“Sir, please, if you’d just reconsider–“
“Captain Jarvis, you are walking a very thin line here,” the general interrupted. “I care for neither your tone nor your attitude, and I’ll remind you that you are speaking to a superior.”
“I’m well aware of that, sir,” Edwin replied, but without even a hint of backing down “Be that as it may, you have several letters of transit at your personal disposal–“
“Those are for people of quantifiable worth,” the general huffed. “Doctors, inventors, scientists–“
“Her father is a doctor,” Edwin said desperately.
“Not one of any great renown,” the general replied. “Innovative doctors, Captain, that can serve King and country–“
“And it’s for you to decide a person’s worth?” Edwin demanded. “Sir, people are being killed because of some lunatics personal vendetta–“
“Be that as it may, Captain, it is not this military’s responsibility to rescue the entire Jewish nation because one girl was fool enough to spread her legs for you!”
Edwin looked down quickly as his hand clenched into a fist at his side, his entire body shaking with the effort it took not to take a swing. “All duerespect, sir,” he managed, his voice a little strangled, “I’m asking for three people. That’s hardly the entire Jewish nation, regardless of my motivations. That said, there isn’t a person in that particular demographic who isn’t worth rescue–“
“They’ll be saved by winning the war,” the general cut in. “It’s not the number of people, Jarvis, it’s the precedent it sets. What will people think if I sign official documents just to allow transport for your girlfriend and her parents?”
“That you’re a decent human being?” Edwin suggested, before he could stop himself. “But that certainly wouldn’t do, would it?”
The general gave him a long, calculating look. “Captain Jarvis, over the past several months, you’ve exhibited increasingly erratic behavior: assaulting civilians, bar fights with your peers, showing disrespect for your superiors and their decisions–“
“Only when those decisions are deeply misguided,” Edwin cut in, raising an eyebrow, and the general’s eyes narrowed dangerously.
Edwin snapped to attention, his arm raising in salute even as his jaw clenched painfully. The general walked around him, watching him.
“That is not an opinion your rank allows,” the general spat. “You will do well to remember that, Captain. All this behavior is centered around a girl, of which thousands exist back home for you to take your pick of. Consider that, and the lengths you’re willing to go for the Hungarian hotel clerk who likely only sees you as a means to an end. Dismissed.”
Edwin snapped off his salute and turned smartly for the door, not bothering with so much as a passing glance at the general as he exited the office. He refused to believe that Anna was manipulating him in any way–after all, she had no way of even knowing about the documents, and said herself in her letters not to worry about them–but he did agree with one thing the general had said. He did need to consider thoroughly the lengths he was willing to go to for her, and what risks would prove too great.
It took less than a minute to determine that he would stop at nothing if there was even a chance of making sure Anna was safe.
“So, how’d the tete a tete with the powers that be go?” asked a fellow officer–Jones–as Edwin entered the dining hall.
“As well as to be expected,” Edwin told him, accepting the offered cigarette and lighting it absently.
“He pulled rank after you called him a moron?”
“Near enough,” Edwin said with a shrug, and Jones shook his head with a chuckle.
“Brass balls on you,” the other man said. “Not just anyone who’d waltz into McGinnis’s office still sporting that black eye.”
“It’s certainly not my fault that most servicemen don’t have the education to dance.”
“Don’t have the stones, more like,” Jones snorted. “I’m going to take a stab in the dark and assume your restriction’s been extended?”
“You know, he didn’t say,” Edwin mused. He took another drag from his cigarette and cut a sideways look at Jones. “Jones, you’re off active duty tonight, aren’t you?”
“Why? You trying to get in on that RAF boxing match?”
“Not immediately,” replied Edwin. “Although I wouldn’t rule it out. I had something else in mind for this evening, however.”
Jones gave Edwin a long look before shaking his head again. “You’re going to be court-martialed before this war is over. You know that, right?”
“It’s possible. So will you take my watch tonight?”
“I’m going to regret this,” Jones sighed.
“Only if I get caught, at which point, you’ll still have plenty of plausible deniability.”
“Cheers,” Jones grumbled, and Edwin flashed a grin at him.
Howard Stark wandered through Whitehall without any real purpose in mind. He was supposed to be in a meeting with McGinnis, but had been told the general had been detained without any other information. It was annoying, considering he’d come all the way to London for this, but military men tended to get cranky easy. He decided wasting an afternoon rambling still beat being on the wrong side of a firing squad.
It still cheered him up to see the familiar long shape of Captain Jarvis walking ahead of him. Howard called out the man’s name, then jogged to catch up when Jarvis paused and turned.
“Mister Stark. I did wonder if I’d see you today. But aren’t you supposed to be in a meeting?”
