Once Upon a Time in Stalag XIII
THE MAN WHO SHOT ANTON HAVEL
by Sierra Sutherwinds
I. Once upon a time in Stalag XIII
Carter sat on the bench outside the recreation room. He contemplated the wooden toy in his hands for several minutes. "You won't defeat me this time. I'll get you. You'll see, I'll get you." He held the cone firmly in a vertical position, the ball hanging perpendicularly to the cup. He swung his arm and tossed the ball in the air. The trajectory was accurate, only the ball grazed the rim of the cup and fell to one side. "Shoot!" Carter let himself curse. He sighed and leaned his back against the wall.
"Still out of the loop?" Newkirk came to sit with him. His movements were slow and measured. His face was just recovering its natural color and his eyelids looked heavy and tired. He groaned. "And so, that's what old people look like, eh?"
"No, I think that's what wounded people look like." Carter stared at him alarmed and angry. "You should be in bed. Cold air doesn't do any good to gun shots."
"And you should be in the rec room, getting your good boy medal."
Carter grimaced. "Don't call it that, please. It's not a medal... And I ain't a good boy." He tried the toy again and failed. "Damn! I'm not even good at this."
"Hey, don't take it out on the toy. People have been defying the science of the Cup-and-Ball game for centuries." Newkirk took the toy and straightened up as much as his aching right side allowed him. "Here, one more time: keep the ball perpendicularly to the cup, then move your arm up and down. The ball bounces by itself, see?"
Carter saw the ball falling gently into the cup and shook his head. Damn Newkirk, his skills reached farther than card games and magic tricks. "It likes you better than me. You keep it."
"Oh, come on, Andrew, what's with the attitude? Did anything happen whilst I was unconscious?"
"No... It's just that... Oh, well, it's this." He pointed at the recreation room. "The party, you know... I'm not in the mood for it."
"For what? Hitler's birthday? Who isn't in the mood? It's going to be a blast! I thought you were excited preparing the decorations and all," Newkirk smiled despite the pain that began to pulsate with his breathing. "You finished setting the decorations, didn't you?"
"Oh, yeah, of course. They're definitely ready." He grinned, anticipating success. "It's that, the boys are doing this for me."
"Yes, and well deserved I must add." Newkirk stared at his friend. "Carter, don't be sad. You did what you had to do."
"But at what cost, Newkirk? Everything I am... was... is gone..." He rubbed his face with his hands. "And now they think I'm a hero. They're happy about what I did. Throwing a party and everything... Gosh... I don't feel like partying. What I did was awful, despicable. I feel so ashamed of myself."
"Give yourself a break will ya? It had to be done, there was no other way. No permanent harm done..." He felt short of breath all of a sudden. He put his hand on his right side and leaned forward.
"Newkirk!" Carter put one arm around him and helped him to straighten up. "Take it easy, please. We almost lost you once already."
Newkirk leaned his back against the wall; his eyes closed while he regained control. Slowly, he turned to Carter and smiled. "There you are, Andrew. You haven't gone anywhere. Nothing of you's gone..." He reached for the toy and put it in Carter's hands. "Sabina knew that. Remember?"
"Remember? I've been trying to forget," Carter shuddered. "I wish I could go back in time and erase what I did." He stared at the toy. Without really wanting, he began to recreate those memories in his mind. It had been almost a week but he remembered how everything had started shortly before that...
Two weeks ago
Hogan woke up in the dark. He had heard the trapdoor, or it had been a dream. He was not sure. He slid off his bunk, taking care of landing on his good leg. His sprained ankle still hurt after three days. Wilson had recommended a crutch but Hogan was too proud to admit defeat. If Newkirk could walk off a concussion and LeBeau could still make an omelet with one dislocated shoulder, Colonel Hogan could conquer one sprained ankle.
He went outside. His pace was slow but steady provided he could find furniture to lean on. LeBeau was sitting on his bunk, talking in whispers with Kinch. The sergeant turned to Hogan.
"They're not here yet," he said in a soft voice.
"What time is it?"
"Almost two thirty," LeBeau yawned. He stretched his right arm and a painful wrench reminded him of why his left arm was still on a sling. "You don't think something happened to them, Colonel? Maybe Newkirk decided to go for a drink after the mission and took Carter with him."
"In that case, some British corporal is going to die tonight." Hogan kept his voice down.
"They must be on their way, they can't screw things up more than three times in a row." Kinch chuckled.
"If we take into account that they screwed it up tonight already, I wouldn't be surprised if they don't want to come back right away." Hogan sighed. "Go back and wait for them in the tunnel."
Kinch turned at the same time that the trapdoor opened. Newkirk came up first, followed by Carter. Their smiling faces contrasted with the cold reception awaiting them.
