Declare, p.63
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       Declare, p.63

           Tim Powers
 
Page 63

  Hartsik was holding the bottle over Hale's coffee cup, but Hale twitched his fingers at it, and when the other man handed it to him he tipped the bottle up for a liberal mouthful. After he had swallowed it, he opened his mouth to inhale the warm fumes.

  "Who is my father?" Hale said thickly.

  "Harry St. John Philby," said Hartsik. "Kim Philby is your half-brother. "

  Hale's breath had stopped-but a moment later he nodded slowly, remembering the times he had dreamed of Kim Philby, and had seemed to hear Philby's voice in his head. Had Philby suspected this? Our Hajji which art in Amman. . .

  "He," Hale said unsteadily, "the old man, he-raped my mother-" Tears were running down his cheek from his left eye.

  "Apparently," said Hartsik, "not. Old Philby was the British political agent in the court of King Abdullah of Trans-Jordan, in Amman, just on the other side of the Jordan River from Jerusalem, where your mother's religious order was working in a British Army hospital; and by all reports he was, er, handsome and charming. Thirty-seven years old at the time, probably quite a-well. St. John seems to have been troubled by the fear that Christianity might be. . . real, the true story. Specifically he was afraid of Roman Catholicism, with all its. . . nasty old relics and sacraments and devotions, the whole distasteful Irish and Mediterranean air of it. He apparently thought that if he could persuade a so-called bride of Christ to forsake her vows-seduce her, I mean-"

  Hale nodded impatiently. "I didn't suppose he tried to force wealth on her. "

  "Right. Well, he thought this would disprove the nun's whole faith, you see, expose it as a morbid but harmless hypocrisy-like citing Popes who have had illegitimate children. I do wonder how Catholics justify-"

  "Infallible, not impeccable," snapped Hale; and he wondered why he was bothering to defend his forsaken old faith at all. "The Russians want both of St. John's sons up on the mountain-working together this time. Why?"

  "Because St. John's dalliance with your mother was a very costly mistake for him-and for the Russians. Young Kim was supposed to be a human emissary to the djinn, taking the long-dormant job over from the Arab royalty-the son of King Saud relinquished an ancestral rafiq diamond to Kim, in 1919, when Kim was seven. "

  "Rafiq?" said Hale, puzzled. "Do you mean in the Bedu sense? An introducer or guarantor?"

  "Right, a member of the other tribe, who'll vouch for you. Kim was supposed to be this person; and even now the diamond serves its rafiq purpose. Kim was given the djinn sacrament when he was an infant, deliberately, by his father. St. John received it by accident-he was born in Ceylon, and on that day a streak of light like a comet shot south over the Bay of Bengal and lit up several Ceylonese villages-but after that St. John was baptized, which blunted the non-human grace of it. St. John made sure that Kim was never baptized. "

  "Uh," said Hale, "djinn sacrament?"

  "The splitting?" Hartsik raised his eyebrows, then shook his head in disappointment. "Huh. You remember the story in First Kings, about the two women who came before King Solomon? They had a live baby and a dead baby, and each woman claimed the live one was hers. According to the Bible, Solomon called for a sword and offered to cut the baby in half. "

  "Yes. It always seemed implausible to me-that the lying woman would agree to that, would say, 'Yes, cut him in half. '"

  "Well, sure-because actually Solomon didn't call for a 'sword' to settle the argument. The old copyists put in the word sword because it seemed to make more sense than the word that was in the oldest manuscripts-it began with the Hebrew letters cheth and resh, as sword does, but it was a neologism-paleologism, I suppose-a combination of blasphemy and destruction and potter's wheel, which are all spelled similarly. "

  A potter's wheel, thought Hale-a changing form, rotating. "A djinn," he said. "Solomon called for a djinn. "

  "Right. Apparently Solomon really was able to confine the djinn, abbreviate and summarize their tumultuous thoughts down to something he could pop into a jug and then seal with"-he pointed at the lead balls on the desk-"a threaded cluster of those. Threaded, see? So that they'd have to be rotated, assimilated, for the djinn to get out; and assimilating those would kill the thing. In any case, if you expose a tabula rasa infant to the attention of a djinn, there's a bond formed-neither side can help it, the child has no defensive mental walls yet, and the djinn is no more able to not look into the child's eyes than water can not run downhill. The djinn almost adopts the child, recognizes it as family. Djinn apparently perceive humans as autistic-"

  Hale suppressed a wince, remembering having shared that perception in the Ahora Gorge.

