Author's note: The characters aren't mine, and the story is! The Shakespearean quotes aren't mine, either—they're public domain. This story was inspired by challenge #74, where the Heroes must put on a production of Hamlet with ulterior motives.
Deep in the tunnels beneath Stalag 13, Corporal Peter Newkirk was embarking on a private mission. Having successfully purloined a bottle of schnapps from Klink's liquor cabinet, the Englishman was carefully decanting the liquid into an ordinary-looking water canteen. He cast a furtive glance around him, making sure that no one else was around.
Unfortunately for him, he was soon discovered by his commanding officer; Colonel Robert Hogan had been scouting Klink's quarters a few minutes prior, and had entered the tunnel system via the secret entrance beneath the stove. Silently, the colonel came up behind the corporal, watching as Newkirk finished pouring the schnapps and placing the cap back on the canteen.
"Ruddy marvelous…" the Englishman murmured.
"Yeah, but you'll have to make sure that Schultz doesn't drink from it by accident," Hogan said, causing Newkirk to jump three feet into the air.
"Cor blimey, Sir! You gave me a right start!"
"And I have sneaking suspicion that you had every intention of finishing the schnapps," Hogan said, indicating the canteen.
"Oh, this? Well, Sir, I figured that with that big German officers' meeting being 'eld 'ere, and all the spying we're going to be doing, I thought it would be in the best interest of the team to 'ave some of this… elixir on 'and. You see, Sir, there is nothing quite like a little swig when one's nerves are acting up…"
"So you're going to be sharing that?" Hogan asked.
"Oh, absolutely, Sir! It was me intent from the start!"
"Well, I'm glad to hear that; in fact, I think I'll have a little swig right now…"
"Ah, it ain't quite ready, Sir," Newkirk said, pulling the canteen away before Hogan could grab it.
"What's left?" the colonel asked, incredulously.
"I'm still trying to figure that out, Sir," Newkirk said, cheekily. "Perhaps it needs a taste test; I'd be glad to lend me services to making sure that it is all—"
He was spared from continuing with his excuse as, one by one, his other comrades gathered in the tunnel chamber. Newkirk discreetly pushed the empty schnapps bottle out of sight with his foot as they convened.
"Good; we're all here," Hogan said, taking a look at his team. Since the meeting involved some important names, London had wanted as much information as possible; the American colonel had assembled more than just his usual core team—even the reserves were gathered in the chamber.
"Bugs are ready in the office," Kinch informed him. "Baker and I made sure they were well-hidden."
"And I am preparing a seven-course dinner to stuff those officers' fat faces," LeBeau said, ruefully. "Some of my best work is to be guzzled by those pompous windbags tonight! Mon colonel, it kills me!"
"Hang in there, LeBeau; this war won't last forever," Hogan said. The colonel was about to continue when he noticed a large book in Carter's hands. "Carter, what is that?"
"What, this?" the sergeant asked. "It's The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. It's actually Olsen's; he's letting me borrow it."
"You're a Shakespeare buff?" Kinch asked Olsen.
"Well, I did go to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival once," Olsen replied. "That's where I got the book; Carter told me he'd never read Henry IV, Part I, so—"
"I think we'd better postpone this discussion to another time," said Hogan. "Listen up. You all are aware of the fact that there will be a series of important meetings in Klink's office, starting tonight; General Burkhalter is going to be using it as a command center for the next few days. I need everyone's eyes and ears open from here on out; someone needs to be manning the coffeepot at every moment—no more than one person, in the event that we need to cover for the listeners during roll call. Is that understood?"
The men nodded.
"What about documents, Sir?" Private Garlotti asked. "The coffeepot isn't going to help us out there."
"That's a bit riskier," Hogan admitted. "But while LeBeau distracts the brass with his seven-course dinner tonight, it's my hope that we can get Newkirk inside Klink office, have him crack the safe, and get some pictures taken of those documents. We'll relay all the information to London as soon as we get it."
"And now you know why I went through the trouble of setting up this canteen," Newkirk said. "There's likely to be 'eavy guard over that safe if there are secret documents in there—I'll need a few swigs to keep me mettle up—and the mettle of anyone else who needs it."
"Ah, oui?" LeBeau asked. "I must have my mettle up to cook for those bottomless stomachs tonight. Give me a 'swig,' s'il vous plaît!"
He made a grab for the canteen, resulting in a tug-of-war between the two corporals. This commotion would've continued, had it not been for one of the lookouts from Barracks Two calling down to tell Hogan that a German officer had already arrived.
"So soon?" the colonel wondered, checking his watch. "It's barely time for lunch!"
