Chapter Seven

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William signed David in as his guest, then after they had been escorted to a private room, he told the steward, "We'll order lunch after Mr Lloyd-George arrives." He motioned to the chairs. "Please, let's sit, David."

"This is a fine, old building. Beautifully decorated. What is it?"

"Brooks's Club. It's one of the earlier men's clubs, and these are our new premises." He smiled. "We moved into these in 1778."

"New?" David laughed. "Good lord, Captain Cook first met the Nootka, the stone-age natives on the coast of Vancouver Island in 1778. There's such a different sense of time between here and home." He examined the room. "So, who are the members here?"

"It began as a club for the aristocracy — those with liberal leanings — and over the years, prominent Whig politicians have been invited to join. It was set up as a comfortable place to wine, dine and gamble out of the public eye. Over the years, it became known for the eccentric bets placed by its members." He looked at his watch. "We've still several minutes. Let me show you some of the strange bets on the books."

William led David into the reading room, selected a volume, and opened it to the first ribbon. "The old volumes are marked to prevent too much page turning searching for the good ones. This bet was placed in 1785."

David bent to read the entry: Ld. Cholmondeley has given two guineas to Ld. Derby, to receive 500 Gs whenever his lordship fucks a woman in a balloon one thousand yards from the Earth. He roared a laugh, then he shook his head. "They were very current — the first balloon flight, the Montgolfier brothers, was only two years before that."

"Our members have always been very aware of events..." He paused and looked at David. "You're well up on your history."

"On some of it, yes. With topics which interest me, like early flying history. My mother's uncle had assisted Clément Ader to build the boiler and steam engine for his Avion, and he was there in 1890 when Ader became the first man to fly a heavier-than-air machine off the ground."

"Most interesting. You seem to have a great memory for detail." He glanced at his watch. "We should get back. We don't want to keep him waiting."

As they took their seats again, David asked, "Who am I meeting?"

"The Minister of Munitions, Mr Lloyd-George. He's pulled us out of the shell crisis, and he's significantly increased our output. Among other things, he's taken responsibility for weapons production away from the generals and has given it to a newly created department based on industrial standards. This has already done wonders."

David nodded as he listened. "Keep the generals from fucking it up. We need more thinking like this... Sorry... I saw too much incompetence at the Front, and I —"

"Tut, tut. You express a common opinion. One we hear often, and one with good reason behind it. We're slowly making changes. Moving competent people like you more rapidly up the chain. We recommended a promotion to Major for you, and they've agreed. You've been gazetted as a substantive Captain and an acting Major." He reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope. "Here is an assortment of crowns and braid for your uniforms." He chuckled. "If you ever get to wear..."

William paused as he stood and extended his hand to the man entering the room. "Thank you for coming, Sir." They shook hands, then William introduced them. "David, meet David."

"We've been following your exploits through reports, and Mr Asquith asks me to convey his personal congratulations and those of his Cabinet. A very clean operation, and I'm delighted the Germans think it's their own people doing it. Now we need you to concentrate on hampering their munitions production. While it's good to destroy trains heading to the Front, better effect will come from slowing their production; from interfering with their ability to produce." He pointed to the chairs. "Let's sit."

Once they had settled around the table, Lloyd-George continued, "We thought we had their munitions production stymied with our blockade preventing their import of saltpetre and copper from Chile. Unfortunately for us, they've a new process that synthesises ammonia, so they're no longer dependant on imported nitrate. They opened a huge plant on the Rhine outside Mannheim a couple of years ago, ostensibly to increase their production of agricultural fertilisers. Of course, the same ingredients produce explosives."

"That's likely why the Kaiser had the ballocks to declare war. He had an assured supply." David tilted his head and looked at Lloyd-George. "What are their ingredients for the synthesising?"

"Air."

"Air?" David slowly nodded as he thought. "Yes, I see it would be. The atmosphere is over three-quarters nitrogen. They'd also need a source of ready hydrogen. What else do they need to make their ammonia?"

"High heat and high pressure, plus a catalyst of some sort. We see their most difficult part would be the power to run the plant. I'm sure they're building other plants as we speak. Likely near dependable power sources."

"So, slowing or stopping the shipments from the plants to the munitions factories would be the way to hinder their production. That seems to be a goal."

"That's what we've thought, David. We..." Lloyd-George paused as he looked up when the steward entered the room.

After William confirmed lunch service should proceed, he handed David a thick manila envelope. "Our latest intelligence and a plot map of their Army bases. Begin by concentrating on the central Rhine. Don't concern yourself with those in the western sector, though; the French are handling them."

"What about their aircraft plants? The submarine yards?"

"You concentrate now on slowing their deliveries from the synthesising plants. Without explosives, their aggressive ability collapses both on land and at sea, as well as now in the air."

David nodded. "You had also mentioned copper from Chile. What are they doing to replace that source? They need brass for shell casings."

"They're melting church bells, municipal monuments and copper roofs, and we've heard they're using pot-metal now for some of their casings."

"And the steel for the guns?" David paused. "No, I see they've all the mines and works in occupied France and Belgium. The coal and iron belt." David shook his head. "The Kaiser's generals really did think this through, didn't they? They had contingencies if the swift capture of Paris failed."

"That's what we've seen. But we also know they'll run out of resources if we continue to oppose them as we are."

"And how long will that take?"

"With you and others hampering them, within a year."

"A year? How many millions of lives have we lost now? How many millions have we yet to sacrifice?"

"We'll win, David. We'll win. Our munitions industry has recently become the largest buyer, seller, and employer in Britain, and we continue to expand. We're fully focused on stopping the aggression and pushing them back. We're now..." Lloyd-George paused as waiters came in with table settings, a tureen of soup and a bottle of wine.

"But, we should look beyond all that... Let's enjoy for a few moments, then we can get back into it. This smells splendid."

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