Papa Bear Awards 2011
A Mission Briefing Gone Awry
“Boy, I'm so excited!” Carter's eyes beamed in his soot black face. “How many stories did London again say we'd get?”
“Two hundred and six,” Kinch whispered back. “And keep your voice down, will you? We don't want to alert the Krauts!”
“Sorry. But two hundred and six! London'd better not give us any missions these weeks, or we'll never get through them.”
“Ssh! Quiet now!” Hogan hissed up front. He squatted down behind an evergreen bush, and his four men followed his example.
“How long till the plane gets here?” Newkirk whispered.
Hogan glanced at his watch. “A few minutes. LeBeau, you got the flashlight ready?”
“Good. Then everybody quiet now. Especially you, Carter!”
They crouched down behind the bushes, eagerly looking up at the sky. The night was dark; the moon wouldn't go up until later. A little animal rustled the dead leaves as it scurried past, and a cold, soft drizzle began to fall.
“Hurry up, you stupid plane. I'm freezing,” Newkirk muttered.
“I believe I hear something.”
They all pricked their ears at Kinch's quiet announcement. And yes, there it was: the unmistakable soft rumbling sound of an approaching Allied plane.
Hogan peered up at the nightsky through his binoculars. “Here it comes. LeBeau?”
Three short flashes of light beamed up at the black sky.
“Yep. Package thrown out,” Hogan reported.
Soon they could all distinguish the black parachute floating down against the dark of night.
“It's going to come down right over there,” Carter pointed.
“Yes. But you know procedures: we wait till it's hit the ground. No use giving ourselves away when we can't even reach the package yet,” Hogan warned.
Nobody replied to that – they were all well aware that the woods bordering this little patch of heath could be crawling with Kraut patrols at any time.
And it was a good thing that they stayed put, for suddenly, a powerful light beam from the woods beyond captured the parachute and its precious load.
“Jürgens! Köhler!” a command sounded. In a nasty, all too familiar voice...
Hogan and his men didn't move a muscle – they barely dared to take a breath as they lay there behind their bush. But their thoughts were running rampant.
Hochstetter? Hochstetter who got hold of the stories for the Papa Bear Awards? Oh my... Not only would that mean the uncovering of their entire organization and the death of a lot of their allies, but it would most likely leave the hated major in a terrible mood as well. If the authors had been ridiculing him as badly as last year, with infamous stories along the lines of The Many Deaths of Wolfgang Hochstetter...
“Na, what do we have here?” they heard Hochstetter demand. “A large package. A heavy package thrown out of an Allied plane. No doubt it contains knick-knacks to aid that horrible Hogan in his pointless little crusade against our glorious Third Reich.” A pause in which they heard cords snap, and the breaking of wood. “Aha! Some kind of secret files! Jürgens, Köhler, search the area. They must be around here somewhere to pick up this package. And I will finally, finally have my proof!”
“Better get out of here,” Hogan breathed. And stealthily, quiet but fast, the five black shadows got up and disappeared into the night without a sound.
Back in his office at Gestapo headquarters in Hamelburg, Major Hochstetter dumped the crate filled with documents on his desk. He smiled – a cold-hearted, satisfied little smile. “This will be the end of your annoying capers, Colonel Hogan. Just let me get a cup of coffee to celebrate your inevitable downfall!”
He put away his overcoat, got a cup of Ersatz coffee from the canteen, and sat himself behind his desk. “Well now, let's see what we have here.” He took the top paper from the pile, and read:
TOP SECRET TOP SECRET TOP SECRET TOP SECRET TOP SECRET TOP SECRET TOP SECRET TOP SECRET
And sniggered. Top secret alright, oh yeah. And then another line got his attention: PAPA BEAR AWARDS.
Papa Bear! These top secret documents were intended for the infamous Papa Bear! And here he was, Wolfgang Hochstetter, having confiscated the entire pile before that monster could lay his hands on them! If this wasn't going to hand him Hogan's head on a plate, nothing ever would!
So he quickly read on...
The barracks door swung open and slammed into Newkirk and Carter's bunk.
"Hey Schultzie...!" Newkirk started to complain, but Schultz didn't hear him.
"Where are the stories?" He looked around, beaming with eager anticipation – much like a child at Christmas Eve.
"What stories?" LeBeau feigned ignorance and yawned loudly as he swung his short legs out of bed.
