Author's notes: The characters aren't mine, and the story is! I've had this story idea for a long time and finally got to it; it is inspired by/a follow-up of an episode, but to say which one would be a spoiler. The quest to find Nimrod's identity will be a part of the plot, and though the story focuses on the team as a whole, expect a little limelight to be given to my favorite corporals now and again…
It started off as a quiet day in Barracks 2, but most days that ended up harrowing often started out that way. This one was no exception. LeBeau was by the stove, trying to see what magic he could cast to turn the meager pile of lunch fixings and K-rations he had to work with into a gourmet meal. Hogan sat at the table in his office, in deep thought as he stared almost unblinkingly at a map of Bavaria, silently mapping out new escape routes and dropoff points for upcoming missions. Newkirk was proceeding to trounce Carter at gin for the umpteenth time as Olsen sat nearby, keeping score.
Kinch was also at the table, absorbed in a book, though he frequently looked up to watch the gin games, which were proving to be just as entertaining as the book. London had told them to lay low for some time as there had been a lot of activity in the Hammelburg area as of late, so it had been very slow in regards to missions being handed out to them. That was also the reason why Kinch was spending time away from his radio, so it was a surprise to him when Baker, who had been in the tunnels to keep an eye on the radio just in case, emerged from the bunk bed trapdoor with a slip of paper in his hand.
"You're not going to believe this!" Baker said, handing the slip to Kinch. "Sent via our emergency code!"
The staff sergeant accepted the paper from his apprentice, his eyes widening with every word he read as Baker retreated back to the radio room in case another message came in.
"Colonel!" Kinch exclaimed.
Not only did this bring Hogan out of his office, but it also drew the attention of LeBeau, Newkirk, Carter, and Olsen; something was up, and, ten to one, it would be directly involving them somehow.
"Orders from London?" Hogan asked.
Kinch shook his head.
"They're… not from London at all. And it's not an order, either. It's more of a personal message, written just for you. Just listen to this: 'My Dear Colonel, I know that you and I have come face-to-face several times, but it has always been without you realizing who I truly am. Given the lull in orders from London, I feel this is the proper time for us to come face-to-face again, but, this time, not as how we appear to the world, but as our true selves—Papa Bear and Nimrod.'"
Kinch paused to allow for the exclamations—and he was not disappointed. Carter was intrigued and excited, LeBeau had his eyes narrowed in suspicion, Newkirk's gaze was shifting everywhere, and Olsen just shook his head in disbelief. Only Hogan remained silent, his brow furrowed in deep thought. Eventually, he held up a hand to quiet the others, allowing Kinch to continue.
"'If I know you as well as I do, you are highly dubious about this arrangement. I, for one, do not blame you in the slightest. I am currently trying to figure out what the best place to meet would be—the Stalag would, obviously, have its risks, given the nature of this meeting. Also, it would be up to you entirely as to whether or not you would wish to come to this meeting alone. I know that you would be reluctant to bring your men along and put them in possible danger, should this be a trap; I wouldn't be surprised if that possibility has crossed your mind by now—in fact, I would expect it of you, after that incident with Major Hegel. I will not try to convince you that I am sincere; I know that to do so would be futile. If you would prefer an arrangement at the Stalag, I would have to go along with that. I shall leave the place of our meeting to you entirely, should you wish to meet me face-to-face; use the emergency frequency to contact me. Until we meet again. Nimrod.'"
The conversation all but erupted after that among the enlisted men.
"It is certain to be a trap, Mon Colonel!" LeBeau insisted. "I feel that we should ignore it!"
"But it could be on the level!" Carter countered. "How else did this guy know about the Hegel incident? Hegel was a loner; he only worked with that Mata Hari milkmaid, and then he killed her!"
"Yeah, but 'ow did Nimrod find out about it?" Newkirk pointed out. "I think I'm with Louis on this one; it's all too dodgy, if you ask me."
"Well, hold on," said Carter. "We know that from last time, the real Nimrod can come and go from this camp as he pleases; it wouldn't be too hard for someone like that to know about the Hegel incident."
"And we never did figure out how he slipped those plans into Hilda's desk," Olsen added.
"Or how she slipped those plans into the desk," Newkirk said. "For all we know, Fraulein 'ilda is Nimrod and she put those plans in the desk 'erself."
"You mean you wish she is Nimrod," LeBeau said, dropping his serious expression long enough to smirk at the Englishman.
"Don't pretend that you don't wish it, too," Newkirk countered. "Besides that—"
"Hold it!" Hogan said, speaking at last. He proceeded as the others fell silent. "You all have made valid points. On the one hand, it would be foolish to go charging into this. On the other hand, if this is on the level—and I mean if—we could be more efficient if we knew who Nimrod was and could work with him or her. Now, then… Who did we have for our list of Nimrod candidates?"
