Author's Note: This story is for konarciq, snowleopard13, buggleston, and St PA, who all wondered what happened when Barnes and Davis got out of the cooler at the end of my story "In the Cooler," which is an epilogue for the episode "Reservations Are Required." And it's especially for Sgt. Moffitt, who thought Barnes had some more stories to tell. With extra thanks to 96 Hubbles for organizing the Short-Story Speed-Writing Contest that gave me the impetus to get this written now!
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. His favorite book was The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. I must admit, I've thought of that novel a bunch of times since I got to Stalag 13, because it's about a man who tunnels his way out of prison, and that sure has a lot more relevance to my life than I ever expected when I first read the book at age sixteen. I remember it wasn't till I got to the very end of it that I realized my father's favorite advice came from that story's last lines. He'd often tell me, "All human wisdom is summed up in these two words: wait and hope."
My father said that a lot during the Depression, when things were tough for our family and sometimes we weren't sure if we'd keep our gas station business afloat and the family fed. But Dad didn't mean by "wait and hope" that we should just lie down and expect things to just come to us – no, sir. He meant you should work hard as you waited for your work to pay off, you should have patience as you waited for things to get better, all the time keeping hope for the future that the tough times would pass.
"Wait and hope" is the last thing you want to hear, though, when you're a little kid wanting something, like the baseball glove I wanted so badly when I was eleven. But I knew my folks couldn't afford something like that when we could scarcely manage to pay bills and put food on the table, so of course I didn't dare ask for it. So I tried to wait and hope like my dad always advised. Hoping was easy: it was the waiting that was hard, because patience doesn't come as naturally when you're real young as it does when you're older. Not that I'm all that old now, at twenty-four. But I am a lot more patient; I've learned to be.
I got my ball glove eventually, when Sherman Harrison, a player on our minor league team, the Muskogee Chiefs, gave me his old glove as thanks for my help carrying equipment for the team. It was real worn and the laces had snapped during the game and were coming out, so the individual fingers were coming apart. But he saw me looking at it and said I could have it if I wanted to try to fix it. Boy, was I happy! My dad got hold of some leather cord, and he and I worked together to relace it. While maybe it wasn't as good as new when we were done, it worked just fine for me. I still have it back at my folks' house, in fact. That was just one out of lots of times that my dad's advice about waiting and hoping turned out to be right.
So I've thought a lot about that advice since I got shot down and sent to Stalag 13. Especially in the last eight days since I landed here in the cooler, soaking wet from a bucket of water courtesy of my own CO, Colonel Hogan. When you're in the cooler, you have to do a lot of waiting, because really waiting is all there is to do when you're locked in an eight-by-ten-foot cell, right? And I've found it's better to stay hopeful, though that's not always easy. My best buddy Jim Davis, who got stuck in here with me, has a lot more problems doing that, though he's been better since Newkirk, LeBeau, Carter, and Kinch joined us. We can't see each other, but if we stand or sit by our cell doors and call, we can all hear each other okay. So we're company for each other.
We pass the time various ways. I've taught everyone to play Twenty Questions, an old favorite game of my family's but no one else here has ever heard of it. I stumped them a few days ago with Helga's typewriter. Newkirk's topic of Rita Hayworth was real easy to guess, given how much he's talked about her in the month since Walters got that great pin-up picture of her in the mail from his brother. Walters put it inside his locker, so we're always asking him to open it so we can look at her. Carter said he had come up with a good topic, but then he told us he couldn't decide if it was animal or mineral, said it used to be animal and it had mineral parts. So Kinch guessed Colonel Hogan's bomber jacket right off the bat, which I think made Carter sorta mad that Kinch had gotten it without even asking any questions – at least, Carter was real quiet about it, and that's not like him.
The next day Carter asked what everyone's favorite food was, and jeez was that a mistake! Newkirk and LeBeau argued on and off for hours over whether eels should be eaten jellied or stewed in red wine sauce, while Davis and Carter argued that no one in his right mind would eat eels at all, and Kinch and I tried to change the subject. Didn't work. At that point I was waiting for them to get tired of the topic and hoping they would drop it! At least the next day no one mentioned food except to complain about the lukewarm cabbage soup we were getting for dinner.
