The Zulu Protocol: The Last Post

It was a week later, and the mopping up was completed.

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Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

– Seneca

ZIt ended, of course, with a Zulu Protocol.

It was a week later, and the mopping up was completed.  Captain Burnham had caused the MTB and numerous bodies to disappear.  He hadn’t quite been able to spirit Bunty’s corpse away: this had been fished out of the Thames, as it happened, quite close to the place that Frank had been pulled out.

“‘E even ended up on the same bloomin’ slab” Billy commented, with grim satisfaction, as he and Isaac paid their last respects.  Billy had made the arrangements – through one of his many contacts – and Frank was to spend the night before the committal, lying at peace in the church. The last of the late afternoon sun shone through the stained glass window. The interior of the church was cool, and here and there a shaft of yellow picked out motes of dust dancing in the air.

“Right. Keep an eye out, will yer” and before Isaac could reply, Billy had the first screw undone and was working on the next.

“What you be doin’ Billy?” Isaac exclaimed, uneasily.

“Frank were one of us, and there’s a little matter of puttin’ somethin’ right.”  Billy slid the lid of the coffin off.  Frank looked alright, considering.  From his jacket, Billy pulled a scabbarded commando knife which he slipped into the coffin. From another pocket he pulled a silver coin: he kissed it and slipped it into the waistcoat pocket of the dead man’s last suit.  As he picked up the lid of the coffin, he said something that was almost too quiet for Isaac to hear. “I dunno what comes next, old son, but yer’ve got yer knife back, if yer need it.  Just don’t go pickin’ any fights you cantankerous begger.”

In a more normal voice, as he screwed the lid of the coffin back down, Billy said “I dunno, that boy did a good imp’s’nation of a cheeky cockney, but ‘e’d ‘ave picked a fight with ‘is own shadow, given a chance.”

“After ‘er ladyship be ‘aring off with yon Jack in that motor, what ‘the ‘ell appened? Is you ever goin’ ter tell me where that Jack be?”

“Where is ‘e indeed? Ain’t that the question.”

*****

Meanwhile, at the Latimer Estate, Michaela stood by the family mauseleum, Juliet by her side. She’d had to almost drag Juliet into town to get her suitably kitted out; but it simply wouldn’t do to be turning up to Robert’s funeral in her usual wardrobe. Having impressed upon her the need for saying little other than the basic offering of condolences, Michaela had to admit she’d behaved impeccably. So much so that when the service was over and the family had extended the expected invitation to return to the house, Michaela had accepted with grace, but requested a moment to say her farewells to Robert. Having always believed Robert could’ve done no better than ‘to snag that rather high-spirited gel Michaela’, the family’d been quick to agree.

There – in the quiet – she’d talked to Juliet about how she could make amends, by joining the team of which Robert had been a part. How much he’d approve of such a turn of events, for he was one of those rare men who’d genuinely believed in women’s emancipation. Keeping her head bowed, Juliet had replied “As you wish Lady Michaela”. Worried she’d made an awful mistake and that Billy’s initial instict might’ve been correct, Michaela rapidly re-iterated the need for ‘steadying up and getting those emotions under control’; it would be an understatement to say she was immensely relieved when Juliet wiped away a tear and looked her in the eye “Really Mike, d … do you mean it? I … I can’t believe it, it’s a dream … a dream come true. And I’ll work hard, truly I will. I’ll make you – and Robert – really proud of me.”

*****

Tinkerbell was on his way back to Oxford, back to his beloved Bod. Sitting back in his first class carriage – her ladyship having procured the ticket so who was he to argue – he pondered on the morning’s events. Billy’d handed Blecher over to him with the instructions that he be ‘got back to that Burnham geezer’ and Tinkerbell had complied, after having provided Blecher with a well received request to make contact – with both himself and her ladyship that is.

It’d been an interesting meeting with Burnham, where he’d seemed largely unfazed by Tinkerbell’s introduction as another member of the Section.  They’d enjoyed some decent enough tea and biscuits, during which Burnham announced that he’d been to see the father of Robert’s friend. To Tink’s raised eyebrows, he’d confided that the advice he’d been given had been quite simply to ‘go along for the ride young man, they’ll not let you down’ and that was precisely what he planned to do.

Viktor had popped his head round the door as they were finishing up to thank Tinkerbell for providing a favourable report on his contribution. Tink had returned their heartfelt thanks and wished him well during his future endeavours. Once Viktor’d left, Tinkerbell remembered to profer thanks to Burnham, on behalf of Jack and the team for facilitating the loan of Viktor when, much to his surprise, Burnham had apologised for not doing more; even promising he’d do better should he receive a call for assistance in the future. It seemed their man in uniform was now firmly on board. They’d parted with a shared expression of disappointment that Wüst had managed to get away, aligned to a firm commitment the Department would be using all their resources to be on the lookout for him as well.

Burnham had summed up with “MI9 will be closed down, there is no question of that, but Echo will continue, and I will be the contact.  Beyond that – well, we’ll have to see, won’t we?”

The train service from Marylebone over, Tink alighted; he’d been ready for his little sojurn in London, but he was more than a little relieved to be coming home. It was one of those perfect autumn days – crisp and cold, but sunny – and Oxford was bathed in the most glorious sunshine. Tinkerbell basked in the warmth, enjoying the walk from the station back to his digs. Pausing briefly, he pulled his pipe out of a pocket and made busy with lighting it; sadly, this proved to be his downfall.

“Ah, Cadwalader!  I’ve been hoping to bump into you!”

Whilst he wanted to slump his shoulders, as with any predator, it didn’t do to show emotion.

“Ah, Wynn … what could you possibly be wanting with me?” he said coolly.

*****

Whilst Michaela and Juliet were attending Robert’s funeral, Hildr and Agnarr took the opportunity to have a private discussion on the subject of ‘training Juliet’. Hildr – unable to supress them any longer – expressed concerns that the clumsy young woman she knew could be honed in the way Michaela believed. Agnarr, gently patting her hand, managed – somehow – to express both his support for her concerns and also his belief that their Suuriseppä would not have made such plans unless she had seen – perhaps even knew – something they had not.

Nodding her acceptance, Hildr made ready to practice the skills they would need  to master – not only for this new training programme, but also to make sure young Juliet didn’t get to leave them behind. Separately they were each quietly competent, but together –  together they could be quite a force. She’d heard of such melding in tales of long ago, and with time taken for detailed research, with care, patience and practice – qualities they both had in abundance – she was confident it would prove possible once more.

*****

Deep in the corridors under Blackfriars, Coln was hard at work. Persuading her father to move had been a monumental task, but he was now ensconced somewhere less damp and a lot warmer. She’d called her sisters together and between them, they’d persuaded him to take Jack’s advice. They were now busy, sorting through each room of Father’s things, all his accumulated treasures. Billy – kind, kind Billy – he’d been helping them find good people. People who would do everything from the heavy lifting to providing advice on what was saleable and how to get a fair price for it all.

She knew that Jack had been seriously wounded at the Indias – Billy of course – and the depth of her sadness had come as no little surprise. Still, there was much to be done. Either Jack Runward would recover, or he would not. It was her task to ensure that she, her father and her sisters did. For now, she could do no more than to send healing wishes on the wind, and to hope that Jack received them.


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey

X-Ray Specs

Keeping an eye being something of a euphemism – the sniper’s nest that he’d created should give him perfect coverage.

