“This is one giant clanging bell of a hangover,”
muttered a sweaty and extremely groggy Anthony Pratt to himself as he awoke in an unfamiliar, sparsely furnished darkened bedroom. In the hot partially lit surroundings, his eyes lazily attempted to identify a few inanimate objects slowly coming into focus. The room reeked of stale cigar smoke, alcohol, and cheap sex, prompting him to assume that during the previous evening, he had somehow ended up in the boudoir of a Columbian bordello’s Madame.
“Well, this is something new,” he stammered, “Very unlike me to not remember… I vaguely recall drinking only one glass of wine last night… Right!... Pull yourself together, old chap. We’ll solve this mystery later. Besides, nothing immoral happened here. You’re a happily married man, for Chrissake. There’s a great deal of work to do today and not much time left at that.”
Fumbling at his shirt sleeve, Pratt tapped on his wristwatch.
“Heavens! It’s almost Midday…”
Quickly rising from the iron-framed, squeaky spring bed, Pratt’s right hand immediately cradled his throbbing forehead, while he staggered unsteadily across the sparsely decorated room towards a water jug sitting atop an old, faded set of wooden Chester drawers. As his outstretched left hand contacted the jug, he suddenly froze in place. Into his right-side peripheral view, appeared a shocking reflection from a tilting, floor dressing mirror adorned with several silky scarves draped over one corner.
“I’ll be hornswoggled,” he exclaimed. “I’m Hitler!”
Indeed, by all appearances, Pratt looked like the ex-Leader of the Nazi Third Reich. Dressed in boots, pantaloons, buttoned-up tunic with Nazi insignia, and an Adolf Hitler moustache to boot. Pratt stood quizzically motionless as he unsuccessfully and painfully attempted to remove the fake moustache. An emotion of surreal, dream infused reality forced him backwards into sitting on the edge of the bed. Water slowly dripped onto the dusty wooden floor as his grip on the water jug’s handle loosened. For a few discombobulating moments, he studied the stranger hauntingly staring back at him from the old mirror.
“Is this some sort of sick joke?” he asked out loud, before involuntarily enacting a mocking Nazi salute.
Shuffling over to the window in short, quick steps, he tugged at the closed curtains and pulled them to the side. Bright sunlight burst into part of the room, temporarily blinding him. Defensively squinting his eyes, Pratt slowly opened them until the light had equalised in his retina, further exasperating his unremitting headache. Pouring some water into a glass, he gulped it down like a summer drought had taken over his entire being and rain had suddenly arrived at last. Emptying the remaining contents of the jug over his face, his senses began to stir into action. His thirst temporarily quenched and his strange new world increasing in focus, Pratt took a mental note of the room and its contents. A free-standing, double-door wardrobe matching the time ravaged Chester drawers, stood at a forty-five-degree angle in one corner of the room. With both doors open, it was plain to see that nothing was stored in it. He had hoped to find his own suit dangling from a hanger inside the wardrobe, but it had either been stripped bare or had not been used in a while. Pratt stretched his body into motion, then tiptoed as quietly as he could in his tall, clunky leather boots toward the room’s door. Turning the doorknob, he was pleasantly surprised to find that it opened freely, relieving a small element of stress from his recovering disposition. About to make his escape into the hallway, a hurried set of footsteps loudly ascending the stairway prompted him to swiftly retreat into the bedroom and close the door. Not knowing whether these were friendly footsteps or otherwise, he hastily moved the floor mirror at an angle to the door that would show his false reflection to whomever entered the room, as he hid beyond their peripheral view. This would provide him an element of surprise and the advantage of a rear-action attack. Pratt’s only current means of defence was the act of divertive subversion. A tactic straight out of his agency’s training manual. It was an illusionary method adopted from practitioners of the Magic Circle. In other words, it was a magician’s trick of redirecting attention to veil a sleight of hand move. Pratt had never used this type of distraction before and as the door flew open, revealing a pistol gripped tightly in its holder’s hand, Pratt realised he had but only a moment’s opportunity to overpower the obvious assailant. However, the pounding in his head caused a transitory lapse in concentration, so an inattentive Pratt found himself recalling the day he was assigned to this far away mission.
“Mr Pratt. It’s a pleasure to see you again,” a complimenting Winston Churchill greeted him on his entry to 10 Downing Street’s conference room.
“I hope you didn’t mind me dragging you away from the countryside...”
“Not at all Prime Minister,” Pratt replied. “My wife understands that matters of national interest forego all pursuits of family happiness…”
“…Yes, Ha! Very good Pratt. I see your sense of humour has not waned since our previous parting.”
“My wife tells me that it’s a gift, sir.”
Lighting one of his iconic cigars, Churchill quickly receded into a fog of surrounding smoke.
“…There are those in parliament of the opinion that I should not be back in charge of the country and that I’m beyond my prime ministerial use. Perhaps there is some truth in that sentiment. I’m not the man I used to be. My recent stroke emphasised that with the loss of some feeling in my left side. However, my mind is fully fit and active, so let them believe what they want. Fear not you feeble boned and crippled servants of truth, for you remain thinking in depth… and whilst you remain thinking in depth, you remain useful in the longest of term…”
“Indeed… May you govern long with the best of health, Prime Minister.”
“Yes, thank you, Pratt… Listen, I personally requested you for this assignment. It’s for eyes only. My eyes – to be precise. We’ve intercepted reports coming from our American cousins regarding a preposterous declaration from an escaped Nazi living in Columbia, of all places. He professes to be a friend of a man named Adolf Hitler living in his village. He further states that this Hitler chappie works for a Dutch shipping company and is building a new following with the help of his local community – who, I may add – are all ex-German Nazis.”
“Is this confirmed?”
“Well, no! That’s where you come in… I need you there on the ground to investigate and report back. This could be a sensational bit of news that us British must manage with the utmost of discretion. If these reports are to be believed, then we must apprehend this… apparent Lazarus… and get him to the Hague to be tried for genocide.”
“This is incredible, sir. You can certainly count on me.”
“That’s the spirit, Pratt. I knew you wouldn’t let me down. There will be no license to kill on this one. We can’t have a repeat of your fiasco in that London drawing room escapade that ended with a candlestick sticking out of a dead Nazi’s head.”
“No sir. Although, in my defence, it was either him or me in that moment.”
“No matter… It was for king and country; however, you will have a liaison officer on this one. A Commander Jenkins will meet and assist you on arrival in Bogota. From there, he will escort you to the village where you will make discreet enquiries and interrogate this so-called chum of Hitler to gain the whereabouts of public enemy numero uno… Jenkins is licensed to kill, but only as a last resort. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Prime Minister… and thank you for the opportunity.”
“You earned this one. Bring Hitler to the world’s court and there may be a knighthood in it for you…”
Churchill’s words faded into the distance as two gunshots directed inwardly burst into his Columbian bordello’s bedroom. As the deafening sound pranged through Pratt’s already fragile headache, he calmly pressed the edge of the porcelain water jugs’ spout into the back of the intruder’s neck.
“Jenkins,” Pratt calmly recited. “Put that away, please.”
Commander Jenkins, all six feet two inches of him, stared wide-eyed at the two bullet holes that neatly pierced the mirror. Pratt’s ruse worked a treat, but he felt he still needed to calm the situation with the trigger-happy agent.
“I beg your pardon, sir. I thought you was Hitler.”
“For a frightening moment, so did I, old chap.”
“You do look remarkably like him, sir.”
“It’s the moustache.”
“…and the hair, sir.”
Glancing at his reflection in the mirror, Pratt could see the hasty but effective comb-over attempt on his receding mane with thick grease.
“I need to change out of this uniform, but before I do, please explain your wild west entrance just then?”
