to shave that hokey moustache.” He looked at Kinch. “Any other good news?”
“They’re insisting on radio silence until we get word through the Underground that they’ve got a new code ready for pick-up.”
“Is that all?” Hogan asked, exasperated.
one more thing. They want to send the 379th to bomb an oil refinery
“That’s right,” Hogan agreed. “So many Ack-Ack guns they could bring down half a squadron and never break into a sweat.”
“So what do they want from us?” Carter asked.
Kinch shrugged. “A diversion.”
Hogan remained silent for a moment, deep in thought. “We might not have to be,” he mused aloud, drumming his fingers along his arm.
Carter looked puzzled. “What do you mean, Colonel?”
“I think I know how to create that diversion.” Hogan suddenly sprang to life. “I’d better get to Colonel Klink’s office. Our fine Kommandant doesn’t like to be kept waiting. Especially when he’s about to be help us bomb one of the Fatherland’s oil refineries. Get that kettle boiling, boys; we’re gonna be getting those Red Cross packages after all.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Klink looked up from his desk when his secretary Hilda opened the door of his office. “Herr Kommandant, Colonel Hogan is here to see you.” The blonde gave Klink a polite smile, but the one she turned in Hogan’s direction as they passed in the doorway made the American forget all about code books and Red Cross packages for a minute.
“Very good; send him in.”
After a few seconds of fairly harmless admiration, Hogan brought himself back to the business at hand at and came to stand before the Kommandant. “You wanted to see me, Colonel Klink?” he asked. This view wasn’t nearly as nice as the one he had just left in the outer office.
Klink didn’t look up when Hogan spoke. He made it a point of keeping his attention on the untidy stack of paperwork on his desk.
“Kommandant?” Hogan prompted expectantly, a bit annoyed with the game he knew Klink was playing, and not in the mood to put up with it.
Klink leaned back in his chair as he looked up at the American. “Colonel Hogan.” His voice was cold. “I do not appreciate what was said during roll call this morning. German guards are not... what was the word?” He paused as though trying to remember. “‘Flabby.’ Nor is the job of guarding the prisoners what I would call ‘soft.’”
“Oh, I don’t know, Kommandant; have you looked at Sergeant Schultz lately? He’s not what I’d call rock solid, sir.”
Klink paused again, his eyes locked on Hogan’s face. “Your men have been very disrespectful lately. Today’s little performance clearly shows that you are the source of this disrespect.” The Kommandant gave Hogan a baleful stare, clearly not willing to trade the usual barbs with the American.
Hogan bit the inside of his cheek hard to stop the bitter retort that was fighting to come out of his mouth. As he tasted the blood, he tried to forget the humiliation that came with being a prisoner of war, and instead tried to remember that, in reality, he was serving a greater good, and submitting to this kind of treatment was a way to protect the operation. He tried. But it wasn’t easy. “I’ll talk to the men,” he said roughly.
“I would do more than ‘talk to the men’ if I were you, Hogan,” Klink continued, standing up and coming around the desk. “As a matter of fact, I think the prisoners need to see that their commanding officer is as susceptible to disciplinary measures as they are. Therefore,” Klink said eagerly, warming up to his subject; Hogan merely followed the Kommandant’s pompous pacing with his eyes, “the electricity will be turned off an hour early in all the barracks for the next two weeks.” Klink stopped and smiled almost gleefully. “And your men, Colonel Hogan—your own men in Barracks Two will do without hot water for that same length of time. How does that strike you, eh?”
Hogan turned his head away slightly from Klink’s too-close face. “It’s too cold for most of the men already, Kommandant,” Hogan said, inwardly seething but trying to control himself. “They need the hot water and they need the light.”
“Then you should have thought of that before you decided to insult my guards.” Klink sat down, triumphant.
“The men were cold and tired, Kommandant,” Hogan snapped. “Give them a break.”
Klink nodded sagely. “If they are so tired they will not mind the extra hour of darkness for the next fortnight, Hogan. They will be able to catch up on their sleep!” Klink laughed at his own wit.
Hogan stood silently. He was in several minds: the code book was at the top of his list, and it was sitting in the safe only a few feet away from him; that was why he had allowed his insult about the Germans’ honesty to slip out in the first place—he was sure Klink would order Hogan to his office, and he could try to pry information out of him. But Hogan was also thinking about the Red Cross packages that his men needed so badly to make it through the winter. And he was thinking, somewhere in the back of his mind, about his dignity.
Hogan finally swallowed the last thought. “We’ll dig out the truck,” he said quietly.
Klink raised an eyebrow and thought about smiling. “What was that, Hogan?”
“I said we’ll dig out the truck,” Hogan said irritably. “But you’ve gotta make some concessions, too.”
Klink threw open his hands in mock innocence. “What type of concessions, Colonel Hogan?”
“No cutting off the hot water. And one week of early lights out.”
Klink smirked. “Out of the question,” he said dismissively.
“Kommandant,” Hogan continued, starting to feel more like his old self. He leaned forward almost conspiratorially on Klink’s desk. “I happen to know that the Red Cross packages aren’t the only things this camp is waiting for.”
“Oh?” Klink answered. A small frown crept onto his face.
“I happen to know that the Paymaster was hitching a ride on that truck this morning,” Hogan said in a whisper. “And if the guards find out they won’t be getting paid today, there’ll be more than a little dissention in the ranks from the prisoners at roll call. Won’t there, Kommandant?”
“Hogan, you’re being ridiculous,” Klink said almost desperately.
“And men who are cranky because they can’t get a hot shower… or enough light to huddle by in this cold winter… might find themselves with a few loose lips about these things,” Hogan continued. “You know how gossip spreads like wildfire.” Hogan sighed and stood up. “Still,” he said in his normal tone of voice, “I’m sure you’re not worried about such things, Kommandant. You have your men much more under your control than I do mine!”
Hogan executed a salute that Klink would have found respectful at any other time than when he was worrying about something the American had concocted. This was one of those times. “Hogan, where do you think you’re going?” he asked as Hogan made for the door.
“Well, you said the deal was off, so I—”
“It’s on, it’s on,” Klink conceded quickly, bunching his fist in frustration.
Hogan turned back to the desk. “The men will be grateful, sir. And they won’t tell the guards—honest.” Klink nodded, beaten, then stifled a yawn. Hogan grabbed his chance. “Didn’t you sleep well last night, Kommandant?” he asked.
Klink shook his head. “As a matter of fact, Hogan, I didn’t,” he answered. “I had the SS here in the middle of the night.”
“The SS, sir? What did they want?”
“None of your business, Colonel,” Klink said, suddenly catching on. “You’re dismissed, Hogan. See that your men gather at the motor pool in ten minutes!”
Hogan agreed and was heading out again when the door to Klink’s office opened and Hilda appeared. Hogan watched her appreciatively. “Major Hochstetter is here, Herr Kommandant,” she said. Klink told her to show the Gestapo officer in, then she winked at the American in secret on the way out of the room. Hogan let out a contented sigh.
“Hogan, don’t you have anything better to do besides ogle my secretary?” Klink asked, exasperated.
Hogan shook his head slowly at the memory of the hips that swayed out of his sight. “I can’t think of a thing, sir.”
Wolfgang Hochstetter burst into the office seconds later, pulling Hogan reluctantly out of his fantasy. “Good morning, Klink. I understand you have something here I need,” the Major began without bothering to offer the Kommandant a salute. Trapped in the room now that Hochstetter had appeared, Hogan decided to wait instead of leaving; maybe he could salvage some of this mess after all.
“Good morning, Major Hochstetter,” Klink greeted the Gestapo officer. “I don’t remember calling you about anything.”
“That is because you did not,”
Hochstetter answered, eyeing Hogan quickly and then choosing to ignore him. “I
was told this morning that a patrol came to see you last night with something
of great interest to
“Oh, that,” Klink
replied proudly. He smiled widely. “I think
Hochstetter glanced over at Hogan. “What is this man doing here?” he asked.
Klink crossed the room to get to his safe. As he crouched down to work the lock, he glanced over his shoulder at the Gestapo officer. “Colonel Hogan is here on a disciplinary matter, Major.”
Hochstetter looked from Klink to Hogan. “‘A disciplinary matter’? Do you mean to say that for once, Klink, you’re acting like you’re the one in charge around here?”
“No,” Hogan said cheerfully, “he means we’re setting up a new schedule for teaching the guards to goose-step so they make pretty patterns in the snow; what they’re doing now just aren’t regulation footprints.”
Klink stood up with the code book in his hand just in time to see Hochstetter’s hand curl into a fist. Appalled at the thought of the Major striking Hogan right in front of him, Klink turned to the American Colonel. “That’s enough, Hogan! We’ll discuss this matter later. You are dismissed!” He snapped off a quick salute, hoping that Hogan would take the hint and get out before he made matters worse.
But Hogan just stared back innocently and craned his neck to take a look at what was in Klink’s hand. “Hey, that’s an Allied code book!” he said with feigned indignation.
Klink immediately drew the book back toward himself, leaving Hogan looking affronted. But Hochstetter smiled and said, “That’s right, Hogan. That’s exactly what it is. And it’s going to help us win the war, at least for a little while, ja? Klink, let him have a look at it.”
Clearly puzzled, Klink handed the book to Hogan. “There’s no reason for the good Colonel not to know what we are holding here,” Hochstetter explained. “After all, a little bit of bad morale on the part of the Allies never hurt anyone… anyone who is German, that is.”
Hogan sneered. “You’re a nasty piece of work, Hochstetter,” he said angrily, scanning the book quickly, wishing he could just take it with him right now, remembering how cold he had gone inside when he spotted the German patrol last night as the drop was being made.
Hochstetter smiled. “Why, thank you, Colonel Hogan. I can’t think of anyone I would rather hear that from.” He snatched the book out of Hogan’s hands. “You can go now. We are quite through with you. You can tell your men that the Third Reich is just one step closer to being able to thwart any Allied plans against us. The Allies will lose many fighting men this way, Hogan. Many men.”
Hogan felt anger sweep through him, making him almost dizzy. But he held his tongue. Now wasn’t the time to lose control. “You haven’t had the last laugh yet, Hochstetter. Eisenhower’s on his way; you can count on it.”
“When your precious General Eisenhower arrives, Colonel, I’ll be sure to have him transferred to Stalag 13 so he can keep you company!” Hochstetter laughed and shook the code book in Hogan’s face. “Having this will help get him here that much faster.”
Hogan’s spirit dropped with his forced cheerfulness. “You know, people like you take all the fun out of the war.” He turned to Klink. “The men will be ready in ten minutes,” he said. Then he offered up a sloppy salute and quickly left the office.
A Major Malfunction
“Bad luck, gov’nor,” Newkirk said as the men huddled by the entry to the motor pool, waiting for the equipment needed to clear the entry. “Having that code book right in your hands and not being able to take it.”
“Hochstetter practically begged me to read it,” Hogan answered, still simmering. “If only I hadn’t lost hold of it in the first place!”
“At least you got the punishment reduced,” Carter said, trying to put a positive spin on things. He hopped from foot to foot, trying to keep warm in the continuing snowfall.
“Yeah, but Hochstetter’s right,” Hogan said, his mind still stuck on
what had transpired in Klink’s office; “this is only going to make it worse for
our boys. And now he’s going to take it right out of Stalag 13 and back to
shook his head. “Well,
“Right,” Hogan answered, preoccupied. “Unless…”
“Unless what, Colonel?” Le Beau didn’t stop stomping his feet as he spoke. “Don’t tell me; let me guess. You’re thinking of a way to take the book from Hochstetter, right?”
“Not quite. We want Hochstetter to keep his precious little book.”
Hogan barely registered the looks of disbelief around him. “Keep it?” Kinch echoed. “But Colonel, even an old code book has its uses—it can help the Krauts figure out how we come up with our ciphers!”
this time it might be worth our while. After all, we need that diversion for
Carter wiped the snow off his face and gave Hogan a puzzled look. “Let them create it themselves? How are you gonna get them to do that?”
Hogan smiled, finally starting to feel comfortable with the unplanned turn of events. “Simple. We’ll get Hochstetter to stay a little longer than he planned. Then we’ll photograph the code book and transmit orders for a phony bombing mission. The Krauts will think they have classified information and scramble around protecting the decoy…. Meanwhile, our boys are turning the real one into a pile of rubble.”
nodded. “What about
Hogan shrugged. “The least they can do is let me make up for my blunder,” he said wryly. He paused. “Heck, maybe I could convince them that I meant for it to happen just so we could use it against the Nazis.”
“Hochstetter’s not the type to stay for afternoon tea, Colonel. How are we gonna keep him here?” Kinch asked.
Hogan answered the Sergeant’s question by turning to Newkirk. “Newkirk? How long would it take to loosen the transmission drain plug on Hochstetter’s car?”
The Englishman thought a moment, then shrugged. “It’ll take longer to get under the car than to do the job. A couple of turns with a spanner, and it’s done.”
Hogan nodded. “Do it. The rest of us will cover you. Le Beau, strudel and hot coffee duty, and make it quick. We’ve only got a few minutes before Hochstetter tries to beat it out of here.”
Newkirk put on a grin of mock innocence. “So the idea is to finally put an end to him and take the code book from the wreckage? Can’t say I’m not happy about that idea, sir.”
“No, Newkirk, that’s not the idea,” Hogan said. “If the code book is stolen, the Germans won’t be able to use it either. We just want him to come back here with it. Make sure the car breaks down within walking distance of camp. With this snow he probably won’t be getting very far anyway. Then we’ll get to work.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Kamerade! Kamerade!” Bundled up as warmly as possible, Le Beau approached the guard standing shivering near Hochstetter’s car outside Klink’s office. “Hot coffee. Strudel!” he said, offering up a flask and a plate.