So it's afternoon of day eight for me and Davis in the cooler, and day seven for the others, and I'm lying on my back on my bunk, wrapped in my blanket to try to stay warm, staring at the ceiling with my eyes half closed to cut the glare of the unshaded bulb and daydreaming about home and swimming in the lake just outside of town, and how good that water would feel on my skin. I'm feeling so dirty after well over a week with no shower and only one shave, so I'm scratching at my itching chin, when I hear the outside door open, several sets of footsteps approaching, and then the Kommandant's voice.
"All right, Schultz, let them all out."
Hallelujah! The Colonel's gotten us out! I jump up from my bunk and stand by the door of my cell. I'm not going to waste a minute of potential freedom from this place!
I have to wait – my cell door is the fourth one opened – and I step out into the corridor to find Newkirk, LeBeau, and Kinch there, while Schultz opens Davis's cell. Colonel Hogan is standing a little behind Klink, his arms crossed in front of him as he looks us each over. He looks tired: his eyes look kinda puffy and the lines around them look deeper than usual, like he's not slept enough.
He probably hasn't. I bet that he's been doing all the late night work of listening for messages from London and the Underground. Kinch was worrying the other day that Colonel Hogan is the only other one in our barrack who knows Morse code. While there's other guys in camp who know it, the Colonel's never used anyone other than Kinch to handle messages, for security reasons. So the Colonel's probably been stuck doing all the message work himself. And maybe he's had to do some outside missions on his own too, because he's been so shorthanded this week with all of us in here. The other guys in the camp will help him do whatever needs doing, of course, but the Colonel has a rule that no one leaves camp who isn't fluent in German, and Olsen's the only other one in Barrack 2 right now who can do that, with the core team stuck in here with us. So with all that work piled on him, it's no wonder if the Colonel's tired.
I'm thinking all this while Schultz is letting Davis and Carter is out, and once we're all crowded together in the corridor looking at the Colonel for cues, he says to Klink, "See, Kommandant, they've all learned their lesson and I know they're feeling apologetic for trying to escape." He gives us a meaningful look, and we all chorus together, "We're sorry, Kommandant!" and try to look remorseful.
Klink looks gratified, standing up straight and pulling his head back like a turkey in that way he does, and grasping his swagger stick. "Very well," he declares smugly, "but let this be a lesson to you! No one ever escapes from Stalag13!"
We all nod and murmur "yes, sir" and shuffle our feet while looking down. I know it'll bug Davis, having to act sorry like this, but we've got to play the game the Colonel has set up for us. And I just don't care: it's worth doing just about anything to get out of here.
So Klink turns and leaves the cooler, with Colonel Hogan right behind him, and we follow them out. When we get outside I have to shade my eyes from the sun as the glare makes my eyes water, but the fresh cold air smells so good to me after a week of chilly dampness. Klink turns to the right and heads to his office, and I'm expecting Colonel Hogan to head across the compound to Barrack 2, but instead he goes off at a different angle, tossing a "this way, fellas" over his shoulder.
So we follow him, and pretty quickly I realize he's heading for the showers. When we get there the Colonel turns to us with a bit of a grin and tells us, "I figured you boys would be wanting a shower after a week in the cooler." As he's speaking, he pulls out six new soap bars from his bomber jacket pockets, small ones, but a brand new one for each of us! We all chorus "yes, sir!" with a lot more enthusiasm than we did for Klink. Colonel Hogan's eyes crinkle a bit as he hands them out, then he adds, "Go on in and get started. Addison's bringing you coveralls to wear while we get your uniforms washed."
"Thanks, sir," I say real happily as the Colonel hands me my soap, and he gives me a light thump on the shoulder in return, making me smile wider. We go in and I don't waste any time stripping off; in fact, I'm the first one in the shower. As I turn on the tap and duck under the streaming water, I don't know whether I'm more dreading the cold of the water or looking forward to finally being clean again. I yell in shock as the water hits me.
Last time any of us had a hot shower was a couple of months ago at least. Once they hear me shout, the other guys shuck off their uniforms fast as they can – soon as they're bare they're all under the shower heads too. Chances are the hot water won't last very long, so we all want to make the most of it as we soap and lather and scrub ourselves and just relish it! As the steaming water cascades down over my skin and banishes the chill and dirt of the cooler, I think I can forgive Colonel Hogan just about anything for arranging this hot shower. I sure hope Davis feels the same way. I can't help wondering what bargain Colonel Hogan struck with the Kommandant to get us both out of the cooler and hot showers!
When I feel the water start to go lukewarm I shut it off – it'll be cold in just a minute, and I've had enough of cold water drenching me for a while! Apparently Addison did come by as the Colonel promised, because when we come out of the shower room there are six worn towels to grab and piles of underthings and coveralls for each of us, and our dirty uniforms have disappeared. We're sure getting good service today! I dry off and dress quick as I can, because it's pretty chilly after that hot water. The others follow suit, then after grabbing our precious new soaps we're ready to go back to Barrack 2 at long last. I know I'll be able to shave once we get there.
When we open the door to Barrack 2, Greenberg and Olsen look up from playing cards at the table and give us a cheer.
"Where's everybody else?" Carter asks.
"Washing your uniforms," Olsen chuckles, shuffling the deck. "It's a lot of work, not having you guys around. Believe me, we're glad to have you back!"
"Not near as glad as we are to be out, mate!" Newkirk grins. "So you've got a friendly game going there, do you?"
"Sure – wanna join?" Greenberg asks, rolling his eyes. As if there's any doubt about what Newkirk will answer!
"That I do," Newkirk answers back of course, sitting down at the table and looking up at the rest of us expectantly.
"Not me," I answer. "I want to shave, and I call dibs for the sink!" I'd really rather not wait on that if I can help it!
"We can both fit," Davis says. "I can see the mirror over your shoulder." He's tall enough for that, and I guess he doesn't want to wait to shave either, though he's going to have to dodge the crack that runs through the upper left hand corner.
"I put water on the stove for you guys. It should be hot by now," Greenberg tells us, and I'm grateful he's been so thoughtful for us. Ten minutes later I've finally got rid of the itchy four-days' growth on my chin, and I'm really feeling myself again as LeBeau and Kinch take over the sink from us so they can shave too.
"The Colonel said he wanted to see you two when you were done cleaning up," Olsen tells us as we put our shaving gear away inside our lockers. Davis and I trade looks, then I shrug and lead the way to the office door, knocking and then opening it when I hear "Enter" called from inside.
Colonel Hogan's sitting at the high bench he uses as a desk, working on some kind of papers, and he swivels on the high stool to face us when we enter. "You two all right?" he asks, looking us over again as if he expects to see some kind of damage.
"Sure, Colonel," I answer. Davis doesn't say anything, and he's standing just behind me, so I don't know if he's nodded or what. But the Colonel's eyes narrow just a bit.
"And thanks for the hot shower, sir, however you arranged it," I add, not wanting to get in trouble with my CO the moment I get out of trouble with the Krauts.
Colonel Hogan softens some at that. "Figured it was the least I could do after that bucket of cold water." He looks over my shoulder at Davis, appraisingly, then he adds, "I know that week in the cooler was no picnic, but I didn't have any options right then and I didn't have time to call for volunteers."
Davis asks, and I can hear the belligerence in his tone, "Well, why'd you choose us for it? Figured you wouldn't miss us? – Sir."
I hold my breath. The Colonel's no stickler for military protocol, but he has lines and I really think that Davis may have just crossed one of them. Colonel Hogan tilts his head slightly, giving Davis a long hard look, before answering.
"No, I called for you because you were close enough that you could hear me over the ruckus everyone was making as the diversion. I had to pick someone, but I wasn't picking on you especially." He shrugs. "We were in a tight spot and you were handy. So that time you drew the short straw. So did Kinch, Newkirk, LeBeau, and Carter the next day. I can't promise you, or any man in this camp, that it will never happen again. That's one of the costs of doing business here at Stalag 13." He pauses just for a moment and looks sharply at Davis. "But I can arrange your transfer if you'd rather."
I catch my breath. I don't want to be in Stalag 13 without Davis. But even though it might be safer elsewhere, I don't want to leave here, either, for some other camp where who knows what the conditions or commanding officer may be like. I trust Colonel Hogan, even after spending a week in the cooler that I didn't deserve because of him. I want to stay here. And I want Davis to stay with me.
I can't put any of that into words right now, not in front of the Colonel like this. But I turn and face my buddy, staring him real intensely in the eye. The Colonel's watching both of us intently. Davis looks back at me, bites his lower lip like he does when he's thinking hard. Then I see his shoulders slump a bit. He looks down at the floor. "Sorry, sir," he says quietly.
