Author's Note: This idea hit me a couple nights ago and I just found it too intriguing to ignore. Inspiration was gained through the quote mentioned in the summery from "The Late Inspector General" episode. A special thanks to CaptainSmirk for helping me remember the episode title. I admit that I didn't do much research on this, so some of the historical facts might be a little off. I do apologies for that, but nevertheless I hope that you will be able to enjoy it regardless. Have fun!
Deep breath in…deep breath out…here we go!
"What do you mean it's canceled?" he asked in alarm.
The woman behind the counter remained extremely calm. "I'm sorry, sir," she said, "but the plane is in need of repairs and will most likely be out of operation for the remainder of the day."
"Then what am I supposed to do?" he asked worriedly. "I must reach Bayfield."
She looked at something behind the desk that was out of his view and then responded. "I can place you on the next available flight to Bayfield," she offered.
He still looked a little panicked. "Alright," he said, "do that then." He shoved is hand into his pocket and retrieved his watch. "And when will that flight be?"
She checked a piece of paper and responded, "It leaves in three hours, sir, at 7:05 to be exact."
He sighed, feeling defeated, "Alright, thank you." He finished his business and then turned away from the counter. He looked forlornly at his watch. What could he possibly do in Jersey City for three hours? His stomach growled in response to his unspoken question. Maybe he could find a place to eat that wasn't too far from the airport. He returned his fedora to the top of his head and set off towards the door. Exiting the airport, he managed to hail a cab.
"Where to?" the driver asked.
"Anywhere nearby that has decent food," he answered, closing the door to the cab with a solid phwunk.
The driver pulled away from the curb and started making small talk. "That's an interesting accent you've got. You from around here?"
The two men made eye contact briefly in the rearview mirror before the passenger looked away.
"No," responded the man.
"This your first time in the states?"
"So where you from?"
Silence in the back seat. The driver glanced in the mirror again, but the passenger was staring out the window. The driver continued to glance between the road and the mirror a few times before asking, "Did you catch that?"
They made eye contact again, but an answer still didn't come.
The cab driver tried to explain, "I asked where you were from."
Hesitation. "I'm sorry," the man answered. "English is…difficult for me," the man lied.
The driver nodded, "Doesn't matter. We're here anyway. I know it says 'bar', but the place actually has some good entrées on the menu, too. Just tell 'em Rick dropped you off. They'll show you a good time."
The man nodded and said, "Thank you," before climbing out of the cab.
"Yeah, no problem," said the cab driver. "And welcome to the country Mr. uhh…"
The man hesitated once more before turning back and saying, "Klink. My name is Klink."
Inside, a bar stretched along the back wall of the establishment and many tables took up the remaining floor space. Once Klink knew he had been acknowledged by one of the waitresses, he took a seat at one of the few empty tables. For it only being four o'clock in the afternoon, the bar was actually rather active. Klink determined that was probably due to the fact that this establishment evidently had a decent food service as well. Still, with it not being lunch time, Klink was surprised by the crowd. The waitress came over and took his order and then Klink was left to his thoughts.
It was strange being there. A few years ago, Klink would have never thought he would see the shores of the United States; at least, not an American owned United States. Like many other German soldiers, Klink expected the U.S. to fall during the war, leaving the Fatherland open to claim the territory and develop it into an extension of the Third Reich. Towards the end of the war, however, that dream faded quickly; and once the Fuhrer was dead, the dream was gone entirely.
Germany had suffered another crippling defeat at the hands of the world and the country was left to pick up the broken pieces alone, without the satisfaction of having any leadership to blame. For many Germans, it was a humbling and humiliating time. Some dedicated souls maintained the struggle for the Nazi dream in the private arena even after the war, but most Germans desired peace. Klink fell into the latter category. He was done fighting, though some might argue that he never really started in the first place. Nevertheless, war was exasperating for those involved, and he had no particular desire to see it continued after the Regime fell.
German politics in those days were confused. Some Germans were embittered towards the Fuhrer; others were embittered towards the defeat, and a brewing civil war stirred between those two parties for a while after the fall of the Third Reich. There was just so much bitterness in the country, and much of that bitterness was directed towards the very soil on which Klink was now sitting.
