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Berlin – Ides of August

Berlin – Ides of August
by Rita Ractliffe (lovpeppard)

Rated: R for language mostly; mild f/m sexual situations
Origin: See following paragraphs below.
Summary: Newly commissioned MAJOR John Hannibal Smith starts his new duty in Germany.
Disclaimer: A-Team character Hannibal Smith ONLY created by Cannell and Lupo and is owned by Universal. ALL other original characters and story otherwise belong to me. All historical characters belong to History. SEE EXPLANATORY PARAGRAPHS BELOW.
Copyright: Sept/2000.

This is a character study... what made Hannibal Smith who he was? He certainly didn't just pop into Vietnam fully formed. With 15 years of military service behind him (Korea medals on his ribbon bar give credence to the dates; also, he has a ribbon that was awarded SOLELY to soldiers who served in Berlin between '61/63, the "Expeditionary Forces”), he was molded by *life* into the man the Team met in that land called 'Nam. This is part of his history before then, before he formed the A-Team. It is probably AU, and is definitely "history-heavy”.

For those who hate my research into military background, not much I can say. Some clever costumer stuck the medal on Hannibal's ribbon bar, so based on that, the man was in Berlin between '61/63. So I wrote the story to explain it to some degree.

Also, derogatory terms for women, gays and others are what were used *at the time*. I am not responsible for the social mores of 40 years ago, but this IS how people thought and talked. It is not written with purpose to offend but to show how people acted in those years. Most GI's in '60-'63 felt that German girls were easy and gays were an abomination. This was the temperament of the time, I am not trying to sensationalize anything. I lived during these times, and dealt with soldiers from that time, so build this story on *their* history, not the P.C. of today.

******************

Berlin, Ides of August

July 20, 1961

Major John "Hannibal" Smith stepped out of the DC10 and paused a moment, looking out at the city in the distance, then briefly down at his own uniform and the small brass maple leaves residing on his shoulders. Smiling to himself, then taking a deep breath, he climbed down the long stairway and took his first look at Germany, compliments of the Bonn airport. He wasn't sure what to expect, but it looked basically like most other European cities, green, with old, dark stone buildings in the background, reeking of the centuries. The airport was clean enough, but you could feel the age of the place itself. Letting the aura of the area wash over him, Smith retrieved his duffel bag and proceeded to the pick-up point, looking forward to this new assignment. Newly commissioned, the thirty year old officer was anxious to get back into an arena where more could be done than just fill out forms and plot imaginary battle plans. Smith felt he could do a lot here to further his career in the Army.

He caught a transport into the base, watching with wide-eyed interest as the dignified old city passed by his view, checking out the historic buildings, but mostly the German people ambulating on the cobbled sidewalks. He noticed with appreciation how many pretty young girls seemed to be out. Mini skirts were coming in and it was a trend that Smith thoroughly approved of. He'd heard about the German *schatzes* over the years - the giving, friendly *Deutschlande* women and their often easy morals, living life to the fullest. They'd survived a horrific war and were intent on putting the memory of it far behind them, especially the younger ones. He decided it would not be all work for Master Johnny, no siree -* all work and no play... huh-uh* - he definitely did not intend to become a dull boy.

It was so different from Korea and the devastating poverty there, especially after the peace had been signed, the country irrevocably separated and lives torn asunder. He remembered the after-effect of the war, the starving old men and women and babies - the desperate women who sold themselves to the victorious GI's just to put a few grains of rice into their babies' mouths. Skinny and malnourished, it was like humping a sack of sticks, but these German women appeared to be so strong and robust and had curves, no sign of the anorexic model types here. It was so unlike the many bases he and his family had been stationed at over the years, mostly in the mid-west and the Phillipines. Smith found himself grinning like a fool by the time he reached the base.

Getting settled in the officers' quarters, Smith then headed out to report to his immediate CO to get his orders. He jauntily marched into Col. Walter Harrison's office, tipped his hat at the perky blonde receptionist. "Guten morgen, fraulein."

She looked up bored, and then broke into a smile at seeing the handsome blonde soldier. "Guten morgen, Herr...Herr?"

"John Smith, Major."

"Oh good, you're American. My German isn't up to a sustained conversation. How may I help you?" She leaned her elbow on the desk edge and then rested her chin on the bent palm, scrutinizing the definitely good looking man in front of her. Six feet tall, lean, golden blonde hair framed a long face with the most piercing clear blue eyes she'd ever seen (and in Germany, you saw a lot of blue-eyed blondes), and a wide mouth, a sensuous mouth. /A mouth made for kissing./ She shook her head, casting the unexpected thoughts out.

He grinned. "Mine neither. But thought I'd try to be sociable. I'm reporting in to Colonel Harrison for duty."

"Oh, you must be the new adjutant he's expecting."

"I certainly hope so. And you are?" Smith's dazzling smile and cornflower blue eyes instantly melted and completely won over the secretary.

"Melanie. Powers... uh, Corporal Melanie Powers. I'll ring the Colonel and tell him you're here." She reached for the phone, hit a button and announced his arrival. After a long moment, she looked up. "Go on in. He's waiting for you."

Unexpectedly, Smith bent down, took her free hand in his, raised it to his lips and gallantly gave her a quick kiss. "Thanks for the welcome." Then he released her hand and headed in to the inner office.

Melanie sat there for a long moment, transfixed, holding her hand to her breast, quite taken with both the gesture and the man. "And they're sending them to Berlin in a couple of days? What a waste of good men." She completely respected Colonel Harrison, her own CO and was a bit down that he would be leaving for Berlin soon. It was a step up, of course, but he was a decent man and treated the women in the service under his command with respect, which was rare these days in this *man's* Army. Now she sensed there was another one here - *and both of them on their way out - damn, there is no justice these days.* Getting her equanimity back, she returned to her typewriter, reaching for the eraser to fix the three carbons she'd typo'd while watching Smith's entrance.

Hannibal closed the door quietly behind him and walked over to the desk, placing his cap under his left arm and saluted crisply with his right. "Major John Smith reporting for duty, sir."

Walter Harrison looked up from his papers to peruse his newest assignee. A quick survey assured him he liked what he saw. Ignoring protocol, he stood up without saluting and extended his hand. "Pleased to meet you, Smith. Here, take a chair."

Hannibal complied, a tad surprised there had been no return salute. "Thank you, sir."

Harrison also sat down, picked up a file off to the side, opened it and spent a moment leafing through it. "Hmm. Served in Korea, been based recently in Virginia, California before that. Background in weapons, tactics, strategy. Good. I need someone who can think on his feet... especially where we're going."

"Sir?" Hannibal wasn't sure what Harrison meant. *Going where? I've just gotten here. *

"Oh, of course, they haven't had time to tell you yet. Don't unpack too much, Major. We're being shipped to Berlin in a couple of days as a package deal to back up Brig. General Frederick O. Hartel."

Smith's eyes widened in anticipation; Hartel's name alone was guaranteed to generate respect. "Berlin, sir? Isn't that where all the action is these days?"

Harrison sighed. "Yeah, it is. Russia has been reinforcing East Berlin, and there's talk they might try to bulldoze through to take West Berlin back."

"That would be suicide, sir."

Harrison's eyebrows lifted at that. *Hmmm, someone who has a mind. How refreshing.* "Of course it would. But whose? Ours? Theirs? The whole world is sitting on a pinhead right now, Smith, waiting to see what Khruschev and Castro are going to pull next. If it's not one of them, it's the other. Sometimes I think we, America and the Allies, ought to just pull out of Berlin all together and let the damned Reds have it. This nonsense of a partitioned city set dead square in the middle of East Germany is just too ridiculous." He looked up finally to meet the observant gaze of his new adjutant. "My two cents' worth, you understand?"

Smith nodded. "Of course, sir. Whatever you tell me stays with me... period."

"Good, glad to hear it. I've been accused of having too many >opinions' around here."

Smith couldn't help but snicker. "Sounds like me, sir. Always being told to quit thinking and just obey orders, stay out of trouble. But it finds me anyway." He shrugged expressively.

"Well, Smith, I think we're going to get along. Tell you what, there's not much point in assigning you any serious duties since we're leaving so soon. So here's the poop. I'll give you a pile of files, you read through, get caught up on what I'm doing and expected to do, where and what we're going into, and the general situation, and then you're sprung. You've got two days... take an informal leave. Bonn is a beautiful city, Berlin is not... not these days. So enjoy it while you can. Who knows when you'll get a leave once we land inside the DDR."

"Thank you, sir. Is there anything I can do for you?"

Harrison smiled wearily. "Send me home to Nebraska? Haven't seen my wife and family for sixteen months."

Hannibal could sympathize. "Wish I could, sir."

"Yeah... well, go on, get caught up and enjoy your respite. Check with Melanie. She knows most of the watering holes around here and can point you in some... ah, interesting directions." He looked steadily at the newest member of his staff. "Welcome aboard, Smith. Let's hope it's a quiet ride." He extended his hand again, and Hannibal took it and shook hands, feeling confident that he'd found a CO he could work well with. Then he saluted properly. Harrison responded minimally, and Smith turned on his heel and left.

*************

Reading the files hadn't been much of a strain, but Smith could see that both of them would have their work cut out once they hit Berlin. The Russian menace was not going away, and if they truly intended to push the boundaries as far as they could, it could get very dicey. Hannibal was wise enough to realize that the city was sadly under-manned and in a crisis, that could prove to be the death card. *Who the hell thought up that damned partition idea, anyway?* If the airport got cut off, they were sitting ducks.

He'd never really given a lot of thought to Berlin before, other than listening to the idle chatter that always abounded in barracks and offices. But suddenly it became a lot more important in the scheme of things when he realized that that was where he would be too. He flipped a few more pages morosely. He didn't like the numbers he was seeing. He wondered if Harrison was really aware of just how much of a powderkeg they were heading into?

His concentration was abruptly interrupted by the insistent buzzing of the doorbell. He jumped up, and holding the file in one hand made tracks for the door. Opening it, he saw Melanie standing there, dressed in a tight black sheath, with a light sweater over her shoulders.

"Uh, ah... Melanie."

"John.... aren't you ready yet?" She looked him up and down. Still dressed in his uniform minus the coat, he still managed to look as tidy and neat as she'd seen him hours earlier.

He laughed, trying to cover the embarrassment of having totally forgotten she was taking him out to pub crawl. "Oh, jeez, Mel. I'm sorry. I just sorta' got wrapped up in reading these." He held up the files.

Melanie sniffed, pretending to be hurt. "You find those dusty old files more fun than a date with me?" She pouted.

Smith reached out with his free arm, swept her into an embrace and lightly kissed her forehead. "There's no way. It's just the Colonel told me to get a handle on what we are heading into. It's not good. I just wonder if he really knows?" He raised worried eyes to her.

She realized he was genuinely concerned. "He knows. That's why he requested you to be assigned to him. He liked the look of your track record. Once he found out they were assigning you here, he jumped in to be first in line to get you."

