A full moon scowled from the black winter sky, sketching the ragged trees as a skeletal army. A dark figure broke from the forest, running low, hunched towards the ground like a doughboy crossing No Man's Land. His shoes, scarred by hard travel, rasped thinly through the dry grass in time with his laboured breathing. Tattered and bloody, his uniform flapped in rags from bony limbs. The moon burned his shadow into the ground.
At the riverbank, he hesitated. Huge white boulders gleamed like giant's teeth, jutting out over the roiling black water. He swung around, staring back across the barren field. Already, the man heard the excited shouts of soldiers, the eager howls of hounds straining at the leashes. His lips curled back over his teeth in a snarl--the wolf brought to bay.
He leapt from the cliff, falling, falling, plunging into the icy waters.
The soldier came up gasping for breath some ways downstream. The river was swift and rough here, plunging over hidden outcroppings, tumbling him over and over in the rapids until he could barely tell which way was up. Raging currents smashed his body against rocks and limbs, repeatedly bashing his ribs. With grim determination, the fugitive fought to keep his head above water.
When the fury of the river finally weakened, he worked his way to the far shore, too exhausted to do more than dog-paddle. With cold-numbed fingers, he dragged himself through the shallow water and struggled to his feet, forcing his shaking legs to hold. For a moment he stood on the bank, in the shadow of a ragged tree, hiding from the moon. The wind gusted down the river valley, chilling him to the bone. I'm still alive! he felt like screaming to his baffled pursuers. There was more than one way to get out of Germany, and he was determined that it wouldn't be in a pine coffin.
He shivered, trying to reorient himself. Schweinfurt would close to the west, but something in him balked at going that direction. That way lay the Reich's holdings in Czechoslovakia and Poland. Further on, the Russian Front. More importantly, that way took him closer to Berlin. So Hammelburg then. He started walking, his sharp mind already thinking, planning. Fresh clothes would be first, something less conspicuous.
Close to the river, he spotted a little farm house set back amongst the vine-striped hills. Finding the door to the mudroom unlocked, he slipped in and stole the grape farmer's filthy shirt and overalls. Unfortunately, the boots, like the clothes, were several sizes too large, so he had to leave them. His old uniform he buried in the midden pile, where no one would possibly look for it.
Wearily, he hiked in the direction of what he thought were the lights of Hammelburg. On a night like this, there would be no reason to black them out--with the full moon, surely no bomber would be stupid enough to show its nose over Germany! When he got closer, moving as quietly as possible through the tangle of dry brush, he realised that the lights were moving--searchlights! Soldiers would be nearby.
Panicking, he shoved through the bushes, running as fast as he could away from the prison. Suddenly, he burst from the woods onto a dirt road. He had only a few heartbeats to realise that the light in his eyes was not the moon.
There was the screech of brakes and the sudden smell of hot metal and the image of startled eyes beyond the headlights. The truck bore down on him like some great panting beast, its slit-eyes widening to fill the world with white.
White light invaded his eyelids, making him scrunch his face against it. Somewhere to his right, he heard the sudden excited buzz of voices. A cold hand touched his arm, and he looked up into the bespectacled face of a doctor.
"Do you know where you are?" the doctor asked in heavily-accented English.
The man on the bed groaned. For a moment he had dared to hope... "Germany," he sighed, flinching in sudden pain as the doctor touched his ribs, which began to throb. His vision swam.
He blinked his eyes, finally clearing them. A new man had appeared at the foot of his cot. He was tall and dark-haired, with bright, intelligent eyes, wearing a leather bomber's jacket and cap with American insignia--a colonel. He looked weary, though. A prisoner of war, he thought with sudden depressing insight. And now I am one too.
"You're lucky Corporal Langenscheidt has good reflexes," the American was saying. The corners of his lips curled in a faint smile. "Comes from dodging officers all his life. What's your name?"
"Fredrick. Fredrick Bauer, major, U.S. Army Air Corps." He hesitated, his eyes travelling to the doctor, and decided to stick to only that much for now.
The colonel nodded, as though approving. "I'm Colonel Hogan, senior POW at StalagLuft 13. Welcome to the Kriegie Club--only slightly more exclusive than the Brotherhood of Bodybags."
Bauer dropped back to his thin pillow with a sigh. "My main ambition in life," he grumbled, "to become a prisoner of war!" Hogan couldn't help but grin.
Some weeks later, Bauer was released from the municipal hospital to a warm welcome by the prisoners of Baracke 2. Still holding his slightly-aching ribs, the thin blond man, now wearing an American uniform which the other prisoners had generously provided through Hogan, shook hands all around. Stalag 13 had an amazing diversity of airmen behind its barbed fences--Americans, English, French, Scots, Russians and more crowded around him, clamouring to hear his tale and month-old news of the war.
He sat down on the barracks table and the men quieted immediately. "It was quite a chase, let me tell you!" he began at their insistence.
"What kind of plane were you flying?" the English engineer with the strong Cockney accent--Newkirk, his name was--wanted to know.
Bauer grinned proudly. "A P-51 Mustang," he sighed. Some of the men whistled in appreciation--even in the middle of a prison camp, the exploits of that legendary fighter couldn't be suppressed. It was something akin to meeting a man who had touched the Holy Grail. "My squadron was over Worms, escorting a flight of Fortresses through a bombing raid. We'd picked off a pair of scout ME-109s and were returning on the northern leg through some light, low-level flack. I don't think they really saw us at the time due to the cloud cover, but all of a sudden, they started pounding us with the heavy stuff! I saw one of the bombers go down before they got me.
"I landed fine, but I had no idea where the others might have crashed, or even if they had been caught already. For lack of a better direction, I headed north and eventually found out I was somewhere between Mainz and Frankfurt. I stole some clothes and money, and since my grandmother taught me some German, I did okay until my luck ran out and I was asked for my papers. That's where I got this." He traced the scar on his cheek. "Bullet wound--damn good thing the Krauts can't shoot straight!" He laughed, though grimly. "I ran a little, swam a little, stole a little...and I still end up here!" He spread his hands, as though to emphasise the cosmic irony of it all. His eyes narrowed slyly. "How're you boys figured for getting out of this retirement village?"
A few of the prisoners smirked, making Bauer wonder. They must be digging a tunnel then. He grinned to himself. They'll get an extra hand whether they want one or not!
Colonel Hogan was watching him. "We'll discuss escapes later. First off, what're you good at?"
Bauer blushed slightly. "Well...sir...I have some slight--minuscule really--talent for...forgery." He glanced up, afraid that perhaps the colonel might ask him about his previous occupation, but he was amazed instead to see the officer grinning.
The black staff sergeant who had introduced himself as Kinchloe spoke up. "Your 'minuscule talent' any good?"
"Let's just say it runs in the family."
Newkirk grinned from ear to ear and threw an arm around the major's shoulders. "A man after me own heart!"
A tall, thin sergeant called Carter nodded enthusiastically. "And we could sure use a pair of fresh hands with all those travel permits!"
Bauer stared at him. Hogan scowled. "Carter!" Looking sheepish, the sergeant studied the floor.
Bauer blinked up at the colonel. "Why do I get the feeling something big is going on here?"
The officer sighed, brushing back his bangs. "You're not far off, major. LeBeau, take him downstairs."
"D'accord!" the Frenchman cried, jumping up. "Follow me, mon commandant!" With a spry step, he banged twice on the side of one of the bunks. To Bauer's utter amazement, the lower mattress lifted and the floor dropped, revealing a ladder. He went over and stared down into the opening. It led, he saw, into a larger network of caverns--lit with electric lights! He saw food and equipment, enough to have their own command post...
The Heroes grinned at each other as the new officer laughed. "Somehow," he said, "I think I'm gonna like being a prisoner of war!"
LeBeau grimaced over his empty packet of Galoises--probably Newkirk stealing them again for 'rat poison'--and turned to Bauer. "Hey, mon ami, avez-vous une cigarette?"
The major shrugged. "Sorry--I lost 'em somewhere between here and Heidelberg!"
Newkirk laughed, fishing out his own pack. "Here, sir," he said, dealing one to LeBeau and three to Bauer, "you can have some of mine--hope you don't mind English!"
The major grinned. "No, that's okay--someone said the Red Cross truck is due any day."
"Why wait?" the Englishman replied, pressing the smokes into his hand. "Call it a 'Welcome Home' present!"
The major shrugged and tucked them away. "Thanks."
A heavy fist banged on the door, immediately followed by the grand entrance of the Sergeant of the Guard, Hans Schultz.
The rotund German--who had once joked that he could model tents in Arabia--hefted his thick leather belt. "All right! Which one of you is Major Fredrick Bauer?"
"That's me," the major said, stepping forwards.
"The Kommandant has ordered me to take you to his office!"
Hogan walked up. "What for?"
"Because he did not get the induction speech while he was in the hospital!"
Kinchloe grinned. "You mean the one about 'no one escapes from Stalag 13'?"
"And 'I'm the toughest commandant in all of Germany'?" Newkirk added.
LeBeau nodded sombrely. "So we can make sure he knows that, for him,'the war is over'?"
"That's it ex-actly!"
Hogan shrugged. "Well, all right, Schultz--but we've already taught him the secret handshake and everything!"
"We're just waiting for our Buck Rogers decoder rings to come in the mail!" Newkirk guffawed as Schultz led the major out.
"Did we really order decoder rings?" Carter asked. The Englishman yanked the chemist's cap over his face.
Outside, Bauer fished the Englishman's cigarettes out. "Here, sergeant, why don't you take my smokes?"
"You don't want them?"
"Smoking's bad for the health, you know--really hurts your lung capacity. Makes it hard to run."
"Jolly joker!" the fat guard sniffed. He started to take them, but hesitated. "What's the point? I don't smoke either!"
Bauer pushed the cigarettes on him. "So give them to someone who does!"
Schultz sighed, but pocketed the valuable trade items. "All right--what do you want?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean whenever a prisoner gives me something," Schultz explained slowly, as to a child, "he always wants something else in return--that's the way it works!"
Bauer shrugged. "But I don't want anything!" he protested.
"Oh ho!" Schultz cried. "Blackmail! I thought so--you American officers are all alike."
"You mean Colonel Hogan bribes you?"
The German shrugged. "Just a little extortion between friends!" he chuckled.
"Who said friends blackmail friends?"
Schultz fell silent, mulling that over as they passed into the Main Office building. When Klink dismissed him, the sergeant major walked off with a very unusual expression on his face--something like anger.
"Now Major Bauer," the balding Luftwaffe colonel behind the desk warned, "let me assure you I know all about the duties of an officer in your position, and I reiterate that there has never been a successful escape from my LuftStalag! Many have tried--all have failed!"
Bauer nodded attentively, knotting his cap in his hands. "So they told me! They really live in awe of you, you know, sir!"
Klink straightened. "Indeed?" he asked interestedly. "Me?"
"The man Baron von Richthofen referred to as 'the Iron Eagle'? Sir, you're too modest! They said you're the toughest camp commandant in the Third Reich, a man unequalled either in the scope of vision or intelligence--why, if it wasn't for the political doings of your enemies, you would sit next to the Führer at the Reichstag!"
Klink rested his chin authoritatively on one fist. "Yes," he replied in a tone of heroic suffering, "I am doomed to command from the background."
In the senior POW's office, beside the special coffeepot which served as a listening device in addition to making great coffee, Hogan grimaced. "Hey Kinch, get me a shovel--it's getting deep in here!"
LeBeau shook his head in quiet awe. "Étonnant! He plays Klink like a maestro!"
"Yeah, ol' Sauerkraut'd never take that from the colonel!"
"What are you implying, Carter?"
"Nothing! I just meant... Well..."
"He's got a point, you know."
"Et tu, Newkirk?"
From his desk, Klink slowly looked up at the prisoner. "You know, Major Bauer--I like you." The commandant grinned secretly when the officer was stunned speechless. He generously waved away the young man's stuttered thanks.
At last! he thought, HERE is a man I can work with! He's even better than Hogan--he WORSHIPS me! Perhaps now, in time, I can even get rid of that American colonel...making Major Bauer the senior Kriegsgefangene. Musing over the thought of never having to deal with the insolent bomber pilot ever again, he carefully filed that idea away for later. "I hope that you and I can cooperate in the future...if ever the need arises."
"Oh yes, SIR!" Bauer cried, saluting with a trembling hand.
"Dismissed!" Klink grinned, returning the gesture. He watched Bauer close the door softly--almost reverently--then quietly slipped a hand-mirror out of the secret drawer originally built to hold a handgun. "Wilhelm," he told the man in the mirror, turning slightly to the side to admire the aquiline nose, "you born to inspire men to battle!" He gazed a moment longer, then slipped it away again. "Now," he muttered to himself, resting on his elbows, "if only it was the German army you were inspiring!"
Despite the cool earthen walls, Hogan sweated. What, me worry? he thought grimly, pulling out a handkerchief he had stolen from Klink's laundry and wiping his brow. The hot electric bulb, hooded here so close to the exit, felt as though it were frying the back of his neck. Bauer stood next to him, to all appearances untroubled by the heat, the light casting his figure as a huge, eerie shadow across the frightened, exalted faces of the escaping soldiers.
"Okay, everyone know what to do? Repeat it back to me."
One man sat up. "We go out in pairs, ten minutes apart--one man each speaks French or German."
"The Biergarten in Hammelburg is our first stop. We ask Heidi for 'Gunther der Preusse'--Gunther the Prussian. We wait awhile, then go where she tells us."
"We are to say as little as possible to anyone, especially to those aiding us."
" 'Loose lips sink ships!' "
Hogan nodded. "Remember that--what else?"
"We will eventually be told where the sub is for the night. If captured, we are to display our dog tags immediately and insist we were captured in uniform."
"If questioned--name, rank, and serial number only!"
"And beware of Krauts bearing gifts!" Newkirk finished. " 'Good Nazi, bad Nazi'--oldest trick in the book!"
"All right then--Miller and Gerhardt first up. Watch for the wire." The men in Wehrmacht uniforms saluted and slipped up through the hollowed-out treestump which disguised the entrance.
Kinchloe tapped Hogan on the back and wordlessly indicated he was to go to the radio. Both men shared a concerned look. Usually, London gave their messages through Kinchloe--only when there was something big in the offing did they want to talk to Poppa Bear himself.
"London's going to be out of contact for a few days," Hogan explained to his assembled men minutes later.
LeBeau looked worried--always more fighting in his homeland. Would the war never end? "A big push, mon colonel?"
"Most likely," he nodded.
"They'll be busy monitoring the airwaves for spy transmissions," Kinchloe explained. "I guess this is our last breakout for awhile, unless the next sub can get word to us somehow."
"Couldn't the location be ferried by messenger back along the route?" Bauer asked.
"Do you know 'ow far it is to the coast?" Newkirk exclaimed. "It'd take days, at least!"
"But that may be the way we have to go in case there's an emergency." Hogan sighed deeply. "Okay, everybody pray it doesn't happen--and that's an order!"
Hogan watched his men as they drifted off into the secret warren beneath their nominal prison. Bauer lingered momentarily by the radio, gazing at their link to the outside with wistful eyes when he thought no one was looking. In that one moment, Hogan felt he understood another man's soul as completely as anyone could. He watched the young major clamber back up into the barracks, knowing he too was dreaming of being home, of seeing friendly, familiar faces and no fences of barbed wire. Hogan shared the pang in his guts--the sudden-drop nausea and guilt of a man whose unconscious cannot accept that he is no longer free. Wasn't there even a little self-pity there too, and shame?
Hogan shook himself mentally. No--don't start thinking about the wire. You gave your word as an officer and a gentleman to see this tour through! But then, hadn't they all been out in the cold too long? Once he knew the ropes--or the wire, as it were--a man like Bauer...
Hogan forced the thought away. Don't let it get to you, Hogan. You can't go bouncing off the fences--think of your men, your command, the war effort! Just remember, you can go under the wire any time. The wire's not there. You can get out any time at all. This war can't last forever, and we'll all go home. Home. There's no place like home...
Carter whistled as he worked, cheerfully dusting everything with the bundle of feathers. This included the sleeping Englishman, stretched out on his bunk grabbing a catnap between work details.
"Hey!" Newkirk shouted, getting a feather up the nose. "Take that bloody thing somewhere else 'fore I make you eat it!"
"All right, all right!" Carter grumbled, retreating. "Geez! A guy can't do his job around here without someone complaining!"
Kinchloe glanced up from his book. "Why don't you go dust the colonel's office?" he suggested to keep the peace. "At least there's no one in there."
With a sniff, Carter went into the adjoining room, closing the door behind him. It was a little musty in the small office (it always seemed to smell that way in military buildings, regardless of which country they belonged to) so Carter undid the catch on the frosted windows and swung them open, enjoying the sudden blast of cold air. With a happy sigh, he set to work on the meagre possessions of the two officers.
The 'office' really didn't seem to need much cleaning since Bauer had moved in. Carter chuckled to himself. I guess neatness is just what you'd expect from a pen wizard! In fact, the man was almost fanatical about keeping things orderly--his uniform never failed to be neatly ironed and pressed, brass insignia sparkling; his bunk was so tightly made you could bounce quarters off it, and you could do a white-glove inspection on his dinner plate and fail to find fault!
"Very G.I.!" Carter remarked to himself. But that's always the way it is with regular army, isn't it? Well, except for Colonel Hogan.
Next to Bauer, the superior officer almost looked to be going downhill. The man Carter had always admired for looking sharp despite being a prisoner now seemed, well...rumpled...compared to the spotless and spit-shined major.
"That ain't fair, Andy!" he scolded himself. "You know the colonel does the best he can--and he sure is a good officer!"
Lost in his own thoughts, Carter momentarily didn't realise what he was dusting. He studied the object in his hand, brow furrowing.
A Kraut field radio? What's it doing with Colonel Hogan's things?
With a shrug, Carter set it back where he had found it, certain the colonel had a good reason for everything. Contentedly, he started whistling again as he continued to work, promptly forgetting about the whole thing.
Until much later, that is.
Bauer paced the camp, restless and agitated.
Wire, fences, guards everywhere! How do they stand this, year after year? And having to obey that whimpering wretch of a commandant! He shuddered--it never got any easier!
Hands thrust in his pockets, he strode down the length of the Kantine, itching for action, any action. At least I'm safe here--for the moment. But the boredom! Funny how a man can get to miss work he hates just because it's a little more interesting than sitting on your can all day long--gladly I would go back to poking around crash sites or questioning POWs! He laughed grimly to himself. I wonder if the Gestapo is going to come interrogate ME?
He threw himself down on a bench, but quickly got up again to renew his pacing. Dammit--they didn't NEED me out here! I was doing fine where I was--nice little bungalow outside the capital, a beautiful woman who adored me, a good government job that kept me out of the war...not to mention my healthy little 'retirement fund' in the bank! I wonder if they found out somehow? One minute I'm home, the next I'm rummaging through plane wrecks in North Africa and getting shot at! And when my tour ends, what do they do but give me orders to ship out again!
He stared back over the yard, spotting a small, grey-haired figure in a Red Army jacket. Vladimir Minsk--Sam to his friends--was Russian...and that was about all anybody knew, other than that he was also a whiz with needle and thread. According to popular scuttlebutt, he had materialised out of the forest one night, wearing a German uniform and babbling in Russian. From there, he had proceeded with almost legendary solidarity to defy any attempts on the part of the Gestapo to interrogate him. Finally, they simply gave up in disgust and stamped his file 'Russischflieger' for lack of any better label. And here he had remained.
Bauer shook his head. Amazing--a man no one knows anything about, yet Colonel Hogan trusts him to keep the operation secret. My God, what if the man's a Communist? What if he's NKVD? Doesn't Hogan know how Stalin treats his own people to ensure loyalty?; the purges, the brutality, entire families disappearing in the night for no reason, famine, the secret bases on the Kamchatka peninsula--not six hundred miles from Alaska! Hogan's so worried about Hitler--Hitler's beaten! What's to stop the Russian Army from marching straight through Germany...and on? He shuddered again, watching the seemingly innocuous tailor with suspicious eyes.
To his surprise, Bauer saw Hogan approach Sam. His eyes narrowed. Leaving his position, the major circled closer to catch the conversation.
"Zdravstv'y, Sam!" the colonel called. "Tl' imeesh menya koortkoo?"
"Da, tovarish Polkovnik!" the Russian replied, unfolding the dress jacket over his arm.
"Ochen khorosho seedyeet," Hogan remarked admiringly, trying it on.
The Russian shook his head, measuring the sleeves with his ever-present tape measure. One turned out to be longer than the other. "Ah nyet!" he tsk'd. "Rookavi dlenno."
"Skolko vremeni zighmyot pahdgonkah?" Hogan asked as Sam coaxed him out of the unfinished uniform.
The Russian shrugged. "Dva...tri dyeni."
Hogan clapped him fondly on the shoulder. "Khorosho! Spasibo, Sam."
Bauer stared at Hogan's back, utterly astounded by what he had heard. It raised several interesting possibilities to the forefront of his brain. Quickly, he moved to follow the colonel, to ask him--clandestinely, of course--about his particular talent.
He was stopped by a light tap on the shoulder. Bauer turned to find the Russian behind him, his grandfatherly face--he's too old to be a pilot, the major suddenly thought--open and friendly. But Bauer imagined those dark, Slavic eyes watched him with something more than camaraderie.
"I do not think we have been properly introduced," the Russian said in a thick accent. "I am Vladimir Samnovovitch Minsk, but most people call me just 'Sam'."
Bauer grinned with false amicability, shaking his outstretched hand. "I can see why--easier to pronounce!"
The Russian shrugged. "Not for me--but, nichevo! I do best tailoring in camp; you need shirt, pants, boots--anything!, you come to me."
"Yeah, sure, I'll do that," Bauer answered, not meaning it in the least. He started to pull away.
"Wait, wait, wait!" Sam stopped him. "I see your shoes pretty bad torn up!" They both glanced down and Bauer realised he hadn't gotten around to getting rid of his worn-out shoes as he'd been meaning--they really stood out against his tidy uniform. "I have special this week only on cobbling! German boot leather--very nice!"
