The sun rose early over Stalag 13 that following morning. For LeBeau the timing was retched. Colonel Hogan, Kinch and Carter should have been back almost two hours prior to sunrise, and three hours before the scheduled morning roll call.
While the rest of the men slept, LeBeau had been stationed in the barracks and Newkirk in the tunnel near the radio. The night had been one long, unbroken nightmare of second guessing and worry.
From the start the mission had felt like a mistake.
For one thing, the underground was always more specific.
"If they want us to blow up a bridge, oui, the bridge we blow up. If they want an ammo dump, or a factory…" LeBeau snapped his fingers, then glanced down the open bunk ladder to Newkirk, "…it is nothing but ash. But an address? Only an address?!"
From below Newkirk shook his head slowly, agreeing with the little Frenchman. It was whacky, the whole thing, but they had jumped through all the usual hoops.
"It's a bit of a lark, too. Nearly fifty miles away, and to the south…that's all forest and farm country." The Englishman flashed the map that he'd been studying briefly under the hole in the ceiling, then reached for the radio and slipped through the frequencies once again. A move very familiar to him after five hour's repetition.
"Oui. No important railroad depots, no enemy or Allied activity! And they are late."
"I know they're late, Louie."
"We should go after them."
"We can't…and you know it." Newkirk responded, for the umpteenth time shooting down the idea that both of them had been trying not to have. They couldn't leave camp. Not yet. Someone would have to cover for three of their own being out of the barracks.
"Non…what I know is…next time there is a mission I do not trust, I will be going instead of Colonel Hogan. Klink might believe one of us leaving without the others, but not the Colonel."
"They'll make it, LeBeau." Newkirk insisted, sharper than before, again twisting the dial.
The French corporal closed burning eyes and tried to calm his racing heart, leaning against where the bunk support met the wall. The smell of the damp, cold draft traveling from the tunnel had become synonymous with excitement and danger, or safety and homecoming.
Now, Louie wondered if it would only remind him of the last time they had seen their three comrades.
"We should try to contact the underground. Maybe they have heard from-"
"I've tried it, Louie. A dozen times, and one more for show. There's nothin' to be heard on this bloody radio, and no one to talk to." Newkirk snapped, just barely managing to keep his voice down. He wanted to punch the ruddy thing, but Kinch had long ago threatened to shoot him if he ever took out his frustration on the technology. Of course Kinch wasn't there to do the shooting, but Peter Newkirk would rather assume he was coming back and leave the bloody wireless be, than assume Kinch was captured and destroy their only means for finding that out.
"Would it not be better to have all of us escape, than none of us?" LeBeau asked from above, his voice quiet, restrained and thoughtful. "If the barracks are empty there is no one left to answer any questions, or come up with a convincing lie?"
"Nor to talk Klink outta doing something stupid, or bribe Schultz into seeing nothing for just a little while longer." With a grunt, Newkirk tossed the headset on the table in front of him, the surface littered with stubbed cigarettes and the half sandwich he hadn't been able to finish the night before. "We're buggered…"
For a moment both were quiet, LeBeau watching the sun creep along the floorboards of the barracks, and Newkirk staring at a slow seep of condensation on the tunnel wall.
"Unless…we escaped too.."
LeBeau's face popped with consternation and confusion a moment after his mind repeated Newkirk's muttering. "Newkirk, Voilà ce que je viens de dire , avez-vous été à l'écoute! Vous ignorez tout ce que je."
At the sudden burst of French, Newkirk stepped to the ladder and climbed up until he could slap the side of LeBeau's calf. "Ya bloody Frenchman, save your passions for the Marseillaise, an' listen to me. We make like we're escaping through the fence. Like it was our plan to go all together, but you and I get caught. We claim that Colonel 'ogan, Kinch and Carter went first to scout the area and we were to follow behind."
Glaring petulantly with his arms crossed LeBeau considered the plan, quickly spotting where the Englishman was headed. "Then we stall until the bosch put us in the cooler and are sent out looking for the others, and we go looking for them ourselves."
