A/N: I don't own Hogan's Heroes, and I don't get paid for this; it is truly a labor of love.
For dust on the wind, who wondered about the many appearances of Noam Pitlik as various characters, both Allied and German.
Hammelburg, Germany, just outside Stalag 13
The young USAAC captain looked totally bewildered after I handed him my flight jacket and cap and wished him luck. Well, there was nothing unusual in that, since for some reason the guys I switch places with are always bewildered.
They call me the outside man, but I'm really just a humble POW, moonlighting as an Army Intelligence agent. Or maybe it's the other way around. It's hard for me to keep that straight sometimes.
But on that day I had good reason to feel satisfied with the way things were going. This latest arrival at Stalag 13 was the Travelers' Aid Society's 501st customer, and I was freed up for a few days to pursue my other job. I had received a cryptic message that the Underground agent Max needed to meet with me, and I figured I could have a good meal at Max's and maybe spend the night on his sofa, before moving on to meet my contact in Schweinfurt.
So after I left the captain, I hiked through the woods until I reached Max's lonely cottage at the end of an almost-deserted lane. I went to the back door and tapped out the recognition signal on the door. A few moments elapsed before the door swung open and Max's worried face appeared.
I tried not to react with alarm. Max has one of those perpetually worried-looking faces, and I thought maybe he had a touch of indigestion right then as well. But then I spotted Oskar Schnitzer rising from an armchair in the tiny parlor, and I figured alarm was probably the appropriate response in this situation.
Oh, crap. Now what?
Max indicated the sofa with a gesture of his hand. I sat down and gratefully accepted the glass of schnapps Oskar poured out for me. Then I eyed Max, who sank down onto the chair opposite while Oskar resumed his own seat.
"Okay, I can see something's wrong. What is it?" I looked from one to the other of the two serious faces before me.
Max cleared his throat. "It is about a defector."
I nodded. I'd met two so far, low-ranking Heer officers both, and arranged for their escape to England. Not exactly earth-shaking and probably of not much worth to the intelligence officers who ended up interrogating them, but I could always hope for a really big score this time.
"An Oberst?" I asked, anticipation quickening in me.
Max and Oskar shook their heads in unison. "Nein."
Max blew out a breath. "We might as well tell you the whole story right now. This is a Leutnant Wagner."
A lieutenant? Pretty small potatoes, for sure. Still...
Oskar took up the tale. "The same Wagner who infiltrated Stalag 13 last week."
"What?" I almost choked on my schnapps. I hadn't met the guy, of course, since I had been outside the wire during most of the time Wagner had spent at the camp. I had only caught a glimpse of him as he was being dragged off by Luftwaffe officers, loudly protesting his innocence. And hadn't that Colonel Burkhalter said something about sending Wagner to the Eastern Front?
I shook my head dazedly. "How on earth did he get in touch with you?"
Max and Oskar exchanged glances. Then Max said, "Perhaps it would be best if he spoke for himself."
"You mean he's here?"
"Ja." Max nodded to Oskar, who rose and went to the door that led to Max's bedroom.
He opened the door and out came Oskar's nephew Kurt, guarding the very same man I had last seen being dragged away in the compound at Stalag 13. It would be hard to mistake him: Wagner was a big guy, at least a couple of inches taller than my own six feet, with thick dark hair and a distinctive Roman nose. He was wearing handcuffs and a half-hopeful, half-wary expression.
I blinked. What happened to the zealot who had claimed that there was a subversive operation "so vast and so complicated as to stagger the imagination" under Stalag 13? He looked pretty meek right now.
I had Wagner take a seat and then I looked him over carefully. "How did you get here? I thought Burkhalter had you in custody."
Wagner sighed and looked down at the handcuffs. "I was taken to the hospital in Hammelburg and placed in the psychiatric ward. I guess I sounded a little crazy to the Luftwaffe officers."
Well, I couldn't argue with that. "You sounded a little crazy to me too."
"Well, nobody would believe me! I even started to doubt myself for a minute. Then, after I heard Colonel Burkhalter say something about the Eastern Front, I decided that maybe I should act as crazy as they thought I was. And after I was put in the psychiatric ward, I managed to escape." Wagner looked ridiculously pleased with himself, considering he was sitting there wearing a set of handcuffs.
Max said, "One of the nurses at the hospital helped him. She has passed information to us before, and she believed him when he claimed to be unjustly held in the hospital because he wanted to defect."
Wagner smiled wistfully. "Gretchen...she had faith in me."
Oskar rolled his eyes. "She arranged for us to pick him up. Naturally, we were not as trusting as she was. But after interrogating him we have decided that perhaps Wagner may be of use to the Allied cause."
