Into The Maelstrom – Snippet 36
“Where would I find Inglethorpe’s office, mistress?” he asked, trying not to be too brusque as the woman had offered him no provocation. It would be ungentlemanly to spill some of his anger onto her.
“Up one floor and at the end of the hallway to the left,” she replied, automatically. “His name’s on the door.”
“Thank you my good lady.”
Allenson covered the ground in long strides.
“But you can’t go in without an appointment…”
Todd winked at her and hurried after his principal. He had to half run to catch up.
Allenson found the office door without any difficulty as Inglethorpe’s name was indeed upon it. The thin plastic had torn away from one of the attaching tacks so that the sign hung down on one side in a way that was wonderfully symbolic.
“..well, I don’t know what to say to him. Maybe if I keep him waiting long enough he’ll go away…”
Was what Allenson heard when he flung open the door.
The man sat at an office podium was small but possessed of an impressive girth around the middle that a well-cut jacket failed to hide despite an heroic attempt by its tailor. He had his head back apparently talking to the ceiling. This meant he was using the network without even taking the precaution of setting the sound suppressor. Or he could be mad.
“You can’t just come in here,” Inglethorpe said.
“I just did.”
Allenson moved to stand behind the Council Leader from where he could see the directional hologram depicting Inglethorpe’s communicant. The man wore the uniform dress tunic of a Brasilian senior field officer. The officer’s eyes widened since Allenson was now equally visible to him. The soldier moved his arm slightly and the hologram winked out leaving Allenson and Council Leader Inglethorpe together in the office.
They glared at each other, both uncertain how to proceed. The Brasilian officer was probably in Oxford. Allenson could hardly accuse Inglethorpe of consorting with the enemy because until the Assembly on Paxton declared independence they were all technically still Brasilians. Inglethorpe had left Oxford to join the Trinity Council in exile which said something. Presumably the man was simply trying to keep a foot in both camps until he saw how things panned out, a typical politician in other words.
Allenson decided to offer only gentle advice as Inglethorpe might be useful at some future date.
“Not wanting to burn your boats is understandable but the trouble with riding two horses, Councilor, is that you tend to get splinters in the arse from sitting on the fence.”
Inglethorpe gaped at him without replying. Allenson thought this ungenerous given the effort he had put into mixing an amusing metaphor. Oh well, he never had been any good at jokes.
“This is purely a courtesy visit to announce my arrival. No doubt you have many calls upon you in these trying times so I won’t detain you further. Perhaps you could tell me where to find Army Headquarters?”
“Lillian, my secretary, the office opposite the stairs, she’ll help you.” Inglethorpe pointed in the general direction of the door.
Allenson re-joined an amused Todd in the corridor.
“You forgot the one about losing your money in mid-stream by backing two dogs,” Todd said.
The Militia headquarters turned out to be located in buildings belonging to another of the colleges. The availability of so many venues with lecture theatres, offices, canteens and sleeping accommodation explained why both the army and the government in exile chose to relocate to such a small town.
Moving the barge a short hop was more trouble than it was worth so he elected to walk. Nowhere in Cambridge was very far from anywhere else. Inevitably it started to drizzle as the sun dropped below the horizon. They navigated using Allenson’s pad while Todd used his as a torch to provide illumination. Lamps at the front of some houses spilled light into the street but many areas were in darkness.
The rain set in quite heavily by the time they reached their destination. This turned out to be another two story redbrick building surrounded by one floor wooden chalets. The sentry on the door hunched miserably inside a waterproof cape.
“Where will I find the duty officer?” Allenson asked.
“First corridor to right, first door on the right,” the sentry replied morosely, with a jerk of his thumb.
The movement caused water collected in a fold of the sentry’s cape to run down his leg, eliciting a foul curse. The only thing that surprised Allenson about the exchange was that there was a sentry on duty at all in such inclement weather.
Once inside he shed his coat and left it draped over the back of a chair. The vestibule was empty so he followed his instructions. When he opened the first door on the right he was greeted by the sight of the soles of a pair of military boots crossed at the ankles and resting on the duty desk. Behind them a man sat hidden by the open Orders of the Day that he dutifully read.
“Good evening,” Allenson said when the man showed no response.
“Can’t you knock,” the man replied.
He lowered the file to peer over the top. There was nothing wrong with the soldier’s reflexes. He shot to his feet at attention after one glance at Allenson’s uniform. His gaze fixed firmly on a point two feet over Allenson’s head before the file hit the ground.
“Chung, duty sergeant, awaiting your orders, SIR.”
The last word was snapped out. Clearly Sergeant Chung hadn’t always been militia. Everything about him suggested regular army.
“At ease, sar’nt.”
Chung moved his feet the regulation half meter apart in a crisp stamp and put his hands behind his back.
“The duty officer is?” Allenson asked.
“Sir, Captain Frames, sir.”
There was a pause.
“Would you like me to summon him, sir.”
“No just point me in the right direction.”
“Through your door to the left, sir.”
Allenson noticed that a brightly colored insert had slipped from Chung’s file when it hit the floor. Military documents are not normally noted for their visual splendor so it caught his eye. He reached down and picked up the file. He slipping the illustrated copy of Brothel Big’uns back inside The Orders Of The Day before placing it back on the sergeant’s desk.
“Very good, sar’nt, you may carry on.”
Todd opened the door to the left which turned out to be a broom cupboard full of assorted stationary and cleaning equipment.
“My left, sir,” said the sergeant, sounding desperate.
Inside two young officers sitting around a desk playing cards came stiffly to attention.
“It seems to be my night for surprising people,” Allenson said mildly. “As you were, gentleman.”
“General Allenson, sir?” the one sporting captain’s flashes asked tentatively.
“You were expecting someone else?”
“Ah, no sir but we were not sure when you would arrive.”
“You must be Captain Frames.”
“And you are?” Allenson asked the other officer.
“Jingle, sir, Lieutenant Jingle,” the young man squeaked.
Allenson studied him, wondering if he was old enough to shave. Militia officers were getting younger every year. At this rate they would be recruiting in the kindergarten soon. Jingle looked increasing nervous under Allenson’s gaze so he switched back to Frames.
“Is Colonel Masters on base?”
“No, general, he’s away on business,” Frames replied.
“I see, on business. No doubt Colonel Masters has a home located somewhere conveniently nearby as he is resident on Trinity,” Allenson said to no one in particular, as if he was thinking aloud.
“Yes, sir,” Jingle said, helpfully, before shutting his mouth tight after a warning look from Frames.
“I believe Colonel Masters does own such a property in a village a few kilometers from here,” Frames said cautiously. “It is possible he might be there. Shall I try to find him?”
Allenson paused as if considering.
“I think not. There’s no need to disturb him unnecessarily. That’s an order not a suggestion, captain.”
He didn’t want Frames to tip Masters off. It might be useful to meet the other officers of the besieging army without him around.
“My aide and I require accommodation in the base.”
“Yes, sir, arrange it please, Lieutenant Jingle.”
Jingle’s eyes defocussed as he thought hard. Space would be at a premium. A whole line of people would have to be bumped down to give Allenson a room appropriate to his rank. The most junior officer, possibly Jingle himself, could end up sleeping in a waterlogged tent.
“And my barge is over at the civilian HQ with our luggage. Please arrange to move them here.”
“Yes, sir, both the barge and the luggage?” asked Jingle, anxiously.
“I think that would be convenient,” Allenson replied, keeping a straight face. “You will find my man, Boswell, keeping an eye on it.”
Jingle hurried out, forgetting to salute. Frames closed his eyes.
“Have you and your fellow officers dined yet tonight?” Allenson asked.
“No, sir, we club together using one of the lecture theatres as a mess. There are eight of us, usually and Lieutenant Lamborgi has a servant who is an excellent chef.”
“Well, Captain, if you think the faire might extend from eight to ten, I would be pleased to join you. I have a couple of bottles of decent wine in my kit that I could contribute.”
“We would be delighted to welcome you and your aide, sir.”
Actually, there was no other acceptable reply that Frames could give but he did seem genuinely happy at the prospect.
The dinner was indeed rather good. Initially stilted, conversation flowed more freely in direct correlation with the consumption of alcohol. Eventually the young officers felt bold enough to give Allenson their opinion on how the war should be fought. He was pleased to see that they wanted to take the fight to the enemy with an immediate assault on Oxford. Only an idiot would take strategic advice from a junior officer but it was right that they erred on the side of aggression. Older wiser heads could be allowed to decide how and where to direct that aggression.