“There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights.”

Bram Stoker, ‘Dracula’

X

Isaac did not “miss the war”, as some of his friends did, but he’d felt of frisson of excitement when Billy had first been in touch – was it only two weeks ago? The raid on the Indias had been hectic, odd, invigorating: he’d kept his cool, seen the job through, when he could’ve melted into the shadows and now, here he was.  Billy had suggested that there’d be further work after this, and whatever happened, Billy and his friends looked out for their people.  It would be dangerous – Billy had explained about Frank – and probably there’d never be any recognition.  No medals for this caper.  But this crowd, that Jack had called the opposition and Billy tended to refer to as wrong’uns, needed to be stopped.  What had they fought for in the first place, if any old fella that felt like it could walk in and take over?  No, he was pleased to be in on this, and it promised to be a bit more exciting than the odd-jobs that he’d been doing to make ends meet, or as one of his old muckers put it “make both ends meat”.

As a soldier, he’d learned to rely on his mates, and as a commando, he’d learned self-reliance.  The last two years had been tough: there’d been the odd bit of thinking work, but it had mainly been physical stuff, some legit, some less so – nothing actual illegal like, but what you might call…off the books.  Like this thing for Billy.  Isaac Baker was not just a survivor thought, oh no, he was that rare beast: a pragmatic optimist.  He stuck out the dead-end, hand-to-mouth jobs.  His squalid digs held little attraction, but rather than wallowing in the despair they induced, he got out and did stuff.  Still, whilst he had mates in London, its appeal was starting to wear thin and he was half minded to go back to the West Country.  He’d probably missed the apple harvest and cider pressing, but there’d be some kind of work, if nothing to stretch him.  P’raps he should apply for the police…now there was an idea.

Instead he’d fallen in with this crowd, and now here he was, back in the Indias, on the roof of a derelict warehouse, keeping an eye on the quay that Billy’d identified as being the one that Bunty would use to spirit away this Blecher chappie.  Keeping an eye being something of a euphemism – the sniper’s nest that he’d created should give him perfect coverage.  He’d be the first to admit that he was a landlubber, but he’d been on an MTB once or twice and he had a sense of where the deck of the boat should be in relation to the  wharf – they’d had to guess a little bit about timings, but they’d made their guesses based on the tides.

He’d been a bit surprised that not only had Billy pointed out the wharf, but also indicated the best place for the nest.  Everyone took it in their stride, almost as if they’d expected it. They were an odd lot and no mistake: none of them seemed to fit somehow…  How did Billy come to be running with this lot, and it wasn’t as if they was just usin’ him neither. They all listened when he spoke.  Tink as well:  I mean he were ‘n Oxford chappie they said, but he weren’t a toff.  It was almost as if knowin’ yer onions was enough to earn respect here.  Now that was interesting.

He probably shouldn’t be surprised that her Ladyship could shoot, toffs usually could shoot pretty well, but if he’d put everything together properly then she’d made this rather nice rifle that he’d be popping off tonight, if all went to plan.  Made it special for him too, even though there’d been no real time.   Lighter than anything he’d ever used before, but accurate, even with iron sights, it felt like an extension of himself, more so than anything he’d ever fired before.  He’d practiced on the strangest range he’d every shot on before – although also one of the most realistic.  After he’d had a chance to shoot some rounds at a conventional target propped in front of a wall, he’d been put up a tree and told he could come down for some lunch when he’d got a bull in ten different targets.  Some of these had been hung off branches, others were tucked in rabbit holes.   A few were properly tricky to spot.  He’d also had a play with some suppressors – silencers some people called them, incorrectly.  They shifted the balance of the gun slightly, but were more than a bit handy when you were trying to keep yourself to yourself.  Her ladyship had apologised that each one he’d been given was only good for twenty shots, but that was better than most of the ones that he’d used previously. She’d given him a little extra bit of kit, one he’d not tried out before as it was daylight when he’d had his practice, but she assured him they worked well. Night vision glasses her ladyship had said they were, although Billy insisted on calling them his X-Ray specs – for he had a pair too. Isaac weren’t bothered – if they meant he could see in the dark when the opposition couldn’t, they could call them whatever they liked!

*****

Later, Billy joined him, appearing in that disconcerting way of his.  He pointed out things that Isaac had to squint to see, a subtle but effective method of indicating that one eye missing or not, Billy Blind was anything but.

*****

“Alright lad, keep your eyes peeled.  We’ve got a car entering the Docks, and I fink I can hear that ruddy boat an’ all.”

Isaac said nothing and kept his gaze on the space where they were expecting the boat to appear.  His eyes flickered from point to point as he built and rebuilt the picture in his mind of where everything was, without becoming so fixated on one point that he missed things changing.  He listened to the sotto voce commentary from his left as Billy described the progress of the car, picking its way carefully through the clutter and debris.  He wasn’t entirely surprised that they were bringing the car right up to the rendezvous – they didn’t know that their handover had been rumbled, and this way they had better control over the prisoner.  From a raider’s perspective though, that car, a four door Austin A70, represented a nice little blockage – if it could be put out of action.

As if reading his mind, Billy breathed “Keep an eye on fings, old son, I’ve got a little wheeze in mind fer that there ‘Ampshire” and he was gone, like a gentle breeze, into the night.  Isaac had had a mate like that, way back when, ‘n’ another what couldn’t stand improvisation.  He’d been RTU’d at his own request in the end, and bought the farm on D-Day.   Isaac wasn’t above the odd bit of improvisation, but he’d’ve preferred to get the measure of these blokes before everyone started getting creative, but that was life.  If you can’t take a joke, you shouldn’t have joined was his motto.

Whoever the goons were, they’d done a sort of look-see around when they’d arrived, before getting a hooded figure out of the back seat of the car.  They looked as though they might know a bit about fighting, but on t’other hand they really weren’t working as a team, and they allowed themselves to be distracted by the arrival of the MTB.  To be fair, it was worth watching.  Even going slow as it nosed its way through the foetid water of the docks to the designated quay, it was a shark cutting the water.  The goons didn’t notice a shadow detach itself from the general blackness of the night, but a moment or so later, Isaac realised he’d been holding his breath when the shadow slipped to the car and back again.

The goons just stood and watched as the boat was tied up.  In the moonlight, and with the to-ing and fro-ing, it was hard to tell if the 20 mm Oerlikon autocannon and the .50 calibre Vickers Machine guns that were the standard armament were still in place or not – but Isaac rather thought they were.  Oh well.

“You ready, old son?”  Billy was back.  “I think it’s all about to get a bit proverbial.”

“Yerss … I’m ready. Better ‘n waitin’ till somewhen” Isaac murmured back.

“Oi oi, what’s all this then?  ‘Nuvver car coming up  – and I reckon it’s Bunty’s.  ‘E really should’ve got summat a bit less conspicuous fer tonight.”

Bunty got out of his car – having waited for the chauffeur to open the door – and watched the hooded figure being walked onto the boat, before himself boarding.  He had the man brought before him and made him kneel.  He whipped off the hood.  Even Issac and Billy could hear the startled oath:

“What the Devil?”


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey

A Whiskey With Old Friends

Stood in the middle of the table was a bottle of Connemara Peated Single Malt whiskey, and a jug of water.

“There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.”

Raymond Chandler

W

It was the last night of peace. Tomorrow they’d be facing the Ahnenerbe head on. Would their plan work? Did they have enough fighting men? Would anyone get hurt? These questions and more were running through their heads that last night.

As ever, with an operation like this, everyone had contributed to the planning.  Billy had come good (who could doubt it) with information on both the safehouse where Blecher was being kept, and on the plan for getting him out.  Tink had sketched out the relevant part of the Docks on a large piece of lining paper that he’d spread out on the big table, and weighted down with various knick-knacks.  The plan was given a three-dimensional feel with boxes of matches and the like.  Victor and Isaac had been smuggled into the garret for a thorough briefing and they’d contributed too.  Tinkerbell had been on good form and the strategy, which an amateur might see as simple, made best use of the resources available to them.  The reference to Servius Tullius, and particularly the anecdote of his discussions with Tink on how to run an army, went completely over the heads of Victor and Isaac, thankfully.  Luckily looks cannot kill, and therefore Billy was saved from having to cover up Jack’s attempted murder-by-glare.

After the two soldiers had left, the four regrouped round the table and batted back and forth further ideas and what ifs: they reviewed, yet again, the entire plan, including the parts that Victor and Isaac were not party to.  They went on like this for another hour or so, but everyone could feel the room, and the plan, becoming stale.  Realising this wasn’t helpful, Tinkerbell suggested they needed to take a step back from all the hows and whys and wherefores.

“What we need is a trip to the pub. Somewhere we can relax, have a drink, make a toast to the success of the mission … and to absent friends.”

“Yer dead right Tink m’old son. But we can’t all march down The Dolphin, we needs to keep it low-key – tonight especially. ‘ow about we goes down to the pub in Bow we meets Jack at? They’ll let us ‘ave a quiet room in the back to ourselves.”

As they started to make plans of how to get there, Michaela put up a brief fight “can’t I just drive there?” only to have Jack firmly respond with “you could, but not in that car. You’ll both stick out like sore thumbs and be the talk of the East End!”

Mollified, barely, Michaela waited with Tink while Billy and Jack headed off first. They’d arrange for the private room so Michaela could be whisked in past the usual riff-raff without causing too much of a stir. Tink tidied away the plan, replenished his tobacco pouch from the jar on the mantel piece and looked inside his bag for one or two items, which he secreted in various pockets.

“Best leave the overalls off for now eh?” suggested Tink whilst offering Mike his squashy tweed hat to cover up all that red-gold hair. Back in practical, if everyday clothing, and with one of Jack’s old coats chucked on top, Michaela could go almost unnoticed.

As Jack and Billy had no doubt done before them, Michaela and Tink wasted a bit of time hopping on and off busses and otherwise checking they weren’t being followed. On arrival at the pub, they spotted Jack waiting outside. Taking up position on the other side of Michaela, he hurried them both through into the rear of the pub. The room was small and fairly gloomy, with four comfortable, if rather shabby, high-backed armchairs. But it was entirely separate from the main pub and so private. Shedding her coat and Tink’s hat, Michaela realised that stood in the middle of the table was a bottle of Connemara Peated Single Malt whiskey, and a jug of water. While she exclaimed in pleasure, Jack gestured to it magnanimously “the least we could do was to provide a drop from home, especially having insisted you leave your gorgeous car behind.”

Billy appeared first with pints, then glasses for them all and they settled in for an evening of pleasant reminiscing.  Part way through, during an opportune lull in conversation, Michaela cleared her throat.

“I’ve got a tricky little problem that I’d really welcome advice on – from all of you.” Having received nods and glasses raised in agreement, she continued “it’s Juliet.”

Tink immediately raised his eyebrows and Billy started to ask “Yer sure yer … ?”

“Yes, I’m afraid the first bit is relevant to us all – and I need both advice and possibly help over her future.”

Shrugging, Jack immediately came back with “As I persuaded you to have her, you know I’ll do what I can, when I can. But what’s the bit that’s relevant to us all?”

“After Robert’s car blew up, I arranged to have it towed back to the yard and stowed in one of the garages. As it’s been bothering me, I’ve had Agnarr and Hildr help me carry out a forensic examination of it. What I found, came as a bit of a shock – it’d been jinxed – or a bit of the engine had. I was wondering how Bunty’d managed to do it without anyone noticing when Juliet crept in. She’s been really odd since the explosion which I’d put down to shock but … well, it was quite the story.”

Stopping to take a sip of whiskey and to re-fill her glass, Michaela told them the whole sorry story.  Billy was the first to react – with absolute fury he spat out “yer jes leave ‘er to me, I’ll see she gets sorted.”

Jack, ever the peace-maker, put his hand on Billy’s arm in a stilling gesture and interjected “I get the feeling there’s more to this … go on Michaela.”

“Well, the thing is, I think she’s really rather talented. There’s not many of my apprentices who could’ve done what she did. I mean the subtly of what she wanted to do is breathtaking, and what undid her is that she is more powerful than she realises.  She may even be as powerful as a fae, and that happens perhaps once in a thousand times amongst the dvergar.  Her problem is she seems to be unable to control it, especially when her emotions are running high.”

“That’s not an uncommon problem among my lot – especially when they’re young. All those hormones, emotions up and down, there’s lots of magic being over- and underdone. We don’t mind so much when it’s underdone, but it causes some pretty serious problems when it’s overdone.”

“Really Tink? Oh I’m so relieved to hear you say that. You see, I’ve no real experience of this kind of thing, I’m a bit lost …” she trailed off.

“Why do we care if ‘n she’s talented, she killed a man!”

“Hold on Billy, she just meant for sparks to fly and for him to look silly. She’s no killer. She’s been jolly silly. She’s also filled with remorse and has offered to voluntarily put herself into exile. That’s … well, that’s huge for a dvergar orphan. It’s the ultimate punishment. So, she’s not taking it lightly.”

The room went silent for a while, with each of them deep in thought. Jack broke the silence first.

“I’ve heard nothing but the best about her. A bit uncontrolled and clumsy for sure, but I’d not bring anyone to you who I felt wasn’t pure of heart, you know that don’t you Michaela?”

“I know Jack, and I think you’re right. Not only that, but during that whole business with Bunty and Robert, she was smart and quick-witted. She picked up what I needed really quickly, and she did it. She ran interference for me with aplomb; honestly, you’d have thought she’d been trained. I think she could be a natural …”

“Are you suggesting what I think you are Michaela?”

“Yes. Yes … I believe I am. She’d need training, proper training to get those emotions under control …”

“I could help you with that Michaela – I’ve worked with young fae before. It’s probably best I stay at arm’s length though – at least for a while – and I certainly couldn’t have her in Oxford as there’s far too much potential for gossip. As a start, I’d recommend a bit of old-fashioned meditation – it would do her the world of good. Also, would I be right in presuming that both Agnarr and Hildr would play a major role in her training? I have a feeling that Agnarr – in particular – would have a real bent for the delicate handling my training might need. And I could visit you at Theydon Bois from time-to-time to work with you both, as well as discuss any issues that come up in between visits.”

“Hildr might feel most put out.”

“Or be relieved …? She can sit in too if she wants – the more the merrier! That way there’d be no need for Juliet to find out about me or my background, nor know that her training was anything other than the top-level of dvergar skills.”

“Excellent! Done! And Billy, would you meet with her, talk to her a bit – you know about friendship, loyalty, the codes you live by? Jack and I thought she just needed a role model, but I think she may need some deeply rooted principles … and there’s none who has better than you Billy.”

Billy turned rather red, and took a sip of his whiskey to provide some cover.  “Werl, if yer puts it like that, I can’t very well refuse, can I now?” The storm passed, and the memory of a thousand smiles that had been etched into his face were seen again. “Mind you, I’ll be keepin’ an eye on ‘er!”

The all laughed at this.  Jack looked thoughtful.  “There is something about Juliet though.  Something I didn’t tell you because I didn’t think it important before, and even she doesn’t know this: she was orphaned in the troubles, but she was a foundling.  It was her foster parents who were killed; no-one knows who her real parents are.  Once this is all over it might be worth having a look into that.”

“Jack Runward!  How could you keep something like that to yourself?”

“Sorry Michaela.  It didn’t seem to matter before, but if this level of power is as unusual as you say, it might be more important than I realised.”

In unprompted unison, they all took a thoughtful sip.

Jack glanced at his watch – “Would you look at the time!  We should be getting along to our beds.  Tomorrow’s going to be a busy day.” He refilled glasses.  Raising his own he said “To Frank…and Robert”.

There was a chorus of “Frank”s and “Robert”s and glasses were drained.  Tink put the cork in the bottle: “I’ll take this back to the garret, for afterwards.”

They got up to go their separate ways:  Jack and Billy had business with Father Thames, whilst Tink and Mike would go back to the garret, with Mike heading back to the Warren to pick up some equipment.

“Here, Jack.” Tink took the bits and pieces he’d collected from his bag and passed them over.  “The glamour, for tomorrow.”

Jack took the ingredients and tucked them in his own pockets. With a wave of his hand that fell just short of an informal salute, he left the room with Billy.


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey

Our man in Uniform

They’d been summoned there now – both of them, and whilst their time could be far better spent, it was a summons that had to be answered.

“It is a great danger for everyone when what is shocking changes.”

‘Our Man in Havana’ – Graham Greene

UWhen he’d first been assigned this liaison job, Robert had managed to nab a small office at the Grand Central by Marylebone station. It’d been a nice easy run in to London for him from the ancestral home in Latimer Park. But he’d generally met up with Michaela elsewhere – a restaurant, a club, somewhere social. On the odd occasion he’d met up with Jack, the locations had been varied and unusual. But never his office. They’d been summoned there now – both of them, and whilst their time could be far better spent, it was a summons that had to be answered. It seemed Robert’s suggestion that MI9 was being wound up was on the button: his second in command had been allocated his portfolio, or so they were informed during the phone call. The young woman, Jack surmised a Womens Royal Auxiliary Corp NCO, had given the appropriate emergency recognition signals under the cover of “a routine check that the line was in order”.  The decrypted message had told them to present themselves at Robert’s old office at niner hundred hours to meet their new boss.

“Do you know anything about this fellow, Michaela?”
“Not a thing, I don’t think I ever knew his name. Robert couldn’t stand the job as you know, but used our ‘stuff’ as an excuse to spend time with me, so he never delegated it to anyone else. I’m not entirely sure he knows … ”
“We’ll just have to play it by ear, I suppose.”

*****

Bang on time, they presented themselves for Captain Burnham. Tall and slim, dark with aquiline features, he ushered them into his office where he suggested “Tea?” which they’d both readily accepted. Having made small talk about the weather and their journey till his sergeant closed the door, having served the tea, he wasted no time at jumping straight in.

“Robert presumably told you that the whole community’s in a bit of a scramble at the moment.  All the sections, well all the departments really, are being reviewed, with a view to cutting down – the bean-counters feel that the cloak and dagger stuff is redundant now. Now I see that your team was put ‘on hold’, let’s say, shortly after the war ended, but Robert recently re-started your funding stream. Unfortunately, I can find nothing hard and fast in his papers to indicate why. In fact, having spent most of the past week reviewing the Bravo section files, I’m at a complete loss. Care to enlighten me?”

Exchanging glances, Jack deferred to Michaela. “Rather than waste any more of your time, Captain Burnham, would it be possible for you to briefly summarise what you do know and then Jack and I can then fill in the gaps?”

Harumphing somewhat, but seeing the sense in her suggestion, the requested summary was provided. It was brief, not because he was especially skilled, but because his knowledge was exceedingly limited.

“Look, it’s downright awkward. They’d normally replace Robert with someone of the same rank but, it seems pointless in the current climate, so they’ve instructed me to get stuck in and make recommendations. It’s an opportunity for me, and I don’t intend to get egg on my face. What I really want to know, is whether what’s in the sealed documents will a) throw any light on the situation and b) provide relevant information as to whether your team is to be wound up … or not?”

Without further ado, Jack told him the Sierra story. When he got to the end, Burnham called for “more tea … and biscuits this time.”  Supplies suitably refreshed, he continued “Pardon me for saying so Mr Runward, but nothing you’ve said seems to warrant the level of confidentiality such that it would be sealed thus” and with that, he pulled from his desk drawer a large, heavy-duty brown envelope, tied with string and sealed with red wax which had been marked with Robert’s own signet ring. Recognising it as likely to hold the original Echo Memorandum, Jack reached out his hand for the package before handing it to Michaela with a request she confirm the seal as Robert’s. With her affirmation, he sat back in his chair slightly and studied the ceiling, as if he hoped to find the answer written there.

“Captain, I am going to tell you what is in that package.  If you believe me, then there is no need to open it.  If you decide that my team serves no further purpose then I ask that you destroy it and forget we ever had this conversation.  If you do not believe me, then you may do as you wish – open it, close us down – as you wish.  It is unlikely, though, that you will see either of us again.”

Michaela interjected “The first recipient of the document in the package was sceptical too, but he came round after the War began.”

“And who was that?”

Michaela named the father of Robert’s friend.  Burnham raised his eyebrows – clearly impressed.

“He’s retired now, of course, but if I think it appropriate, I’ll request an audience.  Alright then, let’s have it.”

And Jack told him the story that he’d told Lady Michaela McManus some ten years before.  About stumbling on the Ahnenerbe, that they thought they’d found some important artefact in the Black Forest, that they’d started looking further afield, that they’d claimed to be from Atlantis.  That there were groups who’d been persecuted as a result.

“Alright, that sounds plausible enough:  but why do you need money now?”

“The Ahnenerbe is still in play.  In all honesty, we don’t know exactly what they are after, but we believe that Ansger Blecher was lifted by them and that they have plans for him. Their plans also indicate that they have designs on Lady Michaela here, again we’re not sure of the reason for this.  What we have established is that they have a smuggling ring that is using the India Docks as their own personal import/export base.”

“Assuming I believe you, what on Earth can the Ahnenerbe do?”

“Could I inquire what your background is Captain? It may seem an unusual request, but I assure you this is a most unusual set of circumstances.”

Raising his eyebrows, Captain Burnham recited potted details of his military career, only for Jack to say “Thank you, but I’d also like to establish your family history.”

Seeing his visible annoyance, Michaela realised it was time for her to interject, to smooth the waters if she could.

“I don’t know if you’re aware Captain Burnham, but I’d known Robert since he was a child. I regarded him as something of a little brother, and I think he felt similarly towards me. You see, the information contained in that package is not just of an unusual and delicate nature, but it places myself and countless others in potential danger. I have been fortunate that my family position has protected me from the worst of the past excesses, but many have not. Most have suffered, many died, the rest were forced to leave their homes and possessions.”

“Are you Jewish Lady Michaela?”
“No …  Why do you ask?”

“The situation you describe is one which is all too familiar to Jews. My own family for example.” Seeing their alertness, he continued. “My full name is James Benjamin Levy Burnham. My father is English – Anglican, my mother is Jewish – a distant relative of the Rothschilds.”

“Captain, whilst that will doubtless give you an insight most Englishmen wouldn’t have about the experiences of my people, I invite you to consider everything that came out about the Ahnenerbe at Nuremburg.  They are fanatical.  Despite our best efforts, they have resources.   They wish to continue their work, and that means a great deal of pain and suffering for all sorts of people.”

Burnham looked at the package in his hand.  He moved to put it on his desk, appeared to think better of it, and then to wonder what to do with it next. As he stared at the package, Jack said “You’re in a tricky position.  Unsubstantiated rumours of enemy agents running around London, whilst you’re busy trying to work out who is out of a job and who should continue.  You’ll make your own decisions, but why don’t you spend another couple of days looking at the hocus pocus merchants – they did a great job in providing kit to PoWs, and I’m sure there’ll be a role for some of them in the new order, but there’s enough of them that your review will keep you busy until this is done, one way or another.”

*****

Burnham appeared grateful for the lifeline.  The poor blighter was clearly out of his depth on this one, and he’d be sunk if he knew everything.  When he came round, hopefully he would go see the retired grandee who’d signed off on the Memorandum – that would gain them a little more time at the very least.

Stepping outside, Jack reminded Michaela “no hailing black cabs now Michaela, not when we’re heading back to the garret.” Nodding almost absent-mindedly Michaela spoke quietly “you go on ahead Jack, I just need a moment alone.”

“What’s up? Did you pick something up in there that I missed?”
“No, no … nothing like that. I thought I’d be fine, but … well, Robert was our man in Uniform wasn’t he? And seeing someone else in that role, well … it brought it home that he was gone … that I’d not see him again.”

Giving Michaela an awkward sort of hug, Jack agreed with her “bus for me, underground for you?” Michaela nodded, the walk up Mare Street would help to clear her head. Tink would already be there setting things up and Billy was bound to turn up at some point. Both needed to be told the state of play, for the risks applied equally to all.  And after that, Mike had a date at an impromptu shooting range.  There was no use having help if they weren’t properly equipped, after all.


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey

The Tinkerbell Tango

Whistling to himself, Tink crossed Piccadilly at Green Park where he briefly considered catching the underground, except he had to be sure he’d not picked up a tail at the Ritz.

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

T

Last night’s council of war done, a course of action had slowly begun to form.  That the Ahnenerbe had brought the fight to Blighty was, as Michaela put it, “a bit thick”.  Their guess was that Bunty had been behind the disappearance of the German Engineer, and that if still on British soil then i) he wouldn’t be for much longer and ii) the opposition would probably try to use the East End docks again to get him out. Herr Wüst would probably be making an appearance soon – the Quebec Cypher and the intercepted radio frequency suggested, at the very least, a U-boat was lurking around somewhere.  Tink’s analysis was that the MTB would be used to ferry Blecher to the sub, and then Wüst would be brought ashore.  There was still much they didn’t know.  For a start, they urgently needed to find out more about Bunty and what he was up to. Michaela arranged to have a radio receiver set-up and monitored, although this was more in hope than expectation.  She also started to work on the equipment list that Tink and Jack put together.

Aside from the personal tragedy of the loss of Robert – what had happened there? Things built by Mike didn’t just spontaneously blow-up – there was, again, the question of funding, and of course oversight.  Further, whilst Isaac had proved himself to be handy, one pair of boots was not going to be enough if – when – things cut up rough.  Jack had an idea for further help, and he would need to make contact with Robert’s 2nd in command in Bravo Section.  Echo wasn’t completely off the books, but it was certainly a riddle wrapped in an enigma as far as the accounts in Whitehall were concerned. Billy had, of course, returned to the East End the previous night, after arranging to meet up with Tinkerbell in the West End.  He would recruit Isaac and start putting feelers out to see if he could find anything out about Ansgar Blecher, Bunty’s movements, and any more activity around the Docks.

*****

Emerging from the underground at Piccadilly Circus, Tinkerbell gazed across it pondering when the statue of Anteros – popularly referred to as Eros – would be returned. Removed for only the second time in its history during the War, it now resided in Egham where it had been removed for safe-keeping. All else at the Circus looked as he remembered it from before the war – the buildings were lit up with advertising once more, red buses and black cabs jostled for position with cars around the roundabout, with most heading down Regent Street or Shaftesbury Avenue, but a few sweeping round into Coventry Street and Saint James’s.

Pointing his nose down Piccadilly, Tink passed by St James’s church, now being repaired after sustaining considerable bomb damage early in the war. They seemed to be busy removing the temporary roofing which had been put over part of the building during 1941, so they could continue with services. Crossing the road, Tink headed to Burlington House, home of the Royal Academy of Arts. Strolling into the courtyard, he could see no sign of Billy but, certain he was there somewhere, he headed straight to their meeting point, the Artists Rifles War Memorial,  to the right of the main entrance.

As expected, Billy appeared by his side before Tink’d had time to read the first few names listed. Then, whilst walking down Piccadilly, through the Arcade and out into Regent Street, Billy updated Tink on his meeting with Isaac. Delighted to hear they’d been successful in recruiting Isaac, Tink felt his spirits start to lift.  Perhaps a trouble shared really was halved.  They continued to saunter along, two old friends taking in the sights, pausing to look in shop windows, and incidentally checking for shadows.

Billy introduced Tink to his old friend, Marcus Levi, the tobacconist. Tink spent an interesting morning with Marcus, hearing the views of local shopkeepers on Bunty Hargreaves (and taking the opportunity to buy a tin of his favourite cut). Even though he’d seemingly taken in Robert and the other toffs, he’d fooled no-one Tink spoke to that morning. Not liked, in most cases actively disliked; many considered him a bully, whilst others felt he was simply an arrogant, ill-mannered oaf.  All had commented on his lack of class; as the chap from Spicers & Pond Wine Merchants put it “we’re not suggesting for one moment that he wasn’t born into the top echelon but, you understand, those with genuine class, they know how to behave and how to treat others.” The strength of feeling seemed to be in direct proportion to how much time each had to spend in Bunty’s company. Only the bookseller appeared to have no strong viewpoint, Bunty having only sent his man to pick up a paperback every few months and “didn’t appear to read otherwise.”

But what did become clear … was that Bunty had a routine. Calling his son, Marcus instructed him there would be a slight change to the delivery of Mr Hargreaves’s regular cigar order – today he wanted his son to wait until he saw Mr Hargreaves emerge from his offices, before he approached the building. He was then to walk towards Mr Hargreaves and greet him – in a suitably deferential manner – but loud enough so Tinkerbell could hear and identify him. Tink expressed concern for the boy’s safety, but Levi insisted there was no cause for alarm. Positioning himself down Arlington Street not far from the pub, Tink took up station behind a newspaper, and waited. Bunty appeared bang on time, and Tink recognised him even before young Levi greeted him. As tall as Jack but heavy-set, he understood now what Michaela had meant by “his clothes are expensive and made by the best tailors, but on him they just look … wrong somehow.” He walked with a slightly odd gait, not unlike those goons had at the safe house.  His hair was relatively nondescript but short and neat, almost military regulation; with a complexion so ruddy, his pale eyes all but disappeared against it. Tink saw now why Marcus Levi wasn’t concerned for his son’s safety; Bunty completely ignored him, whilst accepting his deferential greeting as if it were his due. Following in Bunty’s wake, Tinkerbell entered The Ritz.

