Author's notes: I'm slowly working my way through a few plot bunnies (a couple of which not HH-related), and I won't begin to post the resulting stories until they're almost done. My days of starting a multi-chaptered fic and stopping in the middle are over :o) In the meantime, here's a little one-shot. I almost didn't finish this one (had it for ages) but the other day something clicked and I was able to (hopefully) tweak what was wrong with it and wrap it up. I hope you like the result!
Disclaimer: I own Private Solf and Corporals Nunstück and Slotermeyer, and the drawing I did for the "cover", and that's about it – I don't own the other characters, I don't own LeBeau's strudel recipe (never tried to make one) and I naturally don't own Marlene Dietrich. Bonne lecture, et bon appétit ;o)
Louis LeBeau glanced down at his plate of apple strudel with an expression that was almost a grimace. Oh, it looked like a strudel was supposed to look, although the lack of real butter and proper cooking implements (not to mention a real, fully-functioning oven) had reduced the usually glorious golden dessert to its simplest expression, a meagre version that made the cook in him cringe … But in these difficult times, it was sure to make an impression on the intended target.
Still, it was a shame.
Looking around the corner of Barracks 2, he had an excellent view of the recreation hall; Addison was leaning casually on the wall near the door, ostensibly reading a book. He could also see plainly Schultz half-dozing on a bench in front of Barracks 5. From time to time the sergeant glanced around as though remembering he was supposed to guard prisoners.
Okay. Let's make this diversion work, then.
LeBeau squared his shoulders and walked up to Schultz, tapping him on the shoulder when he failed to get his attention. "Psst – Schultz! Hé, Schultzie!"
Schultz gave a start – maybe this time he really had been asleep, after all – and his round blue eyes went even rounder as he looked about him in alarm. When he spotted the Frenchman and what he was carrying, his whole face relaxed and crinkled up in a smile.
"For me? Oh, that's very nice of you, Cockroach."
LeBeau gave a casual shrug.
"Well, it's been a while since I made apple strudel –" at least two weeks "– and I have to keep practising, otherwise I'll get rusty."
Schultz's eyes were still glued to the pastry. "I'm pretty sure you haven't. But," he added quickly as LeBeau made to hold the plate back with a would-be innocent smile, "it is my duty to check."
He took out a clean handkerchief from his inside pocket, unfolded it with a flourish and tucked it into his collar, napkin-style. LeBeau raised an eyebrow, amused in spite of himself.
"You mean your duty as a soldier?"
"No, my duty to strudel." There was a twinkle in Schultz's eyes that told LeBeau he was probably being half-serious. Maybe.
It was on moments like this that he sometimes caught himself hoping Schultz would be able to pay him a visit after the war so he could taste what his apple strudel really was like. In fact, he actually looked forward to it, which disturbed him a little bit.
C'est pas croyable …
LeBeau was jolted out of his train of thought by two voices talking amiably in German; two seconds later, Corporal Langenscheidt and Private Solf turned round the corner of Barracks 5 and stopped in their tracks when they spotted the strudel plate in their sergeant's hands.
Schultz – caught red-handed with his mouth full – froze, looking like a kid with a finger in the jam jar. He looked too startled to start justifying himself or even order them away.
Any minute now, one of the two was going to remember that the last thing the Sergeant of the Guard was supposed to do was lounge on a bench in the weak afternoon sun while being fed apple strudel, and by a prisoner at that. And possibly the punishment for that.
LeBeau stole a glance in the direction of the rec hall: Addison was still leaning against the wall pretending to read his book. Operations were still in progress, then.
"You're right, Schultzie, three opinions are better than one," he said brightly, smiling widely at Langenscheidt and Solf. "But I can't ask the guys. That wouldn't be fair."
Schultz seemed to have forgotten how to swallow as he stared at LeBeau in bewildered silence, the fork still in his mouth.
Langenscheidt's gaze went from his sergeant, to the strudel on its plate, to LeBeau, with a curious, slightly suspicious look on his face.
"What would be unfair?"
"Well, I'm testing a new recipe for apple strudel for the Kommandant's next reception," the Frenchman answered, inventing wildly. "Schultz is my cobaye – how d'you say it – guinea pig for today. I could have the guys test it, but that would just be cruel. They would have just one bite and it's not like they can go into town next Saturday to get some more, hein?"
