“What is history? An Echo of the past in the future; a reflex from the future in the past.”
Her ladyship was not only irked, but indeed vexed: there had been no word from Jack or Tinkerbell. Not that she’d really expected anything, but the events of the afternoon had put her on edge, and there was this whole business with Bunty that Robert had dragged her into. And there was still that inexplicable noise to be considered. Still, having Juliet’s help on Robert’s car meant she’d finished what she could do today ahead of time. There were a few things to sort out, but it would be ready for him to collect sooner than he thought; it would be good to have him in her debt, for a change.
She made her way to her private suite of workshops and looked at all the projects in various states of completion. There were some bits to be built for her own car, some experiments in electrochemistry. She’d been meaning to get back into paper and ink after reminiscing about the Echo Memorandum. And then there was…or… and then again… Scratching around for something to do, she came across the bag Tink had given her at the rendezvous. Pulling the artefact out of the bag, she thought again what an odd thing it was, unlike anything the Ahnenerbe had been after before. Even odder had been the story of where it had come from, for it had been sent to Jack from Lima, Peru.
There’d been something of a lull in the conversation. Everyone was rather sombre – Frank had been difficult in many ways, but good at heart and one of the team.
“Oh! I nearly forgot. Tink, give her Ladyship the bag will you.” As he said this, Jack’d fished a note out of his coat pocket. “Tink’s seen it already, probably best if you read it for yourself.”
In a wonderfully old-fashioned and florid hand she read:
Now I always realised you knew some odd chaps, but this morning’s little encounter surprised even me. You know, of course, that I’m in Peru to catalogue the finds after that earthquake they had in 1942. In truth, it’s been rather dull, well – until today’s little event that is. To date, I’ve been based down near Ica. The city, such as it is, still hasn’t really recovered, but all sorts of goodies have been brought to light. I’ve been keeping pretty busy, but it was my turn to accompany certain finds for the formal arguments over who gets to keep what. Dubious trip – very little in the way of decent trains, or for that matter roads.
Having escaped officialdom, I was free and easy in Lima on the tram en route to my hotel, my mind filled with thoughts of a long, hot bath, a decent meal and a proper bed, when I was interrupted by this rather sweaty young chap burbling frantically in the local lingo. Now I’m not at all bad at understanding it, but I do need it to be spoken slowly. Nevertheless, I did manage to catch that he wanted me to confirm I knew you. No sooner had I nodded, than he chucked a decidedly grubby bag into my lap saying ‘for senor Jack’, and then jumped off the tram! I was just calling out to him when a car behind the tram ran him down. It didn’t just hit him dear boy, it ran right over the top of him. Well, that shook me up good and proper and it took more than a cup of tea to steady the old hands, I can tell you. I’m adding the bag and its contents to my shipping, as I’m heading back to Blighty in a few days. I’ll have it marked for onward shipping to you at the London garret.
Dated a couple of days after the first part, was added …
“Jack, I was interrupted at dinner tonight by a couple of German goons. Their English wasn’t up to scratch but, as you know, my German’s not half bad. I didn’t let on how much I understood, of course, but I gathered they were old Ahnenerbe hands. Seemed they were extremely agitated about an important artefact which has gone missing and they wondered if the fellow on the tram had given me anything? When I said not, they were persistent in enquiring if he’d told me anything? Insisting that I’d have nothing to do with a scruffy stranger, I shoo-ed them away. I rather think they might have been in that car chasing the sweaty fellow from the tram. I’ve not opened the bag, so have no idea what’s in it. I think that’s for the best. You can fill me in over a bottle of port once I’m home.”
Michaela was something of an open book: Jack and Tink followed her progress in the letter by watching the range of expressions on her face. She finished with raised eyebrows. Jack’d explained: Julius was a Professor – with some double-barrelled name that she couldn’t now recall. His things had arrived … but he hadn’t. The Embassy in Lima reported that he’d died in his sleep – heart attack presumed. Jack had come home to both this letter from Lima and a package from the shippers. Having no clue as to the origin of the bag’s contents – other than it looked to be a rather grubby carved stone – he’d taken it up to Oxford to ask Tinkerbell if his beloved Bodleian could throw any light on things.
Taking over the story, Tink dropped his voice a touch “I did a few of my special scans first, you understand,” he waggled his bushy eyebrows, “I had to make sure it was safe to take into the Bod. But I couldn’t find anything, not a trace, so I decided to proceed on the basis it was a normal archeological artefact. One of the old boys, too crusty for any of the current rash of recruiters to notice, came up trumps.”
His voice moving into lecture mode, Tink continued “it’s an Ica Stone, with its origin in the Nazca culture.” Noticing Michaela’s enquiring look he’d added “pre-Inca. Problem was the old boy got a tad over-excited. Told me he’d only seen ones containing images of living creatures before, but that he’d heard tales that others existed … like this one. Ones people believed proved the existence of some form of super race, possibly even from another planet. He was dead keen to keep it to show some of his department and to carry out some analysis, but I decided it was something to keep hold of. The other tidbit I got, although I don’t really understand it, is that normally Ica stones are carved in andesite, but apparently this one is dacite.”
