No ownership of the Hogan's Heroes characters is implied or inferred. Copyright belongs to others and no infringement is intended.
Thanks to all who encouraged me to write this follow-up. I had no idea what a ride I was in for!
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Louis Le Beau opened the door to Barracks Two and without bothering to look out, said, disheartened, "It's all yours, Schultzie," then went back to the table in the common room and sat down, staring regretfully at the plate full of food before him.
"Schultzie" was Hans Schultz, the large Sergeant of the Guard at Stalag Luft 13 just outside of Hammelburg, Germany. He lumbered into the hut, holding his rifle in a rather slipshod manner, and shuffled over to the table. He took a quick glance at the small French Corporal who had summoned him, and at the other prisoners of war in the room. No one said anything. Schultz twitched his moustache as he took another look at the temptingly-presented meal before him, then asked, "Are you sure, Cockroach?"
Le Beau shrugged. "Sure I'm sure, Schultzie. It would be better for it not to go to waste."
Schultz nodded then sat down, leaning his rifle against the table. Supporting his chin with his palm, Le Beau silently held out a salt shaker. "Danke," Schultz said, taking it. He sprinkled some salt on his dinner, then he looked, delighted again, at the plate. "Oh," he said, like a small child asking for a sweet before dinner, "and some pepper?" Still not speaking, Le Beau picked up another shaker and handed it over. "Danke," Schultz said again, and sprinkled liberally. Another look at his culinary dream come true. "And… perhaps… a little bit of your special sauce—?"
"That's enough!" Le Beau snapped finally, waving his hand to ward off the coming idea and standing up. "Take it as it is." He moved away from the table and took refuge at the stove, where he poured a cup of coffee and brought it over to James Kinchloe. The tall black Sergeant took the cup and nodded his thanks.
"Of course," Schultz said penitently. "I am sorry, Le Beau."
Letting go of his anger, the Frenchman sat back down and offered an apologetic smile of his own. "That's okay, Schultz. To each his own."
Schultz picked up the fork on the table, and with great gusto stabbed into a potato. He raised the vegetable to his mouth, then paused and looked at it thoughtfully. "Colonel Hogan… he is still not eating?" he asked softly.
Sergeant Kinchloe came forward from where he leaned on the bunk and sat down across from the guard. "No, he's not," he said matter-of-factly. "At least not enough to keep Louis happy."
"It is not just me," Le Beau sniffed, though he tried to offer Kinch a small smile of understanding. "Le Colonel is not eating enough to keep a bird alive."
"Maybe he's just sick of potatoes," suggested Andrew Carter. He shrugged contritely when hard stares greeted him. "Well, I know I get sick of them sometimes," he added. Oh, well, let them use me to get out their anger, he thought; he knew it wasn't the choice of food that was keeping Colonel Robert Hogan from chowing down, but perhaps a distraction from the problem would make the rest of them feel better, even for a little while.
Peter Newkirk shook his head and looked down from his top bunk near the door. "We all do, Andrew," he said. "But we could probably offer the gov'nor his choice of fine foods right now and he'd let it all sit there to go cold." A sigh from the English Corporal. "'E's just not himself at the moment." He sat up and pulled a cigarette out from under his mattress, then hopped down from the bunk and bummed a light.
"It is a shame," Schultz lamented between bites. "He is missing some beautiful meals." A pause as the remark clearly didn't earn him any points with the prisoners. "He should not still be so sad," he added regretfully. "The accident was not his fault."
"A man died, Schultz," Kinch replied. "That kind of thing bothers the Colonel."
"Ja, ja. Und Gunter, he seemed like such a nice boy. But still, it was an accident. It is very sad, but it happens," the guard philosophized as he finished clearing the plate. He considered licking it, but relented when faced with the expectant looks of the prisoners. He stood up. "Corporal Langenscheidt still wants to speak with Colonel Hogan, and if you think it would help…" Schultz offered. Carter handed him back his rifle as Le Beau swept the plate away.
"I don't think the Colonel will want to talk with anyone right now, Schultz. Thanks all the same," Kinch answered.
