2005 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
2005 Papa Bear Awards - Third Place
Best Challenge - Hochstetter Challenge
2005 Papa Bear Awards - Nominated
Best Overall Story
A Rude Awakening
Colonel Robert Hogan walked into the office of Colonel Wilhelm Klink, trying hard to ignore the rifle prodding him in the small of his back. It certainly wasn’t the first time he had been summoned to face the POW camp Kommandant – after all, as senior prisoner of war at LuftStalag 13, Hogan was often going head to head with Klink to get more rations and better conditions for the one thousand men held there during World War Two. But it was one of the few times that he had been practically dragged out of his bed by a Gestapo guard and barked to attention, so that he barely had time to pull on his American Army Air Corps uniform shirt and trousers, and turn the collar up on his bomber jacket against the biting German winter wind, before grabbing his crush cap and heading outside.
Now, flanked by the Gestapo guard and Stalag 13’s Sergeant of the Guard, Hans Schultz, Hogan found himself facing not only Klink, but one of the few men he could honestly consider his personal enemy: Major Wolfgang Hochstetter of the Gestapo. Klink was looking dazed – horsewhipped, Hogan thought—though whether that was due to the lateness of the hour or to the presence of the small, bitter man in the black uniform with the skull and crossbones, Hogan couldn’t be certain.
Hogan tried to maintain a calm exterior, having fully awakened in the cold night air on the way from Barracks Two. This visit was completely unexpected—usually, Hogan and his men had advance notice of Nazi activity in the area. Since they operated an intelligence and sabotage unit from right within the prison camp, there was little that could surprise them. Everything seemed to have been going to plan lately. But not tonight, apparently, and Hogan was fighting a rising panic in his chest. Had anything happened that could be infallibly traced back to him and his men? Had someone sold them out?
“I hope we aren’t inconveniencing you with a visit at this late hour, Hogan,” Hochstetter greeted Hogan, coming around from behind the desk.
Hogan straightened his back and looked the smaller man in the eye. “I was having a nice dream, Major…. I don’t appreciate having to walk into a nightmare,” he retorted.
Hochstetter snorted in derision. “Your nightmares have only begun, Hogan.”
“That’s Colonel Hogan to you, Hochstetter,” Hogan corrected him. A nod from Hochstetter led to the Gestapo guard’s rifle slamming hard into the vulnerable spot between Hogan’s shoulder blades. He stumbled forward with a gasp, leaning on Klink’s desk to avoid falling.
Klink spoke up as Hogan tried to rub his sore back. “Major Hochstetter is here to arrest you, Colonel Hogan.” Was it Hogan’s imagination, or did Klink sound sympathetic?
Hogan stopped kneading the knot forming on his back and stared at Klink. “Arrest me?”
“That’s right, Hogan,” sneered Hochstetter. “You see I finally have the evidence I need to prove that you are more of a threat to the Third Reich while inside this camp than you are as a flyer for the Allied war effort. And I wanted to waste no time in letting you know.” He stood before Hogan, who had slowly straightened up to face this man, this constant thorn in his side, this beast, this inhuman killer. “I knew you would be expecting me, if I came at any other time of the day.”
Hogan bit his tongue to stop the response that was begging to come out. He knew he would need to save his strength for the questioning that would no doubt take place when he was brought to Gestapo Headquarters in nearby Hammelburg. And knowing the nature of the Gestapo’s trained interrogators, he figured the fewer injuries he started with, the longer he might last when new ones were skillfully, and agonizingly, inflicted.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
The men of Barracks Two were huddled close together around a small coffeepot in the common room. No one was drinking warm liquid, despite the chill in the building; they were listening in on the proceedings. As part of their operation, the group had devised a “bug” for Klink’s office, and the monitor was a close as the nearest plug. A red light on the coffeepot meant a session was in progress. And the shock of seeing Colonel Hogan forcibly removed made this a broadcast they dreaded, but didn’t dare miss.
“Do you think Hochstetter actually knows anything?” asked Sergeant Andrew Carter, to no one in particular. “Or do you think he’s just bluffing?”
“Could be that he’s just trying to throw Colonel Hogan off balance. I wouldn’t put it past him,” conceded Sergeant James Kinchloe, the man who had become the equivalent of Hogan’s second in command.
“They are hurting him!” cried Corporal Louis Le Beau indignantly as he heard Hogan gasp. His native French took over and he started calling on all the gods he could summon to curse the Gestapo man who had wrenched his commanding officer from his quarters in the middle of the night.
Kinch quieted him and the others and listened as Klink announced that Hogan was being arrested. More than a dozen pairs of eyes were staring at the coffeepot like it was a movie screen. But the images in their mind were more vivid than any film could have been—and twice as frightening. “We’ve gotta try to talk to him before he goes,” Peter Newkirk burst. The RAF Corporal sounded almost desperate as he said, “We’ve gotta make sure ’e knows we won’t just leave him there, that we’ll come for ’im!”
“You know the Colonel’s standing orders, Newkirk: business as usual if he’s taken. No one risks the operation to get him out.” Kinch repeated Hogan’s oft-cited command. And much as he hated it, much as it went against every fiber of his being to leave his commanding officer—his friend—in the hands of the Nazis, he also really wanted to fulfill his orders, as a sign of respect. So why was he almost choking on the words?
“We will return to Gestapo Headquarters now, Hogan,” Hochstetter was saying. “If there is anything to return, Colonel Klink, you will see Hogan again. But I do not know if that will happen…or when. You will be informed.”
Hogan’s men exchanged worried looks. Hochstetter’s threats were rarely hollow. “Say goodbye to the nice Kommandant, Colonel Hogan,” said Hochstetter mockingly.
“Do I at least get to pack my toothbrush?” Hogan asked. His men smiled briefly at the impudence. Flippant in the face of danger—how typical of Hogan to cover up his worry with cheekiness.
“You won’t need it, Hogan,” was the reply.
“You could at least let me say goodbye to my men,” Hogan complained. “I haven’t told them to keep working on that tunnel while I’m gone—we’re using spoons; we could be to the fence in six months!” The words were not lost on the men in the barracks—they were Hogan’s way of telling them to mind the store, to keep the operation running. He would have known they would be listening. He would have to have known, and taken some small comfort in the fact, that they were with him somehow.
The sound of a hard slap—his men could only assume it was across Hogan’s face—and the sound of a chair tipping over as someone fell over it, or into it, told his men Hogan’s punishment for his audacity. The men’s smiles faded away. And after a few more harsh words between Hochstetter and Klink, the office fell silent, as Hogan was led away.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Hogan was tired and his back was sore, but he could not think of sleeping now. Shifting in the back seat of the car Hochstetter had personally pushed him into, Hogan tried to flex his wrists in the heavy handcuffs he wore. His mind was racing, looking for a reason for this, hoping his men had heard when he told them to keep the operation running at all costs, steeling himself for the inevitable torture that was the Gestapo’s trademark.
During all of this he remained stoic on the surface. Wouldn’t do any good to have Hochstetter see that he was worried. If he succeeded in nothing else, he would not let the weasel humming happily next to him have the satisfaction of knowing he had caught Hogan off-guard.
The car pulled up to Gestapo Headquarters. Hogan took a deep breath and reminded himself of his name, rank, and serial number, as he was pulled roughly out of the vehicle and up the stairs.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
The uproar in Barracks Two had Klink himself responding, with Sergeant Schultz by his side. “Gentlemen, gentlemen, gentlemen!” he was calling over the din, hoping to get some silence so he could explain what was happening.
No one wanted to listen; they all wanted to complain. “QUIET!” shouted Schultz, banging the butt of his rifle on the floor, and deafening Klink.
The room settled, and Klink found himself face to face with Hogan’s men, all eyes angry and ready for a fight. How could he explain that he had nothing to do with this? And why would they want to believe him? Hogan himself had always been the one to witness Klink’s distaste for the Gestapo… and he wasn’t here to testify to that. “Gentlemen,” he began again, “I know you are upset about what has happened—”
The noise started again, angry retorts flew from every part of the room: “You bet we are!” “Why’d you have to drag him out in the middle of the night? It’s not like he was going anywhere!” “Why get your goons to do your work for you?” Shouting like machine gun fire. Klink’s head swam, but somewhere in the back of his mind was the thought, My God, Hogan must mean a lot to them.
He held up his hand for them to settle again, but was unsuccessful. Schultz pounded his rifle hard again on the floor. “QUIET!”
And again the room quieted to a low rumble. “I want you to know I had nothing to do with it,” Klink said quickly, expecting another outburst. None came. Cautiously, he continued. “As you may have surmised, Colonel Hogan has been arrested. Major Hochstetter has indicated that he has evidence that he has been involved in espionage outside this camp.” Klink winced inwardly; if this was true, then his claim that Stalag 13 was escape-proof was a scam—and he himself was a pawn of the Allies. His pride refused to believe that, and so aside from his sincere hope that Hogan would not suffer too much at the hands of the over-excitable Hochstetter, Klink also hoped that the charges against the Allied officer were simply trumped up, one of Hochstetter’s ways of getting revenge for the many times Hogan seemed to have humiliated him in front of his superiors. The eyes that looked on Klink were sullen, and full of what could only be described as hatred. “The Major has taken your Colonel back to Gestapo Headquarters, where he will be questioned and then”—God willing—“brought back here if they cannot substantiate their claim. I cannot tell you when that might be.”
More angry bursts from Hogan’s men. Klink was on edge and was beginning to get a headache. He had not been warned of the Gestapo’s visit either, and had been rudely jolted out of bed by Hochstetter himself. Klink’s anger at the Gestapo was aimed at their ruthless methods, with which he did not—could not—agree, and at himself, for being so intimidated by them, especially by the rabid Major whose very name made him sick inside. His mind flashed the bewildered face of Colonel Hogan before him, looking to him for rescue before the handcuffs were slapped on. But Klink had only been able to look on impotently, unable to do anything that would be considered resistance to Hochstetter and his men. And he cursed himself for that weakness; he had failed to protect the one man who, Klink knew, had often protected him.
“QUIET!” Schultz shouted again, and this time the rifle butt hitting the floor loosened the safety catch, and the weapon discharged into the ceiling, stopping all action and stopping more than a few hearts in the process.
“Schuuuuultz!” reprimanded Klink, shaking his fist in the guard’s direction. Schultz shrugged an apology and looked sheepishly at the prisoners. Klink turned back to the men. “That is all. Dismissed.” And he turned on his heel as Schultz opened the door, and left, his long jacket flapping in the cold night breeze.
“I am sure you are curious about why I have had you brought here, Colonel Hogan.”
Hogan stood still handcuffed in Hochstetter’s office. The Gestapo man was pacing slowly in front of his desk, not looking at Hogan, concentrating on something neither of them could see. Hogan tried to stretch but found he was restricted, both by the handcuffs, and by the guard standing nearby with his rifle seemingly ready to fire on a second’s notice.
“Not really,” Hogan said, trying to sound bored. “I don’t try to fathom the motivations of madmen.”
Hochstetter looked up briefly, angrily boring his eyes into Hogan. “You would do well to keep your mouth shut,” he snapped.
“It’s polite to answer when spoken to,” Hogan quipped. He regretted it, though, when he felt the side of the guard’s rifle slap him square in the small of his back. Hogan bent double and drew in a sharp breath, unable to reach back to ease the pain. Breathe in, breathe out, he reminded himself, squeezing his eyes shut. Name. Rank. Serial number. Keep the wisecracks out of it or you’ll die never even knowing what he wants.
Hochstetter ignored this interlude, and simply continued as Hogan painfully drew himself back up. “You know, Hogan, I would just as soon shoot you as look at you,” he said, still pacing.
The feeling’s mutual, Hogan thought. But this time he knew better than to voice his sarcasm. He shifted his weight from foot to foot to try to ease the soreness in his back, but said nothing.
“Your escapades have not gone unnoticed,” Hochstetter continued. “You have been lucky, Colonel Hogan, very lucky, that none of the charges I have laid against you in the past have been able to stick. But I know the truth. And believe me, your day of reckoning is coming.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Major,” Hogan said, straight-faced and emotionless.
“That point remains debatable,” Hochstetter answered. “Nonetheless, Hogan, we have business to discuss.” He stopped pacing and motioned for the guard behind Hogan to leave the room.
“You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t seem overwhelmed by the chance to have this little tête-à-tête with you at the moment; I’m not at my best when I’ve been dragged out of bed in the middle of the night.”
Hochstetter smiled, and ice ran through Hogan’s veins. “On the contrary, I would say that you operate best under cover of darkness.”
Hogan felt a bead of sweat run down his temple, but he did not take the bait. “Enough fencing, Major: what do you want from me?” he asked evenly.
“I believe, Hogan, that you and I share an interest in the well-being of your camp Kommandant,” said Hochstetter, sitting down at his desk.
“I’m not sure I agree with your choice of words,” Hogan replied. But his mind was instantly even more on the alert. Anything that affected Klink, affected the running of the operation. And if the Gestapo had an interest in Klink, the results could be disastrous. Always work with your worst case scenario in mind, Hogan had learned. And in this case, that meant exposure of their whole operation, and death as spies to his loyal men.
“Let me put it another way,” Hochstetter said. “I have, for the moment, turned my attention away from you, Hogan, and am studying the competency level of Colonel Klink.”
“You’re going to need a magnifying glass,” Hogan commented without smiling.
“Ah, here is where we see eye to eye, Hogan,” said Hochstetter, suddenly warming to the conversation. Hogan’s internal warning bells started ringing. “You see it occurs to me that the reason you are allowed to get away with so much, Hogan, is because Klink is an ineffective, unintelligent boob.”
Hogan eyed Hochstetter gravely. “I wouldn’t go that far, Major. After all, no one has ever escaped from Stalag 13. Not while Klink’s been in charge.”
“Is that so?” queried Hochstetter. “I see Stalag 13 rather as a place where the inmates run the asylum—or in this case, the prison.” Hochstetter paused. He seemed to be weighing up his next statement. Hogan could feel the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. This tit-for-tat conversation was playing on his nerves. Was Hochstetter trying to trick him into saying something that would compromise his operation? If he was going to have Hogan interrogated and tortured, why start with this little heart to heart? “Some have told me I have been clutching at straws, Hogan. But you… you can be my Rumpelstiltskin. You can turn my straw into gold.”
Hogan fought the foul taste that came into his mouth. Hochstetter making reference to nursery rhymes was to Hogan like Hitler running a child care center. “I’m afraid I don’t want your firstborn, Major,” Hogan replied. “If you’re so convinced that I’m a spy, what makes you think I would help you discredit my cover?”
“Because I can have you shot if you don’t.” Hochstetter shrugged. “Or worse.” Hogan understood the implication—long, slow torture until he was longing for the release of death. “I offer you your freedom—release to the Allies. A trip home.”
“And what guarantee do I have that you’d keep your word?”
“You’ll just have to trust me.”
“That’s hardly a great comfort to me,” Hogan replied.
“I will make a gesture of goodwill, Hogan,” Hochstetter offered. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a key. Grabbing the handcuffs that were chaffing Hogan’s wrists, he unlocked and then removed them. Hogan rubbed them tenderly, not taking his eyes off Hochstetter, then did the same to his lower back. “Believe me, I do not find the idea of working with you pleasant, Hogan. But war makes for strange bedfellows. And the Third Reich needs competent men at the helm, not inept cowards like Klink. I will do what I must in order to see that this happens.”
“How long do I have to decide?”
“You will decide now.”
“Am I really being given a choice here?” Hogan asked. “What makes you think I wouldn’t just rather die for my country than to work with the likes of you?”
“Make no mistake about it, Hogan. I would rather you die for your country. But that is a personal wish. For the Fuhrer I would rather you choose to survive. Make your choice.”
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Hogan found Le Beau asleep at the table in the common room of the barracks when he was returned to Stalag 13 nearly twenty four hours later. Exhausted, dirty, and sore, Hogan glanced around to see that all his men were strewn across their bunks in various states of sleep. He knew he should tell someone that he had returned, but there was a great temptation to bypass what he knew would be a commotion when his presence was known. He wanted nothing more now than quiet. Pulling himself away from the door he was using for support, Hogan hauled himself further into the room and shook Le Beau’s shoulder.
“Louis. Louis, I’m home.”
Corporal Le Beau’s head shot up from the table at Hogan’s voice. “Colonel!” he cried. “What time is it? Mon Dieu, what have they done to you?” He took in Hogan’s bruised face, day-old beard, and filthy clothing.
His outburst woke the others, who were suddenly hopping off their bunks to greet their prodigal officer come home. Hogan, while grateful for the loyalty and care, needed to be alone. And so he smiled wearily, thanked the men who unthinkingly clapped him on his sore back, and made his way toward his room. “Tomorrow, fellas,” he said as they pelted him with questions. “Tomorrow. I need to get some sleep.”
