Biggles missed the airdrome at Nasiriyah and landed his harrier jet on top of the Great Ziggurat of Ur. It was near mistake, which anyone could have made provided they were blind drunk from a two-week bender at the Hotel Baghdad and hadn’t accidentally stolen a jet fighter from the United States Marine Corps at Camp Adder. Biggles fell out of the cockpit and handed his car keys to a guide who came running up to remonstrate as this desecration of the ancient monument.
“And make sure you don’t scratch the paintwork!” Biggles slurred, took three steps and collapsed in a puddle. He woke up the next morning surrounded by short men with large kalashnikovs. They kicked him and yelled what he thought was something about no parking in Iraq. He lay on his back and wondered where he was, the guns weren’t familiar, the men were certainly strangers, but the raging headache that was blocking out the sun was all too well known.
“Never again, oh crikey, never again,” he moaned and threw up on the sandals of the leader of Al Queda in Iraq. The terrorists perceived this as a terrible insult and started wailing into his body with the butts of the rifles and kicking him repeatedly with vomit covered feet. None of which Biggles noticed as he was still wearing his flight helmet, blind drunk and a century of war wounds had left him immune to irony.
They hauled him to his feet and demanded to know his name.
“I’ll take a martini, preferably a Singapore sling followed by a saucy evening with Vera Lynn,” he rolled his head and promptly threw up again on the chest of the leader. Once more they attacked him with fury that could only be matched by a stoic refusal on Biggles’ part to sober up. Eventually they exhausted themselves and decided to hold him as either hostage, for ransom or at the very least for shooting practice. Remarkably they were able to disguise the harrier-jet as a camel, and then dragged him away to a bunker in the base of the Ziggurat.
Three days later Biggles finally sobered up staring up a bas-relief carving of the god king Hammurabi staring down at him.
“Wah!” Biggles shrieked, “I’m sorry headmaster but Jones made me do it!”
The noise brought the leader of the Al Queda troop swirling into the room in a flurry of robes. He stared down ferociously at Biggles who was pegged on with ropes on the floor. A short balding man with the intensity of a deranged otter, he had all the makings of someone with a future in self-exploding.
“I am Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi,” said the chief as coolly as he could muster, “leader of the Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn.”
“Tamzin,” Biggles rolled his eyes. “Bit of a girls name, what?”
“Not Tamzin!” The leader shrieked, “I said Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn.”
“Like I said, Tamsin,” Biggles stretched his jaw, which Rashid had almost dislocated with a kick.
“I said Tanzim! Get it right!”
Biggles flew air threw his moustache. “Only girls kick.”
“We’re not girls!”
“Tosh,” Biggles grinned, “like your skirt, Tamsin.”
“I’m not Tamsin!” Rashid completely lost his composure, “my name is Abu Abdullah al-Rashid al-Baghdadi, leader of the Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn.”
Biggles held his breath for a moment then giggled. “Still, you got to admit it does sound like Tamsin.”
“Biggles to you.”
“A-ha! You’re the famous Biggles!”
“More famous than you are,” Biggles grinned again.
This flustered Rashid completely. “Yes, but, no, but, …argh!” Then pulled out a revolver and started shooting wildly about the room. “Stop talking!”
Biggles went quiet but the grin on his face said everything.
“You are my prisoner!” Rashid pointed the emptied gun at Biggles.
“Only because I’m tied up,” Biggles snorted.
“That’s the very definition of a prisoner!” Rashid went florid with rage. “You will obey my orders!”
“Tosh,” Biggles looked sceptical, “that’s what they said at Colditz and looked what happened there.”
Rashid would have shot him but he had run out of bullets and stormed out of the room.
“You could at least offer me a cup of tea,” Biggles shouted after him. “They did at Colditz!” Biggles returned to staring up at the carving of god king Hammurabi. “Haven’t we met before?”
The floor was cold and hard, and Biggles had a scratch between his legs that felt decidedly like it was moving. His eyes became round eyed and he tried to stare past his crotch at whatever was investigating his inner thigh. After a moment there was a scuttling and a giant camel-scorpion the size of a Fell terrier ran onto his chest and stared down at him with all the sympathy of a vulture sitting on an abattoir fence at offal hour.
“Shoo, shoo,” Biggles tried to blow it away. “Go fetch.”
The camel-scorpion rattled forward and stuck a hairy leg up Biggles’ nose.
“Ooh, ugh,” Biggles grimaced, at that moment Rashid came storming back in the room with a fully loaded pistol and the camel-scorpion ran off into the shadows. “Thank heavens you’re back.” Biggles breathed again.
“What?” Rashid looked startled at Biggles, not expecting a welcome and not seeing the spider. He was going to shoot Biggles, but now wasn’t so sure as he pointed the gun at Biggles head. “You want me to shoot you? Is this some trick?”
Biggles stared up at Rashid and wondered if this was part of some floorshow.
“We’re not alone,” Biggles whispered, and looked with his eyes at where the camel-scorpion was hiding.
Rashid looked about and seeing nothing but the statues, laughed at Biggles.
“Ha, you fear the ghost of Hammurabi!”
“No,” Biggles sweated as he listened to the scuttling, “but I am worried about your terrier laying eggs in my moustache.”
“Bah,” Rashid put away the pistol, “you speak madness, they must have left you in the sun too long.” Then he pulled out a knife and cut the ropes on Biggles, setting him free. “It would be inhospitable to kill a madman.”
“Whose mad?” Biggles jumped to the opposite side of the room of the scorpion. “You have a bug infestation that would rival the plagues of Egypt.”
“Hmm,” Rashid stroked his beard and looked thoughtful. “You are either brave or mad, I can not tell the difference.”
“Trust me Tamsin,” Biggles tried climbing up the statue. “It’s not you I’m worried about.”
“I said – Don’t call me Tamsin!” Rashid yelled as he pulled out his pistol again. At that moment the giant camel scorpion ran out of the shadows. “Wah! A Djin!” Rashid dropped the pistol and clambered up the statue with Biggles. The scorpion hissed at them from the floor.
“Why are you up here?” Biggles yelled at Rashid. “This is your desert, you should be used to those things!”
“I’m from Cairo!” Rashid yelled back frantically, “I’m an art’s student! Not a camel herder!”
There was a sickening crack as the statue they were hugging snapped free from the wall where it had remained for over two and half thousand years and fell like an mast to the desk with Biggles and Rashid riding it like damned sailors. They managed to roll free as the room exploded in a storm of flying rocks and dust, if a bomb had gone off they wouldn’t have noticed it in the noise. They stood up and looked gingerly about the room.
“I think we killed it,” said Rashid.
“I am Biggles you know,” Biggles grinned. “That’s what I do. I'm spiffying!”
The scorpion jumped on the fallen head of Hammurabi, its red eyes glowing in the gloom and raised its fangs like a toreador with his swords. The fangs were so large it made the Hound of the Baskerville look like a rabbit with mange. With this apparition, any pretence of bravery fled the two and they fought each other up the stairs and raced off in opposite directions. Minutes later Biggles arrived back at Camp Adder with the Marine Corps harrier jet still camouflaged as a camel.
“Biggles,” asked the group captain, “where in blazes have you been?”
“Sightseeing,” Biggles said over his shoulder as he headed back to the officers regimental mess where he knew an infinite supply of booze was hiding. “They have some amazing tourist attractions over here.”
Copyright reserved by Jim O’Brien ©