"Yeah, or something like that…" Newkirk agreed, smirking a tiny bit. The plan was insane, chock full of madness, but it felt good to have one.
"We should leave a note in the tunnel for the Colonel, in case they come back that way."
"I'm on it. Wake up the others and make up the barracks will ya, like we were planning on going for an extended vacation."
LeBeau smirked and nodded, scrambling around the barracks, knocking on the bunks and setting the stage. It was only a second thought happenstance that urged him to glance through the window shutters into the compound. What he saw changed the plan completely.
"Newkirk! Change of plans!" He shouted urgently, rushing to the outside door and shoving a chair under the handle, wedging it shut, tight. A dozen pairs of eyes were suddenly on him, some of the men jumping out of bed. "No, no! Back into your bunks." Louie urged.
Fear thrilled through his veins, along with concern for the colonel, and Carter and Kinch. LeBeau ran for Hogan's private room ripping open the middle drawer of the crude desk and snatching out paper, string and a tack. He found a fountain pen and scrawled a message that he desperately hoped would work, just barely remembering to write it in German.
He jabbed two holes in the paper then strung the sign up on Hogan's door using the tack.
"LeBeau! What are you doing? This isn't the time for-"
"No time to explain." LeBeau said breathless. "Fill that pot with water, then get in your bed, pretend to be sick! All of you, pretend to be sick!" Jabbing a poker forcefully into the cook stove the Frenchman wakened the coals then piled wood on until he couldn't fit anymore into the chamber. He directed Newkirk to set the filled pot on the stove and put the lid over it at a slant. Within minutes the fire had grown bright and hot, the pot showing the slightest whispers of steam.
Louie spun in a circle scanning the room as he set the stage, finally rushing for the foot locker beneath his bunk where he found some sprigs of dried thyme, basil and spearmint. The spearmint especially had been hard to come by, and it pained him to use it this way, but they would either sell this or, mostly likely, die trying.
He threw all of the herbs into the pot, stuck a ladle in and ran to pull the chair away from the door knob just as Newkirk finished snuggling into his blankets.
Already the room was warmer than it needed to be, and the men were sweating. Through a crack in the door LeBeau could see a rumpled, but alert Sergeant Schultz throwing a final salute to Klink, who was barking orders to the rest of the compliment of guards in the camp, his face pale with fury.
The moment he stepped off the deck of the Kommandant's quarters Schultz pointed his boots for Barrack 2.
"Schultz is coming. Follow my lead!" Louie whispered, getting a muffled confirmation from Newkirk and some of the other men before he grabbed his own blanket from his bed and went to huddle close to the glowing hot stove, stirring the steaming pot with the ladle.
'You are sick, LeBeau.' He told himself. 'Burning with a fever. Carter and Kinchloe are in quarantine in the Colonel's quarters. Not to be disturbed. If you believe it, Louie, they will believe it!'
"Attention! Everybody up! Immediate roll call by order of the Kommandant. Rous! Rous!" Schultz barked as he entered, slamming the door behind him with casual ease before he swung his hand at the base of the upper bunk that normally held the Englander Newkirk.
Instead of the usual loud chorus of complaints however, his ears were greeted with a testy "Shhhh!" and miserable groans. Already Schultz knew that there was something wrong in the compound. It only took a few minutes to notice the 'wrong' inside the barracks.
It was hot! Far too hot in the room, and smelled of peppermint and herbs…of tea and…
Even as the cockroach began to reprimand him for his volume, Schultz noticed the "Gefahr! Quarantane!" sign tacked to Hogan's door. "Quarantane!?" He asked surprised, doubtful and concerned. "What…what what...was ist-?"
Again the cockroach shh-ed him. "Schultz! Please! Above all else they must have rest! These men are very sick and will not be making roll call today!"
Already the little Frenchman was pushing him towards the door. "These men? What men? What is going on?"