*****

Opened early in the century by César Ritz, the opulent interiors and lavish furnishings had rapidly gained The Ritz a name as the most prestigious hotel in London, with a regular clientele made up of the rich, famous and fashionable. Considerably ahead of its time, it was also the first hotel to allow young unmarried women to enter without chaperone, proving extremely convenient for Lady Diana Manners (later Cooper) who then lived around the corner in Arlington Street. The exterior was strongly reminiscent of Haussman’s Paris; the corners of each pavilion roof was marked by a large green copper lion (the emblem of the hotel). Afternoon tea in The Palm Court was a sparkling affair – and not confined to the great and good.  Decorated in the style of Louis XXIV in elegant cream-tones, the large, highly polished mirrors reflected the profusion of gilt mouldings and ornate chandeliers, and large potted palms were dotted hither and thither.

*****

Briefly scanning the layout, Tink enquired of a porter where he might leave a note for one of the guests. He was directed to a booth where pen and paper were available for just such a requirement. Scribbling a latin verse, he checked for Bunty’s location, quickly spotting him being seated in the restaurant. Folding the note and writing ‘Mr Bartholomew Hargreaves’ with a flourish on the outside, he stopped at Reception to request its urgent delivery, before pausing briefly outside the restaurant as if to peruse the day’s menu. Hearing the receptionist call a porter and instruct him to deliver the note to Mr Hargreaves in the restaurant, Tink sauntered back out onto Piccadilly. It was a pity he couldn’t wait around to see Bunty’s reaction when he read the note – anyone with an education in the classics would be able to translate the latin thus: “to do a tango, simply follow a basic pattern of step, step, step, step, close …. in two-four time.” It mattered not how he reacted, Bunty simply had to handle the note – and by catching him after he’d sat down to eat, Tink could be sure he wouldn’t be wearing gloves. The hex could only tell them where Bunty went, not why or what he was up to, but it was a start. As Billy had laughingly said when Tink’d told him what he planned to write “dead fittin’ that is – ‘e leads, we follows”.

Whistling to himself, Tink crossed Piccadilly at Green Park where he briefly considered catching the underground, except he had to be sure he’d not picked up a tail at the Ritz. Ambling along, apparently aimlessly, Tink passed through the squares and mews of Mayfair. Arriving in Brook Street, Tink took a brief diversion through Claridges. Going through the main entrance, he engaged the receptionist in questions about the local area. After obtaining directions to the gentlemen’s lavatories, he strolled into the bowels of the hotel, eventually exiting onto Brook Mews. Stopping a short way down to re-tie his shoelaces, he surreptitiously observed the pedestrian traffic. Finally, increasing his pace, he sped down Avery Row, then tucked into a doorway in order to observe the behaviour of all who exited from it. Satisfied he wasn’t being followed, he finished by catching the London underground at Bond Street.

Once the long clunking run along the Central Line got Tink to Bethnal Green, he continued with the craftwork: Jack’d told him where to find the nearest ironmongers to the garret, and he started to meander in that direction. He’d stop there to replace what went up in the fire at the safehouse, and there’d need to be further stops for provisions along the way, for Jack never seemed to have much more than tea and biscuits at the garret. If he got himself organised, he might even have time for a quick pint and a couple of sandwiches down The Dolphin, while the water boiled in preparation for his scrying.


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey

The Liebster Award

Hello!  A brief respite/continuation of the daily cliffhanger – fret not! The travails of Echo return on Monday with T for Tango (which, as long as you have been paying attention, gives nothing away).  If that last sentence is any anyway confusing, then you might want to look at this summary).

One of the delightful things about the Annual #AprilA2Z/#AtoZChallenge is the opportunity to visit new blogs.  Debs is much better at this than David.  On the reverse side of the coin, you also get a lot of visitors coming and having a look at what you are up to.  Whilst the story we have presented this month is very much an experiment, so far we’ve enjoyed it (the stress, not so much), and we’ve already decided that we’re glad we managed to commit to it.  One of the things that has made the month infinitely more bearable is that we’ve had a lot of positive comments from people that we trust and admire, and we’ve made some new friends – which is part of what the Challenge is about.  One of these new friends is Stuart Nager of TaleSpinning.  Stuart does an excellent line in creepy, paranormal stories and has been doing a series of stories about the Abysmal Dollhouse for the AtoZ Challenge.  This is not everyone’s cup of tea, but Alfred Hitchcock once talked about a ‘good scare’, and Stu’s work is certainly in this category.  His writing is excellent, and he has a flair for the unexpected  – we both rate his work very highly.  He does other stuff as well, so well worth checking his blog out – just beware of the Unfolding Doll…

Stuart has very kindly nominated us for a Liebster Award.  The Liebster is all about paying it forward.  It’s about noticing blogs, particularly those that don’t have thousands and thousands and saying “hey, I like the work that you are doing”.  All good awards come with Rules…

RULES OF THE LIEBSTER AWARD 2018
The rules are:
1. Acknowledge the blogger who nominated you and display the award logo.
2. Answer 11 questions that the blogger sets for you.
3. Nominate blogs that you think are deserving of the award.
4. Create 11 questions for your nominees to answer.
5. Let your nominees know about their nomination!

Stu! Hey! Yes you!  Thanks man!  *tick*

Stu being the kind, considerate person that he is, is expecting both of us to give this a go: being the kind of cranky, cantankerous people we are, we’ll each answer the questions that he’s set, but we’re going to jointly nominate some blogs and jointly ask some questions.

Anyhoo – Stu asked some questions, and these are our responses (apparently there are bonus points for ‘Why’):

David

  1. If you could write in any writers voice besides your own, whose would it be? Tricky…I did a #secondthoughts* on how disappointed I was when I returned to one of the books that I loved when I was a teen, and how I realised that it has a lot of problems.  As a writer, I spend a lot of time deleting stuff that I don’t like, in part because I’m still trying to find my own voice.  But to answer the question: I’d probably go with Terry Pratchett.  I love everything he’s written, not uncritically (Raising Steam, for example, has serious problems, IMO), but he has a flair for character driven stories, and I’d like to get better at that.  On the other hand, I’d love to be able to do the diabolical whimsy of Melanie Atherton Allen (see below), so there’s that as well.
  2. What literary genre holds NO interest for you? Erotica.  Not sure why, but my impression is that there is not much depth.  Each to their own, but when you don’t have enough time to read as it is, you want to save that time for stuff that is going to challenge you.
  3. What song with a strong narrative still touches you? I like music, some music, but I’m not really into the lyrics side of things, nor thinking overly deeply about the narrative…Errm…errrm… Right Said Fred the embodiment of look before you leap/measure twice, cut once.
  4. What fictional character do you wish you were?  Richard Seaton – he’s one of ‘Doc’ Smith’s super-scientists who are also incredibly athletic.  Life always seems easier somehow, despite the fact that he’s frequently fighting for his life…
  5. Savory or Sweet? I have an incredibly sweet tooth, but I like savoury as well.  In music, food and probably much else as well, I’m usually more interested in specific examples than in classes of things.
  6. What are “The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of?” Hard work – wishes aren’t horses, or manuscripts, or whatever, so sooner or later you have to knuckle down or be disappointed.
  7. You stumble upon a magic rock. Picking it up, you discover something underneath. What is it? A plaster, for the stubbed toe.
  8. Have you had an inexplicable experience? What was it? When I was little, one of my slippers completely disappeared.  No trace of it, when I went to look for it, and it was never seen again…
  9. What fiction book would you recommend to me?
    There are so many great books that I would be pleased to recommend, but it’s difficult to  pick just one that I think you’ll love on such a short acquaintance.  Debs’ choice is excellent, and if you haven’t read it, I urge you to run to the library/bookshop right now, but I’m going to take a different tack.  I’m going to recommend Brian S. Pratt’s Unsuspecting Mage, the first in the Morcyth Saga.  It’s not perfect, but it is very good.  From a writer’s perspective, it’s written in a way that I’ve never come across before or since, I think that you’ll find it interesting for that reason if no other.
  10. What movie or TV show do you love but hate to admit it? Hmmm…I’ve watched some proper tosh in my time, but I don’t think that there is anything that I wouldn’t admit to – although, the girlfriend of a friend of mine once lambasted NCIS in such a way that I then couldn’t admit that I quite liked it.  Mind you, I’m hopelessly out of touch with that now, so…
  11. What does writing mean to you? (yes, I’m stealing it from Shari. Deal).  Writing is a way of trying to a) get my thoughts to make sense and b) quieten the voices… there is something therapeutic about making the letters and words free and then making them do your bidding.

*#Secondthoughts is one of FCBF’s USPs, where we take another look at something with some kind of literary connection.

Debs

  1. If you could write in any writers voice besides your own, whose would it be?
    I initially thought of Jane Austin – after all, who wouldn’t want to be able to demonstrate that sharp observation of society and manners, but then I remembered David Mitchell. I read a reviewer who constructively criticised his work before ending with a statement that Mitchell wrote ‘so darn well’ the critic would read any and everything he wrote. I don’t want to write what he writes, but I would like to write ‘so darn well’.
  2. What literary genre holds NO interest for you?
    Like David, I’ve no interest in reading erotica, although it has been suggested that I write it, which I (briefly) considered doing under a pen name. But to this I would add romance and when my primary interest is in people, this may seem odd, for love (and sex) plays a pretty important part in their lives. To clarify, I’ve no real desire to completely exclude these areas, I just don’t want what I read and write to be composed of solely these topics.
  3. What song with a strong narrative still touches you?
    I’ve always wanted to know the full story behind Ode to Billy Joe – a story loaded with pathos, where we are left at the end with multiple whats and whys.
  4. What fictional character do you wish you were?
    None – sorry, but that’s the truth. I like my characters on the page, in their story, and I want to be out here enjoying their tales.
  5. Savory or Sweet?
    Savory – I’d always chose salt over sugar. And that’s probably true in my choice with regard to writing and reading too – anything too sugary is best avoided.
  6. What are “The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of?”
    Are you talking Bogie or the Bard?
    Speaking as a Life Coach, dreams are idealised thoughts which you can either choose just to enjoy, or you can decide to do the work to make it a reality.
  7. You stumble upon a magic rock. Picking it up, you discover something underneath. What is it?
    A perfect DSLR, with the most amazing lens covering everything from wide to huge zoom and yet still has the quality of a prime throughout. But in miniature – no more neck/backache from lugging around all that heavy equipment.
  8. Have you had an inexplicable experience? What was it?
    I’ve had frightening experiences – being shot at accidentally for one – but nothing inexplicable, no.
  9. What fiction book would you recommend to me?
    “To Say Nothing of the Dog” by Connie Willis. Wonderfully witty bit of time travel. It’s actually a bit naughty of me, as it was one of David’s picks at our book club, but it led to my becoming open to works of science fiction.
  10. What movie or TV show do you love but hate to admit it?
    OK, hold onto your hat now – “Dawsons Creek”. Yes, that teenage angsty TV series where they’re all impossibly eloquent and beautiful.
  11. What does writing mean to you? (yes, I’m stealing it from Shari. Deal).
    A creative outlet (I cannot draw, paint, sing or dance), it also provides an opportunity to use my organisational abilities for something fun. In the early years, it gave me a methodology of working through stuff that was happening at the time – that created a writing habit which led to fiction.

 

Grrr…Stu has picked off several blogs that we would have nominated.  Nevermind, if there is one thing that the Challenge provides, it’s some great blogs to check out.  So, in no particular order…

i) Athertons Magic Vapour

ii) L.E.R.T.

iii) Ronel the Mythmaker

iv) Colin D. Smith

v) Planet Pailly

vi) The Quiet Writer

And our questions are …

  1. What’s the best lesson you’ve learned from a work of fiction?
  2. If you were a cartoon character, who would you be?
  3. Who (or what) inspires you and why?
  4. What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
  5. What author(s) did you dislike at first but grew into?
  6. Beer or wine?
  7. Which of your characters would you most like to have a beer (or other beverage) with?
  8. You are HG Wells’ Timetraveller, attempting to restart civilisation in the far future: what one book would you take with you to help?  (ebook readers not allowed!).
  9. Book first or film first?
  10. Following on from the previous question, has an adaptation ever ruined the original for you to such a point that you couldn’t read/watch the original anymore?
  11. What was the last book that you read that made you say “[insert favoured cuss], I wish *I’d* written that”?

A final “Thank you” to Stuart for the nomination, a tip of the hat to our nominees (and a reminder that you don’t have to accept), and hopefully we’ll see you next week for the next thrilling installment of our AtoZ Challenge!

The Sierra Story

There wasn’t a bar maid in the East End who wasn’t pleased to see Billy. The clientel always seem to behave themselves a little better when Billy was around.

A lie told often enough becomes the truth   –  Vladimir Lenin

People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election  –  Otto von Bismarck

S“‘Allo, Isaac old son, wot you drinking?”

“‘Allo, Billy.  Never saw you there.”

“You never do, ’til it’s too late” a bar-fly propped up next to Isaac muttered.  Billy smiled broadly, his face looking like rumpled paper.

“Mabel love, can you stretch to two pints of dark?” Billy asked.

“For you Billy, I’ll see what we can do” Mabel dimpled, already pulling the pints.  Besides these, because she knew Billy of old, she set a couple of chasers of Navy proof rum, ‘stretch’ being a well used code between the two.

“Ta Billy, very civil of you.”

Billy pulled a sovereign out of his weskit pocket, and invited Mabel to “keep the change”. Many would have found the accompanying wink from the one-eyed man disconcerting, but there wasn’t a bar maid in the East End who wasn’t pleased to see Billy.  The clientel always seem to behave themselves a little better when Billy was around, and the tips always seemed to be a little bit better.

Billy chatted with Isaac for a bit, pulling Mabel into the conversation when things were quiet.  Clapping him on the shoulder as he moved away from the bar, Billy fared Isaac well, and moved off to have a drink with some dockers in one corner.  Finishing his drink, Billy wended his way out of the pub, passing a few words with people here, and hailing a fellow there.  He called an adieu to Mabel and walked out.

It wasn’t until about half an hour later that Isaac found the note that had been slipped into his coat pocket: “If you’re interested in more work, be at St Matthias’, 6am tomorrow.”

*****

At 5.50am the next morning, Isaac was hunched under cover of a tree in the Poplar Recreation Ground, scoping out the gates that led to the church and the entrance of the church itself.  There was no one to be seen.

“Nice work son, I know’d you were a nat’ral for this.  I particularly liked the way you got over them railings without being seen.”

Isaac managed to avoid flinching – just.

“How’d you do that Billy?” The old man had materialised out of nowhere.

“Never you mind.  Come on, we’re off on a walk.”

*****

Following Robert’s death – be it accident, misadventure or assassination – Tink, Jack and Mike had sat down to a council of war.  There was much to discuss, and much yet to be decided. What was agreed unanimously was that they were short-handed.  Jack missed Frank, and though he didn’t really want to put anyone else in harm’s way, there was no doubting that they needed the help.  Tink had been very favourably impressed with Isaac Baker’s actions after the raid on the India docks, and Billy had given Jack a good report too.  Consequently, it was agreed that Billy should be tasked with recruiting Isaac as a matter of urgency, and if successful, arranging a meet with Michaela to provide him with a box of tricks.

“Do we need to update the Sierra Story?” Michaela had asked.

It was, of course, Tink who’d first come up with the idea of a briefing of tiered information.  There were only four people who knew everything.  There were a few who knew a great deal – Robert, naturally, had been one of these.  Some knew very little at all: poor old Charlie, for one.  Frank, and soon Isaac, would get the Sierra story: all lies were by omission, and as far as ‘the help’ were concerned, things were as normal as you could expect them to be in a world of espionage and counter-espionage, spooks and ghost-catchers.

Tink thought about it for a moment and started ticking off points on his fingers.

“One: The NSDAP, better known as the Nazis, had some strange views about racial purity. Two: The Ahnenerbe started trying to find proof of racial superiority, and got a little bit obsessive about it, to the point that they started claiming that the Aryans were refugees from Atlantis. Three: we had a fun war keeping the Ahnenerbe, and by extension the Nazi hierarchy, off-balance and chasing after relics and stories to support their crazy ideas.  Four: a lot of the Ahnenerbe hierarchy got picked up when the Allies were trying to work out what to do with Germany, and a fair number got a trial at Nuremberg. Five: we know some got away.”

“Yes, that’s a fair summary of everything up to the start of Frank’s investigation” Jack chipped in.

“So, then we have six: something fishy is going on.  Seven, stuff’s being brought in through the Indias.  Eight: we’re reasonably certain the Ahnenerbe are behind it, but we don’t really have a feel for what ‘it’ is.”

“That’s certainly what we want Billy to tell Isaac, but I think I might have something that we wouldn’t want to go beyond the three of us and Billy.  I think the Ahnenerbe have what we always feared, have what we set Echo up to protect.”

Tink looked sideways at Jack, and sly smile formed on his lips: “This wouldn’t have anything to do with your visit to Father Thames would it?  And a certain special young lady?”

“Young lady?” Michaela was instantly alert.  “No one’s said anything about this.  Jack Runward, have you been out courting whilst we were worried for your safety?  Well, really!”

“Tink! You’ve wooden spoons for hands, really you have.  Michaela, he’s just trying to wind me up.  My interview with Thames was briefer than I might have anticipated, if I’d known I was going to be seeing him.  That night at the Indias, when I escaped from the Ahnenerbe goons, I took a bit of a risk and jumped in the river.  Thames, or more probably one of his daughters, dragged me off to his lair near Blackfriars, where I blacked out for a while – all this rough stuff is taking its toll.  Anyway, I learned that Thames and a number of his daughters are struggling because of all the rubbish that’s building up.  Some of them aren’t so badly affected and they are taking it in turns to look after the old man.  Thames even fell asleep in the middle of putting a flea in my ear – he thinks I should be doing more to help keep the river clean and -”

“Well that’s a bit rich!  He’s more than capable of looking after himself – why should it be your responsibility?”

“Well, I have more to do with people than he does, but it doesn’t matter.  Listen, this is the important bit…”

*****

“Hel’s teeth!”

Coln gave Jack an old-fashioned look, silently reproving him.  She came around the scrubbed kitchen table to look over his shoulder and read, embossed in gold upon the cover, Bestiary et spirituum ex terris.

“What does it say?”

“It says ‘A bestiary of the spirits of the Earth’.  It’s by Dr John Dee, and I thought I had given the only copy to your Father for safe-keeping.  The question is, how long has it been in the enemy’s hands, and how much have they gleaned from it.  Quick! We must check that your Father’s copy is still here.”

They went back to Thames’ sanctum: he was still asleep.  It took them some time to sort through all the books, and Jack was beginning to worry that the book had gone missing, when Coln found it tucked away in a low cupboard, rather than on a shelf.

“I don’t know whether to feel relieved or not.” Jack exhaled deeply.  “I’ve been chasing references to this book all over Europe, but I thought I was just trying to remove knowledge of its existence, of its contents.  Now it turns out that there is more than one copy in play.  I wonder how many more there are.”

“But why is this book so important?” Coln asked.  Jack was distracted for a moment by the intent, quizzical features.

“I’m sorry?  Oh the book.  Probably easiest if I show you.  He opened the tome and flipped through the pages before handing it over to her.”

“Oh! But that’s Father!”

“Yes.” He flipped back a few pages.  “And there’s me.”

“You look much nicer than your picture in the book.”  She blushed gently and avoided eye contact.

“Thank you.”  Suddenly she looked him squarely in the face and the questions came:

“But what does it mean? Where did this Dr Dee get the information to write this book? And why isn’t it more widely known about?”

“That is a very long story, and I hope that sometime I’ll have the opportunity to tell it to you.  Sometime soon.  But for now, I need to get back to my friends.  Here, you’d better keep these.”  He handed over both volumes and she put them in the cupboard.

“I’ll look forward to it.  Can I show you something before you go though?  I’m terribly worried that Father is going to do something colossally stupid.  Luckily he’s been so tired recently.”  And they were off, back along the passageways: suddenly she stopped, and opened the door into a room of a similar size to the one that he had woken up in, but this one was empty, except for – “A bomb?  Why have you got a bomb chocked up down here?”

“Oh! Is that what it is?  Father keeps finding them.  He’s been talking about trying to get inside it.”

“That would be…inadvisable.  I would suggest getting it out of here as soon as possible, but I’ve no idea where you could put it that would be safe…if you just dump it in the river it might become a hazard to shipping.  For now, lock the door, hide the key, and I’ll see if I can find us some help to get rid of it safely.”

She took him by the hand and guided him through yet more passages, until they came to a staircase.

“This is the way out into Steelyard passage.  There is a concealed door at the top, and a means of seeing if anyone is near.  Good luck, Jack Runward.” And with that she kissed him on the cheek – more than a peck, less than a declaration – and turned to go.

“I don’t know how the next few days will play out, but I promise to do my best to help, if I can.  If for any reason I can’t get in touch, then send word to Billy Blind – he’ll help.  Start by trying to get some money together.  There are lots of things here that could be sold. Move to one of your Father’s dwellings in one of the better areas.  I know this goes against the grain, but engage with the ephemerals.  Write letters to the papers, to the politicians.  If we’re going to do anything, we’ll need to have them on side.  We will get you all well again.”


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey