BIGGLES TAKES THE CASE
by Captain W. E. Johns
III. THE RENEGADE (Pages 57 – 82)
I believe that this story was originally published in THE DAILY MAIL between Saturday 19th August 1950 and Monday 30th October 1950. The story was written in July 1950 specifically for THE DAILY MAIL and Johns sent it to his agent with a letter dated 29th July 1950.
Air Commodore Raymond tells Biggles about a Captain Langley Vandor. “The captain part of it, I may say, he supplied himself. It flatters his vanity to pretend that he’s been in military service”. (Johns must have written that line with a wry smile as he wasn’t a real “Captain” himself). The air police have information that Vandor is supplying bandits in Malaya with arms and ammunition. “What nationality is this unpleasant piece of work?” asks Biggles. “By registration, and in appearance, British. By blood he’s a Eurasian – or at any rate, a quarter Asiatic”. Expelled from an English public school for stealing, he inherited his father’s estate at a place called Marapang, in the north-east corner of Malaya, when he was twenty-one. His father died from snakebite, although native rumour has it that Vandor bribed a Malay seaman to put a cobra in his father’s bed. “According to native report, he boasted of white blood but behaved like a coloured tyrant”. He used to go to Singapore occasionally and learned to fly at Kuala Lumpur and now has his own airstrip at the Marapang estate, where he keeps a Gipsy Moth. Vandor has beaten to death one of his plantation managers, a Chinaman by the name of Wong Loo. Loo’s son has now gone to British headquarters in Singapore to tell them that Vandor has a big stock of arms and ammunition in the east wing of his house. Raymond wants Biggles to go and blow it up. He gives Biggles various aerial photographs of the Marapang estate to study. A week later, Ginger flies Biggles over the Marapang estate in Malaya and, at around three in the morning, Biggles parachutes out. Biggles makes his way in the moonlight to Vandor’s aircraft hangar and finds his Gipsy Moth there. He then heads towards Vandor’s house. “It was larger than he expected, and appeared to be something between a glorified European bungalow and a Chinese pagoda”. Unexpectedly, three motor vehicles turn up, a lorry and two jeeps. Biggles hides in the tropical shrubs to watch what is going on. Two arc lamps illuminate the scene. A big Malay appears from the house and is soon joined by Langley Vandor himself. About twenty men are in the vehicles. “There were Malays, Japanese, Chinese, Burmese, Tamils and mixed breeds, all of whom had evidently suspended racial hatred in order to obtain plunder under a common banner of lawlessness with violence”. With them they have a captured British soldier who was “little more than a boy”. His hands are tied behind his back and he is kicked on the ground and mistreated. Vandor and the big Malay take the soldier away and Biggles follows, keeping in the undergrowth. Entering the house through French windows, Vandor is left alone with the soldier when the big Malay leaves. Vandor threatens the soldier but is shocked and surprised when Biggles appears with a gun and cuts the young soldier free with his knife. “Take this gun. Keep that rat covered. One move, one bleat, let him have it. If we’re going for a Burton your job is to see that he comes too” Biggles tells the soldier. Biggles goes to the east end of the building where he sees double doors open and a stock of ammunition boxes and petrol. Biggles takes the handbrake off one of the jeeps, allowing it to roll down a slope and crash and cause chaos. He throws a little metal tube into the room and blows the room up. “Explosion followed explosion”. Returning to where the soldier is guarding Vandor, Biggles sees the big Malay, dagger in hand, creeping up behind the soldier. (This is the pen and ink illustration at the beginning of the story on page 58). Biggles shoots the Malay. Biggles says to Vandor “I’m hoping you’ll come after us because I’m still waiting for that excuse to send you where you belong” and then Biggles and the soldier leave. Biggles sends a lorry downhill and tosses a bomb in it. He then asks the soldier his name and the soldier says he is “Alan Macdonald”. “That name fits with hard fighting”, Biggles replies. The lorry crashes and blows up in a ravine. As Biggles starts to retreat up a footpath that leads to a reservoir, Alan asks him to give him a minute. Alan wants revenge on the leader of the party that arrived in the vehicles as “he shot my chum, Angus Gordon, in cold blood, when he was wounded”. Alan fires upon a group of men, hitting the man Alan had described. Bullets also cut up the dirt around Vandor’s feet and “he appeared to dive into the ground” (we are not told whether he is killed or not). Rain starts to fall as the monsoon is due and Biggles and Alan head off up the muddy path to the reservoir, where the plan is for Ginger to land and pick them up. In due course, they see lights following them. Dawns breaks and the mist lifts, just as Ginger arrives in a Skud aircraft. Biggles holds their pursuers off with his automatic as Ginger lands and Alan gets onboard. Biggles throws the last of his explosives and the smoke gives him cover to get on the aircraft. “What you might call cutting it a bit fine” he says to Alan. “We’ve done a good night’s work and you’ll have a tale to tell when you get home”. (When Johns sent this story to his literary agent, Peter Watt, Johns asked if the ending was a bit of an anti-climax. Peter Watt replied to say that he liked the story very much).