A/N: I don't own Hogan's Heroes and I don't get paid for this; it is truly a labor of love.
It's tough being the voice of reason in a lunatic asylum.
Okay, so maybe Stalag 13 isn't exactly a lunatic asylum. Maybe only Barracks 2 qualifies for that designation.
But when you're surrounded by Allied prisoners of differing backgrounds, nationalities, and ideologies, sometimes it can be a bit challenging to try to keep everyone on an even keel.
Take LeBeau, for instance. Sure, he hates the Boches, but he seems to carry a grudge from the Napoleonic Wars as well. Mention Moscow or Waterloo to him and he tends to lose what little temper he was born with. And naturally Minsk and Newkirk can't resist stirring him up.
Not that Newkirk is any better. Still upset about the Norman Conquest, from what I can see. I got exasperated one day and asked him how he wound up at Dunkirk if he thought the Frogs were such a lost cause.
He just stared at me and said it wasn't the same thing at all.
Then there's Olsen, our mystery man. I have to wonder what he's up to on his trips outside the wire, but I know enough to keep my mouth shut. Better we don't know, I'm sure. But the guy speaks colloquial German and he's been a great help to the rest of us, bringing our high school German up to snuff.
I speak German myself, having studied that and French as well at Cass Tech in Detroit. I was trying to impress a girl, naturally. That Carol Dukes—man, she was a peach. Never looked at me, of course. And of course I never had the nerve to ask her out, either...
I wouldn't want to leave out our commanding officer. I haven't figured out yet whether he's out of his mind or just ahead of his time. Either way, what Colonel Hogan's managed to accomplish at little old Stalag 13 is nothing short of amazing.
In addition to our listening in on Klink's office, counterfeiting money, and assisting escaped POWs, he's got plans to branch out, now that we've extended the tunnels to Barracks 2 and outside the wire as well. I'm almost afraid to ask him what's next.
But of course, what he's most proud of is our record in processing escaped POWs to get them back to England. We passed the 500 mark a few weeks ago, and did we ever have a party! Nothing like having 500 satisfied customers to make you feel like you've got a successful enterprise going.
That's why this past week was a bit of a shock for the poor Colonel, and it all started the day Kommandant Klink got a delivery of schnapps...
Baker, LeBeau and I were loitering outside the barracks, talking about this and that, when the guards at the gate allowed an old guy on a bicycle into the compound.
We all watched as he made his wobbly way toward the Kommandantur.
"Looks like Schneider's has a new delivery boy," commented LeBeau.
"Delivery boy, my foot," Baker snickered. "More like a delivery grandpa."
"That's not Schneider's bike," I said. "I wonder what's going on."
The old guy hopped off the bike and parked it against the porch. He took a box out of the bike basket and carried it up the steps of the Kommandantur and into the building.
A few minutes later he emerged onto the porch, and looked straight at us. He lifted his cap and smoothed his hair before replacing it, then started down the steps.
"Sacré chats!" LeBeau whispered. "That is the recognition signal!"
We were all frozen with shock for a moment. We certainly weren't expecting a member of the Underground to be visiting us in the compound in broad daylight.
Baker didn't speak; he was already on the move. A few casual strides and he stumbled into Schmidt, the biggest and ugliest of the guards. LeBeau hurried over to them and remonstrated in rapid French with Baker, berating him for his clumsiness, and brushing down Schmidt's overcoat, as though it had suffered some irreparable damage from contact with a POW.
I saw all this from the corner of my eye, but of course I was on the move, too. As I approached the old guy with the bike, I saw that he was fussing with the brake, and muttering in German about how the war meant everything was falling apart, and now how would he get back to town?
I shrugged, pretending incomprehension, but I took a look at the bike, crouching down by the rear wheel to check the calipers. I didn't look at the old guy, which was probably just as well, because his next words were in English, and I couldn't believe what I heard.
"Kinch!" he said in a whisper. "It's me—Lieutenant Carter. I'm back!"
Well, that just about took the cake. We help escaping prisoners, you know, but it's only one escape per customer, after all. We really don't look for repeat business. Colonel Hogan was not going to be happy that Carter had bounced back like a bad check. And where the heck had he been for the last two weeks, anyway?
