Operation Hacky Sack
"Boring" was the name of the game. The POWs had played every game in the book, and still they were bored stiff. Commandant Colonel Klink hadn't given them any jobs to do, and the weather, while not too hot or cold for energized running and yelling, still displayed a cloudy gray sky overhead. The temperature was nice – only 62 degrees, or, as Newkirk and LeBeau insisted, 16 degrees. Colonel Hogan, the ranking POW officer, just called it chilly, and that seemed to work just fine for everybody.
"'Ey, Carter," said Newkirk to the young blonde across the bench from him. Bending forward, the cockney pilot offered a deck of magicians' cards. "Pick one."
The American gave the corporal a dubious look and slipped the top one off the deck. Newkirk smirked deviously and set to reshuffling the cards, meanwhile saying, "Now, don't tell me –"
"Five of diamonds."
"Andrew!" the dark-haired man complained, "I was just about t' tell ya not t' tell me!"
Sergeant Andrew Carter shrugged apologetically. He was a good-natured kid, and typically didn't ruin people's fun on purpose. However, accidents did happen – a lot. "I'm sorry, Newkirk," he said in that plaintive tone of his, "It's just that… well…"
"You're bored," Newkirk accused, propping one of his feet on the bench and sulking. Louis LeBeau gave the two a sympathetic glance.
"Let's face it, mon ami," said the Frenchman, "He's not the only one."
"We've played every game in the book," declared Sergeant Kinchloe with a voice that sounded almost as dark as his face, which had a handsome, Negro-like quality about it, "And out of it. We've done everything we can think of, Newkirk, and don't tell me you're not still bored too."
"Betcha the colonel could think of something," Carter said hopefully, "If anyone can, he's it."
"He has," said Louis, "He's in Klink's office trying to arrange a little excitement for us."
"Like what?" asked Kinchloe.
LeBeau gave a skeptical glance toward the building across the yard. "A vacation to Paris."
Peter Newkirk snorted in condensation. "Mental, 'e is. Shouldn't 'ave asked 'im, Kinch."
"Sorry," Kinchloe replied sincerely, just as dubious as the rest of them, save, perhaps, for Newkirk. Newkirk was always proclaiming the colonel's insanity and maybe he was right, but nevertheless, not one of Hogan's plans had completely gone off amiss – well, some of them, maybe, but not very often.
"Hey, Kinch, wanna play checkers?" Carter asked, by way of trying to please everybody. Sergeant Carter had the personality of a puppy dog – he was always trying to please everybody and make the Germans loose at the same time. It wasn't an easy feat, but somehow, he managed.
Kinch shook his head. "No thanks," he declined politely, "I already know who'd win."
"Aw, come on!" Carter pleaded, as Newkirk and LeBeau exchanged glances and rolled their eyes, "I'll go easy on you! You can even play the white pieces – they move first. Anyway, winning's not that important. It's just something to have fun with –"
"Carter," Kinch interrupted him, "We played checkers a few hours ago, remember? And you offered me the same deal that time, too, and I took it. And guess who won?"
Andrew balked. "Aw, you're not still sore about that, are you? Come on, Kinch, seriously, I'll let you win this –"
"Forget it, Carter," Kinchloe told him firmly, "Truth is, I'd really like to do something a little more engaging this time."
"Well… how about soccer?"
"Football," Newkirk corrected, "And no way. We played that half an hour ago until Private Buschwacher shot the ball."
"Oh, yeah…" Carter remembered, his face full of innocent incredulity as he added, "Imagine that – shooting a soccer ball - !"
"Yeah, whatever," Carter replied, brushing the corporal to one side as he sat on the bench, thinking heavily. "What we need is a game with a target that's too small to see from a guard tower."
Newkirk gave a spiteful laugh. "Yeah, what we need is a three-day vacation t' Paris, that's what we need. Got plenty o' footballs there, I'll reckon, and not so many guards t' shoot at it."
"Working on that," said a familiar, deep voice which preached confidence and authority. The boys turned around quickly to face Colonel Robert E Hogan, their ranking officer and commander in chief of the Stalag 13 Underground Base.
"Colonel!" LeBeau beamed – after all, Colonel Hogan was the one who had promised him a trip back home – "Any luck?"
Hogan gave him a brief glance of annoyance, and then admitted with a crestfallen tone, "I'm working on it!"
"Trouble, sir?" asked Newkirk, not the least bit surprised that he hadn't been able to pull it off. Colonel Klink may have been stupid, but he wasn't a complete idiot. Well, some may have disputed that, but that went without saying.
"Yeah, a little," Hogan replied with a scowl, as though bewildered at his own, albeit momentary, defeat, "For some reason, Klink just wouldn't buy the story."
"Which story?" Newkirk asked innocently, "The one about us bein' bored stiff, or the one that's supposed t' get us t' Paris for three days?"
"I don't think he bought either," Hogan answered, still looking a bit dazed, "Klink must be taking those special night classes that'll expand his IQ or something."
