And, as it happens, it was just at that self-same moment – not in 1939, of course, but today – that Mr Scratch strolled into The Hispaniola Piano Bar and caught sight of Timothy Michaelmas-Daisy sitting by himsel, a glass of Laphraoigh in one hand and another, of Aka-Seltzer in the other; pulling out the chair opposite Tim, Scratch sat down: "a touch of the bastard strangles, Tim? is that why I didn't read of you holding your seat in the General Election? or have you been angling for goliath batfish in the Caribbean?" and Tim raised his bloodshot eyes in a baleful attempt at a glare, then shook his head: "you know fine well, Mr Scratch, that after Boffer had me expelled I couldn't stand as a Conservative, not tractable enough for his new UNITED party; oh, I applied to the Lib-Dems, but they said I wasn't Liberal or Democratic enough for them, Labour told me I was more of an Anarcho-Syndicalist and even Jeremy couldn't thole that in the Party; the Greens turned me down for driving a diesel; the SNP found out that my great-great-great-great grandpa, Sir Hamish Urquhart-Colquhoun was a thoroughly nasty type of landowner who evicted all his tenants and replaced them with sheep and they couldn't possibly have someone from such a family representing them; mother suggested one of the Northern Ireland parties, cause Seamus Colquhoun was a well-known poet and songwriter, but the DUP told me they suspected he'd been in the IRA and Sinn Fein said he'd collaborated with the Black-and-Tans; even Plaid Cymru weren't interested because I don't speak Welsh and haven't set foot in the place since a school trip to Shropshire and the Border Country when I was about 13 and anyway, my mother's cousin, another poet and balladeer, Rhoddri Bangour, apparently stole most of his material from Dylan Thomas when Thomas was drunk; Mebyon Kernow said they'd think about it, but, in the end, didn't think it was a good idea to have a Londoner like me standing for Cornish Nationalism, especially when I'm gay – which hadn't put any of the others off!" and Scratch nodded: "so far as you know," and Tim said: "exactly, none of them mentioned it in their rejections," so Scratch asked if he couldn't have stood as an Independent and Tim actually laughed: "oh, I may look a bit soft, but I'm not that stupid!"
Of course, Prince Hubertus wanted the dress of a heroic - and poetic - figure from la Belle Epoque, whom he seemed to be confusing with Lord Byron, while Olga - who had played Nancy in a translation of Oliver Twist with Emil Jannings as Fagin - cast herself as a Magdalene heroine, something like Marguerite Gautier in La Dame aux Camélias; Prufrock and Martins found costumes from Two Gentlemen of Verona which fitted them nicely, while Palestrina, Gertie and Elizabeth were easy to cast as The Three Graces, although in truth they looked more like Dresden Shepherdesses; the one snag was the unexpected arrival of Uncle Hans Steckrübe who had driven the others to the Wannsee and simply tagged along with them through the secret tunnel - an oximeter would have rung alarm bells when the Americans saw him walk into the basement, but Vlado, with his usual excellent timing, cut them off with a whispered: "we'll find him a costume, let him think he's getting out with the rest of us, but I'll put a bullet in his head when the Stink Bomb goes off," and walked straight up to the sleazy child molestor and said: "Hans, am I glad to see you - I really need someone who knows about radio transmitters, none of these mensch knows the difference between a valve and a switch!" and heads together they went into the Bulgarian's workroom.
The morning, when they awoke, was sodden with one of those summer mists, like a cloud that is too bleary, too weary, to take itself off the ground and float in the sky, and Olga declared that – as the Poisoned Dwarf, Dr Goebbels, was to be in Munich today, they should take it as an interpause: "all your planning is done, Vlado, tomorrow you will be Apollyon and Prince Alexander there for the taking, to day my friends from the Studios will bring our costumes and the others who will be extras will be here too, we will all get dressed and have a Holiday, agree?" and, albeit a tad reluctantly, Vlado nodded and, almost as though the Wannsee was a movie set and the Director had just called for 'Lights' the cloud parted and the house was bathed in sunshine; Vlado's face was transformed by one of his rare, unpretentious, grins and he said: "everybody take 5, today is about Now, so let's have some Fun!"
