" No Way Out"

Chapter 6

Sergeants Wilson and McMahon, and the chaplain walked across the compound together. It was still light out, and prisoners were milling about, doing laundry, tossing baseballs, or staring at the guard towers, but the atmosphere had changed. It was clear, even to an uninformed observer, that the camp population was tense. The three stopped in front of Barracks two. Wilson knocked and waited. A prisoner opened the door and the three walked in.

"Kinch here?" Wilson asked.

"In the colonel's office." Carter walked over. "Go ahead, knock."

"Come in." Kinch looked up from the paperwork he was reading. He wondered how the colonel had been able to handle running the operation and his duties as senior officer at the same time. The men walked into the room. McMahon closed the door behind him.

Wilson spoke first. "Kinch, we need to talk."

"Okay. Sit down."

Wilson remained standing. "Listen, I'll come right to the point. Morale is bad. The camp is a powder keg."

"I'm still waiting for word."

"About the new C.O.?" The medic asked.

"No." Kinch turned and looked out the window. "No. London's working on that. He should be here in a few weeks, I think. I mean about the colonel."

McMahon, who was representing the barrack's chiefs, turned and faced the other sergeant.

"Kinch. All we know is that he killed that Gestapo officer. We don't know why, or what else he knew. He knew more than just the operation."

"I can't tell you…"

"That's how it always is, isn't it?" McMahon raised his voice. "Well, now the men are getting fed up. They're scared. Upset. You guys here are always in the loop."

"Sergeant, settle down," the chaplain urged. "It's not Kinch's fault."

"The men are kept out of the loop for their own protection," Kinch snapped. "You know that."

"Sorry, I know." The meteorologist grabbed a chair. "Look. There's something else. A lot of the men are wondering why no rescue was attempted. You've done it before."

"Because it would have blown our cover. When we got Newkirk out of there the one time, they didn't know he was a prisoner. (1) And… We sent in reconnaissance. There was no safe way."

"We didn't know about the reconnaissance. Maybe if we pass it along on the sly, it might mean something." The chaplain suggested.

"That's fine," Kinch said. "There's one other thing," he added. "Just between us. London gave us orders not to go in. We had to let him go." He almost choked on the last sentence.

"My god." Wilson was stunned. "You've all been living with this since this happened?"

"Yes. And it's been hell."

"But the reconnaissance mission?" McMahon pointed out.

"Direct violation of orders," Kinch explained. "Olsen and Foster went. I take full responsibility, and would have, if we could have pulled something off."

"Somehow, I doubt that you would have been the only one to take the fall," the chaplain added.

Kinch smiled. "You're right. The others had a lot to do with it. But the situation was impossible, like I said." Kinch, not wanting to show the others his eyes were tearing, looked down at the floor. "It's been so tense around here. Arguments over what to do. Realizing we were helpless; and one more thing I'm not saying."

"And now, the waiting. And it all fell on you." McMahon approached the sergeant.

"Not just in the barracks; especially Newkirk, Carter, and LeBeau." Kinch took a breath. "I'm waiting for word from Klink and then we have to pack his stuff. Klink says he will send it to the Red Cross. Look, I appreciate you coming by."

"We can talk to the chiefs, if you want," Wilson offered.

Kinch turned down the offer. "It's my responsibility and the atmosphere could still get dangerous. Call a meeting. Tomorrow morning in the tunnels; right after roll call. "

********

"Get rid of this." Hochstetter pointed to Mannheim. The guards dragged him away, while Hochstetter went back into Hogan's cell and stared at the colonel. There was almost no physical resemblance to the man he had questioned in Klink's office. Hogan's looks, the spring in his step, his sense of humor, his lack of fear and respect, his obvious manipulation of Klink; all that added to Hochstetter's intense hatred of the man.

Hochstetter knelt down and examined the body. Hogan had lost weight, his shirt was in tatters and his hair was matted. His beard only added to the shadows etched on his face. The major realized that Mannheim had handed Hogan the cyanide, but that it was Hogan's choice to commit suicide. He considered the colonel's last act an act of defiance; a personal insult to his authority. Or was it? Could it have been an act of a desperate man? Yes. That was it. It had to be, or he would be forever consumed by the thought that the colonel had achieved the last word.

"So Hogan, you're human after all." Hochstetter removed the colonel's dog tags and left the cell. He instructed the guards to take the body upstairs, where it would be handled in the same manner as anyone else who had died in custody. The tags reminded him that he needed to notify Klink that Hogan was dead. That could wait until morning, he decided, as he entered his office and lay down on his couch, hoping to get a few hours of sleep.

The following morning, Hochstetter's anger again emerged. He was forced to report the security breach to his superiors, and since it happened on his watch, he was blamed. Berlin had been satisfied with Hogan's confession that the Manhattan project was a fake and his reason for killing the Gruppenführer. They had been eagerly awaiting an actual execution. A firing squad would have provided closure and served as a warning to others. As usual, they dismissed Hochstetter's suspicions of Hogan's Underground activities. By the time he had finished the phone call, Hochstetter's mood went from bad to worse.