"No, thanks, really!" Bauer said, hastening to detach himself from the Russian. Without another word, he hurried off, leaving Sam standing in the muddy yard, wondering what he had said wrong.
Hogan walked away from the Russian, head down, hands in his pockets. The unshakeable gloom he had hidden from Sam under a mask of false cheer crashed back down over him.
It's guilt, he thought. Face it, Robert--you aren't a man built for long deceptions. You're feeling the blood on your conscience, and it's eating you alive. Oh will this sweet hand ne'er be clean?
Wearily, he paced the fenceline, ignoring the guards training their machine gun sights on him.
Tormented thoughts had kept him up long into the night, tossing and turning on his narrow bunk while beneath him Major Bauer slept, undisturbed. The leaves would be turning in Connecticut, soon. What would it be like, to walk through the forest of blazing gold once again, no guns at your back, no wire at your feet? London would never go for any of it, of course. That was why, on that long autumn night, Hogan's thoughts turned to other ideas, ones he would not have dared contemplate in daylight...
Think carefully before you do anything, Robert. Are you sure this is what you want to do? The consequences--treason: a court-martial...a firing squad. Remember what that old cheeseball 'Joe Instructor' said on all those training films--'make your check or break your neck'. Only you almost certainly WILL break your neck unless you pull this off perfectly.
He paused and gazed out through the wire which divided his world into little barbed squares.
Bauer. A sharp wit and clever mind despite his hot head. A little young, perhaps--or was Hogan a little old?--but easily the man to fill his jump boots. The boys he had begun to think of as his family would respect Bauer, follow his orders, but never be afraid to think for themselves, which was what had made them such a great team in the first place. And they genuinely seemed to like him--unlike so many other officers, Bauer recognised that enlisted men were not just pips on a battlefield map; they were alive, flesh and blood, with the same worries and foibles as any other member of the species.
Hogan's gaze retreated back to the wire. The damnable wire! Would they understand? Could they...forgive him?
Hogan sighed deeply and walked on.
Bauer marched in on a lively poker game going on in Baracke 2.
"Did you know your commanding officer speaks Russian?" he challenged.
Newkirk fanned his cards, studying them. "Now I wonder if that could 'ave anything to do with 'im working at the Soviet Desk in the Pentagon," he mused. "I'll see your toothpick, Kinch, and raise you a thimble."
"Better not be another one of those cheap German things," Kinchloe commented acidly.
"Read a paper, Monsieur Commandant!--you will find a stack of them in the latrine, all cut into neat little squares--Monsieur Stalin is our ally...and he is winning!" LeBeau stared down his nose at his hand, then picked out a card and slipped it into another spot
"Why do you keep calling Major Bauer 'commandant'?"
LeBeau rearranged more of his cards. "It is the French word for 'major'."
Carter furrowed his brow, thinking hard. "Wait a minute! I thought you called Colonel Klink 'commandant'."
The Frenchman's lips twitched. "Oui, I do."
Carter's face scrunched up in an expression of confusion that was almost heartbreaking. "I don't get it."
"That's okay, Carter," LeBeau reassured him, still fiddling with his cards. "We'll try again later."
"Louis, are you gonna bet or wait 'till me sideburns grow together at me chin?"
"Avez un peu de patience, mon petit chou!"
Newkirk stared, then turned to Kinchloe, pointing at the Frenchman. "Did he just call me his little cabbage?"
The black man grinned. "It's a term of endearment!"
"Is that right, LeBeau?"
The Frenchman shrugged innocently, trying not to laugh. "I am sure that if Kinch says so, c'est vrai! Naturally, he knows more French than I do."
"I ain't no 'little cabbage'," the Englishman grumbled.
"Yes of course, mon gros rat!" LeBeau crooned.
Carter blinked. "Did that mean what it sounded like it meant?"
"Louis," Kinchloe interrupted hastily, "just bet!"
LeBeau shrugged. "Okay--I see Pierre's thimble avec...one of Louis LeBeau's World-Famous Racing Cockroaches (retired, naturellement)!" The men groaned as the Frenchman plunked a little matchbox on the pile. "And I raise you...the insignia off of Schultzie's uniform!"
"Aw c'mon, Louis!" Carter complained. "That junk's no good inside a prison camp!"
"I stole it fair and square!"
Kinchloe sighed. "Okay, but try to raise something without fractions next time!" He turned to Newkirk. "If I had missed these fun little family debates," he grumbled, "I would have stayed in Detroit!"
The Englishman chuckled and lazily scratched his neck. "It's your turn, Carter."
"Isn't anyone alarmed that Colonel Hogan has a friendship with an unclassified Russian agent?" Bauer blurted.
Newkirk snorted. "First of all, Sam's friends with anyone who can pay 'is bill! Second, he's the biggest gossip in this camp--if he kept a secret for more'n five minutes, the poor man'd explode!"
Kinchloe nodded. "Yeah--if that guy's an intelligence agent, I'm Old Mother Hubbard!"
Bauer laughed grimly. "That raises disturbing possibilities, sergeant!"
LeBeau glanced up at him. "You seem really sold on the idea, mon ami. What makes you so convinced?"
Bauer sat down beside Carter, tenting his hands. "I find the questions it poses unnerving," he replied seriously, studying each of the men.
Carter smiled. "If you'd known Colonel Hogan as long as the rest of us, you'd never think twice about anything he does!"
"Maybe that's the problem," Bauer said softly, too softly for any of the men to hear.
Kinchloe leaned towards him, gazing frankly into the major's face. "There are more and better things to worry about," he said soberly. "...Like whether Carter's gonna bet before our fossilised skeletons are mounted in the Smithsonian!"
The chemist blinked. "Oh--is it still my turn?"
The men groaned.
Kinchloe sat up late into the night, too restless to sleep. He had gone downstairs, to the unofficial Stalag 13 public library, to read off his insomnia. Whenever they went to town on a supply run, Hogan never failed to bring him back a book for the collection. Of course, most of those were in German, so the surprise of seeing what the colonel would turn up was half the fun; Hogan could speak German just fine, but he couldn't read Gothic letters worth a damn--they might have been Arabic for all the officer was concerned. Kinchloe never complained though, whether Hogan brought him poetry by Goethe or a manual on concrete mixtures--he read them all.
Picking up his bookmarked volume--a decidedly Nazi history of World War I--Kinchloe settled down to have a good laugh. He'd just gotten to the Nth ranting of the Dolchstosslegende when, to his surprise, he heard a sudden chattering start up in the radio room. The telegraph!
Leaping to the receiver, he slipped on the headphones, expecting an emergency message from London. The signal, he noticed as his hand automatically took down the characters, was strong and clear, very unlike something that would have originated hundreds of miles away.
When the words stopped coming, he glanced down at what he had written and was shocked to discover it was entirely gibberish. What's going on here? A coded message?
Quickly thereafter, he was tapping on the door of Colonel Hogan's office.
"I don't think the Colonel's in there, Kinch," Newkirk said, rousing from his sleep.
"Where did he go?" Behind them, Bauer emerged from the quarters he presently shared with Hogan, yawning and pulling a jacket on over his pyjamas.
"Something wrong, sergeant?"
"I intercepted a coded message."
"Un moment, mon ami!--you intercepted a message? It was not meant for us?"
"I don't think so--unless someone here speaks jabberwocky."
" 'Twas brilling and the slithy toves--" Newkirk began.
"Can that, corporal!" Bauer snapped. "Where's the colonel?"
"I haven't seen him," Carter--who had a built-in radar--replied.
There was a sudden commotion in the tunnels. The men rushed to the bunk. "Colonel?" Newkirk called.
Instead, an agent of the German Underground the Heroes knew only as 'Max' appeared at the foot of the ladder, a little out of breath. "I need to speak to the Colonel at once!" he panted.
"Take a number!" Kinchloe replied.
Bauer stepped forwards. "What's the problem?"
The dark man's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Who are you?"
"Currently--the senior officer," he shrugged. "Major Bauer, U.S. Army Air Corps, at your service."
"The soldiers you sent out last night have been captured!"
"What?!" the men cried as one.
Max climbed up into the barracks. "What happened?" Bauer asked.
"There must be a leak--somewhere in the pipeline. The men just disappeared! We fear that they were caught and detained. As to what they might tell the Gestapo..." He sighed heavily. "I must speak with your colonel."
Bauer nodded. "You can wait below--care for some coffee?"
"Ja, that would be good."
"Already on it, mon commandant!" Bauer gave him a sideways glance, but shrugged.
"Kinch, show him that message."
Max studied the code. "This is not familiar to me."
"You mean it's not one of yours?" Carter asked, beginning to look concerned.
Bauer scratched his flaxen hair. "This gets more tangled by the minute!"
The door opened and Hogan entered. "Hey fellas," he said, brows furrowing. "What's going on?"
"The escape was blown, mon colonel!"
"An' Kinch there got a message that wasn't ours and wasn't the Underground's!" Newkirk added.
"Where've you been, colonel?"
"None of your business, Carter!" Hogan snapped, a little too harshly. There was a sudden awkward silence in the room.
"Divide up into parties, men," Bauer said, taking charge. "Three groups of three to search the compound, the rest out through the tunnel to comb the woods. Kinch!"
"How small could that transmitter possibly be?"
"Probably the size of a Kraut field radio." No one noticed, but Carter's face suddenly blanched. "That's even the most likely type for that kind of broadcasting power--just big enough to conceal safely in someone's jacket. Of course, an electronics expert could halve that with only a slightly smaller range."
"One that would cover the entire camp?"
"Carter and I will spread the word amongst the men," LeBeau offered.
"An' I'll distract ol' Schultzie with a magic trick!" Newkirk grinned. The prisoners hurried to organise, some getting out their dark clothes and hidden weapons while others rushed for the door.
"Hold it!" Hogan shouted, freezing the men in their tracks. "Belay that order--no one goes under the wire, for any reason! We stop all escapes, and nobody gets on the radio."
"Wait a minute, colonel!" Bauer protested. "Are we gonna just SIT here?"
"And what are you suggesting?" Hogan asked sarcastically.
"We need to find whoever's sending these messages!"
"Keep thinking like that and you won't live to be a very OLD prisoner of war. Didn't it ever occur to you that this just MIGHT be a trap on the part of the Krauts intended to catch people just paranoid enough to think everybody and their dog is talking about him, and just hotheaded enough to go do something stupid about it?"
"But if it means a leak in the system--we could be in big trouble!"
"May I remind you that I'M still giving the orders here--Major! As long as you're under my command, you make sure to remember that." Hogan glared at the circle of faces. "All of you!"
Bauer crossed his arms defiantly, challenging the colonel with his eyes. "So what DO we do, Colonel?"
Hogan thought. "Kinch, I want those radio men of yours monitoring day and night. Newkirk, LeBeau--it's your job to crack this code!"
"D'accord, mon colonel!"
"Will do, sir!"
"What can I do?" Bauer asked
Hogan shot him a narrow glance, catching the lack of military courtesies. "For now, just keep your men working on travel papers--if our boys talk, we may need them."
Many of the men paled, not liking the way their commander sounded.
Bauer paused from his work to massage his aching hands.
"I don't think I've done so much drafting since my last art class!"
