The Quebec Cypher

She needed to let the information sink in a bit more, needed to allow it to mature before picking it apart like a recalcitrant mechanism to find the critical detail that would lead to a solution.

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“As a single atom man is an enigma: as a whole he is a mathematical problem.”

– Winwood Reade

Q

Lady Michaela was a worried woman.  Jack was missing, as was Tinkerbell.  Billy was out of contact, probably trying to get Jack out of whatever mess he was in.  Even though Robert was – technically – their boss, he’d appeared rather disinterested when she’d told him Jack and Tink were missing; all he’d seemed bothered about was finding his missing bod. Truth be told, she’d wanted to give him a sharp telling off when he’d insisted that she stop fretting: “They’ll turn up like the proverbial bad pennies they are.” And, she admitted to herself, she’d still not forgiven him for saddling her with Bunty: he should have known better than to ask her, and she should have known better than to accept.  He seemed completely oblivious that there was so much riding on all of this.  Frank’s death was serious of itself, and the summary of the Foxtrot File that Jack had shown her was enough to convince her that the simultaneous disappearance of Jack and Tinkerbell was neither a coincidence nor benign.  Maybe she needed to try again – insist he sat him down and listened to the whole story. The thing was, he might have resources that could be deployed on her behalf. Then again, he’d seemed to think that MI9 was for the chop, in this brave new post-war world.  Bravo might be reassigned, or more likely axed. Michaela noted the tension and felt the beginning of a headache clamping down. The work of Echo needed to continue; the Ahnenerbe had been a useful catalyst, but there was more at stake.

It was no good, she needed to let the information sink in a bit more, needed to allow it to mature before picking it apart, like a recalcitrant mechanism to find the critical detail that would lead to a solution.  As a distraction, she decided that it was time to do the rounds and see what everyone was up to.  She had been a little erratic in this duty over the last few days, what with working on things for Echo, this Bunty nonsense, and of course finishing off Robert’s car. A little tour of the Manufactorium was certainly in order.

“Right!” With decisive emphasis she got up from the workbench where she had been building the prototype of an improved brake system for her electric-Bentley.  Walking out of her private office-laboratory, she energised the rune-wards and walked down the corridor.

Agnarr was working with some of the older apprentices, supervising their attempts at the carving of cuttle bone to produce delicate, detailed moulds for jewellery work.

“Suuriseppä.” In his slow, quiet way, Agnarr simultaneously acknowledged her presence, and invited her to contribute to the lesson.  She could have just stuck her oar in, of course, but Agnarr, Hildr’s husband, deserved better than that.  He and Hildr had her implicit trust, were excellent teachers, and she could not have built this Warren, let alone run it, without them.  Michaela, made a few suggestions to the awestruck apprentices, partly in order to show that she knew what she was talking about, but otherwise she was content to leave Agnarr to it.  He really did have a flair for jewellery, and other fine, precise work, which you would never have expected from his large hands and thick fingers.

She passed through various rooms where apprentices were at their daily tasks, carving wood, cutting stone, getting on with the various tasks that were required to keep the Manufactorium clean, tidy, productive, secret, safe.  Some were reading and making notes, preparing for their next prentice pieces.  All bowed respectfully as Michaela progressed through the Warren.  She spoke, even if only briefly, to everyone she passed.  She adjusted the angle of a chisel here, recommended a particular tome there, praised diligence wherever she found it.  She demanded the best of her waifs and strays, and got it, because they knew that she would always give of her all to help them grow.  She moved from the underground portion of the Warren, and climbed the steps to the main Forge, which was all that visitors ever got to see.

Juliet was working with one of the newer apprentices.  Every new apprentice learned smithing the hard way: menial labour to begin with, general assistance round the work being carried out.  The first rite of passage was to make themselves a sheath knife: they chose the design themselves, selected the stock, produced the blade and made the handle and sheath themselves.  All of this was done under the supervision of one of the journeymen, who helped with every facet – this was their test, to support without meddling.  When it came to the smithing of the blade, the journeyman had complete charge of the forge – under the watchful eye of Hildr, of course.

Hildr was at the bellows when Michaela walked in.  The fire in the hearth was glowing brightly and the iron bar was white-hot.  The apprentice – not noticing Michaela, thankfully, was looking for approval from Juliet – moved the bar to the anvil and started beating it rhythmically with a large hammer.  It was returned to the fire and the process repeated several times.  Finally, the apprentice looked critically at the blade that had been formed and, having developed confidence during his smithing, did not even look to Juliet, as he plunged his work into the quenching trough.  Clouds of steam rose up, and as he looked up he noticed Michaela for the first time.

“S…s…suuri…s…s….sepa…pa…pä!”  He stammered, panicking slightly, wondering how long that Michaela had been there.

“You looked very competent there, Pyry. May I see?”  Michaela held out a hand and the apprentice reluctantly handed her the cooled metal.  Michaela looked, first with her eyes and then she extended her sense of málmsjón to study the very crystals of the metal.  There was a temptation to skill-clean the blade before their eyes, to reveal the beautiful pattern created by the folding of the metal, but that would just be showing off, and no-one would benefit.  Instead she said:

“Very nicely done Pyry, very nice indeed.  Mrs Wilson from the village was hinting that she would like a new carving knife – you can make it.  Juliet, make sure you show Pyry how to mix the acid to etch the blade, once it has been cleaned and sharpened.”  Hildr snorted, no doubt at the thought of Juliet let loose amongst the chemicals.  Michaela continued as if she hadn’t heard.

“The cloud-form will be particularly pleasing in this blade.  If you can manage it again, Mrs Wilson will have a blade like no other – excepting in the Warren of course.”

Whilst they were looking at the new blade, nobody noticed that the fire, instead of dying down when Hildr stopped pumping the bellows, seemed to be intensifying, and was continuously changing colour, taking on hues that were unheard of in a well-behaved forge.  The flames finally settled into a vivid violet with hints of indigo and deeper purple, but flickered higher and began to curl into a circle.  Hildr was the first to notice: she looked up from her examination of the blade and spat an oath.  The others turned to see what was amiss, and in that moment Tinkerbell appeared from nowhere, emerging from the circle of fire, his battered old bag clutched to his chest.

His eyes glittered with anger and a fierce pride, but he attempted to look casual as he patted out little singed areas that continued to smoke gently, still threatening to break into flame.  As he did so, little electrical discharges in every colour of the rainbow flickered off and grounded themselves on every metal object within 10 yards, including the anvil, tools, and the blade that had just been made.  Tink looked around at the four faces, mouths still open in shock.

“No chance of a bacon sandwich, I suppose?  Touch of HP sauce, perhaps?  Pint o’ something to go with it?  Very good for rebalancing the electrolytes after dianc cwantwm gan reolaeth ynni.”

*****

It had taken every ounce of self-control from Michaela not to fall upon Tink to deliver the most enthusiastic of hugs but, remembering her status amongst the others just in time, she’d acted with as much nonchalance as she could muster up – “Tinkerbell, so good of you to drop in. Hildr, would you send Agnarr to me in the Warren and then join us there after you get things finished up here? Tink, come along!” Sweeping off without a backward glance, she left Tinkerbell to waggle his eyebrows at the remaining shocked faces, before following in her wake.

