I do not own any of the characters from the series Hogan's Heroes. However, I accept responsibility for anything particularly silly, or any lapse into the realms of questionable taste, appearing in this story.
Cover image: John Le Keux (1783-1842), "An Ostrich"
It is just over a week since the end of the episode "Monkey Business"...
The official line was that all the animals which had escaped from the Hammelburg Zoo after the bombing raid had been accounted for, one way or another, and that the delay in re-opening some of the exhibits was due to the difficulty in finding workmen to complete the repairs to the damaged enclosures.
Of course, nobody believed the official line, not while the penguins were still to be seen parading along the banks of the river twice a day.
Colonel Klink, the Kommandant of Stalag 13, had tried at first to convince the men under his command, and the prisoners of war under his supervision, that there were no wild animals running loose in the vicinity, but after the meerkat incident, he preferred to say nothing more about it.
The prisoners had plenty to say.
"I tell you, something was following me," said LeBeau, struggling out of the guard's uniform he had been wearing for the night's excursion. He was trying to explain his late return; it was already daylight, and morning roll-call was imminent.
Carter, who was watching at the door, was not particularly sympathetic. "It was probably a squirrel," he said.
"It was bigger than a squirrel."
"You never know," Carter persisted. "Some of those squirrels get pretty big."
"It wasn't a squirrel, Carter. Squirrels don't stomp around in the bushes."
Carter shrugged. "Rabbit, then."
"No, LeBeau's right," Newkirk put in. He was cleaning his fingernails, using the point of the knife that he wasn't allowed to have. "I don't know what it is, but there's something out there that shouldn't be. Of course, it could just be another one of those ruddy gazelles."
Anything more that might have been said was lost, as Carter gave the word: "Schultz is coming."
Nobody showed much interest when Sergeant Schultz rolled into the barracks. LeBeau was still ridding himself of the German uniform. Newkirk continued his manicure.
"Roll-call," Shultz announced. "Everybody out. Raus, raus, raus."
"I'm not quite ready, Schultz," LeBeau called over his shoulder. "Can you start without me?"
Schultz shook his head. "You should be ready. You know what time roll-call is, you have plenty of...Newkirk, I wish you would not do that. It's dangerous. You could hurt yourself."
Newkirk was inspecting the result of his work with apparent dissatisfaction. "Well, if you'd let me have a decent nail file, Schultz, it'd be a lot safer, wouldn't it?"
"Nail files are not allowed," said Schultz. "Kommandant's orders."
"Just because someone took the door of Klink's quarters off its hinges? Schultz, it's unfair to punish the lot of us for something one man did."
"And anyway," Carter put in helpfully, "you didn't use a nail file for that, did you, Newkirk?"
"Please, Carter," Schultz interrupted, "I do not want to know who did it. I do not care who did it. I do not care how or why they did it. I know nothing. It's better that way. Now, everybody out for roll-call. LeBeau, are you still not ready?"
"If someone would give me a hand..." LeBeau snapped back. Schultz sighed, and, handing his rifle to Carter, went to the little Frenchman's assistance.
"What's going on, Schultz?" Colonel Hogan emerged from his private quarters. Kinch, who had been updating him on news from the Underground, followed.
"Roll-call. As soon as the cockroach is ready." Schultz dumped LeBeau's uniform jacket on the table, and turned back to the door. Halfway there, he stopped. "Newkirk - I will take that, thank you."
Newkirk, surprised, handed him the knife. Schultz put it in his pocket, and proceeded on his way.
"Uh...Schultz?" Carter called after him, holding up the rifle. Schultz turned back, grabbed the gun, and left the barracks, grumbling under his breath.
The men straggled out after him, LeBeau pulling his sweater over his head as he went.
"Why was he so late?" Hogan murmured to Newkirk, as they lined up.
"Noises in the undergrowth, Colonel," Newkirk replied.
Hogan shook his head in frustration. "I'm starting to think things are getting out of hand. Yeah, I know, situation normal."
After the head-count was completed, and before the prisoners were dismissed, the Kommandant made an announcement. "Prisoners of the Third Reich," he began, smugly, "I am pleased to report that our glorious forces in Tunisia have brought the advance of the British First Army to a standstill."
"Why don't you tell us about Stalingrad, mate?" came the reply.
Klink glared at the most likely offender, who was gazing into the distance with an abstracted air. "Corporal Newkirk, take two steps forward."
