"Colonel, you mind readin' that last bit again?" Corporal Peter Newkirk looked puzzled. Like the rest of the men crowded into the secret radio-room dug beneath their German Prisoner of War camp, Luftwaffe Stalag 13, the Englishman had good reason.
Colonel Robert Hogan re-read the decoded message aloud, barely believing it himself. " 'Goldilocks, High Command requests your presence in London post-haste. Instructions to follow, channel Alpha, 1900.' The sign-off code matches the one for General Tillman Walters, Signal Corps."
Sergeant Ivan Kinchloe, seated at the radio, snorted disdainfully. " 'Requests your presence post-haste.' Isn't that just like the British?"
"Hey!" Newkirk said.
"If this is another Gestapo trap, they have me fooled. How many people could know an American general's personal sign-off?" Corporal Louis LeBeau wondered aloud.
"Yeah," Sergeant Andrew Carter spoke up. "We only know it 'cause he sneaked in here with that radar device that once."
"Only we thought 'e was a corporal," Newkirk added. "So when 'e ran around acting furtive an' unfriendly--in short, like an officer--"
"Hey!" Hogan said.
"--We tried to get him transferred," Kinchloe finished. The black radio man shook his head with a chuckle. "Boy, we're actually lucky we didn't get court-martialled for that!"
"So what does he want now?" Hogan complained. "With me? It's not like a man can just request a transfer around here!" He gestured exasperatedly at the dirt ceiling, and a few of the men chuckled. Most were silent, though. Colonel Hogan--their commanding officer and senior POW at Stalag 13--was also the man who ran their extensive escape-and-sabotage operation. When Allied High Command gave orders, they weren't to be trifled with or ignored, but it seemed to many of the men that the powers-that-be had just decided to throw away one of the most important secret operations of World War II. There was no telling why Hogan was wanted in London, or how long he would be gone. Without its mastermind--a man dedicated to the unconventional, and therefore the unpredictable--the team at Stalag 13 might as well have been officially dissolved.
"What're we gonna do, colonel?" Carter asked in a small voice.
Hogan sighed, staring down at the typed words and seeing only a jumble of letters. His mind was already far away, across the English Channel. Only one question echoed in his mind--why? The men were waiting. They waited for their officer to do something officious, confident that everything would turn out in the end because he was running this flying circus. Only he wouldn't be doing that for too much longer, would he?
"Someone's getting promoted," he murmured, half to himself.
"What was that, colonel?" Newkirk asked.
Startled, Hogan jerked out of his thoughts and glanced up. "What?"
"You said something about a promotion," Kinchloe prompted.
Hogan blinked. "A higher-up will have to take my place as senior officer."
There were cries of protest from the men. "But why, colonel?" LeBeau argued. "Why can't we run l'operation by ourselves?"
"Yeah," Newkirk snorted. "Now we 'ave to go an' get a new officer--just when we 'ad this one trained!" The witticism didn't lighten Hogan's mood, though.
"That's not what I mean!" he snapped, more harshly than he had intended. He continued in a weary voice. "Someone will have to play up Klink."
Understanding dawned on the faces around him. "Where're we gonna get a new officer--and a higher rank at that?" Kinchloe asked. "As far as I know, Crazy-Eyes hasn't captured many of our generals."
Newkirk groaned suddenly. "Please don't tell me you want Colonel Crittendon back 'ere!"
Hogan shook his head. "No, there's no time to get him transferred--and you know Crittendon! He'd ask too many questions and talk to the wrong people."
"Then what can we do?" LeBeau asked. "We cannot just go down to the Commissary and pick up un général to go!"
Hogan rested his chin on one fist. "Maybe we can..."
"Pardon?" Newkirk spluttered.
"No one said the senior POW had to run the show--or even be a real officer!"
"You want to run that by us again?" Kinchloe asked. "Am I hearing you want one of us to 'become' an officer?"
Newkirk shook his head gravely. "Impersonatin' an officer! That's the brig for sure if you're caught!"
"If anyone would know that, it would be you, Peter," LeBeau snapped sourly, unhappy with the whole situation.
"But Klink knows all of us!" Carter pointed out.
"That's why it won't be one of you," Hogan replied. Walking over to the open hatch, he called up through the bunk. "Foster!"
"Yes, colonel?" came a British-accented reply.
"C'mere a minute!"
Thomas Foster, a thin blond Englishman, climbed down through the bunk, straightening to attention once he stood before the American colonel. Hogan turned to his men with a sly smile.
"Fellas, I'd like you to meet Air Commodore Lawrence Foster Wetherby, Royal Air Force. He was shot down over Hammelburg night before last and, after a brief stay with the Gestapo, he will be delivered here to Stalag 13 tonight pending further questioning at a later, unspecified date."
Everyone stared at the new senior officer.
The Englishman, to his credit, grinned shyly. "I say! Mother always told me I'd be an officer someday!"
The barbed-wire double gates swung back before the transport truck. Sergeant Major Hans Schultz glanced up as its hooded headlights swept across the snow-patched yard, wondering who could be coming in at such a late hour...wondering if he really wanted to know. With a shrug, the huge man finally decided he would see enough to tempt Colonel Hogan into bribing him with one of his lovely American chocolate bars, but not enough to conflict with his personal goal of knowing absolutely nothing. Dusting the crumbs of LeBeau's damningly delectable apple strudel from his overcoat--ach! you have broken your diet yet again!--Schultz lumbered over to greet the new arrivals.
They turned out to be a pack of SS wolves hovering over one miserable-looking prisoner. Schultz briefly allowed himself to pity the poor man who was obviously so important--those SS Übermenschen were always so stuck-up and needlessly brutal--then shunted the thought away, in case the rumours were true (Gott behüte! Schultz shuddered) that SS men really could read minds.
The SS officer stared down his nose at the Luftwaffe Unteroffizier--Schultz would have been surprised if he hadn't.
"Who is in charge here!"
"Herr Oberst Klink is the Kommandant of Luft Stamm-Lager 13--"
"Well, why isn't he here?"
Schultz sighed patiently. Maybe his Mamma never told him you attract more butterflies with edelweiss flowers than with nettles. Or maybe he just sprang up full-grown from the blood of Hitler, like in the old myths Herr Doktor Goebbels is always preaching about. "If you will wait here, bitte, I will go and get the Kommandant." Schultz kept his tone even, but firm and, after an imperious silence that he took to mean agreement, Schultz trundled off to rouse the Big Shot so he could come out and cower before the mighty SS. Schultz snorted--I didn't expect any of this Nazi nonsense when I enlisted back in '14! All this running around flashing the Hakenkruz--the Hooked Cross--like it was something more than a funny rune, saying some blood is better than other. Bah!--it's all red on the mud. If any of them really knew how bravely the Jews in the trenches fought and died for our Kaiser, perhaps they would sing a different tune now! Ach! but it doesn't do to anger the SS--what happens to one man is usually nothing, but to his family...
Shivering a little, wishing he were back home with his nagging wife and crying children so that he could gather them close and keep them safe from the way the world had come to pass, Schultz knocked softly on the door to Colonel Klink's bedroom.
"Herr Kommandant?" he whispered softly. A snuffling snore answered him. "Herr Kommandant," he tried again, "there are some SS men here to see you!"
There was a loud thump on the other side of the door--sounding suspiciously like someone falling out of bed--and seconds later it jerked open, revealing the commandant's bony face. Schultz passingly noticed the Big Shot wore his monocle to bed--did he not dream in focus?
"Dummkopf!" Klink shouted. "Why didn't you wake me when they arrived?"
"They just got here, Herr Kommandant," Schultz said patiently. But Klink was already bundling into his robe--an outrageous red paisley thing--and heading for the door.
The SS officer was still standing exactly where Schultz had left him, but now he had been joined by a tall, thin-faced man with gold-rimmed spectacles and a little toothbrush mustache just like the Führer's. His nondescript yet obviously expensive overcoat screamed Gestapo. Schultz shivered again--this only seemed to get worse by the minute!
If there was one thing Klink had mastered, it was licking someone's boots with words. He cowered verbally before the two men with a technique unequalled by von Ribbentropp himself. The sight of it might have mortified someone less apolitical than Hans Schultz--to him, it was merely embarrassing, moreso because the two officials bullied Klink like they were enjoying it.
The gist of this exchange was basically that the Gestapo had a very important enemy officer they wanted to store here so they could come back and 'question' him again later. Schultz stood at attention, waiting for the commandant to call him. If Klink hadn't liked giving all his orders so much, Schultz might have been off preparing a room already--but around here, efficiency counted less than indispensability. Indispensability kept you out of cold places.
"Ja, Herr Kommandant?"
"Prepare the senior officers' quarters in Baracke 2!"
"Jawohl, Herr Kommandant. Ah...Herr Kommandant?"
"Those are Colonel Hogan's quarters..."
"Bah! Let him bunk somewhere else!"
With what Colonel Hogan might have called an 'egg-sucking grin' for the officials, Klink strode off importantly to start the paperwork. A little less enthusiastically, Schultz trundled off towards the quartermaster's hut to at least get the new man a blanket for the night. As he neared the imperious SS officer and his chisel-faced companion, something about them naggled in the back of Schultz' brain. Curiosity overcame cowardice and he went over to them.
"Pardon me bitte, meine Herren but...have we met before?"
Newkirk and Carter looked at each other, just barely managing to keep their faces straight. "Nein," Newkirk lied. "I vould have remembered if we had."
Carter nodded in solemn agreement. "You are obviously mistaken, sergeant."
The way the Gestapo agent emphasised his rank implied that there were worse things than being in the Luftwaffe and stationed at Stalag 13. Schultz hurried on his way.
Colonel Hogan waited alone in his bunk, staring into the night.
He was finally leaving Germany, leaving the horrors of war...and leaving the best friends and soldiers he had ever had in the heart of enemy territory. And why? Why jeopardise, even destroy, such a flyingly successful operation? Not so much as a peep from High Command.
Hogan gritted his teeth in the darkness. It always seemed to come down to secrets, all their precious secrets. Robert Hogan had no trouble keeping secrets--terms like Eyes Only were but second nature to him. No, he had no problems with secrets...
Unbidden, a memory flooded up into his mind. He squeezed his eyes shut against it, but the image refused to be banished--the front steps of mother's house, white-painted and peeling. He had promised to sand and repaint them as soon as he got leave-time...but that had been the summer of 1941. So much had happened since then.
His mother, still slim and beautiful despite the creeping signs of age, stood there on the porch in that cozy, quiet Connecticut suburb, hands knotted around a damp dishtowel. Tears waited in her dark eyes, glimmering at the corners in the early light. Waiting, waiting to emerge as her son disappeared into the unknown, courtesy of the city bus. Her eyes were already reddened and slightly puffy--she had cried herself to sleep last night. He had heard her then, had wanted to go to her in the dark and hug her and comfort her, as he wanted to now, but confusion kept him rooted in his place. Confusion, and guilt. He had lied to her, to his mother, lied about his orders because he had to, and now he couldn't face her. Because she knew.
She looked away from him and he stared down at the grass between his spit-shined shoes, neither speaking, for only 'good-bye' was left between them. Every blade of the little postage-stamp lawn was neat and in-place--he had just run the mower early that morning, releasing his pent-up frustration, as he so often did, in his work. It was one of those push-mowers, with a swirl of blades in the middle, and hadn't been oiled or sharpened in ages and so moved only sluggishly. It had taken him two hours to do the front and back, after which he had changed and packed, exhausted--hardened--into a strange, satisfying sort of numbness. And as he stood on that tautly-groomed lawn, not daring to meet his mother's eyes, his orders weighed heavy in his breast pocket, as though they had been stamped Top Secret in lead ink.
He had not seen his mother since that morning, the morning he went off to war.
"Colonel!" LeBeau's pale face swam into focus above him, seeming almost disembodied against his black outfit. The painful memory tore and fluttered away like so many rags, for which Hogan was grateful.
Swinging his legs off the bunk, the colonel gathered his things and prepared to go out through the tunnel. Kinchloe led, checking the area with the periscope before climbing up through the tree-stump hatch. Hogan came next, followed by LeBeau.
In a nearby meadow the prisoners had secretly cleared of stones, the black-washed RAF "Moon Squadron" Lysander and its nervous pilot already waited for them
" 'Bye, colonel!" Kinchloe called as Hogan dashed towards the souped-up Lizzy. The engine sputtered, then roared, the tri-blade prop blurring as the pilot began to turn his bird. Hogan tossed his bag neatly into the back, then caught the ladder leading up the side. Clambering up to the top, he tossed one leg into the rear. Hesitating, Hogan turned back and gave the two hidden men a jaunty salute before sliding down into the waiting seat. The hatch slammed and locked, and their colonel was gone. The little plane lifted and banked, turning north-west, towards England.
"Et bonne chance," LeBeau added with a heavy sigh.
"Are you a colonel or a general?" Schultz asked, leading Foster towards Baracke 2. "So many countries we are fighting! I don't have time to memorise the uniforms."
"I am an Air Commodore!" Foster proclaimed, lifting his chin haughtily. "--Ahem...that's 'a general' to you--Air Commodore Lawrence Francis Wetherby the Third, Royal Air Force, serial number--"
"Ach! Don't start that again! It is the same with all you prisoners--every time I try to have a little conversation, you start with that 'name, rank, and serial number' dummes Zeug! It is just that it is not every day we have a general in camp!" The big man squinted down at Foster, who began to sweat nervously, which loosened his fake mustache. As Sergeant of the Guard, Schultz wasn't of course expected to know every prisoner in camp by sight, but there was always the off-chance he might remember someone he had seen hanging around Hogan's barrack. The Englishman's fears were confirmed when Schultz declared, "You know, you look familiar."
"Indeed?" Foster replied, touching his fake mustache to reassure himself it was still in place. If Schultz heard the nervous tremble in his voice and the way his words stumbled over one another, he didn't notice it. "Perhaps you've read my book on...on...ground-air...ah...interface...strategy? No? Pity." Foster racked his brain hurriedly. "Maybe you saw my picture in the Stars and Stripes!" As a long-term resident of Stalag 13, the Englishman had frequently seen idle guards reading those news magazines that sometimes came secreted away with the Red Cross packages.
The sergeant gave him a suspicious glance. "How do you know we read the American newspaper? We are not supposed to."
Trying not to let panic get the better of him, Foster smiled--mysteriously, he hoped. "I am an officer, my dear boy," he declared cavalierly. "It is my job to know such things!"
Obviously satisfied--or mystified--by that answer, Schultz shrugged and opened the door to Baracke 2, letting Foster enter first.
The prisoners inside glanced up briefly, then quickly went back to what they were doing--Newkirk and LeBeau were playing cards, Kinchloe was on his bunk reading Goethe's Faust in the original German, and Carter was washing spoons in a bucket. As they had agreed when Colonel Hogan had sketched out the plan, from the point that the 'Gestapo' left, Foster was on his own--unless he got into a problem too big to handle by himself. As long as he was doing okay, the other prisoners wouldn't interfere.
Schultz tapped on the door at the far end of the room. "Colonel Hogan? Colonel Hogan!" he called. When there was no answer, he opened the door and went in. Foster waited outside, glaring down his nose at everything and doing his level best to look stuck-up and officious.
Schultz re-emerged from the senior POW's quarters. "Your bunk is in there, Herr General-Commodore," he told Foster. While Foster went to 'inspect' his accommodations, the sergeant slipped over to the card players. "Where is your Oberst?" he whispered.
"He said he was going to take a breath of fresh air," LeBeau replied without even looking up.
"But it is past dark!" Schultz hissed. "No prisoners allowed outside at night!"
The Frenchman shrugged. "That is what we told him, but he went anyway."
"Why didn't you stop him?" Schultz wailed, trying to keep his voice down but getting more nervous by the second.
Newkirk raised his eyes and gave the sergeant a scornful stare. "Are you sayin' you want us to order a colonel about?"
"Officers do whatever they like anyway," LeBeau added. "Gin!" he crowed.
"Again?!" Newkirk groaned, tossing in his cards.
"Well," Schultz said, straightening, "when he comes back, tell him he cannot do whatever he wants now! He is no longer the senior officer! We have a general in camp now!" Schultz declared, savouring the looks of what he took to be astonishment on the prisoners' faces. "So no more of the monkey-business from you boys, because you have to take orders from him now!" With a haughty little smile on his face, Schultz stalked out.
Somehow, the prisoners managed not to laugh before he was out of earshot.
The man who greeted Hogan in the bunker five floors beneath the heart of London was in his early sixties, with greying hair starting to recede back from the forehead above a friendly face creased with laugh-lines. He looked like someone's favourite uncle, instead of a mastermind for Allied intelligence operations.
"Welcome in from the cold, Hogan!" the general exclaimed with a grin.
"It's nice to be back on friendly soil again, sir."
With a spry step that defied his age, General Walters guided Hogan through the heavy blast doors which sealed each level and into a maze of cubicles and offices where hoards of people, most in uniform, scurried hither and thither bearing sheaves of paper or manila folders stamped variously from Classified to Eyes Only. Maps and charts of various combat arenas hung from the walls or lay spread across huge tables, marked in red and blue hieroglyphs, while a row of women along one wall manned radio sets to give and receive coded reports.
In one of the many hallways leading off from the main room, General Walters opened a door with no name-plate which led, it turned out, into his private office. Hogan accepted the chair the general offered.
"Care for a drink, Hogan? Wish I could've scrounged up a bottle of good Kentucky Rye, but there's just none to be had!" He sighed. "I've developed quite a taste for gin-and-tonics, though."
Hogan was tempted--sorely tempted, after two years of nothing but dark beer and schnapps--but he wanted his wits firmly about him. "Sir, when do I get told why I've been transferred?" he asked as the general mixed himself a drink.
Walters just laughed at Hogan's direct manner. "Always the one to get straight down to business, eh? Well, I don't blame you--it's a relief after dealing with British formalities!" He retrieved a manila folder from his desk and pulled a chair opposite Hogan. "For the last two years," he began, settling down in his chair, "you and your men have been running one of the most successful infiltration operations in the history of modern warfare. You boys have done things we couldn't have dreamed of doing with an unstationed intelligence group--and you haven't been caught at it either!" He slipped a sheet out of the folder and passed it to Hogan. It was a short biographical page--the handsome young man gazing coolly out from the photograph clipped to it wore a Luftwaffe uniform. "Lieutenant-Colonel Fritz Hahnsfeder," Walters said, rolling the words as though tasting them.
Hogan scanned the report. "Shot down over London early last year and captured. He's been senior POW at Prison Camp 9 ever since. But what does this have to do with..." He looked up sharply, sudden realisation dawning in his mind with a thought almost too horrible to contemplate. "You don't mean..."
General Walters nodded slowly, taking a strong pull from his drink. "Sabotage, espionage, not to mention hunted men who suddenly vanish...all in that area. That whole area is surrounded by a bubble of radio static our technical boys say is atmospheric interference or sunspots or some such nonsense. 'Atmospheric interference' my sweet Aunt May! We're being jammed.
"Intelligence has sent agents in--highly-trained and experienced, every one of 'em--but to a man, they've been quickly compromised." He shook his head in disgust. "Somehow, those dirty Krauts keep pullin' the wool over our eyes, and we think this Hahnsfeder is the ringleader."
"So what do you want me to do about it?" Hogan asked, afraid that he had already figured that part out for himself. "What can I do that these 'highly-trained' men of yours couldn't?"
Walters leaned forward, eyes bright with excitement. "You can think like him, get close to him! Destroy his little business. You know what to look for--I'll bet my stars your operations can't be all that different!"
Hogan didn't know what to say. He had his orders, whether they were phrased like a polite suggestion or not, but this wouldn't--couldn't--work! When he said as much, Walters laughed.
"What's this? Has the legendary Colonel Robert E. Hogan lost confidence in his own ability?"
"But...but my German isn't good enough to fool guys like this every day!" Hogan protested, grasping at straws.
Walters grinned, knowing he had the colonel. "We have a first class cover story for you, my boy! And, just to be on the safe side, Allied High Command has arranged for you to have a language-and-culture tutor."
"What will happen to my men, the operation, without me?"
The general shrugged. "They can lay low for awhile! When you're finished here, we'll get you back to the war post-haste, don't you worry. And...if it'll make you feel more at ease, I think I can arrange for a few coded messages from your boys; it would help with the window-dressing after all to get letters from 'home'."
Hogan sighed. He had run out of arguments--the general seemed to have an answer for everything. "All right, I hereby volunteer to take this mission...I wouldn't mind that drink now."
General Walters grinned, and got out a second glass.
"Ow! Lovely bit of tailoring you're doing there, Newkirk! Ow!"
"If you wouldn't talk so much, I wouldn't keep stickin' you!" Newkirk growled around a mouthful of straight pins. As Foster attempted to keep perfectly still balanced precariously atop a milking stool with three impromptu and unequal legs, his fellow Englishman continued pinning the jacket he had made into some semblance of a proper uniform. Foster's old 'general's' uniform--his own flight jacket with a pair of cut-up corporal's stripes pinned on the shoulders--hung over a chair back nearby. If Foster was going to be a general--at least temporarily--he had to look like one in broad daylight, especially for the benefit of the Germans.
"Are you sure this will look enough like a real commodore's uniform?" Foster asked uncertainly, his face doing gymnastics around the maddening itch on his upper lip.
"Beats me--I've never personally met any real commodores. But I'll bet me service cap Klink 'asn't either."
"That's reassuring." Foster didn't sound like he meant it.
" 'Course if ol' Burkhalter shows up, I'd advise you to run as fast as you can--there's always a chance 'e can't hit a moving target. --You mind not lettin' your knees knock so much?"
"Do you really think we can pull this off?"
Newkirk was grimly silent for a moment. "I used to work as a gen'leman's tailor 'fore the war," he began, as a way of avoiding the question. "Nothin' like sewing to make a magician's fingers nimble! I knew this bloke in a travellin' show I toured with one summer who used to knit between shows--the rest of us called 'im 'Madame LaFarge' as a joke. Taught me the 'hole bit, 'e did--sweaters, scarves, mittens. He--"
Newkirk was interrupted by the door to Hogan's--General Wetherby's--quarters opening.
"I say!" Foster huffed, ready to reprimand in self-righteous anger. He fell silent when Carter rushed in. The chemist was wearing Hogan's battered leather flight jacket, the colonel's cap pulled low to hide his sandy-blond hair. That was yet another part of Hogan's plan to cover up his absence--no longer senior POW, Hogan could safely 'disappear' into the body of prisoners, to be 'spotted' occasionally in his characteristic flight jacket and cap, but never heard.
"Andrew!" Newkirk exclaimed, seeing that the sergeant was out of breath. "What's the matter?"
"Schultz..." he wheezed. "Schultz..."
"What about 'im?"
"He...he...wanted to talk to me--the colonel. ...Followed!"
Newkirk suddenly looked alarmed. "Don't tell me you led 'im here!"
There was a bang from the main room--the door slamming open. "Colonel Hogan!" a loud German voice bellowed. "Colonel Hogan, wait ein moment!"
Carter's blue eyes grew round. Of course, the plan hinged on no one ever actually catching 'Colonel Hogan'. Outside, LeBeau's voice piped up, talking fast--trying to distract Schultz with food. "Quick!" Newkirk hissed, knowing they had only a few precious seconds. "Off with the jacket!"
Stripping it off, the chemist shoved it at Newkirk, who stuffed it under Foster's bunk. Schultz pounded on the door with a hammy fist. "Colonel Hogan!" The simple lock strained in vain against him--in a moment, he would burst in.
Newkirk glanced back at Carter--and his eyes widened in horror.
"The cap!" he and Foster cried simultaneously.
Snatching it off his head like a live thing, Carter threw it to Newkirk, who thrust it at Foster, who stuffed it down his jacket just as the improvised door-latch buckled and snapped off. Schultz came barrelling in, LeBeau and Kinchloe hot on his heels. Newkirk and Carter quickly pretended to look busy.
The overweight German NCO paused to catch his breath--he was puffing harder than Carter had been--before glancing around the tiny room. "Where..." he panted, "...is Colonel Hogan?"
"Colonel Hogan?" Foster demanded with perfect indignity. "Colonel Hogan no longer inhabits this domicile. I suggest you look for him elsewhere!"
"But I saw him come into this building!"
"Hey Schultz!" Kinchloe called, "you just missed him--he went out the back!"
Schultz looked dumbfounded. "Out the back? But this place only has one door!"
"Maybe he used the window!" Carter suggested helpfully. LeBeau shot him an evil look.
"Why would he want to use das Fenster?"
"The colonel was pretty broken up about losing his position here at Stalag 13," the French chef covered quickly. "Now he is just another one of the boys--I don't think he wants to talk to anyone right now."
" 'E'll come 'round after 'while, Schultzie," Newkirk reassured the sergeant. "May take a few days, though."
"Even weeks!" Kinchloe added.
"Weeks?" Schultz gasped.
The prisoners all bobbed their heads in sagacious assent. Newkirk gave a low whistle. "You fellas remember how bad it was that first night, when 'e got tossed out on 'is ear? Had to bunk with common soldiers--'fraid that must've scarred him." Schultz could only gape in astonishment, hardly believing what he was hearing.
LeBeau shook his head sadly. "Everyone knows officers need their space!"
"Yeah, it helps them think up plans!" Carter added brightly. LeBeau elbowed him in the ribs--hard.
"An effective officer just can't mix with common blood," Kinchloe explained. "Isn't that right, Commodore?"
Foster forgot himself for a second...until Newkirk jabbed him with a pin. "Ow! What? Oh, oh, yes...absolutely!"
"Gott im Himmel!" Schultz swore at the ceiling. "First he does not show up for Appell, now he runs away! I only wanted to tell him that the Big Shot wants to see him."
"To gloat probably!" LeBeau spat.
"You just give him the message when you see him!" Schultz left, muttering sourly that men with five Kinder shouldn't be chasing crazy American prisoners all over camp.
The Heroes stared at each other. "Klink wants to see 'im," Newkirk muttered. "What're we supposed to do now?"
Kinchloe glanced at Foster, who was trying to dig Hogan's cap out of his shirt. The black sergeant smiled slowly. "You're forgetting, of course, that we already have a senior officer." All eyes turned on Foster, who blinked back, surprised at the sudden attention.
"Now Hogan, you're in good hands," General Walters said as the two men paced down yet another hallway five storeys beneath the basements of London. "Dr. Cathcart was stationed at the British Embassy in Berlin for twelve years. You won't find a better linguist this side of Switzerland!"
"Great," Hogan mumbled, "I'm gonna get drilled by Professor Henry Higgins." Walters grinned, opening a door near the end of the hall.
The room behind it instantly took Hogan back to his college days--most of his instructors had had tiny little offices like this one, crowded with tottering bookshelves that stretched to the ceiling and paper strewn everywhere. The only difference was that the person sitting behind the narrow desk didn't look at all like his professors.
"Dr. Cathcart's a woman?!" The linguist, a statuesque brunette in her thirties, arched one lovely eyebrow over her glasses as Hogan wheeled on the general.
"Oh," General Walters said casually--too casually, "did I forget to mention that?"
"Is there a problem, gentlemen?" Her British-accented voice was music to a lonely man's ears, sarcastic tone or not.
"No, no problem at all!" Walters called out cheerily. "Hogan just hasn't seen a truly refined woman in quite a while--it's quite a shock to his system. Give it to him in little doses, Evie," he teased, and was rewarded with a laugh.
"Go on, Tillman--shoo! I can handle the colonel!" She came around her desk as the door closed, and Hogan briefly wondered if she intended to strangle him for the sinful thoughts he was having about her legs.
Instead, Doctor Evalyn Cathcart--as the nameplate on her desk proclaimed--merely handed him a sheaf of papers.
"A script. Read it--I want to hear how you sound in German. Then we will work to correct what needs correcting. Any more questions?"
"Can I call you Evie?" he joked.
He snapped off a salute with a click of his bootheels. "Jawohl, Frau Doktor!"
The corners of her mouth turned up slightly. "Sounds like you need a lot of work."
The plaque hanging on the nondescript white building said Kommandantur in big, red, German letters. For some reason, that simple sign scared Foster more than words could say. Once he thought about it, the only reason he could come up with was the obsessive neatness of the letters. Not that the signs in England were sloppy...but the Germans were like that--obsessive, totally engrossed in whatever they did, be it composing epic operas or slaughtering enemies on the battlefield. In Schultz' case, it would be an obsessive passion to consume massive quantities of potato pancakes, Sauerkraut, and apple strudel. It was difficult to believe that a people that intent could possess any kind of weakness in them.
Foster paused on the steps, straightening his uniform in an effort to calm his knotting innards. Hogan's crew had reassured him time and again that Klink was a coward at heart who would bend like a wet noodle before any sort of authoritative figure. That was the way they had told him to play it--simple, straight, and stuck-up. They would be listening for trouble on the coffee-pot, ready if he needed serious help. But that still didn't help calm his triphammer heart--being told a thing and actually having to go and do it was like the difference between reading war stories and actually getting shot at in battle.