That's what made it such an odd experience for him now. If he ever came to America, he had expected to arrive counted among the conquerors, not among the tourists. And yet here he was, on no military errand. Here for his own purposes and not the purposes of the Fuhrer. It was a different world. So much time had passed, and yet the shadow of days lived still covered much of everything Klink saw. It was indeed a strange experience for him. It was all just so odd.
The waitress brought his sandwich at that point and Klink began to eat his roast beef in peace, willing his mind to stop racing. He thought back to the cab driver and regretted being dishonest with him. Even though it had been a few years, Klink knew that grudges from the war still remained in Germany, so he could only assume some also remained in the States. He was in no particular hurry to be persecuted for his actions during the war. He just wanted this to be a quick and painless visit.
Besides, Klink's business was none of the driver's concern. Klink shouldn't have had to answer any questions he didn't want to address. Still, he did feel guilty about lying. The truth was, Klink's English was rather good, to his credit. Once all of the American and British prisoners were liberated from Stalag 13, Klink really didn't get a chance to practice his English at all. And now that it had been so long since he conversed in the language, he was pleasantly surprised by how quickly it was all coming back to him. As he ate quietly, Klink strained his ears to listen in on the English being spoken around him.
"It's not going to get any better if you don't see a dentist about it."
"Excuse me, I asked for no salt on these."
"He was late because Philip slept in. That boy!"
"Would it matter if you did?"
"It's lousy, but at least it's something."
"This was fun, maybe we should do this again sometime."
Klink was only catching snippets of conversations, but at least he was managing to translate everything in his head. However, his internal processor was overwhelmed when a large group of men entered from behind him and headed across to the bar. Their conversation was jumbled and noisy, being broken occasionally by a guffaw of laughter.
Then Klink's head snapped abruptly upward and he studied the individual men in the group with intense scrutiny. Somewhere in the mess of voices he- there it was again! One of those voices…he couldn't tell which one…but one of those voices was extremely familiar to Klink somehow. Unfortunately, the men took their seats at the bar and settled with their backs to the rest of the room. The only men whose faces were visible were the two who sat at the end of the group, curving around the bar and halfway facing towards Klink's table. And there he was. Klink recognized him the moment his eyes settled on the familiar face. The coal black hair, the square face and beady, brown eyes. The hair style was a little different, and some mild wrinkles had set into the skin, but it was the same man alright. Klink would bet his life on it, he was so sure. That was Colonel Hogan.
As if being in the country wasn't strange enough, now Klink was in the very room with one of his old prisoners! And not just any prisoner, but the very man who was responsible for all of Klink's humiliation and disgrace as a German officer. It wasn't long after Stalag 13 was liberated that the vast tunnel system was discovered during the demolition process. This encouraged enquiries to be made as to the origin of the tunnels and soon after that, military secrets about the underground efforts of Hogan and his men came to the surface. Many if not most of the details were sketchy, but nevertheless, there was no deniability of the POWs' impressively destructive schemes during to war.
Once news got out that one of the most organized sabotage efforts of the Allied forces took place literally right below Klink's very nose, the Stalag commandant was the laughing stalk of the German military. Klink's name was practically the punch line at every dinner party in Germany. Those who weren't laughing at him were blaming his foolishness with cruel severity. Klink's life was made miserable after the war, and it was all due to that man at the bar.
And yet, Klink didn't hate him. Somehow, he couldn't hate him. He had no desire to walk up and confront Hogan, yell at him for ruining his life. And he also had no desire to get up and exit the bar either. He just was content to stay at his table, lower his head, and try not to be seen. That's all Klink really wanted. He just didn't want to be noticed.
Klink turned back to his sandwich and continued eating. After a few minutes, he checked his watch. It was still a while before he had to be back for the flight. He had time enough to finish his meal. After that, he might walk around and do some window shopping.
Klink looked up when he heard someone approaching. The waitress deposited a small glass of whisky on Klink's table and then began to walk away. Confused, Klink picked up the glass and held it out towards the young lady. "Excuse me," he said, effectively causing her to halt and turn around. "I didn't order a drink," he explained.