Easing off his jacket and dropping his cap on the floor, Hogan sat on his bunk and pulled off his shoes. So much to think about. So much to do. He lay on his back to study the ceiling, as he often did when his mind was racing and he needed to rest. But soreness from the Gestapo’s blows made him wince and he couldn’t concentrate. Thus deprived of this familiar comfort, Hogan turned onto his side, and worried himself to sleep.
It was a sore and unrested Hogan that emerged from his quarters nine hours later. Trying to stretch without hurting, he made only cursory glances at his surroundings, though he had noticed that all conversation had come to an abrupt halt when he opened his door. He reached for the coffeepot on the stove. “Is this fresh?” he asked.
A cacophony of responses assaulted his ears and several attempts were made to grab a cup for him, resulting in a ruckus that Hogan would have found amusing if he had felt up to it. He smiled tolerantly, resignedly, and accepted the cup proffered earnestly by Carter. “Thanks,” he said. He quietly allowed Le Beau to fill it, and, sighing, took a slow gulp, then briefly brought his hand up tenderly to soothe his slightly swollen, aching jaw before turning to his men.
“Before you ask: don’t.”
Kinch nodded, understanding. Some things were best left unspoken. That the men could see what Hogan had been through was enough; they didn’t need to hear the gory details. He wouldn’t want to share his humiliation and haunting memories. “I’m all right. They asked some questions and they let me go.” He offered the worried faces a lopsided grin. “Hochstetter can’t make anything stick. I guess they dropped me back here in the middle of the night to avoid their own embarrassment. But that means I haven’t seen Klink either. So I guess they did me a favor,” he added with forced lightness.
Carter was the only one who laughed. Hogan felt a surge of appreciation for the young demolitions expert. The others couldn’t shake their somber moods or their worry long enough to take part in the charade that nothing had changed in the last two days.
Taking a last swallow from his cup, Hogan shuffled stiffly toward the door. “I guess I’d better check in with old Bald Eagle,” he said. Again unbidden, he found someone had gathered his bomber jacket and his cap, and was thrusting them into his hands. He’d wanted to dress in private, so no one could witness how sore his back was. But it would offend the men not to accept their gestures now, so Hogan nodded his thanks, and trying to keep his groans to a minimum, he slipped his jacket and cap on, and left the barracks.
He met Schultz on his way across the compound. “Colonel Hogan, you are back!”
“That’s right, Schultz,” said Hogan. Normally he made plenty of time for the portly, good-natured guard. After all, it was partly thanks to Schultz’s policy of seeing nothing, saying nothing, and knowing nothing, that Hogan’s men were able to accomplish so much. But this afternoon he was in no mood for Germans, and kept his replies curt.
“I do not remember seeing you come in this morning—did you escape from the Gestapo?” he asked, wide-eyed. “Colonel Hogan, you should not have come back here; they will come here first, looking for you—”
“Settle down, Schultz, I didn’t escape. They brought me back here last night while Langenscheit was on duty.” Hogan kept walking. So much to do. So much to plan. “I’ve gotta have a word with the Kommandant.”
“Jawohl,” agreed Schultz. “I will announce you myself.” And Schultz kept up a constant jabber as he accompanied Hogan to the office, where they found Klink’s secretary, Helga, working at her desk.
Hogan was at once aware of his appearance. He had always liked to impress Helga. After all, she was the only female around here for miles. And they shared a mutual interest that Hogan found to be quite a wonderful distraction from the work at hand and the reality of his life here at camp. But now, as she turned toward him, her eyes wide and distressed, Hogan felt fleetingly self-conscious. His rumpled, dirty clothes and his unkempt look might frighten her, as she no doubt knew where he had been. “Sorry I haven’t had a chance to shave,” he began, as he saw her eyes scanning the bruises and cuts on his face. Helga didn’t respond. She just looked at him with her doe eyes. “I’m all right,” he said softly.
Helga smiled her relief. “Come back and see me when you have washed,” she invited playfully, out of earshot of Schultz. “I will tend to you properly.”
“I look forward to your tender loving care,” he replied, grinning for her benefit, and he followed Schultz into Klink’s office.
“Colonel Hogan to see you, Herr Kommandant!” Schultz announced, snapping to attention.
Klink’s head bolted up from his work and he stared at Hogan. “They told me, but I didn’t believe it,” he said under his breath. Recovering, Klink stood up. “I was informed of your return at three thirty this morning, Colonel Hogan. I would have appreciated a less intrusive return.” What do you say to a man whom you let be taken by the Gestapo?
“So would I,” Hogan replied. He could feel Klink’s discomfort.
“Colonel Hogan, you are well?” asked Klink, studying Hogan’s face, his stance, searching him for signs of mistreatment. He tried to avoid looking at the purple bruises on Hogan’s face.
“I could use a hot shower and a massage.” Hogan pointed to Klink’s humidor. “And a cigar.”
Klink hated sharing his precious smokes. But he felt compelled to grant any of Hogan’s wishes at the moment, and so opened the locked box and held it out to the senior POW. Klink nearly dropped his monocle when he saw the raw skin on Hogan’s wrist as he reached for a cigar. “Hogan—your arm—”
“Just a little souvenir of my visit with Major Hochstetter,” Hogan said with false cheer. He held out his other arm and pulled up the cuff of his jacket. “Actually, they’re a matching set.”
“See that the medic looks you over today, Hogan.”
“I’m fine,” Hogan said, accepting a light from Klink.
“It’s my job under the Geneva Convention,” Klink responded shortly. And as a human being. “You have my permission to use the hot water today, Hogan. Go back to your barracks and take all the time you need to recover.” Klink returned to his desk and sat down, awkwardly shuffling some papers in front of him.
Hogan stood quietly for a moment, taking comfort in the relaxation of a good cigar. Then, casually watching Klink, he said, “Don’t you want to know what Hochstetter wanted?”
“No I don’t,” Klink said quickly, as the papers moved faster. “I have no interest in anything that man has to say.” He stopped and changed his mind almost instantly. The papers were silenced. “What did he want?”
“He wanted to know why I hadn’t tried to escape more often,” Hogan said. “Wanted to know what you do to keep the prisoners so cowed and in line. He was almost offended that someone like you could run such a tight ship.”
“Really?” Klink said, amazed.
“Yep. Wanted to know all your secrets. Of course, I could only tell him that you run the toughest POW camp in all of Germany, that you rule with an iron fist, that you’re feared by every man in the camp, including myself!”
“Including yourself?” Klink repeated, unconvinced.
“Absolutely,” insisted Hogan, feeling his mind kicking in for the task at hand. “Of course, ol’ Wolfie didn’t like my answers much,” Hogan said, fingering a cut under his left eye. “And he still doesn’t trust me as far as he can throw a piano. But he sure has a lot more confidence in you, Kommandant. I made sure of that myself.”
“Thank you, Colonel Hogan,” Klink said, somewhat bewildered.
“He’s promised me he’ll be back for me,” Hogan continued. “Please, sir. Ask him to be gentle next time. I know he’ll listen to you, now that he knows that you already have me under your expert control.”
Klink nodded, his ego stroked by the compliments, now willing to see himself as the in-control, strong man in charge. “Go look after yourself, Hogan. I’ll send the medic to Barracks Two in about an hour.”
“You’re too kind, sir,” Hogan said. And with a loose salute, he turned and left.
Klink stayed motionless for a moment, suddenly overcome by the feeling that he was being bamboozled, but not sure how or even by whom. He physically shook off the feeling, and ordered Schultz to make sure the medic attended to Hogan, whether the American wanted it or not.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Hogan took Klink up on his offer of hot water, and groaned appreciatively as the wet, steady stream massaged his sore back and washed away the harsher memories of his encounter with Hochstetter. But the reprieve was too short-lived, and it seemed like the small pleasure was days past by the time he walked back to the barracks.
“We need to talk,” he said to Newkirk, who was tossing a ball against the wall of the building. “Get Le Beau, Carter, and Kinch and meet me inside.”
“Sure thing, Colonel,” Newkirk replied, and set to work immediately.
Anxious for the well being of their friend and commander, Newkirk had no trouble gathering Hogan’s closest associates. They had not strayed very far from the barracks, and eagerly came inside to hear what Hogan had to say.
Hogan propped one foot up on the bench and leaned forward. “Hochstetter’s changing his tactics,” Hogan began without preamble. “He wants to get rid of Klink, and he wants our help to do it.”
“What?” cried his men, clearly surprised. “Why would we help him do that, Colonel?” Le Beau asked, shaking his head.
Hogan looked at his men squarely in the eyes. “Because I told him we would.”
Hogan held up a hand. “Pipe down!” he ordered, a slight frown crossing his face. “I’ve had a… talk…with Hochstetter,” he said, rubbing his stinging wrist, “and he’s very convincing.”
“Colonel, you can’t let it happen—it would mean the end of everything!” Carter pleaded.
“I know he hurt you, gov’nor, but we’ll get you out of here before he comes back again—you don’t have to worry about that. We’ll explain to London somehow—” Newkirk blurted out.
“Oui, we will protect you, Colonel,” Le Beau promised.
“Hold it, hold it!” Hogan protested, irritated with their presumption but grateful for their offers to keep him out of harm’s way. Kinch gave a half smile as the men stopped their babbling. He hadn’t bothered to get excited at Hogan’s statement, though he did feel a small thrill of fear when he first heard it. Somehow he knew there was more to come; Hogan always had a plan. If only the others would be patient enough to wait for the explanation. “Look, I appreciate your concern, but I’m not afraid of Hochstetter, and I’m not running back to England.” The relief in the room was palpable. “If Hochstetter investigates Klink on his own he’s bound to confirm his suspicions about how incompetent he is, and he’ll take over the camp in no time. That would make our lives very difficult.” The men nodded, understanding. “On the other hand, if we help the Major out, we can convince him how ingenious Klink is, and we might have the Gestapo out of our hair for awhile. Got it?”
Kinch laughed as the others sighed in relief. “Gee, Colonel, I thought you were saying we were really going to help Hochstetter,” Carter admitted.
“Carter,” Hogan said seriously. “No amount of torture could ever make me work with that man. Not in any way that would help the Third Reich. I’d die first. And he’d rather have it that way as well.”
The others agreed quietly. Hogan had not complained about his injuries when he returned. In fact, he seemed to take them all in stride. How they thought he might have been tempted to protect himself against any further encounters with the Gestapo they didn’t know. And Le Beau was embarrassed to have thought it at all. “Oui, Colonel,” he said. “We should have known.”
Hogan grinned. “Not that he wasn’t good—you should have heard the offers. I’ll have to explain it all to you, so you know what we’re supposedly selling Klink out for.”
The door to the barracks opened, and Schultz came in, followed by the camp’s POW medic, Sergeant Joseph Wilson. “Colonel Hogan,” Schultz said. “The Kommandant says you are to be examined by Wilson, and do whatever he says.”
Hogan took his foot off the bench and sighed. “I surrender already,” he said. “I don’t have the energy to fight you today.”
“Good,” Wilson said. “You’re a tough enough patient as it is.”
“I try,” Hogan quipped. He opened his arms in a show of defeat. “Do your worst.”
“Let’s go into your quarters, Colonel. I want to have a good look at you.”
“I was afraid of that.” Hogan turned to his men. “We’ll pick up where we left off in a minute.”
“You’ll ‘pick up where you left off’ when I’m through with you, which will be longer than a minute,” Wilson countered.
“Okay, okay,” Hogan said, resigned. “Let’s get it over with.”
Thirty minutes and a couple of surprised shouts of discomfort later, Hogan and Wilson emerged from Hogan’s quarters. Wilson was shaking his head. “Stubborn as a mule,” he muttered to Kinch as he passed. “He could make a nun swear.”
Kinch chuckled. Hogan was well known for his impatience with medical treatment. But Wilson had obviously won; Hogan was sporting a bandage under his eye, and his wrists were wrapped tightly. He wondered what was underneath Hogan’s shirt that no one else could see. “Mainly some bad bruising,” Wilson explained to the others. “Inside and out. I’ve told him to take it easy for a few days, but I think we all know how well that’s going to be followed.” He turned to Hogan. “I mean it. Take it easy. Grab a couple more of those hot showers for your back if you can. I’ll tell Klink it’s doctor’s orders.”
Hogan nodded. “Thanks,” he said sincerely. “If I take anyone’s advice, it will be yours.”
“I feel honored,” rejoined Wilson with a grin. “Come see me later and I’ll redress your wrists.” With a nod to Hogan’s men, he left.
Hogan took in the looks of his men as he came back to the table. “I survived, see?” he teased lightly, trying to dispel their concern. Reluctantly they seemed to relax. “Now, let’s get back to business. Hochstetter said he’ll be contacting me tomorrow to get started on this. We’re going to need to have a plan in place. This is a chance for us to blow Hochstetter’s theory wide open. If he doesn’t get what he wants, he might lay off long enough for us to get some serious work done.”
“What does he have in mind, Colonel?” asked Newkirk.
“An escape. And the blowing up of a bridge.” Hogan looked around the table. “If we’re lucky, we can make that a reality… right under his nose. And he’ll never know it was us.”
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“Colonel Hogan, I want you to take these with you,” Schultz said. Standing outside Barracks Two the next day, Schultz shoved two candy bars into Hogan’s hands. The men had recently bribed Schultz with these precious items from their Red Cross packages, to keep him from seeing an escaped prisoner being smuggled out of camp. But now, he was pressing Hogan to take them.
“What’s this for, Schultz?” Hogan asked, bewildered.
“The Kommandant has told me that the Gestapo will be coming to take you back to Hammelburg today,” Schultz started. Hogan nodded. It had been part of the plan: Hochstetter would arrest Hogan again, to get him out of camp to make arrangements for the downfall of Klink. “I know they do not feed you well there, and you will need your strength. Take this, try to hide it so you can have it when you need it.”
Hogan was touched by the guard’s gesture. “Schultz, I don’t know what to say. That’s really human of you, even for an enemy.”
“You boys, you are like sons to me—you need to be looked after. You don’t know how to take care of yourselves. You are too naïve to understand how the Gestapo works.”
Hogan laughed grimly under his breath. “I think I’m getting the idea pretty well now,” he said.
“Do not laugh, Colonel Hogan. The Gestapo is the future of Germany,” Schultz said regretfully. “Do what Wilson has told you to do before the Major arrives. You won’t have the chance later on.”
“Thanks, Schultz,” Hogan said thoughtfully, as Schultz shouldered his rifle, and walked away.
Hogan pushed the chocolate bars into the pocket of his jacket and made his way inside. Schultz’s fatherliness touched him. If Klink was ousted, Schultz would no doubt follow; Hogan would have to make sure neither man was touched. Letting out a heavy sigh, Hogan decided to follow Schultz’s advice. Grabbing a towel, he headed back to the showers, where he gratefully accepted the soothing flow of the hot water, caressing his aching body, and temporarily driving anything but thoughts of a soft, warm bed—back in Connecticut—from his mind.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“Major Hochstetter, I must protest you taking Colonel Hogan again,” Klink said boldly. Hogan was surprised; the last time he had been standing before the Gestapo agent in Klink’s office, the Kommandant had very little to say. Now, Klink seemed to have found his voice. “When you arrested him earlier this week you said you would interrogate him fully. Obviously you found nothing substantial and returned him—taking him again will upset the prisoners and the smooth running of this camp.”
Hogan shot a glance at Hochstetter, who seemed to be carefully processing Klink’s every word. The Major scowled at Klink. “Do you think it is of any concern to me if the prisoners are upset, Klink?” he berated him loudly. Hogan frowned, and Hochstetter turned his attention to him. “What’s the matter, Hogan, do you not approve of prisoners being treated as such in a prison camp?” he asked.
“To be honest, Major, I think Colonel Klink treats us humanely and under the directives of the Geneva Convention.”
“Geneva Convention—bah!” Hochstetter spat. “The Geneva Convention is for retired Generals and weak camp kommandants.”
“Don’t hold back, Major; tell us how you really feel,” Hogan said sarcastically. He had to admit to himself that working with Hochstetter was going to be a challenge for him. If he and his men didn’t get caught out over the operation and shot as spies, Hogan might still get himself killed through his inability to keep him mouth shut about his feelings for Hochstetter.
