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Done Talking

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"Don't worry about it, Newkirk. Your message got through just fine," Sergeant James Kinchloe was saying as Colonel Robert Hogan entered the radio hut below Stalag 13. Corporal Peter Newkirk, dressed in a Luftwaffe Sergeant's uniform, was standing before him, glaring at his crossed arms, with a similarly clad Sergeant Andrew Carter by his side.

"You communicated the message to Alpine Swift and Nightjar? No problems?" Colonel Hogan asked. Newkirk and Carter swiveled to face him.

"We got the word across, Sir," Newkirk said, shifting his eyes away from the Colonel's gaze.

"Good, good. Who did the talking?" Colonel Hogan asked.

"C-Carter, Sir. I um…" Newkirk exhaled and cut his eyes over to Carter. He nodded.

"Newkirk kind of got stuck on the part about 'migrating' troops, Sir," Carter broke in as they started to strip off the uniforms. "But it was OK. Really, Sir. We got it done."

"OK, good job. That's why we send you out in pairs, so you can cover each other," Hogan said reassuringly. "Well done, men." He looked to Newkirk, who was struggling to say something. His mouth was open and airy sounds were escaping, but the words weren't coming. Hogan, Kinch and Carter just waited expectantly, knowing that Newkirk would eventually find his voice.

"Take your time, Newkirk. We're listening," Hogan said patiently.

"—I wasn't literally expecting two birds," Newkirk finally got out. "Blimey, who makes up these c-code names? Well, they were both so pr-pretty. And when I had trouble st-st-sta, starting, they were giggling like they thought I was k-k-k-kidding around. Then, it was like someone j-j-j-j-jammed a st-st-st-st-st-st-stopper in my throat, and it got, got, got worse from there, Sir." He hung his head down and pulled at the hem of his shirt. "I never st-stammered in G-G-German before,” he whispered. “C-Carter came through, C-C-C-Colonel."

"All right. OK. No harm. It's a good thing you had a partner tonight, Newkirk," Hogan said. He was surprised at the sudden severity of Newkirk's stutter; he had been speaking with increasing confidence and fluency for months, and rarely stumbled over his friend's names.

Hogan had worked with Newkirk long enough to resolve his initial reservations about using him to communicate urgent and sensitive messages. When Newkirk went out on his own, some deep instinct seemed to kick in that made it possible for him to say and do whatever he needed to in pursuit of his mission, and he had never failed to perform. And when he went out with a partner, he had someone to lean on just in case. Speech impediment or not, Hogan had concluded he needed him on the team for his stealth and special talents, including his verbal skills as an actor and impersonator.

"Maybe if you just tried to slow down, a little, Newkirk," Carter said quietly as he hung up his uniform. "Just relax. Don't think too hard."

Newkirk, who had just finished changing, opened his mouth to answer, but nothing came out. He snapped it shut and shoved his hands deep into his pockets.

"More practice, maybe," Hogan said. "This mission came up suddenly. We only went over the message once."

"Maybe the word 'migrating' was a bad idea. We know how hard the letter M is for you," Carter said. "If you could just try to breathe, Newkirk, that'd help."

"Brilliant advice, Carter. I never realized breathing would matter," Newkirk replied, rolling his eyes.

Carter missed the snarky tone. "And like I said, maybe talk slower. If you rush, it's probably worse."

"You're not the bleedin' st-stammering expert, Carter," Newkirk snapped. "It doesn't work that way! If I was deaf, would you tell me to listen harder? If I was blind, would tell me to squint so I could focus better?"

Now Kinch had joined the group. He clamped a hand down on Newkirk's shoulder.

"Well, you're not stuttering now," Carter said with a smile. "So I'm doing something right. Gee, maybe I'm an expert after all!"

Carter started to giggle just as Newkirk lunged toward him. Kinch pulled the British corporal back into line as Carter backed away in shock. "Settle down," Kinch said. "Carter's not the enemy."

"Don't laugh at me! It isn't funny!" Newkirk roared at Carter.

"I'm not! I'm just …. Jeez, Peter, I don't know what to make of you sometimes. You're always making jokes, but if I do it…"

"I don't j-j-j-jo," Newkirk started. "J-j-jo. I don't j-j-j-jo-jo-joke about this! And you'd better not either!"

Newkirk twisted out of Kinch's grip and stood with his arms crossed, eyes down. "Right. I'm done talking," he said to no one in particular.

LeBeau was on his way down the ladder, checking to see what was taking everyone so long. It was risky for so many men to be out of the barracks at once, even at night. A mission debriefing rarely took more than five minutes, but the Colonel had gone down below 15 minutes ago.

"Is everything OK?" LeBeau asked as he landed at the bottom of the ladder. One look at Newkirk, and he had his answer. "Did something go wrong out there, Pierre?" he asked.

Newkirk just nodded his head angrily.

"Nothing went wrong. The mission was accomplished," Hogan said firmly. "Newkirk, Carter, you did your part." He turned to LeBeau. "Everything went smoothly until they got back here and had a little disagreement. I'm sure they'll solve it between themselves," he said with a pointed look at his two youngest staff members. "Now everyone, up to bed. I think you need some sleep, Newkirk. Don't argue with me."

Carter scrambled up the ladder. Kinch gave Newkirk a push, then started up after him, glancing over his shoulder at Hogan, who gritted his teeth and nodded. Yes, we have to talk, was the clear message to Kinch.

LeBeau stood back at the Colonel's elbow.

"Let me guess," LeBeau said. "He had trouble speaking."

Hogan nodded. "Yep. He's mad at himself. He'll get over it. They did just fine. He worries too much."

"He's spent his whole life worrying about speaking fluently, mon Colonel," LeBeau replied. "It's a hard habit to break."

"No doubt," Hogan said, nodding and waving a hand toward the bunk bed ladder. At that gesture, LeBeau headed up the ladder with the Colonel at his heels.

Chapter Text

Morning came around, and the men rolled out of bed. The usual chatter and friendly banter filled the barracks room. Carter, utterly unable to carry a grudge, had chirped out his usual "good morning" to his bunk mate Newkirk, who had responded with a small smile and a pat on the back.

"Glad to see you smiling, buddy," Carter said to Newkirk. "Boy, last night I thought you were going to skin me alive. Maybe we can talk about it later, OK? I didn't mean to be rude or anything. And I thought you did a pretty good…"

Newkirk was bobbing his head with an amused expression on his face as Carter prattled, when Hogan popped out of his office. The Colonel tucked the daily duty roster inside his jacket and interrupted the monologue.

"Wrap it up, Carter. Rollcall in two." Hogan stopped at the bunk closest to the door and shot a searching look at Newkirk as he buttoned up his RAF great coat. "Morning, Newkirk. Sleep well?" As Newkirk grinned and nodded in reply, Hogan smiled back and slapped him on the back. "Good man."

Then Hogan looked around. "Morning, fellas," he said as the barracks erupted in a round of greetings. Hogan had a hand in the small of Newkirk's back as he ushered the men outside. "Oh, good, he's over that flare-up," he thought. "Probably just nerves and lack of sleep."

When rollcall broke up, Newkirk followed Hogan like a puppy to the bulletin board outside the barracks where he was tacking up the day's duty roster. The corporal groaned dramatically as he saw that he'd been assigned latrine duty. Carter was on his heels, and he fared just as badly: Kennel cleanup.

"I guess we deserved that," Carter said as he and Newkirk stepped aside to let the others look at the roster. Newkirk just shrugged, shook his head hopelessly and lit his first cigarette of the day. He passed it to Carter and lit himself another one, and the two leaned side by side against the narrow end of thebarracks and quietly got their nicotine hit before shoving off toward the door.

At the door to Barracks 2, Carter fell in with Kinch and Hogan, who were loitering, taking stock of which guards were on duty and looking for any signs of unusual activity in the compound. Newkirk, meanwhile, stepped inside, where the robust aroma of coffee greeted him. LeBeau had just prepared a fresh pot. Red Cross packages had just arrived, so for a change it was the real thing.

"Coffee, Pierre?" LeBeau said as Newkirk took a seat at the table and lit another cigarette. Newkirk looked at LeBeau, smiled warmly and nodded. He kept his eyes fixed on LeBeau as the Frenchman poured the coffee and placed both of their mugs on the rough-hewn table. Newkirk pressed his hand onto LeBeau's arm, gave it a pat, looked him right in the eye, nodded and breathed in the coffee aroma.

"Il n'ya pas de quoi," LeBeau responded as he took a seat across from Newkirk. "Did you check the duty roster?

Newkirk nodded and rolled his eyes.

"Latrine duty again for you again," LeBeau said. He leaned across the table conspiratorially. "No more squabbling with Carter, mon pote, and the Colonel will give you more agreeable work. If it's any consolation, Carter is mucking out the dog pens."

Newkirk whistled a sound of amazement, smiled and sipped his coffee. He nodded appreciatively, drawing a broad smile from LeBeau. "You like it. Good. I don't want to hear you complain," he said, shaking a finger at his friend in mock fury. Newkirk smiled broadly and clinked his cup with LeBeau's in approval as the rest of the team filed in and noisily took their places at the table.

Breakfast was a simple but pleasant affair as the men gathered, sipped their coffee, made the most of their brown bread, margarine, and Red Cross jam, and talked about their day.

"After chores, I need everyone on the alert," Hogan was saying. "Burkhalter's due this afternoon, and he's sure to spill some kind of news from Berlin. Carter, LeBeau, you'll be sidling up to Burkhalter's driver while I head into Klink's office. Kinch, you're monitoring the office with the coffee pot. Newkirk, you get outside right after lunch with your soccer hooligans and see if you can distract some of the Kraut guards with your … what do you call it? That move you've been working on?"

Newkirk looked confused, then his face lit up. As the rest of the men continued discussing Burkhalter's visit, he held out his right hand, moving his extended index and middle fingers together.

"The scissor kick," Kinch supplied. "Man, you look like an acrobat when you do that, Pete. It's a slick move, but what a hard landing." Newkirk tucked his arms front and back and took a bow at his seat as his table mates laughed and then launched into a lively discussion of the soccer hooligans' antics.

As the team broke up and headed off to their daily chores, Kinch and Hogan hung back.

"I guess we were worried for nothing," Hogan said. "Seems like Newkirk and Carter have sorted things out between them. I saw them outside having a smoke."

"Newkirk's in a surprisingly good mood, considering how ticked he was at Carter last night," Kinch said. "But I don't know. Something just seems off. I just can't put my finger on it."

"You worry too much," Hogan assured him.

"You're probably right, Sir," Kinch said with a big grin. "Well, KP for me this morning, Sir. But you knew that already."

"It's the best I could do for you, Kinch. But rest assured, our resident troublemakers got latrine duty and kennel duty," Hogan said with a broad smile. "It's just a little reminder to those boys that things could be worse."

Chapter Text

Chores were completed, the barracks room was tidied, and Newkirk and another latrine-duty guy even had the privilege of taking a shower and hosing off their boots before lunchtime to wash off the muck. He turned up at the table in Barracks 2 with wet hair and squishy boots and slid onto the bench next to Kinch as LeBeau dished up a stew for the members of Colonel Hogan's command team. Carter, Kinch, LeBeau, Hogan, Olsen, Addison, Foster and Newkirk were all crowded the table around while the rest of the Barracks 2 residents went to the mess hall.

Conversation was in full swing when Newkirk got there. Hogan was regaling everyone with stories from his pilot training days as a young cadet.

"… and if you know anything about Texas, you know San Antonio is hotter than hell in the summertime. So I'm approaching Duncan Field, and there are only two runways, and the long one is shut down for a week to be repaved. It's so hot inside my craft that the sweat is literally drizzling into my eyes and they are burning. So I approach the short runway, and with my eyes stinging it takes me a while to really focus. I'm about to drop altitude to land when I realize that right there, right smack ahead of me, is a pack of wild horses tearing across Duncan Field and heading straight onto MY runway! I had to bank left and swoop around and …"

Newkirk joined in the laughter and grinned helplessly as Hogan described dodging cowboys on his path down the runway. He was still smiling ear to ear when LeBeau asked him to help clean up the dishes.

"Come on, mon pote, you will be a great help to me, and you'll still have time for your football match," LeBeau said. As the other men filtered out of the barracks, LeBeau pulled Newkirk closer and whispered, "Are you still angry at Carter? He told me what happened."

Newkirk smiled sheepishly and shrugged.

"You can tell me," LeBeau insisted. Newkirk shook his head, and LeBeau pressed on.

"He doesn't mean anything, Pierre. He doesn't really understand what it is like for you when you start to stammer. I know it bothers you when people say 'relax' and 'slow down,' but he only wanted to help. You see that, don't you?"

Newkirk sighed and turned to look at LeBeau. There was only one person in the entire camp with whom Newkirk had shared a long history, and whose friendly overtures he couldn't resist, and he was looking at him. He opened his mouth to speak. He rarely stammered when he was alone with LeBeau, but this time he had real difficulty starting. LeBeau stood beside him patiently through his struggle.

"—I know," Newkirk finally said. "But he laughed at me."

"So say something," LeBeau said. "He's your friend, and he has a kind heart. He will understand."

"I'm done talking," Newkirk replied.

"You, done talking? Tu es une vraie pipelette*," LeBeau scoffed. "You never stop talking!"

Newkirk shrugged again and rinsed and dried the dishes in silence.

"Pierre!" LeBeau insisted. "Come on, talk to me." He grabbed Newkirk by the arm, pulling him in his direction. "Pierre, don't be ridiculous." He stopped in shock as he saw a single tear glistening on Newkirk's cheek. "You… non… you never… Pierre, why are you upset? What is it? What is hurting you?" He grabbed his arm, but Newkirk gently shook off his grip.

Newkirk dried his hands with a dish towel, hung it up, and then used the back of his hands to wipe his eyes, rubbing them as if they were simply tired, nothing more. He stood silently, taking several deep breaths to compose himself. Then he shook his head, smiled sadly at LeBeau, and walked over to the footlocker at the end of his bunk.

Lifting the lid and reaching inside, Newkirk fished out his soccer shorts and a jersey and quickly changed, then pulled on his plimsolls. He gathered a football from under his bunk and, with a wan look at LeBeau, walked out of the barracks to do his duty. It was time to round up the football players.

As he watched Newkirk leave in silence, LeBeau felt shaken. Newkirk was his closest friend and confidant. He was a massive annoyance and a pain in the neck, but he was his friend and the truth was LeBeau loved him like a brother. An extremely maddening and overgrown little brother that he quietly adored. As much as Newkirk struggled with fluency, he was a chatterbox, an entertainer and a story teller in LeBeau's presence. And around the rest of their close friends, Newkirk never shut up for long, stammer or no stammer. But today, LeBeau realized, had been different. Today he had heard barely 10 words from Newkirk.

He picked up the trousers and pullover that Newkirk had left on his bunk and folded them neatly. Then he changed his mind and flung them to the ground. Stupid boy, LeBeau thought. What game did he think he was playing?

XXX

*LeBeau tells Newkirk in French that he's a total chatterbox, which is true a lot of the time.

Chapter Text

Newkirk dribbled his football in the direction of Barracks 8, home to eight of the Stalag's most passionate soccer players. The midday air was crisp, and he was finally alone with no one nattering at him. Kicking around a football always took his mind off his troubles.

Peter Newkirk loved the game of football with his whole being, and he had lots of company in camp. A proper football was the one piece of sporting equipment that was most readily available from the Red Cross. The Americans lamented this, of course. That was probably because most of them, except for a handful from a mysterious place they called "New England," were absolute rubbish at it, though Newkirk secretly thought a few were coming along nicely. Poor Yanks, he thought, with their shoulder pads and helmets, missing out on what "football" actually was.

The Americans hadn't formed their own side yet, but they really ought to do, Newkirk thought. He ticked through a potential Yank football roster as he scampered across the camp, practicing step-overs. Kinch had strength, speed and athleticism on his side and picked up technique fast. Garlotti's Italian-born dad had taught him to dribble, pass and kick, and he was rather good. Carter hadn't much of a knack for team sports, but he was scrappy and would be all right if only he could learn to keep his toe up and his hands off the ball. Olsen was fast but refused to pass. A trio of Sergeants from Barracks 14 whom Hogan called "the Ivy League" were surprisingly good. Something to do with attending prep schools, the Colonel had explained to him. Posh lads, Newkirk concluded, thinking that seemed odd. Shouldn't they be playing rugby?

Then there was Hogan. Now, Hogan was a mystery. No one had ever seen him play, though he watched the matches intently from the sidelines and seemed fascinated by the on-field strategy. He could coach, Newkirk thought, and he imagined he'd have potential as a striker. Although maybe he was a bit too old. Hard to say, he mulled.

The French, he thought, had some very solid players, though unfortunately LeBeau was not among them. Oh, he and LeBeau very often kicked a ball about for fun, and LeBeau's footwork was more than competent. But he had no head for strategy. In the rough and tumble of a match he spent more time shouting out the other players' names than actually getting in position to receive a pass. Still, he could head the football decently, was good fun to drill with and was his most avid supporter to boot.

As he rounded a corner, Newkirk's mind turned to eight working-class English lads who resided in Barracks 8. Well, they made it all worthwhile, didn't they? They were simply the best, the backbone of a 15-man roster that also included Newkirk and six other English prisoners scattered around the camp—more than enough men to field a full squad at every match. Together, they were the football stars of Stalag 13 and they drew big crowds for their wild, rambunctious games.

Hogan, enamored of their antics, had dubbed them the soccer hooligans, in the most affectionate way possible. Newkirk had improved upon that, naming the team Hogan's Hooligans, and it stuck, since "England" had already been claimed by a bunch of toffs from Barracks 5 and 15. Of the six football teams that made up the Stalag 13 League, Hogan's Hooligans were the most feared, the most unpredictable, and the most fun to watch.

His fellow Hooligans were practicing in front of Barracks 8 when Newkirk arrived, dribbling his ball as he trotted along. He passed it to Sergeant Lindsey, who immediately began juggling the ball, then passed it back to Newkirk, who mirrored Lindsey's every move until he lost control of a shoulder bounce.

"Nice try. You'll get it next time, Newkirk!" Lindsey bellowed—for Lindsey never spoke softly. He jogged over to the Corporal, who had by now worked up a sweat and was panting slightly. "Heard Hogan needs us over in front of the Kommandantur to teach the Krauts a trick or two." Apparently Kinch had talked to the barracks chief, who of course was Lindsey.

Newkirk put his left index finger to his lips to shush Lindsey, waved his right hand in a "keep it down" motion, then nodded.

"Stumm. Got it," Lindsey belted out. "Right, Hooligans, queue up!" he commanded, and in a flash the rest of the roster fell in line behind him. "At your service, Newkirk," he thundered.

Newkirk tipped his head in a gesture of thanks, inserted two fingers between his teeth, and gave a shrill whistle, which could probably be heard from the front gate to the motor pool. Then he turned and, dribbling his soccer ball in front of him, took off at a gallop. Fourteen men sprinted behind him, dribbling and passing five soccer balls among them as they went.

Well, that was bloody easy, Newkirk thought to himself with relief as he led his crew back to their station in front of Barracks 2. Not that hadn't been prepared to shout out a command to his football mates if he had to. Shouting wasn't talking and therefore wasn't scary or dangerous. Shouting was giving orders, and orders had their own special cadence and tone. He was fairly sure that even after having his confidence rattled last night he could have shouted out an order perfectly well with no stumbles, stutters or blocks.

