Warnings: some violence, relatively minor.
It was an ordinary late fall afternoon in Stalag 13, crisp and clear, with surprisingly little happening. It had been a quiet few days, in fact: the most Hogan and his team had had to do in terms of assignments for London for the past week was pass on some troop movement information that had been brought in by Oscar Schnitzer. The break in ceaseless near-impossible demands from headquarters had been very welcome, especially given the heavy rain the previous week, but it had lasted just long enough that Hogan was beginning to feel restless. Now that the weather had turned fine again, it was too good to waste on frivolities.
Nonetheless, with nothing immediate on hand, a volleyball game was in process between the men of Barrack 2 and Barrack 3. Hogan was standing near the net watching it idly when the camp gates opened and a black car with Gestapo insignia drove through. It came to a halt outside the Kommandantur and the doors opened, disgorging Major Hochstetter and three underlings. Hochstetter's eyes swept around the compound and immediately landed on Hogan. "There!" he snarled to his subordinates, pointing with his riding crop. "Bring him!"
Hogan stiffened slightly – this was not a good sign. What could Hochstetter want him for at this moment? But the guards were heading over and he didn't have much time.
The volleyball game had already ground to a halt and the men had drawn close to him, so he could speak quietly yet have them hear. "Listen on the coffeepot," he said swiftly. "It's probably nothing serious. But if we have been found out, I'll give the code. Follow my standing orders at that point: don't wait. Start evacuation immediately: get yourselves out and as many of the other men as there's time for." Seeing objections on their faces, he added firmly, "That's an order. I can't look out for myself if I'm having to worry about you guys too." He got some glum nods, but that was all there was time for.
The three guards who approached looked like thugs who enjoyed their jobs. "Komme mit," one of them snapped pointing at him, his tone deliberately insulting. Hogan bristled, but before he could speak the next one held up a pair of handcuffs, speculatively looking at him while the third tapped a truncheon in the palm of his left hand, obviously itching to use it. Hogan decided it was time to pick his battles: these three were looking for trouble and happy to find it. But Hochstetter was the bigger threat. So he shifted tactics, smiled, and said in English, "Well, if that's how you want it, fellas," holding his hands out in front of him.
The guard with the cuffs slapped them around his right wrist, then grabbed his arm and twisted it painfully, forcing Hogan to turn around. He then snapped the second cuff on Hogan's left wrist, drawing it up painfully tightly so that the metal dug into his skin. Hogan clenched his jaw, refusing to make any noise that would signal they were getting to him. But he was now facing his men and saw the looks of dismay on their faces. He didn't need them watching this. "Get them out of here," he ordered sharply, his eyes snapping at Kinch. The sergeant nodded and pushed LeBeau and Carter towards the door of the barrack, then reached out to grab Newkirk's arm and pull him along too. The rest of the men reluctantly fell into step behind them. Hogan felt a small bit of relief as Kinch herded them all out of the guards' easy reach.
The feeling was short lived as the first guard spun Hogan roughly back around, facing toward the Kommandantur. He felt a crashing blow across his upper back that made him stumble forward. The damned truncheon. He kept moving despite the flaming ache as he breathed, knowing that any pause would be a reason for them to use it again. He also fought down a rising sense of panic. Though by policy the Gestapo refused to accord salutes as traditional marks of respect for enemy officers, Hogan was still officially in Luftwaffe custody and his rank was high enough that it should protect him from rough treatment. It was a bad sign that they felt free to use this kind of force on him – a very bad sign. The four of them crossed the yard quickly, mounted the steps of the Kommandantur, and Hogan was shoved through the doorway.
Hilda looked up, an expression of surprise on her face at their violent entrance. As she caught sight of the American colonel who regularly romanced her, now shackled with handcuffs, she raised the back of her knuckles to her mouth in fear and horror. Hogan managed to find what he hoped was a reassuring small smile for her; it didn't seem to do much good, though, as she helplessly watched him pushed yet again over to the door of the Kommandant's office and thrust hard through it. Hogan forgot about Hilda as Hochstetter looked up, the satisfied look of a cat with its prey in its paws, ready to play with it, all over his face.
