Turkey on White, Hold the War
Dawn comes early to Germany in the summertime.
As the sky over the grim barracks of Luftwaffe Stamm Lager 13 began to lighten to an improperly cheerful rose, Commandant Wilhelm Klink muttered something in his dreams and rolled over...off the edge of his bed. With a growl, he curled up in his goosedown quilts and fell back asleep. In their kennel, the dogs whined and shifted nervously--somewhere over the hills of Bavaria, a dawn firefight lit up the clouds with bright spots of bursting flak. The antiaircraft guns rumbled distantly. One of the tower guards watched the sky and yawned hugely, daydreaming about his girlfriend
In the tunnels beneath Baracke 2, Sergeant Ivan Kinchloe also yawned as he cranked up the radio antenna concealed in a nearby flagpole and readied to receive London’s transmission. Sergeant Andrew Carter tried valiantly to restrain his own yawn, but eventually gave in. Corporal Louis LeBeau, propped against Carter’s lanky side, awoke with a start, then settled back against his comrade in arms and began to snore softly once more.
"You’d think they would’ve ‘eard of decent working hours," Corporal Peter Newkirk muttered sleepily, rubbing his reddened eyes.
Colonel Robert Hogan, who had been dozing against a doorpost, shook himself awake and tried to focus on his watch. "They’re an hour earlier than we are, and besides, we can’t take any chances using the flagpole in the daytime."
"At least we get evening rates," Kinchloe quipped, putting on his headphones. Presently, he began to take down their orders from the listening post in London. When he had finished, he handed the paper to Hogan. The rest of the POW intelligence unit blinked awake and gathered around to hear the news.
"Top priority stop, immediate action requested stop," Hogan read. "Mission over Munich unsuccessful stop, locate missing pilot with surveillance film stop, believed in Stalag 17 stop."
"Oh, that’s just bloody great. It’s a flippin’ rescue mission!"
"They’re crazy!" Carter added emphatically.
"Zut alors! What do they think we are, some kind of commando team?" LeBeau complained. "Stalag 17’s over three hundred kilometres away!"
Kinchloe frowned up at the senior POW officer. "Even with a truck, Colonel, there’s no way we can get out and back before we’re missed."
Hogan stared off into the distance, and the men fell silent, seeing that a plan was already forming in their colonel’s quick mind. "Then we’ll just have to find a way around that, won’t we?"
* * *
The day that had dawned so early turned out to be warm, but not too hot, and beautiful--perfect for work detail. All--or at least most--of the men were in a good mood as they marched out through the barbed-wire double gates of their prison. LeBeau whistled happily as he strode along, shovel slung over one shoulder. He found that today he didn’t mind even the arduous prospect of repairing the eroded dirt roads around the camp; he was too full of anticipation for the coming escape, even though he would not be going...this time. Behind him, Carter sweated nervously as he pushed one of the prison camp’s rickety wheelbarrows--a tarp folded along the bottom disguised the two SS uniforms hidden there, ready for Hogan and Newkirk’s mission in Munich. Not nearly as excited as the Frenchman, the chemist from Muncie, Indiana kept his hat pulled low over his blond hair, wishing he had eyes in the back of his head to watch the grim-faced Luftwaffe guards goose-stepping behind him.
Beside the unit’s resident demolitions expert, Sergeant Kinchloe kept a hand over the tell-tale bulge in his jacket caused by the radio control unit for the ‘poppers’ he and Carter had planted last night--well, just after dawn, anyway. Further up the line, Newkirk glanced nervously over at Hogan. Both of them also kept their hands over their jackets--to conceal the small German handguns they carried.
At the head of the column of uniformed men, the deliriously ignorant Sergeant Schultz broke into sporadic song as he puffed up the slight incline. Yes indeed, today would be a fine day. Let the other guards watch the prisoners! Finally he could catch a little nap without Commandant Big Shot yelling at him--aided, of course, by the somnolent effects of the crêpes suzette the little Cockroach, LeBeau, had tried to bribe him with this morning. Imagine! thinking he, Sergeant Major Hans Schultz of the illustrious Luftwaffe would ‘take it easy’ on the prisoners, just for a little crêpes suzette. Now, apple strudel...! Gently, he patted his growling tummy--well, perhaps LeBeau would want to negotiate.
At the collapsed embankment, Schultz called a halt and set the men to work. Newkirk quickly handed off his gun to Hogan and got in position beside LeBeau. Carter ran his wheelbarrow down the slope, wishing they could have planted the uniforms last night along with the tiny explosive charges he and Kinchloe had riddled the woods with. Unfortunately though, recent rains had made the ground muddy in places, and there was nowhere to hide the folded bundles in the ragged scrub-oak. Even using the poppers was a dicey thing--if the gunpowder they had laboriously stolen a bullet at a time got too moist, it wouldn’t go off. Carter picked up the folded tarp; one black sleeve dangled, exposing the silver-on-black SS cuff-title. He hastily tucked it back in.
With a silent nod from the chemist, Hogan sauntered up to Schultz. He kept his hands stuffed in his pockets, holding Newkirk’s gun and his own in place and praying Schultz wouldn’t have a rare flash of intuition and notice something wrong about the angles of Hogan’s flight jacket.
"Hey, Schultz!" The corpulent sergeant turned suspicious eyes on the American officer.
"What do you want, Hogan?"
"Oh, nothing." Hogan casually drifted to Schultz’ other side, effectively turning the sergeant away from Carter.
The white-haired NCO shook his head. "I don’t believe you, Hogan. Every time you come up and be friendly, you want something!"
The colonel pretended to be offended. "Aw, come on!" He glanced over the sergeant’s wide shoulder and made eye contact with LeBeau and Newkirk. "Can’t a guy be nice, even to his enemies?"
"Bloody frog-eater!" Newkirk shouted.
LeBeau glared at the much taller man, fists bunched defiantly. "And what would you know about fine food, eh? Overcooked mutton, blood pudding! Feh!" LeBeau spat on the ground in front of the Englishman. They had the other two guards’ attention now, as well as the rest of the company. At the top of the slope, Kinchloe gestured to Carter, who sprinted into the woods with his bundle.
Newkirk cocked a fist at the French chef. "At least my country doesn’t eat its pond life!"
"You wouldn’t know cuisine if it bit you!" LeBeau howled, flinging himself at Newkirk. The corporal went down and they rolled in the dirt, shouting and cursing in English, French, and German. This was not actually a fight--though it looked good enough to pass for one--but a carefully choreographed dance guaranteed to draw all eyes. As the guards fought to pull the two off each other, Carter buried the tarp, uniforms and all, under the Lovers’ Tree--the prisoners’ name for one particularly ancient oak inscribed with hearts and initials, some of which were the prisoners’ own--and ran back to the work site. Kinchloe, busily hooking up the circuit of charges to his box, spotted him and nodded to Hogan, who waded between the two soldiers.
"All right, all right, fellas, now hold it!" Newkirk and LeBeau allowed themselves to be restrained, continuing to glare at each other, though each secretly grinned at their success. Sergeant Schultz waddled up to do his duty.
He shook a fat finger under Newkirk’s nose. "You are on report!" The Englishman grinned winningly.
"Great! Lock ‘im up Schultzie!" LeBeau crowed. Schultz glared back at the Frenchman. "Und you too, Cockroach! As soon as we get back to camp, into the cooler! Both of you!"
"Aw, really, Schultz," Hogan protested.
"Quiet, Colonel Hogan, or I lock you up too!"
With a defeated expression, Hogan glanced over at Kinchloe and shrugged--the signal. With a grin, the black sergeant closed the circuit.
Gunfire--or what sounded like it--exploded from the woods, sending Schultz crashing to the dirt clutching his coal-scuttle helmet. "Partisans!" Hogan shouted, ducking into the gully. "Everybody take cover!" Newkirk dove into the thicker brush as Carter and LeBeau ‘panicked’ and tackled the Luftwaffe guards. Fighting to keep the prisoners off, the soldiers crouched behind a dirt embankment and returned fire, cutting a swathe through the thrashing trees. Too quickly, though, the string of charges fizzled out and the guards ran out of bullets. Thinking fast, Carter shot to his feet.
"Nein shoot! Nein shoot!" he shouted in his best broken-German. "We surrender!"
"Carter, what do you think you are doing?" Schultz wheezed, helmet still clenched in white-knuckled fists. "Get back down here--that’s an order!" One of the soldiers seized the lanky sergeant by the ankles and pulled his feet out from under him.
"I think they’re gone, Herr Sergeant Major," the other guard said, cautiously poking his head up.
"I’ve been shot! I’ve been shot!" LeBeau wailed from the ditch, clutching his chest.
Schultz felt his copious stomach drop out from under him. "Cockroach!" he gasped, rushing to the side of the thrashing Frenchman. "Speak to me! Speak to me! No, you can’t die yet!"
"Let me through!" one of the guards shouted, "I know first aid!" He put his hands out towards LeBeau, who rolled neatly out of his grasp--until Schultz’ hammy fists closed over his shirt and jerked it up. The sergeant stared in amazement at the unblemished white skin of LeBeau’s chest.
"Mon Dieu!" the Frenchman gasped, pulling his shirt back down. "Your hands are freezing!"
"You are all right!" Schultz laughed as LeBeau nodded enthusiastically. "My little Cockroach is okay!"
"Yeah, I guess I wasn’t hit after all!"
Schultz seized him by the shoulders and shook him until his fillings rattled. "And if you ever do that to me again, so help me Gott, I will shoot you myself!" He heaved to his feet. "All right, everybody! Line up--back to camp! Los! Los! Schnell!" He waved the soldiers back into a double column. Kinchloe and LeBeau exchanged worried looks. So far, so good. As long as no one counted heads...
"Just leave the wheelbarrow, Carter! Hurry up--they might come back!"
With a grateful sigh, Carter abandoned the rickety contraption and completed the formation. Schultz rolled to the head and waved them off. "Okay, fall out! March! Eins!...zwei!...drei!...vier!"
"Everybody drink more beer!" Carter chimed in, to general laughter.
Schultz chuckled. "Hah! That’s a good one!" He quickly wiped the smile off his face. "Quiet! Quiet! Keep marching! Eins!...zwei!..."
"Achtung! Halt! Halt!" One of the guards rushed to the front of the column and urgently whispered something to Schultz. Kinchloe rubbed his suddenly-aching temples. Oh boy, he thought, here it comes.
Sergeant Schultz turned to face them, his jaw hanging in stunned surprise. "Two prisoners are...missing?! Where are they?...where are they?" With an air of desperation, the rotund sergeant shoved along the line of prisoners, peering into each face as if he could find the answer there. "Where are they? Where are..." he took stock of the faces, "Hogan und Newkirk!"
LeBeau shrugged innocently. "They must have panicked when the shooting started."
Schultz hurried to the edge of the embankment. "Colonel Hogan!" he called hopefully. "Corporal Newkirk! Everything is all right! You can come out now!" When no one answered, the sergeant’s face crumpled. "Colonel Hogan?" He began to sweat. "Ach du lieber!" he muttered to himself. "I am in so much trouble! Colonel Klink will throw me in the cooler for this!"
"You know," LeBeau commented, shaking his head, "I almost feel sorry for the poor guy."
"Yeah," Carter agreed, "but at least Peter and the Colonel got away."
Schultz suddenly wheeled on them, face red with anger. "Everybody back to camp!" His belly jiggled with rage--like a bowl of irate Jell-O, Carter reflected--as he jammed his rifle into the prisoners’ ribs and shoved them back down the road to Stalag 13. Meanwhile, the guards split up and began to beat through the underbrush, searching desperately for the two that got away.
* * *
Peter Newkirk shoved his way through the thick underbrush, circling around to the tree where the uniforms were. Gunfire--the guards or the poppers, he couldn’t tell--still echoed behind him. Great, keep ‘em busy, lads.
The Heroes had tracked through the area around the camp enough, concealing escape tunnels, meeting other intelligence agents...and not to mention blowing up Nazi property...that each member pretty much had an area map in his head. Of course, things were a little different in the daytime--for one thing, you had to watch your cover more closely--but Newkirk found the Lovers’ Tree with no trouble, and was a little concerned to discover that Hogan hadn’t been there already. I’ll just meet him at the rendez-vous, that’s all, he thought by way of reassurance. He probably just had a little trouble getting safely around the firefight.
But as the guns continued to rattle in the distance, he hesitated. No--I can’t compromise the mission. Colonel’s own words. Come on, Peter, get the lead out! That lorry can only wait so long.
Snatching up the uniforms he and LeBeau had tailored especially for himself and Colonel Hogan--real pieces of art, both of them, indistinguishable from the real-Nazi thing--Corporal Newkirk glanced once more back the way he had come, hoping against hope. Then he disappeared into the German forest.
* * *
Robert Hogan crouched in the narrow gully, back wedged against the eroded sides. The soldiers’ guns still chattered away above him, spraying a swathe of bullets uselessly into the inoffensive trees. If these guys were on our side, I’d have them court-martialled! he thought bitterly, checking his watch. He had perhaps another hour to meet Newkirk before their contact departed for Munich with or without them. Come on! he shouted silently at the guards. Haven’t you run out of bullets yet? He allowed himself a soft sigh of relief when the firing finally stopped and Carter started shouting.
Drawing the pistols from his pockets--and feeling a little like a wild-west outlaw--Hogan prepared to break for it as soon as Schultz and company moved away from his hiding place. LeBeau started yelling about getting hit, and Hogan grinned to himself. Sure...only if the Nazis were shooting the wrong way. Well, I guess it’s now or never.
