ORIGINAL FICTION: "Climbers" (Chapter Thirteen)

Chip Haynes

CHAPTER THIRTEEN- A visit to Crutchfield-On-The-Internet.

Ray found Crutchfield's web site address he had written down from his previous excursions. This would simplify matters immensely. Type it in, sit back and wait. With luck, he wouldn't have to wait long. Of course, the seconds drag on like hours when you're sitting there, watching that stupid little hour-glass icon spin. And spin and spin and spin. Sure, it's nice to know that your computer's doing something. But doing what? And for how much longer? Ray was already antsy from the evening's food and excitement. That was not the best way to start a night of tedious surfing. Should have had de-caf, Ray. At long last- really less than half a minute- The Arthur S. Crutchfield home page came into view. A classy green marble background with formal-looking gold serif capital letters. Ray felt he needed a tie. He was underdressed for the occasion. He popped a fresh blank disk into Drive A and started reading the screen:

ARTHUR SMITH CRUTCHFIELD
CLIMBERS IN LONDON
1938 TO PRESENT.

Below that rather ominous heading were several options for reading, including one map of London during the war and a current map of the surrounding suburbs, ostensibly showing how to get to Mister Crutchfield's house. The listing, which Ray Meadows traditionally would read in the order of their listing on this cover page, looked a bit like this:

1. About this web site.
2. A. S. C., pre-war biography.
3. A.S.C., publication & hospitalization.
4. A.S.C., role in war/life in London 1939-47.
5. A.S.C., first sightings & identifying.
6. A.S.C., present day.
7. Climbers, clinical summation.
8. In Search of Sanity- the book.
9. London sightings map, 1940-1946.
10. London & suburbs, present day.

Ray scanned the list, anxious to go through it all, but his old work habits held firm. Start with number one, Ray. Go through them one at a time, in order. Be meticulous. First: The save. Ray copied this title page to disk, then clicked on "1. About this web site.". These pages are usually short, no more than a single screen. This shouldn't take long. And he would have to admit: He did want to know who was doing this if it wasn't Crutchfield himself. The new page scrolled itself onto the screen and Ray began to read:

This A.S.C. web site is maintained by A.S.C. Supporters, U.S.A. on behalf of
Arthur Smith Crutchfield of Grangehill, London, England. All contents
copyright A.S.C.S., all rights reserved. No part of this site may be distributed
in any form without the express written consent of this owner. For
further information regarding contents and/or reprinting, contact yadda,
yadda, yadda . . . .

Ray thought he was finished with this page before he was done reading. He clicked on the save to copy it to the disk. As the little work window came up, it blocked out something that caught his eye. When the save was done, and the window was gone, he read the end of that paragraph again. Contact George Lawrence. George Lawrence? Too close to be a coincidence. Had to be related. Gilbert's brother? Had to be. Ray put this question in writing on the pad of paper next to the keyboard. Stuff to figure out later. Sounds like a little sibling rivalry here. Onward. What's next? Back on the first home page, Ray scanned the list. "2. A.S.C., pre-war biography". Ok, it's time for Arthur Crutchfield, the Early Years. That's as good a place as any to start. Alphabetical and chronological to boot. Move that cursor, click the mouse. Watch that stupid hour glass spin. This time, the new file took a bit longer to come up. More information takes more time. Lots of information takes lots of time. This one took almost a minute to come up on screen, a combination of the file size and a busy Saturday night on the 'Net. Ray was about ready to head downstairs for something to drink when the screen flashed and changed. The file started to scroll up and Ray started reading:

"Arthur Smith Crutchfield, named for his maternal Grandfather Arthur Johnathan Smith, was born on April 7th, 1928 in Charring Cross Hospital, near his parents home in Lambeth outside London. His father, Peter Crutchfield, worked as a secretary for the Foreign Service, rising to the position of senior office manager before the war. There is some small question about his true position in that office, since he was never required to fulfill any military service outside of his position in London during the war years. Popular theory employs Mr. P. Crutchfield in the Code Office, located near the Strand. This would allow him to fulfill his military obligation on the home front and be with his family. Given Peter C.'s background and education, this is considered a plausible theory.
Peter Crutchfield came from a long line of public servants, dating back some 150 years. His ancestors served George the Third in more amusing times, even if they did lose that war. P. Crutchfield met and married Victoria Smith in 1926. She was in London for the purpose of education, and always claimed to have met Peter for the first time in the park near his office where they both were having lunch. He was being attack by ants, and it was his unique dance to dislodge the insects that initially caught her eye. Quaint charm not withstanding, Victoria's education came to an abrupt halt and she became the ideal public servant's wife shortly thereafter. They shared a small flat in Lambeth, typical of a government employee, where Victoria minded the home and Peter went to work each day. Their situation settled in to a quiet routine until the arrival of their first- and only- child: Arthur Smith Crutchfield.
Arthur's early education was at the hands of a small private school established just for the benefit of government employees' children. Peter Crutchfield enrolled his only son at the earliest opportunity. It was, after all, not a large apartment and they needed the room. Arthur still lived with his parents, but he was gone for the day, five days a week, and that made matters somewhat more tolerable. What, exactly, the young Arthur Crutchfield did for many of those five days a week is still a matter of some concern. School seems to be only a (small) part of the actual story. He did indeed occasional show up for class. More often than not, there must have been some sort of pressing diversion between his small flat in Lambeth and the school's front door on the other side of the River Thames. Arthur Crutchfield's attendance record was horrid, and he was constantly on the verge of being expelled. Whether he missed class out of boredom with the studies or ignorance of his assignments was never known. What is known is that more often than not, he could be found in one of the cities many parks. Having heard, and later read, about the countryside outside the city, Arthur Crutchfield wanted very much to be there. His father's arranging of weekend trips to the countryside only served to increase Arthur's need to be out of the city and surrounded by fields and trees. These week-end jaunts came to an abrupt halt when the war broke out in Europe in 1939. Peter was now working almost every day, and Arthur's mother was apt to be traveling without her husband. Arthur's schooling didn't come to a halt, but attendance was no longer an issue. When England was swept into the war, London itself became more than enough excitement for any young boy. Arthur still skipped his classes, but the park couldn't compete with what was going on all over town."