He knew perfectly well he was lucky these two had shown up, and not some of the other guards. They weren't a bad sort, albeit not exactly very bright, and if he knew them at all …
"So … you still need two more opinions?" Solf asked in a small voice, eyeing the plate of pastry. LeBeau nodded with aplomb, crossing his arms for effect. The look on Schultz's face was suddenly a lot less guilty and more pleading as his fingers gripped the plate tighter.
To no avail.
"Come on, Schultz, you said enlisted men are entitled good things from time to time! Besides, it's not nice not to share."
Slow on the uptake as Schultz sometimes was, when it came to self-preservation he was very far from stupid. He heaved a sigh and handed the plate and fork to Langenscheidt, who took it eagerly and sat further on the bench.
LeBeau breathed. That was one problem taken care of, at least, even if it meant complications later. One glance confirmed that Addison was still at his post against the rec hall. How much longer was this going to take? The strudel was not going to last very long with three tasters who probably had not had anything resembling pastry for quite some time. Experience had taught him exactly how much strudel was needed to keep Schultz busy for fifteen minutes, but with Langenscheidt and Solf thrown into the mix …
He noted with carefully repressed panic that two thirds of the pastry was already gone. If they kept eating so quickly, all three would resume their patrol, and things could get complicated awfully fast. He had to find something else.
"This is good," Solf was uttering with his mouth full, a big smile on his lean face. "My Oma doesn't make strudel like that. I mean, hers is very good too, but this one is better, Cockroach."
LeBeau had only been listening with one ear; the compliment had got a mechanical nod and smile from him, but the last word brought him down to earth and he glared at the private.
"Don't call me that."
Solf froze, looking surprised at his sudden coldness.
"But Sergeant Schultz calls you 'the cockroach' all the time …"
LeBeau rolled his eyes. "That's not the same thing. And he's a sergeant," he muttered as an afterthought.
Solf looked to Langenscheidt and Schultz in turns for support; finding none, he went back to his piece of strudel with a hangdog sort of look on his face, like a schoolboy who had just been scolded by a teacher.
"It is very good," Langenscheidt conceded after half a minute's silence. "Where did you learn to cook strudel like that?"
"He is a chef, they can cook everything," Schultz cut in with the utmost seriousness.
LeBeau shot an amused glance at him. And then the obvious solution hit him like a brick wall, and he couldn't help grinning.
"Actually, the first time I ever baked a strudel was …" His voice trailed off as the memory resurfaced, and his grin turned into a fond smile. "Because of the most wonderful thing that ever came out of Germany."
"Black Forest cake with cherries on top," Schultz interrupted with a wistful expression. LeBeau snapped out of his reverie and frowned at him.
"The 1934 Audi Front UW 220 – you know, the red one," Langenscheidt continued, grinning.
"No, it was –"
"Franz Liszt's Liebesträume number 3 in A flat Major," Solf sighed dreamily.
Everybody stared at him, not least LeBeau.
"What? No! I mean mademoiselle Marlene Dietrich!"
The three immediately 'ooh'ed appreciatively, smiling. The Blue Angel had visibly left a lasting impression on hundreds of Germans souls, which no Nazi propaganda dismissing the film as unworthy of Aryan culture could erase. Marlene Dietrich's throaty whisper had the power to drown out screams of hate and rage.
The thought made LeBeau smile as he began his story.
"It was a dozen years ago, late in the evening, on one of those lovely spring nights just before summer …"
"In Paris?" Schultz had just taken what looked to be his last mouthful of strudel, but LeBeau was not certain he had noticed. His eyes were shining.
The old Parisian pride – never very far – reared its head, and he shrugged lightly with a quick grin.
"Of course in Paris. It couldn't be anywhere else. That's where you find the greatest monuments, the most beautiful women, the finest restaurants … Well, not that the restaurant I was working at then was the best. It really wasn't. In fact, it was a brasserie, almost a bistrot. La Brasserie des Lilas, to be exact."
"You mean," interrupted Langenscheidt, who was turning scarlet, "like a lady's … well, er … what they …"
He looked quite at a loss for words, and it visibly didn't help that Schultz kept throwing him suspicious glances and Solf appeared to have no idea what he was talking about. LeBeau certainly did not.
"What are you talking about?" he asked, nonplussed. Langenscheidt bypassed crimson and directly went for purple.