That super race thing made some sense, at least in terms of the Ahnenerbe interest; even though they still knew very little, Jack decided that was enough for it to be added to his stash of artefacts. As he was staying in London, he’d asked Michaela to take it home and take a look at it herself.
Feeling absolutely terrible, Michaela realised she’d forgotten all about her promise and had simply chucked it into a corner of the workshop when she’d got back from the Strand. Yes, certainly dacite, and not local to Peru…Pulling herself together, she took the bag and its artefact across the courtyard to find a safe place for it till Jack got back.
While poking around in the house, Michaela pondered Bunty. Initially, she’d assumed he was a dull-as-ditchwater country bumpkin, exactly as Robert had said. But now she was beginning to wonder. Although he looked the part, something told her he was trying too hard – almost like he was playing a part. She’d talked to Robert about it on the telephone the previous night, not sharing her instincts of course, as he’d just mock and call her “old girl”. She’d simply asked for more information about Bunty on the basis that the more she knew, the better the job she could do for Robert. And of course, Robert had spilled the beans – although he’d assured her there was nothing confidential – not in the information he’d be telling her, nor was there anything he wouldn’t be able to share.
He’d met Bunty in Germany in early ’44, where he’d been attached to one of those new groups tasked with retrieving the art spoils looted by the Nazis. They were an odd bunch of coves – academics, scholars and historians – and Bunty was their army minder. He’d pulled some strings to join up after his brother had died but, due to his previous ineligibility with epilepsy, it was either a desk job or babysitting this lot. Bunty’d made it clear that he was keen for some less academic company, so they’d had a few late nights sharing brandies and smoking cigars – all apparently liberated from their previous owners by Bunty’s mob. Robert thought Bunty had been enjoying himself hugely; not being regular army and having no-one to report to in the field, he was able to roam around freely investigating rumoured stashes for his academics. “I think it made him feel he was almost a proper army bod” Robert had said with remarkable kindness, ruining it slightly by dubbing him “a bit dim, but a good sort”. Michaela wasn’t quite so sure …
Having locked the artefact in a cupboard in one of the rarely used bedrooms, Michaela was heading back to leave via the kitchen door, when she found Billy, in the process of putting a kettle on to boil. Keeping her fear in check, she made some buttered toast – for some reason she always felt Billy needing feeding up – while he made the tea. He didn’t keep her waiting long for his news.
“It’s bin a bit messy. Jack’s missin’, and Tink an’ all.”
“What? How? When?”
“We got a lead on some stuff comin’ in quiet-like, through the old India Docks. Jack disappeared in a bit o’ rumpus there, and then later, they ‘it the safe ‘ouse. Place wen’ up in smoke ‘n caused a right stir. Took a fair while afor’ I were allowed in. No sign of bodies, but I found this”
From the depths of his famed donkey jacket, Billy pulled a twisted object.
“Dear me! What’s that? It looks like it might once have been a bowl, I suppose.”
“Tink were doin’ some scrying, so I ‘spose it were ‘is. But that don’t explain where ‘e’s got to now.”
“Are you sure …?”
“I wuz right outside. Them thugs come out wiv burnt ‘air and complainin’ bitterly ‘cos they’d not found ‘im. I found out afterwards that our boys scragged one of the couriers, Jack took off after one, and a third one escaped. ‘Cept ‘e dint, ‘coz I saw ‘im and followed ‘im.”
“Oh, well done you!”
“He dint go far, and I’ll know ‘im again. I managed to get ‘old of Albert Grice before he went to the safe house an’ he round’d up a couple of his lumpers what was on their way back an’ all, and they’re keepin’ an eye out for me. So I hoofed it over to the safehouse sharpish, and I bumped into young Isaac Baker – reminds me a lot of Frank, that boy – and he told me that he’d managed to snaffle the goods and get them to Tink over the back fence. He’d hared off to leave a false trail in case anyone had been following, and then doubled back to see if any of t’others’d wud make it back. Wen I spotted them thugs, I changed the chalk marks to warn ’em all off. Them thugs moved quicker ‘n I thought they wud, but I got a glance of Tink movin’ round indoors. Then … nuffink. Almost like ‘e went up in smoke.”
“How come you weren’t on the shout with them Billy, I don’t mean …”
“‘S alright love, I knows you don’t. I’d ‘eard word about Frank’s missin’ knife ‘n Jack ‘ad me off on an errand for it. I got t’the Docks jes’ as it was all gettin’ messy.”
“Oh dear. I do wish we knew what had happened. Have you no ideas about where Jack might be?”
“Bin no sign of ‘im so far, but it’s not bin long, really. I’ll start worryin’ when it’s been a day or so.”
Sighing, Michaela re-filled the kettle and put it back on to boil. “You’ll stay for something to eat, won’t you Billy? I really could do with the company. I’ve always hated the waiting.”
Billy grinned, his face crumpling with all the wrinkles. “I reck’n I can stay for a bit, love, but I’ll have to push off before too long – places to go, people to see, yo’ know ‘ow it is.”
© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey