Welcome. The final chapter, set some forty-three years later.
I hope you enjoyed the story! It's been fun to write from a different angle!
May 13th, 1988
Everything has to end, doesn't it? And not the way we want, either. He looked down at Hogan's peaceful face before letting out a shuddering sigh.
I can't believe you're in that coffin, Guv'nor. I always figured you would go out on your feet. He grimaced as he remembered the line in the obituary.
'Passed on after a long illness.' Peter Newkirk shook his head. They make it sound so painless, don't they? Like he had a bad head cold and just died.
I guess it's better than saying he had cancer. Isn't it? He glanced over his shoulder at Pamela; Hogan's widow was talking with another of the mourners. To a casual observer, she seemed to be holding her own.
Better for her that way, I suppose, he reflected. Everyone knows the truth. She knows the truth. But at least no one will say it.
Unbidden, a mental image of Hogan entered his mind's eye. The strong and vibrant officer he had once known had deteriorated into a pale shadow of his former self. The treatments had left him weak and helpless; if it hadn't been for Pamela...
It would have been worse, I think. He flicked his eyes toward the woman again; this time her gaze met his. He nodded, then gave her a small smile before turning back to the coffin.
I shouldn't have hated her.
I was so jealous of her for a long time for being a part of his life. She could give him everything I couldn't. But she was there for him when he needed her. Right until the end.
God bless her.
Just then he felt a presence at his left elbow. He turned his head slightly and saw Pamela standing there.
"Thank you for coming, Peter," she quietly said. "I know we've had our differences, but I'm glad you're here. It's..." Her voice trailed off; Peter flicked his eyes to her red-rimmed ones.
She's barely holding it together.
"I'm sorry myself," he murmured. "Things should have been different. Is there anything I can do for you?"
She shook her head slightly. "I don't even know what to do," she said plaintively, moving her eyes toward her husband. "We've been together for so long, and now..." Her voice trailed off.
Peter nodded. In a way, he understood her pain.
At least I was able to see Hogan after Stalag 13. After today, she'll never see him again.
I wouldn't wish that on anybody.
"I know," he said sincerely. "I can't even imagine what you're going through. He was a good man." His eyes met hers once more. "And you're a good woman."
Tears welled up in Pamela's eyes. Somehow, she kept them from spilling over.
She's a strong lady.
"Thank you," she said, simply. Without another word she broke away. Newkirk watched her walk away before he glanced at his former commanding officer.
I really meant that, Colonel. If there's anything I can do for her...
He nodded, then turned away.
The funeral service was, in Peter's opinion, thankfully brief. So was the ride to the cemetery.
It would have been nice to have Carter here, he reminisced. He always knew how to say the wrong thing at the right time. Kinch would have been solemn; LeBeau would have raised a toast to the Guv'nor.
But they're all gone now. With the Colonel gone, I'm the last one left alive. He stared at the coffin with knowing eyes. I'll be dead from my own cancer soon. I can feel it eating away at me even now.
I'm scared. I don't want to die. But I'm going to.
Life is just not fair. But I should know that by now.
The priest finished the graveside prayers with a moment of silence. One by one, the crowd of mourners started to drift away to their waiting cars. Oddly, only one individual remained besides Peter: a tall, thin man in a gray suit. In his right hand was a small bouquet of flowers. He stood up and walked over to the coffin before he laid the bundle on the polished surface. Newkirk eyed the stranger with sudden interest.
Who is this character? he wondered. He didn't recall seeing the man during the service.
"Excuse me," he said, curious. "If you don't mind me asking, who are you?"
The young man gave a short bow. "My compliments, sir," he said formally. "My name is Marcus Richter. My employer asked me to lay these flowers on Mr. Hogan's grave. As a symbol of respect, of course."
"And who would that be?" Peter asked, already dreading the answer.
"Wolfgang Hochstetter, sir," the man replied. "Of Argentina." The mention of the name caused Newkirk's blood to boil.
He probably wanted to make sure Hogan was dead! The Englishman started to say something...then paused.
It's not the kid's fault he works for such a bastard! Instead, he tried a different tack.
"And what is old Wolfie up to nowadays?" he said casually. The other man's eyes widened slightly but he said nothing.
"Retired, sir," the man honestly said. "His sons run the company now." Peter blinked.
He has sons? he thought incredulously. Moreover: he found a woman that actually wanted to give him children? The thought made him want to gag.
"Can you pass along a message to him?" Newkirk asked innocently.
"But of course..."
Five minutes later, Peter watched as the man departed the cemetery. He then shot a nasty glance at the impatiently waiting gravediggers. Scowling, they wandered off.
We're alone now.
Too bad I can't be reincarnated as a fly. I'd really love to be on the wall watching when Hochstetter opens up his message. Telling him that the Guv'nor said he could take his respect and shove it up his arse was a cheap shot. I hope he doesn't fire the kid.
Hochstetter's alive. Hogan's dead. Life is unfair.
I should know that by now.
With that, Peter slowly stood up. The cane he carried made him feel old; it was just one more reminder that his end was not that far off. However, he still had one more task to perform.
Peter slowly ambled over to the coffin. He picked up the bouquet that Marcus had laid on the bronzed surface and studied it for a brief moment before he tossed it away. A thin smile crossed his lips before he bowed his head and closed his eyes.
We had a good run, Guv'nor. Thank you for putting up with me. Thank you for everything.
I'm just sorry it didn't work out.
I tried, you know. I got married. We had kids; they had...well, I have grandchildren. You know that. I wouldn't give them up for anything. Daphne probably knows now what I was. She didn't know when she was alive. I feel guilty about that. Even more so when I imagined seeing you in her place.
I can only hope you'll forgive me for how I feel, Colonel. At that moment he reached inside his jacket and withdrew a long object from an interior pocket. The end was slightly crushed but otherwise intact.
He laid the single rose on top of the coffin.
I love you, Colonel.
I'll see you soon.
With that, he walked away.