The Good, the Bad, and the Little Known Third Category
"Colonel Hogan!" cried a huffing Schultz as he waddled urgently across the compound. Hogan stopped, staring amusedly as the charming guard pushed through a laughing crowd of prisoners.
"Please do not DO that!" the red-faced German pleaded as he rested his hands on his knees to catch his breath. Hogan obligingly held his rifle for him.
"Take it easy, Schultz, I'm not goin' anyw—do what?"
"Hug yourself. You always do that when you are up to some monkey business!"
Usually Hogan was the one doing the confusing; today, though, Schultz was giving him a run for his money. So he settled on the most intelligent thing to cross his mind.
"This!" Schultz demonstrated the gesture in question. "You are always doing that and next something horrible happens. Please, Colonel Hogan!"
The colonel just leaned against the wall of the barracks and laughed.
"Can't help it, Schultz. I'm a sneaky troublemaker."
"Scheming," Schultz corrected.
"Sorry, you're right; scheming troublemaker."
Schultz shook his head, his jowls moving as he did so. "Please do not make any trouble today. I am up for a three-day pass from the Big Shot!"
"You can sleep soundly, I'm not thinking or scheming anything," he assured the friendly (if not rather suspicious) German.
He wouldn't be a German if he wasn't suspicious, Hogan thought wryly. He tuned in again as soon as he noticed Schultz starting to talk.
"But you were hugging yourself…" Schultz trailed off unhappily, narrowing his eyes at the POW.
Hogan tried his best to look offended. "I'll have you know, my dear Schultz, that that particular gesture is an ancient family tradition!"
Seeing this cryptic comment was to be followed by a long story, the guard took advantage of a nearby bench. "No!" He expressed his unbelief at the statement.
"Mhmm." Hogan handed him his rifle.
Hogan nodded in acknowledgement and continued his story. "Yup, back when my family lived in the Wild, Wild West there was a man in my family named 'Ol' Wrong Way Hogan'…"
"Wrong-Way?" Schultz interrupted.
"Now don't get ahead of the story!"
"Well, you see, Ol' Wrong-Way was drinking in the saloon when a man approached him on his stool.
'We need another player for poker. Ya wanna join?' the man snarled. He shoved his leathery face into Wrong-Way's and scowled at him, showing crooked teeth yellowed by years of tobacco use.
Wrong-Way casually shoved his hands in his pocket and felt a few coins, his good-luck charm and pocket lint. He could use some money on the way to California."
"Where was he, Colonel?" Carter asked.
Carter frowned. "Where did he start out from?"
The boyish sergeant stared at him, thought about what he had just said, and protested. "But—"
The Colonel offered a shrug. "His name was Wrong-Way. Now may I?" His eyebrows rose into his hair and he made a wave with his hand, indicating that he wanted to continue his story.
"Oh, sure, Colonel," Carter assured, "you can go on."
"Thank you so much, Carter."
"Wrong-Way looked up at the man with foul breath and pasted an easy grin on his face.
'Sure,' he said, and followed him to the table. There sat two other rough characters. One of them had greasy hair that needed to be cut and squinty eyes. The most striking thing about him, though, was the long, thin scar that ran down the left side of his face."
"Did Ol' Wrong-Way happen to wear a monocle, by any chance?" Newkirk questioned innocently.
LeBeau sniggered, and even Schultz let out a belly laugh at that one. Carter smiled fondly at the memory of dressing up as a "friendly" Gestapo agent in order to calm Klink down before the real Gestapo agent came. In his nervousness, the anxious Kommandant had dropped his eyepiece onto the floor where it cracked straight down the middle. For weeks the man had gone around wondering why all the buildings had large splits down them and how everyone had mysterious scars on their faces.
Colonel Hogan waited until the laughing died down before going on.
"The other man had streaks of dirt on his face and one cool blue eye that seemed to look straight into a man's soul.
The whole bar went quiet—the piano's melody faded, the chattering dwindled, and even the girls' giggles silenced.
Wrong-Way suddenly felt nervous. He offered a cordial nod to each of the players that was not returned.
The first man with yellow teeth introduced the players.
'This here is Rattlesnake,' he gestured towards the man with the scar on the right side of his face—"
"Wait, Colonel, I thought you said the scar was on the left side of his face," Kinch smiled at his commanding officer.
Colonel Hogan cast him a peeved glance.
"He had another one on the right side of his face, all right?"
Baker issued a small chuckle—quickly turned into a cough when the Colonel turned his glare on him—and Kinch suppressed the urge to grin.
"Go on," Schultz urged, wanting to know what happened to the obscure family member of the Hogan clan. Several of the other prisoners nodded in agreement; by now, Hogan had piqued all of their interest.
"Right." The master storyteller paused. "Where was I anyhow?"
"Rattlesnake," Olsen helpfully supplied.
