A Walk in the Park

It was a good day for snipers thought Napier. Cool, with crystal clear, still air. Not a day for hanging for about in the woods to meet a defector. However, Von Mierling had insisted, and when the prize was a Prussian Military Attaché you took your chances.
He nonchalantly adjusted his cap and glanced around noting the ruined hut at ten o’clock where Sgt Borrage and his men should be, and also to three o’clock where Lamplugh would be hidden amongst a pile of logs. He could almost feel Lamplugh’s sight drift over his right shoulder and up to his temple. The man gave him the creeps, but he could damned well shoot straight.
The bells at St. Mary’s College struck one, the still air making them seem much closer than they were. He checked the single violet flower stuck in his lapel and straightened his tunic. To anyone out for a lunchtime walk he would look like a nice young man waiting for his lady to join him. Or so he hoped.
A sudden taste of ozone preceded a shimmering in the air about twenty yards in front of him. Where before there had been empty space there now stood a tall man. Napier staggered back a few feet, his mouth open like a dead fish. If the  man wanted to surprise him he had succeeded.
The man was dressed in a tan tweed suit, polished brown brogues and sported a tan homburg hat which he was holding in his cream gloved hands as if he had just taken it off. The man smiled.
“You are Herr Napier I presume?” he said.
Napier nodded and pulled his hand out of his trouser pocket showing that he had his service revolver cocked and ready.
“Very dramatic Herr Napier and quite unnecessary” the man said. “I am Von Mierling, you were expecting me, yes?”
Napier uncocked the revolver but did not put it back in his pocket.
“I expected you an hour ago” he said.
Von Mierling smiled and spread his arms in what Napier could only assume was an apologetic gesture. He had obviously been a handsome man in his youth, but that had been blighted by what Napier could only assume was a sword stroke that ran down from his hairline, across his left temple, around his eye and ended at the side of his mouth. Nevertheless he maintained his obviously aristocratic bearing and was still in his prime. Napier would be sure not to let him get into arm’s reach.
“I was needed in the Ambassador’s office, so I could not leave when I wished” the Prussian said.
He walked towards Napier and stopped a couple of paces away keeping his eyes fixed firmly on Napier’s. He tilted his head to one side and seemed to appraise the British Agent for a moment or two. Apparently making up his mind he continued..
“You are younger than our photographs would suggest, and a little shorter too. I shall have to amend our files upon my return to the office” he said.
“You will not have that luxury where we are going today Herr Von Mierling. I have a carriage a few hundred yards to the north?” said Napier cocking his head in that direction. “Let’s get you into it before some curious dog walker wanders by”.
Von Mierling looked curiously at Napier. He obviously did not expect what Napier had just said. Then his smile returned, as if a sudden realisation came over him.
“You think that I am here to defect. That is not good. That is not my intention at all” he said sharply.
Napier was taken aback, and stepped a pace away from Von Mierling levelling his revolver at the man’s midriff. The Prussian kept his hands, one still holding his hat, well away from his body.
“I could not defect my dear man, I have a family in Vienna and responsibilities. No, I am here to give you some important information. Information that may stop our two great nations descending into a terrible war” he said, reaching into his inside breast pocket with his right hand.
There was a loud report and Von Mierling stopped moving momentarily before collapsing heavily to the ground, leaving a fine pink mist in the clear air where his head had been.
“Damn you Lamplugh!!” shouted Napier before he realised the exit wound was on the wrong side of Von Mierling’s head. A second report rang out and something tugged at the collar of Napier’s jacket. He dropped as if shot and lay very still with Von Mierling’s corpse between him and the possible location of the shooter. The Prussian’s eyes were wide with surprise and a pool of steaming blood was forming under his head before slowly soaking into the earth. Napier saw that in his hand was a brown envelope.
Suddenly there was the staccato thumping of the Maxim Gun in the ruined hut opening fire. About a hundred yards beyond Von Mierling a small copse erupted as branches, leaves and twigs were torn apart by the heavy calibre rounds. ‘Bless you Borrage’ he thought and sprang to his feet.
He stepped forwards, crouched down by Von Mierling’s body and took the envelope, tucking it deep into his tunic pocket. He also picked up the Homburg hat. Something had been bothering him about the hat and the way the Prussian had been holding it as he appeared out of thin air.
It was remarkably heavy and looking inside Napier could see an arrangement of crystals, wires and what looked suspiciously like a Tesla coil.
Two pffts! of dirt by his right leg told him that Borrage wasn’t managing to keep the sniper as busy as he had hoped. He set off at a loping run while bent double, changing direction every few paces as he had learned to do when being hunted by a Boer Kommando in ’93. Shooting at a running man is difficult, doubly so if you couldn’t lead your shot because he refused to run in a straight line.
Ahead of him on the path two Prussian Jägers appeared from behind a large oak. Their uniforms obvious despite the long nondescript coats they were wearing. Napier ran towards them with his revolver level. As one lifted his rifle to fire a red blossom appeared on his chest. A present from the hidden Lamplugh no doubt thought Napier. As the stricken Jäger crumpled the other was momentarily distracted by his comrade’s demise and that was all that Napier needed. He stopped dead, steadied his arm and fired. The shot went low but cut through the man’s left thigh causing him to fall to one knee. Despite the wound the Prussian worked the bolt on his Mauser swearing loudly in German. Napier’s second shot went straight through the man’s open mouth. He fell backwards, jerked a few times and expired.
A sound like a bee passing his ear at the speed of a Post Train reminded him that these weren’t the only Prussians on the field of play. He jumped over the fallen men, noting as he did that both were wearing curious brass bound leather cases on their backs, and swung behind the tree. He was expecting another soldier, but not what he encountered there.
A small handcart was sitting a dip behind the oak, and on the cart was a grinning man in wire-rimmed spectacles, a fedora and a long black leather coat. He seemed to be operating some sort of electromechanical apparatus.
“Hande Hoche Herr whatever your name is” Napier said pointing his still smoking revolver at him.
The man, still grinning, held his hands up. There was something really odd about the man’s cheerful composure.  Then Napier got one of his ‘odd feelings’. He took an immediate step to the left and where he had been standing was a thrusting bayonet. The Prussian with the fatal chest wound turned slowly towards him. Bubbling blood oozed out of the hole and the man’s face was a slack-jawed vision of horror. As he turned Napier could see that the case on his back was vibrating. Behind the Prussian his comrade was getting awkwardly to his feet, using his rifle to support his shattered leg.
‘What in God’s name was this?’ thought Napier as he leapt back to avoid another strong thrust from the dead Jäger who was impossibly advancing upon him.
To his left he could see the little man roll off the far side of the cart and out of view. The corpse thrust again. He wasn’t hard to avoid but if any of those powerful thrusts hit him he would be gutted.
Napier fired two shots in quick succession into the Jäger but with little apparent effect. Blood spurted yet the corpse kept coming, slowly, relentlessly. Napier was being forced back towards another large oak and running out of options when he remembered the hat in his other hand. He slapped it onto his head, knocking his own cap flying. There was a moment of dizziness then his vision cleared. The Jäger had stopped moving, it seemed to have lost track of him. It turned its head from side to side and then began to turn back toward the tree apparently having seen or heard something. “By Zeus and all his nymph’s I’m invisible” thought Napier, relief and joy flooding through his shaking body.
Then there was the sound like a clockwork toy train winding down and the disorientating feeling came over him again. The retreating Jäger stopped. Looked around and could obviously see Napier as clear as day. Beyond him the other Jäger had given up trying to walk and was crawling down into the dip with his bayonet in one hand dragging his shattered leg behind him.
A small object hit the standing Jäger in the back, it turned, bent down and picked up what looked like a smoking ball. Napier swore loudly and dived into the dip and behind the cart.
When his ears stopped ringing and eyesight returned to normal he found himself on his back looking up at Sgt Borrage. Next to him the cart was on fire. He rolled away from it and stood up.
“Grenade?” he said.
“Grenade” said Borrage with the blank smile of a professional NCO.
“Fire” said Borrage, still smiling.
“Fire?” said Napier.
“Yes Sir, your coat is on fire” said Borrage.
Napier screamed, pulled off his tunic, which by now was well ablaze, and threw it to the ground, stamping and cursing until it went out. He then crouched down by it and carefully extracted the smouldering envelope from the pocket. Very little was left except a Prussian Navy Emblem and two words “unter-see boot”.
So, he had a dead Attaché , two or possibly three dead Prussian soldiers, a wagon full of burnt junk, a very odd hat and a fragment of paper that was supposed to stop a war.
He hated Fridays.

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