Author's note: Recently I re-discovered Hogan's Heroes, remembered how great it was (wasn't hard!) and tracked the original (meaning undubbed) version on the Net, read a few stories (loved them)... And then a plot bunny popped into existence and started tugging on my sleeve. After almost a year of not being able to write a decent story, I jumped at the occasion. Whether this one is decent or not I leave to your appreciation.
It's not really a story so much as five one-shots, in chronological order, and each of them has something to do with a particular French (for the most part) recipe. I'm French (from the South West, to be precise) and while I'm not much of a cook I love good food, both in quality and quantity. It's a joy to finally be able to work that into a story :o)
As usual, a huge thanks to ChaosandMayhem, my fabulous beta reader. Any remaining mistakes are my own.
(Edited to thank Konarciq who pointed out the date discrepancy in the summary!)
Edited after April 8th 2012: I'm honoured, flattered and touched beyond belief that people voted for this story, and that it won bronze, silver and gold (!) Papa Bear Awards. It was incredible to see it nominated, and seeing it actually win something rendered me speechless for at least half an hour. Thank you so much. I mean, really.
Disclaimer: CBS owns Hogan's Heroes, I don't. Stalag XIII is a great place to have a story, but I wouldn't want to own it. Too much bloody paperwork, for starters ;o)
" Cuisiner suppose une tête légère, un esprit généreux et un cœur large. "
(Cooking entails a clear mind, a generous spirit and a great heart.)
Chapter One: Garbure
February 13th, 1941
It was on days like this one that Sergeant of the Guard Hans Schultz longed for his home the most, especially the large hearth with the nice rug in front, perfect for getting warm again after a long, cold, tiring day at work. While he knew that at least he had it better than the prisoners, the thought did little to cheer him up – or warm him up, for that matter.
A glance up at the clear, washed-out blue sky was all the confirmation he needed that things were decidedly not looking up.
It had not snowed in two weeks. The weather was too cold for snow.
Schultz stomped on the ice-covered ground, trying hard not to slip – if he slipped now, God knew where the momentum would take him – as he turned round the corner of the mess hall. The routine patrol was perfectly useless today. The prisoners were all huddled inside the poorly-heated barracks, probably trying to keep themselves warm with plans for escape. It was too cold for Schultz to begrudge them their dreams; he usually kept to his 'hear nothing, see nothing' policy as long as they didn't actually attempt anything too bold anyway.
Speaking of 'seeing', though …
The slight figure in the brown jacket climbing out the window of the officers' mess was too conspicuous for even Schultz to miss – or pretend he hadn't seen it. When the man had both feet on the ground, the sergeant reached out and grabbed the red scarf.
Corporal Louis LeBeau gave a startled yelp, then relaxed visibly as he caught sight of his captor.
"Oh, it's you, Schultz – bon Dieu, you shouldn't sneak up on people like that."
Every now and then, Schultz took a moment to wonder why he never seemed to be able to come off as frightening, least of all to this diminutive Frenchman who barely reached his shoulder, beret and all. So far, he hadn't been able to come up with a valid answer.
"What were you doing in the officers' mess hall, Cockroach?" he asked reproachingly, trying hard to look and sound suspicious and daunting. LeBeau glared up at him.
"You know, I really wish you wouldn't call me that."
"But I like cockroaches," Schultz said without even thinking – that happened to him a lot. "They can go without food, water, even air for a long time and still live, I think it's rather endearing. Besides, you – ach, never mind that. What are you doing here?"
LeBeau folded his arms across his chest, the very picture of stubbornness.
"I was looking for ice. For the champagne."
"Champagne! Was –" Schultz's brain caught up with his eyes and ears, and he frowned. "You are making fun of me."
"Non, vous croyez?"
Something chose this very moment to slip from under LeBeau's coat and fall to the ground with a thud. Schultz felt his eyes widen.
"That's a potato from the officers' mess! You have been stealing – why?"
There was a hint of disappointment in his voice. Usually, when things mysteriously went missing, it was common knowledge that the English Corporal from Barracks 2, Peter Newkirk, had at least a hand in it. Catching the little Frenchman red-handed was more of a surprise. Schultz half-expected Newkirk to come out the window too, throw up his hands and say, "All right, Schultz, it's a fair cop" and grin that grin of his that meant trouble on the way.
He was rather fond of Newkirk – it was hard not to be – but the man obviously was a bad influence.
There was no Engländer in sight, though. LeBeau was alone, and he was still determinedly glaring up at Schultz from under his red beret.
The effect would probably have been a little more impressive if he had not been shivering from the cold, and ended up dropping a carrot, an onion and half a cabbage when he bent to retrieve the fallen potato.
Schultz had never understood a word of French, but he knew a string of muttered curses when he heard one.
"LeBeau, I ought to put you in the cooler for thieving like that," he said with as much severity he could muster. Honestly, it was hard to play the harsh, uncompromising guard when these men brought out in him the same reactions that his children did.
"Go ahead," the corporal retorted as he quickly picked up the vegetables, "but after I've made my garbure."
"It's a French soup from the South West of France. You're supposed to put lots of things in it – cabbage, ham, bread, potatoes, a few onions, leech, a bit of duck – some duck fat would have been great." Once he had everything back in his coat, he stopped to blow in his hands. "We're almost out of Red Cross rations and the bread has frozen, so I – what?"
