Declare, p.72
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       Declare, p.72

           Tim Powers
 
Page 72

 

  Then with a shout of pain Philby had straightened up and turned, and Hale saw that the muzzle of Philby's Kalashnikov, though wobbling, was pointed straight at him.

  "If," grated Philby, "I t-try again to shoot the r-rope, will you-" He inhaled with a near shriek. "Will you sh-shoot me, again?"

  Hale stared through a red haze of exhaustion into the ring of the wavering muzzle. He took a deep breath, wondering if Elena might have been aboard the French helicopter. "Yes," he said.

  Philby's answering howl was lost in the battering roar of the machine gun, but Hale could see that the muzzle flare was slanted away to the left side of him; and after three deafening seconds the gun stuttered to a ringing halt, its thirty-round magazine emptied.

  Then Philby was on his knees in front of Hale, shaking him weakly by the shoulders, and the mouth opened in the frosted black face and Philby was screaming, "I would n-not shoot my own f-family!" The wind was strengthening, flinging clouds of obscuring snow over them and down the slope behind them. Philby fell back, his hands clasped across his chest in evident pain. "C-can we!" he said loudly. "Get down off th-this, to the Cehennem Dere?"

  Hale nodded. He recalled that the Spetsnaz had left the piton in the edge of this glacier, between the cornices over the level where the tents had been. He would find the little iron ring, if he had to crawl the whole length of the glacier edge.

  The south sides of the tents were nearly buried in fresh snowdrifts, and Hale and Philby had blundered a dozen yards past them in the flying white haze before Hale happened to look back and see the rectangular shapes. He waved to catch Philby's attention, and pointed back.

  Philby had to walk stiffly around in a circle to look back; and then he didn't nod, but waved his left hand weakly, and began trudging heavily in that direction, leaning into the snowy wind.

  Hale tugged his machine gun forward, into the Bedu position-God knew what the response of the two Turks would be to the return of only two of the thirteen men who had gone up the mountain. Ahead of him, Philby laboriously unslung his own machine gun and limped forward carrying it.

  Hale peered through nearly blinded eyes at Philby's back; he thought he could see a couple of the tiny pin-holes where the birdshot had penetrated, but of course there was no blood visible on this outermost layer of clothing.

  "Fuad!" roared Philby as he stepped up to the tent entrance. "Umit! Open up in the n-name of the KGB!"

  The wall of the tent fluttered, and then snow was being punched away from the tent entrance from the inside; at last Hale saw yellow lamplight through a vertical slit between rubberized canvas flaps, and a gun muzzle pointed out.

  "You m-mad sod," shouted Philby, "p-put that down. Who d-do you sup-suppose it is out h-here that knows your n-names?"

  Enough snow had been shoved away so that the flap could be pulled open, and Philby was a shaggy silhouette against the lamplight as he blundered inside. Hale pulled his numb feet quickly through the snowdrifts to enter right behind him.

  The still air of the tent burned on Hale's face as he let himself collapse into a sitting position. One of the Turks was at the tent opening, but the other seemed to be closer. Philby fell heavily to his knees and demanded the bottle of arak, and Hale rocked his head in an emphatic nod. Philby had brought his flasks with him onto the mountain, but of course there was the risk that the liquor in them might by now be far below the freezing temperature of water, though still liquid, so that one mouthful would freeze teeth and tongue and throat.

  Through his watering, ice-crusted eyes Hale could see only blurry silhouettes and a yellow glow that was the paraffin lamp, but he could make out the shape of one of the Turks standing over him.

  "Where are the others?" the Turk asked, his voice ringing in Hale's ears.

  "C-close the tent," rasped Philby. "Where's the arak? The others are all d-dead. "

  "Dead!" said the Turk, and his suspicious tone made Hale sure that it was Fuad. "Did you kill them?"

  "Of course, F-F-Fuad, t-two middle-aged Englishmen k-killed ten spit-spit-fucking-Spetsnaz. The elite so-so-Soviet commandos. You fool. "

  Hale could blurrily see the bottle in Philby's hand-it appeared to have been uncorked, but Philby was simply holding it.

  Hale bit off the mitten and liner glove from his right hand, and then reached out clumsily. "Infirm of purpose," he said hoarsely, "give me the liquor. "

  Philby tipped the bottle up to his lips first, and Hale heard gurgling; then the bottle was in Hale's hand, and he lifted it and swallowed several mouthfuls of the warm, stinging, licorice liquor.

