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.
It was such a beautiful night, though so very cold. The snow had held off, after all; the air was fresh and clear, as if newly distilled, and overhead the blackness of the night sky shivered with stars.
Although the streets were still busy, the noise of the traffic outside was barely audible inside the little Trinitatiskirche. The service had been long, the readings dull, the sermon almost funereal, and even though the chill coming up from the stone floor set bones to aching, and the unyielding timber of the pews made limbs and flesh prickle with pinpricks, it was all too easy to drift off. In fact, had his wife not nudged him in the ribs with her elbow when the choir stood up to sing, Hans might have slept right through until Christmas morning. As it was, he jumped, blinked, and began to applaud before another sharp dig reminded him of where he was.
The children giggled. They had been tittering on and off all through the service anyway, partly because it was Christmas Eve and they were wildly excited, and partly because, his mother's fond pride notwithstanding, Friedrich looked so ridiculous in his chorister's robes and ruffled collar.
The boys had already sung twice. Hans had slept through O Jesulein süß, and only stirred fitfully when the choir went flat during In Dulci Jubilo. But this time he had to pay attention. For the first time ever, one of his children had been given the chance to shine; Friedrich had been awarded a solo part. He had been practicing his single verse of Still, still, still for weeks, until even his mother had almost had enough, and his younger siblings, in a rare moment of accord, had stolen his music folder and buried it in the compost heap.
Nevertheless, there was a stirring of family pride, as the organ began to play, and Friedrich stepped forward. Such a handsome boy, too; tall for his age, and sturdily built, with his father's blue eyes. Of course, he didn't often look so innocent, or for that matter, so clean, but he'd scrubbed up well for once. Little wonder that Gretchen had to wipe her eyes. Hans felt a sudden prickling of tears, too; he couldn't understand why, but sadness enfolded him, as he watched his oldest boy.
The introduction finished, and Friedrich opened his mouth. But at the first note, the bells started to ring. Hans leaned forward in his seat, his eyes fixed on his son's face, seeing the words form on Friedrich's lips: Still, still, still weil's Kindlein schlafen will... But all he could hear was the clamour of the bells, which grew ever shriller until it resolved into the tinny dissonance of the cheap alarm clock standing on the little chest of drawers beside the bed.
He rolled towards it, groping around till he found it, and shut it off. Then he flopped back, and tried to return to the little church. But the dream had gone wherever dreams go, leaving only the dull weight of reality. Finally he gave up, and opened his eyes.
It was still dark outside, and icily cold, and through the window he could just glimpse a tiny sliver of empty sky. For a few more minutes he lay gazing at it, without really seeing it, before he pushed himself up from the mattress, and padded across the floor to switch on the light.
An old man stared back at him from the mirror over the tiny washstand. He splashed his face with cold water, and looked again. Still old, only now he was wet as well. He scrubbed himself dry, and went to the closet to get his clothes; the uniform of a Luftwaffe sergeant.
He was almost dressed when a timid knock at the door announced the arrival of Corporal Langenscheidt. "If you please, Sergeant Schultz," he said nervously, "it is almost time for roll call."
"What do you think, I'm stupid or something?" Schultz grumbled. "I know what time it is."
Scarlet with embarrassment, Langenscheidt almost fell over his apology. "I didn't mean...of course you would know...I beg your pardon..."
Schultz scowled him into silence. "Go and make sure the prisoners are in order," he said. "I will be out in a few minutes."
Langenscheidt saluted, mumbled some kind of excuse, and backed out of the room, and Schultz finished buckling his belt; put on his steel helmet, and picked up his rifle.
The letter from Gretchen lay on the nightstand, just beside the clock. There must be someone who could find out. Ask your Kommandant, he's an important man, he has contacts...
Kommandant Klink, an important man. His only contacts were those officers who hadn't yet learned to avoid his calls. It was a joke. It was laughable. But Schultz wasn't laughing.
He left the barracks, and trudged across the compound towards Barracks 2, which was his own particular responsibility. Every morning, it was his duty to fetch the occupants out into the yard, and to ascertain whether he still had the right number of prisoners. But Langenscheidt had pre-empted him, for once; Colonel Hogan and his men were already lined up, and as Schultz approached, the corporal came to meet him, and saluted. "All the prisoners are present and accounted for, Herr Feldwebel," he announced, his voice wobbling slightly at the end.
"Is that so?" Schultz looked him up and down. Finding nothing to criticize, he grunted, and lumbered past. And even though Langenscheidt had completed the head count, Schultz did it again, slowly and meticulously.
"Hey, Schultz, what's up?" asked Newkirk. "Langenscheidt forget how to count?"
"Well, he's only got ten fingers, you know," remarked Carter.
LeBeau chuckled. "And he's not sure what to do with some of those."
"I could offer a suggestion or two." Newkirk, hands in his pockets, grinned.
Schultz regarded him without expression for a few moments, then, with exaggerated deliberation, took out his notebook, and wrote down all three names. "You are all on report," he informed them. "Showing disrespect towards Corporal Langenscheidt, and speaking in formation without permission."
The silence of amazement lasted barely three seconds, before it detonated into an explosion of protest. Schultz, however, remained unmoved, although he felt a small flutter of shame as he met Colonel Hogan's steady, curious gaze.
"Okay, men, pipe down," said Hogan calmly. "Schultz is just doing his job."
"Well, he might have warned us first," muttered LeBeau, The look in his eyes, as they rested on Schultz, was a promise. On Christmas Day, when the dinde aux marrons made its appearance in Barracks 2 (which it would, if within the next twenty-four hours he could get hold of a turkey, some chestnuts, and a decent burgundy to serve with it), there would be no seat at the table for the sergeant of the guard.
The prisoners fell silent, and Schultz went back to the start of the line. But before he could start the count again, Kommandant Klink's voice rang across the parade ground: "Report! Report!"
Schultz spun around. "Herr Kommandant, beg to report, all present and accounted for."
"As it should be," said Klink, his eyes turning to Hogan, bright with malice. "No going home for Christmas for your men, Colonel Hogan."
"Or yours, Kommandant," replied Hogan complacently. "Still, at least you'll get your own furlough...if Burkhalter approves it."
The smile vanished from Klink's face. "That's none of your business, Hogan." He turned and stalked back to the Kommandantur, leaving Schultz to dismiss the prisoners.
Schultz did so, and hurried off after the Kommandant, following in his heels so closely that Klink didn't notice his presence, until he turned around after hanging up his coat and cap.
"What the...oh, for heaven's sake, Schultz, what are you doing here?" he demanded.
"Bitte, Herr Kommandant...I would like...that is to say, my wife would like..."
"Schultz, if you're looking for another three-day pass, you can forget it." Klink brushed past his sergeant to get to the desk. "You know how troublesome the prisoners get at this time of year. As sergeant of the guard, you can't be spared. Anyway, if I can't have leave, nobody else can have leave either." He sat down, leaning well back, and regarded Schultz with a thin-lipped smile.
"It's not that, Herr Kommandant. It's a personal matter, I need your advice. Well, not advice, exactly. It was my wife's idea to ask..."
"Please, Schultz," Klink interrupted, "it's too early in the morning for me to put up with your babbling. Get to the point."
Schultz blinked, stared out of the window, and started again. "Herr Kommandant, I have a son."
"I know, it's in your file. So what?"
"So my son is now aged eighteen."
"As old as that?" Klink's manner relaxed a little. "Well, time flies, doesn't it? I suppose he'll be joining up any time now? You want me to put in a good word for him at the recruiting office. I daresay I could..."
"He was already drafted, last year." Schultz's eyes had started to ache, even to water a little. It was very cold, of course, that must be why. He blinked again, and went on. "They put him into an infantry division, and sent him to the Eastern Front."
"Well, that's very..." Klink's voice trailed off. After a few seconds, he continued, but his voice sounded as if his vocal cords were being squeezed. "That's very commendable. I'm sure you must be proud of him, Schultz."
Schultz sighed. "No. I am not proud of him, I am worried. He has been missing in action since early November. We only just heard."
"Ah." Klink's gaze had shifted slightly, to focus on Schultz's left shoulder. He shifted in his seat, and cleared his throat. "You must be very proud."
"Herr Kommandant," Schultz began. "My wife is very anxious. Would it not be possible...I mean, you are a colonel, you must know someone who would be able to find out...General Burkhalter is a friend of yours, maybe you could ask..." His voice failed him.
Klink shrank back a little, and hunched his shoulders. "Schultz, you know how it is. Thousands of men are missing in action on the Eastern Front. If I were to ask General Burkhalter to try to find one insignificant...to find one man, he'd simply laugh at me. I'm sorry, Schultz, I can't help you." He paused, fidgeting. "But I might be prepared to reconsider your request, and grant you a furlough. I'm sure we could manage without you for a few days."
It was only what Schultz had expected. But he didn't want to have to face Gretchen, and tell her. "Thank you, Herr Kommandant," he said. "Maybe in the new year."
"What d'you suppose has gotten Schultz all bent out of shape?" Carter, up to his elbows in soapy water, had apparently been pondering this question since roll call, before deciding to throw it open for discussion.
"Who knows?" growled Newkirk. "Maybe he suddenly remembered he's supposed to be a Kraut. Miserable sods, the lot of 'em, can't stand seeing anyone cheerful." He picked up an armful of wet garments and went to hang them on the line.
Hogan had been giving the matter some thought himself. "I don't know," he said, folding his arms. "It's not like him. He's always very keen to keep on our good side. Especially LeBeau's, and especially at this time of year."
LeBeau scowled. "If he thinks he's getting so much as a sugared almond, after putting us on report..."
"I'm not so sure he did," Hogan interrupted.
"Oh, come on, Colonel, he went haring off to Klink's office the second we were dismissed," said Newkirk. "He couldn't wait to go and drop us in it."
"Yeah, who'd have thought Schultz'd turn out to be a snitch?" added Carter resentfully.
"Okay, let's say he did. Why hasn't Klink sent for you three?" Hogan looked from one to the other. "You know he'd jump at the chance to haul you over the coals. So what's he waiting for?"
"Maybe he's gonna let us off till after Christmas," offered Carter, but he didn't sound convinced.
LeBeau laughed. "Oui, and maybe he's going to dress up as père Noël, and go around all the barracks with a sackful of presents."
"Well, that'll be a nice surprise for the carollers when they show up, won't it?" said Newkirk.
"You know, Schultz has been pretty short with the other guards the last few days," remarked Kinch. "He tore a strip off Private Weissmann yesterday, for having a button off his uniform. He's been giving Langenscheidt a hard time, too. Maybe the war's finally getting to him, and he's cracking up."
"I sure hope not." Hogan straightened up, tipping his cap back. "We put a lot of time and effort into Schultz. If we lose him now, we could end up losing the whole war."