Token Anarchist : A Charlie Bellman Story
A finish; race to the finish; landings.
Antonia T. Tiger
(Illustrations by M. Mitchel Marmel)
Bradfisch would be worried by now, thought Bellman, and that wasn't good. Bradfisch was the brains. Hirt was—had always been—a broken fur, without the mental tools to really appreciate what he was doing. Bradfisch, he was sure, was aware, and did it anyway. Bradfisch had set up the whole thing, and sold it to the SS.
Bellman had almost wished Hirt well, as he had snapped the fur's neck. "May God have mercy...", rather than "Go to Hell!" Well, he'd face a judgement himself, someday, and he'd take what came.
The handcart was harder to push now, uphill with the extra weight. And the day was getting hotter.
Well, let Bradfisch worry a bit more. His soul would need all the help it could get.
Freya passed him, looking different. Wig, no flower, different clothes. She looked like a slightly daring Euro tourist, and those slacks hinted at a great set of legs. Sensible shoes, and no sign of weapons.
Never piss off a shaman, and don't start a kicking contest with a hula dancer.
Especially not with those shoes. Very sensible, and steel toecaps under the leather. Best Rain Island industrial fashionwear.
At least they'd reached the top of the hill. He looked around, taking the chance to ease his back, just like any other workman. There was a buzz to the crowds, from the air race. Bradfisch would know where Helen was. The whole island would know where Helen was. She was probably headline news on Radio LONO today.
Freya seemed to vanish. The Casino Square was a bustling market for Speed Week, selling finger food and souvenirs and sodas, and just about anything a tourist would enjoy paying their money for. There were cheap sunhats bearing the names and images associated with the racers and their planes. Looking at the tourists, he was rather glad that the tee-shirt wasn't a fashion item, but there were children wearing Lady Helen tees, and it all looked rather good. Whatever else you said about Crane, he knew how to sell.
"Oh, excuse me." A Euro tourist, probably American. "And you have to work on a day like today."
Custom, thought Bellman. "This not work. This fun."
"Fun?" The fellow looked puzzled. "But why?"
"Ja, fun. I haf killed a fur, and now I deliver his corpse to the sausage factory. As Prinz von Bismarck said, never ask how a sausage is made."
"Er, yes..." The Euro hurried away.
Ah, well, better get moving. He knew where Bradfisch would be looking for him. And if the Euro did decide to talk to a constable...
Damn, maybe he should get out of the business. And downhill wasn't really going to be any easier.
"Telephones, you fool." Bellman shrugged. "I don't know how Herr Hirt was able to get access to a telephone." He shivered. "He said he'd clean up."
There was a public telephone just around the corner.
"Clean up?" Bradfisch sounded worried. "The woman is alive?"
"Still breathing," Bellman assured him, with totally misleading honesty. "I don't think Herr Hirt wanted to tell me where you and he were supposed to meet."
Bradfisch nodded. "He means no insult, but that was a sensible choice. I am not going to push this handcart myself. Come, this way." He glanced over his shoulder as he walked away. "I will only tell you what you need to know. It is better that way."
"Zu befehl, Herr Bradfisch."
Herr Raum might have fallen for that. Bellman knew that, to Bradfisch, Herr Raum was very expendable. That could make things a lot easier. Bellman was very definitely not going to be expended.
There was a panda in the telephone kiosk.
Wolf watched as Bellman and Bradfisch passed. This was, he knew, an approximate disguise, but it would suffice. "Billy, Wolf here. You can play that record any time now."
"This is not a good recording for Speed Week, you know. OK, Wolf, it'll be on air in a couple of minutes. Don't tell me anything. OK."
"Thanks, Billy." About fifty yards away was a cafe, and they had a wireless tuned to Radio LONO, and a nice speaker system. And Bellman and Bradfisch were going to be walking right past it.
Bertolt Brecht, Berlin, 1928
Und der Haifisch, der hat Zähne
und die trägt er im Gesicht
und Macheath, der hat ein Messer
doch das Messer sieht man nicht.
Ach, es sind des Haifischs Flossen
rot, wenn dieser Blut vergießt.
Mackie Messer trägt 'nen Handschuh
drauf man keine Untat liest.