Hochstetter’s eyes flared, and he turned on Hogan fiercely. “We will see how flippant you are when we are back at Gestapo Headquarters,” he said, grabbing Hogan by the jacket. Klink moved to stop him, but the SS guard that accompanied Hochstetter readied his rifle. Hochstetter delivered a surprisingly strong punch to Hogan’s gut, and the American gagged as the breath was knocked out of him. His hands still on Hogan’s jacket, Hochstetter felt the bulge in the pocket and roughly pulled out its contents. “Chocolate?” he announced, shoving Hogan away and holding the candy out in front of him. “You won’t be needing this American rubbish,” he said. And he crushed the bars in his hand and threw them across the floor. Hogan merely blinked, rubbing his abdomen. He noticed Schultz’s eyes followed the candy, and felt a pang of sympathy for the guard whose kind act had been sabotaged. Their eyes met and Hogan tried to convey his appreciation for the man’s attempt at compassion.
“We will go back to Hammelburg. Klink, you will concern yourself with the running of this camp. You would be well served to concern yourself less with Geneva, and more with Russia,” Hochstetter said nastily.
Klink visibly paled at the thought. “I will run this camp as efficiently as always, Major,” said Klink.
“I am very sorry to hear that,” Hochstetter said. “I was counting on Germany winning the war.”
Touché, Hogan thought.
An Enemies’ Alliance
“It is most unusual to be sharing an assignment with an Allied prisoner of war,” Hochstetter said, his moustache twitching as he sat at his desk, tapping the surface with nervous energy. “Is it not?”
Hogan stood before him—he had never been offered the opportunity to sit down—in silence. He was sure he could not trust the Gestapo officer, and he was determined to say as little as possible in every meeting, to draw Hochstetter out, and to avoid saying anything that could compromise his operation. His eyes flitted to the guard standing nearby, rifle steady by his side, staring straight ahead, and occasionally at him.
“You are quiet, Hogan. You don’t trust me.” Hogan shrugged. “That is understandable. We are not typically on the same side.” More silence. Hochstetter smiled in what could be translated as an attempt at reassurance. “Now, Hogan,” he said silkily. “I have explained everything to you, yes? I released you as I promised, did I not? You have no real reason not to play along. If you are not an espionage agent for the Allies, if you are simply a demoralized, unambitious prisoner of war as you claim, you will lose nothing by helping the Gestapo to remove Klink.”
“Except my self-respect,” Hogan said simply. “Helping you could be considered an act of treason.”
“Hogan, Hogan, we have gone through all of this already,” Hochstetter said disarmingly. “You may consider this an act of self-preservation, nothing more, if it helps your lofty American conscience. He is an enemy officer as well. There is no more time for doubting. It is time to plan and time to take steps.” Hochstetter’s tone grew more dangerous. “I grow impatient to begin.”
Hogan considered, then nodded. Despite his misgivings, Hochstetter was right: it was time to act. The sooner they got started, the sooner he could put this distasteful mission behind him, and the sooner he would feel that the operation was relatively safe. “Okay, Hochstetter, you win. But when I go home, I want to forget I ever laid eyes on you. Though I doubt I’ll be able to.”
Hochstetter smiled, something that always made Hogan feel slightly sick. “You do me a great honor, Hogan. I like to think of myself as somewhat unforgettable.”
“Let’s get to work,” Hogan said. “I want to get out of here.” He looked around. “I don’t suppose you’d consider letting me sit in your presence?”
Hochstetter made a sound that Hogan thought might pass for a laugh. He gestured toward a chair nearby. “How rude of me—of course, Hogan. Sit. We have much to do.”
Hogan pulled the chair up to the desk and, with a quick look back to the guard, sat down. “How are we going to do this?” he asked.
“I thought you might have some ideas for me, Hogan. A man who has been sitting in a prisoner of war camp for over a year must have had some thoughts on how to get out.”
There’s the trap, Hogan thought. “Oh I might have at one stage, but after awhile I simply resigned myself to my situation,” he said casually.
“Oh, come, Hogan, surely you must have dreamed…longed…for the open air again. You were a flyer, an American hero. Barbed wire and roll calls cannot have appealed to you.”
“They do lack some of the charms of home.” Hogan paused. “Okay. I’ll lay my cards on the table, Hochstetter. I’m helping you because I want to go home. Because I want to fly again. Because I hate the Nazis and all they stand for. And if the only way I can get out of this joke of a country is to move Klink out first, then I’ll do it. There’s no love lost between us. I don’t owe him any favors.” Except in return for the soft-heartedness that’s saved me and my men more times than I can count.
“You will get your wish if all goes as I expect it will. No mind, Hogan, I have devised a plan of my own. You will escape from Stalag 13 and attempt to blow up the new bridge about two miles from your camp. This bridge is a strategic link for our convoys. You will be caught with explosives and a wired bridge.”
“And shot as a spy,” Hogan finished. “I’m not sure I like this plan.”
“It will be me who finds you, Hogan. I will make sure that you are granted clemency, and then according to our agreement, I will release you to your countrymen.”
“And what guarantee do I have that you’ll honor this little bargain?”
“In the end, I am a simple gentleman like yourself. My word is my promise.”
“Somehow you don’t fill me with confidence.”
“Cold feet, Colonel Hogan?” Hochstetter spread his arms in a gesture of resignation. “Your alternative is to submit to standard Gestapo interrogation for the unusual activities around Stalag 13. I can do that at any time, can I not? And we both know how unpleasant that can be.”
“I get the picture,” Hogan said. “You’ve convinced me. When do we get started?”
“Tomorrow night. You will break out underneath the fence near the guards’ tower.”
“And how do you expect me to do that?”
“It will be ready for you, Hogan. A mysterious power blackout will take over the camp at 2300 hours. You will use this opportunity to escape. I will be waiting nearby to take you to the bridge. You can do this alone?”
“It’d be better if I had a couple of men with me. It’d look pretty unrealistic for only one man to be trying to blow up a bridge, don’t you think?”
“How many men?”
“Two.” Carter, explosives genius. Newkirk, master con man. “With the same carrot dangling in front of them as me—they’d have no reason to take this risk otherwise.”
“Very well. Two, no more. I am not willing to release an entire camp for one man. Not even if the man is that idiot Klink.”
“You see, Colonel Hogan, I am a reasonable man. The fact that you do not approve of the Third Reich does not concern me. What concerns me is the end… not the means.”
“I’m beginning to see that.”
“I have great faith in you, Hogan.” Hochstetter smiled again. Hogan was ignoring the pounding in his ears, telling him this was a dangerous alliance. “We should return you to Stalag 13 now. You will need to make arrangements for tomorrow night.”
Hochstetter stood up. Hogan followed suit. But as he did so, the guard behind him suddenly grabbed hold of his left arm and pulled it up behind him, so far that Hogan was sure it would break. Tears stung his eyes as his already raw wrist was squeezed roughly. Pushed up against the wall, Hogan could see Hochstetter out of one eye, nodding. “Not too much, Corporal. We need him to be intact.” Hogan thought his shoulder would pop out of its socket, and gritted his teeth. “You see, Hogan, if we return you to Stalag 13 in perfect condition, someone would suspect that we are in collusion. We cannot have that.” The guard slammed Hogan’s head against the wall, sending the room spinning and sending a trickle of blood down his temple. His knees buckled. Then the guard abruptly let go, and Hogan sank to the floor.
“You bastard,” he gasped, gripping his burning shoulder. “You’re enjoying this.” He wiped away the blood that was getting in his right eye, and shook his head.
“Nonsense, Hogan. But I have a job to do, and I am a thorough taskmaster.” He allowed the Corporal a couple more well-aimed kicks that left Hogan reeling, then put up a hand to stop him. “That should do nicely,” he said, and he held a hand out to help Hogan off the floor.
Hogan glared at him and sat up, knocking Hochstetter’s hand away. Gingerly cradling his tender ribs and trying to ignore the throbbing in his lower body from a particularly cruel kick, he dragged himself to his feet, staggered to the upturned chair, and set it right so he could collapse into it. He wiped again at his temple, and said nothing as he realized the precarious position he was actually in: if he played along with Hochstetter, strung him along, the Gestapo officer could have him shot at any time on trumped-up charges; if he didn’t, the outcome could surely be the same. He really had nothing to lose by trying to use the situation to his advantage—except his health, and possibly his life. But that was the case in either scenario. But he doesn’t have to enjoy it so much, Hogan thought. It’s payback time for all the slices of humble pie we’ve served you, isn’t it, Hochstetter?
“Let me out of here,” he growled.
“Very well, Hogan. I will see you tomorrow night.”
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“The Colonel is back!” Le Beau cried, as he saw a Gestapo staff car pull up in front of Klink’s office. He scrambled outside with the others, straining to see from the barracks, as they knew Hogan didn’t want any undue attention drawn to him.
They nearly couldn’t stop themselves from rushing forward when they saw Hogan emerge from the car. He had only been gone for six hours, but he looked ten years older. Klink came instantly out of his office and the two of them exchanged words that the men could not hear. Then Hogan turned away from Klink and the Gestapo officer who had accompanied him back to camp, and limped across the compound, his men uncertain he would make it back to them. He was slightly bent over, obviously uncomfortable, and they could see what appeared to be dried blood on his face.
“I thought he was supposed to be having a friendly talk with Hochstetter,” Kinch said under his breath.
“If that’s friendly I’d hate to see what happens if they get into an argument,” Newkirk remarked.
Hogan walked by them into the barracks with only a fleeting look. “It starts tomorrow,” he said, barely audibly, and pushed past them.
“I’ll get Wilson,” Carter volunteered, and shot off towards the medic’s quarters. Beyond worried, the others followed Hogan inside.
Their commanding officer had gone straight to his room and was lying on his bunk, curled in on himself as though to lessen the pain he was quite clearly experiencing. He had removed his crush cap but not his jacket. Kinch moved forward and offered to help Hogan take it off. “No,” Hogan snapped, unwilling to rotate his throbbing shoulder to accomplish that.
Kinch saw bloody patches on the bandage that covered Hogan’s wrist and understood his irritability. “Wilson’s coming, Colonel,” he said gently.
“No time for that,” Hogan protested. But he didn’t argue further. Instead, he focused on the mission at hand. “Hochstetter wants an escape tomorrow night. He wants us to pretend to blow up the new bridge outside camp. If we’re caught it will be a victory for him, and an admission of total anarchy for Klink. We have to think of a way to sabotage that idea.”
“You will, Colonel,” Le Beau assured him, not really thinking of any mission at the moment.
Carter returned with Wilson. “Another encounter with our friends in the Gestapo, Colonel?” Wilson asked, moving in right away. He motioned for the others to back off, and gently turned Hogan onto his back. The senior POW’s groans told him more than he wanted to hear. He scowled when he saw the blood on Hogan’s face, and cursed when he saw more blood had seeped through Hogan’s bandaged wrist. He shooed the men out of the room, and shut the door behind him.
“Any more of this and I’m gonna find another war to fight,” Hogan complained as he stood outside Barracks Two with Kinch. Wincing, he put a hand to his sore temple. “That Hochstetter’s quite a guy.”
Kinch ignored the gesture, as he knew he would be expected to do. “What happens now, Colonel?”
Keeping an eye out around the compound, Hogan answered, “Hochstetter expects me to escape tonight through the fence near the guard’s tower. He’s arranging a blackout at 2300 to accommodate me.”
“Pretty impressive,” Kinch admitted.
“Then he plans to take me out to the bridge where I will be caught with explosives red handed. And I’m supposed to take his word for it that I won’t get shot on sight.”
“Right,” Kinch said, whistling under his breath. “This one’s pretty touchy, Colonel.”
“Don’t I know it,” Hogan answered. “We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t in this one. It’s a fine line we’re walking, and it’s a shaky one at that.” Hogan thought for a minute. “Okay, Kinch, here’s the plan. This afternoon I’ll have a word to Klink, let him know that I’m tired of being used for Hochstetter’s personal workouts, and I’m not going to let him take me again. I’ll make him think I might be planning to escape. We’ll have to make sure I get caught before I get out. This makes Klink look excellent, and throws Hochstetter off the trail.”
“Do you think that’ll be the end of it?”
“No, not really. If Hochstetter’s on the level, and really wants to get Klink, he’ll keep trying. We just have to keep foiling him till he gives up and leaves Klink alone.”
“How long do you think that will take, Colonel?”
Hogan rubbed his sore ribs. “Not long, I hope.” He tried to grin offhandedly.
The pain in Hogan’s eyes wasn’t lost on Kinch. He wondered how much punishment Hochstetter would deliver to the senior POW before this operation was complete. Quietly, he said, “Sir, Hochstetter is using this arrangement as an excuse to get at you. It may get a lot worse before this is over.”
Hogan straightened, his body hurting from his “appointments” with Hochstetter and his goons. “I think he’s counting on that.” He gave Kinch a pat on the arm. “Spread the word about tonight. I’m going to go take a hot shower.”
Kinch nodded, then watched thoughtfully as Hogan disappeared inside.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“I sincerely regret what is happening here, Colonel Hogan,” Klink was saying. “But surely even you can see that when it comes to the Gestapo my hands are tied.”
Hogan wasn’t listening to Klink, not really. He was here to help set up the evening’s plans, but his mind was miles away, stuck in a dark and forbidding office in Hammelburg. I wonder if they bothered to wipe my blood off the wall, he wondered uselessly. His brain, prompted by his aching body, was replaying the beating he had received the day before. But when Klink expressed his powerlessness in the face of people like Hochstetter, Hogan exploded. “Aw, come on, Kommandant,” he snapped, his dark eyes flashing. “You’re the one in charge of this camp, and that means you’re responsible for the well being of your prisoners. Well I’m a prisoner, and I don’t feel like being used as Hochstetter’s punching bag any more.” Hogan was surprised by his own vehemence. He had intended to sound indignant, but here he was sounding downright belligerent. Clearly he was more disturbed by the incidents than he had admitted, even to himself.
Klink, too, seemed taken aback by Hogan’s outburst. This man is normally quite unflappable, he thought. Hochstetter must really be hurting him. “I will continue to speak out on your behalf, Colonel Hogan. But I regret to say that I cannot guarantee that the Major will not come back here if he feels your unorthodox behavior warrants it.” Klink sat down heavily. “Meanwhile you may refrain from taking part in camp activities until you have recovered. You do not have to carry out a charade to hide your injuries from me. I know how disagreeable a visit with the Gestapo can be.”
“Do you?” Hogan spat sarcastically. “I doubt that very much, Kommandant.”
Klink found that he could not meet Hogan’s eyes. “You are probably right,” he admitted. “Hogan, what have you done to get Hochstetter so angry at you?”
“I was born in a free country, and I’ve made no secret of the fact that I don’t like the Fuhrer’s idea of a Master Race. That’s more than enough for people like him. And that’s not going to change, so I can’t see Hochstetter easing up any time soon. I’m getting out of here, Colonel. By hell or high water I won’t be here for him to abuse the next time he shows up.”
“Careful, Hogan, that is sounding very much like you are planning to escape.”
“Maybe I am. Maybe that’s not a bad idea at all,” Hogan said. “Maybe I should head out tonight, just in case he’s planning another visit tomorrow. That’d be three this week. I’m growing accustomed to his face. And I can’t say I like the picture.”
“Colonel Hogan, you aren’t thinking clearly,” Klink said, trying to bring his senior prisoner under control. “If you are found outside the wire you can be shot.”
“And if I’m kept inside the wire I can be tortured at the whim of some madman who casually decides who lives and dies. Nice choices. Make no mistake about it, Colonel: this time Hochstetter’s pushed me too far. There’s only so much a man can take.”
Klink sighed, both understanding of Hogan’s dilemma, and troubled by Hogan’s uncharacteristic temperament. “Colonel Hogan,” he said, coming around the desk and putting a hand on Hogan’s shoulder. Hogan flinched painfully, and Klink quickly pulled his hand away. “You are not yourself today. Get some rest. See that the medic changes your dressings. And stay away from the fence. Don’t make a bad situation worse.”
Hogan dropped his eyes in a gesture of acquiescence. “I can’t prove something that isn’t happening,” he said. “I won’t be able to stop him.” He paused, then added quietly, “He’ll kill me one day, Colonel. One day, Hochstetter’s going to take me, and I won’t come back.” Hogan wasn’t sure how much of that was said for show…and how much was his real, deep fear.
Shaken by this admission, Klink took a minute to respond. “Go back to the barracks, Colonel Hogan,” he said softly. He didn’t know what else to say.
Hogan nodded, saluted absentmindedly, and left the office. Klink went to the window and watched him cross the compound. I’ll have to increase the fence patrols tonight, he thought. I’m sorry I cannot protect you from Hochstetter, Colonel Hogan. But I won’t let you get yourself killed trying to escape.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Hogan was introspective for the rest of the day, spending much of his time in his room. Though more tired than he could remember in a long time, sleep eluded him, and he longed for the comfort of an adequate blanket and soft pillow to take him away from this hellhole. What would it be like to be in the sky again, not to have to plot and plan?...Just drop your load and go home. Never have to look the bastards in the eye, and watch them plotting to destroy you…. Hogan sighed wearily and tenderly rubbed his face. He’d turned down any strong pain relief from Wilson, knowing he needed to be alert to everything right now, especially now. He regretted the necessity as he opened the door to his room and knew the eyes of his men would be on him, looking for reassurance when he wasn’t sure he could offer any.
