I do not own any of the characters from the series Hogan's Heroes. However, I claim ownership of any original characters appearing in this story.
"Well, he hasn't changed since you last saw him. And he's sweet about it, but of course he's only flirting. It doesn't mean anything."
Hildegard ran one finger around the rim of her glass, tilting her head a little as she considered how very little meaning there actually was in any professions of affection from the gentleman in question.
"Oh, it never did. If I'd ever taken him seriously, he'd have run so fast, he'd have been first man into Stalingrad," replied Helga.
They both giggled at the thought.
"It would almost be worth it, just to see him running," observed Hilda. "I don't think I've ever seen him get above a quick waddle."
"You can't have seen him with his wife." Helga's eyes were still laughing. "Believe me, when she turns up, Schultz starts moving, in the opposite direction." She sighed, momentarily overtaken by nostalgia. "You know, I miss the place sometimes. Well, the people, anyway. Some of them."
"Kommandant Klink?" Hildegard glanced up at her, a mischievous smile dancing across her face. Helga just wrinkled her nose in distaste. That didn't deserve a response at all.
It was almost a year since they'd last seen each other, but their friendship remained just as warm as ever. It hadn't started well. The first day, when Hildegard had walked into Stalag 13 and introduced herself as Helga's replacement, the mood had been very cool indeed. The two had sized each other up, formed instant opinions, and smiled sweetly.
...and those aren't her own eyelashes, either.
Natural blonde? Oh, really?
But over the course of a week, as the departing secretary instructed her successor in the ways of the Kommandant's office, first impressions had given way, and by the time Helga departed for her new home in Wiesbaden, they were almost as close as sisters. And when Helga made a return visit, to attend a family wedding, of course she had to find some time to catch up with Hilda, even if it was only for an hour, over a glass of wine at the Café Mandelbaum in Hammelburg, before she went to catch the train.
Outside, a shower of spring rain, and an unseasonal cold wind, threw a chill over the dark streets; but the bright cheerful atmosphere of the little café, and the warmth of good company, kept the gloom at bay.
"I do miss some of the prisoners, now and then," Helga went on reminiscently. "The little French one - what was his name again? He was nice."
"Oh, yes, I know who you mean. He cooks sometimes for the Kommandant, and always puts something aside for me."
Helga glanced down at her glass, a little smile playing on her lips. "What about Colonel Hogan? How do you find him?"
"I don't. He finds me," replied Hildegard.
Helga looked up, struck by the change in her tone. "You know, he doesn't really mean it, either," she remarked.
"I know. But I'm working on him."
"Good luck," murmured Helga. She doesn't have a hope, she thought. All the same, her manner cooled a little as she considered the odds.
As the conversation paused, a woman went past their table on her way to the powder room. Helga, glancing at her as she walked by, noticed only how tall she was, how elegantly exotic her clothing, and how feline her movements. But Hilda's lips thinned as she caught sight of the stranger.
"And I thought this place had standards," she said, her voice dropping towards freezing point.
Helga's eyes widened. "Who is she?"
"She's Russian. Calls herself Marya. No last name, just Marya. She floats into town every so often, draped all over some officer or other, then she flings herself at Colonel Hogan - or the Kommandant - and there's always trouble." It wasn't often Hilda spoke in such spiteful accents.
"What kind of trouble? You don't mean...?" Helga didn't finish the question, but she knew Hilda understood what she was asking. There was one aspect of working at Stalag 13 which she'd never brought up during Hilda's training, but she was pretty sure someone else would have introduced the new secretary to it within a short time of her arrival.
"Serious trouble, for everyone."
Hilda sent a smouldering glare at the Russian as she returned. The woman didn't seem at all put out, meeting it with a smile of pure amusement.
"Have we met before?" she asked, in a slow, low-pitched voice, heavily accented. The only reply from Hilda was a sweet, false simper.
"Of course," Marya went on. "You work at Stalag 13, with Klink. Tell me, how is that adorable man?"
"Which one?" Hilda threw back at her. The foreigner's eyes glittered, but she seemed happy to leave the question in doubt.
She glanced at Helga curiously, but didn't ask for an introduction, and Hildegard didn't enlighten her. This was also food for amusement, apparently; a hint of laughter lurked in Marya's voice as her eyes turned back towards Hilda. "Charming to see you again, darling,"
"So nice," was all the Kommandant's secretary said, her tone suggesting nice was a euphemism, and not a particularly accurate one.
There was an uncomfortable silence after the woman had moved on. Then Hilda gave herself a little shake. "I shouldn't let her get to me. It's spoiled the evening. I'm sorry, Helga."
"I didn't like her, either," admitted Helga. "She was laughing at us."
"She's always like that," said Hildegard.
Helga giggled. "Aren't some women awful? There's one I work with in Wiesbaden - she always calls me Helena, just as if - " Her voice stopped abruptly, and her eyes widened. Then she went on, casually, but in a very soft voice. "Gestapo just walked in."
Hilda's expression didn't change, but the electric tension which had just seized every nerve in her body manifested visibly in the sudden closing of her fingers around the stem of her wine glass. "Who is it?"
"I've never seen him before," murmured Helga. "Shortish, dark hair, has a moustache, looks mean."
The description wasn't exactly specific - most Gestapo looked mean - but Hilda's lips pursed with nervous agitation. "I don't want to look, in case he sees me," she whispered, "but it sounds like it might be..."
"Hochstetter, darling!" The slow, drawling voice of the Russian woman, Marya, rang out across the sudden silence which had greeted the new arrival. "I thought you'd never get here."
Note: Hilda is addressed as "Fräulein Hildegard" by Klink in "The Collector General". This raises the possibility of "Hilda" being a diminutive. To distinguish her more clearly from Helga, she will be occasionally referred to as "Hildegard" in this story.