Sergeant Schultz walked down the first line of prisoners, counting off. "Eins, zwei, drei, vier . . . ."
Colonel Robert Hogan nodded his head to signal Newkirk, who stood a few feet away. Newkirk jumped and pointed at Schultz' feet. "Snake! Schultz, blimey, a poisonous bugger, watch out!" He flailed his arms, but put them in the air and froze when another guard pointed a gun directly at him.
Schultz groaned in his high-pitched way that was a cross between a whine and clearing his throat, then spoke in a thick German accent. "There is no snake!"
"Sorry there, Schultz, old chum," Newkirk said, bouncing on his heels. "I thought it was a deadly anaconda. Or coral snake. Or mamba. Or an otherwise nasty animal of the serpentine and fangish variety. My mistake."
"I know what you're up to," Schultz said, exaggerating his 'r's and tapping the front of his helmet with his finger. "You're trrying to distrract me!"
And it works every time, Hogan thought, as Schultz retreated to the front of the line and started over with eins.
Hogan winked at Corporal Newkirk, who had provided the distraction so that Dubois, one of the new French POWs, could rush away from the back line and escape. Which was all a clever distraction to get Colonel Klink's lederhosen in a twist and send many of the guards on a wild goose chase so Hogan and his men could actually manage some crafty and brilliant, if Hogan did say so himself, espionage from within the camp. This was something they were practiced at, and could pull off with the precision of a ballet troupe, each step perfectly in sync and graceful. Well, he thought, most of the time.
This entire situation was one that all of them--Hogan and his men, Schultz and Commandant Klink--had been through many, many times before.
". . . elf, zwölf, driezehn, vier . . . vier--"
"Colonel Hogan," Schultz said from behind him, "wo ist vierzehn? The new French officer? Please, Hogan, you know he has been sehr mürrisch this week, very, very grum-py."
"Vierzehn's been grumpy?"
"You know perfectly well that I mean Kommandant Klink! Burkhalter has been breathing down his neck for days."
"Herr General says that--hmph! Now you are trying to trick me into telling you something I should know nothing about. Hogan, vierzehn? Dubois? Can you go and find him before--"
"Report! Report!" Commandant Klink rushed from his office and across the compound, snapping his riding crop beneath his arm. "Schultz!"
"Herr Kommandant! It would seem, sir, that one of the prisoners . . . is missing."
Klink, who didn't appear the least bit bothered by this news, smiled and directed it at Hogan. "Again, Colonel Hogan? When will you and your men learn? No one--"
"Escapes from Stalag 13, we know, we know," Hogan said, shaking his head. "It's the new guy, sir. I tried to warn him--told him about your perfect record. I said the old Iron Eagle would have him back in his talons in no time." Hogan sighed. "I hope you'll go easy on him. It's his first time being a prisoner of war."
Klink grunted at Hogan and called over his shoulder for the alarm. "Release the dogs. I want that prisoner back here at once!" He turned back to Hogan. "As the senior officer among the prisoners, I--"
"Hold me personally responsible, sir, I know."
"Stop finishing my sentences!"
"It's that I know you so well by now and I've learned so much about being a great Colonel from watching you, it just comes naturally. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, sir."
"Well . . . stop that at once. Rather, you may emulate me all you wish," Klink said with a cockeyed smile, "but it's simply impolite to interrupt."
"All prisoners are confined to the barracks until further notice!" Klink saluted. "Dis-missed. Schultz! How could you let this happen?"
"But Herr Kommandant, I . . . ."
While Klink reprimanded the Sergeant, Hogan and the rest of the men hurried to their barracks. Newkirk put on a guard's uniform and snuck out to retrieve some things they needed from the supply shed. Kinch climbed down into the bunker beneath their barracks where they hid a switchboard that allowed them to intercept any phone call coming into or going out of the camp, and a radio they used to contact Allied forces in London, among other places.
They had to get the necessary information so they'd know which bridge they were supposed to blow tonight. London had charged them with stopping a convoy carrying missiles and ammunition the Germans were hoping to use to halt the Allied push across France.
Hogan hadn't needed Schultz to tell him why Burkhalter was yelling at Klink, or why every German soldier was in a bad mood. The Allies had liberated Paris and crossed the Seine a few months ago. Since they'd hit Northern France in June, they'd been steadily advancing toward the German border and pushing the Nazis back.