Once in the Warren, Michaela paced about until Agnarr knocked.

“Suuriseppä?”

“Some of your very finest brew for my friend here Agnarr if you please”

Agnarr returned in moments carrying a large jug and a glass, causing Michaela to thank him profusely and ask if Hildr could possibly knock up some bacon sandwiches.

“Perhaps you could also ask Juliet to see cook in the house and ask for a bottle of brown sauce? My friend here has an inexplicable preference for it.”

“HP, preferably!” Tink added.

Politely inclining his head, Agnarr closed the door behind him. Having poured Tink a glass, Michaela waited whilst he drained it in one go. Raising her eyebrows, but saying not a word, she refilled it. This time Tink savoured each sip. “Mmmm, this really is an excellent glass of beer Michaela. My heartiest compliments to  … Agnarr is it? Dark, nutty and positively delicious.”  Finally Michaela allowed her mask to slip.

“Tinkerbell, it really is such a relief to see you. Jack’s still missing you know, and now Robert’s been in touch about some scientist bod that’s gone astray. Apparently it’s someone Jack knew and helped pick up in Europe.”

Mumbling through his beer Tink enquired “Mmmm, did my messages get through?”

“Yes, yes … although it took me a while to realise they were from you, but what did you mean by that date? I mean, I know its Guy Fawkes, but are you suggesting there’s another gunpowder plot?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure what they’re planning, but that seems to be a key date they’re working towards. There’s a lot more I found out that night, but it was too complex to communicate … and I only had a few seconds. If I’d not been able to get back, I thought it might mean something to one of you.”

A tap at the door heralded the entrance of Hildr carrying a loaded platter of chunky bacon sandwiches. The bread was sliced generously, the bacon was crispy just as Tinkerbell liked it and the brown sauce looked rich, brown and fruity. With a slightly reproving look, Hildr placed the lot in front of Tink.

Jumping to his feet, he responded with a flourish “Bacon sandwiches is it? You have no idea how welcome these are. I’ve been positively starving for the past couple of days. Thank you my dear, this is food fit for the gods.”

Hiding a smile, Hildr nodded. “Suuriseppä, you will call if you need anything else?

“No, thank you, Hildr, this is excellent.  But perhaps you could make sure that the apprentices stay…occupied for the rest of the day?”

“Very good, Suuriseppä.  Hildr withdrew, closing the door behind her.

“Tight ship you run here, Mike bach” Tink said as he dolloped brown sauce generously on the sarnies.

Once again, Michaela had to stifle her impatience as Tinkerbell made rapid progress through the pile of sandwiches.  She returned to pacing, pausing occasionally to remove a mote of dust from a bench here, straighten a tool there.  Tink finished the last sandwich, and leaned back with a satisified sigh.  Suppressing a belch, he enquired –

“Now, what does Billy say about Jack?”

“Oh Billy says it’s not unusual, and I know he’s right, but … really … right now. It’s just … so vexing.”

Pleased that Michaela was starting to sound like her old self once more, Tink shared everything he’d learned that fateful night.  In addition to the date, there was the VLF frequency of course, and the conclusion that there might be a submarine involved somewhere.  It was building up to something, but what? Nothing good, that’s for sure.

“Oh, and it was worth disrupting all my molecules with the dianc cwantwm gan reolaeth ynni -”

“Now that would be…let me see… quantum escape by energy control?  It’s no good trying to be mysterious, you old faker.  Nevermind, son’t look so surprised.  It was still very impressive, and the others were all suitably surprised.”

Tink hurrumphed slightly, but decided that this was not worth responding to.  Instead he drew himself up, and assumed a put upon expression.  ” As I was about to say, it was worth the effort because the jump allowed me think about the cypher they’re using.  It would normally be quite tricky, they’re using a book cypher, but with a wheeze.”

“Book cypher?”

“Yes, simple, effective, time-consuming to crack.  Each party has a book, and then you get a pair of numbers, page number and the number of a word on that page.  The papers that the courier was delivering gave the list of books to use for the next three months, a different one every week.  This week’s is ‘The Sun of Quebec: A story of a Great Crisis’.  It’s by a chap rejoicing in the name of Joseph Alexander Altsheler; if it’s like his other stuff, its a bit Boys’ Own.”

“And the wheeze?”

“Oh!  When they encode it, the offset every number using a keyword from the title.  So in this case, it’s Quebec.  So you’d split the message into groups of six letters, see, and then the first letter you add 17 to, the second 21, the third 5 and so on.  If we can get any more messages, they’ll be, heh, an open book.”

“Cledwyn Cadwalader! That is a terrible joke – and while our friends are missing too.”

“Sorry!” But he looked unabashed.

“We really do need to get hold of Billy though. Do you know how …?”

“Billy usually contacts me, not t’other way round.  There’s a few protocols Jack and I agreed for emergencies, but they might be stale by now.  Still, I’ll go up to town and see what I can find out.”

“I’ll come with you.”

“Michaela, m’dear, you’d stick out like a sore thumb in the East End. And one of us needs to be here in case Jack acts like a homing pigeon – he often does when in trouble. As I’m sure Billy’s got someone covering the garret, we’d have heard if he’d turned up there. I’ll head to the East End and ask around.  Billy will get the message and appear before too long. I promise to keep in touch by telephone. Now, can you run me to the station do you think m’dear?”


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey

Papa Thames

O, clear are England’s waters all, her rivers, streams, and rills,
Flowing stilly through her valleys lone and winding by her hills;
But river, stream, or rivulet through all her breadth who names
For beauty and for pleasantness with our own pleasant Thames?

WILLIAM COX BENNETT

PJack awoke.  Disoriented, he tried to remember the last thing that had happened to him and, simultaneously, to take the measure of his surroundings.  As he noted the decrepit furniture and piles of bric-a-brac, the action at the docks came back to him.  He remembered sinking down into the Thames, almost as if he were weighed down by the parcel that he had retrieved from the courier.  The parcel – what had happened to that?

The thought percolated through that he was in a bed.  This was followed by the realisation that his clothes were missing, and instead he was wearing a rather old-fashioned flannel night-gown, much mended.  He strained his ears, listening for any sound that might give a clue to his location, the presence of those that had brought him here – anything.  All he could make out was his own breathing, slow and steady, and his heartbeat reverberating in his ears, regular, rhythmic: a heartbeat to set your watch by.

He would have jumped out of bed, but at this moment he felt every one of his years: the stiffness that he had begun to feel a few days before was increasing, exacerbated no doubt by his recent extravagant exertions.  Hopefully this outbreak of activity would be over in the next few days and he could give some thought to settling down for the winter. Gingerly, he eased himself up and out of the bed.  On the floor, where someone getting up would find them, were a pair of slippers.  Like the gown, they had been repaired.  As he rose, he eased himself into some gentle stretches to work out the knots in his muscles.  As he did so, he had a sudden thought, and with equal suddenness moved from the stretch into an examination of his head to check for bruising.  Nothing.  Either he had been out long enough for any swelling to subside, or there had been no blow to his head.