"Really?" Hannibal felt a slight amazement at the statement. "Why?"

"You're good at what you do. Okay?" She looked up at him, still amazed at his crystal blue eyes. She didn't think she could ever get enough of gazing at them.

He shrugged, trying to minimalize the statement "Whatever. So, how do you want me dressed? I thought we were supposed to stay in uniform when we were out among the masses?"

She pulled out of his grasp and stepped back to look at him. "Yeah, I guess that would be a good idea for an >officer'." She grinned devilishly at him. "But, I'm not, you see, so I can dress however I like." She did a quick pirouette for him. "Do you like it?"

"It's nice. It fits you..." he chuckled, "you know, it fits your personality. I can see it fits your body."

"I wondered if you were gonna notice."

"Oh, I noticed." His grin spread across his face and he just stared at her totally unabashed.

*Is he flirting?* Melanie sincerely hoped so. She had plans for the major and they did not include a long sojourn in the famous (or infamous) *bierhalls* of Bonn. "Good. That was the idea. So why don't you get your coat on and let's hit this burg."

Hannibal felt fledgling desire start, but sensed it would not be a good start to their short relationship to try to lay her here and now. He had to be absolutely sure she was willing. He was funny about that. He would never force anyone. But, he'd also been the recipient of some skilled cock-teasers back in the States, and wasn't going to fall easily into that trap. He reached behind him and with a smooth sweep, lifted the coat off the chair back and then swung it up and around, slipping his arms into it easily. He shrugged a bit until every seam hit and fit just right. "Better now?"

Melanie pursed her lips. "Hmmm. I think your tie needs tightening."

Smith did the necessary by Braille as he continued to watch her intently. "Pass muster yet?"

She nodded, soberly, then broke out into a big grin. "Yes, Sir!" She presented a crisp salute.

Smith grinned again, enjoying the flirtation to the max. He had a good feeling about this, a sense that the night was going to be a long and - pleasant - one. "Okay. Lead on, MacDuff."

As they exited the small hotel room, he automatically reached behind him to make sure the door was closed and locked.

"Expecting someone?"

"Not really. Just got into the habit years ago in Korea. People were always prowling around where they didn't belong." He reached out for her hand, and when it was offered, took it in his and they went down the hall, chatting and laughing.

*************

Melanie loved the city. It was old and grand and filled with history. But it was also German with the German love of life present everywhere. She'd led him into any number of small beer halls, where they sat and ate any number of sausages and thick, dense breads and cheeses and beer ... all kinds of different beer. But she'd noticed that with all the freeflowing suds available, Smith had not drunk to excess, merely taking small glasses of the different brews, tasting them, sampling them, expounding on them.

She had noticed how he watched her all night. He was always laughing, but it wasn't silly or manic or the sloppy laughter of a drunk. He was thoroughly enjoying himself in this new-to-him environment.

She decided to pull a small test on him. She was curious to see just how loose he really was; just what his character was composed of. They ducked into a little alley back off a half block from the street.

He looked up at the neon sign announcing "Der Purzelbaum", The Somersault. He looked at her curiously. "What kind of place is this?"

She grinned. "You'll see. Come on, it's different, but so German."

Hannibal shrugged. "Sure."

She led him down some steps and into a dark room with small side alcoves all around. A garish jukebox in the back played German rock standards. Hot pink fish netting hung from the ceiling and was draped over doorways and any protuberances in the walls. The long bar was painted black and looked like it had seen better days. A blonde bartender stood behind it, shaking up cocktails. Customers of all sexes lounged around or danced or were involved in explorations of one another.

Smith stopped in the doorway for a moment, taking it all in. "Well, you're right -- this is different."

Melanie waited to see what else he might have to say. When it seemed nothing else was forthcoming, she took his hand and led him in. "It's okay, John. You're with me, you're safe."

He looked down at her and a wry grin escaped. "Safe? Am I supposed to take that as some kind of warning?"

"No. Just enjoy." She pulled him further into the room. He followed her, but was beginning to have misgivings about this place. He caught on pretty quick what it was, and didn't really think he belonged here. Was she a queer? Had he been so wrong in estimating her character? *Well, there goes tonight's fun*

But Smith was pragmatic if nothing else. If she was of the third gender, fine, she was still his companion for the night and he would not disgrace nor condemn her. She'd promised him some new insights, and he decided he would take a look. It wasn't somewhere he would've gone on his own, all alone, but with a friend who seemed to know the crowd, what the heck.

She led him to the bar, they took stools, sat on them and she waved at the barkeep. "Hans... Hans. Two Pilzers please."

The barkeep heard her, and moved toward her. "Melanie, *mein schatz*, what have you brought us?" He eyed Smith slowly and longingly. "Ach, such a fine treasure."

Hannibal felt a little uneasy at the openly sexual overview he was the object of. He poked her in the ribs. "Uh, I'm not sure how to say this, Mel, but I'm not really ... ah... interested."

She smiled. "I know, John. These fellows are all my friends... and you could never ask for more faithful nor kind or giving friends than these guys. And if you're not leaning their way, don't worry. They're not going to try to bang you. It's not how it's done. There are all these misconceptions, y'know? But if you're their friend, you'll never ask for better, believe me." She looked up at him, her eyes glistening.

Hannibal gazed into her eyes, and nodded. "Okay. I place myself in your capable hands." He smiled at her.

Melanie felt her midsection growing warmer and knew it wasn't the beer to blame. "Thanks."

"But a question?" He earnestly searched her eyes.

"Sure."

"Why? Aren't there enough guys on the base to keep you occupied?" He wasn't sure how subtle he was being, but he had to know.

"Too many, actually. John, sometimes a girl just likes to relax, be herself without having to worry about how much she's gonna have to put out later that night. Sometimes just friendship is enough. Too many of the guys on the base don't understand that. They're all horny little devils, you know that. If you go out on a date with them, then it's automatically assumed you're gonna hit the sheets later. That gets old sometimes, y'know?"

He nodded, soberly, digesting what she'd said. He'd had times like that himself, just wanting to go out with a girl, no great expectations, just the pleasure of being with her, and doing small simple things. "Yeah, Mel, I do."

She looked up at the sound of his voice, and realized that he really did. "So these guys let me be myself with no demands. I really love them dearly. They're good people."

Smith looked around at the various couples and groups around the room. Some were very discreet, dressed in suits and ties, looking like the five o'clock work crowd, while others were flagrant drag queens, flaunting their lifestyle in anyone's face. Knowing he would be able to walk out of here with no repercussions gave him the freedom to relax and actually watch the crowd. Different men would get up and dance with their partners, a few would sing along, getting up on the postage stamp-sized stage to improvise.

Different ones came over to the stools and hugged and embraced Melanie. "Melanie, mein dollink, vas haff you brought us?" "Melanie, he is just too adorable. You vill share, nein?" "Ach, I think I haff died and gone to heaven... such an angel."

Hannibal got over his initial feelings of insecurity when he realized they were sincere, and were genuinely complimenting him from their point of view. He shook hand after hand, and learned names and found himself talking to them.

Melanie watched him, really pleased that he'd passed her little test. Most of the US GI's were so damned bigoted and many had been the time when she'd been dumped here by some guy who swore he'd die before consorting with a bunch of flaming fags. But Smith had that rare character of accepting people for who they were, not what they were. She smiled to herself. He really was exceptional. *And off to Berlin in two days, Mel. Better make hay while you can.*

After an hour or so, with several beers under his belt, chased with more sausages, crusty bread and cheeses, Smith felt Mel's hand tapping his shoulder, interrupting his discussion of the pros and cons of certain Greek military maneuvers with a tall man bedecked in flowing feather boas. "Huh?"

"We probably ought to get going, John." She smiled sweetly at him. "Don't want to deliver you to Harrison all wasted. I think he wouldn't be too happy about that."

Smith grinned back at her. "Sure, Mel." He turned back to his feathered friend. "Kurt, I guess we have to go now, but think on what I said. If they had done a half pincer movement, I really think they would not have lost the battle. Work it out with some toy soldiers and see what you think?"

"I think you haff a very excellent idea of strategy, Herr Smith."

"John... hell, Hannibal."

"Hannibal?"

"A nickname my dad gave me years ago when we used to discuss strategy. He was a Colonel in the army and my hero." Smith found himself saying things he thought he would never tell anyone.*/Must be the beer. What the hell.* He was amazed at how easy it was to talk to these guys, feathers, wigs or whatever. They were intelligent, caring people underneath, and that was something he'd never taken the time to see before.

"He vas a gut man if you love him so. He is alive?"

Smith shook his head sadly. "No, he and my mother were killed in Korea, only a day apart. It was a real bad time."

Mel looked at him suddenly, sympathy all over her. "Oh, John, I didn't know. I'm sorry."

He shrugged. "Hell, it was a long time ago. They would've wanted to go together... it just really hurt to lose both of them that way." He looked at Mel, his eyes shimmering. *Eight years, is that all? It seems like forever.*

Realizing they needed to break this mood, Mel took his arm and pulled him off the stool. "Come on, Major, time to go home." She glanced around the room then back at him. "We can come back if you want."

"That would be nice." He turned back to Kurt. "Nice meeting you, Kurt. Good luck at the University, those classes can be a bitch."

"Ach, that I already know! And gut luck to you, Hannibal John. Gut luck in Berlin, you vill need it."

"So I've heard." Taking Mel's arm in his, they headed for the door, followed by a chorus of goodbyes, *auf wiedersehens* and *guten nacht's*.

Once they were back on the street, Mel turned and stopped him. "Well, what do you think, John?"

Smiling softly, he looked down at her. "I think I learned something tonight. Thank you pretty girl." He leaned down to gently kiss her lips.

She responded, kissing him back deeply, then pulled away. "Good. You need to have a totally open mind where you're going. I feel better now."

"Me too." He just looked at her for the longest time. "So, I guess it's back to the hotel so I can catch a few winks before going in tomorrow." He had felt a tingle in his groin at the kiss, but was not going to force the point. It was her choice. He looked at his watch. "What the hell time is it, anyway?"

"Time to go home, John." She took his arm, and linked with him, headed down the street.

**************

"Oh, Herr Smith, there is a message here for you." The desk clerk handed him a folded note.

Hannibal opened it, surprised since the only people he knew here were Mel and Harrison.

"Smith,

I read your report. I think you've got a good grasp of what we're going into. So, take the next two days off. Call it an early bonus. Have fun. Tell Melanie she's cut loose too.

Best.

Walter Harrison"

Smith grinned reading it. "Well, little girl, looks like we get to play hooky." He handed the note to her.

Reading it, she looked up at him, a smirk forming on her lips. "I like that man! He's got to be the best C.O. I've ever had."

"Want to come up for a nightcap?" Hannibal was hopeful it might lead to more than that.

"Sure."

They headed for the elevator.