  "-but they can tell that a baby is new-it's not the child's fault that it can't express anything. Now this procedure, this sacrament, is fine for inter-species relations, but it's hard on the child-the shock of it polarizes the child's mind, as if you were to freeze a glass of gin and tonic-you'd wind up with liquid gin and solid tonic, right? The child becomes two children; that is, the child is able to be in two places at once, literally. " He shrugged. "It's not so implausible that the lying woman in the Biblical story was willing to settle for half of such a split. "

  "Jesus. This was done to Kim Philby?"

  "Very shortly after his birth in India, yes. And until he was ten years old he was verifiably able to be in two places at once, and he seemed destined to be the rafiq to the djinn. But then St. John had to go and father an illegitimate baby-you-who was born on Kim Philby's tenth birthday. December thirty-first, both of you, though your birthday has always been given as January sixth, so as not to rouse Philby's suspicions, and he has always claimed January first as his own. But you were both born on the same day in the solar year, you see? The night sky was the same again on your birthday as it had been on Philby's, and the djinn in their literal way confused you with Philby. The two of you became the polarized pair, and Philby wasn't able to be in two places at the same time anymore. "

  Again there was a knock at the office door; and when Hartsik got up and unlocked it to let Farid in, the Arab said, "I now smite the other man too hard. He bleeds more than this one. "

  Hartsik stamped his foot on the floor. "For God's sake, Farid! Very well, hit this fellow again, carefully, and then get out of here. " He glanced at Hale and shrugged. "I do apologize, old man. "

  Hale stared at the Arab in disbelief. "No," he told Hartsik. "I'll just smear blood around. "

  Hartsik shook his head. "This has to be perfect, I'm sorry. Mammalian will be very suspicious in any case-you must be a precise match for the man who's being interrogated. "

  Hale sighed deeply and turned toward Farid, bracing himself again. "If this becomes necessary one more time," he told the Arab tightly, "I'll smite you, I promise. "

  "Has to be perfect!" protested Farid. "Hold still, please. "

  Hale closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, and the fresh, hard blow on his already bruised cheekbone rocked his head and brought bile to the back of his throat; and he had to lower his head and breathe spittily through his mouth to keep the rainbow glitter of unconsciousness from filling his vision.

  He didn't see Farid leave, but over the ringing in his ears he heard the door click shut.

  Hale took a deep breath and rocked his head back to blink at Hartsik out of his right eye. The man was relocking the door. "Does Philby know?" Hale asked thickly. "That he and I are half-brothers?"

  "Not that we know of. He might well suspect that St. John had an illegitimate child, and that the birth ruined Kim's prepared destiny; broke it in half. "

  "Broke it. So Philby and I are two halves of one person. "

  "Well, in a sense. " Hartsik walked back to his chair behind the desk and sat down. "We suspect that you've been able to hear each other's thoughts, in the season when the sky has assumed the definition of you; and probably you dream each other's dreams then. And you do appear to-" Hartsik paused, awkwardly.

  "Don't hesitate," Hale said, "to add insult to injury. "
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  "Well, Philby appears to have got-this is imprecise, you understand, armchair speculation-he appears to have got all the family feeling, the-practically obsession, in his case-with hearth-and-home, parents and wife and children. He's been married three times, and he's got five children. He has, though, no comprehension of loyalty, duty. Those qualities all seem to have flowed your way. "

  "And the Russians want-because the djinn require-the entire rafiq to be present. "

  "That's it. You were both there in the gorge in '48, but not working together. They couldn't see you properly. This time they will open their gates to the two of you-and you will kill them. "

  "How?" Hale waved at the lead balls on the table. "Shoot them with these?"

