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back to christmas

by Miracle Jones

“So it’s not just a rumor—you are in fact a holy virgin?”

“Ah,” said Lt. Fiddly-Pucklechurch, pondering the invasive question—a question that he never expected to answer when volunteering to dismantle Nazi bombs for King and country. “I suppose that I am indeed undefiled in a technical sense: a virgin in the narrow way that a man such as yourself might understand that benighted word.”

“Yes or no? This isn’t Ancient Rhetoric and I’m not your fucking prefect.”

The men all laughed. Wild Jack grinned, sliding his silver cigarette-holder from one side of his massive jaw to the other clamp of his molars. 

“Then yes, to a surety,” said Fiddly-Pucklechurch, hanging his head.

“Well, I don’t work with virgins, however the word might be defined,” said Wild Jack Howard, Earl of Suffolk, pulling his fur coat tighter around him. “There are no virgins in BD that I know of. You’ll fuck my secretary or you’ll get fucked by my chauffer before we even approach the bomb and you’ll do it right this damned instant while the rest of us wait here in the cold. I shouldn’t expect you’ll take very long to get yourself dismantled and made safe. We’re engineers, not ribbon clerks.”

“Better make sure he knows it’s not an order,” said hangdog Affpuddle, Wild Jack’s military liaison.

“Of course it’s not a goddamned order!” shouted Wild Jack. “I’m a bloody civilian. But if you want to work with me, you’ll face your maker as a man, not a pudding. Now which one will it be? My sultry and vivacious personal secretary Beryl or my handy and hardy private wheelman Fred? Don’t make me decide for you. I find red-cheeked snits like you sexually confusing.”

The Scottish BD sappers all stood in a line smirking and slouching—ostentatiously not saluting. It was exciting as hell to see an officer insulted so flagrantly by a bare-chested volunteer wearing nothing but a leather blacksmith’s apron and a pink fur coat.

“Are you quite serious?” choked Lt. Fiddly-Pucklechurch. It wasn’t as if he had any moral compunction about fornication. However, no one had ever seemed to like him well enough to really try it on with him. He was sure he would succumb to a bout of good English rumpy-pumpy eventually—perhaps after making a nice little pile of wartime cash. But the Blitz had changed everything. It had made easy things impossible. It had made complicated things inevitable.

“If you don’t make a decision right this instant, I’ll send you right back to the Ministry of Supply and you can go spot Junkers on some craggy promontory with the rest of the wobbly Sherry grans,” said Wild Jack, his fingers twitching by his bandolier-crossed sidearms, Oscar and Genevieve. “This bomb is ticking. You are wasting time. In fact, you are putting this entire unit in danger. Truthfully, what is the problem? Are you some blasted American Puritan? Just pick your pleasure, man: do you want the steely gauntlet or the satiny glove?”

“If it must be so, then I will admit that your secretary is just my sort of peppery lass,” choked Fiddly-Pucklechurch. “Obviously.”

Beryl Morden smiled slightly, satisfied by the appraisal. She hadn’t left Wild Jack’s side since the war started, not since their days in Paris together robbing banks. But it was no secret that she had a weakness for military men, a fact which was slightly embarrassing to the Earl. However, he helped her indulge her passion for soldiers as often and as intensely as she desired, taking every opportunity to provide her with a steady supply of khaki-coated cock so long as she was always available when he needed her. After all, both Wild Jack and his chauffer Fred Hards had charming wives to service them in the evenings—Beryl had to make do with whatever shivering raw recruits she could find in whatever bomb shelters or tube stations would have her.

And, then of course, there were always UXBs to caress. Hard, erect, vital, thrumming unexploded bombs, ten feet underground, ready and consenting to be unearthed and stripped down, aching and straining for her careful ministrations.

“Are you certain that it’s Beryl who sends you?” said Wild Jack. “Not that I don’t share your enthusiasm. But in one hour, you’ll most likely be a cuticle-colored smear on a dashed-down wall. I’m not trying to tease you: no one here’ll judge you one way or the other for choosing my man Hards instead, if thusly run your inclinations. This isn’t the manly mud of your dear old dad’s Ardennes. We’re all gentlemen here with expansive minds and profane imaginations. Even my Scots! But in this specific moment we men of science need soft fingers and totally clear heads.”

“I’ll suck you off, Fiddly-Pucklechurch,” said Sergeant Peace gently. “Suffolk’s wheelman’ll be a bit rough for a sprat like you.”

“Aye,” said Affpuddle gruffly, spitting into the ash-strewn gutter. “The man has no mercy.”

Hards gave Affpuddle two fingers straight up.

“Miss Morden is who I would choose,” croaked Fiddly-Pucklechurch, utterly in agony, unable to meet Beryl’s eyes. “Pistol to my head.”

“Which is exactly the case, of course,” said Wild Jack. “This is your first lesson. Never approach a bomb without thoroughly draining your testicles dry. You must twist them crisp like a sopping dishrag. Beryl!”

Wild Jack nodded to his secretary who clicked her heels together and unpinned her glistening blonde hair. Wild Jack’s driver opened the back of the lorry and she climbed inside, already unbuttoning her blouse. The sappers craned to look, hoping to catch a glimpse of rosy-white flesh unplumping from her tan button-up, but Wild Jack pushed Fiddly-Pucklechurch into the back of the mobile lab and closed the doors, immediately doling out cigarettes from the tin under his homburg to the Highland looky-loos.

“Play the phonograph loud as you can, Hards,” said Wild Jack. “Beryl gets actressy with young ones to speed them up. Might as well drown her out for decency’s sake.”

“Righto, luv,” said Hards.

“Oooo, I have a good feeling about this bomb,” said Wild Jack, rubbing his hands together, washing his fat fingers with cigarette smoke. “We so desperately need new active fuzes to test the Suffolk Stopper. If we could only prove its worth in the field… In fact, let’s say that we hypothetically extract the B4 in this theater as quick as a stroke. Does that mean that we can squeeze one more out of Chelsea today? There are always a few parachute bombs stuck in the laundry lines there.”

Fred Hards shrugged, blowing his nose into one of Wild Jack’s monogrammed pink handkerchiefs and then cranking the phonograph. Dizzy spirals of dance music put a tap in everyone’s toe. Somehow, the Scottish sappers managed to relax even more intensely, achieving total slouch.

The Suffolk Stopper was Wild Jack’s newest invention: an automatic fuze-removing device powered by an electric vacuum and carbonated alcohol. It had never been tested on a live bomb before. Hards kept its red velvet case handy, nevertheless. The Suffolk Stopper was like everything else about Wild Jack: dead ridiculous and yet bang in tune with the current mind-bending moment.

“Now give me the poop, Affpuddle,” said Wild Jack. “What’s the brief on this stick?”

