Game Players
Margaret Bryan, Patti Hutchins


This Game overlaps slightly with, and is dependent on, the events chronicled in our story Unity Games. We again do not make any claims on the original Hoganís Heroesí characters. All other characters are ours. But again, those characters are free for anyone to use, if you so choose. (Although, the Tender Loving Care requirement is still in effect for the character of Hershey)

Our rating for this story would be PG-13. Enjoy!

 

"Whenever you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains,

however improbable, must be the truth."

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Hartford, Connecticut USA, Willshire Hotel, Room 2272,

November 13, 1989, 9:50pm Local Time

Melinda Kinchloe watched as her husband Ivan struggled to pace the small confines of their hotel room. She knew that grief and stress had taken quite a toll on her husband for the past few months. She could only watch now as the culmination of those things finally threatened to tear her husband apart.

They had both, just a short time ago, returned from the wake of Ivan's long time friend, Robert Hogan. Melinda knew that her husband hadn't taken the news of his friend's death well, even though he had had enough warning of Rob's illness. She had watched Ivan struggle with his own grief for the past four months as he tried to keep a promise that he made to Rob... keeping his knowledge of Rob's illness a secret from their friends and Rob's own family. Only Robís wife Beth would know that Ivan knew. Ivan had succeeded in keeping it to himself, but Melinda knew that there was still much much more to that promise he made Rob. Ivan had not completely confided in her what Ďmoreí that promise consisted of, but Melinda knew her husband well enough to know, that no matter what, he would fulfill that promise to his friend.

Melinda watched quietly from her seat on the bed until pure exhaustion caused her husband to finally plop himself down on the couch. She got up, approached Ivan from behind and began to massage Ivanís shoulders, even as he fingered two unopened letters and a videotape that were sitting on the coffee table in front of him. Ivan closed his eyes and leaned back against the couch, gratefully accepting his wife's attention. Melinda continued the massage until she felt some of the tension disappear. She gave him a small kiss on the cheek asking, "Is there something more I can do to help?"

"Not a thing Melinda. This is my responsibility," Ivan said sadly as he sat back up, leaned over, and picked up both letters. Robís son Michael had given Ivan the first letter earlier that morning. Rob had told Ivan that he was planning to dictate goodbyes to everyone through Michael. So that first letter was not a surprise to him.

But the second letter from Rob was something that Ivan had never anticipated. Beth had tearfully given the letter to him that afternoon. She whispered to him that Rob had dictated the letter to her the day he died. Ivan hadnít been able to bring himself to read either letter until now. He decided to open the letter that Beth had given him. He wanted to read Robís last words to him first.

Ivan.

This is it buddy. It won't be long now. It's okay. Really. Iím ready. Hey, did you get the letter I dictated to Michael for you? I hope so. I think that says everything I wanted to say to you.

So why this letter, you ask?

I just wanted to thank you for being the best friend a guy could have. I know I have always asked a lot of you. More than I probably ever had the right to. And I know what I asked of you recently, wasn't really even fair of me to ask. I am so very sorry Ivan. I only hope that you can follow through with the promise you made. I know you will. You were always there to back me up. Always. I know you know, how really important it is to me that my children get to see that video we madeÖ to make sure the truth gets told to them.

But just so you know. I tried. I really really tried to tell my children what is on that video. I wanted so, to not leave you with that burden. But I just couldn't tell them. I couldn't take the chance that the last glimpses that I got of my children's faces would be ones full of anger, resentment, fear and mistrust. I couldn't die with the knowledge that they might hate me for lying to themÖ for their entire lives. I only hope, that in the end, you can forgive me for taking the coward's way out.

Goodbye Ivan. Youíve always been like a brother to me.

Rob.

Ivan crumbled the letter and tossed it across the room. "Goddamn you Rob!" he hollered angrily. Ivan collapsed back against the couch with the palms of each hand covering his eyes.

"Ivan. What did you do that for? What's wrong?" Melinda asked taking her husband into an embrace from her position behind the couch. His outburst had startled her. She couldn't imagine what more Rob could have asked of him to cause that reaction.

Ivan broke the embrace. Saying nothing, he slowly got up from the couch and headed for the balcony. After throwing open the slider and letting a cold burst of winter air into the room, he walked purposefully out onto the balcony and closed the door behind him, leaving his wife staring at his back from inside the room. "Damn you Rob!" Ivan hollered into the night sky. "You're asking me to forgive you for being a coward? How can I forgive you for being a coward, when you're one of the bravest men I have ever known? I can't accept that you died thinking that way. You better be listening to me, you Bastard! Wherever you are. You are not a coward! You spent most of your life committed to an ideal. If your children can't understand that, they aren't the people I thought I knew!"

Ivan plunked himself down on one of the balcony chairs with an exhaustive sigh and buried his face in his hands. It was as if the anger and grief had sapped all his energy. He sat unmoving for a very long time. Iím so sorry that you couldnít tell them yourself Rob. But I will keep my promise to you. Iíve already set that plan into motion. You donít have to worry. He lifted his head from his hands and this time spoke softly out into the night sky. "Goodbye Rob. Iím going to miss you buddy."

