Saturday 17 December 2011

Nicely Pink In The Middle, Part 3

Wir Fahren Nach Berlin

Berlin, 1919. Bismarck Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.

Everyone else had been called back for their tea, but Germany liked the ball so much it went home to play with it all alone. The Great War whilst it had ground on had rotted from within back home for two years. Soldiers still in place by the Armistice had returned to be told by men that had never fought of their betrayal. The communists of the KPD followed the example of the sailors uprising in Kiel. Agitators and rabble rousers urged militias whilst the soldiers entered Freikorps who had fought the reputed uprising of 50,000 workers in the Ruhr. The Kaiser had fled Berlin during the first fires of revolution there. Germany had barely been one nation long enough to notice it no longer was again. The shadows of the Thirty Years War were burned into the streets of Berlin and Henry reading the telegram that told of his father’s death drank French wine dusted with brick dust. There was a certain schadenfreude to the evening in that whilst he was being entertained by the exiled heirs of the Graf of Bode he was now it seemed a peer of the realm of Great Britain.
            “They have no stomach for it, these intellectuals and usurers,” said one of the two Ritter Von Bode. A tall man and heroically handsome where Henry was beautiful, the scars he had gained from his schooling were marred by the burn that vanished into the high collar of his tunic. Henry had heard that Imric had had to remain in his education for two years longer than strictly necessary to gain the important duelling scars. Even then his brother had had to get him thoroughly drunk in order to allow the other man to break the famous talent with the blade. The Von Bode’s had been cast out of their ancestral home at Meersburg by the uprising. They had been in the van, Imric at least, of the Freikorps that had retaken Munich, but occupied as it now was the lawyers had proven a worse enemy for the Von Bodes.
            “They are very thin,” said Albrecht, the second Ritter Von Bode but this one so unlike in appearance and temperament to his sibling that Henry found it difficult they could be related at all. Albrecht content, happy even where Imric scowled at the world and its vices filled the cellar where they drank and not simply because of his bulk, which was considerable.
            They were drinking in a monstrosity not so very far from the Brandenburg Gate taken as the House in exile, a little piece of Meersburg, or more pertinently the House of Bode (whom were to all intents the same thing). Their henchmen wore no uniforms but were armed like pirates. A maxim gun covered the approaches and the house, formerly a bank, was made safe by a frightful fellow who reinforced the imagery of a buccaneer with his livid tattoos and enough knives and revolvers to equip a platoon. But not an army, and that was why the Von Bodes were entertaining the wonderful Henry... or Lord Rockingham as he was now more correctly. Henry’s spy in their household had told Lord Rockingham that the murderers here were all gypsies, their leader Scaflock. The tattoos he had been less able to fathom.
            Lord Rockingham was troubled. He was not here to provide rifles and armoured cars for the Von Bodes. He had not the means to do so even had he been of a mind to. He was not as everyone thought a representative of Great Britain. Or if he was, then not the Government. The more he denied it to his agent the more Jeremiah believed it to be so, and in turn strongly alluded it to the Von Bodes. Rockingham was here because of those French intellectuals that had thrown in their lot with Germany over Sarajevo. Outspoken and then ostracised, then cast out, and now rather in a pickle of their own making. They had been received in Bode, courted and patronised by the Graf (who stories still persisted distrusted all forms of progress as dangerously Prussian). Tales of dark sorcery, of experiments, and for some reason phrenology.
            Rockingham said, “Everything costs, my darlings.”
            Imric snorted. Albrecht looked abashed. A girl in traditional Bavarian dress brought them plates of steaming sausage and sauerkraut. It was all the eldest brother would eat that he had not hunted himself, and then sparingly. The younger grinned about the onions he helped himself to from a net and which he ate like apples. Imric said, “Finance is for servants and whores.”
            “Especially the whores,” said Albrecht.
            Imric ignored him. His war had been in Russia, Romania and finally the Crimea. He still wore the uniform of a full Colonel of the 3rd Royal Bavarian whose last cavalry charge had made the Light Brigade seem rather wet in these days of machine guns and fields sewn with mines amongst the winter wheat.
            “Well quite,” said Rockingham who by dint of his telegram now had quite the fortune. He stretched. It was cold in the cellar despite his good Donegal tweed. The orchid in its silver buttonhole was wilted. He inspected a toe of his father’s good shoes. “Rather it’s to do with a certain Chevalier De Blanche Dammes? I’m very much afraid that they’ve been awfully naughty. They have something I require, my darlings.”
            Albrecht laughed out loud. He said, “A present? But the Graf our father gave them his protection. Imric has a stiff old neck about this sort of thing. He won’t let you near them.”
            That was true enough. Rockingham had learned from Jeremiah that what he wanted was indeed in Berlin, possessed by one of the silly French cultists, but under the protection of Bode. The where of it was really the problem, hence his purpose here. So then, “I will not insult the legendary honour of Bode. But since we speak of gifts, my darlings?” Rockingham took from his valise cased documents, a map and finally a heavy medallion on a broken chain. It bore the seal of Bode. Imric he saw could barely hide his anger at seeing it. It had been taken from their grandfather. Their grandfather that had been taken prisoner in the Franco-Prussian war whose events had soiled Bode’s views of Prussia ever since. Their presence here was therefore all the more curious because of it. The old Graf had been taken captive, tortured and given a thief’s death. The story was a deep and never-healed wound to the Von Bodes. And Rockingham who despised forgery for such things had been delighted to find the amulet in the hastily abandoned temple at Chalon sur-Saone. He enjoyed himself immensely at the expression upon Albrecht’s face as the big Bavarian quickly read each document in turn. He did not need to explain to Imric what they meant.
            But, “This changes nothing,” said the thin Ritter Von Bode. “The Graf gave his word. I will not raise a hand even to... this.”
            “No,” said Albrecht.
            Imric raised his glass for the first time, “I cannot however speak for the deeply loyal retainers of Bode.”
            “They would be incensed,” said Albrecht.
            “Especially Jack,” said Imric. “Whose loyalty is only exceeded by his efficiency.”
            “And Scaflock.”
            Imric turned a look upon his brother who in response grinned to show teeth and onions. “And Albrecht’s gypsy too, no doubt,” then, “if he has a haircut. Lukia goes too.”
            Rockingham left his wine and then the cellar. He had no need for details. Jeremiah would know what it was he wanted for a present, and to where it should be brought. In his absence Imric rose to walk with absolute precision to gather about him the loyal men of Bode. Albrecht left with all the wine fetched out a packet of filthy-postcards he had bought only that afternoon. In one he was surprised to see behind the example of a Parisian love chair in use the clear image of Charlie Chaplin.

The Little Tramp

He had rebuffed the criminals that had come to take away the farm from the girl of his dreams.  He had been a little hero had the The Little Tramp but his love unknowing of his affections had gone to the arms of her suitor, and he not wanting to bring unhappiness had returned to the road. He was not unhappy, he skipped at the thought. He was a traveller that whilst his shoes did not fit and his trousers were too baggy could cover countries in a day. And here they were so very pleased to see him. Once he had been a doughboy on the western front but the young men with the old eyes only clapped when he went by. He was such a little figure and the world was such a hard place, especially for The Little Tramp all black and white in this world of sound and colour. When he was sad he was so very sad, when he was happy even more so. When he cried he cried so that the world did not have to.
            The iron wheels of a gun carriage nearly ran down The Little Tramp who bent at the last to catch his frayed bowler and bounce on the toe of one boot. Somewhere despite the shouting a piano could be heard.
There Was A Mr. Roux?

Holed up near to the Tiergarten Scaflock had the Chevalier Roux hidden well away from the worst of the fighting. It was not true he was a gypsy, something he played up since being released as a pet to the then young Albrecht. He pretended to a secret regarding his early life in Meersburg,  just one of the carnival curiosities and mistakes of nature that were the pride of the Graf’s menagerie. It was important he had a somewhat shameful secret that could be found. It hid the real one that much deeper. He had come to rule gypsies and with them following Albrecht had enjoyed a very nice little war. Rich many times over he had nothing on which to enjoy the treasure spread about Europe.
            Albrecht had been born in 1896 when in Bode the Graf had been shown the wonder of the new age, the three-minute masterpiece Le Manoir du Diable wherein Mephistopheles causes to be summoned demons, devils and witches from his great cauldron. The film had ended, the Graf unimpressed and suspecting some subtle slur upon him, but Scaflock had remained. He was only a bit part in a pantomime grotesque and had assiduously hunted down every print of that earliest example of what was now cinema. The last he knew of was tattooed across his body, his limbs and his face. In Le Manoir du Diable the devils of Mephistopheles had been banished by the cross. Scaflock assiduously avoided churches, something that had only added to his reputation in his travels. The Graf had known if not what he was, then had made an astute guess as to what he had portrayed. He had been set to make something of the loutish, wastrel Albrecht and what he had made was not nearly as dark as he might have wanted. But he tried. Scaflock couldn’t help himself, it was just the way he had been filmed.
            “We should leave,” said Lukia.
            “We have our duty.”
            “Not this, not now. We should leave Berlin. That English m’lord, I don’t trust him.”
            Neither did Scaflock but that was beside the point. He did not trust Lukia either but here they were. She was a slav, a cossack Imric had brought back from the war. If she stopped making it very clear how much of a slaver she was not then people might start to believe it. Scaflock could have come here with ten of his best and most terrible gypsies. His unmentionables, as Albrecht called them (who didn’t like to). But that would have been an obvious betrayal and the Frenchman Roux had his own protectors, enough to make things difficult and Scaflock was not willing to waste one unmentionable on the man.
They came to the house, he knocked and as ever when he visited was relieved of his weapons by one of the two Finns that the Chevavlier Roux had left of the guard that had served (badly as it turned out) his silly little secret society. As was always case they were taken to the gardens which despite the end of the world were no doubt exquisite when the days were not so short, so very cold. The needs of Roux had been exact, as if he had wanted Scaflock and Lukia to find the very place he had intended all along.
            Lost to  France Roux went to enormous efforts to be very French. Needing therefore to his mind a number of very young mistresses it had been important to him to have a wife. The Chevalier Roux had married whilst Meersburg had cracked, whilst fire was in the sky and chaos had run screaming through castle corridors. It was a marriage into which he had been connived to the benefit of both of bride and groom, who had separated on the road when the unmentionables had fought and smuggled them all out of Bode.
            “What do you want, little devil?” each word steamed in December’s Berlin.
            And that was the other reason Albrecht was happy as kippers in vinegar. Ultimately he was here at all because of the Chevalier de Blanche Dames. Their process, what they had started and what they had lost. Roux in his knee britches and heavy travelling, his little wig and his buckled shoes was a dandy of a previous age right down to beauty spot and foil. Under his coat he tried not to shiver.
            Albrecht raised a hand, finger pointed, thumb cocked.
            A half mile away and in the tower of St Matthews Jack Jones lay under a blanket covered with coal dust and ashes. Back in 1916 he had been a sniper in the Loamshires. He had been so successful that his commanding officer had jokingly taken to referring to him as ‘our own deadly Wormwood’. Lt Snell’s classical education had been lost on the men who had taken to calling the young poacher Lumpwood instead. A countryman in a city regiment he was therefore obviously thick. Jack had taken the title and when the Loamshires had been pulled back off the line Lumpwood had remained. Lumpwood took orders from no one and the ragged sniper dressed in the mud and rags of no-man’s-land had last three months of silence and more than five dozen kills. When it was noticed he managed five more before they dragged him in. They had taken his stripe and sent him to Russia as a punishment, but without wishing to waste his talent.    
            His rifle was the same Lee Enfield he had taken halfway across the world. Lumpwood seeing the movement of the bushes in the garden adjusted for the wind. Slowly he exhaled.
            “Bang,” said Skaflock.
            “Bang?” said the Chevalier Roux, ‘ban-ger’. His head blew outwards just above the ear and as he dropped Lukia caught at the hilt of his foil under the cloak, the fall of his body freeing it from the velvet scabbard. She whirled and caught the first of the Finns in the neck, out again and about to face the second before he could pull his revolver’s trigger. The foil thrust in the same motion and he too staggered back clutching at his throat where only slightly off-aim the blade had still taken the artery. Scaflock blew a little pretend smoke from his fingertip. He hurried off to loot the house and as an  aside unearth what two streets away the Englishman Jeremiah waited to collect.

Part Four tomorrow: Sweet Gene Vincent

1 comment:

  1. A longer one today, a shorter one in the week when I've got the sprouts all day. I'll go back when I'm about half way through and note the references (spotting them is often half the fun).