What Price Freedom?

A sense of duty pursues us ever. It is omnipresent, like the Deity. If we take to ourselves the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, duty performed or duty violated is still with us, for our happiness or our misery. If we say the darkness shall cover us, in the darkness as in the light our obligations are yet with us.

--Daniel Webster, Argument on the Murder of Captain White, April 6, 1830. Vol. vi. p. 105


Late August, 1942

Closing his eyes, Colonel Robert E. Hogan rested his shoulder against a tree and listened to the night sounds filling the air. He could hear the soft chirping of crickets, the slight breeze ruffling dried leaves in the trees, and in the distance, the quiet gurgling of a nearby stream. Momentarily banishing all the burdens of command from his mind, he smiled, enjoying the quiet beauty.

I could almost believe I'm back home, sitting on Mom's porch swing enjoying a quiet evening.

After a few moments of daydreaming, he shook himself and sternly brought his thoughts back to returning to Stalag 13 before morning roll call. His command was based at the German P.O.W. camp. Though familiar and comfortable by most standards, Stalag 13 was definitely not home. And home was what his thoughts had been drifting to quite a lot in the past few weeks.

Perhaps it was because of the seemingly endless missions to be accomplished, each just as dangerous as the one before. Or maybe, he thought, once again silently threading his way through the deep cover of the woods, it's because I haven't received any letters from home in the past two mail calls. That was unusual, and more than a little worrisome. No news isn't always good news. Mom mentioned in her last letter that she'd not been feeling well. It's not like her to mention her own health. His letters to his widowed mother and to his four younger siblings had remained unanswered; again a very unusual occurrence. His family had always been close-knit. The written silence was unsettling.

Now nearing the end of his first year of command at Stalag 13, he frequently felt an empty longing, but for what, he didn't know. Maybe it's because it's the end of summer here, and the snows will be coming soon. He shook his head in disgust. Oh, for crying out loud! Stop moping around like a homesick kid! Whatever's wrong, get over it! He knew that to lose concentration at the wrong time could be a possibly fatal error...not only for himself, but for his men, also.

The thought had no sooner passed through his mind than he heard the sound of a patrol making its way through the brush ahead of him.

Quickly, he dropped to the ground and became completely motionless. As luck would have it, he'd been near a fallen tree. He huddled closely against its rough bark, hoping that his black clothing would make him appear no more than another shadow in the woods. Breathing shallowly, he listened as the patrol paused close to his position and began speaking quietly amongst themselves. Concentrating on their conversation, he could occasionally make out a word or phrase.

They seemed to simply be passing through the area, searching for the prisoners who'd recently escaped from nearby Stalag 9. Kommandant Klink had been gleeful when he'd received the news that Kommandant Decker had lost yet another group of prisoners. And why shouldn't he? It just makes his record look all the better! The self-important kommandant had no inkling that his stalag was the base of operations for one of the most successful underground units in Germany.

Hogan shifted carefully and removed a twig that had been jabbing him painfully in the side. C'mon, fellas! Some of us have curfew! His expression softened with a small smile when he remembered the recent lecture he'd given one of his men, Frenchman Corporal Louis LeBeau, about his not returning to camp by a designated time. I am never going to hear the end of it if I'm late!

Hogan continued to huddle against the tree while chills worked their way into his body and the soldiers talked and smoked the cigarettes they'd lit. All I need now is for my teeth to start chattering!

Finally, the patrol moved on in their search for the missing prisoners. Hogan remained where he was, giving them plenty of time to leave the area before he made any movement. When he finally felt it was safe enough, he stiffly got to his feet and continued on to camp, doubling his pace when his watch indicated that dawn was less than two hours away.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Sergeant Hans Schultz surveyed the prisoners huddled in front of Barracks 2, their arms wrapped around themselves, feet stamping in a vain attempt to bring warmth back into numbed toes brought on by the early morning frost. Glancing to his left as he counted his way down the ranks of bodies, Schultz smiled. Colonel Hogan, the camp's American senior P.O.W. officer, appeared barely awake, his eyes blinking owlishly in the morning sun. An occasional shiver shook his, interspersed with jaw-cracking yawns.

"Tsk, tsk, tsk," Schultz clucked as he stopped in front of Hogan, "Colonel, have you been staying up past lights out again reading the girlie magazines?" He punctuated the question with a wiggle of his eyebrows.

"Aw, Schultz, have a heart! I've got to remind myself somehow what the opposite sex looks like!" Ignoring his men's snickering, Hogan glanced past Schultz's shoulder. Colonel Wilhelm Klink, Stalag 13's kommandant, emerged from his office and marched across the yard toward them. Hogan tapped Schultz on the shoulder, then pointed discreetly to the approaching officer.

"REPORT!" Klink's typical morning bellow seemed unnaturally loud to Hogan's ears, causing him to wince in reaction.

Schultz came to attention and snapped off what passed as a salute. "Herr Kommandant, all prisoners are present and accounted for!"

"Very good. Now, I want you all to listen and listen very carefully to what I am about to say."

Hogan rolled his eyes while the rest of the assembled prisoners grumbled quietly. He imagined their thoughts were similar to his own. Not another long-winded speech, please! Focusing on Klink, Hogan's eyes narrowed as he noticed Klink's erratic movements. He seems more wound up than usual.

"Now, in just less than two weeks, we are going to have a very important visitor here at Stalag 13, and I want this camp to be immaculate! All barracks will be cleaned, all trash will be picked up daily. You will do everything possible to make this camp spotless!" Klink paused, glaring back and forth at the ranks of men before him as they groaned loudly in response to his orders.

"And you, Colonel Hogan, will make certain that your men comply!"

Hogan blinked at the finger which had suddenly been thrust into his face as the German officer came to a halt in front of him. Taking a deep breath, he fought back a sudden surge of irritation and desire to physically strike out at the German.

"Kommandant, my men are tired from working on the road detail for the past two weeks! Cut us some slack!"

Klink's eyebrows shot upward before settling together in a scowl. "I will 'cut you some slack', Colonel! I will throw you and any of your men who do not comply into the cooler for thirty days so that you might all have a vacation! You will do as I say or suffer the consequences! Do I make myself clear?" Klink glared at the American officer, as if daring him to rebel further.

"Perfectly, Kommandant."

"Good. Dismissed!" Tucking his riding crop more tightly under his arm, Klink twirled on his heel and marched back to his office.

"Well, what's gotten a bee into his bonnet, do you suppose?" Corporal Peter Newkirk asked as he moved to join the group of prisoners gathering around Hogan.

"Yeah, Colonel, Klink sure seemed out of sorts!" Sergeant Andrew Carter glanced at Klink's office over his shoulder, before turning back to his commanding officer.

Hogan stared down at his feet, his thoughts muddled. Shifting his shoulders uncomfortably beneath his brown bomber jacket, he searched his memory for anything that could be linked to Klink's reference to an important visitor. Not enough sleep. Think! Drawing a mental blank, he looked over at their radio man, Sergeant James Kinchloe.

"Kinch, has Klink gotten any phone calls about a visitor?"

"Nope. Just the usual. You know, camp business, Colonel. Nothing about anyone or anything that would rate this kind of reaction." Kinch shrugged his shoulders.

"All right. LeBeau, I want you and Carter to get into Klink's office today and check out his mail and the papers in his desk. Look for anything out of the ordinary. Tell Schultz you need to clean."

"But colonel," LeBeau said, "we just cleaned Klink's office yesterday. Schultz is sure to give us trouble about going back in so soon to clean."

"Tell him it's all the dust from the road. Use your imagination. You'll come up with something. Just get it done!" Hogan shouldered his way through the gathered men and went back to the barracks.

"Gents, is it just me, or has the colonel seemed a bit off lately?" Newkirk gazed after Hogan as he disappeared into the barracks, closing the door loudly behind him.

"He has been a grouch lately, but kind of quiet, too." Carter replied. He'd noticed over the past few days that Hogan had occasionally seemed quiet and distant, only joining in the usual barracks banter when verbally prodded.

The others nodded as they, too, considered their commanding officer's recent behavior. Hogan usually enjoyed the easy camaraderie of his men, joining in the teasing and conversation readily. Though their superior officer, and a very private individual, Hogan had always been approachable. Lately, he seemed to fluctuate between surliness and melancholy, and had been spending long periods of time sequestered in his office.

Kinchloe quietly listened to the conversation flowing around him. He'd also noticed the colonel's increasing mood changes and lack of patience. While he shared the others respect and affection for Hogan, he felt close to the officer in a way he didn't think the others did. He and Hogan would often spend time together playing chess, or just quietly sit outside the barracks observing day to day life at the camp. They were both private individuals, and shared a wry amusement of the sometimes comedic interaction between the prisoners and the camp guards, Schultz, in particular. On rare occasions, Hogan had talked with Kinch about his hometown, his family, and even rarer, about his military life before his arriving at Stalag 13. Kinch had felt honored to glimpse a small part of his superior's personal life, and had reciprocated by telling him about his family and some of the dreams he had for after the war.

Now, Hogan seemed to need someone to talk to, and Kinch hoped that the officer would allow him to help.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Well, here goes nothing!

Kinch paused with his hand on the doorknob to Hogan's quarters and gathered his courage around him. Talk about braving the 'Papa Bear' in his den! Kinch smiled, thinking Hogan's underground codename quite appropriate, considering the recent touchiness he'd displayed. Taking a deep breath, Kinch knocked and then entered to the called greeting from the other side of the door.

Hogan glanced up from his bunk where he'd been reading an old dog-eared paperback book. The interruption was actually welcome. He'd re-read the same page for the last ten minutes, unable to maintain his concentration on the words before him. Placing the book aside, he gave Kinch his full attention.

"What is it? A message come in from London?"

Kinch shook his head and leaned back against the door. Silently, he assessed his commander's appearance. There was a drawn look about Hogan's eyes, and a loss of weight that had been hidden beneath Hogan's bomber jacket. Kinch knew that Hogan had been spending longer periods of time in the stalag's rec hall, using what little weight equipment they were allowed to keep in shape and combat boredom. The extra time had reaped benefits, causing the slight paunch he'd begun to grow from LeBeau's rich cooking to completely disappear, to be replaced with lean, firm muscle. Kinch had applauded the colonel's efforts, and had even joined him in his workouts, not only as encouragement to the colonel but also to maintain his own boxing form. But now, looking at the man seated before him, he was concerned. The leanness was beginning to approach thinness. He made a mental note to himself to ask LeBeau to make some of the officer's favorite dishes, to coax him into eating more.

"Colonel, may I ask you something?" Kinch's fingers crossed in his coat pockets as he prayed that he'd caught the other man in an open mood.

Hogan cocked his head to one side, curious as to why Kinch was so serious and hesitant. If there wasn't a message from the underground, then what could it be? A personal problem, maybe?

"Sure, Kinch. What is it?"

"Well, I know that it's really none of my business, sir, but I just wondered if there's anything you needed or wanted to talk about? You were there for me, when I got that letter telling me about my sister dying, and I remember how much your support meant to me…still does, for that matter. I'd like to return the favor, sir, if I might?" Kinch stopped the flow of words which had seemingly come out of nowhere, surprising even himself. He'd noticed how his CO's body had tensed in response to his initial question, but had gradually relaxed while Kinch had continued talking. Come on, Colonel! Open up! Let me help!

Hogan lowered his eyes. Kinch's quiet declaration and concern had touched him more than he would've thought possible. He appreciated the effort that Kinch had made to approach him, and realized it couldn't have been easy, in light of the sergeant's usual reticence in regard to personal matters.

"Thanks, Kinch. I'm okay. Maybe just a little tired from all the recent activity and getting in late this morning from last night's rendevous. I'll get some shut-eye and be just fine." Hogan looked up in time to notice the disappointment which flashed across his sergeant's face.

"Kinch," Hogan paused and gave a small sigh, "I really do appreciate your concern, and I just might take you up on your offer sometime." Hogan was glad to see Kinch smile in response to his statement, and watched as the sergeant nodded and then quietly left his quarters.

Wearily breathing a deep sigh and rubbing his hands over his face, Hogan leaned back against the wall behind his bunk, chastising himself for being so out of sorts that it would draw his men's concern. Get it together, Rob! You can't afford this!

HH HH HH HH HH HH

LeBeau and Carter's foray into Klink's office yielded a document of official notification to the kommandant of General Hans Krieger's scheduled visit in less than two weeks. Krieger, a close personal friend of General Burkhalter, would be passing through the area on his way to meet with Hitler. He would be carrying with him, in a specially designed security briefcase, proposed plans for troop movements on the western front. Stalag 13 would serve as a stopover along the way, and full military honors and lodging were expected.

Hogan eagerly read the document that his men had delivered into his hands. Hmm, no wonder Klink's in such a tizzy! Not only is this guy Burkhalter's friend, he could possibly put in a good word to Hitler about Klink and his "escape-proof" prisoner of war camp. Klink is gonna want LeBeau and all the trimmings to help make a good impression. We've got to find a way to get those plans to the underground.

He looked up from reading the pilfered document as the hidden tunnel entrance in their barracks opened. Kinch appeared from beneath the lower bunk concealing the entrance, his hand clutching a piece of paper, his face grim.

"Message from London, Colonel. There's a convoy of munitions coming tonight, bound for Hammelburg. They want it and the Hammelburg Bridge taken out at the same time." After delivering his message into his CO's hands, Kinch moved to the cookstove and poured himself some coffee to try to put some warmth back into his body. Spending time in their tunnel system got downright chilly when he had to sit for long hours monitoring the radio bands.

"Oh, boy. When it rains, it pours." Hogan slowly sat down at the barracks table, and ran a hand through his jet black hair, ruffling it and causing the front to fall loosely over his forehead. Absently, he pushed it back into place, sparing a thought to getting Carter to cut it.

"How are we on explosives, Carter?"

"We got plenty, boy! Uh, sir. I've got anything you could possible want! I've got -- "

"Okay, Carter, I get the picture." Hogan smiled briefly at Carter's usual boyish enthusiasm for his weaponry. "We'll take the bridge and convoy out tonight. See to it that you have everything we need ready to go, Carter. I don't want any last minute surprises, okay?"

"Okay, sir!" Carter descended quickly into the tunnel, already thinking ahead to the explosives he'd need to pack for the night's mission.

"Guv'nor, what about ol' iron britches?" Newkirk asked from his bunk where he'd been reading. "You know when he gets in these moods, he has unannounced bed checks."

Hogan nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, you're right. I better see what I can do about making sure Klink has his bed check early enough to fit our time schedule. We wouldn't him to interfere with our plans tonight."

The talk of plans reminded Hogan of Krieger's impending visit. He turned to LeBeau, who was seated at the table mending a pair of pants."Klink's probably going to ask you to fix some gourmet meals for this General Krieger. He'll want the full red carpet treatment for this guy."

LeBeau rolled his eyes, resigned to cooking once again for the kommandant and his guests. In his opinion, Germans would eat dogfood if it arrived on silver plates served by white-gloved hands. "Oui, colonel." Pausing a moment in his needlework, LeBeau smirked to himself.

They have eaten dogfood on silver plates!

