'Fair enough,' said the red-headed captain. Though in RFC uniform, he was another American. Cundall's catch-all squadron had more than its share of foreigners.

'How's your crate, Red?' Cundall asked.

Albright shrugged. 'Better than she was. The camera's still slung.'

'Highly convenient.'

Albright seemed a steady man. Though a vampire, he was sturdily built, square-faced, firm-jawed. He seemed made entirely of solid blocks. The wind would not blow him away.

'Ball, you'll have to make a fourth,' Courtney said. 'Red promised to partner Brown in bridge against me and Williamson.'

Albright shrugged a can't-be-helped as Ball shifted himself to the cards group.

'I'll be back by midnight,' Albright said.

Everyone groaned, in on a private joke.

Winthrop felt obliged to shine a lantern under the lower wings of the Royal Aircraft Factory SE5a to inspect the cameras rigged up in place of Cooper bomb racks. They were operated like bombs, by pulling a lanyard in the cockpit. The plates were fitted properly. One of Dravot's responsibilities.

Uneasily aware he was the only man on the field who could not see in the dark, Winthrop shut off the light.

Albright hauled himself into the cockpit and checked his guns, a fixed Vickers which fired through the propeller and a swivel-mounted Lewis attached to the upper wing. On a jaunt like this, he should get back without firing a shot. The idea was to creep in and get photographs before the enemy could muster. That was why this was a one-man job: too many aeroplanes would alert Malinbois that they were coming. As a rule, the Boche didn't take to the air unless they had to. Allied policy was to mount offensive patrols constantly, to remind the Central Powers who owned the skies.

Cundall and his cronies had ventured out to watch Albright depart. The pilots took a professional look at the SE5a, examining the fuselage where bullet-holes had been darned. They agreed the aeroplane, a relative newcomer, was acceptable. Through Diogenes, Condor could get whatever machines it wanted, but each pilot had preferences.

Stamping to get feeling into dead toes, Winthrop was completely in the dark. The aeroplane was a large shadow skeleton. Vampires were as comfortable in the night as he was on Brighton pier at midday. With their adapted eyes, the undead were suited to night-flying, to night-fighting. Thanks to them, this was the first round- the-clock war in history.

Ginger spun the SE5a's propeller. The Hispano-Suiza engine did not catch first time.

'A bit more elbow-grease,' said one of the cronies, Bertie.

Of course, without vampires (specifically without the brute now calling himself the Graf von Dracula) the war would not have been fought at all. The Graf's latest attempt at European power had led to a conflict that seemed to involve every nation on the globe. Even the Americans were in now. The Kaiser said modern Germans must embody the spirit of the ancient Hun, but it was Dracula, proud of blood kinship with Attila, who most epitomised twentieth-century barbarism-

Ginger spun the prop again. The engine growled, prompting a ragged cheer. Albright gave a salute and said, 'See you at midnight.' The machine taxied along bumpy sod, plunged into the shadow of the trees and soared upwards, wobbling a little as wind caught under its wings.

'What's the business about midnight?' Winthrop asked.

'Red always gets back by then,' Bertie said. 'Does the job quickly and comes home. That's why we call him Captain Midnight.'

'Captain Midnight?'

'Silly, isn't it?' the pilot grinned. 'So far, it's brought him luck. Red's a good man. Flew with the Escadrille Lafayette until they disbanded. We got him because the Yanks rejected him for their show as medically unfit. The American Air Corps is exclusive to warm men.'

Albright's crate rushed up into the underside of a low-lying cloudbank and passed quickly from sight. The engine drone faded into the wind and drifting music from the farmhouse gramophone. 'Poor Butterfly' was waiting again. Sergeant Dravot's eyes were fixed on the night sky.

Major Cundall consulted his watch (one of the new wrist affairs they wore in the trenches) and noted time of departure in a log book. Winthrop checked his own pocket watch. Half-past ten on the evening of February the 14th, 1918. St Valentine's Day. At home, Catriona would be thinking of him, intelligently worried.

'Nothing for it now but to wait,' Cundall said. 'Come in and stay warm.'

Winthrop had not realised how chilled he was. Slipping his watch into its pocket, he followed the pilots back to the farmhouse.


The Old Man

Throughout the crossing, Beauregard was uncomfortably aware of the wounded man lying in a corner of the cabin. Given his condition, Captain Spenser was unnaturally quiet.

When an orderly had found him, Spenser was on the point of driving in a fifth nail. It seemed he intended to porcupine his entire skull. The inevitable diagnosis was a failure of nerve, but Beauregard thought it must take a steady hand to perform such an operation upon oneself.

Beauregard reproached himself for his failure to appreciate the strain put on Spenser by the demands of Diogenes. A man may know too many things. Sometimes, Beauregard wished his own skull would open and let his secrets escape. It would be pleasant to be innocent and ignorant.

After years of service to the Diogenes Club, Charles Beauregard sat with the venerable Mycroft and the eccentric Smith-Cumming on the Ruling Cabal, highest echelon of the Secret Service. His whole life had been lived in the dark.

The Channel was gentle. He chatted with the Quaker stretcher-bearer, Godfrey. He had chosen ambulance duty over prison and been decorated for bravery under fire at Vimy Ridge. Beauregard recognised as a better man one who would die for his country but not kill. He regretted each time he had killed; but he also regretted, in a single instance, not killing. At the sacrifice of his own life, he might have put an end to Count Dracula. Often, as he got older, he thought of those seconds.

At Newhaven quay, nurses awaited a small group of maddened officers. As a group, the men were quiet and pliable.

They were shepherded with kindly firmness by the nurses. Four years ago, the army had considered shell- shock deplorable cowardice. After seasons of gruelling war, breakdowns were almost de rigueur for the better sort of officer. The second son of the Duke of Denver was among the current crop of Dottyville cases.

No light showed on the dock. German submarines were rumoured to be in the Channel. Beauregard wished the uninterested Spenser good luck and gave Godfrey his card, then crossed the shadowed platform to board the fast train for London.

He was met at Victoria by Ashenden, a youth who had proved himself a cool hand in Switzerland, and driven through the dark city. Despite rain and unlit streets, purposeful night crowds were everywhere. Even in the heart of Empire, touched only by an odd air raid, it was impossible to forget the war. Theatres, restaurants and pubs (and, doubtless, vice dens and brothels) teemed with soldiers desperate for forgetfulness. Around every group of men in uniform swarmed crowds of hearty fellows eager to stand 'our boys' rounds of drinks and hero-worshipping young women intent on bestowing hot favours. Posters blazoned severe penalties for evading the call- up. Fire-eyed vampire girls scoured Piccadilly and Shaftesbury Avenue with white feathers for presentation to any of their undead brothers not in the King's service. A model trench in Hyde Park impressed an idea of conditions in France upon non- combatants; its cleanliness and home comforts provoked bitter mirth among those on leave from the real thing. At the Queen's Hall, Thomas Beecham conducted a No German Concert: the selection of pieces from English, French and Belgian composers excluded any note of the diabolical kultur of Beethoven, Bach and Wagner. The Scala Cinema offered reels taken at the front (mostly staged in the shire counties) and Mary Pickford in The Little Bat Girl.

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