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The Third Volume of the Colonel Pyat Quartet
By Michael Moorcock
PM Press Copyright © 2013 Michael Moorcock
All rights reserved.
I AM THE VOICE and the conscience of civilised Europe. I am all that remains. But for me, and a few like me, Christendom and everything she stands for would today be no more than a forbidden memory!
This at least Mrs Cornelius understands. 'Yore a bloody miracle, Ivan,' she says. 'A bleedin' monument ter a bygone bloody age.' But her children are lost to her. Their naive scepticism will not shield them against the coming night. They challenge my 'racialism'. They say that I generalise and that there are many exceptions to every rule. I agree! I have known noble camels and extraordinary horses whom I have respected and admired as my superiors in character and soul. But this did not change the camel into a horse or the horse into a camel and it turns neither into a human being. Equally, I tell them, it is both foolish and unscientific to pretend there are no differences between peoples. This logic defeats them. Few were ever a fair match for my intellect, even during my childhood. I have devoted a lifetime to mental training. But the consequent self-knowledge can, you will understand, be a curse as well as a blessing.
Already, at the age of twenty-four, on August 24, 1924, I had some intimation of my vocation. In the glory of refreshed success, having earned acknowledgement at last of my engineering genius, I was soaring towards New York to reclaim my soulmate. I had begun to sense how I might become a positive force for good in a war-weary world where humiliated enemy and exhausted victor alike were preyed upon by every form of human carrion. (I refer, of course, to those amoral and ubiquitous descendants of Oriental Africa, the minions of a Carthage which has for centuries coveted our dignified wealth.) I rarely thought of God in those days. I attributed everything to myself. It was not until later that God provided me with a salutary lesson in humility and I came to find the wonderful rewards of Faith. In 1924 I was, in almost every sense, 'flying high'. What happiness I anticipated when Esmé and I were at last reunited!
Oh! Wehe! Wehe!
Erwachte ich darum?
Muß ich? — Muß?
Eybic eyberhar? This will not do. They say there is a question of my being mistaken! But I did not become a Musselman! An ethereal Parsifal drifts across the desert. The aeroplane banks and glides over wooded Pennsylvanian hills as wide as the gentle Steppe. I am flying towards my past and my future, towards my Esmé and the East. I will claim my bride and take her back to live forever in der Heim, in Hollywood. We shall build a twelve-bedroomed Beach House and rediscover our passion. I recall and anticipate the delicacy and variety of our love-making! In Constantinople we were Adam and Eve in Eden, the innocent children of Fate. Brother and sister, father and daughter, husband and wife: all these rôles and many variations extended and refined our spirits. I am no stranger to Rasputin's theories. I have personally guided many a young woman to the profoundest realms of sensual fulfilment. But Esmé was more; she was my feminine self, a further dimension. Incubus and succubus as the old Norwegian had it. In Paris a random trick of fate had almost destroyed the being that was our single united soul. Oh, how I longed to know that unity again; that delicious, breathtaking blending of spirituality and sexuality which both threatened and enhanced my reason, taking me to new emotional and intellectual heights beyond those achieved even with the finest cocaine. As the plane, a confident Walkyrie, drew us closer, I could feel her, smell her, touch her, taste her. She rode on the great Atlantic breakers, plunging towards an as yet invisible shore. She was music. She was ecstasy!
Faygeleh? This is nonsense. I was always above such definitions. Es tut vay daw. Besides, these practices are natural in Egypt.
Deliver me from that god that is both male and female. May I not fall under their knives. Shuft, effendi, shuft, shuft, effendi. Aiwa! Murhuuba! Aiwa? Let them tug at me. Let them insult me and rub their hands and sholom-alaichem me as much as they like, those mocking wretches. They have no self-respect. That bastard nation will ever remain a warning symbol to us all. O, Egypt, thou art fallen to Carthage and cruel Arabia lounges in the ruins of thy glory! But Spain, ever our bastion against the Moor, again triumphs! In Spain the sons of Hannibal Barca are destroyed or fled. There is one lamp still burning in the camp of Christ —
Her engine uttering a discreet grunt, the DH4 began a downward curve. I was surprised. I looked at my watch and saw that it had stopped. We were not due to land until New York and we were banking over the chimneys of a small industrial town built at the convergence of three rivers, one of them almost certainly the Delaware. (Like most Cossacks, I have a memory for rivers.)