The solicitousness that greeted him as he approached the bunk over the tunnel almost drove him back to his quarters. Saying little, he gingerly eased himself down the ladder, where Kinch was working by the radio. “Does London know what’s going down?” Hogan asked.
Kinch nodded, still writing, and held up a hand to signal Hogan to wait. “Papa Bear over and out,” he said. Then, replacing his headset, Kinch looked up from his paper to his commanding officer. “London says to proceed as you feel necessary, Colonel. But they said to remind you that the Gestapo is no organization to double cross lightly.”
Hogan grunted a derisive response. “They’re not even nice to their own side,” he said ironically.
Kinch waited for more from Hogan, but got none. So he said hesitantly, “Everything all right, Colonel?”
Hogan continued to stare into space. Look at that clear blue sky…. You can’t see anyone down there. Not even Hochstetter….
“—Yeah. Yeah, Kinch. Everything is just dandy. Look, we don’t know what’s going to happen tonight, so make sure you keep things running smoothly, okay?”
“Sure thing, Colonel.”
“No heroics, no displays. Klink’s bound to stop me tonight. I’ll make sure he does. But just in case something funny happens…no monkey business. I want everything to run as per normal.”
“Yes, Colonel.” Kinch paused. He knew Hogan only spoke like this when he was worried. If he was so confident about tonight, why did he keep harping on someone else making sure the operation continued? “Colonel—sir—it’ll all be okay,” he offered, feeling inadequate to take some of the burden from his friend. “It’ll happen the way it’s supposed to.”
“Thanks, Kinch. I know you fellas’ll keep it all under control.” Hogan smiled weakly, but Kinch noticed none of the worry left his eyes, and found himself once again relieved that he didn’t have command of the operation. Ashamed of what he saw as a selfish thought, Kinch nodded reassuringly, then suggested Hogan get something to eat before the night’s excitement began.
No One Escapes From Stalag 13
Colonel Klink was relieved when he saw Colonel Hogan standing with his men at evening roll call. The American had been prowling the fence line all afternoon and early evening, and was constantly being warned away by the guards. Klink had told Schultz to order the guards to be watchful of Hogan but not forceful, and Hogan, for his part, seemed to heed the warnings, then roam back to the wires when he thought no one was watching. But Klink himself had kept an eye on Hogan, concerned in spite of himself about Hogan’s state of mind. Certainly the senior POW officer was a thorn in Klink’s side—always seeming to outsmart him in ways that he could not fathom, always seeming to have control of the camp somehow. But the quiet fear in Hogan’s voice when the two men met earlier that day had disturbed Klink in a way he had not expected. This man, this enemy with whom he had struck up a slightly uneasy rapport, was, for the first time in their acquaintance, not completely in control. And when that happened to someone like Colonel Robert Hogan, Klink felt anxious. For both of them.
Now outside Barracks Two, Hogan stood as he always did: cocksure, hands in pockets, crush cap pushed back to reveal a defiant shock of dark hair, bomber jacket drawn up around his neck against the cold. Rocking gently back and forth on his heels, he traded quiet jokes with the men, as always putting them at ease. When Klink strode up to get the nightly report from Schultz, however, Hogan turned his eyes front, and his humor disappeared.
“Repooooorrrrt!” Klink ordered impatiently.
“Herr Kommandant, all prisoners present and accounted for!” Schultz announced, pleased.
“Very good.” Klink came face to face with Hogan. “I see you are still with us, Colonel Hogan,” he said in a low voice.
“For now,” Hogan said, with no indication of whether that would be continuing.
Klink suddenly saw a pallor to Hogan’s face that he had not noticed before. Maybe it was the way it contrasted to the yellow-purple bruises and the dark circles under his eyes. Or maybe it was Hogan’s eyes themselves, which seemed to be set with pain and fatigue. But no matter what Hogan hid from his own men, Klink was sure he was witnessing a slow and calculated destruction of the American by Hochstetter, and it troubled him. “See that it stays that way, Colonel,” Klink said, and turned on his heel. “Disss-missed,” he said over his shoulder, unease growing inside him.
Hogan and the others headed back into the barracks. Gathering around the table, he went over the plan with them again. “Okay, is everyone clear on tonight?” He looked at his men as they nodded their apprehensive assent. “Hochstetter says the lights will go out at 2300, and there’s a nice spot close to the watchtower where he’s somehow had the wire cut on the fence. Now he’s expecting me to be coming out with two men. Carter, Newkirk, you’ll be out there to make sure I get caught, but I don’t want you suspected of trying to get out with me, understand? If Klink questions you, tell him you were keeping an eye out for me; he’s likely to believe that.”
“Yes, Colonel,” said Newkirk. Carter nodded understanding.
“Everyone else, play it cool. You don’t know anything about this, right?”
“Right,” they mumbled.
“Now we’ve got a couple of hours till this happens. Why don’t you guys turn in, I’ll wake you when it’s time.”
Hogan poured himself a cup of coffee and turned toward his room, only to be pulled aside by Kinch. “With all due respect, Colonel, you look like Hell,” he said softly. “Why don’t you get some sleep and let us tell you when it’s time?”
“I don’t think I could if I tried,” Hogan admitted.
“Do you want Wilson to bring you something, sir?”
“He can’t turn off my mind. Thanks anyway, Kinch; I’ll be okay.” A weary smile of thanks passed Hogan’s lips as he closed himself in his office with his fears and his memories.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Hogan froze as a hail of bullets danced near his feet. The guards had not noticed his bold approach to the fence when the lights went out as Hochstetter had promised. But a shout from Newkirk quickly brought them running to the wire. Hogan turned, one hand still on the fence, the other raised in quiet surrender. “Do not move!” called a voice in stilted English. The beam of a flashlight swung toward Hogan, momentarily blinding him, and a second guard appeared and pushed him forcefully away from the perimeter of the camp.
“Please, Colonel, do what he says!” shouted Newkirk, from somewhere in the gloom.
“Yeah, Colonel, it’s not worth it!” Carter’s voice echoed in the stillness.
Klink came flying out of his quarters, carrying another torch that assaulted Hogan’s eyes. “What’s going on here?” he demanded, the light beam flashing from one person to another, landing nowhere. The unexpected gunshots had startled him, and he could only imagine the worst as he hastily dressed and left his quarters. So it was with a great sense of relief that he saw Hogan standing, shoulders drooping, eyes downcast, by the fence. “Colonel Hogan, what is the meaning of this?”
Hogan just shrugged, unspeaking. Klink turned on his guards angrily. “I thought I told you no gunfire!”
“Ja, Herr Kommandant. But the Oberst, he was—”
“I don’t care what he was trying to do!” Klink interrupted, angrily waving his fist toward the young guard. “I said there was to be no shooting without just cause! Get more guards to help you patrol while the power is out, and leave Colonel Hogan to me,” he ordered, more in command than Hogan could remember seeing him before.
“Jawohl, Herr Kommandant,” the guard said hastily, retreating with his companion as quickly as possible.
“We’re sorry, Kommandant,” said Newkirk, emerging from the shadows. “I’m afraid it’s our fault, sir. We knew the Colonel was trying to escape and we needed to stop him, sir.”
“What are you doing out of the barracks?” Klink asked, as Carter came forward with an apologetic smile as well.
“We had to stop him, sir!” Carter said. “We knew he was gonna try something crazy!”
“We couldn’t just let him get shot trying to escape, Kommandant!” Newkirk added. “We owe it to Colonel ’Ogan to at least get ’im home to his family alive, sir.”
“Very well—back to barracks with you,” Klink waved them away. “See that you stay there.”
“Yes, sir,” they mumbled. And with a final look at Hogan, who nodded just slightly at them, they ran off back to their quarters.
“Colonel Hogan,” started Klink, unsure how to continue. He tried to read the American’s expression, but the dimness made it impossible. “Colonel Hogan, why?” he asked finally, almost gently, longing to understand.
Hogan stayed unspeaking, unseeing. He looked up at the night sky, where a large, clear moon was starting to peek out from behind some clouds. A bomber’s moon, he thought fleetingly. I should be in the sky….
Once again unsure how to approach this new Hogan, Klink felt what he later defined as compassion for his prisoner. He had never expected to see Hogan this way. In almost all ways possible, he had considered Hogan his equal; in some ways, when he thought hard about it, he even thought Hogan the better man. He was different from the other prisoners Klink came into contact with. He was a thinking man—no doubt a schemer, but a thinking man nonetheless. An officer who commanded the respect of his men and who knew how to keep it. But the man Klink was facing now was different. Dispirited. And afraid. He had never seen Hogan afraid.
“Colonel Hogan, I want you to come back to my office,” he said now. “We shall discuss this incident, and then you will receive your punishment.”
“Punishment?” Hogan echoed, as the lights suddenly came flooding back on. You weren’t going to give me much time, Hochstetter, Hogan thought.
Klink’s confidence seemed to be restored with the power supply. “Check that the fence has not been tampered with,” he ordered a passing guard. “Come, Colonel Hogan, we have much to talk about.” He turned without wondering if Hogan would follow, and walked back his office.
Round one, Hogan thought, and trailed behind him.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“Schultz is taking Colonel Hogan to the cooler!” Le Beau announced about an hour later. Looking out the window, the men had tried their best to keep track of what was happening in camp and to the Colonel. They had turned on the coffeepot bug and listened in on what had been mainly a one-sided conversation: Klink trying to get Hogan to promise that he wouldn’t try to escape again. Over and over again, Klink explained how dangerous it was to try to get out of an escape-proof prison camp. Each time, Hogan made only perfunctory comments in reply. In the end, Klink had sighed heavily, then said that for Hogan’s own safety he would be putting him in the cooler for a week to discourage him from trying to get out of Stalag 13.
“Le Beau, are there any supplies in the tunnel leading to the cooler?” asked Kinch.
“Oui, Kinch—I think there is a blanket, some medical supplies, and some food.”
“I felt like a right traitor, calling out like that,” Newkirk said.
“That was the plan, Peter; you had to do that so the Colonel would get caught.”
“It still felt unnatural,” Newkirk insisted.
“The look on the Colonel’s face scared me,” said Carter. “Like he wasn’t acting.”
“That’s why he’s the Papa Bear, Carter. He’s the best at what he does,” Kinch assured him. But maybe he really is a bit broken by this after all.
From Past To Present
There’s Hamburg down below, boys…. Let’s show them what we’re made of!… Hogan lay uncomfortably on the hard bunk in the cooler. Inexplicably his mind was drifting back to his final mission in the skies over Germany. Here come the Krauts!... Bentley, watch your left flank!... Kanowski, come along side and cover me!... Hell of a place for a dogfight…. He could still see the plane that shot him down as clearly as if it was in front of him now. And he could still smell the fear, his own, as he realized he was being outnumbered and he was watching his own squadron face a devastating defeat in the air. Please, old girl, please…don’t give it up yet! Pull up! Come on, damn you, pull up! And a desperate leap into the sky as his girl, his bomber, the plane that had become almost an extension of his own body, gave up her struggle and sputtered to a stop, flames licking their way towards the cockpit where the American Colonel was frantically pulling out all the stops to coax her out of a tailspin. But it was not to be, and a cold, adrenalin-soaked parachute jump into skies bursting with enemy fire was the reward for this pilot, whose thoughts were on the few men still in the planes above him, and on the forbidding, enemy earth below.
How far he had come from that point. The thrill of fear that coursed through his veins when he jumped from the familiarity of his cockpit had been replaced by an intriguing mission: to help Allied prisoners to escape from Nazi Germany, and to cause as much chaos as possible in the meanwhile. To stay behind, while sending others home. To take more personal risks than those he took in the sky: to see his enemy face to face, one on one.
And now here he was: seeing the enemy almost more closely than he could accept, discovering that there were flesh-and-blood people under those German uniforms. Some, like Klink and Schultz, could actually reveal a depth of personality that Hogan found challenged his preconceived notions of his German captors. Others, like Hochstetter, only reinforced his experience that in the hearts of a few men was the root of darkness that, left unchecked, threatened to change the world for all time.
It was times like these that Hogan longed for the sky, and his beloved plane that kept him just out of reach of the emotions that came hand in hand with personal contact in a time of war. Knowing that Hochstetter would no doubt be coming to see Hogan in the morning, demanding an explanation, unleashing his anger and frustration on the American he ultimately had under his control, Hogan’s mind refused to draw away from his cold fear: that at some stage, the darkness would win, and, with an overwhelming sense of personal failure, that he would not have been able to prevent it.
Hochstetter will be here tomorrow, thought Hogan. I’ll have to play along. Hogan’s mental isolation felt as acute as his physical isolation, and, trying desperately to put his chaotic thoughts in order, he drew further into himself. Finding no comfort in the process, he shifted painfully on the bunk. He knew he needed to get some rest for tomorrow, but his mind refused to shut down. When someone came through the secret entrance to the cooler connected to the tunnel network awhile later, he pretended to be asleep, and was left alone.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Hogan didn’t have to wait long for his prophesy about Hochstetter’s arrival to be fulfilled. True to form, the small man’s entry into Klink’s office the next morning felt like the lid being ripped off a can—rough and dangerous. The men in Barracks Two scrambled for the coffee pot and listened as he and Klink bickered about Hogan, and then Le Beau was sent down the ladder to the tunnel near the cooler when Hochstetter headed in that direction, waving guards away as he went.
Hogan was expecting him, and stood up stiffly as Hochstetter was let into the cell. “Leave us,” Hochstetter ordered the nearby guard. The guard nodded and went around the corner. “What happened last night?” Hochstetter asked angrily.
“I was caught,” Hogan said, irritated. “Why else do you think I’m in the cooler?”
“I made sure you had every opportunity—”
“You made sure I had very little opportunity,” Hogan contradicted him. “The lights went off and on so fast I wouldn’t have gotten through even if the guards hadn’t noticed me near the fence. They’re just too good—I told you: this camp has a perfect record. I don’t know what makes you think I can change it.”
“Come, come, Hogan, I have more confidence in your abilities than that,” Hochstetter said, his voice smoothing over again. “We will have to plan differently.”
“I’m a little tied up at the moment.”
“I will look after that for you: I will tell Klink you are to come back to Gestapo Headquarters with me for further interrogation. Instead, we will have another meeting about our strategy. You and I both know that Klink is a buffoon; sooner or later he will have to show his true colors.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” Hogan said steadily.
“I am not asking for your approval, Colonel Hogan,” answered Hochstetter. There was a silence between the two men as the meaning of the words settled in Hogan’s mind. “I will go and inform Klink of your departure now.”
Hochstetter summoned the guard and departed. A short time later, with the guard again distracted, Le Beau appeared, to find Hogan sitting on the bunk, unseeing. “Colonel, you cannot go back with him again,” Le Beau started. Hogan simply stared ahead, his eyes troubled. “Colonel—we have to find a way to stop you from going, or that stinking monster will hurt you again,” Le Beau insisted.
Hogan was still, answering in his head but unable to speak the words aloud. Stop him from taking me—how? God help me, there’s nothing you can do. And he found he could not stop a slight tremble, a move that did not escape Le Beau’s notice.
“We will stop this, Colonel. You will escape and then Hochstetter will stop taking you,” Le Beau said, desperately.
“And he’ll shut us down for sure,” Hogan said as though from a distance. “I have to go, Louis. We can’t afford to lose Klink.”
“And we cannot afford to lose you, Colonel.” Le Beau nearly panicked at the resignation in Hogan’s voice.
“He’ll be back soon; you’d better go,” Hogan said. Suddenly he swapped back into his command approach. “Mind the store till I get back. Understood?” he said, his voice surprisingly strong.
Hogan shuffled Le Beau back out through the tunnel, and waited for what he knew was next.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
When Hogan was returned late that night, he concentrated on being able to walk unaided back to the barracks. Somewhere in the back of his mind Hogan knew his mindset was changing—he was forgetting the reason for his meetings with Hochstetter, and was starting to focus solely on self-preservation. But, limping painfully back to his men, seeing nothing in front of him but knowing instinctively where he needed to go, he realized he had no control over what was happening. How could he have thought he could outwit the Gestapo? Hochstetter’s strategy session had consisted of ranting and raving on the part of the German, interplayed with silky-smooth conversation intended to convince Hogan to continue with the plan. And though the roughing-up that followed had been anticipated, Hogan found he was no better steeled against the onslaught than if he had been taken by surprise, and he had struggled to maintain his bearings. Wryly, Hogan noted during the delivery of his injuries that Hochstetter seemed determined not to let him slip into the consolation of unconsciousness, not to injure him enough to make it feasible for him to say he could not possibly comply with Hochstetter’s plans. No, Hochstetter was if nothing else quite exacting and detailed in his torture.