Ray Meadows continued to read this first file on Arthur Crutchfield. It painted the picture of an ordinary boy in extraordinary times. So he was interested in the countryside? In trees? Why was that? Maybe it was just something he didn't get to see all that often in London. Ray wondered how much he could find out about Peter Crutchfield. Did it really matter? Probably not. Concentrate on the business at hand. Peter Crutchfield wasn't the one who wrote the book on climbers. Maybe he never even saw one. Probably never even believed that his own son saw one. Ray finished this first file, and read over the list at the end of the story- Arthur's school, Peter's job, Victoria's school before she was married- even the Crutchfield's address in pre-war Lambeth. That might be something to remember. Ray saved the file to disk. While that little hourglass icon did its dizzying dance of delay, Ray went downstairs. Maybe a glass of milk would help that pizza along. Whew.
It was early by all-night surfing standards- not yet ten o'clock. Barbara was still downstairs, watching the movie on TV and ever so thankful that she hadn't gorged herself on that pizza and garlic bread. Poor Ray. Good thing he planned to be up all night anyway. Ray padded through the living room and asked Barbara how the movie was going. She answered, and asked about the condition of the surf this evening. They traded stories before the movie came back on. Ray went for the kitchen and a cold glass of milk. That seemed to do the trick. The pizza calmed down and Ray was ready to soldier on through the electrons. He headed back upstairs, making it a point to not look out any window on either floor, lest he see something he didn't want to see. Back in his computer room, Ray turned on the small radio he had on a shelf next to the boxes of disks. Maybe a bit of music wouldn't hurt. Calm the stomach and hide the noise of climbers on the roof.
Ray looked at the flickering screen. The save was done. It was time to move on. What was the next file in that list? There it was: "3. A.S.C., publication & hospitalization". Ray looked at this listing for quite a while. He was going to have to break with tradition. While this might be the next numerical listing, he wanted very much to take all this in chronological order. And this wasn't. It sounded to him as though Crutchfield wrote the book after the war (He did.) and was hospitalized some time after that (He was.). So, let's see: What would be next, chronologically? Ray looked down the list and decided to skip number three for the time being and read number four. From there, he might come back and pick up number three before moving on to numbers five and six. Then again, maybe he should read number five before number three. What a mess. He hated doing this. Too easy to get confused and miss something. So Ray Meadows did what he always did in times like this: He made a list. Wrote down all the items in their original order, then made little arrows to a new list of how he was going to view them in what he hoped was chronological order. This might work. At least he was less confused, and that was something. Ray moved the cursor over Number Four. Out of sequence, but here goes. He clicked and the icon spun. As it got later in the evening, and fewer East Coast people were night surfing on the 'Net, the files would be coming up quicker and quicker. This one took about fifteen seconds. How big was it? Without scrolling through, he couldn't tell. May as well start reading. So he did:

