I’m busily writing the sequel to The Remarkables, but thought I’d share with you all a chapter from it. It’s still a work in progress, so things might change by the time the complete story is published. Feedback, as always, is greatly appreciated.
© A. D. Elliott 2013. Do not republish or use any of the text without the permission of the author.
The town’s square looked peaceful, the very definition of ‘the calm before the storm’ thought Captain Celia Argyle as she sipped the last few drops of her coffee. Beyond the inactive fountain that marked roughly the centre of the French town there was a small group of German soldiers, apparently flirting with a couple of young French women. Neither the soldiers nor the locals looked more than twenty years old. Nor did Captain Argyle, but her appearance was quite deceiving. Whilst she may have passed for an eighteen year old, she was in fact hovering around her seventieth birthday (the counting of which she had given up on many anniversaries ago).
The waitress brought over a fresh cup of coffee, which Captain Argyle thanked her for in what she hoped was a convincing Normandy accent. She looked around the square once more to check that everyone was in position.
Sat on the steps of the town’s bank was her older brother, Ken. He was busily repairing his jacket, the cart that he was pulling abandoned beside him, its bulky looking cargo hidden by a grey sheet. Clive was nowhere to be seen, which was a relief to Captain Argyle as this was the longest that he had remained unseen for a few months, and she was acutely aware of the dangers of him doing so for such extended periods of time.
Jane was rocking a covered bassinet by a tree, with a look of contented motherhood that Captain Argyle knew that she longed for, her bright blue eyes as piercing as ever, even from this distance.
The last member of their team, Caspian, was on the roof of the town hall, where he had been waiting since the previous night. The red kite bird of prey perched on top of the pole from which was flying the Nazi flag indicated that he was ready for action.
Captain Argyle’s gaze lowered to the clock face below. 2.57pm. If the colonel didn’t arrive soon they would have to abandon their planned operation. What they had planned would undoubtedly rile the soldiers present, but for full effect they needed a high ranking officer to bear witness, someone who could report directly to the Fuhrer.
As Captain Argyle stared at the clock, she felt a low rumbled resonate through the ground, causing the metal table at which she was seated to vibrate and emit a tuneless din. She smiled to herself.
They had brought a tank.
She cast her gaze towards the road that led towards the chateau which the occupying forces had made their regional headquarters. Two soldiers on motorcycles led the procession, sweeping into the square and circling around it, each one taking a different side. Next came a truck, which had its own motorcycle guard, this time formed of four vehicles. A frown formed on Captain Argyle’s features. This was a greater force than they had anticipated.
The motorcycles mimicked the entrance of the first two by embarking on a parade around the square, this time in just a clockwise direction, travelling four abreast. Captain Argyle shook her head slightly, amused at the military’s need to show off their might in whatever way they could.
The rumbling was becoming more intense now, but there was still no sign of the expected tank. Instead there entered a very grand looking open-top black car. Seated in the back was a man in a uniform denoting his rank as a general. He appeared to be in his late forties, and looked somewhat bored. Beside him sat a younger man in the familiar black uniform favoured by the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police.
Captain Argyle risked a glance at her brother, and they exchanged a grin, both apparently pleased at the importance of their unsuspecting audience. Finally into the square entered the tank, a large and fairly modern Tiger model. The presence of such a heavy and formidable vehicle in a relatively safe part of France supported the information that Intelligence had gathered regarding the importance of the Colonel that sat in the car.
The vehicles by now had all assembled into the square, the tank remaining at the back whilst the car had been surrounded by the motorcyclists, the riders of which had all placed their rifles across their chests, fingers ready on triggers. The truck had parked on the side of the square that Jane was positioned, and from it emerged a dozen soldiers, each carrying their rifles. They ran across the square to the car and made a semi-circle around it, their weapons poised and pointed at the few locals that were present (most of the townsfolk were no doubt busy in the fields still).
The Colonel stood up and made a show of pulling his gloves on tight. The Gestapo officer was intently scanning the square. After a moment the Colonel cleared his throat and began to speak in fluent English, often the default language for many Germans who didn’t speak the language of the country that they were occupying.
“Good afternoon. It is my sad duty to inform you all that we have spies in our midst.” Captain Argyle watched the Gestapo officer to see if he had spotted anyone present that he might consider a spy. His gaze was still swinging about the square, his attention divided equally amongst each of those present in the square.