With a gun in each hand, Hogan crouched low in the bushes, moving back towards the prison camp as he kept to the thicker cover. The whip-thin saplings on all sides had been rent by the hail of bullets, their trunks splintered, their leaves littering the ground and making a blessedly quiet carpet. Still, Hogan placed his feet carefully, scrutinising each step before taking it, trying desperately not to think about the time, or the hunting party that would soon follow. Someone--probably Klink’s superior, General Burkhalter--had had the brilliant idea to mine the forest around Stalag 13, making it a royal pain in the neck for escaping prisoners. Well, Hogan, he cautioned himself, if you step on one of those babies, the neck isn’t the only place you’ll have pain.
Eventually, he got beyond the zone of carnage and quickened his pace towards the tree where Carter had buried the uniforms. If luck was with him, Newkirk had already dug them up and was even now pacing around the truck.
Something snapped off to his left. Hogan whipped around, bringing up both pistols.
He was too slow. The Luftwaffe soldier on the other end of the gun barrel grinned hugely, displaying a mouthful of crooked teeth.
With a sigh, Hogan dropped the pistols and folded his hands atop his head. "You know," he said conversationally, "I know this great dentist in Hammelburg..." The rifle butt came down, and the lights went out.
* * *
Colonel Wilhelm Klink shook a bony finger under Colonel Hogan’s nose. "You seem to get some sort of perverse pleasure from aggravating me, Colonel Hogan!"
Hogan stood in the Kommandanturs office, hat in hands, two rifles pointed at his back, one held by Sergeant Schultz, the other by the guard who had recaptured him. He wasn’t quite managing to ignore the nervous itching along his spine as his flesh tried to crawl away from the cocked rifles. "Well, you know how it is, sir. Everyone needs a hobby!" He grinned maddeningly at the Luftwaffe officer, hoping the colonel wouldn’t notice how much he was sweating.
Klink muttered something under his breath and went to sit down behind his leather-topped desk, strewn with the usual conglomeration of nostalgic junk and official papers. One document caught Hogan’s eye, though. It had a cover sheet with a coloured border--much like the classified ones that had crossed Hogan’s path at Mitchell Airfield--stamped with the command-style eagle-and-swastika instead of the Luftwaffe symbol. He arched one black eyebrow and wondered how he could get his hands on it.
The Commandant of Stalag 13 steepled his hands over the document in question, staring only at Hogan. He got up, paced from one wall to the other, glared at Hogan, took out his monocle and polished it carefully with a white silk handkerchief, put it back in, and sat back down in the same position. The imprisoned officer rolled his eyes.
"Is this going to take long? Sir."
"Don’t rush me Hogan! You tried to escape today under the cover of enemy fire."
"Well, actually for me, sir, it would be friendly fire."
Klink wasn’t amused at all. "I already have one of your men in the cooler for fighting! I have no qualms about putting you in the cell next door."
"At least I’ll have better company," Hogan muttered under his breath.
He blinked innocently. "Yes, sir?"
Klink stared at the wall and chewed on one thumbnail. "Never mind. I don’t care anymore--you’re confined to barracks until further notice. Just go plan your next escape, with no thought for how I feel." He stared miserably up at the POW officer, his hooked nose making him more than a little resemble the Luftwaffe ‘vulture’ on his uniform. "You know what your problem is, Hogan?"
"No, but I bet you’ll tell me."
"You Americans just have no sense of tradition." Hogan grinned to himself, thinking the Germans had nothing on apple pie and Fourth-of-July parades. "I mean, think about it--there has never been a single successful escape from Stalag 13. The one perfect statistic on my record, and you had to go and ruin it!"
"Well now Newkirk doesn’t count--he’s English."
"You said Americans have no sense of tradition..."
"He’s right, Commandant," Schultz chimed in sombrely. "That is what you said." Klink glared at him. "Okay, I shut up now." Smiley grinned.
Klink slammed a hand down on his desk--nudging the classified document a little more into the open--and stood. "Well Hogan, you just tell your men this before another one thinks of escaping--I will get Newkirk back, count on it! It will never be said that Colonel Wilhelm Klink failed at anything he set his mind to!"
"I think it has just been said," Schultz mumbled. Hogan smirked.
Klink ignored the comment, leaning over his desk towards the American officer. "We’ll see how funny you think it is," he snarled, "when you’re digging Newkirk’s grave!"
For a moment, Hogan forgot all about the document. The tone in Klink’s voice...he sounded desperate. And absolutely, deadly serious. The colonel swallowed his own apprehension for the moment. Klink won’t tell anybody about this just yet--he’s bragged too much about his flawless record. Which means it’ll be just the camp guards for now, and possibly Burkhalter’s men. Klink won’t expect us to have help on the outside, but Burkhalter might, so I have to get a message to the Underground, and pronto. At least he didn’t see the pistols Smiley ‘confiscated’ to barter. He sighed to himself as Klink dismissed him with a curt salute. Dammit, Newkirk, wherever you are, I hope you’re alive.
* * *
Dressed in a stiff suit and tweed overcoat straight from the pages of Kraut Fashion Monthly, Corporal Peter Newkirk, Royal Air Force, stood in the heart of downtown Munich. Even in wartime, the capital of Bavaria was bursting with life--beneath the waving crimson banks of Nazi banners, streets rumbled with the traffic of cars and swastika-painted lorries, kerchiefed Hausfrauen swept the dust of bombed buildings from the cobbles in front of their homes, and people walked the streets carrying briefcases or bags of groceries. Newkirk’s eyes followed one particular little Fräulein sauntering confidently down the Marienplatz, her long golden hair swaying as she moved.
Now if Hitler put her on his campaign posters, he might just get my vote! She caught his glance and smiled. The Englishman grinned back...and caught sight of two storm troopers behind her, both armed with rifles, heading towards him. He did a fast one-eighty, pulling the worn hat the contact had given him along with the clothes down over his face, and pretended to admire the bronze figures on the fountain behind him.
The Sturmabteilung troops passed, and stopped. One fished out pack of cigarettes and began to pat his pockets. The other, laughing as he told a long, off-colour joke, scowled unhappily when the first one interrupted him, asking for a light. When his buddy didn’t have a match, the first soldier glanced around and caught sight of Newkirk, who had been attempting to sidle quietly away.
"Entschuldigen Sie, bitte!" the trooper called, hurrying up to Newkirk. The Englishman stared slowly into the soldier’s face, trying not to betray his nervousness. A kid--can’t be more than nineteen. Good Christ, I wish I had a gun!
"Grüss Gott!" the blonde trooper hailed him with a friendly grin. "Haben Sie ein Streichholzer?"
Newkirk shrugged--casually, he hoped. "Nein, mein Herr."
Looking faintly disappointed, the soldier drifted off to accost someone else, and the corporal allowed himself a sigh of relief, slumping down on a nearby bench. I only wish I knew some way to contact the Underground, or at least get a message back to the lads. With Colonel Hogan gone missing, the plans have changed--one man can’t do the job of two, which means I won’t be using that uniform I stashed in the haystack to get into Stalag 17 after all. As the contact said, I’m on my own from here out. If only I knew what happened! What went wrong?
Newkirk stared after the storm troopers, just turning the corner onto the Dienerstrausse, and thought about ways to get into prison for a change. The kid had finally found a light, and from the sounds of it, the other soldier was still telling his joke.
Newkirk sighed wearily. Getting arrested would not have been his first choice. But seeing as how he had no other... London said there was an air raid last night, a diversion for the slower surveillance planes. If one pilot got shot down, they’ll probably be searching for more--and Munich’s big enough for Churchill himself to hide in! But was the raid American or English? Will they even care?
He rose and walked along the busy square. Somewhere in the distance, the world-famous München Glockenspiel started to chime the hour. I’d practise my German on the troopers--that would get me arrested for sure!--but the SA has that nasty reputation for lynching fliers. The SS then? Or the Luftwaffe...if I can find them? And how in the bloody hell am I supposed to get caught without them thinking that I’m a spy and want to be caught? He paused and stared up at an intricate stone carving of a bat-winged dragon devouring fleeing villagers. All right, think of it like this--I was shot down and I’ve just arrived in Munich. What is the stupidest thing I could possibly do?
As the final notes of the Glockenspiel chimes faded away over the ragged city, Newkirk’s ears picked up a new sound...the faint, jolly strains of beer-hall music. The Englishman smiled slowly, recognising the song as ‘Lili Marleene’. Its source was a nearby combination pub-and-hotel, the placard hanging out front emblazoned with a golden lion and, appropriately, the legend ‘Goldener Löwe’. A pair of black-uniformed Allgemeine SS troops was just going inside.
Gathering his courage and trying not to think about dying from a gunshot wound or a noose about his neck, Newkirk straightened and marched towards the tavern, putting a jaunty spring in his step that he did not feel. And in the west, the smoke from Dachau clouded the sapphire sky.
* * *
The bartender glanced up as Newkirk approached, an uninterested expression on his face.
"Fernsprecher?" The man gestured towards the back.
On the public phone, Newkirk dialled Colonel Klink’s private number. Not that he would have minded talking to the beautiful blonde secretary, Hilda, but she was as sharp as her boss was dull and despite her cooperation with the prisoners, he couldn’t risk recognition just yet.
The LuftStalag commander picked up. "Ja?" He sounded depressed.
I just hope you’re listening, Kinch. "Guten Tag, mein Führer! Sieg heil!"
"It’s a beautiful day here in Kiev--the cherry trees are in full bloom! But--a pity, mein Führer--I’m afraid the crows just might destroy our apple crop and we have run out of Weissbrot. Could you possibly send some with the next shipment of bombs?" Newkirk grinned as he was most rudely and abruptly disconnected.
Colonel Klink stared vengefully at his phone for a moment after hanging up. These crackpots, he thought sourly, how on earth do they get my number?
In the underground warrens of Stalag 13, Sergeant Kinchloe removed his headphones and unplugged the switchboard-cum-phone tap from Klink’s office.
"Colonel! Just got a message from Newkirk."
Hogan hurried over, codebook in hand. "Okay, what did he say?"
"Kiev, blooming cherry trees, crows destroying the apple crop, and white bread."
The colonel paged through the book. "Okay, Kiev--that’s the code for Munich. Blooming cherry trees--arrived safely. Crows..."
"SS men," Carter and Kinchloe chimed in unison.
"...SS men. How do you guys remember these things?"
Kinchloe shrugged, grinning. "Lucky guess."
"Let’s see, destroyed apples--capture?!"
Carter frowned. "I didn’t think they let prisoners have phone calls."
"They don’t!--probably couldn’t afford the long-distance."
Kinchloe snapped his fingers. "Hey, maybe he didn’t mean he had been captured, but he was going to be captured!"
"But that’s crazy!" Carter snorted. "Who’d ever want to get caught on purpose?"
"Besides the fact we do it all the time?" Hogan considered. "No, no, Newkirk’s right--it’s probably the only way he can get safely into the camp now."
"Well, what about the last code, Colonel? That thing about sending white bread?"
Hogan ran a finger down the page. "Bread--black, brown, pumpernickel, rye...white! It means help with escape."
"Do you think the Underground can do anything for him?"
"I don’t know," Hogan sighed, chewing on a thumbnail. "We can assume Stalag 17 isn’t run with the usual brilliant Klink efficiency we’ve come to know and love...which means Newkirk’s in a world of trouble. No other prison camp in Germany has our tunnels or communication system. For all we know, Stalag 17 might be locked up tighter than Göring’s art collection!"
He propped a leg on the bench and leaned on it, staring thoughtfully into the distance. "Still... The Underground might have a contact or sympathiser planted in camp. It’ll have to be up to them to get him out. Our beloved Commandant just doubled patrols outside and inside, so as much as I hate to say it, there’s not much of anything we can do for Newkirk now."
"So what do we do?" Carter piped up.
"I still want to know what’s in that classified document on Klink’s desk. Kinch, get on the radio to London and ask them for a contact in Munich. Carter, go visit LeBeau through the tunnels--get some men to divert the guards’ attention for you. Take him that mini-camera Kinch made and tell him to go for the document with the coloured border once the diversion starts, photograph it, and get it back on Klink’s desk pronto." The POW officer headed for the ladder back into the barracks.
"What are you going to do, Colonel?"
Hogan gave the chemist a sly smile. "I’m gonna go talk Klink into freeing our Frenchman."
* * *
It took two SS guards to keep Newkirk on his feet. Still, the Englishman’s head lolled back as he hung limply in their arms, reeking of the schnapps he had ‘accidentally’ spilled all over his clothes and pretending--successfully--to be drunk. The Gestapo major, a black-eyed creature named Wunhessen, made a disgusted face, keeping his distance across the small office.
"I am losing my patience mit you, Engländer! Again, vat is your name?"
"Peter...Rachmaninov," Newkirk slurred, wishing he could have punched the man who had made his fake dogtags--didn’t he know they shot Russians? The officer slammed a hand on his desk.
"I don’t believe you!" One of the guards who had toasted him back in the bar seized his head by the hair and jerked it roughly upright. "If you persist with this charade I vill have you shot! Vere are you stationed? Vat vas your mission hier?"
Newkirk blinked up at him. "Does this train get to Düsseldorf soon?"
The major leaned over the desk. "Vhy...do you have to get to Düsseldorf?"
"You mean we aren’t gonna see the czar?" Newkirk whined, making a point of breathing on him. The officer recoiled with a disgusted sound.
"Take him out of my sight! Throw him in Stalag 17--they have so many drunks one more won’t matter." Newkirk’s ears pricked at that bit of information, and he filed it away for later. Feigning the careful dignity of the absolutely smashed, he shook off the guards and staggered towards the door, hitting the wall instead and sliding down to the floor.
