Author's note: My 40th story on ffnet – and believe me, you're in for a wild ride!
Actually, I've been toying with this idea for over a year. Or maybe it was two years. Or even three – I don't remember. It was just such a funny idea, but I never got around to actually write it. Until last Sunday. I started a bit, had a break on Monday doing other things (like reading Dust's entire Deep Water story), and from Tuesday morning on, all I have done is write, write, write (and eat and sleep a little...). Gotta thank the inventors of midterm breaks, right? And here is the result: a complete story of some 30,000 words that only needs to be edited and typed up, and have a little German betaing done. So you may surely expect frequent updates on this one!
One word on the German phrases used in the story. I don't like providing translation for every little German scribble, so I've only put in a translation when a) it is vital that the reader understands what is being said, AND b) the context gives little or no clue as to what is being said. Let's hope it will suffice for everyone.
And finally, a general advice for my readers. Stories with multiple mistaken identities are complicated by definition. As the narrator, I have tried to be as consistent as possible in using the characters' most appropriate name in each situation and from each individual point of view. But especially once the number of Hitlers starts multiplying, I'm afraid it still gets pretty complicated.
All I can say is: at all times, try to stay on top of who is who to whom in this story telling you about the hunt for
THE KEY TO BERCHTESGADEN
"Who is?" Just entering the barracks with Newkirk and LeBeau, Carter's curiosity was immediately aroused upon hearing such a derogatory exclamation from the Colonel.
"London is, that's what." Hogan scrunched up one of Kinch's blue notes and threw it down on the table. And started his customary pacing.
Newkirk bristled good-humorously. "Now look here, sir, don't you go around insulting my good old hometown, okay?"
"I'm sure he means Allied headquarters, Newkirk – not the city itself," Carter said gamely.
Newkirk rolled his eyes, and LeBeau inquired, "So what do the big shots want us to do this time, Colonel? Hold up a whole battalion for a change?"
"We already did that once," Newkirk muttered.
But LeBeau wasn't done yet venting his sarcasm. "Knock out an entire Panzer division? Liberate Düsseldorf? Dig a tunnel to Berlin perhaps?"
But Kinch straightened out the blue note and recited in his best posh British accent, "The Allied forces are approaching Berchtesgaden, old chap. We expect to reach Hitler's private fortress within the next few weeks. It would be awfully nice if we'd have the key to his place instead of having to shoot our way in. I know it sounds like a fool's errand, old boy, but with your impressive record of achieving the impossible, I'm sure you will be able to come up with something to deliver us Hitler's house-key by the end of the week."
Newkirk put down his coffeemug so forcefully that some of the precious brown liquid spilt over the rim. "Bloody charming – how do they expect us to get hold of that key? Just go visit him in his bunker in Berlin and say, 'Good morning, mein Führer, would you be so kind as to give me your house-key?´"
"If you could get close to him, Pierre, you could pick his pockets, I'm sure."
"With all those ruddy bodyguards he has about? Not a chance. The guy's absolutely paranoid, that's what."
"Then perhaps we could kidnap him!" Carter suggested with his eyes shining. "And then, when we have him all alone down here in the tunnel, you could safely pick his pockets, Newkirk!"
"Right. Why didn't anybody else ever think of that? You ruddy fool – kidnapping the Führer...!"
"Yeah. You might as well try to kidnap the queen of England," Kinch pointed out.
But Hogan suddenly stopped pacing and turned to face them. "Wait a minute... Hold it, guys – that's it!"
"What – you want to kidnap the queen of England and exchange her with the Germans for Hitler's bloody house-key?" Newkirk wavered between disbelief and indignation, and Kinch had to bite down hard on his lip to avoid bursting out in laughter.
"No, no. Don't worry, Newkirk, we don't need that queen of yours. It's old Scramblebrains we want."
LeBeau's jaw dropped. "Don't tell me you do want to kidnap Hitler..."
"No, not him either. We don't need to kidnap anybody. We just need that key, right?"
"And?" Newkirk butted his cigarette.
"So – if the mountain won't come to Mohammed, then perhaps Mohammed can send for someone to deliver it to him."
LeBeau frowned, trying to figure out the meaning of this obscure American proverb. But apparently Carter didn't quite grasp the idea either. "Colonel, what's Mohammed got to do with it? I thought the guy died like a thousand years ago. It's going to be hard for us to contact him, isn't it?"
Newkirk pulled the cap down over Carter's eyes. "Not Mohammed, you fool. Hitler."
"Wrong. We are Mohammed." Hogan straightened himself.
"We, Colonel?" Kinch waited for Hogan to elaborate.
"Yes, we." Hogan looked around the befuddled circle of faces. "Well, we all seem to agree that we can't very well march into Hitler's headquarters to pick up that key, right? So – we get Hitler to order the key to be delivered to us here."
The general air of befuddlement did not lift after that explanation. Newkirk was the one to vocalize the predominant feeling in one single word. "How?"
"Easy." Hogan took Carter by the shoulder. "On his way to Berchtesgaden, our very own beloved Führer is going to stay the night in a safe POW camp, and while inspecting the grounds with the Kommandant, he will lose his house-key. And since it would of course be far too humiliating for the Führer of the Third Reich to have to knock on his own door when he comes home, he'll send for his spare key to be delivered to him in Stalag 13 at once."
Carter gulped. "Sir, when you say, 'our own beloved Führer'... you don't mean...?"
"Of course he does! Blimey, Carter, you're a better Führer than old Scramblebrains himself!"
A grin from Hogan. "My idea. Don't worry, Carter. We'll have you constantly guarded by some of our own men. And you've done it before. You know you're good at it."
"Yeah, well..." Carter put his hands in his pockets. "It's just that, after the war, you know, it would be kind of awkward if my son would ask me one day, 'Daddy, what did you do during the war?' And I'd have to answer, 'Well, son, I played Hitler'..."
"I didn't know you had a son?" Kinch teased him.
And Hogan promised, "I'll write you a nice long CV listing everything else you've done for the war. Then you can show that to your son, okay?"
Carter nodded. "But please leave out that time I forgot to set the timer, will you?"
"Okay, I will." The others chuckled. "Now go get your play-clothes out. LeBeau, go with him and help him dye his hair and look like a perfect Hitler. Kinch, we'll need the best staff car from the motorpool, with Berlin licence plates. Newkirk, go raid your uniform rack. I'm going to send three men down to you in a few minutes who need to be outfitted as trusted members of the Führer's staff."
"Sir, what about Captain McCall and the five escapees that are still waiting in the tunnel?" Kinch asked.
"They'll have to wait a little longer. And they can fill in for the others during roll call. And once we got the key, they'll be the ones taking it back to England."
With that, everyone set off to their different tasks, and Hogan let his eyes wander over the men in his barracks. Now who was fluent enough in the German language to pass as a native, yet inconspicuous enough not to be recognized by the guards?