2006 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Best Original Character - Major Audemar Brinkfried
2006 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Best Original Character - Townsend
2006 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Best Portrayal of a Canon Character - Corporal Newkirk
2006 Papa Bear Awards - Second Place
Best Overall Story
2007 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Lifetime Getaway Award
Spying on a Shoestring
Colonel Robert Hogan was about to
lose his temper. His men, gathered around him in the tunnel under Barracks Two
at Stalag 13, could tell by the way he cocked his head, rolled his eyes and
glared at the ceiling, and raised his eyebrows while he listened to Allied
Headquarters on the other end of the radio set. Though he opened his mouth once
or twice as though ready to answer, clearly
Finally, Hogan had his chance. He kept it brief: “I know it’s the third courier plane we’ve asked for in two weeks. But I thought you might actually want the plans for this new rocket before the Germans have a chance to use them!” A short silence, then, “Look, if the information wasn’t so sensitive, I’d be more sympathetic to your budgets. In the meantime, we need a plane, and we need it tonight!” Hogan’s men exchanged looks. “So glad we could be of service!” Hogan said sarcastically. “Papa Bear out.”
He threw the headsets back on the desk, where Sergeant James Kinchloe gathered them up and put them away as he shut down the radio for the night.
“Apparently, we’re costing the war too much,” Hogan said ironically. “They want the information, but they don’t like having to send courier planes to pick it up.”
“Bloody marvelous, that is. We go out and risk our lives for a piece of film, and they’ve got the nerve to say it’s too expensive for them to come and get it.” Newkirk jammed the needle into the sleeve of the black wool jacket then tossed the entire thing back at the clothing rack that stood off to the side. “Fine. Tell them to get their top secrets from some other shop then, and good luck to them I say!”
Hogan shook his head. “It doesn’t work that way, and you know it, Newkirk.”
Louis Le Beau let out a short string of French words that the others had learned to translate but chose not to. “But they have to send us a plane, Colonel. If we send those pictures out by the regular courier, the Boches will have had time to move those new rockets away from the factory, and the Allies will miss their chance to get both the factory and the rockets with one air raid.” The Corporal shook his head. “Now the rockets will get away, and we did all that work for nothing.”
Kinch hesitated before posing his question to Hogan. “I kinda hate to ask this right now, Colonel, but did
Londonsay anything about sending the radio parts for Danzig’s group?” The radioman saw Hogan stiffen and set his jaw. Reluctantly, he continued, “They’re pretty much out of business until they can get their radio up and running again... and we did promise the parts would be here by Friday.”
“I know,” Hogan said shortly. “The plane’s coming tonight. Radio parts aren’t available; they say we’ll have to wait.”
“But, Colonel, without the radio,
Danzig’s group can’t—”
“I’m fully aware of the limitations, Sergeant,” Hogan snapped. He let out a loud breath. “Sorry, Kinch. It’s just we need
Danzigand his men to do some work for us soon, and I hate to be the one to let them down by not having what they need.”
Kinch nodded in understanding.
Sergeant Andrew Carter suddenly burst out of the dark room, looking mournfully at a short, dark tube he had in his hands. “Colonel Hogan? Before you get off the...” He paused as he saw that his commanding officer wasn’t on the radio any more. “Oh, I was hoping you’d ask
to send us a new telephoto lens.” Hogan frowned. “I noticed a funny streak on that last batch of film, and got to wondering how it got there.” Carter walked over to Hogan and turned the item he was holding so that the Colonel could see the glass end of the camera lens. “Someone’s dropped this one too many times, because it’s got a pretty bad crack now. It’s not gonna hurt the kind of pictures we took tonight very much, but if we try to use it for say, pictures of important papers, that could really mess things up a lot.” London
Hogan pinched the bridge of his nose and shook his head. “Kinch, get back on the radio,” he ordered wearily. “We’re going to have to get that lens. We can’t take a chance on compromising any of the stuff we get; we don’t get more than one shot most of the time. Tell them we want it on that courier plane, and they can put it on my bill.”
“While you’re about that, Kinch, get on to them about the makeup and other things I asked for last month. It’s not all that big a list, and I even told them which theatrical shops they could get the stuff from.” Newkirk eyed the radio with disgust. “It’s a bit hard to play Frau Newkirkberger when I haven’t got anything to work with after all.”
“Oui, and ask about the spices I requested as well. If I am to cook for the filthy Boches so that we can get our hands on secret papers, I must be able to do it properly.” Le Beau crossed his arms over his chest and nodded. “Even though I would like to season their food with arsenic instead of allspice.”
Hogan shook his head. “That’ll go
down just dandy,” he predicted. He nodded at Kinch. “Go ahead, Kinch. They’re
both right; we need what we need.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan came up beside Carter in the photo laboratory under the barracks. “How’s the new lens, Carter?”
“Gee, Colonel, I don’t know.” Carter didn’t look up from what he was doing. He had one of the cameras disassembled and was carefully inspecting the parts he had scattered on the work bench. “I guess it’s okay, but it’s not a new lens. I mean, it’s a new lens for us, but it’s not really a new one.”
Hogan shrugged resignedly. “Well, war is a time for frugality, Carter; everyone has to make sacrifices. Will it do the job?”
Carter shook his head. “I’m not
sure, sir. I think we’d be better off if I took the new one apart and used it
to fix the one we already had. Even though it’s been banged around some, our
old one is still in better shape than the one
Hogan shook his head. “Great,” he muttered. “That’s just great. How do you fix a crack?”
“Well, it’s the actual lens itself that’s cracked, so I should be able to swap it out with the new one. I hope.” Carter picked up the old telephoto lens and gave it a doubtful look. “That is, if I don’t mess something up in the process.” Hogan opened his mouth to reassure the Sergeant of his absolute confidence in him, when Carter continued. “You know, Colonel, it’s too bad there isn’t a camera shop in Hammelburg, because we could take the stuff into town and let a real expert do it.” He smiled, then sighed. “But then, I guess a German wouldn’t want to work on an American camera, would he? I mean, he might even call the Gestapo in and they’d start asking all sorts of questions, wouldn’t they?”
Hogan smiled and nodded. “That’s right. Best we leave it to the only expert I trust—you.”
“Gosh, thanks, sir.” Carter beamed at the praise. “I’ll get to work on it right away. You’ll see.”
“I’m sure I will.” Hogan patted
Carter on the shoulder and then moved further down the tunnel to where Newkirk
was working once again on the German uniforms that Hogan’s men had last used on
an outing—they had encountered some interference that they hadn’t expected and
there were some repairs to be made. Hogan watched as the Englishman’s nimble
fingers almost seamlessly brought together the sleeve that had been torn when
Hogan himself had come up against a rather unforgiving tree branch that had
ripped a hole right through it. “Nice work,” he observed. Newkirk nodded his
thanks, still concentrating. “Sorry we can’t get the stuff you asked
“He’s already given me an invitation to drop by any time I can for tea and a chat.”
“Right,” Hogan said with a sudden smile. “Girl talk.”
Newkirk laughed softly and set the last stitch, then knotted it off. “Thing is, I just don’t feel right taking his stuff when we’ve fallen down on what we promised him, if you know what I mean.” The Englishman cut the thread, turned the sleeve right side out and gave his repair work a close examination.
Hogan nodded grimly. “I know exactly what you mean.” Hogan rubbed his
hand over his mouth, frustrated. “Looks like everyone’s disappointing everyone
lately. Carter says the camera lens
Nodding slowly, Newkirk turned the sleeve back out and began separating it from the body of the jacket. “There’s been a lot of that going round of late. Shipments have been either missing things entirely, or we’ve been shorted on what we do get.” He glanced at Hogan, noting the worry lines on the American’s face. “Tell you what, gov’nor: I’ll get a list together and see what I can pick up from town.”
Hogan pursed his lips and nodded. “Thanks, Newkirk.”
Kinch’s approach from further
down the tunnel stopped Hogan from leaving. “
Hogan raised an eyebrow. “And?”
“And they said to tell you thanks for the information we gave to the courier last night.”
“Anything else?” Hogan asked, his voice betraying only a hint of anger. “Like news about radio parts?”
Kinch shook his head. “Sorry, Colonel; nothing. They say we’ll just have to wait a little longer. Then they said we’re an expensive little group to run.”
Newkirk watched as Hogan’s eyes flashed. He could almost physically see the hairs on the Colonel’s neck start to rise. Laying the jacket aside, he reached over and put a hand on Hogan’s shoulder. “Easy there, gov’nor. No point in blowin’ your top over what some pencil pusher’s got to say.”
Hogan appreciated the gesture, but wasn’t ready to accept comfort right now; feeling the anger was a release. He shrugged off Newkirk’s hand. “Yeah, except that some pencil pusher is probably the one responsible for us getting second-hand equipment—or worse, no supplies at all!” He paced the floor for a few seconds, then shook his head, still angry. “I’m going upstairs. I have to figure out how to get this operation running with only half-measures of supplies. Looks like we’ll have to start grouping our missions together—someone remind me to tell the Germans that they’ll have to limit their sensitive plans for us to steal to once a month, would you?” And he was up the ladder and gone.
“Blimey, Kinch. I think we’d better pass the word for everyone to stay clear of the Colonel until he’s had a chance to cool off.” Newkirk shook his head. “Meanwhile, let’s start getting that list together, and maybe we can fill in some of the worst of the shortfalls ourselves. And start that list off with sewing supplies; I didn’t want to mention it in front of the gov’nor with the mood he’s in, but I’m almost out of thread, too.”
“And I need a few new tubes for
our radio,” Kinch admitted. “
“I'll try, mate, but that kind of thing is gonna be very hard to find, if not downright impossible.” Newkirk eyed the sleeve he’d just tried to repair, then tossed it into the scrap fabric basket. “Just about as impossible as finding the right kind of black wool to fix this ruddy uniform for the Colonel.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
the clip from his pistol, checking the load one last time. He tucked the weapon
into his waistband and turned his attention back to the mission briefing. Sounds like a grand time tonight. Sneaking
out to waylay a Nazi Captain so we can kidnap and send him off to
Hogan was recapping his instructions. “Aside from the usual, I don’t want anyone taking any chances. The good Captain is due to be on the Hammelburg road just after ten-thirty. Le Beau, you know what to do.”
“Oui, Colonel,” the Frenchman replied. “His car will not last long out on the road tonight.”
Hogan nodded. “Good. Kinch—” Hogan turned to the radioman, knowing how pleased the Sergeant was to have a chance to go out. Hogan regretted not being able to send Kinch out more often, but a black man in Nazi Germany stood out a mile. “Kinch, your job is security. Dietrich goes nowhere without an escort, preferably one of you.”
Kinch nodded, a sly smile on his face. “Right, Colonel.”
Hogan took a long look at his Englishman. He always trusted Newkirk on a mission. But for some reason he always worried about him almost more than the others. His willingness to do whatever the job took was admirable. But Hogan always hoped that the impulsiveness that went with it was kept in check long enough for the Corporal to get back to camp unharmed. It was a fascinating mix, and one that Hogan was happy to have under his command, but when he wasn’t along with Newkirk himself, he always felt the need to caution the Corporal strongly.
“No chances. Just make sure you and everyone else come back here alive.”
Newkirk gave Hogan a look of pure innocence. “Take chances? Me? You must have me confused with someone else, gov’nor.” He caught the look in the Colonel’s eyes, and nodded slightly. “Don’t worry, sir. I’ll bring everyone home safe.”
“Good. Now get moving.” Hogan brought up the rear as the group headed down the ladder and down to the tunnel below the barracks. “And don’t be late, or I’ll have to come after you—and you know if I have to drag you back here, you’re grounded for a month!”
A Live Wire
Hogan turned away from their prisoner, wincing at the incessant noise. “Someone shut that guy up, will you?” he ordered, only half-kidding.
Newkirk eyed the German officer, whom they had had to practically drag back through the woods and down into the tunnel under the camp. Dietrich had not been particularly difficult to capture—he was just difficult to sedate. The man had not stopped struggling or shouting since he was taken. At one point, the group was so close to being given away that Kinch had shoved a gag in Dietrich’s mouth. Now, Newkirk was tempted to do it again just to give them all a few minutes’ peace.
“’E sounds like
the screeching cat that used to live next door to me in
“We’ve gotta get this live wire out of here, and fast,” Hogan said, nodding. “We can’t keep him tied up down here for a week while the Underground figure out a way to get him out; the Krauts will break up the operation in no time with the racket he’s making. We’re going to need another plane.” Hogan turned back to Dietrich and moved in close. “You got that, Fritz? We’re gonna give you a nice ride across the Channel so you can tell us everything General von Hildebrand was doing with that nice new laboratory he’s been spending so much time at.”
Dietrich’s eyes blazed, and before anyone could predict it, he spat venomously at Hogan, hitting the Colonel square on the cheek. Hogan raised an arm instinctively to protect himself and turned away. Then he wiped his face with the back of his hand and glared at the German. “Gag him,” he growled at no one in particular.
Newkirk’s green eyes burned with fury at the insult to Hogan. He was next to Dietrich in an instant, his hand already coming up to strike the German. Catching himself at the last second, he leaned over and snarled into the captive man’s ear. “Be very glad that we don’t treat our prisoners the way you lot do.” The Englishman grabbed the rolled kerchief they’d used as a gag and shoved it into Dietrich’s mouth before anything else could happen.
Le Beau handed Hogan another kerchief to wipe his hands and face. “Boche. Cochon. Serpent…”
“Steady, Le Beau,” Hogan said, brushing
the cloth roughly against his face, then shoving it in his pocket. “Well, it’s
a cinch he’s not going to give up any family secrets soon.” Once again showing
a calm exterior, Hogan turned back to Dietrich and looked him in the eye. The
now-quiet German was watching Hogan intently, his eyes moving with the
American, his hatred searing into Hogan, even in the dim light of the tunnel.
“I’m afraid it was your love of the drink that was your downfall,” Hogan said
to the man. “Your pattern of hitting the Hofbrau
most nights meant we could track you down quite nicely. You’ll be on the wagon
once you’re in
move as Dietrich struggled against the ropes keeping his arms tight behind his
back. Again the Colonel turned to Kinch. “
Kinch nodded, his own anger still bubbling at the German’s actions. “You bet, Colonel,” he agreed, heading toward the radio.
Hogan made to follow. “Budget be damned,” he said, aiming a small grin at Le Beau and Newkirk, who were still standing by the prisoner. “Let them get this guy out of our hair… before they have to fork out more money for earplugs.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Le Beau sat at the table, writing a letter while taking his turn at guard duty. It was never a pleasant task, but with this particular prisoner, it was especially unpleasant. Captain Dietrich had been easy enough to capture; a quick snatch outside the Hofbrau and it was done. Grabbing him was one thing; keeping him looks like it might be another. He’s done nothing but fight ever since. I can’t wait to get him out of here.
The Frenchman pushed the paper away from him, distracted for the fourth time by the angry muffled mumblings coming from the German a few feet away. He turned toward the prisoner and shot him an angry look. “Why don’t you just be quiet?” he sneered. “You have nothing to be angry with us about; if your precious Boche General did not entrust so much information to you and then make himself inaccessible, we would not have had to get you instead. Now you can share that information with the Allies, and we can get rid of you once and for all. You are nothing but trouble.”
“Take it easy, Louis.” Carter looked up from his game of cat’s cradle and smiled. “We’ll get this guy out of here soon enough, and things will get back to normal.” The American paused for a moment, then laughed. “At least as normal as they ever are, anyway. Because this has to be the most unusual place I’ve ever been.” Carter stopped for a moment and then said, “Well, not the most unusual. The most unusual place was probably an old cave my uncle took me to when I was about four years old. You see, it had all these little drawings in it, kind of like a caveman would have made, but it wasn’t old enough to be a caveman’s stuff. Plus I was sure that cavemen didn’t have airplanes. At least I didn’t think they did—you know, when I was four I wasn’t sure about the timing of any of this stuff—”
“Cavemen and airplanes? I’ve never heard of such a thing as that.” Le Beau rolled his eyes. “Are you sure you didn’t knock yourself in the head in that cave?”
“Gee, I was just a kid!” Carter protested. “What did I know?” Carter turned fully toward Le Beau and away from Dietrich, who had finally quieted down. “I’ll bet when you were four years old, you didn’t know everything about the world, either!”
“Perhaps not,” Le Beau conceded, looking back to the desk and shaking his head defiantly. “But at least I knew that cavemen could not fly airplanes!”
A sudden noise from behind made Carter bring his attention to their prisoner—or at least, he thought it did. When he looked to where the German had been put—tied with his arms behind him, in a hard chair near the tunnel wall—what he saw instead was an empty chair. “Hey!” he called, surprised.
Carter spun around to try and find Dietrich, but without warning found himself with being pulled from behind, with a rope digging into his neck. Carter gagged. “Louis!” he choked.
Le Beau gasped when he saw what was happening. Dietrich had worked loose his ropes and was now using Carter as a way to get out. The young Sergeant was red in the face, pursing his lips and trying to move along with the German’s pull so he didn’t feel so much pressure on his throat, and his worried eyes were locked on Le Beau, pleading. “Colonel Hogan!” Le Beau called as loudly as possible, tugging quickly on the rope that set off a distress alert upstairs. “Colonel Hogan!”
From up at the common room table where he was sipping a cup of coffee, Hogan heard the cry and, alarmed, raced to the bunk that hid the tunnel. He tripped the latch, putting out a hand for Kinch and Newkirk, who had immediately jumped up to follow, to stop them from coming with him in case there was trouble, and hopped down to the earth below.
What he saw startled him. Dietrich was standing behind Carter, pulling him toward the ladder by the rope. Carter was trying to move along with him, his hands up on the rope, trying to ease the pressure on his neck. Le Beau was standing shocked near the base of the ladder, where he had called for help, knowing he could not overpower the larger Dietrich.
Hogan absorbed the scene in seconds and took immediate action. With one swift move he came up beside Dietrich, who had been taken by surprise when Hogan dropped from above, and placed him in a stranglehold, forcing the German to loosen his grip on the rope he had pressed against Carter. Carter took the opportunity to twist himself around and slip out from under the rope, which he then snatched and kept away from the man’s hands. “Gimme a hand!” Hogan managed as Dietrich struggled, thrashing and trying to get in a few well-aimed kicks to free himself from the Colonel’s iron grip.
Suddenly Newkirk and Kinch came down from the barracks. Hogan gasped and doubled over as one of Dietrich’s elbows met its target in his gut, and he momentarily lost his hold. Newkirk pulled up beside the Colonel and grabbed Dietrich roughly by the arm, with Kinch grasping the German’s other side. The two jerked the man’s arms behind his back, and Hogan took the rope and tied it tight around his wrists. Newkirk and Kinch stayed holding Dietrich, like sentries on guard. Catching his breath, Hogan reached down to pick up his crush cap, which had come off in the scuffle, and said breathlessly, “What happened? Carter, are you all right?”
Carter, still rubbing his neck, had watched Hogan and the others come in to subdue Dietrich with something akin to awe. In the few months he’d been with Hogan’s group, he had seen some pretty amazing things, and almost all of them with very little violence. Hogan’s style was brains over brawn, manipulation over manhandling. But when push came to shove, the Sergeant could see now that Hogan was just as much a man of action, able—and willing—to put himself in the middle of things. And the men who worked with him were just the same. It made the young man feel almost unworthy of being part Hogan’s operation; he wasn’t the physically aggressive type. “Yeah, Colonel, I’m fine,” he said.
“We were talking and the Boche must have loosened his ropes, Colonel,” Le Beau replied, coming up to make sure for himself Carter was unhurt.
his abdomen tenderly and threw a contemptuous look at Dietrich. “Tie up his
hands and his feet, and get a couple
more people down here. We’re going to have to keep a closer eye on this one,”
he said irritably. “And make sure there are no weapons nearby,” he added. “We
can’t take any chances.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Short-tempered from a lack of sleep and concerns about Dietrich waiting in the tunnel, Hogan presented himself when ordered to Wilhelm Klink’s office later that day. “You wanted to see me, Kommandant?” he asked, not really interested in what the German officer had to say.
Colonel Klink tidied some papers on his desk, then looked up at his senior Prisoner of War officer. “Yes, Colonel Hogan. Sit down.” He waved the American to a chair, then eyed him for a moment before continuing. “I want a work detail, about twenty men, to clean up and do some repairs around the camp. Go see Corporal Langenscheidt to get the necessary tools and supplies.”
Any pretense of good humor Hogan had immediately disappeared. “You’re kidding,” he said.
“No, Hogan, I am not kidding. The work needs to be done, and besides, the repairs would be for the benefit of the prisoners.” Klink shook his head. “Why is this such a problem for you?”
Hogan raised an eyebrow and held a bit tighter to his crush cap. “I think the three details you got them to do last week were more than enough, sir,” Hogan answered. “Plus I can’t see how repairing the fence is going to help my men—especially since we’re the ones who cut them open in the first place!” And what about everything else I have to do today? Like babysitting the nasty little Kraut boy downstairs?
“Colonel Hogan.” Klink set his fists on the desk and stood. “All I have asked for is a work detail to do some repairs to some of the buildings; nothing has been said about working on the wire. I had it in mind to have the roof repaired on Barracks Twelve during this particular project.” The Kommandant walked away from his desk and circled behind Hogan to look out the office window. “But if that does not interest you, then I suppose the roof will have to continue to leak.”
Hogan grimaced. He’d been complaining about the leaky roof for three weeks, ever since the last rain storm had demonstrated how well it could be used as a strainer instead of a shelter. If he resisted now, any future requests for the welfare of his men might get brushed off. He swallowed his anger. “That’s different,” Hogan said with forced civility. “Of course my men will help get that done. When do they start?”
“Today, naturally.” Klink walked back behind his desk and sat down. “I also want the trash picked up throughout the entire camp, and there are some odd repairs and paint work that need to be done as well.” The German picked up a sheet of paper and handed it to Hogan. “There’s the list; see that your men get started right away.”
Hogan took the paper with a sigh and glanced at the writing on it. “I’m not sure we’ll get to all this today, Kommandant,” Hogan said.
“Why not?” Klink asked. “It’s not like the prisoners have anything else to do.” He laughed lightly at his own little joke.
join in the levity. The amount of work Klink was asking the men to do would
keep Hogan away from the barracks all day, and he didn’t have the time to
spare, not with Dietrich occupying his thoughts and an impending argument with
“Really? And what might that be?”
“Well, Le Beau’s teaching some of the men new ways to cook Spam, and Newkirk is holding a handicrafts class later on, after Carter is finished.”
“Finished? With what?”
“With the new escape plan he’s thinking up—everyone’s in on it. He figures that all we need is another pound of butter and we can squeeze right through the gap in the fence near Barracks Ten—oops,” Hogan said, snapping his fingers and wincing. “Didn’t mean to give that away.”
“Hogannnnn,” Klink seethed, knowing that the American was once again making a mockery of the Kommandant’s perfect no-escape record. “You have your orders; dismissed!”
“But Kommandant, there’s a lot more on this list than just things that will benefit my men—”
Klink’s hand came down on his desk with a loud thump. “Colonel Hogan. It would be as easy to remove the projects that will benefit the prisoners as it was to add them. Now, I suggest that you gather your men and get started before I make out a new, and much shorter, list.” The Kommandant opened a desk drawer, took out a clean sheet of paper and picked up a pen. He paused and gave Hogan a long look. “Well, which shall it be?”
Hogan stood up abruptly, humiliation stinging behind his eyes as he knew he had no choice now but to back down or risk putting things the prisoners needed in jeopardy. And no matter what he had brewing on his own, the needs of the men who looked up to him in camp as senior POW officer came first. He took in and let out a deep breath. “You know, people like you give the war a bad name.”
“I am not here to make friends with the prisoners, Hogan.”
“Then you’re doing a great job.” And Hogan turned and stormed out of the room.
At Odds with the Brass
Kinch took off
the headsets and resisted the urge to throw them on the radio desk. He looked
around the tunnel, grateful for the silence that reigned since Dietrich’s
It was only a
few minutes later that Hogan was climbing down the rungs. He came and stood
beside Kinch, his face reflecting concern. “What’s up, Kinch? Didn’t our
friendly Kraut get to
“Oh yeah, he got there all right! Kicking and screaming all the way, from what they’re saying, and they want to know why we got him so riled up that they can’t even get as much as his name from him so far!” Kinch frowned as he spoke, remembering all the trouble they’d had with the man.
“If that’s all they want to know, tell them his name is Captain Dietrich and he’s in serious need of a kick in the can and some intensive lessons from Emily Post!” Hogan shook his head and turned to head back upstairs. “I don’t have time for this, Kinch—tell them he’s all theirs now. We’ve done our part. We know what kind of information is in his head; it’s up to them to get it out.”
“Hang on a
minute, Colonel.” Kinch stood up. “
Hogan raised an
eyebrow. “Alone?” Kinch nodded. Hogan took the offered headsets and let out a
loud breath. “Okay, Kinch. I won’t be long. It can’t take more than a couple of
minutes to explain to
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Le Beau, get away from that tunnel.”
“I was just trying to make the bed!”
“While it’s up
in the air?” Kinch shook his head. “For a spy, you’re a really bad liar,” he
said. “You know the Colonel will have your head if he catches you listening in
on his private conversation.
Le Beau shrugged and moved back toward the table of the common room. “C’est la guerre.” He glanced over at Carter, who was still sitting, moping, on his bunk. He frowned. “Carter? Some coffee?” he offered, gesturing toward the stove.
“Huh?” Carter looked up on hearing his name, then nodded when he figured out what had been said to him. “Yeah, thanks, Le Beau.” He stood and picked up the tin cup he’d been using since being assigned to the barracks and headed for the coffee pot.
“I will get it,” Le Beau said hastily, taking the cup from the Sergeant’s hands.
“You all right, Carter?” Kinch asked.
Carter shrugged. “I guess so,” he said. He looked at the others guiltily. “I was just thinking about what happened with that guy Dietrich downstairs yesterday. You know, how he got out of his ropes and I didn’t even notice!”
Le Beau crinkled his face up, angrily thinking of the German who had caused so much trouble. “Don’t feel bad, Carter; I did not notice either.”
“But what would have happened if Colonel Hogan hadn’t come downstairs when he did?” Carter looked over at Kinch. “And the way you and Newkirk appeared out of nowhere and jumped right in like that...” He shook his head as he went back to his bunk. “I should have done something like that too, but I was scared and I didn’t know what to do.”
“Look, Carter, don’t worry about it,” Kinch suggested softly. “We all get surprised once in awhile. You don’t have nearly the experience that the Colonel’s got with crafty Germans. It just takes time. You were the one with the rope around your neck—you didn’t have as many options as we did.”
“Yeah, but after that, after the Colonel got me loose, all I could do was stand there and watch.” Carter swallowed hard and rubbed his neck as he remembered the feeling of the rope cutting off his air. “Maybe I don’t belong here after all if I’m gonna freeze up like that the first time something really bad happens. I mean, I’ll work on the cameras and stuff like that for you guys, but I think you should tell Colonel Hogan to find someone better than me if he’s planning anything outside the wire.”
Kinch smiled softly and shook his head. “You don’t understand the Colonel, Carter. If he’s picked you, then you’re made of the right stuff. He doesn’t make mistakes about things like that. He saw all the makings of a good saboteur in you—so you are one. There’s no mistake about that. Besides, we all froze up the first time—Colonel Hogan expects that. It means you’ve gotten that first fright out of your system and you won’t let it stop you again.”
Newkirk came into the barracks, his undershirt and pants covered in sweat and dust, but with a grin on his face. “Too bad you missed the football game, mates. You’d have seen me score three times in a row!” He looked around, his grin fading as he noted the quiet and the solemn expressions on everyone in the room. “Hang on, what’s everyone looking so glum about?”
Le Beau took a seat at the table after filling his own cup from the coffee pot. “Carter is worried that we won’t want him around after what happened with Dietrich.”
“I’ve never heard such a load of rubbish in my life.” Newkirk pulled the bench away from the table and took a seat in front of Carter. He leaned forward, catching the young American’s eyes with his own. “Now look here, Andrew, as long as Colonel Hogan says you’re on the team, you’re on the team, right? Has the gov’nor said anything to you about it?” When Carter shook his head, Newkirk went on. “There you go then. I tell you what, mate, next time we go out to do a job, you just stick close to me, and I’ll see that you get along.”
Carter grinned. “Thanks, Newkirk.”
He was about to continue when a voice floated up to them from the tunnel below. “…I didn’t promise you nice Nazis; I promised you valuable Nazis!” Hogan’s voice was sharp, and annoyed.
“Uh-oh,” Kinch said in a low voice.
“Look, we already told you what Dietrich’s been exposed to. He has the information you want. Since when are we supposed to be his interrogators, too?”
“What’s that all about, Kinch?” Newkirk joined the others in giving the tunnel entrance a worried look. “He sounds pretty steamed.”
“Our friend Dietrich’s not being very cooperative now that he’s a guest of the Allies. Headquarters asked to talk to the Colonel alone. I guess they’re raking him over the coals for it.”
Newkirk frowned and started for the tunnel. “What do they think they’re playing at? They wanted information about the work going on in that lab. We got someone who has it, and now they’re not happy just because he’s proving to be a bit of a tough nut to crack? Reckon I’ll have to go give them a piece of my mind.”
Kinch stood and quickly put a
restraining hand on Newkirk’s arm. “Hold it, Newkirk. The Colonel’s supposed to
be talking to
After a long pause, Newkirk took
a breath and nodded. “You’re right, Kinch. The gov’nor can handle it on his own. It just burns me that
Kinch shrugged. “I don’t think they really quite understand what it is we do here,” he said.
“Oui,” Le Beau agreed. “They just take whatever we have to offer, without so much as a merci bien. They do not notice the danger we put ourselves in to do what we do.”
“No, I don’t want to come over there and do it myself; I’m having way too much fun living here with the rats and the lice!” One more outburst from Hogan. Carter grimaced and moved away from the opening. A long silence from below and upstairs. Then, in a much more subdued voice, Hogan was heard to say, “Yes, sir. I understand.”
Kinch sat back at the table and shook his head. Hogan had clearly been put in his place. “Damn.”
“I can’t listen to any more of this.” Newkirk went to the footlocker he shared with Carter and got out a towel and his only change of clothes. “I’m off to the showers.” He gave the tunnel entrance a final glare and stalked out the barracks door.
The others listened in silence for anything else coming up from the tunnel, but there was nothing. A few minutes later, Hogan emerged from the tunnel, his face flushed on the surface from emotion but clearly pale underneath, and, looking at no one, he said, “I’m done down there, Kinch,” and went into his office and shut the door.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“I need two of you to go out tonight and bring back a visitor.”
Hogan faced his men an hour
later, composed and outwardly calm. Though the group had clearly heard Hogan’s
anger from the tunnel when he was speaking with
“A visitor? What do we need with a visitor, Colonel?” Le Beau crossed his arms over his chest and frowned.
“We don’t,” Hogan answered. “But
Carter got a puzzled look on his face, and asked, “What’s a Group Captain, sir?”
“That would be one of my lot, mate.” Newkirk smiled as he answered. “He holds the same rank as a Colonel does in your Air Corps.” The smile remained on his face for Carter’s benefit, even as his eyes rested on Hogan, giving the American officer a thoughtful look.
“That’s right,” Hogan replied, meeting Newkirk’s gaze with a direct look. “And that means that you’ll have to treat him with respect—even if he is here to spy on us.”
“Spy on us?” Kinch echoed.
Hogan shrugged. “An argument over money and suddenly we’ve got a guest from Headquarters. Evil accountants are everywhere, even in the middle of a war.”
Newkirk’s eyes narrowed, but he kept his silence as the others started voicing their protests at having someone coming in to check up on them and the operation. Even Kinch had something to say, but he cut himself off mid-word when the radio crackled to life. Taking the few steps to the radio desk, Kinch pulled the headsets on and grabbed his clipboard. After he tapped out an acknowledgement, his pencil flew across the paper as he turned the beeps and clicks coming over the air into readable words. He took down the last bit of the transmission, sent back a quick response and turned his attention to translating the code into English.
“Colonel, we just got word from
Sparrow. There’s a special trainload of ammunition being sent toward
Hogan pursed his lips and nodded. “Special?” he repeated. He let a deep breath in and out, then said, “Yeah, Kinch, tell him of course we can. Get the details.”
Kinch turned back to the radio.
Le Beau smiled broadly. “Merci, mon Colonel.”
“Not that I mind helpin’ me little mate here get a few licks in for France, but if two of us go after this Group Captain, that’s only gonna leave three of us for the train job. Begging the Colonel’s pardon, but only three of us to set those charges is gonna make it a bit sticky.” Newkirk shook his head, clearly not thrilled with the idea.
Hogan arched an eyebrow. “And
your point is?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “We don’t have any choice. We
can’t tell this Group Captain Townsend not to come, and we can’t let that train
“But Colonel! Why can I not go and help with the train, and let Newkirk go meet this visitor? They’re both English after all, and I want to blow up the ammunition myself so that the filthy Boche cannot use it against la belle France!” Le Beau gave Hogan a pleading look.
Hogan smiled wanly. “I know how
much you love your country, Louis, but that’s exactly why I want you to go get
Townsend. Look how excited you are now, and we’re still in camp. You need to be
able to detach from this one. We’ll look after
“Oui, mon Colonel. D’accord.
I do not like it, but I will do as you say.” Le Beau turned to Carter and put
his hand on the Sergeant’s shoulder. “Can you use enough explosives to make a
fireball so big that those traitors in
“You betcha, boy!” Carter’s face lit up like a kid’s on Christmas morning. “Why, I can put out so much dynamite that the Germans will have to build a bridge to get over the crater this explosion’s gonna leave!”
“Which you can then help blow up!” Hogan responded. The others smiled. Hogan grew serious. “We’ll do it, Louis. We’ll make it good.” He sighed. “Meanwhile, I’ve got a lot to do before Townsend makes his appearance here. I’ll be in my office.” And without further discussion, he headed back upstairs to the privacy of his room.
“I’d like to tell
“Yeah; why do we need someone snooping around to see what we’re doing and how we’re doing it? Colonel Hogan’s got it all under control,” Carter agreed.
“Perhaps they think we are using too many pencils when we write our notes to the Underground, and they would like us to use invisible ink,” Le Beau sneered.
“Can’t be that. Invisible ink’s more expensive than the real stuff.” Newkirk paused, then gave Le Beau a smirk. “I’ve got it! They’re gonna tell us we have to start sending messages by carrier pigeon because it’s costing the war too much to send them by radio.”
“Just as well,” Kinch put in. “But I hope they sent the birds with Townsend, because if we don’t get tubes soon we’re going to have to start using them pretty quick.”
“What did the gov’nor say when you gave him our list?”
Kinch shook his head. “He read it, nodded, put it in his pocket… and said your thread’s probably the only thing they’ll okay out of the bunch, because it’s cheap.” He sighed. “I don’t like this whole thing. Sending Townsend’s just a way to humiliate the Colonel. But it looks like we’re stuck whether we want this guy or not, and Colonel Hogan’s going to have to make nice, because he’s of equal rank.”
“That may be, Kinch. But at least I don’t have to sit down to tea with him.” Newkirk leaned against one of the tunnel support posts and shook his head. “I haven’t got much time for ruddy officers, no matter whose side they’re on, and I don’t see this Group Captain as being any different.”
“Well, I’ve got plenty of time for Colonel Hogan,” Kinch countered, frowning. “And I don’t think I like this officer coming in and snooping around like he doesn’t trust him.”
Newkirk turned to Kinch, surprised by the tone of the radio man’s voice. “Hang on, mate. It’s officers in general that I’ve got no use for, not Colonel Hogan in particular. He may be a bloody officer, but at least he’s shown himself willing to get his hands dirty like the rest of us more ordinary chaps.”
“Colonel Hogan has done more for this operation single-handedly than we could ever do together,” Le Beau said sharply. “He deserves his rank and any privileges that go with it.”
“Hey, save it for the Krauts, will ya?” Carter said suddenly. The others turned to him in surprise. Carter gulped at the attention but persisted. “None of us is thrilled with officers, but we all know Colonel Hogan’s different. And there isn’t one of us that wouldn’t back him up no matter what the cost.”
There was a long silence. Carter shifted feet and looked uncomfortably at the floor. It was Kinch who broke the stillness. “You said it, Carter. There’s no question of anyone’s loyalties, including yours, Peter. I guess we’re all just a bit sensitive about this guy coming out. Feels like he’s here looking for problems. I don’t know about you fellas, but it makes me nervous—and angry.”
Newkirk nodded after a few
moments. “You’re right, Carter. You all
are. The Colonel’s all right, really, even though he can get a bit hard-headed
at times.” The Englishman smiled. “And I have to agree with Kinch: the timing
on this Group Captain’s visit, coming right after we’ve kicked up a fuss about
not gettin’ our supplies, well, it’s just a bit too convenient if you ask me.
That, and the fact that they can afford to send us another officer that we
don’t need, but can’t afford to send the radio parts we do,” he shook his head in disgust. “Tells me that
Tells me they might not just be coming here to observe, Kinch said to himself. He shook himself out of his thoughts and gestured toward the ladder. “In any case, we’d better get back upstairs and circulate before the Krauts think we’ve gone over the wire.”
“I might just do that if this ruddy Group Captain makes a nuisance of himself,” Newkirk said, preparing to follow Kinch upstairs.
“Would you really, Newkirk?” Carter asked. “I mean, if you’re gonna go, why not use the tunnel? Less chance of the Germans catching you that way, you know?”
The Englishman stopped and stared at the young American in amazement. He didn’t just say that, did he? “Carter,” he reached over and gave the Sergeant a slight push toward the ladder, “go to your room.”
Kinch closed the bunk over the tunnel as the others went outside to be seen among the other prisoners for a while. While he wanted to join them, he knew there was business to take care of first, so he crossed the room and knocked on the door of Hogan’s private room. About the only privilege of rank the man gets, and he winds up using it as both quarters and an office. So much for privacy.
“Come,” came the almost weary voice from inside. Kinch slowly opened the door and looked in. Hogan was lying on his bottom bunk, hands clasped behind his head, staring thoughtfully at the bunk above him. He didn’t bother looking when Kinch came in.
“Colonel, I’ve got the information about the train job for tonight.” Kinch paused, taking note of Hogan’s detachment. “But I can come back later with it if you want me to.”
Hogan shook his head only slightly. “I’ll take it now, Kinch,” he said, flicking his eyes toward the Sergeant for the briefest second.
Kinch nodded and handed over the scrap of paper on which he’d written the time and location. “This is the furthest out any of us have gone before, and you guys are gonna have to leave right after lights-out in order to get to the tracks in time, sir. Le Beau and I can wait almost a half hour after that before we leave to meet Townsend.”
“Good,” Hogan said, quickly perusing the paper and sitting up. “The less time you’re out of camp, the better. We’ll just have to move fast. I don’t think Klink’s going to want to loan me his car for the night.” He looked again at the paper, then crumpled it and put it in his jacket pocket.
“The way I figure it, we can get Townsend and meet you right about the time you’re ready to set off the charges. I’ll get the exact location worked out on the map and have it ready in a couple of hours.”
“Did I leave something out, Colonel?”
Hogan looked up at Kinch in surprise. “Leave something out?” he repeated. He shook his head. “No.”
“Then what’s wrong? It’s not like you to be so upset at the stunts London pulls on us, and it’s not like this Group Captain’s gonna find anything wrong here, no matter how much poking around he does. We do good work and we produce results, and he’s gotta see that.”
Hogan shrugged and lay back on the bunk. “And I’m sure he makes a lot fewer waves in the way he operates, too,” Hogan said flatly. “A nice boy, one of those good RAF chaps who does what he’s told when he’s told—and within the budget they want him to.”
“Well, we can play along while he’s here. I’ll talk to the fellas, and make sure they’re on their best behavior for the duration.” Kinch shook his head briefly. “Newkirk included.” I hope.
“‘The duration’ could be a lot longer than you think, Kinch,” Hogan said.
“What do you mean by that, sir?”
Hogan paused. Then, staring back at the bottom of the upper bunk, he said quietly, “Maybe he’s here to take over the operation.”
Kinch stared at Hogan, speechless
as the Colonel’s words hit home. No
Hogan had turned his eyes to Kinch at the man’s outburst, his quiet fears soothed by the Sergeant’s fervent loyalty. But Kinch’s words also led to another possibility that up to then Hogan had never considered. “Then maybe he’s here to shut us down.”
Kinch just blinked at him.
Hogan sat up again with a heavy
sigh. “There’s more to it than you know about, Kinch,” he admitted, staring at
the floor in front of his feet. “I’ve had a few angry exchanges with
Kinch didn’t respond as he
thought it over. Finally, he nodded to himself and spoke. “Don’t get me wrong
here, Colonel, there’s not a one of us that wouldn’t like to see you get home.
Heck, we’d all like to get home, the sooner the better. But we all agreed to
stay here with you and do whatever we could to help defeat the Germans.” He
gave Hogan a long look. “Maybe
Hogan listened to Kinch’s quiet testimonial and swallowed hard, continuing to stare intensely out the window. Finally he looked away and toward his bunk. “We all agreed to fight the Germans, and that’s a battle that goes on whether I’m here or not.” He squinted, trying to keep the burning behind his eyes from moving into them. “I’d expect you to follow orders for the good of the war effort. You don’t need me to do what you do best.”
“I’m not so sure, sir. We’re all
ready to quit if
“No one can keep you here, not
even me,” Hogan said, finally turning to the Sergeant. “But if you’ve been in
this for the right reasons, then it’d be important to you to keep the work
going no matter whose command you’re under.” He shrugged. Kinch saw a man
trying desperately to keep his fears to himself and put on a brave face for his
subordinates. It was distressing, since to Kinch it meant that Hogan had no one
he felt comfortable unburdening to. “Kinch,
“Sure, Colonel. No problem.” Kinch nodded, then put on a small smile for Hogan’s benefit. “I’ll go get started on that map, but before I do, is there anything I can get for you? Like about five pounds of aspirin, maybe?”
Hogan laughed weakly. “Only if one of the waitresses from the Hofbrau can give it to me.” He shook his head and his small smile disappeared. “Thanks, Kinch. I’ll be fine. We have a lot to do; it won’t give me much time to think about it. I hope.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Newkirk leaned against the wall
of the Recreation Hut, looking across the compound but not seeing it. All
morning, his thoughts had been occupied with plans to get out of camp and into
Hammelburg to pick up some needed supplies. Now, all he could think about was
the impending arrival of Group Captain Townsend. I don’t like it, not one bit. Sending an officer of the same rank as
Hogan has got to mean only one thing:
Kinch suddenly came around the corner and casually sidled up to him. “We’re all set for tonight,” he said in a low voice.
“Righto.” Newkirk spoke quietly in reply. “Might be our last mission, so let’s make it a good one, shall we? A nice little going-away present for the gov’nor, you could say.”
Kinch shook his head. “We don’t know what this guy’s coming for,” he said, thinking of Hogan’s own fears but not mentioning them. “For all we know, he’s coming with a supply drop for us. Stranger things have happened. Don’t write the Colonel off so fast.”
“Come off it, Kinch. You’ve seen
the shoddy way
“You don’t know that,” Kinch insisted, his tone beginning to match Newkirk’s. “And I suggest you don’t talk that way in front of the Colonel, either.”
“Talk what way?” Carter’s voice startled them both when he came up from behind them. “Hi, guys,” he greeted them.
“Never mind, Carter.” Kinch shot Newkirk a warning look. “Newkirk was just saying he doesn’t like the idea of this Group Captain coming here to look us over.”
“That’s right.” Newkirk met Kinch’s eyes as he continued speaking. “And I’m thinking of all the supplies the plane could be carrying instead of him.”
“Y-You don’t suppose he’s really
here to spy on the Colonel, do ya?” Carter asked hesitantly. “I mean the
“Who knows why he’s coming, Carter?” Kinch replied with a shrug. “All we know is we don’t have time for him right now. We’ll have to fit him in with everything else we’re doing around here.”
Le Beau came up beside of Kinch, frowning as he looked at the group. “Let me guess, we are all talking about our visitor.”
“That’s right,” Kinch answered. “I was just saying we’re going to have to make the most of his visit, that’s all.” He sighed. “He sure picked a bad time.”
“I think he is here to cause trouble for mon Colonel,” Le Beau said crossly.
“Whatever gave you that idea?”
Newkirk looked down at the Frenchman. “We’ve asked for some pretty crazy stuff
from the beginning, and we’ve usually gotten it, at least until lately. Now
this is the first time we kick up a fuss, and all of a sudden
“Newkirk,” growled Kinch warningly.
“Well, I don’t like it,” Carter
said. “Colonel Hogan’s always done his best for them, a-and for us. And if
“Oui, me, too,” Louis added.
Newkirk gave Carter a look of surprise, then suddenly grinned as he turned back to Kinch. “Well, I think that makes it pretty clear how we feel, and I think it’s safe to say that you agree, even if you are tryin’ to keep a lid on things.”
Kinch grimaced. “All right, all right. But don’t say any of this in front of the Colonel, okay? He’s got enough to worry about right now. Let’s just concentrate on tonight, and let this Townsend guy see how things really are here. And once he sees how much we stand behind Colonel Hogan, maybe he’ll go away.” He paused. “But don’t be too rough on him. Maybe he really is just here to deliver supplies. You know?”
“Maybe,” Le Beau said. “But I will bet you a plate of crepes Suzette that Monsieur Group Captain isn’t about to bring me the herbs and spices I have asked for.”
Carter gave Le Beau a puzzled look. “What’s a grape suzi-whatever it was you said?”
Le Beau shook his head and pulled Carter away from the wall of the building. “Crepes, Carter, crepes.” He sighed. “I will have to take you to see Schultz. There is a man who can explain any form of food to anyone. Over, and over, and over again.”
Newkirk waited until they were out of earshot before turning to Kinch. “I won’t say anything in front of the Colonel, but if this Group Captain’s coming just to bring supplies, then I’m the ruddy Duke of Buckingham.”
“I hope to have the pleasure of your acquaintance, Duke,” Kinch replied with a small smile. The attempt at lightness disappeared. “I sure hope I have the pleasure of your acquaintance.”
Newkirk crouched behind some bushes, catching his breath as his eyes swept the nearby area for any sign of a German patrol. So far, so good, but we’re a long way from camp tonight for this job, and these woods are gonna be crawlin’ with Krauts after the fireworks. Should make for an interesting time. He glanced over his shoulder and signaled for Hogan and Carter to move forward, then took off himself. Seems like I’m always on point, but at least this way, the Colonel can keep an eye on our new lad while I keep an eye on everything else.
Hogan tapped Carter’s arm, and the pair followed the path taken by the Englishman, making sure they had their explosives in tow. Hogan nodded at Newkirk and pointed toward the east, where a clearing was visible, and, according to the instructions they had received earlier that day, the railroad track lay that they needed to destroy. They were nearly there. Newkirk gave a quick thumbs up, and headed into the edge of the clearing. Keeping himself within the trees, he started working his way around, making a final check for any patrolling Germans.
Finally the three of them gathered at the track where they would start their vital work. Without words, Hogan reiterated the orders he had given the others earlier in the night. Unpacking the explosives with Carter hovering at his side, Hogan raised his chin in the direction of the signal box. Newkirk took some of the fuse wire and explosives and headed out in that direction, while Carter picked up some of the dynamite and headed for the track itself. Hogan stood up, looking around cautiously, and moved out of the opening, dropping the sack that had carried their load out of sight. He drew his gun and continued to survey the area, watching, listening, feeling for any unwanted intrusion.
Newkirk crouched by the tracks,
carefully attaching the fuse to a bundle of dynamite. That done, he let out the
breath he didn’t realize he was holding, and wiped the sweat from his face onto
the sleeve of his uniform jacket. Tricky
business, this. Here I am sweating through each step, and Carter makes it look
like a Sunday stroll through
For his part, Carter had his charges set and was already trailing the wires back to where he’d left the timer. Boy, how do they do this kind of thing all the time? The way Newkirk led us through the woods to exactly where we needed to be, you’d think he was part Indian or something! And look at Colonel Hogan over there, calm as can be. The Sergeant picked up the timer and started attaching his wires to it. A fellow sure can feel safe with these guys around to keep an eye on things.
Hogan squinted his eyes, looking
deep into the darkness, then glancing back to where Newkirk had just joined
Carter at the railroad track to continue laying the explosives that would spell
the end of the shipment heading to
Finally getting his last charge set, Newkirk brought his wires over to Carter. “Glad that’s done,” he whispered. “Now get it all hooked up and we can scarper back to camp.”
“Okay, Newkirk. I’ve just about...” Carter’s voice trailed off as he connected the last wire, then turned the switch that started the timer. “That’s it! All I’ve gotta do is hide this and we’re all set!”
“Shh! Keep your voice down!” Newkirk appreciated the young man’s enthusiasm for explosives, but he wished Carter would learn to be a bit quieter about it.
“Sorry,” Carter whispered.
Hogan turned toward the others, watching with some impatience as the pair fumbled noisily at the track. When they stood up and started walking toward him, he nodded. “Let’s go,” he said softly.
Suddenly Hogan stopped dead in his tracks and held up a hand to halt Newkirk and Carter. Newkirk put a hand on Carter’s arm to still him. Gun at the ready, Hogan moved further into the brush, then motioned for the others to get out of sight. They quickly moved in close to Hogan, and Newkirk drew his pistol. “Patrol,” Hogan said in a breath. “We’ve gotta get out of here, and I mean now.” He took a close look at Carter, whose face seemed to pale even in the darkness. “Don’t worry; this isn’t as unusual as it seems.” He looked at Newkirk. “Newkirk, you take Carter and sweep west; I’ll lead them off to the south. You’ll pass the rendezvous point—get Le Beau and Kinch and get back to camp. Don’t let Townsend out of your sight.”
“I’ll see to it, gov’nor. Good luck.” Newkirk gave Carter enough of a push to get the Sergeant moving, then the two of them took off westward to meet with the others.
Hogan watched their retreat, then, purposefully moving more towards the noise he heard in the underbrush, he started his own perilous retreat home.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Come on, come on,” Le Beau urged impatiently. “This way!”
The English officer pulled his arm out of the harness as Kinch bundled up the parachute silk. “Doing my best, old chap,” Townsend said breathlessly. “I don’t do this kind of thing every day, you know.”
“There are a lot of things men behind desks don’t do,” Le Beau muttered.
“Come on, let’s get out of here, in case someone spots us,” Kinch urged. “We’ve got orders to get you to the rendezvous point, Group Captain, and then get back to Stalag 13.”
“Rendezvous point?” the Englishman repeated. “How many of you came out tonight?” he asked. He took large steps to catch up to Le Beau, who had plowed ahead, anxious to get home, and unhappy having to baby sit a man who was probably only here to cause trouble.
“Colonel Hogan and two others are on another mission just about a mile from here, sir. We’re supposed to meet up with them and all go back to camp together,” Kinch replied. “They’re doing a job that came up at the last minute and couldn’t be put off until later.”
“Oh, I see,” Townsend said, dodging a tree branch that came up at him unexpectedly. “Bit of a bad night for a visitor, it seems.”
“Quiet; we are getting to the area,” Le Beau said harshly. “We have to watch out for patrols.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Newkirk put out his hand to stop Carter, then pulled the American down to crouch behind a bush. He leaned over and whispered, “Right then, we’re where we’re supposed to be, so we wait.” The Englishman checked his pistol and started looking, and listening, for any sign of the others.
Carter nodded, giving Newkirk a wide-eyed look. “But what about Colonel Hogan?” he whispered back. “He’s out there all alone and—”
Quickly putting his free hand over the Sergeant’s mouth, Newkirk gave Carter a hard look. “I know that, which is why as soon as we see Le Beau or Kinch, you’re gonna go back to camp with them, and I’m gonna go after the gov’nor. Got it?”
Carter frowned as Newkirk’s hand left his face. “Well, gee, that isn’t what the Colonel ordered us to do, Newkirk. I mean if he’s out there alone, and you go back for him alone, then you’ll both be alone. I mean not together alone, but alone alone.”
“Let’s just say there’s been a change in plans then.” Newkirk stopped as he heard rustling in the brush not far away, and raised his pistol to cover the area before letting out a soft, two-toned whistle. A three-note tune was his response. “That’s them; let’s go,” Newkirk said, and he urged Carter into a tiny clearing.
A few seconds later, Le Beau, Kinch and Townsend appeared, the Englishman breathing heavily. “Quite a little stretch you’ve got to go, chaps,” he said. “I used to handle this sort of thing quite easily; I must be out of practice.”
“Well, we are all in great shape,” Le Beau said sullenly. “Especially Colonel Hogan.” He frowned as he looked around the meeting place. “Where is the Colonel?”
“Carter’ll have to tell you; I’ve got a job to do.” Newkirk was already turning to leave as he spoke. “You lot get on back to camp—Colonel’s orders.” Before anyone could speak up, the Englishman had disappeared back into the brush.
“Hey, Newkirk!” Carter started to call out, but Kinch hurriedly yanked at the man’s arm, stopping him mid-cry.
“You trying to get us all killed?” Kinch hissed. “Where’s the Colonel?”
“We ran into a patrol, so he told us to head this way and he’d lead them off in another direction. Newkirk was supposed to come back to camp with us and the Group Captain.” Carter looked at Townsend. “Oh—uh, hi, uh, sir.” He broke away from Kinch’s grasp and saluted awkwardly.
“If that man has just gone off in violation of your commanding officer’s orders, he’s in for a bit of trouble,” Townsend observed, giving Carter a strange look and returning the salute.
“Yeah, that’s Newkirk,” Kinch admitted, looking after where the Englishman had barreled off. He shook his head. “But if I wasn’t here with you, I’d be joining him right now.”
“What?” Townsend asked, astonished. “You want to disregard your commanding officer’s orders?”
Kinch looked sharply at Townsend. “When Colonel Hogan’s out on his own, the whole operation is at stake. And when he’s out leading the Germans on a wild goose chase to keep us safe, you bet I want to be out there. Just like he’d be out there for us.” He shook his head, frustrated. “Let’s get back to camp and hope Newkirk can do the work for us.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan didn’t stop when the branch hit him in the face. He had been looking all around him while running in case the patrol was closing in and had not seen the limb in time to duck when the pine needles poked him in the eye. With the back of his hand he wiped at the tears that formed in protection of the invaded eye and started pouring down his face. But he kept moving.
Sounds from behind him made him pause and then alter his course, then he heard quickening footsteps that made him speed up his own. He stumbled, tripping on something on the forest floor, and fell nearly face first to the ground. Raising his head out of the scrub, he held still, tightly gripping his gun, listening. All was suddenly quiet. He didn’t like the odds, so he stayed where he was, waiting, breathing through the sharp stabs of pain radiating from the knee he had twisted as he landed hard, and wondering how long it would be before his men were safely back in camp.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Newkirk ducked behind a tree, leaning against it as he tried to catch his breath. Sweat ran freely down his face despite the cool spring evening from running as fast as he could through the woods. He took the southern route away from the rail line, so if the Colonel’s been able to stick to the plans we made in camp, he should be somewhere in this area. Now all I’ve got to do is find him, dodge the entire German Army, and get us back to Stalag 13 before morning roll call. The Englishman shook his head. Piece of cake.
Moving out cautiously, Newkirk started running again, only to pull up short when he heard something hit the ground hard. He dropped himself behind a fallen log, listening intently to the sudden silence. After several tense moments of hearing nothing but his own heartbeat hammering in his chest, he took the chance of whistling his two-toned signal, hoping desperately that it hadn’t been a Kraut he’d heard falling.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan wiped one more time at his eye and stopped as he heard what sounded distinctly like the whistle of a pre-arranged signal. He frowned. His men were supposed to be heading back to camp. Still… Not wanting to chance it, he waited, breathing shallowly, then nodded to himself when he heard it again. It had to be a signal. I told them to go home! he thought fleetingly. Then he let that idea go and whistled back.
Newkirk grinned in relief, and answered the three-note whistle with one of his own before getting to his feet and heading for where the welcome sounds had come from. Innate caution kept his pistol in hand, ready for use as he drew closer. “Gov’nor?” he whispered. “Where are you?”
“I’m here,” came a soft growl. Hogan struggled to sit up as Newkirk came into view. “I thought you were a Kraut patrol. What the hell are you doing here? I ordered you back to camp with Carter.” Hogan hissed as he drew up his right leg, then ignored it and stared down the Corporal as he awkwardly stood.
Newkirk shoved his pistol into his belt as he reached Hogan. “I sent Carter back with the others, sir. He’s fine, but you don’t look too good yourself.” Ducking his head to avoid meeting the Colonel’s hard look, the Corporal dropped to one knee and reached out to Hogan, intending to examine the man’s leg.
“Leave off,” said Hogan, almost sharply, limping painfully away from the Englishman. “We don’t have time for that. The patrols are still in the area; we have to get out of here. Did they get Townsend?”
“They did, sir.” Newkirk nodded and glanced at his watch. “You’re right about the patrols; not only that, but in about ten minutes, it’s gonna look like someone’s celebrating Guy Fawkes Night a few months early. We’d best be long gone before that happens.” He paused, and gave Hogan a concerned look. “Are you up to it, Colonel?”
Hogan arched an eyebrow at Newkirk in the dim light. “I’d better be or I’ll never make it back in time to avoid the fireworks. I prefer to wait for the Fourth of July.” He turned away from Newkirk, scanning their surroundings. Then, waving his pistol, he motioned for the Englishman to follow him toward a course that would lead them home.
Newkirk followed silently, knowing that Hogan was right—they needed to be well away from the area, and fast. I’m in for it when we get back to camp, though. I’ve managed to avoid some of his less-important orders before by twistin’ his words back on him, but this time I’ve gone and disobeyed a clear and direct order. He shook his head and studied his commanding officer for a moment before turning his eyes back to watch the surrounding woods. The gov’nor’s got every right to be angry with me over it, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat, just so I could be certain he was safe.
Hogan motioned Newkirk to move ahead of him and behind a tree, and with difficulty he advanced to a concealed spot behind one on the opposite side of a narrow path. Gun held up close to his body and ready to aim, Hogan looked sharply at every shadow, listened to every movement, and waited for the quiet that would tell him all was well. He bit his lip against the pain in his knee that had intensified since they started walking, and eventually moved back out, nodding toward Newkirk and urging him out of hiding. He knew where they had to go. Hogan raised his chin toward a fallen tree well off the path. “There,” he mouthed silently.
Newkirk nodded in reply, and started toward the tree when he whirled around to stare intently into the darkness. Holding up a hand, he tapped his ear, then pointed in the direction from which he’d heard the faint sound of metal striking metal and looked at Hogan to see if the Colonel had heard anything as well.
Hogan nodded and pointed back to the safety of the shadows. The Englishman faded back into the trees, his gun out and ready while hoping he wouldn’t have to use it. He glanced at his commanding officer, waiting to see how Hogan wanted to play this out.
Hogan straightened as he slowly backed up to the edge of the clearing, then advanced just slightly, hoping to see what was out there in the blackness. Newkirk bit his lip, watching tensely as Hogan clearly struggled to pace himself with his bad leg to get closer to the source of the noise without giving himself away. But the Colonel continued edging in, his own pistol raised but shaking in a hand trembling with adrenalin and stress. Just when Newkirk thought he was going to have to move in himself, Hogan backed off and worked his way back to the Englishman, drawing him cautiously into the darkness.
“There’s more than one,” Hogan said in a hushed voice. “Some ahead of us to the left, some to the right. We’ll have to retreat, and quietly, if we want to get out of here. And together we’re an easier target.” He paused and looked at Newkirk with an intensity born of urgency. “I’m gonna give you an order, and this time I want you to obey it.” Newkirk swallowed hard and looked away, then turned back to Hogan and nodded. “These guys are to the north at the moment. We need to go south to get home. You’re going to head southeast; I’m going to head southwest. You’re going back to camp, and you’re staying there. I’ll be coming, too, once I lead them away. You got it?”
“And what happens when you get caught, sir?” Newkirk whispered harshly in reply. “The way you’re moving now, you will get caught if you’re alone. The way I see it, about the only chance you’ve got is if we stick together.” The Corporal shook his head. “I’ll do what you say, because I said I would, Colonel. Just you be sure to write and tell us where they’ve put you when it’s all over.”
Hogan’s eyes flared for just a brief second, but he didn’t give in to Newkirk’s obvious attempt to get him to change his mind. “Better one of us caught then both of us,” he said. “Go back and make sure Townsend sees that you obey orders.”
Hogan was about to continue when he heard another sound—nearer, louder. “Swell,” he hissed. “They’re moving. And they’re closer. We’ll have to take our chances together. But if you don’t start listening, Newkirk, I’ll get you kicked you out of two armies.” Without waiting for an answer, Hogan turned and started to hobble away from the noise.
Newkirk grinned briefly, despite the seriousness of the situation, as circumstances had conspired to help him get his way with Hogan, at least this time. As he followed the American, he kept glancing over his shoulder, fully expecting to see the entire German Army come crashing out of the brush. After a few minutes, realizing that he hadn’t heard anything other than their own movements, Newkirk spoke up quietly. “I think we’re in the clear, gov’nor.” He stopped, and turned to look down their back trail, straining to hear anything unusual coming from the darkness.
“Good,” Hogan practically gasped, almost immediately sitting heavily on the ground. He took panting breaths to slow his fast-beating heart, and with the back of his hand wiped the heavy layer of perspiration from his forehead. He stretched out his leg agonizingly, trying not to gasp at the excruciating pain that shot through him when he did. He tried to massage the swelling knee, but found it too tender even to touch. “Stop for a minute. We’re only about three miles off now.”
Leaning against a tree, Newkirk swept his side cap off and blotted the sweat from his face with his sleeve. “Colonel Hogan, there’s something I’ve gotta ask you.” He turned to face the American, trying to read the man’s expression by the faint moonlight. “If we do get captured, the Jerries will separate us, won’t they?”
Hogan nodded, still gulping in deep, cold breaths. “Maybe,” he said. He ran a hand across his face and tried to stop the light-headedness that had settled in as he ran.
“We can’t let that happen, sir. If we stick together, we can look out for each other, and I believe we’d both stand a better chance of escapin’ than either of us would alone.” Newkirk paused to give that statement a chance to sink in before he went on. “And there’s only one way I know of to pull it off.”
“One man escaping alone has a much higher chance of success,” Hogan replied emotionlessly. “You know the odds, Newkirk.” He paused. “And what makes you so sure we’re going to be caught anyway?”
Newkirk shrugged. “Nothing; I was just asking, gov’nor,” he said. “It’s just that, with you being an officer and all, the Krauts will know they have a real prize, even if they don’t know they’ve got Papa Bear. But if they think you’re just an enlisted man, they might be more likely to leave you alone.”
Hogan raised an eyebrow. “And how do you suggest they be made to think that?”
Newkirk’s answer was brief and to the point. “By taking away your eagles, sir.” Hogan shot a surprised look at the Corporal. “The Krauts have been known to make examples of officers,” he said quietly. As you well know. “They think they have more to hide. If you’re just one of the other ranks, sir, they might ignore you.”
“And when they find out we’re lying, we’re both dead,” Hogan replied harshly. His patience had disappeared with his energy, and his optimism. He swallowed a groan as he shifted his throbbing leg. “Forget it, Newkirk. We are who we are. Being separated might be a good thing—if they’re concentrating on me, they won’t be so worried about you. If we are captured, you concentrate on getting yourself back to Stalag 13. I’d make it an order, but that doesn’t seem to matter much at the moment.” Hogan snorted lightly, to show Newkirk he didn’t hold the Englishman’s disobedience against him. “Don’t they teach you to obey orders in the RAF?”
“They tried, sir.” Newkirk laughed softly. “But I only follow the ones that make sense.”
Anything Hogan might have said in response was lost when the night sky was lit up by a brilliant orange fireball, and the ground trembled from the force of the explosions going off back at the train tracks. Hogan looked up and nodded, allowing a small smile of satisfaction to light his face. “Well, there go some of Carter’s best,” he said. “And that means we’d better get up and get going. The Krauts will be on the move now.”
Hogan stood up but nearly fell over as his twisted knee screamed pain through his leg at his first step. He caught himself and waved away Newkirk’s solicitous hands. “Let’s go; let’s go!” he urged, and he did his best to pull himself along as the sound of fast and heavy running suddenly burst through the trees. He tried to push the Corporal away. “We shouldn’t have stopped—they’re practically on top of us. Newkirk, get going—head back to camp. I’ll hide and catch up when I can. Now go. Please!”
“All right, sir. Good luck.” Newkirk gave Hogan a final look and sprinted off into the trees. He didn’t go far, however, as he ducked behind the first one large enough to offer concealment. Something they did teach me in the RAF, mate: Never leave one of your own behind. The Englishman gritted his teeth as he watched Hogan’s painful progress, wanting nothing more than to go back and help, but knowing his offer would only cause more delays while the Colonel argued with him about it.
A couple more steps and Hogan was down on the ground again and gripping his knee, clearly in agony. Newkirk moved from tree to tree, keeping watch but resisting the strong urge to make his presence known. Hogan wiped at his brow and struggled up again, jerking his head around quickly to listen for any approaching danger, and then stumbled forward toward a cluster of rocks and branches that could offer a place to hide. This time when he fell he wasn’t so lucky; the large rock his head struck on the way down was hardly a soft pillow for him to rest on. But it was the one that would claim his consciousness, leaving him still on the forest floor.
“Bloody ’ell!” Newkirk swore softly as he scrambled back to Hogan’s side. He started to pick the American up, hoping to carry him to safety, but the increasingly loud sounds of men crashing through the woods convinced the Englishman that he’d run out of time. “You can hate me for this later, gov’nor,” Newkirk whispered, removing the eagle that denoted Hogan’s rank from his collar and the pilot’s wings from his shirt. “But I’m convinced that this is the only way you’re gonna survive being taken prisoner again.” Then he quickly stripped Hogan’s leather jacket off his unconscious form and tucked the insignias into one of the pockets before stuffing the cherished coat into a nearby hollow log. A hurried glance around revealed the Colonel’s crush cap lying nearby, and Newkirk picked it up, briefly studying the emblem before putting the cap into hiding with the jacket. I’m not certain if that’s something only officers wear, so best play it safe.
Returning to his commanding officer, Newkirk reached over to shake the man’s shoulder when a loud call of “Halt! Hände hoch!” rang through the darkness. Brilliant flashlight beams pierced the night, blinding him as he carefully stood and slowly raised his hands into the air. Well, here we go again.
The Eagle Has Hidden
“Get down there; watch your head,” Le Beau said, not letting any warmth into his voice as he pushed Townsend down through the tunnel entrance and then followed him down the ladder.
Carter and Kinch brought up the rear, and then led Townsend down to the radio desk. “Anyone you need to tell you got home safe?” Kinch asked.
Townsend looked around him in wonder, too amazed by what he saw to listen properly. “Uh…” He let his eyes roam the walls, the ceiling, the wires, the oil lamps. “What?”
Kinch shot an amused look at
Carter and Le Beau. “Do you need us to radio
“Oh. Uh, I suppose you should.”
Taking his seat at the radio, Kinch started flipping switches to bring the radio to life, then began pumping the antenna lift. With everything in place, he put on the headsets and started speaking. “Papa Bear calling Goldilocks.”
Townsend went to the desk and looked the radio over with interest. “You chaps built this yourselves?” he asked while Kinch was waiting on a reply. “Very well done.”
Kinch nodded and was about to answer when the headset crackled to life. He listened, then spoke into the microphone. “Affirmative, Goldilocks. The package arrived unharmed.” He paused, then shot a glance at Le Beau and Carter before speaking again. “Um, negative Goldilocks. He’s still out of the den.” Another pause. “Roger. I’ll have him call the moment he gets back. Papa Bear out.”
Kinch sighed and switched off the radio. “Carter, what happened out there?”
Carter shrugged uncomfortably. “The Krauts were coming and the Colonel said he’d run diversion one way and we’d run another. He didn’t want me left on my own,” he said, guilt touching his voice. “But Newkirk said he wasn’t going to leave the Colonel alone, either, so when we met up with you guys, he took off to find him.” He screwed up his face in anger. “And he might have gotten to him a lot sooner, too, if I could have found my way to the rendezvous point on my own.”
“Hey, Carter. Do not worry about it so much.” Le Beau went over and put his hand on the American’s arm. “That is just the way the Colonel is; many times he has sent us back to the camp first while he’s distracted the Boches. You’ll see, it won’t be long before they are back and we find out that Newkirk’s been grounded for a month as usual.” The Frenchman smiled reassuringly at Carter, but the look he gave Kinch revealed just how concerned he really was.
“So,” came Townsend’s voice, startling the men who had actually almost forgotten he was there, “your commanding officer is away, and one of his men is now gone as well, since he clearly disobeyed the Colonel’s orders. What will be done now?”
“We wait.” Kinch had caught Le Beau’s glance and nodded slightly in return before looking at Townsend. “It’s about three hours until roll call, so there’s plenty of time for them to get back.” I hope.
“And what happens if they don’t?” Townsend asked. He shook his head. “I’m afraid I’ve come in at a bad time,” he said.
“You can say that again,” Le Beau muttered.
“I need to speak with Colonel Hogan as soon as possible,” Townsend persisted.
“So do we,” Kinch replied with a touch of impatience. So do we.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Newkirk stumbled along through the woods with Hogan slung over his shoulder. He was trying to be careful and not jostle the unconscious man, but the Germans escorting him had other ideas. The Englishman’s command of their language was good enough to let him know that they weren’t happy with the slow pace, and he had to fight to keep from telling them off over it.
Can’t let them know I understand them as well as I do. I might learn something useful if they think it’s safe to talk in front of me. Newkirk shifted Hogan’s weight a bit as he kept walking. Lousy Krauts. I still owe that one big fellow for the rough way he searched the gov’nor. Occupied with watching where he put his feet, Newkirk didn’t see the rifle butt coming until it slammed into his side, wielded by an impatient guard who thought his prisoner needed a little encouragement to move faster.
The blow knocked Newkirk to the ground and sent Hogan sprawling. The Corporal groaned in pain and scrambled to his feet, fists balled and clearly intending to go after the guard that had struck him until the clacking of several rifle bolts brought him up short. He stood glaring at the Germans until he heard a quiet moan coming from where Hogan had landed.
Newkirk started to go to Hogan, but the guard’s rifle and his grunt indicated that wasn’t an acceptable move. So the Englishman watched as Hogan stirred slowly, then, groaning, struggled to sit up. “Wha—?” Hogan began, touching a hand to the growing bruise on his head. He winced as he tested his body, then he finally focused on his surroundings, seeing only the RAF Corporal looking worriedly at him. “Newkirk?”
I’ve gotta let him know what I’ve done, and fast! “Take it easy there, fella.” Newkirk raised his hands to let the Germans know he wasn’t planning to move. He looked over at Hogan and spoke loudly and clearly, hoping the American would pick up what he was saying and understand. “We’ve been captured by the Krauts. Remember: don’t give them anything except name, rank and service number... Private.” Please, gov’nor, don’t let your wits be so scrambled that you can’t make sense of this and go with it!
“Private—” Hogan started to protest automatically. But just as the word came out, the rest of what Newkirk had said sank in. We’ve been captured by the Krauts. Hogan frowned. I don’t remember that happening…. A shiver raced through him and he brought his hands up instinctively to rub his arms, only to realize his bomber jacket was missing. Private. He’s gone and stopped me from being a Colonel anyway! One hand reached slowly up to his collar as he looked down to his breast pocket for wings that were no longer there. And he was thorough; no bird, either.
Hogan’s eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light and he saw the gleam of four rifles aimed at him and at Newkirk. Then, bringing his hand up again to hopefully soften the throbbing in his head, he said softly for the Germans’ benefit, “Private James Dane.” And with a glance at the Englishman, he added, reaching for information, “I won’t forget… Corporal…”
“Corporal Richard Kirkland,” Newkirk said, giving his own false name as he nodded in relief. He’s got it and he’s gonna go along. “You took a fall while we were running and knocked yourself out, Private. That’s when the Jerries caught up with us.”
The same guard that had struck Newkirk before stepped up and shoved him toward Hogan. The Englishman stumbled forward, nearly falling, and turned to glare at the German. But his protest was cut off by the curt orders snapped out by the guard. “Schweigen! Kommen Sie dort, bekommen Sie ihn zu seinen Füßen, und bekommen Sie das Bewegen!” The accompanying gestures made it clear what the guard wanted done, and when.
Newkirk took a deep breath and reached down to help Hogan to his feet. “I don’t understand what he’s sayin’ there, but I think he wants us to get moving, mate.” He made sure the guards couldn’t see the quick grin he gave Hogan, as he actually knew perfectly well what had been said, thanks to the German language lessons he’d been taking for months back at Stalag 13. Silence! Get over there, get him to his feet and get moving!
Hogan let Newkirk help him up, grabbing him unexpectedly as dizziness set in. Newkirk held fast and watched him anxiously for a moment, then Hogan pulled away, nodding. “It’s okay,” he said. “I just wasn’t ready for the sudden move.” He looked at Newkirk. “So, what exotic locale are we going to?” He took a step and felt his leg cave in, nearly pulling Newkirk down with him as he struggled not to lose his footing. Finally he took a couple of nearly unbearable steps and said, “Wherever it is, I hope they have a five star hotel. I could use the rest.”
“I don’t know; this lot hasn’t been too talkative.” Newkirk took a glance at the guards, then moved next to Hogan. “Here, let me help for a bit. I’d rather you leaned on me now than to have to carry you again when that knee finally gives out.” He grinned for a moment. “No arguments now... Private.”
Hogan frowned. “I told you to go back,” he whispered. “And if carrying me is how I ended up on the ground in a heap, Corporal, I’d rather walk, as well.” Though his words seemed harsh, Newkirk could hear the hidden gratitude in them. “It’s not going to be easy for us,” he finally said regretfully, reluctantly accepting Newkirk’s support as they began walking in the direction indicated by the rifles. “I wish you had listened.”
“Had to come after you; after all, you’d have done the same for me,” Newkirk whispered in reply. He paused, taking a quick glance to make certain none of the Germans was close enough to hear before going on. “As to how you ended up in a heap, you just ask that big Kraut that likes pushin’ people around about that.”
“He’s not the only bossy one around here,” Hogan said with a wry smile. “What happened to me staying as the commanding officer and you staying as the non-com?”
Between the darkness and watching where he was walking while supporting the Colonel, Newkirk didn’t see the smile that changed Hogan’s comment from criticism to dry wit. “I did what I had to do,” he said quietly in reply. “And I’ll accept the consequences. All of them.” The Colonel’s angry with me over all this. I can understand that, but still... I couldn’t leave him out here all alone. I couldn’t face the others, or myself for that matter, if I’d abandoned the gov’nor.
Hogan wiped the sweat off his face. “Let’s hope you don’t have to.” He paused. “I may be cranky as Hell when I find out what you’ve done with my jacket, but…” Hogan paused awkwardly, then: “I’m glad you’re here.” Then, to change the subject, and because he was finding it hard to concentrate on anything but his throbbing leg, Hogan gripped his thigh as he continued struggling along and said, “God, this hurts. I hope they get tired of walking soon.”
“Don’t worry; the Krauts will never find your coat.” Hogan’s words relieved the Englishman’s worried thoughts. I know it’s no picnic we’re heading for, but at least we’re in it together. Newkirk paused and smiled slightly. “I’m glad to be here, too, sir.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“If we had not had to go to get the Group Captain, we would have been there to stop the Colonel and Newkirk from getting themselves in trouble,” Le Beau sniffed.
Kinch glanced over toward Townsend, who was busily looking over some of the equipment Carter was painstakingly explaining. “Yeah, but orders were orders. We did what the Colonel told us to do. We had no way of knowing they were going to run into trouble,” he said quietly.
“Bah,” spat Le Beau. “And now if there is trouble, Headquarters will blame Colonel Hogan and say he is not fit to command—and it was them that gave him the trouble in the first place!”
“Take it easy, Louis. We don’t know that yet, and besides, there’s still time for the Colonel and Newkirk to get back before roll call.” Kinch glanced at his watch. Three hours. Come on you two, quit fooling around and get back to camp! “But until then, we sit tight and start figuring out how to keep the Kommandant from finding out they’re gone in case they don’t make it back in time.”
“I think we should go after them,” Le Beau declared.
“Yeah, well, we can’t. You know the Colonel’s orders in a case like this: get ready to close down the operation and get everyone out before all Hell breaks loose.” Kinch sighed and shook his head. “Look, I know how you feel. I wanted to take off right after Newkirk just like you did. But you know as well as I do that Colonel Hogan’s counting on us to take care of things here for him. We’ll just have to wait and hope that Newkirk can take care of things out there for us, and bring them both back safely.”
Kinch shook his head knowingly. “Look, don’t worry,” he said gently. “They’ll both be okay.” Le Beau nodded dispiritedly and let down his indignant front. “If Colonel Hogan gets himself in trouble, Newkirk will be there to pull a rabbit out of his hat. And if he gets in trouble, the Colonel will be there to catch him—and then court martial him for disobeying orders in the first place!”
“Oui. Colonel Hogan will be very angry with Newkirk when it’s all
Kinch drew himself up and in his best British upper-crust accent answered, “Well, what do you think? Offer him a jolly good cup of tea, old chap!”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan threw a cross glance over his shoulder at the guard prodding him into the delousing station. Limping heavily, and shivering in the cold, he followed Newkirk into the inhospitable hut.
“I wouldn’t mind so much if I hadn’t just done this yesterday,” Hogan complained under his breath. “I wasn’t due to get itchy again for another four days, at least!”
Newkirk nodded and rubbed his jaw where he’d been backhanded after the guards had found his “pencil sharpener” during the obligatory strip search. He’d always known that carrying the hidden knife in a POW camp was dangerous, but doing so was second nature to the Englishman. It had never been found during searches back at Stalag 13; then again, this wasn’t Stalag 13, and the guards here didn’t seem to be too worried about pushing people around. “Right,” he said quietly. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to smell carbolic acid again without thinking of times like this.”
“I’m hoping not to smell carbolic acid at all after this is over,” Hogan replied. “We’ve gotta get out of here,” he said, grunting in surprise as the shower began. He turned his head away from the spray and spat out the chemicals that had gotten into his mouth. “Klink’s expecting us at roll call and we haven’t got permission to be out after hours. I have a feeling the Kommandant of this camp isn’t going to be giving us a pass, either, if these gentle guards are any indication.” Hogan rubbed his head where it had struck the rock. He hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep before the mission began, too worried about the arrival of Townsend and the man’s purpose for being at Stalag 13 to get any real rest. Now, his lack of sleep combined with the knock from his fall and the rough handling by the guards here at Stalag 2 was making him feel much less than one hundred percent. But he fought the sick feeling growing in the pit of his stomach, knowing he would have to be running on all cylinders if he and Newkirk were to get themselves out of this mess.
“Security looks pretty tight here. We’re being guarded two-to-one, and the Krauts have machine guns instead of rifles.” Newkirk wiped the delousing spray from his face, and ducked under one of the shower heads to work more of it into his hair. “This isn’t exactly a crackerbox we’re in here, gov’nor. Have you come up with any ideas on how we’re gonna get out?”