“One bomb—right in the middle of the stage, if you can believe it,” said Affpuddle in his breathless, defeated lisp. “The whole neighborhood’s been evacuated, which means there weren’t any plays all weekend in the West End. The bomb punched through the roof of the Criterion like wet pressboard, caroming thrice off the thick stone columns holding up the proscenium. It lost all momentum and buried itself in a pile of lights, wiring, and roof rubble. My man says it’s just waiting there like a third act turnabout. 250kg. 5 feet long. Fins lost somewhere on descent.”

“Damned fucking dangerous,” said Wild Jack. “Could be fully active. Very exciting. Surely two fuzes, eh Hards?”

“One for each fookin’ hand,” said Hards. 

“The stick does seem pristine,” said Affpuddle. “A real collectible.”

Unlike Jack and Beryl, Fred Hards didn’t give one dry toss for the science of it all. Hards was in it purely for the action. He had been an instant bomb addict from the very first night that Wild Jack had jumped into his lorry and held him at gunpoint, demanding that he drive to where the first bombs of the Blitz were landing down at the Royal Docks. BD was better than horses, better than backgammon or bridge, better than greyhounds, cricket, canasta, or acey-deucey. Since that first night, Hards had bet everything he had on Wild Jack’s twisted wits. And so far they had come away with nothing but honey and laurels: salvation, glory, and adrenaline—fanny, caviar, and French champagne! Not getting blowed-up was the best fucking feeling in the whole prick-sucking commonwealth. If Hards drove supremely fast and utterly without reck or ruth, he had the opportunity to not get blowed up three times a day, which was enough delicious insanity to keep him in a permanent giddy stupor—always one Lindy hop ahead of the dull backfooted indignity instilled by constant foreign bombardment.

A tall, handsome man in a smart tophat snaked around the corner from the alley, sidling up to Wild Jack and Hards with a twinkling grin stickered to his puss. He had a silver cane crooked under his arm. Wild Jack whirled on the man, drawing both Oscar and Genevieve and catching the man cold in the act of removing one black leather glove to shake.

“I’m Smythe, the theater owner!” shrieked the man, frozen with terror. His mustaches twitched as he stared into the abyss of Wild Jack’s right- and left-hand pistols. Strictly speaking, Wild Jack had no remit to ramble the streets of Theatreland as gunned-up as a Texas cowpunch, but there were German spies everywhere and the Earl was a marked man, working as he did with Phantom and all the other daylight-deficient boffins at the Park.

“I’m Smythe, I say!” cried the theater owner. “Just like I told the bobbies!”

Wild Jack’s pistols drooped.

“May I reach into my coat, my lord?” wheedled Smythe.

“Slowly,” said Wild Jack. “We aren’t with the Yard. We are private citizens and we are mad with lust and drink.”

Smythe retrieved a pawful of ticket stubs and handbills from his small clothes.

“Free tickets,” said the theater manager. “Bit of incentive for your men, if you can take care of this deep unpleasantness—this Wormwood star fallen from the darkling heavens. Restore my theater, and the Criterion will toast your health ‘til the millennium.”

“We’ll either be done in a trice or we’ll evaporate the lane entirely,” said Wild Jack. “Either way, no more problems for you. Put your bribes away. We don’t need bribes to do the King’s business.”

The Scottish sappers groaned. “Fuck the King,” someone grunted. Wild Jack stood up straighter, puffing out his lumpy chest. With one eye on potential mutiny, Wild Jack reversed himself, judiciously taking the tickets and flipping through the glossy pages of a playbill.

“My wife is an actress, you know,” said Wild Jack. “A real one, not some society dilettante. Funny Side Up, eh? Never heard of it.”

“It’s a spree,” said Smythe. “Bawdy. Sweary. There’s a wretched parson who keeps falling down and busting his nose. I play the parson.”

“You don’t look like a parson,” said Wild Jack.

“You don’t look like the Earl of Suffolk,” said Smythe brightly, tossing his cane from one hand to the other and then using the knob to pop his hat off his head and then catch it on the flip. “Sure, I know who you are, your lordship. There’s a Suffolk in practically every Henry play.”

The back of the mobile lab rocked as Beryl’s telltale whoops spurted from the cracked windows. Smythe looked momentarily shocked to hear human fucking at high noon on a public high street. But he quickly arranged his face into performative boredom.

“I suppose men facing certain death must take every liberty,” said Smythe.

“I always insist that green officers be forcibly gentled before handling their first bombs,” Wild Jack explained. “It’s personal policy.”

“It’s good luck, besides,” said Sergeant Peace. “To have a bit of a rout before.”

“No such thing as luck,” said Wild Jack. “Everything we do is a progressively clarifying error right up until the last mistake that reveals all.”

Wild Jack carefully lined up all the edges of the free theater tickets in his big hands. He sighed.

“Fine,” he said, relenting. “Pass them out.”

He fobbed the playbills and theater tickets off on Sergeant Peace who distributed them to the sappers. The sappers cheered, stuffing them into their boots and under their hats, always happy for any supplementary compensation.

The door to the mobile lab banged open and Wild Jack’s secretary strutted out, followed by a grinning and lovestruck Fiddly-Pucklechurch, who fumbled at his unzippered trousers. Affpuddle did the job for him, clapping him on the shoulders and sticking a cigarette in his mouth. The cigarette fell to the ground and Affpuddle retrieved it for him and lit it.

“Four-and-a-half minutes,” growled Sergeant Peace. Money changed hands all around. Some men were forced to give up their newly-acquired Funny Side Up tickets to old creditors, which led to much Scots-inflected whingeing. The theater owner was suddenly besieged with requests for more complimentary seats. And he was happy to oblige. Why not double-book berths on a sinking ship?

“A command performance for all your bairns and bonnies on the other side of this foul day,” Smythe told the bomb disposal diggers, the 16 sappers in the BD subdivision who had been personally assigned to the Earl of Suffolk. Though all conscientious objectors, they were brave men whose weapons in this war were simply shovels instead of rifles. Wild Jack knew that the Germans used slave labor for the same hellish duty. Who cared if some starving Commie Pole nicked a nosecone with his pick-ax and blew himself straight to the infernal pit? What spotless Nazi would bother to pause and cross himself if some poor bastard Hebrew Slav fell into a bubble filled with carbon monoxide, cracking the thin membrane of dirt from a camouflet and choking to death on his own poisoned guts in the silent gas blister? Instead of slaves, the Brits used Scots. They were dependable, uncomplaining, brave as goats, and they liked being dirty.

Unlike his men, Suffolk didn’t have a military rank. He was technically a scientist volunteering for the government in return for a pittance: an honorarium that barely paid the rent on his London flat. Unlike the commissioned BD officers, he could therefore let his working-class salts take shifts in inefficient teams of two to spread out the risk, even though this sometimes meant it took longer to dig up the buried bomb cores. Once they exposed enough of the steel casing that Wild Jack could intervene, he also insisted that these sons of sod keep their distance. His Scots knew fuck all about Nazi engineering, and so all they had to do was dig carefully and not die. When it came to actually diffusing the bombs, Wild Jack worked alone, only allowing his private secretary and his private driver to accompany him. The Holy Trinity, the men called them behind their backs, only somewhat ironically. Some said they were London’s bravest civilians this side of Churchill. Others said they were suicidal amateurs who would probably take good soldiers with them when they finally detonated themselves. Only the rarest gossips called them terrifying sexual psychopaths addicted to switchy nonconsensual warplay who fetishized outwitting the Luftwaffe’s deadly phallic blockbusters.

Wild Jack looked at his pocket watch and cursed.

“No more dawdling,” said Wild Jack. “Fiddly-Pucklechurch, you are my Ganymede. I don’t want you out of shouting distance, but I want you to stay ten feet away from the bomb at all times. Fred and Beryl, there’s no digging on this one, so we’ll get right to it. The rest of you Jocks: start fortifying the street and taping up windows. Clear us a path to the sandbags. It’ll be dark in the theater, I expect….no good natural light…so our eyes will get sour. If we have to scarper I don’t want to slip on a loose fizz bottle and separate my spine.”

“This way,” said Smythe, cane under his arm. “I’ll take you in through the box office.”

Smythe led them into the Criterion, his cane swinging under his arm and his top hat canted jauntily to one side. Fiddly-Pucklechurch and the Holy Trinity followed him.

As predicted, the gloom inside the theater was thick and oppressive. Near total darkness.
“Dank as a pervert’s hip pocket in ‘ere,” muttered Hards. “Right medieval.”
“Will house lights set off the bomb?” asked Smythe. “The sudden jag of electricity? The accretive heat?”

“I shouldn’t think so,” said Wild Jack. “Better risk it if you’ve still got juice.”

Smythe oozed into the control booth. They heard him flick switches, sending up sparks and throwing bright beams onto the stage. The bomb was right there waiting for them, plunging out of the mountain of rubble like an up-pointing thumb. Wild Jack involuntarily took a step toward it, forever drawn to any egg of instant annihilation, any cold-rolled puzzle pregnant with fingersnap death. His shoulders shuddered with a spurt of rheumatic fever. Pure excitement shook his mountainous frame. He had to shift his trousers to make room for his growing bulge. It was a perfect bomb, teed up like a straining, squeezable tit.

“And ‘ow soon’ll you pack the suckers in again after we clear this lil’ gorgeous beauteousity?” Hards asked Smythe.

“Tonight,” said Smythe, peering up at the hole in the roof. “Half-price. As long as it doesn’t rain, we’ll push the rubble aside and just do our capering in a clean space. Indomitable Melpomene and all that. Technically, we’re insured right up the rectum for what’s happened so far. Our investors are some of your people, Lord Suffolk: dissipated aristocrats gone patriotic! But there’s really no replacing a house like the Criterion. I always thought this bedbug-riddled Odeon would be around forever.”

Wild Jack snorted. Beryl Morden popped a graceful squat and furiously began sketching the lay of the bomb in her notebook while Fred Hards slunk away to doze, draping himself across four velveteen theater seats.

“I almost wish the damn thing had just gone off,” said Mr. Smythe. “Everyone in Camden blames the Criterion for the bad luck. They say we stay open too late. They say our dandy flame attracts Teutonic moths. Some wits around here think we’ve had it coming.”

“Bloody unlikely,” said Wild Jack. “The Germans triangulate their bombers by radio waves. When the radio says they’ve gone the proper distance in a straight line, that’s when they let loose their payloads. It’s all automatic for them. No art to it. The idea that Germans are actually looking for lights burning in London Town windows is a myth left over from the last war. The curfew is just a handy bit of population control.”

“If the bomb'd gone off, we could rebuild—assess the damage—feel a bit of dramatic catharsis,” said Smythe. “But with the bomb just sitting here like this…the whole neighborhood has to shut down. And we’re the ones to blame for it.”

“It’s fookin’ diabolical,” agreed Hards, flat on his back, eyes shut. “’Twere no accident, mate.”

“The Luftwaffe is now building bombs specifically engineered not to explode,” said Wild Jack. “They’ve got booby-trapped time-delay fuzes that can paralyze an industrial nucleus for weeks. The bombs just sit there, ready to start ticking away again if someone bumps them. They know the bombs aren’t hitting their targets most of the time, but they've figured out that bombs are far more destructive if they nuzzle into the ground and do nothing. Somebody still has to deal with them. Somebody not easily replaced. They know sappers and underminers are a limited commodity.”

“So they're trying to murder our engineering corps?” said Mr. Smythe. 

“They're methodical about it,” said Wild Jack. “Trick fuzes, new methods of satanic chemistry to protect each bomb’s heart. Their pilots can fly in low and drop miscarriages that don’t have time to arm, avoiding any worry about their payload’s concussion knocking them out of the air. Every time the Hun discovers what tools we're using to disarm their UXBs, they create new methods to stymie and frustrate us. One civilian to another, it’s damned demoralizing and I’m not sure we're keeping ahead of them. But we make the bombs safe and then we haul them to a little island in the middle of the Thames where we dissect them and try to invent better ways to disarm them or blow them up from a distance. That’s where young Fiddly-Pucklechurch here received his theoretical education. But now he’ll complete his studies with some practical hands-on work. Soon he’ll be leading his own unit, going man to man against abstracted Der Techniker souls refined into violent metal. Indulge me, young Ganymede: what do you see here?”

“It’s a Spreng Dickenwand,” said Fiddly-Pucklechurch. “Thicker sides than usual. Bavarian manufacture, I’d wager.”

“Rather,” said Wild Jack. “I’m not sure what those thicker sides might mean yet.”

Fiddly-Pucklechurch tried to climb onto the stage, but Wild Jack grabbed his collar and hauled him backward.

“TEN FEET,” seethed Wild Jack. He tossed Fiddly-Pucklechurch onto his ass.

“I was in France,” Wild Jack said more calmly as Fiddly-Pucklechurch dusted himself off. “Before the Blitz. Rounding up scientists. Colonel Libessart and his godless mooncalves. They were experimenting on chimps, trying to see where the maximum zone of impact might be for metropolitan railgun cannonades like the Paris Gun. They blew up the monkeys and ate the meat. Very French. Know what they found out, incinerating all those apes?”

“No sir,” said Fiddly-Pucklechurch.

“Don’t ‘sir’ me, Ganymede,” said Wild Jack. “I bloody hate being ‘sirred.’ The fact is: as long as you are two full bomb-lengths away, you have a 50% chance of surviving any explosion. The impact zone rattles your brains stone dead no matter what, but ten feet away this inevitability becomes negotiable. So don’t ever approach the bomb until you are ready to open it up. The bomb doesn’t care if you aren’t afraid of it. The bomb is an inanimate object. Don’t be suckered in by its inherent charisma.”

Wild Jack’s gaze drifted to the stick onstage and he licked his lips. His sausage fingers found his thick mustache. He pasted this strip of thick brown lipfur flat against his upper teeth, stroking it first one way and then the other. He put his fingers in his pocket and fondled the underside of his shaft, tickling the swelling veins.