Though no German would admit it to a prisoner, or probably even to another German, everyone knew this was the advantage the Allies needed to finally stop Hitler's spread and bring an end to the war, at least in the West. With Stalin already advancing on the Nazis from the East, forcing them back toward the Poland border, all of Germany was feeling the squeeze. No one knew how long it would take, but the sense was that Germany would fall, and it couldn't happen soon enough. What would happen in the war with Japan was still anybody's guess. And not Hogan's concern, at least not while he was here.
Now, his only concern was blowing that bridge and holding back the ammo as long as possible to let the Allied forces gain an even greater hold.
Klink was a bit surprised to get the call about the special dinner being held in his honor, and told his secretary all about it several times. Of course, he admitted it wasn't just in his honor, but to honor several officers in similar positions as his. Finally, they were going to get some of the recognition they deserved, and he understood that some would be receiving special medals and awards of valor. He puffed his chest out in front of the secretary, but sighed when he sat in his chair, alone.
He would be happy to receive any type of recognition they would give him, but in truth he cared far less than he pretended. And he wished it could have been during the daytime when the sun was out, instead of in the evening when the regular chill grew even heavier as the dark fell. What he wanted more than anything was for the war to be over so he could sink back into civilian life and not have to kiss the boots of arrogant generals. Not have to walk around always in blind obedience and admiration of Adolf Hitler's awesome war machine and his horrifying policies.
He sighed again and took a drink of tea, then polished his monocle with a white, cotton cloth. When his driver tapped lightly on the door, he donned his cap and coat and put on a toothy grin as he passed his clearly unimpressed secretary.
On the way to the dinner, Klink rode in a car at the end of the procession. Four cars rode ahead, all full of officers headed for the same banquet. He shared a car with Colonel Heinrich, a much younger man than himself, and Colonel Bächer, a slightly older man. Bächer was dour and had nothing to say, but Klink and Heinrich discussed, to Klink's great delight, food, beer and entertainment instead of the business of running a POW camp or details of conducting war. They discovered they shared a mutual love of shortbread and Lebkuchen, a spiced cookie that took weeks to cure for just the right taste.
Lost in an unusually pleasant conversation with someone who seemed to enjoy his company as well, Klink was caught completely off guard by an explosion that sounded not too far away, followed by a steady chain of them, each one seemingly more devastating than the last. The driver paused, looked at his watch as if confused, but continued on again. Klink questioned the driver, but the man said his instructions had been to get them to the dinner on time, and perhaps it was just some sort of ammunitions testing nearby? They hadn't gone much farther when the procession stopped. The driver looked at his watch again and then ran from the vehicle.
"Was ist los?" Klink shouted. But Bächer turned to him and shrugged. "Weiß nicht! Where the hell is he--" Before Klink had his door all the way open, someone near the front of the line of cars opened fire.
Hogan, Kinch, and Carter crouched behind the tree line. They'd planted the bombs according to the instructions from London and the last location of the convoy. This had to be the bridge, if that information had been correct. Blowing the bridge before the ammo got across would be a great help to the Allies. But blowing it and destroying the missiles as they were going across would be the best scenario.
"Great job, as usual," Hogan said. "I'll finish up here and meet you back at camp."
And as usual, they protested the idea of leaving him alone, especially Carter who liked nothing more than to be the one on the trigger side of an exploding bomb. They'd all share in the victory if the mission proved a success. But Hogan was a firm believer in owning the mission. If something went wrong, it would be his responsibility, and if someone were to get caught by the Germans he'd rather it be him than his men.
The bridge was practically filled from end to end with the trucks when he blew it, one explosion triggering another, flame plumes spanning out in every direction. He wished he'd let Carter stay, just so he could have seen it. He felt a brief moment of regret for the lives lost, then he raced for the stump that would open to lead him safely back into the camp. Before he reached it, he heard gunfire that seemed to be coming from a different direction. He heard shouting in German, and was that Russian?
The Germans sounded furious, demanding to know what was happening. He couldn't understand much of the Russian but recognized the cadences of the language--and then he heard a voice he didn't recognize shouting Klink!
Klink? Why would . . . .? The banquet to honor a number of officers. That was tonight, and Klink should have left the camp some time ago to head toward Hammelburg, so it could actually be his Klink.
Hogan looked longingly toward the part of the woods that would take him home. "Damn." He headed in the direction of the gunfire.
That it was starting to get dark and that he was in the last car worked in Klink's favor. Bächer shouted at Klink, told them to run, that someone had to be notified about this, and had started shooting and advancing toward the front, giving Klink and Heinrich enough time to get out of the car. He regretted ever thinking that Bächer was dour and unfriendly, especially when he heard Bächer go down, still cursing someone before a gun fired and his angry words were cut off.
