Declare, p.64
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       Declare, p.64

           Tim Powers
 
Page 64

 

  "What did Philby's father have to do with it?" he asked harshly.

  Hartsik took Hale's cue. "Philby's father was always very protective of Kim; clearly he blamed himself-altogether justly-for having crippled the boy's standing in the supernatural world by indulging his own-his-"

  "Lust for my mother. "

  "Well, not to put too fine a point on it. Now old St. John saved the life of a fox in '32, in the Empty Quarter desert, the Rub' al-Khali-his Bedouins were going to kill it, but St. John intervened and set it free. He may have been able to tell somehow that this particular fox contained a djinn, who had been abridged down into this form-in any case, it did, and in gratitude the djinn gave St. John certain powers over foxes-even over fox furs. Several times St. John used this power to protect Kim. When Kim was a war correspondent in Spain in 1936, St. John gave him a mad-looking Arab coat with a fox-fur collar, and he told Kim to wear it whenever he was in peril, especially on his birthday. Kim still has certain magical protections, as you may too, but they become transparent on his birthday-vos anniversaire. And sure enough, on December thirty-first of 1937, Kim was in a car that was hit with an artillery shell; Kim was wearing the fox-fur coat, and he came through with a scratch, though the men with him were all killed-and St. John, who was in Alexandria at the time, was knocked down, bleeding from the ears. Neither of them was seriously hurt, you see-the fox-fur magic dissipated the blow. "

  "I assume that protection has been gone since 1960, when the old man died. "

  "Well, it's gone now. But Philby didn't really lose it until three months ago, in late September of last year. On Easter of '62, he got hold of a fox cub-he named it Jackie, and kept it in his apartment in the Rue Kantari here. The animal reportedly liked whiskey, and would sometimes suck on the stem of a pipe. And Philby was still gung-ho to go along on the Rabkrin expedition to Ararat, to become at last the full-fledged rafiq to the djinn. And then, on September twenty-eighth, precisely on the second anniversary of his father's original death, someone pushed the fox off the balcony of Philby's apartment while he wasn't home. The animal died, and Philby spent two days weeping drunk, and then he began surreptitiously trying to get out of the expedition; he wrote to The Observer, the paper he writes articles for, asking for London leave-and he's been trying to defect to France-and if the SIS offers him any kind of immunity deal, he will want to leap at it. "

  Defect to France, thought Hale; that must be why Elena is in Beirut. But why did she try to kill Philby?

  Don't even think about her, he told himself. "Easter of last year, Philby got the fox?" he said, forcing himself to concentrate on what Hartsik had said. "A good day for rising from the dead, I suppose. Where had the old man's ghost been, in the intervening year and a half?"

  "Haunting the Bashura cemetery, where he was buried-only about three blocks south of here on the Rue de Basta. St. John was a convert to Islam, you know-what the Turks call a ' Burma,' which is to say a turncoat, not someone to be trusted. According to Arab folklore, two angels, Munkir and Nakir, visit a man in his grave right after his burial and quiz him on his faith-if he acknowledges Allah, they let him rest in peace; but if he believes another faith to be true, they thrash him with iron maces until his cries are heard 'from east to west, except by men and djinn. '"

  Hale smiled. "Did a lot of dogs howl, locally, after St. John was buried?"

  "We didn't notice. But the SIS Beirut station picked up a heavy traffic on the service bandwidth; it was en clair, but they thought it must be code because it was all nursery rhymes-'the man in the moon came down too soon,' 'but when she got there the cupboard was bare,' 'how many miles to Babylon'-that kind of thing. The SIS triangulated the signal and found that it seemed to originate in the Bashura cemetery, but they could never find a transmitter, and the signal faded after a month, and they blamed the vagaries of the Heaviside Layer; but we in Declare knew that it was St. John's ghost, catching hell from the Moslem angels. "

  "I wonder what faith he believed was the true one. "

  "Maybe your mother is laughing in her grave," Hartsik agreed magnanimously.

  "So what would the fox have provided, in this Rabkrin expedition, that Philby cannot do without?"