Fairly sure. Nearly sure. But right now, nothing short of absolutely, infallibly sure felt certain enough for Peter Newkirk. So he buttoned his lip and concentrated on that football.

Chapter Text

Upon arriving at the parade ground between Barracks 2 and the Kommandantur, Hogan's Hooligans' first order of business was to drive off the volleyball players. It wasn't hard. As the fearsome 15 thundered toward their makeshift football pitch, the volleyball captains dived for their precious net and poles and quickly vacated their court. They were used to ceding their turf to this rowdy bunch, and today they knew there was good reason for it. They nevertheless managed to look extremely put out.

Then it was showtime. The Hooligans began a vigorous warm-up, complete with flick-ups, catches, and juggles, and the guards were quickly drawn in to watching the action. Guarding prisoners was dull work, and watching a display of football prowess was a lively distraction that reminded everyone of more pleasant times.

From the Kommandantur steps to the towers, eyes were riveted on the football players as they showed off their cleverest tricks. Bingley and Swinton were practicing the hamstring catch when General Burkhalter's car rolled into the camp. With the guards distracted by the flamboyant moves, Hogan easily made his way into Kommandantur to busy himself in Klink's office for the General's arrival. Kinch was in Hogan's room, monitoring the Kommandant's office. Carter and LeBeau, meanwhile, stationed themselves where they could easily "assist" Burkhalter's driver by buffing the gleaming vehicle.

As Burkhalter heaved his substantial bulk out of the car and up the stairs, Newkirk and Lindsey went into action. Fielding a swift pass from Lindsey, Newkirk leapt into a scissor kick and shot the ball far down field to "Gunner" Gilfoyle, who was playing goalie. As he landed hard on the dirt, Newkirk triggered a chorus of "oohs" from all observers, which brought Burkhalter's guard out of his vehicle in a hurry to watch.

Newkirk jumped back up, brushed himself off, and nodded to Lindsey, who passed the ball back to him. Again, he leapt, nailed the ball, and landed. Other players joined in to give it a try. With varying degrees of success, they scissor-kicked in mid-air again, and again, and again, giving Carter and LeBeau time to inspect the General's car while the driver was otherwise engaged.

Finally, Hogan emerged from the Kommandantur and tugged the brim of his cap, a signal to Newkirk and his fellow footballers that their job was done. As Carter and LeBeau fell in line behind Hogan, the Hooligans abandoned their tricks and settled into five-on-five drills. Newkirk, somewhat battered from a series of hard landings, took to the sidelines with a few other lads. He stayed there watching the drills until Hogan, having made his way around the periphery of the parade ground, tapped him on the shoulder.

"We've got trouble," he whispered. "My office, as soon as you can slip away."

XXX

Hogan and LeBeau were at the table in the Colonel's office when Newkirk arrived in his now-grubby shorts, jersey and plimsolls. The Colonel looked up and beckoned him over. Newkirk scrunched up his eyes in a quizzical look, which Hogan instantly read: Where are the others?

"Kinch and Carter are down below," Hogan said. "We had to get the description to London pronto." He turned to LeBeau. "How sure was Carter?" he asked.

"Very sure, mon Colonel. He ducked out of sight as soon as he recognized them. He doesn't think they spotted him," LeBeau replied gravely.

Newkirk gave them both a confused look, and Hogan filled in the missing information. "Alpine Swift and Nightjar were in the back of Burkhalter's staff car, smiling and laughing. It looks like we were set up as part of a Luftwaffe investigation into possible links between the Underground and Luftwaffe personnel in this region."

Hogan paused for a moment to let the information sink in, drumming his fingers on the desk. He studied Newkirk's face. The British corporal looked too shocked to speak. That figured, Hogan thought. Newkirk had clearly liked those girls. "So pretty," he'd said—apparently pretty enough to fluster him into stuttering hard, even though he was speaking German. Puzzling, Hogan thought. Newkirk was incredibly confident around women, but somehow girls his own age brought out a shyness. Alpine Swift and Nightjar, barely in their 20s, threw him off script and for once he couldn't improvise his way back into the play.

Of course, Hogan reasoned, all that was before anyone realized they were double agents. They probably didn't seem so pretty to Newkirk now, but Hogan knew better than to mention it. Newkirk was susceptible to every women's charms and would probably find some reason to argue the girls had been coerced.

"Let's not worry too much yet," Hogan said. "Based on what I heard Burkhalter telling Klink when I was in the waiting room, they suspect collaboration with the Underground by Luftwaffe officers and their staffs in this region, not POWs. The good news is the Luftwaffe is trying to keep it hush-hush so the Gestapo doesn't get wind of it."

"Il faut laver son linge sale en famille," LeBeau said.

Newkirk nodded knowingly as Hogan looked up at him. "You got that, Newkirk?" he asked with a dubious grin forming on his lips. Hogan never knew whether to be annoyed or impressed that a British corporal who barely went to school understood more French than he did. Most of the time he opted for impressed.

Newkirk opened his mouth to respond, but the words wouldn't come. Before Hogan could notice, LeBeau jumped in. "One should wash one's dirty linen at home. Even the filthy Boche air force understands that," he snarled.

"There's one other thing, Newkirk," Hogan said. "According to Burkhalter, they're looking for a Luftwaffe Sergeant with a pronounced stutter."

Chapter Text

A pronounced stutter? LeBeau grabbed Newkirk by the arm, uttered “Mon Dieu,” and crossed himself.  Newkirk’s eyes grew wide and he gripped the edge of Hogan’s table.

“Take it easy, guys,” Hogan said. “They’re not looking for a POW, they’re looking for a Luftwaffe sergeant, and Klink said he didn’t have anyone here who fit that description. They’re going to be checking with the local garrisons. But we have to nip this in the bud. We’ll have to neutralize our friendly female agents.”

Neutralize? The word landed like a bomb exploding. LeBeau and Newkirk were both stunned now. Did that mean what they thought it meant?

Just then Carter burst into the room. “Colonel, Kinch says London needs you on the horn to work out some details.” The Colonel was on his feet and out the door immediately as Carter continued. “Oh, hey, Newkirk. I guess Louis told you? Jeez, those girls really double-crossed us.”

Newkirk nodded at Carter, then followed the Colonel to the door. Hogan waved him back, so he returned to the table where LeBeau and Carter were now huddled.

Carter was talking a mile a minute. “I’m a little worried about those girls, but it’s a good thing they didn’t see me, right, LeBeau? If they recognized either of us, oh boy, would we have trouble. You know, my dad always said it’s the pretty girls you have to watch out for. Hey, Newkirk, that was a great job you and your soccer buddies did distracting all the guards. You even looked like you were having fun out there. Boy, you’re pretty dusty from landing on the ground like that. Are you OK?” Carter’s torrential monologue died off as he hoped for a reply.

Newkirk looked up at him with pain in his eyes and shrugged, then turned away.

“You’re still mad at me, aren’t you?” Carter said softly. “Gosh, Newkirk, I am really sorry I laughed. I can tell I hurt your feelings. Sometimes I laugh when I get nervous. Does that ever happen to you? I guess I was just concerned for you because you were beating yourself up and I didn’t know what to say anymore. I didn’t think your stutter was really a problem on that mission. Really, it wasn’t.”

He moved toward Newkirk. “I wish you would just tell me what you’re bothered by instead of giving me the silent treatment,” he said. “Listen, buddy, I don’t really understand that much about stuttering. I mean, I had a classmate who stuttered a little bit, but it was nothing like the way you stutter.”

Newkirk looked up at him angrily at that.

“Oh, gosh, you know what I mean. Your stutter can be pretty severe. You’ve said so yourself. But I still like hearing you talk, and I’ve never seen it get in the way of us doing our jobs, Newkirk. And I definitely don’t want it to get in the way of being friends. Sometime soon, when you’re not so mad, maybe we can just talk about it, OK? I promise to listen. And I won’t laugh, I promise.”

Carter hung there awkwardly as Newkirk looked down, studying the arms crossed in front of him. If Carter could have looked inside him, he would have seen how desperately Newkirk wanted to answer, wanted to say he was sorry too. But there were so many words coming at him. He was roiling inside and didn’t know how to start.

 LeBeau finally spoke up. “Say something, Pierre. Carter apologized. Be a man and say something,” he said in a kind but firm voice.

Newkirk just clenched himself tighter and shook his head. That hurt. Being a man had nothing to do with it, and Louis knew it. Why would he say that?

Carter bobbed his head a few times, then said softly, “It’s really OK, Peter. You know where to find me when you’re ready to talk. I know you’re not really this mad at me. Something else is bothering you, and I wish I could help. But it’s OK. We’re still friends. You don’t have to worry about that.”

Carter turned to leave the Colonel’s room. Newkirk lifted his chin, and his eyes followed him, his face softening.

“This is ridiculous, Pierre,” LeBeau hissed once Carter was out of earshot. “You can’t punish us all with your silence just because Carter laughed at you.”

Newkirk’s eyes went wide and he shook his head vehemently. He opened his mouth and tried to push out the word that was stalling on his tongue, but it wouldn’t go.

LeBeau watched Newkirk with growing concern. He really couldn’t get the words out. He was gaping and gasping and looking like he was trying to swallow a brick. Finally words emerged.

“I’m not p-p-puh... p-p-p-puh…” He halted again, mouth open, gasping as he tried to push through. He couldn’t. He snapped his mouth shut and tried to catch his breath as his eyes pleaded with LeBeau for understanding.

LeBeau grasped his hand, finally recognizing that whatever was going on was much deeper and much harder for his friend than he could possibly comprehend. “It’s too hard to speak?” he asked gently as Newkirk nodded miserably. “You can’t do it right now? But why, Pierre? What happened?”

Newkirk patted his pockets and found the stub of a pencil. He looked around and saw a magazine lying on Hogan’s shelf. He thumbed through it, then tore off a corner of an inside page and scrawled a message.

“I’m scared,” he wrote.

LeBeau looked at him and spread hands apart in bewilderment. “You? You’re too tough to be scared. What are you afraid of? Not Carter.”

Newkirk rolled his eyes at that. No, of course not Carter. “Getting stuck,” he wrote.

LeBeau read the note and sighed. “Pierre,” he began softly. “You have stammered for years. You always get through it. Why are you suddenly silent?”

Newkirk’s pencil got busy again, and he stabbed the pencil into the paper before passing it to LeBeau. “I might get us all killed.” Then he lit a cigarette to calm himself, reclaimed the small scrap of paper, and burned it to cinders in the palm of his hand.

Chapter Text

“By my count, there are 42 or 43 signal units, anti-aircraft batteries, training centers and refueling stations in a 50 kilometer radius of Hammelburg,” Kinch was saying as he and Hogan emerged through the bunk bed ladder from the tunnels. “It depends on whether that entire signal company near Bad Heimbuch was deployed.” It was late afternoon, and they’d been down below for well over an hour reviewing intelligence, getting marching orders from London and working out their next move.

“That’s got to be five thousand Luftwaffe personnel they need to sort through. That buys us some time,” Hogan said. He looked to the table where LeBeau and Carter were seated. “Where’s Newkirk?”

“He went to find his English football friends,” LeBeau said irritably. “Maybe he’d like to tell them what’s going through his head.”

Hogan registered the information and ignored the dramatic undertone. “Kinch, you could use some fresh air. Why don’t you go round him up, and then we’ll all huddle in my office.” As Kinch headed toward the door, Hogan grabbed him by the sleeve. “Kinch, wait. How many people stutter?”

“Wilson told me it’s about one percent of the general population, Sir,” Kinch said. He was tracking what Hogan was thinking. “That’d be around 50 Luftwaffe personnel within a 50 mile radius. Some of them are bound to be sergeants.”

“One percent? Really Kinch? That’d be nine or ten guys in this camp. I can’t think of anyone but Newkirk who stutters,” Carter said in amazement.

“Oh, sure there are. Bell, Finch-Hatton, Russowski, LaChance, Schiffman…” Kinch said. “I’m sure there are others I haven’t noticed. It’s just a question of degree. Newkirk’s on the high end of the spectrum, and we talk to him more.”

“Schiffman? I didn’t think Schiffman talked at all,” Hogan said. He’d been worried about the skinny guy from Baltimore who had arrived in the camp three months earlier with a broken arm and burns up and down one leg. He wore a perpetual look of terror and Hogan had never been able to get a word out of him. He spent hours each day rocking in a corner of his hut and was on Wilson and Hogan’s short list for possible repatriation.

“He does, but only to Newkirk and a couple of other guys,” Kinch said. “Peter says Schiffman’s stutter seems a lot worse than his own.”

“Schiffman and Newkirk talking?” said Harper, who had been leaning against a bunk post yakking with his friends and eavesdropping. “That’s gotta be a hell of a conversation to hear. ‘Hello, N-N-N-N-Newkirk.’ ‘Good mmmmmorning, Sch-Sch-Sch-Sch-Schiffman. How’s your l-l-l-l-leg?’ ‘Not b-b-b-b-bad. Not b-b-b-bad at all.’ ‘C-c-c-c-coffee or t-t-t-tea?’” Snickers rose from Bartoli and Belknap’s bunks.

Harper was in the middle of his performance with his back turned away from the door as a guard’s whistle blew outside, and Newkirk re-entered the barracks. Free time was over; the prisoners had to return to their huts. Harper’s audience quit their guffawing and hung their heads as they saw Newkirk standing there, football under one arm, a look of humiliation spreading over his face. But Harper went on, oblivious to the new arrival. “T-t-t-tea pl-pl-please, C-c-c-c-corporal.’ ‘Cccccccertainly, Ssssssergeant.’”

“Harper. Bartoli. Belknap. My office. Right now,” Hogan roared. The trio of men slunk ahead of him as Hogan entered his quarters and slammed the door behind him.

Newkirk didn’t stick around to hear the muffled sounds of a stern lecture being delivered behind closed doors. He turned on his heel and ran out of the barracks. Kinch and Carter went after him and caught him easily, as his path had been impeded by a cluster of men who were returning to the barracks after the whistle blew.

Kinch caught Newkirk by the elbows, then enveloped him in a bear hug from behind. The corporal continued struggling for a moment, then sagged into the Sergeant’s arms. “Just ignore them,” Kinch was saying softly. “If you react, you give them power over you. Hold your head up high. Be the better person. You can do this.”

Newkirk listened intently, then straightened up and steadied his breaths as Kinch let him go. He gave Kinch a watery smile, then turned to Carter, who held put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. Then Newkirk nodded sharply, three times. The look said “You’re right. I’m calm. Let’s go.” He stood for a moment, took several deep breaths, then strode off between his mates.

The trio returned to the barracks as Harper was leaving under Hogan’s personal escort, his bedroll under one arm and his duffel bag on his back. “My quarters,” he said to Kinch. “Five minutes. Newkirk, you’ve got time to change. I’ve got a transfer to Barracks 24 to handle first.”

Bartoli and Belknap were in their bunks, looking mortified. As Newkirk changed out of his football kit and into his RAF uniform they approached him and began blurting out apologies.

“I’m real sorry I laughed,” Belknap said in his Mississippi twang. “It was stupid. And I know what it’s like to get made fun of for how you sound.”

“We were real jerks to laugh,” Bartoli added. “Colonel Hogan said he’ll have us out of here in a split-second if it ever happens again, and I promise, man. I won’t ever do that again. I’m sorry, Newkirk.”

Newkirk poked his head through his sweater, looked the two men in the eyes and nodded. He patted Bartoli on the shoulder as he sat down on Carter’s bunk to tug his socks and boots on. They scuttled off, heads down, hands in pocket, and went into the exile of their bunks.

As Newkirk entered Hogan’s quarters, LeBeau was behind him, his right hand in the small of his friend’s back and his left hand bearing a cup of piping hot tea. Carter and Kinch were already at the table. As he and Newkirk took their places, LeBeau placed the mug in front of his friend, squeezed his arm, and smiled warmly. Newkirk rested an elbow on the table and cradled his head in his hand as he looked affectionately at LeBeau, a crooked smile lighting up his features for the first time in hours. Then he straightened, took a sip, and sighed. He placed his tongue behind his two front teeth, parted his lips, and pushed the air out.

“Th… th…” Newkirk said, blinking. “Th… th… th…” He tried again, squeezing his eyes shut to concentrate. “Th… th… th…” Oh, bloody hell. This was one sound that never gave him trouble. He felt hopeless.

LeBeau reached up patted Newkirk’s cheek. “You are welcome, mon pote,” he said. Newkirk smiled gratefully and dipped his head in embarrassment.

Hogan watched Newkirk’s struggle from the doorway, and it hit him. He hadn’t heard that cheeky Cockney accent since yesterday.

Chapter Text

Dammit, Hogan thought as he hovered at the threshold of his office. That little display by Harper had shaken Newkirk.

Hogan was fresh from his special delivery to Barracks 24. The barracks chief, Sergeant Johnny Snider, excelled at dealing with troublemakers. Re-billeting to Snider’s command meant Harper was in for a few weeks of latrine digging by day and tunnel digging by night, and other hard duties designed to instill humility and respect. Snider, a kindly Midwesterner who’d worked as a corrections officer, was a tough taskmaster, and a trusted member of Hogan’s support team inside the wire.

Hogan stepped inside the room to join his men. Carter and Kinch sat on the far side of his table, facing the door. LeBeau and Newkirk, nursing his tea, sat on the opposite side, their backs to him. He smiled as Kinch reached a hand across the table and squeezed Newkirk’s forearm, as LeBeau huddled closer and spoke to him softly, as Carter broke off a hunk of a chocolate bar and passed it to his friend.

We happy few, we band of brothers, Hogan thought as he observed them. He approached the table and stood between Newkirk and LeBeau, dropping a hand on each man’s back.

The Colonel knew he didn’t yet have a complete picture of why Newkirk was suddenly crippled by his stutter, but it had to be more than the ridicule he’d just endured. In any case, this wasn’t the moment to ask. They had a mission to focus on.

But Hogan knew he had to connect, to make Newkirk see he would not tolerate Harper or anyone else putting him down. So he leaned into the Englishman and wrapped an arm around his shoulder as he started to explain the plan.

“All right, fellas. We’ve determined Burkhalter is at the Luftwaffe internal affairs field office in Würzburg, about 40 kilometers due south of here,” Hogan began. “He’s spending the night there in the VIP quarters, and our lovely double-agents have the bachelor officers’ quarters all to themselves. Our mission is to get to those girls tonight and neutralize them by any means necessary.”

A chill went through the room; Hogan expected it and could feel it as Newkirk tensed. He slid his right hand off the corporal’s shoulder and rubbed a circle on his back.

LeBeau had a thoughtful look on his face. “Mon Colonel, what does London mean by ‘neutralize’? They are Nazis, but they are also young girls.” It wasn’t like LeBeau to offer concern for any German, but Alpine Swift and Nightjar were only in their early 20s. Perhaps they had been led astray.

Hogan nodded contemplatively. “We’ve learned a bit about these girls from intel in London, LeBeau, and they’re not as innocent as they look,” he said. “They have deep links to the Nazi party and they’ve been amassing a tremendous amount of information about our Underground network. Now they’re helping the brass connect the dots to our friendly neighborhood Kraut air force.” Hogan smiled ruefully, crossing his arms. “I guess we’ve been a little too successful in passing ourselves off as member of the illustrious Luftwaffe.”