Klink and Heinrich ran, not knowing where they were going, only knowing that they had to let someone know of the ambush. They didn't even know who was alive or dead. Some Germans had returned fire and obviously killed at least a few of the Russians. How had they gotten this close, and why kill off POW administrators and similar officers? Except to infiltrate the camps and use the prisoners as allies in the fight, he realized.
Heinrich took a deep breath. "Klink, for them to get this far in, they have to have people on the ins--"
A gunshot made Klink flinch. A second one made him cry out as he felt a searing pain tear through his thigh. Instinct told him to keep running, keep trying to run, but at the same time he wanted to see the face of the man who was now probably going to kill him. He pulled his pistol as he turned, for all the good it would probably do him. A man in a German uniform raised his, and Klink knew he was lost.
Then the Russian lurched forward, dropped his weapon and collapsed. Klink saw beyond him another man in a German uniform, this one clearly a German, who fell immediately after. Klink could feel his heartbeat in his leg, the sizzling pain a throb in time with it. All sounds seemed to stop then, except Heinrich's harsh gasps for air.
Heinrich groaned and tried to get up on his knees. Klink lowered himself next to the young man. The growing dusk and the fact that he'd lost his monocle somewhere made it a little hard to see where Heinrich was wounded. He took off his glove and felt the man's upper back, his hand coming away wet.
"Bitte," Heinrich said, though speaking was clearly difficult. "Ich will nicht sterben. I don't . . . want to die. Not like this."
Klink shook his head. "No, no, just try to stay calm. Let me . . . ." He pressed his glove hard against the man's back in the hope of slowing the bleeding, but the sound of ragged, wet breathing told him there was little he could do.
"Hang on, Heinrich, just try to hang on!" he hissed too loudly. Maybe in the hopes someone would hear him and come running to rescue his new friend? Or just because there was nothing else he could do. He took the man's hand and squeezed it hard, knowing it was inadequate but the only thing left, until the labored breathing stopped and the woods were quiet again.
"Nein," he whispered. "Nein, nein!" He wanted to shout it, scream it at the sky, but knew attracting that much attention would be foolish. "I'm so sorry I couldn't help you," he whispered to Heinrich. "So sorry." He put his hand on the man's face, the skin cold but the warmth beneath it still there, warmth that Klink hated to think would be fading fast now. He brushed his fingers over the man's eyelids to close them, and then shed a few tears for him, for the unfairness of it all. He was wasting time, he knew, time he could use to get away or get back and try to help someone else. But it wasn't right than no one might know this man was gone until a day, a week, even more, had passed. Someone should mourn for this loss right now. And, in disbelief of what had happened, Klink did.
Eventually, the despair passed enough that Klink decided action was all that was left. He used a tree to pull himself back up to a standing position, and then felt his leg. It was bleeding, but he felt sure he wasn't going to bleed to death. He needed to see if anyone was left alive, anyone he could help, or if he could at least take a Russian with him if this was going to be his end. He started hobbling painfully toward the road, when a hand covered his mouth and he was pulled tight against someone who whispered, "Quiet, they're everywhere."
Hogan had come upon the scene just as Klink seemed to be comforting a wounded man—mortally wounded by the sound of his breathing. By the time the shock of seeing Klink there on the ground had passed and he was about to move forward to help, Hogan could only stand and watch as Klink closed the dead man's eyes and expressed despair in a way that Hogan had never witnessed. He watched, found himself moved by what he saw, and snapped out of the moment only when he saw Klink struggle to rise.
The Colonel then headed toward the road, where Hogan had just seen a couple of soldiers looking around a row of cars. They wore German uniforms, but they were speaking Russian. He knew that soldiers, no matter what country they came from, were typically like insects. If you see a few, dozens more are probably hiding where you can't see them. To prevent Klink from walking into a hive of them and getting himself killed, Hogan grabbed him from behind.
In saving Klink's life, he would end up discovered outside the camp. Briefly, he wondered if there was some way he could do this without giving away his identity. It only took a second to realize he couldn't, and that it didn't really matter.
He walked backwards, taking Klink with him, trying to support him as much as possible.
"Stay quiet, this is too slow," he whispered. He turned Klink around and quickly ducked, pushing his shoulder into the man's waist to lift him in a fireman's carry. He got them as far away from the Russian soldiers as he could before fatigue forced him to put Klink down. Hogan put him on his feet in front of a tree, then lowered him all the way down, as he seemed too unsteady to stand alone. Then Hogan stood in front of him, in black clothes and a black stocking cap, with grease on his face. He knew Klink could probably see him well enough thanks to the moon and the not quite faded daylight.
"Hogan!" Klink said, almost too loudly. "What are you--why--you're--" He closed his mouth and simply stared. He put both hands on his thigh and closed his eyes. Then, of all things, Klink started to laugh.
"Oh, oh, it's all right, Hogan. I mean, I'm all right, thanks to you. I assure you that, if we manage to make it back, I will not forget about this. Taking time out of your busy demolition schedule to save my life . . . very commendable." He laughed softly again and leaned his head back against the tree.
Hogan didn't know what to say for a moment. He leaned down to examine Klink's leg. "Demolition, sir? Whatever do you mean? I heard the explosions, too. Sounded far away."
"Not that far," Klink said. When Hogan didn't respond except to squint and stare, Klink said, "You're honestly shocked, aren't you?" He grunted in pain as Hogan pressed on his leg, testing the injury. "All this time, I truly had you fooled. How gratifying." He rubbed his forehead. "Are we going to wait for them to leave and hope that they forget a car? Our driver took the key when he fled."
"I can start a car with wires." Explosions rang out from the direction of the road, and Hogan shrugged. "There goes that bright idea."
Klink sighed. "The Russians--nothing if not thorough."
"Colonel, if they think you're injured, they'll underestimate how far and fast you can move, because they weren't counting on me showing up. We'll get as far away as possible, farther than they'd expect you to get, then we'll wait for a safe time to head back to camp."
"They might think me dead or hurt so badly that they'll be in no hurry to look." Klink nodded, but after a moment he said, "Why, Hogan?"
"Considering I'm the enemy, and considering I'm the Kommandant of the camp where you're a prisoner of war, and I've seen you on covert operations outside said camp, shouldn't you leave me to die or, better yet, finish the job yourself?"
"Yes," was all he said.
Hogan picked Klink up twice more and advanced them closer to camp and further away from the Russians. "Let me try to walk," Klink protested both times, but Hogan told him this was faster and quieter. "You're heavier than you look, though," he said, the second time. "If I need traction after this, I'll send you the bill."
When they stopped, they rested and listened, ever wary of the danger of discovery. Hogan needed to sit and catch some air, and then tend to Klink's leg.
"What will happen now, Colonel Klink? As I'm sure you understand, I'm legitimately concerned about my future."
Klink nodded."Yes, yes, as well you should be. If I find you outside camp, I think serious measures must be taken. A long stretch in the cooler, just for starters. No entertainments or dessert for a month, and perhaps I should even send you to bed without your supper."
Klink's soft laugh was truly starting to concern Hogan."Sir, I'm serious."
"Ja, I know. Perhaps I am, too." He groaned as he rolled from a sitting position down onto his side, his cheek resting on his fists. He sighed heavily. "I won't do anything that might jeopardize your standing at Stalag 13. In fact, I doubt you'll even be punished. Does that satisfy you?'
"Good to know, sir."
"Hogan, if I'd rattled off a long list of things you'd suffer once we returned, would you change your mind about--no, I apologize for even thinking it, let alone asking. You've proven yourself better than that; forgive me."
"No need, sir. It's a legitimate question. We are enemies, after all."
"Are we?" Klink asked, but Hogan knew no answer was expected.
Hogan was finally catching his breath. "Sir, you said . . . if you found me outside of camp. Did you mean . . . ?
"That I probably won't tell anyone I found you out here. Or rather, you found me."
Hogan got out of his sweater long enough to peel off his undershirt. He started tearing the shirt into strips to cover Klink's wound. "But wouldn't it be a coup for you to have survived the attack, attempted to save the life of another officer and singlehandedly stopped an escape attempt from your own camp? Surely there's a medal in there somewhere."
"Surely. But you weren't trying to escape. You never try to escape. You, my dear Hogan, always come back."
Hogan stared at the Commandant, his mouth open just a little. "I have no idea—"
"Oh, spare me! I know all about your little forays outside the barbed wire. I have for quite some time." The silence stretched on until Klink spoke again. "I see it's not a medal I deserve, but some kind of acting award! One of your country's new Academy Awards, perhaps!" He put his finger in the air as he said that. "World class performance, yes?" He sighed and put his hand on his cold head, rubbed his eye. "But an actor needs his props, and here I am, without all mine."
"You did have me fooled, sir. All those inspections . . . if you knew, then why didn't you stop me?"
