Another little 'interlude' [I have trouble writing about missions convincingly] with a holiday theme. Since I was among the many who requested a St. Patrick's Day story from Patti and Marg, I thought it only fair to try writing one myself.
There are references to episodes of the television program, mainly of the episodes 'Request Permission to Escape' and 'The Great Impersonation'.
The characters that appeared in the television program "Hogan's Heroes" are not mine. I think Viacom owns them now. This story was written without intent to infringe on their copyright; but in appreciation of the program. Those characters that did not appear in the television program are mine, and are entirely fictional.Trials of Friendship March 17, 1943
The door of Barracks Two opened slowly, very slowly. A tall, muffled figure, scarcely more tangible than a shadow, cautiously poked his head through the doorway. The figure quietly entered the chilly room and eased the door closed.
Carter, in the lower of the two bunk beds just beside it, stirred and mumbled in his sleep.
The man who entered the barracks paused, his eyes intent on Carter's face.
Carter did not awaken.
The intruder turned to the right and moved stealthily toward the private quarters of the senior prisoner of war officer, Colonel Robert Hogan. He put his right hand into his coat as he turned the doorknob and tiptoed inside the little room.
The American Air Corps colonel lay on his side in the lower bunk, his black hair covering the arm pillowed beneath his head. The intruder watched him keenly. Little by little, he raised his hand above the sleeper's body. Then he smacked Hogan hard on the rump.
"A blessed Saint Patrick's Day to you, Robbie!" he bellowed. "Wake up, you lazy bastard, and enjoy it with me."
"Donovan!" Colonel Hogan, abruptly aroused, roared the R.A.F. group-captain's name.
"Not so loud, boyo! Do you wish to waken the dead, as well as all your men?"
Michael Patrick Donovan grinned at his superior officer and held up his silver whiskey flask. "I brought along a drop of the good stuff to celebrate the day." He looked around the room. "Where do you keep your coffee pot? The one you actually do make coffee in?"
Colonel Hogan glared into the burly Irishman's merry blue eyes. "Where we usually keep it, Group-Captain – on the stove. You recall seeing the stove as you came in? It's that tall, black object belching smoke in the center of the main room, next to those sticks of wood we sarcastically call our fuel supply."
Donovan looked from Colonel Hogan's hard jawed, angry countenance to the astonished faces of the men poking their heads through the doorway. He glanced at his watch.
"What took you so long to get here, m'Kinchin?" he blandly inquired of the tall, powerfully built black man who stood panting just inside, his hands on his hips.
James Ivan Kinchloe raised his chocolate eyes to heaven. "I'm trying very hard not to emulate our stove, Group Captain," he said with forced restraint. "Please, sir. Don't push it." He shook his head in dazed disbelief and then grasped the doorframe unsteadily. "You all right, Colonel? I'm not so sure I am."
Hogan raised his brows and tightened his lips. "You're not the only one. It's not every day that a six-foot two, two hundred plus, red headed leprechaun smacks me on the bum."
Hogan's frown relaxed into a warm smile as he waved his radioman to the one stool in the little wood framed room. "Sit down, Kinch. I can tell by your heavy eyelids you've gone through another long, hard night."
Throwing off his blanket, and scratching his tousled dark hair, the American officer gestured to the little man who had poked his head through the doorway behind the others. "LeBeau, get the group captain the pot and the makings of coffee, will you? I think he needs it. I see Kinch does and I know I do."
"Oui, mon colonél," LeBeau glowered at Donovan as he turned away.
Hogan gave Donovan a 'speaking look' of his own as he reached for his trousers. "Mike, why do you always have to announce yourself so physically?"
"Yeah!" Carter piped up. "Why do you?"
Donovan threw back his head and laughed heartily. "I like making noise, Sergeant. Same as yourself. You do it with your little firecrackers. I must rely upon m'personality."
"And what a personality!" Newkirk grumbled. "A bleedin' bull elephant makes less of a row."
Colonel Hogan crossed his arms and glared at his men. "That's enough out of you guys! Remember Group Captain Donovan's an officer, even when he forgets he's a gentleman."
Newkirk lowered his eyes. "Right, sir. Beggin' your pardon, Group Captain."
"Yeah. Me too, Colonel. Group-Captain," Carter said, hanging his head.
"Likewise, sirs." Kinch nodded. His lips twitched sympathetically at the downcast expressions of his two comrades-in-arms. "I think we speak for LeBeau as well."
"His criticism wasn't audible, Kinch," Hogan replied.
"But it was there nonetheless." Donovan touched Sergeant Kinchloe's arm with an apologetic look and gave the other men a rueful smile. "I'm sorry, lads, that I got you up betimes; but 'tis St. Patrick's Day. The sun's rising in a cloudless blue sky and 'tis a glorious day, especially for those who are Irish. I couldn't resist urge to share it with your colonel."
"Well, all the best of the day to you then, Group Captain," Kinch, aping a brogue, replied good-naturedly. Rubbing his eyes, he continued in his normal voice, "I wish I could enjoy it with you and the Colonel, sir."
Colonel Hogan stopped tying his shoelaces and looked up at his sergeant. "What happened now?"
Kinch grimaced. "I don't know, Colonel. Something blew our power supply to the radio equipment. I thought: a corroded battery. Shorted wiring. But I can't find the cause. Everything looks all right; but the moment I start up - silence. I can't hear anything from outside and I can't transmit a word." He shook his head with a sigh. "I took everything apart. Replaced every part I had in stock. Nothing looks wrong, but nothing works."
"Maybe it's leprechauns!"
All the men looked blankly at Carter. The young man gazed back at them, beaming with excitement.
"Well, why not?" he demanded, surprised that they did not catch on. "It's Saint Patrick's Day, isn't it? Like the Group Captain said. Maybe the leprechauns or elves or fairies are about, playing tricks with the radio."
"Carter." Kinch tried to keep the edge out of his voice. "There are no such people as leprechauns and fairies."
"You can't say that. Just because we can't see them doesn't mean they're not there, right Group Captain?"
Colonel Hogan winked at his fellow officer. "Carter's got you there, Michael me boy. Do you think the 'little people' sabotaged the radio? Or that it malfunctioned in a way that even Kinch can't detect?
He grinned puckishly. "Or maybe Fraulein Doktor Falke had a 'crisis of conscience'. You can never tell with religious pacifists like Marlena." He looked to the right, then to the left in a melodramatic manner and sunk his voice low. "While everyone thought she was in the infirmary with Wilson yesterday, she could have sneaked downstairs and knocked out the radio." He shrugged. "For the good of our souls, of course. The doctor's not treacherous. She just hates it that we kill people."
Kinch laid a hand on Carter's arm as the young man began to splutter a denial. "The Colonel's teasing us, Andrew." He looked steadily at his commanding officer. "You know that neither Doktor Falke nor anyone else can damage that radio so well that I can't find out what's wrong with it."
Hogan nodded as he resumed dressing. "I know that, Kinch. I also know that she wouldn't try. She needs it and us to get her back to Canada safely."
"Well, then? It's got to be leprechauns." Carter frowned in concentration. "Or fairies. Or elves. Elves could jinx the radio. Maybe dwarves did it. They've got dwarves in Germany. Now, I heard they're pretty nasty and grumpy. Witches too." He looked up at his fellow sergeant. "They do have witches, don't they, Kinch? There's that fairytale, about two children named Hansel and Gretel… they got lost in the woods around here, didn't they?"
"Well, not precisely around here," Kinch replied, stifling the urge to laugh. He smoothed his moustache between his forefinger and thumb, hiding his smile behind his hand as his eyes met those of his commanding officer.
Colonel Hogan bit his lower lip, but his eyes smiled back at Kinch. Carter was an exasperating blend of boy and man, but he couldn't help feeling fond of him. "We haven't found any house foundations made of gingerbread on our 'walks' through the woods, have we, Carter?"
"No," Carter conceded, " but we haven't really looked for them. Newkirk, do you think a gnome or a witch put a hex on the radio?"
"Carter, you mug! I don't know why I put up with you! Didn't Kinch just tell you there are no such people?" The English corporal rolled his eyes. He lifted his hand to snatch off his cap, in order to swat Carter with it. When he realized it wasn't on his head, he turned away, irritated beyond words.
"I don't see why not," Carter persisted; looking from one annoyed or amused face to another. You guys are so sceptical. Maybe the witches or elves or leprechauns jinxed the radio to make us believe in them."
"And you believe anything." Kinch put his hand over his eyes and silently counted to ten. "Look, Carter," he said, holding tight rein on his temper. "I'll admit that fairies and leprechauns exist when they repair the holes in my boots. Meanwhile, I've got a radio to put back in working order, with no guarantee that it'll function or that I'll figure out the problem if it doesn't."
LeBeau poked his head through the door. "Colonél Hogan. I can't get the stove to light. Someone has soaked the kindling and taken the matches." He gave Group Captain Donovan a sullen look.
Donovan held up his hands. " 'Twasn't me, m'cockerel. I don't play those sorts of pranks – not on your source of heat. Certainly not on Kinchin's radio apparatus."
Kinch, recalled to his surroundings, looked toward Hogan and Donovan in apology. "I'm sorry, sirs. I forgot I was bickering in front of my superior officers." He sighed. "I didn't mean to imply that you or Carter or anyone else had a hand in the radio going kaput, Group Captain."
Colonel Hogan laid a hand on his radioman's bowed shoulder. "I think you deserve some sleep, Kinch."
The radioman shook his head. "I can't, Colonel. A message was coming through when it started fritzing. I got enough of it to know it's important." He pulled a folded sheet of paper from his shirt pocket and handed it to Colonel Hogan.
The colonel read the note, frowned and handed it to Donovan.
"A packet of information is supposed to be passed to us. Top secret. Top priority." He looked narrowly at Kinch. "That's all you got?"
"Afraid so, Colonel."
"Not bloody much," grumbled Newkirk. "How do we know who the contact is and where and when to meet him?
"And how he'll identify himself?"
"I don't know. Just then I got an earful of static and then nothing."
"It wasn't the Krauts jamming?"
Kinch shook his head. "It went dead, Colonel. Not a sound coming through. If they were jamming, there'd still be static. So I've got to get it working again." He stared down at his hands with a perplexed frown. Then he rubbed his eyes and heaved a weary sigh. "I've pulled it apart a dozen times and I still can't find what's wrong with it. Maybe Carter's right. Maybe someone or something has put a hex on the radio."
The men looked at him in silence. It was not like Kinch to consider a superstitious, implausible explanation. It meant he was close to admitting defeat. Without the radio, their means of communication with their controllers in London, the operation was as helpless as a man trying to walk with a broken leg.
"Well, you're not going to reassemble it until you've had a few hours sack time." Colonel Hogan held up a hand to stop the radioman's protest. "Kinch. If you're starting to believe Carter's nonsense, you're too tired to think straight. I don't want you to electrocute yourself. After roll call and breakfast, you're going straight to bed if I have to tie you into it."
"What if that courier comes today?"
"Carter. LeBeau. Pass the word around camp. Every man is to keep his eyes and ears alert for any information or any unusual activity. Visits. Phone calls. Shadowy forms lurking outside the wire. Pump Schultz full of strudel and chocolate if you have to but get all the dope you can."
Carter laughed nervously. "Heck, Colonel! How do you figure anyone inside here would meet the contact?"
"Because the guy who sent this transmission must know our radio conked out when Kinch didn't acknowledge the message. If it's so important that we pass along the information, he'll try something to get it to us. We've got to be alert enough to catch the package when he throws it our way.
"Newkirk. Raid Klink's desk and safe. Burkhalter, Hochstetter or someone would have informed him of any unusual activity or suspicious characters he has to watch for. I mean besides us. Perhaps they also gave him instructions on what to do about it. Take one of these two or Olsen with you to watch your back."
"Do you really think either of those two would confide in old Klink?" Newkirk looked doubtful.
"Not voluntarily; but he is responsible that we don't pull any tricks. They have to keep him informed for security reasons if for nothing else.
Colonel Hogan hesitated. "Kinch. I know you don't like people meddling with your equipment. You've done miracles fixing and patching it together with whatever you could find. The radio is temperamental … ."
"And so am I?" Kinch finished with a wan smile. "I read you, Colonel. I'm too familiar with my own work. I must've missed something. Go ahead, sir. Get another man to look it over."
"You don't mind?"
"I mind; but I'm stumped. I know we need that radio in working order right away. But I'd like to see him try to figure out what went wrong. If I can't make my equipment work, I doubt anyone else can."
Donovan coughed. "May I examine it with you, m'Kinchin? I have had a little experience with cables and currents when I was an electrical engineer."
"Really? You, sir?" Carter gaped at the big Irishman. Somehow, he never thought of Group Captain Donovan sitting at a drafting table, surrounded by diagrams.
"Really. Carter, m'boyo. Why do you look so surprised?"
Carter ducked his head, shamefaced. "I always thought a guy like you would captain a polar expedition or shoot tigers or something rugged like that."
"So I would have preferred it, but it takes a deal of money to do such things. Mapping out the wiring of a ship or a building is just as manly a labour," Donovan frowned.
"Yeah. I guess it is." Carter flushed crimson as he looked at Donovan. Why do I always put my big foot in my mouth?
Kinch came to his rescue by saying quickly, "I'd be honoured to have you set me straight, sir."
"You'd feel better for seeing me look perplexed is what you really mean to say." Donovan grinned at him. "And I'll probably be as baffled as you. Yet, the old saying is that 'two heads are better than one'."
"And 'misery loves company'," Carter piped up, only to be set down lower by a battery of glaring eyes.
"If you can help us, Mike, I'll forgive you the rude awakening," Hogan said. "But Kinch,…"
"I can't sleep till I know what the problem is, Colonel."
"What if there is a hex on the radio?" Carter asked, wide-eyed.
Newkirk rolled his eyes. "Carter. I'll 'hex' you if you don't stop babbling about little green men," he growled. "Try not to be more of a nuisance than you are."