HH HH HH HH HH HH

After passing the obligatory bed check that night, Hogan and his men changed into their black clothing, gathered their equipment, and traveled quickly to the Hammelburg Bridge. Their evening's schedule was tight, with little time to spare if they were to plant the charges before the munitions convoy arrived at the bridge.

Leading his men through the woods, Hogan silently cursed the full moon that lit the landscape around them, rendering everything in crisp shades of gray and black. There was no time to allow for stealth to avoid being seen in the brilliant light. They reached the bridge in good time, encountering no foot patrols or traffic on the nearby country road.

So far, so good. Hogan carefully studied the area surrounding the bridge, looking for anything that looked suspicious; alert to any possible danger. The caution pared precious moments from their limited time, but he wasn't about to risk his men's lives, bridge and munitions convoy, or not. Giving the woods a final check, he motioned his men forward to begin planting the charges while he kept watch.

LeBeau, Carter, Newkirk and Kinch moved quickly to the bridge pilings, where they secured Carter's prepared packs of dynamite; enough to easily take down the bridge and the convoy that would be passing over it. Hogan watched from the rocks nearby, occasionally glancing around for any movement in the brush or from the road above. What a beautiful night, he thought as he looked up at the glowing moon suspended above them in a totally cloudless night sky. The stars look like they're hanging just out of my reach. Returning his attention to the area beneath the bridge, he saw that his men had finished setting the charges and were moving back to his position.

"Timers are all set, Colonel," Carter gasped as he and the others pulled up beside Hogan on the rocks. His pulse was pounding as he looked back at the bridge. This was always the most nerve-wracking part for him. The charges were set, everything was in place. Now, all he could do was wait for everything to come together and work as planned. Carter was confident that the explosives he'd prepared would go off. But there was always a small part of him that seemed to hold its breath until the first explosion was heard.

Suddenly, they all froze in place when they heard the convoy approaching the bridge … ten minutes too soon!

"Damn!" Hogan clenched his fists at his sides as he saw the convoy reach the far end of the bridge. It would be completely across by the time the timers went off and the explosives took out the bridge. I knew everything was going too well! Turning quickly to his men, he snapped, "Kinch give me your rifle! All of you get back and take cover!"

Kinch quickly handed over his rifle. He thought he knew what his CO had in mind. If Hogan was able to hit one of the packs of explosives, the resulting explosion would cause the other packs to go off, taking out the bridge and the convoy as planned. But there would probably only be time for one shot, and it was a very dangerous one. To have a good angle to take the shot, Hogan would have to stand on top of the rocks, in the bright moonlight, in clear view of anyone on the bridge. If he missed his first shot, there was a good chance he wouldn't have time for another before he was shot from the bridge by return fire.

And even if he hits it with his first shot, Kinch thought as he and the others plunged into the woods, he'll be too close to the force of the explosion! We all will!

Hogan nimbly clambered further up onto the rocks to get a clear shot at the explosives secured beneath the bridge. This is a lot more important than any paper target I've ever shot! He was a natural marksman, a talent he'd never shared with his men. He'd always felt it was best to keep his more lethal strengths to himself. Now, his marksmanship was desperately needed. He only hoped his lack of practice wouldn't be the cause of the mission's failure.

The brilliant moonlight he'd cursed earlier now became a blessing as it easily lit the explosive packs secured to the pilings. Hogan glanced up in time to see the last truck of the convoy roll onto the bridge. Sighting quickly down the barrel of the rifle at the illuminated explosives, he took a breath, held it, and gently squeezed the trigger.

The quiet, moonlit night exploded into fire and horrendous sound as the explosives detonated one after another in a domino effect. The bridge began buckling downward into the stream as deadly shrapnel of wood and metal flew through the air. The convoy and its cargo of munitions added to the fiery destruction as they, too, exploded and plummeted into the stream.

The noise gradually subsided, leaving only the crackling and popping of the burning wreckage and an occasional gurgle of water as more debris sank into the stream.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Kinch moaned softly and rolled over in the dried leaves that had cushioned his fall. Dazedly, he looked around for any sign of the others. A moan came off to his left. Kinch started to get up, back quickly sank back onto the leaves. His muscles simply rebelled at the too-quick movement, harshly letting him know that he was really going to feel it when they fully stiffened from the recent abuse they'd suffered. His left leg felt especially tender from the awkward position in which he'd landed, but it held him as he finally made it to his feet. Moving to his left, he located LeBeau, lying in a crumpled heap among some bushes.

Slowly, Kinch turned the Frenchman over and checked him for injuries. Other than some cuts and a small knot above his left eye, LeBeau seemed relatively unscathed from the experience. We were both lucky! I only hope the others were, too. Kinch gently shook the smaller man's shoulder and called his name. After a moment, LeBeau opened his eyes, and slowly focused on him.

"Mon, Dieu, Kinch! He did it!"

Kinch grinned. "Yeah, Louis, he did it. Now, do you think you're going to be okay? Cause if you are, I need your help finding Newkirk, Carter and the colonel."

LeBeau nodded before tentatively moving to get up. Suddenly, he reached over and grabbed Kinch's supporting arm in a painful grip.

"Kinch! Le colonel! He was so close!" LeBeau turned his head to stare over his shoulder at the remains of the bridge and convoy, now eerily lit by leaping flames.

"Yeah," Kinch sighed and helped LeBeau stand, "he was, Louis. C'mon, we've got to move!"

They quickly located Carter and Newkirk in the nearby brush. Carter had a badly sprained wrist, numerous cuts, and complained of ringing in his ears. Newkirk hadn't fared as well. He'd fallen on top of a log, cracking at least two ribs, as well as sustaining a bad cut to his left leg. Settling everyone together, Kinchloe left LeBeau to care for Newkirk and Carter as best he could, while he moved off to search for their commanding officer.

Emerging from the woods, Kinch stopped and stared at the location where he'd last seen his commander. He inhaled sharply as he spotted Hogan's unmoving black-clad body sprawled against the brilliantly lit gray rocks. Kinch broke into a run, no longer feeling his protesting muscles, slowing only to carefully pick his way over the rocks to where Hogan lay. Dropping to his knees at Hogan's side, he grimaced as he caught sight of blood marking the rocks near the still form.

Swallowing hard and saying a brief prayer, he laid his fingers lightly on Hogan's neck, under his left jaw. The gentle throb of a pulse told him that Hogan was, at the very least, still alive. He carefully began moving his hands over his CO's body, searching for injuries. There was obviously no need to check the left arm. It was clearly broken just below the elbow. The right arm appeared okay. Running his hands gently over Hogan's chest and ribs, Kinch encountered a warm, slick wetness that could only be blood, invisible against the black clothing. Lifting his hands away from Hogan's body, he found his palms covered with it.

Where's it all coming from?

He frantically searched for the wound or wounds that could be causing such a large loss of blood. He finally located one when one of his hands caught against a piece of metal protruding from the officer's left shoulder, just below the collarbone. Checking further, he found another piece, this time of wood, embedded low on his right side, just above the hip. There was another piece of metal shrapnel buried in Hogan's left thigh. The right leg, though slightly twisted, appeared intact. Small cuts were scattered everywhere over his body, along with a few on his face.

But what caused Kinch the most concern was the blood pooling beneath Hogan's head. Gently and carefully moving his hands through Hogan's black hair, he located a large bump, seeping blood at the base of his skull.

Kinch looked up Carter and LeBeau joined him at Hogan's side.

"How is he?" Carter was unable to look away from his CO's body, and could only pray that Hogan was not as bad as he looked. Realizing Kinch hadn't answered his question, Carter blinked and looked up.

"Kinch? Kinch, he's not…" Panic flooded over him as he took in Kinch's strained expression.

"No, Carter, he's not dead. But if we don't get him back to camp and get him medical help soon, he may be. He's hurt, really bad. He got hit by shrapnel, his arm is busted and he's bleeding from the back of the head." Kinch interrupted his bleak monologue to look over at LeBeau. The little Frenchman hadn't said a word since his arrival and had tears on his cheeks. After a moment, Kinch saw him cross himself, his lips moving in prayer.

"Louis? Louis, where's Newkirk? Is he all right?"

LeBeau slowly looked up as the question filtered through his dazed thoughts. "He'll be okay. The leg isn't bleeding anymore. We were able to tie it off. He's waiting for us back where you left us. He wanted to come too, but we made him wait there."

"Okay." Kinch took a deep breath, his thoughts racing with all that needed to be done. "Carter, I know that wrist is sore, but do you think you can help Newkirk back to camp?" At Carter's affirmative nod, Kinch continued. "Louis, I need you to get back to camp ahead of us. Take the rifle, and anything else we brought with us. When you get back to camp, have someone go through the tunnels and get O'Malley from Barracks nine. He's the closest thing we've got to a doctor. The colonel's gonna need a lot of help if we're going to pull him through this. If we have to, I'll contact London and have them get us a real doctor and whatever else we might need. Now both of you get going. I'll bring the colonel."

Kinch watched Carter and LeBeau move off before dropping his gaze to Hogan, lying still unconscious beside him. Stay that way for awhile longer, please, Colonel. I don't want you feeling what I've got to do next.

Getting to his feet, Kinch bent down and carefully gathered Hogan's deadweight into his arms. He knew that carrying Hogan this way all the way back to camp would be difficult, but he didn't want to risk further injury to his CO by attempting a "fireman's lift".

Just before entering the woods, Kinch looked back at the destruction they'd wrought and then down at his silent, bloody burden.

Another blow against Germany, and Hitler's tyranny. But, at what cost? Oh, Lord, at what cost?

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Kinch knew that he would always remember the journey back to the camp as a surreal nightmare brought to life. He walked steadily, the moonlight intermittently shining through the trees on the silent, limp man in his arms. Every so often, he would stop and gently lay Hogan down to rest his cramping arms. From Hogan, there was no movement, no sound, nothing to indicate his continued existence. It was only the continued warmth of his body against Kinch's chest, and the pulse visible in his neck draped over Kinch's arm, which reassured the concerned sergeant that he still clung to life. The less serious of Hogan's wounds had clotted and no longer seeped blood, for which Kinch was grateful.

How much blood does a man's body contain anyway? More importantly, how much blood can a man lose and still live?

Despite the destruction of the bridge and convoy, the woods remained strangely devoid of troops.

At least some of our luck seems to be holding, Colonel.

Finally, just when he thought he couldn't carry Hogan any farther, Kinch saw the familiar outline of the tree stump entrance to their tunnel system. Placing Hogan behind some brush, he opened the entrance to the tunnel and signaled to the men waiting below. Between them, they lowered Hogan carefully into the safety of the tunnel.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Corporal Benjamin O'Malley had been waiting in Hogan's quarters for their arrival, growing more agitated with each passing minute. LeBeau had refused to allow O'Malley to attend to the bump on his head, saying that he couldn't possibly sit still long enough for the medic to treat him. So, after strapping Carter's wrist, cleaning and stitching Newkirk's leg wound and strapping his ribs, he'd had nothing to do but wait and think. Glancing again at the three worried faces of the men waiting in the main area of the barracks with the other prisoners, he kept going over in his mind what they'd told him of Hogan's injuries.

Dammit! I need to be with him now! It's been too long! He'll be going into shock!

Fidgeting anxiously, O'Malley checked again what medical supplies they had on hand, and prayed that they'd be enough.

Suddenly, he heard the tunnel entrance open and turned in time to see everyone jump to their feet and rush to the entrance. After a few moments, Kinch made his way through the silent crowd carrying Hogan's limp form. O'Malley pointed to Hogan's bunk.

"Put him down on the bunk, Kinch."

O'Malley started to close the door behind Kinch, but was pushed aside as Carter, Newkirk and LeBeau shouldered into the room. "Listen," O'Malley said to them, "I know you're all worried about the colonel, but there's really nothing that you can do for him right now. Why don't you wait in the other room with the others? I'll let you know about his condition when I'm done." Taking in the four determined faces staring back at him, he sighed quietly, knowing he was wasting breath and time. "Okay, okay. Stay."

"Kinch, help me get those clothes off of him. The rest of you just stay back out the way. I've got enough to deal with here without you all breathing down my neck." His mini-lecture complete, O'Malley ignored everything and everyone except the bloody figure on the bed.

"Whoa, Kinch! Take it easy…easy! Here, let me get that!" O'Malley pushed Kinch aside and moved to the head of the bed where he had a better position to cut their CO's shirt from the shrapnel embedded in his left shoulder. Working quickly but gently, O'Malley methodically cut away the rest of Hogan's shredded clothing. Finally, the full extent of the officer's injuries was visible. Shaken, O'Malley covered Hogan with blankets and turned away from the bed.

"Kinch," O'Malley began in a trembling voice, "this is more than I've ever dealt with! I don't know if I'm capable of competently caring for these injuries! I can set the broken arm, clean and stitch the smaller cuts, but the rest…!" He raised his shaking hands in entreaty. "He needs a doctor with surgical knowledge, not a self-taught field medic!"

Kinch closed his eyes in despair. He'd been afraid of this. Opening his eyes again, he watched O'Malley bow his head and cover his face. Carter, LeBeau and Newkirk appeared to be in a state of shock; O'Malley's words having erased any hope they may have held for their CO.

"Ben, listen to me." Kinch tugged O'Malley's hands down and looked him straight in the eyes. "I'm going to contact London and give them the low-down on the colonel's condition. I'm going to ask, …no, I'm going to demand, that they get us a doctor like you said, and everything else that he might need."

O'Malley listened intently, slowly nodding in agreement. Kinch laid his hands upon the medic's shoulders , gently squeezed them.

"Do the best that you can for him. That's all that any of us can ask. That's all that he would ask. Try and keep him alive until we get that doctor." Dropping his hands from O'Malley's shoulders, Kinch started toward the door, only to be brought up short by the medic's quiet voice.

"Soon, Kinch. Tell them it's got to be as soon as possible. The shrapnel…." O'Malley's voice cracked, and he couldn't continue.

Kinch nodded, grimly acknowledging the warning.

The colonel has always come through for London, no matter what they've asked of him, no matter how impossible it may have seemed. Now, it's their turn. They will get us that doctor!

HH HH HH HH HH HH

"Blimey, Carter, it's only been 30 minutes since he left!" Newkirk told the pacing young man. "Sit down, you're making me headache worse. I can't stop me eyes from tracking you back and forth like some bloody tennis ball!"

Carter glanced sharply at his friend in frustration, but kept silent and seated himself at the barracks table. Newkirk rolled his eyes minutes later as Carter jumped to his feet to resume pacing, occasionally twisting the cap in his hands.

London had come through for them. Once they'd learned of the seriousness of Hogan's condition, they'd immediately contacted an underground doctor at a nearby local hospital. The German doctor, a man called Kurt Metzger, was instructed to wait at an assigned contact point for one of Hogan's men to lead him to Stalag 13.

LeBeau had insisted on meeting the doctor, despite the bump he'd sustained on his forehead. The lump was small, but had rapidly bruised downward in various colors of red, purple and black. The diminutive Frenchman now sported the grand champion of black eyes, giving him a slightly rakish look.