An 'nem schönen blauen Sonntag
liegt ein toter Mann am Strand
und ein Mensch geht um die Ecke
den man Mackie Messer nennt.
Und Schmul Meier bleibt verschwunden
und so mancher reiche Mann
und sein Geld hat Mackie Messer
dem man nichts beweisen kann.
Jenny Towler ward gefunden
mit 'nem Messer in der Brust
und am Kai geht Mackie Messer
der von allem nichts gewußt.
Und das große Feuer in Soho
sieben Kinder und ein Greis -
in der Menge Mackie Messer, den
man nicht fragt und der nichts weiß.
Und die minderjährige Witwe
deren Namen jeder weiß
wachte auf und war geschändet -
Mackie, welches war dein Preis?
Denn die einen sind im Dunkeln
Und die andern sind im Licht
Und man siehet die im Lichte
Die im Dunkeln sieht man nicht
Bradfisch tried to convince himself that he was not a superstitious man. He was an SS Hauptsturmführer, not some superstitious peasant. He was a loyal servant of the Fatherland, and he was doing his duty. More than thatm he had power. He was one who summoned, and controlled.
But why that yiffing degeneracy had to be broadcast just then! Well, Herr Hirt would have everything ready. They had the rest of the day to fill. And that Prince Albert would be ruined. A King who was an adulterer. An heir who was a murderous lunatic. And an island of savages in a mindless panic. Who would care about who won the race?
Hirt would appreciate the photograph in the newspaper.
There would be so much more anticipation.
"I prefer Beethoven," said Bellman.
"Beethoven, Herr Raum?"
"Oh, Wagner is impressive too, but he doesn't know when to stop. You shouldn't mess around with women. Hear what they have to say, but I would silence Brunnhilde soon enough." Bellman brandished a clenched fist.
"To the left, Herr Raum. You would listen?"
"Ja, once. But I would decide. After all, a woman might have seen something, or heard something."
"This is true, Herr Raum."
Behind them, Wolf and Saunders stopped at the corner, and ducked back. No bustling crowd to hide in. Saunders grinned at Wolf. "This trick is Bellman's." A gentleman's stick, and a small pocket mirror. "Et Viola!"
"A viola is a musical instrument, Mr. Saunders."
"We're always on the fiddle, Mr. Baginski!"
Freya caught up with them, silently. Rubber-soled Rain Island industrial fashionwear.
"Nein! Beethoven!" Bellman had been a sergeant. Of course his voice could carry. And then he started singing:
Freude, schoener Goetterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum.
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was der Mode Schwert geteilt
Bettler werden Fuerstenbrueder...
And with respectable tunefulness.
The three of them came racing round the corner, Freya sans skirt, in urgent, breathless, silence. Bradfisch, the singing announced, had unlocked the door. He was screaming "Shut-up!" at Bellman, in German.
At Fuerstenbrueder he produced a knife.
Never get in a kicking contest with a hula dancer
Freya's kick probably smashed his wrist, not that anyone cared, and Bellman took a half-step sideways to let her land. He grabbed for the wrist, and Bradfisch collapsed.
It was hardly a warehouse. Short-term storage, for hire. There were a few stacks of boxes and bags, an empty office. Freya tried not to look at the table, and the neatly arrayed "tools".
Saunders closed the door.
"Who are you?" Bradfisch was struggling to speak, but he was speaking.
"Friends of Arabella," said Freya, on an impulse.
"In Berlin," said Wolf. He picked up one of the knives, delicately, with a gloved paw. "Somebody knows how to sharpen knives."
Bellman could see the spark of hope in Bradfisch's eyes. Hirt would come, and soon.
"You remember Arabella, back in '33, or were you burning the Reichstag?"
"He spent a week in Liepzig," remarked Bellman. "Was that Jewish girl different?"
"Ach, it was business. Hirt did all the work." He paused, trying to buy time. "And we are the law."
"And Arabella?" Saunders sounded sweetly reasonable.
"Oh, the English whore? We caught her in a flat which Fat Herrman used for his assignations. We asked who she was going to sell the photographs to, but she didn't have a plan. And she screamed so much." Bradfisch looked at Bellman. "We've met, somewhere else."
"Last week, at your Embassy," agreed Bellman. "Charlie Bellman..."
Bellman let go of the broken wrist, and stepped back. Bradfisch crumpled, helpless.
"Freya Bjorksdottir, Spontoonie Militia." Freya's smile was neither friendly nor welcoming.
Wolf lifted the lid on the packing crate, and helped Bradfisch to his feet. "Wolf Baginski, Rain Island Army Union." He almost dragged Bradfisch to see the contents. "Herr Bradfisch, I believe you know Herr Hirt."
"We're anarchists," said Freya.
"I'm a Jew," added Baginski.
"None of us want your stinking National Socialism. You said you were the law, Bradfisch. We don't need the stench of your law."
Bradfisch wanted to scream, but the last voice he heard as his heart tore itself apart on the razor-sharp edges of the sword-stick, said only, "Horace Saunders, gentleman. Go to Hell!"
Bellman and Baginski dumped Bradfisch on top of his accomplice, and re-closed the lid. "Jewish?" asked Bellman.
"In part. My mother's mother. It's too much for him."
Freya was unwrapping a loose bundle of cloth from her left arm. "Practising?"
He chuckled. "I'm a Rain Islander. When somebody says, 'No other God but me', I wonder what the scam is. But people like him, what they're doing, I'm Jewish enough to know they're hurting my people."
"Every little helps," said Saunders. He looked like a slightly foppish Euro again. "By Jove, I almost enjoyed that too much."
"Too much?" Bellman considered for a moment. "Yeah, and what do I say to Helen?"
"Ask Kaimi." Freya looked around. "OK, Wolf, let's clear up."
Bellman blinked. For a moment, he was sure there had been one of those orange flowers still in her hair. "Yep," he said. "I need to get this stuff out of my fur before Helen sees me." He grinned for a moment. "Bradfisch bought the latest Mirror. She's really racing hard."
Everyone wanted to see.
"Not worth any more betting at the odds the bookies will be using," said Saunders.
"Nice tits," said Wolf. Everyone looked at him. "Well, they are!"
"Am I arguing?" Bellman's voice seemed to fade slightly. "Well, you saw the paperwork. You saw what those scum would do." He smiled, seeming to come back into the world. "Thank you for helping Helen's tits to stay nice."
"Don't forget Kaimi," said Saunders. "We've been safeguarding a vital national asset."
Wolf deadpanned, "And how do you know the Honoured Mother has nice tits?"
Saunders grinned. "I'm a spy, we're supposed to know secrets we shouldn't."
There wasn't much cleaning up to do, just making sure that there was nothing left that would give away their presence. There wasn't even any blood where Bradfisch had died. Bellman and Saunders left separately. It would be bad if they were caught with corpses.
Freya looked at Wolf. "Will they be OK?"
"Eventually. It's been driving Bellman for a long time. Would that necromancy they were planning have worked?"
"I'm not a real Priestess, but you heard what Kaimi said." She shivered. "I don't think Bellman wanted to know any more about their plans. You know what Kaimi didn't tell him or Saunders.
"He took the medicine pouch Kaimi gave him."
"She sold him on it. 'Take this as my knight.' He wasn't going to refuse her, when it fitted his country's custom."
"I'm not sure I believe all of it, myself."
Freya nodded towards the handcart. "They did." She shrugged. "I'm just an ordinary Spontoonie girl."
"Yeah, right. And I'm a nice Jewish boy." He glanced at the packing crate. "It feels right. What we did, and why, and what we still are. When I came in here, and saw what they had prepared, I wanted to use the things, on Bradfisch."
"We didn't." Freya shivered slightly. "He wanted all of us dead."
"Right enough," he agreed. "He was expecting Hirt to turn up and save him."
"You have to make your own chances. We've done some of the same courses." She walked over to the office. "Come here a minute."
Wolf followed her.
"Kaimi told me some things to look for. Euro stuff that had to be destroyed."
He was staring past her, almost frozen. "And Bellman didn't even look in here."
"Something you recognise?"
"Enough. Euro religion, all turned upside down. Perverted. Even I know that altar candles shouldn't be black."
Freya pointed. "Pass me that sack. No, two sacks. I think I should keep some things separate. This is Euro stuff, and I think we might have to involve Father Merino."