"Right, right. Ok, so…"
" 'This here is Rattlesnake,' he said, gesturing towards the man with the long, thin scar on the left and right side of his face. 'And this one here is One-Eyed Bill, and I'm Joe.' He pulled out a chair and sat in it. Wrong-Way did the same.
'I'm… uh, George,' Wrong-Way replied to the introductions. His name tended to give others the wrong impression. Well, the correct impression, but still not the kind he really wanted to impress upon these gentlemen. The others barely gave him a second glance before One-Eyed Bill started dealing the cards. They were beat-up things, worn by years of hard use and miles inside a coat pocket. The red and black on them were now both covered with brown stains that made them seem darker than they really were.
The blue-eyed man growled the name of the game as he flicked the cards to the participants. Each card landed in an untidy pile before Wrong-Way, and he curled his upper lip with distaste as he realized one of his cards had a smear from chewing tobacco on it. He looked up in time to see Joe sneering at him, which he offered a wan smile in return and picked up the cards, neatly putting them in order within his hand.
While sorting through the mess, he nonchalantly glanced up and watched as the others organized their hands as well. One-Eyed Bill was calm and collected, betraying nothing on his dirty face; Rattlesnake's mouth tugged up at the corners just a tiny bit before settling back into a dour frown as he glanced around the table; Joe's face twitched at the corner a bit, and he angrily shoved the heel of his hand into the corner of his eye to cease the involuntary movement.
'I'll open.' Rattlesnake threw a few chips into the center pot.
Wrong-Way spared a moment to check his cards before looking in the middle. He threw in the same number of chips, then added some more. 'I'll see you, and raise.'
"How much was in the pot, sir?" Wilson questioned. Hogan looked at him.
"It's not really important how much money there was," he began only to be cut off by Newkirk.
"Money not important? Sir, I protest!" the Briton cried indignantly. One of the German corporals nodded in agreement.
"Alright, alright!" The affronted Senior POW threw up his hands in mock surrender. "There was, umm, twenty-five dollars in the pot."
"Twenty-five? Isn't that a little high?" a smallish soldier with round glasses perched on his nose asked. "I mean, for that time period." When the Colonel gave him a particular look he subsided. "Of course, it is your story."
"Yes, it is, and I would like to finish it today. So can I please?"
Everyone gave apologetic grins that were really not apologetic at all and leaned forward to listen to the rest of the tale.
"The bidding went on until the pot was a hefty sum. One-Eyed Bill went around the table, asking for cards. He reached Wrong-Way, but instead of hearing the expected, 'one' or 'two', or even 'three,' Wrong-Way looked him in the eye and said four cards.
There was a bit of a ruckus, but he did have an Ace, so One-Eyed Bill grudgingly dealt him four cards that he silently placed in his hand without ever looking at them. Now, someone—I forget who it was—called for them to show their cards, and they laid down their cards, one by one, each beating the last.
Joe had a pair of queens, followed by One-Eyed Bill who held a straight, 4-5-6-7-8 in his hands. Rattlesnake smirked as he placed his flush (spades, K-Q-10-3-2) on the table. As the cards were revealed, Wrong-Way kept one nervous hand in his pocket, rubbing his lucky charm the whole time."
"What was his lucky charm?" a tall, lanky RAF soldier said.
"Of course it was a rabbit's foot, mate," Newkirk suggested, but an Irish soldier piped up at the same time, "A four-leaf clover?"
Hogan waved his hands as a small argument broke out over what the lucky charm was. "Neither! It was… umm… an arrowhead. An honest-to-goodness, sure thing, genuine Indian arrowhead he had found."
"Oh, boy! What tribe?" Carter asked excitedly.
Hogan sighed. "Later, Carter, I'll be sure to tell you later. For now…"
"All that was left was Wrong-Way; Rattlesnake was already standing up in his chair to gather the pot when Wrong-Way dropped his cards face-up on the table's wooden surface.
Four aces which happened to beat even the flush that Rattlesnake held.
The three rough characters stared in shock at the cards, jaws slack and eyes wide with surprise. Even Ol' Wrong-Way was a bit flabbergasted. One of them spoke up.
'You cheated,' a quiet voice said. It came from Rattlesnake.
Wrong-Way resented this. 'I did nothing of the sort. If you can't handle a simple loss, well, that ain't my fault, now is it, boys? Now if ya don't mind, I'll just collect my money and mosey on out o' here,' he started, but again Rattlesnake spoke.
'You cheated. Ain't no man alive that lucky, to have four aces, when you took four cards. You musta cheated!' By now his voice was raised, and the bartender shot the table in the corner of the room a suspicious glance. Keeping one cautious eye on the men, a discreet hand reached under the counter for the shotgun he always kept there.
Wrong-Way noticed the subtle movement and noted the fiery look in Rattlesnake's eyes, not to mention the slow, predatory advance that he was making towards him.
'Listen, I don't know what you're talkin' about, I just happened to get three aces, is all, folks,' he explained calmly, though his palms were clammy and he felt drops of sweat trickle down his back and forehead. With a shaking hand, he pushed back a lock of black hair that had gotten in his eyes. This innocent poker game was quickly turning into a potentially lethal situation. Wrong-Way always carried a gun, in one of the holsters on his hips—he had to sell his other firearm for some quick cash, but the holster was still for two guns.
Which one did I put my gun in? He thought furiously as he stalled the other man with his words to buy some time.
Rattlesnake pulled back his coat, revealing a black holster riding low on his chaps, and quicker than his name, he slid his hand back and—
Wrong-Way abandoned his plan of figuring out where his gun was, and he reached to both sides of his hips, his arms crossing as he did so. This action would have worked, of course, but it was a good thing it didn't. You see, when he reached for both hips, he was so preoccupied with untangling his arms to retrieve his pistol that he had backed over a chair. He went flying to the ground and his good luck charm flew out of his hand. The chair hit the table, which collided with Rattlesnake and made the gun shoot to the side, where it clipped Wrong-Way's good luck charm. Rattlesnake was so startled he dropped the gun, and just sort of stood there staring at it.
By then, Wrong-Way had recovered, grabbed his pistol, and aimed it square at Rattlesnake's chest.
'Now if you boys will just get outta the way,' he said menacingly, 'I'll just be on my way.'
So the three men moved out of the way faster than two shakes of a lamb's tail, and Wrong-Way left the saloon and went on his way to California, just like he planned."
"And that's why I don't just cross my arms, Schultzie," Hogan grinned as he wound up the story. The heavy crowd he had gathered gave some heartfelt applause before moving along to complete their business.
"That was a wonderful story, Colonel Hogan! I am sorry I ever doubted you," Schultz said.
"Think nothing of it. Here, you better get back to duty before the Kommandant catches you and that three-day pass goes out the window." Schultz's eyes widened and he hurried off, rifle grasped firmly in one hand and his helmet in the other.
Hogan's eyes followed him for a bit as he made his way across the prison camp before turning to the only other person left. Kinch gave a small smile.
"So, Colonel Hogan," the radioman said as he settled next to his CO on the bench. "How much of that story really was true?"
Hogan glanced at him and leaned back against the wooden slats behind him. "Not a lick of it. I used to make up stories for my little sister so she would go to sleep at night… guess I got pretty good at it. Of course, I've had practice with Klink." He rolled his eyes along with Kinch as they remembered all of the tall tales the shrewd man had fed the Kommandant to keep him from catching on to their operation or to further their own missions.
Both sat and enjoyed a companionable silence, just staring at the prisoners milling around or playing a football game, Kraut guards standing ever at the ready with their guns on the edge or in the towers. They sat like that until it was time to go in.
One Week Later:
"Mail call!" Schultz shouted into the barracks. Instantly he was surrounded by prisoners eager to hear from home via short letters colored nearly black with overzealous censorers.
By the time Colonel Hogan made it to the guard, he was lying on the ground with his uniform askew and only two letters in his hand.
Leaning down, the American snatched the letters from him and absent-mindedly patted him on the shoulder. "Thanks, Schultz," he said as he opened one of the letters from his mother.
Things are fine here. Your little sister has herself a handsome beau and she says to be nice to him when you come home. You can't threaten all the young men interested in her, anyways, or else you would have your hands full.
Settling onto his bunk, he read on. The middle of the letter was full of things that his mom knew he missed the most. Little things, like how the garden was doing, news on the crazy neighbor who owned all the cats, how the Turners' were doing well, and so on; things that would never matter to anyone else, but somehow held a special importance when taken away from someone for so long.
He sat up suddenly as he read the last part, though.
The most interesting thing happened the other day, Robbie. Dorothy and I were
cleaning the attic when we found an old box filled with old relics. Oh, you should
have seen them! They had belt buckles, boots, and photos from the Wild Western
times! It was odd, though. We found an old wooden box with just two things in it.
One was a real Indian arrowhead, smooth on the sides like someone had rubbed
all the roughness off. There was just a bit missing, a half-circle on one side.
Dorothy and I suppose that it must have gotten hit by something, though I can't
imagine what. Anyways, right underneath that was the most interesting thing.
It was an old picture of a young man who looked just like you. He had a bit
narrower face, maybe, but I would know that mischievous grin and that black
hair of yours anywhere. It must be some old relative of ours—he has his arms
wrapped around himself, just like you do whenever you're plotting something.
On the back is just a little note that says, "Dear Ma, I made it to California,
Anyways, I'm sure you don't want to be bored by the rest of what we found. Take
care of yourself.
Always love you,