End of Watch
No infringement intended, nor profit made! Thank you for your indulgence… See Author's Note after for explanation.
"Newkirk?" A deep voiced echoed down the tunnel. "Hey Peter, are you down here?"
Peter Newkirk sighed deeply as he stuck his needle in the sleeve of the jacket he was working on and yanked the long strand of thread through. He had known it would only be a matter of time before they needed to have this conversation, though he had been hoping to put if off for a few days at least. Maybe even until the end of the war.
He kept his eyes focused on the tiny row of stitches, the neat line bobbing in and out of the heavy material in an orderly, fastidious line.
"Yeah." He answered quietly. The hope that his voice hadn't carried was dashed as the shuffle of feet sounded, coming closer and closer until Sergeant James Kinchloe, Radio Expert and Second-In-Command appeared in the doorway.
Newkirk didn't lift his eyes from his sewing to acknowledge his visitor.
"The Colonel's been looking for you. He was wondering how you were coming with those uniforms?"
"Fine." The answer was short and clipped.
Kinch shifted, leaning his long and broad body against the entryway. His calm and even voice was betrayed by the tightness in his shoulders. "Andrew said something about a game of cards after supper. He wants a rematch from last week when you cleaned us all out. His cards this time."
The rush of air from Kinch's lungs made Newkirk's needle pause. "You're not going to make this easy, are you?"
"Make what easy?" Newkirk grumbled. You're the one leaving, Mate. Not me."
Newkirk didn't think it was possible for the temperature in the already cool tunnel to drop another twenty degrees.
"Look, don't make this any harder than it has to be." Kinch stood up straight and jammed his hands in his coat pockets. "I know you're upset but you don't have to be difficult."
"Who's being difficult?" Newkirk jabbed the needle into the jacket again. "I'm just stating facts. You're here. Soon you won't be. The end and good riddance."
"Now hold on just a minute!" Kinch growled. He stepped fully into the room and pushed Newkirk's sewing down into the Englishman's lap, forcing his attention up at him. "You're not being fair, Newkirk. You're acting like I'm doing this to spite you guys or something. It's not personal. If anything, you all were the reason it took so long to make up my mind."
Newkirk felt his face flush with anger as the jacket was thrown to the ground. "And now you have. You're taking the big scarper and shipping back home. As if this operation was nothing to you." He paused, his voice losing his venom, his eyes falling to the ground. "As if we was nothing to you."
He heard the scrape of his tailoring stool on the dirt floor as Kinch grabbed it. In once graceful motion, the Sergeant placed it in front of Newkirk and sat.
"You and I both know that's not true." Kinch's voice was gentle. "This operation has been one of the greatest experiences I've ever been a part of. You and Carter and LeBeau… As much as you stooges drive me crazy, you've been keeping me sane in this hellhole. I couldn't have asked for a better group of brothers if I had gone and picked you myself."
"Then why, Kinch? We're not done yet. There are still bridges to burn and munitions trains to sabotage. Plans and codes to steal from the ruddy Krauts and girls to impress. Why are you leaving?"
Kinch stood, folding his arms across his chest. He drew in a deep lungful of air before turning back to Newkirk. "What were you doing before we started this "Traveler's Aid Society?"
Newkirk quirked an eyebrow up. "Rotting in this stinking pit, same as you."
"No, no. Before that." Kinch said. "Where were you stationed?"
"Near Dunkirk. I was on a Repair Crew team. They were starting to train me up to be a gunner. You know that."
"You're right, I do. But when you were in Dunkirk, were you happy?"
"What? I don't-?"
"Did you enjoy what you did in the war. Did you feel like you were helping in the grand scheme of things? Were you happy?"
Newkirk's eyes fell to his boots again. "No. I felt about as useful as an umbrella in a hurricane. An intelligent monkey could have done my job. Part of the reason I was always getting into mischief. Too much free time to think and not enough brains to keep me mouth shut in front of the brass."
Kinch laughed. "You still don't have enough brains to keep your mouth shut!"
Newkirk rolled his eyes. "Oh, leave off!"
