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Bavarian Fire Drill / Literature

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Bavarian Fire Drills in literature.


  • 1632:
    • In 1634: The Galileo Affair, Captain Lennox and his company manage to work their way into the church where Galileo's trial was being held by pretending to be a Polish delegation, based solely on the Horse Marines being in full dress uniform and exactly one of the group of a half-dozen—Father Gus Heinzerling, a German Jesuit—able to speak Polish.
    • Subverted in 1635: The Cannon Law. Ruy Sanchez tells several Spanish soldiers that he is a captain in the Spanish army, and gets valuable information from them. The Americans think he's pulled this, until Sharon informs them that Ruy is a captain in the Spanish army. He just left out the part where he's working for the Americans.
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  • The heroine of Andrew Clements' school story book, About Average, seems to have an almost instinctive grasp of the advice provided at the top of the real life section of this article. When her music class is trapped in a small school out-building during a recital by an approaching tornado that has already caused heavy damage and knocked their teacher unconscious, she quickly springs into action after mastering her fear. She gives clear, direct commands to specific individuals and assumes a no-questions attitude that is a big help in preventing what would have otherwise been a major disaster.
  • In the Anita Blake series, Anita uses it to varying success to bring along her Animator-in-training on a preternatural crime scene, get support from the police while under attack by zombies in her bedroom sent by a Vauduun High Priestess she rubbed the wrong way, and on many other occasions—though usually without lying directly, merely manipulating the facts. Typically by saying she's "with the police," which is true, it's not her fault if they assume that means the same thing as "I'm a cop."
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  • In Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code, Juliet pulls one by way of joining a SWAT team. Artemis also pulls them frequently.
  • Silk of The Belgariad series is a master of this tactic. On one occasion he gets the True Companions past a patrol looking specifically for them while fleeing an enemy stronghold by brazenly ordering the patrol to move their search to another area.
  • In Lawrence Block's The Burglar Who Painted Like Mondrian Bernie considers getting into the Charlemagne by starting a phony fire or bomb scare, putting on pajamas and a dressing-gown and mingling with the evacuated residents before giving up the idea when he realizes that it's too late in the evening to purchase said sleepwear. A few paragraphs earlier he calculates the possible success of a similar scheme involving pretending to be a doctor or a priest.
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  • In Dance Of The Butterfly, the vigilante uses this technique to try to get he kidnapped sex slaves out of the criminal's compound, shouting out in an authoritative tone for everyone to evacuate. The fact the vigilante has set off precise explosions to cause fire and chaos only helps to lend legitimacy.
  • Scott Adams describes similar techniques in his books The Dilbert Principle and The Joy Of Work to escape meetings and unpleasant conversations. Most of them involve looking like you have more important things to be doing. Incidentally, he also recounts a story from his early days in the workforce when he tried this himself to get information he needed for a project by sounding more important than he was, but was seen through every time.
  • The title character from Douglas Adams' Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency cons his way onto the site of a murder investigation by simply falling into step with a policeman entering the crime scene and offhandedly saying, "It's okay, he's with me," to the officer stationed at the entrance. Once inside, by acting confident and official, he is able to order the cops to do several strange and useless things in order to get them out of the way. A detective who knew Dirk recognized he'd been present upon finding one cop disassembling a wastepaper basket and another defending a sofa immovably stuck halfway up the stairs with a handsaw.
    • In the sequel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, Dirk is prepared to use a rapidly-produced and -returned Marks and Spencer loyalty card as ID, only to find that the officer guarding the scene has been told who he is and to let him in.
