"Don't you send them on a lot of trips, dear?"
"Possibly. They need to keep busy though. Not very good at sitting around."
"I know" Phyllis sighed. For she did know, as only the wife in a childless marriage could. How her dear husband would throw himself into work, or encourage her love of travel, or suddenly indulge in a mania for a sport he'd never cared for before. How many times had he merely nodded in resigned understanding when she'd rolled out of bed in the grey morning light, away from him and warmth and comfort and onto her trusty bicycle and to work? How many times had he stood helplessly by as she cuddled a warm brick to her aching womb, scared to sip at the tea he'd painstakingly made her?
Those days were behind them now, thankfully, but he would still throw himself into work sometimes, and she herself was no layabout. So yes, she understood when he justified sending Bigglesworth and his team off yet again by saying it helped them.
She could easily imagine it did. A recent month in Cannes had been particularly enjoyable.
"Cannes was nice" he agreed, and she flushed and laughed,
"You're as bad as Sherlock Holmes! I never said anything about Cannes!"
Her husband looked smug but had the humility to blush as well.
"You started playing with your scarf, dear." Sipping his tea, he added “I’m glad you like it." The Raymond’s were relatively well off but a silk scarf like the one Mrs Raymond was wearing was a luxury only affordable after some modest winnings. "It's wonderful" his wife smiled, running the smooth fringe through her fingers, "and just perfect for tea this afternoon. Don't be late, please dear. I want to have a proper tea with my husband and our friends."
"Don't worry" her husband smiled, "there's nobody looking to steal state secrets at the moment."
"I should hope not" her prim disapproval was at odds with the laughter in her eyes. The two of them teased each other often but woe betide anyone who suggested Phyllis didn’t have a lovely, caring, husband. "I'll be there. Just one meeting this morning." finishing his tea, Raymond stood, kissing his wife's forehead fondly. "Have a good morning, won’t you." He left before she could find out their trip to Cannes had been more than just a short break for the two of them.
"I'm off to see the old man" Biggles announced as they climbed the stairs to their office "you chaps go on ahead."
"Sure thing chief!" Ginger chirped, bounding up the stairs with a bright grin. Algy and Bertie followed more sedately, Bertie stopping at their little gas ring to put the kettle on to boil.
"What do you think Raymond wants?" Ginger asked, crouching to open their safe.
"I don’t know" Algy admitted, “but it probably means we’re going to be sleeping away from home for a bit." Ginger nodded, counting the number of spins under his breath. "We really need to break that habit" Algy murmured, not unkindly, as he sat down at his desk and pulled a buff coloured folder in front of him. "If you have to open a safe and someone is trying to break in, they’ll hear that a mile away"
"I'm not saying the combination" Ginger grumbled, pausing at the penultimate number to talk.
"Maybe not but it’s a bad habit all the same. All it takes is for you to say '40, 2, 3' instead of '1, 2, 3' and there’s a number for you."
"You’re taking all this very seriously all of a sudden. What’s got into you?"
"You can never be too careful" Algy said, vaguely.
Bertie interrupted them with a tray of steaming mugs. "Here you go chaps. Now we just have to wait for Biggles."
Algy took the mug with a murmur of thanks. "I think we should prepare instead of wait. Can you ring through to Smyth, please Bertie, and get a report? Find out what birds we can have. Ginger, go and get some maps and charts of Europe and while you’re down that way look in at the radio chaps, see what’s happening with that coded whatsit they were talking about. It could be useful"
"Right oh!" Ginger pulled the top two files from the safe and handed them to Bertie. "You can finish these when you’re done" he grinned cheekily, heading off and leaving his mug behind.
"I don’t know why I bother" Bertie sighed, moving Gingers’ cup to his desk and placing the files on his own carefully, "we never seem to finish our drinks."
Algy, one hand curled lazily around his tea and the other fiddling with his pen as he read a memo, grunted sympathetically. The office slowly settled into quiet readiness.
"Ah, good morning, Bigglesworth" Raymond began, nodding at the pilot, "I trust you are well?"
"Thank you Sir" Biggles murmured, carefully, almost as though other such queries had deteriorated to some uncomfortable mission in the past, "and yourself?"
"Well thank you. As well as can be expected given we have a family gathering today." Raymond fingered his double-Windsor self-consciously. His tie was even more staid the Biggles’ today, and it was clearly causing him some distress not to have his usual knot of colour in a casual half-Windsor. “Very smart, Sir.” Biggles approved, content with his standard Victorian in staid grey. “Well I didn’t call you in to talk about ties” Raymond grumbled, “I need to give you another mission. Don’t distract me.” Biggles sat, notebook on knee, attentive.
“Some time ago” Raymond continued, “we received information that there’s a new gang trying to muscle in to the market here. They deal mostly in high-end products. Artwork, precious gems, original manuscripts, that kind of thing. It’s all highly specialised. Of course it’s very difficult, usually, to clear those goods for sale if they have been stolen. As you are aware, something of that nature would gain much publicity if it were reported as stolen. Our sources tell us that many of these goods are being used as collateral either in high-stakes gambling or as blackmail payments. Naturally they wouldn’t be reported when it could become common knowledge that their rightful owner had been blackmailed or cheated at cards. It’s all rather clever. However, no matter the ingeniousness of the plan, it cannot continue. The sorts of people who own these things in Britain are not the sorts of people we can allow to have blackmailed. Most of them are involved in Government work and many of them have access to classified information. Are you following me so far?” At Biggles nod, he continued, “I want you to go to Cannes and find these people. We have some names and identities but we need their logistics chain. More things are coming in here than ever before. They seem to be going through Christies at an increasing rate; they may have someone there working for them. We need to see how they’re moving things into the country. Focus on that. We have other people who can see how they’re obtaining their goods in the first place.”