“Yeah, dunno what happened, guess McGinnis had something else to take care of.”
“Is that right?” Jarvis asked, and Howard frowned at the way the man stiffened and cast a paranoid eye around the street.
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Jarvis said, but remained on alert. “Was there something I can do for you?”
“Not really,” Howard told him with a shrug. “Just trying to pass the time. Kinda nice, not having anything to do. Had all my time being taken up lately with this Doctor Erskine chap–“
“Erskine?” Jarvis asked with a frown. “German?”
“Yeah, you know how it is,” Howard shrugged. “Big inventor type, so the good old US of A granted him asylum in exchange for his brains.”
Jarvis let out a bitter laugh. “Of course they did. After all, he has quantifiable worth.”
His lips twisted in disdain with the last words, and Howard again got the feeling that something was very amiss with the captain. “You alright, Jarvis?”
“I’m f–” The captain froze when he caught sight of something behind Howard, who glanced back to see several MP’s headed in their direction. Jarvis was pale when Howard looked back at him. “Mister Stark, I wonder if I might be able to ask a rather large favor of you.”
“Jarvis what’s going on?”
“It would appear I’ve made a sizable miscalculation,” the captain replied. “That’s of very little concern at the moment.”
“Oh, well, as long as I don’t need to be concerned,” Howard snapped as the MP’s approached them.
“Captain Edwin Jarvis,” one of them said. “It is our duty to inform you that you are being court-martialed on the charge of treason against the crown.”
“Treason? Jarvis, what did you do?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jarvis said urgently, his eyes darting between the men. Howard had seen the captain box, and knew he could probably take at least a couple of them, but not four, and definitely not without making matters worse for himself. “Listen, whatever happens to me–“
“Captain Jarvis, you need to cease conversation and come with us immediately,” another MP cut in, struggling to cuff Jarvis.
“There’s a girl,” Jarvis continued desperately, disregarding the officers. “Anna Kovách. Mister Stark, she’s in very real danger. Please, I beg of you, you carry a considerable amount of influence, please get her out of Budapest.”
“I’ll do what I can,” Howard promised, watching unhappily as Jarvis submitted to being led away through the crowd of gawkers that had shown up. After a moment, he turned to the crowd in irritation. “Alright, show’s over, folks. Get back to worrying about your own lives.”
Howard mulled over the situation as he headed back for his hotel. Nothing about this sat right with him; Jarvis was an odd duck, for sure–he seemed just as at home serving tea for the general and his guests as knocking out a fighter pilot twice his size–but Howard couldn’t see him committing treason. And the girl…strange request while being arrested. Anyone else would be asking for help with his defense at the very least.
Howard made a call to McGinnis once he was back in his room, but was told only that the general would be unavailable for the rest of the day. That made sense, given that his assistant was being held in the stockade. He wasn’t entirely sure what to do then; he couldn’t really get more information on Anna Kovách from London, but he wasn’t about to fly out and abandon his friend before he got to the bottom of the story. After some consideration, he left his hotel again, bound for the base. Maybe he couldn’t see the general, but that wasn’t going to stop him from talking to anyone else.
“I’m sorry, Mister Stark, but General McGinnis isn’t in his office yet.”
“Is he really not there, or is he avoiding me?” Howard asked, raising an eyebrow at the secretary.
“He’s not in,” the girl repeated, eyes wide. “I don’t see why anyone would want to avoid you, Mister Stark.”
Ah. Now that he could work with.
“He’s still upset about me taking all his money at the last poker game,” Howard lied smoothly. “I’m here to make amends. Listen, doll, how about I just wait in his office for him, stop bothering you?”
“Oh, you’re not bothering me,” she giggled.
“Not yet,” he said, leaning toward her. “But if I stick around a pretty girl like you too long, I might forget why I’m here and bother you right out of the office to the dance hall down the street, and then where would we be?”
“Having more fun,” she replied.
“Tell you what,” he said, coming around the desk and taking her hand to pull her to her feet. “The real worry is leaving me alone in his office with all those sensitive documents and things, right?”
“I suppose,” she admitted, following with a small smile as he started walking backwards toward the office.
“So, then, the solution is simple,” he said, reaching back to open the door with his free hand. “You just can’t leave me alone.”
The girl was more than willing to accept this compromise, and Howard decided that spending half an hour necking with McGinnis’s secretary was even better than waiting alone in the office for him to show up.
“Oh, I say, Mister Stark!” the general burst out when he did finally make an appearance. “Is that really necessary?”
“Sorry, General McGinnis,” the secretary said meekly, wiping at her smudged lipstick as she slid out from between Howard and the desk.
“Yes, alright,” McGinnis sighed. “If you’d please return to your desk.”
“Right away, sir,” she said, ducking her head and hurrying toward the door.
“Bother you later, Pearl,” Howard called after her, grinning at the blush that spread over her cheeks before she left, closing the door behind her.
“Must you fondle all my secretaries?” McGinnis asked with an air of long-suffering as Howard pulled out his handkerchief to clean up the lipstick.
“Depends,” Howard replied, rounding the desk to sit in the general’s chair, kicking his feet up on the desk. “Must you hire such attractive young ladies as your secretary?”
McGinnis gave a hard look at Howard’s shoes, but shook his head when he was ignored completely. “Can I assume that passive harassment is not your only reason for visiting?”
“Fun as that is, no,” Howard said, stuffing his handkerchief back in his pocket and lacing his hands over his stomach. “Tell me about Captain Jarvis.”
“Oh, yes, you were there when he was arrested,” the general said. “Might I have my seat?”
“I’m comfortable,” Howard replied. And you’re not, and I intend to keep you that way as long as possible. “I’d like to know what exactly he’s done. According to everyone else on this base, he’s been the model soldier.”
“What exactly is your stake in this matter?” McGinnis asked.
“That’s my business.”
McGinnis gave him an appraising look, then took a seat in one of the chairs in front of his desk. “He disregarded something explicitly told to him, stole sensitive documents, and forged high level signatures.”
“Your signature,” Howard guessed. “On what?”
“If you must know, they were letters of transport.”
“For Anna Kovách,” Howard finished. While he hadn’t gotten any actual information on the girl, there had been one officer he’d spoken with the day before that had been enlightening. “A lot of things go back to her, don’t they? I hear there’s a guy laid up in medical with a broken jaw, courtesy of Captain Jarvis.”
“I’m aware,” McGinnis said. “Captain Jarvis was under disciplinary action for that.”
“Were you also aware that the man was heard making anti Jewish remarks beforehand?” Howard asked, then shook his head. “Gonna be hard for him to do that for a while, jaw wired shut like it is.”
“He was joking.”
“Not so funny to Jewish people.”
“Captain Jarvis isn’t Jewish,” McGinnis reminded him.
“No, but the girl is. In either case, seems like the guy was begging to get hit.”
“What does this have to do with anything?” McGinnis demanded, getting to his feet again and starting to pace.
“Well, from what I know of Captain Jarvis, he might’ve been able to limit himself to giving the comedian a stern talking to…but he’s in love.” The general gave a dismissive snort as he pulled out his cigarette case. “Not everyone is a jaded old man. He met her, what, four years ago? Doesn’t sound much like a soldier’s dalliance to me.”
“Explain to me how any of this is relevant,” McGinnis said, lighting a cigarette and sliding the case back into his breast pocket.
“Because it’s treason,” Howard reminded him hotly. “It’s not as if he’s been trading secrets with the Nazis; that man is going to hang for trying to save a girl’s life! Hitler cares even less about her than you do, but he still wants her dead, for no other reason than because she’s Jewish.”
“Every single one of those letters must be defended,” McGinnis snapped. “He signed my name, completely disregarded my authority, and I cannot defend resources funneled to save a girl just because she’s turned him into a love sick puppy! That is not how his Majesty’s military functions!”
“Let his Majesty hang!” Howard roared, and the general spun in surprise. “Quantifiable worth, that’s what you said, wasn’t it? When you refused him? Well, now he’s going to die because he–understandably–disagreed with your methods of measuring worth and tested your authority. If you can still sleep at night with that on your conscience, good for you, but I sure as hell can’t.”
McGinnis stopped, watching Howard as a muscle twitched in his jaw. “This is not your place, and not your business–”
“No? Well, what is my business is all the inventions that will suddenly be enormously unavailable to you the minute Jarvis gets the noose.”
“Dammit, Stark, there’s a war on!” McGinnis shouted, leaning on the desk, but Howard wasn’t intimidated. He stood, mirroring the general’s posture so he was nose to nose with the officer.
“Yeah, there is, but if you let good men go to the gallows to pull rank, I dunno which side to root for,” he said, his tone dangerously calm. “That’s not the kind of person I want having access to my equipment, and if you try to force it, I’ll tie it all up in courts until long after this war is over.”
McGinnis stared him down for a beat, then eased back to sit in one of the chairs again. Howard returned to his earlier position, feet up on the desk once more.
“This cannot go without due punishment,” McGinnis said, taking another drag of his cigarette with a calculating expression.
“Didn’t say it wouldn’t,” Howard told him with a shrug. “Just not death. So how about it, General? You’ve got the power to make something I want happen, and I’ve got the power to withhold something you want. Let’s talk.”