Declare, p.41
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       Declare, p.41

           Tim Powers
 
Page 41

 

  Elena yawned, clearly from tension rather than tiredness. "You're talking about the Dead Sea Scrolls, right?-that were found-found again-in 1947! Do you know what the documents were?"

  "Yes, I-I read the L-Lawrence files myself in 1934. " After breaking into my father's safe, he thought, and photographing his papers. "According to h-his inventory files, there were a n-number of Semitic j-jars in the cave, but he took away an anomalous one that h-had an ankh-type c-cross for a h-h-handle. In it were s-several brittle old Hebrew scr-scrolls-apparently one was what is c-called a brontologion, which means 'what the thunder said'; these were usually di-di-divination and astrological t-texts, derived from 1-listening to thu-thunder; but Lawrence's references to it s-seemed to indicate a-more specific and deliberate m-message from the thunder. Another of the s-ss-scrolls seems to have been a variant v-version of either the Book of Genesis or the apocryphal Book of Enoch-the story of Noah and the great f-flood, in any case. My f-father never obtained the ack-ack-actual transcriptions Lawrence made of these, so I n-never saw them either. Lawrence became unreliable, after he t-translated them. " Philby yawned too, creaking his jaw, and he clenched his hands into fists to stop them trembling. "I photographed what there was, and gave the foe-foe-photographs to Guy Burgess, who was always my m-main Soviet handler in those d-days. "

  "And Lawrence died in a motorcycle crash the following year. How does all this relate to your decision to-quit the 'Great Game,' leave the Soviet service, and seek the protection of the SDECE?"

  "My f-f-father-initiated, t-tried to initiate me-into-" He let the sentence trail away.

  Elena clicked her tongue impatiently. "If you're going to be evasive about the supernatural element of your story, the SDECE is not buying. "

  "Evasive. " Philby laughed shortly, aware of the weight of chunky steel on his ankle and wondering if he might ever be faced with the necessity-and have the courage-to turn the gun on himself. "It is v-vaguely shameful, though, isn't it? Didn't you feel that, in B-Berlin?"

  "And if you're not willing to face shame, we're not going to get anywhere. "

  "'O valiant wheel! O most courageous heaven!' You g-give me back the s-same reproach I gave you, in T-Turkey. Yes, very well. " For several seconds he just blinked out at the shadowed, eroded faces of the two giant monoliths standing in the bay, and at a flock of seagulls flying in a ring just to this side of the rocks. A new identity in France, he told himself. You cannot go up onto Mount Ararat.

  Still, his voice shook when he finally spoke: "My father was b-baptized, but renounced Kruh-Christianity and converted to Islam in 1930, and took the name Hajji Abdullah, 'One Who Has Made the Pilgrimage, Slave of God'-and I never was b-b-baptized at all, he saw to that. He had been born on Good F-Friday in 1885, in Ceylon, and a c-comet was clearly v-visible in the sky on that day-once when he was a baby he was accidentally left behind at a government rest stop during a journey, and the s-servants rushed back and found him being n-nursed by a djjj-by a 'gypsy' woman. " Philby glanced at Elena, but her blue eyes were hidden behind the sunglasses, and he looked back out at the rocks. "In fact she was n-nursing two identical infants, b-both dressed in my father's B-British baby clothes. Later one of the infants was apparently 1-lost-in any case, when they got home again, there was only one. "

  "They were both him," said Elena, "right? Don't hint, say. "

  Philby bared his teeth in a difficult smile. "My motto has always been 'know, not think it, and learn, not speak. ' The short course for spies. But yes," he agreed wearily, "they were b-both him. At around the age of s-seven he lost that ability to be in two p-p-places at one time. I was born in Ambala, in the Punjab in India, and I s-spoke Hindi before I s-spoke English. I used to d-dream-"

  With an emotion no stronger than perplexity, he discovered that he was unable to tell her about the year's-end dreams that had blighted his boyhood in India and England: dreams of a bearded bronze man as tall as the rotating night sky, holding an upraised scythe that glittered like a constellation; or of the whole world turning ponderously on the celestial potter's wheel; or of an Arabian Nights magician whirling a flaming fishing net right into his scorching eyes-from his own studies in the Old Testament's First Book of Kings he knew that the Hebrew words for burn, excommunicate, magician, potter, and blasphemy, as well as sword, all began with the Hebrew letters cheth and resh-and the dreams always ended with his head being forcibly split in two, so that before he awoke he imagined that he had been broken into two personalities. In adulthood he had come to suspect that the dreams expressed dim memories of some anti-baptism to which he had been subjected as an infant.