“They don’t tell you any of that at the island,” said Fiddly-Pucklechurch.

“You’ve been learning theory,” said Wild Jack. “Nothing practical. The anemic boffins are nothing if not intellectually limited by their own obsessions. Don’t you know why we haven’t been conquered by the Nazi war machine yet, Ganymede?”

“Unstoppable English resilience is what the papers say.”

“And yet it’s English incompetence that’s been our real salvation. Incompetence born from Spanish lies and Ministry of Supply nincompoopery. Before the war started, the boffins determined that we would incur a hundred thousand casualties a week as a result of German air bombardment. Alarmist circulars were distributed around Whitehall. To a man, the boffins thought Churchill’s decision to fight was suicide. Urged him on their knees to surrender. To make peace! And yet the Germans still haven’t managed to kill that many of us in a year of constant assault. Do you know why?”

“I am astonished, my lord. But why?”

“Because the boffins made their estimates using data from the bombings at Spanish Guernica. Little did they know that that the Spanish Marxists were outright lying about how many people died there as a result of fascist bombs dropped on that accursed place. The casualty numbers were all black propaganda. Understandable lies, to be sure: the Loyalists certainly deserved to play the victim. But after Guernica, the Germans were able to infiltrate our war department quite handily and then they used our own fallacious data to make calculations about how to conduct a war against us. But all of those Spanish lies have miraculously worked to our advantage: the Germans wanted to become our worst nightmare and so they overinvested in warfare-by-wing, which means here we are, still alive, as a result of unreflective English credulity and high-pitched Communard hysteria.”

“I am without words,” said Fiddly-Pucklechurch.

“Since the Germans have already built too many planes, they are adapting by cheaply and constantly changing the fuzes in their bomb casings,” said Wild Jack. “We stop ‘em with magnets, we dissolve ‘em with foam. The might have us pinned down, but they don’t have enough ships yet for a land invasion. Maybe they never will.”

There was a sudden hurlyburly outside the theater. Honking horns. Revving engines. Everyone looked at Wild Jack. The Earl of Suffolk shrugged. They all headed for the lobby to see what was going on—all except for Hards who resolutely refused to stir himself.

“It’s Davies,” seethed Wild Jack, peering out through the box office window.

The sappers of Wild Jack’s experimental unit were pincered in by two grey vans which were each being escorted by a team of grinning Cockneys on motorcycles. Canada Bob Davies slouched on the bonnet of one of these drab BD vans, openly drinking from a sparkling demijohn of cheap gin. 

“You’re too late,” shouted Wild Jack, kicking open the theater doors. “She’s mine, Canada Bob!”

“That’s not what the army says,” shouted Davies. “This stick has just been classified as an A2, highest priority. We’re here to blow the damn thing up so that the West End can get back to work. Ever do any work before, young lordling? No? Never? Well, then piss off, you posh fairy!”

“I’ve already collared her,” said Wild Jack. “This bomb is mine now, Canada Bob. Don’t you have pensioners to shake down for pickled onion money?”

Canada Bob Davies was front page news most of the time—the first recipient of the newly-established George Cross for non-operational valor—a cross sanctified to King George Himself to match his sainted mother’s glorious pendant. In fact, Canada Bob was a hero to the whole city: the single-handed savior of St. Paul’s Cathedral. According to the papers, he had been the BD man on call that red night when a bomb finally fell on God’s doorstep. He had personally spirited away the 1000 kg demon from the courtyard of Sir Christopher Wren’s restrained Baroque masterpiece, blowing the bomb up in a potter’s field lickety-split and then claiming straight to every credulous Fleet Street hack’s shining face that the stick had been booby-trapped with a Zus anti-tampering device and would have brought the whole sacred stavros down if not for his gin-steady fingers and bulldog heart.
The only problem with this heroic story was that Canada Bob was lying out his ass. Bombs over 250kg never had type 17 or 50 fuzes and they damn sure didn’t have Zuses. Everyone in BD knew that the bomb had merely been a miraculous dud. St. Paul’s had never been in any danger. But that didn’t stop Canada Bob from cashing in on the dramatic story with considerable help from the MoS propaganda office. Even Wild Jack had to admit that Canada Bob’s sly preening had ultimately been good for BD: the office got more funding, more acclaim, and more discreetly lifted skirts. Canada Bob had made the UXB division famous, and while England was still stunned, lolling, and recumbent it needed heroes anywhere it could get them.
But that didn’t mean Davies wasn’t a total piece of shit. Canada Bob’s moral corruption was thorough, and his new celebrity status had given him infinite juice, which he only used to enrich himself. He was now extorting people all over town, taking any bribes on offer to raise the priorities of UXBs that fell among the posh swells, meaning that high-end London shops and those few wealthy aristocrats who hadn’t yet departed for the States had their own first-priority detail on call to personally remove bombs for them while everyone else had to clear out to the countryside or book emergency flats in cheap fleapits. In this case, it was clear that some competing theater inside the cordoned zone of safety—but beyond the bomb’s blast radius—was paying Canada Bob to blow up the Criterion. Why should the whole neighborhood suffer over one theater’s misfortune?

“This is no place for civilians,” said Davies. “Too dangerous. Clear out of here, Suffolk. Let the real BD men save the day.”

At the direct insult, Wild Jack’s sappers threw down their cigarettes and picked up their shovels, squaring up to Davies and his regular army goons. Affpuddle—ever the diplomat—slipped out from behind Wild Jack and held his limp hand out to Davies to shake.

“A real hero in the flesh!” said Affpuddle. “We’ve never met before. I’m Affpuddle, Mr. Howard’s military liaison. I hate to pull rank here, but Mr. Howard is working directly for the MoS, and that means his scientific needs supersede even the highest priority bomb designations, especially once he has already begun any initial fact-finding toward recovery.”

“She’s mine,” said Wild Jack. “I’ve leashed her and put her on her knees.”

“Mr. Howard needs intact fuzes for testing, analysis, and innovation,” Affpuddle explained. “I’m therefore afraid he will always have first crack. His orders are to improvise. To experiment! To test treacherous new inventions in the field! However, there’s no reason you can’t wait here in a support position just in case your men or your equipment are needed in an emergency.”

Davies sneered, sensing an overly complicated bureaucratic tangle. The last thing he wanted was more eyes looking into his business.

“There’s always parachute bombs in Chelsea that need tending,” said Wild Jack. “Do you need directions?”

“You’ve got one hour,” said Davies. “Then hard men with real jobs are coming in and blowing this building to shit. One hour. We’ll wait here and rest our bones. Real UXB work isn’t bloody innovation or fucking analysis. It’s hardheaded guts and dirty little nimble fingers.”

“One hour will be more than sufficient,” said Wild Jack.

Wild Jack whirled on his heels and went back inside the theater, trailed by Beryl Morden, Fiddly-Pucklechurch, Affpuddle, and Smythe.