  • Several characters in the Discworld novels have gotten their way simply by acting like they're in charge or that they belong where they're not supposed to be. Victor Tugelbend does it to get into a "clicks" studio in Moving Pictures, where the narration states "No-one with their sleeves rolled up who walks purposefully with a piece of paper held conspicuously in their hand is ever challenged." Moist von Lipwig is rather fond of this in Going Postal and Making Money. And Granny Weatherwax has passed for nobility in both Witches Abroad and Maskerade by simply dressing the part and being her usual bossy know-it-all self, since many folks on the Disc "confuse bad manners with good breeding". Nanny Ogg, on the other hand, gets through crowds by acting like a servant. Even Corporal "Nobby" Nobbs, who has to carry around papers proving his species (probably human), manages to pull this off with ease in Men at Arms. Although Nobby has spent time in the army (well, several armies, depending on who was winning) so he had probably has a lot of practice with this.
    • It's also been noted on at least one occasion that tenure at Unseen University is a matter of finding an empty office, turning up for dinner on time, and hoping you don't attract students.
    • Lu-Tze could be considered an inversion of this trope: he has considerable authority as the History Monks' top field operative, but slips by everyone unchallenged because he dresses simply and carries a broom. This makes him a servant and therefore invisible, even to novice History Monks. He became the best of the best because no one noticed him attending every single lesson and going anywhere he wanted in the temple.
    • When Sam Vimes finds himself faced with a situation where everyone is waiting for orders, he takes advantage by giving orders. It usually takes the rest of the universe a few seconds to catch up, and they don't always fully realize the situation.
    • Rincewind does this in Interesting Times. He runs into a school while being chased, dons a pair of glasses, and tells his would-be captors to get out of the exam he's presiding over. They abide.
    • William, in The Truth, exploits this technique when he tells Nobby "Yes, I've been talking to Commander Vimes, and now I would like to see the room where the crime was committed," and thinks that while the implication is that Vimes has given him permission, William has not claimed this. Unfortunately for him, he shortly runs into a smarter cop.
    • Nanny Ogg (mentioned above) puts this trope to such effective use that she's an entire intelligence network by herself. Where Granny practices stealth by remaining unseen, Nanny prefers to go unnoticed. She blends in and convinces everyone she's just a harmless, drunken, and, above all, common old biddy, and, before anyone realizes what they've said, she knows more than Granny would have found out with an hour of bullying.
    • Glenda from Unseen Academicals, after going through some Character Development, indulges in a bit of this. She describes it as taking advantage of the fact that, despite the impression some people give, most folks will not hit you with a hammer if you "step out of line" and will be at a complete loss if you do.
    • Vetinari actually is in charge so has no need to pull these off normally, but in Jingo he's disguised as a traveling entertainer and pulls one in order to steal a flying carpet. There's a donkey stuck up at the top of a minaret. Vetinari encourages someone to go and get him a flying carpet to get the donkey down. While the person is fetching it, Vetinari brings the donkey down from the minaret himself, then steals the carpet while everyone is arguing over how he did it.
  • In Doom, Fly and Arlene want to report to the Marines but the Mormons don't trust them yet. They bully their way to a radio by acting like an inventory sergeant and his assistant on a tour of inspection, complete with a Clipboard of Authority. Unfortunately, the Marines surrendered to the aliens and their report back to base leads to a human-led assault on the resistance compound. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!.
  • Dortmunder pulls this off brilliantly in What's the Worst That Could Happen?, managing to convince his target's bodyguards to hand the target over to him by faking a fire. (Incidentally, this is one of the few times where A Simple Plan of Dortmunder's runs exactly as he envisaged it.)
  • In Dragonlance, the kender have a saying: "Don't change color to match the walls. Act like you belong there and the walls will change color to match you!"
    • Used most famously when Tasslehoff Burrfoot, with a grin and a wave, was completely ignored by the guards inside one of the most secure government buildings in a city where anyone of his species is supposed to be arrested on sight.
  • The Dresden Files: Harry is fond of this technique. In Fool Moon, he turns it Up to Eleven with a potion that makes the drinker virtually unnoticeable if he makes even the weakest attempt to look like he belongs. It then backfires on him when he desperately needs to get someone's attention, only to have them react like he's making small talk.
  • The Bene Gesserit in Dune practice a pseudo-mind control technique called "the Voice" that essentially works like this. It's not as subtle in application—basically, instead of sneaking a push of the authority button and hoping nobody notices you shouldn't be pushing it, the Voice involves ramming that button so hard that the attached brain(s) can't help but respond.