"Major Hochstetter, what a surprise!" Hogan was careful to make his voice sound cheery, a signal to his crew listening in that he was all right. It had the side benefit of annoying Hochstetter as well.
It didn't work quite as he had hoped, though, as he felt another brutal crack from the truncheon across his back from the guard behind him. As his body jerked slightly forward under the force of being struck, he couldn't quite contain a small agonized hiss of indrawn breath. Worse than the blow was the realization that Hochstetter's goons were quite willing to use violence on him in front of Klink – that had to be with the Gestapo major's advance permission. It suggested Hochstetter had a far higher level of assurance that he could get away with such action than Hogan had ever encountered from him before. A trickle of fear seeped through him, which he immediately tried to stifle.
Klink, however, rose to the occasion for once, standing up behind his desk and objecting furiously, "Major Hochstetter, this is outrageous!" Turning to the guard who had assaulted Hogan, he ordered angrily, "Leave my office at once!"
The guard looked at Hochstetter for confirmation, which the major gave with a careless wave of his hand. Hochstetter stalked over to Hogan, who had wiped all traces of amusement from his face and deliberately drawn himself up to his full height to look down on the shorter Gestapo agent. Angered, Hochstetter grabbed the American by the edges of his jacket and jerked him over to the chair in front of Klink's desk, shoving him down into it. Hogan glared upwards at him from the seat, as a look of triumph crossed Hochstetter's face.
"You're under arrest, Hogan! At long last I have you right where I want you!"
"I didn't know you wanted me. Wouldn't have thought you were the type to care, Major," Hogan answered carelessly.
Hochstetter put his hands on the arm rests of the chair, leaning into Hogan's face, but Hogan kept his place, refusing to budge by leaning backwards as though intimidated.
"Oh yes, Hogan, I do have you," the Gestapo officer assured the American silkily. "I've dreamed of this for a long, long time, and I intend to enjoy myself thoroughly with you."
"Have me for what?" Hogan retorted, sarcasm dripping from every word.
"Sabotage and espionage!" Hochstetter spat back.
"Impossible!" Klink insisted. Both of the other men ignored him, staring daggers at each other.
"By the time I'm through with you, you'll have confessed to everything that you've done while you've been in Germany!" Hochstetter threatened.
"I seriously doubt you'll get all the volleyball and horseshoe scores I've managed to rack up," Hogan said as casually as he could.
Hochstetter's response was to slap him across the face, hard enough to turn the colonel's head.
The abuse drew another protest from Klink. "Major, such action is against the Geneva Convention. Colonel Hogan is a Luftwaffe prisoner and shall be treated with the courtesy due his rank!"
"Those rules do not apply to saboteurs and spies, and he is both!" Hochstetter slammed his fist down on Klink's desk for emphasis. "I have a witness who has identified him."
Hogan's gut twisted. If someone had seen him on one of their missions – or even if someone was willing to say that he had – this might really be the end of his operation. But he decided to wait on giving his men the code: he didn't know enough yet. "Then your witness is lying," he said coolly, knowing that denial was the only rational response.
"Identified him how?" Klink inquired.
"From a line-up of photographs, using the one in his dossier!"
"Not my best portrait," Hogan deadpanned, though it was true: when the Germans had taken it shortly after he had been shot down, he'd been exhausted and injured. But Hochstetter's answers to Klink's questions were making him increasingly worried. He needed to undermine the credibility of whatever proof that Hochstetter was presenting to Klink to have any hope of help from the Kommandant. "And I'll bet your 'witness' was trying to choose the picture you wanted him to choose," he added, attacking the evidence at the most obvious weak point.
The hard slap that came this time rocked the chair Hogan was sitting in. Although his left ear rang furiously, the blow told him that his shot had gone home. He arched his neck back to glare defiantly up at Hochstetter.
"Major! That is more than enough!" Klink's voice was icy cold and he reached for his phone. "Fraulein Hilda, get General Burkhalter on the phone, as quickly as possible!" He replaced the handset and frowned at the Gestapo major. "Colonel Hogan is a Luftwaffe prisoner; you can take up any custody issue with the general when he calls back."
Hogan wondered if he'd just gotten a reprieve or not. Burkhalter hated the Gestapo in general and Hochstetter in particular, so he might try to protect Hogan just to spite the Gestapo major. Or not, depending on what Hochstetter had on him. He still didn't know, but alarm now had a major grip on him.
"Oh, I think an eyewitness will persuade him to let me question this saboteur," the major said confidently. He leaned over Klink's desk threateningly and growled, "And you had better take care, Kom – man – dant, to ensure that you are not taken in for covering up a spy!"
"Of course I am not!" Klink winced, but did not abandon his ground. "I always cooperate with the Gestapo. But I must also do my required duty for a prisoner in my custody. Major, you have yet even to give a specific charge against Colonel Hogan. What was this supposed sabotage? Where and when did it take place?"
"He blew up the Breiten River bridge in Falkenbürg!" Hochstetter shouted.
Hogan looked completely blank. It wasn't hard: for once, he had absolutely no idea what Hochstetter was talking about. He'd never even heard of this bridge.
"That is impossible: it is well over a hundred kilometers away!" Klink expostulated.
If the situation hadn't been so dire, Hogan could almost have laughed. He had been operating successfully as a saboteur for over two years now without being caught for any of the numerous missions he had carried out . . . and now he was under arrest for something he hadn't done! The irony would have been hilarious if the stakes hadn't been so high.
"He was there! The witness saw him." Hochstetter leaned over Hogan menacingly. "And I will wring the details of how he did it out of him – slowly and painfully! I promise you, Hogan!"
"When did this happen?" Klink demanded.
Hochstetter glanced over his shoulder. "Last Thursday."
Both Klink's eyebrows shot up, and his monocle dropped out. He caught it reflexively. "Thursday the thirteenth?" he asked in astonishment.
"Ja," Hochstetter answered curtly.
Hogan and Klink traded glances, their expressions lightening. Hochstetter narrowed his eyes, looking suspiciously back and forth between them.
"And just when on Thursday did the bridge blow up?" Klink inquired carefully.
"At twenty-three hundred hours," Hochstetter said, still watching them closely. Hogan exhaled with a sigh and leaned back slightly in his chair.
"Then I suggest you search for your saboteur elsewhere," Klink spoke firmly. "Colonel Hogan was at a dinner party I gave for Colonel Brauer of the Heer and Major Nieland of the Luftwaffe that evening. Both of them had expressed a desire to meet an enemy officer. He was never out of the sight of the three of us, from eighteen hundred to twenty-three thirty, not to mention that he was present at all the standard roll calls earlier in the day, plus in conference with me over the discipline of a prisoner in the mid-afternoon. You will want to check with both Brauer and Nieland, of course. Fraulein Hilda will tell you how you may contact them. But I suggest that in the future you check your facts before taking such a high-standing prisoner into custody."
Hochstetter stared at him in bafflement, then clenching his fists in frustration he turned to glare with hatred at Hogan, who returned the look with compound interest. Hochstetter raised his riding crop, and Hogan really thought he was furious enough to use it on him. So apparently did Klink, who shouted, "Major!"
Hochstetter brought the crop down on Klink's desk with a vicious whack, roared "BAAAH!" and stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind him. They heard the door to the porch of the Kommandantur slam next, and Hochstetter bellow for his driver.
Hogan closed his eyes momentarily, exhaled, and relaxed against the back of the chair, emotionally drained by the near miss. But the extra pressure on his tight handcuffs made him open his eyes in alarm. "Kommandant, his guards have the keys to these cuffs," he said, unable to keep an edge of desperation from his voice as he looked up at Klink, who was standing at the window to watch the departing Gestapo major.
Klink grabbed the phone. "Fraulein Hilda, put me through to the front gate at once. Danke…. Corporal Müller? Detain Major Hochstetter's car. He is not to depart without my express permission." He hung up, shaking his head. "And yet all I want is for him to leave this camp," he sighed, then added sotto voce, looking down at his desk, "I despise that man." He thinned then compressed his lips tightly, then huffed through his nose. A moment later, he continued in a normal tone, "Stay where you are, Hogan. I will return momentarily." He left the office, shutting the door behind him.
Hogan sat there in silence for a moment, trembling slightly from the adrenaline coursing through his body. He could feel his heart hammering, worse now than during the confrontation with Hochstetter, it seemed. It's just reaction, he told himself, taking a couple of deep breaths to try to relax his jangling nerves.
It occurred to him that his men had to be worrying, so he said aloud but softly, "I'm all right." He knew they were still listening. Not that having had them overhear the humiliation and threats he had just endured was much comfort to him. But at least they were all safe for now. As safe as a band of spies and saboteurs in the middle of Germany in the middle of World War II could be, he couldn't help thinking ironically. Still, he was feeling very lucky at the moment. His sense of his own luck had always been good; the dinner with Klink and the German officers last week seemed now to have been providential.
He heard Klink return to the outer office, could hear him saying something to Hilda though he couldn't quite make out what it was. The tone sounded reassuring. As Klink entered the office, key in hand, Hogan rose to his feet, far more shakily than he would have liked. He lifted his chin, though, determined to show as little of what he was feeling as he could, and faced the Kommandant with his back straight.
Klink walked behind him and Hogan felt him insert the key into the right hand cuff. It clicked, and the cuff sprang open. Hogan immediately pulled both arms in front of him, then turned to face Klink so the Kommandant could unlock the second cuff.
Klink threw the handcuffs on his desk, where they landed with a harsh rattle. He stared at them, his face pinched in disgust, as Hogan flexed his hands several times. Then the Kommandant walked with slow deliberation over to the side table where he kept his chess set and pulled one of the chairs out. "Would you care to sit down, Colonel?" he asked, his voice very formal and polite.
Hogan blinked, then realized that Klink was purposefully moving them from the space in the room where the unpleasant confrontation had taken place. He stepped over to the chair and sat down in it, somewhat harder than he had expected. Klink appeared at his elbow, silently offering him a liqueur glass with schnapps in it. Hogan took it and downed it in a single gulp. The fiery liquid burned down to his gut as he breathed deeply. Klink silently poured him a second glass from the crystal decanter, which Hogan took and drank half of, then set the glass down on the table. He looked up at Klink, whose face seemed oddly compassionate and concerned.
"Thank you, sir," Hogan said quietly. Then making a decision, he said, "I'd appreciate a private conversation, Kommandant." That was a code he had worked out with Kinch long ago; having heard it, Kinch should be pulling the plug on the coffeepot right now. Hogan trusted him to do it.
Klink nodded, pursed his lips, then went over to the door of his office. "Fraulein Hilda, please hold all calls and inquiries, with the exception of General Burkhalter," he told his secretary. As he shut the door to his office, he turned to the small bathroom that adjoined it and went inside. Hogan heard water splashing from the tap, then Klink came back into the office, carrying a wet hand towel. He offered it to Hogan, who took it uncertainly.
Klink indicated his face. "It will help," he said quietly. Hogan looked back at him, then put the chilled damp towel up to his bruised and burning left cheek. It did feel good. He didn't want to think about the expression he'd seen in Klink's eyes, or why and how Klink would know that a cool wet cloth would help.
The Kommandant settled himself in the chair on the opposite side of the small table. Klink looked down at the chess board for a moment in silence, then reached out to turn it, slowly and deliberately, so that the ranks of pieces were oriented vertically between them, with the white pieces on his left side and the red ones on his right, rather than the standard arrangement with a little army posed horizontally directly in front of each of them, opposed to the other side. It seemed an odd gesture, but Klink said nothing to explain why he had moved it. Silence reigned as both officers sat there for a few moments.
"If I didn't say thank you nicely enough for inviting me to dinner last Thursday, I'll do so now," Hogan finally said lightly, trying to move the conversation away from the uncomfortable moment. The evening had been very tedious from his perspective at the time, given that it had gone very late, he had learned nothing of strategic value from either of the guests, and he had not enjoyed enduring their rude curiosity and biting comments on Allied officers. But right now he was truly grateful that he had spent all that the time under their gaze.
