Author's Note: This fic is going to be the first in a series of Cold War mystery fics, but I have every intent of continuing with my WWII-era fics, as well. This particular fic takes place after my in-progress "Hollow Bastion" fic, but it can be read independently of it. I also have every intent of finishing "Hollow Bastion," but as it was an early fic that I started writing before I had gained a good grip on the characters, it will be revised before I continue with it. In the meantime, I've started writing this because I'm in such a Newkirk state of mind…
Peter Newkirk squinted as he took aim at his target.
"Easy, Mate, easy…" a voice whispered in his ear.
"Leave off; you'll spoil 'is aim, you will…"
"Right; 'e doesn't need you telling 'im what to do."
Newkirk cleared his throat, and the three other voices fell silent almost immediately. He looked towards his target, imagining Major Hochstetter's picture to be pasted over it. He hurled the object in his hand.
An instant later, the dart landed cleanly in the dartboard—dead center. Applause burst out from all around him.
"Thank you, Gents!" Newkirk said, taking an overdramatic bow. "Just another effortless feat for the descendant of Robin 'ood!"
"You still spreading that story, Peter?" his long-time friend Roger asked, taking a long sip from his drink.
"Never mind that; was there anyone who actually bought that story?" asked another friend, Philip.
Newkirk responded with a shrug.
The third friend, James, shook his head and took a drink, as well. Newkirk had always been full of the most unbelievable stories ever since they had been friends at school. He was glad to see that Newkirk still had that trait—it had been noticeable to him, Roger, and Philip that their long-time friend had been significantly changed upon his return from the war. And all of them had been severely affected the day they had received the news that two more of their gang had been killed in the Blitz. The Dartboard Six, as they had been called, were now the Dartboard Four, though the four surviving members held the other two forever in their hearts.
But, even so, Peter Newkirk seemed to have changed the most out of all of them. The others couldn't blame him, of course; his sister Mavis had told Roger about how her brother had been captured by Germans trying to make it to Dunkirk and had subsequently spent almost five years in a prisoner of war camp near Hammelburg. Newkirk did not wish to talk much about his experiences there, though they had been introduced to one of the friends their comrade had made in the Luft Stalag; many a time, they had seen him talking with a short Frenchman who visited London frequently, while Newkirk himself made frequent trips to Paris. There was no doubt that Newkirk had changed, and even after two years, it looked doubtful that he would ever completely return to the carefree soul he had been before the war. However, it was on evenings like this, when the four of them were in the Red Lion, playing darts again, that it seemed almost like old times—though the absence of their dead friends did cast a somber mood on them at times.
Newkirk whistled as he distributed the winnings to the other three.
"Oi, Archibald!" he called to the bartender, waving some extra pound notes. "We'll 'ave another round of your best!"
"Better 'old that thought, Peter," said James. "Look who just arrived."
Newkirk glanced at the pub entryway and promptly sat up as Mavis herself walked in. A deep grimace was etched in her face as she glared with eyes as hazel as her brother's.
"I thought you said she was 'aving dinner tonight with 'er Niles?" Philip said.
"That's what I thought," Newkirk murmured, knowing that she had found herself a new boyfriend. "Oh, blimey; something must've 'appened."
"She broke it off with Niles!" Roger said, with a grin. He had always had a crush on Mavis, even in their younger years. "This could be me chance!"
"Roger, I wouldn't do that if I were—" Newkirk began, but decided to let him go.
"Always a pleasure, Mavis," Roger said. "Give us a kiss, Luv, go on…"
He trailed off, however, as Mavis gave him a piercing glare.
"Well," she said, looking around the pub. "If you're 'ere, then that must mean…" She paused as she noticed her brother, his eyes shifting repeatedly from left to right as he usually did when he was nervous. "Typical. You spend all evening in the pub playing darts when your only sister just got 'erself insulted! You should be telling Niles off!"
Newkirk's eyes narrowed. "What did 'e do?"
"We're 'aving our dinner," she said. "I went to fix me 'air; I wasn't gone for more than three minutes. Peter, 'e was flirting with the waitress when I got back!"
Newkirk sighed, relieved. "You're sure 'e didn't try anything?"
"Are you ruddy joking?" she asked. "I walked right out and went 'ome to talk to you. You weren't there, but I nearly killed meself tripping over the loose part of the carpet again! Peter, you promised you'd get it fixed!"
"I will, I will," he insisted. Part of the carpet in their apartment had come loose weeks ago—just inside the doorframe. Anyone entering the apartment was in danger of being tripped. And even though Newkirk had every intention of getting it repaired, he never seemed to be able to get around to it.
"When—after the next war?" Mavis asked, dryly. "Anyway, I came 'ere, knowing that this is where you'd be. Oh, and this came for you in the mail."
She tossed a letter at him.
"Oi, you got one, too!" Philip exclaimed.
"What is it?" Newkirk asked, opening it without bothering to read the envelope.
"Invitation to the RAF reunion next weekend," James said. "The three of us received one earlier today."
"Why didn't you say anything?" Newkirk asked, baffled.
"Well, we know 'ow… quiet you get when we bring up the war," Roger said. He certainly felt that the moment was turning awkward—and quickly. "Peter, look… none of us can even begin to understand what you must 'ave gone through; if you'd just talk to us, Mate…"
"And we also feel bad that while we all ended up getting ourselves promoted to sergeants, you're still a corporal," Philip added. "They should give you some recompense for the five years you spent in that ruddy place."
Newkirk grunted. The lack of a promotion was a sore spot for him and LeBeau—they spent many an hour ranting about the fact that they were still corporals after everything they did to make that underground operation a success in Stalag 13. And from what they understood, Carter was still a tech sergeant. He didn't mind as much, though he did admit that he was a bit disappointed. They understood, of course, that the information of what they had done was still highly classified, and that was, perhaps, why they had not received anything. It was also why Newkirk had always clammed up when his old schoolmates talked about their war stories.
If you three only knew what kind of stories I had to tell, your jaws would drop until they hit the table, he had thought to himself on one occasion. Even if nothing else, I wish I could have told you the truth about the Berlin Betty incident. I know you three don't hold it against me, and I'm grateful for that, but if you only knew the real reason why I made that broadcast for her…
He had trailed off after that; there was no point in dreaming about "ifs." He would have to let them continue thinking that the broadcast he had done for Berlin Betty had been done in a moment of weakness. They could never know the truth about the coded message he had sent…
"I don't suppose you'll be going?" James asked, bringing Newkirk to the present.
"What?" the corporal asked. "Oh. Actually, I think I will be going. I mean, it'd be a shame to waste the food."
"It wouldn't be wasted," Roger said, pointing to a line on the invitation. "Look. 'Attendees are welcomed and encouraged to bring guests to the reunion.'" He smirked as a thought struck him. "Oi, Mavis, seeing as though you aren't seeing anyone at the moment, would you like to…" He trailed off as her refusal was clearly written on her features.
"You lot are all the same—immature and always looking at other girls, even when you've got your arm around one!" she snapped. "What 'appened to those romantic men—the ones always so full of chivalry?"
"Chivalry? You won't find that around 'ere," Newkirk mused. He sighed. "Well, I don't 'ave anyone to take along as a guest… unless Louis would like to visit for the weekend, I suppose…"
"That's it!" Mavis exclaimed.
Newkirk blinked. "What's it?"
"The French are the romantics—the ones with debonair chivalry!" she exclaimed. "You read about it in all the romance novels! Peter, you take Louis and me as your guests!"
"You and Louis!" Newkirk repeated. "You and Louis! Mavis, the bloke is nearly nine years older than you!"
"Then 'e'll be more mature than these blokes!" she insisted. "I'm going to get meself a gown first thing tomorrow!"
Pleased with the outcome of things, she left the pub in a considerably better mood.
"She chose a short French bloke over me…?" Roger asked, stunned.
"Watch it; that short French bloke is me mate, too, you know," Newkirk said. "Though whether or not 'e stays that way after I tell 'im this is another matter." He shook his head.
Somehow, he knew that this was not going to end well.
Deciding to deal with one issue at a time, Newkirk decided to pay the necessary money in the payphone to make a long-distance call to Paris to tell LeBeau about the reunion—conveniently forgetting to mention Mavis's arrangements. Blissfully unaware of what was in store for him, LeBeau was more than happy to drop everything and come to London.
"The restaurant will do fine without me; it is time I took a vacation," he had said, and he meant it; things were running much more smoothly at his restaurant, Maison d' Frère-Loup (he had named the place "House of Brother-Wolf" cleverly after his code name during the operation—Big Bad Wolf) now that he owned the property on which it stood. "Why wait until next weekend? I will come tomorrow!"
And he had already gone before Newkirk could get in another word; if it weren't for Mavis, Newkirk wouldn't have minded at all. He always looked forward to LeBeau's visits; it was a chance to get together in the pub with someone who had been there at Stalag 13 with him for nearly every step of the way and discuss about the truth of what happened there—the missions, the tunnels, the disguises, the ploys, the friends, the enemies, the gorgeous underground agents who stole their hearts and broke them, too… all of the secrets.
Hopefully, this unforeseen hiccup with Mavis wouldn't change things this time. With any luck, Mavis might just forget all about it by the time the weekend came, or perhaps even found a new boyfriend.
He sighed, stepping out into the autumn air and headed for the apartment, stepping over the loose part of the carpet by habit as he entered and looked around. The place was in fair order, though Mavis had declared it a mess. However, Newkirk knew that LeBeau was not a person he had to tidy up for—as long as Newkirk stayed clear of the little kitchenette while the Frenchman was here. Even after this long, they simply could not agree on which kind of cuisine was the best.
The Englishman sighed again, sitting down on the sofa that could easily convert into a bed when LeBeau arrived. It was because of the Frenchman that he and his sister had their two-bedroom apartment; LeBeau had allowed Newkirk to work as an entertainer in his restaurant until he had found a job of his own, and Newkirk finally had—he and old acquaintance Sergeant Malcolm Flood were performing in a theatre devoted to magic shows. Newkirk performed the sleights of hand and prestidigitation acts as he did best, while Flood performed his many escape tricks; Newkirk usually assisted him in his acts, and sometimes those of other magicians, allowing him to earn extra money. The corporal was proud and pleased that he was, at last, earning enough to support himself and his sister without having to resort to thievery like had had to do before the war. And though LeBeau had offered to help with the rent, Newkirk had refused, determined to handle this on his own at last.
And now, Lady Luck finally seemed to be smiling down on Peter Newkirk.
"Fish and chips are on the table, Peter," Mavis called from her room as she fixed her hair. "If you want anything else, you'll 'ave to make it yourself."
"That'll be enough. Once Louis gets 'ere, we won't be eating fish and chips again until after 'e leaves…"
"That's because 'e is a man what knows good eats," she replied. "That's another plus, that is! I can't believe I never thought of 'im sooner!"
"You do realize that Louis 'as other birds, right?" Newkirk pointed out, beginning to tear ravenously into the fish and chips. "Last time I talked to 'im, 'e was still trying to choose which one of them to go steady with."
"Well, as long as 'e 'asn't chosen yet, I've still got a chance! A true romantic won't look at another girl when 'e as one by 'is side."
"Look, just do me one favor," Newkirk said. "When 'e gets 'ere tomorrow, don't tell 'im about the arrangements of you going with 'im to the reunion. Let me be the one to warn—I mean… tell 'im."
"I will not dignify that with a reply," she insisted. "Forget about me; you need to tidy up the place!"
"Oh, leave off!" the corporal replied. "Louis is me little mate; 'e's not going to be coming around 'ere to judge me by 'ow out-of-place everything is. You know 'e's like a brother to me. And after five ruddy years in Stalag 13 with barracks inspections every other day, the both of us prefer keeping things out of order!"
Mavis clammed up now, focusing on removing the ribbons she had tied into her short, brown hair. She always walked on eggshells around her brother whenever his time in Stalag 13 came into the conversation; he reacted differently to it every time. On some days, he was annoyed and angry, while on other days, he would be regretful. And there were some occasions, like the current moment, where he'd bring it up into the conversation almost casually—there were even times he seemed proud, though Mavis wasn't sure as to what he was proud of.
She had often asked him, of course, about what had happened while he was there. His letters to her had been her only contact with him for five years—giving her snapshots of what must be going on. In one letter, he had mentioned singing and performing in a show; in another, he had been cursing a girl named Gretel. But one thing had always been constant in his letters—his praise and admiration for the friends he had made. First, it had been just LeBeau. Then, once the United States had entered the war, he started talking about American friends—a staff sergeant who seemed to be the most intelligent person Newkirk had ever met, a colonel who had the wildest imagination he had ever seen, and a young tech sergeant who drove Newkirk half-mad at times, but whom he admired just the same.
Newkirk had never divulged more than that. All he would say when asked about what happened in Stalag 13 was that he had only made it through those five years because of the others. Mavis, naturally, assumed that he was referring to moral support.
She never would have guessed the truth, nor would she have guessed that this secret part of her brother's life would soon be returning to him.