"Who, me, sir?" This with an expression of outraged innocence.
"Yes, you." Klink favoured him with a look of condescension. "Your added commentary is not needed. I can very well report the great success of the armies of the Third Reich without your assistance."
"I don't know what you mean, sir. To be honest," Newkirk went on confidingly, "I wasn't really listening. I was distracted by the flamingoes outside the wire."
"That's enough from you," Klink broke in. He did not turn to see if there really were flamingoes outside the wire, but his eyes flickered in that direction. "One more word, and you will find yourself on report. Back into line."
Newkirk shuffled back, apparently crushed by the injustice of the accusation.
"Sir, I protest," said Hogan. "Even if you were sure it was Newkirk - which, by the way, is open to argument - he was only asking for information. It's a long time since we've had an update on the Russian Front. The last instalment ended on such a cliffhanger...!"
"When there is any news - and it will be good news for our side, I can assure you - you will be informed." The Kommandant hesitated, then decided to cut his losses. "Dismissed!"
As the prisoners dispersed, Hogan's core team gathered outside the barracks. The colonel, relaxing against the door frame as if he had nothing on his mind, made a slow, unobtrusive survey of the compound. Once he was sure the coast was clear, he began to speak.
"We've had word from the Underground. There's a new rocket testing site, twenty miles to the north of here. One of their operatives has managed to get close enough to take some pictures. They want to pass the film over to us."
"Undeveloped, Colonel?" asked LeBeau.
"The operative thinks he's being followed, and he hasn't had a chance to do anything with it. Our job is to get the film, develop the negatives and send them to London."
"Our man can't get to us here," Kinch added. "He's hiding out near a farm the other side of Hammelburg."
"Right," Hogan took up the tale again. "Now, the farmer is going to contact Klink and request a work detail to help with some planting. While we're there, someone will go for a walk and make the pickup. Should be an easy one, for once. Any questions?"
Carter raised his hand, diffidently. "What are we supposed to be planting, Colonel?"
"Potatoes," replied Hogan. "Oh, come on," he added quickly, "it could be worse. Hard work never killed anyone"
"That's easy for you to say," muttered Kinch. "You won't be digging...sir."
"Last time we planted potatoes, I couldn't stand up straight for a week," said LeBeau sullenly.
"I had more blisters than the whole bleedin' Afrika Korps," growled Newkirk.
"Yeah, and I thought I'd never get my fingernails clean," added Carter.
Newkirk rolled his eyes. "I'll lend you my knife, Andrew. When I get it back. Which should be any minute now," he added, as Schultz hove into view.
Schultz did not look happy. He responded to their cheerful greetings with the nearest thing to a scowl that he could manage. "Don't bother me today," he said. "I have enough troubles of my own."
"What's the matter, Schultz?" asked LeBeau
"The Kommandant is still in a very bad mood. And Langenscheidt is off sick. He says he was bitten by a raccoon."
"That's bad," said Carter seriously. "Poor little thing."
"Langenscheidt is not so little," said Schultz.
"I meant the raccoon. It was probably really scared."
"Carter, there probably wasn't a raccoon at all," said Kinch. "Langenscheidt just wanted a few days off. Schultz, I bet you wish you'd thought of it first."
"No, there really was a raccoon," Schultz insisted. "I didn't see it, but I saw the bite mark. Oh, it was terrible. He had to have stitches. And they gave him an injection against rabies."
"Gee, those things hurt," Carter murmured. "How'd he take it?"
"Like any good German soldier. He cried like a baby."
"I was talking about the raccoon again, Schultz."
"You sure it wasn't a badger?" Newkirk asked, leaning on Schultz's shoulder. "Or a kitten?"
"It might have been the Kommandant," added LeBeau. "Didn't you say he was in a bad mood?"
"Very funny. Jolly jokers," muttered Schultz, shaking Newkirk off and walking away. Then he turned back. "Newkirk - please." He held out his hand.
Newkirk looked at him with guileless bemusement. "What, Schultz?"
Schultz waggled his fingers. "Give it back."
With a startled glance at his mates, Newkirk pulled the knife out of his back pocket and put it into Schultz's hand. Schultz, with an air of self-satisfaction, turned and went on his way. Newkirk gazed after him, ignoring the gleeful snickering of LeBeau and Carter. For the first time in living memory, he was speechless. Finally, he shook his head.
"I must be losing my touch," he muttered.