Declare, p.56
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       Declare, p.56

           Tim Powers
 
Page 56

 

  The taste of khaki, and blood. . .

  He shuddered. "Deal," he said.

  Thunder broke in vast syllables across the sky outside, and Hale remembered that Philby had said his reference to King Solomon had summoned witnesses. And it occurred to him that Philby was not so much playing here to gain something as to make Hale "cast lots" for Elena, betray his love of her. Philby was supposed to be a master at getting Soviet agents to defect-was he playing here simply to get Hale to damn his own soul?

  But the cards were already spinning out across the blanket, two down and one up. Hale was showing a three, and his hole cards proved to be a pair of nines. Not a bad start toward the high hand.

  Philby's showing card was an Ace-good either way.

  "We're both already all-in," said Philby in a voice like rocks rubbing together. "No further betting. " He dealt two more cards face-up-Hale got a seven; Philby got a four, and was looking good so far for making the low hand.

  Philby's eyes were as empty as glass. "She's staying in Dogubayezit," he groaned as he flipped out two more cards. Hale got a ten, no help, and Philby got a six, looking very good for the low hand. "And she's got her own room, at the quaintly styled Ararat Hotel! I've got my jeep here, I can drive us to town at dawn, and the holder of the high hand can sneak right up to her room then, hmm?" His stiff demeanor made the jocularity of his words grotesque.

  Hale's face chilled as he realized that Philby's two hole cards might be Aces, giving him three of them. Philby might have a lock on the high hand.

  What have I done, here? thought Hale, trying to will away the fog of alcohol. Will this game have real consequences? Am I giving her to Philby? Her, to Philby? With a sickness in the pit of his stomach he realized that he couldn't back out of the hand now-he would simply be forfeiting the entire pot. And Philby had said there were witnesses. Hale remembered wondering if Philby was trying more to damn Hale's soul here than to win; and he realized that Philby had lost his stutter in the last minute or so, as if another entity, a devil, was speaking through his lips.

  "She doesn't-Elena doesn't-fancy you," said Hale thickly.

  Two more cards flipped out: Hale got a nine, giving him three of them now, and Philby got an eight. The rocking lamp flared and dimmed.

  Philby's voice was an echoing growl: "Do you think that will matter, after this?"

  The bomb shelter shook with a gust of wind, or thunder, or an aftershock-the earth and sky seemed to be agreeing with Philby.

  "Last card," said Philby in a tone like the hollow crack of artillery; "down and dirty. " He dealt each of them a card face-down, and Hale picked his up from the shaking floor with trembling fingers. The welded seams of the shelter were creaking now as the little structure rocked in the wind like a boat on a turbulent sea.

  Down and dirty. The whole bomb shelter was vibrating now.

  Hale's last card was another seven, giving him a full boat, nines over sevens. That was a good high hand-but Philby might conceivably have a better high hand, Aces-full, or even four Aces. If Hale declared high and then lost, he would lose the entire pot: Elena's safety from Philby and the immortality, both. And even if he should choose to abandon Elena to Philby, and try for the immortality-declare low-Philby could easily have a better low hand than Hale's terrible pair of sevens and could declare that way, and again win the whole pot.

  Philby looked at his last card and then placed it back on the shivering blanket, still face-down. "We need tokens, for the declaration," he said peevishly, "to hold in our fists until the count of three-one token to declare for the low hand, two for the high, three for both ways. Do you have six. . . pennies, pebbles, matches?"

  Slowly and thoughtfully, Hale dug his fingers into the canvas pouch that had contained his iron ankh.

  And after a few seconds he tossed out onto the blanket six of the scorched black glass beads he had picked up from the sand by the meteorite, in Wabar.

  And as the beads bounced on the blanket, the whole bomb shelter was abruptly kicked over sideways, and the western wall of it punched Hale in the head as the lantern flew against the opposite wall and shattered-and then the creaking structure had ponderously rolled all the way over, and Hale tumbled to the ceiling on his right shoulder, his knees following in the constricted somersault to thump against some part of Philby; spatters of burning lamp oil had splashed across the blankets and the clothing of the two men, and Hale scrambled up, his feet slipping on the flaming curved ceiling, and wrenched back the bolt of the inverted door. He butted it open with his head.

