Page 4

 Tim Powers

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Obedient to his mother, he had told his new companions about his youth in the Cotswolds but had not ever mentioned the circumstances of his birth, and never told them about his peculiar corporate "godfather."
His mother had motored down to visit on three or four weekends in each term, and had written infrequent letters; her invariable topics of discussion had been the petty doings of her neighbors and an anxious insistence that Andrew pay attention to his religious instruction, and politics-she had been a Tory at least since Andrew had been born, and though glad of the failure of MacDonald's Labour Party in '31, she'd been alarmed by the subsequent general mood in favor of the League of Nations and worldwide disarmament: "Not all the beasts that were kept out of the Ark had the decency to perish," she had said once. Andrew had known better than to try to introduce topics like his father, or the mysterious King's men in the rooftop building in London. In the summers Andrew had taken the train home to Chipping Campden, but he had spent most of his time during those months hiking or reading, guiltily looking forward to the beginning of the fall term.
In the spring of 1935 one of the Jesuit priests had come to Andrew's cubicle before Mass to tell him that his mother had died the day before, of a sudden stroke.
Andrew Hale let the dapper old man in the homburg hat walk on past him at a distance of a dozen yards, while Hale squinted through his cigarette smoke and scanned the misty lawns back in the direction of the gazebo and Queen's Walk. The only people visible in that direction were a woman walking a dog in the middle distance and two bearded young men beyond her striding briskly from north to south; neither party was in a position to signal the other, and they were all looking elsewhere in this moment of the old man's closest approach to Hale; clearly the old man wasn't being followed. And neither was Hale, or the old man would have seen it and simply disappeared, to try to meet later at a fallback.
Now the old man had halted and pulled a map from an inside pocket. Hale's eye was caught by the flash of white paper when the man partly unfolded the map and began frowning at it and glancing at the distant roofs of buildings. In fact the building on top of which Hale had first met him was only a ten minutes' walk to the east, past St. James's Park and Whitehall, but Hale knew that this flashing of the map was a signal; and so Hale was looking directly at him when the old man caught his gaze and then raised his white eyebrows under the hat brim.
Hale took one last deep draw off the cigarette, and tossed it away onto the grass, before walking over to where the man stood. His heart was still thumping rapidly.
"Lost, Jimmie?" he said through exhaled smoke, with muted sarcasm.
"Without a clue, my dear." Jimmie Theodora folded up the map and tucked it back inside his overcoat. "Actually," he went on as he began strolling away in the direction of Whitehall, with Hale following, "I do hardly know where I am in London these days. The Green Park I remember has a barrage balloon moored back there by the Arch, and piles of help-yourself coal lining the walks. You remember."
"No beatniks, in those days."
"Aren't they frightful? Makes you wonder why we still bother."
"You-we?-are still bothering, I gather."
"Yes," Jimmie Theodora said flatly. "And yes, you had bloody well better say 'we.'"
It's "we" when you say it is, Hale thought as he followed the old man across the wet grass, not sure whether his thought was wry or bitter.
The day of his mother's funeral in Stow-on-the-Wold had dawned sunny, but like many such Cotswold days it had turned rainy by noon, and the sparse knot of mourners on the grass by the grave had been clustered under gleaming black umbrellas. They were shopkeepers and neighbors from Chipping Campden, mostly friends of Andrew's grandfather-but the solemn, frightened boy had glimpsed a face at the back of the group that he was sure he recognized from his First Communion day trip to London, six years previous. Andrew had tugged his hand free of his grandfather's to go reeling away from the grave toward the black-haired man, who at that moment seemed like closer kin than the grandfather; but Andrew had caught a surprised and admonishing scowl on that well-remembered face, and then the black-haired man had simply been gone, not present at all. Later Andrew had concluded that the man must have stepped back out of sight and quickly assumed a disguise-false moustache? cheek inserts, contrary posture, a sexton's dirty work-shirt under the quickly discarded morning coat and dickey?-but on that morning Andrew had gone blundering through the mourners, tearfully and idiotically calling, "Sir? Sir?" since he hadn't even known the man's name. Jimmie Theodora had no doubt been embarrassed for him and made an unobtrusive exit as soon as possible.
