I don't know when it first began. Not the exact date, that is. Now I can trace it back to Newkirk's fever, the three night and three day nightmare. I honestly believed he was lost then, his skin turning almost transulucent and his eyes sinking deep into his skull. I couldn't find any real sources for this fever, any injuries other than some deep gouges and scratches down his shoulder and chest. And oddly enough, he remained lucid and aware. Continually burning, his skin alternating between flushed red and yellow grey and always dry, I tried everything from icepacks to a tub of water to break the fever. Nothing worked. The fever would fall then rekindle and Newkirk would toss and turn, grinding and gnashing his teeth.
Telling Colonel Hogan Newkirk was dying on that second day was the hardest thing I've ever done. The Colonel cares for all his men but his command crew are special. They risk their lives daily, follow him no matter what. All of us help out. Kinch, Newkirk, LeBeau, and Carter make it work. "What do you mean, he's dying?"
"Nothing is bringing the fever down. Even Klink's doctor has no idea."
Colonel Hogan walked over, brushed Newkirk's hair back with a slightly trembling hand. Newkirk opened his eyes, gave Hogan a wan smile. "Hi, gov," he whispered.
"Feeling a bit better, gov. I'll be fine."
"I know. Get some sleep." I watched the Colonel settle next to Newkirk, touch his hand. Newkirk fell asleep and I exhaled.
"Good. He hasn't been sleeping."
Hogan nodded and his eyes turned shadowy. "Wilson, would pencillin help?"
"Maybe if we could get it." I swallowed hard. "It may not work, sir. He's simply burning out."
I watched Colonel Hogan's face harden. "No. He's not leaving this way." He grasped Newkirk's hand. "Stay with us, Peter." He stood, squeezed Newkirk's hand. Newkirk opened his eyes, stared at the Colonel. I didn't understand the look they shared nor the whispers Newkirk uttered. He fell back asleep and Colonel Hogan looked at me. "I'll be back," he said. "Has he eaten?"
He nodded and left. I laid fresh, cold rags on Newkirk's face, stripped off his damp shirt. His skin blazed under my fingers and I felt his heart racing even while he slept. When Colonel Hogan returned, LeBeau followed him with a covered pot that smelled incredible. Colonel Hogan glanced at me. I looked away and he sat down. LeBeau sat next to Newkirk, smiling as Newkirk's nostrils twitched and his eyes opened and widened. As LeBeau fed Newkirk, I took Colonel Hogan aside. We talked quietly. "Pencillin?" I finally asked.
The Colonel's eyes flashed. "We'll get it. London's dragging their feet but we'll get it."
"Mon Colonel?" The Colonel and I turned. LeBeau gestured. Newkirk slept again, fingers clenching reflexively. "What is wrong?" LeBeau demanded. "He ate some but he is still hot. Very hot."
I couldn't answer him. I only laid a hand on Newkirk's neck, winced at the blistering temperature raising from his skin. LeBeau looked at me. "Is he dying?" he asked in a whisper.
"No." Hogan touched Newkirk. "He'll be fine."
I rarely get mad at the Colonel. He's a terrific man. This outright lie infuriated me. "Sir, he's self-combusting!" I hissed.
"He'll be fine," the Colonel repeated. He looked down at Newkirk. As if reading his mind, Newkirk opened his eyes. He blinked, peering around glassily.
"Oui, mon ami."
"Andrew? James?" That startled me. Hardly anyone uses Kinch's first name. Heck, hardly anyone knows it.
"I can get them," LeBeau said.
"Don't go," Newkirk whispered. "Stay."
LeBeau looked at Colonel Hogan. "Of course," the Colonel replied, nodding to LeBeau. They both sat down and began talking to Newkirk. I walked out, grabbed a bite to eat, and told Kinch and Carter to join the Colonel.
"How's Newkirk?" Carter asked eagerly.
I looked at him and then at my tasteless food. "He's alive, Carter," I replied. I felt Kinch's knowing gaze. Carter looked at me suspiciously. Then he left. Kinch studied my face.
"He's dying." Not a question. I looked at him, nodded.
"I can't get the fever to break. Neither Klink's doctor or I can figure out what's going on. And Newkirk's totally lucid which is odd. Normally that high of a fever makes a patient hallucinate." I look at Kinch. "You should see him. He was asking for you."
Kinch nodded and left. When I returned to the infirmary, the men all clustered around the bed. I stepped over to the bed. Newkirk smiled, skin a sickly sallow grey. "Hey, mate," he uttered.
"Klink was here," Carter said. "He brought Newkirk some schnapps."
The Colonel spent the night with Newkirk. I came in the next morning, found the Colonel holding Newkirk's shoulders as Newkirk convulsed. "Peter, stop!" he blurted. Newkirk uttered a choked cry and stilled. I pulled a sedative, inhaling as I felt muscles twist under my hands.
"How long has he been convulsing?" I asked. I injected Newkirk quickly.
"20, 30 seconds."
I nodded. "I'll watch him, sir. Get some rest." Newkirk stilled as the sedative took effect.
"He rests easier with company." Colonel Hogan touched Newkirk's shoulder and Newkirk's hand reached out to clasp his. I started forward but the bright, unnatural gleam in Newkirk's eyes made me stop. The Colonel murmured to him and Newkirk grinned.
"Go on, gov. I'll be fine."