The late August sunshine, thrusting through clouds of black, yellow and grey smoke, glittered on the lacquered white canvas of the plane as we flew low over a suburban settlement so elegant it rivalled, in its new colonialism, its Tudor dignity, the better parts of Beverly Hills. Levelling out, we headed for the twelve-storey brick towers of a prosperous and familiar-looking business district. We reached the meeting of the rivers and I smelled machine oil in the smoke and the sharp sweetness of summer pines. I at once remembered coming here to Wilmington; my first, startled meeting with that accusing angel, Justice Department Agent Callahan. Wilmington was not a place I associated with tranquillity of mind. Yet, even as behind me Roy Belgrade, a startled sloth in his flying goggles and fur-trimmed helmet, threw out a reassuring gesture and guided the plane towards a green area, probably a public park, I was not excessively nervous. We had already made two routine stops in Colorado and Ohio. I had come to understand that Belgrade was a cautious pilot, obsessed with checking every change in the engine note. Once the young man had satisfied himself that his machine was in perfect order, we should be in the air again within minutes. I still had the best part of the day to reach Esmé in New York. At worst, she was only a few hours away by train. Good engineers that we both were, I assured myself, Belgrade and I had left a considerable margin for error. The story would just be part of another adventure to laugh about when Esmé and I were reunited.
Fairly suddenly, the DH4 banked again, over a stand of oaks, and straightened into a climb, as if Belgrade had missed his mark and was determining another approach. The field, some quarter of a mile from a river bend, backed on to a large building whose windows were suddenly filled with excited faces. I was tempted to wave. The field was full of flowers, a profuse geometry, a kaleidoscope of colours and scents, rich and ordered. It was a glimpse of a perfect world. The plane lifted and I saw the faces again — so many undernourished plants pressed to the glass and gasping for the sun. As we wheeled and were levelling down towards a space between the trees and flowerbeds only a cretin would consider big enough for landing, I had my first doubts about Roy Belgrade. Then the hot smell of resin was mixed with the scent of roses and lavender, the stink of the Rolls-Royce Eagle as it wailed with sudden life and as suddenly cut dead before we struck a bank of red, white and blue poppies (no doubt some patriotic memory of Flanders). I yelled out to my pilot but he was too far away to hear me. We cleared the flowerbeds in a burst of earth and petals, bounced, and were taxiing over the grassy area watched by two old men (one excessively fat, the other excessively slender) who remained seated on a bench at the far end of the garden. They were clearly enjoying the whole display. I looked about me in disgust. Save for the poppies we had done very little damage, but the surrounding walls, trees and power-lines would make it impossible for us to take off. We needed immediate help to get the plane to a more suitable field.
Controlling my temper, I climbed out of the plane, stepping from wing to lawn while Roy Belgrade remained in his cockpit studying his map with the familiar air of one who is completely lost. At my signal he loosened his helmet.
'We're in Wilmington, Delaware.' I spoke a little abruptly.
'I know that much, sir.' Belgrade returned to his map. 'But I don't reckon this here is a baseball diamond, do you?'
'Did you think it was?' The man was half-blind! 'It's clearly a public garden.' I advanced towards the grinning oldsters. 'Excuse me, gentlemen. Can you help? To take off again we need to wheel our plane into open space.'
'Why in heck did you fellers want to land here at all?' The skinny man had the narrow features of the typical New England peasant, the flat, grudging accent of a people for whom stinginess had been elevated to a moral virtue and generosity made a cardinal sin.
'We had engine trouble. I suppose I should find a telephone!' At least the park had only low fences and we should have few problems once we got the plane into the open street.
'If you want to call the police, don't worry about it. Look there, Mr Meng, I told you so.' His plump companion indicated the gate where four or five uniformed officers had appeared, clearly confounded by the sight of our flying machine and the havoc it had done to the municipal blooms. I approached them at once. 'Thank heaven you're here, gentlemen! Naturally, I apologise for the damage and will ensure all concerned are generously reimbursed. I regret we were forced down here but a few sturdy lads like yourselves will soon get us back into the air again.'
The policemen were of the good, old school. 'Don't worry, mister. We'll have you up there faster than a pigeon out of a trap.' The leader was a grey giant, probably an ex-prizefighter.
Our surroundings were those of a lower-middle-class suburb. The gables and turrets of an earlier prosperity mingled with the present's tract houses while the only high wall was the far one separating park from office building.
Roy Belgrade remained in the plane, fiddling with some instruments. As we approached, he switched off the ignition, folded his arms and grinned at us. 'Well, gentlemen. This is a pretty rare situation, eh?' He got to his feet and sprang from cockpit to wing and from wing to ground. 'Sorry about the mess. Naturally, we'll pay the city back. We're from the movies.'
'Then it's the Du Ponts you'll be wanting to see.' From the rear a portly youth, sweating in his unseasonable serge, offered this with a certain pride. 'This park belongs to them.'
'Well, I guess we haven't put them too much out of pocket!' Belgrade responded almost with hostility. 'Okay boys. Can you lend us a hand? Where are we, by the way? This can't be Brandywine Park.'
'It would be a little small for that, mister.'
Strolling round the plane the sergeant ran his hand over the canvas and admired the lines. 'I never saw one of these close up, you know. Even in the War. I sure admire you fellows. We'd better get some kind of truck or maybe we can give you a tow with our car. There's an airfield out there, now. You might as well use her. Why the devil didn't you head for that?'
'It happened too quick.' Roy Belgrade was relaxed charm again. He slapped the youngest policeman on the shoulder. 'Why, boys, I don't know what we'd do without you!'