Taking a deep breath, Foster straightened into a more 'officarial' bearing and rubbed his itching mustache one last time. With a curt nod to the stone-faced guard, he strode authoritatively through the door, as though he had God's given right to be there.
Once inside, he marched stiffly up to Klink's pretty blonde secretary, Helga.
"I wish to see Colonel Klink!" he demanded haughtily.
"Sorry," she said, barely glancing at him over her typing, "the Kommandant has another appointment right now. If you would care to wait..."
Foster could feel his courage deflating--any minute, he would probably flee, screaming. "If it's about Colonel Hogan," he tried again, with more desperation than arrogance, "that's why I've come to see him! As Senior POW officer--" Just as he started his rehearsed ramble about Geneva Convention precepts, Helga glanced up at him. Her eyes widened.
Foster's knees threatened to fold then and there. By some miracle, they didn't. "Wha...what?" he stammered. "I'm sorry, but you must have me mistaken for--"
"What are you doing here? In that uniform?"
Colonel Klink's office door opened and the Commandant stuck his head out. "Fräulein Helga! Has Colonel Hogan come by yet?"
"Nein, Herr Kommandant..."
Klink spotted the quivering Foster. "Oh, hello, General Wetherby," he said with a curt salute. "Have you seen Colonel Hogan?"
"No, sir--but that's why I'm here!" Out of the corner of his eye, Foster could see Helga staring at him in mixed astonishment and confusion. As long as she kept silent though...
"Herr Kommandant..." Helga began, making Foster's heart skip a couple of beats.
"Yes, Fräulein Helga?"
. "I..." She glanced from Foster to Klink, and back again. "...The general was just explaining to me about the Geneva Convention Prisoner-of-War guidelines about prisoners associating with their enemy captors. According to Section VI, Chapter II--'Prisoner of War Representatives', Article 70, 'in camps for officers and persons of equivalent status or in mixed camps, the senior officer among the prisoners of war shall be recognised as the camp prisoners' representative--' "
"Yes, yes!" Klink growled impatiently. "I've heard all that before--from Colonel Hogan!" He glanced Foster up and down. "Well, is he coming?"
Foster lifted his chin imperiously, confidence restored. Of course, he would have to explain it all to Helga later, but for now... "No, sir! I will not allow you to do anything to my men without my say-so! Colonel Hogan--as well as the rest of the prisoners in Stalag 13--speaks through me, and me alone!"
Klink's face crumpled miserably. Like a wet noodle! Foster thought elatedly. "Won't you please come in, sir?" he asked, all pretence of superiority vanished.
With a grateful grin over his shoulder at Helga, Foster marched past the German commandant to help himself to a good stiff shot of schnapps.
Dr. Cathcart ran a hand through her dark hair to get it out of her face. Hogan thought she looked awfully pretty when she did that.
"All right," she sighed, with something like relief. "Let's go through it once more. Wer sind Sie?"
"Ich heiße Major Heinrich Wolfgang Falke." Thanks to Dr. Cathcart, his German now had the carefully-drilled accent of American-German aristocracy. His cover story had also been designed with that in mind, so that any obscure grammatical hang-ups he might encounter would be less suspicious. He continued, in nearly-flawless (if strangely-accented) German. "When my aristocratic family fell into bankruptcy before the Great War, my father, Ernst Ruger Falke, left Munich to found a sausage-making company in Chicago. There, he married Bethany Carol Astor, daughter of a local watchmaker whose family had immigrated from England in the 1830s.
"My older sister, Anna Elisabeth--named after my paternal and maternal grandmothers--was born on the ninth of December, 1905. My younger brother, Johann Sepp, followed later, on the thirteenth of April, 1919. I was born on the seventeenth of June, 1911 at Our Lady of Mercy Hospital in Chicago. Four other siblings were stillborn or died in infancy, the last of whom took my mother's life as well on the twenty-first of September, 1924.
"When the Great War began, my father spent money on munitions to ship back home. If he hadn't been a married man with three children and a growing business to care for, I am certain he would have gone back to Germany to enlist. As it was, he spent so much money that we nearly went bankrupt a second time in the Great Depression which followed the war. My mother, though, had received a small inheritance from the passing of my grandfather, with which my father rebuilt his business and his fortune. I attended the Henry Dearborn Academy, a private school, graduating in the top third of my class. I learned to speak German from my parents, and from their stories began to long for the Fatherland I had never seen.
"By 1935, my father had made enough money to fulfil his lifelong dream of returning to our ancestral lands in Germany and restoring them to their past glory. Except for my sister, who had married the vice-consul to the Swiss ambassador, my entire family moved back to our home outside Munich. Once in Germany, I enlisted in the Luftwaffe, earning the Iron Cross Second Class in the Battle of Britain. I was shot down on a bombing raid over London and got separated from the rest of my crew--if they survived, I do not know. My ailing father, my brother, and my brother's wife, Frieda now live in Hammelburg, where Johann manages a small accounting firm. Johann and Frieda write Father's letters for him, as arthritis makes it too painful for Father to pick up his pen."
Dr. Cathcart nodded silently, actually smiling. "Sehr gut, Herr Major."
"Danke schön, Frau Doktor." Hogan glowed with pride--he had learned his lessons all right, to the point that he was even beginning to believe his own story. He could expound upon any fact of 'his' life she asked him, with flawless accuracy, up to and including listing and describing the officers he would have 'met'; he could beat any question Fritz Hahnsfeder threw at him--the biography Allied High Command had supplied him was that perfect, even down to the point that many of the details could be easily verified: the sausage company, the 'enlistment', even Johann, whose pen would, hopefully, be provided courtesy of Stalag 13. "Now what do we do?" Hogan asked, switching back to English--his native tongue actually felt strange in his mouth after speaking German for so long!
Dr. Cathcart leaned back in her chair and stretched. Hogan tried not to look. "Now," she said, "we wait for an air-raid, during which, you will be shot down."
Hogan nodded, recognising the strategy. "If Hahnsfeder has a radio, which he almost certainly does, he'll hear the report--more verification for my story. I assume my squadron assignment won't change?"
"No. The way the Germans have been losing planes, these days they throw together what's left of their squadrons to make up a single formation. Of course, with that kind of weakness, they no longer bomb every night. So we wait...and until then, I will teach you a little more about German culture."
Hogan sighed. "More practise? This ain't Shakespeare--after awhile, it's gonna sound rehearsed!"
Instead of answering, Dr. Cathcart reached down for something on the floor--and brought up a bottle. It was a Rhinewine, white, still corked and sparkling with pearls of perspiration from the ice bucket it had been waiting in. "No," she mused, "I think you have graduated past mundane lessons into the advanced course." For the first time in their short acquaintance, she smiled warmly at him.
Hogan raised one dark eyebrow. "And what do you call this lesson?"
Her smile deepened, catching her dark brown eyes. " 'How to Welcome Home a War-Hero'."
"Somehow," he said, uncorking the proffered bottle, "I think I'm going to like this course."
"Is the Kommandant in?" Schultz asked, closing the outer door softly behind him.
Helga glanced up at him, then quickly towards Klink's office. "He hasn't been outside all day!" she replied in a lowered voice.
"Is he angry?" Schultz whispered.
"I haven't heard him breaking anything."
Schultz snorted. "Perhaps we will get lucky and he has dropped dead!" he joked. He was rewarded with a sunny smile from the attractive secretary.
As Helga returned to her typing, Schultz approached the dreaded door--which somehow equated in Schultz' subconscious with the closet door and der Kinderschreck, the Bogeyman--and tapped softly with his knuckles.
"Come in!" Klink shouted from the other side. Schultz breathed a sigh of relief--that was depression, not anger, in his voice. A whining, moaning commandant he could deal with--it was only when the Big Shot got angry that he started writing reassignments to the Russian Front.
As Schultz opened the door, the reek of schnapps nearly bowled him over. His eyes teared up and he coughed from the fumes. Oh boy, the sergeant major thought, something has really depressed him this time! Besides the Russian Front, what on earth could be so awful?
Schultz closed the door--he would have loved nothing more than to leave it standing open to air the place out, but with the news he brought for Klink...well, there might just be a chance of something getting tossed yet. Maybe even one fat Hauptfeldwebel, out on his ear.
Klink sat--or, rather, drooped--behind his leather-topped desk, a half-empty bottle at his elbow, two more empty ones on the floor. He was as betrunken as a Russian sailor on shore leave, his monocle positively swimming in schnapps. Schultz rolled his eyes, embarrassed to see an officer in such a state, but not as mortified as he might have been, had it been anyone other than Klink.
"Herr Kommandant..." he began, waiting at attention until the colonel's bleary eyes blinked and focused on him.
"What do you want, Schultz?" The Commandant sounded positively in tears, wallowing in his own misery.
"You ordered me to find Colonel Hogan--I beg to report that I could not locate him anywhere in the camp." The alternative was, of course, that the wily colonel had escaped--that was what Schultz was afraid of. If there was one thing Klink would scream about, night or day, drunk or sober, it was someone jeopardising his perfect no-escape record.
To his surprised relief the commandant didn't shout or curse or throw anything. He just sat there, contemplating his bottle like a philosopher, as though it held the secret of life itself.
"I looked all over the camp," Schultz continued, uncomfortable with the silence. "And I made sure the general-commodore did not know, just like you said, but--"
"He's doing it on purpose."
Schultz blinked. "Pardon, Herr Kommandant?"
Klink looked up at him slowly. "Colonel Hogan," he said, as though explaining Calculus to a moron. "He is doing this just to spite me. This is revenge!" he moaned, talking now to the bottle. "This is what I get for insulting him, for ignoring his requests--an extra loaf of bread for the holidays, was that too much? Maybe if I hadn't taken away their pingpong table..." He took a long swallow of schnapps.
Schultz merely blinked, mystified. "Excuse me, Herr Kommandant, but what are you talking about?"
"Don't you see, Schultz? I didn't know how good I had it, how easy Hogan was to manipulate!--and now the American is letting me suffer! For all I did to him, he is leaving me to the tender mercies of General Wetherby, all the time laughing up his sleeves!"
He stared up at the sergeant. "Schultz, do you know what that Englishman did yesterday? He played me like a master--of course, you say, he is a general after all. But it was more than that! I just couldn't resist him; he forced me to increase the prisoners' food rations, threw Geneva Convention regulations at me until I gave in. Now, the prisoners rest on Sundays, get an extra sheet of writing paper every week, and I have to let them hang curtains in their windows--curtains, Schultz!"
The explanation failed to clear anything up for Schultz--why the commandant was obsessing about a few curtains, which might make the barracks look nicer, after all, Schultz couldn't figure. And Colonel Hogan, allowing all this, even conspiring to arrange it? This definitely wasn't what the prisoners had told him yesterday!
"And this makes you depressed?" Schultz' astonishment bordered on insolence. "I thought this general was a nice fellow--stuck up, but you know aristocrats." Too late, he wished he could take that remark back--the Klink family stretched back some five-hundred years, and still without a Pfennig to their name. Klink glanced up at him sharply, seeming to emerge a little from his stupor. Schultz smiled nervously and hurried on. "Do you really think...talking" --close!...he had almost said apologising-- "to Colonel Hogan would help?" As far as Schultz knew, Hogan had dug himself a foxhole and zipped it closed after him; from the way the prisoners had acted, the American was as depressed as Klink.
"I think," Klink retorted, warming to the subject, "that if there is one man in this camp sneaky enough to get General Wetherby out of my hair"--what hair? thought Schultz--"it is that annoying American. And yesterday, he wouldn't even come talk to me, he sent the 'senior officer' instead! And here I was, ready to offer him anything he asked just to get that Tommy out of here! I certainly can't transfer General Wetherby without a lot of inconvenient questions, and the Gestapo don't seem to be coming back." He glanced up at Schultz miserably. "I made a little call to their Hammelburg office this morning, and they claimed they've never even heard of an 'Air Commodore Wetherby'."
Schultz nodded sympathetically. The Gestapo was notorious for calling people liars when it suited their own unfathomable purposes...or the Führer's. Of course, what Klink suggested almost amounted to treason--shuffling around an English general whom the Gestapo claimed didn't exist. When the Gestapo made a claim like that, it usually meant either they wanted that person kept secret, or that they wanted that person's death kept a secret. That avenue of thought opened up too many unpleasant possibilities for Schultz, who had decided he rather liked safely knowing nothing. So, as Klink rambled on--more of the same; what a pain-in-the-neck Wetherby was, the depths of depravity of the deceitful and sadistic Saint Hogan--the sergeant kept quiet.
At last, Klink seemed to re-emerge from his fog a little. He stared up at his Sergeant of the Guard.
"Schultz," he said in a small, pleading voice, "you fraternise with the prisoners--to them, I must be the hard disciplinarian, but you...to you they would listen. Please, find Colonel Hogan, ask him--no, beg him--to get rid of General Wetherby."
Schultz only shrugged. As usual, Klink's commands were easier ordered than done. If Hogan didn't want to be found, Schultz, who usually couldn't locate two matching socks, certainly wouldn't be the man to track him down.
"Jawohl, Herr Kommandant," he sighed.
Colonel Robert E. Hogan, 8th Air Force, U.S. Army Air Corps, stepped out of the truck onto enemy soil.
He was dressed in a Luftwaffe flight jacket--he did not want to know what had happened to its previous owner--with major's braid on the epaulettes. German, from peaked cap to worn-out jump boots...he missed his old tailored uniform. It was waiting for him somewhere, gathering dust, while this new one threatened to cut off circulation in a dozen places. When he had complained to his outfitters of the tightness, they had congratulated him; as he was given to understand it, the Nazis liked 'sharp-looking' clothes.
Hogan glanced around at his new home...for the time being. The truck had been covered, so Hogan hadn't been able to study the surrounding area. He hadn't missed much.
A light mist fell from the glowering sky, clinging to his new clothes. He shivered as a cold wind gusted over the tarpaper rooves, snapping the ragged Union Jack to attention with a sound like bones being crushed. The mud-sodden compound was surrounded on all sides by the fabled 'Moors' of gothic legend, a barren, dead plain of marsh and briar stretching beyond the barbed wire to all horizons. There was no place to hide.
The camp itself was like a slowly sinking island lost in that dark sea. It was roughly circular, conforming to the contours of a small hill on the Moor, surrounded entirely by nine-foot fences of wood strung with wire, just beyond which another roll of wire encircled the entire perimeter like the cruel coils of a steel serpent. The barbed wire and guard towers looked familiar--except that the grim-faced soldiers manning their Vickers machine guns wore doughboy rather than coal-scuttle helmets. On the wooden sign over the double gates which, presumably, read 'Prison Camp 9' from the outside, one of the Germans had somehow managed to scrawl Die Mausfalle--The Mousetrap. Hogan smiled grimly to himself, appreciating the joke--wondering how he could get away with it at Stalag 13.
On his side of the wire, the bare ground of the yard was swampy from a recent rain. Yet mud-spattered plants struggled to survive around the tidy wooden buildings, their beds neatly bordered with pale rocks. Here and there, he noticed other little touches only a veteran POW might catch, all designed to make life a little more liveable--the Germans had punched holes in their now-useless flak helmets and suspended them from the eves as potters; the shutters of the barracks had been painted on the inside, so that when opened they displayed their simple designs for a distinctly Old World feel; most of the doorways even had a German greeting painted in white Gothic letters over the frame. There was a neatly-squared vegetable garden behind every barracks being tended by airmen with hand-beaten tools--almost certainly concealing evidence of 'underground architecture'. Further off, Hogan spotted a few soldiers kicking up mud doing gymnastics--another excellent way to hide tunnel activity. More of the prisoners had paused in their various tasks to watch the new arrival. Hogan wondered if Fritz Hahnsfeder was among them.
The RAF guard behind him shoved a rifle in his back.
" 'Ere, 'ere--ya can gawk later!"
"Stuff it, you Tommy," Hogan snarled in German--one of the more useful 'exotic' phrases Evie had taught him.
" 'Ey, 'joo 'ear that? Wha'd 'e say?"
" 'Ow should I know? You 'spect me ta speak Gerry?"
"Why don't you try English first," Hogan said, switching to his native language. It worked--a few of the prisoners snickered. Hogan marked them mentally.
"Ooo! Liss'n a'that--we got ourselves 'ere one-a 'em bi-linears!" Hogan rolled his eyes as the guard shoved him again. "Gee alon' thar, ya Nazi! We'll see wha' the Commandant makes a' the likes of you!"
They pushed him towards one of the buildings--it felt odd to see a sign saying 'Commandant' in English. Curiouser and curiouser!
The inside of the building differed in form, if not in function, from the one Hogan knew back 'home'. The blackout curtains had been drawn back, and a milky light filtered in over the small but tidy office. The furniture all looked to be made out of wood--of course...most metals would go to the war-effort--and on one wall, almost lost amongst various yellowed citations, there hung a small, rather unflattering portrait of the king. Newkirk and Foster would have been mortified. The woman behind the desk (a proper schoolmarm-type) scowled at him, even as he grinned amiably at her. There was another major difference--this woman looked as though she hadn't been courted since 1909...or possibly earlier.
As he was shunted through into the Commandant's office, Hogan realised that some things never change. Most of the back wall was taken up by a grandly gaudy portrait of a huge scowling bulldog of a man wearing more fruit salad than the counter in the Officers' Mess. And it wasn't Churchill. Hogan grinned when he saw it, making a mental estimate. Yeah, he finally decided, that's right about where Klink hangs the Führer!
Below that, the man himself--if possible, looking even more repulsive in real life. Physically, the man who gruffly introduced himself as 'Colonel Peabody' might resemble Schultz more than ol' pickle-puss, but there was no disguising that he was incredibly Klink-ish, which was the worst insult Hogan could think of. A red-complexioned man of impressive girth and wobbling jowls (at least someone was eating well--probably filching from the Red Cross Packages), his fingers constantly fiddled with the ends of his stiffly-waxed mustache--curling and uncurling it like a villain straight out of The Perils of Pauline. Apparently, he also wore all his colourful but fairly meaningless decorations to work (and probably to bed as well).
"Well, well!" the colonel exclaimed, leaning imperiously back in his chair. "Another sardine for my tin, eh?" He smacked his lips wetly, as if in anticipation of dining on his 'new sardine'. The piggy eyes crawled over him. "You speak English, boy?" Hogan nodded, once, already disliking this fatuous, pompous excuse for an officer.
The commandant leaned forwards, clasping his pudgy hands on the desk blotter and the document thereon which, Hogan now realised, was a copy of the Army Form W 3000--a sort of POW Basic Personnel File--which he had filled out back in London . "You might as well know--no man has ever escaped from my prison camp." Now why does that sound familiar? Hogan caught himself before he could grin and spoil his illusion of humility. "So you might as well not even think about it. Work hard, and you will be rewarded. Make trouble--" He shot Hogan a stern look. "--And we will deal with you." Hogan went unfazed. You and what Gestapo?
The colonel went on. "Appell is at 0530 every morning, with evening call at sunset, and surprise inspections at any time in between. As to the rest, I'll let your Nazi mates explain that to you. And never forget--for you, the war is over."
Peabody probably meant the remark to be threatening; Hogan grinned inside.
We'll see, we'll see.
Schultz hummed a little to himself as he walked his post. Dusk was gathering over Stalag 13, turning the cloudy sky from grey, to yellow, to an unnameable darker shade, and the faint breeze already carried the brisk tang of night. Somewhere off in the forest looming just beyond the fence, some crazy insect or another struck up an uncertain song but, failing to find an audience, fell silent once more.
As Schultz turned the next corner, he spotted a familiar jacketed figure hurrying away. The sergeant's white eyebrows rose, and he considered calling out for Colonel Hogan to wait! stop! But, remembering what had happened last time, Schultz instead got a tighter grip on his rifle and hurried after the phantom American.
Hogan had disappeared by the time he rounded the next corner, so Schultz hastened towards Baracke 7, where the once-senior-POW had been reassigned officers' quarters. He spotted Hogan again as he was turning the corner of the Rec Hall--the colonel was walking back down its length towards him. Knowing he couldn't outpace the younger, fitter man if he decided to run again (running was, of course, every prisoner's favourite sport) the sergeant instead pressed his back against the shadowed wall and waited for the officer to pass...
"Aha!" he shouted triumphantly, snagging the American by the collar and spinning him around. He gasped--the face between Colonel Hogan's cap and collar definitely was not Colonel Hogan!
Kinchloe grinned widely. "Hiya, Schultz!"
"Sergeant Kinchloe! Was ist los?"
"Just taking a little walk--nice evenin', ain't it?"
"But you are wearing Colonel Hogan's jacket!"
"It's warmer than mine! You know the military--always giving the officers the best stuff!"
"But...his cap too!"
"Didn't your mother ever tell you to cover your head when you went out in the cold?" Kinchloe scolded.
"Nein! You cannot fool 'Eagle-Eye Schultz'! You are impersonating an officer! Ach!" he gasped, horrified, "that is the cooler for sure--a month, maybe even six! And the former senior officer, no less!"
Kinchloe shrugged. "So? Klink's been impersonating an officer for years! Why don't you haul me in on it?" he challenged.
"And what if I do?"
"Think about it a minute." Kinchloe immediately regretted that statement--it was like asking a fish to fly; it happened, but not often. "How often have you seen the Colonel lately?"
"Well, I saw him just a few days ago--"
"And when you called out to him, he ran--am I right?"
"Now why would Colonel Hogan run? Has he ever run from you before?"
"No, of course not! It was not until we got the new senior officer--!"
"Schultz, did you ever think there might be a reason we might have gotten a new senior officer?"
The fat sergeant knitted his brows, thinking. Suddenly, it dawned. "Foster! I knew he looked familiar! Oh boy--impersonating a general! I will put both of you in cells side by side!" He waggled a fat finger under Kinchloe's nose, about to continue. Then something new surfaced in his strudel-fed brain. The finger slowed, like a metronome winding down, stopped. "If you are Colonel Hogan," he said slowly, "then that means Colonel Hogan..." Schultz' expression switched from anger to fear. "I...I...I know nothing, I see nothing!" he whimpered, doing a surprisingly nimble about-face and marching away as fast as his jumbo hams could carry him.
Kinchloe smiled as he watched Schultz retreat, then continued on his way, whistling a little.
"Yer bunk's in there!" the sergeant, a huge, sour-looking fellow named Middling, said, shoving Hogan through the door of Officers' Barracks 4. Slamming the door behind him, he abandoned the American to a sea of suspicious eyes.
Evie had coached him in the 'art' of Austrio-Germanic aristocratic formality which was so much a part of being a German officer. At the time, it had just made Hogan groan and wonder how anything got done in that army, but now, it seemed, she had understood all along.
Standing as tall as he could, he wove his way through the press of officers towards an empty bunk along the back wall. He didn't have to look around to know he was being followed. Ignoring the eyes boring into his back, he tossed his bundle of possessions--which still reeked of the disinfecting DDT--and his camp-issue blanket roll onto the top bunk, hefting himself up after. He sighed wearily--naturally he knew he would get the slimmest pickings of bunks. But this bed's so far from the stove I might as well be back in Germany! He inspected his blanket with another sigh. It was wool, but moth-eaten and threadbare and not even long enough to cover his feet. Probably surplus issue from the Crimean War, he thought grimly. It sure brought back memories of being processed into Stalag 13--bad memories.
A face popped up at his elbow, surprising Hogan.
"Guten Tag!" the man said brightly. He was a thin fellow, with shaggy blond hair, a wide grin, and wire-rimmed glasses that kept slipping down his nose. He was the type of fellow you could instantly warm to--which was why Hogan's guards went up.
"Grüss Gott," he replied, giving the customary Bavarian greeting used around Munich. He kept his face stern, wary--custom demanded the newcomer make the overture. Naturally, a good aristocrat, even an American-born one like Heinrich Falke, would shy at a breach of protocol. The others were pretending to be busy, but Hogan would have bet his eagles there wasn't one whose ears weren't strained to catch every word--the silence in the barrack was too tense.
The blond man reached up and shook Hogan's hand vigorously. "I'm from the seventy-ninth wing out of Magdeburg. Say, you wouldn't happen to be from anywhere near there, would you?"
Ah, Hogan thought, now begins the interrogation!
"Nein," he snorted contemptuously, letting the lieutenant--as the birds sewn to his collar indicated--know what exactly what he thought of his thin ploy. "I am Heinrich Falke," he proclaimed, raising his voice to make sure everyone could hear and know he was on to their little game, "an American-born citisen of the Reich, lately of the one hundred eighty-third wing out of München, and I am better at batting averages than naming the Führer's favourite piano player." Hogan stared back down at the blond man, who was flushing red with embarrassment. "If you will excuse me now, I have not slept in three days. If you have any more pointed questions," he continued sweetly, "please hold them until after I have gotten some rest."
With that, Hogan pulled the natty blanket over his head and rolled towards the wall. There were a few chuckles--probably the high-ranking officers playing cards at the table--and the whisper and scrape of the blond man retreating back into his bunk.
Hogan closed his eyes, breathing evenly to slow his racing heart. Pretending to sleep gave him a little respite, a chance to think things through carefully, to change his plan for new variables.
One obstacle hurdled. The other officers would have a feel for Falke's character now, possibly let their guard down a little. There were still the formalities--introductions, seating at dinner--but now that he had admitted his American origins, he could mark who avoided him, and who showed uncommon interest. A little stroll around the fenceline wouldn't hurt his rep either. After all, as that annoying English colonel, Crittendon, was always saying, 'the first duty of a prisoner is to escape'. Excellent advice, old chap.
And, thinking that, Hogan eventually drifted off to sleep.
LeBeau looked appalled. "Kinch! You are really serious about this frilly-curtain thing?"
"You betcha!" The black radio man replied, nailing up the fourth curtain rod of the day.
"But they are so...so...gauche!"
"Hey! My grandma had curtains just like these--it wouldn't be home without them."
"But this isn't home--it is a prison camp!"
"So was grandma's house."
Conceding defeat, the Frenchman merely shrugged. On the prisoners' table, Carter and Newkirk were stringing the frilly curtains onto wooden rods.
"How long do we have to look at these?" Carter complained, grimacing at the gaudy floral pattern. It reminded him of something his little sister might put up.
"Just long enough to annoy Klink," Newkirk replied.
"Don't you think he's already annoyed? He sure sounded mad on the coffee-pot yesterday!"
"Carter!" Newkirk scolded, staring the chemist straight in the face. "It's the principle of the thing! The more we annoy Klink, the worse 'e'll wish he 'ad Colonel Hogan back."
"Of course," Kinchloe added, "it also means the harder he'll look for him. The message from headquarters last night told us to expect at least a month."
"Boy, a whole month doing this!" Carter exclaimed mournfully.
"Mais oui," LeBeau spoke up, "what if Klink manages to somehow get rid of Foster and his mustache before they give our colonel back to us?"
"Then we'll have to think of something else!" Everyone glared at Carter. But he was right. They worked on in a tense silence.
The door to the senior officer's quarters opened and all heads turned.
Newkirk grinned. "There 'e 'is, gents," he announced grandly, "your favourite an' mine, straight from a successful première in Klink's office--the man who brought you curtains! Der General!"
Foster smiled shyly at the smattering of applause.
"Hey, Tom!" Carter called, holding up a strung curtain rod, "how d'ya like 'em?"
Foster's eyebrows disappeared into his hairline. "I say! Those have to be the most offensive draperies I've ever seen!"
" 'E loves 'em!" Newkirk grinned. He swallowed, changing his voice. "All right!" the Englishman trebled, for all the world sounding like Commandant Klink, "you can have your curtains! Mmph!"
"That was a beautiful piece of work yesterday, Foster," Kinchloe remarked.
LeBeau chuckled. "Klink didn't have a chance once you started hitting him with the Geneva Convention!"
"How did you get to be so good with the Prisoner of War articles anyway?" Carter asked.
The blond Englishman smiled sheepishly. "I didn't," he confessed. "I couldn't tell you article one! I cut them out of whole cloth, as it were, and prayed the Commandant didn't know them any better than I did. As for the other stuff--I just kept demanding as long as Klink kept asking."
"Of course!" Kinchloe grinned. "He was certain you couldn't possibly be satisfied with just an extra sheet of writing paper."
"I'm awfully sorry about the curtains--I got desperate!"
"Don't worry yer 'ead about it," Newkirk said. "Only next time, you think you could try an' get us some girls to match 'em?" There were enthusiastic hoots of assent from the rest of the men.
"And speaking of girls..." LeBeau grinned slyly. "Who are you running off to see?"
Foster looked startled. "How did you know?"
"Ah, l'amour! A Frenchman can smell it a mile away!"
"Especially when you're drenched in after-shave," Newkirk added.
Foster did his best to look dignified. "I'm going to see Helga."
"See!" Carter cried. "I told you all the sophisticated girls like officers!"
"It's not that at all!" Foster protested. "I just feel I owe her an explanation!"
"Just order Schultz to bring 'round Klink's car," Newkirk chuckled. "That way, you can explain it to 'er in private!"
Flushing, Foster hurried out followed by cries of "Good luck!" and " 'Ave fun!"
Kinchloe checked his watch. "I think it's about time for 'Colonel Hogan' to make his next appearance. Whose turn is it?"