"Do you have any idea just how boring my job is? No, of course, you wouldn't. Nothing about your life is boring. You're fighting a war, even from inside a POW camp. All I do is administrate. Though, you know, I shouldn't complain. I orchestrated my career this way. I just had no idea how . . . unfulfilling it could truly be. Better than some things, at least."
Klink moved to sit up again, smiling in his excitement. "But you, you've made it much better. I follow your comings and goings as best I can. It's like a game, Hogan, to see if I can figure out what you're going to do before you do it! I suspect you'd be surprised to find just how often I manage it."
Hogan didn't know what to say. Or what this really meant for his future at the camp. Klink might just be toying with him to see what he'd reveal. But, somehow he didn't believe that. He carefully pushed Klink's pant leg up and out of his way.
"Hogan, you're uniquely speechless—how absolutely delightful!" Klink's smiled faded. "Ah, but I see you think me treasonous. A traitor to Germany, betrayer of the Vaterland," he said, his head bobbing just a little.
"No, sir. Actually, I don't. Do you?" He wrapped strips of shirt around Klink's leg.
"Bah," Klink said, waving his hand. "I love Deutchland, this is my home. That does not mean I love the direction it's heading in. You and I have discussed our similar backgrounds many times, or at least alluded to them, I suppose, if not discussed them. I am Luftwaffe, Hogan. Wermacht. But I am not, nor will I ever be, a Nazi, not in my heart." He bumped his fist against his chest. "Yet, I know my place, and I think I know how to get out of this war without being thrown into a prison camp myself. I have to play their little game, as do Schultz and most Germans, because to do otherwise would mean almost certain death. But most Germans, most true patriots, are as alarmed as I am at what's happening."
"That actually restores some of my faith in human nature."
"Told you. I should have been an actor after the War!" He put his hand on his leg and winced at the pain. "Easy . . . ."
"So you're not a Hitler fan, despite all the Heiling you do in public?"
In the dim light, Hogan could just make out Klink's expression, and it was startling. He'd seen Klink embarrassed, furious, terrified and just verklemmt, but he'd never seen this expression, this deadly serious look that actually gave him a chill that had nothing to do with the cool night air.
"Mein Fuhrer," Klink said, contempt clear in his voice, "is inhuman. A--a madman. A madman that my country made the mistake of putting into power, and now we, and all of Europe, the West, the world . . . we are paying the price for his Brutalität. You already know about Stalin's progress, about the Allied forces spreading across France. Hitler's days are, what is your expression . . . numbered, and with them, all of Germany's, I fear. I only hope there's something left to rebuild when it's over." He sighed. "I only wanted to retire to the comforts of civilian life. I didn't think that was too much to ask."
Hogan wondered at how bad things must really be for the Germans. For Klink to tell him all this, he must surely think he wouldn't be commanding Stalag 13 for much longer.
"If not for the fear of making noise and drawing the Russians, I wish I had my violin. Something sad, sad and mournful, would be so appropriate right now." Klink shivered.
"Sir, if you had your violin, I'd be praying for the Russians to find us."
Klink's mouth dropped open. "What, you don't like my playing?" But he only managed to maintain his shocked expression briefly, and Hogan couldn't tell if he looked pleased or just resigned. Klink shivered again.
Hogan paused in his wrapping and put his stocking cap on Klink's head.
Klink put his hand on the cap. "What about you?"
"Well, I do have hair," Hogan said, teasing, "and doing all the work is keeping me warm. When I finish this, we need to move again."
Klink cried out softly as Hogan finished the tie on his makeshift bandages. "Let's stay here just a few minutes more, to rest, then I'll be ready. Hogan, managing to live long enough to go back to civilian life, getting out of all of this madness alive. . . has never seemed unlikely to me, before now."
"Colonel Klink," Hogan said softly, "I don't know about what might happen later. But I'm going to get you back to camp--I'm an expert at this stuff, remember? And I personally believe that death is highly overrated," Hogan said, giving Klink his most charming half-grin and hoping he could see it clearly.
Klink nodded. "Yes, yes it is."
"And who would deny us extra rations? Wouldn't be the same coming from anyone else."
Klink laughed a little. "Nor would it be the same for me to deny anyone else. But I knew you'd get what you wanted no matter what I said. I could not be seen by my superiors as being soft on the prisoners, you understand." He took a deep, shaky breath. "Did you know, Hogan—no, of course you wouldn't know this—that I was never supposed to be here, at Stalag 13? Had I taken the first offers I had several years ago, I wouldn't be administrating a POW camp at all?"