"Aw, bugger," he mumbled as they heaved him up again.
Behind him, Major Wunhessen smiled. Though Newkirk couldn’t see it, the hair on the back of his neck suddenly prickled and a shiver ran down his spine, as if the room temperature had just plunged ten degrees.
"I vill be sure not to forget zis little interview, Peter Rachmaninov. You vill be seeing me again...und soon." The door slammed behind them with the bang of a coffin lid.
* * *
"No, no, no, no, NO!" Klink’s beautiful blonde assistant Hilda turned her back on the American, Colonel Hogan, to hide her fury, pretending to file papers without really seeing them. She hated herself for half-wanting to do what he asked--though it nauseated her to think about it. Strange, she reflected, that she found herself liking the spirited, friendly prisoners better than her own dour countrymen. They never failed to have a smile for the only woman allowed inside camp (besides General Burkhalter’s sister, who was built like a Tiger tank and had the disposition of same). And, well, they at least made her rather drab life more interesting with all their tangled plots and schemes.
"Are you absolutely, positively sure about that answer, Hilda?" Hogan turned on all his charm--aided not a little by desperation. Hilda had to cooperate if his plan was going to work!
"I don’t care what you say, Colonel Hogan, you can’t make me do it!" Hogan weaselled around in front of her, flashing his brilliant lady-killing smile.
"Aw, c’mon! This is war! A girl’s got to make sacrifices for the side of truth and justice and..."
"...The American Way, Colonel Hogan? I doubt that even in your country would you find a girl who would do what you ask me now." Of course, she reflected, it certainly might help if Colonel Hogan promised them a romantic gourmet candlelight dinner too. She sighed. It wasn’t often in these days of war rationing that a working-class girl could enjoy full service and fine French cuisine with a handsome American in the middle of Germany.
"I’ll go take a survey and get back to you."
"The answer is still ‘no’." But the old Hogan charm appeared to be working--her resolve seemed a little less absolute. True, what he was asking was rather disgusting and demeaning, but Hogan promised himself he would not think less of her--on the contrary! Hilda was still glaring at him angrily, but he could tell he was finally winning her over. Must have been the candlelight dinner. Just one more hook, and I’ll have her.
Desperate times called for desperate measures. So Hogan resorted to his lowest, dirtiest trick, one as a policy of honour he never used back home, simply because it was so unfair to the opposition, not to mention degrading for momma Hogan’s boy Robert; with his cap crumpled humbly in his hands, he made ‘sad puppy-dog eyes’ at Hilda, pouting a little to give it the full effect.
It worked. He had edged her into a corner so that no matter where she looked, she couldn’t escape those pathetic, liquid eyes. Hilda recognised the wicked manoeuvre, but was powerless to resist.
"All right, all right," she sighed at last. "I’ll do it." He smiled broadly, much relieved, and moved towards her, inhaling the wonderful warmth of her body and the faint flowery aroma of her shampoo. Hilda seized him by the lapels, pulling him closer. "But you’d better make it up to me in full."
"I don’t think that will be a problem." Their lips met, and the contact was electric.
Reluctantly, Hogan pulled away. "Consider that a down payment," he whispered, a little winded. "You know what to do--just give me two minutes after LeBeau comes in."
Hogan opened the door to Klink’s office, wiping the lipstick from his face. The Commandant himself was hunched over his desk, sifting through a snowstorm of paperwork. Hogan’s heart skipped a beat when he didn’t immediately see the classified document.
Klink glanced up as the door closed, and Hogan spotted a red corner under the Commandant’s elbow. He breathed a sigh of relief. "What do you want, Hogan?" the Luftwaffe officer demanded. "Can’t you see I’m busy?"
"Oh, of course, sir. I just wondered if there was any word on Newkirk yet."
"Hmmph." Klink glared up at him through his monocle. "Why should I tell you anything? He escaped--he’s no longer under your command and therefore not your concern."
"But the boys are worried about him!--they won’t gossip about anything else these days. And, well, I’m afraid if he comes back dead--bad for morale, you know--they’ll insist on a mourning and visitation before the funeral. You won’t be able to get any work out of them for days! There could be riots, mass escapes--someone could get hurt! Not to mention the legal entanglements it’ll cause--Geneva convention and all that."
"What legal entanglements? He’s an escaped prisoner--we can shoot him any time we want. Which we will do as soon as he is found and arrested."
Hogan scowled. "Colonel! I’d like to protest! Can you really blame Newkirk for wanting to escape from the cruel and humiliating treatment we prisoners of war receive at the hands of the Third Reich?" That coaxed a grin from Klink. "You can only push a man so far--I’m sure he felt that the tender mercies of the Gestapo..."
Klink shot to his feet. "The Gestapo! Are you mad, Hogan? Do you think I would call Hochstetter in? That bloodthirsty Hun!" Hogan shrugged. Funny, I could say the same thing about you. Besides, you just don’t want him laughing at you...even more. Klink sat back down slowly and propped his head on his fists, looking miserable. "But what else am I to do? My guards are beating the woods, tripping over each other, shooting at civilians, and still having no luck tracking Newkirk."
Hogan did his best to look sympathetic. "At least they haven’t killed anyone yet. Or set off any land mines. You know, colonel, those land mines aren’t really necessary and could be awfully dangerous..."
Colonel Klink wasn’t listening. "General Burkhalter will laugh me all the way to the Russian Front for this."
"Well, you never know!" Hogan said cheerfully. "Just wait a bit, and Newkirk may turn up."
Klink glanced up sharply. "Hogan! Do you know something?" he growled, waggling a finger at the prisoner.
The airman shrugged nonchalantly. "I know that if you set Hochstetter’s dogs on Newkirk you’ll never have a chance to restore your pristine record."
Klink stood, looking as though he had just received a revelation from Hitler himself. "I hate to admit it, Colonel Hogan, but you have a point."
Hogan smirked. "I knew you would see it my way, sir. Now, about LeBeau..."
"Whatever it is, request denied!"
"Sir! I thought for sure that you, being a reasonable, just man..." He let his words trail off temptingly.
Klink sighed. "All right, Hogan, what is it?"
The prisoner bent close to his ear. "Hasenpfeffer," he whispered seductively. "Cooked to crisp, golden-brown perfection the way only the French can, seasoned just like mother used to make." Hogan smiled to himself as he watched Klink fantasise about his favourite dish. Just like Pavlov’s dog. "And, of course, what dinner would be complete without a little female company...?" He waggled his eyebrows and grinned. That decided it for Klink.
The sergeant major waddled in and saluted. "Ja, Herr Oberst?"
"Bring the prisoner LeBeau here."
"Jawohl!" He returned in a few minutes half-dragging the diminutive Frenchman. LeBeau glared nastily at Schultz’ retreating back and went to stand beside Colonel Hogan, arms crossed defiantly over his strangely bulky sweater.
"How was the cooler?" Hogan asked.
"No room service--feh! And the food was terrible! I thought torture was against the Geneva convention!"
"And speaking of food..." Klink interrupted, with what he imagined to be a friendly grin.
"Oui, mon Commandant?"
Klink strutted around the desk. "Corporal LeBeau, I am willing to commute your sentence to my kitchen. I wish you to cook Hasenpfeffer for me!"
"But why?" LeBeau sniffed. "I hate Hasenpfeffer!"
Klink slammed his riding crop on the desk, scowling. "You will cook for me or else back in the cooler!"
Hogan glanced at LeBeau. "Care to reconsider, Louis?"
LeBeau shrugged. "Well, when he puts it that way..."
The door opened and Hilda walked in with a sheaf of papers. "Some reports for you, Herr Kommandant."
"Hey, Hilda!" Hogan grinned. "Did you hear? Louie’s cooking Hasenpfeffer for a candlelight dinner!"
To her credit, Hilda managed to look surprised, but with what came next, it didn’t really matter. "Oh, Herr Kommandant!" she cried, throwing her arms around Klink’s neck. "I just love Hasenpfeffer!" Then she kissed him, long and hard. Klink was so surprised he dropped his monocle. LeBeau stared, mouth hanging open, until Hogan whacked him on the head to get him moving. The Frenchman brought the mini-camera out of his sweater and hastily fished the document off the desk. Colonel Klink paid him no attention whatsoever, still lip-locked with Hilda. LeBeau finished first, slipping the papers back.
"How did you get her to do that?" the Frenchman hissed, handing off the camera.
"Let’s just say this isn’t the last dinner you’ll be fixing."
LeBeau shrugged philosophically. "C’est la guerre!"
Hilda finally had to come up for breath. After a quick scowl at Hogan, who grinned and gave her an enthusiastic thumbs-up, she slapped Klink. "I’m not that kind of girl!" the secretary sniffed, and stalked out. The Commandant’s knees folded under him and he collapsed heavily into his chair.
"Wow..." he whispered reverently, then suddenly realised he had an audience and struggled to regain his composure. "I mean, how...come women find me so attractive?"
The Frenchman rolled his eyes heavenward. "A mystery, I’m sure."
But Colonel Klink, staring dreamily into the distance, didn’t hear a word of it.
* * *
The next morning dawned rainy. Even the Luftwaffe guards, in their metal helmets and thick wool overcoats, looked depressed as they led Newkirk across the muddy compound yard of LuftStalag 17. The prisoner himself was miserable--it was a long walk, and his ‘re-issued’ patched and ill-fitting RAF uniform was quickly soaked. By the time the guards opened the door to Baracke 9 and shoved him through, he was shivering with cold.
The inside was marginally warmer than the yard--as back ‘home’, all the warmth came from a single ancient cast-iron stove set in the centre of the hut, around which the prisoners were gathered. All glanced up at the newcomer who stood dripping on their well-worn floor. Rain drummed in a steady barrage on the tin roof.
At the summons of someone Newkirk hadn’t even seen leave, a door at the far end of the hut opened and the senior officer--a one-star American general--strode towards him. Newkirk did his best to stand at attention and not let his teeth chatter as the general looked him over warily. At last the officer nodded with a sombre frown, as if Newkirk had barely met some invisible standard. He reached out to shake Newkirk’s hand with crushing force.
"I’m Brigadier-General Tulley, U.S. Air Force, senior POW officer of LuftStalag 17. Who the hell’re you?"
"Corporal Peter Rachmaninov, sir!"
The reaction was immediate and violent--the general’s eyes rolled back and he puffed up most incredibly.
"Russki?! Russki?!" he shouted. Newkirk stared. The officer’s face had grown red and looked on the verge of either passing out or exploding. The other prisoners were starting to back away.
"No, sir," Newkirk said, rather uneasily. "It’s just me family name..."
The general blinked, and deflated a little. Still, he peered at Newkirk with suspicious eyes. "You sound like a Limey--you’re sure you’re not at all a Red...?"
"No, sir!" American officers always liked it when you shouted ‘sir’.
"A Chink sympathiser...?"
" ...‘Cause I don’t like Russkies..."
"You’ve made that very clear, thank you, sir!" Inside, he breathed a small sigh of relief. Now there’s a chap who needs therapy!
"Okay, Rack...whatever the hell your name is, you can stay here. Extra bunk’s over in the corner. But I’ll be keeping an eye on you!"
"Yes, sir!" What I wouldn’t give to be back with the guys right now, playing poker for Schultz’ paycheque. The general abruptly spun on his heel and stalked back to his office, never sparing Newkirk a backwards glance. The tension in the room relaxed visibly--the men returned to their seats, talking and laughing as they continued playing cards or darning socks. A couple made room for Newkirk to dry off by the stove.
The corporal rubbed his hands over the hot iron, simply enjoying the heat--the ‘Cooler’, true to its name, hadn’t had such luxuries. Last night, the row of solitary cells had all been empty except for his. I wonder if that’s a good sign or bad?--either they’re so successful at escaping they never get caught or they’re so beaten to the bit they don’t even try. From Major Wunderbar’s comment about drunks, you’d think there’d be at least a couple of moonshiners!
Someone moved up behind Newkirk. Nervously, he turned and smiled up at a huge man sporting a dark beard and quick black eyes that, strangely enough, reminded the Englishman of one of those Indian mongooses. The man leaned close to Newkirk, smelling of lye soap and harsh tobacco.
"If you are Rachmaninov blood," he breathed in a thick Russian accent, "then I am Adolf Hitler."
Newkirk grinned. "Sieg heil to you too."
The man stared quizzically for a moment, clearly not expecting that response, then laughed. "All right, tovarish, have it your vay! It is fortunate for you that you are not from my country, anyvay."
"Considering what the General said..."
"Oh, da, do not vorry about him--he thinks I am freedom fighter from Albania or somevhere. I saw no reason to argue. It keeps me out of extermination camps. They shoot Russians, you know."
"I’m aware of the fact. So ‘ow did you manage to convince Blood-n-Guts there otherwise?"
"Oh, I make up bolshoi story--and he believes it! He is not too bright, da? I could not be more amazed; my komandir vould have had me shot immediately! He holds grudge because one of our planes shot him down by accident." The Russian chuckled. "So, I do not have high opinion of Amerikanski offitseri, da?"
Newkirk grinned, thinking of the unconventional colonel who practically ran Stalag 13. "You just ‘aven’t met the right one yet, mate."
The Russian made a place for himself on the bench next to Newkirk--the other prisoners scooted out of the way as if the huge man were parting the Red Sea. He truly was a bull of a man--6’ 3" if he was an inch, his frayed blue sweater bulged with the muscles of a weightlifter and Newkirk had no doubts that his huge, callused hands could kill with a single blow. Mental note, Peter: don’t make the Russian mad. One of those hands stretched out to shake Newkirk’s, nearly engulfing it.