“I’m still trying to figure out how we got in,” Hogan replied. “I don’t have any answers yet, but next time, do me a favor and let me outrank you?”
“As far as I’m concerned, let’s try to avoid a next time, all right?” Newkirk braced himself for the shower that followed the chemical spray, gritting his teeth against the cold water as he tried to get as much of the carbolic acid solution off his skin as quickly as possible. “Blimey, glad that’s done.”
Hogan shivered and nodded, grateful when the ersatz towel was tossed at him carelessly as the water was shut off. Straw’s warm, he reasoned; I’m not too proud to use it, especially in this weather! “I wonder when we get to meet the Kommandant.”
Newkirk shrugged as he pulled on the grey work clothes they’d been given when their uniforms had been taken away to be cleaned. “No idea on that, but judging from his men, I’ll bet he’s a real charmer.”
“The Adolf Hitler School of Charm and Grace,” Hogan said. He turned to look at the guard who had made some sort of sound at the men when they didn’t seem to move fast enough. When the man growled, “Raus,” Hogan sighed. “Makes me miss Schultz… almost.” Then he finished buttoning the overalls, and headed out with Newkirk into their new prison home.
Stalling for Time
Kinch stared at the equipment before him with a heavy heart. He had spent the last half hour on and off the radio, informing the Underground of Papa Bear’s disappearance, and asking for any help from people who may have seen Hogan or Newkirk get captured… or killed. So far, no one had anything to report. He should take solace in that, he thought; it could mean the pair was in hiding. But more likely, Kinch realized, witnesses or not, Hogan and Newkirk had probably been taken by the Germans. It was a sobering, and intolerable, thought.
Now, Kinch rubbed his face wearily, still wracking his brain to come up with a way out of the mess they were in. How does Colonel Hogan do it? How does he come up with these plans on the spur of the moment the way he does? I’m about to go nuts here, and so far, I haven’t come up with a thing. He shot a glance at Le Beau, who gave him a shrug in return. Looks like he’s come up blank as well. Great.
Kinch stood, came out from behind the desk and started to pace from one side of the tunnel to the other. I’ve tried everything else, maybe this’ll help somehow. Pacing always seems to help the Colonel when he’s working on a problem. His feet took him back and forth across the dirt floor a few times with no obvious effect on his thinking. He wasn’t really paying attention to where he was walking, and as he turned to start yet another lap, he tripped over the sewing basket that had been left on the floor near the clothing rack. “Man, I wish Newkirk would be more careful with his stuff and not leave it lying around all the time!”
As Kinch crouched down and began to put the spilled sewing supplies back where they belonged, Le Beau moved over to help. The Frenchman gathered a few spools of thread, then glanced at Kinch. “Take it easy, mon ami. We will come up with a plan. We always do, you know.”
“Yeah, I know, Louis. Thanks.” Kinch had a bundle of scraps in his hand, and tossed them into the basket before standing again. “I just hope we get them back so I can yell at Newkirk about his messes,” he said quietly. Le Beau nodded silently in reply.
Kinch went back to pacing, but had only taken a step or two when he whirled around and went back to the basket. He dug into it and came up with the sleeve from the Gestapo uniform that Newkirk had tried to repair earlier in the day. “I’ve got it!” Clutching the black wool tightly in his fist, he turned to Le Beau with a grin. “I know how we can buy time for Newkirk and the Colonel to get back!”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan threw a glance at Newkirk as the German officer came toward them. “Remember, Newkirk: whatever you do, don’t antagonize the man. We’ve got to fit in and learn as much as we can. Otherwise we’ll be permanent guests of Stalag 2, and I have a date waiting for me back at camp.”
Newkirk looked back at Hogan and grinned for a moment. “Don’t worry, gov’nor. I won’t do anything you wouldn’t do.” The grin faded as he took a step forward and came to attention.
“Now I’m really worried.”
The German came to a stop in front of the men, giving Newkirk a disdainful glance as the Englishman offered a salute. “And would you be?” he asked in English as he raised a gloved hand halfway to his brow in return.
Newkirk lowered his hand and
fixed his gaze on a point just past the German’s left shoulder. “
Hogan had lost his temper as the club hit home and shouted angrily before he could stop himself: “Kommandant, I protest! It’s against the tenets of the Geneva Convention to maltreat prisoners—”
The Major’s hand shot out, giving Hogan a solid backhand across his mouth. “Silence! Prisoners speak only when spoken to, and any insubordination will be dealt with immediately!”
Hogan’s head snapped to the side as the blow made his teeth rattle in his mouth. But the Colonel turned back to face the officer almost immediately. He was sure there’d be a red mark of knuckles left on his face when the swelling he could already feel starting went down. Calmly, he said, “The Geneva Convention prohibits the mistreatment of prisoners of war.”
Newkirk scrambled as quickly as he could to his feet. “Settle down, Private! Remember: name, rank and service number only!” Newkirk looked over at Hogan, his face hard with his anger, but his eyes pleading with his commanding officer to go along with him on this. Come on, gov’nor; I thought we weren’t going to antagonize them! I can take a few hard knocks here and there. Just don’t go gettin’ him worked up any worse than he already is! Newkirk took a half-step to the side, trying to put himself between Hogan and this Kraut officer before something else went wrong.
“The Geneva Convention protects prisoners of war, not suspected saboteurs.” The Major’s suddenly calm demeanor, combined with his cold, false smile, made Hogan's skin crawl. “I’m afraid I have been lax in my duties; we haven’t been introduced properly. My name is Major Audemar Brinkfried. You will address me as either Major Brinkfried, or as Kommandant, or as ‘sir’ at all times.” He paused to let his words sink in, then turned back to Newkirk and said pleasantly, “Now, please try again. Your name?”
Newkirk fought down the urge to
punch the Major in the face. I’d like to hit
this arrogant sod so hard I’d knock that eye patch of his over the top of his
other eye! But it’s not worth getting both me and the Colonel shot! Newkirk
took a deep breath as he came back to attention, this time focusing his eyes on
the German’s own. Reining in his anger, he repeated his words. “
Brinkfried laughed, and glanced at his aide. “You see, Leutnant Staub, these Englanders can be taught. All one needs is the right method.” The Major turned to Hogan. “And you?”
Hogan clenched his jaw along with his fists and slurred the words out around the blood in his mouth. “Dane, James S. Private, US Army Air Corps. Serial number 2101402.” Hogan paused, his eyes boring straight into Brinkfried’s. “Kommandant.”
“And it seems that the Americans are also able to learn.” Brinkfried kept his eyes locked on Hogan’s as he spoke, not at all intimidated by the intensity of the gaze. “Very well. Leutnant, get their paperwork done, and take the Private with you to fill out his questionnaire.” He turned and looked at Newkirk. “You will remain, Corporal. I wish to speak with you alone.”
Leutnant Staub came to attention and saluted, then gestured for Hogan to come with him. Brinkfried kept his eyes on Newkirk, and the cold smile remained on his face as he returned his aide’s salute. Hogan hesitated, knowing instinctively what the Germans had in mind for both of them, but Staub jabbed him hard in the lower back with his rifle, and Hogan could only do as he was told.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Carter stood before the mirror propped up against one of the tunnel walls and straightened his lapels. He unbuttoned and rebuttoned his dress coat, and adjusted the armband that carried the swastika insignia that he hated so much. Giving his head a toss, he made sure his hair was just as he wanted it before running a comb through it again, before shaking his head and starting over in dissatisfaction.
“You’re very particular, Sergeant,” Townsend observed, struggling into an enlisted man’s RAF uniform which was just slightly too small. Here I am waiting for the high waters to come in, he thought with a small smile, as he looked at the trousers that were just an inch too short. Still, you do what you have to, I suppose.
“Colonel Hogan says we have to be,” Carter replied, trying a different type of comb-over and rejecting it. “If we don’t look the part, we can’t feel the part. And if we can’t feel the part, then we can’t play the part. And if we can’t play the part, then we can put everything at risk.” He paused and lowered his comb thoughtfully, staring at a spot on the floor. “And this time we’re doing it for Colonel Hogan and for Newkirk, and I won’t take a chance on anything going wrong.” He abruptly resumed combing.
Townsend finished zipping up his pants and discovered they were slightly too large. Sighing, he shoved his shirt into the top of them and hoped they would hold up. Or if they don’t, at least they won’t be too short any more. “Your Colonel Hogan sounds like a smart man,” he said now.
Carter nodded vehemently, disturbing the style he had spent so much time creating. “Oh, he is. I mean the Colonel’s just about the smartest man I ever met. I’ve never seen anyone who could come up with ideas like Colonel Hogan, boy. And he always knows how to get us out of trouble, too. He never leaves anything to chance,” Carter said, warming up to his subject and looking earnestly at Townsend. “If it was one of us out there, the Colonel would be the first one to come and look for us. He wouldn’t sleep until we were all safe and sound. He’s a great commander, Group Captain Townsend, sir, and I wouldn’t want to work for anyone else but him. No one else has ever had the kind of confidence in me that he has—and I don’t think I could ever believe in anyone else the way I do the Colonel.” Carter paused and dropped his eyes, embarrassed, then turned back to the mirror. “No offense, sir.”
Townsend smiled thoughtfully. “None taken, Sergeant. Just for the record, I never suggested Colonel Hogan was anything but brilliant.”
Before he could stop himself, Carter retorted, “No; he’s just expensive.”
Townsend looked at him quizzically. “Expensive?”
Before he could get Carter to elaborate, Kinch appeared behind them. “It’s time to go.”
Le Beau walked over to the mirror and briefly checked his own appearance. “Oui, Carter. The truck is waiting for us about a half mile from camp, so it won’t take us long to get to it.” He gave Carter a quick once-over and nodded in approval. “Do you have your papers ready?”
Carter patted his pocket and smiled. “Right here, boy. I mean, Louis.” He looked at Townsend. “Now remember what I said—don’t be afraid; just do what you’re told. It works best that way; trust me.”
“Thanks, Sergeant; I’ll keep that in mind. Good luck, you two.” Townsend smiled as he turned to Kinch. “Lead on then. I’m as ready for my part in this little caper as I can be.”
“Then we’ll need you upstairs. Carter, Le Beau, time to head out. Townsend, you just move when Olsen tells you. He’ll be the one in the bomber jacket.”
“Righto,” Townsend answered.
“Kinch—any word from the Underground?” Carter asked hopefully.
Kinch shook his head regretfully. “No, Andrew. Nothing.” He watched as Carter’s eyes lost some of their shine and the young Sergeant seemed to try to keep his bottom lip from trembling. “But don’t worry,” Kinch added quickly. “It could just mean they’re under cover till it’s safe to come out. That’s why we’re doing our part now.”
“But what happens if I mess up? Won’t that just make things harder for the Colonel and Newkirk?” Carter began to unbutton his jacket. “Maybe you guys should get someone else to do this instead of me.”
Le Beau shook his head and looked up at Carter. “You will be fine, Andre. You will play your part well, and I will play mine just as well. You will see.” He paused. “Le Colonel trusts you.” He reached up and buttoned Carter’s jacket again. “And so do we. Now we must go.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Klink stood swallowing nervously as the Gestapo Major repeatedly slapped his gloves into his palm, emphasizing every point he made. “But I don’t understand, Major Gschwind. Things have been very quiet here. What could you possibly want with Colonel Hogan and the Englander?” he asked almost reluctantly, still unclear about the reason for being woken before dawn by this unknown officer.
“Quiet?” The Major struck his palm with the leather gloves. Klink cringed. “You call the destruction of one of our railway lines by saboteurs quiet, Colonel Klink?” Carter watched Klink’s skin pale and readied himself to continue. When he and Le Beau had first entered the Kommandant’s office, the American had been anything but certain that he could pull this stunt off—so much was riding on it that he didn’t have faith in himself to do it right. But Klink had fallen right into line, and now Carter could relax—just a little bit—and enjoy himself. “You must still be wearing earplugs, Colonel. Things have been anything but quiet.” He glanced over at his aide—Le Beau—who was standing fully at attention just behind him “Linzer, see that the Kommandant does not have any cotton stuffed in his ears. They are in need of cotton—for soldiers at the Russian front!”
Le Beau started to move, but Carter’s outstretched hand stopped him. “Never mind; it would only need extra washing. And we are rationing water, no?” he said. Le Beau brought himself back to attention. “As for your senior Prisoner of War and your English Corporal, let us just say that we have reason to believe they were out of camp last night… and that they might know a little bit more about the train line’s destruction than they would care to admit!”
“I can assure you, Major, that Colonel Hogan and Corporal Newkirk were in their barracks last night.” Klink tried to smile as he went into one of his favorite sayings. “After all, no one has ever escaped from Stalag 13.” The smile faltered in the face of the Gestapo man’s stern look, and Klink abruptly sat down. “However, your papers seem to be in order, so I must release them to your custody. May I ask how long they will be away?”
Gschwind smirked. “Be away?” he repeated. “You make it sound like they will naturally come back here, Kommandant.” Carter could barely believe it when Klink blanched every further. “I have no timetable for saboteurs,” he said sharply. “If they are found innocent, they will be sent back here. If not… you will have more food for the other prisoners. I will get these men myself,” he said. “What barracks are they in?”
“Barracks Two, Herr Major,” Klink said in a whisper.
Gschwind turned to Le Beau. “You hear that? Barracks Two!” He slapped his gloves in his palm again.
“Jawohl, Herr Major! Barracks Two!” Le Beau barked in acknowledgement.
“Let us go get them and take our
leave. I want to be back in
Kinch saw Carter and Le Beau come out of Klink’s office and immediately turned to Olsen and Townsend. “Okay, they’re on the way. Remember, keep your heads down and don’t talk. Just get out of camp, get to the hiding place, and get back in as fast as you can. Got it?”
“Got it,” Olsen said, nodding. He looked down at his zipped up bomber jacket and the borrowed crush cap he held in his hands. “I’m Hogan; he’s Newkirk. We won’t get caught.”
“Good,” Kinch said. “One set of them missing is more than enough.”
The barracks door flew open and Carter came in, followed by Le Beau, who had a big grin on his face. “Carter was terrific! He had Klink ready to pass out after about thirty seconds!”
“That’s great; now get Olsen and Townsend into the truck and get out of camp before Klink decides to come over here!” Kinch gestured urgently for the four men to get moving. “You can tell us all about it when you get back.”
Olsen set the crush cap on his head, pulling the bill down to keep most of his face in shadow, and nodded as he led Townsend outside. He stopped behind the truck, folding his arms over his chest as he turned his back to the Kommandant’s office. Townsend flipped up his jacket collar and walked out of the barracks, scrambling into the back of the truck. Olsen rocked back and forth on his heels as he waited, not getting into the truck until Le Beau came over and pushed him toward it.
“Come on, don’t pad your part,” the Frenchman said, remembering Hogan’s oft-quoted directive. “You’re him; now get in there.”
Olsen shrugged and hopped in. Carter barked a couple of vicious-sounding orders and got in behind them. “Was I really that good, Le Beau?” he asked eagerly.
“Oui. You were perfect, mon ami. Le Colonel would have been proud. We will tell him when he and Newkirk get back.”
“When, Le Beau?” Carter asked, emphasizing the word he wanted to desperately to cling to.
“Oui, Carter. When. They will come back. We will make sure of it.”
Newkirk sat in the crowded mess hall, cradling a tin cup of lukewarm tea in his hands. He’d managed to choke down a few bites of the camp bread that he’d been given for breakfast, but between the high sawdust content of the bread and pain in his abdomen, he couldn’t make himself eat any more. He took a sip of tea and shook his head. How the bloody hell am I going to find the gov’nor in all this mess? Must be over a thousand men here, and with us in separate barracks, it’ll be tough to keep in contact even after I do find him.
But it wasn’t long before Hogan made an appearance. Still limping badly, and with a dark bruise making an unwelcome appearance near his swollen jaw, he came and sat down next to the Englishman. “So, you have a nice little visit with the Kommandant?” he asked wryly, bringing a cup of ersatz coffee up to his lips, then reconsidering and putting it back down. He laid his arms on the table, making tight fists with his hands. “Lieutenant Staub was a charming combination of gracious host and Golden Gloves champion.”
“Yeah. Herr Kommandant’s a real charmin’ sort as well. Quick with the questions, an’ even quicker if he don’t like the answers.” I think I know who taught Staub everything he knows about how to hit. Newkirk nodded slowly, but didn’t look up at Hogan as he spoke. “You doin’ all right then?”
“I still have all my teeth, if that’s what you mean, but I might not eat solid food for a week,” Hogan answered grimly. “I’m more worried about how the hell we’re going to get out of this place. And I’m not thrilled with Kinch, Carter and Le Beau being stuck with Townsend back at camp, either.” He shook his head carefully. “Though I suppose they’re better off getting used to him now while they can. They won’t have any choice when all this is over, even if we succeed in getting back.”
“Is that what Townsend really came for, to replace you? If that’s the case, he may as well turn round and go home, because no one’s gonna go along with it.” Newkirk took a careful sip from his cup and shook his head. “Someone back there’s lost what little sense they had in coming up with that idea in the first place.”
Hogan shrugged and attempted the coffee again, winced, and put a hand up to his jaw to soothe it. “I keep telling myself it’s about the operation, not about me. That it’s about the good of the Allied war effort, not about who commands the units.” He sighed and brought down his hand. “But I’m being just plain stubborn if I don’t admit that to me, it’s also about me being able to be part of it. I look around this place—” Hogan gestured vaguely at their surroundings—”and I know that I’d go crazy if I didn’t have something to do, some way to…” Hogan paused. “Some way to get them back… for everything they did….”
“You’d do that no matter where they assigned you, gov’nor. Back at camp, or back in the air, you’d do everything you could to make a difference,” Newkirk said quietly. “That’s just how you are, and that’s why the men follow you.”
“Maybe,” Hogan said. A pause. “From the look of it, we won’t have a chance if we get stuck here, in any case. The way Brinkfried operates, we’ll barely be able to have contact. We’ve gotta get outta here, and fast.”
“Have to be done as a wildcat operation, because I don’t think the local Escape Committee would take too kindly to a couple of new guys trying to jump to the head of the list.” Newkirk smiled a bit. “I never thought I’d hear myself being in favor of something like that.” He started to glance at Hogan, but quickly lowered his head and turned away again.
“I know what you mean,” Hogan said. “But think of it this way—if we get out, and we can get back to Stalag 13, then any one of these fellas who escapes can have a place to go. If the operation survives under Townsend. And it will,” Hogan added forcefully. “If it’s the last order I give, it’s gonna be that you boys do what you have to, to keep the unit running.”
“That’ll be easy, then.” Newkirk’s voice took on the particular tone that Hogan had learned by now meant the Englishman was coming up with something sneaky. “We’ll just pack Townsend off home and keep you around. Problem solved.” Newkirk turned to Hogan, wearing one of his patented innocent looks, and forgetting at that particular moment about the black eye and bruises forming on the side of his face thanks to his interview with the Kommandant.
“That’s not exactly what I had in mind—” Hogan began, then cut himself off when he saw the Corporal’s face. “What’s that?” he burst. Shaking his head and not waiting for an answer, Hogan fumed, “Let me guess: Brinkfried.” He stood up. “That man—” Ready for action, Hogan nearly took off right then and there, then he suddenly stopped and dropped his head. “Damn,” he almost whispered. Newkirk frowned when he realized that the shine in Hogan’s eyes could be unshed tears. “I have no power here, Newkirk. I can’t protect you.” He sat down and stared at the table. “I can’t do my job and look after my men.” He closed his eyes. “I’m tired,” he said. “Neither of us got any sleep last night, and I don’t think I got any the night before, either. Let’s just find our barracks so we can get some rest and think more clearly later on.”
“Steady on, gov’nor. I can take a few hard knocks; in fact, my old man showed me the back of his hand on more than one occasion when I was growing up.” Newkirk reached over and put his hand on Hogan’s shoulder. “Now there is something you can do for me, Colonel,” he whispered. “You can give me your word as an officer that you won’t let this little tea party Brinkfried and I had get in the way of you figuring a way to get us out of here and back where we belong.”
Hogan felt the pressure of Newkirk’s hand and felt somehow comforted by it. “I won’t,” he said quietly. He thought for a moment, then said again, more intensely, “I won’t. I just need a couple of aspirins and some time to think. We’ll get back there, or my name isn’t James S. Dane, Private.” He let out a light laugh through his nose. “Private! Corporal, Sergeant, anything would have done… but Private? How much less authority could you have given me? I knew you didn’t like officers, but I never thought you’d bust me all the way down to Private.”
“Sorry, Private, but I didn’t have a spare set of chevrons in my pocket, and if I’d had them, there wouldn’t have been time to sew them on your sleeves in any case.” Newkirk laughed softly. “Just look at it this way, you’re gettin’ in some practice for next Boxing Day.”
“Newkirk, did I ever tell you I hate English holidays?”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Roll call, roll call! Everybody up! Raus, now, boys, raus! Up up up up—” Schultz cut his usual wake-up call short when he suddenly realized that he was standing in the middle of Barracks Two amidst a group of fully dressed men who were milling around the stove and the common room. “Up?” he finished. He furrowed his brow. “What… is going on?”
“We are awake, Schultz,” Le Beau informed him.
“I can see that,” he said. “But… why are you awake?”
“Didn’t Klink tell you?” Kinch asked, raising an eyebrow at Le Beau.
“Tell me… what?”
“The Gestapo was in here about an hour ago and took Colonel Hogan and Newkirk. You don’t think they went about their business quietly, do you?” Kinch declared.
“The Gestapo? No, the Kommandant has not yet told me about that,” he said. He looked around. “He took Colonel Hogan, and the Englander?”
“That's right, Schultz.”
“Oh… that is too bad,” he said almost mournfully. “But… where is Carter?”
“Oh, he’s… just upset about it all, Schultzie,” Le Beau said hastily. “You know how emotional he gets—he is in the Colonel’s office. We will bring him out for roll call. You go on, Schultz.”
Schultz frowned. “Are you sure?” he asked.
“Absolutely, Schultz, really,” Kinch said, pushing the guard toward the door. “We’ll get him and be out in a minute. You’d better head out; he’d be really embarrassed if he thought you knew. He doesn’t want you to see a grown man cry.”
“Oh, that is too bad,” Schultz tutted. “I will wait outside.”
And he was almost shoved out the door. Le Beau went on watch while Kinch banged on the bunk leading to the tunnel under the barracks. “Hurry up, Carter!” he called.
Carter’s head suddenly appeared. “Sorry—it takes longer than I thought to get out of those clothes! And that little moustache! I can’t imagine how Hitler does it!”
“Never mind that; we’re late for roll call. Let’s go!”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan fell into line outside his barracks, having been pushed into place by a guard not very unlike the friendly Staub he had encountered a few hours earlier. Despite his anxiety about his men and his situation and continuing strong pain from his injuries, he had managed to get a couple of hours’ sleep, and his muscles had been sore and stiff on awakening. His slow, awkward pace in getting out the door was not appreciated, and he had been told with a quick, sharp prod to his lower back.
“Just keep your mouth shut,” another prisoner, who had identified himself only as Norton, warned him in a whisper. Then the man brought himself to attention as Brinkfried approached the group.
“Ah, my Yankee Doodle failures,” Brinkfried greeted them. Hogan squirmed in his place in the back row. “Guten morgen, Americans. How lovely a day… when you are free.”
Hogan seethed at the German’s smile, appalled that the man could take such obvious pleasure in denigrating his captives, and at the same time knowing that it could very well have been like that at Stalag 13 if he had not been able to play Klink like a well-tuned fiddle.
“You have a new toothless lion for your cage, as you no doubt saw as you woke up this morning,” Brinkfried said. He moved in closer to the group. Hogan held his breath, determined to keep calm, as the Major reached in between the men and pulled Hogan out of line by the shirt. Hogan clenched his fists, but kept them by his side, and did not look away from the Kommandant. “This is Private Dane. He was brought in last night with an equally useless Englishman. You will teach him the ways of this camp. Or you will all suffer for it.”
Brinkfried pushed Hogan away from him so hard that the American fell to the ground at the feet of the men in the front row. No one spoke against the action. No one reached down to help him up. And so Hogan staggered to his feet, accepting an unexpected blow to his wounded knee from Brinkfried on the way up that made him see stars and nearly drove him back down to the ground. Still, Hogan straightened. And when he had caught his breath, he stared unashamedly at the Kommandant. “Looks like we both have a lot to learn, Kommandant,” Hogan said in a low voice.
Looking surprised and mildly amused, Brinkfried arched an eyebrow at Hogan’s implied warning and nodded. “Is that so, Private?” he replied. Suddenly a truncheon flew across the face of the Corporal nearest Hogan, and then rammed into Hogan’s solar plexus. The Corporal shouted and crumpled; Hogan doubled over in pain, gagging. “Let us see who learns the fastest. Take your time, Private. I can teach many such lessons, with so many men around you to accept the consequences of your mistakes.”
Brinkfried turned to his guard. “Dismiss the rabble. I have other barracks to visit.” And he turned on his heel and walked away.
Hogan tried to stand up straight but found that still beyond him at the moment. So he turned to see the Corporal who had been struck being looked after, as blood flowed from his face. “I’m—sorry,” Hogan managed breathlessly.
“It’s all right,” came a voice. Hogan looked up to see Norton beside him. “We all tried it once. Come on; you need to get seen at the medical hut. You’re already not in top shape; keep this up and the medic’s gonna be busy for the duration—if he isn’t planning your funeral.” And he helped guide Hogan away from the dispersing prisoners.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Across the compound, Newkirk stood among the English prisoners as one of the guards moved down the line counting them. The silence was somewhat unnerving to him, as none of the men were making any attempts at goon-baiting. I suppose I can’t blame them for not wanting to cause trouble, given the situation here. While I’d love to put the needle in a couple of these Krauts, I’d best keep quiet, at least until I learn the ropes.
When the guard went back to the front of the ranks, Newkirk yawned as he tried to wake himself up. He’d spent most of the time just trying to find a comfortable way to lie on the bunk he’d been assigned after being unceremoniously dumped into his new barracks. His back was sore from the blow he’d taken from the truncheon earlier, and his abdomen from having been used as a target for Brinkfried’s fists during his interrogation. The Englishman’s face had also been a target, and the pain from the darkening bruise there didn’t help his headache one bit.
Any lingering thoughts of sleep were driven from Newkirk’s mind when he saw Major Brinkfried reach into the American ranks and drag Hogan to the front. He swore under his breath and started forward when Hogan was shoved to the ground, only to find himself restrained by a large, dark-haired Corporal. “You want to get yourself in trouble by breaking ranks?” the Corporal hissed in his ear as he held Newkirk in line. Matters got worse when the guard accompanying Brinkfried struck not only another of the Americans, but Hogan as well, and it took the efforts of the Corporal as well as two others to keep Newkirk from going after the German officer.
Brinkfried reached the English formation, barely giving the guard a nod when the man reported his count, as his eyes were focused on Newkirk, who was still struggling to get free. “So, you object to discipline, do you, Englander?” He turned to his guards and ordered them to bring Newkirk forward, and as they held him with his arms wrenched behind his back, the German smiled slowly. “It seems that you have not learned your lesson yet, Corporal. It’s quite simple: from now on, every time you step out of line, your American friend will be punished. And of course, you will receive the necessary corrective measures if he does not behave.” Brinkfried nodded to one of the guards. “Five times around the compound, quick march, and with a full pack. See to it at once. Dismissed.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Ein, svei, drei…”
In the cold morning air, the men of Barracks Two stood shuffling their feet in front of the hut, trying to keep warm as the Sergeant of the Guard counted them to make sure they were all there. Normally, this would be a quick, sometimes even lighthearted affair, with Colonel Hogan standing in the front row, fingers hooked inside his pockets, rocking back and forth confidently, seemingly just waiting for the camp Kommandant to say something that the prisoners could use to their advantage.
But today, that was not the case. Today, there were two holes where there should have been men: Hogan and Newkirk were both missing. And the men who lived practically out of their pockets knew the neat little story that Hogan’s men had made up was just window-dressing. The truth was much worse: no one knew where they were, at all.
Schultz continued moving in between the two rows. “Dreizehn, vierzehn…” He got to Newkirk’s vacant spot and paused. He knew why the place was empty. And he didn’t want to go past it because there would be another empty spot, too—that of Colonel Hogan. Hogan had become almost as much a protector of Schultz as of the American’s own men. And the Englander—well, he could be a rascal, but he almost always kept the guard out of trouble.
He mentally counted the unfilled places and reached the right number. Then he turned unhappily to Klink, who was waiting, uncharacteristically patiently, in front of the men. “Herr Kommandant, all prisoners present... or accounted for,” he said quietly.
“Thank you, Schultz.” Klink nodded slowly. “Bring the ranking prisoner to my office and dismiss the rest.” He turned and, forgetting to salute the Sergeant, went back to his office without another word.
Schultz watched as his Kommandant walked away, not moving until the man had disappeared. He looked back at the prisoners and sighed. “You must come with me now, Carter.”
The American Sergeant’s face went pale. “M-me?” he managed to stammer after a moment. “Why do you want me?” He turned to Kinch, his eyes growing wide with fear. I can’t go in there and talk to the Kommandant! I don’t know what to say or to do, and what if he recognizes me?
“You are the ranking prisoner in Colonel Hogan’s absence,” Schultz replied, softly in deference to Hogan’s memory. “The Kommandant wants to speak with you.”
“B-but I don’t have anything to say to him!” Carter protested.
Schultz shrugged. “Neither does anybody else. Come on, Carter. Don’t make it difficult for me.”
Le Beau and Kinch tried to nod encouragingly, as Carter sighed and went off with the guard.
Schultz opened the door to Klink’s office in response to the muffled “Come,” that sounded from within. He motioned for Carter to enter, then pointed at a spot in front of the desk, to indicate where the American should stand. “Sergeant Andrew Carter, ranking prisoner, Herr Kommandant.” Schultz stepped back and waited.
Klink looked up from his desk, studying the prisoner for a long moment before speaking. “Sergeant Carter, in Colonel Hogan’s absence you will be the prisoner’s representative to this office. You will also be responsible for maintaining order and discipline among the men.”
“Um, Kommandant Klink, sir?” Carter tightly gripped his cap with both hands to keep them from shaking. “May I ask why Colonel Hogan and Corporal Newkirk were taken away by the Gestapo this morning?”
“I don’t know, Sergeant.” Klink shook his head slowly. “One does not question the Gestapo in such matters.”
Carter nodded quickly in reply. “Yes, sir. But do you know when they’ll be coming back?”
Klink shook his head again.
“Sir?” Carter swallowed nervously and took an even tighter grip on his cap. “What if they don’t come back?” he asked softly.
Klink sighed. “Someone may be brought in from another camp to take over as senior prisoner of war officer here, and if not, then you will continue to hold that office. For now, though, Sergeant Schultz will explain your new duties to you. Dismissed.” He looked past the American to the guard, and nodded for Schultz to take Carter and go.
“‘May,’ sir? What do you mean ‘may’?” Carter asked as Schultz led him outside. “Sir? What do you mean ‘may’?”
“Colonel Hogan might not come back this time, Carter. If that is the way things turn out, it is as the Kommandant said: you may be the senior prisoner.” Schultz sighed. He was as worried as the prisoners about the fate of the missing men, and was just as concerned about what would happen if they did not return.
“Me, senior prisoner? I don’t wanna be senior prisoner! Make sure the Colonel comes back, okay, Schultz?” If I could only be sure this was never going to happen for real! Please, Colonel, please come back soon. And bring Newkirk with you!
Regardless of Rank
Newkirk walked slowly and carefully into the medical hut and lowered himself onto a bench with a groan. He nodded to his escort, the same Corporal who had held him in line during roll call. “Thanks, Hawkins. I’ll find my own way back when I’m finished here.” When the man left, Newkirk leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees, and cradled his aching head in his hands. What I wouldn’t give for some aspirin just now.
“You look like I feel,” came Hogan’s voice. Newkirk looked up to see his commanding officer hobbling painfully across the room. The American came and carefully sat beside him. “Glad you finally made it.” Hogan looked around. “There’s not a whole lot they can do for you—the medic here isn’t as well stocked as Wilson is at Stalag 13—but at least they’ll clean you up a bit.”
Hogan paused, but Newkirk didn’t seem quite ready to answer yet, so he continued. “The medic here says my mouth is really bad for my health,” Hogan said with a sigh. “The more I open it, the sorer my stomach will get.” He tried to stretch a bit but stopped when he realized that wasn’t a good idea. He gently fingered a small dressing near his temple, then winced as the touch aggravated his still-throbbing headache. “He decided to give every little cut and bruise a clean, too.” He brought his hand down and instead wrapped his arms around himself, grateful for the support for his sore ribs and abdomen. “When I’m allowed to be a Colonel again, I’m gonna have him court-martialed.” He paused again. “Where have you been this morning?”
“On a ruddy tour of the compound, complete with goon escort and a field pack of rocks that weighs five stone if it weighs an ounce.” Newkirk finally looked up at Hogan, his eyes narrowing as he took in each of the Colonel’s injuries. “It seems Brinkfried thought I needed some time to cool off after roll call, but all he got out of it was to give me one more reason to hate him. He also said that anything I do wrong,” the Englishman looked away as he continued, “will be taken out on you.” I’m not gonna tell him the other half of that particular line. He’s got to feel free to act so he can find a way to get us out of here!
Hogan shook his head. “I had a feeling he’d be nasty enough to pull something like that,” he said with a sigh. “I’m sure he won’t hesitate to mete out that kind of punishment in reverse, too. I’d better watch my step or you’ll end up on a liquid diet for a month.” He thought a minute, then asked, “So what did you find when you were out on patrol—anything we can use?”
“First trip around I was too bloody mad to think straight, but on the second, I started payin’ a little more attention to things.” Newkirk smiled slowly. “Nice of the Kommandant to let me have a look round the place, wasn’t it?” His voice dropped to a low whisper as he continued. “There’s a storehouse over on the east side of camp near the Kraut barracks that’s not all that well-guarded, and I didn’t see a single prisoner in that area. Reckon they keep well clear of goon country, and with good reason I’d say.”
“I’d say so, too. Notice anything interesting about it?”
“There’s only about ten feet between the rear of the building and the wire. With that, and figuring the angle of the nearest searchlight, there’s gonna be a spot back there that’s pretty much in the dark all night.” The Englishman paused as he thought over what he’d seen. “The woods are about a hundred yards away from the fence at that point, and there are a few large rocks and some tree stumps littering the ground along the way.”
For the first time in twenty-four hours, Hogan had something to smile about. “Sounds like the Krauts have set up camp very nicely for us,” he said with a grin. “Give me some time to think this over. I think we might have a winner.” Hogan stood up stiffly. “Damned medic wrapped my knee, too; I’ll be walking like a Kraut on parade for a week,” he joked feebly. “I’m gonna go have myself a wander… test the waters, so to speak. I’ll see you at lunch. Keep yourself out of trouble until then, you hear me? I’d like to make it an order… but nobody listens to Privates these days.”
“You best be careful out there, gov’nor,” Newkirk whispered. “These goons aren’t tame like the ones back where we come from.” He shook his head slowly. “As for orders, I’d try to make that one as well, but as we’re not in the same Army, I doubt you’d listen.” Newkirk silently mouthed the word “Colonel” as he finished his statement, and smiled.
“And don’t you forget it,” Hogan whispered with a smile in return. Out loud, he said, “I’ll do my very best to make you proud of me anyway… Corporal Kirkland, sir.”
Newkirk rolled his eyes at the “sir,” and gave Hogan one of his own casually tossed-off salutes in return. “Get out of here, Private Dane, before I put you on report for... oh, I don’t know what, but I’ll think of something.”
Hogan shook his head. “Sorry,
Corporal,” he said with a playful twinkle in his eyes, “you’ll have to learn
how to respond to wisecracks from the enlisted men properly in
“Ruddy daft you are, mate.” Newkirk gave Hogan an affronted look, though it was at odds with the grin that was trying to break out across his face. “Me? A bleedin’ officer? Sounds like you hit your head harder than I thought.” He shook his head and was about to continue when the medic called him over. “Looks like it’s my turn now. See you at lunch.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Kinch sighed as he took off his headsets and put them gently back on the desk. “Anything, Kinch?” asked Carter hopefully. “Anything at all?”
Kinch shook his head, discouraged. “No, Carter. The Underground says it hasn’t had any word about the Colonel and Newkirk. It’s like they dropped off the face of the earth.” He lowered his head as he stepped away from the radio that had offered no good news in the last few days.
“They could not have,” Le Beau protested, insistent and angry. “There were patrols in the area. We know that the Colonel was running a diversion from them. If he was safe, he would have come home; if he had been found, Newkirk would have come home with him. They are both missing—they have to be out there somewhere. People are not looking hard enough!”
Kinch wanted to agree. He wanted to believe that there was someone to blame for the disappearance of his commanding officer and his friend. But there was one overriding, fearful thought: “No one might have seen them… because… they might not have made it,” he proposed reluctantly. “They might have been shot on sight and taken away. No one might ever find out.”
Carter blanched as his eyes widened and moistened. Le Beau shook his head vehemently. “No, Kinch, you are wrong. Colonel Hogan would not let that happen!”
“He might not have had any say in it!” Kinch finally burst. “Do you think anyone would ask to be shot by the Nazis?” He shook his head. “And Newkirk was an idiot disobeying orders and going after Hogan when he was specifically ordered not to—that put them both at risk! And look what’s happened because of it!”
“But Newkirk went because he couldn’t leave the Colonel to face the Nazis alone!” Carter almost wailed.
“And look at all the good it did,” Kinch replied angrily. “Now we’ve lost not one, but two of them!” His anger suddenly deflated and he sat down, trembling with emotion. “We’ve lost two of them,” he repeated quietly. Le Beau moved in quietly, putting a hand on Kinch’s shoulder. “We have to go back out there,” Kinch said finally. “We have to make sure they aren’t just lying in a ditch somewhere. They deserve better.”
“Oui,” Le Beau agreed. Carter nodded, unable to speak. “We will put Townsend on ice for awhile and go out. What about tonight?”
“Sounds good,” Kinch said softly. “Where is he, Louis?”
“I thought he was down here with you. Andre?”
Carter shook his head. “No,” he said, recovering. “I thought he was upstairs with you.”
“He was not upstairs with me,” Le Beau answered. “Kinch?”
“Well, I haven’t seen him!” The trio looked at each other. “Then where is he?”
Though a sense of panic was starting to build, Le Beau said, “Good riddance, I say.”
“Louis,” Kinch said, “if the guards find a strange British officer wandering around camp, we could find ourselves wandering in front of a firing squad!”
“It is like I said—we had better find him!”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Townsend’s eyes scanned the barbed wire as he shuffled, hands in pockets, head bowed, near the fence. He saw guards, seeming relaxed and almost casual, chatting as they did their rounds, their rifles slung carelessly over their shoulders, their eyes not studying the wire, the gates, the milling prisoners. He moved in close to the warning fence, trying to see the entrance to the tunnel that he had come in the night before—he couldn’t. He strained a little harder to see, then shrugged and gave up. He was sure it was in this direction; obviously, he had gotten it wrong.
Turning away, Townsend found himself confronted by Kinch and Le Beau. “What are you doing out here?” Kinch almost growled. He put himself in front of Townsend to shield the officer’s face from nearby Germans. “Follow me,” he ordered, and did an abrupt about-face and headed purposefully back to the barracks. Le Beau put himself behind the Group Captain, ensuring the Englishman could not elude them.
As soon as they stepped inside the barracks and shut the door, Kinch wheeled back around. “What the hell did you think you were doing?” he barked at Townsend.
“Having a look round the place.” Townsend drew himself up and looked Kinch squarely in the eye. “And I’ll thank you not to take that tone with me, Sergeant. I’ll let it go this time, as I realize that you’re under a great deal of strain, with your men going missing.”
Kinch drew in a long breath
through his flaring nostrils. “My men
happen to be our commanding officer,
and one of his best men! You think I’m under strain now? You should see what would have happened if I’d had to tell
Kinch finally let out a breath. He had surprised himself with his vehemence, and realized then that if he wasn’t careful, it wouldn’t only be Hogan who was replaced. He shook his head and wiped his brow. “Sorry, sir,” he said suddenly, quietly. Le Beau just watched, understanding, from behind. “I guess we’re all just worried about the Colonel and Newkirk. We all depend on each other, sir, and the idea that two of us are out there, somewhere, and no one knows where they are, or even if they’re alive… well, that just gets to a man sometimes.”
Townsend straightened slowly as Kinch’s tirade blew at him. Then he nodded and said, “I understand. Colonel Hogan is your commanding officer and you obviously have a great deal of respect for him, and for your colleague. And of course it must be trying for you to proceed with such uncertainty. But, damn it, man, what do you think you’re going to accomplish by skulking about in your tunnels? You have to act. And if you can’t act, then you accept what you cannot change and move on. Things rarely stay the same. You fly, you get shot down, you move on. You have an operation, you have a commanding officer, you can’t do anything to change the current situation—you move on!” Townsend took note of the increasing tension in Kinch’s already-taut body but continued. “Your Colonel Hogan—would he expect you to sit around camp waiting for him? Hoping to hear from him? Or would he expect you to continue what he started?”
Kinch shook his head, not wanting to listen. Townsend then turned to Le Beau. “Well?”
Le Beau stared at the ground, his sullen features refusing to rise up to this intruder. “The Colonel says the operation is important. We are not supposed to risk all for one. But…” He raised his eyes to Townsend. “But to us, without Colonel Hogan there is no operation.”
It was Townsend’s turn to lower his eyes. “There might have to be.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan drained his cup and grimaced at the taste of what tried to pass as coffee. “I don’t know what’s in that, but it’ll keep me out of bed for awhile.” He shook his head. “Still, I need to be alert to make plans, so I’ll have to suffer through it… and get some more.” He stood up awkwardly from the table and gestured to Newkirk’s tin cup. “You need a refill on that?”
“Righto. This was tea only because it’s had a nodding acquaintance with a tea leaf, but they met sometime back in 1930, I think.” The Englishman nodded and held the cup out to Hogan and couldn’t help smiling a bit. “Thanks, Private. I appreciate it.”
Hogan sighed at the comment, and Newkirk swore that he heard the American mutter, “I don’t get paid enough to put up with this,” as he hobbled away.
Newkirk broke a bit off his bread and frowned as he stuck it in his mouth. I’m sorry, gov’nor, but I still believe I did the right thing in the long run by taking your pins like that. His thoughts about Colonel Hogan were interrupted when a pair of men in Royal Air Force uniforms took seats at the table on each side of him. “Afternoon, gentlemen,” he said as he glanced at each of them in turn.
“Good afternoon, Corporal, I’m Flight Sergeant Edward Bramer, and you’ve already met Corporal Hawkins.” The blond Sergeant’s eyes lingered on Newkirk’s face for a moment and sighed. “You were right, Hawkins, looks like he’s had a chat with our Kommandant already.”
“Right charmin’ fellow he is too,” Newkirk nodded, and touched his fingertips to the swelling under his eye. “Corporal Richard Kirkland. And I could do without another visit any time soon.”
“A real rhubarb, ain’t ’e?” Hawkins nodded in agreement. “Anyway, Bramer here’s our barracks chief, and he’s got something to say that you need to hear.”
Bramer spoke up. “There’s something you need to know about this place. It’s not a good idea for you to spend too much time around your friend, for his sake as well as yours. You see—”
Newkirk cut Bramer off with a hard look. “Where do you come off sayin’ that I can’t—”
“Settle down, Corporal!” Bramer didn’t give Newkirk time to finish, and when Newkirk went silent, the Flight Sergeant continued. “Being in a prisoner of war camp does not mean we will abandon military decorum.” He paused, watching Newkirk closely, then nodded. “As I was starting to say, Brinkfried’s fairly indifferent to the Yanks and Frenchies, but he’s got a problem with us—the English prisoners I mean. That eye patch he’s got? One of us gave it to him during the last days of the Battle of Britain when someone in a Blenheim of all things nearly managed to shoot him down, and he’s held a grudge ever since.”
Newkirk couldn’t help grinning. I don’t suppose it would be a good idea to mention that I was an Air Gunner in a Blenheim, now would it? Too bad whoever it was as shot him up didn’t finish the job. “That’s a bit of all right, innit? Except for the part about him makin’ things hard on everyone here.” He shook his head as the grin faded. “So what you’re sayin’ is that I need to be keepin’ me distance, else take the chance of drawin’ down the Kommandant’s wrath on ’im as well?” Marvelous. This whole thing’s getting worse by the minute.
Hawkins traded glances with
Bramer and nodded. “That’s about the size of it,
“Thanks for the warning. I’ll just ’ave to see about pullin’ a nun or three out me ti’fer then and see what happens, won’t I?”
At that moment Hogan reappeared at the table, two steaming cups in hand. He frowned, feeling the less than happy atmosphere, but decided not to say anything about it just yet. Instead, he pasted on a wry smile and said, “Do you fellas come with subtitles, or do I need to find a translator somewhere?” He handed Newkirk his cup and then and took a seat across from the Englishmen.
Hawkins and Newkirk laughed as Bramer shook his head. “You’re not alone there, Yank. I was born just across town from this chap,” he gestured to Hawkins, “and even I can’t understand him half the time. But that’s a Cockney lad for you. Or should I say, lads, in this case.”
After a sip of tea, Newkirk gave Hogan an innocent look. “Just having a chat with these fellows. Flight Sergeant Bramer, Corporal Hawkins,” he nodded to each in turn. “I want you to meet James Dane, US Army Air Corps, but as fine a china as you’d want despite all that.”
“Despite?” Hogan protested. Then he stopped. “No, hang on,” he amended. “I’m not sure if I was just complimented or insulted.”
Newkirk gave Hogan a look that was half mischief and half pity. “You Yanks have never spoken the King’s English right, have you? Right then, a quick lesson: china’s from ‘china plate’ which rhymes with ‘mate.’ Sorted, innit?”
Hogan shook his head hopelessly and looked at Bramer. “I think I need to lie down,” he said. “So, you giving my friend here the run down, are you? What’s this camp all about, anyway? Fine Kommandant you’ve got, if you have stocks in bandage companies.”
“The short course on it, Dane, is that it’s best if you two aren’t seen in each other’s company very often. Our ‘fine Kommandant’, as you say, believes in keeping the various nationalities separated as much as possible.” Bramer shook his head slowly. “He rather has it in for us English chaps, so even though I realize that you and Kirkland here are friends, you should be very careful of spending an inordinate amount of time together.”
Hogan frowned deeply. “I’m not
going to let some small-minded, big-fisted Kraut tell me who I can and can’t
spend time with.” He grimaced, realizing he couldn’t speak the way he wanted to
with these men, since in their minds, they outranked him. “With all due
respect, sir, what keeps men standing with their heads held high is their
dignity. And if you let the Krauts take away the simple, but essential, right
to choose our friends, then we’ve lost the war—without as much as a whimper of
protest.” Hogan stood up. “I’ll heed your advice—I’ll be careful, so I don’t
And Hogan disappeared.
Newkirk watched Hogan limp away, then turned back to his fellow Englishmen with a look of pride on his face. “That, gentlemen, is why I’m proud to call him mate.” The tone of his voice put the fullest meaning into the simple word. It’s also why he’s the gov’nor. “And he’s absolutely right. The war isn’t over for us, just because we’re behind the wire now. There’s ways to keep fighting the Jerries, even without guns or aeroplanes.” Newkirk gave each man a long look. “Think it over, lads, and if you’re interested, we can talk it over later.”
Newkirk stood and walked away.
Discord and Unity
Hogan sidled up to Newkirk after looking around to see if any guards were paying him particular attention. Damn, they’re going to make me paranoid after all, he thought. I’ll be more cautious, for Newkirk’s sake… but they won’t stop us from getting the hell out of here. “I see you managed to get your own clothes back,” he said softly, as he, too, felt the small comfort of being in his own uniform again, even if he didn’t have his jacket or his crush cap.
“That I did,” Newkirk answered as the two leaned against the wall of one of the huts.
“And was… everything the way you left it?” Hogan asked out of the corner of his mouth.
“It was,” Newkirk said quietly. The Englishman was wearing the grey work shirt he’d been issued that morning under his uniform jacket, and he held out his blue wool sweater to Hogan. “Here, gov’nor. It still gets a bit chilly at night; you’d best take this.”
Hogan smiled, touched, as Newkirk held out his offering. It’ll be too short in the arms, he thought fondly. But he reached out and took it, thankful for a caring friend. “Thanks, Newkirk,” he said under his breath, wanting to use the man’s real name to accept such a gesture. “I’ll use it tonight.”
“You’re welcome, Colonel,” Newkirk whispered in reply, giving Hogan the same respect in turn. “What you said back in the mess, I think you got those two thinking a bit. I know I felt better hearing it said, sir.”
“Good,” Hogan said with a nod. “If we’re only here for two days, I can’t stand the idea of men segregating themselves because of the goons.” He sighed. “So, when can I borrow your… tool?”
“Soon as I get a few minutes alone to take the lace apart.” Newkirk glanced at his boots, particularly the left one, as its lacing concealed a thin wire saw that had been adapted by British military intelligence as an escape tool. He had a few other clever devices hidden within his clothing as well, some also courtesy of the Intelligence Service and others of his own creation. “When do we go? Tomorrow night then?”
Hogan nodded almost imperceptibly. “I’d like to go sooner, but I need to have a good look at the area behind the storehouse myself, and I don’t think I’ll be allowed to do that much before dark. Meanwhile, let’s just blend in as much as possible—as long as we can do it together.”
“Righto. I’d like a look around again myself, actually, to get a better idea of the grounds between the wire and the woods.” Newkirk paused, and gave Hogan a sidelong look. “You’re sure about going together, though? I mean, we’ll draw more attention that way, and that’s something we really don’t need just now. As I’ve told you before, anything I get caught doing will reflect back onto you, sir.”
Hogan shrugged. “Newkirk,” he said seriously, “anything either of us does will impact the other. You’re taking as much a chance being with me as I am with you.” He paused, waiting for his words to sink in, then declared, “You won’t come with me tonight; I won’t take a chance on you paying the price if I’m caught snooping around. The way that lunatic Brinkfried thinks, he’d kill you before you got in a single word of defense. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let that blasted Kraut keep men apart just because they’re from different countries. And that includes me and you.”
Newkirk nodded slowly. I should have known I wasn’t putting one over on the Colonel by not telling him about the rest of what Brinkfried said. Still, I don’t like the idea of him being out alone tonight. “I can slip out tonight and meet up with you, gov’nor. That way I can keep watch while you check things over.”
“No way,” Hogan said. “You’re to stay in and get some sleep. And that’s an order. I don’t need any tails tonight; I can snoop just fine without you.”
“But gov’nor...” Newkirk started to protest until he saw the look on Hogan’s face. “All right, sir. I’ll stay in.” Though I don’t think I’ll be getting much sleep.
“Good. I’ll take the piece from you right after mess and go wandering after lights out. Today I’ll just take a short stroll to test the waters and look for the best route there in the dark. Then if all goes well, we’re out of here tomorrow night. I’m already tired of Brinkfried’s hospitality squad.”
“I’ll not argue that one, Colonel.” Newkirk paused as he glanced around the compound, checking to see that they still hadn’t attracted any attention from the guards. “Never thought I’d hear myself say this, but after being here, Stalag 13’s not such a bad place. Klink might be a fool, but at least he treats his prisoners fairly.” He gave Hogan a look. “That, and we’ve got you to look out for us. I’d like to thank you for that, mate.”
Hogan was given pause by the clear sincerity in Newkirk’s voice, and by the soft emphasis on that word that was usually so casually spoken: mate. Most of the time, it was a throw-away word, just an Englishman’s idiom. But this time Newkirk seemed to mean it, and at this camp, already feeling a lack of control and an unusual sense of loneliness, a genuine offer of comradeship was a soothing balm for Hogan, and he was grateful. He couldn’t find the words to express his thankfulness, so he just nodded briefly and said, “I’ll see you at mess. Don’t be late.” And, trying to stretch still-sore muscles, he limped painfully away.
The Englishman didn’t move as he watched his commanding officer disappear into the mass of prisoners milling about the compound. It’s all right, gov’nor. I heard everything you didn’t say.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Kinch walked into Barracks Two and headed for the coffee pot. He picked up a cup, glancing briefly into it before filling it with the dark, bitter brew that masqueraded as coffee. “Well, that’s all set, Louis.” He turned to the Frenchman, who was sitting at the table and concentrating way too much on the simple task of peeling potatoes. “I’ve got four teams lined up and ready to go out tonight to look for Newkirk and the Colonel. I’d like to send out half the camp, but it’d be our luck for Klink to pull a surprise inspection about five minutes after everyone had gone.” He took a deep pull from the cup and grimaced at the taste. “What’d you put in here? Half a pound of chicory and half a pinch of coffee or something?”
“I give you what I have. If you want perfect café you go to
.” Le Beau continued working at his potatoes, angry that he would have fewer to make tonight with two of his comrades gone. “I will be going out tonight, oui?” Paris
“I’m sorry, Louis, but the answer is no.” Kinch took a seat at the table and sighed. “I’m gonna need you here in case the goons find out that we’ve got all those guys outside the wire. We’ll need to plan a few diversions to have ready, and as much as I know you’re not going to want to hear this...” The Sergeant paused and gave Le Beau a direct look. “I want you available for strudel duty.”
Le Beau grimaced but nodded. “I understand. I was hoping you would overlook that.”
Kinch nodded sympathetically. “I’d like to, but like Colonel Hogan always says, we should all go with our best talents. I’m going to be on the radio coordinating the search effort between our teams and the Underground, and I’ve got Carter down for putting out a few caches of smoke grenades in case we need them for one of those distractions I mentioned.” He took another sip of the coffee. “Believe me, I want to be out there myself; heck, we all do. But we’ve got to go with what works.”
Le Beau nodded unhappily, then frowned when he heard a knock from below. “That will be Townsend,” he said. “He has been knocking for the last ten minutes but I have pretended no one was here to let him come up.”
Kinch shook his head and went over to open the bunk. “Come on up, Group Captain. The next barracks check isn’t due for a couple of hours or so.” He gave Le Beau a look that was part annoyance, part warning and part admiration as he returned to the table.
Townsend climbed up and stepped into the room. “I’ve been knocking down there for the better part of fifteen minutes!” he complained. “Couldn’t you chaps hear me?” Le Beau only shrugged. Townsend came to the table. “I need to get on the radio to
. Sergeant Kinchloe, will you please set it up for me?” London
Kinch stole a quick glance at Le Beau, then replied cautiously, “Sure, Group Captain. Who are we calling?”
“I am calling
. With your Colonel Hogan missing, I need to coordinate a few things. We weren’t expecting him not to be here, as you can well imagine.” London
“Not yet, anyway,” Le Beau muttered under his breath. Kinch let out a breath of relief when he realized Townsend missed that.
Kinch looked at his watch and frowned slightly. “Well, we try to stay off the radio as much as possible during the day so the Krauts don’t spot our antenna when we raise it. But I can give you some air time, sir, as long as you keep it brief.” He pulled his pencil from behind his ear, and took a small tablet of paper from a pocket. “Okay, give me the message; I’ll get it into code and send it off.”
Townsend shook his head. “I have my own code. It’s top secret and cannot be shared with any of my subordinates. I just need you to make contact, right, old chap?”
“Well, okay. But keep it short.” We wouldn’t want to cost the war anything extra with a long message, now would we, “old chap?” Kinch went down the ladder, shaking his head slightly. And why is it that when Newkirk says something like that, I don’t mind, but coming from this guy it gets on my nerves?
Townsend was hot on his heels and stood hopping from foot to foot while Kinch made the connection with Allied Headquarters. When he had established proper contact, the Sergeant handed the microphone and headsets to the Group Captain.
Townsend took the offerings smoothly, then motioned for Kinch to get out of the way. “Thanks, old boy, I’ll take over from here.” And he sat down and started tapping a code that no matter how hard he tried, Kinch could not decipher.
Eventually, Kinch gave up and moved over toward the ladder with Le Beau. “Boy, this guy’s really starting to get under my skin.”
Carter clattered his way down the ladder and gave Kinch a wide grin. “Everything’s all set for tonight! I’ve got stuff hidden all over camp. Just say the word, boy, and we’ll have the Krauts running all over the place like crazy!”
Le Beau waved a hand to silence the American. “Sshh. The Prince of England is on the radio.”
“On the radio?” Carter looked toward where Townsend was still tapping out a message. “I thought we weren’t supposed to do that during the day!”
“We aren’t. But we were outranked, old chap,” Kinch answered sourly. Then he straightened. “And I think it’s time we outranked him.” He made his way back to the desk. “Group Captain, sir. You have to get off; it’s too dangerous to be on this long.”
Townsend looked up and nodded. “Won’t be a moment, Sergeant. All in good time.” And he finished his message, listened to one come in, and then signed off. “There we go; all set.” He looked up at Kinch, then moved out of the way for the Sergeant to close down the radio. Looking at the others, he said, “Now we may get some answers about your Colonel Hogan and about Corporal Newkirk.”
“How so, sir?” Carter asked.
“I’ve put in a call to
“That was the idea,” Kinch said sullenly. “It protects the operation.”
“Mm, but it also makes it harder for them to be helped by their comrades in arms.” Townsend shook his head, as Hogan’s men took this comment as an insult. “So now,” he said finally, “we can leave the hard yards to our own boys in the field, eh?” Then, changing tack, he said, “Now, let’s review what we’re doing so far, yes? You have some of your own men heading out tonight?”
“Yes, sir,” Kinch replied stiffly.
And you have the guards in the camp distracted, I presume.”
“Of course,” Le Beau said, biting his tongue before further comments came out of his mouth.
“And if the Jerries get upset about this—you have your man Carter here ready, yes?”
“You sure do, boy—uh, Group Captain, sir,” Carter agreed.
“Well, then, we are doing all we can. Now the most important thing is not to make the Germans suspicious. What say you chaps circulate upstairs for awhile? I’ll stay down here and monitor the radio for you. Just make sure you send someone into the barracks every now and then, so I’m not trapped down here!” And he laughed. But no one laughed with him.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan stood at the end of the chow line, holding his tray and looking with genuine sadness at the room stretched out before him. He shook his head. “Look at that,” he said to himself, but taking Newkirk into his confidence at the same time. “Americans in one corner, English in another, French over there—this is wrong. They’re hurting themselves this way. Weakening their chances of surviving this place and surviving the war. We can’t leave it this way,” he said softly. His eyes flashed with that look that Newkirk knew meant action. “I’m not going to leave it this way.” And he plunged into the room.
I knew something like this would happen. The gov’nor’s not able to see a problem and not try to do something about it. Newkirk picked up his tray, took a deep breath and followed. And I’m with him all the way, no matter what happens.
He nearly had to break into a run to catch up to the Colonel, who by now had worked his way all the way to the back of the room, where a huddle of Frenchmen were hunched over their trays. “Room for one more?” Hogan asked brightly, looking for a spot at the already crowded table. “Je suis un ami,” he tried with a grin. “Ally.”
One of the Frenchmen looked at him and shrugged but did not move. Hogan persisted. “Thought I might see what the view’s like from over here.” He waited. “There’s not much room anywhere in here, if you look closely.” Another answerless pause. “S’il vous plaît?”
One of the Frenchmen finally
pointed to a nearby table, where men in American uniforms were sitting, staring
at the scene with thinly-veiled interest. They were all quiet. “Ah, yes,” Hogan
said, pretending not to understand. “Americans. Me, too.” He nodded toward the
table. “Hiya, fellas. Just thought I’d see if our Allies here were ready to
extend the hand of friendship.” Come on,
guys; it’s not like I’m looking for another Statue of
One of the Americans, a large Sergeant, stood up and came to Hogan’s side. “You’re better off with us, Private. The Frenchies like to keep to themselves. And so does everyone else around here.”
Hogan looked in the man’s eyes and saw not anger, but resignation. “I can see that,” he answered. “I just can’t understand exactly why.”
“It’s easier that way, and nobody gets hurt. A lot of guys come in here, just like you, thinking they can change things. Most of them learn otherwise, but a few, well...” The Sergeant looked away from Hogan’s gaze. “Let’s just say they’ll never have the chance to learn anything ever again.”
Hogan swallowed hard, taking in
the meaning of the Sergeant’s words. But he didn’t look away. “Good men,” Hogan
said. “Good men working alone can’t survive.” He paused. “They can’t kill all
of us. Not if we all act together. Even
Newkirk stood a few feet away, quietly watching the scene unfold. Silence had taken over the mess hall as everyone listened to what Hogan was saying. Looks like you’ve gotten their attention, Colonel. A low murmur of surprise rippled through the seats when two of the Frenchmen picked up their trays, stood and walked over to the American table. Some of the Americans gave them hard looks, but enough of the men slid over on the benches enough to allow the Frenchmen to have a seat.
Turning toward the closest table,
Newkirk smiled as he addressed the Americans seated there. “You blokes got room
for one more here?” He waited as the men thought it over for a moment, then
took his seat after a place had been made for him. It’s a start, gov’nor; we’ll see what happens. The Englishman
picked up his fork and set about the distasteful task of eating what was on his
plate. “Boiled potatoes and grass again, I see. Any chance of it being better
than it was at lunch?” Newkirk gave his tablemates a grin. “You know, it’s a
shame we can’t gather all this fine gourmet cooking up and drop it onto
Hogan watched all of this with hope rising in his heart. Still, he stood near the Frenchmen’s table, watching, proud and deeply, deeply moved. A noise from behind him made him turn, and he saw one of the French prisoners had made a space for him at the table and was gesturing almost nonchalantly for him to sit down. Hogan nodded and accepted the offer humbly. “Merci beaucoup,” he said in his best French.
The French Corporal offered Hogan a small smile and a nod in return. “You’re welcome, American friend.”
Hogan smiled. What tomorrow would bring he couldn’t tell, and so he let hope fill him, at least for now.
A Busy Night
Major Brinkfried sat at his desk,
eyes resting on an open folder without really seeing it, as his thoughts were
on his newest prisoners.
The way they act when they’re together is... I can’t quite put my finger on it yet. When they were first brought in, the Englander stepped forward and tried to defend the American, exactly as the senior ranked man should. But it’s obvious that the American was clearly the leader in what happened at evening mess. Brinkfried leaned back in his chair and smiled slowly. Quite a puzzle these two have brought me, and one I shall enjoy working out.
The Kommandant’s reverie was interrupted by a knock on the door. “Enter,” he said as he went back to looking at the file. He looked up as Private Dane was escorted into the office, acknowledging the guard but ignoring the prisoner. “Dismissed, Feldwebel.” Brinkfried turned back to the papers as if the American wasn’t there.
Hogan waited for a few minutes in the silence, trying to guess Brinkfried’s motives in bringing him to the office this late in the day, but failing as he realized he didn’t know the man well enough yet to predict his movements. After another minute of being ignored, Hogan finally spoke up. “Kommandant?”
Brinkfried didn’t look up; he merely turned a page and kept on reading as if Hogan didn’t even exist.
Hogan waited again, growing more and more concerned as Brinkfried’s silence continued. He shifted to take the weight off his sharply hurting knee and looked at the door to the office, at the window behind Brinkfried, and finally at the Major. Then he tried again. “Something I can do for you, Kommandant? I haven’t brushed my teeth yet for lights out.” Can’t afford to be here very long; I’ve got work to do tonight at that storehouse!
Brinkfried turned up the last page of the report and signed at the bottom before closing the folder. He stood and took it to a cabinet, filing it away before turning to Hogan. “I understand you have a problem with the seating arrangements in the mess hall.” The casual tone of his voice made it clear the German really didn’t care what Hogan’s opinion might be.
Hogan raised his chin to look Brinkfried squarely in the face, but he said nothing.
Brinkfried moved behind Hogan, his boot heels making slow tapping sounds on the wooden floor until he stopped directly behind the American. A silence fell over the room, measured only by the steady ticking of a clock on the wall. Hogan didn’t move or turn to face the German. He felt his muscles tense, and a single bead of sweat trickled down the back of his neck. Whatever game he’s playing, don’t let him get to you.
An eternity passed. Or perhaps it was only a few minutes. The boot heels slowly made their way around Hogan, carrying their owner back into view. Brinkfried settled onto his desk chair, then gave the American a long, calculating look. The cold glitter of his single eye, and the barest hint of a thin smile, gave the Major a sinister appearance as his silence continued.
Still, Hogan said nothing, though the tension was eating him up from the inside. Leave it to this nut case to play mind games with an enlisted man. How do some of these kids take this on a regular basis?
“Because of your actions tonight, Private, I’ve assigned a select group of prisoners to a special work detail tomorrow. And because you’ve demonstrated such concern for their welfare, I’ve decided to allow you to accompany the detail, just so you can watch out for them. That is all; you are dismissed.” The casual tone of Brinkfried’s voice was offset by the unsettling emphasis he placed on certain words, and by the way he opened another folder and began studying it, once again acting as if Hogan wasn’t there.
Hogan took in a calming breath, having braced himself for a blow that never came. At least not a physical one. The man’s apparent serenity was even more unsettling than any outburst could have been. Hogan waited, then spoke quietly. “I don’t understand how the other prisoners are responsible for anything I may have done, Kommandant. Especially since nothing I did tonight was against the Geneva Convention or the general rules of civilized warfare.”
Brinkfried picked up a pen and wrote a few words on the page he was reading, then turned to the next one. He gave no sign that he’d heard Hogan’s words as he read that page, and it wasn’t until he’d turned to the next that he said anything. “Understanding is not required, Private. Obedience, however, is, and your failure to obey my last order has now cost your English Corporal another punishment tour.” He paused. “Another such failure will cost him three days in the cooler. You are dismissed.” The Major picked up the handset of his desk phone and spoke with clear disinterest. “Bekommen Sie einen vollen Rucksack für Kirkland wieder und lassen Sie ihn das Lager siebenmal bereisen, bevor er sich in heute Abend dreht. Sagen Sie ihm, dass das ein Geschenk vom Privaten Dänen ist.”
Hogan nearly spoke in protest, but censored himself when he realized that Brinkfried would, without a second thought, follow through on his threat. Seven times around the camp—a gift from Private Dane! Hogan shuddered inwardly. Now I know how these kids deal with this madman’s mind games—they die inside. Hogan shook himself and blinked hard. You can’t let this happen to you. You won’t. You’ve got work to do tonight, and you’ll do it, and then you’ll come back one day and punch this arrogant bastard in the mouth! Hogan suddenly realized he still hadn’t moved, so he straightened at once and said, disheartened, “Yes, sir. Good night, sir.” And he offered a salute to the German Major, though his arm felt heavy with what was becoming despair and, if he was honest, a touch of fear that he wouldn’t be able to pull off what would be almost routine if he was back at Stalag 13.
Major Brinkfried had already turned back to his paperwork by the time Hogan was able to speak. Once again, he appeared completely uninterested in anything the American had to say, as if Hogan was invisible once Brinkfried was finished.
Hogan waited for a few seconds for a response, then lowered his arm, and his head, and allowed the guard to escort him out of the office. A very long night had just begun.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Newkirk wandered around the
compound, his eyes taking careful note of the layout of buildings and the guard
towers, as well as the paths the guards walked as they patrolled the camp. He
slowed as he passed a group of Englishmen crowded around one man who was in the
middle of telling a long, funny story that he hadn’t heard since leaving
When no one spoke up right away,
Newkirk stepped a bit closer and nodded. “Did you lads hear the one about the
Yank Captain and the Squadron Leader’s secretary?” The success of that joke
encouraged Newkirk to continue spinning out selections from the vast repertoire
of stories and routines he’d developed during his time on stage in
When he went into a Charlie Chaplin routine, Newkirk was surprised to see one of the Americans step out of the crowd and begin doing the same routine as a mirror image to his own. Having an appreciative audience, and another talented thespian to work with, made Newkirk almost forget he was in the middle of a prisoner of war camp. That forgetfulness came to an end all too soon as the skit ended and the two performers took their bows.
As the crowd dispersed, a young RAF man came up to Newkirk. “That was good,” he said in almost a whisper.
“Thanks, mate.” Newkirk smiled and nodded to his impromptu American partner. “Couldn’t have done it without him, though.”
“What that friend of yours—that American chap—did at mess… I wish I could have done that,” the young man said. “I used to be quite good friends with some Yanks before Brinkfried stopped it.” He looked around, as though saying the German’s name was a punishable offense. “We can’t do that now. Not without getting in trouble.” The youth’s large, sad eyes looked up into Newkirk’s. “What do you think the Kommandant’s doing to him?”
The smile disappeared from Newkirk’s face as he gave the Aircraftsman a searching look. “The Co—” He caught himself just in time to keep from referring to Hogan as “the Colonel” and shook his head. “You’re sayin’ Dane is in with Brinkfried right now?”
The boy nodded guiltily. “I saw a guard come and get him. But he hasn’t come back out yet. That I’ve seen.” He paused. “I know you’re friends—I’m sorry.” He looked around the compound, then shrugged, unable to think of a graceful way out of this situation. “I’ll… see you around.” And the young man was gone.
Newkirk turned to his fellow thespian for a moment. “I’ve got to go find out what’s going on. We’ll have to talk shop another time.” With that, he took off toward the Kommandant’s office, leaving the American to stand and shake his head sadly.
He hadn’t gotten very far when he saw Hogan moving listlessly as a guard left his side. The Englishman moved in quickly, but before he had a chance to speak, the Colonel turned to Newkirk, looking very tired. “Look, you’re about to have another tour around the compound,” he said, sounding beaten. “Brinkfried just pulled one of his stunts when I was asking questions in his office.” He paused. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, gov’nor. It’s not your fault, especially since you’re dealing with a right arrogant sod like Brinkfried.” Newkirk spoke quietly as he studied Hogan closely. He’s starting to look the way he did when he first arrived at Stalag 13. Bloody hell, that means Brinkfried’s starting to get to him! We’ve got to get out of here before that Kraut drives him into the ground. “I knew there was a chance of this happening, Colonel, and while I bloody well don’t like it... I can handle it, mate.”
Hogan grimaced. “Hang on, it gets worse. Tomorrow there’s a work detail for some specially chosen men who had the gall to socialize with those outside their country tonight. And as their ringleader, I get to go along and watch!” A small spark of anger made its way back into Hogan’s voice, leaving Newkirk some hope that not all was lost with his commanding officer. Hogan shook his head, frustrated. “Everything I did to help at Stalag 13 is just wrong here. This guy’s a whole different ball game. I’ve gotta wrap my head around him—but doing that is scaring the hell out of me!”
Newkirk shook his head. “You can’t be thinking that way, sir. I’ll be the first one to admit that ruddy Kraut gives me the shakes, too. The thing is, Colonel, we’ve got to keep our minds on the mission here, which is gettin’ back to Stalag 13.” He paused, taking a quick glance around before continuing. “That’s not to say that I wouldn’t mind coming back here some dark night real soon and doing for Brinkfried.” The hardness that came into the Englishman’s green eyes left no doubts about just precisely what he meant by “doing for.”
“Save that for the professionals. Don’t worry; I have my own plans for this prize when the time comes. I’ll give him one thing—he’s making me all the more determined to haul freight out of here as soon as possible.” Hogan sighed. “I know you can take it, Newkirk; the thing is, I didn’t want you to. Plus,” he added, looking around the compound, “it means the Krauts will be just that much more alert when I’m out and about tonight. And that’s something I didn’t need.”
“How long do you think you’ll need to be out then?” Newkirk gave his watch a thoughtful glance. “I can always arrange to make my walk take just this side of forever to finish if need be.”
“That’s exactly what I don’t want,” Hogan countered. “I want you in bed and out of sight as quickly as possible. The longer you’re out, the longer there’ll be Krauts out watching you, and the less time I’ll have on my own. Not to mention that since we’re going to have a charming work detail tomorrow, I want you to get as much sleep as you can manage. We’ll have a big night coming up, and I don’t want you falling asleep half way over the wire.”
Righto, gov’nor; I’ll make it quick
as I can then, but what’s this about a work detail? Brinkfried can’t make us
work unless we want to; it’s against the
Hogan shook his head. “He’s a real winner, this one,” he muttered angrily. “I’d better get back to barracks before he decides to do something else nice for us—like call an all-night parade of guards around the place. I’ll be out after lights-out. Do me a favor and try to steer clear of the storehouse, all right?”
The Englishman frowned. “That might be a problem, sir, if they take me on the same route as last time. Tell you what, when I start getting close, I’ll give you a signal so you can get yourself clear before me and my escort come round the corner. I reckon if you go to the other side of the building and stay low, I can keep the guard distracted so he’s not looking at anything else.”
Hogan raised an eyebrow. “Don’t overdo it. I need to know you’re coming; I don’t need an Academy Award-winning performance. Remember—”
“I know, I know,” Newkirk interjected. Then he finished with Hogan: “Don’t pad your part!”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Kinch didn’t look up from his clipboard as Olsen led his team down the tunnel toward the tree stump exit. The radio man was far too busy taking down a coded message to even realize that the men were leaving camp in order to join the search for Hogan and Newkirk. A burst of static from the walkie-talkie that was on the desk did get his attention, but as he reached for it, he found that Carter already had the portable radio in hand.
Carter smiled at Kinch and gestured to the main radio as he took a few steps away from the desk before speaking softly into the walkie-talkie’s microphone. He went across the tunnel to where Le Beau had a map spread on the table, and pointed to an area west of the camp. “Okay, Louis, that was Team Two. They’re where they’re supposed to be and are having a look around.”
Le Beau crossed his arms and nodded, frowning. “Good. Let us hope they find something—or maybe that they don’t.”
Townsend quietly came up beside the men and looked at the map. “Don’t know what you boys are going on about here. The deep-cover agents I called into play are going to be your best chance to find out anything about Colonel Hogan and your other fellow.”
“I trust the Underground,” Le Beau said defiantly. “They are completely dedicated to mon Colonel and will never stop looking.” He exhaled, deflated. “I only wish I could be out there with them.”
“Me too, Louis, but you know that someone’s gotta stay here and keep track of things. I mean, as good as Kinch is at this kind of thing, even he can’t do it all by himself.” Carter gave the Frenchman a faint smile that faded when he turned to Townsend. “Um, Group Captain, sir? With all due respect, sir, that other fellow has a name, too. Peter Newkirk, and he’s a Corporal in your Air Force. Sure, you’re thinking of the Colonel because he’s an officer and all, but Newkirk’s just as important to us as Colonel Hogan is, sir.” Carter swallowed nervously, but kept his eyes on Townsend’s face as he spoke.
Townsend’s face slipped into a smile that no one seemed to trust. “Of course, old man; I didn’t mean any disrespect toward your Corporal Newkirk. After all, he’s a fine man himself, good RAF chap, what? But it’s your Hogan who was responsible for you all being out that night, yes? I was just thinking that perhaps this mess might have been avoided somehow, if…” His voice trailed off as he apparently thought better of finishing his thought out loud.
“If we could have just blown up the train and not had to worry about you at the same time,” Le Beau muttered under his breath, but it was still loud enough to be heard.
“Ah, yes,” Townsend said, nodding. “The train. Dashed thing couldn’t wait a night, eh? It was very hard to schedule my trip out. Now I’m here, and all I can do is wait!”
Carter gave Le Beau a worried
look, and spoke up before the Frenchman could say something to make matters
worse. “Well, you see, sir, that train was a last minute sort of thing. The
Colonel was giving us the plan to go out and get you when one of the
Underground groups called and asked us to take care of it for them, because
they couldn’t get to the right spot in time, and they hoped we could. And since
it was a special train full of ammo and stuff that the Krauts were taking to
Townsend just listened, flabbergasted by the young man’s long-winded defense. So Hogan had taken on the extra job as a matter of course—they did that sort of thing “all the time”. What did Hogan do for sport—build airplanes? “Surely Colonel Hogan would have known there were risks involved in this type of double maneuvering?”
It was Kinch who answered. He had
moved away from the radio and had heard the end of Carter’s heartfelt monologue.
“The Colonel doesn’t like to disappoint anyone,” he said now. “Once
There’s definitely a lot more going on here than Headquarters knows about. These men are totally dedicated to Colonel Hogan, and are quite willing to give everything, including their lives, for him. It’s a rare thing, indeed, and needs to be considered in future plans for this operation. Townsend moved quietly into the shadows along the tunnel wall after hearing what had been said about the missing men. He stood watching as they worked, each man doing what was needed without anyone having to “take charge.” Hogan’s trained his men well. It’s amazing what they can do without him here. There’s definitely a lot to report back to Headquarters.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan stood pressed up against the back wall of the storehouse as tightly as possible, listening as the footsteps of the nearby guards faded into the distance. He counted to ten once the sounds disappeared and then cautiously peeled himself away from the building and again approached the fence.
Hogan squinted in the darkness, trying to scan the area, looking for places for himself and Newkirk to take cover when they finally made it through. The Englishman had been correct in his assessment of the spot: it seemed perfectly situated to accept an escape. A few trees, a couple of fairly large boulders, and even some scrub. Excellent. Then Hogan turned his eyes upward and scanned the perimeter of the camp. It would be just like the Germans to leave a perfect escape route on purpose—tempting prisoners to try it, so they could be captured as they got through. He watched the sweep of the searchlights in the tower; nothing seemed to come this way. A small arc of light hit the roof of the hut then disappeared, never making it to the small area where Hogan was standing. And aside from a slim beam of light hitting that third tree from the edge, the outside area was also untouched. So far, so good.
Hogan pulled out the tiny saw that he had gotten from Newkirk earlier in the evening. Time to check out what was possible. Stifling a groan, he carefully and with difficulty knelt down to touch the tool to the lowest crosswire when he heard another sound and froze in place.
Newkirk came walking along the fence, moving as fast as he could considering he was nearing the end of his final lap around the perimeter of the camp. Cor! Five times around before, and now seven! Good thing we’re leaving tomorrow night, else I’d have a ruddy path worn around the place before long at this rate. I think they’ve added some extra weight to this bleedin’ pack as well. Newkirk sighed and hitched at the shoulder straps, trying to ease his aching shoulders with no real success. Right then, nearly at the storehouse.
The Englishman took a breath, and began to whistle “God Save the King” as he had been doing at random intervals since the punishment tour had begun. The first few times he’d done it, the guard had given him a sharp look, as if trying to see if Newkirk was up to something. But by now, the German was bored with the whole thing and ignored it.
Hogan smiled in spite of himself at the noise. Leave it to Newkirk to warn him of danger with an ode to King and country. The Colonel drew away from the wire and melted back into the shadows on the opposite side of the building, and watched as Newkirk and his German escort trooped by. Damned Krauts—look at that pack they’ve got him carrying. I owe him a long, hot shower back at Stalag 13, Hogan thought. Then, in a moment of self-punishment, he added, And I owe it to him to keep myself out of trouble. Sorry, Peter, but I’m going to have to let Brinkfried beat me for awhile… or he’ll beat you.
When Newkirk was safely out of sight again, Hogan went back to the wire did a small test of the agility of the saw on the fence, and found that it was up to the job. He slipped it back into his pocket, and waited until the searchlights passed again before making his way back to his barracks.
