CHAPTER FOURTEEN- The late show becomes the early show.
Ray Meadows felt drained. He knew he had to get up and walk around. Maybe find a clock. As if knowing made it any better. What time was it? He felt like he had just been through the war himself. Maybe he should just call it a night and go to bed. At least that pizza finally settled down to a dull roar. What was on that thing? Ray stood up and sat right back down. Whoa. Right leg's asleep. Ok, he could deal with this. Just go slow, Ray. You can do it. He made his way to the door, then he remembered: Save that file. He hobbled back and went for the mouse. A move, a click, a whirr and he knew he could head for the kitchen. It was Icon Spinning Time, which gave him time to spin. Time for something. He didn't know what.
It was twelve-thirty by the kitchen clock when Ray opened the refrigerator door and stared intently into the over-lit interior. What was he looking for? What did he want? Something that wouldn't argue with the pizza and the garlic bread. The garlic bread- now there was a ghost come back to haunt him. He felt like the garlic was just dripping off of him now. Why did he eat so much? He knew why. He ate so much because he couldn't get a word in edgewise with Jake. Good ol' Jake did all the taking, so good ol' Ray did all the eating. An unfair trade, from Ray's current point of view. Enough with the 'fridge, Ray, close the door. He settled on that old late-night stand-by: Milk and cookies. You just can't beat the combination. He poured himself a big glass of cold milk and went for the cookie jar. It's heavy. This is a good sign. He cradled the jar in one arm, picked up his glass of milk and went for the kitchen table. May as well make a meal of it. Ray pulled out a chair and had a seat. Time to contemplate life, milk and cookies. The big three.
Upstairs in the computer room, the icon was done doing the Saving Dance. The hardware sat quietly, awaiting Ray's next command. In their bedroom, Barbara was quite sound asleep. There's a big advantage to not gorging yourself with pizza and garlic bread: You get to sleep. Outside, in that big old oak tree, things were stirring. They had been stirring earlier, but the light from the computer room made them wary. Now that light was out, but a lower light was on. That was better. The lower light didn't shine on them. Not as long as they stayed high up in the tree. The three climbers watched the house, the yard and the neighborhood. They had all stirred awake within the hour, but didn't move until now, with the light out of their eyes. Constantly watching the kitchen window and back door, the climbers slowly shifted to positions further out from the main trunk of the tree. A few tender new leaves would be a start for breakfast. Eventually, they knew they'd leave the tree. But not now. Not until that lower light went out.
Ray was half way through his glass of milk, and most of the way through the cookies. He had just sat there at the kitchen table at one in the morning, contemplating the life of a kid in London in the war. In some ways, Arthur Crutchfield was lucky. In other ways, he most certainly was not. He got to live in a fascinating time in history, in the middle of the action, and he got to live through it. To grow up in the London blitz must have been an incredible experience. But what of his schooling? No mention had been made of Arthur's education after the start of the war. Ray wondered about that. This guy supposedly wrote a book. With what? Short words and a crayon? Ray thought about it: Crutchfield was born it 1928. By the end of the war in 1945 he was what? Seventeen? What did he do? Get a job? What work was there for a self-taught professional thief in London after the war? Was there even anything left to steal? That settled it right there. Ray knew he'd be up all night. He had to go back and see what happened next. He knew Crutchfield saw climbers in London during the war, but what about the rest of his life? Nothing like a mystery to be solved, and the solution was waiting quietly upstairs on the other side of an Internet connection.
With the milk gone and the cookies seriously depleted, Ray made his way back upstairs. A quick look into the bedroom told him that Barbara was fast asleep and comfortable. He backed out of the room without waking her. Down the hall, turn left and pull up a chair. Time to surf again, like we did last summer. The computer was quietly stalled at the end of the last file. Ray scrolled down a bit to pick up the information on the tail end of the file. The Crutchfield's underground address, Blackfriars Medical Unit and Charring Cross Hospital, even Arthur's mother's official position and assignment address during the war. Odd. No mention of his father's work. Hmmm. Ray made a note on the legal pad to look into that later. What else? Professor Edward Hodgson's address in the country. Nice. No mention of Maria's family in Austria. Hope they came out of it ok. Ok, enough. On to the next entry in the life of Arthur S. Crutchfield. Which was? Ray had forgotten. Time to go back and look it up. He knew he had it written down there somewhere, but decided to go back and look, just in case.
"5. A.S.C., first sightings & identifying". There it was. That had to be the next entry, chronologically. Ok, Ray thought, this must pick up about where the war entry he just finished had stopped. The kid's outside, and asleep under a tree full of climbers. Been there, done that. Ray clicked on the appropriate item in the on-screen menu. He reflected on what he had been through these last few months. The file came up on screen. Let's see how it went over fifty years ago:
Arthur Smith Crutchfield almost slept completely through the Allies' first night in Paris. It was understandable. He was tired, troubled and on the other side of the Channel. Following the apparent arrest of his friend, Professor Edward Hodgson, Arthur had made his way across town to Hyde Park. He needed to relax above ground, some place green. Having left a short note for his parents in their little underground flat, this is where he ended up: In the very center of a big park, asleep under an ancient oak tree. It's very likely he would have slept there through the night, if it weren't for the noise. More than just the usual city traffic noise, or even the now-usual air raid siren noise. This was different. This was weird. This was a party. As news filtered back to the civilians in London that Paris was no longer under German control, and virtually intact, there had to be some sort of celebration. It was time for a much-needed party long over due. By eight o'clock that evening, the local air wardens had given up on enforcing the black-out. Every one was taking a break from the war, if only for this one night. The lights of London shone again. A limited engagement, one night only.
Waking to the sounds of big band dance music drifting through the park, Arthur was convinced his ears were still dreaming. Music? Not bloody likely. But he was in no mood to argue and continued to lie there, stock still, looking up at the big tree above him. It was a welcome change from that cramped little underground room. He loved his parents, but there were times when he just wanted to be alone. Like now. And he'd be alone, he thought, if it weren't for whoever was up there in the tree above him. Arthur thought it odd that someone would have walked right by him and climbed up into the tree without waking him. Maybe they went up on the other side and never saw him. Yes, that had to be it. What were they doing, those two? Enjoying the music and the view? Of course. Looked to be a couple of kids. Kind of small, like he was. And that one there- the smaller of the two- what is he (or is he a she?) doing? Stretching out along a limb and- eating the leaves? That seemed a bit desperate. Arthur knew that a great many things were being rationed because of the war, but nobody was starving. Nobody he knew, anyway.