"Arthur Crutchfield grew up in Lambeth, on the more industrial south side of the Thames. When the nation went to war, young Arthur was still too young to even lie about his age to join the military. Thirteen years old when the war broke out, Arthur was by all accounts small for his age, precluding him from a convincing lie to gain military service. What few photos survived of Arthur Crutchfield before the war show a small thin boy with light blond hair, large ears and just a few freckles. His eyes appear dark, and a bit close together, seemingly held apart by the nose alone. Not an unattractive young boy, but certainly not yet the young leading man type. He did, however, look exactly like his father.
His father was able to secure Arthur a position as the unofficial assistant's assistant to a medical unit stationed at Blackfriars, across the river from their home. It was one step above the unit's mascot dog, but to Arthur it was an important adventure, and a reason to be out and about in London. And a reason to avoid school at every opportunity.
Arthur's small size and youthful appearance gave him an advantage in his given assignment: The procurement of supplies for the Blackfriars Medical Unit. With most of the medical supplies being sent straight to the military, civilian supplies were scarce to non-existent. Arthur found his niche as a "finder" of all things medical. He learned his way around the Charring Cross Hospital where he was born, "finding" bandages, ointments and supplies much needed by his comrades at the B.M.U. These items he secured in his messenger bag as he quietly toured the hospital, always on the lookout and never once caught at his true game. He became such a familiar sight to the C.C.H. staff, one and all there assumed he was a volunteer assigned to that hospital as an in-house messenger. Indeed, on many occasions, he was called upon to deliver messages within the grounds- which he did without hesitation. In reality, he was a thief. An honorable one, but a thief nonetheless. His ability to glide through the hospital at all hours, gather supplies from every quarter of that fine establishment (and deliver their messages!), and return to the B.M.U. unscathed and undiscovered earned him his dubious nickname: The Stoat.
Arthur didn't mind the name, mainly because he had only a vague notion of what a stoat might be. What it wasn't, in this case at least, was an insult. The crew at B.M.U. were genuinely fond of Arthur and came to depend on his ability to supplement their meager official medical supplies. Had they been stationed somewhat closer to Parliment or Downing Street, perhaps their situation would have been different, but they weren't. Blackfriars was just far enough out of the public eye that their lack of official supplies was never a matter of public concern or embarrassment to the government. Then again, had they not been somewhat removed from the official government action, and quartered in the mews off of a less traveled street, perhaps The Stoat would have brought more attention to them than they would have wanted.
As it was, it never seemed to dawn on anyone, local or official, that while other larger medical units around the city were usually out of even the most basic of medical supplies, Blackfriars seemed to always have a little something on hand. As the situation progressed, which is to say worsened, The Stoat became more familiar with what was needed to keep Blackfriars supplied. Within the first year of his tenure with the medical unit, Arthur Crutchfield became something of a young expert at medical supplies, and what was needed to keep the unit up and running. He also learned how much he could "borrow" without the loss being excessive and noticed by Charring Cross. The local residents came to depend upon Blackfriars when the bombs started falling. No one asked where the supplies came from to keep them alive.
The staff at Blackfriars were always careful to never mention The Stoat by any name in their dealings with the personnel at Charring Cross. The C.C.H. staff, on the other hand, unknowingly felt that they had a fine messenger on hand and wished to show him some sort of recognition. Young Arthur Crutchfield, a small man with a big mission, knew better than to argue. So it was in the winter of 1943 that Arthur Smith Crutchfield was awarded a gold key to the hospital for meritorious service. They were foolish enough to give him a real key, painted gold, and the B.M.U. was never left wanting for supplies for the rest of the war. Until Crutchfield's hospitalization in the 1950's, the plaque he had received during the war was on display in the hospital's History Room. Perhaps someday it will be returned to public display.
During the dark days of the Battle of Britain, Arthur S. Crutchfield lived like a demon possessed. Frequently up and running for thirty-six hours at a stretch, he did more than make sure his friends at the Blackfriars Medical Unit were well supplied. The area of town between Charring Cross and Blackfriars was his constant haunt. What happened there happened to him. And nothing happened without his notice. He was known by all the air wardens, fire crews and most of the stationed military staff. Off course, any one attached to any medical staff in the area knew him by name. It just happened that they knew him by different names.
When the heavy bombing started, and the V1's and V2's began their relentless destruction, the Crutchfield family moved from Lambeth. Whatever it was that Peter Crutchfield was doing, it was something the English government wanted done. Peter was able to move his family into a small bomb-proof room deep underground on the north side of the river. This was both good news and bad news for the Crutchfields. While it put both Peter and Arthur closer to where they needed to be during the daytime, it was closer to the center of the city, and therefore closer to the center of the bombing. Assuming, of course, that the Germans could hit what they were aiming at. Or were aiming at what they were hitting. Either way, it was hit or miss. Sometimes London got it, sometimes it didn't. There was a general assumption by the population in the city that the Germans were hitting just what they were aiming for, but Arthur couldn't see the logic of it. And if his father knew any better, he wasn't talking.
