Night Boat to Cairo*

Night Boat to Cairo - Madness

Gibraltar, June 16th, 1940


Maria Verletti
* Keeper Note: Yes, it was a plane and a truck really. I just couldn't resist the title!

Only Steve, Aimo and Loz for this session, so everyone else was deceptively passive and the adventure was bijou, sandy and dangerous...

As he recovered from his surgery, Cyril's mind wandered back to his romantic walk above Cascata di Lares with the pretty Maria Verletti. Had she been a resistance fighter in the making, a spy for the Fascists, or merely a bystander who took a hand? He still couldn't make up his mind. Italy had now joined the war, declaring war on Britain and France, so the chance of seeing her again was minimal. Her smile nagged at him, though, and he put in a request through the Intelligence Officer to ask if anything was known about her - phrasing it as a professional query, not a personal one.

Before leaving, Deadman had been asked if he would teach a little more magic to the agents. A little reluctantly, he agreed, though stipulating that he eschewed the more mind-damaging magics wherever possible, and would not teach those that he knew. In the end, the agents settled on the Healing spell, and Deadman set to instructing them in its' casting.

Healing

The casting of this spell takes 2d6 rounds; each round that the casting takes, the subject heals 1 hit point. It cannot heal the subject to more hit points than he normally possesses, and it cannot bring back the dead. The spell costs 12mp and 1 SAN to cast.

The difference between his teaching and that of Brad Cleavely was instantly apparent; where Cleavely was hesitant and sometimes hard to follow, Deadman was clear, concise and skilled. His teaching was so good that the complex ritual dropped into place for the agents with little difficulty. Birapeer, Anné and Cyril mastered it with ease. Of the others, only Gregory had difficulty; once more, he found that learning a spell utterly evaded him.


The Atlantean Statue

Anné, also able to read German, had joined the group working on Erlichmann's journal, and studied it closely, referring to Deadman for translations of some of the more arcane phrasing. Gradually, she too began to grasp the rudiments of the Atlantean language. As she did this, Cyril thought of something and asked the Professor: "Why were the Italians running electrical power through the statue; what were they trying to achieve?"

Deadman considered. "From what I can glean from your pictures of the ritual circle they'd set up," he said, "I think they were trying to increase its range of effect. We suppose, from the Book of the Machine pages and Dr Erlichmann's notes, that it can detect pieces of the Palladion from short range. They may have been trying to get it to do so from greater distances."

In his office, Siegfried Howe picked through a heap of crumpled pieces of paper; all Birapeer's receipts for expenditure of Italian Lire during the mission. He shrugged. Let Whitehall sort this one out, he thought, and dropped them into the despatch bag.

Gibraltar-Cairo, 10pm June 17th, 1940

The next day, the party embarked on the regular RAF flight between Gib and Cairo, Birapeer and Francoise for once settling back to relax as passengers. Once the plane was airborne, Birapeer, now once more in his RAF uniform, made his way to the cockpit and made himself known to the pilot, Flt Lt Manders. Manders was delighted to meet a fellow aviator, and the pair talked shop over cigarettes for the rest of the flight.


Heleopolis Aerodrome

A few hours later, the big plane descended towards Heliopolis airport, and the party began to realize just how hot Egypt actually was at this time of year. Many of them - especially Birapeer, Marcus and Cyril - were used to hot climates; but Anné was from Lyon and began visibly to wilt as the temperature rose. It was instantly obvious that hats were an essential under the daytime sun.

The plane landed, and the party disembarked. Birapeer lost no time in locating the station adjutant and trying to commandeer transport, but he could feel the slow wheels of bureacracy turning around the conversation and wasn't convinced he'd been successful. A regular truck operated between the aerodrome and the city, and the agents boarded it and rattled along the rocky road.

SECURITY INTELLIGENCE MIDDLE EAST (SIME), SHARIA KASR EL AINI
Lt. Col. Raymund Maunsell (or “RJ” to his staff and friends), runs SIME. SIME operates out of the Grey Pillars until 1942, when it moves to a building next door. SIME coordinates all security matters in the Middle East and liaises with the Indian Delhi Intelligence Bureau (DIB), as well as working closely with “A” Force. Maunsell’s network includes Egyptian policemen, concierges, Sephardic Jewish agents, rumourmongers, and underworld contacts. He has penetrated the Muslim Brotherhood and the Spanish Consulate, and monitors Japanese diplomatic communications, as well as maintaining contacts with the Turkish secret police. Most importantly, SIME con¬trols the six wireless operators that the Abwehr manages to infiltrate into Cairo.

