The Mad Hatter of Stalag 13
"Newkirk..." Sergeant Schultz groaned. "I am still in trouble for letting you climb the flagpole last week. Why do you do these things to me? Am I such a bad man?"
The young Englander shrugged, and scuffed at the ground with his boot. "It's not like I'm askin' a lot, Schultzie. Just a needle an' thread. Besides, it was just last week you told me I ought to take up somethin' like cross stitchin'."
"Yes. But that was to keep you out of the cooler. It was not a suggestion of what to do while you are already in the cooler." Schultz frowned and wondered if dealing with the Terrible Two of Stalag 13 in any way qualified him for a raise. It probably wasn't a good idea to ask. Their new Kommandant hadn't been very gracious that morning about the destruction of his laundry.
Newkirk looked up at him, head cocked to the side. "I won't get up to any trouble at all. I'll be a ruddy angel. You won't even 'ear a peep out o' me, the 'ole time."
Schultz made a face, and then found his resolve desert him as the young Englander clasped his hands behind his back and squinted hopefully. It was no use. He couldn't resist when they asked him for help.
"Fine. I will get you a needle and thread. But you promise you won't get up to any trouble in the cooler? No unlocking doors or stealing anything?"
The Englander nodded eagerly.
He opened the outer door to the cooler and Newkirk darted through in front of him, skipping ahead to an empty cell and waiting for the heavy guard.
Sergeant Schultz let out a puff of breath and pulled out his keys. "I don't know why you are so excited about going to the cooler. It's supposed to be a punishment."
"I know, Schultz. Open the ruddy door already."
"Hey, hey... That's what I'm doing. Don't be so impatient." He unlocked the door, and Newkirk shoved it open, slipped in and then slammed the door shut behind him. Pulling on the bars, he rocked back and forth on his feet, grinning mischievously.
"Want to see somethin', Schultz?"
Schultz was beginning to suspect he should answer 'no' to this question the next time either of the Two asked. But it was too late. Newkirk had already shed his greatcoat, and started to unwind a thick swath of white that was wrapped around his jersey.
"Hey!" Schultz stuttered. "That is Kommandant Klink's bedsheet. You said it burned up in the fire!"
"I know!" Newkirk smiled happily, his green eyes glinting. "'e didn't even notice. It's not the 'ole thing. I cut it in 'alf and set the other 'alf on fire."
Open mouthed, the portly guard tried to sort out what he should protest the most. The fact that Newkirk had stolen the Kommandant's sheets, lied about the 'accident', started a fire, somehow cut the sheets when he shouldn't have had access to any sharp objects, or that he was telling Schultz all about it.
"Newkirk!" Schultz tried to control his mouth's attempt at a goldfish imitation. "Who... what - why? You lied to the Kommandant!"
"So?" The Englander looked nonplussed. "What's the matter with that? Klink's an idiot and 'e can afford another ruddy set o' sheets. I needed 'em more than 'e did."
"You can't say things like that about the Kommandant." Schultz wrung his hands in distress. "You could get in a lot of trouble. I could get in a lot of trouble."
"Calm down Schultzie. Nobody's going to get in any trouble if you keep your trap shut. Just get me a needle and thread an' forget about it."
His chubby face scrunching into a frown, Schultz backed away from the barred door. "You promised no monkey business. There will be no needle or thread for you. I am going to report you to Kommandant Klink."
Newkirk blinked, and pressed against the door. "You wouldn't do that, would you Schultzie? I wasn't lyin' to you. I won't be any trouble in 'ere at all. Please? Just a little bit o' thread. You know Klink didn't need such a nice set o' bed sheets. All stuck up 'e is. Doesn't appreciate you at all. I just needed the cloth, is all. Please? I want to make somethin' important."
This was the reason poor Schultz was ageing before his time. Before their arrival this war had been practically peaceful. Then the mischievous Englishman and his little French counterpart jumped off the back of a transfer truck, and Sergeant Schultz found himself thrown into a constant flux between terror, exasperation and affection.
Wait a minute.
"Newkirk." Schultz squinted. "Does this have something to do with the Cockroach? Where is your little friend?"
In a flash, the Englander's expression changed from relaxed to raging. "Where do you think 'e is? Back in the barracks of course. Busy at 'is precious stove cookin' up some awful ruddy poison. Stupid, 'ateful, Frenchman."