In the land of nod, J Alfred Prufrock watched the women come and go, talking of Michelangelo; in her sleep, Olga Konstantinovna Chekhova dreamed of a world of peace, freedom and gylany after Nazism was defeated in which men and women would be equals and where none would be persecuted because they had a different race, creed, colour and there would be an end to sleazy producers and directors and their casting couches; in his dream, Holly Martins was chasing shadows through a fairground and then an eternal maze of sewers, reaching for his old friend Harry Lime who was running a network in Vienna last thing Martins had heard; and Vlado Chernozemsky ran through every detail of the Big Blow Up and the elimination of Prince Alexander, reiterating for the hundredth time the exact sequence of events he had planned and which the Americans had arranged to cover with a News Cameraman: Major Martins said that though there would be no sound recorded, some kind of Foley Artist could add everything, traffic, cheering – and booing – and the Big Boom when the Stink Bomb exploded and the footage would be shown in every cinema in America, probably even in Gary, Indiana, and all his emigrated friends and family would cheer at the mention of his name, and if everything went well with the escape plan, maybe he and Olga would even be there by the time it was shown, and in sleep, he smiled.
But the amended message, as re-recorded by Hymie, was just such a corbie messenger, arriving too late, when the intended recipients were fast asleep in the basement, but then, had they heard it and noticed the difference in instruction, which presumably would make the two parts combine as an oxymoron, would they want to question it? or they may simply comment: "something a bit out of kilter there," and think no more of it, focussing on the first message which came at the scheduled time: "probably this other one is for someone else, out in the boondocks, the gramadoelas, in deepest, darkest Bavaria, or some confused and misunderstood Saxons up the Hartz Mountains, obviously not us!"
In Paris, France, Hya Loid (name at birth Hyman Lloyd, on account of his father's forefathers having been Welsh) was on his third bourbon since the live broadcast of the show ended, when Ernie Bagatelle, the Floor Manager came across the bar to him and said: "you really fucked up there, Hymie," which as an opener felt kind of over the top to the comic: "what I done now, Ernie?" he asked, putting a soulful look into his Eddie Cantor eyes, but the Floor Manager wasn't going to be deflected so easily: "the story about the flags, with the color-blind private putting up the Green one instead of the red, ordering the Attack instead of Retreat, was the wrong way round, is what," but Hymie shrugged: "it worked better," he said, "but what's the diff?" and Ernie whispered: "it came from the Government," he hissed, "a coded message to Agents in the field somewhere, you've ordered them to do somethin' they ain't spose to,", but Hymie rolled his eyes: "guess I musta be color-blind myself," he chuckled, "c'mon, no harm done – look, I'll even go into Notre Dame with you and put a $5 donation in the Mariolatry Collection Box, ain't that enough atonement?" but Ernie – a devout Catholic – was stung by the remark: "you can't buy absolution, Hymie, when I make a Confession, it has to be honest and sincere, Faith ain't for gym bunnies," at which Hymie signalled to the bartender for a refill, and one for Ernie, then turned to his friend: "apologies, Ernie, I didn't meant to offend, but you gotta realise, my religion ain't so circumscribed as yours – okay, we got dietary laws that would probably give you a heart attack, but while your Pope is Infallible, our Rabbis will argue all day and night about their different interpretations of something in the Torah or Talmud, cause everythin's relative; look, you want me to record the right ending for the repeat? when's it goin out?" and "couple hours," said Ernie, "yeah, let's do it an just hope they didn't hear the show first time round."
"I might as well tell you now," said Major J Alfred Prufrock, addressing both Vlado and Olga, "one of Hya Loid's jokes – the one about the guy suffering from vexillology, the flag one, was a coded message to Holly and me: the State Department has signed off on the Stink Bomb, which means you have their approval for the mission, it's all systems Go!" but all he received from Vlado was a scowl, as if to say, it's my mission, my operation, who cares about your State Department, and Prufrock rather agreed, but there was more: "and when Ginger sang the Hut Sut song, that was to let us know that immediately after the bomb goes off, we're into Operation Lessepsian which is going to get the four of us, plus Palestrina, Gertie, Prince Hubertus and Elizabeth out of the country using a network of canals. . . . ." but Vlado growled: "no canals, no fucking way, I don't do boats!" at which Holly entreated him to listen: "the Jews call them canals, and it's their Operation, but it's a network of safe-houses and couriers to smuggle people out of Germany, the small ones feed into a main route called Suez and the whole thing is named after the guy who built the Suez Canal, but definitely No Boats!" at which Vlado apologised and admitted that he couldn't swim and had a violent fear of drowning; so Prufrock said: "we'll be whisked away even before the smoke clears, in a van, that's all we know – they have very tight security, everyone knows only the bare minimum so even if someone's caught and tortured they can give away nothing of value, everyone else will have disappeared and shut down that section of the network; so it's all pos – pos for the Bomb and pos for the escape," and Olga asked, "why do you pause it as soon as you say go ahead?" and Holly laughed: "he's so Ivy League, Olga, Harvard men have their own pronunciation of words and their own language, he said pos, which is short for positive, so one last drink and we should all try to get some shut-eye before the kite goes up."