Raymond glanced down, running a piece of paper between index finger and thumb. “I have a list of contacts here. Note them down and get everyone to memorise them. I’m sure between you you’ll be able to get on with everyone. Maybe it’s time for Lissie to ease the cogs of social interaction.” Biggles swallowed an undignified sound as he heard Raymond inadvertently quote something Bertie himself had said some time ago. “Yes, Bigglesworth?”
“Nothing, Sir. Just…my pen slipped.”
“Well, make sure you get it all down.” Raymond returned evenly, clearly not believing his subordinate at all, “let me know when you can leave. Let me know before 1400 thank you.”
“Sir.” Biggles stood, clicking his pen lid on with a small snick. Raymond nodded and turned back to his desk as the pilot walked out.
“Alright chaps” Biggles looked around as he entered, comically confused at the empty room. “Where is everyone?”
“What am I, cut glass?” Algy retorted, looking up from his paperwork.
“You’re my world, old boy, but you’re not the whole team.” Biggles murmured, regarding Ginger’s cold mug with distaste.
“Ginger’s down checking on that new encrypted radio, and Bertie’s just left. Something about a man and a dog.”
“So he won’t be long, at least.”
“No. He spent so long waiting on the phone that he drank more than his fair share.” Algy grinned, shaking his head and finishing his own tea. “Where are we going?”
“Cannes.” Biggles perched on his companion’s desk as Algy raised an eyebrow.
“Yes, all of us. I’ll tell you the details when the others get here but we’ll need an operations base set up there, and we may end up doing several things at once.”
“Well, it’s a start at least.” Algy admitted, closing the file he’d been working on. “When do we head off?”
“There’s no rush. Probably in a couple weeks. We need to tell Raymond today. He’s leaving at 2, some nobby function or other. I think we spent five minutes talking about his tie!”
Biggles smiled, watching as his partner finished his drink and stretched, fetching brown tie lounging lazily inside his waistcoat. “So long as it isn’t making his eyes more arresting than mine, he may wear what he likes.” Algy stated, magnanimously.
“Who can?” Bertie asked, coming back just in time. “Hullo, Biggles.”
“Raymond.” Algy replied, “Biggles was just waiting to fill us both in.”
“Go and see if Ginger can join us.” Biggles told Bertie, “it’ll save time.”
As soon as he had gone again, Biggles settled once more on the edge of Algy’s desk, one leg swinging freely. “I know we had talked about taking furlough….” He opened.
“Don’t be silly, Biggles.” Algy nearly snapped, “Cannes will be a good break. Besides, we’ll be together on the 14th. That’s the main thing.” Biggles nodded, smiling thinly.
Neither of them were usually this open at work but then again they’d tested the soundproofing of the room and found that the old walls made normal conversation entirely inaudible from right outside the door. This didn’t prevent them from talking in hushed tones. “I’m looking forward to it” the older man admitted, a little sheepish.
“Me too.” Algy smiled up at him for a moment before clearing his throat. “Pass me that readiness report Bertie has on his desk?” Report received, he flipped it open and tapped his lips with the lid of his pen a few times before starting on a clean copy, cross-referencing it with the up-to-date copies of the maintenance logs which occupied a substantial part of their bookshelf. He worked in silence for a while and then looked up. “If there’s truly no rush then we could wait ten days and take two aircraft across, which would give us options. The Auster and then the DC-6 can come along with anything else we need. Both frames will have plenty of hours by then.”
“That’s a good idea” Biggles approved.
Moments later, Ginger and Bertie tramped in, Ginger carrying a teetering stack of charts, maps, and a bright red book. “What did Raymond want?” he asked, dropping the papers on his desk with a series of dull thuds. “Careful!” Bertie jibed, rescuing a rolled chart that was making a bid for freedom. “Before we get into that, how’s the radio?” Algy interrupted hurriedly.
“Oh, it’s coming along” Ginger revealed airily, “She says it’ll be done in the next week. There’s only a couple more tests to go here and then it needs to be tested in the field. I said we could do that.” He added, airily.
“Did that get you a kiss?” Algy asked drily.
“No!” Ginger looked scandalised and hopeful all at once. “But if we’re really going somewhere it makes sense, right?”
“I suppose.” Biggles sighed.
“I already know all about it…” Ginger wheedled.
“I said I suppose.” Biggles returned, walking to the window and looking out briefly. Turning, he changed the subject. “I’ll tell you what Raymond wants.” Briefly, yet omitting nothing, he did so. At the end he took the page containing the contact information out of his notebook and placed it in the safe. “We can worry about that later.” He averred, “but for now we’ll focus on the logistics. Algy’s been working up our notes, Bertie, so you and he had better finish that. Ginger, we can do some route planning.” Ginger, eyes alight, started rummaging in his stack of updated charts.