Wolf hesitated, and then nodded. "If that is wine in that bottle..."
"I'm not planning on letting anyone drink it." She paused. "The wine, and those biscuit things. Some Euros believe some really weird stuff about their God. Just don't call it magic."
"Freya, some people here call me a Euro." Wolf held the sack open. "There are a couple of Christians in my platoon. They still carry a medicine pouch."
"Sounds very Rain Island." Freya placed the wine bottle, a black-bound book, and the packet of almost biscuits in the sack. She murmured a prayer. "Kaimi should have been here. I'm not competent to deal with this." She looked around. "The other sack, now. The other stuff, it's just tainted, not something special." She took a deep breath. "And then we get out of here."
Wolf hefted the handles of the handcart. It was heavy enough to be awkward, especially with the two sacks on top of the packing crate. But he could see the dock now. Nothing special, but he had the key to the gate, and there was a small motor-launch waiting, and two sets of Rain Island overalls. Even written orders. "How do you get that dye out of your fur?"
"Washes out, with the right stuff in the water." She grinned. "I'll let you scrub my back."
As Wolf followed Freya towards the docks, he reckoned that looked like an excellent way to end the day.
“Oh, bugger,” said Lady Helen. “Bear, what do we have?”
“No problem, we make the turn before the storms hit. But we're not the only ones to have skipped a fuel stop. “ Bear rubbed her eyes. “I hate the feel of that oxygen mask on my fur.”
Sparky Calhoun sounded weary. “We'd need to make over three fifty knots ground speed to win, right?”
Helen looked over the wind chart. “We can fly high enough, but the engines won't get us up there soon enough.” She touched her wings. “I hope none of you guys have been pissing off the Thunderbird.”
The co-pilot glanced back over his shoulder. “This is getting to be a habit. When do we start calling you 'Dances With Thunder'?”
She ignored the question. “At least we have oxygen, this time.” Helen looked at the door to the passenger compartment. “This is going to be rough for them.” She moved to her seat and started strapping in. “While there's moonlight and music...” Her voice hesitated for a moment. If this went wrong, she realised, she'd never see Charlie again. And there were other lives in her paws. “...And love and romance.” And there was an odd feeling as she completed the line, as if it were a pledge. Given and accepted like the ancient oath of fealty. A true King protects his servants. And she was certain she'd be with Charlie tonight, as sure as sunrise and cockcrow. “Let's face the music and dance.”
One of the advantages of being a very special guest of the FAI—the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale—and the SIRA, at the Spontoon Islands Speed Week, is that you get excellent views of every race, the most exquisite food, and a bar service which is, if not perfection, of a standard which the Great Hotels of the world would not be at all embarrassed to deliver.
"Air Vice Marshal."
When the President of the FAI was a Prince, even a Romanian one, and the local population were wild-eyed anarchists, it was a lot less trouble just to be a senior RAF officer. Bertie shook hands with the German Ambassador. He'd read the files, but he was a professional. "Bad luck about the Lufthansa entry."
"Yes. Two engine fires. We are investigating."
"Of course. I'm no pilot, but I've an idea of the chances one must take, and what one can learn when things go wrong."
The Ambasador nodded. He had, Bertie judged, other things on his mind. "Sir, I expect you have met Lady Helen?"
"Lady Helen, and her friends. A curious party."
"Oh, how so?"
Bertie chuckled. "A more perfect set of anarchists, I never expected to meet. And..." He paused, and guided Herr Schnabel a little to one side. "When Ilse Klentsch came in with her party, they seemed to change. I think that very polite soldier was some sort of highly trained bodyguard. I know the look."
Herr Schnabel nodded. "We have suffered some unfortunate changes of staff, recently. Some of the replacements need more polish. Turning up with a pistol is the correct uniform, but not always taken well."
"Of course, I should have noticed." Bertie smiled, thinking Schnabel's staff would have better fortune if they picked on small children.
"Not too worrying, I hope."
"I moved aside pretty sharpish. Our Ambassador didn't even realise anything was not happening. Well, I'm glad that's all settled. I hope you can knock some sense into your recruits before they get sent anywhere important."
