Friday 23 December 2011

Nicely Pink In The Middle, Part 9

My Baby Shot Me Down

Chalon sur-Saone, 1914. My Only Friend

“It is time, Prefect,” said Risto. Jean Roux stared at the great, fat moustache of a man. They had aged. It was chimney smoke and windows that did it. He put down his own preserved figure and unlined nose to the healthy life he had enjoyed for years now entirely within the walled garden of the temple. The temple he remembered they were to leave now. The other guard Larin stood further away, rifle ready as if there was some threat. Between them the woman, who held now oiled and repaired a case made for certain specific instruments. Those instruments long broken, lost or forgotten it remained a convenient case for the larger of the scratched pieces of broken mirror.
            “It is the fighting, Prefect,” said Larin. “There is war, and to protect you we all must go.”
Jean Roux got easily confused by war. It had all been, he was sure, a lot easier once. Once it had been France on one side, and everyone else on the other. Of course it had hardly been that simple. If war was simple, then Jean Roux would not find it confusing. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had stormed into Serbia. Russia had done likewise into Germany, which didn’t help because that could mean almost anywhere to the east, except perhaps Bohemia, which was Austro-Hungary. Germany, which was Prussia really, had gone two better and attacked Luxemburg, Belgium and... France.
            Jean Roux said, “But didn’t France side with the Prussians and the Bohemians over the assassination? I’m sure I spoke out most forcefully?”
            “As then did the Bishop, sir. And too loudly, so much so that men are coming to take you into their custody. We cannot allow that Prefect.”
            He looked to the case held by the woman. He hungered for what it contained, was revolted with himself. Weeping he was bundled up and if they took him away gently, then still they did so firmly. 
            To Bavaria, to Meersburg and the Graf von Bode.

The Dorchester, London. 1988. Schicksal

With the treasure they would restore the House of Bode. Their riches meant nothing to Imric. He was the Graf only because fools would flatter a rich man. The title had been done away with, at first in the French occupation following the last war and then as part of the talks and arrangements to return power to the... Federal Republic of Germany. Bony hands tightened on the cane he was forced to use in those brief periods when his treacherous body allowed him from the wheelchair at all.
            On the rosewood table of the suite in the Dorchester stood the case. It was exactly as Imric remembered it to be. Carried by the Frenchman when he had been forced to flee Meersburg with the House of Bode. Imric had not fled. Imric had engaged instead on a wide and extremely tactical flanking move - in depth. He remembered that case and had he known then what he did now, why then...
            “You would not have taken it from him,” said Albrecht. Different as they were and never friends as boys, growing older adversity and the years had seen the two also grow together. Albrecht a colossal figure was spooning germknodel into his mouth. Vanilla cream spotted his many chins and light beard. Imric looked at the great, fat old beast of a man with his five bypass operations and medical team on constant standby. At his custom made forklift, at the oxygen tank flavoured with cinnamon, and saw only his brother. Family was all. Blood was all. But the flesh failed them both.
The damn reds had polluted the people of Bode, driving the House from Meersburg whilst Imric had been fighting the Czarist forebears of their then soviet masters. The reds had half of Germany still in its grasp. The next war was inevitable and Germany needed the Graf Von Bode. But the Graf Von Bode had little time left in this world, and had little use for the next.
            So, the case. Imric said, “You are correct, he was under father’s protection. And we did not know then what we learned in Berlin that little bit later. Ach, it matters not. Karl!”
            The leader of their mercenaries straightened. He put aside his magazine. He stood sharply as he knew the Graf liked. His pastel suit was smartly cut and the fashion for the baggy suited concealed weapons very well. He clicked his heels together, but his feet bare in snakeskin boat shoes made no sound.
            “Karl,” said Imric. “You may take the case. Fly with it personally. You know to where. The Learjet knows only to accept your instruction. You need not consider a flight plan, all is arranged.”
            Karl nodded once. He did not doubt it. He left quickly and without a word.
            The Graf Imric Von Bode looked to his brother Albrecht Baron Meersburg. The case held relics, mirrors, or pieces of ancient power. They preserved life, lengthened it, healed pain and disease. Imric’s friend Jeremiah had told them as much, so long ago, and how it had come to be lost having heard a little from the girlish Rockingham and been the one sent to find it. Imric had sent Albrecht to better search the area and for a year his brother had sent regular updates as to his failure, now nearly sixty years ago.
            His faith in his destiny had not faltered. The shadow of death upon him he had learned of the case. His faith had been rewarded. He was a true Parzival, even if he looked now like Klingsor. In the castle of Meersburg the case would be opened in accordance with ritual. There would be no risks taken. He and Albrecht would be fit again. His destiny would be fulfilled.
            “Der Ring des Nibelungen?” said Albrecht.
            A servant went to the record player. It was a morning for Wagner.    
Park Lane, Mayfair. 1988. Hammer Of The Gods

