I do not own any of the characters from the series Hogan's Heroes. However, I claim ownership of any original characters appearing in this story.
Cover image: J A Grimshaw (1836-1893), Moonlight after rain (detail)
It might as well have been the middle of the day. The Hammelburg road was brightly illuminated by the light of the full moon. It was neither a good time nor a good place for a secret rendezvous.
In answer to LeBeau's pre-mission expostulations, which had been both vociferous and wide-ranging, Colonel Hogan had pointed out that their contacts had been very specific about the time and place. Then he asked if LeBeau wanted to back out. "Because I can take Newkirk along instead," he said.
LeBeau, of course, never backed out of anything. "Newkirk has a cold," he pointed out. "Do you want him to have pleurisy? Because if he does, I'm not nursing him. He's unbearable when he's sick."
Most of Hogan's men hated being out on moonlit nights. Too much risk of being seen; too much risk of being caught in an Allied bombing raid. Having to wait so close to the road was just the icing on the cake.
The exception was Carter, third man on the team for tonight. He rather liked the moonlight. It let him see the rock before he tripped over it, or the tree branch before he ran into it, or the pond before he got soaked to the skin. Of course, he understood the other dangers that came into play, but being the clumsy one meant that he had different priorities to the other guys.
Because the chances of being seen were higher, Hogan had ordered civilian clothes. If they should be noticed, they wanted to look as normal as possible. That was another problem, as far as LeBeau was concerned. "The jacket doesn't fit properly," he complained.
Newkirk was moved to defend his work. "Well, if you were a bit more careful, you wouldn't have ripped the arms out of your other one, and I wouldn't have had alter that one," he said. "I worked hard on that. There's no pleasing some people."
"Why's he so grumpy?" Carter whispered.
"It's his natural state," replied LeBeau scornfully. "He's just worse than usual because he has the sniffles."
So there they were, waiting among the trees beside the road, three miles from Hammelburg. Colonel Hogan was tense; not exactly anxious, just a little edgy. He objected to missions that contained extra elements of avoidable risk. LeBeau, uncomfortable in a jacket that was still just slightly too big, was cross, and inclined to snap. Carter just stayed quiet, and tried not to fall over anything.
"Five minutes," said Hogan, checking his watch. "Keep your eyes open."
"I see someone, mon Colonel," whispered LeBeau, who was watching the road.
"Is that who we're supposed to be meeting?" asked Carter.
Hogan was looking grim. "Not unless the British Army has seriously relaxed the entry requirements for the commandos."
"If they have, tell me where to sign up," said LeBeau.
"It's almost two in the morning," Hogan murmured. "What's a girl doing out here on her own?"
"Could she be from the Underground?"
"Maybe." Hogan frowned, considering the possibility. "But she's not someone we know."
"Shall I go and check her out?" LeBeau suggested. "I would be happy to take the risk, Colonel."
Hogan looked down at him. "In that jacket, LeBeau? She'd run a mile. Carter, you go and talk to her. See if you can move her on. But be careful," he added as Carter started moving. "For all we know she could be Gestapo."
Carter nodded, and slipped from the cover of the trees to the edge of the road. As the girl approached, he went forward to meet her. "Guten Abend," he said politely.
It appeared that she hadn't noticed him till he spoke; she gave a start, and stared at him with trepidation. She looked very young, perhaps nineteen or twenty; quite a pretty girl, if anyone took the time to notice, and dressed with sober respectability. She certainly didn't seem the type who would be out of doors this late, even if there were no air raids to worry about.
After a moment, she murmured an almost inaudible reply, and turned her face away, looking a little self-conscious. Something on her cheek glistened in the moonlight; it caught Carter's eye, but for a second he didn't know what it was.
She's been crying, he thought suddenly.
"Can I help you, Fräulein?" he asked.
She gave a nervous little shake of the head. "No. Thank you," she whispered, and kept walking.
"You shouldn't be out on the road this late," he called after her. "Better get home as quick as you can."
The girl nodded, but didn't stop. Carter was just about to return to the others, when the sound of a soft, half-stifled sob reached him. All thought of the rendezvous, of Hogan and LeBeau still waiting by the roadside, and of any caution whatsoever, vanished. He hurried after her, and quickly caught up. "Is something wrong?" he said.
She put her hand over her face, struggling to suppress an outbreak of weeping. "I'm frightened."
"Well, you should be," said Carter. "What's a girl like you doing out on the road at this time of night? Don't you know it's not safe?"
"I was...visiting a friend," she said, with a slight hesitation, "and I was late getting away."
"And they just let you walk home, on your own? Some friend," said Carter, a little indignantly. "If they couldn't see you home, they should have let you stay for the night."
"I didn't want to," she replied quickly. "I..." She hesitated again, then went on. "My mother will be expecting me."
"Your mother will be having fits, if she's anything like mine. Do you live in Hammelburg? You know how far it is?"
She started crying properly, and he immediately felt guilty for scolding her. "Oh, don't do that," he stammered, pulling out his handkerchief and offering it to her. "Look, you probably don't need to be so scared. It's not that far to Hammelburg. And I bet there won't be any air raids tonight."
"I'm not afraid of air raids," she replied, as she took the handkerchief and wiped her eyes. She didn't offer any other explanation, but glanced back down the road, in the direction from which she had come.
Carter looked, as well. There was nothing to be seen, only the road shining white in the moonlight. But something, somewhere along that road, had really upset this girl. He came to a decision.
"It's not right for you to be out on your own," he said. "I'll walk you home."
He thought he saw a flash of relief in her face as she looked up at him; but it was quickly replaced by doubt. "It's out of your way," she faltered.
"No, not at all. Well, maybe a little," he admitted. "I don't mind, honest." Belatedly, he remembered the mission. Colonel Hogan would probably tear him to shreds when he got back to Stalag 13. Oh, well, too late now. He'd made the offer; he had to stick to it.
The girl appeared torn between discomfiture and nervous agitation. But she gave a tiny nod of acquiescence, and whispered, "Thank you." Carter, with an apologetic glance towards where Hogan and LeBeau were still lurking, fell into step beside her as she set off again.
They walked in silence for the first half-mile. Occasionally, Carter stole a sideways look at her, and was relieved to see that she seemed calmer. He was aware that she was glancing timidly at him every so often. Eventually, of course, they caught each other at it, and both looked away with embarrassment.
Finally, she spoke. "My name is Sabine," she said.
She met his eyes with a shy smile, which he returned with equal diffidence. "I'm Andrew - Andreas." He corrected himself quickly. "I'm Andreas."
Another silent half-mile.
"You're not in the military?" she asked.
"Well...no. Not really," Carter replied. "Reserved occupation. Can't talk about it. It's a bit secret."
"Sort of." Well, it was war work. Sort of.
Sabine sighed. "My father was in a reserved occupation, until recently. He was working at the hydro-electric plant, as a shift foreman. But it was destroyed by enemy agents two months ago."
"That's a shame," said Carter. "I'm really sorry." That was also true. He knew all about the hydro-electric plant; he'd played a major part in its destruction. He felt a pang of guilt. "Is he okay?"
"He wasn't on shift when it happened. But now he's out of work. And he's not forty-five yet, so..." She didn't finish the thought, but the implication was clear; a man of that age, in good health and not otherwise contributing to the war effort, was at risk of being called up for military service.
"Can't he find work somewhere else?" Carter asked.
"Maybe. If he was given the chance. But..." She flushed, and looked at the ground. Carter felt even worse about what he'd done. He had accepted long ago that there were consequences to the acts of sabotage which were the chief purpose of his life, but he preferred not to think about it. Now he was face to face with it.
"Anyway," he said hurriedly, "they're not drafting men in that age group just now, are they?"
"Not generally. But there are circumstances..." She trailed off again.
Carter wasn't the brightest of Hogan's men, but he was smarter than he let people think. It was obvious there was more to this than the girl was letting on. He wondered if he should pursue the question, but they'd only just met, and she was clearly reluctant to talk about it. Once again, Carter felt awkward.
"I suppose he doesn't want to go into the army," he murmured. "I mean, who would?"
"He may not have a choice. But he doesn't want to fight. He doesn't believe in...I mean, he thinks there are other ways a man can serve his country." She sounded uncomfortable, as if she'd said more than she should.
The low drone of an aircraft motor had become audible. Sabine looked up, glad of an excuse to change the subject. "Where is it?" she asked. "Is it one of ours?"
Carter listened. "Oh, yes. Supply plane - Junkers. JU52, I think." It was actually an Allied reconnaissance flight.
"I can never tell the difference," said Sabine. "It's flying very low, isn't it?"
"They do that now," Carter fibbed. "To avoid running into any American bombers."
The plane passed over to the left of the road, and continued on its way, the noise dying off in the distance.
"Have you ever flown?" Sabine asked.
"A few times."
