Churchill and the Grangetown Gang – a short steampunk story
From an interview with Winston S Churchill for ‘The Secret History of the Ministry of Industry, Technology and the Paranormal’ by the Ironopolis Broadcasting Company, Ottowa, 1947
“At that time – the winter of 1911 – Great Britain, and in particular Ironopolis City, was the refuge for several Russian émigré gangs, that we would, today, call terrorists.
These vicious gangs were self-contained, bound together by race and experience, and intent on ‘expropriating’ – stealing – funds, to continue their struggle against the Tsarist regime with its secret police, in Mother Russia.
Over the spring and summer of that year, the thefts and violence had intensified, with robberies of banks, gun stores, and the Royal Mail taking place. These culminated in a botched hold-up in the east of London. A local Bobby had happened to disturb the villains as they were breaking and entering the rear of a Jewish jewellery store over the Sabbath, and these criminals had turned their illegal weaponry on him and shot him, then scarpered, leaving him to die in the gutter, but not before an outcry had begun.
A bizarre chase followed, through terraced houses, up alleyways, along canals, across bridges and into the outskirts of the city. The perpetrators ran, walked, and even commandeered trams and bicycles in their efforts to flee… always followed by a crowd of angry citizens, who only held back due to threats of gunfire.
Eventually, one of their number – Anatoly Kerenka – was cornered in a small farmhouse, where he failed in his attempt to take the farmer’s wife hostage. The members of a local shooting club had been called out en route, along with three armed policemen from the local district, and these started blazing away at the upper windows of the building where the terrorist had been seen. In turn, Kerenka would occasionally reply with a small bore pistol.
After some twenty minutes, and with the shots from the farmhouse reducing and then going silent, the citizen sharpshooters ceased their fire, and two of the Policemen agreed to enter the building.
They approached without injury, and made their way upstairs to the bullet-devastated bedroom. There they found Kerenka. He was lying in a pool of his own blood, and had been hit several times. The last of these shots had severed his Carotid artery causing him to bleed out within seconds. Interestingly, all his clothes had been ripped to shreds, as if from the inside out, and a small, smashed and empty vial, containing the residue of a blue liquid was discovered close by. At that time no physical explanation could be found for the clothes, and it was assumed the vial contained a suicide poison.
Of Kerenka’s accomplices nothing could be found. They had disappeared into one of the rookeries of crime that still blighted our fair city in those days.
But as the following day dawned the Metropolitan Police had had a break-through. The sister of one of the gang’s ‘communal wives’ – in an attempt to avoid being implicated in their dastardly deeds – had approached the Whitechapel Police Station with information on their safe house in Sydney Street.
Within the hour the immediate area had been surrounded. Armed Police and local Territorial Militia were taking up positions in the terraced housing opposite and behind, and further men had cordoned off both ends of the street.
As Home Office Minister in that fateful year, it was my job to ensure that these dastardly deeds were brought to a close, and that these foreigners, these Bolsheviks – who were taking full advantage of our Laws and Liberties to wreak mayhem across the capital and industrial cities of the Realm – were brought to justice. So when a note concerning the situation was passed to me in The House [The New Westminster Chamber, in the World Parliament], I rose, gave my apologies to my colleagues, and left, determined to be in at the kill.
Why did I go you ask? Even when young I had always enjoyed being close-to-the-action. First in India against the Pathans, then in The Sudan against the Hordes of the Mahdi, and then against those redoubtable farmers, The Boers, at the turn of the century. And it was whilst still young I realised I had another vice – my ego.
So the simple reason I wanted to be in Sydney Street that day, was that I was eager to be photographed by the news reporters.
Little then did I imagine, in my New Westminster Parliament chambers, as I collected my top hat, put on my fur-lined over-coat, and picked up my trusty Mauser automatic pistol, the world I would be introduced to, or the horror and the insanity I would see erupt across Europe that year. Little did I realise the danger our glorious Empire faced, or that the fate of the English-speaking peoples would hang by a thread.
My chauffeur drove the official car out of The City, and eastward towards that hellish corner of the Imperial capital… Grangetown.
We arrived to the sound of sporadic but sustained gunfire, and the crackling and popping of timbers burning.
To my disgust, and with a stupidity that can only have been born by someone for whom military action happens elsewhere… preferably foreign… I discovered that Detective Inspector Hugh Greenaway had stepped forward into the street in front of the house and declaimed “Come out, we have you surrounded”. At which point, Alexander Petrovsk – one of the terrorists – promptly shot him through the head from the downstairs window, simultaneously ensuring Petrovsk hanging had he been caught, and relieving me from having to dismiss Greenaway at some later date.
This debacle was closely followed by Sergeant Howard crying “J***s C****t. They’ve killed the Boss. Open fire.”
At which point over thirty Policemen and Soldiers opened up on number 13 Sydney Street, shattering windows, turning good London brick into lethal ricochets, and starting a fire when portable oil lamp was struck spraying the lower front room with fire.
I admit, at this point I too joined in the assault with my automatic pistol, peaking around the corner, resting the magazine over my left arm, and taking pot shots at the now smoke billowing windows.
And still the culprits returned our fire.
Indeed, it was only after a further twenty-five minutes did their response start to dwindle. At this point smoke and flames gushed out of both the upper and lower floors, and the Fire Brigade was waiting anxiously behind the nearest barricades, for an opportunity to save the houses on either side of blazing house.
Meanwhile, I had taken charge of the situation, ordering four Guardsmen and two Policemen to follow me through the alleyway behind the dwelling, breaking down the wooden gate to the yard, and approaching the back door, now smoking, hissing and whisping around the top of it’s blistering surface.
And then… it happened.
A blackened, smoke engrained figure – Karol Dolovsky I later learned – burst through the door. Literally burst through the door. And he was changing, even as he picked himself up from the splintered pieces… his nose elongating, face bristling with growing fur… his clothes splitting and his hands contracting and sprouting wicked claws.
“My God” I thought, and all seven of us raised our guns and fired with that same thought!
I would like to say it was easy. I cannot. I would like to say we delivered justice that day. We did not. We were driven by terror… sheer bloody terror that drove us, as the thing that was Dolovsky, shaking with anger, flinching with the strength of dark science, rose and leapt at our group, ripping one after another of our group apart, as if we were tissue paper.
With my own eyes, I saw Dolovsky take at least nine bullets – including two from my own pistol – and two bayonet thrusts, and yet when a bullet finally split an artery, spraying blood everywhere, and felling the Werewolf, only three of our number were left, panting, shaking, and clutching our many wounds and bites.
The death of the Grangetown Gang was not to be the end – as I had hoped – indeed it was not the beginning of the end; in fact, it was only the end of the beginning.”