“You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”― Mark Twain,
“What the Devil?” Bunty exclaimed.
Beneath the hood, his own face gazed back at him.
“Hello, Bunty old chap. How the deuce are you?” The voice was jovial, and plummy – a clear mimic of the upper classes, but still somehow more natural than anything that Bunty could manage.
The kneeling figure was not a sullen Engineer brought back into the clutches of the continuation of the Fatherland. He was not a frightened stranger – confused and panicked by the bravos around about. He was smiling, playing to the crowd, and apparently completely unconcerned about the pistol-wielding agent behind him. His sole focus was Bunty. Bunty – who still had not recovered from the shock of seeing his own face staring up at him.
“What’s the matter, old boy? Cat got your tongue? I suppose you’re wondering how you come to be here twice. Terribly simple, old chap, nothing simpler in fact. Fundamentally, your hired help are cretins. My friend and I had the easiest job in the world breaking into your safehouse. The timing was a little ticklish in a couple of places but, because all you chaps are so convinced of your own superiority, we were able to swap Blecher and myself. I’d even made special arrangements to help with the deception, but I didn’t need to pretend to be Blecher after all, so I thought it would be instructive to be you for a while.
“I apologise, in your condition you are in no state for me to be subtle, so let me spell it out. The fact that you are sick in the head and like tormenting small creatures and defenceless people means it is the most natural thing in the world to put a hood over a person’s head and leave them alone to suffer for a bit. Worse, it didn’t occur to anyone to check that you still had the right person – although to be fair, you’d need an imagination to think up a notion like that.”
In the midst of the monologue, Bunty first regained his composure, only to lose it all over again: his face returned to its normal, ruddy complexion, having drained of colour when he’d found he had the wrong man. From then on, it became redder and redder, until he finally exploded.
“I have the imagination to see that this country is as ruined as if we’d lost the war! I have the imagination to see that the damned Yankees are taking over and treating the truly great races of the world as their running boys. I have the imagination to see that Germany and England should be working together. I have the imagination to see myself in charge!”
“And yet you lack the wit to see that you are being used.”
“Mannfred Wüst is a man of honour – he will keep the bargain that I have struck with him.”
“What is that bargain, pray do tell?”
“I am securing certain things for him, for the Ahnenerbe. They hold the heart of the true Reich. When they return to Germany and drive out the Yankees, the Commies and all the rest, I shall be the new Arthur, King of the Britons, and drive back the enemies of our purity, of our country.”
“Ye gods and little fishes! You’ve got their patter down, I’ll give you that. If poor old Artorus had a grave, he’d be spinning in it, I tell you. And where does Lady Michaela McManus fit into all of this? Is she to be your Guinevere?”
Bunty gave a start, beginning to deflate once again. “How…how do you know about her?” he spluttered. “I have no interest in her. Wüst wants her, I don’t know why.”
“You’ve been messing with the wrong crowd, Bunty old lad, and I will tell you this for nothing: Michaela has friends. She is not part of your game. Surrender now, and I will see to it that you don’t hang for your treason.”
“Surrender?” Bunty’s surprise became a sneer “Surrender to a man kneeling in front of a gun, a man who hides behind a stronger man’s face? Who are you? Who are you to be offering deals?”
“Here and now, I am Jack Runward” Jack snapped his fingers and the glamour faded to reveal his own tanned and rugged face. “But I’ve had many names. My first was Madoc; I’m sometimes known as Magog the Great, a champion of Prydain and Albion, Protector of London, Green Man of Epping Forest.”
Even if they’d been listening, no-one was close enough to hear the whisper of a jacketed round exiting the barrel of a rifle at a muzzle velocity of around 3000 feet per second: Michaela’s suppressors really were exceptional. The guard who’d been holding a gun to Jack’s back, fell as if he were a knocked over sack of potatos.
And, with a surge, a surge that no one could have guessed was coming, Jack was up off his knees and lifting Bunty clear of the ship’s deck. He swung the hapless Ahnenerbe agent up into the air, and spun him round. Confusion broke out. A minion found himself caught round the face by an expensive pair of shoes, and plunged to the deck, whilst Bunty continued to be swept round in an arc. Bunty was panicking, attempting to flail his arms against Jack, but Jack was in complete control. Hired help and Ahnenerbe muscle milled around, some dropping to the deck suddenly, adding to the overall confusion. A shot rent the night air, but somehow was ignored. Jack continued his progress across the deck, continuing to use Bunty to clear the way. He reached the side. Bunty was sobbing – he’d realised what was coming next.
“We don’t want your kind in Britain!” Jack shouted as he threw Bunty into the Dock.
“Nooo!” The scream was short and ended in a splash. Jack took a brief glance over the side where he caught sight of Bunty flailing in the water, flailing that is, until he disappeared from view with unnatural suddenness. Jack did not wait to see the ripples disperse, returning instead to the meleé on the deck.
