The Bloody Red Baron

Kim Newman

To Paul McAuley

'It'll be over by Christmas.'

Mechanical contrivances have been greatly exaggerated in comparison with the value of infantry. There must also be artillery and cavalry as well!

... Each war has certain special conditions so some modification of organisation will be necessary but if our principles are sound, these will be few and unimportant. The longer the War has gone on, the more satisfactory do the principles of our training manuals appear.

Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, 1918

This little book gives one a useful insight into the enemy's methods, and more than a little respect for at any rate some of those whom we are at present endeavouring to kill.

C.G. Grey, Preface to the first British edition of Manfred von Richthofen's The Red Air Fighter, 1918

Part One: All Quiet on the Western Front


Condor Squadron

Four miles from the lines, heavy guns sounded as a constant rumble. Cakes of frozen snow gleamed vaguely in the pitted black road. The fall was days old. Bundled in his trench-coat and a useless tartan blanket, Lieutenant Edwin Winthrop was stung in the face by insect hailspits. He wondered if his frozen moustache would snap off. The open-top Daimler was unsuitable for this cruelly cold French winter night. Sergeant Dravot had a dead man's indifference to climate. The driver's night eyes were sharp.

At Maranique, there was a delay. Winthrop froze further while a corporal cast a sceptical eye over his papers.

'We were expecting Captain Spenser, sir,' explained the guard. He was twice Winthrop's age.

'Captain Spenser has been relieved,' Winthrop said. He did not have to explain himself. The corporal had made the mistake of getting used to Spenser. In this business, a bad habit. 'There's a bit of a war on. Maybe you hadn't noticed.'

Blood-coloured fire-flashes stained low clouds over the near horizon. If a shell caught the wind a certain way, its whistle was distinguishable from the babel of bombardment. In the trenches, they said you only heard that particular shrilling if the shell was the one that would kill you.

The corporal plainly recognised Dravot. The staff car was finally passed through. The aerodrome was a converted farm. Deep cart-ruts marked the track to the house.

Condor Squadron had been Spenser's show until this afternoon. After an hour's cramming, Winthrop was not really au courant with the mysteries. He had been briefed on tonight's work but given only the barest sketch of the big picture.

'Do well, young man,' Beauregard said, 'and there's a pip in it.'

He did not see how a civilian, even one attached so firmly and mysteriously to Wing, could promise promotion, but Charles Beauregard inspired confidence. It was an open question, though, whether he had inspired confidence in the lamented Captain Eliot Spenser.

Winthrop had been in France long enough to know how to avoid the shivers by tensing every muscle. The memory of Spenser, smiling through blood trickles, undid the trick. Aching cheek muscles gave way and he chattered like a puppet.

The farmhouse was blacked out, but faint light-ghosts outlined the windows. Dravot held the car door open. Winthrop stepped down, frosted grass crackling under his boots, scarf dampened with huffing steam. Dravot stood to attention, eyes frozen unblinking, tusk-like teeth sticking out of his moustache. The lack of white puffs from mouth and nostrils proved the sergeant did not breathe. He could be trusted to hold the bridge against barbarian hordes. If Dravot had personal feelings and opinions, they were unreachable.

A door opened. Smoky light and brittle hubbub spilled out.

'Hullo, Spenser,' someone shouted, 'come in and have a tot.'

Winthrop stepped into the billet and talk ended. A gramophone wound down, drawing out the agony of 'Poor Butterfly'. The low-ceilinged room was a makeshift mess. Pilots sat about playing cards, writing letters, reading.

He was uncomfortable. Red eyes fixed on him. All these men were vampires.

'I'm Lieutenant Winthrop. I've replaced Captain Spenser.'

'Have you now,' a gloomy-looking soul said from a far nook, 'have you indeed?'

This man held the rank. Major Tom Cundall. At first, Winthrop could not tell whether the flight commander was warm or not. After nightfall, almost everyone in the war had the predatory, haunted cast of expression associated with the undead.

'A warm fellow,' Cundall commented, vampire mouth curving. You could always see it in their smiles. 'Diogenes sticks to its old ways.'

Spenser was a living man. At least, he had been the last Winthrop saw him. So was Beauregard. It was not consistent policy, just the way things worked out. There was no preference for the warm. Quite the reverse.

'Has some sneak bombed Diogenes?' asked a pilot, smiling savagely.

'Steady on, Courtney,' said another man.

Huns who attacked rear positions were almost heroes to front-line men. A staff officer's red pips were a mark of Cain. The scarlet blots on his insignia invited scorn. Winthrop had not asked for a safe posting, any more than he had asked to be roped into the Diogenes Club. Again, it was just the way things worked out.

'Captain Spenser has had a nervous collapse,' Winthrop said, affecting cool. 'He has suffered self-inflicted wounds.'

'Good Lord,' said a man with red hair.

'Careless with a jolly revolver,' sneered Courtney. He had burning daredevil eyes, an Antipodean twang and a razored double dash of moustache. 'For shame.'

'Captain Spenser drove four three-inch nails into his skull,' Winthrop said. 'He is on indefinite leave.'

'I knew something was not right with the man,' said a hollow-voiced American, looking up from a Paris paper.

'If a chap's caught trying to give himself a Blighty one, it's usually the firing squad,' said Courtney.

'Captain Spenser was under a great deal of strain.'

'Lot of that about,' commented the American. A black hat shaded his gaunt face, but his eyes burned in the dark.

'Leave Winthrop be, Allard,' Cundall insisted. 'Don't kill the messenger.'

Allard pointed his prominent nose back at the newspaper. He was following the exploits of Judex, the vigilante. According to the press. Judex was a vampire too.

The vampire with red hair wanted more news of Spenser but Winthrop had nothing further to report. He had

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