He continued to watch without moving from his spot on the ground beneath the tree. Yes, that one was eating leaves. And the other one? Where did that other child go? Ah, right there- still by the main trunk. Tough to see, there. What were they wearing? Arthur watched and listened. The bigger one watched and listened. The music was still playing and he could hear the sounds of a city having fun in the distance. But here in the park, under the tree, all was silent. Those two weren't making a noise. As Arthur became more awake, the situation became more unusual. Who were those two and what were they up to? And why was that one eating leaves? Arthur stood up, and in doing so took his eyes off the tree for that split-second. Once he was standing, and looked back up, they were gone. How could that be? Arthur grabbed the tree trunk. Had he been dreaming? Was he only just now awake? It seemed the most likely answer to the situation. He listened. The sounds were the same. The music and the laughter were still in the distance. He looked up into the tree. Again, nothing there. He walked around the tree and looked all around the park. Not much to see in the dark, but Arthur knew he was alone. But why was he alone? Where were those two? And more to the point: Were those two?
Arthur had slept in the park for at least six hours. He was as rested as he had ever been in the last few years. Was too much fresh air a bad thing? It must have gone to his head. He was seeing people in the trees. How silly of him. Just dreaming, of course. He set a course for home without a glance back at the tree, where the climbers were still tightly blended with the tree trunk. It would be hours before they untangled themselves and lost some of that coloration to continue feeding. If seeing people in the trees had been an odd experience for young Mister Crutchfield, he had given the climbers a real shock as well. Asleep on the ground beneath them, neither climber had even noticed him there until he stood up. For them, it was as though he had risen straight out of the ground itself. Not a pleasant sight, if you weren't expecting it. They weren't. They were going to spend most of the night next to the main trunk, color matched to the bark. No feeding, no moving. And what was all that odd noise all around them? It was going to be a long night for them as well.
Past the palace and moving through Trafalgar, Arthur found his return trip home to be slow going. It seemed everyone left in London was hosting a party tonight, and poor Arthur was invited to every one of them. What was a simple half-hour walk out to the park became a two hour dance back to his home. In his well-rested, if somewhat confused state, Arthur couldn't see any reason to turn down a perfectly good invitation or two. Or at least a dozen, by the time he finally found himself on the street that ran in front of his own building. It was nearly eleven when he was close enough to the building's front door to see his parents, along with the other residents, sitting outside and enjoying the evening's entertainment. Odd, he thought: Two people missing. Then he remembered how badly his day had gone: the Hodgsons. Carted off by M.I. Gone but not forgotten. He joined the small group and settled in.
Arthur's initial inquires concerning the whereabouts of the Hodgsons were met with silence from the remaining tenants. Even his father had nothing to say on the subject. Did he know anything? Probably not. Hodgson was gone. Too bad. So sad. His father was kind enough to remove that rather obnoxious military sign posted on the Hodgson's door. The padlock was more than enough protection. No one was going to be wandering down to the third lower level of that building just to see what was there. And if the did? Well, that was the good news, Arthur: There wouldn't be anything to see or any one to see for very much longer in that underground hidey hole. They were moving, one and all. Maybe as soon as next week. They were headed to better digs- above ground.
What should have been stunningly good news to Arthur was met with a blank stare. In spite of a good bit of sleep, it had been a long strange day. Moving? Why should they be moving? Weren't they safe here? What about the Germans? Just because Paris fell today doesn't mean they're going to surrender tomorrow. Arthur felt these were all valid points to his argument. Not that he really wanted to stay in that one room underground hovel, but it was a known quantity. It was home, and the bombs hadn't touched it. His argument was given tremendous credence at this point by the powers-that-be in London. Now approaching midnight, those parties showed no signs of slacking. Something had to be done. Time for a little dose of reality to bring everyone back down to earth. Is there such a thing as too much fun?
It started low, all around them. So low they felt it before they heard it. Even just feeling it, they knew what it was. Within three seconds, it had grown to the audible wail that had filled their lives, night and day, for the past years. Air raid sirens. The parties were done and reflex action took over. In the space of thirty seconds, Arthur stood in front of the building and watched the transformation. The music stopped pouring out from a hundred windows and doorways. What traffic there was came to an abrupt halt. Lights were going out so fast it was as though one big switch controlled the entire town. He was the last person standing outside when he remembered- he had left his flashlight in his satchel downstairs. Better go in. Better join them. Now. The searchlights were sweeping the sky as Arthur took one look back from the doorway. It was odd, he thought: We keep the city completely blacked out. But the moment there's a threat of an air raid, the search lights come on. Didn't they think the Germans were smart enough to look for all the searchlights to find London? Seemed a bit odd to Arthur. But then, it had been an odd day.
Arthur joined his parents downstairs and waited. What would it be this time? The dull drone of German bombers? The odd chuffing of the V1? Or that horrible blast of the huge V2? They all knew that their building didn't stand a chance against those big rocket powered bombs. A direct hit would bury them alive. No one on the surface would consider trying to dig through that much rubble. The whole block would be gone. Maybe there was such a thing as being too safe. Maybe Arthur would take his chances outside tonight. He grabbed his satchel, kissed his mother and headed back to the surface. No one tried to stop him. They were all thinking the same thing.
Back above ground, it was a different city. Which is to say it was the same city it was the night before. Before the parties. Before Paris. Whoever said they'd always have Paris never had to live with the grim reality of having lost it. Nor had they the chance to experience the joy of getting it back again. But now, the party was over. The sirens had stopped, but the searchlights continued that inane circling. Arthur could hear the diesel generators powering the closest battery of lights and guns. Glad that was four blocks away. Loud enough even then. No one else had argued the safety of the underground. He had the street to himself. No lights, no noise- except that generator- and nothing moved.
Of course it was long after curfew. He really shouldn't be here. But that had never stopped him before. No reason to turn back now. Just have to make it official. First stop? The Blackfriars Medical Unit. With those sirens going off, it made perfect sense for him to report in. He hadn't seen them since this morning, over twelve hours ago. Back when Professor Hodgson wasn't a German spy, and weird kids didn't play in trees at night. After that sound evening's sleep, he was ready to work. He'd check in at Blackfriars, then maybe pop over to Charring Cross Hospital. He hardly every stopped by there so late, but it wasn't unheard of. The night shift knew him by now, of course. Maybe he could cage a meal at their cafeteria. It would be easy enough to make it look as though he'd been busy all day. And, come to think of it, he was hungry. When had he eaten last? He couldn't recall. Had it been so long ago that tree leaves looked good? He thought not.
The Blackfriars Medical Unit was up and running, but they were all running in place. When the sirens went off, they were ready to go. But go to where? No planes, no rockets, no bombs. A false alarm? It was possible. Better safe than sorry and all that. Only the senior medical officer at Blackfriars had some idea of what had really happened. He couldn't prove it, but it was just what he would have done to quiet things back down. And it did. It had been a long time since any of them had seen good old fashioned drunken party injuries. It was a welcome change from war wounds, but enough was enough. As the sirens told them, the situation could change in a heartbeat. Now they were ready- but for what?
Arthur hung around the medical unit's headquarters long enough to see what they needed. In spite of the overpowering combination of sweat and disinfectant, he was still hungry. If he had thought about it, maybe those tree leaves were looking better. Or at least a salad. He said his good-byes and headed out the door toward Charring Cross Hospital. Halfway between Blackfriars and Charring Cross, the first rocket bomb fell without warning.
The German V1 wasn't technically a rocket powered bomb. It was an unmanned pulse jet. The odd chuffing noise it made- when the engine was working- came from the opening and closing of the engine's vanes during normal operation. Open to take in air, closed during combustion, then open again. All done several times a second. In spite of the odd propulsion, it worked too well. People living on the eastern coast of the British Isles came to recognize the odd noise for what it was: Death on the Wing. Hawker Aircraft built their Tempest and Typhoon fighter planes to intercept the things and shoot them down. Hopefully over less populated landscape. Hearing the noise itself, however, was generally a sign of your continued good luck. If you hear the thunder, chances are the lightning didn't hit you. Not that one, anyway. The V1 ran itself out of fuel high over England and fell to earth silently. You might hear one pass overheard, on its way somewhere else. You weren't going to hear the one headed down for you. It was running on empty, with a full bomb load. So it was that Arthur Crutchfield looked up to see the silent street ahead of him disappear in a flash and roar.
Instinctively, Arthur threw himself toward the basement stairwell next to the sidewalk. The first hot blast of the explosion caught him in mid-air and pushed his flight path back a bit. He landed in the stairwell, but he landed on the stairs. He curled up and rolled against the wall in pain before the debris started to rain down. Masonry and flaming wood went sailing past, along with the dust, dirt and paving stones from the street. Within ten seconds it was all over. The last bits of shrapnel was on the ground, and the damage was done. Arthur gave it another minute of heavy breathing just to make sure. Anything else going to fall? Not this time. He looked up over the edge of the stairwell and down the street. A big hole and fire where the street used to be not two hundred feet away. The windows were gone for a hundred yards either way. Close by the crater, wood framing on the buildings was burning. Not bad. These were stone buildings. They weren't going to catch fire now. No sounds of any injured. Those sirens did their job. He stood up in the stairwell and checked himself over. Just a bit bruised where he landed on those stone stairs, but nothing broken. He would heal. Onward.
With a cold detachment, Arthur walked up the stairs he had flown past on the way down. He was still hungry. Down the sidewalk past the smoldering hole, he couldn't help but look down in. Looked to be about twenty feet deep in the center. Maybe forty feet wide- almost the entire width of this street. So, he thought: What if it hit our building? Arthur decided it wouldn't reach their lower level, but it would certainly make a mess of their escape. Fifteen minutes later, Arthur Crutchfield was sitting in the Charring Cross Hospital cafeteria having breakfast. Everyone there was talking about the closeness of that last buzz bomb, but Arthur failed to mention how close it had been to him. He was hungry, and the food was good. Time to eat.
Sitting there in the hospital cafeteria hall, windows blacked out and voices muffled, Arthur had time to think. It was midnight. The night shift was filtering in, ready for their mid-day (or mid-night) meal. Everyone there knew little Arty, and still didn't know about The Stoat. In all those years, no one had missed any supplies or wondered what he was up to. He was their messenger, wasn't he? Fine by him. Just let me eat in peace. Too much to think about tonight to bother with conversation.
Arthur knew if he kept his head down while he ate, no one would bother him. As the war dragged on and the bombings took their horrible toll of civilians in town, there were fewer and fewer talkative people. Seemed like everybody lost somebody. Arthur was very lucky. His parents were still with him. Or were thirty minutes ago. Who knows now? He had no close friends and no one else to worry about, but plenty to think about. Like moving. Why would they be moving when they had a bombproof room? Arthur decided that he didn't like the sound of it, even if there wasn't much he could do about it. He'd just have to wait and see. Maybe the war would be over by New Year's.
What an odd thought. The war? Over? It was all he had known for the last five years. Seemed like it was all he knew for his entire life. No, that couldn't be true. Just five years. That's all. He had a life before the war, but he couldn't remember much about it. They had lived in a nice flat above ground. He did remember that. But where? Somewhere further away. He had his own room then. He remembered having to cross bridges a lot. Must have been south of the Thames. He'd have to go back and find it some day. If it was still there. Then he thought about something else he'd like to go back and find. He forgot all about homes and wars. What about those kids in the trees? What was that all about? Arthur tried to reconstruct the events in the park, and what really happened.
He had been asleep. That much he knew for sure. Definitely asleep. Then what? He woke up. Easy enough. But when? And how much of what he thought he saw was really a dream? He remembered hearing the music. How odd. Music in the middle of a war. That didn't help separate the dream from reality. He had heard the music in his dream as well. Alright, what about the children in the trees? Real or dream? Arthur remembered standing up, and seeing at least one person above him in the tree limbs after he stood up. Didn't he? That was real. Wasn't it? So maybe it's a compromise. There was only one person up there, not two. Fair enough. One small child, alone, in a big tree in the middle of the park late at night in the midst of a war. Wait a minute. That left more questions: Who? Why were they there, and not safe at home or in one of the children’s homes out in the country? How did they get there? Who was that up there?
Arthur didn't like what he knew he had to do next. He had to go back and find that child. Maybe they were dazed. Shell shocked. Close hits do that. Scrambles you up a bit so you forget things. Like where you are and who you are and what you were supposed to be doing before the bomb went off. Where you live. He had seen the cases at both Blackfriars and Charring Cross. People that looked perfectly healthy, or at least not badly hurt, walking around in a muddle. Unsure of the day, or where they were. No idea that there was a war on. A child wandering lost in the park would undoubtedly come to no good end. It won't be summer much longer, and this good weather can't last. He'd have to find them, whoever they were, and bring them in. In to where? Well, to either Blackfriars or Charring. Arthur thought perhaps Charring Cross would be better. It was closer to the park. He finished his meal, feeling better than he could remember feeling in years. Alright, Mister Crutchfield, back to the park. Never you mind the time or the curfew. Children to save and all that.
It was near one in the morning when Arthur found himself walking back into Hyde Park. The blackout kept it quite dark, and the earlier air raid left it silent as well. He slowly and carefully worked his way to the center of the park, to that big old oak. Was the child still here? Nothing moved. Not a sound. No music, no children. The tree was still there, though. No doubt about that. That oak had been right there for close to two hundred years. Seen a lot of history pass by. Seen a lot of strange things. Now here in the middle of the night was another strange thing: One small blond Englishman was standing there, examining every branch. Looking for something. He wasn't going to find it. Not that it wasn't there. It was. It just didn't want to be found. Neither one of them did. Not now. Not tonight.