"Um … The word in German is Unterwäsche, but in English it sounds a lot like you said … Or maybe French, I don't remember …"
LeBeau was still wondering what on Earth he was on about – while still checking on Addison discreetly – when Schultz's eyes went round.
"Oh – you mean a brassiere, Karl?"
"Yes!" Langenscheidt's expression oscillated for a moment between relief and sheer embarrassment. "That is the word I was thinking about."
LeBeau stared at him wordlessly for a full thirty seconds.
"Bra—sse—rie," he finally uttered when he found his voice again. "Nothing to do with a – do the English actually use the word 'brassière'?" He shook his head. On one hand, the more interruptions meant the more time for Colonel Hogan and the guys to complete the mission in the rec hall … On the other, this was just ridiculous. "Anyway, I worked as a sous-chef there. The chef was not a very good one, and he often left early and left Léon – the commis – and me to close shop.
"So, one night in spring, we were just about to close …" LeBeau's heart almost skipped a beat when he saw Corporals Nunstück and Slotermeyer turn round the corner of Barracks 3. From there they had a clear view of the rec hall.
He raised his voice just enough for them to hear, and was relieved when Langenscheidt enthusiastically gestured them over.
He would have to make the story a good one, and long enough at that.
"Léon came running into the kitchen like he had seen a ghost, telling me we have a late customer. It was late, the chef was gone and I was tired, so I told them to say we were closed. He said he couldn't.
"I though, He's young, shy, the customer probably scared him. I was not that much older, to be honest, but I always heard that if you want to be a chef, you have to step up some time. So I straightened my apron, maybe grabbed the chef's toque on the way, and went into the dining room to see who had frightened Léon like that."
Not a crumb of strudel remained on the plate – which LeBeau had quickly shoved under the bench in case Nunstück and Slotermeyer decided to start noticing things – but Schultz, Langenscheidt, Solf and the two newcomers were apparently listening raptly. Nobody seemed to wonder why Schultz's handkerchief was tucked into his collar. Satisfied, LeBeau resumed his story.
"Well, we didn't have one customer, in fact. We had two. A man and a woman. The woman was on a chair with her back to me, and she was smoking one of these cigarette holder things. I remember it like it was yesterday – her hair, her neck, and her legs. Nom d'un chien, her legs." He trailed off, smiling lopsidedly at the picture in his head. "Perhaps the loveliest legs I've ever seen in my life."
Schultz, Langenscheidt and Solf all sighed at the same time, and Nunstück's and Slotermeyer's eyes lit up. Slotermeyer even pushed his glasses up his long nose with his index finger. About a dozen metres behind them, Addison turned a page of his book, still not moving an inch.
"I don't really remember what the man looked like, except that he was wearing a suit that would probably have cost me a year of salary at the time. He told me that the train had broken down for three hours, and that the Fräulein (first time I heard that word) would like a glass of milk and an apple strudel.
"So I said, 'Sorry, but the chef has gone and we're closing.' The man started to say something, but the woman turned her head and looked at me. And she smiled. The kind of smile a Frenchman would give his soul for," he added dreamily.
Solf leaned on his rifle and put his chin in his hand, closing his eyes to get a better mental picture. LeBeau checked on Addison again, and continued.
"She said, 'Please, Monsieur –' in perfect French, with the most adorable trace of accent '– it has been a very long day, and I would be very pleased if you could bake strudel for me before I go to my hotel.'
"What could I do? Marlene Dietrich asked for strudel! She said 'Please'! She called me 'Monsieur' – I wasn't even twenty-five yet!
"So I returned into the kitchen somehow. I think I was a bit in shock, because Léon had to wave to get my attention, and he was right in front of me.
"'You didn't say yes, did you?' he asked suspiciously.
"I said, 'I didn't say anything. But I'll give it a try.' And then I went searching for the recipe.
"Léon stared at me like I had gone crazy.
"'You don't know how to cook strudel!'
"'It's Marlene Dietrich! I'll learn!'
"Well, I couldn't not do it. It was a question of honour – my pride as a cook and a Frenchman was at stake here. So I told Léon to set the table and I prepared the strudel … But I changed a few things. I put a little less sugar, and a little more vanilla and cinnamon. If the chef had been there, he would have killed me, or fired me, or both, but I just couldn't follow this recipe to the letter … Not when Marlene Dietrich herself was waiting!"
LeBeau stopped for breath, and glanced at the rec hall once more. The door had opened, and he could make out Newkirk stroll out casually. When he was five or six metres away, Davies followed, then Saunders.