  "The same thing as always-dissipation of a blow, sharing an injury, taking the brunt of it, even; and old St. John's guilt was so strong that he never refused. Kim loved his father, which is to say that he needed him; needed him to take Kim's punishments, mainly. You see, becoming the rafiq to the djinn will be an ordeal. Kim is not properly split, because of your divisive birth, and in the ceremony on the mountain he will be called on to face one of the djinn, eye to eye, be recognized by it. The old sacrament. He didn't fear this in '48, because he was wearing his fox-fur and his father was in Riyadh. Even four months ago he was eager to try Ararat again, because he could bring along the live fox that contained his father's identity-if anyone's mind was to be broken, it would be good old long-suffering St. John's. But now Philby is alone-and he's afraid that the sacrament, undiluted, will leave him half-witted, or insane. "

  "Did Declare kill the fox?"

  "No. Guy Burgess did, acting for the Rabkrin. The Rabkrin would prefer that their rafiq to the djinn be a little simpleminded; and Philby is too sneaky and ambitious by half. Burgess has always been Philby's handler for the Rabkrin-he understands him, having known Philby since they were schoolmates at Cambridge; Philby used to call him 'your Demoncy,' because his full name is Guy Francis de Moncy Burgess. And Burgess has undergone the djinn sacrament too. "

  "He has? I had the idea he grew up in England. "

  "That's right, in Hampshire. But his father was born in Aden and was on the staff of the rear admiral in Egypt during the First World War. And apparently his father was 'embraced by a piece of tender air' at some point in those eastern lands-he requested early retirement in '22 and returned to his family in Hampshire, but two years later young Guy was awakened in the middle of the night by his mother's screams, and he got up and burst into his parents' bedroom. " Hartsik pursed his lips. "The house was dark. He was thirteen years old. His father had expired in the midst of sexual intercourse with his mother-Guy's mother was pinned beneath the corpse, and it may have been simply that that had set her screaming-but young Guy could see over her head, out the window his father must have been facing, and the boy found himself eye to eye, exchanging recognition, with the far-traveling 'piece of empty air' that had followed Guy's father all the way from Egypt to Hampshire: a djinn, perhaps not bothering to assume a completely human aspect. " Hartsik shrugged. "Burgess is now a hopeless alcoholic, and a flagrant homosexual. "

  Hale's eyebrows were raised, and he was remembering, with some sympathy now, the rude drunk he had met at the Turkish-Soviet border in 1948. "Hard to blame him. "

  "Well, really. Burgess apparently derived no pleasure from being able to be in two places at once-he seems not to have had much control of his double, which probably embodied his Eton-and-England loyalties. The double nearly took over after the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact in '39. Finally Burgess simply ran over his double, in Dublin, during the war-drove a car over the thing. After that, there was nothing left of Burgess but alcoholism, homosexuality, and petulance. " Hartsik shrugged. "Many have prospered in the espionage trade with no more. "

  Hale opened his mouth to say something, but was stopped by a knock on the office door; and even with his aching, swollen eye, he managed to give Hartsik a ferocious scowl as the man got up from the desk again.

  It was Farid, this time carefully carrying a steaming cup. "Now they have thrown coffee onto the fellow's shirt," Farid explained.

  Hale thought of his hours-long confession last night to Mammalian. For your penance, he told himself bleakly, take two blows to the face and a cup of coffee down your shirt. And I'll be lucky if that's the extent of it, here or on Ararat.

  "Tell them I said to take it easy, for God's sake," said Hartsik shrilly. "Mr. Hale,
I feel terrible about this-"

  Hale just hiked his chair around to face Farid. "Get it right," he said through clenched teeth.

  The Arab bent over and carefully splashed gouts of the hot coffee onto several areas of Hale's white shirt. Hale breathed deeply through flared nostrils and made no sound as the hot coffee scalded his stomach. At last Farid stood up, frowning and swirling the coffee that was left in the cup. Hale restrained himself from stretching out his leg and kicking the cup up into the man's face.

