Aura of War
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by Gabriel Timar
Description: Caught in the cataclysm of the Second World War's aftermath, Cadet Arthur De Vendt. An orphan survives by his guts and intellect while maintaining his honor.
eBook Publisher: Wings ePress, Inc., 2009 2009
eBookwise Release Date: October 2009
2 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [446 KB]
Reading time: 277-388 min.
Once inside, the major led Arthur upstairs to a sumptuous bedroom with paintings of respectable-looking uniformed people and big-busted ladies. He also had a bathroom with mirrors and marble floors all to himself.
"Nice place," Arthur said. "Are there any ghosts in here?"
"I did not meet any." The major waited until Arthur had freshened up. "Come with me, Roger," he said.
Bronson led Arthur next door. This room was the combination of a dentist's office and a barbershop. Two white-jacketed men were placing some instruments on a tray.
"This is where we are going to turn you into Major Roger Whitman," Bronson declared.
"What are you going to do to me?" Arthur asked.
"Don't worry, Roger, we are not going to hurt you too much. Fred here is going to take a plaster cast of your teeth and make cheek augmentation prosthetics for you. It will change your face radically and disguise your voice somewhat. It is not going to hurt at all. The insert will fit like dentures over your own teeth. In the evenings, you should take them out and soak them in a disinfectant overnight. Sit down and let Fred do his thing."
Like a sacrificial lamb, Arthur took his place in the dentist's chair, and Fred started working. It was not a pleasant experience, but within an hour, the technician had finished his work.
"By tomorrow morning, I'll have the prosthetics ready for you, sir."
"You'll look like a movie star, Roger. You will have the all-American square jaw," Bronson said. "Gary will die your hair and mustache. He will teach you how to touch it up every morning."
"Don't get up, sir," Gary said. He rolled Arthur with the dentist's chair to the mirror, where Arthur suddenly thought he was in a barbershop. Just like a master barber, Gary put the white cover over Arthur's uniform, and like all barbers, he started chattering. "You have enough hair, sir, but if you want to improve your disguise, you must let it grow longer. I am going to dye it blond and tomorrow I will show you how to touch it up. You must do it every morning."
He smeared some unscented liquid on Arthur's hair, massaged his scalp, and immediately covered his head with a white cloth.
"Now we shall wait a few minutes, sir, then tint your mustache the same color. Just relax, sir, it won't be long."
He removed the cloth, and Arthur realized that the change of his hair color had drastically altered his appearance.
"Now, we start on your facial hair," Gary said. Using a cotton pad, Gary smeared some liquid onto Arthur's mustache and then with short, deliberate strokes of a cotton ball, leaving yellowish blond streaks on his dark brown mustache, he continued the operation.
"This is a hydrogen peroxide solution, sir. I will give you a couple of bottles and label them as rubbing alcohol for your injured leg."
"What are you going to do to my leg?" Arthur asked.
Bronson joined to the conversation. "Nothing special," he said. "We are going to tattoo an old scar on your left knee. Capitalizing on that, I'll ask you to limp."
"That is going to be difficult. I don't know how to limp consistently. Besides, what happens if I forget?" Arthur asked.
"You will not, because the moment you become operational, we'll change the heels of all your right shoes. It will be about half an inch higher than the left. Whether you like it or not, you are going to limp."
"Now go back to your room and don't come out no matter what happens. This is an order."
"Respectfully, sir, what should I do if the house were on fire?"
"Wait until I come and let you out. Dismissed, Captain!"
Arthur stood up, saluted, and marched out. At the entrance to his room, he noticed two hefty MPs standing guard by the entrance. They saluted and opened the door.
After entering his domain, Arthur immediately headed for the bathroom. A strange face looked at him from the mirror. Shit! It is not enough the bastard has ruined my looks, ordered me to develop a limp, wear cheek prosthetics, and put a tattoo on me; Bronson also keeps me locked up like a friggin' criminal. I should have stayed in the Legion, serving at a wonderful place like Fort Emin, commanding a platoon. Even if I were sent into battle chasing Arab cavalry, it would be preferable to this cloak and dagger garbage.
There was a knock on the door, and Bronson came in. Arthur snapped into attention.
"At ease, Captain. I just came to see if you are all right."
"Considering everything I went through, and whatever I have to face in the near future, I'm okay."
"Here are your briefing notes. They outline your cover, the real mission, contacts at the embassy and the appropriate password to the Ambassador. If you get into trouble and need someone to overrule the decision of the military attaché about your work, go to the Ambassador. However, use this facility only if you feel your life is in danger. Otherwise, you report to the attaché. Give him your sealed tour reports twice a week, and he'll send the papers to us in the next diplomatic pouch."
"I see. I will study the briefing notes, sir. Do you want me to write a test on them?"
"No, but I may quiz you at dinner."
"Back to school," Arthur mused. "I didn't know what I was missing."
"What is wrong with you, Lavigne? Aren't you happy with your assignment?"
"May I speak freely, sir?"
"Respectfully, sir, it stinks. I am a line officer. I know how it feels when the enemy is shooting at me. I know how to lead a bayonet charge. I assure you, sir, I didn't enjoy those things either, but I prefer them to the cloak and dagger stuff. This business of changing my appearance and sneaking around in the shadows while carrying a couple of cyanide pills on my lapels gives me the creeps. Why can't I have an assignment in a jungle or the desert somewhere smoking out honest-to-goodness rebels?"
"We have plenty of guys to do those jobs. Granted, they might not be as good as you are, but for this assignment, the Allies do not have anybody else. You are it. This is why we begged Colonel Delambre to lend you to us," explained Bronson.
"What would you do if I suddenly resigned my commission?"
"That may have dire consequences."
"Don't worry, Major, I am not planning to do that. I am not a quitter, and have no intention to turn traitor either. However, sir, I cannot wait for my exile ending, when I can return to my regiment."
"If I were you, I'd think in terms of further extensions. It would take a long time to train a replacement for you. Therefore, we are going to keep you in intelligence as long as Colonel Delambre permits us. Remember, we have enough influence with him to keep you here forever if we wanted to. So, shut up and make the best of your stay in the intelligence community."
"It is not very encouraging, sir."
"It is not going to be so bad. Eventually, you'll return to your precious Zouaves or even the Legion. Are you satisfied?"
"No," Arthur said with a deep sigh, "but I appreciate your candor, sir."
Although Arthur studied the briefing notes, Bronson never quizzed him. In fact, he came in to have lunch and dinner with Arthur. He did not mention the mission at all, but talked about serving in the Air Force at Bomber Command in England during the early phases of the daylight bombing raids, the English women, and last but not least, about the single malt Scotch whisky. He left Arthur with a bottle of Cardhue to sample.
After Bronson left, Arthur realized that his visit was nothing but an additional briefing. Now he knew how the Air Force operated. Next morning, Fred fitted the cheek augmentation prosthetics and tattooed an elegant scar on Arthur's knee. Then Gary explained how to touch up his hair and mustache, and took a few pictures of him.
"These are for your new ID cards and diplomatic passport, sir. We will have them ready tonight."
Bronson just sat in a comfortable chair looking at Arthur putting in and removing the prosthetics.
"The women will love your new face, Roger. Keep the cheek augmentation in place for the rest of the day. I am going to join you for lunch downstairs and introduce you to someone who should know you."
"I am very much looking forward to it," Arthur said. He suddenly realized his voice had changed a great deal. Wearing this paraphernalia, my father would not recognize me, he thought.
"I had your travel kit assembled," declared Bronson. "My staff is delivering the Air Force uniforms and the appropriate papers to your room as we speak. For lunch please wear the Air Force garb--you'd look much better in it anyway."
"I doubt it," Arthur replied. "The service has already ruined my looks."
When Arthur put on the Air Force uniform and checked in the mirror, a complete stranger was staring at him.
I wonder if anybody who knew me would recognize Arthur DeVendt in this disguise, he thought.
He need not have worried, because on his way to the officer's mess, he met Sergeant Nash on the corridor. There was no sign of recognition, just a crisp salute from the man he had worked with the past few months.
It was very difficult to get used to the wads of plastic in his mouth. At first, it bothered him, but eventually he got used to it. However, lunch was torture as Arthur struggled through the meal, swallowing some of the food without chewing.
Bronson saw Arthur suffering. After lunch, he took him to the operating theatre again and had Fred adjust the dentures.
In the afternoon, Bronson took Arthur for a drive. They visited the civilian airport, and upon entering the fire hall, Arthur's stomach suddenly tightened. He recognized his former commander, Colonel Csath, working on some firefighting equipment.
"Mister Csath," Bronson said, "please meet the Air Force inspector, Major Whitman."
They shook hands and there was no sign of recognition from Csath. Following a brief conversation, they got back into the Hudson, and the major turned to Arthur. "I happen to know your relationship to Colonel Csath. If he did not recognize you, nobody would. I had to arrange this meeting to put your mind and mine at ease."
"I must admit it was shocking, but you're right. I think my disguise is adequate."
"Now comes the hard part. In addition to your mission, as outlined in the briefing notes, eventually you are going to command the teams of the saboteurs in Hungary. Another officer named Brad is working on recruitment as we speak. As soon as the operation shapes up, you'll take over because the other man has no combat experience."
"Thanks," Arthur grumbled. He felt bitter.
"If the Soviets decide to attack, your saboteurs will have to out-think and out-fight Ivan. Our nuclear weapons might not be enough to stop them. Any questions?"
"I have about a million questions, but I cannot even compose them until I see what I am getting into."