Newkirk drove a broom across the floor. "Mostly an embezzler, aye?"
Bauer looked for Schultz--the fat guard was in the outer office, trying unsuccessfully to wheedle the pretty blonde secretary Hilda into a date. "It's not exactly the type of thing a man wants on his resumé," he replied quietly, continuing to oil the leather top of Klink's desk. "I'd like to keep it quiet if you don't mind."
"Don't worry, mon ami," LeBeau said, pausing in his dusting to swipe two bottles of ink, a pair of old paintbrushes, and a spare fountain pen. "These lousy Bosches think we are all criminals!"
Newkirk grinned. "I wonder where they got that idea?"
LeBeau shrugged, the soul of innocence. "Beats me, but pick me up a couple of Klink's chocolates while you're in his safe." He went to the door and peered out. "All clear--Schultz is still trying to make it with Hilda!" he chuckled.
Bauer grinned. "She strikes me as a woman with more taste and intelligence than that."
"You're absolutely right," Newkirk replied, pressing his stethoscope to the safe door as he turned the tumblers. "She won't even grant you an audience 'less you've got a pair of nylons to trade for the privilege!" The officer laughed, and Newkirk jerked open the heavy safe door.
Bauer squatted beside him. "What kind of goodies in there?"
Newkirk ruffled through the documents. "Same ol' stuff--paper, paper, and more paper!"
"Klink is a career bureaucrat!" LeBeau explained. "Between wars, he was an accountant--imagine that, they expect an accountant to run a prison! So much for that famous Bosche efficiency."
"Here're his new personal papers--drab cloth cover, stamped once with the middle-size eagle, swastika in half-laurel wreath."
"Wings straight or folded?"
"Straight, three bars--bottom left corner also prints. Medium-black ink, slightly watered."
"Trés bien," the Frenchman nodded. "That is what we have been using. Same signature?"
"No--a new guy! 'Hauptmann Hans Festung'. 'Ey, major--you think you can forge that scrawl?"
Bauer looked it over. "With a little bit of practise, yeah. I may have to look at it again, though."
"No problem," the safecracker grinned, pocketing the document. "Klink won't miss it!"
Bauer peered into the safe. "Hey, wow!--lookit all that money! American too!"
LeBeau chucked. "You'd better not touch that, mon zigue. C'est son argent pour les grand longues vacances à l'Argentine!"
"And if there's one thing Klink keeps an eye on, it's 'is 'skip town' money--a man of great thoroughness when it comes to cowardice, Klink is!"
"Hey Pierre, anything about that funny code?"
"I've been looking--not a word! But if it didn't come from us, or the Underground, or the Gerries, who did send it?"
"And even more importantly," Bauer added, "to whom?"
LeBeau sniffed disgustedly. "Somehow, I do not think we will like the answer."
"You got that right, mate," Newkirk said, softly shutting the safe door.
Late that afternoon, Hogan paced the camp restlessly, as he seemed to be doing so often lately. His 'office'--four wooden walls thinly disguised with travel posters and ad girls cut out of 'Signal'--had been steadily closing in on him, making it hard to breathe. There might have been as much privacy in the tunnels, but the thought of going underground made him shudder.
Of their own volition, his feet took him towards the Main Office. Typically, Schultz was trying to cozy up to Hilda. Hilda was trying to work. When Hogan entered, though, she glanced up and broke into a sunny smile that momentarily lifted the clouds from Hogan's heart.
Schultz didn't miss the exchange, though, and leapt--as much as a man of his size could leap--to his feet, brandishing his rifle.
"The Kommandant left strict orders not to be disturbed!" he growled.
"Schultz!" Hogan snapped irritably. "Stop playing around--I need to see the Colonel."
"Nobody sees the Colonel unless I say so!"
"So say so and get out of my way!"
"No!--now get out of this office schnell or I throw you in the Cooler!" Hilda gasped, startled by the utter viciousness in the normally jolly man's voice. Hogan rocked back on his heels, momentarily stunned to silence.
"Sergeant--what's the matter with you?" he asked quietly.
The German laughed nastily. "There is nothing the matter with me, Hogan; I have simply decided I will no longer be your pawn to push around! So if you do not get your worthless hide out of my sight in five seconds, there will very much be something wrong with you!" He jammed his rifle into Hogan's ribs to emphasise his point, forcing the American back towards the door.
Colonel Klink yanked his door open. "What's going on out here? What's all the noise?"
Schultz paused to snap off a salute. "Just obeying your orders, Herr Kommandant!"
Klink looked from Hogan to Schultz. "Dummkopf! Are you blind? That is Colonel Hogan!"
"I know, Herr Kommandant!--you said nobody!"
"Schultz, stop acting like a jackass and let him in!"
The sergeant scowled deeply, but complied. Klink closed the door behind them and moved to sit down. "I am terribly sorry about that, colonel." He looked up and saw Hogan was still standing, cap in hands, staring at the floor. The German frowned to himself. How long has it been since I've had to give him permission to sit? He found he couldn't remember. "Please, colonel!" he said with an uneasy laugh. "No need to be so formal!--sitzen Sie!"
Hogan murmured a cursory thanks and took the chair across from Klink, sitting stiff-backed rather than with his usual arrogant sprawl. For some reason, it made Klink uneasy to see Hogan like this--it felt so...so...military! Unconsciously, Klink straightened his posture as though he were back at Gymnasium, being examined by one of his professors. What's wrong with him? He is a colonel, the senior officer!--why does he not act like it? Why, he acts as though...as though... The bottom dropped out of Klink's stomach.
As though he were a prisoner.
Klink swallowed. "You wished to see me, Colonel Hogan?" he prompted, again unable to remember when Hogan had ever waited to speak until spoken to.
"Do you remember that conversation we had, Herr Commandant?" the American replied in a quiet voice.
Klink swallowed again, albeit with more difficulty. "Yes," he said, almost gently.
"Have you thought about what I told you?"
"Have you made your decision?"
Klink stood and came around to sit on the corner of his desk. Hogan's eyes followed him, then dropped to the floor again. The German merely sat there for several moments, looking at him. "Colonel Hogan..." he began.
Hogan glanced up at him sharply. The pain in his eyes startled Klink. "Yes or no?" his voice was strained--a man drowning.
Why am I suddenly reminded of November? Klink wondered. November... Ach, ja...November was when the boys came home from the Front--ranks upon ranks, more crawling than marching; young men with ancient eyes...
Klink shivered and moved to close the window. "Colonel Hogan," he said, staring through the frosted circles on the panes at the dreary mud of the yard--how like the trenches in November! "you are a high-ranking officer! The Gestapo would ask questions--"
"Yes. Or. No?"
The German glanced back at him, looking pained. "Colonel, please..."
"I want an answer, Klink!" Hogan barked.
The commandant pressed his lips into a thin white line. "I am not blind, colonel," he replied tightly. "I do not know what is bothering you, but I do know that if you were in your right mind you would never have made me such an offer."
Hogan laughed, grimly. "You goddamned Kraut!--you think I'm crazy, don't you?" He stared up at Klink, his face darkening suddenly. "All I want is to get out of this God-forsaken rat trap, and you think I'm insane?!" He stood.
Klink backed around behind his desk, wishing he still kept a gun in his office. "An officer has a duty to his command!" the commandant shot back. "A duty to his country, to his allies! 'Meine Ehre heisst Treue'--'My honour is loyalty'!"
"Don't preach your Nazi slogans at me!" Hogan snarled. "My conscience is not your concern!"
Klink removed his monocle and gazed down at the American through two vividly blue eyes. "Colonel Hogan...Robert..." he said intently, "we may be on opposite sides of this miserable war, but we each took an oath of loyalty. As an officer and a gentleman, I will not let a man I respect and...admire...break that oath."
Hogan's dark eyes smouldered with anger. "Is that your final word then?"
"You do know what this means, don't you, Commandant?"
Klink straightened, for one rare moment looking almost noble. He nodded once, sharply.
"It means...my death."
Some hours later, Klink called Major Bauer into his office.
" 'Evening, colonel!" the blond man grinned, plopping down in the chair where Hogan had perched some time earlier. His eyes widened as he spotted the pile of money on Klink's desk. "What's going on?" he asked in a more subdued voice.
Klink was silent for a few moments, hunched over his desk, staring at the small fortune in neat bundles. His skin was pale, dark rings underscoring his eyes--the marks of a long night of thought and pacing. "I have reason to believe," he finally said, "that very soon I shall be...leaving this command."
Bauer leaned forward intently. "To kill those Red bastards at the Russian Front?"
Klink glanced up, blinking in surprise at the sudden venom in the young officer's voice. He nodded. "Possibly. Very possibly."
"So why aren't you telling Colonel Hogan this?" Bauer asked, eyes sharp. "He IS the senior POW, after all."
Klink's mouth twitched in what might have been a smile. "I think he intends to leave shortly before I do."
"You mean an escape, Herr Kommandant?" Bauer gasped. "But nobody escapes from Stalag 13! It's useless to even try!"
Klink gave a small laugh. "You would think so, wouldn't you? As I have come to learn, though, Colonel Hogan is a very...resourceful man."
"Forgive me, Herr Kommandant, but how can you just SIT there like you're going to LET him get away? I just saw him--double the guards! Let loose the dogs! Call for reinforcements!"
Klink smiled, nodding at the familiar spiel. "Very clever, Herr Major. 'Tie up enemy forces.' Isn't that written somewhere in the Geneva Prisoner of War Convention, under 'Duties of a Captured Officer'? I'll have to check my copy--oh well...nicht wichtig!"
"It would be a stain upon your honour, colonel!"
The German gave a bitter laugh. "Why should a man of honour fight the Russians? It's not like they have any! They wait until their positions are overrun, then shoot our men in the back; they burn their cities, homes, and villages when they retreat; they commit the most bestial atrocities on civilians when they advance! The prisoners here claim WE do not follow the Geneva convention--ha! I do not think the Russians even bothered to read it! I have heard stories that would freeze the blood in your veins!"
"Colonel Klink," Bauer began slowly. "This money...there is quite a lot here. And American! Have you thought...perhaps...of taking a nice long vacation to Switzerland?"
Klink smiled thinly. "More often than you could know. There is an organisation--Odessa... For the right price, they would take me, even though I am not SS." He shook himself, as though awakening. "But no! That is not why I have called you here, Major Bauer." The blond man's eyes widened as Klink pushed the money towards him! "Take this to Colonel Hogan, all of it. Tell him it is...a gift. It is all I have." He looked down at the spike-tipped helmet on his desk, the royal eagle of Germany proudly blazoned in gold across its dome. "I only hope it will meet the price of his silence." The German officer sighed deeply. "When a man has nothing else, he still has his honour--that is the way it should be." He looked sharply up at Bauer. "He will have his transfer papers in the morning! Tell him that. I will leave them with Fräulein Hilda. And...wish him luck, for me, from one who found his only friend in an enemy."
Turning away, Klink put a trembling hand over his face, refusing to meet the prisoner's eyes. Wordlessly, Bauer rose and gathered the stack of bills into his coat. At the door, he turned to look back. The German officer still sat in the same position, and he stayed that way long after Bauer had gone.
