Site of the writer Andrew Wood

Sorry for the lateness of this installment. Here is episode four!

Episode Four – Assignment

Date: March 20, 1941

Location: Manchester

It was yet another dreary day in the city of Manchester – wet, grey and depressing. It felt to the locals like the thick shroud of Axis control was already upon them, especially with the harsher rationing and grip of fear hanging over them. Regardless of what was happening to their homeland, most of the residents kept themselves in high spirits – smiling, chatting, drinking and helping out the armed forces whenever they could.

In the centre of the city lay the British Defence HQ: an underground facility that spanned half a square mile underneath Manchester and housed some of the top brass in the British military. Guarded around the clock, it was a near impenetrable place with only two ways in and out.

The war room was dimly lit and smelled of cigar smoke and aromatic scotch, off-set by the faint whiff of freshly brewed coffee coming from the canteen nearby. Daas’s towering figure was hunched over a large map of Britain displaying locations of Allied and Axis forces across the country, ranging from infantry to artillery to tanks to ships and aircraft. He scanned the numerous figurines that were placed along the Commonwealth Line and then glanced at the known Axis forces that were slowly being added to. Allied forces were grossly outnumbered at least three to one; the gravity of that fact weighing heavily on Daas’s shoulders. He was one of the Generals in charge of the defensive operations that were relied on to stop the Nazi dead in their tracks.

‘Have the Nazi’s gained anything on the western seaboard?’

Skippie plonked a couple of Allied warships on the section of map where Daas pointed to. ‘They have tried time and time again to break through but a majority of our naval forces are stationed in that area and successfully kicking their ass!’ He raised a fist into the choking air in celebration.

Daas eyed Skippie’s hand and said nothing, instead turning his attention back to the map. ‘Eastern seaboard?’

‘The Scandinavian fleets are proving to be quite resilient in repelling the Nazis. They’ve surprised us greatly.’ He smiled and picked up a small ship representing some of the Scandinavian fleet and placed it behind the rest. ‘More ships were said to have arrived in reinforcement to help tackle the aircraft trouble.’

‘Good. That’s good.’ He massaged his forehead and picked up his glass of whisky, sipping it gently. ‘This stale mate is taking it out of our front lines, though.’ He nodded at the area just north of London. ‘We’re running out of man power fast. We’re relying on the Home Guard forces a lot now that we’ve had them properly trained and armed.’ He grunted and said something incoherent to himself. ‘If we’re not careful this is going to turn into a damn slaughterhouse!’ He pounded the table with his fist, making the secretaries and war room attendants jump out of their skins.

Skippie strafed around the table and put a hand on his friend’s shoulder. ‘Daas, I know things are dire at the moment but we mustn’t give in or let our frustrations take over.’

‘Oh please don’t pander to me,’ he growled back through clenched teeth, pain throbbing in his mind. ‘No… I’m sorry. We will push these bastards back and out of this country.’

‘You’ll be home soon enough, Daas.’ Skippie glanced around the room which was enough for everyone to resume their tasks and not stare for longer than they dared to.

Daas lowered his voice to a harsh whisper, barely audible above the din of the phone calls, typewriters and strategic meetings. ‘Where the hell are we supposed to get more forces? You can tell things are bad for the British when they give us direct control of things.’

‘What else are you to do? You were a General back home and they saw your abilities when you fled over here the other year.’

‘Like a goddamn coward, you mean.’   ‘Don’t think of it like that, my friend. You would’ve been killed otherwise if you had stayed, or even forced to work for the Nazis.’

‘God forbid. I’d rather shoot myself in the head.’

‘You did the right thing, believe me.’ Skippie smiled reassuringly.

Daas nodded and then sighed heavily. ‘I suppose we’d better get back to it.’

‘Excuse me, sir?’ A blonde haired woman saluted Daas and handed him a piece of paper covered with a decoded message. ‘A message from our defence HQ in Birmingham just came through. I think you’d better read it.’