Hartford, Connecticut USA, Willshire Hotel, Room 2766,

November 14, 1989, 7:50am Local Time

Elizabeth Walker-Hogan stood in the hallway outside her older brother Gunnar's hotel room. She hadn't been able to sleep all night. Finding out about the video that her father made had unnerved her as nothing else ever had. She needed to talk to someone. And Gunnar and her had always been close. Not that I couldn't talk to either Michael or Vicktor if I wanted too. It's just that Michael has had so much to deal with, finalizing all of Dad's wishes, making all the funeral arrangements and doing the eulogy along with Ivan today. It's just been hard talking to him lately. He's receded behind the mask of 'older brother can handle everything'. And Vicktor. Poor Vicktor. I think this whole thing has hit him harder than any of us. I don't think I'm up to giving him the support he needs now.

Elizabeth knocked on the hotel room door and immediately heard two small children fighting over who should answer. Robbie and Stephanie, ages 6 and 5. Elizabeth couldn't help but smile remembering how happy her father was on the births of his four youngest grandchildren. Her boys, Kevin and Charles, were only 6 and 4. It was like a monsoon of childbirths between Gunnar and I. Four within three years. Dad was ecstatic. Spoiled grandchildren reigned. Not that Dad ever forgot about Chrissie, the first grandchild. But she was ten when the others started arriving. She existed in a whole other place in his heart. Chrissie could do no wrong in his eyes.

Tears just began streaming down Elizabeth's face. She glanced down at her swollen belly and couldn't bear that her father would never get to see his newest grandchild be born. Quickly though she had to wipe those tears from her face as a voice of reason broke up the fight at the door. Gunnarís wife Tracy.

"Who is it?" called Tracy from behind the door as she tried to ride herd on the two little ones.

"Hi Tracy. It's Liz. I need to talk to Gunnar," Elizabeth answered glad to have a few extra moments to rid herself of the tears.

"Oh. Come in Liz," Tracy responded with a small smile as she opened the door. "Gunnar is in the shower. Should be through in just a minute." Tracy couldn't help but notice that Elizabeth had been crying. "Is everything alright Liz? I know how hard this has been on you all."

Elizabeth never completely entered the room. She knew she had to respond quickly before more tears would come. "Everything's alright Tracy. Could you just have Gunnar meet me in the hotel restaurant? I really need to talk to him."

"Of course," Tracy said quickly very aware that her sister-in-law was again on the verge of tears. "He'll be down in just a few minutes."

"Thanks Tracy," Elizabeth said turning to walk away as her tears returned three-fold. What's the matter with me? I'm never like this. I normally can have a casual conversation without the waterworks. I just don't know what's wrong. I really need to hold it together, especially today. I can't be falling apart all over the place.

Elizabeth made her way to the hotel restaurant as quickly as possible. She picked the farthest booth from the entrance but one that she would still be able to see Gunnar when he arrived. She hoped to talk to Gunnar alone, but she was well aware that a lot of the people attending her father's funeral today was staying at the same hotel. She just hoped they could steal some time before being interrupted.

Elizabeth tried to signal to the wait staff that she would like some coffee, but noticed that she had practically scared them all away, as her tears were still quite evident. Finally one brave soul brought the coffee. Elizabeth then sat quietly and waited for her older brother.

Just a few minutes later...

Gunnar entered the restaurant glancing around anxiously for his sister. God. Tracy said that Liz looked like she was going to pass out. Liz has been under too much stress with the funeral and with the baby on the way. I just hope we don't have a child born in the middle of all this. Granted Liz is only seven months along, but premies aren't unknown in the Hogan family. All right. Settle down. You're the doctor. You can handle it. Yeah sure. Okay. Whew. There she is. Well she doesn't look to be in any physical distress. Good thing too, or big brother might just faint.

Pull it together man. Gunnar sighed as he approached his sister. Elizabeth might not have been in physical distress, but he could easily see that emotionally, she was a complete wreck. Now what am I supposed to do. As an MD, I can handle the physical distress, but Liz is the psychologist. I'm not even sure I can help myself today, never mind helping Liz. I think I would be better off dealing with the pregnancy than with what I now know has to be the problem.

"Hey Liz. You sure had Tracy worried," Gunnar began trying to keep the conversation light, as he sat at the table. "She was sure the baby was on its way. Not to mention that she almost gave your older brother a seizure, chasing me out of the bathroom and then out the door of the hotel room so I could find you. I'm surprised she even gave me a chance to put clothes on. Now, that would have been quite the scene for the press huh? Yeah I can see it now. 'Hogan son streaks naked across hotel lobby on day of father's funeral'."

Gunnar harrumphed as he glanced into his sister's face hoping to see even a small smirk of amusement there. He was sorely disappointed. All he saw there was the beginning of another round of tears. "I'm sorry Liz," he quickly apologized. "I shouldn't be making jokes."

"Oh Gunnar," Elizabeth answered. "I know what you are trying to do. I think in any other circumstance I probably would have found that whole scenario pretty funny. I'm even sure Dad would have. But just not today."