The priests at St. John's had known the name and address of a solicitor Andrew's mother had been in touch with, which proved to be a pear-shaped little man by the name of Corliss, and after the funeral service the solicitor had driven Andrew and his grandfather to an office in Cirencester. There Corliss had explained that the uncle-he had paused before the word and then pronounced it so clearly and deliberately that even Andrew's grandfather had not bothered to object that no such person existed-who had been paying for Andrew's support and schooling would continue to do so, but that this benefactor would now no longer be persuaded that an expensive and Roman Catholic school like St. John's was appropriate. Andrew's grandfather had shifted to a more comfortable position in his chair at that, clearly pleased. Andrew was to be sent to the City of London School for Boys instead, and would incidentally be required to add the study of German to his curriculum.
During the long drive back south to Windsor, where Andrew could at least finish out the present school term at St. John's, his grandfather had gruffly advised the thirteen-year-old boy to get into the Officers' Training Corps as soon as he could; war with Germany was inevitable, the old man had said, now that Hitler was Chancellor, and even the blindly optimistic Prime Minister Baldwin had admitted that the German Air Force was better than the British. But Andrew's grandfather had been an old soldier, having fought with Kitchener in the Sudan and in South Africa during the Boer War, and Andrew had not taken seriously the old man's apocalyptic predictions of bombs falling on London. Andrew's only goal at this period, which he had known better than to confide to the elderly Anglican hunched over the steering wheel to his right, had been a vague intention to become a Jesuit priest himself one day.
Within a year that frail ambition had been forgotten.
In those days the City of London School had been housed in a four-storied red-brick building with a grandly pilastered front, on the Victoria Embankment right next to Blackfriars Bridge and the new Unilever House with all its marble statues standing between the pillars along the fifth-floor colonnade; and it was only a short walk to the Law Courts at the Temple, where barristers in wigs and gowns could be seen hurrying through the arched gray stone halls, and to the new Daily Express Building in Fleet Street, already known as the Black Lubyanka because of its black-glass-and-chrome Art Deco architecture. Like the other boys at the school, Andrew wore a black coat and striped trousers and affected an air of sophistication, and his aim now was to become a barrister or a foreign correspondent for some prestigious newspaper.
The older boys, enviably allowed to use the school's Embankment entrance and to have lunch out in the City, had all seemed to be very worldly and political. Some, captivated by newsreels of the splendid Olympic Games in Berlin as much as for any other reason, subscribed to Germany Today and favored the pro-German position of the Prince of Wales, who had become King Edward VIII in early 1936. Others were passionate about Marxism and the valiant Trotskyite Republicans fighting a losing war against the fascist rebels in Spain. It had all seemed very remote to Andrew, and he had tended to be tepidly convinced by whatever argument had most recently been brought to bear. Any decision about his grandfather's advice had been taken out of his hands when all the boys at the City of London School had been drafted into the Officers' Training Corps, and so Andrew had twice a week put on his little khaki uniform and got into a bus to go to a rifle range and obediently shoot at targets with an old.303 rifle loaded with.22 rounds; the idea of an actual war, though, was still as exotically implausible as marriage-or death.
But Edward VIII abdicated in order to marry an American divorcee, and the Russians and the Germans made a pact not to attack each other, and Parliament passed a law declaring that men of twenty years of age were to be conscripted into the armed forces. And in September of 1939 the newspapers announced that Germany had invaded Poland and that England had declared war on Germany, and all the boys were evacuated to Haslemere College in Surrey, forty miles southwest of London.
For an uneventful eight months Andrew lived with two other boys in a cottage that got so cold in the winter that the chamber-pot and its contents froze, and went to makeshift classes in the now-very-crowded Haslemere College buildings; then in May of 1940 the German Army finally moved again, sweeping through Holland and Belgium, and Prime Minister Chamberlain's government collapsed, to be replaced by Churchill's National Government; and in September the bombs began to fall on London.