Newkirk spoke up. "LeBeau did it last time--which makes it my turn."
Almost reluctantly, he pulled on the jacket over his sweater. LeBeau opened the window and peeked out.
"No sign of Attilla the Bun!"
"Okay, Peter," Kinchloe said. "At this hour Schultz will most likely still be near the Kantine--"
"Oui--picking cow fur out of his teeth!" LeBeau snorted.
The black sergeant shot him an evil look. "To paraphrase Monsieur LeBeau, Schultz has finished up his lunch. If you let the guards along the west fence see you, then 'disappear' between Barracks 14 and 15, you should be okay."
Newkirk nodded, throwing one leg over the sill. "Right. Then back through the tunnel, just like I never left!"
"Just make sure you don't get caught!" Carter added helpfully. Kinchloe rolled his eyes. LeBeau groaned.
Newkirk whacked the chemist over the head with Hogan's cap and slipped out.
Colonel Hogan dropped back into camp routine fairly easily. Get up, get counted, eat, hang around, eat, get counted, sleep. At least there were plenty of back-issues of Yank and Stars and Stripes, provided for propaganda purposes, and part of some sort of 'de-Nazification' program. Hogan was careful not to get caught with one too often (and to look properly sheepish when it did happen) but he happily spent his spare time getting caught up on news so he could relay it all to the boys back 'home'. He had even been asked to play the drums in the Prisoners' Orchestra...and had accepted with little reservation.
In all, the whole thing really wasn't that different from Stalag 13--except for the wooden bootheels, of course. As one man, a dour-faced but amiable 10th Panzer Division captain named Rugel Knecht, explained, it was a British 'concession' to the prisoners, to allow them to click their heels as they had been accustomed in the German army. Hogan, who personally thought the custom was a pain in the neck, nevertheless quickly procured his own clickable heels by stealing the office door-stops.
But Hogan's frustration grew steadily as one week slipped after another, and still he found no sign of the secret organisation he knew must exist. Unfortunately, he realised, there was not much he could actively do to ferret it out without bringing down suspicion on himself. Partly, the other prisoners' wariness of strangers stemmed from the slew of scabs the British had sent in to betray them. It was only Hogan's knowledge of this which made him realise it when the Germans subtly tried to trip him up, though it was sometimes difficult to even tell when that was.
Just after his arrival, he had been questioned repeatedly about his decorations over a series of days by several different people. Shortly thereafter, one of them had quietly disappeared...most likely for thorough analysis. Not that that would do the Germans any good--the medals, like the uniform, were authentic. When Hogan threw a spectacularly snobbish hissy fit over the missing medal, it reappeared just as quickly and just as quietly.
Another time, he had been approached about writing an anti-Semitic article for the underground newspaper 'Die Füchsin'. His heart had leapt at this brief whiff of conspiracy but, not wanting to seem too eager to succour the hard-line elements--not to mention being thoroughly repulsed by the proposal--he had refused.
The incident which had really made his heart skip a few beats though, was a conversation he had overheard in passing--one daring soul made a disparaging comment about Hitler that he just happened to catch. Instantly deciding that ignoring such a remark could be worse for Falke than being labelled 'nosy', Hogan had chewed out the young officer quite thoroughly for his lack of patriotism.
He had now been in British captivity for three weeks.
It was a bright, sunny day for a change--fine bombing weather! Hogan thought with a sigh--and the entire camp was in good spirits. They had all had a fine time at the camp show last night and Commandant Peabody, in a fit of human decency, had issued an order allowing the camp PX to add a Class Six for the sale of bottled spirits. Hogan, for one, had been positively flabbergasted--he couldn't even get Klink to do that! Well, as long as Peabody's good favour lasted, the moonshine hidden under the Chapel altar could stand the ageing.
The American paced the perimeter of the wire, as many prisoners were wont to do, Rugel at his side. Typically, they discussed escape.
Hogan stared up at the looming machine gun nests. A sharp British face glared back, elbows resting almost casually on his Vickers as he swung it slightly towards the prisoners. With a sneer, the man spat disdainfully over the side.
"There seems to be a blind spot between the North and North-northeast towers," Hogan remarked conversationally, hands thrust deeply into his pockets.
Rugel pursed his lips. His cheeks seemed hollowed by the marks of an old illness--smallpox, by the look of it--reminding Hogan of some rain-eaten European monument. "You mean where the water tank blocks the view of the wire from one side? Ja, but it is very small--a man would have to be on his belly to clip the wire, and there is still the other tower." Like most prisoners, Rugel, who had been shipped over from North Africa a year and a half ago, had become very proficient at Geometry. A year and a half, Hogan mused, glancing over at the red-headed Austrian officer. It almost certainly meant he would know about any conspiracy amongst the prisoners.
"If there was some kind of excitement near the gates..."
"...It would just make the guards nervous and trigger-happy. It has been tried. These big 'PW's painted on our backs aren't just for Pensionierte Wehrmacht! I am sure the Kommandant told you there has never been an escape?"
Hogan snorted contemptuously. "Natürlich--speech number twenty-seven in the Orders for Prisoner of War Camps in the United Kingdom." With a quick glance at the Austrian, he decided to take the leap. "But with him in command, I can hardly see why!"
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Knecht's mouth twitch in a smile. He glanced to the sun, which was actually visible for once. "It is almost time for mail call," he commented, neatly changing the subject, much to Hogan's disappointment.
In the yard, a large group of men jostled around the harried-looking English corporal who had brought the mail bag on his bicycle. They gazed towards him expectantly as he began reading the names and cities off the envelopes with a frightful accent.
"Knappe, Leipzig!" When a blond man in the back of the crowd answered to his name, the other prisoners passed the letter back with good-natured congratulations.
Hogan wasn't paying attention--he went to mail call only for formalities anyway. The American was still wracking his brain for another way to breach the subject of the unofficial operations of Camp 9.
Knecht elbowed him, shouting "Here!"
Hogan glanced up, surprised, as someone handed him an opened envelope. It was quite battered, the yellowed paper worn and water-stained as though it had been through the wash a couple of times. According to the postmarks, it had been forwarded through Berlin, Stuttgart, Minsk, and Paris. The return address was Hammelburg.
Barely daring to hope, Hogan yanked out the letter inside. It had been suitably censored--once by each side--but between the black marks, Hogan recognised Newkirk's German scrawl.
'Dearest Heinrich,' it said from what he pieced together. 'We hadn't had any word from you for a long while and were beginning to get worried. Father is most upset.' Hogan grinned, realising who 'Father' was. 'He asks after you every day. The man who lives above us--the toymaker, Hans--looks for you too, though he won't, of course, admit it.
'Your brother is managing the business well--the war has slowed the number of customers, so he has more free time to spend here at home. As always, we are thankful that well-fed banker from Berlin has not come to close us down. I know you worried about that constantly.
'I am certain you must have many important things to do, but if you could get a letter to us, to at least let us know when your next leave may come, it would soothe our troubled minds. We wait anxiously to hear news of you. Heil Hitler! Frieda.'
"Lucky devil!" Knecht grumbled good-naturedly when Hogan explained who it was from. "My wife has not written me for months, yet here you are getting letters from your brother's wife!" He leered at Hogan, waggling his eyebrows. "Anything I should know about?"
"No," Hogan replied blandly, "nothing you should know about." Knecht laughed
"Herr Major Falke?"
Hogan looked up. The blond man from his lower bunk--the one Knecht had identified as 'that Schweinhund Gruppe'--stood in his path. Knecht shot Hogan a sober glance.
"I will see you later," he murmured. Then he simply walked away, leaving Hogan to the lieutenant.
"You will come with me!" Gruppe snapped. It wasn't a request--it was an order.
Hogan thought of protesting, of dressing the man down for daring to boss about a superior officer, but at that moment, several rather large prisoners appeared, as if out of nowhere. Hogan's blood turned to ice.
I slipped up! Somehow, somewhere, I made a mistake. He glanced at Gruppe, thinking desperately for something he could say to keep himself from getting killed.
The blond man was grinning now. It was the grin that gave him away--Hogan had seen it before.
Oh my God--he's Gestapo. And Knecht knew it. He led me here.
Even if he cried out, he suddenly realised, no one would come to his aid. The prisoners would have been warned to stay away from this area, and they had probably even bribed the guards to turn deaf for half an hour. Half an hour was all any Gestapo man needed.
He didn't struggle when the two biggest men seized him by the arms and half-carried him towards the blind side of a tool-shed. He would have to save his strength to survive.
Another man waited for them in the shadow of the building. The goons set Hogan back on his feet and retreated. Gruppe stood nearby.
The man stepped out of the shadows. He was a few years Hogan's junior, handsome and blond, but with the wary eyes of a fox. His neatly-patched jacket bore the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. It took Hogan a moment to realise who it was.
"Herr Oberstleutnant Hahnsfeder!" he cried, with the relief of a drowning man grasping for a piece of flotsam.
Hogan's feelings must have been quite obvious, for the senior prisoner of war officer smiled. "I am sorry about that," he apologised in cultured tones that betrayed his aristocratic background.
Hogan nodded relaxing, realising that if Hahnsfeder was under any kind of suspicion, to be seen with him was to be marked. "The fox is wiser to hide his tail than to be seen by the hounds."
The officer cocked an eyebrow. "Nietzsche?"
"Just so." Hahnsfeder turned to Gruppe. "Why don't you keep a look out?"
"But--" the Gestapo man protested. Hahnsfeder gave him a measured stare, and the lieutenant--if that was his real rank--slunk off.
Hogan studied the senior officer. What do you want with Heinrich Falke? "You must forgive me, Herr Oberstleutnant, but I was raised for some time in America, so I have the typical American impatience with formality. Would you mind simply telling me why you and I are having this audience?"
"Why?" Hahnsfeder chuckled. "Because you are a clever man, Herr Major. Because you spotted Gruppe immediately. I enjoyed watching you puncture his self-importance." He glanced around, as though the Gestapo man might suddenly re-materialise--force of habit, most likely. "The men live in fear of their political officers, even here!" He laughed. "The Gestapo are very powerful back home, but here they are like dogs without masters--anyone with a long enough whip can control them."
"But I'm sure your only intention was not to compliment me. You said I was clever...how's this--I'm useful to you somehow. I can do something for you, but darned if I know what that is!"
Hahnsfeder nodded. "Yes, you are clever. Yes, you are useful. You are also a man who thinks of the future."
Hogan narrowed his eyes. "The future, how?"
"Hauptmann Knecht tells me you are already planning an escape."
The colonel's eyebrows rose. So Rugel was a plant! I never would've figured him--is he Gestapo too?
When Hogan didn't answer, Hahnsfeder went on. "You know there has never been a successful escape from Camp 9."
"I intend to be the first," Hogan replied, lifting his chin proudly.
The senior officer smiled at Hogan's presumption. "What if I told you escape was not necessary?"
" 'Not necessary'?" Hogan laughed, pretending to be shocked. "Nimm mich nicht auf den Arm! No offence, mein Herr--I'm sure the senior officer lives pretty well here, but me, well...getting back home is my first priority!" Of course, 'home' happens to be Connecticut...
Hahnsfeder nodded understandingly. "Yes, and I'm certain with your excellent English you would be quite safe amongst the enemy...and that is precisely why I need you here."
Finally, the nitty-gritty, Hogan thought, managing to look confused. "Are you saying," he began slowly, warily, knowing this was the most dangerous moment, "that there is something about Camp 9 I might need to know?"
Hahnsfeder grinned, and Hogan knew he had said the right thing. "Let me show you something..." the German replied.
Klink, that wonderful, loveable jerk,
Wears his monocle to bed.
There ain't a duty he wouldn't shirk,
How I wish he had malaria.
"Newkirk! That doesn't rhyme!"
"It's poetry, Carter--it doesn't have to rhyme!"
"I like his poetry."
"Why thank you, Kinch. At least someone 'round here appreciates literature."
"Some literature!" LeBeau snorted. "You are carving it on the wall of the Officers' Club with your 'Pencil Sharpener'!"
"Per'aps you'd rather I carved it on your 'ide?"
"Hey!" Carter interrupted before it could get ugly, "where's Klink going?"
The Heroes looked around as the Commandant strode purposefully across the yard to the guard house, where Schultz trundled out to greet him.
"What is he doing?" LeBeau asked.
Kinchloe craned his neck. "Looks like he's giving orders to Schultz." Sure enough, saluting frantically, Schultz rushed back indoors. A few minutes later, he came out at a dead run, followed by the rest of the off-duty guards, all armed, nearly tripping over themselves to line up.
Newkirk laughed as Klink started pacing back and forth in front of them, lecturing angrily. Klink's gone balmy! What on earth could he be... Suddenly, it dawned on him exactly what Klink could be so upset about.
"You don't think he's gonna look for Colonel Hogan?"
The black man blinked as realisation sparked in his dark eyes. "He'll turn this camp upside down!"
"An' when 'e doesn't find the Colonel in it..."
"Sacrebleu! We have to get Foster out there to stop this!"
"Where is Foster?" Carter wondered aloud.
"In the car with Helga again," LeBeau--who had been keeping track--replied.
As one, the Heroes rushed towards the garage where Klink's black Mercedes was parked.
"Foster!" Newkirk cried, yanking open the door--and scaring the blond Englishman out of a kiss.
"Bonjour, Helga!" LeBeau sighed, crowding with the rest in the doorway. "You look beautiful when you are being kissed by an Englishman--I don't suppose you would like to try more Continental fare?"
"Oui, ma petite chouette?"
"Stick it in your beret!"
"Come on, Foster!" Kinchloe was saying. "Klink's looking for Hogan and you've got to stop him!"
"Me?! Why-- Oh."
Reluctantly, he allowed himself to be dragged from Helga's arms and ferried out into the yard.
"There 'e is!"
"Remember," Kinchloe hissed, "be officious! Boss him around!"
"Now wait, old chaps," Foster pleaded. "Can't we negotiate this?"
"No!" Newkirk and Kinchloe chorused. The Englishman gave Foster a shove to get him going.
"Think we have a chance?" Kinchloe asked him.
Newkirk shook his head. "Not a one."
"I thought all girls liked Frenchmen!" LeBeau said, coming up behind them. He was rubbing his reddening cheek.
"Serves you right!" Carter said. "That's what you get for badgering her!"
"Badgering?! Who was badgering? I have not so much as touched a girl in two years! For the Frenchman, this is like torture--cut off our fingers, pull out our toenails, you will get nothing from us! But threaten to take our women away--!" He sighed eloquently.
"Knock it off, you two," Newkirk snarled, not liking to be reminded that Stalag 13 suffered from a terminal case of femalelessness.
"Wait a minute!" Kinchloe said. "Why did Foster stop?"
Carter squinted. "There's someone coming out of Klink's office. Whoever he is, he sure looks mad!"
The Heroes looked at each other in horror. "Hochstetter!"
"It's always a pleasure to see your smiling face, Herr Major!" Klink gushed to the black-uniformed man.
Hochstetter arched an eyebrow, but ultimately decided it wiser not to comment. "A British general, Bumblechuck, has escaped in this area--"
"--You can't blame that on me!" Klink rushed to point out. "He was never my prisoner!"
"Sei still, Klink!--I have not come to arrest you...yet." The Colonel grimaced and obediently shut up. "I will need to use your camp as a base for a few days--if, of course, you do not object?" His tone implied that Klink had better not. "Good!" He stalked off--the Commandant trailed hurriedly.
"Ah, Herr Major--why go looking for a general when you can have the one right here in camp?--"
"--Have Schultz put my things in your guest bedroom. My command post will be that radio truck--my men will hook their field telephones into your lines--"
"--After all, he's already been captured and everything--no need to go tracking through the mud after him!--"
"--You will issue orders that all off-duty guards are to report to me. They will be on patrol outside the wire, combing the woods in an unbreachable line! Do not worry, Kommandant--the Gestapo always gets their man!"
"--You can even arrest him twice if you want!"
Hochstetter stopped suddenly and Klink nearly ran into him. "Klink!--what on earth are you babbling about?"
"Why, the Britisher--Air Commodore Wetherby!" Klink exclaimed. "I would be so grateful if you would just take him off my hands!"
Hochstetter shook his head in confusion. "Stop talking nonsense, Klink! There is no general, commodore or otherwise, in Stalag 13. If there was, the Gestapo would know about it!"
"But it was the Gestapo who brought him in!"
He waved away the colonel's complaints. "Then alles in Ordnung! Gestapo business is none of your business anyway!"
"My own camp is none of my business?" Klink protested weakly, following him into the Main Office.
"Did anybody see Hochstetter drive up?" Kinchloe asked the other men.
"Oh man," Carter gulped, "if he sees our 'general', he's gonna get suspicious!"
"The man was born suspicious!" Newkirk growled.
"Let's just hope Klink isn't trying to pawn off our general!" Kinchloe cried.
The 'general' in question walked up to them in a dead hurry. The other prisoners melted back around him as Newkirk, Kinchloe, Carter, and LeBeau followed him to the senior officer's quarters.
Foster sat down on Hogan's bunk, a little winded. "I say, chaps! No one told me the Gestapo would show up!"
"Sorry, mate, we didn't know either."
Schultz stomped in without knocking and sat down beside Foster, also a little winded.
"The Big Shot is having us look all over camp until we find Colonel Hogan. It would be so much easier if you would just tell me right now!"
"Okay, Schultzie," Newkirk shrugged. "The Colonel is on an all-expense paid top-secret vacation in England."
Schultz wrinkled his nose. "All right, Engländer, so don't tell me! But he had better show up, because we can not stop looking until he does!" With a huff, he got up to leave.
"Hey, Schultz," Kinchloe said. "Why is Hochstetter out there?"
"Ach! Something about a missing general, another Engländer." The Heroes sat up and paid attention.
"What was 'is name?"
"Bungle, Bimbo...something like that. He was last seen in this area this morning. And now if you excuse me, I have to go find a certain Amerikaner officer who I'm beginning to think was all a figment of my imagination!"
The Heroes looked at each other once he had gone. "English general, eh?" Newkirk grinned.
"Are you guys beginning to think what I'm beginning to think?" Kinchloe chuckled.
"Englishmen pretty much sound alike..." Carter mused.
"Hey!" Newkirk and Foster cried together.
"See what I mean?"
"Let us not count our generals in the bush before they are in the hand!"
"I think Louie's mixing his metaphors," Kinchloe said, "but he's right."
"Which means we 'ave to find this gen'ral before the Gerries do."
"The Underground might know!" LeBeau pointed out. "They might need a secure place to hide him!"
"Hochstetter bein' here means Klink'll have to call off the search for the Colonel!"
Kinchloe nodded. "I think Carter's right."
"There's a first!" Newkirk quipped.
"Did I miss something?" Foster asked.
"Don't worry, Foster," Kinchloe said. "This is what we do best." Grinning, they headed for the tunnel.
"Well, I'll be damned," was all Hogan could say, awed, staring into the 'toolshed' Hahnsfeder had opened.
From the outside, a toolshed was all it looked like, a rickety, tin-roofed shack backing the concrete 'Cooler' where the solitary cells were. The door had a special kind of double-sided key-lock set into it, instead of the usual padlock, but even this looked as battered as the rest of it. The German prisoners were very, very thorough.
Inside, though, the perspective changed--it went right through the wall. Hogan could see makeshift ladders attached to the prison ductwork, men climbing up and down to God knew where. There were even pulleys on the ceiling, for moving baskets of equipment below.
"You see," Hahnsfeder explained, enjoying Hogan's undisguised amazement, "the earth is so marshy here, we cannot work underground with ease. We have to disguise our operations instead. The space for the ductwork was convenient, though narrow, and it leads all around the building. Suffice to say, the prison plumbing has never had a leak--we make certain of that!"
Hahnsfeder scrutinised the face of his newest recruit with narrowed eyes, reading the astonishment he saw written on it. Luck is with you, Fritz! he thought. The British are so eager to find out what we are doing here, yet they unwittingly send you the very prisoner who can complete your plans--they might as well have just gift-wrapped him for you! He smiled slowly, turning it on Hogan as he began to explain the groundwork of the operation.
Even to one used to the cramped quarters of a B-17, the narrow passages the German led him through were positively claustrophobic. Hogan tried to take it all in at one glance, but it defied synthesis. Everything here could be packed up in an instant, to be hidden right under the noses of the British with a camouflaging technique that even merited the renowned Russian term 'maskirovka'.
Lights had been secreted away in the rafters, disguised behind painted rags which would simply blend into the background when the light was off. The back of the shed had been fixed up with something like a venetian blind--sections of wood disguised with metal from the original rear wall--which could be wheeled open and closed along its hidden tracks. After all that, Hogan wasn't the least surprised when Hahnsfeder informed him that the deceptively ancient cans and jars arranged with purposeful haphazardness on the tiers of rickety shelves contained ribbon and uniform dyes, potentially explosive chemicals, and twenty imperial gallons of the finest India Ink, straight from India.
Along one wall, a line of men wearing jerry-rigged headphones reclined in slings like miniature hammocks suspended from tool hooks on the ceiling. The wires from their headphones led into to a line of false-bottomed buckets on the wall rack, which in turn plugged into connections set into the wall itself. As they listened, they jotted down notes which were handed down to runners. Hogan's eyes widened as he fully realised what he was seeing. General Walters was right--Hahnsfeder had a radio. He had a radio to rival Allied High Command's.
Hahnsfeder nodded, catching his look. "Since any aerials would look suspicious, the 'Cooler' has been wired up into one huge antenna. We hear our Führer's broadcast from Berlin every night!" he proclaimed proudly. "There are quite a few radio men here, so it is very little trouble to have the enemy's airwaves monitored day and night."
Hogan was honestly surprised. "But won't the guards see the lights at night?"
"The Wehrmacht prepares for every contingency," Hahnsfeder shrugged. "They have been trained to work by touch alone, so we do not have to keep the lights on."
"Does Berlin know about this?"
Hahnsfeder laughed. "We can send as well as receive. Officially, we are 'Horchposten Neun'--'Listening Post 9', but back home," he confided, "they call us 'der Mausposten'--the Mouse Guard, for our sharp ears." He grinned, and Hogan's knees trembled. How many times had he heard his superiors cursing the sharp, secret ears of the 'radio mice'?
Hahnsfeder took him into the bowels of the operation, as it were. By a series of makeshift ladders--the grillework of an Engineering Corps mobile landing strip--they descended through the pipes, then down a set of baked-clay steps, Hahnsfeder cautioning him to lift his bootheels, past the prison foundation and into a low room shored up with clay bricks. The baked clay, Hogan finally realised, took the place of wooden planks, which came few and far between on the Moors.
This new room, strung with small electric lights and serving as a sort of nexus for several other tunnels, had chairs and cots on which nearly twenty men in civilian clothes relaxed and slept. Some read--English grammar books from the Red Cross seemed most favoured--by special hanging lights salvaged out of what looked to be jeep headlamps wired up to car batteries, while others huddled over braziers of coals--more overturned German helmets, set on tripods, living up to their 'coal-scuttle' nickname.
"These men are not prisoners."
"Who are they, then?" Hogan asked innocently, finally finding his voice again.
"Loyal citisens of the Reich," Knecht called in reply, approaching them from another passageway. "They are merely waiting here for a short while to rest and, in some cases, heal before transport back to the Vaterland with their precious knowledge!" He looked at Hogan, grinning. "Welcome to the greatest secret operation of the Third Reich."
Hahnsfeder nodded sharply with a smile. "What do you think of our little organisation now?"
"I...I think..." I think it has to be stopped, I think you're a very dangerous man, I think I'm going to be sick.
"Speechless!" Knecht laughed. "Look around you, Herr Major--here are the men who will greet the Wehrmacht when the Reich finally annexes the British Isles."
Hahnsfeder looked at Hogan, eyes narrowing. "Some things are more important than escape...now, don't you agree?"
Hogan merely nodded, at a loss for words. If he could have told them what he was thinking right at that moment, he probably would have been dead before he hit the floor.
"Good," Hahnsfeder said quietly, smiling again. "You will be of great use to us, Heinrich. And now, if you will excuse me, I have some other matters to attend to." With a short bow and a click of his heels, he disappeared back up the dark stairwell.
"Camp business?" Hogan inquired.
Knecht shrugged. "A ritual of sorts, I suppose--every day at this time, he likes to go hear the girl from the Ministry of Propaganda read the news. I think he has kind of a thing for her--says she sounds just like his girlfriend back in Wittenberge." Knecht chuckled and nudged Hogan with a sly wink. "Hell, if my wife had her voice, I never would have enlisted!"
Hogan arched an eyebrow. "You had a choice?"
Knecht fished out a cigarette and lit it. "I like to think so sometimes--makes me feel like I have something back home worth fighting for." He blew smoke at the ceiling, studying the brickwork. "A thing of beauty, nicht wahr?" he said with quiet awe. "It is almost a shame that some day, we will have to leave this, this which we have built, which we have made strong, with our own hands! And the greatest irony is that most likely no one will ever know what we did...or be able to appreciate it." He clenched his fists, but whether in anger or frustration, Hogan couldn't tell.
Knecht suddenly broke into a grin, and swept a smoky arc around the room. "You belong here. You are one of us now, Heinrich, fighting for our homeland from the enemies' own ranks!"
Hogan smiled back. "I can't agree more."
"Two generals too many!" LeBeau snorted. "Let the English keep him!"
"You think I want 'im?" Newkirk bristled.
"All you Anglais are crazy! That is why you still have a king!"
"Cut it out, LeBeau!" Kinchloe barked, seeing that the Frenchman was about to get into more trouble than he could handle.
Somewhere down the tunnel, they could hear General Bumblechuck--who they had pulled out of a haystack barely a few days ago--ordering, Foster protesting.
Bumblechuck was as bad as they came--it was a miracle he had made it as far as Major General. Newkirk, embarrassed beyond belief, kept insisting the man had to have connections in Parliament. Though he was a fugitive in enemy territory being helped by men whose own situation was dicey, General Bumblechuck, who thought of himself as a take-command sort of chap, seemed to believe that whoever had the senior commission was automatically in control. He was forever pulling rank on anyone who so much as objected when he demanded a 'real bed' instead of an army cot.
"I say! I mean, hey wot--I say, old bean!" the general hollered, stomping back towards them. "This place is a bally dump--not cricket wot, don'tcha know?" He stabbed at one of the shorings with a branch he'd gotten God-knew-where and adopted as a swagger stick. Dirt rained down, sending men scurrying to reinforce the supports. "Slipshod poor operation, wot?"
"Parbleu!" LeBeau grumbled under his breath. "His English is worse than mine!"
"I'm sorry it isn't up to the general's standards," Kinchloe said tightly, making a real effort to remain polite.
He swung around, his stick raking the wall--dirt avalanched. "Well, what else can one expect out of this lot, hey wot?" He gestured at the ring of men. "A frog, a darkie, a blithering idiot and the--" he wrinkled his nose at Newkirk "--Lower Class." He turned towards Foster--who had sprinted down the tunnel after him--and pounded him firmly on the back, nearly knocking the wiry Englishman over. "I won't fault you for your shortcomings, lad--you obviously did your smashing best with the dregs." He swung towards Kinchloe, narrowly missing Carter and LeBeau with his stick. "Boy!" he said in a loud voice, carefully enunciating every word. "Where is radio? Box with pretty buttons?"
For a moment, the black staff sergeant was too stunned to say a word. His dark eyes narrowed.
LeBeau caught him by the arm. "Mon ami! Il n'en vaut pas la peine!" he hissed. "He is not worth the trouble!"
Alarmed by the look in the Kinchloe's eyes, Foster quickly offered to show the general personally, and was graciously accepted.
"Kinch," Newkirk said quietly, thinly-disguised anger straining his voice, "I'll give you ten minutes alone with the...general"--he nearly choked on the word--"and I promise not to ask any questions afterwards."
"Don't tempt me."
"Espèce de...de salaud!" LeBeau snarled, using the strongest oath he could think of.
"Come on, Louis," Kinchloe sighed, "none of that language!"
" 'But' nothing. So maybe he's the worst excuse for an officer this side of Commandant Klink--no offence, Peter."
"None taken, mate."
"--And maybe that guy also deserves to have his boxers run up the flagpole--with him in them!--but we aren't gonna be the ones who do it! Right, Louis...?"
"Oui, oui--d'accord!" the Frenchman grumbled. "La peste!"
"At least we didn't tell him Foster wasn't a real general!"
Newkirk smiled thinly. "Carter, for once you may 'ave a point!"
"If the High Command didn't want him so badly, I'd like to wrap that pompous jackass up in a bright yellow bow and express-mail him back to the Nazis!"
LeBeau chuckled. "Formidable! Hochstetter was a little upset to lose him, wasn't he?"
"Does kicking holes in twelve water barrels count as 'a little upset'?" Kinchloe grinned back.
"Those two would make a nice couple!" LeBeau guffawed. "Ah, l'amour!"
"Least Klink forgot all about huntin' for the Colonel!" Newkirk said.
"I'm glad we didn't put this in the letter!" Carter added. Something crashed in the distance.
Kinchloe shut his eyes tightly. "I don't even want to know what that was," he said as Foster came scurrying back along the passage.
"Well?" LeBeau asked.
"He's angry that we won't let him call his wife in London."
Newkirk groaned, wishing he could melt into the floor. "Did you explain to the good general that we are not a telephone service?! There happens to be a Gestapo radio detection truck sitting nice as you please plop in the middle of our compound!"
"I told him! That was when he tried to work the radio himself." Kinchloe moaned like he was in actual pain.
"Great," the black man said. "I think we just lost our outgoing communications--not that we could use it anyway."
"At least there is still Morse code," LeBeau added lightly, trying to cheer him up.
"Gee, I never thought I'd say this," Carter sighed miserably, "but I sure wish Colonel Crittendon was here!" No one argued with him.
"Hello?" someone called in the barracks above. "Hello?"
"Schultz! What does he want?" growled Newkirk.
"And just when I thought this could not get any better," LeBeau scoffed.
The Heroes pulled down the ladder and climbed up into the hut. Schultz had averted his eyes the second the bunk started to move in a way bunks shouldn't.
"I know nothing, I see nothing!" he mumbled to himself, like a mantra.
"What is it Schultz?" Kinchloe demanded as soon as the bunk was closed again. Foster had stayed behind as damage control.
The fat sergeant peeked reluctantly through his pudgy fingers, then, seeing nothing incriminating, hesitantly re-emerged.
"The Big Shot wants to see you."
"What, all of us?" Kinchloe asked.
"Yep, all of you!" Schultz glanced around, then lowered his voice. "Except him, of course."
Carter bent closer. "Him who?"
"You know what I mean!" Schultz said impatiently. "The Engländer!"
"Aw, Schultz," Kinchloe said, "now why would Klink be mad at Newkirk?"
"Yeah," the Englishman added righteously. "What'd I ever do to ol' Sauerkraut?"
"Not you!" Schultz cried frustratedly, "Foster!"
Newkirk blinked innocently. "I didn't even think ol' Klink knew Foster!"
"Nein nein NEIN!" Schultz shouted. "Der General, Wetherby!"
"Now why didn't you say that in the first place?" LeBeau teased. "You would not have hurt Peter's feelings."
"You 'ad me goin' there, Schultz! Here I was, thinkin' you didn't love me!" He grinned, batting his eyes coquettishly. The rest of the Heroes guffawed.
Schultz was nearly jumping up in down in frustration. "Out! Out! Just move it, all of you! Mach dalli!" He shoved the four men out the door with his great belly, ignoring their feeble protestations all the way to the Commandant's office.
Klink, who had been pacing anxiously, chewing on a ragged thumbnail, quickly sat down when Schultz knocked.
"Come in!" he yelled, hoping to sound authoritative, but managing only to sound plaintive.
"Now, gentlemen," he said when they had been herded into some semblance of a line before his desk, "for the last three weeks, I have seen neither hide nor hair of Colonel Hogan. I want to know where he is, and I want to know now!" What he had meant to be a command emerged as a whine.
"I think 'e popped 'round for some ice cream," Newkirk replied airily.
Schultz laughed desperately. " 'Popped out for ice cream'! Ha! That is funny don't you think, Herr Kommandant?" The sergeant's face fell when he saw Klink wasn't laughing. "No, you don't think it is funny." He straightened to attention. "Me either! A very bad joke in fact--"
"Ja, Herr Kommandant?"
"Jawohl, Herr Kommandant!"
Klink turned his eyes back to the prisoners. "Where is he!"
"Come on, Colonel," Newkirk began, the soul of reason. "Now that Colonel Hogan is no longer senior officer 'round 'ere, you can 'ardly expect 'im to show up in your office at th' crack o'dawn!"
"Yeah," Kinchloe added, "that's Wetherby's job now!"
"But I haven't even seen Hogan in a week!"
"Well how often do you see any of us?" Carter pointed out.
"Only when you're mixed up with Colonel Hogan," Klink admitted miserably. "But that is still no excuse!--he should have come when I summoned him!"
"Sorry Monsieur Commandant, but le Général thought you were going to interrogate him! Like all great commanders, he was willing to sacrifice himself in place of one of his men!" The Heroes bobbed their heads, exclaiming over the general's 'act of virtue'.
"Quiet!" Klink yelled. He got instant silence. "Now, let me put it this way--Colonel Hogan...or indefinite solitary confinement for each of you." Kinchloe and Newkirk looked at each other, realising Klink had come to the very end of his rope.
"Herr Commandant," Kinchloe began softly, "if you'll just listen for a moment, I think there's a way you and Colonel Hogan can help each other."
Hunched within the faded jacket with the frayed lieutenant's birds in the collar, Gruppe stalked the underground warrens, looking for Hahnsfeder. The senior officer had a damnable way of slipping away like smoke whenever someone--enemy or ally regardless--was looking for him. He was so good at evading capture, in fact, that he had been able to escape even the search party sent after his downed plane; the German had lived a month in England, stealing food here and there as he worked his way to the coast, before a farmer caught him sleeping in his barn.
Gruppe scowled to himself. That I would be reduced to having a common thief as a superior officer! If it hadn't been for that dirty Jew Teppel, I might have been in Berlin! Who ever heard of having Gestapo 'security officials' to 'keep order' during air combat? He narrowed his eyes. I will remember him. Enemies of the Gestapo should be remembered. And when I get back after the victory, I will make sure Major Hans Teppel of 'Intelligence' never presents another hair-brained idea, ever again.
He glanced down at his well-worn jacket, at the silver-thread birds he had slit a man's throat to get. To think that I, a captain by my own right, should have to wear a uniform like any common mongrel! And a uniform of lower rank! His lips drew back in a malformed grin. Oh, but the British have never had a proper respect for authority-- Pilots they coddle...Gestapo they hang. Well, the Führer will teach them to respect the Gestapo. Harsh lessons indeed! He giggled, a high, off-key whine that echoed mockingly from the tunnel walls. He clapped both hands over his mouth, rolling skittish eyes towards the ceiling. Don't want the Tommies to think there are ghosts down here! He crammed a fist into his mouth and bit down hard to suppress another wild giggle. Blood ran over his pale hand and down his wrist, feeling warm and slightly sticky as it coagulated at his cuff. It glittered a bright, fascinating scarlet--the colour of Hitler's banner...the colour of Aryan blood.
He pulled his hand away from his mouth. Little threads of saliva stretched from his lips, sparking in the low light like glass spiders on the most delicate webs. Blood stained his mouth like gruesome lipstick.
Gruppe turned his fist against the light, studying the streamers running from his knuckles. They were drying now, the rich scarlet fading to brown, decaying as all great things must decay...as all great men must decay.
A sound ripped his attention away. An echo further down the tunnel--two men, speaking, laughing. How could men laugh in war? War was not for laughing--it was almost sacrilegious. Only unfocused men could laugh in wartime...men who had lost their way...
It's Hahnsfeder--he has forgotten his duty. He has forgotten that when the war is won all men will be judged by what they did. His 'British spies' are just an excuse to disobey the Führer's orders and destroy everything. Gruppe seemed to forget the intensive midnight interrogations which had spooked the camp guards into seeing ghosts in every shadow.
The voices got louder as the men approached. Gruppe quickly slipped into a branch passage, pressing his back against the wall so as not to be seen. As the voices got louder, he recognised Hahnsfeder's voice...and with him that jackal, Falke.
Hahnsfeder was telling a joke, some anecdote he imagined both profound and amusing. Gruppe heard his name mentioned. Both men exploded in laughter.
Gruppe bared his teeth in a doglike snarl, utterly unaware that he was doing it. The pair passed his hiding place, walking shoulder to shoulder, as close as childhood friends. Falke brushed within bare inches of him. Gruppe's fingers spasmed, straining to fly to the dark-haired man's throat. It would be so easy. Killing had always come easily. It was the only thing that had ever come easily.
He forced himself to wait, slipping further back as the shadows melted off down the tunnel, still trailing their arrogant laughter.
I will be patient, he thought to himself. I will wait, and one day I shall have my revenge...on both of them.
Back in Germany...
Klink stood, shaking with shock. "Hogan wants me to what?!"
"He wants you to help General Wetherby escape," Carter repeated, by way of clarification.
"No!" Klink replied automatically. "I can't...no!" His 'no' sounded less firm, though, and Newkirk grinned behind his hand. "There's never been an escape from Stalag 13!" he pleaded, imagining Burkhalter in Berlin, laughing as he drew Klink a map to the Russian Front.
"There won't be one now," Newkirk said slowly.
"He said 'there won't be one now'."
"Thank you, Carter, I heard him." Klink turned his eyes on the Englishman, who was lighting a cigarette with the commandant's lighter. "Newkirk! You have five seconds to clarify yourself!"
The Englishman took a leisurely drag. "We switch men."
"You have three seconds left!" Schultz pointed out helpfully.
"Schultz!" The big man twitched his mustache and fell silent. "What exactly are we talking about?"
Kinchloe grinned, knowing they had Klink. "You remember that general Hochstetter was looking for?"
"Ja?" Klink said, still not getting the picture.
LeBeau rolled his eyes disgustedly. "What would you say if we told you we knew where he was hiding?"
Klink shrugged. "I would say 'thank you'!"
"Aw, c'mon, colonel!" Carter huffed.
" 'Thank you very much'?"
Newkirk put his palms on Klink's desk, leaning forwards into the colonel's face. Klink shrank in his chair, pulling his neck back like a turtle. "Listen, Commandant," Newkirk said, very slowly. "Let me spell it out for you--there is a gen'ral outside the wire who would like nothing more than to get in. There is a gen'ral inside the wire who would like nothing more than to get out. 'Ere's the Colonel's deal, take it or leave it--you 'elp us arrange an escape for one man, and we'll get you another man to replace 'im, tit for tat!"
"Hah! Schultz cried. "You expect the Kommandant to go along with this?"
"Schultz! Shut up!"
Schultz stared at Klink, mouth agape, openly shocked that the commandant was actually considering letting a prisoner escape! He was crazier than Colonel Hogan!
Klink thought. "But that would be switching a general for a general!"
"Klink!" Kinchloe cried, amazed that Hogan didn't pull his hair out over the commandant's infuriating denseness. "Weren't you listening? The Gestapo is looking for this guy! He's on the run--the last thing he wants to do is become senior officer at Stalag 13!"
"So he becomes a private, a corporal--something like that!"
Klink nodded, working it over in his mind. "And the Gestapo won't miss General Wetherby, because he 'doesn't exist'! Very neat..." He glanced up sharply. "No! I can't--I won't! This is another of Hogan's tricks to make a mass escape!"
The four Heroes solemnly raised their right palms. Schultz noticed they all had their fingers crossed behind their backs, but couldn't figure out what it signified. "You 'ave Colonel Hogan's word of honour--no escapes 'cept the one you agree to!"
"We can work together on this one, Colonel," Kinchloe said. "We want Hogan back in command as bad as you do!" Newkirk and LeBeau shot each other knowing looks.
"Is it that obvious?" Klink whimpered. The Heroes nodded solemnly, Klink nodding too as he followed their expressions. Miserably, he went back to chewing on his non-existent thumbnail.
"Oh all right!" he finally muttered, making Schultz gasp. "How much time do you need?"
"A week?! Another week with General Wetherby?" Klink sounded almost in tears. You would be in tears, Newkirk thought acidly, if you had to look forward to spending another week with General Bumblechuck! Colonel Hogan had better not need longer'n that--we can't take much more!
Kinchloe bent close to the Englishman as Klink and LeBeau started arguing over the 'escape' plan.
"I think we're going to need to write another letter," the black man whispered.
"Yeah," Newkirk nodded. "To the Cavalry."
Hogan set down his wrapped bundle of clay bricks. They were freshly baked, still smelling of the brush-burning kiln, and deliciously warm. Beside him, Knecht also lowered the burden from his shoulders and sat on it, a blissful expression widening across his craggy features. In this frigid, wet place, the seemingly menial task of moving the warm bricks was a job men fought fiercely over. Hogan learned that only after he'd been tapped for duty--Knecht said it meant Hahnsfeder had his eye, and his good favour, on him.
The erstwhile American straightened. "How did you manage to get electric light down here?" he asked, as though it were a feat he'd never imagined. In truth, he was always open-minded towards new methods of being sneaky and underhanded.
Knecht chuckled. "Awhile back, we were shipped a few U-boat NCOs by accident. One happened to be a dentist's assistant, so the Kommandant 'allowed' us to set up a clinic for him, which happened to need lightbulbs, electrical cords, and, most importantly, a feed off the generator. Once we made sure no one besides us knew exactly what was going on, the guards took no notice if we happened to need a lot of lightbulbs, or cable, or set our lines in strange places--and Colonel Peabrain was actually convinced he was doing a superior job of 'keeping us in line'! Hah! The Unteroffizieren were shipped out again to another camp--but of course, since we neglected to mention that our dentist went with them, the power lines stayed."
Hogan nodded, honestly impressed. "But what happens if one of the prisoners gets a toothache?"
The soldier stared at him, the puzzlement in his face genuine. "We take very good care of our teeth here," he replied matter-of-factly.
Hogan gave a noncommittal shrug and followed him deeper into the operation with the bricks. So, even this set-up had its blind side. Their planning was careful, and incredibly meticulous, but rather narrow--one step beyond the projected course and they would fall into uncharted territory. That might be my way to break the back of this little operation, Hogan thought. Have to watch out for Hahnsfeder, though, and be very careful about springing the trap to catch that particular mouse.
He frowned thoughtfully. Perhaps...perhaps I can play Gruppe off his commander--there's no way to mistake the fact that he's hungry for control. I'm sure that's why Hahnsfeder is so careful with him.
In fact, Hahnsfeder was not only careful...he handled the Gestapo agent like a Ming vase--or a bomb set to go off. Gruppe was a man of polarities--the friendly 'Golden Retriever' face he had shown to Hogan that first day was merely a mask for the brooding, short-tempered mastiff lurking just underneath.
There was another man living in the bunk under him now. Gruppe had gone back to his old 'place of honour' in Hahnsfeder's barracks, to a nominal 'second-in-command' position which didn't seem to have any real authority to it--soldiers obeyed more out of lingering fear of the Gestapo spectre and respect for Hahnsfeder. The senior POW, though, had hinted privately during a couple of late-night card games that it might be time for a change in the command structure. It seemed the Gestapo man had been forming his own radical opinions on how the business should be run, and now it looked as though Hahnsfeder was shopping for a new right-hand man--a position which he seemed to want a certain American-born Luftwaffe major to fill. What would happen to Gruppe, he didn't want to ask. Hogan sighed wearily. Camp politics!
Knecht took his sigh for exhaustion. "We are almost there."
"You mentioned the 'Burrow' to the colonel--just what is that?"
Knecht chuckled. "Our salvation and our burden!" he cried cryptically, grinning back at Hogan. "The way out!"
As they rounded the next corner, Hogan got his first look at the Burrow. He stopped dead in his tracks.
The escape tunnel the Germans had engineered was a perfect arch of baked-clay bricks shored together with what looked to be some kind of home-made cement. The floor had been carved out of a solid bed of white clay which probably underlaid the entire marsh. Every few feet along the ceiling of interlocking cardboard tubes off of artillery shells, a keystoned rib further strengthened the structure--it was like standing within the trachea of a giant. The huge white tunnel stretched off into the distance, straight as an arrow, lit along its spine by a string of little white Christmas-lights.
"That ain't a burrow," Hogan exclaimed in astonishment, "it's an ever-lovin' subway!"
Knecht grinned at the American's unfeigned awe. "It's also an echo chamber--which can be a lot of fun when you want to scare guards--so keep your voice down!"
Amazing as the tunnel was, it did have its flaws, as Hogan saw further down the line, where a group of prisoners were meticulously repairing a washed out section of wall. "It was that bad storm last night," one engineer explained. "It turned the roads, runways, and our wall to mud."
"Come on, Falke," Knecht said in a low voice once they'd stacked the bricks in small pyramids for the masons. "I'll show you the other end." He led Hogan further down the tunnel. "It took us an entire year to complete the brickwork!" Knecht whispered. "Before that, our tunnels would turn into clay soup every time it rained!" He laughed softly. "The boys started referring to the colonel as 'Der Kaiser von die Suppe'--though not for very long, I assure you...not after I sicced Gruppe on them." There was something in Knecht's grin Hogan didn't like.
"Do you get many of our men out this way?"
Rugel shrugged. "Not anymore--they stepped up secruity in this area lately...in a minute, you'll see why. Actually, we haven't been able to get anybody out for a couple of weeks--that's why the tunnels are so crowded! The High Command is getting antsy; many of those men back there hold the keys to our victory, vital information, plans, specifications, codes--things which cannot go over the radio. Despite how successful we have been in the past, if the Oberst does not get those men back to Germany soon, I think they may dissolve us out of sheer spite!"
"Oh really?" Hogan remarked interestedly. "Isn't that just like the High Command, though?--break it up when it hits the first rough patch!"
Rugel grinned sympathetically. "You sound as though you speak from experience, my friend!"
Hogan blinked, surprised at the venom in his own voice. "Do I?"
"Ja--but I would advise you to be wary. Herr Oberstleutnant Hahnsfeder does not take kindly to dissent in his ranks. You would be wise to learn the lesson Gruppe has not."
His flat tone chilled Hogan. "What's going to happen to Gruppe? A transfer? A...court martial?"
Rugel didn't answer.
Near its end, the tunnel made a sharp turn and doubled back on itself. Past the bend, it went unlit. "Even small amounts of light can be seen a long ways off on the Moors," the Austrian explained. "And, as you will see, we are not too far from the guard towers."
There was another ladder of runway-section at the end, above which was a metal hatch, something like one would find in a submarine. Hogan looked, but didn't see a periscope anywhere. So how do they know it's all clear?
Knecht undogged the hatch and climbed up, keeping low. Hogan followed, poking his head up through the hole into a metal structure of some kind.
There was a sudden growl at his back.
Hogan's head whipped around. He got a glimpse of flashing teeth as he slipped and fell back into the tunnel.
"Ow!" he complained, rubbing his sore rear. "What hit me?"
Knecht was laughing uproariously--trying desperately to keep his voice down. "Major Falke? Allow me to introduce our alarm bell, Ingrid--though I believe you've already met!"
"Alarm bell?" Hogan climbed back up--though cautiously. He realised, as he came up for the second time, that the metal structure was really the rusted-out shell of a derelict car, overgrown with weeds and somehow missed by the scrap-metal squads. And in one corner, huddled into a little hole of her own, a red fox glared at him with huge amber eyes.
"Do not worry," Knecht grinned from what had once been the shotgun seat, "she does not have anything contagious." He made some kissing sounds and the fox's huge ears pricked. Ingrid yipped inquiringly. "Here," he said warmly, passing Hogan a piece of bread. "The little whore adores anybody who feeds her."
The American--who had only seen foxes in the zoo or around someone's neck--eventually got Ingrid to take the bread. As she snatched the morsel, he got a touch of her fur--it was long and coarse, more like bear than dog or cat. Quick as lightning, she had darted back into her hole to snarf up the peace offering.
"Don't worry, it will take a little time for her to get used to your scent."
Hogan grinned. "She's a real 'fox', ain't she?"
"Vulpes vulpes vulpes," the captain replied solemnly, apparently missing the weak joke. "She does not like strangers around her den--we can hear her barking all the way down the tunnel if anyone's around. Come here."
Obligingly, Hogan slipped up into the car. The window glass was filthy and cracked, but through it he could see one of the Camp 9 guard towers. "Okay, so you can get out--where's the night life around here?"
"Look through the back window." Knecht handed him a pair of binoculars--Zeiss, Hogan noted with interest.
"All I see is brush, water, and more brush. What exactly am I looking for?"
"Just keep watching that slight rise straight ahead." As soon as he said it, Hogan saw a dark shape rise from the distant horizon.
"Hey--that's a YB-40! It's an airfield!" He shot Knecht a sober glance. "You mean you sabotage"--he caught himself about to say 'our'--"their planes?"
The German whistled, miming a tailspin with his hand. "Why else do you think the Führer has so many overcrowded LuftStalags? They'll probably send us out to clean off the runways this afternoon." He laughed. "That way, they can get more of our sabotaged planes across the Channel!"
Hogan shook his head in mixed amazement and disgust. He peered back through the 'nocks, watching the planes rise and close into formation. Those were day-bombers up there--American boys. How many mothers back in Connecticut, waiting for their sons to come home, would get a tersely-worded telegram instead because of Hahnsfeder?
Dammit, he thought, I've got to do something...and schnell!
"Come on, Falke, we don't want to stay up here to long--there are patrols, you know."
"Well nuts--and just when I was gonna nominate Peabody for 'Commandant of the Year'!"
Knecht laughed and climbed back down below. With one last sobering glance towards to oblivious airfield, Hogan slipped after him.
Carter burst into the senior officer's quarters in a panic. "General Bumblechuck's escaped!"
"Thank goodness!" Newkirk sighed.
Kinchloe shot him a scowl. "Newkirk!"
"What? Per'aps you wanted to nominate 'im 'Miss Congeniality'?"
LeBeau snorted. "He had so much going for him!"
"What happened?" Kinchloe asked.
"Well, one minute we were playing cards...I won five straight hands of gin, you know--"
"Carter!" Newkirk groaned.
The chemist grinned sheepishly. "Right! Anyway, he said he wanted to use the W.C. Well, I said we didn't have a W.C.--"
"The loo, Carter," Foster added helpfully. "He wanted to use the loo."
The sergeant's brow furrowed. "I don't think we have one of those either."
Kinchloe rubbed an ache right between his eyes. "I'll explain it to you later, Andrew. What happened after that?"
"He disappeared down this direction."
"An' you let 'im go--just like that?"
"He said it was urgent!"
"So what makes you think he escaped?" LeBeau asked.
" 'Cause he never came back!--and when I went lookin' for him, I found the Emergency Exit wide open!"
Kinchloe took his boots off the table and slowly got to his feet. "Okay, fellas--I guess we gotta go look for him...again."
"Aw c'mon Kinch!" Newkirk groaned, pillowing his head on his arms. "Let the Gerries go slogging through the mud after 'im!"
"Oui--maybe some quality time locked up with Major Hochstetter and his Merry Meat Tenderisers will soften him up un peu!"
Carter looked appalled. "Louie--that's awful!"
"He called you a 'blithering idiot'." The Frenchman turned back to Kinchloe. "Rescuing the general from the Gestapo wouldn't exactly be 'une promenade dans le jardin', but it is not impossible."
"An' a helluva lot more enjoyable!" Newkirk added.
"But what if he gets shot?" Kinchloe retorted. "There goes the plan, right out the window! And if you guys have any better way of getting the Colonel back in command, I'd love to hear it."
There was silence in the little room for a few minutes while each of the men turned the matter over in their brains. Kinchloe crossed his arms, waiting.
"All right," Newkirk sighed at last, getting to his feet. "I'm with you Kinch."
"Me too!" Carter added.
"Oui, d'accord," LeBeau grouched. "But when we find him, I say we tie his shoelaces together!"
Kinchloe grinned. "You don't hear me arguing!"
Foster stood up as well. "Can I go too?" he asked eagerly.
Kinchloe shook his head. "Sorry, Thomas--the 'senior officer' has to stay here to fend off Klink." Foster slumped back on the bunk, disappointment etched across his face.
"With all those Bosches crawling through the woods, we'd better go out in uniform." LeBeau's eyes turned to Kinchloe, who managed to smile to hide his own disappointment.
"You're right--I guess there aren't many SS with deep tans, are there? Foster and I can check around camp, in case a patrol brought him back in."
The Heroes left the small office. At LeBeau's bunk, Newkirk banged twice on the specially-rigged knothole. The mattress--wired up onto pulleys--rose and the bedboards dropped through the floor, forming the ladder into the tunnels. Carter clambered down, followed by LeBeau.
"Right!" Newkirk exclaimed to Kinchloe and Foster. "We'll see you chaps later then!--best of luck to you."
Kinchloe's lips curled in a sardonic smile. "You guys just be sure to find our little lost lamb before the real wolves do."
Knecht turned out to be right about the cleanup detail. They were intercepted halfway down the Burrow with the message that Hahnsfeder wanted them in formation at the gate.
Grabbing a pair of shovels on their way out of the toolshed, the two officers humped it across the muddy yard and slipped into the tail of the column, which was already winding its way towards the small convoy of open-backed troop-carriers.
Hahnsfeder paced around the line, shouting orders as he waved the volunteers into the truck-beds. Spotting Hogan and Knecht, he nodded briefly, motioning them to the first truck.
After taking their shovels, the soldiers already in helped them climb up, the seated officers sliding over to make room for them. The carrier reminded Hogan of the farm-trucks he had seen back home--those parts that were still metal had turned a particular shade of rust that couldn't be termed 'red' anymore. Most of the rest was wood, including the stiff-backed rain-slicked green-painted benches they sat on.
A few more prisoners piled in, and the ancient engine started up with a surprising range of vocalisations. The other trucks followed suit and with a jerk, the caravan started to roll. Hahnsfeder leapt lightly and caught the tailgate, swinging nimbly up into the back as the truck reached the gate.
The Oberstleutnant squeezed himself in beside Hogan with a breathless grin. "Don't worry, mein Herr Major--this is fairly easy work, and we're paid well."
Knecht leaned in. "The English could have better employed their own countrymen to do this kind of work, but they like seeing Germans doing menial labour! Makes them feel superior!"
Hahnsfeder laughed good-naturedly. "They can't be too inferior, Rugel--they shot me down, didn't they?"
Knecht said nothing, but spat viciously over the side.
The rest of the ride was spent in silence--once the trucks gained speed, the roar of the engine made conversation impossible, not to mention the danger of getting some of the mud splashing up from the wheels in one's mouth. Hahnsfeder seemed lost in thought anyway, a faint smile touching his lips, making Hogan wonder what he was planning. Knecht, for his part, had lapsed into a sour silence.
Hogan didn't mind, however--it gave him a chance to admire the countryside he hadn't seen since the last time he flew over it, on his way to Germany with a bellyful of bombs. Unfortunately, Hahnsfeder hadn't been transferred to one of the more scenic Prisoner of War camps; as far as Hogan could tell, this whole section of England was one big marsh. It didn't even have the decency to be a proper swamp--just a lot of low-to-the-ground, spindly, totally unremarkable plants. Actually, it bordered on miraculous that the Army Corps of Engineers had actually managed to build a functioning airfield out here! Briefly, Hogan wondered if they had a POW camp in the Lake District, and whether he could get Klink to transfer him there.
A light rain had begun to fall as they pulled into the tiny hamlet of Calmewater. Most of the buildings looked as though they had been squatting there on the marsh for centuries. The people standing in their doorways, staring down the prisoners, seemed to mirror the attitude of the buildings--hard-faced, rugged country-stock who seemed to share almost invisible bonds to each other, bonds which outsiders had no hope of breaching. Hogan figured they had been staring at people that way even before King William's army came marching over their hills in 1066. Except for the occasional truck, Hogan could easily imagine the whole town had been transplanted straight from the Middle Ages. And it looked as though the people hadn't minded a bit. As a sort of nod to civilisation, the central area--Hogan hesitated to call it a 'town square'--even had picturesque cobblestoned streets. Hogan hadn't realised until then just how much he hated picturesque cobblestoned streets. The 'veterans' of runway detail laughed as he massaged his aching tailbone--they had simply stood in their seats as the truck passed over the cobbles.
The road seemed to simply end at the airfield, branching out into a roughly circular compound of official-looking Quonset huts painted with the group's insignia clustered about a pair of flagpoles, one flying the Union Jack, the other Old Glory. Far off to one side, narrow concrete walkways gridded off an area of deceptively drab-looking huts--the bomb dumps.
On the opposite side of the field, hump-backed Nissen barracks huddled in tight rows alongside the massive camouflage-painted hangars, beyond which makeshift runways scattered in all directions. In the centre of this mess squatted a low brick building bristling with antennae, called variously the watch office or the control tower, depending on whether you were British or American. Out by the huge dirt mound used for test-firing aircraft guns, the concrete runways were already being cleaned by crews of unlucky airmen.
Hogan felt a pang of nostalgia, seeing the massive Lancs and B-17s scattered across the field, many under camouflage nets. What I wouldn't give to be up in the air again! he sighed to himself. With one last longing glance to the planes, he slung a shovel over his shoulder and followed the others, quickly catching up with Knecht.
"Okay, so we're shovelling off runways for the enemy. Aside from the dubiousness of this kind of thing under the Geneva Convention and the sheer character-building experience of peasant labour, why do you need me here?"
The Austrian grinned. "Don't be sarcastic, Heinrich! You'll find out soon enough."
Segregated from the other work groups, the prisoners started work shovelling the mud off the runway. The steady drizzle didn't make it any easier, and all the men were soon soaked through--though whether from rain or sweat it was difficult to tell. Hahnsfeder circled the group--just inside the loose ring of guards--snapping guttural orders in military German, driving everyone to do only their best.
Hogan worked determinedly, unable to figure out why Hahnsfeder had insisted he come. Besides sabotage operations, what on earth did clearing runways have to do with the escape network? He had to be up to something--but what?
He was broken from his thoughts by a sudden burst of off-key song. Straightening his aching spine, he passed a damp sleeve across his forehead and tried to locate the source. Eventually, he spotted it--a group of enlisted men crossing the field a ways down. They looked slightly tipsy.
God Almighty!--I sure hope they aren't going to go work on the planes!
He glanced over at Knecht and noticed the Austrian grinning from ear to ear. Apparently, a roughly similar thought had occurred to the tanker.
It took several more minutes before the inebriated aircrew realised that the 'PW' painted on the labourers' work overalls didn't exactly mean 'Pleasant Workmen'.
"Hello...supermen!" one of them catcalled in atrocious German as the others hee-hawed. "Hitler wears...a skirt!" His comrades doubled up in laughter.
The POWs straightened and glared in helpless rage.
"Herr Oberstleutnant!" Knecht snarled, "are we going to just let a bunch of drunk Americans insult the Führer?!"
The senior officer laid a hand on the captain's shoulder, restraining him. "A fight is what they want--but if we give it to them it is only we who will suffer. Just let it go."
Knecht wheeled on his commander, teeth bared with rage. "No matter what he's done, if those horrible things in the films are true or not, he is still our Führer! Every man here--including you, Herr Oberstleutnant--swore an oath to defend him; Führer und Vaterland...to the death!"
Hahnsfeder stared his captain down with an unshakeable cool that both awed and frightened Hogan. "Come now, Rugel--it is not as though they insulted Rommel!"
Knecht stared, blinked in confusion, for a moment taken utterly off-guard. Then he laughed helplessly, nodding, anger all but forgotten, as he was wont to do. If Fritz was glacial in his composure, then Rugel was a man of summer storms--short and furious outbursts, soon forgotten.
The senior officer thought a moment, then grinned slowly. "Herr Major Falke!" Hogan jumped as if pinched. "Would you kindly explain our position to the Americans...in their own terms?"
The group turned expectantly to Hogan, who pursed his lips grimly, knowing he had to do it or risk blowing his cover.
The Americans were swaying off down the airfield, still chuckling and thumping each other on the back. Hogan gathered his breath and courage and shouted after them:
"Roosevelt's nothing but a dirty fairy kike!"
The man who had insulted Hitler wheeled around, face reddening with anger as the Germans exploded in howls of laughter. He and a few others had to be restrained bodily from running at the prisoners, which only increased the prisoners' amusement. The Americans' comrades dragged them away, no doubt telling them it wasn't worth losing a weekend pass just to attack a bunch of dirty Krauts. Several of the Germans whistled insultingly after them, patting their hinter parts for a kiss.
"All right, you've 'ad yer fun!" Middling growled, thrusting his rifle at them. "Back ta werk!"
The Germans happily complied, still chuckling, and a lively rendition of 'The Horst Wessel Song'--ad-libbed with rather risqué lyrics--broke out shortly thereafter. As though in approval, the rain fizzled away and the clouds broke, letting the sinking sun pierce the gloom.
The prisoners were allowed a break before heading back to camp for the night. Gratefully, they filed into the Officers' Mess at the invitation of the British for a nice hot cup of tea.
Hogan, who hadn't seen real, fresh milk in nearly two years, caught a good-natured ribbing from the other prisoners for his 'three parts cream and a dash of tea'. It didn't prevent the American from enjoying a second cup, though.
At one point, Hahnsfeder ducked out into the back. Hogan's heart leapt--was the commander making his break? He scrambled to his feet to follow, but Rugel pulled him back into place.
"I think he will be able to handle himself," he said with a sly wink. "If he gets into trouble, rest assured I will be the first to rescue him!"
Sure enough, several--long--minutes later, the lieutenant-colonel reappeared to great fanfare--mainly because he carried a basket of cookies donated by the Officers' Wives. Hogan nearly expired then and there at the sight of the sweets, but managed to hoard a couple of each kind first.
The blond officer squeezed in on Hogan's other side. "The Major eats like a starving animal, don't you think?" he laughed to Knecht over Hogan's head.
"Jawohl, Herr Oberstleutnant! I think it is not a Major at all in our midst, but a ravening wolf!"
Hahnsfeder nodded sagely. "Of course, Herr Hauptmann! He must have been mis-classified--he belongs in the Sturmabteilung!"
"Don't insult me," Hogan snorted, neatly dunking an oatmeal cookie in his milk-and-tea before popping it into his mouth. With great satisfaction, he carefully licked each finger, then turned to Knecht.
"I assume you didn't bring me here just for the foreign food."
"A man of great perception!" Knecht hooted.
"Oh dry up!"
Hahnsfeder grinned broadly. "First, would you answer me a question?"
The officer leaned towards him. "Exactly how good is your English?"
Hogan lifted his chin. "Excellent, of course."
Rugel laughed. "This from a man whose German sounds like something out of a bad Hollywood propaganda movie?"
Hogan scowled. Rising, he strode to the door, where a group of American fliers in dress uniform had clustered on their way out, probably off to the big city on pass. Plastering his best 'good-ole-boy' grin across his face, Hogan caught up with the tail of the line.
"Hey, fellas!" he called brightly, "can I hitch a ride into town?"
One of the officers looked him up and down, taking in his muddy overalls--the dirt on which obscured the big white 'PW' spray-painted on his chest. The Americans didn't seem to notice that all chatter amongst the Germans had ceased, and that Fritz and Rugel weren't the only ones surreptitiously watching the exchange.
"Say--what're you tryin' to pull?"
Hogan looked at him blankly, for one moment absolutely convinced that three weeks of intensive German had destroyed his carefully-cultivated Connecticut accent. "Whadd'ya mean?"
The officer grinned suddenly, pointing at Hogan's muddy boots. "Them dogs ain't spit-shined to regulation!"
Hogan grinned, mostly with relief. "Think it'll cut into my chances with the dames?" he laughed, winking conspiratorially.
"Are you kiddin'?" another man mock-scolded. "Not a chance--between them pasty-faced limeys and the Nazis, we got them English gals in the bag!"
"Well let's go then!" one of the others whined, as though in pain. "I gotta itch needs scratchin'!"
Hogan joined the bawdy laughter and started to follow the group out. Just then, Middling re-emerged from the kitchen, rifle slung across his back, both hands and his mouth full of cookies. His eyes widened as he spotted Hogan.
Dropping the cookies, he unslung his rifle. "Halt!" he sputtered, spraying crumbs. "Where d'ya think yer goin'?"
Hogan turned, flashing a cherubic grin. "Who, me?" The officers paled as they read the letters on his back.
"Get yer hands up!" the sergeant howled storming down the aisle. One of the Germans casually stuck out a leg and the Englishman went sprawling. He scrambled to his feet, madder than ever as he manhandled Hogan back to his place, virtually flinging him over the table with rage. "I'll deal wi' you later!" he snarled in Hogan's ear.
As Middling hurried away to get dressed down by the Americans for not watching his prisoners, the Germans clustered around Hogan, grinning from ear to ear and pumping his hand with hearty appreciation. Hogan glanced at Hahnsfeder, and saw the lieutenant-colonel smile and nod in silent approval. For some reason, that made Hogan's heart swell with pride more than the comradely praise of the other prisoners.
When he was finally able to sit down again, Knecht poured him another cup of tea, still looking like he was on the verge of breaking into a fit of laughter. "Marvellous, Heinrich!" he cried, handing over the cup.
Hahnsfeder nodded casually. "I must apologise--you were right about your English!"
"What's Middling going to do to me?" Hogan asked with sudden concern. He couldn't afford getting tossed in the Cooler for the standard thirty days. Hahnsfeder had something big in the offing--Hogan could sense that with an instinct bred from long years in captivity, trying to out-guess Hitler's next big plan. If he didn't act now, he might never have another chance.
Knecht grinned. "He is not going to do anything to you! You want to know why? Because if he tries to throw you in the Cooler, he would have to confess that he was in the kitchen, making nice with the officers' daughters instead of out here, watching us 'wily Nazis'! The most he will do is confiscate your Red Cross package--and we have plenty of those tucked away in our mousehole for winter!"
Hogan nodded, smiling faintly, before turning again to Hahnsfeder. "All right, Herr Oberst, I've passed your test--and that WAS the test, was it not?--now, just why did you bring me here?"
Hahnsfeder smiled. "I saw you looking at those planes out there," he said quietly.
The tea suddenly didn't sit too well on Hogan's stomach. "So? I flew a Stuka--I've rarely been near anything as big as those bombers!"
The officer leaned in. "What if I told you we could get you a lot closer?"
Hogan's heart skipped a beat. "What for?"
Knecht snorted. "Oh come now! I know you are Bavarian, but I didn't think I would have to explain everything to you! What happens," he asked slowly, enunciating every word, "when you get a plane and a pilot together?"
Hogan's eyes widened. "You want to steal one of those bombers?!"
"Hush! Not so loud! Didn't I tell you he was smart...for a Bavarian?"
"Sure--you told me." Hogan shot him a scowl.
Knecht threw up his hands in disgust. "Oh for Heaven's sakes!"
Hahnsfeder only grinned. "Why...we're going home of course."
Three men in German uniforms tramped through the wet forest. It was slow going--miniature lakes had sprung up in low spots, requiring wide detours, and icy mudslicks scattered with leaves waited to swipe their feet out from under them. Even though the frigid rain had passed over, water still dripped down from the leaves and branches in a steady barrage, quickly soaking them to the skin. Newkirk had to continually re-adjust his officer's cap, which kept drooping down over his eyes now that it was wet. Carter and LeBeau, dressed as privates, had taken their heavy steel helmets completely off--to the soldiers, the steady drip-drip of raindrops on steel hearkened too closely to the renowned 'Chinese Water Torture'. LeBeau's helmet was now slowly strangling him from a strap around his throat, making him look as though he had some sort of strange, alien growth on his back. Carter had put his to more practical use, filling it with Autumn berries off the bushes they passed.
Newkirk paused and pushed his cap back up his forehead, squinting at a footprint in the earth. "You're the tracker, Louis--what do you make of this?"
LeBeau swiped his dripping hair out of his eyes and studied the mark. "It looks about the right size and depth to be Bumblechuck. The shoe definitely isn't German."
"How can you tell?"
"Because that is a German bootprint," he replied, pointing to another mark not far away. "If they haven't captured him already, they're at least tracking him, and in this mess it won't be long before they catch up!"
Newkirk sighed, wringing out his cap before plonking it back down over his ears. "Let's go then, gents--maybe we'll get lucky, hey?"
"That would be a switch," LeBeau snorted.
Carter stepped in a mudhole and sank up to his boottop. "Bahn sang dee bahnswar!"
Newkirk paused and turned puzzledly to the chemist. "Carter--what the bloody 'ell was that?"
The sergeant grinned sheepishly. "Louie taught me a couple a' swear words."
The Englishman rolled his eyes. "Do you 'ave to use them here?"
"Well I figured the Germans would be suspicious if they heard English, but French is OK 'cause they already invaded France!" Behind him, LeBeau mumbled something that didn't sound very civil. Newkirk just shook his head and shuddered, afraid that if he thought too hard about it, the chemist might actually start to make sense.
"Carter, just keep your mouth shut and your feet moving."
LeBeau crouched suddenly. "Chut!" he hissed. "What was that?"
"Sounds like...voices," Carter murmured.
"Yeah--German voices!" Newkirk added. Drawing his Luger, he chambered a round. The others unslung their Mauser Karabiners. The Englishman drew a deep breath to settle his racing heart. "Halt--Gestapo!" he shouted.
"Don't shoot!" came the reply. "We have captured the Englishman!"
"Bring him here!" Newkirk demanded. The bushes rustled and a trio of Luftwaffe soldiers emerged dragging none other than General Bumblechuck, bound and gagged. His eyes widened when he recognised the prisoners, but the gag muffled his protests. Their officer, Newkirk observed, was a mere greenhorn Leutnant. He grinned slowly--his own collar pips marked him as an Hauptmann.
"Have you radioed in?" Newkirk asked.
"Nein, Herr Hauptmann! Our radio shorted out from the rain!"
"Dummkopf!" the Englishman snarled, breathing a sigh of relief, "you should learn to take better care of the Reich's equipment!"
"J-jawohl, Herr Hauptmann!"
Reholstering his pistol, Newkirk motioned curtly for Carter and LeBeau to take Bumblechuck. "Good work, Leutnant--I will take charge of the English dog from here."
The Leutnant gaped pathetically, realising his glory was being stolen. "But Herr Hauptmann--!" he whined.
"Are you questioning my orders?" Newkirk snapped.
The kid shook his head dejectedly, then on second thought straightened smartly with a splattering click of his muddy heels. "Of course not, Herr Hauptmann!"
Newkirk sighed, taking pity on the poor dupe. He gestured angrily at the general. "You think I want to take him in? Do you imagine I enjoy filling out stacks of paperwork thick enough to choke a horse?!" He snorted disdainfully. "Nein! I would rather just shoot him right here!" The general fainted neatly in Carter's arms. "But that would mean even MORE paperwork, of course. I do thank you for capturing him so quickly--perhaps when I am done the girls will still be there."
The Leutnant blinked, looking suddenly interested. His men had perked up as well. "Ahm...girls, Herr Hauptmann?"
Newkirk gestured impatiently. "Ja, girls; you know...Fräuleins. By the Führer!--did they never teach you about the fairer sex at Gymnasium?" He plowed on, not giving the Leutnant a chance to answer. "The local Strength Through Joy womens' chapter is having a picnic out by the lake. Naturally, with partisans and fugitives crawling through the woods, they look to the valiant men of the Adolf Hitler Leibstandarte to provide security as well as...ahem...all the other things men are good for..." He shrugged. "I was given the duty, but naturally Major Hochstetter's orders take precedence. I just hope nothing happens to those poor, defenceless girls, out in the wilderness all by themselves, wearing nothing but their low-cut bathing suits..."
The Leutnant straightened heroically. "No need for concern, Herr Hauptmann! My men and I are ready to deploy on security detail!" His men, in fact, were fairly hopping up and down with excitement.
Newkirk pretended to look surprised as LeBeau and Carter smirked at each other. "Are you certain you wouldn't rather return to headquarters with me? They may even give you a medal for capturing this very important and dangerous prisoner!" He waved a hand towards the unconscious general.
The kid tried his best to keep his eagerness out of his face, unaware that he was blushing furiously. "We all must make sacrifices for the Fatherland!"
Sure you do. "I admire your conviction, Leutnant--very well then, you have your orders." He turned to take the general back to the treestump Emergency Exit.
Newkirk turned, scowling despite the nervous goosebumps racing down his back. "Ja?"
"The Hammelburg road is in the other direction--that way leads to Stalag 13."
"You think I don't know that? Where else could I safely store such a wily captive while I go back to Hammelburg?"
"It is a long walk, and our truck is parked not far from here--perhaps we could give the Major and his men a ride?"
Newkirk glanced desperately at Carter and LeBeau, who shook their heads vigorously. "I do not wish to be any trouble--"
"No trouble at all!" the kid insisted, obviously bucking for brownie points. "We have plenty of room!"
"Very well then," Newkirk sighed. "You can drop us off at the gates."
"They're going to what?!" Hogan shouted at no one in particular, clenching the letter in his hands. He read it again, unable to believe what it told him. But none of Newkirk's jagged black letters had changed.
Dearest Heinrich, we have had a bit of an upset here. Father has decided he is well enough to run the business and is trying to convince Johann to take a trip to let him do so. A very important general-goods man from Frankfurt--Frankfurt was the code for England--has other ideas and is trying to buy us out. Father wants to switch Johann for him and sell, but he really doesn't know how unpleasant this man is. In actuality, I believe Father wishes you home to take over the business. Johann and I are doing our best to discourage the Frankfurt man, but I fear the most we can do is stall for time.
You also might like to know that Hans the toymaker says there is a raven--Hogan nearly tore the letter in half as his muscles tensed; ravens stood for Gestapo--roosting in the eves, attacking everyone who walks by. Father is very upset, fearing it will drive away customers. There is not much we can do to get rid of it, so we simply try to avoid it.
As always, we long to hear from you. Return to us safely and very soon. Frieda.
"I don't believe this!" Hogan cried, fearing he actually did believe it.
"Bad news, Heinrich?" Rugel asked. The captain was polite, but too happy over finally receiving his own letter to be really concerned.
"Trouble back home," Hogan mumbled hoping that would end it.
Knecht just nodded absently. "Did I tell you that Mara was able to get some meat at the market?"
"Yes, I heard."
"And she has found another boarder to take Herr Rosenburg's old room (may he rest in peace)."
"So you said."
"Did I say that soon she will be able to save up enough money to buy new shoes for Anna and Jurgen?"
Knecht sniffed, rebuffed. "You are no fun to read news to!"
"Sorry, Rugel, I'm just a little preoccupied right now!"
" 'Preoccupied'? Well, you had better get over it--you and der Oberstleutnant go out at dark!"
"I know," Hogan sighed, feeling tension knots tighten around his stomach again. How come I was never this nervous at Stalag 13? Perhaps that had been because he was commanding there, or because he knew the terrain, or because back then he hadn't been a fifth column to men he reluctantly had to admire, men who trusted him with their lives. Et tu, Bruté?
Feeling like a rat rather than a mouse, Hogan nonetheless hurried to Machine Shed, where a handful of prisoners tended to the British trucks unsupervised. He nodded curtly to the corporal--a freckle-faced, deceptively innocent-looking Westphalian named Grünewald--who quickly got his men to slide back the heavy work bench concealing one of the many tunnel openings.
Hogan slipped down into the darkness, feeling his way along the tunnel until he could see ahead of him the light of the main network. Some ways down, he turned into another tunnel, which led to the supply rooms. These were situated underground of necessity, simply because they were used to store, amongst other things, gunpowder and high explosives.
There were also field radios, re-constructed out of parts borrowed and stolen from their captors. It was one of these that Hogan slipped into his jacket and snuck back down the tunnel with, bundling his arms over it as though he were cold.
Instead of heading back the way he had come, Hogan headed casually through the common room--nodding curtly to a few of the spies who hailed him by name--towards the Burrow.
After feeding Ingrid some crust he had saved from lunch and giving her a brief scratch behind the ears, Hogan took out the field radio. No one was due to come up this way in the daytime, so he was safe for the moment as he fiddled, trying to make it work. Eventually, he was rewarded with a burst of static which sent Ingrid scrambling back into her den.
"Sorry, old girl," he muttered sheepishly, turning down the volume in case a British patrol happened by. Hogan tuned it to the frequency General Walters had given him back in London. "Mayday, mayday--anybody read me? Over." The radio spat static. "Hello--anybody out there? I need assistance, over!" He tried a couple more times before dejectedly giving up and burying the radio just outside the back window.
Walters said he'd be listening! So where the hell is he? Hogan had never felt so alone in his life.
Miserably, he trudged back to his bunk to wait out the time.
That was one of the rough things about being a prisoner of war--the waiting. Since officers weren't required to work, that usually left them with too many hours to kill. A man could quickly go stir-crazy that way. That was one reason Hogan had organised his little home-grown escape op in the first place--for sheer want of something to do.
Carter, who had been in Stalag 3 before being transferred after one explosive chemical combination too many, had said that the men there often bided their time giving organised lectures on their realms of expertise--be it building ships in a bottle or the culture of the T'ang dynasty. Others became chess champions or birdwatchers. Some men, of course, preferred underground architecture. In that respect, Hogan supposed he and Hahnsfeder weren't that far apart after all.
Hogan rolled towards the wall, too restless to sleep. Tonight, it would all end--for one of them, anyway. It was too bad really--Hogan had actually come to like Fritz Hahnsfeder. He had a quick mind and a wide scope on a given situation, his intellect not clouded by the patriotic idealism that too easily hampered good officers on both sides.
Of course, without patriotic idealism, what was the whole point of having a war? The real irony was that if Hahnsfeder hadn't been fighting for the wrong side, Hogan would have been happy to have him at Stalag 13. The colonel chuckled to himself. Like Nelson and Napoleon!
There was no more warning than a sudden prickling down his spine.
Hogan jackknifed off the bunk just in time to avoid the dagger thrust. He shot to his feet, but not quickly enough. The homemade weapon--the logo of the tea company still visible on the beaten blade--flashed again, and a thin red line opened across his shoulder. It took him a second to recognise his attacker.
"Enjoy your breath while you still have it, traitor!" the Gestapo agent snarled
The German feinted left--Hogan dodged and the blade sank into his flesh again, deeper this time. A sting was all he felt, but when he put a hand to the cut, it came away red.
He's toying with me!
"What did I do?" Hogan protested desperately, stalling for time.
Gruppe's lips skinned back from his teeth. "You think we didn't pick up your little broadcast?"
Hogan felt as though someone had dropped a rock on his guts. Robert, you idiot! You should have known they would be monitoring all bands! Looks like this time you blew it--for good.
"Can't we work something out?" Hogan stammered weakly. His answer was a slash that narrowly missed his eyes.
Gruppe chuckled as Hogan stumbled away. "I can't wait to see the expression on the Oberst's face when I tell him his boot-licker is a British spy!" Swift as a striking snake, the Gestapo officer relentlessly forced him backwards, slicing into his hands, his chest, his neck, trying to corner the American. Hogan kept low, blood-streaked arms crossed before him to catch the worst of the blows. Gruppe was panting, blue eyes wide and bright with madness. Their boots made scarlet smears like dance-steps across the floor.
Hogan's thigh bumped into something solid--the table! Hogan sped up his retreat as Gruppe circled outwards to prevent him from dashing for the open door. Pressing his flank against the edge as though in desperation for distance, the American slid along the length and backed up around the far end. Eager not to lose his distance, Gruppe lunged, overreaching himself. Hogan fell back against the nearest bunk and kicked out as hard as he could, slamming the table into Gruppe's belly.
The Gestapo man collapsed, gasping for breath, and Hogan kicked the knife under a bunk. Then he fell to his knees as the strength drained out of him.
Slowly, Hogan looked up to see Knecht standing in the doorway, face white with shock, the letter crumpled in his hand, forgotten. Hogan's blood pattered with a steady rhythm onto the wooden floor.
Other prisoners had started to gather in the doorway now, returning from wherever Gruppe had ordered them to go, muttering in loud, nervous voices.
"What's going on here?" Hahnsfeder demanded, shoving his way to the forefront. His blue eyes took the scene in with one glance. "Hauptmann Knecht," he said in a dangerously soft voice, "please see to Herr Gruppe."
The Austrian officer gave him a surprised glance when the senior POW failed to grant Gruppe's rank, but obeyed, hauling the choking Gestapo agent to his feet.
Hahnsfeder's eyes were as cold and sharp as blue diamonds. "Obergefreite Urmann," he said, biting off each word, "escort Major Falke to the infirmary."
"I can make it on my own."
"Heinrich, you are losing blood--"
"I can make it!" Hogan snarled, determined not to let Hahnsfeder think him too weak to go on the mission.
The Lieutenant-Colonel's mouth twitched slightly in what might have been admiration. He gave a short nod and Hogan stumbled out of the barracks. The prisoners closed back behind him.
Several hours later, Knecht smeared soot on the new second-in-command's white bandages. The rest of the prisoners were strangely silent, most staring at the freshly-scrubbed floor, refusing to meet each other's eyes.
Gruppe was never seen alive again.
Schultz yawned hugely, feeling his eyelids drooping. Taking one last peek to make sure no one was watching, he leaned back in his chair against the striped wall of the guard hut and settled in for a quick post-pre-dinner-snack snooze.
He quickly slipped into a dream...
LeBeau poked his head out of the Offizierskasino--he was wearing a huge chef's hat from which long black antennae protruded and drooped down over his back. His beady little eyes darted this way, they darted that way... He slipped over to the fence, cradling a big mixing bowl under his arm.
Colonel Hogan and the rest of his pack were waiting. The American slipped the cover off the mixing bowl and started pulling out an extraordinarily long roll of strudel, which he fitted with a grappling hook and tossed over the fence. Testing the strength of the pastry dough with a few good jerks, Hogan started clambering up the wire hand-over-hand as the other prisoners crowded around at the bottom with anxious faces.
Hogan tossed one leg over the top. "It's okay fellas!" he whispered urgently to his men. "We sure pulled a good one on those stupid Krauts!"
At that moment, Schultz leaned forward from his ladder on the opposite side, pressing the muzzle of his rifle against the colonel's temple. "Did you now?" the sergeant leered. "Did you really?"
All the lights came on, spotlighting the milling prisoners, and a troop--no, a platoon--no, no, a battalion! of armed soldiers swarmed from the buildings and surrounded the helpless men in a ring of machine guns and slavering guard dogs.
Schultz deftly unhooked the strudel and, with one long powerful slurp, forever destroyed that delicious means of escape. After neatly patting the corners of his lips with a dainty white napkin, he gestured for Hogan to raise his hands. The colonel complied with a weary sigh. "Well, Herr Kommandant, I guess you outsmarted me again--you were ahead of me every step of the way! When am I gonna learn I just can't escape with you in command? I bet they're gonna give you yet another medal!"
And suddenly Klink--no, no...General Burkhalter--no!--the FÜHRER! was presenting him with a medal for digestive heroism--the iron cross first class with strudel and Wienerschnitzel. As the national hero of Germany he stood on the balcony at the Reichstag, which hung with huge portraits of himself instead of the usual swastika banners. Bouncy martial marches of the Great War oompha-ed from the square below, almost drowned out by the seething, cheering masses fighting for a glimpse of their hero. Strong men wept, gorgeous Fräuleins blew kisses, and people as far as the eye could see waved banners painted with 'Schultz für Führer!' in letters two feet high.
Major...no--Leutnant...no...Corporal Hochstetter stepped smartly up to his side and saluted. "Herr Reichskanzler," he stammered in a voice trembling with awe, "there is an urgent call for you from Stalin--he wants to surrender!"
"Let him wait," Schultz sniffed, turning back to his adoring public.
Below, a young family pushed their way to the forefront of the crowd--the man was tall and dark-haired, handsome, bearing a little kid in Lederhosen on his shoulders. He turned his face upwards and called out in loud, brash Cockney-- "Schultz--'ey Schultz!"
The Chancellor of Germany-and-Points-East stared, blinked, and suddenly realised it was Newkirk standing below him. Despite the distance, he could see the Englishman quite clearly. "Go away, Engländer!" he hissed. "Get out of my dream!"
LeBeau lowered his gigantic lollipop and shook it at Schultz, scowling from his perch on Newkirk's shoulders. "We know you're in there, Schultz!--you can't hide from us!"
Beside the Englishman, Carter--in a frumpy purple housedress patterned with huge white flowers--put his hands haughtily on his hips and fwoofed the blonde Shirly Temple curls out of his eyes. "Yeah Schultz--open up!" he called peevishly.
A loud bang brought Schultz rocketing to his feet. Grabbing his gun, he trundled over to the gate.
Four men waited on the other side--a black-uniformed SS officer, two privates, and a man who was so thoroughly tied up he looked mummified; even his bootlaces were knotted together! At first, Schultz didn't connect the faces with his dream.
"Can I help you gentlemen?" the sergeant asked politely.
"Yeah, Schultz" the officer replied with a strangely familiar British accent. "You can open the gate. We've been out 'ere yellin' for you for ten bloody minutes!"
The big man's eyes narrowed. "How do you know my name?"
"Don't you recognise us, ol' buddy?" the taller private piped up.
"Oui," added the shorter man. "Don't be so tiresome, Schultz--open up!"
Schultz gasped in horror, eyes bugging as he finally realised who the men were. "You!--but!--what!--how!--I see noth-ing!" He shook his rifle at them. "Get out of here! About-face! March!"
"You're holding your rifle backwards."
Schultz looked down and saw he did, indeed, have it pointed at them stock-first. "Oh--danke." He quickly righted the weapon and waved it at them. "Now move!"
"Aw c'mon," Newkirk sighed. "Now don't do that, mate--we need you to let us in!"
"Be a pal!" Carter added plaintively.
"Nein nein nein! You got out by yourselves--if you want back in so badly, you find your own way! Leave me out of this!"
LeBeau curled his gloved hands through the barbed wire. "Now Schultz," he said reasonably, "you know we would never compromise your ignorance unless it was absolutely necessary!"
"Danke," Schultz said with a little bow, "and I appreciate it, but I have my orders--no prisoners pass through this gate except by order of the Kommandant!"
Newkirk stretched languidly. "Well, now--we ain't exactly prisoners out 'ere, are we? I mean, we're in uniform an' everything!"
"I wouldn't know," Schultz sniffed philosophically.
"Sergeant Schultz!" Foster cried, stalking up to the gate, closely trailed by Kinchloe, who was egging him on. "I demand you let those men in here immediately!"
"You can't order me around! You're not even an officer!"
Kinchloe pointed to Foster's sleeve-stripes. "You see these?"
"You know what they mean?"
"Ja, of course, but--"
"--And those men in uniform outside the gate, do you know what those uniforms mean?"
"--So a general ordered you to let Hochstetter's men into Stalag 13--you have a problem with that story?"
Schultz mulled it over for a minute. "No, I suppose not--okay, you boys can come in."