"Try not to be more of a nuisance than you are."
Carter kicked a discarded cardboard wrapper from a pack of cigarettes out of his way as he paced the perimeter track around the camp. He stared out through the barbed wire into the woods and wished he was home. He wasn't doing any good here, he thought as he sulked. Everybody said so.
I was just trying to be helpful. No one understands, no matter how hard I try. Whenever anything goes kerfluey, I'm the guy who gets blamed. It's not my fault – at least not more than half the time. But I'm always the chump they pick on right away.
Like that time with the rabbit last month. How was I supposed to know that he'd get his foot caught in the radio and wrench out the key? It was mostly Newkirk's fault. He was the one who thought up the big joke to spring the rabbit on Kinch when Kinch was alone and intent on his work.
Carter's lips quirked. It really shook their normally imperturbable colleague when that rabbit dashed past him. Kinch even went pale from the sudden shock – not an easy thing for Kinch to do.
But I'm the one Colonel Hogan gave Kinch's K.P. and laundry chores to for six weeks. "To teach you to finally grow up," the colonel had said. Was he vexed at me! He was worried about the shock to Kinch's heart. Well, heck! So was I, wasn't I? Newkirk and I wouldn't have done a thing to hurt Kinch. We just wanted to stir him up a little, and boy did we ever! We never meant to hurt the radio either, and make him spend all that time and effort fixing it.
But now Kinch doesn't trust me. To him, I'm a dimwit, a klutz and a prankster. I wish he'd let me make it up to him somehow about the rabbit, and about losing our bearings and the compass so he had to climb a tree to find our way back after we blew up that munitions train. At least he didn't get captured with us. He got back to camp and told Colonel Hogan and together they got Schultz to pretend to be Klink and get us out of Stalag Four. But he directed that mission and he didn't like it when I lost the compass, after he put me in charge of it. He didn't say much; but he's never trusted me with anything after that.
Carter kicked the cigarette wrapper savagely. He watched it as a slight breeze blew it over the warning wire and against the fence.
Well, how can I blame him? He's right. So's Newkirk. I'm no good to anyone – I'm just a nuisance and a jinx. I don't know why the colonel keeps me on the team anyway.
Just then, Carter heard a rumbling noise. It grew louder. He looked up from his shoes and saw trucks, a long line of trucks, lurching along the road alongside the Luftstalag's main gate.
"Wow! Look at them!" He craned his neck. "One. Two. Three. Jiminy! There must be at least thirty. All carrying something really heavy from the way the tires look. Wish I could see inside." He looked around, dithering in excitement. "I gotta tell the colonel about this!"
Carter hastened toward the interior of the prison camp, looking around for someone to keep watch on the convoy without the goons in the towers catching on. He spotted a fellow POW just outside the Recreation hut.
"Sutherland! I've got to tell the colonel about the convoy. Do you know where he is?"
"Yeah. I saw him a few minutes ago, going into the Kommandantur with Schultz."
Carter bit his lip as he thought over what to do. "Well, I can't go bursting in there with my news. Would you watch the convoy while I go tell Kinch? He's bound to be working on the radio again."
Sutherland shrugged. "Sure."
"Tell Colonel Hogan all you see the moment you see him," Carter insisted.
Carter dashed across the compound before the other prisoner had finished speaking. He dashed into Barracks Two, and pushed past Marcus Simms, who was standing at their mess table with an iron in his hand. Hitting the hidden panel that opened the entrance to the tunnel network, Carter scrambled down the ladder the moment the bottom bunk lifted. Simms gave him a glance and a shake of the head at his impetuosity, then he resumed ironing his shirt.
Kinch wearily looked up from his transmitter. He rubbed his temples and heaved a sigh. Why doesn't it respond? I've checked every wire, soldered every loose connection, and replaced every part with every new spare I've got. Donovan's checked it out, and he's an electrical engineer. He can't find a thing wrong or a mistake I've made. I've gone through all the protocols, read every instruction, every note I've made, done everything I can think of; but it won't respond.
He rose from the stool. Every object in the room suddenly seemed to waver and float around him. He gripped the edge of the table with one hand and covered his eyes with the other. Am I whacked! I promised the colonel I'd get some sleep; but how can I with this assignment over our heads? An assignment we don't know much about because we can't get direction from the underground without a working radio.
He tried to keep his eyelids open as he stumbled to the cot he kept nearby to rest on while night monitoring. I'd better hit the sack now for an hour or two or I'll be of no use to anyone later on.
"Kinch! Kinch! A convoy's passing by right now!" Carter pelted into the room too quickly to stop. He tripped over his feet and toppled forward, arms outstretched. His hand closed around the cable leading from the mini generator that powered the radio. Kinch, raising bleary eyes, gasped as he realized he had not shut off the current.
"Carter! No!" he shouted a spit second too late. The cable Carter clutched tore out of the transmitter; writhing about like a cobra.
Carter screamed, fell, lay silent.
Kinch sprang off the cot, as charged as the wire still in Carter's slackened grasp. "No! Dear God! No! Not Carter!"
He immediately threw up the switch to shut off the power. Then he knelt beside his friend. For a second, he hesitated to touch him. The cable lay beneath Carter's body, a loop wrapped around his arm. It may still be live; but Carter may also be alive. He laid his suddenly shaking fingers on Carter's neck and sighed as he felt a fluttering pulse.
No longer mindful of the danger to himself, the black sergeant unwrapped the cable from Carter's arm. No scorch mark on him; but that means nothing. Andrew. I'm sorry. Andrew, please, please live.
He slid his arms under Carter's shoulders and thighs, lifted him and carried him to the cot behind the radio. Carter's body dangled like a doll in Kinch's arms, his head fallen back over the radioman's forearm, his hands and calves bumping gently against the tall sergeant's thighs with every step he took.
"Come on, Carter. Live. Please live," Kinch murmured as he laid him down. The young man lay as limp and grey as the threadbare blanket he lay upon.
Kinch passed his hand over Carter's lips; then bent his ear over them. Did he feel a breath or did he not? Quickly unzipping Carter's leather flight jacket and ripping open his shirt, he laid first his hand, then his ear against the young man's chest. He thought he heard a heartbeat, faint, uneven, fluttering. In the dim light of the fat lamps, Kinch watched Carter's chest rise and fall just as faintly, just as unevenly.
"Carter, don't leave me. Hold on, buddy." Gently, yet firmly, he massaged Carter's chest with one hand, slow rhythmical movements, trying to calm the fluttering jerking spasms. Trying to calm himself. Laying his other hand on Carter's forehead, he raised his comrade's eyelids. Carter stared sightlessly back at him through pin point pupils. He's in shock, and I'm not far behind him.
Every sarcastic word Kinch had spoken to Carter, every contemptuous thought, seemed to rise up in accusation against him.
"Dear God, spare him. Bring him back to us unharmed and I'll never say another word against him as long as I live."
Why did it have to be him and not me? Kinch said as he worked on the young man, pushing against and massaging his chest, coaxing his lungs to expand and his heart to beat normally. Carter's a decent, honest man. He's never had to lie or cheat - not the criminal sorts of lies or cons - or to kill until he came here. If it wasn't for him, and for Jessie back home, what hope would I have that this was all worth it? That goodness would win out in the end? What sort of man would I have turned into here without Carter's decency and my sister's love keeping me sane and somewhat on the straight and narrow road?
Marcus Simms stood at the entrance. "The lights upstairs flared. Do…" He stopped as he saw the tableau, and then hastened forward.
"No, Simms. Go get Wilson and the colonel." Kinch was surprised at how normal and dispassionate his voice still sounded. He stroked Carter's cheek; then he passed his hand down the young man's neck to again check his pulse. He heard Simms' rapid footfalls die away.
"You're going to live, Carter. You've got to live."
"So, you're the young Carter, are you? It's pleased I am to make your acquaintance," the little man in the green suit grasped Carter's hand and shook it vigorously.
"Who are you?" Carter gaped at him, then added "sir". Carter believed in being polite, even to strangely dressed people half his size.
"Seamus Dowd, me buck." He looked up at the fair young man merrily thorough his slightly slanted, bright green eyes.
"What happened? How did you get in the tunnel?" Carter looked around him. Then his eyes bulged. He pointed. "And what am I doing in Kinch's arms if I'm standing here?"
Seamus Dowd shrugged. "I'm afraid that in your haste, you tripped and fell against the live radio. Your friend Kinch thinks you're dead, or soon to be. Question is, do you wish to be?"
Carter stared, moved by the terror and grief in Kinch's face. His normally calm, self-controlled colleague was trembling violently as he laid the inert body on the cot.
"I know for a fact he's rated you severely," the little man said placidly.
"He has every right to do so! Get me back to him!" He saw Kinch peer into his sightless eyes. "Please!" he begged. "Bring me back to life!"
"But you're a nuisance and a jinx, boyo. You said so yourself. No one thinks well of you, you said." The little imp grinned at him. "Now you're free of them. Now that you're a ghost, you can play your tricks on them whenever you like, and they'll not be the wiser."
"I don't care! Can't you see that?" He pointed his finger at the little man. "You! It was you, wasn't it? You made the radio die."
"Of course, boyo. I'm a leprechaun. Mischief is my trade," Seamus Dowd smiled serenely. "'Twas a good trick with the rabbit. I could've had your Kinch instead of you, but his strength of will overcame the shock to his heart."
"You think I wanted to kill him?"
"Didn't you, out of revenge?"
"Of course not! What do you take me for?"
"He sneered at you when you were heartbroken for your girl Mary Jane."
"He thought I was quitting, going back on my word to Colonel Hogan. He said what he said to rouse me back to my duty. And besides, he got a letter from his draft board saying he was 4-F. After all this time. And he's stuck here." Carter swept his arm around the dark subterranean room. "He could've had it easy. He could've avoided this; but his draft board made a mistake. He made it sound like a joke; but the letter upset him. I could tell that, even then, with my own bad news. So, when I wanted to go home, his hurt spilled over and he took out his feelings on me. It was natural."
Balling his fists, Carter glared at the little man. "So, you wanted to kill him. You wanted to get him so tired and frustrated that he'd make a mistake or fall asleep from overwork and get electrocuted. Except you got me instead of him. Well, you've got a fight on your hands if you think I'm going to let you kill him or any of my friends. No sir, I'm not going to let you lay a finger on any one of them."
The little man laid a hand upon Carter's sleeve. "No, boyo," he said gently. I don't wish to harm your Kinch or your other friends. I said those things in order to provoke you to defend them. Despite what you believe they think about you, you are very loyal to them. They will need your loyalty and understanding in the months to come. Be sure to give it."
"But why did you hex the radio?"
"I am a leprechaun." Seamus Dowd replied. "Mischief is the only way my folk survive. To do a good action outright is beyond our ken."
"Believe me. I meant no other harm to befall your black friend than the humbling of his pride," the leprechaun added. "What happened to you was an accident, friend Carter, and I am sincerely sorry for it."
"Yeah. Well. I still don't like the trick you played on Kinch. Look, if you know so much about us, you know that the radio's important to us – that Kinch is important to us because he works it. He's important to us in lots of other ways; but that's his main job. Whether you get me back inside my body or not is not as important as you lifting your curse on his radio and not molesting him so he can take care of the operation. And you've got to leave Colonel Hogan and the other guys alone too, or I'll make you pay for it."
"Do you really think you can win out over the little people, with all our tricks and magical powers?" Seamus sneered.
The young man raised his chin. "Yes. I really think I can."
"You haven't yet seen real evil, friend Carter."
Carter's eyes blazed as he confronted the little man. "I've seen enough to know what it is."
"I've heard the cries from people being tortured by the Gestapo," he continued passionately. "People we've worked with whom we could not save. I've seen children so frightened they can't speak. Their parents were murdered in front of them. They'll never trust again, not us, not anyone, not ever. A good friend of mine hid a Jewish family in a cellar beneath a barn. I only know about that because a Gestapo major was blackmailing us and … well it's too long a story; but we helped her get them to a safe place afterward. If I've not seen real evil, I've come close.
"You talk about Kinch needing his pride humbled. You don't know Kinch if you think he's too proud. He deserves all the respect he gets, and more. He's Colonel Hogan's right hand and he holds us together. I've seen the scars on Kinch's back and chest from the whipping he took after he and Colonel Hogan were shot down. Those sadists at the Dulag whipped him because they think they're the master race and everyone else is garbage. Kinch is strong and intelligent and good – a better man than any of them. They wanted to make him suffer even more because even they could see that about him.
"I'm part Sioux Indian. I wish sometimes my race showed on me, like his race shows on him. Then maybe I would've caught a few scars myself and Kinch would accept that I understood when I saw what was done to him. As it is, I can never tell him that I could never bear the marks like he does."
The leprechaun stared at the passionate young man. Carter confronted him with tears stinging his angry eyes. He thought of the children Carter had talked about. He thought over the young man's defence of his friend and hung his head.
"I know what it feels like to be despised for who you are." Seamus Dowd pulled up his shirt, and then his trouser legs, revealing scars from lash markings and dog bites. "Leprechauns live long and acquire many such trophies of hate. Too many people have hunted us for the pot of gold they think we've buried at the end of the rainbow." He heaved a sigh as he readjusted his clothes. "Tell your Kinch that he has my fervent sympathy."
"How can I tell him if I'm dead?" Carter said sadly, watching Kinch desperately try to restore him to life. He wished he had said to his friend the words he just said to the leprechaun. Whatever Kinch thought of him, however deep his sarcasm hurt, it no longer mattered. Kinch was all that a man should be. If he could live again, Carter vowed he would always look up to him and try to learn from him to be better than he was.
They watched Marcus Simms come and heard the conversation between the two men.
Seamus Dowd removed his green jacket.
"What are you going to do?" Carter asked, intrigued.
"I am about to lift the charm from your radio. Yonder man Simms is about to find your Colonel Hogan and your medical corpsman, Sergeant Wilson. They will have Kommandant Klink summon your friend Doktor Falke. Together they will care for you.
You're not dead yet, friend Carter. 'Tis the care your Kinch has for you that is right now keeping your soul bound to your body. That and his determination not to let you go."
Seamus laid his hand on his sleeve. "Friend Carter. Even the mightiest arm tires. I fear your friend Kinch will undergo far greater trials than he has yet endured. Learn from him. Comfort him. I foresee that he will need you when he undergoes the greatest trial of all. T'will be on your strength he will lean."
The leprechaun then laid his finger along his nose and grinned at the young man. "Now, friend Carter. Watch me lift the charm."
The little man began to dance around the radio table. First to the right, then to the left. In and out. Faster and faster. Carter heard fiddles flutes and tabors, although he saw no musicians. As he danced, Seamus Dowd spun round and round the radio, faster and faster until, to Carter's eyes, he became a blur. Carter heard a high pitched whirring noise. The radio's generator glowed red, then white. Carter looked up at the switch, surprised. It was still at the 'off' position.
Seamus Dowd stopped spinning. The generator stopped glowing and returned to its normal appearance.
Seamus looked at it with smug satisfaction. "When your Kinch reattaches that cable, and starts his mechanism, he will find his radio responds again to his touch."
Carter looked toward Kinch and to his own body lying on the cot. Surely, Kinch must have heard the fairy music and the high-pitched whirr. But Kinch had not turned his head toward the radio at all. His grief stricken eyes seemed to be fastened on Carter's lifeless face.
Seamus Dowd gently passed his hand over the black sergeant's eyes. They closed and his head dropped forward.
"He has been put into a deep sleep, friend Carter." The leprechaun said. "He was very weary. The music and the whirring noise that you heard enchanted and drugged his senses. If he does not sleep now, his sorrow for you might kill him.
"You too should have fallen asleep. No mortal had ever seen our dance and remained awake to tell of it. Perhaps it is because you are outside your own body."
"He will be okay?" Carter asked suspiciously. He tried to place his hand on Kinch's neck to check his pulse; but it passed through his friend's body.
"Of course you do not trust me." Seamus smiled. "He will be fine. Your Kinch will not remember falling asleep; but he will awaken at the moment you are again within your self and I have disappeared."
A gold coin appeared between the leprechaun's finger and thumb. He slipped it into the left breast pocket of Kinch's jacket. "Do not tell him 'tis my gift, but tell your friend to put his hand inside his pocket when next he sees my fellow countryman, Michael Donovan."
Seamus Dowd carefully donned his tight green jacket. He rubbed his hands.
"Now, to what we must do to restore you to life. Through Corporal Simms, Colonel Hogan has summoned your medic Sergeant Wilson to your bedside. Right now, the sergeant is searching for his injectibles whilst your colonel is bemusing your Kommandant Klink into sending for the lady doctor. I hope I will have enough time to prepare you."
Seamus Dowd scratched his thatch of black hair. "I had hoped you would be fast asleep along with your friend. The process to reacquaint you and your body would have been easier. We have never enchanted a human who was past the brink of death before." He sighed. "Naturally, as a dead man, you could not fall asleep."
"But am I really dead? I mean, how could Kinch keep me alive, if I was dead?"
"I do not know, friend Carter. Your senses are with us. Your heart is with him. Truly, every mortal death is a strange state to pass through. No matter. Dead or merely in coma though you be, we will restore you to your friends."
Seamus smiled as the idea came to him. "And we will use your Kinch to do it. Look upon him as he sleeps. Look steadily upon him. Watch him closely as he breathes. Watch his respirations. See how deeply he breathes. See how regular. You and he are now bound together. As he inspires, you expire. As he breathes out, you breathe in. You can feel your own respirations now. Your breathing now is in time with his. As he is fast asleep, so will you be. He is indeed in a deep, very deep, sleep. His heart beats slowly, fully, and rhythmically. You can now feel your own heart beat in time with his. You feel yourself relax into your good friend's rhythms. You are slipping back into your own body, and thus into sleep. As you fall asleep, your Kinch will awaken and care for you. He will let no harm come nigh you."
Carter's corporeal and incorporeal selves melded together on the cot. Carter's eyes flickered open. He gave Seamus a sleepy smile as his eyes reclosed.
Seamus Dowd smiled in return. "You are back where you should be now. Farewell, friend Carter. Care for those you love."
Seamus laid his cool hand on Sergeant Kinchloe's brow. "I am sorry for the trouble I caused you. You bear a heavy burden and I may make it even heavier. But take heed, good man, how you treat those not as gifted as yourself. Now, wake and care for the young Carter who cares so much for you."
Seamus cocked his head. "No. I don't want you to enter yet, Sergeant Wilson. Your skill is not yet necessary. What trick can I use to delay you a bit longer?" The leprechaun smiled impishly as he disappeared.
Shaking his head, Kinch blinked and rubbed his eyes, trying to clear the fog from his mind. He tried to piece together what had happened, but his memory unaccountably failed him. It had never happened to him before.
Carter. Carter's dead. The last thing I can remember was that he stopped breathing. Oh God, I failed him living and dead. Couldn't I even watch over his body?
He steeled himself to look down at his young friend. Carter lay asleep before him. Asleep. Not dead.
Kinch passed his hand over Carter's mouth and nostrils. Then he gently pressed his fingers against Carter's neck. His eyes widened. He looked at his watch and timed what he felt. Carter breathed normally, and his pulse was a steady sixty beats a minute. Which my lungs and heart are definitely not doing right now.
What's been happening here? Had he fallen asleep, and dreamed that Carter had grabbed the live wire? No, it lay on the ground, disconnected from the transmitter. He remembered what had happened. He remembered carrying Carter in his arms. He remembered working on him, trying to restore him to life. He remembered realizing that Carter's breathing had stopped, that he could not restart his heart. So, when he realized Carter had died, he had blacked out. He had blacked out, and Carter came back to life. It was incredible.
Kinch tried to make sense of what happened.
I must have been wrong. Too upset to think straight. Carter could not have died. I've got another chance to make it up to him. But a charge of electricity sent him down. What's his mind like? Is he still our Carter?
"Please, Andrew. Wake up. Tell me we haven't lost you."
Carter felt the strong, gentle hand stroking back his light brown hair, a hand as comforting as his mother's caress. He slowly opened his eyes and smiled into the concerned face of his friend and colleague.
"Kinch," he whispered, his expression full of wonder. "Kinch, I saw him. I saw one of the little people – a real leprechaun."
Kinch blinked back his sudden tears. He managed to swallow the lump that nearly choked off his breath. "Sure you did, Andrew. Sure you did," he replied with great tenderness. Poor Carter. Poor, childlike Carter.
"No. I really did see them. Please, Kinch. Please believe me. He was here and I saw him."
"I believe you, Andrew." He swallowed again as again his guilt cut into him. "I believe you." He continued to stroke the young man's fair hair. "Rest now. Don't talk any more."
"No, you don't believe me." Carter argued. "I know you don't. But it's true. I did see a leprechaun. His name is Seamus Dowd. He's really sorry about what he did to the radio and he fixed it for you."
Kinch smiled down at him. "I'll believe anything you say from now on," he gently humoured him. "As long as I hear you say it, I'll believe it."
Carter grasped Kinch's sleeve. "You should've seen Seamus dance! It was incredible!"
Kinch looked down at Carter's excited face. Then he turned his head away and squeezed his eyes tight shut. "I'm sure it was," he said, his voice barely audible.
"Seamus." The Irish form of "James". So, my tormenter and I even bear the same name. Does that mean that I am my own enemy?
Kinch shook his head vehemently.
Damn the radio! What is it but a bunch of wires and connecters? How did it ever become more important to me than the guys I work with? I was so concerned about it that I didn't think straight. I was too tired to shut off the power. Carter nearly died. It's a miracle he's alive – a miracle I don't understand – but now he is paying the price of my carelessness.
He thought about the incident of the rabbit. I was angry and I let it show. He just wanted to make me smile. He just wanted to tease me as a pal. I rebuffed him. Ever since, he's wanted to make things right between us. He's always looked up to me. I don't know why. What sort of friend have I been to him? What does he see in me that makes him care about my good opinion?
Given time and the right parts, I could fix the radio. I can't rewire Carter's mind. He'll be a child forever because I got impatient. Because I couldn't get a battery to charge. Because I could not transmit a signal. What's that compared to all Carter's been to us? To all he could have been with an undamaged mind?
"Andrew, forgive me. You only forgot a compass. I lost my direction completely."
Carter tugged his sleeve. "Seamus fixed the radio, Kinch. It works now."
The radioman slowly nodded; but he did not turn back to him. He did not want Carter to see the tears spilling down his cheeks.
"Try it, Kinch. Please! It works now."
Kinch shook his head. His voice cracked. "It's not important anymore."
"It is! It is to me! If you don't try out the radio, it means you don't believe me! It means you think I'm crazy!" Carter swallowed, trying to calm himself. "I'm not crazy, Kinch. The leprechaun fixed your radio. It's working. Please. Humour me. Try it."
Kinch drew in his breath. What will it do to his mind when I try out the radio and it doesn't work? He shook his head, struggling with his emotions. I've done him more than enough damage. I won't destroy him by exploding his fantasies before his eyes.
"Kinch, you just said you'd believe anything I say. Was that a lie? Does that mean I can't believe anything you tell me? Ever?" Carter gripped his companion's sleeve and looked at him plaintively. "I've always believed you. I don't ever want to doubt you, like you doubt me now. Please, Kinch. Just this once. Believe what I say. Try out the radio."
Carter watched his comrade wipe his eyes and turn to him. The strain on his face and slump of his shoulders told the young man more clearly than any speech how much his friend doubted him, and how much he loved him. My good, dear friend. My true friend Kinch. He can't believe me but he can't bear to hurt me. He doesn't want to shatter what he thinks are my delusions by trying out his radio in front of me. But he also does not want me to lose my trust in him. Please, Kinch. You gave me your word. I know you did it to humour me. Believe me now. Let your heart overrule your head, just once.
For a long moment, Kinch struggled with himself. Then he sighed, nodded, and squeezed the hand holding his sleeve.
"All right, Carter. I gave you my word. I won't go back on it. If you say that leprechauns fixed the radio, I'll try to believe it."
Suppressing a groan, the radioman rose from the stool beside the cot. He looked at the radio, then at Carter. He saw the eager, encouraging expression on Carter's face and hesitated. Carter's childlike faith was so dear to him. What if he destroyed it? He realized with a pang in his heart how deeply he had drawn on Carter's simplicity, his honesty, his optimism, and his good and generous nature when his own bleak thoughts had threatened to overwhelm his spirit. Carter had kept him sane. How could he destroy his friend's faith that someone had worked – had even cared to work – a miracle for them?
He re-connected the cable from the generator to the transmitter. Then he laid his hand on the switch.
"Dear God. For the trust Carter has in the goodness of others. Please, make the radio work."
He threw the switch. For five seconds there was dead silence. Then both men heard the whirr and then the hum of electricity passing through the coils of the generator. Kinch laid a hesitant hand on the transmitter box. He felt the vibration, and expelled his breath in a relieved, astonished sigh.
"It's working, isn't it, Kinch?"
"So far, so good, Andrew. The current is flowing through." He brushed his forefinger against the key. "Let's see if I can transmit a signal."
Kinch adjusted the headphones over his ears and pumped the pneumatic lever to raise the flagpole aerial. He put the first three fingers of his right hand on the wireless key and braced himself. Carter crossed all he fingers and attempted to cross his eyes as Kinch tapped three 'V's' in rapid succession.
"I can hear them." Kinch whispered, a light dawning in his dark eyes. "I can hear them."
He looked at Carter. "Now we'll see if London can hear us." He adjusted the knob to the frequency 'Goldilocks' had assigned to them. "Here goes."
Carter grinned and quivered with excitement.
Leaning slightly forward, Kinch started tapping the wireless key. Then, toggling the switches, he listened, alert and intent.
"Static," he muttered. "Well, that's more than I got out of it all day." Then he darted his eyes over and around the radio table.
"My clipboard, Carter. Where did I put it?" he demanded, reaching behind his ear for his pencil.
Carter sprang from the cot. He grabbed Kinch's shoulder as he swayed against him.
Kinch whipped his left arm around the younger man's waist, catching and holding him securely against his side, while he adjusted the radio frequency with his right hand. "Are you all right?"
"Sure. I just got up too fast. Whoo, am I dizzy!"
"Sit down slowly, right now, and cover up so you don't go into shock again!" Kinch ordered. Then, in gentler tones: "We both forgot for a moment you had quite a charge of electricity run through you. The circuits in your brain must've overloaded."
Kinch looked at Carter in concern. Then his eyes blinked and widened. "I hear a signal." They brightened as they looked into Carter's and his lips slowly repeated to him what he heard through his headphones: "'Goldilocks…to Papa Bear. Awaiting your transmission.'" Kinch breathed a thankful sigh. "We got through, Andrew! We're in contact with London."
His face alight, Carter hugged the blanket he had wrapped around himself.
Kinch grinned at Carter and toggled his apparatus. Then he grew alert as his attention focused on the message. The old, self-possessed, Sergeant James Ivan Kinchloe reasserted himself. He shifted one earpiece off his ear and instructed Carter: "Tell me about the convoy. How many trucks? What sizes? Where were they headed? Everything you saw." He transmitted Carter's words as fast as his brain could encode and his fingers could tap. Then, toggling again, he wrote down what London transmitted, acknowledged the message and shut down the power.
He stared from the message to the radio, and then to Carter. Then he tore off his earphones, tossed them into Carter's lap, threw back his head and whooped for joy.
"Good news, Kinch? Did we do okay?" Carter asked eagerly.
