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Thread: Clouds of Smoke

  1. #1
    Ja mata, TosaInu Moderator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default Clouds of Smoke



    Another short story from my part, set on the same date as Night Train - http://forums.totalwar.org/vb/showth...79-Night-Train, but in a totally different setting - and in a totally different country too. This is the first part of it, a mini introduction to the world of Horace, an intelligence service operative and a part-time detective to other benefactors.

    Part I below!
    Part 2, 3 and 4 coming up!

    Please enjoy the first part and as always, comments and feedback welcome!

    --------
    9th of December 1938, 19:00
    The White Club
    Mayfair, London
    United Kingdom



    "Tea, Sir?"

    The waiter came up to their table with a fresh pot of mint tea, a gentle refreshing smell swirling around their noses.

    "Yes, please. Pour some more in my cup but bring me a glass of whisky first. With ice."

    The waiter nodded. "Certainly, Sir."

    "Thank you Williams."

    Horace watched with curiosity as the young waiter sauntered away, walking gently to the backrooms reserved for the staff, leaving him with Lord Beckett in a wafting smell of expensive tobacco, a slight fog caused by that particular tobacco and a number of smartly dressed men relaxing in the red velvet chairs strewn across the smoking lounge. White Club was no stranger to these men - nor to Lord Beckett - and neither of them were strangers to each other. The ritzy club in Mayfair with its white stucco facade was built for men like Lord Beckett, rich, powerful and with a certain affinity for expensive tastes. Beckett, lazily puffing from his tobacco, joined the smoking lounge dressed in a dark three piece suit with his customary top hat, which he always left to the concierge rather than to the helpers manning the clients' clothing. His double chin peeked slightly over the edge of his collar, amplifying the gentle moustache he always kept in a rather French style. Bulging occasionally out of his shirt, Beckett was a man of fine tastes, always matching his dark olive eyes with the occasional green handkerchief. Horace gave Beckett a customary scan and noticed the absence of his wedding ring, something that struck him as odd. He never commented on what his benefactor was doing, but he couldn't dismiss the sense that it started to bother him. And quite significantly.

    Beckett gave Horace a curt smile, picked up the whisky from the waiter's hands and rose it towards his companion.

    "For your devoted service to my interests, Horace. And to your duty as a man of the services to the country."

    Horace nodded slightly. "Duly noted, Sir."

    Beckett sipped the cold, smoked whisky with gusto. He smiled to Horace, a wry smile, his eyes slightly narrowed and the wrinkles turned at the edges.

    "Any news for me?"

    Horace looked at Beckett, straight into his eyes. "Grave news, Sir."

    Beckett's eyes widened. "Something happened to her?"

    "Her, Sir?"

    "Yes, Mathilda!"

    Horace smirked. "No, Sir, not her."

    Beckett dropped the whisky glass on the table. "Spare me of anything else, Horace. Tell me about her!"

    "Sir..." hesitated Horace. "She is not of our concern."

    "Yes she is!" countered Beckett.

    "Sir, I beg to differ. Please, pardon my insolence but she is not out concern right now. Your mistress is second in importance to the news."

    "Horace, I am not hearing you."

    "Sir, not her."

    "I don't hear, Horace," replied Beckett, slapping Horace's knee to draw his attention. "Listen to me. Anything else can wait. Tell me about her."

    "Sir, we have grave reports of foreign spies acting on our territory."

    "I don't care, Horace."

    Horace groaned. "Sir, please."

    "Horace I do not care! I don't care! Tell me about Mathilda!"

    Horace drew to Beckett's face. "Sir, the spies..."

    "One more word Horace and I will have you stripped of your rank." Beckett reached for his whisky glass. "In fact," said Beckett between sips "get out of here and go watch over her. I want to know what she is doing. Anything else can wait."

    "Sir."

    "Horace, now."

    Horace smirked and looked sideways, realising he had no other choice. With one curt nod, and with his eyes fixed on Beckett, he rose from the velvet chair and exited the smoke filled room for gentlemen. From the walnut doors of the smoking room on the first floor he raced down a flight of marble stairs, saluted the concierge with a nod and exited into the cold Mayfair evening.

    And as he had expected, he was not alone outside the famous White Club.

    Three steps resounded from a black Cadillac parked just outside the club, revealing a burly man dressed in a grey three piece suit and a hat to match. The burly man drew up to him, took off his hat as a sign of respect and shook Horace's hand.

    "What did Beckett say?" asked Ryan, Horace's subordinate at the intelligence services. A joyful Irishman, Ryan O'Hara was the local strongman, assigned to do Horace's duties whenever he could not. And the more particular ones too.

    "Ryan, if I lie to you right now, what would you do?"

    Ryan laughed. "Alright then. So I guess he said nothing."

    Horace turned to his Irishman and looked him straight in the eyes. "He said nothing, but I will. I'm sick of this and I want to resolve it now. I'm going to have a chat with that woman and I'll find a way to get rid of her nicely."

    "Rid of her?"

    "Nothing will happen to her, I just don't want to see her any more."

    "And if she tells Beckett?" Horace stood silent, raising his eyebrow slightly. "All right, in that case, all good to go."

    "Get your men here. I will have a talk with her but I want you guys to be ready."

    "For?"

    "For anything that happens."

    Ryan shrugged his shoulders. "Really Horace? Anything can happen. The war can start in five minutes and I can view this as something of a foreshadowing of yours. Mathilda can shoot you in the leg and then you tell me you expected this. Or maybe Beckett wants to find himself another mistress, who knows!"

    Horace smirked, looking around the empty street. "Get your boys ready, and stay inside. Tell the concierge you are waiting for an important call."

    "And you are off to?"

    "To Mathilda. Just by the Court Road my friend."

    Ryan placed a hand on Horace. "What exactly are you doing?"

    "Having a chat."

    "Armed with 2 pistols? That's what you call a chat?"

    Horace balked. "You have fifteen men waiting for your orders."

    Ryan laughed. "You give the orders, not me."

    "Good. Then we have a plan. You stay inside and wait for my call. If all goes well, no need for you and the men. If not, you're going to have to rescue me off a building on Court Road that is literally full of foreign agents spying for different countries."

    Ryan shook his head. "And why shouldn't we come with you?"

    Horace loaded his engraved .45 Colt, hiding it underneath his suit jacket. "I'd rather deal with this alone. And I don't want Beckett anywhere else than this place."

    "Why?"

    "Don't ask questions, Ryan."

    "Beckett and staying here." Ryan paused. "If I didn't know you better, I would say you're planning to throw Beckett under the bus to the intelligence teams."

    Horace smiled. "You know Ryan, sometimes you're not that bad."

    Ryan grinned, taking out a cheap cigar from his back pocket. "This is Beckett's, but it's those cheap ones he gives as gifts. Still good." Ryan lighted the cigar, puffed from it with gusto and then smiled. "Not a bad one."

    "Keep an eye on him. I'll be back in one hour."

    ----

    Feedback welcome.

    Last edited by edyzmedieval; 03-30-2017 at 23:39.
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  2. #2
    Ja mata, TosaInu Moderator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default Re: Clouds of Smoke

    Part II.

    ----
    8:45 PM
    Court Road, London
    United Kingdom


    For more than twenty minutes, Horace kept his eyes fixed on the entrance of that red-bricked block of flats, a typical English working class building down by the infamous Court Road. In it's heyday, Court Road was the average working class neighbourhood. But as the country grew, so did the neighbourhood. It was no longer the quiet neighbourhood it once was, particularly in the restive Friday and Saturday nights. Now that the threat of war was looming, spies from all places gathered around in quiet London neighbourhoods to do their work. From the intersection with the Circus, which was behind Horace, the whole street was lined with small houses or small blocks of flats, no more than three stories high, with exterior railings that dubbed as stairways for whenever it was needed. It took him no more than a fifteen minute drive from the White Club, a casual stroll in his nimble Citroen Traction Avant he got as a gift from Lord Beckett. He was after all looking for Mathilda
    now.

    Horace narrowed his eyes and scanned the cars down the street. By chance, one of Ryan's men gave him a vital piece of info, simple happenstance as the man walked by just as Horace was about to leave. Mathilda was no longer alone in the apartment she owned on the second floor. Horace smirked. He made a mental note of that detail and holstered the Colt pistol underneath his suit jacket. He got out of the black Traction Avant and gently closed the door, careful to make as little sound
    as possible, just as a gust of wind slapped his face. Taking one last glance around the empty street, Horace casually strolled down to the block. The four storied building had a simple wooden door entrance with horrid cast iron railings by the stairs, about as ungainly as an abandoned house. Horace slid inside, his polished patent leather shoes touching the red carpeting that blanketed the stairs.

    "Good, no noise," he whispered to himself.

    He gently went up the stairs and slid to the edge of the dark brown door where he knew Beckett's mistress lived. He was about to knock on the door when he heard the shouts booming from inside.

    "I knew it! You're seeing someone else, aren't you? I knew it! How much did it take for that to happen, how much time? 6 months? How long have we been married? Not a lot it seems, and it looks like you've been marrying me just so you can have someone to impress!"

    Horace narrowed his eyes. He had no idea who the man was, but he was sure this was Mathilda's apartment so the idea of her being married added to the difficulty of the whole Mathilda affair. He didn't have much time to think it over when he heard the woman scream in terror as she struck some sort of object, causing a chorus of other sounds of breaking objects to follow suit. The man screamed at her again, echoing throughout the stairwell of the block.

    Horace breathed. He had to act before someone noticed him.

    Using a small silver clip attached to his jacket pocket, he slid it inside the golden lock of the apartment door and fumbled his way until the lock clicked with an audible sound. Horace gently opened the door, sliding sideways inside the apartment, closing the door behind him just as stealthily as he opened it. The apartment in itself was not large by any means. A small hallway from the door, if it even was a hallway, led directly into a large room that dubbed as a bedroom on the left side and a living room on the right side, with a small bathroom just beside by the door. The room was split into two sides by a sliding door.

    And at the bottom of that sliding door, with her back against the wall, stood Mathilda, gazing in horror at the man that towered above her with his arms pointed at her.

    "Six months we've been married, six months, and all you did was use me!" yelled the man, clenching his fists as close to her face as possible. Horace couldn't see anything but his back and the uniform the man wore.

    Beckett's man would have wanted the man to stay attentive to Mathilda, yelling at her as hard as he could, but it was Beckett's mistress who gave him away as she noticed his presence. The husband turned, almost by instinct when he noticed Mathilda's expression change, glimpsing Horace's silhouette as the Englishman approached him. For a couple of brief moments, they analysed each other, weighing their options as they faced a stand off in Mathilda's living room. Horace faced a rather tall, handsome husband, dressed in a black military unifom with golden tresses on the right shoulder and a small airplane insignia on the left hand side of his chest. But what drew his attention was the symbol on his left arm, the symbol embroidered on the uniform. The man was a foreign spy. And Mathilda most probably fed him the secrets Lord Beckett gave to her while drunk.

    Before Horace had a chance to react, the man leaped at him and smashed him against the living room wall with such force that the Englishman thought his bones had broken into fine pieces. The man did not stop, smashing a fist into his ribcage and a subsequent jawbone punch that nearly knocked Horace out. Horace crashed sideways onto a small padded chair, struggling to regain his composure. Before he managed to do the man took him by the suit and threw him accross the living room, sending him crashing into a wooden table. Horace's crash destroyed the table into the pieces, collapsing him on the ground right at Mathilda's feet.

    But the angered husband was not done.

    The man leapt at Horace and lunged for his neck, an ill timed move which Horace easily deflected with a parry and a strike to his opponents' jawbone. Before the man could parry back, Horace reached for his pistol and slid it out of the leather holster, drawing it enough for it to threaten his opponent. Angered, the man leapt once more at Horace, ignoring the obvious threat of the Colt pistol directed at him. He lunged straight for Horace's arms, trying to block the pistol, only to make matters worse as the men struggled on the floor.

    Two shots rang out from the Colt.

    ----

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  3. #3
    Ja mata, TosaInu Moderator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default Re: Clouds of Smoke

    Part 3. Last part coming up after this.

    Enjoy!


    ----

    9:25 PM, 9th of December 1938
    Court Road
    London



    Twenty minutes, that's all it took for them to notice and for Horace to see them.

    The two shots from the Colt hit Horace's assailant in the right thigh and the right lower leg, neutralising him long enough for Horace to grab Mathilda and rush out of the apartment in a chorus of subdued wails. They took refuge inside the Traction Avant, by now flanked in the front and rear by two cars that Horace presumed were from the locals. The two cars masked his Citroen, allowing him to observe from a relative distance the problem that just occurred. He didn't have to wait long. Twenty minutes, that's all it took.Four men rushed out of a revving car straight into the apartment bloc, bringing out Mathilda's lover in their arms. Horace and Mathilda tucked underneath the dash as the car revved away just as angrily as it had arrived, leaving them alone with the silence of the neighbourhood. Horace breathed a sigh of relief, just as Mathilda did beside him, but he had other ideas.

    Before Mathilda realised what was going on, she found herself pinned against the door of the Citroen, a chromed Colt pointed towards her head. She screamed in horror but Horace anticipated her ill-timed reaction, sliding his hand over her mouth to cover her screams until they dwindled down to short bursts of sobs and wails. Horace glanced at her, her green eyes sobbing gently, his Colt still pointed at her.

    "Who are you, Mathilda? Were did your husband come from in this picture?"

    "I... I had to."

    "You had to what?"

    "I had to. I had to do this. And I had to marry him."

    "You had to? Since when?"

    "Four months ago. He came to London."

    Horace smiled. "So you were married before, no?"

    Mathilda nodded, looking meekly at the Colt. "Can you please put it away?"

    "No."

    "Does Lord Beckett know about my husband?"

    Horace shrugged. "I don't know, go ask him. Or maybe I can tell him."

    "Please don't! Whatever you want, we will do it."

    Horace sighed. "I only care about one thing, and you better tell me the truth. Who is your husband and what have you fed him from Lord Beckett's drunken nights with you?"

    "Put the Colt away and I'll tell you."

    Horace's eyes widened. "You know what this is, all right. That's not a good sign."

    Horace glanced at her, then at the mirrors. The street was empty. He slid the Colt back into the holster attached to his vest.

    "I'm listening, Mathilda."

    Mathilda hiccuped. "He's a double agent. He spies for you guys but he's also employed by the Nazis. Officially, he's an air force officer, and from a old noble family. Unofficially, he's a double agent, specialised in industrial espionage and telecommunications. He's been touring the country in the past two months, visiting every single industrial centre that you have and even the ones under construction."

    "Industrial centres. Economic or military?"

    "Both."

    "Did he get inside?"

    "Sometimes, yes. He's playing double, so he's gathering info for them based on what he feeds your superiors. And based on that, he has access to many places, which gives him the chance to feed back to the Nazis who employ him."

    Horace glanced incredulous. "He got access to sensitive factories?"

    Mathilda nodded. "Yes, he did. I never believed this because I thought it would be impossible but he has a way of sending secret messages back to the Nazis that at this moment are not decipherable."
    He gets info which he feeds to your superiors and in turn they gave him access, thinking he's one of them. As for those messages, I'm at a loss how they work but they cannot be deciphered."

    "As in, they are encrypted?"

    "Yes. Some sort of machine, I don't know much about it."

    "And as for Lord Beckett, did you give your husband any information?"

    Mathilda hesitated for a moment. Her eyes went down and she simply nodded.

    "Why?" asked Horace.

    "To keep my husband away from me. He suspects that I have feelings for Lord Beckett, and that I intend to turncoat on him, so I keep him bribed with information that Lord Beckett sometimes slips to me when he's drunk or happy."

    Horace ran his hands over his face in despair.

    "So Lord Beckett is a leak to a potential enemy."

    Mathilda frowned. "Wake up Horace, they're not potential. They're an enemy."

    "How come they do not know about your husband being a double agent?"

    "They do, Horace, they do."

    "What? How?"

    "At a reception in the honour of the Nazi ambassador three years ago, Lord Beckett and a number of other fellows were introduced to my husband who quickly contacted them afterwards and became a double agent."

    Horace blinked. "And they bought the version of his story, just like that, in a couple of weeks?"

    "Yes, they did."

    Horace ran his hands again over his face.

    "Why didn't you turn or spy? At least this we don't know yet."

    "I didn't. I have feelings for Lord Beckett. I don't know what you think of him Horace but he's a very gentle fellow with me, a real elegant man."

    "And you repay him with fantastic loyalty, Mathilda." Horace clapped in front of her, the irony not lost on her judging by her immediate frown.

    "I do what I can, Horace. Just like you do."

    Horace growled. "Enough of this chatter. We've got a serious problem, or at least I do right now, and you will have one in a matter of minutes."

    Horace fired up the 4 inline engine of the Traction Avant, gave it some gentle revs and left the Court Road neighbourhood in the direction of the White Club. Uneventful and peaceful, neither of them spoke throughout the drive, with no one to follow them. They arrived at the White Club with Ryan and his men waiting just outside the entrance. Horace stopped the Citroen, beckoned for Mathilda to stay then exited the car in a chorus of salutes from Ryan and his men.

    "Aye boss, you good?"

    Horace pointed to the car. "You've got a package inside the car. Take care of it until I come back down in thirty minutes."


    Before Ryan realised what the package was, Horace entered the White Club.

    ----

    Last edited by edyzmedieval; 05-01-2017 at 01:26.
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  4. #4
    Ja mata, TosaInu Moderator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default Re: Clouds of Smoke

    Part III, final part, of the short story. Please enjoy.

    And as always, feedback welcome!

    ----
    10:30 PM
    White Club
    Mayfair, London
    9th of December 1938



    Horace placed his hands gently on the bar counter.

    "Where's the chief?"

    Martin, a rather burly bartender with a thin French moustache, gave Horace a curious glance. The bartender was washing the glasses, cleaning them meticulously with his hands running on every single inch and side of the crystal objects. He smiled to Horace. Martin knew better than to simply point in a direction or another in such a setting. With a curt smile, he dropped his head slightly downwards and to his left, indicating the little tables that stood by the edge of the staircase that led to this second floor of the White Club. There were eight tables, most of them with two plush chairs each, but only two of them were occupied. And one of them was occupied by Lord Howe, the chief of the intelligence services and Horace's very own superior.

    Horace led a five pound note to Martin and strutted with swagger towards Howe's table. He gave a warm smile and shook Howe's guest' hand and then saluted in a military fashion Howe himself, who smiled widely at the . Almost bald, but with two piercing emerald green eyes, Howe was of a tall stature and always fitted in three piece pinstriped suits. That was his own trademark and no one else around the White Club could match it or even imitate it. Howe smiled and rose his whisky glass, a touch of liquid swirling around the clear ice poured by Martin earlier.

    "Horace! What a pleasure!"

    Horace smiled. "Good evening, Sir. Please excuse my rather direct approach, but may I please request your presence in the Ivory Saloon in approximately five minutes? I say that this is of the utmost importance."

    Lord Howe rose a thin eyebrow, placing his whisky glass on the wooden table. He brought his palms together and glanced at Horace.

    "May I ask why, Horace? This is private duty after all, we're not at our offices."

    "Sir, private duty is of no matter now. This is public duty."

    Lord Howe glanced at his guest then back at Horace. "Very well Horace. I trust your judgement, I see you have a sense of urgency. But may I remind you this better be worth the time. I shall see you in five minutes in the Ivory Saloon."

    Horace bowed and left Lord Howe with his guest.

    ***

    Ivory Saloon, as it was labelled on the ivory-coloured door, had some connection to the ivory trade back in the old days but the saloon now was all teak wood, some marbling on the supporting colonnades and above all, a massive fireplace in the midst of it to bring warmth and cosiness to the guests. It held an oval table in it's midst with eight chair, two of them at each "top" of the oval. The "top" near the fireplace was empty but on one side, to Horace's left, stood Lord Howe, flanked by Lord Beckett, and on the other side stood Howe's guest, a bookish man at around forty years in a red suit jacket and two men clad in black suits which Horace presumed worked in the intelligence just as he did. Howe's guest in fact was a member of the House of Lords commissions on internal matters, which made all the more sense. From the other "top" of the oval, Horace brought his hands together and made a sweeping gesture.

    "Sirs, I thank you all for coming. Lord Howe, Lord Beckett, Sirs, I have called upon you all to discuss a matter of grave importance I have recently found out." Horace made a pause for effect. "It concerns Lord Beckett."

    Howe turned to Beckett. "What have you done, Beckett?"

    Beckett shrugged. "I do not know, Sir. Maybe Horace here will care to enlighten us." Beckett pointed towards Horace as he spoke, shooting an icy glance when he finished his words. Horace nodded in return.

    "Yes, Mr. Beckett, I understood that ugly glance. It concerns your mistress, should you be so interested to know about this."

    Beckett snorted. "My mistress?"

    "Yes, Mr. Beckett, your mistress. The English mistress you have been dallying with in the past months is in fact a German lady with a husband who is part of the enemy services. Matter of fact, during your drunk escapades into her arms, all of the info that you have slipped to her without wanting, or perhaps wanting, has been regularly conveyed back to the enemy lines. She married this man because it was imposed on her, but you had no idea and yet somehow all of the information was leaking to our foreign spies. Your dalliances with her are of great concern to us because of the information leak."

    Beckett slammed a hand on the table. "Horace, your mouth. Keep it sealed."

    Howe swished his hand. "Go on, Horace. Beckett seal your mouth or else I will."

    Beckett growled underneath his moustache but could not say anything more.

    "Mr. Beckett has been seeing Miss Mathilda for approximately four months, during which he has requested that I keep an eye on her at all times when I am off duty. I will not avoid the subject of that. Mr. Beckett has been most kind as a benefactor for me to earn more than my regular salary. However, my concerns about Miss Mathilda, despite them not being my business, have not been taken into consideration despite them being no longer a private duty but rather of public interest. I repeatedly told Mr. Beckett to be warned about her, to not say any private information to her, but it seems that it had

    Howe cleared his throat. "How did you find out, Horace?"

    "Mr. Beckett ordered me to follow her, but I had had enough, so I went to her apartment to inform her. Turns out her husband was there. He attacked me when he saw me and the fight for my pistol turned into two shots. They hit him, but he survived. Four men came to pick him up twenty minutes later."

    Beckett rose to his feet. "You shot Mathilda?"

    "Her husband, Sir."

    "Beckett! Sit!" growled Howe.

    Beckett sat down in a chorus of mumblings.

    "Where is the husband?" asked Howe.

    "In a hospital in London."

    "And Mathilda?"

    "Outside, in my car, under close guard."

    "Where was this?"

    "By the Court Road, Sir."

    Howe narrowed his eyes. "This happened in the middle of London?"

    Horace nodded. "Yes Sir."

    "That's all that happened between you and him?"

    "Yes Sir. I spoke with Mathilda afterwards, after I had taken her from the apartment and into my car to protect her. It was there that she told me everything, but I still have my doubts."

    Howe flicked his hand. "Doubts on what, Horace?"

    "She's not telling the whole truth. Mr. Beckett told her some confidential information because apparently her husband has been roaming around the country with access to all sorts of factories and industries that pertain to our own national defence."

    Howe ran a hand over his face in despair. He stood like that for a couple of moments until Martin entered the saloon with a piece of paper in his hand. He bowed to Horace and showed him the scribbling.

    "The man is fine Sir."

    "Thank you Martin."

    The bartender exited, leaving Howe and Beckett fuming but for different reasons. Without any expectation whatsoever, Howe rose from his chair and tapped Beckett on the shoulder.

    "Four men heard this story. You better come up with a good defence in Parliament, Beckett." Howe left the table and headed for the door. "Horace, you've got minutes to go downstairs. I will see you at the office and I need all of the details. Including Mathilda."

    Horace could only nod in acceptance.


    -----

    This is the end of the little short story. I hope you enjoyed it and as always, feedback welcome!

    Last edited by edyzmedieval; 05-20-2017 at 01:28.
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