A shot in the dark

There can be few things finer in life than watching your nemesis burn, thought von Stroheim. He struck a match and lit his pipe, taking a few long puffs before turning to his loyal Feldwebel Krieg.

“You have set fire to all the exits Krieg?” He enquired.

“Jawohl Oberst” replied Krieg. “And there are Jägers covering each side of the building”.

The man was obviously out of breath having run all round the former King George Boarding House pumping flame into every door and window. Count von Stroheim stepped back and indicated that Krieg could stand at ease.

So I can finally strike Sir Allan Quatermain off my list, he thought. All I need now is to catch up with his bothersome niece and then onto Curr. He reflexively reached over and gripped the prosthesis where his left arm had once been. I will settle accounts with you Curr, soon enough he thought. This short trip to Mombasa was proving to be quite rewarding.

At that moment an explosion ripped the face off the building. The two Jägers standing closest to it were immolated instantly. Though Krieg and von Stroheim were far enough back to withstand the blast they were peppered by bits of glass and wood causing them both numerous superficial cuts. The blast also blew out most of the fire.

Count von Stroheim laughed, unnerving his Feldwebel. “A fitting end for you Quatermain!” He shouted.

A moment later there was a loud crack from the house and a Jäger to von Stroheim’s left collapsed, a red mist appearing where his head should have been. The Revivifier on the Jäger’s chest began its chorus of chirps and thuds, but even that piece of arcane technology could not bring back a man with no head. A second later another Jäger collapsed headless.

“Mein Oberst!” bawled Krieg and pushed him flat as a third crack came from the house. Count von Stroheim felt no pain so he started to try and crawl towards an irrigation ditch a few yards to his right. However, he didn’t seem to be making much progress. Then he noticed that his prosthetic left arm was lying about two meters away. That verdammt Quatermain had shot his arm off!

He felt large hands seize him by the back of his trousers and his right shoulder. Krieg hauled his master like a log and threw him into the ditch following him a moment later. In that time two more Jägers went down. One headless the other shot clean through his Revivifier and his chest.

Jägers from the other sides of the building were now returning fire, but they had no idea where in the building their enemy lay. The Count knew when he had lost the advantage. It was obvious that the old dog had some dynamite in the building and had taken the enormous risk of trying to blow his way out. Maybe Africa did look after the man as his legend claimed.

He didn’t risk a backward glance over the edge of the ditch, but with Krieg’s assistance he made his way out of sight and back to his reserve platoon. There to board his armoured steam wagon and head back to the port.

If he had looked the sight would have dismayed him. Sir Allan Quatermain strode from the wreckage, his clothes still smouldering, and calmly loading and firing, mopped up the remaining six Jägers, ignoring their increasingly desperate fire. One did manage to revivify, but was instantly downed again, a shot from both barrels of the smoking Rigby cutting him in half.

Quatermain then strolled down to a hut a hundred yards from the wrecked building, kicking von Stroheim’s metal arm aside as he did so, and dictated a short message to the terrified telegraph operator.


All he had to do now was find a horse…


Two tickets for a exhibition…

“My master bids you a good day and asks if he might view the closed section of the exhibit?” said the elderly fellow in the fez. Behind him was a well-dressed, yet swarthy young gentleman.

Sir Gerald Carstairs felt unaccountably anxious. He wasn’t sure if it was the unusual nature of the request, the unsettling stare of the young gentleman, or the attempted break in the night before. He pulled himself together. After all this was not the way the Keeper of the Queens’ Collection in the British Museum should appear.

“What was the name of your ‘master’ again sir?” he enquired in a voice that was much calmer than he felt. He nodded politely at the young gentleman who smiled back.

“Prince Akhenaton of Tangiers, from a most ancient and noble line I assure you.” said the man in the fez.

Sir Gerald looked at him directly. The fat man had introduced himself as Professor Abdul Abul-bul-Abir of the Topkapi museum in Istanbul. He had actually been there a couple of summers ago but had no recollection of meeting this academic before.

“Well please tell his royal highness that once we have completed our repairs he shall be more than welcome to enjoy a personal showing of the Egyptian Room, but that at the moment it would neither be seemly nor safe to do so.” Sir Gerald had regained most of his composure now. Having had a running gun battle between some thugs and his Guards the evening before he was in no mood to acquiesce to some foreign potentate right at this moment.

The Professor turned back to his patron and began explaining to him in deeply obeisant tones what Sir Gerald had just said. Sir Gerald listened intently because though the language felt familiar it was most definitely not Arabic, Farsi or even Turkish, all of which Sir Gerald was fluent in. Then it hit him, the Professor was speaking medieval Hebrew, how very strange.

The Prince stepped around his servant and thrust out his right hand. Sir Gerald looked at it for a moment and then grasped it firmly, pleased that at last he seemed to be making these johnny foreigners understand. The Prince reached up and gripped Sir Gerald by the right shoulder and, looking deep into the startled Keeper’s eyes, said three words “Amon-Tet-Kep”.

The next morning when the Consulting Detective completed his examination of the still paralysed Sir Gerald he theorised that the poor man was frozen with an unaccountable terror, and that if this should continue much longer his heart would undoubtedly give out. His constant companion, an ex-army surgeon, began preparing a large syringe of morphia, which he explained would release Sir Gerald from his current awful condition.

“Anything of value taken?” asked a deep, yet womanly voice.

Inspector Coleraine of The Yard looked up into the violet eyes of Lady Helen Quartermain, self-appointed guardian of the Museum. God he hated that woman. She wore trousers, cut her hair boyishly short, smoked Turkish cigarillos and carried a C96 Mauser under her arm in some new-fangled holster. If she wasn’t Sir Gerald’s ward and a third cousin to the Queen he would have thrown her out by now.

“Just a few trinkets, a brass beetle brooch and matching bracelet” he said shortly.

“Ah the scarab regalia of Nefertiti” she breathed and, stubbing out her perfumed cigarillo, stood up and made for the main doors.

“And where do you think you’re going?” said Coleraine exasperated.

“I’m going to round up my boys and go hunting a Pharaoh” she said. She then turned on her heel and strode towards the lobby. As she passed the Consulting Detective she grinned and exchanged a wink.

Lady Helen will return soon…

A French connection…

Dubois stood under the gas lamp at the end of Mile End Road smoking an awful English cigarette. From here he had a clear view down to the lodging house. To a casual observer he looked just like any of the thousands of injured ex-army veterans who had flooded London following the disastrous Afghan campaign. He leaned heavily on his crutch and lit another cigarette from the first, coughing at the acrid taste of the smoke.
Up the road a way was a hot chestnut seller doing a brisk trade. Sat behind the vendor on the steps of a boarded up terrace were two more men sharing a bottle of gin. Dubois smiled, he had schooled his ex-Legionnaires well. The chestnut seller was English, well an Ulsterman to be precise, and the other two were Germans. All had served France for their twenty-five year term and now they served Le Cabinet Noir, France’s secret intelligence service.
A slender woman with auburn hair stepped out of the lodging house opposite the trio and into the gathering gloom of a London evening. She carried an umbrella and wore a long, nondescript coat. From her attire she could be a Governess or perhaps a lady’s seamstress. To Dubois’ trained eye he could see the armour-padding in the coat and the bulge under her left arm where her shoulder holster was. No-one else emerged with her, so obviously she had decided to go out without her usual coterie of brigands. Dubois nodded to Kohl and Bergstein and they stood up and embraced each other, leaving the bottle on the step.