“I told you,” said Rikki. A Mighty Battling Finn he had been in more recent years a stallholder at Bermondsey Market. His three years in gaol had seen his naturally inquisitive nature develop into a skill for getting small things people wanted. Outside and whilst he no longer worried about toothpaste, chocolate and Razzle his time inside had meant in the years since his antique stall had never been short of small treasures, still warm to the touch. Asking about the case Kull wanted them to find had led him to Sotheby’s. Thinking to break in he had abandoned the idea after only a cursory inspection. An inspection late at night when by chance he had then seen a familiar face, and then a familiar case, doing what he had himself just then rejected. “I followed him like I said, here. He didn’t leave with the case. I told you.”
            Kull was immensely pleased. There and at the entrance to the closed Dorchester Hotel a man did indeed hold the case. He inspected the folded sketch provided by the lawyer. He nodded.

His conscription had given him a taste for the life, but planning to die in a costly delaying action against thousands of Russian tanks whilst France dithered and the Americans deployed ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons on his head was not what Karl had had in mind at all. He had with two mates joined instead the French Foreign Legion, which especially after the end of the last war had always had a strong German presence. Gutted after its rebellion over Algeria the Legion had been a tighter, harder regiment because of it. Karl had thrived, had excelled in action at Zaire, fighting as part of the elite 2nd REP. He had left after his five years with a clean record, commendations, a little rank and full dual citizenship. The day he and twelve others had formerly mustered out had been to a full parade, flags and bugles. He still carried in his wallet a card with a single phone number. If ever he was in trouble, wherever he was he knew, if he could reach a phone the Legion would come for him. France did not give a shit for national boundaries over matters of honour, and the Legion doubly so.
            His years as a mercenary had been less satisfying. The life was problematic, the people sloppy. Cowboys and pirates, the discipline shocking, the comradeship entirely absent. He had been recruited in Hamburg by the Bode Corporation three years before. He would die for the Graf.
            In the middle of London Karl waving for his car to approach was taken utterly by surprise when a mob of men ran at him screaming. Thinking them English yobs after some football match the night before he fired once over their heads, then twice more and with precision when this did not stop them. The car accelerated, hit another of the yobs but then blocked his aim momentarily and the hooligans slid, jumped and covered the car. Still he almost made the doors to the hotel before he was knocked down by too many of the barbarians. He crippled one that caught at his leg but hampered by the case chained to one wrist was in seconds powerless. When another stamped on his hand to drag at the case his arm was jerked painfully at the cuff. Karl did not make a sound until the largest of them shouting at the others produced a sword from his coat and hacked at Karl’s arm, breaking the bone, then severing it entirely.

Haven Hospital, 1988. Und Singt Ein Teufelslied

“I offer no excuse, Graf,” said Karl. The Police on a call from the Home Office had not questioned the German until Imric had arrived. Already and arrangements had been made to transfer Karl to a private clinic. The Graf did not like what he saw of the socialist British medical system. Angry with Karl the Graf nodded from his wheelchair. The soldier had only failed to give his life because of the speed of the British ambulance services, and an ambulance man that had served in Northern Ireland in his youth. Imric coldly evaluated Karl’s performance and decided the soldier had done as well as could be expected. The fault then was his.
He surprised Karl when instead of a stern rebuke he offered instead a very formal apology. Then to business, “Is there anything you can recall about your attackers?”
Karl nodded, “When they shouted at one another they did so in Finnish, Graf. I knew some Finns in the Legion.”