"The men…they all have fever, probably malaria. They have to rest, and take the medicine I made for them."
"Malaria? In Germany?" Schultz demanded, "Carter, Newkirk. Rous! You can't have malaria!"
"Measels, then. How should I know Schultzy, what matters is that they be allowed to sleep. You don't want a pandemic on your hands, do you?"
"Measels? But that is for kinder. Please, LeBeau, the Kommandant is very angry. The Major of the Gestapo is here. Something very bad is going on, now is not the time for games!"
From under his blanket Newkirk stiffened involuntarily when he heard that Major Hochstetter was in camp. The man was always trouble and ten times harder to blimey than Klink or Schultz. Somehow LeBeau didn't seem that surprised by the news though, only insisting once more that the sickness in the barracks was very bad and worse, the longer Schultz stayed the more risk he ran of catching it too.
"Measels. Sickness, ha! Newkirk!" Schultz slapped the top bunk again and this time saw the lump under the blanket move sluggishly. To his horror, when the Englander's face finally appeared it was deathly pale and covered in glistening red spots. Newkirk moaned, his eyes rolling in apparent delirium and LeBeau jumped to the stove, ladling some of his boiling concoction into a cup.
"Now that you have woken my patient I might as well give him some of this." LeBeau groused angrily, shoving Schultz to the side and dragging a chair close to Newkirk's bunk. Climbing up he held the steaming and probably noxious blend near the Englander's lips and cautioned, "It is hot, take it slow." The Frenchman met Newkirk's eyes and the two stalled for a second as Schultz stared in shocked surprise.
When it grew obvious that they had no choice, Newkirk rolled his eyes a little and parted his lips to accept some of the 'cure'.
It burned and tasted terrible, but he managed to get the first swallow down.
"Aw, he is sick!" Schultz declared, shaking his head. "And the other men?" He asked, looking around him and spotting a few empty bunks.
"Even worse. Quarantined in there with the colonel."
"LeBeau! This is terrible!" Schultz opined, sounding genuinely concerned for his prisoners.
"Have some compassion Schultz, please. Tell the Kommandant they need to rest. Recover." Louie fixed a pleading look on his face and looked as pitiful as he could, Newkirk moaning softly for good measure.
"I…I…I will tell him, LeBeau, I will try. But he is very angry, and may not listen to me."
Schultz quietly opened the door and started to duck back out and LeBeau felt himself relax for a second. But, as always, the giant sergeant wasn't done just yet and ducked back in. "If you need any help, cockroach, you may call on me. I…have already had the measles!"
"Merci, Schultz." LeBeau said, trying to look grateful for the offer.
With a lingering paternal look Schultz finally shut the door again and LeBeau scrambled off the chair so that he could again shove it under the doorknob.
"Good Lord, it's burnin' up in here." Newkirk groaned, throwing off his blanket and jumping from his bunk. The other men muttered in general agreement doing the same. Peter quickly went for one of the windows on the other side of the barrack and threw it open a few inches where he and LeBeau stood breathing in the cool air.
"Is what Schultz said true?"
The immediate danger over, the ruse for the moment passing for truth, LeBeau had forgotten for just a few moments the disturbing sight he'd witnessed.
"Oui. It is true. And what is worse…I looked out the door to see Major Hochstetter and his goons dragging an American prisoner into the cooler."
His face comically dotted with red ink, Newkirk's features went pale and blank and he swallowed hard. The noise of conversation in the barracks dwindled to silence as Peter asked, "Which one, Louie?"
"It looked like Colonel Hogan…and he didn't look good."
"What do we do?" Newkirk asked, no longer aware of the oppressing heat or the sickly sweet smell of the boiling water.
"Play it by ear for now. And hope."
A moment later, LeBeau looked back to his English friend and asked, "What happened to your face?"Newkirk pursed his lips in slight annoyance and held up the pen that he'd managed to keep with him after hurriedly abandoning the radio. "You did say measles, didn't ya?"