"So. You asked to see me," Gunnar stated apprehensively. "What's wrong? As if I don't already know."

"It's this video Gunnar. I don't want to imagine what Dad has to tell us," Elizabeth began nervously. "We both know that our father was not an innocent in the ways of the world. And we both know that WWII profoundly affected him, so much so that he spent his entire life trying to rebuild and then reunite Germany. I'm afraid that we're going to find out something horrendous Gunnar. Too much bad happened during that war."

"Yeah I know Liz," Gunnar admitted. "I feel the same way. I've been thinking about it all night myself. It wasn't until this morning that I had thought through all the stories Dad had told us about the war. There were so many. But as I went through them in my mind... I realized that not one story was more than a whole lot of nothing. Dad could always talk a good game, without saying much at all."

"What do you think it means Gunnar?" asked Liz, but continued before her brother could answer. "Maybe we are just barking up the wrong tree here. Maybe it has nothing at all to do with the war. But if not, what?"

"I just don't know what to say Liz. I just don't..." Gunnar had started to say only to be interrupted by the appearance of their 98-year-old grandaunt Millicent and her caretaker, which quite effectively put an end to any more conversation about their father's motives for making the video.

Hartford, Connecticut USA, Home of the late Major General Robert Hogan,

November 14, 1989, 4:50pm Local Time

Beth Hogan, widow of Robert Hogan, sat with tears streaking her cheeks, at the kitchen table of the home that she had shared with her husband for more than 25 years. It was the first time since Robís death, just five days ago, that she had even a little time to herself. There had been so many people in and out of the house all week, for the wake, and especially today after the funeral that her tears hadnít come before now. Beth knew that she had only a short time until her children, Robís brothers and sister, as well as his four best friends and war buddies, would be back at the house again this evening. I just wish this wasn't happening. Ivan asked that they all come back to the house tonight. He told them that he had something important for them to see. A video that Rob had made. All Ivan said was that he had to fulfill a promise to Rob. He was adamant that they would all be back to watch the video together.

Beth heard the doggie door in the back hall swing open and immediately found herself the sole recipient of her 10-year-old chocolate Lab Hersheyís complete and utter attention. But even that couldnít take her mind off the video going to be shown to her children that night. Beth already knew what the video contained. She and Rob had discussed many times over the years how to tell their children the Ďhidden truthsí that he will explain on the video. But Beth had always left it as Robís decision to make, as she had nothing to do with the original reason for keeping those truths hidden. Itís just that Rob has never been able to tell our children those truths to their faces. Even as hard as he tried sometimes, he just couldnít do it. So Rob asked Ivan to help him make this video. To make sure that his words would make it to our childrenís ears somehow. Iím just glad that he asked Ivan to handle it. Iím not sure if I could have. I just donít know what the childrenís reactions are going to be.

But I also wonder if it should even really matter now? Itís been so longÖ

Beth had been so preoccupied with her thoughts that poor Hershey had given up trying to get her attention and had gone to lie in his favorite spot, under the kitchen table by her feet. Beth continued to sit quietly, her tears still quite evident, until the telephone rang. She quickly wiped the tears from her cheeks as she heard her youngest son Vicktor pick up the extension in the next room. Vicktor had been staying at the house since his fatherís death to keep his mother company. Oh Vicktor. I don't know what I would have done without you here. I love you so. But, I feel so bad about you canceling Crossbowís appearance on the Tonight Show the other night. I know what that appearance could have meant to the bandís future. But it proves to me again that youíve made the right choices in your life. Your band mates have been so supportive. Not wanting to make the appearance without you. Wanting instead to support our family through this. I canít be more proud of you or them. And I know that would go doubly for your father. He was such an enthusiastic supporter of you and the other band members.

Isnít that right Rob?

After having hung up the phoneÖ

Vicktor entered the kitchen to the sound of Hersheyís tail thumping on the floor. The phone call had been somewhat good news for Crossbow. The Tonight Show was willing to reschedule their appearance, but with one stipulation. Vicktor had so wanted to come into the kitchen and talk to his mother about that one stipulation because he really wasn't sure what the band should do now. But he could tell immediately that his mother had been crying, so he decided to hold off on his news for a while. Especially since his mother just seemed lost in thought and was staring off into space. Mom just doesnít need to deal with my emotional baggage. Not now anyway. He walked up behind her and put his hand on her shoulder to comfort. "Mom," he said while also reaching down to give Hershey a little attention as well.

"Yes Vicktor," Beth answered softly not looking at her son, but grasping the hand he had put on her shoulder. "What is it?"

"I just wanted to let you know that the VCR is all set for tonight," he began with the only thing he could think of to say. "I was playing with it to make sure. I just didnít want you to have to worry about that," Vicktor offered knowing how his mother hated the VCR, always complaining that she couldnít get it to work.

"Thank you," Beth said finally looking up at her son with a small smile. "I was never any good with those silly machines. Your dad was much more practiced with them. Actually thatís a brand new VCR. Your dad bought it just a couple months ago - for me, he said. He told me that he was determined to make sure that I knew how to use it before he died." Beth shook her head negatively, her small smile disappearing. "I never did get it figured out." Oh Rob. Iím so sorry. I realize how much you enjoyed that silly VCR. I just know that Iíll never bring myself to use it againÖ after tonight. Beth looked quickly away from her son as her tears returned unexpectedly.

Vicktor winced when he saw his mother practically burst into tears over what he had thought was a purely harmless statement. He no longer knew what to say or do to console her, as he was certain that he would not be able to control his own conflicting emotions, if he stayed in the kitchen with her any longer. Iím so sorry, he thought as he left his mother to her grief.

After having vacated the kitchen, Vicktor realized how desperately he needed to keep himself busy until someone else showed up at the house. So he did the only thing he could think of to doÖ he gave both the living and dining rooms of his parentís home a quick once-over, certain that his mom would want to make sure that everything was picked up and clean before anyone came back tonight. Not to mention making sure that there would be plenty to eat and drink for them as well. But, there just really isnít all that much to do to get ready for more company, thought Vicktor.

His fatherís funeral had been catered and the caterers had done most of the cleanup before they left. Vicktor had even told his siblings, who had been staying at a nearby hotel with their families, not to rush back. The plan, as he knew it, was for both Gunnar and Elizabeth to transport their aunt and Ďunclesí back to house for 7:00pm. But he was expecting Michael back at the house earlier. Michael said that he wanted to be there for his Mom and Vicktor, regardless.

Vicktor glanced anxiously at his watch, no longer able to contain the nervous jitters being brought on by his own mixed feelings of grief, uncertainty, and excitement. Michael should be getting here soon. Good. Cause I really need to talk to someone. I really do. Unable to settle down, Vicktor took a second look around, deciding that maybe setting out all the food that the caterers had packed up would help keep him occupied until Michael got there. But even that didnít stop his war of emotions from escalating. So he took his frustrations out on the only person possible.

Dad.

I'm so confused. With your death and the band having lost out on the Tonight Show appearance -- my life felt like it had ended. The two things I cared about most, gone at the same time. But now the band has another chance to appear on the show next week. It could mean everything to the success of the band. And I know that's what you wanted most for me, to be happy and successful doing something I loved. But now I'm not sure that we should even appear.

And it's all because of you. Are you testing me Dad? I'm not sure I can pass this test.

And whatís with this video? I could easily see on Mom and Ivan's faces that whatever is on this video, probably won't be something that we want to know. What is it that you couldn't tell us Dad? God, I know that I'm being selfish. Iím sorry. But, I really need to know what this is all about. I need to understand what you want from me.

A short time laterÖ

Michael Hogan entered his parent's homeÖ exhausted. It had been a rough few days. He hated to admit to himself that he was relieved that he and his father had worked out all the funeral arrangements before hand. Michael knew that it would have been impossible for him to deal with otherwise. And now with this videoÖ I saw the guilt written all over Ivan and Mom's faces. What does it all mean? Michael just felt helpless, not knowing what to do about the video. He couldn't and didnít want to imagine what his father needed to say on a video that he couldn't have said in person.

Regardless though, Michael felt that it was his responsibility to keep it together for his younger siblings. A responsibility that became even more evident as he looked into his youngest brotherís eyes after entering the dining room. "What's wrong Vicktor?" he asked, feeling immediately like an idiot as his brother gave him a look of utter incredulousness. "Okay. That was a stupid question. I'm really sorry," Michael apologized, but became instantly aware that his younger brother was indeed trying to hide something when he turned quickly away. "Come on Vicktor. What is it?" Michael asked reaching out and grabbing his brother by the arm before he could walk off.

Vicktor just sighed and tried to slowly remove his arm from his brother's grasp. "It's nothing important Mike. It can wait until things settle down around here," Vicktor hedged. He had so wanted to talk to his brother. But in looking at Michael now, Vicktor saw how tired his brother was, especially after having to carry most of the burden of the funeral arrangements for the past few days. Vicktor just couldn't bring himself to lay his feelings on his brother as well.

Michael just held fast to his brother's arm. "Come on Vicktor. Tell me," Michael demanded knowing how stubborn his brother could be. It sort of runs in the family. "I'm not going to let you walk away without telling me what else is bothering you."

Vicktor tried to forcefully pull his arm away from his oldest brother and couldn't. He had never been able to best his big brother, in a physical argument, in his entire life. He just sighed and admitted, "The producer of the Tonight Show just called a little while ago. They are willing to reschedule Crossbow's appearance for next week."

"That's great news Vicktor! Why were you hiding that? We could all use good news right now," Michael said excitedly, letting go of his brother's arm and giving him a good-natured slap on the back.

"But," Vicktor said loudly to interrupt his brother. "It seems that someone on the Tonight Show's staff is an avid history aficionado. Whoever it was, recognized Dadís name from all the recent press coverage surrounding the Berlin Wall. And since everything 'German' is being revisited in the press, somehow that person was able to make the connection to us. How Iím not sure. But now, our appearance wonít be as much about Crossbow as about Dad's work trying to re-unite Germany. I donít know what to do Mike. I did say that we'd be there, of course. I'm not that stupid. The band could really use the exposure. But I know Dad was always careful, always trying to keep his work private. You know as well as I do how hard Dad tried to avoid any contact with the press over the years. What do you think I should do? Should I call back and cancel? I wouldn't want to say anything that Dad wouldn't approve of," Vicktor finished, almost out of breath, after trying to quickly get all that out before his brother could respond.

"Hey Vicktor. Listen," Michael began. "Dad always supported you. There was always that hidden musician inside him trying to live vicariously through you and the band. You know that. I'm sure he wouldn't want to be responsible for you missing out on this chance of a lifetime. So don't worry about it, we are all here to back you up. And you don't have to answer any questions that you feel uncomfortable with. I know Dad would understand anyway."

"Yeah. You can say that now," Vicktor said nervously. "But aren't you the least bit worried about what this video is going to contain. What would Dad have kept from us all these years? I'm afraid we are going to find out some awful truth about our father Mike. Something horrendous. Something that will change him forever in our eyes. I'm going to have a hard enough time dealing with that on my own. Never mind bringing that with me to the Tonight Show." Vicktor looked into his brother's eyes for an answer, but found nothing.

Michael just shook his head at his youngest brother, unable to offer any more words of encouragement. He realized that he too had the same fears as Vicktor. What is this all about Dad?

Hartford, Connecticut USA, Home of the late Major General Robert Hogan,

November 14, 1989, 7:30pm Local Time

The small group gathered in the Hogan family living room had spent the last half hour or so exchanging nervous pleasantries. And all had, out of courtesy, gotten something to eat and drink. But now the conversations had diminished and most of the food still sat untouched on many a paper plate scattered about the room. Everyoneís attention was drawn to Ivan, who was now standing with videotape in-hand, in front of the rather large screen television off to one side of the room.

"Well. I guess I canít put this off forever," Ivan began. "Rob does do a fairly complete job of saying the things he needed to say. So I think I might just let the video run its course without commentary. But, I just wanted to apologize to everyone for keeping my knowledge of Robís illness a secret. It was part of the promise I made to Rob when he came to me this past July, to make this video. And since admittedly, this video is about hidden truths, I just thought Iíd begin with my own." Ivan bent down unsteadily to put the tape into the VCR. Vicktor was at his side immediately, taking the video and placing it into the VCR. "Thanks son, itís not as easy as it looks anymore," Ivan admitted giving Vicktor a light thump of gratitude on the shoulder. Vicktor said nothing but helped Ivan back to a seat on the couch as the video began to play.

The video opened with a shot of a Rob sitting at, what most everyone knew was, the desk in Ivanís study at his home in Sterling Massachusetts. Rob appeared to have a lot of notes written, and for a moment sat staring at them before raising his eyes to look intently at the camera. The intensity of his gaze caused a sharp intake of breath from almost everyone present. But sadly the effect was short-lived as Robís eyes began to glisten brightly as he tried to keep his emotions in-check. He coughed to clear the frog from his throat and began to speak quietly, but almost too quietly.

"Hello everyone. I hope this video finds everybody well. Itís the July 4th weekend of 1989 as Ivan and I are making this. Iím not sure when it will be that youíll get to see it. I asked Ivan to show this to you after - well I guess you already know that. I left it to him to decide when was best, but we had both agreed that one of those times would probably be after my funeral. We were fairly certain that you would all be together then. If that is indeed when youíre watching this - Iím so sorry."

Rob looked away from the camera, again cleared his throat, but this time getting a drink of water that had, thanks to Ivan, miraculously appeared since Robís first fight with that frog in his throat. His eyes were glistening even more brightly as he returned his gaze to the camera.

"Iím sorry. I didnít expect this to be so hard for me. Itís been seven months since I made the decision to forgo any further treatment for my illness. And Iíve only just barely come to terms with my own mortality. And now I realize - that all Iím offering you, all the people that have meant the most to me in this world - is a cold-hearted video on what could be the day of my funeral. Please. Please forgive me. I just didnít know how else to go about saying what I needed to say."

Rob took a deep breath and slowly a look of determination came to his eyes. It was a look that everyone watching could easily recognize. It meant he was committed to going through with whatever he had planned, despite the consequences.

"I guess I should start by letting most of you - and you know who you are - off the hook that Iíve had you baited with for almost 45 years. You will no longer have to keep the truth hidden from my children. I know you all know the Ďhidden truthsí to which Iím referring. I thank you all for being the honest, caring, and trustworthy people that I have always known you to be. Your support still humbles me. I would ask though, of both you and my children, that these truths not go beyond this small gathering. I wouldnít want any backlash, whether real or imagined, to harm anyone. I know that itís been a very long time and quite possibly the backlash of which I fear, may only ever be in my imagination. But I just donít want to take any chances."

Rob glanced down at the notes written in front of him, pausing for short moment, appearing lost, and not sure of what to say next. But as quickly as that look appeared it dissipated and a look of confidence tempered with sorrow reshaped his features.