Arthur completed his best inspection of that old tree. Nothing in it. Not that he could see in the darkness, anyway. Maybe whoever it was in it was asleep now. Way up in the tree somewhere, maybe that child was sleeping in the branches. Alright, Arthur could wait. He sat down, back against the trunk, prepared to wait. He pulled off his shoulder bag and looped his leg through it. No need to be careless. This left his arms free, and the bag couldn't be carried off. He pulled out an apple and sat it on top of the bag next to him. Bait. This could work. Arthur folded his arms and settled in to the earth under the tree. The roots cradled him in place and the night was perfect. After that big meal at the hospital, he knew he'd have no trouble falling asleep again, in spite of his earlier long nap. He was right. Within minutes, Arthur Crutchfield was once again among the dreaming. This time, there was no music, no dreaming and no children in the trees. As far as he could tell.
There had been points in Arthur's young life where time had seemed to stand perfectly still. That bomb blast earlier in the evening was a perfect example. To Arthur, everything had happened in excruciatingly slow motion: The flash, his jump, sailing through the air, feeling the blast push him, that bad landing on the steps and the rain of debris that followed. Those few seconds felt like hours at the time. Now time was making up for it. He blinked once, twice, closed his eyes and it was a bright sunny morning in the park. Huh?
Arthur had slept over seven hours. It was just eight o'clock in the morning, with the sun streaming through the trees of the park. A low mist was drifting off the lake and the high clouds hinted at a change in the weather. Maybe rain tomorrow. Arthur stood up and nearly tripped over his shoulder bag, still wrapped around one leg. Then he thought about the apple. No sign of it. Gone. Rolled away? Eaten? Eaten by what? Arthur looked around for the fruit- it wasn't there. Not even the core. He looked up into the tree, squinting against the morning sun. Couldn't see a thing up there. The kid's probably long gone. Maybe he should be, too. He knew he'd better check in with his parents before going anywhere. War or no war, they still did worry about him. Arthur hoisted his messenger bag and set off towards home.
It was a quiet morning in London. It took him most of the walk home to figure out why: Paris was liberated late yesterday. Everyone reveled in the victory last night. Everyone has a hangover this morning. Hence, the silence. Arthur looked around. The streets were quiet and calm, hardly anything moved. He could get used to this. Very peaceful. Too bad it won't last. All these people will take their aspirin with that morning cup of tea and get on with it. At least they gave him a quiet walk home. And home was quiet as well.
Arthur knew his father wouldn't be home at this hour. Out before sunrise, back after dark. What did he do all day? And where did he do it? Arthur knew it would have been easy to follow him and solve the mystery. He also knew that sort of prank could get him shot by some sentry, so he didn't. With luck, he thought, his mother would still be home. He could let her know that he was in fact still alive. Always good to know. As a matter of fact, he was well fed and completely rested. Something he hadn't been in years. And of course, no hangover. That was a big advantage around London that day. He felt fine. Ready to go. He just didn't know where. The moment he stepped into their little underground room and saw his mother, he knew what he would be doing that day.
Arthur's mother wasted no time at all in crossing the room to hug her only son. She knew how close that buzz bomb had been the night before. It had been easy enough for her to figure out Arthur's route to the hospital, and where he would have been when that one hit: Right there. Some how, mothers know these things. Naturally, she pictured him about a hundred yards further down the street- right under the thing. Ka-Boom- No Arthur. Not even the end of a shoelace left. That's what she pictured, anyway. Mothers always do. But there he stood in the doorway, looking none the worse for wear. His coat looked a bit more worn today, and his hair needed combed more than usual, but he was fine. He was alive. She had to hug him.
Arthur knew by that hug what had gone through her mind. Of course she knew which way he'd go to get to the hospital. He had almost forgotten about the bomb blast. But that must be it. Her hug told him what he needed to do next. He had to explain it to her, but he knew she'd understand. There was a child in the park. He had seen some one in the tree. Eating leaves. He had to find them again and bring him- or her- in. Somewhere, a mother was agonizing over a child lost. Presumed dead? Quite possibly. But still alive. Or at least, alive as of some time late last night. Arthur's mother agreed immediately. But now what? Arthur decided his best chance to find the child would be at nightfall- when he had first spotted someone above him in the tree. For now, it was business as usual. Off to Blackfriars, on to Charring Cross, then back to the B.M.U. with the bounty acquired. Then dinner at the hospital and a walk to the park. Don't wait up, mother. But he knew she would. Home by mid-night, with or without that lost child.
Arthur Crutchfield, thief, messenger and now finder of lost souls set off for his busy day. He had to pass the crater from the previous evening's bomb blast. It still looked huge, but at least it wasn't smoldering any more. He had been right about the buildings: They didn't burn. Just scorched a bit from the blast, and a few trim pieces missing here and there. Workers were already clearing away the debris and filling in the hole. The street would be passable by tomorrow morning. Maybe even paved if the weather holds. The sun had risen high enough to hide behind those high clouds and the day had a hint of coolness to it. A change was coming. The fine summer weather that London had enjoyed was about to come to a halt. Time for autumn, the overture to Winter.
The Blackfriars Medical Unit was fully staffed and ready when Arthur walked through the doors that morning. Ready for what? Ready for anything. There had only been a few problems the night before, party-related or otherwise. The air raid sirens had put everyone underground before the bombs hit, so there were few war wounds to treat today. That didn't mean there wasn't a wish list for Arthur to work on. There was, but it was a short list with some odd entries. Like pencils. Pencils? You know the war is winding down (or you hope it is) when pencils replace penicillin on a medical unit's supply list. The paper work was taking over. Always a good sign. Arthur took the list and headed for the hospital. He could run a few errands for them, scarf up the supplies and be out of there in time to be back there in time for a good mid-day meal. There and back again. He could do it. No problem.
Between Blackfriars and Charring Cross Hospital he looked at the list again. Pencils, carbon paper, a stapler and staples. Sounded like one of Professor Hodgson's lists. Poor Hodgson. Probably in some dark, dank prison by now. Who would have thought that nice old man was a spy? Certainly not Arthur. What would happen to him after the war? Would they just let Hodgson go free? Maybe deport him to Germany? Wasn't he English? Arthur decided maybe Hodgson would have to serve his time in England. And of course he was- in his very nice country home with his lovely wife and a well-armed gardener. Hodgson didn't have to continue his false reports after his disappearance. He just had to stay disappeared. What might happen after the war wouldn't concern him yet. Lay low and stay out of sight. Professor Hodgson was happy to do that for his country. Leave the spy stuff to those younger men now. He spent the last months of the war reading good books- and writing them.