Berlin-Hamburg, 1919. By Half

The door whose lock he had so recently ruined he blocked with suitcases and a tea chest. Henry Lord Rockingham a man of little action spied the ladder and trap to the roof of the luggage caboose but he could not climb and manage the case, and had neither the time nor inclination to dither. Quickly he sought for and found his own trunk, unlocked it and after tugging free shirts, shoes and a few decent bottles saved from rotting Berlin tipped up the case to empty the mess of silvery shards within. His shirts and the bottles he quickly put in the oddly shaped case given him by the Von Bodes and that now considerably lighter he reached for the ladder. On a whim and having locked once again his travelling chest he removed the label from about one handle and affixed it to the case.
Foot on ladder, pistol in pocket, case pushed up ahead Henry Lord Rockingham was surprised at how calm he felt. He smiled faintly as he climbed and pushed at the trap. “Tally ho,” he said.

Bittersweet’s Treats, 1988. The Candyman Can

Desperation was no stranger at Bittersweet’s Treats. Only Kull was allowed inside and he with the case. It was clear he neither knew with whom he was dealing, nor much cared. Alf Bittersweet had to respect that, just as he had to respect the three foot broadsword that had still to be cleaned. The evidence of the handcuff on the case answered any questions of his, whilst for Kull’s he admitted that yes, this was what he was after, yes he could provide passports, visas, pocket money and papers and the name of a good fixer in Paris. Kull he saw was exultant. Alf with gloved hand fetched out a card, “If you can get your lads there you’ll be sorted out,” he said. He did not mention the haircuts. Alf a man of great if low wisdom made it a point never to mention haircuts to a hippy with a bloody broadsword.
Later and passing over the case to Mme Roux, he said, “That’s quite a bill you’ve run up, Mrs.”
“Madame. I’ll go and see about collecting it,” she promised.
“Far to go?”

North London, 1961. Tea With Aunt Minerva

The house would not be described as large by those living locally. All the houses in the street were much the same, a terrace between Belsize Park and Hampstead. Four storeys including the old servants quarters in the loft and not counting the basement that was Kim’s private apartment. It was an address comfortable with the sort of artists that rarely needed to produce, actors of a certain fame and civil servants who politely sent others about the world daggers-in-teeth.
A traditional sort of fellow Lord Rockingham liked a tree, paper chains and the glass baubles that had belonged to his grandmother. The wireless only received the BBC Home Service. Served by Kim his Ghurkha valet Lord Rockingham took his morning egg, as always boiled for three minutes thirty, in the cup with the thin blue band.
            He poured for Mme Roux, Kim retreated at the signal that the Lord wished to be alone with his guest. “Almost a year?”
            “I was surprised too, but then when you tell me I’d telephoned you at 5am you might not have been entirely specific as to which 5am that might have been?”
            “Yes my darling, about that...” Henry Lord Rockingham had already had 5am taken into the yard by strong grooms and convinced never to come calling again. “...But the case? From the Chalon-sur-Saone, a very old affair. Do we really need to go over such grubbiness again?”
            Mme Roux apologised, to be polite, even if she never meant a word. “You know how things are with me, Henry. I don’t walk with the years like any common woman. That’s doubtless why Aunt Minerva is so persistent in encouraging my services.”
            “That’s not quite the reason for Aunty's interest, my darling. You must try the marmalade. Tiptrees, rather good,” Lord Rockingham finishing his egg dabbed at his mouth. Then, “It is early and the season is ripe for good stories. So I shall pour us more tea and you shall tell me all that has happened.”
            Which Mme Roux did. Of what had happened, and what would, and what she had learned had happened to others. Henry described Berlin and The Little Tramp once again, this time admitting the switch he had made to the case.
            “So Aunt Minerva never lost the mirror?”
            “I certainly never did.”
            “How old are you Henry?” said Mme Roux. Used to seeing her friends at different ages and different times nothing ever seemed amiss regarding their appearance. But if this was 1961, and Berlin had been 1919, and Henry looked to be, what - late thirties? “Are you in league with the scratch, Henry?”
            He laughed. “Don’t be so melodramatic, my darling. Of course not, there is nothing about the scratch to be in league with. Niepce’s marvellous mirrors captured something, of something, and their destruction by Los Ninos Des Dios made a scar, a scratch across the world. You know that. And yes I have the shards, and don’t I look wonderful for it?”
            “You always look beautiful, Henry.”
            He inclined his head at his due. He said, “My dear all that you have described will doubtless now have to. I will put the case up for auction at Sotheby’s towards the end of the distant 1980s. It will come to the Finns, and then to you. And then again to me.”
            “I did not bring it with me.”
            “I would hope not, it is in my attic at this time. And anyway, and whilst perhaps you have forgotten - the case only held some German plonk and a few shirts. It was found by the way, shortly after being tossed into the fields. A German farmer, an honest fellow, sent it on to my address. From the luggage label I had the presence of mind to attach. I paid him handsomely, and in case of my implied embarrassment for his silence too. Of course I sent Jeremiah to look for it. Naturally he looked for a good five minutes, if he got there at all, despite what he telegrammed me to say afterwards. There is no mystery, Mme Roux. I have had the mirror all along. Your whole adventure is because you had the adventure. It’s what you do. It’s the part you play. Back in the days of the silent screen a board would now be shown declaring ‘The Exposition’. But I am no villain, my darling.”
            “But The Little Tramp, and those others...”
            “Norvell and Arthur? Dago-types my dear are characters escaped. Those three at best hunt for dago-types that have done so. They only troubled me because of the mirror. To them it too was what we call a dago-type.”
            Mme Roux closed her eyes. After a moment to collect her thoughts she said, “I have been troubled by The Little Tramp, Henry. Others too in my time.”
            As if to change the subject Lord Rockingham rose and went to the fireplace. There from a cigar box he took a cigarette, handmade with three gold rings about the butt. Only then he said, “Le Voyageur De Temps is a very early film. French made but drawing on Wells, because The Time Machine was so popular and Verne never wrote about such a thing. The Englishness of it shines through nonetheless, the heroine seemingly somehow so. Marrying Jean Roux was clever, it gave you solidity. Sympathetic magic I suppose, or something similar. You were joined with the Prefect of the Blanche Dammes. When the Expressionists revived the movie it gained a voice. You gained a voice, Mme Roux. Or Alexandre, if we are to be more exact.”
            “I am a dago-type.”
            Henry looked sympathetic. “And a revelation it must be. Mme Roux, you turn corners and enter different years. You wake in different decades. You walk through time. Now I ask you, is that possible? Unless for a dago-type? A dago-type that walks from a film about... time travel?”
            “No Henry, I suppose not.”
            “Aunt Minerva is interested in you not because you are a member, Alex, but because you are from the scratch. And I think when I speak to you next year then put the case up for auction in the years thereafter to come, why then we shall have tied off all the bows and trimmed all the edges. Tell me, do you remember what happens to the intrepid Alexandre at the end of Le Voyageur De Temps?”
            “I do.”
            Henry looked surprised. “Really?”
            “I saw it, not very long ago. It was quite a shock.”
            “Yes, I suppose it must have been,” from the cigar box Lord Rockingham produced a luger. Maintained and oiled since taken from the German guard in 1919 it now pointed at Mme Roux. “And how does the story end?”
            “Thinking his wife a ghost a panicked and grieving husband shoots her.”
            So Henry Lord Rockingham shot Mme Roux. She dropped to leave only an oily shadow on his good rug. Deafened, with a wince Henry replaced the pistol in its box. To the stain he said, “And no sequel was ever made, my darling.”

Part Ten and come: Two

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