2017 – A mix of Biggles and the Jackal from “The Day of the Jackal”. Double fan fic then!
Biggles looked down at the cold morning rolling French landscape from the two seater ‘pusher’ type aircraft. Ahead of him an empty seat: leaving the machine gun unattended. Behind, the engine: delivering some welcome warmth, even through his thick leather flying jacket. Taking a map from its pocket, next to the instrument panel, he compared it to the scene below as he eyed the compass on the dash. The marks on the map clearly matched the cold bleak panorama below, meaning that he was ten miles from his goal. The bitter weather made him keenly regret accepting Raymond’s mission, that had been broached to him the night before. The sky was empty as it had been from the very first, no-one was keen to be up in the cold air on that day.
He reflected on the unexpected visit from Raymond at the squadron the night before. The mess had been a scene of merriment and joviality. Officers had found a crate of whiskey in the town a few days back. There had been stiff competition as to which squadron would get it, in the end 266 squadron won, though it was a small reward as the other squadrons were guests that night and partaking of a good measure of jovial spirit.
Biggles, not one for drinking these days, welcomed Raymond over the loud talking and riotous piano playing. He winced at the contortions the poor piano was suffering at Wilks’ hands. Ushering him into a quiet office they both sat down at the desk. Raymond looked strained, and about ten years older than when he had last seen him five days ago. There were bags around his eyes and a drained look suggesting lack of sleep.
“I have a mission for you Bigglesworth. But I must stress that this one is at your choice. I will not pull rank or think worse of you if you do not accept. This one had landed in my lap and we have tried all other means. If there was no other choice I would not send my best man on this mission.”
“Thank you Sir, please go on,” he returned, offering a cigarette, which was taken and duly lit. Biggles lit his own and took a drag, expelling the smoke as Raymond continued.
“I know that this will go no further than you, therefore, these are the facts. We have an agent on the other side of the lines. He is carrying a microfilm, of very important secret files. I cannot stress how important, which I why I am asking my best man here to go and rescue my best man over there.”
“Go on Sir, I am listening.”
Raymond briefed Biggles for the next half an hour. Of course Biggles accepted. When he left he thanked him warmly, Biggles had never seen Raymond look so relieved.
“I need to get back first, Sir,” he had remarked.
Algy came up to him, somewhat the worse for drink, as they had lost two pilots that morning Biggles did not berate him.
“What did the bigwig want?”
“I have a secret mission, sorry old boy but unable to tell you more.”
Biggles said goodnight, went to his room and gave his batman instructions for an early call. As he attempted to court sleep he wondered why he had agreed to this.
The morning had been a very early start. Almost as his eyes closed the batman shook him gently awake. It was still dark. He dressed quickly, drank some coffee and pushed food into his jacket pockets. Outside in the bitterly cold air he strode quickly over to the hangers. Smyth was running up the two seater’s engine. The Flight Sargent knew better than to question the wisdom of flying with no gunner and said nothing as Biggles climbed aboard and opened the throttles.
As Biggles taxied out into the darkness Smyth looked after him and shook his head. Each time a pilot left he expected not to see them again, but this flight took the biscuit. He tracked the plane through the darkness as the engine roared across the airfield and into the air. Shaking his head again he returned to the warmth of the hanger.
Biggles held her low over the dark landscape to build up speed and then gently coaxed the old girl higher and higher into the thin cold air. He was well inside his own lines and the flashes of explosions from the frontline were still distant. Whatever his mission now he was happy he was not down there in the mud with those poor Tommies. A constant struggle, night and day, he gave thanks for his few hours kip in a warm bed.
The aircraft gained height, circuit after circuit. Even he started to feel nausea as the constant upwards spiral. Each circuit gaining him precious altitude. Finally, with no glimmer of dawn yet, he turned the nose to point over the lines and into enemy territory. He was fantastically high now. The air bitter and thin, and the lines tiny down below. The flashes seemed like only little pinpricks of light. He flew on into the early morning and deeper into enemy France.
Now it was light he pocketed the map and nibbled on a biscuit. Then cut the engine, intending to glide to his target.