  • The Executioner series: When he wasn't being a One-Man Army, Mack Bolan would often pull this stunt on both the local police and the Mafia, usually by posing as an outside Fed or elite hitman sent from New York to kill Bolan.
  • Gus pulls this in The Fault in Our Stars when he, Hazel, and Isaac egg Isaac's ex-girlfriend Monica's car and are caught by Monica's mom. It works.
    "Ma'am, your daughter's car is deservedly being egged by a blind man. Please go inside before we call the police."
  • In Futuretrack Five, it's how Kitson and Keri gain access to the Cambridge Centre. Justified somewhat in that he did work there in a position of some authority (technically still does and everyone he encounters recognises him) and knows both his way around and the people he encounters; this knowledge also allows him to teach Keri to look and act like she belongs. He even tells everyone to look out for intruders dressed as Paramils to add to the confusion.
  • In Glen Cook's Garrett, P.I. series, Garrett has done this on occasion, successfully entering and poking around crime scenes by acting like he's supposed to be there. As humans occupy so many positions of authority in Karenta, many nonhumans assume he's authorized to investigate simply because he's a human.
  • Gor: In Players of Gor, Tarl Cabot is rescued in a timely manner by Andronicus, the only serious actor in Boots Tarsk-Bit's troop, masquerading as a visiting general from an allied city. He says afterwards that "The Imperious General" is one of his best characterizations.
  • The protagonists of the Sven Hassel novels do this on several occasions. In "Blitzfreeze", Porta and Tiny con the commander of a supplies depot into giving them all the food they want by pretending to be undercover inspectors. In "Monte Cassino", Heide gets them through several roadblocks while dressed as an SS officer and blustering his way through (it helps that Heide is a rabid Nazi who always wanted to be in the SS, so the power goes to his head). They've also done the NKVD trick mentioned below in the Real Life section, while operating as a commando unit behind enemy lines.
  • In Dick Francis' High Stakes, a caper involving switching three horses around is managed by setting up an official-looking roadside mobile office, flagging down the trucks for a "census" and getting the drivers to stand in line waiting to fill out forms while outside their cargoes are being rearranged.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
    • In So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, Ford Prefect helps Arthur and Fenchurch board a flying saucer through a crowd of curious onlookers by wearing a lab coat and "randomly" choosing the couple to help him carry his "scientific equipment".
    • In Mostly Harmless, Ford gets himself and Arthur into an exclusive club with his usual method: he walks right past the bouncer, points at Arthur, and says, "He's with me."
    • At one point Ford mentions he and a rock band he used to hang out with would pretend to be health inspectors, eat other people's meals, and then get food poisoning.
  • A couple of Tom Holt's characters try this. Case in point: resurrected mercenary Kurt Lundqvist manages to hijack a plane by pretending to turn up to stop a hijacking, complete with using a library card to prove his identity.
  • Honor Harrington: This is the way Victor Cachat's Indy Ploys usually work.
    • During that memorable snafu in Crown of Slaves, he managed to enlist two Manticoran agents, a group of neutral Solarian officers (with their squadron), a bunch of local nobles/dignitaries (who he was courting all that time, trying to pry them from Manticoran Alliance), and the Royal Manticoran Navy Captain—all willingly and with their full support. They all knew who he was and followed him anyway. He also pulls a truly impressive diversion on the Masadan freighter crew, claiming to be a rogue State Sec agent who could possibly use some madmen like them, including at one point "proving" his own fanaticism by ordering the Masadan in charge of the self-destruct to push the button and then sneering when he doesn't do it.
    • His feat in Fanatic was no less impressive, but there he had some real authority and just twisted it to his needs.
  • In Horatio Hornblower novel Lieutenant Hornblower, Captain Sawyer—who is devolving into paranoid madness—falls down a hatchway while trying to roust out "mutineers" in the hold (namely, his lieutenants). It's witnessed only by Hornblower, who was unjustly punished, and a Midshipman Wellard, whom Sawyer had beaten repeatedly. Naturally this would lead to suspicions of foul play. The suspicions never take an official form because Hornblower immediately takes charge of the investigation with the midshipman as an assistant, and acting-captain Buckland is too unsettled to not let him. In the end, the question is never resolved because Wellard dies in a storm near the end of the book, and all Hornblower will ever say is that he didn't see it and it must have been an accident, in a very closed-off fashion.
  • The Trope Namer comes from the Illuminatus! trilogy, where Simon Moon used it to illustrate how most people will follow even nonsensical orders if given in a tone of authority: he stops several cars in the middle of traffic, shouting, "Bavarian Fire Drill! Everyone out! Stay in line!", getting the perplexed drivers to follow him in marching in a circle around their cars before then getting back in as if nothing had happened. The name itself is a reference to the old prank of a "Chinese fire drill", where the passengers in a car stopped at a sign or light all get out at once and get back in different seats.
    • And that name in turn comes from a messed up fire drill by Chinese sailors under British officers, where a miscommunication caused the bucket brigade to fill up buckets on one side of the ship and toss them out on the other side.
    • "Bavarian" is used because that was where the The Illuminati got their start, at least in Real Life.
  • In Inferno by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, the narrator and his guide blag their way into the Administrative Center of Hell by looking like badly-dressed officials (who will be assumed to be secret police).
  • In the Jack Ryan novel The Sum of All Fears, a group of German Marxist/Arab sympathizers—armed only with about ten purchased Russian colonel's uniforms—manage to convince the entire Russian East Berlin garrison to launch an attack on their American counterparts. Though, to be fair, disobedience in Soviet Russia was hardly the most healthy pastime, and, thanks to the Cold War, it only took a few tank shells from the Eastern side to cause a full Western retaliation, to which the Soviet troops naturally had to respond.
  • In The Lies of Locke Lamora, Locke often uses this to great effect in his schemes, pulling bystanders in and ordering them around to get the results he needs; he once notes that "it was strange, how readily authority could be conjured with nothing but a bit of strutting jackassery."
  • In The Machineries of Empire, Jedao takes over the Swanknot swarm by waltzing aboard under the pretense of being send there by the Command, with their supposed recommendation being the only thing letting him keep an entire swarm on hold, then acting with enough airs that the formation instinct kicks in and makes them all slavishly obedient.
  • In Eric Plume's Margin Play, one of these, of the "all you need to do is look like you belong there and know what you're doing" variety is how one character got the case files on a lawyer's client.
  • Used in Masques, where a character steals the keys, uses them to get something he wants out of a locked room, and on his way past the guards hands them the keys back and tells them to be more careful from now on. They don't notice that something is amiss until after he has left.
  • In My Life in the Mafia, mobster-turned-informant Vincent Theresa tells of how he stole a load of blank driver's licenses. He walked into the factory, asked someone where they kept the blank licenses, picked up a box of them, and walked out. Everyone he encountered just assumed he worked there.
  • In The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey, the main protagonist, Reynard "Reynie" Muldoon, tricks an unpleasant guard into letting him and the other members of the Society exit the house by stating that they were ordered to get some packages from the car, and then asking in a worried tone if he'll let them back in once they've got the packages. "After all, we do have permission."
  • A favorite tactic of Rashid in On Wings of Eagles, by Ken Follett. For instance, when the EDS men are detained as they're about to cross the Iranian border, Rashid realizes the overworked rebel commander is likely to just throw them into prison until he has time to deal with them, so takes the initiative by asking to discuss the matter with one of his subordinates, as the commander has clearly got more important matters to deal with. He does so, and as his commander has already accepted the authority of this stranger (ostensibly from the revolutionary committee in Tehran) Rashid is able to arrange a pass for the EDS men to cross the border.
  • Used by the central protagonist James Wormold in Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene, in which Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman, is recruited by MI-6 as an intelligence agent, stationed in Cuba during the Missile Crisis. His evidence for what he claims is a secret military instillation is several drawings of enlarged scale vacuum cleaner parts. For which he receives an OBE.
  • Near the end of The Princess Bride, as the heroes are escaping, they come across Yellin and some of the prince's forces. Westley, Inigo, and Fezzik are at a loss for what to do, but Buttercup handles it by advising the men that the prince has been tied up and they need to go rescue him. When Yellin protests that the men obey him, she stands up in the saddle and forcefully reminds them all that "I am the QUEEN!" It works.
  • Quantum Devil Saga: Avatar Tuner:
    • Lupa's Modus Operandi; he is only a Newbie - the lowest rank possible in the Junkyard - but he has such a commanding presence that he can order around anyone whether they know him or not, without ever being questioned. This includes a Tribe Leader (highest rank) from a different tribe, said leader's lieutenant, a lieutenant from yet another tribe, and several dozens of random people (again, not from his tribe).
    • This is how Shin Minase managed to manipulate Varin Omega. He just wore The Church's uniform - the highest authority in the Junkyard - and pretended to be an agent of theirs.
  • In Book 8 of the Ranger's Apprentice series, Will uses this to infiltrate an Outsider camp. One of Halt's many Ranger lessons is "Always seem to have a purpose. If people think there's a reason you're in a place, odds are they won't bother to challenge you."
  • Redwall:
    • Brome uses this to rescue captives from the enemy camp. He disguises himself in the clothing of a wounded foebeast and then helps an actual wounded foebeast back to the camp. Once inside, he knocks out the foebeast, frees the captives -recruiting one of them to pretend to be a second guard - and leads the group of detainees to a secret exit. They get noticed by a real guard, then another "''real''" guard, but Brome manages to bluff them out of the conversation, twice. They finally escape the camp, nearly killing themselves in the consequential chase.
    • Ironically, this is also how Redwall finally falls. After elaborate schemes such as a battering ram and a siege tower have failed, Cluny's forces capture a family of dormice. They force one to infiltrate the abbey by keeping the rest as hostages. The dormouse dresses in a habit (taken from one of Redwall's defenders who was killed in a previous battle) and walks up to the abbey while carrying a plank over his shoulder. The defenders are carrying out repairs, so the dormouse easily joins them, even receiving a meal from them. At nightfall, he opens a side door and lets the invaders in.
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel: The Pimpernel often uses this tactic. One example from the first book has a guard leader at a town gate, particularly determined to locate the Pimpernel, rigorously searching the carts and belongings of a group of traders and farmers. Once they're gone, however, a squad of soldiers rides up and announces that the Pimpernel has just smuggled a group of escaped prisoners through disguised as farmers and traders, prompting the alarmed guard to send them right through in pursuit. Only while the Pimpernel and the prisoners were disguised and did pass through that gate, they weren't disguised as farmers and traders...
  • Also from Robert Anton Wilson, who co-wrote Illuminatus!, is The Schroedinger's Cat trilogy, where it's at one point mentioned how Malaclypse the Younger started to drive around in a van with "United Cocaine Smugglers" written in a professional-looking font on the side. At first he got stopped by the police at every turn, the whole thing ended up in the news, and the police became laughingstocks. Eventually, they gave up and stopped paying attention to the van. Suddenly, there were hundreds of vans around the country with the same logo on their sides.
  • In Tim Dorsey's Serge A. Storms books, Serge and his accomplice Coleman pull off a series of ATM thefts simply by walking into a convenience store and wheeling the ATM out on a hand truck. The reason they were allowed to do it? Serge walked in with a clipboard and started making notes to project an air of authority.
  • So, we are approaching the climax of the Sherlock Holmes pastiche, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. Hot on the trail of the Big Bad, Holmes is in need of transportation. He employs a fairly-illegal technique to do so (i.e., hijacks a train at gunpoint), while a police sergeant is standing right behind him. The sergeant starts to protest—whereupon Holmes turns around and gives the man orders in his masterful way and the sergeant runs off to execute them just on the strength of Holmes' delivery. It wasn't even a British policeman.
  • Somewhither: Abby, the plucky teenage ninja girl, recommends the best way to avoid getting caught in the Dark Tower: when there are alarms blaring, the way to avoid getting caught is to look absolutely unconcerned and not to run or show fear.
  • In Star Trek: Cold Equations, book two, Lieutenant Chen is left in command of the Enterprise while the rest of the senior staff are on Orion, and ends up in a standoff with a Gorn ship and another Sovereign-class starship about to fire on each other. She notes internally that she doesn't have superior rank (the other Federation ship has a Lieutenant Commander in charge), a superior ship, or better knowledge of the tactical situation. Externally, she hides her rank insignia and bellows at the other Starfleet officer to back off (even snapping "That's an Order!" despite the fact she doesn't outrank him). It works.
  • The Stormlight Archive book 1, The Way of Kings: Near the end, Kaladin pulls this when Dalinar's army is betrayed by Sadeas. Not only does he go back to rescue an entire army with only thirty men, but he also starts ordering around the soldiers who completely outrank him (he's a slave). To take it Up to Eleven, he then proceeds to promote soldiers, order around Adolin, the Highprince's son, and then decides to go find Dalinar, the Highprince and commanding general himself, and order him to flee. And it works.
  • Richard K. Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs: In Altered Carbon, Kovacs manages to bluff his way out of a summary execution following a virtual reality torture session by threatening the Envoy Corp's (think big bad space marine types) wrath if they don't let him go. Downplayed in that he was an Envoy, but had left a fair time prior to the book's start.
  • In The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign, Kyousuke needs to infiltrate a hotel where a VIP is staying. As it happens, there's a musical currently airing in the local area, with the White Queen as the lead character... and the actual White Queen is currently working with Kyousuke. He messes up her hair, throws a towel at her and berates her, pretending that she's the lead actress of said musical and that he's another member of the staff. To further the deception, he makes his smartphone ring and pretends to answer a call from his boss.
  • Vorkosigan Saga:
    • Miles Vorkosigan pulls these off with remarkable skill. In The Warrior's Apprentice, he parlays an old freighter, a bodyguard, a friend, and a couple of losers into a mercenary fleet—with him as its Admiral, a persona/disguise he would use on occasion for over ten years—in a matter of weeks, mostly by force of personality. Not only was he seventeen at the time, but the entire thing was a series of scrambling improvisations started by his impulsive effort to keep the pilot of said freighter (then docked at his mother's homeworld) from doing something stupid because it was about to be scrapped. And then keeps said mercenary fleet (mostly) fooled until he was thirty. Miles Vorkosigan: Galactic Champion of Making Shit Up.
    • Miles very much gets this from his mother. The Vorkosigan Saga starts off before Miles is born with Shards of Honor, featuring Miles' mom-to-be Cordelia Naismith, who, over the course of the novel, escapes from some government goons and then flim-flams her way past a couple of tabloid journalists and a spaceport ticket clerk, culminating in fast-talkingnote  a young space freighter pilot (in fact, the same freighter pilot Miles would help almost twenty years later) into giving her an entirely-unauthorized ride offplanet...all while wearing (presumably fuzzy) slippers. This some time after she'd already almost singlehandedly quelled a mutiny on a Barrayaran military ship, despite being a prisoner on the ship at the time.
  • Wasp: Used by Mowry to great effect. Half of his schemes work on the basis "act as if you were in charge, and nobody will question you". For example, he gets past a military cordon without an exit permit and without being asked too many questions by virtue of being disguised as a Military Intelligence officer and speaking with complete confidence. In another case he manages to plant fake wire-tapping devices on rooftops in full view of numerous bystanders, simply by doing so "openly and with quiet confidence."
  • In Watership Down, the rabbit hero El-ahrairah (a trickster god) does this in some of his adventures. Inspired by his tales, several protagonist rabbits imprisoned in another warren pull this to distract a guard.


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