  Cold rain thrashed against his face and cleared his nose of the smell of burning wool and hair, and he threw himself over the top of the doorway and then jackknifed out onto the puddled grass, rolling over and over in the darkness to extinguish all of the flaming paraffin that had splashed on him.

  He supposed Philby had climbed out too, but Hale could only clutch the wet grass and sob into the mud, for the whole earth was booming and resounding and shaking under him, and he was irrationally sure that God was striding furiously across eastern Turkey, looking for him, to throw him into Hell, as he deserved.

  Hale closed his eyes lest their glitter should give his position away, and he tried to burrow his body into the mud.

  I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.

  After some hundreds of heartbeats, the ground stopped jolting under him, but Hale could still feel an intermittent subsonic vibration swell and fade deep in the earth, and he was drunkenly sure that it was God's wrathful attention sweeping the landscape. I let go of the Khan's stone, because I wanted to command the djinn, he thought despairingly; I participated in the deaths of my men, in order not to be killed myself; and I tried to trade Elena for eternal life. He kept his face pressed into the wet grass.

  The rain dwindled away and stopped before dawn, and the earth was quiet, waiting for the sun. The moment came when Hale dared to move-he got up stiffly on his hands and knees in the windy darkness, cowering, but no shout from the sky knocked him back down; and he crawled to the inverted bomb shelter and pulled himself up to peer in through the open door. The fires had burned out, and when he climbed cautiously inside he discovered that Philby was gone. Hale wrapped himself in charred, rain-damp blankets and closed his eyes.

  He awoke with a jolt at the screech of a starter motor in the dawn air outside; gray sunlight was slanting into the steel box through the open door, and he disentangled himself from the smoke-reeking blankets and climbed stiffly out onto the grass, shivering and squinting around at the plain and the mountain.

  A gray Willys jeep sat on the north side of the upended bomb shelter, and the scarecrow figure of Philby was hunched in the driver's seat, fluttering the accelerator now to keep the cold engine from stalling. God only knew where the man had waited out the night.

  Hale limped wide around the crumpled corrugated-steel walls, plodded across the wet grass to the vehicle, and wordlessly climbed into the passenger seat. Philby swiveled on him a look that was devoid of greeting, or of anger, or even of recognition; and eventually he clanked the engine into gear and began motoring across the bumpy field to the road that would take them to Dogubayezit.

  Hale saw that a two-foot length of the rope he had seen yesterday in the jeep's bed was knotted now to the ring on the dashboard, and he saw that its end was hacked, as if by frantic blows of a knife edge; the fibers of it were curled up and blackened, and the tan dashboard paint around the steel ring was charred. Hale thought that the ring was even bent upward.

  The other end of the rope, now gone, had been attached to a weather balloon mooring.

  He tried to comprehend the huge thought: this jeep was used to awaken the djinn last night. This is the jeep I heard driving on the plain, just before the earthquake. The man who was driving this vehicle last night was almost certainly working for the Soviet team.

  Hale looked away, out at the boulder-studded grass
plain in the watery sunlight, and he kept his breathing steady.

  Hold your fire until you've got a clear shot, he told himself as his heart thudded in his chest and he thought of the five lost SAS men. Plain revenge is seldom the shrewdest move in espionage. It might have been Burgess-but could Burgess be an active Soviet agent in this without Philby's complicity?

  Hold your fire.

  Neither man spoke, or even glanced again at the other, as the jeep bounced over the muddy road and the red sun slowly rose at their left, over Soviet Armenia.

  Philby did not slow down as he drove through the silent main street of Dogubayezit, past the Ararat Hotel, and straight on toward the road that would take them back to Kars.

  At Erzurum Hale was able to use an RAF radio to send a long decipher-yourself signal to Theodora in Broadway Buildings. In it he reported his failure, and he reported too his suspicion that Philby had participated in the operation, working on the Soviet side. Nearly immediately he received a telegram, but it was from the SIS personnel office rather than from Theodora. It was orders-he was to get aboard the next RAF flight to London and then report immediately to C, who in 1948 was Stuart Menzies.

  And Hale had not seen Jimmie Theodora again until January second of this year, 1963, in Green Park.