The solider saw the food and smiled broadly. “Danke.” he said. “Danke!”
Le Beau led him up the steps, gesturing that he should eat under cover, and he turned so the guard had to face away from the car to get the snack. “There you go; have some of this,” Le Beau continued, making sure to keep the man’s attention on him alone. “Just because we are enemies doesn’t mean we cannot be friends!”
Newkirk glanced around the motor pool, then ducked into the tool shed long enough to slip a couple of wrenches into his pocket. Arms wrapped around himself against the cold, he sauntered across the compound, trusting the heavy snowfall to cover his movements. He took a final look around, then dropped to the ground and slid under the car. A few moments later, he came back into the open, settling his overcoat back into place as he nonchalantly walked back to the others. That’s got it then, he thought. Our friendly neighborhood Gestapo goon’s not going too far today, at least not in that car.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“There he goes,” Carter said about twenty minutes later.
Hogan had shoveled along with his men in a vain attempt to keep warm. Now, he looked up from his work and turned toward the fence. Hochstetter’s car was making its way slowly out of the gate, a difficult task as the snow was falling more heavily now, and even with Hogan and his men shoveling, there seemed to be no progress in clearing the way for the truck to get out of the motor pool. “Okay, that’s got that started. Newkirk, you’re sure everything’s ready to fall apart on him?”
Newkirk stuck his shovel into a pile of snow, leaning against the handle to catch his breath. “There was already some transmission fluid seeping out while the car was still parked, Colonel. If you figure that it’ll start leaking even faster once everything warms up... I’d say he’s gonna be on shank’s mare sometime in the next half hour at the latest.”
Newkirk looked pleased with the assessment. And Hogan didn’t look disappointed either. So why couldn’t Carter figure out if Newkirk was saying yes or no? “A shank’s mare?” he asked. “I didn’t know we were bringing in horses,” he said. “What if Hochstetter just takes the horse into town instead of coming back here?”
“Oh, blimey, Andrew. Where would we get horses in the middle of a ruddy prison camp?” Newkirk gave Carter a pained look. “Being on shank’s mare means you’re walking, as in you’re riding on your own shanks instead of a horse.” He rolled his eyes. Is it all Yanks, or just Carter that don’t speak the King’s ruddy English? “And before you ask, your shanks are your legs. Got it now, mate?”
“Don’t worry, Andre, he talks like that just to confuse people. I do not understand him most of the time either,” Le Beau said.
“Very funny, mate. As if anyone can understand you when you start spouting off in French.” Newkirk chuckled and shook his head.
Hogan smiled as his men fell back into their usual banter. He tried to warm his hands by rubbing them together but realized it wasn’t making a difference, and that he couldn’t feel his cheeks any more. “Come on fellas,” he said through the increasing wind. “We’ve done our bit here.”
“But Colonel, we haven’t even made a dent in this snow!” Le Beau said.
“And from this weather it doesn’t look like we’re going to. Let’s get inside before we freeze off something important. I’ll let Klink rake me over the coals for it later—maybe I’ll be lucky enough to be in the office with him when Hochstetter comes back. And if not, I’ll find a reason to be in there anyway.”
“Sounds good, gov’nor. Besides, if we stay out here much longer, we’ll lose Le Beau in a snow drift.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“We’ve got to find a way to get to that codebook once Hochstetter brings it back. Guaranteed he’s going to be guarding it with his life—or ours, if we try to get near it.” Hogan paced back and forth in front of the small stove in the common room of the barracks. Dots of water were forming on his jacket where the snow had melted once they came inside, and the front of his dark hair was matted down onto his forehead as a small trickle of water made its way uncomfortably down his neck. He shivered and grabbed a cup of coffee. “We’re only going to have one chance; we have to get it right.”
“Reckon he’ll put it back in Klink’s safe?” Newkirk looked up from the steaming cup he had cradled in his hands. As cold as he was in his wool overcoat, he suddenly realized that Hogan had to be colder still, with only a leather jacket. The American had never complained about being cold, but Newkirk resolved to hunt up enough wool material to make a liner for the Colonel’s coat.
“That’s the logical place for it,” Hogan agreed, nodding. “Unless he’s planning to sleep with it under his pillow. And even I don’t want to get near him if he does that.” Hogan chuckled and sat down at the table with the others. “We’re going to need to get into the safe, and he’s bound to have it guarded. We’ll need—”
“Another diversion,” Carter finished. Hogan paused mid-sentence and looked at the Sergeant, surprised. Carter grinned sheepishly. “I—I knew you were gonna say that,” he added. “Well I mean, that’s what we do, isn’t it?” he continued.
Hogan grinned softly. “Yeah, Carter. That’s what we do.” He took a long drink of coffee and let the steam start to thaw his cheeks. “When’s the last time the combination was changed on Klink’s safe?”
“Well, the locksmith was in last week when I was on cleaning duty, and he took an awfully long time working on the safe.” Kinch stopped to think for a moment, then continued. “I was waiting in the outer office at least an hour before he left, then Klink let me in to finish up.”
Hogan frowned. “Newkirk, could that be a problem?”
The Englishman didn’t answer right away. Then he let out a long sigh and nodded. “That’s enough time to have completely changed the entire lock mechanism. Depending on what he did exactly, I might need at least ten, maybe fifteen minutes alone with it.”
“Boy, that’s gonna call for a heck of a diversion!” Carter looked around the table at the others as they stared sullenly at the table. “But like the Colonel said, that’s what we do, right?” No one answered. “Right?”
It was Hogan’s turn to sigh. “Right,” he said quietly. He held the coffee cup tightly in his hands, clearly deep in thought.
“Hey, I know! We can start a fire way down on the other end of camp. That’ll take a while to put out, and at least we can keep warm while we’re distracting the guards!” Carter grinned proudly.
Kinch shook his head. “I hate to burst your bubble, Andrew, but that won’t work. With all the snow we’re having, there isn’t anything dry enough to set on fire and expect it to keep burning long enough for Newkirk to get in and out of Klink’s office.”
Hogan shook his head. “Never mind, fellas.” He let out a loud breath, resigned. “It’s too dangerous; I’ll do it myself. We can’t take a chance on any of you men getting caught.” Hogan stood up to preempt any protests. “I’m gonna go get a dry shirt.” He turned toward his office. “You’d better do the same,” he added, obviously uncomfortable. “Otherwise you’ll all get pneumonia and I’ll be working by myself for the rest of the war.”
Hogan’s men watched silently as the door to their commanding officer’s quarters closed behind him. “And what happens if he gets caught?” Kinch asked no one in particular.
Newkirk stared hard at the door, in his mind seeing the man behind it. “Then he’s volunteered himself for a blind date with the ruddy firing squad.”
Le Beau’s eyes held a worried look. “Without us as chaperones.”
When Things Go Right
Major Hochstetter made his way into camp a few hours later, just as the prisoners were being dismissed from the roll call. His normally immaculate black uniform was smeared with mud, and his cap was missing. He was limping badly, leaning on a walking stick he’d made from a broken tree limb. He moved slowly across the compound, not stopping as he finally struggled up the stairs and disappeared into the Kommandant’s office.
Hogan saw the spectacle as he turned his face against the biting wind and ceaseless snowfall. “Well, well, well. Looks like someone’s had a bad morning,” he said, blinking the snowflakes off his eyelashes.
“There’s a sight to warm the cockles of me heart, gents.” Newkirk grinned as he watched the bedraggled Gestapo officer go into Klink’s office. “Looks like he had a bit of an accident.”
Kinch shrugged as he turned away from the wind. “Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.”
“Let’s listen in,” Hogan suggested. He ushered his men back inside and, trying to get warm in the thin heat of the barracks, they turned on the coffee pot in Hogan’s office to hear the tirade that followed.
Klink blustered his way up to the porch, transfixed by the sight of the bedraggled Gestapo officer. He had never seen Hochstetter turned out in less than perfect order—until now. “Major Hochstetter, what happened? Are you injured?”
Hochstetter merely glared at Klink and pushed past him with a snarl and a swing of his walking stick. He stomped into Klink’s office and fell into a chair. “Klink!”
Klink stopped a split second to consider what was coming before returning to his office. “Coming, Major!”
put Klink in his place before the Colonel even had a chance to fully enter the
room. “Lock that up at once!” he ordered, yanking the code book out of his
pocket and thrusting it at his quarry. “It will be worth your life if something
happens to it before it gets to
Klink took the book and scurried over to the safe. His first attempt at working the lock failed due to his trembling hands. Hochstetter’s threat was perfectly clear, and he desperately hoped that nothing would happen while the book was his responsibility. “What happened, Major?”
“My driver lost control and crashed the car. He didn’t survive.” Hochstetter shrugged. “Just as well,” he added, still seething; “it saves me the trouble of having him shot.” The Major peeled off his muddy gloves and tossed them on the floor. “His incompetence left me with a five mile hike since there aren’t any other vehicles out in this weather, and this was the closest place I could get to.” His face took on a sneer of distaste as he added, “That means I shall have to remain here until the roads clear. Believe me when I say that I do not enjoy the situation any more than you do.”
“No of course not, Major.” Klink stopped, realizing how that might sound. “But you know the Gestapo is always welcome here!”
Back in the barracks, Hogan shook his head and sighed. “Always the charmer,” he commented. “Well at least one thing’s gone to plan lately. I suppose I should make an appearance in Klink’s office, just so the Major doesn’t feel ignored.”
“Give him my regards, Colonel, and tell him I’ll try harder next time ’round.” Newkirk took a sip of coffee and smirked.
Hochstetter didn’t bother to answer the Kommandant; he just stared at Klink as the Colonel took refuge behind his desk. Klink picked up the phone and asked his secretary to make arrangements for the guest quarters to be made ready, stuttering a little under the Major’s intense scrutiny.
“Make sure you post a guard outside your office, Klink,” Hochstetter added. “We don’t want any unwelcome visitors to come around, do we?”
The Gestapo officer was beginning to struggle out of his chair when the door to the office swung open and Hogan appeared. “I need to speak with you, Kommandant,” Hogan started. He was stopped by a growl nearby and turned to see Hochstetter rising up toward him. Hogan put on an innocent smile of delight. “Back so soon, Major?” he asked, brushing some of the snow off of his jacket and shaking out his cap.
“What is this man doing here?” Hochstetter pushed the words out through his clenched teeth.
Hogan pretended not to see Hochstetter’s face turning redder and said, “I need to talk to the Kommandant about the snow.”
“Yes, Hogan, there is snow, it is snowing, dismissed.” Klink waved his hand at the American to get him to go away.
“Well, I know that, sir,” Hogan said, still holding his dripping crush cap. “It’s just that the men feel terrible that they couldn’t dig out the truck, sir. The snow just kept coming, and I couldn’t let my men stay out in a blizzard. Only a fool would be… out in this… weather,” he finished slowly, letting the implied insult sink in as he turned his gaze toward Hochstetter. “Anyway, I hope we can still get to the Red Cross packages, Colonel.”
“We have more important things to worry about, Hogan,” Klink answered. “Major Hochstetter is stranded here until the storm subsides and the roads can be cleared.”
“Oh, that is a shame,” Hogan answered. “Maybe the Major would like to join us in the Rec Hall for a movie tonight?”
“May I remind you, Colonel Hogan, that your men are still in a punishment period? There will be no movie tonight.” Klink shook his head, then suddenly reached forward on his desk, snatching up the humidor. He gave Hogan an annoyed look as he wiped away the water that had dripped onto it from the American’s cap.
“Aw, come on, Kommandant!” Hogan replied in protest. “The men have been out in the freezing weather, trying to please you! And you won’t even spend a little time with them! After all, they just want to know they have your affection, sir. You’re like a father figure to them, and they were doing all that work to make you happy. You could at least put forth a gesture of your own, like leaving the lights on that much longer.” Hogan pulled his crush cap to his chest in an expression of sincerity. “Please, Kommandant. They’re cold. They’re lonely. They need someone to look up to.”
Klink put the humidor at the side of his desk, glanced up at Hogan, and frowned a little. “Isn’t that your responsibility as the senior Prisoner of War officer? You are their leader, after all.”
Hogan swallowed hard and closed his eyes against the sick feeling he was getting just thinking about what he was about to say. Then he opened his eyes and with an earnest expression said, “Well it is, sir, but they could never look up to me the way they do you. After all, you’re the Kommandant, and I’m… just a prisoner, sir. A man behind barbed wire. A man without hope. You, on the other hand… you are a man who can come and go as you please. A man who rules with an iron fist… but who can afford every now and then to use a velvet glove.” Hogan leaned in toward the German officer, who was looking at him in amazement. “Use that glove now, Kommandant. You know the men need it.”
Hochstetter leaned forward, his eyes fixed on the American officer’s face, taking in every nuance of what the man was saying. Both Colonels would have been disgusted by the look of predatory delight in the Major’s eyes had they seen it. Fortunately, they were paying more attention to each other than to the Gestapo officer.
The Kommandant leaned back in his chair, rubbing a hand thoughtfully across his chin. Hogan’s words clearly had an effect on him as they sank in, turning the German’s slight frown into a pleased smile. “The iron fist in the velvet glove, eh? Yes, perhaps you are right, Hogan. Your men did make an effort this morning to clear away the snow, and since we cannot get to the Red Cross packages today as promised, I will allow this movie to be shown tonight instead.”
prisoners again, Klink?” Hochstetter glared at the German officer, then turned
his gaze onto Hogan, taking a hellish delight in the American’s humbled stance.
He didn’t believe it for one minute; in his mind, Hogan was the most dangerous
man in all of
“It’s hardly coddling to make sure the prisoners have enough activity to hold off frostbite inside the barracks!” Hogan retorted sharply. “And the boys love Byron Buckles.” He turned back to Klink, his eyes pleading like a schoolboy asking for a sweet before supper. “Will you join us, Colonel? Please? It would mean so much to the men.”
“Well.... all right, Hogan, if you think it will mean that much to them.” Klink’s reluctance was mostly an act. He wanted very much to see the latest Byron Buckles picture, but he felt he had to put on a show of disdain for Hochstetter. Klink turned to the Gestapo officer with an ingratiating smile. “You see, if I attend the movie, Major Hochstetter, I can keep a close watch on the prisoners, and if there’s any trouble, I will be right there to deal with it!”
“Yes, but who will be watching you, Kommandant?” Hochstetter glared at Hogan. “I will be at the movies tonight as well.”
Hogan returned Hochstetter’s look with one of innocence. “I didn’t know you were a Byron Buckles fan, Major.”
“I’m not!” Hochstetter exploded. “But if you are going to the pictures, then I am going to the pictures… because I will keep an eye on you instead of on some slick, useless American film hero!”
Hogan put his cap back on and grinned. “Looking forward to it! See you at eight!”
He flipped a salute to Klink and beat it out of the office before anyone could change their minds.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Okay, we’ve got Klink out of the way,” Hogan said as he entered his office a few minutes later.
“But what about Hochstetter?” Kinch asked.
Hogan shrugged with his eyebrows. “He’ll be keeping an eye on me. We’ll just have to make sure he gets a bit distracted.” The Colonel shook his arms to force the remaining snow onto the floor, and removed his cap, running a hand through his wet hair. “So tonight’s gotta be the night. The storm is slowing down; he could leave as early as tomorrow. You fellas think you can keep Hochstetter busy long enough for me to sneak into Klink’s office for a go at the safe?”
“How long do you think you’ll need, Colonel?” Kinch asked.
Hogan got a towel from his locker and started drying his hair. “I’m not sure yet. Ten, fifteen minutes is about the most I think I can ask for. Hochstetter said he’ll post a guard outside Klink’s office, so we’re going to need a distraction. Carter, can I count on you for that?” He sneezed, then wrinkled his nose to stop another one from coming, and put his cap back on.
“You betcha!” Carter grinned, then caught himself long enough to tack on a hurried “Sir.”
“What about me, Colonel? I can always make another batch of strudel by tonight.” Le Beau frowned. He was willing to do his part, but he didn’t relish the idea of feeding even more of his fine cuisine to the dirty Boches instead of his friends.
Hogan nodded. “Well, that’ll keep Schultz out of the way, anyway. But I have a feeling he’s not going to be the guard Hochstetter puts outside that door.” He let out a deep sigh and looked almost carelessly around the room. “Kinch, make sure our smallest camera is ready for me. Newkirk—later on I’m going to need you to tell me how you do what you do, so I can attempt to do it.”
“Yes, sir,” Newkirk answered, his eyes reflecting obvious unhappiness.
Hogan gestured vaguely toward the door. “Okay, that’s it. You’ve got your assignments. I need some time to think. I’ll see you in time for supper.”
Carter and Le Beau filed out the door, the Sergeant already chattering about how they could work their distraction. Le Beau smiled as he listened, knowing he’d have to let his friend wind down a bit before they could begin to plan in earnest.
As the others went into the common room, Kinch gave Hogan a thoughtful look. The Colonel was taking the hardest part of the plan for himself, as usual. That was as much a part of the man’s nature as not forgiving himself for losing the code book in the first place, even though it couldn’t have been helped. In the end, all the rest of them could do was take some of the pressure off Hogan, if he’d let them.
Hogan caught Kinch studying him, and looked back steadily. Not angrily, Kinch realized, but rather, almost appreciatively. But the Sergeant could see that his commanding officer wasn’t about to back down from his orders, so he simply nodded his acceptance and left the office.
Newkirk had a few ideas of his own about Hogan’s plan, and while he often quite willingly played Devil’s Advocate, he knew there was a right time and a wrong time to step into the role. Not the right time now, that’s for certain. Bloody stubborn officer, got his mind made up and expecting us to just go along with him. Best do as he says, at least for now.
Newkirk stood and followed Kinch out without saying a word.
Tricks of the Trade
“I’m going to need you to teach me how to break into that safe,” Hogan said to Newkirk in his office about an hour later. Newkirk stood hunched over the table with Hogan at the desk, a stethoscope, kerchief, and other small items assembled before them. Newkirk was listening intently. “Kinch says Klink might have had the combination changed, so I’m not going to count on being able to use the one we’ve got. I need to know how to get in to whatever it is we’ve got facing us now.”
Newkirk picked up the stethoscope and began fiddling with the bell, checking to see that it was tightly screwed in place as he thought about how to respond. I’ve watched your hands when we play poker…. You might have the raw talent, but you haven’t got the ‘touch’ yet to do the work we’re talking about here. Newkirk sighed inwardly. Still, I just don’t have it in me to cut you down like that, gov’nor. Not now. Not in the middle of a mission. Finally, he realized he wasn’t doing his duty if he didn’t help Hogan realize that what he was asking just not possible—at least not within the next few hours.
“Right then, gov’nor,” Newkirk said brightly. “Without having a look, mind you, I’d have to say that we’re still up against a standard combination lock. Of course, since it’s new, it’s going to be both smooth and silent.” He laid the stethoscope back on the table. “Makes it obvious what that’s for.”
Hogan nodded, trying to appear confident. “Being able to hear the tumblers hit their targets, right?”
“That’s right. Every lock’s got its own sound, but you can hear the difference when you’ve hit a number.”
Hogan nodded. “Go on.”
“Of course, the problem with that is sometimes, you just can’t hear the lock, even with a stethoscope. Lots of reasons for that, like in this case it might be the lock being brand new. That’s when you’ve got to be able to feel the numbers instead.” Newkirk held out his hand, turning it so that Hogan could see his fingertips clearly. The rest of the hand was roughened from working around camp, but it was obvious that he’d taken care to keep his fingers from developing calluses. “Let’s see your ’and, then.”
Hogan frowned in concentration and extended his own hand beside Newkirk’s, comparing every minute detail. He noted with some dissatisfaction that his hands had obviously not been as well looked after as Newkirk’s: he had never paid particular attention to them, and after the hard work shoveling today, he had added a couple of fairly large, painful blisters to his palm. He grimaced as he opened his hand wide, stretching the taut skin.
“That could be a bit of a problem, but we’ll see.” Newkirk frowned at the blisters. They had to hurt, and what he was about to do wouldn’t help matters. He pulled the precious shilling he always carried with him from his pocket and started running it through his fingers. Moving it slowly at first, he picked up speed until it practically danced back and forth across his hand.
Hogan just tilted his head and watched the performance. “Nice trick. Do you pull rabbits out of hats, too?” he asked, forcing a bit of lightness into his voice as he absorbed the enormity of what he was preparing to do.
“I’ve been known to on occasion. I like pulling out flowers better, though. They don’t bite, and they don’t leave any stray hairs on your sleeve.” Newkirk grinned, then flipped the coin at Hogan. “Your turn, sir.”
Hogan arched an eyebrow, then winced as he caught the shilling tightly in his blistered hand. “This isn’t about coin tricks, Newkirk,” he said. “I can’t play with coins. I can learn to trip the safe.”
Newkirk shook his head and moved away from the table to lean against the post supporting the bunk bed. He crossed his arms over his chest, taking time to gather his thoughts before responding. After a long silence, he looked at Hogan. “How long did it take you to learn how to fly a B-17, Colonel?”
Hogan thought back to his training days at the base back in the States. It all seemed so far away, he could barely imagine it was less than a lifetime ago. “Nine weeks pre-flight, nine hours with instructors, then sent out with a crew chief,” he answered. To himself he added, Never on our own. “But this is different. I’m not carrying a dozen five-hundred pound bombs with wing tanks full of fuel and Kraut planes flying at me from all directions.”
“Hold on there and let me finish.” The words may have been a little abrupt, but the tone wasn’t. Still, there was something different about the way the Englishman was speaking. The man who usually ensured he wasn’t in charge of anything was starting to sound like a leader as he continued. “And before that, you spent time in what? Twin engine planes? Single engine? Then top it off by going all the way back to flight school. Pretty easy to say you’ve got years invested in learning how to pilot your Flying Fortress. Right?”
Hogan nodded, unhappy with the way Newkirk was turning this around. “Yeah, I guess you could put it that way,” he said as he exhaled loudly.
“Now, without telling too many tales on myself, Colonel, I think it’s safe to say that I’d already been practicing the cracksman’s arts for a while by the time you were trying out for the school football team.” Newkirk looked directly at Hogan. “One of the first things I was taught, long before I ever went on my first job, was how to ‘play with coins.’ It’s marvelous for working on your flexibility and for teaching your fingers how to see what your eyes can’t.”
Hogan sighed and stared at the coin in his hand. “So what you’re trying to tell me is, this is like trying to fly a real airplane after building a model at home.”
“Do you remember those bloody stupid ‘tests’ we did with that Kraut flight trainer when you decided to steal a German bomber for that run over the factory at Stuttheim? Would you say that after that, I’m qualified to sit in the left front seat of a B-17? Or that I’d be able to do anything other than crack it up on takeoff?”
Hogan shook his head. “No.” He turned away and headed for his window, an absentminded gesture as it was closed and shuttered to keep out some of the freezing cold that penetrated the room so easily through the less-than-perfectly fitted boards that made up the walls of the barracks. “But it doesn’t make a difference, Newkirk,” he said, concentrating a bit too intently on seeing through the cracks to the outside. “My orders are the same: you, and the others, stay out of it. You can create a diversion for me, but the responsibility of getting to that safe is mine alone.” His eyes dropped from the wall and he seemed to be addressing the floor. “The less involved you are, the less chance you have of being shot if something goes wrong. And it might.”
Hogan paused, wanting to explain his own fears but unwilling to burden one of his men with them. Instead, after a long pause, he said quietly. “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, Corporal, and it’s not that I don’t trust you and the others to do the job. I just can’t take a chance on losing you.”
Newkirk nodded, pondering everything Hogan did—and did not—say. “We don’t want to lose you either, sir,” he replied softly. Hogan didn’t answer. Newkirk could feel the man’s discomfort. The Corporal sighed and gave Hogan a long look. “Truth is, gov’nor,” he resumed, his voice a bit louder, “there’s just no way I can teach you what you need to know in the next few hours. You can’t learn it that fast; no one can. There comes a time when you just have to call in an expert.” He paused, giving time for his words to sink in, then went on. “One more thing. That shilling,” he gestured to the coin still in Hogan’s hand. “Alfie Burke gave that to me back when I did my first job with him, and I’ve kept it ever since. Even kept it through Wetzler. Now you hold on to it awhile, and think about what I’ve said. Then if you’re still convinced you can do the job, I’ll do everything I can to help you pull it off.” Even though it means I’m the one putting you in front of that ruddy firing squad.
Hogan didn’t turn back to the Englishman, and instead just let the coin roll through his fingers. He was clumsy at it, he admitted to himself. His hands were made for throttles and levers, not tumblers and stethoscopes. But he didn’t want his men involved in this one. He had let enough bad things happen this time around already; he didn’t want to make matters worse by bringing the Gestapo down on all of them. A failed attempt and they could all be shot as spies and saboteurs. He didn’t doubt his ability to stand up under intense and physical interrogation; no, Hogan had already proven to himself that he could withstand the unendurable and still not crack. But if Hochstetter even suspected that Hogan wasn’t working alone, he wouldn’t give up until all of Hogan’s men paid the price along with him. And that would carry a more unbearable guilt than losing the code book ever could.
Hogan held the coin up in front of his face and studied it. “Okay,” he said finally. He turned back toward Newkirk, still holding up the coin. “I get your point. I’ll let you do the light-fingered work. But you’ll do it under my direct order or you won’t do it at all.” Hogan surprised Newkirk by pulling a particularly deft move with the shilling before flicking it back toward the Englishman. “Got it?”
Newkirk blinked in surprise as he snatched the coin from the air. “Yes, gov’nor.” Looks like the old Papa Bear has a few tricks up his own sleeve.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan looked carefully from one man to the other, searching their eyes, as he did each time, for signs of fear. There was always an edge to the jobs that they did, some sharper than others, but never without risk. This time, he was reluctantly letting the men in on a job where an already-suspicious member of the Gestapo was right in their midst, watching for any sign of foul play, and ready to put any one of them in front of a firing squad. Normally, he would give thought to the danger, then leave it in the back of his mind, using his concerns to help shape the assignments he gave to his men; this time, it sat in the foreground, jabbing at his conscience along with the memory of seeing the code book land in that German SS man’s hands. And he regretted having to involve the men at all in something that wouldn’t have to be done if he had succeeded in his mission in the first place.
“I’ll be keeping Klink and Hochstetter busy in the Rec Hall. If Hochstetter doesn’t fall asleep on the movie, I’ll keep him away from Klink’s office. Le Beau, you got your strudel all ready?”
“Oui, Colonel. I made enough for us as well.” Le Beau smiled. It had taken almost all of his supply of sugar, but he was determined that at least this time, his friends would get a share.
“Good. I’ve talked Klink into putting Schultz on duty tonight as punishment for not keeping us in line at roll call.” Kinch shook his head. Hogan shrugged. “Carter, make sure you give enough incendiaries to Kinch for him to set up a nice big diversion somewhere away from Klink’s office. Make sure you keep a couple for yourself in case you need to get out fast. Newkirk will pop the safe, you take the photos, then you put it back and don’t wait for an invitation. Understood?”
Carter bobbed his head. “I’ve got some smoke bombs ready, Colonel,” he said.
Hogan nodded. “Kinch? I need you to find the Byron Buckles film that hambone sent us.”
“You mean the one we hid so no one made us watch it?” Kinch asked wryly.
“That’s the one.”
“I thought we were saving that for a rainy day.”
“We had plenty of rain about a month ago,” Carter observed.
“Not enough to show a Byron Buckles movie,” Le Beau muttered.
“You’d need the ruddy second flood of Noah, mate,” Newkirk added.
“It doesn’t matter,” Hogan said over the grumbling. “Klink loves him, and that means the movie will keep his attention, at least long enough for you fellas to sneak out, do the job, and get back before Hochstetter notices. And be quick about it,” he added sharply. “I’d rather you not be doing this at all.”
Hogan’s men felt his tension and nodded quietly. “We’ll be ready, Colonel,” Le Beau declared.
Hogan nodded. “Good. Set your watches. This all kicks off in two hours.”
Hogan took a last long look at his men and headed for his quarters, leaving the others to watch after him. “D’you reckon you could make a nice plum pudding next time, Louis?” Newkirk asked, as he headed for the tunnel with Kinch and Carter. The others chuckled as a stream of French invectives met their ears.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“The timing’s gonna be close on this one, Kinch,” Newkirk said, watching the Sergeant dig under the radio desk for the hidden movie.
“It sure is,” Kinch agreed, his head disappearing.
“The Colonel was gonna go at it on ’is own, y’know.” Newkirk watched Kinch pull out a film reel and have a quick look at it. “He really expected me to teach him everything about safe cracking in a couple of hours so he could keep us as far out of it as possible.”
Kinch blew some dust off the container. “That’s crazy!” he said, surprised.
“I finally convinced him to do his best trick—keeping the goons occupied—while I do mine and have a bit of a private chat with Klink’s safe.” The Englishman leaned against a roof support beam and shook his head.
Kinch sat down at the desk. “Still, it means he’s worried. You saw him upstairs. We’d better make sure we’re extra careful. He doesn’t need any more gray hairs on our account.”
“Right. Makes me glad I got through to him.” Newkirk didn’t add that just the thought of Hogan trying to crack his first safe under these conditions was bound to give the Corporal more than a few of his own.
A rattling noise drew both men’s attention down the tunnel, where they saw Carter approaching with a double-armload of incendiaries. The young Sergeant’s face was lit up like that of a child that’s been given a present. “Think these’ll be enough smoke bombs, guys?”
Kinch looked at the homemade devices and chuckled. “The idea, Andrew, is to create a diversion, not to smoke out every rat in camp!”
“No, the idea is to keep the rats occupied with the Byron bloody Buckles picture instead.” The Englishman grinned at the crestfallen look on Carter’s face. “It’ll be fine, mate. In and out, ten minutes tops.”
Carter put the rest of his load on the table beside Kinch. “I’ve made up about a half dozen for you, Kinch, and I packed two small ones for myself. I’m gonna keep ’em in my pocket just in case me and Newkirk need to make a quick getaway.”
“You know what part of this whole thing is bothering me now?” Newkirk gestured toward the box holding the film reel. “That we’re gonna have to sit through the first fifteen minutes of that drivel before we can sneak out!”
Where There’s Smoke
Hogan held up his hands as he took to the front of the room. The men crowded into the Recreation Hall quickly gave him their attention. “Okay, fellas, settle down…. Welcome to tonight’s special feature,” he said, warming up. Hogan’s eyes expertly scanned the room as he spoke, making brief contact with Newkirk, who was sitting behind the projector, and Kinch, who was standing near the window behind the crowd. Carter and Le Beau, he knew, were out getting their own parts in this caper ready. “As you all know, our camp was lucky enough to have the famous Byron Buckles as a co-prisoner for awhile.” He raised an eyebrow, and the pre-organized murmurs of delight rippled through the room. “Well, the old Belt Buckle himself was kind enough to send us his latest film, ‘Blondes and Bombshells: A Pilot’s Story.’” Hogan swallowed hard; he’d have preferred taking a chance on the Germans to sitting through this B-movie reject. But this was his expertise: being the master manipulator; he had to let the others use their special skills as well. Hogan raised a hand again to bring the chatter to a halt. “We’re lucky enough to have with us tonight, two very special guests—” Hogan swept his hand toward the front of the crowd. “Our very own beloved Kommandant, Wilhelm Klink, and everyone’s favorite member of the Gestapo, Major Hochstetter.”
Polite applause worked its way through the room. “As we all know, the Kommandant handed down disciplinary orders because of our own inappropriate behavior during roll call. However, he was big enough… generous enough… to lift that punishment, as our Red Cross packages have been delayed. And morale among prisoners must be maintained.”
“Let’s hear it for the Kommandant!” shouted Newkirk from the back of the room. Hogan nodded briefly for the men to take part in the cheers. Klink smiled, desperately proud but trying to show only modesty to the men. Beside him, Hochstetter shook his head, disgusted.
Klink stood up and acknowledged the men with a brief wave of one hand. Hogan was about to call for the lights to be put out, when the Kommandant began a speech of his own. “Gentlemen, I want you to know that as your Kommandant, I am pleased to be here tonight at Colonel Hogan’s invitation.” Hochstetter raised his eyes to the ceiling; for once, Hogan agreed with him. “As you know, it is my job to enforce discipline in this camp. But I would not be the fine leader that I am, if I did not listen to the needs of the prisoners. And so I am pleased—humbled—to be among you tonight—”
“Thank you, Kommandant,” Hogan interrupted. At Hogan’s signal, Kinch flicked off the lights before Klink could protest further, and Klink sat back down, hardly realizing what had happened. Hogan took a seat to the left of Klink, on the outer aisle, so he could keep an eye on what was going on. Hochstetter sat uncomfortably on Klink’s right, his fist digging into his cheek as he leaned his elbow on his thigh. Hochstetter was going to take some watching, Hogan decided. Yes… a lot of watching tonight.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Le Beau gave his scarf a final turn around his neck and picked up the plate and thermos. “Ok, Andre, I’m off to feed the animals. Give me a few minutes to get their attention, then you come on out.”
Carter grinned as he checked his pockets to make sure everything was in place: smoke bombs—just his; Kinch had the others hidden in his own pockets—camera, lucky rabbit’s foot. “I’ll be ready, boy. You just say the word—or, well, I could say the word. I mean, I’ll watch you, and then I’ll get Kinch when everything’s ready to go.” He stopped, letting his face slide into an easy smile. “I guess I’m a little nervous.”
The Frenchman shook his head and smiled gently. “You’ll be fine. It’s as you said, distractions are what we do.”
Le Beau pulled the barracks door open and went into the darkness, dodging the searchlight beams with the ease of long practice until he got next to the Kommandant’s office and saw Schultz standing, half asleep, on duty. Thank heaven for Colonel Hogan’s powers of manipulation. “Psst! Hey, Schultz! It’s me, Corporal Le Beau.” He spoke just loudly enough to get the German’s attention, but made sure his voice wouldn’t carry out into the compound.
Schultz perked up a little when he heard the voice that usually accompanied late night treats meant just for him. “Cockroach, why aren’t you at the movie?”
Le Beau shrugged. “I have never cared for ham,” he said. “Schultzie,” he said, moving in closer. “I brought you something special.”
Schultz inhaled loudly in delighted surprise as Le Beau held up a plate covered in a red-and-white checkered cloth. “For me?” he said. “What is it? Why have you brought it to me? Oh, Le Beau,” he added, suddenly frowning. “You are not up to any monkey business while the Kommandant and Major Hochstetter are at the Byron Buckles movie, are you?” he asked.
“Aww, come on, Schultzie.” Le Beau put on his best hurt look. “I just thought you might be cold and hungry, and here you are, thinking I am up to something.” He made as if to leave. “Fine, I'll just go back to the barracks then.”
Schultz’s hand stopping Le Beau nearly pulled the Frenchman off balance. “I’m sorry, Le Beau,” the guard said, sounding more eager for a bite than truly penitent. “I should have known better. What have you brought me tonight?”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Carter peered out the barracks door through the tiny crack he had allowed himself to see what was happening across the compound. He watched as Le Beau expertly led Schultz to the edge of the porch and the guard sat down heavily, facing away from the middle of the compound, and away from the window was that he and Newkirk would crawl in through in mere minutes.
Timing the sweep from the lights in the guards’ towers, Carter slipped outside and hopped from building to building, until he made it to the building opposite the Rec Hall. He looked back; Le Beau and Schultz were still engrossed in the food. In the hall, Kinch was leaning against the wall near the window, waiting.
Carter raised one arm in the darkness, watching to see that his signal was received. Looking back out, Kinch nodded vaguely and moved away from the window. Carter had checked that all was well to proceed to the nearby office; it was time to get moving. Looking over at Newkirk, the radio man took off his wool cap and ran his hand over his hair before setting the cap back in place.
Newkirk caught the signal and, nodding, stood up and slipped quietly out of the building.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
As Carter pulled the shade on Klink’s office window, Le Beau’s voice floated softly toward him. “Just a little more, Schultzie. Wait until you see what else I have cooked up for you!”
Schultz responded with sounds of delight. Carter grinned and turned back to Newkirk, nodding. Everything was ready.
Crouched by the safe, Newkirk rubbed his hands together, warming them up before giving the combination dial an experimental twist. As he’d suspected, the new lock was too smooth to simply feel the numbers click into place, so he pulled the stethoscope from his pocket. Newkirk settled the earpieces in place, gently put the bell over the lock and closed his eyes in concentration. At least I don't have to listen for the coppers this time around; my mate Carter’s got my back. Flexing his fingers one last time, the safecracker began to work his brand of magic.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan stood up abruptly as Hochstetter rose from his seat. “Leaving so soon, Major?” Hogan asked, trying to block the officer’s way.
“This is ridiculous, Hogan,” Hochstetter said. “I find this movie to be puerile, infantile American propaganda.”
Hogan shrugged innocently. “That’s what Byron Buckles does best!”
“I cannot watch it.” Hochstetter tried to move around Hogan, who kept changing positions to keep him in front of the room.
A tug on his coat from Klink startled Hochstetter. “Excuse me, Major, you are blocking the screen,” the Kommandant said, craning to see around him.
Hochstetter pulled his arm up to get away from Klink. “Bah!” he cried. “I will get out of your way, Klink. Hogan, move or I will have you shot!”
“Okay,” Hogan said, glancing back toward Kinch, who nodded and quickly left the building. He moved out of the way. Hochstetter started to storm down the aisle when Hogan stopped him. “Oh, Major!” he called. Hochstetter stopped and turned around. “Can I have your popcorn?”
As Hochstetter started to reply, the Rec Hall was plunged into darkness, and his words were lost in the loud slapping of a length of broken film against the back of the projector. Sergeant Bryan Olsen, who had fallen asleep five minutes into the picture, jumped from his seat and switched off the projector as someone else found the overhead light switch. Blinking at the sudden brightness, Olsen started rewinding the film back onto the proper reels.
Hochstetter turned and looked at the projector, then spun around to look at Hogan. “Where is the man who was running this film, Hogan?” he asked accusingly.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Unaware of the new problem in the Rec Hall, Kinch moved stealthily away from the building so he could keep watch on what was happening in Klink’s office. He could see Le Beau and Schultz still crouched over some culinary diversion. The shade was still drawn in Klink’s office. Everything seemed to be going to plan. Still, he patted his pockets for the comfort of the six little devices Carter had supplied him with earlier, just in case he needed them. There were other guards in the camp besides Schultz, and not all of them could be distracted with strudel.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Kinch is outside waiting,” Carter whispered, still keeping an eye outside while Newkirk worked the safe.
Newkirk jumped a bit and gave Carter a look of exasperation. “Blimey, mate!” he whispered. “Give me a bloomin’ heart attack, why don’t ya?”
Carter turned around, on the defensive. “Well, I was just tellin’ ya that everything’s going okay outside,” he said. “I thought you’d want to know that!”
Newkirk sighed and leaned his head against the safe. “Right, Andrew. Didn’t mean to snap at you that way.” After a deep breath, he went back to work on the lock. Why does Carter always get to be the lookout? Quiet ol’ Kinch’d sure be a lot easier on my nerves! “Look, mate, why don’t you get your camera ready? We’ll be needing it in no time.”
Carter nodded and relaxed. “Right, Newkirk.” He felt in his pockets for the things he had brought with him. There’s the first smoke bomb... that’s the camera. I’m sure I put film in it. I’ll just check it for use in this low light. He dug a gloved hand in and groped around for the equipment, gripping hard and pulling when it seemed to get caught in the material. Suddenly smoked started snaking out of his jacket. He panicked silently, tugging harder and then realizing he had pulled the pin on one of his smoke bombs. “Newkirk!” he whispered urgently, trying to free the device before it actually damaged his clothing—or himself. “Newkirk! I set off a smoke bomb!”
“Bloody hell! Get rid of it, and fast!” Newkirk couldn’t believe it. Four more numbers left on the lock, and Carter had to go and toss a spanner in the works.
Carter kept tugging, and finally his jacket let the bomb go. Smoke started filling the room. Carter coughed and his eyes started to water. Without thinking, he went to rub his eyes, dropping the device in the process. “Newkirk! I’ve dropped it!”
“Well where is it?” Newkirk answered, trying in vain to keep working the safe.
“I don’t know; it fell down there somewhere!”
“Blimey, Carter, I can’t take you anywhere! Bleedin’ Krauts’ll be on us in minutes now—even Schultz won’t be able to miss this!” Newkirk muttered in frustration, then stopped his work, crawling beneath the smoke to help find the canister, or to run for his life.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Kinch blinked a couple of times to make sure he was seeing clearly, then shook his head and frowned. Smoke was starting to creep out from the cracks in Klink’s window, and the shade was moving like someone was fumbling near it. This could only mean trouble. He glanced over toward where Le Beau and Schultz were still camped out, and when Le Beau looked back over the guard’s shoulder, Kinch gestured wildly toward the office.
Le Beau nodded and loudly urged Schultz to follow him to where there were more delights waiting for him, but the guard resisted. “I would love to, Le Beau, but I have to guard the Kommandant’s office.”
“There are plenty of guards around, Schultz!” protested Le Beau. “Besides, all the prisoners are at the Byron Buckles movie!” Through gritted teeth and a forced smile he added, “Who would want to miss that?”
Schultz nodded. “Ja, ja.” He stood up and started to turn back toward the office for his rifle.
Le Beau grabbed it quickly for him, keeping him turned away. “Here you go, Schultzie,” he said, handing the guard the plate. “I will hold this for you.”
“Danke,” Schultz replied. “For an enemy, you are a very good friend.”
Kinch shook his head again and looked back to the office. More smoke. No Newkirk, no Carter. A searchlight rolled its beam across the compound, passing the office and then making an abrupt circuit back to it, stopping on the window. It was time to get things going. Kinch pulled out the things Carter had entrusted him with, and got to work.
Newkirk yanked the stethoscope from his ears and stuffed it into his pocket. That’s torn it! We need to find that thing and scarper before the Krauts show up! He started sweeping his hands across the floor, searching for the canister. “Anything yet, Carter?”
“Not yet, Newkirk,” came a faceless voice as smoke filled the room.
“Well where is it?” Newkirk asked for the second time.
“I don’t know! I told you, it fell on the floor!”
“Well, the floor’s a pretty big place, Andrew! Would you care to narrow that answer down a bit?”
“I’m doing my best, Newkirk—just keep looking!” Carter moved around blindly in the room, banging into Klink’s desk and then another table in the room. He felt himself about to lose his balance and he stepped down hard on something sticking up on the floor. For just a second he wondered what that was, but all uncertainty was removed when he heard a loud cry from below.
“OW! Blimey, Andrew! You’re standin’ on me hand!”
Carter instantly picked up his booted foot. “Sorry, Newkirk!” he said. He got down on his knees and reached around. “Here it is—here it is!”
“C’mon, let’s get out of here before they count that bloody thing as our last smoke before we get shot!”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Answer me, Hogan, where is the Englander?” Hochstetter growled.
Hogan cocked his head. Now would be a really good time for that diversion, Kinch! “Major, even you understand the call of Nature—” he began.
Suddenly a shout rang out from the compound. “Fire! There’s a fire! Fire!”
“Finally!” Hogan let slip from his lips. Then he turned and led the way out into the open air.
“What’s going on?” Hogan asked, when he finally made his way to where Kinch was standing and several Germans were grabbing hoses and buckets.
“Looks like they set off a smoke bomb in Klink’s office,” Kinch answered under his breath.
“They come out yet?” Hogan asked, concerned.
“Not yet, Colonel. I thought I’d better set off these in case they needed to get out of there in a hurry.”
Hogan patted his arm but kept an eye on the Kommandant’s office. “Good work,” he said, worrying.
More guards added to the confusion as the general fire alarm started wailing in the camp, and a searchlight swept by, coming to rest on the armory, where heavy smoke was billowing out the closed front door.
“You’d better move my men out of the area, Kommandant,” Hogan said loudly. “It’s your responsibility under the Geneva Convention to keep the prisoners safe, and being blown up by the camp armory definitely does not qualify as safe!” Hogan moved next to Klink and turned the Kommandant, who was standing bellowing orders to anyone who would listen, away from his own office toward the fire, and signaled Kinch to divert Hochstetter’s attention as well.
“You’d better take a look at this, Major,” Kinch said, bringing the Gestapo officer closer to the fake fire.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Newkirk went to the office window, pulling back the shade to get a look outside. “Looks like Kinch has everyone’s attention on the armory. Let’s go!” He raised the shade easily enough, but was struggling to open the window one-handed when Carter stepped up to help.
“I’m really sorry, Newkirk,” Carter said, pushing the window open and gesturing for Newkirk to go first.
“We’ll worry about that later, Carter, now let’s just get out of here!”
Newkirk climbed out with Carter right behind him. Making sure the window was closed, the Englishman raced across the compound and ducked into the group of prisoners milling around the compound. Sighing in relief, he worked his way through the crowd until he got to a place where he could catch Hogan’s eye.
Hogan nodded and made his way over to the Englishman. “You get it?” Hogan murmured, still keeping an eye on Klink and Hochstetter.
“Not even close.” Newkirk kept his voice down as he responded. “Four lousy numbers left to find, and Carter goes and sets off one of his ruddy smoke bombs.”
Hogan let out a loud breath. “That’s great. That is just great,” he said, shaking his head. “All right, let’s get this mess cleaned up and talk about trying again.”
“Right.” Newkirk shook his head. “I’ll go find our Little Deer and herd him back to the barracks then.”
Hogan made sure someone discovered there was no real fire shortly thereafter, and signaled Kinch to head back to the barracks with him.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“The café’s closed, Schultz,” Hogan said as he entered the common room. “The Kommandant needs you outside for a clean up.”
The German Sergeant gave Hogan a mournful look. “But I haven’t finished my strudel yet.”
“We’ll save it for you,” Hogan said, pushing the guard out the door with difficulty. “You don’t want to get in trouble, now. Major Hochstetter would get you transferred to the Russian front!”
Hogan shut the door and turned back toward his men. “Okay, what happened?” he asked, looking at Newkirk and Carter.
“It was my fault, Colonel,” Carter said sheepishly; “I accidentally set off one of the smoke bombs.”
Hogan sighed. “All right, then. We’ll have to have a go later when things settle down again. Newkirk, you had some time in there; think you can do it?”
Newkirk bit his lip and reached up to take his cap off to delay answering the question. He winced in pain at the movement and tried to lower his hand before anyone noticed.
Hogan’s eyes widened at the sight of the Corporal’s red, slightly swollen hand. “Oh, boy, now what?” he asked.
“I—I sort of stepped on his hand,” Carter piped up.
“It was an accident, Colonel,” Newkirk defended his friend. “We couldn’t see for all the smoke.”
Hogan let out a frustrated breath and nodded. “Yeah, yeah, I know,” he conceded. “These things happen.” Hogan ran a hand through his hair, lost in thought.
“Look, gov’nor, all we’ve got to do is let the Krauts settle in for the night, then I’ll nip back over to the office and finish the job.” Newkirk carefully tucked his hand into his jacket pocket, hoping the “out of sight, out of mind” theory would work on the Colonel.
dice. “No,” Hogan sighed, shaking his head. “We can’t afford to do long term
damage to those magic fingers of yours, not even for this…. Make sure
Carter had plopped himself on his bunk while the others were talking. Boy, I sure screwed this mission up... and who knows how bad Newkirk’s hurt? I hope I didn’t mess his hand up permanently! Hogan’s words brought Carter out of his reverie and he jumped up, rushing eagerly to the Colonel's side. “Yes, sir, I sure would like that!” The words came tumbling from his lips. “I really didn't mean to step on Newkirk like that! Honest! I’m really, really sorry I—”
“At ease, Carter,” Hogan said gently. Carter stopped talking and twitched his lips uncomfortably. Hogan offered the Sergeant a soft, reassuring smile as he continued. “I think we’ve all had our share of messes lately, and none of them come at a good time. Now, Hochstetter’s bound to leave this paradise tomorrow, and he’s not about to leave the book behind.” Hogan shifted position and moved in to the main table. “There’s only one reason he would hand it over to anyone.” He raised an eyebrow. “And that’s if a superior officer ordered it.”
The young Sergeant thought about that, then his face lit up with a huge grin. “Oh! I get it!” He took a couple of steps away from Hogan, then turned back with a serious expression, and spoke up in one of his best Kraut voices. “Hmm, I see you have a nice bedtime story there, Major. Would you care to share it with someone else— namely your Fuhrer?” Carter smirked, and let out a soft giggle before dropping back out of character.
Hogan smiled and shook his head. “You know, Carter, I often wonder whether I should be impressed with you—or frightened of you.” Carter grinned. “You’ll arrive in camp first thing in the morning and order the book handed over for your personal inspection, after which you will return it to the safe, loving hands of Major Hochstetter, so we can use it against him.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan had just sat down on his lower bunk and was rubbing his eyes and face wearily, trying to take in the events of the night, when he heard a faint knock on the door. Sighing, he said, “Come.” He looked with surprise when he saw Newkirk almost stealthily walk in. “Another late night, Corporal?” he asked.
“Something like that, sir.” Newkirk was feeling the effects of the last twenty-four hours himself, and having to deal with failing the mission on top of that wasn’t helping. “What you said to Carter out there... thank you for that. I hate to see him kicking himself for what was an accident.”
“That’s what it was, too, Newkirk,” Hogan said, sensing more than a little guilt in the Englishman’s stance as well. “An accident.” Hogan shook his head. “We’re sure had our share of trials in the last twenty-four hours. All because I lost that damned code book in the first place.”
Newkirk pulled out the desk chair and took a seat opposite Hogan. He didn’t say anything for a minute as he studied the man closely. He’s still kickin’ himself over that. No surprise there, really. The Englishman took a deep breath and let it out slowly before he spoke. “It might not be my place to say this, sir, but someone’s gotta do it. You can tell me to shut up if you like, but just this once, I’d like to talk with the man behind the eagles.”
Hogan raised one eyebrow as his tiredness deserted him. “You have a problem, Newkirk?” he asked.
“No, Robert, but I believe you do.” Newkirk knew he was going out on a limb here. Hogan never insisted on all the usual privileges of rank, but an enlisted man calling an officer by his first name just wasn’t done in either of their respective armies.
Hogan frowned. “I don’t have a problem, Corporal,” he said. “But if there’s something on your mind, just say it.”
“You went out to catch the code book last night and had to stand by while it fell into German hands. Fine. It happened... now get over it.” As he spoke, Newkirk slid back into that same authoritative tone and manner he’d used when talking Hogan out of trying for the safe himself. “That particular mission failed, but you saved the entire operation by not getting yourself captured.”
“The same way you ‘got over it’ when things went wrong for you three weeks ago in Hammelburg?” Hogan retorted sharply. Newkirk recoiled physically from the comment; Hogan immediately regretted it. He held up a hand and let out a long breath. “Sorry,” he said, shaking his head. He collected himself, then continued. “Look, I’m not going to let it stop me from doing my job. I just couldn’t stand seeing it happen. It puts a lot of good people at risk, and I was the one hiding in the bushes watching it all go to Hell in a hand basket. I know I did the right thing,” he added quietly. “Sometimes I just wish I didn’t have to.”
soft tone was full of concern as he spoke. “We all wish we didn’t have to.
Blimey, I can think of a hundred things I’d rather be doing instead of freezing
in this filthy rathole of a prison camp.” Shaking his head, he continued. “We
could have let the code book go and just told
As Hogan listened, his breathing got calmer, and he closed his eyes to clear his mind. “Thanks, Newkirk,” he said finally. “I can usually handle hiccups without cracking up. I must be getting old.”
Newkirk couldn't help but smile. “I think we’re all gonna be old men before we’re done here. But if it’s any consolation to you, mate, gray hairs look a lot more distinguished on a Colonel than they do a Corporal.”
“Thanks,” Hogan answered wryly.
“Think nothing of it.” Newkirk paused, giving Hogan time to enjoy the light moment before continuing. “As we both know, Plan A has ended in a total failure on account of an accident none of us could have foreseen. To tell the truth, I did think for a second about staying and finishing despite what was going on, but then I realized that would have been about as brilliant as you trying to take the code book away from that Kraut patrol.” Hogan opened his mouth to speak; Newkirk held up his hand to forestall any comments from his superior officer. “This leads us to Plan B: Carter doing his nut as a Nazi General again.” Newkirk smiled. “It isn’t that I don’t think he can pull it off, but I’d like to offer you another option first.”
“I can hardly wait,” Hogan replied.
“Not to put the knock on Carter, but I can take another crack at that safe once things settle down for the night.”
“What, with your hand like that?” Hogan asked, incredulous.
“I still have five of me magic fingers, gov’nor,” Newkirk replied with a touch of pride.
but I’d rather you have all ten. Especially since the five that aren’t so
magical right now are the ones you normally use.” Hogan shook his head. “Sorry,
Newkirk. No go. What’d
Newkirk frowned at the knock-back, though he understood the reasoning behind it. “Back in top form in no time, sir,” he answered, showing Hogan his bandaged hand.
“Good,” Hogan said. “Now get some sleep. We’ll be at it first thing in the morning.”
“And Peter—” Hogan called as the Corporal turned to leave. “I prefer Rob to Robert.”
“I’ll keep that in mind... Rob.” Newkirk glanced over his shoulder, his eyes briefly meeting Hogan’s. “Best you get some sleep now, too, Colonel.”
“I’m way ahead of you.” Hogan stood up to climb up to his upper bunk. “Someday, this war’s going to conform to my lifestyle,” he said as he heaved himself onto the mattress, “and kick in at !”
paced the confines of Klink’s office as he waited impatiently for the Luftwaffe
Colonel to open the safe. Several shots of brandy and a good night’s sleep had
taken care of most of the aches left from the car accident. “Come, Klink. Hurry
with that lock. I want some time to study that code book before my aide gets
here with my car to take me to
Klink continued to play with the tumblers. “I’m doing the best I can, Major Hochstetter.” Klink finally managed the lock and sighed his relief when the door opened easily. He pulled out the code book, closed the door and spun the combination, then stood up and gave the book the Hochstetter. “Very lucky that there was no real fire last night, eh?” he asked, going back around his desk. “I think Colonel Hogan must have been right—everything all closed up like that, no ventilation… it must have caused some kind of chemical reaction in the armory hut.”
“Possibly.” Hochstetter grudgingly agreed with Klink. “I suggest, however, that you check it out most thoroughly and make certain it does not happen again.” He frowned and sniffed at the air. “I smell smoke in here, yet the wind blows from here toward the armory. Strange, is it not, Klink?” The Gestapo Major went back to pacing as Klink took refuge behind his desk. Lost in his thoughts, Hochstetter didn’t notice as the Colonel absentmindedly straightened up a few things on his desk. “Something happened last night. What, I do not know.”
“Yes, yes, of course, of course, Major.” Klink waited expectantly for Hochstetter to leave his office. Where was that driver?
take this book back to
phone on Klink’s desk rang. “Colonel Klink speaking.” Klink immediately picked
up the receiver, glad for any respite from the Gestapo officer whose mere
presence made him so nervous. “Von Karterheim? I don’t know any General von
Karterheim.” Hochstetter paused to listen. “Oh, Major Hochstetter,” he said, nodding. “Yes, yes, very well, if you
have seen his papers then let him in!” Klink hung up. “There’s a General von
Hochstetter unconsciously tugged at his uniform to straighten it as he turned to face the door. “Well, we shall see what he wants.”
Little time passed before Hilda knocked on Klink’s door. “A General von Karterheim to see Major Hochstetter, Kommandant,” she said.
“Show him in,” Klink said in his most formal voice.
A man in the uniform of an Abwehr General strolled into the office, giving Hilda an appreciative glance over the top of his pince-nez spectacles as she closed the door. “Good morning, Colonel, Major.” His eyes flicked from Klink to Hochstetter, then back to the Kommandant as he acknowledged their salutes with a careless wave of his hand.
Klink immediately came around the desk to offer von Karterheim a close up greeting. “General von Karterheim, how very nice to meet you, sir! I don’t believe I’ve ever had the pleasure before to—”
interrupted the visitor—a calm, disinterested trouncing. “Do not grovel.” He
glanced at Hochstetter and explained, “I hate how they always grovel.” He moved
in to inspect Hochstetter at close range. “The Abwehr is aware of a certain book that came into this camp recently,
Major Hochstetter. We need to examine it before you bring it back to
looked up at the General, taking a moment to consider the implications of
anything he might say. The way the General spoke was most unnerving; unlike
Hochstetter, when this man spoke he barely moved his jaws. Because of this,
whatever he said sounded clipped—and menacing. “Is there a problem, Herr General? I have a car coming to
pick me up shortly, and I will have the book safely in
“I am sure the Gestapo thinks many things are ‘safe,’ Major,” said von Karterheim. “However the Abwehr has its own meaning for that word, so I wish to study the book myself and give a report to my superiors before you travel with it. You should have reported it to us yesterday, Major, instead of us having to find out about it… in other ways.”
Paling slightly, Hochstetter put on his best ingratiating smile and held out the code book. “Of course, Herr General, you are correct. An oversight on my part.”
Von Karterheim smirked, just a small curve to the edge of his lips that accompanied a light snort. “Of course it was,” he answered with more than a touch of arrogance. He pointed to the item in Hochstetter’s hand. “Is that the code book, Major?”
Klink stood at his desk, carefully hiding his delight at seeing the overbearing Major being on the receiving end of a dressing-down for once. It would be a memory to treasure, provided he didn’t become a target himself.
“Ja, Herr General, this is the book.”
you have it out of the safe before someone comes to drive you out of camp?” von
Karterheim tutted. “You take chances with the Fatherland, Major Hochstetter.
Even paler now, Hochstetter carefully placed the book into the General’s hand. Tiny beads of sweat broke out on his forehead as he fought to keep his hand from trembling.
The Abwehr General turned to Klink. “You will find me a place to study this in private. I will then send my report to my superiors before you leave with it, Major. At least we know it will have reached my office safely.”
Klink blustered forward to offer his quarters for use by the General. Von Karterheim nodded. “That will do, Klink.” He turned to Hochstetter. “Tell me, Major, has anyone else in this camp seen this book?”
Hochstetter considered. “No, Herr General,” he replied.
Klink spoke up quickly. “Oh, that’s not quite right, Major! Don’t you remember? You showed it off to Colonel Hogan yesterday.”
“Colonel Hogan?” von Karterheim repeated. “Who is this man?”
“He is the senior Prisoner of War officer here, General,” Klink replied.
Von Karterheim shook his head. “You often share military secrets with prisoners, Major Hochstetter?” he asked, amused.
“Of course not, Herr General,” Hochstetter answered with a glare in Klink’s direction. “Hogan was in the office when the code book was taken out of the safe, and was able to see what it was. I concluded that his knowing about it could only damage his morale, General.”
“At last, evidence of military strategy,” von Karterheim said condescendingly, nodding. “I want to see this Colonel Hogan. Bring him to your quarters, Klink. Then leave me alone until I call for you.”
“Herr General.” Hochstetter frowned as he
spoke. “This Colonel Hogan is the most dangerous man in all of
Von Karterheim snorted in disdain. “Are you suggesting that I cannot handle one unarmed prisoner, Major Hochstetter? Surely your own weakness cannot be passed on to me so quickly.” He turned to Klink. “Show me to your quarters,” he said.
Klink bellowed for Schultz, who turned up almost immediately. “Jawohl, Herr Kommandant.”
“Take General von Karterheim to my quarters, then get Colonel Hogan and bring him there.”
“Jawohl! Herr Kommandant.”
“That will do nicely, Klink.” Von Karterheim paused. “Klink…” he pondered. “Klink… I am sure I have heard that name before….”
“Maybe in an efficiency report, Herr General?” Klink suggested hopefully.
“No,” von Karterheim said immediately. “No, your name had nothing to do with efficiency.” He waved a hand as though to clear the air. “Never mind. Leave me to my work. Then bring me this Hogan. I will take great pleasure in showing him everything that he will never use.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Looks like you’re going to get in the easy way, Colonel,”
Hogan nodded. “That’s good; I wasn’t looking forward to pushing around that hot stove.”
“Gives a whole different meaning to the phrase ‘hot little hands,’ doesn’t it?” Newkirk quipped.
Hogan shook his head. “I’d better get ready. Gotta make myself presentable if I’m going to see a Kraut General as arrogant as von Karterheim.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
General von Karterheim was sitting on the sofa in Klink’s quarters when Sergeant Schultz brought Colonel Hogan in. The General had his feet up on the table, leafing through the code book, not bothering to look up when the pair entered. “Leave us,” he said, obviously addressing Schultz.
Hogan frowned and started his protest. “Wait, Schultz.” He turned to von Karterheim. “I have nothing to say to you, General.”
Von Karterheim looked up from the book and raised an eyebrow. “But I may have some things to say to you, Colonel Hogan.” He nodded at Schultz. “You may leave, Sergeant.”
“Jawohl, Herr General.” Schultz let off a sharp salute and left quickly, anxious to be away from Hogan’s temper when mixing with German Generals.
The door closed, leaving the two Americans alone. “Have you got it?” Hogan asked eagerly.
“Boy, do I ever!” Carter jumped up with a grin, nearly tripping over the coffee table in his eagerness to give the book to Hogan. “Yes, sir! You should have seen the way old Hochstetter backed down when I got onto him!”
Hogan smiled at the young man’s enthusiasm. “It sounded great. He’ll be looking over his shoulder for a month. We’d better get these pictures taken. We’ve had enough trouble with this. Got your camera?”
“Right here.” Carter pulled out the small camera he had hidden inside one of his pockets.
Hogan opened the book on the table and held open the pages while Carter snapped away. Hogan’s eyes scanned the words eagerly, drinking in as many words as he could manage, knowing it was unnecessary but memorizing it out of habit. A twinge of regret surged through him, reminding him that if things had gone differently a couple of nights ago, this whole scenario could have been avoided. But he pushed that thought out of his mind and told himself that in the end, it would work to their advantage.
“That’s great,” Hogan said as Carter finished. “I’ll take the camera back with me and get Kinch started on developing the film.”
“Okay.” Carter handed Hogan the tiny camera. Hogan turned to leave. “Oh—Colonel?”
Hogan turned back, concerned at the question in the Sergeant’s voice. “Yeah, Carter?”
One side of Carter’s mouth slid up into a grin. “Could you take a picture of me in uniform? I kinda like General von Karterheim.”
Hogan’s eyes smiled. “Maybe next time, Carter. This is a modest war.” As he was about to put his hand on the doorknob, he heard footsteps approaching. He turned to Carter, who immediately resumed his von Karterheim persona, and took a step back himself. “Well, I don’t care what you say, General, I don’t have to stand here and take this humiliation!” Hogan spouted. As he finished speaking, the door opened and Klink and Hochstetter came in.
General von Karterheim raised an eyebrow. “I don’t recall sending for you, gentlemen,” he said.
Klink laughed nervously. “Herr General, we just thought you might like to know that the Major’s car has arrived…”
“If I wanted to know that I would have asked to be informed.” The General gestured toward Hogan. “A very spirited young man,” he said. “Very disrespectful of German officers.”
“Hogannnn…” started Klink. Hogan just shrugged his shoulders.
“I like it,” von Karterheim continued. “It shows his courage. And in your case, gentlemen, it might also show his intelligence.”
Hogan grinned widely. “I take it back, General,” he said; “I think I can stand here and listen to a bit more of this.”
“Get out!” burst Hochstetter finally.
Hogan stole a fast glance back at Carter, who nodded regally, then he shot off a quick salute and hotfooted it back to Barracks Two.
Code and Confrontation
Carter came out of the tunnel, grinning as he ducked under the string of laundry that hid the open bunk from casual view. “Where’s Colonel Hogan?” He looked at Newkirk and Le Beau, who were in the middle of a hand of gin. “Wait’ll you guys see how great these pictures turned out!”
Newkirk smiled and pointed to the closed office door. “He’s in there, Carter,” he started to say. But he cut himself off and ducked as the Sergeant rushed around the table, nearly knocking him in the head with the wooden bar that held the negative strips.
“Blimey, mate! Watch what you’re doing, will ya?” Newkirk called as Carter disappeared into the office. He turned back to his cards, gave Le Beau a grin and spread the hand on the table. “Gin.”
The Frenchman muttered under his breath as he laid his own cards out and started counting points.
Hogan answered quickly when he heard the knock. “Come in!”
Carter rushed in, his precious work waving in along with him. “Colonel, we’ve got ’em! Everything’s all set! Take a look!”
Hogan took the offered magnifying glass and quickly looked over the negatives. “That’s great, Carter. Good work. Get Kinch working on a full set so I can read these without going blind. I’ve got just the message for the Germans to hear, and we don’t have much time left.”
“You betcha, boy—I mean sir. We’ll get right on it!” Carter picked up his magnifying glass and grinned as he headed back into the common room.
Hogan shook his head. He couldn’t help smiling at the young Sergeant’s enthusiasm. The mission wasn’t over by a long shot, but it did seem like things were starting to go their way. Finally, he thought. He grabbed his empty coffee cup and went in search of a refill.
Newkirk and Le Beau were the only ones in the common room not rolled up in their bunks trying to stay warm, and Hogan sat down to watch the game in progress, trying to get his mind off of waiting for the photographs.
Le Beau shuffled and dealt, picking up his hand while Newkirk was busy arranging his own cards one-handed. The Englishman had picked up several cards and fumbled them into order before doing the same to the rest. Hogan watched Newkirk’s fingers closely, trying to see how the Corporal was coping with his injury.
The Colonel wasn’t the only one watching the Englishman’s fingers. Le Beau was also interested, but for other reasons. Eh, maybe I stand a chance of winning, since Newkirk isn’t able to play up to his usual standard. Perhaps it is not fair of me to take advantage... but I did not force him to the table. Le Beau smiled to himself; right now he needed only one more card to go out with.
And there it was. Newkirk had just drawn it, then sat back and studied it for a minute before casually flipping it onto the discard pile. Le Beau stared, then started to reach for it when Newkirk spoke up. “Hang on, mate, not quite done with my play here. Got a bit of trouble holding all my cards, you know.”
Frenchman nodded. “Sorry,
“Just this.” Newkirk smiled as he showed his victim his perfect hand. “Gin.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“The pictures are all ready, Colonel,” Carter said, handing a set of prints to Hogan in his office.
thumbed through the photographs and nodded approvingly. “Great. Go out tonight
with Le Beau and get them to the Underground. They’ll pass them on to Du Bois,
who’ll transmit the message from
“That seems like an awful lot of trouble, Colonel. Why don’t we just transmit it ourselves?” Carter asked. “I mean, we have the code, and we’ve got our own radio.”
thought about Maurice Du Bois. The French Resistance fighter had been involved
with the operation on more than one occasion, and had agreed readily when Hogan
had had Kinch ask him to take yet another risk. “The message can’t be seen to
come from within
“Not bad, gov’nor.” Newkirk looked doubtfully at Hogan as he, Le Beau, and Kinch filed into the office. I reckon it’s all right to play Devil’s Advocate again. “But what if the Krauts decide they don’t need to drop their defenses? That’d leave our boys flyin’ right into a death trap.”
Hogan grinned disarmingly. “That’s why we have General Kinchmeyer,” he answered, wrapping an arm around the radio man’s shoulders.