"Cockroach, do not play games with me. I saw you guys slip out last night, with my own eyes! All five of you! But since it is the time of year for the Papa Bear Awards again, I wisely decided that I had better see nothing. But now...!" He looked under the table, opened a foot locker here and there, lifted up Carter's blanket, Newkirk's blanket... "Where are they? I want to read and nominate and vote, too! I love the Papa Bear Awards!"
"Well, we don't have them." Newkirk scowled and pulled his blanket a little tighter around him.
Schultz gave him a disapproving shake of the head. "Jolly joker. I know they must be here. Where have you hidden them?"
"We haven't hidden them anywhere, Schultz." Carter gave him a sad puppy look. "We don't have them. Really!"
"You are bad boys; you are only teasing me! Has your mother not taught you to share?"
"Sure." Kinch jumped off his bunk. "But when there is nothing to share, then we all get nothing."
"You didn't store them in a place I'm not supposed to know about?"
Kinch raised his eyebrows. "And what place would that be?"
Schultz stomped his foot. "How should I know if I'm not supposed to know about it?" He glared at every one of them in turn. "You are all mocking me! That is not nice! Wait till the Kommandant hears about this!" He threw back his head and bellowed, "Colonel Hogan!"
"Hey, is Colonel Hogan the Kommandant of Stalag 13 now?" Carter's eyes shone at the possibilities this opened up.
But there was Hogan, dressed and all. "Schultz! What's with the yelling so early in the morning?"
"Colonel Hogan, the men won't share the stories with their poor old Sergeant Schultz! Now why would they be so mean? Am I not your best friend in all of Germany?"
Hogan sighed. "Because, Schultz, we didn't get the stories."
Schultz's expression was one big question mark. "Why not? Did they not arrive yet? I thought..."
"Oh, they did come alright. We saw them – from a distance. But someone else got their hands on them first."
Schultz's eyes slowly widened as realization set in. "Major... Hochstetter...? Colonel Hogan, you are in trouble! I am in trouble! If Major Hochstetter reads about everything that I know nothing about, he will kill you all! And Colonel Klink and I..." He faltered.
"Sent to the Russian front probably," Newkirk completed for him as he peeled his first cigarette of the day out of its pack.
Schultz whimpered and whined. "Don't say that, Newkirk! Please!" He turned back to his senior POW. "Colonel Hogan, what are you going to do?"
"Uh-oh..." Carter already backed away from his lookout post at the door.
"What?" Newkirk asked.
"There's major Hochstetter..."
"About time," LeBeau muttered. "He's had those stories for weeks now."
"I bet he's been reading them all. We haven't seen him for all those weeks either," Kinch commented as Hogan got up to leave.
"I'd better go straighten this out." Hogan zipped up his jacket. "And you guys, get ready to evacuate. We might have to move quickly." And with that, he quickly left the barracks for the Kommandant's office.
"Kommandant, can I... Oh, hi major! Haven't seen you around for a while. Everything okay?"
"Everything is not okay," major Hochstetter snarled at him. "What do you have to say about this?"
Hogan took the paper Hochstetter thrusted at him. "'What is this man doing here?´" he read. And chuckled. "What – are you investigating a case of plagiarism? That is your line after all."
"'Oh Major...´ Ha! Has someone written a poem about you? I sure hope it was a love poem?"
"It was not a love poem," Hochstetter growled. "And look at this. And this. And this. And this one! And this!" He thrusted more and more papers at Hogan, who had to juggle quite a bit to catch them all. "I am being ridiculed, Hogan, and I promise you: heads will roll for this! Me being pictured as Scrooge, as being devoured by a monster, being turned into a ghost, lying in a drunk stupor outside the church, having trouble with a wife, having my mouth washed out with soap... And worst of all..." He couldn't quite repress a shudder. "Being pictured as an Allied agent..."
Klink's jaw dropped. "You, major Hochstetter? An Allied agent?" He cackled a nervous laugh. "Who would believe it?"
"You certainly have the perfect cover for it," Hogan agreed with a clear hint of admiration. "Playing the heartless Gestapo monster we know, you could have fooled us easily."
Hochstetter positively seethed. "I am a loyal German citizen, dedicated to uphold the ideals of the glorious Third Reich! I am not – I repeat: not! – an Allied agent!"
