Gingerly avoiding all the rubble left over from air raids, as well as the passersby, an elderly man made his way slowly down a crowded Berlin street. Like the other Berliners, he carefully avoided looking at anyone, and walked with a purpose. It was dangerous to meet another one's eyes, or to hesitate for even a moment. His eyes downcast, he appeared not to notice the Gestapo officer heading his way, and they collided.
"You clumsy oaf." The agent bent down and retrieved his hat. He then looked at the now terrified man. "Papers!"
"Yes, sir," his victim stammered, as he panicked and dropped his cane.
"I'll get it." The agent stopped him. "Hurry up, old man."
"Here they are."The man handed over a wallet.
The agent gave the papers a cursory glance. He passed them back. "Carry on." He turned.
"Sir? My cane. If you please."
The man took the cane and headed in the opposite direction, while the agent continued forward.
OSS agent Todd Boswell stared at a map of Germany taped to a wall in a small studio apartment located in the only building left standing in a bombed out section of Berlin. Fearing the building was unstable, most of the residents had fled, and Boswell and his partner Mitch Garrett were confident they would be safe, at least for a while. They had been on the move now for months, changing locations every few weeks, trucking their own small spy operation with them wherever they went.
"Ah ha." Boswell licked his lips and gleefully moved a set of red push pins to the right. He then began removing several black pins and moved their locations as well. A prearranged tap on the door interrupted his work.
"Anything?" He asked his partner, as Garrett came in and began to remove his outerwear.
"Yeah. It's damn cold." Garrett rubbed his hands together. "We're going to freeze in here."
"I found some more wood." The apartment still had a working fireplace.
"Orion passed me info in code. Here." Garrett handed Boswell a sheet of paper. "He's leaving."
" He brought out the cane?" Boswell asked.
Garrett nodded. "Things are getting too dangerous around here. Well," he continued as he rubbed his hands together…"who knows how much longer we'll be here."
"Shame. He's a good contact. Warm up and I'll decode this. ..It's the usual stuff," Boswell reported a few moments later. "Troop movements. This is interesting. Dissention in the ranks. Unhappy generals. Booby trapped bridges."
Garrett walked over. While blowing on his hands, he looked over his partner's shoulders. "Any rumors?"
"Hang on. Let me get this stuff out." Boswell began tapping out a message, waited for confirmation and then continued. "Here we go," he said happily. "Hitler's fired his astrologer."
"This one's not funny," he said soberly. "Germans are beginning to evacuate POW camps out east…in front of the Russians. They're sending prisoners out on forced marches."
"Monsters." Garrett commented. "Send that one out."
"German headquarters initiating prisoner swap." Boswell said. "That's nothing new. Switching generals now?"
"Little late." Garrett shook his head. "Maybe amputees?"
"No, wait." Boswell continued reading. "Not an Allied general. It's." He stopped talking.
"It's. It's. It's, what, who?"
"A colonel," Boswell whispered. "For a general. The Allies wouldn't take a colonel for a general. Can't be true… That's…"
"No… Give me that." Garrett grabbed the sheet of paper, almost tearing it in half. "Oh boy…"
"We should warn him. This doesn't make sense."
"Todd. Shouldn't we verify this first? It's probably a fake."
"Maybe . But would it hurt to give him a heads up?"
"No." Garrett grabbed the radio. "But I'm saying one thing. I'm not going back to Stalag 13. Forget it! I almost got killed the last time I was there."
Boswell pushed Garrett's hand away and began to fiddle with the dials. "We won't have to. We just tell Hogan the rumor, and signoff. Done! See? A favor." He twiddled until he got the special frequency Hogan had shared with them before they last parted company the previous October; sent out a call, and waited for a response that never came.
"Colonel, Olsen's back."
"Thanks, Newkirk." Hogan marked the page in the book he was reading, and hopped down from the top bunk. He was hoping for good news. Radio detector trucks had been roaming the area for three days, effectively shutting down the operation. Two fliers were patiently waiting in the tunnels for a pick-up time; everyone else was beginning to get ornery.
"Well?" Hogan asked his outside man.
"No good, sir." Olsen answered. "They're all over the place. I had to take the long way back."
"Nuts." Hogan shook his head. He hated a lack of control. It reminded him that despite everything, he was indeed a prisoner. "All right. Tell Breyer and McDowell they'll get to enjoy our hospitality a few more days."
"Oscar said he'll keep an eye out and let us know if anything changes," Olsen added before he headed into the tunnels.
"All right. Everyone go back to whatever you were doing." Hogan sighed and went back into his office.
"They must be in radio silence; or it's not working." Boswell gave up dealing with the transmitter.
"Or worse." Garrett offered. "Nah. We would've heard something. Wouldn't we?"
Boswell shrugged. "Likely. I'll contact HQ and let them know. At least it's something."
"Worth a shot," Garrett agreed.
"Thanks for the heads up," HQ replied a moment later. "We'll inform Papa Bear's contacts and get back to you."
"Well? Anything good to eat?" Garrett walked over to a shelf filled with tins of food bought on the black market. He grabbed some canned corn beef, and a loaf of bread, and began making a sandwich. "You want one?" He asked his partner.
"Nope. I haven't had a decent corn beef sandwich since I left New York City. I'll get homesick if I eat that crap."
"You're too fussy. Wish we had some mustard." Garrett took a bite. "It's dry." He opened a tin of peaches and dipped the sandwich into the juice.
"That's disgusting." Boswell turned away. "Now you ruined the can."
"Easier to get down." Garrett swallowed hard. He grabbed a tin and tossed it. "Here's some canned plums."
"Whatever." Boswell started to open the can, but stopped as the transmitter came alive. "That was quick." He rushed over. The message came through in Morse code.
Garrett waited patiently between bites of the dry sandwich for Boswell to look over the message.
"Ahem." Boswell cleared his throat. "Contact made. New transmission from HQ in 5 minutes."
"HQ?" Garrett asked. "His HQ or our HQ?"
"His HQ." Boswell stated.
"Didn't think they'd give us the time of day." Garrett tossed the empty can of peaches into the garbage.
"Let bygones be bygones." Boswell reached for the can of plums. "At least we haven't shot each other...accidentally, that is."
Six minutes later, the two agents stared at each other; both struck dumb by what they heard. Indeed, it was confirmed to their relief, that Stalag 13 was observing radio silence. But…Hogan was being swapped, for a general, no less. The swap had been initiated by the Germans, possibly authorized by Berlin. The general was worthless, the Allies knew it… The Germans knew it… But…London felt it would be suspicious to refuse the return of a decorated commander. However, with the war hopefully nearing its final stage, Hogan was still needed elsewhere. And so, because of their familiarity with Stalag 13, and their demonstrated proficiency of moving throughout the country…plus… just plain dumb blind luck, Boswell and Garrett were ordered to stop the swap.