"You're so kind," LeBeau snorted as he and Carter manhandled General Bumblechuck back inside. "Bosche!" he spat privately.
"What's the problem with the tunnel?" Kinchloe demanded once they were out of earshot. Once Newkirk explained about the recapture and the subsequent wild-goose chase, the black man chuckled. "You're diabolical, Peter, you know that?"
"Me mum always told me I was a bad seed!"
"Why didn't you just get the Lieutenant to drive you right into the yard?" Foster asked.
"The guards have to keep a gate log of all vehicles," Kinchloe explained.
"Not to mention a big noisy truck's a little harder to hide than just four guys!" Carter added.
"Don't you fret, Thomas old chap--by dinner Schultz will have forgotten he ever saw us! That selective amnesia is wonderful stuff! I bet it wouldn't 'urt if LeBeau cooked something special either--"
The Frenchman made a face. "Cook cook cook--that's all I do around here! Feh! Let's just get the general back down in the tunnels before Klink sees him."
"I'm all for that," Foster agreed enthusiastically. "And this time, he stays tied up!"
The British General could only mumble a muffled protest around his gag.
Just before dawn...
On their knees and elbows Hogan and Hahnsfeder crawled the last few yards to the airfield. Typically, the base was dark, a defensive measure against the strong Luftwaffe of a few years back. But patrols circled the field constantly, their boots alternately squelshing in the mud and clunking on the concrete runways. The conspirators ducked as a pair of MPs passed within yards of them.
"Well, which one do you want?" Hogan whispered when the soldiers had gone. "That uncovered B-17 over there looks good--probably fuelled up and everything." Of course, the minute they tried to start up one of the silent planes, the MPs would sound the alert and they would get caught with no muss and fuss, which was really what Hogan was hoping for.
Hahnsfeder had had two years to ponder his plan, though--he laughed at what he took to be Hogan's naïveté. "Sounds--particularly the roar of such a large engine--carry quite clearly across the airfield, Heinrich! No...we will go for a plane that is already running. Knecht will know what I want."
Hogan swallowed. That was what he had been afraid Fritz would say. He peered across the tarmac towards the hangars, where the American fliers were warming up their planes, finishing their system checks as crews loaded the bombs. Hogan tightened his grip around the perilously-scrounged Colt .45 Knecht had given him back in camp, praying he wouldn't have to use it. If it came to that, to drawing a line between friendship and the war, he would be forced to kill Hahnsfeder.
Behind a relatively dry rise at the end of one runway, the two officers stripped off their muddy work overalls--which had been smeared with paraffin to make them water-resistant--and quickly buried them. Underneath, they wore heavy flight clothes copied with supreme accuracy after the Allied designs--unfortunately, the Germans hadn't had the technology to re-create the electrically heated suits which made the negative numbers of Angels Twenty barely tolerable, so they had made do with scraps of heavy sheepskin stolen from the British quartermaster. Hogan wondered if Hahnsfeder had provided as well for the rest of his men--if not, they would be frostbitten, or even dead, by the time they reached Germany...if, of course, Hogan didn't manage to foul up the escape with some as yet unrealised but brilliant eleventh-hour plan.
On their leather jackets, Hahnsfeder wore the insignia of a Dutch corporal, Hogan that of an American colonel. He had to chuckle at the irony of his outfitters' choice.
"How come I outrank you?" Hogan whispered.
"You don't want to know," Hahnsfeder hissed back.
"Yes I do!"
"You won't like to hear it."
"All right...if you were an American MP--I know, I know, but just imagine you have the IQ of a brick--and you caught a phony colonel and a phony corporal, which one would you think was the superior officer?"
Hogan frowned thoughtfully. "Good point." He tugged at his clothes, wishing they could fit like his old tailored uniform instead of feeling German. Too tight in the wrong places! he thought disgustedly. So much for German tailoring.
He tensed, ready for the dash, but Hahnsfeder put a hand on his shoulder, holding him back.
"Something wrong, Fritz?" Hogan asked, hoping the German would say he had rethought the whole thing and decided to scrub the mission. That was impossible, though--Knecht was already circling around the other side of the airfield, getting the small group of escapees into position. And, Hogan privately wondered, how long will it be before the Brits discover Gruppe's absence...or his body? He studied Hahnsfeder, telling himself that the German had caused the death of a fellow officer...but to his dismay finding himself answering that Gruppe had been a Nazi louse who had fully deserved it.
"If anything should happen to me, I want you to get back to camp, and schnell--don't wait around for anything...or anyone." He grinned suddenly. "Living to thumb our noses at the Allies is more important than dying heroically. If this works, Rugel and the others can keep the operation going for several more years without any suspicion from Peabody."
Hogan replied with a confident grin, wishing he felt as brave as he acted. The worst part of it is that Fritz is right--that poor excuse for a tunnel they dug last night will fool Peabody into believing that's how Hahnsfeder and I escaped with the five 'official' prisoners, presumably including Gruppe. Meanwhile--after a brief hiatus to avert suspicion--the Burrow will be up and running again in no time. "Let's go then."
Waiting for the next patrol to pass, the two officers straightened up and started casually across the airfield, Hogan first, Hahnsfeder and his Enfield at his back as an escort. Hogan patted his shirt pocket, reassuring himself that the German-forged identity papers were still there, ready to be presented should they be challenged.
Looping around behind a row of silent planes, the pair made as though they had just come off an impromptu inspection; a small cluster of MPs smoking at the corner of one hangar straightened to attention as they spotted Hogan. One man--an American corporal by his uniform--approached them, snapping off a salute which Hogan casually returned. Even in the scant moonlight, Hogan could see that he was just a kid, a fresh promotion on his first tour. No doubt he could quote the book by heart, and thought of war only in terms of daddy's glory-stories and seventh-grade history class abstractions like kings, dates, and grassy European fields. Hogan hesitated, wondering if the kid could think on his feet enough to tackle Hahnsfeder after Hogan betrayed him. He drew a breath and opened his mouth, readying the words that would betray them both.
But then he heard Fritz move, just slightly--the faint rattle of metal strap-buckles, the soft rasp of the German's palm sliding up the polished wooden stock towards the trigger, the oily creak of the leather holster on his belt as he shifted his stance. The corporal didn't react to such commonplace sounds, but the hair on the back of Hogan's neck prickled. It suddenly came crashing home to him that Hahnsfeder would kill the corporal without a second thought, gun down the other MPs before they even realised what was happening. They were the enemy, after all--the Führer had said so. It had seemed so much different back in the camp, when only Hogan's life was at stake--now, his actions could save this kid standing not two feet from him...or send him back to mama in a coffin.
Hogan swallowed what he had been about to say, nearly choking on the thorny tangle of emotions. Any misgivings about betraying Hahnsfeder evaporated--his former comrade had suddenly become something alien and calculating.
"Mornin', corporal," Hogan drawled, managing to sound nonchalant, even cheerful.
The greenhorn grinned briefly. "Mornin', sir. What's the password?"
Hogan's heart skipped a beat. "Did you forget it, soldier?"
The corporal grinned back, but with creeping nervousness. "I'm sorry, sir, but I gotta have that password."
He snorted impatiently. "Crimony! You can't even walk to the latrine around here without filling out a form in triplicate!" He jerked a thumb back at the darkened runway. "A fella back there grilled me the same way!"
"Yeah? Who, sir?"
"Yeah, that sounds right! Tall fellow, blond?"
The corporal grinned. "That's him all right!"
Hogan shot him a patronising smile and nodded approvingly. "Well, all you boys're doin' a bang-up job!"
The kid returned Hogan's salute, beaming with pride. "Thank you, sir!" Hogan stepped around him. Looking confused, the corporal scurried back in front of him, blocking his way. "Sir! You didn't give me the password yet, sir!" The kid's attention was focused on Hogan, so he didn't see Hahnsfeder lower the muzzle of his rifle. By the hangar, the MPs watching the exchange straightened. One by one, they crushed out their cigarettes.
Hogan grimaced. Christ!--this kid was digging his own grave! He had to do something, and fast--but what? "Look," he growled, "I was just transferred in--I wasn't given today's password yet."
The corporal's brows furrowed. "How's that, sir?"
"I don't have the password."
The kid blinked twice, bringing his rifle around. "I gotta ask you to come with me, sir."
Hogan closed his eyes, dreading the shot.
"What's going on here, soldier?" The kid saluted again as a new officer--a major--stalked up to them. and saluted Hogan. Hogan saluted again, wondering if there was a military equivalent to tennis elbow.
"Sir, the colonel hasn't given me the password, sir. Says he was just transferred in. I was just gonna take him over to th--"
"Why inconvenience the colonel?" the major spat, probably wondering just how many stripes an angry colonel could bust him down to. "Did you check his papers?"
The kid hesitated. "N-nossir--"
"Then do it and stop wasting the colonel's time!"
Hogan politely handed over his German-forged identity papers, relieved to sense Hahnsfeder relax slightly. The corporal squinted down at the documents--all duly signed, dated, stamped, and authorised by four guys who worked in the back room of the camp library--under the red-filtered beam of his flashlight, only to have them snatched away by the major and handed back to Hogan after the most cursory inspection.
"Sorry, colonel--if you'll just head right on over to the main office, they'll get this all straightened out." He smiled hesitantly, and Hogan responded with the sour smile of an inconvenienced officer, tucking the papers back in his shirt pocket. Then he stalked away, followed by Hahnsfeder, while the relieved major chewed out the corporal on the subject of diplomacy and procedure.
"Sharp thinking," Hahnsfeder muttered sotto voce.
Hogan smirked, both relieved and disappointed. "You will catch me if I faint, won't you?" The German laughed.
It was getting down to the wire and Hogan still hadn't managed to trip up the Oberstleutnant. The thought had occurred to him to go back with Hahnsfeder to Berlin, but if his cover hadn't fooled Gruppe, it wouldn't last ten seconds with the Main Office. If he was going to do something, it would have to be tonight...if he wasn't going to get himself killed by twenty angry Germans.
But Hahnsfeder had a Webley revolver within easy reach, not to mention that rifle. If Hogan called out, he would be dead an instant later, and Hahnsfeder was just wily enough to evade capture. If only I could have gotten word to General Walters! Fritz could have been safely packed off to a POW camp in Alaska or Canada--somewhere he couldn't easily set up an intelligence operation.
Hahnsfeder slipped up beside him and pointed. "There--our chariot awaits!"
Hogan followed his finger to a B-17 with American markings, scrawled with the words 'Blue Vixen'. The warming engines made the ground beneath their feet thrum, and Hogan saw the faint shadows of the air crew scurrying over and beneath it, making last-minute inspections as the personnel completed their four-hour system check. There was nothing remiss in the sight.
"Are you su--" Hogan began--then suddenly he recognised Rugel, waiting for them by the open bomb-bay doors. The Austrian waved and gave a military salute as Hogan clambered up into the plane, Hahnsfeder after him.
"What happened to the crew?" Hogan asked, switching on the cockpit heat and slipping into the pilot's seat--it felt as wonderfully familiar as the embrace of an old lover.
The Austrian guffawed. "The Americans...are a little tied up!"
Hogan groaned and Hahnsfeder shot him a scowl. "Ach!--too many Hollywood movies, Rugel! Are you sure you don't want to come back to the Fatherland with us, for sanity's sake?"
They were interrupted by the appearance of a young, grinning dark-haired man in pilot's overalls, who plopped down next to Hogan.
"Guten Abend! I'm Hauptmann Reicher--I'll be your co-pilot for tonight!"
"English, Gustav, English!" Knecht chuckled. He turned to Hahnsfeder. "Well, I believe I'll be going now before this train takes off!"
"Still afraid of flying, eh Rugel?"
The Austrian straightened, feigning fractured dignity. "We in the Afrika Korps prefer to keep our assets on the ground, danke!" He clicked his heels and bowed. "Herr Oberstleutnant, Herr Major, Herr Hauptmann--I wish you nothing but the best of luck!" After shaking hands all around, he slipped out. Hogan saw him again moments later, melting into the Moor like a shadow.
"Parachutes, gentlemen?" Hahnsfeder asked in heavily accented English.
Hogan accepted one, noticing in passing that it was one of the old RAF types, and strapped it to his chest. "I hope this doesn't mean you're expecting a rough landing."
"Not at all! Don't tell me all that time as a ground-pounder softened your affinity for parachutes?"
Hogan had to admit that it hadn't. "It's even better than my old teddy bear!"
"Herr Major!" Reicher called, squinting through the windshield. "The other planes are beginning to taxi."
Hogan peered through his own side window before remembering there was no ground crew to signal to. "Someone did remove our wheel cocks, I trust."
"You worry too much, Heinrich!" Hahnsfeder grinned, squeezed into the flight engineer's turret.
"I don't suppose you also have the flight plan tucked up your sleeves somewhere?"
"No--you'll have to simply follow the others."
"--And hope we don't run into them or off the runway. Right."
The Command radio crackled. "Vixen, this is control--what the hell d'ya think yer doin'? You're holding up the line--move out, over!"
Hogan slipped on his throat mike. "Negative, control--minor problem here. We'll be up in a minute, over!"
"You need ground crew, over?"
"No thanks, control, we've got it covered. Just want to make sure we can put all our babies to bed, over!"
The man on the other end laughed. "Roger that, Vixen. Out."
Reicher leaned towards him. "What this means 'put our babies to bed'?"
Hogan grinned. "Oh, just something I saw in a movie once--means we're gonna go drop a few unpleasant surprises on our political officers!"
Hahnsfeder pursed his lips. "I think it will be the Americans who are to be unpleasantly surprised!"
Hogan glanced over his dials, wishing he could have gone through the checklist himself, but knowing he just had to trust the unfortunate pilot who had sat here before him. "Okay Mr. Reicher, everything's a-go--follow that plane!"
The kid goggled at him. "What?"
Hogan sighed and pointed. "That one--steer! Keep a length between you and him."
"Jawohl!" He coaxed the plane to their 'cab rank' position to one side of the runway with a natural's touch, muttering to himself as he fingered the yoke.
Hogan squinted through the dark windshield at the line of bombers in front of him, searching for the chequered van he knew was somewhere on the other end. When the green light flashed, Hogan's heart leapt. One by one, the squadron started to move out as, in the east, the sky began to take on a faint greyish tinge.
A few minutes later, their time came to taxi to the head of the runway. Hogan took over, turning the B-17 on a dime and gunning the engines to a roar. The lamp flashed and Hogan released the breaks. With a lurch, the heavy bomber gained speed along the runway. Reicher pulled out all the throttles and the engine pitch rose to a scream.
Hogan glanced from ground to airspeed indicator, out of well-drilled habit trying to keep his wheels on the concrete to the last possible second for the best speed. The needle shivered at 117 mph and Hogan eased back the yoke. The plane shuddered as the wheels retracted back into their wells and with a jerk they were suddenly flying smoothly. Hogan kept a steady course for a few minutes to free up the airspace before banking and climbing to join the rest of the group.
The veteran pilot quickly recognised the old familiar Javelin Down of the 305th forming above and smiled softly to himself. "Let's slip in behind the Lead Squadron, Reicher." When the captain didn't answer, Hogan glanced briefly in his direction. His attention was directed elsewhere. "Eyes on the controls, Hauptmann!" Hogan snapped. But the kid was staring at something behind them, his eyes growing round. "Reicher what--"
He suddenly felt a point of cold blossom behind his right ear and the sharp crack! of Fritz cocking his Webley.
Hogan slowly raised his hands from the yoke, letting Reicher have it. "What gave me away?"
"I must admit you were perfect up until just now. But even the best Stuka pilot could not work a B-17 so easily...unless, of course, he had flown one before. Gruppe had his suspicions about some radio message or another, but I didn't believe it, not at first. I suppose I didn't want to believe." Hahnsfeder laughed softly. "Those Tommies get more and more clever every day--imagine, sending us a spy so obvious we never would have suspected him!"
"I had my orders!"
Hahnsfeder moved back a step. "I understand, Heinrich. ...Or whatever your name is."
"...Robert..." the officer repeated thoughtfully, as though tasting the name. The pistol dropped an inch. Then suddenly his blue eyes hardened--the muzzle came up again. "Do you think that will prevent me from killing you if I have to?"
Hogan sighed. "No. I would do the same in your place."
"I'm glad we understand each other, then. Reicher--join the Lead Squadron." Numbly, the young man obeyed, hunching over his controls and refusing to look at Hogan.
"What's going to happen to me?"
"I'm afraid you've just become a prisoner of war--on the other side. I know it's against the Geneva Convention for prisoners to do war work, but I need you up here in case we have to use your American accent again."
Hogan pressed his lips into a thin line, just imagining what a grand surprise Major Hochstetter would get. "Wunderbar. I've heard about your German hospitality."
"You will be treated well!" Hahnsfeder retorted angrily.
"Only if you don't turn me over to the Gestapo as a spy," Hogan snarled.
"We Germans obey strictly the rules of civilised warfare--"
"Sure you do."
Hahnsfeder ground his teeth. "It was your side that bombed Dresden!"
But Hogan wasn't listening. His gaze had wandered to the locked glass window on his left. He studied it, wondering if the glass was that new armoured British stuff. Well, there was one way to find out.
As though to tie a bootlace, Hogan bent down and clenched his fists around the handles of the map box under his seat. Glancing up at Hahnsfeder, his eyes narrowed with calculation. The German caught his gaze and, suspicious, started to raise his gun. Hogan flung the metal map case into Hahnsfeder's face, knocking him to the floor as Reicher stared, then swung it back in a long arc into the window. His heart nearly failed him when it didn't break--a spiderweb of cracks blossomed instead, the rebound sending the map case skittering out of his hands.
Desperately, Hogan twisted his body in the seat and brought his wooden heels hard against the glass. This seemed to bring Reicher out of his daze. Seizing Hogan's jacket, he fought to drag him back over the throttles. On the floor, Hahnsfeder rolled to his knees, shaking his head to clear it of the bright sunbursts behind his eyes. The Webley lay just a few inches from his fingers.
A few more kicks shattered the glass, sending it howling out into the propellers. Hogan struggled up out of Reicher's grasp and dove for the window. Reicher caught his feet as Hogan tried to pull himself through. Kicking the co-pilot in the face, Hogan wrenched his feet out of the boots. Hahnsfeder made a weak grab for his leg, but missed narrowly.
The wind screamed around Hogan's ears as he let himself be sucked out into the howling night. The broken glass of the sill sliced slowly through his cold-numbed fingers as he clung to the side of the B-17. Turbulence slammed him repeatedly against the blood-streaked metal, and several of his ribs gave painfully. A few feet away, the engines roared like a great hungry monster. One wrong move could send him screaming into the propellers.
Suddenly, there was another pair of hands on his. Hahnsfeder was yelling something, trying to pull him back inside. The wind caught his words and blew them away. Their gazes locked.
Grimly, Hogan let his blood-slicked hands slip free.
"Heinrich!" the German screamed into the wind, his voice mingling anger and grief. He fired a few wild shots over the wing, but without any real heart. "Keep rising into formation," he snapped at Reicher, and turned again to the window.
In the belly of the plane, the twenty escapees crouched closely along the swaying, rope-railed catwalks, knees tucked miserably up under their chins as they bounced and jolted with the bomber. Nearly all of the racks in the bomb bay were full. In the last rack, Armament had managed to load only three bombs before being overtaken by Knecht and his men--they happened to be strapped to a bomb rack which had, some time earlier, been 'treated' by the German mechanics. Without the pressure of a full cluster, the top bomb bounced and jolted, knocking uncertainly against the other two. Finally, the bottom-most bomb snapped the weakened halter and slipped free, its nose hitting the belly doors.
The explosion ripped through the plane, buckling the armour plating as it split the bomber at the seams.
The first blast-wave caught Hogan's half-open parachute and shot him heavenward, high above the deadly ring of red-hot shrapnel missiles. The Fortress plummeted like a crippled eagle, driving into the earth as if to bury itself. Flames billowed as the crash threw up a cloud of burning brush, stinging Hogan's eyes and skin with hot ash.
The colonel landed hard some ways from the flying inferno, his half-open parachute shimmering down over him. Coughing and choking from the ash, Hogan somehow managed to make his blood-slicked, shaking hands unfasten the buckles so he could struggle out of the deadly shroud of charred silk. He staggered to his feet, unable to believe the sight laid open before him.
The plane was engulfed in a pillar of fire. The force of the crash had driven its nose hard into the ground, crumpling the forward gun emplacements like so much tinfoil. Hogan kept himself from looking for the cockpit.
One wing had snapped off--the other hung silhouetted against the flames like a grim salute, propellers still churning drunkenly. The middle of the B-17 had disintegrated with the force of the blast, and Hogan could see the outlines of its twisted skeleton. Worst of all, there were voices coming from the plane--crying, screaming as they were slowly roasted alive. Hogan clapped his lacerated palms over his ears, staggering a few steps forward, as though he could do something, could rescue those poor boys whose only sin was to have been born German. But the strength left his legs in a rush and he collapsed to the marshy earth, tears streaming down his scorched face, but whether from grief or the ash-choked air he couldn't tell. "Fritz," he moaned.
The heat of the fire set off the other bombs and the wing-mounted Tokyo tanks simultaneously, and the rest of the plane disintegrated in a concussion wave that tossed Hogan's body several feet like a rag doll. Thankfully, the American was out cold before he even hit the ground.
Later that day...
Kinchloe rubbed his dark hands vigorously together against the frigid air. "You know, Peter, Klink's really getting into this!"
The Englishman had his own hands thrust deep into his pockets, jumping a little to keep warm. "I'll say--the man actually has a knack for escapes!"
Both prisoners watched, almost unbelieving, as Klink hurried here and there across the yard, faithfully tailed by the panting Schultz. The Commandant of Stalag 13 was nearly leaping up and down with joy, lecturing one guard, then another, reassigning, switching around, trying to find out who was the laziest, making sure the soldiers weren't watching too hard while Carter clipped the barbed wire, and bugging LeBeau about heaping food into the dogs' bowls for the third time. His efficiency and attention to detail took their breath away.
"Dare I say it, Kinch? If Klink ran 'is stalag like 'e runs 'is escapes, we'd be in real trouble!"
"You said it, not me!"
"At this rate, 'e'll be done before Colonel Hogan gets back!"
The black sergeant shook his head, groaning. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but we have to sabotage this little escape op, and pronto!"
"Kinch, mate, I think you need a vacation. I 'ear Berchtesgaden's nice this time a'year.
"Yeah, 'heil Hitler' to you, too. Where's Foster?"
"Trying to convince ol' Bumblechuck not to lead Stalag 13 into glorious battle against the Third Reich."
"You're kidding!" he groaned.
"Unfortunately, no. I do believe the gen'ral's a gamblin' man, though. I might be able to keep 'im busy for awhile, if you like."
"You do that--we need Foster up here bugging Klink."
As Newkirk headed off, Carter and LeBeau came up.
"Wire's all clipped, Kinch!" Carter grinned.
"And the dogs are so full they won't move for a week!"
Kinchloe groaned. "Do you guys think you could be a little less efficient?"
"Quoi?!" LeBeau sputtered. "And I suppose you want to live the rest of the war upstairs from General Bumblechuck!"
"How're we supposed to be less efficient?"
"Screw up!--drop things, forget instructions...get caught!"
"Êtez-vous fou? You expect prisoners to sabotage their own escape?"
"Isn't that treason or something?" Carter asked. "I don't want to get court-martialled!"
"Well I don't!"
Their conversation was interrupted by the appearance of Colonel Klink.
"Guten Morgen, my friends!" he cried cheerfully, seemingly not feeling the cold at all. Schultz heaved up behind him, gasping for breath. "I have wonderful news!" Uh oh, Kinchloe thought. "I have just decided to let Schultz go with you on the escape!"
"M-m-me?" Schultz squeaked.
"How're we supposed to fit him through the barbed wire?" Carter snorted. "That'd be like trying to move glucose across the lipid bilayer without a carrier protein!" Everyone stared at him. Carter blinked. "What? What'd I say?"
Kinchloe turned back to the commandant. "Colonel Hogan gave you his word of honour!" the black man protested, actually rather relieved at this new wrinkle. I should have known Klink wouldn't trust us as far as he could throw us...even when we're telling the truth! With Schultz along, we can't bungle the escape--but maybe Schultz will bungle it for us!
"And I'm sure Colonel Hogan's word is as good as the Reichsmark!" That wasn't saying much, and Klink looked pleased as punch at his own cleverness. Eagerly, he rubbed his hands together. "Is everything set?"
"You betcha, Commandant!" Carter grinned. Then, catching Kinchloe's dark look, he furrowed his brows. "Except for..."
Klink looked surprised. "Except for what? Carter, have I missed something?""
"Yeah--it was important too, but darned if it didn't just slip my mind!"
"Think, Carter, think!"
Carter thought desperately, trying to come up with something, anything. "Oh man," he said, stalling, "it's on the tip of my tongue!"
"Schultz! Check his tongue!"
Kinchloe hastily stepped between them. "That's just an expression, Herr Commandant! I'm sure Carter'll come up with something! Carter, can you relate it to anything?"
Klink leaned towards him. "The maps, the escape routes, the guards, the fence...what?"
"I think it had something to do with..." The group leaned closer.
"With what?" Klink demanded.
"Curtains!" Carter said, brightening.
"Curtains?" Klink asked.
"Curtains," Carter repeated confidently, glancing at Kinchloe.
"Curtains!" Kinchloe moaned.
"Cur-tains?" Schultz asked, eyebrows rising.
"Les rideaux!" LeBeau said, as though it were obvious.
"Is someone discussing me behind my back?"
"Air Commodore Wetherby!" Klink grinned hollowly. "How very nice to see you!" How very nice to see you turn around and head back the way you came! he thought.
"Of course we weren't discussing you, commodore," Kinchloe said, "just 'Operation Beautify Stalag 13'."
"Ah!" Foster cried, taking the cue. "My pride and joy!"
Klink's grin faltered, collapsed. " 'Operation Beautify Stalag 13'?" he asked flatly.
"Yes, of course, Herr Commandant! Curtains are only the first step in my program." Foster took the colonel by the arm, leading him away. "Together, you and I can make Stalag 13 the most admired prison camp in Germany! Next thing you know, Hitler himself will be calling from Berchtesgaden!"
Klink's eyes widened. "The...Führer?"
"Why certainly! Here, let me elaborate on a few points of my program..." Foster and Klink strolled off, the Englishman gesturing grandly.
"Think we're gonna regret that later?" Carter asked. LeBeau whacked him on the arm with his beret.
Some time later, Hogan swam up out of the darkness. He blinked up at a bright white cracked-plaster ceiling streaked with bars of sunlight, then over to his right...where he came face to face with the muzzle of a rifle.
The kilted soldier jerked his Enfield at Hogan. "Sprechen Sie Englisch?"
Hogan sat up slowly, rubbing his aching head. "Yeah--I'm an American."
The Scotsman laughed. "Sure you are--and that's why you had 'PW' painted on your undershirt?"
"Stand down, soldier!" a gruff voice commanded. The guard retreated and a familiar figure trundled into view. General Walters tipped back his cap. "Howdy, Adolf! Have we met before?"
"I dunno," Hogan mused, starting to regain his humour. "Ever been to Milwaukee?"
The general chuckled and sat on the empty hospital bed next to him. "Welcome back, Hogan."
"Thanks, but I feel like someone dropped an aircraft carrier on me!"
"Not far off--son, when you go out with a bang, you sure as heckfire don't pull any punches!"
"Sorry it didn't work out, general."
"Now don't you fret--you stopped that planeload of spies from getting to Germany and that's what counts."
Hogan shot him a startled glance. "How did you know about the spies?"
Walters beamed. "We'd been tracking one of them for some time. He got suspicious and ran, but we managed to trail him as far as his contact, then lost him on the Moors. Figuring he'd gotten to Hahnsfeder, we waited until we caught your broadcast, then took advantage of the upset caused by the botched escape to set up our own man. Knecht thinks their original contact bolted after the disaster. Now our man's running the operation on the outside with the full cooperation of the prisoners of Camp 9!"
Hogan's jaw dropped. "You mean London's actually servicing the information pipeline?"
Walters waggled his eyebrows with a mischievous grin. "Kinda makes you think, doesn't it?" Hogan nodded numbly, resolving to triple-check his contacts.
"So...what happens to me now?"
"Well, officially you--that is, Heinrich Falke--is dead, cause: typical Kraut overconfidence."
Hogan smirked. "Propaganda ought to just love that! What about unofficially?"
"According to classified sources, you're recovering before being questioned. Let me tell you--you've caused quite a fiasco within the High Command...on both sides! There're damn near half a hundred people who want to talk to you--and not a few of them wear red armbands to church."
Hogan shuddered, imagining himself being secreted away in the night by Nazis. "Hence, the guard--am I right?"
Walters nodded. "Intelligence will make sure you won't ever have to see the inside of an interrogation chamber. And the easiest way to do that is to get Robert Hogan back to Germany PDQ."
"Can't say I'm sorry to hear that! When do I go?"
"As soon as the sawbones say you're well enough to travel." Walters coughed nervously. "Ah...Hogan--there is one more thing I'd like to ask you..."