"I am Alexandrei Ivanovich Brodsky," he whispered. In a louder voice, he added "And since you western barbarians seem incapable of using the proper, polite patronymic, you may call me Alexei." He pronounced it Aleksay, with the stress on the last syllable, which sounded alien to Newkirk’s ears. The Russian’s nose wrinkled as he caught a whiff of the prisoner. "You smell nice, da? Like vhet drunk farm dog!"
"Oh, thanks!" Newkirk snorted.
The Russian grinned and produced a chipped mug and a thin silver cigarette case scrolled with a double-headed eagle. He opened it and Newkirk smelled the wonderful, sharp odour of tea leaves. "I do not suppose you vould like to share cup of tea, Angliski?"
Newkirk’s mouth fairly watered--the Red Cross packed off quite enough coffee for the Americans, but tea was a rare and precious commodity amongst the RAF fliers. "That would be quite pleasant, thank you."
The Russian chuckled, perhaps anticipating that typical British understatement. Measuring out a careful spoonful, he shook the precious shavings into the cup and poured in water from the kettle steaming merrily on the stove. When it had steeped, they each took turns solemnly sipping its wonderful, restorative heat--it was rather weak, and the leaves tasted strange, but it did much in the way of restoring Newkirk’s confidence and making his brain work on the problems at hand.
First off--locate the downed flier and see if he has the film. If the Germans have it... He shuddered, thinking of Major Wunhessen. Well, we’ll think about that later. Second, find a way to escape from this dump with the flier and the film. Third, get back to Stalag 13. Fourth, keep from getting shot for escaping from Stalag 13. I sure hope the lads are working on that last one already.
"Vell, I suppose you could pass for Russki," Alexei began thoughtfully.
Newkirk, startled out of his thoughts, wasn’t sure if he should be amused or offended. "And what d’ya mean by that?"
Too late he caught the mischievous twinkle in the Russian’s eyes. "They say you drank five Natsieti soldati--Sturmabteilung, no less!--under table. You vere so drunk vhen you came in, fumes made birds flying overhead pass out. Not single guard vould stand vithin five metres of you downvind, and before you left bar, you had drained cellars dry!" The Russian shrugged, his grin showing every gold-capped molar. "These are only rumours, of course."
He sighed. "You see before you man who dearly misses vodka--truly, Angliski, how much did you drink?"
"You want to know?" Newkirk asked, miffed. "You really want to know? Not a bloody drop, that’s what! I was stone cold sober the ‘ole time--pity ain’t it?"
"Da." He actually sounded wistful. "After so long--six months I have been here now--it is difficult to imagine having vodka again, instead of dirty voda--feh! Now I would have had at least one shot of brandy..."
"Believe me, mate, I was tempted!"
"Ah vell. I might have known no Angliski could hold his liquor like Russian!" He pounded his barrel chest heartily and laughed.
"Now hold on a minute, guv’nor! Try that over a bottle a’whisky, next time you see one--I can hold me own against any man in the RAF and I can drink you under the table any night a’the week!"
Alexei arched a bushy black eyebrow at that. "Ah! Now there is vorthy challenge for after vhar!" He raised the mug to Newkirk in a toast. "Devil’s Grandmother take these Germans!" He gave the word the hard ‘G’. "I myself vas captured by drunk Luftvaffe soldati--they assume any man vearing parachute is pilot." He made a disgusted sound. "I suppose is lucky for me, but is embarrassing, da? I go home to Vladivostok--hero’s velcome--and they ask me how I vas captured and survive, I have to tell them soldiers vere drunk and I came down nearly on top of them!" He snorted, and drained the rest of the mug, dregs and all. "My grandmother vill look at me funny!"
Something didn’t quite click in Newkirk’s mind. "You said you ‘aven’t had any alcohol while you’ve been ‘ere?"
The Russian sighed. "Ah, nyet. Believe me, if there was liquor to be had, Russian nose could find it!" He tweaked his nose and winked. "Vhy do you ask?"
"It’s just something I ‘eard somewhere--that there were a lot of drunks ‘ere."
Alexei laughed. "You mean Kommandant Schussen then! Da, he is bolshoi joke among Natsieti--he lost entire family in last vhar and hasn’t come back out of bottle yet." The Russian raised his dark eyes to meet Newkirk’s. "They say," he began carefully, "that certain outside organisations supply him so that he should look other vhay at certain times."
Now that’s interesting--possibly useful, too. It means there might be an Underground operation in this area, someone who knows a way out of here. But where for the love of England do I get a bottle of schnapps in the middle of a German POW camp? At this hour? The Englishman kept his face expressionless. "Is that so?" Alexei gave him a strange look.
"Let me tell you something...I find you very interesting, Angliski."
Newkirk grinned. "Right nice of you to say so!"
The Russian nodded thoughtfully. "Da... Follow my reasoning for one moment... Pervii, I am told you come here dressed in civilian clothes before they give you that uniform. I can only assume they fit you better; your size, da?"
The bottom dropped out of Newkirk’s stomach and he sat bolt upright, suspicion suddenly blossoming in his mind, tinged by panic. He’s been interrogating me the whole time! "I stole me clothes off a washing line!" he said stiffly.
The Russian shrugged. "Is possible, but not likely. Follow my three thoughts--these days Gitlerovetsi look for men with ill-fitting attire, especially those valking out of voods. You vould have been picked up long before you reached Munich. My thoughts? You had help." Newkirk was about to protest, but Alexei held up a hand for silence, counting off a second finger. "Yet, vtoroi, you seem to know nothing about local Resistance and Polkovnik Schussen. Tretii, you admit to being sober, which means your capture was deliberate." The Russian leaned closer, mongoose eyes glittering in the firelight, and Peter swallowed, knowing the big man had him cold.
"I’m not German, if that’s what you’re thinking..."
"Nyet." Alexei chuckled. "I know you are not spy for them. Vhat is Amerikanski saying--‘so crazy it has to be true’? That is you...Peter Rachmaninov."
"So what’re you supposed to be," the Englishman growled, suddenly angry, "NKVD?"
Alexei grinned again, and his gold fillings--very expensive gold fillings--glittered. "Close, very close."
"And what d’you intend to do with your information?" Newkirk asked quietly.
The Russian shrugged innocently. "Absolutely nothing, tovarish! That is, as long as you tell me vhy you are really here, and how you intend to escape."
"And if I don’t?"
"Then I vill go to Gestapo."
"You can’t prove any of it!"
"Does not matter. They vill torture you, then you vill die, and neither of us benefits from this alliance."
"Is that what you’re suggesting? An alliance of sorts?"
"Of sorts. I have less to lose, Angliski, and I give you my vord I vill keep my part of bargain. I tell you vhy--you see, I too have mission, but getting caught vas not part of plan. There is man--very important man--who must die. I have been vaiting six months for just such opportunity. I need to get out of this prison. German Underground vould not help just me, but you, Angliski..."
"Why should I believe you? Why should I trust you, with what you’ve got ‘anging over my ‘ead?"
"Does not matter vhether you believe or trust me. As in your country, ve Russki set great store by vord of honour. I have given mine...now, do you give me yours?"
Newkirk glared at the bearded man, brain still frantically searching for a way out. He could denounce Alexei to the Brigadier-General, but there was no guarantee the schizo would believe it coming from a man with a Russki name, ‘Limey’ or not. ...And Alexei might have valuable information about where the flier was being kept. But trafficking with an admitted assassin made him very, very nervous. Eventually though, he gave the Russian a curt nod, knowing he had no other choice, but determined from now on to give him as little real information as humanly possible.
The rain continued to move across the German countryside as East and West shook over their fragile treaty.
* * *
"Colonel!" Kinchloe called, removing his headphones. "I just got word to the Underground. The contact’ll be at the bar in the Hausnerhof tonight at ten, wearing a white rose. They don’t know where Newkirk is yet, but they did find some other things. You’re not gonna like this, colonel--guess who else is in Stalag 17?"
"I don’t like it already. Who?"
Carter, re-emerging from the darkroom with the negatives, looked mystified. "Colonel who?"
LeBeau puffed up his thin chest and, with a finger cocked under his nose to mime a handlebar mustache, he declared in his stuffiest British accent, "Wot, bad show boys, wot wot!"
Recognition dawned in Carter’s face. "Oo-oh. I remember him! We couldn’t tell him about the network--so he had us digging tunnels all night! Using mess cans!" He shook his head disgustedly, giving the film to Hogan, and climbed up through the bunk to the hut.
"Kinch, are you trying to give your senior officer a heart attack? I could have you court-martialled for that."
"I’m afraid it’s true, colonel. He was just moved there a few months ago--he’s not senior POW."
"He doesn’t have to be. You know how he feels about our type of operation."
"Yeah," LeBeau snorted. " ‘The first duty of a prisoner is to escape.’ Just great! If he recognises Peter, that lousy lâche won’t fail to go straight to the Commandant."
"LeBeau! Is that any way to talk about a senior officer?"
"Sorry, mon colonel."
"Not that I don’t feel the same way... There’s no way we can get word to warn Newkirk first."
"Just wait--it gets better."
"I hope for my sake you aren’t being sarcastic."
" ‘Fraid not. Apparently, the Gestapo picked up someone in Munich two days ago bearing a striking resemblance to our missing Englishman."
Hogan groaned, suddenly feeling ill. "Which means our little chess game now has three players--us, them, and the Gestapo."
LeBeau shook his head incredulously. "Incroyable! How could Peter let himself be captured by them? He should know that they will be watching him now! The Gestapo never just let anybody go."
Carter came back down the ladder in a hurry. "Hey, guys, you’re never going to believe this! Schultz shot a cow!"
Hogan stifled a snort of laughter. "You’re kidding!"
"No way! The dawn patrol just got back, dragging the thing behind them. The farmer’s up there right now, cussing Klink out!"
"You think you can get Klink to buy it for rations, Colonel?" Kinchloe asked.
"Oui! Oh, what I could do with some bœuf frais!" LeBeau cried, enraptured.
"Ol’ Daddy Warbucks?--his changepurse has rusty hinges! Remember, fellas, you’re talking about the man who used to get us to wash his laundry ‘cause he was too cheap to get it done in town!"
"At least until we started over-starching his collars!" Kinchloe laughed.
Carter grinned. "Yeah, and before I accidentally dyed his boxer shorts bright red."
"I remember that," LeBeau snickered. "You did a month in solitary!"
"Well, I bet this’ll end the active search at least, and take some pressure off us. He’ll still have heavy perimeter guards, so LeBeau and I’re going to have to go out with Schnitzer and the dogs. But if we time it right, we can sneak back in through the emergency tunnel with the dawn changing."
"You better get up here, colonel," someone called down the entrance, "it’s getting pretty wild."
"All right, fellas. Now Kinch, I want you to work on translating those documents, see if it’s anything London needs to know. LeBeau, can you make something to keep Schultz busy tonight?"
"Pâtisserie ou confiserie?--pastry or confection?"
"I’m thinking more in the way of sticky buns."
The Frenchman grinned. "D’accord!"
"What do you want me to do, colonel?" Carter asked as the others dashed off.
The colonel laid a fatherly arm over the sergeant’s thin shoulders. "Carter... There comes a time in every man’s war for things to go out with a bang..."
Carter’s eyes lit up like a kid at Christmastime. "Really?!"
"This is not one of those times."
"No, Carter, what I need from you is something a little more subtle. Think you can handle it?"
"Yeah, I guess," the chemist moped, scuffing the dirt with his boot, "but gosh gee-willikers..."
"Carter--such language! What would your mother say?"
"I’m sorry, colonel. I’ll get right on it." With a half-hearted salute, he dragged off to his lab.
Hogan stared after him, then shook his head. "I really have to let these boys out more often!"
* * *
"You are being very difficult, Angliski!"
"Well, what d’you expect?"
The Russian sighed and moved the black queen across the ‘chessboard’ carved into the mess table. The white pieces and had been whittled out of an old pine milking stool while the black suspiciously resembled parts off a broken cuckoo clock. "This, I suppose." He brushed a lock of thick black hair out of his eyes. They were red from lack of sleep--he had stayed awake last night long after lights-out, smoking his acrid makhorka cigarettes and muttering to himself in Russian. Since he had somehow managed to ‘requisition’ the bunk above Newkirk’s, the Englishman hadn’t gotten much sleep either. "Can you not understand I am trying to help you?"
The corporal snorted contemptuously. Questions! Always questions! He’s worse’n the bleedin’ Gestapo! The Russian had pounced on him even before the barracks guard called Appell--before Newkirk had so much as worked the cold out of his limbs--thrusting his hairy face with those quicksilver eyes at him and beginning in on a series of pointed inquiries that had become far too familiar over the past four hours.
With the Russian constantly at his elbow, Newkirk hadn’t had any time to ask around about the pilot or even do a decent scouting of the premises. Hardly cricket by anyone’s book, and enough to put the Englishman, who had always prided himself on being a gentleman no matter the situation, at the end of his rope. "I’ll believe that when I see it," Newkirk snapped back, slamming his knight down in front of Brodsky’s bishop. "All you’ve been doing is grillin’ me for answers. What about your side?"
Brodsky growled in equal frustration, aggressively moving the rook away from his castled king. "You say you vill not leave until you have completed mission, and you vill not even let me contact Underground until then! You seem to forget I have decided interest in getting you out of here alive--vhatever it is, you can trust me..."
