The Iron Writer Challenge #148
2016 Winter Solstice Challenge #6
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Lunch at the Crypt in London
A roll of undeveloped film from the 1940’s
A body pillow
“You know, I always wanted a coffin. For personal use that is. They just seem so damn comfortable.”
The man lifted his tea off the table and took a slow sip as he mused. His accent was near flawless, tainted only by the slightest hint of German. His suit was obviously expensive, his hair was impeccable, and not a single drop off sweat marred his pasty white skin. He was as calm as Death on your average Tuesday. It showed in his hands, they didn’t even tremble as he pointed a small, wicked looking crossbow at my groin.
“I mean think about it,” he continued, with zero regard for my discomfort “a light proof, sound proof box that is lined with cushions. Throw in a satin body pillow and I’ll sleep like a baby on valium.”
He glanced briefly at my untouched lunch and gestured at it with his free hand.
“You should eat. ” he said ” I know it’s strange, the whole restaurant in a Crypt idea, but you shouldn’t let that ruin your appetite. It’s perfectly sanitary I assure you. And their apple crumble is to die for.”
I stayed still as a stone, unable to tear my eyes away from his. He sighed.
“Nothing?” He asked. “This doesn’t have to be awkward you know.”
I remained silent
“Say something or I’ll shoot you.” He said, and I didn’t doubt him for a second.
“Why a crossbow?” I asked
He blinked, surprised by my question.
“Why a crossbow? that’s the first thing you ask? Aren’t curious as to what I want?”
“I know what you want.” I told him ” but why a crossbow?”
He shrugged “it’s easier to get through customs.”
I nodded. It made perfect sense. Besides, who was I to judge?
“You know I can’t give you the film.” I said, calmly as I could manage.
“You can give it to me, or I can kill you and take it. I know you have it on you.”
“You can’t kill me here. There are witnesses.”
He took another long sip of his tea, savoring it in awkward silence.
“I don’t care.” He said simply.
I continued to state at him in stubborn silence. He let out an exasperated sigh.
“How is your wife?” He asked “what’s her name, Bridget? I’ll bet she’s picking your kids up from school right now. They will go home and wait eagerly for you to get home so they can tell you about their day. Imagine their disappointment when it’s me who shows up instead.”
At his words I felt something inside me fold. I was beaten. I reached a trembling hand into my jacket pocket and removed a small cylindrical container. I set it gently on the table so he could read the label printed in fine black letters.
A smile broke out on his stoic face and he slipped it into his pocket.
“It has been a pleasure doing business with you.” He said, standing. “Seriously though, try the apple crumble. You won’t regret it.”
And with that he left.
The Jewelry Box of Memories
The taxi took them through Trafalgar Square and when they passed the Crypt, the new bride told her husband that they should check the restaurant out for dinner or late afternoon tea.
“Good idea,” he replied and then in a very bad British accent, said, “G’day Mate. Do you have bangers and mash?”
The cabbie just slowly shook his head in disbelief and the wife is mortified. She playfully slapped him on the nose and said, “No. Bad husband. Congratulations, Honey. You just insulted two different continents with that one sentence and that awful British accent.”
The cab pulled over by a cobblestone road next to a pub. The honeymooners exited the cab and she apologized to the driver. The cabbie then said, “No worries. He isn’t the first one to hurt my ears like that.”
As the couple were about to walk into the pub, she looked down the cobblestone road and saw a large sign hanging from an old building. “CROSSBOW ANTIQUES”.
‘Honey, you go in and have your beer and I am going down to check out that antique shop.”
Once inside the store she is simply amazed at the things in here. Then something caught her eye. It is a black lacquer jewelry box. She pulled it off of the shelf and was amazed at the hand painted flowers on it and the Mother of Pearl inlays on the lid. Excitedly, she purchased the box and rushed back up to the pub to meet her husband. and she said, “Honey, look at this.”
“Wow, it looks just like the picture you have.”
“That’s what I thought and I bought it. Mom was supposed to get the jewelry box when Gram passes away but it was stolen from her house years ago. I know it’s not the same but it looks like it so thought it would make a nice present for her.”
When the couple arrived back in the states, they went right to her mother’s house to give her the gift.
Her mother was shocked. “This can’t be the same jewelry box. It just can’t be.”
Her daughter laughed and said, “It’s not, Mom. I picked this up in an antique store just outside of London.”
“We better go see Gram,” the mother said. The husband stayed behind with his father-in-law and had a beer with him while they were gone.
Tears welled up in her grandmother’s eyes when she saw the box.
“This is the box. This is my box.”
“It can’t be Gram. We bought it in England.”
The grandmother opened the box and lifted out the red velvet covered bottom of the box and there was a photograph and an undeveloped roll of film.
“This picture is me and your grandfather when we were younger and this roll of film was taken sometime in the Forties just after the war.”
“I will be right back,” the grandmother said and carried the box into her bedroom. She placed it on her bureau and then she lay down on the bed, snuggled with her body pillow and stared at the photograph, remembering happier times.
The lunchtime crowd was tapering off at the Crypt. Londoners were finishing their meals and heading back to work. The young man sitting toward the back glanced up to see an elderly man entering the room, clutching in his hand a large bag. Catching his gaze, he smiled, and the older man walked over to join him at the table.
“So, Mr. Hawkins,” said the younger man, “you wanted to discuss historical photographs?” The older man gazed intently at the young man for a time, then spoke.
“In a sense, Mr. Madison. During the Blitz, our house was struck. I was a child and had been evacuated to the countryside. I was given the news that my mother had died, leaving me an orphan. I had to go to live with relatives in the north.” Hawkins paused.
“Go on,” said Madison.
Hawkins seemed lost in thought. “I can remember the last time I saw Mum as clear is if it were yesterday. She’d been lying on the couch with a body pillow. Frail, you know. She got up and told me I’d be gone for just awhile and that then we’d be back together. Then she kissed me and sent me off. She sent me letters for awhile—in one she said she’d met a nice man. I thought I might end up with a new father. As it was, I never saw her again.”
“But the photographs?” Madison asked.
“The house was damaged but not destroyed. It was repaired and sold. Two months ago I heard that the house was to be demolished. I contacted the owner and asked permission to see if any relics of my childhood had survived. In the attic I found a couple of old toys, a trinket or two—and most interesting to me, a roll of film.”
“And you want me to examine it?”
Hawkins drew from his bag a manila envelope and handed it to Madison. “I’ve already had it authenticated—it is from 1940 or 1941—and developed.” As Madison flipped through the black-and-white photos. Hawkins continued.
“The house was damaged, but that’s not what killed my mother. I heard…dark rumors…about happenings in the area. When I grew older, I researched the history of the place. There have been mysterious deaths in that area since long before the house was built. For centuries.” Hawkins coughed loudly, clutching his chest a bit. “So sorry—excuse me.” Bending down, he reached into his bag again.
Madison looked at the next picture and froze. There was a young woman, a bit haggard, but pretty, standing next to a man. Next to Madison. Hawkins sat back upright in his seat. In his hand he held a pistol-sized crossbow. Madison’s eyes widened as Hawkins pulled the trigger. The wooden bolt thudded into Madison’s heart. He gasped once, then crumbled to dust.
Hawkins sighed deeply. “It wasn’t a man, Mum. And he wasn’t nice. Rest in peace.”
The Just Judges
Darrel stared miserably into the bottle of water that sat on the table in front of him. The truth of the matter was that he was incredibly hungover and really should have been snuggled up with Emma Watson body pillow that lay, currently abandoned, in his dorm room. However Chester insisted… no ordered… that they have lunch at The Crypt today and Darrel knew that if he didn’t get out of bed early he simply wouldn’t have made the effort to come. No doubt Chester would have found something on his latest archaeological expedition to France and he needed the French student to translate some documents for him; a note supposedly revealing the location of the crossbow that was used to kill Joan of Arc but actually reveals a shopping list of a 15th century French noble or some such nonsense.
Alas, Darrel’s thoughts were disturbed by the sight of the sight of his lunch date weaving between the tables and the archaic pillars that make up the establishment that would house their rendezvous. Chester; a small framed middle aged man with a large framed nose propping up small framed glasses, was wearing a crumpled suit that was maybe two sizes too large and carrying a large briefcase which was placed very delicately upon the table in front Darrel.
“Darrel, my dear boy, how have you been keeping?” Chester asked cheerily as he pulled out a seat. “Well, thank-you, to what do I owe this pleasure?” Darrel replied. “Have you heard of The Just Judges?” Darrel shook his head. “It is a panel of Ghent Alterpiece that was stolen from Belgium in 1934… A note was left at the scene saying it was taken from Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. No one has seen or heard anything of it since” Darrel stared at him impatiently, he knew what was coming. “I have evidence to suggest that the panel was stored by a German General in Eastern France during the war and that as the Germans retreated the French Resistance were able to take possession of the painting. I have here a letter which hopefully details the resting place of the panel and a roll of undeveloped film which, if it has survived, will aid us in our search. I know you cannot help me with the film but maybe you could translate the letter for me?” Darrel sighed before answering “Ok, but what is in it for me?” “The panel is worth a great deal of money. If I find it I will give you a healthy cut!”
Chester cracked open the briefcase before Darrel had a chance to answer and handed him the note. Darrel begrudgingly skim read over it. “Chester…” he began “This is a letter from a French Foreign Legionnaire stationed in the Morocco to his Mother before the war. He says he encloses a film of the landscape since she has never been able to go there…” Darrel sighed. Another waste of time!
The waitress left to fetch my lunch and I surveyed the room. I didn’t like what I saw. Café in the Crypt wasn’t the last place I’d want to have a clandestine meeting, but it was close. Situated in the tourist trap of Trafalgar Square, there were too many people and no easy way to spot an operative. The Japanese couple might be tourists, or they might be Naicho agents. The Goth in the fishnets smiling at me might be easy on the eyes, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t a wet work specialist from Russia’s SVR. Plus, she had a handbag big enough to hide a machine gun. Although, I was armed with a SIG-Sauer P229 and a fake Royal Military Police identification to make it seem legal, so I wasn’t entirely helpless.
I’m not British or attached to any intelligence service in an official capacity. Plausible deniability, you understand. But occasionally, some unspeakable God awfulness rises up from the dustbin of history. It’s my job to get to it first and kill it with fire. I have standing orders. This time, it was a roll of undeveloped film from the end of WWII. Rumors to the contrary, Hitler didn’t truck with the supernatural. Several of his underlings were more open-minded. Or clinically insane. It’s hard to differentiate sometimes. There were things on that roll of film that could spark an apocalypse.
I was distracted by a teenage girl lugging around a body pillow emblazoned with the Tower of London. It was practically life-sized.
“Christ,” I muttered. “Tourists will buy anything.”
I looked back. A cadaverous man with a newspaper under one arm stood across from me. I smiled benignly and affected an appropriate accent. “Sorry, old man, silk’s out of fashion. I prefer cashmere.”
“Pashmina is the finest, if you can find it.”
Protocols out of the way, I nodded. The ghastly man sat down.
“You have it?” I asked.
He nodded and slid the folded paper across to me. “The funds?”
I touched the paper and felt the lump inside. I pulled out my phone and sent a text. A moment later, I received a reply.
“En route,” I said.
We waited for a moment until his phone made a noise. He squinted at it, gave a tight smile, and rose. He nodded to me.
“Be sure to read the paper. One must keep abreast of the times.”
I heard the twang of the string at the same time the short bolt slammed into the old man’s chest. I looked over my shoulder. The body pillow girl calmly reloaded a tiny crossbow and aimed it at me.
She wasn’t smiling when she said, “Der Film.”
She’s Bundesnachrichtendienst, German foreign intelligence, I thought. I gestured at the dying man with my right hand, and eased the safety off the SIG with my left. I hated to do it, but I had standing orders.
“Sorry,” I said.
#TIWC members, please vote here.