As their slightly off-key but very enthusiastic rendition of "Cherokee" came to a rousing finish, one of the widows in the Hofbrau shattered. The men all waited with bated breath to see if their plan had worked. The Third Panzer Division had to be stopped. The avalanche had to be started!
Just as Schultz came in to yell at them for making all the noise, they all heard it…an ominous rumbling in the distance, growing louder by the moment…Schultz spun on his heel, and ran for the door.
The next few minutes were a confusion of angry shouts outside, and the rumbling of the avalanche up in the Hofenstein Pass. The men chained to the wall were quietly jubilant, knowing they would definitely be spending time in the cooler, if they were not shot by an angry General Stromberger first. But this is what they did. This is what it was all about. And so they exchanged smiles, knowing that they had succeeded in cutting off the tank division. Success was indeed sweet.
They resumed their positions on the stage in front of the piano and waited to see what would happen next. To their surprise, it was not Klink or Stromberger who entered the room, but Schultz. He looked at them with what could only be termed a pained schoolmaster's expression.
"Boys, your monkey business has gone too far this time," he said sternly. "I know what you were trying to do with your music, and you did it. And now you are all in trouble…" he sighed, "and so am I."
His face was so crestfallen; the men looked at him in concern.
Newkirk piped up, "What's wrong, Schultzie?"
"General Stromberger is holding me responsible for your little stunt." The big guard looked as if he were about to cry. "He says I am to be transferred to the Russian Front effective immediately."
Hogan held up his hand amid the protests from his men. He shook his head. "Don't worry, Schultz. We won't let it happen." He eyed Carter meaningfully, and the young Sergeant grinned. A certain General would be paying Klink a visit in the very near future. Hogan looked back at Schultz and smiled. "I guarantee it."
Schultz looked baffled, but only for a moment, and then smiled. When Colonel Hogan made a promise, Shultz knew he always kept his word. "Thank you, Colonel. Thank you, boys."
Schultz then remembered his reason for coming over. "I have other news. Your little stunt also had another effect. It caused a secondary avalanche, which buried the snowplows and our way back to the camp, so you will be sleeping here tonight. I am to guard you. The General will not allow me to remove your chains, but I may remove the lock from the wall, once the blankets arrive and it is time to eat, but not until then." The men groaned and protested this last statement. Schultz lifted his hand.
"Boys, please! I know it is unfair, but I can do nothing. His guards are outside. If they come inside, and see I have disobeyed and you are free, they have orders to shoot all of us."
They are bringing a blanket for each of you. I am allowed to requisition food and drink from the Hofbrau to feed you tonight. Tomorrow, you will shovel the snow away from one of the snowplows so that we can get back to camp." He turned and looked Newkirk straight in the eye, and his expression was as serious as they had ever seen it. "Pieter, I know you have ways of picking the locks on those cuffs with you. I trust you not do it."
Newkirk's green eyes widened at Shultz's quiet statement. There it was. Trust. And Schultz had proved it by his use of Newkirk's given name. He smiled slightly at the older man. "I won't Schultzie. On me honor."
Schultz nodded and then went and sat quietly in a chair at the table they had used to brainstorm their plans earlier. The men talked quietly amongst themselves, realizing it was going to be a very long, uncomfortable night.
Perhaps an hour later, a guard silently appeared with a stack of blankets. He dropped them on the table in front of Schultz and, sneering at the prisoners, left just as silently as he had come.
Schultz stood then and went to the lock on the wall and unlocked it. He looked at the men sitting on the floor. Oh, how he wished he dared go ahead and unlock the cuffs, but he knew better. He would do nothing to endanger the men he had come to love like sons. If only that General had elected to go back to his division before the avalanche! He knew Kommandant Klink would never allow his prisoners to be treated this way. If only… He let out a frustrated sigh and began to hand out the blankets. Of course they had not included one for him. He had not expected it. He also realized that any food he took for himself would come out of his own pay. Again, expected.
He moved the blankets to another table and then turned to the men. "Why don't you gather yourselves around the table? It will be a bit awkward, but I will help you with the chairs."
After so long a time seated on the cold floor, it was difficult, but the men helped each other up, and in much the same way they had gotten behind the bandstand, they hobbled over to the table and Schultz helped them take their seats. Because of the leg irons, they had to sit close together, and therefore, very close to the table. It was cramped, but the men made it work, since they had no choice.
Fortunately, Stromburger had made no strictures on what they were allowed to eat, nor had he made any regulation regarding a fire, so Schultz first lit a fire in the fireplace of the dining area, and then went to see what he could find in the stores of the kitchen. It irked Louis that he could not get into the kitchen to cook the meal, so to stave off his grumbling; Newkirk produced a pack of cards and dealt out a hand of poker.
In an amazingly short time, Schultz was back, beaming. "Boys, you are not going to believe what I found!"
Hogan looked at him, "Don't keep us in suspense, Schultz, what is it?"
"The guards are eating their meal over at the hotel. I just saw them leave. We are going to eat like kings, tonight! Apparently, the Hofbrau was planning a meal for someone important, and I think we are important, yes?"
Newkirk was studying this new Schultz and liking what he saw. "Course, Schultzie, so what is it, mate?"
"Nein. You must wait a few minutes!" He grinned again and left.
And in about ten minutes, they smelled the unmistakable aroma of…steak?!
They looked at each other in stunned amazement. Sure enough, a few minutes later, a beaming Schultz set a platter of steak, scrambled eggs, and white toast down in front of the men. He went back and got a plate of real butter and jam, a pitcher of cold milk, and a large pot of coffee.
He sat down at the other table and watched in amusement as the men dug into the feast with gusto, until they realized that Schultz was not eating the same as they were. In front of him, he had a plate of what looked like a few sausages, a serving of eggs, and some coffee. As one man, they stopped eating and looked to their commander.
Hogan glanced over at the blankets, took a quick count and guessed immediately what had happened. In a low voice, he asked Newkirk and LeBeau, who were next to each other by virtue of being on the two ends of their little "chain gang"; "Fellas, you mind sharing? They're making Schultz fend for himself." Both quickly agreed, and Newkirk dumped his food onto LeBeau's plate.
He immediately took some of his food and added it back onto the empty plate. He put it in the middle and said quietly, "Ante up, boys," and grinned.
LeBeau added his share with an equally quiet but dark comment, "Dirty Boche general."
Carter gave over a generous portion, and muttered, "Boy, some people are really rotten."
Baker smiled as he added some as well, "Wait'll they find out how long it's gonna take to get them out of here tomorrow." They all grinned at that quiet comment.
Hogan added to the now heaping plate, and then Carter poured a glass of milk. LeBeau picked up a thick slice of white bread and generously buttered it and slathered it with jam. He then balanced it on top of the loaded plate.
Hogan smiled at them. "Thanks, fellas." They all looked at him and shrugged. After a moment, they went back to hungrily attacking their food. Hogan nodded and smiled as he turned to their guard.
"Schultz, here. It's a rule that the cook has to eat his own cooking. You should know that by now." Without another word, he placed the food in front of the guard and quickly went back to his own plate.
Astonished and touched, Schultz turned to the men. "Boys, you did not have to do that, but thank you. It means so much to me that you—"
Newkirk, talking with his mouth full, as usual, burst out, "'ere, Schultzie, don't make a fuss. Yer a growin' boy ain't ya?" After a swallow of milk, he gave a cheeky grin, looking for all the world like a growing boy himself, especially when he wiped off his milk mustache with the back of his hand.
After dinner, they all trooped clumsily and noisily into the kitchen, insisting on giving Schultz a hand in cleaning up the kitchen. This turned into quite a fiasco, what with the shackles getting very much in the way. Naturally, they wound up in more than one water fight and Schultz finally shooed them back out to the dining room.
As they sat around the table waiting for Schultz to finish up, Newkirk produced his ever-present pack of cards, and they began another round of poker, this time with toothpicks that Carter had found in the kitchen for stakes. By the time Schultz came back in to check on them, they were engrossed in watching Newkirk and Baker battling it out for a fairly large pot. When Baker finally won the battle, (having finally realized that he had to out-cheat Newkirk to do it) he ended up with a large pile of toothpicks and a saucy grin for the Englishman. For his part, Newkirk frowned slightly. He immediately began going back over the game mentally, trying to figure out how Baker had managed to best him.
Schultz was irritated at his superior's treatment of the prisoners and was also very grateful for their kindness to him at dinner, so he decided to return the favor. He had quickly figured out that it was unlikely that the guards were going to do more than stick their heads in once in a while, and they didn't seem to care what they did, as long as the shackles remained in place. Given those facts, he had rooted around in the store room until he found what he wanted. He knew just the thing to keep warm on a cold night such as this: schnapps! He liberated several bottles from the storeroom and brought them to the table. He went back and brought a tray of glasses, much to the happy approval of the men.
Over the course of the next couple of hours, they all got pleasantly buzzed and then a bit more than buzzed, and the banter and joking descended to the level of a bunch of frat boys. Carter's ears were so red at this point that the others couldn't help laughing, although he was giving back as good as he got. He was not nearly the innocent he seemed to be, as they quickly discovered. He just wasn't the type to kiss and tell.
Suddenly, perhaps to get the spotlight off his love life, Carter came up with an idea. "Since we're all stuck here, how about we tell our deepest, silliest secrets…you know, like the silliest or craziest thing that ever happened to us, that we would never tell anybody else…but nobody here can tell on anybody else." His eyes crossed slightly as he ran out of breath and grinned.
The others all stared at him for a moment, considering. Schulz, from his chair at the other table, said, "May I play, too?" and pulled his chair closer.
That seemed to decide it, and Newkirk answered him. "Sure mate, o' course!"
Hogan spoke up then, "So who goes first?"
Surprisingly, LeBeau said, "I will. My secret is so embarrassing; there is nothing anyone can say that will be worse, so I can enjoy your stories once mine is out."
Newkirk blinked at him in surprise, "No, little mate, nothing could be that bad!"
LeBeau poured himself another healthy shot of schnapps, and nodded solemnly. "Oui, mon ami. Just wait. You know that I love ma mere, oui?" The others all nodded as he continued. Of course Louis loved his mother. He continued. "Well, I will never do anything to hurt her, but sometimes I wonder what she was thinking…I have many sisters, and only one older brother. I am the youngest of my family, you see." Here his voice trailed off, and he took the time for another shot of the schnapps. "Anyway…mon pere gave me my first name, and ma mere gave me my middle name—"
Hogan waved his glass of schnapps. "I didn't even know you had a middle name, Louis. There's not even a middle initial listed on any of your records."
Louis eyed him for a moment. "I know this, mon colonel, and I will tell you why. My middle initial is J. But it is what it stands for that is the reason I do not use it." He sighed. "I must have all of you solemnly swear that you will never reveal what I am about to tell you." He turned particularly to Carter, who was not known for being particularly discrete. "Otherwise…" and he made a slashing motion across his throat which would have been much more menacing had he not toppled himself off balance and into Newkirk when he did it. Newkirk shoved him upright impatiently.
"Leave off, mate! We won't tell! What is it?"
Almost whispering, he mumbled, "Joan d'Arc."
Hogan blinked, not sure he had heard correctly. "Come again?"
LeBeau huffed, "Joan d'Arc!"
Predictably, Peter reacted first, with a roar of laughter. "You was named for a bird! An 'istorical bird, to be sure, but a bird!"
LeBeau flared at him, "She was a great French heroine!"
Newkirk grinned. "Granted, mate. But she was still a bird."
"Oui, she was, as you say, a 'bird.' And that is why I never use my middle name."
Baker said, "Well, why don't you just change it to something close, like 'Jean,' or—"
Louis's eyes grew big. "Non! I could not dishonor my mother or my family that way! That is the name she chose for me; that is the name I will keep."
Carter smiled. "Well, Louis, you know what my real name is, and most people would think it's way sillier than yours, so you got nothing to worry about. Besides, Louis Joan d'Arc LeBeau has a kinda ring to it." The others snickered a bit.
Hogan thought about and had to admit he agreed with Carter. "Yeah, 'Little Deer that Runs Swift and Sure through Forest,' I can only think of one other worse name."
Carter looked at his commander with keen interest. "What's that, sir?"
Hogan grinned. "Your cousin, 'Angry Rabbit with Thorn in Cottontail.' " This time everyone shared a laugh.
LeBeau turned to Newkirk, who had given up on the glass in front of him and was contentedly taking some pretty healthy pulls at the schnapps bottle in front of him.
Louis looked at his friend. "Pierre, I have told my story…It is your turn."
Newkirk grinned at the Frenchman. "Sure you wanna hear it?"
LeBeau looked slightly unsure for a moment, and then smiled…why not!
"Only kiddin' mate. Actually, this tale doesn't involve a bird. When I was about eleven, me and some o' me mates was hangin' about and we got to talkin' about the toffs up on the west end of London and how we could maybe 'ave us a payday at their expense. There was some big doin's goin' on by the palace, and so we knew there would be lots of fat, untended wallets to be 'ad.
"Now when I say palace, I do mean Buckingham Palace, cos the one thing there's lots of in London is palaces or places that might as well be palaces to an eleven year old from Stepney. But this was the real thing. We jumped on the back of a couple cabs headed to the festivities and jumped off a couple blocks back. Crikey, such a crowd! We was pure salivatin' we was!
"We'da had our payday and been right gone if me mate Jacky hadn't got one of 'is bright Ideas just then. 'e was allus getting' the bright Ideas that got the rest of us in trouble, but 'e was 15 and a lot bigger than all the rest of us. I was one of the smaller of the boys, but I was also fast and agile, and even then I was a right good lockpick and pickpocket.
"So Jacky says to me, 'Peter, me mate, I dare ye to get into the Palace grounds and back out without getting' caught.'
"Well. I says to 'im…'Wot's the boodle then? Wot do I get if I do it?'
"'I give you my set o' lock picks. If you don't make it all the way out the gates, you give me your pencil sharpener.'
"Now Jacky had the sweetest set o' picks I ever seen. Better than any I had for sure. An' I had no intention o' givin' up me knife. So I tells 'im, 'Yer on mate!'
"One good thing about all the crowds is that it's pretty easy for skinny little kids to scoot between people. I made my way to where there were carriages full of toffs goin' in an' out through the gates. Me mates watched me do it as I cased a couple, and realized the one place they wasn't lookin' was underneath the carriages. So, I wandered behind one of 'em, an' hied meself under the carriage and hung on, huggin' the underside.
"It was a bumpy ride once those damned horses got goin'. Worse, it was a lot longer trip than I counted on. Didn't look all that far from where the crowds look through the fences, but believe me, I fair fell off more than once before we got there. Then I had to wait for the toffs to get out and go on their way before we started back out again. I got lucky, because the driver headed right back out the gates again on the other side of the drive. Otherwise I'd have been sunk. As it was, I knew I couldn't hang on for long. We was headed up the street, and I let go and tried to roll into the gutter, but one of the bloody horses stepped on me arm! Crushed the damned thing! There was so much noise, the driver kept going, never even knew wot 'appened." He flexed his left hand and fingers absently. "Jacky and the rest of me mates took off, cos they didn't want to face the beak." Peter saw Carter's confusion. "The judge, Andrew. I got hauled off to 'ospital, but I also 'ad a couple toff's wallets on me, so after they cast me arm, they tossed me in jail for two months."
Carter was shocked. "They put an eleven year old in jail?"
Newkirk shrugged. "Yeah. But it was only for two months. An' it wasn't like I was in with 'ardened criminals, mate. I survived." He looked uncomfortable, and Hogan sensed it, so he asked a question.
"So, did you look up Jacky later?"
Newkirk gave a wolfish grin. "You bet I did!"
Carter peered at him slightly owlishly. He had been making steady progress on his schnapps as well. "So what happened?"
Peter twisted slightly in his seat and grinned again, jostling LeBeau as he turned. "Sorry, mate." He reached into a specially made pocket inside his flight jacket. He pulled out a small leather pouch and spread it out on the table. He glanced over at Schultz. "You don't see this, right mate?"
Schultz smiled at him. "See what, Pieter? I see NOO—THING!" The men all laughed, as Schulz toasted them with his schnapps.
Hogan laughed, "Right now, I would definitely believe him!"
"Look 'ere mates," Newkirk was pointing to something crookedly etched into the leather of the pouch. It was scuffed but still readable, 'J-A-C-K-Y.' He opened the pouch and showed them the full set of picks, which he cared for as if they were made of pure gold. To him, they were.
Hogan whistled. "That is a really nice set. I'll bet he didn't give it up easily."
Again the wolfish grin appeared. "Nay, 'e didn't. But the beatin' I gave 'im for desertin' me convinced 'im 'e shouldn't welsh on me, either. We sort of drifted apart after that. I think 'e thought I was a threat to 'is leadership somehow. Probably a good thing, as I heard 'e got 'imself hung a few years later."
That was when Hogan realized sadly, Newkirk doesn't have a funny story to tell, because his life hasn't been much fun. So he told a story of when he got the best of someone…typical Peter Newkirk.
Baker took another drink of his schnapps and spoke up. "Well, guess I'll go next. My most embarrassing thing resulted in a beating too…but I was the one that got beat! That is, me and my cousin did." His grin when he said this showed that he felt that whatever they had done was apparently worth it.
"You gotta remember I'm a city boy born and raised. This one time we went down to visit my momma's family down south. They live in the bayou country. It was a lot of fun, and I got a lot of cousins. We played all over the place. They got these long flat boats that we would float all over the swamps. We'd play on the islands and fish and catch crawfish. It was incredible! I never wanted to go home.
My sister, on the other hand, hated it, because they made her stay close by the house, and she had to play with my girl cousins. They were mostly younger than us, and so Peggy felt pretty much like they were treating her like a little kid. She was also kind of a tomboy, which my grandmother and my aunts didn't approve at all, so they set about trying to turn her into a little lady. I always thought that was weird for women who lived by a swamp, but it didn't matter to me, as long as they left me alone.
So anyway, me and my cousin decided we felt sorry for Peggy being all cooped up, and we wanted to do something nice for her, so we put our heads together and came up with the idea of getting her a pet. Problem was, we didn't have any money, so we knew we would have to catch one for her, so we did. We went down to the swamp, and—"
Suddenly the memory overwhelmed him and he started laughing. The others urged him on.
Baker finally resumed his story. "We caught a baby alligator and brought it back and gave it to my sister! She loved it and wanted to keep it. She even named it."
The guys all laughed at that. Schultz asked, "What did the kinder name her new pet?"
Baker giggled. "She named it "Rosie," because she was convinced it was a girl. She wrapped Rosie up in a pink doll blanket and put a little bonnet on her even!"
The men were nearly in hysterics at the mental images this conjured up.
Baker continued, "Everything would have been fine if only she hadn't taken Rosie into the house to show her off to the rest of the family. My aunts went crazy, and Rosie panicked. She got loose and me and my cousin got called in to try to catch her. Unfortunately, she wound up biting one of the girl cousins before we could. It wasn't much of a bite, and she was okay, but that was all it took for the whole place to go nuts.
"I managed to catch Rosie before my uncle did, which was good, 'cause he would have strangled all of us at this point. We took off back down to the swamp and let her go. Peggy was crying and yelling the whole time, because she didn't want to lose her pet. It was pretty crazy for a while. When we got back, me and Ray got a trip to the woodshed out of the deal."
Baker was nearly breathless from laughter and telling his ridiculous story.
Schultz was grinning from ear to ear. He told the men, "I have a story from I was a boy. I, too, was naughty. It involved a schlange."
Baker raised an eyebrow. "A snake? What did you do, Schultz?"
The older man chuckled at the memory. "I often used to go and play at my Großvater's toy factory. Oh, it was heaven to a young boy!" He sighed a bit regretfully. "You see, I had caught a harmless snake earlier in the day. I took it in a shoebox with me when I went to visit my Vater in the factory. I originally was only going to show it to him and then let it go on my way home. But, my Vater and Großvater were both very busy that day in meetings, so they were not able to see me at all. I was disappointed, of course, but it was not the first time. So, I decided to take the snake home, and put it in my Vater's workshop until I could show it to him."
Hogan nodded. "That sounds like it was a good plan."
Schultz nodded. "Ja, it would have been, but being a bit mischievous, I got a better idea. You see, my Großvater had hired some women of the town to work assembling toys, and—"
Newkirk and Carter both burst out laughing at the same time. Newkirk recovered first. "Blimey, mate, don't tell me you let that snake go down on the assembly floor?! And you didn't think your grandfather would find out?"
Schultz's slightly drunken, totally beatific smile sent them all practically into hysterics again, especially when he shrugged innocently.
"Alright, I won't tell you that I let the snake go…but it did somehow manage to find its way onto the floor of the assembly room. And the chaos was wunderbar! Until my Großvater caught me. Then, not so good. For what I did, I was banned from the factory for a whole month! And my Vater did not punish me further; because he knew what my Großvater did was enough. I never did anything like that again." His face took on a sad smile. "Perhaps someday my own enkelkinder will pull tricks on me when the war is over and the factory is mine once again."
Carter grinned widely. "Of course, Schultzie. You'll be a wonderful grandfather!"
Schultz beamed at the young sergeant. "Thank you, Carter. You are a good boy."
"Gee, Schultz, thanks."
LeBeau looked over at Carter. "What about you, Andre'? What is the silliest or most embarrassing thing you have ever done?"
Carter tipped his head, appearing to be deep in thought. "You mean besides all the stuff here in camp?" This made everyone laugh again, especially Hogan. He had a very good idea that his youngest team member was nowhere near as inept as he liked to appear.
"Yes, Carter, besides all that. Anything from when you were a teenager? You don't talk too much about that time, other than blowing up your high school."
Carter took another healthy pull at the schnapps and suddenly grinned. "Well, there was this time I scalped a tourist. Does that count?"
They all blinked at him in surprise, and LeBeau turned slightly green. "Mon ami, you didn't!"
From the wicked grin now spread across the demolition expert's face, none of them were exactly sure.
Newkirk appraised his best friend for a moment. "I'm assumin' ya don't mean ya took 'im for 'is money, right, Andrew?"
If possible, the grin only got wider. Andrew took a deep breath and launched into his story.
"I've told you that I grew up on a reservation in North Dakota, right?"
All the men nodded.
"Well, actually, it wasn't the reservation I was born on. My family was from South Dakota, from the Pine Ridge Reservation, but we had family at the Standing Rock Reservation, and so we moved up there when I was a baby. The nearest town was Bullfrog, and that was where I always said I was from. It wasn't because I was ashamed or anything. It was just because that was where all of us kids said we were from. I mean who wouldn't wanna say they were from a town named after a frog, right? Besides, once they sent us to the Mission School, we weren't allowed to talk about the reservation anyway. But that's not the story I wanted to tell. I was home from school one summer when I was about thirteen.
"There were always tourists and college students coming around the reservation wanting to either gawk at us, or study us. It got pretty tiresome, let me tell you. Especially when I would be sitting around with my cousins, just playing cards or dice. We all had our pahaskas, our long braids, but mine of course, were light blond, and theirs were pitch black. So then these people would start with their questions. Usually, I would only answer in Lakota, trying to get them off my back. The researchers usually weren't so bad, but the tourists drove me nuts.
"One day this group of them showed up and they were so rude! They kept looking down their noses at everything and finally, my cousin got mad and told them they should just go home, because we didn't need their kind in our village. The woman turned around and called him a dirty savage. How he managed not to hit her I don't know, but he didn't. He just sat there, staring at her.
They walked off and went to a café in town and that's when I came up with my plan. My cousins left for lunch and I went home to get the stuff I needed. I packed a sandwich to keep my mom happy and took off for where the tourist bus was parked. I let the air out of one of the tires so they'd have to stick around, and then went and set up my little show.
I dribbled a little blood (actually thinned paint) on the dirt from where my cousins and I had been off to behind some scrub brush. Just a little, so it looked like a dripping wound, see. I also scuffed my feet along it to make it look like I was having a hard time dragging something…" Here came his grin again. "And the thing I dragged was my best pal, Davy Running Horse along next to me!" Davy was a great guy, and would do anything I asked him to do…" A haunted look crossed his face for a moment, and was gone as quickly as it appeared. "He was shorter than me and nearly as skinny. We got into all kinds of trouble together.
"Anyway, behind the scrub, I set out the stuff I had brought: an old wig I had found someplace, some more paint, my hunting knife…you get the idea. Davy stayed to watch the stuff while I went back to the house to change. I got into an old set of buckskins; the ones I used for climbing and common wear during powwows. I then put on what the wasichu tourists would consider "war paint," even though I felt stupid. I went out the back way, because I didn't want anyone seeing me like that. When I came back into the scrub, I thought Davy would die laughing and I had to kick him to get him to shut up. I didn't want anyone to hear us.
"When I had everything all set and ready, I sent Davy to look for the tourists. He had seen them bothering us so he knew who they were. He told me later that he found them, and acted all panicked when he did. Of course, with a group like that, not all of them are going to be together at the same time, and that's what we were counting on. And Davy should really have been an actor. He had gotten us out of more than one scrape with his abilities. He convinced the trio of tourists that his friend had gone berserk and done something crazy and he needed help right away.
"They came running toward the scrub, Davy falling behind and reversing direction unnoticed. The three crowded around me. I spouted off some things in Lakota as they stared at me in horror. I switched to English. 'Your friend violated sacred Lakota burial grounds. He was punished in the traditional way, as you see. Now go far away from here, and never return.' And I held up my "bloody" knife and shook it at them."
Newkirk stared at him, his eyes wide. "Cor, Andrew, you didn't!"
Carter grinned happily, "Oh yes, I did!"
Hogan chuckled. "So, what happened?"
Andrew shrugged, "Well, they ran off screaming like little girls, the driver fixed the flat, and that particular bunch of tourists never came back for some reason." His expression of mock confusion was priceless.
Baker asked, "Did anyone ever find out what you did?"
Carter grinned sheepishly. "Yeah. I didn't know it, but my grandfather was hunting that day, and was up on the ridge behind us the whole time. He saw everything."
Hogan was curious. "He didn't put a stop to it?"
Carter's grin broke out like sunshine. "Nope! He hated the tourists as much as we did! He thought it was hilarious! He told me it was a good thing he had his walking stick with him to support him, because he laughed so hard, he nearly fell off the mountain."
Another round of laughter filled the room and Carter looked over at Colonel Hogan. "I guess that makes it your turn, sir!"
Hogan groaned. He really did not want to do this. But a deal was a deal, although nothing any of the men had shared so far was anything even close to as embarrassing as what he had to share. Damn!
"Well, you know I was born in Cleveland, right?"
All the men agreed.
"We didn't live there very long at all after I was born. I was only about six months old when my dad got stationed out in Connecticut and we ended up moving to Bridgeport. So we picked up and moved. My older brother and sister weren't happy, I guess because they really liked Cleveland, and had made lots of friends. It was one of the duty stations that my father had been at the longest, so they had actually put down a few roots.
"Anyway, they found the house I grew up in, and everyone settled in. My mom was lonely at first because my father was gone a lot. She started getting to know some of the neighbors, and going to church functions, and socials, and school functions and pretty soon things were better for her.
And then came the fateful day when one of her friends told her about a contest she had entered her baby daughter into. It was a—"
Here he paused, really not wanting to talk about what his mother had done to him all those years ago. Her innocent actions had haunted him to this day, and probably would for the rest of his life.
He thought back to the last time he had been home. He had come to the door, eager to show his mother his Colonel's Eagles, fresh on his uniform, and tell his parents all about his new posting as the Commander of the 504th Bomber Group. He wanted to talk to his father about the inevitability of American involvement in the war. And what had his mother's first words been?
'Oh, Robbie, darling, we've missed you so! Come here, just look what we've done in the entry hall…isn't it just beautiful?! I have always been so proud of this photograph. I had that nice Kramer boy down the street paint it as an oil painting as a surprise for you! Isn't it stunning?!'
Hogan sighed. Stunning was not the word. He had nearly choked when he saw the portrait right there in the entry hall, the very first thing anyone would see who entered the Hogan household…
"Colonel, you alright, then?" Newkirk's voice startled him out of his reverie.
"What? Oh, sure. Just woolgathering, I guess." He sighed heavily. "The contest was a—a 'Beautiful Baby Contest.' My mother entered a photograph of me—naked on a bearskin rug—and I won. My mother had a neighbor paint a giant oil portrait of the photo, and she hung it in the entrance hall of the house. She shows it off to everyone who comes to visit. So for the rest of my life, I'm gonna be known as Hogan, the guy who won the baby contest…not Hogan the war hero or even Hogan the grown up adult!" There was a round of laughter at that.
Newkirk grinned cheekily at him, "Yeah, and naked, at that!"
The look Hogan shot him could have melted steel. "Thanks a bunch."
Newkirk laughed. "Anytime, guv, anytime!"
Schultz noted regretfully that all three bottles were now empty "You boys should try to get some sleep. Why don't you go over and lay down by the fireplace? It is warmer over there. I will help you."
With much clattering of chains and scraping of chairs, they managed to make their way over by the fireplace. Rolling up in the blankets was an awkward business with their ankles chained together, but they managed to at least cover themselves enough to keep from freezing. Schultz stoked the fire once more, which helped a great deal.
LeBeau, even though he was on one end was probably the most comfortable. Being smaller, he was able to cover himself with more of the blanket, and having only one leg chained, it was a bit easier for him to turn onto his side and cuddle into Carter in order to keep a bit warmer. Carter didn't mind this arrangement at all. He was quite thin, and though he was used to cold weather, the inadequate clothing and food in the camp made it hard for him to retain much body heat. Hogan and Baker were definitely not comfortable, but the body heat from the others did help them a bit. They all tried to move together as closely as they could manage. Newkirk was on the far side of Baker, and was definitely the most uncomfortable. He had always been the one who felt the cold the worst. He and LeBeau had been prisoners at Stalag 13 about two years longer than the others. During that time, before the Americans had come on the scene, Newkirk had spent much of his time fighting for survival and venting his anger. Consequently, he had also done a great deal of time in the cooler. This had not helped his health or his disposition any, and accounted for his suspicious nature and distrust of officers in general. Now, as he tried to find a comfortable position as he lay on his side, he was startled when a gentle hand reached out and pulled him close. Baker's blanket found its way over both of them.
"Go to sleep Peter, I gotcha." And with that, Baker smiled and shut his eyes, and the teammates finally fell asleep in front of the dancing firelight.
Hogan glanced around at his sleeping men, and then over to where Schultz sat in a chair next to the fire. The big guard caught his eye and smiled at him, saying nothing, but there was a world of understanding in his eyes. The war had made them enemies. Their humanity had given them respect. And the evening had made them friends. Tomorrow could wait…for tonight, the war was far away. The two men nodded slowly, as if each thinking the same thoughts.
"Gute Nacht, Hans."
"Good Night, Robert."
LeBeau, Carter, Hogan, Baker, Newkirk
LeBeau- Middle Name Joan d' Arc. Never changed it because he didn't want to break his mother's heart.
Newkirk-Snuck into the grounds of Buckingham Palace and back out without getting caught…won a bet but did have consequences… broke his arm when he rolled off into the gutter.
Baker-He and his cousin caught a baby alligator and took it home for a pet. It bit his cousin.
Schultz- As a boy, he pulled a prank in his grandfather's factory by letting a snake loose in the assembly room.
Carter- Convinced some annoying tourists he had scalped one…"punished" by his grandfather
Hogan- Mom entered him into a Beautiful Baby Contest…and he won. Still shows off portrait.