  "A F-French helicopter," said Philby, exhaling, "strafed us, f-fired explosive rah-rah-rockets. " Hale could feel his gaze, and then Philby added, "I c-caught some shrapnel, in my b-back. I'll w-want medical attention. "

  "I'm sure they'll be ready to treat injuries," said Hale, "at the air base in Erivan. " You're crossing the border, remember, Hale thought-you're defecting now, not going back to Beirut. "You've got a flare pistol?"

  "In the back!" sneered Fuad. "You did not run as fast as the shrapnel, quite, eh?"

  Philby was silent for several seconds, and when he spoke it was to answer Hale. "There's a f-flare piss-piss-pistol in the tent, y-yes. " Hale heard him shift, and then the bottle was taken out of Hale's hand. "You w-wouldn't care to-c-come along? Hero's w-welcome. "

  "In the Workers' Paradise," said Hale. The ice was melting off of his eyelids, and he was blinking around to assure himself that he could still see. "No, thank you. I was hired help for this enterprise. This failed enterprise. "

  "We c-can't fire the fluh-flare yet," said Philby. "Snow-storm. W-wait until they can s-s-see it. "

  "I need a pair of snow-goggles," Hale said.

  "The helicopter w-will l-land right here," said Philby. "Twenty p-paces from the t-tent. "

  "And I'll be gone by then," said Hale. "If I was to go to Erivan with you, I might not ever get back across. And if I wait here, the Soviet agents might not care to let me just walk away. Which," he added, "I am going to do as soon as I've rested here. Oh, and I'll want the key to one of the trucks. "

  "No spare goggles," said Fuad with satisfaction.

  Philby had pulled back his furred hood and tugged his goggles down below his chin; the top half of his face seemed bone-white in contrast to his blackened mouth and jaw. Now he reached up with both hands and pulled the snow-goggles off over the top of his head; and there was wry humor in his pouchy exhausted eyes as he held the goggles out toward Hale.

  "I won't need them," he said. "Umit-give him the keys to the Dodge. "

  Hale saw Fuad open his mouth to object, then shrug.

  Umit crouched by a tin box on the rubber floor and opened it, and when Fuad nodded he tossed a ring to Hale.

  "A waste," said Fuad. "You will surely die before you reach the truck, if you leave now. " His glittering eyes fixed on Hale. "A waste of the truck key, I meant. "

  Hale groped for the key, and when he had closed his stinging fingers on it, he carefully dropped it into the pocket with the derringer.

  "Let's put it to the test," he said.

  Philby was smiling sourly at him. "They'll k-kill you, you know," he said softly. "Don't l-look for g-gratitude. "

  Fuad and Umit would suppose he referred to the KGB, or the GRU; but Hale knew he meant the SIS, the secret SOE-he meant Jimmie Theodora.

  "That had occurred to me," Hale said. He fitted the snow-goggles over his eyes and the bridge of his nose and began pulling his gloves back on. "I suppose we won't meet again," he said to Philby.

  "In this world or the next," Philby agreed. "I can't say I'm sorry. "

  "Certainly not. "

  Hale struggled to his feet and pulled the parka hood forward over his head. He reached for the white Kalashnikov, but Fuad was suddenly pointing a revolver at him.

  "The machine gun stays here," said Fuad. "Do you think I would hesita
te killing you?"

  "I th-think he would n-not hesitate," said Philby thoughtfully. "Do p-put it to the t-test, if you like. "

  After a moment Hale straightened, his hand still empty. "Fair enough," he said.

  He shambled to the tent opening and climbed through, over the mounded snow that still half-blocked it. The wind outside instantly leached out of him all the scanty warmth he had absorbed in the tent, and it was all he could do not to shout with the shock of it.

  His course was easy-downhill. The climb back down to the Ahora Gorge would be over broken serac, and should be easy enough if he took it slowly. After that would be just the long walk back down the gorge path, on the other side of the gorge from the path down which he had driven a jeep in reverse in 1948; but this time he would be leaving behind him avenged ghosts.

  The snowstorm had faltered to a silent halt before he was out of the gorge, and the wind had shifted around to the north by the time he stumbled up through knee-high green grass to the three trucks on the plain; and when he had climbed into the cab of the Dodge truck and started the engine, he simply sat in the cab with the motor running and the heater blowing hot air at him. After a while he unsnapped his parka and contorted on the seat to pull the heavy garment off, but he did not rouse himself to clank the gear-shift into reverse until he saw, faintly over the high white shoulder of the mountain, the luminous chalk-line of the flare against the gray sky.

  The Soviet helicopter would be rushing overhead within minutes. Hale backed the truck around, then shifted into first gear and began steering the truck along a shepherds' track that stretched away to the east, away from the mountain and Dogubayezit and all of civilization. The Soviet border lay twenty miles ahead, but he did not intend to drive quite that far.

  The red sun was hovering over the distant peak of Ararat in his rear-view mirrors when Hale regretfully abandoned the truck in a snowdrift halfway up one of the narrow horse-cart tracks; he got back into his damp parka, climbed down from the heated cab, and proceeded up the steep track on foot, hoping to find the shelter he sought before dark. And though the sun had set by the time he reached the village in the Zagros Mountains, the gray sky was still bright enough for him to recognize the two-story stone house on the narrow main street, and his nostrils flared at the remembered smells of mutton and hot coffee on the icy wind.

  Exhaustion robbed his vision of depth, and he stumbled on the cobblestones; but he didn't fall until he had at last reached the very gate.

  He might actually have lost consciousness for a few moments; when he opened his eyes he was lying on his back on the stones, and a white-bearded man in baggy blue woolen trousers and a quilted felt vest was staring down at him. The old man hadn't unslung the rifle that rode on his back, but one brown hand was on the stock.

  "Howkar Zeid," said Hale hoarsely. In English he added, "How are you?"

  "It is Hale Beg!" said the old man wonderingly in the same language. He took his hand from the rifle and crouched to slide one arm under Hale's shoulders, and then he had effortlessly straightened up, hauling Hale back up onto his feet. "How are you? Where have you come from? How are your children?"

  Hale knew that the questions were unthinking formalities, but he said, "I am-tired to death. I've come from-Hell, I think. My family is all lost. All lost. " He sighed, though the effort of it nearly cost him his consciousness again. "Siamand Khan said I might come back. " It had been nearly fifteen years ago, but Hale had at last fulfilled the Khan's request. "I'm early," Hale added. "He said to come back in the spring. "

  Howkar Zeid led Hale through the remembered shadowy hallway to the same broad whitewashed stone room in which Hale had dined with the Khan so long ago. Red and purple rugs shone in the yellow paraffin lamplight, and Hale sat down heavily to unsnap his soggy boots and tug them off before he stood up again and stepped across the dirt-floor threshold.

  Siamand Khan was dressed in the same sort of trousers and vest as Howkar Zeid this evening. Hale remembered him as he had looked fifteen years ago, in a Western business suit and an orange scarf around his neck instead of a tie; but Siamand Khan still wore the knitted cap, and his stride was still graceful as he stood up from the long bench that spanned the far wall, and his brown face behind the white moustache was as ferociously cheerful as ever.

  "My friend, sit!" he said, taking Hale by the hand and leading him to the middle section of the bench, on which lay so many cushions that Hale was able to rest his arms on them when he had sat down. To Howkar Zeid, the Khan called, "Coffee and cigarettes for our guest! A dish of pears from the cellar!"

  Hale's vision was flickering. "I have just come down from Agri Dag," he said, his voice just a rasping whisper now. "The angels are killed. The amomon will bloom this spring. If I could-eat, and sleep here tonight-"

  "You are nearly used up, my friend," said the Khan gently. "You will stay with us until your strength returns-indeed you will stay until spring. You and I will be able to go hiking in the mountains after all. "

  Hale had to keep focusing his eyes to remember where he had come to. When his vision blurred, he seemed again to be dozing over his one-time pads in the janitor's room on the roof of the house in the Rue le Regrattier, dimly aware that there was an emergency and that he should hurry down the stairs to Elena's room and awaken her; and he imagined that Jimmie Theodora, black-haired and somehow younger than Hale now, was giving him instructions he should be paying attention to, in the office in Whitehall Court with the candlestick telephones on the wall and the models of airplanes and submarines serving as bookends in the cluttered shelves on the wall; and finally the murmur of the Khan's words blurred away into the remembered voices of his grandfather and his mother, quarreling about some troubling passage in Scripture, and-in the moments before consciousness left him-he was weakly resolved to climb the narrow old stairs of the house in Chipping Campden and crawl into the old eighteenth-century box bed, and abandon himself at long last to dreamless sleep.

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