What now?

The great gate hung open slightly. As he stepped inside, Poe knew the Schloss Adler was unpeopled. He had become used to the sounds of toil. Footsteps were hollow echoes, now. This position had been-abandoned.

Theo was not surprised. 'Orlok will be on his way back to Berlin, to report to his masters. Dracula will want to know how successful his schemes have proved.'

'Dracula? He was aboard the Attila. He is lost, surely?'

Theo shook his head, weary and disgusted.

'That was an impostor, one of many poor fools dressed up to dupe the Entente. He was supposed to be a target. He did his duty. The enemy concentrated so hard on killing him in the air that they neglected to prepare themselves for the attack on the ground.'

'Who was he? The vampire in the Attila?'

'A Hungarian actor. A matinee idol from Lugos. One of Dracula's get. Moulded to serve as his doppelganger. There were others. Maybe a dozen.'

'But ... the men of the Attila, the airship itself?'

'Smoke and mirrors, scenery for the pageant ...'

'Who could countenance such a thing?'

Theo thumbed towards a huge, indifferent martial portrait. Graf von Dracula standing beside the Kaiser, both in braid- heavy uniform, moustache points like needles.


Another had been left behind, Hanns Heinz Ewers. Someone had taken the trouble to shoot him but only with a lead bullet. He tried to hold his shattered skull together as it healed.

Poe's mind was whirling around. He had sought honour and glory, and found murderers and knaves.

Theo looked dispassionately at Ewers's wounds, and admitted the vampire might have a chance of recovery.

'Who was it?' Poe asked.

'Only one ... flier came back,' Ewers said, eyes shut against the pain. 'He wanted your manuscript, Poe. It was Goring.'

'The recording officer,' Theo said. That makes sense. Eddy, this has all been about the writing of history. As long as records are kept, they'll have won. Germany has too many heroes. The book-keepers need to cull them. Goring, Mabuse, Dracula. Book-keepers, not soldiers. Think of the Graf and his beloved railway timetables. Deeds of glory reduced to numbers, like a stock exchange or a ministry for the collection of taxes.'

'My manuscript? Where is it?'

Ewers tried to smile. 'Goring was to take it to Berlin. To be published. It occurred to me to stop him.'

Ewers's eye rolled up towards his head-wound.

'I don't know why I chose to waste my brains on keeping your work from its publishers. I dislike you immensely but I would give anything to have your abilities, degraded and exhausted as they are. Call it jealousy, if you will. That is why I tried to suppress your book. Jealousy.'

The wounded man pawed at the top button of his tight tunic. Theo helped him, opening his clothes to give him air. Pages, s covered in Poe's handwriting, spilled out.

'You are a great writer, Poe. I confess it. But you are hopelessly mad. I may have done you a service. Goring took the first three pages of your manuscript, bulked out with some of my own tales. Fine stuff, but wasted ...'

Ewers lost consciousness. Theo stood up, his gloves bloodied. Poe had shrugged off his horror and was trying to catch up. The last pieces of the puzzle had been given him.

By the lake, Poe and Theo waited for dawn. The clamour of battle had passed, carried past the lines into enemy territory.

'Heroes make them uncomfortable, Eddy. Those little men with their little books. They need their glory, but they feed on it as we feed on blood. Your book was always supposed to be a memorial, a glorious tomb to inspire more heroes. They are to burn like comets and be snuffed out, while the book-keepers crawl on through centuries. Millions have died in this war. Anonymous statistics. That is what Dracula has made of us. Meaningless names in a book of the dead.'

Poe looked at his manuscript. There was a great spark in it. It was a dream, an inspiration. Reading of this knight of futurity, generation upon generation of boys would aspire to serve Germany as had Manfred von Richthofen.

'Dracula doesn't care for the Richthofens, Eddy. The excellent, the brave, the mad. He is happier with Gorings about him, fathead bureaucrats of death.'

Poe let the first pages of the manuscript slip from the bundle, sliding towards the waters of the lake. As they rested on the calm surface, ink blurring, his heart ached. It might be those words were the last of his genius, the last he would ever write. Vampire dullness was settling around his mind.

Theo laid a hand on his shoulder, understanding. With a swift throw, Poe cast the pages into the air. They formed a cloud and settled into the lake, merging into sodden lumps, skittering across the surface for yards before being whisked under. Poe took off his greatcoat, ran his thumb over the newly earned epaulettes of rank, and tossed the thing into the water, disturbing the sargasso of pages.

'I consider my commission resigned,' he said.

The sleeves of Poe's coat tangled like the arms of a corpse. An unknown current, peculiar to the centre of the lake, sucked the morass of cloth and words into its heart. The deep and dank lake closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of Der rote Kampfflieger.

'If you stay here, the French will come back, eventually,' Theo said. 'You can write another book. A clear- eyed book, conveying the truth.'

'The truth interests me little, Theo.'

The officer shrugged. 'That doesn't surprise me.'

'What will you do now?' Poe asked.

Before he turned and walked away from the shadow of the castle, Theo showed his old smile and said, 'Eddy, I shall fight for my country.'



Guns empty and petrol tank getting there, Winthrop had to land. Maranique, probably in German hands, was out of the picture so he looked for one of the fall-back positions towards Amiens. In the excitement, he had rather lost his bearings.

Sighting by the stars, he flew east. Below, convoys of reinforcements hurried towards the front. Streams of retreating troops passed them by or dug in to make a stand. At least Hunland hadn't crept out under him like a carpet. He didn't have to come down and surrender.

With Ball and Kate burned out of him, Winthrop was clearer in his mind, as if he had just awoken from an unpleasant but interesting dream. But he was exhausted, forgotten wounds troubled him again and he felt the loss. Without Ball's whisper in his mind, he found he was an indifferent pilot.

The stick wrestled in his grip. Previously, he had been a component part of his machine. Now he was mounted on a rebellious beast which would do its best to throw him if he showed any signs of weakness. The wires shrieked and the engine coughed.

There was a temptation to pull the stick back and let go, ascending towards nothingness. He was a ghost of a ghost now, no longer the man he was nor the creature he had become.

Some spark in him wished to continue with life. He fumbled the stick and evened the wings, keeping the bubble centred in the spirit-level. He was prepared to consider any stretch of uninterrupted road or grass as a landing site. But tonight the landscape was infested with men. Years of stalemate seemed over and the war of movement was restarted.

Familiar lights burned off to his left.

A field was marked out with fizzing Verey flares. He hoped whoever was running the show had the sense to keep the ground cleared. There wasn't enough fuel to circle and check out the terrain. He aimed the Camel between the purple lights and went down.

Вы читаете The Bloody Red Baron: 1918
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