Colonel Hogan sighs a little and leans his arm on his desk. "I need every man in this camp, and especially all of you in this barrack. There's nothing like being seriously shorthanded for a week to make that clear," he says ruefully. Then his voice drops. "We all have our jobs around here," he says quietly, but looking right at us. "Most of them are fairly boring and a lot of them are thankless. Some are hard and dirty and more than a few are pretty weird, I know. But they all help. Don't ever forget that."
"I won't, sir," Davis answers back, just as quietly. "And . . . I did appreciate the hot shower too, sir. I know you didn't have to do that."
The Colonel shrugs again. "Like I said, I figured you deserved it after that bucket of water and a week in the cooler." He pauses, then glances over at the papers on his desk. "You two are off chore rotation today and tomorrow. You'll start again on Wednesday."
"Yes, sir, and thank you!" I'm elated at the prospect of no kitchen or garbage detail, and Davis echoes my thanks.
"Don't get too excited," the Colonel warns. "I've volunteered the whole barrack for road detail starting Thursday, and for potato planting next month." When he sees our faces fall, he adds, "I figured you'd rather be out doing roadwork than sitting in the cooler." Davis and I look at each other and we trade nods. "It's all part of the price . . ." the Colonel starts.
". . . of doing business at Stalag 13," Davis and I finish for him, almost at the same time. We're almost smiling.
"Right," Colonel Hogan responds, a grin tugging at the corner of his own mouth and a glint in his eye. "And I've got something in mind for while we're outside the wire Thursday. I'll need some guys who can provide a diversion." He tilts his head and raises his eyebrows.
"You got it, sir," Davis volunteers, and I nod vigorously.
The Colonel smiles and says, "You're good men. Thanks – for all you do. Now go get some sun this afternoon. You've earned it. Oh, and tell Kinch I need him when he's cleaned up."
We nod and salute, and he returns it, then we go out in the main room. After giving Colonel Hogan's message to Kinch, we take his advice and go out in the compound. There's some guys from Barrack 3 playing horseshoes who invite us to join, but we decide to hike the perimeter of the camp instead, which is about as much exercise and change of scenery as you can get here at Stalag 13.
We stuff our hands in our pockets and walk for a while in silence, which I finally break as we turn the first corner of the compound. "You're okay with the Colonel now?" I ask Davis. I'm pretty sure he is, but I just want to check, hear it directly from him.
"Yeah," Davis responds. He's silent for a bit, then he says, "I guess we served a purpose. I shouldn't have been so sore at him."
"Yeah." I think back to our argument the first day in the cooler. "And I guess you were part right and part wrong when you were wondering if giving us up to the Kommandant bothered him," I answer. "He didn't hesitate to do his job as an officer and sacrifice two of his men – and that was us. But it did bother him enough that he wanted to make it up to us afterward, at least a bit."*
"There's other guys in this war who get sacrificed by their officers, and that's it for them," Davis says moodily, kicking at a pebble. "I guess Colonel Hogan would do that too."
"If he had to. That's why I'd never want to be an officer. I wouldn't want to make that kind of decision." I shake my head, thinking how awful that responsibility would be. "I'd rather follow orders, even when it's dangerous. But I'm sure the Colonel wouldn't give that kind of order unless he didn't have any other choices."
"Like he didn't last week," Davis agrees with a sigh. He stops for a moment and looks outside the wire, into the woods, a frown between his eyebrows. I look up at him and wait for him to get to whatever point he's trying to reach. I've learned it doesn't work to push him to speak before he's ready. Finally he says slowly, "You don't win a war without some guys dying. Guys like us. No one really talks about it, but we all know it. I guess we just have to hope that the officers in charge know when the reason is worth it."
"Defeating the Nazis is worth it," I say firmly. "However long it takes. The Colonel's totally committed to that, we've all seen that. We're making a real difference in the war, working to help him here."
Davis looks down at me, and I keep looking up at him, and then he nods in agreement. He turns away from the woods and pokes me with his elbow, with just a ghost of a smile on his face. I bump his arm with my shoulder, and we both grin just a little as we resume our ramble along the fence in companionable silence.
Davis and I will enjoy our break today and tomorrow, and we'll be ready to join the team to do whatever the Colonel needs when he calls on us. We may be second string, but he needs us too; the first string can't do everything. There's plenty of work to do here, and we'll pitch in and do it, all while we wait and hope for the war to end.
*See "In the Cooler," Chapter 2, "Second Hour," for that earlier conversation.
A/N: Twenty Questions existed earlier but didn't become widely popular until the late 1940s. So it's quite possible that Barnes knows it but the others don't.