Kinch raised an eyebrow as he looked at his commanding officer. “General Kinchmeyer?”
going to keep watch at
“Diabolical,” Newkirk marveled.
Hogan picked up the paper he had been scribbling on and started reading. “‘Planes to strike railway yards at Madgeburg in force. Bombers to approach target at approximately twenty-two hundred hours tomorrow. All Allied operatives in area to evacuate prior to mission. Vital installation. Failure not an option. Use all means necessary to destroy. Please acknowledge.’” Hogan looked up from the clipboard and gave one of his most mischievous smiles. “That ought to make the Krauts feel a little threatened.”
Le Beau shook his head. “A perfect plan, Colonel.”
“If it is, it’ll be the first one.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan stood shivering in his bomber jacket in the light snow outside Barracks Two, waiting for the afternoon head count. He shoved his hands under his armpits, thinking longingly of the gloves he used to have that had worn beyond repair in the first storm of the season. He looked down the line at his men and saw that some of them, too, were suffering more than their share of the cold.
Newkirk turned up the collar of his overcoat against the wind, glad that he was able to keep his bandaged hand out of sight by using the excuse of trying to keep warm. “Hey, Schultzie, why can’t we have this bleedin’ roll call inside the barracks? That would be a lot better than having to stomp around in the snow for an hour!”
“Jolly joker,” muttered Schultz through the scarf he managed to get wrapped around his thick neck.
“Come on, Schultz, where’s Klink?” Hogan complained. “It’s cold out here, and my men don’t have new gloves yet, thanks to the normal German efficiency in delivering the Red Cross packages.”
“I am sorry, Colonel Hogan.” The German guard had a genuine look of regret and concern on his face as he spoke. “With the weather the way it is....” He trailed off and raised his hands in a gesture of defeat.
“That’s enough!” came a voice from across the yard. The men looked out to see Klink approaching briskly. “I will not tolerate any more disparaging of my men!” Klink came to a halt only inches in front of Hogan. The American stared him right in the eye as he continued. “If you want those Red Cross packages so badly, Colonel Hogan, you will learn to control your tongue.”
Hogan’s face took on a determined, restrained expression. “And if you want to stay on friendly terms with the Protecting Power, Kommandant, you’ll get my men some warm clothing.”
The men continued stomping their feet to try and keep warm, but all eyes were fixed on the battle of wills between the two Colonels. Respect for their senior POW officer kept them silent, even though they, too, longed to speak out against the conditions they were forced to live in. They knew Hogan would do his best for all of them.
Klink stayed quiet, letting the silence build between him the American officer. When he did speak, his voice was quiet and authoritative. “Colonel Hogan. Your Red Cross packages will arrive as soon as the roads clear enough to allow the truck to come. You will recall that even your own men could not clear enough snow to have one of the camp trucks to meet the one carrying your precious parcels.” Another pause to let that sink in. “And may I remind you that your men are already under a camp-wide punishment due to your lack of discipline? If this problem persists, I shall be forced to increase the sentence to three weeks of early lights-out.”
Hogan bit his lip and let his eyes fall away from Klink’s. What he wanted most of all was to head butt the Kommandant into some semblance of sense. But having the lights put out in the barracks early was a psychological killer, especially when the cold was this bitter and the nights were so long. The only thing keeping some of these men from despair was their ability to socialize, to spend time with other prisoners, discussing their hopes and dreams. Lights out before time would put an end to that, and for some of the men under Hogan’s command, that would be too much to handle. Hogan took a deep breath, and nodded acquiescence. “I apologize, Kommandant,” he said in a soft voice. “I’ll see it doesn’t happen again.” He lowered his eyes, knowing he was doing what was best, but still ashamed to face his men.
Klink took Hogan’s lowered gaze as one of submission. “Very well,” Klink said crisply, condescendingly. Hogan bristled. “Now, gentlemen, I think we have wasted enough time out here in the cold, thanks to your dear Colonel Hogan. I, for one, am going to retreat to my quarters tonight with a nice hot cup of cocoa and a good book, and I might suggest you all do the same.”
“Not without our bloody Red Cross packages, we can’t,” Newkirk muttered under his breath. Hogan cast him a sideways glance but said nothing.
“If you heed my wise advice, you will watch your behavior. I expect no bad reports from the guards.” Klink looked briefly at Schultz. “Diiiiiss-miiiiiiiiiiissed.”
Schultz waved the prisoners back to the barracks, anxious to get out of the cold himself. The men filed back into the building, trying to warm themselves up again as quickly as they could.
Newkirk glared at the closed barracks door, envisioning the Kommandant tucked up in his nice warm bed while the prisoners were making do with moth-eaten blankets and wood-chip mattresses. He spoke softly, his voice roughened by anger. “It’d be worth thirty days in the cooler to march over there and punch ’is lights out, the ruddy—”
Kinch wheeled around, grabbing Newkirk’s shoulder and turning him away from the door. The American leaned over and whispered the Englishman’s ear. “Lay off, Newkirk! The Colonel’s got enough on his plate right now without you adding to it.”
what it’s worth,
Hogan’s mind barely registered the exchange. He was still burning with humiliation inside; knowing he had done the only thing possible made little difference to his wounded pride. But he swallowed and rubbed his forehead, then turned to the others. “Klink’s given us the opening we need,” he said wearily. “If he’s planning to be tucked up all snug in his bed tonight, we shouldn’t have much trouble getting the code and message out to the Underground to pass on to Du Bois.”
ready to go! You just give us the word, boy, and those pictures will be on
their way to
Hogan smiled briefly and shook his head to lift his mood. “Yeah, I’m fine, Carter. I think I just haven’t gotten enough sleep lately. Maybe we should have let Klink shut the lights out early anyway,” he said ruefully. “It was almost worth it, just to see the look on his face when I showed him who’s really the boss around here.”
Kinch saw the dimmed light in Hogan’s eyes and spoke up. “Look at it this way, Colonel. With the early lights-out thing hanging over our heads, old Klink’s convinced himself that he’s got you where he wants you, and he’s not gonna expect us to be up to anything tonight. He’ll sleep like a good little Kraut and leave us free to work.” Kinch looked across the room, meeting Hogan’s eyes. “We all know why you let Klink win out there, sir. And I think I speak for everyone when I say that we’re proud to have you as our commanding officer.”
Hogan’s raw nerves took in Kinch’s words like a soothing balm, and the Colonel smiled slowly. “Thanks, fellas,” he said. “Let’s take advantage of the peace while we have it. Be ready to go right after bed check. And then we can all get some sleep. At least until it starts all over again, tomorrow.”
“Word from the Underground, Colonel,” Kinch said, banging the side of the bunk bed that hid the entrance to the tunnel and radio below. He came into the room and stood beside his commanding officer. “Du Bois got the code and the message you want transmitted this morning.”
Hogan nodded and took another sip of his coffee. “Good,” he said. “So he’ll get started soon.”
“At least the Underground is doing something,” Le Beau observed, taking down the laundry he had hung up two days ago to dry in the cold. “We are stuck just sitting here waiting for something to happen!”
“We’ve had our action,” Hogan replied. “Now it’s our job to make sure everything goes to plan. We’re supposed to hope we don’t have to do anything now.”
“Right, mate. If you’re so bloody anxious to go out and get yourself shot, you know where the tunnel is.” Newkirk leaned down from his bunk, grinned, and pushed the Frenchman’s beret down over his eyes.
Le Beau mock-laughed back at the Corporal and pulled down the last pair of socks. “Non, merci.” He turned back to Hogan. “So when will Du Bois transmit the message, Colonel?”
put down his empty cup and glanced at his watch. “In about an hour and a half.
After that our people in
and started to swagger as he drew himself up into character. “This is General
Kinchmeyer speaking! Why haven’t you moved the flak battery from
Hogan grinned and shook his head. “See? No problem!”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Colonel, we have a problem.”
Hogan turned his face, stiff with cold, toward the bearer of bad news. “What is it, Kinch?” he asked, frowning. He blinked away a couple of snowflakes that were getting in his eyes. Hogan had taken to the outdoors to cope with the interminable waiting. His mind was still preoccupied with the recent humiliations he had had to suffer at Klink’s hands in sight of the bigger picture, and he was still worried about the lack of clothing and other rations for the prisoners. Concentrating on the biting cold meant that he could forget his own troubles, at least until he started to feel a touch of frostbite. “Du Bois didn’t get caught, did he?”
Kinch quickly shook his head. “No, he’s fine. Our contacts say the message was intercepted as expected, and passed on to Hochstetter for deciphering.”
Hogan raised his eyebrows. “Hochstetter,” he mused.
“Promote from within…. The boys’ club, you know.”
“So what’s the problem? Hochstetter knows the code.”
Hogan let out a breath and watched it hang as a white stream in the air before him. “Great.” He looked back out across the compound. “It couldn’t be easy, could it? Are you ready, General Kinchmeyer?”
“Jawohl, Herr Oberst!” Hogan raised an eyebrow. Kinch nodded and said, “I know I know…” Then he said the words along with Hogan that he knew the Colonel would say: “Don’t pad your part!”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Ja, this is Hauptmann Kirkenburg speaking. Heil Hitler!” Newkirk rolled his eyes at the mandatory German salute. “I have Herr General Kinchmeyer on the line to speak to your commanding officer at once. It’s a matter of the utmost importance!”
Hogan shook his head and grinned as the others crowded around the radio in the tunnel. When given a role, Newkirk always played it to the hilt.
The ersatz Hauptmann waited until the poor desk clerk on the other end of the line had stammered something. “Taking time out to indulge in fine food and wine while the security of the Fatherland is at stake? Get him on the line immediately, Feldwebel, or heads will roll! General Kinchmeyer doesn’t like to be kept waiting!” Newkirk flicked the switch to silence his microphone. “I’ve always wanted to say that ‘heads will roll’ bit,” he grinned.
“He must be taking courses with Hochstetter,” Hogan whispered. “How To Sound Like A Maniac In One Easy Lesson.”
“Ja! Ja!” Newkirk suddenly flicked the switch and barked back into the microphone. “He is here. General Kinchmeyer, sir, your call!”
raised his eyes to the ceiling and then prepared himself as Newkirk handed him
the microphone. “This is General Kinchmeyer. Who is this?” He paused. “Major Metzler?
Well, Major, I wonder how your packing is going…. That’s right your packing for
the Russian front…. Well, I presumed that is where you were heading after not
responding to the orders to move the heavy artillery away from
Carter’s smile almost took over his face as he watched Kinch in action. Far from just doing the voice, the radio operator was stiffening and waving a fist in the air, frowning deeply with his nostrils flaring and eyes flashing. Le Beau just shook his head, amused.
Hogan shook his head again, grinning broadly at Kinch’s aptitude for playing power-hungry Nazis. Newkirk raised his eyebrows and tried to keep from laughing when Hogan stuck a finger under his nose and wiggled it to mock the Fuhrer.
“Of course I have my information correct! Do you dare question me, Unterfeldwebel?” Hogan nearly choked stopping his laughter. “What’s that?... Yes, you are a Major… for the moment, Metzler! But I wouldn’t be counting on that in your future! General Karterheim of the Abwehr and I are most insistent upon this being done as ordered! We had one of our best ciphering experts, Major Hochstetter of the Hammelburg Gestapo, translate the message for us. I suggest you call him, Unterfeldwebel Metzler—and then get those artillery batteries moving north… or you will be moving east! Heil Hitler!”
Kinch ran a finger under his throat and Newkirk cut off the call.
“Now what?” Carter asked.
Hogan just looked from one man to the next. “Now we wait.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hochstetter here, Heil Hitler!...
Major Metzler? Ja, I am aware of the
message because I decoded it... What was that?
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Le Beau was taking his turn monitoring the radio when the headphones crackled to life. As the clicks of Morse code sounded in his ear, he turned to the bunk where the regular radio man was taking a nap. “Hey, Kinch! Message coming in!”
Kinch took in a long breath to wake himself up as he rolled off the bunk, took the headphones, and slid onto his chair almost before Le Beau could get out of the way. He tapped out a quick signal, then nodded absently to himself as a steady stream of ‘dots-and-dashes’ came pouring into his ears. “This is it. Go get Colonel Hogan.”
Le Beau scrambled up the ladder and into the barracks, almost sprinting across the common room. He was about to knock on Hogan’s slight ajar office door when he heard the Colonel’s voice. “What is it, Le Beau?”
The Frenchman hesitated for a split second, not expecting Hogan to sense his presence before he even got in the room. “You’d better come downstairs, Colonel. Kinch says this is it.”
Hogan was at the door within seconds. Le Beau scrutinized his commanding officer; he was fully dressed. “Colonel, why are you already in uniform?”
“Not already,” Hogan corrected him. “Still. You have to change and go to sleep for ‘already.’”
“You did not sleep, Colonel?” Le Beau asked, as he followed Hogan to the ladder and back downstairs.
“Let’s just say my mind was on other things.” Hogan hopped off the bottom rung of the ladder and quickly came to stand beside Kinch, who was still scribbling madly. Soon, the clicking stopped, and Kinch tapped another series of characters back, then took off his headsets and looked at Hogan. “What have we got?” Hogan asked.
wrote a few last words, then handed the clipboard to Hogan with a grin. “Our
smiled and nodded his satisfaction. “Typical German efficiency—only took two
homemade Generals and a paranoid Gestapo Major to get things going!” He seemed
to visibly relax, something that his men joined him in doing. “Kinch, get back
on the horn to
“Now let’s get the other two Sleeping Beauties out of bed. Roll call’s in less than half an hour, and we have a lot of waiting to do… and I’m not going to pace all by myself!”