"It's compliments of the gentleman at the bar," the waitress informed, and then returned to her duties.
Klink continued to hold the glass in midair while he watched her walk away. Then he finally turned his gaze and fixed it immediately on Hogan at the bar. The American Colonel had his eyes locked on Klink and had a barely visible smile on his face. Hogan wordlessly raised his glass and nodded his head towards Klink in salutation.
Still stunned, Klink kindly accepted the gesture with an equally small smile and the two veterans shared a silent toast from across the room. The liquid was fine and slid down Klink's throat with a satisfying sting. He lowered his glass to the table, all the while maintaining eye contact with the man he had not seen in years. They shared a quiet moment from a distance, acknowledging each other, the past, and all the complicated emotions that each evoked.
Finally, Hogan broke the eye contact as he turned his attention back towards the bar. Klink too looked down at his table, using the napkin from his lap to wipe his mouth. In his peripheral, Klink continued to observe Hogan discretely. After a few moments, he saw Hogan request a bottle of something from the bartender, and then he politely excused himself from his party. Klink straightened in his chair when he realized that Hogan was heading over to his table. 'So much for not being noticed,' Klink thought. He tried to pretend his attention was on replacing the napkin across his lap as Hogan approached the table.
"May I join you?" asked the familiar voice in the distinctly American accent.
Klink looked up and took a moment to get a good look at the Colonel. He looked good. As mentioned before, Hogan's face had adopted some shallow wrinkles. But other than the light sprinkling of salt in his hair, Hogan hardly looked different at all. He still had that catlike grin, and the poor posture. Klink had forgotten about the Colonel's slouching until he was standing there before him in that moment. It was distinctly Hogan.
Hogan gestured to the item in his hands. "I brought the bottle," he offered.
Klink smiled good-naturedly. "Yes, of course, Hogan. Sit down, please."
Hogan obliged and settled into the chair across the small table from his onetime commandant. There was a long silence between the two men. Both had things to say, but neither knew exactly what those things were.
"I hardly recognized you in your civvies," Hogan observed after a while.
Klink nodded. "Yes, you look rather different without your uniform as well."
"And the monocle is gone…that's pretty different."
Klink smiled slightly, "A few years ago, I noticed blurred vision in my right eye as well, so I switched to glasses."
Hogan took a sip of his whisky. "They look good."
Klink was surprised by the compliment. "Thank you," he responded.
There was another awkward silence. "So," Hogan said after a while, "How has life been treating you, Colonel?"
"Well, for one thing, it's not Colonel anymore."
"No? They make you General?"
Klink laughed with a small shake of the head. "No, no…they didn't do that," he said, using his finger to draw little shapes on the surface of the table with the sweat from the glass. "Actually it's Herr Klink. I'm a civilian now."
"Really?" Hogan was genuinely surprised. "A regular career man like you, I would have expected you to always stay in the military."
Klink's smile was sad. "Yes well…things change. The military, like other aspects of Germany, underwent many changes after the war; and many people, myself included, were not eager to have themselves associated with the…previous administration. There were many resignations from the military after the war." Then Klink grew quiet and his expression darkened further. He looked away from Hogan as he said, "There were also an unfortunate number of suicides…particularly among the higher ranks." Klink looked up at Hogan, "General Burkhalter was among those, unfortunately."
An expression of both surprise and condolence registered on Hogan's face. Even if they were technically enemies, hearing news of the death of someone one knew was always shocking. "I'm sorry to hear that," Hogan said, surprising himself at how honest a statement that actually was.
Klink just nodded graciously.
Hogan studied his old commandant's face for a while. It was obvious that the man had aged since the war. The hair was a little lighter and his wrinkles were more defined. But he looked somehow stately, with what was left of his hair combed back in a slick style. His suit was well tailored, if otherwise common to most of the other suits in the room. The color in his face was good, and the blue of his eyes was alive and vibrant. Time had treated Wilhelm Klink remarkably well, and Hogan was happy to note this. Returning to the conversation at hand, Hogan asked, "What about Schultz?"
Surprisingly, that brought a smile to Klink's face. "Schultz, too, resigned from the Luftwaffe and has happily returned to his toy factory. As far as I know, he's doing rather well there."