"Yeah, that's real nice of you and Langenscheidt, Schultz," Newkirk agreed.
"All the guards… well, they like Colonel Hogan. We want to see him get better." For the enemy, Schultz thought, they were nice men. Sure, every now and then he had to be on the side of the Germans; after all, they were his countrymen, and it would be nice to be on the winning side once in a war. But this mismatched group of prisoners, who seemed so closely knit despite their incredible diversity, clearly had a camaraderie the transcended the barbed wire and armed guard towers that surrounded them. And now, seeing them "closing ranks," as it were, to care for their now-vulnerable commanding officer—someone they had never even met until they were all captured by the Germans—he felt obligated to give them some privacy, even in a barracks that was never intended to offer them anything but a place to lay their heads after another long, uneventful day as unwilling guests of the Third Reich. He shrugged his broad shoulders. "You know where he is, if Colonel Hogan changes his mind."
"We know, Schultz," Carter said, nodding. "Thanks."
"Ja. Und danke for the dinner, Le Beau."
"You're welcome, Schultz."
And the guard disappeared. Le Beau sighed as he looked at the expertly-emptied plate. "Well, at least someone liked the dinner," he said.
"Don't take it personally, Louis," Kinch suggested gently. "You know if the Colonel was gonna eat anything, it'd be something you cooked. He's probably just not hungry."
"Oui, I know, mon ami," the Frenchman agreed resignedly. "But I am worried about what will happen if he does not snap out of this soon. The accident was almost two weeks ago; he should be recovered enough to eat a meal by now."
"Yeah, but he wasn't just hurt physically, was he?" Newkirk conjectured unhappily. No one disputed him. "Spending hours trapped in a car with a dead man... conjuring up a whole conversation with him just to stay sane while he waits for someone to come and rescue him…"
"But that's not the strangest part," Kinch added. "What gets me is that the Colonel got everything about Kleinschmidt right. His hometown, the names of his sisters and brother, even what he wanted to do with his life. How can you make up that stuff and get it all on the nose? We all know he was a little concerned about being able to sneak away from Kleinschmidt to meet our contact; he'd just transferred here and Colonel Hogan hadn't had a chance to check him out. He didn't know how hard the guy was gonna be to get around."
"Then he must have spoken to Kleinschmidt in the car before the crash," Newkirk postulated.
Kinch disagreed. "What would make a guard talk to a prisoner on such a personal level—even if it's Colonel Hogan? It just doesn't make sense. And the boy died—that'd be pretty hard for the Colonel to take. Kleinschmidt might have been a German, but he was still just a kid."
"Then why haven't we talked to him about it?" Carter asked. The others looked at him in disbelief. But he persisted. "Well, if that's what's really bothering Colonel Hogan, we should get him to let it all out—and all we've done is avoid him!" Small nods of agreement as Carter's words sunk in. "We're supposed to be his friends. What kind of friends are we if we look after him on the outside, but we don't help him heal inside?"
Another moment of silence. Finally Le Beau spoke up. "You are right, Andre. We have not been very good friends. It is wrong of us to think that because Colonel Hogan is an officer, he does not feel as we do when something goes wrong."
Newkirk nodded, then said with a hint of a smile, "Well, then, that settles it, Carter—you go in and see what's eating at Colonel Hogan—and we'll wait out here to catch the pieces when he sends you flying back out of his office. Right?"
"I'll talk to him," Carter said. He raised his chin defiantly. Then, his eyes slightly betraying the false bravado in his words, he announced: "I'm not afraid."
Kinch raised an eyebrow and considered offering a salute as Carter headed for the Colonel's office. But he refrained, as Newkirk must have had the same idea and shot off one of his own. Le Beau just bit his lip and kept his blue eyes glued to the Sergeant as if he could warn him against the action with a stare. But Carter ignored them all and knocked purposefully on the door to Hogan's room, only glancing fleetingly back toward the others when he heard the word "Come," from the other side.
Carter swallowed and steadied himself, then opened the door and disappeared inside. His friends could only look at each other and shake their heads.