Toward A Common Good
Hogan could have groaned out loud when the back of the truck was opened and the men were ordered in loud, insistent voices out of the vehicle. As it is, he shook his head and shot a meaningful look at Newkirk and let his eyes scan the span of mangled railway line and scatterings of debris. We did all this on purpose, he thought. I wasn’t planning to clean any of it up!
The other men disembarked as the guards barked orders at them. One by one, they also looked at the damaged rails, some of them breaking into slow smiles as they realized that they were being asked to help pick up after some Allied sabotage. They might just enjoy this, after all.
Newkirk looked at the sheer amount of damage and grinned even as he shook his head. Cor! What a lovely mess we made here! He glanced over at Hogan and frowned as he saw his commanding officer being herded off to the side by a pair of guards while everyone else, himself included, was directed toward the wreckage and ordered to begin clearing it away.
The Englishman found himself working with a couple of the Frenchmen where they’d been put to work loading the debris into carts. He dumped a large piece of twisted metal into a wagon, and took a look over his shoulder to where Hogan was being guarded. The Colonel was standing ramrod straight, with his arms wrapped tightly over his chest. His drawn face could not disguise his rage. It’s just a bit of work, gov’nor; don’t let it get to you. We’re glad to do this now—at least it means we had the dignity to follow your lead and do the right thing in the mess hall last night.
Hogan watched the men with only occasional glances toward the guard standing beside him. Look at them, he seethed to himself. They had the guts to try and rise above the hand they’ve been dealt, and this is the reward they get. He looked at Newkirk, trying on his own to lift a long piece of wood and failing. Without thinking, Hogan moved forward to help, but a rifle shoved roughly into his abdomen reminded him that his punishment was to observe. “You stay,” the guard said in heavily accented English.
Hogan glared at the guard, then lowered his head in submission. He had to let the Germans have their way; if he didn’t, they might make it worse for the others. Still, he would watch carefully. Forcing the prisoners to work was already against the Geneva Convention; forcing them to clean up an act of sabotage, while almost poetic, was hard labor—so many of these men had not eaten well in weeks, possibly months. Newkirk and Hogan had only had to suffer the poor food for a couple of days—thanks to Le Beau there was almost always something nearly tempting on offer—but that kind of eating was only a dream to these men, and they would be weaker, unfit, and in some cases, Hogan thought, watching as a smaller American prisoner seemed to struggle under his burden, stopping to sneeze and wipe his eyes, unwell. Just let me work with them, Hogan begged silently. Don’t make me stand here and watch this.
Dropping the end of the railroad tie, Newkirk glared at it in disgust as a French Sergeant came over and pointed to the opposite end. Nodding in reply, Newkirk picked up his end and the Frenchman took the other and started toward the area where the salvageable timbers were being stacked. The Englishman stopped, shook his head and pointed with his chin at the debris cart. The Sergeant looked at the perfectly good tie, and smiled slowly as the two men tossed it into the cart.
The next tie they came to was badly charred along one side, and as the Frenchman bent down to pick up his end, he gave the Englishman a look and nodded toward the stack of good materials. When they’d put that one, charred side down, onto the pile, Newkirk turned to his partner in crime and grinned. “You, um, how does Louis always say it? Oh yeah, compris?”
The Sergeant put his hand to his mouth to stifle the laugh that threatened to burst out at on hearing the Englishman’s terrible accent, and nodded in reply. “Oui, je comprends, et j’aime l’idée, l’Anglais.” The Frenchman moved off to join one of his countrymen as Newkirk made his way to a small group of Americans, both men already planning how to spread the idea of making even more of a mess for the Germans than there already was.
Hogan watched intently from the sidelines, studying each man as he labored under the heavy burdens in the cool morning and with no equipment to help make their work easier. As a punishment, aside from physical torture, this was about as bad as it got—forcing him to stand idly by while other men paid a price for his own actions. Sure, he had often supervised work details. But not under these conditions, and not without there being some advantage to the men. And never for this reason. These men had acted on Hogan’s lead and had reached out to each other; this kind of reprisal could very well stop them from trying again. He hated it, and he wanted to be involved, to take away his own anger, and his own guilt.
Looking again at the guard, who was observing the workers with casual disinterest, Hogan suddenly smiled. He wasn’t going to be left behind after all. He forced himself to relax his hands that were gripping his arms tightly enough to cut off circulation, and he flexed his shoulders to ease the tension in them. Then he started rocking back and forth on his toes. He nodded and smiled, then said offhandedly, “Hard work. Too bad they have to do it!”
The guard flicked his eyes toward Hogan but said nothing. Hogan tried again. “Mind if I sit?” he asked, pointing to a tree stump nearby. The guard frowned, not understanding. “No point in everyone slaving away. After all, you and I don’t have anything to do!” Hogan laughed lightly and made to sit on the stump.
The guard finally seemed to take in Hogan’s meaning. “Nein. Das ist Strafe! Aufstehen!” And he gestured with his rifle for Hogan to stay standing.
Hogan shrugged. “Okay, Fritz. But I can’t see how this is such a terrible day for me. At least I don’t have to get my hands dirty.” He laughed again. “Just like you!”
The guard glared at Hogan and raised his rifle, clearly intending to knock the grin off the American’s face. Hogan pulled his head back automatically but did not step away. The guard checked himself mid-swing and lowered the weapon as his glare turned into a malicious grin. “Schweigen! Bekommen Sie das Bewegen!” The German pointed the rifle muzzle at Hogan, then gestured toward the work area. “Gehen Sie dort und Arbeit wie die anderen Hunde!”
If Hogan hadn’t been so relieved that his plan worked, he might have taken offense at the way the guard referred to the prisoners as dogs—if he could have let on that he understood German. Raising his arms in a gesture of innocent surrender, Hogan allowed the guard to prod him toward the others with his rifle. He did his best to keep the grin off his face as he protested loudly that he was supposed to be watching, not working, and that this was not going to make Brinkfried very happy.
Newkirk, meanwhile, had found himself up in one of the debris carts, carefully demonstrating to some of his fellow countrymen the fine art of stacking a half load to make it look full. A pair of guards strolled by, causing a couple of the men to freeze up, but Newkirk kept right on working and the Germans ignored him completely. He stepped down from the cart and grinned. “That, mates, is how you pull this off,” he whispered. “Keep moving, make yourself look busy, an’ they’ll pass you by.”
Moving past the other Englishmen, Newkirk crouched down to examine another railroad tie when he noticed a pair of hands take hold of the other end. “Right then. You ready on your end, mate?” he asked, not really looking up as he got a grip on the heavy timber.
“I’ve been ready for half an hour.” Hogan grinned as he watched Newkirk’s face register surprise, and he sighed in relief at finally being able to do more than watch as others cleaned up for the Germans. He grunted as he lifted the end of the tie, then straightened and nodded toward the cart.
“Why do you want to help the bleedin’ Krauts, gov’nor? I think this one’s just about perfect for the pile we’re savin’ out of this mess for them.” Newkirk spoke softly, and kept most of the grin off his face, but the light in his green eyes told Hogan that his Englishman was up to something. “It’s got a lovely crack running right down the middle that ought to split right in two when they try to drive a spike into it later on.”
“Newkirk, you’re devious, deceitful, and a general nuisance to have around,” Hogan murmured, clearly delighted. “And I’m sure glad you’re on our side.” He smiled as the two of them moved the piece to the salvage pile. “And for your information, I don’t want to help the Krauts—but I sure did want to help you fellas. I couldn’t take standing there watching while you worked your tails off on account of me.” He shook his head. “Brinkfried knows just how to get to me. And someday, I’d like to get to him.”
“Why, Colonel Hogan, that’s got to be the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me,” Newkirk grinned finally, embarrassment at the high praise from his commanding officer mixing with the pride he felt on hearing it. “Careful there, sir, or I might get the idea that slacking off like this is a good idea. Then the next thing you know,” he paused as he got ready to pick up another tie, “I might start doing it on a permanent basis, and then where would you be?”
“Never mind,” Hogan answered. “Let’s just get this done and get back to Stalag 2. We’re both going to need some rest if we’re going to make it out of here tonight.” He looked around subtly while they worked. “We did a pretty good job,” he admitted. “Now let’s see if we can’t just keep the goons out of action a little longer. Think we can pull this kind of thing off for the rest of the detail?”
Newkirk did his best to look offended. “Take a good look around you, mate. I think you’ll see a lot less work going on than you thought there was.” He grabbed one end of the tie and started lifting. “Now take up your half and let’s put this one on the rubbish cart where it belongs, shall we?”
Hogan nodded respectfully at Newkirk and, smiling, helped him move the nearly perfect railroad tie to the rubbish cart. He was still sore from his going-over at roll call the day before, and his knee was still swollen and very painful, and he was sure Newkirk and some of the other men weren’t in the best shape either. Still, the meaning behind the work now sustained him, and the loads felt a bit lighter even as the time passed slowly. He looked around at the other men and saw occasional subdued nods and winks, and he began to accept the circumstances, and was grateful that the others had found purpose in their work as well.
Newkirk was picking up a large piece of scrap metal when a loud metallic groan could be heard coming from the pile of debris. Too far away to do anything, the Englishman could only watch in horror as a section of the tangled metal slid down, landing on a man working nearby. He ran to the scene, immediately joining the dozen or so men of all nationalities who were feverishly pulling the wreckage apart so they could reach the trapped man.
Hogan had also dropped his load and ran when the noise began, and without thinking he immediately reached out and lifted a corner of the metal pressing down on the young, suffering Corporal. “It’s okay!” Hogan gasped, trying to comfort the man even as he struggled to pull it away. “It’s all right; we’ll get you out—you’ll be okay.” He could feel his muscles rippling as he tried desperately to hold up the wreckage, and he felt the hands of others join his as he thought he had finally made some progress. “You!” Hogan barked at an RAF man close to him. “Grab the other end of this—and you!” He gestured with his chin toward another man who looked at a loss. “Get down there and be ready to pull him out when we get this up—but do it carefully; we don’t know how badly he’s hurt!”
The men instantly obeyed the orders, never questioning their source or their usefulness. Hogan himself hadn’t thought twice before taking command; there was no senior officer to speak of in the camp, at least not one that had presented himself to them as new prisoners, and although Hogan wasn’t interested in giving himself away, in a situation like this he couldn’t sit by and take a chance that a disorganized effort might not work. Hogan looked down at the youth whose face and one arm were the only things protruding from the pile of debris. The boy was clearly suffering but trying not to cry, and Hogan’s heart nearly tore in two. “We’ll get you out in a minute,” he said softly, suddenly realizing that this was one of the mere children who had made room for the Frenchmen at dinner last night. “You’ll be fine,” he said, wishing with all his being that he was right.
Hogan suddenly felt himself being jerked away from the wreckage. He lost hold of the metal he was holding, and it fell downwards toward the young man, who cried out when it shifted. Hogan yelled, “No!” and tried to get back to the task. But it was the German who had ordered him to work who was gripping him, and he was pulled away again forcefully, punched in the face, and thrown, stunned, onto the ground away from the scene. “Jetzt ist Ihre Strafe,” the guard said with a small smile. Now is your punishment. Hogan turned red with rage. “Bleiben Sie fern, oder ich werde ihn schießen.” His gestures were quite clear—Hogan was to stay away, or the injured man would be shot.
Hogan felt a rush of cold run through him, but, still dazed by the blow, he nodded his understanding, and could only watch through blurry vision as the others continued in their attempts to get the boy free. The guard kept his rifle trained on Hogan, as the other Germans kept careful watch on the prisoners but did not stop them from their work.
When the men had the wreckage braced, Newkirk and one of the others crawled in and pulled the injured man clear. “Easy there, lad. You’ll be right as rain in no time.” When another Englishman came forward and started to examine the Corporal, he got out of the way and looked around for Hogan. Seeing the Colonel on the ground and surrounded by Germans, Newkirk’s relief at rescuing the young man gave way to a surge of anger as he headed for his commanding officer.
As one, the Germans raised their rifles and aimed at him. Hogan looked up, clearly still not fully in himself, one hand holding the side of his face near his eye where the guard had struck him, and he shook his head warningly, painfully, but not harboring much hope that the Englishman’s obvious anger could be contained.
Newkirk took a few more steps before he realized that the guns were all pointing at him. They didn’t have any effect on his anger; it was the look on Hogan’s face that brought him to a stop. The Englishman’s eyes locked onto the American’s, and his shoulders slumped as he nodded slowly and raised his hands in surrender. “You all right there, mate?” he asked quietly.
Hogan closed his eyes and cradled his throbbing face with his hand. “Yeah, yeah,” he replied softly. He felt humiliated, hurt, and weary. But he wouldn’t give Newkirk’s naturally fiery temper any reason to flare, so he raised his head to the Corporal. “How’s the boy?” he asked, without anger, or any other emotion.
“Looks like he’ll be fine,” Newkirk eyed the guards. “If he gets a chance to rest, that is.” We’ll make sure he does, no matter what these ruddy Krauts say.
“See if they’ll take him back to camp,” Hogan suggested, still subdued. “He’ll need to be checked for internal injuries. The medic can at least give him a going-over.”
Newkirk slowly lowered his hands. “Any of you lot speak English?” he asked as he looked over the guards. This would be easier if I just spoke up in German, he thought, knowing that doing so would not be a good idea. “Anyone speak German, then?” he asked the prisoners.
One of the Frenchmen spoke up. “Je parle allemand.”
Hogan glanced up. “Can you translate for him?” he asked. The Frenchman looked like he was struggling to understand Hogan’s words fully.
“I can speak French,” an American piped up. “I can tell him, then he can talk to the Krauts.”
Hogan made to answer, but stopped as a throb of pain in his face sent nausea sweeping through him. He lowered his head, then waved a hand toward Newkirk, whom he knew had the right idea already.
Newkirk’s hands balled up into fists as he watched his commanding officer. The only reason Hogan wouldn’t be back on his feet already would be because something was wrong. The problem was, however, that he couldn’t afford to think only of Hogan right now; there was also the injured boy to consider. Is this what the gov’nor goes through when he’s tryin’ to make a deal with Klink? Having to try and think about everything that’s going on all at once like this? Right then. I’m no officer, but I’m gonna have to act like one, at least for now.
The Englishman took a deep breath and let his hands slowly fall open again. He turned to the American and nodded. “Let’s get crackin’ on this then, shall we? Ask him,” Newkirk indicated the Frenchman as he spoke, “to ask the guards to let us take the lad that was hurt back to camp early so the medic can have a go at him.”
The men started their jobs while the guards listened, and when the Frenchman made the request, the guard who had been watching Hogan grunted. He looked at the boy who had been freed from the wreckage and was sitting surrounded by concerned prisoners. He turned to the others. “Er verlangsamt die anderen,” he said to them. They nodded and considered, then the guard turned back to the prisoners. “Sehr gut. Wir werden den Lastwagen senden.”
The translation made it back to the others: they would send the truck since the injured man was diverting the attention of the others.
“See if they’ll let
Newkirk turned to the American half of the translating team, shaking his head. “Hold off on that last bit; it’s Dane that needs to go back with him. He’s the one that’s been getting knocked about here, not me. See if they’ll send him with the boy instead.”
Hogan’s strength seemed to rally
just long enough for Newkirk to absorb his commanding officer’s unstated order.
“It’s my punishment,” he said through gritted teeth, staring down Newkirk as
best he could from the ground. “I have to watch the work party. There are
others who need to get some rest.” Hogan looked again at the American
translator. “Make it
The Englishman’s hands started curling again, but the look of anguish on Hogan’s face struck Newkirk harder than any physical blow could have done, completely knocking out both his anger and the urge to resist the American’s words. He can’t actually make it an order, but that’s what he wants, and I’m only making matters worse for him if I don’t go along. I might mess things up for that boy as well.
All right then, Colonel. You win, but I bloody well don’t have to like it! The expression on Newkirk’s face left no doubt in anyone’s mind how he felt about the whole matter even as he nodded in agreement.
The Germans agreed that one person needed to go with the injured man, and miraculously, they agreed to let Newkirk be the one. Hogan staggered to his feet as the Englishman hopped onto the truck with the boy, and watched as the other prisoners were ordered back to work. At least Newkirk would be in better condition for what was ahead tonight. Hogan hoped this work detail would end soon, so maybe he could go back to camp and have a rest as well. It was turning into tough work, being an ordinary POW, and Hogan wished he could go back to the less stressful work of being in charge of saboteurs and spies very, very soon.
The Best Laid Plans
Three pairs of eyes stared down at Townsend as he nodded and tapped at the radio. Finally he looked up at Carter, Kinch, and Le Beau. “Well, Colonel Hogan has been spotted.”
“Where?” they all burst.
“On a work detail out near a sabotaged railroad line—probably the one you chaps did in the other night.”
“When are they bringing him back?” Kinch asked quickly.
Townsend shook his head. “They’re not—he was under German guard, with a group of other prisoners. The agent says they were all headed back to Stalag 2. Looks like he’s been recaptured. No sign of your other man Newkirk, though—but he may simply have been left behind at the camp and not required on the detail.”
Le Beau shook his head. “I do not like it—they should not be separated. How did the Colonel look?”
“The agent said he was moving rather slowly and that he looked tired.” Townsend paused, lightly running his finger over the telegraph keys before continuing. “The agent also reports that Hogan’s face is badly bruised, and he appeared to be limping as well.”
This time the others didn’t try to stop the French diatribe that came out of Le Beau’s mouth. This was bad news—Hogan, captured and clearly mistreated, and Newkirk, so far unaccounted for altogether.
Finally Carter spoke up with a small bit of hope in his voice. “Well at least we know where the Colonel’s been taken—we should be able to get him back; organize a transfer or something. Klink won’t want to have the Colonel somewhere else once he realizes he’s being kept at another Stalag.”
Kinch shook his head. “It won’t be that easy, Andrew. You forget the Colonel’s there under an assumed name. If the Kommandant of Stalag 2 knew who he really was, he probably wouldn’t even be alive, never mind just limping around. And Newkirk—we don’t even know if they’re together!”
“If we can’t get him transferred, let’s just go get him!” Le Beau looked from Carter to Kinch. “We had the Gestapo take him out of Stalag 13, so why can’t we have them take the Colonel out of Stalag 2 as well?”
“Hold on there, lad, what are you talking about?” Townsend began. “Do you realize what you’re saying—?”
But Kinch was already moving. “What do we know about Stalag 2?” he asked, rifling through a file.
“Well, it’s not very close to here,” Carter said. “But we’ve gotten one or two fellas through the system from there.”
“Yeah, and what did they say?” Kinch said. He pulled out a sheet. “Uh-oh. Looks like we’ve got a live one. The Kommandant there is pretty rough stuff according to the fellas who came through from there a month ago. If we have the same guy, he’s not going to be an easy sell.” He shook his head. “Brinkfried. Major—oh, man.” He stopped reading.
“What?” Le Beau prompted him. Kinch shook his head. “What?”
“He fully segregates the camp. Americans, British, French, whoever. And he has a special hate for the English.”
Carter frowned. “And do you think that’s where Newkirk is?—I mean, he’d be with Colonel Hogan then.”
“For his sake, I hope so—and I hope not.”
The others nodded in understanding.
“That makes it even more
important that we get the Colonel out of there! He may know what’s happened to
Carter shuffled his feet. “Yeah, sure. But…” He hesitated. “But what if he won’t give us the Colonel?”
Kinch shook his head. “We’ll have to deal with that disaster when it happens.” He sighed heavily. “I figure tomorrow. Tonight there just isn’t enough time to prepare. The faster we get the Colonel out of there the better. We’re going to have to get the truck—it’s too far away to travel on foot, and if he’s been hurt we’ll need it.”
“None of the best Boches travel without at least a staff car,” Le Beau interjected.
“Okay, so that’s the staff car for sure, and maybe a truck as well. We’re gonna need some of the other fellas in on this, too.” Kinch put the paper back into the file, then paused for a moment to think. “Olsen, Barnes, Hamilton and Davis should be enough to pull this off. All right. Carter, you go find those guys and get them down here for a briefing in exactly one hour. I’m gonna get started on the paperwork, and Le Beau, I want you to go to the motor pool and make sure the vehicles are ready for us right after morning roll call.”
Le Beau nodded. “Oui. I will either bribe the Sergeant, or I will knock him out with my cooking pot.”
Kinch nodded. “Perfect. Just don’t leave any marks if you have to do it that way.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan limped wearily across the compound after leaving the medical hut to check on the injured prisoner. To his relief, he was told that the young man had suffered no broken bones and was only badly bruised with a concussion, and that he would be sore for some time. Hogan thanked the medic, shrugging off the man’s concern for the Colonel’s own new injuries; Hogan’s mind was too much on Newkirk to be focused on the pain still radiating from his face, and aggravating the already angry pulsing in his head.
He opened the door to Newkirk’s barracks and looked around the room. The light was dim, as sunset was coming and the men were in the mess hall. Hogan didn’t want food; he didn’t think he’d be able to stomach it, and he didn’t want to take a chance on doing something that would result in another “punishment” that would affect the other prisoners. For a minute, he didn’t see anyone, but when he turned to leave, he picked up a slight movement on an upper bunk.
Newkirk raised his head as the barracks door opened, squinting in the fading light to try and see who had come into the hut. “Who’s there?” he mumbled, still half-asleep and hoping it wasn’t a guard doing a random inspection.
Hogan stopped and said softly, “I was just checking on you—go back to sleep.”
“Oh, it’s you, mate. You all right, then?” The Englishman stiffly clambered down from the bunk and started toward Hogan.
“I’m fine—go back to bed. You need to catch up on your sleep before… we get busy,” Hogan said cryptically, for the benefit of anyone else in the room he may have missed.
Shaking his head, Newkirk changed course and began looking around the room carefully. Finding they were alone, he turned back to Hogan. “I wasn’t asleep, gov’nor, not really.”
“Well, you should have been,” Hogan replied. “You’re gonna be too busy tonight to be tired. I’m in need of a nap myself. Are you ready to go?”
“Got me bags all packed, sir. Just waitin’ on the bellhop to take it all to the lobby.” Newkirk smiled for a moment, took a seat at the table and gestured for Hogan to join him.
Hogan sat down heavily and, wincing, brought a hand up to his tender face. “I think you’re going to have a long wait,” he said. “This place isn’t known for its five-star service.” He brought his hand down and looked at Newkirk. “I’ve still got the saw in my barracks. I’ll get it after lights-out and meet you at the fence at twenty-two hundred hours. Stay out of sight until you see that I’ve broken through. In case of a SNAFU, I don’t want you caught in the middle.”
“There aren’t too many places to hide around there, in case you didn’t notice. I honestly think we’d be better off if I were there with you, Colonel. That way, I could keep watch while you work.” Newkirk frowned as he spoke. “I don’t like the idea of bein’ separated once we start the party tonight.”
“Look, we’ve had enough trouble today. If I blow it, I don’t want you caught in the crossfire.” He paused. “After what happened on that work detail, I’m pretty sure you did the right thing taking my eagles away that night—and not just because it was safer for me, either. That kid was lucky he didn’t get killed. I don’t want the same thing happening to you. You hide in the shadows, and don’t come out till I give the signal. And this time,” he added, “if anything happens to me, you keep going. And I’m making it an order, as your commanding officer. You got it?”
Newkirk lowered his head and studied the scarred tabletop for several long moments before looking back at Hogan. “All right, sir. And you can count on me to follow the plan once things get moving, as long as you do the same.” He paused. “I’ll accept your order, Colonel Hogan, if I can have your word in return that you’ll keep going if something should happen to me instead.”
“Nothing’s going to happen,” Hogan insisted sharply. “Just make sure you keep up and it’ll all be fine.” He stood up stiffly. “I don’t think you’ll have much trouble with that anyway. I’m not moving very fast right now. But we can’t afford to wait. So we go tonight and we hope for the best.”
“It’ll all come right in the end, gov’nor. It’s got to.”
“Let’s hope someone’s informed the Krauts of that.” Hogan hobbled to the door of the barracks. “Now get some more sleep. I’m going to see if I can do some planning past this headache.” He sighed and opened the door. “I think I’ll be doing some praying, too; it never hurts to have everyone’s attention. I’ll see you later.”
“Righto.” Newkirk rubbed his eyes and stood. “And you get some sleep as well, mate.”
“Maybe in the next war, Newkirk. Maybe in the next war.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Newkirk crept through the shadows along the guard’s barracks, taking one careful step at a time as he neared the end of the building. He’d chosen this particular place to hide, as not only could he keep out of sight, but he could also keep an eye on where Hogan would be working on the wire behind the storehouse. After a quick look around the corner, the Englishman shook his head. Should have bloody well known he’d be at it early! Can’t really say I’m surprised, though; that’s typical of the gov’nor. He’s got to be the one takin’ all the risks on a mission, always trying to set himself up to take the fall alone if things go wrong. Ruddy hard-headed, stubborn Yank. I have to admit, though, that’s why I go along with him on the crazy schemes he comes up with. It’s also why I came after him when this last mission went to Hell. Newkirk took a slow look around, breathing a silent sigh of relief on seeing that there was no one around. Despite everything that’s happened since then, I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.
Hogan was hunched over a small section of the wire, concentrating on making a hole big enough for him and Newkirk to get through. The work was hard in the darkness, and his hands were not cooperating as well as he wanted them to. He was still so tired after the day’s events; a general mental weariness had settled upon him along with the headache that refused to go away. Sleeping after he had left Newkirk had not been possible, and a gnawing sense of guilt had taken hold when he considered the strong possibility that the men who were left behind would likely be punished severely for this escape. He tried to console himself with the thought that it was for the greater good, and perhaps some day a few of these men would come through Stalag 13. But in the meantime, he and Newkirk would just seem like traitors. And that was hard to bear.
He glanced around for what seemed like the twentieth time, keeping an eye out for any guards who might be out on patrol, and for Newkirk, whom he expected to be hiding in the shadows in about ten minutes. So far nothing, and all was still quiet, so he kept moving, with his senses on as full alert as he could make them, and with a fleeting feeling of terror, as he remembered the one and only time he had had to escape from Stalag 13 in “the usual way” for prisoners—by climbing over the fence in broad daylight. Already full of respect for the men who came to the tunnels after getting out of their own Stalag Lufts, their place of esteem in his heart only increased even more now. Please, God. I can’t help these men in their fight to survive if I can’t get out of here. Please, God, please let us get back to Stalag 13.
Newkirk crouched and leaned against the side of the building, taking slow, deep breaths as he got himself ready for what was coming. He pulled his side cap off his head and stuffed it into his pocket so the polished metal badge wouldn’t reflect any light and give them away. Just like the old days, before I got sent to Stalag 13. How many real escape attempts does this make anyway? He shook his head. Best to concentrate on just this one. Through the wire, then about one hundred yards across a mostly open field before they would reach the woods. Bit of a rough go, but there’s some cover along the way, so we stand a good chance of getting clear. I’ll have to watch the Colonel, though; that jumper of mine he’s wearing is a fairly light color and will show up even in the dark, but at least it’s better than his shirt.
Heart hammering in his chest, the Englishman took another look around, nodding to himself when he saw that Hogan was doing the same. Right on time, gov’nor, even if you did start early. He eased his way past the corner of the barracks, and after the searchlight made its sweep, quickly made his way to the back of the storehouse.
Hogan was beside him in seconds. “Glad you could make it,” he whispered. “I’m through the first set of wire. I want you to stay here till I get through the second.”
“Wouldn’t miss this train for anything, gov’nor,” Newkirk whispered in return. “You want me to have a go at the wire now and give your hands a rest?”
Hogan shook his head. “There isn’t that far to go now. Just give me five minutes.” With a careful look around again, Hogan slipped through the hole in the warning fence and started work on the outer fence that was the only thing keeping the two of them from freedom. A short time later, he was back at the first fence, beckoning for Newkirk to join him. “You all set?” Hogan asked, trying even in the darkness to gauge the Corporal’s readiness for the run.
Though he was physically tired and sore from the last two days of near-constant abuse, mentally he was more than ready to go, and the grin that Newkirk gave his commanding officer was full of confidence and the anticipation of being away from Stalag 2 as quickly as possible. “‘Lay on, MacDuff, And damn’d be him that first cries ‘Hold, enough!’’”
Hogan grinned. “Great. So first I’m a Private, and now I’m murderer of the King of Scotland!” Hogan quipped. “I take it that’s a yes. Let’s go; it won’t be soon enough for me.”
Newkirk rolled his eyes and made an “after you” gesture toward the hole in the wire. “Remind me to stage a performance of Macbeth after we get back to camp.”
Hogan nodded and without hesitation pushed his way through the wire and out of camp. If he could have afforded the time, he would have taken in a deep breath of instant relief. But time was a luxury right now, and so he turned around and made sure that Newkirk had followed him, before signaling for them both to make for the cover of some scrub and boulders just ahead of them.
The Englishman was only a step or two behind, though he angled off to the side a bit to put some space between himself and the American. They made it to the first clumps of scrub safely, and crouched there a moment to have a quick look back at the camp. All was quiet, with the searchlights keeping their regular pattern and the guards on their routine patrols.
After an exchange of nods, the two men started for the next point of cover, a fairly large rock that was about twenty yards away. Hogan was making fairly good progress, but Newkirk’s foot suddenly dropped into an unseen hole, tripping him and sending him crashing to the ground. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the silence of the night was shattered as the impact broke several branches off a bush, making enough noise to catch the attention of one of the tower guards.
A searchlight swept across the field, its glare illuminating the Englishman as he scrambled to his feet. Within seconds, an alarm began ringing, and the heavy tower guns filled the air with flying lead. Newkirk dove for the ground, trying to dodge the bullets even as one struck home, twisting his body in mid-air and throwing him to the ground in an ungraceful sprawl.
Hogan was just making his way behind the rock when the noise began. He heard the siren, the shouting, the sound of the bullets whizzing through the air. And then he heard the sound—Oh, God. No! He whirled around in time to see Newkirk take a spinning dive to the earth, and as dogs from the camp began to close in and guards followed, it was all Hogan could do not to go charging back, screaming and shouting and trying to get the Germans’ attention away from his friend and onto himself. Please, Peter, he pleaded silently, watching from behind the rock and holding tight to it to stop himself from making a mistake that could kill them both. Please, please get up. But the Englishman didn’t rise from the scrub, and then the ring of Germans around him made it impossible for Hogan to see a thing. The searchlight remained locked in place, the dogs still barking, the guards all talking loudly to each other. And then, as Hogan was working out diversionary tactics, and as he began to hope that perhaps Newkirk was just staying down to show submission, the Colonel saw one of the guards pull the Englishman off the ground and start to drag him back toward camp.
Without resistance. Newkirk’s body was limp.
Hogan’s soul screamed in anguish. It wasn’t supposed to be like this! he thought numbly, as he watched the guard stop and sling Newkirk over his shoulder to carry the Englishman away. I was supposed to look after you. He pressed his hot forehead against the rock that had cooled in the evening air and squeezed his eyes shut, traumatized and wanting not to believe what he had seen. He had to go after Peter; he owed it to his friend to bring his body home. And yet he knew now that neither of them would profit from the act—that being recaptured by the guards would only serve to make Newkirk’s final sacrifice for naught. And so when Hogan heard the order shouted to check the area for any others who might have escaped with Newkirk, he turned from the scene, and ran awkwardly as fast as he could manage, away from this nightmare.
A Bittersweet Homecoming
Hogan refused to think.
His body ran on auto-pilot, pulling him through dense brush and muddy clearings, forcing his already-straining lungs to draw in more air as he struggled along as quickly as he could with a throbbing leg and a pounding head and long-abused muscles, leading him in the direction instinct told him he needed to follow, when his logic deserted him. His subconscious must have been telling him where to go and how to protect himself, because the image of Newkirk’s lifeless body being carried away was all that was burned in his sight, obliterating everything else before his eyes.
You should have stayed. You should have gone back for him! And yet the torturous accusations in Hogan’s mind were being countered with the unbearable truth that if Newkirk was dead, then nothing would be accomplished by returning to Stalag 2 and being recaptured by a man whose only objective seemed to be to demoralize and dehumanize the Allied prisoners. But Hogan couldn’t stand the idea of his friend’s body, even lifeless and beyond any capability of being hurt again, staying in the hands of that monster, and as he reached the tree stump entrance to the tunnel that led back into Stalag 13, Hogan’s numbness started crumbling around him. Breathing heavily, he pulled open the hatch and drew himself down. The cover dropped back into place and Hogan automatically locked it, then almost fell to the floor of the tunnel below.
He was home. For just a second, Hogan leaned back against the ladder, panting, feeling the sweat rolling down his face and his clothes clinging to him, letting the dizziness that had started to close in on him recede. Then he opened his eyes and looked around him in the dimness, seeing two small oil lamps burning, and he hobbled further along into the tunnel, stopping when he came across a rack of German uniforms sitting untouched. And then something else.
Hogan took one or two
excruciating steps forward when his eyes lit on the sewing basket. Newkirk had
been working on repairing one of Hogan’s many German get-ups right before they
went out that fateful night. He always did the best with what he had, that boy,
Hogan thought. Didn’t have enough thread… somehow
And then, unable to go any further, and longing to feel nothing again, Hogan sank down to the floor near the rack with a groan, and finally let his mental and physical pain overwhelm him.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Kinch sat at the radio, staring at the dials and switches without seeing a single one. He kept seeing the words on the paper from the files about Stalag 2: Segregation of all prisoners by nationality. And one line in particular: “Kommandant Brinkfried has a special hatred of all British prisoners, regardless of rank.” Peter, my friend, if you’re there, I hope the Colonel’s been able to make you keep your big mouth shut for once. He shook his head and sighed. Somehow, I doubt it.
The radio man stood, putting his hand on the power switch to close up shop for the night, when he heard what could only be a groan of pain coming from the general direction of the emergency tunnel. Kinch reached under the table and pulled out a pistol, then quickly tapped the knocker that would signal the others in the barracks above that there was trouble downstairs before he started moving cautiously toward the sound. As he approached the clothing rack, Kinch was surprised to see a figure huddled against the tunnel wall. Blue sweater, dark hair… Newkirk? He moved closer, and when he crouched beside the man, he suddenly realized that it wasn’t the Englishman at all. “Dear God—Colonel Hogan!”
Hogan heard Kinch’s voice as though from under a blanket and tried to sit up. But he only succeeded in falling forward into the Sergeant’s lap with an exhausted moan, and mumbled something Kinch couldn’t quite make out.
Kinch gently cradled his commanding officer in his arms, and stared in shock at the livid bruising and lacerations on Hogan’s face. My God, what did they do to you? He looked up as Carter and Le Beau came down the ladder, and held up his hand to stop them. “It’s the Colonel. Louis, go back up and bring some hot coffee and a blanket, and Andrew... go get Sergeant Wilson.”
Both men hesitated, wanting to see for themselves that Hogan had made it back to them. But what Kinch was asking for meant Hogan had a need for their care, not their curiosity, and so they nodded and left to fulfill their tasks quickly. Kinch looked down at Hogan, who, although his eyes were closed, was anything but at rest, breathing hard, muttering incoherently, and still twitching as though being still were not possible. Kinch tried to soothe the Colonel with soft words, but gave up as it became clear none of them were getting through. Fleetingly, he wondered why Hogan was without his bomber jacket, and why he was wearing what appeared to be Newkirk’s sweater. But those thoughts passed quickly; when he was able, Hogan would explain it all. For now, all Kinch wanted to do was get his obviously distressed Colonel settled, and on the road to recovery from whatever Hell he had gone through.
After a few moments, Le Beau clambered back down the ladder, juggling the coffee pot and a cup as well as the blankets slung over his shoulder. He parked the pot and cup on the table, and hurried over to the two men, already shaking out a blanket to spread over Hogan’s trembling body. When the Frenchman caught sight of the American’s face, he swallowed hard against the nausea rising from the pit of his stomach and carefully wrapped his commanding officer with the blankets he’d brought. “Mon Dieu, Colonel. What happened to you?” he whispered.
Hogan didn’t answer, so stuck was he in whatever world he had entered when he got back to camp. He continued whispering breathily, and the others briefly tried to figure out what he was saying, then abandoned the idea and concentrated on the miracle of having him with them again. “How long was he out there, Kinch?” Le Beau asked, distressed but trying hard not to turn away. “How did he get away?”
“I don’t know, Louis. And I can’t
make out what he’s saying.” Kinch shook his head. “When Carter gets back, let’s
get the Colonel up onto the cot over by the radio and let
As if on cue, Carter came
bursting down the tunnel, pausing only to avoid plowing into Townsend, who was
lurking near one of the tunnel branches, unwilling to intrude on what was
clearly a very private time, even in its urgency. “
Kinch shook his head, unable to
answer properly. It wasn’t long before
After getting Hogan settled, the
men withdrew to give him some privacy while
Kinch furrowed his brow. “So why
was the Colonel wearing it? And why isn’t Newkirk with him?” He looked over
toward the cot, where
But the questions remained
unanswered, and the men lapsed into silent brooding.
Kinch came closer to the cot, where Hogan was lying still and pale, looking exhausted even as he continued his barely audible monologue. “I sure wish I knew what he was saying,” Kinch said softly.
Carter came up quietly behind him. “Do you think he’ll be able to tell us anything soon?”
Kinch shrugged. “I don’t even know what he’s trying to tell us now.”
Le Beau crouched beside the cot, putting one hand on Hogan’s blanket-covered arm. “Mon Colonel, can you hear me? We need you to wake up and tell us what is going on. What has happened to you... and where is Newkirk?”
Hogan suddenly started thrashing in the bed, and his desperate muttering became louder. “S’a’right I’m coming,” he burst, still breathless. “I’m come... Itsa’right…” One or two more outbursts and the voice was stilled, and Hogan slowed his movements. His men looked at each other, bewildered.
Kinch closed his eyes for a moment, then leaned down over the cot. “Colonel Hogan! You need to wake up and talk to us now.” The Sergeant’s firm tone, contrasted with Le Beau’s soft pleading, drew him stern looks from the others. But he persisted. “Come on, Colonel; you’ve gotta snap out of it!”
For a minute, Hogan didn’t answer. He was silent and still, and Kinch believed that perhaps the Colonel had fallen deeply asleep. But then Hogan reluctantly half-opened his eyes, and looked with what his men saw as wonder at his surroundings. His hushed voice trumpeted his exhaustion. “Oh, my God.”
“It’s okay, Colonel. You’re in the tunnel and you’re safe now.” Kinch paused, hating the idea of badgering the clearly exhausted man, but knowing he had to keep Hogan talking, at least for now. “Can you tell us what happened out there, sir?”
Hogan let his eyes roam the area, not really able to focus on any one thing or person. He was still tired, so tired, and he could barely keep his eyes open. But he had heard Kinch. Kinch—Hogan was at Stalag 13. How did he get here? Oh, yes… the run. It was a long, long run. Over an hour and a half; no chance to slow down and rest his straining lungs, his throbbing leg, his aching head. No chance to take a deep breath or a drink of water from a stream. No chance to stop his pursuers—real, or imagined after awhile—from closing in on him. No chance to forget what he had seen. What he had dreaded. What he would blame himself for always.
“We got out of Stalag 2,” Hogan whispered, closing his eyes. Kinch, Carter and Le Beau pulled in closer to hear without asking Hogan to speak up. “I had to run… all the way back.” A pause, a collecting of emotions, scattering in his exhaustion. “Couldn’t get… Newkirk’s body,” Hogan continued, as he felt himself slipping into oblivion. Then came the whispered promise to Peter that he had been repeating since he ran away from the camp: “It’s all right… I’m coming… I’m coming back.” And with a sigh of tiredness, Hogan was still.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Carter watched as the potato Le Beau was peeling got smaller and smaller in his hand until it nearly disappeared. But Le Beau continued running the knife over the vegetable, with no apparent intention of stopping. Finally, when he thought the next slice would cut his friend’s hand, the young American spoke up. “Uh—Louis—I didn’t think you liked to cut them that thin.”
