Saturday, 18 April 2015

The lure of Black Mountain

Adolf Hitler European Tour 1939 – 1945
September 1939         Poland
April 1940                   Norway
May 1940                    Luxemburg
May 1940                    Netherlands
May 1940                    Belgium
June 1940                   France (sold out)
September 1940         Britain (Cancelled)
April 1941                   Yugoslavia
April 1941                   Greece
May 1941                    Crete
August 1942                Russia (Cancelled)
July 1943                    ‘The Bunker’, Berlin

The tee-shirts at Black Mountain had never been in the best possible taste. But they always raised a smile from Verity, and even from Sacha. Cancelled indeed. 

She was thinking of them as she handed-over at the till in the charity bookshop at the end of her lunchtime stint. On putting out more books for sale that morning, she had spotted a copy of Jane’s Guns Recognition Guide, not in the best of conditions, £1.99. And she had bought it. 

She could almost feel it burning a hole in her conscience. But that wasn’t the half of it. 

Black Mountain lurked just round the corner from the bookshop: its window a tumble of dark uniforms and light crossbows. Verity had always wondered if its location, right next to the City Walls (from which, rumour had it, an old statute said you could shoot raiders at night  using a bow and arrow, and not be charged with murder) was pure coincidence. And it wasn’t as if the family had never set foot in the place: Sacha had bought the air-rifle there - the only serious weapon in their house. 

She found herself wanting to go there. Weird. She even found herself wondering whether her mind had been got-at again: she made the effort to recall in full her encounter with Reid’s Compliance Machine. No: nobody had said anything about weapons. As she walked, she remembered the song, ‘Freewill’, and her wartime poster, ‘Careless Talk Costs Lives’, but nothing else: she thought Reid might have been trying to tell her something while she was listening to the song, but she hadn’t heard a word of it. 

And then for some reason she found herself amused by the similarity of the two phrases ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged’, from Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (on the Classics shelf, £2.99), and ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident’, from, where? She’d have to look it up on the Reference when she got home... 

She walked into Black Mountain. 

And then had no idea what to do. 

She stared blankly at the display of air-rifles, trying to remember which make and model they had at home. She turned to see an assistant standing near her: a large man with no hair and a tee-shirt with runic script all over it. 

The next thing she found herself saying made no sense whatsoever: 

“Hasty it was darker?” 

The man gave a knowing smile and answered: 

Old languages. Sister languages... 

She followed him to the back of the shop. 

Black Mountain had an extra showroom that she had never seen before: never known about. And the place bristled with kit that she was sure was, well, not exactly street legal. She recognised an AK-47 and asked if it had been de-activated. It hadn’t. 


A poster on the wall read: 

‘Do not be overawed by ‘experts’ who decry the basic safety rules: You will outlive them’ 

“Now then. You need something a bit more than the ordinary, eh? Something to defend yourself? Show me your hands.” 

Verity had only once ever had to defend with her hands, and even then it was for a friend, not herself. 

“Man’s size, woman’s build. This is goin’ ter be interesting. How’s your eyesight?” 


Then what the heck are you doing in a place like this, Player..?

“But good enough for this, in’t it?” 

“I suppose so. I’m not too bad with the air-rifle at home...” 

“Anything else I need ter know? About yer hands?” 

“Er... I don’t think so.” 

He let go of her right hand.

“Yer left-handed, aren’t yer?” 

“Oh heck yes I completely forgot...” 

She blushed.

“How could you tell?” 

“The muscles are different, that’s all. Plus, of course, I’ve seen you shootin’.” 

What?? Where?” 

Not the allotment...I’ll get into trouble... 

“Video. FPS Russia. It’s gone viral. Big in Ukraine.” 

Oh crap... 

Finding handguns of any sort that could safely be used by left-handers proved surprisingly difficult. Pistols were out. On firing, they ejected the cartridge to one side: the right. Straight towards Verity’s body, unless she had room and time to take up a proper stance. 

They moved on to revolvers, but any large enough for Verity’s long hands were also too heavy for her to be able to wear discreetly.  She admired the assistant’s patience and knowledge of his wares. 

“When all’s said, what sort of situation are you imagining using one of these in?” 

She went through a few: being abducted was the first that came to mind, but there’d be more than one of them and if they had the advantage of surprise, being armed wouldn’t be much help. She thought of defending someone else, such as a mugging victim or one of her family. But what if she missed..? Then there were people in the Evening Lands who slept with a handgun under the pillow: that seemed like a recipe for disaster. The assistant agreed. Fending off a car-jacking was a popular scenario among Evening Landers, but Verity couldn’t drive. 

She would be more likely to want to fend off a burglar, or a mugger: either from herself or from a friend. 

“You strike me”, said the assistant finally, “As more of a knife type. Easier and less trouble to carry around. Silent. Useful for things other than combat and all. All the actions you’ve described are close-quarters, aren’t they? And you, well, have a certain advantage. People tend to look at the right hand for a weapon. Plus, for the price of a firearm you can get a knife and pay for a course on proper technique: we’ve an Oriental lad who runs one here on Wednesday evenings. Ever done any of those type of martial arts?” 

Verity explained that she had once known the entire T’ai Ch’i cycle.  She had been surprised to find out, at the time, that it counted as a Martial Art. 

The assistant handed her one of the shop’s best combat knives and got her to show how she’d stand to defend herself with it. 

“Aye. It shows. Yer on to a good start there. 

“These were developed by Brits in Shanghai. Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife. Used by Special Forces’ types all over the world. Classic. 

“Ever used a knife in your right hand?” 

“Yes, every day. At the dinner table. Oh, except the days we cook Chinese.” 

The assistant found a sheath which looked like an ordinary bum-bag that Verity could wear to her left side on a belt. A shorter version of the knife fitted in it perfectly. Feeling its weight on her made her nervous. But she'd just have to get used to it.

She handed over her money.

What on earth are you doing..? 
And then for some inexplicable reason she thought of Reid. 

But she wasn’t telling a soul: Careless Talk Costs Lives.

Illustration Fmfrp 12 80 p69 Original uploader was Fluzwup at en.wikipedia - Transferred from en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -

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