"Sure, anything--what is it, general?"
Walters twitched, looking profoundly uncomfortable. "It...ahem...is rather a delicate matter actually--we certainly wouldn't want it to get around."
Hogan's brows furrowed. "You can trust me, sir."
"Well...um...you wouldn't happen to be able to explain the...er...second parachute?"
Klink sighed in satisfaction, clasping his hands behind his back as he and Foster walked the perimeter of the camp. "As a man of honour, Commodore Wetherby, I have to admit that you have some brilliant ideas!"
Foster was trying hard not to laugh. His 'brilliant ideas' had included pastel colours, geraniums, and a delicate frieze of woodwork along the eves of every building. "Indeed? Why thank you, Willie--I may call you Willie?"
Klink chuckled, rubbing his hands eagerly. "Only if I can call you Larry!" Which will be terrific PR if Germany surrenders!
Foster smiled back sourly. How about I just not call you at all? "Of course, of course!" he oozed. "Naturally, we will have to know each other well to be working so closely together..."
"Ja!" Klink said happily, dreaming about taking all the credit for 'Beautify Stalag 13' once Wetherby was gone.
Foster decided he needed to goose Klink a little harder. All right, Newkirk, I hope you know what I'm doing, because I sure don't. "My plan--"
"Yes, of course. Our plan is not an immediate thing, you understand..."
"Of course! Neither was our beloved Führer's conquest of Europe!"
Foster set his jaw against voicing his opinion of 'our beloved Führer'. "Jolly good," he growled between clenched teeth. "It may take years!" he said. "You and me, working together..." Klink started.
"...Together?" he asked in a small voice, his former ebullience reduced to a memory.
"Righto!" Foster continued mercilessly. "Together!--ceaselessly labouring to make Stalag 13 a brighter place!"
Klink licked his lips, thinking desperately. "Herr Commodore..."
"Ah ah ah!" Foster corrected with a wink. "Larry, remember?"
Klink's eyes glazed over. "Yes...Larry. Have you ever given any thought to...the length of your stay?"
"Oh, that!" Foster chuckled. "I have to tell you frankly, Willie, that the way the war looks to be going--"
"No, no, no! I mean...you know...I hear things. Your men are always talking about escape..."
Foster straightened, as though patching his wounded dignity. "You insult me, sir! I am fully aware that the duty of a captured officer is to escape, but as senior officer, I am bound by duty not to abandon men under my command! However much I may talk about going home, seeing my lady and my mother, seeing those beautiful rolling hills of England once more..." Here, Foster actually choked up and had to get out his hanky. After a poignant moment, he could continue. "However much I miss these things and wish I could escape, I cannot. I must stay here with my command." He brightened. "And while I'm here, I might as well make the place liveable, wot?"
Klink nodded miserably. "Of course," he said flatly.
Foster clapped the German on the back, nearly bowling him over. "So glad you agree! Now, let's discuss our paint schemes again--were you partial to 'Sea Green' or 'Carnation Pink' for the gates?"
"If you will excuse me, Herr Luftcommodore--I mean, Larry..."
Foster tried to look more surprised than smug. "Whatever is the matter, Willie?"
"I'm afraid I have to take care of some business elsewhere."
"Can't it wait until we at least make a firm decision on the floral wallpaper?"
"No," Klink squirmed. "I'm afraid not."
Foster grinned inside and decided to give the poor man the opening he was shooting for. "Must be important then--I shall see you later, Herr Commandant!" With that, he spun on his heel and strolled off. Klink took the opportunity to slink away, before the general decided to change his mind--if any man could maliciously obstruct 'business of the Reich', it was that man!
Hogan's Heroes were gathered around the table in Baracke 2 when Klink walked in.
"Herr Commandant!" Kinchloe shouted first, giving LeBeau enough warning to stuff the decoded telegraph from London under his beret. In one sense, Klink might have been very happy that the allies had received the message--Be home soon, love, Goldilocks. The prisoners themselves had been celebrating enthusiastically with their very best bottle of French champagne and a chocolate cake LeBeau had baked for the occasion. It was the half-eaten cake Klink spotted first, causing him to stop and stare, aghast.
"Was ist los?"
"Un gateaux," LeBeau snorted.
"We're celebrating the escape!" Carter explained. Yeah, Kinchloe thought, that crazy general's escape!
"But where did you--never mind! Never mind! There is a problem!"
"Now what's the matter?" Newkirk said innocently.
Klink threw up his hands in desperation. "It's Larry!"
"Who?" Carter asked.
"Air Commodore Wetherby," LeBeau said.
Carter thought a minute, then brightened. "Oh, you mean Fo--" Newkirk silenced him by stuffing a piece of cake in his mouth.
Klink wrung his hands. "He doesn't want to escape!"
"Aw c'mon, colonel," Kinchloe said reasonably. "I've never known a prisoner who doesn't want to escape!"
"He does want to," Klink explained, "but he doesn't want to!"
"Newkirk?" Carter said, cake crumbs on his face. "I'm confused again."
"I'll explain it to you later, Andrew," the Englishman said gently. He turned to the Commandant. "Are you sayin' Wetherby ain't goin'?"
"Yes! He told me he has to stay in command, and though I admire that in an officer, especially an Engländer--after all, they are all a bunch of cowards who--"
"Klink!" Kinchloe interrupted, holding Newkirk by the shirt collar to prevent him from leaping across the table and strangling the German.
"We have to think up a new plan!" LeBeau said.
"Or a variation on the old one," Kinchloe added thoughtfully. It's too late to back out--but maybe this can work to our advantage yet... "What we need is an excuse for F--for Wetherby to escape and our man to come in!"
Klink furrowed his brows. "How exactly are you communicating with this man outside the wire?"
"Um..." Kinchloe said.
"Well..." LeBeau shrugged.
"Smoke signals!" Carter cried.
"What?" Klink and Kinchloe asked together. "Ah!" Klink said, nodding. "I remember now--Sergeant Carter has Native American blood! Of course, now that I know how you communicate, after this little 'excursion' I will have to confiscate all pieces of rubber, green brush..."
"Later, okay?" Newkirk snapped, still angry. "Right now all you need to know is that our man'll be ready to come in when Wetherby goes out!"
LeBeau looked worried. "But how are we to get le Général out of camp in the first place, if he does not want to go?"
"Shouldn't Colonel Hogan be coming up with the plans?" Klink suggested.
Newkirk looked offended--which wasn't very difficult around Klink. "You think we want to implicate our soon-to-be-again superior officer in this little revolution?"
Klink backed off, remembering a long-ago class in German History and Politics. "I see your point."
"Come on, Klink!" Kinchloe said. "You're the closest thing we've got to an officer--"
"--I'm sorry to say," LeBeau muttered, much to Newkirk's amusement.
"You're around him almost more than we are," Kinchloe continued. "And you know what they say..."
" 'First come, first served'?"
" 'Feed a cold, starve a fever'!"
Kinchloe rolled his eyes. "I was thinking of 'it takes one to know one'."
Carter grew a thoughtful expression--Newkirk got another piece of cake ready. "Why don't we just let Colonel Klink take him out?" the chemist said.
Newkirk's hand paused midway in its progression to Carter's face. He looked at Kinchloe, amazement written across his features.
"You know," the black man murmured, "I think Carter has something there!"
"Whaat?" Klink whined. "What kind of a plan is that?"
Kinchloe stood and hurried the commandant towards the door saying "One we need to work out amongst ourselves--quick! it's best Commodore Wetherby doesn't see you here!"
"Yes, of course, you're right, but--" Kinchloe shut the door in his face.
"Kinch!" LeBeau hissed. "You know, of course, that Klink will be expecting Foster to escape, not some guy named Bumblechuck!"
"Yeah!" Carter added. "Klink isn't easy to fool!...ow! Ow!--hey! You guys quit hitting me with your hats!"
"This is stupid," Carter complained. "Even for me!"
"Which is why you're so convincing, mate!" Newkirk replied smoothly. The two allies stood over one of the dented trashcans Hogan had managed to wheedle Klink out of a few winters prior for use as burning cans. Now, like hobos in a rail yard, the prisoners gathered around them, burning everything they could to keep warm. This particular barrel, though, burned only a noxious combination of dirty motor oil, rubber harvested from old tyres, and green branches cut secretly in the forest. Carter stood over it with a heavy blanket, shielding the smoke, then letting it puff up, making a trail of Morse code on the sky. Newkirk stood as far away as he could, ready to step forward and feed the flames.
"You know," Carter wheedled, "Kinch is really better at this Morse code stuff--"
"--But he doesn't 'ave Indian blood, now does 'e? If Klink saw anybody else doin' this, he'd get suspicious!"
"How long do I have to keep this up?" Carter asked bitterly.
"Until we get the response!"
"Who would've figured!" Carter complained. "Me slaving all day over a hot barrel, and for what?"
"Just keep sendin' the message, Geronimo!"
Klink hurried up, followed by Schultz. "Well? Is it working?"
Newkirk looked up at the smoky sky. "Beats me."
"Any response yet?"
"When do we go out tonight?"
"Do you know where Hochstetter's men are?"
"Not my department."
"It was illuminating talking with you," Klink snorted sarcastically.
"Pleasure," Newkirk lied.
"What is it, Schultz?"
The fat sergeant pointed over the wire. "Was ist das?"
Klink looked...and gasped. "A forest fire!"
"Nope!" Newkirk grinned. "That's a telegram!" ...From a certain Frenchman!
"Well? What does it say?"
It says 'contact successful', you dimwit, and it means the Underground will be ready, though maybe not willing, to take Bumblechuck back. "It reads 'will be waiting'. You have your answer, commandant!"
"Favelhof!" Klink shouted excitedly. "I can finally get rid of that annoying general!"
"For once," Newkirk said coolly, "I believe I agree with you."
Foster, Kinchloe, and Carter drifted together on the leeward side of Baracke 2 a few hours before the critical time. In the west, the autumn sun hung between the cloud cover and the jagged dark line of trees. Kinchloe allowed himself a brief pang of nostalgia. The sun setting over the forest always reminded him of those long-ago camping trips his step-dad had taken him on, after the car wreck that stole his mother. It was a way of forgetting, to drink in the spectacle--you just didn't get stuff like that in downtown Detroit. He sighed heavily, and turned his back on home.
"Are you sure Klink understands what he's supposed to do?" Foster asked him rather uncertainly, vigorously rubbing his gloved hands.
"I sure explained it enough times," Kinchloe snorted.
"I don't suppose you'd mind explaining to me exactly why we need to get Hochstetter back here. No offence, old chaps, but that creep gives me the creeps!"
Carter laughed. "He'd give a mortician the screaming meemies!"
"With Hochstetter and his ghouls tooling around the countryside in that radio van coordinating troops, the Underground can't broadcast to gather their own guys! If he's here, at least we can keep a handle on him...until the proper moment, that is, which will take good timing on your part, Foster."
Carter nodded enthusiastically. "So play hard to get but not too hard to get or you might just not get gotten!"
Foster blinked at him. "Pardon?"
Kinchloe sighed. "Never mind--just be ready to go when we give the signal!"
"Will do!" he saluted.
With that, Carter and Kinchloe left the safety of the eves, stepping into the chill autumn breeze with its promise of snow. Foster retreated to wait inside.
Brandishing the cleaning equipment they'd picked up on the way, Carter and Kinchloe clattered into the Main Office. It was Helga's day off--much to the disappointment of every man in the camp, especially Foster--and there was a sour-faced Luftwaffe corporal looking decidedly uncomfortable wedged into the svelte blonde's desk. He was working on a pile of typing, pecking away with his forefingers at the keyboard, elbows stuck out at the sides.
Kinch tossed his mop and bucket down with a bang, startling the soldier. "C'mon, Carter--hurry it up with that stuff!"
"I'm trying but it keeps slipping!"
Kinchloe moved to help him. "Here give me that..."
"No wait--take the bucket."
"Quit Carter--the soap's gonna fall out."
"Ow! Those're my fingers! Look, you take this..."
"Give me the rags first."
"Stop pulling or I'm gonna lose it!"
"Hey, you!" Kinchloe called to the guard. "Mind giving us a hand here?"
"I am working!" the man protested.
"So are we!" Carter snapped. "Look, corporal, if you don't come here right this minute, you get to explain to the Commandant why his floorboards turned green!"
That got remarkable speed out of the man. Kinchloe stepped back with a grin as the corporal took over his end of the tangle. As the sergeant continued to complicate the matter by persistently dropping the leaky solvent bottles, Kinchloe slipped into Klink's office.
The Commandant, he knew, would be bawling Newkirk and LeBeau out about a certain little illicit poker game he had 'stumbled' upon, so he was free for the moment. He picked up Klink's phone and dialled a familiar long-distance number--there might be a question when the phone bill came around, but a little good old breaking and entering would fix that.
"Allo? Gestapo Headquarters--Frankfurt."
"Connect me with Major Hochstetter at once--I have valuable information about an enemy officer in Germany!"
"Jawohl!" There was some electronic noise and static as the call was routed to Hochstetter's field telephone, then a faint click on the other end.
"Ja?" a voice snapped. "This is Hochstetter--make it fast!"
Kinchloe grinned. Sounds crabbier than usual--poor fellow. "I cannot give my name, but the British general is still hiding in the area of LuftStalag 13. The enemy prisoners are helping him by sneaking food out to him when they work on the roads. I fear they may be forging documents to get him out of Germany within the next two days. Heil Hitler!" Abruptly, he hung up. If I know Hochstetter, he'll come a-runnin' like his swastika was on fire!
There was a loud crash in the outer office. "Hey, you stepped on my toe!" Carter shouted--Kinchloe's cue to skedaddle. First checking to make sure the guard's back was towards him, Kinchloe tiptoed back out.
He picked up his mop and threw it back down with a clatter. "I can't work in these conditions!" he shouted, and stormed out.
"Hey! HEY!" Carter yelled. "You can't just walk out like that!"
"Watch me!" He slammed the door behind him.
"Well how d'ya like that?" Carter dumped his stuff into the corporal's arms. "You wait right here a minute--I'll be right back." He ran after Kinchloe--without the least intention of coming back--leaving the poor hapless soldier trying desperately not to drop anything.
Later that evening...
Without so much as a knock, Schultz barged into the barracks.
"All right, everybody! Raus, raus! Evening roll call!" With deliberate reluctance, the prisoners took their own sweet time getting moving as Schultz herded them towards the door, waving his arms and blowing his little silver whistle 'til he was red in the face. "Move it!" he hollered at Newkirk.
The Englishman put a hand over his ear. "Hey, Schultz! I ain't deaf you know!"
"You ain't paralysed either! Gehen Sie!"
Eventually, the fat sergeant managed to get the contents of Baracke 2 outside to join the several hundred other prisoners squared up before the Commandant's Office. In accordance with Colonel Hogan's time-honoured tradition, Foster was last of all, strolling out in fine style, his swagger stick tucked neatly under one arm, as though he were merely taking in the night air.
Colonel Klink was already waiting in the yard, bundled up in his trenchcoat. He checked his watch.
"That makes exactly seven minutes to fall out for roll call! General, I do believe your men have set a new record for tardiness!" That started a vigorous round of applause and cheering from the Allied company, to which Foster bowed graciously. He launched into his acceptance speech, talking loudly so the men could hear him over Klink's rude shouts for silence. Desperately, Klink signalled Schultz.
With a shrug, the big man stepped forwards. "QUIET!" he bellowed, putting all the force of his formidable lung capacity behind it. There was instant compliance. Even the crickets quit.
Klink grimaced at him. "Thank you Schultz," he grumbled.
The sergeant clicked his heels. "You're welcome, Herr Kommandant."
"All present and accounted for!"
"All present? Then where is Colonel Hogan?"
"With the men of Baracke 7, Herr Oberst."
"Schultz, do you see the men of Baracke 7?"
"Ja--they are right over there!" he pointed. The sergeant was starting to look a little nervous, though.
"Do you see Colonel Hogan amongst them?"
There was a sudden shout from the crowd. "Geraniums?! Whaddya mean you wanna plant geraniums?!!"
"Better than you and your damned pansies!" another prisoner screamed back.
"You're a pansy!" The two men leapt for each others' throats and the rest of the prisoners rushed to see, jostling the guards who tried to break up the combatants. That started several more fistfights, and a full-blown riot shortly ensued. Klink retreated to the safety of the porch shouting desperately. "Stop this! Stop this at once or I'll throw you all in the Cooler!"
Schultz waded into the fray, bouncing Allies out of the way with his huge stomach--at least until someone 'accidentally' knocked his helmet over his eyes. Blinded, the big man was easy prey for a trio of fliers bearing knotted bedsheets.
The noise brought Hochstetter stomping out into the compound, still wearing his long flannel nightgown and cap-with-tassel. He had taken the time to put on his sidearm, though.
"Klink!" he roared. "What is going on here?"
Klink grinned amiably. "Ah...nothing, Herr Major!"
The Gestapo agent waved an arm at the seething mass of prisoners, barking dogs, shouting guards, and wildly gyrating spotlights. "You call that nothing?! And what are those prisoners doing on my truck?!"
"It looks like the Charleston!" Klink observed brightly.
Hochstetter shot Klink a black look. "Since you are incapable of accomplishing anything useful, stand aside!"
"Would you like me to order my guards--"
"What? You think I want your bumbling Luftwaffe idiots getting in my way?"
"But Herr Major--do you think it's wise to go out there alone--?"
"We have a saying in the Gestapo--'one man, one riot'! Now get out of my way!" With a snort, Hochstetter drew his gun and stomped down the steps.
"Humph," Klink humphed to himself. "You stole that phrase from the Americans." He sighed deeply. "Why do things like this always have to happen when Major Hochstetter is here?" he muttered miserably. "Schultz? Schultz! You fat lump--get over here this instant!"
The sergeant in question, hog-tied across the bumper of Major Hochstetter's truck, managed to work the gag out of his mouth. "Mommeee!!" he wailed.
Hochstetter fired into the air, getting instant attention. "Any man still in my sight in twenty seconds will be SHOT!" he announced.
The prisoners cleared away considerably faster than they had appeared.
Hochstetter turned away from the now-empty yard. "Since it seems I cannot get any rest here, I will go to Hammelburg. If you need me, I will be at the Hausnerhof." He shot Klink another sour stare. "I warn you--do NOT need me!" He stomped off, and Klink went to untie his Sergeant Major, who quickly retreated on the excuse of some vague but urgent business.
Alone once more, the commandant surveyed the damage. Hochstetter's truck was now missing its hood and doors (doubtless they would reappear as coffee tables or something equally insulting) and one of the prisoners had even managed to scrounge up some paint to mark the occasion. The sign on his office now read 'Chief Flunky, esq.'.
With a heavy sigh, he plunked himself down on the steps. Seeing his chance, Foster approached.
"Herr Commandant, I wish to apologise--"
"No need--my career is ruined, my camp is a wreck, Germany is losing the war; what else could go wrong?" Foster would have answered, but Klink stopped him. "Never mind--don't answer that question!"
Foster shrugged and sat down beside him, still a little winded--the Charleston always took it out of him. "What you need, Herr Commandant, is to get your mind off the problem! Take a walk, enjoy the night air." He waved grandly at the buildings. "Just picture what this camp will look like once Operation Beautify Stalag 13 is completed."
Klink pursed his lips, as though suddenly remembering something, and stared thoughtfully off into the distance. "Yes, yes--design schemes and such."
"Exactly!" He clapped the German officer none-too-gently on the back. "That's the spirit, colonel!"
Klink shot him a thoughtful look. "You know, it would really be better to look at it from the outside..."
Foster managed to retain his blissfully ignorant expression. "Indeed?"
Following Hochstetter's generous little offer, the prisoners piled back into the barracks post-haste. Kinchloe, Carter, and LeBeau headed for Foster's 'office'.
"Andrew," LeBeau said, "keep a look out!"
Carter was halfway to the door when a thoughtful expression crossed his face. "Hey! You can't order me around like that--I rank you!"
The Frenchman sighed. "Okay, watch the door--please?"
Carter smiled. "That's better!" LeBeau rolled his eyes.
Just then, the window opened. Newkirk hopped in.
"Evenin', gents!" he cried, jauntily tipping his cap.
"Hey, Peter! How did the job go?" Kinchloe asked.
"Easy as a crooked card game! I broke into Klink's office and doctored the entry records on our figmentary Air Commodore!"
"You do beautiful work, mon ami!"
"Newkirk's Stenography Service--open twenty-four hours! 'Shame I had to miss that diversion though--sounded like fun."
"It sure was!" Carter exclaimed. "Foster taught me the Charleston!"
"Eyes on the door, Andrew," Kinchloe growled. "Remember, fellas, we still have to pull this little operation off!"
"I saw Klink an' Foster headin' for the Motor Pool just now."
"Is Hochstetter still here?"
LeBeau laughed, swinging a metal keyring with a skull and crossbones on it. "How can he leave when we have his keys?"
Kinchloe grinned. "Fast thinking, Louis! Why don't you go help the major look for them?"
LeBeau made a face. "Aw, do I have to? I hate Gestapo men! All that black--no fashion sense!"
Newkirk shrugged helplessly. "Well, I would tell you to do it for king an' country..."
The Frenchman snorted. "Oui--merci beaucoup, Anglais!"
"Peter, in the meantime I want you to take the general out."
"Me?!" Newkirk protested.
LeBeau cackled gleefully. "Vive l'aristocratie!"
Newkirk vengefully squashed his beret. "Just cause a man's born in the same country--" the Cockney grumbled.
"What'm I supposed to do, Kinch?" Carter asked, apparently not upset that the lower-ranking sergeant was taking charge.
"Carter, you and I get to escape--"
The chemist made an unintelligible noise. LeBeau patted him sympathetically and Kinchloe chuckled.
"Everyone know what to do? Okay--let's get this show on the road!"
Carter pressed his back to the wall of the hut, slithering through the narrow pool of darkness under the eves until he came to stand beside Kinchloe. The radio man peeked around the corner of the hut, then quickly ducked back as a searchlight roamed his way.
He glanced over at Carter. "What happened to Schultz?"
"He told me he'd be along in a minute," the chemist whispered back.
"Carter! For all you know he went back to the barracks to hide under his bunk!"
"But--" He was interrupted as the pair suddenly spotted Schultz. The big man rounded the corner of the main office, panting like an elephant having a heart attack as he jogged and jiggled across the open yard. Searchlights swept across the muddy ground, passing within inches of Schultz. Kinchloe hid his eyes, unable to watch, waiting for the first shout, the wailing klaxon, the overstuffed guard dogs.
By some miracle, though, Schultz wasn't spotted. He collapsed into Carter's arms, gasping for air.
"I don't think...I have run...so hard since...the last time...my Aunt Etna came...to visit!" he puffed.
"Kinch! Help!" Carter cried, being slowly driven down under Schultz' great bulk.
"It was nice of you to join us," Kinchloe quipped.
"Jolly joker! I'm a big man--I don't run so fast!"
Carter let out one last gasp as he disappeared behind Schultz, one hand outstretched like that of a drowning man.
Kinchloe peered around the corner again as Schultz caught his breath. "Okay--all clear, let's go!"
He sprinted towards the fence. With a grunt, Schultz heaved to his feet again and trundled after him. Carter sat where Schultz had left him, looking a little flat.
Kinchloe strolled close to the low wooden barrier that separated the compound from the target range, trying to look innocent, but not quite sure how. The spotlight in the North Tower was still, focused limply at the ground. Somewhere beyond the machine gun nest, Kinchloe caught the faint sounds of laughter as the guards enjoyed some bottles of alcoholic beverage which had 'accidentally' been left there earlier.
Finally satisfied, he glanced around to make sure the area was clear of patrols (who, thanks to Klink, were all back in the guard-house playing cards), then leapt over the railing and sprinted across the metre of No Man's Land. Gloved hands outstretched, he dove under the fence, folding back the barbed wire as he went.
There was a slight rise just beyond the compound, at the feet of the first scrub-pines, which Kinchloe ducked behind. Poking his head back up, he checked again for patrols just to be safe, then signalled to Schultz.
The fat guard took a deep breath. Steady, Hans, he told himself. This will soon be over. Impatiently, Carter nudged him to get going.
"Don't rush me!" Schultz growled.
"I ain't gettin' any younger!" Carter hissed back.
With a haughty sniff, Schultz took off, waddling as fast as his aching feet could carry him. He tripped over the rail and fell flat on his face. Somewhere, a guard dog started to howl, making Carter reflect on the marvellous way animals could sense earthquakes. Kinchloe just groaned as Schultz flailed across the sand like a landed fish.
The German eventually managed to worm his way under the wire...where he promptly stuck.
Half-in, half-out, he first tried pulling, then pushing, only managing to dig himself in deeper. Uh oh.
"Help!" he whispered. Suddenly, he felt hands on his feet. "Carter! I'm stuck!"
"No kidding!" Carter grunted, trying to work him loose. With a groan, Kinchloe ran to help, catching Schultz' arms and trying to pull him forwards. Carter picked up his legs and tried to pull him back into camp.
Caught in the middle, Schultz felt himself being slowly stretched. "Stop stop! Are you trying to make me taller?"
"Pipe down Schultz!" Kinchloe snapped.
Carter hooked his fingers through the fence, separated from Kinchloe by only a few feet of Schultz. "What do we do now Kinch?"
"I gotta think... He seems to be caught on the wire on your side. If we can get him going this way, he might pop free!"
"Pop?" Schultz whimpered. "Don't pop me!"
Kinchloe was still contemplating when Carter suddenly materialised beside him. The chemist had utilised one of the more traditional escape routes from Stalag 13, through a sliding fence partition. The staff sergeant blinked a little in surprise. "How did you--? Never mind...I'm glad you're here. Grab a drumstick!"
Carter laughed. "Don't forget to make a wish, Schultz!"
The sergeant goggled up at Carter. "How did you--? Never mind...I know nothing!"
Together, Kinchloe and Carter leaned back against the fat guard's weight, straining to pull him free.
"Schultz!" Kinchloe grunted. "You'd better hope our side never captures you--I don't think you could make it as a Prisoner of War!"
"Jolly joker! Just get me out!"
With the screech of tortured metal, Schultz finally popped free, bowling over the two Americans.
"I can't breathe!" Kinchloe gasped, rolling Schultz off of him.
Schultz plopped down with a sigh on one of the many treestumps outside the fence. "No wonder you boys never try to escape--I had no idea it was so much work!"
Unbeknownst to the German guard, a few feet below him, Newkirk was trying desperately to figure out why the Escape Hatch carved out of that particular treestump wasn't working. Standing on the ladder, he pushed and banged with all his might, but couldn't manage to get it unstuck.
The general stood nearby, shoelaces firmly knotted. Someone had ungagged him to give him water which, Newkirk was convinced, should be an act punishable by flogging with wet noodles, since the general had also managed to pull enough rank to get himself almost totally unbound.. "I say, boy!" the old boor piped up. "Will this take long? I must get back to my unit, don'tcha know?"
Frustrated, Newkirk jumped down and picked up the jerry-rigged periscope, sliding the length of pipe up through its sheath to scan the woods.
Carter spotted the periscope first. Thinking fast, he hopped in front of it to block Schultz' view, responding to the German's suspicious scowl with an innocent grin.
"Blimey!" Newkirk swore, twisting the periscope this way and that, unable to see around whatever was blocking his view. "What'd the Gerries do--go an' build a privy next to our tunnel?" Grabbing a nearby stepstool to stand on, he managed to get the periscope all the way to the ceiling.
Carter suddenly noticed that his head was cold. He felt for his cap, but it was gone! Looking up, he saw the periscope wearing it!
Kinchloe happened to glance over at that moment and, to his horror, saw Carter leaping for his cap, which was covering the lens on the periscope. "Schultz!" he cried, pointing in the opposite direction. "I think I heard something--over there!"
"And why don't you go see what it is?"
"M-m-me? But I don't even have my rifle!"
"Well what if it's a patrol? We can't get caught out here like this!"
"I'm not in uniform!"
"You're on pass!" Kinchloe growled, shoving the big man towards the woods. Schultz reluctantly went, and the black sergeant dashed to help Carter. Grabbing the periscope, together they forced it back down, knocking Newkirk right off the stool.
The Englishman leapt up with a growl. Now, no matter which way he twisted it, everything was still dark!
Carter snatched his cap off the periscope and glared into the lens.
"Yaagh!" the Englishman yelped as a ghostly face swam out of the darkness. "What in the bloody hell is that?!"
"We don't stand for that sort of cursing in this man's army!" the general bellowed, hopping over to Newkirk and whacking him across the shoulders with his swagger stick.
The corporal was about to tell Bumblechuck just what else he could do with his stick when the Escape Hatch swung open and Kinchloe poked his head in. "Keep a lid on that periscope--Schultz is out here!"
"Well how was I s'posed to know?" Newkirk protested.
"Just give us ten minutes to get to the road--and keep HIM quiet!"
"I assure you I will protest to the very highest authority this disgraceful treatment at the hands of you...you...hooligans!"
"If you say so, sir," Newkirk said, stuffing a sock in his mouth.