But I couldn't leave the guy hanging, so I made an executive decision.
"I'll meet you on the Hammelburg road south of the main gate, midnight tonight. Can you make it?" I whispered back to him.
"Ja, ja," the old guy said in a quavery voice. "Danke, danke."
I watched as he got on his bike and pedaled it, still wobbling, to the main gate. Baker and LeBeau had concluded their little diversion with Schmidt, who was now grinning at something LeBeau said and pocketing a chocolate bar Baker had just handed him.
They parted company with the guard, with everyone apparently on excellent terms with each other, and I wandered casually over to join them.
"What's up?" asked Baker.
"Definitely a matter for the Colonel," I said.
LeBeau looked at me sharply but kept quiet as a group of prisoners strolled by just then. Explanations would have to wait.
Like most people, I like it when I'm proved right, but that evening was an exception. Colonel Hogan was definitely not happy, and he let me know it.
"He was supposed to be on that sub two weeks ago! What the hell is he doing wandering around Hammelburg on a bicycle?"
"It really wasn't the time or place for explanations, sir," I said placatingly. "That's why I told him I'd meet him at midnight tonight. With your permission, sir, I'll bring him in through the new emergency tunnel."
Colonel Hogan frowned, wrapping his arms around himself in that way he has when the wheels are turning in his head. Then he sighed. "Good thinking, Kinch. Carter knows all about our operation; we can't have him on the loose, now, can we?"
"No, sir," I said, relieved.
So after roll call I went down into the tunnels through the new bunk entrance, and came out again from the new tree stump exit in the woods out beyond the wire. As I carefully closed the trap door I waited for the searchlights to make their sweep, and then I headed out toward the Hammelburg road.
Sure enough, there was a little old guy shuffling along in the moonlight like he had somewhere to go.
"Carter!" I whispered.
The old guy didn't raise his head, but he slowly shuffled around till he was heading in my direction. As soon as he came abreast of me I grabbed his sleeve and yanked him into the shadows.
"Boy, am I glad to see you!" he whispered, but I shushed him.
"Come on, I'm going to take you back to camp," I told him.
"Just follow me."
When we got to the tree stump, I pulled him down behind the bushes as the searchlight swept by. Then I raised the trap door and had him go in first. He was almost trembling with excitement or fear; I couldn't tell which.
I followed him down and watched as he gazed all around him. He removed the spectacles and mustache he'd worn as his little old man disguise and turned to me, his eyes round with wonder.
"Boy, this is new, isn't it? Fantastic! Fantastic operation!"
I'd heard this from him before during his previous stay at Stalag 13, so I'm afraid cut him off a little short as I hustled him to the radio room. And there we met up with Colonel Hogan.
The Colonel looked at poor Carter like he couldn't believe his eyes, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for Carter; it was as if he'd been called to the principal's office or something.
He looked nervously at the two of us, and finally fixed his eyes on the Colonel.
Colonel Hogan folded his arms and regarded Carter grimly. "Okay, Lieutenant. Care to explain why you're here and not in England?"
Carter gulped, and then said in a rush, "I missed the boat."
The Colonel said slowly, as though the words made no sense to him, "You...missed...the...boat."
"Yes, sir. I mean, no, sir, I didn't actually miss the sub, sir. I was there, and right on time too. It's just that..."
"Kurt—that's the guy who was going to row us to the sub—well, he said he couldn't take all three of us. So I kinda figured, well, I said I'd stay behind so the other two guys could go."
"Sounds pretty courageous to me," I put in, and Carter threw me a grateful look.
The Colonel unbent a little then, to my relief. "Carter, that was a pretty noble thing to do, giving up your chance of escape like that. But why did you come back here?"
"Well, Kurt, and Klaus—he was the other Underground guy—they said they could hide me till the next rendezvous with the sub, but I figured maybe I should come back here instead."
"All the way back here? How did you manage that?"
"Just retraced my steps, sir. I had enough money, at least until I got to Hammelburg."
"Oh yeah?" The Colonel was looking stern again. "Then what happened?"