I nodded, but I had to wonder if their main purpose in contacting me was just to get the guy off their hands. And I guess I couldn't blame them.
"Back up for a minute," I said. "Wagner, you went to a lot of trouble to try to uncover a secret operation at Stalag 13. Why should I believe you when you say you want to defect now?"
The handcuffed man heaved a sigh. "I spent many years in America, you know. My mother and father emigrated when I was a boy. Then my father died, and my mother and I were left destitute. My mother's brother Heinz agreed to send us money, with the understanding that I would join him in his business in Frankfurt as soon as I finished college in the United States."
His eyes were somber as he looked at me again. "My mother died during my second year of college, but I finished my course and returned to Germany as promised in 1935. You must understand, the Depression was at its worst and there were no job prospects for me in America. When I got to Germany I was impressed by the spirit of the people, and this Hitler fellow seemed to have big ideas. I thought perhaps I had a future here."
"You started working for your uncle?"
"Yes, but I'm afraid I have no head for business. I proved a disappointment to him, and it was a relief to both of us when I was conscripted into the army."
I was curious, in spite of myself. "And how did that work out for you?"
Wagner shook his head sadly. "Not well. In basic training, all of the other soldiers requested to be reassigned because they said I brought bad luck...just because I had that slight problem with my rifle one day! Anyway, after the drill instructor got out of the hospital, he had me transferred to an intelligence unit." He sighed again. "I was content to be there. I didn't have too much responsibility, and for years I did the same thing over and over: just spent most of my time translating American newspapers and writing up abstracts for the High Command. Then, one day..." he paused, remembering.
"Yes?" I prompted him. This guy was turning out to be awfully long-winded, and I was tired and hungry.
"One day Colonel Burkhalter came to my office. He had heard that I grew up in America and he wanted to use me for this plan he had in mind. He wanted to have someone planted in a prisoner of war camp to report on the secret activities of the Allied prisoners." Wagner stopped abruptly.
"What could I do? I don't think Colonel Burkhalter likes to have people disagreeing with him, so I agreed to the plan. After I got to Stalag 13, I pretended to be a downed American airman, just as I had been instructed. And the prisoners believed me! At least they pretended to believe me..." Wagner frowned for a moment and I waited for him to continue.
He took a deep breath and began to speak more quickly. "I was shown this incredible tunnel system, where the prisoners were counterfeiting money and making fake Lugers and having manicures and who knows what else? I gathered as much evidence as I could, but the next day when Colonel Burkhalter came and I tried to show him everything, I realized that Colonel Hogan had fooled me. I couldn't show Colonel Burkhalter the tunnel entrance or any counterfeit money, and I almost blew his head off with a Luger that I thought was fake, and almost drowned him under the water tower..." his voice trailed off and to my horror, I saw a tear begin to trickle down his cheek.
Wagner snuffled a bit, and rubbed at his nose with one of his sleeves, hampered somewhat by the handcuffs. "I realized that I had failed again, just as I had in Onkel Heinz's business and at boot camp. And I saw that I had been living in a fool's paradise for years in my nice, safe, boring job in the intelligence service. The Reich does not tolerate failure, and I had failed. If I went to the Eastern Front I would be a dead man! So I knew the only way out for me was to throw myself on the mercy of the Allies."
I stared at him with an unwilling sense of pity. His case was certainly not that of a of a high-value defector, and I seriously doubted if Wagner had any useful information at all to share with the Allies. Still, my superiors might want to talk to the guy anyway...
"I can't promise you anything," I told Wagner. "But I'll try."
"Danke." Wagner looked at me with humble gratitude. "You know, that Hitler fellow's ideas are big, but they're not very good ideas. I just never had the nerve to admit it before."
Max nodded to Kurt, who took Wagner back into the bedroom and closed the door. Then he turned to me and smiled wryly. "I am sorry to push this problem onto your shoulders, John."
I shrugged. "He's not your problem, and he's not my problem either. He's about to become my boss's problem."
Max and I went to the bureau that stood against the wall of the parlor and pushed it aside to reveal the shortwave radio. I switched it on and put the headphones over my ears. As I tuned it in to the secret frequency, I pondered how I could present Wagner's case to my boss in Army Intelligence. A hissing of static interrupted my thoughts and I picked up the microphone.
"This is Prince Charming, calling Old King Cole. Come in, Old King Cole."
After a moment the voice of my superior was audible through the headphones. "Old King Cole here, reading you loud and clear, Prince Charming."
"Sir, I have a defector here, seeking asylum in England."
"An Oberst?" the voice asked hopefully.
"No, sir, a Leutnant. He was actually a German plant at my POW camp, and got found out. His handlers obviously weren't any too pleased, and he figures his only chance of survival is to turn to the Allies."
