Author's notes: This fic was first intended to be a highly condensed flashback for my Stalag 6 fic. It was then intended to be a long oneshot, but rather than try to rush a long oneshot, I decided to turn it into a short multi-chapter fic. It encompasses my idea of how Newkirk came to grips with the fledgling operation at Stalag 13; in my mind, he would've been the last one to accept the idea of helping others escape while staying at the stalag. I realize that I ended up condensing some of the background of the fic, but my purpose for this fic is to focus on the first field mission and Newkirk's change of heart, rather than showing how the radio and tunnels were set up. Carter is not in this story, as he wouldn't be at Stalag 13 yet. As always, the characters aren't mine (except for the fliers, who will show up later), but the story is.
The tension in Stalag 13 that evening was so thick that Corporal LeBeau was certain he could cut a slice of it with his chef's knife and use it as an appetizer. The occupants of Barracks Two were all on edge, but none more so than his friend, Corporal Newkirk, who was pacing the room like a caged cat.
"Crackers…" the Englishman muttered, as he stared at the office door of Colonel Hogan, the man who had been their senior officer since the last seven weeks. "The man is truly and utterly crackers."
"Pourquoi?" LeBeau asked, pouring himself a cup of coffee to deal with his nerves. "Is it because he expects us to help three escaped fliers from Stalag 5?"
"It's impossible!" Newkirk replied. "We've gotten away with a lot these past several weeks: digging a tunnel we can't even use to escape, building a radio piece by piece, and doing it all under the nose of ol' Klink. Our luck 'as got to run out at some point!" He shook his head. "If it was just one man, we might be able to pull it off. Two is highly unlikely, but we might still get away with it. But three? I don't know about you, Louis, but I'm not going to put any faith in false 'opes; Klink isn't that barmy!"
"Pierre, le Colonel knows what he is doing," LeBeau answered.
"Oh, you think so?" Newkirk asked. "I didn't trust this colonel from the moment he showed up 'ere and ordered all escape attempts to stop." He kicked the stove. "No escape attempts! Does 'e except us to sit around 'ere like animals in a zoo?"
"He doesn't want to jeopardize the operation he is trying to pull together," LeBeau reminded him. "Your people, Pierre, have put him in charge of it."
Newkirk muttered something unintelligibly. Clearly, he didn't think too much of his own countrymen agreeing that it was best that he stay in Stalag 13. He had been here long enough, as far as he was concerned. He was not going to stand for some American colonel ordering him to stay here for the remainder of the war; the colonel had to be insane for ordering it, and even more insane for believing that Newkirk wasn't going to use that newly completed tunnel as a route to freedom.
They had started the tunnel before Colonel Hogan had arrived; Sergeant Kinchloe had led the project, but was not giving many details. The prisoners assumed that it was going to be used as a means of escape. It had come as a shock to everyone other than Kinch when, upon arriving, the new colonel instructed them to complete it, but to cease all escape activity. Nevertheless, the men followed the orders, although Newkirk was the one most upset by the colonel's brazen order.
LeBeau had been sorely disappointed when he realized that the tunnel was not for their escape, but a part of him had begun to suspect that something huge was going to happen. For one thing, Kinch had been able to get the tools for digging the tunnel, along with parts for a two-way radio, via Oscar Schnizter's dog truck. The radio parts had been LeBeau's clue that there was more to this than met the eye; if they were going to escape, why were they bothering to construct a two-way radio? LeBeau had tried to point this out to Newkirk on several occasions, but the Englishman had been more concerned with getting out, rather than what had been coming in.
It was only a few days ago that the tunnel had come to its end outside the compound, ending at a tree stump that the men had hollowed out and used as a door. Hogan had tested the tunnel personally, giving it his approval and stating that they were ready to begin their new operation—aiding downed or captured Allied fliers on their escapes. Hogan had further astounded everyone by informing them that whoever came through this camp would return to England by submarine. They were to retrieve their first "customers" later in the night, according to Kinch, who had been manning the radio since its completion.
"It just isn't cricket, especially if London has ordered me to stay 'ere," Newkirk muttered, still glaring at Hogan's office door. His voice suddenly rose in frustration. "Is London trying to imply that I'm worthless as a member of the RAF?"
"Quite the opposite," Hogan said, as he emerged from his office in time to hear the Englishman's last comment. "Newkirk, LeBeau… I need to have a word with you two and Olsen in my office; let him know as soon as he comes in."
"Oui, Colonel," LeBeau answered, saluting out of habit.
"At ease," Hogan responded, though he returned the salute. He did not insist upon the men saluting him; he didn't consider himself an ordinary officer—not when they were going to turn this camp into what could be described as anything but ordinary. Newkirk found this no-saluting policy to be the only thing he liked about Hogan; he had never intended to salute him at all once he realized that the colonel was putting the lid on all escape attempts, which had been Newkirk's obsession since being captured in 1940.
"It is probably about tonight," LeBeau said, as Hogan turned to Kinch. "We must be involved somehow."
"Well, I'll be right chuffed," Newkirk replied in an undertone that dripped with sarcasm.
The Frenchman stared at the Englishman, a blank expression on his face.
"I am not sure of your words, but there is no mistaking your tone of voice," he noted, turning back to refill his coffee cup.
As Hogan and Kinch both returned to the colonel's office, LeBeau had to admit to himself that maybe there were some things that Hogan just didn't seem to notice. Newkirk's attitude was no secret, so why was the colonel involving him in this plan? Did he think that getting Newkirk involved would change his mind? If LeBeau knew the stubborn Englishman as well as he thought he did, then it was going to take more than that to change Newkirk's opinion of Hogan and the operation—particularly when Newkirk wanted no part of it.
Tonight is going to end either very well, or very badly, the Frenchman thought to himself.
Neither he nor Newkirk spoke further until Olsen returned to the barracks. LeBeau informed the sergeant of the meeting, and the three entered Hogan's office, not sure as to what to expect.
Hogan glanced around the room, looking at each of the three before turning back to Kinch.
"Let's get started," the colonel said. "I've call you all here because of the mission we received from London; I'm sure you've heard the gist of it by now. We have to smuggle in a sergeant, a corporal, and a private into camp and get them outfitted with civilian clothes and papers. When the coast is clear, we guide them on the route to rendezvous with a member of the underground, who will take the men along the chain that will lead them to England. I need men who are ready to take the necessary risks and help these fliers; you men have the skills necessary for a mission such as this." He glanced at each of the men again. "Due to the dangerous nature of the mission, I can't order you to accept it; mission orders will only be given to those who volunteer."
"Dangerous nature?" LeBeau repeated. "But we are protected by the Geneva Convention, non?"
"In theory, the worst they can do to us for aiding an escape are any of the disciplinary actions laid out in the convention," Hogan agreed. "Klink and his men follow the Geneva Convention, but there's no guarantee that the other patrols in those woods do, too. Some of them can get trigger happy—shoot first, and ask questions later. Would you men be willing to risk that?"
He was met with silence as LeBeau, Newkirk, and Olsen mulled over their options. Kinch, of course, had long since volunteered his services to the cause.
"I will volunteer, Colonel," LeBeau said, at last.
Newkirk's head jerked around to stare at his French friend, biting his tongue.
Louis, what are you thinking? You just heard him say that you could die out there!
"I'll volunteer, too," Olsen said.
Newkirk fidgeted with his sweater collar as he felt the gazes of the other men falling upon him.
"Corporal Newkirk?" Hogan asked.
"Well, it's like you said… Sir," the Englishman said, forcing himself to add the last word. "Those patrols might fire on us, and we 'aven't even got a means to defend ourselves if that 'appens."
Hogan responded by prying open a couple of the floorboards. Within a shallow pit was a small store of weapons and ammunition.
"Incroyable…" LeBeau gasped, his eyes widening.
"You can thank Oscar Schnitzer for these, too," Kinch said.
"I wouldn't think of sending you out there unarmed," Hogan said, slightly amused as Olsen, LeBeau, and Newkirk stared. "Does that change your mind at all, Newkirk?"
"I reckon it does," he replied.
And now it was LeBeau's turn to stare at him. Newkirk had changed his mind far too quickly for LeBeau to believe that the Englishman's words were sincere.
"Good," Hogan said, apparently satisfied. He pulled put a map of the nearby area, and pointed out a spot on the map. "We move out at 2300 hours and head for this meeting point—M14. I'll go through the tunnel first, and then Olsen will follow. LeBeau, Newkirk… you'll be backing us up; follow behind us after fifteen minutes. If anything goes wrong, we'll use the walkie-talkies to communicate. The first one back will tell Kinch to radio London and say that the mission is off. But if all goes according to plan, Olsen and I will lead the three escapees back to the tunnel. We'll get them outfitted with what they need."
"How long will they be staying here, Colonel?" asked LeBeau.
"That's up in the air, depending on how much pressure we're going to be getting from the Germans," Hogan admitted. "It's going to get crowded down there with three men; I'd like to get them out of here within 48 hours, if that's even remotely possible."
The men gave a few nods of understanding.
"The rendezvous point with the underground is here," the colonel went on, indicating the spot on the map. "After that, it's out of our hands. Are there any questions?"
"What if Schultz does an unannounced bed-check tonight?" Olsen asked.
"When he holds them, he usually comes by around midnight," Hogan said. "We should be back by then."
"And if you're not, I can probably convince him to look the other way," said Kinch. "Of course… chances of that will be even better if LeBeau can make some apple strudel as an insurance policy."
"Not a bad idea," Hogan said. "That way, if Schultz doesn't show up, we can have apple strudel for tomorrow's dessert."
LeBeau rolled his eyes, but nodded. Taking his leave of them, he headed back to start preparing the strudel. Newkirk soon followed him, which prompted the Frenchman to ask what was on his mind.
"Pierre, I know you want nothing to do with the operation," he accused, but lowering his voice. "Why did you volunteer?"
"Why did you volunteer?" Newkirk countered, also quietly. "Louis, you could get done in!"
"So could you," the Frenchman countered. "You wouldn't volunteer unless you had something secretly planned."
"Well, you saw right through me," Newkirk admitted. "I suppose I should be glad that you didn't bring your suspicions to the colonel." He glanced around the barracks once before lowering his voice even further. "When I saw those weapons, it gave me an idea. Why should we stand back and watch as those three fliers get back to London? If we're armed, we can make the escape, too; we can meet with those underground agents and get out of 'ere!"
"Are you crazy?" LeBeau countered. "You accepted the mission; that means you must follow orders!"
"Oh, come off it!" the Englishman replied. "So what of 'e is a colonel; 'e ain't in my army—or yours. I don't 'ave to answer to 'im, and neither do you!"
"Pierre, we cannot-!"
"Louis, just listen to me," Newkirk said. "You and I 'ave been 'ere a ruddy long time. I must've come up with nearly two dozen escape ideas-"
"Oui, and they all failed," LeBeau reminded him. "I have lost count of the number of times I ended up in the cooler because I went along with those plans of yours!"
"Don't you see, Louis? This time, it'll work!" Newkirk said. "We've got a tunnel that leads outside of camp, and a contact to get us to London!"
"First of all, I urge you to stop saying 'we' and 'us,' as though I am going to go along with you on this mad journey," the Frenchman said. "Second of all, it would be betraying Colonel Hogan's trust and jeopardizing the mission!"
"Oh, forget the blooming mission!" the younger corporal said. "What do you owe this colonel? What 'as 'e ever done for you? I mean, look at you right now. You're breaking your back making apple strudel just to feed Schultz, and the colonel even said that 'e would eat it if Schultz didn't!"
"That is not the point," LeBeau said, as he went on preparing the strudel. "And I would hardly call this back-breaking labor."
"It doesn't bother you that you're running around using your culinary skills for other people when you could be feeding your own countrymen?" Newkirk asked.
"Well, of course it bothers me," LeBeau said. "But how could I possibly-?"
"If you escaped to London with me, you could join the Free French forces," Newkirk went on. As LeBeau's shoulders stiffened ever so slightly, the Englishman knew that he had successfully struck a nerve. "You know, I think the Croix de Lorraine would suit you… unless, of course, you'd rather stay 'ere, as per the colonel's orders instead of fighting to free your 'omeland. But orders are orders, eh? I'll be thinking of you when I see those Free French forces in London, and 'ow you would've fit right in."
He began to whistle "La Marseillaise" nonchalantly as LeBeau clenched a fist.
Newkirk had turned away from the table when he heard the slam of the mixing bowl against the table. A smirk crossed his face as LeBeau angrily began to chide him in French.
"And furthermore, how dare you try to imply that I am not wishing to liberate my home?" the irate chef said, after switching back to English.
"Then if that's what you want to do, Louis, come with me!" Newkirk offered. "We can make a break for it tonight, you and me."
LeBeau looked away as the yearning desire to fight for his beloved France clashed with the code of honor he was expected to adhere to. Colonel Hogan was counting on him, but Newkirk was right; the people of France were counting on him, too.
"I need time to think," he said, picking up his mixing bowl again.
"Sure, mate, sure; you finish that strudel and get back to me," the Englishman said, clambering onto his bunk. "I'll be 'aving a kip in the meantime."
LeBeau was too deep in thought to reply, wondering how life could get so complicated in the span of a mere five minutes.