"Hey, guys," Carter waved. "You didn't have to wait up for us."
"Well, we are. What happened to you?" LeBeau said.
"We had to work around several patrols. Nothing to brag about," Newkirk sighed.
"How was the mission?" Hogan asked. His eyes narrowed. "Any problems?"
Carter turned to Newkirk, who shrugged and shook his head. "Er... Well..." Carter said. "We got to the warehouse office. The safe box was exactly where the underground told us. Right, Newkirk?"
The Englishman nodded and smiled shyly. "Jolly good, indeed."
"Oh, Newkirk opened it in two seconds flat. New record, right, Newkirk? Ringing ears and all." He turned to his friend again.
"And?" Hogan crossed his arms over his chest.
"Well... We saw the papers, they were all there..." Carter cleared his throat. "I proceeded to take the pictures and you won't believe what..."
At this point, Kinch took a small camera out of his pocket and put it on the table. Hogan sat down and pushed it towards Carter. The sergeant smiled.
"Well, you know the rest of the story, I see," Carter sat in front of the colonel. "I think I left it on the table while I put on my coat. I suppose I forgot it."
"You suppose?" Hogan slammed his hand on the table. "Carter, what's the matter with you? One day, you forget the film; the next, you abandon the camera where anyone could find it; not to mention the blow-up fiasco three days ago." At the memory of that event, Hogan's ankle, LeBeau's shoulder and Newkirk's head began to hurt.
"I said I was sorry about that," Carter complained. "My watch was one minute fast when I set the detonators."
"At least, that time he didn't forget to set the detonators." Kinch grinned.
"You can make fun of it because you weren't there when we all flew around." LeBeau rubbed his shoulder.
"I still have that ringing in me ears and the gov'nor can barely walk-"
"I can walk. It hurts a little but I'm much better," Hogan said. "But the point is, Carter, you're giving new dimensions to the term absent minded" He turned to Newkirk. "And you. I thought you were cleverer than this, Newkirk. I want you two in my office, now!"
The few men that were still asleep woke up abruptly with the yelling and the slamming of the door. They saw Newkirk and Carter go reluctantly into Hogan's office and someone mumbled. Dead men walking.
Hogan waited with his arms crossed over his chest until his men sat at the table. He clenched his teeth and limped to the window. Carter had never seen him that mad before; not at them, at least. For a moment, he felt as though he was back in High School waiting for the principal's reprimand.
"Would any of you explain to me what's going on here?" Hogan's voice was calm but far from friendly.
"I made a mistake... huge mistake. I'm really sorry," Carter said.
Hogan nodded and turned to Newkirk. "How about you?"
"Me? I did me part," he shrugged. "How would've I known-?"
"How? Do you have any concept of team work?" Hogan came closer. "That's why I send you in pairs, we watch each other's back. It's not just to make it back in one piece, it's carrying out the mission. Together."
"I read the documents. I can recite them to you if you want to," Newkirk said.
"I figured you would do that. You'll write them down later. But that's not the point." Hogan glowered at them. "If you don't start working as a team, I don't know if I can trust you together anymore."
"What are you saying, sir? Are you going to separate us?" Carter asked.
"That's fine with me," Newkirk leaned his elbows on the table. "I don't trust Carter very much anyway."
"Hey, I resent that. I thought we were friends."
"And we are. But in a mission, I'd rather take LeBeau or Kinch to watch me back."
"Oh, now you tell me-"
"Well, I should've said it before going out tonight. Two hours in that bleeding muddy road for nothing! At least, we could've had a drink in town on our way back. But no, Mr. Goody-Two-Shoes here wanted to come right away."
"Oh, yeah? What about the patrols and the dogs? If we'd have stayed in town they might have found us and-"
"Enough from you two!" Hogan slammed the table with an open hand. "I won't say it again. If you can't put your act back together I'll separate this duo for good."
"No problem from me, Gov'nor."
"I mean it, one of you will leave Barrack Two. This camp is full of competent and very skilful men. I'll find a replacement."
Newkirk and Carter frowned at Hogan. For a moment, no one dared to talk.
"Do you mean," Carter finally stepped forward, "that you're kicking one of us out of the team,... sir?"
Hogan realized what he had just said. He also realized that he did not mean that at all. But it was too late to take back his words. Maybe all they needed was a good shake up. He decided to play along.
"It's up to you, guys. I won't talk about this anymore." Hogan straightened up and saluted. "Dismissed."
LeBeau and Kinch were still up waiting for their friends to come out of Hogan's office. The long faces were enough to see that they already knew what had happened in there.