"I always wanted to," she said, a little wistfully. "But I don't suppose I ever will."
"It's not as much fun as you might think," said Carter. "Well, not from where I was, anyway. But I guess a passenger flight would be different." He glanced at her. "Where do you want to fly to?"
"Anywhere. Anywhere far away from here." There was a sudden passion in her voice, and he looked at her again, puzzled. It was on the tip of his tongue to ask her what it meant, but he held back.
They walked without speaking for a while. Presently, as they started to see the first outlying houses of the town, Sabine stopped.
"You've been very kind," she said, "but I can see myself the rest of the way."
Carter looked around. "I don't think you should. It's not such a nice part of town."
She sighed. "After tonight, I don't think things could get much worse."
He didn't answer, just waited. After a few moments, she went on. "I know you think it's a bit strange. I hate to imagine what you might be thinking."
Carter could feel himself going red. "I guess I think what anyone would think - that you're a nice girl who's just got into trouble. No, I don't mean that," he added hastily, realising how that sounded. "I mean...well, you know."
"I know it looks bad," she admitted, in a very small voice, "but..." She looked up at him. "I'd like to tell you how it happened. I did something I shouldn't have, but I don't want you to think it was anything worse."
"Okay," Carter replied uncomfortably. He had a feeling he wasn't going to like the story.
Sabine began walking again. "Do you know a Major Pintz? He's in charge of the recruiting office."
"I haven't met him," said Carter cautiously.
"He's not a very nice man," she said. "I've often seen him - I'm a receptionist at the Hotel Hammelburg, and he visits there with friends. Lady friends," she added, faltering a little; she must have had a fairly sheltered life. "He never paid any attention to me, until recently."
She stopped, and bit her lip. "I'm sorry," she stammered.
"It's okay," Carter said gently.
She took a deep breath. "One day last week, he came in on his own, just to speak to me. He said that my father's employment situation had come to his attention, but that he didn't want to take any hasty action. He asked if I would like to meet him somewhere for a private discussion of how we might resolve things, so that Papa could remain available for work at home, instead of being shipped off to Africa, or Russia. Of course I agreed - what was I supposed to do? I couldn't bear the thought of Papa being sent to the front. He loves Germany, but he doesn't agree with..." Once again, she cut herself off, but Carter had caught on. It sounded like Sabine's father was not a supporter of the regime. That could make things dangerous for the whole family, if anyone knew of it.
She didn't speak for a minute or so. Then she went on. "So tonight I went with Major Pintz to his house, out in the country. But when it came to it, I couldn't." Her voice had become increasingly unsteady.
Carter was speechless. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been so angry. It was almost a minute before he managed to get his temper under control enough to speak. "So what happened?" he asked.
"He told me my father's call-up papers would arrive within a week, and sent me away. And now there's nothing I can do."
They continued in silence for a while. They had passed through the town, and turned into a quiet street lined with high, narrow-fronted houses.
"Did you tell your parents about this?" asked Carter.
"How could I? Papa would never have let me go."
"Papa would have been right," Carter told her firmly. "What was that major's name again?"
"Pintz. Major Martin Pintz."
Carter hesitated. He wasn't sure whether he was doing the right thing, but after all, it was partly his doing that Sabine had found herself in this situation. Surely if he explained to Colonel Hogan, they could fix this Major Pintz. Maybe they could even do something with Sabine's father; from what she had hinted, he might be a possible recruit for the Underground. But that was not something Carter could decide.
"Look, don't say anything about it," he said. "But I know some people. I might be able to do something."
Sabine's face blossomed into hope. It frightened him a little. "I can't promise," he added hastily. "But I'll see what I can do."
"Oh, if you only could...!" she whispered.
He gave her an uneasy smile, and hoped she wouldn't be disappointed.
She stopped in front of the last house in the street. There was a light still visible in the upper window. "They're waiting up for me," she said. "What shall I tell them?"
Carter thought about it. "I don't know if they would want to hear all this," he said. "But if you were my sister, I'd be real proud of you."
"Would you?" She looked surprised.
"Sure. You did the right thing. Guys like that, they never keep their word." He looked away in embarrassment, then held out his hand. "Well, goodbye, then."
She took his hand briefly. "Thank you. You were very...thank you."
Carter waited till she was safely inside, before he set off, back the way he had come. The moon was getting lower in the sky, but it would still be light long enough for him to find his way back to camp. He had a long walk ahead of him, and a great deal of explaining to do at the end of it. But he was sure - well, he hoped - he could make the colonel understand.