"Anyone who came in or out of the Kommandantur that time Klink was taken by Wagner's brother," Kinch said, opening a secret panel in the wall and pulling out a small notebook. "That narrowed it down to Burkhalter, Hochstetter, Schultz, Hilda, and Klink himself. And then we also added Langenscheidt to that list after we found out that he had been on patrol outside the Kommandantur."
"Six names," Hogan murmured, more to himself than the others. "Six names, and we don't even have so much as a clue to rule out any of them."
"Well, I say it can't be 'ochstetter," Newkirk said. "That barmy fool tries to 'ave us thrown in one of 'is prison cells any chance 'e gets."
"It could be an act," Carter said. "I mean… Nimrod would have to be really convincing in order to divert suspicion from himself. Maybe Hochstetter's threats are all talk to keep up the charade."
"That's one heck of a charade," Kinch deadpanned. "Come to think of it, if Schultz is Nimrod, that's one heck of a charade, too, for a different reason. Sure, he's pleasant towards us, but if he's really smarter than he lets on, that is quite an act."
"And then there's Burkhalter," Olsen said. "He's got the rank to get all the top secrets, and he can go wherever he wants without raising questions."
"Non!" LeBeau hissed. "If he was Nimrod, then he would not have endorsed the theft of The Boy With the Fife from Paris! I refuse to believe that someone on our side would do such a thing—even to look convincing!"
"Easy, LeBeau," Hogan said. "And why can't we rule out Langenscheidt?"
"Because he's so quiet and unlikely to be observed (even by us), he could easily be trying to help us without our realizing it," Kinch finished, closing the notebook.
Baker chose that moment to suddenly emerge from the trapdoor again with another slip of paper in his hand.
"Another message from Nimrod?" Hogan asked.
"No, but it's related to Nimrod's message," Baker said. "It's from code name Mother Gothel, and it came in on the normal frequency and with the normal code. And it was definitely sent by a different hand."
He handed the message to Hogan.
"'Papa Bear, I am a member of Intelligence just arrived from London a few weeks ago. I have managed to procure employment in a new wax museum in Hammelburg; the museum is not yet open to the public, but, later this evening, a preview of the exhibits will be given to our invitees and any guests they care to bring along. Having been in London for so long, I can tell you that one of the guests will be Nimrod, but I have reason to believe that he will be in danger if he attends. Please relay, if you can, a warning to Nimrod not to attend. Regards, from Mother Gothel.'"
Hogan threw the paper down onto the table in frustration.
"Great. Just great," he said. "This Mother Gothel is telling us this, assuming we know who Nimrod is."
"So, can't we just tell them that we don't know?" Carter asked. "Maybe they can tell us what we've been trying to figure out here."
"No; it could be a probe by someone who has broken our code to find out how much we know about Nimrod," Hogan said. "Or it could be someone hired by the person who sent the previous message as Nimrod in order to make it seem more legitimate. …On the other hand, it could be legitimate—both messages."
"So, what do we do?" Kinch asked.
"Well, for one thing, we absolutely do not send a reply to either of those messages, just to be safe in the event that there's a radio detection truck parked nearby," Hogan said. "What we will do is have one of us go down to that museum tonight—heavily disguised, of course—to keep an eye on things."
"But what if it is a trap, and whoever set it suspects that we'd send a man there—then what?" Olsen asked. "All they need to do is hold an emergency roll call, and our man has had it."
"Then we stuff Schultz full of strudel and start praying that he'll cover for us," Hogan said.
"And what if Schultz is, in fact, Nimrod, and he's there at the wax museum?" Kinch asked. "All the strudel in the world won't help us then."
Hogan now removed his hat and started running his fingers through his hair in frustration. This was all so much, and so sudden, as well.
"Then we get someone from the Hammelburg Underground that could pass for our man and keep him in the tunnel in case he's needed; our man would make contact with him in town and have him head back here," Hogan said, determined not to use the radio. "That's the best I can do considering what I have to work with. Now, the first thing to do is determine who's going into town tonight…"
At these words, the team, who had been looking towards Hogan, now broke their gaze and stared determinedly elsewhere.
"Don't make this any more difficult than it is already…" the colonel said, rolling his eyes.
Carter sighed, relenting.
"Guess I'll volunteer, Sir; no one's seen through one of my disguises yet…"
"Thanks, Carter. Now we just need to figure out who in the Underground—"
"Schultz is on the way, Colonel," Private Garlotti said, who had been watching at the door.
Kinch quickly put the notebook and the two communications back into the panel in the wall just before the big sergeant headed inside.
"Colonel Hogan!" he said. "Colonel Hogan, Kommandant Klink wants to see you in his office right away!"
"What does he want now?"
"Please, Colonel Hogan," Schultz said. "Just go see him without making trouble; I have been promised the evening off, and I don't want anything to spoil it."
"You've been promised the evening off?"
"Ja. Corporal Langenscheidt, also; I am sure he would not want it spoiled, as well."
Hogan let out a sigh.
"I'll go see what he wants," he said, sending a silent message to his men to see if they could get any more information on whether or not their plans involved the wax museum before he headed out the door.
The men understood, and tried to appear nonchalant as Schultz ambled over to LeBeau's stack of ingredients.
"And what are we making today?" the sergeant inquired, eagerly.
"It does not matter what we are making," LeBeau said, casually. "After all, I am assuming you are not going to stay here tonight for dinner, since you will be having the evening off, non?"
"Ja, true," Schultz admitted. "Karl and I will probably have something at the Hofbrau, but… please save me something of whatever it is you will be making, LeBeau. Your food is even better than what they give at the Hofbrau."
"Obviously…" the Frenchman said.
"Oi, Schultzie!" Newkirk said. "Other than a meal of pub grub, you 'ave anything else planned?"
"Karl and I will be seeing that new wax museum with the Kommandant and General Burkhalter, but other than that, I do not think so…"
Silence filled the barracks, and Kinch let out a quiet, almost inaudible whistle. Hogan was not going to be pleased to hear this… in fact, he was probably hearing about it right now in Klink's office.
It turned out that Hogan was, indeed, hearing about it, though he didn't realize it at first; Klink's lead-up to it had been something that Hogan had heard several times before, and usually didn't think too much of.
"Colonel Hogan, I am aware that the Geneva Convention clearly states that prisoners of war are not required to do any sort of manual labor for the various establishments in town," Klink began. "…You've never let me forget it, not even once."
"Good," Hogan said. "Because I really don't think my men are in the mood to do any sort of work—"
"If you will let me finish, Hogan, I was about to tell you that, in addition to the monetary sum that the Hammelburg establishment in question will be willing to provide for you and the men you choose for this work detail, I would also be willing to bargain with you for extra rations for your men."
"Why? What's in it for you?"
"I do not have to answer that," Klink said. "But if you must know, a satisfactory performance done by this work detail will result in my being granted the evening off, for which I have already made plans."
Him, too? It can't be… the American colonel thought, his eyes narrowing slightly. He had learned to be suspicious of coincidences a long time ago, and this one was one of the most suspect ones he'd seen in quite a while.
"Well, Colonel," he said aloud. "I think you just might be jumping the gun here; as you yourself pointed out, under the Geneva Convention, I have every right to refuse on the behalf of my men."
"Yes, which is why I am ready to bargain," Klink said. "All I would need from you is a work detail to help set up some of the exhibits in the Hammelburg Wax Museum this afternoon, and perhaps do a little cleaning while you're there. If all goes well, General Burkhalter will allow me to attend a special exhibition as his guest—as well as bring more guests of my own; I intend to have Fraulein Hilda accompany me. And I promised Sergeant Schultz and Corporal Langenscheidt that if they did a good job looking after the work detail, they would be allowed to attend the exhibition, as well."
For the briefest instant, Hogan froze before quickly picking up his usual smug persona once again. Ordinarily, he would've quietly taken issue with the idea that Hilda was going as Klink's guest, but, for now, even that thought was pushed to the very back of the American colonel's mind.
"Well, Kommandant, my men aren't here to see you all have a good time—you do realize that," Hogan said at last.
"Yes, yes; what do you want?"
"Well, winter is on the horizon, and it gets pretty cold here; I'd like some extra blankets for my men, as well as better rations—LeBeau has been finding mealtime to be more and more of a challenge as of late."
"…Fine, an extra blanket for each man, and an increase in rations," Klink said, after thinking it over. "Now, I want you to—"
"Ah-ah-ah!" Hogan said. "I want an increase in the quality and quantity of the rations, plus an additional blanket for each the men on the work detail."
"Take it or leave it; this window is closing!"
"Mmmph!" Klink fumed, shaking his fist. "Fine; I have no choice. Have your work detail report to my office in half an hour."
"Yes, Sir," Hogan said, saluting as he departed Klink's office.
He closed the door behind him, letting out a sigh and dropping his smug charade. He wasn't sure what he was getting into, only that they would have a solid excuse to be at the wax museum as a work detail, and that they would be at least slightly safer. But given what was at stake here, that "slightly" didn't count for as much as he would've liked.