“What are you saying about the girls, Sir?” Carter asked.

Hogan sighed. “Our priority is to stop them. Our goal is to capture them and transport them to London. If necessary, we are authorized to take extreme measures. I don’t want it to come to that. Our assignment is to make it look like a Gestapo operation and use fear to get the Burkhalter and his Luftwaffe investigators to back off. We don’t need them sniffing around our operation any more than they already have.

“Now, here’s how it’s going to go down.”

XXX

As the meeting broke up, Hogan gestured to Newkirk to stay. He didn’t want to press the issue of what was bothering him, but he didn’t want it to go unmentioned either. And there was an urgent matter to address.

“Have a seat, Newkirk,” he said as the other men filed out of his quarters.

Both men perched on stools at Hogan’s table. Hogan gave Newkirk a long moment to see if he would speak. Newkirk began moving his lips, as if trying to find words, but succeeded only in gulping and exhaling. He stopped to catch his breath and looked wide-eyed at the Colonel. So Hogan began instead.

“Harper was way out of line, Newkirk,” he said firmly. “We don’t need that nonsense here, and if Belknap and Bartoli don’t watch their step, they’ll be off to Barracks 24 with him.” He had just a hint of a smile as he added, “And you don’t have to worry about latrine duty any time soon.”

Newkirk smiled, and Hogan could see the gratitude in his eyes. But Newkirk said nothing, so he continued.

“I want to make sure you’re up to this mission tonight, Newkirk. I know you had some trouble with Alpine Swift and Nightjar, and frankly I can see it rattled you. I need to hear it from you. Are you able to perform your job tonight?”

Newkirk shook his head affirmatively. He parted his lips to speak, and struggled once again to form his words. He bobbed his head up and down and squeezed his eyes shut as he tried to harness the air to push the words out. It was painful to watch, and hard not to speak for him. But eventually, Hogan heard a faint “Yes, Sir” and that was enough. 

“All right,” Hogan said, standing. “Your word is good with me. And Newkirk?”

Newkirk, rising to his feet, gave Hogan a quick nod.

“Come see me if anything is troubling you,” Hogan said. “Anything at all. Now, go help LeBeau peel some potatoes so we don’t starve.”

XXX

After supper that evening, Hogan called Kinch and LeBeau into his office to discuss their role in the nighttime mission. They would be staking out the Würzburg compound in the shadows while Hogan, Carter and Newkirk went undercover as Gestapo interrogators. They worked out positions and codes, reviewed the terrain including entry and exit points, and went over how two long-trusted Würzburg Underground operatives would assist them with pickups and drop-offs. As they were winding down, Hogan brought up the elephant in the room.

“Can you shed any light on what’s going on with Newkirk?” he asked. “He said he’s on board with the mission, but if you have any reservations, I want to hear them.”

LeBeau looked up in surprise. “He spoke to you?”

“Well, I wouldn’t call it a riveting conversation, but I got a ‘Yes, Sir’ out of him,” Hogan replied.

“He’s been awfully quiet today, even before that dust-up with Harper and his sidekicks,” Kinch said. “I don’t think I’ve heard two words out of him all day.”

“You haven’t,” LeBeau said. “He’s not talking.”

Kinch quirked an eyebrow as Hogan threw his pencil down on the table.

“Wait a second, LeBeau. What do you mean?” Hogan asked. “This is deliberate?”

“He says he’s ‘done talking,’ but I don’t think it’s deliberate,” LeBeau said. “He clammed up yesterday, and today he doesn’t seem to be able to get many words out. I had a very short conversation with him this morning. He barely said ten words, and since then he has been struggling to say anything at all.” He smiled sadly. "He usually talks too much. I think the first French expression he learned was 'tais-toi.' But now..."

The room was hushed, as if Newkirk’s silence was suddenly catching.

LeBeau studied his hands, then finally looked up at the Colonel. “I am worried about him for many reasons, but I’m certain he is up to the mission, mon Colonel. As long as you don’t need him to speak tonight, he will be all right. And I believe he would be crushed to be left behind.”

“I knew something was wrong when he was in here before,” Hogan said quietly. “But LeBeau, if he’s sulking about something, he needs to stay in camp until he works it out. We can’t afford any distractions in our line of work.”

“He’s not sulking, Sir,” LeBeau said. “He’s more anxious about speaking than I’ve ever seen.” Hogan looked at him questioningly, so LeBeau elaborated. “He’s scared, mon Colonel.”

“Newkirk doesn’t get scared,” Hogan scoffed, not wanting to entertain the possibility that Newkirk, of all people, had developed cold feet. “Nervous, yes. Frustrated, yes. Angry, hell yes. Reckless, every time I let him off his leash. But not scared.”

 “He’s not afraid of the mission, mon Colonel. He’s not afraid of the danger. He’s afraid of himself. He’s afraid he will do something to jeopardize all of us.”

“Because of what happened with Alpine Swift and Nightjar,” Kinch observed. “That sounds like Newkirk, Sir. He can take anything the world heaps on him, but nobody messes with his friends.”

Hogan let out a deep breath. “The problem is, Newkirk’s right to be worried. No matter how well disguised he is, if he starts to stutter in front of those agents or in front of Burkhalter and his adjutants, they’ll put two and two together. I don’t care how young and pretty Alpine Swift and Nightjar are. They’re well trained and they’re undoubtedly armed. We have to get them out of there without a scene unless we want to take them down on the spot.”

Kinch and LeBeau’s faces twisted. No one had the appetite for that. The Colonel’s face was a mask, but they knew his view: The women were more valuable alive than dead.

“Then he stays silent. He cannot even try to speak. Not a peep from him, no matter what. That'll be my order,” Hogan said. “Carter and I will do the talking.”

“Good. We could all use a break from Newkirk’s constant jabber anyway, right?” LeBeau said, smiling with relief.

“I haven’t heard a sarcastic comeback in 24 hours,” Hogan said, grinning. “I can live with that. All right, he’s in. If we leave through the tunnel at 2300 hours and meet Robin Redbreast on the Bonnland Road to hitch a ride, we can be in Würzburg by midnight.”

Chapter Text

Lights out was 9 P.M. and bed checks came anywhere from an hour to three hours later. On this evening, fortunately, Sergeant Schultz was on the job and the men had been recounted by 10:30 P.M. Schultz’s only goal was to settle into his quarters by midnight, when Corporal Langenscheidt, the most benign of the POWs’ guards, would take over watch duties.

By 11 P.M., Hogan, Newkirk and Carter had donned their Gestapo plainclothes suits while LeBeau and Kinch got into their sabotage blacks. They trickled out of the tunnel hatch one by one to reach the Bonnland Road and meet up with Robin Redbreast.

Robin was a milkman and a 58-year old veteran of the last war, with a caved-in chest from a gunshot wound to the shoulder that destroyed the surrounding muscles. He drove his milk truck with his weak left hand lightly guiding the steering wheel while his stronger right arm handled the gear lever.

Robin Redbreast was on the road every night, running from farm to farm to load up his truck before making his wholesale milk run of big cans and pails in the wee hours. By 5 A.M. he was dashing back to the dairies to pick up bottles and begin his deliveries to local homes. In between, he got his most important work done as a driver for the Underground.

Hogan was the first to hop into his truck, riding shotgun. A few hundred yards later, he slowed to a crawl as Kinch and LeBeau climbed through the service doors in back, nestled among big metal cans. Half a mile onward, Newkirk and Carter boarded the truck, plunking themselves down in a pair of jump seats behind Colonel Hogan.

“Have some milk,” Robin Redbreast said with a smile, gesturing to a carrier holding six 300 ml bottles. Carter passed them around, and he and his fellow Americans eagerly chugged a bottle apiece. Newkirk just made a face and LeBeau tutted.

“Thanks, Robin, that was delicious,” Carter said. He looked at his team mates. “You’re not going to drink yours, Newkirk? LeBeau?”

Newkirk raised a hand and waved away the very suggestion, while LeBeau snorted. “Please, have it André, if Robin does not mind.”

“Of course not. I offered. Please, there is plenty more. Drink up! Milk is good for you!” Robin said.

LeBeau couldn’t resist delivering a social commentary. “You Americans and Germans have fascinating habits. Give me a café au lait and I will drink milk. But on its own? Not since I was un bambin.” He stopped himself and added, “But you are very kind to offer.”

“You haven’t lived until you’ve had chocolate milk straight from the ice box, LeBeau,” Kinch said.

“No kidding,” Hogan added longingly. “And even without chocolate, that was a real treat, Robin. We never get milk in camp.”

“They don’t have chocolate milk in Germany, I guess,” Carter said sadly.

“Not enough brown cows,” Hogan quipped. “Grab the empties, Newkirk,” he added. “They’ll come in handy.”

Robin turned and smiled at the Englishman. “You’re very quiet tonight, Newkirk,” he said. “Cat got your tongue?” He had been on several missions previously with Newkirk and they was used to him being a chattier companion.

Newkirk opened his mouth to answer when Hogan jumped in. “He’s been sick. He’s resting his throat,” he said. “He’s under orders to maintain complete silence, right, Newkirk?”

Newkirk hummed an “Mm-hm” in agreement while managing to look simultaneously pained, relieved and aggrieved. He really would rather answer for himself even when it was hard to do so, but he was tired of embarrassing himself with verbal stumbles.

The car hummed along the country road in silence, but the progress was annoyingly slow. “How much longer to Würzburg?” Hogan asked as he checked his watch. It was 11:45, and they still had a ways to go.

“Another 20 or 30 minutes,” Robin replied. “The truck does not have a powerful engine. But,” he added with a grin, “It is better than the one my brother drives for his milk deliveries.”

“His car’s slower than this one?” Carter asked.

“His car is a horse and cart,” Robin said with a smirk.

They made slow but steady progress until they reached a military checkpoint on the outskirts of Würzburg.

Hogan presented papers for himself, Newkirk and Carter while Kinch and LeBeau crouched under a tarp.

“Three Gestapo officers riding along with the milkman?” the Heer Sergeant inquired. “Where are you going…?”—at this, he studied the identity paper bearing Colonel Hogan’s scowling photo—“Oberst Hochländer?

“You have the temerity to ask the Gestapo such an impertinent question?” Hogan replied. He turned to Newkirk and Carter, who snorted and laughed on cue. “If you must know,” he said in a confiding tone, “we are investigating the notorious Würzburg cheese ring. A disgracefully unpatriotic effort by a handful of corrupt dairy farmers to corner the quark market. Utterly decadent.”

The Heer Sergeant was suitably impressed. “I had no idea. I meant no offense, Herr Oberst!” He turned to his comrades and waved the milk wagon through.

“That was a pretty cheesy performance,” Carter said.

“I admit, I was milking it,” Hogan replied.

XXX

In short order, they arrived at Würzburg military compound. It was later than they’d anticipated—20 minutes past midnight—and time was tight. They had less than an hour to round up the women, subdue them, and rejoin Robin Redbreast for the first leg of the return trip to Stalag 13, whereupon he would hand them off to another operative.

But first they had to get through security, or around it.

Hogan, Carter, and Newkirk, in their plainclothes dark suits and fedoras, strode up to the checkpoint in their haughtiest manner as LeBeau and Kinch scrambled into the shadows cast by a crop of trees on the edge of the compound. The trio’s job was to enter through the front gates; the duo’s assignment was to create an exit through the far side of the fence and to take cover and closely monitor the situation in case extreme steps were needed. They were well armed with handguns as well as grenades.

It took very little persuasion for Hogan and his fellow Gestapo agents to gain entry. As they passed through the gates, Hogan and Carter chattered noisily about their work, drawing the guards’ attention to them. Newkirk, meanwhile was tasked with diverting attention away from LeBeau and Kinch. Trailing close behind Hogan and Carter, he pitched one milk bottle, then another, in the opposite direction to his companions, setting off a scramble by the guards to find the cause of the disturbance. This gave Kinch and LeBeau time to cut the wires and secure an escape route.

Entering the guest quarters, the three “Gestapo” men drew their weapons, unsure whether they would meet any resistance. The long hallways of the guest facilities were dark except for a dim bulb at the far end. They tiptoed past the ornate doors of what was surely the VIP section, where Burkhalter and his team were spending the night. They followed the signs that read “Bachelor-Offiziere Viertel,” and found themselves staring at six possible entrances, with no idea which one was right.

Hogan was standing, cross-armed, pondering the options when Newkirk tapped him on the shoulder and pulled out a stethoscope. “Good thinking, Newkirk,” Hogan said with a nod. “If they’re up and talking, we might be able to narrow this down without having to knock at every door and create a disturbance.”

Newkirk went to the first door and heard loud snoring behind it. He shook his head and moved on. The second door produced silence. At the third door, however, he picked up a conversation. He knew those voices. It was Alpine Swift and Nightjar and their annoying laughter.

He cocked a thumb decisively to the door and nodded, letting Hogan know he was confident of the location. Newkirk and Carter pulled their hats down low to shield their faces; they had to hope that the gray they’d applied to their hair and the mustaches they’d applied to their lips would make them hard to recognize.

“Are we breaking the door down, Colonel?” Carter asked apprehensively.

“We’ll knock,” Hogan said. “That’s how the Gestapo arrives in the middle of the night. No loyal German would dare to ignore that knock at the door.” He rapped firmly at the door with his two men behind him and waited.

 

Chapter Text

A trim woman with gray-blonde hair and dark, penetrating brown eyes answered the door. She looked the men up and down and said, "Let me see your identification." She scrutinized their documents, then let them enter through a small vestibule and into a sitting room.

Two young women were seated on a long sofa, balancing half-finished drinks on the arms of the furniture. They each held a hand of cards, and a third hand was face down on a small table opposite next to a beer stein. It was a game of Skat, Newkirk realized with a small grin. Germans loved that three-handed game; Sergeant Schultz had taught it to him and LeBeau long ago. Across the room, he noticed, a small tangle of knitting sat on an easy chair, with a tea cup perched on a table nearby.

Hogan addressed the women. "Gnädige Frau, I am Oberst Höchlander of the Gestapo. These gentlemen* are Leutnant Schneider and Leutnant Schröeder," he said, gesturing first to Newkirk, then to Carter.

"I am Frau Weber, and for many years I have served as the governess to these two young ladies," the older woman said with an affectionate wave. "Lorelei, Magda, I have checked their Gestapo credentials. They are valid. Now," Frau Weber said as she stood between Hogan, his men, and the two women, "what can we do for you?"

"Alle Vögel sind schon da**," Hogan said.

The three women stared in surprise. It was the recognition code of Der Steinadler, the Underground agent who was helping the Luftwaffe to infiltrate the resistance.

Magda looked around nervously, then answered: "Amsel, Drossel, Fink und Star."

"So. You understand," Hogan said. "Like you, we are working with our well-placed informer to break the back of the Underground!" He walked over to the sofa where the younger women were seated.

"I do not understand why you must disturb us so late at night," Magda, the elder of the young women, said imperiously. "Do you not understand that my cousin and I are the daughter and niece of Air Vice-Marshall Berghütte?"

"I beg your pardon, Fräulein—or should I say, Alpine Swift," Hogan added with a gracious bow. "As you know, protecting the glorious Third Reich is not a nine-to-five job. We work at all hours and go where the evidence leads us," Hogan explained. By now, Newkirk had taken his place in front of a window, and used his flashlight to signal to LeBeau and Kinch that they had located the agents.

"What evidence?" Lorelei asked anxiously.

"We understand, of course, that you are gathering highly valuable information about corruption in the Luftwaffe ranks. Perhaps you are unaware that General Burkhalter has his own agenda in this matter," Hogan continued.

"Whatever do you mean?" Frau Weber asked. "What sort of insinuations are these?"

"Madame," Carter said with a sneer in his voice. "Please think twice before using such loaded words in the presence of the Gestapo."

"Well," Magda sniffed. "What is this … 'agenda' … of which you speak?"

"You should know that General Burkhalter's own nephews are under suspicion by the Gestapo. He is well aware of this. He may be diverting your attention to, let us say, secondary evidence," Hogan said. "He may be focusing on Sergeants rather than Captains and Majors, for example." It was a lie, of course because Burkhalter didn't even have any nephews as far as Hogan knew. He said it just to cast suspicion on the German officer in order to get the women away from him.

"Magda," Lorelei said firmly, "We must wake the General at once and allow this man to present his accusations. It is the only fair way to approach the matter."

"I would caution against that," Carter said. While Carter was playing off whatever Hogan said, Newkirk was edging his way around the room, idly lifting objects from tables to examine them, and looking highly distracted even though he was actually concentrating hard on every detail and listening to every word.

"Oh yes," Hogan added. "That would be most unwise. You see, our colleagues are taking the General into custody as we speak. Our instructions are to remove you to a secure location to await your next assignment. Please gather your belongings."

The women looked at one another, clearly uncomfortable with the arrangements. Carter began nervously fingering the weapon in his pocket. Frau Weber noticed, and beat him to it, drawing a semiautomatic pistol from inside her Loden jacket. Magda and Lorelei quickly followed suit, producing weapons from inside their dirndls. By now, Newkirk was behind Frau Weber. She could see him out of the corner of her eye, but she was concentrating on the other two men, who seemed to be in charge.

"Hands up," Frau Weber instructed the men. "I am afraid we cannot accompany you gentlemen anywhere. We are under strict orders from General Burkhalter to remain here. And General Burkhalter is taking his marching orders from Air Vice Marshall Berghütte, who is a close friend of our great Führer."

Hogan stepped toward her with soothing words on his lips. "My dear Frau Weber, there is no need to get excited." As he spoke, Newkirk approached her from behind and threw a leg in front of her, tripping her and wrestling her to the ground as Hogan took her weapon. In his mind, he was saying, "Sorry, Mum," but the words didn't come out. Lorelei fired a sloppy shot that whizzed past Newkirk's ear, then she and Magda fled to the bedroom with Carter on their heels.

"Tie her up," Hogan shouted over his shoulder to Newkirk, tossing him a rope he extracted from his coat while quietly join Carter outside the bedroom door. They stood to the side, weapons drawn, before Hogan gave the signal to burst in.

On the count of three, they pushed the door in and were surprised by what they saw. Magda and Lorelei were sitting smugly on chairs in the corner of the bedroom. Directly in front of them, standing next to the bed, was a Luftwaffe captain with a phone to his ear and a weapon in his hand.

"Shoot if you must, but General Burkhalter will be joining us in a minute. Good luck in explaining my corpse to him," the Captain said.

XXX

*Schneider means "Tailor" and Schröeder means "Carter."

**The recognition code comes from a German children's rhyme: Hogan says "All the birds are already here" and Magda replied "Blackbirds, thrushes, finches and starlings."

Chapter Text

As Hogan and Carter faced off with the officer, they heard a voice from the sitting room.

"Martin! Martin, bist du das, mein alter Freund? Ist es möglich?"*

The Luftwaffe captain's ears perked up and he edged forward. "Wer ist da?" He was distracted just long enough for Hogan to overpower him while Carter trained his weapon on the two agents. As Hogan pinned Martin's arms behind his back, the captain yelled, "Sie sind ein Verräter! Sie werden damit nicht davonkommen!"