"Uh-oh, the world's gonna end." Pulling a sunflower seed from his blue jacket pocket, Peter Newkirk gave the tiny thing an accusing glare before throwing it into the ground beside the water barrel. "Pickled sunflower seeds. I hate 'em!"
LeBeau gave the spot where the seed had landed a quick glance before quipping back, "So what now, you're going to start a flower garden?"
"Anything!" the British soldier replied, "I'm getting desperate."
"I think we all are," Hogan replied, "Okay, forget Paris for now, we've got to think of something and think of it fast. Does anybody know of any games we haven't played yet?"
"Parcheesi?" Kinch suggested with a nonchalant shrug.
LeBeau gave him a dubious look. "Anybody got a board?"
"Besides, weren't you the one who wanted to play something more energizing?" Carter reminded him, although not feeling in the least bit slighted that Kinch might have another reason for not wanting to play with him.
"Okay, then, Parcheesi's out," Hogan announced, "Anybody else?"
Carter raised his hand.
"Lemme guess," the colonel sighed, giving him a hang-dog look, "Checkers."
Carter looked shocked. "Well, it's a good game!"
"No, Carter." Hogan then asked for volunteers again. "Newkirk, how about you?"
The Englishman shrugged. "I dunno… Poker?"
"We played that last night!" LeBeau complained from the doorpost, "Besides, who lost all the chips? Huh, Pierre?"
"'Ey, that was an accident!" Newkirk defended himself, "An' besides, 'ow was I supposed t' know th' trash was gonna get taken out on Tuesdays?"
LeBeau swore in French and answered, "Because Klink made an announcement during the roll call the morning before that, remember?"
"Boys, boys," Hogan chided them patiently, "Regardless of who lost the poker chips, we can just make some until we can get out to buy some more. Who wants to play poker?
Not even Newkirk raised his hand. Hogan looked at his men as though they were staging a mutiny. "What's the matter? I thought you guys wanted something to do!"
"Well, the truth is, colonel," Carter answered timidly, "We did play it just last night. How about something else?"
"Okay," Hogan said, spreading his arms wide in surrender, "You guys have got thirty minutes to come up with something. I'm going to go mess with Schultz for a while."
Thirty minutes later, Hogan returned to check up on the boys' progress to find that they had vanished from the barracks door. Giving a quick look around the field to see if they had gone out to experiment with something, Hogan turned back and headed into the barracks.
The scene he came upon was one he hadn't expected. All four malcontents were gathered conspiratorially around the far end of the table, as though they were plotting a plan of sabotage for the Nazi capital in Berlin. Between them, it appeared that LeBeau was stitching something, and at Kinch's elbow sat a large, gallon-sized mason jar of beans. Had they decided to take up embroidery or something?
"Oh, yeah, that's neat-looking!" Carter complimented LeBeau as he stitched something more with a flourish. Kinch snickered.
"Here," he said, grabbing a spool of silver thread from the rack that stood by Newkirk's elbow, "I think he needs some hair." LeBeau grinned diabolically and accepted the gray spool, rethreading the needle with a, "Merci, mon ami."
Newkirk looked at the object hidden from Hogan's view with the speculative eye of an expert craftsman. "Blimey, if I didn't know better I'd say it was 'im in the flesh!"
"Then, gentlemen, it is finis!" announced Louis, proudly hoisting his magnum opus into the air. Just then, Newkirk's hand flew up and snatched it out of his hands before Hogan could get a clear look, although so far it was obvious that the men had joined together to create some kind of bean-bag.
"What are you doing?" LeBeau demanded, looking a bit confused. Hogan heard the slick-pop! of the cap being drawn off of a pen, and silence surrounded the barracks as tiny sounds of scritch-scratch could be heard on the rough canvas material they'd been sewing. Finally, Newkirk handed back the new-born toy with a gratifying smile and said, "Now it's finished."
"Oh, the monocle!" Carter said as he grabbed it away before LeBeau could present it to the world again, "I'd almost forgotten that part."
"Good thing I remembered it then," said Newkirk as Hogan drew nearer, "Woulda been hard to recognize ol' Klink without 'is monocle. Oh, 'i, Colonel, we figured ou' a new game."
Peering over Carter's shoulder at the stalag commandant's bean-brained twin, Hogan grinned. "What's that?" he asked.
"It's called Hacky Sack, sir!" Carter elaborated eagerly, "Kinch just made it up. You take a bean bag, see, and you kick it around and try to hit the different goals with it. Whichever team has the most points when everybody else gets tired wins! And, sir, the good thing is that the guard up in the tower can't shoot this ball."
"Sounds great!" Hogan praised them, "So, are you guys bored anymore?"
A chorus of "Nopes," and "Oh, no, sirs!" and "Not a bits!" rose up from the group like Hallellujah from a church choir, and Hogan could resist grabbing the Klink-Bag and leading them outside in a stampede of GI boots and military-issue jackets.
Coming up next – Operation Hacky Sack 2: The Game Begins!