The Serpent in the Sands

The Serpent in the Sands“What’s with all the cloak and dagger, old boy?” Bainbridge asked as he sat down next to me on the park bench. Smooth, dapper, reeking of expensive cologne, old money and confidence.

Everything I lacked, a grammar school boy with a common name and no friends in Whitehall to ease the path. His face shone with privilege and the kind of food you don’t get with a ration card.

“Slapton Sands.”

To his credit, his expression didn’t flicker for an instant.

“Hellish bad luck,” he insisted.

He might as well be talking about a bad day’s trout fishing.

“Nine hundred killed, two ships sunk. That’s more than bad luck.”

“What can one say, old boy? Those are the fortunes of war.”

As my hands clenched, I made an effort to control my breathing, hoping the heat didn’t rush to my face.

“A dress rehearsal for the Normandy landings and nine German e-boats happen by?”

I knew some of the men in that flotilla, practising for the invasion of France. Preparing to go ashore in a live-fire exercise, shocked and terrified when the torpedoes hit, the survivors in full kit slowly drowned as they waited for rescue. One overcast day off the Devon coast, and the light swell on the channel filled with burning wreckage and the remains of the dead.

“These things happen. Can’t plan against coincidence,” Bainbridge ventured, trying to calculate our endgame.

“I don’t believe in coincidence. I made it my mission to prove it.”


“A set of identity papers under Lennox, your mother’s maiden name. Your handwriting in a hotel register in Dartmouth, the day before the exercise. When you supposedly travelled to the family seat in Hereford.”

“Military intelligence, old boy. I have ops to monitor, same as you.”

I gave him a moment to believe he might bluff his way out.

“The Americans loaned me one of their magnetic detectors for landmines. I found the transmitter buried in the sand dunes inshore, tuned to a German naval frequency. As you left it.

Bainbridge swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. A light sweat broke out on his brow, as he struggled to breathe.

Treason no longer a game.

Bainbridge’s voice quavered in its upper register with the tightness of his throat.

“Perhaps there’s some arrangement…?”

“I’ve had you under surveillance long enough. There’s nothing you can offer I don’t already know.”

Bainbridge reached inside his jacket, planning something reckless. Until he followed my gaze to the two very large military police sergeants in plain clothes, hands in overcoat pockets, standing quietly behind our bench.

“A public trial will be a nuisance,” he brokered, still hoping to bargain his way out of the inevitable.

I gave the nod. The MP’s walked around and lifted Bainbridge by the elbows. One of them took the pistol from Bainbridge’s jacket.

I still don’t know his motive; greed, politics, vanity? It didn’t matter, not to those he betrayed.

I looked him in the eye.

“Goodbye. Old boy.”

More short fiction.

Inspired by the true incident in WWII in which an American rehearsal for the Normandy landings was attacked by German torpedo boats.

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