Newkirk entered the room and saw the captain in Hogan's grip on the floor. "Ja, Martin, ich bin es. Dein alter Freund der Lügner," he said as he banged him on the head with his weapon, knocking him out.

"Nice to hear from you, Schneider," Hogan said as he grinned up at Newkirk, relieved to hear his voice at last. "How'd you figure out his name?"

"'E um, 'e um, 'e um, 'e left his briefcase next to the sofa," Newkirk whispered. "J-j-just 'ad a little look."

Carter quickly bound and gagged the two agents while Hogan took a moment to peer out to the sitting room. Frau Weber was struggling against her restraints. Hogan waved to Carter, who snapped an ampule of chloroform into his handkerchief and held it over her face, then Martin's.

"What made you even think to look in the briefcase?" Carter asked.

Newkirk opened his mouth to answer, and struggled again. Carter and Hogan were looking at him expectantly. So were the two agents, tied up and struggling with their wide, angry eyes boring into him.

"Th- th- the beer," Newkirk finally said. "Th-th-the knitting." He shrugged, then whispered, "C-could I tell you later?" He winced and tipped his head toward the women. "B-big ears," he said.

At that moment, the team heard a loud rap at the door, followed by the unmistakable voice of General Burkhalter.

"Kapitän Leitner!" he called out. "Ist alles in Ordnung?"

Instinctively, Newkirk jumped into action. Hogan watched in wonder as the Englishman grabbed Martin's cap, put it on, and raced to the door.

Newkirk cracked open the door just a notch. "Jawohl, Herr General," he said. "Es war ein Fehlalarm. Es gab keine Eindringlinge, nur Katzen auf der Fensterbank." It was a fair imitation of the captain, based on just a few sentences, and such an improbable explanation that it almost made sense.

"Lass mich rein kommen, Leitner," Burkhalter insisted.

"Die Damen schlafen endlich," Newkirk replied, keeping his face in the shadows. "Aber ich kann Sie natürlich hereinlassen, die Mädchen zu sehen. Lassen Sie mich zuerst überprüfen, ob sie angezogen sind."

Smart, Hogan thought. Offer to let him in, then give him a reason not to accept. Hogan couldn't help but feel a surge of fatherly pride toward Newkirk. What a conniving little sneak; what a chip off the old block. Although in point of fact, Hogan had to admit, he'd probably learned more about deviousness from Newkirk than he had taught.

As the Captain spoke, Burkhalter relented. It would not be seemly for a general of the Third Reich to wake two young agents from their sleep—especially when they were the daughter and niece of a prominent Vice Air Marshall. "Nein," he said. "Lassen Sie sie sich ausruhen und sorgen Sie dafür, dass Sie auch schlafen, Kapitan Leitner. Komm morgen früh um 7 Uhr zu mir."

"Jawohl, Herr General. Gute nacht, mein Herr," Newkirk responded, gently shutting the door. He slumped against the wall, looking both terrified and relieved.

"Good job," Hogan said. "I think you got rid of him. Now, we need to get these four out of here. I wonder where Kinch and LeBeau are."

"I s-s-s-sig, sig," Newkirk began. "Ssss-sig…"

"You signaled them?" Hogan filled in kindly. "And they replied?" His optimism that his favorite thief was back on his game was dissipating. He was still stumbling badly over his words in English. He was still shaken.

Newkirk nodded. He usually wanted to finish his own sentences, but he knew this wasn't the time or the place to drag out an explanation, and he was grateful to Hogan for understanding what he was saying. "We'll, we'll see, we'll see, we'll see them sh-shortly, Sir. I'm sure of it," he said.

"It can't be too soon. We need them out of here before your friend the captain comes to and causes a fuss," Hogan told Newkirk. "Hand him over to Kinch, and you and I will take the girls. We'll let Carter handle Frau Weber," he added, taking another glance at the lady in the sitting room. None of them got any satisfaction from manhandling a woman, let alone one who was old enough to be their mother. But Frau Weber was clearly a part of the Luftwaffe's Underground infiltration team and would have to be neutralized along with the rest of them.

Carter sidled up to Hogan at that point, his gun still on the two agents, who hada,so had a whiff of chloroform by now. "We're taking all of them with us, Sir?"

Hogan sighed. "I don't think we have much choice. And I don't think Robin Redbreast's dairy van is going to hold all of them. We'll need another way to get them all out."

It was then that they heard a rap on the window, a familiar pattern unique to their team. Hogan opened the window in the sitting room, and reached an arm down. He pulled up LeBeau while Kinchloe hovered in the shadows, scanning the compound.

"We have guests," Hogan told LeBeau. "Twice as many as we expected. What options do we have for getting four of them out of here in one fell swoop?"

"We've already solved that," LeBeau said with a smile as he surveyed the room, counting off Hogan, Carter and Newkirk. "Schneider flashed his light four times, so we knew you had a crowd in here," he said with a nod toward his English friend. Then he aimed his grin at Hogan and said, "How does a laundry van sound? A driver just pulled in to collect the wash. We can subdue him on his way out."

"Good man," Hogan said. He leaned out the window to Kinch. "How long will it to get the laundry van back here?" he whispered.

"Seven minutes, give or take, Colonel. LeBeau, come with me," Kinch replied. "We'll be right back, Colonel."

XXX

It took six minutes, to be exact. "You've always been an overachiever, Kinch," Hogan quipped as he and Newkirk wrestled a groggy and well-bound Frau Weber through the window. Kapitän Leitner, still woozy from a hard knock to his noggin, was next and went into the van with surprising ease.

Carter hopped through the window to stand guard over their first two prisoners while Hogan and Newkirk brought the two young female agents to the window. Through her dizziness, Magda nevertheless managed to head-butt Hogan's chin, drawing blood, but she gave up the fight quickly as LeBeau took her into a headlock and dragged her to the back of the van. Lorelei aimed considerably lower, used her knee strategically and left Newkirk doubled over, nauseated and out of breath.

"Bloody 'ell," Newkirk managed to spit out as Hogan jumped out the window to help subdue the women and pushed them to the back of the van, amid bags of sheets, pillowcases, and uniforms. Newkirk dropped to his knees, not quite ready to attempt to get his leg up and through a window. He berated himself for falling for one of the oldest female maneuvers in the book.

With a sympathetic nod from Hogan, LeBeau climbed back in the window and held Newkirk's head for a moment as he retched, then helped him get a leg over the windowsill. He took a seat between Kinch and LeBeau in the back of the van as Hogan took the wheel and Carter rode beside him. Newkirk glared at Lorelei and Magda, winced, and felt his stomach lurch again as they rumbled toward the gate. Kinch wrapped an arm around him as LeBeau shoved a towel under Newkirk's face to catch the mess.

XXX

German translations:

(Newkirk and the German captain, Martin Leitner)

"Martin, Martin, is that you, my old friend? Is it possible?"

"Who is that?" Then (to Hogan) "You are a traitor! You won't get away with this!"

"Yes, Martin, it's me. Your old friend the Liar."

XXX

(Newkirk and Burkhalter)

"Captain Leitner, is everything all right?

"Yes, General, it was a false alarm. There are no intruders. Only cats on the windowsill."

"Let me in, Leitner."

"The women are finally asleep. I can let you in, of course. First let me check if they are decent."

"No. Let them sleep, and make sure you also sleep, Captain Leitner. Come see me at 7 o'clock tomorrow morning."

"Yes, my General. Good night, Sir."

Chapter Text

"Better?" Kinch asked Newkirk as he settled him onto a pile of laundry. "Sit here. It'll make it a cushier ride for you." Newkirk groaned and leaned back, feeling grateful and exhausted. It has been a hard day in every respect, and although the nausea was dying down, pain was still radiating from where his groin had unexpectedly collided with a kneecap.

The prisoners' prisoners began to stir as the vehicle rumbled along the road from Würzburg. It was Frau Weber who spoke up first, her voice muffled through the gag in her mouth.

"Wohin bringen Sie uns?" she demanded. "Und wer sind Sie?"

Newkirk, sitting beside the middle-aged woman, replied. "Das können wir Ihnen nicht sagen, Frau. Aber Sie werden sicher sein. Niemand wird Ihnen schaden, gnädige Frau," he said.

"Oh, 'gnädige' Frau, please," LeBeau snorted. "Are you going soft, mon pote? She doesn't deserve words of respect."

"You d-d-don't know that," Newkirk muttered softly to LeBeau. "Leave off."

LeBeau was a gentleman, but during wartime his feelings of gallantry did not extend to any German women. He couldn't help feeling annoyed at Newkirk. Here he was, speaking kindly to a Kraut just because she was female, even though she had just been pointing a gun at him. And not only that, Newkirk was speaking fluently even though nobody else could get 10 words out of him. Although LeBeau thought he understood Newkirk better than anyone, he was baffled and upset by his silence.

Frau Weber was studying Newkirk with interest, having noticed his halting speech. Suddenly she put two and two together. "Sie sind der Feldwebel mit dem Stottern," she said. "Die Mädchen haben mir von dir erzählt."

"Ja, das ist so," Newkirk replied wearily. There was no point denying it, and she was their prisoner, so she couldn't do anything with the information now. "Na und?"

"Sie stottern auf Englisch, aber nicht sehr viel auf Deutsch. Warum?" she asked.

Newkirk shrugged, looking pained at the reminder of how he had stumbled verbally during the previous night's mission. "Na, sind Sie nicht aufmerksam? Sie sagen mir, Frau. Ich habe keine Ahnung," he said irritably.

"Lass den Jungen in Ruhe," Magda piped in. "Er ist zu dumm, um Ihnen zu antworten."

"Vielleicht hat er zu viel Angst," Lorelei added with a giggle. That laugh was just as annoying when it was muffled by a gag, Newkirk thought. He'd been teased about his stammer since he was a little boy, especially by that awful Ruby Bellows, in the class above his, who had that same shrill laugh. None of the snide comments about how he sounded were new to him, but the wisecracks got under his skin anyway, especially when he was already tired and anxious.

"Halt die Klappe," Newkirk said, anger fraying the edges of his voice. "Halt einfach die Klappe, alle von euch Frauen. Vor allem Sie, Nachtschwalben. Ich bin es leid, dir zuzuhören."

"Chut, mon pote," LeBeau said. "You've hardly spoken in two days, and now you're breaking my ears with ugly German words. And you're speaking with Boche women while you're ignoring your friends. Donc, si je te frappais dans les couilles? Alors vas-tu me parler?" It was an attempt at humor, but it fell flat.

"Sois pas bête. Clouer le bec," Newkirk snarled.

"Je blague," LeBeau replied.

"D-don't care. It's not fffunny," Newkirk replied.

"Poor nervous little boy," Lorelei mocked him in English. "Listen, he can hardly even speak his own language." She laughed her shrill laugh, and Newkirk cringed.

"Lorelei! Nein!" Frau Weber said. "Entschuldige dich bei diesem Jungen!"

At that, Lorelei laughed again. "Mach dich nicht lächerlich, Tante. Er würde uns töten, wenn er könnte," she said.

Newkirk could feel his eyes stinging as he put his hands over his ears and drew his knees up to his chest. He did not want to hear another word from Nightjar. He didn't want a stupid apology. He wished she could find out what it was like to be ambushed by your own words. Bloody hell, he wished everybody could. Why did he have to be all alone in this struggle?

"Hören Sie auf, ihn provozieren, oder es wird Ihnen sehr leid tun," Kinch told her firmly. Then he turned to LeBeau. "Et qu'est ce que tu crois faire? Arrête de le taquiner." LeBeau was exactly like a big brother to Newkirk, Kinch knew. He could pick on him mercilessly, but if anyone else tried it, he would not tolerate it.

"Oh, hör dem Baumwollpflücker zu." That was the Captain chiming in. Newkirk was on him in a second with a fist in his face.

"I'll bloody well kill you, Kraut," Newkirk screamed as Kinch and LeBeau pulled him back.

"What's going on back there?" Hogan asked from the front seat.

"Just a little misunderstanding," Kinch said. "We're handling it, Sir."

"Make sure you do," Hogan said as he drove on.

Newkirk glared at the captain, but he settled back down, then watched as Kinch and LeBeau took charge. Together, they tightened the gags on Captain Leitner, Magda and Lorelei, leaving only Frau Weber's gag a little loose. One look at the fierce expressions on Kinch and LeBeau's faces, and Captain Leitner and the women knew their enemies weren't to be trifled with. Leitner silenced himself, and the POWs and their prisoners rode in peace.

Newkirk knew he should be feeling better. He had found his voice again and helped his team out of a jam. But instead he just felt utterly exhausted and he was still in pain. He dozed with his head on his knees, LeBeau's arm around his shoulders, and Kinch's hand on his arm as they motored toward the Bonnland Road to meet up with Robin Redbreast. And if he snuffled a little bit, nobody said a word.

XXX

Expecting that Hogan and his team would return with two captives, Robin had brought another Underground agent, Vulcan, to help. Vulcan had a short right leg in an iron brace, a souvenir of a boyhood bout of polio, and was disqualified for the army despite being in his 20s. As Hogan pulled the laundry van alongside them, Robin and Vulcan got out of the milk truck to peer inside. Colonel Hogan joined them at the rear of the vehicle.

"You've been very productive, Papa Bear," Robin Redbreast told Colonel Hogan as he looked at the small crowd inside. "How can we help?"

"I need you to create a diversion outside the camp when we're getting out prisoners back inside," Hogan said. "Make as much noise as you can with the milk cans and bottles, OK? Draw attention to the front gate so we can get nine of us into the tunnels." He looked at his watch. "Give us … ten minutes from the time we part ways near the entrance to the Luft Stalag. And assume it's going to take us at least ten more minutes to get everyone through. When it's over, have Vulcan drive the van away from the camp and make it look like a Gestapo job."

Robin Redbreast lit up at the idea. "I guess the guards won't be getting their milk delivery if a half-dozen milk cans somehow bounce off the side of the van," he said. "I have no idea WHY they weren't strapped down!" He patted Vulcan on the back. "Come with me, my friend. And Papa Bear, good luck!"

Hogan pulled Robin closer before he could turn away. "And one other thing, Robin. We'll have our men watch these prisoners until 5 A.M. But after that, we'll need two Underground agents to stand guard so we can go to roll call." He glanced over at Newkirk, who was slumped against LeBeau, having lost the battle to stay awake. "And maybe get some sleep," he added, slapping Robin on the shoulder.

Ten minutes later, in the glow of moonlight, a milk van came zipping toward the gates of Stalag 13, then suddenly veered left and then right. The clanging of metal pierced the night, following quickly by the sound of broken glass. Robin Redbreast staggered out of the van, followed by Vulcan, and began gesturing wildly.

"You idiot!" he bellowed. "Didn't you think of strapping down the milk cans? Look at this, milk everywhere!"

"Sorry, mein Herr, sorry, mein Herr," Vulcan replied.

The ruckus attracted the attention of the front-gate guards, the tower guards, and even guards around the camp perimeter. As guards swarmed to the gate to witness the commotion and the search lights focused on the disturbance, the five members of Hogan's core team slipped back into camp, with their four prisoners in tow.

XXX

Translations

(Newkirk and the German women)

Frau Weber: "Where are you taking us? And who are you?"

Newkirk: "We can't tell you that, Ma'am. But you are safe. No one will harm you, Ma'am."

Frau Weber: "You are the Sergeant who stutters. The girls told me about you."

Newkirk: "Yes, that's right. So what?"

Frau Weber: "You stutter in English, but not in German. Why is that?"

Newkirk: "Well, aren't you observant. You tell me. I have no idea."

Magda: "Leave the boy alone. He's too stupid to answer you."

Lorelei: "Maybe he's too scared."

Newkirk: "Shut up. Shut up, all of you women. Especially you, Nightjar. I'm tired of listening to you."

(LeBeau and Newkirk)

"Maybe if I kicked you in the balls, you'd talk to me."

"Don't be stupid. Shut your mouth."

"I'm joking."

(Lorelei, Frau Weber, Kinch, Captain Leitner)

Frau Weber: "Lorelei, no. Apologize to this boy."

Lorelei: "Don't be ridiculous, Aunt. He would kill us if he had the chance."

Kinch (to Lorelei): "Stop provoking him or you will be very sorry." Then: (to LeBeau) "And what do you think you're doing? Quit teasing him."

Captain Leitner: "Oh, listen to the cotton picker."

Chapter Text

Sergeant Baker was at the radio when the men returned from their mission, and with a tap on the ladder, he summoned Garlotti and Olsen down to the tunnel to watch over the new prisoners. Hogan's weary team changed back into their uniforms and headed up the ladder.

"Everyone ready for bed, then meet in my quarters for a debriefing," Hogan said as the men climbed up the ladder. Newkirk couldn't get away from the German prisoners fast enough and was the first one up, followed by Carter and LeBeau.

Newkirk quickly changed into his nightshirt and, while LeBeau put on a pot of coffee and Carter chattered with Broughton and Addison, he went inside Hogan's office. He sat down on the bunk and tried to stay upright, but gravity was more powerful that he was. By the time LeBeau and Hogan arrived in the Colonel's quarters together, Newkirk was lying on his stomach and snoring on the bottom bunk.

"We've lost a man," Hogan quipped as he pulled down a blanket to cover the Corporal. "We'll let him sleep," he said, tucking in the corners as Kinch and Carter entered the room.

At that, Newkirk shifted and then sat up groggily. "Sorry, Sir," he said. "Don't know what came over me."

"Exhaustion," Hogan said. "Don't get up, Newkirk. Just sit." He stood beside the bunk and started the mission recap.

"All right men, we've disabled the investigation. Weather permitting, we should be able to get Alpine Swift and Nightjar to the sub tomorrow night. Frau Weber will go with them, and the Captain will find himself in a very nice English POW camp," Hogan said. "But we're not done. We still have Burkhalter to deal with. He's likely to stop back here on his way from Würzburg. We need to make sure he closes the investigation and believes the Gestapo was involved."

"But all in all, it was very well done," Hogan concluded, "Even if one of you failed to obey orders."

Newkirk reddened. That was him. He was supposed to remain quiet for the whole mission—those were the Colonel's explicit orders.

"What made you speak up, Newkirk?" Carter asked.

Newkirk shrugged. "There 'ad to be a fourth person in the guest quarters," Newkirk replied. "And when you went into the bedroom I knew you'd found 'im. I 'ad to say something."

"But how did you know there was a fourth?" Carter persisted.

"W-well, Skat's a three-player game, innit? And, and the third player was drinking a beer. Well, that governess is no beer drinker, and there wasn't even any lipstick on the mmmug. I reckoned she was sitting in that c-cozy chair across the room with her tea and her knitting. Someone else was playing c-cards with those girls," he said. "I j-j-j-just 'adn't any idea about who it was until I saw that briefcase."

Hogan nodded seriously. "You did very well, Newkirk. You observed your surroundings carefully and made a smart decision that probably saved our lives. And if there's anyone I can consistently count on to disobey a direct order, it's you, Corporal. It was the right decision this time." He sat down beside Newkirk and threw an arm around him. "But don't make a habit of it, OK?"

Newkirk grinned. "Thought you said I already 'ad mmmmade a habit of it, Gov." He yawned and leaned in Hogan's shoulder. "Permission to keep defying authority, Sir?"

"Permission denied, except under extreme circumstances," Hogan said as the rest of the men erupted into laughter.

