It wasn't a particularly special park. It wasn't large or carefully tended, and most civilians tended to ignore it. However, this patch of trees, grass, and pond was a veritable hive of emissary activity.
The park was a quiet and tranquil place from the dewy, fresh mornings to the leafy hush of twilight. Even storms seemed somehow less threatening near the duck pond (even though anyone stupid enough to stand near the duck pond in a thunderstorm would probably be fried crispy by a bolt of lightning).
A storm was in full force over Britain. Even on this particularly clear evening, the storm was obvious to Pieter Einsprecher. He'd been working in this country more or less faithfully ever since '39, and as soon as the Blitz began, it was "Stay in Britain Pieter, it'd be too dangerous for you to cross the Channel." And now the hapless German agent stood morosely by the pond, dividing his bread into segments for the flocking ducks.
He was tired of listening for the sound of bombers, tired of blackouts and panic. Most of all, though, Pieter was tired of knowing that it was his people who attacked this country. After so many years of service in Britain, he'd grown almost . . . fond of the place. Certain English eccentricities would be sorely missed when the Germans won this war; for example, the language. Or chips. Or the queer little bookstore where he'd sold a Bible.
Carlo Pacelli, his Italian counterpart, strolled around the rim of the pond with a particular grace that was only possessed by those who had been tall and thin for a very long time. He had a sort of indefinable age, though you tended to assume that he'd be referred to as a -genarian.
"Pieter. Feeding the ducks bread that could have been food for the soldiers?" He had a maddening accent; had you not known he was Italian, you'd have written him off as Spanish or Portuguese or Swiss (if you didn't write him off entirely as unimportant).
"You know I'm against the war." Pieter had spent a good deal of his first year in Britain endeavoring to rid himself of his profoundly German accent. It had been a wasted year.
Carlo had had a bit longer in Britain, and had spent his time learning foreign languages. He'd become very proficient in Spanish, French, cabby-speak, and American (which, as we all know, isn't English any more than Mexican is Spanish), and fairly adept at English as well. Pieter wondered if Carlo knew his own language anymore.
"Well, of course you're against the war. It's too . . . messy. If you take my meaning. And not good for relations. Not good at all." He borrowed part of Pieter's bread and threw it in the shallows, where a blackish grey duck battled fiercely with a brown duck for the bit. "And that's how it is, isn't it? Savage things fighting over a bit of crumb even though they don't need it. Neither black or white, though you cheer one on anyway."
"Which one?" Pieter understood that Carlo was referring to the ducks, and hazarded a guess that it was some larger analogy to the war, but hadn't the foggiest idea which side the ducks were supposed to embody.
Carlo smiled, and the lines around his eyes crinkled up. "There's the thing. Which one should we want to win? Are we going to side with the little grey duck, or the little brown duck?"
"I don't see why it matters which duck wins. Either way, we're out a crust of bread." It was dawning on Pieter, whose mind was somewhat like a cave that light could only enter if the sun approached from the exact right spot.
The grey duck, finally subdued, waddled back into the water with an air of disgruntled dignity, while the brown duck pecked the crumb of bread in ducky triumph.
A pair of men on the other side of the pond wandered to a bench that had been broken when Pieter had walked past it. They sat down nonchalantly, though, and their conversation continued. Words occasionally drifted over the pond, such as war, or our side, or below. Carlo appeared to have noticed as well, and he walked casually and slowly in the vague direction of the bench. Pieter followed him, equally casually, and together these paragons of stealth made their way toward the talking pair.
"What I'm saying is, there's got to be some kind of involvement on your side or ours. Wars like this don't just happen." The speaker wore yellow-tinted glasses that gave his eyes a peculiar, snake-like appearance.
"Well, our sides have certainly been involved in the wars past. Though I never quite figured out who supported Napoleon."
"Us. Most of the world-conquering men have been on our side."
"Ah, but Napoleon was a revolutionary, and I recall very firmly that we sided with the common folk in the French Revolution. That muddies things a bit, wouldn't you agree?"
Carlo very pointedly did not glance at the man in the bookish sweater as he glided past.
"Thing is, I can't remember exactly who started this war. We've taken Hitler's side, of course--" (Pieter had to restrain a jump at this statement, instead following Carlo around the pond.)
"But I really can't think of any known sin he's committing besides . . . murder. And a lot of men on your side have gotten away with that one."
The man in the sweater crossed his arms, as though he disapproved of such blatant disregard for what he considered to be a basic and intrinsic rule.
"I've been telling Them for ages that 'leading a bunch of starving and tense people to do your bidding and staging a massive war to take over huge tracts of land' should be counted as a sin."
"Sure, angel." The man in the tinted glasses shifted, and Pieter got the intensely creepy feeling that he was being glared at. Significantly. "Then again, we'd have to change George Washington's room number if that became a sin."
"We'd have to change Washington's hotel if that became a sin."
Carlo passed a "who are these odd fellows and what have they done with their sanity?" look to Pieter, who shrugged.
"Anyway, if you really put your mind to it, you'd see that a lot of the people my side's supported have had the same basic characteristics as the people your side has supported. Radical vision, charisma, easily-swayed followers, big plans . . . are you following me?"
The man with the sweater uncrossed his arms in order to push back his blond hair, once again wearing a long-suffering look. "You tell that to the man Upstairs, and we'll see what he has to say about that bright idea."
Carlo and Pieter were moving back toward their original place on the far side of the pond, and the words were fainter. They watched a small, misshapen duck pick a fight with the brown duck who had won the bread.
Angel . . . Hitler . . . glad I don't make the choices . . . wish I did . . ."Then there'd be some improvements on how we run these things." The man in the sunglasses wore a battered jacket that might have been RAF issue at one time, but had had all of its decorations and rank bric-a-brac removed until all that remained was a quintessential jacket.
"My dear boy, why would you want to do something like that?" There was horror in the sweater-wearer's voice, and a bit of disgust, as though his companion had declared a desire to become a janitor in order to get the place properly clean.
The other man looked a little abashed. "I'd like to see what the humans do without interference. If it hadn't been for that intercession your people made, my side would've won the Great War!" Pieter and Carlo exchanged a worried glance at this statement, but both were of course too intelligent and cultured to think for a moment that these two might be . . . otherworldly in some way. Pieter found himself checking for antennae.
"You know we can't leave it to them. They might upset the ineffable plan. Give humans a piece on the board game and they end up knocking the other players' pieces over, moving their pieces when they think no one's looking, and then saying that they didn't properly understand the rules in the first place."
The man in the RAF jacket leaned back with a smile. "Ah, humanity."
The other stood up, conscientiously brushing off his sweater. His companion followed, and they left the bench as Carlo and Pieter continued their circuit. Their conversation was far from over. From the looks of it, it had started millennia ago and would probably continue into the far future.
Pieter peered at the bench as he passed it. It wasn't broken; in fact, it seemed to have been painted less than a week ago.
"Nothing odd about those two at all," Carlo remarked, as if saying it made it true.
"Nothing at all." The man in the sweater put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Though one did strike me as sort of a percy."
Pieter Einsprecher and Carlo Pacelli turned back to the pond, and watched as the brown duck pecked at the malformed duck's head. Absently, Pieter took a few steps forward and tossed the last of his bread into the water. Then the two emissaries in an enemy land turned and trudged away.
Another man in a dark coat studied the departing men, and then turned back to the ducks. The malformed duck floated lifelessly near the shore, and the man moved forward to scoop it out of the water. YOU FOUGHT FOR WHAT YOU WANTED TO DEFEND. ARE YOU PROUD?
"Quack?" inquired the duck.
Aziraphale glanced at Pieter and Carlo as they made their way back to civilization through the grass. "German and Italian agents, right? You don't suppose they'll mention what they heard?"
"Not even to each other." Crowley pushed the hand from his shoulder. "They're almost as unwelcome here as we are. Why try their luck?"
There was silence for a time. "I owe you dinner."
"Have they closed that German restaurant?"
"Yes. Oven fires. Insofar as you could call a torch-waving mob an oven."
Crowley sighed. "I liked it there."
"There are other places."
Suddenly, Aziraphale squinted at the back of one of the agents. "I think I bought the Humorous Toads Bible from that man!" he remarked.
"Humorous . . . Toads?" Crowley frowned. His snake-yellow, unblinking eyes regarded Aziraphale through equally yellow glasses.
"It regards part of Exodus. Would you like to see it?" Pride, while not commonly practiced, sometimes surfaced when it came to ancient and rare Bibles.
"Sure, angel. And maybe, after that, we'll see some dinner."
Author's note--I disagree with Crowley in regard to Hitler's list of sins; in my opinion, it really ought to be longer. However, you have to remember that this is during the early 1940's, a time in which not much was known about Hitler. Forgive him his ignorance.
Also, I'd meant to write a C/A story with this general beginning (the concept of St. James' Park and its ducks intrigues me to no end), but I can't imagine it working out, no matter how I turn it in my mind--they just don't seem to work as a romantic pair, even though I'd like them to. So this'll be a standalone.
A last note--did anyone get all of the duck metaphors?