He could just make out someone emerging from the wheelhouse and making their way gingerly to the Oerlikon autocannon in the bows – one for Viktor to take care of he felt. Isaac had taken care of two more: one was slumped over a torpedo tube and the other was sprawled near the first casualty. Yet two more were heading towards Jack. One of the crew was trying to cast off when suddenly – he fell backwards.
There was a burst of fire from one of the Vickers machine guns mounted on the forrard torpedo tubes – it appeared they’d got some idea of where Isaac was shooting from. Before they could do any serious damage, however, the .50 calibre fire was briefly silenced, before beginning again, this time strafing the quayside at ground level. Those who’d remained on dry land – Bunty’s chauffeur and the two men from the car who’d brought Jack to the dock – hurried to join up. All three were cut down by Viktor, who’d efficiently despatched the gunner and taken over the Vickers; he continued strafing, doing irreparable damage to the Austin Hampshire.
Jack barely had time to take this in before he was blocking a savage, slicing cut from a large knife. The knife-man was clearly a brawler though, not a real fighter, because he’d allowed his balance to shift too far forward. Noting that his mate was attempting to use a boat-hook as some kind of hunting-spear, Jack caught the knife-arm even as he dodged the knife itself. He pulled the brawler into the arc of the boat-hook, ignoring the scream which inevitably followed. The knife went flying over the side, while the man with the boat- hook was pulled forward as he attempted to keep it, and to get it free. Jack cracked their heads together, and both slumped in a heap: pulling the boat-hook free, he casually snapped it over his knee and looked for the next person.
The man closest threw his knife down and his hands up. He was shot for his trouble by a man who looked like he might be the skipper of the MTB, or the leader of the Ahnenerbe troops, or perhaps both. He in turn was shot, a neat hole, stained red, appearing in his seaman’s jumper as the jacketed round passed straight through and into the deck.
Billy looked though the night sights: he’d been a bit worried at how many people had turned up on the boat. They had thought there’d be five at most, although the Vosper MTB was designed for a complement of 13. Unlucky for someone. Victor had done bloomin’ well, emerging from the shadows to deal with the one who seemed to think the Oerlikon was needed in this fight, then straight on to deal with the Vickers, and what was left of the shore party. Isaac had proved himself an’ all: five shots, five bodies. He thought he could make out three forms trying to take cover behind torpedo tubes and other deck furniture. Viktor – good lad – had ducked into the wheelhouse on one side and popped up right beside one who’d been trying to sneak along to grab Jack. Victor pushed him over the side and into the dock for that error in judgement. As Billy watched, two others stalked Jack, but he saw to his pleasure that Viktor was hurrying towards the stern to join Jack. Both the opposition ran at Jack – he dodged one, but slipped and fell heavily to the deck.
In the garret, Tink had scried the whole event for himself and Mike. As he did so, he muttered about the lack of sound. They’d watched carefully and both had assumed that it was all over, when Jack stumbled. And had not got back up. One of the assailants had been about to stamp down on Jack’s prone form, when he spun round, presumably shot. The final one disappeared for a moment as he was grapped by Viktor – his neck broken … and still Jack had not got up.
“What’s wrong Tink?”
“Your guess is a good as mine, bach”.
Michaela was off, haring down the stairs, out of Richmond Court to the lockup just down the road under the railway arches. She had her roadster out in moment, leaving Tink to lock up behind her. It was a straightish run down to the docks, with little traffic at that time of night – racing changes all the way.
By the time she got there, Viktor, Billy and Isaac had secured the area and made Jack as comfortable as possible.
“I fink ‘e got shot early, love, but ‘e never let it show. ‘E’s a tough old beggar, you know that.”
Tough or not, he was unconcious.
“Quick, we’ve got to get him home!”
“He’ll not fit in yon there car of yours, your ladyship.”
“Then lets take Bunty’s car – he won’t need it anymore.”
Carefully they moved their recumbant leader to the back seat of the Roller, and Mike took off into the night.
“Right-o, you two scarper. I’ll be in touch.”
Billy moved the bodies onto the boat. As he did so he muttered to himself “perfectly good bomb…not hanging around ‘ere all night…can’t ‘ave that ord’n’nce be left lying around…”
He surveyed his handywork. Not bad. He strolled off down the quayside, his casual demeanor belying the anger and sorrow seething inside. Unbidden, a fireball appeared in his hand. He grinned, and threw it over his shoulder at the MTB…he hadn’t gone very far when the bomb exploded.
Back at the Warren, Hildr and Agnarr were settling down to a glass of Agnarr’s fine brew and one of Hildr’s hearty stews, only to be interrupted by her ladyship driving into the yard at a mad pace – and in someone else’s car.
“Agnarr, please, I need your help. Jack – Mr Runward – has been hurt. We need to get him into the forest.”
Agnarr had quietly done as bidden, moving Jack quickly but gently into a trailer, wrapping him up warmly in the blankets Hildr had hurriedly provided, before hitching the trailer to a tractor and riding on it with Michaela out of the yard. Hildr had stifled her first instinct to ask why the forest and not a hospital … when realisation suddenly dawned … a Green Man, he was a Green Man. Of course. How foolish she’d been not to have realised.
© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey