I'm getting too old for this.

Colonel Robert Hogan had this thought for not the first time as he stumbled wearily to his bunk at LuftStalag 13, where he was technically a Prisoner of War. He had just returned to the camp - not something POWs are prone to do if they have their druthers-after a close call on the outside. It had been a solo mission for the Underground, something he didn't often enjoy, and he had been surprised by a German patrol and nearly captured. Someone knew about his mission, and he was being hunted. In his fearful flight, and without a companion to supply a second set of eyes, he had stumbled into a rabbit hole, bumped his head, and badly injured his right ankle. The three miles back to camp had been long after that, and weakening.

He waved away the alarmed looks of his men when he returned shortly before dawn and aimed straight for his room, where he could have time for more peaceful solitude. Hogan sighed as he sank onto the mattress. He grimaced as he lifted his injured foot up on the bed. He considered removing his boot. His ankle was badly swollen; he could feel his skin pressing uncomfortably against the leather, and a steady, hot throb rolled up to his knee from the site. A very slight tug sent fireworks racing to his equally throbbing head. Suddenly his exhaustion took over and instead of continuing he lay back and closed his eyes. Yep. Way too old.

"'Ey, hey, hey!" he suddenly yelped. A white hot blast of pain shot up Hogan's leg, rudely jolting him into awareness. Instinctively he pulled his injured limb up and away from the bed. He opened his eyes to see Corporal Louis LeBeau looking woefully at him and quickly withdrawing his hands. Hogan was surprised he hadn't heard the Frenchman enter the room. How long had he been out?

"Sorry, mon Colonel. We were worried about you. You look unwell-and that bruise on your temple. We wanted to take make you comfortable and let you sleep until roll call."

"Thanks," returned Hogan, struggling up. "But if I take that boot off I won't get it back on. It's either sprained or broken, and I have to go back out tonight so I'll need both shoes-only polite to dress for dinner." Part two of his mission. At least tonight he could take someone with him.

"But, Colonel, you will need treatment."

"Later, LeBeau. How long till roll call?"

"Thirty minutes, Colonel."

"I'll be there." He waited. LeBeau didn't move away. "Yes, Louis?"

"We are pleased you are back, Colonel. Are you going to tell us what happened?"

"Maybe later. Right now I'd better make myself pretty for the Krauts."

Hogan shuffled LeBeau out of the room and for a moment pondered the men under his command. It wasn't easy working with the Resistance, getting orders from the unseen in London to go on life-threatening missions to sabotage German war plans. But he was given a good team of people, some of whom had become close companions, more like friends than subordinates. He appreciated their care and concern. But it was his job to be strong for them, and he couldn't stop now. He stood up, testing his injured ankle. It protested so strongly that Hogan nearly blacked out. But he reached out for the bed and managed to sit out the wave of nausea and dizziness that overcame him. Trying a new tact, he stood again and painfully hobbled to the small mirror to survey this bruise LeBeau had mentioned. Hm, yellow and brown, never a good combination. Hogan tousled his dark hair a bit to cover it. It would do. The camp commandant, Colonel Wilhelm Klink, would buy any explanation Hogan gave him.

But his men wouldn't. Time to face the music, Robert old man, he thought. He carefully changed his wet clothes, managing to antagonize his battered body only twice. Both times he cursed under his breath, once gasping at a sudden reminder from his ankle that everything hadn't gone to plan last night, and finding a couple of new sore spots he hadn't had the displeasure to discover before now. He pulled on his bomber jacket and grabbed his cap, and, groaning at every slow and agonizing step, he tried to paste a nonchalant smile on his face as he opened his door to face his compatriots. "What's the word from London?" he asked the four worried faces. Succeeding at covering his pain, he tried to saunter to the table where Sergeant Andrew Carter and Corporal Peter Newkirk were playing cards. The two looked at each other-even they could see that the ghost-like pallor and stream of perspiration on their commanding officer's face were telling a different story from his tone of voice.

"Part one successful, Colonel," put in Sergeant James Kinchloe. Hogan was grateful for his radioman's understanding. While the others might instantly ply him with questions, Kinch wouldn't. He knew Hogan would explain when ready. When he was stronger. When he could make sense of it himself.

"Good, so the list I brought to Hansel and Gretel got to the Wicked Witch," Hogan confirmed. At least something went right last night, he thought. That list of operatives who needed to be protected had to get to the right people-members of the Underground, masquerading as German military officers, getting closer and closer to the upper echelon of this whole war, ready to sabotage any moves against the Allies. Tonight Hogan and Newkirk would go back to Hansel and Gretel and get details on an ammunitions shipment that they needed to intercept, and follow through on the job.


He looked over at LeBeau. His mind had drifted away. "Someone has infiltrated-there is a list. The meeting was tonight! Find the spies-now!" The voices echoed in his head. He could hear the German officers running, the dog barking, the gunshots. A close call, one that could have jeopardized the whole operation he was running-and cost him his life. Thank God his contacts were safe. He wasn't sure now, though, whether it was safe to take Newkirk tonight. He would consider that later. Right now, he found himself feeling light headed, and moved towards a chair. "More to do tonight," he said to Newkirk, nearly falling into a seat, instead of casually settling in, as he had hoped. "You up for the games?"