Mission accomplished. Well, not entirely – a dozen men still had to get out unnoticed by the five guards.
Said guards were still apparently hanging to his every word. LeBeau suppressed a smile and went on.
"I brought her the plate, and she put out her cigarette. I didn't say anything, I was so afraid I would stammer and make a fool of myself as soon as I opened my mouth. She didn't laugh, though; she thanked me and went for the fork.
"Those were some of the longest minutes in my life, I tell you, standing near the kitchen doors while she ate, with her bodyguard holding her bag, and Léon staring through the window in the kitchen door. I had all the time in the world to wonder whether I should have just followed the recipe, whether the chef would find out, what he would do to me if he did find out … But mostly, I wondered if she liked it."
Carter sneaked out of the rec hall, then Kinch, then finally Hogan. LeBeau watched with relief Addison close his book and walk away, too, and breathed. The plan had gone without a hitch.
"She stood up, and the man wrote a cheque and put her coat around her. And then … she looked at me, and …"
LeBeau shot a glance at the rec hall, now completely deserted.
"… And?" asked Schultz with a large smile on his face which almost made LeBeau continue.
"And she left." He raised his hands to ward off the chorus of 'Was?', 'What?', 'Huh?' and 'But –' "And so this is how I learned to make strudel."
After a while, when it became obvious that story time was over, Nunstück and Slotermeyer shrugged and shuffled off. Solf was gazing at the bench with a mournful expression; it was impossible to tell whether he was more disappointed by the prospect of no more strudel or no more story. Langenscheidt took up his gun again, taking said prospects with philosophy, and Schultz thanked LeBeau for the strudel in a glum tone that clearly said he had not had enough of either.
As LeBeau picked up the empty plate and the fork, he heard a quiet Cockney-accented voice behind him, and it took all his self-control not to give a start.
"That, my friend, was the most beautiful load of bollocks I've heard in a long time. Anyone told you you've got a lot of imagination?"
LeBeau rolled his eyes, but couldn't help a smile.
"How do you know there's no truth in the story?"
Newkirk snorted derisively.
"Oh, you improvising a strudel recipe for a late customer I can believe. But Marlene Dietrich? Really?"
LeBeau didn't answer; instead he smiled at the image in his head, still as clear as it had been all these years ago. It had since taken on the warm, golden glow usually reserved for particularly fond memories.
Newkirk's eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"That was just you telling porkies to distract them, right?"
The mental picture faded as LeBeau registered what he had said. His eyes went round. "Telling what?"
"Lies. Come on, Louis, how much of this did you really make up? What really happened?"
LeBeau was tempted to tell Newkirk the real, whole story, but decided against it for the moment. Starved though they all were where the fairer sex was concerned, this one he wanted to keep to himself.
Fully aware of what Newkirk's reaction was likely to be, he looked at him in the eye, grinned, and said, "Wouldn't you like to know."
Newkirk's mouth fell open. Then he gave him a dark squint.
"That is just cruel. You're really not going to tell me, are you?"
"Bah, I don't buy it anyway. I mean, Marlene Dietrich? In some shoddy little Parisian restaurant? Come off it!"
"Come off what?"
"It'd never happen!"
"If you say so."
"Look, I'm your mate. You can't just do something like that to a mate. It's not done."
"Well, a gentleman doesn't kiss and tell."
"You … You didn't … Oh, come on, you ain't no gentleman!"
"I'm a Frenchman!"
"My point exactly!"
They bickered all the way back to Barracks 2, and LeBeau kept his secret … for the time being.
I know, I know, I could have come clean and written exactly what happened or didn't happen … But a man's secrets are sacred ;o)
… I just keep coming back to food, don't I? Ah well …
C'est pas croyable: "It's/that's incredible/unbelievable" – or more simply, "Unbelievable".
Unterwäsche means "underwear", and as LeBeau explains, there is a big difference between brassière (bra–see–ehr), the French word the term "bra" comes from, and brasserie (bra–sir–ee), a small, very much not posh (originally) restaurant.
Nunstück and Slotermeyer are a little nod to a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch (can you guess which one?). For some reason, in my head they look like 1970s Michael Palin and Graham Chapman dressed in Luftwaffe garb …
I had trouble with this one, for some reason, hence why it took so long to finish (I began it way back in March, if you can believe it!). Still, hope you liked it! :o]