As he glided on, the wind humming over the wires, he saw the field that had been marked for the rendezvous. Raymond had told him the agent would wait under the trees at the far end. He had also told him not to be surprised if he wore a German uniform. Judging it carefully to bring the nose light aircraft towards the field his lips came together in a thin line. Now was crucial, one mistake and he would have to open the engine, which would bring the better part of the German army to him, and to the agent. He had no desire for the agent to be shot. He also assumed that he would be shot for being with the man.
Gradually the field came closer. A high bank of trees bordered two sides with a church spire beyond. On his side the way was clear. The agent had chosen the field well, and he could see the pasture was firm and clear from obstructions. Perhaps the man had already checked to field for him. From Raymond’s opinion of the agent this would not surprise him. Biggles felt an admiration for the man who masqueraded behind the lines and the risks he must go through every minute of the day.
Slowly the pasture grass came to meet the wheels of the aircraft. He sat tense at the stick, eyes fixed ahead for trouble. If he misjudged it, without the engine running, there would be no second chance. The plane bounced once but settled with a rumble unto its wheels. Then the tail skid came down as he lost momentum. She rolled to within twenty yards of the tress and stopped. Silence. Then a man broke cover from the shade, as if from nowhere. One minute the place seemed completely empty, then the agent was already close. He wore a German uniform as Raymond had expected.
The man reached him and looked up. Instantly Biggles was surprised by the look in the eyes. They were grey with a strange flecking to the colour, which left them expressionless. The man’s face was a mask and he could read nothing there. He could see blonde hair under the German hat.
“Good morning Bigglesworth. I will give her a swing,” he said grabbing the wing and turning the plane to the open field. He then turned to the propeller and gave it a professional pull. “Contact!” the engine burst into life and the agent ran round to climb into the front seat. He raised his thumb, Biggles acknowledged and opened up the throttle. The light plane gained speed over the rough grass. First the noise of the dragging tail-skid stopped and then the rumble of the wheels as she lifted into the air.
His passenger busied with strapping himself in. Then he turned his attention to the machine gun, checking it over with in very professional manner. Biggles felt admiration for the man. Not only an agent, but multi-skilled and efficient, with this man at the gun he felt much safer than on the way out. He settled down to a quick flight home, but very soon his hopes of a clean getaway were dashed.
The agent saw the multicoloured triplane first. He was professionally and carefully checking the sky, when suddenly the expressionless eyes locked onto an object out of Biggles view. He pointed urgently and Biggles craned is head around. Coming out of the sky at an incredible speed was a lone, very brightly coloured, German triplane. As he looked puffs of smoke came from her machine guns.
Biggles kicked out with his right foot and jammed the stick over to his left knee, the plane wallowed, stuck from its placid course, flipped around and whipped into a vicious but controlled spin. Ahead the agent gripped onto his seat for dear life, though completely composed as if expecting this would happen. The bullets had missed them and quickly Biggles pulled the machine out of the spin. Immediately there came the sound of machine guns as the triplane had spun with them. Clearly, the other pilot was on old hand, keeping behind so the agent could not fire though Biggles, the prop and the wings at him. But Biggles was an old hand too and executed one of his expert flips, bringing the triplane into direct range of the mobile machine gun. Again Biggles was impressed as the agent instantly sent a hail of tracer bullets at the brightly coloured menace. Again the other pilot slipped away.
It was a bitter flight. The German was tricky, slipping behind and spinning; Biggles was just as tricky never giving him much to shoot at. Slipping away and bringing the front of his plane back in range. Each time the agent skilfully managed to get deadly accurate fire from the mobile gun: their main advantage. The German machine was more manoeuvrable and light but the British machine could fire from all directions, with a highly skilled gunner on board. Again and again they diced this way and that, neither with an upper hand. Finally the end came and it was not due to skill lacking on behalf of each pilot or the gunner.