“They’ll really just blow up the Criterion?” asked Smythe. “They won’t even try to make the bomb safe?”

“Nothing easier,” said Wild Jack. “A little gun cotton, a shaped charge.”

“I’ve no idea if we’re even insured for that. That wouldn’t be force majeure or a hostile enemy act. That would be force Britannia.”

“If you want to save your theater, then I suggest you find a way to keep Davies and his crooked oafs entertained,” said Wild Jack. “Aren’t you in show business?”

Smythe nodded grimly, rolling his tophat across both shoulders and then popping it up again on his head. He pinched the brim and clicked his heels, bringing one foot up to pirouette out the door.

“Too many interruptions,” said Wild Jack, plugging another cigarette into his cigarette-holder. He struck a match and yelled at the stage: “Fraulein Bombe, we are finally alone together, du und ich. Let the gin-dead tongues of the proles numbly wag. Our love is pure, meine Bombe. Entblöße dich mir, Liebchen!”

He lit his cigarette and then leaped onto the stage, landing with both boots planted hard. At the sound, Hards snapped awake, hefting his attaché case to his shoulders. Now the Holy Trinity converged on the UXB together, moving with choreographed grace, dancing in and out of each other’s orbits and yet never bumping into each other nor losing momentum. Hards popped open the attaché case and removed a burnished steel stethoscope and voltmeter, passing them both off to Beryl who calibrated the machines, making notes, humming to herself to ascertain the exact level of background noise in order to adjust the stethoscope’s sensitivity. Hards proceeded to remove other equipment from the bag, polishing each gleaming chrome piece and arranging them on chamois cloth on the stage floor.

Wild Jack genuflected in front of the bomb, running his fingers lightly over each screw and plate. He was making a haptic map for himself, clearing his mind of everything but the bomb’s architecture. He walked around the grey tube twenty times, measuring the angle of entry of the nosecone and the bomb’s depth. He cleared away rubble, giving himself space to crouch. He straddled the bomb gently, squeezing it between his thighs. He put his cheek against it. He knelt down and put one hand on Beryl’s knee. She gasped and pulled his hand higher.

Beryl stripped the stethoscope from her ears and gently offered it to him. He took it from her forcefully and plugged the earpieces in. Wild Jack applied the stethoscope to the top middle of the bomb, looking for the first of two probable fuses, gently tapping the bomb with his fingers, listening for hollows and solids.

He gave a “thumb’s up” to his team. He had echolocated the main pocket. Hards tossed Wild Jack a piece of chalk and Wild Jack closed his eyes, drawing the contours of the fuze on the outside of the bomb as he visualized the works inside while listening for telltale clicks and whirs. As he did so, Hards propped him up: cupping his buttocks and massaging his thick shoulders.

“It’s dead quiet,” said Wild Jack. “For the mo, anyhow.”

Wild Jack crawled around the bomb on his hands and knees, searching for any ancillary fuzes. Eventually he was satisfied. He ended his circumnavigation with his nose in Hards’ crotch. Beryl Morden took the stethoscope away, replacing it with the voltmeter. Now he crawled around the bomb in the other direction with the voltmeter, registering any changes in current and calling out his findings to Morden who jotted them down on an interior map of the bomb she was making on a portable easel, using her external sketches as ready reference.

“Alrighty,” said Wild Jack, finally. “Get the steam blower out of the van.”

“Righto,” said Hards. “Could use a bit of steam blowin’ meself.”

Hards and Morden took off at speed, hurrying without running.

“Come here, Fiddly-Pucklechurch—come right up to the edge of the stage,” Wild Jack demanded.

Fiddly-Pucklechurch did as he was told, taking five big steps and leaning on the stage while Wild Jack grinned down at him.
“This bomb is silent, which could mean any number of things,” said Wild Jack. “I’ve found at least one pocket using the voltmeter, picking up undischarged current, and so we are going to apply a Crabtree stopper and then trepan and sterilize the bomb to hopefully nullify all the fuzes I couldn’t find. Describe to me how you would attach a Crabtree stopper to a bomb of this weight in this weather.”

Fiddly-Pucklechurch had trained enough on a Crabtree stopper—the standard BD stopper issued in a standard kit that also contained a watchmaker’s screwdriver, wirecutters, pliers, a spanner, and a tin of Vaseline—to be able to do it blindfolded or upside down, which was sometimes necessary depending on how a UXB had fallen. He blathered on about theories of technique as Wild Jack stared into space. Fiddly-Pucklechurch explained how freezing weather could prolong a bomb’s charge a thousand hours past its intended timing window, whereas a hot summer day could steal a bomb’s charge on impact. When Fiddly-Pucklechurch faltered, Wild Jack encouraged him to continue by waving his hand but the Earl otherwise ignored him, lost in his own calculations.

Hards and Beryl returned ten minutes later, each of them carrying black leather instrument cases. Hards also carried the red velvet case containing the fresh-from-the-machine-shop, utterly-untested Suffolk Stopper. The Holy Trinity liked to have every option at hand, no matter how dubious.

“Enough,” Wild Jack said to Fiddly-Pucklechurch. “You’ve got plenty of theory, but nothing can take the place of practical instruction. Now watch us in action and I don’t want to see you taking any notes. Absorb the method with your twitching nose and your tingling skin. Disarming a bomb is a sensual experience. One inattentive moment and your jealous lover will destroy you.”

Fiddly-Pucklechurch clicked his heels together and put his hands behind his back to keep from reaching for a pencil. Hards and Morden hauled their satchels onto the stage. They conjured forth component parts of the Crabtree stopper that they then carefully assembled, making sure all of the gaskets and connections were clean and flush. When the stopper was ready, Beryl and Wild Jack expertly cracked open the bomb’s sheet steel, drilling a small hole and widening it with a prybar. The fuze was right there, dead center of their excavation. They applied the two-pin clamp with the Crabtree sidescrew, working side by side. Beryl knelt at Wild Jack’s elbow, every muscle in her sinewy body tense. Her slender fingers curled around the hydraulic grease-gun, aching to squeeze. Wild Jack counted to three and she gripped the trigger, discharging any resistance that might be latent in the fuze’s core. She let out an audible moan and Wild Jack stuck his oily fingers in her mouth and wiggled them violently. The whole procedure took less than a minute.

The bomb didn’t explode, which meant the Crabtree stopper had done its job, paralyzing the fuze by keeping it from being able to complete an electrical circuit and flip the firing pin. The silent lack of an explosion was thunderous. It hit you in your lungs and gonads. It took away your breath. It made your unvaporized testicles happily dilate in their sack like two ale-fat friars expanding back-to-back in a locked sacristy after a Canterbury orgy.

Immediately, Hards and Morden opened the next instrument case and began assembling the steam-sterilizer. As they worked, Wild Jack attached two giant magnets to the side of the bomb—magnets which were trailed by copper wire as thick as Fiddly-Pucklechurch’s thumbs. The active magnetic field was meant to keep any of the bomb’s components from mechanically moving, holding every potential fuze in the bomb in temporary stasis. While the magnet was in place, any active charge could be washed away with soap and water.