Shepheard's Hotel, Cairo, June 18th, 1940


Shepheard's

The following morning the agents woke up in the magnificence of Shepheard's hotel. Already nearly a hundred years old, the splendid hostelry was by far the best of Cairo's hotels. Four hundred rooms and the very best of Imperial English Colonial service made it an experience to be savoured.

After breakfast, Birapeer attempted to place a phone call to RJ at SIME via the hotel telephonist, but was unable to reach him - he would apparently be free in a couple of hours. A message was left.

Left to themselves, the agents spread out into the hotel and started mixing with people. The population and visitors to the hotel were a community all to themselves, and a fascinating cross-section of wartime Cairo's political and social landscape. Upper-crust Army and RAF officers mixed with important locals and odds and ends of well-born or wealthy travellers from half the planet.

St. Joe’s Parish
Joe Scialom (also known as Joe the Bartender) runs the Long Bar, or “St. Joe’s Parish”, at Shepheard’s Hotel from 1937. Speaking eight languages, he acts as financier, adviser, umpire, and priest-confessor to his drinkers. Said to be the best informed man in Cairo, popular rumour has it that Joe is a Nazi spy, but that won’t stop you from hearing about the plans for the next Western Desert offensive if you keep your ears open. His philosophy is “Mix well but shake politics”, and he is famous for the Suffering Bastard cocktail—a hangover cure consisting of bourbon, gin, and ginger beer.

Anné dressed herself up a bit and introduced herself into the female half of this society, meeting people, making small talk. However, for one reason and another - not least her formidable scarring - her social skills were not the sharpest, and she was unable to penetrate the surface to unearth anything significant.

Cyril, likewise, took himself off to the hotel's Long Bar, the one where ladies were not permitted, and where talk tended to be looser. It was pretty quiet at this time of day, so he found himself talking to the legendary barman, St Joe.

Over some drinks, he learned a little about the Museum of Antiquities, where Erlichman had indicated the Black Stone might lie. Apparently, the place was officially closed for the duration, but the curator, M. Lucien Kutay and his assistant, Mlle. Micheline Descoteaux, were still to be found there. One detail Cyril picked up was that M. Kutay despised the British for their treatment of Egypt and loathed "tomb-robbers" passionately.


Shepheard's Balcony

Birapeer had made himself comfortable on the balcony, and was enjoying cooled but non-alcoholic drinks in the shade when a deferential Nubian porter approached him to tell him that there was a call for him in the telephone room, should he care to take it. The Sikh pilot thanked the man, and followed him to the small room set aside for telephone calls.

A brisk British voice on the other end responded, and checked Birapeer's name and identity with a couple of questions before identifying itself as Lt Col Maunsell. He made it clear that telephone conversations were not to be taken as secure, and offered a meeting at 2pm. Birapeer agreed, and the call ended.

SIME, Cairo, 14:00 June 18th, 1940


Lt.Col. Raymond "RJ" Maunsell

RJ greeted them in person as they reached his office, and ushered them into a quiet office to talk. He had clearly been briefed by London, and although he referred to Section M as "the hocus-pocus merchants", he appeared to lump them in as "boffins" with the scientists and to be ready to accept their specialist skills.

He confirmed the fact that the Antiquities Musem was closed for the war, but suggested that relevant contacts could probably get them in to see M. Kutay.

However, he had a suggestion for their first move, embodied in a despatch from Clemens Park.

Fifty miles outside Cairo to the east lay a scatter of ancient ruins, marked on British maps as Makhren Jirma. No-one has ever paid any great attention to them, as they were not very impressive for visiting tourists.

Four weeks ago, a Libyan trader named Tazara Quais was passing that way and for some reason detoured to look at the ruins, probably to see if it was any use as a smugglers’ dump. However, he found them occupied, and left promptly. Being an enterprising sort, he offered the information on his discovery to both the British at SIME and the German Abwher. Both paid his price, and with a splendid eye for profit he sold the information to both.

The site at Makhren Jirma was being excavated, he claimed, with workers and “bosses” busy digging down into the ruins. As well as that, he said, there was a second dig on the site, this one an actual mine rather than what he referred to as a Treasure Hunt.  Odd-coloured stones were being removed and put on lorries before being driven off to the east.  There wasn’t much in the way of security, a couple of people with rifles. The place was useless to him so he left.  On his way back to Cairo, he stopped at a village ten miles from the dig for water. There he was told wild tales of savage animal attacks killing villagers, which he clearly disbelieved but included in his report for padding.