"Oh, I gather they are only temporary staff. But we have not had a good year." Herr Schnabel sipped at his drink. "Any predictions who will win?"
"Oh, I had my batman put twenty shells on Lady Helen to win. But the weather reports... Anything could happen. Not that I'm the chap to ask. I'm not a pilot, and what real rank I earned in the RAF was as a glorified school teacher." He shrugged. "I asked Ballory. Something about winds, he thinks, but that was before the thunderstorms."
They both turned to look out over the lagoon. Keith Lawton had planned to have the racers streaming in with the sun low on the horizon, still good light for landing but spectacular. He even allowed for the usual, carefully planned, weaknesses of the handicapping system.
The western sky was packed with towering thunderclouds, more spectacle than he'd ever wanted, and they were clouds which, high-up, were suddenly thrown at the Spontoons by some strange, fierce, wind. It was almost like fingers clawing forwards to grab at whatever was beneath them.
"I had a look at the board. Most of the entrants have abandoned the race, turned back before they reached the Turning Point."
"The Pylon Party went off the air over half an hour ago."
Bertie nodded again.
"Sir, I truly hope that, whatever happens, win or lose, she survives."
"Herr Schnabel, thank you."
The silent speakers mounted around the marquee crackled wildly, in time with the distant lightning. Bertie grinned. "Whatever happens, we are going to get soaked. Let's visit the bar before the drinks get watered."
Schnabel looked puzzled for a moment, and then nodded. "An excellent idea!"
"Race control, this is Australian Drover two niner incoming. I have visual on the cakestand, about ten miles, three-thousand feet."
Bertie looked back out at the sky.
"Lady Helen, we have to descend. We should be on the way down now, dammit!"
"Noted." She took a deep breath of oxygen. The pressure was failing now. "Engines, don't bother me about minor problems. We can still land safely with two. I expect engine overspeeds and if you have to, feather the props. But let me know if you do. Everyone, you have permission to start screaming if the wings fall off. If that happens, I plan on doing some myself."
They knew what she had to be planning.
"You want HF voice on your microphone?"
"On pressel two, Ma'am."
"Let's show those Euro bastards how to fly the friendly skies." She pressed the button on her yoke, under her left thumb. "Race Control, this is Shoshone Skypaths One Seven Spontoon Mirror. Do you read, over."
"Race control to One Seven, read you five and three."
Helen didn't care what her grin looked like, cheeks aching from the pressure of the mask. "This is Shoshone Skypaths One Seven Spontoon Mirror making a change of callsign. New callsign is Thunderbird. Repeat Thunderbird."
There was a rather long silence
"Race control. Go ahead Thunderbird."
"Commencing Finishing Gate Approach. Range one four miles. Altitude twenty-two thousand feet."
"Race Control, Thunderbird is go for the Finish Gate." That was a different voice. "Be aware there is low-level traffic approaching the gate."
Lady Helen pushed the nose down. "My indicated air speed is two hundred and fifty knots. Keith, it's OK if my wings fall off after I land?"
"Thunderbird, I didn't write a rule to cover that."
"As you English say, Oh Bloody Hell."
Bertie nodded. Ballory had turned up, with a spare pair of binoculars. And a young officer called Gibson. Lawton had maybe made a mistake about the sun, this time, but the Tnunderbird was coming at them out of the storm.
"All the rules require is that radio callsigns are unique, and since the Thunderbird is one of the native american sky gods..."
"Rule One is never piss off a Shaman," murmured Bertie. "I imagine rule zero is not to annoy a god."
"Well, sir, there's a story going around that she flew through a line of thunderstorms last week..."
"She told me about it, Gibson." Bertie tried to remember to breathe. "Ballory, when do the wings come off?"
"No idea, sir. Nobody ever really tries to find out. They just fly as fast as they dare, and if nothing's broken, put that figure in the manual. How did she get away from the storms?"
"They spit her our, and she managed to level off before she hit the water."
"Doesn't inspire confidence, sir."
"She's getting too low," gasped Gibson. Without binoculars, he could see the peaks on Main Island.
The thunder and lightning restarted.
"She's pulling out," said Ballory. "Oh my God! Smoke from an engine!"
"Engine Fire! Engine Fire! Starboard inner. Fuel off. Repeat Fuel off!"
Helen glanced down at the throttles, and opened the starboard inner throttle wide. Clear the petrol from the fuel system around the engine. That was the drill, based on the hard-earned experience of desperate pilots around the world.
"Starboard inner. Check! Check! Check!."
Somebody else reached from behind and pressed the button that feathered the propellor.
"Visible flame. Starboard inner."
The big mistake, on any aircraft, is to trigger the fire extinguishers on the wrong engine.
"You have starboard inner on fire and extinguisher armed."
"Trigger starboard inner extingusher." Nobody had to use names. They knew the voices. Above all, they knew Helen.
"I see the fire..."
The voice came over the speaker. "Race Control, this is Thunderbird. I have an engine fire. Over."
"Thunderbird, are you declaring an emergency? Over."
"Race control, negative on the emergency at this stage."
"Thunderbird, this is race control. Estimate your altitude is zero five feet. Repeat zero five. Over."
"Race control, roger that. Please advise if any submarines have right of way. Oh bugger!"
"Port outer is on fire too," said Gibson. He'd given up trying to measure the speed.
"Not so fast now." Ballory explained. "Clearing the carburettors and fuel lines. And the other looks out."
There were other voices on the wireless, as two planes got out the way. The race rules didn't privilege insanity, but lowest plane always had priority.
And then the Thunderbird, two engines dead, streaked through the finishing gate, and did a hard climbing turn into wind. It was, all things considered, a pretty decent landing.
Art by M. Mitchel Marmel
"Hello, London. this is Alistair Buck, reporting live for the BBC." It was funny how the storms had broken up, but it had still been a long wait for a good signal. "I can't tell you very much about the flight, but Lady Helen Todd flew us across the finish line a good five minutes ahead of any other competitor, with one engine on fire, arriving just ahead of the biggest line of thunderstorms I have ever seen. There have been numerous official protests to the rule committee, and I have here Mr. Keith Lawton, the Secretary General of the Spontoon Islands Racing Association. What can you tell us, Mr. Lawton?"
"Well, Alistair, there are always protests. And the Rules Committee always examines them carefully. And I can't say anything to pre-judge the result. But there was a huge input from local people and from our friends of Tillamook and the Rain Coast. And they've seen what they think of as their plane cross the line first. The rules committee can't change that fact. And you can see the party fires starting on Main Island already. You were on the plane, you can go to the parties too."
"After today, I'm not sure I have the energy."
Lawton laughed. "You folks in London don't know how lucky you are. He had to sign a contract with Charles Foster Crane to get on that flight, and he can't file a story for two weeks. Well, he's got one hell of a story to tell, whatever the Rules Committee decide. And I promise you this, Alistair, SIRA will help you all we can to get the full story, because no way can you know the whole picture. Now, go party like you deserve."
Fred was signing that there were signal problems.
"That was Mr Keith Lawton of the Spontoon Islands Racing Association, with his summary of the situation. And I want to thank him for his generous offer. Yes, I'll bring you the full story, on the BBC. But, right now, the party looks like a good idea. First, I'd like to interview the winning pilot, but we have to wait for the Rules Committee. Lady Helen?"
She didn't sound tired. "First across the line is always good," she said. "Things got a bit too exciting, but all I did was the flying. There are the people who built the plane, and figured the performance tables we used. There's the guy who bored the cylinders on the engines, and the schoolkids who tracked the weather balloons. They all had to get it right. It isn't miracles which stop your wings from falling off, it's the people who riveted them on. There are thousands of ordinary people who had to do their ordinary jobs, and do them right. They're the people who won the race, and without them all I could have done today would have been the flap my arms, like a demented pigeon." She paused for breath. "There's a lot of stories for you, Alistair. Go to where they mined the bauxite and smelted the aluminium. And remember to tell them they won the race too."
"Some of them might be listening now," he said.
She looked at him, leaned a little closer to the microphone, and said, "Thanks, guys. I couldn't have done it without you." She stepped back and made the wind-up signal.
It took Alistair a moment to catch his cue. "That was Lady Helen Todd, who flew out of the thunderstorms to be first across the finishing line. I'm Alistair Buck reporting for the BBC, and I was on that plane" He paused. "Thanks, guys." He signalled to Fred to cut the signal.
"They won't like it, back at Broadcasting House." Fred grinned. "You'd better be careful what you say about the parties or my wife is going to kill me."
Mr Charles Foster Crane, newspaper proprietor was sitting at his desk, nursing a headache, listening to his staff report on the previous day. They'd done very well, record sales for Speed Week, and, so far, Lady Helen hadn't made any telephone calls.
He tried not to look at the package from the Daily 'Elele. He knew he'd lost control, at the end of a long, rather unpleasant, day, raving and raging at Lady Helen. And the Daily 'Elele had photographs. And a shorthand transcript. Not, they said, that it was the sort of story they printed.
What hurt was that it was probably true: they wouldn't have printed it.
"Do you think you could have sold more newspapers yesterday?"
There was some embarrassed shuffling. Nobody answered.
"Well, I think you boys took a bigger chance than I would have. And you pulled it off. Chauncey, I want stories about how nobody is sure how the Rules Committee will decide. Build the tension. Don't try and push anyone. Don't piss off Keith Lawton. Officially, I'm saying I think we won. But I don't understand the details of the rules, and I'm eagerly waiting for the Rules Committee to confirm the result. And if we don't win, we are gracious losers. Cliff, I can guess the front page you're thinking of, and no. Great headline, but no."
There were chuckles.
"So we have the Schneider coming up. And, so far, no scandals. What are these Euro tourists drinking these days? Anything from last night?"
"Pictures of Lady Helen and friends boarding a watertaxi for Main Island. Native dress."
Crane looked at the photograph. "Oh boy, she's hot..." He considered, carefully. "Better not use it, that one is a Priestess."
"Oh hell. And I was sure I've seen her before..."
Crane grinned. "She's a judge as well. Smart woman, we had some chances to talk on the 'plane. And, frankly, I shall be astonished if Lady Helen gives us a usable picture by accident."
"But we keep trying?"
"Yeah, it's the job we do. Anything that's news. gentlemen?"
"I got warned off by one of my contacts down by the freight docks. Something didn't happen, and nobody saw it anyway. Somebody in one of the Tongs must have really made a big mistake, is my guess. More housekeeping than an open war."
Crane nodded. "Stay warned off. And don't scare the tourists. Anything I can actually print?"
"Sounds like somebody was telling the tourists the sausage factory story: Some black dog with a handcart. This time pretending to be German, so the French are sniggering into their absinthe. Spike it, I guess?"
Crane nodded, and glanced around. Nobody else spoke. He chuckled. "And they wonder why we run stories about third-rate Hollywood actors cheating on their wives."
"I fear it has happened again."
Schnabel blinked. "Don't tell me the details, my friend."
"Of course. But I begin to wonder if the locals are better than we are."
"We are on their territory. They have an advantage,"
Schmetterling sighed. "The plan came direct from Prinzalbrechtstrasse. They sent..." He groped for a word.
"Yes, I suppose they were. Such a loss to the Reich."
Schnabel nodded. And good riddance to bad rubbish, it seemed. "Swimming accident?"
"In Speed Week?"
No, it would frighten the tourists. "They do take care that nobody is endangered."
"Herr Stauffen chanced to see them yesterday. Abwehr, of course, but reliable enough, and useful. He said they seemed to be setting out to follow somebody." Schmetterling paused. "I have reason to think a trap had been set for them."
"Please, no more." Schnabel could work out far too much now. Those bodyguards Prince Albert had mentioned: They had reacted for a very specific reason. "In any case, I must write a report for you. Various little things that came up in conversations."
"I'll not keep you, then."
"More parties tonight. I plan to have a nap this afternoon."
"An excellent idea."
"Where am I?"
Lady Helen propped herself up on one elbow and admired him. "A village on Main Island. You got very drunk." She very carefully didn't mention the fur dye she had noticed. It wasn't for vanity, she was sure of that.
Bellman winced. "Very drunk?" That felt an accurate description.
"You ended up singing some extremely bawdy soldier's songs, with Saunders providing accompaniment on his ukulele. I've never heard that version of Mademoiselle From Armentieres."
"Oh." He opened his eyes, and hastily closed them.
