No ownership of the Hogan's Heroes characters is implied or inferred. Copyright belongs to others and no infringement is intended.
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His face covered in streaks of black soot, his dark clothes sodden and clinging to him, Colonel Robert Hogan climbed out of the tunnel and into Barracks Two in the middle of Stalag Luft 13. Registering the relative warmth of the hut compared to the stormy German countryside he had just left behind, he felt a shiver ripple through him as he stepped purposefully toward the small stove in the middle of the common room. He didn't bother pushing the dripping, matted dark hair away from his face as he took the steaming cup immediately offered to him by Corporal Louis Le Beau.
"Thanks," Hogan said shortly, drawing the cup up toward his face and letting the heat thaw his frozen nose and colorless lips. He nodded gratefully toward Andrew Carter when the young Sergeant draped a scratchy prison camp blanket over his shoulders.
"Everything go all right, gov'nor?" Peter Newkirk, RAF Corporal, came up alongside the US Army Air Corps officer, gracefully sidestepping the growing puddle near the Colonel's feet.
"Fine," Hogan said, suddenly feeling even colder despite the small comforts he had been offered. "Everything was going great till the sleet turned into freezing rain. I couldn't even see the tree stump in front of me to get back into the tunnel." Hogan offered a small grimace. "My shin found it for me." He shrugged and took another sip of Le Beau's coffee. "The Underground will pass on the coordinates of that munitions plant tomorrow. Then the Allies will be able to bomb it with no trouble at all."
Another, larger shiver shook Hogan's frame, and the Colonel sneezed. "You had better go get dry, Colonel," Le Beau fussed. "You will get very sick if you do not get out of those wet things."
"Yes, mother," Hogan replied, not unkindly.
"And you'd better get some sleep, too," piped up James Kinchloe; "London says they'll have more for you to do tomorrow… and it's only five hours to roll call."
Hogan looked at his radio man, hoping to find that the tall, sturdy Sergeant, who served as communications officer for the secret intelligence and espionage unit Hogan ran out of this Luftwaffe prison camp, was joking. But Hogan didn't find any trace of humor in the man's dark eyes; only sympathy. And that was something he could live without, at least right now.
"Didn't you know, Kinch," Hogan responded, "that officers are supposed to survive on the praise and glory of their subordinates?" A lopsided, weary smile from the Colonel that was met sympathetically by his men. "Everything okay here?"
"Right as rain, Colonel," Newkirk declared. His overly bright smile, intended to cheer up his commanding officer, fell as he met the baleful stares of Kinch, Carter and Le Beau. "Uh—poor choice of words there, gov'nor—I mean, everything was quiet here."
"Good," Hogan said, ignoring the faux pas. He took another warming drink from his cup, then left it on the stove. "I'm going to bed. See you at roll call."
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"Are we keeping you up, Colonel Hogan?"
Hogan finished the huge yawn he had been unable to suppress when the Kommandant of the prisoner of war camp, Wilhelm Klink, started his usual long-winded speech about the natural superiority of the Third Reich over the rest of the world. He rubbed his face brusquely and looked, bleary-eyed, at the German officer. "Actually, Kommandant, this was a bit of an early start for me. Next time, would you mind moving morning roll call to about ten o'clock? I'd like to freshen up, maybe have a little brunch, before I face the day."
The fourteen men who attended the head counts with Hogan each day broke into exaggerated laughter at their senior officer's wisecrack. It didn't matter that he had made this request before; the fact that Hogan always knew exactly how to fluster Colonel Klink kept them more than a little amused. Hogan reacted to their chuckles as he always did: a simple glance in the direction of the other prisoners, accompanied by an understated smile that shone most brightly in his eyes.
Hogan's attention turned back to Klink as the Luftwaffe Colonel began protesting. "Insolence! If you had turned your lights out when you were ordered to, Colonel Hogan, you would not be so tired in the morning!"
"That's just not possible, Kommandant; we've got a lot of work to do at night—digging tunnels, planning escapes, trying to remember what girls look like—"
More guffaws from the Allied prisoners. More fist-waving from Klink, until finally the Kommandant dismissed the men in disgust, with the promise of watchful German eyes being kept on the prisoners at all times, day or night. Hogan nodded knowingly and turned back toward the barracks.
"Another fine morning for the Kommandant," Newkirk announced with relish as they went back inside. "A lovely touch there, gov'nor. Just enough to stir the old Bald Eagle up for the day."