Hogan smiled, too. "Good," he said. "By the way, do you happen to have his address?"
Klink registered surprise. "I might have that, yes. I would have to look in my address book which I, unfortunately, do not have on me at the moment."
"Well, that's fine. I can get it later."
Klink observed Hogan as he drank some more. Somehow, Klink was surprised to hear that the American would have an interest in regaining communication with the old Sergeant of the Guard. Of course, Klink had thought for a long time that Schultz couldn't have possibly been as strict and intimidating as the prisoners made him out to be most of the time. But the commandant hadn't ever considered the relationship between the Sergeant and the prisoners to be close enough that Hogan would wish to know Schultz's address after the war. "You would, uh, be interested in contacting Schultz?" Klink inquired.
"Sure, why not?" Hogan replied with a shrug. "It would be nice to hear from him again. You know, for technically being our enemy, Schultz actually wasn't such a bad guy," Hogan explained.
"No, he certainly wasn't," Klink had to agree, going back to his drawings in the water.
Hogan watched Klink's behavior with mild fascination. He had never seen the Colonel this pleasant before. They were actually sitting at a table and having a cordial drink together, without Klink trying to bribe Hogan into anything. It felt odd, but also nice. Hogan studied the German and was surprised to see a small hint of remorse on the man's face. It was almost as though Klink was envious of Schultz's relationship with Hogan and his men, yet the Colonel disguised this emotion valiantly. "You know," Hogan commented, continuing the conversation, "you weren't so bad either, Commandant."
Klink's head jerked up and his gaze met Hogan's. The German merely blinked at the American for a short while. The compliment had rendered Klink speechless. Hogan shrugged and leaned back in his chair, balancing it on its hind legs. "Thank you, Hogan," Klink said at last. "That certainly is a nice thing to hear, coming from you."
"Yeah, don't mention it," Hogan tried to brush it off with a joke. He didn't want the conversation to take a too sentimental turn. The truth was, even though they were Germans, Schultz and Klink were never really considered 'bad guys' by Hogan and the men. They weren't exactly friends, but they weren't really enemies either. No, the really nasty ones were usually Gestapo. Of course, the Gestapo fell with the Nazi party, so most of those guys were probably long gone. But that thought brought on a question. "Incidentally, Colonel, whatever happened to Hochstetter?"
Klink looked up again. "Major Hochstetter?" He frowned and his eyebrows arched high, "I haven't heard anything about him in years. Not since the war. I don't know whatever became of him."
"Hmm…" Hogan replied, taking another sip of his drink.
Klink followed suit, enjoying the warm liquid. "And what about your men, Colonel?" he asked after a few sips. "How are they?"
"It's General now, actually," Hogan corrected.
Klink's brows arched again, "Oh, I'm terribly sorry."
"And my congratulations. I know that must make you very proud."
Hogan accepted the compliment with a nod, graciously opting not to rub the promotion in since Klink obviously never earned his stripes like he so wanted to do during the war years. "I wouldn't complain," Hogan said simply. "But my men are actually doing rather well. Of course, I've seen Kinch and Carter the most since the war. Kinch got married last summer and has settled down in New Orleans. Carter went back to North Dakota and I think he's working at a little shop there. He was quite happy the last time I saw him. Lebeau started his own restaurant in Paris and I understand it's doing rather well. Surprisingly enough, Newkirk actually chose to stay in the service and has recently been promoted to Pilot Officer. The others have spread out and are doing various things now, but I assume those four I mentioned are the ones you best remember."
Klink couldn't deny that. "I confess I did not know most of the other prisoners half as well as I knew those, you're right. There were a lot of men in that camp and I could hardly know them all. The well-behaving ones could go the entire captivity period without my ever laying eyes on them after their initial capture. It was your rowdy bunch I saw the most," he teased good-naturedly.
Hogan accepted the jab with a laugh.
"Otherwise," Klink continued, "it wasn't terribly proper for a commandant to have relations with the prisoners."
Hogan nodded, "That makes sense."
The conversation faltered again and the pair grew silent, each drawing into his own memories in quiet consideration. They had been talking for a few minutes now, but neither had gotten completely used to the fact that the other one was sitting just across the table. It was like breaking two ice cubes apart from one another, waiting for them to melt halfway, and the trying to combine them together again. At one time, their lives fit so easily into the same room, but now…now each man had changed in so many ways, they somehow didn't seem to fit anymore. And yet, there was still that vague sense of familiarity that hovered in the air above that small table. Both men were distinctly uncomfortable, and yet, at the same time, in a strange version of home.
And their attitudes towards each other had changed immensely. Their dynamic had changed. It was no longer German vs. American, Good vs. Bad, Crafty vs. Oblivious. They were just two men, two veterans, discussing the same war that had enveloped their lives for so long. There was no longer a sense of hostility or indignation between them. No, a sense of appreciation and mutual respect seemed to dwell among them instead. These men who, at one point, were bothered and aggravated by each other to no end, now actually shared a sense of affection. They had the same experiences, experiences which could never fully be realized by anyone else in the world, and this surprisingly caused a sort of kinship between them. Both men felt it, and both were equally astonished by it.
And yet, there was still the memory of the past which clouded over them and left the mood awkward. Klink knew of Hogan's exploits, vast and unbelievable exploits at the expense of the former's reputation. And Hogan was mildly aware that, out of all the German's he affected with his schemes, Klink was probably the one who suffered the greatest. It was true that Klink was humiliated by the whole ordeal, but he was also left extremely dissatisfied when it came to explanation.
When the tunnel had been discovered and the truth about Hogan's operation came to the surface, very little facts were ever verified. Many acts of sabotage in the area were associated with the POW forces by the German military's hindsight, but this was determined mostly by the convenience factor and less by any conclusive evidence. Simplistically speaking, Klink and others suspected that Hogan and his men were probably responsible for a great many things, but no one could really understand how the elite team of POWs could manage such feats. Even with the tunnel system, some of the rumored activities were just too outrageous to comply with reason. Besides that, Klink hesitated to accept that most of those ploys could have possibly reached success without him any the wiser. Perhaps he was just being arrogant, or perhaps it was naivety, but many of the rumored exploits were just too hard to believe.
Being unable to suppress his curiosity and desperate need for answers, Klink spoke. "I, uh…I saw your tunnel…afterward, you know."
Hogan just watched the once commandant, but remained silent. Anything he might say could be considered rubbing Klink's naivety in his face. Besides, what would be the point? So the tactful American held his tongue and waited for Klink to say something else.
Klink hesitated too, "It was…very impressive."
"Thank you," Hogan replied. "We spent a lot of time on it."
Klink merely nodded, "I uh, I've since heard about your uh, secret dealings…you and your men."
Again, Hogan remained silent.
Klink realized he was getting no response and almost kicked himself for seeming so awkward. "Hogan," he began after some hesitation. "I never expected to see you here, and I would hate myself if I left this place without asking…How did you manage…I mean…how could…?"
Hogan looked at the tabletop and wondered how he should respond. It was a sensitive subject and required an outstanding degree of tact. He took a moment deciding on an answer, and his hesitation almost sent Klink writhing in his seat. Finally Hogan addressed Klink once more, "Do you really want to know, commandant?" he asked.
The two men locked gazes for a long while. Klink's mind raced to decode an answer from the jumbled mass of thought, deliberating furiously over the long-term implications of either reply. Hogan waited patiently, watching the mental process flicker across Klink's eyes. Finally, Klink broke the contact and bowed his head slightly, studying the table. "No, I don't suppose I do," he finally answered with a sigh.
Hogan nodded graciously. "If it makes you feel any better, commandant, we were under orders. None of it was about you personally."
"You don't have to explain chain of command to me, Hogan," Klink stated. "I understand the concept of following orders." He sighed, "At any rate, I suppose I should be grateful to you. If you had failed at keeping it such a secret, I could have been shot for incompetence."
Once again, Hogan kept his thoughts to himself and simply sipped his drink quietly.
Klink too seemed to be lost in thought for a moment before he huffed it all away and said, "Anyway, let us change to a less gloomy subject. What are you doing in New Jersey? I didn't think this was where you were from."
"It's not. I'm from Indianapolis actually. I'm here in Jersey for a conference. All of the guys I came in with are all part of the conference, too. I'm only here for a few more days and then I'm returning home."
"Ah, I see," Klink nodded.
"And what about you? What are you doing in the States?"
"I'm in the country on business, but I'm only in New Jersey for a few hours. I'm going to Bayport to see a man about a map."
"About a map?" Hogan asked.
"Yes, believe it or not Hogan, I went into the antique business."
Hogan's jaw dropped. "Noooo!" he gasped with a smile.
Klink laughed and nodded his head. "Yes, I did. After the war, I resigned from the military, as you know, and met a man who had some experience in the antique field, so we started a business together."
Hogan still had an outrageous smile on his face. "That's amazing!" he exclaimed with another laugh. "You get any cuckoo clocks in your shop?" he asked with a smile.
Klink laughed, "I knew that was going to be your next question. And we do have a few actually."
Hogan shook his head. "I can't believe that," he said. "So how's the antique business treating you?"
Klink's smile faltered a little. "It's…decent," he answered cautiously. "Truthfully, it's a little slow at the moment, but we expect things to pick up more once Germany starts to rebuild a little more. At the moment though, most people don't have a lot of extra money they wish to spend on old furniture and tapestries. That's why I'm here, actually. We have a client who was looking for a particularly dated map. We didn't have one in stock, but Gregor mentioned that he had a lead in Bayport that might be able to sell us one at a good enough price that we could make a profit turning around and selling it to our client. The offer on the map is only temporary though, which is why I'm in such a hurry to reach Bayport, and why Gregor and I are risking the money on the plane ticket just to get there. Needless to say, if this goes well, it could be very helpful to us."
"Well, in that case, I hope the deal is everything you wish it to be."
"Thank you, Hogan."
"Hey, Rob!" a voice called from the bar. "You've got to see this!"
Hogan responded with a passing glance over his shoulder towards the men.
Klink waited for Hogan to excuse himself and return to his friends, and was surprised when the American remained in his seat. "My apologies, Hogan," Klink said. "I didn't mean to steal you away from your party."
"They'll be okay," Hogan responded.
The voice called again, "I'm serious, Rob, you've got to see it!"
Hogan turned in his seat to look at the bar. Several of the men gestured urgently for Hogan to come over. Hogan turned back towards Klink with a look of quiet regret.
Klink smiled understandingly. "You should go," he said, nodding slightly towards the group at the bar.
They had been talking for a short while now, and surprisingly, neither man was anxious to see the conversation end, but both knew that it must. After another moment of hesitation, Hogan gave in and rose from the table. Klink stood also.
"Well, commandant," Hogan said, offering his hand, "It was nice seeing you again."
Klink grasped the American's hand and shook it firmly. "You too, Hogan."
They nodded at each other for a while before Hogan pulled his hand away, reaching into his inner breast pocket. He took out a small card and scribbled something on the back of it. Then, handing it to Klink, he said, "Drop a line when you get a chance."
Klink accepted the card and read Hogan's address before replying, "I will, Hogan. I certainly will."
Hogan smiled and swatted Klink's upper arm before turning and heading back to the bar to rejoin his friends. Klink studied the business card a little longer in awe. Who would have ever guessed that he would exchange contact information with his Senior Prisoner of War. It was truly amazing how much change the context of peace can bring to a relationship between men. Klink shook his head in wonder before gathering his hat and coat, paying his bill, and exiting the building with a smile.
Back at the bar, Hogan was predictably unimpressed by the photograph of Audrey Hepburn having dinner with one of Hogan's conference buddies. Most of his attention remained on the man who quietly collected his things and exited the bar.
"Hey," one of the men nudged Hogan, "Who was that guy, Rob?"
Hogan looked over and watched the door slowly close as Klink disappeared into the New Jersey street. "Oh…just an old friend from the war," he said with a quiet smile.
By the way, for all you MASH fans, I'm not saying that Charles was at this conference...but I'm not saying he wasn't...that's all I'm saying. ;o)
Anyway, there it is! Please let me know what you think! And thanks, as always, for reading!