All this was straightforward and merely criminal, but then RJ’s phone taps picked up the information that the Abwehr had passed the report over to the Ahnerbe – the intelligence organization supporting the secret German occult agency Black Sun. RJ passed this information to London, where it ended up with Section M.

Alec and Deadman – who was at Clemens Park on his way to Gibraltar – looked into it, and turned up the reports from the initial British survey of Makhren Jirma. Among those were rough sketches of inscriptions on the stone, which Deadman now suspected were in the Atlantean script. The two replied back to SIME directing them to send the PCs to investigate on their arrival, as there was a good chance it might be connected with their hunt for the Palladion.

The group thanked RJ for his information, and agreed that Makhren Jirma might be a good first place to begin investigating. He asked if there was anything they needed, which was rather playing into their hands. Cyril asked for a couple of service rifles, some ammunition and some binoculars; Birapeer restated his request for some kind of transport. RJ grinned at this, and said "I have the very thing, I think; we're testing them for a proposed deep desert light combat unit, and need someone to give one a run." A picture and description of Tazara were asked for; he could describe the smuggler fairly well but no picture was available. Finally, they asked for a reliable local guide to navigate them around and translate - as no-one spoke Arabic - and RJ said he'd arrange this. He told them to go back to Shepheard's and collect anything they needed and to come to the back doors of the SIME building in half an hour.

SIME, Cairo, 14:30 June 18th, 1940


LRDP Truck

Achmed

Thirty minutes later, the agents found themselves looking over a strange-looking vehicle. A bit like a large American JEEP, it was easily big enough to carry them all, had large soft tyres for desert conditions, and was painted a pale tan colour for desert camouflage.

It had jerry-cans of water strapped to the outside, and plentiful supplies and survival kit loaded, as well as the requested rifles, ammunition and so on. Waiting with it was a local who introduced himself in very heavily-accented English as Achmed, their guide.

Without further delay, they mounted up and Cyril took the wheel. He dinged the vehicle a couple of times getting out of Cairo but once they hit the main road he was a little more confident with it.

Unnamed Road, East of Cairo, 15:45 June 18th, 1940

The journey was uneventful, the truck bumping and rattling along the packed-earth road and into some low hills. Achmed had guided them out of the city, but Birapeer was quietly noting the route. In case Achmed goes West, he said to himself, no other reason. Of couse. About twenty minutes after entering these hills, however, Anné's sharp eyes picked up a glint of metal on the ridge above the road. She nudged Achmed and pointed; "Is that unusual out here?" Achmed reacted instantly, diving to the floor of the vehicle. "Yes!" he yelled in terror. Simultaneously, a rifle bullet whanged off the side of the truck and another sang overhead.

Cyril hit the brakes, and everyone tumbled overboard on the opposite side of the truck without a moment's delay, Anné already swinging l'Etranger off her back and making it ready. She ranged across the ridge with her telescopic sight, looking for a target, and ducked reflexively as the wing mirror next to her exploded. She popped back up and fired and saw a distant shape jerk sharply. Next to her Cyril, who'd spent a moment with binoculars checking their attackers, lined up a shot and took down a second silhouette. The shots stopped and they party huddled motionless for a minute or two, waiting.


.303 cartridge cases

Nothing seemed to happen, so Birapeer readied his shotgun and loped up the slope. Anné crossed behind the truck and started up at a different angle, flanking Birapeer, while Cyril covered them both with his rifle. He glanced at Achmed, but the guide looked completely unenthusiastic about following. A few moments later, Birapeer and Anné reached the ridge and soon found the place where the riflemen had been; a large splotch of blood was soaking into the sand and a scatter of empty cartridge cases lay nearby. They were cheap, of Spanish manufacture and probably dating back to the Spanish civil war.

They followed a trail of blood spots and footprints down the far side of the ridge, to where they were replaced by camel tracks heading away south in a straight line. Their attackers clearly had no stomach for a target that shot back.

El Kaira Village, East of Cairo, 15:52 June 18th, 1940


Regarded as one of the best medium-framed semiautos of all time, the 1934 Beretta in 9mm Corto (.380 ACP) was most famously used by the Italian military and was also available for commercial sale.
The .25 version was famously carried by a certain 007...

Hassan

Ten minutes further up the road they came to the village Tazara had described. It was a miserable little huddle of a few hovels, some dry crops and skinny cows the only support. While Birapeer - interpreted by Achmed - spoke with the village leader, Cyril glanced around to see half a dozen enterprising kids trying to unbolt the water cans from the back of the truck. He shooed them away as the conversation continued.

Birapeer played heavily on his complexion's similarity to that of Hassan, the village leader, and made him a present of a 9mm Beretta automatic with ammunition, a souvenir of their Italian travels. This was a gift of overwhelming value for the old man, and for a while the flood of Arabic was faster than Achmed could translate. Eventually, however, Birapeer gathered that Hassan was trying to establish which of his daughters Birapeer wished to marry. Cyril bleated quietly and Birapeer shot him a dirty look before responding politely that he already had a fiancé and could not accept the offer. In the truck, Francoise huddled down, muttering to herself in French, "Si cet idiot lui dit qu'il est fiancé à moi, je jure que je vais mettre le feu à sa barbe!"

The village's gratitude was eventually modified into some fresh supplies and some directions to the ancient ruins. "We don't go that way," Hassan explained through the interpreter, "there's nothing there of any interest. We heard that someone was attacked by wild beasts out there recently, but that was from Bedouin so it may not be true."


Makren Jirma

Ridge above Makren Jirma, East of Cairo, 16:25 June 18th, 1940

Birapeer, Cyril and Anné lay prone at the edge of a ridge above the rough track that wound down from the hills to the site of Makren Jirma. Behind them, the truck was parked in a wadi, tucked out of sight of an at least casual inspection. Scanning the area below with their binoculars, they weighed up what they were seeing.

The site was enclosed in rugged bluffs leading to hills, providing some shelter from sandstorms and so on. A shabby cluster of native tents - which Cyril estimated could house around a hundred workers - was up against the north-western bluff. Towards the south was a much more organized-looking group of much more European (though maybe less suitable) tents and one larger one, presumably the camp of whoever was in charge.

In the centre of the site were the tumbled, sand-worn ruins, like a thousand others in Egypt from this distance. RJ was right; they didn’t look at all exciting or interesting. In the middle of those ruins was a newly-dug trench, sloping down underground. Two large, fresh spoil heaps just outside the ruins suggested that some significant excavation had happened under here.  A large tent stood at the edge of the ruins; Cyril recognized this as the "Finds" tent, where significant discoveries would be delivered to the archaeologists to be classified, sketched, catalogued and stored.


SPA.37 Autocarro Sahariano Light Truck

To the east side, three battered trucks were lined up parked against the bluff nearest to where the track reached the site. After a while it dawned on the agents that these were SPA.37Italian army lorries, though the insignia had been removed. Nearby was a stockpile of some sort, with blocks of something stacked neatly as if awaiting shipping.  South of that was a large, open-sided tent that looked as if it is being used to process something. 

South of that was a large, ragged mine entrance, flanked by two even larger spoil heaps.

Keeper Note: Note, though the narrative shows only Birapeer, Anné and Cyril moving closer in to the site, the return of other players to the table next session may indicate that others were along all the time - really, honest, trust me.

Native workers could be seen trudging in and out of both excavations, mostly carrying heavy baskets of spoil to the heaps and going back to the holes. Some carried baskets into the eastern tent, and sometimes added large blocks of something heavy-looking on to the stockpile.  Occasionally one went to the “finds” tent and deposited something.  Observation confirmed the estimate of around 100 workers, most working in the mine, around 20 on the trench. It struck Cyril that there seemed rather less spoil outside the mine than the scale of the excavation would warrant.

There were around a dozen European-looking men scattered through the camp, supervising. Somehow, they seemed not to be having to ‘encourage’ the workers as much as was required at most digs. The workers moved with no enthusiasm, but they didn’t seem to be inclined to stop or skive.  The supervisors were armed with handguns, with a couple of slung rifles.

With enormous care, the agents worked their way down the slope, to cover no more than 50 yards from the edge of the site. Fortune favoured them, and two of the supervisors wandered over that way to urinate. As they did so, they chatted casually in Spanish; though none of the agents spoke any Spanish, they got the impression that someone called "Carlos" was happy or pleased about something. They began to consider their next step...

Session Date: 13th March 2018