the Folies- Bergere.

She sat down in the stream and let the sun-dappled water wash around her. Lying back like Ophelia, she allowed her hair to wave in the current. Trails of dirt rushed away from her. She closed her eyes and tried to wish it all away.

The warm men had a tea-urn set up. There were no mugs, so Winthrop drank out of a porridge-bowl. Someone from Condor Squadron finally came in. Jiggs, the mechanic, with tales of a hairsbreadth escape and a shiny pair of German-made boots.

The offensive was pretty much blocked, it seemed. A rumour buzzed briefly that Dracula had been killed, but it died almost as soon as it started.

'Our field has gained a water nymph,' Chandler said. 'There's a beauty in danger of drowning over by the temporary hangars. She's wearing a pair of earrings.'

A long whistle cut through her reverie. She opened her eyes and propped herself up on her elbows. A man stood on the bank of the stream, hands in his pockets.

'Why, Miss Mouse,' Edwin said. 'Doesn't the sun bring out your freckles nicely?' She shut her eyes and let her head sink back under the water.


England Calls

He had not been accepting telephone calls. Beauregard sat in his house in Cheyne Walk. Unopened letters were neatly laid on his desk. Bairstow, his manservant, discreetly arranged them each morning.

There was a slim envelope from California, his address in faint violet ink. This, he was tempted by. But he feared that to open it would be to be pulled back into turmoil he had left. Genevieve attracted troubles, trailing them through centuries. He still loved her, he supposed. A dead weight of useless emotion. Official communications, stamped 'URGENT', had been brought by postman and personal messenger. They also lay unopened.

He did not read the newspapers, but Bairstow conveyed the barest outlines of the course of the war. It was little satisfaction to know Caleb Croft had been relieved of his duties. Ruthven had many other men of his stamp ready to step in.

Dracula had been seen in Berlin, storming out of the Imperial Palace in a black humour after an argument with the Kaiser. Hindenburg was promoted to the position of commander-in- chief of armies that were shattered and demoralised by their recent reverses. Dracula was shouldering the blame for the ultimate failure of the Kaiserschlacht. It seemed the sacrifice of his doubles created a great deal of confusion and loss of morale in the ranks. The mediaeval tactic should be retired in this century. Dracula's fall would be only temporary. The worst ones always came back.

He spent time looking at old, framed photographs. The camera made vampires of all, preserving the young for the alien future. In one group, Pamela was alive again, posed by the river with a flock of little girls in sailor suits. A blurred boat passed in the background. The girls were Penelope, Kate, Lucy and Mina, warm and untidy, ignorant of the things they would become.

Mrs Harker had also written to him. She was forever organising for other people. She wished to hustle him into a new programme of activities.

Bairstow entered, bearing a calling card on a tin plate. The silver had gone for the war effort years ago. Beauregard tried to wave him away, but the servant was swept aside by a long- legged spider in grey.

'Prime Minister,' he acknowledged, not getting out of his chair.

'Beauregard, this is absurd. Have you any idea how many pressing matters compete for my attention? Yet, here I am like a common tradesman, forced to hie myself to your doorstep to solicit an answer?'

Ruthven was plainly agitated. From Churchill, Beauregard knew the cabinet were fractious. Lloyd George was proving more obstinate than anyone had supposed. The Prime Minister's position was entrenched, but hardly secure.

Lord Ruthven had not come alone. Smith-Cumming was with him, his leg grown anew.

'The Diogenes Club has reopened its doors to members,' Smith-Cumming declared.

'Croft's crew were worse than useless,' the Prime Minister ranted. 'His hare-brained assassination fantasies came close to losing us the war. The country needs living minds.'

'Mycroft's place on the Cabal is vacant,' said Smith-Cumming. 'Only one man can fill it, Beauregard.'

He looked at the two vampires, the shiftless elder and the solid new-born. Ruthven's hands were still on the tiller of state, embattled though he was. Smith-Cumming was a good man, blood-drinker or no. There were still good men.

Mycroft had preserved much of value from the past in this changed century. Without him, the Ruthvens and the Crofts crept on selfishly, wasting too many lives in a pursuit of power without purpose.

'Beauregard, please,' begged the Prime Minister.

In the absence of Croft and the Diogenes Club, the British Secret Service was run by a schoolmaster who concealed secret ciphers in sketches of butterfly markings. Results, obviously, had not been encouraging.

'England needs you, Beauregard,' insisted Ruthven. I need you.'

But does England need Lord Ruthven, he wondered.

Pamela seemed to catch his eye from the photograph. She would have expected him not to yield.

'Very well,' Beauregard said. 'I accept the position.'

Smith-Cumming clapped him on the back. Ruthven allowed himself a smile of relief.

'But there are conditions.'

'Oh, anything, anything,' waved the Prime Minister.

'We shall see,' said Beauregard.



She would let him go, but first he owed her a debt which she insisted he settle. In a hotel room in Calais, after Kate and Edwin had made love, she bled him lightly. His taste was different now. The red thirst inside him was burned out. He warmed her, made her strong again.

Lulled by her, Edwin lay in a daze as she snuggled next to him. She was flushed, her freckles like pinpricks on her breast.

She was entitled to a little love. For almost all her life she had been too busy or timid. This time, even if she let her soldier go back to his rector's daughter, she'd have him for a while. If Catriona was the woman Kate thought she was, she wouldn't mind. This was France. This was the war. Different rules applied.

She ran her tongue over her teeth. Her fangs had receded with repletion.

Edwin held her close, murmuring the wrong name. She was used to that too. Everyone who got close mistook her for someone else.

Tomorrow they would both cross the Channel. But tomorrow was hours distant. Kate pulled herself on to Edwin's chest, pressing her face close to his neck. He stirred, responding. Her hair brushed across his face. His hands held her hips, settling her weight on to him. Her lips suckled his neck, but her teeth did not break his skin.

In England, things were different between them. Kate sensed an awkwardness in Edwin that gathered during the crossing. She was struck with a creeping melancholia. Knowing what would happen was not the same as being prepared for it.

In their nights together, she'd learned about his time with Condor Squadron. He had told her about his last flight. Officially, he made no claims, but she knew he had contributed to the shooting-down of Manfred von Richthofen. She had promised not to write him up as a hero.

This was a part of their lives they would always share. Others would never understand how they had allowed themselves to be changed so fearfully, to become bestial.

It was a fine moonlit spring night. In other circumstances, the voyage might have been romantic. Edwin was quiet, looking back at France from the railings. Europe would always be a cemetery for him, for all the survivors.

Вы читаете The Bloody Red Baron: 1918
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