"Kaimi said that yesterday you were a warrior for the Light, a Chosen Fur."
"You rode the Thunderbird from the storm-peak to the sea."
Helen leaned over and kissed him. "Thank you, Charlie Bellman. For everything." She didn't want details, but she knew.
"Everything. And, just to prove it, I know a very good hangover cure."
Bellman smiled. "I rather thought you might."
It had not been a good night for Euro pilots in Mahanish's. Apart from the rather large photograph of Lady Helen, courtesy of the Spontoon Mirror, there were three pairs of RAF blue trousers nailed to the wall behind the bar.
There was also a pair of US Army dress "pinks", missing one leg. RAF officers employ much better tailors, who know what their work must endure.
"We can have her ready to fly by Friday night."
At the Shoshone Skypaths dock two men were looking at the battered plane. All the engine cowlings were off. The firewalls had held. According to some very careful measurements, the wings hadn't bent.
And, because of a certain pilot's detailed planning, they had all the spare parts ready.
"Who does the nose art for the RINS planes?"
"I can find out."
"We can put this plane in revenue service. But she's always going to be the Thunderbird. And she's always going to be Helen's Thunderbird. Get the best artist, talk to the shamans, and make sure nobody will forget that." Chief Soaring Eagle, Chief Syndic of Shoshone Skypaths smiled. "And pay weekend rate to the mechanics." He glanced over his shoulder. "Arrange a viewing area. No admission charge. Figure out some way of telling them what we're doing, and why. I want them to know we're making sure this plane is safe, just as we do for any other plane in the fleet."
"We have to bring in Crane on that... Yes. And arrange donation boxes for the various emergency funds; get on to Pilot's Hall. And the Spontoonie fire and rescue people."
"Got that, sir. How many people can I hire to explain things?"
"You'll be lucky to find anyone, it's Speed Week.
"Shouldn't you be awake and frightening recruits?"
Wolf snorted. "I'm on leave."
"Good." Freya pounced. Sleeping mats were disarrayed "I thought you said you were Jewish?"
"A technicality of ancestry." He grinned. "I'm a Rain Islander. My father's mother was born in Aberdeen. Do you really think my parents would have paid a mohel?"
"This is, of course, a message for us." The taller of the two Asian gentlemen, looking at the implements arrayed ready in the warehouse, made a casual pointing gesture with his cane. "They left the tools."
His companion, after a moment, nodded. "Indeed."
"I have certain suspicions about what else was removed, besides the obvious. What is left is entirely..."
"Yes." He turned slowly. "One of my informants tells me that Sergeant Wolf Baginski of the Rain Island Army Union was seen pushing a loaded handcart along this street. He thinks the Sergeant was accompanied by a Priestess." He could see some wheelmarks on the floor.
"It is fortunate that the rent was paid in advance."
"You should employ an exorcist, I think." The two men both glanced towards the office. "You have heard of the fate of the Jade Mandarin?"
A nod. "I do not wish to attract the wrath of the Wolf."
"Nor do I. Yet he too is no more than a tool."
They looked at the glinting knives, meditating on the value, and fate, of the craftsman who directs a tool. Each had an acute awareness that they might be ranked with the craftsmen.
It was a most delightfully expressed message. a warning of the utmost delicacy and most dreadful clarity.
"I placed the bet on Lady Helen's plane to finish first. I found it interesting that the bookmakers are not offering odds on the Rules Committee decision."
"Not even the Chinese, sir."
Bertie nodded. "How's Ballory?"
"In search of a tailor. I understand he is in need of a new pair of trousers." Jeffries paused significantly. "Some sort of dispute amongst pilots, I believe. I suspect that the correct fabric is not in stock, locally, but the Air Chief Marshall was planning to wear mufti anyway,"
"I know. He has a cunning plan. And good luck to him." Bertie picked up a stack of papers and skimmed through them. "The thought of Ballory being debagged is going to enliven what seems to be an otherwise tedious day."
"Yesterday was rather special, sir."
"Exceptional, even." Bertie looked at the RAF badge on his cap, and smiled slightly. Helen, he thought, might have a new name today. And she'd always wear a Thunderbird. Nobody would mistake it for an albatross.
end of this sequence
stories to be continued