"These ruddy walls are like paper, aren't they?" Newkirk jumped up to his bunk. "Well, that's it, one of us is moving out."
"It's not that final," Kinch smiled. "You just have to be more careful."
"I am careful," Carter felt compelled to defend himself. "I never have problems when going out with you or LeBeau."
"So, I'm the problem, is that it?" Newkirk raised his voice and the others shushed him.
"It's not that, Newkirk," LeBeau said. "It's just that sometimes you rush to do your job and-"
"It wouldn't harm to look back once in a while and see if your partner has forgotten his camera," Kinch said with a smile.
"Oroit, point taken," Newkirk rolled his eyes. "Blimey, Carter. I'm sorry, I'll remind you to be more bleeding careful next time." He lied down and pulled his blanket over his head.
"Go to sleep, Andrew," Kinch patted him on the back. "Things will look better in the morning."
"Oue," LeBeau yawned. "Faites des beaux rêves, mes enfants."
Carter remained sitting in the dark. He was ashamed of his own clumsiness and how much it had begun to affect the missions. It was time for him to pay more attention and be more responsible. There must be a way to show his friends he was trustworthy. He would not be the one leaving the barrack, that was for sure.
The next three days, nothing important happened. But before it began to look like a vacation, London sent another of their urgent messages.
Kinch came up the ladder to join his friends. Hogan was right behind him. Neither of them looked happy at all.
"In my office," Hogan said.
"Do we have a job, Colonel?" LeBeau asked when they had all sat down.
"I think so." Hogan read one name. "Vasile Dalibor, born in Zagreb, eighteen ninety-three. Member of the Nazi Party since nineteen thirty-four. He worked with the Action Groups, also known as Mobile Killing Units."
"What's that? Sounds nasty." Carter frowned.
Hogan glanced at Kinch as though they were holding a horrible secret. "They... kill enemies of the regimen, Carter... anyone who doesn't fit under the master race standards." He read from the clipboard again. "Dalibor left that division of the Party after six years. For the last three, he has been serving as a double agent, working for the Party and sending valuable information to the Allies."
"Wait a minute, we have a war criminal working for us?" Newkirk shook his head. "That's just marvelous."
"We're at war, Newkirk, we have to use whatever is within our reach to tip the balance in our favor."
"And what's so valuable that can make us obviate the crimes and pact with the criminal?"
"He's been secretly collecting blueprints and other literature about new equipment and weaponry, plus locations of clandestine factories. He has managed to send most of it to London. But recently, he was exposed and sent to the Gestapo. He's currently in prison at Lorenz where they have their local headquarters. They're preparing his transfer to Berlin within the next twelve hours. We have to take him from there as soon as possible, transport him to a secret airstrip near Schienbein Stadt about two hours from Lorenz and wait for an RAF plane that will pick him up tomorrow morning, at three hundred hours and ten." He looked at his men. "It's a two-man job."
LeBeau's and Newkirk's eyes followed the colonel as he limped around the office. Carter relaxed in his seat. He was almost sure that Hogan would not pick him.
Hogan stopped to confront his men. "Carter, do you think you can take this mission?"
"Me, Colonel?" His eyes opened wide. "Of course I can, but are you sure?"
"With half my team incapacitated, I don't have many options, do I?" He smirked and softened his tone. "It's only an extraction and delivery operation. Don't expect you to get in any trouble. Take Newkirk with you."
"Take him? As if I'm in charge?" Carter narrowed his eyes warily.
"You're the sergeant, Carter." Hogan sat at the table. "Can you manage that, Corporal Newkirk?"
The Englishman smirked. "I'll behave."
"Go and get ready, you have to leave in five hours." Hogan looked at his watch. "I'll brief you on the details later on." He waited until Carter left the room with Newkirk and LeBeau. "I won't regret my decision, will I?"
"Not a bit, Carter has potential. He just needs to focus," Kinch said. "Newkirk will do his part too."
"I just hope they don't misplace the man before the plane arrives." He sat down and rubbed his ankle. "I think I could go myself-"
"I don't mean to be disrespectful, sir, but you would not have a chance if something went wrong and you had to make a run for it." Kinch shook his head. "You'll have to sit with me and hope for the guys to do their part without much trouble."
"I don't know how you stand the waiting, Kinch. It kills me every time." He stood up but had to sit down again. "Especially now that I'm limited to this space."
"Well, you can go outside now that we've convinced Klink that we're prone to accidents." Kinch chuckled. "Don't worry, Colonel, I think Newkirk is more than willing to take his responsibilities to the letter. Carter needs to regain his confidence too."
"Yes, I think I've punished him enough. Besides, Newkirk is with him. He'll do fine." Hogan said.