Carter found Robert Hogan on his bottom bunk, propped up by a couple of rolled-up blankets, his legs and chest covered by a third one, his left arm draped carefully across his abdomen at a specific angle aimed at aggravating neither his shoulder nor his tightly-bound ribs. His right arm lay at his side, unmoving.
Carter moved into the room, giving an awkward wave as he approached his commanding officer. "Hey, Colonel," he greeted with a smile.
Hogan nodded carefully. "Hey."
"Just thought I'd… see how you're doing!" he continued cheerfully. His overly bright smile faltered a bit when he noticed the heavy bruise that started just above the US Army Air Corps officer's eyes and extended halfway down the left side of his face, still looking as dark and ugly as he remembered it being the last time he dared have a good look at it. "I mean," he added a little less confidently, "I was wondering if you were up to coming out to have a little supper. You know, with the fellas. I could help you, I mean with your leg…" He let that sentence trail off. Hogan didn't need help remembering his limitations right now.
Hogan breathed in and out slowly before he answered softly, "Not tonight, thanks, Carter. Maybe tomorrow."
"Oh, sure, I understand," Carter agreed with a nod. "It's been a big day for you, anyway, I mean, uh—" He hesitated when he realized he'd talked himself into a corner; Hogan hadn't done anything today. He hadn't come out for roll call, he hadn't come out for meals, and he hadn't talked to London when they'd called on the radio below the barracks. Okay, well, Hogan wasn't capable of climbing down ladders at the moment, Carter reminded himself; he was lucky he hadn't actually broken his leg when it got caught beneath the dashboard of the wrecked car. But the damage had been severe enough to keep the Colonel confined to bed for some time, and Carter had to grant him some concession for that. But Colonel Hogan—well, gee, he was usually a lot more resilient, at least mentally, when disaster struck. He never would have been able to become the leader of the most secret sabotage and intelligence unit in Germany today if he'd caved in whenever a bit of bad luck reared its head.
But this was different, Carter was smart enough to realize: this mess, Hogan had managed to come out of, while someone else, unwittingly part of his plan to use an outing from prison camp Stalag Luft 13 as a way of meeting a contact from the Underground, had died. And while the victim had been a German soldier, this time that made precious little difference to Hogan.
"It's all right, Carter," Hogan said wearily. "I know I've been holed up in here most of the day."
Carter relaxed. "Oh. Right. Well… you haven't eaten, either."
"I told Le Beau: I've got a splitting headache and I just couldn't stomach anything right now. If I get hungry later, I'll come out and get something myself."
No, you won't, Carter thought unhappily. His eyes drifted toward the cane the camp medic had left in the office for Hogan to use when he was recovered enough to attempt a short stroll. The Colonel hadn't touched it yet, and both of them knew he wasn't nearly well enough to. "I know what you went through was pretty bad, Colonel," Carter said quietly, after a too-long silence. "Corporal Kleinschmidt was just a kid. I know he was a German, but it'd be easy to forget that." He paused. "It's okay to feel bad because he died."
"My not eating has nothing to do with the fact that Kleinschmidt died. This is war; people die. I've watched them die. I've helped them die." Hogan paused at that last statement, regrouped his thoughts, and continued more softly. "I'm just… not up to it, okay?"
Carter understood the plea in Hogan's simple declaration, and with a small smile, nodded. "Sure, Colonel. I understand," he said, much to Hogan's relief. "You know, everyone's been asking about you, sir," he added. "Even the Krauts. Schultz is always moping around—but I think he's looking for food, too—and Langenscheidt, well he—"
"Carter," Hogan said again, alarm rising within him at the mention of the last guard's name, "I'm going to try to sleep for awhile; I'm pretty beat. Okay?"
Carter nodded quickly. Well, I had to try. "Oh, yeah, Colonel. Sure. I'll leave you alone for now. Maybe you'll join us tomorrow."
"Yeah. Maybe tomorrow," Hogan said without much conviction.
"Well… you just call if you need anything, okay, sir?"
"Right." Hogan watched as the young Sergeant backed toward the door. "And Carter, thanks… for checking up on me."
A small nod and Carter was gone. When he came out, he simply smiled enigmatically at the others and said, "Head intact, not tossed out on my ear… nothing to wipe the floor with, fellas," and sat down on his bunk near the door, ostensibly to read. At least now the Colonel knows we support him. Andrew, you did good!
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"London's on the line, Colonel."
Hogan looked balefully at Kinch as the radio man shrugged not quite apologetically from the doorway. "And?"
"And… they want to talk to you."
Hogan tilted his head and let out an exasperated sigh. "And you told them—?" he prompted, gesturing toward his legs, covered once again with a blanket.
"Yes, sir, I told them," confirmed Kinch. "And… they want to talk to you."
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Hogan sat heavily in the chair Kinch had moved next to the radio equipment, recovering from the arduous trip from his room to the series of tunnels and passageways beneath Barracks Two that normally he roamed quite easily. With his arm and shoulder still not healed, the cane had been more of a hindrance than a help, and though Kinch had been there to support him, the journey was still very slow, and very painful. "Klink'd better not... call for a surprise roll call any time soon," he panted, as he waited for the world to stop spinning.
"No, sir; Carter's on watch, so there'll be a lot of warning for that surprise," Kinch replied, watching his commander carefully as he connected with Allied Headquarters again. "And the Kommandant isn't expecting you out and about any time soon, anyway."
"That puts him one up... on London," Hogan managed. Two more deep, steady breaths from behind throbbing ribs. He pulled himself away from the back of the chair and wiped his hand across his face. The cool air of the tunnel was a blessing. "This'd better be good."
Kinch smiled ironically. "I'm sure they'll think it is, sir." He paused for a moment, listening, then acknowledged the party on the other end of the connection before holding the headsets out to Hogan.
Unhappy to see a slight tremor in his hands, Hogan accepted the offering and leaned carefully in toward the desk, where the microphone was perched waiting for him. "This is Papa Bear," he said. A pause. "I'm aware of that," he said tersely. Kinch watched anxiously as Hogan's mood seemed to grow darker with each statement. There was a long silence, during which Hogan's eyes grew distant and his expression troubled. He shifted with considerable difficulty on the chair. "That's… regrettable, sir," he said, sighing.
Kinch raised an eyebrow at the sudden change in Hogan's voice. He had gone from being a clearly irritated operative, to a very thoughtful—and downcast—officer. Kinchloe couldn't help but wonder what was being said on the other end of the line—or indeed, even to whom Hogan was speaking, since the person Kinch himself had made the connection with was no one worthy of being called "sir" by the Colonel. And Hogan's already pale face had taken on a distinctly grey tinge. What the hell was going on?
Hogan listened again. His eyes bored into the tunnel wall, seeing something not etched in the clay, and then fell to the tunnel floor, seeing something else there. Finally he said, "If that's what we need to do to stop that happening again, sir, we'll do it. How long do we have?" An answer, followed by: "Any ideas how?" He nodded, then shook his head as though in resigned disbelief. "Right, sir. We'll look for the first opportunity…. Yes, sir, we'll stay in touch. Papa Bear over and out."
With his good arm Hogan practically threw the headsets onto the desk. Then, clearly suffering, he doubled in on himself, pressing his good hand over his eyes as his injured arm lay helplessly in his lap. In a few seconds, he propped himself up by bracing his right hand on his knee instead, and, head still bowed and breathing heavily, Hogan shook his head slowly, as though discounting his inner thoughts.
Kinch said nothing as he shut down the radio, stealing occasional glances at Hogan. Finally he touched the Colonel's shoulder, and spoke softly. "Is everything all right, sir?" he asked, not using the words he wanted to use.
Hogan opened his eyes and looked back at Kinch. The pain and tiredness—and sadness—had not left them. He shook his head. "Please help me get back upstairs," he replied quietly, ignoring the question. "I've got to—" Hogan cut himself off as though censoring his words. "I want to lie down for awhile."
Kinch pursed his lips and forced himself to accept the answer. "Yes, sir," he said with a nod. He came around the chair and held out a supportive hand to his commanding officer. "Just lean on me."