From his new viewpoint, he was better able to take in the boxes and chests, piled high with debris.  The receptacles were a mix of old tea chests, packing crates, tin trunks and a dozen more boxes of different kinds and sizes.  Mostly battered, some had been repaired with varying levels of skill and success.  The junk, for nothing appeared to be of any great value, had been carefully sorted.  Along one wall were containers of pottery and along another, tin cans.  The majority of the pottery was broken: shards had been sorted by size, shape and colour.  There was an entire tray of clay pipes, a very few intact, most chipped or stem completely broken from bowl.

Jack was beginning to have an inkling as to where he was.  He moved to the door and tried to open it.  The wood of the door and frame was warped, the (cheap) paint was peeling, and the door handle was corroded.  The door eventually succumbed to his efforts, but he was intrigued that no-one came in answer to its summoning creaks and groans.  He was immediately faced with a choice: left or right?  There seemed to be a slight movement in the air, which he felt was moving from the left to the right, as he stood in the doorway.  There were any number of reasons why this might be the case, but it decided him to move towards the breath of air.  After all, he couldn’t just stand there rooted to the spot.

As he walked, he saw open doors – these even more dilapidated than the one he had just come through, probably incapable of being closed – on either side of the corridor. In each room he passed he saw yet more junk piled up: each room had a theme, and each room exhibited the same confusion of muddled organisation as the one that he had come from. Only one room was empty and he stopped to look at this one.  Why was it special?  At the door were steps – an immediate difference – that led down to a floor some three feet below the floor of the passageway.  This room was much larger than the others, positively cavernous, and unlike the others there were no boxes, bales, crates or cartons. There were glints of light scattered across the floor, like lumps of amber strewn on table top.  Jack descended.

The room was a shrine, or rather it held multiple shrines, with a variety of large candles and oil lamps (of varying style and antiquity) grouped together around basins that had been dug into the London clay.  The shallow pools thus formed were surrounded by miscellaneous rocks: some dressed stone, assorted flints, cobble stones – anything, it seemed, that the creator could lay their hands on.  The pools were full of clear water. Regarding the one closest to the steps, Jack thought he could make out the word ‘Fleet’ and a date, cut into one of the stones.  There were a dozen or so of these shrines, which seemed to have been placed at random: the light from the candles seemed to hint at more of these basins further into the room prepared against some future intent, but if there were more, they were not afforded light, for some reason.

Someone coughed.  Not a polite “hello, I’m warning you that I’m here” cough, more of an essential expectoration of phlegm to ensure continued existence.  Jack spun round, and took in the figure in the doorway.

“Papa Thames, it’s good to see you again.” Jack’s warm greeting was met by another hacking cough.

“I’m not your father, Jack Runward” the old man sneered.  He should have been huge, even stooped over his walking stick, he was taller than Jack, but shrivelled with age and disease.  He was dressed in a mish-mash, with the only consistency derived from every item being hopelessly outdated.  The clothes were not merely dated, had not only seen better days, but were spotted and stained with food and drink.  He was the archetype of some Dickensian caricature  – at one moment Fagin, with long greasy hair, at another Scrooge, probably because of the strange night-cap. Every now and again, there was a flash of Christmas Present, when dignity and sense of purpose shone through, but this was easily missed.

“I did not mean to insult you”, Jack said quietly.

The response was a little growling noise, much like a dog that senses interest in its bone, but with less good humour. The old man turned: “Come” he barked.

Jack took one more look at the cavernous space, uneasiness rising inside him, then climbed the steps and caught up to the shuffling, bent figure.  They continued in the direction that Jack had been going before he found the shrines.  This stretch of the passageway looked older, perhaps Roman. They passed yet more doors.  Jack was trying to get a feel for the place – Old Thames had several haunts, but this felt like one that he spent a lot of time in somehow.  Given what he’d already seen, the place must be vast.  As if reading his mind, the shambling figure growled a comment over his shoulder:

“We’re under the old Hanseatic Warehouses.  We rescued you when you fell in, and brought you here.  When you leave, you can go dry-foot.  There are several ways out, but I’d recommend Steelyard Passage, I think.”

Finally they came to the end of the corridor.  A more impressive door frame than ones they had been passing filled the end of the passage: oak, dark with age, carved ornately with scenes of river life, it filled the entire passage from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling.  The door set into the frame was also richly decorated, a part of the whole in fact, so that it was difficult to determine exactly where the door ended and the frame began. Thames pushed the door open and beckoned Jack to follow him.

The room beyond was some kind of study, that of an old-fashioned gentleman, which is to say some combination of a library, office, and comfortable retreat.  Bookcases lined every wall, and these were filled with books of every kind, including scrolls tied up with ribbons, vast leather-bound tomes, small paperbacks and books with wooden covers.  There was even what appeared to be a copy of the Torah, although this was in an extravagantly decorated silver case, standing on its own on a polished walnut table.  Near it was a large desk, covered in a litter of papers, bottles of ink, old-fashioned dip-pens, pen wipers and blotting paper.

The old man gestured to a pair of high wing-backed leather chairs.  Jack took the less worn looking of the two, surmising that the other was the one preferred by the old man. He was confronted by a beady-eye: it looked as if Thames was about to speak, but he merely hawked phlegm and casually projected it towards a brass spittoon.  Jack sat back into the chair, and made himself comfortable.  He truly hated waiting, but this was the game the old man seemed intent on playing, and so he bided patiently making mental lists, wondering where the package that he’d taken from the courier had ended up, but trying not to allow himself to get too distracted.

“Jack Runward, heh.  And what is it you are guarding secretly?  Or are you a secret guard? Eh?”  The questions, while spoken aggressively, were clearly rhetorical and so he ignored them.

“Because I’ll tell you what Jack, I don’t know why you’ve taken that name, unless you’re trying to leave your old friends behind you.  Answer me, damn your eyes!  Answer me! I’m dying, Jack, dying, and so are my daughters.  Some of them are already dead…” Sunken into his chair, the voice began to match the withered frame: ebbing and flowing, it died away into a snore.

Jack wondered what to do now.  He could probably find his way out, eventually, but without any sensible clothes, he’d likely find himself in a great deal of difficulty…his train of thought was derailed by the door opening.  Softly, a figure stole in and tucked a tartan rug around the hunched form, too small for the large chair.  Her clothes, too, were rather old-fashioned, what you might expect a widow to wear, a widow for whom times were tough.  The worn black dress, with a touch of black lace at the cuffs and on the shoulders, had been mended and re-mended.  Skillfully, without a doubt, but it added to the overall shabbiness of the garment.  Over the top was an even more old-fashioned apron, that had once been white.  It was clean, but appeared to be the embodiment of the word ‘serviceable’.

Checking that the old man was comfortable, she beckoned to Jack.  Jack hoped that they weren’t going far – the ill-fitting slippers were rubbing in places, but on the whole were over-large and threatened to trip him up.