While they waited for the doctor's arrival, the men discussed what explanation they'd give to the kommandant regarding their obvious injuries. It was decided that they'd say they'd gotten into a brief, but vicious fight in the barracks, brought on by exhaustion and worn tempers. The recent two week period of difficult road work, followed by the preparations for Krieger's visit, would adequately support their reasons. After all, the colonel had complained to Klink just that morning of their exhaustion.

As for Hogan's condition, they'd say that the senior officer had stepped in to break up the fight, only to accidentally be caught by several fists, resulting in a serious fall. This, they hoped, would explain the cuts, head injury, and broken arm. The other, more severe injuries, they prayed, would remain unknown to Klink. How could they ever explain shrapnel wounds? Would the explanation of a fight be accepted as the reason for Hogan's injuries? They didn't know, or for that matter, care. They couldn't bring themselves to care for anything beyond simply wanting their CO to live.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Kinch shifted his weight, uncomfortable on the wooden chair he'd placed next to Hogan's bunk. As he'd expected, his abused muscles had tightened painfully from his fall in the woods, and from carrying Hogan back to camp. O'Malley had tried to persuade him to rest in his bunk while they waited for LeBeau's return with Metzger, but Kinch had refused to move from Hogan's side.

Hang on, Colonel, help's coming.

Kinch stared at his superior, trying to see if there'd been any visible change in Hogan's condition since the last time he'd checked. He placed his hand on Hogan's chest, to physically reassure himself that Hogan was indeed continuing to breathe. The movement beneath his hand was so slight, he glanced into the other room at the entrance to the tunnel in increased frustration and fear.

C'mon, c'mon!

Just when Kinch thought he'd go mad from the waiting, the lower bunk concealing the tunnel entrance rose suddenly and LeBeau and Metzger clambered quickly from below. They immediately crossed the room to join O'Malley and Kinch in Hogan's quarters.

The doctor began stripping off his outer clothing, all the while ignoring the crowd of men, and running his eyes over the man who was now his patient. LeBeau had briefed him as they'd traveled, explaining the nature of the American colonel's injuries. Opening his medical bag, he took out a syringe, loaded it with penicillin and immediately injected the medication into Hogan's arm. Tossing the syringe aside, he gently began lowering the blankets from Hogan's shoulders, only to stop mid-motion as he caught sight of the severity of the wounds being revealed.

Very well, Kurt, we will see if you are as good a doctor as you believe.

Completing his examination, Metzger turned to the anxiously waiting men behind him.

"Which of you is O'Malley?"

"I am." O'Malley hesitantly stepped forward to stand in front of Metzger.

"You will assist me. The rest of you get out." Metzger turned his back and began pulling medical instruments from his bag and arranging them so that they would be within easy reach.

"Now wait just a minute!" Indignant, the men surged forward as one.

Metzger whirled and raised his hand in the air, palm turned toward their advance. "Stop! This man has no time for this! He has already gone much too long without needed medical treatment. You are further detaining that medical treatment, and increasing the chance that he will perish If you want him to have any chance to live, you will leave now, and let me do what you've brought me here to do."

Without another word, the men filed out of the room. All they could do for Hogan now was continue to pray.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

"Gosh, they've been in there a long time!" Carter was again pacing the room, going over and over the same area of floor. "How long have they been in there?"

Newkirk threw back his head and groaned loudly, as the others rolled their eyes in irritation. "Just five bloody minutes longer since the last time you asked, Carter!"

"Sorry. It's just that…well, you know." Carter lowered his head to stare at his feet, his shoulders bowed in sorrow.

Newkrik immediately regretted snapping at his depressed friend. He's only feeling the same thing we are! Newkirk got up from where he'd been seated at the table nursing yet another cup of strong coffee, and limped painfully over to Carter. "Ah, Andrew. I'm sorry, mate. We all know how you feel, don't we, lads?" Newkirk put an arm around Carter's shoulder, glanced around the room for support.

"Of course we do." Kinch rose stiffly from his bunk, where he'd been pensively staring at the same patch of floor for the past thirty minutes. He went to the barracks wood stove, glanced with disinterest at the coffee pot, then looked around the room.

"Listen, we're all worried about the colonel, but right now, we've there's something else we need to worry about. We've only got ten minutes until roll call and we've got to come up with another good story. We can tell Schultz what we planned about the fight, and the colonel being hurt really bad because of it. We can tell him that he just isn't able to get out of bed for roll call. But I'm not sure what we do if Schultz and Klink come in here to check if the colonel's actually in his quarters and O'Malley and Metzger are still in there working on him." Kinch sighed deeply. "Any ideas?"

The only responses he got were shaking heads and blank expressions. Sighing heavily again, he sat down at the table and tried to get his fuzzy mind to work. He could almost hear the minutes ticking away as he searched fruitlessly for an answer to their problem. He stared at Hogan's closed door.

Colonel, we sure could use one of your brilliant ideas right about now.

Kinch rubbed his forehead, stared disconsolately at the table's scarred surface. It was no use. His mind seemed to in some kind of overloaded brain lock. The harder he tried to think, the more confused his thoughts became. He cradled his head in his hands, closing his eyes.

Too much. This whole disaster is finally catching up to me. What are we gonna do?

Just then, the door to Hogan's quarters opened and O'Malley and Metzger wearily trudged out of the room. For a moment, no one reacted. They could only stare in rigid shock at the two blood-covered men who came to a stop near the center of the room. Metzger was concentrating on wiping blood from his hands. O'Malley was pale and completely expressionless.

Finally, when no one spoke, Metzger turned to Kinch. "This man, your colonel, he has a very strong personality, yes?" At Kinch's silent nod, he added. "Yes, well, that would explain why he is still alive despite the shock, blood loss and the length of time he went without medical help. The fact that he is still alive at all is testament to his strong will to live." As he talked, Metzger continued to wipe blood from his hands, glancing up at Kinch. "He will need it."

The men broke free of their shock and gathered around Metzger and O'Malley. Questions flew.

"Does that mean he's going to be okay? Has he woken up yet? Has he said anything?"

Before Metzger could answer any of them, Kinch suddenly grabbed both the doctor and medic and shoved them toward the tunnel entrance. He'd had the presence of mind to glance at his watch while Metzger was speaking, and his eyes had nearly bulged from his head as he realized the time. He started barking orders.

"Both of you, get out of here! Schultz is coming! We've got roll call! Metzger, wait in the tunnel! O'Malley, get back to your barracks or the guards will be crawling all over the place looking for you! Everybody else get outside and fall in! Move!"

Bodies flew everywhere as everyone rushed to obey. Kinch took a quick peek in at Hogan to be certain he was well covered, and that there was no evidence of the doctor's presence. He'd almost closed the door when he spotted Metzger's black leather bag lying near Hogan's desk. Grabbing it, he shoved it into Hogan's closet, and had just closed the door when Schultz entered the barracks looking for him.

"Kinchloe! There you are! It is time for roll call. Out! Out!" Schultz made shooing motions at Kinch, trying to herd him toward the barracks door like a wayward sheep. They'd almost reached the open door when he suddenly paused, a puzzled look appearing on his ruddy face. "Wait. Where is Colonel Hogan?" Closing his eyes, Schultz shook his head, his double chin jiggling from the vigorous movement. "Kinchloe, please!" he whined, "Tell me Colonel Hogan is here! Please!" Schultz peeked at Kinch with one eye, dreading a possible negative answer.

Kinch opened his mouth to begin their explanation, but at that moment, Klink appeared from his office, shouting and stamping his feet loudly on the wooden steps to get Schultz's attention.

"REPORT! REPORT! SCHULTZ!"

Schultz quickly shoved past Kinch and ran to give his report, his breath producing a frosty cloud in the cold morning air.

"Herr Kommandant! Herr Kommandant!" Schultz came to a sliding, panting stop at the base of the steps, his arm jerking up in a salute. "I beg to report, all are present and accounted for…." he paused, and added in a small voice, his eyes closing and wincing in anticipation of the tirade he knew would come, "All but Colonel Hogan."

Klink's eyebrows rose sharply and he glared at Schultz. "What? Hogan has escaped? He wouldn't dare!"

From where he stood in rank with the other prisoners, Kinch could see Klink rapidly approaching a state of fury. Oh, boy, I got to stop this before everything gets way out of hand! Stepping out of rank, Kinch raised his hand to get the kommandant's attention.

"Colonel Hogan hasn't escaped, sir. He's in his quarters, in bed. He's hurt pretty bad, Kommandant." Kinch faltered to a stop, unsure how much he should say without being prodded.

I'm not used to dealing directly with Klink! How does the Colonel handle him so easily and always know what to say when?

"Hurt? A likely story!"

Klink marched across the prison compound until he stood directly in front of Kinch. His glare flicked back and forth between Kinch and the other prisoners as if he'd been personally insulted. It suddenly dawned on Klink that some of the prisoners - three in particular - appeared more than a little bedraggled. He slowly walked down the ranks and stopped before LeBeau, who appeared the worst of the three.

"What happened to you?"

"I ran into a fist, sir." The little Frenchman squirmed under the intense scrutiny.

Klink's mouth dropped open in surprise. "What?"

Kinch stepped forward again to reclaim Klink's attention. "There was a fight in the barracks last night, Kommandant. That's how Colonel Hogan was hurt. He tried to break it up and got caught in the worst of it. He fell and is still unconscious."

Kinch took a deep breath and waited to see how Klink would react. As anticipated, the kommandant declared to everyone present that "He would see for himself if Hogan was indeed in his quarters."

En masse, they followed Klink and Schultz into the barracks, entering just in time to see Klink jerk open the door to Hogan's quarters.

"AHA!" Klink rushed into Hogan's quarters, fully expecting to find the senior P.O.W. lazing on his bunk. What he found instead literally stopped him in his tracks.

"Hogan?" Klink crouched beside Hogan's bed. The American lay still and silent, his jet black hair accenting his pallor.

Kinch, Carter, LeBeau and Newkirk crowded into the doorway, each trying to catch a glimpse of their CO and his condition. Schultz stood frozen in place behind Klink, stunned by the sight of the injured officer.

Hogan was unconscious, oblivious to the attention and had not moved since O'Malley and Metzger had left his side.

Klink studied Hogan's pale and drawn features, noting the blood-spotted bandage at the back of Hogan's head, and the bandage peeking from beneath the blanket at his left shoulder. Turning to the men gathered in the doorway behind Schultz, he gestured at Hogan and asked incredulously, "This, from a fight?"

"Yes, sir." Kinch paused before going on in a ragged voice, his emotions close to the surface from seeing his CO's condition. Gathering himself, Kinch recited their improvised tale.

"It was all our fault. We've just been really tired and our tempers have gotten pretty short. We don't even remember what started the fight. It just happened, and the Colonel stepped in to break it up. We didn't even realize at first that he'd gotten hit and had fallen, let alone been that he'd been hurt."

Klink studied the prisoners' faces.

They are truly frightened!

Turning back to Hogan, Klink removed his leather glove and placed his hand beneath the black fringe of hair draped over the American's forehead. He frowned, looked over at the prisoners. "He's very warm. Can a fever be caused by a fall?"

Kinch thought fast. "Maybe it's because of the cut the on his shoulder and his broken arm, Kommandant." Catching sight of the bandage at Hogan's shoulder, Kinch knew he had to offer an explanation for it. "We think he tore it open when he fell on a corner of the wood box. He must have broken his arm at the same time."

Klink silently weighed the explanations, then slowly nodded. Rising from his crouch, he turned and faced the men.

"Very well. You may tell the colonel when he awakens that he is excused from roll call until he feels well enough to attend. But Schultz will check on him at each roll call, and he'd better be here!" Klink shook his finger at the men to emphasize his order, then glanced back at Hogan. "As for the fight which caused this, I believe you've all been suitably punished by seeing the harm you have caused Colonel Hogan. Perhaps this will teach you to think twice about fighting!"

Taking in the prisoners' woebegone expressions, Klink felt a momentary twinge of sympathy for them. They obviously care a great deal for Colonel Hogan, and feel true remorse for causing him such pain. Throwing them into the cooler would add nothing further to the pain they must feel each time they look at the harm he has suffered from their foolishness.

The men stepped aside to allow Klink and Schultz to exit the barracks. Once outside, Klink stopped and looked back at the closed barracks door, tapping his chin thoughtfully with the curled tip of his riding crop.

I wonder . . .

HH HH HH HH HH HH

The barracks door had barely closed behind Klink and Schultz before the men moved quickly into Hogan's cabin and gathered around him. Kinch instructed Carter to retrieve Metzger from the tunnel so that he could check on their CO's condition, then waved in the general direction of the barracks door, saying, "Somebody keep watch."

Metzger was quick to share his irritation at being rudely thrust into what he termed a "cold, damp root cellar." His tirade continued until Kinch quietly interrupted, reminding him of their situation as prisoners. A German doctor's presence in a P.O.W. barracks wasn't an everyday occurrence. If he was discovered, they would all suffer the unpleasant repercussions. The reminder stopped Metzger's complaints quite effectively. He said not another word as he moved past the men to examine his patient.

"Did he regain consciousness?" Metzger gently lifted Hogan's eyelids one a time, then moved on to check the officer's pulse and temperature.

"I don't think so, at least not that we could tell." Kinch watched Metzger pull back the blankets and check the bandaging at Hogan's shoulder, side and thigh. When the bandages were slowly peeled back, Kinch saw that they were spotted with blood and the antibiotic ointment that Metzger and O'Malley had applied to the stitched wounds.

"Holy Cow! How many stitches did he need?" Carter's eyes bulged, the blood literally draining from his face. LeBeau grew light-headed at the mere sight of blood. As soon as the wounds were revealed, he swayed dizzily, then slumped back against Newkirk.

Metzger absently answered without looking up from his ministrations. "Hmm… I stopped counting at one hundred. I put in very fine stitches. It is a habit that I practice to reduce scarring. I am something of a perfectionist, you see." He completed his examination by carefully turning Hogan's head to the side, checking the cut at the base of his skull. Sighing softly, Metzger returned Hogan's head to its former position and looked up, addressing the concerned crowd around him.

"I believe that before we were so suddenly interrupted, you were inquiring as to your colonel's condition, yes?" Metzger looked back at Hogan. "Very well, then, I will tell you. He is in very serious, perhaps even critical condition." He paused again, this time in concern when Newkirk and LeBeau sat heavily upon nearby chairs. Once he was satisfied that they were all right, he continued.

"The shrapnel, as even an medically untrained person can see, caused a large amount of damage. The metal fragments left wounds that were fairly deep, but easily cleaned. It is the wooden fragment, which struck him here," Metzger indicated the wound in Hogan's right side, "which causes me the most concern. For it was, by its very nature as wood, loaded with all manner of bacteria, dirt and debris. This makes it very difficult to completely clean the wound, especially since it is quite deep." Metzger looked up at Kinch, whom he perceived as the leader of the assembled group. "There is almost certainly going to be infection. He is already building a fever, which is symptomatic of this."

"Won't the medicine you gave him help?" Kinch's heart had begun a slow, twisting plummet as he listened to the details of Hogan's condition.

Metzger smiled gently. "Yes, of course. But it is not that simple. There is already heat in this wound, as well as redness around it, indicating that an infection is indeed beginning. I left the lower edge of the wound unstitched so that the infection will drain." Metzger shrugged his shoulders and took a deep breath. "We shall see. Perhaps we will be lucky, yes?"

Turning back to Hogan, he frowned. "But I have another concern, and that is the bump at the base of his head. I have no way to tell if he has fractured the skull. There is most definitely a concussion. All manner of damage could have been done by this bump. We will not know how much until he wakes."

"You're saying there's a good chance he's going to die." Kinch's quiet statement brought gasps and groans from the men.

Standing slowly, Metzger included the entire group in his serious gaze. "Yes, there is a good chance that he will die." He paused at LeBeau's choked sob. "But he has already surprised me by staying alive thus far despite all that I have mentioned. And he is young and fit. These are in his favor. And let us remember his very obvious strength of will." Metzger smiled to himself when the hope he'd seen earlier in their eyes reappeared.

"He will need constant vigilant care. I will leave with you all that you will need." Metzger slowly pivoted in place, eyeing the room. "Where is my bag?"

"Wait," Kinch protested, "you're not staying?"

Metzger's blue eyes widened. "Oh, now, do not be foolish! I cannot stay here! I must return to my home, report to my job at the hospital, or I will be sought by the Gestapo! My unexplained absence would surely arouse suspicion." He held up a hand to stop the protests he could see building from Kinch and the others. "I will return each night to the assigned meeting place at a designated time. From there, one of you will lead me back to camp so that I may check on the colonel's progress." Metzger stressed the last word, hoping to further strengthen the men's optimism. I do not want Hogan, despite his unconsciousness, to sense despair.

"Will that be satisfactory?"

Kinch sighed heavily. "Well, no, but we realize the necessity of what you're saying, Doc." Metzger's eyebrows darted into his blond hair at the abbreviation of his medical title.

"We'll take care of setting up the arrangements like you said, but if the colonel should begin to get worse, we'll contact you somehow, no matter what time of day or night it is." Kinch stared at the doctor, willing him to understand their reasons should the unthinkable happen and Hogan's condition deteriorated.

Metzger took note of the determination radiating from their grim faces. Ah, well, Kurt, what is life without risk? You are in the underground, after all, a very risky business indeed! He nodded. "Very well. I agree. But if you should need me, have London contact me via their channels. It is actually much faster that way, as you have seen, yes?"

Kinch smiled, vaguely hearing the others sigh in relief. "Yes. It was fast, and we really do appreciate all you done for the colonel so far. Thank you." He held out his hand to the German, who after a moment's hesitation, accepted it in a firm grip.

"You are most welcome. Colonel Hogan must be quite a man to engender such fierce devotion and loyalty. I look forward to speaking with him." Releasing Kinch's hand, Metzger straightened his shoulders, before reaching into his shirt pocket to withdraw a sheaf of written notes, which he handed to Kinch.

"These are instructions for his care. I believe that they will be sufficient, barring any serious complications which may arise. I have listed symptoms to be alert for. Should any of these appear," he shrugged, "contact me as we agreed, day or night; I will find a way to come."

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Kinch was exhausted. Thinking back, he couldn't even begin to remember the last time he'd slept. He studied Hogan's haggard face, his stomach twisting at how close to death his CO appeared. Was it only yesterday that we were all together, laughing at one of Newkirk's ridiculous jokes? It seems more like a year ago. He slumped tiredly against the wall next to Hogan's bed; a position he'd rarely left since Metzger's departure the previous evening. Newkirk, Carter and LeBeau had been sharing his bedside vigil, leaving only to eat or attend to other basic needs.

Schultz periodically poked his head into the officer's quarters, his face a study in worry. Each time, he would lift his eyebrows in silent question, only to grow more dejected at the silent, negative shake of their heads. Why is the colonel not yet awake? Schultz would ask himself, as he'd return to duty.

It was a question being frequently voiced. Nearly twenty-four hours had passed since Hogan had been injured, and still he remained silent and unmoving. O'Malley was at a loss as to why their commander was not showing signs of regaining consciousness. He, like the others, could only hope that Metzger's return would bring answers and reassurance.

In the meantime, they attended to Hogan's needs, growing more and more concerned not only about his continued silence, but also about his building fever. His skin grew hot, dry and tight to their touch, his pale cheeks flushing with fever. The wound in his side grew redder and more swollen, and began seeping yellowish fluid. If not for Metzger's immanent arrival, they would have frantically contacted London to retrieve the doctor.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

When Metzger returned to Barracks two to check Hogan's condition, he found an anxious, dejected group of men waiting for him in the officer's quarters.

Kinch lifted his head from where it'd been resting in his hands when he heard Metzger's arrival. Relief flooded through him as he rose to his feet, joining the others in greeting the doctor.

Metzger raised his hand, palm outward, as he saw another flood of questions preparing to burst forth from the gathered men. "Please, I will attend to Colonel Hogan. Then we will talk." Turning his back on them, he knelt beside Hogan's bunk, his hand already reaching to begin his examination.

Hogan had occupied Metzger's thoughts almost constantly while he attended to his duties at the Krankenhaus. His concentration would wander from his paperwork, during his rounds, and during his meals, to the American officer and his condition. How frustrating this is! I have a patient who desperately needs my care, but I am unable to provide that care because of his status and nationality. I must sneak around in the dark, through damp tunnels like a mole, to attend to him. How I despise Hitler and this accursed war he has brought upon our heads! Now, finding the American officer's condition had worsened, Metzger felt he would scream in frustration. If only I could take him to the Krankenhaus for proper care!

The wounds in Hogan's shoulder and thigh appeared to be healing normally, with no signs of excess heat or redness. Metzger nodded in silent satisfaction at his neat rows of stitches, which would leave very little scarring. Moving on in his examination, he found the numerous small cuts littering the colonel's body also appeared clean and normal. The broken left arm also seemed to be doing well, the fingers warm, pink and flexible. Metzger finally turned his attention to wound he'd been dreading to see, and sighed when he saw the obviously infected wound in Hogan's side. Ah, it is as I feared. Colonel Hogan, we have a fight upon our hands, yes.

Metzger gently and thoroughly cleaned the wound site and injected Hogan with more medication, then turned to the men behind him.

"The wound is badly infected, as you saw. The high fever is a result of this." Metzger rubbed his face tiredly. "He is weak from the blood loss, a negative in his fight to overcome the infection. I am hopeful that the medication I've given him will overwhelm the infection as well as bring the fever down soon. We must get as many fluids into him as possible."

"Doc, why hasn't he woke up, yet?" Carter blurted the question that had been uppermost in their minds during their bedside vigil.

Metzger's blue eyes widened as he processed the implications presented by the question. Ah, no!

Kneeling again at Hogan's side as the men crowded closer, Metzger carefully felt the lump at the base of Hogan's skull. The swelling had lessened and the laceration had clotted over quite satisfactorily. He remained crouched, his chin in one hand, pondering Hogan's lack of consciousness. Possible skull fracture, but no, I don't believe this to be the case. He snorted quietly to himself. One of your 'hunches', Kurt, that the other doctors find so laughable. Despite his colleagues' mirth, he fully believed in his unorthodox hunches, for they had never proved him wrong. Very well, Colonel, what is the reason that you are not coming back to us, hmm? Focusing on the face before him, Metzger had a sudden revelation. Is it because, perhaps, you do not want to wake up yet? Or are you lost, Colonel Hogan? Somewhere wandering in your mind, unable to find your way back?

Rising to his feet and almost knocking over Carter, who'd nearly been standing on top of him, Metzger gestured for the group to gather at Hogan's desk.

"Have you been talking to him?" Metzger grimaced at their blank stares. "Have you talked to him? Told him you were there, told him of camp incidents, told him of the latest news, called his name, etc, etc? For that matter, have you touched him?" Frowning deeply, he watched the men look at each other and shake their heads, Metzger wished he could ignore his Hippocratic Oath and shake them all by their American, French and English throats.

"Very well. You will start touching him. Place your hand on his shoulder, his chest; hold his hand, touch his face. You will talk to him. Let him hear your voices, your conversations. Talk to him, call him back, tell him that you need him."

"The guv'nor knows that we need him." Newkirk protested. The Englishman wasn't sure he understood the doctor's reasoning. How dense is this bloody Kraut, anyway? Of course, Colonel Hogan knows!

"Ah, he knows that you need him, but does he know that you care?" Metzger rolled his eyes in frustration. "How do you relate to him?" As blank expressions returned to their faces, the urge to throttle them grew, four-to-one odds and Hippocratic Oath, or not. Gathering his patience, he tried to make them understand.

"When you speak to him, do not speak as enlisted men to officer, speak to him man to man, friend to friend." Metzger paused when he saw comprehension dawn in their eyes. "You have worked together as a group for how long?"

LeBeau stepped forward. "Deux année. Two years." He thought he was beginning to understand. "You are saying that by talking to le colonel in this way, he will awaken?" LeBeau wondered if it could it really be that simple. If it was, then he would talk to his CO for days, if i would bring him back!

"I am saying that it will definitely help him, yes. You surely feel friendship of some kind for this man?" They nodded emphatically. "Then use it! Give him a reason to want to come back! If it were you, and you had the responsibility of an underground unit based in a German Stalag for two years, with no break from the stress and pressure, just unrelenting duty, would you want to come back?" Metgzer believed they were finally grasping the full scope of what he was saying. "Day after day, night after night of decisions, danger, and fighting to fulfill your duty to your country and allies while keeping not only yourself but also your men safe and alive, you must reach a breaking point sometime, yes? My belief is that your colonel has had enough, and that this last incident was simply, what is that quaint expression that you have? Oh, yes, 'the stick that broke the donkey's back!'"

Kinch felt a smile for the first time in what seemed like forever.

"It's 'straw that broke the camel's back,' Doc, and yeah, I think you're right." Kinch nodded, as all the pieces fit neatly together. Hogan's mood swings and voluntary 'solitary confinement' made sense now. Glancing at the others, Kinch saw that they had reached the same conclusions.

"Okay, we'll talk to him. We'll tell him everything! He'll be so sick of hearing our voices, he'll wake up just to tell us to shut up!" Kinch chuckled.

"Yeah," Carter piped up, "I'll even read my letters from home to him."

"Don't do that, Andrew!" Newkirk joked. "We want the guv'nor to wake up, not go into some kind of ruddy coma!"

Metzger's smile died. "Ah, but he very nearly is in a coma." He cursed to himself when their expressions turned stricken. Kurt, you idiot! You have undone all that you had gained! He sighed softly. "Colonel Hogan is, as I said, in very, very serious condition from the cumulative effects of the injuries, blood loss, and infection. It is not a matter simply of waking him up, and magically he will be well. You know this, of course." Metzger ran a hand slowly through his hair, while turning to look at Hogan. "First, we must eliminate the infection and break the fever." He went back to gathering his equipment and supplies into his medical bag.

"I will return tomorrow night, and I will hold positive thoughts about your colonel until then." Metzger finished his packing and then straightened to stare at each of them in turn. "See that you do also."

Metzger walked to the tunnel entrance and waited while one of the prisoners raised the bunk concealing the entrance. He started down the ladder the tunnel, but paused at the top of the ladder and glared back at the entire company of men.

"TALK TO HIM! TOUCH HIM!" Nodding decisively to himself, he left them.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Klink had done his best to stay away from Barracks Two since learning of Hogan's injuries. It was turning out to be more difficult than he could have imagined.

The man is a prisoner! He is the enemy! He comes into my office at all hours, bursting in unannounced, with yet another request or idea, interrupting my work. He drinks my schnapps as if it were his own, places his cap where he pleases, and sneaks cigars from my humidor! He is possibly one of the most irritating, impossible, galling men I have ever met!

Despite his arguments with himself, Klink often found himself standing at his office window, staring across the prison yard at Hogan's barracks, without any conscious thought as to how he'd reached that position. Or he would stop in surprise as he realized that he was yet again reaching for his cap, coat and riding crop, in preparation of a visit to Barracks Two. He would open his mouth to yell at Schultz, to "Get Hogan in here!" before he'd catch himself, and his jaw would snap shut in sadness.

Schultz had kept him well informed of the senior P.O.W.'s continued unconsciousness, and of the depression affecting not only the men in Barracks Two, but also the entire camp.

Hogan is more popular than I even imagined.

Klink frequently felt envious of the handsome, American officer. Hogan made friends easily; could talk with just about anyone, regardless of nationality. He's even managed to carry on a civil conversation with Hochstetter upon occasion! The Gestapo officer was someone Klink despised with a passion, and avoided whenever possible. He knew that there were many times that Hogan had actively distracted or re-directed Hochstetter's irrational anger from him, for which he was eternally grateful. But I've never told him of my gratitude.

And women! Any woman, young or old, beautiful or ugly, seemed to be affected in some manner by Hogan's charismatic presence. Klink had noticed that the American officer seemed quite aware of the attention he received from the female persuasion; he was sometimes amused, sometimes appreciative, and at other times, downright uncomfortable, depending upon the woman.

Staring thoughtfully at his hands clasped on the desk before him, Klink snickered as he remembered an occasion when Frau Linkmeyer had visited the stalag with her portly brother, the General. Klink had invited Hogan to every possible function at the camp involving Frau Linkmeyer, unashamedly using the amused American as a sort of buffer between himself and the homely spinster woman's attentions. He insisted on Hogan's presence whenever he was to be in close proximity to the woman, such as at evening meals.

The Luftwaffe general, Frau Linkmeyer, Klink, and Hogan had just finished one of the Frenchman's delicious gourmet meals one evening during the visit, when Frau Linkmeyer had blatantly knocked her coffee over into Hogan's lap. Hogan, being a gentleman, had reassured the woman that he was okay and that no damage had been done. But she had insisted upon wiping at the lap of Hogan's dress uniform, apologizing quite loudly the entire time, but clearly enjoying her "assistance".

Klink laughed outright when he remembered the embarrassment that had shone from Hogan's face as he silently endured the insufferable woman's pawing. With his linen napkin pressed tightly to his mouth, Kinch had vainly tried stifling his laughter. Burkhalter had merely rolled his eyes in long-suffering patience of his homely sister's actions.

Klink had looked over his shoulder when he'd heard the sound of gargled laughter, quickly choked off in mid-laugh. LeBeau had come out of the kitchen with a plate of after-dinner mints, but had immediately performed a perfectly executed "about-face" and had returned to the kitchen, his white-coated shoulders shaking with suppressed laughter. And Schultz could move quite quickly for a man his size! He had nearly run to the kitchen after LeBeau, choking something out past the white-gloved hands covering his mouth, about "more coffee."

Klink had teased Hogan mercilessly after Burkhalter and his sister had retired for the night, leaving the two officers to share a drink of schnapps. Hogan had taken the teasing good-naturedly, saying with a wry smile, "Colonel Klink, we all must make sacrifices in wartime."

Sacrifices. Was Hogan's health, possibly his life, now to be sacrificed due to insufficient care?

The man should be in a hospital where he can receive proper medical attention! His condition is obviously more serious than I first believed! Well, Hogan, perhaps now, I can do something to repay the help you've given me in the past!

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Klink halted just inside the barracks door and glanced toward the table where the prisoners were huddled together. The prisoners, though surprised by his unexpected appearance, did not seem unduly concerned by it. Casually ambling over to the table, Klink held out his hand for the paper they were writing on. Kinch handed it over, his expression betraying nothing. Klink scanned the paper, then looked up at Klinch.

"What do we have here?"

"It's a schedule, Kommandant. We're going to take turns talking to the colonel. You know, just to let him know that we'd like him to try to wake up soon." Kinch shrugged uncomfortably. The explanation sounded lame without revealing the more personal aspects of their reasons.

Klink gave the paper a more thorough inspection. Satisfied that it was indeed what Kinch had indicated, he returned it.

"This will not be necessary. I'm seeing to it that Colonel Hogan is taken to the hospital for proper medical care." Klink expected his magnanimous gesture to provoke smiles and exuberant thanks. The glances that passed amongst the prisoners, though, contained only hesitant concern. Klink frowned, puzzled by the odd response.

"Uh, Colonel Klink," Kinch rose from his seat, absently tugging his jacket down. "We really appreciate the offer and your concern for Colonel Hogan, but we think it would be best if he stayed here, with us."

Klink was flabbergasted, and his wide-eyed, slack-jawed expression showed it. "But he would obviously benefit from being in a hospital where a doctor might attend to him personally!"

The corner of Kinch's mouth twitched. Klink had just given him the perfect opening. "You're right, Kommandant, but we don't think it would be good for him to be moved, and we really believe he should be left in surroundings and people he's familiar with." Taking a deep breath, Kinch delivered his 'clincher'. "Could you maybe arrange to have a doctor come here, instead, and take care of him? We know you have a great deal of influence, Kommandant. I mean, who would dare refuse you, the famous Kommandant Klink of Stalag 13?"

Klink rocked on the balls of his feet, practically preening with pleasure. Kinch mentally patted himself on the back.

I think I may be getting the hang of this!

"Well," Klink said, still puffed up with pride. "you are correct, of course. Any doctor would be honored to come to Stalag 13, the most dreaded P.O.W. camp in all of Germany, and serve me." He leaned in close to Kinch's shoulder and confided, sotto-voiced, "You know, I am considered to be quite the war hero." He met Kinch's eyes, nodded smugly. Satisfied that the sergeant was suitably impressed, Klink straightened and included the other men in his gaze.

"I, myself, will go the hospital at once and bring back a doctor for Colonel Hogan. This doctor will stay at Stalag 13 as long as Hogan is in need of his care."

Klink marched to the barracks door, turned to give them a rakish salute with his riding crop, then left them alone. The prisoners immediately gathered around Kinch, chattering excitedly in congratulations and relief.

"You're nearly as good as the guv'nor at handling ol' Blood 'n Guts, mate!" Newkirk slapped Kinch on the shoulder. "Wait until Colonel Hogan hears how you handled him!"

Carter was practically hopping up and down in his excitement. "Yeah, boy, you can go to bat for us, anytime!"

"Wait, wait!" Kinch raised his hands over his head, gestured for everyone to stop talking. "Don't congratulate me too soon. Now we got to be sure he brings back the right doctor!" Quiet descended as they all realized the implications if Klink returned with a doctor other than Metzger. Another doctor, one loyal to Germany and Hitler, would surely raise an alarm as soon as he saw the shrapnel wounds on Hogan's body.

Kinch strode quickly to the tunnel entrance. "I'm going to get on the radio to London and have them contact Metzger. Somehow, he's got to be there when Klink gets to the hospital. He's got to be sure that he's the doctor that comes back here, and no one else!" He swung his leg over the side of the bunk and onto the hidden ladder, paused to look back them. "Go back to writing up the schedule. We need to get the colonel awake."

The men slowly sat back down to the schedule they'd been preparing, but they couldn't help thinking about the possible disaster they'd face should Metzger not accomplish his mission.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Kinch returned a short time later, his face creased into a worried frown. He shrugged helplessly when the others pelted him with questions. He'd done all that he could. He'd contacted London and briefed them on what needed to be done to avoid the potential disaster. They, in turn, would hopefully get to Metzger in time for him to make the necessary arrangements at the hospital before Klink's arrival.

Kinch fetched himself a cup of coffee from the pot on the barracks stove and slowly walked into Hogan's quarters. Leaning against the corner of Hogan's bunk, he studied the silent man.

"Well, Colonel, I hope I did the right thing. Sure wish you'd open your eyes and give me your opinion." Receiving no response, Kinch sighed heavily and sat upon the chair placed close to the injured man's bed. Kinch sipped his coffee for a few minutes, and then placed the cup near his feet. He wanted his hands free.

Pausing hesitantly, for he'd never before allowed himself the luxury of what he was about to do, he gently picked up Hogan's right hand and cradled it between his own. He began lightly rubbing his thumbs back and forth across the top of Hogan's hand as he spoke, uncaring of anyone who might possibly be listening beyond the open door.

For the next two hours, Kinch poured out his heart and soul to the unresponsive man lying in the bed before him. He told Hogan of his deep affection and respect for the officer whom he considered a friend. He went into great detail how much he cherished the time that the two of them had spent together in shared moments of introspection and laughter. He shared his appreciation of Hogan's patience and concern during the times he'd needed either a stern reprimand or a friendly ear. And he told the officer of his fear, should the decisions that he'd made since Hogan's injury be the wrong ones, and that Hogan and the others might suffer because of him.

He talked until his coffee cup was empty and his voice was hoarse. And when he couldn't talk anymore, and he found himself emotionally unable to continue, he simply sat and held Hogan's hand, and tried to convey his love and support that way.

He was still in that position when he looked up to find Metzger standing in Hogan's doorway, a gentle smile on his face.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

"I see you are following my instructions perfectly," Metzger said softly. He watched Kinch stand, a huge smile easing the tension that had been apparent on the sergeant's face.

"Sergeant, I don't know how you arranged for my staying here with the colonel, but you, my friend, have truly amazed me with your ingenuity. And I am not easily amazed, as my colleagues could tell you."

Kinch could not stop smiling. "Amazing is what the colonel does on a regular basis. I couldn't even begin to come close to what he can do."

Kinch's mention of Hogan brought Metzger completely into the room. His gaze quickly moved over the officer, assessing his condition. "This Colonel Klink, he is something of a blustering fool, but he also seems to be a fool with his heart in the proper place. He is most concerned for Colonel Hogan." Metzger frowned when he felt the fever still burning in Hogan's skin. Ach, Colonel, this fever will wear you down and burn precious strength you cannot afford to lose!

Metzger glanced up at Kinch and then at the men crowded around him yet again. When you have one, you have them all! They are a "package"! He grinned to himself, as he regained his feet. Putting his hands on his hips, he gave them his best "Authoritative Doctor" glare; the one that sent nurses and aides running in fear, and caused recalcitrant patients to reform their behavior.

"Very well. I am about to make an order and I will not repeat myself. I have neither the time, nor the patience to do so; so listen now. Here it is: Leave." He gave them his characteristic palms outward gesture as they began protesting loudly. He glanced down at Hogan. This infernal noise is probably quite familiar to you. Addressing the men once again, he strengthened his glare.

"Do you want this man well? Then let me work uninterrupted and without an audience, well meaning though it may be. Sergeant Kinchloe has performed a minor miracle of sorts to arrange for me to be here with Colonel Hogan on a full-time basis. One of you at a time may visit with the colonel when I am not attending to him."

The men quieted as they realized the truth of his words, and that he was doing what was best for their CO's recovery. Metzger nodded in satisfaction.

"Good. The sooner I clear up this infection, the sooner his fever will break, and the sooner he will begin his recovery. Now go. I will call if I have need of anything, or if there is any change in his condition, and I will notify you when the first of you may visit." Metzger turned his back on them, confident that they would leave him in peace with his patient.

He was correct.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Three exhausting days later, Hogan's fever finally broke and the wound in his side started healing properly. Metzger had rarely left Hogan's side and when he did, he had one of the many willing volunteers step in to stay with Hogan until his return.

Klink had visited often over the three days, stopping in to the barracks at all hours to check on Hogan's condition and to see for himself if Metzger had need of further supplies or medication. Rather than appearing loud, and self-centered as was usually the case, the kommandant was restrained and soft-spoken, especially when in Hogan's quarters with the injured man. His visits lasted only minutes, but were frequent in number.

The men were touched by the German officer's very apparent concern for Hogan. They'd never truly considered Klink as anyone more than their enemy and jailer. Now, they began to view him in a different light, and to see the man within the German uniform. Though egocentric and often a buffoon, Klink appeared to also have a well of compassion that they never would have believed possible. He still insisted that they continue preparations for Krieger's visit, but he was also quite lax in the amount of time they spent doing their work. As long as they did the work and accomplished their assigned tasks, he left them in peace.

The men knew that they would eventually have to address the problem of General Krieger and his briefcase of battle plans. But they made the unanimous decision not to tackle the problem until after Hogan's fever had broken and his condition had improved. Only then would they redirect their concern from their commander.

As promised, Metzger allowed visitors during the days before Hogan's fever broke, but he insisted upon remaining in the room with them so that he could continue monitoring his patient's condition. The colonel's visitors would begin their monologues hesitantly, occasionally glancing over their shoulders at Metzger's silent figure seated across the room. But they eventually became so deeply involved in what they were saying to Hogan, that they forgot they weren't alone with him.

For the most part, Metzger remained apart and silent as the men concentrated on reaching Hogan in his unconsciousness. Though one-sided, the doctor found the interaction between the officer and his men fascinating and quite revealing; not only of the man speaking, but also of the silent man in the bed.

His favorite men to listen to and observe were the four who obviously worked the closest with Hogan, these being Sergeant Kinchloe, the Frenchman LeBeau, Newkirk, the brash, light-fingered Englishman, and Carter, with his puppy-like enthusiasm. And he observed with clinical interest, each of the four seemed to have a favorite position while talking to Hogan.

Kinch sat quite still, and cradled Hogan's hand between his own as he spoke.

LeBeau's monologues focused mainly upon his faith, Paris, and his favorite pass-time of cooking. He would sit so that his elbows rested on the edge the bunk, his left hand stroking softly over and through Hogan's black hair, as if he were petting a cat; while his right hand rested upon the officer's chest.

Carter would tell Hogan in minute detail about his life growing up in his small hometown, and some of the Indian customs and rituals he'd learned as a boy. It was his favorite position while talking to Hogan which caused one of the two occasions that Metzger broke his enforced personal silence.

Clearing his throat softly, he waited until he had Carter's attention, then pointed toward the bed, and asked, "If I may be so bold, why do you hold his hand in this way?"

Carter looked down to where his left hand was placed across his CO's right arm. He had not actually taken hold of Hogan's hand, but had instead taken a firm grip around Hogan's right thumb. The young man stared for a moment at their joined hands, and then shyly looked back at Metzger.

"I didn't even realize I'd done that." Carter ducked his head before continuing in a soft, hesitant voice.

"I had a brother . . . Jack. He was quite a bit older than I was, eight years, to be exact. You see, I was sort of a . . . a surprise to my parents when I came along, you know?" Carter grinned briefly at the doctor. "When I was little, Jack would read to me, or make up stories to get me to go to sleep, or to be quiet for awhile." Carter chuckled softly. "I liked to talk a lot; used to drive my parents crazy. Anyway, I used to hold his thumb, just this way, while he did. We were real close, even though there was this huge difference in our ages. He included me in just about everything he did." Carter shrugged. "Not many of my friends' brothers did that; and they were a lot closer in age, you know?"

Carter fell silent and remained quiet and unmoving for so long, that Metzger believed that he had finished his explanation. When Carter finally spoke again, it was so softly that Metzger had to lean forward to hear him.

"Jack died. He got pneumonia, and he just couldn't fight it off." Carter continued to stare at their joined hands. "I enlisted a week after his funeral."

Metzger had been at a loss for words.

You, my young friend, are something of an enigma. Your frequently clownish attitude hides the unplumbed depths that you have within you. I wonder if the others have glimpsed these depths?

When Newkirk had his turns at the colonel's bedside, he told Hogan of London and his life growing up on the streets. It was there that he'd learned his more unsavory, but useful talents, such as safecracking and pick pocketing. While he was speaking to Hogan, Metzger observed Newkirk frequently reached out to touch Hogan to emphasize a particular point. At other times, he appeared to touch his silent CO for no reason other than simply wanting to establish a physical connection.

It was during his second "shift", when he'd run out of things to say about himself or anything else, that Newkirk had begun telling Hogan every joke he could remember. And it was during this time, that Metzger's second lapse of silence had happened.

The jokes kept coming, one after another, while Metzger's face grew redder and his lips grew tighter in a desperate effort not to laugh. He wrapped his arms around himself, and tried mentally reciting medical jargon, but the distraction didn't work. His attention kept straying to Newkirk as he entertained his bedridden audience of one with increasingly ribald jokes.

Finally, when Newkirk dramatically delivered the punchline of a particularly dirty joke about two men and a parrot, Metzger completely lost control. Leaning his head back against the wall and releasing his aching ribs, he erupted with loud guffaws. The noise startled Newkirk, who'd been totally oblivious to his presence, and brought the others bursting through the door.

When Metzger finally opened his eyes and was able to think about something other than trying to breathe, he found a roomful of smiling and chuckling men. They seemed to find his red face, streaming eyes, and quivering body extremely amusing.

Wiping his eyes, and gasping and wheezing noisily as he tried to regain his composure, Metzger looked over at Newkirk, who was smiling in smug satisfaction. "I am sorry, Corporal Newkirk. I didn't mean to interrupt your very entertaining floorshow."

Newkirk 's smile widened even further. "S'alright, Guv'nor. Nice to know there's a right proper sense of humor underneath that curt exterior!"

Metzger choked with laughter all over again at the bad pun.

When Hogan's fever broke less than thirty minutes later, Newkirk insistently claimed that it was his "very entertaining floorshow" that had done the trick.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Metzger straightened from his crouch beside Hogan's bedside, and indulged in a full-body stretch in an attempt to ease the stiffness seeping into his muscles. Though physically weary, he felt nearly euphoric upon completing his examination of the now peacefully sleeping American officer. Turning to the men crowded closely around the bed, he allowed a bright smile to emerge.

"The Colonel's fever has indeed broken, and the wound is no longer infected. I believe gentlemen, that we will now see marked improvement in his condition." Metzger paused in his summary to allow their cheers, tears and laughter to subside, before indicating the wound in Hogan's side. "You see? There is no longer any swelling and very little redness and drainage of fluid. I will soon be able to stitch it completely closed. But we will give it another day, to be certain."

Carter pushed his way forward through the group so that he could see Hogan more clearly. "So, Doc, do you think he'll wake up now?"

Metzger thought for a moment, trying to decide if he should share his concerns, and whether to explain that there were no guarantees as to when their CO might awaken. He studied Hogan's face, lax in unconsciousness.

Well, Colonel, you could still go either way on us. You might possibly wake soon, or you might not wake for quite some time. But that is not something I foresee happening.

Metzger glanced up at the eager faces surrounding him.

Your men seem to have linked your silence to the infection, but this is not necessarily so.

An idea suddenly occurred to him and he turned to study Hogan again.

Or might they be right, after all? Were you focusing all of your strength on waging an internal battle against the infection which was attacking you, Colonel? And now that the "enemy" has been vanquished, will you perhaps awaken for us?

Almost as though in answer to Metzger's silent queries, Hogan chose that moment to begin easing his way toward consciousness.

At first, the noise was so soft, they weren't sure if they'd actually heard anything at all. It was Carter, who was standing closest to the bunk, who heard the weak moan clearly the second time. Dropping to his knees by the bed, he called Hogan's name and held back a cry of relief when the officer's eyelids fluttered in response.

Suddenly, no one seemed capable of movement. Even Metzger stood frozen in place as Hogan opened his eyes for the first time in nearly a week.

Hogan could tell that he was in his bunk in his quarters, and that there seemed to be an awful lot of men squeezed into the room around his bed. But anything more than those two facts was beyond his grasp. Everything was blurred and confused. Suddenly, he felt a hand gently turn his head to his right, until he an unknown face loomed dizzily into his view. Blinking slowly, he tried to focus on the man's face, but just couldn't manage it. Sighing tiredly, he gave up on the effort and let his eyes close, only to have an insistent voice pull him back to awareness.

"Colonel Hogan, can you hear me?" Metzger waited patiently while Hogan opened his eyes and tried again to focus on his face. Slowly, the cloudiness cleared from the brown eyes and Hogan finally focused on the doctor.

Hogan tried to ask the blond standing over him who he was, and what was he doing in his quarters, but the words simply refused to form. He saw the man turn and heard him say something to whoever was standing behind him. When the blond turned back, he held a glass in his hands. Hogan was gently lifted from behind, and then the glass was at his lips and the man urged him to drink slowly. Once he started drinking, Hogan didn't want to stop. But the blond took the glass away, assuring him that he could have more soon.

Hogan stared at the stranger, trying to make sense of the entire situation. When he could not, he asked the only question that would form in his confused mind.

"Who are you?"

Metzger smiled at the whispered question. "I am your doctor, Colonel Hogan. My name is Kurt Metzger and I am very glad to finally be able to talk with you and not at you." Seeing Hogan's confusion increasing, Metzger asked the question he had been waiting to ask since Hogan had regained consciousness.

"Colonel, do you know where you are?" Tension was palpable in the air as the group behind him became utterly still and waited for Hogan's response.

Hogan's eyes narrowed in concentration. "I'm in my quarters." He hesitated and then asked uncertainly, "Aren't I?"

"Yes, Colonel, you are in your quarters." Metzger kept his voice low and soothing. He definitely did not want Hogan to become agitated. "I can see that you are wondering at my presence, yes?" Hogan's eyes did not leave Metzger's face as he continued speaking. To Metzger, Hogan appeared to be trying to decide if he was a friend or an enemy. "Colonel, I am here because you were very badly injured. You came very closing to dying, in fact. Do you remember what happened?"

Hogan's eyes made small darting movements, as he mentally retraced his way through his memory. After several minutes, he locked eyes with Metzger and said in a small voice, "No, I don't remember." The doctor quickly spoke to reassure Hogan as panic began to appear in the officer's eyes.

"Easy, Colonel, you must rest easy. It is all right, truly. You must not worry yourself."

Hogan slowly relaxed as he listened to the doctor's soothing voice. What happened to me? Out of the corner of his eye, he was able to make out that it was Carter who was doubling as his backrest. Looking beyond Metzger as he continued voicing reassurances, Hogan saw Kinch, Newkirk and LeBeau in the crowd of men surrounding his bed.

Blocking out Metzger's voice completely, Hogan focused his attention inward and reviewed what his body was telling him. He could feel dull aches all over his body, with stronger ones located in his thigh, shoulder and head. His left arm itched and felt unusually heavy. His right side felt stiff and was one massive pain, and he could tell that when he tried to move, he would really pay for the attempt. Oh, boy, Rob, what the hell did you do, try to wrestle an elephant? Judging by the way that you feel, the elephant definitely won! Turning his attention outward once again, he heard Metzger -- he did say he was a doctor, didn't he? -- say that he should not try to move. Now, how did this guy know that I was thinking of trying to move?

Hogan was unaware that his face was clearly broadcasting his emotions to everyone present and it was completely amazing his men. Their commander usually kept his emotions well guarded, allowing people to see only what he wanted them to see. But that ability was missing now, due to his head injury and the mental confusion brought caused by it. His expressions were totally open and vulnerable.

"Enough, Colonel. You must rest now. Do not concern yourself. Go to sleep." Metzger watched as Hogan's eyes immediately fluttered closed. Ah, that it would always be this simple with all my patients!

"Wow, Doc! Are you some kind of hypnotist, or something?" Carter was amazed that Hogan had so readily complied with Metzger's command to sleep. The colonel doesn't usually take so well to being babied or ordered around!

Metzger glanced up quickly at Carter's question, and smiled slowly as he realized that apparently something unusual had just occurred. "He is simply too weak to object, Carter, nor, as you could tell, is he able to think very clearly yet. I am truly surprised that he stayed awake for as long as he did, and I am quite pleased by his reactions to this point."

Metzger helped Carter ease out from behind Hogan and then slowly lowered the officer back down onto the bunk, making certain that he was well covered by the blankets.

"He seemed awfully confused." Kinch cocked his head to one side to get a better view of Hogan's face. "Is that because of the whack he took to the back of his head?"

"Mmm, yes, it is." Metzger nodded. "It is normal for an injury such as this, and may persist for perhaps a week or so."

"What about his memory?" Kinch' s heart had dropped into his stomach. No way the colonel's going to be able to come up with something to get those plans from Krieger! Kinch gave himself a mental kick in the pants for thoughtlessly hoping that Hogan would magically wake up from his near coma and be well enough to plan a mission.

"His memory," Metzger shrugged and sat down to rest his aching body, "will return, or it will not."

"Whoa, guv'nor! Just what are you saying?" Newkirk had visibly paled at the vague prognosis. "Are you saying that Colonel Hogan won't remember us?"

Now, the entire group has paled, Metzger noted clinically. Oh, you idiot, Kurt! Remember how these men feel for their colonel! This is not some group of medical students discussing a cadaver! Shaking his head in self-disgust at his insensitivity, Metzger chose his words carefully and tried to reassure them.

"Please forgive me. I did not mean to alarm you. Yes, I believe Colonel Hogan will remember you. Did he not indicate awareness of his quarters?" The men nodded and appeared to relax fractionally. "Yes. What I meant to say is that he may never remember the incident that nearly killed him, nor the events preceding it. Injuries to the brain are difficult if not impossible to predict." Metzger stared at Hogan and tried to form an explanation they could easily understand. "He may eventually have flashes of memory concerning the mission, or he may not remember the mission at all. He may also be missing whole periods of time, meaning that he may not remember last week, last month, or possibly even last year. I have heard of some cases that cannot remember the last ten years of their life prior to their injury." Metzger sighed heavily as he continued to stare at the silent man. "We can but wait to learn what Colonel Hogan remembers, and what he does not."

HH HH HH HH HH HH

After gentle questioning over the next few days, it became apparent that Hogan had lost nearly three weeks of his memory prior to the destruction of the munitions convoy and the Hammelburg Bridge. The last clear memory he had was rendezvousing with an agent code-named Rumpelstiltskin about a ball-bearing plant near Düsseldorf.

The men told him of the mission involving the Hammelburg Bridge and the munitions convoy and how he had been critically injured in the resulting explosion. Hogan praised Kinchloe for his leadership and quick-thinking response to the unexpected crisis. Kinch's response only confirmed Hogan's belief that should anything ever happen to him, the sergeant would be more than capable of seeing that the unit continued to function efficiently without him.

When Hogan asked about Metzger's continued unquestioned presence in their barracks, Kinch told him of Kommandant Klink's role in bringing the doctor to Stalag 13.

Hogan's recovery was proceeding well since the infection in his wounded side had cleared, and his temperature, for the most part, had remained normal. But his continuing weakness and the difficulty he had in maintaining his concentration were major sources of irritation to him.

His men visited with him as often as Metzger would allow. Hogan wavered between anger and amusement at the irascible doctor's policing of his visitors and the length of their visits. It's like I have my own personal guard dog! But he had to grudgingly admit that if he were honest with himself, he was actually grateful for Metzger's intervention. He tired easily, and often fell asleep during conversations.

Once, he woke to find Carter at his bedside, his right thumb gripped tightly in the young man's hand. Carter was quietly but enthusiastically relating one of the day's events at the stalag, unaware of Hogan's amused regard. Finally, he looked up to find his CO smiling gently at him with sleepy eyes. Hogan had brushed aside Carter's apologies as his thumb was quickly released. Hogan was unconcerned and oddly touched by the physical gesture, and made certain that Carter didn't feel any embarrassment for doing it.

What did concern Hogan, however, was the feeling that his men were hiding something important from him. But each time he tried to find out what that something might be, his men sidestepped his questions. Their evasiveness not only frustrated him, it made him more than a little suspicious.

He didn't know that the men were obeying Metzger's orders not to reveal any information to him which might cause him stress and interfere with his recovery. And that definitely included the quickly approaching mission concerning General Krieger's visit and the plans for proposed troop movements which he carried with him. Hogan did not remember the vital mission, and Metzger wanted to keep it that way.

"If the colonel knows of this mission, he will want to lead in the planning of it, yes?" The men indicated he that he would. "He must avoid stress and anything which might cause him to become overly tired. This would only set back the progress he has made in his recovery. The man is already impossible as a patient, now! To tell him of this mission would cause him to try even harder to do more than he should. I am nearly to the point of tying him down! That strong will of his may have kept him in this life, but now it is driving me crazy!" Metzger threw his hands into the air when the men laughed.

They were enjoying the doctor's fit of temper, but they could certainly sympathize with his feelings. They knew from experience that Hogan could be quite stubborn when it came to anyone trying to coddle him. The men watched in silent amusement as Metzger paced and muttered to himself, bringing all kinds of dire threats down upon Hogan's head, should he not obey his doctor's orders.

Metzger was nearing the end of his fuse. He enjoyed his conversations with Hogan when the officer was awake and not visiting with his men and had grown to genuinely like and respect the American. But he was finding it increasingly difficult in keeping his patient from pushing his recovery too hard and too soon, possibly undoing the progress he'd made. Metzger had passionately pleaded, coaxed, bargained, and threatened the stubborn officer to no avail. Hogan was determined to resume his duties as soon as possible regardless of the physical cost to himself.

Has the man never heard of a vacation? Metzger fumed, continuing to pace.

Colonel Klink also visited with the restless patient and tried his best to persuade Hogan not to push his recovery too quickly. Klink had assured Hogan that he could miss as many roll calls as necessary until Metzger was satisfied with his recovery. During his visits, Klink babbled about anything that came into his mind in an effort to relieve Hogan's boredom. And so it was during one of his visits, that he unknowingly "let the cat out of the bag."

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Hogan shifted positions in his bunk as he listened to Klink again ramble assurances that he would willingly bow to Metzger's wishes concerning Hogan's recovery process. From that subject, the kommandant moved on to other subjects, most of which concerned himself, both personally and professionally.

The monotonous droning sound of Klink's voice was making Hogan sleepy as well as give him a headache. His eyes drifted closed, Klink's voice becoming faint background noise as he faded into sleep. Suddenly, something the kommandant had said penetrated his sleepiness and caused alarm bells to ring in his mind. Hogan's eyes shot open, and he quickly sat straight up in bed, wincing as the unwise movement sent a sharp pain through his side.

"Back up, Kommandant. What did you just say about a General Krieger?" Hogan watched Klink come to a complete physical and mental standstill, a blank expression appearing on his face.

"I'm sorry, Colonel Hogan, what did you ask? I seem to have lost my train of thought."

Hogan took a slow, calming breath and reined in his impatience. He had a feeling that he was about to discover what it was that his men had been keeping from him.

"You said something about a visit from a General Krieger. What visit, and who is General Krieger?"

"Oh, that!" The kommandment remembered Metzger's warning that Hogan would be missing memories due to his head injury, and so did not find the innocent questions surprising. Klink merrily explained about General Krieger and his impending visit to Stalag 13 in four days, and how pleased he was by the work that Hogan's men had done in preparation for it. He told the silently fuming officer that his men had been quite diligent in completing their work satisfactorily, despite their concern for Hogan's injuries. In gratitude, Klink would see to it that they each received an extra slice of white bread next week.

"Why thank you, Kommandant, that's very generous of you. I'm sure the men will be grateful." Hogan could barely restrain his seething emotions. I'm gonna kill 'em!

"Kommandant, if you don't mind, I'm a little tired. Would you mind if we continued our conversation later?"

Klink stared at Hogan for a moment, noticing the pallor of the American's face. He does seem a bit paler than when I first arrived. Oh, dear, I hope his condition is not deteriorating! "But of course, Colonel Hogan! Please do not trouble yourself . . ." Klink continued babbling as he backed out of the room, and closed the door behind him.

Hogan painfully swung his legs over the side of his bunk, closed his eyes, and slowly counted to fifty. When he was certain that Klink had left the barracks, he bellowed at the closed door of his quarters, "KINCH! LE BEAU! NEWKIRK! CARTER! GET IN HERE, NOW!"

Hogan's strident bellow caused the four men in the next room to bolt to their feet and glance at each other in wide-eyed panic. Kinch started for Hogan's quarters, gesturing for the others to fall in behind him. He didn't know what might have happened during Klink's visit to cause Hogan to sound so angry, but whatever it was, he hoped it wouldn't cause major problems. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Metzger rise and join them as he opened Hogan's door.

The first thing Kinch noticed when he opened the door, was that Hogan was out of bed and sitting at his desk. Uh, oh! This is not good! The second thing he noticed was the icy stare that Hogan was leveling at them as they entered his quarters. Hogan's brown eyes were positively glacial in appearance. What the hell did Klink say to him? Oh, no. This has to be about Krieger. Klink must have let something slip! Bracing himself, Kinch walked forward until he was standing next to Hogan, where he could lend physical support to the weakened officer if needed.

"Colonel? What's the matter?"

Before Hogan could answer, Metzger pushed forward through the group. Directing his own glare at Hogan, he demanded in a voice rising with nearly each word, "What, may I ask, are you doing out of bed? And without assistance? If you had fallen, you might have torn open your stitches! You know, the ones that your doctor so kindly and carefully put into you so that you would not bleed to death?!"

Hogan was in no mood for lectures from anyone. "Enough!"

Metzger's jaw snapped shut, but he continued glaring his annoyance at his misbehaving patient. Hogan may have won the latest round in their battle of wills, but Metzger was determined to win the war.

Carefully settling his weight more comfortably in his chair, and slowly stretching his wounded leg out in front of himself, Hogan returned his attention to his men, his eyes narrowing in anger.

"All right. Who wants to try to explain to me why I wasn't reminded of Krieger's visit?"

Everyone started talking at once, their voices reverberating painfully in Hogan's head. He sat silently while they verbally fell over themselves trying to placate him, then held up a trembling hand to get their attention.

"Enough, already. You're making my headache worse."

He immediately realized his mistake by admitting to a headache, and quickly turned to head off any protests from Metzger. That was another mistake. The sudden turn threw his equilibrium off and he swayed, overcome by dizziness. Kinch quickly grabbed his arm to steady him in place. Hogan could not hide a wince as the well-meaning support pulled at the wound in his shoulder.

"I'm okay, it's only a headache!"Hogan pointed his finger at Metzger as the doctor's mouth opened. "Don't you start with me. You can lecture me all you want later. Right now, I want an explanation, and someone had better give it to me."

"It was my idea not to tell you, Colonel." Kinch discreetly waved Metzger to silence. "We've got Krieger's visit and the details of getting the plans he's carrying in his briefcase all taken care of, sir." Out of the corner of his eye, Kinch saw LeBeau, Carter, and Newkirk glance at each other and then back at him in surprise.

"We've contacted London and had them find out what Krieger's briefcase looks like and what type of security measures he's had built into it. They're going to make a duplicate of it, without the security measures, of course, and get it to us. Then, during one of the big dinner parties that Klink's planning, we'll pull a switch just like we did that other time. After we neutralize the security, we'll photograph the plans, put them back into the briefcase, and then switch the briefcases back. Krieger and Hitler will never know that we'll be ready for their plans before they're even put into effect." Kinch took a deep breath. "We didn't want to worry you, Colonel. We were going to tell you all about it after the mission was over and the plans were on their way to London."

Kinch held his breath as he waited for Hogan's reaction. While he was giving his explanation, he'd seen the colonel listening intently, looking for possible problems. The first big problem is that I've got to get all the preparations with London taken care of! He'd also noticed that Hogan had picked up on the by-play between Carter, Newkirk and LeBeau. Even weak and in pain, the guy has eyes like a hawk!

Kinch hadn't had the slightest idea for a plan before the moment he'd faced Hogan's summons. It had suddenly come to him while Hogan was lashing out at Metzger. Dad always said I worked best under pressure!

"All right. It sounds like it might work. Just see to it that London fully briefs you on the security features in Krieger's briefcase." Hogan glanced up at Kinch, adding, "I'd sure hate to lose any of my men due to a bomb they'd overlooked. You're right, Kinch. You've got it covered. You don't need me for this one. Don't let me hold you up in your preparations."

Hogan nearly laughed out loud at the stunned expressions which appeared following his unexpected and uncharacteristic announcement. He found the doctor's reaction particularly funny. Metzger could only stare at Hogan in confusion and slack-jawed shock Guess I surprised 'em. He continued to smile and chuckle to himself long after they'd left his quarters.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

"You're a ruddy genius, mate!" Newkirk enthused after they'd left Hogan's quarters. Metzger trailed along behind them, all the while shaking his head silently to himself as he pondered Hogan's easy capitulation. Wandering over to the camp stove, he absently poured himself a cup of coffee before sitting at the table.

Newkirk continued praising the sergeant's ingenuity as Kinch sat next to Metzger. "You had a plan all along! That's marvelous, but you bloody well could've let us in on it before springing it to the guv'nor, you know." Newkirk joined them at the table, and leaned toward Kinch as he asked, "So when do we pick up the briefcase from London?"

Kinch stroked his mustache, looked down at the table, and then at his hands, before sheepishly glancing up at the Englishman. "Well, I haven't exactly talked to London about the plan yet."

"What!" Newkirk nearly jumped from his seat. "You 'aven't contacted London? Then what was all that you told Colonel Hogan about them sending us the briefcase and all?"

Kinch shrugged his shoulders in resignation. "It just sort of came to me in there." He looked around, taking in their stunned expressions. "The Colonel seems to think it'll work, and we have done this sort of operation before, so it's not like it's new to us." Kinch rose from the table and moved toward the tunnel entrance. "All I need to do is talk to London, make all of the preparations, and get the ball rolling. Everything will work out. You'll see."

"And if London can't get everything ready in time, and get us the security features and duplicate briefcase before Krieger's arrival?" LeBeau asked quietly.

Kinch paused, and looked back over his shoulder. "Why borrow trouble? We'll cross that bridge if we come to it."

Carter gave Kinch a bleak stare. "Could you not mention bridges, please?"

HH HH HH HH HH HH

London came through for the men at Stalag 13 once again. Members of the underground scrambled to fulfill everything needed to make Kinch's plan a success. Nearly thirty-six hours after his initial contact with them, London radioed back to Kinch and told him to rendevous that night at oh two hundred hours with their agent, Bo Peep. Kinch heard the code name, and couldn't hold back a chuckle.

Whoever assigns these loony code name must have a really wicked sense of humor!

Bo Peep would be carrying a duplicate briefcase to Krieger's, as well as detailed instructions on how to circumvent the security measures built into the general's specially designed briefcase. After signing off, Kinch pulled LeBeau aside, and told him to use the emergency tunnel and rendevous with Bo Peep.

"Bo Peep! What kind of name is Bo Peep?" LeBeau asked in amazement, while Newkirk and Carter snickered.

"I don't know, Louis," Kinch answered with a huge smile. "But I want a full description of what he or she looks like when you get back!"

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Bo Peep turned out to be six feet, six inches tall and built like a line-backer. LeBeau nearly waxed poetic as he described to Kinch, Newkirk and Carter, how he'd almost grown light-headed from looking up at the huge man. Kinch smirked in amusement as he watched the little Frenchman gesture wildly while trying to impress upon them the size of the man called Bo Peep. Yep, I was right; definitely somebody with a wicked sense of humor!

When LeBeau finally ran out of adjectives for his description, they gathered around a well-lit table in the tunnel to finalize the details of their plan. For two hours, they studied the security measures built into Krieger's briefcase and how to safely by-pass them. They planned down to the smallest detail the steps they would take to relieve the general of the briefcase, photograph the plans, and return them and the briefcase before the evening meal concluded. If everything went as planned, by the following evening, they would have the plans for the new troop movements safely on their way to London.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Krieger arrived at Stalag 13 right on schedule the next day, accompanied by an impressive entourage of security forces. Hogan's men gathered outside Barracks 2, and watched as Klink greeted the German general in his usual irritating and effusive manner. Krieger bore the kommandant's ingratiating formalities for a few moments, before turning in dismissal and striding toward Klink's quarters. The kommandant trailed along in his wake, still gesturing and rambling about the merits of Stalag 13 and his lack of prisoner escapes.

"Klink sure didn't waste any time trying to make an impression with Krieger, did he?"

"Nope, he sure didn't, Andrew; for all the good it's gonna do him." Kinch was pretty certain that the kommandant was wasting his time in trying to impress the German general. Krieger was stopping at Stalag 13 only because it was conveniently located for a stopover, and offered comfortable lodging and meals. Burkhalter was sure to have told his close friend about the excellent meals that Klink's French P.O.W. had cooked for him in the past.

"What time did Klink say that he wanted dinner tonight, Louis?"

LeBeau shrugged. "He wanted us to beginning serving at eight."

"Okay. Carter, Newkirk, I want you to go over everything again and make sure you know what to do and when."

Newkirk rolled his eyes and stubbed out the cigarette he'd been smoking. "Bloody hell, Kinch! We've gone over it so many times already, we could do it in our sleep, mate!"

Kinch jerked his head sharply toward the Englishman. "I don't care if you can recite it backward in German! Do it again, Newkirk!" He sighed. "Look, fellas, this was a vital mission right from the beginning; but now, it means even more than getting those plans to the underground. The colonel's counting on us to pull this off without him," Kinch paused before adding, "and I, for one, don't want to let him down."

"You're right, mate." Newkirk shoved his hands into his pockets and nodded toward the barracks door.

"C'mon, Andrew. Let's go do our homework, eh?"

LeBeau elbowed Kinch in the side as he noticed Schultz rapidly approaching from Klink's quarters. "Here comes our friendly neighborhood strudel-eater. He looks like a man on a mission."

Schultz was moving with a good deal more speed than his usual shuffling waddle. Huffing and puffing across the yard, he finally pulled to a stop in front of them. "LeBeau!" Schultz paused to gulp in another breath, "The Kommandant wants you to be sure to use the real caviar this time, and to cook the general's meat until it is well done. The general does not like bloody meat." Schultz indicated his opinion of the general's tastes by rolling his eyes as he finished giving Klink's instructions to the Frenchman.

"Bah! What do Germans know about good food, I ask you?" LeBeau muttered in French as he wished that he could somehow sabotage the meal, or that the German general would lethally choke on a piece of overdone meat. If it were not for the vitalness of the mission, he would be sorely tempted to try some of his more unfriendly ideas.

Schultz shrugged his shoulders good-naturedly. "And how is Colonel Hogan today? I have not had the chance to stop in to see him."

Kinch smiled at the fat sergeant's concern for their commander. Schultz might technically be the enemy, but he had a good heart and a genuine affection for most of the prisoners under his responsibility. "He's doing fine, Schultz; getting a little stronger every day. Why don't you go in and visit with him? I'm sure he'd be glad to see you."

"Oh, I cannot. Not with the general here and the kommandant so nervous. I must be getting back, but will you give this to the Colonel for me?" Schultz opened his coat to pull out a square package wrapped in butcher's paper, and tied with string. He winked at the sergeant as he placed it in Kinch's hand. "It is some cookies that my wife, Greta, made for the colonel. She remembers him and how nice he was to her when she last visited. She sends him her wishes for a complete recovery."

"Why Schultz, that's really nice! Please tell her thank you for the colonel. I'm sure he'll enjoy them."

Schultz smiled shyly in response then hurried back across the yard and into the kommandant's quarters.

"Well, Louis," Kinch said, "from cookies from home to espionage, all in one evening. C'mon, I want to talk with the colonel before we leave for this evening's little soiree."

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Hogan was in his quarters, propped in a sitting position in his bunk. With his men busy preparing for the mission of obtaining the plans, and Metzger's return to town until his next check-up, Hogan was bored out of his wits.

Heaving a heavy sigh, he laced his hands tightly together in his lap to finally halt the non-stop thumb twiddling he'd been doing for the last thirty minutes. He knew that it was mindless activity brought upon by unrelieved boredom, but he also knew that he was slowly driving himself crazy by doing it. And Metzger wanted me to avoid stress! He snorted at the thought. Well, in my opinion, this is more stressful than being involved in any mission!

When the door to his quarters suddenly opened to admit Kinch's smiling face, Hogan was ready to stand and cheer in relief.

"Hey, Colonel! How are you?" Kinch's smile widened at Hogan's ill-concealed joy at having a visitor.

"Oh, just peachy, Kinch!" Hogan retorted sarcastically. He pointed a finger upward. "Did you know that there are exactly nine boards supporting that upper bunk?" He nodded seriously as Kinch ducked his head and snickered. "And," Hogan continued, "did you know that there are six floor boards between the edge of the bunk here, and my desk? Actually, there are seven boards, but that last one is partly under my desk, so it doesn't count."

Kinch laughed, and slumped back against the closed door.

"Oh, and by the way -- just in case you were wondering -- there are twenty-seven nails in each of those floor boards. Twenty-seven exactly. I ought to know, because I've counted the damn things about a dozen times, now!" Hogan heaved another sigh."Kinch, there's so much excitement in my life right now, I can hardly stand it!" He emphasized the complaint with an eye-roll.

"Oh, Colonel," Kinch gasped and tried to catch his breath. "I'm sorry. I'll see if we can tone down all this excitement. After all, the good doctor would have us drawn and quartered if you had a setback."

"Kinch!" Hogan growled, before smiling at the humor in the situation. "Okay, okay. I'll be a good boy, and try not to wear myself out counting all these nails, All right? Now, please tell me what's going on out there in the real world before I lose my mind!"

Kinch sat next to Hogan. "We're ready to go, Colonel. Now, all we have to do is pull it off without being caught." He shrugged carelessly. "Just business as usual, right?"

Hogan nodded. "Yeah. Business as usual, only I'm sitting in here while you're all out there taking all the chances."

Kinch studied Hogan's crestfallen expression. "It's usually you shouldering most of the chances, Colonel." He held up his hand when Hogan began to protest. "You know that you're usually right up front, ready to do damage control, or take the blame, or whatever else may happen. I know that's what officers are expected to do, but this time, let us take care of everything, just as you agreed." He paused before adding softly, "Even if you hadn't been hurt, Colonel, you needed a break. We all know you did, only at the time, we were too dense to notice."

The assessment puzzled Hogan. "Why do you say that?"

"You'd been on edge for weeks. Your temper had been short, you'd been really quiet, and you holed up in here a lot. I thought you were even going to bust the kommandant in the nose at roll call, the morning before we blew the Hammelburg Bridge. That's not like you." Kinch watched as Hogan tried to recall the events mentioned. After a moment, Hogan closed his eyes and bowed his head in defeat.

"I still can't remember any of it." He glanced up, his eyes reflecting his confusion and frustration. "Every so often, I'll have a flash of something; almost like someone's showing me a photograph, but then they yank it away before I can get a really good look at it."

The distress evident in his commander's voice made Kinch feel an almost physical ache of sympathy. Tentatively, he reached out and placed his hand on Hogan's arm in silent support, and was surprised when Hogan glanced down at it but didn't object or physically move away.

"I keep wondering if there's something else important, other than Krieger's visit, that I've forgotten." Hogan stared hard at Kinch. "What if there was something I was supposed to do and now I can't remember it?"

"I've already checked with London because I knew you'd be worrying about that possibility. They hadn't contacted you about anything recently, other than the convoy and bridge, and that Krieger's plans were the only thing you'd contacted them about." Kinch gave Hogan's arm a gentle squeeze. "Quit worryin'. Everything's okay. You just need to concentrate on getting better."

Hogan smiled in relief. "I don't have a choice between all of you and Metzger combined. I swear that man is part guard dog."

The door swung open and LeBeau stuck his head into the room. "Excusez-moi, mon colonel. Kinch, it's time for us to go to the Kommandant's quarters to prepare."

"Coming." Turning to Hogan, Kinch asked softly, "You okay now, Colonel? Can I get you anything before I leave?"

"Nope. I'm okay." Hogan watched Kinch rise and move toward the door. "Kinch!"

Kinch turned back. "Yeah, Colonel?"

"Thanks. For everything. You're doing a great job standing in for me, and that's the one thing I haven't worried about at all."

Kinch looked down at his feet and nodded. He wanted to thank Hogan for his confidence, but knew he wouldn't be able to get the words past the sudden tightness in his throat. Making a silent vow to himself that he'd thank Hogan later when he was feeling less emotional, Kinch nodded again, and followed LeBeau out.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Showtime!

Kinch tried his best not to fidget as Kommandant Klink seated his secretary Hilda at the dinner table next to General Hans Krieger. The German general smiled graciously at the young blonde woman to his left, clearly appreciating her presence at the evening meal. He probably wishes our kommandant would do a disappearing act for the whole evening. Kinch smiled as he watched Klink flutter nervously around the table, acting the part of host.

When he was certain that Klink was finally securely seated and that it was safe to approach the table, Klinch moved forward to pour wine into their crystal glasses .

Krieger glanced up at his approach, and then quickly ignored his presence, concentrating solely upon the beautiful secretary seated to his left.

While he served the general his wine, Kinch stole a quick glance down at the briefcase secured by a chain and handcuff to the man's right wrist. The black leather briefcase was sitting beside the general's foot, near the edge of the ornate white linen tablecloth.

This is going to be tricky. Colonel, I hope you're saying some prayers for us!

Kinch continued moving around the table, serving Hilda and finally, Klink, their wine. Stepping back from the table, he addressed the kommandant. "Sir, with your permission, we'll begin with the appetizers now."

"Yes, of course. General, have I told you what a wonderful French chef we have here at Stalag 13?"

Krieger barely pulled his attention away from Hilda long enough to grunt a response.

Klink didn't allow himself to be affected by the general's careless response and obvious lack of attention to his contributions to the conversation. He continued to list the wonderful qualities of LeBeau's cooking, and then began blatantly hinting to Krieger that perhaps he could mention to the Fuhrer what a wonderful meal he enjoyed at Stalag 13 with Colonel Wilhelm Klink.

Kinch rolled his eyes as he moved to the kitchen to set their plan into motion. Give it up, Kommandant! It's a losing effort. Kinch almost felt sorry for the German officer.

Pushing open the swinging door to the kitchen, Kinch motioned to Carter to roll out the serving table, loaded with specially prepared appetizers. The table was entirely covered with a carefully draped white linen tablecloth, similar to the one decorating the main table. But it carried more than just the appetizers for the evening meal. It also carried Newkirk and the duplicate briefcase, hidden carefully beneath the heavy tablecloth.

Carter slowly wheeled the laden table into the room, and gently parked it as close to the general's right side as possible without appearing suspicious. As he brought the table to a halt, he inclined his head slightly to Hilda, in a pre-arranged signal.

Klink's beautiful secretary, Hilda, had helped Colonel Hogan in the past, for various rewards of nylon stockings, perfume, candies, and private necking sessions with the American officer. When approached by Kinch earlier in the day, she'd readily agreed to take part in helping the prisoners with their plan, but this time for no compensation other than helping the injured officer. Kinch decided he would see that she was generously repaid for her invaluable help anyway.

At Carter's signal, Hilda immediately began plying the general with questions to hold his full attention. Kinch wanted the German officer completely focused upon the secretary, so that he would be less likely to notice the switch taking place literally beneath his nose. Glancing to his left, Kinch saw he wouldn't have to worry about Schultz seeing anything from where he stood. Krieger may have been concentrating on Hilda, but Schultz was concentrating on the food just out of his reach. Licking his lips as Carter placed the appetizers on the table, the sergeant was nearly drooling in voyeuristic appreciation.

From his position nearby, Kinch watched as Newkirk deftly reached out from beneath the white tablecloth on the serving table, and silently jimmied the lock on the chain handcuffed to the briefcase. After releasing the chain, he switched the leather cases, smoothly pulling the original case under the serving table, and leaving the duplicate in it's place. Before withdrawing his hand back under the tablecloth, Newkirk securely re-fastened the chain to the duplicate case.

Kinch marveled at the Englishman's dexterous skill. The switch had been made quickly and without a sound, and all during the short time it took for Carter to serve the appetizers to Klink and his guests. He'd known that the light-fingered man was good, but now he had seen exactly how good. The Royal Crown Jewels wouldn't be safe around you, my friend! Kinchloe inclined his head toward Carter, signaling that the switch had been made.

Carter finished serving and returned the table, with its cargo of Newkirk and the purloined briefcase, to the kitchen.

Once in the kitchen, Newkirk quickly emerged from under the table with the case. Going to the exit, he slipped outside and then across to their barracks, timing his crossing of the yard to safely avoid the guard tower searchlights and the patrolling guards.

After entering the barracks, he gave a quick "thumbs-up" signal to Hogan, who was seated just outside his quarters, and then entered the tunnel system, where he began the process of neutralizing the briefcase's security features and photographing the plans.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

Kinch discreetly checked his watch for the third time in less than twenty minutes. Glancing across the room at Carter, he raised an eyebrow in silent question. Carter pursed his lips and grimly shook his head. There'd been no sign of Newkirk.

Where is he? Kinch was really beginning to worry. The soup had been served and eaten, followed by the main course, which had also been eaten. That left only the dessert as their last chance to switch the cases back. I think I'm going to break out in hives! How does the Colonel stand it?! Newkirk, where the hell are you?

Kinch was just about ready to move into the kitchen to check for himself, when he saw LeBeau peek out the door at him. The little Frenchman nodded and put his thumb and fingers together in an "OK" sign. Kinch thought he'd faint in relief.

Finally!

Nodding to Carter, Kinch signaled they were ready for the final step of their plan.

Carter entered the kitchen and soon reappeared with the serving table, this time bearing a beautifully prepared Baked Alaska. Once again, he wheeled the cart to the general's right, close to the table and the duplicate briefcase at Krieger's feet. Kinch watched as Carter began slowly and carefully serving the dessert, and Newkirk began the final switch of the briefcases.

Everything was proceeding smoothly until Krieger's right hand accidentally brushed his fork from the table onto the floor, where it came to rest with a soft "thump"near his right foot.

Kinch felt his heart literally skip a beat as the fork hit the floor just inches from where the briefcase should've been, and wasn't now. Newkirk had been in the process of placing the original case on the floor, when the fork dropped. Now he was frozen in place, unsure of what to do.

Kinch started forward to try and avert disaster, but Hilda was quicker.

Quickly placing her left hand on the right side of Krieger's face, she kept him from turning his head and looking down at the floor to retrieve the fork. Leaning toward him until her face was only inches from his, Hilda softly whispered so that he would have to concentrate upon her completely to hear what she was saying.

Bless you, dear lady! Kinch quickly picked up the dropped fork and placed a new fork on the table next to the General's plate. Glancing down as he backed away from the table, he saw Newkirk complete the switch and re-fasten the chain and handcuff to the original briefcase. Moving back to his former position a few feet away, Kinch signaled Hilda and Carter that the switch had been made.

Hilda immediately removed her hand from the General's face, but continued speaking softly to him, while Carter slowly wheeled the serving table away from the table and back to the kitchen.

Kinch closed his eyes in heartfelt relief. I think I just dropped ten years from my life. Colonel Hogan, you can definitely have your job back, anytime, sir! Cautiously opening his eyes, and sternly ordering his knees to stop knocking, Kinch saw that everyone was enjoying the final course of their meal. Correction. Kinch snorted quietly as he noticed Colonel Klink morosely spooning Baked Alaska into his mouth. Everyone but our kommandant.

Klink was trying not to squirm in his seat, as Hilda and Krieger continued their private conversation across the table from him. The couple had long before given up any pretense of conversation with the depressed kommandant, and were completely ignoring his presence at the table.

Kinch sighed contentedly, and allowed the tension drain out of his tense muscles as the evening came to a successful close. Sneaking a sideways peek at Schultz, he saw the big sergeant was nearly asleep on his feet. I feel the same way, big guy! Kinch ruefully shook his head as he realized that after just one mission, he was more than ready to call it quits in the leadership department. And the colonel has this responsibility all the time! Relaxing even further as he watched Krieger, Klink and Hilda rise and leave the table, Kinch pondered what London's reaction would be to a request from one tired sergeant for a well-earned vacation.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

When Kinch, Carter and LeBeau arrived back at their barracks, they found a mini-celebration in full swing. Newkirk was literally hanging on one of the men, regaling his captive audience with the details of his masterful skills.

Kinch eased his way through the happy crowd. He was looking for one man in particular, and he found him sitting nearby, silently taking in the festivities.

Hogan was leaning back in his chair just outside the door to his quarters, where he was safe from any accidental jostling from his exuberant men. He had a small, but serene smile on his face as he watched Carter and LeBeau join Newkirk in telling everyone of their successful mission. He looked up alertly when Kinch finally made it through the crowd to his side.

"You did it, Kinch. Congratulations." Hogan offered his hand.

Kinch took it in a firm grip and wearily sat down in a chair beside the officer. "Thanks, Colonel. We learned from the best, you know." Hogan shook his head.

Newkirk suddenly appeared out of the crowd, his mouth still going at full steam. "Eh, Kinch! What a marvelous evening, my good man!"

"Yeah, well, it wasn't without it's scary moments!" Kinch frowned and pointed a finger at the euphoric Englishman. "And what, may I ask, happened to you? We were sweating bullets in there waiting for you to get back. We thought you weren't going to ever get back in time to make the second switch before they left the table."

"Well, mate, I had a wee bit of a problem with the camera." Newkirk's eyes widened in mock indignation. "The back of the bloody camera jammed on me; nearly sent me into palpitations, it did! I thought I'd ruin the film getting it out of the little bugger!"

Kinch's frown eased a bit at the explanation. "Hmmph. Well, it didn't do any great wonders for my health, either." Turning to Hogan, who'd been glancing back and forth between them during their conversation, Kinch added, "That wasn't the only little glitch that happened tonight, either."

"Yeah, Colonel!" Carter blurted as he and LeBeau joined the conversation.

Hogan cocked his head. "Oh?"

"Yeah." Kinch snorted. "Newkirk was switching the cases back when Krieger dropped his fork right next to Newkirk. I thought we were all goners, for sure."

Hogan's eyebrows shot up into the black fringe of hair that had fallen over his forehead. "What did you do?"

"Hilda saved us." Kinch looked down at his feet and shook his head as he remembered the secretary's quick-thinking move. "She kept Krieger's attention on her so that I had time to pick up the fork while Newkirk finished the switch. If it wasn't for her, we'd have been caught."

"Hmm." Hogan slowly nodded, contemplating the near-disaster. "We need to do something extra-special for her. She really went above and beyond on this one." Rising slowly from his chair and shaking his head as Kinch tried to help him, Hogan turned toward his quarters.

"Well, fellas," he began with an impish smile, "I've been told to avoid too much excitement. So, I guess I'm going to leave you to your celebration, now." His smile faded and his face settled into a serious expression.

"You did a great job, tonight. I'm not saying it was easy to sit by while you did it, but I never doubted you could pull it off, and you did. I'm proud of you." Hogan took a deep breath and reined in his fragile emotions. You can do this, Rob, just hold it together!

"And when I say I'm proud of you, I'm not talking about just tonight and the way you completed this mission." He placed a hand on the back of the chair to brace himself and shifted his weight onto his uninjured leg. "From the moment that explosion took me out, you've handled everything that's been thrown at you like professionals. You diverted Klink's suspicion, and took care of business as usual, not to mention the little matter of saving my life along the way."

Hogan glanced down, as he noticed some suspiciously bright eyes peering back at him. Taking another deep breath, he looked back up at them. "I'm proud to work with you and I'm even prouder to be able to call you my friends." Shrugging his shoulders, Hogan stared intently into their eyes, "I was going to wait until the war was over to tell you how I feel, but the bridge almost made that impossible. So I wanted to tell you now, while I still could."

Silence settled upon the small group as the four men wiped their eyes and sniffled quietly with repressed emotion. Finally, Kinch cleared his throat, then stood and turned until he was looking Hogan squarely in the eyes. "That goes double for us, sir."

And then, almost as if they'd rehearsed the motion, Kinch, Carter, Newkirk and LeBeau, shifted until they were standing side by side, and then as one, they saluted the stunned officer.

Hogan slowly returned their salute, stepped into his quarters and softly closed his door.

HH HH HH HH HH HH

One week later, Stalag 13 had returned to its normal daily routine. London was thoughtfully steering as many missions away from Papa Bear and his underground unit as possible, while the Colonel recovered from his injuries. What few missions they did send were fairly simple and routine. Hogan and his men were grateful for the rare respite from their usual heavy quota of missions.

The senior P.O.W. was seated at the table enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee with his men one afternoon, when the barracks door creaked open, and Kurt Metzger cautiously peeked into the room.

"Is it safe to come in?" Metzger's gaze darted around the room, his blue eyes reflecting his apprehension.

"What do you mean, safe?" Hogan snorted, watching the doctor fidget nervously in the doorway. "C'mon in, Kurt, we won't bite."

Metzger straightened indignantly as he entered and closed the door behind him. "Perhaps you won't bite, but the last time I was here to check on you, I nearly lost my head in some sort of infantile pillow fight that was going on when I arrived!" Metzger glared at the guilty, but unrepentant men.

Hogan nearly choked on his mouthful of coffee. Looking around the table at his smirking men, he said, "I must have slept through it. I haven't been in a good pillow fight for ages. Next time, I'd better be invited!"

Metzger raised his eyes heavenward as the men erupted into laughter at Hogan's disappointment in missing their "spontaneous recreation". Pointing his finger at the broadly smiling officer, Metzger scowled. "You, my good Colonel, are the biggest child in this group, and a very bad influence."

Before Hogan could react to the doctor's jibe, the barracks door opened again; this time to admit Schultz's uniformed bulk.

"Mail call!" Schultz began handing out letters as he walked between the bunks calling the prisoners' names. Turning to Hogan, he held out a thick stack of letters. "These are for you, Colonel."

"Thanks, Schultz." Hogan accepted the letters, but looked up at Schultz in puzzlement. "Hey, Schultz, isn't mail call a couple of weeks early?"

"Yes, Colonel," Schultz sighed as he brushed his now empty hands down the front of his uniform. "But, it is actually a late mail call. You see, the mail for Stalag 13's prisoners was accidentally sent to Stalag 9, instead. We only yesterday, learned of the mistake." Schultz squinted his eyes shut as he began backing out the door. "This is the mail you should have received last month."

"Bloody Krauts and their mail system!" Newkirk threw down his playing cards in disgust, as Schultz quickly closed the door in self-defense.

"I'm gonna write to my congressman...or somethin'", Carter complained from his bunk.

Hogan ignored his men's complaints as he stared down at the pile of letters in his hands. There were two from his mother and one from each of his three brothers and his sister. A vague sense of relief teased at the edges of his memory as he tapped the pile lightly on the wooden table.

"Something wrong, Colonel?" Kinch asked in concern, as Hogan frowned in concentration.

Hogan slowly shook his head. "No, I don't think so. It's just that..." he sighed heavily in frustration, and looked over at Kinch with a small, lopsided smile.

"Don't push, Colonel." Kinch said softly, in understanding.

Metzger moved to Hogan's side and gently placed his hand on the officer's uninjured shoulder. "He is right, Colonel. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to take your stitches out while I am still in good enough health to do so." The doctor's blue eyes danced as he winked at Kinch. "After all, who knows when I might fall victim to a lethal shot from a stray pillow?"

Metzger's joke had the desired affect, breaking up the quiet atmosphere that had fallen upon the room. Hogan smiled and stood up from the table, as the men laughed. Favoring his injured leg, Hogan limped toward his cabin with Metzger at his side, but suddenly stopped and turned back.

"Newkirk?" Hogan cocked his head and thoughtfully scratched his jaw, just below his right ear.

The Englishman eyed his CO in concern. "Yeah, Colonel?"

Hogan shook his head and frowned. Now, Metzger was growing concerned.

"Colonel, what is it?"

"Well, I know this sounds strange," Hogan sheepishly smiled at the doctor, "but I keep remembering something about . . . two men and . . . a parrot?"

Metzger and Newkirk threw back their heads and burst into raucous laughter, the rest of the men joining in.

Hogan's brown eyes widened and he shook his head in bewilderment.

I don't get it.


Thank you for reading!

March, 1999