That night, in the secret basement apartment of the house on the Wannsee, the four principal plotters in the plan to assassinate Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia, relaxed and talked of their plans for the future, played a few games of cards and listened to an American Variety Show broadcast from Paris on the wireless: Hya Loid, the transparent Comic may have relied too heavily on rather worn-thin material, but his delivery and timing won him laughs and applause; Pica Resque, the Cuban Torch Singer, had a repertoire of ballads about steamy – and stormy – relationships between dusky maidens with flashing eyes and an assortment of moustachioed rogues and rascals; Ginger Ly, Bronx-born of mixed Irish and Italian heritage, was a big hit in the movies, for she could sing, dance, do cross-talk and even knock-about slapstick with the best of the guys, and might have been expected to lose some of her charisma on radio, but no, there was nothing hesitant in her performance: she joked with band-leader Fussy Cut about playing tunes that were around when her grannie was sewing quilts in the garment district, ribbed his Cut 'em Up Boys about having a soprano liven-up their four-part, and even teased the Cutting Edge Band, over their ability to keep up when her voice was weaving patterns on the airwaves; but it was all in good fun and the performance of Ginger, Fussy, his barbershop and band was a hell-raiser that even had the underground quartet stomping their feet and applauding wildly – a Night to Remember, if they manage to live through tomorrow!
After a number of fruitless calls, in an effort to trace Olga, they heard the worricow upstairs call his driver and demand to be picked up immediately and driven home, then after the sound of the car arriving, the front door was slammed shut with such fury that the building actually shook: "zee day after tomorrow," said Vlado, "when we go to blow up zee stink-bomb, I will leave a little booby-trap for zee Evil Doktor," and the two Americans acquiesced – they would try to dissuade him when the deadline for leaving the house came: "what are you going to do afterwards, Vlado?" asked Olga and the Bulgarian grinned: "there are a lot of my own people in Amerika, near a village called Gary, in Indiana – must be lots of Indians there too – plenty relations and relations of relations, like a kind of guanxi, all help each other out, big agribusiness zere, I can do more than bombs and guns, you know, I can drive a plow, milk a cow, I can reap and sow, I'll be as fresh as a daisy zat's growin in zee fields an zey'll call me Buttercup Vlado!" and he beamed at the others, especially Olga, to whom he then said: "you can come with me and I'll teach you Macedonian."
To Dr Goebbels, the house by the Wannsee and it's starry chatelaine may have provided him with a status symbol – which his short stature never could – but they failed to bring him any jouissance, and ecstasy, or simple joy, for he was as cold as a dead haddock on the fishmonger's slab, forever in a monk at some slight by Der Fuhrer, the Reichsmarshall, the Reichsfuhrer-SS, those three poseurs who weren't worth two pfennigs compared to Him, for it was His propaganda, His flair for publicity, for pithy phrases and slogans, His words that Hitler spouted to stir up the masses, to scare the industrialists, the financiers, the Jews; it was He, Goebbels who had whispered in Adolf's ear and enabled him to deliver the coup de grâce to the old Queen, Röhm which, left to his own devices, would never have happened; they all needed Him more than he did them, but the trouble was, only He knew it! and tonight, as he opened the door and called out, "Olga, Liebchen, it is me, your Tarzan," and beat his puny chest with small, bony fists, instead of the yodelling call of the real Man of the Jungle, he collapsed into a chair with a coughing fit: "fuck this for a game of soldiers," he wailed and almost fancied he heard the apparently empty house laughing at him, but it was actually the quiet sniggering of the four people in the basement – Vlado, Holly, J Alfred and Olga herself: "of course," she whispered to Prufrock, "you do know that none of Magda's children bears the slightest resemblance to him? apart from having heads, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes – she has a secret lover, who she meets once or twice a year at Baden-Baden where they both take the waters and exchange bodily fluids – I've worked with him on a few movies, he's quite a hunk, and his organ," she whistled softly, "it's like a baseball bat compared to Little Joe's which is smaller than my pinkie!" and the American Major blushed, for he did not consider it proper for such talk to come from women, or, indeed, men, for that matter!
Using the love-nest in which Dr Joseph Goebbels kept his mistress, the famous movie actress Olga Konstantinovna Chekhova, as an ersatz safe house had seemed a tad offbeat – to say the extremely least – to the two Americans, when they first tracked the Bulgarian assassin to his inquiline lair in it's basement – accessed by a near-inaccessible tunnel from a heavily overgrown and natural wilderness of ancient pines and tumbled rocks by the shore of the Wannsee – but even they had to admit that Chernozemsky's – at first impression – artlessly and seemingly confusedly blending of cheese-paring and almost brazenly daring – his ability to hide, no, to become almost completely invisible in plain sight – was the characteristic which they – as espionage officers themselves – could admit to admiring the most (but they could never forgive him for the Gorgonzola and Garlic).
"Quick thinking, Vlado," says Major Martins, "beat me to it, though I don't think I'd have come up with a Gretel in labour," and he laughs, self-deprecating bon vivant, thinks Chernozemsky to himself, proud of his own fulgor at having saved them from a death worse than fate, at the hands of the Dreaded Gestapo – think Spanish Inquisition with technetronic knobs on, but he says, aiming his scorn for the driver: "at least I am a professional, Herr Prufrock, a True Artiste, me, my education in the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organisation made thinking on my feet second nature and eliminating all possible humane errors – Pah!" his tone is scornful, but these amateur spies are beneath his contempt: "Pressing Every Button Causes A Kaboom, as we born bomb-makers know by heart, and you must have been warned of the importance of making zee correct signals when car driving here – zee Nazis are pathological when it comes to obeying rules, is it different in Amerika?" placing heavy emphasis on the k, and J Alfred manages a rueful smile: "depends whether you're in the Bronx, on the New Jersey Turnpike, or out in the Sunshine State – hey, Holly, you're from the Boondocks, do you guys ever signal?" and Martins chuckles: "now that I think about it, I guess our Driving Tuition doesn't extend beyond Starter, Wheel, Brake – my Pop's old truck depended on hand signals, and when it's thirty below outside the cab, the windows are frozen shut, so who's to bother?" and Prufrock pulled up outside the safe house.
So! thought Vlado Chernozemsky to himself as he and the two Americans stared at the pistols aimed at them, so much for the great guns of the USA! pah! we three are merely the tip of the iceberg and if my superb, pointillistic plan is discovered, it will be thoroughly, throughotherly, abso-bloody-fucking-lutely marmalised and discombobulated – so! and he spoke up, drawing the attention of the two Gestapo to himself: "meine Gretel is about to give birth, can you help? and the two glanced uneasily at each other, then one shook his head, so Vlado said: "could you give us an escort to the hospital? before the baby pops out and there is a terrible mess in here?" but this was too much to expect – the Gestapo Officers put their pistols away and one spoke sharply to Prufrock, who was driving: "next time you make a turn, indicate, or we'll have you driving a lorry loaded with horse-shit, now, get on, schnell!" and even before they had reached their own car, Prufrock had passed them and, carefully indicating, taken two turns and lost them from sight.
At the very same moment in Time – relatively speaking, and albeit in Berlin in the summer of 1939 – Vlado Chernozemsky had already double and triple-checked the detonators, the explosives, the giant Stink Bomb he had previously secreted in the sewer beneath the Berlin strasse along which the motorcade, with the limousine carrying Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia and that jumped-up German Lairdie, Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler would pass; he had the radio receivers supplied to him by Uncle Hans Steckrübe in situ, wired up and primed and attached to a belt which he wore under his disguise, the unique transmitter which Uncle Hans had invented and constructed – that had been tried and tested several times over the past three weeks and at various locations outside the city, a dog, a sheep and a cow had been successfully blown up from distances ranging between twenty-five and 100 metres, three trees had been felled, a car had disintegrated and a shepherd's hovel reduced to rubble; the Bulgarian Assassin par excellence was cock-a-hoop and it was all the two American Agents, Majors Holly Martins and J Alfred Prufrock could do to stop him dancing a jig in the middle of Unter-den-Lindenstrasse the night before: "are you absolutely sure that your disguise will pass muster?" – – asked Prufrock, as they had hustled Chernozemsky into the van which was to be their getaway vehicle: "abso-bloody-lutely, it's all coming together great guns," laughed Vlado, "it will be like I am the Indivisible Man, completely incognito will I be, no-one will suspect a thing!" but to Prufrock, more used to measuring things out in coffee-spoons, such supreme self-confidence was usually misplaced: "let's just run through it again, to make sure that I have got it all right," he said, knowing better than to suggest that Chernozemsky might have it all wrong: "okay," said the Bulgarian, with mock patience: "we will be a party of Nazi-supporting aristocratic revellers, making our way homeward from a Fancy Dress Ball, bawling out patriotic schlager like the best of the schweine," and Martins slipped in: "who will be who?" which solecism made Prufrock wince, as usual, and he could not stop himself correcting it: "whom," and Martins shrugged, "okay, whom will be who?" and Vlado chuckled: "Palestrina and Gertie will be Dresden Shepherdesses, Prince Hubertus will be Napoleon and Olga will be Josephine, I am being Batman and Hans is Robin, and you two are Micky the Mouse and Donald the Duck - you can fight among yourselves to decide which is which," and looking over his shoulder as he drove, Prufrock asked: "and all the costumes are at the apartment?" as Vlado nodded vigorously: "ja, ja, and two dressers from the Movie Studio are coming over with Olga to make sure we are tip-top perfect, these girls are perfectionists, like me, so nothing can possibly go wrong!" which was when a black car cut in front of them and brought the van to a squealing halt as two Gestapo Officers leapt from the car and approached them, lugers drawn and pointing at the cab!
For Pete, the surprise was that he recognised. and even knew, so many of the guests: from the house next door on the left, actually two flats, one on the ground floor and the other the first, came Bill Hickok and Annie Oakley (lower) and Grigory Rasputin and Calamity Jane (upper) who were celebrating their joint Wedding Anniversaries, having been married in the Parish Church just a year ago – this was good news to Pete, for learning that both couples were also going on the Pilgrimage and knowing that Bill (even if he had dropped the Wild epithet) was great guns when it came to scaring away threats, especially since the Deadwood Incident of which he never spoke, and Greg, as the Russian liked to be referred, who was still endowed with those hypnotic eyes that could turn milk at thirty yards would be among his companions took away much of the trepidation he had been experiencing when he thought of leaving Talbot House and going on a relatively long-distance walk; then when Uncle Tom Cobley – bit of a mutt though he still was, forever chewing on the end of a corn stalk – turned up with the rest of the Theatre Company that Pete and he had been involved with in Milan, that mixture of Luvvies and Lesbians, the story of Pete's near death experience and narrow escape from the Bazooka-wielding would-be assassin, had them all gobsmacked and moon-faced Peter Lorre was reduced to humming a Mexican son he had picked up while filming in Acapulco, unable to top the account of Pete's struggles through muck and bullets right over the tops of the Eildons, crossing raging torrents, yawning chasms, expanses of clinging mud which turned out to be quicksands, encounters with deadly spiders and snakes and all the time hunted by a fiendish homicidal maniac and a pack of baying, bloodthirsty dogs, madly salivating at the prospect of sinking their fangs into their desperate quarry's throat! "yes," said Pete as his story concluded, "and I got in here just as Macfarlane and Doubleday came running into the alley in search of me - gave them the slip by the seat of my pants - I really thought I was done for! – but when I saw the dim Toc H Lamp and found Algie and Aggie here, I knew I was safe," and Leslie Howard added a few exclamation marks to the notes he had been making: it would make a great climax to the movie he was thinking of, with himself as the hunted man; but there would need to be a beautiful girl in the room and, fond of Aggie as he was, he knew that someone much younger would need to be cast in the part, perhaps as Algie's grand-daughter; yes, that would work.
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