"...‘Bout as far as I can throw you!" Newkirk scoffed. "Thankee kindly, but no!" He slapped his queen down right under the Russian’s nose. "Check and mate!" He leaned back with a satisfied smirk.
The Russian’s thick eyebrows crumpled together. "Vhat, again? That makes three in row! And they alvays told me Angliski vere pitiful chess players!"
Newkirk grinned wickedly. "You should see the Germans!" When Alexei shot him a sharp look, he shrugged noncommittally. "Prisoners of war."
"All right, all right, Angliski. Vhatever you have to do, just get it over vith! I find myself anxious to get out of here. As one of your comrades is alvays saying, ‘first duty of prisoner is to escape’."
Newkirk nearly choked. There was something too familiar about that phrase. "One of my comrades?"
The Russian studied him. "Da. Britanski offitser--Polkovnik Crittendon, I believe."
Newkirk put a hand to his suddenly pounding head. Of all the prison camps in all of Germany, he had to get transferred into mine. I think I’m gonna be sick.
The Russian leaned over him. "For some reason," he mused sarcastically, "I seem to think you do not like Polkovnik Crittendon. Is because he is loud, bossy, and inept, or just because he is big fat fink?"
"That’s not funny," Newkirk groaned.
"You are avoiding qvestion."
"Which barracks is ‘e in?"
"Right next door--Baracke 8." That elicited an extra moan from Newkirk. The Russian’s eyes glittered eagerly. "So, vhat is your plan?"
Newkirk glared at him between his fingers. "You know, Alex, you’re the nosiest damn Russian I’ve ever met!"
The assassin grinned. "And exactly how many Russki have you met?"
"You’re the first--but you’ve gotta be part kraut anyway."
"Don’t insult me, or I shall be forced to defend my family’s honour! Now, vhat are ve going to do?"
Newkirk bent close. "Well, I’ll tell you...we aren’t going to do anything."
Taken aback, the Russian nodded and shrugged. "It is such shame vhen troops do not agree vith their offitseri..."
The corporal grimaced. "So now you’re gonna ‘old Crittendon over me as well--some sport you are, mate!"
"You know, Angliski, for good chess player, you make very bad politician."
Rolling his eyes heavenward, the Englishman sighed heavily. "I got elected to this some’ow. All right!--just so’s you’ll leave me alone, do you know anything ‘bout a pilot brought in two days ago, shot down on surveillance?"
Alexei shot him a smug grin worthy of the Cheshire Cat’s. "Konyetchno! Ve are not supposed to know about such things...but vord gets around. His name is Wallace, Amerikanski major. Officially, he doesn’t exist--Gestapo have been surrounding him since his arrival. They are keeping him in special solitary cell on this side of camp."
"Is there a way in besides the front door?"
The Russian looked puzzled. "Nyet--is solitary cell!"
"Primitive!" Newkirk scoffed privately. To Alexei he said, "So, ‘ow does one go about gettin’ in such a place?"
"Besides punishment?" The Russian stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Some guards can be bribed--chocolate, Amerikanski cigareti, that kind of thing." He stood. "I vill see who is on duty tonight, and maybe someone knows how many Gestapo stay vith prisoner." He grinned back at Newkirk. "I am so glad you decided to trust me."
"Believe me, it wasn’t intentional." But strangely enough, he found he did trust the huge man--a little, anyway. He fished out his remaining cigarettes and counted them. Three left, but they were American. Hopefully that would be enough to bribe the guard.
Tucking them safely away, he began to put the chess pieces back in their places. There was a strange comfort in the act, feeling each lovingly-carved and polished piece and knowing its power as a soldier. Like Alexander the Great contemplating his troops before battle. And Newkirk had no doubts that the major battle was yet to come and, like the mute pieces obedient in their ranks, the game might be determined by whose hand made the first move.
* * *
Colonel Crittendon, Royal Air Force, grimaced over the bucket of soapy water, his immaculately curled and waxed mustache--there were ways to supply oneself with the accoutrements of civilisation, after all, even in prison--twitching at the harsh smell of the prisoner-made lye soap. Bally thing for an officer to have to do his own laundry, he sniffed. He would have to be sure to look this up in his copy of the Geneva Prisoner of War Convention Articles.
Using only the tips of his thumb and forefinger, he picked up each article of clothing and poked it down into the bucket, stirring it around with one finger before fishing it out again and plunking it, dripping wet, into the ‘clean’ water.
"Vell, there he is, Angliski," Alexei chuckled as he and Newkirk crouched behind the corner of their barracks. "Are you not even going to say hello?"
Newkirk chose to ignore the jab. " ‘Ow on earth did he get transferred ‘ere? Last I ‘eard, he was up near Hamburg."
"Humph. Probably nobody else vants him either. I am sure determined prisoners can manage to convince kommandant. You see, that man has absolutely uncanny nose for escapes--so far, he has personally ruined fourteen attempts!"
Newkirk snorted. "The krauts might as well ‘ave painted a bull’s eye on ‘is back--the man’s a walking target."
"You vant I should take care of him...permanently?"
The Englishman glared up at him. "Sorry, but I prefer not to knock off me own officers!"
Brodsky shrugged. "Have it your vay, but you know he vill probably find out."
"I’d rather take that chance. Did you get through to the Underground?"
"Da. Frenchman in Baracke 14 is in contact vith them through homemade radio; he owed me favour for donating parts from my plane. I gave him your codes just before his scheduled broadcast. He says everything arranged for tonight; ve go through fence betveen north and northeast towers vhere trees are closest. Contact vill vait for us in forest until dawn."
Newkirk nodded. "And in the meantime, we..." Brodsky cut him off with a whack on the shoulder, grinning amiably over the Englishman’s back as Crittendon walked by with an armload of wet laundry. Newkirk pulled the collar of his overcoat up to hide his face, hoping Crittendon wouldn’t notice him.
He should be so fortunate. The colonel halted dead in his tracks, mustache twitching like a hyperactive squirrel.
"Yea, sair?" Newkirk asked, roughening his voice and affecting a Yorkshire twang.
"Your name, soldier!"
"Peter Rachmaninov, sair."
"Well, Corporal Rachmaninov, since when does a British soldier fail to salute a superior officer?"
Newkirk breathed a small sigh of relief. "Sorry, sair. I didna see ya thair."
"You could see me better if you faced me when I address you!"
Reluctantly, Newkirk turned around and snapped off a quick salute.
"Hmmph," Crittendon snorted, his eyes showing no sign of recognition. "Now that’s better. I know it’s wartime, but blast it all, we have to keep up discipline in the ranks."
"Yea, sair," Newkirk agreed hastily. "Stiff upper lip an’ all tha’, sair."
"Precisely! Otherwise, the Gerrys will--"
"Yes, most definitely!" Brodsky interrupted, smiling broadly. "Of course you are absolutely right, tovarish Polkovnik. It is indeed privilege to find such visdom in man of your rank. But now ve must do our duty as prisoners of vhar and subjugate enemy through means clandestine by showing them that our soldiers are superior in training. Above all, this requires exacting promptness in reporting for work detail."
Probably only catching the last two words, Crittendon mulled them over for a second before epiphany dawned on his face. "Oh, yes. Of course, good show!--carry on, carry on."
With a precise salute, Alexei seized Newkirk by the collar and dragged him away from Crittendon.
"I assume," he continued casually, "you vere about to say that until then, ve keep avay from Colonel Crittendon."
Head still spinning from Brodsky’s incredible snowjob on the colonel, Newkirk merely nodded. "You know, mate," he said at last, "you’re a lousy chess player, but you’d make a good politician."
Brodsky just laughed.
* * *
Even Ludwig II refused to be charmed by the tortured strains of Wagner wailing through the open window of Colonel Klink’s quarters. If the big German Shepherd had had hands, he surely would have clapped them over his aching ears as the camp commandant tore with steady gusto through The Ride of the Valkyries on his violin. When the anguished dog could at last suffer no more, he let loose a long, mournful howl.
The music screeched to a halt and Klink’s hairless pate appeared in the window. "Quiet, you mangy animals," he muttered, shaking a bony fist. "You’re breaking my concentration!"
Ludwig was about to tell the colonel exactly what he thought of his concentration when the floor of his doghouse suddenly shifted. The dog fell silent, ears pricking curiously. With a satisfied snort, Klink slammed the window shut--to the relieved sigh of every guard walking the post. The floor bucked again, and someone cursed softly in French.
"Ludvig, move your hairy derrière!" The guard dog jumped up as a gap appeared under the doghouse. A rolled up crêpe popped out, followed by Louis LeBeau.
"Good boy," LeBeau whispered as the Shepherd munched on his treat.
The doghouse tilted back again, and Hogan emerged, dressed in a civilian overcoat. The veterinarian’s truck was already waiting, idling outside the dog kennel while Schnitzer kept Schultz busy and away from the back doors. LeBeau shooed the dogs away and unlatched the gate. Hogan stuck his head back down the hole.
"Okay Kinch, everything set?"
"Our colonel, nervous?" the black man chuckled. "That’s the third time you’ve asked me! I’ll give Schultz the sticky buns right before lights out and Carter will do his ‘commando raid’ half an hour before sunrise."
Hogan checked his watch against Kinchloe’s. "Great! Good luck, Kinch."
"I think you’ll need it more, Colonel. Remember, Klink’s feathers are still ruffled over that escape. The way he’s been bullying the guards, they’ll really be on their toes!"
It was Hogan’s turn to laugh. "Yes, mother, we’ll be careful."
LeBeau was motioning hurriedly from the truck. Relatching the gate behind him, Hogan jumped in and huddled down amongst the dogs. Schnitzer gunned the engine and roared away, back to Hammelburg.
Having seen nothing amiss, Schultz began walking his post again, groaning inwardly whenever he got close enough to hear the commandant practising his violin.
* * *
An ice-cold hand clamped over his mouth. Newkirk struggled up out of his sleep, thrashing against the strong arm pinning him to the bed. A familiar face hovered into view, and Newkirk relaxed.
"Bloody Christ, Alex," he hissed when the Russian had removed his callused palm. "Did you really ‘ave to do that?"
"Perhaps you vant to vake up Crittendon next door?" the Russian snapped back.
Without a word, Newkirk rolled out of his bunk and reached under it for the little pot of soot he had scooped out of the stove. Sticking one finger in the black dust, he smeared it across his face. Experience had taught him it was a good thing not to be seen by the tower guards.
Deftly manoeuvring a loop of stiff wire through a ventilation gap above the door, Brodsky already had the outside bar off by the time Newkirk went to join him. That was another difference between Stalags 13 and 17--Schultz never bothered to lock the prisoners away at night, (not that they didn’t have at least twelve secret doors). Klink probably had some funny idea that not barring the doors would prove the ‘superiority’ of his management or something. So much for the vaunted ‘Master Race’.
Outside, the waning moon cut the muddy compound into pools of light and darkness, roamed only by the restless searchlights. Dodging from shadow to shadow, Newkirk and Brodsky worked their way over to the bunker where a solitary Gestapo agent was guarding the American. A single Luftwaffe soldier paced before the doorway.
Once they were close enough, Brodsky stepped briefly into the light. The German swung his rifle around, but paused when he recognised the man. With a brief nod, the sentry paced off into the camp.
As Brodsky had explained earlier, the door was bolted from the inside. Newkirk balled his fist and pounded urgently.
"Guard! Guard! Open up, schnell! An emergency!"
Footsteps sprinted towards him from inside, and the bolt scraped back.
"Was ist der--" The piece of brick Newkirk had found came down on the agent’s head. He slumped in the Englishman’s arms, and Newkirk obligingly dragged him inside. Brodsky followed, closing the door carefully.
"Listen, Angliski, you do vhat you need to. I vill be outside in case you need help. As soon as I see you, I am off to clear your path. Follow vith Amerikanski vhen you can." Newkirk nodded sharply and turned to go, but Brodsky caught him by the shoulder.
He held up a tiny white pill. "Take this vith you."
"Shh! Not so loud!"
"I ‘ardly think that’s standard issue," Newkirk hissed, "whatever army you’re in!"
"It is for me," the Russian said cryptically, thrusting the tiny white capsule at him. "Now take it! In case you get captured."
Newkirk shoved his hand away. "Not a bloody chance! I don’t intend to kill myself even if I do get caught!"
"This is not chess ve are playing, Angliski! You know too much to risk letting it be tortured out of you! Believe me, any death is better than that." He held up the strangely innocent-looking pill again, his eyes pleading with Newkirk.
The Englishman sighed. "You know, you ‘ave a very depressing outlook on life you do, mate." But he closed his fingers over the Russian’s fist, accepting the deadly capsule.
* * *
Robert Hogan strode into the Hausnerhof with all the inflated importance befitting his rank--which happened to be that of a German major at the moment. Glaring imperiously around the crowded restaurant--and trying to ignore the maddening itch under his fake mustache--he soon spotted the only person in the room wearing a white rose.
Wow, these Underground agents get lovelier all the time!
Soft brown hair tied up with a white rosebud over soft, pale skin, beautifully curved lips and even more beautifully curved legs filled his senses, making him feel a little light-headed. Keep ahold on yourself, Hogan. I know it’s been a long time but...oh, those legs!
Tightening his already-choking tie, Hogan snagged two empty glasses and an open wine bottle off a nearby table and pulled himself up a chair next to the woman, pouring both of them some wine.
"Have you been to the botanical gardens in Heidelberg lately?"
She blinked prettily. "Excuse me?"
Hogan tried the code again, trying not to betray his sudden uncertainty. "How about the one in Friedberg? I hear they grow Strelitzia parvifolia juncea there."
A hand fell on his shoulder. "Don’t move--Gestapo!" a harsh voice boomed. "Keep your hands on the table!" The hand that had been creeping towards his gun froze.
"He was asking me a lot of strange questions!" the girl offered. "And he said words in a strange language--I think it must have been Swedish or something."
"Excellent vork! Zis man is vanted for treason! Ve vill take care of him."
Hogan was hauled to his feet and manhandled outside, where a staff car was waiting. Once inside, the automobile took off through the streets of Hammelburg.
Hogan laughed in pure relief. "Are you trying to make sure I die young, Max?"
The Underground agent shrugged as Hogan stripped off his fake mustache with a grimace. "I’m sorry, colonel, but there was no way to warn you. There has been a heavy Gestapo presence around Hammelburg lately. Everything was set to go off as we planned, then she showed up half an hour ago. We had no way to know if she was a plant--we had to find out if our information was being intercepted!"
"So you used me as a guinea pig. Thanks a million!"
"We know our channels are safe, though."
"For the moment, anyway." Max nodded in silent accord. Both men knew only too well the dangers of what they did, and the insecurity of their very hold on life. It would only take one mistake to bring down their entire house of cards. "What did you find out about my man?"
"The Gestapo had him, but didn’t arrest him, so I assume he’s ‘safe’ for the moment. Naturally, they put him in one of the prison camps and are keeping an eye on him. Our agent in Munich got word from the local Underground unit a few hours ago that they had a Priority One escape on their hands."
Hogan nodded thoughtfully. "Priority One--classified information or vital importance. Sounds right. Did you tell them the Gestapo might be watching?"
"Yes. And they said they’re only doing it because you’re asking. I think they know if they don’t, you would go after him yourself!" The German agent chuckled lightly.
Hogan leaned forward to speak to the driver. "Hey, swing around by Shäunbeiter’s--I have a man getting supplies there." He leaned back again. "Remember that document I told you we picked up?"
"In a sense. Naturally Klink only gets small-time stuff, but we may have lucked out with this one. It was one of those mathematical lists the High Command seems to adore--you know, German targets listed by importance and frequency. Klink got one because all the camps are listed--but it also included the new geographic codes for all important target locations, past, present, and possible!"
The agent sat up fast. "We cracked that code as soon as they issued it, we were just ‘keeping it under our hats’ as you say--which means we now know where all their bases are moving before they do!" Laughing, he slapped his hands together. "Prima! I must contact the network with this information right away! What your side can’t bomb, we will wreak such destruction upon as the Little Dictator has never seen!" Eyes glittering eagerly, he waggled his bushy eyebrows at the American. "Have you told Carter yet?"
Hogan groaned inwardly at the thought. "You know how he gets..."
"Oh, but you must! I will need his special bombs for this one!"
Max was still plotting ambitiously when the car stopped to pick up LeBeau and his parcels. After an uneasy glance at the moustachioed man cackling evilly in the back seat, Louis decided it was safer to sit next to the driver.
The ‘refurbished’ stolen staff car picked up speed once more as it rumbled off in the night, heading out of Hammelburg towards Stalag 13.
* * *
Major Ryan Wallace lay curled on the floor of his cell where his torturers had finally left him. He was dying slowly. His insides felt like broken glass, and his body was mysteriously numb in places. Blood trickled from his purpled skin where the bruises had broken open. A few were already infected, flaming angry red around the edges, but the American flier could not even find the strength to get up off the filthy cell floor.
The beating had been worse this time, which meant the Gestapo was getting desperate. It also meant his life was becoming steadily less valuable. They knew he had taken pictures of their secret aircraft bases outside Altötting and, thanks to last night’s ‘session’, that the film had survived the crash, but so far he’d been able to hold back its hiding place. The Germans were probably already moving their most valuable ‘projects’, despite the fact that the Allies obviously didn’t have the pictures. Being the paragons of efficiency that they were, the Germans had recorded him as dead the minute they found his plane. He was a man with no existence in the heart of enemy territory. Before too long, the film would be absolutely worthless, and his life would end in a shallow ditch.
Weakly, he forced himself to move, propping himself up on one arm in an
effort to crawl back onto his narrow, lice-ridden cot. But something woke as he
shifted his weight. Bone ground against bone and Wallace screamed.
Panting, he collapsed to the floor once more.
Someone tapped urgently on the cell door. "Hey! ‘Ello in there! Major Wallace?"
An Englishman? "I’m here!" he cried, too relieved to care who it was.
Keys rattled in the lock and a young man in an RAF uniform rushed in.
"Bloody hell! What’d they do to you?" He moved to pick the officer off the floor.
"No, wait!" But his shattered hip shifted again and he cried out in pain. Newkirk ripped off his cap and, twisting it up, forced it between the major’s teeth. As gently as he could, he picked up the pilot and set him on the cot.
Eventually, the world swam back into focus, and Wallace stared up at his rescuer. "Who...are you?"
"Let’s just say I’m on your side. I’m ‘ere to get you and your film back to England."
"My hip...I think they broke it. I’m not going anywhere for awhile. How did you...get in here anyway?"
"Bribed one chap and conked the other on the noggin--I think the first fellow was luckier. I’ll carry you out if I ‘ave to. I got a friend waitin’ outside and some people from the Underground on the way. Never you worry, mate."
Wallace shook his head. A thin sheen of sweat had broken out on his grizzled upper lip and he licked it away. "I don’t think my hip is all they broke. I have a feeling I won’t last that long."
"Now wait a minute--I’ve ‘eard enough depressing attitudes for one day! We’ve got to get going!" But beneath his brave tone, the young flier sounded frightened.
"Don’t worry about me, just listen! I hid the film under the blade of an old horse plow on the road that goes past the Ludwig memorial cathedral at Starnberger See. Corporal, as a superior officer, I order you to take that film and get out of here!"
"But I can’t just leave you!"
"Dammit, corporal," he gasped, "that was a direct order! I don’t care which army you’re in, I still...outrank you! You’re running out of time--go!"
But Newkirk hesitated, looking miserable. At last, he reached for the cyanide capsule the Russian had given him and held it out for the officer. "Will you at least...accept this?"
Wallace managed to smile as he took it from the Englishman’s hand. "My wife, Majorie, lives in Witchita, 2428 Valence Street. If you can, would you tell her I love her?"
Newkirk nodded fiercely. Straightening, the Englishman did the only thing he could think of to pay his final respects--he saluted.
Newkirk left before he had to watch the pilot die, running back down the empty corridor towards the front office where the guard, gagged, blindfolded, and bound to his chair, was already beginning to moan.
The faint crack! of the breaking capsule echoed in his ears long after the sound itself had faded.
* * *
Waiting until the quarter moon had slipped behind a cloud, Newkirk and Brodsky scurried under the barbed wire, which had been snipped in strategic places by their unseen aid. Behind them, searchlights swept like giant cyclopean eyes across the barren yard, occasionally pinning a guard against the wooden walls before roving on. In the distance, dogs barked and snapped viciously at each other, perhaps smelling the heady scent of death on the night wind. Other than that, the camp was silent--Wallace’s body had not been discovered yet.
Newkirk allowed himself a brief sigh of relief once they were through and the concealing shadows of the Bavarian forest closed around them. The breeze smelled different somehow on the opposite side of the barbed wire, the aroma of the towering pines sharper, cleaner. When one had been a prisoner for as long as he had, even a voluntary prisoner, Newkirk reflected, he sometimes forgot what it felt like to be truly free, unlimited by space or ambition.
"Chort vozimi!" Alexei snarled.
"What’s the matter?"
"Someone vas here, but now is gone!"
Newkirk crouched instinctively, to make a harder target for any patrolling guards. He had long ago given up wondering how Alexei came by his almost uncanny knowledge, but then, he had never been able to solve any of those Sherlock Holmes stories he had read as a kid...before the ending anyway. "Then I recommend we ‘high-tail it’ as the Americans say, as fast as our tails can go."
"Ochen khorosho--you have excellent idea!"
Without another word, they were off and weaving through the forest, paralleling the road out of camp as long as there was no traffic, ducking back into the brush whenever a truck passed. Newkirk liked to consider himself fairly experienced at night manoeuvres--it was just about the only kind they did back at Stalag 13--but Brodsky put even him to shame. He could really move!--silent as mist, sure as a mountain goat over terrain Newkirk had to work carefully across. But the Russian made sure he never got too far ahead; Brodsky had promised to take him as far as the road to Augsburg, where Newkirk had hidden the uniform and papers that would get him safely out of Munich.
Sometime before dawn, they crossed the hayfield Newkirk had passed through three days ago. The Englishman easily relocated the tailored SS uniform and began to put it on, discarding his dirty and ill-fitting camp uniform with not a little relish. Last of all, he struggled with the stiff German jackboots.
"These aren’t boots," he grunted, "they’re instruments of torture! Say, Alex, would you mind givin’ me a ‘and with these? Alex?" But the Russian had disappeared. Newkirk reached for his gun--only to have it snatched away!
The British officer waved the Luger at him. "I knew I recognised you! Bally traitor--you’re working for Gerry!" Newkirk got slowly to his feet, holding his hands out to emphasise that he was unarmed. Crittendon backed up a couple of steps. "I hear strange things all the time about Stalag 13, now I know why! Is Hogan in on your little operation too? Perhaps all you chaps are--ulp!" With a deft motion of his hand, Alexei knocked the colonel cold from behind, where he had been hiding in the shadows. Retrieving Newkirk’s RAF uniform, he bound and gagged Crittendon.
Alexei tossed the Luger to him. "Nichevo--I heard him follow vhen ve left camp, but I was not able to tell you." Scratching his head, he stared down at the prisoners’ prisoner. "Vhat should ve do vith him now?"
Newkirk frowned deeply. Let him go? Knowing him, he’ll just get caught again within two hours. Like Colonel Hogan says, he’s basically harmless--except for his big mouth, of course. Sure, now he thinks Stalag 13 is a hotbed of German spies, but who would believe him anyway? That old boy can just as well escape on his lonesome. He wouldn’t help me get out of Munich anyway. Not willingly. Newkirk put a hand over his eyes as a mad, impetuous, brilliant idea suddenly occurred to him. Newkirk old chap, you’ve been ‘anging around Colonel Hogan too long--you’re even beginning to think like him!
* * *
As dawn painted the sky in pastel shades, Newkirk shook hands with the Russian for the final time. They stood together at the verge of a stand of trees just outside Munich, Newkirk in his SS uniform, Crittendon bound and gagged at their feet.
"Goodbye, Alex. And as we say in the escape biz, I ‘ope I never see you again!"
Brodsky grinned and clasped Newkirk’s hand firmly in his, a final gesture of camaraderie. "Same to you...Peter. I vould be proud to fight at your side any time. Do svedonya." He moved to go, but at the last minute paused and turned back. "Oh, Angliski..."
"Tell your Colonel Hogan, Mangoosta sends his regards." The Russian grinned broadly, gold teeth flashing in the sunlight, and then he was gone, vanishing like a puff of smoke, leaving Newkirk with his jaw hanging open in utter surprise.
How did Alex know he was a colonel?
He quickly broke out of his shock, though. A farm truck was rattling towards him, heading out of the city. Straightening his uniform and steeling his face, Newkirk stepped imperiously out into the road.
The farmer stomped on the brake so hard he almost flew through the windshield. As Newkirk paced authoritatively up to the truck, he fumbled nervously for his papers. The Englishman gave them a cursory inspection, them motioned the man out of the truck.
"I have a prisoner here I need to get to Stalag 17. Help me get him into the back of your truck."
"But kind sir," he stammered, "I have a pressing appointment..."
Newkirk cut him off with a sharp gesture. Meekly, the farmer picked up the still-unconscious Crittendon by the shoulders and they carried him over to the truck.
The back was a jumble of empty wooden crates. Newkirk began shoving the boxes aside to make room for Crittendon. The farmer had most likely just been forced to ‘volunteer’ his crops for the troops in Munich for a pittance pay. The Englishman scowled angrily. It’s absolutely criminal what they’re doing to their own people! They...
Newkirk froze, holding a crate he had just picked up. There was a child amongst the boxes.
A little dark-haired girl, not more than three or four, clutched a homemade rag doll and peered curiously up at him from the little hollow he had just exposed. There was a yellow six-pointed star sewn onto her doll’s dress. The girl smiled up at him. Newkirk blinked, then gently replaced the box. Avoiding the farmer’s stunned expression, he picked up Crittendon’s feet.
"Help me lift him."
Together, they heaved the British officer into the bed of the truck, then got into the cab. Newkirk sat stiffly as the farmer carefully turned the truck around and drove back towards Munich. He didn’t miss the quick glances the farmer kept giving him. Reluctantly, he kept one hand on his gun, in case the brave old man had one of his own.
* * *
Colonel Schussen turned out to be a tired old man. Hair that was more grey than brown hung limply over his forehead, refusing to be disciplined by the comb. His skin was deathly pale, flushed only by a fine web of broken capillaries running along his pockmarked cheeks. There was some small kindness in his pale eyes, but it might have been only the softening of a soldier too weary to fight fate any longer, one who now only finds questions where before there had been answers--a man who can only find forgiveness amongst the dead.
He smiled and gave Newkirk a boneless salute, shaking his hand and mouthing empty congratulations for returning the prisoner. But his heart wasn’t in it. Anyone who stared into those eyes could see Schussen didn’t care, wouldn’t care if all three thousand prisoners rioted and brought the camp burning down around his ears. Schussen would probably sit on the stoop in front of his office and watch, Nero toasting the rising inferno. It made Newkirk feel strangely guilty.