"Oh." There was a pause, and I waited patiently.
Then my superior spoke again. "I expect this fellow knows more than he should about that POW camp of yours."
"Can't leave him at large in Germany, in any event." There was another pause, and then what sounded like a chuckle. "Those fellows in the OSS might be interested in him. If that doesn't work out...well, there are POW camps in England too."
"I'll arrange to have the sub pick him up tomorrow night, at the usual point. Can you have him there?"
"Yes, sir, I think the Underground will be happy to get rid of...I mean, I think they will be happy to deliver him."
"Good. Over and out."
I switched off the set and turned to Max and Oskar, who had been listening intently.
"Your people will take him?" Oskar asked.
I nodded. "Can you arrange for him to be taken to the sub?"
Max smiled slightly. "With pleasure, my friend. I am glad we are able to turn him over, as I am afraid our colleagues in the Underground would probably have arranged for his demise."
Oskar sighed. "Unfortunately. To tell you the truth, the fellow seems rather harmless, despite what he tried to do at Stalag 13. I believe he is sincere in his wish to defect."
"Well, best to keep him under guard in the meantime," I warned.
"Of course," said Max. "Do not worry; we will have him safely at the sub tomorrow night."
Two days later, I was riding in the back of Oskar Schnitzer's dog truck on my way back to Stalag 13. As we neared the camp, I pondered the Wagner situation and decided that Colonel Hogan needed to know of Wagner's defection. Whether my boss at Army Intelligence would agree, I had no idea. Of course, I hadn't exactly asked him either, but hey, what he didn't know wouldn't hurt him, right?
The truck eventually came to a stop, and I listened for the taps on the side panel of the truck that would indicate it was safe to get out. The dogs on either side of me seemed to sense the need for silence and were waiting as quietly as I was, although Sieglinde insisted on licking my face.
The taps sounded and then the door opened. Oskar appeared in the opening and he took the dogs out one by one. As soon as the last dog was out, the young captain I had met briefly a couple of days previously—now dressed as a German civilian and breathless with excitement—climbed in.
I said, "Good luck, buddy," jumped out and immediately made for the tunnel opening under one of the doghouses in the kennel. LeBeau was gesturing to me urgently and lowered the doghouse back down again as soon as I was safely in the tunnel.
"Welcome home, mon ami," LeBeau smiled as soon as the two of us had descended the ladder. "I have a surprise for you!"
He led the way down the tunnel and stopped at one of the side tunnels, then stepped back and gestured dramatically. "Voilà!"
I peered into the depths of the tunnel and grinned. "Looks like you guys finished the tunnel to the woods!"
"Oui. For emergency use only, you understand."
"Yeah, but what a relief to know it's there." I glanced toward the tunnel leading to Barracks 2. "Colonel Hogan up top?"
"Non, he is in the radio room."
"Okay, I'll go see him now. See you later, Louis."
LeBeau patted me on the shoulder and headed back down the tunnel.
I went in the opposite direction and was soon in the radio room. I was relieved to find the Colonel alone, looking through some surveillance photographs.
Colonel Hogan looked up. "Well, the prodigal returns! Die Fräulein decided to let you come home, Olsen?"
I smiled wryly at the old joke. I have to admit my love life isn't nearly as exciting as the guys like to make it sound. "Yes, sir. But I have a bit of news for you that I think you should know."
His brows shot up. "Sounds serious. Go ahead, let me hear the worst."
"Well, sir, it's about Wagner. You know, the informer you had here last week."
"What about him? Thought Burkhalter sent him to the Eastern Front."
"He never made it there. Got sent to the hospital and one of the nurses helped him to escape to an Underground safe house."
The Colonel stared at me, unbelieving. "The Underground! Why the hell would they go along with that?"
"He wants to defect, sir. And I believe him."
"You believe him! You saw him?"
"Yes, sir. Max and Oskar were keeping him under guard at Max's place. I talked with him there, and I gotta say, he doesn't seem like a hardened Nazi." I thought about this for a moment and went on, "Actually, he seems to be more of a typical milquetoast clerk type. This was his first undercover job and he screwed it up. I guess he's got kind of a habit of doing that—screwing up, I mean."
"So what did you end up doing with him?"
"Well, obviously the Underground didn't want him on their hands, and I didn't want him on my hands, and when I contacted my boss he didn't want him on his hands either. But he figured it wasn't safe to leave Wagner in Germany, so he arranged for the sub to pick him up. I gather that he's going to be dumped in the lap of the OSS."
Colonel Hogan shook his head. "Good luck to them. All I know is, I am extremely happy to know we'll never have to set eyes on him again."
I chuckled. "Amen to that."
Of course, little did we know...