Friday, October 16, 2020

The Guns of 'Eighteen


Arn Blevins, a rumored German arms dealer to terrorists, cautiously descended the decaying ladder to a World War One British command post. A generator supplied current to the old string of bulbs. They cast sickly yellow light on the next intruder, Captain Laslo of the British Army. The munitions expert was helping Blevins clear his estate of old ordnance--a legitimate concern for a man whose castle was full of arms and ammo. This remote spot on the French-German border had served him well, though it meant bribing bureaucrats on both sides. 

Blevins placed hands on hips. "There they stand, Captain, almost like they're about to speak."

Five corpses stood in various final acts: looking at a wall map, fiddling with a radio knob, checking a low door to an apparent tunnel. Rotting uniforms identified them as a sapper unit.

"We'll need to check the tunnel, as you say," Laslo decided. "It looks like they died from poison gas shells as it pooled down here."

"Not so fast." Blevins inspected rifles, trench coats, canned food. "Could be a tidy sum on the souvenir market for this old gear. We--" 

His jaw dropped when one of the figures, wearing a dusty monocle, turned on creaky joints to face them. A shower of cloth fibers fell from his trousers. With bizarre modesty, he used a nearby tunic to cover himself as if he'd just come from a bath. The others came to animated life.

Blevins seized Laslo, preventing his headlong flight up the ladder. "You're the authority, Captain! Explain this! I could make millions on whatever they've been dosed with!"

"It isn't that fanciful," Laslo said, stubbornly keeping hold of a rung. "Don't you see? Those stimulant bottles on the shelf. These men were pumped full of it. There's been some reaction with the gas."

The monocled figure croaked out a garbled verse of song. "When gunny shore. . . ." Working his stiff jaw, he found the mark. "When the big guns of 'eighteen roared." The others joined in. "The kaiser's plans were no more. Armies in flight, dyin' o' fright, when the big guns of 'eighteen roared!" 

Again Blevins had to drag Laslo off the ladder. "That door is facing the direction of my castle. If there's some kind of ammo dump in there, I could lose my empire: arms, ammo, armor, cash. And my buyers are very unforgiving men."

The monocled figure picked up the radio handset. "Blast--the rotters have cut the wires. We're on our own, men. We'll have to go volcanic!" 

"Blevins," Laslo warned, "the safety baffles in that tunnel have long gone to ruin. They won't protect this place from the detonation. We have to go, now!" 

"No!" Blevins drew and opened fire on the leader, blowing chunks of bone and tunic. But the detonator was wired into the lights, which Blevins had conveniently restored to power. An ominous rumble shook the earth, raining soil and roots on them as they clambered up. 

A geyser of dirt and smoke erupted from the vacated pit. But that was nothing compared to the pyrotechnics going on at the distant castle. Turrets collapsed in a roar of fire and thunder. Secondary explosions went off for some time. 

Blevins picked himself up. "I'm a dead man. Undone by a bunch of spooks!"

"Well," Laslo said, saluting his former comrades in arms. "Looks as if we've won the war--again." 

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