As the laughter died down, Kinch spoke seriously. "It was good to hear your voice, buddy," he said. "I don't know about the rest of you guys, but I was starting to miss it."

"I'm certain you'll regret saying that in a day or two," LeBeau said. "C'est un vrai bavard, ce garcon. Une pipelette," he added affectionately.

"Why'd you quit talking, Peter?" Carter asked. Leave it to him to ask the blunt questions.

Newkirk looked up at him wearily. "I didn't qu, qu, qu quit talking, Carter. Talking qu-quit me. I couldn't get the words to come out. Every time I opened my mmmouth, my heart was beating wildly and I felt like I was falling but never touching the ground. I j-j-j-just couldn't... say nothing."

"Anything," Kinch corrected.

"Thank you, teacher. Blimey, give a tired lad a break," Newkirk grinned.

Hogan looked at him in deep concern, as Newkirk slumped into his shoulder. "Is it better now? Is it easier?"

Newkirk nodded. "Yes, Sir. But please keep me away from Nightjar. There's something about that girl. She reminds me of someone."

"Really? Who? Like, a girlfriend? Because you said she was pretty," Carter asked. Newkirk rolled his eyes. Again, leave it to him to ask the awkward question.

"I mmmeant pretty as in pretty annoying. No, she j-j-j-j-just reminds me of a girl I knew a long time ago," Newkirk said. "When I was a wee lad. I heard her laugh and I could feel hot tears on my face all over again. I know it doesn't mmmmake sense, but…" He yawned again and started getting to his feet. "Blimey, I'm light-headed. I better get to my bunk. And all right, Carter, she is very pretty. But that doesn't mmmmake her nice. J-j-just remember that."

"You stay right here," Hogan said, pushing Newkirk onto his back. "I don't want you falling on your face in the 20 feet between here and your bunk."

Hogan didn't have to ask twice. As soon as his head as down, Newkirk was asleep. Hogan tucked the blanket around him again, stood back with hands on hips, and sighed. Kinch and Carter had shuffled out of the room, but LeBeau remained.

"Il est très fatigué," LeBeau observed simply.

"If that means he's beat, then yes. The last two days really took it out of him," Hogan said. He turned and looked at LeBeau. "I can't imagine fighting this fight every day. Knowing what you want to say, but just having your voice lock up. And waiting for other people's reactions, knowing they'll be impatient or embarrassed or might even laugh at you. It takes guts to persevere."

"Oui, he has plenty of courage," LeBeau said. "Every day, he is slaying dragons."

"No wonder he is so tired," Hogan said. "That sword gets very heavy."

XXX

TRANSLATIONS

LeBeau:

"He's a real talker, this boy. A chatterbox."

And

"He's very tired."

Chapter Text

The hand that was shaking Newkirk's shoulder moved up to his cheek and patted it. "Come on," the voice said. "Time to get up." His groggy eyes opened, his vision blurry with sleep. Dark hair, dark eyes, and an impish grin greeted him. "C-Colonel," he muttered. "Ten more minutes." His eyes drooped shut.

"Sorry, nope. Roll call is in 20 minutes and you need to get up. LeBeau saved some hot water for your shave. Come on, up." Hogan levered his hands under Newkirk's arms and pulled him up, but Newkirk plopped back down. "Up, soldier. That's an order," Hogan said firmly, pulling him back up.

"Yes, Sir, sorry, Sir," Newkirk murmured as he got his bearings. He was in the Colonel's bottom bunk. He must have fallen asleep in here. He felt like he'd run 100 miles. He was picking himself up out of bed to head to the main barracks when Colonel Hogan laid a hand firmly on his shoulder.

"We're going to spend some time together after roll call," Hogan said. "Just us. I need to understand how you're doing before we plan our next steps."

Had he done something wrong? Was there something he couldn't remember? He remembered an ache in his groin, and thinking about a girl named Ruby who regularly made him cry when he was small, and telling Carter not to be fooled by the pretty ones. When had he fallen asleep? Was it in the middle of an important meeting?

"Sorry, Sir, I didn't mmmmean... I d-d-didn't realize I ffffell asleep...I d-d-d-didn't, didn't..."

Hogan smiled kindly and squeezed his shoulder. "You're not in trouble, Newkirk. You were exhausted. I told you to sleep in here."

"Oh," he answered simply. Stammering was always tiring, but the last two days had been bloody draining and he was knackered. "Thank you, Sir. I hope I wasn't any tr-trouble."

"You didn't even snore. You slept like a lamb," Hogan said.

XXX

Roll call, breakfast and chores were quickly accomplished, and after an hour, Hogan led Newkirk back into his office.

"Sit," he said, waving him to the bunk. "First things first—are you still sore? Any lingering problems?"

Newkirk covered his eyes in embarrassment. Now he remembered that Nightjar had kneed him hard.

"It hurts to think about it," he said shyly. "But I'm all right now, Sir."

"Good, good. Wilson's going to check you out to be sure, but I suspect you're just fine."

"Does he have to, Sir? I promise I'm..."

"Yes, he has to, Newkirk. It'll just take a few minutes," Hogan said, closing off any further discussion. "The bigger issue is making sure you can communicate with all of us. Without shutting down again."

"I'm really, really sorry, Sir. I j-j-j-j-just c-couldn't. Couldn't..."

"Stop apologizing. You're not in trouble, Newkirk. I'm only trying to understand what happened, so I can help if anything like that ever happens again."

"It won't. I pr-promise, Sir!"

"You can't promise that, Newkirk. If you could, you'd never stutter in the first place." Newkirk's head was hanging low, so Hogan maneuvered so that he could look him in the eye. "You told me some time ago that I needed to understand that your stutter wasn't going to go away. I understand that now."

Newkirk sighed. "People have been trying to fffffix me for years. But once you're gr-grown, it's almost impossible to get rid of a st-st-stam, stam, stammer."

Hogan nodded sympathetically. "I get it. I just want you to understand that you don't have to fix it to talk to me, Newkirk. Even if you stutter, I'm going to listen to what you have to say. But you do have to talk to me."

"I, I appreciate that, Sir. But doesn't it bother you? Most p-people could fffinissh what they're saying in half, half, half the time it t-takes me."

"Maybe they could. But I'm interested in what you have to say."

"Really, Sir?"

Hogan couldn't help but laugh at the expression of surprise on Newkirk's face. "Yes, really. Why is that so hard to believe?"

Newkirk didn't get a chance to answer because Wilson rapped at the door. "I hear we had a little injury," he said as he entered.

"You too, eh?" Newkirk snapped. "That girl really knows how to put the boot in."

"Yes, 'we.' That's one injury where if you feel it, the other fellows feel it too," Wilson said. He snapped into clinical mode. "Describe the location and symptoms."

"I believe you're familiar with the location, mate. The symptoms? Well, I wanted to die. Is that sufficient?"

"A little more specificity would help."

"Right, then. She nailed me in the c-cobblers and it hurt so much that I nearly passed out. I threw up and then kept retching. The pain radiated through my belly and I c-couldn't keep my head up."

"Sounds like a kick in the balls."

"Brilliant diagnosis."

"Any blood in your urine? Pain or swelling?"

"No, I'm fine."

"All right, let's have a look," Wilson said.

"Blimey, do you have to do that? It looks like every other one you've seen. Only bigger, of c-course." Newkirk's eyes cut over to Colonel Hogan, seeking a reprieve.

"It's important, Corporal. Injuries can sneak up on you." Hogan grimaced as he said it. Wilson was right; this was one injury that every guy understood and sympathized with.

"Fine," Newkirk grumbled as he unbuttoned his trousers and slid them down. 'Why does every stupid thing happen to me?'

"This isn't the highlight of my day either," Wilson said as he gently performed the examination. "You're a little bruised. I need to know if it doesn't clear in a day or two or if you have any further pain. Wear an athletic supporter if you have any discomfort. Come see me if you need one; I have plenty of them in a small to medium," he added with a snicker as Newkirk growled. "Don't worry, Newkirk. Your main injury is to your pride. And for the record, you're a perfectly normal size for a growing boy." Wilson did enjoy baiting Newkirk.

"Pride and joy, you mean," Newkirk replied. "And who asked you?"

"No joy for at least two days, Newkirk," Wilson said mock sternness. "I mean it. The bruising needs to clear. Find something else to do with your hands for a change."

"Thank you for the helpful advice. This j-j-j-jus, just, just gets b-b-b-better and b-better," Newkirk grumbled.

"It should," Wilson said. "And if it doesn't, you let me know." He looked at Hogan. "He's OK for light duty, Sir. Give him a couple of days before he does any lifting or running. Report him to me if he shows any signs of pain, because God knows he's not going to tell me himself. And remind him to behave himself in bed. He’ll heal faster if he can possibly leave himself alone for two or three days. Will that be all, Sir?"

"That's it, Wilson. Thanks," Hogan said. He turned back to Newkirk, struggling to suppress a grin.

"Well, that was bloody embarrassing," Newkirk muttered. "I hate him. And I’ll never make it for three days as a ruddy monk.”

"You mentioned once that you don't stutter when you're ticked off," Hogan said, smiling.

"I believe I said 'pissed off,' but that's right," Newkirk grumbled.

"Why is that? Why don't you stutter if you're angry?"

Newkirk pondered the question. "I think it's because it's a d-d-ifferent voice. More shout-y, I suppose. But I c-c-c-can't go through life yelling at p-people, c-can I? I don't st-st-st-stammer when I sing either, and everyone says 'Sing it out,' but that would be ridiculous."

"Let's assume you're going to keep stuttering … stammering... and that it didn't matter to us. LeBeau and Carter and Kinch and I would still listen to you. What would happen if you just let the words fall out, even if you stammered?" Hogan looked at Newkirk curiously.

Newkirk was stumped. "Uh," he said. "Uh, uh." Hogan could see the wheels turning in his head. "You really mean it wouldn't mmmmatter? No one would mmmake a ffface at mmme or t-turn away or tell mme to sp-spit it out?"

"Right."

"Nobody would wwwalk away while I was tr-tr-trying to t-talk? Or ignore me? Or interrupt me or ffffinish my sentences?"

"Right. We'd listen to you."

"Well, then I think the w-words would come, Sir. It might j-j-just take a few seconds longer fffor me that it wwwould ffor the rest of you chaps. If I w-wasn't w-worried all the time about st-st-stammering and embarrassing muh, myself, I would feel less alone."

Alone. He hadn't thought about how alone Newkirk must feel sometimes, struggling by himself against a demon no one else knew or understood. "All right then," Hogan said with a smile. "That's how we'll do it. We'll all listen. But here's the deal. Practice makes perfect. So you have to come and talk to me every single day for at least 10 minutes, and you have to do the same with Kinch and Carter, and with one person you don't particularly like."

"Wilson, then, that wanker," Newkirk grinned. "But what about LeBeau? I like talking to him."

"I'm not worried about you talking to LeBeau. You already talk his ear off, in two languages."

"He said that? The little b-bastard."

"And there's one other thing. You need to co-captain your football team and talk to your squad. No gesturing. Words."

"B-b-b-but Sergeant Lindsey's the c-c-c-captain! Have you heard him bellow? He'll never give me a w-w-w-w-w-w-w-word in edgewise!"

"I've already squared it with him," Hogan said. "He thinks you’d be great at it. It could mean more time playing football," he said in a coaxing tone.

Newkirk bit his lip and pouted a bit, until a thought took shape. "All right then, Sir, it's a deal. But there's one thing I need from you."

"What's that, Newkirk?"

"I want an American eleven in our league, and I want you to be the cap, cap, captain."

"I've never played soccer, Newkirk."

"Well, no time like the pr-present to learn, Sir. I've heard that pr-practice makes perfect."

Chapter Text

The day progressed, and gradually Newkirk was getting back to his normal, spirited self. The pain from his injury was dying down, and the exhaustion from two days of extreme anxiety and physical tension was improving. But only slowly.

Although Newkirk was grateful to have found such a warm listener in Colonel Hogan, he didn't even attempt to explain the physical aftermath of such a severe, prolonged bout of stammering. He felt as though he'd been seized up with spasms for two days. His jaw hurt; his facial muscles ached; his head throbbed; his body was sore from tensing all his muscles. Stammering always put him on guard and left him tired by the end of the day, but this was far beyond the normal effect. He was knackered.

So when he began dozing over his lunch, he surrendered quickly to the hands that lifted his head up from the table, stood him on his feet, and steered him back to the Colonel's office.

"Take a nap, Pete," Kinch was saying. "An hour or two in here will do you a world of good."

"I c-can't," Newkirk replied. "Not in the C-colonel's quarters. I want mmmy own bunk."

"You need peace and quiet, and anyway, you shouldn't climb yet." That was LeBeau, his shoulder supporting Newkirk as he stumbled along.

"Listen, Pete,” Kinch continued, "it's Colonel Hogan's orders. He wants you to rest in here where no one will disturb you."

"Fine," Newkirk was saying as he laid down on the bed. He didn't protest when LeBeau dabbed a wet cloth on his face to wipe soup from his cheek where he had nearly drowned in his lunch. He didn't gripe when he felt his boots being pulled off and a blanket being pulled over him. He didn’t complain when a broad hand rested gently on his stomach or when a smaller one stroked his head. He allowed himself to feel warm and cared for and secure and then … floated away.

It was 3 o'clock in the afternoon, more than two hours later, when Newkirk came to. A meeting was underway at Hogan's desk. Talking in low whispers, Kinch, Hogan, Carter and LeBeau were listening to the coffee pot that served as a link to Colonel Klink's office. LeBeau elbowed Kinch and pointed to the bunk when he noticed Newkirk looking over at them, blinking as he fought off the daze of his nap. Kinch flashed him a big smile. Hogan's eyes followed Kinch's and he threw Newkirk a wink. Carter was clearly thrilled and was about to start chattering when LeBeau clamped a hand over his mouth and gestured irritably toward the coffeepot. They needed to listen and not get distracted.

"Of course, General Burkhalter," Klink was sputtering into the telephone. "I will be delighted to have your company here at the Luft Stalag on Thursday. Yes, Sir, the day after tomorrow. 11 o'clock? Fine, sir. And yes, yes, I'll see to it that the Cockroach prepares a lunch. Thank you Sir. Thank you. Yes, Sir, shut up."

Newkirk tipped himself up on one elbow. "Sounds like we've got a visitor coming," he said, trying to sound nonchalant while suppressing a yawn. "What did I mmiss? What's the g-game, Colonel Hogan?"

Hogan was at his side, extending a hand to the Corporal. "Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty," he joked as he helped Newkirk to his feet. "We need some entertainment for the Krauts after LeBeau serves a spectacular lunch the day after tomorrow. You and your soccer hooligans should be just the ticket."

"I hope I can stay awake," Newkirk said. "I'm bleeding knackered."

"We noticed, boy. You sure have been sleeping a lot. Why are you so darn tired, Newkirk?" Leave it to Carter, once again, to ask an awkward question. Newkirk decided that maybe honesty was the best policy, at least with his mates. After all, Hogan had made it completely clear that stammering wasn't going to be an obstacle to participating as a full member of his core team. He'd let Newkirk know that, stammer or not, he was valued. Newkirk needed to repay their trust and the best way to do it was to level with them.

"It's a thing that happens sometimes, Carter," Newkirk said. "After I've been st-st-st-sta…" Here he took a deep breath. "St-st-st-st-st. Oh bloody hell." He looked Hogan in the eyes and saw attention and encouragement. "After I've been st-st-stammering a lot, I ffeel pretty exhausted. It's hard to explain why, but it takes a l-lot of energy when I st-st-stammer that hard."

"I didn't realize it was physically hard," Carter said. "No wonder you look beat."

Hogan and Kinch met one another's eyes and both men nodded subtly. This was new and important information for understanding Newkirk's stutter. Hogan felt a wave of tenderness for his young team member. He didn't realize there were physical effects of a bad bout of stuttering. Now that Newkirk explained it, it made perfect sense that he was collapsing from fatigue.

"It's ruddy embarrassing is what it is " Newkirk was telling Carter. "I mmmean, I'm taking naps like a 5 year old. Did I feel asleep at lunch?

"Right in your soup, mon pote. Ear first," LeBeau teased gently.

"Hmm. The old man always said I had potatoes in my ears. He was finally right about something," Newkirk grinned.

"Qu'est ce que c'est, 'potatoes in my ears'?" LeBeau asked in total confusion. The others roared with laughter.

"I think we all heard that one growing up," Hogan said. "Potatoes grow in dirt. And little boys are notoriously grubby."

"Grubby?"

"Dirty, LeBeau," Newkirk said.

"I was never dirty!" LeBeau protested.

"Somehow, I have no difficulty believing that, mate," Newkirk replied. "But I was."

"I have no problem believing that, so we're even," LeBeau shot back with a wry smile.

Chapter Text

A cup of coffee and a cigarette later, Newkirk was wide awake and sitting at the barracks table, drumming his fingers in boredom.

"Help me start our dinner, mon pote. You can peel the potatoes and carrots."

"What are we having?" Newkirk inquired.

"Potatoes and carrots," LeBeau replied apologetically. "There isn't much else right now. You peel; I will slice and prepare... something." LeBeau often pretended otherwise, but he mostly enjoyed Newkirk's company while preparing meals, especially ones that required little concentration.

"Mmmaybe we could take a walk over to the Sergeant's mess," Newkirk offered. "See what they've got in the kitchen."

"An onion, a bit of cream—these things would help."

"They had b-b-bacon for breakfast."

"Mm, that would help a great deal. Let's go."

They shrugged on their coats and headed out into the compound. A small work crew was weeding an area adjacent to the Kommandantur under Sergeant Johnny Snider's watchful eye. He shouted a greeting to LeBeau: "By spring, we'll have a garden." One of the workers was Harper, dripping sweat on a cool day, as he looked up, locked eyes with Newkirk, and glared at him.

Snider caught the look. "Harper!" he shouted. "Back to work or you'll be totin' all the tools back yerself." He wiped his hands on his trousers and walked over to Newkirk. "Don't pay him any mind, boy," he said in his Hoosier twang. "I'll have him all settled down in a day or two. I promised the Colonel."

"Th-th-thanks, Sergeant," Newkirk replied. Oh no. There it was again. He never stammered over th-, at least not until this week. That hard look from Harper had bothered him, but even so, he sometimes wished people would stop defending him, even Colonel Hogan. What if casting Harper out of Barracks 2 had made things worse between them? He was only teasing, after all. They were only words. Newkirk told himself he needed to be thicker-skinned.

He and LeBeau continued on their way to the Sergeant's mess, and found Langenscheidt and one of his mild-mannered friends, Ernhardt, outside. Newkirk switched himself into "on" position.

"What's for supper, lads?" Newkirk asked in German. "Anything good?"

Ernhardt grunted. "The usual rubbish. I miss my mother's cooking."

Newkirk gulped a little at the raw sentiment; he missed his own mother all the time. But he had a job to do, and he recovered quickly. "Me too. Nothing like mum's cooking," he said, though he hadn't tasted his own mother's cooking since he was 6. "If you don't like it, you can eat with us tonight," he joked.

"Are you trying to kill us?" Ernhardt jibed back as Langenscheidt smiled brightly.

"Who's cooking tonight?" LeBeau put in, now that Newkirk had warmed up the guards.