"Oui. If he did not think we were planning to escape, he might wonder what we are really up to!" agreed Le Beau.
Hogan listened to the banter as the men found their cups for morning coffee. Le Beau was right: a vital part of the success of Hogan's sabotage and espionage operation depended on Klink remaining Kommandant of Stalag 13—and the "No Escapes" record that the camp held was one of the main reasons Klink was still in place. Never mind that men could actually escape and return at will—and often did. What was most important was that the Germans thought Klink was so efficient at keeping his prisoners cowed that they would never think of replacing him with someone who was actually—Heaven forbid—competent.
Newkirk smiled slyly and drew his hand up to lip level. "I'd like to be up to about here with some beautiful girl right about now," he declared.
"A cool blonde, or a flashy brunette?" Kinch asked, his dark eyes shining.
"Mate, it's been so long, I don't even care if she has hair. As long as she's breathing, I'll be satisfied."
"You'd better go back to sleep, then," Hogan said. "The only place you're gonna get a living, breathing woman for awhile is in your dreams. London's promised us more work today—and you can bet that fraternizing is going to have very little to do with it." He shrugged. "I'm going to catch a little more shut-eye. Kinch, wake me up when London calls."
"But Colonel—your breakfast!" protested Le Beau.
"Save it for later, Louis. I'm beat."
Le Beau frowned, but nodded as he watched Hogan disappear into his office. "He is working too hard. It is catching up with him."
"And we have to go out again tonight," Carter added. "That Underground contact said he'd only meet with Papa Bear."
"There's always more work for the Colonel," Kinch said, nodding. "He takes the biggest risks, takes all the responsibility, makes all the plans, faces all the brass, deals with the scariest Krauts head on. Any ordinary man'd get a furlough once in awhile. But here…"
"I wish there was a way he could get some time off," Carter said wistfully. "Hey, why can't we just tell Headquarters that the Colonel needs a break?"
"Where's he supposed to go, Andrew?" Newkirk asked. "It's not like he can just head out for a couple of weeks. The Nazis might notice that."
Le Beau shook his head again as he gathered ingredients for the morning meal. "He needs time to rest."
The bunk above the barracks tunnel opened up and a man popped his head into the room. "Kinch—London's on the line. They want to talk to the Colonel."
Kinch stood up and shook his head. "Thanks, Baker. We're coming." He looked at the others. "No rest for the weary today, I'm afraid. I'd better tell Colonel Hogan he's already in demand."
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"Gee, it sure is quiet out here. I mean it's so quiet you could almost fall asleep. I'm not used to everything being so still, not even at night. I suppose it's the snow. But, you know, snow usually makes some kind of—"
"Carter." The weary voice of the Sergeant's commanding officer stopped the young man from continuing. "Silence is a good thing when you're in the spy business. Try to remember that."
In the darkness, Carter grinned. "Sure, Colonel," he said. "I guess I'm just not used to waiting so long. That contact sure is late."
Hogan finished a long yawn and rubbed his eyes. "They're keeping me up past my bedtime," he agreed. Leaning forward in their cramped hideaway, he ordered, "Look, you head back to camp. If they aren't here in five more minutes, I'll follow you."
Carter's eyes widened in protest. "But Colonel, don't you think you should have someone here to back you up—?"
Hogan listened to the woods around them, then gently pushed Carter toward the clearing. "I don't like it when our friends are late—it always smells too much like Krauts. Get moving. And don't even think about coming back out. Understood?"
Carter took a long look at Hogan's face, hoping for a change of heart. "Okay, Colonel," Carter said doubtfully. He frowned. "If you're sure."
"I'm sure. Get going." Carter nodded, then turned away to go back to camp. "And Carter," Hogan called.
The Sergeant whirled back. "Yeah, Colonel?" he replied, almost too eagerly.
Hogan offered a small smile. "Be safe."
"Right, sir." Carter nodded and disappeared.
Hogan settled in tensely for the wait.
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"Why did you come back, then?" Newkirk asked accusingly.
"Because it was an order!" Carter answered vehemently. "The Colonel said 'Go home—now,' and I went!"
Newkirk shook his head, as though disappointed in a small child. "And you didn't think to backtrack and make sure everything went okay? You left the gov'nor out there with no backup at all?"
Carter stood up from his bunk defensively. "Hey, I did just what the Colonel told me to do, Newkirk—he said he'd follow me if the contact from the Underground didn't show up in five minutes!"
"And what happens when he turns around to come home and there's a Nazi patrol waitin'? Didn't you think we should know if that might delay him just a bit?"
Kinch stood up from the common room table as the situation started to get out of hand. "Okay, wait a minute—wait a minute!" Newkirk's heated expression turned on Kinchloe; the Sergeant met the gaze without wavering. "Cut it out, Newkirk. You know Colonel Hogan expects his orders to be obeyed—whether we like them or not. Carter did the right thing."
Still steaming, Newkirk retorted, "Oh, and so it's okay that Carter's been back for an hour and there's still no sign of the gov'nor? That even if the contact did show up, that Colonel Hogan should have been back by now, and he's nowhere in sight?"
"I'm not saying it's okay," Kinch replied forcefully. "I'm saying that Carter did exactly what the Colonel expected him to do. So lay off him."
Almost expecting the Englishman to blow up at him, Kinch was relieved when instead Newkirk capitulated. "Yeah, you're right, Kinch," he said, deflated. "I'm sorry about that, Andrew," he apologized. "It just doesn't seem right, is all."
Carter shifted his feet and nodded. "That's all right, pal. I wasn't real happy about leaving, either. But Colonel Hogan seemed so sure." He frowned again, deeply. "And now something might have happened to him, and we won't even know what."
"So what do we do?" asked Le Beau, who had chosen not to get his own hot-bloodedness involved before now. "We are standing here talking, while le Colonel is still outside the camp somewhere."
"I say we go back to the rendezvous point and see if we can at least find any clues about what happened," Newkirk suggested.
"I agree," Carter seconded.
Everyone looked at Kinch. Finally the Sergeant sighed and nodded. "Okay; me, too. Carter, can you trace your route back to the meeting place?"
"Then you'd better get going. We've wasted enough time already."
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"Look, that bush is moving!" Carter whispered excitedly, nudging Newkirk and pointing toward a clump of brush nearby.
"So what?" Newkirk answered. "It could be a rabbit."
"Oh, yeah? Well, since when does a rabbit wear boots? I just saw a foot disappear into those bushes, and it wasn't furry or lucky! It's gotta be the Colonel!"
Newkirk considered a moment, then let out the light hoot of a mournful owl. He waited a beat, then repeated it. Shortly after, he heard it repeated back to him, three times. He tapped Carter and nodded, then the two of them made their way to the underbrush, where they found Hogan crouched tensely, pistol drawn and close to his chest.
The Colonel relaxed his shoulders and stood when his men came into view. "What did you think you were doing?—I thought you were a Nazi patrol!" he whispered.
"Just coming to fetch you, gov'nor," Newkirk replied; "you're running late tonight."
Hogan let out an exasperated breath. "I'm late because our contact was delayed by a patrol, and on the way back, I was, too. You two coming out only adds to the trouble. Let's go," he ordered crossly.
Newkirk and Carter accepted the Colonel's annoyance and quickly headed out in the direction of camp. Twice Carter turned around to try and offer an apologetic smile to the Colonel; both times, he found that impossible, as Hogan was lagging behind. Carter trotted to catch up to Newkirk and nudged him, gesturing back toward their commanding officer.
Newkirk glanced back and shook his head. "'e's tired," the Englishman observed in a low voice. "I reckon he didn't need any black paint on his face tonight—the dark circles under his eyes run all the way down 'is cheeks."
"Yeah; London sure has been running him ragged."
"Let's make it a little easier for him to stay in the lead." Newkirk stopped walking and waited for what seemed like too long for Hogan to catch up. Finally, nodding acknowledgement, Hogan came up beside them. "We're nearly there, gov'nor," the Corporal said; "why don't you take point, and Carter and I will keep watch behind?"
"Okay," was all Hogan said. Then he moved on ahead.
Carter and Newkirk found it difficult not to overtake the Colonel, whose pace was painfully slow. "D'you think he's been clipped and he just isn't telling us?" Carter asked, as Newkirk once again held him back.
"No, mate," Newkirk answered; "I think he's just dead beat. We're gonna have to get him a furlough."
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"We got that information off to London, Colonel," Kinch said. He waited for an answer from Hogan, who was sitting facing his desk, the single small lamp on it casting a faint aura around the officer. Hogan didn't stir. "Colonel?"
Another ten seconds of silence. Kinch hesitated. What to say? Hogan hadn't moved an inch. Had the Colonel even heard him? He prepared himself to try again, but he didn't get a chance.