The Colonel continued: “There was an explosion at the munitions factory last night, which killed three of my men. You have one minute to show yourself, traitor, before we kill three of your fellow citizens. An eye for an eye, I think the saying goes.”
There was a murmur around the square as the words were translated to French for those that didn’t understand English. Captain Argyle received several suspicious glances from locals. She didn’t have to act much to not look guilty, after all it was Clive who had started the fire that caused the explosions; she had merely given the order to do so. She looked at the clock. Any minute now.
“You leave me no choice then,” the Colonel cried out. With a nod, the Gestapo officer left the car and marched over to the nearest civilian and grabbed him by the arm. A cold shiver went through Captain Argyle’s body: they had selected her brother.
She wasn’t particularly concerned for her brother’s well-being; it was more the reaction that his guardian angel may have to him being endangered so un-expectantly. She stared at the cart, wondering whether there would be movement. This worry also appeared to concern Jane, as she ran over to him, abandoning her bassinet and crying out in French. Captain Argyle couldn’t hear very clearly from where she was sat but it sounded like she was pleading for them to leave her cousin alone.
Jane grabbed hold of the Gestapo officer’s arm, who reacted instantly, hitting her cruelly with the back of his hand, knocking her back onto the ground. Two of the soldiers sprinted up and pointed their rifles at her.
The Gestapo officer laughed and continued to drag Ken towards the centre of the square and the fountain. Captain Argyle dropped a one Franc note onto the table and then stood up and followed a couple of elderly men towards the fountain. They passed nearby where Jane was laying on the floor still, her legs bent at the knees and resting back on her arms, her hands clenched into fists.
With a load click the clock on the town hall showed three o’clock. Upon the striking of the first bell Jane’s expression changed. The look of terror on her face (that was serving as a source of great amusement for the soldiers) vanished, and was replaced by a mischievous grin. Her hands glowed slightly as she and from them rapidly emerged a sheet of ice. Before the soldiers realised it was beneath them, Captain Argyle opened her hand slightly and released a gust of wind towards their legs. The soldiers flipped backwards and landed with a crack on the floor. The other soldiers whipped around and aimed their weapons at the innocent looking woman lying on the ground.
The Gestapo officer was also distracted by the fallen men, and for a split second released hold of his prisoner. Ken didn’t hesitate, and landed a blow to the officer’s solar plexus with his elbow, forcing him to buckle over. In a flash he jumped onto the top step of the fountain and thrust his arms towards the rest of the soldiers.
From his hands emerged a torrent of water with the ferocity of a burst dam, so strong that it knocked the remaining soldiers back several metres across the square. Jane leapt out of the way of the water before it hit them, before running towards the soldiers, her arms held out wide. A bright light was emanating from them, and as she approached the soaked men it turned the water to ice. Ken continued his watery attack and as it met the light from Jane the ice became thicker, encasing the men in a dense casing.
The Colonel by now had directed his driver to leave the square and with a squeal of tyres it started to turn, the two remaining soldiers leaping onto their motorcycles and following. The tank had also rumbled back to life, its turret aimed towards Jane and Ken. Captain Argyle pushed the elderly men out of harm’s way and sprinted towards the departing colonel.
Before she could reach him she was cut off by one of the motorcycles, which skidded into her path, the rider pointing his rifle at Captain Argyle and clicking the safety off. Captain Argyle raised her arms in surrender, but the soldier didn’t appear to acknowledge this gesture and moved as if to fire the weapon at her. Before he could though, a figure appeared on the bike behind him.
“That’s no way to treat a lady!” the newly materialised man said in an American accent, before knocking the soldier out cold with a hefty blow to the back of his neck. “Manners cost nothing!” he admonished to the limp body that fell off the motorcycle.
“You’re late, Clive!” Captain Argyle berated him, but the smile on her face betrayed any anger that might have been present in the words alone.
“Fashionably so,” agreed Clive, as he bowed theatrically. “Must dash!” he added mischievously before moving forward in the motorcycle’s seat. He blew his commanding officer a kiss and kicked the bike to life, before pursuing the fleeing Colonel.
As the Colonel’s car left the square, two more trucks appeared from around the corner, followed by seven more motorcycles. Clive swerved slightly at their appearance before vanishing into thin air, the motorcycle skidding away into the path of the truck, which braked impotently, failing to stop before running over the bike.
Captain Argyle ran towards her brother whilst watching the approaching motorcycles. The rearmost one skidded slightly as a figure appeared on the back of it, riding pillion. The rider turned in surprise, before Clive knocked him off the bike, sending him crashing into the tables in front of the café. Captain Argyle shook her head in astonishment at the creativity of this remarkable man.
Ken ran up to her, having stopped his torrent, and they were joined by Jane. The tank was rolling forwards, its large gun pointed at them.
“Any ideas?” asked Captain Argyle.
“Nope,” admitted Ken. Behind the tank a further two motorcycles and their riders had befallen the same fate as the first one that Clive had commandeered.
The top of the tank opened and a soldier emerged. He shouted at the three of them in German.
“What’s he saying?” Jane asked.
“Haven’t the foggiest,” Captain Argyle said.
“He looks cross,” Ken observed.
“Can’t imagine why,” Captain Argyle commented. A rapid succession of gunshots emerged from the entrance to the town square, as a light armoured vehicle entered the fray, its machine gun firing at Clive, who by now was riding on number four of the seven motorcycles. Clive swerved around the back of the truck, from which several more soldiers were disembarking. Before they could react to him he vanished again, causing the bike to skid sideways at the soldiers, knocking them down like bowling pins.
This enraged the tank commander further, who shouted “feuer frei!” before disappearing into the tank. There was a load click.
Captain Argyle reacted immediately and thrust her arms out sideways, blowing Jane and Ken through the air with a gust of wind. Without stopping she moved her arms down and launched herself into the air, just as the tank’s gun fired at where they had stood. The shell passed through the empty space before hitting the fountain behind. The metal statue on top was propelled backwards across the square, as the marble plinth on which it stood exploded into thousands of pieces of rubble and a cloud of dust.
Captain Argyle hovered above the tank, surveying the square from above. Clive had reappeared and was sheltering behind the first truck, whilst Ken and Jane were just disappearing into the café that Captain Argyle had been drinking outside of just moments before. The other half of the square where the town hall stood was shrouded in the dust from the destroyed fountain, but a dark shape could be seen moving quickly through it.
The tank’s gun was still pointed at where the fountain had been. The tank’s commander had re-emerged from within it and was shouting hysterically at the soldiers that remained, oblivious to the woman who was flying directly above him. He was in the process of directing some soldiers towards the café that Ken and Jane were inside, when he abruptly stopped and stared ahead.
From the dust that his tank had caused emerged a lone cow with red wavy hair and two long horns, walking slowly towards him. It ambled up to the tank before stopping about a metre in front of where the barrel of its gun ended. The commander laughed a demented expression on his face. He reached down and pulled out a pistol and pointed it at the cow.
The cow, Ken’s very own protector whom he had named Myrtle as a boy, grumbled in apparent dissatisfaction and thrust its head down. Before the officer could fire, the cow launched its head upwards. As it did so innumerable small rocks from the shattered fountain were thrust forwards, the smaller ones disintegrating into dust. As they reached the tank, it was launched backwards, its gun buckling in two under the invisible force. The tank was lunged several metres into the air before landing upside down on the ground just in front of the café.
The motorcyclists had escaped the blast and were beginning to flee the square. From behind her Captain Argyle heard a bird call out, and the red kite that was sat on the flagpole earlier swooped down towards the riders. It chose the one on the left and plucked him effortlessly off the back of the motorcycle, and carried him into the air by his left shoulder.
The bird carried the man up to Captain Argyle who smiled at the soldier. He didn’t seem to be able to decide what was more alarming: the flying woman or the small bird of prey that had lifted a man that weighed seventy times its own mass, from which he dangled.
“Good afternoon,” Captain Argyle said pleasantly.
The soldier emitted a noise which to her ears sounded polite, before he was carried off into the distance by the bird. Captain Argyle looked in the direction that the soldier was being taken, and saw the Colonel’s car on the road towards the chateau. She cursed to herself and headed back down to the ground.
The machine gun on the light armoured vehicle was firing all over the square now. Captain Argyle swooped down but as she did the gun swung up and fired at her. She just managed to propel herself back into the air before she was perforated by bullets.
Captain Argyle landed on a rooftop across from the café, exhausted by her prolonged period of flight. The cow had disappeared back into the cloud of smoke, and she couldn’t see Clive anywhere, but the noise of a motorbike alerted her to his presence. He emerged from behind the ruins of the tank and headed straight towards the machine gun. He was going so quick that he didn’t notice the Gestapo officer crawl out of the rubble past where he rode, staggering to his feet.
Captain Argyle leapt off the building and directed herself towards the limping officer. But she was too late. He pulled out a pistol, aimed it at Clive and fired. Clive was knocked off his ride and rolled along the ground. Before the officer could gloat though, he crumpled to the ground, collapsing under the weight of the woman that had just used him as a crash mat.
She rolled on the ground and leapt back to her feet, running towards her fallen comrade. Clive was lying on the ground, clutching his shoulder.
“Damn, he was a good shot,” Clive said through gritted teeth.
Captain Argyle moved his hand to assess the wound. It was bleeding heavily, the bullet having pierced him just below his collar bone.
“Is it bad?” Clive asked.
Captain Argyle smiled meekly. It could be a pneumothorax or ruptured subclavian artery. Or both “You’ll be right as nine-pence, don’t worry,” she said, her voice trembling slightly.
“That bad, huh?” Clive commented, clearly not convinced by her efforts to reassure him. “Ah well, could be worse.” There was a rumble of tyres in front of them. They both looked up into the barrel of the submachine gun. “Okay, now it’s worse,” Clive admitted.
The soldier operating the gun clicked a new round of bullets into place. Captain Argyle squeezed Clive’s hand.
“Cee, I-” Clive started to say.
Captain Argyle stopped him mid-sentence with her finger on his lips. “I do too,” she said.
They stared into each other’s eyes for a heartbeat, a brief moment that felt like a lifetime, waiting for their deaths. But instead on the sound of a bullet, they heard a strange hissing noise and screaming.
Looking up they saw that the armoured vehicle was beginning to corrode as if being doused in acid. The driver and the gun operator leapt from the vehicle, clutching their heads in their hands, running blindly towards the exit to the square. The tyres burst and started to melt, forming black pools in front of them.
Captain Argyle dragged Clive to his feet and led him away from the disintegrating metal. From the other side walked a young boy of about ten years old.
“Better late than never, huh?” Clive said to him.
“Sorry,” the boy said with an Indian accent, “I ran into some trouble in the town hall. You never told me there were soldiers there too,” he said to Captain Argyle, wagging his finger at her. Ken and Jane ran up to join them.
“That’s because I didn’t know,” she said defensively. “There’s a lot we didn’t expect today.”
“Well, at least things turned out fine in the end,” said Clive, as he collapsed to the ground.
“Good Lord, what happened to you?” Ken exclaimed.
“Someone shot me? The nerve of the guy!” Clive was gesturing wildly towards the unconscious Gestapo officer.
“I’ll take Clive to the hospital in the next town. They’re sympathetic to our cause; hopefully we can have him patched up without raising an alarm. Caspian, when Milvus returns have her take our friend there to the chateau; he was witness to more of this than the Colonel. We wouldn’t want any of our theatrics to be undocumented.”
Ken looked around at the devastation they had caused. “Yes, quite an impression we must have made.”
Myrtle trotted through the settling dust, past where the tank had landed. She nodded her head at it and made it spin on the spot.
“That’s my girl!” said Ken as he ran up to greet her.
Jane walked over to the bassinet which had fallen on its side. She righted it and pushed it over to them. Captain Argyle raised her eyebrows slightly, and asked her if she was okay.
“Yes, I’m fine,” Jane said. “I just want this war to be over with, that’s all.” She was staring intently at the empty bassinet; a dreamy look on her face which Captain Argyle knew revealed how much she wanted a child of her own.
“It’ll be over soon, I’m sure of it,” Captain Argyle said soothingly.
“It’ll be over for me any minute,” Clive said weakly.
“You’re right!” Captain Argyle said, and hoisted her arm over her shoulder. “Hold on tight,” she instructed and headed off into the sky.
Below her she could see the rest of her team start to prepare their retreat also, the bird Milvus picking the Gestapo officer from the rubble whilst Ken, Jane and Caspian climbed aboard the second truck.
Captain Argyle nodded to herself, hoping that the man in her arms, the man she loved, wouldn’t be the first victim to have fallen during one of the many missions she commanded. So far her team had suffered zero casualties; an extraordinary war record and another reason why they were called ‘The Remarkables’.