**********

During roll call that morning, Klink announced tersely that he had received word that a new senior POW officer had been assigned to the camp and would be arriving in a few weeks. He then dismissed the prisoners and went inside. Kinch, Carter, LeBeau and Newkirk headed for the tunnels and waited for the Barrack's chiefs to show up for the meeting.

Hochstetter was about to place a call to Klink then changed his mind. No, he would relish the experience of notifying Klink in person. Grabbing Hogan's tags, he left the building and set off, alone, in his staff car. On the drive over, he pondered whether or not to divulge all the details. Yes, he decided sadistically, Klink's reaction will be worth the trip.

"Major," Klink stammered. "I didn't expect you in person."

"I needed to return these." Hochstetter tossed the dog tags onto Klink's desk. The Kommandant had expected this, but the shock of seeing the dog tags took him aback.

"So, he was executed. When? This morning?" Executions usually took place at dawn.

"No, Klink." Hochstetter took the extra chair by the desk, the one Hogan always used, and without an invitation, sat down. "He died last night in his cell."

"You tortured him to death?"Klink, who was appalled, asked.

"No, Klink. It was cyanide."

Klink was almost speechless. "Excuse me?"

Hochstetter leaned forward, coming within inches of the Kommandant's face.

"I said cyanide, Klink."

"No, he couldn't have. How would he get cyanide?"

Hochstetter sat back. He had seen Klink's reaction. Disbelief. He wasn't surprised. Now to dig in.

"It was given to him by Freitag's aide. As a reward, I think, for the killing, or perhaps he took pity on Hogan's condition. But," he paused, "We'll never know. I was forced to kill Mannheim in self defense. Yes. He gave it to him. It was Hogan's choice to take it, of course". The major sat up. "Now I'll never get his confession," he said angrily. "He was responsible for the sabotage, Klink. I know it."

"Now, Major. That's impossible. He would have had to leave the camp and of course…"

"Oh, knock it off Klink," Hochstetter interrupted. "Take the man off his pedestal."

Klink was insulted. "I never put him on a pedestal. He was my prisoner." Klink had seen enough. "Major, I appreciate you bringing me back the tags. Now this investigation has concluded. Please leave. "

"Very well, Klink." Hochstetter, pleased with Klink's reaction, opened the door.

Klink stopped him.

"Major. Wait. Did you ever find out why Hogan shot him?"

Hochstetter thought a moment. Should he tell the Kommandant? Burkhalter would eventually request the report and word may get back to Klink. Sure, why not?

"No, the project was a red herring. He had nothing to tell Freitag. Freitag threatened all of the prisoners, and Hogan believed he would carry out the threats."

"So he shot him to protect the other prisoners?"

"Yes." Hochstetter shut the door.

Klink was left alone with that last image. Yes. The man he knew would have sacrificed himself for the other prisoners. He stood up, walked away from the desk and poured himself a drink.

************

A brief meeting with the barracks chiefs ended in time for the staff to observe Hochstetter's car coming through the gate. The momentary feeling of apprehension subsided as no other cars, trucks, or troops followed. The four wordlessly entered the colonel's office, closed the door and plugged in the coffeepot. Carter choked back a sob as they heard the jingle of the dog tags falling on Klink's desk. Their grief turned into shock as the eavesdropping continued.

"This stays in here," Kinch stated. The rest agreed. Several more minutes went by and the four men digested what they had heard.

"London didn't get to him, at least there's that." Newkirk, who for some unknown reason, was tidying up the colonel's top bunk, said.

"I have to wait for Klink to give me the official news." Kinch was staring out the window.

All the men were trying not to think of Hogan's desperate last act. Was his condition so bad that he would choose to end his own life?

"He was afraid that Hochstetter would use us to get him to talk."

"Not just us, Carter. The whole camp. He told Hochstetter Freitag threatened the entire camp." Lebeau reminded the group.

"He was spinning stories till the very end." Kinch left the window. "Schultz is on his way over. Let's go." The four men left the room, closing the door behind him. They had no time to speak to the rest of the men in the barracks, as Schultz opened the door and solemnly told Kinch that Klink needed the sergeant to report to his office.

Klink handed Kinch Hogan's dog tags. "You may start packing his personal items, Sergeant."

"Thank you, sir."

Klink debated on how much to tell the sergeant about how Hogan had died. Not wanting to suffer the consequences if the truth came out later, he decided to be honest.

"Sergeant. I have to tell you. Colonel Hogan was not executed. He died in custody."

Kinch tried to look stunned and angry. "So, sir. You're telling me he was tortured to death!"

Klink held up his hand, interrupting Kinch. "Wait. He took his own life. There was a breach of security and someone slipped him some cyanide."

"Who, sir?"

That's all I'm able to tell you, Sergeant Kinchloe. I'm sorry."

I believe you, Kinch thought. "Am I dismissed?"

Klink nodded. "Inform Sergeant Schultz when you have completed the packing. I'll see that the boxes are delivered to the Red Cross."

All eyes were on Kinch as he walked across the compound. "It's over. Spread out," he told the men, "And notify the barracks chiefs." He then went down to the tunnels and placed a call.

************

Bender managed to return to London three days after he left Hammelburg. He was immediately shown into the office of the general who issued the assassination order.

"I want you to know I discovered who Colonel Hogan was. My accomplice put two and two together. But this knowledge did not interfere with your orders, sir." Bender neglected to mention the short discussion he and his accomplice had about attempting a rescue.

"But you did not complete the mission," the general stated.

"Correct, sir. The best opportunity to inject him was after the security breach, but as I reported, he was already dead."

"Yes, we know." The general passed a file over to the agent. "We had a lengthy conversation with Colonel Hogan's second in command. He intercepted a conversation between Major Hochstetter and the Kommandant of Stalag 13. We know Freitag's aide slipped Hogan the cyanide and possibly why Hogan took it."

"I'd be interested in knowing more about that, but I do think I know why Mannheim did what he did."

"Go ahead."

"First, sir. The guy was nuts. He had a vendetta against Hochstetter, I think. No one would take him seriously. He wasn't allowed on the case, which was weird. After all, it was his boss. Then, I also found out that Hochstetter was obsessed with the colonel. Always suspected him of the sabotage."

"Ironic," the general stated.

"Yes. I think it was Mannheim's way of getting back at Hochstetter. Take something important away from him. And Hochstetter was furious."

"How did he know Hogan would take the cyanide?"

"He didn't. But he was betting on it. Obviously Hogan had information…"

The general stopped him. "We won't go there."

"Sorry, sir."

"Colonel Hogan lied about the reason he killed the man. He didn't want it to backfire on him. It's in the report."

Bender read the information. "Wow. So, he was obviously afraid Hochstetter would threaten the prisoners, just like he said Freitag did, to get him to confess to the sabotage."

"Among other things," the general added.

"This whole thing is a tragedy, sir."

"I agree. But once Hogan made the decision to walk into the office with a gun, there was no way out."

London contacted Stalag 13 and shed further light on Mannheim's motivations. The prisoners were told about the strange set of circumstances that took place, and although it was difficult, finally came to terms with Hogan's final action. They never found out how close the Allied agent was to fulfilling his mission.

Kinch asked someone else to monitor the radio; then locked himself in Hogan's office. He had been putting off this chore for several days, but finally mustered the will to tackle writing a letter to Hogan's parents. London was still waiting for the official Red Cross notification before sending the news out, but Kinch decided the sooner the better. "How do you say you're sorry to someone whose son died in Gestapo custody?" Kinch realized that if he gave Klink the letter, that part would be censored. No, he would write a letter and send it to London with the next Allied flyer they sent home. That would be fitting.

The entire outfit was anticipating the arrival of the new commander. They understood that the new officer could never take Hogan's place, but they were all professionals. From the youngest private, to Hogan's four closest men, they were willing to give the officer a chance.

"I wish there were some way we could've let the colonel know we were there," Olsen mentioned to Foster as they took a walk around the compound, "That at least we tried."

"Yeah." Foster plopped himself on a bench outside the rec hall. It was a sunny day; one week after Kinch had officially informed the entire camp population that Hogan was dead. Morale had improved somewhat and the tension had decreased, as the prisoners were told that the colonel was not totally abandoned, but that a reconnaissance mission had been undertaken.

"I'll tell you, Foster, It still hurts." Olsen was tormented by the what-ifs and was having a hard time dealing with Hogan's death. He sat down next to his friend. The two were shortly joined by Kinch, Carter, LeBeau and Newkirk.

"You guys okay?" Kinch asked. He was aware that Olsen and Foster were carrying an extra burden, after having been so close to seeing to colonel. Foster, unlike Olsen, did not originally know about the Manhattan project. Kinch, however, had decided to bring him on board. He owed him that much, and he trusted Foster to keep quiet.

Foster looked up. "We'll be all right," he answered. "It will just take some time."

"Same 'ere." Newkirk took the seat next to Olsen. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes, offering a smoke to the two men, who declined. Newkirk sighed and then put the pack away. He didn't have the energy to even strike a match.

"Maybe one day, we'll find out what Freitag knew. Besides about the operation, I mean, and it will all make sense?" Olsen looked up at Kinch. Was Olsen hoping for an explanation? He wasn't sure at this point that he wanted one.

"I don't know," Kinch replied. "I really don't know."

"No, Kinch. I think we will eventually," Carter said softly. He recalled the team's speculation about the project. "Whatever, it is, fellas; I hope it was worth it."

(1) "How to Catch a Papa Bear"