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By the Cliffs of Dover

Old Guy

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I shoved another stick into the fire and stood up.  Someone was coming along the rocky shoreline.  It was a slight man wearing a hooded jacket, jeans, and boots.  Wellies, I think they're called.  The boots, I mean.  I believe that's what the lady in the shop called them.  I didn't have my hearing aid in at the time, so I might be mistaken.

"Top 'o the mornin'," called the man.  He grinned.  "I believe we've met -- online that is.  You must be the "cracked old American" the copper up the road told me about."

"I reckon that's me."  His face did look familiar and I said as much.  "Though lots of faces remind me of someone," I added.  "Generally someone I can't recall."

"It's been some time," he said.  "Bilko was my moniker, back in the day.  I suppose it still is -- in some Combatsim database."

"Bilko!  Of course."  I shook my head.  "Where's your stick?  I'd have known you if you had it."  We both laughed.  Fat chance.

He perched on a handy boulder.  "So what's with the fire?"

I tossed another bunch of papers into the flames before sitting down on my handy little folding stool.  Old bones don't like rock chairs.  "Manuscripts.  Tales from the olden days.  Back when we all flew EAW and spent hours on CSim discussing that and other flight sims along with every other subject under the sun."

"Burning your stories?  Isn't that a bit -- Nazi-like?"

"Not really.  These things are meaningless anymore.  I can't even remember half the characters.  Hardly anybody visits the Combatsim Ready Room these days.  Donnie still posts his usual stuff and Stans chimes in with a weather report.  Sometimes Fick wanders in with a badly written diatribe.  I never was able to understand more than half of what he writes in Germlish."

"Me neither, but still -- burning the old tales.  A bit drastic, what?"

"Symbolic, more like.  I have electronic copies ready to go in some time capsule -- as an example of really bad fiction.  I just decided it was time to do something to commemorate those good old days when we all flew over these cliffs -- electronically.  On our way to battle the Hun."

"Some of us flew over them going the other way, if I remember right.  Flying an Me-109 or some such."

"True.  Well.  That's what I'm doing."

"Seems harmless enough.  Except for the tiny screams I hear when the pages take flame.  Doesn't that bother you, mate?"

"Not anymore.  I turned my hearing aid down.  High pitched screams don't register."

Bilko got to his feet.  "I'll let the coppers know you're up to no harm.  They don't care for the fire, y'know.  Soots up the rocks."

"I'm about done anyway."

"I'll also call off the SAS Rapid Response types."

"You're joking.  Why would those guys be interested in an old Montana cowboy?"

"They aren't.  But your handle, Old Guy, set of a set of long-standing alarms.  MI-6, my shop, even got involved."

"But . . ."  I searched my unreliable memory banks.  "I haven't been active in the UK for -- oh -- must be sixty, seventy years.  Maybe longer."

"The order I saw originated during the Crimean War."

"Oh, that."  I shrugged.  "Nothing of consequence."  Quickly changing the subject, I asked, "MI-6?  Really?"

"Really.  That's why I can't use my stick anymore.  Doesn't fit with the Double-O image, y'know."

"Double-O?"  But he was gone out of hearing by the time I mulled that over for a bit.  "Double-O.  As if."

"Ole Bilko can still tell a whopper, can't he?"  I was speaking to myself -- a habit leftover from my time in the Gulag.  A low droning noise caught my attention.  A black-painted C-130 flew low over the Channel, not more than a mile off shore.  I watched until it vanished in the haze.

I remember reading that the SAS had recently taken delivery of the latest model C-130 -- the ones used specifically by spec ops groups.  But, no.  Coincidence.   Has to be.

Bilko a member of MI-6?  Unlikely.  He wasn't the Old School type.

The last bundle of papers went into the fire.  I'd lied to Bilko.  The screaming was perfectly audible, even with my hearing aid turned off.  I felt like a serial killer.  

I guess I was, if you consider those old stories part of a series.

In due course I doused the fire and went looking for a warm pub.

Time was I'd have looked for one staffed with bosomy, friendly ladies.  But those days are gone.  

Long gone.



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It has become quiet and lonely around here.  It's so bad that Doug, in order to save money, installed a wood stove in the office with instructions to burn the furniture when the indoor temperature drops to 10C.  10C?  Let's see... 10C times nine fifths... he's got nine fifths of scotch hidden in here?  Never mind the stove!

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