Peter Jenkins was on the lower rung of licensed orders. There were three tiers. The top tier included the privileged, the educated, and most intellectually gifted recruits. All single and all of them with attractive qualities to help get them out of any jam encountered in the execution of their duties. They needed no verification to kill, just sound judgement. Tier Two field operatives were made up of family men and women, who could pass for the average citizen in the street. They were usually of an older group than the top tier and could easily blend in at a church bazaar or afternoon tea at the Ritz. They also had the responsibility of on-the-spot decision making and needed no kill confirmation from higher up the chain of command. The lowest tier - a new programme established just after the war, was made up of recruits from the public school system. Their main qualification was a high a level of bravery and guile to match their sometimes-hazardous postings. Originating from a specific working-class background, afforded them minimal risk of detection in public spaces. They just blended in wherever needed. Labelled “Third Class” by the higher-ups, they had to confirm kill orders before commencing any action. Eliminations led to expensive cover-ups and by all means, it was a cost to be avoided.
The “Third Class” was a social experiment inspired by new Socialist ideologies that provided opportunities for all rank and file to prove themselves worthy of their new career paths. It was up to these commoners to prove not just their own abilities but successfully demonstrate that a classless society was the future of the old empire and that all recruits regardless of schooling, could obtain rank. It was a classic example of the ‘proven actually being in the pudding.’
“Sorry Mr Pratt, sir. My informant told me that Adolf Hitler was in here attempting to kill you, so I raced over as fast as I could and I… it was a split-second reaction…”
“Yes, yes, I get it… I’d commend you on your quick feet; however, this could have ended very badly. Who was your mole?”
“The man we questioned yesterday who professed he was a close acquaintance of the actual Adolf. I was just coming out of the telegraph service building after sending coded despatches back to home office. He was sitting in his car, saw me, then confessed the town had become hazardous to his health. As he drove away, he shouted back at me that you were in immediate and mortal danger here in this building.”
Pratt took a moment to analyse the situation, then concluded that this had all been a diversion. An almost fatal hoax to stall him. Realising the situation, his inherent powers of deduction calculated loud and clear through his ever-increasing throbbing temple.
“I see… I’m afraid we’ve been had, Jenkins.”
“I’m sorry, sir… what do you mean?”
“I suspect that the few resident Nazis that we so resolutely stumbled upon in this small hot and humid, godforsaken jungle, got spooked by our presence… Hitler is dead. He was never here. Common sense has been dismissed in pursuit of nationalist, flag-waving glory. This has been nothing more than a CIA instigated tall tale and we – namely I – have been made the butt of its perilous joke. As a parting gift, I highly suspect that my wine at dinner last night was conveniently spiked. Once unconscious, those Nazi sympathisers must have dressed me in these clothes, glued a square moustache under my nose, then high-tailed it out of town - most likely on a flight to Argentina right now. Knowing a little of your edgy temperament and trigger-happy abilities, they set you up to explode into this room, gun blazing, in the attempt to rescue me from… well… me!”
“Those sneaky little bastar…”
“Quite enough, Jenkins… Indeed. An attempt as crude as your language just now, hoped to cool a hot trail. This is a different kind of war that we propagate in peacetime. It has different rules and a variety of outcomes – and not all are to our satisfaction. No doubt, the civil servants at home will file this assignment under Jabberwocky.”
“Lewis Carrol, Jenkins. Have you read Through the looking glass? It’s the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland…”
“No sir. Can’t say I have. We never covered that one in my six years of comprehensive school.”
“It’s a poem full of nonsense and gibberish, not too dissimilar to this nonsense we currently find ourselves trying to unravel. However, Lewis Carrol in all his splendid writings, did give birth to words like chortle, a combination of chuckle and snort. It’s what is termed as a neologism, a term, word, or a phrase in the process of becoming widely used. Our English language is a complex, constantly evolving tongue - thanks to Neologisms.”
“Well, Mr Pratt. I learn something new in this job each-and-every-day.”
“Never stop learning, Jenkins. Should you ever reach that moment, then find yourself another vocation… Education is the key to knowledge and knowledge is power – albeit a corrupting influence - as we found out in the last war. I should have suspected your Cheshire-Cat-grinning friend yesterday was anything but straightforward.”
“What do I put in my report to Home Office?”
“Let this remain as eyes only for Winston. He’ll know what to do. As Hitler once said, ‘History is written by the victors,’ so any report detailing this little lost charade would never see the light of day – in a historian capacity.”
“Then, what now, sir? Do we go after them?”
“Unfortunately, our concern ends here in this obscure little village. In clearer terms, our mission is done. Chalk this one up as a non-starter. It’s back to Westminster for the foreseeable future… Winston will most likely be very disappointed, but I think he suspected as much anyway… Before I left London, he said – and I quote:
‘Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter...’
“This indeed was a very strange voyage with an unfathomable tide and a pounding hurricane in the form of my hangover… Jenkins, would you be kind enough to arrange our travel home? I dare say there’s enough funds left in the kitty for a well-deserved first-class carriage on the next ship out of here.”
“Of course, Mr Pratt, sir. Right away…”
“Oh, and please see if you can find my suit. Begin your enquiries with the proprietor of this shady establishment. Let’s hope she hasn’t sold it. Any clue as to where I can find something for my irritating headache?”
“I understand the locals here have a single cure for almost any ailment. It’s a leaf they chew from a bush they call a coca plant. Very effective, they say.”
“Remarkable… Just what I need then. Be a good man and see if you can rustle up some of these coca leaves and put them in a teapot for me, would you?”
Jenkins casually saluted, then carefully replaced his pistol into its shoulder holster before hurrying from the room. Standing to attention, Pratt couldn’t help but twirl and admire his appearance in the wounded mirror as he addressed his reflection with a recital of the Jabberwocky poem.”
‘Twas bryllyg, and ye slythy toves
Did gyre and gymble in ye wabe:
All mimsy were ye borogoves;
And ye mome raths outgrabe.’
“All nonsense aside, I must admit those Nazis did have great taste in uniforms. Almost Paris fashion week in their exquisite design. What great tailoring those scoundrels had. I may just keep a hold of this one for games and fancy-dress evenings on the home front… Well… who else is going to need it?”
Exiting the room with the empty water jug clutched tightly to his chest, Pratt could not resist a final parody of a goose-step in his borrowed uniform - as he went in search of additional hydration and a headache remedy to quieten the big brass band playing a warped version of Germany’s Deutschland Uber Alles in his tender British head. “With a little bit of luck,” he thought, “I might just find me a hangover-curing, good old-fashioned fry-up… and who in this town would refuse Adolf Hitler an all-day breakfast…”
Undetected by Pratt - now comically marching down the winding staircase - an unsettling tremor of a light thud unbalanced the privacy screen standing dormant in the darkest corner of the Madame’s boudoir. Cautiously, the unseen individual waited for Pratt’s footsteps to fade into the distance before the sound of a fist angrily striking its counterpart’s palm preceded a woeful cry of exasperation…”
“Scheiße,” the angry male German accent declared. “Der Führer ist nackt!…”
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you immediately caught my attention with the title! this was dramatic but also almost whimsical. you really did a good job! it's a style that perhaps not everyone can appreciate (but I do!) the ending came as a humorous surprise xD my grandmother's family are German, so I didn't struggle with the translation. very well done!
Thank you, Hannah. Anthony Pratt will return. My stories seem to get approved late - even though I submit them before the weekend. I worry that no-one will read them, so I sincerely appreciate your comments.
I was happy to read it! I will be looking out for more of Anthony :) if you'd be interested, I'm part of a Discord group with lots of writers from Reedsy! we discuss stories and get feedback outside of the comments here, so if you'd like to join, let me know!