Kinchloe yawned, stretched, and blinked sleepily at his watch. Nearly one A.M. Corporal Jacobson should get here soon--or I'll have to wake him up to kill him!
Rubbing his itching eyes, he continued to turn the dial on the receiver, listening for the characteristic non-rhythms that signalled a message. Electrical equipment, such as electrified fences, gave off a steady, rhythmic pattern of clicks. Turning the dial, he ran through all eight in the vicinity--each around a top-secret installation. The closer they were, the louder and clearer the clicks. So far, though, fences was all he had heard, except for chatter from one cargo plane inbound from Italy, which the black staff sergeant had diligently noted in the log. He slipped off his headphones for a moment, rubbing his ears to get the blood flowing again.
There was a footstep in the tunnel behind him. Kinchloe turned, ready to bawl out his replacement, but no one appeared. Suspicion aroused its ugly head inside the sergeant. After a few moments, he rose and passed out into the darkened tunnel system.
No one in the corridor.
Quietly, he tiptoed back along the dimly-lit passage. As he passed the tunnel leading to the Emergency Exit, he caught a hint of movement out of the corner of his eye, and turned just in time to see a shadow climb out through the hatch to the woods above.
Curious, Kinchloe rushed to follow. Knowing he couldn't catch the man, he raised the periscope instead and scanned the brush. A familiar figure was hurrying away, towards the Hammelburg road.
Kinchloe pulled the viewing tube back down. A new thought started to naggle at the back of his mind. Like a small trapped animal, it ran around and around inside his skull, getting larger and uglier with every passing moment.
He hurried back to his station and turned the sleepy-looking corporal out of his chair without explanation. Flipping through the channels with an expert hand, he soon caught the tail-end of a Morse transmission, again, in gibberish. His stomach dropped out from under him.
Kinchloe sat back in his chair, thinking hard. Quite a coincidence that a man goes out and the signal comes in just a few minutes later. And in a code no one's ever heard of before--not us, the Underground, or the Krauts. Our saboteur? Think, James!--use that great logic they're always kidding you about. What other possible explanation could there be?
Agitated by what he had seen, Kinchloe slipped back up into the barracks and woke Newkirk, LeBeau, and Carter for a private meeting. They sat at odds around the barrack's only table, the single lamp slicing their forms into grim shadows.
There was silence when Kinchloe had finished his story. LeBeau leaned into the halo of light, worriedly rubbing his stubbled chin. "Let us not jump to conclusions when we do not know anything for sure yet. Why don't we ask Major Bauer?"
"But if we can't trust Colonel Hogan," Kinchloe replied, "can we risk trusting anyone else?"
"I'm sure he had a good reason for breaking his own orders!" Carter protested hotly, blue eyes sharp with tension.
"And what exactly was that?" Newkirk challenged, nervously rolling a cigarette in his fingers. "Sneaking out without backup or even a word to one of us--"
"I'll bet you he has orders from London!" Carter snapped back. "He's on a Top Secret mission!"
Newkirk lit the cigarette with an almost casual gesture. "After three years in this bloody hell-hole," he remarked, "can't he trust us to keep our mouths shut?"
"You'd think so," Kinchloe added.
"I do not like where this conversation is going," LeBeau said, looking at each of the faces around him. All dropped their eyes.
Newkirk leaned back. His cigarette glowed briefly red in the darkness beyond the lamp. "Anybody 'ere ever read Sigfried Sassoon?"
Kinchloe looked up. "The war poet?"
The Englishman nodded. "I remember one of 'is poems in a schoolbook, long ago, called 'Suicide in the Trenches' " He paused, staring at the white nimbus of smoke curling around the battered lampshade while his mind passed back over the mist of years.
"I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.
"In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.
* * *
"You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you'll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go."
Newkirk viciously crushed out his cigarette. "We've been out here a long time," he stated flatly. "Things 'appen in combat, terrible things--there's no denyin' that. The dreams...they'll get to even the best of us. We've all seen how withdrawn he's been lately, the way he talks about the wire all the time..."
"Like a man obsessed," LeBeau admitted in a low voice.
"No!" Carter cried. His hands lay clenched together on the rough table, their knuckles showing white. "No! I won't have any part of this...this...conspiracy!"
"Now hold on, Andrew!" Kinchloe interrupted. "No one's accusing him of anything yet!"
"I can read between the lines--you all think he's gone wire-happy!"
"And I suppose YOU think it's jolly marvellous coincidence we're getting coded messages when the Colonel ain't around?"
The Frenchman frowned and nodded. "Oui!--remember how he snapped at you when you asked him where he had been, Andrew?"
"He didn't want us to go out and find that transmitter, that's for sure!" Kinchloe added.
"But it COULD have been a trap!" Carter retorted.
"If it was a trap, why not broadcast in a captured code--one we might not know had been captured--to lull suspicion?"
Newkirk pursed his lips. "My guess is the Colonel's finally fed up. He wants to escape, but 'e feels he's shirking his duty."
Carter's hands exploded apart, gesturing wildly. "But we all feel the same way! There ain't one of us at this table who wouldn't sell his soul to go home!"
"C'est vrai, Andrew," LeBeau said, trying to soothe him. "The difference is we just talk about it, 'blowing off the steam' so to speak. If le Colonel actually intended to DO anything, would not he carry it out in secret, so as not to risk the Bosches knowing? And...to protect us?"
Carter laughed bitterly. "You mean protect HIM from us!"
"We all know London wants him here, Andrew--you don't think the Colonel knows that too?"
Newkirk's brow furrowed. "I thought London said they were on radio silence, though. Max says 'e ain't phoning the Underground. Who's he calling then?"
LeBeau shrugged. "Someone who can get him out of Germany. Does it really matter who?"
Newkirk glanced sharply at him. "It does when you figure Colonel Hogan would be escaping against orders from Allied High Command. If he showed up on their doorstep, nice as you please, he'd be in front of a court-martial 'fore you can say 'it's a long way to Tipperary'!"
"See? See?" Carter cried triumphantly. "Why, the only way he could escape without court-martial was if...was if he went over to the other side!"
The men fell suddenly silent, all staring at Carter. The chemist went white, an expression of utter surprise crossing his features, as though his words had shocked him as well. The image of the field radio in Hogan's room suddenly swam into his mind and refused to be banished. A German radio, used by German soldiers... But surely, surely he had a perfectly innocent reason!
"Well there it is, mates," Newkirk said quietly. "We went turnin' over rocks and found a scorpion."
"I don't believe it!" Carter insisted. His conviction seemed to be weakening though, a note of desperation creeping into his voice. "Never!--not the Colonel!"
"If he's not thinking straight because of stress, fatigue..."
"Look," LeBeau said softly, "we can solve this whole thing--when he comes back in, we just ask the Colonel what he was doing going out through the tunnel at night, then we ask him straight out about the messages."
" 'Where were you on the Ides of March?' " Newkirk mimed sarcastically. "They don't call it 'Absent With-Out Leave' for nothing, you know. If he's gone that way, he may not intend to return."
"Have YOU ever known him to lie to us?" LeBeau said hotly.
Kinchloe leaned forwards into the light, face intent. "Louis, we may have to face the very real possibility that we are no longer dealing with the Colonel Hogan we all used to know."
Carter sat forwards, nails digging into the edge of the table. He spoke quickly, biting off each word, his voice almost a snarl. "That doesn't explain this code you're all harping over! If he was passing secrets to the Krauts, why do it in code? He knows we don't monitor the radio day and night. That only leaves the theory that if it really WAS Colonel Hogan sending the messages--which I don't believe for a New York minute--he wasn't sending to the Krauts! So unless you think he was having a long-distance chat with Hirohito, don't go comparing our superior officer to Benedict Arnold!"
LeBeau blinked, startled by the sergeant's fierceness. "Andrew has a point--why call the Bosches when we have all we could ever want within spitting distance?"
"But if it was an Allied code, why haven't we heard of it?"
"If it's Top Secret, why would we?"
"Come on!" Carter cried. "Listen to yourselves! Not even Colonel Hogan could go and invent a new cryptic language!"
Kinchloe sat bolt-upright. "That's it!"
Carter's brows knitted together, surprised out of his anger. "What--a cryptic language?"
LeBeau nearly choked. "You mean Russian?!"
"Exactly. I don't know much Russian, but I do know their alphabet has more letters than ours--naturally their Morse Code would be different! I'll need to check this out with Sam, but if it's true..." He felt his stomach drop out from under him.
Newkirk ran his hand through his hair to disguise its shaking. "If it's true, we may be fighting another war before long."
"Bauer," LeBeau whispered. "Mon Dieu--Bauer knew! He tried to tell us, but we would not listen!" The little man turned pale, his lips trembled slightly. "Bon sang de bois!--what has happened to our colonel?"
None of the four could find an answer.
Schultz stomped along the double line of assembled men, counting off numbers.
"...Zwölf...dreizehn...vierzehn...fünf--" He paused, scratching the white hair under his coal-scuttle helmet. "Wait a minute--where is Colonel Hogan?"
"He ain't 'ere, Schultz," Newkirk replied.
The sergeant hurried over to the Englishman. "Why not?"
"He didn't come in last night."
"Where is he?" Schultz growled. "And you better tell me the truth or I make you regret the day Churchill declared war!"
"The truth is...I don't know," Newkirk admitted.
"Humph! I don't believe you. What about the rest of you?"
"If we knew," Kinchloe said, "don't you think we'd tell you?"
"Why should you? You stick together like a pack of jackals!"
Klink came down the front steps. "Schultz--report!"
"Mein Kommandant--Colonel Hogan is not in formation. Shall I call out the guard and search the camp?"
Klink snorted. "Why bother? He is long gone." His voice rose to carry over the assembly. "Major Bauer is now senior officer." He turned slightly towards the blond man and saluted. Bauer returned it. "Dis-missed!" Klink marched back into his office as the prisoners began to disperse.
"Thanks, Kinch--can't say I'm happy to see the Colonel gone, though."
"Apparently," Newkirk observed with a shrug, "he just decided not to come back last night--without even saying goodbye!"
Bauer grimaced. "I wondered why his shaving mug was gone this morning."
"Maybe he thought they did not have razors in Russia," LeBeau muttered bitterly.
"Louis!" Carter snapped in disgust. "Whatever happened to 'innocent until proven guilty'?"
"The Colonel is missing--is that not proof enough for you, mon ami?"
Hands in his jacket pockets, Bauer fingered the transfer papers he had picked up from Hilda before Appell. "Yeah," he said quietly, "he just couldn't wait." He thought in silence as the Heroes filed into Baracke 2 and sat down around the hut's only table. "If Klink goes, that means we'll get a new commandant--just our luck, probably one who takes after Ernst Kaltenbrunner!"
LeBeau whistled in horror. "Perhaps we need to speed it up on those passports!"
"But we all swore an oath to stay!" Carter protested.
"You chaps DO realise, of course, that if Colonel Hogan came back here, we'd 'ave to start our own court-martial."
"Which means radioing this whole mess to London," Kinchloe grunted unhappily.
"Now hold on a minute, fellas!" Bauer said, holding up his hands for silence. "I may not have been here as long as the rest of you, but Colonel Hogan doesn't seem to me to be the sort to go off all half-cocked!"