I stayed with Newkirk, gave him water and aspirin. Newkirk's fever rose and fell. Kinch, Carter, LeBeau, and the Colonel constantly came and went. LeBeau brought broth and tea, fed the half concious Newkirk with great patience. "He is too ill, too sick," LeBeau said. "And what can we do?"
"Be with him," I said. I looked at LeBeau. "I'm sorry LeBeau. I don't know what else we can do. He's being incinerated from the inside."
LeBeau gulped. We turned as Carter came in. Carter looked at us and sat next to Newkirk. As the hours crept by, Kinch came and took a place beside Carter. "The Colonel's getting medicine," he said. "Hang on, Peter."
"Can't. Go. Alone." Newkirk opened his eyes, stared at Kinch. "He. Needs. Someone." Each word rasped through fever dried vocal cords. I checked Newkirk's tempature and exhaled. 105.3. It was increasing again. I bit my lip. He simply couldn't survive this much longer.
"I'm going with him," LeBeau reassured Newkirk.
"Oui, mon ami."
The Colonel and LeBeau brought nothing. Heavy storms kept all our planes away. I kept Newkirk damp, trembling at the heat he emitted. The Colonel sat beside him, a look in his face that made my stomach clench. "You did your best, sir," I whispered.
"He can't die."
"Not going to die." Newkirk opened his eyes. "Can't leave."
The night dragged on. I left at the Colonel's orders. When I returned in the morning, I stared. Newkirk looked at me, sweat drenched and clear eyed. Colonel Hogan slept in a chair next to him. I touched Newkirk, felt damp, cool skin and shook my head. "The fever's broke," I blurted.
"I smell like a ruddy dog. I need a shower."
"You need to eat!"
"Shower, first." He reached out and touched Hogan. "Gov?"
The Colonel jerked and stared at him. "You're all right," he said.
"I am. Go get some rest, gov."
Colonel Hogan stood and smiled. Newkirk grinned and the Colonel grasped his shoulder. Then Hogan left and I helped Newkirk to the infirmary shower.
That fever started it. Newkirk recovered nicely, amazingly quick actually. Life went on. The cold winter approached and the missions actually increased. Colonel Hogan got caught in a blizzard but returned with the sheepish tale of being helped by a large black dog. Newkirk became the go to on a lot of missions because he had discovered an odd knack for short cuts and speed. Yet I also noted his temper seemed shorter at times and he watched over Carter, Hogan, LeBeau, and Kinch like a hawk. More than once, Colonel Hogan found me at his door because of an injury Newkirk had spotted that the Colonel 'forgot' to tell me about. "How did he find out?' the Colonel once demanded.
"He said you're holding your arm funny. Colonel."
"He's a little too sharp eyed lately," Colonel Hogan grumbled.
I shrugged and cleaned and wrapped the Colonel's arm. I always wondered how Newkirk explained himself but Colonel Hogan looked disgruntled more than once.
"Here I thought you were the mother hen," I remarked to LeBeau one day. Visitors had come to the Stalag and all of us were curious. Newkirk alone seemed angry, watching the visitors with a cold gaze.
"Very funny," LeBeau said. "He's just being Pierre."
"Since when is Newkirk that watchful?"
LeBeau shrugged. "He is worried. We have had close calls lately. And the visitors have him upset."
"Je ne suis quoi. Perhaps because the women like mon Colonel."
"Then he's in trouble because every female visitor likes Colonel Hogan."
"Oui. Come on. Schutlz is calling for inspection."
We all fell out, stomping our feet as Klink made the rounds with his guests. I smiled. The women were very attractive, two golden blondes and one striking brunette. There were three men as well. All wore SS uniforms. They eyed all of us with a measuring look. I felt-odd. As if being assessed and appraised.
What happened at the Barracks Two inspection became a variety of stories. Some said the male SS Captain slapped Newkirk. Others said Newkirk hit him. Carter said frankly that one of the women had touched Newkirk's face and simply said Newkirk was rather less than what she expected. At that, Newkirk had told her to sod off and he wasn't there for some Nazi bi... "The Colonel stopped him then He was pretty upset." Carter flushed. "I understand. That word isn't polite. Klink was going to put Newkirk in the cooler but the SS captain said Newkirk could serve them dinner. Colonel Hogan agreed." Carter swallowed. "Colonel Hogan's really mad."
Dinner must have infuriated the Colonel. I was in Barracks Two when Newkirk came in, dressed in waiter's togs. He grinned at me, headed for the tunnels. "Just tell the gov I'm down here," he said.
"Is the Colonel coming?" Carter looked around. "That was a fast dinner."
"Oh, he'll be coming in a minute or two. And he'll be ruddy angry so just stay out of his way, Andrew."
"What did you do?" Kinch asked.
"Who said I did anything? Blimey, Kinch, I'm hurt." Newkirk grinned wider. "Just tell him I'm down below."
Colonel Hogan stalked in about ten minutes later, jaw muscles jerking. LeBeau followed silently. "Where?" Colonel Hogan snarled. Carter pointed to the tunnel and Colonel Hogan slammed his hand on the bunk. The bunk flew up and he started down the ladder. "Don't disturb us," he ordered Kinch. The bunk shut after him.
I looked at LeBeau. "I was in the kitchen," he explained "I guess Newkirk insulted the guests. Mon Colonel is tres angry." He shrugged. "They are only filthy Boche."
"But we may need them," Carter protested. "And since when does Newkirk insult girls?"
"Since they insulted him. I did hear one woman call him a good servant. And not as a compliment."