"Let me guess," Hogan said, actually enjoying the bizarre conversation as he carefully slid Klink's pant leg back down. "You turned down some high ranking position in the hopes that a better one would come along. Or that you'd get the job of managing a POW camp instead? In the hopes of meeting someone like me?"
Klink shook his head. "They offered me two other camps, both of which I politely declined."
Hogan knew exactly what Klink meant by the spite with which he'd said camps. "Which ones?"
"Belzec and then Chemno. My family name, my uncle . . . there are connections, and someone decided that it would be best for me to take part in this. I begged off, using the excuse that they were in Poland. Germany is my home, and I simply wanted to stay here. They believed that. Then there was talk of me going to Dachau because the current leadership was in upheaval. Dachau, in Germany—I'd have had no excuse! But Stalag 13 had a need first and I jumped at the chance."
Hogan didn't say anything for a long time. "What if they'd told you they were sending you to Dachau anyway?"
"I'd be locked in a camp myself or dead, if there was no way I could have gotten out of it. Because there are many things I will do to survive this war, Hogan. Many things. What goes on in those camps . . . is not one of them." Klink's voice quavered at the end.
"I'm pleased to hear you say that, sir," Hogan said softly. "For the record, I'd never think you capable of such a thing."
Klink looked pointedly at Hogan. "Thank you. I wonder, though, do you think me a coward for using the location of the camps as an excuse and not plainly stating my objections? Because at its heart, it is a cowardly act, isn't it?"
Hogan shook his head and then rubbed his forehead as he sat down next to the Colonel. "I'm not sure it is. One objection would have been like a drop of water in a frying pan, gone before anyone knows it's there. You're not a coward. You're . . . working with what you have, gaming the system." Hogan realized that not only was Klink not a coward, he was, in his way, actually on his side by knowing about his missions, even in vague terms, and not stopping him. "We all have our parts to play, sir. All of us. You dying then would have been a terrible waste, for many reasons."
"Perhaps," Klink mumbled. "I do think that once the war is over, if I can, I'll dedicate myself to the rebuilding, whether it's military installations or civilian areas. Pay my penance, so to speak. Perhaps that will make me feel less cowardly than I do sometimes."
"If you feel that way, it's only because you're playing that part. And as you've pointed out, you're a good actor. So good, maybe you fool yourself." Hogan put his hand on Klink's shoulder. "Commandant Klink, I—"
Klink reached up and took the hand, squeezing it tightly. "Please, Colonel Hogan, you've just saved my life, and I've made a confession to you that would easily put me before a firing squad. Please, call me Wilhelm, just for now . . . Robert, if I may, is that what people called you, before the war?"
"Not Robert. Only people yelling at me or ordering me around usually call me that." He smiled. "My friends used to call me Bobby."
"Bobby . . . that sounds like a little boy's name. You know, it rather suits you."
"Always a kid at heart, that's me." He squeezed Klink's hand. "Wilhelm, I saw you trying to help that man you were with, and I saw you heading back to the road instead of running the other direction. And you've just told me that you refused to take part in the outright murder of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of innocent people. You are an honorable man--not a cowardly one."
Klink's head nodded once, twice, then he patted Hogan's hand, held it briefly between both of his. "The man, the one who died, he was going to send me cookies . . . made by his mother." Klink closed his eyes. "Do you think LeBeau would make some if I get him the ingredients and a proper recipe? They have to be done just right, you see, left to cure for at least a few weeks—more is better. You and your men may share them, of course."
Hogan nodded. "I'm sure he can be persuaded. Not calling him Cockroach might be a nice start?" Hogan heard something moving through the brush and cocked his head. The movement was too heavy, too lumbering, to be a small animal. Would the Russians have come looking this far? Most likely it was a civilian or a German soldier. Damn it all, he didn't have time to hide. He let go of Klink's hand. "Sir, Wilhelm, pull your pistol and point it at me."
Klink only hesitated for a moment and then seemed to realize what was going on. He pulled his pistol and did as Hogan said. Hogan sat down a few feet away from Klink, in front of him, and held his hands up as if he were Klink's prisoner.
"Was ist los?" the soldier said as he came into their clearing, shining a flashlight first at Klink, then Hogan. He lowered his weapon.
"Colonel Klink from Stalag 13," Klink said. "This man is my prisoner. Gott sei Dank--do you have a car nearby? I'm wounded and fear I can't walk far."
"You are wounded?" the soldier asked in what Hogan thought was a detached way, and then held up his own hand, dark with blood. "So am I." He looked at Hogan. "Who is this? Where did he come from?"
"He's an American Colonel, attempting escape from my camp. But now he'll be going back, straight into the cooler!" he said, and Hogan almost smiled at how fierce he sounded.
