Notes: the characters aren't mine, and the story is! This is my entry for the 2016 short story competition; I went with "raining cats and dogs" as my idiom of choice. This fic can be considered a coda to my multichapter fic "Das Haus aus Wachs," and references it, but it can be read independently of it.
Three disguised Allied soldiers—an American, an Englishman, and a Frenchman—made their way up the Bavarian hillside in the pouring rain. They had been trudging through the rain for hours, and it was a welcome sight to see a small house upon the hillside, with warm lights inviting them through the window.
"There it is!" Carter said, raising his voice slightly to be heard over the rain. "That's where our contact lives!"
"Cor, and not a moment too soon," Newkirk replied him. "I'm soaked to me bones, I am…"
"Yeah it really is raining cats and dogs, isn't it?" Carter replied.
LeBeau gave Carter a look.
"You Americans and your expressions…" he muttered.
"As inane as they may be, we might as well let Andrew do all the talking," Newkirk said. "This barmpot we're meeting is apparently living like the 'ermits on this forsaken slope; Andrew's nattering might make sense to him."
"Oui? But we don't know that Andre's…. 'nattering' will win him over for certain," LeBeau said, rolling his eyes.
"Louis has a point," Carter said. "From what the Underground said, this guy's a real wild card—he's been exchanging information with the Germans all this time, and just now decided to turn back to our side because he felt he wasn't getting paid well enough."
"Oh, blimey, with an attitude like that, we could be walking right into a bloomin' trap," Newkirk muttered.
"Yeah, but if it's on the level, think about all the information we could send to London!" Carter exclaimed.
"You do not have to try to convince us of the importance, Andre," LeBeau said as they finally arrived on the stoop of the house. "We shall have to take this risk."
"All three of us, though?" Newkirk asked, frowning as he stared at the door, hesitating knocking. "Maybe you two would be better off covering me from a distance; this bloke is more likely to take to one person than three. And the person speaking should 'ave a lot of raw, natural charm."
"Ah, Pierre, then it should be me!"
"It's risky business any way you slice it," Carter said. "But maybe he'll be less inclined to try anything if he knows he's outnumbered."
"Besides that, you wouldn't last five minutes without us," LeBeau added. "Now knock on the door before we drown in this rain!"
"Right…" he said, knowing that there would be no way of convincing either of them to go now. Resigned, he knocked on the door of the house.
There was no reply.
"Okay…" Carter said, blinking. "Try again; maybe he didn't hear you."
"Or maybe 'e's done a bunk," Newkirk said, through gritted teeth. "Seems like the logical path for a greedy coward to take."
"We have the money; why would he leave without it?" LeBeau asked. "Perhaps he has left the information there for us, inside, and we are to leave the money in its place."
"That's a risk of a different kind, Boy," Carter said, with a frown. "If that's what he's done, he can easily pass off fake information in exchange for the money."
"Well, we can leave part of the money and deliver the rest once we're sure we were given the genuine article," Newkirk said, now taking a lock-pick to the door. Within seconds, he had it open.
"Ah, that's much better…" Carter sighed, as they stepped inside. But then, he froze. "Huh?"
A roaring fire was lit in the fireplace of the drawing room as they entered. Three chairs were in front of it, with a dry bathrobe on each one.
"It's as though he was expecting us," LeBeau said, blinking in surprise.
"Mates, I do believe we are being toyed with," Newkirk said, scowling. He held his gun up. "Stay alert; it's likely this bloke is still in the 'ouse somewhere."
"Unless…" Carter began. "He doesn't care whether or not this house goes up in flames. If it stays standing, he just goes on with whatever he has going on, but if it burns down due to a stay ember, he writes off the loss. The way I see it, even with the rain pouring down the way it is, it still wouldn't be enough to keep a fire from bringing down this place—there's plenty of flammable materials inside the house to bring it down by weakening it from the inside. Of course, that's under the assumption that we aren't here the moment a stray ember pops out and ignites something."
"There you are, Louis," Newkirk said. "The pyromaniac 'as spoken."
"Has it not occurred to anyone in this room that we can simply put the fire out?" LeBeau asked.
"Well sure, if you want to do it that way…" Carter began.
"Never mind," Newkirk said, cutting him off before he started rambling again. "I still say we've got to search this place. And remember, this bloke 'as no loyalties, so be prepared to defend yourselves."
"How should we do this?" LeBeau asked. "Split up and meet back in the drawing room afterwards?"
"No; I'm inclined to go with what Andrew said earlier," Newkirk said. "If we stay together, 'e will be less likely to try anything. But douse that fire out now; I don't fancy a fire getting started while we're still in the 'ouse."
The three of them put the fire out and headed to the other rooms on the ground floor—a small dining room and an adjoining kitchen. There was a familiar smell of potato pancakes coming from the stove, along with something else…
"Hey, isn't that apple strudel?" Carter asked.
LeBeau's frowned deepened as he opened the oven to see a batch of strudel. He shook his head and turned off the oven and the stove.
"It looks and smells like the strudel I make."
"And you make potato pancakes on the odd occasion, too," Newkirk said. "When was the last time you made strudel and potato pancakes?"
"Weeks ago," LeBeau said. "And Schultz devoured it all. Regardless, this has been freshly prepared."
"So… first he knows that three of us are coming. And now he knows that Louis is one of them?" Carter asked. "Boy, next thing you know, we'll be finding cards and lockpicks for you, Peter—and maybe explosives for me…"
Carter trailed off as Newkirk now held out a stick of dynamite—thankfully not fused—that he had found hidden in a cabinet. LeBeau opened the cabinet next to it and found a stethoscope and a lock-pick.
"You were saying, Andrew?" Newkirk asked.
"…It's not what I was saying just now, but now I wanna say that I think maybe we oughta retreat back to camp," Carter finished. "Scrub the mission—for our own sakes."
"There is still the upstairs floor," LeBeau said. "If this traceur is there, he can easily attack us from an upstairs window as we retreat. I say we inspect that floor to make sure he is not there, and then we leave."
The others were soon in agreement, and the trio soon headed upstairs, only to find each room as empty as the next. A search of closets and under the bed yielded only dust and worthless junk.
"Nothing. Not a ruddy thing," Newkirk muttered, kicking a bedpost in frustration. "Right-o; let's get back to camp and tell the Guv'nor that the bloke 'as scarpered and took the information with 'im. Either that, or the fool was taken away by 'ochstetter's lot—in which case, we can't 'elp."
"Whichever it is, at least we do not have to say we wasted the money," LeBeau said, with a shrug.
They were heading down the stairs when Carter took one more look at the fireplace—and blinked as he saw it ablaze again.
"Hey, Fellas? I thought we put the fire out before we started searching the place."
"We had," LeBeau said, freezing in his tracks. "Perhaps an ember buried in it set it alight again."
"Sure, that's what they always say in the movies," Carter muttered. "And then it turns out to be some guy who re-lit the fire, and—"
"That will do; thank you, Andrew," Newkirk said. "We're leaving. You two go on first; I'll cover the retreat."
"Oui, but be careful," LeBeau instructed. "Andre, let's go."
But Carter had paused again; now, he was staring above the fireplace mantle.
"Look at that," he said pointing to a model of a large blimp on the mantle. "Doesn't something about that ring a bell?"
"Is this really the time for this, Andre?" LeBeau hissed through gritted teeth.
"I know, but… there's something about that blimp that seems familiar—and important. I just can place it."
"Andrew, it's the blooming 'indenburg," Newkirk snapped. "Now get going!"
But Carter frowned, still in deep thought.
"A model of the Hindenburg…" he murmured. "There's something about it that sounds like it's another message for us."
"The only message that I'm getting is that this mission is getting to be as much of a disaster as that blimp was!" Newkirk snapped.
"That, and the time that you tried to make a model of it and made a new fighter plane instead—another example of the fact that this contact knows us too well," LeBeau added. "Pierre is right; we must leave—now!"
"Say that again!" Carter exclaimed.
"We must leave—"
"No, no—just before that!"
"The contact knows you made a model—"
"-Of a new fighter plane that I thought was the Hindenburg!" Carter finished. "And you remember why, don't you?"
"Oui, Nimrod was toying with us," LeBeau said. He continued towards the door, but then froze, looking back at Newkirk.
The Englishman looked back at him before turning to Carter.
"You don't think-?" he began.
"Toying with us seems to be Nimrod's M.O.," Carter said, with a shrug. "He likes to make us work for our information."
"Work!" LeBeau scoffed. "We are fighting a war, and he plays around with us!?"
"There must be some sort of passageway or something here," Carter said, now pressing parts on the wall near the fireplace. "There aren't any wet footprints around, and if he'd come through the door or a window, there would've been. He's too smart to leave information out in the open, anyway; he was trying to get our attention so that we'd find… this! Guys, look—I found it!"
A section of the wooden wall pushed in like a door, revealing a dimly-lit tunnel that seemed to go right into the hillside.
"Boy, would you look at that!?" Carter exclaimed. "Reinforced and waterproofed! Come on, Fellas!"
Carter let the way inside, leaving the two corporals to exchange glances once more.
"What do you think, Pierre?"
"I don't know anymore, Louis. I just don't know. But we may as well follow to make sure Carter doesn't go 'eadlong into a trap after all."
"Hey, he has a radio room just like we do!" Carter called from up ahead.
LeBeau and Newkirk caught up with him, taking a moment to stare at the equipment before noticing a note attached to the transmitter.
I am pleased that you were able to discover my secret hideaway in the hillside. Pretending to be a recluse has had its advantages, just as pretending to be a German officer has, as well. I can often rely on a convincing double to be here in the event I need to be in two places at once, but I felt as though the transfer of such important information required that I be present to see that it got to the proper hands. The information I have placed in the file beside the radio well prove to be a testament to the hard work that went into this hermit charade. And, naturally, the information I passed on to the Germans was misleading and never did benefit them.
As for these theatrics tonight, I felt they were necessary, however annoying you might have found them to be. After what transpired in the wax museum some months ago, I felt that you would not be so inclined to meet with me again for fear of something similar occurring that would write and end to all of us—an understandable concern, of course, and I bear no ill towards you for it. I do still owe you my life for that wax museum incident, and I hope that this information will serve as a start to repaying a very large debt.
I also wish to apologize for, as you probably see it, my involvement in breaking up your core team. However, I feel as though you know as well as I do that there was no better man than Sergeant Kinchloe to be the one to take down an enemy communications network in London. Both he and Sergeant Olsen have made significant progress in this endeavor, and ask about you often.
It is probably best for all of us if you are not seen leaving this house. If you continue to follow this tunnel, you will find that it leads to a small tavern. Have a round of drinks on me (I have a tab there under the name of Maxim von Garten), and transportation will be provided for you back to Stalag 13, if you so desire. Of course, you are also free to be your usual cautious selves and find your own way back; I imagine you would not have gotten this far without a healthy dose of skepticism. As for the money, I am sure your organization has better use for it than I do; keep it.
The winds of change have been blowing for some time now, and I feel as though Europe's fate will unfold in these coming months. I hope it is the fate we have all been praying for—and that the information I have provided will help achieve that all the more quickly. Take care, Gentlemen, and do convey my warmest regards to the dear Colonel.
'Til we meet again,
You could have heard a pin drop in the silence that followed.
"How about that, huh?" Carter finally asked. "We came here expecting a trap, and it turned out to be Nimrod."
"Blimey," Newkirk muttered shaking his head. "Just when I think I've seen everything this bloomin' war 'as to offer, something like this comes up."
"The question now is if we believe him and take him up on his offer for drinks and transport," LeBeau said.
"Well, who else knows about the wax museum and Kinch and Olsen going back to England?" Carter pointed out. "I think we can. What's that they say about not looking a gift horse in the mouth?"
"Ah, oui? Tell that to the Trojans!"
"I say we cross that bridge once we get to it, Mates," Newkirk said, indicating the continuing tunnel. Though, secretly, he couldn't deny that a pint sounded perfect at the moment, and that he certainly didn't fancy getting half-drowned in the rain again trying to walk back to camp.
He took possession of the file of information, slipping it under his soaked coat; Nimrod had, thankfully, had the foresight to waterproof the file.
And as they headed down the tunnel, still quietly debating on what to do once they got out, Newkirk did reflect in some amusement that, regardless of what they chose to do, the look on Colonel Hogan's face at the debriefing was going to be a sight to see.
He made a mental note to have the camera ready.