Without a word Daas took the document and dismissed the woman with a wave of his hand. He took a few minutes to look over the message and then bit his lower lip.

‘What is it?’ asked Skippie.

‘A soldier was picked up near Cirencester after having been pursued by the Nazis and claims to have stolen the plans to the enemy’s next operation. Apparently it’s a move that they’re putting a lot of resources into.’

‘What about the soldier?’

‘A Frenchman who says that they don’t know he’d stolen something. He photographed them apparently.’

‘And?’

‘Our Birmingham HQ has confirmed the validity of the pictures and is in the middle of processing the information.’ Daas looked to one side in thought.

‘What is it?’ Skippie shifted his weight and leaned against the table, half sitting on it.

‘I just get the feeling this is too good to be true.’

‘Well you won’t know unless you investigate it.’

Daas mumbled something and began to nibble at his lower lip. ‘I suppose I could send someone to verify it. I mean, I’ve got a position of importance here.’

‘Send who exactly?’

‘Someone I can trust… obviously.’

***

Vaag threw his jacket onto the desk in his office and rubbed his face with slender hands. The fatigue of his last few days was catching him up, making it feel as if he was trying to outrun a tank after a sleepless night.

He ran his fingers through his thick hair and breathed out slowly, gathering some kind of strength from deep within himself. He would have loved to have been given an opportunity to get some sleep but a mound of missives and order sheets had piled up over the past couple of days. He eased himself into his leather chair and leaned back, closing his eyes just for a moment.

‘Lieutenant Vaag?’

He shook his head as his eyes shot open, quickly looking at the clock. He had lost nearly two hours; not what he wanted. He rubbed his eyes and face, secretly glad that he had gotten some sleep, and stared at the figure standing in the office doorway.

‘Shit… General.’ He darted to his feet and saluted Daas, who stood with a single piece of paper clutched in his hand.

‘How was your trip?’ he asked, assessing Vaag with a suspicious eye.

‘It was… fine, sir; anything to help further our cause.’ He balled up his hands and fought an aggressive urge.

Daas squinted. ‘I’ve got something new for you to look into, Lieutenant.’ He slid the paper across the desk, watching Vaag lean over and examine it.

‘Viable?’ he asked without looking up.

‘According to our Birmingham HQ it is, yes. But I want you to go and double check things for me.’

‘But this intelligence has already been confirmed by some of our best guys.’

‘I want to make doubly sure before I take any course of action. As you can see the Germans have no idea anything was stolen.’

‘Isn’t this a waste of resources sending me down there?’

‘As I said before, Vaag, I want it double checked.’

‘But surely they’ve already done more than double check it.’ Vaag’s voice was becoming tainted with two weeks’ worth of tiredness and frustration.

‘I’d also like you to interview the French soldier who obtained this info.’

‘Why me?’

‘Because I said so.’

‘Daas… I need some rest.’

‘Sleep on the way down there then.’

‘I meant like… a day off.’

‘There are no days off in war, Vaag.’ Daas sighed to himself, folding his arms tightly.

‘I’ve done a lot of shit jobs for you lately, Daas. I want a day or two off.’

‘Request denied. I understand you’re tired but I need you to do this for me.’

Vaag eyed his superior with a resenting look and finally sighed, averting his flaming gaze to the floor; silent.

‘Lieutenant Vaag I would advise you not disobey me on this.’

‘Was that a hint at a threat?’ His voice had turned into a growl.

‘How dare you accuse me of such a thing. I’d appreciate it if you would just oblige me and do this task I’ve asked you to do.’

Vaag bit his lip hard, resisting the urge to tell Daas where to stick it. After a minute of heated silence he locked eyes with Daas and nodded. ‘Fine I’ll do it. Straight to Birmingham… want me to call you when I get there? Or wait until I do the job?’

‘Whichever you prefer,’ Daas replied with a smile. ‘I’ll leave it down to you.’

‘Yes sir.’ Vaag grabbed his jacket from his desk and went toward the door.

Daas grabbed his arm and lowered his voice. ‘If you ever speak to me like that again there will be harsh consequences. Understand me, Vaag?’ His breath echoed his sincerity.

Vaag looked him in the eye, taking in the seriousness of his stare. ‘I understand, General.’

***

‘I reckon this beauty’s ready to roll again,’ the engineer called out as he performed one last adjustment to the tank’s exhaust.

Mac popped his head out of the top and pulled his goggles up onto his head, a wide smile on his cheery face. ‘That’ll do it, Al. Thanks a lot.’ He ducked back inside and gave the controls a once over, checking that they worked properly. ‘Perfect,’ he beamed. With a bounce in his chest he exited his tank and took a moment to step back and admire it. His Covenanter tank stood majestically in the middle of the service yard of Manchester’s defence HQ, the peeking sun glinting from its freshly polished hull. It was his lady.

A gunshot followed by a loud ping reverberated through the air, causing Mac to duck down. He swore loudly as another shot went off, a bullet bouncing off his tank.

‘No! What the hell you doing? I just had this thing serviced for God’s sake,’ he yelled before darting round to the other side, his face flushed with anger. He pulled to one side as another bullet whizzed past, again hitting his vehicle.

Mac glared at Vaag, flailing his hands into the air. ‘What the heck are you doing?’ he screamed. ‘Newly serviced tank? Polished? Does that shout out anything to you? Like STOP SHOOTING IT?’

Vaag grunted and tossed the pistol to the floor, angered at having run out of rounds. ‘Damn it!’ he screamed, kicking a nearby barrel over onto the floor. ‘Damn that bastard, smug-faced shit.’ He picked up the pistol and hurled it at the tank without any thought.

‘For the love of God stop it,’ implored Mac, switching his gaze between the tank and Vaag. ‘What’s wrong with you? You slept since you got back?’

‘Not much,’ Vaag mumbled through pressed lips. ‘Grabbed about two hours by accident earlier.’

‘You’re worked up over something more than a lack of sleep, I imagine.’ Mac folded his arms, carefully eyeing Vaag over in case he went mad again. ‘Who’s pissed you off?’

Vaag raised an eyebrow and a sarcastic look appeared on his face. ‘Hazard a damn guess, Mac.’

‘Daas again?’

‘Amazing how you knew that straight away.’

‘You’ve had many problems with him giving you all these things to do.’

Vaag huffed. ‘No chance for a rest or front line action.’

‘Which one you want more?’

After a pause Vaag laughed. ‘Rest… more than anything right now.’

‘You asked for that I presume?’

‘Obviously.’

‘And?’

‘What do you think?’

‘Sleep on the way there? That’s his standard response to everyone.’ Mac laughed.

‘He wants me to go to Birmingham HQ for God’s sake.’

‘What for?’ Mac walked over and stood beside Vaag.

‘Some intel about a Nazi offensive that’s more or less imminent.’

‘Can’t Brummy HQ verify it or something?’

‘They have.’

‘Then why are you going down there?’

‘Daas wants me to.’

Mac scratched his chin free of a spot of grease and mulled Vaag’s words over in his mind. ‘Sounds to me like he trusts you over them.’

‘That’s as may be but he can’t afford to distrust them in times like this, Mac.’ Vaag rubbed his face rhythmically with both of his palms.

‘That’s true… but maybe you need to do this for him.’

‘Have I not done enough?’ Vaag’s voice suddenly sharpened.

‘Well, yes, but this is maybe the major favour he needs from you before a big responsibility falls upon your shoulders.’

Vaag paused and exhaled heavily. ‘You may be right, but I’m not overly sure of Daas’s intentions when it comes to me.’

‘Maybe you should mull that one over when I’m driving you to Birmingham.’

‘You what?’

‘I’ll drive you all the way to Birmingham, don’t you worry.’ Mac smiled and walked over to his tank, patting it on the side.

‘In… that thing?’ Vaag pointed to Mac’s armoured behemoth.

Mac raised his hands in amusement. ‘Might as well go in style.’

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