Biggles had just dived and turned, the German was in the sights of the agent’s gun. He fired at the German who spun and slipped away only to come back up quickly from a shot dive and fire up at the two seater. Biggles saw it and turned the machine fast, but at that moment two things happened: the engine spluttered and a wire snapped in the rigging. The blood drained from Biggles face, as the threat of imminent collapse of the wing sections was real. Then the engine spluttered again, stopping dead. They were getting close to the ground now after all the dives and spins. Again the German was firing, Biggles was worried the two seater would not take another spin and side slipped deeply to a field. Normally he would not have chosen such a field. Ahead, the agent clearly realised Biggles intention, but he gave nothing away in his expression as to whether he thought is was a good or bad idea.
Either way they had to land. The German was busy trying to get a kill before they did but Biggles avoided him, and gave the agent many chances to bring his gun to bare which were duly taken. The German had little chance to get close. The field closed on them quickly. It was a huge risk: looking bumpy and overgrown, but there was no choice. Down the two seater went and Biggles tried to make a good landing. Luck was against him. The wheels bumped, bumped again, then suddenly they hit a furrow, she flew up into the air with no speed left to fly, snapped round in a massive stall, clipped her wing on the ground and cartwheeled. The world spun around them again and again, the sound of breaking splintering wood and fabric was intense. Then it ended quickly and the former aircraft slumped sadly into a pile of broken parts.
Then quiet, but for the sound of the German’s engine. They had both escaped unharmed though Biggles was stuck in the cockpit. The agent was out of the wreckage quickly and as far as Biggles could tell had lost is mind, standing clear in the open waving at the Triplane. It turned and came round, lining up, the agent had had it. Biggles watched, expecting to see a deadly hail of lead cut the agent in half. The suddenly the Triplane’s nose pulled up and flew past, very close. Biggles saw the flying helmet with blonde long hair coming from its sides looking out from the cockpit. The German was looking carefully at the agent. Then he was past. The agent came back quickly and set to work releasing Biggles.
“He thinks I am German,” he said in a matter of fact voice. Understanding dawned on Biggles. It was a brave move but it had paid off. “We are going to have to run for it though, soon he will remember I was shooting at him, that may stretch things too far.”
The agent was right, they heard the note of the engine change as the pilot completed a turn and put the nose down steep to come in for a kill. A howling noise built up from the German machine as the dive became faster and steeper. Neither Biggles or the agent looked; they were running as fast as they could to the cover of trees bordering one side of the field. Machine gun fire broke out, both of them swerved in their course, left to right in an attempt to spoil the gunners aim. Dust flicked up from the ground a small distance behind and Biggles heard the thud of the bullets tearing into the soil.
Then they were in the trees: neither let up and they drove on, branches and barbed thorns fiercely ripping at them. Shortly they pulled up, both run in. Now the trees were dense and the triplane would be unable to see them. They could still hear him circling overhead.
“I expect we need to get a move on,” said the agent.
“You lead the way, I know little of the area,” returned Biggles.
They walked silently through the wooded area for sometime, presently the trees come to an end. Beyond were fields and a rutted track. Biggles had been wondering what the best plan was, but so far had come up with no way to cross back over the lines. The other problem was that one of them wore a German uniform and one a British flying kit. Of course, the agent could find a way to disguise his appearance once on the other side. Now the problem was his own flying kit.
There appeared to be no-one around as they emerged from the woods but as soon as they were on the track there was a loud shout. The agent saw them first and quickly pulled out a gun, holding it pointed towards Biggles.
“What the devil,” uttered Biggles raising his hands slowly.
“I said keep your hands up Englander!” he said loudly in fluent German jerking the gun upwards and one hand to make it clear what he wanted, and then quietly to Biggles: “Sorry old chap, they were about to shoot you but put down their guns when they saw mine.”
The men were a distance behind Biggles and he was unable to see them until they arrived. Several German troops, heavily armed, circled him; their attitude was one of aggression. One prodded Biggles with his bayonet, not hard enough to wound him but enough to hurt.
“Leave him!” instructed the agent, “this one is mine.” The men obeyed quickly, it was only then that he realised the agent had a uniform of a high rank. “Get me some transport, quickly, I wish to get back to the airfield.”
Some of the men ran off. The rest stayed to guard Biggles as the agent returned the gun to his pocket.
“You Germans are slimy dogs and need kicking all the way back to your own country,” said Biggles. None of the men said anything. “Do you any of you speak English?” he said in general.
“Silence Englander!” yelled one of the men. That answered that, at least one of them knew a tiny bit of English, making talking to the agent impossible. The agent spoke to the man in German agreeing with him. Clearly, he was pretending not to be able to speak English.
“I wish to return to my airfield,” he said to the army man in German. “I will take charge of the Englander and keep him in the cells there. I want to get information from him when I have an interpreter.”
“Very good sir,” replied the German soldier.
After twenty minutes, they heard an engine on the road, then shortly could see a battered old truck with an army man driving. It looked to Biggles that they had commandeered it from a farmer. It arrived and Biggles was roughly pushed into the back with two soldiers to guard him. The agent got into the front with the driver. Then the truck turned in a gateway and headed back the way it had come.
For sometime the truck rattled uncomfortably on the rutted track. Then the road improved, but not much. After two hours they arrived at a guarded gate. A sign announced that it was an aerodrome. They all climbed out and passed through. Clearly the men knew the agent, and his rank being superior, they did not ask any questions. He repeated what he had said to the army men. They walked to the building and then the army men were relieved of guarding Biggles.
He was then escorted to a cell. Just before departing the agent caught his eyes, but as usual, there was no expression. Biggles did not think so, but was unsure if the man could be a double agent, if so he had now jumped from the frying pan into the fire.
There were two cells, both of them empty. Biggles was escorted to one, pushed inside and the door slammed shut. First of all he walked over to the little bared window, there was no view, only a wall a few paces distant. He shrugged and flung himself down on the hard cell bed. This was how it was for the next hour as he reflected over events that had bought him to a cell in on a German airfield. Raymond had vouched strongly for the agent but Biggles could not be sure. The man had done nothing untoward and not logical, but somehow Biggles was uneasy. The end result so far had only bought him to a cell. Certainly much had been out of the control of either of them. It was the way he could not read the emotions of the man. Very good cover for a spy certainly, but as assurance for a comrade, it left him feeling unsettled.
His reflections were interrupted with the noise of heavy feet approaching. Then the door was unlocked and flung open. The same German who had bought him to the cell beckoned him to follow. They walked though a few corridors and arrived at a door that looked like the commandants office. Biggles was ushered in.
The office was gaudily and heavily furnished. At one end was a heavy and pretentious desk. Seated at the desk was an equally pretentious commandant. To one side stood a civilian and to the other the agent. Though Biggles could as usual not read his expression, no one gave the impression of being pleased to see him. The commandant fixed him with a stare and sent forth a stream of German. Biggles could both understand and speak German, though it was not perfect. However the commandant, in order to seem important, spoke so fast that he could not understand a lot. Then the civilian spoke in good but heavily accented English.
There was a long preamble about how the British would loose the war and then: “We wish to know what you are doing in this area,” he said.
“I wanted to have a look to see if the circus triplanes could fight as well as they pretend,” he knew it was a bad idea to anger the commandant.
He was questioned for two or three hours. The commandant insisting that Biggles was a spy and should be shot. The agent was fully in agreement. Towards the end Bigges’ was tired and started to say many things in order to anger them more. The commandant was often red with anger almost spiting across the room. The agent showed no emotion, though much anger came with the words. Although the interpreter himself was getting equally as upset and angry. The end came when he was so bored and tired of standing that he insulted the commandant’s mother which inferred that he was in fact born from a pig.
“You shall be shot at dawn!” shouted the red faced commandant, banging his desk and spluttering out the words through the equally spluttering interpreter.
The agent stood in an implacable manner, while the other two and even the gaoler raved. Then the furious commandant ordered him taken back to the cell. Once there a plate of cold meat was left behind and the door firmly bolted. He did not see another person as he lay on the bed for a long time while it got dark and the evening drew in. This was a sticky situation indeed, there would be no rescue from his friends, who where firmly on the other side of the lines and had no idea where he was on this secret mission. He pulled the thin blanket over himself, if only to feel slightly more comfortable, they had not taken away his flying kit and he was indeed very warm. He lay thinking as it become fully dark.
Quite suddenly he realised that he had been dozing, as a quiet noise came from the door and woke him. He lay listening, the sleep coming away from his head slowly. Then he looked at the luminous dial of his watch: 4a.m. The ideal time for covert operations, when all human beings are at their lowest ebb. The noise came again: certainly the key was being turned very carefully. After this the bolts were drawn back inch by inch, very slowly. Biggles quietly stood up and took a position next to the door so he could attempt to foil this, what he assumed, foul play. The blots finally drew home, the person on the other side was very cautious: clearly desiring not to disturb anyone.
Then quiet. Was the person still there? Very strange. He waited, the minutes ticked away. Finally a sound, a tiny taping: Morse!
“A friend, will open door.”
“Roger,” he tapped back.
Slowly the door opened. Then a man stood in the dark doorway and he beckoned for Biggles to follow. He did so but feeling uneasy. They passed though the dark building: the man knew his way very well. Presently they arrived at an outer door and slipped into the dark and fresh early morning. There was no moon but it was lighter, then Biggles could his companion, it was the agent. Not sure if he was relieved or not, he hoped that is was not a trap.
They walked in silence, it was prudent not to talk and there was no need. After several minutes of stealthy walking in deep shadows, they reached a row of hangers. Still the agent moved on, walking carefully to the very end hanger. When he reached it, he stopped, pointing. At a short distance was an aircraft, Biggles could have laughed, it was the multicoloured triplane that had tried to shoot them down. The agent was looking for something which he soon found hidden in a cavity at the end of the hanger. There were two sets of heavy flying gauntlets and a spare flying kit. He also had a pistol. Pulling on the kit and then motioning to Biggles, putting his mouth close to his ear.
“You will have to warm her. I will keep them away with this.” he brandished the gun, “I will have to go on the wing.”
Biggles saw the prudence of the flying kit, there clearly were no two seater aircraft to make off with, or that were convenient, and the agent knew he would freeze to death getting home hanging onto the wing. The spare set of gauntlets were for Biggles, he had left the others behind in the cell. Clearly the agent had hidden these items earlier in the day.
Biggles replied into the agent’s ear: “We should push her away a bit.”
The agent shook his head. “Too risky, someone will see us moving it.”
He saw the agent was right and went quickly to the aircraft. His companion came with him and stood at the front. Biggles engaged ignition and the agent swung the prop. She fired but was cold, amazingly the engine continued to turn. It warmed quickly and Biggles wondered how soon the airfield would be swarming. Strangely no one stirred. Biggles was mystified. Then one person came quickly around the hanger. Again, he almost laughed out loud, the man had long blonde hair, the pilot of the triplane wondering why his aircraft was being run up.
He rapidly took shelter behind the hanger as the agent sent a bullet over his blonde head. The engine was now warm and Biggles frantically waved to the agent. Seeing him pocket the gun and run towards the machine Biggles opened up. As the aircraft started to move he felt a heavy weight on one side. Would she lift like this? He wondered. He had to hold the stick over to one side to make up for it. She gained speed and soon she unstuck, taking heavily and lopsided to the cold air.
He kept her low, but not too low, as he was unable to see the dark landscape clearly. Luckily the moon was now out and the first glimmers of dawn crept into the horizon. This made navigation much easier. He was trying not to move the plane around too much as he feared the agent would not be able to hold on. As it was, he wondered how his arms felt already, numb, thought Biggles. The little triplane bored on into the cold air and Biggles looked over the side, trying to see the agent. It was hard to see him as his seat was high and the lower wing directly beneath. By craning his head over the side he could see that the agent was tucked right up to the fuselage and holding on for grim life. It was a prudent move as his weight would unbalance the kite, but more so as he would in theory be less lashed by the slipstream close in like that. Certainly, Biggles was happy that it was not him on the wing, though he did feel for the man having to ride home like this.
There were no other aircraft in the sky and the pale dawn was lighting the sky as the lines came into view. There was fighting down there as puffs of smoke showed from the muddy line. Biggles bought the machine lower to spoil the aim of the gunners who would soon start to try and get another kill. As they entered the German lines it was all quiet but soon they reached no man’s land and shot into the area over the allied trenches. Then all hell was let loose at the brightly coloured Fokker. Biggles sat grim faced as shells exploded around and tracer bullets shot lines of deadly lead into the sky. Luckily at his speed, and low height, the gunners could not tack him fast enough and soon they as passed the lines into allied France.
Biggles was worried about three things now. The first was if the agent could hold on much longer, but it was impossible to communicate with him. The second was how he was going to land with the extra weight on one side. And the third.. he did not have to worry long about the third. As he thought about other machines, British machines, a chatter of machine gun fire bust out from behind. Biggles dared not take evasive action for fear of shaking off his passenger: he simply put the nose down and cut the engine. Then he moved the stick left to right to ‘waggle’ the wings. This strange behaviour seemed to have the correct effect, and the British machine overshot without firing any more.
Biggles looked at the other plane as it made a turn and again nearly laughed out loud, it was Algy! Then grimly he wondered if Algy would take the hint and not shoot him down, and then if Algy could stop the rest of the squadron from shooting down the ‘Tripe’. Biggles opened up again, and again ‘waggled’ the wings, waving frantically at Algy. The other machine came alongside with Algy looking at him curiously. Biggles whipped off his flying helmet and beamed at him. Algy’s face was a picture, and gradually Biggles could see his shock ebb away as he got a grip on the situation. Then Biggles motioned down to the figure hanging onto the wing. Algy nodded and scanned the sky behind. As he did so he also waggled his wings, and took up a firm station next to the Tripe as close as he could. Biggles looked back and could see the rest of the squadron sweeping down on them. Luckily Algy’s actions worked, as the others to a man, flew down to look at these strange actions with out taking offensive action. Several came alongside to see their fellow squadron member piloting a hun Tripe, the look on their faces would have been extraordinarily comical if Biggles had felt jovial.
The airfield came into view. Biggles pointed the nose at the grass airstrip. He wondered if he would be able to land her with this heavy weight on one side. He looked down at the agent, he had managed to turn his head and by various nods and grimaces made it clear to Biggles what he wanted to do. They both knew that Biggles could not land the machine with the agent where he was. The machine came down lower and lower to the grass. Gradually the speed decreased. His stick was not central. He waited as they were near the grass. Then, as planned, suddenly the weight was gone. Biggles pulled the stick level quickly and cut the engine. She was only at stalling speed, bumped onto the grass and stopped quickly. He jumped out and onto the grass, running over to the form of the agent laying where he had fallen. As he reached him the agent got up, removed the flying jacket, dusted some loose grass from the German uniform and then rubbed his stiff arms.
“Nice landing Bigglesworth.”
“Nice landing yourself.” he laughed.
Algy’s machine flew low overhead and Biggles waved. The engine blipped and he turned back to follow the squadron back to the lines. Smyth and a few other mechanics were standing near the Triplane looking at it with wonder. Then, equally with wonder, they turned to watch Biggles and a German officer walking slowly to the airfield buildings. The agent was limping a little but made no protests about it.
“What I can’t believe is how we started an aircraft at four in the morning and only the pilot came to investigate,” said Biggles.
“Oh it is no mystery. After I hid the flying kit I posted an order that a secret agent was to be flown into allied France at 4 am and no one was to interfere. I did have a little authority there. The only fly in the ointment was the pilot. I expect he saw the orders but little thought it would be his aircraft employed for the job.”
Understanding dawned on Biggles face. “I see.” Then came a further surprise as Raymond’s car arrived ahead. “How the devil…”
“Oh yes and last night I used their radio, in a code, to say we would be arriving. A shame it didn’t get through to your pilots.” They stopped. The agent turned to Biggles. “Well, this is it, I shall be leaving.” He held out his hand: “Thank you very much for the ride Bigglesworth.”
They shook hands and Biggles looked into those grey expressionless eyes, but this time he was sure he detected a little humour and friendship there. Raymond joined them, shook both their hands, thanking Biggles profusely.
Biggles said to the agent: “Call me Biggles please. You never did tell me your name.”
“My code name is: Jackal. Look me up one day.”
Then Raymond and the Jackal returned to the car, climbed in, and it drove away.