"About the convoy?" Kinch said as he sobered. "No, not really. London knew about their route from another contact. Unless Colonel Hogan has one of his remarkable schemes up his sleeve to sabotage it, we can't do more than we've done." He paused and beamed at Carter. "I'm happy because you're alive."
"And because the radio is alive."
"Yeah. In that order. You first. Then it." As it's going to be to me from now on.
"Do you believe me now, Kinch? About the leprechauns?"
"A little." Kinch looked at him fondly and sighed. "I believe that if there are leprechauns loose in the world, you'd be the one to see them. You're one up on me there. I know I never will." He added, humbly, "If you see them again, Andrew, please tell them I'm grateful." As I am to you, Lord God, for giving me a second chance at Carter's friendship.
He gazed at the radio. "I don't understand why it wouldn't work earlier and why it works now. Was there really a hex on it?"
"Seamus said that there was. I'd believe him if I were you. The little people are touchy about being doubted, especially when they're doing someone a good deed. Like LeBeau gets offended so easily. Seamus said they usually don't do good deeds for humans because humans take the credit for themselves and say no one helped them or they try to steal the pot of gold they think the leprechauns own. And leprechauns like to trick people, especially sceptics like you."
Kinch raised his eyebrows. "Oh, me specifically?"
"Seamus says you're too serious and that you don't believe in miracles. I told him that you do see the funny side of things; but you have to be serious because you're responsible for us. As for your disbelief," Carter grinned. "I told him I have to cure you a little at a time because you're so stubborn."
Kinch crossed his hands over his chest. "Stubborn? I'm stubborn?"
"I told Seamus that it's because you grew up without a dad and a lot of things other people take for granted. He said that you ought to recall the things you grew up with. Then you wouldn't have such a hard time believing there's still good in the world."
Kinch studied Carter's anxious face. "He might have something there. The war and this place have not soured you, and you've been involved here nearly as long as I have. How does he know so much about me? And why is he here? I don't recall leprechauns being native to Germany."
"They're not. They're Irish through and through. Seamus said leprechauns are cousins several times removed from dwarves, and he likes to keep it that way. Dwarves can be treacherous. Leprechauns just like to make mischief. As to why he's here: he didn't say, but I think he's here to stir something up."
Just then, the two men heard what sounded like a herd of moose stampeding through the entrance to the radio room. Sergeant Wilson, his medical rucksack in hand, charged into the room, followed closely by Newkirk, LeBeau, Simms, and what seemed to them like every man in camp. Kinch glanced at his watch, then shook it and held it up to his ear.
Colonel Hogan pushed through the group of men circling the cot and the radio.
"What time is it, Colonel?" Kinch asked in bewilderment, looking up at his commanding officer.
Hogan checked his watch. "Sixteen thirty. Why?" He looked at his radioman's stunned expression. "Kinch?" He grasped his shoulder and shook it. "Kinch! What's the matter?"
"Carter, when did you come downstairs?" Kinch asked shakily. "Do you remember the time?"
"About 1600 hours, Kinch."
"Simms? When did the lights flare and go out?"
"About that time. Man, what's wrong with you? You look more like a ghost than Carter did."
Kinch rubbed his forehead. "I must be going mad," he mumbled, visibly shaken.
"Kinch! Mon ami, what's wrong?"
"Just before Carter dashed downstairs…I looked at my watch…It was sixteen twenty-five."
"Your watch is just running fast, chum." Newkirk looked at him in concern.
"But it's sixteen thirty, and it's still ticking. How can all that happened happen in five minutes?"
Colonel Hogan nodded to Wilson. Wilson came over, peered into Kinch's eyes. He raised the radioman's wrist and looked at his own watch.
"You're long past due for sleep, my friend," Hogan chided. "You mistook the time when you looked at your watch."
Wilson sighed and shook his head. "I thought Carter was the one in shock, Colonel. Kinch's heart is running faster than a racing engine."
Hogan gripped his radioman's shoulder. He spoke to him as to a child. "You are going into my quarters. LeBeau is going to fix you and Carter some hot, sweet tea. Doktor Falke ordered it when we phoned her, and you know what she's like when her orders are disregarded. Hitler's a pussycat compared to her. You two are going to drink your tea and you, Kinch, are going to sleep in my bunk. I will personally watch over you until Schultz comes to take Carter and me to the hospital. Then Newkirk and LeBeau will guard you. If you are not sound asleep by the time I leave, I will order them to sing you baby lullabies. The whole barracks will hear them." He looked down at him and smiled. "Understood, Sergeant Kinchloe?"
Kinch returned his smile and nodded acquiescence. "Understood, Colonel."
"And my orders will be carried out?"
"To the letter, sir."
"Think of how the guys will roast you if they aren't."
"Yes, sir." Kinch grinned. "The best of Saint Patrick's Day to you, Colonel Hogan."
Hogan winked at him, and replied with a lilt. "The best of the morrow to you, Kinch me boyo. Make sure 'tis not before the morrow that I hear your voice again."
"Well, Carter. What did you think of the electro-encephalograph and the electrocardiograph?" Hogan smiled down at the young man, thinking that his demolition expert looked like a choir boy in his white hospital gown. He uncrossed his arms, and laid his hand on Carter's shoulder.
Carter smiled back sleepily from his hospital bed. "Doktor Falke must think she's Doktor Frankenstein, Colonel. She had me all wired up for hours as if I was the monster."
"Well, grabbing a live wire's no joke. She wanted to check you over thoroughly – make sure your heart and brain are still functioning okay."
"I'm just surprised she didn't haul Kinch down here as well."
"Well, it would look suspicious to Klink if two guys touched the same live wire, one after the other. Kinch could not have turned off the juice in the wire we told Klink you had touched – the one in the motorpool." Hogan's smile broadened. "Don't worry about Kinch just yet. The Fraulein Doktor intends to sic herself on him for leaving live wires within your reach."
Hogan patted Carter's shoulder. "I'm glad you're safe and sound; but don't go tripping and falling into any more trouble, huh? Promise?"
Carter's face clouded. "I always do, sir. Trip and fall into trouble, I mean. Colonel, I'm always fouling up. Why do you still keep me?"
Hogan patted him again. Then he sat beside him. For several moments, neither man spoke.
Then Colonel Hogan said, "Carter, when I gave you permission to escape home to your fiancée, why didn't you take it? Because of the barmaid at the Hofbrau?"
"Because you wanted someone to go on the assignment and no one volunteered."
"That was before you went to the Hofbrau. I'm talking about afterward."
Carter hung his head. "I guess I was pretty stupid about Mary Jane."
"No you weren't. You loved her enough to get engaged, and she dumped you. You gave up a lot when you volunteered to work with us."
Hogan smiled and added, "You gave her up for us again, didn't you?"
"Heck, Colonel. Mady - ."
"Gave you a kiss and a smile." Hogan grinned. "You're not that fickle, kid. A guy who loves a gal enough to get engaged, and enough to beg his C.O. to release him from his duty so he can go home to win her back, doesn't fall out of love within a week. No matter how well another girl kisses."
Carter looked at his hands. "I couldn't let you guys down. Not when you wanted me to stay. Why did you want me to stay?"
"Because you're a darn good man, Carter," Colonel Hogan gently replied. "A darn good man. Now, get some sleep or you'll share in the punishment I'll give Kinch for staying awake against my direct order."
Hogan rose and picked up his cap.
"Yes, sir." Carter thought through the colonel's words. "Thank you, sir."
Colonel Hogan turned at the door and gave him a warm smile. "Thank you, Carter."
He winked at Schultz and shushed the fat guard's protest before he sauntered down the hallway.
Schultz watched him poke his head through the door of the room set aside for the doctors to write their case notes. Then rolling his eyes, he sighed and went back to ogling the nurses.
The American colonel saw Doktor Falke seated at the desk. He leaned against the doorframe, his hands in the pockets of his leather flight jacket, and studied her as she studied the notes of her examination of Carter. A prim woman in her mid thirties, her white lab coat open to reveal her high necked shirtwaist and long brown skirt, her brown booted ankles crossed right over left, her grey streaked brown hair parted in the center and braided and coiled at the nape of her neck. A rather drab, old-fashioned woman. Only the slight upward curve of her lips and something deep in her large, dark blue eyes revealed the warm human being who hid within the severe façade of the Fraulein Doktor.
Hogan smiled as he watched her. For all her stiff-necked stubbornness, her crazy notions, and her other faults, Marlena Falke was a warm human being, loving and vulnerable. Her pacifist mentality and her true nationality, both of which she had to keep well hidden, would earn the Canadian born physician a narrow bunk in a forced labour camp if they were revealed. Add to them her connection to our operation, and she'd be lucky to be dead. The colonel sighed. "We will get you home someday, Doktor. I promise we will get you home. Somehow we'll convince London you are not a traitor."
"Well, Fraulein Doktor? How's Carter?" he said aloud.
Doktor Falke looked up from examining the EEG and EKG graphs. "He seems no worse for the ordeal, Colonel Hogan, according to these. I'd like to keep him here another twenty-four hours. After his talk about meeting a leprechaun, I want to assure myself he is fine." She paused. "Is Sergeant Kinchloe sure of what he saw and felt when he examined him?"
"Yes. He is. He was quite sure he felt Carter's heart flutter and fail. But Kinch was very upset – with more than just the accident. We put him to bed and Newkirk is under strict orders to keep him there. Wilson seemed quite concerned about his heart rate. So am I."
Doktor Falke nodded. "Would you ask the Kommandant's permission for me to examine Sergeant Kinchloe tomorrow evening, when Sergeant Carter is taken back to the Luftstalag?"
"Sure." Colonel Hogan paused. "Doktor Falke. A few weeks ago, Kinch received a letter from his draft board, re-directed to Stalag Thirteen. It said he was classed as 'Four-F'. In other words, it said he's not in fit shape for active duty. Doesn't sound like the man I've worked beside." He paused and continued. "Do you know why the draft board classed him 'Four-F'?"
The physician raised her dark blue eyes. "Now, Colonel Hogan. How would I know what an American Army doctor thinks?"
The colonel's astute brown eyes met hers. "Because your own training is excellent. And because I suspect Kinch has told you the reason."
"Sergeant Kinchloe has told me nothing. What I suspect is no one's business but my own."
"I suspect he has a heart murmur."
"Then I suggest that you discuss your suspicion with him, not with me." Doktor Falke coolly replied.
"He will not tell me, Doktor Falke. He's sidestepped every hint I've raised."
Doktor Falke's steady gaze did not waver. "Sergeant Kinchloe has not taken me into his confidence, Colonel Hogan. If he did, I would not break it. I do not abuse a person's trust. I still have some scruples left."
She looked down at her notes without seeming to see them. "I am sure that he will tell you if and when he is unfit for duty," She said slowly, weighing her words. "He is a very intelligent man, loyal to you, and one who would not allow his personal pride to interfere with the success of your work."
Colonel Hogan affected to ignore the slight tremor he heard in her voice. He continued to look at her. She continued to read her case notes. He brushed her hand and she looked up at him. "Thank you, Doktor Falke," he gently said.
"You are welcome, Colonel Hogan."
+++March 18, 1943
Doktor Marlena Falke laid the bell of her stethoscope against Sergeant Kinchloe's bared chest. She closed her eyes, wishing almost unconsciously, and not for the first time, that she could lay her ear against his heart and relax to the gentle lub-dup of its beat.
The wish unsettled her, as it always did. She did not know why even the thought of his quiet strength gave her courage. Perhaps it was because he is such a brave man. Perhaps it was because he had stood up to his colonel for her. She was grateful to him for that, and for his promise to get her home and free of the taint of treason. Adding my burden on his back, with all he has to carry here. She would not hold him to his promise – after all what could they do for her? – but she was grateful he had made it. It meant she had one friend – No. Two friends. How could I forget dear Sergeant Carter? – in this hellish place.
Shaking away her musings, she concentrated on what she heard. Then she dropped the bell of the stethoscope and removed the earpieces from her ears.
"Well, Doktor Fledermaus? Do I pass muster?"
Doktor Falke set the stethoscope on the table in Colonel Hogan's office. She looked down at it for a moment. Then she cocked her head to one side and looked at him shrewdly.
He met her look straight on, as he always did, but as she continued to gaze at him in silence, Marlena detected a look of disquiet deep in his dark brown eyes.
She felt disquieted herself. Her conversation with Colonel Hogan, coupled with what she had detected through her stethoscope, had given her food for very serious thought.
Inhaling deeply, she replied, "You appear to be in the best of condition, Sergeant Kinchloe, for the condition you are in."
He searched her face. "That's quite a round-about answer."
"Is it not the answer you expected from me, Sergeant?" she asked softly.
Kinch looked down at his hands. Doktor Falke waited. The silence between them lengthened. Then he said with a twisted smile. "I guess it is, Fraulein Doktor."
"Colonel Hogan is worried about you, Herr Kinchloewen. He told me that you received a letter from your draft board, and that it disturbed you."
Another long silence fell between them.
"Sometimes I wish the Colonel was not so perceptive," Kinch replied, heaving a sigh.
"Is it none of my business?"
"That's right, Doktor Fledermaus."
"Nor of his?"
Kinch crossed his arms and looked at her steadily. "I'll make sure it need not be."
"Herr Kinchloewen… ."
"Please, Doktor Falke. Let it alone. But thanks for your concern all the same."
Kinch rose from the stool and shrugged his muscular shoulders into his fatigue jacket. "What do I owe you for the house call?" he teased her.
"That you take good care of yourself," she replied seriously. "You push yourself too hard, mein Herr."
Kinch smiled at her. "I promise I will take good care."
"Of yourself as well as of your colonel and your colleagues?"
"Now you push too hard. I promise, Doktor. May I go now?"
"Ja. Of course." Doktor Falke suddenly patted her pockets and pulled out a hair ribbon. "Oh, I nearly forgot. I was to give this to Colonel Hogan. It's from a woman who saw him in the hospital last night and admired his," she blushed, "splendid physique. She said I was to tell your colonel that he looked like 'the mighty hunter of olden lore'."
