Author's note: the characters aren't mine (except for the fishmonger and the enemy sergeant), but the fliclit is! This ficlit was commissioned for the Help the South community on LiveJournal, and the person who requested it asked for a Carter-centric fic that involved an idea drawn from an amusing cat macro.
Throughout the missions they had completed under the orders of Colonel Hogan, the Unsung Heroes had learned to expect many aspects of the unexpected. But fate seemed determined at times to present them with challenges and twists that the men had never deemed possible, even with the unpredictable nature of their assignments.
This was just such an occasion.
It was supposed to have been a simple mission—Newkirk and Carter had headed out on their own to the fish market; the fishmonger had picked up some valuable information in the Hofbrau—two tipsy soldiers had proven to be an unexpected intelligence goldmine.
Being sympathetic to the Allied cause, the fishmonger had gotten in touch with the Underground, requesting that the information be picked up. Unfortunately, recent activity by the Underground had put Hochstetter and his men on high alert; they were actively patrolling the town of Hammelburg, just waiting to see anything suspicious.
With suspected Underground members under the watchful eyes of Hochstetter, just waiting for them to put one toe out of line, none of them would be able to safely meet with the fishmonger.
That realized, the Underground then did the next best thing—they left it up to Colonel Hogan and his plucky crew to meet with the fishmonger. Deciding to send out "Frau Newkirkberger" and "her son," Hogan had sent Newkirk and Carter to town; Carter was as enthusiastic as he usually was, and Newkirk was even more unenthusiastic as he usually was—there was something about being forced to wear a dress that tended to increase the Englishman's unwillingness to embark on a mission. But Carter's spirits could not be dampened—it was an optimism that the cynical Newkirk could never understand.
"The weather is looking as though a storm shall sweep in," the in-disguise Carter said aloud. "Don't you think so, Mama?"
"Shut up and don't draw any more attention to us than necessary!"
Carter rolled his eyes.
"You're not acting like a sympathetic, loving mother…"
"So? Write a ruddy memoir and sue me!"
"I know what this is about," Carter said, with a knowing look. "This is because Louis is making that bouillabaisse again. You always get into a bad mood when he makes that bouillabaisse, for some reason."
"That's because every time 'e makes that ruddy fish stew, I 'ave to choke and gag me way through dinner!" Newkirk retorted. "It's a miracle that I'm able to keep it down!"
"Well, you know, you're lucky we have a chef who can make stuff that's filling," he reminded him. "Eat that stuff, and then you'll have enough strength to keep you going for the rest of the day. You've got to give Louis some credit for keeping us well-nourished. And besides, what else is he supposed to do with all that fish? Do you have any better ideas?"
"Too right, I do—fish and chips!"
"…Yeah, but then Louis is the one going through all the choking and gagging. And since he's the chef, that's his privilege not to make it—"
"Are me ears deceiving me, or are you actually supporting 'im? You mean you like that fish stew?"
"I didn't say that. But I will say that anything's better than that stuff in the mess hall," Carter said, placing a hand on his stomach at the very thought of it.
"Yeah—pick your poison…" Newkirk muttered. "I wouldn't mind as much if Louis did make some English dishes, but 'e absolutely insists on making the same French dishes over and over again! Blooming stubborn goat!"
"I've heard you bleat a few times, too."
"Who asked you?" Newkirk hissed.
"Ah-ah-ah! Remember your blood pressure, Mama!" Carter said, as someone passed by.
"Who asked you, Sonny?" Newkirk shot back in a grumpy lady's voice.
Carter shook his head, resigning himself to the idea that it was going to be another one of those days.
Newkirk said nothing else as they walked along to the fishmonger's, which was just as well; they must have passed at least half a dozen of Hochstetter's men along the way. The recent increase of Underground activity in the last several weeks had put them on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Thankfully, Newkirk and Carter kept a low profile wherever possible, and no one gave even a second glance to what appeared to be a grumpy old woman and her son—no one except the fishmonger, who had been told to expect two men in such disguises at some point through the day. The fishmonger's stall was very nondescript, but odorous—the two had smelled the place before actually seeing it. A few cats patrolled the area, meowing as they patiently waited for scraps or dropped fish.
"The fish must have been biting," Carter said, giving the password.
"Yes, but I found a net to be more efficient," the fishmonger replied, giving the countersign.
"This one looks especially good," the sergeant went on, pointing to the fifth fish from the left.
"It should; it was caught only a couple hours ago," the fishmonger replied. He then lowered his voice and spoke in English after making sure that no one was nearby. "You are Papa Bear's men?"
