A sequel of sorts to "Fishing" and to the episode "No Names Please."
Where was the tape? Mom had said it was in the top right hand drawer of his father's desk, but it manifestly was not there.
Maybe it was in the middle drawer on the right. . . . Nope.
Center desk drawer. . . . Yep!
But stuck to the roll was a small newspaper clipping. As Rob pulled it off, his eye glanced over the newsprint and the world crashed to a sudden screeching halt.
Unaware, he set the tape down on the top of the desk, staring at the small clipping in his hand. The words on it were familiar: he had heard them once before, and alarm had seared them into his mind at the time. As he read them now he heard in memory Klink's slightly fussy, pedantic voice, looming above him, quoting these same words: "For security reasons I cannot tell you the exact location. The request was no names please, but somewhere in Germany an American officer is operating a sabotage and rescue unit from, of all places, a German POW camp. These men saved my life. To me they are among the unsung heroes of this war." The memory was so vivid that as he read the newsprint he felt again Hochstetter's scorching eyes on him, watching him sharply for any sign of comprehension or panic.
That moment still ranked in his memory as one of the most chilling of the entire three years he'd been a POW: hearing crucial details of his operation and its mission openly identified by the Nazis. Through his carefully controlled lack of reaction in Klink's office, and the hyper-alert watch he and his men conducted afterwards, aided by a fair dash of luck, Hochstetter's investigation that time had come to nothing. But the experience had cost him several sleepless nights, and he'd sent a blistering message to London telling them to corral that idiot writer, Walter Hobson, and make sure he didn't spill any more details that could get them all killed. If Hobson had been grateful for his rescue, he'd sure shown it in the stupidest possible way.
Having finished reading the short article, he remained sitting in the chair, stunned by its implications. This was Dad's study, Dad's desk, Dad's private drawer. The article had been carefully cut out and preserved months back. So . . . his father knew about Stalag 13. Or, more precisely: knowing Rob as he did and having seen this article, his father had put two and two together and suspected the unspoken and very much classified truth.
This small clipping explained a lot. Why his father – and his mother probably too – hadn't directly asked him how he'd made general with a career apparently stalled by three years in a POW camp, hardly an illustrious way to have spent most of the war. Whenever anyone else asked about it, Rob tended to imply that the promotion had been in the works before he was shot down. His parents had expressed their pride in him but hadn't really pressed him for any explanation. Now that he thought about it, their lack of curiosity about how he had earned his new rank had been a rather glaring omission in their conversations over the past three weeks. Given that he couldn't offer them any explanation – any truthful explanation – for it, he'd been relieved and had let the subject slide.
And here was the reason. The hell of it was that, even having seen this, he still couldn't confirm or deny it. He should put the clipping away right now – pretend he'd never seen it.
Too late. A soft hiss of indrawn breath drew his attention, and he looked up to see his father standing in the doorway, a look of trepidation on his face as he saw Rob sitting at his desk, center drawer open, news clipping in hand. For a long moment the two men silently held each other's eyes.
Finally Rob looked down and away. "I was looking for the tape. Mom said it was in your right hand desk drawer, but I found it in the center one." He kept his voice calm and even.
His father came into the room and crossed it to stand beside him. "Yes, I think that's where I put it away last time." He put his right hand on Rob's shoulder as Rob quietly laid the news clipping back in the drawer and shut it firmly. Rob took a deep breath, then let it out slowly, staring at the wall in front of him. His dad squeezed his shoulder more tightly.
"Your mom has lunch almost ready." The words were commonplace, but the slight shaking in John Hogan's voice belied his casual tone.
"Good." Rob tried to match his father's offhand approach.
Rob stood up, but his father's hand didn't fall away. Instead it pulled him nearer, sliding around to the back of his neck and drawing him in close, till their foreheads touched. Rob closed his eyes, leaning in, feeling his dad's fingers card lightly through his hair, then he raised his own right arm to his father's shoulder, gripping fiercely. For a long moment the two men stood there together, silent and close, the air around them almost shimmering with the weight of unspoken and unspeakable words.
His father huffed his breath out, and finally said softly, "Your mom's waiting."
Rob nodded and pulled back and nodded, unable for a moment to find his own voice. Lifting his head, as he met his father's gaze he saw a slight sheen in his eyes. His dad bit his lower lip, then lifted his hand up to tousle Rob's hair very gently. "Let's go eat, son."
Rob nodded again as his father's hand dropped. "Yeah. Lunch sounds good."
The general and his father left the room without a backward glance.