Le Beau looked up, annoyed, then looked at the potato and realized what he had been doing. He put it and the knife down on the table with a thud. “You are right,” he said, irritated with himself. “I will have to do some more.” And he got up and went to the storage cupboard to retrieve more food.
“Make sure you have something
good waiting for the Colonel,” Kinch spoke up. “He’ll have to be starving after
his long sleep.” He put the kettle back on the stove and swirled his coffee in
its cup. “I’m glad
Carter grimaced. “I wish he could have sedated me, too,” he said. “Poor Newkirk. I wonder what happened to him. Maybe the Colonel will tell us when he wakes up.”
Le Beau came back to the table.
“I am sure he will not forget it.” He started peeling again. “You heard him
last night—he could not stop saying he would go back. He would go back for
Kinch took a seat at the table, nodding slowly to the others. “If there’s a way, the Colonel will find it. But for right now, we’ve got to let him rest.” The radio man rubbed his hand across his face and sighed. “I mean, we all want to know what happened to Newkirk; we just have to let Colonel Hogan tell us in his own way. He’s going to have to deal with it himself first, before he can think about sharing it with us.”
Carter sat and stared at Le Beau’s nimble fingers, and this time just stared silently as the potato was peeled down to nothing.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Group Captain Townsend sat at the radio desk, taking a turn at watching Colonel Hogan as the man slept after his long ordeal. Townsend had stayed back as the men had cared for their commanding officer, watching how each man helped according to his strengths. They’d all been glad to see Hogan’s return, and each had been devastated to learn that Corporal Newkirk had apparently been killed. It was amazing to the Englishman how close-knit these men of widely different backgrounds were to each other.
Now, the Group Captain looked on the battered face of the American Colonel and shook his head. Away and in the hands of a clearly uncivilized enemy for two days, faced with the death of one of his men, and all Hogan could think of, even semi-conscious, was going back to retrieve a corpse. For what? Not for glory; in their line of work there was none. For the dead man’s dignity? Noble, but fruitless considering where his body was being held. For friendship? What kind of commanding officer made friends with his subordinates? How could he command from such a compromised position?
And yet Hogan’s men seemed to
hold to him close to their hearts, that much was clear from the way they had
rallied around him last night, the way they had to be practically pried away
from his side when the medic had decided Hogan needed something to help him
find real rest. This operation was very unlike what they had led him to expect
A soft moan from the bed brought Townsend’s thoughts back to the present, and he watched as Hogan frowned and clearly struggled to force himself awake. I’d be trying to forget all of this as soon as possible, old chap, he thought. Why are you in such a hurry to remember? Finally, Hogan opened his eyes with a labored breath and stared blankly for the briefest second at nothing.
“I say, are you all right there, Colonel Hogan?” Townsend stood, making his way around the radio desk as he spoke.
The unfamiliar voice gave Hogan a start. Suddenly out of his daze, he jerked his head around to see who was speaking to him, then groaned as the move set off fireworks in his head. “Who—?” he began, now quite sure that the idea of being back at Stalag 13 had all been a dream. It was a dream… was what he thought had happened to Newkirk merely a nightmare?
“Group Captain Townsend,” he identified himself as he moved to the cot. “Your man Wilson had to step out a moment and asked me to keep an eye on you until he returned.”
“Townsend…” Hogan raised a hand to his forehead, trying to think. Then the name came back to him. “Oh,” he said flatly. “So you made it.” Hogan’s eyes dulled. It wasn’t a dream after all. And the nightmare about Newkirk… that was real.
“Yes, thanks to those fine chaps you sent to meet me.” Townsend paused, taking note of the American’s fatigue and confusion. “Look, Hogan, why don’t you go back to sleep for awhile? There’ll be time to talk later.”
But Hogan was thinking of other things. “Oh, but there won’t be time,” he countered, trying to struggle to a sitting position. Townsend watched, taken aback, but quickly recovered and helped Hogan to get upright. “I’ve got something I need to do.” He looked around the tunnel. “Where are my boys?”
“Upstairs, but you’re in no condition—” Townsend found himself cut off as Hogan pushed himself to his feet and stumbled toward the ladder leading to the barracks above. “Damn it, man, be careful or you’ll end up hurting yourself worse than you already are!”
Hogan didn’t answer and pulled himself with difficulty up the ladder. The men upstairs clambered to help him as he practically fell into the room. “Carter, watch the door,” Kinch said immediately. As he helped ease Hogan onto a bunk, he asked, “Colonel, what are you doing up here?”
Hogan took a minute to catch his breath; the trip up had been more strenuous than he had expected. He looked down at himself, and then mumbled, “Gotta—uh—get a new shirt.”
Le Beau stared in shock at the bruises covering Hogan’s torso, then ran into the Colonel’s quarters, quickly coming back with a clean uniform shirt. “Here, let me help you put this on, sir.” He held out the shirt with a trembling hand as he fought down the nausea that always accompanied the sight of wounds. Wilson says le Colonel will be all right, and if he is all right, then I can get through this so I can be of some help!
“Colonel, Klink thinks the Gestapo has taken you and Newkirk,” Kinch explained as Hogan very carefully dressed himself with some fussing from Le Beau. “We organized it to give you two… time… to get back.”
Hogan stopped buttoning his shirt when Kinch’s words sank in. He swallowed hard but looked at no one. “Well, then, it worked, at least for one of us.” He paused as the sick feeling he had carried since last night forced itself on him again. “You… did a good job.” He sighed heavily and looked at his men, whose eyes he could feel boring into him. “We escaped from Stalag 2 last night in the hopes of getting back here. But things went wrong… and Newkirk didn’t make it.” Hogan stopped, unable to continue and hoping the others didn’t try to force him to elaborate.
Silence filled the room as each man absorbed Hogan’s words. Finally, Kinch found his voice. “We’re all gonna miss Newkirk,” he said with difficulty. “But… we’re… glad you made it back, Colonel.”
“He’s right, Colonel.” Kinch nodded to the medic. “You’re still worn out, and besides, we can’t take the chance of one of the guards coming in and catching you here when officially you’re somewhere else.”
Hogan let all the words wash over him. Kinch’s well-intentioned welcome twisted in his gut like a knife. He was grateful that he had made it back alive, deeply thankful. But when put next to the loss of his friend and colleague, the joy was hollow. Being trapped in the tunnel would only make it worse. He had to think, and for that he needed to be alone—without a medic prodding him, and without an observer studying him. He stood up and turned, empty, to Wilson and his men. “I need to go into my office for awhile. If one of you guys can watch the door…” He glanced around him, seeming at a loss.
Kinch glanced from the tunnel entrance to the outer door, and finally nodded. “Sure, Colonel. We’ll keep an eye on things out here for you.” With that, he went outside to organize some of the other prisoners into an early-warning system that would give them not only more eyes to watch the guards, but more time to get Hogan back downstairs if necessary.
“Thanks.” Wishing he was stronger and more able, Hogan limped stiffly to his room and shut the door behind him.
Hogan’s men agreed and closed the tunnel entrance behind the medic. Then they stared at the closed door, and wondered what kinds of memories were haunting the Colonel’s mind as he holed himself up in his room all alone.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan wanted to pace, but still-severe pain in his leg stopped him from doing that, and so he collapsed onto his bottom bunk, holding his head in his hands and wishing everything he ever knew could just disappear. You made it back, he told himself. But at what cost?
A verse ran fleetingly through his head, and he stopped in his whirlwind of thoughts and repeated it. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me…. Sharp, stabbing grief overcame him as he continued the so-well-known Psalm, and he could hear the words through his pain, his face contorted with sorrow as he doubled over on the bunk, his hands tugging at his hair as tears filled his eyes and spilled out onto the floor. Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me…Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the House of the Lord forever.
Hogan stayed stock still for a few minutes, his mind numb, his soul drained. And then another verse entered his head. A single sentence that spoke volumes: A faithful friend is beyond price; no sum can balance his worth. Hogan turned that thought over in his head several times, and when he felt his strength return, he knew what he had to do.
A Promise Kept
“I’m going back.”
Hogan’s men turned as one to him as he came out of his office and fixed him with a collective shocked stare. “Colonel? What are you talking about? Going back—to Stalag 2?”
Hogan nodded grimly. “That’s right, Louis,” he said. “I’m going to bring back Newkirk—he deserves better than to be left there at the mercy of that psychopath Brinkfried.”
“But Colonel—” Kinch began. He wanted to stop Hogan from doing something that could put him in great danger again, but the words he would need to use to make Hogan see the fruitlessness of his mission were hard to come by. He stopped. “Colonel,” he said again quietly, “whatever Brinkfried is, he can’t hurt Peter any more. There’s a lot more potential for you being caught again, or worse, if you go back now.”
The room grew deathly still as each of them took in Kinch’s words. He was right, of course, and they all knew it. But none of them wanted to hear it. Hogan stood in the middle of the room, his eyes troubled, his mind clearly in another place, in another time. His men watched him, intense, as he visibly grappled with the truth.
“He deserves better than to wind up buried in some mass grave under a false name,” Hogan said too softly. “He deserves better than to be away from his friends,” he added, louder. A long pause that no one could break. “He deserves a hero’s farewell. He lost his life for me. I won’t let him be forgotten.”
No one could move, or speak. Their grief was heavy enough; watching Hogan add to his own sorrow the burden of guilt was almost unbearable. Hogan walked over to the bunk that hid the tunnel entrance and put his hand up to hit the sideboard. He stopped before doing so, and simply lay his hand over the latch and lowered his head onto it. Not looking back at the others, he said softly, “I’m going to get Townsend to drive the truck.”
Hogan’s men exchanged glances. “What are you doing, Colonel?” asked Carter.
“I’m going to go get Newkirk’s body. I’m going back to see Brinkfried dressed as a Kraut General and I’m going to demand his release.” He paused and punched the latch, watching the mechanism move everything into place without really seeing it. “And then I’m going to kill the bastard.”
Hogan moved down the ladder and disappeared.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Townsend was surprised when Hogan strode determinedly past him and over to the rack of German uniforms. “Get dressed; you’re coming with me,” Hogan said gruffly, not stopping to look at the Group Captain.
“I beg your pardon?” Townsend said.
“You heard me—get into uniform. Abwehr, I think. What size are you?”
“Uh—thirty-eight regular. Colonel Hogan, what are we doing?”
“We’re going to get rid of a Kraut and bring home a friend.” Hogan pulled out an outfit and studied it, then rejected it. No, not intimidating enough. Then he pulled out another one and thrust it at Townsend. “Here, get into this.”
“Really, Hogan, this is most irregular. What are you up to?” Townsend took the uniform Hogan held out and looked at it with concern.
“Just what I said. I need someone
to come with me to get Newkirk’s body back, and I don’t want my own boys to do
it. They’re too close to it. I’m going to confront that sick Kraut Brinkfried
and send him back to
Hogan looked up and aimed the fire in his eyes at the Englishman. “Brinkfried’s going—whether alive or in a box, I don’t care which. If you want to make yourself useful, Group Captain, you’ll take him with you.” He turned back to the basket, the knife twisting in him as he realized all of Newkirk’s handiwork was sitting in here, half-finished.
“Just how do you intend to get him out?” Townsend asked, now wary of this revered American Colonel and his clearly bitter mood.
Hogan continued searching through the basket, almost roughly pushing aside the things he didn’t need. He didn’t look up as he replied abruptly, “You leave that to me. I just need an aide—someone to stand by and do the ‘Jawohl, Herr General’, ‘Nein, Herr General,’ routine. No Kraut worth his salt is ever seen without a sycophant. You smile and you nod and you keep your mouth shut. I’ll do the work. Understood?”
Townsend nodded and swallowed hard. “Jawohl, Herr General,” he croaked.
Hogan stopped and looked at Townsend. “Now you’re catching on.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
As the truck waited at the gate for the guard to let them enter the Stalag, Hogan felt himself go cold inside. He had already warned Townsend for the third time to let him do all the talking. And he was almost confident that he could pull this off. You will, he told himself firmly. If you don’t, we don’t get Newkirk back. And leaving without him isn’t an option. In his mind, he saw the Englishman smiling as he tried to assure the Colonel that he could take whatever Brinkfried dished out. You’ll come home with us, my friend. I’ll see to it that you’re recognized as the hero you were.
Hogan tried to forget the looks on the faces of Kinch, Carter and Le Beau when he told them where they would meet him in just over an hour. The out-of-the-way, rarely-trodden spot near Stalag 13 was where they would bury Newkirk, so they could keep tabs on him until the end of the war, when Hogan would be sure the Englishman was returned to his home soil to a hero’s welcome and posthumous honors. Hogan himself would dig the grave. He was sure that each shovelful of dirt he tossed would carry with it a piece of his own soul. There would be a simple service, a reading of some passages of Scripture and a few words of praise and remembrance, and then their fallen comrade would rest in peace. And Hogan would be forever haunted by the question of what he might have done differently, to change the outcome of that terrible night when they were captured that led to this moment.
Finally the guard nodded and handed Townsend his identity papers, signaling to another guard to open the gates to the camp and allow them in. Hogan took a deep breath and nodded, then pointed to the Kommandant’s office. Townsend drove up and parked just outside the building, then got out of the truck and went around to open Hogan’s door. Arrogantly, Hogan stepped out and swept past Townsend, nodding briefly to show him all was proceeding according to plan, and stormed up the stairs into the antechamber.
The Feldwebel at the desk stood as the door flew open. He started to make a protest, but when he saw the General’s insignia on the Abwehr uniform, he scrambled for the telephone. But it was far too late, as the General practically kicked down the door to the Kommandant’s office and went inside, followed by his aide.
Major Brinkfried looked up, ready to tear into the intruder until he, too, noted the insignia. He stood, automatically coming to attention, until he realized he knew the face of the man in the General’s uniform. “You! What is the meaning of this?” The Major reached for his desk phone, clearly intending to call the guards.
But Hogan’s hand came slamming down on top of Brinkfried’s, practically crushing the man’s fingers on top of the receiver. “You will stand at attention when I am present, Brinkfried!” he screeched in his best German. “How dare you consider bringing guards into this affair? You’re in enough trouble as it is!”
Townsend could only watch, amazed at the transformation.
Left with no choice, Brinkfried snapped to attention, his single eye burning with anger at the sudden turn of events. “How may I help the General?” An Abwehr General? How could that be? Until last night, this man was an American prisoner of war in this camp!
When Townsend saw the pistol, he didn’t stop to think. He reached for the first thing he could get his hands on, which turned out to be the small, but heavy, press used for embossing seals on official documents. The Englishman swept it off the shelf, and in one smooth motion, flung it across the room, striking Brinkfried’s hand and sending the Luger flying.
Hogan, seemingly unperturbed, merely raised an eyebrow as the German Major cried out in disgust and pain and glared back at Townsend. “Danke, Herr Hauptmann,” Hogan said politely, with just a nod toward Townsend. Then he turned enraged eyes back to Brinkfried. “Are you through now, Major, or must I have my aide shoot your hands off so you do not try such a thing again?” At Brinkfried’s stunned silence, Hogan smiled a tiny, cold smile and continued. “You are clearly confused, Major. You think I am some insignificant American Private, some scum of the earth Allied flyer who broke out of your camp last night.” He moved in to lean across the desk until he could almost feel the German’s breath on his face. “And I am.” He leaned back and straightened, and spoke all the louder. “I am that same man! But I am not your Private Dane, Major Brinkfried. And I never have been! I am Major General Heinrich Peiper, Abwehr Special Services. And you have ruined a very special top-secret project by your petty, self-serving running of this camp! What do you have to say for yourself?”
Brinkfried stood silent as he
considered the General’s words. Special
Services running an operation in my camp! What could these useless prisoners
know that would be of interest to the Abwehr? “I was not informed of any
special projects, Herr General.” He
paused. “May I see the General’s papers, so that I may confirm this with
Hogan snorted. “Informed? You
expected to be informed of top secret
operations by Abwehr? My, but we are
thinking above our station today, Major, aren’t we? I noticed that when I was
under cover as a prisoner here as well.” Hogan touched his fingertips to one of
the violent bruises on his face. “You and your guards well overstep your
bounds.” He waved a gloved hand carelessly at Townsend. “Schatzie, give the
Major our papers. But I will tell you now, Brinkfried, that no one in
Hogan paused as Townsend pulled out the identity papers and handed them to Brinkfried. “What did you expect to accomplish by shooting at me and the Englishman when we cut through your wires last night, Brinkfried?” Hogan asked, burning with grief inside but showing none of that to the German.
The Major took the papers, studying them as he spoke. “Stopping an escape, Herr General, comes well within my duties here as Kommandant. Two prisoners attempted an escape last night; one was successful; the other,” he shrugged slightly, “was not.”
If Hogan’s blood pressure were to
be tested right then and there, Townsend was sure it would go off the gauge. He
could see the Colonel clench his jaw, causing the muscles to ripple. How he was
pulling off this charade while in the embrace of such heartache was
unfathomable to the Group Captain. “There was no call for us to stop,” Hogan
growled through his teeth. “There was simply shooting.” He fixed another long,
hard stare on the Major. “In your zest for power and control, Brinkfried, you
have made my project impossible to continue. The Englishman was a well-known
escape artist, with connections in the Underground and at other camps. I was
operating undercover, gaining his confidence and that of the other prisoners,
to try and learn who these contacts were. Thanks to you,” he continued,
snatching back his papers and handing them to Townsend, “
At that, Brinkfried seemed to collapse inside, the glare fading from his eye even as his posture remained perfectly correct. One of the harshest punishments for failure was, as the General had indicated, transfer to the Russian Front. And interfering with an active Intelligence operation, even though he’d had no knowledge of it, was a spectacular failure indeed. There was no way to defend himself, and as the Major refused to beg for forgiveness, he remained silent and awaited the General’s next move.
That move was swift and sure.
“Schatzie, attend to our friend the Major here while I collect the Englishman.
You brought him back here, I noticed?” Hogan confirmed with Brinkfried. The
Major cringed inside and nodded quickly. Hogan turned back to Townsend. “You
will pick up his weapon from the floor…” he said, to help the Englishman; “and
you will of course ensure he has no others in hiding. Make sure you collect the
files that he no doubt created with great pride on the two of us as well. They
will make interesting reading back in
“He is in the medical hut, Herr General.”
Hogan nodded. Townsend noticed
his face turn a shade whiter. “Very good,” he said thinly. “Get your Leutnant Staub to gather your things.
That is, if his hands are good for anything besides punching prisoners.” He
turned to leave, then almost as an afterthought, turned back. “You know,
Brinkfried, perhaps you need to pass on some wise advice to Staub for the new
Kommandant: there is a Stalag near Hammelburg, you may be familiar with
it—Stalag 13.” Brinkfried made no sign of recognition; his mind was not
registering anything at the moment. “The Kommandant there, Klink—he treats his
prisoners according to the Geneva Convention… and he has never had a successful
escape. I understand he has never shot anyone who has tried, either. You may
wish to reflect on that when you are shivering in
And, knowing that Townsend had things well in hand, Hogan left the office and steeled himself for what was to come.
Hogan stopped outside the medical hut and drew in a deep breath. He had dreaded the possibility of having to do this, and though he always knew it might happen, he still felt like he was caught in the middle of some surreal nightmare, and trying desperately to fight his way out. The camp was strangely quiet; there were very few prisoners around, and those that were milling around stayed far away from him, dressed as he was in German uniform. Hogan understood, having learned in his brief stay here that these men would expect nothing but abuse from the enemy.
Hogan knew Newkirk’s body was waiting inside, and he tried to prepare himself for what he was about to see. Never caring about the prisoners in life, Brinkfried would hardly have cleaned up the Englishman in his death, and again Hogan felt a profound sense of responsibility to maintain Newkirk’s dignity, even though he knew the man’s spirit was gone. “It’s all right, Peter,” Hogan whispered to himself again; “I’m coming.”
He forced his unwilling feet to move and opened the door to the medical hut. He stepped inside the doorway and tried to scan the room. The beds were empty—a miracle, Hogan thought, considering how he thought the prisoners who had been left behind would be treated by Brinkfried and his goons after he and Newkirk had left.
Then, in the back of the room, he saw two men, sitting on a bunk facing away from him, hunched over another bed almost hidden from Hogan’s view. The Colonel saw a loose blanket draped over a pair of feet, and as he stepped further into the room, his heart racing and his body trembling, one of the two who had been holding vigil at the still form turned around. Hogan recognized him; it was Bramer, one of the men who had befriended Newkirk when they arrived. Clearly he had come to say goodbye, or perhaps to protect Newkirk from any further indignities himself. Hogan met his eye and swallowed hard, his eyes filling with tears that he could not shed, not now, not again until he was alone.
Flight Sergeant Bramer stared at the man who had just walked in, his eyes cold and hard on seeing someone he’d thought was a fellow prisoner, but who was now decked out in the uniform of a high-ranking German officer. “Hawkins, turn around and have a look at the cuckoo we had in our nest.”
Corporal Hawkins turned, then quickly got to his feet when he realized who and what he was seeing. “Traitor!” he spat out. “Should have bloody well known you were too good to be true! Why’d you bother to come back anyway? To gloat over what you’ve done?”
Hogan absorbed the verbal blows,
understanding them but feeling their deep cuts nonetheless. Trying, he hoped
successfully, to control his voice, Hogan said huskily, “I’ve come to get
Bramer took a half step forward. “Why? Haven’t you damned Nazis done enough to him already? Besides, he’s in no shape to be answering questions anyway.” Hawkins moved up beside his Sergeant as Bramer spoke, making it quite clear that they were not only standing their ground, they were doing it together.
“It’s not what it looks like.” Hogan felt a cold hand tighten around his throat, and he had to blink hard to maintain his composure. For a second, he broke eye contact with the defiant Englishmen, then when he raised his head again he tried to be strong. “I just need to take him away from here. This is how I got back into camp.”
“‘Not what it looks like,’ he says.” Hawkins started forward, his fists balled up and ready. “I’ll tell you what it ruddy well looks like, Herr General. It looks—” He was cut off as Bramer grabbed the much larger Corporal by the arm and tried, without much success, to haul him away from Hogan.
Hogan straightened and braced himself for an attack. He didn’t want to fight these men. He wanted nothing more than to get out of here once and for all. “There are things you can’t know about,” Hogan began, feeling himself reaching his breaking point. “Things he and I were working on together. Now please, just let me get him, and we’ll get out of here.”
Hawkins shook Bramer off his arm and was moving forward again when a low, distinctly Cockney voice came from behind them. “Gov’nor?”
Bramer quickly glanced over his shoulder. “Be quiet; we’ll handle this.” The Flight Sergeant practically jumped forward, again grabbing Hawkins by the arm, but this time managing to spin him around and far enough away from Hogan to keep the Corporal from making the fatal mistake of striking a German officer. Bramer kept pushing Hawkins even further away, finally backing the man up against a wall. “Stand down, Corporal! I want a piece of him as much as you do, but the it’ll just get us all killed!”
Hogan took in none of that. The single word had shocked him to the core. He froze, his eyes wide, his head spinning, and for a minute he was sure he stopped breathing. Newkirk was dead; he had seen him fall. He had seen the Germans drag him away. He had watched, waited, grieved. It couldn’t be Newkirk. It just couldn’t. Hogan forced himself to look down at the bed, certain that it had been his imagination, and that all he would be seeing was a still body, with only memories to speak to him now.
But what he did see forced a small cry from his lips. There was Newkirk, struggling to sit up, eyes looking straight at Hogan, bandaged on the head and shoulder but clearly, unmistakably alive. Hogan felt himself getting light-headed. “Peter…” he gasped, unable to move more than a couple of steps toward the vision.
Newkirk nearly fainted with relief as he fell back on the bed. The pain lancing through his skull from even that small movement blurred his sight, but Nazi uniform be dammed, that was still his Colonel, and nothing could change the simple fact that Hogan was there. “Good to see you, mate,” he managed to get out past the rush of emotions that threatened to choke him. “I knew you’d come back for me.”
“I promised,” Hogan whispered before he could realize it would make no sense to the Englishman. Bramer and Hawkins looked on, confused. Hogan moved tentatively toward the bed. “I thought… I was sure you were…” Hogan stopped, overwhelmed, unable to say the words, and shook his head, frustrated with himself and his lack of emotional control.
The Englishman took a deep breath, and made another attempt to sit up. He tried grabbing the sides of the cot with both hands, then did his best to stifle a moan of pain as the effort wrenched his injured shoulder.
Hogan reacted automatically, moving in swiftly and easing Newkirk back down onto the bed. “Easy, boy, easy,” he said, as the Englishman accepted the ministrations without protest. Hogan stopped now and looked at his friend. Then he found himself speechless again. “You always did know how to get a rise out of me,” he said, his voice still a whisper.
“Someone’s gotta keep you on the hop, Colonel.” Newkirk reached out and took a tight grip on Hogan’s arm with a trembling hand. “Can’t have things go too easy for you now, can we, mate?” He smiled briefly, then let his hand fall away as his eyes slowly closed. “No... that wouldn’t do at all,” he whispered softly.
Hogan wanted to laugh in relief,
but he felt too weak to do it. Instead he just contented himself with watching
Newkirk breathe steadily. “I’m getting you out of here,” Hogan said. “Today.
And I’ll get
“I don’t know what’s going on here, but you’re not taking him anywhere, not if we can stop it.” Bramer walked over and stood protectively beside the cot. “This man is a member of my command, and I’m making an official protest under the Geneva Convention about the way he’s been treated since his arrival here.” The Flight Sergeant paused, and gave Hogan a thin smile that was loaded with irony. “The horse might be long since out of the barn on this one, but it’s high time you Jerries started following the rules of civilized warfare for a change. Of course, you might just stand me up against the wall for this, but I’m having my say before you do.”
“Hang about there, mate.” Newkirk’s eyes came open on hearing Bramer’s words, and he gave the Sergeant an urgent look. “He’s no bleedin’ Kraut; he’s one of us. A Yank at any rate.” A pause while Newkirk caught his breath. “He’s the gov’nor, a real china... and I trust him with my life.”
“He’s not what you think,
Hogan shook himself when he realized he had given away part of Newkirk’s true identity. No matter what, no matter when, he wasn’t supposed to do that. He had let this whole situation get on top of him, and no matter how deeply he felt something, he could not afford to put his men’s lives at risk by losing control of his thoughts for even a second. Hogan glanced around the room to be sure no one else had come in. “I think we owe you two an explanation. But if it leaves this room, we’re both dead, and so are a lot of other innocent people.”
“Righto, gov’nor. I think we need to tell them the truth.” Hogan nodded. Newkirk’s voice, though weak, was steady. “My real name is Peter Newkirk, and I really am a Corporal in the RAF. The gov’nor here is Colonel Robert Hogan, US Army Air Corps.” The Englishman took a breath, closing his eyes for a moment before continuing. “He’s as real as they come, Bramer, the genuine article all the way, mate.”
Hawkins and Bramer exchanged doubtful looks, but waited quietly for more.
“We’re sabotage and intelligence,” Hogan said briefly. “We were out on a mission the other night and things went haywire. We can’t explain much more to you, but please believe me, this uniform is nothing but a means to an end.” Hogan paused. “I’ve had too many run-ins with the real live ones to ever want to put this on for pleasure. We have to get back to Stalag 13 or our whole operation will be in jeopardy.” He looked at Newkirk, who seemed to be fading fast. “We have a truck waiting to take us there, where Newkirk can get proper medical attention, and we can get back to work.” He looked from one man to the other, then added, “You don’t need to believe us. But if I was really a Kraut, do you think I’d go through the trouble of explaining all this to you? Not the goons I’ve met. Nor the ones you have, from what I’ve seen here.”
“Hang about. You said Stalag 13, didn’t you?” Hawkins raised an eyebrow as he glanced at Bramer. “That’s the one they call ‘escape proof,’ innit?”
“It is,” replied Bramer. “But I’ve also heard some of the guards talking once in a while about some rather unusual goings-on in that area. Important Germans going missing, numerous acts of sabotage...” The Flight Sergeant’s voice trailed off as he gave Hogan a thoughtful look.
“Let’s take ‘em with us, Colonel.” Newkirk rubbed his eyes before opening them again. “I can’t think of two blokes that deserve the chance to scarper more than they do.” He looked up at Hogan with a faint smile. “That’s sorted then.”
Hogan considered protesting, but was by now too tired and too overwhelmed to put up much of an argument. What man didn’t deserve a chance to get out? He nodded. “I outrank you again, Corporal,” he said, trying to offer a smile that for some reason seemed hard to come by. “So from now on you take your orders from me.” Hogan looked at Bramer and Hawkins. “You’ll have to do exactly as I say if you want out. Get whatever you need to take with you and meet us here in five minutes.”
“That’s easy,” Hawkins said, still not believing what was happening; “I carry everything that I hold precious. There’s nothing else in this hole I want to remember.”
“Me, too,” Bramer added with a nod.
“Even better,” said Hogan. “So you get a stretcher and you move Newkirk to the truck. It’s waiting in the middle of the compound. If anyone questions you, you say you’re following the orders of General Peiper. I guarantee you, they won’t hold you up after that.”
“General Peiper?” Bramer echoed. “Who’s that?”
Hogan nodded minutely. “At your service,” he said. “Get moving. We have a stop to make before we get back to Stalag 13.” Hogan bent down over Newkirk, who was starting to fade back to sleep. “We’ll have to have the Gestapo bring us back into camp,” he explained. Newkirk chuckled. “That’s how the boys explained our absence.”
“Bloody near close, they were,” Newkirk mumbled in reply.
Hogan closed his eyes and breathed in a calming breath. “I know.” He straightened. “I have something to attend to. I’ll meet you at the truck. Don’t be late.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Hey, what’s this all about?” Hawkins asked, nearly backing out of the truck as he saw Brinkfried sitting in the back with Townsend keeping a gun trained on the Major.
“Don’t ask questions; get in the truck. All will be explained later,” Hogan answered, putting on a German accent for Brinkfried’s benefit.
Newkirk turned his eyes to Hogan, silently questioning the switch in accents until the stretcher was finally loaded into the truck and he could see the reason for it. Cor! What’s that bastard doing here in the middle of everything? He started to say something, but realized at the last second that as he didn’t know the game that the Colonel was running here, he’d best keep his mouth shut, at least for now. That turned out to be an easy task, as his eyes slid closed again of their own will, and exhaustion claimed his mind and body once again.
Bramer and Hawkins hesitated, clearly considering pulling Newkirk back out of the truck and turning tail back toward the barracks. “Raus!” Hogan barked, and with a nod he urged the pair inside. Townsend, who with wide eyes watched a very alive RAF Corporal loaded into the truck, maintained his silence and continued guarding Brinkfried. When Hogan had come earlier to make sure all was well, he had not indicated that Newkirk was alive or that anyone else would be joining them. In fact, he had made it a point of continuing the charade of being a German General. What was going on?
Hogan made sure everyone was in and secured, then took over for Townsend. “Drive, Schatzie,” he said abruptly. “Let me look after our soon-to-be-departed friend.” He smiled falsely at Brinkfried. “I brought along some of the other Englanders. I know how much you enjoy their company.”
They had traveled along for about twenty minutes when a particularly rough jolt from the road brought Newkirk around again. He brought his hand up to his head in a futile effort to ease the pain. When that didn’t help, he opened his eyes to see Major Brinkfried staring at him with undisguised hatred. A moment of panic set in on seeing the German officer, and he struggled to sit up, wanting nothing more than to get away from the man who had inflicted so much misery on him.
Hogan noticed and at once was kneeling over the Englishman. “Relax, Newkirk; this tiger’s toothless now,” Hogan said in his own voice. He looked up at Brinkfried as Newkirk settled down. “You’ve got a problem, Major. You’re surrounded by people who despise you.”
Newkirk took a deep breath and nodded ever so slightly. “Righto, gov’nor. Sorry about that. Guess I forgot where I was for a second there.” He turned his head enough to look at Brinkfried. “He’s right about that. If I were anything like you, I’d dump you in a ditch somewhere with a bullet in the back of your sick, twisted skull.” A pause to breathe and collect his thoughts. “But you’re lucky that our side doesn’t operate that way.”
The Major kept his gaze fixed on Newkirk, the man he was rapidly coming to believe was responsible for his downfall. He wondered why the General didn’t silence the insolent Corporal permanently; in fact he was starting to wonder why this General Peiper actually seemed to care about the Englishman’s well-being at all. “The likes and the dislikes of the English do not concern me,” he said with forced disinterest.
“Well, they will soon,” Hogan
answered. Brinkfried merely raised an eyebrow. “You see, Major, you’re not going
to the Russian front.” Hogan noticed Hawkins and Bramer looking at each other
in confusion. “You’re going to
Brinkfried gave a start, but Hogan raised his pistol just a little higher, and pointed it a little more sharply. The German backed down almost immediately. “I didn’t lie to you back in your office, Brinkfried; I’m not Private Jim Dane.” Hogan leaned in closer, as if he were sharing an intimacy with the Major. He chuckled and spoke softly. “But I’m not General Peiper either.” Brinkfried’s face took on a look of alarm. “I run a bit of a Travelers’ Aid Society, Brinkfried… sending boys back to England so they can live to fight another day, blowing up railroad tracks,” he added, watching for the German’s reaction as it dawned on the Major exactly what Hogan was referring to, “relocating troublesome camp Kommandants…”
Hogan leaned back out of
Brinkfried’s personal space and gestured vaguely to Bramer and Hawkins. “These
two fine young RAF men are going to escort you back to
Bramer and Hawkins looked at each other, both wondering just exactly what they’d gotten themselves into, but the sincerity in Hogan’s voice was compelling. They wanted to believe what the American was saying, but it sounded so impossible. Their thoughts were interrupted when a weak chuckle came from their fellow Englishman lying on the stretcher at their feet.
“When we send ’im out, gov’nor, can I have his uniform? If I take it in a bit, it’ll fit like it was made for me.” Newkirk looked up at Brinkfried and grinned. “And it’ll give me a good laugh knowing that he knows one of us ‘damned Englanders’ is wearing his uniform and his decorations while giving his precious homeland a knock for six.”
Hogan offered a wry grin in return. “I’m sure that can be arranged. And I’ll be more than happy to personally help you rip the ribbons off his chest.” He dropped his smile as the truck came to a stop.
“We’re here, Colonel,” Townsend said.
Hogan nodded and looked out of the back of the truck, visibly pulling himself back into command mode, one that Newkirk knew was accompanied by as little detectable emotion as possible. He looked at the Englishman, his voice suddenly rough. “I’ll be back in a minute,” he said.
Newkirk frowned at the sudden change in the American’s demeanor. “Colonel Hogan?” he asked, his voice full of concern. “What’s going on?” He gripped the edge of the stretcher with his good hand and tried to pull himself up so he could see out the back of the truck.
Hogan shook his head and tried to get Newkirk to lie back down without success. “Just scattering the troops, so to speak. Don’t concern yourself,” he said. “I know three men who are going to want to see you.”
Newkirk nodded toward the patch of woods that he could see from where he was lying. “We’re about a half a mile from camp, because I’d know that lightning-scarred tree over there day or night from all the times we’ve used it as a meeting point. So why would you be meeting them way out here now?” The Englishman’s voice faded as a thought slowly formed in his mind. “Blimey, gov’nor,” he whispered. “You came to Stalag 2 thinking I was dead, didn’t you? Does that mean this is where you were going to...” Newkirk couldn’t force the words out, because he suddenly didn’t want to think any more.
Hogan turned away, blinking
constantly, trying to keep his emotions in check. “We’re going back to camp,”
he said hoarsely. He stared out to the quiet spot he had chosen earlier, and in
his mind again saw himself digging the grave, reciting the Scriptures, offering
his eternal friendship and loyalty. The unreal future memories sliced through
him, in a way he didn’t want to share with the Corporal. He would have to deal
with it on his own, later. “
“Colonel Hogan, I...” Once again, Newkirk’s voice trailed off, but this time it was because he didn’t know what to say. There were a hundred things that he wanted to say, that needed to be said, but he just couldn’t find the right words. Finally, he settled on something simple, though he felt it wasn’t nearly enough to say to the man that had risked his own life to bring home someone he thought was dead. “Thank you, sir. For... everything.”
Hogan nearly broke at that, and so he jumped roughly out of the truck and started walking away. “Just stay there,” he said gruffly over his shoulder.
“How touching.” Brinkfried’s voice, dripping with sarcasm, broke the silence after Hogan left the truck. “Perhaps I’ve been wrong about you Englanders. It’s possible that you actually can learn after all. You seem to be quite loyal after you’ve been trained.”
Anything else the German was going to say was lost when Bramer and Hawkins grabbed him by the arms and frog-marched him right out the front of the truck. “We’ll fix this bastard for you, Corporal. Take him out for a little walk and give the air in here a chance to clear.” The Flight Sergeant’s tone promised a very rough go of things for the former Kommandant if he put up any resistance.
Group Captain Townsend, who had been silently observing the entire scene from his place in the driver’s seat, was nearly bowled over when the three men came out through the front of the truck. He felt it was a wise move to accompany his fellow RAF men as they hustled their prisoner away from the truck and into the edge of the woods; he was almost, but not quite, sure that the pair wouldn’t do anything to the German.
Meanwhile, Hogan’s men watched their commanding officer approaching, taking in his stiff gait, noting the still-present limp and the ugly bruises that did nothing to hide his white face and strained expression. They looked at him solemnly when he came to stand before them. “I’m… sorry,” Hogan whispered before they had a chance to speak.
Hogan’s men looked at each other, concerned. “Colonel?” Kinch said.
“I let you think…” Hogan faltered. “I was wrong,” he said. “I was wrong—come back to the truck. Newkirk wants to see you.”
The men looked at Hogan, at first
not understanding what he’d just said. Le Beau was the first to move, tearing
his eyes off the Colonel and running to the vehicle. “
“It’s good to see you again too, little mate.” Newkirk blinked against the tears forming in his eyes as Le Beau took him in a careful embrace. “You have no idea how good it is,” he whispered as the Frenchman released his hold and sat back.
“Welcome back, man,” Kinch said, clapping the Englishman gently on the arm. He smiled softly. “Leave it to you to play for sympathy in such a dramatic way.”
“‘Play for sympathy,’ he says.” Newkirk shook his head slightly in deference to his massive headache. “If that’s the case, remind me to do Macbeth the next time I want drama, mate. Be a lot easier on everyone that way.”
Carter grinned, his broad smile not able to outshine the light in his eyes. “I’m really good at acting, Newkirk!” he said. “Would there be a part for me?”
Kinch shook his head and laughed. “I doubt there are any crazy Nazis in Macbeth,” he said.
Newkirk laughed softly. “I’ll give you a better part than that, Andrew. You deserve it.” I’ve had my fill of crazy Nazis for a while, mate.
Hogan stood back from the truck, watching and listening. His men belonged together. This was right. He felt a profound sense of guilt for letting Le Beau, Kinch, and Carter believe wrongly that Newkirk was dead; judging from their rapport both now and in the past, he knew that the idea would have made them suffer terribly, and he regretted having made them suffer through it. Now, he knew they would be all right with Townsend, as long as they had each other.
Group Captain Townsend turned away from observing the RAF men with Brinkfried when he heard footsteps behind him. “Good luck, Colonel,” he said, watching Hogan tiredly and with difficulty make his way toward him. Stubborn Yank. Shouldn’t be walking so much. “Nice ending, to have your man Newkirk alive and well.”