Hogan shrugged. "Whatever you say."
"But that is not all." Hochstetter stroked the tender spot of his ulcer. Soon it would not be bothering him anymore. "As I have always suspected and even known, these documents contain positive and irrefutable proof that you, Colonel Hogan, are indeed the menacing sabotage leader called Papa Bear. Now what do you have to say to that, huh?"
"Impossible!" Klink blustered out before Hogan could even open his mouth. "He is a prisoner! In the toughest POW camp in Germany no less! There has never been an escape from Stalag 13 – so how could Colonel Hogan commit sabotage on bridges and tunnels and military depots and railroads, and all those other things you're always ranting about? Impossible. Ridiculous!"
"He's right, you know," Hogan chimed in. "Kommandant Klink has us completely cowed. We can only dream of attempting such heroics. But since we can't even get out of camp..."
"Paah! Your smooth tongue will not save you now, Hogan. These stories give a detailed account of all the crimes you and your men have been committed this past year. Written documentation. If I can't get eye-witnesses, then written documentation will do just as nicely to finally get my hands on you!"
"Major." Hogan calmly shook his head. "You're not being logical about this."
"The Gestapo is not known for being logical, Hogan."
"I agree. But since you deny everything that's written about you in these documents, why should you believe anything that's written in there about me?"
Hochstetter snorted. "Because I want to. That's reason enough."
Hogan sighed. "Major Hochstetter, shall I tell you what this really is?"
"No." A glare.
"Yes. Please do!" Klink ventured.
"These are stories written by the prisoners' grannies and greataunts. And a few of their mothers and sisters. They are well aware that our spirits are thoroughly broken, and that we'll never be able to get out of here. So to help us keep up our morale, they write stories about us in which we perform all kind of heroics to thwart our enemy. Just to let us escape into fiction when real life is so dull and dreary. And hopeless."
"Exactly." Klink's head bobbed up and down in eager agreement. "Totally hopeless. No one has ever escaped from Stalag 13."
Hochstetter just looked very unconvinced.
"Every once in a while they send us those stories," Hogan continued. "We read them, and decide which ones we think are the best. That's what we call the Papa Bear Awards – after one of our dearest fancies…" He looked down and added in a dejected tone, "That if I only had the guts, I could have been the notorious underground leader Papa Bear."
Hochstetter fidgeted. "But you are Papa Bear!"
"No, I'm not." A sigh. "I wish I were."
"No, he's not," Klink threw in for good measure. "For goodness sake, major, he's a prisoner! In the toughest POW camp in Germany! He couldn't possibly be Papa Bear!"
Hochstetter scowled. "I still think these stories are a threat to the Third Reich. The prisoners might get ideas from them."
Another nervous cackle from Klink. "Major Hochstetter, really! A network of tunnels under the camp? Prisoners getting out of camp every night, and then back in again of their own free will? A radio to contact London whenever they want to? Prisoners impersonating German officers? Major, the next thing you'll be telling me is that Colonel Hogan is occasionally picked up by an Allied airplane at night, flown to London for a top meeting, and brought back in time for roll call! Now do you expect me to believe that?"
"Besides," Hogan added. "The Kommandant has us so cowed that we only get ideas that he would approve of. Never, ever would it enter our minds to dig tunnels under the camp. The mere idea is… well, shocking!"
Hochstetter snorted. "I'll believe it when I see it." He turned to Klink. "Klink, I will surround this camp with a ring of steel. Nobody gets to go in to this camp, and nobody gets to go out – not until I have gotten to the bottom of this."
"Good." Hogan hoisted the crate full of stories under his arm. "That'll give us the peace and quiet we need to read all this in only a week's time. The votes have to be in by Saturday, you see." He prepared to leave, but Hochstetter's screeching voice called him to a halt.
"Klink! Are you letting him get away with this?"
"Of course not, major. Of course not. Colonel Hogan, aren't you forgetting something?"
Hogan looked puzzled. "What am I forgetting?"
A quick smile. "To leave a handful of stories with me. I, too, like the Papa Bear Awards, remember?"
Major Hochstetter practically spat fire, but Hogan gamely handed the Kommandant a pile of papers. "Here you go, Kommandant. Enjoy your reading. Oh, and major Hochstetter?"
"Tell Hitler to put the war on hold for a week, will you? We've got more important things on our mind now."