“I don’t think we’ve- met, I’m Jack.”

“No, we’ve not met, but I know who you are Jack Runward.  I’d know you anywhere, I think.  I’m Coln.  I  don’t normally come this far East, but so many of my sisters are unwell that those of us that can have come to try to help.  Father is especially unwell of course – and no surprise with all the filth that is in the river.  It’s been coming for a long time.  Not that you care.”  This last was delivered with a baleful glare.

“I care.”

“You’ve got a funny way of showing it.  When was the last time you talked to any of us? You’ve gone over to the ephemerals.  And it’s just not good enough!”  As she said this, her voice built to a sobbing crescendo.  She hastened down the corridor, crying into her apron which she had pulled up to her face, to dash away the tears.

Jack hurried after as best he could.  She opened a door, and he followed, finding himself in a large kitchen with a wood fired range.  Encouraging Coln to sit at the long, scrubbed table, Jack found the kettle.  He asked where the tea leaves were, found the cups for himself and made tea. Coln had recovered by this time and she produced a loaf of bread and the remains of a roasted joint, from which she fashioned some sandwiches which in no way could be described as delicate.  They chatted.  Jack found out that Thames and his daughters believed themselves to have been abandoned.  They were confused, and didn’t understand what was going on.  They hadn’t really appreciated that there’d been a war – when Jack had mentioned the Germans, the Blitz, and all the proceedings of the last few years, it all came as a complete shock.”

“But those nice Hanseatics were here for ever such a long time!” she had exclaimed.

“I’m sorry, I hadn’t realised that things had got so bad.  I’ll do everything that I can, of course” Jack had promised.  “But you can’t just keep yourselves down here – you’ve withdrawn from the world, and that isn’t going to help anybody.”

She asked him about the War.  He explained, to the best of his ability.  And then he told her about what he’d been trying to do for the last few hundred years.  It was then it occurred to him that one of the last times that he’d come to see Thames, he’d left something behind, asking Thames to keep it for him.  He persuaded Coln to take him back to the study, but before they went she gave him back his clothes, which had been cleaned and dried, and then, whilst he quickly dressed, she went and got the package which he’d taken from the courier.

With some trepidation, he opened the outer wrapping. Inside, wrapped in oil cloth, was an item, perhaps a foot long, eight inches wide and two inches deep.  With a sense of foreboding he swore: “Hel’s teeth!”

 


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey

The 13.13 kiloHertz Intercept

With a start, he realised that he was looking at a code book, some dates, and a frequency: 13.13 kHz.

“About every 1500 million years this ball of radio waves will double in diameter; and it will go on expanding in geometrical progression for ever. Perhaps then I may describe the end of the physical world as one stupendous broadcast.”

Arthur Eddington

KTinkerbell had made good use of the few days that he’d had.  In addition to all the thinking and planning for Jack’s raid on the Ahnenerbe smuggling gang, he’d turned the safe house into a home – albeit a Spartan one – and he had added to its security.  For a start, he’d placed wards on the front and back doors, on the windows, and on the gates that led into the pocket-handkerchief front garden and reasonably sized yard in the back. Nothing too strong, mind, because it could be the wards themselves that drew the attention of the wrong sort of people.  Then, he placed watch sigils – discreetly – at either end of Seagull Lane, and in some other choice places that meant all the approaches were marked and there was good coverage of the whole area. Again, he was careful to make sure that these would not be so strong as to draw attention, and also that they didn’t of themselves form an obvious pattern with Hotel at the centre.  He drew a sketch of the locale on prepared parchment, and bound the sigils and wards to the map: if something triggered or tripped these spells, it would be indicated on the map.

Whilst he wasn’t as good at fading into the background as Billy – who was – he wasn’t bad at being unobtrusive, and so he took the time to reconnoitre the area, building on the picture that Charlie and Billy had painted.  A few streets away, he found a hardware shop: here he purchased, amongst other things, a shallow enamelled bowl.  There were those, principally people who didn’t have a clue who held that it should really be silver, but Tink was much more practical than most practitioners: whatever receptacle he’d found would have needed the same several hours of ritual preparations.  Another few hours preparing boiled water, again ritually (although there was enough left over for a rather nice cup of tea), and at the end of it all, he had the paraphernalia for scrying.  In a pinch, you could scry in a puddle of murky water, but it took some effort, and was rarely worth it.

Preparations complete, he went through some warm up exercises, trying to locate people that he knew.  As usual, he was completely unable to find Billy.  Jack appeared to be cleaning his boots (about time too) in his Mare Street garret, whilst her ladyship was in yet another tea room with one of her waifs and strays.  Tink always felt uncomfortable scrying on friends, but they were a useful touchstone, especially when he was out of practice.  From here, he tried looking at the street outside, and he practiced traversing his focus along the length of Seagull Lane and back again.  Finally, he reminded himself of the tips and tricks for scrying a location in darkness.

*****

Earlier, he’d briefed Jack and the rag-tag group of helpers that Billy had found for them, if you could call it a briefing: the plan lacked subtlety, and there were so many things that could go wrong.  He felt uneasy, and he’d told Jack so.  Jack had taken him seriously, but had asked what else they could do, and Tink had nothing to offer.

Tink had followed the raiding party in his scrying bowl.  Whilst perfectly proficient, especially having put the time in to warm up over the last few days, Tinkerbell wished, not for the first time, that he had more power and skill in this area.  He knew, and had worked with, adepts who were capable of keeping two, three, even four separate scenes in view at once.

Keeping a broad overview of the West India Docks, he saw Jack and his team taking up positions.  He saw the boat tie up at the quay that Billy had located.  Tink was no spotter, but he rather thought it looked like a Vosper designed Motor Torpedo Boat – how had that slipped into the control of the Ahnenerbe?.  He didn’t see the fire-fight start, but he saw the night, until then peacefully furtive, erupt into chaos and confusion.  He lost track of Jack amongst the debris of the bombed out docks.  He lost track of the other courier.  He bent all his will and effort to trailing the chap who’d snagged something from the ground near the dead smuggler.  He watched him beat a retreat from the compromised docks. He saw the man do his best to disappear into the night and head for the safe house as quickly but indirectly as possible.  As far as Tink could tell, he wasn’t followed.

The man had significant promise: rather than handing over the package to Tink face-to-face, he simply lobbed the briefcase over the back-gate whilst running past at full tilt. Tink waited, checking to see if anyone was following, and then, when he thought the coast was clear, he doused the lights and slipped out of the back door to retrieve the package.  Perhaps this evening wasn’t a total wash-out after all.

*****

Back inside, upstairs, at the table he’d set up in one of the bedrooms, Tink settled into a chair and pulled a metal case from the inside pocket of his jacket: it resembled a case for glasses, although slightly oversize.  He opened it and indeed there were a pair of glasses inside, although these looked more like the sort that an optician would pop on your face to assess a prescription.  In this instance though, instead of the single lens on either side that could be replaced in order to change the strength of the lens to suit the patient, here were three sets of lenses in series, which whilst obviously capable of being rotated, were not removable.

As Tink fiddled with the lenses, he remembered the making of them with Michaela.  This had been a defining moment for Echo.  Tinkerbell’s people had the knowledge of various invisible writings, but the moon-letters (he probably shouldn’t have mentioned them at that gathering in the Eagle and Child, but how on Earth could he have known that they’d have ended up in that children’s book) were perfect for their purposes.  Michaela had understood what was needed straight away.  Then it had simply been a case of getting the information to the Ahnenerbe without them suspecting.  Whilst they hadn’t used it for everything, the Ahnenerbe had taken to it with enthusiasm, and much of their plans had been a, heh, open book, to Echo.

Tink leafed through the contents of the briefcase making notes in his pocket-book.  With a start, he realised that he was looking at a code book, some dates, and a frequency: 13.13 kHz.  Radio was not one of his areas of expertise, but he was reasonably certain that this was in the range that was called Very Low Frequency, and that it was used, amongst a very few other things, for signalling submarines.

Rather pensively, Tinkerbell put the spectacles away again.  It was at this point that he received his second bad shock of the evening: the sketchmap of Seagull Lane and environs was starting to light up like a Christmas tree.  Multiple intruders were entering the area.  They’d clearly managed to track their quarry somehow.  Tink swore in a language unknown to the East End and red sparks grounded on the brass bedstead against the wall.  He turned to his scrying bowl.  Yes, he recognised some of the faces from his scrying of the docks earlier in the evening, and there were others, clearly forming a cordon.  Escape was going to be problematic, to say the least.

Tink’s mind raced furiously: he muttered a cantrip and a little speck of white light formed in the air.  It danced over the documents he’d been looking at earlier, the briefcase too, and settled on the code-book.  At a word from Tink, the speck of light became more orange, and landed on the paper.  Instantly, the paper flared white, and the Ahnenerbe Irminsul seal – a pillar-like tree-trunk – extended from the page in an angry red projection.  The light dissipated, leaving nothing but ash.  Out of the corner of his eye, Tink noticed that one of men converging on Hotel seemed to flinch at the moment of the document’s destruction.  Interesting.  Tink made sure that he’d recognise the man again.

Tink was reasonably certain that his future was now measured in minutes.  He flicked his scrying between two people approaching the front and back of the house.  He grabbed his bag from under the bed and shoved a few things into it – he’d kept everything close to hand.   He didn’t have time to be indecisive, but he really was between the hounds and the spears.  He could cross into Fae but, as an exile, his life would be forfeit.  He could stay here, to face what ever out-of-tune music the thugs outside could muster. There was a third option.  Beyond perilous, and with the risk that he would be lost from the World for ever.

He watched as the enemy, literally at the gate, produced bottles of something or other – presumably not brown sauce – and proceeded, on the one hand, to pour it through the letterbox and, on the other, to douse the back door with it.  Tink sent out little flickers of will in order to prevent the coming fire from damaging the houses either side – whoever lived there didn’t deserve to be caught up in this.

Realising with a start he’d not had time to share what he’d learned, Tink’s mind raced over how to pass on a warning.  Jack was missing…he’d never find Billy…it would have to be her ladyship. Hoping upon hope she’d understand, he rummaged around in his pockets until he found his little box of special matches.  He tapped the box delicately so that he could see the ends and selected one. Scribbling his message several times over onto a piece of paper, he tipped out his bowl. Rapidly tearing the page into fragments, he set light to them.

Having done the best he could, he set about re-filling the scrying bowl before drawing up a new scene.  One he was pretty certain the hounds outside would not know about.  He drew a deep breath.  Face Queen Mab? Out of the question.  Face the Ahnenerbe?  Given that they had gone straight to burning the safe-house down, it was unlikely that they would bother to talk to him before they tried to slit his throat, and there were just so many of them.  He fancied he could hear the sound of a lighter, but that was probably just his imagination.  He muttered a brief prayer, focussed on the image in the bowl and, as the flames began to lick at the stairs, touched his fingers to the surface of the water, so delicately that he did not break the tension of the water.

There was a flare of energies, coruscating electric blue and violet, enveloping the form of Cledwyn Cadwalader, former War-Chief of the Armies of the Fae, known to his friends as Tinkerbell.  When the arsonist’s fire reached the bedrooms of the two up, two down, they were empty.


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey

Welcome – AtoZ April, 2018

Hello!  Thanks for stopping by!  Fiction Can Be Fun is a writing project run by David (@breakerofthings) and Debs (@debsdespatches).   Normally, we each post a piece of fiction every month, run a writing prompt once a month and are the originators of #secondthoughts. #secondthoughts are reflections on writing, responses to writing and…well, take a look and you’ll see!

If you’d like to find out more/get involved, please do take a look at the ‘About’ page.

Our regular schedule has been superceded by #AprilA2Z/#AtoZChallenge: we’re doing a novella that plays out over the month.  Every day includes a prompt based on the Nato Phonetic Alphabet, so we kick off with A for Alpha.  We’d really recommend starting at the beginning as we got…enthusiastic…There’s also a summary of where we’re up to – look up there, no, top-right (for readers on their phone, you’ll need to use the drop-down menu) got it?

Normal (or at least what passes for normal around here) service resumes in May.

 

The Golf Club

Robert had suggested the Feldman, a small jazz club in Oxford Street.

“It makes no difference if it’s sweet or hot, just give that rhythm everything you’ve got. It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that swing …”

Irving Mills (music from Duke Ellington)

GIt was an awful bore of Jack to have tasked her with persuading the Department to cough up. Even though they owed the team for a few months now which was really Not At All On. Still, she preferred to be piddle-paddling around in her workshop rather than getting dolled-up to the nines. Ah well, time to break out her best Her Ladyship act and get it done.

On the off-chance, she’d called up Robert’s London flat from the booth in the Lyon’s Tea Room. Jenkins, Robert’s valet, answered in his slightly plummy voice and condescended to tell Michaela that “the Colonel is not, presently, at home”, but that “he would be willing to dispatch a message with all haste”. This probably meant that Robert was at his Club, but she didn’t want to assume too much, and so she agreed to ring back in twenty minutes.  She laughed to herself at Jenkins’ pomposity: Jenkins had been Robert’s batman, and the two had been injured in the same blast, and both these things meant that the valet felt he had some claim on the master.  Jenkins had lost an ear, and Robert had smashed a leg, which put him out of action.  Robert had started the war as a captain, had field promotions to major and then leiutenant colonel, before the explosion that left him in hospital for six months and driving a desk for the duration of the rest of the war.  He’d been frustrated to be amongst the spooks and their games, even more so that he was put to use more as a liaison between Bravo and the bureaucrats.  Still, it had meant he could see more of Michaela, whom he regarded as something of an older sister.

*****

The request to meet at Rendezvous Delta had cleaned away the cobwebs: whilst Michaela didn’t really do much in the field, she’d been taught the rudiments of tradecraft, and it had been fun to put that into practice.  She amused herself with nineteen and half minutes of trying to spot any shadows, losing any which might have been, before finding a random phone kiosk and ringing back.

To her surprise, it was Robert himself who’d picked up the phone.  He said he was glad she’d called, as he’d been thinking of her. Of course he’d be happy to meet, he was at her disposal. Would she care for an evening at the Feldman?

She wouldn’t, not really.  The problem was it wasn’t just about the money, but the influence of the department, even it had been reformed.  So she agreed to meet him at 9pm, which left her with less than eight hours to make arrangements.  She rang up her own house from yet another phone box, and gave her maid detailed instructions. Following this, she took herself off to the British Museum, to while away a few hours and to make some notes.  From here – usual precautions taken – she took a cab to her favourite London haunt.

*****

Her maid met her with the things she’d ordered, and whilst Lady Michaela would have liked longer, she had plenty of time to settle into her favourite corner room at the Strand Palace. She simply adored the art deco decor, it was both glamorous and exquisitely engineered. During the war, she’d had to forgo it, as they’d given it over to the Yanks. What was it they called it? Oh yes, R&R – rest & recuperation. Absurd! Our lads didn’t get anything like that. No wonder there’d been ever-present complaints of the American troops being overpaid, over-sexed and over here.

*****

Robert had suggested the Feldman, a small jazz club in Oxford Street. She remembered it being popular during the war with the American troops. Apparently it was the real deal and all the top jazz musicians queued up to play there. But jazz was then, and remained still, a complete mystery to her. Still, if that’s what he wanted, that’s what he got. And he did. He also got her, in a dress and heels no less. She’d been careful not to overdo the gems though, just the small diamonds – a narrow bracelet and clip on earings. But she’d had her hair and nails done, she was buffed, polished and fully made up. Even if it wasn’t her style, she knew she’d be turning heads tonight. They’d make a handsome pair. Even in heels he was taller than her and he had the same sort of classic English countryside looks that she did. They both brushed up well when they made an effort though, and this was going to be one of those occasions.

The doorman whistled up a cab and she was on her way.

“100 Oxford Street love, is it the ‘Golf Club’ you want?”
“Yes, that’s the one.” She used her most reproving voice: “The Feldman Swing Club I believe it’s called.”
“That jazz. Not my idea of music at all love.”

Tipping generously (but not extravagantly), she inwardly agreed with him, even more so as she’d had to endure him going on at great length about the intricacies of jazz.  Still, it had allowed her to mentally prepare. Robert – the Colonel – had virtually grown up on her doorstep, hence Jack tasking her with the chore.

There was quite a queue at the door, but the doorman spotted her and quickly whisked her inside. Leaving her fur at the cloakroom, she made her way down into the basement. She was greeted, identified and seated at Robert’s table in less than a minute, with a glass of bubbly (purporting to be champagne, but decidedly not) poured and placed into her hand in a trice. Looking around the Club, she noticed that she was somewhat over-dressed. But then so was Robert. It had ensured her rapid entry, so the effort had been worthwhile. They chatted amiably enough about this and that over the music and she agreed to dance to the slower numbers, insisting that her jive was utterly non-existent. He’d laughed and they used the time on the dance floor to talk about why she’d asked for the meeting.

She was uncomfortable on the dancefloor and not only because of the heels. She simply couldn’t get the hang of jazz rhythm and having to rely entirely on Robert leading the dance went against her very nature. He’d agreed wholeheartedly that the Department would pick up the tab once more but, nevertheless, needed a favour in return for him unblocking the flow. On hearing what it was, she’d prickled and tried to storm off. But he’d held on tight, whilst attempting to smooth her ruffled feathers.

“Honestly, I’m not asking you to do anything other than be nice. Attend some events. Be seen out with him. He just wants to get noticed as a man about town and, with you on his arm, he will be.”
“You give me your word there’s no more to it? That he has absolutely no expectations of me?”
“If there was, I’d have asked someone else. I know you too well to suggest anything of that sort. Look old girl, I wouldn’t ask, but he’s got some awfully useful contacts. The sort we really need. He’s happy to make the intros, and this is all he wants in return.”
“Hmmm… but why me? Did he ask for me by name?”
“No absolutely not. He’s too much of a country bumpkin to have any idea who you are! Sorry old thing, but it’s true. His older brother died at Arnhem and now his father’s dead, he’s inherited and he’s having to step up. He just asked if I knew anyone who could give him an intro into London society. And whether you like it or not, that’s something you can do. And you know I’m going to have a hell of a fight on my hands to get your team’s funds unglued, there’s still far too many in the department who hold those views …”

The words were left hanging in the air as they strolled back to their table. Sat there was a rather gauche-looking chap. Robert made the introductions before she could bolt, and she found herself struggling to get to know Bartholomew ‘Bunty’ Hargreaves.  It was too hard to talk over the jazz, so Robert bundled them all into his car for a rather rapid ride back to the hotel. Safely ensconced in the bar amongst all the butter-soft leather, polished mahogany and chrome, she’d encouraged Bunty to hold forth. And he did. At some length. On subjects of a most dull nature. Robert’s description of country bumpkin seemed to be spot on. She was going to have to give him some pointers if he wasn’t to bore London society to death. Suggesting Bunty give her lunch the following day, she pled a headache before leaving the gentlemen to their brandy and cigars.

Settling in to bed, she realised with a start that she had absolutely no intention of letting Jack, Tink and Billy know about this arrangement with Robert. Despite his assurances, it felt a touch … sordid somehow.


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey

The Foxtrot File

Knowing that Tink would help him plough through the papers and put together the File, Jack suggested they quickly stretch their legs in London Fields first.

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes

FSeeing his overnight bag, Jack had offered Tinkerbell a shake-down bed at the garret. Unusually Her Ladyship hadn’t put in a counter bid so, knowing that Tink would help him plough through the papers and put together the File, Jack suggested they quickly stretch their legs in London Fields first.

Knowing Jack’s idea of a ‘quick’ leg stretch, Tink told Jack he’d meet up with him at the flat in an hour or so. Hopping off the bus, he stopped for a paper to check if anyone else had made the same exit there or at the stop up the road. Re-assured, he headed for the Dolphin where he ordered a pint and a couple of rounds of sandwiches. Indicating a table in the corner at the back, Tink positioned himself so he could view the entrance over the top of his paper. The sandwiches were as he remembered them, great doorsteps of bread, sharp homemade pickle and a decent amount of filling considering – a proper, crumbly Caerphilly, that left him wondering (but not caring) if it was entirely legal. That disgusting brew and poncy biscuits her ladyship had ordered wouldn’t keep the wolf from his door for long.

Suitably refreshed and leaving his second pint virtually untouched, he nipped down the corridor, out the back entrance and then round the back streets, till he was a few blocks north of Jack’s flat. Waiting till he spotted a bus going south, Tinkerbell grabbed the opportunity to hop on board as it pulled away, leaving no chance for anyone to follow. Flipping his fare to the conductor, he tucked into the platform corner, indicating he’d be hopping off again soon. Squeezing his hat – a squashy, tweedy affair – into one pocket, he was pulling a scarf out of the other when fortune smiled – a couple of elderly ladies with shopping bags rang the bell for the next stop. Tink jumped up, offering to carry their bags. Leaving them at their door to grateful thanks, he went down the back streets again. It was easy to check for tails there before he ducked into the alleyway leading to the back entrance of Richmond Court. Using the key which Jack had given him, Tink pulled the door firmly shut behind him before heading up the stairs to find Jack waiting for him at the door.

