It was well past dark when the truck from Stalag 13 arrived in Eisenach. As they entered the city, Sergeant Hans Schultz pointed toward the curb in front of a dimly lit tavern. In a symphony of squeaks and squeals, rattles and clanks, the truck came to a stop. The portly sergeant climbed out and walked to the back of the vehicle. He untied the rope that held the tarp closed and lowered the tailgate.
The guard nearest to him, a stockily built corporal, slid off the end of the bench seat and dropped to the ground, his boots clacking loudly on the cobblestone street.
“Let everyone out so they can stretch their legs,” Schultz said. “I’m going to see if I can get directions to the mayor’s house.”
“Jawohl,” the corporal said, snapping to attention. “Should we shackle the prisoners so they won’t try to escape?”
Sergeant Schultz looked up at Hogan and the others. They were blowing on their hands, rubbing their arms, doing anything they could think of to stay warm. He smiled and looked at the corporal.
“A cold prisoner cannot outrun a hot bullet.”
The corporal smiled and motioned for the men to climb out.
Sergeant Schultz walked to the tavern door and tried to open it. When it would not yield to his attempt, he raised his meaty fist and pounded on the wooden doorframe. At the sound of someone moving inside, he pounded a second time. He glanced back at the truck, as he prepared to pound a third time.
“Ja, ja,” a muted voice called from inside. “I am coming.”
The man who opened the door was a squat fellow, standing not much taller than LeBeau’s five feet, four inches. A collection of coarse salt and pepper hair clung to and obscured the man’s upper lip, wiggling like a thing alive when he spoke.
“We are closed,” he was saying as he opened the door. However, the sight of Schultz’s uniform widened his sleepy eyes, and he smiled at the sergeant. “Well, one of our fighting men. Please, do come in.”
“I was wondering if you could tell me where the mayor lives,” Schultz told the man.
The man quickly pointed him in the right direction, then glanced across the street at the other guards and their prisoners. “Call your men and tell them to come in where it is warm. I shall have my wife fix you all a hot meal.”
Never one to turn down a meal, Schultz motioned for the corporal to join him. “Tell Hansel to pull the truck over here. Have the others bring the prisoners into the tavern. The owner is going to give us our dinner.”
Twenty minutes later, the tavern owner backed through the swinging doors that led to the kitchen. As he stepped away from the doors and turned, his guests could see that he was carrying four plates of steaming sausages. His wife, a portly woman with a pleasant face, appeared at the table before he had a chance to set all of his plates down.
“I have two more plates of sausages,” the woman told Schultz, “as well as a couple bowls of potatoes. While I get them, my husband will refill your steins.”
The aroma was mouthwatering, and to a man, they all thanked her for her hospitality. After the first bites, the men began to look at each other and nod. Even Louis LeBeau, who was usually very critical of German food, was amazed at how good it was. By the time they were almost finished, the aroma of fresh strudel was filling the tavern. When the woman brought their dessert, the Frenchman kissed her hand and began asking her for recipes.
“Tell me, Sergeant,” the tavern owner said. “Is this man truly an enemy, or is he a doppelgänger who has infiltrated their ranks?”
Schultz laughed. “The cockroach is definitely a prisoner.”
The other guards laughed, as well, but they did not let their mirth divert their attention from the strudel. Had they taken a moment to look up, they would have seen the prisoners exchanging curious glances.
Ace Egan looked at the colonel as the woman disappeared into the kitchen, promising to return shortly with LeBeau’s recipes.
“I don’t have a clue,” Robert Hogan whispered in answer to the lieutenant’s unasked question.
“What did you say, Colonel Hogan?” Schultz asked, looking up at the American.
“Nothing, Schultz,” Hogan replied. “The lieutenant just asked if I could tell him what the secret ingredient in this strudel was. I told him I didn’t know.”
The sergeant motioned for everyone to stop what they were doing, then picked up the lone piece of strudel on his plate. He held it up to his nose and inhaled deeply. Glancing toward the rafters overhead, as though he were giving the matter serious thought, he gave the morsel another sniff. He let a few seconds pass, then popped it into his mouth. After chewing for several more seconds, Schultz smacked his lips and smiled.