"And you want me to tell him that for you?"
"If you do not mind. The admirer insisted that I use those words but I am not used to expressing such fulsome flattery, particularly to a man who delights in teasing me."
Kinch nodded. "I understand. I'll pass the word along, Doktor."
"Thank you, mein Herr. Auf Wiedersehen."
"Auf Wiedersehen, Fraulein Doktor." Kinch paused at the door. He turned and looked gravely into her eyes. "Doktor Fledermaus. Be wary of the people you meet from now on."
His somber expression sent a chill through her. Someone had marked her as one with access to 'Papa Bear'. She knew he was warning her that she was now in greater danger than she had been in before. Doktor Falke nodded and swallowed. "Danke, Herr Kinchloewen," she managed to say.
"Take good care of your self, Doktor Fledermaus," he teased her, his full lips curved slightly. "I don't want you devoured by the Big Bad Wolf."
Kinch left the colonel's office, the long yellow ribbon in his hand. He opened the entrance and climbed down the shaft into the tunnel. Entering Carter's laboratory, he took down his colleague's copy of the Merck Chemical Formulary, folded the ribbon, inserted it in the book and replaced it on the shelf. Then he went back 'upstairs', checked that Doktor Falke had left the barracks and went outside to look for Colonel Hogan and for Carter.
He found Carter seated outside the barracks, re-sewing the last button on his shirt and catching the last rays of the day's unseasonably warm sunshine. The younger sergeant was still weak and shaken, both from his injuries and from Doktor Falke's thorough examination of him the previous evening. But the doctor couldn't keep a prisoner of war in a civilian hospital for the length of time Carter needed to fully recover.
They would just have to ensure that Carter took things less stressfully for a while, Kinch concluded. Blow up only the easier to destroy targets. He motioned the young sergeant inside and told him about the ribbon.
"Did anybody approach you when you were in the hospital? Any visitors poke their heads through the door?"
"No one other than the nurses and cleaners and doctors – only the people you expect to see in a hospital."
Kinch crouched beside him and looked into his eyes.
"Think hard, Carter. Did you or the Colonel or Doktor Falke mention 'Papa Bear' or the operation?"
"No. I asked the Colonel why he kept me on, and he said it was because I was a good man. Why?" Carter's eyes widened. "Did I say something wrong?"
"No. I don't think so." Kinch frowned. "I just don't like people approaching Doktor Falke with gifts for our commanding officer. Get working on the ribbon while I find the Colonel."
Kinch crossed the compound to the Kommandantur.
"Colonel Hogan finish his meeting with the Kommandant?" he inquired of the sentry at the door.
At the curt 'Nein", Kinch entered. He smiled behind his moustache as he saw his commanding officer nuzzle the neck of the Kommandant's secretary, Fraulein Hilda Schaffler. Then he drew himself up to his full height and smartly saluted.
"Sergeant James Kinchloe requesting Colonel Robert Hogan's presence at glee club rehearsal. With your permission, Fraulein Hilda?"
Colonel Hogan grimaced, returned the salute, kissed Hilda goodbye and pulled his now grinning radioman outside.
"Kinch, why do you always drag me away at the most inopportune times?" he asked as they crossed the compound towards Barracks Two.
"Because I did not think you wanted Hilda to know about the gift you got from another admirer, Colonel."
"Another admirer?" He stopped and looked Kinch in the eyes. "No. Not Marlena Falke. That I will not believe."
"No, Colonel. Not her; but the admirer gave her the gift and told her that you resembled, Quote 'the mighty hunter of olden lore.' Unquote. My Old Testament knowledge is rusty, Colonel, but wasn't 'the mighty hunter'…" Kinch raised an eyebrow and left the sentence open.
"Nimrod." Hogan muttered. He caught Kinch by the sleeve. "Why are we standing here then? Let examine that gift."
They quickly entered the barracks and descended into the tunnel. Carter had already stained the silk of the ribbon with his chemicals. Hogan looked down at the closely worded message and whistled.
"Looks like pretty hot stuff, huh, Colonel?"
"Extremely hot stuff, Carter. A plan to eliminate several key defences in the Orkney Isles. And using Ireland's neutrality to stab Britain in the back. Kinch, we've got to get this to London immediately."
"Will do, Colonel; but it's a long hair ribbon. Assuming that Carter's leprechaun friends leave the radio alone, we can't send a long message like that over the airwaves without the Krauts picking up on it."
"We send it a piece at a time; but we've got to send it now. The information is time sensitive, and we've lost too much time already. Encode it, break it up into manageable bits, and send it according to what schedule you think best."
"Yes, sir." Kinch replied; but the doubtful, worried tone remained in his voice.
Colonel Hogan clapped him on the shoulder. "You're up to the task, right?"
Kinch gave him a nod and a crooked smile. "I'm up to it, sir."
"That's my Kinch. I knew you wouldn't let what happened yesterday bother you." Colonel Hogan squeezed his radioman's shoulder and left him to his work.
Kinch's doubt and worry grew apace as he carefully read the words on the ribbon. The Krauts wanted to make a secret deal with the Irish government. They seemed to think that Ireland would forsake its official neutrality, at least to the point of allowing its shores to be used as secret bases for the invasion of England and Wales, if it could revenge itself on England for centuries of oppression and neglect.
The Irish had bitter memories of the English 'colonization' of their country. They blamed the potato blight that caused the Great Famine in the 1840's, the evictions of tenant farmers from their land, the split between the Protestant North and the Catholic South, so many of their troubles, on the English government and the English landlords. They had fought long and hard to win their independence, yet they still felt accursed and tainted. They still felt enmity toward the English. How many Irishmen were reading of the destruction of English cities with a secret glow of satisfaction?
What of Group Captain Donovan? Donovan swore the loyalty oath to King George when he joined the R.A.F., but he was republican in sentiment. "Ireland Forever" was more than just a slogan with him. Whose side would he be on if Ireland forsook its neutrality and aided the Axis?
Sergeant Kinchloe's frown deepened as his suspicion grew. Donovan admitted to being an electrical engineer. The radio, which had not worked for over a day, suddenly came back to life after he told Colonel Hogan, in front of the group-captain, that it broke down – and that it broke down in the middle of a vital transmission. Did he suspect what that message was? Was the big Irish officer responsible for the breakdown? Did Donovan try to cover up by 'helping' him find the problem before he called in someone else to look over the radio? Someone who could have pointed out that it had been tampered with?
Was Group-Captain Donovan responsible for Carter's near fatal electrocution the previous afternoon? Kinch rubbed the skin between his eyes and sighed. No. Donovan could not have caused the accident. What happened was due to his own carelessness in not shutting off the power. But why was the wire 'dead' one moment and 'live' the next? Did Donovan do something to the circuitry? To the cable? Why did the cable come apart so easily when Carter pulled it? Did Donovan loosen the cable, meaning to electrocute him when he noticed it and start to retighten it to the transmitter? If the radio was meant to be a deathtrap, then he, not Carter, was meant to be the victim. Did the man who called him his 'Kinchin' attempt to murder him?
And his watch. Both Carter and Simms agreed that Carter dashed down the shaft at approximately 1600 hours. Carter was careless in many ways, but not about marking time. If one of his demolition packs was set to go off at a specific time, it went off no more than a few seconds before or after that time. Kinch knew that Carter always got immensely upset if his explosives didn't go off on schedule. And Marcus Simms had backed him up. So, if Carter said he entered the tunnel just after 1600 hours, that's when he entered it.
Why did time seem to stop, or go backward? Did Donovan tamper with his watch while they were working on the radio that morning, so that he'd think an event had taken place later than it did? Did Donovan mean to discredit him in front of Colonel Hogan – make him look like he was going crazy so that the colonel and the guys would refuse to believe him?
Kinch put his head in his hands. Was he going crazy?
He had trusted and respected Group-Captain Donovan. Donovan had kept the prisoners of the Luftstalag loyal to the operation while the active members of Colonel Hogan's merry band did their work. He had quietly prevented rebellion among the men, discouraged escape attempts and dealt with thousand and one gripes and fights among them. Donovan was as important to the operation as the Colonel himself – and Colonel Hogan trusted him without reservation.
But if Donovan knew what his country was considering, or if someone had approached him with an offer of freedom and promotion in the new order if Ireland joined the Axis, would he turn his coat? Would he sell out the operation, or discredit it, or work against it from within? Would he consider it treason?
The questions roiled in Kinch's mind. What if Donovan was selling them out in some way? He alone was the big Irishman's match in a fistfight. Did Donovan seek to get rid of the one man who could physically stop him before the word about the Krauts' tempting offer to the Irish Parliament leaked out and aroused suspicions about his loyalty? Donovan would be invincible with a gun in his hand; but maybe he was playing a subtler game. Maybe Donovan wanted to take him out quietly, by staging a fatal 'accident' or by causing the colonel to doubt his sanity.
Or by causing him to doubt his own sanity?
Was Carter in on it, with his nattering about leprechauns? Kinch shook his head. No, not Carter. Carter wouldn't do that. And Carter had nearly died. Kinch knew that. He had felt Carter's heart jerk and flutter.
Sergeant Kinchloe looked up from his hands. How could he suspect Donovan of disloyalty? He felt disloyal to Donovan for even letting it cross his mind. The bluff Irishman was the father confessor of the camp. They could have never kept the other men relatively content and obedient without him. Yet he could have sabotaged the radio, made it go dead and then alive again. He had the expertise. And Carter had been electrocuted.
Should he confide his suspicions to Colonel Hogan while the colonel yet believed in him? Would he then be doing an innocent man an injustice? An enlisted man could not accuse an officer of disloyalty without displaying some proof. All he had were suspicions that his radio had been tampered with. If he planted the seeds of suspicion in Colonel Hogan's mind, and they were unfounded, he would not only ruin his own reputation and be liable to severe punishment, he would break apart the friendship between Donovan and Hogan.
Kinch knew that Colonel Hogan valued highly his friendship with his official chief officer. Kinch and his colonel worked well in tandem; but the sergeant appreciated the barrier between officer and ranker divided them even more than any racial or social barrier. Colonel Hogan treated him as a man of no lesser worth than Newkirk or LeBeau or Olsen, but as an enlisted man, not as his equal. Donovan was Hogan's fellow officer and they shared a common ethnic heritage. The bonds were strong between them. Hogan needed Donovan as friend and confidant. If Kinch was wrong – if he accused Donovan unjustly, he could destroy more than his own good relationship with his commanding officer. But if his suspicions were correct and he did nothing about finding out if they were, everyone and everything here would be destroyed.
He admired the group captain, yet for the sake of the operation, he knew must put his personal feelings aside. He must either confront Donovan directly, or confide his suspicions to Hogan.
A shuffling sound made Kinch look up from his work. Before him stood a small, dark haired man with slanting green eyes. Before he could move or call out, the man fixed those bright green, gimlet eyes upon him.
"You cannot stir. Your limbs are far too heavy," the little man said. "They are growing numb, as are your five senses." Kinch stared at him, unable to speak, his brown eyes held captive by the green eyes of the intruder. A thick grey fog seemed to emanate from the little man, swirling around Kinch, wrapping his arms tightly against his sides, squeezing his chest and covering his mouth. He felt incredibly dizzy. He tried to move, but he could not. He heard a sound like rushing water in his ears. Then he felt himself fall into the swirling, darkening fog.
Seamus Dowd watched his victim's eyelids close. He caught Kinch's body as it fell sideways. With one arm, incredibly strong for the little man's size, he held him against his own chest, while with his other hand, he picked up the ribbon and pulled the paper from beneath the radioman's lax fingers .
"I truly am sorry," the leprechaun said as he arranged Kinch's arms to form a pillow the table and laid his head upon them. He stuffed paper and ribbon inside his green jacket. "I had no intent to harm you, good man, but the contents of this must not go to London."
He stroked Kinch's temples with his fingertips. "You sleep fast in my power. You will forget what you have read and you will forget that you saw me. If you remember me at all, it will be as a picture you conjured in your imagination when friend Carter described me to you. Sleep deep, Sergeant Kinchloe. Remain unconscious until the dawn breaks. T'is all the relief and recompense I can give to you for what I must make you endure."
+++March 19, 1943
"Kinch! Wake up, Kinch!" LeBeau patted his cheeks.
Kinch raised his head from his arms. He blinked and looked up at the circle of concerned faces around him. "Is't dayligh' already?" his voice slurred.
"Oui. It's daylight and almost time for roll call. What is wrong now, mon cher ami? Are you ill?"
"Yeah, mate. You were out like a light. We couldn't rouse you until now. What's the matter?" Newkirk sat down on the stool beside Kinch and stretched his arm across the sergeant's broad shoulders.
"Nothing, Newkirk. I'm just tired. Just so tired." Kinch leaned forward, closed his eyes, and rested his head in his arms.
"You've had one hard week, chum – what with the radio fritzing and Carter's accident. Let me send that message you're working on."
Kinch sighed. "Sure, Peter. Just don't get hur…" He raised his head from his arms and looked down at the table. "Newkirk, where is the message?"
"Search me. You had it. How would I know?"
"Yeah. I know I had it. Right here. But it's not here now." Kinch looked around, his eyes wild and distracted. He clutched Newkirk's arm.
"Has anyone – anyone – been near the radio while I've been out?"
Newkirk shrugged. "Everyone here's present and accounted for now, but you weren't lying in your bunk last night. Anyone could've gone below while you slept here."
"And even if I had slept over the shaft, it's no guarantee that no one was in the radio room, or in any of the tunnels last night."
"No. Not a one hundred per cent guarantee; but every entrance we don't secure is guarded by people we trust. You here. Jerry Jessop in Barracks One. Group Captain Donovan in Barracks Eleven… What's wrong, Kinch?" Newkirk looked up in alarm and concern as Kinch suddenly gripped his sleeve again.
"Newkirk. Peter. Promise me. Don't touch the radio. Don't let anyone touch it – not even Colonel Hogan. No one."