Hogan sat at the common room table, nursing a cold cup of coffee that he hadn’t touched to his lips in fifteen minutes. The others knew well enough to leave him alone when he was in this frame of mind. Waiting was hard enough. But having a Colonel who was concerned about what was being said between Kinch and Allied High Command was almost intolerable. Despite the cold that descended as the clouds cleared away to reveal a pale blue sky, Hogan’s men went outside, leaving him free to get lost in his own thoughts and his own worries.
was about to stand up and pace the barracks for the eleventh time when Kinch’s
head appeared from below. “
Hogan nodded and looked vaguely into his coffee cup. “Thanks, Kinch,” he said, not moving.
Kinch went to the stove and poured himself a cup of what passed for coffee before taking a seat at the table. He took a sip, and caught the pensive look on Hogan’s face. “What’s wrong, Colonel?”
straightened but continued studying his cup. “I was just thinking how much
could have gone—how much did go wrong
this time around,” he said. Kinch waited. “I guess it’s one of the times that
I’m being forced to realize just how lucky
we really are most of the time.” He let out a snort of a laugh through his
nose. “I honestly thought that good planning and execution had a lot to do with
it. The execution part is fine—you men are the best team a commanding officer
could ask for. But too many things went wrong this time, Kinch. I’m falling
down on the planning. No wonder
just goes that way sometimes, Colonel. I mean, when you think about what we’re
doing here, we’ve had more luck than the law allows.” Kinch paused to take a
sip of coffee. “But it’s not all luck, sir. Everything we’ve done since we sent
our first escapee back to
Hogan smiled softly. “This one’s been more like a game of foul balls.” He placed the coffee cup deliberately in the middle of the table and looked at the man who over time had become more than just a subordinate, but a friend. “I understand what you’re trying to do, Kinch.” Hogan nodded once as Kinch furrowed his brow. “And I appreciate it. If you’re ever looking for a reference to become camp chaplain, let me know. I’ll put in a good word for you.” Hogan stood up and zipped his jacket as he headed for the door. “I’m going to have another look at those skies… and imagine being up there looking down, instead of the other way around.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Newkirk sat at the end of the table in the common room, putting the last button onto a wool jacket he’d started working on the moment he’d been able to unwrap his hand. “There, that’s got it then.” He shook the jacket out and held it up for the others to see. “What do you gents think?”
Le Beau looked up from the small piles of tinned food he had spread out on the table. Spam, biscuits, chocolates, and a bit of sugar—priceless stocks from the Red Cross packages that had arrived earlier in the day, and the men had willingly pooled their resources to allow Louis to make a fine meal for the evening, supplemented with some treats from home and a few forbidden goodies they had stored from various trips into Hammelburg. This was the remainder. It wasn’t a lot, but it would have to stretch till the next lot of parcels made it through. Le Beau scrutinized Newkirk’s handiwork, frowning. “What is it supposed to be?”
“A little something extra for Colonel Hogan to wear under his jacket when it’s a bit nippy outside. That fancy leather thing he’s got might be all right for looks, but it’s not much when it comes to stayin’ warm.” Newkirk grinned and shook his head. “Just like a ruddy officer anyway. Thinking more about how he looks than what it makes sense to wear in weather like this.”
Kinch smiled and shook his head. “You know the Colonel, Peter. It’s all about image—if he looks like an in-control officer, the prisoners will feel more secure. Never mind if he comes down with pneumonia. As long as the prisoners feel better when he wears it. And let’s face it: we all know we do.”
“Right, mate. That’s why I’ve fixed this so it’s not gonna show when he’s got his leather jacket on over it. See here? No collar, and a short waist as well. I got his measurements fitting him for all those blasted Luftwaffe uniforms, so that wasn’t a problem.” Newkirk folded the wool garment and laid it on the table. “He could spend all day on Saville Row and not find a better fit anywhere, if I do say so myself.”
he went to
“Don’t stir the pot, Le Beau,” Kinch warned, half-wishing that he would, just so the long spell of waiting would be broken.
“Stir the pot?” Carter asked from his bunk, where he was carefully sorting his booty. “I thought we were saving up the rest of the stuff from the Red Cross packages for another night. What are you making, Louis?”
“Go back to counting your macaroons, Carter.” Newkirk shook his head as he put the sewing kit away.
“I’ll bet ol’ Hochstetter’s not getting any macaroons tonight, boy,” Carter predicted with a grin.
“Too bad he’s not having borscht tonight either.” Newkirk dug into his Red Cross box and pulled out a chocolate bar. “From what Colonel Hogan said after his talk with Klink, the Major just missed getting handed his ticket for the Siberian Express.”
“He sure would have had a hard time explaining his taking orders from von Karterheim and Kinchmeyer,” Kinch laughed.
“Oh, I don’t know about that, they weren’t too bad, even as officers go.” Newkirk broke off a bit of his chocolate and carefully wrapped the rest before continuing. “Now on the other hand, I think Kinchmeyer’s aide was a fine chap, if I do say so myself.”
“You would,” Kinch replied wryly.
A tap from below suddenly got everyone’s attention. The bunk bed over the tunnel rattled as the mattress rose up and the ladder swung down into place. A few seconds later, Hogan’s dark hair announced his return to the barracks, and he quickly climbed into the room, his white fingers clutching a small parcel, his face pale from the cold. He gave a quick nod to the men as he banged the bunk back into place, dropped the parcel on the table, and hurried to the stove to pull its warmth past his wet, black clothing. “M-Mission ac-c-complished,” he said with the best smile he could manage with stiff cheeks. He shivered, blowing hot breath into his cupped hands and flexing them over the stove before reaching for the coffee pot.
“Go and change, Colonel, before you make yourself ill.” Le Beau frowned as he realized that Hogan’s clothes were soaking wet.
Hogan nodded, his mind focused on the warmth of the cup as the coffee’s heat seeped into it and spread to his hands. “Yeah, yeah, I will, I will. Everything all right here?” he asked, turning back to the table. He took a cautious sip, then reluctantly put the coffee down and picked up the parcel. His normally nimble fingers struggled with the wrapping and it took him some time to pull the precious book free.
“Everything’s fine here, Colonel.” Kinch watched as Hogan unwrapped the book. I’d like to help him with that, but this is one mission he needs to finish on his own.
Hogan finally had the book in front of him, and his eyes scanned the cover over and over again as though trying to make sure it was real. A smile slowly spread across his face as he carefully opened the code book and leafed through the pages, drinking in the precious information that would help Hogan continue running the operation. His men watched with satisfaction as their commanding officer finally redeemed himself in his own eyes, and nodded when he finally looked up and said, “Gentlemen, we’re back in business.”
Newkirk let the moment run its course, then gave Hogan a grin. “We won’t be in business for long, gov’nor, if you don’t get out of those dripping togs of yours and into something dry.” He stood, and made an “after you” gesture toward Hogan’s private quarters. “What you need, sir, is the services of a ‘gentleman’s gentleman,’ if you take my meaning. Not saying I ever was, but one time I saw one walking in Piccadilly, and I reckon that’s as close as you’re gonna get in this camp.”
arched an eyebrow at the Corporal. “I’m sure I can undress myself, Newkirk. But
you’re welcome to come get the wet clothes to bring to the laundry.” Still
holding tightly to the precious book, Hogan headed for his office, stopping in
his tracks when he saw something sticking out of the pages. He furrowed his
brow and pulled it out. “It’s a note from
“Well, what do ya know about that?” Carter looked at the others and grinned. “Boy, it sure is nice to know once in a while that we’re appreciated.”
“I always appreciate you, Carter,” Kinch assured him, his eyes teasing.
“Gee, thanks, Kinch!”
“Please!” Le Beau interjected. “You’re making my stomach turn.” He looked at Hogan, who was still watching the exchange. “Go on, Colonel—get out of here!”
“Fine, fine,” Hogan said in mock-hurt. “I know when I’m not wanted.” He gave a brief nod to the men and then walked into his office. He put the code book on the lower bunk and turned back in surprise when he saw Newkirk had actually followed him into the room. “I thought you were kidding about this ‘gentleman’s gentleman’ bit,” he said.
“No, sir, and I’ll stay and help if you like, but I mainly wanted to give you this.” Newkirk held out the wool jacket liner he’d carried in with him. “I... thought it might help out a bit during roll call, on account of it being rather hard to get the upper hand with the old Bald Eagle when you’re shivering.”
Hogan looked at Newkirk’s offering for a moment without moving. Once he opened his mouth as if to speak but stopped and closed it again. Finally, he reached out hesitantly for the garment and held it carefully, running his hand over it and studying the stitching and the bulk. “Newkirk, that’s…” Finally getting the code book tonight had taken its toll on Hogan’s emotions, and he stopped to gain control of himself before continuing. “This was a lot of work for someone with a damaged hand,” he said. “How long have you been working on this?”
long, sir.” Newkirk shrugged. “Just since I finally got
Hogan nodded, still looking at the liner. “It’s great, Peter,” he said quietly. “Thanks.” Hogan sniffed and tried to hide a small shiver.
Newkirk nodded and spoke softly in reply. “You’re welcome, Rob.” He turned quickly and went to the door, pausing before he opened it. “Now you get out of that wet stuff, Colonel, before I decide you do need a hand with it.”
Hogan laughed softly, grabbing a towel and pulling the wet shirt over his head. “Here, take this,” he said, throwing the shirt at the back of Newkirk’s head. The Corporal turned around just in time to see Hogan pulling on a warm pajama top. “And just to show how grateful I am, I’ll put this on right now,” he said. Hogan shook the liner open and put his arms through both sleeves, sighing contentedly as the jacket’s warmth helped soothe his trembling body. He looked at the cut of the cloth, impressed by the perfect fit and the workmanship, and patted it down in appreciation. “It’s great,” he said again. He stopped patting over his chest as he felt something not quite right at the breast pocket. “What’s this?” he asked.
“Something you’ll need the loan of until you can get your own.” Newkirk took the time to run his eyes over Hogan, pleased with the Colonel’s obvious enjoyment of his gift.
Hogan reached into the pocket and pulled out the shilling he had tried to maneuver in his fingers what seemed like months ago. Now, it sat in his still-cold hand, staring back at him. “Peter?”
“Lessons start tomorrow… if you’re still interested, that is.”
Hogan looked thoughtfully at the coin. “We all need to do some cross-training.” He closed the shilling into his fist. “But I’m never going to pretend to be the expert.” He smiled. “Let me recover for a little while first… then I’ll be ready to be your back-up, sir.” For the second time that week, Hogan managed a nice finger trick that ended with the coin in the air, flying back toward Newkirk. “You hang on to that in the meantime. I don’t want to jinx your good luck piece.”
Newkirk caught the coin, rolled it through his fingers and made it disappear with a flourish. “Careful there, mate. I might be the expert, but I’m no bloody officer!” He grinned and touched two fingers to his brow in a playful salute before ducking out the door. Hogan could only smile and shake his head.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
first time in almost a week, Hogan lay down on his bunk and truly felt like he’d
be able to sleep. The worry and the stress that had kept him awake through this
entire experience had blessedly started to drain away when Kinch reported that
the Allied bombing raid over
As his mind drifted into dreamless sleep, Hogan added drowsily, You were always my co-pilot in the air. Would You please stay with me while I’m grounded?
This story was written by Nancy Ware and Linda Groundwater over a period of about four weeks, spanning two continents and a fifteen-hour time difference. The whole experience started with an innocent role-play that we quickly realized could evolve into an entire story.
This story meets the requirements of at least two “Smart Groups” challenges: the Flattery Challenge and the Thirteen Canon Characters Challenge, as listed below. However, the biggest challenge was getting the plot and the characters “just right” as we saw them. We wrote virtually all scenes together, line by line, online, live. We edited and beta’d as we went along, and sometimes that was quite arduous, but we hope in the end it was worth it.
For the Thirteen Characters Challenge, we managed purely by accident, fifteen.
In order of mention/appearance: Hogan, Newkirk, Carter, Gretel, Olsen, Schnitzer, Wilson, Kinchloe, Klink, Le Beau, Schultz, Hilda, Hochstetter, Byron Buckles, Du Bois.
For the Flattery Challenge, we also have quite a list, purely by accident!:
Sticky Wicket Newkirk, Hogan Goes Hollywood, Hogan Gives a Birthday Party, The Safecracker Suite, Drums Along the Düsseldorf, D-Day at Stalag 13, Six Lessons from Madame LaGrange, and two of our own works, “Stray Hares” and “Once Upon A Time: Papa Bear.”
Thanks for reading, let’s all do it again!
Linda and Nancy
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The Author’s Notes you have just read are true. The names have not been changed to protect the guilty.
This story really started when one of the authors was watching Sticky Wicket Newkirk while chatting online with the other. Now, these two authors have a runaway habit of letting the characters take over and speak for themselves. They both claim that’s how they get their stories; that the characters tell them what to write and they write it. The jury’s still out on that one.
All it took was a comment from one author to the effect that Newkirk was in trouble with the Colonel over Gretel, at which time Newkirk took over one of the keyboards out of self-defense. It wasn’t long before Hogan laid claim to the other keyboard, and things rapidly spiraled out of the authors’ collective control.
After four weeks and a lot of rearranged sleeping schedules, dozens of emails zipping halfway around the world at a moment’s notice, sneaking in bits of writing time while getting ready to go to work, inordinate amounts of giggling, and in a few cases missing sleep entirely, the authors managed to get their acts together and present this story to you, the readers.
We hope you’ve enjoyed the show. Thanks for reading.
Nancy and Linda
PS: Would we do it again? Absolutely! It was really quite a lark.
Text and original characters copyright 2005 by Wordybirds
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.