  "Well," he said, covering his hesitation by jumping back to the last topic, "I didn't just dream it-I was able to be in t-two p-places at once myself, as a b-boy. One of me could be in studying, while the other was out h-hiking in the woods. My p-parents had always been aware of it, and simply t-told me to be d-d-discreet, circumspect. I wasn't b-baptized, and so I didn't lose that ability until. . . until precisely on my t-t-tenth birthday. "

  "When is your birthday?"

  Never, he thought. It is never, and I will never tell you. "New Year's Day," he said lightly. "My f-father had been g-grooming me, he wanted his s-son to become-what his b-baptism had barred h-h-him from becoming. Until he was f-forced to resign in 1924, he was a m-major in the Raj, with the Political and Secret Department of the Indian government-the MI-lC, actually, f-forerunner of the present-day SIS. He became great p-pals with Ibn Saud, then king of the Najd r-region in central Arabia, eventually to become eponymous king of all S-S-Saudi Arabia, and when Ibn Saud's son Feisal p-paid a state visit to England in 1919, the Foreign Office appointed my f-father as the boy's escort. I was s-s-seven years old at the time, going to a Westminster-prep school in Eastbourne, and they v-visited me there. Feisal presented me with a t-twenty-carat d-diamond. The Russians have always wanted to g-get it away from me-not to be v-v-vulgar, but I had to swallow it, during the episode in Turkey in '48-and I'll wager Feisal h-himself would like to have it b-back now, now that air travel is so c-common. "

  "What has the jewel got to do with air travel?"

  "I'm not going to g-give it to you people either. B-but what it d-does is-it constitutes a rafiq, it makes the bearer an emissary, with d-diplomatic immunity to any r-r-wrath from the powers that prevail. . . up high, from roughly a thousand feet above sea-level on up. . . to the m-moon, I suppose. "

  "Why did your ability cease on your tenth birthday?"

  "I-don't know. My f-father was alarmed, dismayed; he was in Amman, in Jordan, but my m-m-mother must have written to him about my sudden singularity. He ordered me to m-meet him in Amman in the s-summer of my eleventh year, and though it was ostensibly a holiday, for a couple of months he. . . tttested me, and the jewel. We traveled to Damascus, and Baalbek, and Nazareth, always hiking among the oldest t-tombs and watching the w-weather. We fl-flew over Lake Tiberias in a De Havilland biplane and saw a waterspout that he said was Sakhr al-Jinni, a djinn that had been c-confined to the lake by King S-S-Solomon, but it didn't approach us. . . and we went to the J-J-Jordan River near Jericho, and he collected samples of the river w-water. " Philby shivered, recalling even now his father's frustrated rage as he had corked the dripping bottles. "He wanted to send the samples to the B-British Museum, to see if the water really d-d-did have any measurable special p-properties. I think he was worried about s-s-someone, some infant, who had been b-baptized there-not long before. "

  "He was testing you?"

  "Yes, and I f-failed. When I lost the ability to be two b-boys, I apparently also lost the ability to. . . conjure, or c-control, the old entities. I became ill-shakes and fever-with what he elected to d-d-diagnose as malaria, though I've never had the usual r-relapses. And I was sent home to Ig-England. A year later I went off to Westminster school, and my f-f-father made it clear that I was to go on to T-Trinity College, Cambridge, as he had done, and which I d-did. But I had a-a n-ner
vous b-b-breakdown, at Westminster! Do y-you know why?"

  Elena looked away from the circling gulls to face him, and she laughed in surprise. "No," she said. "Why?"

  "Because of the unrelenting Christian instruction. Really! They did j-just k-keep on at us about Original Sin, and our individual s-sins, and how each of us m-must either submit to k-k-Christ, surrender our wills to His, or s-suffer the eternal wrath of God. I dee-dee-denied all of it. I was an atheist even then-though, thanks to my f-father, I was an atheist who was m-mortally afraid of graveyards, and of the Roman Catholic s-sacraments, and of tall storm clouds and th-thunder at twilight. "

  He looked out at the sea. The red sun had sunk below the horizon, leaving glowing golden terraces of cloud hung across the whole western half of the sky, but no cumulus clouds were rearing their shoulders and shaggy heads out there. The ring of seagulls was closer, though-a quarter of a mile away, halfway between the rocks and the cliff highway now.

  "We should g-go inside somewhere," he said nervously. "Get something to d-drink. "

  "They're only birds. And no microphone can detect our talk out here. When were you actually inducted into the Soviet service? You say your father was your recruiter in an unspecific sense-who recruited you specifically?"

  "Recruited. Into a t-t-treasonous cause, right? You resent that, the fact that s-secretly I was an agent of communism all along. H-how old were you in 1931?"

  "Older than most my age. "

  "Well, exactly, your p-parents were k-killed by fascist monarchists, the right-wing C-C-Catholic lot, isn't that so?-in Madrid, when King Alfonso fled Spain; and a few y-y-years after that you were an orphan precociously working as a wireless t-telegrapher among the Loyalists. You see I r-r-remember everything about us. But in England in 1931 the b-betrayed Labour Party was v-voted out, and a coco-a Conservative National Government!-was voted in. You sh-should sympathize-the common p-people had been viciously fooled by sin-sin-cynical propaganda, and anyone could see that mere d-democracy could never lead to real p-peace. "

  He realized that he was frowning when the bandage over his forehead tightened, and he wondered, Do I still even believe that? Really?

  "And so," he went on, thrusting the thought away, "when another Cambridge student, this Guy B-B-Burgess fellow, approached me about d-doing s-secret work for Mother Russia, I was-amenable. Burgess had me tr-travel to Austria in the autumn of '33, when I was twenty-one years old; and with my B-British p-passport-and Cambridge accent!-I was able to be a useful network courier, c-carrying p-packages from Vienna to Prague and Budapest. In '34 I was s-sent back to work in England by one of the great old European illegals-he was a dedicated Communist and a Cheka officer, but he had been a C-C-Catholic p-priest before the horrors of the first war made him lose his f-faith, and when he was d-drunk he used to weep about the Cheka work he'd done, imposing collectivization on the Russian f-farms-"

  "'I could not bear the women wailing, when we lined the villagers up to be shot,'" said Elena in a quiet voice, clearly quoting. "'I simply could not bear it. '"

  And Philby was suddenly nauseated. He leaned on the cliff railing and stared at the circling birds in the gathering twilight. "You-knew Theo Maly?" he croaked.

  "I met him in Paris, in 1937. " Philby could barely hear her voice through the gauze over his ears. Her shoes shifted audibly on the pavement, and when she went on it was in a stronger voice, and she again seemed to be quoting someone: "Thistles, weeds-plants. Did Maly ever talk about such things with you, my dear?"

  "Jesus!" burst out Philby, so loudly that a European tourist couple stared at him as they wheeled a perambulator along the sidewalk. "Yes, my dear," he went on more quietly. "Yes, he did m-mention the amomon root to me-right at the end, when he had received his s-summons to Moscow and he knew he was g-going there to be g-given the, the schuss. And in fact he did tell me he was going by way of Paris. "

  "The Stirnschuss," said Elena. "The bullet in the forehead. "

  Philby shifted to look around at her, and she was touching her own forehead, under the white bangs.

  "Yes," Philby said, "th-that was the word he used. We were drinking in a London p-pub in early '37, and he t-told me, 'They will kill me if I go to Moscow -Stalin won't any longer continue to employ an ex-priest. But if I don't go, they will simply send someone to kill me here; and I don't want to give them the vindication of any disobedience on my part. ' And then he-he said that, as a p-parting gift, he could offer me. . . eternal life. When I asked him what he m-meant, he explained that a C-C-Catholic p-priest can n-never abdicate his sacramental powers, and he offered to b-baptize me right there at the table, and then-he was drunk-to hear my c-c-confession, absolve me of my s-sins, if I would repent and have a f-firm purpose of amending them, and finally to order some bread and wine so that he could consecrate them and give me the"-he paused, and spoke carefully-"the Communion, the Eucharist. "

  "Ah, God," said Elena softly, taking off her sunglasses.

  "Pitiful to see him b-break down so, at the end," agreed Philby. "I told him, 'No, th-thank you'-civilly enough, for he was an old f-friend, and drunk-and then he sighed, and said he could in that case offer me a more p-p-profane sort of eternal life. "

  The seagulls had been joined by pigeons from the cliffs, and the two sorts of birds were flying together in a wheel against the sky, which had lost its gold now and showed only the colors of blood and steel. Philby touched his chest, where Feisal's diamond hung on a chain under his shirt.
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