"Didn't I tell you!"
"Pipe down, Carter!"
"Look," Bauer said, "maybe if I can just talk to the colonel, officer to officer..."
"Great--he'll meet you in Moscow next fall, when the mud freezes over."
"Colonel Hogan could be anywhere in Germany by now!"
Bauer lowered his voice. "Maybe not!" he whispered excitedly. "A couple of nights ago, I heard Colonel Hogan talking in his sleep. I didn't think anything of it at the time, but he was muttering about trees...and a road!"
Kinchloe snorted. "That could be almost anywhere around here! Two roads pass by this camp, with thick forest on both sides--did he say anything else?"
Bauer was silent for several seconds, racking his brain. "Hill...or mill... Something like that. There was also part of a word--German, I think--'varhen'. Does that sound right?"
"It could be 'Waren'--it's German for 'commodities' or 'wares'."
Newkirk's eyes widened. " 'Ey, 'ey! How about that burned out factory off the Hammelburg road? 'Keitels Glaswaren' or something."
LeBeau nodded thoughtfully. "It was bombed so badly the Bosches never bothered to fix it up! They just fenced it off because of the cracked floors over the subcellars."
"That's our best bet, then?"
Kinchloe shrugged. "It's our ONLY bet!"
Newkirk went to his locker and drew out his handgun. "I'll go with you, major."
"No!" Bauer said. "I can't risk any of your lives on this mission."
"Look," the Englishman said reasonably, sitting back down, "beggin' your pardon, but no ten officers in the world know as much about skulking as one enlisted man! If you go out there and get yourself killed, it'll be our fault then, won't it?"
"Pierre has a point, mon commandant."
"Stop callin' me Pierre, you bloody frog!"
LeBeau casually stuck his tongue out at the Englishman, and Kinchloe gently--but firmly--put a hand on Newkirk's shoulder to keep him in his seat.
"Maybe we officers don't understand skulking, but you skulkers don't understand officers! A good officer thinks in the collective--he is the sum total of the men under his command. I know it sounds hokey...but put yourself in the Colonel's place for a minute; imagine you made a mistake, a mistake that might be easily forgivable on the individual level--but you lose face, as the Japs say it. Imagine the embarrassment, the humiliation, of having to face your men--your self!--after that. He's going to need a little time to compose himself, to put up his front again. Can you understand that?"
The men looked at each other in silence; a few nodded slowly.
"Do you think you can find your way with only a map and a compass?" Kinchloe asked.
Bauer clapped him on the shoulder. "I have faith in your directions!" he grinned, then went off to get ready.
"There goes a brave man!" LeBeau sighed. There were several nods of agreement.
Vladimir was just staggering back from the Supply Office under the weight of several 'borrowed' bolts of fabric when Kinchloe intercepted him.
"Hey Sam--got a minute?"
"Tifuu! I look not busy to you?"
"Great!" Kinchloe said, choosing to ignore the Russian's sarcasm. Of course, I'll probably find little 'moth bites' in my socks from now on! "Could you look at this code for me?"
Vladimir managed to grasp the paper with two fingers long enough for him to squint at it. "Dots, dashes, and a lot of question marks!" he snorted. "So what?"
"Would you mind reciting the alphabet for me, please?"
Vladimir rolled his eyes, then shrugged. "Ladno!" he sighed. "Aye, bee, see..."
"Not that one--yours!"
The tailor brightened. "Oh! You want learn Russian? Khorosho! Ahh, bay, vay..." He ran through all thirty-two letters, though it took some doing before he could convince Kinchloe that 'myagki znak' and 'tviordi znak' really WERE the names of two 'silent' letters.
"If the letters are silent, why are they even IN the alphabet?!"
Vladimir grinned. "Because Tovarish Lenin removed all the others!"
"The...others? Never mind! I don't want to know!" The Russian just laughed. "I'll get back to you for a translation when I think I've figured it out! Thanks!"
"Did I see Major Bauer with new boots?"
"Yeah, he wheedled them out of Supply."
The Russian pursed his lips. "A shame! I wanted to make him new pair shoes. My English not always so good, da?--I think I said something offended him."
"You can still make him dress shoes; I'm sure he'd really appreciate that--you know how he always wants to look neat."
"Da! Ochen spasibo, Kinch. But I want it be surprise--he is in the Office now?"
"No, he's with Newkirk and LeBeau over at the Rec Hall."
"Then I hurry!" he shouted back over his shoulder, already waddling at top speed towards the barracks.
Inside, he dumped his burden in the corner where his precious fabric would not be trodden upon by careless boots and hurried into the officers' quarters. Surely Bauer would not have thrown away his only other pair yet!
First, he checked both of the freestanding wooden lockers without success. No shoes drying by the brazier. No shoes on the ragged doormat. No shoes in his footlocker.
Scratching his coarse grey hair, the Russian studied the small room, wondering where he would be if he were a shoe. Then he hit upon an idea--
Vladimir kneeled by the bottom bunk and peered underneath. "Ah ha!" he cried, pulling out one battered shoe. Triumphantly, he held it aloft.
Suddenly, he frowned, staring up at the wooden sole. Hurrying over to the desk lamp, he squinted at the shoe in his hand.
Vladimir went white.
"Minsk! What are you doing there?"
The Russian whipped around. Bauer loomed in the doorway, blocking it. "I...I just looking for your old shoes!" the tailor stuttered. "I wanted make you new pair!"
"Oh?" Bauer asked, stepping closer. The tailor backed up until his back bumped the wall. Slowly, Bauer picked up the other shoe, still lying half-under the bunk. "You know something about shoes, do you?"
The Russian pressed his lips tightly together. He held out the shoe, sole-up. Scarred and faded, the eagle and swastika still showed clearly.
"I know this type shoe only issued to officer corps--of SS!"
The blond man grinned slowly. "So they are," he snarled.
The other shoe dropped. Again. And again.
Newkirk, Carter, and LeBeau were lounging outside the Rec Hall--Newkirk napping, cap pulled over his eyes, while Carter held the yarn for LeBeau's knitting--when Kinchloe ran up, out of breath and grinning from ear to ear. He shook a piece of paper under their noses.
"Look!--I figured it out!"
Newkirk pushed back his cap and took the leaf, squinting at it. "Kinch, mate," he said after a pause, "I think you've been out in the sun too long--it doesn't make a rum bit of sense!"
"Maybe not to us--but as sure as Hitler sleeps with a teddy bear, I'll betcha it would to Sam!"
"You cracked the code? Formidable!"
"Thanks, Louis--anybody seen Sam?"
The men shrugged. "Last I saw him," Carter replied, "he was getting stuff from Supply."
Kinchloe furrowed his brow. "Yeah--that's the last time I saw him too! Said he was going to make shoes for Bauer."
"Come to think of it, where is our new senior officer?" LeBeau asked.
"He took the maps and left a little bit ago," Newkirk said, leaning back against the hut.
"I certainly hope he gets to Colonel Hogan before anybody else does," LeBeau worried. There were solemn nods all around.
Kinchloe sighed. "Call me paranoid--"
"--You're paranoid--" Newkirk replied cavalierly.
Kinchloe scowled at the corporal. "--But I'm a little worried about Sam."
"Why? He's a big Russian--he can take care of himself. He's probably 'oled up in a corner somewhere, obsessing about shoes!"
LeBeau laughed. "And you know how an artist hates to be disturbed when he is creating!"
"Of course," Newkirk shot back with a chuckle, "if he wasn't disturbed, he wouldn't be an artist!" LeBeau guffawed.
"C'mon, you guys!--knock it off!"
"Okay, okay, Kinch!" Newkirk said, unnerved by the worry in the black sergeant's tone. "You want we should look for him, then?"
The staff sergeant thought, rubbing his forehead distractedly. "Yeah," he said at last. "Yeah--let's form search parties."
"There's no one down this far!" Carter complained. "They're all out watching the volleyball game!"
"Quit your whining--sir," Newkirk growled, shining his flashlight into every corner of the storage room. "We're gonna search every hole from stem to stern an' I don't want to 'ear any more griping! Don't just stand there--check behind those canned pears, will you?"
Carter obeyed. "Looks like I need to build a rat trap," he observed, catching some local wildlife in his beam.
Newkirk laughed. "Just as long as Klink doesn't mistake it for another 'Gonculator'!"
"That wasn't my idea!" Carter protested. "The Colonel commandeered my rabbit trap to fool Klink--but it managed to catch rabbits anyway, didn't it!"
"Sure--so we stamped them 'Top Secret' and ate the evidence."
Carter snorted, heading for the next tunnel--his Lab.
The chemist--renowned throughout Indiana and adjoining states as the teenager who accidentally blew up Rutherford B. Hayes Polytechnic--always got a thrill of inspiration when he stepped into his private laboratory.
Desperate as he was for people who could concoct exploding cocktails, Hogan had given the former drugstore owner free reign to demand supplies, and Carter usually got exactly what he wanted. As a result, the heavily-reinforced space (with the somewhat charred walls) which he called his own was a labyrinthine forest of delicate glass constructions. It helped that the Germans made some of the best scientific supplies in the entire world--from chemicals to special glassware. Anything could be made available to a man who knew how, and that man was Hogan. No matter how wild the experiments--or the explosions--he had never lost his faith in Carter to come through, and the chemist worshipped him for it. Would Bauer be able to fill shoes that grand?
Beyond fantastic metropolis of glass, hinged crates Carter had built himself to protect his chemical bottles lined the walls. Over in one corner squatted the prisoners' carefully-monitored potato-fed still, which spat out 'Hogan-Brand Antifreeze' by the imperial gallon. Overhead, old mattresses had been cleverly nailed to the ceiling beams to muffle any explosions--the only problem came when they occasionally leaked stuffing into his experiments or caught fire. Naturally, the other prisoners had generously supplied him with no fewer than two dozen fire extinguishers.
Carter's nose twitched at a sudden, bitter smell. Nuts!--one of my chemicals must be leaking, he thought sourly, flashing his light around the little dugout. He took a step forward...and felt his boot squelch into a muddy patch. His flashlight revealed a huge wet area covering the entire floor of his lab.
Disgustedly, Carter swung the beam around, searching for the source of the leak. His light passed below the table--and stopped. Hastily, he swung it back.
"Newkirk! Hey Newkirk--I've found him!"
Bending down beside the Russian's limp form, he hesitated, unsure what to do. The tailor was bound cruelly with ropes of torn cloth, twisting his frame into an unnatural shape. Blood trickled from a deep gash in his forehead, staining his jacket dark ochre.
Newkirk skidded to a halt in the doorway. "God in Heaven!"
"Who could have done this to him?" Carter moaned.
"Let's get him upstairs--this air can't be good for 'im. Smells like...ammonia."
Carter lifted his nose to the air. "You're right!" he said, wondering why he hadn't been able to place the smell before. But I don't keep ammonia in here! "That's ammonia all right..." His eyes suddenly widened, the blood draining from his cheeks. "...And bleach! Get everybody out of the tunnels!"
"Right now! Pull your shirt over your mouth and take shallow breaths; pass the word. Move it, corporal!"
"Yes, sir!" Newkirk said, surprised and alarmed. He ran off, shouting.
