How Old Is Mae West?
Berlin-Hamburger Bahn, 1919. No, What’s That? A Pub?
The coach banged on misaligned rails, unusual to Henry Lord Rockingham’s mind for if there was one thing he would say for the German it was that they did not sulk. A few days before he had witnessed a scrap between a handful of Freikorps and the... KPD, Spartacists, the little-league-of-uppity-bakers? It was rather difficult to tell. He had watched it briefly before returning to dress, picking plaster from his shaving bowl when by the sound of it a small field gun had been employed below. Choosing the tweed and his father’s reliable shoes it had been some small while before he returned to the window. Shoes now on broken glass he had looked out to see that the fighting already passed people were in the street stacking bricks, quite extraordinary.
Henry liked the German, who was clean, orderly and honest even if to his mind then a nation of young men ready to grab with both hands a more exciting cause. He loathed the French and his time there had been a round of disturbing toilets, and so many variations on the language that the interminable hours in which the Rev. Dr Locke had drummed the language into him as a boy had been hours interminably wasted.
The carriage bore no signs of ever having been used as a troop-transport though doubtless that had been the case. If it was sparse then it was tidy, rips stitched if not replaced and curtains by the fade collected from carriages wrecked to make up, here, a whole. Lord Rockingham would have preferred compartments but that had not been possible so he shared the carriage with others suited and talking just as quietly as he. To Jeremiah he said again, “You’ve down marvellous work, but it’s time to come home.”
“Not sure of that,” said Jeremiah. A man more roguish than handsome Jeremiah had all the physical necessities for the sort of bluff adventurer Aunt Minerva was apt to cultivate. Despite that he had proven to have a remarkable mind, a weasel with a capacity for survival at odds with his appearance. He had been in Bode for some years, rather too long Rockingham had begun to suspect. This actually served the Lord well (who was trying his very hardest to make sure the devilish fellow did not in fact come anywhere near England again). Jeremiah had arrived breathless and alarmed, clutching the oiled leather case that sat now under Rockingham’s shoes. Having been given time to formulate his argument he said, “There’s definitely more afoot, people are up to something, deadly danger and artful peril, I couldn’t possibly return to England. Duty forbids.”
“Also, certain debts?”
Jeremiah ignored that. His sails full he pressed on, “Much as I long for England’s fog and capacity to make a pudding both hard and soggy at the same time, you need me back with the Bodes. Why Imric would just go to pieces without me. I taught him everything he knows of course. He’s a fool, but like a simple child that drools on your shoulder I feel a certain affection. He would starve without me.”
“But all an act of course?”
“No, no I assure you. All his great deeds are probably down to me.”
Rockingham as pleased with the turn of the conversation as he was bored of playing it dug out the best card. He laid it down carefully, “But think of the women of Britain, Jeremiah. Think of your wife. Either of them.”
Jeremiah ran a finger about his collar. “There is no flower finer than the English rose.”
“I rather prefer her green orchids, but do carry on. I’m sure you’re going somewhere with this.”
“What man of good statue and full trousers can resist the soft, doughy, stumpy delights of the matrimonial bed of England? Whilst outside the rain falls romantically, yet we inside a tiny house warm ourselves with endless weak milky tea. You’ve no idea,” said Jeremiah. He licked a finger to smooth one side of his neat moustache, “The differences in Bavaria. Why all the women there are far too tall. Their athletic legs pumping in daily exercise, the shorts... Oh god, the little shorts. Healthy, vital, with those simply awful thrusting bosoms, and they’re tall. So very tall.”
“You mentioned how tall they were.”
“And there’s no tea at all, only coffee, and the beers all nasty, and tasty. And they don’t have proper rainy hills you can walk up. Oh no, they’re so majestic you have to ski down them. And the women,” said Jeremiah, “are so very tall.”
Having wandered down the train The Little Tramp sat beside Jeremiah, tipped his hat to Lord Rockingham, and held his face in horror when both men jumped to their feet and together squealed.
Clapham Common, 1979. Absolute Endings
Jimmy Cooper cuffed at his tears angry with himself, his parka sleeve a schoolboy’s jumper. He hadn’t even got as far as Brighton. He hadn’t even got out of Clapham. Riding alone he had been pelted with beer cans by punks in Southwark, nearly skidding on the black ice. It weren’t right, none of it were right, the year was wrong and all the mods had gone. There had been something else, but nothing clear, but the pills had kept the whispering away. Crossing Clapham, drawn towards Brighton he had been smacked in the face then dragged from the road to the nearest tree by a fat man. A thin man had watched him, grinning, with a plank over one shoulder still quivering from the impact. None of them left a mark in the muddy slush of the common.
Now the fat man held him down easily. It weren’t right, he was a mod. He was a face. He had rioted in Brighton (or would) he was a hard man, but he was just a boy to the fat man who knocked him down again and this time sat on his chest, pinned his arms and looked very happy with himself.
“He certainly shouldn’t be here,” said Arthur who put aside the plank to take up a saw.
“He certainly shouldn’t,” agreed Norvell.
“He’s been taking pills, they make you half stupid,” Arthur flexed his saw, “If I took pills I’d be halfway clever.”
Norvell tweaked Jimmy’s snotty nose, then broke it. He said, “You have a purpose.”
“Do we have a purpose?” said Arthur.
“We don’t have a dolphin certainly, and they’re easily confused.”
“They certainly are. Why I once had a lawyer. He got me out of jail.”
“With a dolphin?”
“With a porpoise. It was a habeas porpoise.”
Jimmy remembering, rallied, “I don’t wanna be the same as everyone else. That’s why I’m a mod, see? I mean you gotta be someone, ain’t you? Else you might as well jump in the sea and drown.”
Norvell listened though with the broken nose he had to make Jimmy repeat himself four times. Each time the words came more quietly. Norvall preened. They had their man, or one of them. There were many nowadays, all the stories were about rebels. What was to be expected? Norvell and Arthur were exceptional. They did not know about Aunt Minerva nor that they were dago-types. They had never heard of the scratch, which to them did not have a name at all. They were exceptional because whilst dago-types had to killed as they had been (unless sometimes by something too tremendous to be plausible even for cliff hanger shorts) they being old and with so many sequels could ignore that. They had the power of ignorance. They also had a saw.
Arthur and Norvell hummed the Dance of the Cuckoos as in great sweeps they sawed at Jimmy’s neck. The moment the head came free there was nothing of the little mod but a slick of oil in the snow. They had two more to see to and then they would... well, they did not know. Nothing until and again there was a need for them. Reprobates they had been given a responsibility, a task, and like many just like them when that was the case they went about it to the letter.
Berlin-Hamburger Bahn, 1919. Tomorrow The Birds Will Sing
It was not that Lord Rockingham was averse to a bit of rough adventure, but this was not it. He held out no hope that Jeremiah would arrive in the nick, no matter how loudly his agent had shouted that he was going for help (as he fled up the carriages). Rockingham had dashed in the opposite direction but clutching the case to his chest it had always been he that The Little Tramp would pursue. Running out of space at the luggage compartment a guard had announced that he was armed, and a jolly lucky thing it had been too else the locked door would have presented more of a problem. Rockingham made a note to send flowers to the guard, now stunned, with a depression on his forehead the exact size and shape of the silver knob on Rockingham’s cane.
He had heard the tales of course but the reality was somewhat different. He had had bare minutes in the luggage carriage before finding he had then no further place to go had shot another lock and clambering on package cases and travelling trunks had made his way to the roof. There and kneeling, buffeted and choking on locomotive smoke he had fired a half magazine at The Little Tramp, pocketing the pistol when he saw it did him no good at all.
Perfectly poised his hunter twirled a brolly, walking that swaying walk, untroubled as Rockingham was troubled. Another train was coming on fast from the other direction. Rockingham thought for a moment of knocking The Little Tramp into its path but The Little Tramp would dodge, even had Rockingham the confidence to press such an attack (which he most assuredly did not). The Little Tramp came close enough to touch, looked sad, but paused to applaud the Lord’s attempt. The trains crossed and Rockingham pitched the case in front of it.
Almost The Little Tramp did not move. His face went wide in genuine, if exaggerated surprise. In the time it took him to jerk his head first one way one before the next he had already pitched himself after the case and determined on such a cause could not dodge the oncoming train.
Lord Rockingham tried to see through the smoke of two locomotives. He thought he spied first the case and then a crushed bowler hat bounce down the rise of the tracks, but it was probably only his need giving colour to his imagination.
Part Eight tomorrow: If You Want To Live