"That's the problem," Langenscheidt said. "Pfeiffer and Grossman."

"Yuck," Newkirk said. "I feel sorry for you lads. But maybe Louis here could offer them some culinary tips. In exchange for a small favor."

"What favor?" Langenscheidt asked nervously.

"Just a few ingredients. Nothing significant. An onion or two, maybe some cream."

"Not a chance," Ernhardt said. "Pfeiffer will have us for supper if we even ask."

As Ernhardt, Langenscheidt and LeBeau engaged in a spirited discussion, Newkirk slipped off to the side, pulled himself up to the window sill, and peered in. There was Pfeiffer, a glass of wine at his side, nodding off in his chair. Grossman had his head down on the table and appeared to be in a similar state of repose. Newkirk rolled his eyes and lifted himself through the window and into the kitchen.

As Newkirk tiptoed past, Pfeiffer roused slightly, grumbled an order at Grossman, then drifted back to sleep. Newkirk picked up the empty bottle on the table beside him. "Blimey, a whole bottle gone. These chaps ought to learn to hold their drink if they're going to attempt that in the middle of the day."

He quickly stuffed his pockets with produce from the table – some celery, more carrots, two apples, two nice big onions - before tiptoeing back to the cold pantry. There he loaded up on a few more items—a slab of bacon, a jug of cream, butter, and a few eggs, which he held in his cap. Pleased with his haul, he spied one more item: A bottle of red wine with LeBeau's name written all over it. His best mate deserved it, so into his coat it went. On the way out, he pinched a fresh loaf of bread for good measure. There was plenty; they'd never miss just one. It felt warm as he tucked it under his shirt.

A moment later, he was on the windowsill, dropping as nimbly as a cat to the ground below as LeBeau continued bargaining with Ernhardt and Langenscheidt. Newkirk’s rejoined them, looking concerned.

"It's all right, LeBeau," he said. "Lads, we understand what t-t-t-ough sergeants are like. You've met C-C-C-Carter." He shook his head in awe. "Blimey, he strikes the fear of the Lord into us every time we st-step out of line. Which, as you know, is rather often with the two of us."

"Carter?" Langenscheidt said in amazement. "What does he do?"

"C-C-Carter? What doesn't he do? He's a proper drill sergeant, he is," Newkirk said. "Always shouting orders. Making us do sit-ups. P-p-pull-ups. P-p-p-push-ups. Then marching us double-time through the compound. You and Ernhardt miss a lot by being on the late shift, mate."

"He doesn't seem that tough to me," Ernhardt said skeptically.

"That's easy for y-you to say," Newkirk replied. "How do you th-th-think I got this st-st-st-st-stammer?"

Langenscheidt and Ernhardt's eyes popped open as LeBeau nodded sagely. "He can hardly say Carter's name. Come along, Newkirk. Let's go practice your pronunciation."

"I had no idea Carter was such a brute!" Langenscheidt was saying to Ernhardt as LeBeau and Newkirk pranced off.

"Well, you seem to be back," LeBeau laughed as they neared Barracks 2.

"I'm back, and I'm bloody hungry," Newkirk said. "Please mmmake some lunch I can eat. Nothing too Ffffffrench." He grinned happily as LeBeau elbowed him in the ribs.

XXX

Two hours later, Hogan's core team was finishing up a delicious meal. Newkirk let out a loud, appreciative burp, and for once LeBeau did not scold him. He'd earned the right.

"We have a few eggs and some bacon and bread left over for the morning," LeBeau said cheerfully.

"Good. We'll be hungry after we deliver our guests to the Underground in Wiesbaden," Hogan said.

"Wiesbaden? That's a good three hours from here, Sir. How are we pulling that off?" Kinch asked.

"Robin Redbreast will be back to assist. He's checking out some new dairy farms this week. We get the Krauts to Wiesbaden tonight, and they'll be transported to Koblenz. Tomorrow night, they'll be on their way through Belgium, and then off to England."

"I'm afraid to ask who you're sending," Newkirk grumbled. The last thing he wanted was to see those girls again. They'd been holed up in the tunnels below the barracks, and Newkirk had stayed out their way.

"Actually, Newkirk, I was thinking it would be you, Carter and me. But if you want to bow out of this one, I'll let you do it, this time," Hogan said.

Newkirk bit his lip and thought about it. He knew he could manage Frau Weber and Kapitän Leitner. Alpine Swift, AKA Magda, didn't worry him much, either. It was Nightjar—that lass named Lorelei—who got under his skin so badly. He wasn't sure he understood why yet, but he couldn't let the team down.

"I'll go, but Sir? Could we silence Nightjar somehow? Gag her, or sedate her, or something?"

Hogan nodded. "We'll figure something out. I'll personally take charge of her, Newkirk."

"What is it about that girl that bugs you so much, Newkirk?" It was Carter again.

"I already told you, Carter," Newkirk said irritably. "She reminds me of someone. Someone who used to... well, a girl who... well, someone who..." He sighed. It seemed to stupid, but he forced the words out. "A girl who used to l-l-laugh at mmme. In school. For my st-st-st-st-st-" He exhaled. "For my st-stammer. She, she, she looks like her. And she, she sounds like her."

"You're afraid of a girl?"

"No, I'm not bloody afraid of a girl, C-Carter!" Now Newkikr was yelling. "Shut your gob, all right? It's not that ssssimple. I j-, I j-, I j-j-j-j-just can't c-c-c-concentrate around, around her."

"Sorry, buddy," Carter apologized. "Calm down, OK? I didn't mean to get you all worked up. You were doing so well."

"I'm tired of everyone commenting about 'how well' I'm doing or not doing," Newkirk grumbled. "Why c-can't you j-j-j-just leave me in peace? I'm not your science pr-project."

Newkirk felt an arm encircling his shoulder, giving him a squeeze. It was Colonel Hogan. Newkirk had almost forgot anyone was there but Carter and himself. He had almost forgot that they were talking about anything besides Ruby … no, wait, Lorelei. Nightjar.

"As I said, Newkirk, it's your choice. We leave after 10 P.M. I'll need your decision in the next hour."

Newkirk nodded sharply as Hogan gave his shoulder a pat and headed into his quarters.

Chapter Text

Carter settled into his bunk as Newkirk skulked off for a smoke. The young American wasn't sure whether to feel hurt or mad at Newkirk's latest outburst. No matter how hard he tried, he seemed to put his foot in his mouth every time he talked to Newkirk lately, and it was driving him crazy. He was a nice, considerate guy, the way his parents raised him to be. He didn't mean any harm, especially to one of his best buddies. Especially now, since he seemed to be struggling so much.

He let out a deep breath, and made up his mind to go and talk to Colonel Hogan. He wanted to talk to Newkirk, but he knew him well enough to know he needed time to cool off after one of his outbursts. He'd probably be back in the barracks in half an hour, dealing out a card game like nothing had happened. But inside, he'd be coiled and ready to spring. Carter wasn't sure how much more of it he could take.

He rapped quietly at the Colonel's door, and was relieved to hear a cheerful "come in!"

"Colonel, you know how you always say we can come and talk to you if we have anything on our minds? I mean, more than the usual things we have on our minds? Because it would be a little strange if we had nothing on our minds. I mean, if something was troubling us?"

Hogan, seated at his desk, smiled and patted the stool next to him. "Come talk to me about Newkirk."

"Gosh, Sir, how did you know?" Carter said as he took the seat. "Aw, I guess that's a dumb question. It's pretty obvious I keep getting on his nerves."

"Well, you did suggest he was afraid of a girl, Carter," Hogan grinned.

"I guess I did say that. Oh, jeez. That was dumb. You know what I meant," Carter said.

"Yes, I know exactly what you mean, and you're right. He is afraid of a girl. He's scared to death of Nightjar, and of some other girl from his past that he's thinking a lot about for some reason. And he's embarrassed to admit it."

"Oh. You mean I said the right thing? That'd be a nice change of pace."

"Not exactly, Carter. I think if maybe you could just pause a little between thinking and speaking, you and Newkirk would be just fine."

Suddenly, they noticed a tousled brown head peeping in at them. Newkirk bit his lip and stepped inside.

"C-Colonel, I'll go on the mission tonight. And C-C-C-C..." He stopped and looked directly at Carter. "C-Carter, I'm sorry. The Colonel's right, and it's not your fault I'm scared of N-Nightjar. Her st-stupid laugh makes me fffeel like I'm going to cry every time I hear it, and that's the truth." He tipped his head down, obviously embarrassed at his admission.

Newkirk looked from Hogan to Carter, and then back. "Do you remember three nights ago when we had our fffirst c-c-contact with Alpine Swift and Nightjar?" As Carter nodded, he continued. "And they l-laughed at me. And then when we came back y-you laughed at me too. And since then, it's been everybody. Harper and Bartoli and Belknap. Leitner. Those awful girls. Even Wilson. I try to laugh back and shrug it off, but it gets d-d-d-dif..., oh bloody hell, it gets hard."

He looked miserable. "I don't mean to be so sensitive. I'm not, usually. I'm j-j-just bloody tired of having to work so hard not to st-st-st-stammer. It's bleeding exhausting."

"We know," Hogan said, coming over to Newkirk. "That's why you're not going to do that any more. Remember our talk? Just let the words out. Let us worry about understanding you. You don't have to be scared you're going to stammer around us, because we're going to listen to you. OK?" He gripped his shoulder, then pulled him into a side hug.

Newkirk couldn't hide a sniffle. "OK, Sir," he said. "Thank you, Sir."

"You said Nightjar reminds you of someone," Carter said softly.

Newkirk nodded. "Ruby Bellows. A nasty girl from sch-school with a laugh that sounded j-j-j-j-j-just like her name. Nightjar looks like her, too, all pretty, with that strawberry blond hair and a lovely smile but nothing nice below the surface. I bloody well hated school because Ruby teased me until I cried every single day when I was six, until Mavis came to the school and had me transferred."

"When you were six? Isn't that also when your mother went away?" Hogan asked gently.

"Well, yes," Newkirk replied. "She went to hospital and never c-c-came home after that." He looked up at Carter, who looked shocked. "She had the c-c-consumption and she died about a year later," he explained. "Colonel Hogan knows about that from my files, I suppose," he said, looking up at the Colonel.

Hogan nodded. "Yes, I know about it. That must have been a terrible time for you."

Newkirk nodded back. "Yes, Gov. I miss her every day."

"Was that when you started stuttering?" Carter asked. "When your mom got so sick?"

"No, I don't think so. It st-started earlier than that." He shoved his hands deep in his pockets, looking down. "St-st-stammering isn't c-c-ccaused by bad things happening to you, Andrew. But bad things can make it w-worse, and I think that's what happened to me. Anyway, it's all so stupid. I look at that Nightjar and I feel like I'm fff, ffff, fffffive or six years old again, with Ruby B-Bellows laughing at me on the ... school grounds and getting everyone to go along. And it's interfering with our mission."

"Nope. It's not. Nothing you've said or done has harmed our mission, Newkirk," Hogan said. "But it helps a lot to know what's going on deep down. We should talk about that some more one of these days. I don't want you to feel embarrassed that you stutter and I want you to see that you're much more than a scared six-year-old kid. But in the meantime, I need to know: Do you think you can handle the mission tonight?"

"Yes, Sir, if you'll have me. If you could k-keep me with Frau Weber and Leitner, I'll be all right. And I'll ignore Nightjar if she says anything to me. I know I can do that if you're both th-th-there."

"We're still friends, right Newkirk?" Carter asked diffidently.

"Of course we are," Newkirk said. "I'm counting on you to … well, look after me on this mission. J-just this once, mind you. Because most of the time you're the one what needs looking after."

"Is that right?" Hogan asked with a smile.

"Well, mmmostly right," Newkirk admitted, looking shy. "I suppose I could use a bit of looking after once in a great while." He gulped. "And, and I've got mates who c-can help me when I nnneed it. I am grateful. Sssso keep that girl off my b-back tonight, all right, Carter?"

"You've got it, buddy," Carter replied. "And I'll try not to blurt out everything that comes into my mind."

"I w-wish I had that problem," Newkirk replied. "You can say everything you th-think. I can't get a bleeding w-word out." He had his head down again.

A light bulb went off in Hogan's head. "That sounds frustrating. I think I'd feel a little jealous if I were in your shoes, Newkirk."

"That's exactly how I fffeel," Newkirk replied, digging his toe into floor board. "I am sorry, Carter. And Colonel Hogan. It's wrong to be j-j-j-j-, oh, bloody hell, envious, of one of my mates, but I am. I j-j-j, only, wish I could get the words out and say what I think, the way Carter does. My life would be a lot easier." He looked up at Carter with an earnestness he rarely showed.

"You might think that, but it probably wouldn't be that much easier, Newkirk. It'd just be different," Carter said. "You'd spend a lot of time apologizing for saying dumb things and wondering if you did something wrong. Like Colonel Hogan said, I need to pause between thinking and talking. I guess you kind of have the opposite problem – you have trouble NOT pausing. So we're kind of alike, really. And anyway, it's not just you who reacts this way to me, you know."

"Really?" Newkirk said. "I thought it was mmmostly me."

"Well, I didn't say it wasn't mostly you, Newkirk. I mean you are pretty short-tempered. Oh jeez, here I go again. No offense."

Newkirk laughed at that. "That's not exactly a revelation, mmmmate. I am short-tempered; even I know that. I'm not offended."

"OK, good, because it's really not just you. I mean, I irritate LeBeau and a bunch of other guys too, and sometimes even Colonel Hogan. And let's not even talk about my school teachers and my mom and dad."

Newkirk caught Colonel Hogan rolling his eyes, and laughed.

"All right, Carter, I get the point," Newkirk said. "And you can ask me anything you want to, mate. But please, j-just try to do it a bit more privately, all right? It's embarrassing to have this bleeding st-st-st-stammer, and then not to be able to ex-explain it... well..."

"I get it, Newkirk," Carter replied. "I'll ask you privately next time I have a question."

"Th-th-thanks, Carter. And Colonel, I wouldn't blame you if you decided you couldn't c-count on me. I'm going to do my b-best to earn your trust."

"You've already got my trust, Newkirk," Hogan replied. "100%."

"Mine too, buddy," Carter said. "Now let's put our heads together and figure out how we're going to handle those agents tonight."

Chapter Text

 

By the time evening rollcall was over, plans were set for the journey to Wiesbaden. In a small room set back from Kinch’s communications hut and just a few feet before the entrance to Newkirk’s sewing and fitting alcove, the four prisoners waited. Their hands were bound, their feet were tied to the chair legs, and their mouths were gagged.

Newkirk was walking past them on his way to pull out the plainclothes Gestapo suits he had prepared for himself, Hogan and Carter. He tried not to look in, but he couldn’t help himself. There, sitting on the floor, was Nightjar. She caught his eye and somehow, through her restraints, she managed to sneer at him.

He stopped in the doorway and stared. The other three prisoners sat meekly on chairs, looking tired and at peace with the fact that they were being transported to England. Only Nightjar had wriggled off the chair, having worked loose her ankle restraints. Apparently she was trying to escape their makeshift cell, or maybe just put her captors on edge.

As Newkirk watched Nightjar smirking at him and struggling to get on her feet, he had to give her credit for one thing: She was bloody persistent. He studied her with a touch of admiration. That feeling gave way to pure anger when she winked at Newkirk and grinned through her gag.

A fury boiled up inside Newkirk and he was overcome by an urge to lash out at her. He rushed toward Nightjar, pulled her to her feet and shook her shoulders hard. He was ready to push her to the floor when the sound of Frau Weber gasping through the kerchief tied around her mouth stopped him in his tracks. He let go and scolded himself:  What was he doing? She might be the enemy, but she was also female, and he knew he should never treat any woman so roughly. Shame flooded him. He had lost control, if only for a moment.

There was enough of a commotion to bring Kinch running. “Newkirk, what is going on?” he began. His eyes went from the corporal, who was panting anxiously as his face turned red, and the young enemy agent, who was standing before them and looking contemptuous.

“Are you all right, Ma’am?” Kinch asked Nightjar quietly, taking her elbow to lead her to a chair. Her eyes flashed as she pulled her arm away from him, as if his mere touch could pollute her. “Sit down,” Kinch commanded sharply, taking her firmly by the elbow once again and leaving no doubt as to his authority. He loosened her gag. “Now, I will ask you one more time: Are you all right? Are you hurt in any way?”

“His temper tantrum can’t hurt me,” Nightjar said haughtily. “You know, sometimes we use a harness on a difficult child,” she added. “You might have to think about that until he’s old enough to talk properly and tell us what he’s thinking in clear words instead of pouting and hitting like a naughty little boy. If I were you…”

Kinch wrapped the gag back around her mouth while she was still talking and tugged it a little tighter than was absolutely necessary to secure it. “That’s enough out of you,” he said.

He turned to Newkirk, who was in the doorway, trying to compose himself. “Go take care of the outfits for tonight, buddy. We leave in an hour.”

Newkirk bit his lip, but nodded and continued on his way. Five minutes later, while he was in his space to brush up the outfits, Kinch stopped by.

“Prisoners secured?” Newkirk asked quietly.

“Yes,” Kinch replied. “They’re not going anywhere until it’s time for us to leave.” He stood looking at Newkirk for a moment, hoping he would start.

Finally, Newkirk did. “I, I don’t know what I was th-th-thinking. I’m sssso tired of her, Kinch. She knows how to get under my sk-sk-skin.”

“She does,” Kinch said. “And it hurts.”

“Yes,” Newkirk said simply. “She’s always mocking me. She doesn’t even have to say words. It’s in the way she looks at me.”

“You need to tell the Colonel what you did, Pete,” Kinch said softly.

“I know. Can’t go around attacking the enemy, now can we?” Newkirk said irritably.

“Not when they’re in our custody, and not when they’re female. When she goes back to London and tells her story to the high command, we want to be sure Colonel Hogan has the facts,” Kinch said. He stopped for a moment. “She had no right to call you that.”

Newkirk looked at him, confused.

“She called you a boy,” Kinch said.

Newkirk dipped his head down. Yes, that word was what hurt. No matter how much he tried to conduct himself maturely, it was hard when others looked at him with pity and amusement. And when someone like Nightjar kept poking at him long and hard enough to stir up his deepest insecurities, he could feel his anger spiraling out of control.

“Pete, you understand what she’s trying to do, right?”

 Newkirk shrugged. “Make me fffeel stupid.”

“No, it’s worse than that,” Kinch said. “She’s trying to strip you of your dignity. She’s trying to throw you off balance by finding the words that cause you the most pain. She’s probing for your weakness.”

“Well, she bloody well fr found it,” Newkirk spat back. “Now leave off.”

“No, Peter. Listen, tell Colonel Hogan what happened and…”

“Fuck that,” Newkirk interrupted. “Tattle all you want. I’m fed up.”

“Peter, I know this is painful for you,” Kinch started. “You have to deal all the time with people putting you down, putting you in your place, all because of something you have no control over.”

“What would you know about it?” Newkirk shouted. “You don’t have any weaknesses! You never lose your t-t-t-temper. I have nothing but w-weaknesses, mate.”

Kinch reeled back. “I know a lot about it.” He took a step closer, trying to fathom how Newkirk could possibly say that. Then it hit him: He didn’t know. He really didn’t know.