"You're getting as barmy as Carter, mate! Do you think the radio will fall apart in my hands? Or that the little people in green have put a curse on it like he said?"
"I don't think what happened to Carter was an accident," Kinch replied, his voice strained. "And I don't think it was caused by little green men."
Newkirk's irritation fled. "You're shivering! LeBeau, get the colonel down here! Simms, get a blanket around Kinch and help me rub him warm!" He put his arms around his friend. "It's all right, Kinch. Relax against me. It's all right. No one's going to hurt you or Carter with us around."
"Promise me, Newkirk. No one touches the radio. No one."
"I promise. I promise, Kinch. Take it easy, old chum," Newkirk soothed, gently rubbing his friend's back. He looked across it to Marcus Simms. The wiry black corporal nodded as he wrapped his blanket around Kinch and started kneading his shoulders and upper arms.
"You think I'm crazy, don't you?"
"Overwrought, Kinch. That's all. Just overwrought."
Colonel Hogan hurried into the radio room, LeBeau at his heels. He took one look at his radioman and stopped in his tracks; but only for a moment. Then he moved forward, pushed Simms aside and grasped Kinch by the upper arms.
"Come upstairs. Come into my office, Kinch," he said gently, raising him to his feet. Putting an arm around him, he guided the sergeant to the ladder, then across the barracks and into his quarters.
"Simms, guard the door. No one listens in. No one, Simms. Not even you."
Simms nodded his compliance, his jaw clenched and upraised.
The colonel smiled terse thanks. He knew Marcus Simms. No one else would get within hearing distance, and whatever words Simms heard, he would promptly forget.
Kinch shivered and turned his head. "Newkirk – the radio?"
Hogan narrowed his eyes at the Englishman. "He told me not to let anyone touch it, Guv'nor."
The colonel gave a curt nod. "See to it that no one does."
He led Kinch through the doorway of his quarters and sat him upon his bunk. He nodded to Simms, who closed the door and stood outside it with his arms crossed over his chest.
Hogan looked down at his radioman. Then he sat beside him and laid a comforting hand on his trembling arm. "What's wrong, Kinch? Let me help you."
Kinch looked at him bleakly. How do you tell a man that his closest companion may be a traitor?
"Colonel, I – the message. It's gone."
Hogan stiffened. "Gone?"
"Yes sir." Kinch stared at him. The whites of his eyes stood out around the brown pupils like the eyes of a spooked horse. "I have only suspicions; but I think…" Kinch couldn't go on. He was shuddering violently.
"It's all right, Kinch. It's alright." Hogan wrapped his own blanket around him, over the one Corporal Simms had draped. "You think that Donovan tried to put you out permanently. You think he knows about what the Irish government is up to, and has decided to go with them against us."
He gently squeezed Kinch's arm. "It crossed my mind too. He could have got to your radio. He has access to it through his own quarters, and he is an electrical engineer. He could turn us in to the Krauts at any time, just like Williams tried to do; but if he was playing a subtler game of discrediting us, or sabotaging our schemes without our knowledge, he might decide to play it safe by getting rid of you 'accidentally.' He knows how I rely on you."
Kinch heaved a sigh of relief. "I did not know how to tell you, or if I should tell you, Colonel. He's an officer. He's your friend, and I have no proof that he is a traitor." He began to tremble again. "And I don't want to believe that the group-captain tried to murder me."
"Neither do I. I've always thought that he respected you as much as you admire and respect him. But he is a fervent Irish nationalist. If the information the Nimrod passed to us is the truth, Donovan's loyalty must go one way or the other. You're right to distrust him, Kinch."
"But, Colonel. What if I'm wrong about him? All I have are suspicions. What are they worth without proof?"
"It's too big to gamble the outcome of the war upon. How much of Nimrod's message do you remember?"
Kinch shook his head "I feel like there's a fog over my brain. I can barely remember a quarter of it."
"You must send it now, all we both can remember, as quickly as possible. Someone's got that hair ribbon – someone who knows about our operation. If Donovan is no longer on our side, we have no time to lose."
"He may have sabotaged the radio again, sir."
"We don't know that it ever was sabotaged, Kinch. Remember that. Even if it was, Donovan might not have done it."
Kinch snorted. "Do you think it was Carter's leprechaun who did it?"
Colonel Hogan smiled. "Carter said you believed him when the radio worked again. I believe that something uncanny happened to you two and the radio on Saint Patrick's Day."
"What happened was that Carter almost died from a jolt of electricity."
"What happened was that both of you survived, and that the radio began to work again, after you spent a long, fruitless night and two days on it. Now someone took that message while you lay asleep."
Kinch bowed his head, miserable and ashamed. "Colonel. I'm sorry."
"No need to be, Kinch. You were worn out, and the guy who took it probably drugged you. Newkirk will not leave your side until you send what you can remember of the message, and none of us will afterward."
They heard Corporal Kohler shouting at Marcus Simms to get himself, his friend Kinchloe and his colonel out for roll call immediately or they'll all be in the cooler for keeping Kommandant Klink waiting in the cold.
"Guard yourself. Take every precaution. And don't confront Donovan on your own. We'll do it together," Hogan added. "He's not my closest friend in this camp." He looked Kinch in the eyes. "I will not lose the man who is."
Newkirk pulled off the earphones and leaned back wearily. "Well, that's done it. That's all you can remember?"
"I'm afraid so. Thanks, Newkirk, for sticking it out with me."
Newkirk looked at his companion, stretched out on the cot. "You really should give me more chances at this, you know. Not that you ever will again."
"I wouldn't have given you this one; but you insisted on taking over the key. If I did not feel so fog-headed…"
Newkirk swallowed. "If someone's out to get you, they'll have to get past me. Can't have you hurt again."
"I'm expendable; but don't tell the colonel I said so. I need to earn my keep in this organization." Kinch yawned and stretched his arms.
"Operations manager isn't enough for you?"
"Colonel Hogan manages all that needs managing. I'm just the office boy."
"Donovan?" Kinch asked, his voice suddenly taut.
Newkirk looked narrowly at Kinch. "Yeah, mate. Rumour has it that you want to sort out Group Captain Donovan for what's been happening lately."
Kinch looked back at him. "Rumour should think again before speaking," he said in even tones. "What happened lately may not be Donovan's fault."
" 'May' be, you say. Not 'is not'. So?"
"So when and how do we sort him out?"
"Not 'we'. You're not involved."
"Like bloody hell I'm not involved!" Newkirk swept his hand angrily over the message he had transmitted. "My country may be stabbed in the back by the Irish and I'm not involved? My friends' lives are threatened, and I'm not involved?"
"The last thing I want is a confrontation between us, Newkirk," Kinch said quietly. He moved his legs off the cot and sat up, facing the English corporal. "Listen to me calmly. We don't know what Donovan's part is in the affair, if any. The only things that might connect him are very circumstantial: his nationality and his profession."
"Andrew nearly died in that 'accident', Kinch."
"I know. I was there. And if the radio was tampered with, I'll crush whoever did the tampering. But one thing puts Donovan in the clear about that accident. It was my fault, not his. I left the power on, while I was trying to transmit. If Donovan wanted to electrocute me, it would've happened then, before Carter came downstairs. The accident happened because he grabbed a live wire due to my carelessness. Blame me for nearly killing him."
Newkirk looked away. He couldn't blame Kinch, not when Kinch was blaming himself. Carter meant a lot to them both. Kinch had been so tired. He had made one small mistake. And Carter had tripped over his own feet. Thank God, what happened had not cost Carter his life.
"So what are you going to say to Donovan?"
"It's what the Colonel's going to say. He insists on confronting Donovan with me. Since he outranks me, it's his call." Kinch groaned as he stood up. "I guess we should go up and find out from him what that call is."
Carter looked up from his book as Group Captain Donovan entered the barracks. He rose from his bunk and turned attentively toward the officer.
"I was told by Corporal Newkirk to meet Colonel Hogan here." Donovan said. "The corporal was not in a friendly humour. You wouldn't know why, would you?"
Carter shrugged, and then checked himself. The Group Captain was behaving very stiffly; not like his old 'hail fellow well met' self. "Afraid not, sir," he replied formally. "Kinch is inside the colonel's office with him." Something made Carter hesitate, and then say, "I'll announce you to them, sir."
Carter went to the door of Hogan's quarters and gently tapped the wood. "It's Carter, Colonel Hogan. Group-Captain Donovan is here as you requested."
Hogan opened the door with a scowl. "Tell the Group-Captain to come in, Carter."
Carter shifted his feet uneasily as he felt the tension pour out of the little room like steam from a boiling kettle. "Yes, Colonel." He saw Kinch glance through the doorway at Group Captain Donovan, and then stare at the floor with a very troubled expression.
He shuffled his feet again, feeling very nervous. "Oh, Kinch. I just remembered. I was to tell you to look in the left hand breast pocket of your jacket. There's something you and the Group-Captain are supposed to see together."
"What are you talking about, Carter?" Kinch demanded. "I've nothing in my pockets to show to the Group-Captain."
"Please check, Kinch. I think it's important."
"Carter. What could be in Kinch's pocket that Kinch does not know about?" Hogan asked irritably. "Show Group-Captain Donovan inside and close the door as you leave."
Chastened, Carter stood to one side to let Donovan pass. Kinch saw Carter's crestfallen face and remembered his vow to humour him. He sighed, opened the flap of his pocket and put his hand inside. With a look of stunned surprise, he pulled out a small gold medallion. He read the inscription; and then handed it to the Group-Captain. "I believe this medal belongs to you, sir."
Donovan took it and held it to his eyes. "How did y'come by it, Kinchin?" he asked.
"Is it your D.S.O., Donovan?"
"That it is, Colonel Hogan. But it should be at m'home in County Wicklow with the rest of m'medals. How came it to be in Sergeant Kinchloe's pocket?"
"Never mind that now, Donovan. How did you earn a D.S.O.?"
Donovan looked a little embarrassed. "I was a rash youngster in the first war. Only seventeen. We were under heavy fire. I and a few other lads volunteered to take reconnaissance of one of the big guns lobbing shells at us. I was the one who made it through the lines and back."
"After putting that gun out of action."
"True enough. I was a rash young spark then." He gazed down at the medal as if he could not believe he had once been so young and ardent.
Colonel Hogan cleared his throat. "Donovan, you know that Ireland is neutral in this war. Why are you here?"
"I told you when we met, Robbie. I love to fly, and I hate that bastard, Hitler."
"You also have little use for the English. Yet you earned this medal from them in the last war and you are a high ranking officer in their air force now."
"I was a rash young spark then. As for why I am here now, well, what regard does Hitler have for neutrality? Suppose he conquers the English and the Scots. The Irish would be next. We've fought too hard for the right to govern ourselves. Do you think I would give up m'country to an Austrian corporal who erased his own homeland from the map?"
Colonel Hogan squared his jaw and looked at his fellow officer. "What if Ireland agrees to an alliance with Germany against Great Britain?"
Group-Captain Donovan raised his chin and glared at him. "Surely m'government would not be so stupid. Colonel Hogan, if this is a test of m'loyalty – I tell you now what I've told you before. I am loyal to you and to the Allies and have always been loyal. Have I not proven it to you time and again?"
His voice rose as his anger increased. "But 'tis an insult, to make me believe what you've said of m'country, that it would stab even the Sassenach in the back whilst they are fighting their deadly enemy. And 'tis an even greater insult that you doubt me."
Kinch spoke up. "What of the Fenians, Group-Captain? They've practiced guerrilla warfare and arms smuggling for nearly a hundred years."
"'Twas the Irish fighting for Ireland," Donovan retorted. "We did not ask for anyone else's help, did we? 'Twas all our own fight. And I, m'Kinchin, fight in the open air, not underground in a tunnel."
His legs spread and his balled fists on his hips, the fiery haired Irish officer glared at Kinch like King Henry the Eighth scorching a knave who dared to challenge him. The scorn in his blue eyes had the power to quail the stoutest heart. Kinch, hurt and angry as he was at Donovan, bowed his head beneath it.
Colonel Hogan also felt the heat of Donovan's anger; but he held the advantages of being Donovan's superior in rank, and of possessing an ego that refused to accept criticism.
"Donovan, this morning the men found Kinch lying unconscious downstairs. The plans he was encoding for transmission to London, vital plans sent to us from an important agent, are missing. It was the package of information we were supposed to fetch when the radio broke down the night before last."
Donovan looked at Kinch open-mouthed, his face suddenly ashen. "Are you alright, ma crie?" He grasped Kinch's arm. "Kinchin, man! Kinchin, m'heart, are you alright?"
Kinch nodded, stunned by the look of alarm and concern on Donovan's face.
Colonel Hogan also looked stunned. Zipping open his leather jacket, he pulled out the transcription that Newkirk had sent and offered it to the Group Captain.
"This was part of the package we were instructed to pass on when the radio broke down. It's all Kinch could remember when he came to. It's enough to convince you, isn't it?"
Donovan took the paper. His brow furrowed as he read. Then his face flushed again, even hotter. He looked daggers at the two men watching him.
"And did you think I would sell m'soul? That I would betray m'sworn oath? That I would betray you?"
Colonel Hogan gave him stare for stare. "We did not know where your loyalty lay. With Ireland, or with us."
"It lies with truth and honour. I gave my oath to fight for King George when I joined the Royal Air Force. I gave it to you, Colonel, on the day you told me your grand scheme and asked for my silence and my co-operation. I gave you my loyalty and my friendship, Robert Hogan." He paused, his mouth working. "I cannot believe you do not trust me."
Donovan turned to Sergeant Kinchloe. The fire in his eyes abated slightly. "Kinchin, considering what happened to Carter, I cannot blame you for thinking that I sought to take your life. But I swear on my mother's grave that I am innocent of these attacks upon you. Do I have even a shred of your respect, or do you still believe that I would put you cold beneath the earth?"
Kinch looked like a man in pain. He gazed down at the medal in Donovan's hand. How did it get inside my pocket? And how did Carter know about it?
"Who is Seamus Dowd, sir?" he asked shakily.
"I never met the man."
"Carter has. He says he is a leprechaun." Kinch swallowed. "Strange things have been happening to me. I don't believe in leprechauns or fairies. I believe in Carter. I believe in his integrity. Even when I don't believe some things he tells me, I know that he believes them and that he would not lie to me."
Kinch squared his shoulders and looked into Donovan's eyes. "I want to believe what you say, sir, but I believe you tried to kill me, and it affects how I see you now."
Donovan held up the medal.
"I don't know how it got into my pocket, sir. I didn't take it, and I don't believe Carter did."
"I don't think for a moment that you or he stole my medal; yet it was in your pocket and Carter knew it was there. If I can believe you, despite appearances, can you not believe me?"
"You said you left your medal at home in Ireland. How come it's here?"
"How came it to be in your pocket? Do you think I can perform the same sleights of hand as your friend Newkirk can? Would he league himself with me to discredit you? How came Carter to know of it? Do you think that he seeks to put you in the wrong before your colonel?"
Kinch lowered his eyes and shook his head.
Donovan put his huge hand on the black sergeant's shoulder. "You don't believe it of them because you've seen and known them. You've seen and known me. We've worked side by side to keep the men together. Do you really believe I would kill you?"
"Kinchin, m'troubled heart. Robbie, old friend and commander. Ireland does not want me to betray you. Not for the likes of Hitler. And if it asked me to, for any reason, then I would renounce it, for it would have betrayed itself as well as you and me." He looked at the paper with disgust and handed it back to Hogan. "I do not believe that my country will accept the Nazis' blandishments."
"But the Nazis are wooing them, Mike," Hogan said gently. "What if they succeed?"
"Surely, the Irish Parliament is but playing both sides against the middle to gain something for itself. It would not sell our country to the likes of Hitler." Donovan shook his head again, but now he sounded unsure.
Hogan saw how distressed Donovan felt, and he sympathized. He would feel the same emotions if he were in his bluff friend's shoes. Donovan was a man of his oath. He had earned a Distinguished Service Order fighting for Great Britain in the last big war, and he was now an officer in the Royal Air Force. But he was also an advocate of an independent Ireland, completely free of London's influence. Some of the men on Nimrod's list may have been Donovan's friends, even his comrades in the fight to break England's dominion over the Emerald Isle.
Colonel Hogan again wondered how close Donovan's ties still were with the Fenian Brotherhood. He might not betray the operation at Stalag Thirteen. Hogan was almost fully convinced that he would not. But Donovan might also baulk at betraying his republican friends even if they make a deal with the Krauts.
Donovan turned back to Kinch's question, as if he did not want to think about the colonel's argument. "Perhaps I am superstitious, but I do believe there are beings who take an interest in what we do. Call them fairies or pixies or elves or leprechauns or what you will, I believe that they share the world with us, and that they intervene in our affairs because what we do affects not just us but them. I've never met a leprechaun, but I believe in young Carter's word that he did and that his name is Seamus Dowd.
"I think that my wee compatriot knew of those secret negotiations. He knew you two would have doubts about me – understandable doubts – and so he paid you a visit. He slipped m'medal into your pocket. He told Carter to tell you to reach inside at the proper time. Your affection for the boy made you heed and obey his request."
Kinch visibly struggled with his scepticism. Donovan gently squeezed his shoulder.
"You say you believe in Carter's integrity. Would Carter lie to you about his seeing and speaking to one of the little people? You know that Carter spoke the truth as he saw it. Stretch your faith a little further, m'Kinchin. Try to believe I would rather kill myself than harm you."
Kinch bowed his head. He sighed and nodded. "After all the times you've shown me friendship, I doubted you. I've no right to ask for your forgiveness, sir, but - may I ask for it?"
Donovan smiled. "I'll admit you had some cause to doubt me, guiltless though I am. I'd rather you doubted than be deceived." He offered his hand to Kinch, and when the sergeant took it, clasped his other hand around his and shook it warmly.
Colonel Hogan looked at Group Captain Donovan.
"Michael. I did not want to doubt you, either; but this missing message and the strange breakdowns and power surges in the radio have shaken my faith. Carter nearly died, and klutz though he is, we can't function without Carter. You had the know-how, and you're an Irish patriot. I let myself doubt you, against all that you've done for us. Please, Mike. Can you forgive me?"
Colonel Hogan hesitantly held out his hand.
Donovan took it. "Of course, Colonel." Then the Irishman pulled the American into a close embrace. "From the moment we first met, Reckless Robbie, you grew on my heart."
"And you on mine, Mike. I don't know how we could have succeeded here without you."
Hogan smiled at his radioman. "We Irish are pretty slushy folk, aren't we Kinch?"
Kinch returned his smile. "I think I could live with it, Colonel. Maybe even envy you it."
Hogan smiled and clapped Kinch and then Donovan on the back.
"There's still the missing message, Mike. Who do you think has it now? This Seamus Dowd?"
Donovan frowned. "Do you recall any of the names upon it, Robbie? Kinchin?"
Kinch struggled to remember. He shook his head, blinking his eyes. "A couple. My mind still feels muzzy. I can almost remember; but then the fog closes in and it's gone."
"Don't force yourself. I think I know some of the likely names." Donovan looked grim. "May we have Carter in here?"
"Of course, Mike." Colonel Hogan went to the door, opened it and called Carter inside.
Carter entered hesitantly, Newkirk and LeBeau close behind him. He stared first at Donovan, then at Kinch, then at his commanding officer.
"Sit down, boyo. Describe the leprechaun you encountered. Describe Seamus Dowd to Kinchin here."
Carter looked up at Donovan, afraid. He glanced at Colonel Hogan, who nodded his permission. Then he looked at Kinch.
"I believe you are sane, Andrew." He gave the young man a reassuring smile. "Do you believe I am?"
Carter smiled back. "Yeah, Kinch. Of course I do. Well, Seamus was wearing a green coat…"
"No, boyo. Clothing can be put on or off. What of his face? His dimensions?"
"He was as tall as LeBeau. Maybe a little shorter. He had black hair, and it covered the tops of his ears. His eyes were the brightest green you ever saw. They looked a little queer at the corners, and really intense, as if…"
"As if they could see deep into your mind."
"You saw him, Kinch?"
"I – I can't tell." The radioman put his left hand to his temple. "I vaguely remember green eyes staring into mine. I – I can't remember anything else. I think I remember them, or maybe I imagine that I do."
"Finn O'Connell." Donovan muttered.
"Finn O'Connell, Robbie. Short. Raven haired. Green, tip tilted eyes that can mesmerize the strongest mind at a glance. A leader in the Fenian brotherhood."
"A man with strange powers, Carter m'boyo. A very dangerous man."
Newkirk and LeBeau started forward. "Is he among us? How did he get into the tunnel? And not once but several times? How did he overpower Kinch? What are we going to do about him, Colonél?"
Hogan grimaced. "That's just it. What do we do about him? He knows enough about us to put us out of business – out of life itself."
"But is he ill-disposed toward us, Robbie? I know O'Connell well. I doubt he is supernatural, but he has powers. He could have killed Kinchin; yet, he did not. T'is possible he spared Carter's life. Perhaps he is willing to compact with us."
"He'll say nothing to the Krauts about our operation if we say nothing to London about the negotiations his government is making with Hitler? No deal, Michael."
Newkirk glowered at Donovan. "What's your stake in this, if I'm allowed to ask, Group-Captain?"
Donovan glowered back. "The same as your own, Corporal. My country's survival, and my own and the survival of my friends."
"One of which is this O'Connell or Dowd or whatever he calls himself."
"Newkirk! That's enough! The Group-Captain's not on trial. If we can't trust each other now, we might as well give ourselves up to Hochstetter." Colonel Hogan looked at Donovan. "How do we contact him?"
"He's shown that he knows where we are, Robbie. I believe he'll make contact with us."
Newkirk rolled his eyes. "That's bloody marvellous! We sit here like mice waiting for the Pied Piper to dance us off."
"There's nothing we can do. O'Connell holds the cards."
"Including the Ace of Spades," LeBeau muttered.
"True." Kinch looked at Newkirk and LeBeau. "I don't know who or what this man is." He shook his head again, trying to clear his mind, trying to find some rational explanation for what he had undergone. He sighed and gave it up.
"Carter, this man was with you in the tunnel after you lost consciousness, wasn't he? You swear to that?"
"Yeah, Kinch. Guys. Colonel. He was there with me all that time, and he brought me back to life. I swear it."
"Then I say we wait for him to make contact with us."
"But he's got what he came for, mon ami."
Kinch looked at the group-captain. "You believe he'll give us an explanation, sir?" Donovan nodded. "Then I'll stay to hear it."
"You're crazy!" Newkirk cried out before he could stop himself.
"Look. This man could have let Carter die, but he didn't." Kinch looked down at his hands. He knew that he had felt Carter's heart falter and fail. There was no reason for Dowd, or O'Connell or whoever he really was, to restore the young man to life. If Dowd showed mercy to Carter then, he might show mercy now.
"He said it was because you would not let me go, Kinch," Carter replied. "He said he knew what it was like to be harassed for who and what he is, and that he sympathized with you."
"What does he know about me? What did you tell him?" the black sergeant suddenly demanded with asperity. Carter recoiled. He knew Kinch was a taciturn man and hated pity worse than poison.
"Kinch, he's got lash marks on him too. He knows what it's like. And I think he respects you."
There was silence in the room.
"Do we wait for him to move, Colonél?" LeBeau asked. "Or do we go?"
Colonel Hogan looked at each man's face. Should he fold the operation? Get out now, while they had a slim chance, before this strange little Irishman betrayed them? They could get to London, if they were extremely careful, and tell Headquarters what they knew about Finn O'Connell. Which was hardly anything at all.
There was Nimrod to consider too. O'Connell knew of the message. He must then know who the elusive spy really was, perhaps where he was. But they had no idea who and where Nimrod was. They could not warn him about O'Connell's knowledge.
Then there was Doktor Falke. They had promised to get her home. Home to a firing squad perhaps; but an Allied court martial board may be more understanding of her than one composed of Nazis. Her father had supported Hitler; but her father was a crank and had treated her abominably. She could prove she had had no contact with him since she was sixteen years old. She was in Germany; but she came before the war started, ostensibly to study at the University of Heidelburg. She had helped to smuggle a few people out of Germany. Perhaps one of them was a rotten apple; but was that her fault? She could make a case for herself with their help if they took her with them. She could be murdered if they left her behind.
Yet, the chance of making it to London now was very slight. O'Connell would rouse the hunters in a moment, if he had not already done so, and snatching Doktor Falke from her cottage or from the hospital would delay their escape, even by half an hour. He was not going to leave her behind; but she was always a liability to them.
"We'll wait and see." Colonel Hogan held up his hand to still Newkirk and LeBeau. "I don't like it any more than you fellas do, but we have Olsen and Simms and the other guys to think about too. If we go down, we all go down together, fighting. And we just might not go down."
Kinch sat his radio table, stroking the key of his wireless telegraph, waiting. Behind him, seated on the cot, Carter and Newkirk pretended to play gin rummy. Upstairs, in Colonel Hogan's quarters, LeBeau poured coffee for the two officers, and tried to control his shaking hands. Holding the outer door slightly ajar, Olsen watched for approaching Germans, or Irishmen, as the case may be. Corporal Simms, the fastest runner among them, was stationed at the open hatch of the tunnel. If trouble came from above, he would warn the others to get out through the emergency tunnel. If the trouble came from below, Carter would prove how swiftly and surely he could run to warn those above. Although still weak and shaken, 'Little Deer' insisted on being the messenger.
"I hope if he trips himself again, he lands on top of the bloody leprechaun," Newkirk had muttered to LeBeau when Colonel Hogan gave Carter his permission. Now, looking at the wan, set face of his friend and colleague, Newkirk hoped that Finn O'Connell would leave them alone. After all, he had got what he had come for.
Carter murmured. "I sure hope he does not make us wait much longer."
"The suspense is part of his tactics," Kinch replied. If O'Connell is trying to hold us off until the negotiations are over…"
Newkirk held up his hand for silence. He slowly pulled his Luger from his pocket and slipped to the entrance of the emergency tunnel.
"You're looking for me in the wrong direction, Sassenach." The three men turned to the calm, cool voice. Finn O'Connell, or Seamus Dowd, stood in the doorway of the laboratory, pointing a small pistol at Kinch's breast.
Carter bounded up. "Hey! What are you doing in my lab?" he demanded.
The little man smiled serenely at him. "Hello, friend Carter. Will you fetch your colonel and my friend Donovan for me? Corporal Newkirk, drop your gun. Sergeant Kinchloe, slowly rise and stand away from your wireless. Why are you waiting, friend Carter? No harm will befall your associates if you bring the two officers here to meet me. If you do not, I may be forced to encourage you by encouraging your Kinch to lay down his life."
"That's a fine mannikin," he smiled as Carter sprinted for the tunnel to the barracks. He shook his head gently; but his eyes narrowed. "I would not recommend what you are considering, Sergeant. I've put you into my power before and I can do it again quite easily."
"I was unprepared for you last night," Kinch replied. "This time the situation's different."
"You think you have the will to withstand me now? Perhaps you do, but I would not rely upon it. I do not intend to harm you, unless your friend the English corporal is rash." He motioned with the gun. "Move beside him now, and bind his wrists. Sassenachs with pistols make me nervous."
Kinch shook his head and crossed his arms. "No. Why should I? Shoot me or stun me, Newkirk will fire at you. We agreed on that, and he cannot miss at such close range. Besides, you can't stare to sleep every man coming through the tunnel right now."
"Indeed he cannot, m'Kinchin. Indeed he cannot." Michael Donovan entered the radio room, filling it with his majestic presence. Colonel Hogan, Carter, LeBeau and every man of Barracks Two and Barracks Eleven followed him. "Well, Finn O'Connell. What mischief are you about now?"
"I'm trying to prevent mischief, Michael Donovan, not create it." He tossed his pistol to the group captain.
Donovan caught it and examined it. "Empty."
"As are my threats to kill you." Finn O'Connell grinned. "You don't back down or break down easily, do you, Sergeant Kinchloe? I like you well, and glad I am to finally say to your face how sorry I am for all that I've put you thorough."
"Why did you put me through it?"
"Because I did not want those plans to be used against my country by your superiors in London." O'Connell said placidly. "Think of the harm to Ireland if they were disclosed in the newspapers. No decent country would support us."
Colonel Hogan strode up to the little man. "Look. Who are you and what are you trying to prove?"
"I am Finn O'Connell, alias Seamus Dowd. I am one of the wee folk you humans call leprechauns; but I know you don't believe that. I am also a member of the Sein Fein, the underground movement to free Ireland from English tyranny. That you do believe." He shook his head sadly. "You should be grateful that I assured you of your life when you departed our company, Michael. I don't know why I forgave you for turning your back on the Brotherhood."
"I still care for Ireland, Finn; but I no longer care for the bloodshed we've made among us. I also don't care to bring outsiders into our struggle. Particularly not Hitler and his thugs. Why are you negotiating with them? You know they'd take us over in a heartbeat."
"Yeah." Newkirk interjected. "I've got nothing against you lot. You can have your free Ireland and good riddance to you. But are old grudges any reason to let the bloody Krauts in at my back door?"
"Colonel Hogan." O'Connell looked a little annoyed. "May we sit down and have a quiet discussion together? Or, to shut his mouth, must I do to your corporal what I reluctantly, most reluctantly, did to your good sergeant?"
Hogan shrugged, glared Newkirk to silence and motioned O'Connell to sit. The little Irishman pulled up a stool and, sitting, crossed his legs and pulled out his pipe.
"Colonel Hogan. Michael. I have no intention of 'letting the bloody Krauts in', either into Ireland or into Great Britain. But the Germans have been persistently pestering us to admit them. My true mission here is to prevent that, by telling the Daill the situation among the Germans as I see it, and by making our negotiations with them as difficult as possible."
"I do not mind Mr. Churchill and his government becoming privy to the negotiations. Naturally, Great Britain must protect itself from invasion. But I do mind if they are bruited about in the newspapers, before the entire world. Churchill threatens to do just that if we do not fully ally ourselves with England. My government does not want to attach us again to the English Crown, even by a formal alliance, now that we have finally detached most of our isle from it. What hope would Ireland have of keeping the world's good opinion if t'were known we had even contemplated making the slightest concession to the Nazis?
"Quite a number of Irishmen are fighting valiantly for the Allies. T'is proud I am of them, and of my friend Michael Donovan here. I do not want them to feel ashamed of their homeland. And there are those like yourself, Colonel: American born, but with the blood of Erin pumping through your veins. America will be a greater power than she's ever been when you've won this war. We'll call to you to help us, as you are our kin and as your country fought and won its own independence from the Empire. Colonel, we do not want America to turn away from us when we need you for our own survival as a nation."
"A fine speech, Mr. O'Connell," Hogan replied. "But it does not explain why you picked on us."
"Or why you're levelling with us at last," Kinch added.
"I found out a little too late that the spy Nimrod had obtained a copy of the negotiations and a list of the principals involved. Surely, gentlemen, have I not proven my good faith to you by not denouncing your Nimrod to the Nazis? I found out the route his 'package' would take. Surprised was I to find that it led through a prisoner of war camp, and even more surprised was I to discover my old comrade Michael Donovan among the inmates. I arrived just in time to put a hex upon your radio as Nimrod's message was being transmitted to you. I made sure that no messages would get through until I could obtain and destroy the package."
"But even if you destroyed the package, Nimrod would have sent another one, through other channels."
"That is true, Corporal LeBeau; but by the time London and Nimrod would realize the loss, the situation would have changed. Perhaps my Parliament would have come to some accommodation with yours, Corporal Newkirk. Perhaps the negotiations would have broken down. Perhaps the more foolish among my fellow negotiators would have opened their eyes to what they've seen here, and would have thought again about dealing with tyrants. The wiser men among us are already appalled by the atrocities we have seen; but they dare not show it until we are safely back home."
"How did you know what to look for?"
"I did not; but I knew that Nimrod's agent would contact you personally, so I watched for any unusual activity inside your prison camp. While you watched for the agent, I watched you. T'was not so hard. I have ways of reading minds, as well as working upon them. T'is how I knew your thoughts, friend Carter, when you were pacing by the fence. Well knowing my old friend Michael Donovan, I knew he would be involved somehow. And I knew who among you was your radioman from my hexing of his apparatus. I was there when young Carter ran into the room, tripped, and fell into the radio."
"You tripped me!" Carter exclaimed.
Kinch and Newkirk rose wrathfully. O'Connell stayed them with a glance.
"Did I not warn you both that I could render you immobile?" The leprechaun smiled his serene smile and blinked his eyes. Newkirk and Kinch resumed their seats. "No, friend Carter. I did not trip you. You tripped yourself."
"But you lifted your hex then, not when you did your little dance in front of Carter. You made sure the cable was live the moment he touched it." Kinch's eyes blazed. "I know it was dead before. You deliberately tried to kill him."
"No. I deliberately tried to keep you from getting that package. I knew that you would spend yourself for your friend, and think of naught else but saving his life. I was with Carter the entire time you thought him dead, Sergeant Kinchloe. He will vouch for that, and that I aided him in coming back to himself, and to you."
O'Connell smiled gently as he added, "And you learned something from that experience, did you not?"
The fire died from Kinch's brown eyes. "Yeah. I did learn something. I - I owe you there."
"And I owe you, for t'was when the lady physician examined you that I found Nimrod's courier. Don't fret. I would not have harmed your Doktor Falke. I did not realize that the package I sought was the yellow hair ribbon she was given until you carefully hid it within the covers of Sergeant Carter's chemical manual."
"Doktor Falke knew nothing about it," Hogan said hastily. "She thought the ribbon was a token to me from an admirer."
The men around them roared with laughter.
O'Connell looked a query at Donovan. Forty minds at once he could not read.
"Colonel Hogan is a handsome man. Women fling tokens at him constantly." Donovan explained to O'Connell.
"When they cannot fling themselves at him." LeBeau interjected before Donovan added, "The men are laughing because it's well known that Colonel Hogan and Marlena Falke do not agree with one another."
O'Connell glanced at Hogan with an arch expression that said he thought Donovan was mistaken. The colonel merely smiled.
"Well, you know the rest of my tale, gentlemen." O'Connell withdrew a pouch from his pocket and filled his pipe with tobacco. He lit it and drew on it. "I had to keep Sergeant Kinchloe from encoding and sending the message to London, so I clouded his mind and put him into a deep trance."
"I still can't remember what happened to me." Frowning, Kinch shook his head and rubbed the space between his eyes. "My mind slips and slides over what feels like ice."
"Do not fasch yourself or your head will ache. Part of your mind is locked in that ice. It will gradually return to you as it melts. I pray that you will forgive me when it does."
Carter spoke up. "But since you're a leprechaun, couldn't you use your magic powers to stop the treaty from being signed? I mean, couldn't you hypnotize the other people like you did Kinch?"
"Carter, m'boyo. My powers are not as extensive as you believe. As your Kinch wisely said when you were out of this room, I cannot 'stun' an entire roomful of people. People are so noisy, so full of their own concerns and conceits, that all of them will not concentrate on me long enough for me to work my spells. And the wakeful ones tend to rouse the sleepers betimes. Nor will any one of them stay entranced long enough to do me lasting good."
"But you brought me back to life," the young man persisted.
O'Connell tapped the stem of his pipe gently on Carter's noggin. "No. T'was God's blessing and the care of your good friends that brought you back to life." He gazed into Carter's eyes. "Remember all that I told you, and care for them well."
Carter slowly nodded.
Donovan cleared his throat. "Finn, what happens now?"
"Yeah, Donovan's right, Mr. O'Connell. You and your fellow negotiators won't be safe here. The Krauts won't let you go home until you promise them everything they'll demand. And you won't be safe in Ireland when you return. They will send men to shadow you and make sure you'll deliver on your promises. They're probably keeping watch on you now. If we smuggle you out of Germany now, we may be caught. And if we do smuggle you out, it will be to London – the last place you want to go."
O'Connell smiled and puffed upon his pipe. The sweetly spicy smoke swirled around him and filled the tunnel. "I am not too concerned about my safety, Colonel Hogan. I can come and go where and when I please. The stupid ones among us will be controlled one by one. The others now see that the way for Ireland's independence and growth will not come through Hitler's blandishments. As for our Nazi shadows, what makes you think that I cannot or will not lure them into traps of my own devising?"
"Yes," he said dreamily, watching the men nod off to sleep. "No man can catch one of the little people. I can take care of myself, and I will take care of my country. Our country, Michael Donovan. And I will lure our enemies into traps of my own devising, just as I have drugged you all with the smoke from my pipe."
Finn O'Connell bent and kissed his old friend's brow. "I envy you, Michael ma crie. Human life is so short, yet you may joy in good companionship with such men as these. I have spent my life solitary these thousand years. I have met many brave men; but I have never seen men the like of these, except for you. Brave souls. Care for them well, Michael, and may Heaven care well for you until we meet again."
With those words, Finn O'Connell disappeared from the tunnel.
+++March 20, 1943
The next morning, Kinch knocked and entered Colonel Hogan's quarters. Hogan and Donovan looked up from their conference over the chessboard. Kinch smiled inwardly as he noted the relief on the Irish officer's face. From the look of the board, the colonel had his restless colleague squirming.
"I was monitoring the BBC news and thought you might like to see this message, Colonel."
Colonel Hogan unfolded the note. He glanced at the squiggles. "It's still in your shorthand, Kinch."
"I know," Kinch grinned. "I wanted to read it to you." He took back the note and read in the clipped diction unique to BBC radio commentators. "The weather continues sunny. Storms off the coast of Ireland have not affected the arrival of spring to our western shores. The Orkney Isles also continue to experience unusually fine weather, with mild temperatures and warm offshore breezes."
Donovan looked perplexed. "Very nice for the Orkneys; but why is it a cause for joy?"
"It means, good friend Michael, that all is well, or as well as can be in wartime," Hogan replied. "The Krauts are not going to get a toehold on Britain through Ireland, and the Orkneys are secured. It also means that Prime Minister Churchill is not going to release any little bombshells in the press, at least not yet. The weather in Ireland is still unsettled; but it won't affect the larger island. Our friend 'Seamus Dowd' will have time to do his work for his country without interference from London."
Michael Donovan looked down at the chessboard and smiled. "God be praised."
"Amen to that."
Donovan looked up at the black sergeant. "Well, m'Kinchin. Do you believe in leprechauns now?"
Kinch folded his arms. "I believe your friend Finn O'Connell is a very crafty man, sir. He certainly mesmerized me. But a leprechaun? I don't know."
"Come, man. You encountered him."
"I remember green eyes. I can't remember anything more. I also went through shock, sir, because I thought Carter had died. That might have caused my blackouts, and O'Connell might have used that to get to me. If it wasn't for Carter meeting him at Death's door, I'd say O'Connell's a great illusionist with a knowledge of drugs and poisonous gasses. Not to mention a good working knowledge of electrical equipment." He paused. "I believe in Carter, Group Captain. I won't disillusion him, even if I could. If your friend is a leprechaun, my doubts won't change that."
They heard a commotion outside. The door flew open.
"I'm sorry, Colonel Hogan; but I'm late for my rounds at the hospital. Did I leave my stethoscope in your office?"
Colonel Hogan rolled his eyes. "Fraulein Doktor Falke, why don't you ever have yourself announced before entering a gentleman's quarters?"
"I have yet to enter a gentleman's quarters, Colonel Hogan," Doktor Falke replied. She nodded to the other two men. "Group Captain Donovan, a pleasure to see you. Sergeant Kinchloe, please stay. Colonel, I have only one stethoscope. I recalled that I last held it here, and I need it." She looked at their dazed faces. "Am I interrupting something?"
"You are always interrupting something, Doktor." Colonel Hogan picked up the stethoscope and handed it to her.
"Danke. Next matter, Colonel. Kommandant Klink has given permission for Sergeant Kinchloe and yourself to accompany me to the hospital for the EEG scan you requested yesterday. Sergeant Schultz is to be your guard."
Kinch gave his colonel a 'speaking look.'
"Your blackouts, Kinch. If Carter has to go though it, so do you."
"T'will be a little ironic, Kinchin, for yourself to be wired for transmission."
"At least Schultz will protect me." Kinch smiled. "I hope my brain waves make interesting reading, Fraulein Doktor."
"I look forward to scanning them, Herr Kinchloewen."
"Lastly, Colonel Hogan: I need your list of grievances." She lifted a forefinger. "The protecting power will not protect you adequately, unless you promptly file your grievances."
"Are you so sure it protects us adequately now?" Kinch muttered.
Doktor Falke placed her hands on her hips. "If you want your next Red Cross package delivered to you intact, you'd better say it does. Colonel Hogan, before my escort loses all his pay in Corporal Newkirk's poker game, may I have that list?"
Colonel Hogan shrugged. "Donovan?"
"This month's list fully made out, sir. We've also fresh material for the next month."
"Typed and ready for your signature, Colonel." Kinch pulled open a drawer and laid the paper flat upon the colonel's table.
Hogan sighed as he picked up his pen. "A senior P.O.W. officer's work is never done."
Behind his back, the two men rolled their eyes. Doktor Falke broke out in a giggle. Then Donovan started to laugh, then Kinch, then, after glaring at them, Colonel Hogan joined in heartily.