Disclaimer: These characters are not mine, and I make no claim to them. I am also not making any money from this story or any other that I've written. (Darn the luck! I guess it's back to work as a government paper-monkey for me.)
Down in his lab, Andrew Carter hesitated and asked himself why he was doing this. Telling himself that it was a stupid idea, for a few minutes he did nothing but sit there on his stool, slowly twirling a pen in one hand. "How'd I even come up with this? It's not like he's…"
Suddenly he didn't want to think about why it was dumb. He just knew that he had to do it.
March 9, 194-
I hope you know why I'm writing you this letter, because I sure don't. It's not like I can mail it after all. But I guess it's because there's no one else to talk to right now. Everyone around here is feeling guilty and taking it out on one another AND I HATE IT!
Sorry Dad, but I do. I hate this whole situation. I mean, I'm trying to look on the bright side, and to not let it get me down, but it's hard. Especially when no one wants to do the same, and they get mad at you for trying. Cause Dad, it's times like this when I can't forget that this is a prison: no matter what tricks we play, we can't get around the fact that the Germans still have us locked up like animals.
Anyway Dad, I'm going to keep this letter down here, so that I can tell you the whole story. If the Germans ever do find it, well then, it means that they'll have found this place, and so by that point I'll already be in as much trouble as I could possibly be in. See, we do things here - things the Germans don't know about. Well, a few do, like our contacts, but you know what I mean. Anyway, that's what Colonel Hogan was doing last night when all this started. Maybe I better not say what, or who with, because even if the Germans found us, it doesn't mean they have to find everybody.
He went back and erased the last three lines. It would probably be best if the Germans didn't think they had any outside contacts at all, or at least not many. He wasn't foolish enough to think that they wouldn't be suspicious, that they wouldn't try hurting people to get information even without physical evidence, but on paper it seemed more like a betrayal than he had thought it would.
Boy Dad, I tell you, this whole spy business messes with your thinking after awhile. I suppose the Colonel would be happy to know that it's FINALLY beginning to sink in, but I don't like it much to be honest. It's a real pain always having to think about every little word. And Mom always did say too many secrets and lies twists a person up inside. I know it's important, at least for right now, but I don't think it's ever going to come naturally to me either. The guys are always giving me grief for not watching what I say before I open my mouth, but I ALWAYS forget. But anyhow, the Colonel was gone last night and we got into some trouble cause he wasn't here.
At first, everything was pretty ordinary - some of the guys and I were playing poker and I remember Newkirk asking me if I wanted any cards.
"I'm thinking!" I said.
"Oh Blimey Carter, you should've told me. I'd have looked for a book to read during the wait." (Actually, it was more like "I'd 'ave looked for a book" cause that's how his accent sounds - he drops the 'h' on a lot of words - but I'm not going to write my whole letter like that.)
"Stop kidding around." The guys are always teasing me. I'm pretty resigned to it mostly, but it does get a bit old. "Give me three."
"Here you are poker face," he said.
"Aw heck, I fold."
Newkirk rolled his eyes at me. "Carter, how many times do I have to tell you - " he started to say when Lebeau groaned from my bunk.
"Oh, let him fold Newkirk. It is supposed to be after lights-out and I am sick of listening to all of you."
"So what are we supposed to do the rest of the evening? Bleeding meditate like some swami?" (Newkirk says bleeding this and bleeding that a lot - it's some kind of British cuss word I guess.)
"Jeez, have a heart Newkirk," I told him, then I looked over at Louie. "You still feeling lousy Lebeau?" I asked him. He just grumbled like a sour puss.
Kinch smiled and said, "I think we can take that as a yes." He put his cards down and went over and put his hand on Lebeau's forehead. Lebeau tried to swat it away like it was a fly that was annoying him.
"You're a little warm, but not too bad," Kinch told him.
"Oh merci, monsieur docteur," Lebeau said sarcastically, but his heart wasn't in it. I wondered if French people really say Mr. Doctor (that's what it translates out to) or if he was just teasing us again about how badly we speak French. I asked Lebeau if he wanted me to get him anything, like a glass of water or something. He didn't answer but I figured I'd get him one anyway.
"Look, are we going to play or what?" Newkirk asked.
"Or what," Kinch said, nodding to me when I passed him the water. "I think Lebeau would appreciate a quiet night."
"Fine," Newkirk agreed, but he didn't sound too happy about it.
"You can use my bunk tonight if you want to, Lebeau. Save you climbing up and down when you're not feeling good," I offered.
"Merci Carter. I think I will take you up on that."
I caught Newkirk staring at the bag of chocolate macaroons I'd been betting with. "Just do me a favour and keep these away from Newkirk, okay?" I said. I put them in my footlocker and shot Peter a suspicious look, so he'd know that I was watching him. But he just smiled like he wasn't scared of me at all.
(Someday, when I know the Colonel won't need him to go out on a mission, I'm going to fix his soap so his skin turns green!!)
When Lebeau didn't say anything Kinch looked him over again. "Do you want me to get Wilson over here?" he asked.
"Non, non. It is nothing. It is just a stomachache," Lebeau said. I stopped worrying then. It couldn't be too bad, I thought - usually Lebeau is a big baby when it comes to being sick.
Since the poker game was over, Olsen jumped up on his bunk. "You know what it is Lebeau," he said, "It's the Colonel giving you the week off from cooking." (Lebeau had been going all out lately, cooking up a storm for every high-ranking Kraut old Klink has dragged in here so he can get a promotion. We got information from one, and for the rest the Colonel wrangled us a bunch of special privileges.) Olsen went on, "For us, good cooking is a treat. We're not used to it, so we can survive going back onto Kraut food. But you? It's gonna kill you."
Lebeau smiled. "I could not agree more Olsen. If I am well tomorrow I'm going to make the best chauteau briand I have ever created - "
I said, "Wow!" Lebeau's regular chauteau briand is already fantastic.
But then he said, "And eat it all myself!"
"Well, that's gratitude for you." Gee, let a guy switch beds with you out of pure goodness of your heart and what does it get you?
"Perhaps, when I am done, if I feel like bothering, I will make something for you," Lebeau said to us, acting real snooty, like he was doing us all a great favour.
"Oh, I'll have to mark tomorrow in my diary!" Newkirk said, pretending to swoon with anticipation. "The great chef is going to come down from his ivory kitchen and cook for us common masses."
"Actually Newkirk, I was only talking to Carter."
"That's just charming Lebeau. It really is. Here I am, giving up my chance to win - "
But that's when I saw a light coming through the crack under the window sill. I jumped down from Lebeau's bunk. "Hey, I think there's someone driving into the compound." Kinch immediately pulled up the faucets that worked the outside periscope in the water barrel. All of us gathered around and even Lebeau rose up on his elbow to watch.
"So who is it mate?"
"Yeah, c'mon Kinch, what's going on?" I asked.
"Calm down will you? I'm trying to see." We all shut up and waited for Kinch to say something. "Damnit!" he swore a second later. "It's Hochstettor."
"What's he doing here? He's the last bloody person we need hanging about tonight with the Colonel gone."
"You don't think he's going to call a surprise roll call, do you?" I didn't know what we were going to do if he did that.
"I don't know," Kinch said. "The guards are pulling someone else out of the car. He's wearing handcuffs. Looks like he's Hochstettor's prisoner."
"One of ours? What's Hochstettor doing bringing in a POW?" Newkirk asked.
"It might not be one of ours - it looks like he's wearing civilian clothes. Maybe it's someone the Gestapo has been investigating."
"Like a member of the underground?" I asked.
"Maybe he's a German traitor," Newkirk suggested, trying to cheer us up. "It's well known that your average Kraut has a back-stabbing and cowardly nature. It's one of the things I love best about 'em."
"Well, we'll know in a minute," Kinch said. "They've finally woken old Blood and Guts up and they're going into his office. We'll listen in on the coffeepot." (It's got a microphone in it Dad, so that we can hear what's going on whenever Klink's in his office.)
Anyway, old Klink tried to play it tough at first. He started off with, "Major Hochstettor, what is the meaning of this intrusion? This is the toughest prisoner of war camp in all of Germany and you cannot expect me to maintain order when - "
But Hochstettor never lets him talk long when he's - well actually, he never lets him talk long at all, but especially when he's trying to come off like he's in charge. "I have never expected you to maintain anything Herr Kommandant," he said, only when he says it always comes out as a sneer. "But I am on important business for the Gestapo and if you interfere you'll be maintaining order in a prisoner of war camp in Stalingrad. Preferably one of the enemy's."
Well, whenever Major Hochstettor or General Burkhalter (or anybody really) threatens to send the Kommandant to the Russian front, he crumbles quicker than a dried up old cookie. Suddenly it was all, "Oh yes Major Hochstettor, you know I will do whatever I can to help the Gestapo. I will bring all of my powers of efficiency to bear on your problem. I - "
"Stop Klink! Hearing that from you is the only time when I have my doubts about our achieving the thousand year Reich."
We all sighed. "I knew he was going to say something like that," I complained.
"And that bloody Klink!" Newkirk said. "Do you think he remembers to check over his shoulder before he makes a turn-around like that?"
I was about to say something else, but then Kinch glared at us because Hochstettor was still talking.
"Luckily for Germany Klink, this time I need nothing but accommodation. I have a prisoner that will be placed in your cooler and I have brought my own men to guard him, in order to spare your best men from any chance of behaving like they normally do and forgetting to lock the cell. As for myself, I will take your quarters, Klink."
"My quarters Major?" I tell you Dad, his voice actually squeaked, it went so high!
"Are you going deaf Klink?"
"But Major, I have guest quarters - "
"My driver will make do with those - I need him rested for the trip tomorrow. I plan to make no stops. Now, call for that bloated bell-hop that you call a head guard, and have him take my bag to your rooms."
"Yes Major Hochstettor," Klink said, and it was hard to keep from laughing at how miserable he sounded. You could practically see the look on his face.
"I will also need to commandeer your staff car tomorrow for my trip to Berlin."
"My staff car?"
"More hearing problems Kommandant? Perhaps a strong, cold wind blowing through your ears might clear the them out. It certainly wouldn't meet any other resistance on the way through."
"But what will I use Major?"
"That is of no concern to me Klink. I must get my prisoner to Berlin and my car is having mechanical difficulties. We were lucky to make it here."
"Yes, yes. Very lucky," Klink said.
Newkirk laughed, "The stupid old sod sounds like it would've been luckier to step in front of a firing squad!" I said that that couldn't really be true, because otherwise he would've told off Hochstettor and taken his chances. Newkirk rolled his eyes at me again and told me to stop being so "bloody literal." Then Kinch ordered us both to shut up, but all we were missing was Klink trying to suck up and get his car back at the same time. The way Hochstettor ignored the Kommandant you would've thought he hadn't even heard him.
"I'm so happy you understand the importance of the situation Klink. Now I'll…" Then he broke off like he was just remembering something. "Klink - where is Hogan?"
I said, "Uh oh," but the others shushed me.
"What do you mean Major?" Klink asked.
"I mean Klink, that every time I come here, Hogan is here - in your office. Not once have I been here when Hogan wasn't loitering nearby, opening his mouth and getting in the way. He is suspiciously absent tonight. Why is that?"
"It's after lights out Major. Hogan is in his barracks. Where else could he be? After all, we have never had a successful escape from Stalag - "
"Never mind Klink!" You could tell Hochstettor regretted the whole question. "As hard as I find it to believe that no one has ever tried to escape from your constant, tedious boasting, for once I am grateful to your efficiently run camp if it has spared me Hogan's presence. I want nothing to interfere with my mission."
"Hey, maybe that means he won't come looking for the Colonel!"
"We get that Carter," Newkirk said.
"I'm just saying!"
"Well stop," Kinch ordered. "Both of you," he added, before Newkirk could gloat.
But the important part was over. We could hear Klink's voice trailing off as he followed Hochstettor out. Then, a few seconds later, we could hear him hollering for Schultz in the compound.
"So, now that Hochstettor has Klink sorted, what do you think it means for us?" Newkirk asked Kinch as he switched off the coffeepot.
"Well, I think we may have got lucky. Sounds like Hochstettor is too intent on this prisoner of his to want to risk having the Colonel around - which means he's probably not going to intentionally come looking for him."
"Sure," I said, "And even if usually he would love the chance to find the Colonel gone, he won't have a roll call tonight cause he's not going to want to risk finding out he's nowhere around, cause then he'd have to delay whatever it is he's doing to go chase after him."
Newkirk looked at me like he needed a second to untangle what I said in his head. (Personally, I thought I made perfect sense!) "I don't think Hochstettor would ever mind that, you idiot," he finally said.
"Look, hopefully Carter's right, but I think someone should stay up and keep watch," Kinch said.
"What good will that do?"
"I don't know Carter. It'll give us a few seconds warning maybe, but mostly I just want to watch for anything unusual. And I want to see if we can find out anything about Hochstettor's prisoner." Kinch sounded tired. The Colonel and the rest of us had been in and out of camp a lot recently and I think the waiting gets to him. I volunteered to take the first watch to show him that I hadn't been trying to make trouble for him or anything.
"Thanks Carter. Newkirk, I want you to go through the tunnels and see if you can talk to Hochstettor's prisoner. Be quiet about it though. Remember he's got Gestapo men watching him, not our guys. Besides, we don't know who this is. It could be a trap."
"Why do you think that?" I asked him.
"It's just a feeling I've got - like we're headed for disaster."
"Blimey mate, I hope you're not getting as psychic as the gov'ner." (I think Newkirk means governor - it's something he calls the Colonel sometimes. And he's right about the Colonel - sometimes I swear that he really can tell the future!)
Kinch laughed. "Me too. Get going Newkirk. I'm going to radio the underground and see if they've got any information on this guy."
Lebeau hadn't said a single thing the entire time we were in the Colonel's office, but now he said, "I can take a watch Kinch."
Kinch patted him on the back. "Look Lebeau, we're probably watching for nothing. I've got no real reason to believe anything is going to happen - I just want to be on the safe side. So why don't you take it easy tonight? We can handle the situation."
"But what about Colonel Hogan? He is not back yet."
"It's still early yet, Lebeau. He's probably just leaving the rendezvous point now."
"But he could be in trouble. Or maybe there will be trouble here and you will need me."
"So why not rest up till then? Carter can holler if something happens."
"Yeah, go on mate. I want some of the chauteau briand tomorrow and how can I pinch some from Carter if you're not up to making if for him?" Lebeau didn't answer, and he seemed awfully tired, but he still he looked at all of us like he was going to argue.
"Sure Lebeau, we can handle it," I told him as we all went back into the main quarters. "What's the big deal anyway? Like Kinch said, nothing's really happened yet, and probably nothing will." Well, you know me, I can be wrong about just about anything! Lebeau had nearly made it to my bunk when all of a sudden he winced and grabbed onto a bunk frame.
Kinch rushed to him. "Lebeau, what is it?" Louie had gone real white and looked like he was in a cold sweat. I got worried he might faint. He tried to answer Kinch, but then he gritted his teeth as whatever was hurting him seemed to hit him again.
I went to help him over to my bunk. "C'mon Lebeau, come sit down." He only took about two steps though, and then he sort of doubled over, groaning and clutching his stomach. Kinch practically had to carry him over.
"Where's it hurting, Lebeau?" he asked.
"My side," Lebeau managed to say, then he started breathing funny, sort of shallow, like he was trying not to be sick. Kinch realized it too and yelled at me to grab the ash pail. We managed to get it in front of Lebeau just in time. Everybody was up and crowding around by that point, but that got them to move back before Kinch had to tell them to. Instead, he ordered Newkirk to go through the tunnels to get Wilson.
I went to the sink - I figured Kinch could use a couple of wet rags, either to clean Lebeau up or to keep him from passing out. I asked Kinch why Newkirk had to go through the tunnel for Wilson; why couldn't we just get Schultz to go get him?
"Think Carter - the Colonel's not here. Even if Schultz doesn't notice, what do you think Klink and Hochstettor's first question is going to be?"
"Why isn't Colonel Hogan asking for the medic?" I guessed.
"Right. Quickly followed up by 'Where is Colonel Hogan?' "
Lebeau straightened up and then leaned back against the wall. "Feeling a bit better Lebeau?" Kinch asked him. Lebeau was shaking, but he nodded and his breathing sounded a little more steady. Kinch took one rag and helped him wipe his mouth, then took the other and made him lie down and put it on his forehead.
"I will be alright," Lebeau said hoarsely. "You shouldn't have risked sending Newkirk for Wilson. It is nothing but eating German food, like Olsen said."
"Yeah, well, we'll see what Wilson says. It's probably nothing but stomach flu, but better to be safe than sorry."
"But you are putting everyone in danger! You just said so."
"No, I said getting Schultz to get Wilson would raise a few awkward questions. Getting Wilson to come through the tunnel is fine - so stop worrying." Kinch kept trying to calm him, but I don't know if it was because he was sick or if maybe he was getting as psychic too, but he couldn't stop fretting.
"What if a guard checks Barrack 7 and finds Wilson gone?"
"Lebeau, for Pete's sake! Just lie still, will you? It's going to be alright," Kinch said, just as we heard the bunk go up and Wilson came out of the tunnel, followed by Newkirk.
Wilson started off with his whole typical doctor routine: saying "So Lebeau, I hear you're not feeling well," and then listening to his chest and taking his blood pressure and that kind of thing. It was all normal stuff; he asked Lebeau how long he'd felt sick, if he'd been eating okay, how he felt right now. Not only did Lebeau quiet down, but I think the rest of us were starting to relax as well. I was anyway.
Then Wilson asked Lebeau about the pains in his stomach. He said it hadn't been bad till just ten minutes ago; that before it had been more like a belly ache or indigestion. Now though, he said it was sharper.
"Is it all over, or is it in one area?" Wilson asked.
"Before it was all over. Now it is around here," Lebeau said, and it looked like he was pointing to his right side.
"Do me a favour Lebeau - try coughing."
Lebeau did, then suddenly hunched up and hissed as the pain hit him again.
"The same thing as before?" Wilson asked and Lebeau nodded. "Okay, where did it hurt you? The same place?" Lebeau said yes, and I noticed some of the guys starting to look more concerned.
"Alright now, I'm going to have to feel your stomach Lebeau. It might hurt a bit, but it's necessary. What I want you to do first is, when I press on you here, I want you to extend your knees and flex your thighs against the resistance. Okay, now does that hurt?"
"Yes!" Lebeau shouted, and boy, you should have seen the glare he gave Wilson!
Then Wilson touched him on his left side. I nearly said something about how that was the wrong area, but Kinch slapped me on the arm and gave me a look that told me to keep quiet. After Wilson stopped, he asked Lebeau which side hurt more.
"It is still the right side," Lebeau said, and he was sweating again. I didn't get why the pain would be on the opposite side from the one Wilson was touching, but Wilson told me later it's because of something called Rovsing's sign.
"Are you going to be sick Lebeau?" Wilson asked. Lebeau shook his head. "Then I'm just going to do just one more test, then I'm going to take your temperature. All right?"
Lebeau looked pretty miserable, but he agreed, so Wilson pressed down on Lebeau's belly - harder than before - which made Lebeau cry out and got Wilson a whole string of French curses for his trouble, but it was when he took his hand off that Lebeau really shouted.
Some of the guys looked really worried now. I was getting anxious because I didn't know what was going on. Wilson helped Lebeau to relax and took his temperature, then told Lebeau that he was going to start him on antibiotics. Lebeau nodded, since he couldn't talk with the thermometer in his mouth, and his face was scrunched up like he was still hurting. Maybe that's why he didn't notice that Wilson didn't tell him what was wrong. But Kinch did. He pulled Wilson over towards the Colonel's quarters and told him to spill it.
"You've got a problem on your hands Kinch."
"I'm pretty sure, yeah. There'd be other tests they'd do at the hospital, like a white blood cell count and a urinalysis, maybe an abdominal x-ray, but he's showing all of the symptoms and that's probably what it is."
"Probably? You can't be positive?"
"Appendicitis is tricky. It can mimic a lot of other things."
Kinch lowered his voice; he was practically whispering. "How serious is it? Is there anything you can do for him here?"
"Well, I'm going to start him on antibiotics. That might slow things down some. The thing is, appendicitis in itself isn't that bad, the real danger is the risk of perforation. If the appendix ruptures it can lead to a periappendiceal abscess, blockage of the intestine, peritonitis, even sepsis. All of which are critical."
"Can those things kill someone?" I asked, and it was like I couldn't swallow. I thought Lebeau just had the stomach flu, and now Wilson was talking about this!
"I'm afraid so Carter," he told me, then turned to Kinch, "I don't know how bad Lebeau is yet, but the best thing you could do is get him to a hospital right away."
Kinch looked over at Lebeau and I'd never seen his face so serious. "There's a problem with that Wilson - the Colonel isn't here and Hochstettor is in camp. And you know that if I go asking for help what'll happen next."