"Well I am, gov'nor." The Englishman tried not to say what he wanted to say.

"Good. So am I," answered Hogan, responding to the unasked question. "Things got a little hairy last night," he finally said. "Unexpected patrols. Nice bright moon. I didn't look where I was going and landed in a hole. I'm okay, all right?" He looked at his men, who seemed unconvinced. "Just need to have a nap after roll call." Silence. "All right?" he repeated.

The others mumbled reluctant agreement, and moved out when they heard the shout for roll call in the camp. Hogan followed at a slower pace, starting to feel woozy. His ankle sent constant knife-jabs up his leg. He wanted to ignore it, but he couldn't. He was hot despite the chill in the air, and wondered if a fever was setting in. Ignore it. You can deal with it after tonight. The outside light assaulted his eyes and drove more knives into his skull. Got to think clearly. Shake it off. Shaking was probably the last thing he should have done. The whole world seemed to shake after that, people and nature swirling before him, moving closer, moving away. Swaying slightly, he found himself suddenly supported by Newkirk, who had hung back from the others. "Thanks, I can do it now," he said.

"Sure, Colonel," agreed Newkirk. But he didn't leave Hogan's side. Quietly, Hogan was grateful, and took the opportunity to lean heavily on the Corporal until they were ready for the head count. Newkirk silently accepted his CO's stubbornness, and worried about his condition, especially in light of their mission tonight. Would he do more harm to himself by exposing himself to yet more danger before he was even looked at? What if it were a bad break? Infectious fever, even gangrene panicked the RAF member's mind. But a sideways glance at his pale superior officer reminded him that if he mentioned his concerns, they would fall on deaf ears-there was a mission to accomplish. Period.

Meanwhile, the camp's fumbling Kommandant was waving his riding crop and carrying on about the condition of the camp in light of an anticipated visit from General Burkhalter. Hogan slowly pulled away from Newkirk and Klink worked his way around the men. "And you, Colonel Hogan, I would appreciate it if you would explain to your men that this is a prison camp, and they are expected to act like prisoners of war. General Burkhalter would be most pleased to see that sometimes the Allies actually know they are facing the end of their battles!"

Hogan straightened as Klink stopped in front of him. "Aw, gee, Kommandant, we like playing happy prisoners. Don't you want it to look like you're taking good care of us? Why just the other day, Le Beau was asking about putting some fresh flowers around the--"

"E-nough, Hogan," interrupted Klink. He secretly enjoyed Hogan, more than he should as a German Kommandant in a LuftStalag. But any General's visit was enough to send him into a tizzy, and today he didn't want Hogan to do anything but cooperate.

Hogan let out a sneeze. It was then that Klink took a good look at his senior POW. He was surprised to Hogan wincing, looking very pale, and not very well. He took in the looks of those closest to Hogan, and confirmed his feeling that something was wrong when he noticed the concern on their faces. "Hogan, are you ill?"

"Just a touch of the flu coming on, sir."

"You are pale as a ghost, Hogan."

"Trying to keep up with the fashions, Kommandant. White is the new black." Some men around Hogan snickered slightly.

Klink decided to let it all go. "See that you attend to yourself-light duties for you today, Hogan. Confine yourself to quarters if that helps you. It would certainly help me to have you not so ever-present when the General is here." He abruptly turned away and called "Diss-missed," over his shoulder as he headed back toward his office.

As the men disbursed, Hogan's friends crowded to him. Despite what he tried to show them they could tell he was not well and would not last long outside. And they knew that he was making light of what had happened last night, that there was more their superior officer was not saying. Hogan turned towards Barracks Two as though to push away all the solicitousness. "Colonel, you're going to have to consider sending someone else tonight-" started Kinch.

Hogan stopped short. Someone walked into him from behind they were all so close, and Hogan grimaced as his felt the impact in his sore body. But he recovered quickly enough to glare at Kinch. "Someone else?" he almost spat. "And what do you expect someone else to tell our contacts-'We know you were briefed on Papa Bear but tonight you'll just have to trust us, this other guy is okay?' It doesn't happen that way, Kinch. You know things have to proceed as planned. " A sideways look told the men he wanted to be alone. He continued to limp towards his quarters. The slow progress was painful just to watch.

"We've gotta do something," started Carter. "He's not gonna last ten minutes out there tonight."

"I'm gonna have me 'ands full just keeping him standing up," Newkirk predicted.

Kinch nodded agreement grimly. As he glanced up and saw Sergeant Han Schultz approaching, he signaled the conversation to halt. Wouldn't do to be discussing Underground operations in front of a German guard-even Schultz. "What is wrong with Colonel Hogan?" asked the bulky man. For him, being a German soldier was just a job. Quite frankly, it was either this or end up on the front with active weaponry and constant danger. And given a choice between that and this....well, the food was so much better here, thanks to Le Beau's culinary expertise, and he actually felt comfortable with the prisoners, who somehow he suspected actually liked him, too. And in Schultz's existence, that was nearly as important as doing the right thing for the Fatherland.

"Like he said, he's just a bit sick, Schultzie," said Newkirk.

"Yeah, he'll be all right in a day or two," added Le Beau. Saying that, Le Beau thought, might actually make it so.

"Hey, Schultz, you wouldn't want to do us a favor, would you?" asked Newkirk on the spur of the moment. The others eyed him cautiously.

"A favor?" clucked Schultz. "I am not supposed to be fraternizing or colluding with prisoners of the Stalag-" he began, trying to remember the rule that he had broken so many times before, and knowing even as he said it he would probably not be able to keep to it.

"Yeah, I know all that, mate," continued Newkirk. "But it'd be for Colonel Hogan, and you know that when he's happy, we're happy, and that makes us good prisoners, doesn't it?" Schultz considered, and listened. "What we need, is maybe just an extra blanket or two so the Colonel can rest easy, you know? And maybe some penicillin. Help him get over his flu a bit faster."

"Oh, I don't know... where am I supposed to find that? Blankets are in such short supply."

Not sure where his friend was headed, Le Beau nonetheless sweetened the pot. "C'mon, Schultz, I'll make it worth your while."

"Will you?" asked the guard, intrigued by imagined culinary delights that only this diminutive Frenchman could offer.

"How about chicken cordon bleu and vegetables with a light sauce, followed by a mousse so light you could float away on it."

"That sounds like Heff-en," Schultz answered, mouth watering.

"Blankets, Schultz," said Newkirk, pushing him slightly away. "Blankets."

"Mm. Blankets....blankets of mousse.....blankets of.....---oh, yes, I'm sure I can try to track down some blankets for Colonel Hogan." And he wandered away.

"What was that for?" asked Carter.

"If he's 'overing around all day we won't really be able to help, will we? It'll give us time to sort out this mess. And do we really want Schultz and Klink to think we have all the medical supplies we need right in our own humble abode?" Newkirk asked.

"Good thinking," Kinch agreed. "Let's see what's going on." And he and the others headed back to the barracks. Intruding on the senior POW's privacy was akin to taking your life in your hands. And they feared his wrath almost as much as the Gestapo's.

"I will go," said Le Beau. "I will try to get the Colonel to have something soothing to eat."

"I'll go," said Kinch. "You guys are too loud for someone with a headache."

"Hey, I think I'll go," suggested Newkirk. "I'm the one who's got to be with him tonight. Maybe I can knock some sense into him, without him knocking me senseless."

The others reluctantly agreed. Newkirk approached the door to Hogan's room and knocked lightly. "Colonel...Colonel 'Ogan, sir." There was no answer from the other side. Newkirk shrugged, then tried again. "Colonel?" When there was still no answer, he edged the door open just slightly, peered in, then entered.

Inside, Newkirk saw Hogan turned away from him on the bunk. He hadn't even bothered to remove his jacket and hat. "Colonel, sir, are you asleep?" he asked. No answer. Newkirk came closer and discovered Hogan's eyes were closed. But he wasn't sure it was sleep that was claiming the man. "Hey," he poked his head out of the room and called to the others, "I think he's bleeding unconscious."

The others came into the room quickly. "Well he doesn't look very comfortable," admitted Le Beau. He touched Hogan's face. "And I think he has a fever."

"Out in the wet last night, out in the cold today," Kinch said. "And who knows if there's any infection to worry about. He won't let us close enough." He turned to Carter. "Can you do down in the tunnel, Carter, and get us some penicillin? At least we can try to get the fever down."

"And what if Schultz miraculously brings us some more?" asked Le Beau.

"Then we say the Colonel doesn't seem to need it at the moment but we'll keep it in case," answered Kinch.

"On the way," said Carter, and he left quickly. Le Beau moved in and gently took the cap from Hogan's head, and motioned for help in removing Hogan's bomber jacket. "Gentle, gentle," he warned, as Newkirk and Kinch pulled Hogan's limp body up from the bed. He needn't have worried; Hogan made no move or sound of protest. They arranged him carefully on the bunk and covered him with a light blanket.

So what really happened out there? they asked themselves silently. When Carter came back Kinch administered the shot, and they left the room quietly.

"I don't like it," said Kinch. "He's a lot worse off than he'll admit. Maybe we should tell London he can't do it."

"You want him to go barmy on you?" said Newkirk. "The Colonel finds out you've done that and you won't need to worry about the Germans."

"Let's give him some time," said Le Beau. "Maybe the Colonel is right and he just needs some time to recover."

"With that ankle?" asked Kinch. But he, too, knew resistance to Hogan's stubbornness was a waste of time.

"We'll just have to wait and see."