As we trundled over the bridge, Holmes and I were thrown against the crate in front of us and I realised the driver of our vehicle had applied the brakes. Scrambling to our feet, we peered through the smoke. Ahead of us I was able to discern several shapes moving around near the track and as the smoke finally cleared and we jerked to a halt, we were left staring at the bum cheeks of what I supposed was the engineer.
The fellow finished tying his bootlaces and straightened up. Then, adjusting his trousers, turned round. On seeing us, his hands flew up in the air and he exclaimed in a heavily-accented voice:
“Vot is dis? Who der hell are you?”
Holmes lifted his hat. “Sherlock Holmes, at your service. This is my associate Dr Watson. You may speak freely.”
Before the fellow could utter another word, two soldiers in grey uniforms marched up to our truck and pulled out their weapons. The taller of the two took the lead.
“Ah, Mr Holmes Ve haf been expecting you.”
“Jolly good,” said Holmes, resting a hand on the man’s shoulder. “A bit of assistance, if you don’t mind.”
The man was too taken aback to object and helped us climb down.
“Now,” said Holmes. “Take me to your leader.”
The soldier glared at Holmes, then taking off his gloves, slapped his subordinate across the chops. “Oberleutnant – nehmen sie in den Führer.”
I glanced at my companion and whispered, “Look here, Holmes, that fellow’s German.”
“Yes. Annoying, isn’t it?” He smiled sardonically. “I do hope the main chappie speaks English. My European languages aren’t all they used to be.”
I coughed. “I did a bit of Latin at grammar school, if that’s any help?”
Holmes tutted and we fell into line behind the soldiers.
As we followed them down the track, I noticed a number of overall-clad chaps moving around here and there, carrying tools and timber back towards the edge of the bridge.
“What d’you suppose they’re up to?” I said.
“Answer me this, friend Watson,” said Holmes as moved away from the track and began to descend a flight of steps. “What is it that we British lack that our German counterparts have in abundance?”
I shrugged. “Black sausage?”
“Apart from that.”
“Well, nothing that I can think of.”
“Sorry old bean, you’ve lost me.”
As we reached the foot of the steps, we were led into an underground chamber. Holmes took my arm. “Why did we come over the bridge just now?”
“To get to the other side?” I suggested.
“And what service does the bridge perform?”
I frowned. “Well, to stop us falling into the river, I expect.”
“Precisely. For once, Watson, you’ve hit the nail on the proverbial.”
“Oh. Good.” I was no wiser.
The tunnel straightened out and I could see it had been carved into the rock with some degree of skill. Our escorts waved us to one side and opened a door in the wall of the tunnel.
“If you vouldn’t mind?”
Holmes smiled. And vot vould you do if ve vould?”
“You are a very cheeky man, Herr Holmes.”
Inside, we found ourselves in a sort of anteroom. One of the soldiers knocked on another door and said something in German. After a moment, he indicated we should go in.
The door closed behind us. With a soldier on either side and their guns still pointing at our heads, I doubted there was much room for escape. However, it was not that thought which occupied my mind at that precise moment, but rather the man sitting at a large desk directly in front of us.
Holmes raised his hat. “Good evening. And you are…?”
The little man at the desk sniffed and fiddled with his moustache. It was one of those silly little taches young comedians sometimes wear when they want to raise a smile.
The little man stood up and said something to the Lieutenant. The Lieutenant turned to us and said, “Herr Hitler vants to know if you’d like a cup of tea?”
I looked at Holmes. Holmes looked at me.
“Bugger,” I said.
“Seconded,” said Holmes.