My anxiety was retreating but I could not help associating the city with the Justice Department's keen interest in my old Klan connections. They did not know the Klan was now also after my blood.
Yet I had probably convinced Callahan of my innocence. He had, anyway, turned a blind eye to my unorthodox papers. Surely the DH4's problems could not be very serious? Within two hours, I guessed, we would be on our way again. As his men debated the problem, I confided to Sergeant Finch that I would be especially grateful for anything he could do. 'I'm currently engaged on top-secret work,' I told him. 'If I am not back in California within two days, the consequences for the country could be alarming.'
He greeted this information with considerable gravity. 'Sir, it's no more than a couple of hours to Washington, on the train. We can get you back and on your way again in no time.'
While there was nothing to be gained by telling him we had not come from Washington, Roy Belgrade seized on this misunderstanding and compounded it.
'It's urgent that we return to Washington by tonight.' He made a serious mouth. 'The Professor's an inventor, see. National security's involved.'
I wondered why he bothered to say this, since he had now contradicted himself and involved me in his bungling and pointless lies. But it was of little consequence to me. Mr Belgrade and I would have no further business once he had delivered me, safe and sound, to New York. I began to enjoy the touch of the sunshine on my face. A quality of light in the American North-East recalls my childhood in Kiev, the steppe and my Cossack ancestors, and I am so easily overcome by it that I can frequently do nothing but weep. There is no sweeter agony. Every Russian understands this.
Sergeant Finch expressed some concern for my health, but I reassured him. 'A little airsickness, I suppose. Or hay fever.'
Roy Belgrade was chuckling to himself and shaking his head. It occurred to me that he had taken a strong pull from a bottle before joining us. There was a faint smell of whiskey. I would not allow him to indulge in another drink until we reached our destination. At my urging, he accepted the police offer. They would tow us to the airfield. By now a small crowd had grown around the entrance to the park. They were mostly youths, children and old people, calling out questions in support of their own particular theories as to how and why we had landed in such a tiny space. We were followed by the two old men, who had assumed something of a proprietorial air and were now explaining how Belgrade and I were government agents, testing special equipment. I was becoming alarmed at these claims and had almost made up my mind to squash them when from around the corner of the wide, tree-lined street, a large touring Ford braked to a dramatic stop beside the squad car before uttering, through every door, a gang of civilians, each flourishing a large pistol in our direction. Had Chicago come to Wilmington?
A long crowbar in his hand, their leader, a black-browed ape, swung from the front passenger seat and unbuttoned his jacket. From the top pocket of his waistcoat he drew a card and displayed it to an impressed Sergeant Finch.
'What do you want us to do, Mr Nielsen?'
'Keep an eye on these fellows while we check out the plane.'
Nielsen nodded to his men. Holstering their weapons they moved expertly about the DH4.
'We were expecting you in Brandywine Park, Roy.' Nielsen grinned at my pilot. 'Your partner blew the whistle on you. Now, let's see where you've stashed the booze.' With that he moved deliberately up to the plane and drove his crowbar through the fuselage. It was wanton damage.
'Stop this at once!' I cried. 'You have no evidence at all. I am a bona fide traveller on my way to New York!' But even as I spoke I remembered seeing the lockers crammed with Belgrade's branded bottles. 'I am a paying passenger, sir!' I was insistent. Mr Nielsen ignored me and the sergeant put a firm hand on my chest. 'I don't understand this, mister, but we'll sort it all out at headquarters. Why don't you two gents settle down in the car while these gentlemen do their work.'
'My luggage is in the plane.'
'Then it will be returned to you.'
'Someone must have put it there,' Roy Belgrade lamely told the officers.
Even I was briefly amused by this.
Of course, they had come upon the alcohol in the storage lockers. It was not exactly a major haul for the police and I suspected they had been tipped off by people resentful of Belgrade and his partner's inroads into their business. Now I realised what the other stops had been. In both cases I had been mildly surprised at how rapidly Belgrade had found assistance and how quickly we had returned to the air. This passenger service was a disguise for his bootlegging! I became furious with him. His criminal activities threatened everything! There was still plenty of time to meet the ship but I would be forced to continue the journey by train. Meanwhile I could not tell how long it would take the police to realise I was no common bootlegger. As we sat together in the back seat of the police automobile I could do nothing but glare at Belgrade as he lit a cigarette and, whistling to himself, awaited the next turn of fate.
At a signal from the plain-clothes man, the police squeezed into the car with us and headed down the wide leafy road, over a river reflecting dreamy skies and deep green trees. The tranquil afternoon streets of residential Wilmington soon gave way to shop and office buildings enlivened by busy trams, buses, trucks and cars, a smell of grease and human sweat, all the reassuring realities of a booming manufacturing town.
Excerpted from Jerusalem Commands by Michael Moorcock. Copyright © 2013 Michael Moorcock. Excerpted by permission of PM Press.
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