"Yes," Klink replied after a moment, staring at his chess set. "I'm glad the dinner was Thursday, instead of Tuesday or Wednesday." He paused, then added quietly, "The problem is not knowing when such events occur. Unfortunately I can't entertain with outside witnesses all the time, particularly on short notice – though I might manage some of my junior officers. But perhaps we should have dinners together more often. Any time you like. . . . Or perhaps we could play chess."
Hogan frowned. That sounded oddly like. . . . Was Klink offering to help him create alibis? Surely not. He looked at Klink carefully. Klink had picked up a chess piece and was toying idly with it. A white knight. He looked back at Hogan directly, then handed him the knight. Hogan took it and turned it over in his own hand, puzzled. Klink owned a fine chess set of turned and carved ivory, true antiques with a cochineal red-stained army opposing the natural white pieces. Hogan had long admired it. Now the finely detailed white ivory horse's head looked up at him, its neck arched defiantly despite the bridle it wore, its proud eyes staring upwards. He glanced back up at Klink.
"Chess is a curious game," the Kommandant mused. "A good player can see the checkmate coming, long before making the actual moves that result in it. And yet, looking at the pieces on the board and ahead in the game, you know that there is nothing you can do to save yourself from the loss." He turned over the red king and stared at it as it lay downfallen on the board. Then he continued, "So when defeat is inevitable, the question becomes how you choose to lose, particularly when your adversary is a virtuous and worthy opponent." He slowly turned over all the red pieces, until the entire little army was lying on its side, overthrown, the white ivory pieces ranged victoriously over them.
Hogan stared at the board, then lowered the damp cloth from his cheek as the two of them looked directly at each other, brown eyes to blue. Klink's gaze was open and candid, his face completely serious. Hogan raised his left eyebrow. Klink nodded, then held up his half full glass of schnapps. Hogan set the white knight down gently in its proper place and picked up his schnapps glass as well. "To honorable victors," Klink said.
"And their quick victories," Hogan added cautiously.
"Indeed," Klink concurred. "The sooner the better." He touched his glass to Hogan's, then drank it down. Hogan followed suit. The two of them sat in silence again for a moment.
Finally Klink took a deep breath and looked over at his senior prisoner. "General Burkhalter will want a full accounting of this incident. I will need to include a medical report with it. Would you prefer your own medic, Sergeant Wilson, to see you and create the report, or mine?"
Hogan started to object, but Klink held up his hand. "If we are to use the General to block Hochstetter, it must be one or the other, Hogan. I will leave the choice of which one up to you. Keep in mind, the more serious any injuries seem to be, the better our case."
He looked meaningfully at Hogan, who released a pent-up breath and nodded, conceding the logic. "I'll go see Sergeant Wilson," he promised.
Klink nodded and both men rose, Hogan dropping the damp cloth on the seat of his chair. Crossing the office to the door, Klink called to Sergeant Schultz, who was sitting in the outside office waiting, an anxious look on his face. "Schultz, escort Colonel Hogan to the infirmary. Tell Sergeant Wilson that he needs to examine and treat the colonel's head, back, and wrists. I expect a full written report to forward to General Burkhalter within the next two hours."
"Jawohl, Herr Kommandant," the burly sergeant answered, peering at Hogan carefully. Both he and Hilda looked further worried, given Klink's orders. So Hogan smiled reassuringly first at Schultz and then at Hilda too, who managed to find a little smile of relief for him. Then he turned to Klink. Both men came to full attention and formally saluted each other. Klink looked searchingly at Hogan as he lowered his arm. "Till our next dinner, Colonel. Or chess game," he added. Then he dipped his head, turned back into this office, and shut his door.
Hogan stepped outside into the bright sunshine of the fall afternoon, sniffing the dry crisp air appreciatively. Across the compound, the volleyball net swung in the breeze, the makeshift court deserted, though Kinch and Newkirk leaned against the wall of Barrack 2, clearly on watch. It seemed ages since he had stood out here watching his men play. But now it seemed like they had a whole new game on their hands. And perhaps victory could come faster and sooner. He certainly hoped so.
Author's Note: The blown-up bridge and its river and village are all fictional, not intended to represent any particular place in the real Germany.