Hogan raised an eyebrow and leaned heavily against the lightning-scorched tree that had given his plans away to Newkirk. “Alive, yes. Well, no,” he countered. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. It’s turning cold, he thought. So much for an early spring. “We’re gonna have to get him some medical attention, but I don’t want him brought back into camp in the usual way, not yet. He needs a chance to recover a little, and if the ‘Gestapo’ brings us back, there might be some very embarrassing questions asked that we can’t come up with answers to. Plus we’ve got to get you, Bramer and Hawkins in.” Hogan rubbed his forehead, studiously avoiding the tender cuts and bruises that covered half his face. “I’ll have to come up with a plan.”
“I quite understand, old man. However, his condition, and yours, are easily explained. We both know what the Gestapo is capable of, and as for the Corporal’s wound,” Townsend shrugged slightly, “use the oldest line in the book: shot while trying to escape.”
Hogan bristled. “No, thanks,” he said abruptly. “Newkirk needs to get back now; I wasted enough time leaving him for dead, without delaying any longer by playing Nazi Dress-Ups. He goes in through the tunnel, and we take Bramer and Hawkins in with him. When he’s had a day or two to recover, we’ll let our pretend Gestapo officers bring the two of us back in. He’ll be better able to handle it then.”
“Steady on there, Hogan. I only meant that as an easy way of explaining your condition. I certainly didn’t mean to belittle what the two of you have been through, nor did I mean to imply that your man doesn’t need medical care as quickly as possible.” The mark of a good commander; thinks of his men first. Still, he seems fixated on the Corporal’s condition to the detriment of his own. Townsend gave the American’s face a critical study. “For that matter, you could use the down time as well. You’re exhausted, man, and I know you’re injured. Frankly, I don’t see how it is that you’re still on your feet.”
“Invisible strings,” Hogan answered with an ironic smile. “They don’t get cut till the war is over.” He pulled himself away from the tree. “Speaking of which, if we don’t get this truck back to Stalag 13 soon, Klink’s going to think someone’s actually using it for camp business. Tell Hawkins and Bramer to bring our friend back to the truck. We’ll get Brinkfried out tonight.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Sergeant Wilson leaned over the
cot, checking on his latest patient. The Englishman was still unconscious from
when he’d passed out while being brought in through the tree stump entrance of
the emergency tunnel. Lousy Nazis.
Someone beat him half to death, then tried to finish the job by shooting him in
the back and clubbing him so hard over the head they damn near broke his skull.
The medic straightened up and turned around. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Hogan hovering near the base of the ladder, straining to watch or hear but not approaching. In your own time, Colonel. He shook his head. You look so tired. When will you just let go and leave it to me to look after your men? He laughed softly to himself, already knowing the answer: Never. Because then you wouldn’t be Colonel Hogan. And somehow that’s just what we all need.
As Wilson left, Le Beau settled
onto a chair he placed by Newkirk’s cot. Ah,
mon ami, this is not the first time I have kept watch over you like this. You
earned many beatings before you learned not to fight with the guards after
trying—and failing—to escape so often. At least when Kinch came to camp, we
were finally able to make you see the sense of digging a tunnel instead of
cutting the wire all the time. The Frenchman looked around the central hub
of the ever-growing tunnel system and smiled. Who would have thought that the single tunnel we dug would have ever
grown into something so complex? Or that he and I would become close friends?
A soft moan brought Le Beau’s full attention back to his English friend as
Newkirk opened his eyes and looked around. “Oh, good,
“I am?” The Englishman blinked a few times, then frowned when he still couldn’t see clearly. “It’s so dark, Louis. Where are we, in the cooler again?”
Le Beau couldn’t help laughing softly at that. “No, we’re in the tunnel under the barracks. Colonel Hogan wanted you brought down here so Sergeant Wilson could take care of you right away. He wants you to rest for a day or so before you ‘officially’ return.”
“Hang on,” Newkirk said, thinking; “how did you fellows cover for me and the Colonel when we didn’t come back? I seem to remember the gov’nor saying something about making Klink think the Gestapo had come for us.”
The Frenchman grinned. “You should have seen Carter. He was magnificent! Two minutes after walking into the office, he had Klink shaking so badly I thought he was going to drop his monocle. We took out Olsen and Townsend, dressed as you and the Colonel.”
“Our shy, quiet Andrew, done up as a Gestapo officer? I’d bloody well pay to see that!” Newkirk started laughing, then suddenly stopped as his head felt like it was going to explode. “Louis, do you mind if I just rest a while?”
“Of course not,
As Le Beau set the cup aside, Newkirk closed his eyes. The Frenchman was surprised when he quietly asked a question. “How’s Colonel Hogan doing, Louis? Is he all right? I’m worried about him, mate. He did so much to get us out of there....” The Englishman’s voice faded as he fell into an uneasy sleep.
It would seem that you both did, judging from how much the two of you have been hurt. Le Beau sighed as he settled back on his chair. I wonder if we will ever know the whole story of what happened to them.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan didn’t move and for a minute didn’t speak. Finally, his hollow voice said, “I have no intention of lying down, Joe. What do you want?”
“Like I said, I want to check you
Hogan raised his head from his hands immediately and ran his hand once through his hair. “The rest of the story?” he asked urgently. “What’s wrong?”
The medic hooked a stool with his foot and pulled it away from the workbench to sit beside the Colonel. He leaned forward and took Hogan’s head gently in his hands, tilting it so he could get a close look at the cut on the man’s face. “Let me do my job, sir,” he said as Hogan tried to pull away. “If I can look and talk at the same time, the least you can do is sit still and listen.”
Hogan stopped struggling, resisting the urge to jerk his head back when lightly moving fingers probed a tender swelling. “I’m here,” he said through tightly clenched teeth. “What about Newkirk?”
“He lost a lot of blood, sir, which isn’t helping the fever he’s developed because of that gunshot wound in his back. I’m more worried about his head, but it’s a good sign that he was awake and talking before he passed out. Colonel, the only things I’ve got for pain are aspirin and a little morphine, but I can’t give him the morphine because of the head injury.” The medic released Hogan’s head and sat back with a long sigh. “That means he’s gonna have to tough it out with nothing more than aspirin around the clock. The aspirin will actually help with the fever, but he’s going to be in a lot of pain, which means he won’t be getting much rest.”
Hogan shook his head, distressed. “So what you’re saying is…?”
“What I’m saying, Colonel, is
that you can be of some help here. Newkirk’s got something on his mind; when he
was fading in and out of consciousness while I was working on him, he kept
asking about you. A lot of it didn’t make any sense to me, but one bit I did
get was something about having to look after you and make sure you were all
“Stop that train of thought right
there, Colonel. You told me you saw him get hit and go down. You also said that
when the Krauts hauled him away, he didn’t move, didn’t fight or anything. As
far as you could tell, Newkirk was dead. You were outnumbered and outgunned,
there was absolutely nothing you could have done except what you did: make sure that at least one of you escaped
and made it back here.” The medic took a breath, and continued. “Think about
it: if he had been dead, would Newkirk have wanted you to go back and get
captured trying to rescue his corpse?” I
“As for looking after things, it’s all under control. Things are fine topside, and down here? Le Beau’s keeping an eye on Newkirk for me; your Kraut is under heavy guard down at the end of that new tunnel extension, so he’s not going anywhere until you ship him out tonight; and our three British guests are sacked out on the other side of the printing press. In short, Colonel, you’ve done your job. Now go do the rest of it and get some sleep so you’ll be able to handle things later on.”
Hogan had lowered his head back
down to his hands as
Finally, as he accepted Newkirk’s safe return, Hogan felt his own strength ebbing away. “You win, Joe,” he said weakly. “I’m too tired to fight you.” A long pause. Hogan realized he could not move, so drained was he of energy. “But I doubt there are any beds left down here. I’ll have to wait my turn.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Kinch took a peek into the dark room several hours later, nodding to himself when he saw Hogan still sound asleep. Man, I don’t want to wake him, but if I don’t, he’s gonna be mad. The Sergeant moved over to the cot and shook the Colonel’s shoulder. “Time to wake up, sir.”
Kinch was surprised to find it took more than one nudge to wake Hogan, who was normally an extremely light sleeper. One more jostle and the officer drew in a deep breath and sat up drunkenly. “Whudzamadder?” he slurred, blinking hard and trying to bring himself out of his dreamless stupor.
“Take it easy there, Colonel; everything’s all right.” Kinch held out a steaming mug and smiled. “See? There’s even time for a cup of coffee before you have to go back on duty.”
Hogan tried to stretch, feeling the stress of the last few days in his shoulders and his neck and longing to get back in his lumpy bunk upstairs. Extending his legs aggravated his knee, stiff from lack of movement after overuse in its abused state. He rubbed his eyes and then reached out for the cup. “How’s Newkirk?”
“Still asleep, if you can believe that. He even slept through the um, conversation, that Olsen and Scotty had with that Kraut Major about exchanging his uniform for civilian attire.” Kinch shook his head and grinned. “But don’t worry, he saw the error of his ways real fast after those two fellas from Stalag 2 threatened to ‘assist’ him.”
Hogan lifted one side of his lips in a lopsided grin. “I knew I could count on them.” Hogan stood up, but his balance was uncertain and he nearly spilled his coffee. Kinch helped steady him. “Not awake yet,” Hogan explained awkwardly, pulling away and taking another sip. “I’d better go say farewell to our friend.”
Kinch nodded and led the way out, holding back the flag so Hogan could follow. The central hub of the tunnel was full of the usual pre-departure bustle, but almost everyone present tried to keep the noise to a minimum in consideration of the injured man sleeping on a cot set against the far wall.
Major Brinkfried, however, proved
to be the exception. Even in handcuffs, physically restrained by Bramer and
Hawkins, and being covered by the pistol in Scotty’s hand, the German continued
to struggle against Olsen as the American tried unsuccessfully to put a proper
knot in Brinkfried’s tie. Hogan put his coffee on the desk nearby and came up
so he was nearly nose-to-nose with the German. He took the tie from Olsen,
wrapped but untied as it was around the officer’s neck, and pulled it tightly
to him. Brinkfried momentarily stopped wriggling. “I have a wounded man
sleeping here,” he growled, “and I don’t want you disturbing his rest.” Pulling in even closer, Hogan added,
“Now, you’re going back to
Hogan shoved the German back into the RAF men’s grasp. “If you decide to present yourself sloppily, that’s your choice. Olsen, forget the tie. Let him go as a peasant. Get him another shirt. This one’s too good for him.” The Colonel turned away from Brinkfried, then with a smile full of irony and clear dislike, he turned back. “Oh, and thanks for the nice insignias. They’ll look great when the ‘Gestapo’ brings me and Newkirk back into camp.”
“How you expect anyone to get any sleep with all this row is beyond me.” Newkirk’s weak voice came from across the room as he pushed back the covers and propped himself up on an elbow. The Englishman looked around at the business at hand and frowned. “Here now, who said you could start the party without me?”
“Just doing a bit of cleaning up. Seems the Major here doesn’t share my passion for loud ties.” He glanced almost mockingly at Brinkfried, who was being changed against his will into other clothing. Hogan took note as the German’s handcuffs were removed and his wrists held tightly by two men, then replaced after a scuffle gave him a less than refined shirt on his back. “So he’ll be going out Economy. Only three times as classy as he deserves.”
“Take him out in a ruddy pine box for all I care, mate.” Newkirk didn’t bother to hide his amusement as he watched the fracas with Brinkfried. Once the German had been placed back into restraints, the Englishman turned his attention to his two countrymen. “Blimey, who picked out your tie, Hawkins? Colonel Hogan, by any chance? He’s not a bad sort as officers go, but he’s got no idea how to dress unless it’s in a uniform.” Newkirk tried to sit up without success, then turned to Le Beau who was standing nearby. “Help me up here, Louis. I’ve got to go find something else for him to wear, else he’s gonna stand out a mile.”
“He’ll be just fine as he is, thank you,” Hogan replied. “Louis, keep Newkirk in bed.” He turned to the Englishman. “Well, it sounds like you’re well enough to be brought back into camp tomorrow. Think we can let Louis do up the uniforms for the friendly Gestapo men to bring us back in through the main gate? I think I have just the decorations to go on them now.”
Newkirk laughed softly at that, then turned to look at the German. “Herr Major Brinkfried.” The Englishman’s voice was laden with sarcasm and the hatred he felt toward the man he was addressing. “I’m given to understand that you got that eye patch of yours after some lucky Air Gunner in a Bristol Blenheim put a few shots through your canopy during the Battle of Britain. As it happens, Herr Kommandant, sir, I was in charge of the guns in one of those nice little planes during that time.” He smiled coldly as Brinkfried stared at him. “You know, I just thought of something... it might have been me that did that to you. If it was, my only regret would be that I didn’t manage to put a few more rounds into you and finish the ruddy job right then and there.”
Hogan watched from between Le Beau and Kinch, nodding slightly and understanding the Englishman’s anger. It was a rather civilized telling-off, really, Hogan thought, considering what Brinkfried deserved. Given all possible outcomes, chances were that Newkirk would never have to set eyes on the Major again. But it wouldn’t erase their memories of the man, and of the atrocities he had committed against them and all the other prisoners he had come across at Stalag 2. Hogan had considered allowing himself to let off a few choice words himself, but in the end, it was the Englishmen who had the biggest issues with Brinkfried, and it was the Englishmen who should be allowed to put the German in his place.
Now, Hogan stepped forward and nodded toward Bramer and Hawkins, who were still holding the German’s cuffed arms securely. “Looks like it’s going to be a long trip for you with these two fine gentlemen at your side, Brinkfried.” The Englishmen grinned as Brinkfried jerked once against them. Hogan shook his head. “Don’t think it hasn’t been a real pleasure—getting you the hell out of my sight.” Hogan turned away before he said something he would regret saying in front of his men, and nodded for Newkirk to relax.
“Colonel Hogan? I’d like to thank
you for getting us out of Stalag 2. I also want to apologize for the things I
said to you back there. We should have known better.” Flight Sergeant Bramer
checked the grip he had on the German’s arm as he spoke. “And don’t you worry
about this chap, sir; we’ll be keeping a right close eye on him all the way to
Hawkins grinned at Bramer’s words. “I might even bring him round a plate of kippers once in a while, just so he knows he’s not forgotten.” The Corporal turned to Hogan and nodded respectfully. “Newkirk there’s spot on. You are a fine china to ’ave about, sir. Know what I mean?”
Hogan smiled softly, as some of his weariness seemed to leave him. “Yes, Corporal,” he answered with a nod. “Yes, I think I finally do.” He took in the two men before him, flanking the German with pride in themselves and their mission ahead. “You have no reason to apologize; I would have come as quite a surprised to you dressed as I was. You look after each other. And don’t let this guy get out of hand.” Then he added quietly, “We’ll get word to Stalag 2 somehow that you’re all right. They won’t worry about you having left with the Abwehr. And who knows—maybe they’ll keep standing together, now that Brinkfried’s gone.” He paused and looked sharply at the German. “Because that’s when men survive best—when they support each other.”
Bramer nodded and looked over at Newkirk. “Take care of yourself, Corporal. It’s been an honor serving with you.”
“Same here, Flight Sergeant. When you get back in the air, would you mind addressing a few five hundred-pound postcards to Adolf, and sign them ‘Peter Newkirk, Esquire’?”
The Englishmen all laughed, and
Hawkins added, “I’ll make sure of it. And you know,
“Glad to have done it, mate. After we both get back to town, we’ll go down the jack and rabbit on a bit about it all then, right?” Newkirk smiled, glad these two men were going home.
Carter came in from one of the tunnel extensions. “All set, Colonel. The Underground is ready to take Brinkfried.”
Hogan nodded. “Okay, this is it. Le Beau, Kinch—you two go with Carter to bring these men to meet our contacts. I want Brinkfried watched every minute.”
Hogan shook the hands of Bramer and Hawkins. “Thanks for everything you did for Newkirk. Safe trip home.”
“It was our pleasure, sir, but I’d be willing to wager that he doesn’t need much doing for when he’s in top form.” Bramer glanced at Newkirk and smiled. “Best of luck to you chaps here.” The Flight Sergeant offered Hogan respectful salute, which the Colonel returned with a nod, and turned to follow the others into the tunnel.
Newkirk lay back on the cot as the area emptied of men. Two more taking the trip I wish I was going on myself. But I can’t leave now; those lads are living proof of just how much more work there is to be done here. He rubbed his eyes and sighed, trying not to think of what it would be like to go home.
Hogan turned away from the
retreating figures and loitered by the radio, absentmindedly playing with
buttons and switches, all the while knowing Kinch would call him on it later.
“So, are you following
“You know Kinch is gonna have a go at you for that later on, gov’nor,” Newkirk replied, wanting to avoid the issue of being under medical orders. “I’m a trained wireless operator, and he doesn’t like me fooling around with the gear either.”
“R H I P, Newkirk,” Hogan replied: “Rank has its privileges.” Nevertheless, Hogan sighed and moved away from the desk. He pulled the chair away from the radio area and sat heavily in it. “Are you up for coming back into camp tomorrow?”
“I think so, sir. I’m already tired of staring at the dirt walls down here. Question is, though, are you ready for it? You know old Klink’s gonna be all over you about everything.” Newkirk gave Hogan an ironic smile. “Rank’s also got its price, Colonel. I’m just a Corporal, and no one cares about the other ranks. They seem to pay a lot of attention to the officers, though. Wonder why that is?”
“They want to make sure we’re earning our pay.” Hogan shrugged. “Klink can say whatever he likes. All I have to say is I can’t remember anything because the Krauts bashed me in the head too many times. I’ve got the proof, after all,” he said, knowing his face would still be nothing to be proud of when he next looked in the mirror. “Carter and Le Beau supposedly escorted us out as Gestapo. They’ll just have to bring us back in tomorrow, then everything will be back to its normal state of chaos. And then…” Hogan was about to say they would all get back to work, when he suddenly remembered Townsend, who was still holed up down here in the tunnel system, waiting for his chance to talk with Hogan, and, Hogan believed, to tell the Colonel how he was to be reprimanded or replaced.
“You all right there, Colonel?” The change from casual conversation back to “command presence” made Newkirk frown as Hogan’s whole demeanor suddenly shifted without warning. The Englishman took a deep breath and finally managed to sit up on his cot, though the way the room spun around made him think he shouldn’t try to go any further at the moment.
“Lie back down; I’m fine,” Hogan ordered, his light mood gone. “I’ve just… still got a headache. You should go back to sleep; we have a lot lined up for tomorrow and I want you as strong as you can manage to be.”
“Are you following
“I caught a few hours earlier,” Hogan answered vaguely.
Newkirk smiled knowingly. “Meaning
“Meaning I fell asleep before he could nag me into submission,” Hogan corrected. “You need the sleep; there are still a few hours before morning.”
“Oh, of course, Colonel.” Newkirk really didn’t believe Hogan in this case, as he’d seen it go the other way far too often, and he grinned to take the sting off the sarcasm in his tone.
“Excuse me, gentlemen,” came a cultured British voice from across the tunnel. “Could I have a word with you, Hogan? That is, unless you’re busy at the moment.”
Hogan turned to see Townsend approaching them from his sleeping area further down the tunnel, and even in the dim light, Newkirk could see Hogan’s eyes take on a sadness that could not be hidden with bravado or irreverence. The Colonel nodded and glanced fleetingly back at the Corporal. “I’ve got time,” he said. “Newkirk’s going back to sleep.” He let out a long breath. “I’ve been rather the absent host until today,” Hogan admitted, “and I guess it’s time to find out exactly why you’re here.”
Change of Command
Hogan rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably as he gestured for Townsend to pull up a chair far down in one of the branch tunnels. He glanced up at the oil lamps, randomly thinking that he needed to remind the boys to refill them at the end of the week, and sat on a stool a few feet from the Group Captain, his body and mind both tired and longing for rest. “I wasn’t around to greet you properly when you got here,” he started, not really sure how to approach the topic. He had had performance reviews before, and he had cared about his work before, but there was something about this command that was different from any other he had ever had, and he always found himself at a loss when asked to explain it. Now, he wasn’t sure how to defend it, or the powerful bond he felt to it and the men under his command.
“I quite understand, Colonel,”
Townsend replied as he took his seat. “You were on a mission when I arrived,
and things since then have been, shall we say, a bit dicey. Speaking of that,
welcome back, Hogan. To be honest, I wasn’t sure you would make it back, and
given the condition of your man Newkirk there, it looks like you beat odds that
even the touts at
“We play the odds a lot,” Hogan
answered briefly. “That seems to be what
Townsend nodded thoughtfully. “It may interest you to know that in certain circles, this operation is thought of as being the most unorthodox one ever fielded. Successful, but unorthodox.”
Hogan raised an eyebrow. “So I’ve been told—many, many times. I didn’t think that was a problem, as long as it got the job done. Apparently it raises the hair on the back of some necks at Headquarters.”
That comment raised Townsend’s eyebrow in response. “It isn’t a problem; in fact, there’ve been a few other types of missions come across the planning table that have been met with the comment, ‘Wish we could put Hogan on this one—too bad he’s stuck in a prisoner of war camp.’ Why, there’s even been thought of having you consult on some of those, except, of course, for the chance of a radio message being intercepted.”
“Yeah, well, they’re the ones who asked me to stay in a prisoner of war camp in the first place,” Hogan replied, slightly caustic. Calm, Robert Hogan, you won’t help your case any by antagonizing the messenger. In a steady voice, he added, “And I suppose it’s up to them to decide when I go.”
“I must admit, certain factions
in Strategic Operations would like to have you back in
Hogan nodded, at that moment
feeling every one of the blows he had taken in the last week. He closed his
eyes, then tilted his head back and looked at the ceiling. “I thought it
might.” He let out a breath and looked directly at Townsend. “Look, I know
Hogan felt lightheaded and was
tempted to stop, but he couldn’t let this finish without defending his crew.
“My men have developed into some of the best sabotage and intelligence
operatives Headquarters could ever ask for. They’re loyal and they’re brave and
they’re damned good fighting men, and they’re true professionals, every one of
them. And if the brass wants me back in
There, it was done. He’d said his piece, and now he could accept whatever he was ordered to do. But the monologue’s intensity had drained Hogan, and he raised a hand to his face, hoping to rub away some of the exhaustion before telling his men it was time for him to go.
“I say, Hogan, we had no idea you felt this way.” Townsend was stunned by what the American had just said, and it was clear he was trying desperately to come up with something to say in reply. “Your work has been brilliant, and you’ve managed some amazing things in the short time you’ve been in operation here.” The Group Captain paused, studying the Colonel closely. The man’s exhausted, and I don’t think it’s just from this last mission. It may well be time to let him move on then. “In any case, it’s not been forgotten that this is a volunteer assignment, and that you, or any of your men, are free to leave any time you wish.
“If you’re ready to return to
Hogan stopped rubbing his face
and slowly brought his head up from his hand. “Ready to resign my…?” He looked
at Townsend questioningly, and frowned. “Didn’t
“Run things by the book? My dear Colonel, you’re writing the book on this kind of operation! Frankly, most of us have no idea how you manage to do what you do here, and do it right under Jerry’s nose like this.” Townsend shook his head. “I’ve sat in a few times when some of the men you’ve sent home have been debriefed, and some of their tales are enough to stagger the imagination.
“I have to confess, I didn’t believe everything they told us, until now. Having seen your set-up, and having seen your men in action—especially in your absence—makes me believe every word those men have said. Certainly I’m here to look over your operation, but to replace you? After the last two days, I’m convinced there is no replacing you, full stop.” Townsend paused as a thought came to him. “Whatever made you think that in the first place, if I may ask?”
Hogan stared, blinking, at
Townsend. What the hell was going on? His fingers raked his hair once again.
“Why wouldn’t I think that?” he
asked, amazed. “We ask for a special courier plane,
Townsend got very quiet. Several seconds’ worth of quiet, in fact, as the man’s eyes hardened and the muscles of his jaw clenched as he tried to keep his composure. He failed. “Those bleeding sods!” he whispered. “Have they got no idea what damage they can do with the sort of game they’re playing at?”
Hogan frowned. “What are you talking about? This was a game?” He felt his blood pressure rising and tried to catch his breath.
The Group Captain blinked as Hogan’s words cut into his anger. “I apologize, old man; it seems my manners have slipped.” He took a calming breath of his own before speaking again. “This most certainly is not a game. The problem has been that this type of operation is so new, and so unique, that no one is exactly certain how to handle it. Therefore, everything that comes from this post ends up going through several sets of hands in both British and American Intelligence before a decision is made.”
Townsend nodded. “I can assure
you, Colonel Hogan, that from this point forward, all of that will cease. As
soon as I return to
Townsend watched as Hogan breathed out his anger, the Colonel’s shoulders rising and falling several times before he spoke. “We don’t have time for them to second guess us. Lives are at risk with every minute they hesitate.” Though some of the anger had receded, there was still a lot in reserve, and Hogan carried it on his sleeve. “I nearly lost one of my men because they were arguing about how to get a Kraut out of here. I nearly lost another one because they decided to send you down here to play I Spy. If you can stop that from happening, Townsend, I might just have one or two men left by the time the war is over.”
“You have my word on it, Hogan.” Group Captain Townsend stood, and held out his hand. “I’ll do whatever it takes to get you and all your men home safely.”
Hogan accepted the gesture, his relief almost palpable. “I’ll hold you to that, Townsend.” He drew the Group Captain into his trusted group by looking him straight in the eye. “When it comes to my men, I’ll never let you off the hook.”
“I expect nothing less from a man who won’t let himself off the hook either.” Townsend met Hogan’s gaze steadily, then smiled as he sat back down. “Now then, tell me what I’ve just let myself in for.”
Hogan nodded just once, pleased with this man who until just a few minutes ago he was sure was here to take his command. Townsend seemed to genuinely understand how Hogan thought the operation needed to be run, and was willing to do his part to make it easier for him and his men. An ally like this could make his nights a little more restful, and he was grateful for it. “You’ve aligned yourself with a fine group of men, Townsend,” Hogan said. “My crew are some of the finest, most loyal and resourceful people I have ever had the privilege to know.”
“A bit on the salty side as well. How do you deal with that sort of thing on a regular basis?”
“Salty?” Hogan repeated.
Townsend nodded. “Routinely insubordinate toward a superior officer, disobedient of direct orders, and with a casual disregard of rank amongst themselves.” The Group Captain watched Hogan’s face closely as he spoke, waiting for the Colonel’s reaction.
Hogan considered the question, and then started a slow, hobbling pace. “Townsend, before I got shot down, I was piloting a B-17. Aside from the rest of the 504th under my command, I had nine men with whom I lived and breathed and fought and prayed. We were a team, a close team, and just like all the others, we were under immense pressure.” Hogan paused in his walk as the faces of those men came to the forefront of his mind. “They could be irreverent, and they could be difficult, and they could even be insubordinate. It was a way to release the pressure. But when push came to shove they did exactly as I asked, because they knew I would never order them to do anything without considering them first.”
Hogan resumed pacing. “The men I work with here are no different. They put their lives at incredible risk every day. I ask them to do things that no sane man would attempt. Each of my men has his specialty, and he knows and does his job. It’s about skills, not about the number of stripes and decorations. It’s about teamwork, not about one man standing over another. My men have to feel free to speak their minds to me without worrying about the possible repercussions, because without trust and honesty, a unit like ours is doomed to fail. When they have an issue, they know without a doubt that I’ll listen and consider. And when I send them out on a job, I know they’ll do their damnedest to look out for each other.”
Hogan stopped pacing and looked at Townsend. “Sometimes that means disobeying direct orders—like when I told Newkirk to go back with Carter instead of trailing me—but I never once doubt their respect and their loyalty. And that’s the only way a unit like this can survive. I’d rather have a whole team of misfit men who can’t distinguish rank or know how to salute—but who would lay down their lives for each other—than I would ever want one perfect, out-of-the-book soldier. My men deserve more accolades than I could ever give them, or that London will ever realize, and I sleep better at night knowing that the men’s respect for me and for each other is real, and not simply there because rank requires it.”
Hogan sat back down, drained and surprised by his own impassioned defense of his men. And I mean it, damn it. I mean every word.
Townsend’s eyes never left Hogan during the American’s heartfelt speech. The Englishman not only listened to the words, he also took in the man’s body language, something that spoke volumes about how Hogan felt about his command. Impressive. An undeniable charisma combined with complete dedication to both his men and his mission. He’s totally unafraid to go to bat for his crew, and a lot of that rests on his conviction that they would do the same for him. And he’s right: his men here never gave up on him while he was incarcerated at Stalag 2, and Newkirk put himself in danger to ensure Hogan’s safety, even though he could avoided the whole ordeal by simply obeying orders.
This all tallies with what I’ve read in Hogan’s personnel records, and things I’ve heard said about him by other officers around the planning table. Clever, unorthodox and not afraid to take on a challenge. And even as tired as he is right now, he’s willing to stand up to me and defend his men against what I said, which under any other circumstances could have been a listing of actionable charges against them. That’s good enough for me.
“I’d rather have that kind of
respect as well, Hogan.” Townsend’s words fell quietly into the silence that
had grown between them while he was thinking. “And I wouldn’t dream of
interfering with the way you run things here. As long as you’re honest with me,
I’ll back you all the way to both Number 10 Downing Street and
Hogan offered a wry smile. “That won’t be a problem,” he answered. “Even though you may live to regret it.”
Townsend matched Hogan’s expression with one of his own. “If that proves to be the case, old man, would you at least do me the honor of visiting me in the stockade after the war is over?”
Hogan’s eyes laughed along with his voice. “I’ll even bring you something to help you escape. After all, that’s our specialty.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan shook his head as he picked the kettle up from the stove and grabbed his cup. “I never thought it would feel so good to walk back in through that door,” he said. He poured himself a drink, took a swallow, and sighed. “How is it going down with you, Newkirk?”
“As much as I hate to admit it, gov’nor, it felt like... well... coming home, if you take my meaning.” Newkirk eased himself onto the bench at the common room table and shook his head. “I never thought I’d hear myself call this ruddy hole ‘home.’ But after Stalag 2...” He fell silent as he thought of the time they’d both spent there.
“I know.” Hogan drifted into the same melancholy. Having just been brought back into camp by his men, who were again dressed as Gestapo agents, Hogan and Newkirk were now able to roam the compound as per normal. And while Hogan was looking forward to the return to routine, he couldn’t help but think about the contrast between life here at Stalag 13, and life behind barbed wire at Stalag 2. How much more were those men suffering without someone to protect them from people like Brinkfried? “Hopefully, now that Brinkfried is gone, it will be easier for the prisoners there to join together and help each other to survive till the end of the war.”
“I hope so, too. Is there anything else we can do to help those poor blokes? Like, maybe get word round to the Red Cross and see if they’ll go inspect the place or something?” Newkirk looked up at Hogan thoughtfully. “And with as many Geneva Convention violations as there were, do you think the Protecting Powers would take a hand as well?”
“I’m way ahead of you,” Hogan replied with a nod. “I had Kinch send a message through earlier to organize just that. And our people will get word to the men there not to worry about Bramer and Hawkins, too.”
“That’s good to hear, sir. Glad you’re ahead of me on that, as I haven’t been thinking too clearly the last day or so.”
Kinch came up out of the tunnel,
climbing through the bed frame just in time to hear Newkirk’s last comment.
“Since when do you ever think clearly anyway, Peter?” The radio man grinned at
the Englishman, then turned to his commanding officer. “Just got off the wire
Hogan nodded, clearly thoughtful. “It’s okay, Kinch. Leave him alone. He’s got some pretty big complaints to make, and I have a feeling he’s going to need some time to air them all. Just monitor the Krauts in the meantime for him.”
“He’s got complaints to make? But Colonel, what does he have to complain about?” Le Beau appeared from down below, still brushing his hair back after being in German uniform. “He’s been nothing but trouble since he arrived.”
“Yeah, Colonel—do we want him to complain about us some more?” Carter piped up, coming up from the tunnel. He went to his bunk and happily put on his lined jacket now that he no longer had to play Major Gschwind. “He has enough to say about us.”
“What are you lads on about? Has this Townsend been giving you a lot of trouble then?” Newkirk glanced at the other men curiously. “What happened while the Colonel and I were out?”
Kinch sighed, not wanting to give a full answer in front of Hogan. “Let’s just say that while we were able to use him once, the rest of the time he kept looking over our shoulders and asking a lot of questions while we were trying to find you guys.”
Hogan spoke over the growing discontent. “Now hold on a minute. I’ve had a talk with our Group Captain Townsend. Some of us were a bit paranoid about his visit, and I’ll be the first to admit I was one of them.” Hogan’s men turned to him questioningly. “But I think you’ll find he’s actually a good man to have around, and I want you to cooperate with him as much as you goofballs can.”
“That must ’ave been some talk there, Colonel.” Newkirk shook his head. “You sure he’s all right?”
“Let’s just leave him to it for awhile.”
A slight rattle came from the ladder, and after a moment, Townsend’s blond head appeared above the bunk frame. “Beg your pardon, Colonel, but if you have a moment, may I speak with you and your men down below?”
Hogan’s men looked at him warily. The Colonel just cocked his head and nodded in the direction of the ladder. Still carrying reservations despite Hogan’s assurances, they filed downstairs, with Hogan bringing up the rear so he could keep a close watch on Newkirk as the Englishman slowly made his way down the rungs.
Once downstairs, Newkirk found a seat next to the radio desk. He shivered in the coolness of the tunnel, despite the fact that he was wearing the blue sweater that he’d loaned to Hogan at Stalag 2. Le Beau had given it back to Newkirk the day before, and the Englishman was glad, as he flatly refused to wear his blood-stained battle dress jacket until it had been cleaned and repaired. He frowned as he watched Hogan step off the ladder. If I’ve got me jumper on and I’m cold, how cold is the gov’nor with nothing more than his dress shirt? He’s never complained about losing his jacket… but I know it meant a lot to him—in addition to keeping him warm!
Hogan approached Townsend. “Are they ready to send you back now?” he guessed. “We can get you out in the dog truck tomorrow.”
“Anxious to get rid of me so soon, old man?” Townsend smiled as he shook his head. “Actually, I’d like to pick your brain for awhile, Hogan—learn how you work, how you think. Maybe a few more days.” He paused. “I must ask you, though—the dog truck? Aren’t those dogs trained to attack prisoners?”
A mischievous smile lit up Hogan’s face, the first time Townsend could remember seeing the Colonel genuinely relaxed. “The only things these dogs will attack is a good bone—or a German.” At Townsend’s look of surprise, he added, “The vet who changes the dogs is a member of the Underground. He’s been instrumental in the operation from the beginning.”
“I see. Good show, Hogan! Now, if I may have a word?”
Hogan nodded, smiling at the typical English under-reaction at having a man train a dozen dogs to leave prisoners alone.
“Thank you.” Townsend nodded to
Hogan, then turned so he could see all the men as he spoke. “There seems to
have been some sort of misunderstanding regarding the reason for my visit, and
for that, I can only apologize and give you my assurance that I will do my best
to see that such a thing never happens again.” He paused to give his words time
to sink in, and noted the skepticism on the men’s faces as they listened. “I
came down with a two-fold mission. The first part was to observe this unit in
action and to return to
Hogan let out a short laughing breath through his nose as he stood, arms wrapped over his chest, by his men. He smiled softly, acknowledging the bond the two had created the day before, and waited for Townsend to continue.
“The other part is to unofficially present you men with an award for the work you’re doing here. While I cannot actually give you the medal at this time due to your unique circumstances here at Stalag 13, it is my pleasure to announce that each of you has been awarded a Mention In Despatches. This award is given for your exemplary bravery and dedication to duty by voluntarily remaining incarcerated here, while not only assisting many of your countrymen to escape captivity and return to active service, but also by performing intelligence and sabotage activities which have contributed greatly to the Allied war effort.”
Hogan’s men broke out in
spontaneous chatter, expressing their pleasure at being recognized by
Newkirk’s jaw dropped. “Blimey, mates. That’s a bit of all right there,” he said quietly. “It means someone’s finally paying attention back home.”
“That they are, Corporal,” Townsend confirmed, nodding. He waited, giving the men time to enjoy the idea of a commendation. When they began to wind down, the Group Captain spoke up again. “Gentlemen, if I may have your attention please.” He smiled as all eyes turned in his direction. “I’m given to understand that you were all under the impression I was here to take command of this unit away from Colonel Hogan. I assure you that was never my intention. However, as of approximately twenty-three hundred hours yesterday, I became your Operations Officer in London, and will review your requests personally, with the authority to approve all but the highest-level decisions from here on out.” Townsend paused, then looked directly at Hogan. “Any communications from this organization addressed to ‘Aesop’ will be routed directly to me, and I will personally deal with your requests in as timely a manner as possible.”
Hogan nodded approvingly, humbled by this man’s willingness to back up his words with real action. “Thank you, sir,” he said quietly, his voice nearly drowned out by the renewed round of chatter.
Townsend straightened when he realized Hogan had addressed him with such quiet respect. “Glad to do it, Colonel Hogan, sir,” he said in return. “Now, I’ll tell you lads the same thing I told your commanding officer: be honest with me and I’ll back you all the way. And in that spirit, I’ll be equally honest and say that I actually came down here to present that MID to Hogan alone, but the Colonel made his feelings about your work and your worthiness for recognition quite clear last night, without knowing about the citation planned for himself, and after seeing how you operate here I had to agree.”
Once again Hogan felt an increased respect for the Group Captain. Accolades weren’t important to him, as long as his work and that of his men was taken seriously. But the fact that Townsend understood and supported his views about the worth of his fine team made Hogan feel even prouder of them than before. And it made him confident again that, despite occasional disasters, good was coming out of their mission at Stalag 13, and that he was truly doing the right thing by leading the operation, even when his heart and soul longed to be home and in the sky.
Hogan’s men, for their part, took in Townsend’s words thoughtfully. At first simply excited by the idea of recognition, the revelation that Hogan himself had been so adamant about their part in the operation’s success touched them. And they were, if possible, even more proud to be a member of the Colonel’s team, and filled with even greater respect for the man himself. They had seen for themselves in the last few days just how loyal Hogan was to them, and they were just as determined to return that devotion in kind.
Townsend looked carefully at each
man before him. “Now, a final piece of business and you can get back to winning
the war. I cannot promise that every supply request will be filled. But I do promise that if there is a refusal,
there will be a bloody good reason for it. To that end, I want you to come up
with two lists for me to take back to
Hogan smiled knowingly. “You have my promise on that one, Townsend.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
“Might I have a word with you, Colonel?” Newkirk stepped up to Hogan as the men were dismissed from evening roll call a week later. When Hogan turned to him and nodded, the Englishman went on. “With the Group Captain being gone now, everything’s pretty quiet around here, and well, it’s been about a week since I’ve had a chance to stretch me legs, if you know what I mean.” Newkirk’s eyes slid past Hogan as the Englishman cast a longing look at the woods beyond the barbed wire. “Would it be all right if I went out for a bit after lights-out, gov’nor? I’d only be gone about an hour or so at the most.”
Hogan frowned slightly. “I know it’s been rough on you, Peter… but do you think you’re really up to going out yet? I’m not sure I like the idea of you roaming around unescorted for a couple of hours just to satisfy your wandering spirit.”
“I’ll be all right, sir.” Newkirk brought his eyes back to look at his commanding officer. “Like I said, I’ll only stay out about an hour, and I promise I won’t go anywhere near town.”
Hogan rubbed his eyes tiredly and grabbed a cup of coffee. The last few evenings had been cool, and while he was never one to complain, the thin coat Klink had actually had the generosity to offer him when he realized Hogan no longer had his—and which, feeling distinctly uncomfortable in, Hogan did not wear—did nothing to offset the chill. And without his cap, he felt almost naked. He gratefully took a swallow of the hot, bitter brew. “You’re thinking of doing this tonight?”
“No time like the present, gov’nor. It’s gonna be a good clear night; looks like a bomber’s moon, in fact.” Newkirk paused, and gave Hogan an ironic smile. “I’ll have no trouble watchin’ where I put me feet this time.”
Hogan gave a start, the memories of watching Newkirk fall on that night they escaped from Stalag 2 still raw in his mind. Then he forced himself to relax and sighed. “All right, Newkirk. Just a couple of hours. I want you back here before midnight, understand?”
“Righto, then. Before midnight.” The Englishman smiled, pleased and looking forward to getting out of the cage for a while. “You have my word on it.”
“Dare I make this an order,
Newkirk?” Hogan asked, still convinced he was going to be up half the night
worrying while the Corporal strolled, delighted and relaxed, around
“If you like, Colonel.” Newkirk’s smile faded as he answered quietly. “I’ve... been wondering when you’d bring that up, sir.” I’ve been expecting this to come up, though I just wish he wouldn’t get into all that about not obeying orders tonight of all nights!
“Bring it up?”
“Well, you do have an airtight case for a couple of charges of disobedience of a direct order, and could probably make a good case for general insubordination. About the rest,” Newkirk shook his head slightly. “I don’t know what particular regulation would cover stripping you of your pins, but I’m sure there’s one on the books in one of our respective armies.”
“You’ve already paid the price for your insubordination,” Hogan said, heading for his office. “I… appreciate everything you did, Newkirk.” Hogan’s voice grew quiet. “You just… go and come back so I can get a decent night’s sleep for once, all right?”
“I will, sir.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Newkirk moved through the woods, slipping easily from one hiding spot to another with the ease of long practice. A natural agility combined with training from not only the stage, but also his career as a professional thief made him graceful; the knowledge that he could come onto a German patrol at any time made him careful. On reaching his destination, he found a good place to hide behind a massive oak tree, and crouched there, taking a few minutes to do nothing more than to just listen to the silence around him.
Once he was certain he was alone, the Englishman crept into the small clearing and after a few moments of digging around, he pulled a fairly large bundle from its hiding place. Newkirk nodded to himself as he unrolled the bundle, and smiled when he found that everything was exactly as it should be. Excellent. He wrapped it all back up and tucked it away, making certain that the hiding place was well-concealed. That’s it, then. Time to head back to camp and get the second part of this plan into operation.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
As Newkirk climbed through the bunk frame, Kinch yawned and shook his head. “You know, one of these days I’m gonna start charging you a toll for each time I have to get up and let you back into the barracks after one of your midnight rambles,” he whispered.
“Tell you what, mate,” Newkirk replied softly. “You do that, and I’ll knock the price off what you owe me from all the rounds of gin we’ve played.”
Kinch shook his head and settled back onto his bunk as Newkirk crossed the common room and quietly knocked on the door of Hogan’s office. Hearing the muffled “Come in,” the Englishman stepped inside, closing the door behind him.
“Well, you’re back earlier than I thought you would be,” Hogan said, looking up from the papers he was studying on the lower bunk.
“Sorry to disturb you, gov’nor, but while I was out, it occurred to me that I should go back and check out the spot where you and I got picked up by the Krauts last week.” He paused, taking his side cap off and holding it tightly with both hands. “I know you won’t remember it, but there was a bit of a scuffle before they finally got me in hand, and...” Newkirk lowered his head, not wanting to face Hogan just now. “Well, sir, I’m afraid I might have dropped something out there that might lead a smart Kraut back here to Stalag 13.”
Hogan frowned. No, he didn’t remember—all he remembered was a sharp pain in his head and then a jolt that woke him up to face enemy rifles. But he’d be damned if he was going to send Newkirk out twice in one night; that was like tempting Fate. “I’ll have to go have a look,” he said, swinging his legs over the side of the bunk.
“We, sir.” Newkirk raised his head to look directly at Hogan. “For one thing, it’s my mistake, and my responsibility to set it right. For another, things were pretty confused that night. Begging the Colonel’s pardon, but are you certain you can find your way back there by yourself?”
“I’m sure I can manage,” Hogan replied. “And I don’t expect you to set right what wasn’t your fault in the first place.”
“It is my fault. Had I followed orders in the first place, I wouldn’t have been there to lose it.” Newkirk hesitated, thinking over his next words carefully. “Please, sir. I need to do this.”
Hogan paused as he was about to stand and nodded solemnly. “Every man deserves to be able to right his wrongs,” he said. He stood up and looked at Newkirk. “But I’m coming with you.”
“I understand, sir. And thank you.” As they left the Colonel’s office, Newkirk stopped at his bunk and grabbed his overcoat. He turned and held it out to Hogan. “Here, gov’nor. It’s getting a bit chilly out there; you’d best take this.” He smiled. “The sleeves might be a bit short, but it’ll fit you all right everywhere else.”
Hogan drew back and shook his
head. “If it’s cold outside, Corporal, you’d better wear it yourself. You know
Newkirk shook his head in return. “I’ve got me jumper and jacket on already, and it’s enough.” The Englishman had finally been able to face repairing the bullet hole in his battle dress jacket after Carter had scrubbed away the blood stains. “Can’t have you catching cold either, sir.”
But Hogan still resisted. “I’m hot blooded,” he said. “You need it more than I do. Put it on, will you?”
That was taking on the tone of an order, and as Newkirk didn’t want to run the risk of being made to stay behind tonight, he pulled the greatcoat on, trying not to wince as he eased it over his injured shoulder. “Right then. Now, let’s go, shall we?”
Hogan nodded, satisfied. “After you, my dear boy,” he said with a bold, badly executed English accent, and making a sweeping gesture toward his doorway. “This is your escapade.”
Newkirk rolled his eyes. “Do me a favor, mate, and let me handle the English accents. Sir.”
Respect and Revelations
Newkirk stole a glance over his shoulder for what seemed like the hundredth time as he led Hogan through the woods. They’d both started the trip out well enough, but it was starting to look like the Colonel’s knee wasn’t as well-healed as the Englishman had first believed. Bloody hell. I thought the gov’nor was up to it tonight, else I’d never have brought him out of camp like this. Of course, being the stubborn Yank that he is, he’ll never ask to stop and rest, so I’d better do it for him. Back on stage you go, Peter me lad.
After a few more steps, Newkirk stumbled and had to grab a low-hanging tree branch to keep from falling. Right then, Colonel. Here’s the act, let’s hope you’ve bought a ticket to the show. Swearing softly under his breath, he ran his hand across his face to wipe the sweat away before moving on.
Hogan was immediately aware. “Hey—are you all right?” he asked. Cursing the renewed throbbing in his still-weak knee, he came up beside the Corporal, his eyes full of concern. “If this is too much, you can head back—I’ll keep going and check this out myself.”
“I’ll be all right sir.” Newkirk caught the undisguised worry in Hogan’s eyes and had to look away, ashamed of the way he was putting on an act like this, but not exactly sure why he felt that way. Conning people to get his way was as natural to the Englishman as breathing; so why did it seem so wrong to do it now, especially when it really was for Hogan’s benefit? “Maybe if we just sat down a minute or so before going on.”
Hogan tried to study the Englishman’s face, but gave up when the light and Newkirk’s movement made that impossible. “Why don’t you just sit it out here?” Hogan moved toward a clump of trees with a natural hiding spot, biting his lip as a little too much pressure sent shooting pains through his leg. He shook his head, frustrated. He was sure he had given his twisted knee enough rest to recover fully, but this trek, now reaching the half-hour mark, was testing it, and it was failing miserably. Still, they were all the way out here; the only thing to do now was continue, and if Newkirk was still weak from his own injuries, Hogan would not—could not—ask him to continue. “I’ll pick you up on the way back.”
Newkirk shook his head as he took a seat on a large rock. “No, sir. I started this, and I’ll finish it.” To tell the truth, at least to himself, Newkirk was feeling the effects of his earlier trip through the woods, with the coolness of the early spring night making his shoulder ache. That wasn’t helping his growing headache, but he smiled a little and gestured toward a tree stump. “Why don’t you have a seat as well? We can both take a short break and then go on together.”
Hogan didn’t need to be asked twice. For once putting aside any attempt to hide his discomfort, he sat heavily on the stump and with a hiss stretched out his leg. “I must be getting old,” he said through his teeth. Then, he said, “And I must have been an idiot to agree to this—you’re in no shape to do this tonight, are you?”
The Englishman shrugged, instantly regretting it as a sharp pain reminded him not to move that way. “This war’s going to make old men out of all of us before it’s over. But in any case, I’ve got to get things cleared up so we can get on with winning it.” Newkirk paused, then looked over at Hogan. “Speaking of clearing things up, gov’nor, can I ask you why you were so surprised when I walked into your office this evening?”
It was Hogan’s turn to shrug. “I
gave you a couple of hours—I thought for sure you’d use it all. You like to
“I just like being out of the cage is all, sir,” Newkirk replied quietly, not really aware that Hogan was able to hear what he was saying. “I think I’d go daft if I was locked up permanently.”
Hogan nodded. “I understand,” he said. He thought about Stalag 2 as he rubbed his knee to try and soothe it. “It nearly happened to us both, didn’t it?”
Newkirk raised an eyebrow at Hogan’s words, then realized he must have spoken out loud. “It did, Colonel, but if we hadn’t made it out that time, we’d have kept trying until one of your plans succeeded.” He smiled a little. “We make quite a team, don’t we?”
Hogan smiled wearily and shook his head. “I guess we do,” he said. Hogan sat quietly for a moment, trying to gather what were turning out to be confused thoughts. “Newkirk, why did you hang around after I told you to make tracks back to camp?” he asked finally, not angrily. He was genuinely trying to find out the Englishman’s motivations. “We had trouble, all sorts of trouble, and I ordered you out. What made you linger?”
The Englishman remained silent as he considered the question. Finally getting his own jumbled thoughts into some kind of order, he turned to Hogan and tried to give an answer. “I... couldn’t leave you out there all alone, Colonel. I saw Carter back safe because you asked me to, but once that was done, I had to go back for you.” He paused, still struggling to find the right words. “I couldn’t have faced the others if something had happened to you that I could have prevented if I’d been there.”
Another long pause. “Back when I agreed to stay and work for you, I promised myself that I’d look after you, gov’nor. Because of that, I don’t think I could have handled being safe back at camp not knowing what had happened to you.”
Hogan considered Newkirk’s words thoughtfully. For a moment he could not answer and sat rubbing his knee absentmindedly. Eventually, he said quietly, “I wanted you to go because no matter what happened to me, the operation had to survive. And I knew that you would be strong enough to handle that.” Hogan stopped moving and stared at the ground before him. “I don’t expect my men to look after me, Newkirk; it’s my job to look after you; it’s my… privilege. You can’t do your job if you’re busy trying to take care of your commanding officer. It isn’t fair to you. All you should have to worry about is obeying orders… not making sure I don’t get myself in hot water.”
Hogan was about to stop, then realized his words made him sound ungrateful. “I want you to know that I’m thankful you were with me,” he said softly. “For the sake of your own safety, I was angry you didn’t follow orders. But for my sanity…” Hogan’s voice trailed off. “Thank you,” he whispered humbly.
There were a hundred things Newkirk wanted to say, but he was silent because he simply couldn’t find the right words. The man who was ready to tell a joke at the drop of a hat found himself speechless in the face of the Colonel’s sincerity. Newkirk looked at Hogan for a long moment, then slowly nodded. “You’re welcome, mate,” he replied softly, though the emphasis on the final word came through loud and clear.
Hogan accepted the simple but heartfelt meaning behind the words, and pulled himself to his feet with a shiver. “We’d better get moving,” he said. “It’s not going to get any warmer, and I don’t want you out much longer tonight.”
Newkirk stood and led the way to the clearing, once again stopping to survey the situation before going out into the open. He waited until Hogan’s back was turned, then dropped to one knee to pull the bundle from its hiding place once again. The Englishman unrolled it and palmed a couple of small items before standing and turning to face the American. “Colonel Hogan? I’ve got it right here, sir.”
“It?” Hogan turned toward the Englishman, unsure about what he had found. He had to swallow his heart twice before he could try to speak, so close to the surface were his feelings. Newkirk was holding out his bomber jacket. Hogan blinked hard, unprepared for the emotions seeing that piece of material evoked. He had come to wear the brown leather jacket like a second skin; it was a symbol of who he was, who he had been before Stalag 13, and he had almost accepted that it was long lost. And to see it held out to him in the bright moonlight was a gift he didn’t know how to accept, and a sign of Newkirk’s clear understanding. Hogan was moved. “I—I—” Hogan shook his head, unable to finish.
Newkirk smiled gently and walked toward Hogan. He’d known that the American pilots treasured their leather flying jackets; he’d certainly seen enough of them swanning around the aerodromes and in the local pubs to know that for them, the jackets were as much a way of showing off as they were part of the uniform. The Englishman didn’t know much about the American’s life before coming to Stalag 13, but it had become quite clear that for Hogan, the jacket was somehow a part of how he saw himself. Newkirk hadn’t missed the way that Hogan always carried himself a bit straighter when he was wearing it, or how the jacket had blended itself into the man’s gestures. It was getting so one could tell the mood the Colonel was in by watching what he did with it: thumbs hooked on the pockets meant he was working up a plan; and a sharp tug on the hem that settled the jacket into place always meant that he’d made a decision and was ready to act.
The Englishman carefully shook the leather out and, mindful of his injured shoulder, held the jacket so that the American could easily slip it on. “Here you go, gov’nor. It’s a bit chilly to be out tonight in your shirt sleeves,” he said quietly.
His eyes never leaving the jacket in Newkirk’s outstretched hands, Hogan moved in hesitantly and let the Englishman help settle it on his shoulders. Then Hogan pulled away and shrugged inside it, running his hands slowly down the front of it, feeling the cold of the leather and the bulk of the material. His hand came to rest on the chest patch that announced his name and rank—the reason Newkirk had taken the jacket in the first place.
Hogan couldn’t help but smile when he thought of how he had gotten the patch. Often flyers would wear a patch of their unit, or something that showed off their planes. But Hogan had been in many units, and in many planes, and the men of the 504th, with whom Hogan had forged a close bond, had presented him with this patch, partly as a playful way to tease him—they could argue that after all, they had given him his rank, and therefore they could take it away—but mostly because they wanted to show Hogan how proud they were, and how his change of rank and status would not change their loyalty to or respect for him. It had become a treasured symbol of his connection with the other flyers, and a memory that always made him smile.
Carefully, almost lovingly, Hogan zipped up the jacket and pulled on the collar. Then he said, probably a bit more roughly than he intended, “Well, no more borrowing your sweater; the sleeves on this are the right length for me.” He cleared his throat, intending to say more, but nothing came.
The Englishman nodded and held out Hogan’s crush cap that he had tucked under his arm. “I never minded giving you a loan of me jumper, sir. And I’m sorry I had to take your coat and cap that night, but there just wasn’t time to cut that name patch away and get all your pins off before the Krauts caught up to us.”
“I know.” Hogan grew quiet, lost in his own thoughts. “Is there anything else around here that might give us away?” he asked, glancing around them and settling his cap on his head with an almost audible sigh. Then, without malice or anger he added, “Or was this just an excuse to get me out here?”
“That bit about a scuffle really was just an excuse, sir. I couldn’t think of any other way to get you to come all the way out here with me, because you see...” Newkirk glanced away, again at a loss for words as he tried to explain his reasons for the things he’d done in this same clearing ten days ago, and why it was so important for them to be there once again. “The whole mess started here, sir, and I wanted to finish it here as well.”
Hogan paused, considering Newkirk’s statement, then simply nodded. “I understand,” he said honestly. “We’d better get moving then. You never know when Klink’s going to run a surprise bed check, and I wasn’t planning on heading out tonight, so I didn’t find out if he and his cocoa were having an early night.” Hogan studied Newkirk for a few seconds, trying to gauge the Corporal’s condition. It seemed well enough for him to head home; Hogan even considered sending the Englishman ahead, so he wouldn’t be held up by the Colonel’s slower, more painful pace. “Are you all right to get back without too much trouble?”
“In a minute. There’s a bit more that needs doing first.” Newkirk moved in front of Hogan before the American had a chance to respond. “I’ve got something else that belongs to you, sir.” The Englishman reached into his jacket pocket, and the moonlight gleamed off the polished silver lying on his hand: the wreath and wings of Hogan’s Command Pilot’s insignia and the eagle that denoted the Colonel’s rank.
Hogan’s eyes drank in these concrete symbols of his place in the US Army Air Corps. Certainly, he was content with his status as Colonel and Command Pilot; he had worked hard, never asking for or receiving favors from anyone to achieve his career goals in the military. And in the day to day running of an operation, it was his ability to command more than the eagles on his shoulders that drew the respect of his men. But now, faced with these pins, and knowing how important it was to Newkirk to return them, Hogan felt prouder of his men than ever before. For not the first time this evening, he was unable to find something to say that would do justice to the respect Newkirk was showing him now, and his vision blurred with his overpowering emotion.
The look in Hogan’s eyes on seeing the silver pins gave the Englishman pause. “They should be pinned back on proper, sir,” Newkirk said quietly.
His heart full, Hogan slowly unzipped his jacket and waited as Newkirk approached him. The Englishman stepped in close and carefully placed the silver wings on Hogan’s shirt, fastening them over the left-hand pocket where they belonged. He started to do the same with the eagle, but stopped as the gleaming silver pin suddenly seemed to grow quite heavy in his hand. It wasn’t the actual weight of the metal that had changed, of course; it was Newkirk’s realization that this was the one that carried the entire burden of the Colonel’s command rank. This is the one that sets you apart from the rest of us. As long as you wear it, you’re the one that has to carry the responsibility for everything that happens, and that’s a pretty heavy load for just one man to bear. It’s also what makes you want to take all the risks yourself when we go on a mission. Thing is, gov’nor, when you’re the one out in front, you’ve got to have someone watching your back, and that’s my responsibility. He took a deep breath, but couldn’t quite control the slight shaking of his hands as he settled the eagle back onto its proper home on Hogan’s shirt collar.
Newkirk stepped back, taking a long look at his commanding officer before doing something Hogan had rarely seen him do: the Corporal stood at attention, and offered his Colonel a perfect salute.
Hogan accepted the salute and returned the gesture. “At ease, Corporal,” he said hoarsely.
The Englishman settled into his usual casual stance with his hands shoved into the pockets of his greatcoat as he took a cautious look around the clearing. “I think we’d best be heading back now, gov’nor.”
Hogan nodded and rubbed his eyes. He was suddenly very tired and very worn. “I couldn’t agree more. Though I’ll probably hold you up tonight,” he said, taking a stiff step forward. “I hope you’re not in a hurry to get back.”
“No, sir. We came out here together; we’ll go back the same way.” Newkirk shook his head and moved closer to Hogan. “Though it looks like I might have to hold you up, the way that knee’s acting.”
“I think I need to trade it in for a newer model. It was supposed to have a lifetime guarantee, and I can’t claim it on my GI insurance.”
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Newkirk followed Hogan’s progress through the woods, worried about the slow pace the Colonel was setting, but glad at the same time as it enabled him to keep up. Things were going well until the Englishman stepped on a rock that slid out from under his foot, dumping him to the ground where he landed on his left side. A single cry of pain was the only sound he made as he clutched his injured shoulder and tried to stagger back to his feet.
Hogan whirled at the sound and came to his companion’s side immediately. “Steady there, Newkirk.” He gripped the Corporal around the waist as he looked around. There was a patch of fairly clear earth near a cluster of trees, and he gestured in its direction with his chin. “We’re gonna sit down. Come on this way.” Carefully, Hogan made sure Newkirk was holding up, and then helped ease him onto the ground. “You just stay there till you’re ready to go,” Hogan ordered softly, standing above the Englishman like a guardian.
Hogan looked around to make sure there was no one else in the area. Satisfied, he looked back at Newkirk, who seemed a bit paler than Hogan preferred, but who seemed to be in control of his pain. “I’ll keep watch,” the Colonel said, and he took a couple of hobbling steps away, calculating the distance back to camp and comparing it against both Newkirk’s and his own ability to make the trip with ease. The odds were clearly against them.
Hogan sighed. “There’s never an auto club around when you need one.”
“Sit down, gov’nor,” Newkirk said quietly. “Give yourself a rest while you’re waiting on me.” He shook his head. “Or for that matter, why don’t you head on back and I’ll come along when I can.”
Hogan shook his head. “Are you nuts? Do you think I went all the way back to Stalag 2 to get you, just to leave you a mile and a half outside of camp because you need a five minute break? Not a chance.” Hogan continued scanning the area for patrols.
Newkirk leaned his head against the tree trunk that was serving as a back rest and closed his eyes. After a long silence, he opened them and looked up at his commanding officer. “There’s something I’d like to ask you, Colonel.” Hogan glanced at him, and Newkirk continued. “Why did you come after me when you were certain I was already dead? Don’t get me wrong, sir; I’m bloody well grateful that you did, but...” His voice trailed off as he shook his head. “The deck was stacked against you all the way.”
“You don’t leave men behind,” Hogan said shortly, his voice oddly strained. He took a couple more steps away from Newkirk, hoping to close the conversation.
“But if you were so sure I wasn’t alive any more—”
“You don’t leave men behind!” Hogan repeated strongly. He glanced at Newkirk, then, guilty that he had spoken so harshly, he looked away. “I had to do that once and I’ve never forgiven myself. I swore I’d never do it again. Dead or alive, I get them home.” Hogan stared at the ground. “It’s the least good men deserve.”
Newkirk nodded very slowly, and after a few attempts to speak, he finally found his voice, though he couldn’t manage more than a nearly-silent whisper. “So that’s what you meant when you said you’d made a promise then.”
Hogan nodded, his throat tight. His mind flew back to the night he fled from Stalag 2, certain that he had left one of his men behind and in the hands of the enemy. Dead or alive, it was wrong, it was unbearable, and he had consoled himself with the words he had repeated over and over again on the long, agonizing run back to Stalag 13: It’s all right. I’m coming back. “Yeah. That’s what I meant.” Hogan felt the pain in his knee run straight through him, but he didn’t want to sit and bring this conversation any closer; it was already piercing him in ways that he didn’t understand. And so he moved toward the trees unsteadily, where Newkirk could no longer make out his face, and he hung his head low, expecting nothing.
The Englishman climbed back to his feet, being careful to not jostle his aching shoulder any more than necessary. Once he was up, Newkirk walked slowly over to Hogan, and put his hand on the Colonel’s shoulder. “Thank you, mate,” he whispered, once again softly emphasizing the word that, to him, meant so much more than “friend.”
Hogan kept his face averted. “No thanks necessary,” he said abruptly, not trusting himself to continue.
“It is for me, gov’nor.” Newkirk kept his hand in place a little longer, then let it fall away. You saved my life, mate, and the only way I can see to repay you is to stand behind and watch your back while you’re out in front making the big play. So you keep on coming up with the plans and schemes, Colonel, and when you glance over your shoulder, I’ll be there.
A sudden rustling from overhead startled them both out of their deep inner thoughts, and they both instinctively moved into the dark shadows of the trees. As they drew their pistols, Hogan looked up to see large wings moving into the tree above their heads. He laughed lightly. “An owl,” he said. He looked at Newkirk. “It’s time we got moving anyway. You all right to start walking again?”
Newkirk looked at the pistols and grinned as he returned his to his coat pocket. “I am, gov’nor. Let’s go home.”
Hogan lowered his own gun, shaking his head. “I’d love to,” he said. “But we’ll have to settle for Stalag 13.” He looked at Newkirk and grimaced. “Look, I hate to admit this, but this knee isn’t going to hold out. I must have given it a workout too soon.”
“Lean on me, mate. I’ll see that you get back all right.”
Hogan raised an eyebrow. “Really? And who’s going to get you back in one piece?” Hogan let out a long breath and smiled softly. “I’d order you to go ahead and let me trail behind, but I have a feeling you wouldn’t listen to me anyway. You’re funny like that.”
Putting on his best innocent expression, Newkirk glanced at Hogan and smiled back. “Wouldn’t know what you’re on about, sir.”
“You’re not very good at acting, either,” Hogan quipped. He let Newkirk wrap his arm around Hogan’s waist, and leaned slightly away from the Englishman, wary of aggravating the man’s injuries. Then the two of them started their slow, awkward journey back to camp. “You know, you really have to start obeying orders, Corporal,” Hogan said through gritted teeth. “I think I lost count of the number of times you didn’t quite follow my instructions in the last couple of weeks.”
“If it makes you feel any better, Colonel, you’re not the only officer that’s had that to say about me. It’s like all that business about standing at attention and saluting. It’s not that I don’t know how, it’s that I just can’t see the sense of doing it most of the time.” Newkirk paused just long enough to give Hogan time to absorb his words. “That said, sir, I’d like to add that you’re the first officer I’ve ever saluted because I wanted to, and not because some bloody regulation required it.”
Hogan paused in his step. “I’m not sure it makes me feel any better about having my orders ignored,” he began. Newkirk came to a halt beside him. “But it sounds like I should be satisfied with the status quo.” Newkirk waited, unsure where Hogan was heading with this. “I suppose I am,” the Colonel continued. “But do my eagles a favor, will you? The next time you want to disobey orders for my own good, would you at least let me keep some of my rank?”
“Righto, gov’nor. How about your basic Captain then?” Newkirk sighed as he grew serious once more. “I don’t mean you any disrespect, sir, it’s just that...” He shook his head, unsure how to continue.
Hogan understood. “I only give orders with good reason, Newkirk. Things don’t always have a happy ending and I don’t want my men to pay the price. If you don’t follow orders, I might get the impression that you don’t think I’m smart enough to command. And that clips my wings, so to speak.” Hogan turned to look at Newkirk face to face. “I know you’re only doing what you think is right—if I thought for a second you were acting out of disrespect you’d be off the team and shipped to Stalag 16 with Colonel Crittendon faster than you could say ‘Tally ho.’” Hogan grinned to wipe away the slightly worried look that suddenly appeared on Newkirk’s face. Then he grew serious again. “Look I’m not asking you to change your spots—‘to thine own self be true,’ and all that noble stuff. But let me do the thinking, okay? If I need rescuing, wait until you’ve got back up from the others before you come charging in.”
“I’ll do that, gov’nor.” As long as there’s time to get the others, that is. “As far as following orders goes, I’ll admit that what you come up with makes sense most of the time. When it doesn’t, I’ve come to realize that you actually do have a plan in mind; you’re just not sharing it with the rest of us is all.” Newkirk paused, not at all certain why he was opening up like this. But it felt right, and he felt that he owed this man an explanation. “What it comes down to, Colonel, is that I’ve never really seen anyone in a position of ‘authority’ that I had much respect for. Oh, there were a few here and there that I’ve come across since putting on this uniform that I thought were worth listening to, but not many.”
A long pause as Newkirk organized his thoughts. “It goes back to what I said about saluting. Most of the time, I do it because I have to, and I take orders for the same reason. But you’re different, sir. You asked me to follow you back when we started up this operation; you didn’t presume I’d follow your orders just because you were a Colonel and I was only a Corporal. And you ask for my advice on certain things, and you do me the honor of hearing me out before you make a decision. Oh, you may not always go along with what I’ve said, but at least I know you’ve listened.”
Newkirk fell silent for a moment, though it was clear he wasn’t finished with what he had to say. The Englishman finally found the right words, and spoke softly as he continued. “You, Colonel Hogan, are the first officer I’ve found that I could respect enough to want to follow and obey orders from.” He took a deep breath, and looked Hogan in the eyes. “You said it before, sir: ‘This above all, to thine own self be true.’ Then you likely know the rest of that line: ‘And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.’ You go on with letting me do as I see fit with your orders, gov’nor, and I’ll never play you false.”
Hogan listened to this unburdening with some surprise and increasing respect. Of all the things that Newkirk did well, expressing his feelings was not one of them, and Hogan knew it would have taken a great deal of courage on the Englishman’s part to tell him just what he thought of his commanding officer. The fact that he had just pledged his loyalty to the Colonel touched Hogan deeply. “I believe you,” Hogan said softly now.
“As well you should, mate.” Newkirk spoke quietly, then smiled. “Now look here, gov’nor, I think we’d best get moving, because at this rate, we’re gonna miss roll call, and I don’t know if Carter’s up for yet another bit as a Kraut Major.”
Hogan shook his head. “He’s probably not,” he agreed. “Look, you go on ahead. I’ve really gotta stop before I do some permanent damage to this knee.” As Newkirk started to protest, Hogan said, “I’ll be just fine here—there’s plenty of shelter and we’re not far from camp. I want you to get back and get some rest; I’ll be along in awhile.”
Newkirk didn’t say anything at first, then he shook his head. “No sir. We can stay and rest awhile, but I’m not leaving you. And just for the record, if you try to make that an order... I’ll have to disobey.” There wasn’t the least bit of disrespect in the Englishman’s tone; he was simply stating the facts as he saw them.
Hogan sighed and eased himself onto the ground. “Fine,” he said tiredly, resigned. He bit his lip as he tried to stretch out his sore leg. “Just give me five minutes, then. I don’t want you to stay out very long in this damp weather. It can’t be good for your shoulder.” He braced his arms behind him on the ground and closed his eyes. “Damned Germans,” he sighed.
“No more than sitting on the damp ground is good for your knee.” Newkirk found a seat on an old tree stump and settled into place on it. “Have to agree with you about the bloody Krauts though, gov’nor. I wish they’d pack this whole rotten mess in so we can all go home for good.”
Hogan stared up at the sky and mentally ticked off familiar constellations. “Do you have any idea how tempting it is to just lie here until a patrol picks me up and drops me into a camp where I don’t have anything to do but wait till it’s all over?”
“Not for me, Colonel.” The
Englishman stared at the ground as he spoke. “If I wasn’t going back to camp,
I’d head north and catch a ride back across the Channel. Then I’d probably go
for retraining and join up with a squadron of
Hogan nodded and dropped his gaze. “I hear you,” he said. Then he lay flat on his back and closed his eyes, crossing his arms across his chest. “But I sure could use the sleep… at least for a couple of weeks.”
Newkirk nodded in agreement, but kept his silence as he took a cautious look around the clearing. He’d keep watch this time, and give Hogan a chance to get some rest.
The thought had barely formed in his mind when the Englishman heard the crackling sound of downed leaves and twigs being crushed underfoot. Heart pounding as he slid from his seat, Newkirk crouched halfway behind the stump as he pulled his pistol from his pocket. He stole a quick glance at Hogan, worried about the Colonel’s ability to run if necessary. Despite the chill in the night air, the Englishman began to sweat as the footsteps drew closer. Bleedin’ Krauts aren't taking us this time. He took a deep breath to steady himself, and waited.
Back on Track
Hogan had instantly pulled himself upright, pistol drawn. He quickly dropped flat onto his stomach, eyes scanning, forgetting the tiredness that was burning his eyes. A glance to his right told him Newkirk was ready to move in case of trouble, and, still looking around, Hogan awkwardly dragged his now almost useless leg behind him as he scrambled to join the Englishman behind the tree stump.
With his left hand, the Newkirk pulled off his side cap and stuffed it into his coat pocket, then gave a quick, but pointed look at Hogan’s cap with its polished emblem shining in the moonlight. Hogan understood and immediately took his cap off. Newkirk then turned his attention back to the woods, watching and listening intently as he tried to identify the source of the sounds he’d heard.
Hogan tilted his head as he heard a familiar cooing. He nudged Newkirk’s arm and gestured to the right. Whoever was here, was nearby. Newkirk nodded and softly answered what he hoped was a signal with his two-toned whistle. He slowly brought his pistol up, ready to fire, and waited for a reply.
The bird call sounded again, and the Englishman gave his three-toned answer before turning to Hogan with a smile. “That’s me little mate there, gov’nor. He does great bird calls.”
As Newkirk put away his pistol,
Le Beau stepped into the clearing and grinned. “Out a bit late, aren’t you,
Then came Carter’s bubbly voice. “Yeah, we were expecting you an hour ago! So we thought we’d come and make sure you were okay.”
Hogan listened to this conversation with interest as he struggled to the front of his hiding place, sitting on the tree stump and looking from one man to the other. “We’re fine; we just got… tied up for awhile,” he said, glancing at Newkirk. “We thought you were a Kraut patrol.”
“That’s a fine thing to say, Colonel,” Kinch commented as he, too, stepped into the clearing. “I can see how you’d take Carter, and maybe even Le Beau, for Germans, but me?” The black Sergeant stuck his hands into his jacket pockets and shook his head.
“Blame it on the moon,” Hogan replied. “At night all cats are grey.”
Kinch grinned. “We were wondering what held you up—you guys planning to spend any time in camp during World War Two?”
Newkirk laughed quietly. “As little time as I possibly can, Kinch. I was thinking of coming out here and building myself a summer house so I have a place to go on weekends.”
“Come on; we had better get moving,” Le Beau urged. “We can talk about your building plans back in camp. The Krauts will be on night patrol; we do not want to get caught having a midnight picnic.”
“Hey, you know something, once the weather warms up some, a picnic would be real nice! Colonel, do you think—” Carter caught the look on Hogan’s face and shook his head. “No, I guess not. The Germans would be like ants; once they learned we were here, there’d be way too many of them around, and we’d never get rid of them.”
“Give me strength,” Kinch murmured under his breath.
“Right. Let’s go before Andrew turns this place into Hyde Park East.” Newkirk pushed himself to his feet and gave Hogan a look of pure sympathy. “You all right to go on now, Colonel?”
“Fine,” Hogan said determinedly. He struggled to his feet and headed toward his men. But it only took two steps for him to realize that his knee had stiffened during his rest, and he squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his teeth, clutching his knee and trying not to cave in to the pain. He took a couple of gasping breaths, then straightened. “Okay, let’s go.”
Newkirk started toward Hogan, but was beaten to it by Kinch, who stepped in and got an arm around the Colonel’s waist before anyone could say a word. “Looks like you either lean on me, or we spend a lot of time picking you up off the ground. It’s up to you, sir, which way it goes.”
Bathed in the sweat of pain and exertion, Hogan knew he was being given no real choice but to comply with Kinch’s offer of help. And he was beginning to feel a real tiredness that made him less anxious to fight it. But there was one thing he could control, and he was determined to: “Okay, Kinch. I’ll lean on you.” He looked at Newkirk with an expression of command. “But Carter and Le Beau are going on ahead with Newkirk. He’s overdone it tonight already, and he needs to get inside. I expect him to be in bed by the time we make it back. Got it?”
Feeling the eyes of the others on him, Newkirk looked at each of the men in turn, noting that they were all in agreement with Hogan. When his eyes met Kinch’s, the Sergeant gave him a brief nod of reassurance, removing the Corporal’s last reason to protest. Neatly done, gov’nor. If I kick up a fuss now, it says I don’t trust Kinch to see you back safely. He turned to his escorts. “Don’t hang about then, mates. You heard the Colonel: let’s get back to camp.” With that, he headed into the woods, leaving Carter and Le Beau staring after him in amazement.
Hogan lowered his head in relief, and let Kinch help lead him back home.
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Hogan raised his eyebrows toward the ceiling of the tunnel, a sign to his men that he was getting static on the other end of the line. “Yeah, that’s right, we need a plane. Yes, a courier plane… Yes, tomorrow night!” The Colonel straightened and let out an exasperated breath as he listened to the response on the headsets. Kinch glanced up at the others from his place in front of the radio at the desk, then threw a quick, almost secret glance at Hogan, who was practically dancing with impatience.
“Look, how many times do we have to go through this?” Hogan asked. He opened his mouth, clearly ready to launch into another round of arguments, when he cut himself off and said, “Look, just ask Aesop. He’s already approved what we need.” He waited. “That’s right, Aesop.” A nod. “Yeah, I’ll wait. I’m already waiting!” he added, shaking his head.
Hogan closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to squeeze out some of the tension. Suddenly he dropped his hand and opened his eyes. “Great. I thought so. Twenty-two hundred at area D-23. Got it. Be on time; we’ve got an early start the next day.” Hogan’s men grinned, and he shrugged his shoulders at them. “Tell Aesop thanks… for everything. Papa Bear over and out.”
Hogan handed the headsets back to
Kinch and watched as the Sergeant turned everything off. “There we go—one
mention of Aesop and everything falls into place. Townsend was true to his
word. Things are going to be a bit easier from now on, now that he’s on our
side back in
Le Beau looked up from his work
and nodded. “Oui, Colonel. And I am already planning the wonderful
gourmet dinner I’m going to cook for him when we get back to
“Hold still, Carter. I want to see if this is going to look right on you or not.” Newkirk took a firm grip on the young Sergeant’s chin as he carefully applied a false moustache to Carter’s face. “You did all right combing your hair differently, mate, but there’s a lot more that can be done to change what you look like.”
Kinch grinned as he picked up the new camera Carter had left lying on the radio desk. After checking the settings, he aimed it across the tunnel and snapped a picture of the ongoing hair and makeup session. Everyone jumped a bit as the flash went off, and the look of surprised indignation on Carter’s face was enough to make Newkirk burst out laughing.
Hogan nodded, satisfied. Three weeks into the new arrangement and things were already looking better than they had in months. Then he got back to business. He turned to the Englishman. “Okay. Newkirk—we need that microfilm. Your contact will be waiting at the Hauserhoff at twenty-three hundred tonight. Get it, and get back. No pussyfooting around. The Krauts are nervous enough about these plans; they’re bound to have more patrols floating around to keep any Resistance members scared enough to stay home. Of course, we don’t scare easy, do we?” he asked.
“‘Scare,’ mate? I don’t know the meanin’ of the word.” Newkirk glanced at his watch and nodded. “Righto, gov’nor. I’ll be at the Hauserhoff at twenty-two hundred sharp.”
Hogan frowned. “That’s a bit early; your contact isn’t due until twenty-three hundred. How much carousing do you plan to fit in before he shows up?” He paused, then said, “It’s really a bit too early to do safely, Peter. What’s the deal?”
The Englishman sighed and laid down his makeup brushes. “Well, Colonel, it’s like you said, there might be some extra Kraut patrols out tonight. Now, which looks a lot more natural: a fellow that’s been sitting in the pub for an hour when a friend drops by to chat for a few minutes, or a fellow walking in, having a five minute meeting with a bloke then slipping back out before he’s even had time to taste his pint?”
Hogan nodded. “And I agree—but an hour is too long. That’s why I expect you to get there at twenty-two thirty, and to make sure you stay for a few minutes after he’s gone. Staying too long will attract as much attention as leaving right away.”
“Righto, gov’nor. Piece of cake.” Newkirk nodded, satisfied that he’d had a chance to have his say. It’s easier now that I know the Colonel understands I don’t play Devil’s Advocate just to raise a row. It’s never been that I didn’t trust him, just that I’ve never had anyone to be in charge that I could listen to without questioning their reasoning or their motives. Until now. I’ll keep asking the hard questions—partly to keep him on his toes, but mostly because that’s who I am… and I can’t change that for anyone, not even the gov’nor. And thankfully, I don’t think he wants me to.
Hogan sighed, relieved that Newkirk hadn’t fought him on the point. Looks like sometimes I’m just going to have to explain my reasoning to you to get you to trust my judgment, Newkirk. I can live with that… as long as you understand that I can only budge so far… since I’m the one who has to live with the consequences of my orders. And those orders have to take the safety of my men and the mission’s objective into account, something I never want you to have to decide.
“You’ll have enough time for two pieces of cake,” Hogan said, smiling. “Just make sure you don’t leave a trail of crumbs for anyone to follow you home!”
Text and original characters copyright 2005 by Wordybirds
This copyright covers only original material and characters, and in no way intends to infringe upon the privileges of the holders of the copyrights, trademarks, or other legal rights, for the Hogan's Heroes universe.