BIGGLES – AIR ACE
by Captain W. E. Johns
(Page references are for the paperback first edition, followed by the hardback second).
III. BIGGLES AND THE JOKER (Pages 42 – 57/Pages 43 – 57)
This story was originally published in “Modern Boy” number 365 – dated 2.2.35
Biggles is anxiously awaiting a letter from Algy who has gone to Paris and not returned despite his leave having expired two days ago. “He knows perfectly well that his absence is preventing another officer from going on leave, and if you tell me that Algy is the sort of fellow to do that willingly, then I’ll tell you you don’t know what you’re talking about”, Biggles tells Mahoney. Mahoney says that Algy had promised to bring back half a dozen packs of playing cards, the same as the ones they had. The picture on the back was two flags (we are not told what is on the flags) with an angel between them. Mahoney gave Algy the ‘joker’ out of one of their packs as an example. Biggles knows that Algy was staying at the Hotel Pont Neuf and arranges three days leave to go and find him. Flying to Le Bourget, Biggles goes to the hotel and is shown Algy’s room. His kit is still there. Biggles makes what enquiries he can. “The streets were crowded with troops, officers and other ranks of many nationalities – British, French, Portuguese, Belgian, Italian, and Colonial troops of all sorts – and he realised how utterly impossible it was to expect anyone to remember a particular individual in such a throng”. Hoping to meet someone he knows, or who knew Algy and may have ran into him, Biggles goes to the Folies Bergeres, the famous Parisian music hall and sits in the vestibule. Whilst sitting here a man asks him if he has a match. “The man looked like a Frenchman who had dined well. He was typical of thousands of others in the so-called Gay City”. The two men get talking and the man invites Biggles to have a drink. Biggles orders an orange-crush. The man introduces himself as Trombier and goes to give Biggles his card. To Biggles astonishment, in his wallet is a card with two flags, British and French, and an angel between them. The card is a joker. Biggles remembers that Mahoney had said he had given such a card to Algy. Trombier says he likes to provide hospitality for the troops and invites Biggles back for supper and a bottle of wine. Biggles agrees “feeling that he was stepping into the lion’s den”. Taken by a luxurious limousine to a magnificent house overlooking the river, they sit in a lounge half furnished as a library. Trombier asks Biggles how the war is going but Biggles is non-committal in his replies. When Trombier mentions having spoken to “a fellow of Squadron No. 266”, Biggles asks him if it was a man named Lacey. More wine is poured by Trombier and Biggles feels like he is deliberately trying to distract his attention. Biggles manages to distract Trombier’s attention and when he is unobserved, Biggles swaps the glasses. Trombier drinks the wine. “Never in his life – not even in a ‘dog fight’ in the skies – had the air been so charged with tense expectancy. Trombier began to sway slightly, but not a word was spoken. Suddenly, with a visible effort and a harsh, guttural exclamation, his hand whipped down to his hip pocket. Biggles moved like lightning. He dropped on all fours as the hand came up holding an automatic, and then, as the weapon blazed, Biggles leapt sideways”. Biggles grabs a poker but Trombier is too drugged to fight and collapses. However, his butler and another man come into the room and open fire with their revolvers. Biggles fires back. “The butler half spun round and then plunged forward like a diver in deep water”. The other man is also shot and falls down the stairs. Biggles searches the house and hears the voices of a group of people locked in a basement wine-cellar. One of them is Algy. Searching the butler he has shot for a key, Biggles is attacked by the man who fell down the stairs. “Now!” cried Biggles. “Come on, you blighter, and let’s see what you can do with your fists!” The man had no idea of fist fighting. He dashed in, arms flung wide, hoping to clinch and wrestle his adversary down, but Biggles wasn’t having any of that. He steadied the man with a left, then sent the right hard and true to the jaw. The man dropped without a sound, out to the wide (I thought this word must be “world” and the word “wide” was a typing error but this is definitely the word that is used in the original text in “The Modern Boy”)”. Biggles gets the key from the butler’s pocket and opens the door of Algy’s prison. “A swarm of khaki-clad men poured out into the corridor”. One of them is Algy. “That fellow Trombier is a Hun – a German spy, living in Paris. His game was to pick up officers on leave from the Line and pump them for information while he entertained them” says Algy. “If any of them got suspicious – as I did, and the other fellows here – he doped them and kept them in this cellar. But how on earth did you find me?” he went on in amazement. “Oh, it’s a long story – I’ll tell you some other time!” answered Biggles. “We’d better get in touch with the authorities to clear up this mess. And then you’d better see about getting Mahoney’s cards – he’s getting all het-up because he can’t play bridge!"