I fetch up the Geiger counter supplied by Old Bittersweet. Cecil shakes his head. He says, “I have my own.”
“Oh?” Mme Roux is surprised, I recognise the look. To cover it she changes the subject, “All that tosh about scorpions and frogs?”
“It’s the sort of rot people expect from me, but it has a point to it. Do not pretend Mme Roux that you do not appreciate the difference between what one is, and what one appears to be. My jolly herd are ruffians.”
“They’re thugs,” I say instantly regretting it.
But Cecil is not offended. Indeed he claps, “Bravo,” he says. “But worse. Murderers and malcontents, thieves, bullies, what else would prey on others, and who else so willingly wish to be a part of something, to have order, of a sort, in which to sponge away such little guilt as they might feel?”
“And you’re their leader!”
“I am,” says Cecil. “But what is the alternative? We have defeated those as bad as we, recruited them as often as not thereafter. Every tribe removed, every enemy absorbed. And with each we become that little more horrid. They crave the sort of order where they are told what to do, as long as it is the sort of thing they wish to. It gives them...” he thinks on the word.
“...Legitimacy?” I say.
“Legitimacy,” he agrees, “Just so.”
“But where next, to rule, to conquer, how much will be enough?”
“I agree,” Cecil says. “And now we have an atom bomb.”
“ Bon Bon,” says Mme Roux.
“Whose fertility we shall now discover,” he says leaving us, but indicating we should remain.
Bon Bon is not an atom bomb. “Do you not think you might have told me before now?” I say. We’re being treated well enough. There’s even a gramophone outside the tent we’ve been given. The food is surprisingly good, a last meal it seems like now. Cecil’s been gone for an awfully long time. Summer and it’s still some hours before it gets dark. The grass is a different colour where planes used to take off to do battle, men younger than I now scrambling to defend Britain. It seems somehow grotesque then to be home now to so many thugs and fascists.
“Our Geiger counter just goes click when you turn it on,” says Mme Roux.
“But that mad man Cecil didn’t use our Geiger counter!”
“No,” she says. She ruffles my hair. “If I had told you would you have come?”
“Of course not.”
“Well there you are then, I can’t drive a lorry. And remember, you have a pistol. We can fight our way out.”
I’m not convinced. Even if the bloody thing is actually loaded I’m a rotten shot. Most everyone is with a pistol. It’s why they gave them to officers so that they didn’t get any funny ideas about actually doing any fighting, rather than making sure everyone else did. Besides which, “We shouldn’t have to fight our way out, adventurous and dashing though that would be against several hundred murderers handicapped by having all those tanks. Whose brilliant idea was this?”
“I don’t really have an atom bomb,” she says. She thinks this is enormously funny. “I just told you I did and you told everyone else. I had to get Bon Bon off Mr Bittersweet. It does look the part doesn’t it? He made the arrangement to sell it to Captain Cecil. Or so he said. Anyway, something will turn up. It always does.”
The bell sounds again, this time for dinner. I can see where they’ve moved Bon Bon to pride of place way over the field by the mess tent so that everyone can admire her, the late sun making her shine. It would be fortuitous had I not then seen Captain Cecil come the other way and with eyes firmly on us. He has a submachine gun tucked under one arm like a toff off to hunt grouse with a shotgun. Everyone is very respectful, especially now they have Bon Bon. They snap salutes very smartly as he goes by, but I can see he only has eyes for us.
“We should run,” I say.
But Mme Roux disagrees, “Too soon, too many people still about.”
“By the time that changes Cecil will be here.”
She doesn’t seem to care. I’ve seen her like this before, enjoying the excitement of it all. Besides which she hates running. Mme Roux is the only person I’ve met whose army boots have kitten heels. When she suggested we might fight our way free she meant at a swagger.
Not wanting to show how much I’m panicking I say, “Perhaps Old Bittersweet will buy us out or something?”
But no, “He won’t interfere; he and Cecil know each other of old. They were in much the same business once upon a time after all. They respect one another, professionally speaking. Using us to con Cecil is one thing, but there’s no profit in saving us.”
“I hope you’re lying.”
Mme Roux blows me a kiss, “Me?”
“Yes you, you silly cow. You always lie. You wouldn’t know the truth if you got it tipsy and took it back for sherry. And if you did, you’d never remember its name in the morning.”
And then there was Cecil who nodding to each of us in turn checks his watch and says, “Duck.”