Disclaimer: I own the Dear Little Frenchman!! Yeah, I wish. Schultz owns more than I do.
No Greater Love
Colonel Hogan paced the barracks. He checked his watch for the third time in five minutes.
"Newkirk, Carter and LeBeau should have been back hours ago. Where are they?"
"I'm sure they're fine, Colonel," Kinch said. "They'll be back before evening roll call."
"That's the time I instructed Carter to set on those charges. We'd all be back in camp, free of suspicion." Hogan ran a hand through his hair. "I should have gone out with them."
"And with the Gestapo coming into camp..."
"That's another thing. Hochstetter found out about the sabotage plans for tonight. Someone in the underground must have been caught. If the boys are still missing when the bridge goes, they and everyone connected to our operation will wind up in front of a firing squad. And if Hochstetter captures them, they'll be shot as spies for wearing Luftwaffe uniforms!"
"I could probably find them, Colonel," Olsen volunteered. "I know the woods just as well, if not better than they do. I could get out through emergency tunnel, or go through the dog tunnel and make a break for the fence."
Hogan shook his head. "No, too risky. Not with the Gestapo coming in. We'll wait for roll call."
"And if they're not back by then?" Kinch asked.
"We'll cover for 'em. Then, one or two of us will slip out and try to figure out what happened."
"What about the bridge?" Baker asked from his perch on LeBeau's bed.
"If it still goes, that's one more mission completed, but it may be our last. Let's just hope that if the boys aren't back, we don't hear anything. If we do, Kinch and I will go out and look for the boys. Baker, you stand by at the radio and be prepared for instructions to evacuate the camp."
"Right, Colonel," the sergeant responded.
Just then the door to the barracks opened, revealing Schultz, the heavyset sergeant of the guard.
"Alright, everybody! Rrroll call! Everybody raus, raus, raus, raus!"
Men protested and teased Schultz as they shuffled out the door. Kinch and Olsen glanced at their commanding officer, but Hogan remained silent, choosing to play by ear.
Upon stepping outside, Hogan noticed the guard dogs gathered at the corner of their kennel. They seemed upset about something. The alpha female, Heidi, was watching the woods intently, as if she knew there were three men missing; as if she understood the urgency of the situation.
Schultz walked down the line of prisoners, pointing a finger at each as he counted in German. He stopped abruptly when he reached twelve.
"Colonel Hogan, there are three men missing."
Hogan looked around with feigned innocence. "How 'bout that, Schultz?"
"Colonel Hogan, no monkey business, please!" the sergeant whined.
Hogan opened his mouth to say something when he was cut off by the camp commandant's shout.
Schultz snapped to attention and saluted as Colonel Klink approached.
"Herr Kommandant, I beg to report that three men are missing!"
"What?!" Klink demanded. Schultz tried to stammer out a reply, but Klink ignored him and glared at Hogan.
"Hogan, what do you know about this?"
Hogan shrugged. "They have been missing since your patrols left this afternoon," he said. "I recall them discussing an escape plan last night. Knowing the futility of trying to escape from the iron colonel of Stalag 13, I tried to convince them to call it off. They said they would, but it seems they were simply trying to get me off their backs. My guess is they've gone out with the patrol in Luftwaffe uniforms they made from blankets. They're probably halfway to England by now."
"No one escapes Stalag 13!" Klink reminded him, shaking his riding crop furiously. "You expect me to believe that three men walked right out of this camp disguised as soldiers of the Third Reich?"
"LeBeau and Newkirk are skilled tailors, sir," Hogan said, wanting to appear as if he'd spoken absentmindedly.
"Aha! The Englishman and that little cockroach! I should have known!"
Hogan pretended to wince. "Shot my mouth off again. Colonel, you're just too tricky for me."
"I know you, Hogan," Klink said. "Schultz, who's the third man?"
"Herr Kommandant, it is Sergeant Carter," Schultz responded, trying desperately to stay on the colonel's good side.
"Sound the alarm!" Klink cried. "Release the dogs! We'll find those men!"
"Jawol, herr Kommandant!" Schultz said with a salute. He then turned to repeat the instructions.
The alarm bell rang out. The dogs were released from their kennel into the surrounding woods. Heidi led the pack of five German shepherds. Hogan watched the animals run, not too particularly worried about them. LeBeau and Olsen had worked hard befriending the dogs, and the alpha female was a particular favorite of the prisoners. Especially Hogan.
Not five minutes after the Luftwaffe patrols had gone out, two Gestapo vehicles rolled into camp. Major Hochstetter got out of a black car and walked up to Klink. The latter saluted the Gestapo agent.
"Having some trouble with your prisoners, Kommandant?" Hochstetter said, dripping as much sarcasm on the word "Kommandant" as he could muster.
"Major Hochstetter, I assure you, I have everything under control," Klink responded. "Those three men will not ruin my perfect record!"
Hochstetter raised his eyebrows at the man. "Oh? We shall see about that! We have recently received information that the underground is planning some act of sabotage tonight, and I thought I would check in to see that your prisoners were not involved." He glared icily at Hogan, who remained expressionless.
"My prisoners? Oh, that's ridiculous! We've never had an escape from Stalag 13."
"Und I suppose your dogs are simply our for exercise, Klink?" Hochstetter pressed.
Klink shrank back, unable to respond to this assertion.
Hogan glanced at Kinch, the look in his eyes urging the radioman to stand by. He then approached the Gestapo agent.
"Excuse me, major, but I couldn't help overhearing. You say the underground is planning some kind of sabotage?"
"Ja, they are," Hochstetter replied. "We recently captured an underground agent, who told us about some sort of sabotage plan. He did not know what form it would take, but he did tell us it was to happen sometime tonight. What do you know of this, Hogan?"
"I know it can be dangerous! What should happen if my men are caught in the area when it happens? They could get hurt! Their only job is to get to England, not get blown up or bombed, or whatever the underground has planned. You will help us get them back before they get hurt, won't you, Major?" Hogan gave Hochstetter his best puppy dog eyes look.
Hochstetter scoffed. "We shall see, Colonel." He then turned and called to the driver of the van that had followed him. "Release the dogs! You will see, Hogan. We will recapture your men. I will surround this camp with a ring of steel..."
As Hochstetter went on his tirade about rings of steel, the van doors opened and out jumped six fierce Belgian shepherds, straining at their leashes. The corporal restraining them was glad to let them loose. The animals bolted for the woods.
Hogan mentally berated himself. He hadn't counted on the dogs. With Newkirk, Carter and LeBeau in Luftwaffe uniforms, if the Gestapo found them, they could be shot. If they were anywhere in the area, those dogs would find them long before Heidi's pack did. Hogan prayed the guys were nowhere near Stalag 13.
The German shepherd pack had spread out. Heidi lagged behind her packmates, sniffing around as if she were looking for clues. She saw that her handler was standing by the treeline, letting her search. Heidi took the opportunity to slip out of scent range. She hadn't gone far when she heard the barking and snarling of unfamiliar dogs. Turning to survey the situation, she saw a Belgian shepherd pass by, just upwind of her position. Heidi turned and headed for the tunnel entrance to see if any of these strange dogs had discovered her two-legged friends' special tree stump.
They had. Three dogs were sniffing anxiously at the stump. Heidi crouched low in the brush and crept around behind the other dogs until she was downwind of them. It was then that she heard a familiar, urgent whisper.
Heidi turned and saw a man in Luftwaffe uniform. She flattened her ears, but when she caught the man's scent, she quickly and quietly shuffled over to him, greeting him with a lick to the face.
"There's a good girl," LeBeau said as he let his canine friend warm his cold face. Heidi looked past him to see Newkirk and Carter, also dressed in guards' uniforms. Newkirk had a pistol in one hand and was surveying the scene down at the fence.
"Look at all that ruddy Gestapo," he muttered. "We'll be stuck out 'ere all night."
"Yeah, and with those dogs guarding the tunnel entrance..." Carter added. "Hey, if we're still in these uniforms by morning, what do you suppose we'll get for breakfast? Luftwaffles?" He flashed a grin at his companions, hoping to ease the tension.
LeBeau stifled a groan. Newkirk rolled his eyes. "We'll all be eatin' lead, mate, that's what. But I have half a mind to give you a knuckle sandwich right now!"
"I think we should ditch the guns and give ourselves up," LeBeau suggested. "Colonel Hogan can cover for us."
Newkirk nodded. "Not the greatest idea in the world, but the only one we've got right now."
"The important thing is that we're in camp when that bridge goes," Carter said. "I'm glad we decided to set the timer for morning roll call. Especially after all the problems we had just getting into town! Why, I was getting really annoyed with that officer who..."
"Carter!" Newkirk interrupted.
"Quiet, mes amis," LeBeau reminded them. "Le boche have dogs guarding our tunnel, remember?" He nodded toward the still preoccupied Belgian shepherds.
Heidi glanced back at the strange dogs. She turned and looked to LeBeau for her cue.
"Heidi will cover our run for the wire, won't you girl?"
As soon as the words left LeBeau's mouth, Heidi turned tail and broke into a run. As she passed the other dogs, she let out a howl. Both Luftwaffe and Gestapo guards came running, clearing a path for the Allied prisoners to make a break for the wire.
After a few moments, Heidi sensed that her pursuers had lost her. She turned back to round up the other members of her pack. As she did, she noticed something was terribly wrong.
The Gestapo dogs hadn't followed her. They were after her friends! Heidi could hear the barking and snarling as the Belgian shepherds pursued their prey. The alpha female kicked into high gear, her legs carrying her as fast as they could back to her friends.
As they sprinted, the men could hear the Gestapo dogs behind them. Heidi hadn't been enough to distract them from their retreat. Carter chanced a glance behind him. Not a moment later he found himself flat on his back, the glistening, snapping teeth of a Belgian shepherd not two inches from his face.
Another dog lunged at Newkirk, grabbing him by the sleeve of his coat and quickly bringing him to the ground. LeBeau leaped at a tree and scrambled to climb it. He hadn't gotten beyond the second branch when he felt jaws closing around his ankle, cutting into the flesh. He yelped as he was pulled to the ground and dragged over near Carter.
Newkirk had his face buried in the leaves that littered the forest floor. One wrong move and the dog that had him pinned would tattoo a nice set of teeth marks on his neck. Carter and LeBeau also remained motionless, staring fearfully into the faces of their furry captors.
Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, LeBeau saw a flash of tan and black. There was a yelp from a dog, followed by a gasp as Newkirk rolled over and sat up. The other two dogs released their prey and ran to attack the intruder. The fur flew, and the noise attracted the other dogs. It wasn't long before all six of the Belgian shepherds had joined in, followed by the remainder of the Luftwaffe pack.
The Gestapo and Luftwaffe guards soon arrived on the scene, followed closely by Hochstetter, Klink, Schultz, and Hogan.
"Break this up!" Hochstetter shouted. "My dogs will be hurt!"
A gun fired in the air. The dogs became still. The Belgian shepherds obediently returned to their handler.
Newkirk threw his hands up. "Alright, we surrender! You don't 'ave to get every bloody dog in the country out after us!"
"Oui, we should have known we could never escape from Stalag 13," LeBeau added. "Not even disguised as soldiers."
Klink puffed up like a peacock.
"Quiet!" Hochstetter commanded. "Take these prisoners to the cooler until I am ready to interrogate them!"
"Major Hochstetter, may I remind you that I am the commandant of this camp, and..."
Hochstetter glowered at Klink.
"...And I was about to suggest the same thing." Klink took a step back from the Gestapo agent's murderous gaze. "Schultz, take these men to the cooler at once!"
"Jawol, herr Kommandant!" Schultz replied with a salute. He ushered the prisoners to their feet and back toward the camp.
"Just a minute, Commandant," Hogan said, having noticed LeBeau's limp. "One of my men is bleeding. He'll need medical attention."
This was the first time anyone had noticed that Hogan had followed them outside the wire.
"WHAT IS THIS MAN DOING HERE?!?" Hochstetter screeched.
"Corporal LeBeau was injured by your dogs, Major," Hogan retorted. "I demand that he receive the necessary attention from our medic!"
"He will receive no such thing until I am through with him!"
By now, Hogan was in the Gestapo agent's face. "Your dogs almost killed my men! According to the Geneva Convention it is against the rules to—"
"Who cares about the Geneva Convention?!" Hochstetter shouted. "My dogs did their job!"
"Your dogs were out of control! If it hadn't been for Colonel Klink's dogs, who are far better trained at recapturing prisoners, my men would..." Hogan paused as he glanced up at the scene behind Hochstetter. "Oh, no."
"What, what what?" Schultz asked, straining his neck to see.
Four of the German shepherds were gathered in a semicircle around their fifth pack member. They whimpered as each in turn nuzzled the still form of their fallen comrade.
Hogan approached the animal. He knelt and stroked the dog's fur, which was matted with blood. He bit his lip to keep the emotion from showing on his face as he recognized his favorite dog. You saved the lives of my men.
"It's Heidi," Carter whispered to his companions around the lump forming in his throat. LeBeau gritted his teeth, partially against the pain in his ankle (which he refused to look at), and partially against the tears that burned at the corners of his eyes. He would not cry for a "boche" dog. He would not!
Newkirk seemed to be the only one who remained emotionless. One hint of remorse might lead the Krauts to suspect that the dogs weren't as much of a threat to the prisoners as they had hoped.
Hogan rose to his feet. "Well..." he began. "That's one less...guard dog to worry about. That one probably contributed more to maintaining the record of Stalag 13 than any of the others."
Klink nodded. "Yes, she did. I'll see to it that she gets a medal."
"What are you all standing around here for, talking about a dead dog?!" Hochstetter said, his temper flaring yet again. "I have prisoners to interrogate!"
"Not until LeBeau receives medical attention," Hogan demanded. "Sergeant Wilson is the only man I trust for the job."
"Then throw him in the cooler with them! Just get them there!"
That seemed to placate Hogan for the moment, and he allowed himself and his men to be marched back to camp.
LeBeau leaned on Carter for support, keeping his eyes firmly ahead of him. His stomach lurched as he felt the blood soaking his sock. He thought of Heidi again. It was no use kidding himself. Heidi was his favorite dog, as she had been the colonel's. As she had been to most of the prisoners. And she had saved their lives.
Several hours later, LeBeau's ankle was bandaged (a process during which he had passed out), and Hochstetter was in the cooler, still trying to worm information out of the three men. Hogan hovered outside the cell like a hawk, making sure his men didn't receive any more ill treatment.
Finally Hochstetter stormed out of the cooler to clear his mind. It wasn't helping him knowing that any attempt to obtain information by "other means" would most likely fail. If the little Frenchman passed out simply at the sight of blood, how useful could he possibly be? How much worse would the other men be?
When the Gestapo major was gone, Hogan turned to his men. "What happened at the bridge? Why didn't it go as scheduled?"
"Well, sir, it was nearly night fall by the time we got there," Newkirk explained. "So Carter 'ad to reset the timer."
"It'll go off at morning roll call, Colonel," Carter confirmed.
"Good," said Hogan. "Hochstetter's frustrated that he didn't catch the saboteurs in the act. When that bridge goes while we're here in camp, he'll have to clear you." He glanced at his watch. It was well after midnight. "Well, I think Hochstetter's about to give up for the evening. I'm gonna head back to the hut."
"G'night, sir," Newkirk said as the colonel turned to leave.
"Colonel?" LeBeau called.
"Is there something we can do for Heidi? Put her in for a medal or something?"
"Yeah, we gotta do that, sir," Carter chimed in. "She did save our lives. She was a great dog."
"A regular member of the team, she was," Newkirk added.
Hogan nodded. "I'll have Kinch wire London tomorrow," he said. "Heidi should receive some kind of recognition."
Hogan nodded and headed up the stairs for his barracks.
Upon entering his office, Hogan flopped down on his bed. He didn't even bother to change. As he drifted off, he finally let the tears flow for his canine friend.
I don't know what we would have done without you, Heidi. You gave your life to save my men. How can we ever repay you?
Maybe that's why they call you man's best friend.
AN: This story was inspired by a couple of one shots focusing on Heidi as the main character. I simply took the idea of Heidi being the alpha female of the dog pack and ran with it. Hope you liked. Tissues are to your left. :D