  When he had got out of the cab at Broadway Buildings by St. James's Park in London he had thought again, for the first time in many years, of the old Broadway Tower in the Cotswolds and of how he used to hike out across the stubbled fields to stare at its medieval-looking turrets and limestone walls when he had been a boy. The SIS headquarters at Broadway Buildings had long since lost for him its storybook associations with that old isolated castle, but now it seemed almost as remote.

  The guard at the reception desk had recognized him from the wartime service, and after showing the man his orders-telegram Hale had been directed straight to the "arcana," the fourth-floor office from which white-haired old Stuart Menzies guided the worldwide concerns of the postwar SIS. The courtly old man had stood up from his desk to shake Hale's hand, but had not seemed to know exactly what Hale's work in Kuwait had been; and clearly he had not heard from the Turkish station about the recent disaster on Mount Ararat.

  Perhaps imagining that Hale was simply a wartime agent demobbed very late, C had advised him to make a new life for himself in the private sector.

  "I understand you were reading English at an Oxford college before we recruited you," Menzies had told him kindly. "Go back to that, pick up your life from that point, and forget the backstage world, the way you would forget any other illogical nightmare. You'll receive another year's pay through Drummond's in Admiralty Arch, and with attested wartime work in the Foreign Office you should have no difficulties getting an education grant. In the end, for all of us, 'Dulce et decorum est pro patria vanescere. '"

  Chapter Fifteen

  Beirut, 1963

  "All women are thus. " Kim spoke as might have

  Solomon.

  - Rudyard Kipling, Kim

  Elena Teresa Ceniza-Bendiga awoke in an unfamiliar bed before dawn, from a dream of Madrid; she was alone in the dark, and it took her several seconds to remember that she was nearly thirty-nine years old, and that she was in Beirut. After leaving Kim Philby last night in the bar of the Carlton Hotel on the southern shore, she had taken a series of cabs to the St. Georges Hotel and paid cash for a room on the northwest corner of the second floor, overlooking the beach and the terrace.

  She could hardly remember Madrid before her parents had been killed-she could call to mind the sunlit palaces along the tree-lined Gran Avenida de la Libertad, and the metal barrel of the strolling barquillero, with a wheel on the top of the barrel that she would spin to see how many barquillos her centavo would buy; the barquillos were light sugared wafers, and when she won more than three of them her father made her carry the rest home in her handkerchief. And she remembered taking her first Holy Communion at San Francisco el Grande, on the city's western bluff. . . solemn in a white dress, receiving on her tongue the wafer that was the body and blood of Jesus. . .

  Then in April of 1931 King Alfonso had fled Spain, and riots had erupted in the streets-and on a stark Sunday afternoon in May, seven-year-old Elena had stood over the sprawled bodies and spilled blood of her father and mother, on the pavement of the Gran Via in front of a burning church.

  Young Elena had apparently gone quietly mad and stopped eating for a while after that, and she recovered from the brain fever in the boardinghouse owned by her aunt Dolores. Her parents had been devout Catholics, members of the Accion Popular-but her aunt told her that the fascists of the Accion Popular had covertly set fire to the church themselves, in order to lay the blame on the Socialist Provisional Government; Elena's deluded parents had threatened to go to the guardia civil with the story, and had been killed by the fascists.

  Only after her stay in the Lubyanka prison in Moscow did it occur to Elena to doubt her aunt Dolores's version of the story.

  Tia Dolores was a Communist, and she enrolled Elena in the Pioneros youth organization, where the children had made big cardboard hammer-and-sickles and five-pointed Red Stars and learned to revere Lenin and Stalin and the Workers' Paradise. When the army rebelled against the government and the Loyalist guns had fired on the barracks and driven the soldiers out of Madrid, Elena's aunt had joined one of the citizens' militias and got a couple of rifles from the Loyalist Ministry of Defense, and the old lady and the little girl had practiced marksmanship by shooting at the statue of Christopher Columbus in El Retiro park. At night Elena sat through Party meetings in the unheated Palacio del Congreso, under a framed photograph of La Pasionara, the nun-like old woman who was one of the Communist deputies in the Loyalist parliament and whose radio and street speeches could rouse the sick from their beds to take their places at the barricades-and on the walk home through the Madrid streets afterward, Elena and her aunt had looked as pale as drowned corpses, for all the streetlamps and automobile headlights had been painted blue to be less visible from the air.

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