only glimpsed the officer as he was taken to the ambulance. He was being despatched to Craiglockhart War Hospital near Edinburgh, commonly known as 'Dottyville'.

There was discussion about the singular method Spenser had chosen to make an invalid of himself. Allard said that in the old days it was the practice in parts of the Russias for vampire killers to favour iron spikes in the skull over wooden stakes through the heart.

'Where do you get all this grue?' Courtney asked.

'I make it my business to know evil things,' said Allard, eyes like coals. Suddenly, for no reason, the American laughed. His throat-deep black chuckle grew into a resonant, mirthless explosion. Winthrop was not the only one to cringe.

'I wish you wouldn't do that, Allard,' Cundall said. 'It sets the dogs to howling.'

Even for vampires, the pilots were unnerving. Like the French Groupe des Cigognes, Condor was a squadron of survivors, almost a squadron of sole survivors. To win a place, a man had to outlive his fellows many times over. Some were famous, among the highest-scoring Allied aces. Winthrop wondered if any resented assignment to duties which offered fewer opportunities for individual victories. At Wing, some disparaged Cundall's Condors as glory-hounds and medalled murderers. Beauregard warned him not to let the pilots rag him too much.

With a deal of clumping, a young vampire dragged himself down a twisted staircase. His limbs were bent out of true but he got around capably. He wiped his red mouth with a white scarf. From his flush, Winthrop knew he had just fed. Away from the lines, there were usually grateful, if pricey, French girls. If not, there was livestock.

'Spenser's tried a Moldavian headache remedy, Ball,' Courtney told the crooked man. 'Nails in the brain.'

Ball pulled himself across the room, making monkey-use of hand-holds on the beams. He settled comfortably into a chair by the gramophone, eyes swimming in blood. Some vampires lulled in repletion, like snakes. In the old days, when nosferatu were hunted like plague rats, they were at their weakest after feeding and hid in coffins or graves. Ball slumped, mouth slightly open, a smudge of red on his chin.

'I need a pilot,' Winthrop said, more quietly than he had intended.

'You've come to the right shop,' Cundall commented.

Nobody stepped forward to volunteer.

'Take Bigglesworth,' Courtney said. 'The Daily Mail calls him 'a knight of the air'.'

A young flight lieutenant coloured slightly, cherry spots appearing on his bone-white cheeks. Courtney clearly understudied Cundall for the role of resident cynic.

'Give it a rest, old son.'

The flight lieutenant was backed up by cronies who rumbled disapproval. Courtney did not seem bothered by the schoolboy clique.

Major Cundall considered and said, 'Bit thick up there to make a trip worthwhile, surely?'

Remembering Beauregard's briefing, Winthrop explained, 'Diogenes wants to snatch a look at something special. A lone spotter can get over the lines above cloud, then dip down to take photographs.'

'Sounds a doddle,' Cundall said. 'Probably win the war, this show.'

Winthrop was a little put out by the flight commander. Ragging was all well and good, but formalities should be observed. Diogenes was not in the habit of wasting its time on fools' errands.

He commandeered a card table and unrolled the map on the green baize.

'Here's the site Diogenes wants to know about,' he said, pointing. 'We've heard strange whispers.'

Some pilots were intrigued enough to crowd around. Ball crab-walked out of his chair and hobbled over. He put a cold hand on Winthrop's shoulder to balance himself. A complete cripple on the ground, Albert Ball was magically agile in the air, reckoned the Allies' ace of aces.

'The Chateau du Malinbois,' said the blushing lieutenant. 'That's a Hun field.' 'Jagdgeschwader Eins,' put in one of his pals, whose hair was almost as red as Albright's.

'Quite right, Ginger. Dear old JG1. We're fast friends.'

'That's the Richthofen Circus,' Allard intoned, ominously.

At the mention of the famous name, Ball spat. A thinly blooded streak missed the map and soaked into the baize.

'Don't mind Ball,' Ginger told Winthrop. 'He was shot down by the Bloody Red Baron's fiendish brother, Lethal Lothar, and has a feud on. Family honour and all that.'

'Our intelligence is that the chateau is more than a billet for Boche fliers,' Winthrop said. 'There's odd nocturnal activity. Comings and goings of, um, unusual personages.'

'And Diogenes want photos? We did a batch on this site last week.'

'By day, sir.'

Winthrop took his hands off the map, which curled into a tube. He laid out photographs of the Chateau du Malinbois. Black bursts of anti-aircraft fire, known to one and all as Archie, were frozen between castle and camera.

Winthrop tapped areas of the picture. 'These towers have netting draped around them. As if the Boche doesn't want us to know what he's up to. Camouflage, as our French allies would say.'

The sort of thing that makes a fellow inquisitive,' Ginger commented.

Cundall was doubtful. 'Be a bit bloody dark for photography tonight. I doubt if any of 'em would come out well.'

'You'd be surprised what we can read from a dark picture, sir.'

'I'm sure I would.'

Cundall looked closely at the photographs. He laid his hand on the table and drummed thick, pointed nails.

'The pilot will have a Verey gun. He can pop off a flare to throw some light on the subject.'

''Pop off a flare?' Very likely,' Cundall said. 'Verey likely. That's almost a joke, isn't it?'

'I'll wager JG1 will be delighted at our company,' Courtney said. 'Probably lay out a red carpet.'

In the pictures, the Archie was uncomfortably close to the visible struts of the photographer's aeroplane.

'The Circus will be busy toasting each other in Rhine wine and virgin blood,' said Cundall, 'lying about the number of Britishers they've downed. Only we are dolts enough to send people aloft in this mucky weather.'

'Very unsporting of the Hun,' Ginger commented. 'Not coming out to play.'

'The flare'll prod him,' Albright said. 'There'll be Archie. Maybe an Albatros will make it into the air.'*

'Inferior bird, the Albatros,' Courtney said.

Cundall seemed hypnotised by the photographs. The castle was bashed a bit about the battlements but still far more imposing (and, presumably, comfortable) than the farmhouse. Like every other breed of fighting man, the Royal Flying Corps were convinced the enemy had it cushier.

'Very well, Winthrop,' Cundall said. 'Pick your man.'

This was not what he expected. He looked at the pilots. One or two turned away. Cundall smiled nastily, showing sharp tips of teeth.

Winthrop felt like a live mouse in a cattery. He remembered the bloody nailheads in Spenser's scalp.

'The best qualified would be the man who took these.'

Cundall examined a serial number scrawled on the edge of a photograph.

'Rhys-Davids. Not a good choice. Went west two nights gone.'

'He isn't confirmed,' Bigglesworth said. 'He may be a prisoner.'

'He's lost to us.'

Winthrop looked around again. No one stepped forward. Though well aware of the crucial differences between war as waged in the jingo press and war waged in France, he somehow expected a dignified competition of volunteers.

'Here's a list. Pick a name.'

Cundall handed over a clipboard. Winthrop looked at Condor Squadron's roster. He couldn't help but notice names with lines drawn through them, including 'Rhys-Davids, A.'.

'Albright, J.,' he said, taking the first name.

Вы читаете The Bloody Red Baron: 1918
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