"They shouldn't have gone back out tonight."
Kinch let out a breath of relief. True, what the Colonel finally said did not bode well for the coming conversation, but at least the Sergeant didn't have to try and draw him out. He waited a moment, hoping his commanding officer would look at him.
He didn't. "I ordered Carter to stay in camp."
Kinch straightened—at least this he could answer confidently. "I asked Carter to retrace his steps, sir. He'd been back for over an hour, and we wanted to make sure everything was okay."
"If everything was okay, I'd have already been back, wouldn't I?" Hogan snapped, finally turning around and fixing Kinch with a hard stare. "All going out did was put them in the same danger I was in. And that's what I was trying to avoid by ordering Carter to stay put."
Kinch blinked back at Hogan, genuinely surprised by the man's visible anger. It was rare for Hogan to express his negative emotions so forcefully. He looked down at the floor and spoke softly. "The men were worried about you, sir."
The men. Not "We"? Hogan took in and let out a heavy breath. You've just alienated a true friend. Idiot. He slid off the stool and approached Kinch. "Look, I know they were, and—" A gesture of helplessness with outstretched palms—"and I'm sorry." Hogan shook his head and sighed. "The thing is, they shouldn't have had to worry about me in the first place. I was just slow coming back. I've been slow doing a lot of things lately," he said. He glanced fleetingly at his bunk. He knew Kinch wouldn't make him feel small if he looked him in the eye, but he still couldn't manage it.
"Slow, Colonel?" Kinch prodded gently. Tread carefully, Kinchloe, or he'll clam right up.
"Yeah, Kinch. Slow. I'm slowing down, I'm getting old, I'm wearing out." Hogan headed for his window, slid open the shutters just enough to look outside into the compound; not enough for the guards to notice. "I wasn't late coming back tonight just because of the extra patrols; I was late because once I knew I was clear of them, I was just too bone-tired to move much faster than an old man." Another stare at nothing in the dim light. "When I realized that Newkirk and Carter had come out looking for me, I thought, 'There you go, Hogan—you can't even go out on your own any more.' And that's what I was angry at," he admitted quietly. "Not that they cared enough to go out."
Kinch let a silence grow between them as he absorbed Hogan's confession. There wasn't one of them that hadn't noticed the growing fatigue of their commanding officer as he raced from one crisis to another in the past few weeks. But there wasn't one of them who hadn't thought Hogan was coping with it, as he coped with everything else. Kinch shook his head. Everything else. They'd all missed it—all of them. Because it made them feel better to think Hogan never felt what they did: fear, uncertainty—and exhaustion. "Never allowed to be human," he muttered softly.
Hogan furrowed his brow. "What's that?"
Kinch shook his head. "I was just thinking, sir. It seems you have an awful lot to deal with, and not a lot of time to breathe in between. A man's bound to get weary."
"A luxury we can't afford at the moment, Kinch," Hogan said. He closed the shutter and sat down on the lower bunk. "There are big bad Nazis out there making things awfully difficult for our boys. None of them seem to take the time to 'breathe.' Whoever runs this operation can't, either."
"We're all just men, Colonel. Not superhuman."
"So the Germans keep telling us… over and over again." Hogan lay back on the thin mattress and laced his hands behind his head. "One week's worth of good sleep, and I'd bet I could get through this war," Hogan declared almost lightly.
Kinch knew better than to believe the tone. "Well, for now, there's not much to do but take it easy," he said, slipping back into a manner he knew Hogan would be able to accept. "London says thanks for the information and they'll get back to us some time tomorrow." He shrugged. "Sounds like a good time to catch up on forty or eighty winks or so."
"I couldn't agree more, Kinch," Hogan replied. He let out a long sigh. "Don't let Louis wake me up if I sleep through lunch."
"What about Klink and noon roll call?"
Hogan shot him a wry look. "Tell him I have a Do Not Disturb order out till 1945." He slipped into a small smile.
The mask is back, Kinch thought with a twinge of sympathy. "Yes, sir." Never allowed to be human…
Hogan shrugged resignedly. "Get me up when it's time. Or London calls. Or the Allies come storming through the front gate. Whatever."
"Right, sir." Kinch smiled softly and went to the door, then turned back to his commander. "Oh, and Colonel…"
"I was worried, too."
A small nod, and a sense of overwhelming relief. "Thanks."