Blessedly Klink had not tried to debrief Hogan upon his return. Instead he told his senior POW that he would talk with him in the morning, and insisted on having the guard summon Wilson to the barracks again. Hogan wanted to resist—he wanted nothing else but to fall down and forget it all—but he had not the strength to do so, and so he nodded mutely and stumbled along. Entering the barracks, Hogan leaned heavily on the door, banging it against the bunk behind it and waking his men. They were at his side instantly as he started to sink into the room, and when he tried to indicate he wanted to be in his quarters, they helped him to his bunk and watched as he turned his face to his pillow and stifled a noise that they did not want to admit sounded like a sob.
Wilson arrived shortly thereafter, and turned them out. But by then Hogan had mercifully blacked out, and Wilson was able to work unhindered at repairing his broken body. He could only imagine what damage was being done to Hogan’s mind.
“It’s a trap; he’s killing him!” Newkirk paced the common room of the barracks early the next morning. Seeing Hogan come back to Stalag 13 in a worse condition than he had left had convinced him that Hochstetter’s target was not Klink after all, but their commanding officer. “Can’t you see that? The bastard’s taking the Colonel apart, piece by piece!”
The others were inclined to believe him, but were not willing to consider the implications of the idea. “Hochstetter didn’t really give the Colonel any choice,” said Kinch. “Whether he believed him or not, if he didn’t help Hochstetter he’d be going through the same thing. At least this way we have a shot at keeping Klink in charge of the camp.”
“We should just close up shop and get ’im out of ’ere,” Newkirk insisted. “You can’t tell me you find it easy to see the gov’nor going through that,” he added, gesturing futilely toward Hogan’s room, which remained quiet.
“Of course he does not, Pierre,” Le Beau interjected quickly, noticing Kinch’s expression changing to one of anger. “He is simply saying that the Colonel could not take any chances. Whether it was a trap or not was of little consequence. If Major Hochstetter was really after Klink, it would put us at risk of being exposed. If not, he could still do as he pleased with all of us.” He paused, thought of Hogan in the next room and added quietly, “Including torturing mon Colonel as he pleases.”
“Newkirk’s right, though,” Carter said from his bunk. “We have to do something. The Colonel’s counting on us. He’d do the same if we were in trouble.”
“So what do we do, then?” asked Le Beau.
“You do nothing,” came the answer from Hogan’s doorway. The men turned, startled, to see Hogan standing rather unsteadily against his doorframe. Drawn and pale, he eyed them all with what command presence he could muster. “We have to get Hochstetter to tip his hand. And we’ve gotta get to that bridge he likes to talk about so much.”
Hogan started to stagger towards the stove. Carter was beside him in a flash, trying to guide and support him. Hogan offered him a wan, tolerant smile. “Thanks, Carter. Just some coffee, thanks,” he said as the young Sergeant tried to force him to sit at the table.
“Colonel, Hochstetter’s a madman. He’s not going to stop at Klink. Once he’s got him, he’ll go for you as well,” said Kinch.
Carter handed Hogan his coffee. “We have to keep this as low key as possible, otherwise he won’t give up.” Hogan paused, watching the coffee swirl in the cup, thinking. Then he said, “Hochstetter says he wants to get Klink out of here because he suspects I’m in charge of the shenanigans happening around the camp. If I don’t help him, he’ll have every reason to believe he’s right and I have something to hide. But if he succeeds, he’ll come in here and tear the place apart, and us with it. We have to try to get him to back off quietly and make him think it’s his own idea.”
The others nodded thoughtfully. Hogan was right, of course, but they couldn’t help hating the way this surrender was being negotiated, the price they were paying—Hogan was paying—to keep their operation safe. “So what’s next, Colonel?” asked Kinch.
Hogan looked appreciatively at his radioman. Kinch’s acceptance of the plan would make it easier for the others to swallow as well. Surely the men knew Hogan wasn’t enjoying this either; the methodical and meticulous way Hochstetter was having his goons inflict pain on Hogan was straining him, and, by extension, his men, and no one wanted it to stop more than the senior POW himself. But to make Hochstetter think Hogan was willingly, if reluctantly, coming onside was the only way to get in on the ground floor and stop the removal of Klink before it even began. “We give him one more chance to see how futile his plan is. He wants me to try again tonight. Newkirk, Carter, this time you’ll come with me. We’ll get outside the fence…but we’re going to get caught, again. Catching three men will be even better than catching one. If Hochstetter doesn’t see the error of his ways this time, we’ll have to resort to Plan B.”
“What’s Plan B, Colonel?” asked Carter.
Hogan smiled grimly. “I’ll let you know when I think of it.”
The shout came from outside for morning roll call. Hogan’s men muttered their distaste for the routine and started shuffling outside. Rallying his strength, Hogan tried to stand up from the bench but found it harder than he had hoped. Leaning on the table to stop himself from swaying, he waved away suggestions that he skip the head count. But he accepted the physical support that Kinch gently offered, with Le Beau by his side, and made his way out among the ranks.
Klink came striding out of his office across the compound as Schultz was counting in the usual hope that no one had decided to go astray on his shift. “Vierzehn, fünfzehn...Good to see you back, Colonel Hogan,” Schultz mumbled as he finished his count. He thought for a second, then added hopefully, “You are planning to stay this time?”
Hogan couldn’t help but let a slight smile pass over his lips. “Maybe, Schultz. If I don’t you’ll be the first to know.”
“Please, Colonel Hogan, do not make jokes like that—”
“Repooort!” came the call from Klink. Coming to stand before the men, Klink noted Hogan’s wobbly stance and adjusted his monocle.
“Herr Kommandant, all prisoners present and accounted for!” Schultz informed him. “Including Colonel Hogan,” he added in a softer voice.
“Schultz, I can see that,” Klink said, short-tempered. He approached Hogan, who had pulled himself away from his supporters upon Klink’s arrival at the barracks. “Colonel Hogan, can you please come see me after roll call?” he asked.
Hogan raised an eyebrow at the request. Normally he was ordered about, not politely asked. “I’m sure I can manage, Kommandant,” he answered.
“I am not so sure,” Klink responded as Hogan swayed slightly. Le Beau reached over and pushed Hogan straight up again. Hogan closed his eyes to steady himself then resumed his solemn stare at Klink. “Come when you are able, Colonel Hogan. Disssss-missed.” Klink turned and walked away from the men.
“Come, mon Colonel, you need to rest,” said Le Beau as the men broke up, trying to guide Hogan back into the barracks.
Hogan resisted. “I have to go see Klink. We have to set him up for tonight.”
“Later, mon Colonel. Please,” persisted Le Beau.
“No, no it’s gotta be now. We’ve got to get Klink to think I’m on my last legs, and desperate.”
That won’t be hard, thought Newkirk. “Why don’t you let me come with you, sir?” he suggested. “That way ol’ Klink’ll see we’re getting desperate, too.” And I can stop you from falling on your face.
“Okay—but don’t overplay him,” warned Hogan. “He’s been doing just fine so far.”
Newkirk bowed low. “I shall be ever at your disposal, sir.”
Hogan shook his head, his mood just momentarily lightened, and broke from the group. Newkirk quickly came up beside him. “Thanks, Peter,” Hogan said, as they crossed the camp.
“What for, sir?” Newkirk asked, bewildered.
“For keeping an eye on me.”
Once inside, Hogan sent Newkirk in ahead of him, while he waited at Helga’s empty desk, trying to summon up enough energy to give a good performance. Klink looked up from his paperwork questioningly at the Corporal. “Sir, may I have a word, please?”
“I was expecting Colonel Hogan,” Klink said brusquely. “Any requests from the prisoners are to be channeled through your senior officer.”
“Sir, we couldn’t put this through him,” Newkirk persisted. He leaned in conspiratorially. “Frankly, Kommandant, I don’t think the Colonel’s able to handle anything at the moment.” Klink frowned. Newkirk continued, “Sir, the men are asking for you to intervene. Major Hochstetter is doing terrible things to the Colonel, sir. He comes back to the barracks a mere shell of a man. It’s driving him mad—you saw what he did the other night, sir. Tried to escape from an escape-proof prison camp! Colonel Hogan never does stupid things like that, sir.”
Klink considered for a moment. “Corporal, your intentions are commendable, but where the Gestapo is concerned I have no authority. If they feel they have grounds to arrest Colonel Hogan then I have no choice but to allow him to be taken from Stalag 13.”
“I understand that, sir—but we’re worried about his state of mind, sir. We’re afraid he might try to escape again. And that could lead to him gettin’ shot, sir.”
“I think Colonel Hogan has learned his lesson about escapes,” Klink said.
“Oh, no, sir—he’s been saying over and over again this morning that he has to get away before Hochstetter comes back for him—that he couldn’t take another interrogation, sir. Colonel Klink, we’re afraid he’ll attempt it again soon.”
“Really, Corporal, I don’t see how—”
“We’ll do our best to stop him ourselves, Kommandant. I understand your hands are tied.” Newkirk straightened. “We care about the Colonel, sir. It bothers us to see him like this.”
Klink nodded. “Don’t do anything you will regret, Corporal. It is not your responsibility to look after Colonel Hogan.”
“No, sir—it’s our privilege.”
Klink was given pause. How lucky a man you are, Hogan. “Just watch your own step, Corporal. One man being sent to Gestapo Headquarters is more than enough. Dismissed.”
“Yes, sir.” Newkirk saluted and went back to the outer office, where he found Hogan resting his head on his arms at the desk. “Colonel ’Ogan, sir.” Hogan stirred and raised his head. Newkirk tried to ignore the bruises that made the drawn face look so much older and weak. “I’ve warmed ’im up for you, sir.”
Hogan nodded and slowly got to his feet. “Nothing better on a cold morning than a warm Kommandant,” Hogan quipped. But his unsteadiness betrayed his joviality, and he found himself suddenly leaning on Newkirk. “Sorry,” he said, embarrassed.
“Sir, why don’t you come back and see old Bald Eagle later on? I’ve already gotten him used to the idea of you wanting to get out of here bad enough to try another escape.”
As Hogan was about to respond, the door to Klink’s office opened. “Colonel Hogan. Corporal, what is going on here?”
“I ran into the Colonel on the way out of your office, sir,” Newkirk said quickly. “He was on his way to see you, sir. But I don’t think he’s quite fit to—”
“Newkirk,” warned Hogan, irritated with his own weakness.
“No, Hogan, your man is right. You need to be seen to. See that Colonel Hogan gets back to his quarters,” Klink ordered Newkirk, “then get the medic to review him at once and report to me.”
“He won’t have anything to look at,” Hogan said, changing tack. “If I have my way, Kommandant, there won’t be any barbed wire around me soon—”
“No, Colonel Hogan,” Newkirk protested, playing along. “We’ve told you, it’s insane to try an escape! The Kommandant’s got you figured already; you’ll never make it!”
“I can’t wait for Hochstetter to take me again!” Hogan said, leaning more obviously on Newkirk for effect. “I can’t take any more of his torture! It’d be a blessing to get shot trying to escape; at least that way I’d know it’s over!”
“’E’s talking madness, Kommandant. He doesn’t mean any of it!” Newkirk said. “I’ll get ’im back to the barracks, sir. We’ll make sure he’s kept safe…even if we have to get shot with ’im.” Hogan slumped heavily beside him. “It’s okay, Colonel,” soothed Newkirk. “We’ll keep you safe. I promise.”
Hogan turned beaten eyes toward Klink. “Please,” he moaned. “Please don’t let him take me again. I can stay if you promise me he won’t come for me again.”
Klink watched the scene before him with astonishment. Here was his senior POW, a man whom he had rarely seen falter, begging him for protection. A heaviness settled on his chest, and he could barely get his response out of his mouth. “I—I cannot make that promise, Colonel Hogan. Go back to your barracks and get some rest.” He nodded to Newkirk to take Hogan out, and turned back into his office, overwhelmed.
Hogan continued to use Newkirk for support as they headed back to Barracks Two. Newkirk wasn’t sure if it was for show or if it was really needed, but he said nothing about it. “Good,” Hogan said. “I think he’s got the idea now. A little more dramatic than I would have chosen, but it certainly got the point across.”
“You were brilliant, gov’nor,” Newkirk said. “You almost had me convinced.”
“Learn from the master,” Hogan joked, then stopped suddenly as a sharp pain unexpectedly hit him.
Hogan shook his head in response and clutched his side, then pulled away from Newkirk. “I’m fine,” he said shakily, continuing to head for his quarters.
“Yes, sir,” Newkirk replied. “Still, I’d better get Wilson, or Klink will get suspicious.” He made sure Hogan got back into the barracks, and aimed for Wilson’s quarters.
Not long afterwards, Wilson and Hogan were closed in Hogan’s room again, leaving his men outside to fret. When Wilson emerged quietly, he said simply, “He’ll sleep for awhile.” The men plied him for information that he refused to give. “He’s not well. His injuries aren’t life threatening, but the Gestapo is obviously torturing him. I gave him some morphine; he’ll be out to it for a few hours.” Heading to the door he said, “Make sure he knows I’m happy to give him more relief…. He seems reluctant to take it. I practically had to force this bit into him.”
“He wants to be alert for tonight’s work,” Kinch mumbled, almost to himself.
“Let’s just keep him sane for today first. Let tonight take care of itself.” Wilson imparted instructions about Hogan’s care to the men and headed to Klink’s office.
The four men gathered closely around the table. “We can’t let this continue,” Le Beau declared.
“No, we can’t,” Newkirk agreed. “He’s getting beat up whether he helps Hochstetter or not!”
“But what do we do? Colonel Hogan says we have to fail our escape attempt again tonight,” Carter reminded them.
“We will, Carter, we will,” Newkirk assured him. “Then it’s time for Plan B.”
“But we don’t have Plan B,” protested Le Beau.
“That’s never stopped us before, mate. And Colonel Hogan can’t afford for it to stop us now.”
Close But No Colonel
“No bells and whistles this time, fellas, just an ordinary escape attempt. Hochstetter seems to think we’ll find a way around the barbed wire without the help of a blackout.” Hogan was going through the night’s work with the men after evening roll call. He had woken only as sunset descended on the camp, annoyed at himself for being oblivious for that long, yet grateful for the respite it had provided. Though still infinitely sore, the rest had given him the stamina to carry on a bit longer. Just get through this; then you can collapse, he kept promising himself, almost like a mantra. “You know what to do.”
The men nodded solemnly. This mission was quickly reaching critical stage. Going outside the wire in full view of the guards went hand in hand with the possibility of being shot. Hogan surveyed his men carefully, looking for signs of hesitation or confusion. He found furrowed brows and obvious concern, but no indication that they would not follow through. “Let’s hope this does the trick. If it does, we’ll be free to get that bridge on our own tomorrow. If it doesn’t, I might just be tempted to take him up on his offer to get rid of it with him.”
“Do you think Klink will be ready for you, Colonel?” asked Kinch.
“After Newkirk’s award-winning performance today? I wouldn’t be surprised if Klink’s standing guard himself tonight.”
Newkirk grinned as the others applauded his work in the Kommandant’s office. “Thank you, gentlemen, thank you. I would like to thank my mother…” he began, only to be teased into jovial silence.
“If this goes off tonight, I’ll let you thank her personally,” Hogan promised, not sure himself if he was joking.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Hogan, Newkirk, and Carter squeezed through the same gap in the barbed wire fence that Hogan had been furnished with by Hochstetter. Though Klink had ordered the damaged fence repaired after Hogan’s first failed escape attempt, the fix had only been for show, and the original gap still existed. Crouching to keep out of the spotlight beams waving above them, the men started towards a quieter spot in the dense undergrowth where they could wait for the camp’s guard dogs to come find them.
A low voice and the sound of a gun’s safety catch being removed stopped them in their tracks as they began to settle in. “So you made it at last.”
A quick look made them realize they had been observed by Hochstetter, who was squatting nearby, gun at the ready. Even in the dim light, Newkirk was sure he saw a flash of fear in Hogan’s eyes, which disappeared as the senior POW spoke. “We got out, but it was a close one. These are the men who can help us.”
It took all of Newkirk’s willpower not to spit in Hochstetter’s face. Carter was uncharacteristically still, and just stared at Hogan. “The phony dynamite is hidden under the bridge. It is about a mile’s hike from here. My men are ordered to go there in forty-five minutes. We can get there and have the bridge wired with the false explosives by then,” Hochstetter said. “When we find you, we will present you to Klink. And his so-called perfect record will no longer exist.”
Suddenly the sirens started blaring at Stalag 13. The sound of dogs barking and men shouting reached their ears. “Come, we must hurry,” Hochstetter urged.
Hogan nodded to his men and they all started away from the underbrush. Carter suddenly stumbled and fell heavily to the ground. “Carter!” Hogan called in a loud whisper.
“Sorry, Colonel, I tripped!” Carter answered.
Hogan and Newkirk turned and came back to him. Hochstetter stood impatiently. “Hurry, hurry up!” he hissed, as the noises grew closer.
“Hang on, Major; we can’t leave him here,” Hogan protested. He leaned down to Carter, and whispered, “Keep it up; they’re nearly here.” Louder, he said, “Can you walk?”
“I don’t know, sir; I’ll try,”
Carter said. Newkirk hoisted him up by the arm, and Carter took a tentative
step. “That seems okay, sir—” Newkirk thumped him hard in the back. “—Oh—oh, I
mean, I can’t move very fast on it, sir,” he amended, slumping over.
“Anschlag! Prisoners, anschlag!” came the cry from somewhere close. They could hear the sound of leaves and branches being trampled underfoot, and dogs growling and panting not far off.
“Well it looks like we’re beaten again,” Hogan sighed, turning towards Hochstetter. “You’d better get out of here. If they find you with us they’ll be plenty suspicious.” Hochstetter glared at Hogan, who simply shrugged. “Look, I told you this was an impossible task. Klink’s got us under his thumb; I don’t know why you insist on thinking he’s some incompetent who can’t run a prison camp. Go on; get out. And give it up. We won’t say a thing.”
“I will come to get you out tomorrow, Hogan,” said Hochstetter. “We will find a way to finish this. One way or the other.” And he disappeared stealthily into the trees.
“I’m sure you will,” Hogan breathed, his voice shaking. He watched Hochstetter’s retreat, then shook himself back to work and turned to the others. “Good work,” he said.
“He’s not giving up, gov’nor,” Newkirk said.
“No,” Hogan said grimly. “It sounds like he’s not. But he’s given us something we can use. Carter, you okay?”
“Oh, gee, yes, sir,” Carter grinned. “I was just joshin’ ya.”
“Great, we’ve got two hams to deal with. Come on; let’s meet the dogs. We’ve got a new angle to take tonight, thanks to Hochstetter himself.”
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“So you think the fake stuff will still be out there, Colonel?” asked Kinch.
“I can’t see why he’d take it away. He says it’s hidden. If it’s fake he won’t lose anything by leaving it there. Since we’re going to have to continue this charade a little longer,” Hogan paused and took a deep breath, “it seems only fair that we use the real thing.” He nodded at Carter. “Carter, I want you and Kinch to sneak out later tonight. Go to that bridge and find what’s there. You’re going to have to make exact copies of the stuff... but loaded. I mean really loaded. Think you can handle it?”
“Gee, you betcha, boy—uh, Colonel,” Carter said, bobbing his head excitedly in agreement.
“You’ll have to wait awhile, though. There’s still too much excitement out there because of us. Speaking of which,” he swung his leg off the bench and pulled up his collar, “I’m due in the Kommandant’s office. Keep an eye out, just in case I end up in the cooler again. I’m going to try and keep him from sending you fellas there, too.” And he sauntered out of the barracks.
“Bloody Hochstetter’s coming back tomorrow, ’e says,” Newkirk remarked as Hogan left.
“So it didn’t work like the Colonel hoped,” Kinch said.
“Hardly,” Newkirk answered. “And I don’t mind tellin’ you that the gov’nor looked mighty worried, too.”
“So are we all, Newkirk,” Kinch agreed. “So are we all.”
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
What was becoming a pattern to this situation continued: A talk with Klink, followed by a hot shower, followed by a period of waiting for Hochstetter to return. Hogan sent Kinch and Carter out through the emergency exit when the excitement died down, and Carter returned full of ideas and diagrams. Babbling with enthusiasm, he headed down the ladder to his lab, promising to have “the best bombs in the world” in place by the same time tomorrow night.
Hochstetter’s arrival the next morning was unheralded. Le Beau saw the car drive into the compound and stop at Klink’s office. Hogan, who had been alone in his office at the time, came out quietly, already wearing his jacket and cap. “Make sure the stuff is there,” he said to Carter. Carter nodded, his mouth too dry to answer, his eyes full of worry. “Hold the fort till I come back,” Hogan said to them. “Then we’ll finish this once and for all.”
“Be careful, Colonel,” Kinch said. He couldn’t voice what he really wanted to say, the warning he wanted to give, the protest he wanted to launch.
“Oui, do not let Hochstetter get the best of you, Colonel,” Le Beau added, adjusting Hogan’s lapel, full of emotion he couldn’t express.
Newkirk simply looked at Hogan, his greatest fear showing on his face: that Hogan wouldn’t be coming back at all.
“Don’t be so worried,” Hogan said, forcing some lightheartedness into his voice. “I’ll be back tomorrow night, right?”
His remark was met with reluctant agreement. It didn’t help in the end that Hogan was wrong.
The End Of Plan A
“Mon Colonel has never been gone this long before,” Le Beau fretted when Hogan had not returned two days later.
“All we can do is wait,” Kinch said, not liking his answer any more than the others did. “The Colonel said to hang on till he comes back. We just don’t know when that is.”
“And in the meantime that filthy Bosche Hochstetter can do whatever he wants to Colonel Hogan.”
“We don’t even know for sure that’s where he is,” Newkirk put in. “If we did, we could spring ’im.”
“The Colonel said to wait,” Kinch insisted. “If we go in half-cocked, Hochstetter’s going to know the Colonel’s been playing him for a fool, and that might make it worse. All we can do now is make sure everything is ready when he comes back. Carter, are you sure those explosives are out and ready?”
“I sure am,” the Sergeant answered. “Louis and I brought them to the bridge night before last. I checked them last night; they haven’t been touched.”
“So Hochstetter hasn’t totally given up yet,” Kinch surmised. “That means he still needs Colonel Hogan.”
“And that at least means he’s still alive… somewhere,” Newkirk said.
“What does Klink have to say about it?” asked Carter.
“Not much,” said Kinch. “You saw him at roll call this morning, all edgy, wouldn’t tell us anything. Coffeepot’s not giving away any secrets. I don’t think Klink knows any more than we do…and Schultz keeps asking me, so I don’t think he knows anything either.”
“We’d better make an appearance outside, or the nice Germans will get suspicious,” Newkirk said, heading out. But his eyes stayed on the Colonel’s closed door. “Can’t afford to have that now, can we?” Where are you, Colonel? Why don’t you come home?
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Hogan finally arrived back at Stalag 13 three days later, this time dumped roughly outside Klink’s office from the back of a truck. The meeting went as he had expected: a few minutes of token discussion about the next escape attempt, followed by an extended session of exquisite agony. As before, Hochstetter had made sure to tell Hogan that it was all a necessary part of the deception of Klink, so no one would think there was any sort of collusion between the two. Also as before, Hogan had tried to control his temper as it started. But this time, Hochstetter had seemed to be determined to show Hogan who was in charge, and the battering was longer, and relentless, until Hogan was nearly driven wild with pain.
Klink had come out of his office when he was told of Hogan’s return, and quickly dismissed the Corporal who had accompanied the POW back to camp. Kneeling beside Hogan, who was convulsing in the dirt, Klink had called for Schultz to help the man get to his quarters, and to call for the medic to attend to him at once. Hogan staggered along, half carried, comprehending very little, his thinking unclear. Every part of his body hurt. Every ragged breath was an effort, every step a fresh cruelty. He had screamed shamelessly when a club cracked viciously against his kneecap and had nearly passed out from the pain. But that comfort was not to be his, and even now he was wishing for oblivion that refused to come.
“Wilson is coming,” is all Schultz managed, when he brought a nearly senseless Hogan back to the barracks and the angry men inside. He let Hogan’s closest companions take their commander from him and lead him to his quarters, and the guard disappeared to fetch the medical man.
Relieved at his return, but panicking at his condition, Hogan’s men stumbled over themselves trying to make him comfortable while they waited for Wilson. Le Beau offered quiet words of reassurance while Kinch took the damp cloth offered by Carter and gently ran it over Hogan’s drawn face and parched lips. Newkirk carefully removed Hogan’s shoes, drawing back when Hogan cried out at the unexpected movement of his swollen left leg. Hogan couldn’t seem to be still, his eyes scanning the room unfocused, his body arcing, unable to bear contact with the bed. He tried to form words that came out only as whimpers.
Wilson arrived minutes later, and once again took over. Disregarding past orders, he administered pain relief immediately, then began his examination as Hogan quickly fell into the drug’s embrace. He catalogued a host of indignities that the Colonel had suffered, including what appeared to be exposure, and a flogging, then pronounced Hogan’s kneecap unbroken, but severely bruised inside. “You’d better finish this mission up soon,” Wilson warned. “People aren’t made to take this kind of punishment on a regular basis.”
“We should have tried to get him out,” Le Beau lamented. “He must have thought we abandoned him.” He had turned away during the assessment, unable to stomach the images that came with it.
“We didn’t know, Louis,” comforted Newkirk, anger creeping into his distressed eyes. “Hochstetter’s never gone this far before. We had no way of knowing he’d do this.”
“We should have known. We should have known,” Le Beau repeated quietly. Newkirk exchanged glances with Kinch, who put his arm around Le Beau’s shoulders and led him out of the room.
Carter was standing shell-shocked near the doorway. “W—what do we do now, Newkirk?” he asked shakily.
“Pray,” Wilson answered for him. “And keep watch. I’m going to get a compress for that leg. And I’ll be back every couple of hours to make sure he’s staying under. He doesn’t need to be awake right now; he needs to be kept as far away from reality as possible until some real healing starts.” He very gently pulled a blanket over Hogan’s still body. “I’ll be back in a few minutes with some things I’m going to need. Someone stay with him.”
Only when Wilson had left did Carter seem able to move. He edged closer to Hogan’s bunk. “So what happens now, Newkirk? What do you think happened?”
“What do I think happened?” repeated Newkirk. “I think Hochstetter’s cheese finally slipped off its cracker and he took it out on the Colonel. ’E wasn’t after information from the gov’nor, at least not before now. It was just convenient to take out his frustrations on ’im. After all, who was gonna stop ’im?”
“Louis’s right,” Carter mumbled, despondent. “We should have tried to get the Colonel away from him.” He tried not to look at Hogan, but found he couldn’t help searching for a sign of guidance from the man, even though he knew it wouldn’t be coming soon.
“Andrew, we couldn’t. Kinch was right; the Colonel wanted us to stay out of it. He knew it was risky and he didn’t want to take any chances.”
Kinch came back into the room. “Klink’s coming.”
Newkirk didn’t leave Hogan’s room to greet the kommandant, even though Carter stood up and hesitantly moved away. Poor Carter, thought Newkirk. ’E’s like a lost lamb.
Klink was suddenly standing apprehensively in the doorway. “I saw Wilson leave,” he said without preamble.
“He’ll be back,” Newkirk replied coolly.
“How is the Colonel?”
“I think he’ll want a holiday when he recovers. Whenever that happens to be.”
“Major Hochstetter wants to be kept informed of his progress,” Klink said warily.
“Why?” Newkirk retorted. “So he can do it again? When are you going to stop this, Kommandant?” he demanded.
“I did not come here to discuss the powers of the Gestapo,” Klink said, suddenly defensive. “I came to check on Colonel Hogan.”
“Yeah, for the goons,” accused Newkirk.
“No; for myself,” Klink denied. “I am not as heartless as you think, Corporal. If it was within my power to stop this, I would.” He took a few steps in and studied Hogan’s pale face. “Bring an end to this, Hogan,” he whispered, not aware he was speaking aloud. “Tell him whatever it takes to stop this madness.” He turned to Newkirk. “Tell Sergeant Wilson that he has my authority to get whatever medical supplies he needs from the supply hut. He is excused from normal duties while he has Colonel Hogan under his care.”
“Yes, sir,” Newkirk said, surprised.
“And I presume you and Colonel Hogan’s other men will want to be with him as well; very well, you may, but I expect all but one of you to be showing up for every roll call, you understand? Someone will come to check on your whereabouts each time. There will be no escape attempts.”
“Sure, Kommandant.” Newkirk exchanged looks with Le Beau and Kinch, who had appeared in the doorway when Klink moved into the room. Now Klink turned and they parted to allow him through.
“I have a call out to General Burkhalter,” Klink said abruptly, addressing no one in particular. He looked like he was about to say more, but decided against it. “Keep me informed of any changes.” And he disappeared before Wilson returned to continue his work.
“I think we just got Plan B,” Newkirk mused. The others crowded in to listen.
Plans and Promises
Le Beau couldn’t count the number of times he had rubbed his eyes in the last four days. Every time he was tempted to succumb to sleep, he thought about the man beside him in the bunk, and told himself there was no way Colonel Hogan would be abandoned again. No matter what the others said to him, the Frenchman could not help but feel that this punishment could have been avoided, or at least mitigated, if the heroes had taken a more active approach when Hogan had not returned when they had expected.
They had all taken their turns sitting nearby, watching anxiously as Wilson made regular examinations of the Colonel and continued with painkillers and sedatives. When questioned he told them that Hogan was better off getting complete rest than being awake and trying to fight pain. He gently massaged a salve into the welts on Hogan’s upper body and moved the Colonel’s leg to check the effectiveness of the constant compresses he was using. Occasionally nodding solemnly, he told the men he was satisfied that Hogan was making progress, and would be allowed to return to his senses soon.
Klink continued making visits to the barracks as well, almost hesitantly entering Hogan’s room and searching his face for answers. Though he knew that Wilson was keeping him sedated, Klink could not help but expect—hope?—that Hogan would just sit up and fire some glib comment at him. His phone call to General Burkhalter had had unexpected results: even the General felt that constantly pulling Hogan out of Stalag 13 was causing unwarranted trouble at the camp and needed to be stopped. But he told Klink he was counting on the kommandant to handle the situation himself, and Klink did not feel confident in facing the Gestapo. Perhaps if I did, you wouldn’t look like this now, he told Hogan silently. The daily phone calls from Hochstetter didn’t help quiet his nerves either. He didn’t understand why the Major wanted to be constantly updated on Hogan’s progress. Perhaps Newkirk was right: maybe he was waiting to pull Hogan away from the camp again, to do more damage than he had already done. Would Klink have the courage to stop him if he did? He knew he had the support of Burkhalter, but he wasn’t sure he had the support of his own backbone. I will try, Colonel Hogan, he promised now, surprised at his own sincerity. I give you my word, I will try.
Kinch came into the room while Klink was lost in thought, with a damp cloth in his hands. “Excuse me, Kommandant, it’s time for me to look after the Colonel.”
Klink nodded and stepped aside. He watched Kinch move the cloth across Hogan’s face and touch it gingerly to his neck and arms. How gentle he is, thought Klink. Newkirk entered partway through the ritual and said something Klink couldn’t hear. Kinch nodded and moved the blanket away from Hogan’s left leg, removing the compress. Klink flinched involuntarily as the bruise underneath was revealed. Though most of the swelling had gone down, the violent color remained as an ugly reminder of Hogan’s most recent disagreement with Hochstetter. Newkirk took the compress and left the room, and Kinch resumed his caring task. “We’re waiting for you, Colonel,” Klink heard him whisper. “Take your time and heal.”
Newkirk came back in with another compress, which he placed with extraordinary tenderness on Hogan’s knee, hiding most of the bruise. Kinch replaced the blanket and stood up, then the two of them left without speaking. Klink could only ponder what he knew, and what he had seen. Then he, too, left Hogan alone.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“You must drink, Colonel Hogan,” insisted Wilson gently. Two days later, after a gradual release from the drugs the medic had kept him on, Hogan woke up. Groggy, confused, and still uncomfortable, it had been hard for him to grasp at first that he had been returned to the camp by the Gestapo and cared for here by his friends with the blessings of Klink. His eyes told them that a part of him was still back in Hammelburg, but when they questioned him gently he would not answer. Now, after maneuvering Hogan into a sitting position, Wilson was holding a glass to his lips, and trying to get him to take a swallow.
“Can’t take—” Hogan tried to protest.
“Yes, you can,” Wilson said, trying not to be too stern, but knowing that authority, not gentle coaxing, was what Hogan needed. “Come on now; one sip.” He pushed the cup onto Hogan’s dry lips and tipped it up. He guessed Hogan would open his mouth to avoid being drenched, and he was right. Sputtering as it went down, Hogan tried to curse. Wilson gave a small smile. “Well, you left me no choice,” he said. “How do you feel?”
“Don’t ask me that for a month.”
Wilson nodded. “The worst is over, Colonel. You’d have felt a lot worse in the last few days if you hadn’t been sedated.” Hogan grimaced at him. “I know you don’t like to be unaware, Colonel, but it was for your own good. And I’m going to keep administering morphine for a few days more.”
“I’m not arguing,” Hogan said wearily. “Where’s Kinch—and Carter and the others?”
“Just outside the door, Colonel. I know you have a lot to talk about, so I’ll make myself scarce. But I’m leaving them instructions. And I’ll be back in awhile.”
Hogan nodded acquiescence and said a prayer of gratitude for people like Wilson as the others piled into the room.
“How are ya, Colonel?” asked Carter, as they settled themselves in.
“I’m putting a ban on that question for awhile, Carter,” Hogan quipped. He wanted to smile but had a feeling that it wasn’t showing on his face. “Things didn’t go as I’d hoped the other day,” he said, any trace of humor gone. The men remained quiet. “You kept things in order?” he asked.
“Oh, oui, Colonel,” replied Le Beau, almost too enthusiastically.
“The explosives are in place under the bridge, Colonel. Just as you asked for,” Kinch added.
“They’re perfect, Colonel—you should see ’em. You’d never know they’re not the ones Hochstetter left. But you’ll know when they get set off, all right. We’ve put more firepower in those little sticks—”
“Carter,” Hogan said, trying not to be impatient. Carter faltered to a stop. “You’re giving me a headache.”
“Sorry, Colonel,” Carter said.
“They’re good, I take it?” Hogan said, his own fondness for Carter not allowing him to be curt with the over-exuberant Sergeant for long.
“Sure are, boy—uh, Colonel.”
“Then that’s good enough for me. I trust you.” Carter smiled. He knew he got carried away sometimes, and he appreciated Hogan’s acceptance of it, especially now.
“We’re going to have to get that bridge soon,” Hogan continued. “We should have done it sooner, but Hochstetter had other things on his agenda.” His eyes fixed on something the others couldn’t see. They waited while he watched whatever it was play out in his mind’s eye; then he brought his haunted gaze back to the present. “I’m afraid I haven’t been much of a help.”
“You’ve done more than your share, gov’nor,” Newkirk countered. The others nodded agreement. “After all, while ’e’s been paying attention to you, ’e’s been leaving ol’ Klink alone, ’asn’t ’e?”
“Small blessings,” Hogan muttered. “I’d hoped it would throw him off for good. I underestimated him.”
“Hochstetter’s been asking about you, Colonel,” Kinch said. “Klink says he calls every day—sometimes twice—to check on your condition.”
“I’m touched,” Hogan said, sarcasm lacing his voice.
“Do you think it’s because he wants to do this to you again, Colonel?” Le Beau asked.
“No, I think it’s because he still wants to get Klink—and us—by getting us out to that bridge.” Hogan stopped, reaching for information. Snatches of Hochstetter’s monologue came to him with the memories of the individual blows that accompanied them. Unconsciously he started to physically close in on himself, to shield himself from the attack. Saying nothing, his men watched with a mixture of pity and despair until Hogan brought himself back to the present. “He’s going to give me a code when he’s ready for us,” he said without emotion. “I guess he’s waiting to find out when I can acknowledge it. I’m tired,” he said abruptly, not wanting to talk any more. “Help me lie down, will you?” Kinch and Newkirk obliged, trying to ignore Hogan’s unsuccessful attempts to hide his discomfort. “Thanks,” he whispered, and almost immediately fell asleep.
Newkirk and Kinch looked at each other. “Time to put our plans in place,” Newkirk said. “We just have to wait for the word from Hochstetter.”
“Let’s hope it works,” Kinch said, looking at Hogan. “We’re running out of time.”
Back In Action
“Major Hochstetter has been most anxious to know when you are recovered, Colonel Hogan,” Klink said a few days later, when Hogan made his way to the Kommandant’s office, trying to resume his routine. Still limping, bandaged, bruised, and aching, Hogan wasn’t finding the rounds easy. But he was never one for simply lying back and letting others do the work, something he was keenly aware of doing recently. And he didn’t want Klink to think all would revert back to normal now that he had returned.
“Has he?” is all Hogan said now. “Lovely of him to show his concern.”
“Please, sit, Colonel Hogan,” Klink said, uncomfortable about Hogan wandering around the Stalag. “Are you sure Sergeant Wilson said you could be up in your condition?”
“Hey, I’m the senior POW, Kommandant. Anything Wilson says is merely a suggestion.” But he sat, carefully, and stretched out his sore leg, wincing. “Tell me, Kommandant, what have you been telling our friendly neighborhood torturer?”
“Merely that you were still under the care of the camp medic and unable to attend to your duties in the camp.” He did not tell Hogan that he had also been exaggerating Hogan’s condition, even when he was recovering, out of fear that the Gestapo officer would try to come back and take him again. It was all he could do, he thought. He could at least manage that without fear of reprisal.
“I’ve got a couple of things I’d like to tell him myself,” Hogan remarked wryly. “I was hoping you could bring me up to date, sir. Let me know what’s been happening around camp. I feel like I’ve missed a lot.” Like what you’re not telling the boys about your call to Burkhalter.
“You have missed nothing, Colonel Hogan,” Klink said, not wanting to continue this conversation. I will not tell you about the near riots the day you were returned. I have no doubt you will find out anyway.
“Any visits from our friend General Burkhalter?” asked Hogan.
“What makes you say that?”
“Well the boys say you called him when I came back. What was that all about?”
“He is my superior officer, Hogan. He needs to know what is happening in this prison camp,” Klink answered.
“And that’s all?” Hogan pressed.
“I don’t have to explain my actions to you, Hogan,” Klink said sharply. There was no way he was going to tell Hogan that Hochstetter’s apparent vendetta was scaring him, that he was afraid the Gestapo Major would go too far one day and destroy Hogan, that over the time Hogan had been a prisoner that Klink had come to consider him in some ways as a friend or confidant. He had to maintain his position as a superior man of a superior race: humane concern for the enemy did not count among his duties to the Fatherland; they merely counted among his duties to himself. And those feelings he could only do his best to suppress, while his orders were to suppress them. But all the same, no matter how much his job – and, he expected, his life – depended on his being able to do so, Klink could not help but harbor less than evil thoughts about the men under his watch, including this senior POW sitting before him. You supported the Fatherland, Wilhelm, he told himself now. But you have failed yourself.
Hogan nodded acknowledgement with raised eyebrows. “Understood, Kommandant.” Hogan stood and gingerly rubbed his left leg, and turned to leave.
Klink wanted Hogan to say something that would indicate that the “old Hogan” was back in camp. He was about to say something that he hoped would provoke the American when the phone rang. “Colonel Klink, Heil Hitler,” Klink greeted. Hogan stopped and watched as Klink’s expression changed to one of dread. “Yes, Major Hochstetter, Colonel Hogan is still recovering…. Well, Major, it would help if your interrogators weren’t so over-zealous about their work…. No, Hogan is not in any condition to be questioned again.” He glanced at Hogan, whose demeanor had changed at the mention of the Gestapo officer’s name. Was that anger Klink saw in his eyes? Or fear? “Yes, he is up and about, Major, but he should not be…. No, Major—well, yes, I can pass on a message to him…. Yes. Yes I have it. But Major—yes, yes, today. Heil Hitler.”
Klink turned to Hogan, who seemed visibly paler. “Major Hochstetter,” Klink explained needlessly.
Hogan nodded. “So I gathered,” he said quietly.
Klink paused. “He wanted to know if you could be questioned again soon.” Hogan gave a start. “I told him you weren’t well enough,” Klink added quickly. Hogan seemed to momentarily relax. “He asked me to tell you not to burn your bridges, Colonel. Perhaps that means he will be trying to make contact with you again soon.”
Hogan took a deep breath. “I’m sure he won’t give up,” he said, admitting it to himself and to Klink. His mind in a whirl, Hogan heard the real message Hochstetter had passed on through Klink. “I—I’m a bit tired, Kommandant. If you don’t mind, I’ll—head back to the barracks.”
“Not at all, Colonel Hogan,” said Klink, unable to miss the sudden disorientation the call triggered in Hogan. “Dismissed.” He returned Hogan’s distracted salute, and with concern watched him leave the office. I am trying to hold him off, Hogan. There is nothing else I can do.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“We’re on tomorrow night,” Hogan informed his men when he got back to the barracks.
“Are you sure, Colonel?” asked Le Beau.
“Hochstetter called while I was in Klink’s office. Once he found out I was on my feet, he told Klink to pass on a message to me—it was the code we… discussed, when I was in Hammelburg,” Hogan said.
“So what’s the plan, Colonel?” asked Kinch.
“Tomorrow night, 2300 hours, Carter, Newkirk—you and I will head out and get to that bridge and set the charges.” He stopped. “I’m giving you guys the chance to refuse this assignment. There’s no guarantee Hochstetter will keep his word. As a matter of fact, there’s a pretty good chance that he won’t. I’ve been banking on him taking the hint that Klink is just too good… but the longer this goes on the less confident I am that he cares about that. We just can’t take the chance that he’s really gunning for Klink. Whether or not he gets to the operation, this may simply be his way of getting to us. I won’t order you to walk into this. You can back out at any time along the way, and there won’t be any shame about it, understand?”
Hogan’s men looked at each other and at the floor and around the room. What Hogan said was what they had often thought to themselves when their fears had dared surface in the last couple of weeks: perhaps Hochstetter wasn’t really targeting Klink; perhaps he was after Hogan and the operation they were running under the camp. There was no way to tell, though, without being involved. Because this mission had been started by the enemy, they had no control, and worse, no trust in the person with the power to make or break them. They were flying blind, and completely at Hochstetter’s mercy. And not one of them trusted the Gestapo officer enough to surrender his reservations about the man. But keeping their doubts in place, someone had to take the risk. It had been Colonel Hogan who had done that, and the price he was paying was immeasurable. And now here he was, telling them they did not have to follow him down the same path. Telling them that he knew they did not have to be humiliated if they chose to stay out of the fray. Telling them in essence that he knew he himself was walking into a trap, and that he did not want them to meet the same fate.
Newkirk was the first to speak up. “I’m ready to do the job, sir,” he said, looking Hogan in the eye.
“And you can’t go without me, Colonel,” Carter added. “I’m the one who made up the explosives. You won’t know what to do unless I’m there.”
Hogan smiled and started a protest here. “You could always explain, Carter—”
No. No, sir,” he insisted. “They’re my charges, and I’m staying with ’em.”
“Okay, Carter, okay,” Hogan laughed, inwardly relieved. He didn’t want the men to risk this. But he equally didn’t want to face it alone. You’ve got the best of the best, Rob; don’t you ever forget it.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“Give us an hour’s head start,” Newkirk said to Kinch and Le Beau.
“We’ll be ready,” Kinch said. “Let’s just hope it works.”
“Something’s got to. I just can’t watch this happen any more.” Newkirk kept his eyes on Hogan’s door. The senior POW had not come out for most of the afternoon.
“What do you think will happen, Pierre?” asked Le Beau, worried.
“I don’t know, Louis. But we’ve got to end this tonight. The gov’nor’s had about all he can take.”
Hogan’s door remained closed, as it had for most of the next afternoon. A couple of unwelcome visits from Wilson since Hochstetter’s call yesterday had kept Hogan off his feet for awhile, and while the men hoped he was still convalescing in his quarters, they knew better. He’s putting everything in order, Kinch realized in amazement last night, just in case…. The thought chilled him, and made him more determined than ever to follow through on Plan B, and end this waking nightmare.
“You’re sure about this?” Hogan asked for what seemed to Newkirk to be the fourth time in the last half hour.
“Positive,” Newkirk said again, following Hogan out under the fence. Carter brought up the rear as the trio crouched near to the ground and made their way toward the hiding spot they had originally agreed on.
With a grunt of discomfort, Hogan pushed underbrush out of the way and stepped as quietly as possible into the darkness. Newkirk watched carefully; Hogan was still suffering from the aftereffects of his injuries, and occasionally stopped unexpectedly. Casually brushing aside any concern, Hogan remarked that he merely needed a moment to think. But the grimace, or the limp that hurt just to watch, told Newkirk otherwise. Escaping unarmed, and in their government-issue uniforms, was a strange experience. So used to traipsing in and out of the camp at will, armed, and in civilian clothes or in camouflage, the change from their usual routine had their nerves even more on edge than they had expected. Blimey, was this what I felt like when I first got shot down? wondered Newkirk, trying to shake the unease.
When they reached the secluded area, Newkirk made sure Hogan sat down. Claiming that Carter had the better eyes, Newkirk said that the American Sergeant would be the one to keep a look out for Hochstetter. Hogan didn’t argue—a telling sign to Newkirk—and resigned himself to waiting, stretching out his bad leg and wrapping his arms around his good one so he could use his right knee as a head rest.
Afraid to speak in case they were already being observed, Carter scanned their surroundings, looking for patrols, for Hochstetter, and for anything else that might catch them unawares. So far there was nothing but darkness and trees. Not an animal, not an insect, not a leaf falling. Normally he would have been thrilled with the silence; tonight, possibly because of the Colonel’s less than perfect health, it worried him. That doesn’t make sense, he told himself. But he trusted his instincts, and stayed on the alert.
“When’s Hochstetter due, Colonel?” whispered Newkirk in Hogan’s ear.
“Any minute,” Hogan answered from underneath his arms. Send them back, he told himself, whenever a clear thought allowed itself in. It’s bound to be a double cross. Order them back.
All was quiet for what seemed like an eternity. Then Hogan mumbled something and Newkirk strained to hear. “What was that, Colonel?” he asked.
“I said I don’t like this; you’d better take Carter and get out of here.” There, he’d said it.
“Hochstetter’s expecting all three of us,” Newkirk replied, warning bells starting to ring in him. Hogan was expecting trouble, and he was asking Newkirk and Carter to leave him to it. Well that wasn’t likely to happen!
“You can’t always get what you want,” Hogan answered. “Head back to camp. That’s an order.” And he lowered his head again.
“Someone’s coming!” came Carter’s loud whisper. Newkirk nearly smiled at the timing. There was no way they could leave Hogan now.
Hogan raised his head from his arms and looked toward where Carter was indicating. Sure enough, there was Hochstetter, this time flanked by two guards carrying rifles. Making no effort to maintain the quiet of the night, he tramped through the underbrush and stopped at Hogan’s feet. “There is little time,” he said.
Hogan looked up at him. “Glad you could make it,” he said. Pushing his hands against the ground, Hogan stood up.
“You didn’t have any trouble getting out, I presume?” asked Hochstetter.
“I wouldn’t miss our little rendezvous,” Hogan said. “Had to say thank you for the last week of agony.”
“I did what was necessary, Hogan.”
Hogan snorted. “Right.” He shook his head. “I might have to work with you, but I don’t have to like you, you bastard.”
Hochstetter shrugged impatiently. “That does not concern me.”
“I didn’t think it would.” He nodded toward Newkirk and Carter. “My men are ready. Tell us what to do.”
Hochstetter turned and pointed towards a small path. “We will go this way to the bridge. I have the dummy explosives there. We will wire them to the bridge and then my men and I will arrest you and take you back to Gestapo Headquarters. After a brief interrogation you will be released to the Allies.”
Hogan frowned. “Interrogation?” Carter and Newkirk looked at each other.
“Of course, Hogan. Just for show, you understand.”
“Oh, I understand far too well,” Hogan answered. What the hell have I gotten Carter and Newkirk into?
“You will get what we agreed upon, Hogan,” Hochstetter said, turning and walking away. The guards came up behind him and motioned for the men to follow.
I doubt that, Hogan thought. You never had any intention of getting us out. A body-racking chill suddenly hit him as he realized he was trapped, and he had trapped two of his best men with him. What have I done?
“C’mon,” muttered Newkirk, nudging Hogan into action.
At once both disoriented and stunned, Hogan could only move on. He looked from Newkirk to Carter and back. “I—I—” he faltered, unsure of what he was trying to say.
“Don’t worry, Colonel. You’ve got it all worked out. Plan B, remember?” Newkirk spoke softly, taking in Hogan’s uncertainty. He was hit with a wave of anger; this lack of confidence was all Hochstetter’s fault. That bastard had stolen a key part of Hogan’s personality, a part vital to the operation’s success. Who would believe the men could get away with the things they did unless Hogan was there cheering them on? How would they get away with this?
“I don’t have a Plan B,” Hogan hissed.
Newkirk went cold at Hogan’s obvious fear. “Sure you do, gov’nor: us,” he said, trying to sound confident.
“To be quite honest, I’d feel better if you were back at camp,” Hogan answered, concentrating more than necessary on the road ahead of them.
“I know, gov’nor,” Newkirk said. “But the men wouldn’t.”
Hogan’s eyes thanked Newkirk in the dimness. Then Hogan turned back to check that Carter was still following. “You okay?” he asked, falling into step with him.