"Michael - Gunnar - Elizabeth - Victor. I love you all so very much. Iím sorry that I could never tell you any of this before. I'm sure you realize by now that this video was made for you. Everyone else there knows what Iím about to tell you. Please donít be angry with them. They only did what I asked of them. I just wanted them there to answer any questions you might have. But I wanted you to realize that these truths were not hidden only from you. It had been necessary to hide these truths from the world after World War II - long before any of you were even born. At the time, these truths were hidden to protect certain people. What's important for you to know now is that some of those people quickly became part of our extended family in Germany after the war. And the four of you as children had taken those people into your hearts. - And rightfully so. - It became almost impossible for me to tell you their Ďhidden truthsí. Especially since the people you knew growing up, were the people they truly were. I wouldnít ruin that with some Ďmistakení image that didnít really characterize the people you had grown to love as part of our family."

Rob paused to take another drink of water. He sighed heavily as if needing to pull the strength from down deep to continue.

"So. I guess I owe you the identities of these people. There were three men, each having had an important impact on your lives. Two of them were your Ďsurrogateí uncles - Wilhelm Klink and Hans Shultz. And the third - more importantly for you Gunnar, Vicktor - was your real father, Karl Steiger. These men, along with some fifty-nine others, shared a similar past that I demanded be covered-up after the war. Luckily, because of the prestige surrounding my identity as Papa Bear. I got all the cooperation I needed from Allied High Command in covering up thoseÖ"

Vicktor had gotten up form his seat, and had abruptly shut off the video by slamming his hand against the machineís power button. When he turned back to face the group he said angrily, "I do not want to hear any more. I will not accept that those two men, and my real father, were Nazis! Itís just not possible!"

Michael quickly stood and came to face his youngest brother. "You didnít even hear Dad out! How can you be sure that was what he was going to say? Put the video back on Vicktor. Now!" Michael said as his own emotional turmoil peaked in reaction to his youngest brotherís behavior. He tried to shove Vicktor back towards the television.

Vicktorís own anger and fears wouldnít let him be pushed. He just stood his ground. "No! You think that after all this timeÖ Dad is going to tell us that they were all members of the Vienna Boys Choir? Get real Mike." Vicktor extricated himself from his brotherís grasp and shoved Michael back towards his seat.

Before it could get any worseÖ Gunnar, forever the mediator, jumped up to get in between his two hotheaded brothers. "Knock it off you two," he began but was interrupted by his motherís raised voice.

"Stop it!" Beth hollered, anger and sorrow flushing her cheeks. Everyone in the room just stared at her. Always before whether angered or sad, Beth invariably still purported herself with proper British decorum. Her present demeanor just about floored everyone. "Michael. Gunnar. You will sit back down. Now," she continued in a tone that her sons knew not to cross. "Vicktor. You will turn the VCR back on. I donít want to hear anything more until you get the full explanation from your father. Is that understood?"

As the three men continued to stare dumbfounded at their mother -- Ivanís voice interrupted. "I had wanted to leave this explanation to Rob. Like I said, he explains everything. But maybe before we continueÖ Michael - Gunnar - Elizabeth - Vicktor, you should be reminded that there are eight people in this room who agreed with your fatherís decision to keep those truths hidden. And four of us, who were there, when your father first made his decision. There were reasons that we willing abided by that decision. So hear your father out before you make any more judgments," Ivan finished heatedly.

There was only silence in answer to Ivanís declaration. Michael and Gunnar returned to their seats. Elizabeth silently got up and went to sit next to her mother, trying to comfort or looking for the same - no one was quite sure which. And Vicktor, doing as he was asked, turned on the VCR once again. It was a little disconcerting to those in the room when Robís explanation began again as if no one had interrupted.

"Öidentities. All 62 men were German military. Wilhelm and Hans were both members of the Luftwaffe. All the others, including your father - Gunnar, Vicktor - were draftees into the regular German army. All these men were stationed at Luft Stalag 13, which you know was where my men and I ran our underground operation. Wilhelm was a Colonel and the Kommandant of Stalag 13. Hans was a Staff Sergeant, as well as being Sergeant of the Guard. Karl was just a seventeen-year-old boy. One of many young men, most not much older than himself, that were assigned to Stalag 13 towards the end of the war. Everyone else assigned there, was either an old man or a hasbin."

Rob looked downcast at the desk shaking his head, but continued talking.

"Fortunately or sadly. I guess it depends on how you look at it. My men and I continuously ran circles around these men for the entire war. But the only reason that that was even possible was because these men, Wilhelm and Hans in particular, were not capable of dealing out death in any capacity. They were trying their damndest to survive the war without blood being shed. Not something easy to achieve in Nazi Germany, but something that saved my hide, as well as my menís, on more than one occasion."

Rob raised his eyes from the desk. The look of confidence had returned, immediately brightening his features and his voice, loud and clear, betrayed no second thoughts.