He began softly. “Newkirk, there isn’t a black man in America who hasn’t been called ‘boy.’ People say it to put us in our place. ‘Boy, fetch me some water.’ ‘Boy, get on home.’ ‘Boy, don’t you look at no white women like that.’”

Newkirk looked completely shocked. “I, I, I didn’t realize that, Kinch.”

“Yeah, well, it’s true,” Kinch said. “I’ve heard that word my whole life.”

Kinch held out an arm. “Come ‘ere,” he said, gathering Newkirk in. “There’s no worse emotion than contempt, Peter. It’s destructive. It’s a way of saying that you’re worthless and inferior. But you are not. You are not.”

Newkirk nodded into Kinch’s shoulder. He was getting bloody tired of having his emotions stripped raw by this girl.

“What’s wrong with me, Kinch? Why is she so cruel to me?”

Placing his hands on Newkirk’s shoulders, Kinch held him at arm’s length. “Listen to me. There is nothing wrong with you. It’s her. All you can do is hold your head up high. You cannot let her beat you down because you’re better than that.” He pulled him close again. “You have to tell the Colonel exactly what you did to Nightjar, but don’t you dare apologize. You were angry, but you stopped yourself before anything happened. That takes restraint. That takes courage. You were a man about it.”

“Bloody hell, Kinch,” Newkirk said, his voice wobbling. “I j-just want this ruddy mission to be over. Why does the Colonel need me tonight?”

“Because you’re the best at what you do,” Kinch replied. “Now go talk to him. You have to leave soon.”

Chapter Text

 

Colonel Hogan was studying Newkirk as the team bounced along in the moonlight in Robin Redbreast’s milk truck. He didn’t know whether to feel worried or relieved by the confession Newkirk had made before embarking on the mission. The British corporal had come dangerously close to assaulting one of their captives. But he had prevented himself from doing anything foolish, and had the courage to fess up to his commanding officer. Hogan had issued a stern warning to stay focused, which Newkirk appeared to accept.

Now Newkirk was sitting quietly in the back of the van, biting his lip, apparently deep in thought.

“Newkirk,” Hogan whispered to the man sitting opposite him. The space was so tight that their knees were pressed together. “Everything OK?” He needed everyone clear-headed and focused until they met their contacts in Wiesbaden.

Newkirk looked up and smiled tightly. “Yes, Gov. I’m j-just thinking.”

“OK. Stay sharp. No dozing off,” Hogan said, trying to sound neutral rather than critical. He was legitimately worried, because Newkirk had been really exhausted over the last few days. If he was still tired, he could rest when they were on the way back to the Stalag.

“Whatcha thinking about, buddy?” Carter chimed in from the front seat.

Newkirk shrugged. “It’s been a long ffffew days, mate.” He went quiet for a few moments, then added. “Ffffunny that they get to go to England, innit? I expect th-they’re not looking f-forward to it as much as I would do if it was mmy turn.”

“It’d be nice to go home,” Carter said. “I bet you miss your family.”

“I mmmiss my sisters,” Newkirk said. “I mmiss having a proper cup of tea. And I bloody well miss fffish and chips,” he added with a weary laugh. He took in a deep breath and forced himself to look right at Hogan and Carter. “Well, I’ll see them all in due course, won’t I? All the girls, and the cuppa, and the chippie. No point dwelling on it now.”

Hogan smiled to himself. That sounded more like Newkirk, cracking jokes and promising to keep a stiff upper lip. Maybe once Nightjar and Alpine Swift were gone, he’d relax a bit. He patted him on the knee and got a genuine smile in return.

They were nearly at the meeting point—a dairy farm on the edge of Hammelburg—where LeBeau and Kinchloe would load the prisoners into Robin’s milk van. They’d smuggled them out in a truck borrowed from the motor pool, with Olsen at the wheel.

Corporal Newkirk glanced at his watch in a shimmer of moonlight as the four prisoners were bustled into the hold of the truck. It was past 11, and Wiesbaden was nearly three hours away. The tied-up prisoners were still showing some spirit. Through his gag, Leitner was scowling at Hogan and Newkirk, who were guarding the foursome with weapons trained on them while Carter rode shotgun alongside Robin.

Alpine Swift was glaring, too, but Nightjar had a merry look in her eyes, as if she’d thought of something clever to say and couldn’t wait to say it.   Frau Weber alone was composed and quiet. Newkirk smiled kindly at her and gave a nod. She was an older lady and he wanted her to understand no harm would come to her.

England is lovely this time of year,” Newkirk said softly. “You will be treated kindly and fairly, Madam.”

Danke, Mein Herr,” Frau Weber said in muffled tones through the bindings.

Oh, listen to him,” Nightjar mumbled, her eyes sparkling. “His little problem goes away when he speaks German. He sounds so stupid when he speaks English, doesn’t he?” Alpine Swift tittered at that.

Hogan braced himself. He laid a hand on Newkirk’s knee. The Englishman met his look of concern and shook his head. “It’s all right,” he said. “She’s just trying find my weak spot and poke at it.” He turned his head to face the agent.

My ‘little problem’ has a name,” Newkirk told Nightjar firmly. “It’s called a stammer. And I don’t care what you think about it or me. Now settle down. It’s a long drive, and we’ll pull those gags tighter if we have to do.”

The Englander’s steady demeanor surprised Nightjar, and that was enough to silence her. They motored along in calm and quiet for the rest of the journey.

Hogan squeezed Newkirk’s knee and gave it a pat. He smiled at the corporal, who gave a tight smile in return.

“I won’t let her,” Newkirk told himself. “She’s not going to get to me. I’m better than that.” Kinch’s words were ringing in his head.

XXX

The hand-off took place in a barn seven kilometers south of Wiesbaden. Arriving shortly before 2 A.M., Robin Redbreast slowed his vehicle down to scout for their contacts. The Wiesbaden underground unit was rebuilding after the capture and summary execution of its leader, Orb Weaver, just three weeks earlier.

Two figures stepped out of the shadows. Hogan and the contacts exchanged recognition codes, and introductions were made. Black Widow, a female agent around 35, and Cobweb, a young man of about 20 whose withered right arm kept him out of Army, would escort the prisoners to Koblenz in another milk truck, which would be along at any minute.

The vehicle rumbled up, and out stepped the driver, Tarantula, and another agent, Wolf. The names seemed apt for two bearded, gruff men in their 50s. Black Widow and Cobweb, rifles on their shoulders, peered out from the back of the milk truck.

Wolf stood trembling beside Tarantula as Hogan, Carter and Newkirk began unloading the prisoners. Just then a yelp, followed by a shrill laugh, pierced the night. Nightjar had stomped hard on Carter’s foot, then twisted her leg around his ankle to knock him to the ground. She took off at a dash, with Hogan on her heels.

“Jeez, lady,” Carter hissed as he scrambled to his feet. “Son of a gun!”

Hogan had quickly apprehended Nightjar, and with a hand clutching her upper arm he was leading her back to the group. She had worked her gag loose with her teeth and was laughing.

At the sound of Nightjar’s laughter, Wolf’s trembling turned to fury. “I’d know that voice anywhere. Let me see her. Just let me see her,” Wolf roared.

Silence,” Tarantula replied. “This is not the time for vengeance.”

That’s her. That is the killer,” Wolf said, his voice rising. He rushed toward Nightjar, pushing Hogan out of the way and grabbed the young woman by the throat. “You! You shot my brother! You have blood on your hands!” He shook her hard as she gasped for air.

Wolf! Let her go!” Tarantula shouted.

Suddenly, another pair of hands were on Wolf, yanking his arms back painfully, pulling him away from the young agent. As Nightjar collapsed, sputtering, on the ground, Newkirk wrestled Wolf into submission.

Stop it,” Newkirk snarled. “It’s not your decision. She’s no good to us in a coffin.”

She’s no good ever!” Wolf shouted. “She’s a ruthless killer!

Hogan was hauling Wolf up to his feet. “She has vital information. We’re going to let London get it out of her,” he said. “If she caused your brother any harm, she’ll face justice in England.”

Tarantula pulled Wolf closer. “Calm down,” he said. “Papa Bear is correct. We must do the right thing.” 

Newkirk was scrabbling back to his feet and brushing himself off when he turned to Nightjar. She was on the ground. Her eyes were wild with fear and her neck was red where she had been throttled. Newkirk crouched beside her.

Just breathe,” he said. He held out a hand. “Come on. It’s time to get into the van. You’ll be in England tomorrow.”

She glared at him, but gradually the look softened. She was done fighting, and she knew it.

What a stupid thing for you to do—to save me,” she croaked out at Newkirk. “You must be soft in the head.”

That’s enough from you,” Newkirk said firmly. “You might want to save your voice, because you’ll have a lot to answer for when you get to England.” He grasped her by the elbow and led her the van as Hogan and Carter kept their guns trained on Leitner, Alpine Swift and Frau Weber. Together, they loaded their prisoners into the van and watched as they were seated amid the egg cartons and milk cans for the continuation of their journey.

Hogan pulled aside Black Widow and Cobweb for a briefing on the prisoners as Carter and Newkirk stood guard in the van. Carter looked over at Newkirk and saw a look in his eyes as he stared down at Nightjar. It was a look of pity.

Black Widow and Cobweb climbed in, and Newkirk and Carter exited the truck. Newkirk tipped his hat to Frau Weber. “You will be safe, Gnaidige Frau.”

Hogan, Carter and Newkirk stood in the road for a moment as the van motored off. Then they climbed back into Robin Redbreast’s milk van for the journey back to Stalag 13.

 

Chapter Text

They drove back to camp through the purple night, the moonlight illuminating the heather blossoms of early autumn. Hogan gazed out the window serenely as Carter snoozed against Newkirk's shoulder. Newkirk, looking weary, dozed restlessly, drifting in and out of sleep but never really relaxing.

"You can rest now, Newkirk," Hogan said quietly. "I'm awake. I'll keep a lookout."

"Nnnot until w-we're b-back at camp, Sir," Newkirk replied with a yawn. "I don't dare. We mmmight run into a patrol."

"You can let Robin and me worry about that," Hogan said. "Close your eyes. Try to sleep. That's an order, Corporal," he added with a wink, trying to lighten the mood.

Newkirk did try, but 10 minutes later, with two hours of traveling still to go, he was awake. And for the first time in days, he wanted to talk.

"Colonel?" he asked. "Remember w-what you said the other day? About letting the w-words ffffall out?"

"Yes," Hogan replied. "Anytime you want to talk, you can just talk. I don't care if you stutter. I'm still going to listen."

Newkirk nodded, and searched Hogan's eyes for a sign that it was really OK, that he could speak and would really be heard and understood.

He started slowly. "You know, Sir, in my head, I can t-t-talk perfectly w-well," Newkirk began. "I know w-w-what I w-want to say, and I can say it as easy as you please. But then I try to say the w-words, and th-they won't go. Th-they st-stick in my throat, gagging me until I can hardly br-br-br-breathe."

"That sounds incredibly frustrating," Hogan said.

"Yes, Sir, it is. It's so bleeding fr, fr, frustrating to be the only one who can't say the bloody words he's th-th- thinking. How come everyone but mmme can do that?" Newkirk looked at Hogan with a complete lack of guile, as if he hoped Hogan might somehow know the answer to the question that vexed Newkirk every day of his life.

"I wish I could tell you, but I don't know if there's an answer to that, Newkirk," Hogan said quietly.

"Well, it's not fffair, Sir. You can speak easily. Strewth, even Carter can say what he wants to say without b-b-b-bumbling and st-stumbling, and he can't even w-w-w-walk in a straight line half the time," Newkirk complained. He looked down at Carter, who was sleeping against his shoulder and whispered, "No offense, mate. You know it's true."

"You did OK today, Newkirk," Hogan whispered. "Better than OK."

"Yes, but lately I'm st-st-st-stammering over sounds I never st-st-stammer over. I hate this st-stupid st-st-st-stammer, Sir. I wish it would go away."

"I can understand that. I wish I could make it better for you. But you've said yourself that it won't happen. It's part of who you are," Hogan said. "But it's not all you are."

"No. I'm a thief and a scoundrel too," Newkirk shot back. "I probably deserve this. It's my punishment."

"I don't believe that a minute that you're being punished, Newkirk," Hogan said, shaking his head. "And I don't like hearing you put yourself down. You're a valuable member of my team, and you're using your skills for good."

That silenced Newkirk for a moment. Hogan hoped he would continue. For the last several minutes, it felt as if a dam had broken and the words that were jammed up behind it were finally spilling out. Newkirk looked relieved to be talking, even if he was voicing his worries.

But Newkirk seemed to be at an impasse again. Hogan went on. "You know what I've noticed, Newkirk? Even though it's hard for you, you really do like to talk. You're very gregarious," Hogan said.

"Gregarious, Sir?" Newkirk replied. The word was unfamiliar.

"Yes, sociable. You like company. You like to talk. Like LeBeau says, you're a chatterbox," Hogan smiled.

"Une pipelette," Newkirk responded with a tentative grin. "Yes, that is what he says, that wanker."

"Then keep talking, Newkirk. I missed hearing your voice."

"My vvvoice? How can you st-st-stand listening to me?" Newkirk seemed genuinely perplexed. "Nobody can st-st-stand it."

Hogan let out a deep sigh of frustration. "Listen, Newkirk," he began. "I don't know what other people have told you. I admit it took some getting used to, but I do like to hear you talk. You're clever and you're funny and you've got important things to say. Please don't stop again."

Newkirk didn't know what to say to that. He just tipped his head and look quizzically at Hogan until suddenly he choked back a little sob.

Hogan moved to his side and wrapped an arm around him. "We all understand you, even if it takes you a little extra time. But it's only a few seconds, Newkirk. It's not that big of a deal." He felt Newkirk's head drop onto his shoulder. "Remember, I told you I expect you to talk to each of us for at least 10 minutes a day?" Hogan continued softly.

Newkirk yawned and wiped his eyes with both hands. "Have I fulfilled today's requirement, Sir?" he asked sleepily.

"Technically," Hogan said. "But don't stop now or we'll both fall asleep. Why don't you tell me about growing up in London? What was that like?"

Newkirk tipped his head back and peered up at Hogan. Was the Colonel joking, or did he really want to hear what Newkirk had to say? He decided to take Hogan at his word, so he swallowed, then jumped back in.

"Poor, Sir. Very poor. But we didn't really know it. My mum, you see…" And with that, Newkirk was off and running, vividly creating a landscape in Hogan's mind of poverty, fear, love and family. And except for an occasional block on a J or a prolonged M or F, he told it flawlessly. Suddenly, with Colonel Hogan's encouragement, Newkirk could trust his voice to produce the words that were hiding in his mind. And there was no stopping him. He chattered on and on, regaling Hogan with boyhood stories and family secrets. The cloak of darkness might have made it easier for Newkirk to keep going.

By the time they reached the road that ran behind Stalag 13, sunlight was starting to seep into the sky, turning the purple night into a fiery red dawn. The air was damp and a storm was threatening as they slipped back through the tunnel and dropped onto their bunks. In an hour, it would be time for rollcall.

And Newkirk was still talking.

Chapter Text

Hogan, Newkirk and Carter slipped back into camp just before dawn. Kinch was in the communications hut waiting for them.

“Good news, Colonel,” Kinch said as the men filed through the tunnel, yawning and shrugging off their coats. “Black Widow and Cobweb completed the handoff in Koblenz, and the underground cell there is transporting our prisoners to Ostend as we speak. They’ll be off to England at midnight.”

Hogan shivered from cold and sleep deprivation as he slipped out of his sabotage blacks and into his uniform. “Great, great. No problems with any of the prisoners? Especially…”

“Nightjar? Just the usual,” Kinch replied. “She aimed a knee at Cobweb, but he’d been warned and got out of her way. As soon as they had her in the truck, Black Widow knocked her out before she could cause any more trouble.”

Newkirk arrived in the room, shirtless and frowning. “Knocked her out how?” he inquired as he tugged on an undershirt, then sorted out the sleeves of his blue sweater and pulled it over his head.

“A shot of Luminal,” Kinch replied. He tried to read Newkirk’s reaction. “Nothing violent, Newkirk. She’s all right.”

“Righto, then,” Newkirk grunted. “It’s best to g-get her there in … w, w, one p-p-piece.”

“You don’t have anything to worry about any more, Newkirk,” Hogan said.

“I’m nnnot worried,” Newkirk snapped. “Sssssir,” he added, looking embarrassed. “I, I’m j-j-just glad she’s g-gone fffffrom here, and I hope our l-lads w-w-will get sssssomething useful out of her w-when they qu-qu-question her.”

Newkirk was clearly frustrated with himself, and Hogan could tell at once that the uptick in stuttering was either the cause or the effect. Newkirk crossed his arms and stared at the floor just as Carter appeared from around the corner zipping up his jump suit, looking bright-eyed as ever. The young American’s eyes darted from Colonel Hogan to Newkirk as he tried to figure out what he’d just missed.

Hogan considered whether it might just be exhaustion that was continuing to wear down Newkirk. He spoke gently. “It’s been a long couple of days. Get a little rest before roll call, Newkirk,” he said. He nodded at Carter. “You too, Carter. I’ll be up in a minute.”

“I feel great, Sir. I slept the whole way back,” Carter said.

“Hooray for you, mate,” Newkirk grumbled as he scaled the ladder with Carter right behind him. He stumbled on the third rung, slipping backwards into Carter.

“Easy, buddy,” Carter said. “Let me give you a hand.”

“Leave off, Carter,” Newkirk snapped, pushing Carter away. “I can bleeding well climb a ladder.”

Carter shook his head, but gave Newkirk space to climb up by himself.  He caught Colonel Hogan’s eye and smiled as the Colonel sent a little nod of encouragement.

As the boys disappeared into the barracks, Hogan sat heavily on a stool next to Kinch and sighed. “It’s always two steps forward and one step back with Newkirk,” he said.

“Sometimes literally,” Kinch agreed.

Hogan snickered, but his heart wasn’t in it. “He talked my ear off the whole way back to the camp,” Hogan said. “Happy as a clam for three solid hours, and now he’s irritated again. Why?”

Kinch started to answer, but Hogan was wound up and not paying attention.

“He could just be worn out,” Hogan said. “But Kinch, all anyone has to do is mention that girl and his mood sinks.” He stopped and thought for a minute. “It was strangest thing. One of our guys nearly choked Nightjar when we did the handoff in Koblenz. Wolf Spider was on her before anyone knew what happened—he’s Orb Weaver’s brother, you know?”

“Oh, man, Orb Weaver. Good man. That was a tragedy,” Kinch said, shaking his head. Orb Weaver was a superb operative, and his capture and execution had rattled the entire underground and sabotage network. Kinch had dealt with him directly on many assignments.

“Yes, well, Wolf blamed Nightjar personally. He had her by the throat. And then Newkirk jumped in.”

Kinch’s eyes went wide. “Good God, Sir. What did Newkirk do to that girl?”

“He rescued her,” Hogan said. “He pulled her away from Wolf. Then he comforted her and made sure she was breathing so that we could hand her over safely.”

“Huh,” Kinch said. “Huh.” He shook his head. “It’s damn hard to figure him out sometimes, Sir. But in the end, Peter always does the right thing.”

“I think you’re right,” Hogan agreed. “I wish he could see it.”