Schultz was used to the young man's temper. The Terrible Two were well known for their short wick. "LeBeau is a nice boy. You shouldn't fight with him. Cooking is something that makes him happy."
Newkirk scowled. "Lucky 'im. It doesn't make the rest 'o us 'appy."
Patting his stomach, Schultz turned his gaze to the ceiling. "It makes me happy. Oh, can LeBeau cook amazing Strudel... And his schnitzel, and his perogies..." At the huff of anger, Schultz looked back at the young prisoner. "Besides. You would be skin and bones if it weren't for LeBeau's cooking. You don't eat enough."
Newkirk scoffed. "Look 'oo's talkin', Schultz. I don't think you should be the judge."
Schultz had enough experience as a father and a grandfather to choose exactly the right tone of voice for answering his charge. "Newkirk..."
The young man in question squinted darkly and kicked at the bars of the cell. "Oh. Fine. We 'ad a right good row the day before yesterday, an LeBeau is still sulkin'. 'e won't even talk to me an' it's all 'is ruddy fault anyways.
Newkirk threw his hands up in the air. "You wouldn't believe it, Schultz. 'e fed me bloody snails! Slimy 'orrible snails! Didn't even give me any warning. Was just like ''ere. Eat this. It's a delicacy. Oh, by the bloody way it's made of bloomin' snails.'" The memory was too much for him, and Newkirk began to pace. "I don't ruddy well care if it's a ruddy treat from 'ome. You don't feed your mate snails! It's disgustin' and wrong."
"Did it taste good?"
"Okay, okay. Don't yell at me. I see why you're angry." Schultz held up his hands placatingly. "So you set the Kommandant's laundry on fire because you are angry at LeBeau."
Newkirk paused in his agitated walk. "No. Why would I... never mind. I'm not goin' to apologise to 'im. So 'e jolly well ought to stop sulkin' and glarin' at me. It's 'is fault."
Schultz nodded, and wondered why these two went through the bother of fighting. Every single time it turned into a waiting game that just petered out eventually, and everyone else had to suffer in the meantime.
"Anyways. I didn't want to sit in the barracks with 'im there anymore." Newkirk wandered back over to the door and rested his forehead against the bars. "So I saw Klink's laundry 'angin' there. Then I just, sort of thought o' somethin' I could do, you know, to make 'im shut his bloomin' gob already and lemme alone."
Schultz kept nodding, assuming that if he let Newkirk keep talking it would begin to make sense at some point.
"So I took a bit 'o the fabric and - and then when I get out, Louis won't be angry anymore." A set of intense green eyes snapped up to meet Schultz's soft blue ones. "Cause I'm not ruddy well apologising. 'e's gotta be sloshed if 'e thinks I'm sayin' sorry. Even if I might 'ave said some things that weren't all that nice, and maybe I shouldn't 'ave said some of them at all and... It's still 'is fault."
Schultz nodded once more, and then paused. "So. You and LeBeau, and the Kommandant's sheets...what is it that you're saying?"
Newkirk stamped over to a cot in the corner of the cell and sat down with a thump. "I'm goin' to make LeBeau somethin', Schultzie. Just 'cause I feel like it. No other reason."
"Ahh. I understand." Schultz smiled. He didn't really understand. What did this have to do with the Kommandant's sheets? It didn't really matter. He had already forgotten that he was going to report Newkirk for his theft. If this would make the mischievous Englander and his small French counterpart stop fighting, even temporarily, then it was worth it.
"All right. You stay here, don't touch anything." Schultz held up a finger, "Remember that you promised no monkey business. And I will go get you a thread and needle."
He eyed the length of white cloth on the cot beside Newkirk. His stubby little moustache twitched as he screwed up his face. Oh well. It was true what Newkirk had said. Kommandant Klink was stuck up, and he didn't appreciate the hard work Schultz did. He could afford to lose one set of bed sheets.
Newkirk was good to his word. He didn't make any trouble while he sat on the cot in the cooler. He didn't even sing a single round of Britannia Rules the Waves at the top of his lungs, which was a first. In fact he was so good that Schultz decided to ignore the muffled curses from the cell as Newkirk jabbed his fingers again, and pretend he really hadn't let out a 'peep'.