The woman looked left and right before descending the six steps to the pavement, slipping carefully around the two ragged children sleeping huddled against the railings. She smiled and erected her umbrella as if expecting rain. Then she swung it in front of her just as Kohl fired all six shots from his revolver at her. Dubois was astonished as all the shots pinged off the umbrella as if it were made from Lyons steel, then he noticed the electric blue sheen on it. Merde! She has one of those damned English inventions he thought.
As planned the Ulsterman had opened the back of his little cart and was throwing Dreyse carbines to his comrades. Kohl broke right and Bergsten left. Meanwhile their target had abandoned her magneto-static shield and dived behind a coal cart that was passing between her and her attackers.
For a few seconds the three mercenaries tried to get a clear view of their quarry, but she seemed to have completely disappeared. In the distance Dubois could hear the shrill whistles of Policemen attracted by the gunfire. He waved furiously at his men and they threw down their weapons before hurrying off into the traffic, going separate ways to confound pursuit.
Dubois turned to hobble away and straight into the barrel of a Mauser C96 Machine Pistol.
“I think that you might like to start explaining why an agent of the 3rd Republic and three Legionnaires are attempting to assassinate a British Lady on the streets of London Monsieur”. The French was perfect with a slight Marseilles accent.
Dubois slowly straightened from his crippled guise, letting the crutch drop to the ground, and stared directly into the violet eyes of Lady Helen Quartermain. She continued pointing the weapon at his face. Not the safest target, but certainly the most intimdating.
“Good Evening Mademoiselle, how very nice to finally meet you” he said, trying not to allow the shock of her sudden appearance affect his voice.
He noted that she was dressed in trousers, a worn military tunic and had her hair tucked under a cap. He glanced left and watched as a couple of toughs helped the woman in the coat down from the coal cart. He laughed at the simplicity of the ruse and his own arrogance in thinking that it would be this easy.
He looked back at Lady Helen who was also smiling and putting her Mauser away in its holster. She knew she was safe. No doubt half the men on the street were hers. What he couldn’t fathom was why he and his men were still alive.
“Wondering why you are still alive?” She said with remarkable prescience. He nodded.
“For a start I am not the murderous harlot you have no doubt been led to believe.” She smiled again. “Also I have been wanting to talk to you for a some little while to discuss the Toulouse incident.”
“Forgive me Mademoiselle, but your activities in Toulouse would indicate that you are a murderer.” He shrugged.
She put her hand inside her tunic, momentarily making him start, and drew out a silver cigarette case. She opened it and offered him a slim cigarillo. He accepted and taking out a match lit both. She drew heavily on her smoke and then her voice turned more serious.
“Toulouse was a sodding mess. I had been seeking to have an ‘interview’ with that rat Mitterand for some months but he had eluded me at every turn. Then I heard through a contact that he would be visiting one of his many mistresses on the Rue des Sauvages.” she said.
“You mean Deputy Mitterand of the National Assembly. A well respected politician and industrialist” he said. She gave him a look that made him wish he had not interjected.
“Alois Mitterand was a rat. He had sold me out in Algiers and was about to sell his country out to the Society of Thule.” she said through gritted teeth. There was an uncomfortable silence and then she resumed.
“The man was a scab on the backside of France Dubois. I shall give you the papers on this later, but for now just accept what I am saying, after all it is the reason you are still alive.” she said.
Up the road the Metropolitan Police had arrived in force. They were talking to several people and examining the weapons abandoned by the chestnut stand. Lady Helen, released her hair from its captivity and shook it out before stepping forwards and slipping her arm through Dubois’ before turning and walking slowly away from the scene.
Two constables were pounding down the pavement towards the scene directly in front of her. She laughed, gripped his arm tightly and placed her head on his shoulder. He patted her head and laid a little kiss on it. The Constables ran by and down to the scene of the crime. A few hundred yards further up the street they stopped and Lady Helen let go of her ‘beau’. For Dubois it was like waking from a daze. He could now see why this slim young thing was so dangerous.
“Anyway Mitterand obviously tried to pull the same double cross on the Society as he had on me in Algiers. However, the Society are less, shall we say, ‘forgiving’ than I. Mitterand was already dead when I arrived and all I could do was mop up the remaining Prussian agents before they set the whole building ablaze.” she said.
“An enchanting tale Mademoiselle, but what evidence do you have for any of it” said Dubois, his head now completely clear.
“I have the plans that Mitterand was going to sell to the Society, and the Prussian’s counterfeit Francs they were going to use to pay him for it. I could have sold those plans on myself, but instead have held onto them until I could ferret you out.” she said.
A large man approached the couple from an alleyway. In his hands was a briefcase which Dubois immediately recognised as being the type given to high level civil servants in the French Ministry of War. He took the proffered case and glanced inside it.
“By all accounts Dubois you are an honest man, so here is everything we acquired that night.” she said. She then pulled a folded slip of paper from her tunic pocket and handed it to him.
“Here also is the address in Paris where we have held the only survivor of that night, Mitterand’s accountant. He is pretty certain that Mitterand had friends in your office in Toulouse which is why he is so scared that he has cooperated fully with my men. You will have to move quickly as my chaps will leave him tomorrow. The rest is now up to you.” she said.
Lady Helen then rolled up her hair and tucked it neatly back under her cap. Without another word she turned and walked towards the alley. From here it would be an easy shot he mused, but he doubted that his hand would reach his revolver before several of her men shot her down.
If what Lady Helen had said was true she had just moved the gun sight off her back and onto his. Suddenly he felt very, very alone…

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.