"I am not making lunch for any early arrivals!" the Frenchman insisted. "They can fend for themselves in the mess hall—I was only instructed to make dinner!"
"Easy, LeBeau," Hogan said, turning back to their lookout. "Who is it?"
"By the sound of it, Sir, it's Colonel Vogel, the commandant of Stalag 5."
"Vogel?" Kinch asked, looking over the list of names he had received from London. "He wasn't mentioned here. And, come to think of it, why would he be? He's just another desk officer, like Klink. The German brass wouldn't invite him to this meeting."
Hogan frowned; something didn't seem right.
"I don't know what's up, but let's go find out," he said. "And let's hope that Burkhalter didn't decide to change the meeting place to Stalag 5."
He headed up and out of the tunnels, crossing to his office as his men followed behind him.
"Well, Kinch, you and Baker did a marvelous job with the bugs; the sound is as clear as crystal," he commented.
The two techies humbly accepted their commanding officer's praise as Klink began to complain.
"I am sorry, Colonel Vogel, but I simply cannot accommodate this British officer you happened to find out in the woods. You are the commandant of Stalag 5; why can't you take him back with you?"
"Because, Klink, I am on furlough!" Vogel countered. "I am trying to go to Austria; to return to Stalag 5 would mean to go in the other direction!"
"And why should that result in an inconvenience for me?" Klink countered. "I am sorry, Vogel, but I simply cannot accept another prisoner. General Burkhalter is due to arrive here within hours with several other officers to conduct a highly important meeting!"
"You can have this prisoner and stay out of Burkhalter's way," Vogel said, smugly. "You know as well as I do that you will not be joining this meeting yourself."
Though they could not see it, Hogan and the Heroes could easily picture the grimace on Klink's face.
"For the last time, Vogel, I cannot and will not deal with another prisoner!"
"Very well then, Klink. May I use your phone?"
"To call Major Hochstetter and have him take custody of the prisoner. And I will be sure to inform him as to how preoccupied you were—"
"Ah… did I say that I cannot deal with another prisoner?" Klink asked, his voice quivering with nervous laughter. "I meant that I cannot deal with this prisoner being such a headache for you or Major Hochstetter. Of course I can take him!"
Vogel called to his aide to allow the prisoner inside.
"Aha!" a familiar voice spoke over the bug. "So we meet again, Colonel Klink! It seems as though I shall be matching wits against you once more, what?"
"No…" Hogan moaned, burying his face in his hands in despair. "Not him. Not now…"
All the plans they had for spying on the German generals—the bugs, the dinner distraction, and the safecracking—were now nothing more than pipe dreams with the arrival of the bungling group captain.
"Crittendon…?" Klink asked, stunned. Then, his voice cheered up immensely. "Crittendon, so it's you! Oh, Colonel Hogan will be certainly surprised to hear that you shall be our senior POW officer once again!"
"Ah, yes, I suppose I'll be taking over for the old boy again," Crittendon mused. "It's for the best; I'm sure he will agree! We might even get an escape or two in while I'm here!"
"Not possible, my dear Crittendon," Klink assured him. "Colonel Vogel, I give you my most sincere thanks and hope that you have a nice, long, and enjoyable furlough."
"I will be back to pick him up and take him to Stalag 5 when I return in two weeks," he assured him.
"Oh, please, take all the time you wish!" Klink said. "I'd even be willing to take him off of your hands…"
"Turn it off; I can't bear to listen anymore," Hogan said, and Kinch complied. "Newkirk? I think I will have that swig from your canteen right about now."
The corporal handed the canteen to him without delay.
"You can keep the lot, Sir; I reckon you need it more than I do."
"So is that it, then?" Garlotti asked, sighing. "Do we scrap the mission?"
"If you think we will be able to get anything accomplished with that imbécile around, you are dreaming," LeBeau said, with a shake of his head. "For one thing, we will not be able to listen here in the office!"
"The ruddy fool is going to 'ave me digging tunnels again," Newkirk ranted. "And 'e won't even consider letting me crack Klink's safe open."
"Boy, I'd hate to be the one to tell London that we have to scrap the mission because of one of their own," Carter said. He glanced at the Shakespeare book in his hands, and then back at Hogan. "Now cracks a noble heart," he quoted from Hamlet.
Hogan, recognizing the quote, looked up and glanced at Carter and the book.
"Hold on…" he said, as the light bulb went off. "Don't tell London we're calling it off yet. Carter, I think you just helped me come up with the perfect backup plan."
"Oh, great!" the sergeant said, though a puzzled look still crossed his face. "What is it?"
"The Mighty Hogan Art Players are going to make a triumphant return, courtesy of the Bard of Avon himself."