  "An artist should know when to walk away," said Hartsik tightly. "Go. "

  After Farid had bobbed back out into the hall and pulled the door closed, Hartsik did not sit down again. "I'll tell you the rest briefly, before those surete decide to break that poor man's legs. If your threat to Philby is effective, and he agrees to continue with the Rabkrin operation to Ararat, you will keep your wristwatch set to the correct local time; if Philby refuses, or if three days go by without a clear decision from him, you will set your watch six hours off-and then Kim Philby will find that his next glass of gin has been flavored with a poison that will get past any magical protections, birthday or no birthday. Holy water and-well, you're Catholic, aren't you?-you don't want to know. At any rate, the old Rabkrin recognition phrase is: 'O Fish, are you constant to the old covenant?'" and the answer is-"

  "'Return, and we return,'" said Hale. "'Keep faith, and so will we. '" He stared bleakly up at Hartsik. "Philby must have known that since he was a child-because I have. "

  Hale was hurriedly shown photographs of the room in which his double was being interrogated, and then photographs of the officers who were asking the questions-a cup had been drawn in over the hand of the one who had thrown coffee on the prisoner. After that Hale was given a scrawled transcript of the questioning session and was made to read it several times. He had to admire the way "Andrew Hale" had stuck to his cover story-and the script was good, with the surete gradually becoming convinced that this really was just some British journalist named Charles Garner. To judge from the transcript, the surete officers had even been gruffly apologetic at the end.

  At last Farid led into Hartsik's office the man who had pretended to be Hale. Hale stood up, wondering who this unlucky Declare operative was. Looking at the man's face was like looking into the forty-five-degree intersection of a pair of mirrors-Hale winced to see a duplicate of the jagged cut in his own left cheek, and the extent of the silvery bruise under his eye. He was even disoriented for a moment when he licked his lips and the other face didn't do it too.

  "I owe you a drink, when all this is over," Hale said to the man.

  "Not arak," said his double.

  "Right. " Hale was aware of being drunk, though the hour could not yet be noon, and he bit his tongue against the urge to ask the man if he had heard from Elena.

  "This mistreated gentleman," said Hartsik, waving at Hale's double, "will stay here in my office until nightfall, and then leave in Arab dress, with his face concealed. In the meantime, one of the Rabkrin team has come to the station here to take you back to your hotel. " He stared at Hale. "It's the one called Kim Philby. "

  Hale nodded. "I know what to say to him. "

  Hartsik unlocked the door and swung it open. "We won't speak again," he said quietly as Hale stepped out into the hall; "if you get into unmapped territory, improvise. "

  Hale nodded, as much to the two surete officers who stood in the hall as in acknowledgment of Hartsik's remark; and then he was escorted back down the hall to the yellow-painted waiting room. The police did not hold his arms now-Charles Garner had officially proven to be a harmless drunk.

  Kim Philby was leaning against the wall by the alley door. He was wearing a sport coat and a tie, but his pouchy face was spotted and pale, and he was frowning.

  My half-brother, thought Hale as he walked away from the police, toward the door.

  "I was t-told it was you," Philby said. He peered at Hale's face. "They d-did m-mess you up, rather, didn't they? There's no bail to be p-paid-apparently they feel that your mistreatment here has been pa-pa-payment enough. I'd have said you rated another biff or two, but the surete and I d-don't always see eye to eye. " He waved toward the wire-mesh glass door. "We'll walk. I was also t-told you're likely to be d-drunk. You can walk, can't you?"

  "I can walk. "

  When they had stepped down to the alley pavement and crossed to the far sidewalk, Philby began talking in a low voice that barely reached Hale's ringing ears. "Your indulgence of t-temper and intemperance th-this morning may have caused this operation to be can-can-canceled," he said, and Hale thought there was a note of suppressed satisfaction in his voice. "You had better h-hope otherwise, because I don't m-mind telling you that Mammalian will simply vv-verify you if he does abort it, casually as swatting a fly. You were always a blundering f-f-fool, Hale, but this-"

  Hale was suddenly very tired, and the prospect of walking a mile or so with Philby in this hectoring mode was beyond bearing. Brace him now, Hale thought, if only to change his tone.

  "O Fish," Hale interrupted, "are you constant to the old covenant?"

  Philby stopped walking, and Hale had to halt and turn around to face him. "I want to buy a couple of guns," Hale added. "Where's the nearest shop for guns?"

  "Return, and we return," said Philby hollowly, staring at Hale in evident puzzlement. "Keep faith, and so will we. What do you m-mean?" he added in a cautious tone.

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