XXX

Five minutes later, Hogan emerged into the barracks to find Newkirk out cold on his bunk and Carter and LeBeau chatting quietly near the stove. Hogan entertained the idea of lying down, but there was really no point in trying to rest. Not with roll call 15 minutes away. So he went into his office to shave instead.

Like clockwork, Schultz came barreling into the room at 5:45 A.M. to roust the prisoners out of bed.

Everyone up, up, up,” he shouted in German, then switched to English. “On your feet, Newkirk,” Schultz said sharply to the sleeping corporal, shaking his shoulder. Newkirk groaned and sat up.

“Why are you always so tired?” Schultz asked, managing to sound both gruff and paternal.

“Oh, you know mmme, Schultzie,” Newkirk replied as he stretched.  “Out till all hours of the night, dancing and c-carousing with the lovely llladies of Hammelburg.” He swung his legs over the bunk and dropped down to the floor, landing clumsily next to Schultz and grabbing him by the coat to regain his balance.

“Jolly joker,” Schultz replied. “Why do you have your uniform on already, Newkirk?”

“What, this old thing? Mmust ‘ave fffforgot to take it off last night,” he said with a shrug.

“Show more respect for your uniform, young man,” Schultz said in a gently scolding tone. “You must not sleep in it.”

“I’ll try to remember that, Schultzie, mme old china,” Newkirk said cheerfully, patting Schultz’s arms. “Th-thanks for getting me up. Wouldn’t want to miss the K-kommandant’s cheerful mmmmorning greeting, would I?” Schultz nodded amiably and ambled out the door, shouting “Ten minutes!” over his shoulder.

Newkirk took a seat at the table just as Colonel Hogan emerged from his office, smiled sleepily at him and took a bite of a sandwich. He was ravenous.

“What did Frau Schultz prepare today, Newkirk?” Hogan asked with a grin.

“Ham and cheese on pumpernickel,” Newkirk said through a full mouth. “I love brown bread, but I could do with less mustard. Would you care for half, Sir?”

XXX

The food helped a little, but as the men filed back in after roll call, Newkirk could feel himself fading. “Please,” he silently implored whatever higher power might be listening, “No more missions this week. I’ve simply got to rest.”

Hogan waved his core team into his office. Newkirk and Carter took a seat on the bottom bunk while LeBeau perched on small chest by the window. Kinch leaned into the bunk post, and Hogan paced.

“All right, fellas, good work last night dispatching the prisoners. Kinch, I want you to continue to keep us apprised of their movements. I don’t think any of us will rest easy until we know they’re in Allied custody in England.”

“Will do, Sir,” Kinch replied.

“Next up, we’ve got Burkhalter to deal with. He’ll be arriving in camp tomorrow at 11 in the morning. LeBeau, you’re serving lunch. Carter, you’ll assist. Newkirk, you and your soccer buddies are providing the entertainment.”

“I’ll sp-sp-sp…. I’ll sp-sp-sp-speak with Lindsey this mmmorning, Sir,” Newkirk replied. “But w-w-w-w, w-w-w-w…” He stopped and shook his head in frustration, then tried again. “W-w-w-w, w-w-w-w…” He went on like that for a while, unable to push through the sound.

Hogan looked on in concern as Newkirk struggled and grew agitated. He had no idea what Newkirk was attempting to say but he listened intently, fighting the urge to tell Newkirk to calm down. The other men did their best to show they were listening too, but it was hard not to look away.

Newkirk wasn’t thinking about their reactions. He was lecturing himself. Lips in a circle like you’re blowing a kiss. Pucker and push out. Back of the tongue toward the roof of the mouth. Use your vocal cords. His hand went to his throat to find the vibration. “W-w-w-w-whhh. W-w-w-whhh.” That’s not working. Maybe if you add some air. “Hwwwww-whhh. Hwwww-whhh.”

Suddenly Newkirk smacked himself in the head – once, twice, then three times.

“Oh, bloody hell. Spit it out!” he shouted at himself angrily. “Spit it out!” He tugged at his hair.

LeBeau and Carter sat up, startled. Hogan straightened and took a step back. Only Kinch moved toward Newkirk. “Peter,” he said softly as he grabbed his hands, “You’re going to hurt yourself. Don’t do that, buddy.”

Newkirk flinched at the approach. He flung his elbows to his knees and cradled his head in his hands. He breathed heavily, making a great effort to compose himself. “I’m so … bloody … knackered,” he finally said, breathing deeply. He swatted away Kinch’s hand as it rested on his shoulder, then drew himself up, rubbed at his eyes and spoke softly and slowly, not daring to look at anyone.

“W-what’s the ruse, Colonel?” Newkirk started again. “The K-Krauts saw us playing two days ago. W-why are they going to w-watch us again, and w-what are we trying to get them NOT to see?”

Hogan paused before answering. Despite his obvious frustration, Newkirk had somehow pulled himself together to speak. There was no point in embarrassing him with a conversation about why he was stuttering so hard and why he was hitting himself. That would have to happen in private.

“We need to get Burkhalter to close down the investigation into Luftwaffe collaboration with the Underground,” Hogan replied. “To accomplish that, I’d like you and your Hooligans to challenge the guards to a little soccer game.”

“P-p-p-pardon my asking, Sir, but what does a ffffootball game have to do with the p-price of tea in China?” Newkirk pressed. He peeked up to look at Hogan, then Kinch, and offered them a watery smile. Kinch knew it was an apology for losing his temper and nodded lightly.

“Leave it to an Englishman to think of tea at a time like this,” Hogan joked. “OK, guys, gather around. Let me spell it out for you.”

Kinch wrapped an arm around Newkirk’s shoulder and led him to sit on a tall stool at Hogan’s table. He stood behind him; to Hogan’s surprise, Kinch encircled Newkirk protectively around his chest with both arms, and Newkirk allowed it. He leaned back into Kinch’s hold. LeBeau edged closer on Newkirk’s left and grasped his hand, entwining their fingers together so tightly that Newkirk could not let go. Newkirk didn’t fight that, either; he seemed to need to be held tight, and his closest friends knew it. Hogan leaned into Newkirk from the right.

Carter, standing on LeBeau’s left, tried to smile, but anyone could see that he was now choking back his emotions. He was beginning to understand what LeBeau and Kinch had meant when they told him Newkirk had been hurt a lot by people who should have protected him. This was what damage looked like, he realized.  The Colonel caught a glimpse of him and made a mental note to pull him aside later.

What Kinch and LeBeau knew was that no words were necessary; Newkirk needed proximity above everything. He was bone tired and he was seeing double. Hogan started explaining what he had planned, but it was soon clear that he was going to have to do it twice. In a matter of moments, Kinch could feel the weight in his arms growing. He lowered Newkirk’s head to the table.

“He’s out like a light, Sir,” he told Colonel Hogan.

Hogan tucked his hands under his arms and heaved a big sigh. “All right. Put him in my spare bunk,” he said in a resigned tone of voice. “Maybe a couple of hours of sleep will help.” He yawned. “For all of us.”

 

Chapter Text

His friends bundled Newkirk into bed. Colonel Hogan, feeling nearly as exhausted as his corporal, climbed to his top bunk once Newkirk was settled and waved the men away. “Give me an hour to rest. I’ll be fine,” he murmured as he drifted off.

Carter, Kinch and LeBeau shuffled out to the main barracks room and sat glumly at the table. Bartoli had made coffee, or at least the closest thing to it in Stalag 13. Seeing the team in a huddle, he brought the pot to the table and filled their mugs. They looked up gratefully and nodded their thanks. Ever since the unpleasantness with Harper’s mocking imitation of Newkirk, Bartoli and Belknap had been trying to get back into the core team’s good graces, and it hadn’t gone unnoticed.

“The Colonel’s probably right,” Kinch began. “A little rest will do both of them good. How are you managing to stay awake, Carter?”

“I slept the whole way back. The Colonel and Newkirk were talking and I guess I just nodded off,” Carter shrugged. “When I was kid, I used to always fall asleep on car trips at night. There was this one time…”

“Later, Carter,” LeBeau said kindly, placing a hand on the young American’s forearm. “Pierre is clearly exhausted. I’ve heard him stutter badly before, but never like this. It’s the only explanation.”

“He is exhausted, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only explanation. Something else might be troubling him… triggering him,” Kinch said.

“Yeah, obviously it’s Nightjar,” Carter said simply.

Kinch pondered for a moment. “Yes, Nightjar’s still bothering him, but there’s also that girl she reminds him of, the one he knew when he was a kid. What’s her name?”

“Ruthie… Ruthie…” Carter said, snapping his fingers to try to summon the name. “No… Ruby…”

“Ruby Bellows,” Kinch remembered. “Hmm,” he said, rising to his feet. ”Hmm.” Kinch moved toward the bunkbed that led to the tunnel.

“What are you thinking, Kinch?” LeBeau asked.

“I just want to make a few inquiries,” Kinch replied. “Nothing official, but I’m curious about her. I can ask around on the Q.T.”

“Shouldn’t you clear it with Colonel Hogan first?” Carter asked.

Kinch stopped, taking in a deep breath and letting it out. “No. He would agree with me. Just a few simple questions. I have a contact at HQ who could help.” He turned to LeBeau. “She’d be about a year older than Newkirk, right? That means she was born in … what? 1920?”

“That seems right,” LeBeau said. “Possibly 1921. Or even 1919. She went to school with him in Step… Step…”

“Stepney,” Kinch said with a smile. “I’m on it.”

 XXX

Three hours went by before Hogan woke back up. He looked at his watch and cursed softly. It was already 10 A.M. and the day was ticking away. Why didn’t the guys wake him? Then he let out a sigh. They were only looking out for him, he realized. They knew he was beat after several consecutive nights of late missions.

He climbed down from his bunk and was startled to see Newkirk sleeping in the bunk below him. He had completely forgotten that he was still in the office; then the scene of Newkirk falling asleep at the table while Kinch struggled to hold him upright flooded his brain. He frowned. Maybe he was leaning too heavily on Newkirk’s talents. When this mess with the Luftwaffe investigation was over, he’d have to find a way to give him a few days off, but right now they’d have to settle for catching a few winks when they could.

Hogan crouched beside Newkirk, watching him breathe lightly and debating whether to wake him up. Not yet, he decided. Burkhalter’s arrival was 25 hours away. Another hour or two of rest wouldn’t hurt, and could only help revive his exhausted corporal. He sat beside him, wondering if he stuttered in his dreams. He smiled and brushed the hair back from the young man’s forehead. No. In his dreams, Newkirk had to be talking a mile a minute, entertaining everyone with one of his crazy stories. He tucked the blankets around Newkirk and headed into the barracks.

Hogan tried to suppress a yawn and a stretch as he entered the main room, but it was pointless. LeBeau caught his eye, smiled, and got up from his bunk to pour the colonel a cup of coffee.

“Kinch is down below, and he has something he wants to talk to you about,” LeBeau said. Hogan cocked an eyebrow, so LeBeau continued. “He has a theory about what is troubling Newkirk.”

“OK,” Hogan said. “But coffee first,” he added with a grin. He took a sip. “Oh, that’s nice. This coffee tastes better than anyone could possibly expect in wartime, LeBeau,” he said.

“It should,” LeBeau said with a smirk. “Newkirk managed to pilfer a couple of pounds of real coffee beans from a Turkish black market delivery to the back room of the Hofbrau last time we were in Hammelburg. I’ve been saving it for a day when we really needed it.”

“Save him a cup. But let him sleep another hour or two if he needs it, OK? We need him revived for tomorrow’s operation,” Hogan said, downing the last drops of the cup and heading to the bunkbed tunnel entrance. He looked around. “Where’s Carter?”

“He’s out trying to get the guards worked up about a football game. He’s yakking with them about how unbeatable the Hooligans are,” LeBeau said.

“Good, good,” Hogan said as the tapped the side of the bunk to make his way down below.

XXX

Hogan landed gracefully at the bottom of the ladder and found Kinch hard at work, taking down notes.

“I read you, Jack-a-Nory,” Kinch said. “Say again.” He paused and checked over his words. “Roger, Jack-a-Nory. Copy that. Papa Bear out.”

“What do we have coming in, Kinch?” Hogan asked.

“Just following up on a hunch, sir. You know about this girl, Ruby Bellows, who’s been on Newkirk’s mind lately?”

“Don’t tell me you’re connecting him with a girl,” Hogan groaned. “Kinch, what are you thinking?”

“No, Sir. Jack-a-Nory was able to help me with some intel on her whereabouts. I thought maybe I could piece the puzzle together if I understood a little more about her.”

“All right. Let me know what you find out.”

“I already found out, Sir. She was killed three years ago in one of the first strategic bombings during the Blitz, back in September 1940,” Kinch said. “She was walking home with her little boy after working all day at a munitions plant in the docklands. Threw herself down on the kid and saved his life.”

Hogan shook his head angrily. “Innocent civilians,” he muttered. “Another motherless child.” He looked up at Kinch. “Do you think Newkirk knows?”

“My contact is checking on that, but I did confirm that she worked with Newkirk’s sister Eileen—the one he calls Ellie. She’s a few years older than Peter,” Kinch said. “You want to know the strangest coincidence, Sir?”

“What’s that?” Hogan asked, sounding distracted.

“Her son’s about five years old now, and his name’s Peter.”

Hogan looked quizzically at Kinch. Then he nodded. “It’s a common name. She probably named him after her husband,” Hogan said.

“No, if she named him for someone, it was someone other than a husband,” Kinch said. “She was never married, Sir.”

Chapter Text

Hogan made his way back up to a quiet barracks. It was nearly 11 o’clock, a time when most of the men would be outside taking advantage of the golden sunshine of a warm early autumn day.

Only Goldman and Addison were in the main barracks room, as it was their turn to perform the critical duty of covering for anyone who wasn’t where they were supposed to be, at least in their captors’ opinion. When Hogan, Kinch or any of the others were down below, at least two men had to be on their toes and ready to redirect any unwanted attention long enough to issue an urgent signal to return to view.

Goldman and Addison were at the table, and to all observers they appeared to be engaged in a serious checkers match. They scrambled to their feet as Hogan banged the bunk shut.

Hogan turned and nodded. “At ease, men,” he said. “Has Carter returned?” LeBeau, he knew, had headed to see Schultz with his shopping list for the next day’s lunch for General Burkhalter.

“Only briefly, Sir,” Goldman replied. “He stopped in your office to check on Newkirk about 10 minutes ago. He said he was sound asleep and asked us to listen up for him in case he woke up, and then he went back out to look for Lindsey. Something about a soccer game tomorrow.”

“Good man,” Hogan said as he clasped Goldman’s shoulder and headed for his office. Over his shoulder, he heard Addison’s familiar drawl.

“Little Petey’s sure getting his beauty sleep these days,” Addison snickered.

Hogan turned on his heel and looked hard at Addison. Goldman was looking at Addison too, with an expression of astonished confusion on his face.

“Say again, Sergeant?” Hogan asked pointedly.

Addison laughed nervously and then froze. “Sorry, Sir. That was out of line.”

Hogan returned to the table and glared down at the airman.

“Yes, it was, Sergeant Addison. How much sleep did you have last night, Sergeant?”

“Probably seven hours, Sir. Maybe eight,” Addison said with a stricken look in his eyes.

“I see. Well, Corporal Newkirk has been on multiple missions over the past four days, doing critical work. Corporal Newkirk has had no more than 10 hours of sleep over the past four days, Sergeant Addison. And I need Corporal Newkirk’s unique skills tonight and tomorrow. So at my orders, Corporal Newkirk rests. And I will not have Corporal Newkirk ridiculed for needing to sleep or for any other reason. Do you understand me, Sergeant Addison?”

“I do, Sir,” Addison said. “I’m sorry, Sir.”

“Very good. Let me also stress, Sergeant Addison, that I will be concerned to hear you addressing Corporal Newkirk by any name or nickname or moniker or sobriquet other than his surname or rank or both. Do you read me?”

“I read you loud and clear, Colonel Hogan, Sir,” Addison replied. “I will address Corporal Newkirk appropriately, Sir.”  

Hogan nodded. “Stay focused, Addison. And stick with Goldman. I’m counting on both of you. We can’t fulfill our mission if there’s squabbling and disrespect on our team. Goldman, show Addison the right way.”

“Understood, Sir,” Goldman said.

“Sir, yes, Sir,” Addison said.

As Hogan disappeared into his quarters, Goldman punched Addison in the upper arm. “What the hell are you thinking, man? There’s plenty of room in Barracks 24 if that’s where you want to be. Hogan will transfer you out if you keep this up.”

Addison slumped forward, his head in his hands. “That was dumb. Really dumb.”

“Yeah, it was. You need to quit picking on Newkirk, Addison,” Goldman said. “You’re always right in the mix, teasing him about how he talks or making some dumb remark about his nightshirt or his sewing or his accent. And you’re a fine one to talk, with that southern drawl of yours.”

“Oh, shut up, Brooklyn boy,” Addison snapped.

“I’m from the Bronx,” Goldman replied.

“Same thing,” Addison said with a shrug.

“Oh yeah? Tell it to the Yankees,” Goldman said. “Just… straighten up and fly right, willya? Back the hell off of Newkirk.”

Addison huffed out a deep breath. “Hogan coddles Newkirk and them guys on his command team,” he grumbled. “He defends Newkirk all the time, and no matter what he does he treats him like he’s something special.”

“No,” Goldman said. “That’s where you’ve got it wrong, buddy. Hogan doesn’t defend Newkirk. He depends on Newkirk. Just like he depends on Carter and LeBeau and Kinch and Baker and Olsen. He treats them with the respect they’ve earned from him. You oughta think about that, Addison. Just try to live up to the standard he holds them to. It don’t look easy to me.”

XXX

Hogan let himself into his quarters as soundlessly as he could manage and peered down at the bunk where Newkirk slept. Even at rest, his eyes were dark and puffy. One arm hung limply over the side of the mattress, giving the impression that he’d fallen asleep where he’d flopped down hours earlier.

God, he looks exhausted. I let him get too run down, he berated himself silently. And I need him back in the game soon. He was going to have to talk to Wilson about getting a few puffs of Benzedrine* for Newkirk—and himself, if he was being honest. He was nearly as drained as Newkirk by this mission.

Hogan sat at the end of Newkirk’s bunk, tipped his head back and closed his eyes for just a moment. His eyes, his face, his shoulders, his arms—every part of him was weary. He allowed his mind to drift and his body to slump forward.

Then he woke to a conversation—or, more precisely, half of one.

“Just stop it, Nightjar,” Newkirk was murmuring. “You look exactly like her, you know. I could do to you what I did to her. Maybe that would shut you up.”

Hogan shook off the sleep and concentrated on what Newkirk was saying.

“I told you to stop,” Newkirk said, louder now. “You’ll be sorry if you don’t listen to me. You’re going to regret it.”

He sounded so angry, Hogan realized. Angry, and flawlessly fluent.

Hogan leaned forward and took Newkirk’s hand, then squeezed it.

“Newkirk,” he said softly. “Newkirk, wake up. It’s late morning.”

The murmuring stop as Newkirk took in a deep breath, then shifted onto his side.

Hogan tucked the Corporal’s hand under the cover, sighed and checked his watch. It was quarter after 11. Maybe another hour would help. He stood up and returned to the main barracks just as Carter and LeBeau came back inside.