"No, he won't be going back. Because he most likely had a hand in blowing up the convoy I was traveling with this evening, an attack that few survived. And if he didn't, who will know the difference? You and I, Klink, we will be heroes for killing one of the men responsible for that destruction, ja? We will share the glory." He raised his pistol again and pointed it at Hogan.
"Nein! He is my responsibility, and the highest ranking offer among the prisoners. I need him alive so I can use him as example to keep the rest in line. Surely you understand that? Lower your weapon, now."
The officer shook his head, then cocked his pistol. Hogan wondered if squeezing his eyes shut would help with the pain, or if he'd die instantly. He flinched as a shot rang out, then watched as the officer shook for a moment and dropped to the ground. Hogan looked at Klink, who held his pistol still in the air where he'd shot the man, almost as if frozen in place. Finally, he let his hand drop and made a soft sound of pain as it hit his leg.
"Thank you. I won't forget this, either."
"No, Bobby," Klink said softly. Hogan could have sworn Klink had a sad smile on his face. "Neither will I."
Getting back to camp hadn't been easy, but it wasn't as difficult as Hogan had anticipated. They'd started immediately, aware that the sound of the shot might draw more soldiers. Klink seemed to have found his second wind and managed to limp, arm around Hogan's neck, for long periods of time without needing to rest. When they got just outside camp, Hogan left him to head back for the tunnel.
Klink was soon inside the camp and getting the medical attention he needed, with generals and investigators racing for the Bad Kissingen woods and the camp to find out just what had happened. No one had any knowledge of this supposed banquet, the whole thing a ruse to draw the officers out together. Klink put on a new monocle and his smile, and managed to look crestfallen that the entire honor had been fake.
The cars had been discovered before they'd made it back, as well as the burned bodies and the body of Heinrich in the woods. Another day passed before the German soldier Klink shot was found, and he was presumed another victim of the Russians, who obviously had blown the bridge, as well.
A few days after all the excitement, Hogan finally spotted Klink outside his office. Until now, he'd been cloistered and surrounded by superiors and Gestapo demanding every detail of what had happened. As much as Hogan would have liked to raise Hochstetter's blood pressure by showing up at the man's elbow a few times, he thought it might be best to stay clear for a while.
Now, Hogan approached casually, his collar up against the wind and his hands in his pockets. He fell into step next to the Colonel, whose limp was much less pronounced.
"Good to see you, sir."
"I do not share your sentiment, Hogan. Don't you have some sort of work you should be doing? Doesn't something need washing or tidying? The last barracks inspection was disgraceful and I won't stand for that again." Klink made a sharp turn and pushed aside the guard who walked next to him, as if annoyed at the world.
"Sir, I wanted to ask permission—"
"But sir, you don't even know—"
"I don't have to know. Anything you could possibly ask for—denied!"
Hogan watched Klink walk away in a huff, and he tried not to smile too much in front of Schultz and the other guards.
"What's the good word there, sir?" Newkirk asked. He stood in the doorway of the barracks and nodded his head in Klink's direction. "Twisted up as tight as ever, is he? You'd think getting' shot in the gam might soften the ol' Colonel a bit."
"Everything denied, as usual. The old Iron Eagle's not going to give us an inch, which is why we'll just keeping taking them," he said with a smile, clapping Newkirk on the shoulder as they went inside. He hadn't told Newkirk about what happened, only that he was delayed because the woods were crawling with Germans and Russians. He'd almost told Kinch, because if he had something he knew he wanted to keep to himself, he could tell Kinch without worry. But after thinking hard about it and then sleeping on it, he'd decided that no one else needed to know.
Klink sat, his forgotten cup of tea gone cold. He sat sideways in his desk chair, his leg propped up to alleviate the swelling that tended to appear now around his ankle. The doctor said that was normal, and should go away once his leg's healing had progressed. He'd stared at his boot and thought about those damn Lebkuchen, and got positively teary.
The tears were for Heinrich, and himself, and all of them caught in this war. It wasn't the cookies exactly, and he'd only known the man briefly. But it was the humanity of it. They'd sat next to each other in a car, wearing weapons, going to be honored for housing enemy prisoners and making war, and had talked lovingly of cookies and treats. Like they might have, had they met in a tavern after a day in any office. It had been a taste of normal life for a change, stolen away by a Russian bullet. And that the taste of normalcy that was so rich and delightful and had been snatched away as quickly as it had come made him even more weary of the charade. And it made him angry, which felt far better than weariness.