Carter took a deep breath and said, "I couldn't figure out a way to break into the stalag. I didn't know about your new tunnel exit in the woods, sir." He grinned suddenly. "Boy, that was fantastic! Who'd have thought you have a way to get out of camp like that! It was..."
"Yes, sir. Anyway, I ran out of money, and I didn't know how to get hold of you, sir, so I got a job in Hammelburg."
The Colonel was looking a bit dazed by this time. "You got a job?"
"Yes, sir. With Hasselschwert's liquor store. They needed somebody to do deliveries, so I disguised myself as an old man and applied for the job." He paused for a moment, and a look of concern settled over his face. "Gee, I hope Herr Hasselschwert can get somebody to do that delivery to the Hauserhof. They're very particular about..."
"Yes, sir. Anyway, after they hired me, I talked Herr Hasselschwert into getting the contract with Kommandant Klink for his schnapps deliveries." Carter shook his head in disapproval. "Would you believe it, Schneider's was charging him three marks for delivery! Highway robbery, sir..."
"Carter..." It was more of a plea than a command this time.
"Yes, sir. Anyway, I figured that was the best way of getting into camp. And it worked, didn't it?"
"Yeah, I guess it did." Colonel Hogan shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. "So you want us to send you back on the escape route?"
"Oh, no, sir." Carter was shocked. "I wouldn't have you guys go to all that trouble again just for me! Gosh, no. I came back because I want to join your operation, sir."
I wanted to laugh at the look on the Colonel's face, but I turned it into a cough instead. "He obviously can pass himself off as a German, sir. And you've been planning some missions outside the wire."
"Yeah..." The Colonel was staring at Carter as though the Lieutenant had grown another head. Carter looked back at him and gave a tentative smile. "Carter, are you sure you know what you're doing?"
"Oh, yes, sir." Carter looked from Colonel Hogan to me and back again. "It means that I won't be able to escape, that I'll be here helping out until the war's over." He thought that over for a moment, and amended firmly, "I mean, until we win the war."
The Colonel smiled a little at that. "You've got the right idea, Lieutenant." He shot me a troubled look, though, and turned to Carter again. "To stay here for the duration, you know that you'll have to be officially captured and processed as a prisoner here, right?"
"But this is a camp for enlisted men, you know. As a lieutenant, you would be sent to an officer's camp, like the one you came from."
"Uh, I meant to tell you when I was here last, but, well, gee, I just left so fast that I didn't get a chance..."
Colonel Hogan cast his eyes heavenward. "Tell me what?"
"Well, I found it out just before my last mission, the one where I got shot down. They gave me my lieutenant's commission by mistake—it was supposed to go to Albert Carter over in the 303rd instead. But my CO told me not to worry about it until I got back from the mission. Which I never did. That's why I was wearing lieutenant's bars instead of sergeant's stripes, sir..." He looked a little anxious as his voice trailed off.
"So you're actually Sergeant Andrew Carter."
"Technical Sergeant, actually, but yes, sir."
By this time I was about ready to die laughing at the look on Colonel Hogan's face. He glared at me and then switched his attention back to Carter.
"Carter, I will have Kinch here provide you with a uniform with sergeant's stripes. You will leave here tonight the way you came in. You will show up on the Hammelburg road tomorrow morning where Sergeant Schultz will be guarding a work detail. You will allow him to capture you. Is that clear?"
Carter beamed. "Yes, sir!"
After I escorted Carter off the premises, I came back to the radio room, where Colonel Hogan sat with his head in his hands. He looked up as I came in.
"What have I done, Kinch?"
"Oh, I don't know, sir," I said philosophically. "Nice kid, speaks German like a native, enthusiastic as all get-out...you could do a lot worse."
"Maybe." The Colonel didn't sound convinced.
"And he might have all sorts of unsuspected talents."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
So that's how one of our graduates returned to the fold. And Carter really is an asset; everybody likes him, he works hard in the tunnels, and the Krauts think he's just a dumb innocent kid. I have to agree that he's innocent, but dumb? I'm not so sure about that...not after that conversation I overheard about how he managed to blow up his high school chemistry lab...