They had, of course, discovered Wallace’s body some hours earlier, and naturally assumed Crittendon to be responsible. Well, they was actually the Adjutant, Major Kircher. He was the one who stomped up to Crittendon’s limp body and kicked it, cursing the unconscious colonel soundly in German. The last Newkirk saw of the British officer, the guards were dragging him off to a nine-month stint in solitary. The Englishman stared after him unhappily, hating himself for putting the blame on a superior, royal pain-in-the-neck or no. At least as a registered, uniformed prisoner, they probably wouldn’t just haul him out into the woods and shoot him, but life would be very hard indeed for the next nine months. Newkirk resolved to send him mail.
Kircher’s tantrum was attracting quite a crowd--the prisoners clustered like magpies around the yard, keeping their distance from the swearing officer. Newkirk pulled his peaked cap lower, pretending to be invisible and praying no one would recognise him. For the first time, a hint of doubt crept into his mind, that perhaps this wasn’t such a great way to get out of Munich, but he quashed it mercilessly. If this plan of mine’s going to work, I’ve got to believe it’s going to work! Colonel Hogan never thinks his will work, but just look how they all turn out!
Sure, like his getting caught and me being out here on my lonesome--smashing. Just take it slow and easy, Peter, and everything will turn out right as a trivet.
The adjutant rounded on the main office. "And will somebody call off the Gestapo!" Kircher bellowed. Newkirk’s heart quaked, and he felt his knees turning to water. Wunhessen! "Gerta? Gerta!"
The camp secretary hastened out onto the porch. She was small but pretty, especially when she smiled at the ‘hero’ Newkirk. He had to restrain himself from smiling back--curse German severity! "Ja, Herr Major?"
"Did you already telephone the Gestapo?"
"Ja, Herr Major!"
"Well call them back! Tell that little weasel Wunhessen we won’t be needing him, we’ve found our prisoner without his precious Gestapo’s help!" As she hurried away, Kircher grinned broadly and pumped Newkirk’s hand until it felt about to break off. "So very fortunate you were able to capture that dangerous fugitive after he shot out the tyres on your car! Let me tell you, the stars were right for us today!" Newkirk groaned inwardly. Not another bloody mystic! At least he’s not asking what happened to the gun, or where an escaped prisoner got one in the first place.
Colonel Schussen stepped forward and bowed graciously. "We at least owe you a bed for the night, Major Falkenhäuser."
"No, no, zat’s really not necessary, Herr Commandant," Newkirk stammered. "General Wirmann vill be expecting his car to be in Nürnberg the day after tomorrow. I really must get it fixed and be on my vay...."
"We have a very fine mechanic here who can replace your tyres from our stock. You can leave tomorrow morning and get to Nürnberg in plenty of time!" Schussen checked his watch. "And besides, the least I can do is detain you for dinner this evening. It’ll give me time to write you a commendation, and our local restaurants are really very fine, even in wartime..."
Since the man obviously wouldn’t take ‘nein’ for an answer, Newkirk reluctantly agreed. If he pressed too hard it would begin to look suspicious and the one thing he didn’t want was Kircher breathing down the back of his neck--Wunhessen had covered that quite well, thank you. Either way, he could steal the camp’s staff car easily enough given a moment alone with the driver, and it would not be missed as quickly as one he might have hotwired in town. Simple, right? Newkirk wished his heart wasn’t pounding quite so hard in his throat.
Gerta emerged again onto the porch, looking unsettled.
"Ah, Gerta!" Kircher called, with an officious snap of his fingers, "I believe the major could do with a tour of our camp. We are the very pinnacle of German efficiency--"
"Sir," Gerta broke in urgently, "Major Wunhessen is on his way!"
"What?!" Kircher shouted, turning red.
Newkirk worked to keep his knees from folding under him. "I--" he squeaked. Clearing his throat, he tried again. "I zink a tour vould be a velcome diversion." With a hasty salute, he led Gerta away from the fuming adjutant.
She huffed a sigh. "Thank you for rescuing me from him, Herr Major."
He smiled. "Major Kircher seems to zink he runs Stalag 17."
"He practically does."
"Vhy does Commandant Schussen put up vith him?"
"The commandant has been trying to transfer him out of here for months, but there is no one willing to take his place. It seems that there are more opportunities for promotion elsewhere, even at the Russian Front. But, Herr Major, don’t you think there are some advantages to staying at home?" She batted her long eyelashes at him. "I don’t suppose you have ever thought of becoming an adjutant in a prison camp?"
"Vhat is Stalag 17’s efficiency rating, anyvay?" he asked, shying away from the subject before he could get himself in deeper trouble. Suddenly, the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. He turned towards the main entrance, not even hearing Gerta’s answer.
A long black staff car bearing Gestapo markings slid through the double gates and rolled to a halt before the commandant’s office. Newkirk didn’t have to be told who was in it.
With a hasty about-face, he strode off into the compound so quickly the secretary had to work to keep up with him. Only when he had several buildings safely between himself and Wunhessen did he slow down, no longer feeling those black eyes crawling across his back. Gerta hurried up. "Why are we rushing?"
He smiled pleasantly back. "I’m sorry--I guess I’m just anxious to get back home." Understatement of the war!
"And where is home, if you don’t mind my asking?" She laid a hand on his arm as they walked, and suddenly, he didn’t mind so much.
London, England, the British Empire--not that I could tell you that. He sighed nostalgically. "Ach...Friedburg."
"In Hesse? I have never been there. What did you do...before the war?"
"My father vas a beet farmer. Ve--my sisters and I--helped in the fields. Vhat about you?"
"I was teaching Medieval History at the University in Leipzig."
"You’re joking!" She shot him a hurt look, making Newkirk realise how it had sounded. "I’m sorry," he said in a softer voice. "I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just so unusual..."
"You don’t have to apologise," she said, not quite hiding the bitterness in her voice. "Our beloved Führer doesn’t approve of dramatic shifts in convention. It was either take this job or starve."
Newkirk pursed his lips, keeping his thoughts private. It would have been nice to open up for a change, to tell her he understood how difficult life could be under fascist rule. But a tiny roll of film taken by a dead man stood between them--and that gulf might have been between Earth and Alpha Centauri for all that he could cross it. He suddenly felt very conscious of the uniform he was wearing.
They walked on, side by side, no longer touching. They had made a large circle of the camp, Newkirk realised, and were heading back towards the main office where, most likely, Wunhessen would be waiting. The Englishman swallowed, suddenly nervous. Appell had been hours ago--they knew ‘Peter Rachmaninov’ had escaped. Major Wunderbar strikes me as a man who doesn’t forget faces easily--if he wouldn’t recognise me straight off, I’ll eat my service cap. That left one option--avoiding the Gestapo altogether. Which meant ‘stalling tactics’. He suddenly grinned to himself--after a misspent youth living with two older sisters who wanted him to do the dishes, if anybody could drag their feet, it was Peter Newkirk.
He tapped Gerta on the shoulder. "Before we rejoin the commandant, please show me the Unterhaltungsgebäude--the prisoners’ Recreation Hall." The tiniest grain of an idea was beginning to form in his head. All he could do was hope it was the right kind--the kind that worked.
* * *
General Tulley stood in a small circle of men outside the Rec Hall, the one place where such a group could congregate and not look suspicious. They were most likely discussing escape, as they fell silent when the black-uniformed man approached. The circle dissolved between the corporal and the general, the Allied soldiers turning to stare at Newkirk with hate-filled eyes.
The general lifted his chin defiantly. "I am certain the commandant can help you with whatever you need," he said with strained courtesy.
"I merely vish to schpeak vith you a moment...alone."
"Interrogations are solely the camp commandant’s dominion."
"I do not intend to ask any questions you can not answer."
"As I have already stated--"
Newkirk snorted in annoyance. "Vhat if I shoot one of your officers?"
Tulley blinked. "Men, you are dismissed." The prisoners drifted away reluctantly--but not too far away.
Newkirk grinned wickedly at the general, catching the sparks of hatred flashing in the officer’s eyes. "I don’t suppose you recognise me?"
"Why should I? I don’t hang around you fascist Hitler-worshipping Nazi bastards!"
Now that hurt! "Not even if they used to live in your barracks?"
His dark eyes suddenly widened with recognition. "You!" he snorted, nostrils flaring. "You’re working for them!"
Newkirk leaned close. "Nyet, tovarish," he whispered, almost seductively, in the general’s ear. The American’s jaw dropped, and he began gasping like a gaffed fish, reddening from his ears to his collar. Eyes bulging, he leapt at the Englishman, his surprisingly strong hands closing around the corporal’s throat.
They tumbled to the ground, struggling in the dust. Blood roared in Newkirk’s ears. Somewhere miles away, Gerta was shouting for the guards. An alarm started to blare, echoed by the frenzied barking of dogs. The ground thundered as booted soldiers rushed towards them, running into a wall of prisoners who obviously wanted their senior officer to finish giving it good to that SS Schweinhund. And giving it good he was--bright flak-bursts exploded behind Newkirk’s eyes as Tulley punched him. Then the officer was dragged away through the fighting prisoners and Newkirk just managed to scurry clear of being trampled.
Gerta was suddenly at his arm, gently helping him to his feet. Newkirk made a cursory effort to beat the dust off his uniform, then just gave it up as a lost cause. He grinned at Gerta’s puzzled expression. Except for the shiner he would most likely have in the morning, his plan, his plan, had worked! Any adjutant who considered himself worth his salt--namely Kircher--would never let the Gestapo see his prisoners mutineering; Wunhessen and company would be ferried out post-haste and Newkirk would be free to escape. If only poor old General Tulley had known Newkirk had just used up his entire Russian vocabulary! Alexei would have enjoyed the joke.
Newkirk managed to keep his face straight and his back stiff as he stood next to Gerta, but she wasn’t even looking at him--the secretary stared back over his shoulder at the full-blown riot. The eager shouts of battling soldiers filled the air as more prisoners flooded out of the buildings to join the melee. Camp guards waded in, fists bared, decking friend and foe alike. The men in the towers had their machine guns trained on the crowd, but didn’t fire for fear of hitting their comrades. Fists banged against helmets and rifle butts cracked against bodies as the guards struggled to bring order to the camp.
"What did you say to that man?"
"Oh, nothing," Newkirk said airily, watching the guards wheel out the firehose. "I believe he has just realised he was fighting on the wrong side."
Gerta blinked distractedly, then suddenly smiled at him. "Well, let’s go get you cleaned up--you can’t dine with the Kommandant looking like that!"
"I am rather a mess, aren’t I?" Newkirk grinned. Despite the dogs and the firehose, the prisoners looked to be winning--it was a good time for all men in German uniform to leave.
Gerta touched his face--suddenly he forgot all about the riot. Her fingers were warm and soft and smelled faintly of cinnamon. "And your eye! Did he do that to you?"
"It is nothing."
"It is also turning blue! Let’s find something to stop the swelling--come with me!"
Newkirk clicked his heels, saluting with a grin. "Jawohl, Frau Doktor!" He was rewarded with a smile that turned his knees to butter. I’d follow her to Berlin if she asked me! Retrieving his crushed and filthy cap, he set it primly on his head and fell in.
* * *
"This is humiliating!--me cooking for a lousy Bosche!" LeBeau stood on a stepladder in Klink’s cramped kitchen, stirring his Hasenpfeffer in a stewpot big enough for the diminutive Frenchman to curl up in.
"LeBeau!--Hilda’s in there too!" Carter scolded, backing open the swinging kitchen door. He set Klink’s silver serving platter on the counter and began to refill it with hors d’oeuvres. "Is that any way to talk about a lady?"
"A Bosche is a Bosche!"
"I don’t like it any better than you do, LeBeau!" Hogan snarled, pulling the white servant’s jacket over his khaki shirt. "It’s just until Peter gets back--if Klink’s in a good mood, I can talk him out of shooting his trophy Englishman."
Kinchloe entered, carrying the pot he had taken to the Unteroffiziers Mess a short while ago. It was completely empty. "The way Schultz eats," he chuckled upon hearing Hogan, "Germany’ll run out of rabbits first!"
Carter grinned. "It gives the guards something to do other than watch us! I dunno about you guys, but I don’t like being stared at all the time--makes me kinda nervous, edgy."
Hogan glared down his nose at his senior sergeant. "Carter?"
"Do me a favour--don’t put together any bombs when I’m around; I’ll send you a telegram from Luxembourg!"
Kinchloe was busily ladling Hasenpfeffer into his kettle. "Any word from Peter yet?"
"No," Hogan sighed. "We know he escaped, but nothing else."
"Oui. It is like he fell off the edge of the Earth!"
The officer nodded. "And the Underground’s keeping things quiet while they coordinate a massive strike on our list of targets. It’s set to go down tonight at 2100. After that, we might get a message, which is why you, Kinch, are going to disappear right after you finish feeding the monkeys running this zoo."
"You mean the bottomless pit, don’t you Colonel?"
"Colonel Hogan!" Klink sang from the dining room. "Fräulein Hilda and I are getting thirsty!"
Carter snorted. "At least someone’s happy!"
Hogan grimaced. "Excuse me, gentlemen--the Master calls." Gathering up his tray with champagne bottle and glasses, he backed out of the tiny kitchen.
The black staff sergeant hefted his pot towards the door. "Wherever Peter is," he sighed, "I just hope he’s not caught in the middle of anything nasty."
* * *
Peter Newkirk set down his brightly polished silver fork and neatly dabbed the corners of his mouth with a snow-white linen napkin. "An excellent dinner, Herr Kommandant! I cannot remember the last time I have eaten so well--or so much!"