Jack indicated the big sofa in the corner where Tink found pillows and a folded up mummy bag – it may not be luxury, but he’d be warm and safe here. It wasn’t long before there were papers everywhere. Knowing better than to interfere in Jack’s random system of piles, Tink had made tea while Jack muttered to himself, pulling out papers in an apparently random fashion to make two stacks on the floor. Taking a stack, Tinkerbell spread out across the dining table and was soon engrossed. To his surprise, quite a clear picture was building up, a pattern of people and goods coming in through the docks. But none – not one – of the people involved were known to the regulars, and they appeared to prefer acting under cover of darkness. There was the odd rumour of ‘foreigners’ but none of the dockers who’d tipped the wink to Billy could recognise what accent to any reliable degree. They also didn’t have the license to roam, nor to get to know the higher-ups. That’s where Frank had come in.  One crash course on shipping later, he’d taken a job with a new shipping outfit.

It was becoming clear to Tink that Jack and Billy had been working in tandem for the last couple of years whilst he and Michaela had been out of the loop. Tink’s stack held a small number of notes in Jack’s familiar hand, together with a few he recognised as being from Billy.  One of the notes indicated that Frank had picked the monicker ‘Foxtrot’ for himself. Tink wondered fleetingly if he’d received a ribbing over the choice.

It seemed Frank had been there a few months without spotting anything of interest when he noticed a fellow in the local cafe sporting a black eye and a split lip. Seating himself down within earshot, he started to build a reputation for himself as something of a bad lot who was looking to make a bit on the side. He made a point of expressing how frustrated he was with his current employers for being so straight. It took a couple more months till that same fellow’d started to walk carefully, like he’d taken a few blows to the body. Spotting his opportunity, Frank had sprung his trap. Suggesting they work an unofficial swap, he’d got his ‘in’. No fool, he’d bided his time and made sure he was only illegal in ways his new employers wanted him to be. He also made certain to never associate with anyone else on the docks again, so he got a reputation with his new employers for being both tight-lipped and reliable.

In his last note, he’d sent Jack a list of names to see if Billy had heard any whispers. There’d been nothing immediate, as per Jack’s reply. Then for a couple of weeks – nothing. He was seen around the docks, but no notes, no chalk marks, no flags indicating danger. Until he’d been pulled out of the water at the Isle of Dogs that is.

Tink summarised his findings so far before Jack – wordlessly – handed him the other stack – a much smaller one. These were a lot more sketchy – some were scribblings in Jack’s handwriting, but there were others in handwriting Tinkerbell wasn’t familiar with. There were torn out scraps containing what appeared to be the same phrase – those in English read “the Reich is at bay, but the Dance Continues” and Tink thought those in German said the same. There seemed to be one key document. One copy was beautifully lettered on high quality paper, but others were hand-written – personal copies presumably. Tink’s German was very sketchy, but someone – Jack he thought – had scribbled various notes/translations in the margin. From these it was clear a new Aryan seat of power was being planned, some of the copies referred to this seat as Prydain, others as Albion. Whilst different names for the same concept, Tink was disturbed by the use of the Celtic terms. Used to the idea that Hitler had considered the English a race he could work with rather than one to be eradicated, he wondered if Wales and Scotland were to be included or excluded. Realising he was going down a rabbit hole, he enquired of Jack …

“How long have you know about this?”
“I always worried it would happen. The evidence came later. Most of this I collected on my travels. Not all of these people are alive anymore and most have made good their escape to South America. But there are plenty more copies of this document out there, that’s something I’ve been told unequivocally by those whose copies are here.”
“Who are these people?”
“Well, that’s the big problem. As far as I can tell, the names are real. But none have turned up, in Germany or elsewhere in Europe. What photos I’ve been able to find have been blurry or show only partial faces. I’m assuming new identities, whether arranged in Germany or here I haven’t been able to establish. Some of the other intelligencers have been talking about absconded SS and Wermacht higher-ups who’ve had experimental surgeries to change their appearance…Whoever is running this show has excellent contacts. If it’s happening here, they’re probably using a lot of the old blackmarket hands – apart from military intelligence, no-one else has the skills.”
“But it seems unlikely they’d do it willingly?”
“Agreed. So unless they are doing it unknowingly, pressure is being applied. And as Billy’s hearing nothing, it’s not London-based. We’ve assumed this is where they’re bringing them in, but Foxtrot – Frank – was digging around to see if they had any ships running into the likes of Harwich or Hull.”
“So, who knows about this?”
“Apart from Billy, just you and me so far. I wanted to check your reaction to see if – even without the gatherings from my wanderings – there was enough to go to the Department.”
“You still think they’ll …”
“Haven’t they always? We’ve had to prove ourselves, and prove, and prove again. No reason to think that’s changed just because the war is over. We’d better fill her ladyship in sharpish. And she can update us on her efforts to get the Department to re-instate our funding.”


© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey

The Echo Memorandum

Michaela realised the first time that she had seen the Memorandum itself had been in another Lyon’s, not that far away …

Lyons report a total of between 800 and 900 Nippy marriages every year, claiming that the marriage rate among Nippies was higher than any other class of working girl and that the job was of course excellent training for a housewife.

Picture Post, 1939

ELady Michaela was desperately excited to be meeting up with Jack and Tinkerbell for the first time since the War. She’d known Jack for quite some time before working with him on Echo. They’d had some fun, even in the midst of it all and she was fond of both Jack and Tink, even if Tink could be a bit of socialist twerp at times. And of course there was dear old Blind Billy, a cockney toff if ever there was one. The old firm back together again. Obviously it was sad about Frank, who’d been a dear boy, but it was still exciting, even whilst she knew that it might have been her.

She sat in the Lyon’s Tea Room on Coventry Street, waiting for the others, stirring what she knew would be a rather insipid brew: rationing was still in full force and there were lots of things that still weren’t quite up to snuff.  Staring, absentminded, at the less than inspiring macaroon, she pondered on all the conversations these days that seemed to turn, sooner or later, to moans about the continuation of rationing: “is this what we fought the war for?”. In many ways she was rather glad that the good old Official Secrets Act bound her from explaining some of the things that had been going on behind the scenes.

It suddenly occurred to her that the macaroon was the exact same colour as the paper that the Echo Memorandum had been written on. She remembered the paper, which she had made herself and given to Jack as a present. It wasn’t quite Basildon Bond, but it was a lovely thick paper, and she’d been messing around with some treatments to improve the way the ink went down and stayed on it. In thinking about it, Michaela realised the first time that she had seen the Memorandum itself had been in another Lyon’s, not that far away, identical in decor, as they all were. It all came back to her in an instant.

*****

It had been a trip up to town to do some shopping – new clothes, some toiletries, sheet metal, brass bar stock, a few components that it was not really worth her while making herself. The usual. A curious chap had stopped her in the street.  One eye was covered by a black patch, giving him a somewhat piratical air but he had a lively, honest face, and a truly genuine smile. His one good eye was a curious shade of blue.  For some reason it seemed to her that his face, whilst cheerfully ugly, was full of kindness.

“Lady Michaela McManus?” He said in a voice which instantly placed him as from the East End, and as rather out of his way.
“That’s correct. What can I do for you my man?”  She was puzzled at how this one-eyed chap had managed to pick her out in the crowd.
He had a rather leathery face and it instantly creased into a million wrinkles as he smiled. She’d always wondered what people meant by smiling all over, and this, she suddenly realised, was what it was all about.
“It’s not so much wha’ ya can do fer me ya ladyship, as wha’ I can do fer you” and with this he proffered an envelope. She took it from him and saw that it had her name on it. The hand writing was crisp, neat, fluid without being florid, and she recognised it immediately. Reaching for her purse to tip the man, she realised that he had gone: the street was bustling but not excessively so, but he had managed to completely disappear in the time that it had taken her to read the envelope.

“Botheration!” she huffed, and was half inclined to stamp her foot – but this is not something that a well brought up lady does. She was tempted to stamp her foot anyway, but instead looked for somewhere to prop the parcel that she was carrying, currently one-handed, so that she could open the envelope.

Opening the note, wondering who the strange fellow was and why he was bringing her a message from Jack, she took the missive in with one glance. The note was brief, almost to the point of being rude. Lady Michaela was no great letter writer herself, usually keeping herself busy with other pursuits, but there were certain niceties to be observed, after all, and Jack had been off on one of his jaunts for the last year or so.

*****

Between the Wars, Jack had spent a lot of time wandering around Europe. He had a reasonable facility with languages, and wherever he went he could usually pick up enough to get by, or at least to find a shared language that made communication possible. He was mostly self-reliant and this reduced the opportunities to get into trouble, although it was some years before he ventured into Germany, or anywhere where being English might be problematic.

He’d started in the pine forests of Scandinavia, and immediately found the peace and solitude that he had been looking for. By degrees he’d moved eastwards. He’d liked Helsinki and Tallinn, and whilst not a natural sailor had even enjoyed the crossing between these two ancient cities. He’d had a glimpse of Russia, but had not managed to reach the ancient boreal forests: a hasty retreat had been required, and he’d ended up in the Balkans earlier than planned.

Lady Michaela had the run of Jack’s small estate, which was itself mostly woodland. He was lucky to have a good estate manager who listened to the one injunction, to look after the trees, but enjoyed the autonomy to manage the farms, brewery and a modest timber-yard, kept supplied by two gnarled old foresters who had absolute authority on what trees could be felled and when this might be allowed to occur. Lady Michaela herself had the use of a suite of outbuildings, which allowed her to indulge her hobbies of tinkering with things, smithing and generally being creative in a rather hearty way, without the gaze of disapproving relatives on her the whole time.

The letter started “Michaela”, which immediately put her on her guard. The only way that it could have been worse is if he’d been more formal:
Michaela,
Urgent that I speak with you. I need your help in a rather big way. How about I buy you tea? Meet you at the Lyons Tea Rooms in Poplar at half past three. Sorry it’s not the Dorchester, but I wouldn’t fit in there at the moment.
Jack
PS: Don’t mind about the messenger, he’s a good friend, and a good egg.

She had planned on getting back up to the country that afternoon, as there were a few experiments that she was eager to progress, but as she was rather peckish, tea did seem like a jolly good idea.  It was all quite vexing, though because she should see a perfectly good tea room 50 yards up Oxford Street.  She hailed a cab.

“Is yer shore, missus?” The cabbie asked when I told him where I wanted to go. “It’s not the Dogs, but tisn’t the best par’ o’ town.”

“Well, if it has a Lyons, it can’t be all that bad” she said brightly.  The cabbie harrumphed into his large, boisterous moustache, and they were off.  Lady Michaela amused herself by mentally listing all the faults with the engine, that she could detect from the various sounds the well-used Austin High Lot made as it drove her to Poplar.

Twenty minutes later and she was pushing open the door to the tea room having paid off the cabby.  A Nippy immediately swept up to conduct her to a table; she was about to explain that she was meeting a friend when Jack stood up and waved her over.  He’d had his back to her, so it was surprising that he’d seen her – until she realised that he’d deliberately placed himself so that he had a good view of the room, and in particular the door, in the monstrous Art Deco mirror that hung on one wall, without being obvious himself.

“Thank you for coming Michaela.  I’m afraid I need your help.” He handed her an unsealed envelope, and began to explain.

*****

It was the Spring of 1937 that he’d finally made his way to the Black Forest.  He’d been following his usual practice of spending as much time as possible in amongst the trees, when he’d stumbled across a natural clearing in the forest.  The clearing had been a hive of activity: an apt description as there was an obvious Queen Bee – or King Bee in this case – with a small knot of drones buzzing about to little apparent purpose, and a group of workers hard at it – but what was it?  It appeared to be some sort of archeological dig.  Jack could probably have melted back into the trees without being seen, but he was curious, and so he followed the path on into the clearing.  He’d barely emerged from the woods before he’d been spotted and the King Bee had dispatched one of his drones to intercept him.  He’d engaged in some desultory conversation, but the young man was giving nothing away: he escorted Jack, friendly but firm, around the perimeter, and then sent him on his way.

The inference was clear: don’t come back.  Jack’s curiosity, which had been piqued before, was fully aroused now, but going back was a hiding to nothing.  He continued on. He thought that there was a village not too far ahead and hopefully it had a gasthaus. That would be where the senior  people were staying.

He’d been right, and this was the first time he come across the Ahnenerbe.  But not the last.

*****

“So, can you get this in front of the right people, Michaela?”

“Possibly, old thing – if I knew who the right people were.”

“Robert might know someone?”

“I doubt it!  He’s only a subaltern!  Wait a minute though… I met some of Robert’s chums when he passed out from Sandhurst.  There were some old duffers there chit-chatting about this and that.  Most of them were quite stuffy, but there was a chap in a monocle who was venting about rise of the Nazi’s and the fact that we weren’t doing anything about it, and a much calmer crusty in civvies was making some reassuring noises and saying that he would look into.  He didn’t look much, but the chap with the monocle seemed to be assuaged – and he looked like the kind of person that really would take on a tide if he thought he were in the right!”.

“That’s grand.  Remember Michaela, this isn’t just about the Nazis and the Ahnenerbe. There’s more than just lives at stake – but you must never let on.”

And so she took the letter to Whitehall, to the father of one of Robert’s friends, who turned out to be exactly who she needed to talk to, a rather good listener, and much more important than even she had realised.  It was he who had dubbed it the Echo Memorandum – which had promptly been filed, until it came to mind again in the summer of 1940.



© 2018, David Jesson & Debra Carey