Schultz had vaguely registered the second part of LeBeau's speech. His mind had stopped at the first.
LeBeau was starting to look a little blue around the edges, which made for a funny patriotic picture with his pale cheeks and his red scarf and beret. But the question did get a quick, proud smile from him.
"I was a chef, before the war."
"Ooh. Did you have a funny hat?"
LeBeau's face went completely blank, and for once it wasn't because he was trying to hide something.
"Those funny white hats that cooks wear – I've seen one in a restaurant, in Düsseldorf. It was a very fancy restaurant," he added as an afterthought.
The last time he'd remembered to take Gretchen to a nice restaurant had been two years ago. Before the war, when he still had his toy company and he still was a civilian. But it felt a lot longer …
LeBeau gave him a pointed look, still shivering. "Look, Schultz, they're cold, and they're hungry – they need something hot and solid. You know Davies is skin and bones, and Newkirk is not getting any better. At this rate, next month he'll be dead."
The Frenchman's blunt words brought Schultz back to the present, and he stared at him. LeBeau looked completely serious.
Schultz thought of Newkirk – the cheeky, cynical Englishman who always had a twinkle in his eye and a witty retort on the tip of his tongue – buried in this cold earth, so far from his native isle. The world suddenly seemed a little bit colder.
Still, there was no harm in prodding a bit. After all, LeBeau might be exaggerating.
"I thought you didn't like Newkirk much. You two are always arguing," he ventured, only to receive a much fiercer glare.
"Just because he has no taste at all in cooking doesn't mean I don't like him. He's sharp, smart and actually rather funny. But," he added hastily, the glare fading from his eyes, "don't tell him I said that."
Schultz barely refrained from breaking into a large knowing grin.
"Oh, ja. I heard nothing, nothing."
He was rewarded with a warm smile.
"Merci, Schultz. Can I go now? I need to work on my garbure." The smile gave way to a look akin to that of a puppy dog facing a kick. "You can put me in the cooler later."
Was he looking like that on purpose? If he was, Schultz had to admit it was working, and working well.
Besides, he wouldn't wish the cooler on anyone just now. They could practically use it as an ice box with these temperatures.
I know I'm going to regret this …
"Ah, forget the cooler. Get back inside your barrack and make your soup. I heard nothing, I saw nothing too."
The Corporal's eyes lit up, and his sudden grin could have powered the whole camp for a week.
"Thanks a lot, Schultz."
He had not made two steps toward Barracks 2 when an idea suddenly struck Schultz. "Oh, Cockroach?"
LeBeau stopped in his tracks, half-turned and opened his mouth to say something, but apparently decided against it. "… Oui?" he eventually said, a bit warily.
"Do you think," Schultz asked, visions of hot, glorious meals dancing in front of his eyes, "if I gave you a little food from the mess hall, you could cook a little something for me someday?"
He was met with stony silence.
"It's been a really long time since I last had a decent apple strudel."
LeBeau stared at him.
Maybe Schultz was pushing his luck a bit too far. After all, for the first couple of months after he had got off the truck, LeBeau had been dead set on loathing any German on sight, passionately, continuously and indiscriminately. It seemed that, since he was – and was likely to remain – the only Frenchman in the Stalag, he was determined to hate the "sales Boches" as much as he could to make up for the lack in countrymen.
Schultz privately thought that the corporal was angry enough for at least half a dozen men.
But weeks crawled by, roll call after roll call, and angry retorts and sarcastic gibes bounced off Schultz, bringing no other reaction out of the guard than occasional reproaches and chiding for his temper and language. Gradually, LeBeau just got tired of hating him and gave up.
They all did, after a while. Thank God for that.
Eventually, the Frenchman's eyes lost some of their deadpan quality, and he nodded.
"D'accord. I'll whip you up a strudel tomorrow. But … You're having chicken tonight in the enlisted men's mess, non?"
"Oh, yes. Boiled. It's Grüninger's turn to cook." Schultz barely repressed a shiver. He could not for the life of him imagine what the poor animal had done to deserve such a fate. "Why?"
"Don't throw away the water. Newkirk needs some chicken broth. And see if you can get your hands on a bit of beef next week, I'd like to try something with the rest of the onions and potatoes."
It occurred to Schultz, as LeBeau's gaze unfocused slightly, that the harshly cold winter had been hard on all of them. The Frenchman's build had been short but stocky five months ago, but now, even under the layers of clothing – including the temporary layer of vegetables – he was noticeably thinner.
"Ja, Corporal, I can do that. Now run along and make your soup – and don't forget my strudel!"
Schultz barely had time to catch a hasty, "Don't worry, I won't!" before LeBeau ran to his barracks as fast as he dared. There was no way to know whether the throwaway answer had been sarcastic or genuine, but it nevertheless left the sergeant in much higher spirits than he had been before.
A real French chef. Well, they did get all sorts here at Stalag XIII.
I can't wait to try his apple strudel.
Notes (feel free to ignore them if you don't need them):
Bon Dieu: literally, "good God", but in context it's a milder version of "dammit".
Non, vous croyez?: No, you think?
Merci: thank you/thanks :o)
Next up: Gestapo officers, monkey business and marinades, oh my...