**************

Walter Harrison read the report over one last time. Smith certainly did have a clear sense of the situation and his suggestions were absolutely right on. Probably not practical in a completely insular city such as Berlin, but tactically they were brilliant. He knew he'd picked the right man to be his right arm in this. Smith would definitely keep his head together if any shit started coming down.

Folding the paper, he lifted his legs, propped them on the end of the desk and began to read some more auxiliary reports.

*************

His hot, sweaty body rocked in rhythm with his partner, both of them rapidly reaching the heights of ecstasy. As he felt his climax approach, he thrust deeply one last time and then surrendered totally to the sensations flooding him, his grunts of passion finally winding down to an animal cry. His partner came with him and they both collapsed in the delirium of bliss attained. He leaned on his elbows for a few long moments, getting his breath back. Then he bent down and gently kissed the sweat streaked face below him.

"That was great." He took a few more deep breaths, then pushed off and rolled to the side.

"I'll say." She reached over and gently stroked his wet forehead, his damp cheeks, then lifted up to take his lips in hers, gently chewing on them, kneading them with her own. Pushing through, she explored and tasted his teeth, then his tongue. Finally sated, she relaxed and lay back down, content to watch him, utterly lost in the crystal blue eyes.

He reached over and stroked her jaw, gently tracing it, then pushing back damp tendrils of blonde hair, saying nothing just continuing his nonverbal lovemaking, not wanting the magic moment to end, yet. He stared deeply into her own grey-blue eyes, seeing the lazy afterglow residing there.

"How many days did you say the old man gave you?" Melanie's light voice was filled with curiousity.

Smith chuckled lightly. "He said two... give or take."

"Funny, he gave me a couple of days off, too. S'pose he planned this?"

Smith's husky voice answered as he planted a couple of light kisses on her bosom. "If so, remind me to thank him."

She giggled. "He's very sharp, let me tell you. I don't think he puts much store in the ladies in Berlin. He always sends the new guys in there with warnings. Never take him for granted for a moment, John. He's always aware of everything, even if he doesn't seem to show it. Don't ever think you're pulling a fast one over on him. He'll know."

"Then he's a good commander. Can't ask for anything else." He felt the vestiges of desire start to course through him again. Surprised at this unexpected stamina, nevertheless, Smith did not intend to waste it on idle chatter. "Got any plans for the next day or so?"

She caught his meaning instantly. "Not really, no plans in particular. I noticed you've got plenty of provisions in the fridge."

"Then may I suggest some?" Snickering, Smith began to woo his partner again, taking his time - - he had all the time he needed. No need to hurry. They weren't going anywhere soon, except to scale the heights of pleasure again.

**************

July 25, 1961

"So did Melanie show you the high spots around town?" Harrison was reading a set of files in his lap as he queried his aide. The flight to Berlin would take an hour or so depending on who was feeling hostile today.

Gazing out the window, Smith's voice couldn't disguise his delight in answering. "Absolutely, sir."

Harrison looked up. "That good, huh? Always thought she was a hot number."

"Didn't you ever...?" Smith's voice trailed off, realizing the impropriety of the question.

"Test the waters? No, Smith, I'm a married man, a happily married man, and I take those vows seriously. Melanie is a good kid, not someone to use and throw away just because you've got the power to do so." He looked slyly at Smith. "Too bad we couldn't have gotten her assigned to go along with us." He was testing the waters here, waiting to see how his new aide would answer.

"Probably not a good idea, sir. If Berlin is as hot as you say, I don't think either of us need any distractions while there."

*Good answer, Smith*. Harrison nodded. "Yeah, you're right. Well, hope you got enough to last for awhile, John. It's going to be lean pickings for a long while now."

Hannibal smirked at the subtleties the commander was displaying, while appreciative that he'd even bothered. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. I appreciate the thought."

Harrison nodded, then jumped into business. "Okay, John, now down to business. When we get there, we report to General Hartel straight off, he'll give us a briefing on what's going down and we get settled and then jump in. I want you to do a spot check of the troops we have in the base; I've heard they may be shipping more in. I need to know their morale, temperaments and take on what they're in the middle of. Alright?"

Smith nodded. "Yes, sir. That shouldn't be too hard."

"Right. Just remember to keep a buttoned lip. Berlin is a hotbed of espionage and you can trust no one ... hear me? No one."

"Including our own troops, sir?" Smith wasn't sure he liked the sound of that.

"One would hope not, but the bulk of these kids are just that - young kids from the Midwest and Southwest, totally wet behind the ears. I don't know why they're sending us so many babies. We need men here, not boys. These kids are untried, and if it ever blows up they're going to need all the guidance and direction they can get. You've been in battle, you know what it's like, what you have to do to survive. They'll need that kind of stability. I'm depending on you, John, alright? I know it's a heavy burden since we hardly know each other, but I feel in my gut you're another me. I'm banking on it, okay?"

Smith nodded, pleased and proud at the level of trust being extended to him. "Yes, sir, I just hope I'll be everything you want."

"You will, believe me. I'm a pretty good judge of character." Smiling to himself, Harrison reached into his briefcase and pulled out a handful of files. "Here, start getting acclimated." His grin widened as he loaded down his aide with busy work, the bane of all men of action.

********************

They'd been met at the airport by an armed escort, which sent a tingle down Smith's spine. They now were in one of the most volatile regions of the whole planet, and he would have to watch every step he took and keep his backside free from low flying ordnance. Driving through the dark, grey, dirty city, Smith felt a sense of foreboding growing on him. "It's not such a pretty place, is it?"

"It's had its days, John. Berlin is a grande old dame... she's seen it all, done it all and still managed to survive. If we can all get through this current mess, maybe someday she'll come back to being the lady she was. At any rate, right now all the East Berliners regard this place as heaven on earth. I've heard about some of the exodus reports. If they don't put a cap on it soon, there won't be any place here for all of them... hell, all of East Berlin will be inside our walls." His harsh laugh was not humorous. "I wish some of them would head for the French and British sectors, take some of the pressure off of us." Harrison watched the scenery go by as the jeep nearly flew down the street towards the base.

"You've been here before, sir?"

"Yeah, back when it was pretty... before the war." Harrison seemed to pull into himself, private memories eating away at him.

Smith sensed it was not the time to push, so he didn't and following his CO's example, watched the terrain go by, trying to get a feel for where he was. The one thing he did notice was that hardly any of the pedestrians were smiling. They were all hard and grim. He wondered if it was just the area or if the whole city was like this. *No wonder he wanted Melanie and me to ...*

As they approached the base, Hannibal noticed that the base was laid out in a standard pattern, but he did notice the heightened security all around it. Armed guards were at the outside perimeters and there seemed to be double checkpoints everywhere. He felt a distinct chill ripple down his back now. This was serious, this was real. *Welcome to Berlin, John.*

*************

August 1, 1961

Smith was getting used to his new quarters, his new office. *If you can call this postage stamp an office.* He grinned wryly to himself. It had four walls and a - door! He'd never had such a luxury in all the years he'd been in the service. So it was small, it was *his* and he could shut them all out if he wanted.

Walking in and seeing the huge tower of files on the desk, he was almost tempted to turn around and walk back out, but this was why he was here, so best get to it.

He took off his jacket, hung it neatly on the peg behind the door, loosened his collar and sat down to face the huge pile of paperwork. Within moments, he was engrossed in it, making lists of the available men, personnel, armaments, and inventories on the base. They were expecting trouble here and wanted to be ready.

Smith sat back for a moment, and let his mind wander back to the last days in Bonn. He missed Melanie, as short as their time together had been. He wondered how long before he would get any leave from this position? Sighing, he chased the thoughts away and buckled down to some serious work.

***************

August 12, 1961 - 19:55

"Smith, get your ass in here, now!" Harrison's voice bellowed down the aisleway.

*Doesn't that man believe in intercoms?* Hannibal wondered what was up, but shot out of his chair and was down at his superior's office in mere seconds.

"Yes, sir, you rang?"

Harrison looked up at the sarcasm. "Sorry. Sounds like things are heating up. We just got a call. Hartel called a general meeting. Come in, we gotta hustle." Harrison grabbed some files and tossed them into his briefcase. "Get any lists you have re how many troops are here, now. Move it!"

Hannibal hustled his butt back to his desk, scooped up the required information, threw it into a redwell, grabbed his coat and followed his CO out the door. Whatever was up had Harrison buzzed but good.

It was just past 8:00 p.m. and the summer evening was starting, with a faint purple glow left. Hannibal looked around at the peaceful sight, birds chirping, the warm air gently blowing with a slight tang of flowers in the background. He took a deep breath, enjoying the moment, not sure what was coming and whether there would be any more soon. He was right on Harrison's heels as they almost ran across the quadrangle to the main building where the strategist had their offices.

The meeting had been hastily assembled and Smith was filled with curiousity as were the others. The tensions had been escalating over the past few weeks and they all knew that the shit was about to hit the fan at any minute.

When Hartel came in, they all snapped to and presented a chorus of picture perfect salutes.

Hartel waved his hand carelessly in the air. "At ease, gentlemen. We don't have the time for pointless courtesies at this moment."

They all stood down and at loose attention, waiting to see what he had to say.

"Well, you know that Ulbricht has been threatening the border, that we've been having approximately 1,000 people a day crossing over ... ah, legally ... God knows how many have come under cover. Khruschev is getting real testy about the whole thing and we've been advised to be ready for anything."

Smith's eyes narrowed. He'd heard of Hartel, and even though he and Harrison were working under him, had not even met him yet. He knew something big was up for the general to even be here. *Understatement is not his strong suit. Wonder what's really cooking?* Hannibal mentally shrugged; there wasn't much he could do anyway. He hoped he'd be given a brigade of men who would do something more than just push pencils, an occupational given in this place. Stuck smack dab in the middle of Eastern Germany -*uh, the Demokratik Republic of Germany, Johnno... democratic like hell!* - all the peacekeepers were sitting ducks if any hostilities ever broke out. A small sardonic smile tugged at the corners of his mouth at the thought. *Where would we go?* A hundred miles to the nearest West German border, an airport closed down or destroyed if hostilities broke out - Hannibal knew that all the troops stationed here would be so much cannon bait if it got that bad, which is why the powers that be were always trying to keep the situation defused, desperately tap dancing to be one step ahead of the Russians who would love nothing better than to blow the Allies' troops to bits if they thought for an instant they could get the western half of Berlin back under their control again.

He sneaked a glance over to Harrison whose veiled eyes told him nothing. He returned his attention to Hartel.

"Capt. James Atwood, on duty in the Berlin Intelligence Center, has received a report from U.S. Military Liaison Mission officers that Soviet divisions have deployed a ring around Berlin, with East German divisions forming a second ring." Hartel stopped abruptly, letting these ominous words penetrate the mind of every man standing here. The stunned silence in the room was palpable.

Feeding from the result he'd engendered, he continued. "These Mission officers were working out of Potsdam and authorized to travel in East Germany and heard this on an unfiltered transmission." Hartel began to pace back and forth behind the table where he'd taken refuge. "I don't have to tell you what this might mean. If they are determined to push the border aside and storm into our sector, we will have no choice but to defend it, and hope that our allies will join us. We can't depend on that, of course, but if we fall, you know the French and British sectors will follow in short order." His clear, level gaze stared out over the large group of men assembled in front of him, pausing at each one for a brief second to make sure the man was included.

Harrison asked the question on everyone's mind. "So what is the plan, General?"

"At the moment, we sit tight. I want to get all the stats we have on hand about our defenses, our manpower and our armanent. We are woefully under-weaponed here, gentlemen, but we can not, under any circumstances show that kind of weakness to the East Germans. Understood?"

They all nodded. Harrison piped up again. "My aide, Major Smith, has the stats. We've been pulling them together over the past few days."

Hartel looked at him with gratitude and respect. "Thank you, Colonel Harrison. That's a glimmer of good news in all this." Hartel turned to a blackboard behind him. "We are going to stand down for all intents and not show any aggressive action until we see exactly what the East Germans are up to. So go out, batten down the hatches, but do it discreetly. Don't broadcast to the city that we are expecting trouble. We should know within a few hours what is happening. Til then, gentlemen, you are dismissed." He turned back to the board, looking earnestly at the map of a surrounded Berlin.

Harrison moved over and tapped Hannibal's shoulder. "Come on, John. We've got work to do."

Smith nodded curtly and followed his CO out the door.

**************

August 12, 1961 - 23:55

Working feverishly to get the lists of stats into some kind of easily readable order, Hannibal's fingers were flying as he scribbled new notes into sets of tables he'd composed. A cup of cold coffee sat next to him, partially drunk. He'd already had about three cups and was wired to the max. They'd expected something like this was in the brewing, but had not thought that East Germany would be so bold and blatant about it. Everyone was on edge, the nervous energy peaking, waiting for something to drop, preferably not a nuke.

Harrison had been in his own office, compiling lists and stats too. He finally came out and wandered down to Smith's cubicle. "John, tell me we're in better shape than these totals indicate." He suddenly looked haggard and old. "Please tell me."

Smith looked up at the older man. "I wish I could sir. We will have to get an airlift going asap, we are not prepared for any of this."

Harrison nodded his head slowly, expecting to hear it, wishing he didn't have to and wanting to be anyplace else on the planet right now. A sudden commotion outside their block of offices caught both mens' attention. Smith stood up, and joined Harrison as he moved to the doorway.

Hartel was moving by, his driver right behind him. Exchanging worried looks, the two men followed the party. Seeing them, Hartel waved them on. "Yeah, join me, gentlemen. D-Day is almost here."

****************

Hartel drove to the Friedrichstrasse crossing site to see for himself. Watching the East German troops seal the crossing, he knew they were at the point of no return. He turned to Harrison and Smith. "Well, you can see for yourself, they' re gonna do it."

The two officers stood silent, unable to find anything to say in reply. This really was everyone' s worst dream come true.

Hartel spun on his heel and swept past them. "Come on, we' ve got to talk to someone higher up on the ladder. Follow me." He jumped in the front of his jeep while Harrison and Smith took their positions in back. They made record time back to the base, where Hartel got on a phone, slammed his door and a lot of loud yelling could be heard.

Hartel finally emerged, pale and shaking. "Well, we just got the stats, gentlemen. There are about 67,500 Soviet and East German troops surrounding us. All told there are probably no more than 8,000 American, British AND French military personnel in Berlin. They' re shipping in 135,000 Communist troops from mother Russia, only a day or so away from here." Hartel looked at his staff. "Any suggestions?"

Berlin chief of staff, Col. Roy Murray, wanted to go for the jugular. "Well, Sir, since East Germany is there illegally, we could just go along the line of the concertina wire and cinder blocks and knock 'em down with the bulldozers."

Hartel disagreed and stopped Murray' s order before it could go anywhere. "The line they' ve drawn is a couple of meters to the East, not on the line, but over it – the sector boundary. I can put grappling hooks on the tanks and tear the Wall down. But we will then be the aggressor. We would have to go into East Berlin to do it."

Hartel looked to have aged ten years in the past twenty-four hours. "Very well, gentlemen, stand down, but be ready." He went back to his office and closed the door again.

Harrison and Smith exchanged looks. "Looks like we need to get men organized here, John."

Smith nodded. "Yes, sir. Do you want me to attend to it?"

Harrison nodded back. "Yeah, do the best you can. I hope to God they are planning on sending us some more men and quick!" He left for his own office.

Hannibal looked down at the papers in his hand. 8,000 men to stand against 200,000? He felt ill. It was like Chosin all over again: Major General Oliver Smith and his 3,200 American soldiers with their backs against a wall facing nearly 130,000 Chinese on the march, unstoppable. The one time that American soldiers had been overwhelmed, the one time they had simply turned tail and left. *Not because they were cowards - no; no ammo, weapons that didn' t work in the bitter cold, an attack force that was simply overwhelming.* And had been made to bear the title of coward ever after. The Marines came in with 40,000 men and finally did win the battle. But in the end only about 385 out of 1,000 captured Army men ended up surviving. The bitter memory rose up in his throat like bile. *Not again, goddammit, not again!*

************************

August 19, 1961 17:55

Smith found himself in charge of the group charged with the safe conduct of an American convoy consisting of 491 trucks and trailers. Artillery accompanied the battle group, but no tanks. It wasn' t nearly enough, but it was at least *something*.

Jon E. Kelly, a cryptographer with the B Co., 1st Battle Group, 18th Infantry, asked the Major if they were to use force? Hannibal had said only if life threatening circumstances made it necessary. "Keep your ammunition inaccessible."

"What, sir? We' ve got ammo, but can' t unpack it?! What the hell sense is that?"

"It may keep you alive a few days longer, soldier." Smith was utterly weary. None of the staff had gotten more than a couple of hours of sleep in any of the past seven days, and he was feeling the toll. He found himself snapping back at the men when they questioned anything, taking their heads off for a wrong glance. *Stop it, John. It' s not their fault. They need 'you' to be steady to keep them going.*

He checked to make sure that bandoleers and clips were sealed inside sturdy wooden boxes with metal straps. The trip had not taken all that long, but their nerves had been fraught with worry.

Arriving in Berlin without serious incident, the troops passed in review for Gen. Lucius D. Clay and Vice President Lyndon Johnson, newly arrived in the city. The troops paraded down the famous Ku'Damm before hundreds of thousands of cheering Berliners, who covered their vehicles with flowers during the two-hour parade.

Hannibal felt strange at the welcome. *We're still way under-powered. It's just an illusion.* One of the battalion members came up to Smith. "Do you believe this, Sir? We' re welcomed by all these people ... did you see? Some of them were trying to climb on our trucks to kiss us and shake our hands. Do you believe it? I think I will always remember this - - this is what freedom means."

Hannibal nodded to him. "Make sure you do remember, soldier, and tell your kids and theirs. If we live through the next few weeks, you tell them, understand?" Hannibal was feeling the fear that was still an undercurrent throughout all the American troops. The Russians had moved no further since they'd begun to build the barrier, but could at any moment.

The next day, the Soviets suddenly announced that only seven border crossing sites of 88 would remain open. Also, all Allied personnel would be required to use a single crossing site. MPs quickly had to set up a checkpoint on the American side -- initially an officer and a private along the street.

Shortly thereafter, a truck from the Army post engineers showed up to paint a sign to designate the crossing point. When asked what to paint on the sign, Lt. Harry Daniels decided to make it easy since Checkpoints Alpha and Bravo were at Helmstedt and Dreilinden.

He said, "Let's call it Checkpoint Charlie." In early September, Daniels was again on duty at Checkpoint Charlie when a truck and trailer pulled up, carrying a small white shed. The driver asked where he should put it. Told by the Provost Marshall's Office just to put it someplace appropriate, Daniels made a decision: "I'll put it in the middle of the street."

************************

Finally, Hartel got the call he' d been praying for. President Kennedy made a decision to reinforce the Berlin garrison. On August 20, the 1st Battle Group, 18th Infantry, 8th Division, sent fifteen hundred troops to Berlin along the Helmstedt-Berlin autobahn, demonstrating that the U.S. would maintain its access rights to Berlin, no matter what was happening in the East. Elements of ten infantry regiments -- 8th, 12th, 13th, 18th, 19th, 21st, 26th, 28th, 34th, and 47th -- were sent to serve in the "Flashpoint of the World" .

No one knew if this would trigger a shooting war. All Army and Air Force units in Europe were on full war alert.

***************************

October 22, 1961

Lee Perry, an MP, was assigned to the Alert Squad of the 287th MP Company at Checkpoint Charlie, when he heard the news. He called up the main office to report what was happening. U.S. minister to Berlin, Allan Lightner, had been prevented from crossing into East Berlin without showing his passport to East German border guards -- whom the U.S. didn't recognize as having any authority in Berlin.

Gen. Clay, just arrived (sent by Kennedy to be his personal representative in Berlin), decided to push the issue and issued the order to load their M-14s and fix bayonets.

Hartel, Harrison and Smith felt chills of anticipation run down their backs. Was the man trying to force World War III? He hadn't been here during the recent sabre rattling and had no idea of how dangerous his orders were. But they had no choice but to obey, and Smith was sent out to the lines to tell the men.

They all watched with grim faces as Lightner drove into East Berlin, escorted by MP jeeps and with the Alert Squad marching beside his car, expecting the worst. The East Germans didn't push the issue and finally allowed it. All the troops were both stunned and ecstatic to see twenty-four military policemen backing down the East German army.

But stung by this loss of face, the Communists continued to stop vehicles driven by civilians. On October 25, Clay ordered ten M-48A1 tanks and three M-59 armored personnel carriers to Checkpoint Charlie. As the world watched, armory from the two greatest military powers on the planet sat for twenty-seven hours, barely one hundred yards apart, with their main guns trained on each other.

Berlin Command soldiers assumed positions to observe MPs as they escorted U.S. vehicles through the East German checkpoint. On the third day of the confrontation, 10 Soviet tanks appeared at the checkpoint. Any wrong move by either side would bring war once again to the streets of Berlin -- and possibly worldwide. The threats of nukes being used had never gone away.

Word had filtered down through covert sources from a former West German army officer that the National People's Army was ready to invade within hours of any political decision. The Soviet threat to U.S. interests was actually even more dangerous than anyone in Washington realized.

Bravo Company, 2nd Battle Group, 6th Infantry, was the infantry alert unit at Checkpoint Charlie during the Crisis, with the mission to delay the Russians any way possible, but the men expected they would be wiped out. It was one thing to think in the abstracts of war, that you might go to battle, but when live ammo was loaded into your rifle, bags were filled with real grenades, .30 caliber machine guns were set up, with you behind them, perimeters were established, and strategists determined the range of your firepower, they began to realize they weren't going home anytime soon.

Smith stood shoulder to shoulder with the men, feeling a sick lump of fear in the pit of his stomach. Seeing those big tanks sitting there with their cannons pointed at them, he realized and felt real fear he hadn't had since Korea. It was an all encompassing, tangible thing: fear that overtook you in every pore of your body, wormed its way into your soul. Looking at all the fresh young faces surrounding him, Smith prayed that this would have a good ending. He moved among the men, issuing quiet orders, arranging them, easing their minds as best he could. He felt rampantly deceitful, knowing all hell could break loose at any moment, but it was the best he could do in the circumstances. His hands were tied by all the upper echelon. There had been some dueling orders going on behind the scenes with Hartel and Clay, and the uncertainty had drifted down into the ranks.

At Checkpoint Charlie, everyone had taken some sort of cover in doorways, alleys, some Berliners' apartments, in the windows, behind one of the trucks, watching and waiting. Suddenly a Russian tank cranked up and started slowly toward the middle of the intersection, totally menacing. As it approached the Americans' line, out of a doorway a Pfc. Mexico leaped in front of the tank with grenade in hand.

Smith's breath stopped short. He watched, fearful as the brave or misguided young man continued his attack. Mexico's arm went up, knowing full well that grenade would not inflict any damage on the tank's armor. But he stood his ground, and the tank stopped. Everyone was dumbstruck, watching in disbelief as to what would happen. Everyone held a collective breath, expecting that they were about to be wiped off the face of the earth.

One, two, three minutes went by, an eternity. The tank commander must have asked for orders on what to do. Suddenly as unexpectedly as it had come forward, the tank retreated back to its original position. The confrontation was over -- the Soviets tried to bluff and failed because of Pfc. Mexico's stand and conversely, America's stand, against worldwide communism.

Hannibal felt his knees go weak as the confrontation ended almost as suddenly as it had started. He knew that Pfc. Mexico would get a stern lecture from the two generals, but he also knew that the man had performed one of those unexpected, "heroic" acts that changes the course of history and would probably end up with a medal for his act. He made it his personal mission to escort the young man back to the generals, intending to act as a buffer for the inexperienced soldier.

Next morning, Red Army tanks completely pulled back from Checkpoint Charlie. The Soviets had backed down. Thirty minutes later U.S. tanks also pulled back. Tensions still remained high.

Every 90 days a new battle group rotated into the city to reinforce the permanent garrison (called the Berlin Brigade after December 1961). They patrolled the Wall, and trained in the unique combat-in-cities environment.

Hannibal found himself in charge of the rotations and getting the new men acclimated and ready for action with a minimum of time expended. He was paired with several older sergeants from the Recon Platoon, Combat Support Co., 1st BG, 19th Inf., 24th ID, who knew their stuff. Harrison wanted him to take an active part in watching the tensions on the small strip of land. East German guards were unsmiling, stern and often waved their AK-47s at them, threatening them. Hannibal at times had to fight the urge to call their bluff, see if they really would shoot.. He recalled a couple of defectors stating that the guards, however, were always paired with officers so they wouldn't defect. Hannibal found that to be wryly amusing. *They can't even trust their own. What does that say about the place?*

*******************

November 1961

Life had settled down somewhat once the crisis point had been passed and no one had fired on the other. Hartel's staff finally were able to catch up on some badly needed sleep when the new units came rolling in. But everyone was still kept on high alert as a matter of course.

Harrison and Smith as the two strategists were kept busy placing the new troops, keeping an eye on what the Russians were doing and keeping the city under control. It seemed like life might return to some sense of order, when abruptly, the Russians announced more restrictive border crossings.

Smith carried the manifest to Harrison and Hartel, watching them closely as they read the new terms.

The Communists declared no one would be allowed within 100 meters of the Wall on the West Berlin side. This was something the Allies could control. U.S. tanks and scout patrols immediately moved up to the very edge of the sector lines, asserting their control of the western parts of the city.

But it was nothing more than sabre rattling and finally devolved into just that. Everyone was kept on high alert status but life slowly began to return to normal.

***************

August 17, 1962

Hannibal elected to go out that day with his squad members since he was bored to tears staying back at the base, in the office. You could only push so many pencils, find so many requisition forms to fill out. Everyone was on edge, but could do nothing about it. He couldn't see why so many people were being funneled into here anyway other than to front the posturing from Khruschev, which he knew in the back of his mind was a valid threat. All he had to do was push a button (or take of his shoe and slam it with that) and the world would be annihilated. So, what could any of them do about it, sitting here? Sitting in the office, filling out requisition forms - how would that stop World War III? He sighed, yearning for some action; the inactivity here in Germany was driving him crazy. After Korea, as awful as it had been, this was pure hell of the most lethargic kind.

Acting on initiative, he decided to hell with it, indeed, and called his adjutant to let him know he was going out on patrol with some of the squad. The Lieutenant looked at him in disbelief. No one wanted to be out on the streets these days. "But, sir, that's what you have..."

"Yeah, I know, that's what I have underlings for... that's why I've got the maple leaves and the pretty shiny bars." Smith shrugged expressively. "Well, I'm just fed up with sitting here. If anyone asks, I'm going to Frederickstrasse, hook up with Carter's patrol down there over by the wall."

The Lieutenant snapped to with a salute. "Yes, sir."

Smith returned it, tiredly. Having made his decision, he shrugged into his overjacket, adjusted all the buttons, spiffed it up *-have to present best image for any of the Germans watching us out there-* put on his cap, and out the door he went.

West Berlin was a vibrant town, or had been once upon a time. But having been segregated from the rest of free Germany and then drawn and quartered between the Allied Powers for so many years, a lot of the life had gone out of it. A city living in pieces, drawn and quartered; it was like trying to cut a cake by taking out the center and expecting the rest of it to stand on its own ... it just didn't work. And of course the East Germans couldn't wait to get over here - this was the life they remembered from before the War, the life, the carefree life, the life of capitalism where money could be made and life could be good. Hannibal smiled sadly to himself as he strolled down the grey, murky streets. *Yeah, well, judging by how many were crossing over the border now - a thousand a day someone said, the lure of West Berlin is definitely a strong one.* 30,000, 40,000; no one had any kind of an accurate count anymore. The city was bursting at the seams with all the refugees.

He trudged along trying to remember where he could cross paths with Sergeant Carter and his patrol. He really wanted to check out the wall. That was where the action was these days - not sitting in the office filling out forms, but going up and down beside the wall.

As he got closer to it, he looked at the ugly, twisted slash across what had been a very lovely city. Even with the War and all the damage from that, Berlin had managed to hang onto some of its dignity, its grandeur, but not anymore. This was an ugly, ugly scar rippling across the corpse done by a highly inept surgeon, one with no skill and no caring. He hated seeing it. It was ugly ... there was no other word for it.

He began walking along the perimeter fence, his thoughts deeply introspective, wondering how it was man could do this to man. Then his ears tuned in to the background and he heard marching feet coming up behind him. Smith stopped, turned and saw the American patrol coming up to him at a clipped pace, not quite marching but definitely moving toward him in a quick and determined manner. *That has to be Sergeant Carter and his squad. Good.* Carter was a good conversationalist and got long well with the senior officer. Hannibal enjoyed talking to him, whereas most officers preferred to keep a distance between themselves and the enlisted men under them. But Smith had the sense to know that the soldier on the street was where you found the real picture. He was looking forward to talking to somebody right now; the inanities of life at the officers' club really bored Hannibal to hell. Command just wasn't quite what he'd expected, not like this anyway. But then, he'd expected to be involved in some war somewhere; if this was a >war' then he was going to go nuts and die from the sheer boredom of it. Nothing was happening here, nothing since the saber rattling.

Carter saw his C.O. and waved, then saluted, recognizing that civilians were in the area, and protocol had to be maintained. Hannibal once again gave a casual salute back, indicating that he wasn't standing on formality at this point. As Smith sauntered towards the group of soldiers, they joined forces. Carter looked at him oddly. "What are you doing here, sir?"

Smith shrugged. "I was getting bored in that office. Just not much going on today."

"Well, sir, be grateful for small mercies. Wish we could say that out here."

Smith's eyebrows quirked up. "Oh?"

"There's been a number of people trying to make runs across the borderline and now that they're really starting to reinforce that barrier... that wall, it's getting nasty... uh, ugly, sir."

*Ugly... that word again.* Hannibal reacted hearing the word he'd used himself earlier. "How?"

"There's a couple of women and a child; the women got so desperate they literally threw the kid over the fence, hoping someone was there to catch him, and he got caught in the barbed wire."

Smith flinched at the thought of what the sharp barbs would do to baby flesh. "Oh, God. Is he alright?"

"He will be, eventually, but will carry some nasty scars on his arms and chest. His face will never be anything to write home about, either."

Hannibal couldn't repress the shudder that shook through him. "How could anyone do that?" He tried to comprehend. "What about the mother? Did she make it?”

"Don't know. We haven't heard any reports of any women coming over.” Carter shook his head. "They just want to be free, sir. They want to be over here... they don't want to be there."

Smith nodded, understanding but not liking all that *that* entailed. "Yeah, yeah, I know. God, whose stupid idea was it to put that damned wall up anyway?"

Carter looked at the senior officer with a certain amount of sympathy. Smith had been here since the damned thing had gone up and knew good and well who was responsible. He knew exactly what all was going on here, maybe even more than many of the others, and he'd never for one instant condoned nor been a part of it. He hated every second of it, even though it was no accident that he'd been attached to the undercover ops division of the Army here.

"Well, Sir, if you're out for a stroll, would you like to join us? We're going to be heading over to Frederickstrasse and then hook up and go over to Checkpoint Charlie."

Smith nodded. "Sounds like a plan." He fell into step with the squad, trading quips with them as they marched along, talking to them, listening to them, something few of the other officers ever bothered to do.

The young soldiers loved this particular officer ... this man actually took the time to listen to his men, to look like he cared what they thought, what they saw (when higher ups wouldn't even look), and what they felt, if they had problems, if something could be improved, if he could help. He was the kind of officer you only dreamed of finding, never mind being attached to, and they were so happy that they were under his command group.

They continued down along the fence line, rifles slung over shoulders, seeing nothing unusual. It seemed peaceful enough. Then Smith heard a lot of yelling and noises up ahead of them, then footsteps running away. He turned to Carter with a questioning look. They were at one of the wider points of the dead zone filled with rubble, broken fences, partly demolished buildings, and barbed wire, everywhere. He saw a young man, no more than a boy really, running, running from the *Vopos*, the East German equivalent of Gestapo, heading along side of one partially standing building. His shoes came off in his haste to escape, one foot bare, the sock having gone by the wayside in the uneven terrain. He was hugging the wall, running, running ... going to make it to freedom.

Smith stood there transfixed, watching it. Then he saw the *Vopos* get brave and run up behind the kid and start shooting in earnest. "*Halten Sie! "Achtung!”*

The boy wouldn't stop his pace for a second. To stop was to die. He kept running, then hunkered down and began to try to crawl around the debris trying to get to the West Berlin fence. Then his luck ran out. One of the *Vopos* aimed too well and the boy shuddered, his arms flew out from his chest and he fell forward, collapsing in a heap beside the building facade.

By now Smith and his squad had reached the fence to join a group of Berliners watching and yelling and throwing rocks at the East Germans, while a group of West Berlin policemen tried to do something to aid the hapless boy. The cops were hollering at the kid telling him to get up, they'd get him over the barricade somehow, if he could just get close enough.

The kid raised his head and looked up at them, his eyes filled with tears, whether from the pain or the frustration, they weren't sure, then a barrage of shots from the *Vopos* over his head caused him to duck back down.

The cops kept yelling at him. "Come on, you can do it. Come young man, you're so close, don't give up now.”

Smith watched as a dark red stain slowly spread across the cement beneath the boy. He knew the kid was hurt badly and might not be able to make it on his own steam. How badly hurt he wasn't sure, but if he didn't get his ass in gear, he would never make it. He found himself joining the crowd in yelling at the kid, and then slowly, one by one, his squad began yelling too, taking their cue from their C.O.

Hearing all the different voices and languages, the kid suddenly seemed to perk up, take stock, find something deep within himself, staggered upright and managed a few more steps. They were all cheering him now. The *Vopos* were furious, shooting more at him.

The Berliners were trying to hoist one of the men over the fence to help him knowing it could prove fatal as the *Vopos* had no qualms about shooting anyone in the dead zone. He reached out. If the kid could just make a few yards, he could be in his arms and would get pulled over. They would see to it.

The kid collapsed again. Hannibal felt a surge of pain shoot through his chest as he watched. "No, not there. C'mon, kid, you can do it... you're so close." He watched as the kid laying there dying, crying out, "Help me, help me."

The *Vopos* became more arrogant now, their faces full of smiles: they'd caught their prey and he would not be going over the wall. They stood there, casually watching him, doing nothing but watching, offering no assistance of any kind.

The West Berlin police were besides themselves at this point at trying to find a way to get over there and knowing, logically, there was none. Once they climbed that barbed wire and stepped foot on the other side, they would be shot too for being in the East German territory.

It finally stretched out into an elongated standoff with no one doing anything. At one point, a group of *Vopos* looked like they were going to come up and finish the kid off.

Hannibal grabbed a rifle from one of the kids in his own squad and raised it and let off a shot - way over anyone's head, but a warning nevertheless. It sent them scurrying back to their own safe spot. He muttered angrily to himself and anyone who would listen. "Is there nothing we can do?" He looked at Carter, half expecting an answer.

"I don't think so, Sir, unless we can get him over here closer somehow. We can't go over there and get him."

"I could."

"No, sir, you can't, we can't. It would create an incident we could not back out of. The international and legal shit isn't something you want to deal with, sir." Carter's voice was scared at the thought.

"I know... I know." Smith snapped back at him. "I know all about >ramifications' and legalities, Sergeant. Believe me, I do."

They all stood there keeping vigil; it was about all they could do. They had to do it, if nothing else, just to let the kid know he wasn't alone, he wouldn't die alone. Hannibal remembered back to Korea, watching squad mates shot down, their own life blood staining the mud around them as they slipped away, either quietly from shock and blood loss or horrifically from agonizing pain from bullets, while their ripped and torn body parts tried to function and couldn't. He was still too close to that war and this only dredged up those memories.

The kid's cries grew weaker and weaker and finally just stopped. Smith asked one of the Berliners to tell the East Germans to save him, to help him. "Take him to the hospital, do SOMETHING!" He finally ended up yelling himself, not even sure if the men could understand him. "You won! He's your prisoner, don't kill him!"

The *Vopos* just stood there, lounging around, incredibly arrogant about it all. Hannibal felt heartsick. The kid hadn't said anything or moved for about fifteen minutes. He'd been lying there for ninety minutes or so. Smith just stood there, his heart thudding in his chest, hating every second of it. *This is worse than battle... this is so damned useless!*

Finally, the *Vopos* moved out, went over to the kid, picked him up haphazardly and carted him away, the stray sock slipping off his foot in mute testimony to his attempted flight. They carried him back, but as they left, Smith saw his head loll and one arm flop limply out to the side. Smith knew then that the kid had finally found his freedom. He felt a catch in his throat at the total shit of it all.

The American soldiers all stood there, silently, watching their C.O. and how affected he was by it. The Berlin policemen finally shrugged their shoulders in defeat and admitted there was nothing more they could do and began to leave.

"He's dead, dammit, of course there's nothing you can do." Smith's voice was harsh in its accusation.

The policemen merely looked at him sympathetically. They had lived here for a long while. They were used to such scenes. Once it had been the Nazi soldiers, now these. Life was basically the same here.

Hannibal caught the unspoken message, nodded tersely and turned back to his men. "I guess we ought to get back on patrol."

Carter looked at him oddly. He could tell the senior officer was hurting. "I'm sorry, sir, there just was nothing we could do."

"I know. I *know*, believe me, I know. I know the realities of this war... this action, very well. It's fucked beyond belief."

Carter nodded. "Yes, sir, that it is."

Smith sighed heavily. "I'm going back to headquarters, Sergeant. Carry on."

Carter nodded, and then saluted as Smith turned away. The Major was so preoccupied he forgot to salute back.

Carter turned back to the growing crowd, now turning ugly because of their frustration and anger over what had happened

****************

"His name was Peter Fechter. He was a construction worker. He was eighteen years old." Colonel Harrison handed the report to Smith to look at.

"Too damned young and too big a waste." Hannibal still hadn't gotten over the basic execution he'd had to watch of the young German. The newspapers had been full of it and Smith, not reading German, had only been able to get bits and pieces of the story. So he'd requested a formal report on the incident.

"You know, John, you were on real slippery ice there, firing that round into East Berlin territory. They were, unfortunately, well within their rights. I've been ordered to give you a reprimand and leave it at that. But no more hijinks at that wall, understand?" Harrison's eyes bored into Smith's.

"Yes, Sir." Hannibal's reply was clipped.

"I mean that, John. We have enough going here right now without you going around like some Lone Ranger trying to rescue people."

Smith's voice grew cold. "There were about thirty people there, sir, all equally trying to rescue that boy." Hannibal's voice shook with the emotion he still felt. "Before I left there were several hundred."

"Yes, but they weren't attached to the officer corps of the United States Army. Don't buck me on this, okay? You won't win."

"Yes, sir. I had no intentions of doing anything that day except take a walk with my squad. I can't help how events turned out."

Harrison sighed in frustration. "I know, John, I know. But I also know you. You can't save everyone, okay?" Harrison's voice had softened. "Remember, the first rule of war is 'young men die.'"

"Yes, sir." Hannibal was uncomfortable with being dressed down, something which didn't occur often and his mouth tightened at being the recipient of this particular exercise of authority.

"Aren't you curious as to the second rule of war?"

"Yes, sir."

"Commanders can't stop it." Harrison raised weary, old eyes to his under officer. "You can't take it all on your shoulders alone, John. You'll go nuts if you try."

"But this isn't a war, sir."

"Not yet, but any second it could become the armageddon of all wars, and you know that. You know why we're here and how important it is to keep a tight finger on the button here. We simply cannot have any loose cannons running around, no matter how well intentioned. Do I make myself clear?"

He flushed as the words stung his ego like a well placed slap would his face. "Yes, sir." He saluted and turned to leave.

"And John..."

Smith stopped, turned back to his C.O. to see what else he had to say.

"Well done. Wish I could've sent a volley over myself. But don't repeat it." Harrison's eyes were friendlier, the reprimand over, giving covert praise for the action, no matter how wrong it had been militarily.

Hannibal's own eyes brightened at the acknowledgment. "Yes, sir." His voice held a degree of animation now. He saluted again and left the office, clutching the report in his other hand.

**************

October, 1962

Finally getting a well-deserved cup of coffee and a break from the unceasing activity in the main headquarters these days, Smith leaned back in his chair, enjoying the quiet respite. Then Harrison's voice barked out down the hall. "Smith, get in here!"

Sighing, Hannibal jumped to his feet, managing to barely set the cup down without spilling it, and hustled his buns down the hallway. "Sir?"

"I need you to go down to Checkpoint Charlie." He held a phone next to his ear. "I don't know what is going down there, but we've got a report of activity, and they asked for some reinforcement. Find out and get back to me."

Hannibal saluted, "Yes, sir." He ducked into his office going back down the hall, grabbed his coat and his rifle and headed out. Hailing a jeep and driver from the carpool, he knew one did not go down to the Wall anymore for a casual stroll. One went down there ready for trouble. You looked like you meant business, and for the Vopos not to make the mistake of underestimating the U.S. soldiers standing guard. You could be shot for merely looking like you were thinking of walking across the border. Smith wryly thought to himself, however, that you never saw West Germans flying across the border, trying to get back into East Germany. No, it was always the other way around.

When he'd arrived, Smith dismissed the driver, telling him he could come back later. He strode over to the small white shack and asked the guard there what was up. "Colonel Harrison said you were having some trouble down here? Some activity?"

The two guards looked at each other. "Hell, no, sir. No one told us anything. It's been pretty quiet."

Hannibal mused on that. "Hmmm. Well, tell you what, I'll do a perimeter walk down aways. If I'm not back in thirty minutes, send someone to find me."

They both saluted,"Yes, sir."

Hannibal began to hike down the walkway that ran next to the wall, wondering what the ruckus had been that got Harrison so twitched. He managed to notice the striking purple twilight that was followed sunset. He loved the German sunsets, they had a completely different feel to them than did the ones in the States or even the spectacular ones in Asia. The sunsets here were cooler, more settled. He kept glancing to his right, looking at the wasteland between the two barbed wire barriers, checking to see if there was any movement; seeing none, his mind briefly wafted back to his last nights in Bonn. He wondered whether Melanie was still there? She probably would have rotated out by now. He sighed regretfully. He had not kept in touch with her, and she was probably gone. He felt like a monk these days. There was just too much going on for the senior officers to go off whoring in the town itself. But he wished heartily he could have that release right now - take the edge off his frayed nerves. Just the thought of Mel lying beneath him caused a small surge in his groin. *Not now, John. No way to finish it.* He didn't particularly feel like having the companionship of just his hand tonight. He wanted more, a lot more - a warm, silky body lying next to his... yeah, that sounded great.

A noise off to the right startled him out of his pleasant reverie. He stopped in his tracks. He realized he had gone far too far for safety's sake, being at least a mile away from the guard shack. He was in a dangerous no man's land here, no safety factor anywhere. *Stupid, Smith, stupid! You know you can't daydream like that. Not here!*

He wondered what he'd heard and whether it was going to present danger to him. If he didn't see anything, he would head back, knowing he was way too vulnerable here with no backup or protection. He scanned the partially demolished buildings, the ruined homes and apartments that were in the process of being gutted and then bulldozed to put the final touches on the DMZ here. *The 'dead man's zone'... fits somehow.* The East Germans were determined to make it as difficult as possible for the defectors, few that there were anymore, to get across.

Then he saw movement in the murky, deep shadows across the ruins. He rubbed his eyes to make sure he really saw something. Nothing happened, nothing moved. Maybe he was mistaken or maybe it had been a cat or some rodent out scavenging. No humans were ever caught here anymore, so it had to be animal life. He noticed how this section seemed to still be under work, not all of the rubble cleared, with big gaps between the piles of brick and mortar from the fallen buildings. *Places to hide.* He wet his lips in anticipation. *This is as good a place as any to make a run. Have I stumbled onto one?* There was no open space behind the rubble for the guards to hide behind, they would have to come out into the open in order to fire at anyone trying to run.

Smith felt a thrill of anticipation run up his spine. *Ground cover, plenty of it, the fence down in sections... this is as good as it gets.* He knew runners would give anything for decent ground cover. Then he heard another sound, the sound of footsteps running. Inching closer to the wire fence, he looked over trying to see who was there. *No animal makes 'those' sounds!*

Then two heads bobbed up, looked around quickly, fearfully, and then dropped again.

Smith's adrenaline level soared and he felt a surge of energy and anticipation, knowing he was in the right place for a change. He said nothing, continued to watch.

The two heads bobbed up again, and apparently feeling safe, began to rise up and then run. They slinked along the side of the building, trying to press themselves into the brick facade as much as they could.

Hannibal stood there transfixed, watching what was going down. Harrison's words reverberated in the back of his mind. "Smith, stay out of it. It's not your fight, it's not your place to do anything. You've already been called on the rug once for doing this." But then his mind suddenly warped back to the Fechter episode and he could see the young man lying there on the sidewalk, his life's blood trickling away.

"Alright, dammit, this time someone's going to make it, I'm not going to let *you* happen again, Peter." Smith wasn't even aware he was speaking out loud. Suddenly all hell broke loose and the two men were running flat out, doing everything they could to get away from their pursuers and reach the perimeter fence. They leaped over the rubble, crawled and clawed their way through piles of debris, intent only on reaching that fence, that "wall."

Smith moved closer to the wall, his trigger finger itching to do something. He saw the two men zig-zagging and finally yelled out, "Over here! Over here!"

The two heads instantly jerked up in unison and looked his way, at the English. "You American?"

He heard them. "Yeah! Get your damned butts over here, now!"

Inspired, the two men did just that! Then the sound of rapid, repeat gunfire began erupting, first from the East Berlin side and then suddenly, inexplicably, from the American side - behind him! Smith was perplexed. The new gunfire was coming from *behind* him. He shook his head. *Behind me? What the hell is going on?* He couldn't figure out why there would be any gunfire from behind him. Why would anybody be firing into East Berlin? Maybe they were friends of the two, part of the escape plan. But knowing he had to help, he made a decision.

He knew he was really taking a chance, but he saw Fechter again in his mind's eye and swore under his breath. "No, it's not going to happen again! It's not." When he saw the two men slipping alongside the edge of the partially demolished building and realized that they'd been seen by the *Vopos*, he unslung the rifle from his shoulder, knowing he might very well be shooting his own career to death, but some things were just more important than a man's job. His honor for one. He raised it, sighted a spot high over the heads of the East German soldiers and carefully squeezed off a shot, designed to hit nothing. These guys would at least have a chance. It was all he could offer, it was all he could do. But by God, they would at least have that much!

The *Vopos* stopped dead in their tracks at the firing and then ducked down. It gave the men enough time to scramble the last few yards to the barbed wire. One of them had a blanket and tossed it over the barbed razor spikes and then they were tumbling over the fence. Running to them, Smith hoisted his rifle again, aimed at the East Berlin side and helped them to their feet, and then got them moving. He heard bullets whizzing by his ears suddenly as the *Vopos* got their act together and began firing at the escapees. Smith really expected to feel a bullet slam into his body at any second, since he was using himself as a shield to protect the two men. He knew he didn't dare risk another shot over the border; he was already compromised as it was. He forced the men backwards and then they all got up and ran for an apartment building, turned the corner, and then stopped, leaning against the wall.

The two men were standing there, taking deep wracking gulps of breath, trying to get some air into their lungs, trying to come down from the intense adrenaline high they'd just experienced. Smith leaned forward, putting his hands on the tops of knees and balanced like that, let his own breath come back down to normal. Then it began to hit him. He'd done it - he'd managed to save somebody. He would not have another Fechter on his hands. Getting his breathing under control, he finally looked up at the two men. "You're Americans? What the hell were you doing over there?"

"Well, you ought to know, sweetie."

Hannibal's head snapped up at that. "What?"

"Well, you're part of the group here to meet us, aren't you?" The voice had a definite whiney tone to it.

Smith shook his head. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Aren't you our contact?"

"No." Shaking his head in bewilderment, Smith wondered what he'd gotten himself into.

The taller of the two put his hands on his hips and sniffed. "Well, where *are* they? We simply have to have our contact."

The other one finally joined in. "We're not going anywhere without our designated contact."

Smith was beginning to catch on to what he'd rescued here, but it didn't make sense. He recognized them, what they were, from Melanie's little exercise back in Bonn. It was getting more puzzling by the moment.

He decided to attack the problem at hand, getting them to safety. Someone else could figure out why two queers *gay men, John... didn't you learn anything?* would be escaping from East Berlin back to West Berlin, especially since they were American and screaming for some kind of contact to meet them. He had a sick feeling he'd really stepped in it, this time. "No, I'm not your contact, I don't know what you're talking about, okay?" He wracked his brain to remember if there had been any talk of ops coming down. "Who did you set this up with?"

"Well, with him, you know."

"I don't damned well know what you're talking about!" In the background he heard the muffled roar of a lot of jeeps driving this way. He looked down at his watch. *Shit!* He was way over his allotted time to be back at the Checkpoint and no doubt they were coming to look for him. Well, he could use reinforcements right about now. Maybe somebody else knew what these two were babbling about.

"Look, I don't know what's going on, but I'm glad you're safe, and these men will take care of you." Smith turned to greet the leader of the armed convoy of jeeps, raising his hand to flag them over.

"We can't go with them... this is not part of the deal. This is not what we agreed to!"

Smith could have sworn the man was about ready to cry. "Tough. Why not?"

"Why, they'll kill us."

"What? If you're Americans trying to get back to our side, why would they kill you?"

"Oh, it's just too complicated for words. We've been sold out, I just know we have. And *he* did it. We should never have trusted him."

"He who?"

"*Him*" The taller man looked at Smith hopelessly. "If you really don't know what's going on then I can't... I just can't go on."

Smith was beginning to grow weary of the histrionics and was delighted when the convoy chief reached him. "Am I glad to see you, Captain.... uh, Captain Marks. Will you please give us a lift back to the base?"

"Would you tell me what you are doing here, sir?"

"I'll fill you as we go in, Captain."

"Ah, no sir, we need to talk to you now."

Smith looked around at all of them, the sick feeling in his gut getting stronger. "What the hell is going on here?" None of it made sense, the more he saw of it. Usually when they were able to get live defectors, they would hustle them immediately into the base for questioning and processing. "What is the problem here, Captain?"

"I'm sorry, sir, I'm not at liberty to say. This is not the usual case."

"I figured that one out, Captain."

"I need you to accompany me, Major." The soldier rested his hand lightly on his pistol as if the enforce the request.

Smith didn't like this one bit. It was too much like he was being arrested. *For what? Saving a defector? Since when has 'that' become a crime here?*

The Captain motioned to Smith to move to the jeep. Hannibal complied, seeing no reason not to, but he was really wondering now what was coming down. He saw the two men being escorted to another jeep and then cuffed to the side railings. He looked back at the Captain. "Got that planned for me?"

The soldier looked at his XO and they shared a heavy look. "No, sir, unless you force us to."

Smith gave up, shrugged and climbed into the front as motioned. He noticed that two burly MP's were seated behind him, their hands likewise on their weapons.

The Captain climbed in, started up the jeep, then turned to Smith. "Why were you even here, sir?"

"I was here under orders from Colonel Harrison. I had been given the assignment to check out some suspicious activity at Checkpoint Charlie. There was none there, so I took off on a foot reconnaissance."

"It probably would have been better if you hadn't, sir."

"Yeah, I'm beginning to get that idea. Mind letting me know what's going on?"

"No, sir, I can't."

Smith held back the hot reply on the tip of his tongue. *Best to wait and see what this is all about, John.* "Fine. Let's get back to headquarters, I'm sure they'll straighten it all out there." He hunched his shoulders and leaned back into the seat, the picture of pissed officerhood incarnate.

***************

Back at headquarters, Smith found himself escorted to a small room, where he was roughly told to sit and stay. He was finding it harder to keep his temper in check. Once Harrison found out about this, there would be some heads rolling, he was sure.

Several times men passed by him, pointing at him and then sniggering to themselves. He heard the words 'fag', 'turncoats' and 'trouble' keep cropping up in the conversations carried on by men as they passed by the open door to the room he was being kept.

Several hours creaked by, with him on very public display, then finally a pair of MP's appeared at the door. "Major Smith, you'll accompany us, please."

"About time." Smith got up, dusted off his slacks and took his time moving over to the two MP's. Once he joined them, however, it was a quick walk to one of the many interrogation rooms located on the base.

*************

Smith was marched into the small cubicle and pointed to a chair next to a bare table. Taking the unspoken order, he sat down, noticing the mirrored glass window opposite him. *Wonder who's behind there today?* It was patently obvious it was an interrogation room; he'd done enough questioning of suspected saboteurs himself recently. But it bothered him; it indicated that someone else was playing in this game, not Harrison nor any of the other officers in charge of this command. He shrugged minimally, he'd find out soon enough. He glanced up warily as Colonel Harrison came in, sat down opposite him along with some suits probably from the State Department or who knew where. Smith sat quietly, patiently waiting, his hands folded across his lap.

Harrison's eyes were snapping with anger. He'd told this man earlier to keep out of the border crossing fiascos and Smith had blatantly disobeyed his order, this time embroiling them in not only a border incident, but an international espionage and defection incident with appalling potential consequences.

"Smith, do you have any idea what the hell you've done?"

Hannibal rolled the answer around in his mind for a moment, debating whether to answer with his heart or protocol. "Yes, sir. I saved two men who were trying to come over to our side."

"Well, mister, it would be nice if that was all it was, if it was that easy... that simple."

"Isn't it, sir?"

"No, it's not. You have no idea what you've stirred up. What the hell were you thinking -- firing into the East German side? Do you know what you could have started?! We've discussed this before, Major." Harrison's voice grew colder and harsher, cutting no slack in reading out his aide, his 'favorite son.'

Smith's patience was fraying. "Something that should have been done a long time ago. We've been sitting here quivering in our boots while those guys prance around and create total chaos. Maybe if someone had done something awhile back we wouldn't have this problem now."

"Very succinct, Major. Are you a political science *major* now?" Harrison's sarcasm was bitterly obvious. "Very noble, very perspective, Smith, but it isn't that easy."

Behind the mirrored glass, a pair of intense brown eyes watched the unrepentant soldier, hatred seething out of every pore. "No, it's not that easy at all, Major Smith. You've created a fiasco beyond comprehension." The man glared balefully at Smith as he listened to the continued conversation.

Hannibal felt the need to defend himself since it was obvious no one else was going to. "I really don't see what the problem is, sir. They've been coming across the border for months now; you can't stop them. Even with that damned wall you can't stop them. What is so different about these two except that they're still alive?"

"What's different? Well, let me count the ways. Let's see... would the fact that they are Americans make any difference?"

That got Smith's attention. "Americans, yeah. I noticed that. American citizens?"

"Yes. As in good ol' U S of A."

"What were they doing in East Germany?"

"They'd defected, you numbskull. They defected and were on their way back because Russia didn't want them either."

Hannibal sat for a long moment digesting this. "They were coming back from defecting? Then why were the East Germans shooting at them if they wanted them to come back to us? I don't get this, sir."

"They worked in the office of cryptography in Bonn and the pair of them grew a social conscience and decided they wanted to go be part of the wonderful brotherhood of the Great Marxist Society, the Communist regime, bloc, whatever. Everyone's equal in the great fatherland, don't you know? Perfect place for two misfits. What they didn't know is that Russians hate homos even more than we do. So they skipped a few months ago, hand in hand, taking quite a bit of information with them. They were good. None of us found out about it until they were gone. They had a lot of information -- they had been working several years in their high security spots."

Hannibal nodded, soberly. "Okay."

"Seems though, for some reason, the commies don't have much more use for queers than we do, and obviously their information was not as vital as they thought and they found themselves being sent packing by the East Germans. Told them to go home, that they weren't wanted."

"If that was the case, then why weren't they coming across the border. Simple, clean, a short walk."

"A short walk right into jail, if they were lucky, or a firing squad if they weren't. And as it turned out, we don't particularly want them back. Having proven themselves as traitors, why would we want them back? Think of all the hassles having to explain them away would entail."

"But aren't there ways of dealing with these kinds of things? Who needed to know they were coming back? Just put them into custody the second they step back into our territory."

"Yes, sounds good, but then there would have to be a public acknowledgment of what they'd done. At the moment, no one in the public sector knows. It's quiet and been kept under wraps that these two queens had defected and we really wanted to keep it that way. We don't need that kind of morale breaker right now."

"So what was really going on here, sir?" Smith was sharp enough to know there had to be much more than what his CO was offering.

"It was a covert op, Smith. They were meant to be shot." Harrison looked his younger officer straight in the eye, sugar coating nothing.

Hannibal got it, and didn't like it. "Ah, judge, jury and execution all in one." Smith's eyes narrowed as he glared back at his CO. "And I messed it up?" The sarcasm in his voice was saccharine.

"I guess you could put it that way. What they did was treason. No less than for any of us to have given up our government with full knowledge and intent. It was treason, pure and simple ... an executable crime, you know that. It should be no big surprise to you - S.O.P. Their mistake was in trying to come back here. They would've been better off going to the British or French sectors."

"Right. But these poor stupid schmo's elected to come back to their own country, hats held in hands, all contrite and we intended to shoot them on sight. And I stopped it." Hannibal picked up instantly how his well-meant actions had created a diplomatic quagmire.

"Yes. *You* kept it from happening... after being warned before to keep your nose out of these things. Now, they're back, and we have to figure out what to do with them. Do we take them back home and incarcerate them asap? Do we find an alterative course of action? Or do we proceed as originally planned and ... sanction..." Harrison stopped, feeling certain he didn't need to spell it out any further for Smith. "In any case, we'll figure out how to solve that problem."

Hannibal looked right into Harrison's eyes, eyes he'd never realized could hide such calculating ruthlessness. "I'm sure you will... sir. I'm also sure they will never make it back home."

"It's not your problem, Smith. But what is your problem is how we handle what you've done."

Hannibal sat in silence, trying to figure out how to get around this wrinkle. *Not your problem, Smith. Right, like hell it's not. At this point, I know too much; that makes me a rub-out candidate every bit as much as those two goofballs.* "So where do we go from here, sir?" He wasn't holding out for any pleasant solutions.

"Well, the NATO command has decided that your services at the moment are no longer required in the areas you have been functioning." The regret in his voice was tangible. Smith was his right hand ... the one he'd come to trust to see that his orders were carried out right. "You will stay here, simply because we do need our stable, older officers to keep an eye on the younger ones, especially the ones who have these 'bleeding heart' propensities." Harrison's eyes drilled to the core of Hannibal's soul. "But I'm afraid you're going to be kept pretty much confined to the base area, Smith. You simply are too volatile to be let near that wall again; to go off half-cocked and really start some international incident. You've got two strikes, I would prefer you not incur a third."

Harrison stood up and began to pace back and forth, finally moving over to the table to perch on the corner edge closest to Smith. "You'll be shipped back to Bonn in a few weeks, when tensions here settle down." He moved over to the seated man and sighed. "I'm sorry, John, but there's nothing I can do. I know that there was nothing... you couldn't have known, there's no way you could have known, but be that as it may, it was the wrong thing to do and I'm really sorry you're going to end up bearing the brunt of it. My hands are .... I.... I'm out of it, there's nothing I can do." Harrison hated like hell throwing this man to the wolves and right now that was exactly how he felt - that he was abandoning Smith totally. Smith had done nothing, really, to be treated so cavalierly. He'd merely exercised his prerogative in saving someone's life, normally an admirable trait - just his damned luck that this time that there was a spook, a nasty spook involved.

Harrison tried one more time to save it, but couldn't. "You've really stepped on some tender toes this time. I warned you earlier. You chose to ignore that warning. It's out of my hands." Harrison got to his feet wearily, hating that he was losing the services of this man, one of the few he trusted implicitly. With his back to Smith, he continued. "We'll have to put a written reprimand in your record this time, John, there's no way to avoid it."

Smith shook his head, in mild disbelief, but replied correctly, "Yes, sir."

Harrison could see that Smith was not happy about it. "Listen, Major, accept it and live with it. In your boots, yes, I probably would have done the same thing, any of us would. It's just terribly unfortunate that no one alerted us to the fact that there was something going on we should have stayed far away from. Be grateful they're not taking your rank. They could, you know."

Smith nodded again, with little to say. "Yes, sir." At this point brevity seemed the safer way to go.

Harrison looked at his hands. "I guess I ought to give you all of it. When your tenure in Bonn is done, they are shipping you back stateside, probably to Fort Bliss. That's where the bulk of the kids are training to come over here, so you can serve as a functioning advisor for them, get them ready for this place - - the mindset of this place. They figure they can use your expertise to help train the new soldiers."

Smith nodded yet again, not enthused at all. Ft. Bliss was a backwater, almost like being buried alive. "Yes, sir."

"Alright, that's it. You're dismissed. And Smith,"

Hannibal stood up, ready to receive more reprimands. "Yes, sir?"

"Not a word of this leaves this room, do you understand? If you talk about it to anyone, then I simply cannot guarantee your safety. Do I make myself perfectly clear?" His eyes had become worried, which caught Hannibal by surprise.

*He's being yanked around here every bit as much as I am.* The revelation startled Smith, giving cause for concern. There was obviously a much higher power involved here than was being acknowledged. "Yes, sir." He communicated as best he could to the older officer that he understood all of it, especially that which was not spoken. Then he saluted properly.

Harrison cursorily returned it and then shrugging, headed for one of the chairs and sat down, and began to go through his papers.. Smith stood for a long, long moment, mulling over what he'd just been told. *It's just so damned wrong.* He'd done nothing that any other soldier in this unit wouldn't have done in his shoes. He'd saved lives which at the time appeared needing to be saved. He'd done his duty, and for doing it, he was going to be censured. He might get to keep his rank, but there would always be the faint taint of irrascibility attached to him, he'd carry it til his dying day. *You can't be trusted to carry through your orders as given... a maverick, one to watch.*

Taking a deep breath, Hannibal saluted again, spun on his heel and headed out the door, ready to start quaffing his bitter potion of military justice.

Harrison put down the papers, raised his arms, and resting his elbows on the table edge, dispiritedly leaned his head down onto his steepled hands. "Now there's a waste... a total, fucking waste." He raised up and glared malevolently at the polished glass. "I hope you're happy. I hope you're really motherfucking happy. He's gone, he's out of your hair. And if you ever set up anything like this again where one of my men might, by doing the 'right' thing, the humane thing, get stuck, I will personally make it *my* duty to find out who the hell you are and come after you myself. Is THAT understood?"

He heard nothing, didn't really expect to. The covert types were good at what they did: make trouble and stay hidden.

The man behind the glass just looked at him coldly, dispassionately. He'd achieved his objective to some degree. At least Smith was out of the picture, and now he would have to see about tidying up the nasty bit about the two defectors. After that, life would be back a little bit on course. He rose from the chair, gathered his papers and put them in a neat black briefcase embellished with small precise initials, HS, his only claim to vanity. Picking up the case, he left the cubicle.

********

He'd been allowed one last stroll around the town, accompanied by a guard to make sure there would be no more 'incidents.' Hannibal had rankled at the less than subtle smear on his character, but could really say nothing against it. *You got yourself here, John. Live with it.*

Hannibal had taken the longest way possible back to the base, making sure to avoid going anywhere near the wall, since he knew he was now a marked man in that regard. He'd had a long mental conversation with himself, trying to come to grips with and make his own peace about the whole situation. Did he regret saving the men? No. Did he wish they'd been killed as planned? No. What would happen to them? When he found himself straying into that train of thought, he quickly shifted gears. He could not allow himself to worry about the two men. Their fates were sealed and there was nothing he could do. His intervention had, in the long run, accomplished nothing more than to prolong their lives only a little longer, and to cause his own downfall.

*Would you do it again, John?* That was a hard answer and had taken a couple of blocks of slow, studied walking to reach the decision. *Yes. I would. Given what I knew, I would do it again. If you lose your honor, then what the hell is left?* Fortifying himself with that thought, Smith finally headed through the gates of the base, knowing he might not come back out again until he left permanently.

A dark Mercedes Benz with heavily smoked glass windows had parked across the street from the base gates and remained there for an hour, apparently waiting for something. When Smith finally appeared around the corner and made his way back to the gates, the observer in the car watched him malevolently.

The dividing window rolled down. "Are you ready to leave now, Colonel?"

"Yes."

As Smith disappeared into the base, the watcher snarled under his breath, "Yes, Major Smith, you won't meddle anymore in affairs here. You will rue the day you ever crossed my path, be sure of it. In this part of the world, we do things *my* way."

The finely tuned Mercedes was gunned and sped quietly away.

Fin.


Berlin - Ides of August by Rita Ractliffe

 

 


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