"But," Kinch held up a finger. "But when you came here. When the Colonel came here, that all changed, didn't it?"
"Of course," Newkirk said. "Feels like we're giving old Scramble Brains a swift kick in the nose when we go out, instead of being a ruddy mosquito in his ear."
It took Kinch two steps to come back to the stool, his knees almost touching Newkirk's. "Exactly. Stalag 13 has been so good to me. I've had opportunities and experiences I could never have had in the states. But it's starting to feel like my Dunkirk."
Newkirk felt a bubble of protest in his throat. Kinch was probably the least useless Hero among them. How could Newkirk express what Kinch meant to them, how he led the team and kept them grounded. Colonel Hogan may be the brains of the operation, but Kinch was the one who made sure it worked.
"This has nothing to do with you guys. Don't even think that for a second." Kinch dug into his pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He offered one to Newkirk before sliding one out for himself. Newkirk already pulled out a lighter from his own pocket and lit it with a well practiced flick. Both sucked in a deep lungful of smoke and released it before Kinch continued. "There are these guys back home, they're doing radio and intelligence work. Secret codes and covert operations. They need people to translate and develop radio signals. Technicians and radio operators. With my ear for languages and code I could be a real asset to them. I'd be doing real work that makes a difference."
"I don't buy that. You do that stuff right here. That can't be it, more radio work."
"That's not what I do here and you know it. I sit and monitor the radio. I wait for you guys to come back and tell me all about everything that just exploded in a blaze of glory. I tell Colonel Hogan what London wants and then make sure they don't court martial him with his reply. Any one of you could do that just as well as I can. But I can't go out on missions with you. There's no way I could pass for anything other than an American airman who was shot down over Germany and if found I'm the first one they would decide was a spy. I'm a liability and you know it. Back home I wouldn't have to hide. I could be in the middle of it and really help bring an end to this war and bring you guys home."
Newkirk took a deep drag off his cigarette, letting the nicotine burn in his throat. A stream of smoke escaped out of his nose. Kinch was right, that was exactly what he felt when he was stationed in Dunkirk, useless. He nodded slowly. "But what about us? Who's going to punch holes in the Colonel's more inventive plans? Or translate when LeBeau forgets to complain in English? And poor Andrew, that boy needs a ruddy keeper! You always know how to bring him back to Earth when he goes into orbit. Who's going to look after him?" Newkirk took one last drag off his cigarette before dropping it to the floor and grounding it out with the toe of his boot with an unspoken but resounding 'or me.'
"I think I have a pretty good replacement in mind," Kinch said as he dug into his pocket. "He needs a lot of polish, mind you. But he sure is an ace in the hole under pressure. I think you'll like him."
Kinch held out his palm. It was a single paperclip.
"Okay, so it's symbolic," Kinch said with a smirk creeping up his face at Newkirk's quirked eyebrow. "But as Second-In-Command, I here-by promote you to Colonel Hogan's Right Hand."
"Me? But I don't know the first thing about being in charge! Who would ruddy want to be, anyway?"
"Now hold on, just hear me out. You're the logical choice. You're smart. Don't give me that look, you're smarter than you let on or even give yourself credit for. You know the guys, probably better than I do. You know how to inspire them, instigate them, or just downright annoy them into doing what you want."
Newkirk shook his head as he pushed Kinch's palm away. "I can't-"
"And you're not afraid to stand up to the Colonel. Every so often someone needs to remind our Icarus not to fly too close to the sun."
Newkirk couldn't help the small huff of air that escaped as a laugh. Kinch really did know how to phrase things. His eyes drifted to Kinch's still open palm. What originally started as a tragedy was beginning to look like a blessing in disguise. This could be his chance. His second chance. The Colonel already helped him prove to the world that Peter Newkirk wasn't a worthless screw up. He could follow orders and work as part of a team. Maybe this was his chance to prove it to himself.
"Are you sure about this, Mate?" Newkirk asked. "Being the Colonel's handler is a big job."
"I trust Colonel Hogan with my life. I trust you with his." Kinch grabbed Newkirk's right hand and pressed the paperclip into his palm before clasping his hand over Newkirk's.
"Alright." Newkirk said. "Alright, I accept. But don't go thinking you're running out on me. You've got a lot of explaining to do on how you work your magic first, got it?"
"Absolutely. Before I leave I'll make sure you know everything… Even though you mostly do now. We'll make it nice and official."
"You might need to get me head examined before you head off, too. I must be cracking up to think I could fill your shoes." Newkirk picked up his sewing once more. He started to make a stitch or two before the jacket fell once more to his lap. "I sure am going to miss you, Kinch. We all are."
"Now hear me and hear me good, Corporal." Kinch's finger was inches away from Newkirk's nose. "I'm resigning from my post at Stalag 13, not from being your friend. I still expect regular updates about what's going on, even if you have to code them. You guys can't get rid of me that easily!"
Newkirk nodded. "Promise." He tucked his needle securely into the fabric before setting his work aside. "Now, correct me if I'm wrong… but did I hear something about a game of cards?"
Kinch stood lazily, a knowing smile on his face. "Just you wait, my friend. There's about to be a rematch, the likes of which you have never seen before! Andrew and I are going to mop the floor with you. LeBeau was taking bets when I came down here."
The two started down the corridor toward the tunnel entrance below the barracks, their voices drifting down the hall. "Wait a minute, you can't do two against one, that's cheating!"
"Until I walk out that gate, I'm still in charge of personnel matters. I like to think of this more as… 'Hands on Co-Training of Enlisted Men.' XO's prerogative."
Their laughter followed them up the ladder and into the barracks.
Author's Note (which you may feel free to skip because I got a little wordy… I just felt that this story needed a little explanation as it strays from my usual MO): There are a lot of "Kinch vs. Baker" theories. I personally believe that the episodes are not necessarily in chronological order, and therefore Kinch and Baker are the two radio operators for the entire war, with Baker filling in when Kinch is indisposed, much like Olsen or Foster fill in for the other guys when they're in the cooler for thirty days after taking the wrap for one of Hogan's brilliant plans. (It also nicely explains the who Helga/Hilda thing, too... :))
So why the departure? I started writing fan fiction because one weekly episode was never enough time to spend with my favorite characters. It was a way to keep their story going. Normally, I get a plot bunny of a scene or two and figure out how to connect the dots just for my own enjoyment. This story was a little bit different. I waffled back and forth about even posting it. This was therapy.
Last week I found out my best work buddy (I call her my High School Counterpart) was offered a Principal Position. I'm THRILLED for her because she has been working so hard for this and is one of the greatest leaders I know. She was the one who helped me get my foot in the door for my first full-time "Big Girl Job" and has taken such good care of me as I got my teaching legs under me. Any school district will be so lucky to have her and this one that snapped her up doesn't know what kind of a gem they have. I'm also devastated because that means she will no longer be down the hill from me and only a two minute car ride away during the school day. She was my partner in crime and first line of defense when I wasn't sure what to do. I admire her and want to live up to her example. It's going to be a period of adjustment while I get used to her not being there.
Kristy's words to me should sound familiar, because I let Kinch borrow them for Newkirk. "I'm resigning from this school, NOT from our friendship." But boy, it sure did feel like that. This story was a way to process the news she gave me two weeks before school started. Like Kinch, she is destined for great things and will be (scratch that, IS) an amazing leader. Like Newkirk, I do understand and wish her well, even though I will miss her like crazy.
So, this is for Kristy. For one of my greatest friends and strongest supporters. I promise to carry the banner for you.
Author's Note 2: A happy accident was discovered in the making of this story. Apparently the Paperclip worn on the lapel or linked together and worn as a bracelet was seen as a symbol of resistance in German Occupied countries, especially Norway, where it was a non-violent symbol of resistance, unity, and national pride. It supposedly also spread to France where "deux gaules" (two posts) worn on the lapel was also a nod to General Charles de Gaulle. While I originally had Kinch grab it because it most likely would have been handy as a passing of the torch symbol, I think he would have appreciated the added symbolism of unity within their unit of Unsung Heroes against the Nazis and under Hogan. I'm glad he thought of it before I did!