"Oh I do love going for drives in the country!" Foster exclaimed as Klink guided his staff car carefully down the dark, winding dirt road. "I say though, Willie--don't you think we're going rather far from the ol' Stalag?"
"Not nearly far enough!" Klink muttered, squinting over the wheel. Where was that blasted signal?!
Foster spotted it first--a small burning torch stuck into the dirt at the roadside. When Klink didn't seem to see it, he gasped melodramatically and pointed. "My stars! What is that?"
Klink grunted in surprise. "Looks like a signal of some type--we might have stumbled onto some sort of Underground activity!"
"I'll go check it out--you stay here and keep the car running in case there are snipers!"
"Good idea--viel Glück!"
Klink didn't even wait for Foster to get into the woods. As soon as he was out of the car, Klink shifted into reverse and roared backwards, executing a surprisingly nimble J-turn and rocketing back towards camp.
Foster went through the motions of running after the colonel. "This is against regulations!" he hollered after the hooded taillights.
He couldn't quite suppress a grin, though, watching Klink tear off into the night like a bat out of Hell.
Max floated out of the shadows. "Mein Gott!--what on earth did you do to Colonel Klink?"
"We had a little disagreement over some curtains," Foster shrugged. "So temperamental, these officers!"
Shaking his head in confusion, Max simply handed him the bundle of civilian clothes.
While Carter and Kinchloe led Schultz in carefully confused circles, Newkirk and two Underground agents carried the struggling General Wetherby on their shoulders like pallbearers, hurrying through the dark woods to the side-road where the Milch truck that would start the officer on his way back to the Front was parked.
Klink had driven to the ruins of a nearby factory--which, unbeknownst to him, hadn't really been bombed by the Allies...not from the sky anyway. He shivered and paced restlessly through the headlight beams, jumping at every little sound, expecting Air Commodore-General Lawrence Francis Wetherby the Third to leap out of every shadow brandishing the Geneva Convention.
Foster--in ragged civilian clothes now--left Max and hurried towards the rendez-vous, nearly colliding with Newkirk on the way.
"Not this way--that way!"
"What way's that way?"
"That way's Stalag 13."
"We're not going back right now?"
"No--you're going back in the way you came out...with Colonel Klink!"
"What! You didn't tell me that! How'm I supposed to fool him?"
Newkirk just glared reprovingly until Foster sighed. "Okay okay--how long do we have?"
The corporal checked his watch. " 'Bout five minutes 'til LeBeau gives up the keys. That should give Max an' the others enough time to beat him back to town before curfew. We're okay 'long as we know where Hochstetter is, but he has to be out of camp before Klink drives back in--we don't want those two lovebirds passing like ships in the night! Lead on, Macduff--er...General Bumblechuck--"
"You don't know how that gives me the shivers!"
"You ain't the only one, mate--but get used to it!"
"To think that I have to spend the rest of the war as Bumblechuck! Eeech!" He shuddered.
"But you've got a great cover!" Newkirk puffed up, affecting a gruff, official voice. "As noted on form W34X-slash-purpleweasel, general, we created this chap--Foster's his name... What's that, sir? Yes, you're right, it is sort of a silly name, but it does grow on you."
Foster laughed. "Point taken! At least I can tell my Mum I got promoted!" He hesitated. "Um...Newkirk?"
"Can I at least take off this mustache?"
"Look, look, Schultz--there's Newkirk!"
The sergeant spun in place. "Where? Where?"
Carter pointed. "Right over there! And it looks like he's found General Bumblechuck!" Kinchloe shuddered at the mention of the fatal name. The two Englishmen ran up grinning.
"Fancy bumpin' into you gents!"
The German scratched his snowy hair. "Newkirk? Where did you come from? I didn't see you escape with us!"
"I 'ad to escape later--surprise bunk check. You know that barrack sergeant's a real brute!"
Schultz looked appalled. "But I'm the barracks sergeant!"
The prisoners laughed uproariously. Kinchloe pretended to wipe tears from his eyes. "What a kidder! If you were a guard, you'd be in uniform!"
"With a gun an' everything!" Carter added.
"Umph! You're playing with my head again! You're as bad as Colonel Hogan!"
"Colonel who?" Kinchloe asked innocently, earning a glare from the German.
"C'mon chaps--let's get out of this cold!" Newkirk shivered.
"I'm all for that!" Carter cried.
Schultz furrowed his brow and caught Foster by the arm. "Wait a minute! Der Blonde--he looks just like...Foster!"
"Foster!" Newkirk snorted. " Schultz, 'ave you been into me mother's rum cookies again?"
"He looks nothing like Foster!" Kinchloe agreed.
"--But General Wetherby!"
"Naw," Carter said, "doesn't look like him either!"
"And I don't have a mustache!" Foster proclaimed without thinking. Newkirk kicked him to shut him up.
"How did you know he had a mustache?" the sergeant asked suspiciously.
Foster lifted his chin. "You mean you never read Air Commodore Lawrence Francis Wetherby the Third's renowned treatise of ground-air interface strategy? He's always being written up in Stars and Stripes."
"I thought Foster was General Wetherby!"
"I think General Wetherby's getting a big head," Carter muttered.
Newkirk took the big man by the shoulders. "Now Schultzie, it's not a question of Foster bein' General Wetherby--it's more like General Wetherby bein' Foster!"
"Yeah," Kinchloe whispered in the other ear, "and now General Bumblechuck is Foster--see?"
"You expect me to believe that?" Schultz huffed.
Kinchloe raised an eyebrow. "Would you rather we told you the truth?"
"--Nope!" Schultz replied quickly. "I want to know nnnutzzzing! And you boys keep it that way!"
"Not a problem," the pair grinned.
Scowling, Klink marched around the small group of captees, waving them into the car. Foster hung back, cap pulled low over his face. Klink, however, seemed to be just as determined not to see Foster as Foster was not to be seen. The German instead turned his strategic training to packing the prisoners into his staff car. "All right, all right--pile in! Gehen Sie! Newkirk--slide over!"
"I wanted the window seat!" Carter complained.
"You're not sittin' on me, you ain't!" Newkirk snapped. "You're bony but you ain't light!"
"Complain to the cook!"
"Ce n'est pas ma faute!"
"Sit sideways Engländer--make room, make room!"
"Yeah, Peter! The general-- I mean the corporal and I gotta get in there too you know!"
"Why don't we just put LeBeau on the bumper?" Schultz laughed.
"Hah hah--trés amusant!" the Frenchman growled. "Why don't you get a moon roof, Klink?"
"You figure out a way I can write it off on my expenses, Cockroach, and I'll consider it! Sergeant Kinchloe, you're not even trying to squeeze over!"
"Hey--LeBeau and I aren't THAT close!"
"Good thing, because I'm already suffocating! Carter--get your knee out of my side!"
The chemist drew his gangly legs up around his ears. "Gosh--I wonder how they fit all those clowns into those little teeny circus cars!"
"Inflatable clowns, Andrew," Newkirk snarled. He leaned out the window. "Hey Commandant--how 'bout I just wait 'ere and you come and pick me up later?"
"I will not even dignify that with a comment, Engländer! Schultz--in the back."
That sparked a flurry of protests. "You ain't puttin' that overgrown beer keg back 'ere!"
"Newkirk!--that's a terrible thing to say about me!"
"Hey Klink--you want prisoners or purée?"
"Kinch has a point, Mon Commandant! Schultz will turn us into filo dough if you put him back here!"
"Military regulations--officers and enlisted men are always ride separately. Schultz--get in the car!"
Newkirk cranked the window all the way down and sat up on the glass. "I swear, I'll jump!"
"Obergefreite Newkirk--get back in your seat! Schultz!--what are you waiting for...the Armistice?"
"I'm back here too!" Foster squalled. "Schultz goes in the front!"
Klink finally gave up with a 'why me' sigh. "All right--but if you tell anybody about this I'll have you all in the Cooler until 1978!"
"I'd raise my right hand, but Carter's sitting on it!"
With a shrug, Schultz squeezed into the shotgun seat, pushing it back on its rails with a jolt that made the men in the back groan in unison.
"Just don't break it, Schultz," Klink sulked.
"Are we there yet?" Carter called peevishly, making everyone but the Commandant laugh.
So with Newkirk hanging out one window and Foster the other, Klink pulled the staff car back onto the rutted dirt track to the main road.
"Peter, old chap!" Foster called across the roof. "Think they fixed the potholes on the Hammelburg road?"
" 'Fraid we haven't gotten to those yet!" Newkirk yelled back, clinging to the car with one hand while he tried to keep his cap on with the other. Branches scraped across the roof and across their backs as Klink plowed through the overgrown track. "I sure 'ope Klink knows where he's goin'!"
"Blimey!" Foster yelped as a branch smacked him in the face. "I'd hate to see this chap fly!"
"Now is that a nice thing to say 'bout the man who's done so much for the English war effort?"
Klink yanked the wheel and the car screeched onto the main road on two wheels. Foster saw the oncoming headlights first. "Bail out!"
Obeying instinctively, Newkirk thrust his body backwards, dropping into a tumbler's roll as the other driver swerved to miss Klink. The Commandant plowed into the trees.
Newkirk dusted himself off, then helped Foster to his feet. "You okay?"
"I think so--just a little rattled. I think my heart's gonna burst!"
"Serves you right!" The Englishman grinned suddenly. "Ol' gen'rals like yerself shouldn't be 'anging out of windows. Leave that to the younger men!"
"I'll keep that in mind," Foster quipped.
"Verdammter Esel!" Klink hollered, stomping over to the other vehicle. "What are you trying to do--kill me?"
A dark form slipped down from the passenger's seat of the truck. On his armband, the ghostly white disk cut by its dark swastika glowed eerily in the moonlight, like a disembodied eye. "Don't tempt me, Klink!" a familiar voice snarled.
The German colonel went pale. "Major Hochstetter! How...pleasant...to see you again--"
"It is never pleasant!" Hochstetter roared. "And you can be sure General Burkhalter will hear about this--letting your prisoners roam about at night outside the fence! Disgraceful! Whose side are you on, Klink?!"
A bead of sweat formed on the colonel's upper lip. Did he know about General Wetherby? Had he captured him and was taking him back to Stalag 13? "But Herr Major, as you can see my sergeant and I have safely recaptured all the prisoners!"
The major wheeled on him in surprise. "What? WHAT? More prisoners, Klink?!" He was very nearly ripping his hair out in rage.
Klink checked the faces in the car so he wouldn't have to face the major. "But they are all there!"
"All there? ALL THERE?! Not ALL, Klink--you Dummkopf!" He thrust a quivering finger at the truck. "What about THAT one?!"
The driver leaned out the window. "Hey fellas, need a lift?"
"Colonel Hogan!" the group chorused.
"I caught him on my way to Hammelburg--just out for a STROLL he said!"
"The major's right," Hogan added innocently. "I was really trying to get back to camp before the bar in the Officer's Club closed. The major was nice enough to offer me a lift--I told him I didn't want to be a bother, but he pulled his Luger and insisted."
"But Herr Major, surely you don't think it's MY fault that he escaped?" He laughed, rather nervously. "Why, I haven't even SEEN Hogan in a month!"
"BAH!!!" Hochstetter raved, eyes bulging, spittle flying from his lips. "JUST GET INTO THE TRUCK BEFORE I SHOOT ALL OF YOU!"
This time, Klink didn't say a word about being squeezed into the back with the enlisted men.
Hochstetter stormed into Klink's office like a hurricane, his passage sweeping a snowstorm of paperwork behind him. "You have HAD it, Klink!" he thundered, pacing, his jackboots making the floors shake. "THIS time you have gone too far!"
Klink slipped in, trying not to step on his own paperwork; Hogan followed. The two men squeezed behind Klink's desk, where there some margin of safety. Hochstetter ricocheted off the far wall and stomped over to the door, slamming it with a bang that made the walls quiver. Cracks formed near the ceiling; dust rained down. Klink prayed the entire ceiling would fall--smack on top of the Gestapo man.
"Prisoners running free through the woods! Hanging out of cars! Hitching rides into town! And now I see your guards--drunk! Your dogs--asleep! Your searchlights--broken! Your sergeant--out of uniform! And you! You! Reckless driving! Inefficiency! Incompetence!" He stopped pacing and glared, panting, but whether he had run out of breath or charges, Hogan couldn't tell. Probably the former. The American made his move.
"Major Hochstetter, I don't really see the problem here."
"You--you--what?!" For a moment, the Gestapo man was too furious to speak. He stood, red-faced and glaring, jaw hanging open. Hogan noticed how unusually long his canine teeth were.
The colonel shrugged non-nonchalantly. "We were all recaptured--what's the harm? Stalag 13's record remains pristine, intact...satisfactory. Now, you wouldn't really want to call up the Inspector General at this hour, would you?"
Klink squeaked with fear. "The Inspector General!"
"--Very clever, wasn't it, Major," Hogan interrupted, "for the Headquarters not to tell everyone everything..."
The Major's brows furrowed together, forming a single dark slash. "What do you mean?" he growled. "Explain yourself!"
Hogan smiled slyly. "Why--the Gestapo, hiding that general here so they could pick him up later!"
"What!" Hochstetter and Klink chorused.
"Efficiency exercises--" Hogan replied coolly. "They do it all the time on our side of the pond...usually when they want to know if a man is promotion material."
Both men suddenly looked intensely interested. "Ahm...'promotion material'?" Hochstetter asked delicately.
"Oh sure! They set two candidates opposite each other on the same problem, and see who has the better solution. I guess in this case it would be who gets his man!"
Hochstetter turned that over in his brain. "Major Feldcamp!" he cried suddenly. His face darkened. "I knew he was holding back on me! Arschloch! No wonder he didn't seem too concerned about searching--"
"If I was him," Hogan hinted, "I would be high-tailing it to Berlin right about now with my golden goose..."
Hochstetter's eyes widened and he leapt for the phone. "Hallo--Gestapo Headquarters? Ja, this is Major Hochstetter. Send out patrols to block all roads to Berlin. What? Ja, I feel all right, Dummkopf!" He slammed down the phone and grabbed his cap. "I have to get to Berlin before my British general does!"
Klink looked lost. "But what about Wetherby?" Hogan cringed--Klink and his big mouth!
Hochstetter turned slowly. "Wait a minute--wasn't that the Britisher you were babbling to me about?"
Hogan grinned desperately. "It's so hard to tell--he babbles so much!"
Hochstetter nodded thoughtfully. "Ja--this is true."
Hogan rushed on, heading off Klink. "But I guess if Klink actually did--which is to say he might once have but does not anymore--have a general in camp he would be the guy to know whose boots to lick!"
"Hoogaan!" Realisation seemed to have dawned in Klink's monocled eyes, though.
Hochstetter pursed his lips. "I think I would like to question that general of yours..."
"What general?" Klink and Hogan chorused.
Hochstetter whipped around in surprise. "What do you mean 'what general'? You just told me you had a general in camp!"
Hogan wheeled on the German colonel. "I thought we were talking hypotheticals--is that really true, Commandant? Under the Geneva--"
"--Not now, Hogan!" Klink hissed. "Major Hochstetter," he said reasonably, "I am afraid I know nothing about any general--"
"You know nothing--PERIOD! Show me your entry records!"
Klink swallowed. "Entry records?"
"Ja--entry records. You DO have ENTRY records...DON'T YOU, KLINK?"
"Oh, ja! Entry records, of course! Entry records!"
"Don't parrot, just POINT!"
Mutely, Klink pointed. Hochstetter went to the filing cabinet and started riffling through the papers, tossing out crumpled handfuls of paper. With each sheet, Klink quivered as though struck, watching his carefully ordered system go to wrack and ruin.
"I bet he was messy as a baby too," Hogan whispered sympathetically.
"That man was never a baby!"
"Here it is!" Hochstetter shouted, triumphantly holding up the sheet. "Entry records for General--Dwight D. Eisenhower?" His black eyes turned on Klink, narrowing dangerously. "Very funny, Klink."
"I had nothing to do with that, Herr Major, I swear! It must have been Major Feldcamp!"
"You must have been in complicity! I will teach you not to make monkeys out of the Gestapo," he snarled.
"Why improve on perfection?" Hogan added glibly.
"Oh Colonel Hogan, please be quiet!" Klink pleaded. "I'm in enough trouble as it is!"
"Trouble? Trouble?" Hochstetter laughed, a sound that sent goosebumps down both their spines. "You have no IDEA what trouble is! Some day...some day, Klink, you will be on the OTHER side of the wire!"
"You're sending him to England?" Hogan piped up hopefully. "Say, Commandant--while you're over there, why don't you look up a 'Colonel Peabody'. You two'd have a lot in common, you know--together, you could probably demoralise the entire civilised world!"
Hochstetter glared from Hogan to Klink, eyes bulging, mustache bristling. "BAAAHHH!" he exploded. "I'm getting OUT of this...this...Irrenanstalt! At least there are saner heads in Berlin!" Without another word, he stomped out, not even sparing a scowl for Schultz and the prisoners in the front office. He slammed the door hard enough to rattle the glass in the windows.
Klink crossed his arms. "Hogan, did you hear that? He called my camp a madhouse!--my camp! This is all your fault!"
"My fault! I just saved your monocle from having to learn Russian!"
"All the same--if I didn't have to deal with stubborn cases like yourself, Hochstetter wouldn't be threatening me. I don't like being threatened!"
"Aw, he was bluffing!"
"Bluffing?! What on earth are you talking about?"
"Didn't you see the fear in his eyes, the tremble in his hands?"
"They were trembling because he was barely restraining himself from killing me!"
"You worry too much, Commandant!"
Klink levelled a ferocious glare at the colonel. Well, tried to, anyway--Klink was about as ferocious as a sleepy kitten. "Schultz!" he hollered. "Send in the prisoners!"
In the outer office, the rotund guard sighed happily. "He sounds like his old self again."
"Oui--like a cross between a crab and a louse," LeBeau muttered.
"My mother taught me that it's not polite to talk about someone behind their back," Schultz sniffed.
"Would you ever introduce your mother to Klink?"
"Very funny, sergeant Kinchloe," Schultz growled. "You heard what the Kommandant said--move!"
Foster put up his hand like a schoolboy. "Ahm...do I have to go too?"
Schultz mulled it over for a moment, the shrugged helplessly. "I'm sorry Herr Whatever-your-name-is, but I have my orders."
The prisoners filed in, Foster last of all, trying to keep behind the others. The rest of the men looked at each other worriedly.
Klink had his back to them. "Schultz, line the prisoners up--I wish to address them!"
"Line up everybody!" Schultz hollered. "Ahm...you too, Colonel Hogan," he said in a more respectful voice.
Hogan shrugged and fell in. "What's going on?" he whispered to Kinchloe.
"I'll tell you later--if we get out of this without being shot!"
"No talking in the ranks!" Schultz growled.
"I want my solicitor!" Newkirk protested.
Schultz blinked. "What for?"
"Torture with long-winded speeches is strictly pro'ibited by the Geneva Convention!"
Klink wheeled, eyes bulging. "Ten days in the Cooler for that man!"
Carter laughed. "Wow Peter--you got off easy!"
"That Klink--what a big softie, non?"
"Twenty days in the Cooler! For each of them!"
"What are you trying to do--get us shot?" Foster hissed to LeBeau.
Kinchloe shook his head. "The Iron Eagle's gettin' rusty!"
"Or senile!" Carter grinned.
"THREE MONTHS IN THE COOLER!" Klink shrieked. "On bread and water!"
"I beg you boys--no more," Schultz said, heading off another barrage of insults. "We don't have that much war left!"
"Fair enough," Kinchloe sighed. "Okay guys, you heard the Commandant--off to the Cooler!"
The line trotted out the door, followed hurriedly by Schultz.
Klink reddened. "HAAALLLLT!" Foster stopped so fast that the others ran into him. "Reverse--march!" Sheepishly, the prisoners filed back into the office, where Klink made them line up again at attention. He paced smugly along the line, tapping his riding crop in one palm behind his back. This time, a face-to-face confrontation with Foster was inevitable.
Their gazes met, and Klink froze, the colour draining out of his face as though someone had pulled out a stopper in his neck. "General We-we-weth--" he stammered.
Foster blinked politely. "Pardon?"
"Never mind!" Klink said hurriedly. "Schultz--take these men out of here!"
"To the Cooler?"
"No--back to the barracks so they can--" he grimaced painfully, "--hang more curtains."
Hogan's brows drew together. Curtains?! Just what have those guys been up to while I was gone? He shot his men a questioning glance--they grinned innocently back, showing all their teeth. As Schultz marched them out, Hogan made to follow, determined to find out for himself what his boys were up to, but Klink called him back.
"Can this wait, Commandant? I have a few things I need to get caught up on."
"But what about me? You've been avoiding me for a month!"
The colonel looked at him, genuinely surprised. "Don't tell me you missed me, Klink!" he teased, grinning.
"I've done no such thing!" Klink sniffed, straightening imperiously. "It's just that intellectual companionship is so hard to find these days!"
"I'll say," Hogan muttered under his breath.
There was a long pause in the conversation during which Klink scuffed at a crack in the wooden floor with one boottip. "Ahm...Colonel Hogan?"
"Yes, Colonel Klink?"
"Did you, perhaps, just see the slightest resemblance between General Wetherby and General Bumblechuck?"
"Don't give me that!--we both know you aren't as stupid as you look!"
Hogan scowled. "Thanks a million!" he snorted.
"Well? Do you?"
"Do I what?"
Klink stomped his foot. "I swear, Hogan--sometimes you act just like a child! Did you see any resemblance?!"
Hogan shrugged. "No--but then you Nazis pay more attention to that sort of thing than I do. Anything's possible--after all, it's a small island."
"Y-e-e-e-s," Klink mused, looking thoughtful, "but I could swear he was a dead ringer!"
"Okay okay--if you say so, Commandant! Can I go now?"
"Ja, ja--dismissed!" Petulantly, he crossed his arms as Hogan stalked out, slamming the door. "Well," he huffed to the empty room, "I think he looks like General Wetherby!"
The next morning after Appell (Schultz and Klink both looking more grateful than usual to spot Hogan amongst the assembly), Klink pulled the American colonel aside.
"Colonel Hogan, I wanted to ask you a theoretical question--"
"What do I think of the curtains."
"What do you--how did you know what I was going to say?"
"It's just the sort of theoretical question you'd ask. And the curtains--I hate them."
"So do I," Klink moaned. "But the general-commodore said they would make it 'a more cheerful Stalag'!"
The American grimaced. "Are you kidding? They're awful!"
Klink glanced at him, startled--then laughed. "Well, if you hate them THAT much, Colonel Hogan...I'll keep them!"
"I thought you couldn't stand them!" Hogan protested.
"I can't--but then, I don't have to live with them! Every night when you go to bed and look up to see those frilly curtains stirring in the moonlight, I want you to think hard about what it means to leave another man in command!"
"Believe me, I will!" Hogan grumbled.
"Ahm, by the way...that new man--what was he doing with that colour wheel?"
Hogan smirked. "Foster? Oh, I dunno--said something about brightening up the place. I think he has some good ideas--you might want to listen to him. Could even win you 'German Soldier of the Month'!"
Klink looked miserable. "I'm a simple man--honours won't do me much good...on the Russian Front. Which is where General Burkhalter will send me if I let an enlisted man--and an enemy at that--do my decorating!"
"That's because the general is confined to a narrow outlook on life."
"I'd like to hear you say that when his outlook is narrowed on you. Now Colonel Hogan, if you will excuse me--I have some paperwork to take care of now that Helga seems to have deserted me for a man of higher rank! Humph!" Klink stalked off, heading for the office. Hogan shrugged, thinking he was sure going to miss having Helga around, and wandered off in the other direction to make the damage assessment he had been leery of doing last night without a good, solid night's rest under his belt to hopefully prevent him from killing anyone.
The place was in fairly decent order--only a few men in the Cooler for neglecting to replace the lug nuts after changing one of the trucks' tyres. He was gratified to see that Foster had finally managed to convince Klink to give him more badly-needed tables for the Rec Hall--but why they were topped with the hood and doors off a German truck, Hogan couldn't figure.
Klink's car--or what was left of it--lay in a heap in front of the garage, where the Wehrmacht towing crew had dropped it. The front end was totalled--Hogan estimated he could get at least two thousand Reichsmarks out of Klink for the body work--but the back seat still looked pretty serviceable. He grinned--after all, I haven't said hello to Helga yet!
He opened the rear door to check out the interior...but found it already occupied.
The secretary smiled faintly from the folds of Foster's embrace. "It's nice to see you again, colonel," she replied coolly.
Foster grinned nervously. "We were only discussing colours for the Commandant's new upholstery!"
Hogan nodded. "I think red is a better colour for lipstick," he said sarcastically, smudging a print of Helga's lips off the Englishman's face. "Wouldn't you agree?"
Foster rubbed the mark hurriedly away and quickly untangled himself from Helga. "Sorry, colonel," he sighed mournfully, starting to get out of the car so Hogan could take his place.
Helga put her hands on her hips. "Thomas! Where do you think you are going?" Foster glanced at Hogan, then pointed at himself. Me? he mouthed. Helga nodded. "You're not getting away from me so easily! Especially not after that French dinner you promised me!"
Grinning, Foster rather rudely elbowed past the bewildered Hogan and clambered hurriedly back into the car.
Hogan peered in. "Yes, Helga?"
"Be a dear and shut that door."
Hogan sighed, knowing when he was soundly beaten--but by an enlisted man?! He shut the door and glumly slouched away, hands in his pockets.
Kinchloe, Newkirk, and LeBeau flocked silently to him. "No luck, colonel?" Kinchloe grinned.
"The competition around here's getting tougher every day!" Hogan sniffed, pulling up the collar on his flight jacket. It was strange, but his tailored uniform didn't seem comfortable anymore--too loose in the wrong places or something. He would have to make it a point to discuss alterations with Newkirk.
Carter came dashing towards them across the compound, holding up a handful of envelopes. "Mail call, colonel!"
"Hey, I got a letter from my sister Mavis!" Newkirk announced as he studied his mail.
Carter waved his own postcard. "From Mom!" His brows furrowed. "She says she sent cookies!" He glanced around. "Hey--anybody seen Schultz?"
LeBeau ran one of his envelopes under his nose. "Ah," he sighed, inhaling the sweet scent of musk. "This one is from Isadora!" He scented another one--lavender drifted through the air, making Carter sneeze. "And this one--from Lillé!"
Kinchloe raised an eyebrow. "Do they work in a perfume factory or a brothel?"
LeBeau cradled his letters close to him. "Don't listen to him, girls!" he crooned reassuringly to his mail. "He wouldn't know a poison pen from a nom de plume!"
As the others continued remarking happily over their letters, Hogan studied the yellowed envelope Carter had handed him. It had no return address, and had been forwarded through London from Manchester. Manchester? Who do I know in Manchester?
'Robert Falke, Hammelburg,' the main address read. A chill shot down Hogan's spine. Hurriedly, he ripped out the letter and scanned it.
'Dear Robert,' it began in hesitant--if flawless--English;
'If you are reading this letter, you probably also know that I am not dead. In fact, I am living quite comfortably here as a 'Dutch refugee'. Being a man naturally given to paranoia, I had all the proper papers made up for just such an occasion. I almost didn't take them that night, because if caught with them, the evidence would indeed be damning. But I at last relented--lucky for me, I suppose?
I am truly sorry things came to what they did. If it helps, I do not think ill of you, and I hope you do not think ill of me either. I have decided to retire from war for awhile--to me, this freedom I have now is more valuable than even a German victory--so, with luck, this will be the last anyone hears of me for some time. If they do not trace me through this letter, or catch me by some other means, I will make myself known when the peace is finally declared, whether your side wins or mine. Perhaps I will even apply for English citisenship--would that not be ironic?
I hope that once the war is over, we can meet again, you and I, without any falsehoods between us. If you were to ask me for a time and place, I would reply: one year to the date after the Armistice, the place where our paths ultimately diverged. I once remarked that you are a clever man--I think you will know where.
For a moment, Hogan didn't even know what to think.
So he DID jump out after me! Why? To kill me before I could talk? My God--what if he blames me for the explosion? For the death of his men? Was that why he sent the invitation--so he could get revenge?
But as he scanned the letter again, he began to remember Fritz--not the Oberstleutnant, just...Fritz. Fritz, who understood the Officers' Laws about as well as any man he'd ever known. 1. In war, good men die. 2. Officers can't change rule 1.
There's just no accounting for acts of war--you have to live with them, or be destroyed by them. Fritz knows that. To reunite with one's enemies...it would be a measure of healing. But what did he mean about 'the place where our paths ultimately diverged'? Unless... The airfield--the crash site; that has to be it! Nothing else fits; besides, that airfield will almost certainly be torn down as soon as the war is over. He would have known that--it's the one place that wouldn't be classified and secured. He smiled broadly. Not that Fritz couldn't dodge anything our side can dish out!
He grinned to himself. I wonder what Fritz will say when I tell him I outrank him?
LeBeau caught the colonel's grin. "Good news, mon colonel?"
"Yeah," he said, gazing back down at the letter. "Yeah--you could say that."