Monday, July 06, 2015

Hitting the Fan

With the explosive destruction of their house and the authorities due to arrive at any moment, it looked like the Special Operations Executive agents' cover was blown. Ho ho. Kirby Tinkerton and Mike McVeigh picked up the unconscious and wounded Tidelina and used back streets and alleyways to flee the village; meanwhile the sound of the explosion had woken Pierre-Yves Bertrand and Fergus O'Brien over at the Decharette mansion -- I was being kind -- and sensing trouble, they hopped on their cycles and rushed to the village. Surveying the destruction and seeing local gendarme -- and Nazi sympathiser -- Henri Jourdain flailing about in his nightshirt in an attempt to calm a situation well beyond his control, Bertrand and O'Brien moved on, satisfied at least that their comrades had not been arrested.

Assuming that they also had not perished in the explosion, O'Brien guessed that his fellow agents would either head to the mansion or the Martin farm; if it had been the former they would have crossed paths so chances were they were with the partisans. On the way to the Martin farm the two groups met and Tinkerton and McVeigh explained what had happened; as the agents crouched in a roadside ditch they discussed their next move.

They knew that events had escalated to the point that they wouldn't be able to avoid the authorities so they decided that they would turn themselves in and present a story that would divert attention away from them long enough for them to complete their missions. They came up with three options:

Option one: Blame the cultists. Although this was more or less the truth, and pitting the Nazis against the cultists would be an efficient solution to both problems, the agents realised that it would be difficult to convince the Germans of the existence of a cult, not least because they themselves had no evidence of such a thing.

Option two: Pretend to be Gestapo officers. Another dead end, as they had no way of disguising themselves as the German secret police, nor were they sure what they would do if they did.

Option three: Blame the whole thing on Kirby Tinkerton. The scientist had access to explosives through his job at the copper mine and had been seen there earlier in the day, so it would not be too implausible to suggest that he had stolen some TNT and had set it off by accident.

The third option seemed the best of the lot. They would claim that they had no idea what Sarkozy -- Tinkerton's alias -- was doing until it was too late and that he had died in the explosion, hoping that the authorities would not expend the time and resources needed to search the rubble for his body; to maintain the pretence he would hide at the Decharette mansion and McVeigh would provide him with a disguise.

With their plan decided the agents continued to the Martin farm. Helena Martin once again gave up her bed for Tidelina and while the Australian's wounds were cleaned and bound, the agents explained recent events to the the Martins. They also started making demands of the partisan couple; McVeigh pressed them on the status of the suitcase plan and Tinkerton ordered them to roam the countryside for components for home-made bombs, but Helena pointed out that as the agents had alienated or murdered most of the partisan group, there wasn't anyone left to run their errands. Pierre-Yves declared them to be useless and an embarrassment to France, which was perhaps not the best approach, and everyone took their grudges to bed.

During the night McVeigh dreamed again of the mysterious and suave gentleman, who asked if the spy had sang the song he'd been taught in one of their previous encounters. McVeigh admitted that he had not and the gentleman suggested that perhaps he should do so soon, as it could help the agents with their current predicament. With a tentative agreement from McVeigh, the gentleman left the Martin farmhouse and disappeared into the darkness.

Over an awkward breakfast, Tinkerton attempted to use his scientific training to explain how a satyr had used pan pipes to set off plastic explosives but the incongruity of it all was too much and all he got for all his theorising was some Sanity loss. Later McVeigh smuggled him into the Decharette mansion and he made himself as comfortable as possible in the house's dusty attic while Bertrand and O'Brien went into the village and presented themselves to the authorities; they were arrested and locked in a cell in the village's small police station, as was McVeigh when he arrived.

The agents were questioned by Oberstleutnant Klier, who took their identification papers and left to investigate further. He returned a few hours later to tell the prisoners -- with a heavy heart, it seemed -- that some colleagues of his would soon arrive in the village to take over the investigation.

Oh dear.

"I don't want to wait for the Gestapo to get here and execute us," said Bertrand, and the agents spent most of the night arguing over their next move. They were forced to admit that whatever they decided, their cover mission -- to set up a resistance network -- was beyond their ability to complete, and that left them with the question of whether they should continue to pursue their secret mission -- to find the missing occultist Lionel Malo -- or if they were better off legging it to the coast or the border with Spain.

After a long and heated discussion the agents decided to remain in jail and wait for a better opportunity to make their escape, and to then make one last attempt to find -- and rescue, if possible -- Malo. The choice made, they waited.

The next morning, Klier returned with three Gestapo officers, one a scarred wreck of a man with one eye, who introduced himself as Kriminalkomissar Wolfhelm Lucht and selected O'Brien for interrogation. Fergus was bundled into a chair and Lucht lowered himself -- pain evident on his mangled face -- into another; the two other officers took up a position by the door and Klier retreated to the corner of the small office, his discomfort clear.

Lucht picked holes in O'Brien's story but the Irishman manoeuvred well -- the points invested in his Fast Talk and Persuade skills were well spent -- and if he didn't convince the German, he at least seemed to impress him. Things seemed to be going as well as could be expected given the circumstances, until Lucht slapped the agent's identification papers on the table and asked why Fergus and his friends were carrying faked documents.

Oh dear.

O'Brien spun a story about unreliable Belgian bureaucracy, and after some thought Lucht nodded to his men. Bertrand and McVeigh were released from their cells and the three agents were marched to the door, the Gestapo officers behind them, weapons drawn; two more Gestapo officers waited outside, also with their guns at the ready. It was a bit tense.

Exhausted, unarmed, and surrounded by Germans with automatic weapons, the agents thought their time was up, but to their surprise Lucht indicated that they were free to go, although he'd be keeping their documents. Expecting bullet in their backs at any moment, the agents walked across the village square and out of town.

They returned to the Decharette mansion and kept their heads down as they made their plans. Tinkerton was given the team's radio and was sent running across the fields to the Martin farm, as they agents suspected that the mansion was no longer safe; they were proved correct when Bertrand spotted an occupied Kübelwagen parked not far from the house. They had to move.

As night fell, the agents made a break for it. Bertrand and O'Brien left through the back of the mansion and used the cover of the old monastery ruins to stay out of the view of the men in the Kübelwagen, while McVeigh stayed behind to provide a distraction. It almost worked too, until Bertrand and O'Brien became separated and the Frenchman disturbed a flock of birds, giving away his position.

One Gestapo officer raced across the fields to investigate; both the agents were well hidden and the German literally stumbled over Bertrand, but before he could act O'Brien took a shot with his rifle. The shot missed but it was enough to send the German diving for cover and he and Bertrand scuffled on the ground; he tried to knock Bertrand out but the Frenchman was taking no chances and blasted away with his pistol. As O'Brien scurried up in support, the mêlée ended with Bertrand blowing the top off the German's skull, sending blood and brain matter spattering into Fergus' eyes.

In hindsight, I should have called for a Sanity roll for that.

Meanwhile the other Gestapo officer and McVeigh stalked each other through the mansion gardens, a slow and stealthy contest in comparison to the frenzied scramble in the fields nearby. In the end it came down to luck; we've been using the expendable Luck mechanic from the upcoming seventh edition of Call of Cthulhu, a simple rule that states that a character can spend points from their Luck score to adjust a dice roll to turn it into a success. I don't remember if the rule allows points to be used to enforce a failure on an NPC's roll but it seemed like a reasonable request when the German rolled a 96 for his attack. That 96 became a 97, the MP40 jammed, and that was that for Gestapo Bloke #2.

The agents looted the bodies and concealed the Germans' vehicle in a nearby wood, then ran towards the Toulon orchard and the entrance to the caves in which they hoped they would find Lionel Malo. They were in a hurry; the Kübelwagen was equipped with a radio, suggesting that Lucht would be expecting an update from his men at some point. Time was running out.

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