“Sure, Colonel,” Carter answered. “Just thinking about the charges. You know if we wire it right—”
“Save it for the real thing,” Hogan said.
“Begging your pardon, Colonel, but you’re not looking real good,” Carter said.
Hogan paused. He knew he must look awful; over the course of the evening, the last dose of morphine that he had allowed Wilson to give him had worn off, and without it he was starting to be acutely aware of the fact that he had not completely recovered from the violent beatings he had received in Hammelburg. Still, the fact that one of his men had noticed niggled at him, since he knew it meant they were going to be focusing more on him than on the task at hand. And that, especially in this situation, could be a fatal distraction. “Looks can be deceiving,” he said simply.
“Well, yeah, some of the time. But y’know, Colonel, you’ve been doing an awful lot of walking tonight, and with your leg—”
“Carter,” Newkirk broke in, noticing Hogan’s slowing pace and dropping back to walk with them, “let’s try not to aggravate the nice men behind us with the rifles, eh?” He pushed the Sergeant ahead a bit and away from Hogan.
Carter glanced back at the guards, then ahead at Hochstetter, and they all walked the rest of the way in silence. When they reached the bridge, Hochstetter led them to an obscured area and revealed a cache of explosives equipment. “Here is what we will use,” he said. He gestured for Hogan, Newkirk, and Carter to reach in and take some of it. “If you get started right away we can be done in no time.”
Hogan picked up a stick of dynamite and looked at Hochstetter. “You’re going to have to help us out here; it’s not like we know what to do.”
Hochstetter looked disappointed. “Now, now, Hogan. You are grown men; surely you can put something together that will look presentable. Nevertheless…” He reached for some charges and some wires and started fiddling with them, clearly not familiar with the way to handle or set them.
Carter couldn’t help himself. “No, Major, you have to put the white one in the other direction. Otherwise you won’t get as good a—”
“Carter!” Hogan warned severely.
Carter realized his mistake instantly. “As—as good a—a creative effect. You know, in the moonlight,” he fumbled. “The white of the wires next to that would not have a nice aesthetic look—”
“Arts student in college,” Hogan explained, as Hochstetter eyed Carter suspiciously.
“He does the same thing in the barracks,” put in Newkirk. “Always trying to rearrange the dirt to make it look pleasing to the eye.”
“We’d better do it ourselves,” Hogan said. “He’s very temperamental about his art.”
“Just get to work,” Hochstetter growled, shoving the pieces he had been working on into Hogan’s hands. Hogan twisted some wires around a stick of dynamite with a flourish, and allowed Carter to frown and “tsk” and rearrange it so it would be more artistic—and, unbeknownst to Hochstetter, quite deadly.
Newkirk went directly to work on wiring the bridge, glancing at his watch and wondering how Kinch and Le Beau were making out on their end, and hoping they wouldn’t be far off.
“Move it, Schultz; move it!” Klink was shouting as he blustered his way out of his quarters.
“Ja wohl, Herr Kommandant,” Schultz replied, still only half awake and trying to open the door to the truck to let his superior officer step in.
“Never mind that,” Klink said, frustrated, as he waved the Sergeant’s salute away and pulled the door shut behind him. “Just get going!” He turned to Le Beau and Kinch, who were clambering into the back of the truck. “And no funny business from you,” he warned.
“No, Colonel,” Kinch said sincerely. “There’s nothing funny going on here.”
Le Beau added seriously, “Nothing amusing at all.”
“Let’s go, Schultz!” Klink urged again. And the truck burst to life and drove wildly out of Stalag 13.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“There, that should about do it,” Hogan said, turning to Newkirk and Carter. The trio had been working under the scrutiny of the Gestapo for more than thirty minutes, slowly wiring the bridge under Carter’s finally quiet command, trying hard to make it look like an amateur job, fumbling and dropping things and playing up their inexperience at such work. Newkirk was connecting the fuse to the detonator box, and walking it up and away from the bridge to a safe distance. “That looks pretty good if I do say so myself, Major,” Hogan told Hochstetter, wanting to get this over with. He was finding it harder to have patience with the little German as a headache started closing in and his only partially-healed wounds started throbbing for attention. “For an amateur job.”
“Ja, it will do nicely, Hogan.” Hochstetter smiled.
“Now what?” Hogan asked, as Newkirk and Carter came and flanked him.
Hochstetter turned to his guards and gestured for them to close in. “Now, Hogan, it is time for the next part of our agreement. You and your men will come with me to Gestapo Headquarters.”
“And then?” Hogan prompted, uncomfortable at the guards’ willingness to aim their rifles at his men’s chests. Newkirk and Carter shifted uneasily.
“And then…we’ll see.”
Newkirk spoke up boldly. “Hey, the gov’nor says you promised us we could get out if we did what you asked for. You were going to let us free, send us back to London.”
“Did I?” Hochstetter said, looking as though he were straining to remember.
“You gave me your word as a gentleman,” Hogan reminded him sardonically. “Somehow I remember saying that wasn’t going to comfort me in my hour of need.”
“Perhaps I did, Hogan. We shall have to see what transpires.”
“We had a deal, Hochstetter. I wire the bridge, you get Klink. I don’t like being double-crossed.”
“I did not double-cross you, Hogan. I simply lied to you.” Hochstetter spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness. “I am not after Klink—well, no more than I am after any man who is an incompetent fool. Tonight’s events will not remove Klink from his command. His record is too good, and you have been too poor at your work here tonight. Perhaps I have been wrong about you, Hogan. Perhaps you are not such a dangerous man. Just a stupid one, for thinking I would bargain with you. I may not be able to prove your prior sabotage activities… but I have witnesses to this one.”
Hogan glanced at Newkirk and Carter. Neither looked like he was prepared for this development, even though they had all played this scenario out in their minds over and over again. He wondered if he had the same stunned, frightened, confused look on his face. “But the dynamite and the charges—they’re all fake, aren’t they?”
“Of course. But as an escaped prisoner, you would not have had any way of knowing that, and therefore you would have wired this bridge with the belief that it was real, and therefore with the intention of blowing it up. A spy, a saboteur…you can be shot. I am
sure that the trial would be short.”
“And fixed.” Hogan felt a bead of sweat run down his back.
Hochstetter shook his head and made disappointed clucking noises. “Now Hogan, all Gestapo trials are fair ones. We just happen to know when someone is guilty, that’s all.” His small smile disappeared. “Now let’s go,” he said, waving them toward the path they came in on.
“Oh, hang on,” said Carter suddenly. Hogan looked at him. “Well if we’re gonna be accused of doing something, shouldn’t we make sure it looks right?” he said in explanation. “I’d like to have a last look at my final artwork,” he said to Hochstetter.
Hogan raised his eyes to the sky, but nodded to Carter. That’s right, kid; let’s go out in a blaze of glory. Check that everything is ready to go.
“Yeah,” Newkirk put in quickly. “Yeah—um—it’s the least you can do for us, Major.” Stall for time. Stall for time. Where the hell are they?
“Maybe you’d even let us press the plunger down,” Hogan added. “You know, just as a symbolic thing. If you’re going to get us for sabotage it should at least look like we were going to really try it.” Okay, Hogan, so there’s a Plan B after all. How far can I push this?
“I do not have time for such nonsense—” Hochstetter began. Then he stopped, a line of questioning entering his head. Did you try to trigger the dynamite? Ja wohl… if they somehow encountered an official who wanted actual evidence, Hogan could not deny his involvement. Hochstetter liked the drama of this possibility, and acquiesced. “On second thought, Hogan, you may do that. It will be a most interesting sight to see.”
You can say that again, Hogan said to himself. “Gentlemen, shall we do this together?” he asked Newkirk and Carter. They smiled bravely. But they’re scared to death, Hogan thought. And I can’t blame them. Hogan stopped as they headed up to the box. “Oh—Major—why don’t you stand next to the bridge?” Newkirk and Carter looked at him in surprise. “There’s a clear view of what we’re doing from there, and you can have absolute proof then that we were trying to blow it sky high.” This might be our way out!
Newkirk grinned in appreciation of Hogan’s devious mind. “That’s a lovely idea, sir,” he said. “With a guard on either side of him.”
“No tricks, Hogan,” warned Hochstetter.
“Oh no, no tricks,” Hogan said with exaggerated sincerity. “Not like yours.”
Hochstetter growled again, but moved closer to the bridge to inspect the work himself. The guards split, one keeping a close eye on the prisoners, the other following Hochstetter down the hill to the base of the bridge. Hogan and his men headed up to the detonator box. “Nice touch, Newkirk,” Hogan whispered. “Couldn’t have done it better myself.”
“That’s high praise, sir,” Newkirk replied with a smile.
“Let’s make it look good.” He looked toward where Hochstetter was standing. “You ready?” he called.
“Yes, yes, go on, go on,” Hochstetter said dismissively, turning away from them and studying something on the bridge.
Hogan and his men exchanged glances. “Carter?” Hogan said, indicating the plunger. “It seems only fair that you do the honors.”
Carter smiled and moved in closer to the box. But he stopped when the roar of a speeding truck reached their ears. They turned to see the vehicle screeching to a halt near the path, and Hochstetter marched up to it, the guards following him.
Klink came flying out of the truck and barreled towards them. “Stop! Stop this right now!” he ordered, as the others disembarked. Schultz struggled to keep up with Klink, as Le Beau and Kinch followed them. “Major Hochstetter—”
“Colonel Klink, I have just captured three men who have escaped from your prison camp. They were here trying to sabotage this bridge.” Hochstetter gestured to the structure behind him. “To make sure we had proper evidence we have been observing them all evening. We caught them red handed. They are spies.”
Klink turned to look at Hogan, who with Carter and Newkirk had started coming down toward the new arrivals. “Hogan, is this true?”
“He forced us to wire the bridge, Kommandant—’e’s plain barmy!” exclaimed Newkirk.
“Yeah, he’s the one who got the dynamite and stuff!” Carter accused.
“That’s right, Kommandant,” Hogan said.
“He made the Colonel leave the camp, Kommandant,” Newkirk said. “If he didn’t, Hochstetter was going to kill ’im! ’E even helped us escape!”
“Major Hochstetter, I must ask you to relinquish these prisoners to my authority,” Klink said. Was it Hogan’s imagination, or did Klink’s voice sound a bit shaky? “I will question them when we get back to camp on my own.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Klink, these men must come with me back to Hammelburg tonight! Hogan fell straight into my trap!”
“With explosives that you supplied,” Hogan reminded him.
“BAH! It is all phony—none of it is real! I arranged it so that we could expose you for what you really are—saboteurs working right under Klink’s nose! There are no explosives! Look!”
Hochstetter rushed over, grabbed the detonator box and pressed down on the plunger. Hogan grabbed Carter and Newkirk by the collars and threw them to the ground away from the blast. The ensuing explosion sent twisted debris and dirt arcing through the reddened sky, showering down on the shaking earth and the men. Stunned, Hochstetter could only watch as the remainder of the bridge was engulfed in flames and collapsed into the water below. Klink, Schultz, and the other guards struggled to maintain their footing, while Hogan and his men covered their heads with their arms.
“That cannot be!” Hochstetter cried. “The explosives were not real!” He turned toward Hogan, his eyes full of fire. “You! You are responsible for this! You switched the dynamite!”
“I fail to see how three prisoners of war could have managed to get hold of such things,” Klink said. “Face it, Major: you said yourself you have been with these men all night. It is you who are responsible for this, not Hogan and his men.”
Hogan stood up and looked at Hochstetter with amusement and feigned surprise. “Try explaining that to the Fuhrer,” he quipped over the din, brushing himself off.
Hochstetter’s eyes took on a wild look. With a loud, animal-like cry, he flew at Hogan, striking out and reaching for the younger man’s throat. Surprised by the attack, Hogan crashed to the ground, struggling against him. He’s finally snapped! Hogan thought, realizing that Hochstetter had nothing to lose now by killing him outright.
Rolling on the hard earth, Hogan tried with what strength he could muster to prize Hochstetter’s hands from around his neck. But the smaller man’s grip was like steel, desperate and unyielding, and Hogan did not have his usual vigor to begin with, thanks to his prior encounters with the man. Guards froze Hogan’s men in place as they scrambled to help him. But all movement stopped when a pistol cocked loudly nearby.
“You will stop, Hochstetter.” Hogan saw the barrel of the weapon shining in the moonlight, held steadily against Hochstetter’s temple, and followed it up an arm to its owner—Klink. “This man is an escaped prisoner, and under my control. It is quite clear what you were forcing him to do. Let go of him, and get up. Now.”
Hogan was astonished at Klink’s boldness. Never had he heard the kommandant’s voice so sure and in command. Hochstetter stared at Klink, then turned to Hogan, the hatred in his eyes slicing through Hogan like a knife. Then, screaming incoherently, he briefly tightened his grip on Hogan’s throat, making Hogan gasp, and started violently and repeatedly slamming his victim’s head against the ground. Hogan could not fight him, a ferocious explosion pounding in his skull, the world swimming crazily before his eyes.
Klink drew his hand back, overwhelmed and unable to think of how to stop this tirade. Newkirk and Carter broke away and roughly pulled Hochstetter off of Hogan, shoving him toward Kinch and Le Beau, who grabbed his arms. As the noises dimmed around him and darkness overtook him, Hogan remembered thinking that someone was probably going to have to carry him back to camp.
He was right.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
“Hogan, you should have told me what Hochstetter was trying to do to you. I could have done something about it right away,” Klink declared.
Two days later Hogan was sitting in Klink’s office, going through the events of the previous weeks. He was still unclear on the sequence of events that brought him back to Stalag 13 after the confrontation at the bridge, but the men had explained their plans to him, which at least put some of it in perspective. Klink had arrived with Schultz and two of Hogan’s men at that critical moment because Le Beau and Kinch had told him what was going on. Not in great detail, but enough for him to believe that Hogan’s life—and indeed Klink’s own livelihood as Kommandant of Stalag 13—were at stake. So Newkirk wasn’t just trying to boost my morale when he said that the men were my Plan B, Hogan thought. That made my alternate plan to blow up Hochstetter with the bridge more like Plan C! We don’t usually have that many options.
“I couldn’t do that,” Hogan replied. “Who were you going to believe—an Allied prisoner of war, or a German?”
“That much is true,” conceded Klink. “But knowing how I feel about Hochstetter, you might have been able to trust me, Hogan.”
“And that’s another reason I couldn’t risk telling you. You’re not on friendly terms with the Gestapo. One wrong move from you and they could remove you—permanently. Then poof—there goes your command.”
“You were worried about my command?” Klink asked, surprised.
Well, sure. If you go, my men may be subject to a new Kommandant who’s not so fussy about whether he follows the tenets of the Geneva Convention. You may be the toughest Kommandant at the tightest POW camp in all of Germany, but at least you’re fair.”
“You are correct again, Hogan,” nodded Klink. “Still, you have your men to thank for your rescue. If Sergeant Kinchloe and the Corporal Le Beau had not come to me when they did, you might have been at Gestapo Headquarters yet again. And from the way Major Hochstetter was acting you might not have been as fortunate as you had been in the past.”
“I had made them swear not to tell,” Hogan said, which, after all, was the truth. Funny how I’m telling Klink more and more of the truth this time around. If only he knew…. “I’ve got an awful lot to thank them for,” he acknowledged. “More than you’ll ever know. And I should thank you, too, sir. You really put it all on the line for me, and I really do appreciate it.” I really do.
“All part of the job, Colonel Hogan,” responded Klink. But he was practically preening with delight. “You might like to know that Hochstetter is being reprimanded for his actions at the bridge the other night,” Klink informed him, with a trace of triumph in his voice. “And there is going to be an investigation into how he seems to have provided you with live explosives instead of the blanks that he claims to have supplied.” Klink stopped and narrowed his eyes. “That’s something that bothers me, though, Hogan,” he said.
“What’s that, sir?” asked Hogan innocently.
“If Hochstetter told you that the explosives were not real, why when he pressed the detonator did you and your men try to protect yourselves from the impact?”
Hogan shrugged. “Well, sir, we knew Hochstetter couldn’t be trusted. If he was after you, why wouldn’t he be after us? And what better way than to sacrifice one little bridge to make his point? It had to be a possibility, sir. I couldn’t take any chances with the lives of my men.”
Klink nodded, accepting the offering. “Well, Hogan, you’re stuck with me now. Ah, you may be sorry one day for trying to protect me,” he said good-humoredly. “You might have gotten someone totally incompetent, someone who would run Stalag 13 like a hotel, where you could get out at will. No, Hogan, no one would ever run the camp like I can.”
Hogan nodded and smiled. With a parting salute, he said, “Kommandant, I wouldn’t want anyone else to even try.”
Text and original characters copyright 2003 by Linda Groundwater
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.