Schussen smiled and toasted him over the bouquet of fresh roses. "Did I not tell you there is some life to be had in Germany yet, even in these grim, dark days of war?"
"Indeed, Herr Kommandant," Kircher broke in. "But of course every man...and woman," he nodded to Gerta, who nodded back, "must do their part to help win this war!"
"I see you are very passionate on the subject," Newkirk commented. The scorn in his voice was lost on the adjutant, though, who took it as further encouragement to expound upon his views on astrology and the Nazi doctrine he had been vociferously espousing all night. If the Englishman hadn’t had such an iron stomach from two years of prison-camp food, he might have lost his appetite.
As Kircher began another round of self-congratulations for that afternoon’s ‘pleasant diversion’, Newkirk managed to excuse himself on the pretence of some sort of mysterious SS business. He was in luck--a courtesy telephone occupied a small table in the back hallway of the restaurant. Who should I ring? Getting in touch with the Underground’s more a matter of ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you’. I guess I’m on my own, then. So...get captured again? But how do I avoid getting shuttled back to Stalag 17? If I tip Klink off that I’m in Munich, the Gestapo will most likely hear about it and get interested--and Gestapo means Wunhessen. Perhaps--
He didn’t have a chance to finish that thought--suddenly, there was a knife pressed against his ribs.
"Turn around slowly, and keep your hands up!" a sharp voice hissed in his ear. He did as ordered, swallowing nervously, certain the Gestapo had found him. He wasn’t prepared to see Gerta holding the dagger.
"What the bloody ‘ell you tryin’ to do?" he stammered in English, forgetting himself for a moment.
Gerta hesitated, her eyes narrowing suspiciously. "What are you, really?" she demanded in the same tongue, though accented. "Gestapo? Schutzstaffel? Special Operations? Talk fast!"
Newkirk took a deep breath. His instincts hinted perhaps she was trying to kill him because she thought he was a Nazi. You’d better be right this time, Peter old chap, else it’s all over--not just for you, but for Colonel Hogan and all the rest. "Royal Air Force," he said at last, noting the surprise in her eyes--lovely brown eyes, too. "I’m part of an Allied intelligence group operating within Germany."
The blade wavered, but, to his relief, didn’t move any closer. "And how do I know you’re telling the truth? You could be faking that accent!"
Newkirk stiffened. "Madam," he replied, with as much dignity as he could muster wearing a Nazi uniform, "I don’t know anyone that can fake Cockney!"
Gerta blinked, then slid the knife back into the sheath hidden in her skirt. "You really are English!"
"Well, I’m glad we got that cleared up. And since you ‘aven’t killed me yet, I assume you’re not working for the ‘glorious Reich’ either?"
"No," she growled defiantly, "I am with the Underground. I want the Nazis out of my country as badly as you do." She gazed up into his face. "You must be the one who escaped with the Frenchman!"
"Actually, he was Russian."
She glanced at him. "Yes, of course," she said flatly. Another test. "I clipped the wire, but was nearly discovered by a patrol and had to abort. We thought perhaps you might get recaptured and I could attempt contact again." She looked him up and down. "I certainly didn’t expect you to come waltzing back into camp in an SS uniform!"
"Well, circumstances presenting themselves... Why did you just try to skewer me?"
She actually blushed. "I am sorry about that. When you said you had official business, I thought you meant me! I thought you had gone to call the Gestapo to come arrest me!"
Newkirk had to chuckle at the irony of it all, which led into an abbreviated edition of his previous encounter with the local Gestapo. "They will be looking for me, you know. If you don’t mind, I’d like to hie myself yonder before me luck runs out."
Gerta nodded sympathetically. "Agreed. But we can’t get you out of Munich until after 2100."
"What happens then?"
She smiled mysteriously. "You’ll find out soon enough, but first, you have to do something for me..."
Sudden hope tied Newkirk’s stomach in knots. "Just name it!"
She bent closer, bringing her mouth to his ear. Her wonderful scent wafted over him and Newkirk, a connoisseur of such things, inhaled deeply. Her lips parted slightly as she breathed one word into his ear.
Startled, the Englishman pulled away. "What?!"
"Kircher," she repeated. "I want you to get rid of him for me. The major is apparently immune to me--I need someone I can manipulate, a fool who will betray his country for love."
Newkirk’s brows furrowed. "...Which was why you wanted me!" he spat.
Her eyes widened. "No!" she cried. "No, it was not like that at all!"
"Very patriotic, you German birds," the Englishman snarled. "So sincere...even when you’re lying!"
"Please, give me a moment to explain--!"
"Don’t you worry, lass," Newkirk interrupted viciously. "I’ll get rid of Kircher. In exchange, you get me out. A business relationship, verstehen Sie?"
Gerta sighed. "All right, Engländer. Business."
Together, they returned to the table. Newkirk pulled Gerta’s chair out for her, but it was only cold formality in the gesture. Peter, you romantic idiot, how could you have let yourself fall into her trap? You of all people should know the normal rules don’t apply in wartime; do whatever you have to to survive and damn the torpedoes! At least you can still say you’ve never betrayed your country over a woman. It didn’t ease the ache of his broken heart, though.
Kircher was still ranting to anyone who would listen--his date looked bored. Schussen, whose only date was a half-empty wine bottle, hadn’t failed to notice the two of them returning together and toasted them with a knowing smile. Newkirk thought it might have just been his imagination, but he thought Gerta blushed. For some reason, that made him defensive, and he quickly got into a heated but pointless debate with Kircher.
At a quarter ‘til eleven, Schussen interrupted them on the excuse that ‘the ladies were getting tired’. In fact, Schussen looked a little run-down himself, and even Newkirk was yawning. Only Kircher was still wired and ready to argue any topic, even those he knew nothing whatsoever about.
As they got ready to leave, Newkirk pulled Kircher aside, nodding for the others to go on. Gerta efficiently herded them out into the darkened street and the waiting staff car. Newkirk followed a few minutes later, alongside a white-faced Kircher. The adjutant was strangely silent as he got into the car.
Schussen stuck his head out the open door. "Aren’t you coming, Herr Major?"
Newkirk smiled politely. "No, no. I have just remembered a friend of mine I have not seen since childhood lives not far from here. One must take any opportunity presented, nicht wahr?"
"Of course. You will collect your car in the morning?"
"Naturally--the general is expecting me."
"Guten Abend to you then. Driver!"
"Please, colonel, could you wait just a moment?" Gerta said, scrambling out of the car.
Schussen smiled, almost sadly. "Take all the time you need, child."
She led Newkirk a short distance away, standing close to him. No one in the world would have suspected they were anything other than two lovers tarrying about their good-byes.
"Are you leaving us?" she asked.
"I’ve done my job. One way or another, Kircher will be gone within the week."
She smiled and shook her head wonderingly. "And how did you manage that?"
The Englishman grinned broadly. "I told him that he was being considered for a position in the new German government."
Gerta looked dubious. "The new German government?"
"Strange--that is exactly what he said. He insisted he wasn’t worthy of such an honour, but I informed him that his credentials are beyond reproach., and that we will need such men once we get that Bohemian corporal out of the way..."
She laughed. "And when you disappear without explanation..."
"...He will imagine the Gestapo are making their own lists. And an anonymous tip to Major Wunhessen wouldn’t hurt a bit. Either way, he’ll be out of your lovely hair soon enough."
Gerta surprised him with a kiss, long and deep. "Whoever you are," she breathed at last, "thank you, for all you’ve done." He would have told her who he was then and there, but she put a finger to his lips. He was surprised to see tears glittering in her eyes. "Shhh," she whispered. "No names. What’s in a name, after all? Power, for the Gestapo. When we leave, I want you to walk down to the corner and turn left. Three blocks further, you will see a shoeshop with a potted plant in the window. Knock three times quickly, then twice more slowly. They will not like seeing your uniform, but you must tell them that Anna sent you with the bread money. They will find someone to get you out of the city." Then Gerta hugged him tightly for the last time and walked to the car without looking back. Newkirk stared after the hooded taillights for a long time before turning back into the darkness.
* * *
The phone on Klink’s desk shrilled.
"Commandant Klink speaking. Heil Hitler." Hogan, standing next to Kinchloe at the stalag switchboard shook his head and tsk’d at the Kommandant’s half-hearted tone.
"Poor Klink," Hogan smirked. "He’s really losing his beauty sleep over this one."
Kinchloe laughed. "He ought to drink more--might loosen him up."
"I know!" LeBeau chuckled nearby. "We’ve only restocked his wine cellar twice this week. He’s gotta be sick!"
A familiar voice rang tinnily over the bad connection. "Heil Hitler! Zis is Major Falkenhäuser, SS."
"Hey! That’s Peter!" Carter shouted. Hogan motioned for quiet as they all leaned closer.
"Jawohl, Herr Major. I am always happy to help the SS whenever I can. You know, we are only a humble LuftStalag, but..."
"Shut up, Klink!"
Hogan could almost see Klink cringe. "What can I do for you, Herr Major?" he squeaked.
"You have recently lost one of your prisoners, ja?" Klink sat up so fast his spine cracked, making the soldiers grimace. The commandant’s voice grew suddenly defensive.
"How did you know about that?"
"Please!" Newkirk gloated. "Vee are zee SS! Vhy did you not report zis to us?"
"Never mind, Klink! I vill let you off easy zis time--zomeone reported a suspicious-looking man vandering around Hammelburg. Zey said he vas Engländer. I just zot you might like to know, zeeing as how you are zo villing to help us. Auf Wiedersehn! Heil Hitler!" The connection went dead.
"All right, fellas!" Hogan shouted. "To the kitchen! Move out!"
* * *
Several hours later, the floor panels to the ‘Morgue’ slid aside and a familiar form climbed out.
"Hélas!--Peter! Bonjour!" The little Frenchman jumped off the ladder he had set up next to the dead cow hanging from the ceiling. On the floor, Kinchloe and Carter paused in their double-time rabbit-cleaning relay and Hogan, who had been tanning rabbit skins in a bucket, set aside his stick to thump Newkirk on the back. Happy greetings were exchanged all around.
"You’re a sight for sore eyes!" Hogan said, grinning from ear to ear.
The Englishman hooked his thumbs under his lapels. "And look, Ma, no bullet ‘oles!"
"Colonel Hogan convinced Klink that a dead prisoner was just as bad as an escaped one!" LeBeau said.
"Naw," Hogan said, "Sauerkraut just loves happy reunions!"
"Pull up a knife, Pete," Carter said. "We’re making Hasenpfeffer!"
"Again!" Kinchloe added.
"Actually, mates, I can’t stay--I just popped ‘round to say hello. Klink’s got me doin’ seven months in solit’ry."
Hogan grinned. "We’ll see about that when he needs an extra waiter tonight!"
"Somebody might want to go pick up that microfilm before they water the potted plants outside the Hausnerhof."
"I only wish Major Wallace could’ve lived to see those raids last night," Kinchloe sighed.
"Not to mention that Kraut general who got knocked off this morning," LeBeau added. The group fell silent for a moment. Just then, Schultz walked in.
"Schultz!" Hogan scolded. "Didn’t your mother teach you to knock?"
"I was just--" His eyes widened as he spotted Newkirk, who grinned pleasantly.
"Newkirk! What are you doing out of the Cooler?!"
"Aw Schultz, what’s the fun in ‘ide-an-seek if you always know where to find me?"
"Yeah, Schultz," Kinchloe added. " ‘The Magnificent Peter’ is only practising for our magic show!"
"But how did you... Never mind! I do not want to know! You get right back in the Cooler this instant, or I will have to tell the Kommandant!"
"Come on--I ‘aven’t seen the lads in nigh four days! There I was, all alone, wandering through the woods, stealing what I could just to eat, my spirit broken by you cruel, crafty Huns!" Over by the dead cow, LeBeau was playing a violin of air, weeping invisible tears.
Schultz grinned. "Your spirit bro-ken? An Engländer?"
"Yeah," Newkirk said with mock-bitterness. "And believe you me, that ain’t an easy thing for a member of the British Empire to fess up to!"
The sergeant laughed. "All right, Engländer, five minutes!" He shook a pudgy finger at the corporal. "But after that, you better be gone!"
"All right, all right! Slave-driver!"
Still chuckling, Schultz trundled out.
Hogan pretended to wipe tears from his eyes. "Beautiful, Shakespeare!"
"By the way, speaking of Kraut generals--"
"And what else do we ever speak of?"
Carter laughed. "We’re in a rut for sure!"
"--A...friend of mine told me Mangoosta sends his greetings."
Hogan straightened suddenly. "Who?" he asked sharply.
The Heroes stared at him. "That’s all ‘e said ‘Mangoosta’. You know ‘im?"
"No, just of him. Mangoosta--it’s the Russian word for ‘Mongoose’. He’s one of Stalin’s ‘special’ operators. And I don't mean for Kremlin phones! More than that, I can’t tell you--it’s classified ‘Top Secret’--but there’re a lot of people who’d love to shake his hand, me included."
Newkirk laughed. "No wonder he right near died of shame when ‘e told me he’d been captured by drunk Luftwaffe soldiers!"
"Wait, wait!" Carter cried. "I didn’t hear this one!"
"Well you’ll have to hear it later, sergeant," Hogan said. "Newkirk, it’s time for you to get back to the Cooler."
"Bon voyage!" LeBeau called. "See you in a couple of hours!"
"You want any light reading while you’re in there?"
The Englishman thought for a moment. "I suppose I would. Do we ‘ave any maps of Wichita?"
Text and original characters copyright by Vogel Greif
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.