"Exactly. First things first, my mother always said," Klink mumbled as he leafed through his pile of stories. Suddenly he chuckled. "This looks like a good one, Hogan. If it's really good, I'll let you have it after me."
"Thank you, Kommandant. And auf Wiedersehen, major."
And all that was left for Hochstetter to do was to spat an angry, "Paah!" before he stomped out of the office to start preparing his ring of steel.
"You get it," Kinch mumbled, not taking his eyes from the paper.
"No, you get it," was Baker´s muffled reply, since he rested his chin in his hand.
"No, you. I outrank you, remember?"
"Only by time in rank. Besides, you read faster. You´ll catch up quicker." Baker pulled the story they were both engrossed in out of Kinch´s hand and continued reading by the unstable light of the oil lamp.
And Kinch sighed. The buzz alerting them to the incoming message grew more insistent by the second. Better answer it.
He put on the headset and took the mike. First this week's security recognition code, and then...
"Papa Bear, this is Goldilocks. What took you so long?"
"We're busy," Kinch replied evenly.
"Well, get Papa Bear for me, will you?"
"I'll try." Kinch nudged Baker. "Go get the Colonel."
Kinch stretched his back. "Rank has its privileges, remember? You go get the Colonel."
If looks could kill...
Baker pushed the story back in Kinch's hands, and quickly jumped up the ladder. "Colonel!"
"Ssh!" came it from several sides. Everybody was reading like crazy.
"Where's the Colonel?" Baker whispered to Lebeau.
Lebeau wiped away a stray tear. "Mort..." came the barely audible reply.
Baker raised his eyebrows, and turned to Newkirk. "Newkirk?"
"Sod off. I'm having a good time for a change: I'm playing a werewolf!" He bared his fangs and growled.
Carter snickered. "I love stories with animals. I've had one with an ostrich, and one with a cockatoo. And this one's about a giant spider. Would you like to have it next?"
"Maybe later. Kinch and I are in the middle of a hairraising mission with some weird greenish guy with pointy ears. Now where's the Colonel?
Carter pointed with his thumb. "In his office, I believe. Hey!" He raised his voice. "Anyone want to read this? It's nice and short. And funny! I'll trade it for another comedy."
"I will!" Hammond quickly took the paper from him and tossed him the story he had been reading.
"Hey, I've already read that one! That's not fair!" Baker heard Carter protest as he made his way over to the office.
A knock, a "Come", and in he went. "Colonel, London is on the radio."
Hogan waved him away. "Take a message."
"But they specifically asked for you."
"Then they'll have to wait. I'm in the middle of getting married."
Baker looked rather dumbfounded, and Hogan heaved a sigh. "Tell them to call back on Sunday. Or at least after tomorrow. Once we get our votes in, we'll go back to fighting the Nazis."
So quiet and desolated it was inside the camp, so noisy and busy was it outside the perimeter. Dozens of workers were putting up a solid iron fence of four meters high and ten centimeters thick. Under the supervision of the Gestapo, the men welded the heavy, unbreakable iron plates together to form a veritable 'ring of steel' around the now quiet Luftstalag.
Hochstetter paced back and forth between the workers, regularly getting terribly in the way, but nobody had the guts to ask him to step aside.
"Schnell! Schnell! This ring of steel must be in place before nightfall! And if there is any sign of sabotage activity in the area tonight, I will shoot you all together with the saboteurs!"
So the workers hurried, and hurried, until...
"Major Hochstetter?" their foreman ventured.
"I'm afraid we have a little problem."
"What!" Hochstetter yelled again.
The man blinked. "Look," he pointed.
Hochstetter marched over, took in the situation before him, and shrieked at the top of his lungs, "What is this treestump doing here?"
"Um... it's in the way, sir."
Hochstetter kicked the offending stump. Hard. "I can see it's in the way. You imbecile! Now get some axes and shovels, and get it out! Now!"
With a heavenly sigh, LeBeau sank down on one of the stools by the table. "C'est magnifique!" he whispered in adoration, and held one of the stories close to his chest.
Carter looked up. "What have you got there?"
A swooning glance in his direction. "The most beautiful poem in the world..."
"Oh." Carter turned back to his own scrap of paper with a frown.
"Aren't you going to ask me to read it to you?" LeBeau huffed.
"What? Oh. Gee, maybe later, LeBeau. It's only ten minutes till the PBA deadline, and I still haven't made up my mind. I've only read through three categories – boy, there are so many good ones! I just can't choose! I've got enough trouble picking my favourites here; I don't need yet another category to worry about."
"Then promise me you'll just vote for it, oui?" LeBeau pleaded.
"Oh blimey," Newkirk grunted from the top bunk. "Why would the guy want to vote for your poem if he hasn't even read the bloody thing?"
LeBeau looked a little hurt. "Because my girl-friend wrote it of course."
"So why would Andrew here want to vote for your girl-friend's poem?"
"Because she's beautiful. And because she has never won anything in her life. I would like her to win at least something this year."
"Then she'll simply have to write a very good story. Or poem," Newkirk pointed out.
"But it is!" LeBeau exclaimed. He jumped up and started pacing to emphasize his words. "Her choice of words is exquisite! And rhyme and rhythm... perfect harmony! Your own Shakespeare couldn't do better himself!"
Carter frowned in confusion. "If it's that good, why would she need my ignorant vote to help her poem win? Don't you trust the guys who've read all the poems to see how good it is?"
"Exactly." Newkirk chuckled. "You're cheating, Louis! Naughty, naughty!"
LeBeau gave them both a glare and stomped away - his dear little poem pressed to his heart. "I'll get back at you two – I promise! Tonight I'm going to make a special French delicacy: escargots in octopus sauce!"
"Yuck!" Newkirk screwed up his face in disgust.
But Carter heaved a sigh of relief. "Finally. I've got it. These three are really, really the best." He glanced at his watch. "Oops... Kinch! Hey Kinch! Wait for me! I mean: wait for my votes!"
Outside the perimeter, a fuming Hochstetter was overseeing the progress of the removal of that treestump. With axes, shovels and a small handsaw, the workers were attacking the offending stump. But with so many people working on it (Hochstetter's orders), nobody had enough room to do a proper job, and so progress was slow.
After an hour of virtually fruitless work, the foreman once again approached the Gestapo major. "Major Hochstetter, with your permission..."
"Um... would it not be better to adjust the position of the iron plates, and set them up in an angle to go around that treestump? If you want to have your ring of steel in place by nightfall, we really can't afford to spend much more time on that treestump."
Major Hochstetter scowled. "Alright, go around that stupid stump then."
Relieved, the workers dropped their tools and got back to welding the iron plates together. They worked as fast as they could – it was less than an hour till sunset, and on a gloomy day like this, dusk would set in soon. And nobody felt like getting shot together with some infamous saboteurs tonight.
And they managed indeed. Just as the last glimpse of sunlight disappeared behind the trees, the workers put the final plate in place and welded it to its neighbours, thus closing Hochstetter's ring of steel around the camp.
Hochstetter rubbed his hands together in satisfaction. "Good. Excellent. That will be the end of Hogan's escapades." He turned to the fence, where he sensed that his archenemy was watching him. "Well, Hogan, what do you say now about my ring of steel?"
Hogan cocked his head and folded his arms across his chest. "Very efficient."
"Exactly. Nobody will get out of this camp – ever again!"
Hogan nodded cheerfully. "Including you, major. Welcome to Stalag 13. For you, the war is over."
By the time major Hochstetter was finally too much out of breath to further continue his rant, the entire camp population had gathered at the fence to make fun of him.
"Well, what do you suggest?" Hogan taunted. "We don't want you here any more than you want to be here, so we'd be happy to help you escape, if you like."
"Uh-oh! Nobody escapes from Stalag 13!" Klink chided him.
"Not even major Hochstetter?" Newkirk inquired archly.
"Not even... Well, he's not a prisoner."
"He is in my book," Hogan refuted. "He's locked up in a place where he doesn't want to be. Doesn't that equal being a prisoner?"
Hochstetter fumed again. "Hogan, you will pay for this!"
Hogan was the very picture of innocence. "Why, what did I do?"
"I don't know yet, but I'm sure it's all your fault!"
Hogan shrugged. "You're the one who painted yourself into a corner – not me."
Hochstetter gave him one of his glares. "Well, I may go easy on you if you help me get out of here."
"Despite the no escape record?"
"Despite the no escape record."
"Alright." Hogan looked around. "Anyone have any ideas?"
"I do," Carter spoke up. "Why don't we chop down a tree, and then we have like twenty prisoners hold it, and then we ram that wall? Ram right through it?"
"Out of the question!" Hochstetter shrieked. "My ring of steel will not come down!"
"Okay, so you'll have to go over it. How about we tie a long rope around your waist, and throw the other end over a sturdy branch near the wall. We pull you up, and you lower yourself on the other side."
"We'd need a good strong pulley for that, Colonel," Kinch pointed out. "He's too heavy to pull up with our bare hands."
"There are some old pulleys in the storage hut," Schultz volunteered.
"Good. Schultz, go get one. And a long rope – some ten meters in length at least."
"I will tell Schultz what to do, if you don't mind," Klink interrupted. "Schultz, go get one of those pulleys. And a long rope – some ten meters in length at least."
"Jawohl, Herr Kommandant."
When Schultz returned, they had already picked out a strong beech, with its lowest side branch as thick as Kinch's muscular thigh. It stretched out over Hochstetter's infamous ring of steel.
As usual, Hogan took charge. "First we have to get that rope over the branch."
"I can do that." Carter took the rope out of Schultz's hands. "Back when I was a kid, I was a real pro at throwing the lasso. Once I even caught the..."
"Save your stories for later, Carter. Just get that rope up there."
The first try missed. The second didn't even reach as high as the branch. The third...
"Too bad you're not a kid anymore," Newkirk sneered.
But at that moment the rope went over the right branch, leaving Carter beaming.
Under Hochstetter's watchful eye, Hogan brought the pulley in place, and finally, major Hochstetter tied one end of the long rope around his waist.
"Okay guys. Ready, major? And pull! Pull! Pull!"
Half a dozen prisoners pulled up the hated Gestapo man until he dangled high above the ground, just out of reach of his ring of steel.
A sudden gust of wind made the flying major swing on his rope – no one had noticed that the wind had picked up.
"Colonel Hogan!" Hochstetter shrieked. "I do not like this swinging! Stop it at once!"
But before anyone could do anything, another gust of wind took hold of the poor major. Only this time, he swung out so far that the pulley entangled itself in the nearby branches...
The guys pulled as hard as they could. The branches creaked ominously, but the pulley didn't move an inch.
"It's no use, Colonel," Kinch reported. "It's stuck. We'll have to climb up the tree to get it operational again."
"Really?" Hogan smirked. "Well, no one can expect us to climb up a tree in the dark, can they? Far too dangerous – someone might get hurt! I'm afraid we're going to have to let the major dangling there for the night."
"What!" Hochstetter was beside himself – his irate movements causing him to swing back and forth even more. "Hogan, if you do not get me down this instant, I will personally take you to Berlin for intensive questioning. Very intensive questioning! Now get me down!"
Hogan shrugged. "Sorry. Too high. But if you have a pocket knife, perhaps you can cut yourself down?"
Hochstetter's eyes bulged. "And fall what... five, six meters?"
Another shrug. "Your choice. Meanwhile, while you're up there, could you perhaps serve as a lookout? We're expecting a special air-drop tonight: a specially printed edition of the Stalag 13 Gazette. If you're a good boy and stop your whining, we'll read it to you for a bedtime story, okay?"
"Enjoy your flight, major!"
It was dark. The wind was really picking up now, howling around the barracks, and making the barbed wire sing. And way up high in the beech tree, poor major Hochstetter was swinging back and forth, back and forth, on his rope.
He'd given up ranting. Nobody was listening anyway, and what good is a performance if you have no audience?
Until he heard a roar over the howling of the wind. From his high position, he saw the door of barracks 2 – Hogan's barracks of course – being opened wide, and several men skirting out in the middle of the compound. And as the roar subsided (a plane?), the adventure began all over again: with a large package on a parachute.
Quickly, Hogan's men freed the bulk from the parachute, and pulled out the papers. He could hear their cries of, "Yessss! That was my favourite, too!" and, "Hey, why didn't my favourite win?"
Klink came out of the Kommandantur and swaggered over to the enthusiastic group, ready to chide them about being outside after roll call. Until he saw what they were so excited about. The foolish Kommandant confiscated one of the papers, and eagerly leafed through it, with that bumblehead Schultz looking over his shoulder.
And then one man separated himself from the group, making his way to the now useless gate (who needed a gate when the camp was surrounded by a ring of steel?). Apparently, that had gone up for the guards, too, for they let the hated American pass without question.
And of course, Hogan came straight towards his tree.
"Hogan, get me down!" Hochstetter ordered.
"Sorry, can't do." Hogan smirked. " Too dangerous. In the dark, and with that storm? No way!" He had to speak up real loud to make himself heard over the storm. "But I'm here to help you pass the time till daylight. We've got in the paper with the results of the Papa Bear awards. You want to hear which stories won?"
Hochstetter gave him a sour look. "No."
"Pity. I'm going to tell you anyway." And Hogan folded out his paper and boomed:
The Stalag 13 Gazette
Chosen as the best story of 2010:
by dust on the wind
The Short Fuse
by dust on the wind
and 3rd place:
The Man who Shot Anton Havel
by Sierra Sutherwinds
Our special congratulations to these winners!
"When the storm subsides," Hogan had said. But here he was – major Hochstetter – swinging from a rope some six meters above the ground, and the storm seemed to have little inclination to subside soon.
As a matter of fact, he was getting seasick. Can one get seasick so far from the sea?
If only he would be a little taller – if only he could reach his infamous ring of steel with his feet! Then he'd just untie the rope around his waist and slide-jump down. And he'd be free, and that nefarious Hogan would safely stay locked up.
But no matter how he tried to aid the storm to swing him back and forth, the ring of steel he had erected earlier today remained just out of his reach...
And that's when the idea struck him. Only some twenty, thirty centimeters he needed, ja? So if he'd hold himself with one hand higher up on the rope, he could untie the rope around his middle with the other, and then let himself down on the rope till his feet reached the ring of steel!
It was as desperate a plan as any other. And as good a one – in fact, it was his first that did not involve that hateful Hogan to 'help' him down. So he reached out and grabbed the rope that hung down slack from the pulley. With a twist of his wrist he threw it around his arm for extra grip, and once he felt secure he could hold himself, he began to pull at the rope around his waist.
Untying a coarse rope with one hand isn't easy. Especially not if you had put half a dozen knots on top of each other to make sure it would hold on your trip across the ring of steel by way of a high branch. And even more especially not if you've been impatient to get out of your predicament for many hours.
But in the end, Hochstetter succeeded, and immediately felt himself gliding down.
A startled, "Aah!" escaped his lips, but his reflexes were good – he managed to grab the rope with his free hand as well, and stop the sliding down.
Hanging down from two ends of the same rope, Hochstetter first needed to assess his situation. He was still high above the ground – too high to simply let go of the ropes. No. He needed to get onto the top of his ring of steel, and from there...
The stormy wind that had originally caused his exile up in the tree now came to his rescue. Swinging and twirling in the wind as a dead leaf, Hochstetter was blown back and forth and – after a few last minute chickening-outs, he dared to make the jump.
He shouldn't. He really shouldn't have.
The hurried erection of his infamous ring of steel, combined with the storm beating on it all night... and now the sudden added force of major Hochstetter himself landing on its top... It was too much. With a frightful clang, his ring of steel collapsed in a simultaneous gust of wind. And with it all being welded together, the plates fell one after another after another after another... until the entire ring of steel lay flat on the ground, crushing leaves and branches under its weight.
The noise of its falling down even beat the sounds of the howling wind, and immediately, the only two guards of Stalag 13 left on duty rushed out of the open gate.
"The ring of steel – it has come down!" Langenscheidt observed nervously. "What is major Hochstetter going to say?"
Schultz sighed. "I don't know." He thought for a moment. "Probably that Colonel Hogan is responsible for it."
Langenscheidt followed the dented iron plates, while Schultz took a breather on a treestump. But not for long.
"Sergeant! Sergeant Schultz!"
Schultz moaned. "What is it?"
"Look at major Hochstetter!"
Schultz cringed. But he did get up to do his duty and see what Langenscheidt was talking about. What was that awful major up to this time?
He didn't have to go far – he found Langenscheidt hovering over a moaning, unconscious body lying on top of the flattened ring of steel.
Langenscheidt gave Schultz a nervous glance. "What is this man doing here?"
Schultz looked up the tree, and saw the pulley and the ropes still swinging there in the wind.
And he turned his back on the scene, and began to walk back to camp's perimeter. "I know nothing – nothing!"