“The secret ingredient,” he announced, “is cinnamon.”
The guards started to eat again, while the prisoners appeared to be amazed at the sergeant’s ability to detect the strudel’s ingredients. As the men oohed and aahed, the woman returned with a piece of paper and handed it to LeBeau.
After reading over the paper, the Frenchman handed the paper to Colonel Hogan. “Look, Colonel,” he said, “Schultzy got it right.”
Schultz smiled, obviously proud of his abilities.
Hogan glanced at the paper. “You are amazing, Schultz.” He then folded the paper and put it in his pocket.
The German leaned back in is chair and patted his stomach. After a couple seconds, he leaned forward, put his hands on the table, and pushed himself to his feet. “We need to get going,” he announced.
Guards and prisoners alike hurried to finish their meal, not wanting to let any of it go to waste. When everyone had finished, they began to file out the door.
“Send our bill to the mayor,” Schultz told the couple. “Since he wanted us to come here and work, he is responsible for feeding us.”
“There is no charge, Sergeant,” the man said. “We do what we can for our fighting men.”
“Then, at least send him a bill for the prisoners’ meals.”
The woman looked at the prisoners and then at Schultz. “These men have been most gracious, considering their current lot in life. That is an unusual trait during war. There is no charge for their meals, either.”
The prisoners all shook the owner’s hand and kissed his wife on the cheek as they left the tavern.
“Thank you for everything,” Hogan told the couple; he quickly patted his pocket.
“Best of luck to you and your men,” the woman replied.
Ace, Newkirk, and Carter were curious about the paper in Hogan’s pocket, but knew better than ask about it while the guards were present. Instead, they walked back out to the truck and climbed back in. It was a relief to be inside, but after a good meal, coming back outside made it feel several degrees colder.
As Hogan started to climb into the truck, Schultz put his hand on the colonel’s arm. “Hold on, Colonel,” the guard said, as he stuck out his hand. “Let me see that paper she gave you.”
Hogan paused for a second, then slowly slid his hand into his pocket. The other prisoners shared a nervous look.
“Here you go, Schultz,” Hogan said, as he handed the paper to the German.
Schultz snatched the paper from the American’s hand and opened it up. After examining it with a flashlight, he handed it back. “Have the cockroach make a copy of that for my wife,” he said.
“You hear that, LeBeau?” Hogan asked.
“Oui, Colonel,” the Frenchman replied. “As soon as we reach our destination.”
Hogan climbed into the truck, followed by the camp guard. Schultz walked around side of the truck and climbed into the passenger seat. As the truck started to rumble down the street, the colonel knew his men would be even more curious about the paper.
Five minutes later, the truck from Stalag 13 rolled to a stop in front of the mayor’s residence. As a show of security, Schultz had the guards climb out and flank the rear of the vehicle. While he went to the mayor’s door, Hogan took advantage of the guards’ absence and quickly explained what was going on.
“The woman gave LeBeau two pieces of paper. The recipe was on one, and the other was a piece of butcher’s paper stuck to the back,” he said, barely loud enough for his men to hear. “She scratched a message into the wax of the second piece of paper. I didn’t get a chance to read it all, but it said she and her husband were part of Doppelgänger’s team.”
Peter Newkirk smiled. “And when ol’ Schultzy asked to see the paper, you handed him just the recipe.”
Hogan was about to answer, when one of the guards noticed them huddled together and ordered them to separate.
“Come on,” Hogan said in protest. “It’s freezing. We’re just trying to stay warm.”
“Nein,” the guard replied, raising his machine gun. “Everyone back in your seat, or I will shoot.”
Hogan nodded to his men, and everyone scooted back to his original seat.
A moment later, Hans Schultz returned. From the sound of his voice as he approached, the men knew something was wrong.
“Dorftrotte!” Schultz said. “That man is the village idiot.”
“What’s wrong, Sergeant?” one of the guards asked.
“The man says he has made no request for workers,” Schultz complained. “I explained to him about General von Schlomm’s request for men to be sent here, but he said he knows nothing about that. I swear, the man is more clueless that I could ever pretend to be.”
“What are we to do now?” asked another guard, the driver. “Do we turn around and go back to Stalag 13?”
There were enough groans from both inside and outside the truck to know that no one wanted to do that.
“He is going to put us up in a hotel until morning,” Schultz told his men. “Go ahead and climb back in the truck while I go try to call Colonel Klink.”
The driver cleared his throat. “I’m not sure, but I think he was leaving for a short vacation right after we left.”
Schultz slammed his fist into his palm. “That’s right,” he said. “I’d forgotten he was leaving so soon. I’ll go call the camp, anyway. Maybe I can catch him, or perhaps they can get in touch with him.” Schultz turned and went back inside.
As the guards climbed back inside the truck, one of them looked at Hogan. “You heard?” Hogan nodded. “Do not think that because there is a problem, you will catch us off guard and escape,” the German said. “If any of you make even the slightest move to attempt an escape, I will personally shoot you through the heart.”
The prisoners looked at each other as Hogan spoke. “It isn’t warm in here,” he said, “but it beats wandering around in the cold. Besides, who wants to give up the opportunity to sleep in a comfortable hotel bed?”
The guard looked at the prisoners for a moment, then grinned and lowered his gun. “You Americans have more sense that we give you credit for.”
Sense we have, Hogan thought. It’s hope we’re running low on.
Sergeant Schultz had given the matter of sleep a good deal of thought as he walked back into the mayor’s home and realized that his guards would get precious little of it if they had to spend the night watching Hogan and the other prisoners. After calling the stalag, he confronted the mayor about providing security. After dropping a couple names, along with a threat or two, he was promised a detachment of police to stand guard at the hotel throughout the night.
The hotel manager wasn’t pleased with the arrangements, mostly because he didn’t figure he would be reimbursed for the rooms, but he did his best to make the men comfortable — the Germans because if he didn’t, they could make his life miserable and short, and the Allied prisoners because, if they won the war, his kindness might be remembered. The guards were given the best available rooms in the building, while the prisoners were placed in two rooms that had no windows.
Hogan, because of his rank, shared a room with Sergeant Schultz. Corporals Newkirk and LeBeau were put in one room, while Sergeant Carter and Lieutenant Egan were placed in another. Outside of each room, a pair of very unhappy Eisenach policemen stood for what, they believed, would be a long night.
Hogan looked at the small alarm clock on the nightstand between his and Schultz’s beds and rolled his tired eyes. “Schultz,” he called out, softly. “Quit snoring. You’re going to wake the Führer.”
The portly sergeant shifted in his bed, mumbled, “Heil Hitler,” and continued to snore like a freight train.
The exhausted colonel rolled his eyes a second time, then pulled his pillow from under his head. In the few seconds his head was raised, Hogan saw the light from the hallway that crept under the door interrupted by passing individuals. Thinking it nothing more than the police walking to stretch their legs, he lay back down and covered his head with his pillow. After about twenty minutes, exhaustion finally won out over the snoring, and the American dropped off to sleep.
Morning arrived, heralded by the shouts and curses of the guards and police. Robert Hogan threw his covers back and was about to rush to the door when it flew open, and one of the guards stepped in with his machine gun leveled at the American.
“No quick moves, Colonel,” the man said. “Sergeant Schultz wants to see you.”
“What’s going on?” Hogan demanded.
“It appears that two of the prisoners have escaped.”
Hogan couldn’t believe his ears. “How?” he asked. “I stood in the hall with Schultz and the manager as he locked the doors from the outside.”
“Sergeant Schultz is waiting.”
Hogan’s first thought was that it was Newkirk, who would have no problems picking the locks, and LeBeau; he was surprised to discover Schultz standing outside the room shared by Ace and Carter.
“What do you know of this, Colonel?” the sergeant asked.
“Honestly, Schultz,” Hogan said, not trying to hide his surprise, “I have no idea what is going on.”
The sergeant stared at the colonel for a moment before speaking again. When he did speak, his words caught his prisoner off guard.
“I believe you.”