Chapter Two
London, World War II
The game is so large that one sees but a little at a time.
-  Rudyard Kipling, Kim
A schoolmate of his had been given permission to live at home in the West End of London during that summer, and, when the autumn term in Haslemere had subsequently started up, the boy had shakily described to Andrew the new silver pin-heads of barrage balloons stippling the blue horizon to the east on the balmy early evening of September 7, and the uneven roar of Heinkel bomber engines in the distance, and then the rolling, cracking thunder of bombs exploding on the Woolwich Arsenal and the Limehouse Docks ten or twelve miles away; and that night, closer, perhaps only half a dozen miles to the east, the bright orange glow of the flames on both sides of the river that had lit the whole sky when a fresh lot of German bombers had flown over after eight o'clock and somehow kept up the nightmare engine-roar and thumping of bombs until four-thirty the next morning, simply incinerating whole districts of British streets and shops and homes. The boy had been sent back to Haslemere on a crowded morning train, and for the first twenty miles of the trip he had been able to see the storm cloud of black smoke behind him; the inconceivable bombing had been repeated every single night since then, and Andrew's friend relied on daily telegrams now to know that his parents were still alive. By the time he had told all this to Andrew, the eight-page wartime newspapers were describing the rows of old trucks that were being set out on any English fields big enough for an enemy airplane to land in, and ditches freshly dug in Kent to stop invading tanks. Already butter and sugar were being rationed.
Perhaps because he had grown up knowing that he had been born abroad in a perennially insecure region, this abrupt prospect of the invasion of his homeland galvanized Andrew Hale. He was eighteen now, and he was suddenly determined to enlist in the Royal Air Force at once, without waiting to finish school and the Officers' Training Corps program. He wrote to Corliss in Cirencester, demanding his birth certificate, but when the lawyer finally wrote back it was to say that that document was in the hands of the uncle, who was some sort of secretary in Whitehall. Corliss was willing to give Andrew what little information he himself had: a Post Office box number, a telephone number, and a name-James Theodora.
Andrew remembered the one-legged old colonel telling him to remember his dreams-One day Theodora will ask you about them-and though the prospect of recounting some of his dreams made him uncomfortable, he knew he was on the right track.
The telephone number had been a challenge; Andrew had had to get permission to use the instrument in the Haslemere College warden's office during a study hour, with the cost laboriously calculated and added onto his tuition balance. And the trunk line to London had been slow to connect numbers even before the bombing began, and now, though the service still worked, calls were frequently cut off, or interrupted with abrupt bursts of static, or even shifted somehow among startled parties, implicit testimony to the reported hundreds of high-explosive bombs that were hammering the City every night. After interrupting several calls, and even breaking in on what sounded like a military radio transmission, Andrew heard a woman answer, "Hullo?"
"I need to speak with James Theodora," Andrew had said, sweating under the warden's by now impatient stare. "He's my-my uncle-I met him at his office, and his Chief, who had a wooden-"
"-Indian out in front of his tobacconist shop in Boston, I daresay," the woman interrupted breezily. "Nobody cares about any of that. If we've got a James Theodora at the firm here, I'll have him call you. What's the number there?"
Andrew nervously asked the warden, and then gave her the office telephone number. "It's about my-"
"No use telling me, my good man. And what's your first name? Don't give me your last name." Andrew told her. "Right, very well, Andrew. If we've got this fellow here, I'll see he gets the message." Abruptly Andrew was holding a dead telephone.
He hung it up, humbly thanked the warden, and left the office; but an hour later the warden had him summoned back from class. The telephone earpiece sat waiting for him like an upside-down black teacup on the desktop, with the warden staring as if these City boys must all be W.1 district plutocrats. Andrew picked it up and said hello.
"Andrew," came a man's impatient voice. "What's the trouble?"
"Uh, is this-who I called-"
"Yes, this is who you called. The odor o' sanctity should be detectable even over the line."