Carter dug out one of the masks he used when working with dangerous chemicals and tied it over Sam's face, then he took one for himself. Was he already getting dizzy from lack of oxygen, or was that just his imagination?
Sliding his arms under the Russian's limp body, the thin man struggled to lift him. He staggered under the weight, stumbling towards the door.
Newkirk appeared out of nowhere, muttering something in his ear about "they're evacuating" and took some of the burden. It was as though a fog dropped over Carter's brain as he stumbled through endless passages he did not recognise.
The next time he came back to himself, he found he was flat on his back and at first thought he had fallen. He struggled to regain his feet, but was gently shoved back down. A familiar face swam into his vision.
"Here, mon ami, drink this," LeBeau said gently, holding out a spoonful of broth for Carter to sip.
"Sam?" Carter managed in a muzzy voice.
"Safe--he is resting now. You and Peter got him out in time."
Carter sighed with relief and accepted more broth. When he had had enough, LeBeau took the bowl away and set it on the stove to stay hot, sparing a worried glance towards Kinchloe. The black sergeant was bent over Newkirk's bed, trying to convince the corporal that he was still suffering the effects of the deadly gas. The Englishman cursed weakly, insisting he should 'get up and help'.
Distantly, LeBeau could hear the wheeze and sigh of the automatic bellows they had dug out of mothballs to help their ventilation system flush the air in the tunnels. As a consequence, though, they had had to lock the tree stump--Kinchloe had done that, bravely venturing back down with a soft-side canteen from which he took small sips of air--so that no one would inadvertently come down into the tunnels and breathe the odourless and deadly results of the chemical reaction. That meant that wherever Hogan and Bauer had gone, they would have to stay for the moment.
There was a sudden, sharp tap on the door. LeBeau and Kinchloe exchanged nervous glances.
"Come in?" the Frenchman called. He was utterly astounded when Max slipped inside--using the front door for a change. The Underground agent glanced around at the sick men in shock.
"What happened here?"
"Someone tried to kill Minsk and there was a chemical spill in the tunnels."
"So that's why you locked the treestump! I had to come in as a Protecting Power agent from Geneva. Supposedly, I am off inspecting the Kantine kitchen while Klink digs up your health records, so I don't have much time."
"Did you have information for us?"
"Ja--where is the Colonel?"
"I'm afraid Colonel Hogan is missing."
The German's eyes narrowed. "And Major Bauer?"
"He went off to look for Colonel Hogan." LeBeau sighed heavily. "We think...we think that Colonel Hogan may be selling secrets to the Russians in exchange for a ticket out of Germany."
To his surprise, Max laughed. "That is not what the Russians told me!"
"Ja--the ones camped out by your tunnel entrance...monitoring traffic, so to speak."
"Wait a minute!" Kinchloe cried. "You mean they were sending the messages?"
"Richtig--they also captured the escaping soldiers...for questioning. They seem to have lost a man in this area. One of their agents apparently followed me after I left here, because they called me last night to come pick up your men! I took them myself to an alternate safe-house further down the line, and all twenty are safely on their way to the coast, to wait for the next contact from London."
"Questioning?" LeBeau asked. "Questioning about what?"
The agent's face tensed. "Being paranoid has kept me alive for so many years--I did some checking up on Major Bauer.
"Oui...i...i...?" LeBeau prompted, suddenly uneasy.
"There is no Major Bauer."
"Who is he then?" Kinchloe asked flatly.
Max sat down at the table with a weary sigh. "His name is Major Friedrich von Höhle--he was SS, Department Eight-Seven 'Aircraft Technology--Covert Operations'. In North Africa, he was a 'ferret'."
Kinchloe nodded grimly as everything began to fall into place. "A ferret--a specialist who gets thrown in with the POWs, gets all buddy-buddy with them, learns all their secrets...only he's batting for the other team!"
"So what does this have to do with the Russians?" LeBeau demanded.
Max sighed again. "This is the part where it gets sticky. I think after he came back from North Africa, he must have gotten orders to ship out to the Russian Front, because suddenly he drops everything and disappears from Berlin. Probably, he meant to escape to Switzerland through Odessa's monastery route."
"He admitted to forgery and embezzling--he probably has a Swiss Bank account. Salopard!"
"Ja--except that the Gestapo decided they could not let him get away so easily. They posted a handsome reward on his head, which caught the attention of the Russians and the Americans!"
LeBeau whistled appreciatively. "So they dropped in commandos to see why he was such a big man, eh? Somehow, though, I fail to feel any sympathy for him."
"I'm with you there, Louis!" Kinchloe glanced back to where Carter lay in a restless slumber. "Andrew was right all along," he said quietly, shaking his head. "How could we have ever doubted the colonel?"
"Right now," Max broke in, "the important thing is to find him and warn him about 'Major Bauer'."
Kinchloe and LeBeau glanced at each other.
"We can sneak out in the back of the truck," Kinchloe said.
"I'll get my gun," the Frenchman growled.
"Heidi!" the Infantry corporal sang, leering. He fairly bobbed with all the beer he had downed. "Verkehrst geschlechtlich mit mir!"
The German waitress swung her honey-coloured braid over one shoulder and forced a smile. "Schweinehund," she muttered under her breath.
Setting his empty stein on her tray, she walked back towards the bar, feeling the soldier's eyes crawling across her body. She pursed her lips--why was it that the more men drank, the more pig-headed they became, and the more convinced they were of their own irresistibility?
"Ein Bier bitte, Johann," she sighed to the blond man at the bar. In a lower voice, she added "hast er hier kommen?"
Johann shook his head and Heidi's stomach knotted. Where was Max? Had he located the missing soldiers? Had the Gestapo captured him? After that late-night phone call, he had grabbed his gun, hurrying out without another word and no sign of him since. She worried for her father.
The little silver bell set on a spring over the door chimed softly as someone entered. Heidi looked up--to meet the gaze of a man in full Gestapo uniform. She swallowed, feeling suddenly like a deer caught in the headlights.
Johann pretended not to notice, but whispered urgently to her. "Heidi! Don't stare!"
She couldn't help it though--his eyes held her, their gazes locked, as he moved to an empty table. Clutching her tray like a shield, she moved to serve him.
"Heiiidiii!" the drunk soldier moaned from the other table. The Gestapo officer shot him a look which made him suddenly swallow whatever had been about to follow.
She dug up an ingratiating smile, hoping it looked sincere. "Guten Tag, Herr Major! What would you like?"
"Information," he said flatly, producing a little black notebook and stubby pencil.
"I will do my best, mein Herr," she replied, fingers clenching around the tray. Get a hold on yourself, Heidi!--You must think of the network! Colonel Hogan is in the back room, depending on you to get him safely out of Germany. Oh, but how I wish Father were here!
"I have heard there is a man living around here by the name of 'Gunther'--a Prussian."
Where did he get that name? A traitor? The missing soldiers? "I have heard of no one by that name, Herr Major."
His sharp eyes bored into her. "He does not come in here?"
"No, Herr Major."
"So you admit there is the possibility that he lives around here."
She swallowed, trying to control panic. "I do not know everyone in Hammelburg."
He nodded--not as though agreeing, merely acknowledging her answer. "Have you seen any strange men around here lately?"
"No, Herr Major."
His eyes caught hers. "I thought you did not know everyone in Hammelburg. You know every man who comes in here?"
"We have a lot of regulars."
He jerked his head at the inebriated soldier drooping in his chair. "What about him?"
"I believe he is just passing through."
"Indeed?" the agent said with interest, his tone implying volumes. "Is there any chance that someone else in this area knows about strangers 'passing through'?"
She stiffened. "I am a loyal German, Herr Major!"
The corners of his lips curled up. "Fine--I would prefer it though if you answered my question."
"Heidi, you lazy girl!" Johann called from the bar. "There are others waiting to be served--sich rühren!"
"Excuse me, mein Herr," she said, relieved at the escape.
"We may speak again later," he said. "In the meantime--ein Doppelbock-Märzen, bitte."
"Jawohl." Hastily, she retreated to the bar.
"What did he want?" Johann hissed.
"He asked about 'Gunther'!"
Johann was silent for a minute. "We must get Colonel Hogan out of here--if the Gestapo has a name, what else could they know?"
"Ja--they must have captured those soldiers after all! There is no telling what they were forced to reveal." She shuddered, getting a sudden image of some poor flier locked in a dark room somewhere, screaming because his knees had been smashed. Involuntarily, her gaze travelled back to the Gestapo major. He was watching. Her eyes dropped to the floor.
Casually, she ducked through the curtain into the back hall way. The officer waited in the storage room, dressed in the civilian clothes they had provided. He shot to his feet when the door opened, lithe body tensed for action, left hand holding his valise up like a shield, right hand already creeping into his jacket. When he recognised her though, he relaxed, even saluting her with a little bow. She sighed to herself--a man of action AND a gentleman; nothing at all like those young footsoldiers who came into the bar, hoping to educate their curious hands...
Mentally, the girl thumped herself. Now, Heidi--would you have thought a stranger so attractive if your father did not admire him so?
"Colonel," she whispered, closing the door softly behind her. "There is a Gestapo agent outside asking questions--you will have to wait a little longer."
His gaze sharpened. "Is there a back way out of here?"
"Nein--you are not small enough to fit through the windows, but if necessary, we can hide you in the wine cellar until the Gestapo leaves."
The handsome man shook his head. "No--they won't give up that easily. They're like cockroaches--if there's one in here, you can just bet there are twenty more outside in the bushes!" He drew the Luger from his belt and chambered a round. "I'm prepared to fight my way out, if necessary!"
The German girl paled. "Let us hope it does not come to that!"
She moved to go but hesitated, turning--then quickly bent and pecked him on the cheek.
The officer gaped at her in astonishment. "What was that for?"
She turned away, blushing furiously. "Because you are so brave, mein Oberst," she sighed, slipping back out.
The bell over the door tinkled merrily as a grey-haired gentleman entered and sat down. Heidi went to serve him, still keeping a covert eye on the man in the black uniform. Though he sipped frugally at his drink, pretending to be unaware of anything else, she could feel him tracking her every move.
Time was growing short--every moment Hogan spent here increased the risk of getting him out safely, especially with the civilian curfew. Undoubtedly, the guards from Stalag 13 would miss him soon and come looking. They had to start him off before then! But what if the Gestapo man stayed until closing? What if he suddenly demanded to search the building, as was his right? She paled, thinking what would happen to the brave American if he was caught outside Stalag 13--and in civilian clothes!
She nearly shouted with relief when the door opened again and Max entered. She rushed to hug him, not caring what the Gestapo man might think. LET him take notes in his little black book! she thought fiercely. It might do him good to witness human emotion!
Max glanced over at the Gestapo agent and started. "How long has he been here?"
She felt the man in black watching them again. "About half an hour, Poppa," she whispered. "Listen--Colonel Hogan is in the back. He must get out of Germany!"
"Ja--they are looking for him, Poppa!"
Max sighed. "All right--I will take him myself. I need to go bring the truck around. Tell him to meet me outside in exactly ten minutes." With another glance at the Gestapo agent--who still pretended to look only at his drink--he went back out.
The Gestapo man rose, mug only half-finished, and left a neat stack of bills on the table. Setting his cap with its grim Death's Head insignia primly on his head, he too left. Heidi swallowed nervously, wondering what it meant--was the escape jeopardised? Had he gone to arrest her father? She nearly wept when she realised there was absolutely nothing she could do. If the Gestapo was indeed lying in wait outside, as Colonel Hogan had said, soon they would all share a cell in the basement of Gestapo headquarters. That, or they would all share a grave in the woods.
Kinchloe crouched behind a thick hydrangea bush on the opposite side of the little recessed courtyard. LeBeau was about a metre off to his left, nestled behind a stone wall barely a foot high. Max wisely hadn't trusted the security of the truck--these days, the roving Sturmabteilung bully-boys seemed to get their kicks from snap-searches. Not that these positions seemed any safer!
Kinchloe tried not to fidget impatiently--how long did it take for Max to 'check in'?
"What is he doing in there?" LeBeau hissed, voicing the black man's thoughts.
"Negotiating Germany's surrender--now pipe down!"
"I think my whole body is falling asleep!"
Just then, the door opened again and Max hurried out in the direction of the truck, taking off his jacket as he went.
"Was that an 'alert' signal I just saw?" LeBeau asked.
"Sure looked like it--he must have found the Colonel!"
The door opened again and the Gestapo agent slipped out. He carried a pistol.
"Mon Dieu! Les vaches!"
"Hold on, LeBeau--we're safer if we stay right where we are. If the Gestapo knows he's here, the Colonel might need our help!"
The grass rustled as the Frenchman took aim. "I think I have a good shot--shall I kill him now?"
"No! What if there're more?"
"Too late!" LeBeau whispered as the Gestapo man ducked behind an old wine barrel-turned-planter.
Somewhere off to their left, an engine roared to life. Max's delivery truck--a rickety second-hand antique, complete with a faded dairy logo on the wooden sides--rattled around into the Garten.
The door opened a third time, and a man in civilian clothes, hat pulled low over his face, slipped out. With a glance to either side, he suddenly sprinted for the truck. From there, everything seemed to happen in slow motion.
The Gestapo agent sprang to his feet, taking aim on the fleeing man, and squeezed off two shots. Both connected. The figure spun as he fell, hitting the cobbles with a sickening crack!
LeBeau was already on his feet as the man in black broke from his cover to admire his handiwork.
"Un moment, mon ami!" the Frenchman growled, "unless you want your insides all over the wall!"
The agent immediately dropped the gun and put up his hands.
"Could we discuss this, Louis?"
The Frenchman lowered his gun in astonishment. "Colonel Hogan?!"
The man in black turned. A familiar face winked at them between the cap and the uniform.
"Love your mustache!" Kinchloe grinned.
"I was considering growing one, but I'd thought I'd see how it looked first!" The American bent over the bleeding body and turned it over. His grin turned to shock. "Wait a minute--that's the bartender!"
"So where's Bauer?"
Hogan glanced at him sharply. "Bauer?"
There was the snap of a gun cocking. "Right here, Colonel!"
The men whipped around to see the blond major wielding a Luger. He was grinning, a maniacal light shining in his eyes.
"Bauer!" Hogan cried, raising his hands with the others. "What do you have to do with all this?"
"He is not 'Bauer', mon Colonel," LeBeau spat. "He's SS!
"He tried to murder Sam and nearly killed the rest of us by flooding the tunnels with chlorine gas," Kinchloe added.
Hogan nodded grimly. "I knew something was fishy when I went to check out the safe house in Frankfurt and the guy asked me if I was the 'Colonel Hogan' scheduled to escape! I figured it was our leak trying to get out of Germany."
"No leak--the Russians captured our boys."
Bauer laughed nastily. "I'd love to stay here and unravel things with you but--" he rattled the dogtags around his neck, "--Colonel Hogan has an appointment!" He took aim.
The shot was deafening. The trio dropped to the ground, each expecting to feel the sudden hot pain of a bullet in his heart. But, when sound started to come back to their aching ears, each man slowly got to his feet, inspecting himself for leaks and finding none.
It was Bauer who lay on the ground, cloth and skin shredded from his belly to his neck by the force of the shotgun blast. His blue eyes had gone wide, as though in intense surprise, staring up at nothing. His hands, crooked into claws, reached out as though to grapple with a foe only he could see. He still breathed, but raggedly, blood gurgling from his parted lips.
Max walked over, finger still on the trigger, ready to discharge the other barrel into the prone man.
"Poppa!" Heidi cried, rushing outside to knock the gun away. "What have you done?" Tears streamed down her cheeks.
"This man is a Schutzstaffel mongrel!" the German snarled, raising the shotgun. "It will be a mercy to kill him!"
"Hold!" a new voice cried. The grey-haired man from the Biergarten stepped between Max and the man they had known as Bauer. "My name is Winston Gepard. I'm with the OSS, United States government."
"A spook!" Hogan grunted.
The agent smiled thinly. "That's not exactly the technical term, Colonel Hogan." He reached slowly into his jacket and pulled out a sheaf of papers. "I have here a warrant to detain Herr von Höhle."
"You're a little out of your jurisdiction, aren't you, Mr. Gepard?" Kinchloe observed.
"It is merely pending his recuperation and subsequent employment by the Federal Authority of the United States."
Hogan's jaw dropped. "He's a Nazi!"
Gepard smirked. "Then I don't have to tell you it's classified." His tone--deadly flat--brought words such as 'court-martial' to mind.
"Who better to spy on the Russians' Nazis? These men know a lot about intelligence work--it would be a real shame to go and waste their...talents."
"Don't you know what this man did for a living?" LeBeau cried. "He was in North Africa--torturing prisoners!"
Gepard nodded soberly. "Yes, it is a possibility he may have...questioned...some of our men. Naturally, we would not let anything like that appear on one of our operatives' records."
Max snorted. "I do not intend to let him get away so easily--stand aside, before I have to shoot through you!"
Gepard stared him down, no trace of emotion in his flat, grey eyes. "Hold your horses, my friend, and think about what you are doing."
"I am doing civilisation a favour!" the German spat.
"But are you REALLY thinking of the future? Do remember that very shortly OUR side will win this war--then what happens? The occupational forces move in. Germany gets divided up!" He winked, waggling a finger at Max. "We want to make sure you naughty Germans don't start any MORE wars!" He shrugged. "Things are gonna be pretty tight for awhile--naturally, we'll look more kindly upon our supporters..."
Max lowered the shotgun, stunned speechless. With a triumphant grin, Gepard hefted the bleeding Nazi over his shoulder and walked off into the forest, whistling a jaunty tune. A short time later, there was the faint sound of a car starting up and pulling away.
"You know," Hogan sighed at last, staring down at Johann's stiffening body. "It's times like this that make me want to fight for the other side."
Some time later, Hogan sat silently, staring down into his cold coffee.
Newkirk wobbled up to him, still weak. "The way I 'eard it," he said quietly, "it wasn't your fault--when Bauer found out Heidi was related to Max, he knew you'd have a trap waiting so he sent Johann out first to 'give a message to Max'."
"Yeah, I know," Hogan sighed, rolling the cup in his palms. "I know."
LeBeau gathered up his courage and approached. "Je suis un benêt! How could we ever have accused you of going over to the Communists?"
"Don't worry about it, corporal," Hogan replied grimly. "That guy was an expert in balloon juice; it was his JOB to undermine the chain of command. You're not the first to get taken by a smooth operator--I was conned too." He laughed weakly. "Here I was going to leave him in command!"
"Next time," Carter scolded from his bed, "take your dogtags!"
"And who's gonna believe a Nazi with a 'Made in America' label?" Newkirk snorted.
"You know, I knew it all the time that Bauer stole that field radio and he was trying to call the CIA!"
"SURE you did!" LeBeau said sarcastically. "That's why you never told us about it, oui?"
"What about that transfer Klink signed?" Kinchloe prompted. There was a sudden tense silence as Hogan took out the papers Bauer had commandeered along with Klink's money. He unfolded them and gave them one last wistful glance--then tossed them into the stove. The rest of the Heroes breathed a collective sigh of relief and broke into grins.
"Hey, mon colonel--you weren't REALLY going to trade secrets just so you could transfer out and escape, were you?"
"I certainly was!" The men blinked at each other, stunned. Hogan looked up at them and suddenly grinned. "I was going to tell him about 'Hogan's Folly'."
Carter looked perplexed. "That tunnel we had to wall up 'cause it collapsed every time a truck went by?"
The colonel nodded in mock-solemnity. "Under extreme duress, I might also have let slip about our 'Emergency Escape Fund'."
Newkirk snickered. "You mean the five-pound note Carter accidentally glued to the wall in the Machine Shed?"
"I told you I make good glue!" the chemist laughed.
Hogan shrugged. "How could I have known Klink had a noble streak? A few subtle threats and he actually began to believe that I--a mere prisoner!--could get him transferred to the Russian Front! To think--that I should deprive Germany of such a fine officer!"
"For which side?" Newkirk guffawed.
"Why should he be worried?" Kinchloe commented innocently. "His record is still unspoiled ever since the Gestapo decided Johann looked enough like von Höhle for all practical purposes! Otherwise, I think the scandal would have been too much for even THEM to suppress!"
"And none of US are missing--so I guess this means you will have to give the money back, mon colonel."
Hogan smiled faintly. "Yeah--naturally, he knew all the time that 'Bauer' was an SS agent on the run from the Gestapo, and was just playing along until he least expected it!"
"Oh I'm SURE Klink didn't expect it!" Newkirk chuckled. The Englishman laid a sober hand on the officer's shoulder. "We really wish you could've gone home, colonel."
The American looked up at him, sadness reflected in his dark eyes. "I know, corporal," he sighed. "One day, we'll ALL get our chance."
With his usual impeccably awkward timing, Schultz chose that moment to barge in. "Colonel Hogan!" he barked.
The sergeant softened a little. "It's nice to have you home again!"
"What is it you want this time?"
"Oh...nothing!" he said innocently. "But a little...chocolate!...would be very agreeable right now!"
"Is that some kind of subtle hint?" LeBeau snickered.
"What happened to your policy of no more bribery?" asked Kinchloe.
The sergeant smiled. "I thought about that..."
"Blimey! What is Germany coming to?"
"Oh Newkirk, it was terrible--I could not go to sleep for ten minutes!" The sergeant sniffed haughtily. "Thinking is an overrated experience!"
"So what did you figure out, Schultzie?" LeBeau asked.
Schultz chuckled. "It cannot be called bribery if there is NO evidence!"
"Except in the middle you mean," Newkirk quipped.
Hogan shrugged. "Okay, Schultz, but I left it in my other coat. Here, let me get it for you." Striding to the bunk, Hogan picked up the Gestapo jacket still lying there and began rummaging through the pockets.
The fat sergeant's eyes bulged when he saw the armband--that wasn't the Red Cross symbol! "No, no, Colonel Hogan--don't trouble yourself!" he whimpered. "I will come back later when you are not so busy. I see...nothing!" Without a backwards glance, he hastily exited.
Colonel Hogan grinned. "Now," the American said thoughtfully, "if only we could set up Schultz in the Reichstag..."