"So my decision was made to release the Germans stationed at Stalag 13, instead of turning them over to the War Crimes Commission. Fortunately for everyone involved, my men and I had indeed captured and turned over another German POW Kommandant and his men to face trial. We just never offered any specifics, and let the assumptions fall where they may. But as part of that release, I offered Wilhelm a position, working with me, as a civilian liaison to the new Military Government being set up in the US controlled Zone. And Hans easily took on the job of taking in the many orphans left homeless after the war. Those are the two men I want you to remember - decent men working hard to rebuild their country."

Rob paused, after seemingly surprising himself, when that admission actually fell from his lips. When he began again, his voice had softened considerably.

"As to your fatherÖ Gunnar, Vicktor. Karl was one of the innocents of that bloody war. Everything else Iíve ever told you about him was true. He did indeed work for your Uncle Hans. Hans had taken 15 of the youngest men stationed at Stalag 13 home with him to Heidelberg, as they all had no place to go with the war being over. Together, they helped rebuild Hansís toy factory as well as making that orphanage into what both still are today. It was only after Karl married your mom Frieda, and that Gunnar you were born, that your family came to stay with us in Hammelburg. Hans asked us if we had a job to offer the new young family. And since, by then, we were in desperate need of staff to help take care of that big old house of ours, we hired your mom Frieda as our housekeeper and your dad Karl as our groundskeeper. They stayed with us for two years before the car accident that took their lives."

Robís eyes again began to glisten. He gazed out intently, appearing as if he wanted to physically grab hold of his children, but realized that he couldnít and would never be able to again, once this video was shown.

"And we, your mother and I, had no intentions of letting either of you be taken from the only home you had ever known. There was no question. You were already as sons to us, and brothers to Michael and Elizabeth. We would never have let that change."

Rob could no longer hold back the tears.

"So Michael - Gunnar - Elizabeth - Vicktor. Thatís my story. I only hope you can forgive me the lies. I love you all, so very much."

The video ended abruptly. No one moved even as the static from the end of the tape could be heard. It was Vicktor who finally got up to remove the video and turn the television off. He stood facing the television staring mesmerized at the video in his hands.

Ivan slowly stood, approached Vicktor, took the video and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I hope the four of you can understand why your father did what he did," Ivan began. "The war made shambles of too many peopleís lives. He just couldnít bring himself to add to that, especially since one of the only reasons that we even survived that war was because of Wilhelm and Hans. Admittedly, we took considerable advantage of their naiveté. It was necessary. And if you asked your fatherÖ he would have told you that he would have done the same, if the situation ever presented itself again. And we would have willing followed his lead. We certainly were not the innocents in that war, by any stretch of the imagination. But in the end, your father couldnít punish men just trying to survive a horrible situation. So instead, he committed himself to giving those men a chance at a new life. But that chance at a new life required secrecy to succeed. Your father spent the rest of his life determined never to break the commitment he made. He knew that it wasnít just those menís lives at stake, but those of their families and quite possibly, their future offspring." Ivan removed his hand from Vicktorís shoulder, and with some help from Vicktor, sat heavily on the arm of the chair next to the television.

Michael came forward and took Ivanís hand in his. "Thanks Ivan. Itís still a little overwhelming right now. Ever since you announced this video, myÖ" Michael paused, glancing at Gunnar and Elizabeth. He put his hand on Vicktorís shoulder without making eye contact with his youngest brother and continued, "Öour emotions had run rampant. We were all expecting to find out some horrible truth about our father." Michael patted Vicktorís shoulder, finally lifting his eyes to connect with his. Vicktor smiled slightly. "What we found outÖ" continued Michael, "Öwas that our father was still the man we knew him to be, and even more of a decent human being than we had ever given him credit for. And that goes for all of you as well," Michael said as he turned to take in the faces of everyone in the room. When his gaze fell on his motherís, he went over and took her into an embrace. Beth willingly returned the embrace of her oldest son, but couldnít keep the tears from streaking her cheeks.

Gunnar, the doctor in him taking over, stood and approached his sister Elizabeth. She still sat quietly next to their mother seemingly just overwhelmed by the whole situation. Gunnar just sat down next to her offering a hand to hold, but he couldnít help but ask a question that had him slightly bewildered. "There is one thing in all this, that I find hard to fathom. In as much as I can understand my real fatherís innocence at age seventeen. Neither Wilhelm nor Hans had ever seemed to me, anything like the naïve and gullible men described to us. Granted I could not see either man willingly harm anyone, but both men had always seemed very competent, confident, and unflappable in anything I had ever seen them attempt. Are we really talking about the same two men?" Gunnar asked squeezing his sisterís hand a little tighter while he waited for his answer.

"I guess GunnarÖ the answer to that question is no," Ivan responded forthrightly. "The two men you knew were indeed as you described them. But those same men - in the guise of military men trying to survive a horrendous situation where death waited around every corner, every minute of every day - were barely able to keep their heads above water. So if the truth be told, and that is what we are here for. We were all just dammed lucky that we found each other, or more than likely, none of us would have made it out of Germany all those many years ago."

Silence fell in the room at Ivan's words. Rob's four children watched as long ago memories seemed to fill the hearts and minds of the eight people sitting quietly around their parent's living room. Seemingly mountains of emotions, thoughts and memories were exchanged through looks of pure understanding, with not one of them saying a word. As the silence continued though, Rob's children could only stand in awe of those eight people, all who lived through the horror and turmoil that was World War II.

But before the silence could overwhelm, a small smile appeared on the face of the Rob's brother Joe. "Hey John, Sue?" he asked of his siblings. "You do remember when we first found out about Wilhelm and Hans, donít you?"

"Oh Hell yes," John answered with an exaggerated rolling of his eyes and a shake of his head. "What a disaster that almost turned out to be. Thank God that Wilhelm and Hans weren't there."

"It was at your Christening Michael," offered Sue to her oldest nephew. "Your Dad was still trying to keep it a secret from the family. But, your grandmother and grandfather were the first ones to figure it out. Let's just say they didn't take it well. Actually, none of us didÖ at first."

"Oui. I'm so glad I missed that confrontation," Louis chimed in.

"Me too," Andrew offered. "Luckily, we had both just left for home earlier that morning."

"Well," Peter began sarcastically. "I seem to remember flying beer bottles, poker, and lots of alcohol being consumed, the first time someone actually met Wilhelm."

"Youíre never going to let me live that down. Are you Peter?" asked Joe sarcastically.

"Never Joe," Peter said with a huge smirk on his face.

Beth chimed in as she looked into the faces of her children, "I remember the look on your grandmother and grandfather's faces when Rob took them to task for lying to him about their first meeting with Wilhelm and Hans. I thought they were both going to faint."

"Ha," began Ivan with a smirk of his own. "Michael and Mary told me that story the very next time I saw them in Connecticut. Rob certainly got them both good." Ivan laughed and then sat back and watched as the room erupted with everyone reminiscing - about good times and bad. The grief they all felt had eased somewhat with the tension of 'hidden truths' gone from the air. The video had been a release for everyone, and not just for Rob's children. Iím sorry you couldnít be here to see your childrenís faces Rob. They are most certainly the people Iíve always known them to be. I hope that somehow you do know that. But if that knowledge has to wait until we meet again. It will be the first thing out of my mouth after I knock you on your ass for that remark about you being a coward.

Rest in peace buddy.

After much reminiscing...

Vicktor escaped into the kitchen on the pretense of getting something to drink. He made one phone call to his friend and fellow band member, Jeff Coumbs, telling him about Crossbow's rescheduled appearance on the Tonight Show for the following week. It was a quick conversation with Vicktor asking Jeff to pass the word to the rest of the band. And to also let everyone know that he'd be back in New York in a couple days and they could get back to business of making music.

After he hung up the phone, Vicktor couldn't help but smile as his thoughts returned to his father. So Dad. I get it now - you know. I know what you wanted from me. And you'll get it. It might be a little late. And for that, I'm sorry. But you won't be disappointed. So it was all about determination and commitment huh? Concepts that I could never wrap my brain around before. I may never excel at it like Michael, Gunnar, and Elizabeth. And certainly never approach the level of your ability. But I'll try hard to make you proud of me. I love you Dad.

Vicktor gave Hershey, who had been relegated to the kitchen for the evening, a quick pat before making his entrance back into the living room. He was just in time to hear his Uncle John expounding on a long ago childhood memory of Thanksgiving Day in New York at the Macy's Parade. Dad!? You lost Uncle John at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade!? Oof. What else am I going to find out about you tonight?

The End

Postscript

Report of Billboard's Top 40 for January 7, 1990:

"The newest band on the scene is called Crossbow, a local band from New York City. Their first single - Fight for what is Right - entered Billboardís Top 40 Countdown at number 26 just three weeks ago. It's already jumped to the number 15 spot with no signs of stopping. Congratulations Crossbow. Band members Vicktor Hogan and Jeff Coumbs credit their new single's success to a recent appearance on the Tonight Show, but we expect youíll be hearing much more from Crossbow in the future. Fight for what is Right is a song that Vicktor Hogan said he dedicated to his father, Robert Hogan, a man who worked tirelessly for many years to re-unite Germany under one flag. Sadly though we here at WXYZ Radio found out that Robert Hogan died recently, only after just learning that the Berlin Wall had fallen. Our thoughts go out to the Hogan family."

Deejay Stanton - WXYZ Radio - New York City, NY

 

Authorís Note:

This story was written by request to explain the Vicktor/Gunnar Steiger-Hogan story. We hope you've enjoyed what we came up with for their appearance as members of Rob and Beth's family.

And as a point of reference, the incidents recalled by the characters at the end are all chronicled in our story called Post Game. Thanks for reading!

 

Additional Disclaimer:

The inclusion of the Tonight Show and Billboardís Top 40 in this story was just for fun. We make no claims on anything having to do with the Tonight Show or Billboardís Top 40. And as far as we know, there was never a band named Crossbow, that ever made an appearance on the Tonight Show, that ever wrote a song entitled Fight for what is Right, which ever hit Billboardís Top 40 in the years 1989/1990. And to the best of our knowledgeÖ there is no radio station called WXYZ in New York City. Any similarities are purely coincidental.


Text and original characters copyright 2002 by Margaret Bryan, Patti Hutchins

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.