With Beryl’s help, Wild Jack attached the trepanning steam-sterilizer to the bomb’s upper casing. Wild Jack whistled and a team of sappers entered the theater, four burly boyos in action kilts humping a huge domestic boiler. The boiler was attached to the trepanning device by a thick length of industrial hose. The sappers looked to Wild Jack for the signal. He waved his hat. The Scots switched on the generator. As soon as the heating element sprang to life, they fell over each other running for the exit.
The trepanning end of the sterilizer shot up sparks as it made its first cut, searing a larger hole in the side of the bomb around the prybar incision. Beryl Morden moaned in gentle ecstasy.

And now there was nothing to do but wait.

Wild Jack handed Fiddly-Pucklechurch a long length of copper wire with earpieces attached.

“This is an electric stethoscope,” said Wild Jack. “It isn’t as precise as a standard hunk of steel, but the method is the same. You’ve had tick-tock training I assume?” 

“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t know what a fuze sounded like,” said Fiddly-Pucklechurch. 

“Then I want you to go to the furthest corner of this theater and listen for the fuze rearming. There is a nonzero chance that the sterilization process could start the bomb back up again. The virtue of the electric stethoscope is that once you have the lead wires attached where you want them, you don’t have to be close to the bomb to hear it ticking. But pay attention and don’t be fooled: there will be a whoosh when the soapy water starts rushing in, once the trepanning is done. Ignore this whoosh. Don’t piss yourself thinking you’re about to be blown to glory.”

Fiddly-Pucklechurch nodded and inserted the earpieces. All he could hear was the tinny high-pitched whir from the automatic saw as it circumnavigated the fuze pocket.

“I don’t need to be close?”

“You’ll have as much distance as the cord will allow you,” said Wild Jack. “Now stay alert, Ganymede. I’ve ordered the doors to be locked. I’m afraid you’ll have to watch us enjoy ourselves while the fuze is washed clean. Bit of a tradition, really. We’d offer you a plate of food for your trouble but I’m afraid there isn’t quite enough to go around. MoS didn’t tell me that you’d be yanking my coattails today, weaning yourself from their thinky pap. We’ll feed you properly later.”

“I’m not particularly hungry,” said Fiddly-Pucklechurch.

“Good lad.”

Fiddly-Pucklechurch did as he was told, crouching in the furthest corner of the theater as Hards and Beryl made one more trip out to the mobile lab lorry.

As he lost himself in thought, marveling at the convenience and innovation of the electric stethoscope, there was a gentle pat on his arm, making him yelp.

“Oh, fuck me,” said Fiddly-Pucklechurch. “It’s just you, sir.”

Affpuddle grinned, lighting a cigarette for each of them.

“We’re in for a bit of a show, as is tradition,” said Affpuddle. “Now that you’re a real man, matured by fresh tonka cunny, you’ll see how other real men live, my duck.”

Beryl and Hards returned to the theater with a tub of ice and seven bottles of fizzy strawberry champagne. Wild Jack removed a bottle of champagne from the tub and set it upright stage left, balancing it on top of a Kelly-green wooden shrub—a painted piece of scenic decoration. Wild Jack drew Genevieve and fired at the top of the bottle, shooting out the cork by a whisker, sending it spinning off the stage on a jet of bubbly pink froth.

“KABOOM!” shouted Wild Jack. “HAW!” Morden snatched up the bottle and immediately poured the champagne into three flutes.

“Confusion to our enemies,” toasted Wild Jack. Morden, Hards, and Wild Jack clinked their flutes together and drank deep, draining off the puce bubbles.

Hards whipped out a collapsible three-legged table and manifested three chairs from backstage. The Holy Trinity tucked into a picnic basket full of cold chicken chicken chasseur, served alongside buttery white rice and asparagus tips marinated in a bacon-rosemary pan sauce. They ate without shame, as if they’d spent the afternoon punting on the Thames instead of elbow-deep in bomb bowels. The food was served on real silver plates. Their only entertainment was their own conversation, which was mostly garbled by the suck and pull of the steam sterilizer. Fiddly-Pucklechurch and Affpuddle witnessed them in reverent silence, awed by their hedonistic bravery.

“The chicken is smashing with the wine,” shouted Wild Jack, staring lustily at his secretary. “Best meal of my life.”

“You always say that,” said Beryl.

“I always want it to be true.”

The boiler pumped warm suds into the bomb which were then carried away by the separate trunk line. Fiddly-Pucklechurch tried to focus, straining to hear the clicking sound of an active fuze. But all he could hear so far was the gentle noise of the rushing water.
“You know why they call him Wild Jack, don’t you?” Affpuddle whispered to Fiddly-Pucklechurch, exhaling a plume of lazy smoke that didn’t seem to want to rise.

“No sir,” said Fiddly-Pucklechurch.

“He was in France when the Germans marched in,” said Affpuddle. “He was stationed there as a civilian science liaison, doing God knows what. Spying, probably. But as soon as the Nazis plowed through Belgium, he and Beryl stole the fastest car they could find and stormed all over Paris and Marseilles, robbing jewelry stores and banks.”

“Robbing them, sir?”

“Knocking them off just like Chicago wops. Stealing as much tat as they could fit into the boot of their sporter, just to keep the Nazis from getting it. They stole gold bars—precious diamonds. They scooped up millions in raw gems. And then they went back to Paris because they heard that the Norwegians had shipped all of their heavy water supplies to French chemists at the Sorbonne. Suffolk is a trained chemist, you see—knows all about the weight of water. So Wild Jack robbed the heavy water too, sticking up the scientists and loading the heavy water into the backseat of their Renault under some lead blankets. We are talking about the entirety of the European heavy water supply, you understand. The Norwegians didn’t leave the nasty Nazis one gravid drop.”

Fiddly-Pucklechurch waved Affpuddle to be silent. Was that a click? He concentrated at the noise in his earpieces, trying to hear the swoosh of death’s hem. But no, the click was nothing but the tension in his own jaw. On stage, Wild Jack, Beryl, and Hards finished their meal and were smoking cigarettes while sharing a giant wedge of chocolate cake. As always, the Earl of Suffolk smoked through his long silver cigarette-holder, his legs crossed at the ankles and his square chin held high.

Fiddly-Pucklechurch swallowed hard and heard the click in his jaw again. What would it actually feel like to have one’s soul ripped from one’s body by the concussive force of liberated shrapnel traveling at the speed of detonated pentane? There was definitely something second-rate about dying in England on a calm sunny afternoon, but at least he wasn’t a virgin anymore. So far it had been one of the better days of his life. Maybe he would even survive to see the end of it.

“We’ll have a typically legendary tuck-in at a posh sit-down restaurant this evening and celebrate your initiation into life’s mysteries,” said Affpuddle to Fiddly-Pucklechurch, reading his mind. “Suffolk takes care of his men. And his women.”

“What is heavy water, sir?” asked Fiddly-Pucklechurch.

“Never mind about that,” said Affpuddle. “It’s damned important. But you don’t need to know why.”

“So then how did he get out of France, sir? Was he at the Miracle?”

“Yes, quite right!” said Affpuddle. “After he stole the water, Wild Jack commandeered one of the last boats leaving Bordeaux. He wasn’t going to cede the Nazis one single spasmatic genius that they could torture for secrets or bribe into service, so he filled his boat to the bobbing brim with bespectacled professors and theorists who were fleeing Paris for Dunkirk. This was before De Gaulle started screaming at anyone who would listen about English betrayal. Not that it would have mattered: the scientists were too dazed to fight him off. They went along with their kidnapping like nose-picking toddlers. I’ve even been told that Wild Jack piloted the boat back to England himself after the captain was revealed to be a Fifth Columnist. It wouldn’t surprise me. As a lad, the Earl went round the world on a windjammer as an apprentice officer bound for Australia, where the madman even ended up as a jackaroo for a stint. Anyway, as soon as he landed here, he buried the jewels and heavy water like a pirate and marched right up to the War Department with his Sunday school class of French boffins and he gave the War Department his treasure map. Then he volunteered his services to the King. They hired him on the spot. And of course the bombs started falling the next week.”

“Incredible, sir,” said Fiddly-Pucklechurch, unsure of how much of the story to believe.

“He may seem like a demented dandy, but the Earl risks everything he’s got to pry those fuzes out. He finds it thrilling. Don’t you find it thrilling so far?”

Before Fiddly-Pucklechurch could answer, the alarm on the steam sterilizer went off, clanging like a fire bell. He tore the earphones out as Wild Jack and Fred Hards dusted themselves off, standing slowly.

“Sir!” shouted Fiddly-Pucklechurch.

“We hear it,” said Wild Jack. “How much time do we have before Canada Bob bursts through the door and demands his way with meine Lieblingsbombe?”

“A good fifteen minutes,” said Beryl Morden, checking her wristwatch while applying her own conventional steel stethoscope to the bomb’s newly-exposed interior machinery.

“As you can see, young Ganymede, we have now opened this stick up like a tin of smoked oysters,” Wild Jack shouted. “Now we shall see what doom-guts have been delivered to us at such great expense! Beryl, I’ll need your small and perfect hands, as always.”

Wild Jack hovered over Beryl Morden as she poked and prodded. She gently moved aside wires with a set of tweezers, pushing down flaps of ragged metal to see deeper into the core.

“It looks like we’ve got a type 17 in here, which means the bomb is surely stillborn,” said Wild Jack. “Don’t tell any Germans how often the type 17s simply fail. The fact is, there’s never enough viscosity in the firing springs they use. Someone is embezzling bomb oil in Bavaria. Never mind: even a burned-out type 17 could still restart if jostled, so we must be as sensitive as Fred’s short-and-curlies. And then, yes, here we go—yes, I see it Beryl!—here we have the inevitable type 50, which protects the type 17. There’s a strict three-minute delay on that one if it starts back up. And then goodnight, Miss Crissman! The percussion cap will set off the penthrite wax which will detonate the picric acid which will set off the high explosive. Pop, sizzle, fizz, kaboom!”

“Quiet!” shouted Fiddly-Pucklechurch with sharp authority born from sudden panic. “It’s happened. Just as you say! It’s turned over! It’s ticking!”

Nobody moved.

“It’s ticking!” shouted Fiddly-Pucklechurch. “I hear it!”

Beryl moved her steel stethoscope to the type 50. She nodded gravely. She licked her lips and arched her back.

“It’s not a type 50 at all, is it?” said Wild Jack, ripping out a piece of insulation to see better. “It’s a god-blasted, pissdrinking y-type. We predicted they might produce a y-type eventually. Look Beryl, there’s two fuzes here daisy-chained together by two mercury tubes that share a common firing pin. You can see them moving. When they align, that will be the end of us. We’d have to pretzel it out. It’s a fucking catastrophe.”

He stepped away from the bomb, stunned and reeling. Fiddly-Pucklechurch wasn’t sure what he should do. Should he stay?  Should he go? Should he vomit on his shoes?

“Oh, this would be quite a prize to take back to the island, wouldn’t it?” said Wild Jack, whirling around with his hands to his head. “We’ve got to try and force her. There, I’ve decided it. Affpuddle and Ganymede: clear out of here, you spotty spoons! Foxtrot Oscar! And tell our Scots to gird their loins. This could be the big one. Our final clarifying mistake!”

Fiddly-Pucklechurch didn’t hesitate. He yanked out the stethoscope earphones and took off without looking back. Affpuddle followed right behind him.

“It’s ticking!” shouted Fiddly-Pucklechurch, banging through the box office doors, interrupting Smythe’s impromptu magic show. Two doves flew out of Smyth’s trousers but none of the Scottish sappers or army goons noticed the spoiled trick.

“The bomb’s alive!” Fiddly-Pucklechurch shouted. “It’s ticking! Run for your blasted lives!”

The sappers and Canada Bob’s men panicked, running for the sandbags that delineated the hardened positions across the lane. Smythe crossed himself, accidentally setting off a pad of flash paper. He shrieked and beat out the fire in his breast pocket. Then he stroked the brick wall of his theater like it was a good and faithful housecat and ran for cover.


The Holy Trinity remained calm and contemptuous, mulling their options.

“Now would finally be the time to test it,” said Beryl. “You always get what you want, don’t you?  What luck you have!”

“It’s the perfect scenario for the Suffolk,” said Wild Jack. “I do admit that. These are perfectly untenable ambush conditions. The tension is quite high.”

“Don’t mean it’ll work, though,” said Hards. “Do it?”

“It’ll work,” said Beryl confidently. “And I’m quite happy for that to be my last strongly held opinion.”

“If it works, think how many lives we’ll save by the end of all this,” said Wild Jack. “They’re using double-blasted y-type fuzes now. Soon every BD man in the country will be in our selfsame predicament, staring at this same gopping mush.”

“Shall we break her out then?” said Hards. “We’ve done ever so many practice runs, we three. We can pop this fuze in our sleep, my darlings. I vote yes.”

“I vote the Suffolk,” said Beryl, her eyes shining.

Wild Jack made a low and grunting noise for assent. It was unanimous. Beryl shivered.

Their decision made, the Holy Trinity went into high gear, again moving as one fluid unit. Hards kicked open the red velvet case containing the Suffolk Stopper and removed the experimental gold-plated device which had the Suffolk family crest etched into each side. The custom-tooled machine valve was meant to be easy to install. It slotted right into the fuze pocket, sealing the trepanned breach with a pneumatic hiss, proving every bit as efficient as any piece of battletested field tech. That part of the procedure took no time at all.

Beryl tossed Wild Jack a bottle of strawberry champagne. He quickly appraised the vintage before fitting it into the groove specifically made for a standard French wine cask. The champagne rabbet!

“Two minutes,” said Hards. Beryl had taken up the earphones that Fiddly-Pucklechurch had dropped and was listening intently. At thirty seconds they really would have to run away. But not before.

The champagne bottle shuddered in its clamp, vibrating dangerously. The tinted glass whistled and tinged. This was the Suffolk Stopper’s most obvious weakness: if they intended to engineer these at scale, they would need to manufacture metal bottles to hold the carbonated alcohol. Twenty percent of the glass bottles they used in practice runs exploded before they could suck out the fuze.

“It’s good odds in my book,” said Hards. “Better’n we deserve, really.”

Wild Jack unbuttoned his trousers. He had a full bar on. He closed his eyes and stroked himself.

“One minute!” shouted Hards.

Beryl Morden stepped out of her panties and put them in Wild Jack’s mouth.

The champagne bottle rattled in its holster. They ought to panic and run away, but Hards, Beryl, and Wild Jack were too stricken by raw desire. They’d attached their device and set it in motion. At this point, there was no reason to stick around and watch it work—but they were transfixed by the stopper’s sexy viciousness. Hards took off his belt and wrapped it around his hand. He unhooked his fly and pointed his carrot-red John Thompson at the bomb like a magic scepter.

With thirty seconds to go, there was an incredible pop—and then a ringing clang. The fuze was slurped into the bottle, succumbing to the pressure of the hole punched into it by the stopper’s pneumatic spike. A brass-gold clamp was instantly affixed to the bottom of the bottle by a spring-loaded hinge, keeping the pink liquid inside without losing a drop. The bottle’s ecstatic vibrations immediately ceased.

“Beryl?” asked Wild Jack, opening his eyes, chewing on Beryl’s panties.

“Nothing,” said Beryl. “It’s stopped. It’s gone totally inert.”


“Ten seconds, luv,” said Hards.

They waited in silence together for the countdown to reach zero, each of them stroking their genitals and staring at the bomb. When time ran out, there was a wild explosive shock of absolutely nothing at all. They all breathed a keening gasp of relief together, collapsing into each other’s arms.

“Oh thank you, thank you all the gods of fuck,” said Hards.

“Of course it worked perfectly,” said Wild Jack. “That’s what good engineering does.”

Beryl removed the champagne bottle from the rabbet and held it up to the blazing theater lights. Wild Jack peered over her slim shoulders. The fuze was floating in the precise center of the bottle, yanked free from the pocket by the Suffolk Stopper’s immense pressure and smooth bore.

“This is our finest moment together,” whispered Wild Jack. “An authentic field success right in the face of a merciless fasco ambush. Let’s take a moment to savor this before we fuck each other’s brains out.”

While the sappers and Canada Bob’s men cowered behind barricades waiting for the Criterion to explode, the Holy Trinity knew they wouldn’t be bothered. Standing next to a living bomb was the most private place you could be in the world while still being right smack in its absolute center. Beryl shrugged out of her brassiere as Wild Jack worried the cork free from the gold-bottomed champagne bottle and poured them all flutes full of strawberry-flavored fizz—a vin du pays now mixed with inert high explosive dissolved from Herman’s newest riddle. They clinked their glasses together, gazing into each other’s dizzy, excited eyes. Down in one!

“I need it,” said Beryl, tossing her champagne glass off the stage and then throwing her arms around the diminutive Hards. “I need it right now.”

“Course you do, luv,” said Hards. “It were a smashing success. We all need it.”

“A success in the field!” said Wild Jack, brandishing the bottle like a shillelagh. “MoS will be forced to put the Suffolk Stopper in production, even if they keep our little triumph a state secret to the press. As they must.”

“To be sure,” said Beryl.

“To be sure,” said Hards.

Hards pushed Beryl’s uniform down her legs, slipping her skirt down her muscled thighs. She wrapped her knee-socked legs around him, squeezing him, pushing him back against the bomb. Her head clanged against the now-impotent metal and she yelped with pleasure and pain.

Hards banged her against the bomb once more for good measure, shocking her into going limp. His thick and stubby penis was blood-iron: hot and hard as a fevered fist. He aligned their wounds and fucked her against the side of the bomb like a haunted rag doll while Wild Jack hovered over both of them, looming, his massive frame putting them in shadow. He drank straight from the bottle of fuze-tainted champagne, putting one trembling hand on Beryl’s shoulder and one hand on Hard’s skinny back, crushing them together.

“My sweet familiars,” he whispered. “My favorite tools.”

Beryl reached up and wrapped her arms around Wild Jack’s neck, pulling herself off the bomb and using him as leverage to get higher on Hards’ dick. As Hards fucked her, he called her his whore, his tom, his hot gash, his brass flute. His florid cursing was mechanically obsessive on his part: an outpouring of elemental misogyny that whipped him toward sexual frenzy. It had the added effect of shaking Beryl’s libido loose from her fear’s torpor, helping her ride the intensity of near-death toward the spasms of counterfeit quietus.

Still holding Beryl upright, Wild Jack wedged between Beryl and the bomb. She slid up and down on Wild Jack’s black leather butcher’s apron, leaving gleaming pussy streaks as Hard’s plowed into her with savage glee. Wild Jack’s sidearms fell to the ground as his bandolier hit the floor. Beryl’s ass was bone-thin with two permanent bruise shadows along sucked-in muscular clefts. Wild Jack dreamed about her perfect asshole sometimes: an asshole so pristine and pert that he preferred it to the lips of most women.

Hards grabbed his giant boss around the waist for balance. Beryl stole the homburg from Wild Jack’s head, knocking the tin of cigarettes hidden beneath it off his head. She drew the hat tight over her blonde curls as he slipped into her asshole—an asshole now made slick and pliant by the pussy juice she drained from the tidepool of Hards' perforating massacre.

The bomb was implacable behind them as they fucked. It was 250 kg of solid metal, a quarter ton of neutered doom. The bomb supported Wild Jack, who supported Beryl, who was ravaged by the demoniac ministrations of Fred Hards. Wild Jack turned his head to mash his wet mouth against the bomb as Hards fucked the both of them, the shockwaves of his curse-fueled vigor traveling through Beryl’s pussy into her asshole, shooting from Wild Jack’s asshole-soaked cock into his sizzling brain.

“KABOOM,” shouted Beryl as she was overcome by a cascade of toe-cracking orgasms that caused her to slide off the bomb, pooling pell-mell on the stage floor. Her ignition triggered the others: Wild Jack jizzed on her inner wrist as she fell, whereas Hards came against the bomb itself, pressing one of her knees against his perineum. The men echoed her cries of ecstasy, laughing and squeezing each other as their sticky aqua vitae rectified the bomb’s incarnated Todestrieb. They were polluted and invincible. The Holy Trinity clasped hands and smeared santorum together across the blackened nosecone, mixing hot gunge with cold ash, shouting in unison and cackling between each nullifying shriek: “KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM! KABOOM!”

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(c) Miracle Jones 2022