  "Yes-a lot of them, cast in a much smaller scale. Birdshot caliber. Several shops in Beirut are now manned with clerks who will sell you prepared shot shells and an American derringer, chambered for the American. 410 shell and rifled to the right so that the pellets will emerge in a pattern that's turning clockwise as it expands, to match the spinning of the djinn if you fire upward. The djinn will assimilate the shot pellets-which is to say, assimilate the experience of death. Dying, they will no doubt throw spontaneous egg-shapes of their own, made of mountain stone or whatever is at hand, and ideally a chain-reaction will ensue. You will buy several boxes of shells-but you must save one shell for Philby. "

  Theodora had mentioned this, but Hale had not known then that Philby was his half-brother. "What about his protections?" Hale asked, mainly just to slow this discussion. "His Achilles-heel date isn't due to come round again for nearly another year. "

  "The protections aren't against self-injury. You are virtually him, in this context; that will be especially true on Mount Ararat. "

  The other half of me, Hale thought. The hearth-and-home half of me. "Very well," he said unsteadily, "I'll shoot him. " He may be my brother, he told himself, but Philby is still the man who betrayed my men in the gorge. I can shoot him for that.

  "You are not to kill him. Do please pay attention. You are not on any account to kill Philby, even to save yourself. You are to shoot him in the back, from a sufficient distance so that the shot will penetrate widely around his spine but not be focused in any kind of tight pattern. We certainly don't want the 'rat-hole' effect! The goal is to leave him able to walk away, to Moscow, with at least one pellet in his flesh that cannot be removed surgically. "

  Hale's arms were suddenly cold. "She's a ghul," he whispered, using the Arabic word for djinn who haunt graveyards and eat the dead in their graves, extracting up through the soil as souvenirs any bits of metal-rings, gold teeth-that the cadavers might have contained. "A ghulah," he corrected himself, using the feminine form.

  "Very good, Mr. Hale! Yes, she is. And when-"

  Hale remembered Mammalian's question this morning. "And she sometimes appears as an Arabic woman with a string of gold rings around her neck, right? I've met her. And since 1883 she has been the guardian angel of Russia. "

  "Machikha Nash, the Rabkrin call her. Yes. And-"

  "And!" interrupted Hale, "if Philby goes to Moscow, after this-and I presume he'll be given no choice-he'll eventually die there. He'll be buried in a Moscow cemetery. "

  Hartsik's eyes narrowed in a smile. "Ex-act-ly. And the guardian angel will not neglect to devour him, and to draw up, in her spiral way, the metal that is in him, including at least one of these shot pellets. And she will thus assimilate into herself the shape of djinn death. " He sat back. "And she will die, and the Soviet Union will lose its guardian angel. I can't imagine the U. S. S. R. surviving Philby by more than three or four years. "

  Hale recalled what Prime Minister Macmillan had said six days ago: I suppose we can't simply shoot spies, as we did in the war-but they should be discovered and then played back in the old double-cross way, with or without their knowledge-never arrested. And Hale thought that Macmillan would be pleased with the way Theodora had orchestrated this use of Kim Philby.

  It seemed to call for a drink. Hale picked up the Laphroaig bottle and took another aromatic mouthful from the neck of it. "In London," he said hoarsely, "I was told that Philby does not want to participate in this expedition to Ararat; that I'll have to threaten him to get him to go along. What's the basis for his reluctance?"

  "That's right. His father-your father-died, here in Beirut, a little more than two years ago. I'm, uh, sorry. "

  "Stop it. " Hale could hardly remember the text of The Empty Quarter, which his father had written; and that book was his only link to the old man. Any feeling of. . . loss, here, he reminded himself, would be sheer affectation. But he did remember standing on the steep escarpment at the windy Edge-of-the-Wold when he had been a boy, looking down at the roofs of Evesham and the River Isbourne on the plain below the Cotswolds highlands, and speculating that his father was a missionary priest "somewhere east o' Suez," and imagining how the two of them might one day meet. And then he remembered walking across the grassy quad at the University College of Weybridge on many late afternoons in the 1950s, picturing an eventual reunion with Elena. How shabbily these fond dreams work out, he thought-and he was glad that Farid had hit him again, for he was afraid that some of the tears leaking from his swollen left eye were tears of purest self-pity.
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