From time to time Schultz stuck his head in the cell to see the transformation of Klink's sheets into multiple strips and squares of clean white fabric. Newkirk was kind enough to be discreet with the use of his little switchblade in cutting out the pieces. He always tucked it away upon hearing the heavy footsteps approaching.
Eventually the random shapes of fabric began to piece themselves together into a sort of rumpled looking bag that Schultz considered critically from the door.
If Newkirk thought it would make LeBeau happy... who was Schultz to protest?
On the plus side, Sergeant Schultz also got to enjoy his first entirely stress-free nap during guard duty since the Terrible Two had first been transferred together to Stalag 13.
The rotund guard jumped up from his chair and fumbled for his rifle. He spun around awkwardly before discovering that he had been sitting on it. Ah well. It wasn't loaded.
"Schultz." He heard a familiar voice from the end of the cooler hall. "It's finished! Come an' see."
Sergeant Schultz trotted down the hall to discover Newkirk standing in the middle of his cell, the lumpy white bag in hand. The young Englander was smiling, eyes bright with excitement. "Look at this!"
Newkirk tucked his nimble fingers into the bag and began pulling it inside out, tugging at little corners and darts until a new creation stood up straight in the palms of his hands. It was tall and white with a thick band at the base, and beautiful white folds around its sides.
It was a snowy white chef's hat.
Schultz smiled like a cherub. "Ohhh. You have made him a hat. It is lovely. And it looks so nice and white."
Newkirk puffed out his chest with pride. "A nice bit 'o work if I do say so meself.
"Turn it around, Newkirk. My goodness, it is such a nice hat. Just like the ones from the pictures. I have seen cooks wear hats like that before." He shook his head at Newkirk, "It looks very hard to make. LeBeau will be very happy with it."
A shade of pink flushed the trouble-maker's cheeks. "Wasn't that 'ard."
Schultz nodded knowingly, "I'm sure it wasn't."
Newkirk beamed, and carefully carried the hat back to his cot, brushing off the thin mattress before setting it down. He looked over to Schultz, green eyes dancing happily and dusted off his hands. "Well that's that. Now all I gotta do is wait."
The kindly guard watched as Newkirk folded up his greatcoat and set it on the floor before lying down to use it as a pillow. He arranged his hands on his stomach then turned his head to look over at the hat sitting in its place of honour. The Englander gave a contented sigh, and Schultz headed back to his chair. These funny young men. So dramatic.
LeBeau woke up early, preparing his scowl for the day. He had no intention of making Newkirk feel welcome when he returned to the barracks that morning. Even if he knew his English friend hadn't meant half of what he said during the explosion over the Escargot au Beurre d'Ail, it didn't mean it hadn't hurt. Newkirk had another thing coming if he thought the Frenchman would let it all blow over while he hid in the cooler.
When the door opened, letting in a gust of fresh air, LeBeau made sure his back was turned. He was busy, and didn't need to pay Newkirk any notice. He focussed on pouring himself a perfect cup of coffee, and stood for a while, blowing on the hot liquid.
There were creaks and the sound of the other men moving around behind him.
Finally LeBeau decided that he made his point. The trick was to let Newkirk know he was being ignored, while still showing that LeBeau wasn't at all cowed, and wouldn't tip toe around the Englander's own scowl.
LeBeau turned around regally, and stalked over to his bunk, making it half way before he realised the man he was ignoring was actually sitting on his bunk. The Frenchman opened his mouth, ready to pour out a stream of Gallic obscenities, when he stopped short.
Newkirk was giving him that smug look. That smug look that experience taught him was a cover for nerves. Green eyes flickered across the bed, and LeBeau followed them to look at his pillow. On it, sat a perfect white hat, long folds rising into a crown exactly like LeBeau had worn in his own kitchen at home in Paris.
He was dumbstruck.
After a minute, he heard the clatter of Newkirk's boots hitting the floor. Then the Englander leaned in, patting him on the back.
"Just somethin' to 'elp me little mate practice 'is talents. 'ope you like it."
LeBeau didn't say anything. His mouth was stretched too wide.
Newkirk climbed up to his own bunk and watched his friend pull the hat onto his head, a ridiculous grin on his face.
Himself? He thought it looked silly.
But if it made LeBeau happy?
Newkirk thought he could get accustomed to it.