Charring Cross Hospital was almost as relaxed as Blackfriars that morning. Only a handful of new cases came in from the night before. A few drunken stumbling accidents, a few bomb debris wounds. All in all, an easy time. The handful of stumbling drunks in the hospital had achieved a sort of celebrity status, being the first non-war related patients anyone had seen in there in years. They were a welcome change, once they were sober. Of course these patients felt like fools, and everyone made fun of them. And why not? They certainly couldn't make fun of the war-wounded, now could they? But they took it cheerfully, happy to be alive.
Arthur picked up the messages and items to be delivered around the hospital first. That was his usual plan: Have something to do while you're doing something else entirely. So he spent the morning making his own rounds through the hospital. Drop off a package here, pick up a package there. His shoulder bag never shrank or grew, the contents just slowly changed. By the time he had delivered the last item for Charring Cross, all the items for Blackfriars were safe in his bag. As the first shift for lunch headed for the cafeteria, Arthur Crutchfield was headed across town for Blackfriars. And since Blackfriars lacked any sort of dining facility, he knew he would be back in time for the second lunch shift by one o'clock. An easy day, but it was early.
Back at the Blackfriars Medical Unit, tea and hard rolls were on the table. Arthur dropped off the requested supplies and helped himself to a sort of pre-lunch. As he thought about the evening he had planned, he slipped an extra roll into his satchel. He had to be ready. But what would he need? Food and drink as bait, certainly. Something a child couldn't resist. He decided to somehow acquire a jar of jam or honey- even if it were military issue. And chocolate. Definitely chocolate. So it was going to be a busy afternoon after all. Arthur now had his own list: Hard rolls and jam, something sweet- preferably a chocolate bar and something to drink. What to drink? Only one thing came to mind: a bottle of Coca-Cola. It was going to be dark, and that bottle would be instantly identifiable by any child. Arthur laughed out loud- making the crew at Blackfriars wonder what he was up to this time. Hershey bars and Coca-Cola. Basic legal tender in any war, anywhere. He realized he could dispense with the hard rolls- What kid would want them with an offer like this? He ate the roll he had put away, had another cup of tea and knew he'd need the next few hours to find what he wanted for his evening's adventure. He checked the Blackfriars supply closet to see if there might be anything they needed. It was full. No needs today, thank you.
Arthur knew his best chance to get the supplies he needed was back at the larger hospital. So was lunch. By twelve-thirty he was on his way, arriving at Charring Cross in time to slip in to the cafeteria at the end of the second lunch shift. Time for Plan A. He piled up a good sized lunch on his tray and found an empty seat near the kitchen door. Eating slowly, he knew he'd see most of the kitchen staff in the next half hour or so before he could finish eating. That was the Plan A: Beg. If that didn't work, he'd move on to Borrow and Steal.
In the end, it didn't matter. He couldn't beg, borrow or steal what they didn't have. And they didn't have either the chocolate bars or the cola. Arthur had to come up with a Plan B. which he really did not have. That's the folly of banking too much on Plan A. With his errands run for all concerned, he did have time. All he had to do was convert time to food (and drink). Arthur left the hospital after checking to see if there were any last minute messages to be delivered. There weren't. Slow day here. He headed toward Victoria Station. It was a short walk on a passable day. Arthur could see the clouds getting lower and heavier. Coming in out of the north. No good could come from that. He knew a big cold front when he saw one coming. A cold rain tomorrow. Maybe late tonight. He had to find that child. And he felt he needed bait, just in case.
Plan B had leapt into his head before he left the cafeteria. There was one place in this town just slopping over with Hershey bars and Coca-Cola: That bastion of everything American. Loud, raucous and wild at night, Arthur was hoping he would find it somewhat tamer by the light of day. Maybe he could make them a deal. Over at the U.S.O.
He had never gotten too close to the place, two streets over from the trains at Victoria, where a building had been converted for the entertainment of all those American troops passing through London or there on leave. He knew some of what went on in there: the shows and movies, the dinners and dances. What spilled out into the surrounding streets was the over-flow. Loud enlisted men, drunk on being away from the combat zone if nothing else. Men looking for fun and/or a fight. Men to avoid. Arthur was hoping that their daytime clientele was somewhat better behaved. Or non-existent. That would be even better. Closed entirely was not what he had in mind.
Nevertheless, there it was: The front door was locked. At least the sign was promising- "Open at noon". But it was after one. What was going on in there? Arthur made his way around the building, through the maze of alleys behind it to the back door. It was open. He wandered in looking for someone- anyone. No one there. He had about given up, and started to leave, when he heard voices and noise further towards the front of the building. Investigating, he found a large ball room in the aftermath of an obviously large party. Of course. Last night. Paris. A small handful of people were struggling to clean up the mess before the hall could be re-opened that night. It looked like a losing battle. Time to offer services for commodities.
A deal was immediately struck for his services as a one-man cleaning crew. Which he was. Arthur set aside his satchel, coat and vest, rolled up his sleeves and went to it. He reflected that it was a good thing he had been well fed and rested. This was a mess. Even though the hall was opened before two, with soldiers, sailors and airmen immediately filtering in, Arthur continued his work unabated until six that evening. The hall looked good. He did more than was asked for. He checked every room he could find to pick up the garbage and empty the trash. He swept, he mopped, he waxed. He would have done windows but with the blackout, he didn't have to. Just after six, one of the workers found him still at it, hauling out the last of the garbage. After depositing the last of the previous night's debris in the containers in the alley, Arthur was offered dinner. His insistence upon his original request was met with laughter. All that for candy and a cola? He must be joking. He was told to get his coat and join them for dinner. That was an order, although they all knew they had no real command over an English citizen. Does anyone?
Arthur made his way back to his coat and bag and nearly dropped them when he tried to pick them up. That shoulder bag must weigh a ton. What's going on here? Was he that tired? A quick inspection revealed the happy surprise: The bag was crammed full of bottles of Coca-Cola and bars of chocolate. His coat had a bottle in each large pocket, and candy bars in the rest. There was even a Hershey bar in his vest pocket. He felt he was set for life. Never have to work again. Just live on Hershey bars and Coca-Cola for the rest of his life. Couldn't you? And dinner? They weren't joking. Dinner was served. Arthur Crutchfield was certainly living high on the hog lately. Three good meals in two days. Maybe this war wasn't so bad after all. Except for that kid in the tree.
Following a huge dinner and just enough socializing to be sociable, Arthur Crutchfield said his goodbyes and headed for the door. He really didn't need another (fourth) job right now, but did promise to stop in to say hello. From the U.S.O. building, he made his way toward Buckingham and on to Hyde Park. The town wasn't nearly as festive as the night before, but it was considerable less somber than it had been these past years. Things were going well for the Allied Forces. England was winning the war. They'd be crossing the Rhine in no time at all. Arthur was crossing the street as the sun set. No great victory, considering the lack of traffic. He sauntered slowly through the park, not heading for the center straight away. A circuitous route. He was being devious. Let's have a look around. See who we might be sharing the park with tonight.
The parks of London in wartime were an odd place. Surrealistic khaki picnics surrounded by the effects of war. Green cars at the curb, buildings reduced to rubble here and there, no idle sightseers. Almost everyone in some kind of uniform. In the evenings, small groups of people would walk over to have dinner in the park. It was a welcome change from the military drab of the rest of their lives, even if it was also green. It was a different green. A better green. Arthur had always enjoyed the parks. That much he did remember of his life before the war. Now he had a real reason to be there.
Walking in a long spiral around the park, slowly working his way in toward the center, Arthur Crutchfield saw no children. Couples were enjoying dinners on blankets here and there. At least one was always in a uniform of some sort. A few people had brought folding chairs and tables for more formal dining, but there were no young people. No children. He thought perhaps he might be the youngest person in the park. He started looking in the trees. After all, that's where the child was. He looked at every tree big enough to climb as he walked to the center of the park and that one big oak. No one up there. Twilight had set in and night was close behind. He found the big tree and sat down. This time, he found a spot under a nearby tree that afforded a good view of the larger old oak. Maybe this angle would be better. No sense in craning one's neck to see straight up in the tree.
Settled in and comfortable, Arthur decided to work on his hard earned supplies. If he had known it would be that easy, he would have stopped by the U.S.O. years ago. He opened one of the bottles and unwrapped a candy bar. The cola, even warm as it was, tasted good. A rare commodity to English civilians in wartime, the soda wasn't something he was used to. It tasted syrupy and bitter. The chocolate bar was likewise stronger that what he was used to. He checked the wrapper. Had they given him baker's chocolate? No, it said milk chocolate. Americans must like their food strong. This would take some getting used to. By the time he had finished both, it was dark. Between the sugar and the caffeine, Arthur Crutchfield was wired. Ready for anything, or so he thought.
Set against the early night sky, the old oak tree stood out in sharp contrast to the stars beginning to show behind it. Arthur could see every branch and limb, every leaf and twig. He could see the breeze move the outer fringes of the tree near the top and the small figure silhouetted just below that, near the main trunk. Arthur was frozen in place. There he was. Or maybe she, he couldn't tell. Far up in the tree, much higher than Arthur would have ever looked. No wonder he didn't see this child before. Never thought anyone would climb that high. As he watched, the figure dropped to all fours and began an odd slinking walk out on one limb. How did they walk like that? Like a cat- right out the limb. Toward the leaves. Arthur was still convinced he was watching a hungry child forage for food. Until he saw the unmistakable short tail. That child had a tail. That was no child. Arthur stood up- his first mistake.
The animal- Arthur was no longer convinced that it might be a person- had just disappeared. Where did it go? Arthur strained to see. The limb it had been standing on was now somewhat thicker out there near the end. That had to be it. Without taking his eyes off that branch, Arthur picked up his satchel and made his way to a spot nearer the old oak. He could still see the thick part of the limb, where he suspected this animal was clinging to the tree, and yet somehow blending into the trunk in the darkness. Arthur sat back down on the ground, prepared to wait it out. After fifteen minutes or so, he knew he couldn't wait. Too much sugar, too much caffeine. And it was getting too dark. Should he climb up in the tree and try to get close? As much as he enjoyed the park, he was no tree climber. That thing would just run away from him up there in the night. Then he remembered: The Flashlight. He still had that military flashlight in his bag. That might do the trick. At last he could get a good look at it before it dashed off. This would be Arthur Crutchfield's second mistake.
Without looking away, and trying hard not to even blink, Arthur fished out the flashlight from his bag. He held it up high above his head, as though the two foot difference would help. The switch was thumbed to the on position and Arthur's world changed forever.
On a limb high above his head, an animal looking to be a cross between a large cat and some sort of monkey looked back down right at him. The oddly iridescent blue/black fur glistened in the dim light and the eyes peered unblinking, large and black. Arthur shivered, but couldn't move. He and his flashlight were glued to the spot. Sort of an electric mannequin. The light shown on something he wasn't meant to ever see and now he was getting a good look. Or a bad look, as the case may be. Arthur saw the climber and the climber saw Arthur. Arthur could see the weird patterns in the fur change as the animal breathed, panicked and shifted its weight. He could see the claws on the hands and feet gripping the tree limb where it remained motionless, stretched out along the branch. The climber saw the light, no question about that. But it also saw past the light to the small human form beneath it. And the smell. The odd smell of the chocolate. What was that? Food? Was that bright animal on the ground edible?
Up in the tree, the climber had lived on leaves long enough. Too long. Would it be brave enough to take a chance? Would it be desperate enough to attack a human? Arthur watched the thing watching him. He could see the nose twitching, testing the air. What did it smell? Arthur tried to smell what it would smell. Nothing. Sweat. The water-proof coating of his coat. And- what? Chocolate! Of course. It smells the candy bar he opened earlier. The wrapper was in his coat pocket. That had to be it. Still holding the light in one hand, Arthur reached into a coat pocket and brought out a fresh Hershey bar. Unopened. This could be interesting. How would he open the candy bar with one hand, using the other to keep the light on that animal? In the end, he had to concede defeat.
Arthur put the light down, knelt down and unwrapped the candy bar. It was all he could do. When he stood back up, chocolate in one hand and flashlight in the other, the animal was gone. Of course it was gone. Nowhere to be seen in that tree. Arthur was disappointed. What now? He walked up to the tree and was able to put the unwrapped candy bar on top of the lowest limb. It couldn't be seen from the ground. Maybe whatever that was up there would smell it, see it and come on down for it sometime that night. Maybe, whatever it was, he could get it used to being fed chocolate. Maybe he could get close enough to see what it really was. Be careful what you wish for, Arthur.
Arthur knew he had no reason to stay in the park that night. Whatever it was in that tree, it wouldn't get near him now. But it might take the chocolate if he weren't there. And maybe in the future, it would equate Arthur with food. However dangerous that sounds to you or I now, it made sense to Arthur at the time. So he left the Hershey bar up in the tree and made his way through the darkness of the park to the street and on home. His breathless explanation and description to his parents of his evening's adventure led them to but one conclusion: Arthur Smith Crutchfield, their beloved son, was a complete loon. Obviously working too hard at too many jobs. Trying to win the war on the home front single-handedly.
They both nodded and smiled and generally agreed with Arthur, but somewhere inside both of them, the wheels were turning. How many jobs did Arthur have? Two Three? Four? How many hours a day did he really put in at Blackfriars, Charring Cross and now the U.S.O.? When did he last spend a night in his own bed, getting a good night's sleep? And when had he had a meal at home? Come to think of it, how long had it been since all three of them had dined together? None of them could remember.
As Arthur sat at the table, trying to draw a good likeness of what he had seen, Peter Crutchfield picked up the phone. It never occurred to either Arthur or his mother that Peter never dialed the phone. He just waited for some one to pick up on the other end. They were too busy to notice. Arthur was drawing as his mother watched and questioned the details of what as appearing on the sheet of paper. Paper that was bound for Professor Hodgson only a few days before. Poor Professor Hodgson. Both Arthur and his mother did look up suddenly when they finally realized what Peter Crutchfield was doing. He was calling in sick. Or rather, telling whoever was on the other end that he wouldn't be by in the morning. Either the war was going quite well or they had both seriously underestimated Peter Crutchfield's importance. You didn't just call in and tell the war you wouldn't be there. But he just did. And would they send a car around in the morning? A driver would not be needed. Thank you. Two out of three people in that little underground room were amazed.
After hanging up the phone, Peter Crutchfield studied his son's drawing. With considerable muttering and humming he examined every detail and questioned Arthur on what he had seen. How did it move? Did it make any noise? Did he see it blink? Did Arthur blink? Did Arthur at any time look away from it and back to see it again? By the end of the conversation that bordered on an interrogation, Arthur's father told him to use the phone to call the Blackfriars Medical Unit and Charring Cross Hospital. Tell them Arthur Crutchfield wouldn't be in tomorrow. Not feeling well, things to do, places to go, whatever he wanted to tell them was fine with his father. In the end, Arthur only dialed Blackfriars, his only real position. He gave no excuse, but told them that he would not be in the next day. And he wouldn't, either.
That night all three slept in their beds. Arthur, still feeling the effects of the candy and soda, was the last to fall asleep. He dreamt of large-eyed trees that were an odd shade of blue. And they seemed to move. He woke up several times in the night and lay there, staring at the painted mural dimly lit on the other side of the room. Is that where they were going tomorrow? Some mythical place none of them had ever seen? He slept in short cat naps throughout the night. Was it the caffeine or the climber?
Three floors below ground level, sunrise didn't matter. There were no windows, no light wells, nothing to tell them morning had come except the clock. Arthur finally gave up on trying to sleep about six o'clock, got dressed and headed for the surface. It didn't seem to get any lighter as he reached the ground floor, but he could hear why: The patter of rain on the front steps told him that the cold front was there. It had started raining during the night, and the temperature had begun to drop. Perhaps an extra sweater was in order for this trip. Arthur headed back down after watching a large unmarked military sedan pull up to the curb. The requested car, of course. It was only when he reached their flat's lower level that it struck him as odd: That car looked exactly like the one that picked up Professor Hodgson. Exactly. He felt considerably colder by the time he found his sweater.
By seven o'clock that wet morning the Crutchfields were on their way. With just two stops to stock up on provisions for lunch- and quite possibly dinner- Peter Crutchfield made his way through the huge maze that is London and set out to the Northwest. The effects of the German bombings diminished as they left the town and made their way into the countryside. The town houses were replaced by small single story cottages, and these in turn replaced by larger country homes as they escaped the urban edge of the city. This early in the day, they passed both military vehicles and the occasional but rare civilian car (carrying some one obviously important) as the population headed to work that morning. The rain and lower temperature were steady. It wasn't going to warm up much that day, but it would be wet. It was, after all, England.
Their plans for a picnic were washed away. They all knew that by ten. The rain had been steadily increasing, along with the cold North wind. Passing through small towns and villages, they saw no one. It was not a day to be out and about unless you absolutely had to. Which made Arthur wonder just a bit: If they were to be on a picnic, and it was pouring cold rain, why did they continue? This was not exactly picnic weather, and it was fast becoming winter weather. There was frost forming on the automobile's windows from their breathing inside. All the while he sat and wondered, Arthur's father drove through the downpour. Peter Crutchfield would occasionally steal glances at his son. What did he see in that tree? Did he have any idea? Did Peter?
It was still sometime before noon when the Peter turned the car onto a private road and pointed it through a vineyard toward the large stone building in the middle of the trellis rows. Arthur was a bit puzzled, but could only assume that his father had come up with Picnic Plan B. In a way, he had. There had been no Plan A. Arthur's mother was quietly assuming Arthur's father for a sly dog for having figured out a way to spend a rainy day amongst the grapes. Of course they were both wrong.
Over the bridge and up to the ancient front gate, Peter Crutchfield let the car come to a halt as the building's doors swung wide and they were waved in out of the rain. Arthur couldn't help but notice that these civilian laborers seemed unusually heavily armed to protect a vineyard. Must be some tasty grapes. The car was parked out of sight of any and all prying eyes and the Crutchfield family was off to lunch, provisions in hand. They seemed to have had the run of the place- at least no one stopped them- and Peter settled on a well-windowed room high up in the building overlooking the rows of vines below and beyond. By now they were hungry. Breakfast, such as it was, had been six hours before and scant.
With the view stretching out of sight over the hills and through the rain, lunch was laid out and a fire was stirred up in the fireplace. Meats, cheeses and breads made their way out of baskets as did the jams and honeys, plates and utensils. Water was boiled at the hearth for tea and the table was set for rural dining. The rain outside, ever increasing and colder, was no longer a consideration or topic of discussion. This looked to be the sort of room you'd be content to stay in until summer returned. Or the war was over, whichever came first. At least it was above ground and had all its windows intact. Once the chill was off the room and lunch well in progress, Peter Crutchfield excused himself and wandered out and down the hall. Arthur and his mother continued to work their way through a selection of shortbreads and small cakes, doing their best to use up all the jam and honey.
It never fails: With a mouth full of food, you will invariably be asked to speak. So it was that both Arthur Crutchfield and his mother found themselves with their mouths full when Peter Crutchfield returned with another, older gentleman. Only Arthur's mother was successful at choking down the morsel of bread before she had to reply to the newcomer's greeting. Arthur could only mutter and try not to dribble crumbs. He did notice, however, that this gentleman was oddly dressed. The large grey civilian coat was weatherproof waxed cotton and the high brown boots looked to be rubber and made for fishing. Just the outfit for the day's weather. Even the waxed canvas hat fit in. But beneath that facade there was a different sort of look. The man was wearing a military uniform of brown cloth and leather belts, but totally lacking in insignia. Not a mark of rank or division or even country. Not even so much as a brass button. Was he even English? He spoke with an odd accent that seemed neither English, Scottish, Welsh nor Irish. He certainly wasn't American. That left Arthur with Canadian, Australian or New Zealand. He had no idea.
Who ever he was, it became obvious that he was there to see Arthur. He sat down, then stood back up and re-arranged their seating so that Arthur sat with his back to the window. Then they began to talk. This new man helped himself to what was left of the lunch, with Arthur's father joining in to polish it off. The conversation that started off innocent enough did eventually turn to true topic of the day: What Arthur saw in the park. With some prodding from his father, Arthur had little choice but to relate what he saw. Or at least, to relate to this new man as much as he had already told his parents. He saw no need to say any more.
By the time the conversation was winding down, Arthur was worn out. It was tough for him to hold back information. Tough to remember what he had said, and to whom. Did they know about the eyes? No. The shimmering blue iridescence? No. He was keeping that to himself. And the claws. No need to excite them any more than they already were. This gentleman had seemed genuinely interested in Arthur and his discovery in the park. Only one thing kept coming back to Arthur: It was in the park. In the middle of London. What ever was there was surrounded by thousands, if not millions, of people. He couldn't be the only one to have ever seen it. So what's the big deal? Arthur decided that it must have been a big deal to have had his father drive them all the way out there on the pretense of a picnic, only to have Arthur interrogated by this fellow, whoever he was. So the longer it went on, the less Arthur said. In the end, Arthur got up and walked over to a couch, where he laid down for a nap. There was nothing else to say. He unfolded their picnic blanket to cover himself and he was indeed tired. The rain was rattling on the windows now. Maybe they'd stay there through the night. No reason to try to get back into town in this sort of weather. Arthur saw no reason to return to that town now in any sort of weather.
The unusual gentleman, a South African actually, made no attempt to continue. No need to, really. He made his goodbyes to the Crutchfields and left them alone. Peter and his wife spent the afternoon watching the rain drench the vineyard. Was this much rain good for the grapes? The fire was kept burning to keep the cold where it belonged: Outside. Some hours later, dinner was served. Wherever it came from, it was hot and good. All three ate well before Peter stated the obvious: They would not be going back to London that night. And the less obvious: When they did go back - possibly as early as the next day- it would not be to their underground apartment.
That was a welcome shock to both Arthur and his mother. Their few things would be moved for them and set up in a new (second floor!) apartment a bit further north of the river. And a bit closer to the park. That last part was especially meant for Arthur. Peter Crutchfield had no idea what it was that Arthur had seen out there, but he knew enough realize that it might be important. Everything was in a war. So in two days' time, they would be back in town, in more expansive digs nearer Trafalgar. Perfect for all concerned. Arthur could continue his work for the Blackfriars Medical Unit, running messages for Charring Cross Hospital, even work at the U.S.O. for candy and Cokes if he so desired. When they came right down to it, only two things had changed: Their mailing address and the fact that The Secret was (sort of) out: There were climbers in London. And Arthur Crtutchfield had seen them.
In the months that followed this rather odd excuse for a picnic, the Crutchfields did indeed settle in to a nice second floor flat just off Trafalgar Square. It took them months to get used to the light at night (even in a black out it certainly wasn't cave dark), and the sounds of the street below them. At least the air raids were fewer and further between, now that they actually had to go someplace safe when the sirens went off. Arthur continued his two jobs (Blackfriars and Charring Cross), but did, on occasion, stop by that U.S.O. building whenever he needed to laugh. The Americans seemed to be a happy bunch. But then, why shouldn't they be? It wasn't their home being bombed.
Now there was a new addition to the routine: Captain Jack. The man Arthur had met during that rainy day at the vineyard was now stationed in London. And Captain Jack stopped by their flat every few days to see how things were going. The truth was, he was there to keep an eye on Arthur, to see if Arthur had come any closer to the climbers in Hyde Park. The Captain somehow rated a small garret room high up overlooking the park and had secured a pair of powerful naval binoculars to aid in his eye-keeping thereof. Of course, Arthur had no idea. He merely saw Captain Jack- no last name was ever mentioned- as some one who stopped by of an evening to chat with his father. A purely social thing, except this was war. Nothing social about it. And it was only long after the war that Arthur realized that Jack was the man's last name. How confusing for all concerned. How troublesome for South African Charles Hanson Jack, cryptozoologist: A finder of hidden animals. All during the war, Arthur only knew him as Captain Jack.
Captain Jack's role in the defense of England was simple: If the Enemy were to unleash any sort of exotic animals on the island, the English wanted to know about it and deal with it right away. It wouldn't take much in the way of new animals to wipe out what few precious crops were still growing on the island. Especially an odd exotic animal with no natural enemies or worse- something from the upper end of the food chain. A few big cats loose in the countryside would devastate what little calm was left. Charles H. Jack's job was to chase down every rumor, every story of an odd animal and make sure it was either just a rumor or completely dead. Nine times out of ten, it was rumor. Well, seventeen out of twenty.
In his four years of ranging the British Isles, Captain Jack had heard a great many stories and seen precious few exotic animals. Those he had come across could all be traced back to original private ownership by English citizens. These were animals that simply got loose in the course of the war. Most had been recaptured by their owners with no muss or fuss. Only a very small handful- three to be exact- had to be shot. In spite of his image as "The Great White Hunter", he didn't like the idea of having to shoot those three animals. It wasn't their fault they were lost, confused and thousands of miles from home. He had hoped to net them, cage them and return them, if not to their owner, at least to a zoo or holding facility. Sometimes that didn't always work out. If they had gotten hungry enough to kill, the old instincts would kick in and it would be tough for them to turn back. They were not going to be taken without a fight or approached without injury, even by their now former owners. Only one thing left to do in a case like that: Pull the dust covers off the scope and hope you don't just wound it.
Now here it was, four years into his on-loan service to England and someone has seen something truly exotic. From the sketchy description he could get from Arthur Crutchfield (when Arthur was willing to talk about it at all), it could be either a primate or a large feline. The good Captain tended to think in terms of a primate, since some of what he had heard discounted the feline theory. This thing was almost human. The idea that this might be an off-world life form occurred to no one. There could be no such thing, right? It was simply a normal animal in an abnormal place. They would find it, identify it, and (hopefully) net it and send it home. It was Arthur's referring to them as children climbing that led to the common name still in use today: Climbers.
Captain Jack encouraged Arthur to continue looking for the climbers in Hyde Park. Of course the Captain was looking for them as well, through those high powered binoculars from his vantage point in that high garret room over looking the park. The equally high powered rifle was hidden out of sight. No need to play sniper in the city. Not yet, anyway. But it was Arthur who would return to the park of an evening and watch the sky go to black. Sometimes he would catch a movement in the trees here and there, sometimes not. Captain Jack would spend entire nights at his window, watching the movement in the trees. By the war's end the following year, the two of them had collected a small volume of facts and speculation on the subject of climbers that would eventually end up as Arthur's book- and Arthur's downfall. It was unfortunate for Arthur that his name alone appeared on that fateful volume. Former Captain Charles Hanson Jack returned to South Africa after the war, just before the book was released to the public and not long before Arthur Smith Crutchfield found himself in dire straits and a very small room.
To Be Continued...
Copyright 1996,2010, Chip Haynes
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