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Campion and the Siegfried Line

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"My dear fellow, I couldn't possibly surrender," shouted Campion, appalled, although the falsetto drawl of his reply was followed by a pistol shot which very nearly knocked his driving goggles from the top of his head. Embracing discretion, he made a swift exit behind the tower parapet, only slightly impeded by the hasty bandaged splint on his lower left leg.

"Of course he bleeding well can't surrender," muttered Lugg, ducked behind an adjoining merlon. He added to himself, "Not as if we're sitting on top of enuff devil's porridge to blow the dome off of St Paul's."

"Just like the movies," said Campion. His grin was swift and toothy.

"Except as I ain't blonde and you ain't wearing a nightie," said Lugg, accepting this turn of events without a blink.

"I should hope not!" said Campion. He had a pistol in his hand, unearthed from the copious depths of his pockets along with a wrinkled conker, a ball of string, and a small bottle of smelling salts: with some caution, he peered around an embrasure and returned fire. His pistol, dark and gleaming, had the decisive "pop-pop" of a modern American revolver.

"I mean as on the train tracks," said Lugg helpfully. "With the train chuffin' away."

"Yes, thank you, Sergeant Lugg, I understand the picture," said Campion.

"And don't call me Sergeant!" said Lugg. "It ain't right. M'lud."

Campion took his eyes off the road beneath the tower and glanced across at his rescuer. Lugg, his great white brow gleaming with sweat, grinned back at him mercilessly and tugged his forelock, all five scanty hairs of it. In his other hand, as inconspicuously nonchalant as any NCO, he held a service revolver. He was wearing uniform, although whether that uniform would withstand close scrutiny was anyone's guess: the khaki was British, but the cap Canadian, and its badges appeared to have once belonged to a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club.

"I don't feel this is quite the moment for discussing rank," said Campion, after a moment.

"Never been in the army, then, m'lud?" said Lugg. He leered, with the awful and obvious intent of the cheapest scandal sheets, and winked.

Campion glared. "Disinherited," he said shortly. "Temporarily adopted by the F.O."

"Yer ma'll come round," said Lugg comfortably.

Favoured with a long, blank stare, Lugg, unmoved, sniffed. By way of punctuation, a shot pinged from the parapet in front of them, raising a brief chimera of dust and stone chips.

"Which is more'n I can say for that feller," said Lugg balefully.

"Yes, well," said Campion, recalled to the matter in hand and taking another defensive shot. His hand was steady, but blood was beginning stain the bandages at his knee. "Prussian, you see."

"Right-oh," said Lugg.

"I must say, you seem to be taking this awfully well," said Campion.

"Secret plans...explosions...spies...'appens every day," said Lugg. "I says to meeself, when you comes round that corner on that motor-cycle like the 'ounds of 'ell is after you, Magersfontein Lugg, now there's a gent wot needs a hand, and you've got two of 'em. Allus fancied meeself as a gentleman's gentleman, see?"

"Your intervention was indeed decidedly handy," said Campion. He had ducked back down behind the parapet, and was reloading with a swift efficiency that belied his pale face and receding chin, and the elderly civilian tweed of his motorcycling jacket and plus-fours.

"Handy. Ha! Aim to please, that's me," said Lugg. "Barbering, breakfast, and buttons. Polishin' of. Brass," he added, clarifying, as he squinted down at the rear of the tower, alert, holding fire. They could both hear the rumble of an approaching combustion engine.

"Before or after breakfast?" enquired Campion.

"Depends on the state of the kidneys," said Lugg. "Breakfast should set a man up proper. You can tell a lot about a gent by way of his waistcoat." He patted the comfortable swell of his own stomach, precariously encompassed by the straining buttons of his uniform.

"I've been known to be partial to a waistcoat myself," Campion said. "Very filling. I say, do you think that's one of ours?"

Lugg, frowning, peered over the parapet. The squat church tower where he and Campion had taken refuge, long a target for the artillery of both sides, guarded what had been the main supply route to the front. Abandoned shell casings and rusted iron fittings set into the stonework signalled the wartime expediency of machine gunners, observation officers, and the arcane triangulation of the deadly artillerymen, but in the early spring of an exhausted peace the two observers looked out over the empty scar of the road and the shell-shocked husks of long deserted houses. The overgrown rubble was crowded with burdock and nettles, vicious colonisers of the disturbed soil and detris of war, and long grass hid the shattered remains of the apple trees. Yet a hopeful young ash tree clung to a collapsed chimney, and there were primroses among the springing grasses of the verge and nestled between the spokes of a shattered cartwheel.

A trail of these delicate reclamations had been crushed under the jackboots of Campion's pursuer Herr Gruber, stationed in the undergrowth behind the collapsed ruins of a sentry box, while his merry band of co-conspirators and henchman guarded the rear of the tower. Gruber disguised his military marching boots with the peaked cap and overalls of a French farmer, but the shortened vowels of his accent and the accuracy of his shooting, not to mention his single-minded pursuit of classified military information, suggested that for the former Oberst Gruber the armistice, the dispersal of the German armed forces and the political restructuring of Germany itself were personal betrayals.

"Yes, but, you see," Campion had said twenty minutes earlier, pale blue eyes painfully earnest and his grip on Lugg's sleeve positively death-like and not conducive to the hurried splinting of a mistreated broken leg, "It's not Herr Gruber alone behind this, it's his commanding officer, and we don't know the bally who that is...promise me," Campion had said, "Take the plans! If they should fall into the wrong hands France might fall again."

"Bad dose of the music-halls, that's your problem," Lugg had said, although taking refuge in the church tower, to Lugg's certain knowledge the last known resting place of two cases of cordite purloined from the Rutland Regulars under circumstances never to be divulged (and particularly so to the military police) suggested a regrettable tendency to melodrama of his own. Good English phlegm and a healthy dose of pragmatism were, Lugg was convinced, sovereign remedies for the condition.

"Well," he muttered, "That ain't the cavalry."

The rattle of a motor-cycle engine resolved itself into a solitary machine and side-car, pulling into view between the battered plane trees. It was a workmanlike machine, but well-kept, and the young man riding it carried his despatch case with panache and his cap at a jaunty angle.

"One of ours, though," said Campion, and snatched his hat off his head. "Oi!" he shouted, waving. "Danger! Watch out!" He was leaning out over the crumbling stonework at a precarious angle. Lugg, resigned, took a firm grip of his belt. "One feels such a fool," muttered Campion, still waving vigorously. He added, "Take cover!"

The young man on the motorcycle, slow in comprehending the situation, bumped gracelessly across the ruts of the main road. Campion's warning fell on deaf ears, and from the ruining porch of the house opposite Herr Gruber aimed and fired. The crack of his machine-pistol cut across the friendly rattle of the motor-cycle's engine, hideously distinctive, and found a home. The young man reeled back, one hand pressed to his shoulder, the other flailing. In four long strides Herr Gruber was across the road and ducked down behind the sidecar, dragging the rider from his seat and throwing him down with a pistol to his temple.

"Dr Lapin!" he shouted. "Surrender the plans!"

"Or the rabbit gets it," said Campion, very quietly.

"The rabbit's flamin' dead already," muttered Lugg. He let go, and cracked his knuckles.
Campion was looking at the battered ammunition box tucked by the open tower stairwell. "If I - what's in there could start the next war," he said. "I can't."

"Lapin!" shouted Herr Gruber. "You'll never make it! My men have you surrounded! Throw the plans down, and I won't shoot!"

Encouraged, the merry band below began to assail the tower door, barred only by a jury-rigged contraption of bell ropes and empty barrels. Muffed thuds echoed up the tower: Lugg, leaning perilously over the parapet, managed to wing one thug and pink another, but the assault continued.

"The melodrama is remarkable," commented Campion, but his face had gone remarkably blank. "I thought we had a chance there, until the motorcycle arrived. Now Gruber could be back over the border in a day and those plans in his sticky little fist."

Lugg huffed. "We beat 'em fair and square, and now Kaiser Bill's gone and had his teef pulled, there ain't nuffink the Jerries -"

"Oh yes, there is," said Campion. "These army types never take kindly to loosing a war."

"Shouldn't have started one in the first place," said Lugg darkly.

"Ah," said Campion thoughtfully, his face sharpening from defensive vacuity to sharpening interest. "A man of the people. A...dare I say it? A socialist."

"Oi," said Lugg. "Lemme tell you, Mr Campion, or whatever you cares to call yerself, there ain't no such fing as a free lunch. A commie! You mark my words, there's only one way to beat the system, and that's wiv yer own two hands." His own, spread, were remarkably pale and soft. Lugg's prodigious chin squared off against the stained khaki of his uniform collar. A brass button, strained, clung by a thread: the faded silks of several campaign medals, improbably aligned, were lost on the broadening plains of his chest.

"I take your point," said Campion. "You have nothing, then, against the indigenous members of the aristocracy?"

"That depends on how indigenous," said Lugg, suspicious. "Temporarily h'embarressed is one thing, but I asks fer two guineas a week and a half-day on Sundays."

"Oh, well that's all right then," said Campion, and smiled, a swift and engaging smile that brought a little colour into the over-bred lines of his face. He held out his hand. "I think I can manage that."

"Done," said Lugg, spat on his palm, and shook on it. The moment of communion was interrupted, violently, by the rattle of Gruber's machine-pistol, and the renewed vigor of the men beating at the tower door.

"Providing, of course, we make it back to London," said Campion. "I suppose it's a bit late to ask it you've got a rifle stuck down your trouser leg? I don't want to try taking out Gruber with this pistol, it pulls miserably left with the slightest breeze."

"Ah," said Lugg. He whistled through his teeth. "That motor-cyclist's a chum of yours, then?"

"Yes," said Campion, apologetically. "I can't really miss, you know, his sister would never forgive me."

"Well, this is a pretty pickle you've got us into," said Lugg, considering. "What you want is a Deux eh Makkin."

"A what?" said Campion, just as a particularly loud thud shook the tower door.

"A Deux eh Makkin," said Lugg helpfully. "When something 'appens wot you wasn't expecting."

"Ah," said Campion, "Well. I make it a rule never to be-"

"What would you say," asked Lugg confidingly, all in and confessing to black market theft, concealing stolen goods, and imitating the military in one fell swoop, "To a spot of explosives?"

Campion's pale face lightened. "Almost as good as pudding and twice as nice as a shot in the dark," he said, feelingly. "Lugg, you're a man after my own heart - pony up the gubbins, and we'll be back in London for supper!"