Hogan had been there, though, and Klink still found himself in disbelief at all he'd revealed to the man. Had he encountered Hogan outside the camp under other circumstances, he was sure he would not have. Though he realized, equally shocked, that he might have wanted to. But surely, had he not lost a potential new friend just moments before, no, he wouldn't have revealed his distaste for Hitler and his thoughts about the war in general. Would he?
Hogan seemed to take the place of Heinrich, whom he felt he mourned far more than their short relationship warranted. Still, he'd sent a note of condolence to the man's mother, and had only remembered, while he wrote it, that his first name had been Karl. Klink wrote and told her how charming he'd found her son, and told her how he'd bragged on her cooking, and her Lebkuchen. How he'd been talking so fondly of her, just before the end. He felt it was the least he could do.
He hadn't asked Cockr—LeBeau about the cookies, and hoped that Hogan would arrange it for him instead. He felt self-conscious discussing the matter with anyone but Hogan. He would actually let the prisoners have some—as much as LeBeau was willing to make—as long as he could have his own personal stock. But he did want to share some privately with Hogan, over coffee or tea. Perhaps they'd enjoy some Glühwein together, as well. He wondered if Hogan had ever drunk mulled wine, another taste that reminded him of home this time of year, and simpler times.
Now that the generals and Gestapo had gone and all the proper reports had been filed—one even recommended Klink for a medal, ironically, the War Merit Cross with Swords—he felt incredibly alone. When someone knocked, he sat up a bit straighter and couldn't help feeling disappointed that it wasn't Hogan.
"Herr Kommandant, I just wanted to check and see if there was anything I could do for you before I retire for the night?"
"No, Schultz. Thank you."
Schultz stood there, his mouth working almost as if he were chewing his tongue.
"Yes? Spit it out."
"Sir, I cannot help but wonder . . . your leg was bandaged. When I helped you inside, the bandages you had me remove before the doctor arrived . . . ."
"Schultz, just ask what's on your mind," Klink said, with only minor impatience. "You want to know where those bandages came from, don't you?"
"All right, I'll tell you. But I must warn you, the knowledge could very well end up leading me in front of a firing squad. And if you know the truth, then—"
"No, sir. No," Schultz said, waving his hands and backing away. "I don't want to know that badly."
"You know nothing, is that right?"
"Nothing! Yes, sir."
"All right then. If you're still curious after the war, you'll call me. Oh, and Schultz? There is one thing you can do for me, after all. Send Colonel Hogan to see me at once."
"Ja wohl, mein Kommandant!"
He closed his eyes and got lost in thought after Schultz practically raced from the room. He knew he could actually trust Schultz with what happened, and the man would, in the end, know nothing. But he didn't want to. He wanted what had happened to belong just to him.
Klink didn't smile at Hogan when he was shown in, but waved impatiently for him to sit. A few moments after the door was closed and he was sure no one was going to pop back through, Klink asked, "Wine, Jägermeister, Schnaps?"
"Wine would be wonderful. Thank you, sir. Jägermeister makes me feel like my stomach and my brain are jostling for position somewhere in my throat."
Klink's stern expression softened just a little. "Typically American," he said with mock disgust as he poured a glass of fine German wine for Hogan, then poured one for himself. He opened his desk drawer and pulled out a black stocking cap, one he'd looked at many times over the past few days. His hat was lost somewhere in the woods, perhaps when he and Heinrich had been shot, he didn't even remember. And Hogan had taken this cap off and put it on his head to help him stay warm. It was a small thing, but the more he thought about it, the less small it had seemed. When Hogan hurried away after they'd almost reached the gates, Klink realized he'd forgotten it and had put in his coat pocket before entering the camp.
He offered it to Hogan. "Here, tomorrow is supposed to be the coldest day yet." Klink held onto the cap for just a little longer than necessary after Hogan reached to take it.
Hogan looked at him, and Klink was grateful that he didn't say anything or try to put any of it into words, this understanding that clearly passed between them. Instead, Hogan nodded before he put it into his pocket. And he smiled, a rare smile from him, one that held no mockery or tease. It was almost solemn, Klink thought.
Klink sighed. "Have a cigar, Hogan, help yourself. You always do anyway." He held his glass up in salute.
Hogan clicked their glasses together and took a long drink before he leaned back in his chair, rolling a cigar between thumb and forefinger. He gestured toward the humidor on the Commandant's desk. "I can get you some better cigars, if you'd like, sir." He grinned, the boyish smile Klink was used to back now. "Yours are a bit woody."
Klink laughed. "Indeed."