"Yeah; I'm Little Deer, and that's Phantom," Carter whispered back. "You have the information for us?"
To his and Newkirk's surprise, the fishmonger handed them a fresh, uncut fish. The sergeant and the corporal could only stare at it.
"The entire street has been watched all day," the fishmonger explained, quietly. "It would be too suspicious if you went away without a fish."
"Fine, but what about the information?" Newkirk asked, quietly.
Wordlessly, the fishmonger slid a small switchblade beneath the fish's operculum and lifted it slightly to reveal a folded piece of paper.
"What won't they think of next?" Carter mused, impressed. He quickly sobered as some passersby turned in from the alley.
"I trust that the fish will be satisfactory to the gnädige frau?" the fishmonger said loudly, for their benefit.
"Ja, it will. You have been a most kind and helpful young man!" Newkirk said, adding his "Frau Newkirkberger" giggle.
"Good; I will take your money, then."
"What?" Carter asked quietly, surprised. "But we heard that you were giving the information to us for free!"
"The information is free," the fishmonger agreed. "But I have given you one of my best fish!"
Newkirk rolled his eyes as Carter attempted to haggle.
That ruddy twister; everyone is out to make money, aren't they? …Then again, I can't rightly blame the bloke, the Englishman thought.
Carter and the fishmonger eventually settled on a price, and the fishmonger wrapped the fish in brown paper, trying it with a string.
"In case you are asked to open the parcel, whoever sees it will not be suspicious upon seeing the fish,' the man explained.
"Yeah, that's great and everything," Carter admitted. "But, next time, do you think you could give us information in a cheaper fish? I mean, what's the cheapest fish you have around here, anyway?"
"These," the fishmonger said, tossing some old, smelly fish in a small barrel to a few of the cats nearby. Even the felines seemed to treat the spoiled handouts with derision.
Newkirk wrinkled his nose at the stench.
"Oh, blimey, what a—"
Carter gave him a nudge to quiet him.
"I'm pretty sure that an old gnädige frau doesn't say that."
Newkirk quieted down, and the duo took their leave of the fishmonger.
"Looks like that storm is coming sooner than I thought," Carter commented, seeing the clouds darkening further in the sky—promising rain. "We'd better get back, Mama."
"Yes, Sonny… Though I expect a storm inside, as well," Newkirk muttered. LeBeau's bouillabaisse inevitably brought about a fight between the two corporals.
The Englishman paused as he heard something behind them. Carter also stopped, and the two turned, surprised to see a half-dozen cats—the same ones that had been loitering at the fishmonger's—following them and meowing. Apparently, the fresh fish that the two soldiers had with them was significantly more appealing than the rotten scraps that they had been eating earlier.
"Shoo!" Newkirk ordered, swinging the purse he had been carrying. One cat hissed at the corporal in response, but the others didn't flicker an eyelid.
They then tried quickening their pace, but the cats kept up, padding along behind them as they stared intently at their parcel.
"Oh, just forget them," Carter said, dismissing the cat patrol with a wave of his hand. "Let's just ignore them and keep on going. After all, what's the worst that could happen?"
A stern voice suddenly barked, "Halt!"
Newkirk glared at Carter as one of Hochstetter's men headed towards them. Even the six felines halted in their tracks, arching their backs at the soldier's approach, hissing at him.
"I've really got to stop saying that," Carter sighed.
Newkirk said nothing; his gaze just shifted around as he usually did when he was nervous.
The enemy soldier—a sergeant—looked from Newkirk to Carter with some amount of suspicion.
"Is something wrong?" Carter asked, innocently.
"Maybe yes, maybe no," the man replied, curtly, as he glanced at the hissing cats. "Why are those cats following you? What is in that parcel?"
"A fresh fish," Newkirk said, giving a feeble smile. "My boy here took me all the way to the fishmonger's so that I could make some fish tonight. Isn't that right, Sonny?"
"That's right," Carter said. "May we move on? It's about to rain, and Mama's rheumatism always gets worse when the humidity goes up…"
"Ah, yes, the curse of aging spares no one," Newkirk said, wincing as though in pain. "And I feel as though my back will be the very next thing to go!"
He clutched at his lower back, but the look on the man's face clearly told the Englishman that he was not getting any sympathy whatsoever.
"Please, may we go?" Carter asked again.
"In a moment," the man said. "The parcel, if you please…"
Carter kept his face straight as he concealed his nervousness. He gave a nod and handed the wrapped fish to the enemy sergeant. The man untied the string and unwrapped it, frowning in disgust as he saw the dead fish eyes staring at him.
"You did not get it cut?" he asked, sneering.
"I use the fish head and bones to make soup," Newkirk said. "One mustn't be wasteful when there is a war on, you know! Why, the boys on the Russian Front would appreciate my soup, I am sure! We must think about them! Isn't that right, Sonny?"
"Oh, absolutely, Mama!" Carter said, giving a fervent nod.
The man just stared at them.
"Turn out your pockets," he ordered Carter. He glanced at Newkirk. "And your purse…"
They complied; Carter had a smokescreen charge taped to his ankle, and Newkirk had his pencil sharpener taped to the spot between his shoulder blades. Other than that, they had nothing to hide.
But the enemy sergeant was still not satisfied; he just grunted, turning his attention back to the fish, he pulled the brown paper wrapping off of the fish and went over it.
"I shall have to take this for some time," he said.
"What?" Carter asked, his eyes going wide. "But we have to get back before the storm—Mama's rheumatism—"
"You will have to come with me to headquarters, anyway," the man went on. "We have been keeping that fishmonger under surveillance; we have reason to believe that he might be trying to pass classified information. We will be checking this paper for invisible ink, and we will make sure that there is nothing in the fish itself. You must come with me."
Neither of the two Allied soldiers moved or said a word. It would be a toss-up as to whether or not the man would think to look for the information beneath the fish's operculum. And if he did, it would be all over.
But they were not the only players in this game, as they soon found out. One of the cats, driven half-crazy by the sight of the fish, leaped upon a trash can next to where the enemy sergeant was standing. The cat began to gnaw at the fish in his hand, and had put her paw on the man's hand to get a better hold on the fish, her claws sinking into his skin.
The sergeant swore and released the fish by reflex. The cat was unprepared for it, and the fish fell to the ground.
And Newkirk knew just what to do.
"Look at what you've done!" he scolded, picking up the fish and brandishing it in front of the sergeant's face. "Look at what that animal has done to my perfect fish, thanks to your carelessness! You have ruined my dinner fixings! Here, take it!"
He thrust the half-chewed fish back into the sergeant's hand—but not before his sleight of hand had removed the paper from beneath the operculum.
"You can keep that fish and that wrapping paper—but now I demand that you pay us money for that fish! Otherwise, I shall report you to Major Hochstetter, saying that you are allowing the good citizens of Hammelburg to starve to death while you feed the alley cats!"
The enemy sergeant scowled, but the mention of the major had succeeded in making him nervous. Hochstetter's temper was feared among his own men; this sergeant had been on the receiving end of it before and had no desire to have it happen again.
Quickly, he shined a flashlight into the fish's mouth, ensuring that there was nothing, and then held a lighter flame underneath the paper to ensure that there was no invisible ink.
"There is nothing there; you may go," he said, curtly. "Though I require your name and address."
Carter gave him a fake address as Newkirk gave the man a piercing glare.
"What of my dinner?" he demanded. "I do not have time to cook anything now, and the money we spent on that fish is all for naught! Do you intend to do anything about it, or shall I make a formal complaint to the major?"
"How much was the fish?" the enemy sergeant asked, through gritted teeth.
"Ah-ah-ah! Not just the fish, young man, but a whole meal at the Hofbrau; there is no possible way my back will hold up to allow me to cook tonight! Oh…!"
Newkirk clutched at his back again, wincing.
Grudgingly, the enemy sergeant paid them enough money for a meal at the Hofbrau, and Newkirk pretended to forgive him and promise that he would not report him to Hochstetter after all.
The cats came out as winners, too, for the sergeant abandoned the nibbled fish in disgust, though he took the wrapping paper back to headquarters to look over it further.
"And that," Newkirk whispered, once they were out of earshot. "Is 'ow you get your money back for a fish you didn't even want."
"Nice trick, getting the information out of the fish right under his nose," Carter replied, quietly. "No matter how many times I see it, it's still amazing… And those cats really came through."
"Yeah; I'll never say another word against them," the Englishman smirked. "They've saved us the trouble of taking the fish back with us. Now then… 'ow about we take this money to the 'ofbrau and get us some nice pub grub?"
"You were serious?" Carter asked. "But LeBeau has dinner waiting for us back at the Stalag; he made the… Ohhhh, I get it…"
Newkirk was smirking now as he led the way to the Hofbrau—and the promise of a bouillabaisse-free meal.
Neither he nor Carter paid any attention to the meows that followed them. After all, there was no telling when those cats would prove to be helpful once again…