The rapping at the door sounded urgent, and Basil rose hastily from his spot next to Cecily. Throwing on a robe as he went down the stairs, he unlocked the massive door and opened it slightly. “Yes?” his voice was terse, sleep-disturbed.
Agent Matheson stood just outside the porch light, clad in street clothes. “Heyyy, buddy!” he spoke loudly. “Basil.” His voice was low. “You’re needed. Safer to talk inside.”
“Come in,” Basil stood back to let the agent pass him. “What’s happened?” Cecily reached the foot of the stairs as Matheson did and she nodded at him, glad she had decided to wrap herself in her dressing gown. “Tea?” she asked automatically.
“No time. With your permission, Mrs. Kildare, I need Basil for a little late night S and R.”
“Who’s gone?” she asked flatly, leading them into the kitchen.
“Robespierre. He was last seen by our planter Agents near London Bridge but heading down the stairs of the Adelaide House. We believe he was on the trail of something or some person of interest.”
“So what happened?”
“We lost sight of him. This was three days ago.”
“Any flare or distress call?”
“How do you know he’s in danger?”
“Check-in,” Basil reminded her. “He missed curfew.” Here he excused himself to get dressed, leaving Cecily and Matheson in the kitchen.
“I can’t say I’ve ever been in here,” he glanced around, taking in as much detail as he could in the darkness.
“We usually keep our home private, save for a few very close friends at the Ministry and some ‘office party’ type events, though the Minister thinks them a tad unwise, given that the entirety of MI-6 would be in one location.”
Matheson nodded. “I’ll try not to keep Basil too long,” he said.
“I would appreciate it,” Cecily smiled. “I’m sorry if I seem short. It is three-thirty.”
“Not a problem. I’ve been awake for nearly two days, so I’m likely behaving very dramatically.”
They shared a quiet laugh. Basil slipped quietly through the swinging door and gave a thumbs up to Cecily. She crossed to him and gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Be safe,” she said.
Her husband returned the kiss and promised they wouldn’t take any unnecessary risks, then he and Matheson silently padded through the house to the front door, down the driveway, and into the dark night.
For her part, Cecily yawned and checked the hour again. Shaking her head she climbed the stairs and looked in on each of her children before padding back to their bedroom, throwing off her dressing gown and cozying into a deep sleep.
Basil leaped into Matheson’s waiting car and grabbed desperately for his seatbelt before his colleague could get in the driver’s side and start the engine. Matheson had a historic reputation and he upheld it proudly at every opportunity. They were in downtown London in a matter of minutes it felt. Matheson parked the car at the Ministry’s secure lot and he and Basil began the walk towards the Thames. The landmark belltower rang out the hour as they hurried along side streets, cutting through narrow lanes and side passages where they could. Once they reached the massive river, the pair began searching the sheer sides for their usual vehicle.
“I don’t see it,” Matheson said after a long moment.
“Neither do I,” Basil agreed. “Rob must have taken it.”
“Likely,” his companion sighed. “Guess we’re on foot to the CSLR then.”
The pair trotted past the Southwark Cathedral and down the stairs at the London Bridge underground station. Matheson led the way to a little-used maintenance door where they quickly slipped inside and illuminated their head lamps. A long climb down a shaft led them to the CSLR bores. The tubes here were cast iron (“Built in 1890!” Matheson had told him the first time they’d ventured down here) but had flat floors, making the walk easy enough. Stumbling briefly over the corner of an oblong hole in the floor, Basil peered past the safety rails to see the Northern Line platform below them. He sighed, knowing the next quarter mile held the worst part of the trip for him. He didn’t mind the dust and dirt and even the stale air, but it was the posters that gave him the shivers. They made their way through the construction area where the London Civil Defense authorities were building a wall to block off the King William Street terminus. “This is a bloody stupid idea,” Matheson grumbled, waving a hand at the short scaffolding and tarp mess. “Blocking off history in this way.”
“Makes life inconvenient for us too,” Basil chuckled.
“Next we’ll be arrested for being pedestrians,” Matheson rolled his eyes in the darkness.
They followed the gentle curve of the tunnels northward, moving past several sets of steps down which thousands of Londoners had once come for nightly refuge from the Luftwaffe. Basil resolved to keep his eyes on his feet, but he knew the posters were there. “AIR RAID PRECAUTIONS” some said. “NO SMOKING.” Once he got a look at those battered signs, hung there over seventy years ago, he would lose his nerve. The age of his surroundings was practically tangible. Suddenly about ¾ of a mile from their entrance, they again dipped down a shaft. This time there were stalactites on the ceilings and Basil knew they were getting deeper and closer to the river. The pair quickened their pace, scurrying across an extremely old workman’s bridge with a decrepit ladder hanging nearby. After a few minutes of acceleration, Matheson held up a fist, a silent signal to stop. The men switched off their headlamps and crouched, waiting, in the deafening silence.
Matheson turned back to Basil. “Thought I saw something ahead,” he whispered, but his esses bounced noisily about the cast iron tunnel. “Draw?”
“Yes, alright,” Basil said in a low tone, hastily grasping his revolver. I’m ready to go. The grade is up ahead, right?”
“Yes,” came the short reply. They hastily scampered up the 21 degree grade, using the old tracks as a ladder in places. The cold steel served only to numb their hands when they touched it. When they reached the top, Matheson stopped Basil and pulled open a grate at chest-level that led to a workman’s crawlspace. “Fish Hall is about 50 yards on the other side,” Matheson told him. “Do you think you can make it?”
“50 yards in that crawlspace?” Basil stared at him. “Are you mad?”
“Perhaps. But this puts us where we need to be. Otherwise we’ll be popping out at the Regis House and risk being seen by whoever’s up there.”
“Who is up there?” Basil wanted to know. “Was Rob being followed?”
“We’re not sure. Hence the crawling around. The last thing we need is an ambush on our hands.”
“How do you find these places?” Basil grumbled, but he knelt to shimmy into the darkness. Already, the moisture of this subterranean arena had crept through his jacket and into his bones. He felt stiff. The minute he put his hand into a standing puddle of frigid water, he knew they could be in trouble. The Thames was high right now—almost the highest it had been since the 1947 flooding. “Lots of water,” he said through clenched teeth to his companion.
“I see that,” came the reply. “Thank God this tunnel’s not any lower or we’d be on our bellies in this stuff.”
They came through the tunnel and cautiously removed the grate from the other end. The night air was a deal warmer than what they’d been breathing in the tunnels, and much fresher, even though it reeked of dirty water and riverbed. Basil sighed in relief and let himself down onto the muddy stairs.