Arthur's mother, on the other hand, had the worst of it. With little to do but worry, she spent her days helping out above ground where she could. As Peter Crutchfield's wife, it was easy enough for her to get the clearances needed to be a messenger within the limits of the city. Traveling by bicycle where the roads were open, she was able to range further from home than either her husband or her son. But it was this wider range that drove them all to distraction. She might be too far away from home when the sirens sounded, or her return route cut off by the destruction or fires. Arthur never got used to the nights when his mother didn't have a chance to get back to their safe little mole hole, as his father called it. Although somehow they always knew where she was, and that she was safe, it was still a sleepless night without her- especially with the bombs raining down. Arthur never questioned why this little hovel below the streets had a telephone. Or why their telephone was always in fine working order when almost every other private phone in the city would be out from time to time. But it always worked. And his mother always called when the current situation prevented her return. It was the nights when his mother was out and his father would get called away that were the worst for Arthur. It's one thing to be huddled at night with your family, but quite another to face that dark night in a black pit all alone. However safe that black pit was supposed to be.
With their new, and hopefully temporary, home so far below the surface, there were no windows or skylights to the surface. This arrangement was just fine during the daytime. They weren't home. But at night, it was oddly frustrating. Sure, it was dark outside, and there wasn't much to see, but this was cave dark. Coal bin black. It didn't matter if you shut you eyes or not. It was the same thing with the lights out. Then again, that was the mole hole's advantage. The country-wide lights-out black out had no affect on the Crutchfields. They were too far below ground level. Some people may keep their lantern under a bushel basket, but the Crutchfields kept theirs under thirty feet of English soil and paving stones. So the up side was this: In the midst of the worst of the black-out, they could light every lamp they owned. And frequently did, just to push back the darkness.
Peter and Victoria had a unique solution to their dark subterranean situation. She was able to beg, borrow and, well, borrow some more paints and brushes to paint a pastoral country scene one on wall of their little safe box of a room. Peter, over the course of his walk back from work each day, was able to pick up odd bits of wood from the streets and alleys which he saved in this little room until he could add the finishing touch to Victoria's handiwork: A window frame shadow box over the painting that made it look as though they were looking through a window to the open country outside. To complete the effect, he ran a small lamp inside the frame at the top, to look like sunlight. For them it worked. At night the small lamp threw just enough light across the painting that they had a suitable night light and a comforting scene to look at as they fell asleep. For Arthur it was a glimpse of the countryside he sorely missed. Those once beautiful parks of London were becoming a bit of a shambles. Poor reflections of what they were before the war. The bombs still fell, the phone still worked, and for some reason, they never lost the electricity needed to keep that painted scene lit through the night.
Arthur and his mother never questioned the significance of the uninterrupted telephone or electrical service during the bombing. It was just one of those things, wasn't it? Some people had power, others got hit with very large bombs in the middle of the night. Through it all, Peter Crutchfield always went to work very early in the morning, usually returning long after dark. Victoria only asked once how his job was going. His response, "It's a bit of an enigma." made no sense to her at all until those documents were declassified long after the war. Only then did she realize he could have been held for high treason (and quite possibly shot) for that one sentence. It was all he ever said about it. Their usual conversations at home concerned more mundane- and safe- subjects. While neither of them knew many of the people the other worked with, there were a few subjects of common concern. With their new digs (quite literally) came new neighbors. After the move, they saw little of their friends from the old neighborhood in Lambeth. It was not a place either of them cared to visit without reason. And they had no reason. Now, they were not the only ones in this new underground living arrangement. All over London, low living had high appeal. In addition to the obvious advantage of being bomb-proof, the aforementioned exception from black-out rules had an equally attractive lure. And the fact that they did not seem to actually be paying rent did not escape the notice of Mrs. Crutchfield, although she knew better than to ask why. There were a number of small rooms on this lower level, well below the normal basement and furnace level of the building. Originally built as long-term storage for the tenants above, these small rooms never varied in their temperature winter or summer. They were uniformly dry, but still totally dark when the power was turned off.
There were three other couples living on this level below the building: Both the Alberts and the Watersons were young couples, with either one or both husband and wife engaged in some sort of always unidentified work with the government. No one asked, no one said, and everyone assumed: If you weren't doing something the government considered important, you wouldn't be living down here. Neither couple had any children, or if they did had made arrangements outside of town for their children's care during these lean years. It was not an uncommon arrangement. Arthur was the only young person in that part of the building. Indeed, he was the only young person on the block. A street that should be teeming with young life and laughing children in normal times was caught in the midst of a zone of stoic adult tension. There were no children there to break that bleak spell. Arthur, as just one child leading an adult life in what was now a war zone, could do little to dispel the pall. He was far too busy. There was a war on, you know.
The last couple in that sheltered bungalow was Mister and Missus Edward Hodgson. He was the unassuming rumpled professor type, and spoke of his work at the university. Of course, he never seemed to say which university or what sort of work, but that was still more than the rest of them would ever blurt out. He did seem to have more time to himself. Perhaps he worked at home, if you could call it that. When he did, he was brave (or foolish) enough to keep his door open. The light from his room lit up the entire hall, and halfway up the stairs. Whatever he was doing seemed to require a fair bit of lumens. With his parents gone all day, and Arthur's time pretty much his own, it should come as no surprise that Arthur and Mister Hodgson (It really was Professor Hodgson, but he would never say so.) got to know each other and hit it off rather well together. Friends are where you find them. Sometimes even deep underground.
Arthur Crutchfield never asked Professor Hodgson what he did, or what he was working on. Arthur saw on his first foray into Hodgson's room that the professor could afford to be foolish enough to keep his door open as he worked because he worked with a rather large military pistol sitting on the desk next to him. Arthur could even see the bullets in the revolver from the door. However serious his work might have been, Hodgson himself was always the congenial host when Arthur showed up. Edward Hodgson was smart enough to spot a usable stoat when it showed up on his doorstep. Plied with tea, some food and the odd bit of candy (From where? How did he get these things?) Arthur Crutchfield soon found that he now had three jobs during the war: First and foremost, he was The Stoat, a collector of supplies for the Blackfriars Medical Unit. As an unfortunate result of that position, he was also Arty Smith, messenger extraordinaire for the Charring Cross Hospital- although no one there could remember actually hiring him, or who he really did work for. Either way, he did a good job and they were glad to have him. And now, thirdly, he was both a messenger and procurer of "Things Needed" for one Professor Edward Hodgson.
If Arthur Smith Crutchfield had been three people instead of just one, they would have all been kept too busy. As just one, he had precious little time to himself, and entirely too much time to watch the war unfold all around him above his cozy home beneath the earth. The streets were filled with the rubble of the buildings, the hospitals were full and beyond, and the crew at Blackfriars could only shout their hello's and supply needs as they raced through on their way to the disaster of the hour. Add to this scene the ongoing fires, the nightly bombings and the thrill of watching bomb squads try to remove the unexploded ordinance, and it was no wonder that Arthur Crutchfield said of himself after the war, "There was about three years there where I didn't sleep a wink." He wasn't entirely joking.
When the bombs and rockets fell at night, Arthur slept in the daytime. When the carnage was a daytime affair, he did his best to sleep at night. He wasn't the only one who found it difficult to sleep with the explosions rattling the walls and causing the dirt and dust to sift down on them in their safe hole. During those more intensive raids, all the inhabitants of that little underground enclave would open their doors and gather in the common hall. As if fleeing to the surface was an option if the building was hit.
They all knew their options if their building was hit. Dig their way out, if they were lucky. Wait for those on the surface to dig their way down to them if there was enough air trapped with them. Or die. So the odds were two out of three in their favor. You'd think they'd be a bit happier, but they weren't. After every raid, whatever had been clean before the bombs was covered with dirt and dust until it could be cleaned again. As a result, those small apartments were looking somewhat Spartan. The less left out, the less left to clean. Everything was kept put away, covered by papers even when they were in drawers or chests. Unless you were one to work at home, as Edward Hodgson was, you were more inclined to spend as much time as possible on the surface, preferably in daylight.
Arthur Crutchfield spent a great deal of time on the surface in daylight. And a nearly equal amount of time roaming the surface at night. Oddly enough, in spite of the war, London was a very safe town at this point in time. Over run with the military, air wardens, fire and medical personnel and a wide variety of other officials, it was not exactly a hotbed of criminal activity. Not that Arthur would notice, anyway. So between his runs for Blackfriars, time spent at Charring Cross and his odd errands for Professor Hodgson, Arthur would frequently detour through a park to see what was left. Arthur's observations in those parks will be detailed in another chapter. Needless to say, he saw more in those parks than just the unfortunate trees. As the war continued, he saw more than he wanted to see at every turn. Even a young man has a limit to the adventure he can tolerate. Arthur Crutchfield reached his limit in August of 1944, not long after the English returned to France with a bit of help from the Allied Expeditionary Force.
Needless to say, he knew nothing about the invasion. The people invading knew nothing about the invasion. He was just a kid in London, running around trying to help. But it was getting harder to help. There was nothing to "borrow" at Charring Cross Hospital any more. For the first time in over five years, the Blackriars Medical Unit went lacking in supplies. This gave Arthur more time to roam the city without a specific assignment for the B.M.U. Professor Hodgson still had things to do, and things for Arthur to do. The trouble of it was, he had no idea what he was doing for the old man. Or what the old man was doing, for that matter.
Arthur knew that Hodgson was a professor, attached to a university not far from their mutual underground homes. But Hodgson didn't seem to be required to show up at the university much, if at all. He certainly didn't teach classes or lecture, as far as Arthur could tell. He spent his days writing in his little flat, door open and gun on the table. In the few years Arthur got to watch, it was always the same: Door open, gun out, writing. Arthur never knew what. In the end, he was honestly glad he never found out.
If Edward Hodgson was a friendly, out-going sort- which he was- his wife, for all her smiling, kept very much to herself. She seemed friendly enough, always smiling and offering Arthur something to eat or another cup of tea. But she rarely spoke. In time, Arthur developed the opinion that she had some sort of speech impediment, and was very self-conscious about it. Her slow, pronounced speech when she did say anything had always made Arthur wonder what the problem was, and how it happened. Was she born with it? Did it come upon her as a result of an accident or illness? He couldn't help but wonder. The truth of the matter was this: She was indeed born with it, but it was treatable in time. The only problem was, now was not the time.
Maria Hodgson's speech impediment was her accent. She was Austrian. Not a good thing to be in London in the early 1940's. She hid it as best she could by saying very little and speaking slowly. Slow enough to produce a plausible English accent over her Austrian speech. It wasn't easy, and she had to think long and hard before she spoke at all. She knew that if her accent was heard, there was a good chance she would be considered a spy. She wasn't a spy, of course. That was ridiculous. That would be her husband's job. Edward Hodgson was a professor of languages. His specialty? The Germanic languages. His current job? Well, depending on who you spoke with it could be any of three: Professor, translator or spy. And even that didn't begin to explain his complex situation.
Professor Hodgson was, much like Arthur Crutchfield, holding down three jobs during the war. He maintained his position at the university, but his job description during the war was this: He translated captured messages, copied letters, smuggled transcripts and anything else the Allies could get a hold of. That was his most obvious job. That's the job that kept him at home, writing away with the door open, revolver at the ready. He would have had to shoot anyone that came through that door and saw the German texts on his table. Even Arthur knew better than to walk in unannounced. The gun was always loaded, and Arthur never questioned Edward Hodgson's ability or resolve to use it.
The professor's second job was directly linked to his charming Austrian wife. Maria had the misfortune of being born just across the German border, in Braunau, Austria. A picturesque little town with the hardest working Chamber of Commerce on the planet. They didn't know it at the time, but in just a few short years, they'd have a lot of catching up to do. And they never would. But for now, it was bad enough that her family knew his family and his government knew where she was. Talk about having family connections in the old country. So, whether she really hoped to see her relatives again or was merely trying to postpone the inevitable, Maria and her English professor husband entered into a pact with the devil of the Century. The German government knew what Professor Hodgson did for the English government. It was an easy assumption, given his research and work in Austria before the war. So now he had to tell that German government what the English government knew about the German government's business. And that would have been that, except for one thing: Edward Hodgson's third (or is it fourth?) job.
Already a translator for the English government at the University, and a spy for the German government on behalf of his wife's family in Austria, Edward Hodgson was also a reinstated active officer: a major in Military Intelligence. It was his office in M.I. that directed the documents to be translated to the university- where he was the one doing the translating. Of course, with typical military secrecy, the university had no idea who was in charge of the department sending the documents. And the underlings at the Intelligence Office had no idea who was actually translating those documents once they went to the University. He was double dipping with invisible spoons.
Wife or no wife, Edward Hodgson was first and foremost an Englishman. He wasn't about to give the enemy a hand up. So he had devised a cunning plan, M’Lord. Or at least a plan that wouldn't get him shot for treason and might save his wife's family: No critical documents were ever sent to the University, which kept Hodgson from having to report to the Germans that a particularly sensitive paper had been captured. Those documents deemed of the highest military priority were translated at the M.I. office. This gave the German operatives to whom the Professor had to answer a false sense of security, thinking that only trivial items were being found and translated. To further that false feeling, Hodgson sent along copies of his translations, showing where he had changed a word here or a phrase there throughout each document to throw the English off in their understanding of the German situation. This subterfuge pleased the Germans no end, and they never caught on that it was only in their copy that the translation was erroneous. If it weren't for the fact that Professor E. Hodgson knew that what he translated was headed straight back to Major E. Hodgson at M.I., it might have been a risky business. As it was, the secrets were kept all around.
Much like Arthur Crutchfield's position between Blackfriars and Charring Cross, Edward Hodgson was working both sides towards the middle. In Edwards case, however, much more was at stake. He, like Maria, would like to see his wife's family after the war. Now that the tide of battle was shifting, he knew something would have to change on the home front as well. Major Hodgson, the M.I. officer, was going to have to do something about Professor Hodgson, the spy. To say nothing of his German contacts in England.
Major Edward Hodgson had been looking long and hard at a map of Europe for almost a week. A decision had to be made. He had to second guess the Germans. At what point would the German Intelligence understand that they were losing the war? At what point would they be likely to lash out in every direction in a blind attempt to save themselves, putting Maria's family in danger? And at what point would Major Hodgson have to arrest Professor Hodgson before the Germans caught on? His eyes were fixed on Paris. That had to be it. He couldn't afford to wait until the Allied Forces had crossed France and were knocking on Der Fatherland's front door. It had to be Paris. When the Allies marched into Paris, Professor Hodgson would be arrested by the British Military Intelligence. Both the Professor and his wife would be whisked away in front of everyone, in case anyone was watching. Unfortunately, Arthur was the only one there when it happened.
Things had been going well for Arthur, as they had for the Allies. Normandy had not become a large-scale Dunkirk, much to everyone's relief. This time it worked, and Allied armies, mostly English, Canadian and American, were slogging their way across the French countryside. On the home front, the aerial bombardment had slacked off. London was almost quiet. Arthur Crutchfield's scavenging for the Blackfriars Medical Unit lacked the life-or-death urgency it had earlier in the year. He was actually able to concentrate on running messages for Charring Cross Hospital. What had started as a criminal ruse had become an honorable profession. Arthur's parents were still busy in the daytime. His father was still in demand, whatever it was he really did. His mother still had messages to deliver, winning or not. He rarely saw them between sun up and night fall. The one constant in his daily routine was Professor Edward Hodgson. In spite of the fortunes of war shifting in England's favor, the good professor still spent his days at his desk, writing with the door open and the gun out. Arthur never knew what, or why. The one thing he did know was better than to ask. It's still war, even if you're winning.
After his usual morning run through Blackfriars and on to Charring Cross, Arthur Crutchfield had managed his usual swing back by his underground home to see if the Professor had any needs for the day. This was his usual route in the morning, and established his schedule for the afternoon. By ten o'clock, he was home and the professor was writing. Or would have been if he had any paper. The professor was just sitting there, door open, waiting for Arthur. Hodgson knew Arthur's routine, of course. He also knew he was having himself arrested today.
Edward Hodgson, officer and spy, had come up with a simple plan to get Arthur Crutchfield out of the way for the day. He was out of paper. Of course he was. Needed more. Of course he did. Arthur went on a paper run for Hodgson at least once a week. Already once this week. But now he needed more. Arthur could do that, no problem at all. Hodgson knew he was being arrested at eleven. Arranged it himself. The stationers was at least a half hours' walk in good conditions, one way. But these were not good conditions. Streets were blocked, fires were being fought and undetonated ordinance was being very carefully pulled out of buildings. It would take Arthur at least an hour to get there and an hour to get back. With any luck at all the proprietor was the talkative sort, although in these times, few were. Too dangerous. So Hodgson knew he could count on at least an hour without Arthur to be arrested quietly. It was already after ten. His plan was in place, and working well. Arthur, however, had his own plan. And it worked even better.
Knowing that the seemingly good professor was paying out of pocket for whatever it was he was writing for the University, Arthur decided he could help the old man out, save him a few pennies and cut his travel time drastically. Yes, the stationers was a bit of a walk. But Charring Cross Hospital was not. Just around the corner, in fact. He could be there and back in less than half an hour. And he knew right where the paper was kept. Only take a moment to pop in and gather up a ream. Have it back in no time, with the professor's money to spare. He should like that. These are tough times. A penny saved, and all that.
So it was that Arthur Crutchfield found himself returning to his building before eleven instead of after noon. Walking down the sidewalk toward the front door, Arthur wasn't sure what to make of the military car parked out front. An officer's machine, by the looks of it. No markings. Must be Military Intelligence. They were the only ones driving around London in unmarked military sedans. As though no one would figure that out. Stuck out like a sore thumb. But why was it here? Parked in front of his home? Before he could come up with a plausible explanation, the real reason presented itself: Two obviously armed soldiers in blue uniforms came out of the building with Professor Edward Hodgson and his wife, Maria. Arthur recognized the Sten guns the men were carrying and immediately stopped walking towards his home. The older couple were put in the back of the vehicle, and the officers took a quick look around before they got in the front and the car began to pull away. The sedan rolled right past Arthur. He could see the grim armed guards in the front seat. One still held his weapon as though it might be needed. He would never forget the even grimmer look on the Hodgsons in the back. Arthur was going to pull out the ream of paper, to show the Professor that he had done his job. Halfway through the motion of pulling the paper out of his satchel, he stopped. It didn't look like Professor Hodgson would be needing this paper any time soon.
Arthur knew better than to try to chase the sedan. It was fast and it was armed. He was neither. It turned at the corner and was gone. Arthur looked up and down the street. Nothing moved. No one was there. Middle of the day in an empty town. He waited until some one, any one, came into sight before he started for his home. A man on a bicycle finally pedaled into view at the end of the street. He looked harmless, or at least unarmed. Arthur went for the front door and headed down the stairs. Three floors worth- two steps at a time.
On his way down the stairs, he hit the timed light switches without questioning whether or not they would work. He was half way down the stairs before he realized it was still dark. The lights didn't come on. That never happened before. Not here. They always had power. What was going on here? Arthur knew just where to look. Back up the stairs. One at a time. Just below ground level was most of the maintenance equipment for the building. There was even a freight elevator, but it didn't seem to work. Didn't matter. Didn't go down far enough anyway. Arthur found the power room. The door was open. That was odd. He tried the light switch in the room. Nothing. Ok, it's a game. He could play this game. A quick dig through his satchel brought up a military-issue flashlight. A gift from his father. Comes in handy in his line of work. Came in handy now. The situation (and the problem) was immediately obvious: All the fuses for the building were scattered all over the floor. Someone had pulled them out and flung them. Great. This will take some time. Arthur pulled off his satchel, sat the flashlight down and got down to the business at hand. Make that the business underfoot.
It took Arthur Crutchfield over half an hour to collect most of the fuses, set them out according to type and size, and start putting some of them back in place. At least whoever did this hadn't taken the time to erase the labeling in the fuse box. Arthur only replaced the fuses he knew he would need: Front foyer, hallway, stairs, third lower level. If any one wanted any more, they'd have to come down here and sort it out for themselves. He had things to do. He left the fuse room the way he had found it: Dark.
It was nearly one o'clock when Arthur went down the stairs again. This time, he went slowly, making sure the lights were coming on before he plunged into darkness. And this time the lights came on. He walked down the hall slowly. It was absolutely still down there. Nobody home. All the doors were closed. That was odd. Usually, no matter what the time of day, someone was here and some doors were open. Not today. He passed his own door without a glance. Of course it was closed. We're all busy. But he could see that the Hodgson's door was closed. Very closed. With a big padlock and some sort of notice on it. How very odd. Arthur walked up to the door and began to read:

DO NOT ENTER!
THESE PREMISES CLOSED
AND OFF LIMITS TO ALL
CIVILIANS & MILITARY
PERSONNEL
BY ORDER OF COMMANDER,
NAVAL INTELLIGENCE
SOUTHAMPTON.

Arthur Crutchfield was stunned. Rooted to the spot, he stared at the notice for a full five minutes. What did this mean? He knew what this meant. He had seen it twice before, just never so close. Military Intelligence had only one reason to interact with the civilian population in London: Espionage. He had seen a man picked up by M.I. at Charring Cross Hospital several years ago. The prevailing rumor after the incident was that the man was reporting on the civilian casualty count, and by that the success of the German bombings. Some time after that, the armed officers of Military Intelligence had paid a visit to a man two streets over from where Arthur was living. Something about a radio antenna with wash hung out to dry on it. He remembered that man. Never wore any clean clothes. Obviously suspicious. But dear old Professor Hodgson? And his poor speech-impaired wife? She could hardly talk. What could M.I. have wanted with them? He was just a teacher or something. Never went out. How could he have been a spy? And who were those guys in the blue uniforms?
Those guys in the blue uniforms were English sailors attached to the Military Intelligence office at the port of Southampton. Hence the notice on the door. Why did the Navy send two men all the way up to London to pick up Professor Hodgson and his wife? It was simple: Major Hodgson wanted to make sure that whoever picked him up as Professor Hodgson didn't know him as Major Hodgson. So he called in a favor from an old friend in the Navy. Could his friend spare a couple of men for an easy assignment in town? The major would provide the car, the details and the guns. Even send some one around to pick them up at their base. No problem? Good. And do send up one of your "OFF LIMITS" posters for the door, would you? The sailors didn't question the assignment. It got them a couple of days off in London and a car. (With a tank of gas no less!) Don't argue, guys. Just go pick up this old gentleman at this address. Put this notice on that door. Take him to that address and hand him over to the person waiting there. Enjoy your stay in London, boys. Here's the keys to the car. It was a gift.
To ensure the proper treatment of himself, without the possibility of some sort patriotic abuse, the sailors we told they were picking up a university professor considered at risk. Not a spy, but some one the Germans might want to incapacitate in some way. A civilian vital to the success of the war effort. That's all they had to know. The Hodgsons were treated with courtesy and respect by their armed guards and handed over to what appeared to be a civilian at a home outside the city. They were dismissed and told to report back to their base in 48 hours. The car would be retrieved from Southampton later that week. Leave the keys with your commander. Leave the guns here. An easy day for all concerned.
Edward Hodgson and his Austrian wife spent the remaining months of the war in their own home outside of London. It was their groundskeeper who took custody of them from the Navy men. And now it was their groundskeeper who would be running Professor Hodgson's errands, as he had before the war. While it seemed to be a silly exercise in circle running, there was some good to come of it: On the same day Major Hodgson returned to his home from London, six of Professor Hodgson's German contacts in town were also picked up by M.I. They did not fair nearly so well as Maria's family back home. There was, after the war, a very happy, tearful family reunion.
Arthur didn't know what to do. He couldn't help Hodgson, he was sure of that. Right or wrong, the professor was on his own now. And he probably wouldn't be needing this fresh paper any time soon. He reluctantly opened the door to his own apartment and went inside, leaving the door open behind him. Arthur dropped his satchel on the floor and slumped down across his bed. What to do? And why do anything? If good people were being picked up by the military, which side was the good guys? And if Hodgson really was a spy, what was the use of an honest attempt when the enemy was so cunning? He laid there on the bed for nearly an hour. Arthur fell asleep pondering life in London in these troubled times. He woke up wondering how long he had laid there. Did he really fall asleep? Was he that worn out? Arthur decided it was time for a break. Blackfriars and Charring Cross could do without him for the afternoon. And Professor Hodgson wouldn't be enlisting his services anytime soon. Arthur emptied some things out of his satchel- then thought about it and left it on the floor. Travel light. Just for this once. He left his parents a quick note on the table about going to the park. Be back tonight. Not to worry. Arthur headed out the door and back to the surface.
Arthur Smith Crutchfield's adventure of a lifetime began with a simple walk through London to Hyde Park. He passed through Trafalgar, dodging military vehicles and bicycles. He couldn't help but look- Was Hodgson in on of those cars? Was his own mother pedaling on of those bicycles? He saw neither and continued on toward the palace, cutting through the back alleys and mews. He kept his eye on Buckingham Palace as he ran through the traffic towards the park. Busy place, even in wartime. No sense in dying in a silly road mishap. As if the bombs made more sense. No sense in dying at all, he decided. Once in the park, Arthur relaxed a bit. He made his way toward the center of the grounds, as far as he could get from the surrounding roads and traffic. Few people in the park today. Very nice. Very peaceful. Arthur thought he'd have a little lie down under one of the trees. It looked quite comfortable, and it was. In no time at all, Arthur Crutchfield was asleep in the shade beneath a huge old oak tree near the center of Hyde Park. For Arthur, the world stopped revolving and the war came to a halt. It was good to sleep above ground again. The fresh air was positively narcotic. Arthur dreamt of the countryside as the city spun towards sunset. What happened next, some six hours later, is a topic for another file. Arthur Smith Crutchfield's involvement in the Second World War was over. His own personal war was about to begin.

To Be Continued...
-----------------------
Copyright 1996,2010, Chip Haynes

Return to the Table of Contents for this novel: http://www.republibot.com/content/original-fiction-climbers-chip-haynes-...

Tags: